In honor of The Beatles 40th Anniversary of coming to America

Thank you John, Paul, George and Ringo

Beatles 4ever!

 

BACK IN THE USSR COMRADE

by

gm

 

 

 

 

 

Spring 1968

 

 

The grey corridor seemed extended -- stretched and elongated in a strange, infinite tunnel.  His footfalls echoed eerily in his ears, uncomfortably loud in the deserted hallway.  It seemed forever elapsed by the time he reached the automatic doors that suddenly appeared before him. 

 

The opening split apart silently, or perhaps the pneumatic whoosh was drowned out by his still loud steps.  As Napoleon Solo walked into the office he realized it was Waverly’s -- only because Section One Number One stood next to the instantly appearing round table so familiar to all upper echelon agents.

 

“Here is your new assignment, Mr. Solo,” the familiar words sounded in deep, slow reverberation. 

 

A file folder left his hand and floated through the air, slowly revolving around the room but never reaching the Section Two agent.

 

“And here is your new partner.”

 

A bubbly non-form hovered to the right of Waverly -- no shape, no face.

 

“What?”

 

His voice was absorbed in the ethereal mist at the edges of the office. 

 

“You can’t!  Where’s Illya?”

 

Russia,” Waverly drone tonelessly.  Russia.”  The dreaded word resonated around the atmosphere, blasting thought his ears and mind and seeming to touch every sense with a dark pall.

 

The protest evaporated into the grey mush that extended as far as he could see.

 

“Illya!”

 

Onscreen, Illya in a movie, talked to a Russian in a uniform.  Illya was in a uniform -- in Red Square!  He had been sent back! 

 

A huge, silent, but fiery blast swept him away, and as he felt and saw himself turned to ash, a mushroom cloud filled the vaporized space where he had been.  The uniformed Kuryakin dispassionately looked on as Solo’s particles blew away in a nuclear wind.

 

Illya!

 

Only the echo of the foreign name sounded.

 

 

***

 

 

Snapping awake, his eyes instantly open. Solo stared at the dark ceiling as he caught his breath.  As nightmares went, this didn’t even qualify as one.  Too many times he woke up terrorized by the mutilations, tortures and death-scenes haunting morbid dreams about the possible injuries and fatal ending for his partner.  This grey neatherworld was a comedy in comparison, but still unnerving.

 

Sitting up and rubbing his face, he wondered where the roots of this strange dream had originated.  They had been home two days from a relatively simple assignment in Guatemala.  No injuries, no capture, no life-threatening crisis.  Is this what happened when life became too easy?  His subconscious invented dire threats against him and his partner?   That was an unpleasant thought.

 

Glancing at the clock, he groaned.  Four-twenty-eight AM.  He had only returned from Joyce’s apartment a little before midnight.  He flopped back down on the pillow and couldn’t close his eyes.  Never admitting it, even to himself, he dreaded seeing that grey mist again.  Not willing to take the chance, he rose and fixed himself some coffee.  Sipping the black, strong brew, he sat on his sofa in the living room and glanced at the paper he had not had time to read from yesterday.

 

The front page had an article on the UN, on a nasty battle in Vietnam, and on President Johnson responding to rumors about the Soviet sending advisors to North Vietnam.  Uncle Section One leaders were working to avert a nuclear blow up of the superpowers.  Rumors were crackling through UNCLE HQ like wildfire; in the crisis, the Russian agents assigned to UNCLE might be called back.  There were several agents scattered around the world that might be affected, but only one concerned him.  He didn’t want to lose Illya.  He couldn’t.  They had saved each other from THRUSH and other threats.  He had to save Illya from a call to return home.

 

Groaning, he realized he must have scanned the paper the day before and his subconscious picked up the little tidbit, roiled it around in his suspicious brain, and somehow manufactured the threat that Illya was going to be recalled to Russia.  Hardly a crisis, but something he admittedly worried about on occasion.  This week he had overheard snippets of conversations in the hallways of UNCLE.  Covert glances and murmured questions followed Illya when the blond agent ambled the corridors.  All gossip centering on the latest theories of global unbalance.  Would Vietnam spark an escalation by both super-powers?  Could this be the opening crack of a fissure in Cold War enmity that would ultimately bring on the long-dreaded World War Three?

