When he woke up, Illya felt strange, as if he were walking on a cloud, weightless, impossible. He didn't know where he was, what day it was, he didn't know if he was standing or sitting. He tried to open his eyes, and was assaulted with an incredible amount of white. It hurt.
Someone was holding his hand. They had brown eyes, and were saying something. Calling his name, perhaps? He didn't know. Everything was too confusing.
“I'm going to Moscow, four or five days at most. Alone.” Illya said, and Napoleon made a face.
“Is it something serious?” Gaby asked. She didn't like Illya's bosses, not one bit. Every time he was alone with them she was afraid he wouldn't come back. Although they agreed to this international team, Gaby was sure that there were people in Russia less than happy with the prospect of one of his top agents working with american.
“I cannot tell you.”
“Well, we'll use this time to have all the fun you don't let us. Give us a call when you're back.”
“Be careful.” Gaby said, feeling that something was about to go wrong, very wrong.
“There is no reason to worry. I will be back soon.”
The next time he woke up, things were a bit clearer. He was in some sort of hospital, but he didn't know if it was Moskow or somewhere else. It didn't look like Moskow, but what place else could it be? Why and how would he be anywhere else?
It was Gaby, he remembered her name now. Were they friends...lovers...both? He cared about her. Everything else was still blurry. Too blurry. Why did his head hurt so much?
“Gaby.” He whispered, prompting a relieved and happy expression in her face. She then looked at the other occupant of the room, Napoleon Solo, who had an equally relieved expression on his face.
“Good to have you back, partner. You had us worried.”
“What happened?” He asked, still trying to remember why he hurt all over, where was this place and anything prior to waking up there.
“That's what we would like to know.”
They had to make sure he was still as loyal as ever. Vasiliev had his doubts, said his was more a danger to the agency than an asset. That his collaboration with americans, germans and British would only bring problems. He was dangerous, Vasiliev would say, trying to convince the others.
And so they “interrogated” him. It was absolutely necessary, they would say, they could not risk him being a double agent – a traitor. Illya resented the fact that Vasiliev had probably used his father to convince them of doing this.
But he took every test, he took the torture. The pain. Those horrible truth serums. He didn't have anything to hide. And so it happened, it was them who had horrible secrets, it was them who had things to hide.
It was there, in the interrogation room, where Illya met the man with the metal arm.
“So, you don't remember anything?” Gaby asked.
“Everything is confusing... I remember the chair, and Vasiliev and some flashes of silver and red... But... To be honest, I don't even remember why I came to Moskow.”
He was feeling better now, the fog in his mind slowly dissipating, although his physical injuries were making themselves more known. He'd broken his left arm, bruised some ribs and had the left side of his face was scraped. He wished he could remember, he felt there was something important that he was missing.
“Who is Vasiliev?” Gaby said, mentally thinking of the ways in which she was going to make this Vasiliev character pay
“One of the big fish. He was worried that I was a liability... but I shouldn't have said that. I should even have given you a name.”
There was a silence, while Illya tried to focus on his blurry memories to find out what may have happened. Something big had gone down for him to be in such a state and no memories. And if he spoke too much not only the consequences could dire for him, but for his team as well. He needed to be careful, more careful.
“You said you remember a chair. What kind of chair?” Solo asked, remembering his own experience in a chair. It had been Peril who had helped him get out of that chair – and he hadn't been to return the favour. It stung, more than he wanted to admit. He should have been there- they should have known something was wrong before.
“It's better if you don't know.” The Russian said darkly. “Where am I, anyway?”
“London. We were worried whoever had done...that to you could be still on the loose, so we arranged transportation.”
“Thank you.” He managed to say, but his eyes were already closing again.
“We'll let you get some rest.”
The man with the metal arm mistook him for somebody else.
“I'm scared, Steve. Every time they do it it gets harder to remember again and I fear that I will lose parts of myself forever, maybe all of it. I'm scared that I'll forget you too.”
And Illya was definitely not Steve and but yet, he listened to the words the man with the metal arm had to offer from the chair next to his. How he wanted to go back home, how he clung desperately to his memories and even that they were taking away from him. .There was no greatness in destroying a man, nothing excusable in taking someone and separating him from his life.This was not justifiable. He would have to do something, help this man. (And this had nothing to do with the fact that metal arm's accent or his big blue eyes reminded him Solo. At all.)
By the time metal arm man realised that was not Steve, it didn't matter, because Illya was determined to do what Steve, whoever he was, would have done. He was going to get this man out – take him back to his life.
Gaby and Napoleon tell the story of how they found him while he was still in the hospital.
When after a week having been gone, there was no call from Illya, Gaby started to worry, saying that if he was going to come back later, surely he would have found time to call. Napoleon told her it was probably okay. Three days later he started to worry as well. Ten days later they were on a plane to Moskow, with no intention of going back without their team mate.
His bosses claimed they had never seen, and although it was clearly a lie, they couldn't call them out on it. They had little to no clues and spent four days going through the city, trying to find him.
When they did find him he was in a pitiable state, sitting on a dirty alley, eyes unfocused, head bloody, repeating forgive me in Russian once and again, once and again. He didn't recognise either of his team mates, and just pleaded that he wanted to go home. Solo took him in his arms and flew him over to Helsinki, then to London. They looked for answers, but nobody had any. Someone even dared suggest Illya had gotten drunk and in a fight with some local.
Of course that was not it. But he just couldn't remember.
The man that was not Steve helped him out of his cuffs and out of the building. The man that was not Steve helped him out of the building, told him of safe places to hide while they were escaping. The man that was not Steve wanted to make up for all that shit, wanted to make up for all of Russia. The man that was not Steve was just as brave and strong as his best friend, even if he was Russian.
Bucky had found a good man amidst that hell, someone who after listening to his story hadn't hesitated in helping. And of course, he paid for it.
Shortly after they exited the building, a swarm of guards came at them. Bucky and Not-Steve could deal with most of them -but sadly, not all of them. One of the guards knocked out Bucky's mysterious helper hitting him on the back of the head, and he too was out not long after. When he woke up again he was back on the chair and they put not Steve on another chair in front of him.
And then they used the machine to make him forget on the nble Russian that had tried to help him. Once and again and again – nine times in a row. And then three more. And then five more. And then they beat him up and threw him on the Russian night, to die.
So the next time Bucky found a stranger in the interrogation room he was quiet. He'd learned the lesson – he couldn't escape, he couldn't have friends anymore. He needed to forget. It was best if he forgot.
Illya was caught in a nightmare in his hospital bed, and Gaby, who was sleeping right next to him on that bed (for his peace of mind and hers) woke him up.
“James....” he said suddenly. “His name was James.”
“Whose name?” Gaby asked. “Someone from your mising week?”
But he fell asleep again, and the name wasn't ever repeated.
After that, Illya was not allowed to go back to Russia alone. Vasiliev disappeared.
Things went back to normal, or to what passed as normal for them.
Still, sometimes Illya dreamt about the chair and about someone he couldn't save.
Forgive me. I couldn't get you out of that hell. Forgive me.
(Many years later, Bucky remembers not-Steve, and asks the real Steve to try and help him track down the Russian man that tried to save him. He hopes he didn't die, and he had a home to go back to, a nice life. He wants to thank the man if he's still alive, put flowers on his grave if he isn't. It hurts to remember what they did to the man, but he's glad that he does.
Thank you, Not-Steve. Thank you.)