The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
The Shards of Our Past Affair
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! This is a semi-follow-up to a well-liked oneshot I did called The Mist of Yesterday, in which Illya finds himself confronted by the ghost of an enemy agent he killed in The Odd Man Affair episode. This piece was largely inspired by the reception to that story, as well as by some short flashback scenes I wrote in the as-of-yet unfinished Fifty-Millionth Frenchman Affair. Those scenes will appear here as well, but they are a pinprick of the whole.
Illya sighed to himself as he settled into his living room chair with a book. The hot summer days had given way to cool autumn days and nights, of which he was perfectly pleased. But it had been a long and dull day at U.N.C.L.E. HQ and he was also pleased to be home.
His thoughts wandered from the pages of his book. He and Napoleon had only been back from London on The Odd Man Affair for a couple of days. They had both quickly adapted back into the swing of things in New York, but while Illya was not about to tell Napoleon of the bizarre experience he had had on their first night back, he was certainly still thinking of it.
Why would the ghost of an enemy agent have visited him? He wasn't even sure he believed in ghosts. But the only other alternative was that he had hallucinated the experience, and he couldn't think why he would. He knew for a fact that killing that agent hadn't bothered him in the least until Napoleon had pointed out that it might not have been necessary. And even at that, he was certain he hadn't been so troubled after that conversation that he would have invented a spectre to tease and torment him.
Part of him still wanted to believe that the experience had only been in his mind. Accepting that the supernatural was real was not high on his list of things to do this autumn. On the other hand, he wasn't sure which was worse: the thought of ghosts or the thought that he had become so upset by a split-second act, the likes of which he had performed countless times before, that he had imagined a visit from his latest victim.
Napoleon had told him before that if he ever stopped feeling, he wouldn't be fit to be an agent. Naturally they didn't want to be killing machines. That was up to the agents specifically trained as assassins, and thankfully, their services weren't needed that often. But Illya honestly wasn't bothered by eliminating whatever enemy agents stood between U.N.C.L.E. and peace. If the killing of an enemy agent could save even a few innocent lives, it was more than worth it to him.
Also on his mind were the words of Bryn Watson just before they had left her in the London pub. He and Napoleon were like Albert Sully in that they thrived on danger—not because they were daredevils, but because living lives of danger was how they made the best and most significant difference in the world. Illya couldn't imagine another line of work being anywhere as fulfilling for either of them. He silently wished Albert luck in his continuing undercover mission as Raymond.
It was about then when he realized how far his mind had drifted from the book. He had kept reading while he was thinking, but he hadn't absorbed any of it. Frowning, he turned the page back to read it again.
He nearly dropped the book altogether at the sudden, eerie voice. "Oh no," he muttered, staring at a spot in front of the chair as a strange mist came up from the floor. Just as it had the other night, the mist formed tendrils that lazily swirled until they parted to reveal the transparent form of the enemy agent he had stabbed in London.
"What are you doing here again?" Illya snapped.
"If I could choose where I go, I wouldn't ever come here," Mr. Ecks sneered.
"I am still not sure that you don't choose," Illya frowned. "What better way to bother your killer than to not leave him alone?"
Ecks started to circle the chair. "So this time you believe I'm really here?"
"Frankly, I don't know what I believe," Illya retorted, watching him with a wary eye. "I could have fallen asleep reading, although I do not remember it."
"Let's say that you didn't," said Ecks, and he pulled his coat closer around him as he stopped circling and instead perched on the edge of Illya's coffee table. "You said that there would have to be a reason why I can't rest in peace for me to really be here, bothering you."
"I also said that would be your problem, not mine," Illya said in irritation. "If you are hoping I can tell you what's wrong in your afterlife, I cannot."
"Well, I would say that you must be the reason why I can't rest in peace, since I keep coming to you," Ecks remarked. "You did kill me, you know."
"Yes, and had I known then that I would be unable to escape you, I might have let you live," Illya said dryly. "That would have been better for both of us."
