Genre: Man from UNCLE
Word Count: 1852
Prompts: hazy shade of winter, city sidewalks, and a telephone rings
elmey, I hope that you enjoy my gift to you and that you have the joyous of holiday seasons. Merry Christmas to you! And my thanks to sparky955 for her beta help. Link will take you to AO3
Napoleon wiped the condensation off the window with his handkerchief and squinted into the night.
“What’s it doing out there?”
“I’m not sure it knows. There’s thick ground fog and snow. It’s making everything sort of hazy and out of focus.”
“The Indians used to call that kind of fog pogo nip. It kills people.” Illya Kuryakin was cleaning his gun at the desk of the small hotel room they were sharing. He looked down the barrel and blew, then looked again. “It’s so cold that it actually freezes the individual air sacs in your lungs. People would get pleurisy and then their lungs would hemorrhage.”
“And a Merry Christmas to you as well. You’re telling me this for what reason?” Napoleon cracked the window just a hair. The smell of gun oil was thick in the room and he felt as if he couldn’t breathe.
“Remember your muffler tonight. You’re still recovering from pneumonia. You should still be in Medical.”
Napoleon made a non-committal noise, coughed into his handkerchief, and returned to his bed. It was no great shakes, but it was more comfortable than the planks of wood that passed for chairs in this room. The truth of the matter was that he had no energy and would have been much happier stretched out on his sofa in front of the fire. He rubbed a sore muscle in his side. He hadn’t broken any ribs coughing, but it certainly felt like it. “This is the worst part of any assignment. I don’t mind the chase, I don’t even mind the fisticuffs, but the waiting… everything hurts when you are waiting. Once the adrenaline starts pumping, it’s okay.”
“Good things come to those who wait,” Illya said, smiling knowingly as he reached for the oil, making sure there was a thick layer of newspaper beneath the weapon.
“Obviously said by someone with more patience than me.”
“You have plenty of patience, Napoleon, your heart is just elsewhere.” He blew sharply down the barrel and eyed it crucially. Then he blew again. Napoleon secretly wanted to punch him.
“Dashing down busy city sidewalks with a shopping list that would make Santa cry.” Illya started to reassemble his weapon. “I never envy you this time of the year, trying to make sure you get the right gift for the right person. Yet somehow you always do. How do you manage it?”
“I have a personal shopper. Aunt Amy is having a blast. She lives to shop and the old girl can sniff out a bargain from a mile away.” Napoleon sprawled out on his stomach. “It’s not as much fun, though, as doing it yourself. I just don’t have the time anymore.”
“You call that fun?”
“Then would you permit me the thrill of the hunt?”
“I suspect when they put forth the theory on Hunters and Gatherers, it wasn’t referring to Christmas shopping.” Illya ran the soft cloth over his weapon to remove any fingerprints.
“You take good care of your weapon--” Napoleon broke off, coughing. He rolled over and propped himself up on a pillow.
“I figure it takes good care of me, so we are on equal footing.” He slipped it into the holster. “When did you clean yours last?”
“This afternoon when you were hobbling around outside getting some exercise.”
Illya stood and stretched before disappearing into the bathroom. When he reappeared, the smell of gun oil still clung to him, but his hands were pink from washing.
Shutting off the bathroom light, Illya walked carefully to his own narrow bed and eased down. He reached down and lifted his leg onto the bed, hissing. Gently massaging his knee, he took a deep breath.
“How the leg holding up?”
“It’s not perfect, but it will be fine tonight.” It was said with a resolve that both men recognized. Tonight, just like so many others, they would plow through any pain, any weakness and do what needed to be done. He, too, recognized the short term value of adrenaline.
“You could have done with a bit more bedrest yourself. We’re both a mess. No wonder Waverly sent us on a milk run.”
“Let’s be reasonable, one more day in Medical for either of us and we’d have been bouncing off the walls. The nurses were already fearing for their lives every time they got near you.”
“As opposed to these four walls.” Napoleon gestured expansively. The room wasn’t fancy, but it was warm and clean. Being in an inn, it felt homier than a hotel did.
“Well, I have to admit the knotty pine is a bit better than the white metal walls of Medical, but you aren’t half as cute as some of the nurses.”
“You should check out my bedside manner.” He waggled his eyebrows at Illya and his partner laughed. “And we have a radio here.” The radio was, in fact, softly playing at the moment, some traditional Christmas song.
“I guess we should try to sleep a bit. We might not get the chance later.” Illya plumped his pillow and rested his head on it.
“Why a drop has to go down on Christmas Eve is beyond me. I thought we called a mutual truce over the holiday.” He coughed and sighed, rubbing his chest again.
Illya nodded. “It must be important, though, to send us and not some junior agent.”
