Love is Life
Love is life's wild card. It's the one thing you can never predict, can never count on for its timing, and can never expect. Love isn't like a career that you can plan for. Some people never find it; some people find it right out of the gate. Some folks think they've found it, only to discover, often too late, that it was just something else masquerading as love.
Love at first sight? Impossible! Lust maybe, but never love. True love, hah; an oxymoron, for what is true about love? It turns men into monsters, women into clutching harpies. Better to stay single than to ever make the mistake of falling in love!
Lest you think me a misanthrope, I assure you—the well being of my fellow man—a paramount issue in my life, the pursuit of the fairer sex, equally so, but to fall in love? Me? Not likely.
I never went looking for it and, as with so many things in my life, it stalked me, hunted me down, and pounced upon me the moment my back was turned. And when it did hit me, really hit me, I could do nothing about it. Desperately in love with the one person I couldn't have. Go figure. All I can say is that God has a really whacky sense of humor.
We'd been partners for nearly three years when Rio happened... I'm still scratching my head and wondering how that managed to avoid my radar and sideswipe me the way it did.
I checked my pockets for another clip and groaned. This was not a good sign. I was out and pinned down. God only knew where Illya was. We gave chase to one of the nastier bits of THRUSH handiwork to come down the road. This guy was mean, he was smart, and he was not about to let me take him alive. At first we had the upper hand, then a group of drunks sabotaged us, dragging Illya to God knew where and I suddenly became the hunted.
The whiz of a bullet sped past my ear and brick dust rained down on me. This guy was not getting tired, getting low on ammo, or giving up. A rat suddenly made a break for it and the THRUSH went for it. It exploded in a stomach-roiling burst of flesh and blood, but it also gave me a chance to dive from one set of garbage pails to another, an inch closer to a doorway. I wasn't quite sure what I'd do once I got there, but that didn't hamper my efforts.
There was a burst of excitement from the street and I made the doorway amid a hail of bullets and tried the knob. Locked... of course it was locked. Why would it be open? Why would I catch a break? Why should I—?
My train of thought was abruptly interrupted as the door suddenly gave way and I was dragged in and shoved aside. I landed in a heap amid piles of something dusty and sour smelling. I didn't want to know what I hit, not as the dust assailed my nose and eyes. It didn't matter, for I'd had my brilliant escape. Out of the jaws of death, I'd been snatched by... who?
The door slammed and I looked at my savior, my lips already forming my praises to him when I caught a glint of blond hair and a familiar shape in the dim light. Illya... how he found me, I didn't care. I'd never been more overjoyed to see that partner of mine. I could have given him a big kiss.
What? What the hell was I saying? I shook the thought from my head. He was holding the bolt closed on the door and I heard, then saw, it shake with the impact that the THRUSH's body was making on it.
"On three," Illya mouthed and I got to my feet and went to the other side of the door. I checked to make sure it wasn't going to clip me when it burst open and nodded.
I knew Illya was listening; the man has the hearing of a bat, I swear and he suddenly jerked the door open and the Thrush came tumbling in.
I was on him and pounding with all my might. He was tough, but I was tougher. In the end, he went down, not I.
I wiped the blood from the corner of my mouth and dropped to my knees. Illya was already calling for a retrieval squad. It was doubtful they were going to get this one to talk, but who knows? UNCLE moves in mysterious ways.
While I was setting myself to rights, I watched Illya secure the man's hands firmly behind his back. Then Illya moved to his feet and tied them as well. Then Illya ran a rope between the first two ropes and knotted it just as tightly. My partner was not taking any chances with this guy. The only way he was going to slip those ropes would be to have a pair of scissors stuffed up his ass.
"You okay?" He was stuffing a wad of something into the man's mouth and securing it in place with yet another rope. Where he got all this rope, well, I've learned it's far better not to ask at times.
"I am always okay." I sounded cocky, even to me, and grinned to take the edge off the words.
