Disclaimer: All characters from the TV show Man from U.N.C.L.E. belong to the show's owners, not to me. I make no money from writing, I do it for fun. I have nothing worth suing, so please don't.
"Ilya, moi brat, slushatye. Matrushska..." His older brother's voice broke as he pulled Ilya from his bed. "The Germans caught her. Take the others and run. I'll make sure no one sees you."
Ilya shook his hair out of his face. It was too long again, but there hadn't been time to cut it. They had been too busy trying to stay out of the hands of the soldiers. With swift, practiced moves he slipped on his shoes and slung his bag over his shoulder. Wordlessly he dragged his little sisters out of the bed they shared.
"Natashka, Katya, we must go now." Ilya whispered. They nodded, their blue eyes wide with fear. Quickly they pulled on their shoes and coats before following him into the dark winter night.
"God watch over you, Ilyuska Nikovech." He heard his brother whisper as they slipped past him.
Moments later, a yell rang out behind them and Ilya shoved the girls into the underbrush. He knew this part of the forest well enough that he knew he could keep them safe until they reached their father. When their little home went up in flames, Ilya made the girls hide their faces so they could not see. He covered their ears with his jacket, his eyes firmly fixed on the spectacle in the clearing.
Ilya forced his sisters to keep moving. It was cold but they had to keep going. His mother always told them to run to the river if the soldiers got close to them. The twins stumbled but kept on, not complaining... they knew better. Silence was their friend, both their parents and Piotr had drilled that into them. Now it was Ilya's turn to keep them safe, and he vowed that no one would hurt them.
"Ilya? My feet are wet." Katya's voice brought him out of reverie.
The trees around them parted, outlining the frozen river. Snow gleamed whitely at them, reflecting what little light was available and intensifying it. Everywhere he looked, footprints littered the snow. They crossed and recrossed each other, destroying any possibility of tracking the original set of footprints. The soldiers had already passed through here.
"Come, we go this way. Step where I step. Do not touch anything." Ilya stepped in front of his sisters, leading them along the edge of the river. He carefully counted his steps, Piotr had taught him the pathway. Fifteen steps and then turn, another ten steps, turn again.
"Children? What are you doing here?" The sentry's voice stopped them.
The man seemingly appeared out of nowhere, rifle held at ready. Ilya responded almost immediately, knocking both little girls into the snow, a knife appearing in his hand.
"Easy, boy." The man looked behind them, searching the trees for soldiers. After a long moment, he seemed satisfied. "You must be one of Nico's. Help the babies up and come."
Ilya stared at the man, taking in the ragged coat and clothes as well as noting the well cared for look of the rifle. His father told once that you could tell the resistance by their weapons. Worn but loved, Nico Kuryakin had explained. A German spy would wear clothes that were smeared with dirt but otherwise in good condition, their weapons were newer, less worn, less loved. A Russian spy would be in worn clothes with a poor rifle, but he would steal yours in a heartbeat. This man, tired looking, ragged clothes, loved rifle, he waited patiently, eyes scanning the forest until Ilya nodded. Then and only then did the man move, stepping to the side of the carefully measured path.
Ilya helped his sisters out of the snow, gently wiping the silent tears from their cheeks. Taking one girl's hand with each of his, he led them further into the forest. Behind them, he could hear the sentry speaking to his partner and then the man caught up with them.
"I will carry the little ones. They are tired." The man spoke in heavily accented Russian. Again he waited patiently for Ilya's nod before swinging the girls up into his arms. "We must move quickly. The German soldiers are close. Can you keep up, boy?"
"Da." Ilya stretched his legs, trying to keep pace with the sentry. He ran beside the fast moving man, refusing to say anything unless needed.
"He is out on his feet. Did you make him run the whole way?" A woman's voice asked. Ilya realized he was no longer moving and fell to the ground.
"He never spoke or complained. I did not know he was this bad." The sentry's voice answered. He felt a firm hand wrap something warm around him. "The girls slept in my arms the whole way. I could not carry all three."
"Nico will be back soon. Then we will know if they are his." The woman's voice again. This time it was closer and a hand rested against Ilya's forehead. "At least he is not sick."
"Pack, my daughter. You and the children will be leaving soon." A new voice spoke, and the words did not quite make sense. Ilya opened his eyes to see a dark eyed old man looking down at him. "This one is a fighter. He can stay with us. The others, they must be hidden away."