“All I know is what I read.” Napoleon twisted around to pick up the folder and again scanned the single sheet of paper. “And this says nothing. Twice nothing. Not only am I bored, but frustrated. I’m in line for the Big Chair. You’d think that would make me privy to some things.”
“It would be picturesque here if it wasn’t for the flying bullets and death awaiting us. The menu they are serving tomorrow sounds delicious. I haven’t had roasted goose in years.” Illya stared up at the ceiling. “I wonder where we’ll be tomorrow for Christmas.”
“Probably not dining on roasted goose. Who knows? Possibly strung up by our heels, buried in concrete, or guillotined. One thing you can say about the job, it’s never predicable.” Conversation dwindled for a moment. “Helluva life we have, partner.”
“What would you be doing if you were home right now?” Illya rolled over onto his side to face Napoleon.
“Seriously?” Napoleon mimicked the pose from his bed.
“Running around like crazy, probably juggling two or more dates, dashing to this or that party and talking to people I don’t necessary like or want to see again anytime soon. You?”
“Why? With your seniority, you don’t need to.”
“This isn’t a special night for me, not really, and I figure that if I can give it to someone to whom it does make a difference, that’s just a bit of karma coming my way.” Illya flopped back and smiled. “For us, it’s more about New Year’s when Ded Moroz—”
“Grandfather Frost, you mean?”
Illya nodded. “He’s our version of Santa. Our Christmas, as if were, is celebrated on January 7th and the holiday goes from the 31st of December to the 10th of January. Lots of food, drink, and fun. I’d pass on the sochivo, though, if it’s ever offered to you.”
“The tradition is that you throw a spoonful against the wall. If it sticks, it means good luck for the year.”
“Wise man.” Illya grew quiet after that, staring up at the ceiling and sighing now and again. He began rubbing his leg again.
“Do you want something for the pain?” Wordlessly, Illya shook his head. “Do you miss home a lot?” Napoleon asked, softly, in case Illya chose not to hear.
“In some ways, very much, but the home I knew and what is now is very different. I grow nostalgic for my childhood of great snowfalls, sleigh rides, playing with my siblings, waiting for Ded Moroz. We would take turns creeping out to see if he’d been there. Of course, our parents knew and would always offer cautionary words for the boy or girl who got caught out of bed. Everything seemed so simple and easy. And the food, there was always so much food.”
“Probably the one time a year that you weren’t starving.”
“True. And your childhood Christmas?”
“I remember life being pretty lean on the farm, but somehow Mom and Dad always made a good day for us. We never noticed as kids that they were having to make do with the same coats or boots year after year.”
“Children are seldom aware of their parents’ sacrifices.”
Napoleon rolled onto his stomach. “It used to make me crazy that my friends in town would have twice as many toys or better clothes. I longed for a time when I could be as good, if not better than them.”
“I learned I already was. The lessons my folks taught me shaped my core and made me the man I am today.”
“Always trying to borrow money off your poor partner?”
Napoleon laughed at that. “Do you really mind?”
“No, of course not. What I have is yours.”
“In that case--”
“No. I am not loaning you money for New Year’s Eve.”
“I was going to invite you along to Aunt Amy’s for her New Year Eve’s celebration, but if you aren’t interested...”
Illya laughed and then the phone rang. Immediately, both men sobered and Napoleon reached for the instrument.
“Solo here. Yes, sir.”
Illya rose and stretched, then reached for his jacket. Napoleon’s upraised hand stopped him.
“I don’t understand. Yes, I do understand, but I don’t… Yes, sir, I know. Thank you, sir.”
At Napoleon’s confused look, Illya sat back down on his bed, awaiting instructions. “Napoleon?”
Napoleon started as if waking from a dream. “That was Mr. Waverly. The drop happened at 5:02 this afternoon in Lagash.”
“Lagash? What… I don’t understand.” Illya dropped his gaze to the floor and frowned in thought. Then he grabbed their assignment folder. “It says Lausanne, Switzerland here. Then why are we in Lausanne?”
“Mr. Waverly said Happy Christmas and that he would see us in a week.”
“I am become more and not less confused, Napoleon. What is going on?”
“Apparently, this is a Christmas gift to us. He knew neither of us would take vacation at this time of the year, so he created this assignment for us.”
For a moment, Illya was quiet, then, “Crafty old fox.”
“Too crafty, by half.” Illya stood up at that point and limped to the door. Napoleon watched him, curious. “Where are you off to?”
“Mr. Solo, I believe I hear a drink calling my name. And with any luck, there’s still room to sign up for that roasted goose.” Illya opened the door to their room. “Would you join me in ringing in Christmas?”
“Mr. Kuryakin, I believe there is nothing I would like better.” Napoleon sat up and grabbed his sweater. “Not bleeding for the holidays is a tradition I could come to appreciate.”
“Merry Christmas, Napoleon.”
“Happy Christmas, partner.”