Shatter the Walls
They were relaxing in Napoleon's apartment; Illya slouched in the recliner, bare feet higher than his head, body clothed in the spare set of grey pajamas he kept here. Napoleon was stretched out on the sofa on his back, gazing at the ceiling. A bottle of vodka stood on the table beside Illya's chair, with a half full glass next to it. A bottle of brandy was on the coffee table beside Napoleon, and his glass was only one quarter full. Neither one was set on getting drunk; they had only been sipping and talking, sipping and falling silent. One mission was over, the next was as yet unknown. Napoleon had had a date earlier that night, with the female civilian from that last mission, but he had met Illya here at eleven, as planned, to finish out the evening in pleasant companionship. Illya was spending the night in Napoleon's guest room, and Napoleon was making breakfast for them both in the morning. They had no place to be the next day, and thus no reason to hurry to bed.
Napoleon had been regaling Illya with tales of his evening; how the girl had pursued him while in the restaurant, how she had pressed herself against him when they danced, and then had turned coy once they were alone in her apartment. "I had to start the wooing process all over again," he had said, laughing. "From scratch. From before scratch. It's exhausting." He had sighed to demonstrate that. "It wore me out."
"Hmph," Illya had said, and nothing more. They had fallen silent then, and drank their respective drinks.
It was Napoleon, who now had begun working on his third glass, who finally broke the silence. "So when was the last time you took the lady home? I know Sarah Miller wanted to, but I also know you turned her down."
"And how would you know that?" Illya demanded. "Just because I don't tell you all about it—"
"I know because she came to me that night. For consolation, as it were."
Illya snorted. "That figures. And you took her on anyway? You didn't mind being second choice?"
"So long as it wasn't sloppy seconds," Napoleon said, and laughed. Illya's mouth twisted and he didn't laugh. He picked up his glass and stared into it. Napoleon bit his lip. He'd put his foot in it somehow, hadn't he. Damn. Illya was so touchy. "Sorry," he said awkwardly. And when Illya didn't answer him right away, his voice became defensive. "Not that I'm sure what I'm apologizing for." When Illya still didn't speak, Napoleon scowled. "Don't sulk," he said sharply. "We're supposed to be having a nice time."
"I am having a nice time. And I'm not sulking. Just because I don't laugh at everything that comes out of your mouth..." Napoleon threw a pillow at him. Illya threw it back. Napoleon caught it and tucked it under his head.
"Anyway, you're avoiding the question. How long has it been?"
"None of your business."
"That long." He waited, then asked curiously, "Don't you miss it?"
"I'm sure you would."
"Doesn't it become a distraction, letting it build up without satisfaction?"
"No. When it builds up, as you put it, I take care of it myself. Much easier."
"Isn't that lonely?" Napoleon sat up, swung his legs over and looked at Illya curiously. As if in answer, Illya slid farther down in the chair, so all Napoleon could see was the top of that blond head. "I mean, I've done that myself, on occasion, and I find it..."
"Life is lonely," Illya said from the depths of the chair. "All lives are lonely, and ours are lonelier than most. Don't you find it lonely, going through all those motions with someone you barely know and care less about? And then making your excuses and leaving when it's over?"
Napoleon frowned, and swirled the liquid around in his brandy glass. "Of course I do. As you said, life is lonely. But you don't have to make it worse. At least my way I get some conversation, some laughter and... and faux companionship. It's better than nothing."
"Not for me. And I'm good company. I eat dinner beforehand without having to distract myself from my food by paying silly compliments to some silly woman. Then I alleviate the build up, and afterwards I can roll over and go to sleep without being poked and talked at, or I can get up and work if I choose, or read... it's easier. Wasn't it you who just called it exhausting?"
Napoleon couldn't answer. The picture Illya had called up so vividly gave him a sharp pang somewhere, and he couldn't even tell where—or if it were a pang of compassion or of envy. "It's too bad one of us isn't a woman," he said at last, just to be saying something because the silence seemed uncomfortable. "Then we'd have it all—companionship and sex. And I'd let you sleep or work afterwards if you wanted to."
Illya sat up in the chair and peered at Napoleon over the top. "And just which one of us is it you are wishing were female?" he asked tartly. "Somehow I doubt very much that it is you. Do you? Wish you were a woman?"
"No. Of course not."
"Then it is me? Because let me tell you, Napoleon Solo..."
"No. Not you either." He smiled at Illya affectionately. "I wouldn't change a hair on your surly, sulky head, my friend." He paused, then added, "my best friend."
"Well." Illya sounded only somewhat mollified. He turned back around and slid down again. "Then you're just talking nonsense."
"I suppose so..." He sighed. For a moment it seemed he had touched some essential truth, but it had slipped away from him. He tried to catch at it.
"Have you ever been with a man, Illya? That way?"
"Yes." The reply was short to the point of curtness. Napoleon recognized the tone and lay down once more, settling himself in.
"Want to tell me about it?"
"I tell you. Everything about all of them."
"That is because you enjoy recounting your conquests. I do not."
"Was it what?"
"Yes." But there was something in his voice that made Napoleon frown again. He went over it, the nuances in that 'yes', the way Illya wouldn't look at him. Of course Illya hadn't been looking at him anyway, he'd been staring into the fire, presumably, but still there seemed something more purposeful now in the back of his head.
"But not yours."