"Next time perhaps you should tarry longer with the kind senorita then." That kind senorita had very nearly beheaded me with her mantilla when she learned the sorry truth about me. I am not the marrying kind. Probably hanging around there longer wouldn't have helped my cause at all.
"No, that probably wouldn't have been a good thing. Her papa had some very definite views on kissing and telling."
"Hmm," Illya grunted and then spun at a sound. It was only our men and he visibly relaxed. "Watch this one. Do not let him regain consciousness until you have him in a secure location."
The head of the Section Threes nodded and four of them hefted our hog tied THRUSH out. I followed and watched them pile into a car and speed away... well, speed away as fast as you can when Carnival is making the city burst at its seams.
"I don't know about you, partner, but I'm ready for a little liquid refreshment." I brushed the dust off a sleeve that was dangling by just a few threads.
"You look like you could use one." A small smile and I realized at that moment just how worried Illya must have been about me. I know for a fact I had been. "Or perhaps three."
"Three would be good."
It practically took an Act of God, but we finally found a small inn with a free room. It was on the outskirts of Rio, away from the festivities and that was our salvation. Everyone else wanted to be in the middle of the excitement. Me, I'd had enough excitement to last a lifetime... possibly two.
The room was fairly plain, but the bed looked comfortable and it had a private bath... probably not much in the way of water pressure, but that didn't matter.
We'd paused long enough to pick up a change of clothes and some necessities, razor, tooth brush, comb, alcohol, just the stuff we were really going to need in the next few hours.
I dropped my bag on the small wobbly table and allowed myself the luxury of a groan. Here, with just Illya, I didn't need to be quite so brave. I could let my guard down and not play the suave sophisticate. I was bone weary and sore.
Even though there was no way in hell an enemy agent could have known we'd check into this room, he was still going through the motions of looking for mics. It was more of a cursory check, but if he hadn't done it, I would have. It was how we were wired.
I checked out the facilities, trying not to moan as I caught sight of my reflection in a cracked mirror. My face and hair were still streaked with something white and my eyes vividly proclaimed how long they'd been without sleep. Sleep that I would now be afforded because of my fast thinking partner.
I stripped off and left the clothes in a pile on the floor. Another time, I might have been compelled to try to shake out the day's adventure. Now I just wanted to wash off the filth from that basement.
The water started out brown, but cleared after a few minutes. It was lukewarm, but that didn't matter. I let it sluice over my head and run down my body. After about ten minutes, I began to feel guilty and turned off the water and climbed carefully from the tub.
The towel was so threadbare you could almost see through it, but the air was so warm and humid, the dampness it left behind felt good.
Illya was sprawled out on the bed taking up as much real estate on the bed as he could. There was a glass of tequila in one hand and the other was absently brushing back and forth across his chest. He'd stripped down to his shorts and I let my eyes travel down his body. Illya was a bit of the all right, if you know what I mean. Well muscled, not an ounce of fat on him, he was a sight for sore eyes.
"Did you enjoy your shower?" he asked as I plopped down beside him. He propped himself up on an elbow to pour some alcohol into a water-spotted glass. God know when it had been washed last, but I figured the alcohol would kill anything trying to survive on it. One sip sucked my breath away and I tried not to gasp.
Blinking the tears from my eyes, I half whispered, "I did, thank you." The second sip was better. "How did you find me?"
"The truth?" I nodded. "No idea. I heard gunfire and headed in that direction." He was looking a little bleary eyed himself and I figured he was quite probably as physically and emotionally drained as I was.
"No matter. It's over."
"For the moment." He looked so resigned that I had to ask.
"Illya, do you ever get tired of it?"
"Everything." I held the glass out for more tequila. "The danger, the brushes with death, the weariness."
"Yes, but then I get a taste of what other's call a normal life and know I would be bored. Men like you and I are not cut out to be mundane. We crave excitement the way a babe craves its mother's breast."
