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[personal profile] drworm
Title: Eight Crazy Nights
Rating: PG
Summary: “I,” Illya announced, “am tired of Christmas.”


1.

“I,” Illya announced, “am tired of Christmas.”

Napoleon looked up from his desk. “Don’t worry. It’ll all be over in, oh, fourteen days.” He straightened a pile of paperwork and set it atop the pile he’d begun for finished work. Compared to his unfinished pile, it was depressingly short.

“That’s not soon enough.” Illya flopped back into his chair. “Which is why I wish to announce that this season I will be celebrating Hanukkah.”

The scratching of Napoleon’s pen paused. “I’m not sure how that solves the problem.”

“It doesn’t,” Illya said. “But then, the problem of Christmas is epidemic. I don’t expect to solve it in just eight nights.”

“No, I suppose not,” Napoleon agreed. He raised his hand, poised and ready to soldier forth across the expense account in front of him. He lowered it after a moment’s thought. “I didn’t know you were Jewish.”

“I’m not,” Illya said. “My neighbor, Miss Glickman, is. I told her I would celebrate with her this year.”

Napoleon frowned. “Oh.”

“Together, we will combat the tyranny of Christmas and the depths of Western commercialization… with more commercialization!” Illya smiled at his joke as he tilted his chair back. “Still doing your paperwork?”

“Yes,” Napoleon grumped.

“Mm.” Illya closed his eyes and laced his fingers together over his midsection. To Napoleon’s eyes, his smile seemed particularly smug.

“Don’t you have something else to do?” Napoleon snapped. “Some candles to light, maybe?”

Illya stood and moved toward the door. “I’m certain that I can find something with which to occupy myself,” he said. He grabbed his coat from where he had hung it on the back of the door and put it on, while Napoleon did his best to ignore him. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” Illya said as he brought a small box out of his pocket and tossed it up in the air over Napoleon.

Napoleon dropped his pen in order to catch it. “What’s this?”

“It’s the first night of Hanukkah,” Illya said. “So, Happy Hanukkah.”

Napoleon opened the box. “Cufflinks?” He poked at them with one finger. “Do they do anything else?”

“You’ll find out,” Illya said as he walked out the door.


2.

When Illya opened his door that morning to grab his copy of the Times before anyone else did, he was stopped short by a stout, dark green bottle sitting on his doorstep. He pulled his bathrobe tight around him and leaned forward to peer up and down the hallway. Everything was quiet, so he crouched down and examined the bottle without touching it.

He saw no label, no note, no identifying markings of any kind. The bottle was actually quite ornate, however, with a swirling art deco design ridged in the glass and a green silk bow tied jauntily around the neck. He placed his index finger on the stopper and tilted the bottle to one side; it was nearly full. Carefully, he tipped the bottle back into its upright position and considered the situation.

Finally, Illya decided that Thrush was unlikely to leave something to blow him up in such a pretty bottle, so he picked up the newspaper and his unexpected gift and took them both inside. He tossed the Times in the direction of his couch and took the bottle with him to the telephone, where he looked up Napoleon’s home phone number in his address book and then dialed.

When Napoleon answered, Illya bypassed his hello and got directly to the point. “Did you, by any chance, leave a bottle of something on my doorstep last night?”

“Yes.”

Illya paused to study his present, holding it up to the light so he could see the movement of liquid inside. “Well, what is it?”

“French absinthe,” Napoleon admitted after several guilty moments.

“And where did you get that?’

“From a very poetic young lady.”

“I see.” Illya tapped the side with one finger. “Why is it now mine?”

The sound of Napoleon’s laughter came through the phones lines, warm and staticky. “Don’t tell me you’ve already given up on this Hanukkah thing?”

“Oh.” Illya unscrewed the cap and sniffed over the rim of the bottle. He took a sip and coughed. “It’s strong.”

“Something like a hundred and twenty proof.”

“Tastes like licorice.”

“I thought you would like it.”

“Well,” Illya swirled the absinthe counterclockwise in the bottle, “that remains to be seen.” There was a pause between them. “But thank you,” he added. “Although I would appreciate it if maybe next time you left a note. I almost called for a bomb extraction team.”

“Duly noted,” Napoleon said. “I’ll make sure that any future gifts cannot be mistaken for explosives.”

“I’ll see you at work,” Illya said, and hung up the phone before Napoleon could reply.

