The opening and closing quotations are from The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe
Dialog – Susan: [reading the dictionary] “Gastrovascular”…
Come on, Peter. “Gastrovascular”.
Peter: Is it Latin?
Edmund: Is it Latin for “worst game ever invented”?
[Susan shuts her dictionary]
Lucy: We could play hide and seek.
Peter: [sarcastically] But we’re already having so much fun”
It wasn’t unusual to find them together, both of them fascinated by the strangely seductive power each one held over the other. He sat at his perch atop morality’s highest pinnacle of altruism and self-sacrifice that was the U.N.C.L.E. ; conversely, she was in the shallow end of the stream where greed and megalomania were personified in the organization known as THRUSH. Uncharacteristically, they were each drawn to those qualities in the other that most epitomized the antithesis of who and what they were, or the goals after which they so energetically chased.
Napoleon Solo thought that Angelique LaChien was perhaps one of the most beautiful and beguiling women he had ever met, in spite of the reality of her hair being a little too blonde, she possessed a tantalizingly crooked smile that begged to be kissed, and the ability to kill him effortlessly if she should so choose. Still, when he made love to her there was no equal to the excitement that came from not quite conquering her, knowing that however she might appear to be taken in those last few gasping moments, she was never completely his.
Angelique, for her part, found the dark haired agent to be her equal in every way, including his voracious sexual appetite. Few men could satisfy her and fewer still made her long for a touch or a glance, inviting her to a tryst with romance that was not as intoxicating as the chase and ultimately, the battle for dominance. Solo made her feel every ounce a woman without ever forgetting that she could work alongside of him and possibly best him at his own game. If there were such a place, theirs was a match made in heaven.
Illya Kuryakin recognized all of this and more as he watched them do their dance, always the same with the identical outcome each time. Angelique would cut him a look behind black eyelashes that seemed longer than feasible for actually seeing past them, all the while enticing his partner into the “truce” that gave them permission to go behind the enemy lines, as it were, and engage in the most intimate of secrets without ever telling any.
In truth, Illya did have some concern that one day, without warning, Napoleon might find himself in real danger as he found himself entangled in the temptress’s satin sheets, drinking in her poisoned wine. Even though neither of them entertained any misconceptions about what it was that they lusted after repeatedly, both of them courted betrayal with each liaison. Solo could just as easily take her during one of those moments, gaining the advantage albeit in a most ungentlemanly manner. And so, for that reason, it would never happen. Of Angelique, the Russian had no such confidences regarding her honor. The woman made no claims to being a lady.
So it happened that, as the two errant lovers were fulfilling their carnal natures, Illya found himself once more in a waiting game, not sure which would expire first; their seemingly inexhaustible ardor or his ability to patiently endure the delay in what should have been a working day. No doubt his partner would make the ludicrous attempt to justify his dalliance as work; certainly of a different persuasion than the type that actually accomplished the task at hand. The Russian would watch the street, drink his tea and delay the eventual deliberation of insults and barbed replies to whatever either of them might say. He resented the woman, resented his friend for indulging her; it would come to no good end, he believed. Somewhere in Illya’s intuitive nature was a warning that today, of all days, Napoleon should not have met with Angelique.
The blond saw them from inside the little Hotel d’Ambrosia; what a telling name that was. First she descended, the blonde hair like a beacon from within the shadowed stairway. Next came Napoleon, straightening his tie and brushing back an errant strand of hair on his forehead.
‘Hmmm…enough to dissuade his hair from being in place’.
Illya never had such worries, his hair was always free to do whatever it wished. In that there was a minor sense of satisfaction, superiority even.
Something had caught Napoleon’s attention, keeping him from exiting the doorway; someone had called him back inside. Illya got up from his table to get a better look, and at that moment saw a large black sedan coming at full throttle down the little cobbled street. Angelique was nearly to the center of the road, unaware of the approaching vehicle when the Russian, driven by whatever impulses spur the naturally heroic, bounded into the street in order to push his female nemesis out of the path of the rampaging driver.
Some people on the sidewalks gasped at the scene, yelling and screaming for them to hurry out of the way; all of that served to deaden the sound of the silenced gunshot that followed Illya as he successfully pushed the stunned Thrush agent out of harm’s way. He flattened her to the sidewalk behind them just as Napoleon was running through the doorway to see his partner’s body hurl into Angelique’s. She groaned and then, partly in gratitude but equally disdained at the thought of the unpleasant Russian so near to her, not to mention on top of her, she tried to move him.
