Napoleon hears the door to his hospital cell unlocking and opening. He wishes he were strong enough to mount an attack, but he's already tried that once with a less than favorable outcome. His head still hurts from that thrashing.
A tall blond man dressed in black ducks inside the room, and for a moment his serious face seems to light up when he sees Napoleon sitting up and looking back at him.
"Get dressed," the man says in heavily-accented English, tossing a set of clothes on the end of Napoleon's bed. He disappears into the corridor, the door whispering shut behind him.
Napoleon slips on the clothes the big Russian provided. Napoleon doesn’t know what the man’s game is, but he’s going to go along with it if it gets him out of this place. He can always kill him later if he has to.
He opens the door soundlessly, surprised when he sees the giant emerge from the shadows as seamlessly as if he’d never been there.
"You take too long, tovarisch,” the Russian says quietly. Napoleon tries not to let surprise show on this face,
“Tovarisch? What does that mean?” Napoleon says, although they’re already moving along the hall back the way Napoleon knows is the way he was brought in, and which presumably leads out.
"It means cowboy,” the Russian says. He sounds like he’s smiling, although Napoleon can’t see his face. The man has let him follow, leaving his back exposed, trusting Napoleon to watch it, and he doesn’t know who this trusting giant is because in the spy game that kind of trust is rare. They’re supposed to be on opposite sides.
“I always thought it meant ‘friend,’” Napoleon says nonchalantly, not wanting to give away his extensive knowledge of Russian.
“Were you hit in head? Have you forgotten you speak Russian then?” the other man asks, and Napoleon smiles against his better judgment.
“Nyet,” he says, and follows the Russian down the corridor, keeping to the shadows as best they can in the poorly lit corridors of what passes for a hospital.
They make it outside without encountering any resistance, although they come across half a dozen unconscious bodies the Russian Peril seems to have left in his wake on the way in. The man appears to be a one-man wrecking crew.
Napoleon is feeling the ache of his healing wound and of unused muscles. How long has he been in bed? He doesn’t know. The last thing he remembers is being on a train to East Berlin, ready to extract the daughter of German scientist Udo Teller. He doesn’t know how long ago that was, or if he even made it to East Berlin. The fact he seems to have a Russian protector that he doesn’t remember certainly suggests something has happened in the intervening time, although Napoleon has no idea what kind of scenario would end up with him playing damsel in distress to a KGB agent, which he’s almost certain the big man is.
“Rest here. I’ll scout ahead,” the man says when they've reached the outside, and Napoleon, breathless, just nods. He won’t refuse a moment to catch his breath. Like some kind of jungle cat, the Russian blends into the night and disappears. How the hell does he do that? Napoleon wonders. He’s never met someone so big who moved so quietly when necessary.
From the darkness he hears the distinctive sound of flesh hitting flesh. Just one tremendous slap, then nothing. Napoleon has heard the KGB has a technique called the Kiss – sneak up behind a man, and with one palm aimed at the head and neck, hit him with the precise amount of force to render him unconscious while still standing up. He waits for any other sign of struggle or capture, anything to know if he should be running, and is bracing himself for a fight when the Russian emerges in a mote of moonlight.
“This way,” he says, and Napoleon follows. Curiouser and curiouser, he thinks, but follows the white rabbit anyway.
The forest is dense and dark except where pockets of moonlight filter down through the leaf-fringed trees. It’s autumn wherever they are, and Napoleon hasn’t heard or seen anything that would give him a clue other than the hospital appeared to be a THRUSH stronghold – its bare bleakness and lack of real care seemed to be its defining characteristics. THRUSH was still a relatively new player on the scene, but they were already making waves internationally.
"Can you walk?" the Russian asks, and Napoleon takes a moment. The Russian is steps ahead of him, and Napoleon’s breathing is laboured.
“I'm fine," he tries, but the Russian makes some sort of snort, and comes back toward him.
“We have three, maybe three and a half kilometers to go, and an hour before extraction. Should be plenty of time, but…” He looks skeptical. “Maybe I carry you.”
