The Matriphobia Affair

a.k.a. The ‘Georgiesmith Put Us Up To It’ Affair

Fandom: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Authors: lothithil and MacBeth

Category: gen

Rating: PG

Word Count: 6,069

Notes: This story is a gap filler and alternate ending to the Season 2 episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. entitled the “The Children’s Day Affair”. It starts out in canon, but departs there from after the first scene. Originally it had been my plan to rewrite only the last conflict scene, but we found the need to insert some details into the scenes leading up to that conflict. This fic opens in Act II, where Illya has been captured by THRUSH and taken to a school where young delinquents are trained to kill. Unwilling to give up the secret location of the UNCLE conference, Illya is introduced to the school disciplinarian… Mother Fear. We decided not to meddle with Act III. It was found to be acceptable.

 

 

 

Act II vs. 2.0 (upgraded)
“Tell Mother All About It…”

It wasn’t the first time Illya had been threatened with torture. He had endured many different kinds in his line of work – had even inflicted some – in the course of the ongoing war against THRUSH. It wasn’t something he was proud of, neither was he ashamed; he was aware. But knowing torture as intimately as he did, he felt fear like a burning flutter coiling in his stomach as he was herded along by his two guards.

He hid the fear, buried the hot flicker under a wall of ice. He was Illya Kuryakin, agent of the U.N.C.L.E. A good agent could learn as much from his torturer as that torturer could hope to learn from him.

It was an unusual choice of a torture chamber. It looked more like a family sitting room. There were comfortable chairs and a divan, tables and lamps, a dampened hearth and wide, sunny windows opening over a garden. Nearby, a wooden rocking chair was set, a pile of knitting coiled domestically on the seat. Near the window on a stand was birdcage draped with a flowered cloth.

Some of the chairs were low, child-sized, and it was on one of these that Illya was forced to sit, his manacled wrists fastened to a chain binding him to a ring set in the carpeted floor. The chain was so short that he had to assume a miserably uncomfortable hunched position; he could not sit upright. He adjusted his legs to ease the strain on his back while he was left to wait. Behind him, his two guards stood quietly, shifting from foot to foot in a manner not so much of impatience, but as if they, too, were uncomfortable, just being in this particular room.

Illya’s arms and shoulders were feeling the strain, the muscles of his back beginning to tremble in spite of his best efforts to remain still, unmoved and unmoving, when the door opened and a woman came in. She wore a sleeveless black jumpsuit that hugged her waist, legs and hips. Her neckline plunged, her hair was bleached blond and her makeup was heavy, but she was fit, with a muscular arms that undermined the impression of soft femininity. She was smiling; her teeth were white and perfect. Her eyes were cobalt blue and as cold as those of a reptile.

Illya didn’t know it yet, but her name was Yvonne.

Huck and Tom stiffened to attention as she entered; Illya noted that they also glanced down subserviently when she looked at them. She passed them without comment, setting a tea tray on the table next to the rocking chair. She removed the knitting from the seat and settled down like a queen upon a throne.

Either Tom or Huck (Illya couldn’t tell them apart – they couldn’t be twins, but the identical scars were deceptive) came forward swiftly to relieve her of the pile of yarn and sticks. Illya allowed himself to relax a little. He hadn’t liked the thought of the knitting needles; he still had a scar from that time in Andes when he and Napoleon had gone up against the Alpaca Cartel—

“Well, hello there, dear. You must be Mr. Kuryakin. Captain Jenks has told me all about you.” She spoke gently, in a sing-song smiling chirp, as if to a very young, nervous child. She looked at Illya – neither young nor a child – and smiled down at him.

Ignoring the discomfort it caused, Illya strained to lift his head high enough to meet her eyes. “The pleasure is all mine,” he said dryly.

She blithely carried on, pouring steaming liquid into a cup. “Tea, Mr. Kuryakin?”

“It, ah, might be a little awkward, madam.” The chains on his wrists jingled slightly as he shifted his aching arms.

“Well, you don’t need to be so formal, Mr. Kuryakin.” She smiled at him, her blue eyes sparkling with pleasure. “Why don’t you call me Mother Fear.”

