A/N: For the What's My Line challenge on Section VII on Livejournal
Snow was starting to fall and he shoved his hands deep into his pockets as he picked his way along the rubble-strewn street. Mama had used to make him wear a scarf on days like this. She knitted him a new one every year with all the colours of the rainbow. He remembered that; only bright colours got you killed and if he had a scarf now he would sell it for food. Sorry, Mama.
Looking round to make sure no one could see, he quickly scrambled into the bombed out-house at the end of the row, pulled the slats aside, and climbed down through the hole. The cellar here was somehow intact, and the hole wasn't big enough for an adult to fit through, but a child could squeeze in. In fact, it got a little easier every week.
Six pairs of eyes stared at him through the dim light as he landed neatly on the ground.
"Illya!" Yana exclaimed delightedly, waving her stubby hands happily at him. The bandages over her missing fingers were filthy again, he noted. He'd need to try and do something about that, if he could.
"Where have you been?" Boris demanded. "We thought you were gone."
He wouldn't have been the first of them to simply vanish one day. He shrugged apologetically. "Out," he said briefly.
"Did you get food?" Yury asked.
"I got money," he said, pulling an oilskin pouch of coins out of his pocket.
"Where did you get that?" Sergei asked, wide-eyed.
"A couple of German officers," he said coolly. "It was payday. They were drunk." And their wallets had been easy to lift.
Boris sighed frustratedly. "You need to stop stealing from the Germans," he scolded, like he thought he was Illya's father or something. He was the biggest among them, and thought he was in charge. It was annoying.
"I can't think why," he said tightly. "They stole everything first."
"If they catch you, they'll kill you," Boris told him as though he might not know that.
"Illya, can I borrow twenty kopecks?" Sergei asked, holding up a couple of coins. "I want to send a telegram to my Papa."
He paused for a second. "Alright," he said at last. Sergei was always talking about his father; a hero of the Red Army.
"Thanks!" Sergei blurted out. "I'll tell Papa to send money so I can pay you back!" He stood up and sprinted out of the holiday, like he was expecting Illya to change his mind.
Boris looked at him and tutted. "You know you won't see that back again."
"I know," he said sitting down and yawning heavily. It felt like years since he'd slept.
"His father is dead," Boris added meaningfully.
"All the fathers are dead," Yana said sadly, leaning on his arm.
He patted her head comfortingly, absently reaching up and closing his hand around Papa's wedding ring, still hanging on a string around his neck.
"Everyone's dead except us and the Germans," Timur said sleepily.
He didn't think that was true. But sometimes it seemed that way.
"I heard that the Germans are already in Moskva," Yuri said in a whisper.
"That's not possible," Illya said with a confidence he didn't feel. "It's too far. Napoleon couldn't do it, remember? We learned that in school."
"I heard that Comrade Stalin got angry and and had half the Red Army executed," Boris said.
They all looked round themselves fearfully. "Don't say that sort of thing," Svetlana said crossly, and Illya agreed. Anyone could be listening, even if it looked like no one was.
"Alright," he said standing up and stretching. "Lets go and see if we can find some food." There had to be somewhere that was still open and still had something.
Sergei never came back.
"Come on, Illya, you can lend me a couple of roubles," Nikolai pleaded.
He shook his head, his mouth pulled into an unwilling smile. "I think you've already asked everyone on the boat. What do you want it for, anyway?"
"Something important," Nikolai said evasively. "Come on this is our first leave in months. I want to enjoy it."
"So do I," Illya retorted.
"Yes, but your idea of enjoying it is holing up somewhere with a book," Nikolai said dismissively. "Boring!"
"Not true," he said seriously. "I also plan to enjoy every second of being in the fresh air and not underwater. And I want some food that that doesn't taste like someone else ate it before me. Oh, and a place to sleep where I can't hear Pavel snoring."
"You might need to move to Berlin for that," Nikolai said, wrinkling his nose."Come on, Illya, I'll pay you back at the end of the month. You know I'm good for it."
He gave in. "Alright," he said, dipping into his pocket and coming up with the money. "Just make sure you pay me back."
"Thanks! I will!" Nikolai shouted as he sprinted off.
That night, Illya was hauled out of his very comfortable sleep by an angry sergeant and dragged to the base commander's office. Nikolai was there, wearing chains and a black eye, flanked by two men who weren't in uniform, but were carrying guns. He didn't look up when Illya came in. His shoulders were slumped wretchedly.
"Lieutenant Kuryakin, Mager here tells us you loaned him some money," Lyovkin, the commander said.
"Yessir," he said, gazing at the desk. There was a disparate bunch of objects lying there – a bottle of French wine, a couple of American records, chocolates, and a camera. The fact that the camera was of Western make was really secondary here – had Nikolai really tried to take a camera onto the base? Such an idiot. He was dead. They would kill him for this, there was nothing more to be done. And he'd given Illya's name so Illya was in danger of being dragged down alongside him.
