The 'L' Word
I let Westcott have the girl, of course. I had stayed through dinner, and dancing; giving her the thrill she wanted from having two attractive (if I do say so myself, and I do) men dancing attendance on her. Westcott and I flirted with her, sparred politely with one another, vied for her attentions, took turns waltzing her around the room and cut in on one another with appropriate frequency. She was obviously flattered and delighted, and she deserved it. She had been brave, and good natured throughout, and that moment when she launched herself onto Westcott's back, bringing him down and letting me make good our escape, was magnificent. I would have given her a standing ovation if there had been time. In lieu of that, once there was time, I gave her little kisses on the back of her neck, made languishing toasts and feigned great reluctance when the bar closed and she was obviously leaving with Westcott.
I wasn't surprised. The chemistry between them had been unmistakable even when we believed him to be a Thrush agent. I had wondered, actually, at his evident softness for her - it didn't fit with what I had assumed this man would be. But all was explained in the end, and it had been a magnificent plan. Alexander Waverly is the best, no question about it. His foresight and creativity had gotten the real Thrush agent safely to Washington, and if it had nearly gotten all four of us killed, well, that's the risk we accept going in. Not Fran Parsons, of course. Not the innocent. All she had done was try on a dress during her lunch hour. But it had worked out well for her, and there was something serious brewing between the two of them, or I miss my guess. She'd be a good wife for an agent, if there is such a thing. I watched them get on the elevator together, whispering and giggling and touching. Then I straightened my tie and left.
Illya. I couldn't wait to get to the room we were sharing at a much less elegant hotel down the street. Watching that train pull away had nearly killed me. I had stood there, disbelieving it even as I saw the lights retreat down the track. I had abandoned my partner to his fate, left him to the not so tender mercies of the Thrush agents onboard. What must he be thinking of me? What if they killed him? Killed him and threw him off the train as if he were nothing, as if he were trash? Or, worse, what if they had just chucked him off without killing him and he was lying there in his blood? Lying there in agony, torn and twisted, broken and dying, looking for a rescue that wouldn't come, wondering why I wasn't arriving in the nick of time as he had for me so many times.
Ridiculous. I knew it even as I sat in that Amish farmhouse, as I sat in their buggy, as I walked that long road with my reluctant companions. Illya is a professional. He would know that I wasn't coming back for him, because I was taking Stryker to Washington, to interrogation and prison. He would know that the mission came first, that the life of the innocent came second, that no rescue was possible, and he was on his own. And Illya is perfectly capable of taking care of himself, as witness his arrival with Waverly. He had scoffed at my awkward - and highly unprofessional - apology, and he was right to do so. Of course he had handled those two Thrush agents. Of course he did. I had embarrassed myself, and taken valuable time while he was trying to tell me that I had the wrong man. Well, the right man. I had the UNCLE agent and I had let Thrush take him - unconscious and helpless thanks to my vindictive little prank with the hypo. I suppose I should apologize to Westcott too, but damned if I will. He enjoyed his role far too much, if you ask me. Which nobody did.
So we finished up the mission, Illya and I, with considerable help from Waverly. Finished it up successfully, once again. Illya and I are rapidly becoming legendary around UNCLE New York. We haven't failed yet. And since nobody sees the stumbles and the mistakes, the occasional stupidities and the missed opportunities; since all they see are the results, the legend continues. I like it, to tell the truth. I always knew I'd be the best, but I thought I would be the best by myself. I never dreamed of being one half of the best team. But I am, and I love it. I love him.
I've known it, really, since Terbuf; since we came together and found such pleasure in that togetherness. I haven't said it, because ... well, because. It didn't seem appropriate. Sex, okay. Not entirely approved, but an understandable release with someone I can trust. As for the rest of it - the companionship and the sleeping in one another's arms and the ... well, the cuddling, to put it bluntly ... it all could be put off as a human need for physical contact and tenderness in a harsh and violent world. But love? I shouldn't love him. But I do. How can I not? And Illya loves me too. He'd said as much just before leaving with Waverly to do the reports, while I wooed and lost the innocent to Westcott. It was important to Waverly, that Miss Parsons be left with a sweet taste in her mouth about the whole thing. She was dragged in against her will, she was a good sport about it - actually an enormous asset - so she deserved to be feted, not dumped with a `thank you for your cooperation'. I don't think Illya minds. He doesn't seem to object to doing much of the paperwork and, in fact, the times I have tried to help I have only irritated him. I keep putting things in the wrong - to him - place, filling them out in the wrong - to him - order, violating all the little procedures he has already established. He actually slapped my hand the last time I reached to take a pile from him. Hard. I shook the hand and scowled at him, and he scowled right back at me, and I turned on my heel and left him to it.
But I'd had dinner sent in, a veritable feast of steak and wine and baked potatoes and broccoli au gratin. The next morning he hadn't known what to say to me. He had hemmed and hawed and turned red and finally blurted out "Thanks for the meal it was very good you didn't have to how much do I owe you" so fast that he'd had to take a great gulp of air when he'd finished. I had shrugged, well pleased but trying to conceal it
"You're welcome. I'm glad it was good. I know I didn't have to. I wanted to. You can take me out next time if you really feel the need." I was suave, and smooth, and he pursed his lips at me as if not sure whether or not I was making fun of him, before a reluctant smile touched his mouth. I had leaned in and kissed him, quickly, right on the corner where the smile was breaking through. Then I had flicked his nose, he had looked offended, and we had carried on as usual. Until later that same night, when he had knocked at my door. I'd admitted him, and we had had wild no holds barred sex right there on the floor of my living room.
