The pain woke him: a throbbing, burning sensation that cut through the drugs swimming in his veins.
He struggled to sit up, throwing off the blankets that confined him, wincing as the movement strained the stitches in his arm.
A hand was laid on his back and he struck out, not know if it belonged to friend or foe, not knowing where he was.
"Easy, Napoleon," a quiet voice said in his ear. The light was flicked on and he found himself in a small hotel room. Illya sat on the bed beside him, his back to the wall, his U.N.C.L.E. Special held easily in one hand. "You're safe now."
The panic that had begun to bloom in his chest fled immediately. Illya was here. Illya would watch his back.
He settled down, eyes closing, muscles relaxing. Blankets were drawn around his shoulders as he began the descent into the oblivion of sleep.
"Good night, Illya," he mumbled, words slurred by drugs and fatigue.
"Good night, Polya," was the last thing he heard before the darkness claimed him.
The park was a green jewel in the setting of old Riga. It wound through the city, a verdant ribbon dividing the nineteenth century embassy row from the medieval town. The canal, part of the old fortifications of the medieval city, flowed cheerfully through the park, following the same route as the green belt itself. Watching over it all was the National Opera, a slightly dilapidated but still imposing classical building that housed both ballet and opera.
Napoleon Solo looked at the trees and the flowers, at the bubbling canal and singing birds and felt an inexplicable chill run down his spine. "Have I ever told you how much I hate this city? This country?" he asked.
Illya Kuryakin didn't even look at him. Instead, he kept scanning the park for their now-tardy contact. "And what have you got against Riga and Latvia, Napoleon?"
"Oh, I don't know, Illya. How about the fact that every time we're here, there seems to be mayhem and conspiracy and someone trying to kill you?"
Illya did look at him this time, wearing an expression that clearly said he couldn't believe how addled his partner's brain had become. "Napoleon, I hate to tell you this, but it's the nature of our job to be where there is mayhem and conspiracy." Illya leaned in closer and dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "We are, after all, spies."
Napoleon jammed his hands into his pockets and bit back an entirely juvenile response about smart-assed Russians that threatened to trip from his tongue. Instead, he leaned against a tree and examined their surroundings for possible threat. Unless Thrush was recruiting squirrels these days-and he wouldn't put it past them-there was nothing ominous in the park.
Pulling a hand out of his pocket, he checked the time again. Their contact was definitely running late. "Who are we meeting again?"
"The head of the Riga office: Kristaps Legzdins."
"What kind of a name is Kristaps?"
"What kind of a name is Napoleon?" Illya shot back.
Napoleon merely glared in reply.
In the next ten minutes, Napoleon counted one sullen teenager, a young couple who were clearly far too much in love and one sour pensioner who glared as much at Napoleon as she did at the young couple nearly, but not quite, hidden in the bushes.
He was just about to suggest that they abandon the meet when something finally happened.
A scrawny young man with lank brown hair and a nervous look in his eye walked past them once, then again a minute later. Napoleon pulled his hands out of his pockets and nudged his partner. Illya had already spotted the man. Napoleon could feel the tension coiled in his partner's body, a match to the nervous energy now coursing through his own system.
"Is that Kristaps?" he asked.
Illya shook his head. "Most definitely not."
The two U.N.C.L.E. agents held their places as the young man-more a boy, really--did a third pass, and started moving toward them. Napoleon shook his shoulders loose and made sure he could reach his gun easily if this all went south. Beside him he saw Illya do the same.
Not that this boy looked to be much of a threat. Still, it was always the threat you'd underestimated that came back to haunt you.
The boy hesitated before approaching Illya.
"Are you enjoying the garden?" he asked in hesitant Russian.
The first part of the call sign. So far, so good.
Illya gave the countersign. "Yes, but I prefer Vilnius at this time of year."
"Nothing can match the Daugava in summer." And that was the last piece. This nervous youngster was indeed their contact.
Illya wasted no time on niceties.
"Where is Kristaps?" he asked impatiently in Russian.
"He's been detained. He asked me to meet you instead. My name is Dzintars." He swallowed hard before speaking again. "Can we speak Latvian? My Russian is not very good." He shrugged apologetically.
Illya pointed a finger at Napoleon. "His Latvian is worse."
"Show off," Napoleon said.
Illya ignored his outburst. "Is there anything wrong?"
"Maybe," Dzintars said, shrugging. "No one is sure."
"Don't tell me the KGB is acting up again," Napoleon said.
"Not KGB. Thrush. They moved in when the U.N.C.L.E. network was detained last year. And they aren't happy about our return."
"Sigulda. We think they have set up a satrapy somewhere around the castle or the caves."
"Why is it always castles and caves?" Napoleon muttered under his breath in English. Illya shot him an irritated look before turning back to their messenger.
"Is that where Kristaps is?"
Dzintars nodded. "He's trying to flush out the satrapy. He asks if you could join him there."
"We'll be there this afternoon."
"Good," Dzintars said eagerly. "He will be at the Café Aparjods." He took a step away, then stopped. "Be careful. These people, they are...not nice. One agent has already disappeared."
