"You can't keep doing this," Gaby said, as she watched him dress.
Normally the sight of her, mostly-naked and covered only with a sheet that did as much to emphasise as to hide, would be enough to send Napoleon back into her embrace, whether he had the time or not. But her words had a chilling effect on that desire, on all desire if he was honest with himself, even though he knew she was right.
"I know." He hoped that would be enough to stem the flow of words that he didn't want to hear, the words he almost found himself agreeing with if he actually allowed himself to think logically rather than feel. Enough words had come and gone between them over the past weeks and months and Napoleon was certain he'd heard them all, believing none of them. "I wish it could be different."
"It's only been a few weeks." Six weeks and five days, Napoleon thought, as he pulled on his waistcoat and began to button it up. "I know you don't want to hear it, but..."
"Don't." He didn't know what expression his face held but the look on Gaby's meant he could imagine it - that, as much as his plea, had stopped her in her tracks. "Not again."
He'd heard all of the reasons why he was wrong, why he had to be wrong about this, and none of them convinced him at all.
"I miss him too." Gaby said, rolling over onto her back, her arm across her eyes. Was she hiding her grief from him or denying it to herself? He couldn't be sure.
"I know," Napoleon said, sitting down on the side of the bed and pulling her to him.
Gaby was stiff at first in his embrace, then relaxed, her forehead coming to rest on his shoulder. Despite their relationship, despite all the things they'd done in this bed together, there was nothing sexual in their embrace, just a mutual search for comfort in a time of pain.
"We'll be okay," Napoleon said, hoping he was right about this, if he would ever be right about anything again.
"What's on the agenda today?" Napoleon remembered he had asked, knowing the answer for him was paperwork and more paperwork.
His time with the CIA had been bad enough, but that was nothing compared to the regime that Waverly insisted upon - he wanted everything in triplicate and it was Napoleon's turn to oblige him. That had been something they'd agreed on between themselves quite early on, a fair and equitable division of labour that even a faithful son of the Soviet Union couldn't argue with. From each according to their abilities and all that.
"You know I am leaving this afternoon," Illya said. "That courier job."
It was hard to tell how he felt about it, a mission on his own after so much time spent with the two of them, but Napoleon was certain he was starting to become accustomed to the Russian's tells. He was pleased to be asked, Napoleon was certain of that - anything which indicated he was trusted beyond the eyes of his team was a positive thing for their overall reputation - but still a little unsettled by the idea of going it alone. They'd worked so well together, despite their own concerns about the likelihood of that, and Waverly almost seemed to regard it as a personal triumph that they'd done so.
"Hmm." Napoleon sat down at the table, sitting out of Gaby's reach in a deliberate move to keep his breakfast for himself. "Bolivia, isn't it?"
"Venezuela," Illya said, "you know that."
Napoleon shrugged, concentrating on cutting his bacon. He'd known it was somewhere in South America, that was certainly the case, but the destination didn't matter quite as much as the idea of letting Illya out of his sight.
"Make sure you bring me something back," Gaby said, making a feint for Illya's plate which he blocked easily, without looking. "You never do that any more. All the romance has gone." The pout was a little over-done and Napoleon shook his head at her. "Too much?" She grinned, unconcerned at being caught out in her deception.
"I bought you those shoes in Milan," Illya said, finishing off his coffee and turning his attention to Gaby.
"That was months ago," she replied. "And they rub."
Illya's smile as Gaby spoke was small but real - sitting across from the two of them, Napoleon found himself watching their byplay and feeling something he hadn't felt in a long time, a certainty he'd thought was lost to him forever. Something he definitely wouldn't have expected to find in the company of these two.
"And bring something back for Napoleon too," Gaby continued. "You know how he gets if he feels left out."
Napoleon looked down at his plate, his appetite suddenly gone. It was one thing to be the one watching, quite another to be the subject of his partners' scrutiny.
"I will," Illya said.
Unable to help himself, Napoleon looked up and met Illya's eyes - the look in them was heated, reminding him just what they'd been doing only hours earlier, how Illya had made him feel almost despite himself, and promising more in their shared future.
He couldn't have known, of course, how their world was about to change - if Napoleon had known, what would he have done differently? The answer, of course, was nothing.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Solo?" Waverly asked, when Napoleon arrived at his office. He didn't look surprised at him being there, but as if he'd decided to let this situation play out as best it would.
"I need to do something," Napoleon said. Just being here, where the three of them had spent so much time together, was making it more difficult to come to terms with his loss. Their loss, because he shouldn't forget Gaby was grieving too, even though she'd had a lot more experience at losing people she cared about in recent years than Napoleon had. "You must have something for me."
"Well." Waverly looked down at the folders on his desk, shuffling them for a moment as he puffed on his unlit pipe. On a better day, Napoleon might even have pointed out the omission but this definitely wasn't one of those. "You know I don't like to send you out on your own, Mr. Solo," he continued.
"It's fine," Napoleon said, then raised his hands in a gesture of surrender as Waverly just looked at him, one raised eyebrow chiding him for the interruption. "Sorry, you were saying..."
"Hmm," Waverly said, "there is something you can look into for us. If you don't mind leaving Miss Teller behind this time around. I have an idea that she may 'cramp your style' a little for what is likely to be required." Picking up one of the folders, Waverly gestured to a nearby chair and Napoleon sat, hoping this show of obedience would convince their boss that he was the right man for the job, whatever it was.
"She's better off here," Napoeon said. Gaby would kill him slowly if she found out he'd said this, but Waverly had paused, the folder he was about to hand over suspended in mid-air for a moment before he laid it carefully on the desk. A look was enough to tell Napoleon to continue, that he wasn't going to get any more information about his new mission till he'd said what he'd obviously come there to say. Having a perceptive boss was a pain in the proverbial, at times like these. "Safer."
"I see." Waverly nodded, once, as if deciding the result of an argument with himself. "I won't disagree with you - for now, at least - though I don't welcome the conversation that is likely to occur after your departure."
In another situation, Napoleon would have found himself smiling at this, but this wasn't the time. He needed to be out there, doing something that was worthwhile rather than dwelling on what had happened, what he'd lost - his first mission after losing Illya had been a blur, to be perfectly honest, but even then he'd known there was nothing much in what he'd been asked to do. If it wasn't for Gaby, well he didn't want to think about what that would be like - Napoleon could almost feel his heart hardening against the idea of losing her too, no matter what it took to keep her safe.
