Child of Morning, Child of Night—the Prequel
George Piper was not happy in his current assignment. He had been sent to the Soviet Union with a team of UNCLE scientists and administrators to help overhaul the Moscow Section. Status reports from there came in late, if at all; work that was turned in was sloppy, and information leaked. "Of course we know the Russkis are bugging every inch of the building," Burt Conrad, the team leader, had told them at the first briefing. "We expect that. We operate over there on their sufferance and we expect some things to get out. But lately it's been ridiculous. And the leaks are across the board—we've ruled out a mole because no one person has access to everything that's gone out."
"But I'm not a field agent," George had protested. "I'm a scientist."
"And their science sector is a sieve. We want you to use your expertise to see if there's a pattern."
"So I'm not concerned with tracking down double agents." George wanted that made clear. He liked working for UNCLE—he believed in what they did, the benefits and working conditions were excellent and the nature of the organization added spice to the routine, but he wasn't interested in being shot at or forced to drink poison or having splinters jammed under his fingernails. George's idea of what a field agent did was a little hazy, but the mortality rate was high enough to justify all his worst suspicions. He was only thirty-seven. He wanted to see forty.
"Not unless something hits you right in the face."
"All right." So George was satisfied, if not pleased, and it might be interesting at that, to see a foreign country. His only prior trip out of the United States had been to Canada. But now he was here, he hated it. He hated not understanding the language, and having to do everything through translators. Who knew what they were really saying? He distrusted the food, was lost by the public transportation and ended up taking a company car everywhere. He missed his neat little efficiency apartment in New York, missed his own office and coworkers, and missed his life. This assignment had one more week to go, and it couldn't go by quickly enough for him. Plus there was no place to attend church, and George hadn't missed a Sunday in ten years. The once magnificent churches in Moscow were stripped bare when they hadn't been turned to other purposes—a blasphemy in George's eyes. But what could you expect from godless Communists who had made practicing religion a crime. George left his Bible out on his hotel table in hopes that the maid, a shy young woman who spoke halting English, might look at it. He prayed for the people around him daily because how could you go through life without God's love and salvation? He genuinely didn't understand it. He knew some of the team laughed at him behind his back for his religious faith—he didn't flaunt it but it was no secret how he felt—and he prayed for them, too.
The team met every afternoon, and George looked forward to the meetings despite their inherent monotony because at least everyone spoke English. Today, as he walked in, the room was alive with excitement.
"Well that's a big chunk of our problem right there," Burt was saying. "We take the wolf and his cub out of the picture and a lot of those loose ends can be snipped and tied off."
"What do you mean?" Anna Trent asked. She worked in codes and ciphers and had been instrumental in devising new codes that were, if not unbreakable, dense enough to buy them some time.
"Ivan Petrovich. We met him at the Embassy party. Remember?"
George did. Petrovich was a high ranking KGB agent, a tall man, over six feet, with black hair, a trim black mustache and snapping black eyes. Women had admired him but at a distance—the handsome face was cold and the red mouth under his mustache was cruel. He had struck George as a dangerous man, as befitted his profession. "Yes."
"He's a big part of our problem. He's been extorting information from our operatives, and passing it along to whoever can best help him."
"Extorting how?" Anna leaned forward.
"He has a nephew—a hot little blond number who tricks our guys into bed and then Petrovich blackmails them. It's the oldest game in the book but still effective—who wants it getting out that he slept with a guy—a young guy—underage stuff? But we sent in a ringer last night, and when the nephew made his move we grabbed him. Petrovich hollered bloody murder but we shut him up—threatened to go to his bosses with information he's sold behind their backs. They know what he's been up to but they think it's all for the good of the Party. Right. Petrovich is out for his own good and that's it."
"What are we going to do with the boy?" Bill Levy asked, and Grant Proctor, Burt's administrative assistant, answered.
