Episode Twenty-One: The New Vacation Affair
Nikolai awoke to find himself chained to the interrogation table. His jaw throbbed, and his black eye felt as if it had swollen shut again. He pulled at the chains around his wrist. “I am conscious,” he weakly murmured.
The agent glanced around the familiar interrogation room. He looked at the neutral gray walls, and he avoided making eye contact with his reflection in the two-way mirror. He assumed Guy would either be in the room to his left or the room to his right. He tried to think quickly. What would Guy be saying? Certainly they couldn’t deny a relationship at this point. Why did he let himself fight off the agents?
But his main thoughts were whether or not Guy was safe. He just wanted to hug the assassin to his chest and feel him fight against the embrace.
Nikolai saw the door to the room open, and Cox stepped in, his blue eyes soft – gentle even. Nikolai felt himself shrinking in his seat. Cox took the seat across from him. He said, “You know I don’t normally do this myself, Mr. Kuryakin.”
Nikolai nodded, feeling defeat through him. He hung his head.
“Please tell me what happened.”
“Guy Solo and I had an affair on the cruise,” Nikolai stated. “We did not realize who the other was when we started, but I continued even after I discovered who he was. I am afraid I let my lust get the better of me.” Nikolai took a deep breath. He looked at Cox directly in the eye and said, “Once the cruise ended, the relationship ended. Guy Solo did not know who I was until I interrogated him, and I had not seen him since then.”
“So you told Mr. Solo when he would have a window to kill Abraham?”
“Yes,” Nikolai said. “But only because I thought we should have killed him ourselves, sir, not because of my relationship with him.”
Cox sighed and rubbed his beard. Cox said, “It was just the once then, Mr. Kuryakin?”
Nikolai said, “We only carried the affair throughout the cruise.”
Cox shifted his weight in the chair, and he leaned forward on the desk as he knitted his fingers together. “Mr. Kuryakin, if the affair only lasted throughout the cruise, why would Mr. Solo try to protect you?”
Nikolai shrugged. “Perhaps I am a good lay.”
Cox smiled weakly. “That’s what he said.” He paused, his eyes running over Nikolai’s face. “Your relationship did not go past lust?”
“No,” Nikolai replied. “It did not go past lust.”
“Did Guy Solo hope to have another encounter?”
Nikolai shrugged. “I know I did, sir.”
Cox sighed again. He stood up and began to pace around the room. “You’ve gotten my staff a bit worked up. Agent Steele is screaming for blood.” Cox stopped to look at Nikolai. “I had a hard enough time calming him down after Benedict and Murdock, and now you do this to him.”
Nikolai lowered his head. “I am homosexual, sir,” Nikolai said. “I can hide that fact, but I cannot change it.”
Cox smiled weakly at Nikolai as he sat back down across from Nikolai. “But Guy Solo?”
“He was insistent,” Nikolai said. “I liked his hair.”
Cox leaned his head on his hand, watching Nikolai carefully. Nikolai tried not to pull against the chains, and he avoided Cox’s eyes. Cox said, “Mr. Kuryakin, do you want to be a part of A.B.E.L.?”
“Yes, sir,” Nikolai said.
“No,” Cox said. “Truly think about it. Guy Solo thought twice about killing you, but if I asked you to kill him, you couldn’t pull the stunt he just pulled.”
“I would not, sir,” Nikolai said.
“I wasn’t asking to see if you would,” Cox said. He placed his hand on the table. “You’ve fucked up twice, Mr. Kuryakin. Yes, this is far less severe than your first incident, but it still makes me wonder if I made the right choice by offering you a position here.”
“Sir,” Nikolai said, his eyes widening, “this is my home.”
“But do you want it to be?” Cox said. “It only gets harder from here. I don’t care who you fuck, Kuryakin, but your loyalty is to A.B.E.L. first. And when I have one of my agents pushing aside his peers to protect some cheap assassin-”
“I just wanted to protect the information he carried.”
“You screamed ‘Don’t hurt him,’ Mr. Kuryakin.”
Nikolai held his tongue. Cox gave Nikolai a hard stare, and Nikolai felt himself shrinking in his seat again.
Cox continued, “Guy Solo is singing now. He gave up everything. He gave up Cain, Mr. Kuryakin. Both of you say the relationship only spanned the cruise, but you must have done something to him to make him do this.”
“Perhaps Cain merely pushed him too far,” Nikolai responded. “Remember what I did to him when I interrogated him. I do not think he would throw his life away for me.”
Cox chuckled. “That’s what he said. He said Cain was starting to threaten him, so he thought it would be one big ‘Fuck you’ to save the life of an agent Cain loathed, and one who Guy knew to be good in bed. He said it was always worth holding onto those. I suppose he’ll think you owe him one.”
“I suppose I will not be seeing him to return the favour.”
“Like I said, Mr. Kuryakin. I do not care who you fuck, so long as your loyalty is to A.B.E.L. first. So I am going to give you some time to consider whether or not you want A.B.E.L. in your future. We will need to put you in a safe house; Cain is bound to hire someone more competent than Guy to finish the job. You will have two months there, two months to decide what future you would like.