"Thanks for the warning."
"Ludzu." The young man quickly moved off, only sparing them one brief look before disappearing around a corner into the old city.
Illya and Napoleon moved off in the other direction, towards the newer parts of the city and the apartment they were staying in. Since he was no longer worrying about meeting their contact, Napoleon took in the sights as they walked. Which was when he finally noticed how empty the city streets were.
"Illya, have you noticed anything, ah, strange?" Napoleon craned his head around in a way that he hoped wouldn't call attention to them.
"What do you mean by strange?" Illya's impatience very definitely implied that the only strange thing he currently saw was his partner.
"Well, deserted." Napoleon gestured impatiently down the street. Brivibas Bulvaris, the now ironically named Freedom Boulevard, was the main street in central Riga. On a weekday, it should have been teeming with people going to work, people going to the market, children on their way to and from school. Instead, there were only a few people to be found, and most of the stores seemed to be closed.
Illya stopped and looked around. "What day is it?
"No, the date."
"June 23. What's that got to do with it?"
"I beg your pardon?" Napoleon began to wonder if Illya had lost his mind.
"Now you're just making up words."
"Midsummer's Eve, Napoleon."
"Ah," Napoleon said, understanding dawning. "St. Jean Baptiste day."
"Exactly," Illya said, breaking into a grin. "And in Latvia, Jani is the biggest party there is."
Deserted cities usually made Napoleon nervous, but his partner's apparent high spirits comforted him. "If it's such a big party, why have I never heard of it? And where are all the people?"
"You haven't heard of it because, officially, it's been outlawed-yet another reason the Soviets are so well loved in the Baltic," Illya said, acid tingeing his voice. "And there are no people here, at least no Latvians, because they've all gone to the country for the celebrations."
"Why the country?"
"It's a pagan fertility festival, Napoleon. You can only hold those outdoors."
"A fertility festival," Napoleon said, leeringly.
Illya shot him a long-suffering look in reply. "Yes, a fertility festival. I should have known that would get your attention."
"If I didn't react, you'd only be disappointed," Napoleon said, smiling as he did so.
Illya didn't deign to answer, except by the rolling of his eyes.
Sigulda was just over an hour outside of Riga, a sleepy town as much known for its natural beauty as for the ruins of the medieval castle on its outskirts. The Gauja River meandered its way at the edge of town, birch trees lining its banks. The river separated Sigulda from its nearest neighbours: Krimulda and Turaida. Both of those towns had their own castles.
Illya pulled the car into town and parked on one of the narrow streets. Unlike Riga, Sigulda was anything but deserted, its streets lined with cars, its sidewalks thronged with people.
"I take it there are celebrations here in town?"
"Not with them banned," Illya said. "They'll be held in the countryside. Anyway, it's easier to light a bonfire in the country."
"Why do all European holidays involve bonfires? Jani. Guy Fawkes. I'm sure you Russians have a holiday that calls for fire."
"Why do all American holidays require too much food?" Illya responded. "Christmas. Thanksgiving. The Fourth of July."
"Okay, you've made your point," Napoleon said, laughing. "Now let's go find this café."
They walked through the streets, enjoying the party atmosphere that flooded the town. There were people of all ages, many dressed in traditional costume, all chattering, some singing. If it hadn't been second nature for him to check all members of a crowd for threat, Napoleon might almost have forgotten that they were here on business, not pleasure. As it was, he let the tension that had tightened his shoulders since they entered the country last night gradually ease away.
The Café Aparjods was a pleasant-looking place, just off one of the main streets. It served the usual combinations of pork, potatoes and salmon that were the staples of Latvian cooking. It was also crowded.
"Can you see Legzdins?" Napoleon asked.
Illya looked around and shook his head. "He's not here. I'll try to get us a table." Snagging the cheerful, if frazzled, waitress, Illya spoke to her for a moment in Latvian before turning back to Napoleon. "It'll be a twenty minute wait."
Napoleon shrugged. "It's not like we have anywhere else to be." They edged over to a corner that was just big enough for both of them. Then they settled in to wait. And wait.
It was well past the twenty minutes that Illya had been promised when Napoleon started to get impatient. He'd noticed that several groups who arrived after them had already been seated while they were still stuck in their cramped little corner.
"I don't think they like us," he whispered in Illya's ear.
Illya gave him a warning frown in return. "Perhaps not, but it won't do us any good to point out the fact."
Napoleon opened his mouth to protest, but quickly shut it again. Illya was virtually on home territory here. Napoleon could only follow his lead.
Not five minutes later, the door opened and a booming voice spilled across the café, momentarily silencing the crowd. "Kuryakin, you dog," the voice said in English. "What are you doing still standing? Erna!" The newcomer called over the waitress and spoke to her quickly in Latvian. She looked over at the two U.N.C.L.E. agents and blushed, then hurried to get a table ready and show them over.