"Unfortunately, it's too late for that now." Ecks folded his arms.
"So, if I am to be stuck with you, what am I going to do with you?" Illya frowned.
"Treat me as a house-guest or an annoyance. Or both," Ecks said with a wicked smile. "What are you reading?" He bent down to try to see the book's cover.
"Crime and Punishment," Illya said flatly.
"Oh, that's appropriate." Ecks stood up. "Mind if I read over your shoulder?"
"I do, but even if you tried anyway, I doubt you would get anywhere." Illya held the book so Ecks could really see the cover. "It's an original Russian edition."
"Ah. You're right, it wouldn't make any sense to me. They didn't teach me Russian. Not beyond a few basic words, anyway."
"Enough to make sure you had the right victim before striking, I suppose," Illya grunted.
"Sour grapes, Kuryakin," Ecks sneered. "Didn't they do the same with you?"
"It all depended on what my mission was," Illya said coolly. "I was never merely an assassin."
"Neither was I," Ecks retorted, his obnoxious front fading to anger at the obvious insult. "I was a spy, just like you."
"Not 'just like me,' considering the nature of your employers." Illya set the tome aside. There would be no reading as long as this character was around.
"The things I did were very much like what U.N.C.L.E. has agents like you do," Ecks said.
"But the motivation was vastly different."
"You might be surprised. I didn't agree with my employers most of the time, but some of them actually thought they could achieve world peace."
"By establishing a worldwide dictatorship, no doubt." Illya got up. "And why would you have worked for them if you did not agree?"
"It was either that or death," Ecks answered coldly. "At least if Zed had taken over, I would have been in a higher position and could have done something to change how the organization was run."
"You actually believe that?" Illya shook his head. "You poor, misguided fool. You never would have been given any real power." He paused. "But for the sake of debate, what would you have done to change things had you been given the chance?"
"For one thing, I wouldn't have forced the organization's orphans to stay there under threat of death," Ecks said bitterly.
"That is what your organization was doing?" Illya frowned. "I can't say I'm surprised. They held respect for no one, not even children."
"While U.N.C.L.E. is so good," Ecks mocked.
"At least U.N.C.L.E. never deliberately harms the innocent."
"Are you sure U.N.C.L.E.'s actions are always so aboveboard?" Ecks' eyes flickered. He seemed to like the discomfort that went through Illya's eyes. "Even if you and Solo are the most trusted field agents, do you really think your Mr. Waverly tells you everything? You already know that there are U.N.C.L.E. agents specifically trained as assassins. I wonder what dark secrets your commander has kept from even you."
"No matter what they are, they can't be anything like the activities your organization engaged in," Illya shot back.
Ecks started to walk around the room. "I'll admit that U.N.C.L.E. is different from that," he said. "I'm just saying that maybe it isn't squeaky clean. I doubt that any spy organization is, no matter their goals."
"I doubt it as well," Illya said coolly.
Ecks continued to walk, seeming restless. Illya watched, wondering if there was anything he could do to get this unwelcome visitor out of his apartment.
"Why are you not with your partner?" Illya asked at last. "You're both dead. You should be with him and not with me."
"I'd rather be with him," Ecks immediately replied, his eyes burning as he turned to look at Illya. "But how do you know he's dead? Maybe he got away."
"He's dead," Illya said matter-of-factly. "He attacked a former female agent in a fit of blind rage, babbling some nonsense about blaming her for what happened in the park. He was eventually shot by a female sentry in your organization. It was an accident, but nothing could be done for him. I saw him lying dead."
He wasn't expecting Ecks' reaction. The spectre fell back, looking haunted himself. "I thought he was alright," he said, his voice vague and far away. "I thought if he wasn't, we would have met up." Suddenly angry, he leaped forward at Illya, his coat swirling open at the motion. "Instead I'm stuck here with you, my killer! Does that mean he's haunting some female sentry?!"