No,” Napoleon says, putting up his hands as if to fend off the Russian. “I’m hardly a damsel in distress, Mr. …”
The silence that follows is damning and Napoleon knows it. He should know the name to fill in there, and now that it’s clear he doesn’t, what will that mean to the Russian?
“Cowboy?” he says, cautiously, and that doesn’t help at all.
“Um, yes?” Napoleon counters as the Russian looms out of the darkness.
“Do you know who you are, Cowboy?” the man asks, face as serious as when he’d first caught sight of Napoleon in the hospital room.
“Napoleon Solo,” he says, never cautious about giving out his name. Everyone seems to know who he is anyway. It’s not like his picture and name aren’t plastered in spy headquarters' coffee rooms around the world with a sizable fee attached for his capture.
“And who am I?”
“Ah, well, there I’ll admit I’m at a bit of a loss.”
The Russian swears colorfully, and Napoleon waits until the cursing has come to an end.
“I’m really very sorry. I wish I did remember who you are since obviously you’re saving my neck, and I’m grateful for that.” Napoleon is indeed thankful for the rescue, although he doesn’t have a clue who the blond giant is, or why a KGB agent would be tasked with his rescue. Unless maybe they’re in Russia?
“Are we in Russia?”
The Russian looks at him like he’s stupid. “North Carolina,” he says, and squats down in the dirt. “You really remember nothing?”
Napoleon’s apologetic, although he doesn’t know why he feels he has to be. “Well, I remember who I am, and that I was on my way to East Berlin for an assignment for the CIA, but other than that—"
“Wait, to get Gaby? That mission?”
Napoleon freezes. “How do you know about it?”
“I was there. I was trying to stop you, but still, that mission happened six months ago, Cowboy.”
The nickname again, and Napoleon is at a loss. Six months?
“Look, I’m honestly sorry I can’t seem to remember you, especially with the life-saving rescue, but I need something to call you. What’s your name?” Other than the Red Peril, which is what Napoleon has been calling the other man in his head.
“Illya Kuryakin.” The Russian looks at him hopefully as if the name will be the key to unlocking Napoleon’s memories. It isn’t.
“Well, Mr. Kuryakin, since you seem to know a lot about me, why don’t you share something about yourself while we walk. I can go on now. No need for carrying.”
As they walk, Napoleon listens to a wild story about a car chase through East Berlin and how very close Kuryakin came to catching him and Frau Schmidt, who seems to be affectionately known as Gaby.
“You threw a car at us?” Napoleon asks, astounded. He doesn’t honestly doubt the story looking at the Russian’s massive shoulders. Napoleon’s not a small man, yet he feels dwarfed by the KGB agent.
“Only the trunk.” Kuryakin pauses. “You know, I always wondered. You had a shot and you did not take it. Why?”
Napoleon shrugs. “I have no idea. Maybe I was waiting to see what you would throw at us next. Literally and figuratively.”
"Well, you dropped me in minefield on other side of barbed wire fence, so you had your turn to laugh at me.”
Kuryakin goes on to spin a tale about being forced to work together because of their governments, about Illya drowning and Napoleon coming to his rescue, about Napoleon being strapped in an electric chair and tortured and Kuryakin coming to extract him, about a desperate chase in the rain.
“You threw a motorcycle at him?”
“It was small one,” Kuryakin says, but he’s smiling.
“Is that how it is?" Napoleon asks. "We take turns saving each other's lives?"
“Something like that.”
“And where does this Gaby fit in? She’s Udo Teller’s daughter, isn’t she?”
“Yes, and she betrayed us both, but I believe we have forgiven her for that. She was under orders from UNCLE.”
“The United Network Command for Law and Enforecement? I’ve heard of them. Well, rumors of them, anyway. They’re trying to start an international spy agency to deal with international incidents. THRUSH, in particular.”
“Yes,” Kuryakin says, pleased it seems that Napoleon knows something. “We work for UNCLE now.”
“We? As in you and me?”
“And Gaby. We are, as you say, on loan from our governments. I am still KGB."