The three of them sat down at the now-freed table, and Napoleon took the opportunity to examine Kristaps Legzdins, the Station Chief of U.N.C.L.E. in Riga. His voice was the most imposing thing about him. He was several inches shorter than Napoleon, of the sturdy peasant stock that could be found all over the country. His hair was sandy brown and as short as Illya's was long. His face was good-natured, with the high cheekbones and wide forehead possessed by all Latvians. Napoleon decided immediately that he liked this bluff man.
His entrance made, his position established, Legzdins let his voice drop to a quieter tone. He continued to speak in English, out of courtesy to the American, Napoleon was certain.
"I hope I didn't keep you waiting," Legzdins said.
"It was no problem, Mr. Legzdins," Napoleon said.
"Call me Kris. Your cur of a partner already does."
"Kris," Napoleon acknowledged. "And you can call me Napoleon."
"I'm sorry my friends did not treat you better." Kris nodded in the direction of the waitress, still blushing when she caught Kris' eye. "I'm afraid Erna thought you were Russian."
"Well, she was right about me," Illya said.
"Ah, Illya, you don't count as Russian, and you know it."
"Is that a compliment or an insult?" Illya asked, laughing.
"So, Kris, could you tell us what's going on?" Napoleon asked, steering them back toward business.
"Dzintars told you that Thrush has made an appearance?" Napoleon and Illya both nodded. "We're not entirely sure what they're up to, but we're certain it's not good. One of my agents, Teodors Busmanis, came to the area last week. He sent a report that he'd found information that Thrush were set to make some sort of move against the Soviet Union, but he wasn't sure what. He was going to investigate further."
"Dzintars said that an agent had disappeared?"
"That would be Teo. We didn't hear from him again after that first report. We can't even trace his communicator."
"And you want us to find out what Thrush is up to," Napoleon said.
"We were more hoping that Illya could help us coordinate action with the Soviet Union, when we've found out what's going on."
Illya laughed. "I'm not exactly the best person to work with the KGB or the Soviet."
"But you are the best person within U.N.C.L.E.," Kris said.
"I suppose you are right," Illya said, sighing.
"In the meantime, we might as well help find our friends in Thrush," Napoleon said. He couldn't bear the thought of waiting around for something to happen. He always preferred to be active.
"I had hoped you would offer," Kris said. "And tonight, that job should be a pleasure. Since most people will be at the Jani celebration outside of town, I thought we should maintain a presence there. Make sure Thrush does not decide to attack such a large crowd."
"And make sure they don't contaminate the beer," Illya said.
"I might be forced to perform a few tastings. Strictly in the name of duty."
"The sacrifices you make, Kris," Illya said.
"Well, it looks like we're going to celebrate Jani," Napoleon said. "For the Command."
Since the main celebration would not take place until later in the evening, they spent the rest of the day walking around the town, keeping an eye out for anything unusual while enjoying the bustle of the crowds.
After dinner, Kris drove them to the main celebration site. They crossed the bridge over the Gauja River, then drove perhaps ten minutes to a field surrounded by woods. There were already hundreds of people in the clearing, all clustered around several large bonfires. Some were in street clothes, while others wore folk costumes.
Kris insisted Napoleon try the local beer, which was rather good, and Illya warned him to stay away from the Melnais Balzams, which he compared unfavourably to turpentine. They wandered around, making small talk and keeping their eye open to anything that might be construed as suspicious. At first, the locals seemed distrustful of the two strangers, but a combination of Kris' introductions and Illya's excellent Latvian won them over. The freely flowing alcohol likely didn't hurt either, Napoleon reflected.
The evening passed pleasantly, if uneventfully. Napoleon felt uneasy, but he put that down to the fact that the sun didn't set until nearly eleven, one of the benefits of summer above the Arctic Circle.
Then, just after midnight, Napoleon saw two men he hadn't noticed before disappear into the woods. "Illya, I think I might have just seen two errant Thrush."
"Over there." He pointed. "They went into the woods."
"It's probably just some young people off to look for the magic fern."
"I'm sorry. Did you say 'magic fern'?"
"Yes, the magic fern. Are you deaf, Napoleon? You're supposed to search the woods for the fern with your true love on Jani."
"You're just making this stuff up, aren't you?"
"Of course not, Polya. In fact, I was going to suggest we conduct our own search for the mystical vegetation later this evening." Illya leered in his direction. Napoleon batted his arm good-naturedly.
"And they say I'm the one with the over-active libido."
"Only because they don't know me as well as you do."
"Back to what I saw. Unless the local teens look like middle-aged heavies in suits, I definitely saw two of our Thrush friends disappear in that direction." Napoleon pointed his thumb in the general area where he'd seen his two thugs.
"That sounds promising," Illya said, frowning. "I'll go pull Kris away from the beer and we can pursue our feathered friends.
Illya re-appeared in a minute, with a muttering, glowering Kris.
"You don't understand, Napoleon. Jani is the biggest holiday we have. Missing it is like you missing Christmas."
"So, I've been told," Napoleon said before grabbing Kris' arm and dragging him towards the woods where their quarry had disappeared.
