A Dish Best Served Cold
Notes: This is a sequel to "Experiment In Vivo"
The cold, hard press of a muzzle against his spine stayed Napoleon's hand from the door handle he was about to grasp. He dropped his hands slowly to a non-threatening position and went very still.
"Excellent, Mr. Solo. I see you've learned some lessons very well. Turn around very slowly. Hands where I can see them, please." His captor was at least polite as he warily watched his opposite comply with the request. Solo came around to face the voice, one he was familiar with, and smiled a short, tight greeting.
"Mr. Armand, I presume?" Solo relaxed slightly, watching for any betrayal of movement that he could take advantage of. He heard scuffling sounds in the hall, and watched as two more goons came into view. What made his heart constrict was the limp body of his partner being dragged between the hired guns. He didn't allow the concern to reach his face and knew Illya could easily be playing possum. He did that exceedingly well. A closer look at the bloody side of his head caused him to sigh inwardly in defeat. Illya was injured, down, and could not be figured in to help in any fashion.
Armand smiled at the package being delivered to him and slapped the first guard on the back with glee. "Mr. Kuryakin has elected to join us, eh, Raul? I trust he is not too severely injured, though? That would displease me to no end."
Raul's eyes narrowed at the thought of angering this particular master. He quickly answered, "Just a knock on the head, sir. He'll be able to join in the festivities in no time at all." It was the right answer and Armand nodded his approval.
He gestured down the hall with his gun hand and ushered Napoleon ahead of him. Solo heard the guards keeping a respectful distance behind him and decided to assent for the time being. Better to wait until Illya was able to assist before trying any heroics. His partner always bettered the odds by more than the usual 2-1.
Solo was ushered into a dank, fetid-smelling cell bifurcated down the middle by a barred wall. He was given a hard shove to place him in the left cell and Illya was unceremoniously dumped onto the floor of the right one. Napoleon grimaced when he heard Kuryakin's head hit the concrete with a resounding thump. He lay very still, but his breathing was regular and he did not appear to be in any immediate danger.
Napoleon slipped his arms through the bars keeping him from his partner. He casually leaned against them testing their strength and condition, and then sighed dramatically. "So this was all a set up? Devised to draw us here and into your little trap?" Solo privately was disgusted at the security lapse in his own department. There was a mole in the operation, obviously, and if he got out of here he would make it his personal quest to find the culprit and make him pay—slowly and painfully.
Armand nodded once and grinned ferally at his captive. "Of course. You are so easy to manipulate, my dear Mr. Solo. A few 'intercepted' coded messages about an assassination plot against your partner, and voila, you appear to pluck the bird in her nest, eh? Wasn't too bright of your partner to insist he tag along, now was it? But, then, Section Two agents aren't known for their brains, are they? More for their brawn and ability to follow orders blindly, I'd say."
Armand continued to bait Solo. "Ah, well. The two of you are much more valuable than anything you thought you would find at this installation. Oh, yes, much more valuable, indeed."
Solo never was one for small talk and cut to the chase. He spread his hands in front of him and came forward on the balls of his feet. One of the guards might run true to form and do something stupid. He could wait. He shot his cuffs forward and cocked his head in Armand's direction with an air of passive boredom. "What do you want, Armand? You must know we'll never tell you anything of any importance. What do you hope to gain?"
"Why, nothing, Mr. Solo, nothing at all. Unless it is to prove to you and to U.N.C.L.E. how easily their two best agents are manipulated now that you are...lovers?" he guessed, wrinkling his nose in distaste. He let the accusation hang in the air and was delighted when Solo did not refute it.
Napoleon kept silent, knowing replying in any fashion would give Armand the ammunition he needed to bait him further. He took in the room around him, looking for any avenues that might assist him to escape or overpower his captors. Each cell had a webbed cot with a thin cotton pad, a toilet, and a sink with a cold-water spigot. He saw nothing embedded in the floor or walls to pry loose and utilize. He would have to keep alert for any possibilities to surface.
Kuryakin moaned quietly and stirred on the floor of his cell. A moment later he sat up stiffly and ran a hand across his bloody temple. He winced and felt the other lump taken in the fall. He squinted up at Solo, saying nothing, and took in the other men in the room.