“Well, that’s very kind.” Illya responded without feeling. He wasn’t certain whether the woman was actually insane, or merely very shrewd. But the thought that she administered to children made him more uncomfortable than his disadvantageous posture

“Well, that’s very sweet of you to think so. Now, tea.” She leaned toward him, holding the teacup to his lips. He had no choice but to accept a mouthful.

The liquid was scalding. He winced, pulling his face away from the cup.

Her eyes sparkled with delight. “How’s that? Too hot?”

His eyes were watering. “Very refreshing, thank you,” Illya whispered through blistered lips.

Her smile faded a little. “Illya, dear,” she purred, “when was the last time you told your mother that you loved her?”

Illya gave her a puzzled look. He’d expected questions about the peace conference, not … this. He narrowed his eyes at her and said nothing.

Yvonne went on. “Well, sent her flowers? Thanked her for all the little things she’s done? Told her how much you care?”

He looked at her levelly – as levelly as he could manage – and said, “I must warn you I don’t have any guilty feelings for you to prey upon… or any resentment.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” she said, cold edging into her voice. “So, you want to be a good boy?” Illya stared at her. “Tell me all about the new location for the UNCLE conference.”

Illya closed his eyes briefly, glanced away from her to shake off the sense of cloying nausea.

Yvonne frowned at him as at a stubborn, willful child.. “You heard me. I asked you a question.” Her voice, once smooth and cajoling, became firm, demanding. “I want you to mind me. Answer me.”

Illya merely looked at her.

She abruptly flung the steaming contents of the teacup into his face. Illya squeezed his eyes closed but could not dodge the stream of liquid. It burned his face and soaked into his coat and shirt. He bit his lips against making any sound of pain.

“I knew it would come to this.” Yvonne hissed at him. He had astonished her when he didn’t cry out at the faceful of scalding liquid; most men would have screamed like babies. She’d heard it many times. “You’re disobeying me. You know what I’m going to have to do, don’t you? You’ll be sorry.” She reached up and back without looking away from Illya. One of her ‘boys’ put something into her hand and took the empty teacup from her.

Illya blinked until he could see again; she was leaning toward him and fondling a long strip of thick leather. “I’m going to have to take the strop to you.” She beamed with delight at the prospect.

As she reached out and grabbed Illya’s tie, yanking it aside and tearing the top button from his shirt, he realized that she wasn’t going to ask him any more questions for a while. She was enjoying his resistance far too much.

“You’ve been a very bad boy.”

***

Many things are required of a man from UNCLE. He must be a man who can take care of himself, get himself out of any situation. Sometimes it requires getting into situations that normal, sane men would avoid.

Illya Kuryakin was a master of escape – but in this situation, that was the one thing he wouldn’t do. His duty compelled himto investigate this bizarre school and report his findings to Section One. The best way for him to learn now was to stay where he was, even at the cruel hands of Thrush. What he was learning about the operation would be invaluable – providing he survived to make his report.

He was confident that he would survive. He had endured torture before. A spanking from a woman – regardless of how unhinged she might be – could hardly be compared to some of the torments he had experienced.

In spite of his confidence and determination, Illya couldn’t entirely suppress a shudder as the creature touched him. As she loosened his tie and tore open the throat of his shirt, her face was alight with something that might have been described as passion – if her face had looked even remotely human.

He could have taken her down with a sweep of his long leg and a well-placed kick – but he would learn nothing that way. And there were her two goons-in-training – Huck and Tom – to consider. He felt the hands of one of them behind him, pulling at the collar of his jacket, the edge of a knife reaching under the collar to slice through the leather strap of his shoulder holster.

The holster was pulled roughly away, and Illya took a deep breath and steeled himself as they stripped his coat and shirt over his head. A stray button caught his hair and yanked on it painfully. The garments were bunched around his manacled wrists as his back was bared, and he schooled his mind not to acknowledge the vulnerability he felt as a layer of his dignity was stripped away with the cloth. His hair was in his face, wet with tea and sweat, sticking to his forehead and eyes; he shook his head and pulled again against the restraints.

Yvonne paced close in front of him, too close for him to look up at her without giving himself a spasm in the neck. He turned his head, watched her feet out of the corner of his eyes. She had very large feet for a woman.

She was fondling her leather strap. An old-fashioned razor strop, as any man would recognize, but it had obviously never been used as such; it lacked the softness that a strop acquired after constant use – ordinary use. The leather was still stiff and thick, stained darkly with oil and with sweat.

