The Matter of Trust Affair
The explosive charge blew through the electronic lock like balsawood, burning the air with heat and ozone. Napoleon Solo coughed once, closing his eyes against the acrid smoke. Staying crouched, he checked the doorway of the room for movement or noise. Seeing nothing amiss, he spun to the other side of the jamb, and repeated the procedure.
The rest of the THRUSH facility had been deserted, abandoned by its minions like so many rats fleeing a sinking ship. However, Solo was by nature a cautious fellow and had gotten this far in enforcement by paying close attention to his internal alarm system. He controlled his breathing, narrowing eyes dilated by a surge of adrenaline. He dove into the room in a low crouch, rolling left, bringing his gun arm up to point at a dark shape near the edge of one wall.
He registered the fact that it was a body first, and that is was the body of his best friend second. He lowered the gun, holstering it as he covered the distance between them. Those few steps were the longest he had taken in his life, knowing that the answer to his question laid at the end of them.
Illya Kuryakin was slumped in a metal chair, wrists, ankles and upper chest bound by thin metal bands. Electrodes were attached to the bands as well as monitoring leads glued to various points of his torso. Kuryakin's head was lolled forward, a thin string of bloody spittle dripping from his mouth. Napoleon knelt by his friend, his anger radiating out of him in waves at those responsible for the torture. Hesitatingly, he reached for a pulse point in Illya's pale neck, and sighed in relief at finding a weak but steady rhythm under his fingers.
Solo quickly began removing the wires and set to picking the locks of the restraints. Once done, he very gently placed Illya on the floor, cradling him in his arms. His cursory exam revealed burns at the contact points, needle tracks on both inner arms, and more bruises than he cared to count. Illya's face was purple and blue, both eyes blackened and one swollen shut completely. Solo's stomach tightened in sympathy and he wrapped his arms around him protectively.
Pulling out his pen, he ordered into the receiver, "Open Channel D." He heard the circuit open and said tersely, "Building is secure. Birds have flown the coop. Send medic to lower level, highest priority. Solo out."
He leaned closer to Illya's ear and whispered soothingly to him. "Hang on, buddy, help's coming." He felt a small tremor in the slight frame and heard a whimper of anguish from Illya's swollen lips. "Illya, Illya, relax. I've got you now. They can't hurt you anymore." Tears rose in his eyes and he let them fall, knowing his partner had suffered terribly at the hands of THRUSH. "I'm so sorry, Illya, I'm so sorry..." he choked unable to go on. Lowering his head he laid his cheek next to Kuryakin's and gently rocked the battered body of his friend. He jerked his head at the soft voice that breathed in his ear.
"Not your fault, Napoleon. Please don't...." a grunt of pain stopped Illya from finishing and he panted, trying to come to grips with the agony his body was feeling. The prolonged exposure to electrical current had heightened his nerves and senses to a disturbing new level. Napoleon's well-meaning embrace felt like sandpaper on raw nerves, and his whispered voice was amplified to painful timbres. The small shaft of light streaming in through the ruined door sent needles screaming into his head, and he turned his face away weakly. A severe jolt of pain ran through him as the medical team burst into the room, and he cried out in distress, shrinking from the frenzy of noise. He tried to fling his arm over his eyes, but Solo restrained him, mistakenly thinking it was fear that caused Illya to jerk away.
"It's ok, Illya, it's ok, they're our men. Let them help you now," Napoleon explained. He motioned the medics over, and they were about to minister to the fallen agent when all hell broke loose.
Kuryakin tensed, every muscle in his body convulsing as he rolled away from Solo. Wild-eyed and in agony, he crawled to the wall and placed his back against it, feeling every imperfection in its surface with the skin of his back. He groaned and curled up into as small a package as he could, trying to close out the painful world in which he currently resided.
The two medics looked at each other and then at Solo, clearly giving him the lead in the unfolding drama. Napoleon held up one hand, silently telling them to wait. He took a deep breath, rattled from Kuryakin's response, and slowly crouched down, making himself appear smaller to the clearly terrified agent. He took a hesitant step toward Illya, spreading his hands out to the sides, palms up, in a non-threatening posture. Two steps from him, he stopped and took stock. Illya was still moaning softly, rocking slightly on his heels, every line of his body telling Solo to stay away. The senior agent knelt down in front of his partner and spoke softly to him.
"Illya, it's me, Napoleon. Can you hear me, milok? Listen to me, please, Illya. I just want to help you, pal. Come on, Illya, you can trust me." He kept his voice low and gentle, trying to soothe Illya as he would a frightened colt. He inched closer to Kuryakin and reached out one hand to try and touch him. The cold and flat sound of his partner's voice chilled him to the bone, and stayed the hand from attempting further contact.
