Agents, Missions, and Hospitals
Halfway through their stealthy extraction from the building, the alarms rang.
“It wasn’t me,” Napoleon automatically said, even as he pulled his gun and checked their path ahead.
Beside him, Illya checked the rear, his gun already in hand. “Guard shift, found the others. We took too long inside.”
“There they are!” Gunshots followed closely upon the shout.
Abandoning stealth, they ran, shooting back when they could. The two of them were better shots than the guards, which was good. But there were more of the guards, which was bad.
They ducked around a corner and paused for breath and to reload the guns. Then they were on their way again.
Right into a barricade with muzzles pointed around it facing them. Napoleon tucked and doubled back before Illya even was there with him. “Forward’s blocked,” Napoleon turned in a side corridor that if he remembered right lead to a door that wasn’t the most convenient, but would get them out.
Behind them was an explosion.
“What did you do?” Napoleon didn’t glance back.
“They had chemicals next to electrical panel. Shot panel.” Illya replied, sounding strained. “Cover for five.”
“What...?” Napoleon flattened against the wall and turned to cover the rear.
Illya dropped to one knee, holstering his gun and pulling out his knife. With a quick slash, he tore his pants leg off and split it in two. Folding one half up, he used the other to tie it around his waist under the jacket.
Napoleon felt his blood run cold, though he kept his position and attention on the corridor. “Peril...” he hissed, worry leaking through.
“Not all of them were bad shots,” Illya muttered as he worked. Finishing, he reached in his jacket and pulled out a cloth-wrapped package. This, he held out to Napoleon.
Hesitating for a beat, Napoleon looked in the icy blue eyes that didn’t flinch as they met his own. Then he finally took the package and put it inside his own jacket. The plans and sample they were sent to get. If they didn’t get it back to UNCLE, there would be no chance of a cure for the deadly disease that was spreading along the riverfronts – a disease that had been bio-engineered for terror and then slipped the lab. They had to get it back, no matter what.
Illya nodded grimly, then braced himself on the wall as he straightened up. He closed his eyes for a count of ten. When he opened them, all he said was, “Let’s go.”
There wasn’t much else they could do. Napoleon nodded and then started forward again. It wasn’t too much further, if they could just get out of the building, then out of the compound...
They made it through the door, but then had to face more guards as they crossed the lawn, using sculptured hedges to confuse the route.
“Stop holding back or I will take other route,” Illya hissed, even as he fired his gun at a guard on the wall. The guard fell.
Napoleon fired at the two men positioned along the route to the wall, getting one but not the other. He ducked down to avoid the return fire. “Don’t be an idiot. It’s not like we’re dawdling.” True, they were moving slower than if Illya hadn’t been wounded, but they were still making good progress.
Illya growled his displeasure, but left it at that. Napoleon was relieved. He wouldn’t have put it past his partner to make some sort of grand sacrifice gesture. Not yet, though. They could still get out together.
The next ten minutes were full of anxiety and lots of rushing and stopping and dodging and making alternate plans for alternate plans. And going slower and slower as they went. By the end, Illya had put away his gun in order to concentrate simply on keeping up with Napoleon.
It was tempting to take the very first car they saw, but Napoleon kept his head long enough to find one that was sturdy and fast enough to take a good chase. He also made sure it had enough petrol. Then he seat-belted Illya into the passenger seat, his hands coming away red. He stripped off his jacket, tossing the package between the seats, and folded it into another pad to press on Illya’s side. Field dressings. Napoleon tried not to think of how few times they’d worked during the war and away from base. He tilted the seat down so it would be more stable for Illya during the drive.
During all this, the Russian barely opened his eyes and didn’t make a sound, instead slumping into the seat like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
“Hold on,” Napoleon whispered fiercely, gripping Illya’s arm and then letting go.
More shots told him they were out of time again. Napoleon returned fire and dashed to the driver’s side, sliding in and quickly hotwiring the car so they could speed off.
This early in the morning, the streets were mostly deserted, though there were some early workers out already. The cars pursuing them were reckless of life and property. But Napoleon was determined. He lost them, then lost them again when they caught up. Before they could catch up again, he detoured out South-East. They would be expecting him to go straight South or West. But he had to get Illya to a hospital, and he could only do that if they could get to a bigger city. It was time they couldn’t afford, but he couldn’t afford any closer, where they were sure to be monitoring the hospitals and could easily finish them off.