"That's the dilemma. We can't just let him go—he knows way too much about our organization. But he knows a lot about other organizations, too—Petrovich is an equal opportunity pimp. We'll twist his arm a bit, get him to spill the beans and then—well, that's the question, as I said."
"Is he talking now?"
"Naw." Grant snorted. "He's clammed up—pretends he doesn't understand English."
"Maybe he doesn't," George offered.
"He's a lying little fuck. We know he speaks English. English, French, Italian—the kid's some kind of prodigy. And that makes him even more dangerous because he's smart enough to understand the info he's gathered."
"Have we considered just eliminating him?" Anna asked. "If Petrovich is neutralized then he can't make a fuss. Unless there are other family members who might object?"
"No other family and we did consider that but too many people know he's here. I think there'd be a flap. Some of the nursing staff has taken to him—he's a sly little bugger. But he's bright, like I said—and he's already shown he has a talent for espionage. We'll probably send him to Broadmere." Broadmere, in rural Massachusetts, was an exclusive boarding school for children of agents from various organizations who needed top security because of the sensitive positions held by their parents. "He can live there year round—all these Commies would rather live in the USA anyway. When he's old enough he can come work for us. We already know he's good at languages—got top marks in school despite all his little extracurricular activities. And if he's still warm in the form he can fuck around for UNCLE as well as for Petrovich."
"How old is he?" Grant asked. "I mean, how much of an investment in his schooling are we talking about? Seems to me he needs to be in prison, not coddled at our best school."
"Well, that's the sticky part. He's eight. Hard to find a prison ..."
"Eight?" George nearly choked. "He's eight? You—you considered killing off a little kid?"
"Don't let that fool you, Piper." Burt pointed a finger at George. "He's sweet talked some of our best agents—some of the finest men I've known—into betraying everything they stood for. I talked to a couple—this kid knows all the ropes. He's seductive as hell."
"At eight? How fine can these guys be if they're having sex with an eight year old?" Grant rolled his eyes.
"Yeah yeah holy Joe we know you're above all that. But when this kid goes down on his knees he's not praying. If you get my drift." He laughed, Anna Trent made a prim mouth and George flushed hotly.
Burt stepped into the awkward silence. "You'll get a chance to see for yourself, Piper. I want you, you" he indicated Grant, "and you" to Anna, "good to have a woman there, to go see him today. Put the squeeze on him. Tell him we'll put him on a plane to the States if he starts talking to us. Remind him it can just as easily be a prison cell if he won't. Dismissed."
George, Grant and Anna went through the halls of the medical wing. "Why is he here?" Anna asked. "Is he sick?"
"I don't think so," Grant answered. "But we don't dare let him leave the building—Petrovich is panting to get his hands on his meal ticket again. This keeps him out of the way, and no one can say we're abusing him. Doctors on twenty four hour call, nurses round the clock—he's getting good care. Better than he deserves." He pressed the button that opened an unmarked door and the three of them went in.
The child had been standing at the window. It was a small window, set very high up in the wall, and only looked out on an air shaft but if he craned his neck he could see a tiny square of blue sky up at the top and he was looking at that when he heard the door. He spun around, flattening himself against the wall. Soft blond hair floated around his shoulders, hanging down to the middle of his back. He was small—small even for eight—thin—an extraordinarily beautiful child with delicate features, fair skin and big eyes fringed with thick black lashes. He wore dark blue pajamas which were too big for him. The sleeves hung over his hands, and the cuffs trailed on the floor. At the sight of three strange adults he trembled and slid along the wall to the corner, bringing his hands up to hide his face. "Why he's a baby," Anna said, startled, and then caught herself. She spent a lot of energy trying to prove a woman could play the hard game of espionage as well as a man. Deliberately she curled her lip. "Which only makes what he's done worse," she added and Grant, who had given her a sharp look, nodded.
"He fooled some of our best people that way. But a whore's a whore nevertheless." He was trying to force some sort of acknowledgment that the child understood them, but the grey eyes only watched him through the covering fingers.
