Episode Forty-Five: The New Year Affair
Nikolai and Jackie spent the remainder of Christmas with his family. In the privacy of his childhood bedroom, Nikolai spoke with Jackie about his encounter with Alex, and he vented about his desire to have a real relationship. Nikolai didn’t notice how tight-lipped his partner got when he ranted about Guy leaving him, but she was supportive in helping him find a new lasting relationship. And Nikolai appreciated the support.
As much as they enjoyed their time with Liev and Anya, the secret agents grew restless and were ready for a change of pace. Luckily, the pair received an invitation from Hoffman to a New Year’s Eve party. Nikolai was nervous about spending time with his colleagues now that his homosexuality would be known amongst the other agents, but he knew Jackie wanted to go to the party and that he couldn’t stand another moment with his family. And he didn’t even want to consider a solitary New Year’s.
So, after confirming with Cox that it was safe to return, the two packed up their things and took a flight back to their homes. Nikolai returned to his house while Jackie returned to her apartment. When Nikolai opened the door to his house, he remembered how Guy stood in the front hall, warning him about the hit.
Closing the door behind him, Nikolai frowned and set down his things. He walked through his home again, opening windows as he went. The stuffy air slowly thinned to the crisp winter air. His eyes ran along the stark, white walls, and the dark, bold furniture that still looked unused. None of the sofas showed the indents of someone living there.
The Russian sighed and dropped onto a sofa in the living room.
He put his feet up on his glass table and noticed how even the coasters were free from any markings or stains.
His home felt too polished, too contrived. It felt more like walking into an IKEA than walking into a home. He wanted to display wealth and success, but it barely looked lived in. Any signs of his life were hidden away for safety reasons, and the most used object was his pool that was now covered under the snow.
Shivering, Nikolai stood back up to close the windows. He grabbed a space heater and placed it next to him on the sofa. He wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and dropped back onto the sofa. Flicking on the television, the Russian sat in the glow it made as voices spilled through the room. The space heater hummed beside him, and the secret agent’s shoulders relaxed.
He was home.
Nikolai stood in front of a full-length mirror while Jackie stood behind him. “It’s very plain,” she said, picking fluff off of his black suit.
“I like plain,” Nikolai said.
“Don’t you have any other colours?” Jackie asked. “Dark blue? Charcoal pinstriped?”
“I just have a few different black ones,” Nikolai said as he finished tying his black skinny tie. “I do not understand why I need to look fancy.”
“Because it’s a party,” Jackie said. She ran her fingers along her royal blue dress. “You want to look good for your big return to A.B.E.L.”
Nikolai turned around to face his partner. Despite reaching down to her wrists and knees, her sleek dress hugged her curves in the most flattering way. Nikolai took her hands and said “You look wonderful.”
Jackie rolled her eyes. “It’s not me I’m worried about, Niko.” She smoothed out his tie. “You look like you always do.”
“That is exactly how I want to look,” Nikolai replied. “I am not a different person.”
Jackie huffed. “Fine,” she said. “Look like an absolute bore.”
“I am not much of a party person,” Nikolai said. “So I probably will be a bore as well. But why are you looking so nice? Are you hoping to seduce someone?”
“Hardly,” Jackie replied. “Let’s get out of here.”
The pair left the house and Jackie drove to Hoffman’s apartment building, cursing the whole way about limited parking spaces. Anxiety started bubbling within Nikolai as he thought of facing his colleagues again. Maybe they didn’t all know, but Steele did, and he knew Steele wouldn’t be friendly. Jackie parallel parked in a space near Hoffman’s apartment, and her brown eyes darted to Nikolai.
“Deep breaths, buddy,” she said.
“Can we just cancel and watch the ball drop on television?” Nikolai asked.
“No,” Jackie said. “First, I want to party. Second, you’ll have to face them sometime, it might as well be right now. Wouldn’t you rather see them again in a social situation instead of seeing them for the first time in the office?”
“I would prefer neither,” Nikolai said as he got out of her car.
She followed suit, linking her arm with Nikolai’s as they walked along the sidewalk. She said, “That would require quitting work. Do you want to quit?”
“No,” Nikolai replied. “If I wanted to quit, I would have quit when Guy asked me.”
Jackie held her tongue, and the doorman let both of them into the apartment building. As they waited for the elevator, Nikolai took the time to appreciate Hoffman’s building. It looked very polished, with rich grey tile floors and furniture in the lobby. The doorman sat behind a desk, and Nikolai felt sorry for him for having to work New Year’s Eve. The pair took the elevator up, and Jackie simply opened the door to Hoffman’s apartment when they reached it on the fifth floor.
