New Missions, New Trust
Gaby looked around in surprise as Waverly turned and left. He tossed one more comment over his shoulder as he went, about the new code name, and then he was gone. She thought about following him, but the way he’d left made her think that he didn’t want her to come. Or, rather, he wanted her to stay with the other two. Her boss had a tendency not to spell things out, but to let things fall as they would with minimal guidance on his part. For the most part, she enjoyed it. Every now and again, though, she wanted to strangle him instead. This was one of those times.
Turning back to the table, Gaby took in the unhappy poses of her soon-to-be partners. Illya tossed down his drink in one gulp and clunked the glass down, while Solo put his carefully on the table and faced away from them, his hand clenched tight on the balcony. With a shake of his head, Illya did the same on his side. Gaby looked around again, but no, no Waverly still. Just them. Her and two angry men.
Gaby had been trying not to think about how they would react to the news. They had each said goodbye with no expectation of meeting again – her and Illya just an hour ago, and she’d talked to Solo at breakfast earlier. They’d both forgiven her... but that was when they were all going their separate ways. Would they want to work again with a known traitor? Waverly hadn’t seemed to think it would be a problem, but Gaby was still uncertain. She hadn’t forgiven herself yet, especially after hearing about Rudi. A family of traitors and torturers.
With a grimace, Gaby sat down in the chair nearest her and reached for Solo’s abandoned glass. Taking off her sunglasses and tossing them on the table, she contemplated the smoldering ash. Her father’s last work, gone now with nothing but destruction and death to show for it. Still, less death than if it had been used. She didn’t know how he could have done such a thing, even with the threat to his own life, but then, she didn’t know her biological father at all. Just a few old memories and a few new ones. He’d made his own life, with a home and a dog in America, and never even tried to contact her, even after the war.
“What will happen to Schnitzel?” Gaby asked suddenly, wondering about the dog.
That brought the other two around, looking at her in puzzlement. Understandable on Illya’s part, but even Solo, who had told her about the dog in the first place didn’t seem to remember.
“The dog,” she prompted. After another pause, she added, “Da... Ut... The dog you said my father had in America.” She didn’t know what to call her father. Her ‘dad’ had been her foster father, not the man who had abandoned her so long ago. It was probably a moot point now. “Unless you were making that up.” Entirely possible, knowing now how Solo weaved his tales.
Solo snapped his fingers, remembering. “That’s right, the dog. Even I couldn’t make that name up – Real enough, or so I was told.” Then he frowned. “I have no idea what will happen. I presume somebody will take it in.”
She raised her eyebrows at him.
He returned the look. “I can ask Saunders, but he’s not going to be too happy with me at the moment.”
All their gazes went to the ashtray.
“Dog would have starved to death by now,” Illya remarked dryly.
The other two glanced, startled, at him.
Illya shook his head at them. “Dr. Teller disappeared two years ago. Dog will have new owner now.”
Gaby blushed. She’d completely forgotten about that. His life in the states was much more unreal to her than his recent death was.
Illya moved on to more practical matters. “We have to confirm orders. Waverly said an hour?” He looked at Gaby for confirmation.
“By plane to Istanbul,” Gaby confirmed. “Waverly has tickets for the four of us on a flight from Roma.” She paused, then clarified, “Leaving the hotel in an hour, not the plane.”
“What is mission?” Illya sat down and poured himself more whiskey, then stared at the glass without touching it.
Solo stayed leaning on the balcony, removed from them in his sartorial elegant pose. “Four? Waverly is coming too?”
Gaby nodded. “It’s the people who bought the disc – or would have bought. There’s a lead from the Vinciguerra records, and Waverly wants to go after it. The disc wasn’t the only thing they were buying, apparently.” She glanced behind her to confirm the space was still empty. “Waverly didn’t have time to tell me everything – I thought he was going to brief all of us now.”
Solo pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes. “That boss of yours is...” he trailed off, not finding the right words.
“He is up to something,” Illya grunted, still staring at the glass. “How did he get them to agree?” He glanced up and over at Solo, a wordless communication going between the two of them.
Gaby watched it happen. The two of them were the experienced spies, the best of the best. She’d wondered sometimes about their reputations and the reality while watching them bungle their way through the mission, but since they’d come back from the midnight raid on the shipyard, they’d had a connection that made them work in unison. Even if she hadn’t betrayed them, she didn’t think she could be a part of what they had now – she just didn’t have the experience to match, or the understanding.
