( Circling )
Sometimes things went wrong no matter how clever the plan was. That was what Napoleon told himself as he trudged through the mud towards the distant village. It didn't help much. No matter what he remembered Frankie's screams and Kowalski's empty eyes, and he went over and over every moment of the mission in his head trying to find some point where he could have stopped it all from going wrong.
If they'd known about the retreat...if the shelling hadn't wrecked the jeep....if they'd been able to make it to the ridge before being flanked....if they hadn't stumbled into the minefield..... If he'd been smarter, faster, better....
His thoughts were spinning in endless circles. As if he didn't have enough troubles here and now. He couldn't even be sure that the village ahead was friendly - he thought he was back behind their own lines but he had to admit that wasn't much more than a guess. Not that he had many choices here. With no supplies, no map or compass and only fourteen rounds left his situation was looking just a little desperate.
Stay positive, he told himself firmly. With any luck there would be some friendly local who knew English or was prepared to speak slow enough that he could get some directions. As long as he could find some soldiers with a radio he'd be back with his unit by nightfall. And maybe then Major Morgan would give out that two day pass he'd been talking about. Even....even on his own, the chill of cheap champagne and the thrill of willing flesh would soon drown out the troubles of the last few days. Right. He didn't even believe it himself.
Frankie's screaming lingered in his head.
Things went wrong; it was inevitable. Regardless of how prepared one was, how careful, events had a way of spilling out uncontrollably. Yet even though Illya knew that perfectly well, failure still rankled. Dr Egorov was dead. He'd spent two weeks undercover in this hellhole of a camp trying to get close to the man only to lose him to Bukin's pet assassin. Foolish; he should have spotted the man sooner - had the cold and the misery here dulled his mind?
His thoughts were circling like dark vultures. He had managed to persuade Dr Egorov to give him the formula. That, and his previously unblemished record might be enough to save him from his superior's wrath, if he was lucky. Of course, if luck was not with him he might just end up locked in here for real. His gaze drifted out across the figures huddled hopeless beneath the falling snow. How many of them were here because they had said the wrong thing at the wrong time, or failed in some assignment?
No. Stay focused, he told himself. There was no sense in resigning himself to failure. Yes, he had failed to keep Egorov alive, but he did have the formula, and he had got a good look at the assassin. In this weather there was no way he could have got far, and that meant that Illya had the chance to catch up with him. Exposing this plot was his both his duty and his exoneration.
He didn't think about what would happen if he failed.
From time to time things went wrong. That was inevitable; it was how you dealt with the consequences afterwards that really mattered in Napoleon's opinion.
"I blame you," Illya said with feeling as they ran through the mud.
Of course, there were other schools of thought....
"I'm pretty sure all our current problems can be traced back to the weather, pal," he pointed out, somewhat breathlessly. "And you can't blame me for that."
"Of course I can," Illya said loftily. "You were the one who placed his shoes upside down on the windowsill. My babushka would tell you that is always a way to bring on the rain."
Napoleon gazed at him, or rather at the back of his head, hair plastered down by the rain. "Naturally, I mean no offense to your babushka -"
" - Naturally," Illya agreed.
" - But her grandson is a liar. You're making that up."
"The rain is going down the back of my shirt, Napoleon. And I fear our quarry is leading us in circles."
It was possible. The storm had caused a powercut which had led to their prisoner making his escape in the dark and the confusion. And since he had vital intelligence, they needed to get him back quickly. Mr Waverly had already made his displeasure plain.
He grinned. "If you ran as hard as you complained, you would have caught him already."
Somehow, trouble was never as bad when they were in it together.