The New York Times – April 22, 1964
Britain Exchanges Spies with Soviet at Berlin Border
BERLIN, Wednesday, April 22—The Soviet Union released today a Briton convicted as a spy, Greville M. Wynne, in exchange for a Soviet spy, Gordon Arnold Lonsdale, witnesses at the Berlin border reported. The exchange took place on the border of the British sector of Berlin and Communist East Germany, the witnesses said. It had been expected to take place on the Glienicker Bridge, where in 1962 the United States exchanged Francis Gary Powers, pilot of a U‐2 reconnaissance plane shot down by the Russians, for Col. Rudolf I. Abels, a convicted Soviet spy. However, the witnesses said the Wynne‐Lonsdale exchange was carried out at the Heerstrasse checkpoint at the West Berlin end of a highway leading through East Germany to Hamburg in West Germany. The two prisoners were exchanged at 5:20 A.M. (11:20 P.M. Eastern standard time, Tuesday) in the middle of the road.
“This is waste of time,” Illya says angrily, and sets his folded shirts into the suitcase with a bit more force than necessary. The shirt on top slides off the stack, and he pushes it back with jerky movements.
“They do not need us there.”
Gaby exchanges a quick look with Napoleon when she thinks he isn’t looking, and the secretive gesture annoys him more than it should. “It’s an important deal,” she finally says, brows raised. “I’m sure they just want to make sure the exchange goes smoothly. The prisoners are bit too valuable for them to risk anything going wrong.”
He snorts, a frustrated, undignified noise that causes Gaby’s eyebrows to climb higher. “They are spies who have been caught,” he says, snapping his suitcase shut for emphasis, clack, clack.
“Aaaand …?” Gaby asks. Illya grits his teeth and reminds himself that most days, he likes the fact that she is new to all this, that she is not quite yet so jaded.
“No one cares if they live or die,” he says, and tries not to feel guilty over the way Gaby’s face falls at his words.
“What are you talking about?” she asks reproachfully. He sighs, forces himself to take a deep breath, to still the tremor in his hands.
“They are useless to their countries,” he says slowly. “Everyone knows their real names, their faces. A spy who cannot spy. Is like – like a car that cannot drive. Useless.”
“Ah,” Napoleon says quietly, as if he finally understands what Illya is so angry about. But he doesn’t, Illya thinks, he can’t know, not really, and he isn’t sure if it’s sadness or relief he feels at the thought.
“A broken car is not useless, though,” Gaby says stubbornly, even as Illya lifts his suitcase from the bed.
“And what can you do with a broken car?” he asks, and she shrugs.
“Take it apart for its spare parts, of course.”
Illya huffs, and it sounds bitter even to his own ears. “Precisely,” he says, and walks out the door.
“Of course I absolutely agree that they are wasting our talents on this mission,” Napoleon says conversationally, dropping the copy of Le Monde he picked up in Calais into his lap. Outside the window, the Liège train station falls back behind them and the Belgian countryside rushes by. Gaby and Waverly are traveling by plane, and since the French businessman got off the train in Lille, it’s been just the two of them in the first-class compartment.
They sit on opposite sides of the aisle, Napoleon lazing against the window, Illya across from him next to the door. It makes it easy for Illya to comfortably stretch out his long legs. It makes it easy for them to pretend not to know each other whenever someone pokes their head into the compartment, to check their tickets, inspect their passports, or sell them coffee and croissants. Right now it also allows Illya to stare straight ahead at the empty seat in front of him and ignore Napoleon, who seems to have decided to continue the conversation Gaby started in London a good two days ago.
“Any idiot with decent eyesight and a good rifle could do the job,” Napoleon carries on, and waves his hand in a dismissive gesture. “But Gaby is not wrong, you know. As much as Wynne and Lonsdale are merely pawns in this match, the game itself is far more important.”
Illya crosses his arms over his chest and refuses to look Napoleon in the eye. “You do not need to explain to me the rules of international politics.”
“Of course not,” Napoleon says placatingly, his posture harmless in the deceptive way that puts people who don’t know better at ease. “But regardless of the politics at play, I imagined you would at least be pleased that we get to spend some time in Berlin. All those memories – don’t you find that the least bit romantic?”
Illya does glance at Napoleon then, mouth turned down. “We tried to kill each other in Berlin.”
“Yes,” Napoleon says lightly. “We were enemies after all. Like our very own Romeo and Juliet story.” He smiles, the wide honest smile that most of the time means he’s joking, and sometimes means he’s pretending to be joking to cover up the fact that he’s dead serious after all. Illya finds it disconcerting that even after a year, he still can’t reliably tell the two apart.
“You want this to end with a double suicide?” he bites out, his weak attempt at having it sound like a joke falling flat. Napoleon’s smile fades.
“Illya –“ he starts, his voice low as if now of all times he is suddenly concerned that someone might be listening in, but Illya shakes his head and looks away, refusing to let him continue. He knows that if Napoleon keeps asking, he will eventually tell him the truth, and he is not ready for this special kind of humiliation just yet.
