The Spirit Stone
"It's only a stone, little one. That's all, just a stone." The old lady meant well, but the little boy was inconsolable. In his mittened hand lay the remnants of his stone, broken into four uneven pieces, it was whole no more. Tears ran silently down his dirt streaked face as he knelt to pick up the pieces.
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"Reach into this bag my blond one and pull from it the talisman meant for you. It is said that object and person of like spirits will seek each other out. Reach in my grandson, see what object seeks you." The gypsy woman smiled gesturing with the worn leather bag to the six year old boy.
The boy shut his eyes and reached into the bag, his fingers running over numerous objects exploring the size and textures of each. Finally, his hand closed over a tiny stone, quite plain feeling compared to the exotic objects which he knew were feathers, shells, and polished stones. He pulled his hand from the leather bag and brought the stone level to his piercing blue eyes and studied it closely.
It was a simple little rock, dull black in color with an unusual white spot on top. It looked as if someone had dropped a dollop of thick cream from the milk pail onto it. The small blond smiled appreciatively and showed it to his Gypsy grandmother. She admired it briefly then closed his fingers around it.
"Keep this stone with you my little grandson. It is a sign of opposites attracting each other, it's called a spirit stone. The dark part of the stone may be larger, but it is the white part that gives it character. Together the two parts will give each other and great strength and good fortune."
The rest of that summer drifted by with many happy moments, playing with cousins in the Gypsy camp. But as the cool weather signaled the end of summer the young boy returned to his parents in Kiev not realizing that his summer with his Gypsy cousins was his last.
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Illya Kuryakin walked the streets of Kiev to find an open bakery. His mitten touched the talisman his grandmother had given him. He kept it constantly in his pocket where he could easily reach it. The surface of the stone was shiny from the constant rubbing of his fingers upon it for the past two years. He knew the stone had power. With war encroaching upon their country his family had remained safe while others had suffered greatly. Food had been scarce for many, but his family's garden had been bountiful and while they didn't have as much as they had several years before, the Kuryakin family was in a much better situation than so many of their neighbors.
Illya walked into the bread store, glad for the warmth the ovens gave. It was late November and a colder than usual chill hung in the air. He placed his order for a loaf of bread. While waiting he pulled the spirit stone from his pocket and studied it once again, in awe of its plainness yet also its uniqueness.
A rush of cold air blasted through the bakery as the door blew opened and a large old woman pushed through,tripping over the threshold. Loudly, she ordered the baker to wait on her as she pushed the small blond boy out of her way. The stone fell from his hand and onto the tiled floor. He saw it drop in slow motion and cried out as it fractured and four smaller pieces bounced up. He fell to his knees to pick up the pieces. When he got home he wrapped the four pieces in a small handkerchief and hid it behind a loose stone in the root cellar.
As the stone had fractured, so had Illya's life. Within a week, news of his father's disappearance reached them. The military representative merely said that Nicholai Kuryakin was missing in action and presumed dead. Next, the Nazis marched through. They grabbed his mother and forced her to work in their camp as a laundry woman. One day she did not move fast enough and one of the officers called her a Gypsy bitch, spit on her, and shot her leaving her body in a snowdrift near her home.
Food became increasingly difficult
S to find. The young boy became adept at scrounging and was able to bring home a little each day for his ailing grandmother and his little brothers. Often he would give his portions to his brothers denying that he was hungry. Slowly, the skinny youngster grew skinnier and his clothes hung on his thin frame.
Months later he lost his brothers to illness. The Germans burned down their house while he and his grandmother slept. He was able to escape, but his grandmother perished in the fire. When the danger had passed Illya went to the root cellar and retrieved the cloth containing the pieces of the stone. He fingered the pieces to see if they would fit back together easily and as he did so a seed of determination was planted in his soul.
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Years later while working in his school's chemistry lab, Illya Kuryakin developed a type of glue that would bind most surfaces together with incredible strength. When the lab was empty and he was sure he wouldn't be interrupted he unwrapped the yellowed handkerchief to reveal the stone fragments. As he stared at the pieces he reflected on the past years. He had been miserable, a person without direction, often picked on by larger boys who would make a point of jostling him in crowded areas just to see him drop his books or to stumble to the ground. He would never fight back and found it hard to hold back the tears of frustration.
