The 'Ich bin ein Berliner' Affair
Illya Kuryakin was tired. As in ‘prop-me-up-in-the-nearest-corner-and-call-back-next-Tuesday’ tired. He was also irritable. Because he was tired. And because, for the last forty-eight hours, his partner had been surreptitiously casting concerned glances at him when he thought Illya wasn’t paying attention. Illya always paid attention. Especially to Napoleon Solo and especially when he was tired. It was what he did to keep them alive. So far it seemed to have worked. Considering their hair-raising journey through the alps. Illya was fairly impressed that he’d managed to hold the Mercedes on the hairpin, when their tail had spun off into oblivion and a terminal inferno. Napoleon had said very little until they arrived at the airport parking lot. Then he’d unclamped his fingers from the dash and stalked ahead of Illya into the terminal, muttering that the fact that they’d arrived unscathed was nothing short of miraculous, given Illya’s driving.
Slumped in a plastic chair at a corner table, Illya dipped the last morsel of croissant into the dregs of his café-au-lait and glared at his partner. Napoleon chose that moment to look up from ‘Le Monde’ with an expression of such wide-eyed innocence that Illya caught his breath and almost inhaled his pastry.
His partner shook his head slowly and handed him a napkin, ‘smug’ written all over his face. Illya snatched the napkin and tried unsuccessfully for nonchalance as he coughed and mopped his streaming eyes and nose. At least Napoleon had the grace to wait until Illya could breathe again before he spoke.
“Don’t,” coughed Illya. “Just don’t.”
“I was just going to say…”
Napoleon shrugged. “Okay,” he said and picked up ‘Le Monde’ again. He shook it out and disappeared behind it.
Illya lasted thirty seconds.
Napoleon peered over the top of the newspaper. “Excuse me?”
“What. Were you going to say?”
Brown eyes turned upwards and Napoleon frowned. Then his face cleared and he shook his head. “Damned if I can remember.”
Illya lunged for the newspaper and his partner flicked it away from his grasp, grinning. He folded it up and leaned forwards across the table. The concerned look was back.
“I was just going to say that you look tired, tovarich,” he said in a low voice. He sat back. “Oh, and there might have been a… crumb of advice in there about not inhaling your food...”
The intrusion of Napoleon’s communicator was closely followed by Illya’s. Napoleon was first to uncap.
“Open channel D, Solo here.”
Alexander Waverly’s voice crackled through the static. “Mr Solo, I trust Mr Kuryakin is with you?”
“Ah, yes sir. He’s just finishing his coffee.”
“Well, as important a task as that may be, I’d be grateful if he would complete it at his earliest convenience and catch the next flight to Berlin. Number one Northeast has a task for you both. Waverly out.”
The static continued to fizz as Napoleon sat blinking. Illya reached across for the communicator and recapped it. He handed it back to his partner.
“Berlin,” he muttered, the dryness in his throat nothing to do with the croissant.
“Beldon,” said his partner holding his gaze.
Illya shrugged and stood wearily. “You change the tickets, I’ll make some calls.”
By the time they landed at Tempelhof Illya’s eyes were gritty. He’d had woken as they touched down but still felt exhausted and unrefreshed. As they left the terminal building they paused then Illya nodded towards a man leaning against a Benz limousine.
“Harry’s welcome wagon,” he said, and headed towards it.
As they approached the man caught Illya’s eye but gave no sign of recognition or greeting.
“Gerald Strothers, Napoleon Solo,” Illya said shortly as they reached him, opening the rear door and tossing their bags in.
Strothers leaned away from the vehicle reluctantly to shake Napoleon by the hand.
Napoleon nodded. “A pleasure,” he murmured.
“Mr Beldon has instructed me to take you straight to headquarters.”
“Of course he has,” muttered Illya insinuating himself into the corner and giving every appearance of going straight to sleep.
Throughout the journey north Illya feigned sleep whilst Napoleon engaged Strothers in conversation.
As they pulled up outside an impressive building in the American sector, Illya spoke without bothering to open his eyes.
“Front door, Strothers? My, my, this is an honour.”
