It was the biggest stumbling block of their partnership, in a way. The circumstances around Napoleon’s torture by ‘dear’ Uncle Rudi might have strained relationship to the breaking point if they had not then all gone to defeat the bag guy and save the day. The way was smoothed even further by the fact that there were limited side effects of the session, and both agents understood that sometimes being an agent meant making sacrifices.
In a way it had served to bridge the almost there divide between experienced field operatives and the former sleeper agent—if they could pick their way through that minefield then anything was possible.
And it might have stayed that way- just an unpleasant memory that they would eventually joke about- if Istanbul had not gone so wrong.
Much to the surprise of the three new agents, UNCLE was very small yet. The resources available to Waverly was mostly limited by what favors he could pull or call in. It was, he informed them as they waited for their flight, an agency that would rely mostly on their agents to do most of their own intelligence work for the time being. That sort of freedom appealed to all of them very much, and not after their arrival in Istanbul Napoleon deposited them at a small café outside the hotel where their target was staying and headed into the crowd.
Espionage had never been Illya’s forte, and Gaby had only ever been a version of herself undercover. So for both of them watching Napoleon was an education. He had taken residence against the wall of a foot bridge over the river Bospherus. The stones only rose to about his waist, and the position illuminated him in the dying light like some renaissance statue. He was exactly what the target was interested in, and even Illya found himself indulging in the occasional glance as the American rolled his own cigarette easily and begged a light off a passing woman in summer finery.
It was Gaby who noticed the woman’s bracelet go missing, and she had to admire the sleight of hand as he unsuspecting victim wandered away into the night. And she was immediately replaced by Felicity Bromari. The woman was the side piece of a man well known for trafficking of all kinds, and Waverly had hopes that there might be a chance to find the leader of the organization through her.
She was young and impressionable, and whatever flirty compliment the American sent her way had her blushing and giggling. And both Gaby and Illya were expecting him to catch her wrist as she walked away from him, but Napoleon made no move towards her. Instead he had sagged against the wall, hand rubbing at his chest. At the outdoor café Illya had gone still, instincts screaming at him, and before Gaby could finish asking him what was wrong the Russian was on his feet.
And his long legged sprint took him almost to the foot bridge before Napoleon’s face went grey and he toppled into the water.
In his defense, Napoleon had thought he was alright. The only pain he’d had from the electrocution were from the small burn marks where the nodes had been attached. But there had been no other effects, and he’d been more than ready to put the entire incident behind him. Flirting or even seducing a mark to get information or access seemed like a great way to get into their new partnership, and the American had been eager to have at least his part of the mission go off smoothly.
And what little they’d been told about Felicity had been true—she had taken the foot bridge to the hotel at almost the same time every night. It was a dangerous routine for the paramour of a targeted criminal to have, and a part of him felt bad for taking advantage of it. But it was important enough to get what information he could from her. The hook had been well placed and he had her attention with only a few words, and it should have been easy- as she walked away- to draw her back and into either his arms or his bed.
But before he could step away from the wall his pulse had begun to pound in his ears. He felt dizzy and off, and instinctively rested his weight against the stones behind him as his knees threatened to give out. He realized his error at the same moment that Illya had begun to run at him, and for a brief moment he thought that the Russian was going to catch him. But then gravity had dug in her claws, and he had plummeted towards the dark water.
Bubbles exploded around him as he struck the river, and panic tried to take over. He tamped it down and struggled to move his arms and legs towards the surface. But the same odd weakness that had caused the fall had taken over his entire body. His pulse thudded irregularly in his ears again, louder this time, and black clouds shot through with red boiled in his vision as his lungs began to burn.
Another figure appeared in a torrent of froth, and Napoleon had just began to twitch with a lack of oxygen when Illya caught him up. The former KGB agent had kicked easily to the surface, holding Napoleon in an odd reflection of the night outside the Vincureguerra warehouse. Strong capable arms kept his head and shoulders above water as they let the current carry them, until Gaby appeared on a jetty and Illya headed her way. Between the two of them they got Napoleon’s limp body out of the river, and the mechanic was immediately at his side.
