Disclaimer: I do not own Man From U.N.C.L.E., and make no profit from this work.
For a long time, cold was the only concept that his addled mind was capable of forming.
And when that concept finally began to change, it felt somehow as if he had lost a lot of time.
The first thing he was aware of was not-cold. The pain numbing his extremities vanished in an instant, as if he'd been dreaming and woken up, and the resulting shock resulted in shivers that, for the first time, didn't hurt.
That brought voices, but the idea of not-cold was too good to give up for the voices.
"He's got a homing device, you fools! How could you miss that?!"
Babbled apologies. Through the haze of pain, he couldn't make out the words properly. His Spanish wasn't as good as Napoleon's anyway. Napoleon would simply have to explain later, when he arrived.
"They'll be here any minute. That bastard won't let the Commie slip through his fingers. Get rid of him - he's useless as it is."
More apologies, loud voices, hands on him and the rattle of chains being removed.
"I don't really care, just kill the sorry son of a bitch!"
He lost the time between shivers and not-shivers. When he returned, he was warm and heavy. His brain fiddled with senses almost idly before giving up and merely listening, but there wasn't much to listen to.
There was someone else in the room, breathing slowly and close by, but for the first time, survival meant nothing.
He was likely still with the enemy anyway. Better to sleep again before trying to escape.
"No tengo este trabajo para ayudar un asesino..."
It took a moment before his mind decided to help him with that, and he eventually realised that the men carrying him were unwilling to commit murder. It seemed a strange hang-up for 'little birdies', as Napoleon often referred to them, but his back and ribs hurt too much to wonder about it at any length.
The room was very cold, and he was dumped unceremoniously.
"'E is awake."
There was a voice. Just one voice now, and he felt it important that he should listen. He always listened to this voice, and dutifully he tried to tune in properly. But his head hurt, and there was a roaring in his ears, and he whimpered at the pain.
His name, in that terrible drawl, his name...
"Illya, can you hear me?"
He tried to respond, tried to open his mouth and talk, but he felt exhausted and weighed down. He wondered whether he was dying, whether this was the bedside vigil that unlucky partners got to perform in their careers, and wanted nothing more than for someone to come and say that he was going to be fine.
"Go back to sleep," a hand in his hair, stroking and petting. "It's alright. Go to sleep."
The cold was like being stabbed. He couldn't move, couldn't even twitch or blink, and the ability to shiver had long since deserted him. He had opened his eyes, once, to blinding whiteness, and shut them again. There was banging from somewhere - gunshots and loud voices and the sounds of a lock, close by, being picked.
That meant, then, that someone without a key was trying to get in. That meant Napoleon, which meant that it was alright to sleep now. Napoleon would deal with all the birds.
"Are you going to wake up for me, sleepyhead?"
The hand was back, still overly warm but gentle, stroking and smoothing and petting as if he were a cat. It was a nice sensation, really, and very calming, and he felt that maybe he owed the voice for that.
Forcing his eyes open was a chore, and a tiring one, and they only made it to half-mast, but the white was gone. A pair of brown eyes and a weary, wonderful smile greeted him, and a second hand came to brush over his cheek reverently.
"Welcome back, partner," that familiar voice said softly. "How do you feel?"
"Tired," Illya replied, though the confusion on Napoleon's face indicated that he hadn't actually said it in English at all, and then he was away again, too exhausted to figure things out.
"Did he regain consciousness on the flight?"
"Not as such. He shifted in his sleep once or twice but he never really responded to anything."
The second voice sounded tired and dejected, like how he himself felt, and he felt vaguely sorry for the voice, somewhere inside. The voice couldn't be having a good day either, but he was willing to bet that it wasn't half as lost as he was.
"We're going to have to look for possible brain damage..."
"You think he could be...?"
"It's very possible, Mr. Solo."
Medical speak. Who were they talking about? Nobody he knew was brain damaged, so he clearly didn't have to listen, and he drew himself away to sleep and rest and sort out the mess in his mind that was his recent memory.
There was a hand clamped around his. The room was warm. It smelled of disinfectant and antiseptics: a hospital. There was a beeping machine nearby, and someone humming softly to his left.
Opening his eyes was easier this time around, though still tiring, and he returned Napoleon's anxious smile with one of his own that he suspected looked slightly dopey.
"You going to stay awake for more than a second now?" Napoleon asked, leaning towards him and reaching up to stroke his hair again. Somewhere in the mess, it had become a familiar gesture, and Illya didn't comment on it at all.
"Maybe," he croaked, voice weak and raspy, and Napoleon's smile widened.
"Do you remember what happened?" he asked softly, gently, as if anything more would make Illya shatter into a thousand pieces of tiny glass.
"Mission went...wrong," Illya breathed. "Beating, then...freezer? Kicked me in the head..."
Napoleon's hand on his tightened fractionally, but his partner's expression and voice didn't change whatsoever. Instead, the anxiety began to fade from his features a little, as if Illya was saying all the right things.
"Do you know where we are?" he asked.
"New York?" Illya guessed, a yawn splitting his face. "Home. People were talking...brain damage?"
"Eavesdropping again," Napoleon teased, his face relaxing completely now. "You weren't waking up. The mission was two weeks ago. You...almost died. If the helicopter hadn't been there...well. But you'll be fine, now. Brain is all working, I presume? You don't suddenly think you're Chopin or anything?"
Illya huffed a shaky laugh and shook his head, beginning to push at the blankets with his free hand. "Napoleon? When can I go home? I'm awake now."
Napoleon laughed then, squeezing Illya's hand tightly before reaching for the call button. "Let the doctor decide, Illya, and no wandering off before."
"But my brain is fine," Illya protested. "And it's too hot with all these blankets. And..."
"Welcome back," Napoleon repeated, and leaned back to let Illya do battle with the doctor who came billowing in, all frowns and heavy glasses.
But he didn't release Illya's hand.