Running With the Devil
Running With the Devil
Thrush Agent Napoleon Solo's Personal Log - undated. Entry 1
Ha. I like that. Personal log. I heard the phrase in the middle of some unknown movie I was forced to attend while trailing a subject, and something about it appealed to me. Not my official work documentation, yet nothing so puerile as a diary or a journal. My personal log, dictated into my personal recorder. I think the guy in the movie was captain of some sort of space ship, and as I am captain of my own ship, the vessel of my life and my work, it seems fitting. Personal log. Ha.
I have started it today because something new has come across my desk at Thrush headquarters. They have given me a field partner. A fucking field partner, like I'm not the best they have all by myself. That's the key, of course. They don't like my success, they don't like my drive. I want Thrush Central, and they know it. Since there are a limited number of spots available, any one I get is taken away from somebody else. Somebody else who will be receiving the little watch on retirement. Do they think I don't know? I'm no fool. Only Thrush Central Committee members are exempt, and that's where I plan to be well before the time comes. Then I'll never have to retire, can work into my old age like that fop Martel. Queer as a three dollar bill and deadly as an adder Martel. I learned a lot from him while I was on the Continent. He wasn't interested in me - I'm too much of a man for him, he likes them young and dainty - but if he had been I would have gone along, you bet. No point in making enemies over something as trivial as sex - to a point. But I digress. Ha. That's all right because nobody will ever hear this except for me - unless I choose to have it sent to certain authorities on my demise. That would serve them all right. I might just do that, since I've already begun naming names.
Speaking of names, how's this one? Illya Kuryakin. Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin. That's my new partner. From the Eastern European division, a former KGB agent, wooed and won by Thrush for his scientific knowledge and prowess. That's all well and good, but why they've saddled me with him is the question. A question I'm sure I can answer. A running dog of my own to report back to those above me and, quite possibly, help to eliminate me before I ever reach Central. Well, he'll have to get up early in the morning to catch me. Pretty damn early. I meet with him tomorrow morning - Sunday morning - at HQ. He had requested the day off to settle into his new apartment but I said no. Let him be unsettled. What do I care? Show him who's in charge right from the start, in every way possible, this being only the first. The first of many.
Entry 2. I'll be damned. What do they take me for? What kind of a field agent is this? He's too short, for one thing, and too scrawny for another. He looks as if he hasn't had a decent meal in his life. And it's easy to see why the KGB let him go - they can't use the same lure too often and if that wasn't his main role I'll eat my briefcase - or him. Alive. He's the sweetest little honey trap I've seen in a long time, with that blond hair - too fucking long for an espionage agent if you ask me - and those blue eyes. He's got that pale implacable permafrost thing going on that so many of their agents have, like he could watch a field full of kulaks gunned down and not flicker an eyelash. I kind of like that, actually. It's hot. He's hot. He stood there in my office in a rumpled suit and fuckin' introduced himself, like I haven't seen his file, like I don't know everything about him like the palm of my hand. Well, everything they want me to know. I'm sure there's a deeper file in HQ, and then the Soviets probably have their own files too - and there may well be more to the story than even they know. He looks deep, this one. He could be a Romanov prince or Stalin's bastard get, and either way it wouldn't show on that face.
I kept him standing while I went through his file again. His combat ratings are high - nearly as high as mine. Nearly being the operative word. I could take him. But I bet I'd have to half kill him to do it - those wiry scrappy ones can surprise you. And a half dead partner wouldn't be much use to me - not that I expect him to be of much use to me anyway.
I went through the motions, showing him how I do my paperwork, telling him that as of this moment it's his paperwork. I wonder how many of the little traps I've set he'll be able to spot. If he's turning my material over to somebody else I'll know, I'm sure - but will he? If he's any damn good he will. In fact, if he's any damn good he'll already know that I'm spying on him, just as he's spying on me, just as Central is spying on both of us, and probably the damn KGB too. It would be exhausting to try and keep track, so I don't bother. I just assume everybody's out to get me and that's fine with me. Fine and dandy. At least with Thrush it's out in the open. Not like the US Army.
How idealistic I was when I enlisted. How eagerly I went to Korea to fight for freedom and democracy and the American way. A regular freaking Superman, I thought myself. Truth, justice, and all that red white and blue crap. Boy, was I in for a wake up call. At least Kuryakin doubtless always knew that his government would ream him thoroughly given the least opportunity. I, on the other hand, was totally surprised when Uncle Sam gave it to me up the ass. So to speak, ha ha. I've never taken it there. I've given it, hell yes I have, but I've never taken it. They'd have to tie me down first and then they better never let me up because I'd kill them even if I died for it.
Digressing again. Wonder why thinking of Illya Kuryakin makes me think of dicks and ass, ha ha. My dick, his ass, and soon, too. I've got him coming over here tonight and I made it clear why.
"You're a pretty little thing, aren't you," I said dismissively, after finishing the paperwork discussion. "You know, one of my prerogatives as your senior partner involves more than dumping the files on you." I leered at him deliberately, to see how he'd take it, and he stiffened even further. I wouldn't have thought it was possible. He was, as I had said, a pretty little thing, but of course there was more to it than that. I needed to establish who was boss of this team, who was in charge. Nothing says I'm the boss like your cock up somebody's ass.
"The Thrush Code of Conduct -" he began, and I backhanded him across the face, sending him to the floor. Then I spat on him.
"File a complaint," I snarled. "Go through the proper channels and file a complaint. They'll file it away in their turn and you'll still be out in the field with me. I'll still fuck you over but maybe not the way I'm planning to now. Think about it."
He rose to his feet, my saliva glistening in his hair. He ignored it, and that pissed me off. I wanted it to bother him, for him to swipe at it, get it on his hand, then not be sure what to do with it. But he didn't. It made me want to hit him again. "I see," he said levelly, and that was all he said.
"So do I," I answered him. "I see your file, and I see who you worked for, and I see what you look like. You're used to putting out, don't tell me you're not."
He sighed, and rolled his eyes with such an expression of ennui that I grinned involuntarily. "I am. It just gets old. And you have such a reputation as a ladies man that I thought I'd be spared your amorous attentions."
"Wrong," I said flatly. "You'll be spared nothing. Next time do your research better."
"I had planned to, this afternoon. They only told me I was leaving last night."
So that was what he had meant by getting settled in! Poking around in my records! I couldn't blame him - although I did, of course - I would have done the same. "Your ass, my place, eight o'clock tonight," I snapped at him.
"You could at least give me dinner," he complained and I couldn't help it. I laughed out loud. He laughed back at me and that took me so off guard that for a moment I couldn't think of my next words.
"I'll give you coffee afterwards," I finally said. "If you're any good. If not I'll toss you out with nothing."
"I'm not good at all when I'm hungry," he came back at me. "I'm bored, and headachy, and rather listless."
"And what makes you think I care ..." I began, then stopped. He probably was pretty damn good in the sack when he put his mind to it. They train them well over there. "Eat first then."
"I have four walls and a door that locks," he said flatly. "That's it. I have no money, and no food. I haven't eaten since breakfast yesterday."
The nerve of him. None of that was my responsibility. But ... I was his senior partner. That made me a little responsible whether I liked it or not. And I didn't like it. It pissed me off all over again. But I scribbled a number on the back of my business card - Napoleon Solo, New York New York, it said, and I liked it. I had designed it myself - and gave it to him. "That's the number for my account in the cafeteria," I said brusquely. "You can get three meals a day there. You can pay me back out of your first check."
He held the card and looked at me, clearly taken off guard. Well, good. He was too damn cocky by far. "Thank you," he said, rather uncertainly. Then he grinned at me. "And if you've arranged for it to be poisoned I'll be sure to turn my face your way tonight when it comes back up."
Again I laughed, and again I was surprised. What the hell was this? I covered it quickly and leaned over my desk, putting my face right in his. "It would be faster acting than that," I told him, and he raised an eyebrow at me.
"Right there on the cafeteria floor? Quite a spectacle."
"I'm not afraid of a spectacle. I'll show you tonight. Now get the hell out of my office, Illya." I used his first name deliberately - I wouldn't give him the respect of his last. But he only looked back at me blandly.
"Yes, Napoleon," he said and was gone before I could call him back, gone before I could bark out "Solo to you!" Gone with the damn last word!
Well, that's about to change. It's seven-thirty and I'll bet my bottom dollar he'll be right on time. And I'm having the last word tonight. First, and last.
"Open Channel C. Kuryakin reporting. My cover has been accepted - commendations to those who coordinated with the Soviets. I am ensconced in Thrush New York as Napoleon Solo's partner.