"What's the mission?" Napoleon asked.
"Oh, here you are," Waverly said, picking up the folder he'd laid down only moments earlier and handing it over. "A little exploration of the seedier side of the Mexican antiquities market, Mr. Solo, and in particular the activities of one Miguel Sanchez."
Napoleon opened the folder, which was stuffed full of papers - he flicked through them quickly, noting the usual background and financial details on both Sanchez and his family.
"He has a niece," Waverly continued. "One Xiomara Sanchez, currently attending university in Chicago where you should be able to make her acquaintance and find out what she knows about her uncle's business activities."
"And what do we know?" Napoleon asked, lifting a photo of a man who must be Sanchez to find another underneath featuring a young woman who could only be Xiomara. "Or suspect, anyway?"
"All sorts of bad things," Waverly said. "People, drugs, guns, any combination of the three." He paused, looking Napoleon over in a way that made him want to squirm a little in his seat - it always felt like being examined by the principal and that had been an experience Napoleon had never enjoyed. "If you think you're ready to get back on the horse, Mr. Solo, I won't stop you..." Waverly didn't look convinced and Napoleon wondered just what it was that he saw, although the thought of asking outright made his stomach roll slowly over.
"I need to do something," Napoleon said, conscious that he was repeating himself but not knowing what else to say. He probably wasn't ready, would have to make sure he didn't make any stupid mistakes because of it, but really, what choice did he have? Illya was gone, Gaby was safe (for now, at least) and he needed to get on with what he did best or what was the point of it all?
As the hours pass, you stretch occasionally. It wouldn't do if you weren't ready when the opportunity came. That would be bad, things would happen because you were bad. Because you weren't everything you ought to be, a faithful son of Mother Russia, thinking only of what is best for her. Doing whatever your handlers tell you, to serve her. You stretch, carefully, then resume your watching.
This is what you do, who you are. A watcher in the night, ready to do whatever you are told to do. That is all you are, all you have ever been.
Shirts were another matter, since very few people could tell the difference between chain store shirts and hand-stitched Egyptian cotton, at least without giving closer attention to the material than he intended to allow. Shoes again, would be down to UNCLE, which wasn't a thought Napoleon entertained lightly - Illya had mocked him about his choice of footwear on more than one occasion, Napoleon remembered, swallowing down the wave of emotion that threatened to overwhelm him when he thought about that. They'd spent so much time needling each other, never realising how little time they would have together, and that was something he'd regret for the rest of his life.
"Your tickets, Mr. Solo," Waverly's secretary said from the door of Napoleon's office, producing an envelope.
A travel-worn suitcase sat at Miss Jackson's feet, surely containing everything that a visiting professor might possibly need - there was doubtless at least one tweed jacket with elbow patches in there and he was almost inclined to check out its contents now, maybe model them for Gaby if there was time before his flight. Anything that would help her smile again, even if he had to pretend a similar enjoyment. It was the least he could do to thank her for the past few weeks, for putting up with him and possibly even stopping him doing something remarkably foolish.
"What time's my flight?" he asked, glancing up at the clock.
"Three hours," Miss Jackson replied. "So you'd better get a hustle on."
He had a choice, Napoleon realised - try and do something for Gaby or take the time to detour via their apartment building and pick up the things he needed. He didn't have time for both, so he would need to choose and soon. Suddenly the thought of even pretending to be a little okay with what was going on felt like a massive betrayal.
"See you when I get back," Napoleon said, making his decision. Gaby would understand, that was probably the worst part of it - this way too he didn't have to explain the conversation he'd had with Waverly, that he was taking a mission on his own because it felt safer that way, for both of them. "Thanks for the suitcase."
"You're welcome," Miss Jackson said, handing the tickets over and getting out of his way.
Illya would be so angry with both of us, she thought, as she arrived at Napoleon's office and found it empty. He'd probably tell us that this was just what he'd been afraid of, why he'd been the one who'd been the most difficult of the three of them to convince that a relationship between them was possible. Why he'd been the one who'd always looked as though he was surprised every time they found themselves together, the three of them wrapped around each other in some odd combination, all limbs and naked skin. Like he was waking up from a dream and the reality, the life that included both Napoleon and Gaby in his bed, in his life, was even better than he could have imagined.
It had been, for all three of them. Despite their insane competitiveness, despite her desire to punch Illya when he was being obtuse, she'd found that she loved both of them. Not the same, that wouldn't have been possible since they were such different men, but just as much. They both needed her, needed each other - it didn't work without the three of them together, as their losing Illya had demonstrated so clearly. Now the only question that remained was: could she be enough for Napoleon Solo?
This was also the first flight he'd taken in a long time where he hadn't made an effort to make sure he left the plane with at least one phone number. Napoleon was certain he'd had some kind of encounter with at least one of the air hostesses at some point in the past, by the way she kept glancing across at him. It couldn't have been anything more than something quick somewhere quiet in the airport or maybe even in the bathroom on a plane just like this one - no matter where it had taken place, it had meant nothing to him. None of those encounters had, though he'd expended a lot of energy in the past on making them happen regularly enough.
That had, of course, been before Illya and Gaby.
He'd never understood monogamy, it had always seemed like a strange thing to value given all the possibilities out there, but there was something about the relationship between the three of them that just worked. They balanced one another, bringing all sorts of qualities to whatever-it-was they had and the thought of sex with someone else seemed oddly unattractive at best, disrespectful to the memory of his partner at worst. Not that they'd made any kind of commitment to one another that way, not in words at least - if anything would have had Napoleon Solo running for the hills, it would have been that - but that didn't mean there wasn't something like that between them now. Even without Illya, he felt an obligation to Gaby; he would get through this terrible time, they both would, and somehow they'd survive.
Next morning, as he was leaving his hotel for the university, Napoleon wondered just what Gaby was doing right now. With the time difference between the two cities, he'd given himself an excuse not to call even after he'd had breakfast, but that excuse wouldn't stand scrutiny for long - he'd have to call her tonight, whether he wanted to or not. At least he'd find out if Waverly had told her what he'd suggested, assuming she'd even speak to him if that was the case.
You could have used a gun, killed this man from a distance and been away before anyone knew he was dead, but that was not your call to make. You were told to 'make an example' of him, though you do not know what crime has committed; that does not matter to you, only what you have been told to do is important. And you will do it, no matter how long it takes.