“Never doubted it for a moment, Peril,” Napoleon says, and suddenly Kuryakin is right there, hand on his arm.
“You called me Peril,” he says, and Napoleon thinks back to what he just said. He’s been thinking of Kuryakin as the Red Peril while the story’s been unwinding, and it just seemed natural to call him that. He should really watch his impulses.
“No, no, that’s what you call me. Is nickname. Like Cowboy.”
Napoleon raises an eyebrow, surprised that the Russian has been letting him get away with that. Either the KGB has changed drastically, or this man is much more than he appears to be.
Kuryakin checks his watch. “We must push on. THRUSH will have sent men and dogs after us by now.”
As if on command, Napoleon can hear the baying of a hound somewhere far off to the west. It’s enough to get him moving, even though he’s already dripping with sweat and thoroughly exhausted. He can feel a wetness leaking through the bandage around his ribs. He isn’t certain Kuryakin’s noticed that yet, seeing how dark it is. Napoleon doesn’t want to alarm him until he absolutely has to.
They skirt through the darkness, Kuryakin using the flashlight sparingly and always directed straight ahead so as to give the least amount of chance of being seen. There are more sounds behind them, men and dogs, yelling, the occasional gun shot, and Kuryakin urges Napoleon to go faster. If only he could.
“Just—just let me breathe for a minute, Peril.” He tries the nickname again, certain it will buy him the time to at least catch his breath so he can keep going. The Russian circles back to him and passes him a canteen with water.
“Here, drink. Not too fast. You’re still weak from drugs they gave you.”
“Yeah, about that,” Napoleon says, and the hand he’s had pressed against his side the last little while is damp with blood. He leaves a bloody smear on the canteen, even as the Russian catches a glimpse of his hand in the filtered light.
“You are injured.”
He pushes Napoleon down against a tree and proceeds to pull up his shirt without another word.
“Usually a man at least buys me dinner first," he tries, but the Russian just glares at him.
“You have pulled stitches,” he says when he ties the bandage back into place. "You should have said something.”
“I didn’t know who you were,” Napoleon admits. “I still don’t. For all I know, you could be THRUSH sent to befriend me and get information out of me. Or KGB, like you say. I’m sure they’d have a few questions for the CIA’s top spy. Or you could be anyone really. There’s no shortage of people looking to bring my head home on a platter.”
Even as he says it, Napoleon knows none of that is true. He can feel the easy camaraderie between them, the sense of connection. He knows they're something more than two agents forced to work together. It's an odd sensation—he's not one to let people get that close.
Kuryakin takes a step back and shakes his head. “I’m not one of them. I’m—your partner.”
The way he says the word it’s clear he’s rarely pronounced it outside of his head. It sounds foreign on his tongue, and the face he makes when he says it means he’s not comfortable with what it means or how it makes him feel. It’s enough to tell Napoloeon that more than likely, however unlikely it may seem, the big Russian is probably telling the truth.
“Napoleon,” Kuryakin says, and it’s Napoleon’s turn to look up in surprise.
“No one calls me that except my mother.”
“Yes, yes, have heard it before.” Kuryakin ignores him as he pours over a compass and a map with the penlight held in his mouth. It doesn’t help his conversational abilities any. “But also your partner.”
“Yes, you said that,” Napoleon affirms. He’s never really worked with partners before, been best working alone. Of course, he uses people where necessary, with or without their knowledge and consent, but overall he dislikes relying on someone else to save his hide from certain death. He’s had too many close calls.
“Still some time before extraction, although we are near to clearing. They will no doubt be aware of where we’re headed. I could call for immediate pick-up, but THRUSH will easily triangulate our position from the signal and we may have to fight before pick-up arrives.” He checks his clip and his jacket. "I have maybe 30 rounds left. Should be enough.”
“Do I get a gun?” Napoleon asks. “Since I’m your partner and all.”
