Illya slips quietly through the front door of the safehouse, a still-warm box of pastries tucked under his arm. He knows the kitchen is already generously stocked—UNCLE has seen to that—but Illya wants something… special, something fresh and indulgent to celebrate his mother’s arrival in the West.
There is another reason why he wanted to leave. Go for a walk. Clear his head. Settle his nerves and prove that this isn’t all just a dream.
His mother is here and he is marrying Gaby.
Illya is hesitant to trust it, may never fully comprehend it. Already, he is bracing himself for the fall, the abrupt return to grayscale reality. The tension eases in his chest when he sees his mother: two mugs of coffee beside her.
He had stayed up until the early hours, talking with her, committing every detail of her face and her voice to memory, until finally, she had sent him away. Rest, she’d ordered him. A dark, shadowy urgency had gripped him then—a look mirrored in her own eyes.
Rest, she repeated. I will still be here in the morning.
And she is.
That was the first thing Illya had seen to before leaving for his errands. He had been loathe to go, but his mother had shown him her gun and assured him she could handle herself. A curious ache had threatened to split his chest as he kissed her forehead and waited until he heard the click of the lock behind him.
Marya Kuryakin smiles gently as her son sets down their breakfast. She nods her way through his whirlwind tour of the delicacies within. She is only half-listening, focused more on the timbre, the resonance of his voice.
It rolls over her, like rain, like thunder, and she wants to close her eyes to it, be soothed like a small child. How like his father he is. When had her son become a man? Years of coded letters and even fewer phone calls could hardly prepare her to be here, in his presence, to see and hear and yes, to touch.
Marya can’t help herself from tracing the scar by his eye. The rest of his sentence trails into silence. A new tension creeps into his shoulders as he pauses.
She smiles, shaking her head at her own sentimentality. “It’s nothing, Illyushka. Continue.”
Her son hesitates, but nods and indicates the last item: a golden-brown cake topped with almonds and with a layer of custard in the middle.
“Bee sting cake,” he explains. “What Gaby would call ‘bienenstich’.”
Even in three syllables she can hear it. A softness to the edges of his German. Illya has always been a quick study, but there is something natural now in the way he says the word. That rough, militant inflection she has only heard on him a few times before is gone.
Marya hums as she examines it. “That looks like a dessert.”
She arches a brow, a smile hovering at the corners of her lips. Illya’s cheeks redden slightly: an endearing quality she’s missed on him. Time and circumstance may have separated them, but Marya Kuryakin still knows her son.
“Special occasion,” he says, shrugging. His subtle grin is enough to make her heart soar. When was the last time she had seen her son like this? So at ease? So happy?
Whatever God or gods there may be, she thanks them. She thanks them all.
A knock at the door startles them both to attention. Illya automatically reaches for his gun, but his mother stops him with a hand on his shoulder. She shakes her head, smiling as she moves to answer it. Illya shadows her, ready to jump in at any moment.
The door opens to none other than Napoleon Solo himself. His arms are laden with expensive-looking chocolates and bottles of champagne.
“Peril.” He smirks. “I come bearing gifts.”
The American brushes past him to lay out his offerings on the table. His mother fusses over his selections, making small sounds of approval while Illya remains rooted to the spot.
“For your vykup nevesty,” she explains, switching over to English.
“My vykup… I don’t understand. Gaby has no—”
“Family?” Solo asks. “Maybe not in the traditional sense, but … that doesn’t mean we can’t still hold her hostage while you ransom her away.”
Cowboy’s smirk widens. How he even knows about this tradition is well-beyond Illya. He is about to say something, say anything when his mother’s soft voice stops him. “I will be there,” she tells him. “Gaby is already like a daughter to me, no?”
Solo beams. “Look at that, Peril. Mother Russia is indeed a mother to us all.”
“That includes you, Cowboy,” his mother adds. Illya finds himself grinning at that: the look of shock that passes over his partner’s face.