This silence stretched out for so long that Napoleon thought Illya wasn't going to answer at all, that he had pushed too hard, and offended him seriously enough that the pleasant conversation was over, and thus so was their pleasant evening. He bit his lip. What had he been thinking? Why did he always do this? He couldn't just take Illya at face value, accept the surface Illya offered as all there was to see. No, he always had to dig, to probe and often, as, obviously, now, Illya responded by turning him off completely. He was wondering if he should try and formulate an apology when Illya finally spoke.
"No. Not mine."
"So it was... not a good experience?"
"No." Illya refilled his glass. "It was not."
"And thus not to be repeated." And again that piercing sense that he was striking at some vital core, something that could be the most important thing in his life, if only... what? Illya laughed shortly.
"Oh, it was repeated. Ad infinitum, it was repeated. Do you really want to go there, Napoleon? It's not like you."
"To butt into your private life? I would have thought it was just like me."
"To delve into ugliness."
"I deal in ugliness every day."
"Which is why you so assiduously avoid it in your personal life. Everything light, everything pretty, oh so charming and full of savoir faire. I'm not saying that in a bad way," he added, sitting up once more and swiveling the chair around so he was looking into Napoleon's face. "I didn't mean it the way it came out. You're right, we deal in ugliness constantly on the job. Why would you want it on your own time?"
"Was it?" Napoleon asked him quietly. "Was it that ugly?"
Illya considered him. "Yes," he said finally, and said nothing more. He picked up the vodka bottle and refilled his glass.
"If you want to tell me, I want to hear it."
"I wouldn't say I want to tell you." He drank deeply, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and set the glass down. "No, I wouldn't say that at all. But if you want to hear it, I don't mind telling you."
But that wasn't true. Napoleon saw it very clearly. For whatever complex mesh of reasons, tonight Illya wanted to talk, to unburden himself of the ugliness he spoke of. It was a rare moment, and a rare privilege. "Go on."
For answer Illya turned the chair back again, so he was facing the fire and once more Napoleon could see nothing of him—not even the top of his head because he was so far down in the recliner. "I'll give you the condensed version," he said finally. "I don't want to go into how I felt about it, or anybody's motives—because I don't understand them, mostly—or analyze it or anything."
"Just the facts," Napoleon teased gently, and could hear the very faint smile in Illya's voice when he answered.
"Just the facts. Well. The facts—the ugly facts—are that my uncle, who raised me, started fucking me when I was seven. He fucked me, his business associates fucked me, anybody with his price fucked me. I've been what you call sloppy seconds—and more—too often to count. When I was eighteen I got away from him by joining those gentlemen who eventually sponsored my entrance into UNCLE. I thought I'd be clear of him there, halfway across the country but then lo and behold they felt the best way I could serve Mother Russia was—surprise! By fucking—or, rather, being fucked. I was bait and reward, leverage and weapon. One of the reasons I snatched at the opportunity to join UNCLE was the admittedly forlorn hope that maybe Mr. Waverly, whose reputation for integrity had reached even my ears, would find another use for me. Which he did. End of story."
"Oh," Napoleon said. He said nothing more. He didn't think he needed to. He just sat there, offering his silent acceptance, and after a while Illya rose.
"I'm going to bed," he announced and tipped his glass back, finishing the last few drops. "See you in the morning, Napoleon."
"See you in the morning, Illya. How do you want your eggs?"
Halfway across the room Illya paused, and Napoleon suppressed a grin. "Scrambled," he answered after what was obviously serious thought. "With bacon crumbled in it."
"Some fried potatoes to go along with that?"
"Good as done," Napoleon said and Illya went on towards the guest room. At the door he stopped again, and turned.
"Our lives," he said carefully, "are not always as lonely as all that. Not with..." he swallowed, giving the strong impression of someone trying to force out words he felt might choke him. Napoleon got up too, then, and crossed the room to him. He put both hands on Illya's shoulders, feeling daring because it seemed bold, touching Illya now, but Illya didn't seem to mind. His eyes, when they met Napoleon's, were very clear. "A friend," he finished, and smiled. Napoleon smiled too. "A best friend," Illya added, very softly, turned and was gone, closing the door firmly but not harshly in Napoleon's face.
Napoleon stood there for a long time. And when he finally went to bed himself he lay there, and thought about companionship, and friendship, and that vital, primal core he had sensed tonight. He wasn't sure what shape it would take, or how he would reach it, but he wanted it badly. He sighed. Very badly indeed.
The mission had gone swimmingly. As Napoleon ran down the jungle path, with Illya out in front of him, he had a fleeting moment of curious leisure—not physical leisure, because he was leaping and darting this way and that to dodge fallen trees, vines, stones and the other detritus of this narrow path, but mental leisure because his body, well trained, was doing all those things without waiting for commands from his brain—to appreciate just how well things had gone. He and Illya had laid their plans carefully. Illya had infiltrated the Thrush satrap and gotten the information they needed. Napoleon had come by stealth last night and helped him lay the explosives before they both slipped out in the predawn blackness and began running. They ran because the explosions would start soon, they ran because one never knew when something would go wrong, they ran because their bodies were fit and strong and both wanted to put this mission behind them.