"Hey," George protested. "What kind of thing is that to say?"
"Oh, but you speak only Russki, right sweet treat? Now you know," pointing at the child, "and we all know, that you speak English plenty good. But if you want to play this little game then you can't complain if you overhear things that hurt your feelings." His voice had a silky, caressing quality and the child turned his face away, still covering it with his hands.
"I wouldn't talk to you either," George growled. Trent was right. This was a baby.
"Well then, Piper, you give it a try. Maybe you can have a prayer session with him."
"You shut up for a minute and I will try. And I'm going to turn in my own report to Waverly when we get back, and I'll be sure to tell him how you talk to a scared eight year old. Waverly wouldn't go for any of this shit and you know it. Sorry," he added belatedly to both Trent and the child. "Stuff. He wouldn't go for this bullying of a little kid and you all know it."
"Be my guest. It's for his own good anyway."
"I said I'll try when you shut up."
Grant made a sweeping gesture and George crossed the room. He didn't want to stand over the kid so he sat on the bed instead. The child had lowered his hands and now twisted them nervously together. "Hey, little boy," he said, rather awkwardly. He had never been around children and had no idea what to say to this one. "Come here." After a moment, when the child just looked at him, he beckoned. The grey eyes went from him to the bed and back to his face. Grant laughed.
"He thinks you want some, Piper. Tell him not in front of witnesses."
George ignored him. "Has anyone tried speaking Russian to him?"
"No, I told you. He speaks perfect English, don't you kid? This little act isn't fooling anybody."
"I'm only sitting here because there's no place else," George said, ignoring Grant. "I guess I could get down on the floor but then I'd have to get up again and nowadays that takes some doing. Come here, ah, little boy. I won't hurt you. What's his name?" he asked.
"Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin," Grant said, enunciating every syllable carefully. "It's a mouthful, isn't it. Course from what I hear he likes a mouthful, don't you, you little cock sucker."
Tears sprang to the child's eyes and Grant laughed. "He understood that all right. Hey!" George had lunged at him, grabbed him by the shirt front and lifted him off his feet.
"Foul mouthed son of a bitch. Get out!" He punched the door open button with so much force it bruised his hand. "Get out of here." He threw Grant into the hall, let the door close behind him and hit the lock. Anna giggled.
"Now that was worth wasting the whole afternoon here. Thanks, George."
George gave her a dark look and went back over to the bed, sat down. "Illya." At the sound of his name the grey eyes widened. "I'm sorry you had to hear that. Grant's a jerk." He paused, and then added awkwardly, "I guess you know all about jerks. You don't have to come over here if you don't want to. But it would be better if you talked to us. They want—we want—to send you to school, in America. It's a nice school," he added coaxingly. He really knew nothing about Broadmere, but with the rich kids who went there he figured it had to be comfortable. "They'd take good care of you and all. You like school?"
There was a long pause, and then the child nodded. Anna gave an exclamation and George waved irritably at her. He waited, barely breathing, and then the child spoke. His voice was soft but Grant was right—his English was excellent.
"I like school. But—what about him?"
"Who, Grant? He's nobody."
"No. Not ... Grant." He said the name with unmistakable distaste. "Him. My ... him."
"I don't ... oh. Petrovich?"
The child cowered away as if the word itself had power to harm him. "Yes. He—does he know where I am?" His lips trembled. "I don't want him to find me. He must be so mad at me."
"He knows you're here, yes. But don't worry. He can't get in. Do you remember all the doors and locks and things you had to go through when you came?"
The child nodded. "And the checkpoints."
"Yes." The kid was smart. "Well, he can't get through any of those. He doesn't have a badge." George pointed to his own badge, and the one the child wore pinned to his pajamas.
"But they could give him one. Like they gave me one."
"They won't. He's ..." George groped for a way to explain it. "He's the enemy."
The child thought that over, solemn grey eyes never leaving George's face. "He is your enemy?"