Solo winces, but there’s laughter in his eyes. He turns to Illya. “We need to make sure our darling Gabriella is given away to a worthy man.”
A knot forms in his stomach as he looks at his mother. There is a soft, pleading tone to his voice that makes the smile drop from the American’s face. “And am I worthy, мама?”
Am I worthy of her? Of you?
Illya barely registers how Solo quickly excuses himself to retrieve something else from his car. All he can focus on is the saddened sincerity in his mother’s eyes. She smooths a hand over his cheek, smiles up at him reassuringly.
“She chose you, didn’t she?”
A pause before he nods. His mother gives him a light slap, a sternness to her voice. “And you have and will always be worthy, Illyushka.”
Illya huffs, nods again. The knot disappears, replaced with something lighter. Buoyant. Cowboy returns a moment later with a garment bag draped over his arm. “Unless your tuxedo is planning on making an encore this morning, I imagine you’d like a change of clothes.”
He blinks. In surprise, in suspicion. Maybe even in gratitude. He knows without looking that the suit inside is not one from his closet, knows without trying it on that it will fit him perfectly.
“Thank you,” he manages, automatically reaching out to take it.
His mother clears her throat. “I have something for you as well.”
A pair of cufflinks are pressed into his upturned palm. They are not the ornate ones he remembers from his childhood, but a simpler set: one that a young, struggling law clerk could hardly afford, but managed to purchase anyway.
“He wore these on our wedding day,” she confirms. Illya’s fingers curl into a fist over this precious offering. His throat constricts when he sees the tears in his mother’s eyes.
“We were poor then,” she tells him, “but we were happy. It is the love, Illya, only the love that matters on a day like this.”
Illya finishes his breakfast in jittery silence. Sometime during his visit, Cowboy had managed to slip a few newspapers onto the counter—all lauding Sergei Ivanov’s performance of the night before.
He doesn’t read them.
Instead, Illya concentrates on the day ahead, the Destiny that awaits him. His mother had left with the American, giving Illya ample opportunity to go about his preparations. His fingers shake as he fastens the last button on his dress shirt: a classic white in Illya’s preferred cut. Monogrammed cuffs.
He thinks of his mother’s words to him as he reaches for those twin squares of mother of pearl. We were poor then, but we were happy. And after? What then? When his father had worked his way to the top and could provide everything for his wife and newborn son, were they still happy?
Something in the way his mother had held onto the cufflinks all these years tells him that they were. She could have, probably should have sold them. He knows she’d needed the money.
His parents had made a commitment to each other then and he would like to believe that they still would. That, if given the chance and the benefit of retrospect, they would do it all over again. Choose each other, the way he has chosen Gaby.
The way Gaby has chosen him.
Illya hums as he reaches for his tie. All of his worries about what he can or can’t offer the mechanic seem to ease with this realization. Gaby is not settling for him. She is not throwing her life away or deluding herself that the path ahead will be an easy one.
Rather, Gaby has chosen and asked him to choose to spend their lives with one another.
It is only the love that matters.
With his ‘ransom’ safely in tow, Illya strides up to Eme—a knight ready to rescue his princess. Only, instead of a dragon, his mother is the one to greet him. She is rapturous in a Grecian-style gown, blonde locks pinned up like a goddess of old.
“You look beautiful,” he says past the lump in his throat.
His mother smiles. “Flattery will get you nowhere, Illyushka. You need to pass my test first.”
Illya grins. He’d cross his arms if he could, but settles for tilting his head back. “And what is that?”
“You must answer three questions.”
“You are like the Sphynx,” he mutters. “Very well, мама. I accept your challenge.”
She nods at him, mock-solemn. A perfect mirror of his own subtle humor. “What is Gaby’s favorite monster film?”
That was easy.
“Frankenstein,” he replies. No hesitation.
“I heard she slept through that one.” His mother smiles. “Try again.”