"For what it's worth, I disagree with Section I. We need to remove him, true, but he is eminently recruitable. He is intelligent, capable, and efficient. To say he is unhappy with me is an understatement. He deeply resents being assigned a partner at all, and nothing about the first impression I made helped with that. He has summoned me to his apartment tonight, I presume to impress upon me that he is in charge. I don't expect it to be a pleasant encounter, but he has already - and quite unexpectedly - advanced me funds against my first paycheck, so I assume he intends for me to live to collect it. After that, I don't know. He may well kill me once we are in the field together. In that case, I withdraw my recommendation of recruitment.
Yep. He was right on time, just like I expected. He stood in my doorway just as he had stood in my office, even to the same rumpled suit. Well, first things first. "Strip down," I said shortly. "Right now, no delay, no dissembling. Everything off."
He complied, and I inspected him thoroughly for concealed weapons, wires, or who knows what. I made him bend over, and cough. I put my hands under his testicles - making no attempt to be gentle, ignoring but noting his hiss of pain. And unless he had a subcutaneous implant of some sort - one that left no traces, because I was looking closely, you bet - there was nothing. Just him. Just him, fair and sweet and beautiful. Just beautiful. I looked him over again. He is slim but every time he moves muscles move too, gliding smoothly under the skin, confirming my original thought that he'd be hell on wheels in combat. His skin isn't marble white, the warm blood coursing through his veins gives him a lovely flush - which deepens under my scrutiny. His pubic hair is blond like the rest of it, curls that look soft. I tugged on one and he winced again. "Not the strong silent type, are you?" I said, and pulled harder. He yawned. Yawned!
"I just don't believe in wasting energy on things that don't matter," he said and again, as earlier, I had to laugh. It pissed me off. He pisses me off.
"I'm fucking you tonight," I told him and he rolled his eyes.
"So I had already gathered. Get on with it, then. I still have a lot of unpacking to do."
Damn me if I wasn't going to get more from him than that. "I don't know you from Adam and I trust you less. I'm tying you down. Here." I picked up a set of handcuffs from the coffee table. "Put your wrists in these."
That got a reaction. His eyes widened, his cheeks flamed and he backed away a step. "The hell I will!" he threw at me and went for the door.
It was locked, of course, and needed more than him tugging at the knob to open it. He pulled on the bolt but it didn't move. I'm no fool. If you get into my apartment you're not getting out again unless I let you out. I didn't waste my breath on words. Instead I came up behind him and wrapped my arm around his neck in a chokehold. I was prepared for the elbow shooting back into my stomach, but not for the next move, which was both feet kicking backwards, hitting my knees hard and then, as he perforce fell forward, throwing me over his head into the door. I hit hard and came up raging.
We fought it out in the middle of my living room. He could fight, just as I had already concluded. There were some punches landed, some more kicking - he kicked like a damn mule - but then I swung the cuffs around in a hard, short arc and connected solidly with his jaw. He went down. I followed and put my forearm over his throat, leaned a little. He gagged, tried to pull free and I leaned harder. "Stop it!" I shouted, directly into his face, as loud as I could, spraying him with saliva. He threw his head forward and slammed his forehead into mine, rocking both of us back. I shifted just a little, and drove my knee into his balls. Hard. Very hard - maybe a little harder than I meant but I was pissed. Seriously pissed.
The fight ended there. He doubled over, as much as possible with me still on top of him, bucking and fishtailing, trying to get his wind back. In the meantime I clamped first one, then the other, cuff, onto his wrists, locking them in front of him. Then I rolled off him and dragged him by the hair - and that's why you don't wear it so long - across the room. By main force I lifted him, still writhing in agony, and threw him onto the bed. He found his breath then and gasped, a harsh whooping sound. I yanked his hands up and looped the chain I'd had fastened to the top of the bed around the cuffs. Secured it.
Done. I lay on him for a moment, panting, and damn if he didn't bite me! He bit my shoulder, hard, and I promptly punched him in the stomach, taking away the breath he'd just regained, and then punched him again for good measure. Swearing, I got up and went into the bathroom. I cleaned the wound and applied hydrogen peroxide, swearing some more at the sting of it. Then I stripped off my own clothes and walked back into the bedroom, over to the bed where he was feebly wheezing and trying to suck air. His face was a greyish color, his lips blue. I held my belt in one hand, doubled into a loop, and slapped it smartly against my palm. When he didn't seem to notice I hit him with it, a good one on his upper thigh and watched the skin redden. He kicked at me and I stepped back a little, lengthened the belt strap and shifted position so the buckle was showing. Lifting it, I kicked the bed. His eyes met mine and they were so filled with hatred it gave me pause.
I had to go out into the field with this man, had to turn my back on him. Had to give him a gun. What was I thinking? It had never been meant to go this far. Somehow I sensed that a good punch in the jaw, a quick fuck - even a kick in the nuts - was something we could get past. After all, he had started the fight. But a flogging with a belt ... I wasn't so sure. I let none of that show, however, just struck my palm with it again. It made an ugly sound.
"Finished?" I asked him harshly. "You might as well be. You're not going anywhere and I'll flog you bloody if I have to. I said I'm fucking you, I said I don't trust you and that's why you're chained to the bed. We could have been finished and shaking hands at the door by now. Do you like it rough? Is that what this is about?"
He stared at me for a long time and the hatred disappeared - and not in a good way. I could read nothing in those eyes now. "Fine," he said shortly. "But doesn't it make you a little nervous, knowing that tomorrow at this time I could be behind you with a gun in my hand?"
It did, as I've already said. But I concealed it behind a ferocious snarl. "Not in the least. And you better count your blessings because if it did, I'd just kill you here and now." I dropped the belt and dropped myself, too, right on top of him.
"Oof," he complained. "Too many American hamburgers and French Fries in your diet, Napoleon."
I almost hit him again for the comment, and the use of my first name. I actually drew back my fist, but he only closed his eyes. It gave me a good opportunity to observe that his eyelashes were the same honey gold as his hair. His face had lost the grey hue and was flushed with exertion and - I hoped - humiliation. And his mouth ... mmm mm. Positively lush, with a lower lip that seemed meant for biting. I did so, lightly, wanting him to open his eyes again, but he didn't. He had grown very still under me, and his face was impassive. I nodded. "Better," I said, and rose to my knees. His legs were together so I put my hands on his upper thighs, noting the livid welt that had risen where I had struck him. "You mark as easy as a girl," I said contemptuously, dug my fingers hard into tender flesh and pushed his legs apart.
He let me, but that was all. There was none of the laxness of submission, nor the rigidity of resistance. He just let me, as if I were handling a mannequin. No trace of the mischievous sense of humor I had seen in my office, no trace of rage. No trace of Illya Kuryakin, period. He had disappeared emotionally, closing himself off, leaving me nothing but a body. The way we are all trained to do - under torture. Under torture.
I'll be damned, I thought. He's using his torture resistance training on me - me! Why that bothered me I couldn't have said. It would certainly make things easier. No more fighting, no more talking back. I could flip him over and fuck him all I wanted. But it pissed me off, that he had found a way to escape me. I didn't want him to escape me. I didn't want him to withdraw from this act, I wanted him to be aware of every fucking - so to speak - minute of it. Frowning, I knelt between his legs and thought about it. And as I did so my hands still rested on his thighs, and I became aware of how ... how soft, and smooth, his skin was there. It was so soft, and so smooth, that it seemed I couldn't even feel it properly, appreciate it fully, with the calloused tips of my fingers. I turned my hand, brushed the back of it across his flesh, and he shivered.
He shivered and, intrigued, I repeated the gesture. But he lay still again, and I frowned. Then I shifted, moved down a little, turned, and brushed him there with my cheek. He jumped, and I laughed a little. My breath stirred those blond curls and he jumped again. "Well, well, well," I said softly. "What's that about, Illya Nickovetch? Hmm?" I pushed his knees up a little and slid both my hands, fingers spread wide, along his thighs; slowly, slowly, liking the feel of him. I stopped just before I would have touched his balls - which were swollen and painful looking - and he whimpered.
Just one little sound, just one, then he clamped his teeth on his lower lip to silence it and, entirely unexpectedly, my cock jumped. It had been lying low - sexual violence doesn't arouse me and if that is a weakness in me so be it. I had already known I'd have to work myself up to this act, this necessary act, but now my organ was coming to life on its own, stirred by his involuntary response to me. And speak of humiliation, I thought. And of control. Anybody could beat someone into submission, chain him and fuck him up the ass. Anybody could do that - it proved nothing except that for right now all the power was on my side. But if I could make him want it, make him beg me for it, and then deny him while taking my own pleasure - he'd know who was the boss then, all right. He'd never be able to forget it - or me. Twenty years from now - assuming he lived that long - he'd still remember me.
