Genre: Man from UNCLE Foothills series/slash implied
Word count: 1595
Prompts: It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known. Tale of Two Cities - alynwa
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Tale of Two Cities - Reapermum
I hope you two don't mind that I combined your prompts into the same story. It just seemed to work the best. My thanks to you for some fun prompts and to Sparky for her beta
Napoleon Solo drew a deep breath – a final task before sweet, sweet oblivion, a chance to escape and be free, an opportunity to fly away. He reached out and noticed his hand trembled just slightly. So tired, he was so tired, so ready to shuffle off…
“That garbage isn’t going to dump itself, you know.” Illya Kuryakin stood with his back to Napoleon. He was busy washing the few dishes that couldn’t go into the dishwasher. “Every night it’s the same thing. I keep telling you that you can wash up and I’ll toss the trash.”
Napoleon sighed and regarded the white plastic bag in his hand. “No, it’s the least I can do after that meal you prepared. Plus if I let you outside, there’s a good chance you’ll sneak over to Taste and then I won’t see you again until tomorrow morning.”
Illya half turned, grinning. “Come on, I’m better than that now. I hardly ever sneak off to the restaurant these days.”
“Only twice this week. Oh wait, it’s only Thursday… Go pull my other leg now.” Napoleon straightened his posture and then struck a pose. “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”
“Ye gods, Tale of Two Cities?” Illya laughed. “The next thing you say is that It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Napoleon shifted the bag to his other hand. “I know the worst, what is the best?”
“I have molten chocolate lava cake in the oven with a Crème brûlée ice cream in the freezer to go over it.”
“And some of those cookies I like?”
Now Napoleon’s feet had wings. He opened the back door and headed for the dumpster. Then he paused and sniffed the air. He smelled smoke, never a good sign in the Foothills in the summer. This year had been worse because to a poor rain fall and an early summer. It meant a drought and everything was fried to a crisp.
The man came to the door, smiling, “What’s wrong, Napoleon… I smell something.” He scanned the horizon. I don’t see…” He squinted and then pointed. “I think I see smoke.”
“Where?” Napoleon looked, but couldn’t really see anything.
“South, towards Angel’s Camp.
“That’s far away, isn’t it?” Napoleon wasn’t as familiar with the Foothills south of them.
“Not far enough up here.” Illya tossed his towel onto the kitchen table as he passed and went straight to the phone. He dialed a number and waited for a moment, “Evening, Hank.” He listened. “That’s what I thought, too. What do you want us to do?” There was another pause and Illya nodded. “Okay, you, too.”
Napoleon was still standing on the porch. Outside, the birds were singing each other to sleep, while waking up the crickets with their song. The day was settling down to ease into the night. Normally, it would be pastoral and Napoleon would be moved to recite a little Keats. But not tonight.
“What does he want us to do?”
“For now, nothing… well, pray that the wind doesn’t come up.” As if on cue, a breeze paused to pluck at a strand of his hair. “And if it does, that it’s blowing southward.”
“And if not?”
“Get ready to run.”
“It’s not that bad, is it?”
“Things can change fast here. We need to make sure we have the cat carriers and their food ready to go. We’ll take my truck. Make sure you have at least a week’s worth of clothes, your meds, and anything that can’t be replaced.”
“Deadly serious.” Illya ran a hand through his hair. “I need to talk with Matt. I don’t want to panic anyone, but if we have patrons from Angels Camp dining with us, they need to know. They are under evacuation orders.”
Napoleon watched Illya half trot across the parking lot that Taste shared with Vinea. He wasn’t sure if it was just his imagination, but the smoke seemed stronger now. He hurried inside and upstairs to pack.
Napoleon came awake at the clanging. Two soot-smudged firefighters had stumbled into Taste and Roxanne was guiding them to a table. She handed them towels and damp cloths once they had a chance to sit. Napoleon knew she was telling then that the hotel next door had opened all their vacant rooms to them as well. She would also ask them what they wanted to eat or drink. Surprisingly, most of them just wanted to wash up and then sleep.