"Don't touch me," Illya said blackly, no tone or inflection in that deadly serious command. His mind was swirling in a red haze and he raised his head from his arms to watch the intent of his tormentors. The movement caused his head to throb viciously, and he cried aloud at the new bloom of agony. Crazed, he began to smack his head against the block wall, wanting to die rather than endure this any longer. His screams echoed in the small room a moment before Napoleon dove at him, cutting his feet out from under him and pulling his head down between strong arms. Illya shrieked at the sensations, babbling in incoherent Russian before Solo could bark out an order.
"Put him out. NOW!" he yelled, as one of the medics pulled a syringe out and loaded it with sedative. Solo held Illya down while his arm was prepared for the injection. Kuryakin seethed at him, and Solo shrank from the pure hatred he saw in those familiar blue eyes.
Grateful that he was not fluent in Russian, he listened as Illya spat invectives at him as the needle plunged into his vein. His voice was hoarse from screaming and he gradually quieted as the drug took hold, finally slumping bonelessly in Solo's arms. The American agent held him a long moment, then stood up, pulled Kuryakin to him and carried him to the waiting stretcher outside the door.
The medics saw the look on his face and stayed out of the way. They were used to dealing with Section Two agents, and knew better than to come between them when one was down. The U.N.C.L.E. agents worked their way out of the compound to the chopper waiting in the courtyard. The bird's blade was still whirring, and in no time their patient was loaded and they took off toward the New York command center.
A medical team was waiting when the chopper landed on the roof of U.N.C.L.E. HQ-NY. Solo had reported Illya's condition in route, and they were ready to transfer him seconds from touchdown. He had begun to wake up a few miles out and Solo was afraid of a repeat performance, so he told the attendant to have sedatives ready in case it was needed. His eyes narrowed as they strapped Illya down, placing him in four point restraints. He understood the need for it, but he didn't have to like it. Kuryakin began to thrash in the bonds, remembering the chair he had been recently bound to.
"No, no, no," he keened, and made it as difficult as possible for them to strap him down on the gurney. He continued to yell and strain against the padded straps, until his voice took on a hysterical pitch. One of the orderlies bent over him to inject another sedative, and Illya stopped, his eyes staring in horror at the needle in the man's hand.
"No, don't," he sobbed. "No more, no more, please. Leave me alone, leave me alone," he begged. The medic moved to give the injection, but a steely hand clamped down over his. He looked up to see the strained face of Solo, and stopped.
"Look, guys, this isn't helping him," the agent explained. "God knows what they shot him up with back there, so let's not make it worse, agreed?" Napoleon knelt next to Kuryakin and took the syringe from the man and let Illya see him toss it to the deck. The Russian relaxed for the first time since his rescue and slumped back down onto the stretcher. He searched the dark-haired man's face carefully, and something inside clicked.
The striking blue eyes softened, and he blinked as if coming awake for the first time. The haze lifted enough for him to recognize his partner and say weakly, "Napoleon? Where did you come from?"
Solo let out a breath and answered, "I've been right here beside you, partner. You, ah, just haven't exactly been yourself, tovarishch," he said gently.
Illya's brows knit together worriedly. "Just exactly who have I been?" he asked evenly, and was annoyed when everyone laughed at him.
Napoleon quieted, immensely relieved that his friend seemed to be on his way back from the brink. "You really had me worried, milok: you've been in and out of it," he added. "Let's get down to medical and finish checking you out." Illya made a face at the mention of his least favorite section but was rapidly losing his battle with fatigue. He was out again before they reached the elevator.
When next he woke, he was in the infirmary. He was hooked up to a heart monitor, and intravenous fluids dripped into his arm. His head was pounding and his mouth felt like a sandbox. Looking around he saw Solo slumped in a chair next to him, snoring softly.
His wrists and ankles were bandaged and were starting to hurt. He tried to reach for the glass of water on the tray next to him but only succeeded in knocking it over. The noise assaulted his ears and he winced from the pain. It was dark in the room, the only light coming from the soft glow of the machinery. He saw Napoleon open his eyes and sit up quickly.
"Hey, you're awake." He saw Illya flinch at the sound and dropped his voice to the barest of whispers. "Sorry, Illya. The doc said you'd be sensitive to stimuli for a while. How's the head?" he asked amiably.