“I am a teacher, Mr. Kuryakin,” she said grandly. “I teach discipline. When one of my boys needs guidance, Captain Jenks and I believe in using the firm approach. While you’re a guest here, I think I’ll give you a few lessons.”

“One expects to learn when one goes to school,” Illya replied dryly.

“A very good philosophy. Listen carefully, now. Good behavior,” she paused to pet his hair gently, “is expected. Bad behavior,” she swung the strap close to his nose, “is punished. Goodness, as you know, being an UNCLE agent, is its own reward. But when you’re bad, you get the strop. Do you understand, Mr. Kuryakin?”

Illya said nothing. He wasn’t surprised when the leather cracked against his skin; he didn’t flinch, but he raised his head to glare at her.

“I expect an answer.” She punctuated this with another lick from the strop. The folded leather barked loudly through the small room.

“I understand.” Illya’s voice was even, tinged with resentment.

The leather cracked again. “Be respectful, Illya dear.”

“I understand … Mother Fear.”

Illya could hear the frown in her voice. He was giving her what she asked for, but she knew he wasn’t giving in. “Mr. Kuryakin. It looks like you have a history of being a bad boy.” He felt his skin twitch involuntarily as she drew a fingernail along the smooth track of an old scar, showing like a white seam on his reddening skin. “Who gave you this, I wonder? Your mother? Did you disobey her like you are disobeying me now?”

“No.” Illya kept his voice level, even when she dug her nail into the welt. “No, Mother Fear.”

He felt her gentler touch again; she trailed her fingers up between his shoulder blades and rested her open hand on the back of his neck. Gentleness was abandoned there as she forced his head down into a bow. He resisted, but she was a strong woman. His shoulder muscles knotted, his back stinging in the places where she had struck him. His thighs began to tremble as he pushed against her hand with defiant strength.

She had leverage on him, and he was chained. “Tom.” Her voice was maddeningly calm as sweat began to pour down Illya’s face as they fought their small war. He watched the strop swinging, filling his vision. “Build up the fire. It is cold in here… we wouldn’t want our little guest to catch a chill.”

“Yes, Mother Fear.”

Illya’s skin was burning, the salt of his sweat running across his face to leave trails of fire where the skin had been scalded by the tea. His back was burning. The first strokes had been easy to take – but each successive blow on the damaged skin had built on itself, peeling away his control.

The leather loop began to swing again, slowly at first, growing into wider and purposeful circles. Illya’s muscles were burning from the strain of his obligatory crouch. He forced himself to relax slightly.

When Yvonne felt the tension beneath her hand ebb slightly, she smiled; another victory.

“That’s better, Illya. There’s no point in fighting me. You brought this on yourself, after all. You deserve to be punished. Say it.”

He hesitated a moment, the words sticking in his throat. The strop cracked down. Hard. He winced, biting the inside of his cheek, substituting the small pain he could control for the large pain that he couldn’t. He cocked his head at her and muttered tightly, “I deserve to be punished.” Just tell her what she wants to hear.

“That is right. Resistance and defiance equals pain.” She draped the leather strop over his back, letting it slide over his skin. “Once you are punished, the transgression is erased. Forgiven and forgotten. Pain equals forgiveness.” She hung the strop in front of his eyes. “Say it. Tell Mother all about it …”

“Pain equals forgiveness,” Illya intoned, hating her.

She knelt down beside him, her mouth next to his ear. “I’ll bet you’ve done a lot of things that you deserve to be punished for. Would you like to be forgiven?”

Illya didn’t answer. He knew it wouldn’t make any difference.

***

Illya endured the next several minutes without making a sound, soaking up the beating as Mother Fear laid into him. But she wanted more of a reaction from her newest pupil. Challenged by his control, she snapped the leather in the air so that it cracked just by his ear without actually touching him, and watched him shiver when the blows never fell. Then she laid three vicious stripes high on his shoulders, each blow directly on top of the last, harder than she’d ever struck before.

Illya had been waiting for this; he knew the procedure well, after all. She was no longer trying to break him for information; the battle had gone beyond such simple goals. She needed to break him for her own satisfaction. She would flay the skin from his back until she got the reaction she wanted. He had to give it to her, but he had to make it look good, too. If he caved too easily… she’d only beat him harder.