Strothers ignored him. “Mr Beldon will see you both immediately in his rooms, Mr Solo,” he said, barely waiting until Illya had exited the vehicle before accelerating away. Napoleon glanced after him as they went up the steps.
“Old friend, I presume.”
Illya merely grunted.
Harry Beldon was a revelation to Napoleon; the bearing and volume of a locomotive at full throttle, but with eyes that neither missed nor revealed anything. Napoleon found himself sinking into a huge chair with a drink in his hand almost before he could draw breath. Illya raised an eyebrow at him from his vantage point by the window where he leaned against the wall, arms folded.
Beldon opened the office door.
“No interruptions, Miss Daniken,” he bellowed, then slumped onto a chaise longue and appraised Napoleon over the top of his glass. He raised it eventually in salute.
“Your health, Mr Solo.” He drank and smacked his lips. “Ah, a fine malt. What’s your opinion?”
Napoleon sipped and nodded his approval. It was indeed a quality Scotch.
Beldon inclined his head towards Illya. “I could never persuade Illya away from that filthy lighter-fuel he drinks. I’m glad to see his new partner has more discernment.”
Napoleon noted the use of his partner’s first name by this behemoth and filed it away for future reference. He felt rather than saw Illya tense, and cast him a warning glance. “Perhaps you could fill us in on why you needed us here so quickly, Sir.”
“A Russian research physicist is coming through from the Soviet sector tonight. He wants Illya to meet him.” Beldon took another slug of his Scotch and regarded his nails.
“And?” Napoleon said, glancing at Illya. “That’s it?”
Beldon shrugged and nodded.
“Why Illya?” Napoleon said, an uncomfortable flutter in his stomach.
“Apparently the man’s familiar with a couple of the papers our little Russian produced when he was at Cambridge…”
“Only two were published,” Illya growled pushing off the wall and coming to stand behind Napoleon’s chair. “Both on quantum tunnelling, and several authors have already taken it further. What’s his interest in work that’s five years old?”
Beldon drained his glass and rose, heading for the wet bar. “You can ask him when you pick him up.” He glanced down at the heavy gold Rolex that graced his chubby wrist. “You and Mr Solo are to meet him at Charlie at 0200.”
“Premier Khrushchev’s authorising this?” Illya sounded incredulous.
Beldon put down his glass and turned, bottle in hand. “Ulbricht, more like.” He poured. “How these Communists love one another, eh?” He gave a booming laugh and picked up the glass, raising it towards them. “Well, then. Go to it gentlemen.”
Napoleon sat on the edge of his bed and reassembled his P38 once more. It was usually Illya who spent the final moments before going into the field stripping and reassembling his weapon, going over fine details and – yes – if he was honest, fussing over Napoleon to make sure he was taking everything as seriously as he should. Glancing across at the second bed Napoleon was disturbed by the sight of his partner with his hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling.
“You okay?” he said flipping on the safety and holstering the weapon.
Illya sighed and sat up, running his hands through his unruly mop. “Probably. I don’t know. I feel sluggish and I’m not used to feeling sluggish. I feel irritated and…”
“If you tell me you aren’t used to feeling irritated, I’ll know you’re a Thrush plant.”
His partner glared at him.
“Come on, IK. Give. What is it that you aren’t telling me?”
Illya stood and began to pace. “That the Premier and one of his Party bosses are playing politics is of no surprise whatsoever. What I don’t understand is why a Russian physicist of whom I’ve never heard…”
“Gregor Ivanovich Baryshnikov…”
Illya shrugged. “Why he should have heard of me and why he should ask for me to be the one to meet him.”
Napoleon stood and grabbed Illya in mid-pace. “Sit down. You’re making me dizzy. It’ll be fine. It’s a straightforward meet – passes authorised and everything.” Despite his own misgivings, Napoleon considered assuaging Illya’s sporadic pessimism to be part of his role. A small price to pay for the comprehensive skill-set the Russian brought to their partnership.
Illya raised an eyebrow. “Okay – now who’s the Thrush plant?”