By the time he has stopped breathing, there is a lot of blood. You have blood on your shoes, splashed across your clothes and smeared on your fists. He had stopped screaming a little while ago. The man had begged for mercy and you recognised the words even though you couldn't have said that you spoke his language, but you must have known some of it to understand him. He should have saved his breath; you had not been told to be merciful.
Waverly had been kind, asking her to join him for tea; it was his ritual, every afternoon like clockwork, and she'd been there before, more than once. She supposed it was the way he kept tabs on his agents, checking them out more subtly than any shrink; as she watched him with the teapot, then fussing with the arrangement of biscuits on a plate, Gaby wondered if Illya had ever sat where she was sitting now. He would have been happy to drink tea with Waverly, she decided, even if he'd have been harder for Waverly to assess than she would ever be.
"It's only temporary," Waverly said. "Biscuit?" He offered her the plate, turning it around so that the ones she liked were there in front of her - his eyes were sharp, watching her like he could read her mind. "You can understand that Mr. Solo is having a difficult time right now." Statement, not question, and one with which she couldn't argue.
"We both are," Gaby said, aware she was making a concession, though it wouldn't be any surprise to Waverly. She didn't want to say the words, that would make it real, but talking like this in abstract terms seemed to be all Waverly had in mind - while that remained the case, she could play along. "I'm used to loss," she continued, "but Napoleon."
She let Waverly fill in the blanks this time; he probably knew more about Napoleon's background than she did anyway, since he had always been tightlipped when it came to his former life.
"Quite." Waverly peered at the biscuits as if they were the only interesting thing in the room - a clear lie, as Gaby well knew - then selected one, before replacing the plate on the table between them. When he looked up, his eyes were as sharp as before, cutting her to the quick. "And so he wants to keep you safe."
"Unless I blow myself up in the lab." The words fell from her mouth without thinking, words that Napoleon himself might have said, in better times. "Which I won't, of course."
"Of course," Waverly said. "I would hope not. Good lab staff are hard to find."
He'd taken the time to learn the students' names in the tutorial itself, encouraging them to talk about themselves and their interests, which didn't take much doing for most of them. Xiomara Sanchez was slightly-built but tall, and somehow Napoleon suspected there was also an athletic side to her as well as her academic interests - she moved like someone who played a lot of some kind of sport, though he couldn't quite figure out which one. She took a little coaxing to talk about herself, but in the end he was able to get her to talk and she smiled at him a bit less tentatively when they all left for the day.
Of course, if he had no scruples about it, Napoleon could always make a point of seducing her and get whatever information she had about her uncle that way. It didn't seem the right thing to do and it certainly wasn't going to be plan A - in fact, now he thought about it there was something about that idea that made him feel a little uneasy, even though he'd done it many times before.
But that, of course, had been the old Napoleon; world-weary and vexed by his role within the CIA, he'd done whatever had been necessary just to get Saunders off his back and fulfill the mission objectives. He hadn't thought about what the aftermath was, how the people he'd seduced had felt on realising they'd been used by him. He could have ended up trying that tactic with Gaby and just the thought of how it would have made her feel afterwards left him feeling sick to his stomach. It wasn't right, he knew that now, and he'd need a hell of a lot more reason to do it than 'it could be done'.
He passed the next few days pleasantly enough, getting to know his new colleagues and discovering all sorts of gossip about his fellow academics. He was also more ready for the next tutorial than he had been for the first, researching what his students had been learning and picking a topic to suit.
"Where's Miss Sanchez?" he asked, when the rest of the students had arrived as plans but there was no sign of Xiomara. "We need to get started."
"Oh, it's so awful, Professor," one of the girls said, though the way she said it made it sound instead like the best thing she'd heard in a while. "Xo's uncle was murdered! She got a call yesterday morning and was on a plane to Mexico City within a couple of hours."
"That's terrible," Napoleon agreed, realising his plans for getting anything from Xiomara had effectively left on the same plane with her, then changing the subject to the topic he'd researched before anyone else could hijack the conversation. He might as well get to use his preparation, after all, even if everything else he'd done had apparently been a waste of his time.
At least he should have time to find her something before his flight, even find something for Solo as well, because she was right - he didn't like to be left out and Illya had no intention of making him feel uncomfortable. Their relationship had been difficult enough at first, all competition and oneupmanship, but it had gradually settled into something more companionable and then to intimacy he'd never expected. They worked well together, the three of them, and he liked the consequences of that.
When he woke, he was somewhere else; his head was throbbing, a pounding in time with his heartbeat, mouth as dry as if he'd never drunk water in his life.
"Ah, Kuryakin." He tried to turn his head towards the voice, realising then that he was restrained, and very effectively so - there were straps at his ankles and wrists, across his thighs and torso, other across his chest. His head was pinioned somehow, so he could only move his eyes in search of the voice he'd heard and recognised immediately.
"Where am I?" he asked, hearing the way his voice rasped. "What happened?"
Had he been in some kind of accident? Was he paralysed? No, there was sensation in his legs, his arms, he was just too tightly restrained to do anything.
"An opportunity, Kuryakin," Oleg said, coming to stand close enough that Illya could see him. "A wonderful opportunity for which you are ideally suited, for you to serve your country like a good citizen."
Illya decided he didn't much like the sound of that. He'd always served the Soviet Union to the best of his ability, giving his all to first the navy and then the KGB, but that never seemed to be enough. They were never satisfied, not like his current employers. Who would be wondering why he wasn't on a plane from Caracas right now, if the way the light was slanting through the windows was anything to go by.
"I am serving my country now," he said, although he knew the words were probably futile. "In New York. With UNCLE."
Oleg's face darkened.
"UNCLE." He shook his head. "To think we let that Waverly dictate to us what we could and could not do." Oleg's voice was scornful, which came as no surprise to Illya - he didn't know quite how Waverly had managed to get him from the KGB, or Solo from the CIA if it came to that, but it probably hadn't been easy. "Well, you are back with us now, and we have been waiting for you."
He didn't like the sound of that. Had the KGB been tracking him, watching his movements and who he associated with? They couldn't know about his arrangement with Solo and Gaby, or else he would probably be dead right now, a bullet to the back of the head the price for what they would only see as betrayal. But at least, if he was back with the KGB and they wanted something of him, something only he could do, they had no reason to be interested in his partners any more.