"I don't know," Illya said honestly. "I'm still having trouble believing any of this is truly happening." He paused, weighing his words. "If you cared for him, I'm sorry. He certainly seemed to care a great deal about you."
"What do you know about it?" Ecks asked, sounding broken and saddened again.
"Both of the times I saw him after I stabbed you, he behaved as though he was reacting to that. It was a far stronger reaction than most people would have for someone who was only a comrade and not a friend." Illya stood, closely watching his ghostly visitor.
Not facing him, Ecks merely gave a nod. "Yes," he admitted quietly. "We were friends, Kuryakin. Just like you and Solo."
"How do you know about Napoleon and I?" Illya frowned. He wasn't sure he liked that this character was aware of that friendship. Not that he could use it against Napoleon and Illya, but it still made Illya feel very uncomfortable, all things considered.
A humorless shrug. "How do I know anything about you?" Ecks said morosely. "I know your name, where you live, and who is most important to you." He turned back to face Illya. "We fought on opposites sides, but on some things we're not so different, you and I."
"And what would you do about this information that you have obtained?" Illya asked warily.
Ecks smirked at him now, but it was without his usual sass. "Nothing, even if I could. What would be the point?"
"Some people don't need a point," said Illya.
Ecks shrugged. "We have our separate lots in life, even though we are in the same line of work. We never would have even crossed paths if not for that one fateful case."
"Yes, but that 'one fateful case' has left you dead."
"Even so, I have no desire to try to take revenge on you, Kuryakin. Certainly not by harming your friend."
Illya considered that. Ecks could be lying, and Illya's suspicious side wanted to remain wary. Yet even so, for some reason Illya believed him.
"Thank you for telling me that," he said. "Even if it is an irrelevant issue."
"I aim to please," Ecks said with a bit of a sarcastic sneer. But from the sadness in his voice and his stance, Illya was all the more sure he was telling the truth about not intending to harm Illya or Napoleon. The desire wasn't there. What was present instead was both resignation and hopelessness. He was a spy whose usefulness had faded out—and for a spy, that meant there was nothing left.
Illya had to wonder—would death be like this for him someday? Would he still want to continue as he had for years in protecting the world by being an U.N.C.L.E. field agent and not be able to? Even if he would go to a better afterlife, would he feel trapped and unfulfilled?
"Tell me something," he said at last. "Haven't you been anywhere besides here? Don't you know what else is out there? Whether there truly is a Heaven or a Hell?"
"What is Heaven?" Ecks returned. "What is Hell? Are they really other realms above and below the mortal world? Or are they all around us? Maybe they are both what we make of them. Maybe this is my Hell, because it doesn't feel like any Heaven."
"And so your Hell puts me in Hell as well?" Illya frowned. "That hardly seems orderly."
Ecks sneered. "I don't know the nature of God any better than you do," he said. "Maybe He isn't a God of order after all."
"Or maybe," Illya mused, "this has nothing to do with the nature of God. Perhaps you are in Limbo, put there by your own unrest. But that would go back to what I said about something being wrong with you that you cannot move on."
"If that's true," Ecks said, "it almost looks like you're supposed to help me be able to." He smirked. "Maybe that's your punishment for killing me instead of finding a way to knock me unconscious as per U.N.C.L.E.'s usual policies."
"It would certainly be a heavy punishment," Illya said flatly. "And who would know less about how to help someone move on than someone who never even expressly believed in spirits or the afterlife?"
"Odd, isn't it," Ecks whispered, "that I of all people am the one to show you they exist."
A sudden burst of icy air whipped past Illya and he spun around to look. He was alone.
He stood there, narrowing his eyes at the eerie stillness. "Ordinarily I would think you were gone," he said aloud to the silence of the room. "But after you reappeared once, I am going to assume you will probably do it again."
It wasn't really a thought he relished. But it seemed quite likely that he had not heard the last of that mysterious character.