Illya wakes to a dark, dingy room and chains around his wrists.
He starts, tugs at the bonds, realises quickly that he’s not about to get out of them anytime soon, and so sits back in the chair. It’s not a particularly comfortable chair, all rough, splintering wood and exposed nails, and he’s pretty sure that he can smell it rotting. If he strains enough, he can probably snap those spindly legs. Now’s not the time, though, so he looks around, assesses his surroundings. Small room, two chairs, both fastened to the ground, one of which he’s sitting in. The other is facing him, roughly two metres away, and he imagines that’s where his captor will come and sit when it’s time for the inevitable interrogation.
He blinks, thinks. He doesn’t seem to remember much, but it’s coming back to him, slowly. A firefight in a warehouse that intel had told them was abandoned. Crouched behind a stack of old crates, Solo at his side, both of them out of ammunition. The faintest lick of desperation in the cant of his partner’s lips.
Illya stills. The voice is smooth and easy, a deep male bass, accented with a smooth Irish brogue. It’s coming from behind him, from the shadows, and he knows that he’s supposed to crane his head around, to show his vulnerability – but he’s never been one for vulnerability. “Who are you?” he answers, short and snapped. “What do you want?”
“Information,” the voice replies. “But I’m sure you’ve already figured that out.”
Illya quietly tests the strength of those cuffs again. “You were not subtle,” he says. “And, as I am sure that you are aware, I am not going to tell you anything.”
There’s a shift in the darkness behind him, and the voice says, “That’s what they all say, my Russian friend.” A hand settles on Illya’s shoulder, runs up through his hair, pulls his head back. Illya suppresses a snarl, lets himself be pulled, because if he can see his captor then he can start to work out where he is, what he wants, what he can use against him. Green eyes, light brown hair. A crooked nose, thin lips. Illya doesn’t recognise him, and those thin lips say, “You can call me Mr Jones. Anything less polite than that, there will be consequences. Punishments, you might say.”
Illya forces himself to raise an eyebrow. “Punish me?” he rasps. “I would like to see you try.”
Jones shoves his head forward again. “You misunderstand me, Mr Kuryakin,” he says. “I’ve read your file. I’m well aware that physical punishment—torture, if you will—is very unlikely to get you to say anything other than rude things in Russian.” He comes round to face Illya, not even looking at the chair, and then he gestures to someone Illya can’t see. “The same could also be said,” he muses, “about your partner.”
Which is when Solo is dragged past him, hanging between two stony-eyed men, head slumped and quite obviously unconscious.
Illya feels ice settle in his gut. He knows what’s going to happen.
“Now, Mr Kuryakin,” Jones says. “Or is it Illya? Do you mind if I call you Illya?”
“Yes,” Illya snarls.
Jones’ eyes gleam, and behind him Solo is manhandled into the other chair. “Good,” he says. “Illya it is, then.” There’s a click and a snap as Solo’s chained into place. Illya forces himself not to look at him, to look at Jones, to burn that smirking face onto his memory so he can find it and kill it. “I’m sure you know how this works,” Jones says. “I ask you questions. You answer, and everything is fine and dandy. You don’t answer, and Mr Solo here finds himself in a world of hurt.”
As if on cue, one of the silent henchman pulls Solo’s head up, slaps him once, twice, until he starts to stir. Bright eyes flicker open, blink hard, and no sooner than he’s caught sight of Illya does recognition speed across his expression. Solo’s not stupid, either, and he pulls himself up straight, shakes off the henchmen, says, “I’ve got to say, this is no way to treat your guests.”
Jones punches him in the face without even looking.
Solo spits blood onto the floor, flexes his jaw. He doesn’t look up, just says, “Peril? You alright?”
“I could ask the same of you,” Illya answers, voice as calm as he can manage. He can feel the twitching starting in his hands, but he can see the gun at Jones’ belt and the knives in the henchmen’s hands. Losing control right now will only get the both of them killed.