Kuryakin pulls a Walther from one of his many pockets and sets it on Napoleon’s outstretched hand. Its weight is familiar, but it’s the type of gun Napoleon always uses. He can’t be certain it’s his own gun, but it’s enough to give him more confidence that the Russian is who he says he is. His partner, and isn’t that the strangest thing of all?
“Yes. But I prefer to work alone. Partners need a lot of rescuing,” Kuryakin says, with something that seems to be a hint of amusement. He’s making a joke, Napoleon thinks, and Napoleon rewards him with a smile.
“Yes, I'll admit it does seem that way at the moment. But surely, you owe me a few rescues at this point?”
The Russian just snorts while he prods at Napoleon to keep moving. “I’ll take that as a no, then?” Napoleon says.
“No. You owe me several times over for rescues, drinks, and for stealing my father’s watch.”
“Your father’s watch. Now why would I—"
“Is a game.” Kuryakin shrugs amicably. “You steal it. I steal it back. You are not as good a thief as you like to think. I am getting better.” Out of habit Napoleon checks his wrist. Damned if the Russian isn’t holding up Napoleon’s watch, waving it towards him in the half-light of the moon.
“You son of a—" Napoleon takes the offered watch.
“You have only yourself to blame. Was self-defense learning to steal. Otherwise, I would own nothing.”
“You’re a communist, aren’t you? Isn’t that the whole thing of it—nothing privately owned, all for the good of the state?”
Kuryakin grimaces, obviously uncomfortable.
"One for all and all for one?" Napoleon offers to lighten the mood.
“Those are the Musketeers,” Kuryakin says, and Napoleon knows a change of subject when he sees it. Maybe Kuryakin’s a good communist after all, but maybe working for UNCLE has given him a chance to see that Napoleon’s western decadence isn’t all bad. At least he’s taught the man how to do a proper lift—that much is clear.
They continue making their way arguing about French writers versus Russian writers, and it gives Napoleon something to concentrate on besides the terrible pain in his side, the dryness of his mouth, the way his knees try to buckle every step he forces himself upright. The forest is dense, and even Kuryakin’s promise of “not far now” isn’t bolstering his reserves at this point. He fears he might have to take the Russian up on that embarrassing offer to carry him after all.
“Stop, stop,” the Russian says, appearing at his side, and pulling Napoleon down. He goes to his knees, legs not capable of holding him anymore.
“Let me check your wound.”
Even in the darkness, Napoleon can tell the cloth is completely soaked through, and this time the Russian tugs off his own sweater and undershirt, bare chest shining in the moonlight.
Napoleon doesn’t say a word as the other man tears the undershirt into strips and binds his wound tighter than it had been before. He wraps the sweater around Napoleon like a second layer of bandage, and secures it with a knot.
“They’re going to see the light reflecting off that fair skin of yours, Kuryakin,” Napoleon says. There’s a white-toothed grin in the darkness, and then a handful of mud and leaves is scooped up and slathered across Kuryakin’s broad chest. Napoleon stares. “Now I am not so shiny. Less attractive to magpie thieves perhaps.”
Napoleon honestly doesn’t know what to say to that, and is even less sure after Kuryakin freezes, then looks away and continues slathering mud and leaves across his torso and onto his back. There's a white circle in the area where Illya can't reach.
"Let me do that before you pull a muscle," Napoleon offers, scooping up a handful of mud and planting it in the dead centre of Illya's broad back. He covers the bare spots, wondering at the feel of Illya's skin under his hands. The flare of heat in his belly, not from the wound this time, is unmistakable, and not what he’s come to expect from his dealings with the Russians. Attractive to magpie thieves, indeed. Maybe "partners" is a more significant term than Napoleon first thought.
When Kuryakin turns around, Napoleon doesn't think, doesn't hesitate, just puts his own muddy hands on Kuryakin's shoulders and draws him closer. There in the dark, in the middle of the woods, with enemy agents in hot pursuit, Napoleon presses his lips to Illya's in a deliberate, firm kiss. It's a question, and apparently it's the wrong one, because there's no response from Illya, and Napoleon thinks he's badly miscalculated. He steps back.
