Everyone could tell what Napoleon’s daemon was on sight. Lynxes weren’t exactly subtle creatures; the minute they would walk into the room, all feline grace and confidence, Artemisa and Napoleon would be categorized- and generally, they were dismissed as a challenge to whoever was in charge, or even considered a tempting target.
Lynxes also weren’t exactly large, they were generally solitary, and their prey consisted mainly of hare. Those daemons who settled in such a form generally did so because they wanted to be powerful, but didn’t have the talent necessary to obtain it. They might have talked like a tiger, but they lounged like a housecat. Knowing this common wisdom, most declined to look any further. Very few people bothered to even try pinpointing which species she was.
If they had, the might have discovered some interesting facts about L. Canadensis, such as a documented ability to swim two miles upstream, for example, and the ability to hunt with other lynxes- even members of other species- when the situation called for it, and enough intelligence to store kills for later.
Across the table, Angelique raised her glass in toast. Her daemon- Celestin- sat on her shoulder, glinting cobalt blue in the candlelight. Showy, is one word for him; maybe even beautiful, if you could get over the eight legs. Artemisa watched him with avid eyes, looking ready to pounce.
A little too easy, Illya thought, as Napoleon raised his own glass. Assuming they both survived each other, he would have to pay a visit to the daemonology department to determine what species of tarantula he was, what people say about that kind a daemon and how the animal itself would naturally behave. Napoleon looked like he could use the advantage.
“Salude,” she said.
“Salude,” he replied, thoroughly smitten.
Neither of them really drank, but there was an element of genuine pleasure in both their smiles. From his place in the corner both behind Angelique, Illya huffed into his false beard, and kept his mind from wandering down the path of how many other things he could be doing besides chaperoning Napoleon’s latest attempts at intelligence-gathering.
The drugs made him nauseas- and he was already woozy, slumping in his chains with his weight resting on his wrists, which ached. They were making him say things- sounds without meaning. The interrogator hit him every time he got it wrong, which was troubling for reasons unrelated to his current lack of equilibrium. He wasn’t asking questions any more- something which he’d been warned about in survival school. You had to be careful, with drugs which increased the subjects’ susceptibility, to not lead them in any way shape or form, lest the brain start rearranging its memories to suit your line of questioning, rather than your line of questioning dredging up accurate accounts. When it came to resisting interrogation, those drugs often meant that the interrogators were not interested in information, but rather extracting a false confession.
He thought this was a susceptibility drug, because those always made him want to vomit: but then again, it already smelled like vomit and he could not remember having done so. It could be a susceptibility drug mixed into some kind of cocktail with other things. Only the interrogator would know.
Was there only one interrogator? He hit like one person, but whenever Illya opened his eyes there were two or three men, each surrounded by a veritable hive of wasp-daemons and buzzing, buzzing, buzzing…
Illya closed his eyes again- strangely enough, that made the buzzing fainter. If he concentrated on the human sounds, he could almost drown it out entirely.
It was English, he was fairly sure, though it seemed like a dialect he hadn’t familiarized himself with. ‘Eye’ like what he used to see, ‘wuz’ like the root of fuzzy-wuzzy, ‘bee’ like the wasps weren’t, but close, ‘trayed’ like someone had turned tray into a verb- perhaps it was like ‘tabled’- ‘buy’ as in the purchase of goods and services, ‘man’ as in a male human, and ‘door’ like an exit.
It didn’t make any sense, though that might be because he was having trouble remembering how it started. Hopefully he wasn’t confessing to having committed any war crimes as an UNCLE agent, or some such thing. On the other hand…
“Do you wish to know about bears?” he checked.
The interrogator didn’t hit him, but there was a sharp pain in his chest, like a hook being yanked through his ribs, hundreds of thousands of orders of magnitude worse, and Illya coughed up what bile he had left onto the interrogator’s shirt before passing out.
Illya’s daemon didn’t associate with other daemons. It was no small source of consternation amongst many of his associates, particular when they have only just met him; they wanted to be able to ask “Is that a wolf or a fox?” and neither Kuryakin provided any such openings. Sooner or later, however, someone who had spent enough time in the Eurasian steppes to recognize a dhole would arrive, and from there on in, most people simply attributed the lack of socialization to a reflection of Illya’s aloof, standoffish personality.