 

Waverly himself had mentioned being privy to intelligence indicating the doomsday theories were not to be dismissed.  A world war would effect UNCLE as it would everyone on the planet.  Particularly if things escalated to nuclear proportions.  Most operatives at UNCLE had no issue with nationalistic loyalties.  There were minor personality conflicts occasionally, sometimes surfacing because of the outside world’s politics.  Breeding and blood could not be completely forgotten under the idealistic umbrella of cooperation within UNCLE.  Illya had suffered a few prejudices, but all low-key and pretty much -- at least publicly -- dissolved as Kuryakin’s status and reputation enhanced through his skills as an agent. It didn’t hurt that as Chief Enforcement Officer, Solo was a steadfast defender of the Russian.

 

Since Kuryakin’s arrival in America in the midst of the cold war, Solo knew it had not been easy here sometimes.  Suspicion ran high on both sides.  One of the reasons they had quickly become fast friends.  Since day-one Solo was able to look beyond the nationalism and see the talent and valuable traits in Kuryakin.  It had taken time, but he had insinuated himself into the Russian’s defenses enough to be trusted as a colleague, then as partner.  Then as a fast friend.

 

Whenever he brought up the subject of Russia, Illya always brushed it off.  Strange, they saved each other’s lives constantly.  They lived together in cells, hotel rooms, baggage compartments and alleys.  Yet there were some things Illya would never share with him.  Some private thoughts and secrets that would be forever hidden by the sometimes still reclusive and very reticent Soviet.

 

Deciding it was time to end some of that secrecy, Solo readied himself and a little before six AM called his friend on the communicator. 

 

“Kuryakin.”

 

One word response.  Not a good sign.

 

“Rise and shine, sleepy head.”

 

“Give me one good reason.”

 

Illya was unhappy at missing another half-hour of sleep.  Now that he had his friend on the other end, what did he say?  Hi, I had a bad dream about you.   I’m not going back to sleep so neither should you? 

 

“Well, I was wondering, ah, how would you like to meet for breakfast?”

 

“Breakfast?”

 

“Yeah. 

 

“At Six AM?”

 

“I’m up early.”

 

“So am I.  And I know who is to blame for that.”  The danger in the tone was unmistakable.

 

“Listen, I’ll be down in a few minutes and I’ll take you out to a nice, hearty breakfast.  How about Mama’s?”

 

“Your treat?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Of course?  What did you do, Napoleon?  Did you murder Rawlings and you require an alibi?”

 

Rawlings.  Number Two Section One.  A constant thorn in their sides. 

 

“No mayhem.  Just breakfast.  I’ll be down in -- oh -- twenty minutes.”

 

Grumbling through an assortment of insults, he agreed to the peace-offering breakfast at his favorite little café near their apartments. 

 

 

***

 

 

Unable to maintain his patience, Solo trotted down the stairs to the next floor a little over twelve minutes after the conversation.  The stairs were closer and faster than the elevator, and Solo wanted to jog down to stretch his muscles and work out the edge in his nerves.  It was with a slight tremor of trepidation that Solo knocked on the familiar door.  Woken from an all-too rare undisturbed sleep was not a way to start the Russian bear out on a good day.   Why take the risk?  Solo hated to expose his insecurities, even to Illya, but he wanted -- needed --answers.  Definitive answers.  Today.  It had nothing to do with the conflicts between their respective nations.  It had everything to do with his own concerns as a friend. 

 

Knocking, he received a mumbled invitation to enter.  Not waiting to have the door unlocked, he hit a secret button on the side of the door jam and pressed a coded-sequence -- unlocking the custom electronic alarm system installed by Kuryakin.  Illya had installed a similar system into his apartment.  Opening the door, then closing it, he stood still, now uncertain about his assertiveness at this hour. 

 

So like his partner’s personality, Illya’s apartment reflected the orderly chaos bursting like energetic fireworks within the Russian’s brain.  The place was furnished with minimalist style and taste -- European flair meets bargain prices.  There were almost neat stacks (tidy, not dirty, but not neat like Napoleon’s crisply organized pad) records, books and papers on the coffee table -- representing Illya’s varied interests for the week or the night. 

 

Kuryakin, standing in the hall, toothbrush in his mouth, nailed him with a glacial stare.