"Dreadfully sorry, Peril. I thought—"
Illya seems to finally register what's just happened, and he cuts Napoleon off with a kiss of his own. It's hard and anxious, and not a little lacking in finesse, but under the circumstances it's everything Napoleon could've hoped for. It's honest, and Napoleon knows the Russian has been telling the truth. He feels it, the same way he feels the rightness of their mouths meeting in the dark, the spark that threatens to burn the whole damn forest down around them.
"Cowboy," Illya says, pulling away, and it's clear they've got to keep moving.
There's something in the Russian's face that's a little bit sad, and Napoleon wants to ask him about it, but they don't have the time. Illya clasps his hand tightly, and tugs him forward. Soon enough, the grip on his hand changes to Napoleon allowing Illya to support him with one arm under his shoulders, around his back.
Every toppled tree trunk feels like a mountain that needs climbing. Every twig seems to break beneath Napoleon’s footfalls, and the sound of baying hounds is closer every second.
“I can’t,” Napoleon finally gasps, trying and failing to make it over a particularly large fallen tree. Illya doesn’t say a word, just stoops and drops Napoleon over his shoulder, so Napoleon’s head is pointed earthward. He feels nauseated.
“I can’t promise I won’t throw up on you,” Napoleon says.
“Won’t be first time,” Illya says, and Napoleon wonders what exactly they’ve gotten up to in the six months they’ve been partnered. It was probably vodka shots, Napoleon figures. He’s never had a strong stomach for vodka, and what else would a Russian drink?
“Do you like martinis?” Napoleon asks, just to have something to think about while his head is bouncing and the world spins terribly off-kilter. Illya totes him like a sack of potatoes.
“Dirty ones,” Illya says, and Napoleon isn’t sure if the Russian is telling the truth, joking, or attempting to flirt. Usually Napoleon is much better at this game, but he's never met someone like Illya.
"So what happened after all the rescuing? What happened to the information we were competing for?" Napoleon asks, anxious for a distraction.
“You had disk, and my father’s watch. You gave me back my father in a small way, and I could not repay your kindness by shooting you. It was a moment of weakness.”
“Obviously I didn’t want to shoot you either," Napoleon says sensibly.
“Is true. We decided neither government deserved the information. Too dangerous.”
“So, what happened?”
“We burned it and drank scotch over it. Toasted each other. Was monumental occasion.”
“I honestly can’t tell if you’re making a joke or not,” Napoleon admits.
“Russians never joke,” Illya says, and Napoleon laughs. He can’t help himself. Who the hell is this man? He’s looking forward to what other surprises Illya might have in store for him. Usually escaping from somewhere isn’t this amusing. Of course, usually, Napoleon’s left to get himself out of whatever mess he’s found himself in. The CIA isn’t the army, and leave no man behind was clearly traded for plausible deniability. Napoleon’s always known he's expendable and that no one is going to have his back except him.
Until now, apparently. Upside-down, he studies Illya’s broad back, the mud and guck drying on his skin in the chill night air.
"How much further?" Napoleon asks, unable to keep the plaintive note out of his voice.
"Not far," Illya says again, and Napoleon’s trying to nod when he decides it isn’t worth it and passes out.
It’s the sound of gunshots that wakes Napoleon. He’s lying on the ground in the shadow of a fallen tree, and he can see moonlight up above. The clearing is obviously close by.
Maybe Illya’s gone to signal the chopper. Or maybe he’s leading THRUSH away. Napoleon reaches into his pocket and extracts his gun, checks it, and chambers a round. His breathing is erratic, he feels clammy all over, and he isn’t sure now that he’s down if he’s going to be able to get up again.
Suddenly Illya is beside him, almost startling a cry out of Napoleon except for the big hand that covers his mouth, suppressing all sound. It feels as if it covers half his face. Illya’s eyes are dark in the poor light, and he shakes his head meaningfully. They’re not safe. At least not yet.
Solo listens and can hear people tramping through the brush, making no secret of their location and no effort to hide their movements. Further off in the western sky he can hear the slow thwup-thwup of chopper blades growing closer. Their rescuers, no doubt.