"Yes. He's our enemy. We'd never let him in even if you weren't here. He'd steal our secrets."
"Oh." Illya looked doubtfully at the big man with the sandy hair sitting on his bed. His voice was kind, and he had thrown the other man out, the man who had called him that ugly name. "He is my enemy too."
"Yes." He trembled. Who was this man? Was it a trick of some sort? But why would they try to trick him? They had him. They could do anything to him they wanted. They could kill him. Why would they bother with tricks? "Who are you?"
"I'm nobody too," George answered truthfully. "I'm a scientist from America here to ... well, here to inspect the science department."
"It's not very good."
Startled, George looked at him. "How would you know?"
The child shrugged, looked down at his bare feet. "I just know."
"How do you know?"
"Because the men who work there will tell secrets to my uncle. How good can it be?"
"If he is your enemy, then why do you help him?"
"I have to."
The child now looked at George as if he weren't very bright. "What do you mean, why? He tells me what to do, and I have to do what he says."
"Or he hurts me."
"Yes." He was trembling again, but not with fear now, with the urgency of his need to make someone understand. "What that man called me—it's not fair. He says it as if I like to do it, like I want their ... I have to! I have to do what he says! He hurts me so much!"
"What does he do? Does he spank you?" It was the limit to George's knowledge of the punishment one would inflict on a child.
"I'm not supposed to tell. If he found out he would be angry with me. He would hurt me again."
"He won't find out. I won't tell him."
He looked at Anna. "She might."
"Hold on a minute." He got up and walked over to Anna. "Why don't you leave," he suggested quietly. "I know they're monitoring this—the whole thing is probably on film. I think he's going to talk to me. But he won't if you're here."
"Fine by me." She waggled her fingers at Illya. "Bye sweetie." When the door closed behind her George came back over, sat down again. The child had retreated all the way across the room and there was open suspicion on his face. George pretended not to see it.
"Tell me about your uncle."
"I don't even know you. I know him. He always does what he says he will do. And he said if I ever tell anyone about him he'll punish me." The tears were back. "I'm afraid of him being mad."
"He is UNCLE's enemy," George repeated patiently. "And I promise I will not tell him anything you say—if I ever see him, which I probably won't. He's staying far away from here. He knows he's in trouble."
"Because you caught me."
"They hurt me, too, when they dragged me out of that room. They twisted my arms and put handcuffs on me and... And they touched me! They hurt me and they put their hands on me and ... and their fingers in me! And in my mouth! They yelled at me! They called me names, like he did!" He pointed at the door through which Grant had left. "And you're the same as them, aren't you? Aren't you all UNCLE? Why should I talk to you? All you want is to find out what your agents told me so you can fix it! Just like him! You want to know what secrets they told me just like he does! So what's the difference? And when—if—I tell you what you want to know—which I'm not going to!—you'll throw me out like the garbage I am! I'm not telling you anything!" He turned his back on George and folded his arms.
George sat quietly, thinking. That this child had been subjected to what was obviously a full body cavity search, that they had handcuffed him and shouted at him and called him foul names all shocked George to his soul. But we're the good guys, he thought. That's why I work here. The child spun around again. "Well?"
"You're not garbage," George said, not knowing which part of the tirade he was going to address until he did. "What kind of thing is that to say? And please don't raise your voice to me. I'm speaking to you with respect. I expect the same respect back." He could hear his own father in his voice now.
"They called me garbage. That's just what they said; throw me out in the street like the garbage I am. I'm just repeating what they said. You're not going to yell at me?"
"Oh." He took one step back, towards George. "Then I was wrong to shout. I'm sorry."
"That's all right. And they were wrong to call you that. You're not garbage. You're a smart little boy."
"I am smart." He looked earnestly at George. "I'm very smart. If they do let me go to school I'll—I'll get good marks. I always get good marks. But he didn't care about that."