The realization hit her at the same moment of Napoleon’s observation that Illya was unconscious, and in fact bleeding. For a fluttering moment, his eyes opened to gaze directly into Angelique’s, causing her to gasp in the realization that the despised Kuryakin had saved her life; had in fact risked his own and was now bleeding profusely, if the wetness on her hand was any indication as she pulled it back from around his body and raised it for observation.
Napoleon motioned for the crowd that had gather to back away. He bent down to speak and hoped for a reply.
“Illya…Illya can you hear me?”
No response to Napoleon’s imploring voice. He needed to get Illya up off of the sidewalk before the assassins…would be assassins…could return, or perhaps send new men to finish whatever this had started out to be. The American had no way of knowing who the target had been, but it was most likely Angelique for whom the bullet was meant.
“Darling, what do we do now? Where do we go in this little town?”
Angelique’s voice was unsure, the normally coquettish affect gone from her features. They were in a small little Provencal village without a hospital, certainly without more than a country doctor. Illya had a bullet in his back and Napoleon didn’t know how much damage there might be. He picked up the limp body, letting the woman ease out from beneath him, and then they returned to the hotel, reclaiming the room they had so recently used as a lovers lair, never thinking that both of them would have reason for a newly formed sense of guilt over their professional indiscretion.
The little man attending the desk was only too willing to let Napoleon and Angelique return to their room, offering to call the doctor and hoping he would be in his office. Dr. Ormond was a reliable man, and had been tending the village’s sick for decades. The frantic innkeeper was making the call as Napoleon carefully trudged back up the narrow stairs to the familiar room. He sat his friend down on the bed, allowing Angelique to remove Illya’s jacket and gun holster; then together they managed to remove his shirt. The wound was below the right scapula, insuring that it had missed the area around his heart, at least. Still, it was in there and would need to be removed. Napoleon hoped this doctor had enough skill to do it without creating more damage.
Angelique brought in towels to staunch the blood flow, never saying a word, still stunned that this man who showed her nothing except a complete loathing, should have risked himself for her. She didn’t have an experience to equal this, leaving her stunned and unable to face Napoleon, whose trust she knew the wounded man valued perhaps more than life itself. Nothing in her years with Thrush had prepared her for this kind of emotion. Nothing.
After positioning Illya on his left side, propping his chest with pillows to keep the pressure off of the wound, they had nothing left save to wait for the physician to arrive. Angelique sensed with accuracy a malaise settling over Napoleon as he sat and studied the back of his friend.
“Napoleon, I…am so sorry. He flew across the street and pushed me out of the way of that…”
Her voice failed her. All of her steely resolve had drained away, the flippant repartee’ no longer appealing.
“Why would he do that…for me?”
Her eyes questioned the action and the man in front of her, pleading for some reasonable explanation from the one who understood her confusion. Angelique could have accepted it as an act of chivalry from her sometimes lover, knowing that it benefitted him to keep her alive, comfortable with the idea of it being self-serving in some way. But, the Russian…that rocked her from the foundations of her being. It served him in no way to substitute himself for her. And now, here he lay, looking all the world like a child to her; the blond hair framing the all too youthful features, the small frame folding into itself as though morphing into something beyond her seeing. Illya might die, and normally Angelique wouldn’t regret it, nor feel an iota of responsibility, at least none that would burden her in any way. But this…sacrifice.
‘Why did you have to do this to me?’
The unspoken lament of the survivor ate at her soul, at least that part of it not completely taken by her masters.
The THRUSH agent’s unexplainable remorse was relieved at the arrival of the little man who was the town’s physician. He ordered Angelique and Napoleon as to what he might require, and set about his work, tsking at the wasted lives of those who lived by the gun. What had this innocent looking young man done to deserve such as this that was his condition? Napoleon knew he had done nothing, but could offer no explanation other than the unfortunate happenstance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Napoleon had been on the communicator contacting Paris, setting up a safety net around their location. For whatever reason, someone had tried to kill Angelique, and they might never know who or why. It was not as important to him now as the condition of his friend, and so he waited for the doctor to complete his mission of mercy.