Napoleon shook him gently. “So – we may have to do a scoop and run.” He shrugged. “It won’t be the first time.” “And Beldon has a full team standing by so we’re not even on our own.”
Illya frowned. Napoleon looked at him keenly.
“What? You don’t trust Beldon?”
“I don’t underestimate him,” said Illya, sitting down. “Don’t let that bonhomie and bluster fool you. It’s got him where he is today and it will get him further still. He hides behind it until there’s a moment to be seized then he’s out and back before you can blink.”
“Hanging on to Harry’s coat tails. And I wouldn’t trust him as far as you can throw the javelin.”
Napoleon smiled. “My partner the character analyst. You must give me some lessons.”
“You can’t tell me you don’t have major reservations about this.”
“Sure I have but that’s what keeps us on our mettle isn’t it?” He rubbed the Russian gently between the shoulder blades. “And I have your back.”
In the Café Adler Illya drained his coffee. He checked his watch. “I have 0048.”
Napoleon synched his own watch and nodded. “Okay.” He stood and shrugged into his overcoat. He helped his partner on with his, turned him and straightened the lapels. “You’ll do,” he said with a final pat to the blond mop.
Outside on the Friedrichstrasse the temperature hovered several degrees below zero. No matter how many times Illya had stood by Checkpoint Charlie it still gave him a shrinking feeling inside. Staring along the Friedrichstrasse into the Soviet Sector was as close as he came these days to the Russian machine, but the image of its magnitude rolling over him, crushing him, was unsettling.
To all intents and purposes he was still ‘on loan’ to the West but the tenuous nature of his position in Alexander Waverly’s organisation was rarely far from his thoughts. Not that the thoughts were universally bleak. He knew he made a difference. Correction – he and Napoleon made a difference. Together, the difference they made was occasionally shocking – sometimes even to him – and this was not lost on other sections of U.N.C.L.E. particularly, it seemed, on U.N.C.L.E. Northeast.
Strothers’ manner towards him had cooled progressively over the years since Illya had left the Berlin office for London, and thence to New York at Waverly’s behest. As Beldon’s number two, Strothers’ resentment was superficially puzzling but Illya was aware of Strothers’ ambition. Illya was in New York, with Napoleon – Waverly’s number two. A position that, despite everything, seemed infinitely less precarious than Strothers’ own.
By 0215 there was no sign of any activity on the Soviet side of the checkpoint. The cold had worked its way up through Napoleon’s feet and when one of the US Army guards passed him a mug of hot coffee he wrapped his numbed hands around it gratefully. He was taking a sip when Illya grabbed his arm almost making him drop the mug. His partner pointed to the far side of Zimmerstrasse where a lone cyclist was pedalling slowly towards the crossing.
Putting the mug down carefully Napoleon unbuttoned his overcoat and moved a step away from his partner, aware that Illya was mirroring his actions.
The cyclist continued towards Zimmerstrasse. He was almost at the crossing when he jerked and flailed backwards from the saddle to land in the road in a tangle of limbs and bicycle. Next to Napoleon, a heartbeat later, Illya gasped and spun to land face down on the icy ground.
All hell broke loose.
Amid the klaxons and searchlights Napoleon was dimly aware of dragging Illya bodily to the shelter of the checkpoint hut as shouts from the East German side were met by the panicked sounds of their American equivalents.
The figure under the bicycle had not moved.
Inside the dimly lit wooden building, Napoleon rolled Illya onto his back. Tearing open his partner’s overcoat his hands encountered warm wetness. If he’d had enough breath he’d have wailed. Illya’s eyes flickered open in a grimy, waxen face and Napoleon found he could breathe again. He’d deal later with the fact that it came out in a sob.
Illya’s breaths were shallow and muffled in pain as Napoleon felt around as carefully as he could. A sharp cry, quickly bitten off, told him he hadn’t been careful enough.
“Sorry, tovarich,” he murmured, feeling for the wound.
“I think…” gasped Illya. “I think it’s a scratch… but it may have caught a rib.”
The door burst open at that point and a General poked his head in.
“Any civilians here?” he panted.
Napoleon looked at Illya and they both shook their heads. The General left. Illya tried to sit up and moaned.