"The way I prefer it, Napoleon. Still attached," he said dryly. He tried again for the water, his hand infuriatingly shaky. Solo pretended not to notice but got him another glass and filled it. He held Illya's head up and helped him to drink, gently placing him back on the pillow when he'd had enough.
"Better?" he asked. Worry lines were forming on his forehead as he realized how frail Illya looked.
"Much, thank you." Kuryakin sighed, and his eyes began to droop. "Sorry, Napoleon," he apologized. "I can't seem to stay awake..." Illya yawned and a few seconds later was fast asleep.
Solo watched him breathe for a few moments, checked the heart monitor and settled back in his chair, getting comfortable for the long night ahead. He thought about how many nights he had sat like this, silently watching over his partner, unable or unwilling to leave his side.
"Too many," he said quietly. At times like this he wondered if it was really worth it, worth the pain and suffering of two men so alike yet so different. He looked at Illya, and wondered if these same thoughts ran through his head when their positions were reversed. He knew the answer, and shook his head resignedly. We're not exactly tinker, tailor, or soldier material. But we certainly are spy, he mused.
"We'd never settle for anything less, would we, old friend?" he said quietly, nodding off to join his partner in sleep.
U.N.C.L.E.'s most famous and successful pair of agents was sound asleep when the medical staff came in for rounds. Kuryakin woke first, his nervous system still in overdrive from his unfortunate dealings with THRUSH. He squinted against the sunlight streaming in the window until a nurse closed the blinds. His head still ached, but it was at a level he could tolerate. He nudged Napoleon's shoulder once, rousing him from his uncomfortable perch in the chair beside him. Solo looked up sheepishly, knowing he had been the last to wake up.
"Hey, I'm supposed to be watching you, Illya. Not vice versa," he teased, and was glad to see Kuryakin grinning weakly back at him.
Napoleon stretched, and got up to work out the kinks from his sore back. He watched the staff perform routine tests and cringed in sympathy knowing how much Illya hated being poked and prodded. Illya's doctor seemed pleased with the results and checked the bandages on his wrists and ankles.
"How is the pain today?" he inquired politely, and Kuryakin shrugged. "Your reflexive responses are a bit hyper-sensitive, but I expect that to abate shortly. The burns on your extremities bear some watching. We can't be too careful, infection, you know," he tutted.
Illya had a long-suffering look on his face that Napoleon correctly interpreted as 'Get me the hell out of here.' He glanced sideways at the Chief Enforcement Agent and hoped Solo would use his dubious position of authority over him to his advantage for once.
Napoleon caught the look, winked once at his partner and cleared his throat. "Yes, Doctor, certainly. When can Agent Kuryakin be released? I will, of course, arrange for nursing care for him should he need it." He smirked at Illya evilly, the thought of anyone tucking him into hospital corners especially humorous. Kuryakin narrowed his eyes at Solo, his expression telling him that he would pay for this.
"If Mr. Kuryakin feels strong enough, we can disconnect the I.V. and send him home on some mild tranquilizers and pain medication. You will see to it that he actually takes the medication this time, won't you. Mr. Solo?" the doctor admonished, having had Illya as a patient numerous times in the past.
Kuryakin snorted, and Solo had to stifle a laugh as he agreed to the instructions.
"I'll see to it personally, doc," he jibed, looking pointedly at the surly patient on the bed. "You do want to get out of here, right, Illya? Do you promise to behave?" he asked, knowing that he was treading very thin Illya-ice at the moment.
Kuryakin started to say something caustic but thought better of it. He smiled sweetly at Solo and said, rather menacingly, Napoleon thought, "Whatever you say, Napoleon."
Agent Solo rolled his eyes at that, and knew he was in for a spectacular Illya meltdown when they got home. He pointedly ignored the blond man, and addressed the doctor again. "Anything else I need to know, sir?"
"There were some ambiguous chemicals in Mr. Kuryakin's blood samples, but we haven't been able to isolate them as yet. We'll let you know of anything conclusive. In the meantime, rest and plenty of fluids should flush them out." Saying that, he wrote up the dismissal orders, gave Solo the prescription forms and left with the rest of his team. One orderly stayed and began removing the tubes and leads from Illya.
Napoleon went to the closet and brought out a set of clothes for Illya to change into. Nodding his thanks, Solo escorted the nurse to the door and turned to see Kuryakin swinging his legs over the side of the bed. The white bandages stood out against his pale skin and Solo blinked, reminded of how much his partner had endured.