Unexpectedly, miraculously, Napoleon does not push. He just gives him a long, careful glance that Illya feels trailing down the side of his face like an unbearably gentle caress, and says: “Well, there goes my secret mission of taking you out for a night at the opera. I hear the Deutsche Oper is playing Tannhäuser this season. I had big plans.”
Illya rolls his eyes, even as he feels some of the tension seep out of his body.
“If you intend to impress me, perhaps you will have more luck with composer who was not a fascist Anti-Semite,” he says dryly.
“Ouch,” Napoleon says, theatrically clutching his chest, but underneath the mock-outrage, Illya can see something like relief crossing his face. “Your socialist critique never fails to hit where it hurts the most.”
“Perhaps I just know you well enough to recognize your weaknesses,” Illya retorts dryly.
Napoleon shrugs and picks up Le Monde with nonchalance, but over the edge of the newspaper, he sends Illya a small, private smile.
“You certainly do,” he says, and Illya absolutely does not know what to make of that.
There are, of course, valid reasons to be annoyed at Waverly for sending them to ensure the smooth execution of a high-profile prisoner exchange in Berlin, but Illya is perfectly aware that his partners consider his protests unreasonable and overdone. He knows that Gaby thinks his Russian manly pride is offended by the simplicity of their assignment, and while that rankles more than a little, it is easier to let her think that way. He can never know for certain what is on Napoleon’s mind (and that is a source of frustration all in itself), but he most likely believes Illya to be frustrated with the hypocrisy behind this kind of political diplomacy.
He is not entirely wrong.
But it is also only half the truth.
The actual root of Illya’s discontent, the thought that keeps him awake at night with anxiety eating away at his chest, is the certainty, running under his skin like the blood in his veins, that even as the prisoner exchange is celebrated as an accomplishment of international diplomacy, there will not be a happy ending for all the participants in this play. If the exchange goes smoothly (and there is no reason to assume that it won’t), British spy Greville Wynne will be welcomed by his home country with grand fanfare and open arms, lauded as a national hero who helped steer the fate of the world – not because anyone believes this kind of heroic tale, but because it confirms the tried and tested Western strategy of making even a total defeat look like a victory to the rest of the world.
This, however, is not the Russian way.
Illya has always known what might happen if he is ever caught alive. He has no illusions about the reach of U.N.C.L.E.’s protection: Waverly may have connections, but they only reach as far as the benevolence of CIA and KGB, and Illya knows better than most how fickle the favors of those powers can be. Should a government – be it British, American, German – ever decide to make an example out of him, no one will jump to his defense.
And until a year ago – until mere months ago, in fact – Illya had been prepared to face those consequences with open eyes. Had made his peace with the prospect that at the end of his life might not stand a mercifully quick bullet to the chest, but instead an execution staged as media spectacle, a quiet suicide with the help of his shoelaces in a federal prison cell.
But during a frosty December night in Paris, something happened that made the idea of death by the hand of a government pale in comparison to a rather different kind of loss. There is a truth written into Illya’s skin by the trail of clever fingers, burned into Illya’s flesh by the pressure of a hot, insistent mouth, that has overridden the set of variables Illya based his equations on for most of his life, and Illya cannot help but be terrified of what might happen were Napoleon to see, were he to realize the whole extent of the fears that Illya has barely admitted to himself.
Their train reaches West-Berlin by early morning, pale April sun barely climbing over the horizon. They split up at Bahnhof Zoo, two travelers who just happened to share the same space on the train. Illya’s eyes can’t help but track Napoleon as he disappears in the crowd of people milling on the platform, watches him slip into his disguise with a twist of his shoulders, the set of his jaw. He travels as a member of the US Army, stationed in Berlin, a cover made easy to sell by Napoleon’s broad chest and his All-American handsome face. Illya imagines how women working at hotels and restaurants will be falling over themselves in their eagerness to please, has witnessed it often enough to picture the casually flirtatious smile Napoleon will gift them with in response.
An old man with a suitcase bumps into him, and Illya scoffs at his own ridiculousness, pulls back his shoulders to steel himself for the trip to his hotel. Napoleon was right when he said that Berlin would bring back memories, but despite the significance of East-Berlin for their shared history, Illya does not consider West-Berlin a good place to be. Unlike Napoleon, Illya’s features make him stand out rather unfavorably, too obviously Slavic to be looked upon with anything but suspicion. The cover identity U.N.C.L.E. has created for him makes him out to be a Polish refugee, loyal to the Western Allied Forces after being rescued first from the Nazis, the communists second. It’s a deception he finds tasteless and hard to swallow, but it turns out to be depressingly effective: the Germans he uses the story on turn awkwardly guilt-ridden and do not ask any further questions.