Illya had looked tense and not very happy when he met up with Napoleon, and had seemed to show even more relish than usual at the prospect of blowing the place to kingdom come. He shook his head when Napoleon asked if anything had happened to him, and his only explanation had been a terse "not one of them worth saving" when Napoleon had asked if there was anybody they needed to get out. Napoleon didn't press him. By their nature Thrush agents were unpleasant companions. Long term, their allegiance was given to an organization dedicated to overthrowing the governments of the world, and enslaving the surviving population. Short term, they worked in an environment where every operative's hand was against every other. Napoleon wondered how any amount of money could make this life worth living. Of course he had never had to worry about money. He... then the sound of distant explosions came from behind them and at the same moment Illya rounded a sharp turn ahead of him and was out of sight. Spurred by both these events Napoleon increased his pace, and as he came around the same bend he saw a steep slope ahead of them, a sandy waste littered with boulders. It looked treacherous, and indeed Illya had slowed his pace. Napoleon did the same—still running, but more carefully now and with less time to think.
Another thud came from behind them, and another, and then the earth moved.
It was only a small shift, a weird shimmy making Napoleon skid sideways for a moment. Tremor, he thought. The satrap must have been sitting on one of the many fault lines snaking through this region. In a way that was good. There would certainly be nothing left of the installation now, between bombs and earthquake. But still it would be better to put more distance between themselves and the focal point, so he picked up his pace. Illya had done the same, and Napoleon had one clear moment to admire his grace and agility before the ground moved again, more roughly this time, and Illya fell.
The earth slid out from under his feet, leaving him no purchase and he fell, bounced, almost regained his footing and then there was a much larger explosion from behind them, a more violent lurching underneath them and he was flung into the air. He landed awkwardly, and the loud snap of his leg breaking seemed to fill Napoleon's ears, louder than the bomb blasts, louder than the sound of sliding rock, louder than the rumble beneath their feet. Illya cartwheeled down the slope, both arms trying to protect his head. He cried out in pain when the leg snapped again, and screamed the third time. When he landed at the bottom of the slope his leg flopped as if disconnected from the rest of his body. He screamed again when he tried to move, and Napoleon leaped the last several feet and crouched over him. "Don't," he said sharply and Illya nodded and lay still. He was reaching for the leg, every instinct telling him to grip it, hold it still, feel for damage, but his hands hesitated because the least touch would bring agony and he knew it. When his eyes met Napoleon's they were already glassy with shock.
Napoleon's first thought, in the numbing clarity of his own shock, was that Illya's career as a field agent was effectively over. They would never clear him to return after this, even if it healed cleanly, even without a limp. The possibility of nerve damage was too strong. His second thought was that they still had to move. There was no time for anything else. He couldn't even administer any first aid because they were wholly exposed here, at the bottom of this sandy slope. Anyone emerging from the jungle above would have a clear shot at them.
"I'm sorry," he said and picked Illya up, trying to keep the leg still but knowing it was doomed to failure. He put Illya over his shoulders and ran again.
Illya clutched at his shirt and Napoleon could feel him stuffing the fabric into his mouth to silence the sounds he couldn't help making. He was groaning hoarsely, over and over again, through clenched teeth, through Napoleon's shirt. Napoleon ducked into the jungle, following the faint trail, not wanting to get lost. They were scheduled to be picked up that evening, but the copter would only overfly the meeting place, waiting for their signal. Napoleon reached for his communicator but it was gone, jarred loose somewhere in the chase through the jungle. He still had his weapon, but a quick search showed that Illya didn't. They wouldn't make the rendez-vous in time anyway, but the copter would return tomorrow, and the day after that, every day for two weeks before giving them up for lost.
How had it gone so wrong? He had passed within the span of half an hour from self congratulations to... Illya moaned, a sobbing sound, and Napoleon looked around him. They were deep in the jungle, and surely safe from pursuit for the time being. He stopped, laid Illya out on the ground and set about splinting his leg.
It took over an hour and Illya was grey faced by the time he succeeded, but Napoleon thought he had made a good job of it. He'd found a pair of stout straight tree branches and trimmed the twigs off them. He had used Illya's tattered trousers to tie them firmly to both sides of his leg, but every touch, every motion, was torture to the injured man and Napoleon knew it. He did it anyway because they had no choice, and when he was finished he put both arms around Illya and held him hard.
"I'm sorry," he whispered and Illya nodded against him. "Illya—there's nothing for it. We have to keep moving."
"Leave me," Illya said, and though Napoleon knew he had to say it, that he himself would say the same if their positions were reversed, it was like a slap in the face anyway.
"No. We go together." And when Illya tried to interrupt him he held up his hand, palm out. "We go together," he repeated and Illya closed his eyes in mute acceptance. Napoleon lifted him again, draped him in a firefighter's carry, and set off through the jungle.
It was terribly slow going. He fought his way through vines, sweat running down his face and body even as Illya shivered with cold. He had left the path, because the original plan had been made with the assumption that they would be moving fast, so fast that before any pursuit could be organized they would be gone. They had to accept that someone had survived the destruction of the satrap, someone usually did. Agents would have been out on patrols, or someone would have slipped outside for a smoke, or a pocket of safety inside the building would have protected a handful of men. Anyone who had survived would be tracking them, hot for revenge. And he and Illya were not traveling fast anymore, he was barely getting one foot in front of the other. Insects buzzed around them in a cloud, stinging him, making it hard to see through the sweat and the bugs. He swiped his face on his shoulder and Illya groaned. Napoleon rather wished he would pass out, because the pain had to be terrible, but he didn't. He didn't struggle, but he kept Napoleon's shirt in his mouth and gasped for breath.
They stopped as seldom as possible. Napoleon was very thirsty now and surely Illya was too, but they had few supplies,. Illya hadn't had any way to gather them without arousing suspicion. Napoleon had only the canteen he had brought in with him and he drank from it sparingly, letting Illya do the same. They weren't set up for an extended sojourn in the jungle, so all they could do was keep moving. Once they reached the meeting place Napoleon would think of a way to signal the copter.