This was only partially correct.
Those with the security clearance to view Illya’s full file often assumed that it was cultural. It’s true that marhime has a lot to say about what should and shouldn’t come into contact with one’s daemon, and that Illya had grown up hearing all about the taboos and superstitions involved therein. He wouldn’t deny, if pressed, that these things likely had an effect upon him. But he’s never been a traditional man, let alone a superstitious one, so that was not entirely correct either.
(And when he did think of it, which wasn’t often, he didn’t think he should consider himself Roma either. These past several years, he had been called Russian, and not argued. Before that, he took much the same tact when people assumed he was a full-blooded Ukrainian. Still further back, there were plenty of people willing to argue about whether or not diddikai, particularly one from a settled family, really counted as Roma.
So, no. That was not it at all.)
The truth of the matter was that Illya considered the things his daemon said private, and they both know that Westerners in general and Americans particular didn’t understand that sometimes, things were best not shared between all parties, but rather kept between daemon and daemon, or human and human. If they wanted privacy- which they did- that left little for Shandor to discuss. And that is the end of the matter.
Except that it wasn’t the end, not entirely.
“I hear such things are often the fault of the mother,” Mother Fear said. Her daemon, Otti, was a brown hyena, his coat brushed until it shone like silk. He drew too close for comfort, and Shandor snarled, his lips curling back to reveal short curved canines and molars made for shearing. “What was it, that warped your daemon so? Was she neglectful? Were you an unwanted child?”
“I must warn you, I don’t have any resentment for you to prey upon,” Illya replied. “Nor any feelings of inadequacy.”
He was expecting to feel Otti’s jaws clamp down on Shandor’s neck, or perhaps to have the tea- scalding hot and laced with drugs of one kind or another- thrown in his face.
Instead, Mother Fear smiled. “So you want to be a good boy, then?”
He glanced over at the guards. Both of them have hound daemons, and were clearly cowed by Otti and his human. He smiled; clearly, she assumed that a dhole was of a similar temperament, and that was not true at all.
He said nothing. The look on her face as she grew increasingly frustrated alone was worth the pain of the tea hitting his face and everything that followed.
Everything was loud- so loud, too loud, footsteps like shells falling, voice amplified and distorted beyond comprehension, demanding something he couldn’t parse, let alone give.
He tried to repeat the words he learned earlier. “Eye wuz bee…”
He could not for the life of him remember what came after. Even getting the ‘bee’ out took some struggle. There was more thunderous shouting, which might not even be aimed at him, and he covered his ears. His head hurt, his mouth was dry and sour tasting, and he wanted nothing more than to bury his head into Shandor’s fur and sleep until it all stopped.
Shandor was out of his reach, so he curled into the stone wall. It was a poor substitute for a daemon, but eventually the noise descended into a dull roar, which helped some, and he was given some water, which helped more.
“Eye wuz bee trayed buy man door,” he said in gratitude, as food appeared as well. The words came easier when he wasn’t thinking about them.
He ate steadily, light rolls replenished as often as he ate them- though that might have something to do with the way that every time he tried to save one for later it was taken from its place and put back on the platter. Eventually he gave up. Eating now meant that it would be another five days before he would have to go looking for more food, or risk not being able to go out ever again- and if he didn’t get any more water, it would have to be sooner, whether the shell-footsteps had stopped or not. Not being able to save any food made very little difference.
He pondered for a moment how footsteps might also be shells, and concluded that the concussive force might be similar for the footsteps which belonged to giants. It then occurred to him that he might be drugged. He could almost imagine remembering it to be so.
And then none of that mattered, because one of the giant’s hands reached down and grabbed him by the skin on his back, lifting him clear of his hands and feet into the air. Meanwhile, Illya curled into a ball on the floor, screaming from his very soul.
The interrogator left him there, hurrying from the room making sounds that pounded on his skull.
“Shandor, Shandor, Shandor, dusha moi…”
His daemon was still beyond his reach. Eventually the pain subsided, and his managed to flop up into a sitting position. He drifted for a while, unknowing, and then the footstep-shelling returned and a guard walked in.
‘Door.’ He left the door open. Illya regarded it for a moment in delight, before stumbling to his feet and out into the hallway. The footstep-shells followed him.
