"He must stay here. We cannot take him with us. It is too dangerous." Nico's voice woke Ilya. In the weeks since they had broken off from the main group, the two men had argued continually over Ilya's future.
"No, Nico. It is not safe for him to stay here. There are too many patrols around here for us to leave him behind." Marco was adamant. "We need to take him into the city. There is a group near the university. It is the best place for him. It will take us only three days to get him there."
"No. He can stay at the camp. It is safe enough." Nico whispered angrily.
"We can't keep him safe here, Nico." The old man grimaced as he glared at his friend. "He is too young to be left alone at the camp. Everyone must go on the next raid."
"Now you say he is too young. You are the one who decided that he was old enough to join the resistance!" Ilya felt his father's gaze as the older Kuryakin glanced over to where the boy was pretending to sleep. "I wanted him to go with the girls to Switzerland. You convinced me to let him stay with us."
"I was wrong to think we could keep him with us." Marco sounded tired, tired of the arguments, tired of the long hours running and fighting the entrenched German soldiers, tired of the cold nights with little sleep and less safety, and most of all, tired of death. Ilya knew that the rigors of their little war against the invaders had taken a deep toll on the old man, he just hadn't realized how badly it had marked him. "But your Ilya, he is a natural warrior and it is his destiny to fight evil. We must make sure he is trained for those battles."
"What are you planning? Stealing my son?" Nico's voice was rough, filled with fear. Ilya opened his eyes, wanting to see what was happening as they argued over him. This was the first time he had heard fear in his father's voice during one of their arguments. "I have already lost all my children to this war. Must you take this one too?"
The two men sat on either side of a smokeless fire, each nursing a tin cup of weak tea. They glared at each other, silent daggers speeding across the campfire. Around them slept other men, all dress in the simple but warm woolen clothes that had been smuggled to them by the British SOE operatives helping the resistance. The three under cover officers had been dismayed when Ilya was brought forward by Marco but one of them had quickly cut down a set of the warm woolens for him. Another had dug out a small folding knife, the perfect size for his hands, muttering that no one should fight without some means of defense. For two tense weeks the operatives gathered information from hidden resistance groups by night and during the long days hidden in the underground base, they taught Ilya to fight using anything he could take to hand. Older boys in their group also trained with them, but Ilya was the one they kept with them, learning English from them while translating information from Russian and Czech resistance runners into German and Polish for them.
"You two need to make a decision and stop arguing." A new voice entered the fray as a man approached the fire. His white coat marked him as a sentry, his voice marked him as the leader of this group. He poured himself a cup of the tea and looked down at the two men. "The boy is too valuable to the intelligence section to be sent with us, but he belongs to you. If he is to leave, he must go at dawn."
"Ilya has nowhere to go. Who would take him in?" Nico began, hesitating.
"A boy who can already out-shoot most of our men? One who can fluently speak enough languages that our friends asked for his assistance?" The man shook his head, grinning at the two men. "My brother is in the city. He can take the boy, make a place for him. He would be safe there and a valued asset to us all."
"Where?" Nico's voice was resigned, his decision already made.
"Nicholas is part of the university. He is studying to be a doctor." He finished his tea and turned towards his bedroll.
"Now will you listen, Nico?" Marco asked to stunned man. "Let him go to the university."
"He will leave in the morning."
Ilya waited for Marco to leave for his bedroll before joining his father at the fire. Silently Nico pulled him close, wrapping his arms tightly around the thin boy.
"I want to stay with you, Papa." Ilya whispered.
"They are right, Ilyusha. It will be far safer for you to stay in the city than for you to come with us." Nico Adreyevitch Kuryakin whispered into his son's ear. Then solemnly, he unbuttoned his shirt, pulling out a thin chain with an icon on it. He quickly removed it from his neck and placed it around his son's. "This has been in our family for over one hundred years. It is passes from one Kuryakin to his son. Now it is yours, Ilya."
"But --" Ilya went silent as his father shook his head.
"Remember who we are, Ilya. There has always been a Kuryakin in the fight for the motherland, in the battle to protect Kiev. Our family has always fought the enemy by whatever means is necessary." Nico kept his whisper soft, barely loud enough for the boy in his arms to hear. "Remember, my son. It is your duty to hold on to the honor of our house."
"And the babies?" Ilya asked.
"If you or I do not return for them after the war, Marco's people will take them to America and keep them. They will take your Babushka's name so that the Soviets cannot find them." Nico stared down at his son. "If I do not survive the war... you join them. The Rom will hide you from our enemies. Even Stalin cannot live forever."
Ilya nodded. His father knew as he did that they were unlikely to see each other again. He could read it in the pale eyes staring down at him. Silently, Ilya returned that stare, memorizing the tired face with its lines of pain and exhaustion. A cold voice deep within his heart whispered good-bye to his father, but neither one spoke the dreaded word.
Ilya looked around the dim room in wonder. Marco and Nico Kuryakin were gone -- he'd been alone now for hours. He glanced at the book in his hands, trying to piece together the complicated picture in the faint light. This narrow room, built into the space between two buildings had no windows and the lamp was a feeble deterrent to the darkness. He let his fingers trace the lines on the page as he sounded out the words.
"What do we have here?" The sudden loud voice was only half as frightening as the hands on him or the sudden flash of light as the overhead lamp was switched on. Reflexes trained by hard times and harder instructors took over. Ilya clamped his teeth into the hand that gripped his shoulder and drew his knife, flicking it open.