He never knew how long he struggled on, carrying Illya. His stops to rest became more frequent, and twice now his head nodded as sleep tried to claim him. Both times he jerked upright, and both times he forced himself to his feet. He thought that day had come while he plodded along, but it was hard to tell in the perpetual twilight of the canopy. It was lighter, then it was darker, then lighter and he thought that was probably the moon, but he couldn't be certain. All he knew was that they had to keep moving if they were to live.
They were captured while Napoleon slept. He'd slept, he couldn't help it. Twice he had smacked his head smartly on the tree behind him as he dozed off, and twice he had started awake, positive that the surge of adrenalin would keep him that way. But the third time he fell asleep it was real sleep, deep and heavy and he woke to a cacophony of shouts and hands and Illya's cry of agony. He exploded out of sleep, striking out, hearing a very satisfying oomph as someone had the wind kicked out of him, and another cry of pain as his fist made solid contact with someone else's jaw. But there were too many of them, and in moments he was beaten back down to the ground and lay there, gasping.
There was a sharp crack, and then another, and Napoleon thought wildly that they had broken more of Illya's bones but then he saw the pieces of the splint being tossed aside. He was dragged to his feet and set into forward motion by a boot in the ass. He tried to turn and fight but was stopped in his tracks by a pistol—his pistol—placed against his temple.
"We'd just as soon shoot you as not," a disheveled looking Thrush guard, still wearing the remnants of his uniform, snarled at him. "I'm sure he knows more than you do since he was the fucking Judas in our midst." Just in case Napoleon didn't know who he was talking about he kicked Illya in the ribs. Illya, being dragged by his arms, choked off another cry of pain. He was trying to be stoic, Napoleon saw, biting his lip until it bled, but his pain had to be excruciating beyond measure and Illya had never been one to suffer in silence anyway. Napoleon had teased him about it on occasion, but there was nothing funny now in the grunts and moans being forced from him.
"Go!" snapped the guard, and he dug the gun viciously into Napoleon's spine for good measure. Napoleon turned and walked. He walked because there was no point in struggling at this point—they would only shoot him, and then there would be no one to help Illya. Illya couldn't escape on his own, he would need help, so Napoleon walked. They walked for an hour or so and then the two men dragging Illya began to complain.
"Make him take a turn, Carl," the smaller one said angrily. "Why should we sweat it out? Make him pull his buddy along."
"Fine," said the guard with the gun, now identified as Carl. He was clearly the leader. There were four of them, Napoleon had noted, all looking much the worse for wear. Caught in the explosion or its aftermath of tumbling brick and mortar, no doubt. And they all looked seriously pissed off. Once, when Illya's foot had hooked around a sapling, halting their progress, the smaller man had kicked it free and Illya had made a guttural sound. There were those two, Carl with his gun—although it was very possible they all had weapons, Napoleon knew, he couldn't discount that—and a fourth man bringing up the rear. He carried a rifle but had not used it yet. Maybe it wasn't loaded. "Take him, you." He prodded Napoleon painfully with the gun once more and Napoleon resisted the urge to rub his back. He'd be damned if he'd give them the satisfaction. They were satisfied enough already.
But he welcomed the opportunity to take over Illya's transport. He bent over to lift him, and was knocked off his feet by the butt of the rifle.
"No coddling the prisoner!" that man said. "Pull him like we were doing."
Napoleon rose. "No," he said flatly. "I'm not doing it. You want me to bring him along, let me do it my way. It'll be faster," he added and they conferred for a moment. A jerky nod came from Carl and Napoleon crouched down, hoisted Illya on his shoulders and rose. He said nothing, waiting until the march resumed. Then, with Carl well out in front, the two who had been dragging Illya in conversation of their own, and the rifle carrier several paces behind, he spoke.
"Hang in there," he whispered urgently. "There's only four of them."
"And one of us," Illya's voice was faint, but at least he was coherent. Napoleon was relieved. "Not very promising."
"We'll make it." Then Napoleon's legs were kicked out from under him and he fell. Illya screamed, a short, hoarse sound as he hit the dirt. Napoleon spun around to find the rifle butt poised over Illya's back.
"I'll break it," the man threatened. "I'll fucking break his spine if you start whispering plans again. Got it?"
"Got it," Napoleon said tightly, and managed to pick Illya up and stagger to his feet. They continued the walk in silence.
At some point Illya passed out. Napoleon felt him become heavier, and start to slide. He adjusted his grip, not knowing whether to be thankful—because at least now Illya was unaware of his pain—or not, because it surely meant that his condition was deteriorating. He had little energy or leisure for either emotion anyway, so he kept trudging along.
They made camp that night. Napoleon was flung onto his stomach and his feet were tied to a tree. His hands were bound together in front of him. Illya was dropped onto a fallen tree trunk, awkwardly draped across it, face down. They tied his hands too, and lashed them to a protruding root out in front of him. Napoleon wondered at the position, but wasn't left in ignorance for long.
"Too good for it when we thought you were a Thrush Central rep" Carl said, then he jerked Illya's head up by his hair. There was no response and the man made a disgusted sound.
"Out cold. Hey Larry!" This to the smaller man who had been dragging Illya. "You and Bass get some water! I'll be damned if he's sleeping through this!"