An hour later, just before he walked out the door, he made certain to slip a velvet bag of medium size, which bulged out in one or two odd places, into the pocket of his overcoat.

*

It wasn’t until that evening when they were on a plane bound for New Zealand that Illya pulled out the bag by its strings and set it on Napoleon’s in-flight table.

"What's this?" Napoleon asked.

"The second day of Hanukkah," Illya said.

"Oh, yes." Napoleon held up his wrist. "Did you notice? I wore the cufflinks today."

Illya hadn't noticed, but he elected to keep that to himself. "Very nice," he said. "Now, if you would open the bag? I'm bored."

"You're bored?" Napoleon grinned as he undid the ties. "You mean you already got through the notes that research gave you?"

"I'm halfway there," Illya said. "I'm taking a break."

"Uh-huh." Napoleon stopped just as he was about to pour out the contents of the bag into his hand. "I guess this means I need to find you something else to even the score, doesn't it?"

"There are eight days of Hanukkah, just so you know." Illya raised his eyebrows. "I wouldn't want to keep catching you off guard."

"Perish the thought," Napoleon said as he upended the bag. "Are these... chocolate coins?"

"Gelt," Illya corrected. "And a dreidel." He pointed out the small top that was spinning slowly on the tabletop.

"Mmm." Napoleon spun the dreidel and watched as it landed on Gimel. "And what do I do with it?"

Illya reached over and spun the dreidel again. This time it landed on Shin. "It's a game. Would you like to play?" Napoleon gave him a skeptic look. "I'll teach you," Illya said as he began to divide the coins into two piles.

"Do I get to eat any of those?" Napoleon asked.

Illya smiled. "You eat what you win," he said. "Ready to play?"


3.

Illya awoke to find something soft draped over his neck like a fuzzy snake. He jerked his arm up and ripped at the thing that was atop him, managing to throw it across the hotel room.

"Good morning to you too," Napoleon said. He stared down at the sad white curl on the floor. "Well, I thought it was nice."

"What is it?" Illya asked, rubbing his eyes.

Napoleon stooped to pick it up, folding it around one hand. "A scarf." He shrugged. "Nothing too fancy, I just found it in the shop downstairs and thought you might like it." He set it on the edge of Illya's bed and patted it down. "It's cashmere. Useless here, of course, but you might find it helpful back in New York."

"Huh." Illya thumped back onto the bed. "And what time is it?"

"Nine a.m. and your body thinks that it's three o'clock yesterday afternoon." Illya groaned. Napoleon put his foot on the edge of the mattress and bounced his knee up and down. The bed jackknifed and Illya kicked out his own legs, trying to push Napoleon away. "You'll feel better if you get up and get moving. And consider that scarf a cozy introduction to the benefits of sheep ranching."

Illya glared as Napoleon held the scarf aloft over his head, allowing the fringe to tickle his nose, and then gently let it down so that it covered all of Illya's face.

*

Their day of investigating Thrush's latest shepherding plot proved eventful and by that evening Illya was on a plane to London, where they'd discovered at least one of the conspirators to be hiding with several shipments of the deadly wool the man had smuggled from the New Zealand outpost.

He and Napoleon had split up before noon, and Illya didn't see him at all before he left, but still he laid a pair of thick pair of socks on Napoleon's bed at the hotel room. They were as white and wooly as the scarf Napoleon had given to him. He left a note beside them, written on hotel stationary, which said: "This wool is safe to wear, although it's useless here. You might find them helpful when you get back to New York, however."

It wasn't until he got on the plane that he found, tucked into his briefcase, a bottle of cheap cologne that was affixed with a tag that read, in Napoleon's cramped handwriting: "After spending all day with the sheep, you probably stink."


4.

Napoleon returned to New York before he did, and was leaning his hip against the desk of one of the secretaries when Illya limped through the doors of the U.N.C.L.E., New York headquarters. "Those sheep really did a number on you," he remarked as Illya went by. Illya growled in return.

Undaunted, Napoleon followed him into the office they shared. "Nothing broken?"

"Nothing that won't heal," Illya grumbled as he began an inventory of the paperwork that had come across his desk during his absence. His hand fell on a skinny box tied with a bow. He stared at it, confused by its existence.

Napoleon cleared his throat. "That's for day four. I think we're still on day four."

