Episode Epilogue 5: Winter Needs the Spring (post Tea Party & Sceptre)
Of course I went back for Illya. Of course I did. "For one man?" Zia had said skeptically, and I had had no answer for her, except the one that could be read from my actions. I had brought Illya into this - oh, not deliberately, but he had come along and I should have known from that, shouldn't I? After that mess with Clara, I should have known.
I did know. I dismissed it. I thought that given Illya's training, given his original place of service, the idea of trusting a commanding officer was foreign to him. I told myself that he didn't know how it was, in Korea. He doesn't know Morgan like I do. He's overly suspicious. He's been a Soviet spy for too long.
So I let him tag along, tolerated him tagging along, baffled by his obscure comment to Morgan as to his reasons. Die a little every day? Surely he wasn't referring to the petit mort - Illya wouldn't be that obvious - or that subtle. So what did he mean by it? It irritated me, but I tried not to let it show because it touches me, too, that Illya is so loyal to me. Whatever he learned over there, whatever suspicions he carries, he doesn't tar me with that brush. Illya is devoted to me. I know that. Devoted beyond the sexual relationship we share, devoted beyond the job. I was going into danger and he was coming with me. Period.
And then I left him behind. When danger erupted, when it all came down, I left him. What must he have thought, watching me go up that ladder, hearing the cover clang shut behind us? But I know what he thought, because he told me.
"I was just glad you made it out," he said when it was all over, after I had returned the sceptre, after I had said goodbye to Zia. I didn't sleep with her - too idealistic, too broken by her first experience with betrayal. She would have done it, to show me what a good soldier she is, how unmoved by recent events. But she is a little girl still, under her ramrod straight posture; a little girl who has just lost her father. So I wined and dined her, kissed her cheek and came back to Illya. We were safely over the border - no point in taking foolish chances - and not due to leave until the next day. So we drank schnapps - funny the moods he gets, the whims he has - and he listened while I talked. Sometimes I asked him a direct question, and then he answered me. Truthfully, of course. I don't believe Illya would lie to me, and I'm not sure that he can.
"I didn't care a rat's ass for the sceptre, Napoleon, I'll tell you that flat out," he said. "But I was glad you got out of there, and I didn't mind covering you. You could hardly have come back down that ladder - you'd have been killed or captured too, and then where would we have been? Waiting for Morgan to come save us?" He snorted, and buried his face in his drink right away, as if ashamed of the remark. True as it was.
"Zia said you referred to me as `something that belonged to you'" he said after a few minutes, and I gave a guilty start. I had said that, hadn't I? "You have something that belongs to me," I'd said, and heard it as it came out, how odd it sounded. I mumbled something now and drank from my glass - a rather dirty glass but no matter. I had been so angry that I hadn't troubled to watch my words - or even think about them overmuch - so that had come out.
How angry I was. I was furious - at the situation, at Zia for her willingness to brush Illya off - `one man', she'd said, as if he were nothing. Well, look who trained her. And he trained me, too, that's the thing. If my life had gone differently, would I have been like that? If Waverly had been a Morgan, instead of a chief who believes in getting his people out if at all possible, would I too have scorned the idea of risking everything for `one man'? I was angry with Morgan, for setting this up and then getting himself killed. I was angry with myself, because already I felt like a pawn, like someone was pulling my strings. All I knew was that I wasn't leaving Illya behind, and that anybody who got in my way was going to ... to get out of my way again, and fast.
And then how glad was I to see him, alive and unharmed - and so tasty in that black turtleneck and pants. I don't think I considered that at the moment, but I did later on, you bet. Yet one more reason to kiss Zia chastely at her door and come back to him.
What a good friend he is. Look at him now, sipping his drink, not having very much because he thinks I might want to get drunk tonight and he wants to be able to take care of me. He's worried about me, I know; worried about the effects of this latest betrayal. He's looking at me when he thinks I don't see, brow furrowed, just as he did after Clara.