"I will lead them away," Illya says. "You stay here. I will radio your location to Gaby soon as I can."
It sounds like a small army is beating the bushes for them. He can hear raised voices and the baying of dogs. Maybe the cold night and the fact that Illya’s slathered in mud is working for them, but Napoleon also suspects he’s been trailing blood, and that’s not something that’s hard for a dog to track even in pitch dark.
"You can’t fight twenty men," Napoleon says.
“Closer to thirty,” Illya says, and "don’t be ridiculous," which Solo takes to mean, "of course, I can. Just watch me". It’s foolish and brave and Napoleon feels a frisson of panic because he’s just met this man, and he’d rather not have their relationship ended so abruptly by a THRUSH bullet. If he tells Illya to be careful, he’s going to laugh in Napoleon's face.
"Don't move, and don't die. I'll be back," Illya says, glaring at Napoleon as if he's going to argue. In his present condition that's not likely, but Napoleon concedes the point that he often ignores commands to stay put. Illya melts into the darkness and is gone.
Long moments pass where Napoleon tries to steady his breathing and his rapidly beating heart. The helicopter swoops down, does a flyby over the clearing and somewhere on the other side of it, Illya tosses red smoke so they know the landing zone is hot. The next minute the air is alive with bullets, so Napoleon suspects they’re getting the idea regardless of the smoke grenade. He can hear the chopper’s machine guns cutting through the underbrush, far from him, and he wonders if Illya’s managed to tell them his position or if he’s just lucky.
"Look what we found," says a male voice behind him. Napoleon honestly doesn’t know if the voice belongs to friend or foe, but it doesn’t sound like the kind of greeting he’d get from someone coming to rescue him, so he assumes THRUSH has found him.
"Put your hands in the air, Mr. Solo," the man continues, and Napoleon does as commanded, leaving his gun tucked safely in the darkness beside his hip. He may yet have an opportunity to use it. He certainly won’t be getting up on his own anytime soon.
Three men come around to the front, skirting him widely, guns trained at his heart and head. So far they seem moderately competent. Napoleon hates those kind of operatives.
“Where’s Kuryakin, Mr. Solo?”
So even THRUSH seems to know that Illya is Solo’s partner. Interesting. One of the men is glancing nervously around. He’s sporting a hand-shaped bruise that takes up half his face, and Napoleon thinks yeah, he’s got a reason to be on guard.
"I see you met my partner," Napoleon says with a grin, and gets backhanded for his trouble. He reaches for a leg, but the man steps away just as quickly as he struck. Napoleon’s going to have to get his timing exactly right.
"He's outnumbered, and you're useless to him," the man says. He seems to be doing all the talking. "He'll be dead in a matter of minutes."
In the distance, machine guns continue to fire, punctuated every so often by a single shot. Illya's definitely still alive, and something in Napoleon's spirit rallies.
"You don't know him," Napoleon says. The irony, which is not lost on Napoleon, is that he doesn't really know him either, or at least he seems to have forgotten a tremendous amount of very important information about the Russian. But somehow he knows he can trust him.
"Let's just shoot him," says the man with Illya's handprint on his face.
The spokesman shakes his head. "They want him back for more questioning."
The third man rolls his eyes. "They didn't get anything from him before. What makes them think—"
"They're bringing in a chemist."
Everyone grows silent at that, and Napoleon swallows the lump in his throat. Whatever drugs they've given him have already messed with his memory. Someone that actually knows what he's doing might be able to get past Napoleon's defenses. He's been taught to withstand torture and the usual types of truth serums, but there's always something new.
The three men are now speculating on what the best way to restrain Napoleon is, and he starts to ease his hands down.
"Keep them up where we can see them."
"I'll have you know I've lost a considerable amount of blood, and may not be able to comply with that directive much longer."
It's the truth, and Napoleon feels close to passing out again. He needs to make a move soon, but his window of opportunity is growing smaller by the second.
