Notes: The characters aren't mine, and the story is! I'm new to The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but I absolutely had to start writing for this fandom after seeing some of the amazing episodes. This particular oneshot is inspired by both "The Summit Five Affair" and "The Gurnius Affair" in season 4, and was written for the Section VII picfic Tuesday challenge on LJ.
Illya just barely whispers the words through gritted teeth, pointing to his jaw. He knows that Napoleon, who is still trying to pick the lock on the cell door, does not want to; Illya is certainly not keen on getting a punch in the face, either. Unfortunately, they have no choice; the only way to stop this madness is for Napoleon to escape and find a way to prove that he isn't a double agent. And Illya is the only one willing or able to help Napoleon here—but they both know that Illya is the only one he'd ever need on his side.
As far as Illya is concerned, in any other situation, the idea of Napoleon Solo being a double agent would have been laughable. But it is no laughing matter now; Napoleon had confessed under extreme duress, and Illya had been powerless to help him, able only to watch his partner's torment. A punch to the face now would be minor compared to what Napoleon had endured, and Illya would willingly endure far, far more if it meant helping his partner clear his name.
Napoleon turns to him now, finally realizing that he has to make this look authentic—that Illya has to be down for the count, lest the ruse fail to work. But the prospect was quickly proving to be just as painful as the torment Napoleon had undergone. Illya sees the regret in Napoleon's eyes as he swings a fist at him. Illya sees everything—the reluctant turn, the fist's blur of motion heading right for his face, the I'm sorry, Tovarisch written in his partner's eyes. Everything happens within seconds, and before Illya knows it, he's been hit.
The force of the punch sends Illya reeling, senseless, across the cell and onto the cot. He lies there, stunned, stars swirling before his eyes; Napoleon doesn't know his own strength sometimes, and now, with adrenaline flowing, it was clear that Napoleon had hit him far harder than intended.
As he struggles to keep from blacking out, Illya wonders what Napoleon will do once he seizes the chance to escape. Regardless, Illya hopes he'll succeed in proving his innocence—and, of course, he is innocent. Never once did Illya doubt him, as ironic as it sounded for one of U.N.C.L.E.'s most cynical agents. But Napoleon Solo is one of the few people in this world that Illya Kuryakin trusts completely. And, he supposes, Napoleon is one of the few people in the world who trusts him the same way. The fact that he is an admitted socialist tends to put people on guard around him immediately, especially in New York; factoring in his innate aloofness, as well, Illya is not someone who trusts people—or is trusted by them—quickly. He's worked in New York for years now, and though he's gotten along well with several members of the U.N.C.L.E. staff there, there are none who know him as well as Napoleon Solo—though Waverly is, admittedly, a close second.
Illya is vaguely aware of the commotion going on around him—the frustrated yell that Napoleon has escaped.
Good luck, Napoleon… Illya silently transmits, feeling his world going dark.
But before he can pass out completely, he feels familiar hands helping him up; Napoleon wasn't going to leave without him. And so Illya, still a little loopy, forces himself back to the world of waking. Napoleon is still in need of his aid, and Illya will not allow his partner's trust in him to be lost.
Ever since Waverly had the inspiration to pair the two of them up on assignments, Illya had been pleased and relieved that the mutual trust between himself and Napoleon had never been let down. That they were standing alive and well now was a testament to that—through forming human ladders to escape pitfalls, finding each other after mysterious disappearances, bringing knives to gun battles, and a host of other misadventures, they had somehow made it through all that. Even clearing Napoleon's name had ended in success, with the true THRUSH mole eliminated by Illya's hand. And Illya had been under the assumption that, having made it through that, this trust would continue to be as it was.
That was before Colonel Nexor and Marshal Gurnius had entered the picture.
Illya didn't consider himself a superstitious man; he didn't believe in "powers beyond mortal comprehension" or anything of the sort. But even he had felt pure dread the moment he had been forced to impersonate Nexor and had heard that Gurnius's men knew that Napoleon was in San Rico.
And here they were now, Napoleon strapped to a table, with Illya forced to administer the electroshock treatments to preserve his cover and to keep Gurnius from killing Napoleon on the spot. Months ago, Illya would have assumed that nothing would have been worse than watching someone torture Napoleon into a false confession, but this… This was so much worse—a thousand times worse! As horrible as helplessness had been, it was nothing compared to being the one to inflict the torment on his partner.
He hears Napoleon suppress a growing cry of agony—hears the sound being stopped in his partner's throat. And though his exterior does not betray himself, Illya can feel his heart tearing in two. He's only ever heard that sound once before; it was years ago, on one of the very first missions he and Napoleon had been assigned to together. Napoleon had been shot in the leg during an escape gone awry, the bullet only millimeters from his femoral artery; the two of them had quickly decided that the bullet had to be removed, lest it move during their escape and cut the artery. And in the first of what would become countless displays of trust, Napoleon had instructed Illya to remove it. Illya'd had only a knife and tweezers—certainly no anesthetic—and though he had succeeded in removing the bullet and saving his partner's life, Illya had been all too aware of Napoleon's pain—though he had tried his best to suppress it, just as he was doing now. Only the current circumstances were ones that Illya knew could have been—and should have been—avoided.
Illya's face remains the same—as Nexor's, cold and unfeeling. But inside his mind is nothing but regret.
Napoleon, forgive me! What I would not give to have our places switched…!
That is not an option, alas. Illya can only wait until he finally convinces everyone to leave the room and, desperate to stop his partner's pain while making sure that he will be written off by their foes, the Russian instructs the American to bite down on the poison capsule he holds out to him.
Napoleon doesn't hesitate, to Illya's relief. After all that, he has not lost his partner's trust.
Hours later, it is over. Gurnius and his lot are dead, but, more importantly, Napoleon is alive—still weary, still in pain, but alive. Illya is distant on the flight back to New York, sitting several rows behind Napoleon and Miss Cook, who can't stop talking about what transpired in San Rico. Illya wishes she would stop; he doesn't need to relive those horrible moments again. Apparently, Napoleon feels the same way, for, after a while, he gets up and, still a little shaky, goes to join Illya in the back while Miss Cook now talks to the stewardess.
"She's spouting classified information," Illya says, plainly.
"The stewardess is one of ours," Napoleon explains.
The silence is thwarted by the thrum of the plane engines—and Napoleon's sigh as he decides to address the elephant in the room.
"You know, Illya, I still have that scar on my leg from years ago—when you proved that you did have some rudimentary medical skills."
"You cannot possibly compare that to this."
"Can't I? It certainly hurt like all that was holy then, too."
"I had to remove the bullet to save your life," Illya reminds him.
"Are you implying that there's a different reason why you continued with that Nexor charade?"
"Of course not!" Illya then pauses, realizing Napoleon's point. "Ya ponimayu." I understand. "Still, I intend to make it up to you."
"I'll make you another soufflé."
"…Haven't I been through enough?" Napoleon gives Illya a weary smile as the Russian turns to give him an exasperated look. And then, for a moment, he grows serious. "Illya… thank you."
He doesn't elaborate, nor does he need to. It goes without saying now that he wouldn't have trusted anyone else to be at that control panel and still believed that he would have made it through that alive. It also goes without saying that he does not blame his partner, and he expects that his partner should not blame himself, either—that forgiveness is not needed, but Napoleon will still grant it if Illya still wishes it.
Illya looks slightly surprised, but then he nods, managing a weary smile that mirrors Napoleon's. Whether dealing with punches to the face, or pain far worse, they are a team not easily torn asunder.