"And did he tell you what it was for?" Lyovkin asked.
"No, sir," he said truthfully.
"I just wanted to take pictures of my girl," Nikolai burst out. "Have a good time. That's all, I swear"
At a nod, Nikolai was dragged away, struggling and begging for mercy.
He had to try. "Sir, I believe he's telling the truth," he said desperately. "I've served with him for six months now. He's stupid, not a traitor."
"Stupidity is treachery," Lyovkin told him coldly. "See that you do not make the same mistake, Kuryakin. We'll be watching you. Dismissed."
He walked in the other direction from the screaming.
Trinity College, Cambridge, 1956
Illya plotted the results of his experiments with fascination and a little concern. This was more or less the opposite of what Dr Browning had predicted, which meant that either something was seriously wrong with his methodology – and he prided himself that was unlikely – or else he was really onto something interesting here.
He heard the footsteps before the lab door was rudely flung open and he tensed, reaching for a gun that wasn't there. Oh, yes. He was a normal student. No shooting people, remember?
It was Charles Marlborough who came striding in, on his own for once – he was another student, not a friend certainly, but not an enemy. Harmless, Illya would say. "Good lord, gentlemen," Charles said dramatically, to the empty room. "I think we have a Bolshevik in our midst."
"That gets no funnier with repetition," Illya said dryly. "What do you want?"
"Well, I'm in a bit of a tight spot," Charles said with a laugh. "You couldn't see fit to lending me a fiver until I can persuade my father to send more cash could you? I wouldn't ask, but all my friends are tapped out and I thought, well, maybe Eel has some money?" Apparently he caught the look on Illya's face because he quickly added. "It's just five pounds - it's not like I'm asking you for the crown jewels or something, Eel."
"You might as well be as I have neither," he retorted. "And if I did, I would be unlikely to lend it to one who does not know my name."
"I know it, I just can't say it," Charles said dismissively. "You can't blame me for that, blame your parents...oh." He instantly looked contrite. "Sorry."
"It's alright," he said levelly, wondering at the strange things that the English would decide were out of line. Declaring him poor to his face was fine, but mentioning his deceased parents was apparently the action of a cad. When he had first arrived, having clearly attended neither Eton nor Harrow, the next question he'd heard everywhere had been a delicate enquiry as to what his father did. There had been sympathy when he revealed that both his parents were dead, but polite bewilderment at the revelation that they had been factory workers. Blood would tell, apparently, and his was the wrong colour.
Fortunately he was not here to try and recruit, although there had been a few he'd noticed eyeing him with fascination, and he had suggested to his superiors that if they wanted to infiltrate the British government and security services, they needed to turn those with the right old school ties, who belonged to all the right clubs.
"Look, can't you just give me what you have?" Charles implored.
"No," he said simply.
"I don't think you really want to me saying no to me, Eel," Charles said dangerously, towering over him. "You know I'm in the boxing club, right? Just lend me the money."
Why was it this man who was two years older than him was such a child? But he already knew the answer to that. Charles had come back from the winter holiday with a new car and a bunch of stories about skiing with his family in the Alps. Illya had spent the holiday in East Berlin. He'd killed a man.
"It isn't a loan if it's extracted through threats," he said dryly. "They call that robbery."
Charles paled, the mention of the real world apparently coming as a shock. Perhaps privilege wasn't all it was supposed to be. "Oh, I didn't...I mean, you know I wouldn't really hurt you, right? That's one of the first things that you learn in boxing, you know. Not to use your knowledge on anyone weaker than yourself."
He decided to let that go. But it took an effort.
"I just really need the money," Charles went on.
"What do you need it for?" Illya asked with a sigh.
Charles looked guilty. "Well, I won some money betting on the horses last term, and my bookie said I had a natural talent for spotting winners, and one thing led to another and...well, I've given him my car to try and pay him off but he still says I owe more."
Illya stared at him and shook his head. "The real world very rarely troubles you, does it?"
"What do you mean by that," Charles started to say, but he was distracted by Illya digging through his pockets.
"Here," he said, passing over the money. "Twenty five shillings. It's all I've got, I'm afraid."
Charles nodded bravely. It's better than nothing. I've got other people I can try. Thanks, Eel. You're not so bad, you know."
He shook his head as the other man left. Stupidity was treachery, to one's self if no one else.
The next time he saw Charles he was being loaded into the back of an ambulance, badly beaten his legs broken and his jaw shattered. Apparently the real world caught up with him after all.
Illya hung back in the crowd, his face blank.
Perhaps he should go and find this bookie. After all, it was very unlikely that he was going to get his money back from Charles.