Illya grabbed their colleague's other arm. "We've all missed Christmas, Kristaps. And I'm sure there'll be another Jani for you."
"Barbarians," Kris muttered before shrugging off their grip and leading the way through the trees.
They were soon deep in the woods, all sight and sound of the party lost behind them. A quarter moon lit their way dimly through the trees as they followed a narrow path. Though they couldn't see the men they pursued, they found occasional signs that suggested they were on the right track.
The further they moved into the woods, the more Napoleon lost track of time. In the silver moonlight he was no longer sure if they'd been walking for twenty minutes or two hours. Just as he was beginning to wonder if they were on a wild goose chase, they came to a branching of the path.
"How convenient," Illya said. "Three paths and three of us."
"Careful, Illya, your sarcasm is showing."
Illya ignored the jibe and turned to Kris. "Where do these paths go?"
"That one--" Kris pointed forward "--goes across the river and back to town. That one--" A finger jabbed at the left hand path. "--goes to Turaida. And that one heads toward the Krimulda castle."
"I'll take the centre path; Illya, take the right one. Kris, you take the left. If you don't find anything in an hour, meet me back in town at the car. If you do find something, stick with it and use your communicator.
Three U.N.C.L.E. Specials were drawn from their holsters as one.
"I'll see you barbarians back in town," Kris said before moving off into the woods.
Napoleon lingered for a moment after Kris had disappeared. "Watch your back, Illya. I don't like this at all."
"Don't tell me you're still plagued by a superstitious dread of this country."
"Mock if you want, but the back of my neck is tingling. Thrush is definitely up to something."
Illya refrained from further teasing, but instead took Napoleon in a firm hug. "In that case, you take care as well," he said quietly in his ear. "I wouldn't want the Latvian bad luck to get you either." The hug was more than they usually allowed themselves on assignment, but in the dark of night in a deserted wood, Napoleon didn't see the harm.
Napoleon stayed for a second longer, secure in Illya's arms, and then he broke away. "See you in a couple of hours, tovarisch."
A quick grin was Illya's only answer, then they were both moving down their separate paths.
Napoleon moved through the woods as quietly as he could manage, hoping he wasn't bringing any undue attention to himself from hidden Thrush henchmen.
At first, he saw nothing of interest. No suspicious-looking men, no out-of-place Thrush installations. Not even any magic ferns, he thought, smiling to himself. But as he drew closer to the river and the main road, he thought he could hear something. It could have been nothing more than a passing car, an innocent motorist. Or travellers on their way to the Jani festival. But he had not lived this long by ignoring possible threats. Balancing his gun firmly in his hand, he moved forward with more caution than before.
As he broke clear of the forest and moved toward the road that would take him across the Gauja River and into Sigulda, movement caught his eye. A dark figure was crossing the bridge, keeping as much to shadow as possible and looking furtively back toward the woods. Napoleon stayed in the cover of the trees until the figure, a man, had crossed the river, then he moved, running with a predator's speed and silence. He slowed as he entered the town, moving toward the street where his prey had disappeared. He followed the man through winding streets, always staying back just far enough to avoid detection, close enough to stay in contact.
Then Napoleon turned one last corner, and realized his mistake.
He was not the predator; he was the prey. He'd been led on this path, herded like a lost lamb or a scrawny goat.
This last corner led into a dead end, and in the dead end waited three men, all holding Thrush rifles. A fourth man stood in front of them, his smiling sneer visible in the moonlight. Napoleon turned to run, hoping that he could yet escape the trap, only to find three more men blocking his path.
Swearing under his breath, he turned back to the dead end and the obvious leader of the group, the man he had been pursuing.
"Dohbri vyecher, tovarishch," Napoleon said, guessing that his chances of being understood in Russian were greater than in his limited Latvian.
Rather than respond, the man screwed up his face in distaste and spat. "You will be so kind as to not speak that abominable language, Mr. Solo," the man said in lightly accented English.
Napoleon stored away the knowledge of the man's hatred of Russian, but made no outward response. Instead, he tried to engage him in conversation, hoping to find an opening, a chink that would allow him to escape. "You have me at a disadvantage, Mr...."
"I must be rude and withhold my name," the man said, smiling. "For now, you can call me Melnais." Napoleon knew enough Latvian to recognize the word for black.
"Very well, Mr. Melnais. And to what honour do I owe this pleasure?"
"It's not an honour, Mr. Solo. And very definitely not a pleasure." The man's smile grew wider. "Not your pleasure, anyway."
Napoleon frowned, planning his next move, when the leader barked out an order in Latvian. Napoleon whirled to face the men behind him, wondering how many Thrush he could shoot before he was taken down, wondering if it was Illya who would find his body.
He didn't get to fire a single bullet.
There was a stinging pain in his left arm. He looked down to find a small, fletched dart lodged in his bicep. Even as the questions started forming in his mind, a darkness began to overtake him. His gun slipped from his nerveless hand, and he heard it clatter on the cobblestones mere seconds before he, too, fell to the ground. He struggled to stay awake, to fight off the tranquilizer that coursed through his bloodstream and turned his own body traitor.