Countless people filled the apartment, and the crowded space with dimmed lights and pounding music reminded Nikolai of a club in Amsterdam. Neither he nor Lars enjoyed themselves much, and he hoped this New Year’s wouldn’t be a repeat of that experience. Hoffman weaved through the crowd and Jackie waved. The two agents exchanged hugs, and Hoffman stuck out his hand for Nikolai to shake. When Nikolai shook Hoffman’s sweaty hand, he found that the man’s hand gave him a friendly squeeze.
Hoffman leaned close to Nikolai’s ear and, over the noise, Nikolai heard, “Talk to Mags, but avoid Steele.”
“Thanks,” Nikolai replied.
Hoffman nodded, and he led the two of them deeper into the crowd. Jackie’s hand latched onto Nikolai’s, and he glanced around the apartment through spaces between people. He found the white walls sparsely decorated, and he owned several of the same pieces of furniture as Hoffman. He wondered if Hoffman ordered from the same catalog as him, and he seemed to recall a time when the company’s catalog sat on their joined desks.
And he wondered if Hoffman felt the same way as he did when he walked into his empty apartment. And while Nikolai flipped on the TV and turned on the space heater, Hoffman threw a big party to fill all the empty spaces. He smiled.
Hoffman offered his two new guests drinks, and while Jackie took a bottle of water, Nikolai declined for the time being. He liked the idea of something to fidget with in his hands, but he didn’t want to have to worry about setting it down or throwing it out when the time came. His steel blue eyes scanned the crowd for Mags, and he caught her weaving through the crowd towards them.
Her pixie cut failed to hide the sweat curling down her forehead, but her strapless gradient green dress did manage to hide any signs of perspiration. Nikolai took her hand, gently pulling her towards him. “You look lovely,” he shouted over the music.
“And you look the same,” she replied with her voice raised. “Come on, let’s dance.”
Nikolai gave Jackie a wave and let Mags pull him onto the dance floor. Nikolai, blessed with two left feet, tried to catch the beat. Mags put her hand in his to try to guide him into the beat. “I am not really the dancing type,” Nikolai said, lowering his head to Mags’.
“I know,” she said. “But neither is Steele, which is why I brought you out here. We can talk without fear of him cutting in.”
Nikolai’s eyes shot through the crowd to spot his former partner, but he couldn’t spot him. He did, however, see Georg Westermark showing off to a crowd – his pristine strawberry blond hair in perfect condition despite the heat of the apartment and the movement of his body. Nikolai turned back to Mags. “Talk about what?” he asked.
She laughed. “All right, I’ll go first. Steele asked me out.”
“And?” Nikolai asked.
“And we’re dating,” Mags said. “It’s kind of boring, but, you know, it is what it is.”
“But you are happy, right?” he replied.
The blond frowned and stopped dancing. “You should not be with him if you are not happy.”
With another laugh, Mags shook her head. “It’s not like that. I’m happy enough. It’s just not perfect, but what is?” When Nikolai continued to frown, the petite agent continued, “Come on, Niko. He really likes me. He goes out of his way for me. He compliments me. Maybe he’s a bit thick and doesn’t always understand what I actually want, but what more could someone like me ask for?”
“What do you mean, someone like you?” Nikolai asked.
“I’m sure you’ve noticed I’m missing an arm,” Mags said, raising her brow. “And you’ve probably noticed that at least half of my face is burned and, really, you don’t want to see the rest of my body. But Steele looks beyond all of that. He makes me feel like nothing’s wrong with me. And, let’s face it, I can’t afford to be picky.”
Nikolai wanted to tell her she could have anyone she wanted. He wanted to tell her not to settle. But he didn’t want to be alone either. He would settle for someone just for the comfort of knowing someone would stay with him and be home when he go there. He knew Steele would treasure her, and he knew Steele would keep her safe. So Nikolai hugged her. “I just want you to be happy,” he said.
“I think I’ll get there,” she said, wrapping her arm around Nikolai’s neck.
“Make sure you do,” Nikolai said. “I will talk to Steele, if I have to.”
Mags laughed and slapped Nikolai’s chest. “I wouldn’t recommend it – at least, not right now.”
The Russian hesitated before asking, “Did he tell you?”
“Oh yes,” Mags said. “I heard all about it. I think he just feels betrayed more than anything. He’ll get over it.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’ll help him along,” Mags said with a wink.
“It’s nothing, really,” Mags said. “Don’t worry about it.”
Discomfort settled through Nikolai. Despite Mags’ assurance that everything would be fine between them, he still felt suddenly exposed around her. How much did Steele tell her? Did she know about Guy? Should he ask?
Before he could, Steele put his hand on Nikolai’s shoulder and said, “I don’t see much dancing going on around here.”
“Nikolai says I’m a catch and you’re lucky to have me,” Mags said, quickly.