Illya had been working at Lubyanka all of three hours and he already knew he needed to get out of here. No one spoke, if they could help it, and when the higher-ups went past, everyone tried their best not to make eye contact, not to be noticed. They said this was the tallest building in Moskva, after all. From the basement, one could see Siberia. He didn't think that old joke applied just to those arrested. One wrong move, one mistake, one careless word and anyone here could find themselves staring down that view.
He wanted to be sent on foreign assignments. Already he spoke five languages; picking up a couple more wouldn't be a problem for him. Anything to get away from here.
In the meantime, he tried his best to keep his head down, but when Colonel Mirov came barrelling through the office he stopped right in front of the desk Illya was standing beside.
"Comrade Kuryakin, isn't it?" Mirov asked sharply. "You're new."
"Yes, sir," he said, saluting by reflex.
"Do you have ten roubles, comrade?" The colonel towered over him, and Illya resisted the urge to look up.
"Ten roubles, colonel?" he repeated, bewildered.
"I am going out for lunch," Mirov said, an audible laugh in his voice, like this was some amazing joke. "I need ten roubles."
Oh. Carefully, he reached into his jacket and found his wallet. He started to count out the money, but he wasn't especially surprised when the colonel calmly snatched it out of his hand and emptied all the money out.
"It is an honour to lend money to a superior," Mirov told him with a knowing smirk. "Isn't it, comrade Kuryakin?"
"Yes, Colonel Mirov," he agreed. "I am honoured." Somehow, he managed to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
"That's a good boy." He kept stock still as Mirov patted his cheek mockingly. There was blood beneath his fingernails. "Keep that attitude, and you'll go far."
Right now it felt like nowhere would be far enough.
"I don't suppose he's likely to pay that back?" he said after the colonel had left, to Olenko, the senior agent who'd been showing him around.
Olenko stared at him as though he was crazy. "No. And you'd better make sure you're always carrying money. Once Colonel Mirov picks on an agent to start buying his lunch, he tends to keep it up for months."
And he didn't need to ask what might happen to an agent who forgot, or worse, refused. He sighed; that money had been going to buy him food for the next week. At least hunger was a familiar friend.
He really needed to find a way out of here.
Already he was regretting coming out this evening. The assignment had been a brilliant success and he'd been carried along on the wave of jubilation, but now here in the pub he was the interloper in the midst of his fellow agents celebration. Why had he expected this to be any different? They might make use of his skills, but they'd made it perfectly clear in all the proper British ways that they didn't quite trust him and they didn't want him around.
At least the food was good he thought moodily as he swirled a chip through thick tartare sauce. Fish and chips served in newspaper. To his mind, this might be Britain's greatest gift to the world.
"Oy! Kuryakin!" He turned at the familiar bellow. Jack Denning was standing, glaring expectantly at him. By the redness of his face and the sheen of sweat he was already drunk. Not that he was surprised; rumour had it that Jack spent most of his off hours drunk and it was only a matter of time before he was quietly encouraged to retire. Field work was not for everyone.
He was supposed to be being diplomatic. Building bridges and attempting to blend in. He smiled. "Yes, Jack?"
"Don't you eyeball me, you little Russian prick," Jack snapped. "I'm the senior agent around here."
Unfortunately that was true. His eyes flickered to the other two agents, Larkin and James. They were both watching Jack disapprovingly, but neither seemed inclined to step in on his behalf. And why should they?
"I was not 'eyeballing' you," he said coldly. "I was merely asking why you were shouting my name for half the town to hear?"
"I'm out of cash," Jack announced. "Lend me ten bob."
His jaw set. "No," he said firmly.
"Don't say no to me," Jack said, stepping forwards belligerently. "I'm the senior agent."
"And I earned my money the same as you," Illya snapped. "And insulting me does not make me want to share."
"You're a sodding communist," Jack snarled. "You believe in all that redistribution of wealth bollocks, so redistribute some my way."
He was on his feet, his hands clenched into fists before he knew it, but he forced himself to calm down. This was all temporary, remember? Alexander Waverly had promised him a place in his New York office. And that would vanish in an instant if he went around fighting senior agents. It wasn't like he thought things would be better for him in America, but Mr Waverly had believed in him and somehow he didn't want to let the man down.
Conciliatory gestures. The soft-spoken approach. He was an excellent liar, he could do this. "Why don't I buy you a drink?" he suggested, holding up some money to show willing.
He wasn't completely surprised when Jack snatched the money out of his hand. But when Jack reached past him to where he'd left his food on the bar and put his hands all over it – his hands all over Illya's food – and took a big handful of chips and shoved them into that gaping void he called a mouth. Well. He gritted his teeth and started to count to ten. In Arabic.
"Good boy," Jack said offensively, the grease dripping out over his lips, and he reached out and patted Illya's cheek.