‘Man,’ Illya thought, turning around and punching him in the face. But before he could figure out what it meant to be ‘trayed’ there was the buzz of a not-‘bee’ and the world went dark before his eyes.
He was not ashamed, not of any of it- not his heritage, nor his daemon. They were both diddikai by virtue of their father the Ukrainian and their mother the Servitko, and they were both born as male as the other. When they were eight, and news had reached them that all their family were murdered in the latest massacre to take place at Babi Yar, Illya had made the decision to live, and Shandor had settled into the form of a dhole, which was more similar to the first two things than one might assume at first glance.
It was more important too. There had been some manner of control- some element of choice- in the form in which Shandor settled.
“Illya? I can’t understand what you’re saying.”
It was his grandfather who had seen that best- before Shandor had settled, of course, back when they were a young boy and his mismatched daemon. He had a surprising number of fond memories of Shandor frantically changing form in an effort to escape from the tongue bath his grandfather’s daemon- Lyuba, a small black bear, hardly bigger than her human when she stood on her hind legs- insisted upon giving him when Illya was in their home.
Some days he thought (except he didn’t think it, generally: but just now he has thought it) he missed Kuric Erdenko more than any of his family- even before his mother, father, and brother. Papu with his old leather skin- cracked, tough, and brown- and his stories -from his father’s line of Cossacks, his mother’s line of traders, and his own travels throughout Central Asia- and his many, many languages he was quite willing to teach to Illya.
It was an Erdenko trait, the hyperpolyglotism- his mother had it as well, but she was too busy working during most of Illya’s childhood for him to remember her speaking very many languages. His grandfather had been of the opinion that while Illya favored his father physically, he favored his mother mentally- which was maybe why Shandor was Shandor, and maybe not. In any case, there were worse things to have been born, he said, “such as the other way around, like your brother.”
“Illya, focus. Stay in one language at least. Preferably English.”
Except that wasn’t what he’d said at all was it? He had named the things which Illya was born, but he couldn’t remember all the words. There was one which he’d used instead of diddikai, one which meant fair-complexioned- pale skin, and sometimes also blond hair, or light eyes- and he kept coming up with targo, which actually meant fair as in carnival.
“English. Can you speak English for me?”
It was supposed to protect him, being fair. It was why his father had left him with his relations- the gadje, they were always the gadje in his head, the way none of the people he’d lived and worked and bled with since could touch, and they were never, ever any family of his- while he tried to arrange safe passage for his darker mother and brother. They’d been caught, his father had refused to leave them, they’d all the three of them died in the same ditch as nearly a hundred thousand other people, and the gadje had turned him out on the street.
He understood why they did it. He just wasn’t going to forgive them for it.
Parno. The word he’d been looking for was parno. Why had he been trying to relate to his mother’s tongue using English anyway? Down that path lay false cognates and botched phonemes- he knew that better than anyone. It was not, to him, a sign of anything good.
“I think that was German? Illya, I really need you to use English.”
“Far vos?” he asked. He asked it in Yiddish. Yiddish was better than German, for all that German had been more useful to him. Parno could also be taken as Aryan, if you had no knowledge of a child’s parents, and within weeks of the occupation he spoke excellent German. Thus armed with his father’s face and his mother’s mind, rumors began circulating that the small boy who would hang around their mess halls was some officer’s bastard child. Illya encouraged them- it got him more food- and neither confirmed nor denied it when the rumor coalesced around one officer in particular. He never did discover which Maximilian he was supposed to be the offspring of; but he answered to ‘Max’ as well as he did ‘Elias’, so it’s not like it did him any harm.
Napoleon slapped him across the face. Illya blinked and stared at him in shock.
“Illya- listen to me, and try to speak clearly in the language I am speaking.”
“I was betrayed by Mandor,” Illya recited promptly.
There were very few people they trusted well enough to converse freely, daemon-to-daemon. Waverly was one of them, of course, as Iashvili and his family had been- but that was a trust born out of necessity. He’d needed to trust that Iashvili would find him useful enough to sponsor him, and association with his wife and children grew from that; and he needed to trust that Waverly would not needlessly send him to his death.