Dr. Ormond assured the couple that their friend would recover, and that he himself would return the next day to check on his patient. They should not move him for a day or two, let him begin to heal. Many thanks accompanied the modest payment, and the door closed behind him as the two agents from diverse worlds breathed a little easier for their relief.
It was several hours later that Illya opened his eyes tentatively, slowly taking in the room and the people in it. He saw his Napoleon first, and then the sleeping figure of the woman whose life had nearly cost him his own. Illya figured he must not be in such bad shape to still be here in this hotel room. No antiseptic smells, no nurses…just a nice bed and the feel of the crisp clean sheets on his bare skin. And, a bullet hole, of course. There was always that.
“Tovarisch, welcome back”
The smile was inimitable and welcome, the soothing voice as much a remedy as whatever the doctor had given him for the pain.
” ‘llo. Will I live?”
The humor was weak as was the voice, but Napoleon had assurances from the country physician that his friend would recover, nothing had been damaged and, except for the loss of blood, all Illya needed was some rest in order to recover. He would need to do so without the aid of a blood transfusion, but even if it were available, it would not have been absolutely necessary.
“Yes, you just need bed rest. Mr. Waverly says to stay here for a few days, and then check in at Paris headquarters. Do you feel all right?”
“I’m fine, Napoleon’,
then looking across the room he asked with genuine concern;
“Angelique, is she all right?”
At the sound of her name, the young woman stirred, caught off guard at the recognition of the Russian’s voice. She rose up from her chair and moved toward him.
“Illya, I…thank you’
Her voice was a whisper. Nothing in it recalled the normally disdainful attitude she exhibited towards him on almost all occasions.
“You saved my life and…”
She had come to the edge of the bed, looking him in the eyes for the first time since she had known him. How incredibly blue and expressive they were, even now.
“It’s all right. It’s what I do”.
His mouth betrayed only the hint of a cautious smile, his struggle to remain fully awake ebbing from his grasp. As quickly as he had awakened, he was sound asleep once again. Angelique looked at Illya as though not really acquainted with him, still troubled at his actions and her inability to consign it to her good luck rather than some outmoded sense of duty and honor on his part.
This then was their truce. This solitary space in time where Illya Kuryakin deigned to extend her life at the cost of his own safety, and Angelique in return puzzled in a quiet restraint as to why.
Napoleon watched all of this, not with any hope of reconciliation. Illya would continue to disapprove, and the lovely Thrush most assuredly was not cured of her dislike of the dour young man whose mission it was to keep his friend out of her clutches, and away from the company she kept.
For this small interlude, however, a peace had been reached. Illya would live to fight another day, and Angelique’s obedience and dedication to her corrupt comrades had not been altered. And he, Napoleon, still loved them each in the peculiar manner after his own sense of affection. One the incorruptible White Russian, the other the wicked and beautiful White Witch.
Was it possible that their lives had been written for them, he wondered? So much of it was more like fiction than anything remotely real. And, what would his character be in this drama? Napoleon questioned the role of hero, and thought perhaps an errant knight chasing after distressing damsels rather than the ones in actual distress. A prince perhaps?
“I’ll leave that to you, my friend. You seemed destined for absolution, regardless of what you believe”.
Napoleon and Angelique watched the sunset together on the little terrace outside their room. Each of them held a remnant of something intangible in their souls, the flicker of hope that if there existed some little chance for peace, just every so often, perhaps they might enjoy it together, like this, before they attended again to the games they played. For now, they let the sun sink into the landscape, melting the sky with brilliant hues of pink and orange as it let the earth wind it’s way around, preparing a path for tomorrow.
For now, the stone veneer had cracked, and for a spare moment in time, innocence had been redeemed by her enemy’s kindness; Angelique had mattered to someone simply because she was there. And, somehow, knowing that she had been saved not because of who she was or in spite of it, but simply due to a man’s willingness to put himself in the way of danger for another human being, caused her to feel included; part of something, in a way she never had before. Angelique didn’t understand it, but for now it was an unexpected comfort, and she let it wash over her in a way that eased her anxieties as she slipped into a peaceful sleep.
“Aslan: If the witch understood the true meaning of sacrifice, she might have interpreted the Deep Magic differently, for when a willing victim who has committed no treachery, dies in a traitor’s stead, the stone table will crack and even death itself will turn backwards.”
The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe