[twelve years later]
Illya Kuryakin sat in the briefing room and watched the slides his superior showed him. The CIA was coming to take Udo Teller’s daughter. The KGB had been watching her for the last few years, waiting to see if the people who kidnapped the father in America would come for the girl. Instead, it was the CIA making the move, ending the waiting game, but still no closer to the truth.
They were sending their top agent, a Napoleon Solo, and Illya was to play with him before denying him the prize. Oleg didn’t say as much, but he and the CIA had history and they tended to use their agents as an extension of that history. It would have been much simpler to just spirit the girl away and deny the prize that way, but that wasn’t how Oleg wanted it done. Illya mentally shrugged – he had matched wits with the CIA before and did not think much of them. It should be easy enough to take care of, no matter who he was up against.
Then Oleg started describing Napoleon Solo’s background, flipping to an earlier photo from the days of the post-war occupation in American soldier garb. Then another one: soldiers, holding paintings. Then another... cocky, confident, smug grin on the young handsome face.
Illya drew in a breath. “Hold that slide.”
He stood and walked toward the screen, studying the image, thinking of what Oleg had said and what he’d seen. Soldier. Thief. Post-war Nazi art collections initially. That very familiar grin that made his heart turn over still.
“Kuryakin? Tovarisch?” It was a warning.
Illya calmly returned to his seat. “I know this man.”
Oleg took his cigar out of his mouth and tapped it on the ash tray, regarding Illya. “You did not recognize the name nor the CIA file photo.”
“I never knew his name, and he wasn’t CIA then. It was twelve years ago.” Twelve long years. Illya had never forgotten, but he’d also never thought they would cross paths again. CIA? What was his Cowboy doing as CIA?
“Ah, your thief from France. Your previous reporting officer told me about that mission.” Oleg put the cigar back in and drew upon it.
Art Dealer, Illya thought but didn’t say, returning his gaze to the photo and carefully not smiling as he wanted to. His hand itched to go to his watch, but he would not use that tell. Not here and especially not with these circumstances.
Oleg blew the smoke out in a long stream. “This thief turned CIA... what do you think of him?”
“He was good twelve years ago. I am not surprised he is the CIA’s best now. I am surprised at the change in professions. He was very... independent, back then.” Though his Cowboy had enjoyed tagging along with Illya that day, and learned the ropes very, very quickly. Maybe it was not such a surprise. Of course, the main reason Illya hadn’t looked for him for so long was because “I heard he’d been arrested. Or I presumed it was him in the newspapers. They never used a name that I would know.” The flamboyant thief moving from his raids of Nazi caches to more high-profile and high-risk thefts. Cowboy had enjoyed the thrill of danger, and the recognition his prowess got him. The progression was a natural one and Illya had been all but certain of his identity. He had sighed when he’d read of the arrest – prison was not the place for his Cowboy. It rather looked as if he’d found another way, though, which was also typical of the man.
“Yes...” Oleg turned and waved to the projectionist. “Let us finish the briefing.”
At the end, Illya was completely sure this Napoleon Solo was his Cowboy. Only he could have made such a switch and come out on top. The recent photo... now that Illya was looking, he could see the resemblance between the younger self and this suave, sophisticated gentleman. There had been leanings towards it, even back then. He was more obviously dangerous now, and there was more hidden behind those eyes now, but those were only to be expected.
Oleg was looking at him with a question. Illya nodded. “Yes. It is he.”
His superior made a contemplative noise and continued to smoke his cigar, looking at the last slide without regarding it. Finally, he ground the stub out. “This CIA agent, Napoleon Solo. You worked with him once before. Could you again?”
Illya blinked. Twelve years... but some things didn’t change. “Yes,” he replied, positively. He tried to control his hope at the question and only respond to the words.
“This opens up new possibilities. We will have to rethink the long-term strategy on this project. I will talk to his superior to discuss details. While I am doing that, you will make contact. Slightly differently than we had thought before... though it would be interesting to watch you take him down. But he would recognize you as well?” Oleg looked the question over.
“Yes,” Illya replied again, trying not to let his voice soften. He was glad Oleg was changing the plan. He didn’t like games in any case, and he probably wouldn’t have played them with his Cowboy. It would have gotten him in trouble again... but this way he didn’t have to. And he would see his friend again.
Napoleon went through the check point, glancing up at the mirror as the guard inspected his suitcase. He froze at the glimpse of a figure in the far background – a tall figure in beige who folded up a newspaper and left even as he watched.
With a shake of his head, Napoleon returned his attention to the guard, thanking him and collecting his suitcase. He hailed a taxi as he walked into East Berlin. Every time he was in or near a Russian satellite, tall, blonde men distracted him. He always had to resist the impulse to try and search out more information. Twelve years was a very long time. And there were a lot of tall, blonde Russian men. Just not ever the one he wanted.
He travelled through the city, changing taxis and walking through the streets periodically, watching for tails. At the pre-ordained time, he walked through the appropriate tunnel and smoothly accepted the paper-wrapped gun from a contact who didn’t know him and whom he didn’t know. The gun was the only mutual point they had. Then he travelled around a bit more. When the sun was setting, he made his way to the auto shop that was his main destination.