"Interesting choice of words, partner." The alcohol was oozing into my joints, loosening them, shaking free the aches and pains. I eased myself down beside him, my head resting upon something that had more in common with a hunk of cardboard than a pillow. Through it I could feel the reassuring lump that told me Illya had placed my Walther there. His pillow would have a similar lump—a cold metal teddy bear. I wondered what Freud would have to say about that little obsession of ours.
"O que trabalha (Whatever works)."
At the mumbled response, I glanced over. Illya's eyes were barely open and that's when I noticed just how much tequila was gone from the bottle. Illya had been doing some serious drinking in the last ten or so minutes. "Thanks."
"Everything." That seemed sufficient. I barely got my glass onto a hard surface before happily succumbing to sleep.
You see, in my dreams, I was free. Free to act upon any impulse. Free to take my partner and show him just how thankful I really was that he was in my life. I could kiss him and feel his body respond to mine, for I was certain it would. I'd seen him watching me, his eyes stroking my body as lovingly as a hand might. Why he never made an advance, I chalked up to my female chasing bravado. He just didn't think I was wired that way and try as I might, I couldn't make the words come out that would tell him differently.
Asleep, I could feel his muscles cord and flex beneath me as I pounded into him or he into me, it didn't really matter. All that mattered was that moment, those emotions, and hearing him sobbing out my name just before we climaxed. Then we'd hold each other and murmur promises of a tomorrow together before starting all over again.
I could feel, I could love and I could celebrate—asleep.
I woke up and suddenly knew not to move a muscle. There was someone in the room with us. I was pressed up against Illya's back, facing the door. He was facing the window. That was the common practice for us when sharing a room, as was sleeping with one hand under the pillow. Mine was resting on my hand gun and it would take no effort to draw and fire, but I was out of sleeper bullets. All I had was the real McCoy and I didn't want to have to explain to the local authorities why I shot a maid.
But I knew it wasn't a turndown service; this was a business call. Whoever it was had gotten past Illya's security perimeter. That was more than a regular person could do...
The figure crept closer and my gut clenched. I didn't know how he'd managed to free himself from UNCLE's gentle care, but that damned THRUSH was loose... again. Tracking us to this rundown little place should have been impossible and yet there he was. And he was not happy.
A blast of fireworks from the street briefly illuminated the room, but it was enough for me to see him aiming at Illya. Probably decided with my partner out of the way, he'd have a better chance of finishing with me.
I didn't even really bother to aim. I slid the safety off, made sure no part of me was in the way, and fired. The gunfire practically made the walls of the room bulge. My first shot was wide, just clipping him before burying itself into a not-so-attractive, poorly-done reproduction of an El Gato painting.
The THRUSH reacted, as did Illya, but I didn't give either of them a chance to do more than that. I squeezed off two more shots and the THRUSH went down with a sense of finality. I lowered the Walther and turned on the overhead light. The bare bulb was barely strong enough to illuminate the immediate area and it swung back and forth in the breeze from the open balcony door. Obviously, that was how he'd come in, although how was anyone's guess. There was no ledge, no purchase of any sort and the tile roof certainly wouldn't have held him. I suppose we'll never have that answer, though.
"Are you okay?" Illya was still looking, half dazed, at the body, as if trying to process how that asshole had managed to track us down.
"Thanks to you." He climbed out from between the sheets, his gun in his hand as if afraid the THRUSH would leap to his feet. He knelt and probed the man's neck. "He is no more."
"I don't imagine anyone will be shedding tears because of that." I followed suit, digging through my discarded clothing and finding the tracer. How and when he'd slipped it on me was anyone's guess. It didn't matter. Pulling my communicator out of the breast pocket of the jacket, I put in a call for a clean-up squad.
"It's incredible, isn't it?"
"A man is dead on our floor, after a short but intense gun battle during which at least four shots were fired, and no one seems to care."