It was better than knitting needles… but it was still going to be a long afternoon.

***

By the time she paused to take a breath, Illya was panting, his face buried in the bunched cloth of his shirt and jacket as he alternately braced himself and tried to unlock his muscles and let the blows flow through him. He could feel something trickling down his back; he told himself it was sweat, not blood, although he knew that sweat would have stung like acid in the raw weals on his back.

Yvonne walked a few paces away from him. He turned his head to watch her. She was sipping tea, and blotting beads of perspiration from her brow with a napkin. She glanced over and saw him looking at her.

“Have you learned anything yet, Mr. Kuryakin?”

Illya shuddered. He’d set his teeth in the folds of his shirt where it had been pulled over his head, and had been screaming into the wadded cloth. Now his jaws had cramped, and he couldn’t have given her a civil answer anyway. He imagined freeing his hands long enough to wrest that stinking length of leather from her and fling it into the fire. He knew, though, that if his hands were free, he wouldn’t stop with disarming her. His loathing for her was a palpable thing.

Yvonne was also weary, her arm aching more with each stroke, but she struggled to conceal it. She must never show fatigue in front of a ‘student’, and Huck and Tom were still watching her, too. She sipped her tea slowly, hoping that something would happen to interrupt the session soon. She couldn’t afford to let her subject outlast her.

Nothing occurred while she finished her tea. She decided to change tactics slightly, to give her arm a rest. She moved to the birdcage, lifting one edge of the covering to peek at the feathered occupant. “Hello there, Naughty Boy.” she cooed gently, sprinkling seeds into the cage. Over her shoulder, she said, “We also teach music, Mr. Kuryakin. Did you hear the boys singing earlier?”

Illya may have nodded, or it may have been another muscle cramp seizing him. She took it as acknowledgment. “We strive to offer something of all the arts here at Figliano. It keeps the boys … well-rounded in their training.”

Illya found his voice. “So the headmaster informed me. How nice to know the classical arts are not being neglected.”

She tapped the cage, whistling gently. Illya couldn’t see inside the cage, but he heard nothing moving inside. He wondered if the bird was dead, or if it just didn’t dare to make any noise.

Illya knew the respite was false, just as he knew that baiting her would be foolish. She was looking for more than answers and information: she wanted him to give in. As long as he kept her angry with him over her failure to control him, she wouldn’t be as effective as digging for the secrets she was supposed to get from him.

He replied in as even and sardonic a tone as he could manage. “Your canary doesn’t seem to want to sing. How do you teach him not to disobey?”

She turned her plastic smile toward him. “Naughty Boy is just a poor dumb creature, Mr. Kuryakin. He doesn’t know how to disobey.” She moved toward him, running the strop through her hands. “He doesn’t know how to conceal things… things like where the UNCLE conference has been moved to…”

Her sentence trailed off, and she trailed the strop so that it slid up Illya’s arm and shoulders as she walked around him. He hissed as the thick leather brushed the raw skin on his back, and couldn’t keep himself from flinching away from the touch.

A knock sounded loudly on the door. Yvonne kept the relief out of her voice as she called out, “Come in.” Another blond man poked his head inside the room. “What is it, Conrad?”

Illya noticed that he also had a scar running from his right eye down his cheek. He wondered if it was something you got with your diploma when you graduated from the École Figliano: the School of Hard Knocks.

The man ducked his head in a respectful bow, not meeting his mistress’ eyes. “Mother Fear. The headmaster asked me to let you know that it is time for his, um…” Conrad glanced at Illya and then quickly away, gulping, “… uh, his… private lesson.”

“Thank you. Conrad, I want you to help Tom and Huck to settle Mr. Kuryakin in one of our guest rooms. Make sure he is… comfortable.”

“Yes, Mother Fear.”

She swept out of the room.

***

If not for the two men gripping his arms, Illya wouldn’t have been able to stand. Tom, the taller of the not-quite-twins, unlocked the manacles from his wrists and tugged Illya’s shirt over his bare back. When the fabric touched his skin, Illya’s vision went white. A moment later he blinked and found himself being dragged between them across a courtyard. He let them do all the work, finally getting his feet under him when they reached an outbuilding. He didn’t fancy being dragged down concrete steps.