Napoleon had been like that too, at first, but somewhere between their first mission during the Caribbean Crisis and the The Neptune Affair that had changed. Napoleon didn’t understand his boundaries, and Illya, once he’d learned of them, didn’t understand his either: but they learned to read each other well enough to know when they’d been crossed, and withdraw accordingly.
It was Napoleon who had first noticed that withdrawal wasn’t always enough. It had been after The Quadripartite Affair- Napoleon had asked how he’d known Horst, and Illya had responded by more or less biting his head off.
(He hadn’t known Horst very well at all, but Horst had known Kuric, and Illya had been happy to both speak with someone else who remembered him, and could remember him in his own language, even if the dialect was different.)
After enough time had passed for the sting to fade- less time than it had taken for Illya to extricate himself from Marion’s string of never-ending parties- he’d apparently hit upon talking about his own family as a means of reconciliation. It had started their current system of a secret for a secret. Illya knew that Napoleon had grown up bouncing between the United States and Canada; Napoleon knew that Illya had left Kiev after the war and never looked back, not even when he was studying in Voroshilovgrad. Napoleon told him about withdrawing from Yale in order to enlist in the Navy; Illya told him how much he’d detested living and working on submarines. Napoleon’s Aunt Amy was better known as Amelie of Leuchtenberg, a witch with ties to many old European rulers, including being the granddaughter of the original Napoleon, just as Illya’s mentor Iashvili had been caught up in the last of the arrests made by the NKVD, and sent to Vorkuta Gulag where he died of heart failure mere months before the camp was closed. (Illya had even met Amy, and Napoleon Iashvili’s widow and children.) Napoleon was aware that Illya was part-Roma, even if he didn’t know the particulars, or even the right words, and Illya knew that Napoleon regularly went to confessional, but not of what he spoke, or even if it was out of any kind of religious faith, rather than a need to talk.
Napoleon has not asked about his family. He has not asked about Napoleon’s wife. Illya did not speak of The Great Patriotic War, and Napoleon didn’t talk about his time in Korea. Those were boundaries neither of them had any desire to cross.
There was a trick to being tortured. Actually there were several, taught to him by the GRU and then in Survival School. There were ways of tense and tilting your body to lessen the damage of blows, nonsense to repeat in order to keep important information out of enemy hands, statements, with varied phrasings, that started out as truth and devolved into lies, to spill when you came close to breaking. There was one trick that Illya had hit upon on his own, and that was to scream as loud as he could.
“I was betrayed by Mandor!”
“You said that already Illya, don’t-”
Scream, and they will think they are hurting you more than they are.
“I was betrayed by Mandor!”
Scream, and they would need to be absolutely sure that no one would hear you and come to your rescue.
“I was betrayed by Mandor!”
“Don’t you dare give up on me now!”
Scream, and Napoleon will not waste his energy worrying whether or not you’re still alive.
“I was betrayed by Mandor!”
He saw the slap coming this time, and ducked.
“I was betrayed by Mandor!”
Scream, and it will be difficult to tell when you’re really breaking.
“Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin, if you cannot answer me, you are going to die!”
“I’m not going to die,” Illya told him, after a moment to think. It was in English, but he found the words hurt.
“Good, I’m glad one of us is convinced,” Napoleon said with a shaky laugh. Behind him, Artemisa paced, guarding the doorway: the door itself had been removed at some point, it seemed.
Illya remembered, for a moment, that they had had this conversation before. He’d been on the floor then, siren bells blaring in the background, Napoleon crouching down to his level as Artemisa crouched by the door, her fur bristling. He knew then, before the words left Napoleon’s mouth, what question he would ask.
“Illya, where’s Shandor?”
“I don’t know,” he replied, the panic he’d been unable to place suddenly crystallizing. “I don’t know.”
Theories differed hopelessly as to why some people were born the same gender as their daemons- even if you tried to simplify things by ignoring the transsexuals, hijras, two-spirits, kathoeys and all the other possibilities for human genders besides male and female. Freud held that it was the result of an unnatural motherhood, one in which the child was not wanted- though if that were the truth, there would be many times more people same-gendered with their daemons. The common wisdom in continental Europe, long since spread to Britain, the United States, and the USSR, was that it denoted homosexuality. That was also not true- again, most studies indicated that there were many more homosexuals than there were people with same-gender daemons, and it wasn’t true for Illya either. If he was anything at all, he was bisexual- but his libido was one of those things he spent as little time contemplating as possible.