“Peril?” Napoleon asked quietly, glancing to one side.
There was no answer. Napoleon steadied the wheel and reached out with one hand to touch Illya’s neck.
Illya grunted, shifting away before he stopped. “Delivered?” he asked.
Napoleon looked at the package sitting between them. “Not yet. Taking a detour, they were too close on our tail.”
Illya’s skin had been cold. Napoleon turned the heat on high, even if it was too hot for him. He cracked the driver’s window down to get a breeze on his side.
“Need to...” Illya trailed off, breathing heavily.
Getting the package was only one step of what they had to do. “I know,” Napoleon replied quietly. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. Just... stay.” He tried not to show too much emotion on the last, but there was a lump in his throat and he knew the words came out choked.
“Not going anywhere,” Illya slurred out the words, not opening his eyes.
“Good.” Napoleon cleared his throat, getting the lump out as much as he could. “I expect my partner to back me up, you know.” Napoleon adjusted the rear view mirror so he could watch Illya – he had the side mirror to watch the road.
Illya’s lips turned up briefly. They weren’t as red as normal, a pale hue that was only slightly darker than his pale skin. At least they weren’t blue yet.
There were no speed limits in Germany. Napoleon had never been more thankful for that. At the next town, Napoleon pulled up to a train station and rented six scattered lockers and then mailed ten envelopes out to different destinations. He hated every minute it took.
Then he went to an apothecary shop that sold herbs and drugs. It was still too early for it to be open, but he knew the owner lived above it and he picked the lock and went in, heading to the hidden back stairs and banging on the door. “Kendall, it’s Ran! Get your arse down here! Got a patient.”
“Ran?” There was a startled voice and then a clattering as somebody came down. “What is it?”
“Bullet wound. Can’t stay long,” Napoleon said tightly, “He needs a hospital, but I need him to make it there. In the car out front.”
The physician grabbed up some bottles and gestured for Napoleon to grab bandages as they headed out.
Kendall got to the door first, and Napoleon barely made it there in time to grab Illya’s hand and stop him from shooting the retired physician. “Peril, its help.”
“Cowboy?” Illya slurred, then he collapsed in the seat, the effort too much. Napoleon steadied him, swallowing at the touch of skin too cold.
Kendall had frozen at the gun pointed his way, but then went straight to stripping the makeshift bandages. “What have you gotten yourself into, Ran?”
“The usual,” Napoleon said tiredly, scanning the streets. “But a little more-so this time.”
“Nothing is ever dull when you come around. Been a few years since the last.”
Napoleon’s mouth quirked. “Someday, I’ll come around when it’s not an emergency,” he promised.
“Like that’ll ever happen.” The physician put the rest of the bandages on the car floor in case Napoleon needed them later, then packed his bottles and stood up. “That’s all I can do without bringing him in. You’re right, he needs a hospital.”
They exchanged glances, and Kendall shook his head slightly, then gave a shrug. Odds were very bad, but not gone yet. Napoleon closed his eyes. Then he reached to the mid-car and handed the package to his old friend. “One other thing...”
Later, driving down the autobahn, racing for the city, Napoleon hoped he’d done the right thing. He glanced at Illya, now completely unconscious beside him, and knew he couldn’t do anything less.
“How is he doing?”
At the rich British accent lacing through the words, Napoleon started and then jerked around. “Sir,” he said, standing and letting go of Illya’s hand.
Waverly smiled briefly before he returned his attention to the other agent. He picked up the clipboard at the end of the bed and flipped through it. “I talked to the doctor before I came in. Bit of a miracle, isn’t he?”
Napoleon wasn’t sure if Waverly meant the doctor or Illya. Either way... “Yes.” Then he braced himself. “The package...”
Waverly gestured that off. “Your man got it to us without a hitch. We covered for him and made sure everything was okay. Good work, Solo. And Mr. Kuryakin too.” He put the clipboard away and walked to the head of the bed on the other side from Napoleon.
That hadn’t been what he expected to hear. Blinking, Napoleon studied Waverly with narrowed eyes.
