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Glitter, Gold Are All the Same

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In East Berlin, the plan was to grab Gaby and get out. The plan was to kill the giant Russian in the tiny car who moved faster than his shadow. In short, the plan failed. Oh, he got Gaby out alright, the mouthy mechanic with the driving skills to rival any racing champion Solo had seen on the tracks of Monte Carlo; and delivered her to an MI–6 man named Waverly. Something about her Nazi father, Solo hadn't been supplied with details. But while the Trabbi the Russian had pursued them in had indeed ended up in a junkyard, the KGB agent therein had apparently neither bought a farm nor kicked the bucket. Solo sighed as he breathed in the warm air of summer in Budapest, well aware of his tall, blond shadow. A shadow that still insisted on the most hideous of fashion faux pas, Solo noted with exasperation. If he weren't here to kill him, again, Solo would very much like to have a word with him about the state of that bow tie.

Back in Berlin, Illya hadn't been unconscious for long, but for long enough to allow the girl and that ridiculous American to get away. Peeling himself out of the cramped car, he took a moment to breathe and clear his head. He checked the time. He'd been out for ten minutes. He listened for any distant car engines, commotion in the streets. There was nothing. They were gone. He kicked the wheel cap lying a few metres away, sending it hurtling across the barren ground. He would still try to find them, pick up their scent, at least find out how they'd escaped. But he would return to Moscow empty-handed. Absently, he swiped his thumb over the face of his father's watch.


On the third day in Budapest, Solo realised he'd lost his shadow. Perplexed, he actually had to keep himself from turning around and searching the area with his eyes, uncertain if he'd prefer his instincts were failing him. Projecting to the outside world the image of the charming, unforgettable and yet entirely immemorable American businessman, he let the crowd swallow him up again.

The Russian stayed gone. When, two days later, Solo was accosted and nearly throttled by a slightly less tall and nowhere near as angry-looking KGB agent, he was far too busy surviving to have time for a smirk. After the mission was complete and Sanders had finally stopped badgering him about all the art collections he could look at but not touch, Solo allowed himself a bit of schadenfreude at the fact that his Russian counterpart had obviously acted beyond his brief in coming after him. Whoever had pulled him out of Budapest had done so swiftly and efficiently — in other words, with considerable political influence.

Solo had, of course, done his research. He knew that the Russian's name was Illya Kuryakin, born July 25, 1931 in Moscow. His father had been a high-ranking party official under Stalin's rule, and the family had lived a good life. But then, Kuryakin Sr. had been caught embezzling party funds. The timeline was unclear, but the boy couldn't have been older than eight when his father was sent to the gulag. As soon as he'd been old enough, he'd joined the Russian army and then the intelligence service, becoming one of their best field agents within three years. Solo couldn't help but wonder what part the family's shame and humiliation played in that. At least Solo had committed the crimes he was serving time with the CIA for, himself.

In any case, the CIA could be assured of one thing. If the Russians sent Kuryakin, it was because they wanted the job done and the corrupt Western shpiona dead.

 

Illya clenched his teeth, tapping his left index finger against his right arm as he crossed his arms defensively. Oleg's office held so much lovely furniture just waiting to be smashed to pieces, but he kept himself in check. Barely. Compounding the humiliation of being summoned like a mongrel pup with letting the red mist descend right in the heart of the KGB headquarters was a mistake Illya refused to make.

He knew he shouldn't have gone to Budapest on a hunch, but he had also never received a direct order not to. That was what he told himself as Oleg sat down across from him, his face the same smarmy mask as always.

“You're walking a tight rope, Kuryakin,” his commanding officer informed him. “You know as well as I do that you're one of the best we have, but there are things agents do that plant seeds of doubt.” Oleg let that sink in for a moment, regarding Illya with an expression that he must have thought of as paternal. “There are things that I cannot protect you from, things I wouldn't have to consider were it not for your father.” There it was. “Go where we tell you to, do what we tell you to, and we will not have to have this conversation again.”

Illya knew it was best to take these reminders of the short leash he was on in silence, take them and swallow the bile rising in his throat, push it down and let it fester until he found a desk to break, or a neck. But not today.

“The Americans are up to something.” He dare not speak of the American, singular, he'd followed, blindly.

“Which is why we're giving you this new assignment.” Oleg pulled a pack of files from his desk drawer. Five files in total, differing in thickness and amount of coffee stains indicating how many desks they had touched on the way here. (The more stains, the more top secret. Illya would appreciate the irony if he had the time.) The top file had only few stains and a few dog ears. Lifting the cover, he was met with a familiar face.

Only barely checking his surprise, Illya looked up at Oleg. “He is my new assignment?” Against his will, he felt his pulse speed up.

Oleg's face twisted into a patronising smile. “Not him. But any mission the Americans are sending him on. You're right, they're up to something, and we want to know what. But, Illya,” Oleg leaned forward in his comfortable chair. “Stay away from him. Shadow him, if necessary, but do not make contact. Gather as much information as possible, but do not engage Napoleon Solo.”