The world swam around him as he heard the hollow ring of footsteps approach him. He fought to keep his eyes open and was rewarded with the sight of Melnais looming over him, a satisfied look on his face.
"Your fight is over, Mr. Solo," Melnais said. "You have lost. And soon your partner, and your whole organization, will as well."
"No," Napoleon said, succeeding in getting that last word out before he was swallowed by a tide of black.
The transition to consciousness was not immediate, not sudden. Gradually, Napoleon became aware that his head hurt, that his hands were shackled behind him, that he was lying on a cold floor.
Through the whole process he kept still, not twitching a muscle or opening an eye. He even made sure his breathing stayed the same. He'd learned through hard experience to take any advantage over his adversaries: to never let them know more than he could help; to actively encourage them to underestimate him.
Eyes closed, he used his other senses to seek information about where he was. The cold floor beneath him suggested might be in the caves that Kris had mentioned. His nose took in only the scent of stale air, and a slight coppery tang that he couldn't quite identify. The only sound he could hear was the low buzz of distant machinery. He could hear no one else breathing, walking, moving. He was alone.
With as much information as he could gather about his location, he turned his attention to his own condition. He took a deep breath and began to catalogue the aches and pains of his body. His head felt stuffed with cotton, with a slight ache behind his eyes; not unexpected, considering he'd been drugged. The metal shackles binding his wrists bit into his skin, but didn't seem to have cut him. Not yet, at least. His right arm was beginning to fall asleep where he was lying on it and his bicep felt bruised where the dart had struck him. Not the best shape to find himself in, but he'd been in worse situations.
He shifted slightly and risked opening one eye the merest fraction of an inch. Bare, unadorned rock suffused by a dim light surrounded him. Both floor and wall were roughly carved out of the bones of the earth. Closing his eyes once more, he rolled slowly onto his other side, hoping he had convincingly mimicked the appearance of a man moving in his sleep. With his position changed, he again opened one eye.
And found himself staring at a dead man.
In spite of his training, his control, Napoleon gasped, the breath sounding harshly in his throat.
The man had clearly not died easily. His eyes were open wide, his face frozen in a rictus of pain. Calming his breathing and willing his heart to stop pounding in his chest, Napoleon examined the man's body with a professional's eye. His nameless companion had been of medium build with sandy blond hair. Though it was hard to tell in the circumstances, he appeared to be in his late twenties. Dressed in a grey suit, he could have been any young businessman, but Napoleon thought it more likely that he was Kris' missing agent.
The cause of the man's death was easy to see. His shirt and suit were torn and stained, a pool of long since dried blood on the floor in front of him. He seemed to have been stabbed and left to die in this miserable room. Napoleon had no doubt that the body had been left here as a warning to him. And a promise.
Turning his head, Napoleon looked about his grim prison further. He noticed a camera placed high in one corner. Sighing, he sat up, moving away from his silent companion. There was no advantage to be had in maintaining his uncomfortable charade of insensibility. If they'd been paying attention, and Napoleon was sure they had, his captors would know he was conscious.
Back to the wall, he waited for his jailers to make an appearance. He didn't have to wait long. There was a creaking sound, and the metal door embedded in the far wall opened. Melnais was the first one through the door. Behind him came two generic-looking thugs of the sort Thrush never seemed to have a shortage of.
"I see you're awake," Melnais said.
"No thanks to you." Napoleon looked the other man in the eye, pride demanding he show no fear, no emotion at all.
"Have you been enjoying the conversation of your companion?" He gave the body a slight kick with the toe of his shoe.
"More than any time spent with you." In spite of the revulsion he felt, it was second nature to Napoleon to trade quips with a madman. And the man standing in front of him was most certainly mad. Napoleon could see it in his eyes, see the glittering lack of control lurking at his edges, see the glee he took in another's pain, in death.
"That's no way to treat your host, Mr. Solo. Especially a host who has such power over you."
"A good host doesn't kill his guests."
Melnais gave a contemptuous laugh. "Our friend Teodors was a most uncourteous guest. He refused to provide the information I needed. Fortunately, now that I have you, that information is no longer needed."
"I won't tell you anything, either," Napoleon said mildly. He knew his own limits, knew he could hold out against torture long enough to save any U.N.C.L.E. secrets he might possess.
"Oh, you misunderstand me, Mr. Solo. I don't need you to tell me anything. I need you as bait."
A sense of dread settled in Napoleon's limbs, even as he fought to keep an impassive look on his face. "Bait for what?"
"Not what. Who. Specifically, your partner: Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin." The name was spoken like a curse.
"Why go to all this trouble for Illya? He's just another agent."
"Not just another agent. A Russian agent." Melnais' face became a mask of pure loathing. "I will kill U.N.C.L.E.'s only Russian agent as a warning. And then I will destroy that accursed country completely and absolutely."
"He doesn't even hold a Soviet passport anymore."