Among them are a Swabian middle-class couple on a vacation they can barely afford, to whom he generously offers his suite at the reception of Hotel Am Steinplatz in Charlottenburg, claiming their modest double room in exchange. They are flustered, but ultimately grateful, and he waves them off quickly and reaches for the room key before they change their mind. It’s a simple, but efficient deflection: simple because capitalists are nothing if not predictable in their willingness to accept anything offered to them for free; efficient since anyone who might have been expecting him and went to the trouble of bugging his room will now have the questionable pleasure of listening to Herr und Frau Schäuble from Stuttgart fornicating quietly underneath the covers. He uses the pay phone in the lobby to dial the number he memorized back in London, says “207” when Waverly picks up, and then heads up to the room to wait.
“I see that you gave up your suite again,” Gaby says dryly when she shows up half an hour later, two rapid taps against the door signaling her entrance. She looks around the modest room and raises her brows. “You are truly a socialist at heart,” she says. Her tone is light, but he does not think she means it as a compliment.
“And you are not,” he replies tersely, and he does not mean it as a compliment either.
“Touché,” she concedes, and lowers herself into the chair next to the wardrobe, neatly folding her legs underneath her narrow pencil skirt. She doesn’t look particularly offended, just oddly intrigued, and Illya feels a wave of gratitude for Napoleon’s impeccable timing when the man lets himself into the room before Gaby can say anything else.
“Huh,” Napoleon says enigmatically as he takes in the picture in front of him. For a moment, he seems to hesitate, but then settles down on the bed, letting his legs dangle over the edge like an overgrown child on a garden wall.
“You might as well sit down,” he says mildly, looking up at Illya from underneath lowered lashes and patting the covers in invitation. Illya imagines crawling onto the mattress and pushing him back against the sheets.
“I prefer to stand,” he says formally, putting his hands in his pockets. “Shall we discuss our orders?”
“Hmm, they are using Glienicke Bridge, right?” Napoleon asks. “Where the exchange between Abel and Powers happened two years ago?” He smirks. “I hear people have already started to call it the Bridge of Spies.”
“That was the official statement,” Gaby nods, and reaches into her purse to pull out a street map of Berlin. She gets to her feet to unfold the map on the small desk underneath the window, forcing Napoleon to give up his comfortable sprawl on the bed.
“There’s been a change in plan that they haven’t publicly announced,” she says, tracing the border between West-Berlin and the GDR with her index finger. “The exchange is going to be moved to the checkpoint at Heerstraße, here.”
“Practically in the middle of nowhere,” Napoleon says thoughtfully. “Do we know why?”
Gaby shakes her head. “Probably just a precaution. But I don’t think Waverly knows more than we do. Is that a problem?”
Napoleon shrugs. “Not particularly,” he says slowly, and omits what Illya knows he is thinking, namely that these kinds of unexplained decisions tend to set any experienced operative on edge. “It’s less secure than a bridge, of course,” he continues, “more opportunity for a sniper to get close. It’s not going to matter much, though, I don’t think,” he says. “And we don’t expect any trouble anyway.”
“What is the time frame?” Illya asks, impatiently rapping a knuckle against the desk.
“The exchange is scheduled for 5:20am tomorrow,” Gaby replies, and Illya checks his wristwatch without really knowing why. It’s become a habit, a tic of sorts he hasn’t been able to shake ever since he temporarily lost the watch last year, and from the way Napoleon glances at him from half-lidded eyes, it’s gotten obvious enough to be noticed. He’ll have to get over it, he thinks. In the end, he always does.
“So that gives us about what,” Napoleon muses, “seventeen hours? Long enough to get some sleep in a proper bed. Once it gets dark, Illya and I can scout out the place, settle into the perches sometime after midnight, and wait for the big show.” He sighs, his fingers drumming idly against his leg in a gesture that is oddly familiar but nevertheless uncharacteristic for him. “There’s nothing more anticlimactic than a prisoner exchange. All this buildup, and then two men walk across the street. The end. Can it get any duller than that?”
“I’m sure it’s more exciting for the prisoners in question,” Gaby says dryly, and gets to her feet. “Alright, I’m out of here, Waverly and I are expected to meet at Kurfürstendamm in an hour.”
“You have been making nice with the authorities?” Napoleon asks around a yawn. He stretches, and Illya tries not to pay attention to the way his shirt shifts across his shoulders when he lifts his arms.
“Yes,” Gaby sighs, rolling her eyes. “I’m supposed to be showing Waverly around the city, pretending to be a secretary with the mayor’s office. It’s almost sad how effective that cover is.”
“Let me guess,” Napoleon smirks. “No one remembers your face because everyone is too busy staring at your legs.”
“Something like that,” she nods as she slips into her coat. “You coming?” she asks, but Napoleon shakes his head and waves her off.
“No, I’d like to talk strategy with our silent Russian friend here,” he says casually, and once again Illya is amazed at how easily the lie rolls over his lips. “It’s better if we don’t leave together anyway.”
“Suit yourself,” Gaby says, and there is no indication whether she can see through Napoleon’s deflection or not. “I’ll see you guys back in New York. Good luck.”
The door clicks shut behind her. For a moment, they are quiet, staring down at the map of Berlin spread out between them, then Napoleon steps away from the table with an exhale.