With a huff, Waverly narrowed his own back at Napoleon. “We are not your former employers, I’ll remind you yet again, Mr. Solo. While the package was of prime importance, I do also regard you two as equally high importance.” He placed a hand on Illya’s shoulder, looking down at the sleeping agent. “I’m very pleased with your handling of the situation to cover both objectives, and most appreciative of your support to Mr. Kuryakin. I would hate to lose either of you.”
“Complete the mission,” Illya muttered. “Agents not so important.”
They both looked at him, startled. Waverly raised his eyebrows. “Has Kuryakin been persuading the nurses to reduce his pain medications again?”
Napoleon sighed. “I’ve been trying to block that, but he’s making it difficult.” One would think Napoleon could out charm the nurses, but Illya had proven to be rather a good actor when he wanted to be and the nurses tended to believe the patient when he said he wasn’t hurting over the person hanging out next to him. It was rather aggravating.
Illya opened his eyes and glared at Napoleon. “Cannot think on medication.”
“You can’t get better either, old chap,” Waverly pointed out. “Or at least not as quickly, and we would like you up and about as soon as possible. I think I’ll have a word with the doctor on my way out.”
With a sigh, Waverly eyed the former KGB agent. “You are a lot of work, Kuryakin. And I can’t say I’d have it any other way. Now, I know your former employers,” he glanced at Napoleon to include him in that, “tended to, hummm, shall we say, not hold their agents as dear as their objectives. However, you do not work for them now. I know the risks that you face when I send you out, and that is on me,” Waverly’s normally expressive face became a complete mask, showing nothing, and at the same time, showing there was something there to hide. “However, I expect you chaps to be able to adjust as the mission requires. And what I prefer is both a mission accomplished and my agents returned in good shape. You two are brilliant at the first, yet your success on the second needs some work.” He hummed a bit, fiddling with something in his pocket. Probably his pipe, that he’d taken up smoking after their stint in Istanbul. “It is on me,” he repeated softly, “and there are different ways to accomplish the first. Hold yourself more dear, please. If not for your sake, then for mine.”
There was silence in the room for a bit, the only sounds the dripping of the IV bags and the buzz of machinery.
Waverly cleared his throat. “Moving on,” he said briskly, “this hospital is too close to that outpost of Thrust for us to feel comfortable with Mr. Kuryakin to remain here for long. So we’ll be moving you out as soon as possible to a more secure location, probably another hospital since you’re being problematic on your medications. We don’t know quite when that will be – that’s what I’ll be discussing with your doctor. Until then, I would like you, Mr. Solo, to remain on alert and don’t let the enemy sneak up on you.”
At the reference to his startlement when Waverly walked in, Napoleon flushed. “Yes, sir.” He should have been more alert. “They were Thrush, sir?” Napoleon and Illya had thought so while they were going through it, but there had been no obvious signs.
Waverly shrugged. “There was nothing stamped in logos of birds, however the paperwork that you brought us in addition to the formula – and thank you for that, by the way, good eye – indicates they are a branch. Perhaps more independent, or just slow to adopt the trend that the bolder Thrush branches are using in their identification. So we’ll be sending another task force out there, this time on a raid. There won’t be much left by the time we get there, most likely, but every facility we can shut down and deprive them of is a good thing.”
Napoleon nodded. It was worrisome, this blatant branding of a group whose only purpose seemed to be the subjugation or elimination of other human beings. He had seen war, and the aftermath of war, and he knew most people were neither good nor evil but fell strictly in the middle. Those who joined Thrush, however, were putting themselves squarely on one side, and he hated that there were so many who did.
“Mr, Kuryakin, I expect you to heed the word of your doctor and take the medications prescribed so you can come back to us all healed up. I believe you can trust Mr. Solo to do the watching out for you.”
Defeated, Illya nodded. He grimaced an apology to Napoleon, which Napoleon shrugged off. He understood it wasn’t an easy thing to let another stand for you, particularly when hurt and in an unfamiliar area.
“Alright, then, chaps. I’ll see you around again later.” Waverly gave another pat to Illya’s arm and then left as quietly as he’d entered.
The transfer to a hospital in Schaan went smoothly, and the quiet town in Liechtenstein was relaxing. UNCLE had a very strong presence in the town and most of the doctors and nurses were, if not direct agents, then affiliated with them. Napoleon stayed with Illya until he was sure his partner was on the road to recovery. Then he took a quick courier mission, confident that when he came back, Illya would be mostly well.