Steele cut sharply in front of Nikolai to hug his girlfriend. “I sure am,” Steele said. “Are you going to brow beat me into dancing with you?”
“Uh huh,” Mags said.
“See you later, Kuryakin,” Steele said.
Mags rolled her eyes, but waved to Nikolai.
Nikolai waved back and pressed through the crowd to try to find Jackie again. He found his partner still talking to Hoffman by the bar. She sat on a stool and Hoffman stood behind it. Nikolai slipped onto the stool beside Jackie, and he relaxed as Jackie shifted the conversation to work. Hoffman caught the pair up on the current events at A.B.E.L.
The New York division, the one that Jackie and Nikolai recently visited, was working on a hush-hush project that not even their own division knew about. It frustrated Cox, but he couldn’t exactly send in his own spies, so he simply kept pressing Mr. Adams for more information without getting much in return.
Cain continued to clean up the streets with his own crime ring, and Cox planted several spies within to check up on what his progress was. Hoffman said it seemed as though Cox let Cain clean up the messes he couldn’t touch, but he sent men in when the project seemed to threaten A.B.E.L. directly or was just bad news. With Cain helping to keep A.B.E.L.’s streets clean, it gave Cox more time to clean up the surrounding area and also in other places that his own division covers.
Nikolai tried not to think of what Guy had said about Cain not being such a terrible person.
Hoffman continued to report that one of the new agents had been killed while working on an assignment, and the deceased agent’s partner quit shortly after and went through deprogramming. And then two other new agents quit at different times throughout the two months and also went through deprogramming. Hoffman said, “I don’t know what set them off. Maybe Steele was too hard on them, or maybe Cox was. They just said they thought it was too intensive for them. Do you think New York has this much trouble keeping new recruits?”
Grier shrugged. “It was the same when I was there. For every new dozen, it seems like we’d be left with two by the time they moved past being new. I just hope our deprogramming doesn’t fuck with their brains or else we’ll have a lot of people having problems.”
The three then shared their stories of going through A.B.E.L. training and at which points they each considered quitting the agency. As the night progressed, their conversation thinned. Hoffman asked Jackie to dance, purely to show off her dress, and when Jackie agreed, Nikolai said he would step out to get some fresh air. Hoffman pointed him towards the balcony.
Nikolai stepped out onto the balcony. For once, the Russian enjoyed the cool air that rushed towards him. It certainly beat the sweaty heat of inside the apartment. Nikolai leaned on the railing to stare down at the street below. No cars sped across the snowy streets, and when his eyes rose, the streets were illuminated from lights within the other apartments.
Nikolai wondered how other people were celebrating, and he pushed his thoughts about Guy away. The secret agent turned around to look back into Hoffman’s apartment. He could pick out Hoffman and Jackie dancing and laughing together. And he narrowed in on Steele and Mags dancing nearby them.
He thought about how everyone had lives outside of him. The entire world would move without Nikolai, and he hated it. Wasn’t he significant to anyone? He turned his back on the windows and stared back out into the street.
The sliding door opened, and Nikolai expected to see Jackie as he turned around. Instead he saw Georg Westermark walking out to join him. The man wore a black dress shirt and trousers with a green blazer and tie. His green eyes locked onto Nikolai’s eyes as he leaned against the balcony with him. Luckily, Nikolai checked out the way Georg’s ass pressed against his tight pants before Georg made eye contact. The Swedish secret agent’s strawberry blond hair was swept meticulously to the side, as it usually was.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hello,” Nikolai replied.
“It’s really nice out here,” Westermark said. “Nice and cool.”
Nikolai offered Georg a weak smile.
The two stood in silence and admired the air. Nikolai noticed the cloud of frozen breath that curled from Georg’s mouth. Westermark finally asked, “So what are you doing out here?”
“Just taking a break,” Nikolai replied.
“I get that,” Georg replied. “There’re a lot of people in there. Who knew Hoffman knew so many people, let alone people that would actually come to his party?”
Nikolai smiled. “I certainly did not.”
“No one expected it,” Georg said. “It’s just one of life’s great mysteries.” After a pause, Georg continued, “Maybe he hired them all.”
Nikolai laughed which caused Georg to smile. Nikolai stared back into the street and Georg followed suit. After a beat of silence, Georg asked, “How are you finding the transition back to work?”
Nikolai shrugged. “I barely know anyone inside. I feel it will be more difficult once I return to headquarters in a professional setting.”
“Are you out anywhere else?” Georg asked.
“Just with my family,” Nikolai replied. “And it is not really an issue – not anymore. I merely get teased, but if it was not homosexuality, it would be something else.”
Another beat of silence passed before Georg said, “You know, we’re going to be here to help you through this – Mags, Hoffman, Grier, and me. I just don’t want you to think you’re going through this alone.”
