Unaccustomed

Shay Sheridan


The crying was getting on his nerves. Usually he would have stopped it, have taken the woman in his arms by now, to soothe and steady her by cooing sweet words in her ear to make her stop. He always did that, by instinct, by habit, gravitating towards any woman of any age, the innocent in distress at the carnage they always managed to leave behind.

But the carnage was different, and the Innocent was the one with gunpowder on her hands, and Napoleon couldn't bring himself to comfort her.

"I didn't know, I swear it! I didn't know it was loaded!" she was sobbing now, her ample chest heaving with jagged breaths. "You told me to take the gun! I thought it was just to scare them! I didn't know, I didn't know he'd come back! I swear!"

Napoleon stopped listening to her before he was compelled to slap her, or worse, marring the face he'd thought beautiful such a short time ago. She was beautiful, sure; redheaded, stacked, perfect face -- or at least a face that had been perfect before her nose turned red and her makeup began to run. But he heard the message, heard what she was saying. Yes, he was complicit, yes, he was guilty, he'd given her the gun, after all, told her to keep it if the THRUSH goons came back.

"Napoleon, I swear, I didn't mean to--"

"Shut up," he said, without rancor, but the chill in his voice silenced her.

He felt more than saw her edge away, but somehow she didn't seem terribly important, didn't seem important at all, didn't exist for him any more. Napoleon registered his unaccustomed distance, his disinterest, dimly aware that something had changed for him.

In front of him the medics were still clustered around the still figure on the gurney. Napoleon's hands clenched and unclenched with the desire to move, to help, to do something, but he held himself in check. Let them do their work, he told himself. But his hands kept up their staccato rhythm, clench, release, clench, twitch, release and he couldn't seem to manage them.

He closed his eyes, reaching for control. When he opened them he let his eyes fall to where the gun was still on the floor, lying by a small stain of blood, Illya's blood, and he bent to pick it up, tucking it in his waistband, where the cold metal burned through him to twist in his guts. It was his fault, no need to blame her, she was frightened, she shot at the first thing that moved, and if the first thing that moved happened to be his partner, how could she have known? It wasn't her fault. She wasn't trained. Not like they were. Not like he was. His fault, definitely.

There was a cessation of activity in front of him, and he flinched, terrified that there was no more to be done, that maybe they'd given up. It was too soon! Dammit, give him more time--

"Napoleon," the chief medic was saying, and there was a comforting hand on his shoulder, "We've stabilized him."

"You..." He was having trouble focusing, and oddly his knees were rubber, and then he was sitting down hard on the dirty floor. "What did you say?"

"It's okay, we got to him in time. Hey, you okay?"

There was a strong arm under his, helping him upright again, and Napoleon couldn't say anything for a moment, so he merely nodded into the concerned face.

"Good. Glad to hear it. You want to come with us to the hospital?"

He cleared his throat, but his voice was scratchy and rough anyway when he answered. "Yes, thanks, I do."

The medic smiled. His focus shifted over Napoleon's shoulder to where the woman sat, still hiccupping with tears. "What about her? You want to make sure she's all right?"

Napoleon spared a second to glance at her. The woman turned to him with imploring eyes, dabbing at them with her crumpled tissue. He hadn't even offered her his handkerchief.

"The hell with her," Napoleon said.


redchance @ aol.com
Back to Man From UNCLE