What he found instead was not so carefully controlled chaos.
“Peril, what’s this I hear of your trying to kill your doctor?” Napoleon strode into the isolated hospital room and managed not to frown at the restraints that held his partner down. On second thought, he let the expression loose and walked over to undo them.
“Oh, careful, sir!” the nurse who had escorted him in fluttered her hands in worry. “He strikes out without warning.”
Napoleon finished undoing the straps and rested his hand on Illya’s forehead. “He’s running a fever. Of course he’ll defend if he doesn’t know you.” The personnel were supposed to be trained for this, it was the only reason he’d left.
Illya’s eyes cracked open. “Cowboy?” he whispered in a weak voice, then coughed.
Helping him to sit up and plumping the pillows to keep him there, Napoleon worried about how much weight his partner had lost. He fetched a glass of water and helped him drink it slowly, not too much at a time.
Napoleon sighed. “You could have told me not to go.”
“It was mission,” Illya said, his eyes closing again.
Not that important of one. Apparently, without Napoleon there to guard him, Illya had tried to guard himself, staying awake, not taking the pain medications, and sending himself into a fever, with hair trigger responses on edge for anything. There hadn’t been any indication before Napoleon had left that Illya would be doing anything like that, and Illya hadn’t said.
Now that Napoleon thought about it, the other times they’d been in the hospital had mostly been more minor stays – bad enough to land them there, but not quite as completely debilitating. And half the time, Napoleon was in the bed next to Illya’s. Not for the first time, he quietly cursed the KGB for making Illya such a paranoid son of a bitch. It worked to their advantage in missions, sometimes, but tended to get in the way other times such as this. Illya was outside his environment still, even with a year of UNCLE work under their belt, and tended not to react favorably to things others took in stride. Napoleon wondered if even in Russia, Illya would be as good, or bad, of a patient. It just seemed to be part of him. Did Illya have friends in the KGB? People who watched over him when he was hurt? Napoleon didn’t know.
“I’ll take care of it,” Napoleon promised, running his fingers through messy blonde hair that hadn’t been washed in several days. “Don’t kill anybody before I get back.” He would have preferred to stay, but arrangements had to be made quickly – he wasn’t leaving Illya there a moment longer than he had to.
He went back to the UNCLE headquarters in town, spent some time chewing people out, then explored their resources until he had what they needed. Then back to the hospital to pick up Illya.
“You’re not staying here – you still need medication and checkups, but a nurse can come by to do that,” Napoleon explained as he helped Illya dress in loose sweats and top. “I was thinking Minne.”
Illya snorted. “Ada. Nurse that will attend patient instead of you is better. Also, she gets vein first try.”
Napoleon grinned. Minne had been very attentive... to Napoleon. He’d been teasing Illya. It was good to get a reaction and in their usual banter. “Okay, ready to go?”
Illya glowered at the wheelchair sitting in the room. “I can walk.”
“Not well,” Napoleon remarked tartly. “Suck it up and use the wheelchair and I might let you have a gun to hide inside it.” The hospital had confiscated all of Illya’s weapons after he’d shot one of the machines waking up from a nightmare. He kept making or stealing more, though, and it was a constant fight between hospital staff and Illya. Even fevered and weakened, Illya kept winning, if you called it that.
The wheelchair was accepted as an okay compromise, after Napoleon finally gave him the gun.
A short drive, winding up through the upper parts of the town slightly on the hills going up the mountains, and they were at the complex. Napoleon explained on the way. “The apartment complex is controlled through UNCLE and many of the flats are rented out to agents. The others are vetted through UNCLE first with background checks. Ours is on the third floor of five, facing away from the town, towards the mountains. I’ve swept it out complete, but you can watch me do it again if it makes you happy.”
Illya grunted at that. He’d been relaxing since they left the hospital, and was almost boneless in the car. It reminded Napoleon a little too much of the drive after Illya had been shot, but he kept his anxiety under wraps, not letting Illya pick up on it. Or so he’d thought.
“I’m not going to die on you, Cowboy,” Illya remarked quietly.
“Then you need to let others take care of you better,” Napoleon snapped, his fingers tightening on the wheel. Illya was supposed to have been better when Napoleon got back, not worse.