Illya frowns, racking his brains as he thinks back to Halloween, to their nightly movie marathon, the distractions provided by his partners, his ‘time out’ chair. He huffs as the answer comes to him and he has to stop himself from rolling his eyes.
“The Bride of Frankenstein.”
“Correct. What was Gaby’s favorite memory in New York?”
New York, he thinks. That was Thanksgiving. He sifts through the memories: the bugged engagement ring, the novel, the ‘family’ dinner they had all shared. Illya is about to respond with “The Macy’s Day Parade”, but stops short.
Gaby had loved seeing the giant balloons and the celebrities, had nestled against his chest to keep out the autumn chill… but, as much as it pains him, the image of her childlike wonder on 34th street does not come close to her breathless laughter on Black Friday.
He grits his teeth, can almost feel her smirk from somewhere in the house. “Her favorite memory,” he scoffs, “is when I accidentally stole a coat rack for Waverly.”
There. It was out in the open now. His mother’s eyes are bright with mischief even as she scolds him. “Illya,” she tsks. “You are very lucky that was her answer.”
An embarrassed shrug. “What is the final question?”
“When did you first tell Gaby that you loved her?”
That stops him cold. Illya has never told her in so many words, has been holding back until he knew she would be willing to accept them from him. But surely he has communicated it to her before?
“In Rome,” he finally says. “When I gave her back her ring.”
Our third engagement, he thinks with something close to fondness. His mother smiles. She rises to plant a kiss on his cheek.
“You may proceed.”
Cowboy is waiting for him in the living room. The furniture has been pushed back against the wall and Illya has a distinctly impending sense of doom. His fingers flex as he approaches the American.
Out of the corner of his eye, he can see his mother moving to take her seat. He swallows nervously as he awaits his punishment.
“You might want to set those down, Peril,” the man says, grinning. “You’ll need to have your hands free for this one.”
A muscle works in Illya’s jaw as he complies.
“Your next challenge—should you choose to accept it—requires you to get in touch with your artistic side. A song or a dance. A recitation of love poetry, even, if you’re feeling so inclined.”
Illya scowls. He’s been expecting something like this. Mercifully, no one else is watching. He longs to sweep the room for any hidden cameras, but he is far too eager to get this over with.
“I will dance.” He ignores the smug look on the American’s face as he crosses the room to flip through Gaby’s records. When he finds one that will suit his purposes, he puts it on. The turntable crackles to life as a waltz begins to swell around them.
He moves to approach his mother, but diverts at the last second. If he is going down in flames, he’s taking the Cowboy with him.
Illya bows to the American, extends his hand. “I need a partner,” he says. Darkly. Solo recovers from his shock and accepts Illya’s invitation. He even deigns to let Illya lead him around the makeshift dance floor.
“Well, isn't this a surprise,” he drawls. “Who knew you could cut a rug like this?”
Illya ignores him, mentally counting the seconds until this torture is over. About halfway through the song, the American decides to put on a show.
He is seconds away from breaking Cowboy’s wandering hands when the bright, warming peals of his mother’s laughter causes the spike of red to recede. Illya can hardly remember the sound, nor recall the last time he had seen her smile like that.
So, Illya decides to ‘grin and bear it’, as Solo would say, and ups the theatricality of the endeavor. By the time, he twirls Solo and dips him with a modest sort of flourish, there are tears running down her face as she applauds them.
Solo bows to her. “You will save a dance for me tonight, I hope?”
“For this gift you have just given me, Mr. Solo, you may have all the dances you’d like.”
The American bows again before turning to Illya. “Your blushing bride-to-be is in the drawing room. Waverly will be waiting for you there.”
He shakes Illya’s hand. “Good luck.”
The screen is back up in the drawing room, presumably to conceal the mechanic behind it. Waverly stands to greet him, though it takes Illya half a second to recover his composure. Before he can stop himself, the words tumble out.
“What is that.”