"You're bleeding." I pointed to Illya's neck. The THRUSH's bullet had left a thin neat line on it and he reached up to touch it. "He didn't miss by much." I suspect the bullet had been aimed at Illya's head and my shot had pulled his aim.
"It happens in the best of families."
I frowned, trying to make that leap, and finally gave up. In spite of being steady on his feet, Illya was still well soused. Instead, I walked to the bathroom for a threadbare washcloth. I wet it, wrung it out and tossed it to him.
He held it in place and sighed.
"Waverly isn't going to like that he's dead."
"Not our fault. We handed him in once alive and well. I just want to know how he got out of your trussing job." I moved to his side and pulled the cloth up. It wasn't much more than a scratch and my stomach did a funny flip realizing how close it had come to severing his carotid artery.
I took his chin in my hand and Illya's head turned easily; he was probably expecting me to examine his wound. What he wasn't expecting was for me to kiss him.
It wasn't much as kisses went, more something you'd bestow upon your maiden aunt, but it didn't matter. It evoked exactly the response I'd hoped for.
Illya stared at me, his eyes wide and just a bit confused. It would be an expression I would come to know well as our relationship evolved, but then it was new. I'd seen Illya annoyed, amused, exhausted, in pain, but never confused, not like that.
"Mr, Solo, Mr. Kuryakin?" There was an accompanying knock on the door and the moment was gone. Hurriedly we separated and pulled on our trousers, all business as usual.
It wasn't until a couple of hours later that we again found ourselves alone, this time sans the dead body, and back in the room. Wisely I'd gotten some food brought in and let my perennially-hungry partner assuage his appetite.
We sat there quietly, each sort of absorbed in his own thoughts, neither of us quite willing to broach the subject that sprawled before us like some huge bloated carcass. I'd given up on the tequila and switched over to the scotch that one of other agents had supplied. At least this I knew the bite of, not like the tequila. It took no hostages.
"I thought I'd lost you." Illya didn't look at me. He kept his eyes fixed upon the scarred and battered table as if it was the most fascinating object in the room. "When we were separated, I knew he'd double back and surprise you."
I tapped the side of my neck. "Ditto. Another centimeter and that would have been it."
He nodded without looking. He knew how lucky he'd been and had it reaffirmed by the visiting UNCLE médico. "That's the part of the job I hate, never knowing when I'm going to turn the corner and discover you gone." His eyes flicked up now and studied my face.
"I'm right here." But I understood his anxiety. It was the same as mine.
"I am not sure about taking that next step, Napoleon. It would be life changing to lose you as a partner, but as a lover..."
I'd run from that word my whole life. Commitment, monogamy, those were alien concepts, except now I realized they weren't half as unattractive as they'd been a moment earlier. "Then we shall just have to make certain nothing happens to us." My voice sounded odd, but for the first time in a very long time, it felt right.
I settled my hand upon his and this time the kiss was a proper one, flavored with passion, a promise of tomorrow and the banishment of loneliness. No more solo...
I feel his hands on my shoulder, adjusting my sweater and I realize that I'd nodded off. That seems to be happening a lot these days. You see, we fought the odds and we survived. It hadn't always been easy. UNCLE was not exactly thrilled with our relationship, nor was society, but together we spit in their collective eyes and made it out the other side.
We found ourselves a small house. There's a garden out front and I like to turn the soil, encouraging new life. Illya, he taught for awhile, but quickly tired of it. He eventually turned to writing and that occupies his days now. I am pleased to say that I still occupy his nights. And when we're in bed, safe in each other's arms after yet another day, then I think back on Rio and grow a bit misty eyed.
Who would have thought a wrong turn down an alley would have led to this? Love is life's wild card. It's the one thing you can never predict, can never count on for its timing, and can never expect. Love isn't like a career that you can plan for. Some people never find it; some people find it right out of the gate. I guess I'm just one of the lucky ones...
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