It was the end of a rotten day at the end of a rotten week at the end of a rotten month. Ah, you're picking up a pattern now, I bet. Being a nurse is one of the most fulfilling jobs you can have; it's also one of the most frustrating, annoying, belittling, impossible... stop me when you've heard enough... careers on the planet.
Usually the week will have something or someone going for it, but not this time. It started with a three-hour long staff meeting to try to figure out why we are so behind and why our morale is shot. Hmm, three-hour staff meetings spring to mind, but I kept my comments to myself. My dry wit was not always appreciated by my superiors.
I'd spent the bulk of this morning trying to convince some hemorrhoid upstairs that the plastic surgery we needed to perform upon an agent was not for cosmetic purposes... THRUSH had tried to flatten his face with a shovel; the least we could do was try and repair the damage. Insurance and Contract's position was, everything was in the right place, sort of, and worked ,sort of, so UNCLE's responsibility was through - stupid idiots! I wanted to curse them and let them know for a second what our guys go through. I wanted them to feel useless and tossed aside after having given UNCLE all they could. I wanted them, for just a second, to remember that we deal with people, not stacks of paper. Silly me, you have to have a heart to experience empathy... those yahoos have calculators and pocket protectors.
So, was it any wonder that I wanted to just leave the world of UNCLE behind and disappear for two days into a sea of anonymity, i.e. New York City? I was tired of trying to put people back together, sometimes with fewer pieces than they started with. I was tired of the hatred for our opponents. Be they THRUSH or otherwise, I saw in one partner's eyes when the other was brought in, at times just clinging to life. It never stopped, it never got easier, it never seemed to make a difference what I did. They just kept coming...
The other nurses were getting together after work for a drink, but I didn't want to hang out with them. Gerry would tell us all about the exploits of her new granddaughter - just a month old and already versed in three languages, able to strip an engine and ready to enter college. Jess would regal us with all the lovely things her lovely husband and lovely son would do for her over the weekend. Patty would go on about her babies... dolls, she is fifty two and has seven hundred dolls - her idea of a good time is changing out their underwear and dusting them. Mae has an equally enticing and exciting salt and pepper shaker collection and would launch into her seventy-second rant of the week about her arthritic squirrel of a mother that she danced attendance on.
There was no way in frigging hell I was spending one more minute with them than necessary.
I lingered behind, a pain unto itself when I so desperately wanted to leave, until I knew they were in the locker room and then bolted for the elevator. I rode up all by myself, except for a pimply-faced file clerk and a young girl with a B.O. issue. He needed to learn how to wash his face properly and she needed a change of underarm deodorants... or to wash more frequently.
Still, I just smiled and nodded and hit the pavement outside the building with a vengeance. I managed to catch my bus with a minute to spare. This was an earlier bus than I usually take and the only option was standing, but that was okay. After sitting all day, it was a good change.
I got home and dashed up to my apartment, my happy, I-love-you apartment with its neat curtains and carefully placed doilies. It was my fortress against an unkind and cold world. I usually found great solace here, but not tonight. Tonight this was the last place I wanted to be. I wanted to be among laughing, happy people. I quickly changed into a pair of comfortable jeans and an equally comfortable top. I pulled on my bestest old sneakers, grabbed a floppy old purse, some money, and a sweater and headed back out.
In a moment of pure self indulgence, I took a cab to the Village and got out. Instantly, the thrum of the Village was all around me. Everything here was more vibrant, louder, brighter... it was probably due to the marijuana smoke drifting out from a head shop, but that was okay by me. It was Friday night, I was reasonably young and healthy and I was ready for some fun.
I wandered through a half dozen funny little shops. I bought a tie-dyed shirt for my niece, some salt water taffy for me and a couple of records by a group I knew nothing about. About eight, my tummy reminded me that it was probably time to get something to eat and I saw a little nightclub. Outside it advertised some very interesting menu items and the music drifting out of the door was as enticing as the smells drifting from the kitchen.