"Is this a permanent return, sir?" he asked, hoping for an answer he knew he was unlikely to hear. At least he could get a message to the others, let them know he was okay and had gone back to work for the KGB, if that was to be his fate.
"Permanent," Oleg said. "Yes, I think we can safely say that will be the case."
Suddenly there was someone beside him, across the table from Oleg, a woman wearing a white coat. In one hand she had a hypodermic, which was rarely a good sign.
"We're ready, sir," she said, pushing Illya's sleeve up and using the needle to insert an IV. Despite himself, knowing it was hopeless, Illya still tensed against his restraints and tried to move, tried to get the slightest bit of leverage he could in the hope that he could somehow escape this situation. "It will take a moment before it begins to work, along with the stimuli."
Stimuli? That didn't sound good, not good at all.
"Here," she continued, pushing something against Illya's mouth. "You need this, don't make me force you." He couldn't move, couldn't see what it was that was pressed against his face, just that it was solid and cold and he didn't want it, didn't want any of this.
"Sir," the doctor said, her voice more strained. "Please." Oleg shook his head once more, then came a little closer to where Illya was lying and reached out one hand. His fingers gripped Illya's nose, pressing his nostrils closed and forcing him to fight for breath, to open his mouth and accept whatever was being pressed against it. "That's it," she said, as he gagged a little. "Trust me, you'll need it."
She stepped back from the bed and made a curt gesture, as if she wanted to push Oleg back but was uncertain of his reaction - a wise consideration, Illya thought, then his world flattened out and he found himself straining once more against his restraints as all his muscles locked tight.
"Again," a voice said. Pain, more pain than you can ever remember experiencing, like a thousand red-hot needles jabbed into your skin at the very same moment, a rippling sensation of agony you never want to feel again. "And push the dosage."
Your arm feels strange, like someone has replaced your blood with liquid mercury somehow, though how would that be possible? If you could think, if your head wasn't ringing, throbbing like a bell that has been struck, you might know. You might know who you are and why they are doing this to you. You didn't ask for this, that's the only thing you are certain of, the only thing you hold to yourself, repeating the words over and over like a mantra.
"I didn't... I didn't..."
You don't remember where you are. All you know is that you shouldn't be here, you should be on a plane by now...
"He's fighting it." A voice says, one you don't recognise. You're strapped to a table and you can feel the coldness of a liquid slipping into your arm once more, the sensations washing over you like waves in the sea. You don't remember the last time you swam, but it must have been like this, though you don't know how you know that to be true. "Give him more, it has to work."
Your world swirls around you, faces blurred and voices fading in and out as you try to concentrate on what they're saying. You don't know where you are, who you are, does that matter? You are someone special, someone they can always rely on, and that is everything you want to be.
"Don't worry, comrade," a voice says to you. "You will feel much better soon and then you will be serving Mother Russia with all your heart once more."
All this free time, stuck in UNCLE's growing New York offices, gave Gaby lots of opportunity to find out more about that or anything she pleased. After all, there were only so many oil changes a girl could be expected to do before she got bored and wanted something more cerebral. So she'd begun to familiarise herself with the way UNCLE did things, learning its processes in case that came in handy for herself or Napoleon in the future. You never knew, after all, when something might be important and it was always best to be prepared. And the best part about it, even if her interest strayed across the lines that might otherwise have been set for her, was that Waverly seemed to be completely supportive of her plans.
"It's good to see someone taking an interest," was all he'd said when one of the other staff had questioned Gaby's right to a particular piece of information, then nodded at both of them and walked away. Gaby had taken that as tacit agreement and held out her hand for the file in question - after a moment, she'd been given it, as she'd expected would be the case.
She wondered, putting Illya's file on the desk and sitting down to read its contents, if she was doing the right thing. In some ways, she knew all her explorations of the inner workings of UNCLE had been leading to this moment, even though she'd described a kind of lazy orbit around the realities of what was held in this document. It was, after all, everything UNCLE had on a man she'd come to know intimately and the idea of reading it, rather than hearing some of those details from Illya himself, if he'd care to share them with her, seemed like a betrayal. He had, after all, been a very private man in some ways - not an ungenerous one, once he'd given of himself (both to her and to Napoleon, though that had been a more difficult process) but still not one for idle gossip.
No backing down now, she thought, opening the folder. Clipped to the inside was a picture, not a recent one, of Illya in his naval uniform - he looked incredibly young, as he must have been, and not a little scared. Sensible, she decided, but probably not a good idea to be so easy to read. That, at least, had changed over time and the KGB.
As she worked her way through the documents, some of which were still in their original Russian and challenged the lessons Illya had given her in recent months, she began to realise the file had already been stripped. There was nothing personal here, nothing about Illya's parents and their problematic relationship with the state, just the bare bones of missions she had lived through with him. And, of course, a report on the mission from which he hadn't returned.
It too was basic, the words clearly written by someone who hadn't known Illya personally, or else they could never have been so clinical. Attached by a metal staple was a list of Illya's personal effects, the things that had been removed from his hotel room after his death by an UNCLE agent and then returned here, to New York. His things were here, Gaby realised, in this building rather than given back to her and Napoleon.
Was that Waverly trying to be tactful, pretending he didn't know about the relationships that had formed between the three of them? Gaby was certain he was aware of pretty much everything that went on around him, even if he liked to portray himself as a blustery old man whenever it suited his purposes. She wondered if he was right, if seeing Illya's things would have been too painful in the immediate aftermath of his loss, but she would have liked the choice - they would have liked the choice, whether to have something to remember Illya by or just to see what he'd left behind on a night neither of them could understand.
Looking down the list of what had been packed up and shipped back, it was all fairly unsurprising - the majority of it was clothing, though Illya hadn't taken much with him given the planned duration of the mission. She stopped, partway down the list, unwilling to believe that what was written there could be right. It couldn't be right, could it? There was only one way to find out.
"By the way, Mr. Solo, Waverly said, clearly aiming to get in the last word before the conversation ended, "I've told Miss Teller about your request."
"How did she take it?" Napoleon asked, although he was already pretty sure what the answer would be.
"About as well as can be expected," Waverly replied, then there was a click as he ended the call and the line between them went dead.
As well as can be expected. That could mean anything from 'lying in wait with a shotgun' through to 'took it in the way he intended', Napoleon decided, though the latter was fairly unlikely all things considered. He'd need to be prepared for anything then.
