The door gave way easily after I blasted the locking mechanism, screeching open on rusty hinges. The smell of dampness and raw sewage overwhelmed me as I darted inside; the place was filthy, probably vermin-infested as well. But this was the last place he could possibly be--if he were still alive at all.
I had to hurry. The rest of the task force were working their diversionary magic outside the building, but that would only buy me so much time. Where was he? He had to be here...
There! By the barrels...
I made my way toward him stealthily, not liking what I saw. He sat atop one of the battered wooden boxes which were scattered about the ground. From his positioning I could tell he was thoroughly bound, but that wasn't what bothered me. He was dressed in nothing but his undershorts. Apparently those Thrush bastards couldn't be bothered to make certain he was properly clothed for this environment. Evidence of torture--both old and recent--was sharply defined even in the dim light, gashes and bruises sharing center stage with slimy smears of filth on his battered body. And his head hung forward so limply, as though he were resigned to his fate. Or unconscious. Or...
Bohze moi, what have they done to you?
After several moments of careful scrutiny, I deemed it safe to approach him; there was no one else here. They'd clearly left him to the mercy of the rats and whatever else resided in this squalor, having finished with their nefarious plans.
Emerging from the shadows, I ran to my partner's side. When I gently lifted his head I found a warm pair of hazel eyes gazing at me. Warm and glazed. Not only was he very much alive, but he was also quite drugged. Truth serum, no doubt, only this batch looked to have a bit of a numbing agent added in. Judging by the loopy smile he gave me at that moment, it was a safe bet he was not feeling any pain. Perhaps his interrogators weren't as merciless as I'd originally thought.
"Napoleon," I whispered.
His smile widened. "Illya," he whispered back, enunciating each syllable slowly. Obviously he thought this was a game of some sort.
"I'm going to get you out of here," I promised, shifting so that I could examine his bindings. I made short work of the rope, though it took a bit longer to untangle the knots around his wrists.
Napoleon giggled as I worked to free him. "I'm in my underwear." He was still whispering, as if the information were top secret.
I couldn't help but grin; truth serum brought out the best in us all. "Yes, I see that. It's usually me they strip down to my Skivvies."
"And I know why."
My eyebrows rose at the sound of his purr. I glanced at him, amused. "Why?"
He leaned over, wobbling slightly, until his mouth hovered near my ear. "You have a great ass."
"Really?" I said, shifting my attention to the ropes around his feet. I winced in sympathy. His ankles were quite swollen, probably from a combination of being bound and the unfortunate circumstance of not being able to shoo away the biting insects drawn by his injuries.
"If I were going to torture you, I would definitely want to see your ass."
Would he, now? How very interesting. What a fascinating conversation this would make once Napoleon's head was clear...
"I think that would make you answer questions better too..."
I stifled a chuckle at his drug-induced logic; the situation was almost as amusing as it was sad. Finally freeing his legs, I sat back and gently grasped his forearms. "Napoleon."
No answer. He was staring at the ceiling with that faraway look he always got when trying to rationalize something.
"Napoleon," I repeated a bit louder.
He looked at me then, a huge smile spreading across his face.
"Can you walk?" If he couldn't, this was going to be difficult.
"Of course," he answered, absently toying with my hair.
I pulled his hands away, wrapping my own around them to get his attention. "Napoleon, we must leave here now. I need you to follow me very closely, all right?"
He continued to grin at me, and that's when I noticed it. There was almost always something hidden behind Napoleon Solo's blinding smile, be it subtle seduction, playful teasing, or oily schemes. But not now. This gesture was filled with such genuine happiness and affection that I could only blink in surprise. He was happy to see me, of course, but such open adoration seemed out of character for him.
Or was it?
"Want to know a secret?" His expression softened, and there wasn't the slightest hint of gameplay in his eyes as he spoke. Only little truths, freely offered.
I nodded, more than a little curious.
Napoleon stood slowly, unsteadily, and I jumped to my feet to assist him. But before I could do more than catch his arms, providing the grounding he needed, he pulled me into a warm hug, whispering, "I love you, Illya."
After only a moment's hesitation, during which I swallowed my utter astonishment, I hugged him right back. "I love you too, Napoleon," I murmured. And I meant it. How many times had he rescued me from similar predicaments? How many times had I walked into hostile situations feeling supremely confident simply because this man was covering my back? I owed him my life many times over, and there wasn't anything I would not do for him. How ironic that I did not recognize the emotion for what it was until now, until my partner, beaten and bloody and totally unconcerned for his own welfare, held me and said that he loved me--said it as though it were the most important thing in the world. And perhaps it was.
Napoleon stirred in my arms, breaking our mutual bear hug. "Can we go home now?" he pleaded quietly. "I'm cold."
The effects of the serum were probably starting to wear off. He would be hurting too before long. "Let's go home then," I grinned, ruffling through his unkempt hair. I took hold of his hand and guided him out of the Thrush nightmare and into the pure darkness of an Oregon night where the deep whir of an U.N.C.L.E. helicopter greeted us.
I was past wondering how or why. For the moment, I was simply content to enjoy my newfound revelation. It is true that Napoleon wasn't quite himself tonight, but I do not doubt the veracity of his words. As for what will happen between us once these truths are further considered, I cannot say. The future will no doubt take care of itself. And, philosophical wanderings aside, I have a very, very interesting conversation to look forward to...