The hostess looked at me sort of sad-like, as if she was sorry I didn't have a date and led me to a little out of the way table. The waiter slid by and I ordered a double gin and tonic and some fries as an appetizer. Please, don't lecture me about the evils of fried foods. Tonight I refuse to listen.
The fries were really good; they were seasoned with some chili powder, paprika, or something. After making a pig of myself with those, I ordered some clam chowder, it being Friday and me being a good Catholic, and followed that with the biggest, most incredible banana split I'd ever had. I was in Seventh Heaven. More than that, I was happy and slowly unwinding. Here no one knew me and no one I cared about was passing judgment on me or my actions. It was just me and the food and the music.
That's when I choked... the piano player... the familiar mop of blond hair and dark glasses. My tummy and other parts down south did a flip. The rest of me was more than a little worried. I hadn't seen Illya since...well, since losing the baby. Whether by design or just good luck, neither of the guys had been in Medical for quite a while. It might be that Mr. Waverly was keeping them closer to home as his own health started to fail. It wouldn't do to have Napoleon halfway around the world when Mr. Waverly needed him.
I started looking around to see if I could find Napoleon. The two were still as thick as thieves and if Illya was here, I was pretty sure Napoleon was hanging out nearby. But he wasn't or at least if he was, I couldn't see him anywhere and then another thought occurred to me. What if this was some sort of THRUSH hang out and I was in the middle of a sting or mission or whatever the hell they called it? I concentrated upon Illya then and noticed how easily he moved. He wasn't watching the crowd nor did he appeared anxious in any way. He was just playing the piano.
I took a deep breath and relaxed. Maybe this was God's way if telling me that I'd done enough penance and I was being rewarded me for my restraint back at work. I mean all those... gentlemen... up stairs were still breathing. That had to count for something, didn't it?
The song finished and some of us applauded. No one on stage seemed to notice one way or the other. One of the guitarists came over to Illya and said something. He nodded and stood up.
Okay, I am really, really glad that I have a good strong heart. Illya was wearing a loose black shirt that was undone to chest level and a pair of pants that I swear he must have poured himself into. I took a deep cleansing breath, as did about three quarters of the women and half the guys in the room.
He walked out to the center of the small stage and sat down on a stool. The guitarist came up beside him and started playing something, sort of sad and sweet sounding.
When Illya sang, I didn't recognize one word of what he said.
Tire o seu sorriso do caminho
Que eu quero passar com a minha dor
Hoje pra voce eu sou espinho
Espinho nao machuca a flor
It sounded really melancholy though and I was so focused on the feeling that I didn't realize the light was on me until I felt its heat. I looked up and blinked, then saw a dark shape moving towards me. I could tell by the cut of his shoulders who it was, but there was still a moment in which I wanted to flee. I was still so unsure of what his reception to my being there would be.
Eu so errei quando juntei minh'alma a sua
O sol nao pode viver perto da lua
E no espelho que eu vejo a minha magoa
E minha dor e os meus olhos rasos d'agua
Eu na tua vida ja fui uma flor
Illya sang as he walked. Frankly I was amazed he had any feeling in his legs at all. God knows, I had very little in mine. Then he stopped in front of my table and held out his hand, his eyes calm and seemingly at peace. It had been hard for both of us afterwards. I went through counseling, but men didn't always get that privilege. He was sent back into the field the next day and I don't want to think of the hell he went through.
I shook my head slowly and he offered his hand again, this time a bit more insistent. If I refused again, I'd be going home alone tonight. If I took it... where would the path lead? There was still so much we hadn't said to each other.
Hoje sou espinho em seu amor
Tire o seu sorriso do caminho
Que eu quero passar com minha dor
Hoje pra voce eu sou espinho
Espinho nao machuca a flor
This time he sang it to me. I didn't understand what he was saying and I didn't care. I couldn't take my focus off his eyes. He has some of the bluest eyes I've ever seen and they were telling me things that both calmed and excited me.