So I rubbed my cheek against his hip, inhaling the scent of him. He smelled good - like wild grass, like the ocean, like ... I exhaled and his cock twitched.
I really gave him the works, then. I stroked his legs, his arms, his chest. I tweaked his nipples and watched them harden. I rubbed his stomach, around and around in warm, coaxing circles and when I stopped he moaned. It shamed him, I could tell by the color flooding his face, by the way he tried to turn away. I kissed him, finally, right on the mouth, tracing his lips with my tongue, teasing, making promises I had no intention of keeping. He was hard by then, and I stroked him there too, too lightly for satisfaction and his hips moved. I laughed at him and he tightened his arms against his head to try and block out the sound. I laughed again and went back to what I was doing.
I worked him up until he was frantic for it, hips rising and falling, body shaking, a fine sheen of sweat glistening in the dim lighting. I did everything I knew to him short of using my mouth - because I don't do that. I'm damned if I'll ever do that. Queers suck the root. I'm no queer. I've never done that, nor had it done to me. I don't let anything with teeth anywhere near my dick. I'm no fool. Not queer, not a fool, but I am one hell of a lover, that's for sure. He wasn't even trying to hide himself anymore, pushing up into my palm, crying out again and again despite the blood on his mouth where he had been chewing on it to try and keep quiet.
I don't know what got into me. I had fully intended to bring him right to the brink, had intended to make him beg, to say the words, and then to flip him over and drive my achingly hard cock home in his ass, drowning his pleasure in pain, flooding him with my pleasure instead. But I didn't. I pumped him, giving him the rhythm he needed, giving him everything he needed and when he was close, so close, his eyes opened, blue and beautiful and dark with something I couldn't read.
"Please don't," he said and I couldn't believe it. He was asking me to stop? Really?
"Really?" I asked him, and I did stop. His cry this time was one of pain, of frustration and longing and I could have had him then, he'd have said anything I wanted to hear, but I didn't. Instead I pumped him some more and he arched his back and came for me, pulling against the cuffs until his wrists as well as his lips were bleeding, crying aloud in ecstasy.
Damn, I'm good. I kept on and it took a long time - it must have quite a bout of celibacy for him. But when he was finished, when he dropped back onto the bed, gasping and panting and shaking, then I did flip him over, then I did settle over him and pushed myself against his entrance.
He flinched away, pressing into the mattress in a futile attempt at escape and his asshole was tight and closed against me. I pushed again and he gave a short grunt of pain.
I began to soften and, furious at myself as much as at him, I got up. I stomped into the bathroom, rummaged around and came back with the damn lubricant. I applied it to myself, hardening again under my own hand, and then, using my forefinger, rubbed a little into him. He drew a long, shuddering breath and this time when I tried to enter he let me.
That's just how it felt, as if he opened up and let me in. Invited me in. Drew me in, deeper and deeper until I was fully encased, my balls against his butt cheeks. We both lay still for a moment and then I began to move. He was still prone on the bed so I put one arm around his middle, pulled him up a little more and the next time I plunged into him I must have hit his sweet spot because he came alive under me, twisting and pushing back against me, up more onto his knees now and of his own initiative. Without even meaning to I reached under and grasped him, and he screamed like a cat. I screamed too, and a red madness descended on us both.
We writhed together, me fucking him with all my usual precision and a new ardor, a passion I had never experienced before. I wanted him so desperately that if necessary it would have been me begging him, but it wasn't necessary. His pleasure fueled my pleasure and at some point the two of us became one. One frantic pleasure seeking being, struggling together, gasping together, shouting incoherent words together and finally, finally, coming together. I felt his cock jerking in my hand, I felt his channel squeeze me, hard, hard and the last thing I felt was the top of my head exploding as I came.
There was an interval of nothing, of grey, calm, quiet nothing and I drifted in it, content to just lie there, still buried to the hilt in his body, he warm and still under and around me. Finally he spoke.
"My hands hurt."
"What?" I felt as if he were speaking in a foreign tongue and it took me a few minutes to put those three simple words together and make sense of them. His hands? His hands hurt? But I wasn't touching his hands, wasn't hurting him at all. I shook my head in a silent negation of any pain, and he repeated himself.
"My hands. They really hurt."
Why wouldn't he just be quiet and let me sleep? I lifted my head to say so and saw that his hands were swollen and engorged with blood from the repeated pulling against the too tight cuffs. They did look like they hurt. I grunted something and pushed myself into a sitting position. The keys were on my bedside table and I had used them before really thinking it through. When I did, though, I stiffened and rolled off the bed. Was he planning to attack me now? But he only groaned and began trying to rub one with the other. I did it for him - so I could keep a watch on him, I told myself. He let me do it and after a few minutes the little sounds of pain subsided and he pulled them free. I looked down at him, and he looked up at me, and I don't think he had any more idea of what came next than I did. He needed to leave, of course, needed to get up, clean himself off, put his clothes back on and get the hell out of my apartment so I could shower and go to sleep. But before I could say so, his stomach growled.
Startled, I laughed aloud. He flushed. "I thought you ate before you came," I said, and laughed again at my unintended wit. He turned even redder. "Didn't you? Did you lose my card?"
"No. I wasn't hungry after all."
Of course he hadn't been hungry. With this hanging over him, knowing full well how it would be - how I would be - of course he hadn't felt like eating. I don't know why, but I felt badly about that. "I'm hungry too," I offered. "I could make us something."
"Really?" He widened his eyes at me. "You'd do that?"
I didn't answer, because I couldn't think of a suitably crushing response, because the fact was I would do that. I would cook for him - for us - and what that meant I had no idea. But I got up and he got up. We showered together - because I didn't trust the little shit out of my sight, I told myself, but it was kind of fun too, the two of us under the pouring hot water. His surprised delight at the luxury of my huge stall shower pleased me so well that I invited him to sit down on the padded bench just to see his expression when he realized it was heated. He washed his hair and I washed mine, but then I scrubbed his back for him and he did the same for me. Later on we sat at the table together over the omelets I had prepared and he ate like a starving man. He ate his omelet, and four pieces of toast, and all the bacon. I was laughing at him before he was finished, and he laughed back at me.
Then we went back to bed and did it all over again - without the handcuffs. Afterwards I pulled him to me and he put his head on my shoulder and fell sound asleep. I lay awake for a few minutes, thinking - not about what had just happened, because I didn't know what to think about that, but about his beautiful face, and his soft skin, and his hair, and before I knew it I was asleep too.
Open Channel C. Kuryakin reporting. I want out of this assignment. I don't care what it takes. I'll do whatever I have to do to make up for it, but get me out. I'll be at Location 3 double E today from five to six AM so you can contact me. Kuryakin out.
Kuryakin here. What ... oh. Mr. Waverly. I didn't mean to bother you ... yes. Yes, I did. Yes sir. I know I was warned, but ... yes sir. I mean no sir. I know he ... yes, I did say that. He is recruitable. But I'm not the one ... yes sir. Thank you sir. I'm sure whoever you send in to replace me will ... what? Of course I should have all the facts at my disposal, but it won't change ... what? The fountains of the deep? No, I confess to not being as familiar with Genesis as I could be, but ... the whole county? Underwater? As a test, I see. But surely someone else ... yes, sir. I understand the time element. But surely ... you don't have to apologize to me, Mr. Waverly! I knew the risks when I came in. No, I'm fine, sir. It just ... it was more than I expected. I know I don't have to. But I will. Yes sir. Yes sir. I appreciate your confidence in me. Thank you sir. Good day to you too sir.
Entry 4. The next time I saw Illya Kuryakin was in the cafeteria at work. I can't believe I'm saying this even as I am. I woke up and he was gone. Gone! The little fucker figured out my code somehow, and not only got out without setting off the alarms but reset them from the outside! I'm the only one who is supposed to be able to do that. How pissed was I! I headed for work - after checking my computer files, you bet, checked them thoroughly but as far as I can tell he didn't get into them. Too busy running away from me. Well, he can't run far enough, and as it happened all he did was go to work. He was sitting there eating an enormous breakfast - on my account, naturally - when I walked in. Sitting there like butter wouldn't melt in his fucking mouth putting cream cheese on a bagel. I stood in the doorway with my hands on my hips and glared at him. He waved, and pulled out a chair for me.
