The Waiting Game
It's an old song and one that I get tired of singing. I'm sitting at the hospital bedside of my partner, playing the waiting game. He had survived surgery—that alone had surprised the doctors, but they didn't know Illya the way I do. They take one look at him and summarily dismiss him; it's the same with our enemies. In THRUSH's case, what they don't know can indeed hurt them and frequently does. Yet, every once in a while, they get lucky and one of us ends up here.
Outside, the rain is pelting against the window. It has a helluva nerve considering this is Christmas Eve and all. We had planned to be with friends tonight, laughing and singing and welcoming in the holiday with ribald enthusiasm. Instead, I sit by his bedside and listen to the ventilator do its job. I listen to the monitor as it documents my partner's steady heartbeat.
I remember when I first realized my feelings for Illya. It hadn't been a sudden epiphany; rather, the knowledge crawled in, quiet and subtle, much like my partner himself. There came a day when women started losing their allure. I still like them fine, but they don't call to me as they used to.
It was a gamble when I finally admitted the truth to myself because I didn't know how Illya felt. I thought he loved me, but I wasn't sure. For a long time, I hesitated. I was terrified of losing my partner, my friend, hell, the best friend I'd ever had, by confessing my feelings to him. Then one night, under some mistletoe, I took a chance and my luck held.
Illya did feel the same and soon after we consummated our relationship. Illya turned out to be as competent and capable a lover as he is an agent. He is not afraid to take the lead, but acquiesces when he senses I need control. He is my equal in every way, and I remember saying a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the day he let this skinny, blue-eyed Russian come into my life.
The heart monitor changes rhythm, slowing, and it brings me back to the present.
I pick up Illya's hand and wince. It's like ice, so I warm it with mine.
"I remember my grandmother telling me a story once, partner," I say, keeping my voice low because I'm not in the mood for sharing. "She told me about an evil witch who used to haunt the woods of Russia. Her house stood on chicken feet and she would scourge the forests for victims.
"One day, she came upon two lovers, a young man and a young woman. They were in a mossy glen, their eyes only for each other. She'd longed for a heart of her own. The young man's heart was so brilliant, so full of love, that Baba Yaga snatched it away for herself. But something went wrong, for as hard as she fought to find a way into that heart, she couldn't. It held love for only one person and Baba Yaga wasn't that person. Instead, it burned and scorched her until she could not longer bear to even hold it.
"That was when Baba Yaga heard the cries of the young woman. They were so pitiful and so wrenching that Baba Yaga, in a single moment of pure compassion, returned the young man's heart." I stopped and blinked rapidly to clear my eyes of the tears forming. "Please, Baba Yaga, don't take his heart. I don't want to be without him. He's everything I want and all that I need. Please, please..."
I realize with a start that the fingers in my hand are moving, weakly and barely noticeable, but I feel them and look at Illya. Two half-open blue eyes are watching me and I grin. I don't know if it was Baba Yaga, Saint Nickolas, God, or even Santa Claus himself who granted me my wish, but I don't care.
"Welcome back, Partner." I lean in to kiss his forehead and straightened to go get the doctor. That's when I notice that the rain has changed to snow and I glance at the clock—12:05 a.m. "Merry Christmas, Baba Yaga. Thank you."
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