The Englishman frowns down at his nineteenth century get-up, though Illya is more concerned with the wide black hat adorned with a number of colorful ribbons.
“Well, you see, Kuryakin, it’s an old Bavarian custom.”
“Don’t take this from me.”
Illya withholds a smile, pretends to look properly chastised. Waverly touches the hat almost self-consciously. “The hochzeitslader invites the wedding guests personally. Each ribbon seen here is an RSVP.”
He shrugs—or the closest Illya has ever seen to such a casual gesture from the man. “I made the rounds at HQ this morning.”
Solo’s nudging him jolts him out of his stupor. “I don’t know how familiar you are with hostage situations, Peril, but your negotiation skills could use some work.”
Illya blinks, snaps back to the present. He nods and divides the chocolate and champagne between his superior, his partner, and his mother.
Waverly inspects these proffered goods with his wry brand of stoicism. “That should do it then. Gaby, will you come out please?”
Illya’s pulse skitters uselessly as he catches a glimpse of white from behind the screen. He exhales heavily when he sees who emerges instead: Alexi Bashkin, the only other KGB agent working with UNCLE.
The man is dressed up like a bride, batting his eyelashes ridiculously from behind his veil as he picks his way over to Illya in—what he must think—passes for a dainty grace. It is an old joke, part and parcel with the tradition, so Illya allows a token of a smile.
When the laughter dies down, he turns back to Waverly. “This is not my love, sir. Will you send Gaby out?”
“That depends,” the Englishman says. “What else do you have to offer for her?”
His stomach drops, ice sliding down his spine. He doesn’t have any more sundry items… money, then? He begins to reach for his wallet, pauses. There is a collective intake of breath when he starts to undo the clasp of his watch.
“That won’t be neces—”
“For Gaby, sir. Anything.”
Before the man can open his mouth to protest, Illya holds up a hand to stop him. “I can give you the work of my hands, the air from my lungs, the blood from my body. I can offer you my continued loyalty, my services, all the years I have left and it will never be enough.”
He clears his throat, shifts his weight on his feet. “You already have all those, sir, and more. Same with Gaby. I could offer my heart, but it has been hers ever since we met. Before that even. There has always been a hope that I would find her, broken and undeserving as I am.”
Illya holds up his most treasured heirloom. “This watch is the only meaningful thing I have left to give: a symbol of my love, my loyalty, and my commitment to my family. Please accept it, sir, and please let me have your blessing to have Gaby’s hand in marriage.”
The room has gone unnaturally silent as he concludes this speech. His face is warm, but he tamps down any shame he may feel for his candor. Waverly reluctantly accepts the watch, looks almost pleadingly at Solo and his mother.
“Steady, Alex,” the American cautions him. “He’s got one more task to complete.”
Waverly nods and pulls himself together. “Yes, of course.” He takes a deep breath. “Illya Kuryakin, you have more than my blessing. You have my full-fledged support and all my best wishes for both of your continued happiness.”
He rises and moves to the screen. “You asked for Gaby’s hand in marriage and her hand I will give you. But first, you will have to identify it. Close your eyes and hold out your hand.”
Illya complies and waits for a small, cool hand to brush against his. His brow furrows, feeling the smooth skin. Too soft. The perfume confirms it. “This is not her.”
A new hand reaches out: large and rough. A long-suffering sigh escapes him. “This is Alexi.” A moment passes, then, “Still Alexi.”
The KGB agent laughs raucously at his own antics. As soon as Illya feels the next hand, he knows. That zing of recognition, the fire that hums through his veins. Gaby’s fingers curl—almost instinctively —to lace in his own, her callouses gently catching on his skin.
Illya smiles and gently guides her out from behind the screen as the applause begins to ring out around them.
Gaby is radiant: demure in a chic, white dress. A familiar white dress. “From Rome,” he whispers, more to himself than to his fiancée.