“I assume this room doesn’t offer much in terms of a liquor cabinet,” he says conversationally, wandering over to the sideboard, running an idle index finger along the polished wood as if checking for dust. Illya watches him from the corner of his eye without looking up from the labyrinth of Berlin’s streets.
“I’m sure you will find the mini-bar adequate,” he says, a bit stiffly.
Napoleon is quiet for a long time, and frantic self-doubt starts trying to claw its way out of Illya’s chest.
“Do you want me to stay?” Napoleon finally asks, and Illya looks up abruptly at the uncertainty in his voice. Napoleon has given up on exploring the room, simply stands there with his back to the door, hands loose at his side, and Illya realizes with a spark of shock that Napoleon is worried he will say no.
“Of course,” he says quietly, and feels inexplicably terrified at the open relief on Napoleon’s face.
“I wasn’t sure …” Napoleon murmurs, but he doesn’t seem to know how to continue, eventually trails off with a shrug. He steps up to Illya and cups his jaw in both hands, draws him in for a kiss. Illya meets him halfway and responds in kind, licks into his mouth with a passion that starts out lazily sensual and quickly turns desperate, in a way he hasn’t accounted for. He tries to retreat, suddenly embarrassed with himself, but Napoleon makes a sound of protest in the back of his throat, and tightens his grip. He pulls Illya close with an urgency that betrays a similar kind of despair, and Illya lets his head fall back, bares his throat, gives in to Napoleon’s silent request, the way he always does when Napoleon asks, even though he knows how dangerous it is, even though he knows that one day, the weakness might ruin him.
He lets Napoleon have him. They don’t do it often this way, Napoleon usually more than willing to accommodate Illya’s needs. But tonight, Illya surrenders without struggle, falls down to his hands and knees, lets himself be surrounded by Napoleon’s body, lets himself be opened up by his hands. Tonight could be the last time, he thinks, as any night could be, and a sense of grief over an inevitable loss has him shake underneath Napoleon’s touch, has him tremble and come undone in his embrace.
Later, they lie next to each other on the narrow hotel bed, their bodies touching because there is no room for them not to, and Illya allows Napoleon to curl a calf over Illya’s legs, allows him to draw nonsensical figures into the drying pool of come on Illya’s skin. Napoleon always does that, and Illya doesn’t understand how he can seem so endlessly fascinated with this strange ritual, but he is not going to mention it, for fear that Napoleon might actually stop.
“I met him, once,” Illya says into the silence stretching between them, and has to force himself to keep breathing, once the realization of what he has said has sunk in.
“Who?” Napoleon asks, distractedly, running a gentle hand over Illya’s stomach, back and forth.
“Lonsdale,” Illya says. Napoleon pauses then, but he leaves his palm resting flat against Illya’s front as he props himself up on his other hand.
“Oh?” he says, in the light and unconcerned tone that means he is paying close attention to what Illya says.
“In 1952. He was still Molody then, of course,” Illya says. “We were trained at the same time by the KGB.”
“You were,” Napoleon says flatly, a noticeable change from the studied carelessness of his previous words.
“We did not know each other well,” Illya says, and permits himself to reach out and touch the hand resting on his stomach briefly. “I was very young, and he was destined for great things.” He smiles faintly. “Everyone knew he would make excellent undercover agent. No one expected the same from me.”
Napoleon snorts. “That’s because you are memorable,” he says. “You leave an impression.”
Illya rolls his eyes at him and ignores the heat creeping up his neck.
“He left an impression,” he argues. “He was very popular. People trusted him.” He pauses. “Trust makes lying so much easier,” he continues, and doesn’t miss the way Napoleon winces almost imperceptibly at his words. “He was living undercover in Britain, extracting secrets from his informants at the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment, while his wife thought he was working in China the entire time. He came home once a year, brought her Chinese souvenirs, and she never suspected that anything was wrong until he was arrested in a country on the other side of the world.”
“Perhaps she didn’t want to know,” Napoleon says, and Illya shakes his head, incredulously.
“What kind of marriage is that?”
“An average one, I would say,” Napoleon replies dryly, and then smiles, sudden and amused. “Not everyone knows each other as well as we do.”
There it is again, the tone that makes it so difficult for Illya to tell whether Napoleon is serious or not. He must be joking, Illya thinks, they are spies after all, and secrecy is their profession, is in their nature, in a way. And yet, there is something about the steadiness of Napoleon’s gaze when he looks at Illya that feels earnest in an almost unsettling way.
Illya shifts on the bed, and Napoleon gets the hint and rolls away from him with an almost inaudible sigh. He takes his hand with him, and Illya tells himself that it is what he wanted, ignoring the odd feeling of loss at the phantom sensation of Napoleon’s touch.
