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The Alphabet Affair - C

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Illya Kuryakin concentrated on the target at the end of the shooting gallery. He’d spent the night staring at the ceiling of his bedroom and wondering if Grigory knew what the hell he was talking about.

****

“What are you talking about? I’m not in love.” Illya shook his head, trying to rid the words from it.

Grigory just smiled. “Your mouth says one thing, but--” He tapped his chest, “... your heart isn’t listening.  It is too busy singing.”

“Nonsense. Besides, it is my partner.  He’s a man.”

“So? You can’t control when or who love picks.  It just does.”

“No, it doesn’t!” Illya shouted and then lowered his voice as several nearby patrons looked in their direction.  Softer, he continued, “I can’t be in love with my partner.  That would be wrong.  That would be against the law and against company policy and it would be the end of our friendship.”

“Again, love doesn’t care about such things.” Grigory finished his drink and signaled for more.  “And it wouldn’t be the first time, eh?”

Illya’s cheeks blazed with heat and he loosened his collar. “That wasn’t love.  That was… convenience.”

“Of course.”

“So what do I do?”

“From what I see, you have three choices: Do nothing and let it tear you up inside, which would be a good solid Soviet reaction.  You run like a whipped dog, your tail between your legs, and hide.  That would be the coward’s way out.”

“I’m not a coward.”

“Or you tell him and let the events happen as they will.”

****

I can just see it now, Illya thought as he squeezed off another round. I tell Napoleon I have feelings for him and he decks me just before he….

“Kuryakin, what are you doing?”

Startled, Illya jumped as his ear protection was pulled off. He looked back over his shoulder at the range operator.  Simon ‘Buck’ Thompson was ex Marines and tough as nails.  He was also fair and totally dedicated to keeping UNCLE’s agents in top form.  Illya dropped his weapon’s muzzle so that it was pointing at the floor. 

“I am qualifying.”

“Correction, you might want to qualify. Right now all you are doing is wasting ammunition.”

Illya realized with a small twinge of guilt that Buck was right. He wasn’t concentrating upon his shooting. Some of his shots were wide and Illya’s shots were seldom that.

“If you are trying to avoid someone, you might want to try another department. Otherwise, eyes on the target, soldier.”

“Yes, sir.” Illya replaced his ear protection and checked his clip.  He knew how many bullets he had left.  Even distracted, he didn’t lose count.  He finished the round by placing every last bullet dead on target.  Then he dropped the empty clip and placed the weapon on the shelf in front of him.

“That’s more like it.” Thompson hit the ‘retrieve’ button and the paper target flew towards them.  “That’s good grouping.”

“Thanks.” Illya started collecting his casings.

“Listen, I’m sorry to come down on you, but I know what you can do.” Thompson hesitated.  “If you need to talk, I’m told I’m a good listener.”

Illya smiled at that. “Thank you.  I sincerely appreciate the offer, but it’s nothing.  I didn’t sleep well last night.”

“A distracted agent –“

“Is a dead one. Yes, I know.”

“At least talk to Solo about it. If you can’t talk to your partner, who can you talk to?”

Exactly my problem.

 

He walked into the office he shared with Napoleon and stopped abruptly. There were two plump bear claws on his desk.  Illya knew by sight alone they were from his favorite bakery.  He also knew they were meant as a peace offering.  Part of his pride made him want to toss them, untasted, into the trash, but Illya Kuryakin was a rational man, at least most of the time.  To waste food went against his nature and they were very good pastries.

He sat down and bit into one, chewing slowing to savor the complexities of the flavors, the crunch of the almonds, the sweetness of the almond paste and the bitterness of the cinnamon. He closed his eyes in pleasure and took another bite.

“Am I forgiven?”

“No,” Illya said after he swallowed. “But this is a step in the right direction.”

“I really am sorry about last night, Illya. My watch stopped and then there were all these roadblocks leaving here.”

“I know, I could smell the perfume of the roadblocks and see the lipstick stains on your cheeks.”

“Irene is getting married and I got caught in the middle of her bridal shower.”

Illya opened his eyes at that remark. “Did this involve leaping out of a cake wearing nothing but a sash?”  Belatedly, he realized what a mistake that was and Illya vainly tried to keep the image of a naked Napoleon from his thoughts.

“As if.” Napoleon sat down at his desk and dropped the pile of file folders he carried with a loud plop. 

“What’s that?”

“The other reason I was late last night. I was following a lead.  Remember my last assignment?”

“Vividly.” The picture of Napoleon about to be skewered had been burned into Illya’s nightmares for a week afterwards.

“There was something that the lead THRUSH said that reminded me of another assignment.”

“And?”

“That’s what distracted me so late last night. I was looking for it.”  He patted the top file folder. “So far, nothing.”

“What did he say?”

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

      And burbled as it came!

  The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

      And burbled as it came!

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

      And burbled as it came!

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, came whiffling through the tulgey wood, and burbled as it came!”

“I don’t have the slightest idea of what you just said.”  Illya started on the second bear claw, much slower now, determined to make it last as long as possible, anything to put distance between him and dealing with his issue.  Napoleon’s determination and total commitment to his job was one of the things that made Illya respect him.  He refused to use the ‘L’ word.

“It’s a line from a poem in Alice in Wonderland.”

Illya stopped chewing. “But what does it mean?”

“No idea.” Napoleon dragged his chair around. “I figured it was purposefully cryptic to keep me from trying to escape.”

“Or perhaps he was just a crabbit.” Illya resumed concentrating upon his pastry.  It was shocking how small they were.

“A crabbit?”

“It’s an old Scottish term for someone who is grumpy. You did deal him a major blow in Singapore and I’m sure he had to do some fast talking to keep THRUSH from permanently retiring him.”

“Crabbit?”

“I thought it fit along with the quote.”

“You amaze me.”

But apparently not enough Illya thought as he finished the rest of the bear claw down to the last toe. “So what have you discovered?”  Illya brushed crumbs from his tie.

“Nothing, but there’s something right in front of me and I’m so close, I can’t even see it.”

You and me both.  “You’ll find it.  You always do.”

“In the meantime, Simon said you had something on your mind.”

“Mr. Thompson needs to know when to let sleeping dogs lie.” Illya’s brief trip into Not-Annoyed Land was over.  “It is my personal matter and I will deal with it.”

“Don’t be hard on him. He just doesn’t want anything to happen to you.”

“I appreciate his concern and I don’t mean to sound callous, but it is my business and no one else’s.”

“Well, I’m here if you need to talk.”

And again that’s the problem.  If he was indeed falling in love with Napoleon, a concept he was still railing against, he needed to put some distance between himself and the issue. Napoleon was always there and Illya could do very little to avoid him at HQ.  He thought frantically, his mind picking and discarding a dozen scenarios and then he suddenly blurted out, “I want to transfer.”