They dashed a cup of cold water into Illya's face and he jerked away from it, blinking and coughing when another followed. Some of the drops splashed onto Napoleon's face and he couldn't help it, his dry tongue came out to lick at them. Carl saw him, and laughed. But he held the cup to Napoleon's mouth anyway. "We might need him again tomorrow," he explained to the others. "This one"—he kicked Illya in the side of the head "isn't worth it."
"It's a sweet ass, though," Bass said and yanked Illya's pants down. Illya made a strangled sound and lunged forward in a futile attempt to escape what was coming. What was coming was obvious because Bass's trousers were already unfastened, and Larry had tossed his own aside. Carl knelt in front of Illya, pulling his head up again so he could look into his eyes. Illya spat in his face and Napoleon simultaneously winced and wanted to cheer. The man struck Illya with his fist, on the other side of his head from where the kick had landed, and a matching lump began to rise.
Bass knelt behind Illya and rubbed his hands together. "Yes, a sweet ass," he said reflectively. "You shouldn't have been so snotty about it, whatever your fucking name really is. Maybe I wouldn't have such hard feelings now if you'd given it up when I first asked you."
Not one of them worth saving, Illya had said with that twist to his mouth that Napoleon hadn't known how to interpret. He knew now, and burned with fury. How dare you, he thought with impotent outrage. How dare you even think... then Illya cried out as Bass drove into him. He squeezed his eyes shut when he saw Napoleon watching, and Napoleon groped for his bound hands with his own. He gripped them.
"You don't have to hide from me," he whispered hoarsely. "It's not your shame. It's theirs. Theirs. Do you hear me, Illya?" He understood why Illya had not wanted to discuss his time at the satrap. This harassment had no doubt gone on the whole time, held in check only by their fear of his status with Thrush. And Napoleon could also picture Illya's response—the curled lip, the contemptuous sneer. So now that they had the upper hand... Illya gasped as Bass withdrew, and looked relieved. But when the as yet unnamed leader took his place he dropped his head in defeat. He still clung to Napoleon's hands though, his whole body jerking forward with each thrust. He turned his face into his shoulder to muffle the sounds that were being wrenched from him, and Napoleon squeezed his hands again. Illya squeezed back. "Not you," Napoleon said once more. "Them. And..." then he was kicked in the lower back so hard his entire body was flung sideways, twisting his ankles where they were bound. Pain exploded and then diminished and he was falling, falling, gone.
There was an unknown period of blackness, and when he began to recover consciousness only the pain told him the difference between the dark night and the abyss he'd been plunged into. His back hurt ferociously. He opened his eyes and listened, but there was nothing. No sound, no movement.
Illya! He almost cried the name aloud but bit it back, because better they continued to think him out of commission. He peered through slitted eyes, and when there was still nothing he ventured to lift his head.
They were sprawled in sleep near the fire. Napoleon shivered in envy. The night was as cold as the day had been hot, and his whole body wanted to cramp in protest of the hard ground. Cautiously, inch by inch, he squirmed back into his original position.
Illya was still slumped across the log. His head lolled, his wrists were raw and bloody from his struggles with the rope. He looked dead, and Napoleon's stomach clenched tight, cramping even harder than his legs, his heart hurting more than his back. No, he thought, and there was a great rending inside him, as if... as if his soul were being torn from his body. No. He hitched himself closer and extended the back of his hand so it was directly under Illya's nose and mouth.
A faint tickling, rhythmic—breath. Illya was breathing. Napoleon closed his eyes in thankfulness and then his back sent another grinding wave of agony through him, and with it an urgent need to urinate. He twisted onto his side, propped himself up as best he could on one elbow, and let it go.
Red. Even in the faint glow from the fire he could see that it was tinged with blood. My kidneys, he thought. They've busted a kidney, or two. He lay there for a while longer. Illya was already half dead. Now he himself was damaged internally. He rolled back over and found himself looking into Illya's eyes. The relief in them was so pure that for a moment it was all there was to be read.
"You're alive," he mouthed, and Napoleon found a smile.
"They're going to kill us," he breathed in return, just the faintest sound. Because it was true. This group was going to beat them to death over the next day or two, and no miraculous rescue was going to come. "We have to do something," he went on and he could hear the despair in his voice even as he said it. What could they do? But Illya was nodding.
"They've discounted me completely," he whispered back. "But I still have one good leg, Napoleon. And the one with the rifle isn't always paying attention."
No he wasn't. Napoleon had seen that, had seen that he'd had one hand down his pants, jerking off, during the last assault. That was all he had done—unless it had happened while he himself was unconscious? But Illya's next words were "He just likes to watch. He stands right beside me and maybe next time I can kick his legs out from under him. Then you can make your move."
"We'll need a signal," Napoleon said, still with the faintest breath of a sound. "You let me know when you think you have a clear shot at him and I'll... I'll do something too. If I can get Carl's gun maybe I can shoot them down before the guy with the rifle gets up again."
"Maybe you could at least shoot me," Illya said and something in his voice made Napoleon's eyes sting. "If it doesn't work."
"Maybe I could," he said, and the doubt was in his voice. "Maybe I could."
"I would prefer it."
"Well, let that be the fallback plan then. Plan A is to get us both out of here."
"Right." Illya didn't sound very hopeful, and Napoleon felt the way Illya sounded, but they had to do something. He reached out and gripped Illya's hands again.
"So what's the signal? It has to be unmistakable, because we won't get a second chance. Nothing to make them suspicious, but not something you might do or say by accident either."