They brought him to a cell that contained nothing besides two folding bunks and a prison lavatory. Huck tossed Illya’s coat aside and helped Tom maneuver the man onto the lower cot until he was lying on his stomach. They both turned and left immediately.

Conrad lingered behind. “Mr. Kuryakin, you should learn faster,” he said, wetting a cloth in the sink next to the bunk. “Mother Fear doesn’t usually use the strop so hard, or for such a long time.” He looked at the back of Illya’s shirt where blood was soaking through the cotton. “Those will need cleaning…”

“Leave me.” Illya hissed when Conrad tried to lift the cloth from his back. He gritted through clenched teeth, “Please. Just leave me alone.” His voice was hoarse – his throat felt raw, from screaming and from fighting for silence. Conrad hesitated, then picked up a cracked mug and filled it from the lavatory tap. He held it for Illya to drink, set it down and slipped wordlessly from the cell.

Illya let his head drop onto the pillow. The fabric was cool against his face, a very small but very welcome comfort. It was just enough to let him slip away from the agony upon his skin and into unconsciousness.

***

Act IV v 2.0 (upgraded)
“Don’t Crowd Mother”

Great men may endure torment to rise again to achieve new heights. Illya Kuryakin did not regard himself as a particularly ‘great man’ – although he had certainly endured his share of torments. And at the moment, he was achieving new heights as well.

He was also learning that climbing a tree with a raw-whipped back was not a pleasant experience, but he did it anyway. Such things build character, he reflected, as he crouched low among the thick leaves.

The car – a light green convertible with the top conveniently down – rolled to a stop in front of the sign post marking the way to Enciente. It stopped directly beneath Illya’s tree, so close that both sides of the conversation taking place over the radio could be heard.

As the headmaster gave the order to trigger the remote-control bomb, Illya let the gift-wrapped package of death drop from his fingers to land lightly on the rear seat. He realized also that he had heard Jenks call the man in the car by name. He took a second to reflect on the irony of the situation: now that he had finally managed to figure out which one of the brothers was which, the point would soon be moot.

Scar writhing happily on his face as he smiled, Huck jabbed a button on the dash of his auto and began a countdown. “Ten…” he said, as he stomped on the accelerator, hoping to get within view of the doomed car that should have been somewhere ahead of him.

“Nine… eight… seven… six…” Illya dropped the last few feet from the tree, wincing as he jolted his raw back. He walked it off, continued counting down as he joined Napoleon and Anna where they had hidden the car. “… five…four… three… two…”

As he reached “… one!” an explosion shook the air, accompanied by a ball of fire and black smoke that rose like a balloon above the treetops.

Anna turned and hid her face in Napoleon’s shoulder.

Illya smoothed down the hair on the back of his head. “Too bad. He did have the right-of-way, you know.”

Napoleon gave him a look, comforting Anna as she trembled against him. He knew his partner had his way of dealing with the darker side of their work, just as Napoleon did.

“And what would you have done if he had decided to wait under your tree for the explosion?”

Illya paused. He hadn’t thought of that. “I would have… improvised.”

Napoleon smirked. “Let’s go. They know where the conference is now… we need to ‘improvise’ a way to get there before they do.”

***

As it turned out, they did not arrive before Jenks and his junior assassins. The lawn of the lodge was already littered with bodies when Kuryakin and Solo arrived; UNCLE Geneva’s finest had been ambushed. The Thrush bakery van was parked near the entrance.

Illya pulled alongside the vehicle and was met with a rain of gunfire. He and Napoleon bailed out of the car, dragging Anna with them to the sparse cover provided by the van.

A crossfire of bullets pinned them down. Napoleon chanced a look around the fender, spotting where one of the shooters was hiding. “Looks like the other half of the brother act.”

Illya nodded toward the lodge. “Yeah, with an accompanist on the roof.”

“All right… I’ll take the one on the roof,” Napoleon said. “You draw their fire. See if you can get that gun and cover me.”

Illya reached for the weapon, but was forced to duck back quickly as bullets chewed the ground and hailed on the side of the van he was crouching behind. “What if I try for the roof and you go for the gun?” he quipped, but Napoleon was already gone; only Anna was there, regarding him with a frightened stare. He sighed and began looking around for other options.