I'll be damned. He was saving me a spot! Something inside me softened towards him because nothing like that has ever happened to me before. When I walk into Thrush's employee cafeteria - when I walk in anyplace - people avoid my gaze, focus studiously on their lunch, set files or notebooks on any empty chairs to prevent me from sitting with them. Sometimes I do anyway, just to show them that I can, but now here's this Soviet agent, this new guy, this ... partner of mine, saving me a seat. Waving me over. Angry afresh at my weakness I stalked across the floor, pulled out a chair - a different chair - and sat right next to him. And damn if he didn't offer me the bagel! I slapped it out of his hand and instantly regretted it when two people at the table beside us turned to stare. I stared back at them and they hastily packed up their food and left. Damn right.
"How the hell -" I began, then stopped. I stopped because he was smiling at me, sweet as pie.
"I'll show you," he offered. "It's a flaw in your system."
"There are no flaws in my system. I designed and implemented it myself."
"Oh." He frowned. There was a little dab of jelly on his upper lip and it made me hot. I wanted to lick it off, or, better, bite it off. Hard. "Well then I suppose I'm still in your apartment and you're dreaming." His tongue came out, retrieved the jelly, retreated into his mouth. Was he flirting with me? Taunting me? Did he think last night gave him some sort of advantage now? But before I could react to any of that, my unit beeped.
"Solo." Then I listened, said only "Yes," and disconnected. Then I looked at him. He was still eating. I've never seen anything like the way that little runt could eat. Where did he put it? Into his package, maybe. It was a good sized package. Next time we got together I'd twist it until he screamed, until he was down on his knees screaming. In lieu of that I kicked his shin under the table.
"Ow!" he said sharply and the girls at the counter beside us giggled. I kicked him harder, and he kicked me back. The girls giggled again.
"With me," I snapped, and without looking back I headed for the exit. When the door closed behind me and I was in the hall I turned to ream him a new one and he wasn't there! I saw red, but then the door slid open again and he was hurrying to catch up. The hurry appeased me a little - until I saw the reason for it. He had stopped to pack up his breakfast and bring it with him. I wanted to knock it out of his hands as I had the bagel, but we weren't alone and I had already made enough of a spectacle for one morning. "Toss it," I rapped out and he did, but he was sulking now, lower lip protruding, eyes hooded. I laughed, the sound taking me by surprise.
"You are a piece of work, Kuryakin," I said. "We have an assignment. UNCLE agents have been spotted eyeballing the building."
"Is that unusual? They know where we are, just like we know where they are. We eyeball them too."
"More than usual, higher rank than usual. We're going to take them out. Come on." With what was coming up, with what I was going to lay the groundwork for tomorrow, we couldn't have any suspicious activity going on. I didn't say any of that, of course - he didn't need to know what we were having for lunch, much less details on future assignments, but he nodded and fell into step beside me. Well, beside me and a little behind. I took him down to the basement and out the side entrance.
We waited, and watched, and soon enough I saw the three UNCLE agents standing at the hot dog stand. I recognized one - a Mark Slate - and scowled. If he was there then they were onto something. Or knew we were up to something big, even if they didn't know about the Fountains of the Deep yet.
Fountains of the Deep. What a stupid code name. Drown `Em All, is what I would have called it, but nobody asked me. All the vermin that breeds and lives and swarms on the face of the earth. Drown `em all and clear the way for men of efficiency and purpose. And speaking of purpose. I eased down the alley and got a good drop on Slate. "I'll take that one," I whispered. "You get the other two - they're close enough together. Then back the way we came while the morons - civilians - scream and scurry for cover. Got it?"
"Yes," he said and when I shot a quick glance at him he had his weapon out. Good deal. But as I aimed, he threw himself on me, knocking me to the ground. My shot went wild, my gun skittered away on the sidewalk, and - of course - the morons screamed and scurried.
I grabbed him, snatched his gun from his hand and jammed it into his mouth. Down his throat. "You're dead!" I shouted at him. He made a strangled sound through the gun barrel and rolled us over just as a series of bullets spatted onto the concrete where we had just been. Chips of cement flew, stinging my face and how close I came to pulling that trigger frankly scared the crap out of me. I didn't mean to kill him - not then - not until we sweated him in Interrogation for a few days to find out how he had wormed his way in, who sent him, and why he was here. I withdrew the gun just a little bit and the sounds he was making resolved into words - one word.
"Ambush," he choked out past the gun. "Behind us, on that roof." He gestured. "I saw him take aim."
Oh. I looked in the direction he indicated and there was no one there now but of course there wouldn't be. The angle was right for those bullets, though. I took the gun back. His mouth was bleeding and he began coughing and gagging. "Cut it out," I said and shoved him away with sufficient force that his head rapped smartly on the concrete. He grunted in pain and I laughed. I sat there on the sidewalk, my gun in my hand, and laughed at him. "You are the biggest fucking babycrier I have ever worked with. What is the story with that?"
"I already told you that I don't believe in wasting resources on things that make no difference," he returned, and spat blood onto the ground. "Aren't those sirens?"
They were, so we made a tactical retreat, back into our basement. "A trap," I said, watching him run his tongue over his teeth, no doubt checking that they were all still there and tight in their sockets. `They dangled Slate in front of us, and stationed their sharpshooters behind us, on the roof."
He stopped at a drinking fountain and rinsed his mouth. "Evidently so."
Then the little shit had saved my life. At considerable risk to his own, I had to admit, because if the sharpshooters' bullets hadn't taken him out instead of me, I might have done it for them. I almost had. I could still feel us rolling over, the gun jammed down his throat, my finger on the trigger. But why had he done it? He could have - should have - hung back, watched me go down, finished the assignment on his own and taken the credit. I looked at him hard. "Why did you do that? The truth!" Suddenly I had him up against the wall, feet not even touching the floor, my fist twisted in his suit collar, nearly strangling him. "Why?" But his face was turning blue and it was obvious he couldn't have answered me if he had wanted to. I dropped him and he kept his footing.
"Will you stop beating me up?" he complained. "You're the boss, you're the alpha. I get it. What do you want me to do, roll over on my back and piss myself?"
"Well, if I ever do you better duck. Because I'll aim right for your mouth which would probably be flapping as usual. What do you mean why? I'm your partner, aren't I?"
My partner. For a moment I couldn't even deal with the original insult. My partner. At my back, guarding it. Looking out for me. Then I slapped his face. "You piss anywhere in the vicinity of my face and I'll cut off your dick and stuff it up your ass."
"Flapping again," he said, and - once more - I had to laugh. There he stood, straightening his jacket where I had rumpled it, the mark of my hand showing on his cheek, that blond hair tousled, those blue eyes ... laughing back at me. Damned if he wasn't laughing with me. I picked a chunk of sidewalk off his lapel and he reached up, brushed my hair lightly. A shower of cement dust came down. And then we were just looking at one another. Partners, I thought, then a new suspicion stabbed at me. Had the whole thing been a set up? Just to get me to trust him? But how could that be? He couldn't have known that those UNCLE agents would be there, and no way could he have been sure that I wouldn't have just blown his head off. I scowled at him.
"This makes no sense to me," I told him bluntly. "And when things don't make sense, I get antsy."
"It makes perfect sense," he returned. "I need you. I need your protection. I'm a target here, because of where I come from, who I used to work for and - not least - the way I look. But they'll think twice about coming after Napoleon Solo's partner. As long as you're alive and in command, I'm safe. Well." He gave a twitch of his shoulders. "As safe as can reasonably be expected. You're going to rise high, Napoleon. Everybody knows it. Thrush Central for sure, and sooner rather than later. If you take me with you I can spit on everyone who considers me nothing but a KGB whore. Not to mention I can avoid the little retirement gift down the line."
Now how the devil did he know about that? I looked hard into those eyes, which looked back at me. They were blue, and beautiful, seemingly without guile but unreadable too. I might as well have been peering into the Mariana Trench. Depths upon depths upon depths, with predators lurking under the surface. But he had a point. With my influence he was better off than without it. And as long as that held true, I could - what? Not trust him, certainly not. But maybe I could rely on him to a certain degree. Maybe I could.
"Thank you," I said finally. "For whatever self serving reason, you saved my hide."
"Don't mention it," he returned.
"I won't." I was uncomfortable now. I needed to go upstairs and report to my superiors, and I needed to give the whole matter of Illya Kuryakin some serious thought - without the distraction of his physical presence. "You haven't had a chance to settle in to your new apartment, have you?"
"Take the rest of the day. Report to my office first thing tomorrow morning for a briefing. Pack. We're taking a trip upstate. Yes?" I cursed myself for that last because it sounded as if I were consulting with him and I wasn't, of course. I was telling him. He nodded. "Dismissed."