Napoleon lets his eyes start to close, then blinks them open again. He does the same thing a few more times, letting his chin drop a little more each time, his arms starting to lose the strength that's keeping them in the air. In a minute, he won't be faking.
"He's going to be out any second," the man who wanted to shoot him says.
"Then secure him."
Napoleon has to judge by sound when the two men are approaching. His arms are completely down now, the one landing lightly on his Walther PPK. In one smooth sweep of his arm, Napoleon brings his gun to bear on the man to his right, hitting him square in the chest twice, three times. The man topples backwards. Napoleon swings to the other side, just as a kick knocks the gun out of his hands. He starts to scramble forward after it, ignoring the lance of heat that's probably the rest of his stitches tearing. He and the man with the bruise get their hands on the gun at the same time, and Napoleon doesn't have the wherewithal to block an elbow to the face. He doesn't even see it coming.
He's on his back now in the mud and the leaves, no gun, and the other man is pointing the Walther at him with a murderous look in his eyes. Napoleon has a fraction of a second to realize the woods have grown quiet, that the other man who was shouting orders has ceased to speak. In fact, it seems, with Illya's hands around his throat, he's ceased to breathe entirely.
"I'll shoot him," the THRUSH agent says, his gun surprisingly steady.
"And I will break your neck," Illya responds calmly. "There is only one scenario where you live. Put Mr. Solo's gun down now and run far away."
That's never going to work, Napoleon thinks, steeling himself for the shot. Instead the man tosses the gun away and disappears into the night, Illya watching him wistfully.
"You let him go," Napoleon says with some surprise.
"An occasional survivor helps grow reputation." Illya stoops down and pockets Napoleon's gun. "Okay, Cowboy?"
"Ready when you are, Peril," Napoleon says. He lets his eyes close for real this time, and trusts that Illya can get him to the chopper and home.
For the second time in his immediate memory, Napoleon wakes up in a hospital bed. This time the sheets are crisp, the equipment modern, and the walls painted a soothing pale blue. Either THRUSH has upgraded or Napoleon's back where he belongs.
He realizes with a rush of adrenaline that he remembers everything, not only from the midnight escape through the woods, but the six months that had been previously lacking. There are his memories of Gaby, beautiful and deadly, learning everything they'll teach her about being a spy. Waverly with his habit of sending them into the worst situations and making them sound like a stroll in the park, a simple afternoon affair.
And then there's Illya, strong and violent, gentle when he needs to be, and Napoleon searches his mind for any memories of the two of them together that don't involve bloodshed and thievery. Drinks, yes, and entirely too much vodka one long cold night in Budapest, just as he'd suspected. Awkward talks where they've both shared things they'd rather not, but sometimes their lives and the missions have depended on it. Illya wasn't wrong when he said they were partners—just not that kind of partner. Not for the first time, Napoleon curses his over-active libido that can't help wanting all kinds of things it's not supposed to have.
"So, memory has returned," Illya says softly from just inside the doorway, and Napoleon startles.
"Damn it, Peril, we're going to have to put a bell on you."
Illya, dressed all in black, shrugs, and lets the door close. "Doctors say you were lucky. You almost bled out."
"You saved me."
Another shrug, but Illya moves away from the door and closer to the bed. Napoleon knows exactly why there's a tension in the room, a feeling of walking on eggshells. Truthfully, he's surprised Illya is even here given his propensity for avoiding things he doesn't want to deal with.
"Why did you kiss me?" Illya says, voice even, his eyes steady on Napoleon's.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time," he quips, not sure what else to do. How does he explain that he got it all wrong, when it still felt so right to kiss Illya?
"You thought you were going to die."
Napoleon shakes his head. "That's not the reason."
"You assumed …"
"Yes, I did make some assumptions."
"That we were … partners."
When Illya says the word it has an additional gravitas to it, and there's that flare of heat again, unbidden. If Napoleon's honest with himself that was happening even before the night in the woods, but mostly he'd been able to chalk it up to adrenaline or an urge better left repressed. Now he's not sure what to do with it.