You need to keep moving, something inside you is telling you to run and this is the only way you can master it. You are a loyal servant of the state, you will do as you are bid no matter what the cost. These are the words they keep telling you, over and over as you try to sleep, as if you didn't know them already, believe them already. As if you were once something else, though that could not be the case.
Everything you are is everything you have ever been. You are here to be useful, to do what you are told, no need for anything else. You are tired, so tired, but there is no need for you to sleep.
"Why is he doing that?"
"We don't know."
Back and forth, wall to wall, you are just movement, nothing more. You have never been anything more than this; there is no need for you to run, even if you had somewhere to go.
She couldn't even be angry with him for not wanting that conversation, knowing the motives were good even if the way it had been done made her want to punch him in the mouth. He wouldn't have done that to Illya, but then he wouldn't have needed to - they'd assumed they were invulnerable, that neither of them could be seriously hurt, so they'd never think they needed to put limits on each other's actions. Time alone had shown how wrong that assumption was.
Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, the door to Napoleon's office opened and he came in. He was still carrying a suitcase, so he hadn't come here via his apartment after all, and Gaby thought he actually relaxed a little on seeing her there, waiting for him. Was that relief that his plan had worked, that she was still here, all in one piece? It couldn't be anything else, since she was still so annoyed with him, though how tired he looked made that annoyance start to wane a little.
"I know," he said, before she could speak. "It was wrong of me to ask Waverly to keep you here." He put the suitcase down, then dropped onto the small couch opposite where she was sitting, his body a parody of relaxation that didn't convince her at all. "Let's have it."
"Another time," she said, crossing to sit next to him. After a moment, Napoleon put his arm around her, pulling her to his side and they sat together in silence for a moment. "I miss him too, you know."
"Don't," Napoleon said, but squeezed her shoulder with his hand as he spoke, as if checking she was really there with him. "I'm not ready."
They sat like that a little longer, while Gaby tried to decide if she should show him what she'd found in Illya's file. It could be important, or it could be nothing. She didn't know him well enough, she decided finally, to judge with any certainty which option would be the worse - somehow the balance seemed to fall towards telling him and letting the proverbial chips fall.
"While you were in Chicago," she began, "I was looking at some records and found something odd." She'd taken the list from Illya's file, which was probably against all sorts of rules, but the alternative had been to keep the entire file here and that would have been even more painful. "This is the list of the personal effects returned from Caracas."
She didn't need to say whose things the list itemised, just the mention of Caracas was enough to make Napoleon's body stiffen against hers, as if responding to a blow.
"Just look at it," she said, pushing it into Napoleon's hand.
Beside her, Napoleon looked at the piece of paper she had given him and for a moment she thought he would just crumple it up and throw it away, before his curiosity got the better of him. Or maybe it was just that last tenuous link to Illya, something he wanted to preserve as long as possible despite everything; she preferred to think it was that which made him look at the list.
"Gaby," he said, after a long few moments of silence, his eyes flicking down the list once more. "Is this accurate, have you checked?"
She nodded, seeing his hand tighten on the paper. That was the first thing Gaby had done, once she'd seen what was written there; it could so easily have been some kind of error, after all. But it wasn't, it hadn't been.
Slowly, as if Napoleon was a wild animal she didn't want to startle, she removed Illya's father's wristwatch from her pocket and held it out to him, and saw a mirror of what must have been her own expression on Napoleon's face.
He knew how much it meant to Illya, not just as his only remaining link to the father he idolised despite everything, but also because of what it signified about their relationship. It had been, Napoleon knew now, just the first of many peace offerings exchanged between them - some, like the watch had been tangible, physical reminders of their growing relationships, bringing in Gaby too even if it seemed such an arrangement could never work. He would never have left it behind.
"The report said it was found by a housekeeper who was cleaning the room," Gaby said, as she pressed the watch into Napoleon's hand. His fingers closed around its familiar shape, feeling where the leather of the strap had rubbed. "They contacted UNCLE, who had already been to collect Illya's belongings."
"Something happened there," Napoleon said, uncertain whether he was just talking to hear himself speak, voicing his theories out loud as if that would somehow make them more real. "He wouldn't have left this behind, even if he did what they said."
The report had said he'd left the hotel in the middle of the night and only his name on the rental car licence had linked Illya Kuryakin with the burnt-out wreck the police had found still smouldering by the roadside. The body inside it had been unidentifiable, a bullet to the head the clear cause of death - at the time, hearing the cold facts of the matter, Napoleon had almost been glad it ended that way. He'd seen enough deaths by fire in the war, he didn't need to imagine another one with Illya in a starring role.
"No," Gaby agreed. "We need to tell Waverly."
"I need to report in anyway." Not that there was much to tell beyond what he'd already reported before he left Chicago, but maybe there was news from Mexico, a lead on whoever had killed Sanchez and a decision about what would happen next with that case.
If Illya was still alive, that changed everything and nothing. The trail from Venezuela was cold, but there weren't very many possibilities to consider - taking an agent like Illya literally from his hotel room was something few agencies would consider, given the possible repercussions from the KGB for a start. That didn't help much, but it was something, a thread to pull on and see what unravelled.
He wouldn't let this go; that was the last thing he could ever do, if there was any chance lllya was still out there, expecting to be rescued and probably wondering where they were. He wouldn't leave his partner to twist in the wind, no matter what it took.
"Here," he said, pushing back the sleeve of his jacket. "Get this, would you?" Napoleon held out his arm, angling the catch of his watch toward Gaby. She undid it, letting the weight of it drop into her hand, then nodded once as he replaced it with Illya's watch. "Let's go find him."
"We are making you strong," the man tells you. You do not know him, so you pay little attention to his words, especially when the liquid burns in your veins and makes you feel sick. You are restless, fingers drumming on the edge of the table, a discordant noise that you can tell makes the people uneasy. You do not stop. "You will do as we say, that is your purpose."
You do not believe anything they say, but you cannot remember what was before. If you could remember before, perhaps you could tell if their words have meaning, but for now you have nothing to measure them against.
You remember blood.
There was a man and you killed him. You remember his blood on your fists, on the ground, on his face. You remember the sounds he made as you struck him, over and over, till the sounds stopped coming.
"Is it holding?" the man asks. He is standing at the other end of the room and he is not speaking to you. The woman he is with nods. "Give him another treatment, then I want to run a further test." Both of them leave the room and you are alone.
Your fingers still drum on the table but no-one hears you.