Open Channel C. Kuryakin reporting. That was quick thinking on someone's part, shooting at us from behind. Tell Mark he's too recognizable. Doesn't matter how effectively you're lounging around the hot dog stand when they know your face. They're not stupid over here, you know. They made the three of you as UNCLE agents, they made Mark, and now they - he - thinks you're on to their new project. Knows you're on to it. We're going upstate tomorrow, presumably to check out their target range. Stay out of sight. Better yet, stay away. Kuryakin out.
The little beach was swarming with morons. We had spread out our towels and settled down early enough to get a prime spot. I was walking along the edge of the water, with what looked to the casual observer like a metal detector. It was actually a sonar range finder. Illya was beside me - as usual - and I was telling him about the Fountains of the Deep.
"We can unlock the springs and underground lakes and bring them to the surface," I said, concentrating on what the little screen was telling me. "This place is a perfect test site." I looked around at the Adirondack Mountains, surrounding us. "It's like living at the bottom of a soup bowl. The water will rise and fill this valley. Everything ..." I waved my arm ... "under water. And assuming it works, this will be only the beginning. By the time we're finished the remaining dregs of humanity will be clinging to the mountain tops and grateful enough for the chance to serve us in exchange for their miserable lives."
"Really?" He looked dubious. "I know a party line when I hear it, and I can think of a hundred things that could go wrong. It all sounds far fetched to me, Napoleon."
I laughed. And reflected that I had laughed more in the past few days than in the entire year that had preceded it. Something about this short skinny blond, with his clipped, almost British tones, tickled my funny bone. Tickled something else, too. I set that aside for later. We were sharing a cheap motel room and I was going to fuck him tonight until his eyes crossed. And I wasn't going to trouble myself overmuch to see that he liked it. I'd made my point. I could make him like it any time I wanted. I didn't have to invest that kind of energy again ... unless I wanted to. He had been on fire once I'd gotten him going.
He was still talking. "For one thing, positions of river channels might actually change under the pressure, requiring us to make hurried recalculations and alterations to our positions. For another, the erosion pattern is not readily predictable. It could be our headquarters toppling into the water, no matter how we planned it out. Not to mention the possibility of diseases after the fact. Germs don't have much regard for ... ow! Damn you!"
I had scooped up a handful of sand and thrown it into his face. "Shut up. Nobody asked you."
"We're not really doing part two, are we. We're going to ask for money and other concessions not to." He was wiping sand out of his eyes as he spoke and, temporarily blinded, stepped into a hole dug by some brat and fell. I gave him a good kick on the bicep and moved on. He was behind me in a moment, still talking. "Now look what you've done," he complained. "I think I sprained my ankle."
"Shut up, I said." I was furious. Furious, because he was right. Of course we weren't going to inundate the earth even if the results had been more predictable. Our scientists had already pinpointed the exact same issues. We were only going to bleed the world dry - ha. Bleed it dry or drown it out. But the fewer who knew that the better. He was too smart for his own damn good. I turned to tell him so, and caught him limping.
I rounded on him with such fury - fury at myself, mostly, because if he was lame he'd be less use to me and it would be my fault for that impulsive gesture with the sand - that he recoiled and would have fallen again if I hadn't caught him. I pulled him against my side, twisting his arm surreptitiously, because I didn't want to make a public scene. "What the devil is wrong?" I hissed.
"I told you," he answered sullenly, and there went that lip again, thrust out like a five year old's. "I twisted my ankle in that hole. Let go of me."
I did, with a little flourish, and down he went again. I knelt beside him, and when I saw his ankle, swelling almost as I watched it, the purple bruising spreading under that fair skin, I wanted to kick myself. "Well, that's just great," I said disgustedly. "We're supposed to reconnoiter this whole stretch of shoreline, and then go into town and look at their sewer grates. Water's going to geyser out of them once we've set off the charges and we need to know exactly where it'll come first and hardest. And now you're useless to me."
"Fuck you," he said, and before I could react to that a piercing scream rose from behind us.
"Jimmy! Jimmy no no no oh my God!"
I turned to look for the source of the sound and there was a woman frantically plunging into the water, fully clothed. Her arms were outstretched and she kept screaming "Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy!"
"Mama! Help me!" A very faint wail and when I spun around in the direction of her desperate reaching I saw a head out beyond the ropes. A small head and two tiny arms flailing at the water.
I was in before I thought. I'm a good swimmer - a very good swimmer. I stroked out in a powerful crawl because I could already tell that the woman would never make it in time. How the child had gotten so far out unseen and unprotected I couldn't imagine, but it didn't matter. What mattered was the agony in those voices - grief and despair in hers, terror in his. I couldn't bear it. It reminded me too forcibly of Korea, of those black haired children burning alive in their huts, screaming for their mothers and I unable to do a thing about it, pinned down by ... I choked on the word, even in my mind ... friendly fire. So I swam as hard as I could towards the place where I had last seen the child's head. It was gone now, but reappeared briefly, close enough for me to see the wet little face, scrunched up, see the mouth open again, and then under he went. I took a deep breath and dove beneath the surface.
It was dark and murky, sand roiling about, stinging my eyes. I groped, went deeper ... and I had him! I pulled for the surface and when our faces broke it he wailed, choking and coughing and crying. I hauled him back in, to be met midway by a tangle of people's arms and grasping hands. I struck them aside and then his mother fell on us, still crying, clutching him and he clutched her too.
"Jimmy! Jimmy you bad boy! Oh thank God, thank You God, thank you sir thank you!" I nodded my acknowledgment of her gushing gratitude and waded ashore, ignoring the other people who crowded around, trying to talk to me.
Great. Just fucking great. Now we were the center of attention and where was my sonar rod? They'd skin me alive at headquarters for this if they knew, and they would know because that little bastard I was partnered with would ... well, at least he'd had the sense to grab the sonar. He was leaning on it, hiding the control panel which wouldn't fool anybody into thinking it was a metal detector if they got a good look at it, and making a slow, limping progress towards the parking lot. No one was paying him any attention, and when I reached the car he was tucking the device into the trunk. He tossed me the keys and I pulled out, hearing sirens as beach rescue - too late, of course, they would have been far too late - pulled up.
He pushed his seat as far back as it would go so he could stretch his legs out and gave me a sideways look. I returned it with my most ferocious scowl. "If one word of this ..."
"It won't," he returned. "But it was rather a futile exercise, don't you think?"
"Stupid, harebrained and ridiculous - but hardly futile. I got him, in case you didn't notice."
"Drowning today or drowning a week from today - what difference?" He shrugged, but he was looking at me very hard now and I stared back at him, shaken. For a moment there I had forgotten. I had really forgotten that this entire place would be an inland sea one week from today. Then he said "Look out! Stop, Napoleon!" I did, without even turning my head to see why, and when I did turn my head a chrome bumper filled my vision. I pounded on the horn.
"Stupid fucker, get out of the middle of the road!"
"It's a red light, Napoleon." And he was looking at me very curiously now. "Do you want me to drive?"
I backhanded him across the face and he crashed into the door. Then my door was yanked open so fast I would have tumbled out if Illya hadn't grabbed my arm and pulled me back. An angry red face was thrust inside the car, right at me.
"Who you honking at asswipe? I'm sitting at a red light! And come on out here and pick a fight with somebody your own size!"
"Get out of my car!" I said, too astonished at this rapid sequence of events to be truly angry. "Who the devil do you think you are?"
"You okay there, buddy?" he said, but he was talking to Illya now, not me. "You need a lift somewhere?"
"No, I'm fine," Illya said, and smiled at him. "And I apologize for blowing the horn at you. Sometimes ..." he fluttered his eyelashes. "Sometimes I'm so bad I need a little discipline."
"Damn faggots," the man snapped, but he backed off. "Make a right at this corner and keep on going. We don't like your kind here."
"Fuck off," I said automatically, and shut the car door. He stomped away and got back in his truck. I looked at Illya. "Discipline, huh? You're looking for some, that's for damn sure."
"I thought it was preferable to him calling the police on you. You have the light."
I pulled away, careful now to watch the road, watch my speed, watch my temper. But I couldn't control the images swarming in my brain. Images of that same mother, struggling to stay afloat in surging floodwaters, trying to hold Jimmy up for one more moment, one more breath, one more second of life. I heard him crying `Mama! Help me!' "Shut up!" I yelled, and Illya turned in his seat.
"I'm not saying anything. Napoleon ..."
"Nothing. Well - my foot really hurts. Could we stop in the motel for a little bit so I could take a breather and put some ice on it?"
He was trying to save my face, I could tell. Because it was me that needed to get back to the room and take a breather. I knew it, and he knew it too. But it was a good idea, and I accepted it, although with poor grace.