“Something old,” she confirms. Gaby indicates the dazzling pair of sapphire earrings she’s sporting. “Blue and new. Courtesy of Solo.”
“Is it borrowed too?” he asks suspiciously.
“I assure you it’s all perfectly above board, Peril,” the American chimes in. “I’m afraid I don’t have that honor.”
“Not what,” Gaby says. “Who.”
The mechanic grins and goes to stand next to Waverly, lays a hand on his shoulder. “He’s on loan to walk me down the aisle.”
A thoughtful look crosses her face before she gentles the watch from Waverly’s hands. Any argument dies on Illya’s lips when she approaches him, fingers wrapping around his wrist. There is a playful light in her eyes, though the sincerity is unmistakable.
“You said this watch is a symbol for you. I want it to be mine as well,” she murmurs. “To remind you that I accept the man you are, the man you were, and believe in the man you can be. I love you, Illya, and I will love you from now until our time runs out.”
Her smile is a priceless gift as she refastens his watch. He exhales shakily, seconds from kissing her when his mother comes up to them and presses something into Illya’s hand. He frowns down at in confusion.
“Something new,” she explains, exchanging a small smile with Gaby. “There. Now I can be like Best Man, yes?”
Illya stares down at the delicate watch, runs a thumb over the cool glass face. When had she had the opportunity to buy this? It is clearly Russian-made. His chest tightens as he thinks of the risks his mother had taken to purchase it so soon before her extraction: a gift for a woman she had never met, but had already accepted into her family.
He nods and turns to his fiancée, his own smile tugging at his lips. He kisses Gaby’s hand, secures the leather band around her wrist. Watches are not rings and these are not the vows they will be exchanging, but in this impromptu moment of ceremony, none of it seems to matter.
“It is your soul and mine on the same journey,” Illya promises, “from now until the end of time.”
Out of all the venues in the world they could have chosen to get married in, a Victorian-era waterworks would not have been on her list. But now that they are here, Gaby can’t imagine being anywhere else.
Solo had described the Kew Bridge Pumping Station as an ‘industrial cathedral’ and it isn’t hard to see why. From the stately standpipe tower—not a chimney, she’d learned—to the reserved, tactile grandeur of the engine house, Gaby is immersed in a unique blend of function and elegance.
The giant steam engines and even larger pipes that surround her are a far cry from her garage in East Germany, but there is something comfortingly familiar about it all the same. She knows that Illya, too, can appreciate the (now defunct) station’s legacy of public service.
Yes, Gaby thinks as Waverly escorts her down the ‘aisle’ of the magnificent Steam Hall, there can be no place better than this.
The final, shimmering notes of the piano are lost to the crescendo of cheering as she and Illya make a run for it: hand in hand, ducking against the barrage of rice being thrown at them from all sides.
Gaby will never forget the look on his face when he had first heard that melody—the melody that he had composed for her at New Years. Gaby had chosen it to bookend their wedding. It moves her just as much the second time around.
She doubts she will ever tire of hearing it.
They reach the courtyard and collapse against each other, breathless with laughter and the joy and the relief this day has brought them. The waterwheel spins lazily beside them, the sun catching on the gold rings they now wear.
Gaby lifts up her right hand, inspecting the slim band. It is a welcome weight—and even more welcome sight—that she has already grown accustomed to. Illya raises his own hand to compare against hers. A matching set, she thinks. The two of them, proudly wearing their allegiances, a loyalty untouched by regimes and regulations. They belong together. To each other.
She must spend too much time staring because Illya smirks at her, before bending to nuzzle her neck, press a quick kiss below her ear. His hum is electric against her skin as he breathes in her perfume. Gaby sighs, lacing her hand with his once more.
The assembling crowd causes Illya to straighten though he doesn’t let go of her. “Next task, Peril,” Solo calls out. “A German tradition this time.”
Gaby pats Illya’s arms and he reluctantly releases her. She strolls curiously to the set of sawhorses and the log propped up on it. She hadn’t even noticed it before, though admittedly, she’d been a bit distracted.