Solo shrugged, responding to the question with apparent indifference, but really reflecting his own unease. “It’s better this way, is it not, Peril?”
Illya drank from his glass morosely. “Perhaps.”
The ashes still smoldered in the tray, with the empty disc beside it. Waverly had been happy about the two spies’ solution, but it was a sure bet that the CIA and the KGB wouldn’t be. In East Germany, the KGB in particular had a very nasty reputation. After spending time with Illya, Gaby had started to think that maybe it wasn’t all true, but perhaps that was just Illya.
Said gentle giant put his glass down and stood up. “Must call. Might take hour just for that.” He said the last part wryly.
“Shall I have some breakables sent to your room?” Solo quipped.
“Very funny, Cowboy.” Illya bent his arm and tilted his wrist to look at his watch.
Gaby blinked. “Your watch!” Unless he got a new one? In which case she wished the world would just swallow her whole for blurting it out. But no, Illya was smiling his half-smile and turning to Solo.
“Cowboy got it back for me.”
Solo ducked his head, unexpectedly looking a little abashed. “Pure luck, really. The thug who stole it was on the island, and I happened to notice. Sheer chance.”
It was rare to hear modesty from Solo. In fact, this might be a first in her days with them.
Illya snorted, dismissing the modesty. “Chance, perhaps, but with good eye and memory. Taking opportunity luck gives is more than most do. I did not see them.”
It would have been easier for Illya to get from where he was to the door by going around the side of the table where nobody was sitting. Instead, he walked along the balcony edge, stopping next to Solo, close enough for them to touch, though neither did.
“You knocked them out, Peril,” Solo said dryly, tilting his head to keep his gaze on Illya.
Illya’s back was to Gaby. She wished she could see his face. But this was not for her.
Whatever passed between them after that was silent, and Illya moved on. He stopped next to Gaby and looked down.
It was a long ways. Him standing and her sitting. Gaby was used to being short, but the difference between her and these two agents took it to extremes. Like Solo, she tilted her head, but it was a lot further for her and almost back nearly all the way before she could see him clearly.
Illya put a hand on her shoulder, avoiding the bruises and scrapes, and gently pressed. “It is a good thing, Chop Shop. It will be.” His gaze both measured and reassured.
Gaby’s heart turned over. She wanted to reach her own hand up to touch his, but before she could move, both Illya and his hand were gone, leaving the balcony and her and Solo. She breathed slowly out.
“He’s something else, isn’t he?” Solo’s voice was warm and friendly.
When she looked, so was his gaze. Yet there was something else hidden behind it, that she wouldn’t have sensed a few days ago. She remembered the way Solo had desperately gotten her out of the overturned vehicle. As she’d been fading in and out of consciousness, he’d been there, calling for her, hovering, checking her to the point of ignoring his own danger. Yet here he was, throwing honest praise at the other man. It was probably a buddy thing – like how he’d told Illya to adjust the tracker after she’d presented herself to Solo. Once Illya had shown an interest, Solo had declared himself off the market. Yet here they were again.
“When this first started,” Gaby mused, “I’d thought you’d be the one playing the fiancé. It was a disappointment.”
Solo’s eyes flashed, a heat going through them before he carefully turned it off. He didn’t move, but suddenly his leaning pose on the railing became more casual, if that was possible, and his smirk grew. “Which would have left Peril to deal with Victoria. Probably not a good idea.”
“Probably not,” Gaby agreed, her mouth twitching. Though who knew – it certainly couldn’t have gone worse.
When she’d been playing the two of them, hiding in her innocent pose, she’d gathered information on them, trying to figure them out, subtly encouraging their rivalry even as she acted the mediator. They had no reason to trust her, and originally, they didn’t. “I don’t even remember how it happened.”
Solo tilted his head, trying to parse that, staying carefully on his side.
“I was scared of him. Determined to do my job, and willing. But Illya... he is KGB.” She shivered. “He would have killed us to keep from getting over that wall.”
“Ah,” Solo shifted, looking uncomfortable. Then he took himself off the railing and came to sit down beside her. He touched the ashtray lightly. “I was lying, you know.”
Gaby frowned, trying to figure out what he meant.
“He wasn’t going to kill you, and you wouldn’t have spent the night hanging from the ceiling, having your toenails removed. The KGB needed you just as much as we did.” Napoleon shrugged. “Me? Well, me, he probably would have, but that’s why I was using you as the focus. All part of the games spies play.”