"Why did you kiss me back?" Napoleon counters.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Illya mimics, and Napoleon can't get a read on him. Is Illya … upset with him? For the kiss? For assuming? For something else entirely?
Napoleon eases himself to the edge of the bed, and Illya frowns. "You should not be getting out of bed."
"Then come closer," Napoleon says, and pats the space beside him. Illya appears reluctant, but he goes. He sits to Napoleon's right, a careful distance between them.
"You looked almost sad," Napoleon remembers, "that night in the woods. After I kissed you."
Illya shrugs. "You would not have done it if you remembered."
Napoleon breathes out a sigh, and lowers his voice. "The truth is, Peril, I wanted to kiss you. Maybe you're right that I wouldn't have done it if I'd had all my faculties intact, but even with all my memories back, I can't say anything's changed. There are moments when I look at you, and I—"
"You desire warm body. Convenience," Illya says with a hint of bitterness.
"No." Napoleon shakes his head. "Even when I didn't know you, I trusted you, and I don't trust anybody."
Napoleon has heard enough. "Peril, shut up."
Then he takes his argumentative partner's face in his hands and draws him closer. The obstinate mouth begs to be kissed, and Napoleon starts with a light invitation. He nudges at Illya's nose with his own, and he can sense the eye roll more than he can see it.
"Illya, you are as cold as a Russian winter and not the least bit convenient. Believe me when I say there are a lot less complicated choices, but I'm choosing you, okay? You're impossible to forget."
That gets him a grunt, but Illya's mouth relaxes, and Napoleon deepens the kiss, the familiar tingling at his spine. Illya's mouth is warm, lips soft, and Napoleon chases after them when Illya starts to pull away.
He isn't expecting the two large hands cupping his face, but he lets Illya control things this time, lets himself be drawn into the most gently devastating kiss Napoleon's ever shared. The heat of Illya's kiss spreads throughout his body, and he'll never admit it, but he feels his face heating when they break apart. Napoleon Solo has been debauched in every way possible by experts, both male and female; he most certainly does not blush at the almost entirely chaste kiss of a Russian giant.
"Don't forget this time," Illya says, as if he knows exactly what he's doing to Napoleon. "I don't like it when you forget me."
"I didn't exactly forget. Besides, I remembered what was important."
Illya snorts. "You knew you thought I was attractive. Could've been THRUSH, KGB, anyone. Said so yourself."
"I knew I could trust you," Napoleon argues, "and I was right."
"You're a terrible spy, Cowboy," Illya says, but doesn't seem inclined to move from his spot beside Napoleon, even when Gaby appears at the door.
"Kissed and made up, have we?" she says with a smirk. "Napoleon Solo, are you blushing?"
"I must have a slight fever," Napoleon answers smoothly.
"I see," Gaby says. "The red-faced Peril here was quite distraught when you went missing."
"Was he?" Napoleon reaches over and pats Illya's hand. "I imagine I would've been the same had the situation been reversed."
Gaby nods approvingly. "I've come to fetch Illya. I rather think he might need some sleep. He's been here since they brought you in."
"He's my partner," Illya says stubbornly, getting off the bed.
Gaby grins and looks back and forth between the two of them. "Yes," she says. "I know," and exits gracefully.
Napoleon grabs for Illya's hand before he gets too far away. "I meant what I said."
"That I am cold as Russian winter and less convenient?"
"The other bit."
"That I am impossible to forget?"
"And yet, you—"
"Peril," Napoleon says, but he can tell Illya is teasing this time, and some of the tension Napoleon's been holding starts to let go. He eases back into the pillows and closes his eyes as Illya heads for the door.
A moment later he's being kissed, and this time it isn't gentle. It's strong and sure, and Napoleon returns it with equal measure, his hands drifting up and into Illya's blond hair. When Illya lets him come up for air, Napoleon says, "Seriously, Peril, you need a goddamn bell."
Illya's smirk is only outdone by his swagger as he heads towards the door, apparently actually intent on leaving this time.
"A little something to remember me by."
"Believe me, Peril," Napoleon says fondly, as the door shuts. "I won't forget."