“There will be no hard feelings if you do not want to continue at A.B.E.L.,” Cox continued. “We will try to set you up with another job since your résumé will have to be doctored. And if you want to stay, well, you will face some prejudices from your colleagues, but there will be no other punishments. I imagine Steele’s reaction will be punishment enough.”
“With all due respect, sir, why no punishments?”
“The only thing you did wrong was overreact when the agents picked up Guy Solo. Both of your and Guy’s stories match up, and there’s nothing to suggest that you two are lying. Guy has a reason to protect you, and you could have shouted out to protect him for the information, like you said, and perhaps partly in the heat of the moment.” Cox smiled as he continued, “I suppose it would be romantic to have someone try to save your life like that, only to get swallowed by men you know to be killers.”
Nikolai let the heat rise to his cheeks.
“Now I realize this is personal information, but we’ll run some background checks in case someone knew about your sexuality and chose to take advantage of it. Who did you sleep with while you were in exile?” Cox asked.
“A man named Lars Harold van der Berg in Amsterdam,” Nikolai replied. “He was training to be a chef.”
“And who else?”
“And that is it, sir,” Nikolai said. “Despite my encounter with Guy Solo, I usually keep my libido in check.”
“I sent you to Amsterdam because prostitution is legal there, Mr. Kuryakin,” Cox said, raising a brow. “I didn’t know what your tastes were or if you had any tastes at all. You didn’t even try the local flavours?”
“Only van der Berg,” Nikolai responded, stiffly. “I am not one for prostitution.”
Cox pulled at his beard. “I did not intend to offend you, Kuryakin.”
“I was not offended.”
The two men stared at each other. Nikolai didn’t dare ask when he would be unlocked from the table. He tried to stay stiff, indifferent. Cox said, “If you do choose to come back, Mr. Kuryakin, we won’t be transferring you to a new division. You will be right back here, and it won’t be easy. I am of the understanding you and Agent Grier have not been treating the new agents well. They will be eager to pick at your new scabs. And Agent Steele will be a mission in itself, I imagine.”
Nikolai frowned. “I do not know what to say to Steele.”
“You won’t be able to say anything at all,” Cox said. “He’s either going to avoid you or punch you again. Just give him time to cool down.”
Nikolai watched his bound hands, wondering if Steele’s friendship was really worth the trouble. He raised his head to see Cox’s blue eyes watching him carefully. “Sir, are you okay with,” Nikolai searched for the words, “with my sexuality.”
Cox laughed softly. Cox gently patted the side of Nikolai’s face before cupping his cheek. “Kuryakin, my boy, things like that doesn’t bother me.” Nikolai smiled softly in reply, and Cox released him as he continued, “Why do you think Westermark’s in our division? I’m the only one who’d accept him at the time. Things are different now, but I like him here. I suppose you’ll be quieter than Westermark. Kuryakin – Nikolai – you’re an excellent agent. If you choose to come back, and if you control your anger, I know you’ll rise up here.”
“Thank you, sir,” Nikolai said. “I truly appreciate it.”
Cox stood up. “And just so you’re aware, only Agent Rennison and Agent Steele are aware Mr. Solo gave information about Cain. Hoffman will go over the recordings, so he will know as well. I assume you will tell Agent Grier, but aside from that, we do not spread this information around freely. We’re going to release Mr. Solo, and I have no intention of releasing him to his doom.”
Nikolai nodded in response, hoping he could see Guy and hold him in his arms. He imagined Guy’s scruff scraping against his cheek. Then something clicked. “Wait, sir,” Nikolai said. “Why do you want to keep Guy Solo safe?”
“If Mr. Solo intends to leave Cain, he will be a good ally on our side, if only for the information. While I do not think highly of Mr. Solo, he is a strong contact with the criminal underbelly, and he is easy to make talk with the right,” Cox’s eyes ran across Nikolai, “with the right incentives.”
Nikolai nodded. He felt a hint of relief that Guy would be all right in A.B.E.L. “Of course, sir.”
“And you are certain that your relationship only spanned the cruise?” Cox asked. “I do not want to stumble onto another one of your messes, Mr. Kuryakin.”
“Just the cruise, sir,” Nikolai said, nodding. “I am afraid your assumptions are correct. I may have gotten a little caught up in the romance of it all.”
The corner of Cox’s lip upturned as he continued, “You are going straight to your safe house. Only Agent Grier and myself will know your whereabouts, and she will join you within the month. You’re welcome to leave the house to wander around town, but keep a low profile.”
“Yes, sir,” Nikolai replied.
Cox began to unlock Nikolai’s chains. “You will be staying in this cell for the time being, and then we’ll send you off on a flight. Agent Grier has packed some clothes for you, and do remember to always carry your gun and A.B.E.L. identification. If anything goes wrong in that first month, no one will be there to help you, so take care of yourself, Mr. Kuryakin.”
