It’s only been two days, but a lot can happen in two days. You can topple a government. You can start a war. You can also, apparently, manage to misplace one very tall Russian spy.
Napoleon isn’t worried. Firstly because he and Gaby have had more important things on their minds, and secondly because Peril can take care of himself. He got the cushy surveillance part of this mission and has most likely been holed up somewhere warm and dry the whole time. Meanwhile, Gaby and Napoleon have spent a disproportionate part of the past two days getting shot at while slogging through a very cold and very wet West German forest. By the end of it, Napoleon has ruined a rather nice pair of shoes, Gaby has sprained her ankle and is seething mad about it, and they have decided that Illya gets to do all the heavy lifting on the next one.
It’s a relief to be back in the rental house that’s been serving as their base for this particular mission. Gaby wraps and ices her ankle. Napoleon finally gets to take a shower and wash the mud out of his hair. They light a fire in the fireplace, eat a hot meal, have a drink.
And that is when they realize that it’s been quite some time since anyone heard from Illya. A quick call to Waverly reveals that it’s been a little over 46 hours since he last checked in.
Napoleon swears. It’s started snowing and the last thing he wants to do is head out into the muck again. He looks out the window and sees only darkness. Then he looks at the roaring fire, his half-finished glass of very good scotch, and Gaby’s swollen ankle.
“He’ll come home when he gets hungry?” he tries.
Gaby just gives him a look, and that’s that.
* * *
Retracing Illya’s steps is time-consuming, bothersome, and above all, cold. After having checked every place the Russian was supposed to have been during the past two days without finding anything suspicious (like a trail of maimed bodies), Napoleon is more or less ready to call it a night and go back to the house. Illya’s screwing with them. He has to be.
But if Napoleon comes back Illya-less, he will have to face the wrath of Gaby Teller. He sighs and returns to the car, heading for the next place on the list, a tiny apartment opposite to the building where the Dutch ambassador rents a place for his mistress. There are no maimed bodies here either. There is, however, a smashed up heap of electronics that once used to be Illya’s surveillance equipment. There are also unmistakeable signs of a struggle. As always in Illya’s case, this means that the room has been more or less wrecked.
What’s somewhat more worrying is the bloodstain on the sharp edge of the windowsill. A few short, blond hairs are stuck in the tacky mess. Something clearly went very wrong here. Napoleon gives the room another once-over for clues as to what and why.
There’s not much. There is, however, a rumour he’s been picking up about the Dutch ambassador's mistress.
Napoleon calls Gaby, who calls Waverly, who confirms that the Dutch ambassador’s mistress is a fickle creature indeed. Not only is she the Dutch ambassador’s mistress, she’s also the mistress of a certain Dieter Braun, business man, philanthropist, and small time criminal. It’s safe to assume that Herr Braun doesn’t approve of strange men peeking through his lover’s bedroom window.
A brief jaunt through West Berlin’s underworld culminates in an improvised interrogation of a rather incontinent employee of Herr Braun, and Napoleon has an address.
It’s a small workshop. A pair of unsavoury characters are loitering around the back entrance, smoking and talking quietly in German. Napoleon catches a comment about ‘teaching the Russian a lesson’. He fights the urge to roll his eyes, and then does it anyway, because it’s not like there’s anyone who can see him. At least the next time they get into an argument about who is the better spy, Napoleon will be able to remind Illya about how he let himself to get kidnapped by a couple of petty thieves.
The two men never see him coming. Napoleon leaves them in a crumpled heap by the door before he sneaks inside. The place looks like it’s been a long time since anyone did any kind of legitimate business here. The scent of metal and machine oil is heavy in the air, but it’s old, with a dusty quality to it. He creeps down the hallway until he reaches the door to the shop floor. It’s open a crack, and when he peeks inside, he can see a large shape dangling from the ceiling.
Napoleon sighs. The last time he found Illya in a similar position (that time captured by far more nefarious people), it turned out the bastard had only been biding his time and even had the gall to laugh when Napoleon burst through the door in full rescue mode. There’s no way he’s going to fall for that a second time.