He set the microphone down on a table and twirled me around, then pulled me close, closer than two people stood unless they were having sex. Oh boy, his body was rubbing against mine in all the right places and I longed to drop my hand down to squeeze one of those tight butt cheeks, but I didn't know where we stood. Then he dipped me, twirled me back up and retrieved the mic.
Eu so errei quando juntei minh'alma a sua
O sol nao pode viver perto da lua
He repeated those lines twice and let the guitarist drown him out. He bowed to my hand and kissed my fingers. Thankfully that's when the applause started and it jarred me out of my stupor. This time it was much more generous, but I'm not sure if it was because of the singing or the outfit. His voice was okay, the foreign language made it sound all seductive and husky, but the pants - they should have been outlawed for public exhibition.
"Nellie, what are you doing here?" He walked me back to my seat and I couldn't help noticing all the envious stares. His skin was shiny with sweat and it made his shirt stick to him in interesting spots.
"Would you believe this is a complete coincidence?" I took my seat and watched him glance back at the stage. The musicians had disappeared and he sank into a chair across from me.
"From anyone else no, from you, possibly." A waitress brought over a tray of drinks and set it on the table "Feeling a little thirsty tonight, nurse?" He asked, smiling
"These ain't hers, Blue Eyes, they're all yours." She gestured to the glasses. "Take your pick."
Instead he reached for my water glass; I guess once a spy, always a spy. He just didn't trust drinks from strangers.
"I'd better stick with water, Janey. I still have a long night ahead of me." She nodded and took the loaded tray with her. Maybe it was my imagination, but there sure seemed to be a lot of Gloomy Guses right then and there.
"Illya, what are you doing here?" I reached out and touched his arm. There weren't many people who could touch him at will, but I figured having catheterized him and given him more than one suppository, a touch to his arm wasn't going to send him screaming. Instead, he glanced down at my hand and shrugged his shoulders.
"Drinking your water and catching my breath?" He made it sound like a question. I laughed and shook my head.
"Try again, little Buckaroo." That he laughed at... finally. I could still see the tension in him though, as if waiting for me to hit him or scream. He couldn't believe that I didn't blame him for everything that had happened.
"I know the owner. He lets me sit in from time to time. I consider it therapy of a sort."
"That song sounded beautiful." I said, as Janey brought him a pitcher of water and an empty glass. He filled it and then topped off mine.
"That's the glory of singing something in a foreign language. No one usually knows what you are saying, so you can convey anything you like with the song. It's actually a lament from a woman who is leaving her lover. Eu so errei quando juntei minh'alma a sua o sol nao pode viver perto da lua." He paused and took another sip of water. "Loosely translated, no one can live with the moon when in love with the sun."
"Wow, really?" The way he was looking at me, I wasn't sure if he was being honest as in "No, that didn't hurt at all," as opposed to "That really does hurt, but I'll tell you otherwise so that you'll leave me alone." You only work in Medical for a short time before realizing the difference. He smiled and nodded.
"Granted my Portuguese isn't perfect, but yes." The band was starting to wander back onto the stage and he glanced over at them and smiled. "Looks like it's back to work... Nellie..." He trailed off as if afraid to ask.
"Would you like me to? Wait, I mean?"
"Very much." He stood and then bent over to deposit a fast kiss on my mouth. His lips were soft and moist from the water and I swear I heard my conscience sighing. Ah, the night was getting better and better from everyone's standpoint. Well, everyone who was me, that is. I returned to my vigil. If need be I'd sit here all night.
And it pretty much felt as if I did. Their last set ended at two a.m. and I felt as if my butt was asleep, along with the rest of me. I don't make a habit of staying up late, but I'd had a couple cups of coffee. That helped a little, so did the cool night air when it hit my face.
I waited to take my lead from Illya, but instead of hailing a taxi, he started walking, his arm protectively around my waist. I was glad I'd worn comfortable walking shoes at least.
"Where are we going?" I asked after getting completely turned around.