 

“You need protection from a jealous husband?” he mumbled, then disappeared to finish brushing.

 

“Don’t be insulting,” Solo sniffed.  “I’m not that type.”

 

Illya returned, wiping his mouth with a towel.  “Yet you are the type who would roust his partner from a decent sleep for no valid reason.”

 

“Breakfast,” he supplied in a weak defense.

 

“This better be good.”

 

Wandering the familiar living room, Solo paused at the coffee table where a letter was unfolded.  He noted the signature. Out of the scribble, he was able to decipher McCartney.

 

Picking up the letter, he commented he didn’t know his partner was still in contact with the Beatles.

 

From the other room, Kuryakin cryptically explained McCartney still kept in touch.  There was some discussion of the Fab Four doing another movie with spy overtones and Paul asked for comments from their favorite spy.  No offense to Napoleon, of course, but Illya was the one who appreciated their music, so they asked him.  In fact, the latest song penned by Paul was inspired by Illya and the Beatle sent it along to get his reaction.

 

Solo also read there was a thanks from all the Beatles for Illya’s efforts at smuggling Beatle records into the Soviet Union.  The American agent knew about the quirky little sideline of black market goods that Illya occasionally sent to his homeland.  He applauded the efforts at providing the oppressed natives with goods.  He still was not convinced Beatle records were going to help win the people over, but Illya was certain it would eventually bring a better life to his fellow countrymen.

 

The thought, on this insecure morning, brought a new and unpleasant realization to him.  What if Illya wanted to go back to be an “insider” for his little cultural revolution?  What if Napoleon’s efforts all these years -- to ingratiate freedom and Western culture into his friend -- backfired and Kuryakin wanted to return to his roots as some kind of crusader.  His efforts at sending Beatle records into Russia spoke of some kind of revolutionary need.

 

His tone was more irked than he wanted to reveal.  “Why do you still send the records?  If the KGB catches you --“

 

The derisive laugh from the other room was confidant.  “The KGB catch me?  Napoleon, you not only wake me up at a ridiculous hour, you also insult me?  If you are not careful you will owe me lunch as well.”

 

Continuing to read the letter, scanning the proposed song lyrics, Napoleon frowned. 

 

Back in the USSR.  Been away so long I hardly knew the place.  It’s good to be back home. 

 

In Paul’s writing, he read:

 

Thinking of calling the song Come and Keep A Comrade Warm, or Back in the USSR.  You are my Russian expert.  What do you think?

Paul

 

Solo replaced the letter, feeling a little more uneasy.  Is that the way Illya felt?  He wanted to go back home?

 

“I particularly like the line about keeping a comrade warm,” Kuryakin commented dryly as he shrugged a black jacket over his black turtleneck sweater. 

 

“Swell,” Solo replied without enthusiasm as he preceded the Russian out the door.

 

 

***

 

Mama Petrovich ran an old world styled diner called the Blue Danube.  To those in the know in this small corner of Manhattan, it was a source of European charm and good food.  Solo appreciated the meals and the modest prices here, but admitted it was more to his friend likes than his own more sophisticated tastes.  This was, however, a very rich atmosphere to talk about the old Motherland with his partner.  Much better than the sterile walls of UNCLE, that would remind him far too easily of the disturbing dream.

 

Food ordered, they sipped their coffee in silence for only a few moments.  Illya finally stabbed him with a searing stare and asked, “So, what is the problem?”

 

He thought of denying it, but knew better.  He lied badly to his partner.  And to one who knew him so well, it was useless to prevaricate over the unusual invitation to breakfast, or the early morning call.  Although they lived in the same building, they did not always ride together to work.  Solo sometimes did not spend the night at his apartment, and sometimes they were called on differing assignments and it became impractical to always travel in one car.  Most often, though, they did commute together, and were familiar regulars to the staff here, often grabbing breakfast on the way to Headquarters.

 

“Don’t you want to eat first?”

 

“That bad,” Illya groaned.

 

“Well, not really,” he admitted, toying with his coffee mug.  “I just wanted to talk.”

 

Illya’s eyes narrowed.  “About?”

 

Scowling, berating himself because this should have been known -- that Illya would be this tough and he would be this self-conscious -- he forged ahead.  Voice low, he leaned closer across the table.

 

Russia.”