"I'll beg you," Illya said, and closed his eyes. "I'll beg you to help me, and then I'll move."
They lay for a while longer, with first Illya then Napoleon slipping in and out of consciousness. He urinated again before morning and the reddish tinge was deeper. Illya's hands were cold and clammy. They didn't have much time.
The group by the fire roused with first light. They stretched, yawned, strolled into the woods to relieve themselves, and put something on the fire. It smelled good, but Napoleon wasn't the least bit hungry. His back hurt ferociously, his gut hurt, he hurt all over. He let go of Illya's hands, maneuvering away from him so as not to rouse their ire again. He settled half on his belly, half on his side, knees drawn up a little bit, and let his features grow lax.
"I've got an early morning woody!" Bass announced gleefully. "Hey blondie, wake up!" He prodded Illya's injured leg with one foot and Illya moaned. There was so much pain in the sound that Napoleon's fists clenched in mingled sympathy and anger.
"Hey," said Larry. "What makes you first again?"
Bass shrugged. "You can go first," he said indifferently. "I'll have some breakfast, then we'll switch.
Carl strolled over, crouched at Illya's head. "Go Larry," he said, voice ragged. "I like the way he looks when you give it to him. Go."
Napoleon was watching the scene. They were ignoring him completely, and that was the way he wanted it. The rifleman was standing beside Illya. He slipped one hand inside his pants, leaning the rifle against a tree.
"Napoleon help me!" Illya cried suddenly, and his voice broke. "Please please can't you make them stop?" then his whole body heaved and the rifleman grunted, and fell. Napoleon body slammed Carl, knocking him over, grabbed the gun from his hand and shot him. Then he shot Larry. He twisted around towards the campfire but Bass was already running for cover. The rifleman had crawled into the undergrowth, and Napoleon swore. Only two down, two more in hiding. He dug in Carl's unfastened trousers and came up with a knife. He sawed at his bonds, and when they snapped he leaped to his feet.
His legs went out from under him and he swore again, dragged himself to his knees. He cut the ropes holding Illya's wrists, pulled him across the log, up onto his back, and rose. His legs wanted to collapse again but he forced them to move, one step, then the next. He sent a few shots back towards the campfire to discourage the other two, and then he ran.
He ran back down the path, his mind racing. He called up the image of the previous day's walk. There was a cliff not too far ahead, a sheer drop into deep water. Napoleon thought of the sharp jagged rocks rising from the blue depths, and of Bass, making jokes about knocking them both over the edge onto them.
They didn't have much time. Napoleon couldn't hope to outrun them, his ammunition was limited, and he couldn't even gain enough distance to set an ambush. So he ran straight towards the cliff.
Each step hurt, pounding his back and he could tell from Illya's grunts and gasps that he was in agony too. Nothing could be done about that, so he closed his mind to it and kept going. When he saw water glinting up ahead he fairly threw Illya into the undergrowth and ran closer still, sending a flurry of pebbles and rocks sliding ahead of him. He heaved at a couple of boulders at the cliff's edge and one of them obligingly rolled and toppled over, making a crashing sound and leaving a distinct trail. Napoleon gave a falling, desperate scream and spun about, retraced his steps. Snatching Illya up he crouched low, scurried through the thick bushes, looking for someplace to hide, someplace... there was a protruding bank with a thicket of thorn bushes growing out of it. He rolled them into it, ignoring the way the thorns tore at his flesh, catching brief glimpses of Illya's face, ghostly pale now, mouth opening to cry out. Napoleon clamped a hand over it, and they lay still.
Their pursuers were coming along the path now and when they reached the cliff edge Napoleon heard them begin to laugh.
"Ran 'em right off," Bass said, and they laughed some more.
"Have a nice trip!" Rifleman called out. "See you next fall!" They both fell about at this witticism, slapping one another's shoulders and guffawing. The rifleman -whose weapon must have been empty after all, just as Napoleon had suspected, spoke again. "Got a little something for you!" he shouted. "Kind of a memorial, you might say." There was the sound of a zipper, then the unmistakable noise of a man urinating.
"Hell yeah!" Bass whooped. "I got some of that too!" Napoleon felt weary, and filled with a profound distaste for his job. They were pissing on them—or thought they were. On his body, and on Illya's. Illya, so dedicated and full of integrity, with his brilliant mind and his sharp wry sense of humor,. What the hell is wrong with them, he thought. And what the hell is wrong with us? What kind of a way is this to live? Those two together aren't worth Illya's little finger, but they're pissing on his grave anyway. Sons of bitches. He still had his hand across Illya's mouth because they couldn't risk the smallest sound, and it was reassuring too to feel his breath, whispering gently onto his fingers. He turned his head a little bit, to be sure Illya wasn't suffocating, and their eyes met. In Illya's was the same disillusion Napoleon felt. They looked at each other for a long time, and then the two Thrush agents walked away again. They went back down the path, back to their campfire, back to wherever they came from, never having known what they had; UNCLE agents of such high rank their capture could have set all four men's careers on a hard fast track. Instead they had wasted the chance, beating them almost to death and, ultimately, pissing on their graves. Napoleon sighed. He thought they should wait for a while, in case it was a trick, and when he looked at Illya again his eyes were closed and his body limp.
They lay there all day, and only when darkness fell did Napoleon move. He hoisted Illya onto his shoulders again and walked. He walked for nearly two hours before feeling safe enough to stop. He splinted Illya's leg once more, glad he was still unconscious, worried sick for the same reason. His own urine was dark red now and shooting pains in his abdomen and back threatened to bring him to his knees. He stumbled on, on and on and on until finally he reached a small village.