"But he will never stop being Russian. It's the symbolism that counts."
"But why?" Napoleon had dealt with Thrush often enough to have encountered all brands of psychotics and villains, but he had never seen this level of personal hatred directed at anyone, let alone his partner.
"Because the Soviets took over my country. Because they sent my people to Siberia and starved them and humiliated them. Because during the war, they rounded up all the young men and marched them away. Because those young men were never seen alive again." Melnais leaned in close to Napoleon's face, so close that Napoleon could feel the heat of his breath. "Because my father was one of those young men. Killed by the Russians."
Napoleon would have recoiled from the malevolence of Melnais' feelings if his back had not already been against the wall. Here was hatred, implacable and absolute. A fear rose up within him, not for himself, but for Illya. Illya would be facing this dangerous enemy and Napoleon would not be there to help him, to shield him.
As quickly as Melnais' anger had appeared, it vanished. He stood up, straightened his tie, smoothed down his hair. "Thrush has given me a unique opportunity for revenge. And I intend to take it "
"Your revenge is directed at an innocent man."
"Your Mr. Kuryakin is many things, but I doubt he is innocent. And soon he will be only one more dead U.N.C.L.E. agent." Melnais turned to leave, then stopped. "I nearly forgot," he said, then barked out an order to his henchmen in Latvian. One of the men began dragging the body out of the cell while the other kept his rifle aimed firmly at Napoleon. "As tempting as it is to leave young Teodors as company for you, I'm afraid the smell would eventually irritate us all." The body removed, Melnais and his last man swept out of the room without further comment.
The metallic sound of the door shutting Napoleon into this prison had a dreadful sense of finality about it.
The next few days passed slowly for Napoleon. After having his shackles removed and being thrown a musty blanket by two impassive Thrush foot soldiers, he was left almost entirely on his own. Food was delivered at irregular intervals, the cold potatoes and cabbage never quite enough to stop his hunger. The lack of windows in the chill subterranean cell meant that he was never sure how much time had passed, or even if it was day or night. The only things left to him were to pace and sit and sleep.
And think he did, far too much. He thought about how frustrating it was to be unable to do anything, a tethered goat meant only as a trap for his partner. He thought about how much he wished Illya was back in New York, far away from the vengeance of a madman. And he thought how much he would tell off Illya if he charged alone into this dragon's lair, a single white knight, ripe for slaughter.
He began to take refuge in sleep, wrapped in the musty blanket that didn't entirely block the cold, beset by dreams and nightmares that increasingly began to blend together.
Napoleon sat bolt upright, awakened from an uncomfortable sleep by ...something. He blinked, trying to erase the fog of sleep from his mind, and listened. At first he could only hear the interminable rumble of the machinery that was the background music to his every waking moment in this place. He had almost begun to relax, to think that he had simply dreamed the unnamed sound when he heard it again: a single gunshot, the distinctive sound of an U.N.C.L.E. Special.
He stood, wishing he could see beyond the windowless door of his prison, see what was happening outside. That being impossible, he could only wait and listen.
Soon enough, there were more gunshots, as well as shouting and the sounds of running. None of it was close, and he had no idea whose side was winning. He pressed his ear to the metal of the door, hoping to hear more, but the noises were still only a blur of confusion, telling him nothing.
The fight did seem to be gradually moving closer to him. He began to catch the occasional shouted word, though usually in Latvian and therefore no help to him.
"Come on, Illya," he said under his breath. "Hurry up and get here already." Inexorably, the sounds of the fighting grew louder and louder until he could hear distinct voices shouted above the confusion. He tried to distinguish Illya's unique tones, and only succeeded in flinching slightly as there was an explosion quite close by, one he hoped was the result of the Command's strike team and not a Thrush trap. He began to pace the confines of the cell, wishing that there was something he could do, some action he could take to defeat Melnais. To make certain that Illya remained unharmed.
He couldn't help thinking about the depth of the hatred Melnais harboured, a hatred focussed on one U.N.C.L.E. agent, symbol of a country that Illya was no longer even a citizen of.
Lost in thought, it took a moment for Napoleon to realize that the action had moved to the corridor outside his cell. He heard several gunshots, then running footsteps that stopped outside his cell. A key rattled in the lock of his door, and Napoleon tensed, hoping that it was an U.N.C.L.E. agent, hoping that it was Illya, on the other side, but expecting the worst.
The door was thrown open to reveal Melnais, a wild hatred in his eyes and a gun in his hand. Instinctively, Napoleon threw up his hands, hoping to calm this man as one would a wild beast. And knowing that the task was impossible. "I'll trouble you to stand against the far wall, Mr. Solo." Melnais gestured with the gun.
Napoleon slowly backed up, not letting his eyes leave those of his enemy. "What's going on out there?" he asked, not expecting an answer but needing to keep Melnais talking.
"Your colleagues think they have me defeated. But they seem to have forgotten that you are my hostage."
"Not forgotten. But they won't negotiate for my release." No matter how much Illya might want to, he thought to himself.
