The morning arrived earlier than anticipated, and Napoleon Solo made a mental note to see about getting black out shades for his bedroom window. That thought was soon eclipsed by the realization that he wasn't home in his own bed, but rather in a dingy room he was sharing with his partner, Illya Kuryakin.
Neither of the men were comfortable, and Illya was slightly feverish still, the result of a bullet he had stopped while blowing up the THRUSH satrapy that used to be in this lousy part of Mexico. Of course, Napoleon's estimation of this region was due in part to the heat and humidity this near to the equator, and the lousy room. And the fact that his partner was suffering and they hadn't found a doctor.
All things considered, not being dead was a plus, but other than that… nada.
Illya groaned in his sleep, the result no doubt of the pain in his shoulder where the bullet was still lodged. Once again the Russian had taken the worst of the abuse by a crazed THRUSH with delusions of taking over Mexico by inciting a revolution that would allow the hierarchy to march into power and establish a base of operations. UNCLE got to him before the U.S. government was required to get involved, but not before the two top agents in UNCLE's Northwest region were captured, brutalized and subjected to truth serums that had left them both with excruciating headaches.
Even now, Napoleon was feeling the after effects of that blasted concoction, and the bullet wound augmented Illya's misery. They really needed to find a doctor, or at least something to stop the infection.
When Napoleon opened his eyes again, he turned his head to look at his partner. Blue eyes were looking back at him through a haze of pain; sweat on his brow had saturated the long blond bangs.
"Napoleon… Where are we?"
Napoleon sat up and walked around to the other side of the bed they were sharing. Illya was pale, too much so.
"Hey, I wasn't sure you were going to wake up today. How are you feeling?"
Illya didn't even try to smile at Napoleon's feeble humor. He hurt, and his shoulder was on fire. It was impossible to describe what it felt like to have hot lead penetrate your flesh and muscle. Until someone experienced it… like now…
"I have a fever, and this wound is infected. I … you need to get the bullet out, Napoleon. Get some tequila if you can't find a doctor, and just … jus…"
He passed out, and Napoleon felt a kind of tremor go through his own body. It was serious and Illya was right.
"You know I hate cutting into flesh and… geez Illya. I wish you'd stay out from in front of flying bullets."
The Russian didn't hear that, of course, but Napoleon voiced his complaint anyway. He hated prying bullets out of people.
It took Napoleon longer than he liked to score a bottle of tequila. He didn't have any money, so all of his skills as a spy were required to deftly remove a bottle of the best tequila from behind the bar at the local cantina without anyone noticing. He also needed a knife and some matches. This was a primitive operation he was running, and he hoped it wouldn't do more harm than good to his partner.
When the deed was done and Illya bandaged as well as could be expected with the provisions Napoleon had stolen, the American found a glass and poured himself a drink.
"Here's to the best antibiotic, anesthesia, after surgery tonic in Central America… cheers."
Napoleon turned up his glass and took the shot even as wondered what the correct term would have been in Spanish. It didn't matter, really. He was pretty sure Illya would be all right, the bullet had come out and the blond's shoulder was not in bad shape considering.
"Considering what, old boy? Considering you're not a field surgeon and he's not dead? Yeah, we did great. Cheers!"
When Illya woke up the next morning he was aware of the body next to him on the bed. Napoleon was sound asleep and snoring. He also smelled of … tequila and lime.
"Americans cannot hold their liquor, no matter what country they are in."
Napoleon stirred a little at the sound of his partner's voice.
"Shhhh… Why are you so loud? I saved your sorry hide, you know. The least you can do is let me sleep."
Illya smiled at that.
"You have a hangover, my friend. Thank you, by the way, for performing the task of removing the bullet. The tequila seems to have been very effective. And you seem to have consumed the rest of the bottle. I am surprised that you are not…"
He didn't get to finish the sentence because Napoleon was bolting for the bathroom. It seemed that consciousness had brought on a wave of nausea.
It was about thirty minutes later before Napoleon emerged. He had gone from hanging his head in the toilet to a much needed bath. When fully dressed again, he made note of the fact that the room was no longer turning on a pedestal of some sort, and that his equilibrium had returned to an acceptable state of uprightness.