"Fine. Put ice on it. Put a whole damn glacier on it."
"Thank you," he said, and neither one of us uttered another word after that.
But I couldn't stop thinking about the Fountains of the Deep. It pissed me off, but I couldn't help it. A man pushed a baby stroller across the street in front of us and I saw the water taking the stroller, whirling it around, him trying to catch it and not succeeding. A dog barked at us in the motel parking lot and I saw it clawing at a plank, trying to get on top, both dog and plank rolled under and submerged. The maid was pushing a cart of linens as I took out the key to our room. She greeted us in Spanish and I saw her floating face down, dark hair swirling around her head.
Easy to call them morons. Easy to think the world would be better off without them. Until I looked at them. And once I started looking at them, I couldn't stop. We ordered pizza, and when I opened the door to the pimply adolescent delivery boy I saw him climbing a tree, mouth wide open and screaming. The couple in the room next to us had a shouting match and I wondered if the man would try to save her when the flood came, despite their raging at one another over the choice of television program. I stood at the window, holding my untouched slice of pizza and saw a church bus pull in. A crowd of teenagers poured out, pushing and shoving and laughing and I saw them all - all, on that bus, going off the road into the water, them clawing at the windows trying to escape, the driver perhaps throwing open the emergency exit on top only to have the dark waters pour in.
There would be screaming and crying and people trying to climb onto the buildings, trying to swim, clinging to trees. There would be parents everywhere carrying children, babies, trying, like Jimmy's mother would try, to hold them up, only to have them torn from their arms and spun into darkness. It would be a desperate clawing terrible struggle for survival and then ... then it would be over. No more outcries, no more struggles. Just silence, and the bodies in the water.
And for what? To line the pockets and increase the power of the men above and around me. The men I despised. Just as I had despised the army brass who had ordered the burning of that village, to teach the civilians - the gooks - a lesson. Rumor had had it that this village had sheltered the enemy. Well, of course they had. The enemy were their sons and daughters, their husbands and fathers. And we had burned them alive.
I had wanted to help. I was so idealistic back then, I couldn't believe we were doing this. I had wanted to help and, to be fair, several men in my unit had also wanted to help, but our own platoon kept firing over our heads to keep us there once they had seen what we were trying to do. And who had gotten the fucking medals afterwards? And who had been captured? Who had spent years in a POW camp being tortured and killed until only two of us were left at the end?
I had never looked back on my release. I had accepted Thrush's offer and forced my way up the ranks because it would never be me again, betrayed and imprisoned and tortured and dying. Not me, not Napoleon Solo. I would be the man in charge from now on, I would be the one to say who lived, and who ... who died.
I lay on my back in bed and stared at the ceiling. The church bus rolled over and over in the new channels the rivers would cut, the Mexican maid floated face down, her linens and cart tangling in her limbs, dragging her under. The baby's stroller was borne away while the father ran after it, waist then chest deep in water, falling farther and farther behind, crying some unknown name. The pimply teenager tried to swim to safety, only to be struck by the church bus, ground under together, all those young lives. A woman and her daughter clung to one another as their house filled with water, as their heads bumped against the ceiling, as the water filled the room and their embrace loosened and they drifted together among the detritus of their former lives. Nurses and orderlies tried to evacuate the hospitals, pushing patients on gurneys and were met by the onrushing water. Police officers and firefighters died trying to save the doomed public. School alarm bells rang but there was nowhere to go; students climbed up on desks and teachers tried to maintain order only to drown all together.
"Mama!" Jimmy cried and "Jimmy Jimmy no no no" the woman screamed. And screamed and screamed and screamed until a hand was clamped over my mouth and the screaming stopped.
"Napoleon! Wake up! Wake - don't kill me!" Illya's voice, sharp in my ears, then stopping abruptly with a gurgle. Illya's hand, over my mouth, then clawing at my wrists. Illya's body, on top of mine in the narrow twin bed. Illya's face, contorted and purple as I choked the life out of him.
I released him and shoved him off the bed, onto the floor. My throat was raw from screaming, I lay there panting and then he was back, peering intently into my eyes. "Napoleon?" he rasped, then coughed. "Are you all right?"
"I'm not a monster!" I shouted at him. "It's necessary! Necessary for ..." and that was as far as I got. It was as if I had been torn open, as if the hard shell I had formed around myself had shattered and underneath was - what? Weakness. Softness and weakness and all in front of this KGB agent, this Thrush spy, this ... but what was he doing? Stroking the hair off my face - why? Getting back on the bed, putting both arms around me. Holding me.
And I broke wide open. What the North Koreans had been unable to do, with all their refinements of torture, what Thrush had been unable to do with their brutal training and conditioning, what UNCLE had been unable to do with their drugs and questioning on the occasions they had captured me, Illya Kuryakin did with strong arms and a gentle voice. I wept like a child and he held me and rocked me a little and smoothed my hair back. Sleep was coming over me like a great tidal wave and I welcomed the wave because it was only right that I should drown too, like everybody else. But they wouldn't. I would thwart Thrush's plan - our plan - and let the shit fall where it would. The wave came down on me, covering me with its darkness but I didn't drown after all. I floated, safe in Illya's embrace, safe in this silent compassion that held me up. "I'll stop this. No more deaths," I heard myself say, as if from a great distance, as if from fathoms deep, and I felt him nod.
"Tell me, and we'll stop it together," he said and I did. I told him everything, every detail, and as I did so I knew it would stop. It would stop because ... for one moment it seemed that I knew something very important, that I knew everything, and then I knew nothing at all.
Open Channel C. Here are the coordinates for the testing ground for the Fountains of the Deep. You can move. But don't touch Napoleon Solo. He's coming to us. I'm bringing him in and I'm doing it my own way. Anyone who harms him will answer for it. Kuryakin out.
They kicked the door in sometime in the early hours of the morning. The room was suddenly flooded with men in black suits, holding Thrush rifles, shouting abuse. I came to my feet instantly and looked for Illya - and didn't see him. Where had he gone? And why ... from outside came the sound of sirens and explosions and I thought dazedly that the Fountains of the Deep must have been implemented early, that Thrush's soldiers had come to get us out. But the guns were pointed at me, and in the face of that bristling forest of artillery I dropped my handgun, raised my hands.
"What the hell is going on?" I rasped and one of the men - Doyle, I recognized him from headquarters, shouted at me, face purple.
"You traitor! You fucking traitor! You called UNCLE with the coordinates, with the details of the plan, and now it's all over! They've moved in, disassembled our devices and arrested everyone they could get their hands on - too many for coincidence! They know everything! What the hell have you done?"
"Me?" I said in astonishment, because I had done nothing yet. "I didn't ..." and then I knew. I knew it as if I had read UNCLE's files. Illya Kuryakin. Of course. I had known something was hinky all along and now he had sold us out - sold me out. What a fool I was! I laughed out loud and Doyle stared at me in disbelief.
"You think this is funny?"
"It's fucking hilarious," I said, and saw their weapons steady on me, saw Doyle's arm go up for the order. But before they could shoot a voice rang out from behind me - from the bathroom.
"Hands up! You're all surrounded! Drop your weapons and surrender before we shoot you where you stand."
It was a good try. It might have worked if Doyle hadn't stationed a small army in the parking lot and knew full well he wasn't surrounded. But the authority in Kuryakin's voice bought me another moment of life and then he was standing in front of me, between me and them. "It's me you want to shoot," he said, shifting course smoothly. "Not him. He didn't know."
Doyle stared. Then it was his turn to laugh. He threw his head back and roared. "The hell you say! The great Napoleon Solo, taken in by an UNCLE spy? The mighty Napoleon Solo, standing here with his pants and his mouth open? And me without my camera. Shoot you. Yeah, you'd like that, wouldn't you? And maybe we will, but not for a while yet. A long while. We're going to take you apart, piece by bloody screaming piece, and only when you've told us everything - and you will - can you die. Take him in. And ..."
"Not without me," I snarled, and grabbed Illya's arm, twisted it, pulling him against me. "I've got some techniques you've never heard of, sonny. I'll have him spilling his guts before you can count one," I dug my fingers into his shoulder, exerting a downward pressure. "Two, three!" He dropped like a stone as I released him, scooped up my gun and opened fire. I shot Doyle first, then turned my weapon on the men behind him. Illya came to his feet by my side, Doyle's automatic in his hands and between us we mowed them down. Then, before the men outside could push their way in, we ran into the bathroom. I boosted him out the window and he pulled me up. Together, we leapt to the ground. Together, we ran for cover. I heard him talking and when I looked over he had a communicator out and was giving terse orders. "Alive!" he was saying sharply. "He's coming in alive or I swear ..." A helicopter drowned out his words, and when I looked up I saw the globe signal that meant my worst enemy was coming for me. But my enemies were behind me, too, moving in from the parking lot. The helicopter's weapons spoke and some of Doyle's men fell while the rest scattered. Except for one man who turned, pointed a gun at me, directly at me, and fired.