Illya is close behind, frowning as he picks up the long, two-handled saw. A look passes between the newlyweds as Gaby moves to stand on the opposite side of the log.
“Looks like you’ve got the gist of it,” the American says. “The baumstamm sägen represents how well the pair of you will work in your marriage.”
“Oh, is that all?” Gaby smirks at Illya as she takes one end of the saw. “Come on, ehemann. Let’s get to work.”
The World War I Cenotaph is remarkably simple, but unspeakably profound: a blank canvas for those in mourning. It is an empty tomb, Illya explains to her, to honor the absent dead. For those soldiers buried in “some corner of a foreign field” or whose remains were never recovered at all.
Gaby sneaks a quick glance at her husband and wonders if he thinking of his fallen comrades. Wonders if he is thinking of his father. She knows the rumors surrounding the gulag: mass and unmarked graves scattered all throughout Siberia.
The tension in Illya’s jaw tells her everything she needs to know.
Her hand slips into his, a reassuring squeeze to bring him back, as they pay their respects. It is a Russian tradition, this visiting of local memorials. They will lay flowers and wreaths at each one in tribute—a solemnity that humbles her.
Gaby offers Illya a smile, closes her eyes as he pulls her against him. His breath ghosts over her hair in unsteady bursts. Gaby times the rise and fall of her chest with his, steadying him until even their hearts seem to beat in unison.
A greeting line awaits the newlyweds as they return for the reception. Gaby and Illya are all smiles as they make their way through it until, finally, they reach Marya and Waverly, who offer them salt and bread and their blessings.
The Englishman is again representing Gaby’s side of the family. He has been her superior, her mentor, and her friend these past two-and-a-half years. There is no one else she would rather have take her fathers’ place on this happy occasion.
An orphan twice-over, it is a bittersweet celebration. Gaby may be without her relatives today, but she can’t say that she is without her family. If the mechanic ever had any doubts, she would only need to look at Solo, at Waverly, at Illya and his mother and all of the friendly faces around her to be sure of it.
This is her family and she is home.
To officially kick off the wedding reception, Solo makes sure that every guest has a flute of champagne—or a suitably discreet substitute. He had had to fight Alexi earlier for the designation of Tamada or master of ceremonies.
He may not be Russian, but that doesn’t mean he can’t party like one.
Solo stands before the crowd and raises his glass in a toast. “Za-Molodykh! For the newlyweds!” He catches Alexi’s grin and holds back his own, knowing what is about to come next. His accomplice sips the champagne and immediately starts coughing.
“Gor’ko!” he shouts, a cry that is soon echoed by the other guests.
Gaby leans into Illya. “What are they saying?”
He can feel the tips of his ears warm as he answers her. “They are protesting that the wine is too bitter. They expect us to sweeten it.”
His wife sets her hands on her hips. She huffs. “How are we supposed—”
“Like this,” he says and dips her into a kiss.
Around them, the guests begin to count. They are somewhere around eleven when he and Gaby resurface. Illya grins at her slightly-flustered expression… and assiduously avoids looking at anyone else.
“Gor’ko!” Alexi shouts again and the crowd takes up the chant. Gaby rolls her eyes, but Illya can tell that she is enjoying herself. Maybe a little bit too much. He really should know by now to expect a trick, but his woman has always had a way of knocking him off-balance.
True to form, Gaby pounces on him without warning. Illya feels himself falling backwards when she catches him and locks her lips onto his.
If Solo were a less dignified man, he might actually be gaping at the spectacle before him: an enormous Russian being held up by a diminutive German mechanic, defying gravity for as long as her arms can support his weight.
He doesn’t know if anyone is counting. Doesn’t know if he is counting, but when Gaby manages to pull Peril back to a standing position, he claps right along with everyone else. They look relaxed as they take their bows—Gaby exuding smugness while her husband looks more than a little bit dazed.