The UNCLE Special he was trying to reach lay on the ground next to one of the fallen Geneva agents. Only ten feet away, but there was no kind of cover and no way Illya could reach it. But Napoleon was on his way, counting on his partner to give him covering fire. Illya needed to do something…

His gaze fell on the car they had driven up in. “Stay right here!” he whispered fiercely to Anna, pointing deliberately at a spot on the ground. She nodded emphatically. He slipped into the car and twisted the ignition key. Ducking down on the seat, he revved the engine and the car jerked forward. He risked a peek over the dash, trying to get close enough and yet not run over the bodies of his fellow agents.

The gunfire redoubled. At least I’m drawing their fire away from Napoleon, he thought grimly. He popped open the passenger door and leaned out, snatching up the weapon with the speed of a striking snake. More bullets thudded into the car. Illya let an amused thought pass that for once he could be grateful to Thrush for bullet-proofing their autos.

Illya had the gun, now he needed an angle on the shooters. Brother Tom was tucked down under the footbridge, a position with excellent cover. The other gunman was secure behind a sturdy column of a chimney stone. But Illya had the edge now; he was armed and he was mobile.

The car surged forward again, into the narrow gap between the bridge and a tree. Tom braced his elbows on the bank, aiming up at the passenger window where he expected Illya to appear.

Contrary as ever, Illya pushed the driver’s side door open and lean out – upside down – to shoot beneath the chassis of the car. The bullet took Tom through the left eye; he fell back, dead before his body splashed into the water and sank.

A few seconds later another body fell, tumbling off the roof of the lodge and landing hard near the rear door. Illya looked up and saw Napoleon climbing off of the slippery blades of the waterwheel to reach the skylight. How had he managed to eliminate the gunman without a weapon? Illya wondered. I guess that’s why Napoleon is Chief Enforcement Agent!

Illya scrambled out of the car and charged across the bridge, intending to enter the lodge and back up his partner. But before he reached the door, something caught his ankle in a grip of stone, tripping him.

It was Conrad, the gunman who had fallen from the roof. There was blood in his fair hair, and his head was cocked at an angle that told Illya that his neck was undoubtedly broken. He was still alive; he clung to Illya with unexpected strength.

Watery blue eyes blinked out of the scarred face. “M-Mother… F-Fear?” The words bubbled darkly on his lips, the last he would ever speak.

Illya had to use both hands to pry loose the dead fingers. “You have nothing to fear now,” he said softly. He picked up his gun and hurried on.

Just as he reached the door, Illya heard Anna shout his name. He turned and saw her, ducking out of the lodge from the door beyond the waterwheel: Mother Fear.

***

Illya took a step toward her, but they were separated by the slowly turning wheel and a low stone wall. He could see her clearly, her eyes widening in surprise, her overly made-up face blanching momentarily; then she recognized him, and her eyes narrowed and glittered. Her fingers slipped down to draw a gun from the pocket of her dress.

“If you move, I will stop you.” His calm defied her. The spray from the waterwheel was wetting their skin and hair. It ran down Illya’s face. He didn’t blink.

She gave him a patronizing smile. “It looks like I have one more lesson to teach you, Illya dear … how to die.”

“I’ve already taught that lesson to Huck and Tom … and it looks like Conrad is next. Can you not hear him, Mother Fear? He cries out for you. Will you not go and comfort him?”

Her eyes flicked toward the body on the grass and back to Illya, fast as light. The painted mouth twisted, eyes glaring. “Murderer…”

“Murderer, I? No – I am a soldier. I am a soldier and we are at war.”

“Little boys… little boys playing at being men.” She sneered at Illya. “You won’t shoot me. You can hardly bear to hold your gun on me…” Her gaze had locked on his, and her voice had taken on the same sing-song tone she’d used during their afternoon ‘tutoring session’. “You were a very poor student, Illya dear. Mother is very disappointed. Now put down your little gun before I really get angry.” The last words were a hiss.

Her voice made Illya’s hair prickle, as if his very skin were trying to crawl away from her, safely out of range. His back and shoulders burned. Her eyes were boring into his, trying to force her will on him, reaching for the shared memory of his helplessness and pain, trying to drag him down and force his head to bow again. His eyes seemed to retreat from her, deep shadows lurking behind the blue of his gaze.

Yvonne took a step towards the vehicles. The water wheel continued to turn between them, scattering water over both. If she could step clear of the moving screen, she’d have a better shot at him.

