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I never though it would be the same after that one affair. We came back broken, you and I. I thought you’d never forgive me for what had happened. I didn’t blame you. I didn’t see how you could help blaming me. Everything was shattered. We’d been through so much pain together. We used to hear each other’s screams in our worst nightmares. But this was different. This was cold, dark silence. Something terrible had happened, and we couldn’t talk about it. We suffocated on our own pain. I didn’t know who to turn to; I didn’t want to turn to anyone else but you, and I couldn’t do it.

There were no farewells, no promises of forgiveness, not even a familiar sparkle in your eyes. All I could see was the empty seat by mine at the cafeteria, where I used to watch you smile at the ladies across from us, or complain about your food, (you’d always been picky). Who knew an empty seat could hurt so much. But I wasn’t your friend anymore. How could I be, after what I’d done? I left you to die.

When we both got home, I looked around at their sympathetic eyes. I felt you beside me, so silent, not speaking to me. I wondered if you hated me for what had happened. I wanted to scream at those sympathetic faces. They were wrong. I deserved no sympathy for what I’d done.

You stopped coming to my apartment to visit. I sat by myself for hours in the evening, plucking at my guitar aimlessly, staring at the very spot where you used to sit. You used to joke so much. I never laughed at your jokes, not with my mouth. But you understood. You knew I was laughing in my heart. How did you know that? How did you find out my secret so quickly, when we first met?

It’s funny, how small my appetite is, now that you no longer make fun of it.

I thought to myself, if I could have anything in the world, I’d have you beside me, as if nothing had ever happened. Your eyes, your brown, sparkling, laughing eyes. They were dull and clouded over. You wouldn’t look at me. Those eyes had cried at my pain and danced at my happiness and died a little every time I was hurt. I watched you die a little every day, and it wasn’t as bad as this. Those eyes wouldn’t look at me.

I barely noticed when nights passed. All I could think of was how we’d have been together at my home, or out on one of your spur of the moment dates with a young lady or two. Or maybe, when you felt as quiet as I felt for once, we’d walk for hours, perhaps all night, all through New York, saying nothing, just being there.

The days were just as bad. I passed through U.N.C.L.E. headquarters in a daze. Everyone stared. Mr. Waverly knew something was wrong between us. He told me to forget it. Forget it? Forget all we’d done together, all we could have done? He might as well have asked me to forget my other half.

Because that’s what you were; that’s what you still are. You are my other half.

Even the best of friends fall out sometimes. But this was different. This was terrifying. You wouldn’t look at me, you didn’t forgive me.

And I’d never forgive myself.

I stopped dreaming. I had to. I might have killed myself if I could remember what I dreamed. The only thing that stopped me from blowing my brains out is that you wouldn’t have wanted it. Even though I betrayed you, even though I was unforgivable, you wouldn’t have wanted it. That’s just the way you were.

I could think up so many things to call you: smart-mouth, cocky, reckless, teasing, flippant.

But I could think up so many other things to call you: Ingenious, dedicated, loyal, generous, kind, handsome, soft-hearted, trusting, strong, protective.

That’s what you were, and more.

But after that affair, you were nothing to me but eyes that looked away and an empty presence. I wondered who you went out with now, who you walked with, who your new friend was. Because you were a man who could make friends with anybody, yet you had only one lasting friend. That was me. Until I betrayed you.

But the problem was, you were my only one lasting friend. You were the only friend I had or ever could have. Without you, I was empty.

Everything came to a head the day Waverly asked me to clean your office up. That’s a task for underlings, but the Old Man must have had special reasons. I protested. Verbally. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to risk facing you. He ordered me to.

The door to your office slid open. I stepped inside for the first time in months.

The air was shut off from my lungs and I took a step back, my entire body rejecting the presence of yours that lingered so strongly there. I dreaded to see you suddenly, only for your eyes to turn away. I longed for your voice, your voice, just once.

But I had a job to do. I went over to where a box of things had fallen over. I knelt on the rug; I put out trembling hands and touched them as I put them back inside.

A stack of cards from some old girlfriends of yours.

An empty cartridge.

A lady’s perfume.

A carved elephant.

A green, shining stone.

A woven basket no bigger than my palm.

I remembered these things, where they came from, the missions we’d been on together, where you got them.

Two pairs of cufflinks.

Three tie-pins.

A silver spoon with a crest on it.

A strip of cloth with Chinese writing on it.

A picture of Egypt, with you wrinkling up your face as a camel kissed it.

Oh, in the old days, that would have made me smile. It would have made me laugh inside to recall the jokes I made at your expense, not to mention it was I who had snapped the shot. But each joke sounded so foolish and crude now. I seemed to forget you had laughed too.

And there. There was a photo of us. I stood there, solemn as always, almost scowling at the camera as you leaned your arm on the tree above me, joking even in stance about your slight advantage in height. I have a feeling that if I had been someone else your arm would have been around my shoulders or in mid-cuff. You smiled in the picture, your eyes were sparkling. It felt like a wave hit me in the chest when I realized it wasn’t real; just a glimpse of another time. A wasted time.