It is a strange word, a foreign word for a spy, yet here they are now: no pretenses, safe enough to let their guards down. A rarity. A miracle even.
When Solo looks back upon this night, this is the moment he wants to remember. He lifts his glass to his lips, if only to cover his smile.
His partners always did have a knack for overcoming the impossible.
And that is something he will drink to.
The hochzeitstanz comes next. Illya leads Gaby out into the center of the hall to share in their first dance as husband and wife. A waltz strikes up and she can see the corner of his lips twitch upwards, as if at some private recollection.
“Is nothing,” he assures her when he reads the unspoken question in her eyes. Gaby hums and settles into the familiar cadence of the music—more than a bit surprised at Illya’s lightness of foot, how confidently he leads her.
“You’ve been practicing,” she murmurs, “or else you’ve been holding out on me.”
Illya tilts his head back, a teasing look in his eyes. “This is not my first rodeo, as Cowboy would say.”
“So, you’ve been married before?”
His kiss is a rebuking one. Evidently, he did not appreciate her joke, though she can’t say she didn’t enjoy her scolding. “I have danced before. Quite recently, too.”
Illya hums, close to her ear. “Though you, milaya, are much better partner.”
The alcohol is singing sweetly in her veins, daring her to level the playing field a little. She wets her lips, dark eyes burning into his. “You have no idea, Illya, how good I can be.”
She rests her head on his chest, laughing, when he stumbles.
Illya dances with his mother next. Gaby and Waverly are across the way, talking in hushed, but happy tones as they move to the music. The other guests soon join them until the dance floor is full and the spotlight finally seems to be off him.
His mother smooths the hair off his forehead. “This is all I have ever wanted for you. To see you happy. And to know that you will not be alone.”
Illya’s vision blurs as he pulls her closer to him. “Neither will you, мама,” he promises. “We will make sure of that.”
The dinner that follows is a lively affair.
Besides the traditional German ‘wedding soup’, there are a number of Russian dishes as well: chicken tabaka, caviar, dumplings, herring. The vodka and champagne, the beer and the wine are all free-flowing.
So, too, are the speeches.
It seems everyone in attendance has something to say to or about the newlyweds. Their marriage is lauded as a symbol for global unity, the living embodiment of the UNCLE ethos. It is every positive adjective under the sun, every hope, every aspiration, every dream.
And it is all true.
For hasn’t this been his wish all along?
Illya is pulled back onto the floor to play a game that Gaby translates as “Who Rules the Nest?” A special cup—a Brautbecher, his wife informs him—is produced by Solo: one fashioned to look like a maiden carrying a cup above her head.
He is startled to learn that the maiden’s bell-shaped ‘skirt’ doubles as a cup as well (its counterpart at the top swivels independently). Both ends are filled with champagne as Cowboy explains the rules.
Illya and Gaby must drink simultaneously from the Brautbecher … whoever finishes their portion first will have control over the marriage. His brow furrows as he considers this proposition and inspects the bridal cup.
Gaby’s side is significantly smaller than his, and knowing the mechanic, is barely more than a mouthful for her. She must read his thoughts because she arches an eyebrow at him.
“Scared I’ll drink you under the table, liebling?”
He bites back a smile as he taps the rim of his cup. “I seem to be at competitive disadvantage, no?”
“Then let’s switch.”
With some careful maneuvering, they manage to reverse their positions. Gaby smirks at him. “Prost,” she says.
“Za tvoyo zdorovie.”
On Cowboy’s signal, the game begins.
They wait until midnight for the cake-cutting ceremony. When Solo had had time to bake a Baumkuchen for them or how he had even learned to master such a dessert will forever remain a mystery to her.
“The King of Cakes,” he proclaimed as he unveiled his creation. Gaby had gasped, clutched Illya’s arm and assured him that the term “tree cake” would soon make sense.