She saw him pass his gun from his right hand to his left, and smirked. “Trying to level the playing field, Mr. Kuryakin? How noble! But it won’t be enough, you know.” She laughed, shaking the moisture from her hair. “You won’t shoot a woman. You – can’t – shoot me.”

The side of Illya’s mouth curved into an ironic smile beneath the shadow of his eyes. Yvonne caught her breath as she saw a deep spark within that shadow – the darkness she had fed and the spark she had failed to extinguish.

She knew she had failed to break him – she hadn’t been able to break him with pain, hadn’t had time to break him with anger and humiliation. Her last chance, now, was to find a crack in his armor, to break him with fear. She felt the mask of her make-up running under the trickling water and tried to find a weak spot in his shuttered expression. She had never failed before. Only a day ago he’d been at her mercy, screaming as she flayed his bare shoulders, tears and sweat soaking his garments. He must see the memory of that power in her own face.

His hand, his eyes, were steady. Her own hand trembled. She struggled not to let it show. She hissed, “Don’t crowd Mother!” and moved another step toward the vehicles.

Illya moved at the same time, forcing her to step back behind the wheel. He stopped, watching her, meeting her eyes unwaveringly. She realized that with his gun held in his left hand, he had a better angle for cutting off her retreat.

“Put the gun down, Mother Fear,” Illya said evenly.

“Or you’ll murder me too?” Her voice wavered, lost its firm edge and cloyingly sweet tone. She fought for control. “You can’t do that, Illya dear – you’re one of the good guys.” She spat the word like an epitaph. “If we’d had a little more time together, I could have cured you of that ridiculous attitude.”

“Any time with you is too much time,” Illya replied softly. “Do not count overmuch on my chivalry – you’ll find I have none.”

Standing so close to the chopping blades of the waterwheel, the spray saturating her clothes and skin, she raised the pistol in her hand, aiming for Illya’s heart. Illya fired in the same instant. Her hand had trembled as she squeezed the trigger, and the bullet whined and ricocheted as it struck one of the arms of the wheel – but Illya did not miss.

Yvonne bowed over herself and crumpled to the wet pavement, the look of disbelief on her face slowly fading, washing away with her make up as the cool water continued to turn the great wheel.

***

Illya checked inside the lodge to make sure the situation had been taken care of, and was promptly ordered by Waverly to secure the lodge perimeter. That was fine with him; it was too hot in the lodge and too crowded anyway. His coat felt as if it weighed a ton on his stinging back.

He found Anna Paola kneeling beside Conrad’s body. She had closed his eyes and arranged his hands across his breast.

“Looks like the graduates of École Figliano will be celebrating their class reunion in the cemetery.”

Anna looked up at him in shock. “How can you be so… so cold, Illya! He wasn’t meant to be like this… he was once a child… that they used for their own, wicked purposes!”

“He was a child, once.” Illya turned about slowly, his eyes raking over the area. Seeing no threat, he tried to tuck the gun in his shoulder holster, only to swear softly when he remembered he was no longer wearing it. “Then he was a killer.”

“So are you.”

“Yes.” He turned as if to walk away, but he reached down to Anna, offering his hand. She let him help her up, surprised by how gently he held her fingers.

He took her elbow and guided her away from the dead. The lodge had a magnificent view of the mountaintops above the trees. He steered her toward it.

Anna drew a few breaths of the cleansing Alpine air and then felt ashamed of herself. “I – I’m sorry about what I said, Mr. Kuryakin. I know you are just – just doing your job.”

“And you are doing yours, Miss Paola. There are many children who need help. Children for whom it is not too late.”

“Children.” She gave a defeated sigh, but her back straightened and her shoulders rose.

“They will need a woman with great caring and patience – a woman like you.”

“Will that be enough?” She wondered aloud. She looked up at Illya; he was staring toward the ice-capped peaks in the greater distance. “Would it have been enough for you?”

He seemed not to have heard her, though she was standing right beside him. She turned away and hugged herself, taken with a chill.

She started slightly as Illya’s suit jacket was draped over her shoulders. She turned to thank him, but he was already walking away. She saw the stains on the back of his shirt and nearly called to him, but checked herself. He didn’t need her help.

Clutching the lapels of the coat, she drew it more warmly around her shoulders, and shivered.

 

 

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