With a deep sigh he turned his attention back to the task of gluing the fragments together. In order to improve the chances of the pieces bonding strongly together Illya would only glue one piece a day. Over the next three days something changed. He found that as each piece of stone was joined to the others, he himself grew stronger both physically and in resolve. And, just as the stone, while still showing the cracks, was stronger than it was originally, so to was Illya. Yes, the remnants of his fractured life were still there, but he was stronger and began to develop a stony personality. Emotions were buried deep into his soul and he never allowed weakness to show. Once again he carried the stone in his pocket and felt its strength join his.
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Iceman, Ice Prince, stony personality, unbreakable, stone hearted. Illya Kuryakin was very much aware of the names used to describe him within the halls of UNCLE in New York City. He also knew that he didn't yet have a partner because of the way people saw him.
Then Napoleon Solo stepped into the picture. He found the senior agent obnoxious, conceited, vain, and a showoff with the ladies. Yet, Illya couldn't deny that Solo was also skilled, a good strategist, and an excellent agent. Eventually, they began to tolerate each other and work well together on missions. When exactly tolerance turned into true friendship Illya couldn't say.
One evening they shared a drink together in Illya's apartment. Before sitting down on the couch, Illya emptied his pockets onto the coffee table. Napoleon spied the small plain looking stone.
"Illya, I've been meaning to ask for some time now. What's with the stone? I've seen you carry it in your pockets for two years." Napoleon reached for it to study it. He noticed the two different colors and the fracture lines. "It's been broken! Why do you keep it, Tovarisch?"
Illya smiled slightly. The corners of his mouth barely lifting up. "It's not a story I'm quite ready to share, my friend. Maybe someday." He held out his hand and Napoleon handed it back to him. He was curious, but he didn't press his friend for further information.
After Napoleon left, Illya held the stone again giving it a quick look before placing it on his dresser next to his wallet. He hadn't paid much attention to it in a long time other than to make sure it was in his pocket every day. As the light from the table reflected off the stone's surface, Illya's eyes narrowed as he inspected it more closely. He gasped. The fractured lines that had been so prominent for all those years were fading. He didn't understand it, but it was late. So with a shrug of his shoulders he put it down an climbed into bed.
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As the years went by the friendship of the two men strengthened greatly. In spite of their many differences and their colleagues' predictions of failure as partners, their relationship and friendship grew stronger than most brothers have for each other. Illya and Napoleon were there for each other in times of need, whether to save one another from the clutches of THRUSH or to provide solace and support when either one of them was hurt or suffering.
Throughout those same years, Illya Kuryakin, noticed a change in his treasured stone. The cracks continue to fade more. Each year Illya noticed that the fractures of his past life hurt less and also seemed to fade away. He couldn't explain it, but found it comforting.
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They both knew that their time on earth was limited. It was simply the nature of the job. Neither talked about the inevitable, not wanting to dwell on what each meant to the other or how lost each would be without the other.
The dreaded day came. Illya waited anxiously outside the recovery room. Napoleon had been on an assignment with another agent since Illya had been out of town. The mission turned sour on them. The other agent was killed in an explosion and Napoleon had been badly injured with multiple wounds to the head and chest. A huge gaping wound exposed Napoleon's left lung, which had collapsed. Illya was in medical when they brought his partner in. The doctor's eyes met his and the message was clear. Napoleon was probably not going to make it. Six hours later the doctor came out of surgery.
"Illya, it's not good. He's lost too much blood. Twice we had to resuscitate him. I'm afraid he might never wake up."
The Russian nodded, a lump in his throat, there wasn't much to say. He had seen Napoleon when he came in. How anyone could live through those injuries was a mystery. He swallowed and found his voice.
"May I go see him, doctor?"
"Sure, Illya. Give the nurses time to get him set up in ICU, then you can go sit with him. I'll have them bring in a more comfortable chair." He knew Illya would not be going home for the next few days, if….Solo lived even that long.
For two days, Illya kept vigil by his friend's bedside. There had been no change. Illya read to him, sang to him, told raunchy jokes. Anything to reach Napoleon's subconscious and let him know that his partner was close by.
At the end of the second day Illya whispered, "Napoleon, I don't want you to go. I know it's selfish, but I don't think I can function without you, my friend. I can't say 'good-bye'. Not yet." The doctor came in and checked the machines and iv's once again. He picked up the clipboard to read the latest results of the blood tests. He dropped his gaze to Napoleon's slack face before turning to Illya.