There were some older, shamanistic beliefs, still found in places like Mari, Tatar, and Chuvash, which said that it was a sign of some sort of supernatural ability. Had he not known his mother’s family he would be tempted to link that with his gift for languages- but he had, and no one could recall any Erdenko with a daemon like Shandor. There were comparatively few such people from any family- and what he, Lawrence of Arabia, the woman that sometimes slept behind the water tower on the roof of the building across the street from his, Hermann Goring, and Sherlock Holmes all had in common he couldn’t begin to guess, nor did he believe anyone else had anything but guesses.
It had bothered him greatly as a child. It bothered him still, but it was a different sort of bother which had less to do with Shandor’s maleness than it did other people’s reactions to discovering it. It took him some time to figure out a low-key way to work within the supposition, and eventually hit upon softening his accent into Cambridge English. It was still exotic enough to American ears to excuse any number of peculiarities that UNCLE might demand of him, and suggested that he had lived in Great Britain much longer than he actually had. Three years later, many people assumed he was a Russian defector- and if they noticed Shandor was male, they thought they knew why he’d left, and accepted his lack of communication more easily.
Not only was he still neither Russian nor homosexual, but he was, to no one’s greater surprise than his own, still a Soviet citizen in only slightly tarnished standing.
He’d thought that he might have to defect, once. The new First Secretary had made everyone anxious- less because of anything he’d done, though he certainly had superiors who were left floundering by the sudden criticism of Stalin- and more because he was new. His attempts to have Iashvili rehabilitated were stymied by a reluctance to release a formally high-ranking Georgian man into the wake of the Tbilisi Riots, as well as the fact that he was currently stationed on a submarine which routinely maneuvered in the Pacific, far away from everyone he needed to speak with in Moscow. Once they’d launched, he’d found that someone had begun to spread around the fact that he was a Gyptian, which somehow meant that he was responsible for any and all items which went missing on board.
He found rudeness and careful observation to be his allies and dealing with that- “Yes, Ismailov, I stole your pocket watch and sold it at our last port of call. I couldn’t help myself, disobedient children are not cheap and I miss cheating people out of their money,” and the resounding silence that had greeted that announcement had been so, so satisfying, “You folded it into your berth this morning, you blithering idiot. Next time one of your belongings goes astray, kindly bother someone else- preferably without the baseless accusations. It gives you the look of a careerist.”- but that didn’t win him any friends, and his authority as intelligence officer never did recover much.
In hindsight he probably should have picked someone else to yell at publically. He may have outranked Ismailov, but the man was still an officer. Ismailov’s daemon, a wolverine named Kadyra, was the only daemon bigger than Shandor allowed on the cramped vessel, which had meant that they often berthed across from one another, where their daemons might have more room to stretch out. Proximity certainly didn’t make the resultant grudge any more pleasant to deal with.
Additionally, it made him strongly suspect that someone in Moscow did not like him very much. From where this person or persons came from he did not know- the Politburo, Naval Intelligence? Maybe even Admiral Gorshkov himself had decided that Illya might not even rate good enough. When his replacement showed up in Kamchatka with orders recalling him back to the capital, he wasn’t surprised. He considered running, but decided to at least try to stay in the Soviet Union, if he could- he knew people here, and understood the system they lived under, at least.
The eighteen-hour long interrogation about his record was more or less what he expected. That it stretched back to actions he had taken as a ten-year-old while hardly touching upon the friction in his latest post was less so, but that was when he’d met Iashvili, who was still serving a sentence for violating Article 58. He had thought that were trying to find something that could put him away too- failure to report Iashvili’s failure to report treason, perhaps.
It would depend on how Khrushchev wanted his rewritten codes enforced.
“But why Luka Savvich Yachvil, out of all the officers in 1st Ukrainian Front?” they asked him, again and again in various ways.
He’d answered equally variously. “He seemed like he wouldn’t shoot me.” “I’d seen him speak to other children- he appeared safe enough.” “He looked younger than a lot of the officers, so I thought he might be more likely to listen to me.”
“His daemon had settled as a magnut, the same form as my mother’s,” he had finally snapped. “I was a child, I took it as an encouraging sign.”