"We'll see how they feel when I have a gun to your head." Snake quick, Melnais moved forward and had him in a neck lock before he could think. Napoleon could feel the gun's barrel grind against his temple. "Now, move."
A human shield for the man who'd imprisoned him, Napoleon moved into the hall and toward the entrance. His mind raced as he looked for a way out, a chink in his enemy's armour. He must have slowed slightly, and was rewarded by Melnais' arm tightening viciously on his windpipe.
"Don't try anything. Just walk."
They were nearly at the end of the corridor when they heard the pounding of many feet behind them. Melnais whirled them around to confront a group of U.N.C.L.E. agents, their guns all pointing towards them. Napoleon scanned the group quickly, hoping for a sight of Illya. At first he couldn't see him, but then the other agents parted as a group and revealed Illya in their midst. He pointed his gun unwaveringly at Melnais' head, his face an implacable mask of determination.
"Let him go," Illya said in English.
"Only when you've let me go free." Melnais' voice was loud in Napoleon's ear.
"Then you'll see each other in hell," Melnais said and began to move.
Time slowed to a crawl as Napoleon heard Melnais cock his gun. He knew that odds were slim that he would survive the next few seconds, but he had never given up in his life; he wasn't about to now.
He ignored the arm choking off his air and moved his hands up to grab the gun. He took a firm grip on Melnais' wrist, twisting it viciously. There was a deafening bang as the gun fired, but the bullet ricocheted harmlessly off the wall. Nearly there, he thought to himself. Planting his feet, he twisted his hips and threw Melnais to the ground. The gun went off again. This time Napoleon felt the impact of the bullet, but he didn't let go. He dropped one knee to Melnais' chest and threw his gun to the floor.
The U.N.C.L.E. agents moved immediately in and took control. Napoleon dropped gratefully to the floor as his captor was handcuffed.
A blond whirlwind was at his side, holding him up.
"Are you alright? Is the wound serious?" Then Illya was tearing open his sleeve and Napoleon could feel blood flowing down his arm. Pain, till now ignored, flared, making him grimace with the effort not to pass out.
"Probably not serious, but it hurts like hell," Napoleon managed to say through clenched teeth.
"The bullet's gone straight through, looks like it hit muscle, not bone. You're lucky, Polya."
"I don't feel lucky," Napoleon said, then gasped as Illya put pressure on the wound. "Are you trying to kill me?"
"Trying to make sure you don't bleed to death, you baby."
"That might be a mercy, if I have to put up with much more of your first aid."
Illya opened his mouth to say something, then stopped. Through his own pain, Napoleon could see a suspicious glittering in Illya's eyes. He clutched Illya's arm with his good hand and squeezed it.
"I'm fine Illya. Really fine."
Illya blinked once, and the vulnerability was gone, replaced by his usual professionalism. "You're not. But you will be, if I can get a medic. Put pressure here." Illya put Napoleon's hand over the wound and then proceeded to yell at the U.N.C.L.E. team in a combination of Latvian, Russian and English, most of it profane.
Napoleon endured poking and prodding from the team's medic, submitted to a shot of morphine, under protest, and then endured the bandaging of the wound in a narcotic haze. The pain was still there, lurking at the edges of his mind, but it was as if it belonged to someone else.
Illya hustled Napoleon out of the Thrush complex as soon as his wound was bandaged, while Kris' team finished the clean-up operation. Kris himself joined them outside.
In spite of the stupor caused by the drugs and the pain, Napoleon had something he needed to tell the Latvian. "Kris, I've seen your missing agent. Melnais killed him."
Kris frowned darkly. "We know. Teo's body was found yesterday on the riverbank." He shook his head. "But you should not be thinking of such things, my friend. We need to get you to a doctor."
Kris began steering them both toward his car.
Napoleon tried protesting. "I'll be fine. You must have things to do."
Kris waved away his objections. "We've detained all the Thrush operatives and my second in command has everything under control. The least I can do is make sure you receive the best care possible."
Kris was as good as his word, tracking down the local doctor and impressing upon her that Napoleon was to be treated like one of their own. The doctor, a solidly built middle-aged woman with a no-nonsense demeanour, gave Napoleon a local anaesthetic, cleaned out the wound and sutured it up. While bandaging the arm, she began talking rapidly in Latvian, making clucking noises and shaking her head at Illya's responses to her questions.
"What's she saying?" Napoleon managed to ask, fighting to speak around the fog that permeated his brain.
"She wants you sent to the hospital in Riga. For observation. I am trying to dissuade her."
Napoleon shook his head. "No hospitals. And no travel. I don't think I can take more than a few minutes in a car." Memory of the jolting his wound had taken on the trip from the caves back into town made him shudder. "Can't we stay somewhere here, in Sigulda?"
Illya turned back to the doctor and Kris and engaged in more discussion and argument. By the end, the doctor looked no happier but Illya seemed pleased.
"We've negotiated a compromise," Illya said.