"He's fading, Illya. It won't be long now. His kidney function is almost nonexistent, his blood is showing a build up of toxins and the respirator has completely taken over breathing for him. Per his written instructions we will not try to resuscitate him." He looked at the Russian's stricken face and grasped his shoulder lightly. "I'm sorry, son, I wish we could have done more."
Illya could only nod. He couldn't take his eyes off of Napoleon. His voice barely above a whisper he spoke to the doctor. "I would like to spend his last minutes with him. I don't want him to be alone." He suppressed a sob, "We've always watched each other's back."
"Of course. I'll put a 'do not disturb' sign on the door. Take as much time as you want." He gave Illya a slight pat on the arm and left the room.
Illya sat in the chair once again. He took Napoleon's cold limp hand into his. In the other hand Illya held the small stone, idly rubbing it between his thumb and fingers thinking back to the day his grandmother handed him the old leather bag.
"Reach into this bag my blond one and pull from it the talisman meant for you. It is said that object and person of like spirits will seek each other out. Reach in my grandson, see what object seeks you."
"Keep this stone with you my little grandson. It is a sign of opposites attracting each other, it's called a spirit stone. The dark part of the stone may be larger, but it is the white part that gives it character. Together the two parts will give each other great strength and good fortune."
His grandmother's message suddenly became clear. How could he have been so blind to it?
He looked down at the stone and then at Napoleon. "I've never told you the story of the stone, my friend. It's called a spirit stone." Placing the stone between his hand and Napoleon's he began to tell his friend, his opposite, the story of one fine summer at a Gypsy Camp and the gift of a special talisman.
As he finished the story, he brought Napoleon's hand up to his mouth and gave it a kiss, then pressed his dear friend's fingers around the stone, just as his grandmother had done with him and laid the hand back down. It was then he felt a slight squeeze. Illya brought his head up sharply and looked at Napoleon. Brown eyes looking through slitted lids peered back.
"Napoleon? Napoleon!" He jumped up and raced to the door. "Doctor, doctor, come quickly!" Medical personnel came running in, all but pushing Illya aside. Words such as 'mystery' and 'miracle' were whispered in awe. The nurse turned to Illya, "I'm sorry, Mr. Kuryakin, but we need you to leave." Her voice was serious, but her eyes were smiling. It seems Napoleon had some ideas of his own concerning his demise.
An hour later, after pushing, poking, and prodding Napoleon, the doctor came out. He walked over to Illya. "Well, son, I don't know how he did it, but I think Mr. Solo will make it. The next twenty-four hours will be critical, but if we can get him through that then he should be okay.
Illya smiled broadly and promptly collapsed from absolute fatigue. The medical team found an empty bed for him and let him sleep, the first time in days.
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Napoleon was released from medical two weeks later and put on limited duty. Illya was sitting at his desk going through the ever growing pile of unfinished reports when the door open and Napoleon walked through.
The Russian jumped up. "Napoleon! Welcome back, my friend." He came around the desk and shook his partner's hand warmly. "I'm glad to see you're up and about. How are you feeling?"
Napoleon, his face still pale, smiled broadly. "Much better!."
"Good, then you can get busy writing and filing reports," teased Illya.
The good natured banter continued for a few moments before an uneasy silence settled between them. Both knew how close Napoleon came to death.
"Ah, Illya, I have something of yours, I believe." Napoleon handed him a gift wrapped box. Illya looked at him questioningly. He took the box and unwrapped it. Inside was a small silver box. He opened it carefully and found nestled on a bed of lambs wool the small black and white stone.
Illya opened his mouth to speak, but couldn't find the words.
"Illya, is that stone the very same one you had all those years ago? I thought it had been fractured and glued? This one is whole…all one piece!"
Illya took another look at the stone. Indeed the stone was completely intact. No glued veins, no chips. It was whole once again, and…the surface of the stone was slightly less harsh.
Illya felt a warmth spread throughout him and a weight slough of his shoulders. As he looked at his friend he knew that he, too, had a complete soul, no longer fractured by his past, and that he, too, had softened his exterior. No longer was he called Ice Prince or any of the other names that clung to him for years.
"Yes, my friend, it is indeed the same stone. Your friendship, your touch has helped to repair it." And me he silently added.
Illya gave Napoleon a strong embrace, "Welcome back, Napoleon."
He placed the stone back in the silver box. That is when he noticed the engraved inscription inside the lid.
A sign of opposites attracting each other.
Together the two parts will give each great strength and good fortune.
Thank you for sharing the strength, Tovarisch.