Title: Reading Between the Lines
Fandom: Man From UNCLE
Word count: 980
Disclaimer: Don’t own them, wish I did as I’d be rich
Prompt: No. 4. The thought of trees in a library is inspiring in that perhaps Nature is reclaiming its own.
Napoleon looked at the sad sight before him. The only thing missing was the ticking of a clock. Instead, a bird chirped, fluttering from one tree to the next.
“Illya, what happened here?” He looked back at Illya. The Russian was immobile, frozen, staring at what had once been a lovely and popular library.
“I used to study right over there.” There was a sad wistfulness to Illya’s voice than made Napoleon move closer to him. “The librarian used to sit over there, right where that small tree is. She used to smile and encourage me to take harder books. I suppose I owe my love of reading to her.” Illya paused to take a breath. “At least it still smells the same.”
“It was this musty smelling even back then?”
“Yes. It had a problem with leaks, and there was never enough money to replace the roof. My father and a few of the other men tried to repair it, but I suspect they did more damage than good.”
“Was this because of the war?”
“One of them, I suppose.” Illya picked his way across the book-littered floor to a globe, the blue of its oceans artificially bright. “We lost so much. Too much to ever rebuild. It was easier just to leave and begin again somewhere else.”
Napoleon joined him, his fingers tracing the Cyrillic lettering. He didn’t need to read the language to know what they said.
“Illya?” His partner had been quiet most of the morning. It had been hard for him to come back, but his duty was clear. The oldest son of Nicolai Kuryakin had to officiate at the funeral of his father. Yet Napoleon had the sense that there was something else troubling Illya.
When Illya suggested grabbing a car and taking a drive, Napoleon had leapt at the suggestion. It would be a relief to be free of the sorrow, if only for the morning.
Illya had taken the wheel and started driving. Napoleon kept the conversation light and airy at first, but let it trail off into comfortable silence when Illya didn’t appear to be listening.
They’d driven through farmland, forest and then suddenly a ghost town appeared. The road was blocked and there were signs threatening prosecution for anyone trespassing. Neither of which was of any consequence to the UNCLE agents.
Now they stood in what once had been a grand library, books still on their shelves, chairs and tables patiently waiting for long-absent visitors. The roof was partially gone, and trees grew through the floor, their limbs stretching like a sleeper waking.
Napoleon turned, and realized that Illya had left. He was about to shout when he heard a noise from the second floor. Taking a step back, Napoleon caught sight of Illya walking slowly, like a man in a dream.
“You should be careful, Illya. The flooring might be rotted.” Either he didn’t hear or chose not to, Napoleon was betting on the latter.
With a shake of his head, Napoleon found the stairs. He climbed cautiously up to the second floor, grimacing every time there was a protesting creak from a stair. On the landing, he moved in Illya’s direction.
No response. Napoleon continued, slowly carefully, until a sudden noise made him jump --the sound of something falling. Concern for his partner short-circuited the need to be cautious, and he hurried toward the source. Illya was rifling through a shelf, dropping books after he scanned the spine.
“Where is it? It’s not here. It has to be….” With a cry, Illya pulled a book free and sank to the floor, ignoring the dust and filth that covered it. “It was misfiled.” He hugged it to his chest, childlike. He sighed happily.
“What is it, Illya?”
“My book. This was my favorite book.” Illya’s hands, so capable of death and destruction, moved reverently over the brittle pages. He pulled out a library card and held it out to Napoleon. A childish scrawl filled the first few spaces, the writing becoming more legible and sure, the same name signed over and over again. “I used to take it out nearly every week. I’d just returned it, for what would be the last time, when Father came in the night and took us away. Had I known, I never would have brought it back.”
“No,” Napoleon said softly. “You would have found a way to return it. You’re that kind of man.” That made Illya nod slightly. “What’s it about?”
“It was the story of a wanderer. He was looking for something, but he didn’t know what. He had had adventures and made many friends, but in the end, he was alone and still seeking. Then a special person came into his life and he realized that what he’d been looking for was love, just love. Nothing else mattered until then.” Illya looked up at Napoleon and smiled shyly. “Until you.”
Napoleon grinned. He sat, pulling Illya into a one-armed hug. For a long moment, they were quiet, then Illya said, “Thank you for coming with me, Napoleon. You have made a nearly intolerable situation somehow bearable.”
“It’s what friends do for each other and we were friends long before we became lovers.”
“I know, but I still wanted you to know my appreciation.”
“I know it always.” Napoleon nodded to the book. “Read it to me?” He kissed Illya’s temple and Illya settled against him.
“Okay.” And they sat beneath the sheltering branches of the largest tree, two wanderers together, no longer seeking, content in their love.