"Home..." He then looked at me as if another thought had just occurred to him. "Oh, Nellie, I'm sorry if I misinterpreted your answer back at the club."
Okay, my mama taught me that the easiest way to win a conversation is to cut to the chase, so I kissed him, right there in front of God and everyone else... which, in this case, was a couple of ratty-looking tom cats and a sleeping drunk.
I felt his lips curl into a smile and his arms slide up my back to hold me close. I could feel his erection against my hip and moved, just a little. He sighed and whispered, "C'mon, my place is just around the corner."
At least, Illya was good to his word, his place was right around the corner and he hushed me as we walked past one apartment. He brought a finger to his lips. "The landlady is supposedly as deaf as a board, but she can hear a mouse squeak at fifty paces. "
He led me up a narrow staircase and I was struck by how...um... humble the place was. It was clean, but old. The halls and stairwell were filled with smells and muffled sounds.
Illya stopped finally and walked over to a door, automatically shielding his actions from me. I turned away to make it easier for him and glanced down the hallway. There were toys scattered outside one apartment and a plastic flower arrangement on the door of another. There were welcome mats of varying degrees of wear and a sense of comfort. I could see why Illya chose to live here.
"Nellie?" He asked softly and I turned to follow him inside. It was the first time I'd been inside an agent's apartment and I wasn't sure what to expect. The place was small and sparsely furnished, a sofa, an easy chair with a floor lamp beside it. A coffee table with mismatched legs held a couple months worth of magazines and books and there was a record player on a stand just to the side of a small window. There was a tiny table with two chairs in an opposite corner, the dining room, and a kitchen that was smaller than my bathroom. There wasn't much to the place, but it was apparently exactly what Illya wanted.
Illya took my sweater and hung it neatly in the closet alongside his jacket. I saw his holster there and was amazed that he'd gone out unarmed.
That's when I saw him prop his foot up on the arm of the couch and pull a gun from an ankle holster. He saw me staring and gave me a little smile as if apologizing.
"You have a nice place..." I said. "It's cozy."
That made him grin. "Now I know you are lying to me." He walked to the window and opened it. Sticking his head out, he made a tsk sound. A moment later a cat came bounding into the place, giving me a wide berth on its path to the small refrigerator, all the while meowing loudly. "Back home, five to ten people would live in this much room. Napoleon lectures me, but I find this suits my needs when I am here. Why pay for more space when I am gone so often?"
He took something out of the refrigerator and plopped it into a dish. From there he separated it into three portions and filled two other smaller dishes. One dish he placed down on the floor for the cat who was weaving figure eights around his legs. The other two he took back to the window and placed them out on the fire escape. He left the window open about five inches and set a latch in place, obviously a security device.
"Now we should have some peace."
"Not if I know cats."
"Would you like something to drink?"
Oh, the answer I wanted to give him, a long cool Russian please. Instead I asked for some water. All the cigarette smoke from the club left me feeling dried out.
He got a glass of water for me, a glass of vodka for himself, and settled down beside me. It suddenly felt awkward, just the two of us sitting there.
"How have you been?" he asked, sipping the vodka and staring at the cat.
"Okay. Napoleon is making me insane, but what else is new?"
"You two haven't been around much."
"Just lucky, I guess. Spent some time in a hospital in Madrid, but that's been it in the last six months."
"How is Napoleon?"
"Fine; he's out tom-catting tonight, I imagine." Illya seemed sad when he said that.
"Well, it's nice that some things never change. Consistency is good." I hesitated, not sure how he was going to take my next comment, but I'd changed since our last meeting. "Illya, I know that a lot happened, has happened since the last time we saw each other and if you want me to leave, I will. But if it's okay with you, could we just be kissing right now?"
He looked at me oddly for a moment, as if wondering whether or not this was a trap. Apparently he liked what he saw for then we were kissing and all was right with the world.
He tasted good, a slight tang from the vodka and his cheek was rough, although his whiskers were almost invisible. I could smell the smoke and the sweat from the club on him and it made him more real, made our meeting more real.