“Napoleon! Oh my God, are you alright?” Her hands stroked his face, trying vainly to wipe the water clear with a handkerchief. Illya gently moved her hands away, pressing two fingers to the American’s throat with a frown.
“Heart is not steady—too fast, then too slow.” His look to Gaby was urgent and sharp, and had her on her feet before saying a word. “Call Waverly. We must get him to doctor.”
It took almost three blocks for Napoleon to regain any level of control over his body, but even then Illya did not set him down. The Russian was carrying him bridal style, and though it would be like pulling teeth to get him to admit it there was something comforting about resting his face in the juncture of his friend’s neck and shoulders and just breathe.
Everything hurt, and he couldn’t understand it. His heart was either racing or lagging in turns, and there was a trembling in his muscles that frightened him a little. The last time that he had felt like this he’d been nine and had fallen through the ice on his parents farm. His father had plucked him out almost immediately, but for hours afterwards he had been shaky and his entire chest had hurt. This was like that but on a grander skill, and an unfamiliar fear was beginning to creep into his heart.
Distantly he was aware that Gaby was following them, and the few times that he had gone to the effort to look over his transport’s shoulder she’d been bone white and carrying both his and Illya’s folded up jackets. He’d given her a shaky smile that had only resulted in her eyes filling with tears, and after that he’d not looked again.
Waverly was not at the hospital when they arrived, but there was a cardiologist waiting for them. Illya seemed hesitant to lower him to the stretcher until Gaby laid a hand on his arm, and even then both spies followed him into the treatment room. The doctor seemed about to say something, but then he sized Illya up and seemed to think better of it as he spoke to Napoleon instead.
“Mr. Solo, can I ask you to unbutton your shirt?”
“Of course.” But his fingers shook on the jet buttons, and it took him longer to shrug the tailored Italian piece away. The trembling was still intermittent, and the doctor pulled the large cardiogram machine over with a frown.
Napoleon knew where he was. It was unmistakably a hospital, with too white walls and a strong antiseptic smell. He had been in too many over the years to ever forget when he was in them. But as the doctor began to attach the various leads of his chest and arms, the former thief felt his heart begin to race for another reason. His breath came too quickly and for one terrible moment he was again strapped into that terrible chair, waiting in horror for when that sallow faced man would return to electrocute him and—
And that was all it took. The hand on his collarbone was large and cold and he could feel the strength in it, but the pressure it put on him was oddly gentle as he held Solo to the bed.
“Is not Rudi, is no danger. Lie still—we will, how do you say, have your six.”
A small sound had them both looking to where Gaby had ducked out of the room, tears on her face, and Napoleon sagged against the bed. He hadn’t meant to hurt the British agent, and he knew Illya hadn’t either. Neither held her planned betrayal against her, but it was clear she held it against herself and that was something she was going to have to work through in her own time.
Once he was calm again the doctor finished attaching the leads, and they watched as the machine began to print out his EKG. The doctor read it silently, his face easing, and there was almost a hint of a smile around his mouth as he turned to the two agents.
“Well, the good news is that your arrhythmia is fairly common for a victim of electrocution. While most people experience these symptoms with in the first twelve hours it’s not uncommon for it to be almost a week or more before they surface. What I’ll do is prescribe you a series of nitrates—take one a day for a week, and you should be fine. If symptoms continue you should seek treatment, as it might speak of more damage, but for the moment I see no signs of that.”
The relief was like a drug coursing through him, though it was not nearly as good as the cool sensation of the IV nitrate he was hooked up to for the time being. Through the entire time Illya was by his side, though he stepped out for a few moments and came back with a nurse who had heated blankets for Napoleon. Gaby came back in the room in her own time, looking pale and with red rimmed eyes, but she took the hand Solo held out gratefully and clung in silent apology.
Almost unbidden Illya stepped to her side and let her lean her head against him, and in the silence afterwards his hand inched across the bed until he could take Napoleon’s free one. And the CIA agent held onto them both happily, content to feel their pulses with his fingertips and be reassured, finally, that they were all on the same page.