They’d switched interrogators twice by that point. There had been breaks then for him as well- not to sleep, but to eat, drink, and relieve himself. The choice of interrogators had stood out to him as well: the first one had been a man who had started out with trouble rolling his r’s, and whose accent had sharpened distinctly into Yiddish as time wore on. The next had been a woman who had made no pretense of being anything other than a Pole. The current one was a man he rather thought was Koryo-saram, and he moved on to whether or not Illya bore any resentment at being asked to continue his studies, rather than compete in the Olympics without so much as a blink. He had supposed that they were hoping to lure him into a false sense of security, by picking fellow non-Russians to interrogate him, and redoubled his focus upon his answers.
He was allowed to retire eventually, and he flopped down upon the provided bed with a sigh after running through his customary room check. Shandor jumped up with him, stretching out along Illya’s side and resting his head on Illya’s chest.
“We could probably still fit through a window that size,” Shandor said.
Illya snorted. “No, we couldn’t, and we’re not going to try.”
Not with Luka Sabas Dze still alive, somewhere in Siberia, and not with his wife and children still struggling on in spite of the stigma of having family in the camps. The fact that there had been nothing from any of his contacts- either attempts to cover their tracks, or more friendly activities- waiting in the room meant either that they’d all been arrested and he was about to be shot for participating in a conspiracy, or things were not as dire as he’d thought. Only time would tell.
He couldn’t say any of that though, not with the bugs, so he scratched behind Shandor’s ears and fell asleep, waking six hours later when his orders of transfer to UNCLE Berlin had been approved.
Daemons are sacrosanct. It was a universal human belief: to separate one from their daemon, or to touch a daemon not your own without permission was one of the most vile acts one could do. It showed itself in many ways, the most obvious in his life being the way many people grumbled about Shandor’s lack of communication, but few ever pushed the issue directly.
The list of people they trusted to have conversations with Shandor was very small. This had as much to do with the nature of daemon-to-daemon conversations as it did the way other humans talked with their daemons. When humans talked to one another, it was an exchange of information more than anything else. When daemons talked to one another, it was a form of emotional connection- and the convention of pretending to have that connection, no matter how weak, based upon proximity was not something with which neither of them could abide. Shandor talked with their superiors’ daemons because it was their superior’s job to know if something had come up that they could not do, but beyond that perfunctory exchange they didn’t really associate with any of them. As for the people Shandor would choose to speak with, there had been a friend or two at any of the places he’d attended school after the war, practically no one during his GRU days, and a fellow agent or two at each of his postings since he joined UNCLE.
It looked lonely even by the standards of the Soviet Union, which seemed appalling to Americans. It worked for them, however: they had been quite enough for one another as children, and they managed quite nicely now.
“I don’t know,” Illya said, again. “They took him, I don’t know where.”
“Can you tell me which direction?” Napoleon asked.
“I-” Illya tried to focus, but the cell was swimming before his eyes: forming the words still hurt. Wait. “We’re in a cell.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Napoleon said, helping him sit down. “Nobody’s around anymore, and the door’s open.”
“Oh,” Illya said, looking back to the empty doorway.
“Focus on Shandor.”
“Shandor,” Illya agreed, and thought about it, about the direction the hook had seemed to pull.
“Behind me,” he said, after a moment. “But far. And he’s restrained- in something small. He tried to escape, I think. They caught him.”
Artemisa left her pacing, and sat down in front of them. “I think that’s as good as we’re going to get, Napoleon.”
“Well, at least that’s something,” Napoleon got back up on his feet. “Hang tight, Illya.”
Illya pondered that one for a moment.
“To what?” he asked, but the cell was empty again by that point. Perhaps it always had been. Perhaps he really was dying- or worse. Perhaps he’d been severed. He’d heard stories, of people being severed as part of the experiments performed on them by Nazis. There were even whispers of people being severed in the zone, and in Haiti and certain places in China and Central Africa, in order to make more compliant workers. Eye wuz-
“I was betrayed by Mandor,” he said into the empty cell. He could parse it now, and could tell that they’d chosen the wrong words. If he’d said it in English- which was doubtful, the longer and more forcefully he was tortured the more likely he was to revert to Russian, Ukrainian, or Romanes- he wouldn’t have said betrayed. They might have been cautiously optimistic about Mandor’s defection, but he was still not a trusted entity, and they were still braced for a double-cross. In the event that he could only preserve one piece of information, it wouldn’t be that he’d been betrayed, but rather that Mandor was untrustworthy.