“All right, Peril, rise and shine,” he says, stepping into the room. “No more sleeping on the job.”
There’s no answer, no reaction, not even a twitch. That’s not good. Napoleon finds the light switch by the door. A moment later the overhead light flickers on and Napoleon gets a better look at the figure hanging limply from the ceiling. Illya’s been suspended from a rope tied around his wrists, and even though there’s more than enough room for him to stand upright his feet are dragging along the floor and his head is lolling bonelessly against his shoulder.
It’s possible that Napoleon might have been a little unfair in his assumptions.
A closer inspection yields a split lip, a bloody nose, and what’s worse, a messy gash along the side of Illya’s head. There’s likely more, hidden under his filthy, sweat-stained shirt, but it’s the head wound that has Napoleon worried. Judging from the copious amounts of dried blood caked in Illya’s hair and flaking off the skin of his neck, it’s a bad one. His face is slack and far too pale.
Napoleon grabs Illya’s chin, tilting his head up. “Peril. Come on.” A little shake gets no reaction whatsoever, and it’s not until after a few light smacks to the cheek that Illya’s eyelids finally move and open a crack. “There you go,” Napoleon encourages. “Time to wake up.”
Illya blinks slowly, confusedly, like he’s trying to figure out what’s going on and failing miserably. “Gaby?” he whispers, voice hoarse to the point of unrecognizability. Of course that would be the first thing on his mind. No concern for the partner who spent the better part of the evening braving the elements to save his sorry ass.
“Just me, I’m afraid. Gaby is awaiting our triumphant return, and I’m sure you can expect a slap or two for worrying her.”
The look Napoleon gets back is completely uncomprehending. “Nevredima?” Illya slurs.
Ah. So that’s how it’s going to be. “She’s safe,” Napoleon repeats in Russian. “A little banged up but nothing that won’t heal.”
Illya breathes out in obvious relief and his eyes begin to drift closed again. Napoleon taps his cheek once more. “No, no, no, none of that. You’ve got to stay with me, Peril.” He keeps to Illya’s native language. Anything else seems to be too complicated for the man right now.
His wrists are chafed and bleeding in places where they have been rubbing against the rope. Napoleon grabs his pocket knife and reaches for the tight knots.
“I’m going to cut these. Can you stand up?”
Illya makes an inarticulate noise that could mean ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or anything in between. Napoleon cuts the rope and immediately has to brace himself against Illya’s not inconsiderable weight. He’s doing his best, Napoleon can tell, but he can’t prevent his long legs from buckling under him and his head from sagging down against Napoleon’s shoulder. His eyes are squeezed shut and he’s swallowing convulsively in a way that’s worryingly familiar.
“Please don’t throw up on me,” Napoleon begs.
Illya mutters something in return, to low for Napoleon to make out, but at least he manages to keep his stomach in check, and after a few long moments, he’s able to support a bit of his own weight.
“Good boy,” Napoleon says. “Come on, time to go home.”
Illya straightens a little, but he’s clearly struggling to keep upright and his eyes are unfocused. “Moscow?” he rasps. “Am I being recalled? I thought…” He looks like someone who knows they’ve done something wrong but can’t figure out what it is, and a ball of anger blossoms sharp and bright in the pit of Napoleon’s stomach.
“Let’s settle for Spandau for now,” Napoleon tells him. Illya nods, slowly and carefully, with a look of deep relief on his face.
* * *
Illya drifts in and out in the car. Napoleon does his best to keep him awake, keep him talking, but very few of the words coming out of Illya’s mouth are making any sense.
Napoleon hates it. They’ve reached a point in their partnership where he has to admit that working with Illya is better than not working with him, for all that he still frequently makes plans for how he might get away with strangling his stubborn Russian ass. (Most of them have been scrapped because of how long it would take to dig a big enough hole to hold the body.)
