It had been funny at first - Gaby doing small, nice things for Solo. He’d smirked and teased Illya, as the other man looked on in bewilderment, trying to comprehend what he’d done to have Gaby suddenly ignore him so completely in favour of Solo.
Solo hadn’t given any thought as to why Gaby was suddenly showering him with attention; a shoulder massage here, a glass of scotch appearing just as he was contemplating fixing one, and a whole myriad of other small, but pleasant things that Gaby bestowed upon him. Besides the opportunities presented to watch Illya suffer from emotional constipation, it was nice; perplexing, but nice all the same.
But as Gaby’s odd behaviour continued, Solo became aware of two things: his teasing jabs towards Illya were hitting too close to the Russian’s insecurities and had twisted into cruel barbs, causing Illya to retreat once again behind freshly rebuilt walls as he tried to protect himself from further emotional harm that he had no idea how to handle. That would normally be a big concern, as Illya’s default setting to emotional slights was rage, but Gaby was proving even more worrying.
It had finally become obvious to Solo that beautiful, brave, strong, independent Gaby was acting strangely around him. She wouldn’t make eye contact and was demure, almost shy when she would converse with him.
Solo’s first horrifying thought was that Gaby had changed her affections from Illya to him. He’d finally understood why Illya had retreated from them. But something didn’t quite fit. Gaby had never behaved this way. Never. She had feared Illya when they first met, but she had never backed down. She had never cowed away from any of the challenges forced upon her. Gaby Teller was a spirited, confident woman, not this pale imitation that smiled hesitantly at Solo and who had become skittish in Illya’s presence.
A mission had dropped into their laps before Solo could approach Illya and attempt to discuss his concerns with the other man. It would have been a far from easy conversation, with Illya as on edge as he was, just one wrong word could have Solo dodging bone-breaking blows while he attempted to get the Russian to listen. But everything came to a head with no intervention by Solo required when their mission came to a messy, but ultimately successful end.
Solo and Illya crashed through the door of the hotel room, due mainly to both trying to support the other unsuccessfully. The dark room suddenly flooded with light as they stumbled through the doorway and were greeted with the business end of Gaby’s Walther PPK.
Illya managed to hook a foot behind the door and push it shut. The movement upset their precarious balance and they both crashed to the floor with a tangle of limbs and groans of pain. Gaby rushed towards them, taking a moment to lock the door before kneeling beside Solo.
“What happened?” she exclaimed. “You’re hurt.” She helped Solo to his feet, tightening her grip on him as he swayed for a moment before regaining his equilibrium.
“It’s nothing.” Solo reassured, as he brought a hand up to his head and gingerly probed the gash hidden at the edge of his hairline by his right ear. The wound had bled profusely, blood congealing on his face and staining the collar of his white shirt. “Peril managed to get himself stabbed…” His words trailed off as he looked towards Illya only to find the other man nowhere in sight.
He turned back to Gaby to see worry and indecision etched across her face as she too took in the lack of their Russian colleague’s presence. “I... “she took a step towards the bathroom, a smudge of blood on the handle indicating where Illya had secreted himself to tend to his wounds. Gaby looked up at Solo before looking back at the bathroom door. “I should tend to your head,” she finally said, stepping back towards Solo and curling a small hand around this elbow as if he might topple over.
Solo covered her hand with his and gently removed it from his elbow. “I think Peril should be our main concern. You know what he’s like for covering up the severity of his injuries. My wound is messy, but far from serious. You know this, Gaby. Why haven’t you gone after Peril like you normally would? You wouldn’t have allowed either of us to leave before you’d checked any injuries yourself.”
Gaby lowered her gaze, staring at the carpet in morose silence. Solo slowly reached out and carefully raised her chin so that her gaze met his.
“Gaby, this isn’t you. Won’t you tell me what’s wrong? You’ve turned away from Peril, but you aren’t upset or angry with him. And whilst I have enjoyed your devoted attention these past few weeks, I haven’t enjoyed the person it has turned you into. You are the heart of our team Gaby and…’ Solo watched in mounting horror as tears welled up in Gaby’s eyes and rolled slowly down her cheeks. She turned and fled further into the room, leaving Solo starting at her in bewilderment. Worry stabbed through him but he was at a loss on how to proceed. He turned towards the bathroom and to check on Illya, only to find the other man stood silently in the doorway, a towel pressed to his side.
The Russian shook his head. “Is deep, but not serious.”
Solo raised an eyebrow in scepticism. Blood had soaked Illya’s trousers almost down to the knee and the towel pressed to his side was more red than white.
“We should see to Gaby,” was the Russian’s reply and Solo knew that the other man would refuse any fussing over his injury until he knew Gaby was all right. And as Gaby was the only one who could make Illya submit to medical attention, Solo’s options were limited.
They found Gaby sitting on one of the single beds in one of the twin bedrooms. An empty glass was clasped in one hand, her face stained with tears. She looked up at them, her eyes widening as she took in the bloodied towel Illya was still pressing against his side.
“I’m sorry.” She stood up from the bed and turned away from them as she uttered the words.
“What for?” Illya asked as he stepped around Solo and sat on the edge of the other single bed. Solo gave him a concerned look.
“What do you mean?” Gaby turned back to face them and folded her arms across her chest. Solo knew a bluff when he saw one.
“We mean about your odd behaviour these last few weeks.” Solo replied, reiterating his earlier concerns.