That night had been a whirlwind of activity, with Gaby trying to strike her own balance between finally getting the chance to use everything she’d been waiting for after two long years, and still giving Solo the impression she knew nothing and he was talking her into it. She tried to look back on it with the new perspective.
“You’re good,” she admitted. Even forewarned, she’d fallen for it. East German instincts and years of being wary about talk about freedom and the wall had kicked in, stronger than what should have been her logic of the situation. “What about the car? He was holding his gun...”
Solo shrugged. “He couldn’t see me but knew I had to be there somewhere, a threat. And he was right.”
Solo had shot first, Gaby remembered. At the time, she’d been coldly indifferent, and would have been happy enough to see a KGB agent dead at CIA hands. If things had been just a little different, if Illya hadn’t been so quick, who knew where they would be right now? She shivered. Illya Kuryakin gave the impression of danger, carrying it around him like a shroud, while Napoleon Solo was all ease and grace and smooth talk and ways... but Solo had shot to kill, and Illya hadn’t.
“He’s not what they say he is,” Gaby mused. She’d been briefed on them after she’d finally hooked up with Waverly at the hotel. Read their files while Illya was planting bugs in Solo’s room and Solo was doing the same to theirs. At the time, she’d believed every word in the reports. That night, though... “I was drunk.”
Solo smirked, and, as if reminded, reached to snag Illya’s glass that he hadn’t finished, taking a sip from it. Gaby drank from Solo’s that she’d been holding all this time. It was good whiskey, dry and rich. She tended to prefer the sweeter varieties and what they usually got at home was younger and harsh. Cheaper. Going on this mission had expanded her range of drinks and foods and dress. She would adapt – she had to, if she was going to be of use to Waverly in this new life of hers.
“I was scared, but had planned on seducing him that night,” Gaby confessed.
“Waverly didn’t...” Solo frowned.
Still protective? She was a spy too, and it wasn’t like Solo hadn’t slept with the enemy for the job. Gaby raised her eyebrows at him. “No, he didn’t. My idea. I just... he wouldn’t drink with me. I’d forgotten I hadn’t eaten much at dinner, and the vodka was a lot stronger than I am used to. I don’t remember a thing after going to turn on the radio. Then the next day... the next day he was smiling and playful and fun... and I don’t remember a thing of how it happened. Somehow, I got inside his guard, and I still have no idea how or why or what.” Illya had started treating her like a girlfriend for real after that, and Gaby was still thinking of him as the enemy. It had been disconcerting, to say the least. And then it had turned real for her too, and that was even scarier. His hands on her, telling her it would be okay, while she was preparing to betray them. She’d been trembling from fear, yes, but it was fear for what she was going to do, not fear for herself. How that must have hurt Illya, to hear her calmly denounce them. She’d been so careful to keep feelings out of it, and then Illya had to go and make it real...
“Ah.” Solo smiled, his long fingers playing with his sunglasses on the table as he carefully didn’t look at her. “Sorry, can’t help you there. All I know was there was dancing, and slapping, and wrestling, and that was it.”
“Wrestling? Slapping?” Gaby stared. Dancing, yes, she’d been planning on that, but...
“According to Peril, when he wouldn’t dance with you, you slapped him.”
Raising a hand to her mouth, Gaby swallowed.
Solo’s grin got wider. “Then you offered to wrestle him and knocked him over the couch.”
“I weigh less than a wet cat, compared to the two of you!” Gaby was slightly horrified at the idea. “I did not!”
Solo spread his hands wide in disavowal. “That’s what I was told.” He brought his hands back in and tilted his head to the side, studying her. “It impressed him.”
It impressed her too. Well, horrified her more, but she now understood Illya’s change a bit better. Gaby looked down at the ring he’d given her the next morning, tracing the faux pearl. Or was it a real one, carefully hollowed out to fit the miniature microphone?
A sudden thought occurred to her. “He’s not listening now, is he?” She blushed. She shouldn’t even be talking to Solo like this, but the chance had been irresistible when Solo started it.
Solo looked sharply down at the ring. “I’d forgotten about that.”
“He would have had to go downstairs, get the case out, then tune it,” Gaby mentally walked through the steps. If he’d done all that straight away, he might have gotten her drunk confession but not the parts before. Not the worst thing he could have overheard. She shrugged.
“Peril really does have to call his contact, I doubt if he would have bothered right now.” Solo balanced his chin on his hand and stared intently at the ring. “I’m wondering, though, who else might have the frequency?”