"Well, we'd care," George promised him. "UNCLE would care about your marks." Since they'd be paying for it, he thought. "And the way our agents treated you was wrong. It wouldn't happen in America." He believed that. It was only because they were here, in this godless place. In America it would be different. He tried not to think about the meeting he had just attended, staffed by Americans, and the way they had talked about this ... this child. How could any man want to have sex with this child? Seductive, they had called him. Balderdash. But he had to find something to set against Grant's sneers, against Burt's contempt. "Tell me about Petrovich."
"Because if I can show them it wasn't your fault they'll treat you better." He hadn't really meant to say that, either, but looking into those grey eyes he could offer nothing but the truth.
"Oh. Is it all right if I think about it for a little while?"
"Sure." He looked at his watch. "Why don't I leave you alone for a few hours, and I'll come back after dinner?"
And although he had asked for time, now he didn't want to see this man leave. But he didn't know how to keep him here except by giving him what he wanted. "No—that's all right. I'll tell you now."
"He beats me with his fists. He kicks me. He ties me to a pole and beats me with the strap." The cool little voice went on, detailing atrocities and George sat in horror and listened. "And if I'm very bad, it's worse."
"What do you mean, very bad?"
"Like if they don't want to do it with me, or if I try to get away from them—I know that's bad but sometimes I can't help it—or if I don't hear him calling me right away, or if they don't like doing it with me or they complain about me or I don't find out what he wants—it's easy to be bad." He looked solemnly at George. "I try not to, I try to be good, but I keep being bad anyway. Is that because I'm garbage, like that man said?"
"No, honey." The word was out before he could stop it. "He was bad. Not you. He's a bad man, a very bad man."
The child looked shocked. "Do you think so?"
"I know so."
He came closer until he was standing right in front of George. "Can I tell you something?"
How small he was! Up close like this George could see the clearly defined collarbones, the hollows in his cheeks. "Of course you can tell me something."
"That's what I always thought, too. That he was bad." He was whispering now and George had to strain to hear him. "But I wasn't sure. Everyone else said it was me, for letting them do those things to me. For letting him do them. But I couldn't stop him. How could I stop him?"
George thought of the man he'd seen at the Embassy. "You couldn't. You're just a little kid. Wasn't there anyone you could tell? A teacher, or a doctor?"
"I saw doctors all the time. I was in the hospital a lot. But he always told them I fell and they believed him" the grey eyes suddenly looked too old. "Or they pretended to. Because he's—you know, he's with the Party. He's secret police. He can make people disappear. He made my teacher disappear once when she said something to him about me. I saw her talking to him and then he was mad and he took me home and he punished me and the next day she was gone and I never saw her again. He said it was my fault."
"It wasn't. It was his fault. You didn't make her disappear."
"I didn't even tell her. She just figured it out. They all knew, really. But they were afraid of him just like I was. And now they call me those names, and it's not fair. Grown up people are afraid of him, and they don't even live with him like I do. And now I told you, and I'm not supposed to, and he's going to hurt me so bad!" The eerie calm deserted him, and he burst into frightened tears. George couldn't help it, he reached out and gathered the little body into his arms and held him close, patting his back, stroking his hair. The child grew very still, swallowing his sobs. "Are you—are you going to do that now?"
"Why not? Because you'd get in trouble?"
"Because it would be wrong. And I don't want to." He wondered if he should let go, but the child wasn't trying to get away so he awkwardly patted his back some more.
"Why don't you want to? Don't you think I'm beautiful?"
"Yes. You're the most beautiful child I've ever seen in my life. But you are a child."
"So—grown ups shouldn't have sexual feelings for little kids." The child drew back and George released him.
"In books they don't." He had never understood the disparity between his life and the lives he read about.
"No. Because it's sick and ... and bad."
"So they're the ones who are bad? And he is?"
"And you—are you a good man?"
George thought that over. "I try to be."