This thing with Morgan had followed directly on the heels of that farce Waverly had set up, that had turned out to be in deadly earnest. A mad, mad tea party indeed. One of our agents had died, after all, killed in his own workplace by a trusted colleague. Trusted. Ha. I snorted at the idea, and Illya refilled my glass. I didn't even realize it was empty. But you do trust your co-workers, you can't really help it. I buy my meals at the employee cafeteria, and I trust the serving girls not to drop poison in my soup. I accept my badge from the receptionist, and trust that she has activated it. I walk by people in the hall and they have a clear shot at my back if they want it. Any one of a number of people could get close enough to me to liquefy my brain if they chose. But until the affair took that turn, it had just been awkward and embarrassing. `Boom, you're dead.' `Eck, you're poisoned'. That girl, falling willy nilly into headquarters. And all the while, Illya at my side. I never worry about looking ridiculous in front of Illya, or that he's thinking unkind things about my abilities. If I make a fool of myself and he sees it, so be it. So be it. He still ... he loves me. How did I ever get so lucky? If Morgan had had a friend like Illya, maybe he wouldn't have gone wrong. If he had had someone who looked at him as if he were the best man in the world, as if he were ten feet tall and just overflowing with integrity and intelligence and ... and who knows what all, which is how Illya makes me feel when he looks at me, maybe Morgan would have wanted to live up to that, to be worthy of it. Like I do. But no. Zia felt that way about him, and he would have shot her down without a qualm. He'd turned into the psychopath I had been afraid of becoming, and maybe he never even knew when it happened.
"Yes?" I smiled at Illya, wanting to take the worry out of his eyes. "I'm all right, Illya. It's sobering, to realize I can be so completely wrong, but I'm all right. I'm not drinking myself into a sodden stupor, or sinking into a depression, or any of the other things you're thinking I might do. I'm older, wiser, and sadder than when I got on the plane from New York, but I'm all right."
"Good. Because he's not worth it."
"I suppose not." I wanted to change the subject, wanted to ... "you look ridiculously hot in that outfit, you know."
"Oh?" He blinked at me, then looked down at himself. Dusty, dirty, disheveled still ... "are you serious?"
"Yes. And I want to get you back to that grimy sordid little hotel room and have my way with you on that wretched cot they call a bed."
"Do you now." And I got Illya's best slow smile, slanted up at me from under those bangs, his blue eyes sparkling. "I believe that can be arranged, Napoleon. Although if you're thinking what I think you're thinking, the outfit will have to go."
Only part of it did, as it turned out. I left the turtleneck on despite his protests - which I silenced with my open mouth, sliding my hands up under the shirt, reveling in the softness of his skin, the hard strength of his body. And when I rolled over on top of him, planning to indulge in a little frottage, he opened himself to me instead, wrapping his legs around my waist in a blatant invitation to what I had never been invited to do before.
It was about trust, I knew. He was showing me how much he trusted me, in an attempt to demonstrate that he was equally trustworthy. It moved me so deeply I had to bury my face in his shoulder and breathe for a moment, before I rolled over again, putting us on our sides, facing one another. Because Illya has huge issues with this act, I know that much, and when it did happen it wasn't going to be like this.
"I have nothing," I said when he looked hurt, as if I had slapped him, although was that relief in his eyes too? I think so. "No lube - again - not even a bar of soap in that sty they call a bathroom. And we have to be up at three AM to catch our transport out of here." I stroked his face, kissed the tip of his nose, kissed the corners of his mouth until they turned upward. "But when we get back to New York," I kissed his cheek, "I'm going to request three days off." I kissed the other cheek. "For both of us."
He laughed and, delighted, I kissed his chin. "That'll be the day. It's far more likely that we'll be sent right off again - together, if we're lucky, in different directions if not." But the relief was clearer now. He had made the offer, and I had said no - but not because I didn't want him. I ground against him to demonstrate that. I said no because I wouldn't hurt him. I wouldn't rush this. I wouldn't take advantage of his ... his kindness. His love. His trust.
"Maybe it won't be right away," I conceded. "But it will happen. I'm sure of it. And when it does, it will be ..." I floundered there, lost for words. What would it be? How could it possibly be? He was watching me expectantly, so I groped around and found the word after all. "Wonderful," I finished. "It will be wonderful. You have my word."
"All right, Napoleon. I believe you." Did he? Did he really? "But in the meantime ..." he pushed against me now, and I pushed back and even in that sordid dirty little room, even on that hard rickety cot, even with the limitations of time and the other limitation, the one I had placed on it, it was, indeed, wonderful.
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