A Fragile Heart

by Glenna Meredith

The Quadripartite Affair was a memory now. Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin had stopped, temporarily, another megalomaniacal plot to usurp power from legitimate seats of authority. They had done so with the help of a bigger than life gypsy warrior and the beautiful Marion Raven. To Napoleon's chagrin, all of the sexual energy that normally fell to him had been directed to his youthful, sometimes wistful Russian partner. Sometimes he wondered, but not often, about the effect the tow headed, blue eyed wunderkind had on women. It was somewhere between maternal and hedonistic, he thought, and the innocent looking Kuryakin seemed oblivious to the trail of whimpering female egos that lay shattered in his wake.

Marion had been a different story, however. Napoleon, and Waverly for that matter, had seemed pleased by the end of the affair to see their young Russian showing a bit of his heart for once. Neither man knew for certain that Illya had ever been in love, but surmised with some confidence that several hearts might have been wounded in seeking his affections. Whether the man was truly as cool as his exterior portrayed, or the depth of his innocence matched the sometimes vague affect in the blue eyes, was anyone's guess. Napoleon had tried without success to gain some knowledge of Illya's romantic proclivities, and had fairly beamed with pride when Marion seemed to draw out of the reluctant fair-haired one what passed for a type of lust.

In the days following their return from Yugoslavia, amidst the aftershocks and some afterglow as well, the two had burrowed into her apartment and not come up for air until they finally ran out of food and wine, not necessarily in that order. If Illya had been holding back in hopes of finding someone equal to his ardor, then Marion seemed to be the end of his search. She was a match for him in both mind and body. That they appeared to others as two halves of a symmetrically perfect whole, their physical appearances so keenly similar, it was nothing for them to consider. What they found in each other left no room for anyone else, and the virtual hibernation they enjoyed was a rare gift to the UNCLE agent.

By the end of that intoxicating week together Illya received the call: a new assignment awaited him, and both he and Napoleon were soon bound for parts unknown, or nearly so. By the time they returned, another mission was assigned, and so it went for weeks on end. During their time apart, the flame did not diminish, but Illya's foreboding of involving himself in something so nearly perfect became a barrier to his desire. It was unwise to want something so badly.

Marion was a firecracker to Illya's slow burning ember. He anchored her in a way no one had before, showing a patience and innocent delight in her exuberant embrace of nearly everything she encountered. Marion was everything Illya had learned to deny or control in his own life. Where she embraced an experience for all of the wonder and excitement it promised, the Russian had practiced for years the art of submersion, both of his emotions and expectations.

Illya thought long and hard about the affair with Marion. It was unlike him to yield to the moment the way he had with the effervescent blonde. When Illya returned to New York, he put off calling Marion, making excuses to himself about work and reports, the insanity of getting involved romantically at this point in his career.

He didn't believe any of it. He just couldn't face how happy she made him.

Mr. Waverly called Illya into his office with the express purpose of taking advantage of the relationship he knew had formed between the two young people. Mr. Solo had finally tracked down Harold Bufferton and Gervaise Ravel, and now he needed the help of the woman who had brought them to UNCLE's attention originally. Marion Raven was to be invited back for another attempt to bring down the couple, and topple their syndicate. It was Illya who could charm her, possibly even cajole her back for this mission.

Of course, Illya did succeed, even if in so doing he alienated Marion through his seeming lack of concern for her. She clung to Napoleon while secretly hoping that her Russian lover would return, playing the part of the bait while Illya blended once more into the scenery. Only upon returning to her apartment, with Illya in tow, did she succeed once more in convincing him to stay a little longer.

Marion chased out all of the partygoers who had overstayed their welcome, barely letting her eyes wander from the blond young man who never ceased to make her heart beat just a little faster. Even Napoleon was banished, sent away without so much as a crumb of satisfaction. Time alone was what Marion and Illya needed. More time, fewer interruptions...

Illya had never known such ease. Marion's apartment, although modern and vaguely minimalist, still had the entrenched amenities of wealth. The view alone was worth a year's wages, he reckoned. He lay this morning in the massive bed, her only concession to a romantic soul. White from head to footboard, the feel of Egyptian cotton was smoother than satin and much more to his liking. Down pillows and a cashmere throw were all that embellished him as he awoke, his pale complexion a warm compliment to the mostly monochromatic interior. A heavy down comforter had been rolled onto the floor during the night, probably a casualty of their vigorous love making. He sighed, contentment hidden behind deep eyelids; an orange silhouette evidence of the sun beyond.