The checkpoint Heerstraße in Berlin-Staaken cuts a line across the B5, the highway that crosses the GDR all the way to the Polish border. The territory around the border crossing is a flat wasteland, with few civilian buildings nearby. On orders passed on by Gaby, Illya takes the watchtower on the Eastern side of the border: Waverly has cleared the position with his contacts among the Soviets and East-Germans, and the British will likely expect the Russians to send snipers anyway – they won’t be surprised to see him up there if they bother to look.
“It leaves you exposed as well, though,” Napoleon’s voice crackles through the receiver as Illya looks around the narrow room at the top of the tower. It’s long past midnight, and the checkpoint has fallen quiet. He hadn’t run into any serious trouble while sneaking across the border, and had quickly relieved the regular guard in the tower, who was far too pleased to be sent home early to seriously question the identification Illya produced on demand. lllya thinks it’s a miracle the new Democratic Republic hasn’t fallen to ruins if this is the kind of people they employ.
“They are supposed to see me,” he argues, mouth close to the radio. “So they will not be looking for you. And our presence here is only a precaution, you said it yourself.”
“Still,” Napoleon says unhappily, “I don’t like you playing bait.”
“I can take care of myself,” Illya answers snidely, and immediately regrets his tone. “Have you made decision where to set up?”
“The roof of the office building on the Western side,” Napoleon says, and Illya squints uselessly out into the night. “You’ll be up high, but I’ll be able to see you, and I’ll have an eye on anything coming through your blind spot from the West.”
“Good choice,” Illya nods, then pauses awkwardly. He feels as if there is something he should be saying, but the notion seems laughable once he thinks about it. “I will see you in five hours,” he finally says, and Napoleon chuckles quietly.
“Looking forward to it,” he says, and cuts the channel.
Illya sets the radio on the lone chair in the room and kneels to open the weapon case he has brought along. He nods in approval at the sight of the Dragunov, grateful that for all that Waverly can be annoying, he is at least generous when it comes to their equipment. Illya runs an affectionate hand over the barrel. He won’t be able to use it, of course, at least not if everything goes to plan, and he feels a momentary pang of disappointment at the thought. Still, handling it comes with its own kind of satisfaction, and he’ll be able to make the most of that.
He takes his time assembling the rifle, then sets up at the window to adjust the scope. The roof where Napoleon should be positioned by now is directly in his sight, but it’s still too dark to recognize anything, and Napoleon’s black tac suit will make it difficult to make him out even when the sun comes up. Around four, Illya detects some movement on both sides of the border, two Volkspolizei cars driving up from the East-German side, a British military vehicle approaching from the West. The unmarked cars start showing up half an hour later, and in the yellow beam of the floodlights, Illya can make out Waverly and Gaby among the small crowd of black suits down below. He allows himself a smile at the way the officials fail to pay any attention to Gaby, clearly set in their ideas of what she represents. Molody and Wynne are nowhere to be seen, but that is to be expected: he knows they will be kept hidden until the last possible moment.
He shifts minutely, feeling the familiar weight of the Dragunov press against his shoulder as he moves. They are scheduled to return to New York after their mission, and if they are lucky, they will have a few days to regroup before being sent out again. There is a French restaurant near U.N.C.L.E. headquarters that Napoleon seems to like (although god knows why, since the food is about as French as the fries in a Missouri diner, and ridiculously overpriced). Perhaps Illya might suggest a late dinner there one night, if they can make time. Perhaps, over a glass or two of decent red, he will even work up the courage to find the right words. Perhaps it might not be so bad, if Napoleon actually understood.
Activity on the ground is starting to pick up speed, the different actors gearing up for the main event. He watches Gaby and Waverly put their heads together, tries to determine what they are discussing, and almost misses the faint noise of someone quietly heading up the stairs. He silently curses whoever is responsible for mixing up the shift plans and sending a guard up here right now.
“Du wirst hier nicht gebraucht,” Illya says without taking his eye away from the gun sight, and is utterly, shamefully unprepared for the knife sliding in between his ribs from behind, high up on the left.
He exhales, shocked, then twists on instinct, even as the pain starts to set in, slams the rifle into his attacker’s face. The man recoils with a cry, but it doesn’t matter much. Illya feels himself stumble, feels the rifle slip from his hands and his legs give out underneath him before he can charge forward again. He drops to his knees, barely braces himself on his forearms to prevent falling flat on his face.
Careless, careless. He let himself be distracted by self-pity, insecurities, the sweep of Napoleon’s lashes, and now he’s paying the price. That’s how it works. That’s how people die in their line of work.
“Кто вы?” he asks in Russian, drawing ragged breaths as he presses his back against the wall behind him to stay upright. He fumbles for the wound in his side: the knife is gone, the man too smart to leave his victim with a weapon. His jacket is already slick with blood; he can feel it spurting out between his fingers, thick and hot.
“I do not think it matters,” the man says coolly in English, kicking the rifle away from him with the side of his foot. His voice is muffled by the blood dripping from his broken nose, but Illya can still make out the Oxbridge accent. British then, Illya thinks, although it doesn’t clear things up very much.
“I am going to stop you from doing what you came to do,” he says and is pleased to notice that his voice is still firm.