Why couldn’t I have smiled a little? Couldn’t I have tried a little harder to cheer you up on your gloomy days, the way you never failed to for me? I felt heavier and heavier inside, as dull aches vibrated out from my heart and stung my eyes.

I felt the tears before I saw them, dripping down onto the carpet, in this room where I could see you and I everywhere, talking, smiling, throwing paper wads at each other. My hand clenched spasmodically on the photo as I felt myself lose control. I had lost you. Forever. Through my own fault. We would never be friends again.

The voice came from me, somehow fighting through the choking, silent misery that swelled my throat up tight. It burst from me to Heaven, begging for peace, or at least a release from this never-ending loss and pain. “Oh…God…Napoleon.”

Illya.

I’m not sure I really heard it, or if it was just the words forming in my mind. I wouldn’t have noticed in my condition, curled up, sick to my stomach, heaving, sobbing as I had never sobbed in years.

But it was the voice. I knew that voice.

I twisted around, still slightly bent, my hand still crushing the photo. I stared.

There you were, fancy, shiny shoes, light blue suit with that striped yellow tie, hands laced together as you leaned against the wall by the door. Your dark hair was neatly parted, your dark eyes were sparkling, and you were smiling with all the cocky self-assurance that only you could have.

You were smiling, and looking, at me.

This was what I had yearned for, what I had been weeping for. But now that it happened, I was mad. You were lost to me forever. I was broken. You couldn’t just come back and smile as if nothing had ever happened.

And besides that, you insufferable thing, you were smiling at me when I was in a very vulnerable, emotional condition. You had never seen me cry like this before, I was sure of that. Perhaps it shocked you, for I saw something stir in your eyes that seemed to cry more than laugh.

But I shouted at you. “What are you smiling at?” I stood up and went as close as I dared, shaking the crushed photo. “Why have you come back?! Stay away!”

The smile faded from your face. I was immediately sorry. I needed and wanted your presence more than anything in the world, and here I was driving you away. “I…I’m sorry.” I mumbled, going limp as I stood before you, barely daring to look at you.

Illya, look at me.

No, I couldn’t.

Tovarisch.

I had to at that word, that word you had called me with such love and laughter, in times of pain, sorrow, loneliness, and contentment. I looked up at you, trying to fight down a rising tide of tears.

Your face had changed. It was sad. It looked almost as sad as I felt. You too, were aching for something. What? I looked at you, though the very sight of the face I knew so well and missed so much filled me with a terrible sense of loss.

I don’t blame you. Illya…you did what you had to. I don’t blame you.

Even when my life was bleeding away in the dirt, I was wishing you all the luck I had left, praying you’d escape safely with Mr. Byucam.

And you did.

I trusted in that smart Russian partner of mine, and you didn’t fail me.

“You wouldn’t look at me.” I trailed off miserably, knowing the answer before you spoke it. But the way you spoke it stirred the familiar tickle in my heart that used to make me smile.

Uh…I was dead. Illya, stop tearing yourself apart. Switch places with me, what would you do? Would you stand by and let me drag my sorry self to an early grave? No. I came to let you know that it wasn’t your fault; that I’m still with you; that I’ll always be with you.

I dropped to the ground on my seat, knees up, hiding my face in them. “You’re dead. And now I get to be haunted by you all my life.” I felt the bitter tears coming again. I had not let myself cry for so, so long. Perhaps that was why they were so strong at that moment.

Not haunted Illya. And that was when I felt you. Your hand. I swear, it was your hand, on my shoulder. I could almost smell your aftershave and the cologne you always insisted on inundating yourself with. And for a split second, I could feel you, smell you...I knew you were there, kneeling down, beside me, your face creased with concern, trying your utmost to comfort me, as you always have.

I’m your friend, Illya Kuryakin.

And, tovarisch, I always will be.

***********

Things are so much better now. I take walks. I work on my science projects. I ignore the flirting glances of ladies and try to predict THRUSH’s next move with Mr. Waverly. I go out on missions, once again dancing with death and spitting in the eye of defeat and just barely avoiding the loss of life and limb.

All my missions are solo. Solo, like the name of my onetime partner, Napoleon Solo.

But then again, that’s not quite true. Because my missions are not solo. Because on every mission, at every brush with death, every loss, every moment of agony, every nightmare, every time I walk into Waverly’s office, bruised, bloody, beaten, but alive, I’m not alone.

My partner’s with me.

FINIS


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SoloSista Still There 0 Mar 31 2011, 10:02 AM EDT by SoloSista
Thread started: Mar 31 2011, 10:02 AM EDT  Watch
Absolutely beautiful! I cried all the way thru it. What a wonderful, stirring, tribute thru a partners eyes.
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