Armand wisely kept out of reach of the slight agent's extremities and looked him over critically. "Mr. Kuryakin, so good of you to join us. I trust you are not too damaged?" His white teeth glinted dully in the murky light of the detention cell.
Illya rolled his neck right and left, checking for injuries. "I'll live. You wouldn't happen to have two aspirin, though?" A quick kick to the kidney from the other guard made him gasp and reply, "No, I suppose not."
"That's what I like about you, Mr. Kuryakin. Always ready with a sarcastic remark or two. Bueno." Armand watched the exchange of eye signals between the two spies with interest. He was well versed in these two men's dossiers and psychological profiles as well. The information was invaluable and would make the next interlude so much more interesting.
But, first things first. He could not let his zeal for revenge make him hasty. He knew these two agents in particular were too dangerous to underestimate. He gestured to Napoleon and pointed out the change of clothes in the cell with him. "Strip and put that on. Muy pronto, por favor, Mr. Solo."
Solo looked at the jumpsuit and replied distastefully, "It's not my color. I'm an autumn."
Armand nodded and Raul jerked Kuryakin up on his feet by his hair. Illya grunted in pain but did not cry out. He stared balefully at his tormentor but did not fight back. He, like Solo, was waiting for an appropriate moment to take advantage of the situation.
"All right, I get the message. Let him go," Solo said darkly, unconsciously clenching his hands into fists at the sight. Raul let go and Illya dropped to the floor again, catching himself this time on his hands.
Napoleon undressed, quickly stripping out of his suit and underclothes. Armand noted the red scar on his chest and the matching livid flesh on his thigh and remarked, "Ah, the souvenirs from my less than successful assassin, I see. What a pity he did not live up to my expectations." A grim expression gave him away and Napoleon was quick to pick up on it.
A rueful laugh and then the reply, "Very dead. I allow no incompetence in my ranks."
Illya spoke quietly from the floor. "Then you did not choose your accomplice well. We are still here, and he is not."
The dark-haired man smiled indulgently at his prisoner. "Touché, Mr. K. However, I wouldn't be so smug at the being alive and well part of your story. After sampling our amenities, you may wish you had been killed quickly and simply."
"Might I ask what precipitated this extreme prejudice you bear toward me?" Illya asked, genuinely puzzled. He gave a quick look to Napoleon and smirked. "Besides the obvious, anyway."
Armand watched as the guards cautiously retrieved Solo's belongings and nodded approval of the American's compliance. He turned back to Kuryakin with a barely contained flush of anger and said, "You really do not know, do you?"
Illya listened intently to the voice and studied the face, but could not recall crossing paths with him.
"It was several years ago. You were still with the KGB; a fresh-faced boy of an assassin weren't you, Mr. Kuryakin? That was your strong suit, wasn't it? Who would believe a man who looked like you did then could be capable of such acts of cowardice?"
He took a calming breath and turned to Solo. "Did you know your partner-cum-lover has quite a few notches in his belt courtesy of the KGB's bidding? And that they, and he, were never very concerned about who got caught in the crossfire?"
Angry now, he advanced on Illya and spat, "Tell me, Mr. Kuryakin. Did you get extra points for killing women and children? An extra weekend in a party official's dacha for taking out cripples, too? You were their dog, and they kept you on a very short leash, didn't they? Of course, it's easy to control someone when they know such a secret as you had, eh, faggot?" He snarled at the blond, and Raul stepped forward to intercept any reaction Kuryakin might decide to demonstrate.
But Kuryakin remained silent, no outward appearance of emotion showing across his face. He returned the cool look to Armand, trying to gauge what sort of man he was.
Armand took a deep breath, steadying his emotions along with his body. He gave a signal to the two thugs and they grabbed Illya by the biceps, dumped him on the narrow cot and shackled him to the bed with irons. The bite of the manacles was painfully tight and Illya flexed his fingers and wrists experimentally. Not much range left at all. At this rate his hands would be numb in minutes. He concentrated on his ankles. A bit more leeway there, anyway. Good. He glanced over to Solo and saw the concerned look. He grinned at his partner as if to say, 'Another fine mess you've gotten me into' and let his head fall back on the padding.