There was no phone service, but there was an incredibly ancient ham radio set. He coaxed it into life and sent a signal, a distress call to UNCLE's emergency station. He hoped it reached them. He hoped someone would come and get them because he... he flopped down on the mat offered... had done all he could.
The sound of a helicopter woke him and his first reaction was overwhelming fear. Their transmission had been intercepted. Thrush had sent a party to pick them up. He crawled across the hut floor to Illya and held the gun to his temple. He would shoot Illya, he could after all and he would, and then he would turn the gun on himself. Let Thrush piss on them again. So what? So the fuck what? He and Illya would be beyond their reach. So he crouched there and waited, and when a figure darkened the doorway his finger twitched on the trigger.
"Napoleon! Don't shoot! It's me, Mark!"
Mark. Mark Slate. Well, he'd be damned. Napoleon lowered the weapon and then more people filled the tiny hut, carrying stretchers and first aid kits and communicators, all of which they seemed to be waving in his face—or maybe it was his vision that was wavering. Maybe... maybe... he toppled over, reaching a protective arm towards Illya as he fell.
They were resting in Napoleon's apartment. Illya lay on the sofa, leg propped up on pillows. They had taken off the body cast finally, after eight long weeks in the hospital, and replaced it with a walking one that went from thigh to ankle. He was still very pale and faced, Napoleon knew, months of grueling physical therapy. His hair was the most alive thing about him right now, catching and holding the golden light from the wall lamp, letting it smolder there.
Napoleon sat in the recliner, back propped against pillows. They had removed the damaged kidney, and the pain following that surgery had been something new in his experience. Even now, two months later, he still had to take pills to sleep. He didn't complain, though—it wasn't very long ago that he was relying on them just to get through the day.
"So here we are again," he said finally and Illya turned his head to look at him. "Two battered old war horses, turned out to pasture."
"Don't let Mr. Waverly hear you call Section I pasture," Illya answered. "But me..."
"Head of the newly combined Physical and Laboratory Science Departments?" Napoleon stretched, winced, and adjusted his pillows. "You're going to stand the place on its ears before you're through. I guess I was referring to right now. Out on medical leave for at least another three months."
"I'm just glad to be here," Illya said simply, and smiled over at Napoleon. "I didn't think I'd ever see New York again, much less lounge around in your apartment. I'm not looking much farther than this moment."
"This moment," Napoleon echoed softly. "With your best friend."
"Yes." Illya held his gaze. "With my best friend."
"Me too, Illya. I'm with my best friend too. And..." he hesitated. There had been a lot of time to think, lying in the hospital bed watching the morphine drip into his vein. The drug had seemed to wipe away all artificial boundaries and constraints, letting his mind wander outside its previously circumscribed borders.
He had missed Illya badly while he languished in the post surgical unit and Illya was in orthopedics. Neither one was cleared to visit the other, and Napoleon had pestered the nurses constantly for reports on Illya's condition. From the mingled affectionate and exasperated replies he got he understood that Illya was doing the same thing about him. They had been released on the same day, on condition that Illya go home with Napoleon instead of to his fourth floor walk up in Greenwich Village. It was a condition Napoleon had accepted with real joy.
Joy. It was a joy that they were together. He thought of those days in the jungle, of Illya's eyes locking onto his, Illya's hands gripping his, reaching out to him from the depths of his pain and humiliation and anguish. He had touched the deep solid core of Napoleon then, and Napoleon thought he had touched Illya too. With everything stripped from them but one another, it had been easy to see that that had always been the case. Here was that essential truth, that vital core. Here, with the two of them, together. Together.
He turned the recliner so he was facing Illya, and reached out with both hands. Illya shifted position and reached out too, and their hands caught and held. They held on each to the other with a firm grip, just like before, and looked into one another's eyes. Just like before. There was a long silence, and then Illya smiled.
"Not my shame," he said, and Napoleon shook his head.
"No. Never yours." He squeezed Illya's hands.
"Thank you, Napoleon. For then, for now, and..." he hesitated. Color flooded his face, but he didn't look away. "For tomorrow," he finished. "Tomorrow and...?"
"Tomorrow and tomorrow," Napoleon said, and tightened his grip. "All our tomorrows, Illya." He peered more closely into Illya's eyes, and what he saw there made his heart lift. He hitched himself closer and Illya rolled backwards, making room on the sofa. Napoleon shifted awkwardly, hefting his weight up and over the arm of the chair and landing with a soft thump on the sofa beside Illya. Illya winced as his body jostled with the motion, but he didn't pull away. In fact he moved closer and then there they were. Body to body, breath mingling, every inch of them pressed close together.
It was good. It was so very good that Napoleon wondered what had taken them so long. He moved even closer and inhaled, breathing in the scent of Illya's hair, Illya's flesh. Illya pushed his face into Napoleon's neck and inhaled too.
They were slow and careful with one another, each painfully aware of the other's injuries, each aware of his own. Napoleon ran his hands down Illya's spine, along his buttocks, caressing his thighs, brushing the cast, rough against his fingertips, accepting, protecting. Illya held him, arms around Napoleon's back, light over the bandages there, embracing and shielding. They moved together, slowly at first, then as desire overtook them, faster. Illya was whispering something in Russian and Napoleon gasped out his name, over and over because that was all he had, all he had to hold on to was Illya, Illya..."Illya!" He came with a shout and felt Illya's answering shudder along every nerve ending. Then they lay still, panting, breathing in great heaving gulps, each still awash in the scent of the other.