Solo smiles a bloody smile, sits back upright in his chair. He doesn’t speak.
“So,” Jones says. “Shall we begin?” He prowls around Solo’s chair, takes a knife from one of his henchmen, leads his hands on Solo’s shoulders. The knifepoint tickles Solo’s cheek, and if Illya didn’t know his partner quite as well as he did he might miss the fear that flickers in those eyes. Solo’s never been hugely fond of being tied to chairs, and Jones says, “I have some questions about your former employers, Illya, about certain elements within the KGB. They’re of interest to me, and, seeing as you no longer work for the KGB and in fact haven’t been back to Russian for at least eighteen months, I’m guessing that you won’t have any qualms about giving them up, yes?”
“He’s not going to tell you anything,” Solo drawls.
Jones’ knife flickers, slashes, and suddenly there’s a bloody rent in Solo’s cheek. “You,” Jones says, “will keep quiet.”
Solo subsides, but his eyes are bright on Illya. Illya understands, because that wasn’t just defiance, no, that was a message. That was Solo saying, I can take it, don’t tell him anything.
“Let’s try this again,” Jones says. “Dmitri Khorzakov. You were trained together, shared rooms. Tell me about him.”
Illya just glares.
Jones’ knife flickers again, and a matching slash decorates Solo’s other cheek. Solo doesn’t so much as flinch, and Jones says, still cool, still, “Dmitri Khorzakov. Come on, Illya. A man you knew in another life, or your partner?” The knife dances closer, presses into the swell of Solo’s throat. “Surely that’s an easy trade. All I want to know is how best to get to him. His weak spots. People who are close to him.”
The list is running through Illya’s head unbidden. Dmitri’s a gambler, a risk taker, always willing to run headlong into danger rather than waiting for backup. Both parents are gone, but he has a brother in Minsk and an illegitimate daughter in St Petersburg.
Solo’s eyes are level and calm. He catches Illya’s eye, shakes his head ever so slightly. He’s strong, he can get through this. They both can, because Gaby was watching them, she was their backup and she’ll be on her way already, with Waverly and the cavalry, and they’ll be out of here long before Jones inflicts anything worse than a few flesh wounds – and, oh, now that Illya’s actually looking, he can see that Jones knows it, too. His voice might be calm but there’s tension threaded through his shoulders and his fingers are white-knuckled around the knife’s hilt.
Illya takes a breath, raises his chin. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
A muscle jumps in Jones’ jaw. “You really don’t give much of a shit about your partner, do you?” he says, then apes disappointment, shrugs. “Oh well. In that case, I suppose you won’t mind if I do this?” And he stabs the knife deep into Solo’s shoulder.
Solo’s nostrils flare, and he bites back a cry.
Illya can feel the rage starting to throb in his veins. He jerks forward, tugs at the chains around his wrists, feels the old wood of his chair start to creak, start to give – but it’s not enough. It’s not enough.
Solo’s teeth are gritted, and he doesn’t make a sound as Jones pulls the knife free and wipes the red, red blood through Solo’s hair. “Okay,” Jones says. “Okay. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you don’t remember much about Khorzakov, that is possible, even for a man of your intellect. Let’s try someone else. Polina Tsvetaya, veteran field agent. One of your trainers, yes? By all accounts, a formidable woman.”
Agent Tsvetaya, one of the KGB’s top training operatives. Cleverly managed addiction to crack cocaine.
“Or maybe Katya Domasheva.”
A lover in Bucharest. Links to Milanese royalty.
Instrumental in hiding his brother’s corruption, an official high in the Kremlin. Softness for capitalist luxuries. Not a true comrade, but an effective enough agent that no one who knows is willing to turn him in.
Illya says nothing.
Anger flashes in Jones’ eyes. “You’re trying my patience, Kuryakin,” he spits. “Do I need to make a matching hole in your partner’s other side?”
The only reaction Solo gives is another flare of his nostrils, but his gaze is steady on Illya. Don’t tell him anything, because Solo might be American and therefore trained to think that the Russians are nothing more than scum, but he knows what it is to betray a colleague. He knows how Illya never could.
