Illya grumbled, pulling his coat closer around him in a futile attempt to keep the rain from seeping into the few remaining dry areas he had. He brushed rain-slicked hair out of his face as he sloshed his way to the bluffs.
The sea was violent; blue-gray waves crashing against the rocks as Illya pushed against the harsh wind. He walked along the cliff’s edge making his way up to the point. Only a fool would be out in this. It is madness, he thought, angry at being forced to venture out in search of Napoleon. Yes, his partner had much to answer for.
A clap of thunder reverberated through him and the black sky was illuminated with a bright flash of light. He scanned the horizon, and saw a solitary figure standing on top of the promontory. Illya stilled, his anger overrun by a wave of relief at seeing his partner. Not taking his eyes from Napoleon’s broad back, Illya quickened his pace, his need to reach his friend drowning out even the pelting rain.
Napoleon stood stock still, arms clenched tightly across his chest. He had no coat and was drenched. Another flash of light danced across the sky illuminating Napoleon’s gaunt features. The sharp cheekbones glistened in the rain and his dark eyes rivaled the storm raging around them. Illya’s breath caught. There was a savagery burning Napoleon’s countenance that bore little resemblance to the suave, urbane agent he was six hours ago. The smooth veneer had been torn away leaving a wounded psyche.
He knew Napoleon was aware of his presence and simply stood by his side and waited, watching the sea and rain blur the horizon.
“Illya –” The word was choked as Napoleon’s legs failed him and he crashed down to his knees.
The Russian gripped the shaking shoulders and followed him down, holding him, grounding him, a beacon during his inner turmoil. “Napoleon, you can’t stay out here. Please, come back to the motel.” Illya almost choked on the word. Flea-trap was a more accurate description of their current accommodations. They had been forced to find shelter from the storm while driving back to New York from Maine after a mission gone horribly wrong. The rain was so fierce, Illya could no longer see the road and he had been too tired to fight the weather, so after thirty minutes of driving at a snail’s pace he didn’t even think about passing the neon sign that flickered part of the word ‘vacancy’. His partner had made no comment as Illya turned off the road and stopped the car. Napoleon had simply waited while Illya ran in and paid for the room. He’d grabbed their bags when Illya returned with keys and followed him to the room.
Illya shook off the memory as the shaking body under his hands lurched away from him and he reached out instinctively, only to pull back at the anger radiating from his partner. “Napoleon?”
“No, Illya.” Harsh, guttural. “Get away from me. I don’t want you here.”
Another crash of thunder punctuated the command and the wind shifted. Illya blinked rapidly as the rain fell in his eyes and he growled in frustration. It was the middle of the night after all. He’d only managed two hours of sleep before he’d heard the door of the room open and felt the damp air surround him momentarily before the door closed again. He’d sat up, reaching for his gun at the same time, instantly awake. Looking over at the other bed, he and found it not only empty, but apparently not even slept in.
Illya hadn’t even questioned what he’d been doing as he’d dressed and braced himself for a very wet night before he’d opened the door and went in search of his partner. That had been an hour ago and his temper was frayed from stress and worry, which made him angry. He swore in Russian and quickly got to his feet. He took only a few soggy steps before his anger evaporated. No matter how much he wanted to be dry, warm and asleep he couldn’t walk away. Illya turned back and plopped down next to Napoleon. “I am soaked to the bone, Napoleon. I do not like being wet, as you well know. And I am not leaving unless you come with me.” He shook his wet head, sending drops in all directions.
Napoleon looked over at his him and laughter suddenly bubbled in his throat. Illya quite literally looked like a drowned rat.
Illya glared in response, but inwardly he was relieved to see his partner regaining himself. That relief was short-lived, however as laughter gave way to an anguished cry. Illya pulled Napoleon to him, holding him tightly, a buffer against the painful memories that were filling his mind again.
“Do not do this, Napoleon. It was not your fault.” He spoke fiercely in his need to convey his conviction. “You did not kill her.”
The older agent buried his face in Illya’s waterlogged coat. His words were muffled, pained. “I still see her eyes.” He shook his head against Illya’s chest and Illya held him tighter.
Illya could still see her eyes, too. He would for a long time to come. Part of him would always wonder if he had hit the corner of the alley at the same time Napoleon had, would she still have died? Would two bullets have brought down the enemy before he got off a wild shot that took an innocent life? Instead, he was minutes behind his partner. He saw the downed assailant only moments before searching for his partner further down the alley. Illya knew he’d never forget the sight of Napoleon on his knees clutching a young girl’s limp body close to his chest. Her lifeless eyes bored into his skull, and blood trailed down her forehead from the bullet wound that ended her life instantly. It had taken the police and Illya several minutes to get Napoleon to release his hold on the precious burden.
Illya snapped to the present when he felt his friend slowly shift in his arms. Napoleon ran a hand across his wet face, tears mingling with rain. He raised his head, locking his eyes on his partner's.
“How old was she, Illya? I didn’t – couldn’t – ” he trailed off dropping his head on Illya’s shoulder.
Tears stung Illya’s eyes. “Fourteen,” he choked out. He knew there was nothing he could do or say to ease his friend’s pain. So he simply held on, riding out the storm raging inside Napoleon.
Illya didn’t know how long he sat on the saturated ground, holding Napoleon close to him. They didn’t need words, just the comfort of each other keeping the terror at bay.
The sea was calm now, and the sky had cleared as the first faint echoes of the sun splashed oranges and pinks across the horizon. Illya glanced down at his now sleeping partner. Napoleon had finally drifted into a fitful sleep and Illya had kept vigil over him as the wind died down and the rain dried up, never once loosing his hold on the person that mattered to him more than any other.
A groggy voice startled him. “What time’s it?” Napoleon asked.
Illya shook his head. He was so tired. “I do not know. Nearly dawn.”
Napoleon sat up, looking around at the sky before turning to Illya, his brows drawn together. “We’ve been out here all night? You’ve been out here all night?”
Illya nodded as he catalogued the fatigue in the other man’s demeanor.
“I’m sorry, Illya." Napoleon ran a hand through his damp hair. "You didn’t – I mean – you shouldn’t have – I shouldn’t have let you.”
Inwardly, Illya agreed and wanted nothing more than to get up off the chilled wet ground. He was cold, damp and miserable. Instead, he stretched his cramped legs out in front of him. “Nolens volens.”
Napoleon stretched out next to him, gratitude and understanding easing the gauntness of his features. “Yeah. Right back at ya, partner.”
Illya gave him a sideways glance, a smile playing around the edges of his mouth. Napoleon would heal and that meant that Illya would be okay, too.
Napoleon shrugged. “I’d have done the same thing, Illya. No matter how many times I play it over, there’s nothing I could have done better, faster.”
“I know, tovarisch,” Illya replied softly.
Napoleon grasped Illya’s larger hand in his. “Thank you, my friend. I may not say it enough but as partners go, I think I got the best there is.” Warmth and humor filled his voice.
Illya snorted and gave the hand wrapped around his a gentle squeeze. “I think you did as well. Who else would put up with you?”
Napoleon gripped his hand harder, forcing Illya’s eyes to meet his suddenly serious ones. “No one, Illya. No one.”
The Russian swallowed around the lump in his throat, unable to speak.
Both men turned toward the horizon as the warmth of the rising sun touched their chilled skin and suddenly, Illya knew there was no place else he’d rather be. Contented, he sank back on his elbows and watched the sun rise.