“Mandor double-crossed us,” he said, and then gasped. The English words still caused his head to throb, but that was a distantly secondary concern: Napoleon had found Shandor, he could feel it. It wasn’t like before- it didn’t hurt, so he was fairly certain that Napoleon was keeping some kind of barrier between himself and Shandor’s fur, but he could still feel an echo of being carried, and not by a lynx either. Perhaps the knapsack?
Sure enough, the sound of footsteps soon returned, less thunderous than they had been before. Shandor was curled in the knapsack slung across Napoleon’s front, his head flopping out over the top, and Illya felt almost human again.
“We have to go,” Napoleon said, transfer Shandor, sack and all into Illya’s outstretched arms. “Everyone cleared out to go to Mandor’s estate, which should be brimming with UNCLE agents, but that’s no guarantee that there won’t be a few who escape and try to regroup here.”
“Yes, yes, I suppose we should then,” Illya said, getting back on his feet.
Napoleon had a car waiting- it was orange. Illya remembered that, but not how he got to it, or when Mr. Waverly and several others appeared in the car with them, and they moved into the backseat.
There’d been a young woman there too. He’d somewhat reflexively insulted her by calling her the mission’s pretty young thing.
“It’s nothing to do with you,” he said in French. English still hurt, and he gathered from her continued affronted expression that she understood him well enough. “This happens to a large portion of the women he talks to- something about dark looks and a sentimental mind.”
The phrase reminded him of something. “I think if my brother had lived, he would have been much the same way.” He leaned back in contemplation. “They would even be of an age. I didn’t notice that before.”
“Illya…” Napoleon said softly.
Illya closed his eyes, and slept.
Dholes didn’t hunt in packs. The term pack implied both an expectation for hunting together and an adherence to hierarchies that dholes lacked. Instead, they worked on a clan based system, each clan numbering anywhere from forty to three. The clan would separate into smaller numbers- into packs- to hunt far from home, and return to the den- oftentimes more of a city- after they’d finished hunting, often dragging back kills for suckling mothers and weanling pups.
Their territories often overlapped with those of big cats- leopards, tigers, and cheetahs. Dholes sometimes shared from the cats’ kills, and just as often killed the cats themselves. They could hunt with incredible stamina, running at speeds of up to 30 mph, and herding their prey into rivers or other natural barriers. In addition to big cats, dholes were known to kill elephant calves, even in instances where the calves’ mother would reduce the clan’s population by half. They also ate a great deal of fruit and vegetable matter.
Those with dhole daemons often were considered to be more sociable and friendly than even those with wolf or dog daemons. Make of that what you will.
He woke up in Charleston coven, three weeks later.
“You were in a coma,” Napoleon said, at his bemused expression. “You went into delayed shock sometime after we got clear of Valandros’ estate, and when we got here, the witches put you in a healing trance.”
“I was awake,” Shandor reported. “I tested out our new range.”
“How far?” Illya demanded.
“I found Shandor in a sweatbox about a quarter-mile away from you,” Napoleon replied, just as Shandor said “I can go just over 300 meters without being to debilitating pain.”
That was six times the maximum limit for stretching out the distance between human and daemon by the conventions of long-term hostile interrogations done by the GRU. UNCLE regulations were even stricter, not moving the daemon out of range of their human at all, but rather keep the two out of sight from one another for extended periods of time. If Valandros had been planning on reducing him to a vegetable, that should have done it, even without the drugs. Illya let out a whistle. Artemisa batted Shandor’s nose with one of her paws. He growled at her, but didn’t move from where he lay stretched out against his human’s side.
“You’ve created quite a stir among the withes here,” Napoleon continued. “Apparently, while not common, that kind of distance isn’t unheard of, and they’re thirsting to have a new case to profile.”
“I take it I’ve already volunteered?”
“It will give you something to do while I’m busy smoothing over bruised egos and racial tensions at the local office here,” Napoleon said, nodding. “Integration is taking more work than I was hoping.”
“It seems to me like that will probably end up being someone’s epitaph,” Illya remarked.