She playfully jockeys her husband for space and to have the literal and figurative ‘upper hand’ in the marriage. Illya proposes a compromise: they will switch halfway through. A tie, just like the Brautbecher game.
Even though it is only a silly superstition, Gaby is warmed nonetheless. Equal partners, they decided. At work and in the home.
She takes great pleasure in showing Illya the several golden layers hidden inside the cake, the uncanny resemblance they bear to tree rings.
“Or wedding rings,” Illya had suggested.
The American had shrugged. “More like the years of thick and thin ahead of you. Longevity in life and love.”
Gaby had smirked at Solo’s unusual display of sentiment, but had squeezed his hand in gratitude all the same. He had winked at her, indicated the rows of barmbrack cakes he’d similarly prepared for the guests.
“Do you believe in my fortune-telling cake now, Peril?”
It is late into the night when the crowds finally begin to disperse. Illya has long since been separated from Gaby, caught up in a hurricane of farewells and well-wishes. Alexi, in particular, has proven to be unshakable, doggedly pursuing him and monopolizing his attention… almost as if he were doing it on purpose.
Illya halts, stares at the man closely. His fellow KGB agent is spared an interrogation when Cowboy strolls up to meet them.
He doesn’t take his eyes off Alexi as he addresses the American. “Where is she?”
Illya looks sharply over at Solo, his fingers tapping instinctively at his sides. This had better be another game.
“I’m afraid Gaby has been kidnapped,” Cowboy calmly informs him. “I’d check the nearest bar if I were you.”
He claps Illya on the arm. “Oh, and uh, be sure to bring your wallet.”
Thus begins a wild goose chase throughout London’s finer (and admittedly, less fine) drinking establishments. Illya stops in each one he passes, glancing around for a familiar face: a guest or two who confirm that yes, his bride has been here, but since been spirited away.
He has to pick up the tab in order to get them to talk: the name of another bar, a pub, an intersection, a clue. Annoy him as it should, Illya can’t help from chuckling as he settles their bill and goes on the hunt once more.
When he sees Waverly and his mother, he knows that this is his last stop. Illya’s heart is thundering as he scans the room, his eyes alighting almost automatically on his wife. The relief floods through him… even as a new type of tension begins to take its place.
Gaby waves lazily from the bar and holds up her drink in salute. Illya’s feet are carrying him towards her before he realizes he’s even moving: his hands cup her face and then his mouth is on hers.
She doesn’t say anything when they finally break apart. Instead, she grabs his hand and pulls him along. Last call, he smirks, as they breeze through their final rounds of goodbyes and close the final tab.
Waverly coughs when they approach him. “Terribly sorry about the expense, Kuryakin. Agent Bashkin can be quite the handful, but I assure you, you will be reimbursed for any… incidentals he may have incurred.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Illya’s mother moves to lay a hand on Gaby’s arm. The two women exchange a warm smile. “Have you decided on your honeymoon yet?”
Gaby tilts her head up at him. A shared look, a nod, then, “Oslo. It will be nice to see the city. As civilians.”
“Speaking of civilians,” Solo says from somewhere behind them, “there’s someone I’d like you all to meet. Or… re-meet, rather.”
The four of them turn to see the American and the Russian ballerina beside him. Yulia catches his and Gaby’s eyes, inclines her head at them in recognition.
Solo guides her over to the Englishman. “Sir, allow me to introduce Yulia Vishneva of the—”
“Royal Ballet Company. Yes, I know.” He clasps her hand warmly. “Alexander Waverly. I have so enjoyed seeing you perform, Miss Vishneva.”
“Dancing is only the half of it, sir. I believe you’ll be interested in what else she has to offer.”
Yulia hums, secretive. She catalogues the small group in turn, a playful spark in her eyes. “Napoleon Solo... Alexander Waverly...”
She smiles at Gaby and Illya, at the rings on their hands, and at his mother beside them. “And you must be the Kuryakins.”