"A good friend of mine has a guest house in Sigulda," Kris said. "I have suggested that you two stay there for a few days. Doctor Klavins can check in on you regularly, and you won't have to put up with a hospital, or a long drive."
"Sounds lovely," Napoleon managed to force out through a tongue grown increasingly uncooperative. "Paldies," he said to the doctor, giving her the most charming smile he could manage under the circumstances.
"You are welcome," she replied in halting English.
After she passed over a supply of antibiotics and pain pills, and exacted a promise from Illya that he would make Napoleon take both, she shooed them out of the office.
Kris drove them to the Ezeri guest house, leaving them in the car while he arranged their accommodation. He returned looking slightly put out. "With this being Jani, they only have one room left. With one double bed."
The drugs had lowered his resistance enough that Napoleon nearly laughed at the thought of Kris trying to preserve the virtue he had surrendered to Illya years ago. One quelling look from Illya, however, and he subdued the urge.
"That will be fine, Kris," Illya said. "We've done with far worse."
Kris raised his eyebrows, but said nothing more, helping Illya steer Napoleon into the promised room.
The morphine and pain pills taking their toll, Napoleon suffered through Illya and Kris removing his shoes and suit and tucking him into the bed.
"You are certain this will be acceptable?" Kris asked Illya as Napoleon's eyes drifted shut.
"We'll be fine, Kris. You worry too much."
Kris harrumphed, sounding very much like Alexander Waverly for a moment. Then there was the sound of the door closing and Napoleon felt the bed sink under Illya's weight beside him.
"Sleep well, vozlyublyenni," Illya said, lightly stroking his cheek.
Napoleon struggled to respond but sleep claimed him before he could do more than lean into Illya's hand.
Napoleon woke with the sun streaming in the window, feeling completely refreshed. The painkillers were out of his system and his wound only throbbed dully, well on the mend.
He stretched his good arm and sat up, getting his first good look at their room. It was a pleasant place, the walls and furniture made of a light wood, folk art on the walls and woven blankets on the bed.
A snuffling noise made him turn. Illya was slouched asleep on the bed beside him, his gun abandoned in his lap. A memory came to him of waking in the night with Illya watching over him. Smiling fondly, he carefully put his hand on his partner's shoulder. "Illya," he said softly.
Illya started, hand searching automatically for his gun before he came fully awake. Then blue eyes met hazel and he was treated to a full-power Kuryakin smile.
"Napoleon, you're awake."
"How do you feel?"
"You tell me," Napoleon said, leaning in for a kiss. He put all his feeling into the kiss: his relief at being alive, his gratitude that Illya had found him, his joy at finding himself in this room instead of a Thrush cell and, finally, his love for this man. In spite of everything, in spite of the stubble on their cheeks, in spite of their morning breath, in spite of the pain reminding him that a bullet had recently passed through his body, he had never felt more alive.
"After several long minutes, Napoleon pulled back, leaving them both panting with need. "So, how do I feel?" he asked.
"I'd say you feel very good indeed," Illya responded, licking his lips.
"Why don't you show me how you feel?" Napoleon lay back on the pillow, letting an entirely too satisfied look cross his face.
"I don't think that's such a good idea," Illya said, his eyes looking suddenly guilt-stricken. "Your wound..."
"Is perfectly fine," Napoleon said, pre-empting any argument and pulling Illya into his arms. Lust replaced guilt as their lips met again. Every nerve in Napoleon's body responded as Illya melted against him. Hands stroked skin as clothes were pushed out of the way. Napoleon felt his own cock harden even as Illya's erection pushed against his belly.
Illya's lips traced their way across his collarbone, to the hollow of his throat, down his chest. Tongue caressed nipple and belly before settling on his cock. Napoleon gasped at the overload of sensations, the mouth sucking his cock, the fingers fondling his thighs, his balls. His arousal built to a crest, then crashed down around him as he came. Illya swallowed, taking in his seed, making it a part of him.
One last lap with his tongue, and Illya pulled away from him. With a wicked grin, he made his way up the bed and flopped down beside Napoleon.
"Your turn," Napoleon said, twisting toward Illya, wincing slightly as the stitches in his arm protested the movement.
"So, you are not as fine as you let on." Illya's sharp eyes had caught his discomfort, as he'd known they must.
"It's okay, Illya."
"It's not okay, Napoleon. I don't want to cause you more pain than you've already experienced." He smiled. "Besides, I wouldn't want to have to explain to Dr. Klavins how you ripped out her stitches. Would you?"
"Put that way, no," Napoleon said, relenting. He lay back on the bed, quite sure that he looked like a cat who'd just eaten a very satisfying canary. "I'll make it up to you when I'm healed."
"I'm counting on it."
Illya lay down beside him on the bed, wrapping an arm around his belly and pulling the blanket over them both. "Still convinced that Latvia will be the death of me?" he asked.
"No." He smiled widely. "Obviously, this country now has it in for us both."
"Idiot," Illya said, and cuffed his head lightly.
"No hitting the invalid," Napoleon said, laughing.
Illya stopped any further argument by sealing his mouth with kiss.
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