"Do I need to shave?" He murmured into my ear just before sucking in my earlobe and I was so happy I wasn't wearing any earrings that night. His breath was hot against my cheek and I rubbed my face against his.
"No, thank you, I like you scruffy."
"You won't be singing the same song when you have whisker burn on the insides of your thighs."
That comment alone just about sent me spinning around the room. Instead I busied my fingers, undoing the buttons of his shirt to get to his chest hair. He didn't have a lot of it, a patch in the middle and around each nipple, just enough for me. He sighed as I fluffed the hair by running my fingers through it. It was interesting how it was so easy to fall back into the same old patterns.
It had originally surprised me just how tactile Illya was. The only other guy I'd been with was 'the guy on top, get it over with' type. Frank had been all business, barely able to hang around long enough for me to climax. He was a Tab A into Slot A and nothing else kinda lover. Now I know he was no kind of lover at all.
Illya, he was all duration and it was obvious he was in no real rush tonight. He was quite content to let me do what I wanted - and if what I wanted was the slow route, that was okay with him.
I pushed Illya's shirt off his shoulders and began to kiss his neck. It, too, was rough against my lips, but I liked the feeling. Working my way down to his collarbone, I was amazed at how soft the skin was and how hard the muscle beneath it was. He wasn't muscle bound like so many of the other agents. Instead his strengths were hidden. I could feel them rippling as he got his hands, his lovely, big hands free of his cuffs and discarded the shirt.
He slipped around and leaned back, taking me with him. I reclined on top of him resting comfortably between his legs, feeling his erection against my stomach. A moment flashed in my mind of being huddled on the floor of the bathroom, sobbing in pain and him suddenly being there to hold me. I needed something to distract me from such thoughts and slid my palm to his pectoral.
Men's nipples are so different from women's. They are tiny things compared to most women's. Some men hate having them touched; Illya didn't seem to mind one little bit. I was sucking on one of them when I suddenly realized my shirt was open and my bra was hanging loose. No wonder he's in such demand for his 'breaking and entering' or pick pocketing skills.
"Sit up, Nellie," he said, making it sound like a suggestion, although I knew it wasn't. I had approximately sixty seconds to comply or he'd do it for me. I'd heard that tone one too many times as he hovered over Napoleon's beside.
So I sat up and he rolled off the couch smoothly and stood. "I think this is better pursued in bed, if you are still of a mind. This couch plays havoc with my back these days."
Of a mind? Of a mind? I'm sitting there half naked in front of God and everyone and he asks if I'm interested. If I was a little stronger, I'd have tossed him over my shoulder and carried him away. The thought made me smile.
"What are you thinking just now?"
"What makes you think I was thinking anything?"
"You had quite the mischievous grin on your face. I'm slightly concerned for my safety." He offered me his hand and I took it, feeling the strength in it as it pulled me up.
"I was thinking of tossing you over my shoulder and having my way with you."
"One out of two should suffice, I think."
I plopped down onto his bed, after having divested myself of my pants and panties. It felt very carnal to be sprawled out on a man's bed. My mother would be beating her breast and wailing if she knew I was here. Well, she didn't actually know who the father of my almost child was. No one did, although there was plenty of conjecture. Only me, the attending, Illya, and, I'm assuming, Napoleon were sure of the facts and I intended to keep it that way.
Rolling over onto my stomach, I watched Illya carefully peel himself out of those lovely pants. I suspect it would have been easier without a hard on impeding progress. For its part, Illya's penis looked positively delighted to get out of its cramped quarters.
"Are you this comfortable naked in front of other people?" I don't know why I felt the need for small talk, but I did. He looked over at me, again with a look of wariness in his eyes. He'd never looked at me like that before.
"No, I am not comfortable being naked in front of people, but Nellie, you've seen me naked more than any person in the world with the exception of Napoleon and my mother... which is suddenly quite unsettling."
I laughed at that and wadded up the top sheet to pillow my head on it. It smelled of him and felt soft against my face as if it had been washed a hundred times.