“I doubt that,” the man says, almost amused. He wipes some of the blood off his face with the sleeve of his dark sweater. “You don’t seem to be in any condition to take me on. You certainly don’t seem to be in any condition to stop me from taking out that bastard Lonsdale once he steps out of that car down there in the next ten minutes.”
Illya swallows thickly. “This is not an official mission,” he ventures, and the man’s smug grin confirms his guess.
“No,” he says. “Of course, Her Majesty’s Government wouldn’t be exactly heartbroken about seeing him dead, but unfortunately spy exchanges have been quite in vogue since that American lawyer Donovan came up with the brilliant idea of trading Cold War prisoners two years ago.”
He gives Illya a calculating gaze, then bends to pick up the Dragunov with a grunt of approval. The small radio breaks easily under the butt of the rifle.
“We can’t have you call in for backup, now, can we?” he smirks at the sight of Illya’s clenched jaw. “You know,” he says conversationally, “you Russians are a stubborn sort. You should be quite dead by now. I was aiming for your heart, to be honest, but you are a bit taller than I’m used to. It can’t be helped now,” he continues smoothly and hefts the rifle experimentally. “You can at least entertain me while I wait.”
“Why do you want Molody dead?” Illya asks. He struggles not to slip in his own blood as he moves his arm out from underneath his leg, and coughs to cover a pained groan.
“He knows one too many things about me,” the man responds with a shrug. “I worked closely with his main informant Harry Houghton at the AUWE. Until Houghton was arrested for espionage, that is. It was quite the unfortunate coincidence that Lonsdale and I would even cross paths, but as these things go, I found out who he was, and Lonsdale found out that my lover in Paris is far more interested in national secrets than in lingerie. He and I, we had an agreement of sorts, if you will, and until now he had no interest in telling anyone what he knows about me. But I don’t have any intention of letting him return to the Russians with this kind of information.” He pulls a face. “If I get caught, that will be it for me. No one is interested in trading with the French.”
“But you will risk drawing their attention by killing him?” Illya asks and shifts to the right, ignoring the agony exploding in his side as he moves.
“But see,” the man smiles, his features grotesquely distorted by the blood on his face. “I will not be the one to have shot him. You will be. Of course, the unfortunate guard you killed out in the staircase did injure you badly, and you succumbed to your wounds after completing your mission. No one will ever know for certain if it was a personal vendetta, or if you acted on behalf of the KGB.”
“You would cause an international incident to protect your secrets?” Illya asks and shifts again, gritting his teeth against the pain.
“But in this game, our secrets are all we have,” the man says. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
Illya doesn’t bother with a reply. He moves his left arm to shake back the sleeve of his jacket. His father’s watch shows 5:04am. When he tilts up his head, he can see the first trace of sunlight coloring the sky. Illya wonders whether Napoleon can see the man in the window from where he is lying in wait, whether he believes that it’s Illya’s head he sees moving behind the heavy glass pane up high.
He lets his chin fall down to his chest. His breathing is turning shallow. The man throws a glance over his shoulder, sees Illya slumped against the wall, and turns back without a second look. He sets the rifle up against his shoulder, starts to focus properly on what’s happening on the ground below.
Illya’s foot catches him off-guard, swipes his legs out from underneath him. He tries to catch himself, but the weight of the gun makes him lose his balance. He crashes to the ground, halfway across Illya’s legs. Illya struggles to get a foot free and pushes it into the man’s damaged face, making him yowl in pain as the sole of Illya’s boot connects with his broken nose. Illya scrambles for the rifle, feels his vision turn grey, but the grip of the gun is familiar in his hands, and he doesn’t need to see to disengage the safety and press the barrel into the man’s neck. His body jerks with the impact of the bullet, and Illya can feel warm blood running down his shins.
He gasps, scrambles away from the convulsing body until his back hits the wall. The rifle slides from his hands, his grip going slack against his will. So perhaps he is a little worse off than he had thought. He drops his blood-streaked hand into his lap and leans his head back against the wall. Nothing to be done about it now. He’s not going to make it down to the ground by himself in the state he’s in, he’s got no way to call for help.
It doesn’t matter, he thinks. He did his job. He shifts his arm and looks again at his father’s watch. There’s blood spattered across its face, but the hands are still visible. It’s 5:15am, and in five minutes, down on the ground a Russian spy and a British spy will cross the street, will walk past each other, perhaps share a glance, and they’ll both be back to where they belong in ten minutes at most, unharmed and safe. The political balance will be preserved, and the Cold War will continue. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
His throat is dry and he coughs. He is not spitting blood, not that it matters much, with the hole in his side, but he always hated the idea of choking on his own blood when he died. At least when he goes, it’ll be with a shred of dignity still intact.
He does wish that Napoleon was here. Just because – well. Because Napoleon had made him feel, for a little while, like he could have something to himself. An illusion of course, a pretty lie, but certainly nice while it lasted.