Gaby couldn’t get the ring off fast enough and put it on the table, shoving it away from her. “That’s a very disturbing thought.” Illya listening to her was one thing. Somebody else... quite another.
Solo picked up his sunglasses and used the ear stem to poke at the ring, as if it was a coiled serpent. Most people would leave a snake alone, not tease it, but that was Solo for you.
After a moment, Solo grabbed the fruit dish, emptied it, then put it upside down over the ring. “The heavy glass should keep our voices from being anything but hollow sounds.”
Gaby relaxed. She would have to tell Waverly, though he knew well enough about the ring. It had been part of their plans, after all. She sighed. “There was a point to all that. I got distracted.”
Solo smirked. “I was enjoying it.”
He would. Gaby rolled her eyes.
Sobering, Solo sat back and waited for her.
“Apparently, we’re going to work together,” Gaby said softly. “Can we?”
“Can we?” Solo redirect the question back at her with an arch of his eyebrows.
She looked at the ring under the glass. “I betrayed you.” Hopefully she’d kept her feelings out of her voice. She thought she had.
Solo huffed. “I thought we already got over that.” He shrugged. “It was orders. You stick around in this business long enough, you’ll find yourself doing a lot, lot worse.” He sounded bleak, like he was remembering some of that worse.
Gaby couldn’t imagine it. Worse than betraying two people who trusted her? Sending them to what could have been their deaths? Had gotten Solo tortured, and by her own uncle at that. Torturers and betrayers – it was in the family blood. She couldn’t stop thinking about that.
“I killed Peril,” Solo said, his voice low and slightly harsh.
Funny, Illya had seemed alive enough to her a few minutes ago. Unless Solo was talking about their future. Gaby looked at the ashtray. It wasn’t even smoldering now, black bits still and cold.
Solo followed her gaze. “Perhaps I’ve even killed him twice, at that.” He shook his head. “When we were in the shipyards. I was too caught up in my ego, showing off for him... I missed the alarm and he drowned. My mistake.”
Gaby blinked. “He said you rescued him.”
“After I’d killed him.” Solo’s mouth tightened, his gaze flicking to beyond her, beyond anything currently present, somewhere in the past.
“That’s not the same.” Gaby didn’t exactly know what had happened, but she knew that it was a mistake, not deliberate.
Solo brought his eyes back to her, his mouth turning up. “You and Illya can be a lot alike, you know.”
Gaby had no idea what brought that on.
“My point being that things happen in this business, and some of them we’re told to do, and some of them just happen, but we all do what we can to complete the mission. We’re expendable – the mission is not.” His mouth turned down, emphasizing the clef in his chin. “At least this mission was, and the upcoming one I presume is, about world safety, keeping people safe, and making sure deadly things are out of the hands of those who would use them for evil. That’s more important than our individual lives. Our covers were cracking all the way through – turning us in was the only way for you to stay with them and get to your father and the bomb, which allowed us to stop them.”
They hadn’t believed her either, in the end, so Gaby wasn’t sure if it counted. One way or another, she would have ended up there. She just wished it could have been done with more integrity. Hindsight and missions didn’t allow for that, though, apparently.
Solo reached out for the empty disc and turned it over in his hands, looking at the empty back where they’d taken out the tape. “Better for world safety then for petty government squabbles.”
There was a wealth of bitterness in his words. Gaby wondered what he’d had to do for the CIA to sound like that. “If Peril was here, he’d ask when you became such a cynic to your own government.”
Solo looked up, his expression lightening. “You called him Peril.”
Gaby blushed, realizing that she had. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s your nickname...” It was something the boys used between each other, special to them.
With a shrug, Solo dismissed that too. “As long as I get to call you Chop Shop Girl.”
“Why do you two get the cool names and I get stuck with something like that?”
“’Cowboy’ is not cool.”
“Neither is ‘Red Peril’,” a low rumbling voice came from behind them.
Gaby would have had to turn all the way around to see. Instead, she looked at Solo, who was turning his head, a true smile drifting over his face, welcoming their third like a missing piece coming back.
“Back so soon, Peril?” Solo leaned back, his limbs going loose as only he could make them. Taunting and relaxing in one.
Illya reappeared to Gaby’s left, moving beside her to reclaim a table position. He shrugged. “It was very brief. He confirmed mission, referred me to Waverly, than hung up. Nothing else. No questions. No other orders.” His voice reflected his unease.