"Little thing has fangs!" The voice laughed just before a blow threw him into a burly body.
"Is it a toy?" The new voice was sly and its owner quickly pinned Ilya's arms to his sides. Another man pried the knife from his hand. "Or is it a spy?"
"Look at what he has been reading, Franz." The first voice spoke again, holding up the book of diagrams Ilya had been trying to understand. "I think he is a spy."
"Let him go, Franz." A new voice spoke up, silencing the three men who surrounded Ilya.
"Why? Is he yours?" Franz jeered but Ilya noticed that the hands on his arms loosened and the other two men backed away. His knife was dropped onto the table, as was his book. "Didn't think you liked little kids, Berholdt."
The newcomer held up a piece of paper and Ilya recognized the note that the elder Kuryakin had left for the resistance group. The bold handwriting of Nico Kuryakin stood out against the pale paper. "This says that Thinker's brother sent him a gift..." the voice paused, "or maybe a guest. I can't quite make out this note."
"No, a ghost, look how pale the boy is." Franz shook Ilya, his fingers tightening again. "What is your name boy?"
Ilya looked from one grim faced man to another. Only the one sitting by the table seemed friendly and he was too far away to interfere with the men growling questions at him. The men glared at him, not amused by his presence or his unintentional violation of their security. He tried to wriggle free but his captor only lifted him higher, his grip becoming painful.
"Answer him, spy." The voice rumbled in his ear. "Or maybe you can tell us why you were reading a manual on bombs?"
"Herr Kaufmann, what are you doing with my son?" The words were cold and furious and very softly spoken. "Set him free. Now."
Ilya was dropped to the floor and the men backed away, their hands up to show that they were unarmed and planned on staying that way. A moment later, the three men were gone through a hidden door. The fourth man grinned at the effect of the newcomer's voice and motioned for Ilya to come closer. The newcomer shrugged out of his coat before approaching the table.
"Hello, Thinker." Berholdt held up the book and the note, silently offering them to the young man who had silenced the others. "Come on, boy. Sit. We won't bite you."
The one called Thinker snorted at the comment and let his eyes skim the note. He grinned and suddenly Ilya realized how young the other man was. Bright blue eyes measured him before Thinker spoke again. "Come Ilya Nikovetch, sit down at the table and show me your book. I am Nicholas."
Slowly Ilya stood up from where he had fallen and approached the table.
"Do you speak German or only understand it, Ilya Nikovetch?" Berholdt asked gently.
Ilya looked him over, measuring him against his father's definition of resistance members. Berholdt wore the plain clothes of a factory worker -- heavy pants, a plain woolen shirt, and plain, sturdy boots. In his shirt pocket Ilya could see the corner of a ration booklet -- a sign that this group was very well connected. But they had not given him the words that meant he was safe. Ignoring welcoming smile, Ilya grabbed his knife and dove for the door. He almost made it.
Strong hands caught him as a thin body wrapped itself around him, protecting him from a fall down the steep stairs. A flash of movement from beyond the table caught his eye as they landed hard against a wall. His knife flew into the air, pinning an outstretched arm to the wall, barely grazing flesh in its journey through shirt and coat. Beside his own hand another hand appeared, pointing a Luger at the other man.
"Easy, Ilya. Vasha sestri, Anastasha ii Ikaterina, yest'zvy krasiva devochkya." The words were whispered softly in his ear by the Thinker as he held Ilya still and kept his pistol leveled at the other men in the room. Ilya relaxed as he recognized the phrase. He was safe. At the move, the arms around him loosened and the man spoke to the others. "Stand down. He's understandably nervous."
"May I get up, sir?" Ilya asked in German.
"Well, he speaks good German." Berholdt grinned, seemingly unfazed by the knife in his shirt as he pulled it free. "They gave him a pass phrase?"
"Yes, they did." Nicholas stood, bringing Ilya to his feet as well. He grinned at his friend. "I took too long giving it. Ilya Nikovetch, I would like you to meet Berholdt Reiss. He is our contact here. Berholdt, this boy is my new found son."
"I still can't believe you're planning on doing this, Nicholas. The Nazis will kill you both."
"They want me to stay at the university and learn to be a good doctor. My son can slip any information I get to you." Nicholas opened the bomb manual and glanced at it. Curiously, he asked, "Do you understand this book?"
"Some of it, sir." Ilya answered and quickly flipped to the page that he had been studying. "I don't understand this one."
"If you call me 'sir' we will be caught by the Germans." Nicholas commented quietly as he studied the diagram, noting the English words on the page. "What part do you not understand, boy?"
"These symbols." He pointed to a chemical equation. Ilya understood the diagram itself as well as the caption below it. Only the formula was beyond his understanding.
"Mmmm, we need to teach you some chemistry. I have friends who can help." The young man grinned. "You'll like them. I hope we can keep up with your studies."
"You can't call him Ilya, Nicholas." Berholdt spoke up. "No German boy would have a Russian name."
"What name do you want, Ilya?" The two men looked at him, expectantly.
"I want to be Victor." Ilya stated calmly. He would give his oldest brother's name a chance to earn honor. It was only fitting he decided to himself. Later he would find a way to do the same for Piotr. It was his turn to be the hero, he would share the honor with his dead brothers. Any dishonor, that he would hold onto for himself. The Kuryakin name would be remembered.
"Good. Give me your papers, Victor. They need to be fixed before we leave for the university."
Berholdt stretched out his hand for the documents. "Welcome to the resistance,