The Russian offered a half-hearted smile in return.
Westermark continued, “When people tried to mock me because of my sexuality, I pushed back and I became the best damn EOD agent I could. Cox doesn’t care if you’re gay or straight so long as you do your job and do it well. And everyone will come around once they see Cox is okay with it–and he obviously is. You’re a good agent, Kuryakin.”
Georg put his hand on Nikolai’s shoulder, and Nikolai tried not to brush it off. It was hard to imagine the pompous Georg Westermark actually talking sense into him, but maybe Jackie was right and he wasn’t such a terrible guy. There was no ice in the Russian’s voice as he said, “Thanks.”
Taking his hand off of Nikolai, Georg continued, “And I understand that you’re a lot more of a private person than I am. So you’re probably a lot more uncomfortable with this whole thing than I ever was. But, like I said, we’re here for you. If you pick a fight with someone, we’ve got your back.”
Nikolai turned towards Georg and leaned one arm on the balcony ledge. He replied, “I really do appreciate that, Westermark,” Nikolai said. He bit his bottom lip before asking, “How did you come out? Did you just tell everyone?”
“I’ve never been particularly secretive about it,” Georg replied. “I just didn’t realize I had to mention it – and I shouldn’t have to, not really. So when people asked, I answered truthfully. And usually the people who were most uncomfortable about it, I made fun of or made more uncomfortable – like Steele.”
“How did you handle Steele?” Nikolai asked with a smile.
“Someone on my squad warned me about him,” he replied. “So I just went right up to him and said, ‘I may be gay, but I’ll never be interested in you, Steele. Don’t you even worry.’” Nikolai laughed, and Georg joined in. Georg said, “He didn’t take it well, but Steele respects a good agent when he sees one. He’ll come around eventually.”
Nikolai exhaled. He wasn’t so sure.
“But at least I told everyone on my own terms,” Georg continued. “It’s never easy when you’ve been hiding it and get outed.”
“I suppose there is no way to cover this whole thing up, is there?” Nikolai asked.
Georg frowned and said, “Even if there really was a way, do you really want to keep hiding?”
Sighing, Nikolai replied, “I suppose not.”
Both men turned as the music stopped from inside the apartment. Nikolai could see the faint glow of Hoffman’s flat screen on the wall. “I guess the countdown is starting,” Georg said. “Ready to go back inside?”
“I think I shall refrain from being inside a tiny room with a pile of sweaty, screaming people.”
“You’re such a stiff,” Georg laughed. He smiled and added, “I’ll stay with you out here then.”
“Please, you can go inside. I am usually alone on New Year’s.”
“Maybe this year should be different,” Georg said. “Do you have your New Year’s kiss planned out yet? The clock is ticking.”
“No, I am fine,” Nikolai said.
He looked at how the cold made Georg’s cheeks, ears and nose red. He watched the breath curl out between Georg’s thick lips. Westermark took a step closer to Nikolai and said, “Well, you obviously need to welcome in the New Year with a kiss. It’s tradition.”
Heat rose to Nikolai’s cheeks. He certainly appreciated Georg’s supportive words, and he believed that the Swedish agent would continue to be a valuable ally. Nikolai replied, “I do not want everyone to see.”
Georg’s smile softened. He said, “Do you really want to spend another year hiding who you are, Nikolai?”
The countdown began at ten, and Nikolai wondered what harm a kiss could do. “No,” he said. “I suppose not.”
Stepping closer to the Russian, Georg tipped Nikolai’s chin down towards him with his thumb. He nuzzled Nikolai gently and pulled him closer with his arm coiling around his waist. Nikolai breathed the Swede in, and he watched Georg’s green eyes between his own eyelashes. Letting his arms drape across Georg’s shoulders, Nikolai brushed his lips against Georg’s before Georg kissed him softly.
Nikolai absently heard shouts from the apartment and out on the street. But he felt Georg’s warm body against his own and his strong arms around his back.
And then Nikolai promptly lost his balance as Georg Westermark dipped him and kissed him again. He tightened his grip around Georg’s neck, and the Swede’s arms around his back kept him from falling. As Nikolai regained his footing, Georg said, “You need to learn how to be showy, Nikolai.”
Nikolai frowned and pushed Georg off of him. “Well, now because of your silver tongue I have already begun the year with a regret.”
“You haven’t even met my tongue, and it definitely isn’t silver.”
Huffing, Nikolai left the balcony and returned inside the sweltering apartment. But he knew the heat in his cheeks wasn’t from the cold air outside or the hot air inside. He thought of Georg’s comforting words on the balcony, and he refused to admit his mind drifted to the memory of the Swede’s big ass in that tiny swimsuit.
With a small smile, Nikolai absently touched his lips before he went to find Jackie.