Crossing over to his friend, Napoleon put a hand on Illya's shoulder, keeping him from getting up. He looked at him openly and asked, "How are you really feeling, partner?" He watched Illya's eyes, knowing he could not hide anything from him in that expressiveness. Napoleon was worried; aware that physically Illya was worn out, but afraid that something more important had been hurt inside him. His eyes had a haunted, dulled look that he had never seen before.
But, being Illya, he simply said honestly, "Tired, Napoleon. I'm just tired, and I want to go home." He moved off the bed and sagged as his legs refused to take his weight. Napoleon caught him and let him lean against him until he could stand on his own. Solo's eyes narrowed and he commented on his partner's current condition.
"I'll take you home, partner, but I'm staying with you for a while." He cut off Illya's protestations with a look, and continued, "Or would you rather I go get the doctor back in here?" The Russian hung his head, knowing it was no use arguing the point. Truth was, he was so tired he couldn't think, and the idea of going home to his apartment was the only thing keeping him on his feet.
Sensing capitulation, Napoleon helped his partner dress, only stepping in when Illya became dizzy trying to tie his shoes. He accepted the help grudgingly as usual.
"Ready?" Solo asked and supported Illya's arm as they walked to the door. Before going further, Illya gently detached Napoleon's hand and stood up straight, shoulders squaring. Understanding, the American let Illya navigate on his own but stayed very close in case he should falter. They made their painful way to the pharmacy where Solo picked up the drugs. Kuryakin was panting and very pale in the harsh lighting. Solo steered him into the nearest elevator knowing his partner was very near collapse. Once inside the deserted lift he placed his arm around Illya's waist and was alarmed when he did not protest. They walked into the garage and Napoleon leaned Illya against a wall.
"Try not to get in any trouble while I get the car, will you, Illya?" he joked, and saw the corners of Kuryakin's lips turn up. He ran to his coupe, and started the engine. Backing up to Illya he sprinted to the other side before he could try to get in on his own. He gently maneuvered Illya inside and clicked the belt in place. Once in the driver's seat he gave it the gas and drove out into the mid-morning traffic. His partner was stone faced and ashen and stared straight ahead for the short trip to his brownstone.
Luckily a parking spot opened up as Solo pulled to the curb, and he quickly parked, moving around to the passenger side to open the door. Illya was half asleep, his ordeal catching up to him with a vengeance. He looked at Napoleon, confused and disoriented by the car ride.
"Where are we, Napoleon?" he asked, and his partner's anxiety level increased immediately. The lost look was even more noticeable in Kuryakin's eyes, and that scared Napoleon more than all the physical damage that had been done. Solo wanted to get back in the car and drive straight to the clinic, but he knew Illya would never forgive him.
The American agent took a calculated breath and spoke quietly to his friend. "You're home, Illya. Come on, let's get you inside." He helped the smaller agent out of the car and placed his shaking arm around his shoulders, hand on his waist to keep him on his feet. The Russian swayed against Napoleon and had to concentrate fiercely to make his feet track properly. They made it up the stoop and through the double doors to the first floor, Illya sweating bullets with the strain. The beleaguered man saw his apartment at the end of the hall and sighed gently. The teammates limped their way to Illya's door and Solo opened it with his spare key.
Once inside the threshold, Kuryakin took a quick look around, and whispered one word. "Home," he said softly, and passed out in Napoleon's arms. Solo swore, and carried Illya to his bedroom, placing him carefully on the double bed. He stripped him, leaving boxers on the thin frame, and grimaced at the scars the latest interrogation had left behind. He pulled the covers over his friend's body, and sat at the foot of the bed for a long time, a look of intense sorrow passing over his chiseled face. Finally, he moved to the living room and wearily sank into the armchair.
Glancing around at the tiny apartment, he marveled again at the simple way that his partner chose to live. Austere, even bleak, best described the décor of the place, but that somehow made sense, considering that Illya's entire life had been just as unadorned.
Still, Napoleon felt more than a little self conscious at the differences in their lifestyles. He was, as Illya described him, "a typically decadent American" who took pleasure in adding beautiful things to his bachelor pad. Shaking off the dark introspective, Napoleon turned on the radio and settled down to keep watch over the man who he was beginning to realize meant so much to him. He listened to the classical music that wafted from the set and began to doze.
Hours later Solo woke with a start, unsure of his surroundings at first. He glanced around in the twilight listening for what had awakened him. He heard nothing at first, but the hackles on the back of his neck rose, and he felt more than heard the anguish coming from Illya's bedroom. He strode to the bedside, taking in Illya's posture and mental state at a glance. Kuryakin was dreaming, his body soaked with sweat and mournful quiet wails coming from his throat. Covers tossed back, he thrashed on the sheets, becoming louder and more strident with each passing second. Solo leaned over him and gently placed his hands on Illya's shoulders.