“Sorry,” Illya replied sheepishly. “I...” he trailed off. Then shrugged and turned his head to look out the window. “Sorry,” he said again.
Napoleon sighed. “We’re here.” He parked and got out the wheelchair again.
This time, Illya got in it without complaint, though he still tucked the gun in the edges.
They got upstairs without a problem, and Napoleon locked the door once they were inside. “I have blueprints of the building for you to study when you want. They’re in your dresser drawer.” He wheeled Illya on a quick orientation of the flat. “Kitchen, dining room, living room, two rooms. Bath with tub and shower. Second room is study right now. I had them redo the bedroom for us.” Not to Napoleon’s preference, but to Illya’s peace of mind. The bedroom had two beds in it, one a larger double that would fit an Illya-sized person, and the other a twin shoved up against the wall on the other side that Napoleon could sleep in, if not quite as comfortably.
Napoleon left Illya sitting in the wheelchair just inside of the door to the bedroom while he walked through it. “Window has no easy access from outside, screens are a wire mesh, frame bolted to the walls, glass is tempered.” The double bed had the headrest upon the back wall, facing the door, the sides both open, matching dressers on each side. Napoleon opened the top drawer of one of them and showed Illya the gun inside. He lifted up the pillow to show the knife. Then he went to the other side and revealed the matching gun in that drawer, as well as the communicator. “Your gear is under the bed, though I would appreciate it if you didn’t strain yourself getting them any time soon. You’ve strained the stitches enough in the last few weeks.”
“Cowboy,” Illya rumbled. “Is good. Can I sleep now?” He smiled at Napoleon, the open expression showing his gratitude for everything Napoleon had done.
“I don’t know,” Napoleon snarked, “Can you?”
“Yes,” Illya replied, not bothering to be sarcastic in return. “Thank you.”
Disconcerted, Napoleon helped Illya into the bed. The sweats were comfortable enough to make good pajamas and Illya was weak enough not to want another change of clothes. He would have to have a shower at some point, but that could wait until he had sleep.
Illya slept for almost 38 hours. He only woke up when Napoleon would urge him up for medication and a little food and relief.
For most of that time, Napoleon did his least favorite thing, paperwork, and then he got caught up on letters. Maintaining a range of covers meant being able to have contacts in many places, and when you couldn’t be there yourself, it helped to have reminders of them through letters and postcards. Remembering all the various covers and details was an intricate mental challenge. When he’d first started, it wasn’t so hard to maintain. The more personas and contacts he made, the larger the mental house got. Napoleon worried over the day he’d have to start writing them down. Writing things down only led to trouble.
The flat had been quiet and Napoleon had left it that way, not putting any records or the tv on. Even though he’d been expecting it, the knock at the door the second day had him standing up so quickly he almost knocked the chair over. Before he answered the door, he poked his nose into the bedroom, to be greeted with Illya sitting up, gun in hand.
“Should be okay, Peril. I’ll be right back.”
Illya nodded but didn’t put away the gun.
Napoleon checked the peephole, then opened the door cautiously, his own gun out of sight behind it as he stood carefully posed. “Ah, the lovely Ada!” He spoke loudly enough for Illya to hear him as he let the nurse in, then closed and locked the door behind her.
The nurse eyed Napoleon without favor. “Where is Mr. Kuryakin?”
“This way,” Napoleon sighed. Some women just were no fun at all, all business, no play.
She didn’t blink twice at the sight of Illya with a gun, though she did wrinkle her nose a bit.
“Bath is next on the list,” Napoleon said. “I thought sleep was better.”
She nodded. “Then you need some yourself.”
Illya changed his attention over to Napoleon, giving him a sharp look and a quick evaluation. Napoleon shrugged. A day or two without sleep wasn’t a problem, if it meant that Illya could rest securely.
Ada finished the checkup and pronounced Illya free of the fever at last. She cleaned the stitches and area around the bullet wound and then put a plastic sealant over it that would keep the water out during a shower. Napoleon could remove it afterwards and replace with a more normal gauze pad. Patting Illya on the arm, she gathered up the old bandages and materials she’d used, and took herself off. She gave Napoleon a nod of approval as she went and this time smiled at his compliments. Apparently his care of Illya had raised him in her esteem.
