As soon as Mrs. Mega’s eyes land on Tatiana, he should be worried. He should have expected the glimmer in her eyes, her invasive questioning. But he hadn’t. As Tatiana shoots him concerned looks during the blessed quiet in the living room as his mother makes lemonade, he is not thinking about anything.
He failed. Just like he always does.
His ears prick in interest as his mother returns to the room. At another time and date, he would have laughed at her pestering. Her absence hurt during his self-imposed exile. He had drifted like a buoy upon storm-tossed waves from city to city, never staying in one place and always - always - keeping away from Europe. Budapest had been the first time he stepped foot on the continent in four years.
He catches Tatiana’s vague Russian surprise when she learns Mrs. Mega knows of Curt’s job. He can sense disapproval in her tone, and something else, but it had never been a question of whether his mother would know or not. She is nosy but loving, and Curt shares everything with her but the most important things.
“He has a license to kill!” Mrs. Mega says cheerfully. “And it kills me that he never brings any girls home to meet me. Just a constant parade of drinking buddies from poker or wrestling or whatever you boys do in the rumpus room.”
“Mom!” Curt hisses. Her thoughts graze the target but don’t hit it, hinting at something she doesn’t see - because she doesn’t want to. When he was younger, he had been both thankful and disappointed that she was so oblivious. After all these years, his mother’s expectations hurt less, but it still felt like she was treading on a freshly healed bone. Any more pressure, and he would break again.
“So how long have you two been together?” His mother continues.
“What? A mother is curious about the diggle where her son puts his dinkie.”
Curt feels fainter than he had when he’d been shot. “Mom! Get out!” Please, just leave . He can’t think about this on top of everything else.
Someone has to save the world. And I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who can do it.
“Stop being like your father!” Mrs. Mega jabs a finger at him before turning to Tatiana. “He left when Curtis was a baby. You might have realized Curt’s Messiah Complex comes from the lack of a strong male role model earlier in his life. Oh, look at that little tush - ”
She has the fucking photo album out again. Curt doesn’t even have to look to confirm it. Some of his supposed drinking buddies had found the photos cute. He should have burned it long ago. “Mom, get - out!” He says, voice dropping from anger to exasperation. It does the trick.
“Alright! Geez, I can see you two are itching for some privacy,” Mrs. Mega says. The rest of her words are just as irritating but don’t stand out as particularly heinous.
“I’m so sorry about her,” he says to Tatiana in the ensuing silence. “I don’t make it out here that often - ” five times in four years, “ - so she goes a little stir crazy.”
“No, it is completely fine,” Tatiana assures him. “She reminds me of my mother, actually. Sometimes I forget what it is like to have a family.”
She recites her past as efficiently as the machine she claims she was. She is quick and cold, as if she stops to feel she will never be able to find the words again. Or perhaps the Soviets had taken her capacity to feel along with her family.
“Von Nazi promised you a way to get them back?” He asks as the pieces slot into place.
“For a price. He has my entire history in his pocket. If that information fell into the wrong hands...”
Curt doesn’t understand her. He could never leave his mother behind. But he can relate to her in that moment; having a secret that could destroy you.
No matter how much he wants his mother to know him and love him anyway, it is better that she doesn’t learn the truth. That was the only way he would be safe. Besides her, all the men who knew his secret had a vested interest in keeping it, and anyways, the most important was dead.
“If you could erase all of the pain spying for your country has caused you, wouldn’t you?” Tatiana asks him.
He doesn't know. What was more worth it - love with loss or a life without love?
“Sorry - sorry - ” his mother interrupts before he can say something, for once a help instead of a hindrance.
As she bangs the door shut behind her, Curt seizes the excuse. “Well, uh, mom’s probably done with the passports in a few minutes so we should probably split.”
He doesn’t like the look in her eyes, the cool way she leans back to take him in fully, to study him. “No, we’re not done here. Not yet. Talk to me.”
“There’s nothing to say.”
“I think there is. So let it out.” She hits him lightly when he doesn’t respond. “Let me in.”
His heart sinks. “Are we really doing this? I’m…” what? A massive failure? “I’m afraid,” he settles on, because it grazes the truth. “That I’ll never be the spy that I once was. That I’ll never be strong enough to save the world again. I’m afraid without the old Curt, the bad guys will win.” The Curt that was happy, driven, put-together, loved.
I need a win here, alright? I was - I am - I’m supposed to be the best.
“Why does all that responsibility have to rest on your shoulders?” she asks him.