Illya looks up at Jones. “I cannot tell you what I do not know,” he says tightly. “You are wasting both of our time. You can fill Solo with as many holes as you like, but that will not change the fact that I can tell you nothing.”
Solo’s lips tighten at as many holes as you like, but Illya determinedly doesn’t notice. He doesn’t think he can bear it if he can, because the redness of the blood on Solo’s skin and in his hair, dribbling from the stab wound in his shoulder, well, it’s a bitter echo of the red, red rage that’s lurking in the back of Illya’s skull. Solo’s hurt because of him. Solo’s bleeding because of him, but Illya knows that he doesn’t have a choice. Dmitri is a friend, Katya is an ally, and even if they couldn’t do immeasurable damage to his country if they were compromised, well, they’re his family.
But Solo is his family, too.
Shutters drop behind Jones’ eyes. “Alright then,” he says, sharp and bitter. “I suppose this was always going to be a long shot, especially with your people already outside the complex.” Illya’s ears prick up at that, and he sees Solo spasm, too. Gaby. Waverly. Their team. “Had to try, though,” Jones says, lips spreading into a smile that’s half a sneer. “I’ve got an escape route, so don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay. No room for you boys, though.”
Illya sneers. “I’m so sad.”
Jones’ eyes gleam. “You should be,” he says. “You, I’ll leave alive. I’ll find you again, get the answers out of you. I promise you that.” His lips twist. The knife gleams in his hand. “Your partner, though? I don’t really have much use for him.”
The knife sinks deep into Solo’s gut.
Illya doesn’t even realise the shout came from him before he’s surged forward, shoulders twisted back by the constraints of his chains, and then that knife is out of Solo’s stomach, stained red with blood, and then it’s plunging back in again, over and over, four, five, six times. Solo’s still not made a sound, but his mouth is open in a silent scream and there’s blood streaming down his thighs, dripping to the ground, and, no, that is too much blood, too much blood.
Illya’s blinded by fear, by panic, by grief. He’s straining at his chairs, the wood of the chair creaking under him, and Solo’s staring at him, eyes blown wide with pain.
Jones drops the knife on the ground with a wet clatter. He grabs Illya’s jaw, wrenches him away from Solo—Napoleon—and forces him to look up. “Until next time,” he says, and then with a joke, with a sneer, “Peril.”
No one but Cowboy calls him that.
Illya surges up, ripping the chains free from the aging wood with one, gargantuan effort. He doesn’t see the fear in Jones’ eyes because suddenly all he can see is blood, Solo’s blood, Napoleon’s blood, and it’s all over Jones’ hand, all over his clothes. Illya grabs Jones by the neck, twists once, cracks, breaks, and then drops the body. There’s a haze over his vision and his hands are shaking, shaking. The henchmen come at him at the same time, one with a knife, the other with a gun, but he takes them down in half a heartbeat, a fist slamming into one throat, a foot thudding into another chest, and then they’re both down and wheezing on the floor. There’s no thinking in that haze, and Illya’s booted foot crunches down on one head, then on another throat.
By the time he gets to Solo’s side, there are three dead bodies in the room. Illya’s not about to let there be a fourth.
“Cowboy,” he says, breathless, and wrenches Solo’s cuffs away from the old wood. “Cowboy, can you hear me?”
Solo tries to smile, but it’s lopsided and wracked with pain. “You just had to give him the idea, didn’t you?” he wheezes. “I’m definitely full of holes, now.”
“Quiet,” Illya says, softer than he feels, softer than the rage and the fear that’s still deep in his heart. He lifts Solo out of the chair, brings him down to the floor, props Solo’s back up against his chest. “Hold on, okay? That man—” He spits the word. “—said that our people are outside, so they will not be long.”
Solo is limp in his arms. “Gaby,” he husks.