But in his weaker moments, Napoleon can’t deny that he’s grown fond of the man. He’s smart and well-read and verbal sparring with Illya never gets boring. Moreover, he’s solid, dependable, nearly indestructible.
Seeing him like this, weak and confused, unable to remember anything from the past day or two, is beyond wrong.
Halfway through an incoherent conversation about beets (at least Napoleon thinks that’s what they’re talking about - his Russian is somewhat lacking when it comes to agriculture), Illya swallows and gags.
“Stop, please,” he says.
Napoleon glances over, notes how the grey shade of his face is starting to grow a bit green around the edges. He spares no time in pulling over and diving for the door handle, and the moment the door is open, Illya leans out and proceeds to be noisily sick. Napoleon has to grab hold of his arm to prevent him from tumbling out of the car altogether, and by the time it’s over, Illya can’t keep himself upright anymore. His eyes are rolling and he’s gone utterly limp.
Napoleon pulls him back into his seat and does his best to shore him up while he tries to find something for Illya to wipe his mouth with.
Illya looks up, stares out the window, stares at Napoleon, and frowns deeply. “This isn’t Sevastopol,” he notes. Then, his eyes roll back in his head and he sags back against the seat, unconscious.
Napoleon throws all thoughts of safe houses and extractions out the window, puts the car in gear, and heads for the nearest emergency room.
* * *
This is wrong.
Napoleon sits back in the hard chair and scrubs a hand over his face. It’s been hours. He had to do some very fast talking to explain to the hospital staff how he came to be in possession of a very large Russian who seems to have been, for all intents and purposes, tortured. He’s still not sure if they actually believed him, but right now, he doesn’t really give a damn either way.
According to Illya’s doctor, Napoleon did the right thing, bringing him here right away. Any longer and he might not have survived. They’re still not sure if he’ll recover completely. On top of all the cuts and bruises, he has a severe concussion. There might be brain damage. It’s impossible to tell until he wakes up.
So Napoleon and Gaby have taken up residence by Illya’s bedside, discussing how uncomfortable the chairs are, how bad the coffee is, everything except how they might still lose their partner.
Illya has always been like a coiled spring, loaded with energy, ready to strike at any time. It’s deeply unsettling to see him so still in the bed. His face is the same colour as the bandage around his head, and the hospital gown looks out of place on him.
Somewhere around dawn, Napoleon and Gaby have run out of inconsequential things to discuss. Instead, they sit in silence.
“He’ll be fine,” Napoleon says at one point. “He’s got a hard head.”
Gaby gives him a look that’s half hope and half annoyance.
Illya decides to wake up just as Gaby has hobbled away in search for more coffee. It’s a slow, gradual process. A twitch of a finger, a muted grunt of discomfort, eyelids flickering, but not quite opening yet.
Napoleon leans forward, resting his elbows on the edge of the bed. “Peril? Are you back with us?”
It takes an eternity for Illya to force his eyes open, and once he’s managed, he lies there blinking, a deep frown on his face.
“Where are we?”
Napoleon tries to make his sigh of relief as silent as possible. “I see you’ve remembered how to speak English again. Should I take that as a good sign?”
Illya winces at the brightness of the overhead light. “No. Is stupid, inelegant language. Where are we?” His accent is somewhat heavier than usual, but other than that he seems to have regained all his customary charm.
“Hospital,” Napoleon tells him. “Where you will remain for the foreseeable future.”
Illya makes a heroic attempt to get up. He manages to lift his head from the pillow for all of twenty seconds before he sinks back down, even paler than before.
“Go back to sleep, Peril,” Napoleon says. “Everything’s fine. You’re going to be fine.” He can almost believe it now.
“Not tired,” Illya says, even as his eyelids are drooping.
“Well, in that case you could always regale me with more exciting tales about beets.”
Illya stares at him like he’s the one who hasn’t been making sense. “Beets?”
“They make good wine, apparently. Though I must say I prefer grapes for that purpose.”
“You have lost your mind, Cowboy.”
“Very nearly,” Napoleon admits, reaching out to pat Illya’s hand. “Very nearly.”