"Papa." The woman protested. Ilya turned his head to stare at her. He had never seen a woman wearing pants before. His mother and grandmother always wore skirts and their hair bound up under their kerchiefs. This woman's hair fell in wild disarray to past her shoulders, forming a dark covering for her back. She froze when he reached out and touched an unbound tress. Slowly her face turned to him and laughing brown eyes met his. "Awake, little man?"
Ilya nodded, watching her curiously.
"Are all the people in your family white haired?" She smiled as she asked it, her hand reaching to free her hair from his grasp. He nodded again and flushed. "What is your name?"
"His name is Ilya Nicovech Kuryakin." The old man answered for him. "He is Nico's younger son. The sleeping ones would be Ikaterina and Natasha, am I right, Ilyushka?"
Ilya knew his eyes were wide in surprise as he watched the old man correctly gesture to his sisters.
"Papa, he doesn't speak our language. You're scaring the boy."
"Nonsense. He is special, this one. He knows." The man smiled. "Hurry and pack. Nico and the others will be back soon. We will have to leave with the dawn."
"We will have to leave when Papa arrives." Ilya couldn't help whispering. "They caught Piotr. He knows how to get here."
The woman looked from her father to Ilya and back. Her eyes were wide as she slowly backed away. Finally she nodded and turned, not quite running in her haste to quit the room.
"So the little warrior speaks." The old man grinned and offered his hand. "Come, you must eat now. It will be a long time before we eat again."
Ilya accepted the offered hand. The moment his hand touched the man's he knew his life was about to change.
"So you speak Rom. Who taught you?" The dark eyes watched him as the man filled a bowl with stew.
"My babushka." Ilya answered before mumbling a prayer over his food. The man crowed in delight.
"Your grandmother was one of us then! Good little warrior! We will train you well." The open joy in the man's face was a shock to Ilya. Neither of his parents approved of the things his grandmother taught him, but they were too busy surviving and fighting the invaders to argue with what he learned.
"Marco!" The sound of Nicolai Kuryakin's voice echoed through the cave. Heavy footsteps raced towards the room. Instinctively, the old man grabbed up his rifle as Ilya's knife appeared in a white knuckled grip. "Did the children...?"
Ilya was shocked at the distraught look on his father's face. He rarely saw such naked emotion there. A mix of tears and worry and downright fear was etched across pale skin. His father's blue eyes were red rimmed, haunted. Before Ilya could drop the blade in his hand, his was buried in his father's arms.
"Ilya! Moi cin. Boshe moi! Ochen spacibo!" The broken words and phrases told him even more how much Nicolai had feared losing them.
"Papa? Gde Mama?" The dazed little voice from the cot broke into their reunion.
Pale eyes darted from Ilya to the two little girls. "Did they see?"
Ilya shook his head.
"Did you see?"
He nodded. His father winced and sighed. After a long moment, he turned to the girls and spread his arms. They both flew into his embrace, wriggling their way close to both their father and their brother.
"We must leave," Nico whispered to the three children. His eyes met Ilya's and closed. "I want you to go with my friends. They will take you to a safe place. You will stay there until the war is over and I can come back for you."
"The boy stays with us, Nico." The harsh voice made Ilya look up. A man stood beside Marco, his rifle held easily in one hand. "The old one has foreseen his stay with the underground."
"It was old Marco who told Piotr to teach him the back way to the cave." The voice continued. "I think he's probably right again. Besides, no one would ever believe such an innocent looking face could be dangerous."
"My Ilya is only a child. He isn't even eight yet."
"He will have time to be a child later, my friend. Right now we must all stay alive. And to do that we have to use every advantage we have."
"So be it." Nico's father sounded broken. "I have already lost one son to the soldiers. Now I risk the other."
"But if he is trained by Marco, it will be much less of a risk."
"We don't have time. The soldiers are close! Sergei just came in... they have found the first marker." The woman raced up to them, panting slightly. "The others have left. We have to leave now!"
"We'll discuss this later." The leader stepped forward and grabbed Natasha, thrusting her into the woman's arms. "Are the charges set?"
"Yes, Stefan finished with them hours ago." The woman grabbed a blanket from the cot and wrapped it around the girl, settling her on her hip. "Nico, let's go."
Nico Kuryakin stood, his arms cradling his other daughter. He turned to the old man and for a moment his eyes seemed to spit fire. "I place my son in your care, Marco. See that you take good care of him."
"Oh, I will, Nico. This boy has a long journey ahead of him and this
is only the beginning of it." Marco smiled, his words mysterious to Ilya.
"Come, Ilyushka. We have a long ride ahead of us."