An involuntary groan escaped the Russian's mouth, his memory of the previous night punctuated by a sadness that seemed to never leave him. Illya wondered idly if it was his heritage that kept him locked within that melancholy. More likely it was simply the life he had lived, the nightmares that still haunted him. Marion had awakened him on more than one occasion to pull him up from whatever abyss was claiming him during the night.

Illya didn't want to wake up just yet. Lying here naked within this cocoon of luxury, he imagined again the warmth of Marion next to him, cloistering him within her own secret places as though receiving him for confession. If he were a religious man, that analogy might propel him to a real confessional. As it stood, there was no need. She had become a type of religion to him, someone to whom he could dedicate himself in a selfishly motivated yet righteous cause. Marion was worth the sacrifice.

No. Yes, she was worth it, but no... he couldn't do it. They lived two very different lives, and his was already purchased; a commodity traded by old men who wielded a greater power than he could deter with a simple declaration of affection. It wasn't love, not yet. Marion wasn't a part of the world in which he must live. He wanted her, needed her, but the affair was imperfect, and therefore not viable.

Most of all, she was too rich for his proletariat leanings. He risked his life for a living, and she took photographs.

Marion came upstairs into her cozy loft bedroom carrying a tray of breakfast foods. She would have enjoyed cooking for Illya, if only she could. Rather than risk the hazards of fire and oil and whatever dangers lurked in kitchens, she ordered bagels and cream cheese from the deli on the corner. Her lover would, perhaps, prepare eggs for them later, but in any case she didn't really care about eating.

She wanted him, and all of her appetites centered on the beautiful man who lay in her bed. The languid manner in which he greeted her, his eyes half closed as he stretched like a sleepy cat, made her ache for his touch once more. Marion didn't think she would ever have enough of him, this Russian Adonis who hadn't a clue.

Illya gestured for her to bring the food to him, his stomach reminding him now that they hadn't eaten for hours. Well, since around midnight. There was the memory of consuming sex and then eating strawberries before drifting off to sleep. But he was hungry now, more for the bagel, he feared, than the woman before him. One thing Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin had learned early was to measure his appetites against the greater need, and right now he needed food.

Marion looked at him, shaking her head as she scooted in next to him, setting the tray between them on the bed.

"Illya, I swear you are the most exasperating man I have ever..."

He raised his eyebrows into the infuriating expression that always flummoxed her. Her stomach lurched with something that wasn't quite desire and bordered, she thought, on pity. Illya could become that poor little waif that she imagined him to have been, and her heart cried a little at the thought of it. He had moved her to sexual ecstasy only a few hours ago, and here she was wanting to mother him, make him feel better by feeding him bagels and, god forbid, patting his head as though he were a mere child.

"You...you you..."

The sun glinted in from the expanse of windows, causing Illya's eyes to turn a light azure, the blond brows relaxed now as he hungrily bit into the chewy bread. A smattering of cream cheese escaped and Marion couldn't resist wiping it away, and then he caught her hand and kissed it; he buried his face in it and, for just a moment, she thought he might cry. It was an intensely uncomfortable few seconds where everything that mattered stopped, and she knew that their affair had to end.

Marion bent over and kissed the blond hair, thinking how precious and vulnerable this man was. A man child of some sort, fully grown and dangerous, even. But, a child remained; one so alone and fragile that the thought of continuing with this love affair sent a shiver of remorse through her as she considered what she was doing to him.

Marion's life was happy and without constraints, while Illya battled evil, risking his life for a virtuous end that may never materialize. And what could she offer him? A warm bed and a willing body. There were other men in Marion's life, something that Illya had known and understood. She was a free spirit and, while Illya was a man who intrigued and pleased her, she knew that wasn't enough. He deserved better, more. And in that moment of revelation, Marion knew that he wouldn't return again to her. Illya would keep walking and not look back. What they had wasn't real, and regardless of how tenuous his life might be, Illya needed it, and the people he held there, to be substantial and true.

Illya felt Marion leave him. What he had fought against for weeks was this very thing; his heart would have just a little crack where she had been. It wasn't so bad, not compared to the other broken pieces that he regularly picked up and tried to mend with work and music, science and logic. He wasn't losing a lover, not really. Marion was dear to him, but she was like an ethereal being; she wasn't quite real.

Illya ate his bagel, showered and dressed. The weekend had been a respite from the realities to which he would now return. Marion escorted him to the door, letting the weight of the moment hold them together for a little longer; he kissed her, deeply and with something withheld until now. This time he gave her a little piece of his heart, one that he wouldn't come back to claim.

She closed the door behind him and exhaled a deep and saddened breath. He was gone, but something stirred within her that caused a tremor of anticipation and then fear. It would be several weeks before she understood.

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