Illya grabbed the hand. "Do not touch me," he said in a voice filled with rage and ice.
Jack stared at him and laughed. "Or what?" he demanded, and his tore his hand away and reached up to ruffle his greasy fingers through Illya's hair.
Enough. Illya grinned savagely. "Or everything," he said, throwing himself forwards.
Monday morning and he walked out of the CEA's office, soul burning with outrage.
"Next time just lend him the money, Kuryakin."
It wasn't right. It wasn't fair.
New York 1961
Three successful missions in a row and Napoleon was bright and ebullient. Illya had found over the course of the last few weeks that he rather liked his new partner in this mood. In spite of his own tendencies towards introspection, Napoleon's warmth and gregarious nature had a way of bringing him out of his...oh, what was that word Napoleon had used again? Ah, yes, 'funk'. Onomatopoeically, he liked it.
The conclusion of this latest affair had coincided with a four day weekend, and Illya was looking forward to simply enjoying the luxury, while Napoleon seemed to have more plans than any man could possibly fit into the time.
"Of course, what I'd like to do is take her to the Luxor. The honeymoon suite there is amazing. There's a hot tub set right into the floor, and a full wet bar."
"And the staff do not question you appearing with a new bride every month?" Illya asked dryly.
"Hardly every month," Napoleon protested before smiling ruefully. "And they're very discreet." He sighed deeply. "Too bad it's so near the end of the month. I'm broke. Unless I happen upon some money in the next couple of hours, I guess all that will need to wait till after payday."
A cold wave of familiar reality washed over him. Of course. Nothing ever changed.
He looked at Napoleon – his senior agent – and quelled the sense of stupid betrayal. "How much?" he asked, his voice carefully expressionless.
"What?" Napoleon's head swung round towards him. "I wasn't...huh." He stopped suddenly, his eyes fixed on Illya's face and Illya knew he was giving nothing away, and still Napoleon just stood in silence for a long moment, studying him. Finally he nodded. "Okay," he said. "You know what? I've changed my mind. I don't feel like going out on a date tonight. Instead, why don't we go and get a bite to eat and then go for a few drinks?"
Hmm. Well, if he would be enjoying the evening, he minded less being told to pay.
"My treat," Napoleon added firmly, his eyes stilled fixed on Illya like he knew exactly what he was thinking.
Illya blinked "I thought you were broke?"
"I can't extend to an expensive date," Napoleon shrugged. "But I can definitely spring for a pizza, even with the way you eat. And I know a few bars that are always happy to open a tab for me. So what do you say, partner mine? Do you think you could stand a few more hours of my company?" He slung his arm comfortably over Illya's shoulders.
He started slightly and stared in mild bewilderment at the arm. He was fairly sure it should bother him, but somehow it didn't. It just felt like Napoleon. And apparently, that was good. "I'm sure I'll manage somehow," he said, and he smiled.
Monte Carlo, 1966
April laughed merrily at something Mark had said, looking across the table. Illya leaned back and watched them, smiling slightly. It had been a very long couple of weeks. It was good to relax some.
"Didn't Napoleon go to get drinks about half an hour ago?" Mark asked.
"He found someone else to talk to," Illya said, without even looking round.
April peered past him towards the bar. "So he did," she announced. "She's blonde."
"She so often is," Illya said with a faint smile.
"So how long before he takes her to the casino?" Mark asked.
Illya looked at his watch. "Well, right now, he'll have his hand on her arm and he'll be leaning in and talking quietly to her – probably telling her about the importance of living every day to the maximum – and she'll nod and lick her lips and run her hand through her hair, and then - "
" - how are you doing that?" April demanded.
Mark laughed. "There's a mirror on the far wall that gives a great view of the bar," he said.
"Is there?" Illya asked innocently.
"Oh." April looked over her shoulder at the mirror and then turned back to him with a glare. "You know, I actually thought that you could predict Napoleon's behaviour to the second."
He smiled. "Had I the power to do that, my life would be far more straightforward." And also far less interesting.
And still, when the blonde vanished to powder her nose, he was already reaching into his pocket before Napoleon even reached the table.
"Illya, I don't suppose..." Napoleon started, and Illya held up a handful of bills. "Thanks, partner," he said, smiling. Brilliantly.
"Do try to forget your responsibilities for an evening and enjoy yourself," he said dryly.
"I'll do my best," Napoleon said, somehow managing to keep a straight face. "Don't wait up." His date reappeared and he took her arm and walked out.
Mark looked at him curiously. "Doesn't it bother you that Napoleon is always borrowing money from you?"
"No," he said with a slight smile.
"Why not?" Mark persisted.
He paused for a moment, thinking of all the reasons. "Because it's never important," he said at last. "And I always get it back."
"That doesn't make sense, darling," April told him fondly.
He took a drink and said nothing. It made sense to him.