There were no tails, he would swear to that. However, he couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling he’d had since going through the checkpoint. It was probably just being in East Berlin. This half of the city always reminded him of occupied Germany, not having changed a lot in fifteen years – not as much as the other half had. The Soviet Union had lost over two million of their people during the war, and Ukraine had been nearly burnt to the ground. Their resources were spread thin in a harsh land with many people, and it showed. The allies on the other side had all donated to build and recreate after the war, and were recovering faster. East Berlin, however, still had deep roots in the war.
Napoleon ducked inside the shop and asked a man where Miss Schmidt was – the lady he was looking for used her foster father’s last name here, and had been raised with his profession, as unusual as it was for a woman to be a mechanic. Post-war, though, all women did what they could, where they could. There weren’t always enough able-bodied men to do the jobs that needed doing. Even in America, the women who had been in the factories often kept those jobs, to the disgruntlement of the men who had returned home from the wars expecting things and people to still be as they’d left.
He went to the back bay that the man had indicated, and his unease grew. It was quiet back there, and not well lit. He glanced around and didn’t see anybody immediately. “Fraulein Schmidt?”
“She is safe,” came a deep male voice in answer. “And by safe, I truly mean that. She is not harmed and will not be.”
There was something about the voice... Napoleon turned until he finally saw a man sitting in the corner, just out of sight of somebody stepping into the work area, in a darkened spot. He was wearing the beige jacket and hat of the man he’d glimpsed in the mirror that morning. KGB Napoleon realized, his jaw tightening. Easy extraction, his foot. So much for Sanders’ intel.
The man stood up, and kept standing up... he was tall. Taller, even, than Napoleon. Napoleon’s heart started to beat more rapidly. The man walked towards him, into the light. Napoleon let out his breath at the sight of his face. “Peril...”
“Hello, Cowboy,” his old friend smiled at him. “It has been a long time.”
A very long time. He closed his eyes and could feel the room spinning. Finally. The right tall, blonde Russian. After so long… Getting a grip, he opened his eyes again to see, confirming it again, drinking in the sight. “Every time I was in the Soviet Union, or came across Russians outside... I looked for you.”
“Well, I did not look for you,” Peril replied blithely, “because I thought you were in jail. CIA? Really, Cowboy?”
His heart had dipped at the start, rose again in the middle, and then he had to grin at the last. “Long story.”
“Knowing you, it involved an innocent.”
Napoleon had to laugh and admit that, yes, it had, actually.
Peril had reached him by then, and they left off the conversation to look at each other. There was a scar on Peril’s face that hadn’t been there before, just at the corner of his eye. Napoleon shuddered to think of how close must have been the original wound that had left such a scar. Otherwise, his eyes were still the same clear blue they’d been twelve years ago, and his mouth just as inviting – which was to say, only with permission. His hair was a bit darker, bringing to mind the bad hair dye he’d used that day. He stood easily, confident and sure. The main difference was the smile that played around his lips as he looked Napoleon over in return, and Napoleon thought that the smile might just be for him alone.
“Are you hungry?” Peril asked, breaking the silence.
Napoleon blinked; that hadn’t been a question he’d expected. “Not particularly...”
“Am starving. Been here since you passed the checkpoint. We can eat, and talk.” Peril reached to the wall next to Napoleon and turned out the light in the work area, leaving them in darkness.
A moment of stillness in the darkness while Napoleon’s eyes tried valiantly to adjust, and then he felt Peril’s arms wrap around him in a hug. He returned it instinctively.
There. There was his friend of twelve years ago. And his lover as well, holding him tight and close, their heads brushing cheek to cheek, skin to skin.
A yearning for a dream that he’d buried long ago with the harshness of reality broke through and looked towards the sun. Napoleon turned his head, seeking remembered lips with his own.
One arm around him detached, and his lips were met with a finger, holding him away from Peril’s.
He didn’t have a girlfriend, did he? Wife? Illicit lover? But he was still holding Napoleon as close as before...
Peril put his lips to Napoleon’s ear and breathed a bare sound out, “Bugs.”
Of course there were listening devices. And kissing made a lot of sound that couldn’t be mistaken for much other than what it was. Napoleon dropped his head to Peril’s shoulder. At least hugs were silent.
They held each other in the dark for a long time, not making any sound, just being there together, pressed as close as they could be.
Finally, Peril let most of Napoleon go, though he kept a grip on one wrist, tugging him forward and out of the bay. As soon as they hit the light, he let go there as well, though he stayed close by his side.
Napoleon glanced down to Peril’s left wrist, and kept his smile inside himself, seeing the watch still strapped there. Considering their professions, a minor miracle it had survived the twelve years. But he was glad it had, and that Peril still had it.
Outside in the street, Peril started walking down the block. “There is good place just down street. Had some brought to me for lunch.”
“Peril...” Napoleon had to ask.
His friend looked back.
“What is your name?”
A wide smile reached across the whole of the generally reserved face. It was a smile Napoleon had only previously seen a few times before and his heart beat faster for seeing it now. “Illya. Illya Nikolayevich Kuryakin. And you are Napoleon Solo. It is good for partners to know who they are.”
“Partners?” Napoleon asked.
“Will explain. Food first.”
Napoleon had to laugh. If it was true, it was everything he’d wanted so long before and couldn’t have then. Sometimes, it seemed, dreams really did come true.