The impact knocked me backwards and I sprawled onto the ground. Oddly enough, it didn't hurt at all, although there seemed to be a weight on me, pressing me down. The disorientation only lasted for a moment, though, and then I realized that the weight on me was Illya. Illya, too limp and still. Illya, pouring blood. Blood from the bullet that had been meant for me.
I rolled him off and crouched over him, oblivious to the gun battle still raging around us. I tore off my shirt and applied direct pressure to the wound in his back, pressed hard, relieved beyond speech when he groaned in pain. "You are such a fucking crybaby," I said, and my voice broke. "Hang in there, Illya. Your people are coming."
"We're here," said a voice beside me and I looked up. A man wearing grey coveralls was standing there, one hand on a sling that had come down from the helicopter. Without answering him I helped him get Illya into it, gave him my belt and watched him tighten it around Illya's chest, holding the bloody wad of my shirt in place. The man waved. "Take him up!" he called and Illya stirred, shook his head. He reached out, clutched at my sleeve.
"Not without Solo," he said, and coughed. "I'm not leaving him here for them - or for you." The bucket began to rise and Illya struggled, thrashing in the seat.
"Cut it out!" I snapped at him. "You're only making it worse. Now look what you've done." He had dislodged the shirt, and the blood was leaking out. I readjusted it, tightened the belt. "I'll be fine."
"Slate!" The other man yelled. "Is there room in the chopper for Solo? Illya's flipping out."
"I am not flipping out!" Illya said, in outraged tones. "I am insistent. I am adamant. I am ..." he began coughing and I stepped back, out of his reach.
"Hurt," I said. "You're hurt. Let them take care of you. I'll be fine."
The other man sighed. "Yes, you will. We'll bring you along." And sure enough, when the bucket returned empty he helped me into it, waved, and up I went. Up and away from the fight raging below - and where were the civilians while this was going on? Where was Jimmy, and where was his mother? What of the couple in the room beside us? Those bullets were flying everywhere.
"You need to end this," I said urgently as I scrambled out of the bucket, crouched again beside Illya and watched it descend for the final passenger. "That motel's full of civilians. The whole damn town is full of civilians."
"Town yes, motel no. We got them out before we moved in."
"You did!" I stared at him. "There was a man and a woman in the room next to us. Did you - "
"Those two! They fought all the way to the refugee center! I was afraid to leave a weapon where they could reach it in case they shot each other! Then when we got there they collapsed into each other's arms and cried. Damndest thing. I'm surprised you'd care, Solo. They'd all be underwater if you and your buddies had your way."
"No," Illya said thickly. "He told me, he ... ow! Damn you, Mark! Stop fooling with that!"
"Just trying to make you more comfortable," Mark Slate said soothingly. "Now just let me - Illya, don't make me knock you out."
"I'd like to see you try it," Illya said, but his voice was weaker now and even as I watched him his eyes rolled back in his head and he passed out. Terror filled me, stark terror. I groped for a pulse, and when I didn't find one I cried out.
"No! Not for me, don't die for me, you ..." but Mark was nodding at me reassuringly and his fingers were strong on Illya's wrist. "You fucking moron," I finished, rather feebly, and sat down beside Illya. Then I looked around, and raised my hands in surrender.
"Well, you've got me," I said. "It took a fucking army, but you got me." But it hadn't, of course. It had taken one short blond, that was all, and he had indeed gotten me. He'd gotten me good.
They let me see him, before my interrogation began. He lay in a hospital bed, heavily bandaged, face paper white. Needles and tubes seemed to be everywhere, and when he tried to talk the breathing tube interfered. He became so agitated, trying to pull it out, fighting them when they prevented him, that the doctor relented and removed it himself. "We're only going to have to reinsert it," he warned, and Illya shook his head.
"Don't need it," he rasped, and coughed. Then he looked up at me, plucked at my sleeve. I sat down on the bed.
"Stupid theatrics," I growled at him. "You could have just hollered at me to duck."
"I'll remember that for next time," he returned, and coughed some more. I pushed the hair back from his face and my hand was gentle, not rough as I'd fully intended. He smiled at me.
"Are you coming over to us?" he asked, and I shrugged.
"Doubt that you'd really take me."
"Oh, we'll take you. I'm not going to lie to you, Napoleon. You have a bad time ahead of you. Interrogation and reconditioning isn't fun."
"Like you'd know," I grumbled. I'd heard enough about Illya Kuryakin while I waited for him to regain consciousness to know how highly he was regarded. Evidently he had carried out most of his missions overseas, in Asia and Eastern Europe, which was why Thrush North America didn't know him. Our lack of mutual trust and cooperation had screwed us over once again. Illya Kuryakin was UNCLE's best, and we hadn't recognized him. I supposed I should be flattered, that UNCLE had sicced him on me. Illya was rolling his eyes.
"Yes, everyone is so fond of the KGB. They welcome our men in with open arms, a seven course meal and a featherbed. I know all about what you're facing, Napoleon. But when it's over, it's over."
I stared at him. "You - they put you through that? All of it? But now ... now you're their fair haired boy."
"What an interesting choice of words." He coughed some more, and there was blood on his sleeve when he finished. "I'll wait for you. When they release you, I'll be there. But ..." he waved away the doctor, who was approaching him with the breathing tube in his hand. "You'd better not," he threatened me weakly. "Not hit me anymore. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to take you down."
"When I get out," I said, "you can try it."
"It's a date," he said, and shut his eyes. The medical team closed around him and that was the last I saw of Illya Kuryakin for a very long time.
Calling what lay ahead of me bad was putting it mildly. They drugged me, questioned me for endless hours, used some sort of machine on me, electrodes at my temples, on top of my head, on the back of my neck. They kept it up for what felt like eons, and by the time they eased off I couldn't have told you the location of Thrush's local headquarters, my own home away from home. Like a magnet, they had pulled all my knowledge out of me, and transferred it to themselves. But I had to give them credit. They let me sleep, for one thing. They fed me, for another. And while the whole process was tortuous, actual torture had not been used. They certainly hadn't taken me apart piece by bloody screaming piece, as Doyle had put it to Illya.
But they emptied me out, broke me down, reduced - or returned - me to the Korean GI who had begun his career with such high hopes. I was once again that young fool I had so often scorned, and also an old man, worn and useless. I felt raw, as if my skin had been peeled off.
What I didn't feel like was someone who wanted to rule the world, who wanted to smash the existing structure into atoms and rebuild it to his liking. Having once seen the civilians as people, I couldn't get out of the habit. I looked at the pretty young nurse who monitored my vital signs, and, when she didn't like what she saw, scolded my interrogators. I admired her for having the strength of her convictions, for taking her profession so seriously. I looked at the orderly who brought me my meals, and when she sported a sparkling new engagement ring I was happy for her. I even looked at my interrogators and saw men who were doing their jobs, and moreover trying to do them in a decent, humane way. I had been wrong about so many things that I shouldn't have been surprised to find I had been wrong about UNCLE too, but I was.
They should despise me. Why didn't they despise me - or at least, how could they act as if they didn't? When Mark Slate walked in, I asked him. He grinned at me.
"Illya says that underneath it all, you're a decent man," he said. "And Illya's good opinion means something. You put him through it, though, mate. I'd knock you down if I weren't scared he'd come after me."
It was funny, the way they all talked about Illya. There was no intimacy implied - I didn't get the impression that Illya was buddy buddy with anybody, but they admired him all right. It gave me hope. He had come in from the other side, just like I had. And now he was a respected, productive member of their team. Maybe I too had a future ahead of me, a future where I could try again to remake the world into a place where babies weren't burned alive in their beds. I couldn't imagine, now, what I had been thinking, to join Thrush. I had become the men I despised. I had become my own enemy. And now ... now what?
"I'm sorry," I said awkwardly, to the grey haired man sitting beside me in the small, bare room. There was nothing in there but two chairs, for the two of us. Me - former Thrush agent, current prisoner, and him. Alexander Waverly. How many plots had we hatched to get rid of him? To kill him, kidnap him, discredit him? Looking at him now, I was fiercely glad that we had failed each and every time. Mr. Waverly had gone over my file with me, the whole thing and had finished by asking me, with all courtesy, what I wanted to do now.