Raul came at him with a switchblade and he winced at the sight of it slashing down at his chest. The damage was slight, however, as Raul had been instructed to cut the clothes away with as little actual injury as possible. A thin line of blood welled up across his chest as the knife was applied to the black turtleneck, trousers and t-shirt. The rags were cut away and tossed on the floor out of his reach. Pity, since there were quite a few gadgets secreted away among them. They left the boxers on him and Illya was grateful for that small concession. His wrists were beginning to ache and his fingers were tingling with the loss of circulation. He concentrated on the discomfort and regulated his respirations.
Armand's eyes were gleaming as he advanced on the man caught and pinioned like a bug on display velvet. He smiled evilly at him and knelt down to be face to face. "I suppose you should know why you are being tortured, at least. Do you remember a man named Grigorich? Anatoly Grigorich? Ah, yes, I see that you do. What were your orders that day, tovarishch? Simple assassination? Or were you to torture him a bit just for the amusement of your masters?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Illya lied, but he knew the mission and remembered the outcome. It was a part of his past he was not particularly proud of, but it was just as much a part of him as his present was now.
"Ah, I see U.N.C.L.E. trains its operatives to lie, also. Never mind. We both know what you did. And now you will pay for your grievous acts, and your lover will have to watch helplessly as we take you apart piece by piece." He looked at Solo in the adjacent cell and smiled broadly. "How's your stomach, Mr. Solo?"
Armand walked to the desk opposite the cells and sat in the upholstered chair with the air of the conqueror his race was famous for. He gave a signal to Raul and the compact man drew a wicked looking electronic device from a storage bin. The air around the device crackled as he turned it on, and Illya smelled the sharp odor of ozone. The other goon, Eduardo, threw cold water across Kuryakin's body in preparation for the first round of abuse.
Napoleon gripped the bars of his cell tightly and tried not to show the emotions that were vying for control inside him. It would only make it worse for Illya if he became too invested in the scene playing out before him. He followed Illya's lead and controlled his breathing with meditation techniques. He wasn't as good at it as Illya was, but he had to do something.
The first touch of the wand on Illya's chest had him arching off the cot and trying not to scream. It was much too early to be vocal. He was stubbornly proud of the fact that he had a reputation of being unbreakable. He also knew it wasn't true. Any man could be broken, and Illya had been before and would be again. He just hoped that it would not be today. Not in front of his Napoleon.
The wand traveled down his chest to his abdomen and struck again. He tensed, his muscles contracting uncontrollably due to the current. A small grunt of pain escaped him, and Napoleon twitched in sympathy a few feet away.
Solo had to try a distraction of some kind. "Armand, stop this. You're a soldier. You obey orders, too. Illya was just doing what he was told to do."
Armand laughed and replied, "The old dodge, eh, Solo? 'I was just obeying orders' and so forth? Save your breath. Your partner has been tried, convicted and sentenced. Execution to be carried out shortly. But, not too shortly." He grinned at Raul, and continued. "No, he must be made to suffer first. I've waited a long time for my revenge." He gave Raul a nod of his dark head.
The probe snaked down Illya's pelvis and Raul sadistically thrust it under the leg of Illya's boxers. This time Kuryakin did scream and turned white at the jolt of terrible pain. Panting, he turned his head away and vomited over the side of the cot. Another jolt to his testicles and he was moaning in agony. The third time Raul depressed the control for a much longer strike. Illya's eyes rolled back and he spasmed helplessly.
Solo grabbed the bars of his cell and shook them hard, trying to draw Raul's attention. It worked for a brief moment and the jailor leered at Napoleon and said, "Not so pretty now, is he, Solo?" He turned back to his singular task. This time he placed the wand inside the fly of the shorts, searching until he connected with flesh. The setting was near the high end and Illya screamed again, arched up and slammed back down heavily. His eyes were slits and his breath came in hitches.