 

That startled the cool, if rumpled blond and his eyebrows shot up close to his bangs.  The assessment was not as cold as current Soviet-American international relations, but frostier than normal glares he received from his partner.  The blue eyes seemed to cut right through him as Illya sipped his coffee and clearly considered a response.  Carefully considered.

 

“I am familiar with it.”  At Solo’s sour expression, he gave an imperceptible nod.  “What about it?”

 

“I just wondered,” he started conversationally, not to be annoyed or put off by the flippancy.  He should not have come here -- to the old world smells and camaraderie and atmosphere where Illya loved to soak in the images of the motherland.  Well, too late now, he inwardly sighed and forged ahead.  “You never told me.  Do you think you’ll have to go back?  Someday?”

 

Their breakfast arrived and Kuryakin silently studied him.  Neither went through the motions of preparing to eat.  There was no way to guess what was behind the veiled blue eyes.  Often they were not readable even to the partner who knew him best.  Now, they were blockaded behind an aloof barrier.  That defensive shield often there in their early years, rarely sprung up nowadays.  It was there now in daunting solidity.

 

This was going to be tougher than he thought.  Did he want to proceed?  Illya’s foreboding expression suggested this was private territory and should be respected.  That Solo should know better than to trespass here.  Well, if that’s the way he wanted it, he would have to say so.  They could walk into work any day and find out their respective countries were at war.  Illya might be called back to fight against them -- UNCLE and America -- against him! -- in the KGB.

 

Kuryakin seemed to be able to read him -- not unusual.  He also came to some kind of decision -- it was clear in his expression.  “Do I think I will return to Russia one day?  Of course,” he neutrally replied, breaking the intent eye contact.  He started mushing his eggs and potatoes together.  “It is my homeland.”

 

The answer did not help.  “Do you mean for a visit?”

 

“Yes.”  His concentration was on heaping jam on his toast. 

 

Okay, this was like a battle.  The stubborn Soviet was going to make him pay for every inch of ground covered in this grueling conversation.  “I mean, do you think it will be -- more than that?”

 

Biting into the toast, Illya reached across the table and lifted a slice of toast from Solo’s plate.  “Eat,” he admonished, “since you are paying.  Mama’s breakfasts are perhaps the best meal of the day.”

 

Solo complied, taking it for the diversion it was.  Okay, this would not be discussed over breakfast.  But he would not be deterred.  “So Paul’s lyrics are closer to the mark than you’ve let on?“

 

He pointed to Solo’s food.  “By the time we are finished traffic will be heavy.  We will have time to discuss this in the car.”

 

A not-so-subtle hint he wanted more privacy for this dialogue.  Progress.  At least it was not a denial.  With a nod, Solo ate, savoring the tasty food and collecting his thoughts for the drive to the office.

 

 

***

 

 

“Illya,” he began immediately as soon as they closed the doors in Solo’s Corvette.  “Do you think you’re going to be recalled to Russia if things get worse?”

 

Sober and no longer guarded, Illya faced him with some indefinable emotion barely flitting across his face.  “I have never mentioned my arrangement between UNCLE and the Soviet Union for good reason.  There is no need for anyone to know.  Only Waverly is aware of the true details because he arranged them.”

 

“Really?” The news was a surprise, but shouldn’t have been.  Cunning was a byword to both the old man and the Russian.  “And they are?”  He would not be put off.

 

“April is Waverly’s project now as a female agent.  Years ago, I was Waverly’s project for Russia.  Through an old friend he knew from the war, Waverly arranged for several Soviet operatives to be -- watchdogs -- for the lack of a better term.  So you could say I have a long term commitment to UNCLE.” 

 

“Ah,” he sighed, the glimmer of the arrangement crystallizing in his mind.  “I always wondered if you were the poster boy for Russian’s efforts at international cooperation.  For your homeland, you are the plant for keeping an eye on all us capitalists over here.”  A soft, rueful laugh escaped his grin-twitched lips.  “Devious.  They obviously picked the right man for the job.”

 

Kuryakin’s eyes sparkled with humor.  “Your praise is too kind.”

 

Remembering the vividly violent and disquieting dream, Solo became subdued.  “What if they call you back?”

 

“Waverly is not about to send me back,” he nearly scoffed.