"I've read about good men. In school. So I know they must be real because they're in books. Real books, I mean. Not just story books. History books, about real people. They can't all be lies."
"Well, I don't know about your books." George's opinion of the Soviet education system wasn't high. "But yes, there are good men in the world." He thought of Alexander Waverly. "When you come to America you'll meet some of them."
"And you're one."
"I try to be."
"So if I said" he tried to think of a good test because he had to know, if he could trust this man or not. "If I said I was hungry, what would you do?"
"Are you hungry?"
"Yes." He felt very daring but he was famished. The careful portions they allotted him were more and better than he was used to but somehow that only fanned his appetite.
George picked up the phone by the bed. "Who am I speaking to?"
"This is Nurse Berenson."
"Illya's hungry. Could someone bring him a tray?"
"I wish I could. But he's already had his lunch, and it's over two hours to dinner. That's all that's authorized."
"Hang on," George told Illya, putting the phone down. He went out the door and headed for the cafeteria. He met no one he knew, and he wondered what was going on. By now they should have checked the hospital records and the school, too. He couldn't bear to think about what Illya had told him, he tried not to but the image of the handsome man he'd seen at the Embassy terrorizing that little kid made his blood boil. He got a tray, trying to pick out things a child might like. He put a hot dog, a hamburger, some French fries, a chocolate milk and an apple together and carried it all back to the room.
Illya waited on the bed, so frightened he couldn't stand up. Was the man angry because he had asked for food? Was he going to get those other men, the ones who had shouted at him and called him names? Was he going to get his uncle? His nerves wound tighter and tighter and when the door opened he jumped up, retreating again to the corner but it was the big stranger after all, and he carried a tray full of things that smelled so good ... Illya came back and hovered over it, unable to believe it was for him. "I can eat this?"
"All of it?"
"All of it," George promised and was horrified anew by the way the child wolfed it down. Within ten minutes he was licking the mustard off his fingers and eyeing the empty tray wistfully. "I don't think you should have any more right now," George said firmly. "You might get sick. But I'll bring your dinner to you when it's time and I'll make sure there's plenty. Okay?"
"What do you say?"
"What—I don't know."
"You say thank you."
"Oh. Thank you." He blushed. "I knew that. I'm sorry I forgot."
"That's okay. You're welcome. I have to go now."
The child's eyes filled with tears. "Will I ever see you again?"
"I told you. I'll bring your dinner. That's only two hours from now."
"All right." He watched George go to the door. "Um —" he didn't know what to call him. "Excuse me?"
"I don't know your name."
"Piper. George Piper. You can call me George."
"Thank you for—well, for before. When I was crying. When you hugged me."
"You don't have to thank me for that."
"I've read about hugs but I never had one because I was so bad." He watched George expectantly.
"You're not bad, Illya." George came back over, sat on the bed, took the child's hands in his, again struck by their thinness, the fragility of his little bones. They twisted my arms, Illya had said and George's face darkened, thinking of it. The child trembled again.
"Are you mad?"
"Not at you. And you're not bad. You're a very nice little boy."
"Then why—why won't anyone ever love me?" Tears welled up once more. "He said no one would ever love me because I was bad."
"He was bad, not you." George repeated that firmly. "And someone will love you one of these days, now you're away from him."
"You really think so?"
"I know so."
"All right." He let George go, then, and went back to staring out the window.
The atmosphere in the meeting room was subdued. "So we send him to Broadmere," Burt said. "No one has to know about his past. He can be a boarder—what do you think, Piper? His own room or a dorm?"
"His own room." All of a sudden George was the expert, he thought wryly. "He's probably never had a place of his own. And what about weekends, holidays? Summer vacation?"
"No problem," Grant put in eagerly. "Plenty of students stay over."
George frowned. It seemed a bleak life for a child, and he said so.
"It's certainly an improvement."
"I know. But he's just a little kid. He should have a family, a real home."