“Keep still!” Napoleon helped him to get his back against a wall then found a field dressing in a first aid locker.
“Can you hold this in place?” Napoleon said gently. “I need to find out what’s happening.”
Illya waved him away.
Outside, the area between the East and West checkpoints was bathed in spotlights from both sectors. In the middle lay the cyclist, unmoving and with a dark pool spreading from under the bicycle. The klaxons stopped abruptly. Cars drew up alongside and military personnel began to gather on both sides of the wall. Blood. Adrenaline. Cordite. Not the most pacific atmosphere. Napoleon spun, hand already reaching for his weapon, as someone grabbed his shoulder.
“What the fuck happened here, Solo?” Beldon’s icy tone was uncompromising. “Where’s Illya?”
“Sniper, Sir,” Napoleon responded tightly. “Illya’s inside.” He inclined his head towards the hut.
Napoleon examined Beldon’s face carefully and read nothing. “Wounded, Sir. He’ll need medical attention.”
Beldon turned away. “It’s a complete cock-up,” he grunted over his shoulder. “I expect your report on my desk by 0600.”
Napoleon closed the door behind him and leaned against it loosening his tie. In the bed nearest the window Illya slept on, hair haloed out on the pillow, the frown-line between his eyes deep with pain, even in sleep.
Napoleon crossed the room, tossing his damp overcoat and suit coat on the second bed. He sat on the edge of Illya’s bed and leaned in to stroke a few strands of damp hair from his partner’s forehead. Illya moaned in his sleep and opened eyes fogged with opiates. Napoleon left his hand where it was, gently carding his fingers through the hair.
“Hi,” he said.
Napoleon checked his watch. “Almost six. You ready for some dinner?”
“Breakfast tomorrow, dinner tonight if you’re up for it.”
Illya rolled and winced as he sat upright. He moaned and clutched at his side. Napoleon sat down next to him and laid a comforting hand on his back. He sighed.
“It came from behind, you know.”
Illya rubbed his eyes as though to clear them. “Shto…?”
“The shot that hit you came from our sector. And the one that killed Baryshnikov.”
Napoleon felt his partner’s back tense under his hand. He slid it up to the corded neck and began gently to knead the taut muscles there.
“Ublyudki…!” breathed Illya after a moment.
Napoleon continued his rhythmic kneading, saying nothing. Finally Illya spoke.
“All the time I was in Berlin… and the two years in London… they never tried. Why now?”
Napoleon added a second hand to his work. “Maybe the stakes are higher,” he said. “We’re damn good, you know. And folk are starting to notice.” He dug a thumb into a knot and Illya winced. “Sorry, my friend.” He soothed the spot with a caress. “It’s true, though. Our clear-up rate is the highest in Northwest – probably world-wide if the truth be told.”
Now awake, and rocking into the kneading with little grunts and moans, Illya protested. “Okay, then why are they not trying to liquidate you?”
Napoleon huffed a laugh. “Ah Illya, they are. But they have to get past you first and you don’t let them. The only time they get anywhere near me is when they think they’ve already neutralised you.” He stopped kneading. “I thought they’d succeeded this time…” he said in a low voice, appalled to find that he had to grip his partner’s shoulders harder to stop his hands from shaking.
“Ow!” said Illya, twisting from his grasp and turning to glare at him. The Russian’s eyes widened and his voice softened. “Napoleon… Napoleon…?”
Napoleon tipped his head back, eyes open wide in a vain attempt to prevent the droplets from falling. He was aware of a large hand wiping the moisture away as his partner turned towards him. And whatever he thought he’d occasionally glimpsed momentarily in those blue eyes over the years, burned steadily there now.
“Ne plach…” Illya whispered, in between dropping a light kiss onto each of Napoleon’s eyelids. And then his eyes locked onto Napoleon’s mouth and Napoleon forgot to breathe.
A moment later, Illya was breathing for both of them. Napoleon thought he had never felt anything so exquisite or invigorating as the sensation of his partner’s mouth and tongue exploring his. How could he not have known? He clutched Illya against him, helpless with a shocking need.