He stretched out beside me, running his fingertips across my back - they were so rough that they caught now and again. It was so lovely to feel someone's hand, warm and gentle, on my skin. Suddenly I wanted nothing more than to just lie here. The thought was intoxicating and I turned my head to look at him.
His eyes were half closed as if he was enjoying the moment as much as I was and maybe he was. There couldn't be too many women he could totally relax around.
It would have been easy to close my eyes right then and sleep until I felt a nudge and smiled. I might be willing to sleep, but Illya's penis had an objective all its own.
I pulled away and twisted until I was staring at it - eye to eye, as it were. Penises are just part of my daily routine - I catheterize them, wash them, do a host of things and never really think about it. For so many guys, their penis is their whole reason for being. I witnessed a man have a nervous breakdown after THRUSH handed him his penis on a dish. Illya had a half dozen pale spots on his where a THRUSH had taken a cigarette to him.
Without wanting to, I thought of Dr. Moonglow or whoever the hell he was, bombarding Napoleon and Illya with so much radiation, they would never stand a chance of having a family. Even if neither of them wanted one, it just didn't seem right to have the choice taken away by someone else. Like those poor people who had vasectomies or hysterectomies performed on them because some doctors thought it was better for Society if they not be allowed to procreate. Man's inhumanity to man, it never ceased to amaze me. I was just so tired of it all. I felt tears prickling my eyes.
"Nellie?" Illya was sitting up, cradling me to him and I started to cry. The whole lousy day, lousy week, lousy everything just came bubbling up then. I was sorry what a moment of inattention had put us through, I was sorry that our child never got a chance to live, I was sorry for a million things that weren't my fault. After a minute, I got control of things and listened to Illya speaking softly, in Russian, I think, to me as he rocked us back and forth.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, too tired to actually speak louder than that.
"As am I. This was a bad idea. We are not as we were." He stroked my hair carefully, as if afraid that I'd yell at him for mussing it.
"No, this was a good idea." I nestled back against him. "We need closure, Illya, and we won't get that playing Hide and Seek from each other."
"I have never hidden from you, Nellie."
"I meant emotionally, Illya. What happened to us was tragic and it was all my fault."
"I think I played a contributing part in that."
"You were willing to stop for protection, I wasn't. My fault. I should have told you, but I didn't, again, my fault. I was just so scared, Illya."
"No, of what something like that would do to you, to your friendship with Napoleon, your partnership. You would have married me and that would have been the end of Section Two for you, especially with a child suffering from birth defects. Napoleon would have gone on, because that's what he does. If he'd died in the field, I was afraid you'd blame me... and hate me." Boy, it suddenly felt as if the Rock of Gibraltar had been lifted from my shoulders.
"I could never hate you, Nellie." He kissed my head. "You worry too much about me."
"You worry about people you love."
He said stuff after that, but I couldn't hear him. It was if some big bale of cotton had wrapped itself around my head. I must have said the right stuff. I must have done the right things, because the next thing I remember, I was being tucked into my bed and my forehead was being kissed. I remember him whispering, "I truly am sorry."
I spent most of Saturday in bed, crying, raging, and just lying there in a stupor of despair. On Monday, I dug around in my jewelry box and found my grandmother's engagement ring, I put it on, I painted the biggest brightest smile on my face and told everyone my big news. I was leaving UNCLE to get married. Yes, he was wonderful and ordinary, with a good job, a nice bank balance, and had already found us a small home in the suburbs.
I think they all knew it was a lie, but no one argued, no one, not even Napoleon who laughed and congratulated me, but in his eyes I saw such sadness. When I asked about Illya, Napoleon told me he'd been sent to investigate a warehouse. It had been the hotbed of some major THRUSH activity and Mr. Waverly didn't trust the job to anyone else. Napoleon was getting ready to do a follow up, in case Illya needed back up. As always, Napoleon was right there for him.
Lucky, lucky Illya... and even luckier Napoleon.