A frown flickered briefly over Solo’s face and then was gone. Illya locked eyes with him for a few moments while they contemplated that.
“What was your conversation?” Illya looked away first, reaching to the fruit on the table and grabbing the grapes. “Talking about me?” He eyed the ring under the bowl while he ate a grape.
Solo chuckled. “Oh, we’re long past that. Gaby is worried about us working with her.”
“Napoleon is a cynic,” Gaby spoke over Solo, using his hated first name deliberately. He flashed her a look of annoyance that turned into a wry grin of acceptance.
“Nothing new in that,” Illya responded to Gaby’s statement, while letting Solo’s be for the moment.
“August 9, 1945,” Solo said abruptly. “That’s when I became a cynic and why I will never trust any government ever again.” For once, he was deadly serious, and Gaby could tell it was a real answer.
The problem was, Gaby hadn’t had much of an education. Her foster father was a mechanic and while he did as much for her as he could, fancy schools weren’t part of it. 1945 was obviously the war. In Berlin, the war had ended on May 2. That date she knew. What had happened three months later?
“Nagasaki,” Illya said flatly. “Or were you perhaps talking about the Soviet declaration of war on Japan?”
Solo blinked. “Did you?”
Illya rolled his eyes. “We defeated the Kwantung Army and kicked them out of Manchukuo. It is why Japan surrendered.”
“The U.S. said it was the bombs.” Solo’s voice was still flat, no emotion making its way out at all.
“The atom bombs killed civilians, women and children, pets and insects, everything living in the cities. Japan is proud. Would not have surrendered for that. We demolished their last remaining major military and outpost. That was more practical.” Illya ate another grape. “Nagasaki, rather than Hiroshima?”
“So it truly was for nothing,” Solo swallowed. “The first bomb... had never been used outside of tests. Knowing how destructive something can be is not the same as seeing it actually used.” Solo’s jaw tightened. “The second bomb was inexcusable. They knew. They knew what it would do at that point. Nobody should have that much power to destroy, ever.”
He tossed the empty disc he’d been holding back onto the table. The plastic hitting the glass made a muted ring before it settled. Gaby watched it and reflected how little she knew of death compared to her teammates. Solo was right, and her father had been wrong, twice over wrong, to work for people who would do that. No, three times, since he’d been working for the Americans as well. Used his whole life, only for the death he could bring others.
Illya continued his destruction among the fruit. “All war is pointless. Soviet Union dead by Germany was over 20 million people. Ten million civilians.”
Solo glanced up sharply. “I hadn’t heard that many.”
“Classified,” Illya grunted. “Probably more than that. We are also proud, like Japan. Ukraine was almost destroyed.” His eyes shaded. “Nazis considered us on par with animals, slaughtered us as they went.”
Gaby winced, remembering what Rudi had said to Illya about bloodlines. She would never, ever, think of him as her uncle again. She’d been a child during the war. With a few sentences, she was starting to realize why the tensions in East Germany had been so high for her whole life. Russians would not easily forgive her people for that much death, even after 18 years, even if it had not been them directly.
“I-ly-a...” Solo parsed the name out, giving it three syllables instead of his usual two and starting it with an E sound. “That’s Ukrainian, isn’t it?”
Gaby suddenly realized that that was the way it should be pronounced. Solo was the one who told her Illya’s name... apparently intentionally mispronouncing it, which she’d been doing also without knowing. She glared at Solo for making her an instrument in his early subtle mocking of the Russian agent.
The person whose name was under discussion shot Solo a dirty glare. “Is good Russian name, popular in many Soviet Union areas.”
Solo smiled in satisfaction, his needling having taken effect.
Illya tossed the grapes onto the table next to the disc and abruptly changed the subject. “Chop Shop, is okay. Was mission.” He met her eyes directly, his blue ones direct and serious. “New mission, new trust.” The edges of his lips turned up. “Hopefully, same objective for all of us.”
Gaby still didn’t think it was that easy, but she was starting to hope it was at least possible. They at least bickered well together, and discussed things both great and small, and returned to each other. She reached out her hand to Illya, then when he took it, reached her other to Solo. He hesitated a moment, then also clasped tightly.
“Istanbul, gentlemen?” She asked lightly, holding on.
“And curly-whirly shoes,” Solo quipped, grinning at them both.
Illya shook his head at the two of them, but he was smiling in return so it was good.
It would be good. A new mission, and one without the hidden agendas that had been between them for this one. They’d succeeded despite it here. Istanbul would be better.