Episode Thirty-Two: The Drowning Affair
Guy hurried to the hotel stairs and ran down to the flight below. He fished his Luger out of his satchel and opened the door, peeking out onto the floor. He didn’t see anyone. He waited, licking his lips, but no one moved. Guy counted the doors, preparing himself for which ones the men would be behind.
He darted out and listened at the doors. Two of the rooms carried noises of simple movements, while one revealed a man on the phone. Guy quickly set the explosives, wishing for more time. If he had done this properly, he would have gone back to the pool and attached the explosives to the ceiling so the floors would certainly collapse, but what he was doing now would have to do. It’d likely take out a good portion of the floor and room.
Guy arranged the trigger so the bomb would explode when the hotel room door that contained the man talking on the phone opened. He assumed he would have enough time to go back to the hotel room, untie and subdue Nikolai, and then make a grand escape, all before the man got off the phone. The hotel room phone would contain him to the room, Guy reasoned.
He stood up from his work, listening to his knees crack as he did so. Walking away, Guy imagined the off-white walls cracking open, the red and gold geometric carpet being devoured by flames. He smiled to himself.
And then he heard a click.
He turned around to see one of the men on a cell phone, but he found his legs moving, running to the stairwell. He felt the explosion before he heard it. His legs were lifted off the carpet and a new pressure blocked his ears. His grip tightened on the door handle into the stairwell. He wrenched the door open, but his body slammed against a wall as the door slammed shut behind him, protecting his body from the flames. His breaths came out short and stilted. He heard sudden cracking noise and saw the hole in the ground, the crumbling cement and leaking pipes. The hole quickly swallowed the door that protected him. Guy’s brown eyes widened, but his mind stayed blank and numb. His body fell towards the hotel, and he grasped onto whatever he could around him.
But his hands didn’t act as his own. They twitched in response, barely grasping the carpet he screamed at them to cling to. He finally gripped a pipe, his legs dangling into the empty space below. He stared down at the pool now littered with chunks of cement and what Guy assumed was the man on the phone. He tried to catch his breath, and his head pounded so hard he barely felt his hands slip from the pipe.
Hitting the water was like falling through a pane of glass. Pain nipped at him everywhere, and Guy tried to remember how to swim. He thought of Nikolai’s smooth movements, but no matter what movement he made, he only sunk deeper. The water was quicksand to him. Chlorine stung his eyes and he stared upwards, the hole in the ceiling waving down at him. More pieces of the floor dropped into the pool, but he barely heard them. Everything moved slowly and deathly quiet around him. It was as if he was swallowed by a dream.
He watched the bubbles putter out from his nose, his lungs starting to burn as he held his breath. Guy tried to swim upwards again, but a sharp pain shot through his leg. A large pipe pinned him to the bottom of the pool. He cursed internally and his mind grew foggy. He tried to swim upwards again and again, his arms aching and his lungs screaming. His burning eyes made out things in the pool. Blood. Cement. Something pinkish. Pipes. Pieces of carpet. A little boy in blue swim trunks. One of his men. He urged his body to move upwards, but every part of him – his leg, his eyes, his lungs, his heart, his arms, his gut – throbbed or stung or screamed for attention. He could only hear his heart pounding in his ears as black spots began to overtake his fading vision. This was fear, Guy realized. He was going to die the way he feared. His struggling grew weak.
He was going to die completely alone, gasping for air in the darkness of his failing eyes.
He tried to push away the strong arms coiling around him. They were going to drag him deeper.
He let out a cry within the water as his leg was freed from the pipe. His body grew limp and his thoughts faded. He moved to the top of the water easily, a weight guiding him upwards. He gasped for air as he emerged from the water, and he caught Nikolai’s scruffy face next to his own. He didn’t feel much of anything as the Russian dragged him out of the water.
He remembered Steffie floating in the water – wait, he remembered himself floating but – “A little boy,” Guy gasped. He remembered the black hair hovering in the water.
Nikolai dove back into the water. Guy found himself stretched out on the floor, his chest rising and falling. He listened to his deep breaths, sometimes broken up with a coughing fit. When his breaths began to steady Nikolai broke out from the water again, the man in his arms. Guy now recognized him as the man with the highest amount on his head.
Guy absently watched Nikolai check the man’s pulse and feel the man’s breathing. Then Nikolai ran over to him, hefting Guy up. Guy repeated, “A little boy. I saw him.”
Nikolai said nothing and carried Guy several steps before Guy would walk unsteadily on his own. Nikolai’s hand enveloped his, urging him forward. He followed as if he watched himself. He didn’t tell his body to move or even his mind to think. He simply observed the way he helplessly followed Nikolai into a stairwell and then out through the emergency exit.
It took him six steps outside to realize it was pouring rain. It took him six more to realize he was running. Sirens began to invade his hearing and he watched Nikolai run in front of him. Guy’s satchel was slung across the Russian’s broad shoulders, and it elegantly moved back and forth on Nikolai’s back like a metronome. When Guy swallowed, his throat felt dry.