The blond man was babbling and incoherent, switching from Russian to English and back again in his agitation. Solo caught every other word or so, and recognized enough to know his best friend was reliving his torture in exquisite detail. He applied pressure to Illya's shoulders and attempted to wake him. He was unprepared for what happened next.
Kuryakin's entire body tensed and he surged off the bed, knocking Solo's hands from his shoulders and wrapping his strong fingers around Napoleon's throat. He continued to propel Solo forward until they fell together in a tangled heap onto the floor. Illya's eyes were wild and unfocused and he continued the pressure on his partner's neck, terror giving him added strength. Solo choked as he tried to loosen Illya's grip. Spots swam before his eyes, and he tried to force words out of his tortured throat.
"Illya, Illya, stop," he gasped out, frantically looking in the blue eyes for some spark of recognition. He knew he was seconds from passing out, and was loathe to fight back and hurt Kuryakin. He managed to get a finger hold on one of Illya's hands and released the pressure enough to suck in a breath. That small sound was enough to cause the Russian agent to startle, and he looked down at the purple face of his partner underneath him. A look of horror registered on his face and he jerked his hands from Napoleon and rolled off him, astonishment written on his features.
Gasping for breath, Napoleon lay flat on the floor trying to regain his equilibrium. Desperately worried about his partner's emotional state, he rolled on his side and tried to touch him. Illya growled and backed up, his muscles taut with adrenaline and his eyes wide with remorse.
The dark agent spoke calmly to Illya. "It's ok, Illya; it's ok." he coughed, his voice gravelly from the attack. "I'm all right, you didn't hurt me," he lied, but Kuryakin could see the blood on his lips and the swelling on his throat. Illya sobbed then, the broken hearted sound echoing in the still bedroom. He dropped his head to his knees and wept like a child, shoulders shaking with the force of his emotions.
"I'm sorry, Napoleon. God forgive me, I'm so sorry..." he keened and trembled at the memory of his hands around his best friend's throat. Solo moved to him and wrapped his arms around the quaking wreck of a man. He tried to back away, but Solo held tighter, refusing to let go.
"There's nowhere to go, old man. I won't let you take this on by yourself. We're partners remember?" he said as he rubbed Illya's back, feeling the cool and clammy skin beneath his hands. He was in shock, and Solo tried to pull him against his chest for warmth. Kuryakin resisted, shrinking from the closeness that his friend offered.
"No, no, no," he chanted, trying to distance himself from his one friend, his only friend. "Can't you see? They broke me, Napoleon; they broke me in that room, in that chair. I was weak and pathetic, and I couldn't take it anymore and begged them to stop." He couldn't meet his partner's eyes, anguished at the shame of his confession. "They took something from me, Polya, something deep inside me that I can never get back. And look what it did to me."
Illya choked up but managed to find his voice long enough to finish, "I almost killed you! How can I trust myself ever again? How can you trust me, Napoleon, your own partner?" he lamented, tears streaming down his face to land on the floor underneath him. He took a shuddering breath and said tightly, "Tomorrow I'm going to Waverly. I'm resigning, Napoleon. I can't stay in enforcement, and I can't stay with you." He hung his head, swallowed up in a miasma of misery.
Napoleon Solo was speechless for once in his life. Aching for Illya, he sat in a daze for a moment, until his building temper got the best of him. He advanced on his partner, and grabbed him by the arms.
"So you want to quit do you, Agent Kuryakin? Not sure you can take it anymore?" He shook Illya once, twice until he saw a spark of anger growing in his blazing eyes. "You forget, Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin, that I know you. And the Illya I know is not a coward, or a quitter. He's my partner, and my best friend. And I do not intend to lose either one of them. Now you can try to run from this, or you can choose to fight your way back. But either way, like it or not, you stubborn Russian, I'm going to be right here beside you all the way."
Napoleon placed his hands on either side of Illya's face and pulled his head up to look him in the eyes. They stared at each other for a moment, until the unemotional, detached Russian agent leaned forward into Solo's chest and laid his head there. Strong arms held him as his frame was wracked with sobs, needing the strength of the man before him and for once allowing himself to draw upon it openly.
Napoleon let him cry, his own tears falling into the soft blond hair of his hurting friend. After a time, he lifted Illya carefully, and climbed onto the bed, arms still enfolding his comrade. He lay back carefully, and covered the shivering man with the spread. They drifted off to sleep together, unashamed of the closeness of their bond tonight. It was, after all, just a matter of trust.