He wishes he had taken Napoleon up on his offer to go to the opera. He could have convinced him skip the Wagner, perhaps, in favor of Tchaikovsky, or Bizet. For some reason, he’s always quite liked Bizet. He hums the opening chords to L’amour est un oiseau rebelle. Napoleon would probably be able to appreciate the irony.
He closes his eyes. What was it he said to Gaby, the day before they left?
A car that cannot drive.
A spy who cannot spy.
There is an odd smell in the air, and the lights in the room are dimmed. A man sits in the corner on an uncomfortable plastic chair, reading the paper. He is wearing a uniform in the greenish grey of the East-German police, and for a moment, panic shoots through Illya with a jolt. Then his brain catches up and other sensations register: the starched sheets against this body, the distinctive smell of disinfectant, the pain in his side making itself known more insistently with every second that passes. A hospital then, not a prison, he thinks, and the feeling of alarm subsides. So much easier to escape from.
He must have made a noise without meaning to, because the officer in the corner sets his newspaper down and looks over to the bed.
“Wach?” he says in German, not really a question, but friendly enough. Illya blinks carefully, but the officer doesn’t seem bothered by his lack of response, or perhaps attributes it to his ignorance of the German language, because he switches to heavily-accented Russian as he gets to his feet: “Одну́ мину́ту!”
He leaves, and Illya shifts as soon as the door closes behind the man. He eyes the newspaper, abandoned on the chair, and knows he should take advantage of the privacy, take a look at the paper, to check the date, the name of the paper, the headlines on the front page. But his movements are painful and sluggish, and by the time he has managed to pull himself upright, he can hear steps approaching outside the door.
He expects someone from the Stasi, a police detective or two. The nurse stepping into the room instead is not that much of a surprise. The man slipping in behind her is.
The nurse grumbles angrily in German when she sees him sitting upright in bed, tries to make him lie down, gives up and takes his vitals, pronounces him alive.
Illya barely pays her any attention, his eyes focused on Napoleon, who is leaning against the wall right next to the door, hands in his pockets, head bent.
He doesn’t move, doesn’t even look up when the nurse finally leaves with a last quick, furtive glance. Illya waits for her to close the door before he allows himself to sink back against the pillows. Napoleon still doesn’t move, and Illya forces himself to remain alert even as he pretends to relax into the sheets.
“If you have orders to take me out,” he finally says quietly when Napoleon shows no indication of breaking the silence, “this would be good time. I won’t be struggling much.”
This, at least, gets Napoleon to lift his head. “Take you out,” he repeats flatly. “They didn’t say you were hallucinating. Do you know where you are?”
“I know where I am,” Illya says, frustrated with the heavy drag of his tongue against his teeth. There is a blurry fog in his mind where clear memories should be.
“I let him get in,” he says. “He planned to set me up. He wanted you to think I killed Molody.”
“Except that Molody isn’t dead,” Napoleon says slowly. “Illya, the exchange went smoothly, two men crossing the street and all that. Mostly thanks to you, or so I heard, since I was busy trying stop you from bleeding out at the time, you stupid fuck.”
“You abandoned your post?” Illya asks, confused.
Napoleon makes a noise, and Illya looks at him, really looks at him just in time to see his face crumble.
“I could see him approach you through my sights,” he says. His voice cracks somewhere in the middle, a horrible, painful sound. “I saw him take you out, and I couldn’t … I got there as fast as I could, but they wouldn’t let me abandon my post, and I still had to get across the border. If Gaby hadn’t convinced Waverly to let me go … Christ.”
He swipes a hand over his eyes and sits down heavily in the chair next to the bed, face in his palms.
“So we are both in trouble,” Illya asks uncertainly, and Napoleon laughs, a bitter, hysterical sound.
“No, we are not in trouble,” he says dejectedly. “We completed the mission, did exactly what we were there to do. Turns out the British already had an eye on Abney, suspected that he might be causing trouble, but they didn’t want to risk not getting Wynne back if they delayed the exchange. So they asked Waverly to keep an eye out, without really telling him why. If anyone is in trouble here, it’s MI6.” He chuckles, although it could just as well be a sigh.
“Frankly, I’m not sure why I’m even telling you all this. Tomorrow, you won't remember a word of what I said.”
“I am fine,” Illya says indignantly. He pushes himself up to swing his legs over the side of the bed. The pain in his chest hits him with the suddenness of a flash flood, a wave of dizziness rolls over him, and only Napoleon’s steadying hand on his shoulder prevents him from tumbling head-first off the bed.
“You idiot,” Napoleon snorts, exasperated, and firmly presses him back against the pillows. Illya wants to resist, protest the humiliating treatment, but there is something frighteningly vulnerable about Napoleon’s expression that has him swallow his complaints.
Instead of moving back to the chair, Napoleon sits down on the edge of the bed, a hand curled against Illya’s neck, thumb rubbing gently back and forth.
“You scared me,” he says plainly. “What would I have done if you hadn’t made it back there?”
Illya wants to avert his eyes.
“Take me apart for my spare parts,” he murmurs, and Napoleon’s expression, heartbroken and raw, is the last thing he remembers before slipping away.
