The sky over Paris is grey and soggy this November afternoon. The light drizzle falls on the Eiffel Tower and the Arc d'Triomphe, on the cathedrals and the squares, on the river, the umbrellas and the roadside cafes... and it falls on one small blond figure, clad in black, walking quickly with something tucked under his coat.

Once inside his tiny apartment, he takes out his purchase: a collection of English poetry. For a moment, he just stands, holding it. He will be living in England soon; he's fluent in the language, enough for ordinary conversation and lab talk, but his insatiable love of words demands more. Tonight, he will begin to explore English literature.

After that single moment, Illya places the book firmly on the table. He does not touch it again while he devours his supper; he would rather defer the pleasure of first reading than spoil it with divided attention. Only when he has made all his nighttime preparations does he pick it up and take it across to the long sofa that serves him as a bed.

Snuggling down with it among his blankets, he weighs it in his hands, runs a finger along the side of its pages, drawing out the anticipation. Finally he settles it in his lap, puts on his reading glasses, and opens it to the first page.

He reads steadily, his lips moving in silence as he tries over the words, testing each one's shape against its meaning. Sometimes he chants aloud; sometimes he grips the book hard, with a shuddering gasp, as truth and pure beauty together strike his heart.

When that happens, he stops to write down the line or passage that moved him, together with its author's name. He forces himself to practice Western script, precise and awkward under his pen, foreign to his eyes, though his hands ache to take this beauty and make it their own in familiar Cyrillic.

Finally, when his weary eyes will stay open no longer – when his thick black glasses tumble off his nose and skip across the floor – he switches off the light. The book goes under his pillow, one big hand tucked protectively around it, and his blond head nestles down comfortably against it as he falls asleep.