Illya was sitting up on the edge of the bed, while his hair was standing on end. Napoleon found the sight amusing, but said nothing. They went through a lot for this job, and if looking ragged and worn out was a part of it then so be it. Illya had survived another close call and Napoleon was grateful he had been able to do what was necessary. He was only slightly dismayed at the effects of too much tequila.
"Say, you can have the bathroom now, although you should try and keep your shoulder from getting wet when you get in the tub. You're not exactly stitched together, just sort of bandaged. I found some duct tape behind the desk in the office of this fleabag."
Illya laughed, the idea of being held together by duct tape seemed somehow appropriate. Napoleon was surprised by the outburst, and when Illya seemed as though he would never stop laughing, his partner became a little concerned.
"Oh, oh… that is one of the funniest things I have ever heard, Napoleon. I …"
And he went into another round of laughter, and this time it did seem to border on hysteria. Napoleon grabbed the blond on his uninjured arm and tried to get his attention, but Illya was now fully involved and seemed unable to stop. When he did stop, very suddenly, the laughter turned into hyperventilation.
"Illya! My God, Illya, what's wrong?"
The smaller man was backed against the wall now as he tried to regain control. His head was swimming as he fought to remain conscious. This lack of control stunned Illya, but he seemed unable to stop himself.
Napoleon recognized this symptom of overt stress. Agents got this way sometimes, although he never considered Illya an ordinary agent, and not generally given to emotional responses. This episode was more disturbing because of the chink in his friend's façade that it was exposing.
"Illya, you're having an anxiety attack of some sort. Just slow down, tovarisch, it's safe now. You're not in danger, the mission is over. Can you hear me?"
Illya nodded, willed his breathing to slow down and return to normal. His head was pounding from the drop in blood pressure that probably had occurred along with the drop in carbon dioxide in his bloodstream. He felt dizzy, out of control in spite of the slowing of his breathing.
"Napoleon, I … do not know what just happened. Do you … does it ever …"
Napoleon nodded, a rush of memories suddenly flooded his mind as he realized how close he had come at times to exactly this type of response to what they did. They lived on the edge, risking life and sanity for a cause no one acknowledged.
"Yes, sometimes I feel as though I'm going to break apart. It's like those dreams where you fly, and then suddenly the ability is lost and you go crashing to the ground.'
Illya was whiter than the dingy sheets on the bed, his thin build accented by strained muscles that were in need of release.
"We all experience something like this, Illya. It's just part of the job, and nothing to be ashamed of. Some days we just need to not be in danger of being killed."
Illya allowed himself to smile, just a little. He was holding up the wall behind him, or at least it felt that way. His shoulder was aching now, a little stream of blood seeping beneath the edge of the grey tape that was holding him together.
"My father died when I was very young. I don't know exactly how or where, only that he was taken away, accused of something, anything. The reign of terror on Russia's artistic community left me without a family.' Illya looked away to someplace distant as he spoke; sunlight streamed into the small room, illuminating him, causing his story to seem sadder somehow.
"I have always felt the lack of his presence in my life. Even now I sometimes wonder if I would be living this life had he survived and come home to us."
Napoleon was stunned at this unsolicited revelation from the usually private Russian agent. Their friendship didn't always translate to shared secrets or memories from their past lives. He found himself divulging his own bit of history.
"My dad was around until he wasn't. My grandfathers were my biggest influence. I guess that what I'm doing now is related to them instilling a sense of duty in me, of the need to fight for right. I guess, I mean it seems reasonable…"
Illya released his hold on the wall and made his way to the bed. Sitting down gingerly, he felt relieved of the tension now, his muscles were relaxing as he allowed himself to take a deep breath and exhale.
"I don't know why I brought that up exactly, but sometimes… there are times when I miss having a normal life. I miss having a home to return to and family to welcome me there. Even though I was very young when he died, I miss my father. I do not have anyone to show me how to be a father, although it will probably not ever be necessary. This is not a life that you share with someone else."
Napoleon nodded. He understood the lack, the loss of tutelage in the art of parenting.
"Well, I guess we'll just have to keep looking for clues, then. Maybe one of us will find the keys to a happy life, and share it with the other."
Illya smiled at that, although his heart didn't feel relieved of the sorrow that sometimes followed him.
Some day, perhaps, there would be more to his life than risking it.