The New York Times – October 14, 1970
Soviet Spy is Dead
MOSCOW (AP). Gordon Lonsdale, a top Soviet cold war spy who posed in the West as a gum-chewing traveling salesman, is dead at 46. He was caught after 22 years of espionage work by the British while trying to steal secrets from a submarine base. Soviet informants said he died last Friday of a heart attack while picking mushrooms outside Moscow.
Napoleon sets the paper down on the table with the kind of nonchalant determination that makes Illya immediately suspicious. He tilts his head, tries to catch a look at the front page without much success, and shoots Napoleon an apprehensive look.
“What is it?” he asks.
“Konon Molody alias Gordon Lonsdale is dead,” Napoleon says, and the way he hesitates in the middle of the sentence, almost unnoticeably, shows how concerned he is about Illya's reaction.
“Hm,” Illya makes noncommittally and turns back to the stove, stirring the stew with carefully controlled motions.
Napoleon walks up to him from behind. “He was 46 years old, collapsed while out mushroom hunting, for no apparent reasons,” he says, and he sounds unsettled, almost upset. “He was healthy when he returned to the USSR, was he not?” he pushes, when Illya doesn’t react. “Are you really telling me that this was a natural death?”
“No,” Illya responds. He keeps his movements smooth and steady. It wouldn’t do to get stew on the stove top. He only cleaned it yesterday. “No, I do not think so.”
There is a pause, and Illya can sense Napoleon shift back a little, can feel him study the back of his head as if it might tell him all the secrets of Illya’s soul.
“You knew this would happen,” he finally says slowly, understanding dawning in his voice.
“I told you so, didn’t I?” Illya says. “Can’t use a spy for his spare parts, remember?”
Napoleon inhales sharply. “I remember,” he says quietly. He moves close, then, winds an arm around Illya’s body, presses his hand flat against the left side of Illya’s ribcage, where an ugly raised scar mars the skin. “I remember that you almost died trying to keep him safe.” His arm shifts, wraps around Illya’s waist, holds on tight.
“Turns out we made sure the British didn’t kill him, just so the Russians could.”
Illya shrugs, as well as he can with Napoleon plastered to his back and his front pressed against the stove. “It’s the world we live in,” he says calmly. He never forgets it, always reminds himself that this, whatever it is, may not last. That they can take it away from him with a phone call and the flick of a wrist, and there will be nothing he can do.
He feels Napoleon grow tense behind him, as if he is gearing himself up to say something, but in the end he merely sighs and rests his forehead against Illya’s back. Illya exhales, and carefully continues to stir the soup.
“God, I love you,” Napoleon murmurs, and Illya is so shocked that he actually drops the spoon. It hits the pot on the way down and clatters against the stove top with a sharp, jarring noise.
“What?” Napoleon asks, and Illya shakes his head, dumbfounded.
“You …” He clears his throat. “You have never said that before.”
Napoleon is silent behind him, and Illya doesn’t want to turn around, does not want to look at him, but he makes himself twist nonetheless, shifts awkwardly until they are chest to chest. Napoleon looks taken aback for a moment, then he shakes his head with a rueful smile.
“I guess I haven’t,” he says. “Seems rather silly now, doesn’t it.” He shrugs, only a little embarrassed. “This can’t possibly come as a surprise to you, though,” he says. “It’s been seven years.”
Illya blinks, and looks away. “It has been convenient,” he says quietly.
“Convenient?” Napoleon says incredulously. “Peril, Illyusha, my dove, believe me that I say this with the most heartfelt affection, but you have always been the very opposite of convenient.”
“Oh,” Illya says, numbly, and looks down at his hands.
“Now please, please tell me you haven’t been conveniently living with me for the last three years,” Napoleon says, and his voice is light, but there is an edge to it that tells Illya he is actually having doubts.
“Njet,” he says quickly. “I –“ he pauses, struggles for words. “No,” he says, shaking his head, feeling dizzy and out of his depth. “No,” repeats inanely, “no. It’s not – it’s not convenient.”
Napoleon exhales. “Good,” he says. His smile is faint, but content, as if this was all he had wanted to hear, and he shifts as if to step away from the embrace.
Illya wraps his fingers around his arm before he can get very far. “Gaby told me there is a production of Carmen at the MET,” he says, and hopes, prays, that Napoleon can hear what he is trying to say. “Do you believe you can get seats?”
Napoleon blinks uncomprehendingly, but then his face clears, and a very different kind of smile crosses his face.
“Of course I can,” he says happily. “Do you even have to ask? It’s as if you don’t know me at all.”
He is joking, of course, but Illya shakes his head, and still doesn’t let go of his wrist. “I do know you,” he insists, and draws Napoleon close once more, presses his nose into the curve of his neck, smells cologne, sleep, familiarity, trust.
“I do know you,” he says, helplessly, hopefully, with intent.
Napoleon nods against his shoulder, and grips him tight.
“Yes,” he says quietly. “You really do.”