“You have not been yourself since you returned from Germany. I thought… at first I thought I had upset you. I did not know how to express concerns to you,” Illya added, causing both Gaby and Solo to stare at him in surprise. It was unlike the man to be so open. Solo resisted the urge to place his hand on Illya’s forehead to check for a fever.
Gaby looked at them in anguish, a sob retching from her as tears started to roll down her cheeks.
Solo placed a hand on Illya’s shoulder as the Russian struggled to rise, and pushed him back onto the bed. Illya looked up at him with a mix of anger and concern, but Solo squeezed his shoulder in understanding. Fairly confident that Illya would stay put, Solo walked over to Gaby and gently pulled her into a hug, turning them both to the side so that Illya had an unrestricted view of them both.
“I’m sorry,” Gaby sobbed out against Solo’s chest. Her crying became the only sound in the room for several minutes as both men shared dismayed glances. Gaby was not a woman prone to tears and whatever had caused such a reaction in the usually unflappable woman made Solo’s gut churn with uneasiness. He could clearly see the same worry written across Illya’s greying features. The Russian’s enduring resolve was quickly eroding as he succumbed to the weakness of his injury.
“I’m sorry,” Gaby said again as she pulled herself out of Solo’s arms. She looked at them with red-rimmed eyes, her make-up ruined by the tears, but she was calmer now that she had released whatever terrible tension she had been carrying.
She sat down next to Illya and gently peeled back the towel and peered at the wound before allowing Illya to grip the towel back to his side.
“It’s stopped bleeding,” she declared. “But it needs stitching.” She pushed herself up from the bed, only to be stopped with a firm but tender hand wrapping around her wrist.
“Gaby,” Illya said softly, “You must tell us what is wrong. We can help,” he added with a nod towards Solo.
“I can’t,” she replied thickly. “I’m too ashamed,” she confessed.
Illya loosened his grip from her wrist, his hand moving down, but never losing touch with her. When his fingers found hers, they entwined, so gently, offering comfort and reassurance
“There is nothing you can say that will make us think less of you.” He said softly.
“With everything we’ve been through, won’t you trust us, Gaby, with what troubles you?” Solo asked as he moved closer to the couple.
Gaby resumed her place next to Illya, her entwined fingers tightening against his.
“When I was in Germany I found out-” she paused as she took a steadying breath. “I found out about Uncle Rudi.”
“What did you find out?” Solo asked cautiously as Gaby fell silent her gaze firmly fixed on the bedroom carpet.
“What he did during the war,” she clarified in a whisper. “That he was the Butcher from Belsen. He tortured all those people. He did such vile, awful things to them.” She looked imploringly up at the two men as her eyes filled with fresh tears. Illya untangled their fingers and put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her into an awkward half hug.
“He was a truly evil man, Gaby. But his sins are his. It’s not for you to carry them. You were a child when he was plying his twisted trade,” Solo replied, his tone brooking no argument.
Gaby looked at him for a long moment. “I know what my Uncle Rudi did to you.”
Solo stiffened. He schooled his features into an expression of puzzlement. “Me?” he bluffed. He chanced a glance at Illya, who looked back at him with worry but gave a slight shake of his head.
“When I betrayed you and Victoria Vinciguerra turned you over to him … if Illya hadn’t found you …he, Rudi, he could have … he would have.” Gaby shook her head as her words trailed off. She looked up at Solo, tears rolling down her cheeks again.
Solo crouched down in front of her as Illya rubbed his hand up and down her arm in a gesture of comfort.
“But Illya did find me,” Solo told her. “And as you can see I suffered no lasting effects from my brief time in your uncle’s company.” He gave her a reassuring smile and reached out and squeezed her knee.
“But … if I hadn’t told them about you and Illya…”
“No buts, Gaby.” Solo returned firmly. “You were following Waverly’s orders in an attempt to trace your father. If the Vinciguerras had succeeded in their plan then thousands, if not millions of people would be dead, many of them suffering agonising deaths. You can’t weigh all that against one life. Particularly as the man whose life was in the line of fire understood his death was a possible outcome.” Solo removed his hand from Gaby’s knee after a pointed look from Illya and stood up.
“You cannot live with what might have been,” Illya added. “Mission successful. We all survived. It was good result.”
“Is that why you’ve been doing all those nice things for me?” Solo queried.
“You were the only victim of my uncle’s that I knew. I had to try to make it up to you somehow, but I didn’t know what to do. My uncle tortured people to death and my father made weapons of mass destruction; I thought I might be… tainted, somehow,” she confessed.
“You owe me nothing, Gaby. What you are doing now, keeping the world safe, proves you are nothing like your uncle. His evil can never harm anyone again.”
“You killed him?”
Solo and Illya shared a looked. “In a manner of speaking.” Illya replied.
Gaby glanced at Solo, then at Illya, but didn’t push for an explanation.
“I need to tend to your wound,” she said to Illya as she pushed herself off the bed and walked towards the en suite bathroom to collect their well packed first aid kit.
“I’ll leave you two together,” Solo said to Illya with a smirk.
“You okay, Cowboy?” Illya queried, just as Solo opened the bedroom door.
“It’s a hazard of our profession, Peril,” he replied. “Getting injured or falling into the hands of a madman is just another day at the office for people like us. Surviving is the best we can hope for.”
Solo slipped from the room and pulled the door closed behind him.