Illya rips off his own jacket, balls it up and presses it to the wounds in Solo’s stomach, confirms, “Gaby.” Solo whines at the pressure, bucks back against him as if that will let him get away from the pain, but Illya holds him still, wraps him in his long limbs and tries not to panic. There’s a foul smell in the air, a stench that’s quite different to the metallic spark of blood, and Illya knows what that means: Solo’s bowel has been punctured. That’s serious, too serious for Illya to do anything about, and he knows that moving his partner is only going to make it worse.
Illya’s heart is thudding in his ears. Solo’s breathing is ragged in his ears, his hands are wet with Solo’s blood. He digs his chin into Solo’s shoulder, says, “God, I am sorry.”
Solo’s hands are caked in red. “Don’t worry about it,” he wheezes. “I told you not to say anything.”
Illya’s muscles are trembling. “I did not mean for this to happen.”
Solo’s head slumps back against Illya’s shoulder. His eyes are glassy and half-shut. “Peril,” he whispers, and then, “Illya. Not to scare you or anything, but I don’t think I’m going to make it.”
Illya’s hands still. “Do not talk like that,” he says. “They will not be long. You just need to hold on a little longer.”
Solo’s lips gust into a laugh of a smile. He turns towards Illya, pants his breaths against the hollow of Illya’s throat. “Come on,” he says. “This is bad. This is very, very bad.”
“We have had worse.”
Solo’s smile is almost sad. “If you say so,” he says. “Just listen to me, Peril. I need you to take care of Gaby, okay? She’s not going to take this well.”
“And I will?” Illya spits, presses his jacket harder against Solo’s stomach. “No, you are not going to die, Cowboy, I will not let you.”
“Okay,” Solo says. “Okay, sure.” He blinks, and Illya can feel the flutter of his eyelashes. “Just so you know, Peril, it’s getting awfully dark in here.”
Solo husks a laugh. “Got to prove you wrong, I’m afraid,” he rasps. “One last time.”
When Illya looks at him, his eyes are closed, eyelashes long and matted against his cheek.
Illya’s heart all but stops, and he husks, “No.”, says, “No.”, roars, “No!”, pulls Solo tighter against him, crushes his hand to his stomach and feels himself starting to panic. Solo is limp and unresponsive, his head lolling against Illya’s chest, and Illya pulls his head up, shakes him, barks, “Solo!” but gets no response. He’s half-mad, half-crazed, and he kisses Solo because there’s nothing else he can do, kisses the lips that are broken and bloody, kisses the lips that are slack and warm, but Solo never kisses back, never winds his hands through Illya’s hair and laughs all the way through the night like he should.
Solo’s still. Solo’s not moving.
Illya’s so far gone that he doesn’t even hear the door opening, but suddenly there are gentle hands on his shoulders and a voice saying his name. “Illya. Illya. Look at me, please.” Gaby. That’s Gaby, she’s here, gun in her hands and soldiers at her back, and Illya can see the horror in her eyes but she’s got it tamped down, got it under wraps. That’s more than he can say for himself, and Gaby says, “Illya, I need you to let him go, okay? The medics are—”
Everything else sort of fades into a haze after that, because there’s no way that Illya would ever let Solo go, not again, not again, but suddenly his arms are empty and Solo—Napoleon!—is on a stretcher, three medics around him, two of Gaby’s burliest soldiers carrying him out of there, and he is Napoleon now, not Solo, because he’s Solo on missions and he’s Solo when they’re in danger, but now Gaby is here and Jones is dead and Solo fades into Napoleon but both of them are fading away.
Gaby’s on her knees next to him, and she’s grabbing at his hands, holding his bloody paws between her slim fingers. “Illya,” she says. “Illya. It’s okay, he’s still got a pulse, he’s still alive. They’re the best, Waverly told me they’re the best, they’ll save him, they’ll save him.”
She’s afraid. She’s so afraid, so full of terror and confusion, and it’s like everything in Illya’s heart is reflected on her face. He can’t bear to look at all that, so he grabs for her, pulls her close, crushes her to his chest and ignores the fact that now Napoleon’s blood is smeared across both of their skin.