“Ow…!” muttered Illya against Napoleon’s mouth.
Napoleon snatched his hands away as though burned. “Sorry! Sorry… your ribs – I forgot…”
Illya gave him a half smile “Been at the capsule B again…?” He eased himself back into bed and pulled on Napoleon’s arm.
“Wait…” Somehow Napoleon found enough breath to speak as he shucked off his shoulder holster and tie. Illya had him out of his shirt and half way out of his trousers and briefs before Napoleon’s Walther clattered onto the side table. Panting he stood and stripped off his remaining clothes, flinging them on the adjacent bed. When he looked back, Illya lay on his back before him, naked, legs spread and slowly stroking his turgid cock.
The vision of Illya with an erection was enough to make Napoleon stop breathing. Illya slowly masturbating whilst he stared at Napoleon’s erection was enough to drive the last breath from his body.
“Velikolepnyy…” whispered Illya, hand moving constantly. “You are magnificent, moi droog.”
Napoleon’s cock twitched. He looked down. A drop of pre-ejaculate glistened on the tip and he caught it on his thumb. Holding his partner’s gaze, he brought it to his mouth, hollowing his cheeks as he sucked. Illya moaned and held out a hand, inviting him down to the bed. Napoleon lowered himself carefully next to his partner and kissed him hard on the mouth.
“Mmm…” said Illya, eyes almost black with lust and narcotic. “You taste good. More.” He tried to sit up and winced.
“Wait, you’re not at your best.” Napoleon eased him over onto his good side. “We’ll have to adapt…” he kissed him quickly on the nose. “For the time being.”
Illya raised an eyebrow at him. “For the time…?” He grinned. “Cocky,” he said.
Napoleon kissed him again. He spooned in behind Illya, then eased his cock between the Russian’s thighs until it was snug against his balls. It felt glorious; tight and hot and achingly perfect and as Napoleon thrust repeatedly into that perfection, he was overwhelmed by an unaccustomed feeling in his chest. He’d have given it a name if he’d been able to think. He was consumed instead by feeling; feeling and thrusting and covering Illya’s hand on his cock with his own, and thrusting and feeling the wetness spill over his and Illya’s hands and thrusting and coming…
They made love again around midnight and then around two thirty and then finally before tumbling out of bed at around six in the morning. Napoleon helped Illya to shower to… well to keep his dressing dry and Illya was joyfully grateful and showed it. Napoleon then expressed his gratitude once more that Illya was alive, and it was by sheer luck that they made it down in time to meet the car taking them to Tempelhof for their flight.
Napoleon came out of the men’s room just as their flight was being called and made his way to where Illya was waiting, overcoat over his arm and a paper-wrapped confection in each hand. He handed one to Napoleon and took a bite out of his own. Napoleon eyed it with suspicion.
“Breakfast,” mumbled Illya with his mouth full, wiping jelly from his chin.
“Okay, - again – what’s this?”
Illya rolled his eyes at him and swallowed.
“It’s a jelly-filled doughnut,” he said and took another bite. “They make them here.” He licked his lips. “They’re good.”
Napoleon examined his carefully. Illya pulled him towards departures. “For crying out loud, Napoleon. It’s called a Berliner, all right?” He lowered his voice and raised an eyebrow. “If you stick your tongue through the hole in the edge, you can wiggle it around in the jelly.”
Napoleon caught his breath and hurried after the Russian, wondering what it might feel like to be a Berliner…
Tovarich - Comrade
Shto? – What?
Ublyudki - Bastards
Ne plach – Don’t weep
Velikolepnyy – Magnificent
Moi droog – My friend
Author’s Note Hilarita’s prompts were: coffee, inadequate mission briefing, breakfast. Great prompts – thank you so much. Thanks also to the ever-patient Di T whose beta skills are legend throughout our fandom and whom I’m proud to call friend. Any remaining lumpy bits are all mine.
Walter Ulbricht was the Communist Party boss in East Germany at the time of the Berlin crisis in 1961. There was little love lost between him and Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet.
The usual disclaimers apply – no one’s making any money from this.