Armand signaled Raul to stop. It was clear Kuryakin was nearly unconscious and wouldn't take much more before passing out. The Russian was again doused with frigid water and his gasp of awareness made Armand smile. He took the prod from his lackey and advanced on his foe. The torture had excited him and he needed the release. He pulled the boxers off the agent and gazed heatedly at the red and abused flesh. Illya was half hard, the electrical current keeping his erectile tissue firing in response.
Armand chuckled and said to Solo, "Well, well, what do we have here? I believe your little fairy likes the attention, Mr. Solo! Very well, we shall have to indulge him further."
The three Thrush men laughed knowingly at that. Napoleon knew their fates were sealed at that moment. He would kill all of them for this. Through a red haze, Napoleon looked at his lover and narrowed his eyes. Illya saw the look and frantically signaled, 'No' to his partner.
Napoleon spit derisively at Eduardo and growled, "Takes one fag to know another."
The guard reached through the bars and jerked Solo forward until his head hit the steel with a resounding thud. Solo dropped his head and sagged against the bars. Eduardo inched forward to repeat the maneuver and Solo used the distraction to grab his pistol and yank brutally. Thrush Number One went down to one knee with a grunt of surprise. Napoleon turned the weapon around and shot him between the eyes.
Armand saw what was happening and shouted, "No, you fool!" but the guard was already dead before the report of the gun reached his ears. Raul pivoted and tried for his gun. Napoleon was faster. Thrush Number Two didn't fare much better. Raul was suddenly relieved of half of his cerebral cortex with the next bullet fired. Not much of a loss, Napoleon thought. He whirled in Armand's direction and saw him trying for the door.
"Hold it, Armand. Stop right there or I'll drop you one kneecap at a time." The controlled fury in that voice convinced the rogue agent to comply. He turned slowly back to the cell and raised his hands meekly.
"You wouldn't shoot an unarmed man, now would you, Mr. Solo?" Armand was beginning to sweat.
"Don't be so sure. Now, very carefully, release my partner." Solo kept the gun trained on the foreign man's head, giving no quarter as to his intent. Armand took the key and unshackled Kuryakin's legs first and then his wrists. Illya lay still for a moment, gathering his strength.
"Illya, are you all right, partner?" Napoleon asked worriedly.
Illya sat up unsteadily, rubbed his wrists a few times and pulled his boxers back over his thin form. "I am functional, Napoleon." He staggered to the storage box and retrieved the key for the cell. Another few steps and he opened the door. Napoleon surged out, catching Illya as he fell limply to the floor. Armand chose that moment to grab the cattle prod and advance on the downed man.
His eyes were glazed and spittle flew from his lips as he shouted, "No, you won't get away from me again!" He frantically thrust the wand near Illya's face, and Solo calmly, pre-meditatively, and happily pulled the trigger. Armand's face had a look of total surprise as he pitched forward and crumpled. Napoleon checked needlessly for a pulse.
His next concern was Illya. He was barely conscious and moaning lightly. Solo carried him to the clean cot in his cell and retrieved his communicator from his jacket. He called HQ for help and gave them his position. After checking Illya's injuries, he took a part of his ruined shirt and soaked it in cold water. Applying it to his lover's groin, he felt an anger growing in him that the killings did not seem to quell. Gathering the rest of his clothes, he dressed his partner in them. Illya was coming back to awareness slowly, struggling to rise off the cot.
"Illya, it's all right. It's over. I'm here, lyubov." Napoleon soothed him with his voice and gentle touches.
Illya's blue eyes opened and he took in the sight of Napoleon hovering above him. "Is it...bad..." was all he could get out.
"You're pretty swollen, Illya, but it's nothing that won't heal. Just relax and wait for the cavalry to get here." Napoleon helped Illya sit up and swing his legs over the side of the cot.
"Looks like it already did," he said pointedly, taking in the three dead bodies on the floor.
Napoleon actually blushed, then, and looked at the floor.
"No recriminations from me, Polya," he said weakly.
Solo's eyes hardened as he looked at the ruined mess of Illya's would be assassins. He shrugged his shoulders and replied, "They deserved to die."