Napoleon is in surgery for seven hours.
Illya sits in the private hospital ward, shoulders slumped, hands still crusty with his partner’s blood. He finally got kicked out of Napoleon’s room forty minutes ago, after yelling at one too many of the nurses, and he was told that he wasn’t welcome until he’d had a shower, a change of clothes, and a serious think about his attitude. It was only Gaby’s hand on his wrist that stopped him from throwing punches, and so now he’s here, sitting in a plastic chair that’s far too small for his frame.
Gaby’s gone to get him clothes. He’s not leaving this hospital until Napoleon is awake.
“Mr Kuryakin.” For a second, Illya’s heart stutters – but no. That voice is English, not Irish, and Waverly comes and settles in the seat next to him. Compared to Illya, he’s pristine, and he says, “I hear he’s stable.”
Waverly nods. “Good,” he says. “I have faith in Solo. I don’t imagine he’s about to give up without a fight.”
Waverly almost smiles. “Nice to see you’re your usual effusive self,” he comments. The smile only last a moment, and then he says, “I have some information about why this happened.”
Illya turns to face him, silent as a stone. “Tell me.”
Waverly’s lips are thin. “His name was Alistair Jones,” he says. “Formerly British intelligence.” He pauses, just for a moment. “Drafted into U.N.C.L.E. four months ago.”
Illya surges to his feet. “What?”
Waverly stands his ground. “He hid his background very well,” he says. “A wife, kidnapped by the KGB four years ago. Held for his cooperation, but they killed her anyway.” He sighs. “We surmise that he searched through U.N.C.L.E.’s files, found the information on you and Mr Solo. Read up on your history. Decided to take matters into his own hands. Extract information from you that he could use for his own personal revenge.”
Illya’s heart is thudding so loud in his ears.
“This will not happen again,” Waverly says. “Extensive background checks are currently being run and re-run on all of our agents, and I assure you that—”
Illya’s got his hand around Waverly’s throat. His fingers are digging into his pale skin, wrapping around his windpipe, and he can feel the red mist descending. He doesn’t speak, can’t speak, and he’s squeezing tighter, tighter and Waverly doesn’t fight it, doesn’t kick and shout and wheeze, just takes it, stands there and takes it as Illya hovers half a second away from choking the life out of him.
Napoleon told him that he could take it.
Illya drops his hand like something burned him.
Waverly wheezes, sucking air back into his lungs, but he doesn’t shout, doesn’t threaten Illya with demotion or reprimands or Siberia. He just sits down heavily in one of the plastic chairs and says, “That is unacceptable behaviour, Mr Kuryakin, but today I suppose I understand it.”
“This will not happen again,” Illya says thickly. He doesn’t know whether he means Waverly or Napoleon.
Waverly nods. “No,” he says. “No, it won’t.”
Illya is so tight, so tired. He hasn’t slept in over twenty four hours.
Waverly pats the chair next to him. “Miss Teller will be back soon,” he says, and there are already purple fingermarks starting to blister around his neck. “She’ll bring you clothes and food, and some things for Solo, too. Until then, you may as well sit.”
Illya sits. He’s not sure how to do anything else.
Waverly’s silent for a moment, and then he says, “He’ll be fine, Kuryakin. I promise you that.”
Illya doesn’t know what to think.
Napoleon sleeps for five days.
Illya’s half-asleep in a chair at Napoleon’s bedside. He’s not quite dreaming, somewhere in between sleeping and waking, and so when he hears his name, low and hoarse, he doesn’t initially stir.
“Hey. Peril.” A cough, bitter and throaty. “Wake up, will you?”
Illya wakes with a start.
Napoleon’s eyes are open. He’s not smiling, which is probably a measure of quite how drained he really is right now, and he says, “Nice of you to join us.”