“Nikolai,” he gasped.
“Just run,” Nikolai said.
He turned his head back to glance at Guy, and when Guy caught the blue eyes beneath the rim of the New York Yankees hat on him, he exhaled. He let his body take over and ran mechanically despite the pain rippling through him. When he closed his eyes, he felt the water all around him again. It hurt to breathe. He tried to keep his eyes open, focussing on his satchel swaying on Nikolai’s back.
He stumbled, but Nikolai’s arm around his back kept him upright. “Almost there,” Nikolai whispered. Guy could feel Nikolai’s scruff on his cheek as Nikolai continued, “Just hold on.”
Nikolai slowed down their pace as they stood at a stoplight. Guy saw the train station on the other side, and he smiled as he thought of curling back into bed with Nikolai. The Russian released his grip on Guy, but Guy reached for Nikolai’s hand. The assassin knew when he closed his eyes, he would be drowning again.
Squeezing Guy’s hand, Nikolai led them across the street. Guy heard himself breathing and he tried to slow down his breaths. He ran his free hand through his hair, slicking it back. Guy realized he probably looked like a mess.
“We’re soaked,” Guy said as they stepped into the train station.
“It is pouring rain out,” Nikolai said. “Hopefully they do not smell the chlorine.” He gave Guy a weak smile, his accent fading as he said, “I’ll get us our tickets.”
Guy stood stiffly, feeling Nikolai’s hand slide out of his own. He shivered. Nikolai glanced back at Guy over his shoulder, and he sighed. “Why don’t you go into the bathroom and try to put yourself together? I’ll meet you in there and try to dry us off.”
Nodding, Guy left Nikolai to go into the bathroom. He found it empty, and he leaned on the sink to stare at his face. Brown eyes streaked red from chlorine stared back at him. He looked at the wrinkles on his leathery skin, and his hair looked like someone sprinkled more salt on it. He turned on the water, but turned it off quickly as soon as he heard the hiss.
He looked at himself in the mirror. He looked at his leather jacket and the old man inside of it. Who was he kidding? His heart throbbed in his chest, and he could see his hands shaking against the sink basin. Guy Solo felt old, and he hated it as much as he thought he would.
He turned around as he caught Nikolai in the mirror. “We’ve got about half an hour before the train comes,” Nikolai said. “Let’s try to dry you off.”
As Guy nodded, his shoulders slouched. Nikolai put a gentle hand on Guy’s back, leading him into a stall. Guy and Nikolai hung up their jackets, and Nikolai hung up Guy’s satchel. “Do you want me to look at your leg?” Nikolai asked.
Guy shook his head. He couldn’t feel it anyway. His foot simply tingled as if he just walked on a foot that heavily slept.
“Then let’s start with your shirt, okay?” Nikolai smiled at Guy.
Nikolai tilted up Guy’s chin with a finger. “I’m here for you, okay?”
Squeezing his eyes shut, Guy nodded again. Nikolai’s quick, precise fingers unbuttoned Guy’s shirt and pulled it off his shoulders. Guy’s shivers grew worse for a moment, and he opened his eyes to look at Nikolai. Nikolai hung up Guy’s shirt and took off his hat. “I’m going to put this under the hand dryer. Maybe you should wear my hat while we’re on the train in case they’re-“Guy hugged Nikolai. He buried his face in the Russian’s damp chest and he held himself against him. The blond’s fingers twined through his hair, his face resting next to Guy’s. He finally felt safe. He listened to Nikolai’s steady heartbeat, felt his chest rise and fall as he breathed. Guy tried to mimic the breaths, listening to himself inhale and exhale – proof he was alive. Guy told himself he almost drowned today, and being in this man’s arms was nothing like drowning.
“I’m sorry,” Guy murmured. “I’m so sorry.”
If Nikolai asked what he was sorry for, Guy was going to say for tying him to the headboard. He was going to say he was sorry for going ahead with his job even though he didn’t want him to. He was going to apologize for never giving anyone the chance to get close to him, because maybe he could have felt like this decades ago. He wanted to apologize for not being much of a father to Steffie, and whoever else was out there, if there was anyone else. He wanted to say sorry for the boy in the pool. He didn’t understand why Nikolai didn’t go back into the pool to save him.
But Nikolai didn’t ask anything. He didn’t say it was okay. He didn’t say he forgave him. He just stroked Guy’s hair and stayed with him.
And Guy thought maybe that was all he needed.
Nikolai eventually said, “We’re running out of time, and we can’t miss this train.”
“Okay,” Guy said, releasing Nikolai. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “I understand. Just tell me what to do.”
“Wait here,” Nikolai said, peeling off his own shirt. “I’ll see if these will dry off.”
Guy waited in the stall as he heard the hand dryer roar on. He rubbed his arms to try to keep warm. It would be terrible to walk back to Nikolai’s safe house with his clothes soaking wet. He wished he brought a change of clothes. Nikolai peered back around the bathroom stall and said, “Pants.”