Illya was definitely looking much better, sharper and alert, and not so edgy. He still wasn’t up to full mobility yet, but he managed to argue fiercely for taking the shower on his own. Napoleon wasn’t unhappy to let him win that one.
First he changed the sheets on the bed, then he cooked breakfast while Illya was in the shower.
Illya came out wearing a pair of shorts, a towel around his neck, and not much else. Napoleon raised an eyebrow but turned back to the stove without commenting on the lack of clothing. The rest of it, however... “You smell better, Peril. Good shower?”
With a snort, Illya padded up quietly behind him and looked over his shoulder at the stove. “Very good. Breakfast?” Illya glanced out the window where the sun clearly showed an hour well past noon.
“First meal of the day,” Napoleon said firmly, “Breaking the fast and all.” He slid the scrambled eggs onto the plate and joined it with toast nicely timed out of the toaster. Instead of giving the plate to Illya, he put it on the table and fetched a glass of orange juice to wash it down with.
With a soft smile, Illya sat down. “You are very domestic, Cowboy.”
“A man of many talents,” Napoleon not so modestly praised himself. He did enjoy cooking, and it was gratifying to see how Illya ate it down. Though the other agent was probably hungry enough that he could eat a horse at this point, which wasn’t quite as complimentary.
When he was done, Illya’s eyes were starting to droop again.
“Okay, big fellow, back to bed again.” Free of the fever or not, it would still be some time before Illya was fully recovered.
“Only if you sleep too,” Illya replied stubbornly. “You shouldn’t have stayed up.”
Napoleon shrugged. “I shouldn’t have left.” He walked over and put his hand on Illya’s forehead, feeling the normal temperature there. The memory was strong of how it had been too cold in that first frantic drive, and then too hot in the hospital when he’d gotten back. He’d spent a lot of time while Illya was asleep monitoring the slow return to normal.
“I am sorry,” Illya apologized again. “I know I need to... accept more. Being here.” He shrugged. “Hospitals are place of weakness. Hard to defend.”
“Have you been attacked in one before?” Napoleon asked, curious. He moved his hand to stroke through Illya’s now-clean hair. It felt much better, clean and drying quickly.
“Yes,” Illya replied shortly. “More than once. It is first place enemies look.”
It was, which is why Napoleon had driven to the larger city for one. It had been a risk, though, and he hated that he’d been playing the odds with Illya’s life. It had worked out, but had been so close.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Napoleon murmured, putting a big mental note in place – don’t leave his partner in hospitals without somebody he trusted nearby. That also answered his question about the KGB as he knew Illya hadn’t been attacked in a hospital during the time they’d been partners. How alone had Illya been through the years? Youngest agent, in a country that valued him only for what he could do. But then, Napoleon was the same, and had trained himself for it as well.
The miracle more was how Illya trusted him now and let him watch his back. From the moment they’d first found themselves in danger on the first mission, they had merged together as a team and that connection hadn’t ever been lost.
“If Waverly had known, he wouldn’t have left you either,” Napoleon had to say, pointing out there were others as well. “Or he would have sent Gaby over.”
Illya grunted and stood up from the table, dislodging Napoleon’s hand as he stood. Napoleon quickly changed his grip so he could steady the larger man. “Waverly is in your country, Gaby is in Brazil. Would be stupid to recall them for this. I will learn.”
“It’s a fine line between agent and trust,” Napoleon remarked as they headed to the bedroom. “Staying alive is good. How about if you just don’t get hurt enough to end up in the hospital in the first place?”
“Good idea,” Illya replied sarcastically. “Will try that next time.”
As Napoleon let Illya go at the edge of the bed, Illya held onto him for a moment longer. Finally, he let Napoleon go. “You sleep too, Cowboy. Will be okay now.”
Napoleon acknowledged the words with a last stroke through Illya’s hair. “Okay, Peril.” Reluctantly removing his hand, he moved to the drawers with his clothes and changed to pajamas. He turned out the lights in the other rooms, double-checked the front door, then returned to the bedroom.
Illya was in bed, but he opened an eye as Napoleon came in. Napoleon watched him from the doorway for a long moment. Then he turned off the light and crawled into the smaller bed.
“Goodnight, Peril,” Napoleon said quietly.
“Goodnight, Cowboy,” Illya returned, just as quiet and a promise in the words.
Then, for the first time in a long time, they both slept.