Napoleon leaned back against the wall of the cave. It was pleasingly cool against the aching muscles which had taken such a pounding retrieving his partner.
The Russian was where Napoleon had left him, propped up against a bolder, legs spread-eagle in front of him, head hanging down, arms loose at his side.
The cave ran back into the hillside for as far as Napoleon could see. The entrance was fronded about with greenery. A dripping gentle waterfall kept up a constant pitter-patter into its big brother which flowed out from the cave and on into the woodland gulley outside. The cave mouth was wide, its floor littered with smooth round pebbles and the water colour yellow of the spring sunshine shone directly into it through the dripping vegetation, giving everything a vibrant green tinge. It reflected off the mop of Illya's blonde hair, the dancing dappled kaleidoscope the only perceptible sign of movement in the agent's body.
Napoleon eased himself over to the partner he'd fought so hard to free. Getting Illya here had been a near impossible feat. He had found the Russian semi-conscious in the disused cellar of an abandoned farm. Illya had been babbling incoherently in a confusion of Russian and English. Napoleon had tried to pull him to his feet but he had seemed incapable of co-ordinated movement. Napoleon had checked him for the more obvious signs of damage, but he hadn't found any broken bones, no obvious wounds, not even any obvious sign of mistreatment except for a duck egg sized lump on his forehead. The skin shiny and taught over the swelling. Unable to get the Russian to stand Napoleon had hauled him head first over his shoulder, wrapping his arm across the agent's legs and catching one of the wrists dangling down his back to secure him in place. Illya babbled on uninterrupted, making no sense in any language.
Napoleon had got him out of the cellar, across the derelict farmyard and out into the weed infested fields before he'd been spotted. Out in the open like this he hadn't stood a chance of escaping his pursuers, the heavy clay of the fields would have been hard going without the added burden of his partner's weight. Illya was heavier than he looked, more solidly muscled than he appeared. The thugs had caught up with them easily, pulling Illya from his shoulder, laying into Napoleon with gusto, strangely oblivious to Illya's presence despite the rambling nonsense he continued to spout.
Napoleon's first thought when he had seen them heading his way had been for his gun, shooting his way out of the predicament the only reasonable choice, but he had been hampered in drawing it by Illya's dead weight and they had beaten him to it. Training their weapons on both him and the incoherent Russian, they had forced Napoleon to drop his weapon on the ground and it had been trampled into the sodden mud in the ensuing fight.
There had been too many of them to beat, Napoleon hadn't been able to retrieve his own weapon nor had he been able to take one of theirs. Instead he'd taken a hell of a beating, all the while wondering why they hadn't just shot him. He'd been knocked senseless and when he came round they'd gone, his weapon was irretrievably lost and Illya was still mumbling to himself, flat on his back staring up at the sky.
Napoleon crawled over to him, peering into his glazed eyes, checking him again for signs of injury, but the rambling agent was unhurt. They had simply left him there. This was making less and less sense. Napoleon patted himself down hoping they had overlooked his communicator but, unsurprisingly, it was gone. They had stripped Illya of anything useful long before he had found him, leaving the agent without identity, weapon or means of communication. Napoleon forced himself to his feet and hauled his partner up after him, shouldering the burden of him once again.
Napoleon's best hope now was a prearranged rendezvous almost fifteen miles away. The meet was not intended for him, it was a courier drop between two other agents, but he knew its location and it was now his best hope of contacting anyone from U.N.C.L.E. As he slogged his way through the fields Illya babbled on. Napoleon listened, trying to discern anything of sense, anything that explained what had happened between Illya's rushed farewell of him in New York and the babbling idiocy of his current state here in Europe.
After a couple of hours Napoleon stopped, easing the blonde agent from his shoulders, his spine electric with protest. Illya was quieter now, far less audible. Napoleon lifted his partner's head to look into his eyes. ''Illya'' he said ''Illya, listen to me. Can you hear me?'' Illya's eyes wandered off focus, roaming the air behind Napoleon's head. ''Illya'' he said more sharply and for a second he thought he had caught the Russian's attention, but Illya couldn't hold his gaze and his head lolled sideways. Napoleon shook him roughly by the shoulders, but the blonde head just shook with the motion, no hint of volition.
They rested for another forty-five minutes then Napoleon pulled the Russian back over his shoulder and resumed plodding through the countryside towards the hope of their salvation. Illya's babble was barely above a murmur now, growing ever more soft until finally it stopped. Napoleon had found the ceaseless, meaningless noise disturbingly out of character, but the silence was worse. The empty ramblings had at least confirmed the Russian had some strength left in him, the silence gave no such assurance.
Napoleon had just reached the outskirts of the woods when he heard the whining buzz of an engine in the skies above him. Not enough altitude for an aeroplane, the sound of the engine pitched too high. He cricked his neck skyward trying to spot the source of the noise. It had all the hallmarks of one of THRUSH's little toys. He hurriedly slid Illya from his shoulder. Leaving him curled at the foot of a tree, shielded from the menace above by the newly budding growth of its broad canopy. Napoleon scanned the skies, searching for the buzzing mystery above them. The slight flicker of its shadow on the ground caught the periphery of his vision before he actually saw it. A single man, spider's web of a flying device, sporting the familiar badge of THRUSH. He ducked back into the tree cover, pulling Illya up less than gently and hefting his weight over his much abused shoulder. He made his way through the remnants of last winter's leaf litter, grateful that the mouldering detritus was ill suited for retaining a memory of his footprints.
He had seen the cave only by chance; a bird startled from its perch by the buzzing whine of the THRUSH operative above them, had darted across the woodland stream and disappeared into the green fringed depths. Napoleon followed the bird upstream and stumbled exhausted into the cool dank interior of the cave. He propped Illya up against the boulder and sank wearily to his knees.
Now he sat beside the Russian, pulling Illya's head up to look into his face. The Russian looked bone weary. His eyes blinked rapidly and without purpose, lit by the dancing sunlight filtering into the cave. Napoleon tried again ''Illya, Illya, can you hear me?'' The purposeless eyes swung in his direction, but no recognition registered in them. They barely seemed aware at all. ''Illya, c'mon it's me, stop this. Now'' said Napoleon firmly. A flicker of concentration, or it could have been confusion, passed over Illya's face and then he pitched forward into Napoleon's shoulder, no longer conscious. Napoleon held his head where it was for a heart beat or two. ''Illya'' he reproved the mop of hair beneath his chin. ''Illya.''