Now I smiled, loosened my tie and got on the elevator. I couldn't wait to see him, to reassure myself that he was alive and well, not crumpled dead beside empty railroad tracks. I couldn't wait to see him again, period.
He had kissed me, right there in the hospital, with everyone still around but, for the moment, nobody looking. He had stood on his toes, and kissed me on the cheek. "Nobody has ever been so glad to see me in my whole life," he had breathed into my ear. "I love you for it." Then he had been gone, and I had been left standing there, thunderstruck, hand to my face where his lips had brushed it.
I love you for it. I love you. For it. For being glad to see me, I love you. I love you because you were glad to see me. I went over it and over it, turning it around in my mind, examining all the facets, the shades of meaning I could possibly layer onto those two little sentences.
Nobody has ever been that glad to see him. That hurts me because it's the literal truth, I'm sure. No one has ever been that glad to see him, glad enough to shout out his name, despite the situation and the company. But how - how could that be? Surely anybody who got to know Illya would miss him when he wasn't there, and rejoice at his return. As I had rejoiced. The sight of Illya, alive and well ...if nobody had ever been that glad to see him, I've never been that glad to see anybody either.
I should tell him so. I know him well enough to know that saying those words out loud, words no doubt practiced at least in his head before hand, was like stripping naked in public. He had wanted to give me this gift, and I needed to reciprocate. As for the rest of it - he had used the `l' word. `I love you' he had said, and even with the qualifier the sentiment stood. He loves me. Illya Kuryakin loves me. I sighed, ridiculously happy even as I wavered at saying the `l' word back to him. I should, I know I should. He put it out there then ran away - to join Waverly, of course, but still, the timing was too perfect to be accidental. He didn't want to put me on the spot, didn't want me to feel obligated to say anything in return. Next time I saw him we could just act like none of it had happened, like nothing was said. Or ...
Or I could say it back to him. "I love you," I could say as soon as he opened that hotel room door tonight. "I died a thousand deaths watching that train leave. The sun didn't shine again until I saw you. I love you." Or ... not. Because then what?
Mutual `I love you' statements would seem to mean something. Like we should move in together, be faithful to one another. And I am not ready for either of those steps. I like living alone, and I like women. Lots of different women. I like dating them, I like wooing them, I like having sex with them. And then I like to go home, alone. To stand in my living room and exhale, knowing there is not another living soul in my apartment besides me. I like that. Much as I like having Illya around, much as I enjoy waking up with him in my arms the morning after the night before, when all is said and done I like it that he does go home and leaves me - leaves me solo.
I don't think he feels that differently, either. He doesn't date as often as I do, but on occasion he does. I don't have any idea what things were like for him in that arena back in the Soviet Union, but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have had the freedom to pick up a casual woman and take her home, or go to her house. I know how they operate over there. If he did do that, he'd be answering for it the next day and so would she. So he deserves to have this time now, and this freedom. And I also think Illya values his solitude and privacy as much as, if not more than, I do. I never have to urge him to leave, nor even drop little hints. We wake up wrapped in one another's arms, I cook him breakfast, maybe we read the paper or go for a walk, but by lunch time he is gone without a word from me to speed him along. `See you at work, Napoleon,' he says and leaves, just like that. So I don't think he is looking for a white picket fence around the two of us either, not yet.
Not yet. Maybe someday ... I don't know about that. It's hard to picture feeling differently, but I probably will as I get older. Of course will we live to see that day? Who knows? The odds are against it, but it happens. Field agents do retire at forty - but not all of them. Not all of them by a long shot. Will Illya even stay in this country? At any time his masters overseas could yank on the leash they still have on him, and pull him back. And now that I think of it, his moving in with me would no doubt trigger that yank. Homosexuality is not tolerated there, at least not overtly. From little things he has let drop I get the impression they don't hesitate to use those proclivities when needed, and there is a sad, sordid tale to be told there, or I miss my guess. But he could never just openly be with me. Forsaking all others, and all that jazz. Not so long as there is a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics still claiming him as one of their own.
But still, with all of that, despite all of that, he used the word. `I love you for it,' he said. I quicken my step, hurry into the lobby, skip the elevator and run up the stairs. Because I love him too, and with all the issues, all the potential landmines, he deserves to know.
I use my key, and the door hits the chain. I hear him hurrying across the room, and he shuts the door again so he can remove the barrier. When he opens it I take him in my arms and hold him close - fiercely, possessively close. "I have never been so glad to see anybody in my whole life," I tell him before I can chicken out. "I love you too, Illya."
He looks up at me, blue eyes wide. The moment definitely calls for a kiss, so I bend my head and give him one, and he gives it right back to me. It is a sweet, melting kiss, and when it is over that vision of someday seems a little sharper, a little more in focus. Someday I will weary of the eternal chase. Someday I will be more lonely at night, will reach out in the bed for him and my heart will sink that he is not there. Who knows, someday the Soviet Union might fall apart under its own colossal weight and he will be free. Someday I will build that white picket fence around us both, and we will never stray beyond its perimeters again. But for right now we have both said it, we have both used the `l' word and that is fine, it is just fine. I kiss him again and we go to bed, not speaking at all. Our hands, our mouths, our bodies do all the talking that is necessary, and every unspoken word starts with `l'.