“The Charleston Office is not quite,” Napoleon said, though there was something in his manner which suggested that he was only leaving off a ‘yet’ out of hope that if he didn’t say it, it wouldn’t come to pass.
Conversation stymied, the silence stretched between them, the inevitable question hanging a clearly as though it had already been spoken.
“I didn’t know you had a brother,” Napoleon said finally.
“I didn’t know your language skills were so atrocious,” Illya replied flippantly.
“They aren’t, but they can’t handle slurred words and changes of language every third sentence,” Napoleon explained. “I figured that if I could herd you towards English, I could have a chance of understanding what you said.”
Illya considered bringing up the effort speaking in English had cost him- it would distract from the matter at hand, for a time. Then he dismissed it: he would detail that in his report. Napoleon was unlikely to let this go, if only because he had yet to offer an equivalent piece of himself to Illya in return, and the discussion would only grow more irritating as time passed.
“His name was Isaak,” Illya said. “He had my mother’s dark looks and my father’s sentimental mind, whereas I am the other way around. My father thought that with my being so fair, it would be easier for me to hide- which proved correct- and that it would be safer for my mother and brother to be with him until he could arrange for them to leave the city, which was decidedly less so.” He took a deep breath, his eyes sliding closed, and felt Artemisa’s head brush against Shandor’s snout. He forced his eyes open again. “It was February of 1942- not a good time to be in Kiev. They shot a lot of people then, even their own Burgomaster. One Ukrainian man’s stubbornness didn’t dissuade them from murdering three generations of a Gyptian family. Except for me, of course. I lived.”
“You were very young,” Napoleon said.
“I’ve been very young for a lot of things,” Illya noted. “It’s only recently that my age has caught up with my life.
“Most people considered me very young, when I married my wife,” Napoleon began, falteringly. “I was only eighteen when we met, and she was only a year older. But I fell so hard, even thinking about it makes my head spin.”
Illya sat up, dislodging Shandor as he did so. His daemon jumped to the ground, brushing up against Artemisa as he did so.
“My family didn’t like it. Well, my family didn’t like her,” Napoleon went on. “She was Protestant, for one thing, and- let’s just say that ‘white trash’ wasn’t to most impolite thing I heard. It made me so angry- she was so smart and so- I loved her with everything I had. And when she was gone, and I had to listen to everyone try to hide how relieved they were while offering condolences and I couldn’t stand it. I managed to convince the Admiral that joining the Navy was a way to atone for straying from the family’s good graces, and headed off for Korea without looking back.”
“No. No, I didn’t either,” Illya said.
Napoleon took a deep breath, and then slipped neatly back into his role as CEA. “The Old Man is going to want a full report.”
“I’ll get to it as soon as possible,” Illya promised.
“Good,” Napoleon said, dumping the prerequisite pile of papers on Illya’s bed. “The witches are going to want at least a copy of the preliminaries- and they’ll have questions of their own to ask, probably centered on what was done to Shandor, and the daemon himself.”
Illya sighed. “Do you think that might count towards my mandatory counseling?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Napoleon promised, standing up. Artemisa padded around the bed, her nails clinking against the floor. “I’ve got to go conduct another round of interviews. With luck, I can convince Meyers that retiring to head up the Belfast office is the better part of valor, and Knight that he should pick Ivanova and Sesay to be his lead team.”
“Good luck,” Illya said emphatically. Having an Afro-American man lead Section One would be difficult enough for people to accept: having his second and third be a Russian woman and a Senegalese man would be even worse. He wondered if that might not be Napoleon’s plan, to bury everyone in so many changes that they ceased to protest out of sheer bewilderment.
“Same to you,” Napoleon said, and left.
“That wasn’t as terrible as we thought it would be,” Shandor commented, jumping back on the bed.
“No,” Illya admitted. “Though, it may get worse if he keeps bringing it up.”
“I don’t think he will. He didn’t seem like he enjoyed talking about his family very much,” Shandor said with a sniff, curling up on Illya’s feet. “And anyway, it’s not like he even talked about his war, really. You might remind him of that, if he tries asking you again.”
Illya made a noncommittal noise, and reached for the paperwork. He had reports to be filling out, and then witches to appease. The boundaries between himself and Napoleon would simply have to tend to themselves for a time.