The relief that floods through Illya’s chest is almost enough to make him sick. He stands, takes a single step and is immediately at Napoleon’s bedside. “Cowboy,” he says, and then, “Napoleon. How do you feel? Should I fetch a doctor?”
Napoleon’s hand comes swaying up into the air, and Illya catches it on reflex, winds their fingers together. “Not right now,” he says. “I’m good. Stomach needs a scratch.”
“Do not joke.”
Napoleon squints up at him, lips in a lopsided grin. “Not joking,” he says. “The bandages are itchy.”
“Live with it,” Illya says.
Napoleon’s eyes go oddly solemn. “I will,” he says.
Any words Illya might have had die in his throat.
Napoleon’s thumb rubs at his skin. “Not your fault, Illya,” he rasps. “To any vaguely sane kidnapper, killing me made no sense. You couldn’t predict that he’d get a little stab-happy there at the end.”
“Still,” Illya says. “I should have—”
Napoleon tugs his hand closer, presses a kiss to his knuckles. “Quit it,” he says. “All that guilt. You’re giving me a headache, Peril, and I really don’t think I need any more pain right about now, wouldn’t you agree?”
Illya’s tongue is thick in his mouth. He ignores the question, says, “The things you were saying. I do not want to ever hear you saying those things.”
Napoleon’s expression stills. “Me neither, Peril,” he says. “Me neither. For a moment there, I really thought that was it. Pearly gates, heavenly singing. Or the other place, maybe, I don’t know.” He smiles faintly. “But it was all okay, because you were going to be safe. I’m an acceptable casualty.”
Illya’s hand spasms tighter around Napoleon’s. “No,” he snaps. “No, you are not.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Peril, I’m glad I didn’t have to be,” Napoleon says, rubs that thumb again. “But still.”
Illya’s jaw is tight. “I do not like this talk of you dying.”
Napoleon crooks a smile. “Me neither,” he says. “So don’t I get a kiss?”
Illya arches an eyebrow, despite himself. “For what?”
“Still being alive?” Napoleon smirks.
“That,” Illya says, “is not due to you.”
“Is not!” Illla clenches his fist. “I staunched your wounds. Gaby brought the medics. They saved you.”
Napoleon shrugs, fails to hide that the motion rips pain through him. “I still think I deserve a kiss,” he says. “Or, if that’s not on the table, I’d settle for a scotch.”
“Come on, Peril, please?”
“Absolutely not,” Illya answers. “You are on many painkillers. No alcohol.”
“That is still alcohol.”
Napoleon subsides, but his hand is still warm around Illya’s. “Alright, alright,” he says. “No alcohol. Can I get a glass of water? And maybe a doctor? Now that you mention it, I’m not exactly painfree.”
Illya’s expression goes softer. “Of course,” he says, squeezes Napoleon’s hand one last time then releases. “I will be back.”
Napoleon waves at him. “I’m not going anywhere,” he says, and when Illya’s halfway to the door, he says, “Hey. Peril.”
Illya pauses, one hand on the doorknob, and glances back over his shoulder. “I will not get you alcohol.”
Napoleon smiles, says, “Yeah, I got that, Peril. Just wanted to say. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.”
Illya’s heart thuds in his chest, warm and full, and he doesn’t think about how close they came, no, instead he thinks about family, about Katya and Dmitri, Polina and Pavel, and then about Gaby, about Napoleon. For now, they’re all safe. For now, that’s enough. “There is nowhere you would rather be than a hospital bed?” he asks. “A hospital bed, where you are connected to at least four different machines and you are not allowed any alcohol whatsoever? That seems unlikely.”
Napoleon frowns. “I’m trying to make an emotional statement here, Peril.”
Illya almost smiles. “I know what you are trying to do, Cowboy,” he says softly. “I know.”
“I know you know.”
Illya raises an eyebrow. “That is enough,” he says.
Napoleon smiles, and settles back into his pillows. “You’re no fun, Peril.”
“I am more fun than you will ever be,” Illya answers, and his eyes are warm.