There was no way he'd gone willingly, wherever he'd gone. The watch was just a sign of that, a reminder that there was more to Illya Kuryakin than violence and size, something the two of them had come to know over the past few months, even if finding that out (or confirming it, might be a better description) had been a voyage of discovery for all concerned. Illya had been as surprised as either of them that this thing between them was working, that they could find ways to fit together even though all of their rough edges made that seem unlikely.
"Sir?" Napoleon had reached Waverly's office. As was often the case, his door was ajar, inviting agents to come in - it was an unusual set-up but it seemed to work. There were, of course, times when the door was very firmly closed and everyone respected those, but they didn't happen very often in Gaby's experience. "We need to talk to you."
"Come in, Mr. Solo," Waverly said, glancing up from a file. "And Miss Teller too, how wonderful."
There was something about Waverly that Gaby had instantly trusted, from the first moment she'd met him and long before she'd realised what kind of trouble she had got herself into. Or, to be more accurate, what sort of trouble Waverly was helping her get out of. It had only been a matter of time, after all, before someone came calling and she'd been fortunate that it was Napoleon and no someone more likely to judge her on her appearance and consider her weak. That was a mistake Napoleon had never made, Illya either, and she loved both of them all the more for it.
"Anything to add to your report from Chicago, Mr. Solo?" Waverly asked, his attention now firmly on both of them. He waved them to the seats in front of his desk, leaning forward to show that they had his full attention.
"Nothing more to say," Napoleon said. He didn't seem to realise what he was doing, the way his hand had crept up to circle his other wrist, fingers playing with the strap of Illya's watch. What was he looking for, reassurance? "But there's something else, if we're done with the Sanchez business."
"A nasty affair all round," Waverly said. "Beaten to death in the grounds of his own villa by a single assailant. That must have been quite an unusual individual." He glanced down at the file he'd been reading, though Gaby was certain he didn't need to check the details he was telling them - the pause seemed to be for their benefit, or at least something a little more theatrical than was really required. "A large blond man was seen leaving the premises shortly before Sanchez' body was discovered."
"Then you knew," Napoleon said.
"Suspected, Mr. Solo," Waverly corrected. "If I'd known Mr. Kuryakin was alive and not told you, what kind of man would that make me?" He shook his head. "How could I ever expect you to carry on working for me if I was capable of that kind of cruelty?"
Napoleon didn't speak, but Gaby saw the way the muscles around his mouth tightened - she'd been lucky enough not to have much dealings with either CIA or KGB, but she doubted they would have shared Waverly's scruples. Both had seen their respective agents as tools, useful till they weren't, then to be discarded - a little thing like feelings wouldn't have stopped them doing whatever they thought needed to be done.
"So how do we find him?" Gaby asked, deliberately drawing Waverly's attention to herself and away from Napoleon, who clearly needed a moment. She put a hand on Napoleon's arm, wishing she could do more, feeling the tension in the muscles even through several layers of clothing. "And who took him?"
"I can only assume it was our friend Oleg," Waverly said. "He never really liked the idea of Mr. Kuryakin working for me, so I suspect he took any opportunity that was presented to get him back under his control once more."
It made sense, though the possibility was a horrific one. Illya would have been taken against his will, which was bad enough, but was also somehow being controlled - that was the only explanation, otherwise Gaby was certain he would have made contact, somehow, if only to reassure them both he was alive. She couldn't imagine a world where Illya Kuryakin would tolerate being made to leave them behind, not now, and the possibilities her imagination provided were universally awful.
But it was true. Losing Illya, almost losing him as had turned out to be the case, had been the thing that made him realise the depth of feeling he had for the Russian, the reality of their relationship, bizarre as it might seem to outsiders.
As for Waverly, he didn't know quite how to feel about the fact their boss had suspected something more to the situation around Illya but hadn't shared it with anyone. It wasn't like this was the first time his bosses had kept him in the dark, withholding information he felt he should have had, but for some reason this felt different - he wanted to trust Waverly, to believe that he'd made the decisions he had for the right motives, even as he remembered just how painful the idea of Illya being dead had been.
Now, none of that was as important as finding Illya as soon as they could and starting to fix whatever had been done to him. As his fingers again sought the band of Illya's watch, now firmly round his wrist, Napoleon wondered just what had been done to bring Illya so firmly under anyone's control that he wouldn't try to escape, wouldn't try to contact them. Did he remember anything of his past life or was he so firmly under someone's thumb that he didn't even dare try and make contact? Just the thought made Napoleon want to rip them apart, no matter who they were, KGB or not.
Illya wasn't theirs now, he belonged to them instead - he belonged to Napoleon and Gaby, part of their odd set-up and as invaluable to that arrangement as anyone could be. He wouldn't rest till Illya was back with them, not till he knew that he was safe, home once more.
You are moving before he has even finished speaking, swinging your legs off the bed and standing in one smooth movement. You are ready for whatever will be asked of you, even if you are not sure who you are. You wonder why that should be important to you, who you are, but it is an unanswered question that sits in the back of your mind, a constant annoying pressure there like a stone in your shoe. You were someone once, before whatever you are now - you do not know how you know that, but you are certain of it, as certain as you are of every scar on your body and the things you do not remember about how you got them.
"This is an important mission," the man continues, as you dress. You listen to him as you arm youself, slipping knives into sheathes and then checking your guns - they are more familiar to you than anything else, almost a part of you. "There is a man and you will kill him."
"Yes." You say this, although there is no other possible answer. You do not know how you are aware of this, but somehow you know this to be true - the only answer you can give is 'yes', the only option is to obey. Maybe once, you had another choice, but now your only choice is to do what this man says. "I will."
"Come with me," he says, leading you out of the room where you had been sleeping. The room where they had given you treatments to make you a better servant of the state, because that is your role, your only reason. You follow him into another, larger room where there is a map on the wall and photographs of a man. "This is your target." He points at the photograph, a man standing beside the open door of a car. "Every week he travels to this place," he continues, pointing out a particular route on the map, "and this week you will be there, to kill him when he arrives."
Maybe she just didn't have the luxury of worrying about Illya and all the possible scenarios Napoleon seemed more than capable of imagining when she was seeing Napoleon Solo spiral right in front of her eyes. Illya would be so annoyed with her, she decided, if she let this continue too much longer.
"Enough," she said, when Napoleon had been pacing the floor of her living room for the best part of an hour. "You need food and sleep, or you won't be good for anything when we find him."