Guy’s body groaned as slipped out of his boots and bent over to remove his pants. He just took off his boxers and threw them in his satchel, writing them off as a lost cause. Nikolai took the pants from Guy and handed him back his shirt. “It’s the best I can do in this time,” Nikolai said.
“That’s fine,” Guy said as he buttoned up his shirt.
He glanced down to see a minor cut on his leg with bruises circling it. He ran his hand over it and winced, but he was relieved it barely bled now. Nikolai returned Guy’s pants, and Guy shivered as he put the damp pants back on. “We have to go,” Nikolai said.
“What about your pants?” Guy asked, slowing putting his pants back on.
“Maybe there will be dryer on the train. Didn’t you hear them call our train?”
“No,” Guy said.
“Please hurry,” Nikolai said. “We can’t stay here.”
Guy hurried and stepped into his shoes. His body pinched and ached, and Guy assumed bruises would cover his body when he saw it next. Nikolai bunched their belongings into his arm and grabbed Guy’s arm with his free hand, urging Guy forward.
The pair stumbled onto the train during the final calls, but they still managed to get seats together. Guy noticed a lot of empty seats as they walked closer to the back of the car. They dropped into their seats, Guy taking the one by the window. Nikolai wedged Guy’s satchel by his feet and put his fanny pack back on.
“I feel like I could sleep until spring,” Nikolai said, trying to stretch his long legs in the small space the seat provided.
Guy smiled weakly at Nikolai. “I thought I was going to end up sleeping forever.”
“You made a poor choice,” Nikolai said.
“I made a poor choice,” Guy repeated.
He ran his fingers along the rope burns on Nikolai’s wrist. Nikolai didn’t pull his arm away, and when Guy’s fingers drifted across his hand, he held his hand. “It’s a good thing I brought you,” Guy softly said.
“If you went by yourself, you never would have gone to the pool and you never would have rushed the job,” Nikolai stiffly replied.
“Do you regret coming with me?” Guy asked.
Nikolai’s eyes avoided his. He said nothing.
Guy kissed the back of Nikolai’s hand. “It’s okay,” Guy said. “I’d understand if you wish you never came, even if it means I could have died.”
“If they recognize me-“
“I’ll protect you.”
Nikolai scoffed. “You can barely take care of yourself.” Guy winced, and the blond softened as the hurt spread on Guy’s face. “I’m sorry.”
“Me too,” Guy replied.
Nikolai smiled as he squeezed Guy’s hand. Returning the smile, Guy squeezed back. Guy tried not to grow bored of holding Nikolai’s hand, so he rubbed his thumb against the back of the Russian’s hand as he looked out the window. The least he could do was display some affection.
Nikolai broke their small embrace first when he ordered drinks. Guy’s leg began to throb, the pain growing louder than the rest of his body. He told himself to check for sprains later, and Guy tried to pull out his book to read in the hopes of distracting himself from the pain. As he lifted the book from his satchel, he found it dripping wet, the pages disintegrating and melding together. He sighed and Nikolai said, “We’ll buy a new one.”
“It was Quint’s,” Guy said. He dropped the pulpy mess back into his bag. He rubbed his face and tried to suppress the sorrow growing in his gut. Part of him said it was just a book, and a small part of him whispered that he couldn’t even take care of a book.
“Well, we’ll buy him a new one then,” Nikolai said. “At least you didn’t bring your computer.”
Guy nodded half-heartedly. Nikolai said, “Hey, why don’t we just buy new clothes when we get off the train?”
Guy folded his arms across his chest and grunted.
“It’ll mean we won’t have to walk long in the cold, and we can pick up a substitute book for,” Nikolai searched for the words, “for your friend.” When Guy didn’t respond, Nikolai said, “It’ll be on me, and you can dress me in whatever you want.”
With these final words catching Guy’s attention, he tilted his head back towards Nikolai. “In whatever I want?” Guy asked.
Nikolai frowned. “Well, so long as it’s not women’s wear.”
Guy laughed. “I wasn’t even thinking that.”
“But you are now?”
“I’ll make sure you’re comfortable in whatever I pick,” Guy said.
He smiled to himself as he looked back out the window. He almost drowned. He almost died. He was getting old, and he finally felt it. But his boyfriend – he couldn’t hide from the word anymore – wanted to keep him safe and happy. Guy rubbed down Nikolai’s forearm, twisting their fingers together when he reached the wrist. And he didn’t mind that Nikolai wanted to keep him happy. He didn’t mind it at all.
Guy rested his head against Nikolai’s shoulder as he watched the rain trail across the windows. His blinks grew longer and his thoughts clouded while his limbs grew heavy. His grip on Nikolai’s hand weakened. The pain seemed to subside as the assassin drifted into sleep. And Guy Solo didn’t even notice the secret agent smile softly before kissing the top of his head.