Napoleon sat back in his chair, wincing at the pull in his back. He wanted to be on the front lines, fighting the inferno, but there was not only an age limit, but also the practically of him never having had experience. Instead, he’d spent much of his day watching the skies and creating defensible space around the house and their businesses. It had been a long time since he’d used a scythe, but he was proud of his efforts.
He watched out the window as couple stumbled by, following another couple. Angels Camp was being evacuated and people were heading wherever they could.
Illya slid into the chair opposite him. “Please don’t tell me I’m looking as tired as you obviously are.” He reached out and placed his hand over Napoleon’s.
“Pretty close to it. How are things at the grange hall?”
“The Red Cross has moved in and kicked us out. They were setting up cots. The lucky ones are finding hotel rooms or staying with friends.”
Napoleon pushed his coffee cup away. He already had a sour stomach. “I couldn’t even imagine what is going through their mind.”
Illya yawned, not bothering to hide it. He’d been cooking for the last five hours and he was beat. “You may have to one day. Jackson has been through many fires. It’s only a matter of time before another comes our way. All of the communities up here have been burned to the ground at least once. It’s the price we pay for living here.”
“Is that why you carry so much insurance?”
“I used to worry about rebuilding. Now I know that as long as the people I love are safe, the rest is just stuff.” Illya closed his eyes.
“Would you? Rebuild?” Napoleon’s question was wistful sounding.
Illya opened his eyes and sat up. “Look at these people who are helping out. Most of them have never even been to Angels Camp except to drive through it. There is a sense of community in the Foothills that you don’t find anywhere else. You wouldn’t see the residents of Manhattan putting their lives in danger for a fire in the Bronx. You wouldn’t see the Bronx fighting a fire in Brooklyn.”
“It would take a catastrophe for that.”
“I truly believe this is what Dickens was talking about when he said the best of times and the worst of times. It takes tragedy to bring people together and show the world the best they have to offer.” He waved a hand expansively around the room. “These men and women surely are facing death with a ‘far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done’ attitude. It’s why we live, why we have survived all these years--” Illya trailed off, frowning.
“What is it?”
Illya smiled faintly as he got up. “Rain. Finally. That will be a great help.” He opened the front door to Taste to reveal the downpour outside and the room erupted in cheers and applause.
It was still raining the next morning, making the cleanup messy, but thankfully the fire was out. It was the rhythm of the mountains, fire, destruction, and then a chance of rebirth.
Napoleon happily exchanged mud for smoke in his wine tasting room.
“What sort of occasion will it be?” he asked the pair of older women. He knew Hetty and Laverne from his time at Jackson’s small theatre. They ruled supreme in the tiny concession stand.
“At our age, we need an occasion to get blasted?” Hetty asked and Napoleon grinned.
“I don’t suppose you do.” He pulled a modestly-priced wine from the rack. “This is a good straight drinking wine.”
“You mean we don’t need glasses?” Laverne was the picture of innocence. “Better give us two. I’m not swapping spit with her.”
Napoleon laughed and pulled another bottle. “I’ll take these up to the register for you.”
Caleigh had just finished ringing up a customer. “Thank you for letting us serve you.”
Napoleon set the bottles down. “There are for our odd couple. How those two love to bicker.”
“You should have seen them back when they were younger. Apparently, according to my mom, they scandalized the town with their carrying-on.”
“Probably why they never seem to notice the rest of us.” The door opened and Napoleon turned to approach the customer, then he grinned at the sight of his partner. Illya brushed the water off his hair and stamped his feet.
“I just came to bring you the news. The fire is totally contained. We only lost four out buildings and no lives.”
“Thank God, “Hetty said, her hand on her ample, if slightly lowered chest. “Mr. Solo, I think that calls for a drink!”
Napoleon grinned. “I think you are right, Miss Hetty.” It was indeed, for now, the best of times. The worst could wait.