"For I do not wish you to feel that we have bound you in a sort of indentured servitude, Mr. Solo. You have ended the threat of the Fountains of the Deep, and set us on to fully half of Thrush Central's members. A great many evil schemes have been thwarted, thanks to you, and Thrush delivered a setback from which they may never fully recover. If you wish to start afresh, we will provide you with a new identity and a new life."
"So you don't want me working for you," I said, and was surprised at the depths of my disappointment. "I understand, sir." Even my language seemed to have changed. The harsh, short, brutal sentences I had jerked out previously seemed unnecessary as well as unseemly now. I no longer needed to shield myself with them. "But of course you don't want me. Who would? I'm sorry sounds inadequate, to say the least. But I am sorry, Mr. Waverly, for the harm I have done. If I have managed to make up for some of it, I am glad."
"Oh, we want you, Mr. Solo. But only if that is what you freely choose."
"It is," I said, my heart full to bursting.
"Very well. Now we have moved your personal financial assets into a new account. You have full access, of course. Thrush would no doubt like to get their hands on it as well as on you, and you will have to be on a high security level of protection, but if you become one of our enforcement agents that would be necessary in any event. Your immediate circle of former co-workers and superiors, who might have sought a personal revenge, have been eliminated, one way or another, in the course of recent events. You currently know less about their operations than most of our other agents. As to who would want you, there is already a request on record to have you as a field partner. If you feel you and Mr. Kuryakin can work together, I have no objection."
"Mr. Kuryakin has requested me as his field partner?" The final remnants of my former self seemed to fall away. Illya wanted me? Still? After everything, despite everything? "That ... that is where my future lies?" At Illya's side? Fighting to make the world a better place for all the Jimmies and their mothers? I was unaware that I was smiling until I saw it reflected on Waverly's face.
"Yes, Mr. Solo. Does that suit?"
"Yes," I said fervently. "Oh, yes. It does."
"Then you are dismissed. He will brief you more fully. We would like you to take six weeks off, before reporting to work. The procedures to which you have been subjected are not so easily shaken off. We have found that it is best to take the time to recover."
"Did Illya take the time?" I asked, remembering Illya's words. Waverly regarded me for a moment, as if weighing what, and how much, to tell me.
"Mr. Kuryakin locked himself in his apartment and licked his wounds in solitude for the entire six week span," he said finally, and I looked back at him, without words. "I strongly suspect that left to your own devices, you might do the same. Therefore you are on personal leave and, as per his request, so is he." Then he leaned forward, tapped my knee. Those eyes were suddenly very sharp on my own.
"There is a strong case to be made both against, and for, field partners being emotionally and or physically involved with one another. I take these situations on a case by case basis. I have the utmost faith in Mr. Kuryakin's integrity and his professionalism, and I believe I may repose the same belief in you. That's all, Mr. Solo."
The same belief in me. Nothing in my life had ever touched me as much, or roused in me such fierce determination to live up to this man's words. I wanted to say so, but he had risen and turned towards the door. I cleared my throat. "Thank you, sir," I said and he gave me a brisk nod and went out ahead of me.
Illya was waiting for me in the hall. Just when I had thought I was filled to bursting already, there he was. Slim, blond, resolute. How could I have ever thought him one of us? He burned like a living flame; fierce, and hot, and pure. I had believed my judgment to be as flawless as a laser, but I had been wrong over and over again. Now I had been given a second chance at life - and a first chance at love. He smiled at me, a shy, heartbreakingly sweet smile, and I smiled back. Then the blue eyes danced and suddenly he looked more like a leprechaun than an angel. "Your ass, your place," he said. "Right now."
"I don't even know where my place is. I used to have -"
"You used to have a fancy penthouse on the upper West side," he said and I nodded meekly, feeling thoroughly put in my place. I'd be lucky to have a one room walk up now, no matter what Waverly had said about my personal finances. Surely my entire trust fund wasn't safe and ready for my use. Surely -"And now," he continued, "you have a fancy townhouse in the West Village. You've paid for it, first and last month's rent, two months security deposit. With an option to buy, if you like it." He handed me a thick envelope and I put it in my pocket without even looking. "I picked it out," he continued, and began walking towards the elevator. I hurried to catch up. "I like it. I may move in."
"All right," I said, surprising myself, but only a little. He could move in, he could take over - in fact wasn't he senior partner now? I wasn't exactly sure how it worked here in UNCLE, but he was established and I was new, so I was pretty sure that was how it would play out. And ... I didn't mind. He could fuck me up the ass if he wanted, and I wouldn't mind. In fact ... I quickened my pace. He grinned up at me. I tousled his hair and he pushed his head against my hand like a cat asking to be stroked. I obliged, and we got onto the elevator and smiled at one another all the way down.
It was a beautiful townhouse. Three floors, elegant Georgian style, shining hardwood floors, fully furnished. Plenty of room for two, if he really meant it. "So," I said finally, after he had shown me around and we had ended up, as I had known we would, in the master bedroom. "You're senior partner now?"
"Yes. I'll dump the paperwork on you as soon as we return from vacation."
"And your other prerogatives?" I tried to say it lightly but I must have failed, because he turned to look at me and there was a curious tenderness in his eyes.
"What do you think?" he whispered, and I swallowed hard.
" I think I'd like to kiss you now," I answered honestly. "If that's all right with you."
"I think I'm going to like the new Napoleon Solo," he said, and slid both arms around my waist. "Not that the original model didn't have some interesting qualities."
"This is the original model," I said hoarsely. "They've stripped me right down to bare bones. What you see is what there was."
"Ah. Before Korea."
"I know the feeling." He laid his head on my shoulder, and Waverly's words washed through my mind. `Licked his wounds in solitude' he had said, and I wanted to make that up to him, wanted to give him what he was giving me. I wrapped both arms around him and held him close, resting my cheek on his hair, inhaling deeply, smelling the good clean scent of him. He sighed, and kissed my neck.
It got a little blurry after that, my senses still somewhat befuddled from the drugs and the machine and the questioning. We undressed one another and stretched out on the bed. I fully expected him to spread me wide and take me, still caught in the old mode of thinking after all - revenge, payback, turnabout's fair play. But he turned, so we were head to foot, cock to mouth. I didn't hesitate - sucking the root after all, I thought as I took him in my mouth. A fucking queer, that's me. And when his lips touched me I never once thought of him hurting me, biting me. I trusted him, and he must have trusted me too because he was letting me do this thing, this intimate vulnerable thing, just as I was letting him. Letting him do it, loving him doing it. Loving him. I loved him with everything I had, with my lips and my tongue, my hands, sliding down his back, caressing his buttocks. He did the same and that was when I lost track of who was doing what, and what was the sequence and significance of each act. There was no room for any of that. There was only room for love - his love, and mine. Our love. Our love for one another.
"I'm sorry I tied you up," I said when it was finished and he had shifted position, drawing me into an embrace and I, for the first time in my life, found myself curling against someone else's strength, resting my head on someone else's chest, letting someone else hold me close. His heart thudded away under my ear, and I kissed the spot. He made a contented sound.
"I forgive you," he said and I knew he wasn't just saying the words. He really did forgive me, for all of it. For the ugliness and the violence and the pain. For the deliberate humiliation. `Just don't let it happen again." And he meant that too, I was sure. He forgave me for the actions of the Thrush agent I had been, but that implied no license for the future.
"It won't." No it wouldn't. I would dedicate myself - to UNCLE, of course, first and foremost to UNCLE, but Illya Kuryakin was part and parcel of all that and I would spend the rest of my life keeping any pain and shame away from him. But he was propping himself up on one elbow now and I turned over so we were staring right into one another's eyes.
"Don't beat yourself up too much, Napoleon," he said softly. "Even then, you had to make me want it first. You couldn't even get hard until I did want it. And ... I have things in my past, too, that I'm not proud of."
KGB. Yes, I supposed he did. He looked sad, and I couldn't bear it. I pulled him back down and now it was his head on my shoulder, and me cradling him. "Bygones, then," I said, and felt suddenly lighter, as if I might float off the bed if it weren't for the solid weight of him, keeping me rooted. He nodded.
"Bygones," he agreed, and fell asleep, just like that. I lay awake for a while longer, marveling at this change in my fortunes. I resolved to be worthy of it, worthy of the faith in Illya's eyes, of the approval in Waverly's voice. We - Illya and I - would be the best team UNCLE ever had. We would save the world from Thrush and the KGB and their ilk. We would save Jimmy and his mother, and the baby in the stroller and the man pushing it. And in the process, I would save my soul as well. Illya and I, we would do it all. Have it all. My arms tightened.
"I love you," I whispered, and he smiled in his sleep. I smiled back, and then I too was asleep.