"Be realistic, Piper. Nobody's taking that kid. Who'd want all the problems he's bound to have?"
"Someone might. We could at least try."
"No one will," Grant snapped. "I'm sorry he was forced into it, but he's probably still sexy as hell. Once those instincts are aroused so early a kid is ruined."
"What do you know about it? That's the stupidest thing I ever heard! You're an asshole, Grant. And who authorized a body cavity search on him when he was picked up?"
"I did," Burt said. "He might have had film on him—micro dots—who knows? Weapons—a suicide pill—we had to check."
"They didn't have to yell at him and twist his arms!"
"No. Mistakes were made all the way around. But we'll make it right. We'll even set up counseling for him if he needs it. We'll give him an allowance. A full scholarship. UNCLE will accept responsibility for him and that's a lot more than we have to do, Piper, and you know it."
"I still say a little kid needs a home and a family who cares about him."
"I don't see you offering."
"I mean a real family. With a mom and dad."
Burt shook his head. "We're not going to find a family to take him. They'd have to know about his background, they'd have to have security clearance because all that classified material is still in his head so unless you're putting yourself forward ..."
"I'm not qualified!" George flared. "I don't know anything about kids! I live in a studio apartment in New York City! He needs two parents and someplace he can ride a bike, and ... and play baseball."
"He can play all the baseball he wants at Broadmere. Are we squared away on this?" One by one they all nodded, even George. As Burt had said, it would be nearly impossible to find a family with the appropriate security clearance who would agree to take on a child who—reluctantly he had to agree with Grant—would have many problems. It was a shame, but Broadmere was a good school. It was. Illya would be well treated there, and maybe George would go see him sometimes. Write him letters. He felt better thinking that.
"This is your new school," he said, watching Illya finish his dinner. The cafeteria had had pizza, and lasagna, and apple pie and more chocolate milk, and he had polished his plate. Then he had turned to the hospital tray, which had looked pitiful to George, but he ate it all. "I scrounged up a catalog." He handed it over and Illya looked at it. He turned the pages slowly, studying the pictures of classrooms and football fields, a swimming pool and dormitories. "You won't have one of those," George said, indicating the four beds. "You'll have your own room."
"Thank you. It looks very nice. Will—will you be there?"
"No. That's in Massachusetts. I live in New York. But I'll write you."
"All right. Thank you."
"You're welcome. Sleepy?" Illya had yawned hugely for the third time.
"Go wash up then. I'll stop in and see you tomorrow."
"All right." He was relieved, that he didn't have to say good-bye yet, and that relief was plain on his face, making George swallow hard. "George?"
Illya smiled at him shyly. "It feels good to be full. I never knew."
"I'm glad. Good night."
"Good night, George." He wanted to throw himself at this big, kind man, to get another hug because it had felt so good but of course he didn't. Instead he watched George leave, and then he brushed his teeth and scrubbed his face and hands before climbing into bed. With his stomach full for the first time in his life he fell asleep quickly.
George stood in his hotel room staring at his Bible. His heart was heavy. He couldn't escape the feeling that he was doing wrong, in letting Illya be sent off to year round school. But it wasn't really his business, was it. He had done all anyone would reasonably expect. He was certainly not under any obligation to do more. And it was true that he wasn't qualified. He knew nothing about child rearing. He worked long hours. He was a single man, and kids needed mothers. But it wasn't a choice between him and a loving couple. It was a choice between him and an institution. No, it wasn't. He shook his head irritably. It wasn't a choice at all. His life suited him just fine and he didn't need to take on responsibility for a troubled child who would no doubt grow into a troubled adult. What chance did Illya have to turn out normally after the start he'd had? George picked up his Bible, but instead of turning to his nightly reading he let it fall open, closed his eyes and stabbed a finger at the page. This would clear his conscience. He opened his eyes and read. "But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 19:14) He sat down and put his head in his hands, praying. He sat like that for a long time.
"I'll take him." He had gone to Burt's room. "I have the clearance."