The restrained fury in his normally collected lover had Kuryakin worried. Then he imagined how he would feel if their positions had been reversed. He had no doubt the outcome would be the same.
"Do you want to talk about it, Illyusha?"
Illya knew what the "it" was immediately. He closed his eyes and sighed gently. "It was a long time ago, Polya. A lifetime ago."
"If you don't want to tell me, it's okay." He continued to soothe Illya with a gentle massage of the tense body. His anger was beginning to ebb as he held the warm body of his partner. Illya sighed and looked up at Napoleon.
"There are things in my past that I'm not particularly proud of, Napoleon. I have killed indiscriminately and not lost any sleep over the acts. Perhaps Armand was right after all. There is little difference between him and me, it seems." His face fell and he wouldn't look Napoleon in the eye.
"Bullshit, Illya. Armand was a head case. Don't ever let me hear you compare yourself to him again." Napoleon stood up, rage compelling him to action. He paced in the cell and then came to stand next to Illya, his body touching Kuryakin's knees. Solo's hands were buried in the pockets of the jumpsuit. They were clenched into fists and shaking.
"This isn't a pretty business we're in, Illya. We've both done things we'd like to bury in the past, but sometimes the act, no matter how unsavory, has to be done to fulfill an agenda. Usually someone else's, I might add. Most of the time we're just pieces on the board, moved by an unseen hand."
Illya was silent and stared at the floor. "Have you ever killed a child, Napoleon?" he asked, whispering softly.
Napoleon shut his eyes for a moment, recalling a horrific incident in Korea. He had hoped something similar had not happened to his partner. But the tone of Illya's voice and the set of his features spoke volumes. He sighed and sat next to Illya on the cot. He took his lover's hand in his and squeezed gently.
"Yes, Illya, I have. And it haunts me to this day. I won't lie and say it gets easier with time, because it doesn't, does it, love?"
A quick shake of the fair head was his answer. Kuryakin looked at Napoleon, shame and guilt clearly written on his face. It wasn't the kind of confession a man would want others dear to him to know, and the trauma of dredging it up made him sick to his stomach. Illya knew he was in shock from the torture, but his soul seemed numb, too. Oddly, the detachment seemed to make it easier to talk rather than harder.
He had never spoken of it to another soul, and it was only his love and deep trust of Napoleon that made him tell the story now. Holding tightly to his Polya's hand, Illya began speaking slowly and deliberately.
"I was working a mole for the KGB in Moscow. It was a year before I joined U.N.C.L.E. Armand was right. His name was Grigorich. He was a scientist and a double agent for the Chinese. We had enough evidence to convict him and I was sent to 'persuade' him to confess. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn't and he knew it. That makes a man very dangerous. I had worked on him for hours and he was no closer to breaking than I was. My superiors decided to have him transferred to a gulag for safekeeping. The transfer was set and we were just clearing the traffic when he broke free and grabbed the nearest person he saw. A little girl, Napoleon. She couldn't have been more than six." Illya stopped and rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hands. "She was beautiful, Napoleon. Dark hair and eyes, dark skin..." He stopped, a look of recognition dawning on his face. "Armand, it had to be...she looked like Armand. His daughter?"
Napoleon felt the agony inside Illya as if it were his own, as indeed it was. His circumstances had been different but the outcome had been the same sad state of affairs. He placed his arm around the shaking shoulders and silently sent Illya his strength. His lover was far from the cold fish most thought him to be, and he knew this memory cut deeply into his soul.
"I ordered Grigorich to let her go. I told him he was a coward to hide behind a child. He had his arm around her neck and said he would kill her if we didn't drop our weapons." Illya's voice had dropped to a whisper and he rested against Solo.
"I was young and raw, but I was in charge. My men were looking to me for orders. I told them to comply and we dropped our guns on the street. I waved the men back and used the movement as a distraction to ready my forearm knife. Grigorich didn't see it. He began to edge away, using the girl as a shield. He might have made it, too, but he didn't see the truck until it was too late. I did. I lunged for the child at the same moment Grigorich stumbled on a loose cobblestone. He tried to use the girl for leverage but only succeeded in driving her against me. He fell into the truck's path and was killed instantly."