Illya washed him first, carefully, every inch of him except for the bandages and before he had finished Napoleon was hard again. He began to prop himself up on his elbows, wanting to do something about it, wanting... but Illya pressed him back down. Illya leaned over him, drew him into his mouth and the pleasure took Napoleon's breath away. He couldn't cry aloud this time, could only make little pleading sounds and Illya answered him, gave him what he was begging for, lifting him up and up and up and then the downward swoop, Illya still with him, draining everything from him, giving everything to him.
That had worked out so well that as soon as he could he returned the favor, dipping the sponge in warm water and washing Illya, washing away the evidence of desire, washing away sweat and any remainder of old memories. He sucked Illya slowly and easily, exploring as he went, curious about this new thing, curious about Illya's taste and the way Illya arched his hips upward and the way Illya tangled both hands in his hair, clutching him close then letting him go, sagging back. Napoleon had to chuckle, looking at Illya lying there, penis softening against his stomach, golden curls damp... he brushed them with the back of his hand and Illya made a contented sound, reached for him, pulled him down and then they were lying on the couch again, just as they had been, as different as if they had been newly made.
They roused themselves to eat... Napoleon heating up one of the many casseroles UNCLE staff had brought them. "Which woman made this one, Napoleon?" Illya inquired darkly as he dipped his fork into chicken and mushrooms and wild rice. "And maybe you'd better not tell them about us right away or they'll stop cooking for you."
"As it so happens, this comes from Lisa Bradford in the chemistry lab," Napoleon answered lightly, tearing off a piece of crusty baked bread and dipping it into the sauce. "For you. And there are enough meals in there to keep us both satisfied for weeks to come. Surely by then I'll be up to cooking again."
"Or we could order pizza," Illya said, concentrating on getting a mushroom onto his fork. "Or Chinese. Because I don't really want them to think you're... we're available anymore. Why string them along?"
"That's what you say now, now I've reassured you as to our culinary riches."
"Yes. That's what I say now." Illya contemplated his empty plate. "Do I want more of this," he asked, "or do I want dessert?"
"How you can eat one more thing I can't imagine." Napoleon cleared their places and, without being asked, brought Illya a slice of apple pie. Illya applied himself to it while Napoleon poured wine. They sat and drank, watching one another over the rims of their glasses, and when they had finished they made their way to bed.
Once there they twined around one another again, bodies moving together as naturally as if they had been doing this their entire lives. "Come inside me," Illya whispered. Napoleon started. "I know," Illya went on. "But I want you to. When I think of that, I want to think of you, not them. Not of Thrush, not of assorted nameless agents. Not of my uncle. Never them, not anymore. Just you."
Napoleon was unable to speak through the lump in his throat, so he prepared Illya, sliding down to lie between his legs, smelling him, tasting him, teasing him a little with his warm lips and his tongue and his fingers. When he raised up, settled over him Illya wrapped his good leg around Napoleon's waist and said "Yes. Now. Now, Napoleon, now now..." Napoleon silenced him with his own mouth and there was another dizzying flight, another long frantic struggle, Illya nearly sobbing with the intensity of his desire, Napoleon setting a slow, easy yet relentless pace and this time they each cried out the other's name before Napoleon collapsed, heavy on top, heavy and sated and happy. He mumbled words to that effect into Illya's throat, and Illya stroked his hair.
"Me too, Napoleon," he said finally. "I've never been so happy."
"I love you," Napoleon managed, heart still pounding so hard it shook them both. "Have I told you that yet, in all this talking and kissing and passion? I love you."
"I love you too. And yes, you told me. In the jungle, when you took my hands and looked into my soul, you told me."
"Yes. And now we're here, safe and sound, warm and comfortable... well." He grimaced as a sharp twinge reminded him of the damage and the surgery and the bandages. "Relatively comfortable. I'm getting my pain meds. Want yours?"
"Yes please." There was silence while Napoleon fetched the two pill bottles, and two glasses of water, and more silence while they drank. Then Napoleon settled back down, pulling Illya closer, feeling, with enormous satisfaction, Illya's head coming to rest on his shoulder.
"Two old warhorses," he repeated, and laughed a little. "Look at us."
"You look," Illya said, voice muffled against his skin. "I'm too sleepy."
"Me too." He yawned, feeling the dark wave rise over him, covering him, pulling him down into sleep. He wanted to say something else, some promise for the future, but sleep took him before he could.
Eight months later
Napoleon swam laps, strong hard strokes propelling him easily along the lane. They were at his brother Charles's estate, house sitting while he travelled. A little to his right Illya hung in the water, legs cycling as he maintained position. Napoleon paused, and beckoned. Illya drifted closer and they smiled at one another.
Illya's hair was the same gold as the sun that dappled the surface of the pool. Napoleon looked at him, at the easy way he moved. He sank down, ran both hands along the injured leg. It was straight and strong now, only the faint white scars where the traction bar had been inserted showing that it had been nearly shattered less than a year ago. In silent reply Illya caressed his back where the surgeon's scalpel had removed the damaged and bleeding kidney. His caresses felt good and Napoleon shivered, then rose. Together they side stroked towards the stairs. When they emerged from the cold water they kissed there, in the blazing sunshine, kissed in the light of their shared future. Then they went inside, and closed the door behind them.