 

“But they might insist --“

 

“They will not --“

 

“Illya!”  He wanted to pound the steering wheel from the frustration of the situation -- and the double-frustration of trying to have a meaningful conversation with his partner.  He settled for non-violent snapping back.  “I don’t want to lose you!  I don’t want the world situation to separate us.”  The adamant demand was abrupt and intent. 

 

Startled, Kuryakin displayed the surprise only with a widening of his eyes.  Pondering thoughtfully for a moment, he surrendered a curt nod.  With a measure of sympathy, he relinquished a slight twitch of a smile.  “There is no need for concern, my friend.”

 

“But, I am concerned.  Very concerned.”

 

“Back to the USSR?  No one in the Soviet government would trust me working for them after all the corruption I have lived within for all these years -- first in England, now in America,” Kuryakin dryly explained in an effortlessly calm tone.  “Nor would they want me infecting the populous with tales of the West.  Or Beatle records.”  A trace of a grin tugged at his lips.  “I am afraid you are stuck with me for quite a while, Napoleon.”

 

Sighing with aching relief, not really appreciating the deeply emotional impact of the subconscious stress, he offered a guarded laugh. Then he sobered again.  “You want to go back? I mean, you wouldn’t, would you?  Go back even if they wanted you?” 

 

Kuryakin’s face reflected bewilderment.

 

Making a face, Solo amended, “I didn’t mean that.  I mean, I don’t want you to feel like an abandoned orphan, but I hope you never go back.  To stay, I mean.  Those lyrics.  Back in the USSR. They hit too close to home this morning.”

 

“They are only lyrics.” 

 

“Are you sure?”  He needed to know.  “We’ve been through a lot, old friend.  I would hate to lose you to your government’s whims.”  Self-conscious, a little embarrassed at his confessions, he surrendered an anxious grin.  “You’re too valuable a partner to lose.  Too late in the game for me to train someone new.”

 

It was hard to put into words the fears and confusion he must have harbored for years, but was surfacing only now because of the world situation.  Illya was in the middle of the global conflict -- ideologically speaking, of course.  He never renounced his sentimental attachment for his country, although he was not a Communist in thoughts or actions.  Yet, would he defy his government if he had to?  Would he want to defy the Kremlin to stay here in America and work for UNCLE?

 

Napoleon was almost afraid to ask the next question -- deeply concerned over the answer.  He wanted to believe Illya desired to remain here, as much as Solo wanted him to stay.  Not necessarily in America, not specifically in UNCLE.  However, stay, because within their partnership they had formed their only family bond.  One that on his side surpassed nationalistic or even organizational boundaries and oaths.

 

“Do you want to go back?”

 

Russia is my homeland.  While I would like to visit occasionally, it is not my home.  Not anymore.  Nothing holds me there.” 

 

The partnership was so important to both of them.  It had transcended pain, grief, and lives on occasion.  Sometimes even Waverly’s orders.  Could it be stronger than two countries on a collision course?  On Napoleon’s side, he knew it was stronger than anything.  He was certain nothing on earth would make him betray his friend.  But did Illya feel that strongly?  To betray his country, if necessary, to stay here in the event he was ordered back?

 

While solemn, there was still a gleam in the blue eyes.  Illya’s gaze was level and profound.  “I won’t go back permanently.  I have made another long-term commitment beyond UNCLE since I’ve been here.  That is more important to me.  It commands my loyalty more than the organization and more than my homeland.  This is where my home is now.”

 

Slowly, Napoleon nodded, catching the deeper meaning that so often came from his friend’s complex and cunning mind.  Beyond UNCLE -- or Russia.  Their partnership.

 

He gave a slow nod of understanding and quietly released a sigh of relief.  “Yes, I see.  Well, your dedication is one of your best qualities, Illya.”

 

With a sly nod, Kuryakin smiled, acknowledging the double-meanings.  “That includes being on time for work.”

 

“It’s a fast car,” he assured, starting the engine and shifting the Corvette into first gear. 

 

Feeling a lot better about the future, he sped through the streets of New York appreciating life fuller than he had in a while.  He didn’t realize these worries had been preying on his mind.  Probably for a long while.  The concerns were gone, now, though.  Illya was not going to leave.  Not going back to the USSR.  He would not be anywhere else but at Solo’s side.

 

 

THE END