“Yes, sir,” Nikolai repeated, rubbing his wrists.
“Please contact me when you’ve made your decision,” Cox said, “but take some time to seriously think about it and talk it over with your partner.”
Nikolai stood up and shook Cox’s hand. Cox winked at him. “And don’t worry too much about your coming out at the office. I highly doubt your close friends will think twice about it.”
“Sometimes it helps to be disliked, sir,” Nikolai replied, giving Cox a grin.
Cox laughed and patted Nikolai’s back. “Enjoy your vacation, Mr. Kuryakin,” he said as he headed towards the door.
“Thank you, sir,” Nikolai said. “Thank you for everything.”
Cox simply gave Nikolai a smile and then locked him back in the interrogation room. Nikolai glanced at either wall, wondering which side Guy was on, and if he was all right. He supposed he wouldn’t have an opportunity to see Guy before he left. He sat back down at the desk, and he wished Cox gave him a book to read, at least.
Nikolai stared at the wall. He wanted to stay at A.B.E.L. Sure, he hadn’t been welcomed back with open arms, but he needed to regain the trust and confidence of Cox. He supposed this was a step back. He rubbed his face and stretched. It wasn’t like Guy would stay with him if he did quit A.B.E.L., and there was nothing else Nikolai wanted to do.
His shoulders relaxed. He couldn’t believe Cox let him off this easy.
Grier stepped in. She set down two suitcases near the door and smiled. “You need a hug, Niko?”
Nikolai felt his face smile in reply, and he stood up and opened his arms. Grier stepped into his grip, nuzzling into his chest. Nikolai breathed in her hair, and he felt her rubbing her back. “Cox debriefed me. I’m glad you’re all right.”
“Me too,” Nikolai said with a half-laugh.
They parted. Nikolai sat back down in his chair, and Jackie hopped up on the table. “I have to admit, I’m surprised Guy did that for you.”
Nikolai nodded. “It seemed out of character to show concern.”
“Do you think I misjudged him?” Jackie asked.
“Cox told me to think about whether or not I actually want this job,” Nikolai said.
Grier shifted to look at Nikolai, her brown eyes wide. “What?”
“He says I am a good agent, but he questions my devotion to the job,” Nikolai said. “I know we always said we would care about each other first, but if I do not have A.B.E.L., I will not have anything else to care about.”
Jackie smiled weakly at Nikolai. “Well, maybe you should think about it. If you leave, I’ll kick it too. Maybe we can do something together.”
“I would not know what else to do,” Nikolai said.
“We’ll think of something.”
Nikolai frowned. “Jackie, this is the only thing I am good at. And even then, I suppose I am not very good.”
Jackie tousled Nikolai’s hair. “Now you know that’s not true,” Jackie said. “I wouldn’t even be friends with you if you couldn’t cook.”
“Lars taught me that,” Nikolai said.
Jackie blinked. “The chef from Amsterdam?”
Nikolai nodded. “I would help him with his English while he helped me with my cooking.”
“Well, still, you’re good at it,” Jackie said. “My mom tried to teach me and I still burn everything I touch.”
Nikolai sighed and rubbed his temples. “I suppose it is something to consider.” He paused and glanced back at Jackie as he asked, “How is Steele?”
Jackie snorted. “Breathing fire. He doesn’t want to sound homophobic, he’s trying, but it’s very difficult. He was acting weird at lunch before he got called away.”
“He confided in me that he likes Mags.”
Nikolai shook his head. “He asked me why I thought she avoided him. I suppose he regrets talking to me now.”
“Well, fuck him, right? It’s not like you two were close. He’s been talking all day about punching you out again. When you get back, you better watch out for him.”
Nikolai stared at the wall again. He thought he and Steele were close once, but maybe they never were. He said, “Did you see Guy?”
“No,” Grier said. “And I am delivering you straight to the airport, so I won’t get time to tell him anything. I could try to find him afterwards. Do you know what you want to say to him?”
“Just thank you, I suppose,” Nikolai said.
“Well, if I see him, I’ll ask the big questions,” Grier said. “And then I’ll tell you.”
Nikolai smiled. “Thanks,” he said. “Why do you suppose he went straight to my house? Surely he assumed it would be bugged.”
Jackie shook her head. “He probably didn’t. Why would A.B.E.L. bug and observe their own agents? My guess is he set off the alarm to get your attention, unaware it would get the attention of the whole division.”
“Still,” Nikolai said. “It seemed foolish.”
Grier winked at Nikolai. “Maybe he was worried and wasn’t thinking clearly. Guy Solo isn’t known for his meticulous planning.”
Nikolai sighed, and he grinned as he said, “Cox implied that I probably found the whole thing romantic. I do, Jackie. But I do not like mixed signals. I fear this may have merely been a dramatic goodbye.”
“Or maybe it’s the start of something,” Grier said. “If I see him, I’ll find out.” She checked her watch. “We should be free to leave soon. Are you ready?”
Nikolai stood up, and Jackie hopped off the table. Nikolai said, “I am ready.”