When, not if. She had faith in Illya's ability to survive anything - he'd managed to navigate his way through working for the KGB without losing his basic humanity, and that said volumes about his character - so he'd survive this. They would survive this, together, even if the worst that Napoleon had imagined, had forced her to think about when she didn't really want to, was true.
Maybe it was just easier to be the practical one, letting her lack of experience when it came to being an agent allow her to be ignorant of all the darkest possibilities, if Napoleon would ever allow her to remain in ignorance.
"Sit down," she said. "You know I'm right." It took a few moments for the words to sink in and Gaby watched them penetrate, saw the moment when Napoleon realised what he was doing, the rut in which he'd found himself and made an effort to extract himself from it.
"If I have to," he said, making his agreement sound more grudging than Gaby knew it was. "You think we'll find him?"
Seeking reassurance, that was new. She wasn't sure she liked the uncertainty in that question and squashed it like a bug.
"We'll find him."
"Mr Solo?" Waverly's voice was indistinct, barely audible above the sound of sirens. "I think you should get down here." Napoleon didn't recognise the address, but dutifully wrote it down as Waverly dictated it. "Our friend is here, or hereabouts."
He was already running before he got to the corridor, taking the staircase down to the underground parking lot two or three steps at a time and barging past at least one other agent on the way down. He also wasn't sure how much rubber he'd left on that first turn out of the garage, or any of the subsequent turns between the UNCLE offices and the location Waverly had given.
Would he be there in time? Napoleon glanced down at the watch, at Illya's watch - he'd stopped wearing his own, telling himself he was keeping this one safe till he got his partner back, and each following day from that decision had been a nightmare.
He was two blocks from the address when he saw a familiar movement on a low rooftop, pulling over the car before he could rationalise it away. That was Illya, he was sure of it; he wasn't making much effort to hide himself and Napoleon wondered what he was doing in this part of town. The implication seemed to be that he had come for Waverly, that he'd been sent to assassinate their boss so that the KGB could reclaim him officially, or that it was the end product of some off-the-books grudge between Waverly and Oleg. Either was possible and at this point, Napoleon didn't much care which was correct.
All that mattered was getting Illya back; they could sort the rest out later.
He was across the street and up a battered fire escape before he could decide whether or not this was a good idea - Gaby would probably kill him herself for not waiting on backup, but he had to know. He had to be sure whether it really was Illya, or if his wanting it to be the case had made him see his missing partner in every shadow. It was quite possible - Napoleon knew it wouldn't take much to tip him over into obsession, till Illya really was all he thought about, day and night. Hopefully Gaby would keep him on an even keel if he couldn't trust himself to do so.
He was at the same level now, slipping as carefully onto the flat roof as the creaking fire escape would allow. Napoleon slipped his gun from its shoulder holster, the familiar weight grounding him like it always did - he had no intention of shooting Illya, not unless it was an absolute last resort, but he still had no proof that the movement he'd seen on the rooftop was his missing partner. Till then, better safe than sorry; also better safe than getting scolded by both Waverly and Gaby, as he'd found to his cost on more than one occasion.
Slowly, he scanned his surroundings, trying to make as little noise as possible and hearing the sirens continue to blare a couple of blocks over. At least he knew Waverly was okay, which was one less thing to worry about - he might still be injured, he was tough enough to be calling Napoleon even if he was bleeding out, but there was nothing Napoleon could do about that right now. He had bigger concerns, quite literally if Illya was really here.
A slight sound, the movement of gravel on tarred paper, was the only warning he got - it was just enough, letting Napoleon move away, the blow that would have struck him roundly in the head only grazing him, making him spin off-balance for a moment. He'd seen that face in his dreams, his nightmares, the expression of pure anger that preceded a headbutt to the face in a Berlin toilets now replaying on a New York rooftop.
"Come on, Peril," he said, when he'd managed to slip away, to get enough space to allow him to speak. "You know you don't want to do this."
Illya's face was a mask of rage, teeth fixed in a grimace as he charged towards where Napoleon was standing. He'd also telegraphed his movements clearly, so much so that Napoleon was able to dodge without difficulty. They'd sparred enough in recent months, getting to know each other's strengths and weaknesses, that Napoleon found himself wondering if this was really any kind of fair fight any more. Illya was still bigger than him, still stronger, but he was no longer an enigma - he had tells, just like any fighter, and Napoleon knew them all.
The only problem was, how to get Illya to stop without doing him any serious damage. That, Napoleon realised, as he evaded another blow, was going to be a problem.
You think you recognise the man in the photograph, though you cannot be sure. You still do not remember much of before; you know you must have had a life before you came to this place, before the treatments started, but you do not know what it was like. Except that, somehow, this man was in it.
You think there were others too, though you do not remember them either. You just remember feeling safe, feeling a part of something rather than this terrible feeling you now remember is called 'alone'. The man who tells you what to do does not make you feel safe, even when he does not order the treatments.
So, when it comes to doing what you were told to do, you make a choice. You do not change things very much, so that the man who tells you what to do cannot easily see you have disobeyed him, but the changes are enough to make the mission more likely to fail and that is enough for now. The man in the photograph is left unharmed and you leave the place where you had been meant to ambush him, making sure that you are seen.
On the rooftop, for a while at least, your instincts kick in and you still attack the man who confronts you there. He speaks to you, but you do not listen to what he says, only concentrate on attacking him, on wondering just how he is able to prevent you from landing a blow. Then the light strikes his face and you are sure of one thing: you know him.
It is then that he slips, an unwary step back onto a piece of debris that rolls from beneath his foot and makes him stumble, slamming backwards and driving the breath from his body as if you had struck him your hardest blow. For a moment you are back in Mexico, standing over the body of a man you have beaten to death, because you were ordered to do it and not because you wanted to, and everything overlaps.
You look at your hands, expecting them to be covered in blood, then down at the man who is sprawled on the ground at your feet. He does not break eye contact with you, even as he gropes with one hand for the gun he dropped when he fell, light catching on the watch he wears on his wrist. You could kill him now, if you had been ordered to do that you probably would, and the thought runs through you like the ice-cold treatment they stuck into your veins.
"The watch," you say, even as every instinct is telling you to run. "Give it to me."
The man stops moving; if anything, he reminds you of an insect, pinned on a board for display. Then, slowly, he holds his arm out to you - the leather of the strap is warm from his skin, your fingers undoing it with familiar ease.