“Because - I’m Agent Curt Mega. I shouldn’t need anyone else.”
But you did, whispers a voice in his head that sounds vaguely British. You always did.
“Well, look at how that way of thinking has worked out. I’ve put my life in danger to save you twice! Everyone needs help, especially in a job like this. You’re going to get yourself killed if you don’t get everyone who cares about you killed first.”
“I already have.” The words are out of his mouth before he can weigh them. He watches Tatiana take them in and prays she won’t connect the dots.
“How do you mean?”
He speaks slowly, censoring. “Four years ago… I watched as my… partner, Owen - he was killed right in front of me. I couldn’t stop it.” Failure. “And that was back when I was the old Curt.”
Old Curt thought love was enough, a fine justification. If a mission flopped, if a bomb exploded, if he trusted the wrong person, it was fine because he tried. He was The Best because he tried. Because he loved the whole world, even if it hated people like him, even if Owen met hate with hate and fire with fire and god how painful it is to think of him even after all these years -
“Curt...” Tatiana says, moving closer to him as if her presence would comfort him. “A spy is a spy; he knew the risks. Maybe things could have happened differently, yes, but maybe not. You’ll never know. You just have to learn to let it go.”
He scoffs. “How?” It’s advice he’s heard many times before, but no one has given him a road map, an objective to aim for. If he wakes up one morning and doesn’t think about the way Owen’s soft hair brushed his collarbone while he slept, would that be enough? When the scent of pine cologne and Earl Grey failed to bring him to the edge of tears, would he have moved on ? He is not good at letting go; not like her.
“Well, you’ve already started by opening up to me.” She takes his hand. “Trust the people who care about you, and who knows? Maybe you’ll find a new partner.”
It is too perfect. As Curt looks down at their clasped hands, he realizes Tatiana is a solution. Isn’t this what his mother wants? For Curt to settle down and find a nice girl? Tatiana is nice, and conventionally pretty; even Curt knows that, though he’s never been attracted to a woman in his life.
If Curt wakes up one morning and feels Tatiana’s hair brushing his collarbone, not Owen’s, would that be enough? If he traded pine for cinnamon and bergamot for gunpowder, would that be enough? If he buried Owen in his heart, deep as that tomb of ash in Novosibirsk, if he sealed up his memories and brought them out only in darkness, would it be enough?
She releases his hand, a faint blush rising to her cheeks. Does she like him? When she flirted with him in the elevator - and he had only realized she was doing so after it was too late - was that real?
As he looks at her, he hopes she would be enough.
He fights the urge to move back when she shifts closer. Instead, he brings his hand to her chin. It’s natural. It’s right . He’s a man, and she is a woman; two sides of a perfectly balanced equation. As he leans in closer, he reminds himself of the way Tatiana would fix things. Perhaps she could fix him.
He kisses her but realizes with rising despair that all he can think of is Owen. They had not kissed in East Berlin, or Paris, or that third time in Rabat. It had been in Brussels, after an argument over something dumb. Owen had slammed him up against the wall. The fireplace in his hotel room caught his hair, giving him a burning halo. His brown eyes and his teeth reflected the flames. He had looked like an Old Testament angel, ready to smite those who displeased him. And Curt was desperate to please. He asked Owen if it was alright to kiss him - some of his so- called drinking buddies disliked kissing - and Owen had nodded, mouth falling open in quiet surprise. Curt had kissed him, softly at first, before the fire caught up to them and consumed them both.
Kissing Tatiana is not fire but water, drenching him dragging him down; there is no passion - no heart - but cold sterilized rage and enough self-loathing to fill an ocean. When Tatiana pulls back, her eyes are wide open, and Curt knows he’s given too much away.
He rushes to race in front of her assumptions. “I’m… You’re not my type,” he says, stumbling.
“I can tell,” she says. “So you’re into - ”
He waits for judgement, for her hatred. Please, he prays, don’t tell my mother. If she hates me - I don’t know what I would do.
The hatred never comes. She is shocked, but not angry. She is studying him again, reevaluating, and Curt wonders if she is thinking about Owen, about what he said. She doesn’t ask. Instead, she lets him speak. And when he asks her to remain friends, she agrees.
Perhaps this is what he needs to get the old Curt back - love. Not romantic or sexual love, but the selfless kind that assures him things will be alright, that builds him up, that gives him the courage to crack open his heart. Love to rely on, to trust.
Perhaps it will be enough.