Disclaimer: I do not own Man From U.N.C.L.E., and make no profit from this work.
"It's a prototype," the lab flunky - Martin, Marcus, something like that - had been gushing only the day before. "It's a whole new kind of homing beacon - it tells us more than just where you are. It's..."
"I can see him! We have to get this door open!"
Napoleon had mostly tuned out the nasal voice of the scientist. Illya always paid strict attention to this, filtered out the useless or the overly-scientific parts, and translated them into proper English later for his partner. And he had done it that afternoon, on their flight to Arizona.
"Illya! Illya! Kuryakin! Damn it, I think he's unconscious..."
Now, many miles and many hours from the flunky, Napoleon was more grateful than he knew how to express for that prototype. Okay, so it wasn't perfect, but it had given them enough. And Napoleon knew enough first aid - basic and military - to know that had they not had that forewarning, Illya would not still be breathing.
"Hurry up, we can't leave him in there any longer!"
Breathing he was, and Napoleon constantly kept half an eye on the slow, weak rhythm. U.N.C.L.E. had recalled them both - some of the T.H.R.U.S.H. agents had escaped from the base, and Mr. Waverly did not want to risk the heads of two of their best agents in an unsecured hospital in the middle of Arizona.
"Someone find blankets, clothes - anything. He must have hypothermia by now."
So here they were, on a secured plane on their way back to New York, little over an hour left of the journey, being moved regardless of their health at the moment. Napoleon was restless - bruised from the beating that had left him unconscious in a lay by - but mostly unharmed. Illya was still stubbornly unconscious.
"Illya! Illya, answer me! Come on, the mission isn't over. It's not downtime yet. Wake up! Illya!"
Napoleon hadn't heard the medical report yet, and doubtless the medical wing at headquarters would provide their own, but he wasn't an idiot, and could easily guess. Illya had been swiftly and energetically beaten, stripped of everything but his pants, underwear and (for whatever reason) his socks, knocked out and dumped in an industrial walk-in freezer to die. The medical report would be simple: cuts and bruises, possibly a few minor broken bones, a concussion, and severe hypothermia.
"He needs medical attention now! Illya! Illya, come on, don't do this to me."
Napoleon shivered himself - he had led the strike force into the base, ploughing their way through the T.H.R.U.S.H. personnel. It was easy - like a hot poker through snow - but Napoleon hadn't been able to find his partner until one part of the team had gone down to the basement freezers. And there he'd been, laid out like a corpse, locked inside one of the freezers.
"Don't leave me, Illya, that wasn't in the mission outline. Mr. Waverly only gets angry when agents get killed - you wouldn't leave me to face him alone, right? Come on, Illya, answer me..."
That part, peering through the little window and unable to get to him, had been the second worst part of this disastrous mission. The worst had been actually getting to him.
"Just give me something. Some sign that you're still here. Come on, Illya, please?"
For a terrible moment, Napoleon hadn't been able to find a pulse. Illya's flesh was cold as ice, his breathing weak and faltering, and his pulse, when it had been found, barely a flutter in a slowing chest. Napoleon had cradled him there on the floor of the freezer, slapping his face and demanding a response, but Illya had been too far gone.
"We have to move him. The helicopter - is it still here?"
He'd heard the murmurs of the other agents, and the way they clustered round like mourners, and knew that they knew it too. It was unlikely that Illya would survive long enough for them to reach a hospital.
"Be sure to wake up and tell us if we hurt you, Illya. We're just going to move you. Jameson and I - remember Jameson?"
Blankets had been fetched, articles of clothing stripped to wrap around the downed agent, and then Napoleon had accepted help to move him. Not once, in the relocation from the freezers to the U.N.C.L.E. helicopter outside the base, had Illya moved a muscle. He had been blank and unresponsive, still and cold as a corpse.
"You're going to hospital now, Illya. Won't even that get you going?"
Napoleon had held him all the way to the hospital - a fifteen minute journey in the chopper that was sixteen minutes too long - and had talked to him, trying to rub circulation and life back into his frozen limbs, but Illya hadn't reacted in the slightest. Napoleon had even wrapped his suit jacket over the top of Illya's head to keep the precious heat in, but the awkward movements in trying to do that and keep hold of his partner hadn't provoked any reaction.
"Illya, come on, don't stop now. Nice, steady breaths. Keep going."
And when they had taken him away, in the hospital, Napoleon was so uncertain. He had no idea whether he would ever see his partner again - more uncertain than, possibly, he had ever been, and the doubt was like a knife in the gut. He had shivered then - as he did now - for his partner, who was too far away to even consider it.
"Don't leave me!"
And now here they were, on a plane that was deliberately hotter than usual. Illya was no longer in danger from dying of cold, but he hadn't woken for even a second. Whispers had flown around - brain damage, concussion, cold... - but they had to take him back to New York, regardless of his mental state. Unconscious was better than dead.
"Tell you what, Illya, you stay with me, and I'll even do the paperwork on this one, alright?"
But Napoleon didn't like these arrangements. Illya was strapped to a bed that had been fitted in where seats had been before. The straps went over the layers and layers of heavy blankets, so only Illya's face was visible. And the slackness of his features, coupled with the sterile white blankets and bed, made him look transculent.
"I'll make it an order if I have to. You can't give up. It's not allowed."
Made him look just as dead as he had looked and felt in the freezers.
"Come on, Illya...just give me a little sign."
The way he was sat by the bed, twisted in his seat to reach, would have been met with an elaborate eye roll and dry, Russian-accented wit if Illya had been conscious to do it - or witness the treatment. As it was, Napoleon had one hand situated in Illya's ruffled blond hair, feeling the warmth of his scalp and, around his temple, the much steadier pulse thumping through his veins.
"We're almost there. Not long now."
Once he woke up, he would be fine - but he had to wake up first.
"Illya? Illya, come on, you've slept long enough."
The prototype had - for now - saved Kuryakin's life. Without it, they would not have known where he was or that his vital signs had been dropping. Because that was the 'new information' that it sent to the receiver. They had known, long before they reached him, that Illya was in serious trouble. If they hadn't known that, then the helicopter would have left after dropping them off, and Illya would have...
"The birds have gone, Illya, it's just us. It's safe to wake up. Wake up and talk to me, just for a bit."
Napoleon was broken from his musings by a movement, and he blinked in sudden surprise as Illya shifted a little under the blankets.
"I'm only going to stay and nag you if you don't."
He didn't wake at all, but shifting to get comfortable was still an action, and far more than he'd done in the last twenty four hours. Napoleon offered the fair hair a last smoothing pat before sitting back in his seat and making himself comfortable.
"Come on, Illya, it's not too much to ask, is it?"
Illya would be alright.
"Just one sign."