He stopped again and took deep breaths. Solo could feel his heart hammering in the pulse of the thin wrist. He ran his hand up Illya's forearm, letting him know he was still with him. Kuryakin's eyes had a faraway look to them, and the misery in the blue depths was startling.
"I remember feeling the small weight of the child in my arms as I stroked her hair and told her it was over, that she was safe." He snorted derisively at the irony of the statement. "I pulled back and it was then that I saw the blood that covered her dress. She had fallen right onto my knife. I hadn't even realized it was still unsheathed. She was dead, Napoleon. By my hand." He shivered and seemed to shrink in stature at the confession. Tears rolled down his pale face and he sat numbly on the cot.
Solo pulled him into the circle of his arms and held on for dear life. Both of their lives. Sometimes baring the soul like this would tear two people apart as easily as it could bind them together. Napoleon let Illya know which camp he preferred.
He slumped against Napoleon and cried quietly on his chest. The American murmured gently to him and simply held him. The twin physical and emotional traumas were stripping away his normally staid partner's defenses, and Napoleon encouraged the release. The memory of that day would forever be with Illya, but the release of the festering guilt would help him heal. Solo understood: he had his own demons that had never been fully exorcised.
Napoleon heard the clatter in the hall announcing the retrieval unit. He let go of Illya and gently wiped his partner's face and smoothed his hair. Illya looked at him with such an expression of gratitude that it was all he could do to not kiss him long and deep.
The team burst through the door, weapons ready. Solo waved for them to stand down. One glance told the men that the room was secure and their fellow agents intact. The agent in charge called in their status to headquarters. He moved to Kuryakin and asked Solo, "Walking wounded or down?"
Illya stiffened at the question and said curtly, "I can walk." Napoleon raised an eyebrow and was prepared to argue the point when Illya directed his brilliant blue eyes at him and pinned him with a glare.
"Napoleon, I'd prefer to walk out of this hell hole. But I would appreciate a little help from my friends." He grinned at Solo, knowing he couldn't refuse the request. He raised his arm in that direction and sighed as the older agent bent down and hooked it around his shoulder and moved in with his other arm around Illya's waist. He gently assisted Illya to his feet, and pretended not to hear the hiss that the movement drew from the Russian.
Illya straightened slowly and was unable to stand fully. Napoleon's strength was keeping him on his feet and he leaned into it gratefully. They limped slowly out of the room and into the brighter hallway. Kuryakin winced, his headache pounding fiercely at the light. He began to sag and Solo whispered to him, "Going to pass out?"
"Yes, thank you," he warned politely and felt Napoleon catch him as he fell limp. The sensations of movement registered somewhere in the back of his mind, but he knew his partner had him and he allowed his consciousness to ebb. Napoleon will take care of me was his last coherent thought.
Illya awoke in sickbay, with a very cold feeling in his shorts. It was odd enough to cause him to wake fully and he noticed Napoleon first, sitting in an ugly orange plastic chair, reading the paper. He cleared his throat and Solo looked up and smiled broadly.
"Sleeping beauty awakes," he teased.
"Napoleon," he said worriedly. "My balls are cold."
Napoleon laughed and mollified him quickly. "Just an ice pack, love. You're...ah...pretty purple."
"Well, that certainly fits in with my 'Ice Prince' image, doesn't it?" He kept a straight face, but Napoleon saw the twinkle in his eyes and laughed again.
"Yes, well, I certainly know better, don't I, lover?" he whispered in Illya's ear seductively.
"I think it will be some time before I can make a believer out of you again, Polya," Illya said devilishly.
Solo looked at him with unabashed adoration and replied, "Illya, you're worth the wait."
The blond agent blushed heavily at the sweetness of the words and dropped his gaze. Napoleon lifted the chin again and gazed at him lovingly. He drew close and kissed him gently and slowly. Illya returned the kiss for a wonderfully brief time but pulled back, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
"What?" Napoleon asked, forehead furrowing. "Think someone will see us?"
"No, Napoleon." Illya looked alarmed and said at once, "I think I'm getting frostbite..."