"Piper—you don't have to do that. I'm sorry if I implied ..."
"No. It has nothing to do with you. This is between me and God—and that sad little kid. I'll take him and bring him up as best I can. But I need to move. I need a house out on the Island in a nice quiet neighborhood. I need the money to do right by him. Private school. Summer camp, if he wants. It'll still be cheaper than Broadmere. I'll need my summers off, and holidays too. Whenever school is out. Or if he's sick." He was saying good-bye to his fast paced career advancement, he knew, but somehow it didn't bother him the way he'd thought it would. He met Burt's eyes squarely. "I'll do right by him. I'll take him to Sunday School and church, and enroll him in Little League and ... whatever it takes. But I'll need help, like I said."
"You'll get it." Burt clearly couldn't believe his—and UNCLE's—luck. George knew he had the security clearance, and moreover his reputation was above reproach. After Illya's debriefing UNCLE could close the books on this unfortunate incident. At Broadmere Illya would be a loose cannon, with who knew what resentments and too much knowledge. But now he would be safely tucked under George's wing. Burt was smiling and, seeing it, George smiled too.
"So is it a go?"
"We'll have to clear it through Waverly." George nodded. Waverly would approve it, he knew—it was the perfect placement.
"Let me know."
"Don't tell the kid anything until I do."
George and the child stood in front of the house. Behind them the moving van was being unloaded. The house was a modest Cape Cod, with a large yard. There were trees in the back, an expanse of smooth green lawn in front and a large maple tree growing right up to one of the gabled windows. "That's your room," George said, pointing to it. "You can probably climb right out your window into that tree. I had one like it when I was little. Just be careful and don't ever go out at night without telling me. All right?"
"Yes." Illya was dazed. His life had changed so dramatically it still seemed dreamlike. Or maybe it was the past that was the dream. He clung to George's hand and watched as his bed was carried inside—a single four poster which he had picked out himself. Over the past week he had flown in a plane for the first time, seen the exciting and terrifying city of Manhattan for the first time, and met Alexander Waverly. It had been Waverly who had extracted Illya's dangerous information from him. He had allowed George to stay, and the questioning had been so courteous, and so gentle, that Illya had felt he was confiding secrets to a trusted friend rather than facing the interrogation he had dreaded. When it was over, the older man with the bushy grey eyebrows had accepted Illya's shy handshake and then looked into his face for a while.
"I believe you will be happy with Mr. Piper," he had said, and Illya had nodded. With his other hand he clutched George's as he had since leaving his room in Moscow. "Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you," Mr. Waverly had gone on, and Illya had smiled at him. George was right. This was another good man.
"Thank you. Sir," he added, at a nudge from George. Waverly had nodded, and they had left. He had spent that night in George's little apartment, sleeping in the bed with George because George had no place else for him. Besides he hadn't wanted to let George out of his sight and that had been all right, that had been fine, back to back against George's solid warmth. He didn't need to worry about George, because George didn't want to do that with him. That was bad, and George wasn't bad. George was the best man in the world.
"Illya?" George knelt in front of him, looking worried. "You're so quiet. Don't you like it? Tell me if you don't because we'll do something else."
"Oh, no, I like it." He did. He smiled into George's eyes, so close to his. "George?"
"Why—why are you so nice to me? Why are you doing all this? Why am I living with you now instead of going to that school?"
George didn't know what to say. But Illya was looking anxiously at him, clearly needing a reason, and when George opened his mouth the truth came out. "Because I love you, honey." He brushed back a stray lock of hair from Illya's face. "I love you." And how could he have thought the child's eyes were grey? Look at them. They were the blue of an autumn sky.
"You love me? You do?"
"Yes, honey. I do." Illya threw his arms around George's neck, squeezing tight, feeling George hug him in return.
"I love you too, George." He pressed his face into George's neck and George stood up, carried Illya across the lawn, inside the house, and both of them were home.