"It's going to be fine," the man says, which is a stupid thing to say. You shake your head, dismissing his words, then turn and begin to run.
It was no surprise to Gaby that Waverly spotted her first, a small smile and a jerk of his chin towards where Napoleon stood giving her orders for the immediate future at least. If he was bossing people about, Gaby rationalised, he had to be fine. The question was what she would find where Napoleon was concerned. He hadn't paid any attention to her arrival, or to the low conversation between the others in the room, but she knew Napoleon would have seen her reflection in the glass as she came to stand beside him, looking out.
"It was him," Napoleon said, in lieu of a greeting. He looked tired, but also happier than she'd seen him for a while, which seemed an odd mix for a man who'd just come out of a fight. "And he knew who I was." He reached for his wrist, fingers touching the bare skin where Illya's watch had been. "He knew the watch, at least."
That was something. All they'd been working on before now was rumour and supposition - at least these encounters, first Waverly and then Napoleon, gave them a little more to go on.
"Someone is making him do things," Gaby said. It should probably have been a question, given how little they still knew, but it came out as a statement - a confirmation, really, of all they'd believed was the case where Illya was concerned, that he wouldn't have done what he was accused of without some kind of coercion. "We thought as much."
"But their control isn't perfect." Napoleon had turned to face her now. "If it was, both Waverly and I would be dead, you know that."
She'd done nothing but think about Illya, about what he was capable of since they'd discovered he might be alive. This use of him, like a blunt instrument, was a terrible waste of a talented man who had so much to give any agency who could use him fairly. Instead, whoever had done this - she had her suspicions, as did the others - was wasting all of that in their preference for a man under their control and failing even to manage that.
"We'll find him," she said, reaching out, her fingers overlapping Napoleon's on his wrist. "We won't stop looking till we do."
And Waverly would help them, Gaby was sure of that - if not, if she was wrong about his intentions and desire to do the right thing, then they'd find their own way, till equilbrium was restored once more.
He'd managed to sound more confident to Gaby, afterwards, than he actually felt and hoped she bought what he was selling. Napoleon was certain Illya had remembered something, otherwise he'd probably be dead by now, but had he remembered enough? How much control did whoever was doing this still have over him and could it be removed?
"We've found something," Gaby said, drawing his attention to the desk in the middle of the room, which was spread with plans and maps. "Tell Mr. Solo what you told me," she continued, smiling encouragingly at a young-looking agent. He swallowed nervously, flushing slightly at being the focus of everyone's attention.
"At Mr. Waverly's suggestion," he began, "we've been following Oleg Sokolov." He retrieved a map as he was speaking, spreading it out on the surface of the desk. "Naturally, he's spent a lot of time at the Russian Consulate, which is here on East 91st Street. But he's also been spending a lot of time in Astoria."
"Any particular address?" Napoleon asked, suddenly certain this was going to be the breakthrough they needed, even though he couldn't have said why. "I doubt he's going there for the moussaka."
Within 15 minutes they were on the way to the address Agent Wilkerson had located, Napoleon already running through the wording he'd use to commend the agent for his attention to detail. Not only did Oleg and whoever he was working with have no idea they'd been located, the embarrassment for the KGB of one of their own running a scheme like this and getting caught should be enough to ensure Illya was safe with UNCLE for as long as he wanted to be a part of their plans. Now all Napoleon needed was to find similar leverage of his own, for use on the CIA, and they'd be set.
Of course, that was the point at which they heard sirens, even before they saw the billowing clouds of smoke rising from an address Napoleon had already known would be their source.
If you knew who you could trust, it would be different. Maybe soon you will be sure about who these people are who you think you remember, but 'soon' may still take some time to come. At least you have somewhere dry to sleep, an unoccupied apartment you'd found on your second night away from the man, and time to try and sift through the jumble of thoughts that make up your mind.
You are returning from a trip to find food, an unwelcome journey but a necessary one, when you realise the apartment door is standing ajar. You do not understand why someone would let you know they are waiting, it makes no sense - tactically, it is the kind of thing amateurs do and you know that nobody you have associated with is an amateur. You put down the bag of groceries, pushing it into a corner just in case you can retrieve it later, and cautiously approach the door.
You push it and it swings open; you oiled the hinges soon after you moved in, so there is no sound to betray you. From inside the apartment, you can hear music playing. You have heard music coming from your neighbours sometimes, before it is dark, but you have never turned on the radio that stands in the corner of the apartment's living room. Now, someone has, and the music plays - quietly enough that you cannot tell the words of the song but loudly enough that your cautious footsteps are covered by its sound. Another amateur mistake to add to the list, another thing that puzzles you.
"It's about time you got back," a voice says.
She is sitting on the sofa, legs curled underneath her as if she occupied that space all the time. She is wearing a light green dress but somehow you think she should be wearing orange and white. She is smiling at you, holding out a hand towards you as if you were not the most dangerous person she has ever met.
"Do you remember me?" she asks, and you shake your head. She looks a little disappointed and you recognise the emotion you are feeling - you are sorry that you caused her to feel like that, even though you do not know who she is.
"Maybe," you say, because you are not sure. The music changes, becomes something a little livelier in tempo, and she smiles.
"Want to dance with me?" she asks, swinging her legs round. "Or would you rather wrestle?"
The words strike you like a blow and for a moment you wonder what she has done. How she has done it, too, because she hadn't touched you and yet, somehow, she has caused something to change.
"Gaby." Her smile broadens as you speak, even though a moment before you hadn't known her name. "How did you find me?"
You take a step towards her; as you do, she stands, then jumps nimbly onto the coffee table so she's standing on a level with you. Your arms are round her before she could move, before she could resist if you intended to do you harm.
"She put a tracker in your watch, Peril," a man's voice says, from behind you. You would turn but her arms - Gaby's arms - are wrapped around your neck and you can barely breathe, let alone turn and fight. "Only the best quality Russian workmanship, I'm sure you'll be glad to hear."
You know that voice, the man on the rooftop. The man you didn't kill, the man you chose not to kill. You know that voice. He is standing right behind you now, close enough that you can feel his breath on the back of your neck.
"Don't be such a jackass, Napoleon," Gaby says.
Even without looking, you know she is pulling a face over your shoulder at him. He takes a step forward, then another, until he is pressed against your back; there, between them, for the first time you can remember, you feel something new that takes a moment for you to recall its name. You feel safe.