Illya checked his watch. "Just barely." He sat down heavily on the office chair, which creaked in protest. Using his letter opener, he sawed through the ribbon and lifted the lid off of the box to reveal a fat, shining fountain pen. He didn’t take his eyes off of it, as if he expected it to perform some sort of trick for him.

"It doesn't do anything," Napoleon clarified. "Aside from acting as a pen, of course."

Illya used his thumb to rotate the pen in its little niche and found that his initials had been engraved on the side. "Very nice," he said. "Thank you." He set the box down and placed the top back on, then hefted his briefcase onto the desk and opened it. From among the manila folders and papers and samples of wool sealed in Lucite he produced a compact book with a leather cover. He tossed it to Napoleon, who clapped it out of the air with both hands. "It's a datebook," Illya said as Napoleon thumbed through the pages. "I figured you might get some use out of it."

"Mmm." Napoleon held out his hand. "Could I borrow your pen for a second?"

Illya rolled his eyes but obliged, opening the box again and handing over his new pen to Napoleon, who used it to scribble something in one of the first pages of his new date book. "There," Napoleon said as he capped the pen and handed it back to Illya. "I've got you down for tomorrow night, seven p.m., dinner. You can pick the restaurant." He tossed off a casual salute with the book, before tucking it into his suit jacket. Before Illya could protest, he was out the door and calling to a girl down the hall who apparently worked in translation and from whom Napoleon needed one or two small favors.


5.

Dinner turned out to be a welcome respite from a day of tediously wrapping up the loose ends from the “Black Sheep” affair, as Napoleon had titled it after ignoring Illya’s admonition that the sheep had been more of a grayish-brown, rather than black.

Illya picked an Italian restaurant, which he had previously admired from the outside, but never sampled on the inside. It was cozy. Outside, a light snow fell. They mostly talked about work, the way they usually did. Before dessert came, Illya pulled a small hardcover book out of his jacket and slid it across the table. Napoleon picked it up and read the title aloud: “Happiness is a Warm Puppy.”

“I was starting to run out of ideas,” Illya explained.

“Ah.” Napoleon said and smiled.

When the check came, Napoleon signed for it and said, “That takes care of tonight for me.”

“Fine,” Illya replied, shrugging on his coat. He checked the time. “Oh good, it’s not too late.”

“Other plans?”

“Well, Miss Glickman did give me a standing invitation to stop by each evening to light the menorah. I missed the last two nights, obviously.”

“Obviously.”

“So I’m glad I’ll be able to make it tonight.”

“Right.”

“See you tomorrow, then,” Illya said, and they parted company at the door.


6.

There were times when Illya found his job to be immeasurably schizophrenic. Two days earlier he’d been arriving in the North of England in search of a band of murderous shepherds and wool-smugglers. Now he was back in New York City, settling himself down in his office for another day of filing and making checkmarks. He’d even brought in jelly doughnuts.

Napoleon strolled in. He looked self-assured and smug, so Illya deduced that he’d either gotten a date for the weekend or made a major breakthrough on something that Waverly had been on his back about. It turned out to be the latter. “Grumblings to the South, my Russian friend,” he intoned with an ominous twiddling of his fingertips. The white box Illya had placed on the corner of his desk caught his eye. “Hello there,” he said, immediately distracted.

“I got them at the Kosher deli down the block,” Illya said, not looking up from the form he was filling out. “They’re called Sufganiot. Jelly doughnuts.”

“I see we’re doing gifts early today?”

Illya shrugged. “Doughnuts go better with coffee in the morning.”

“Well, then.” Napoleon went to his desk, pulled something from one of the top drawers, and brought it to Illya, setting it down on top of the paper he was working on.

It was a book. Illya’s eyes scanned the title: Security Is a Thumb and a Blanket, by Charles M. Schulz. He looked up and Napoleon smiled sheepishly. “I was starting to run out of ideas too,” he said.


7.

There were indeed grumblings to the South, and that morning they were hustled onto a plane for Baton Rouge. News had come across the wire of a meeting of top Thrush officials in the city several days before, and this had aroused concern due to the concentration of oil and chemical plants in the city and the high traffic in and around the port.

The city was decorated for the Christmas, with lights and banners draped from the streetlamps and all the shop windows elaborately made up to entice shoppers. Napoleon and Illya elected to begin their visit with a stop at the Esso plant.

*

That could have gone better, Illya thought as he crept through the plant's subbasement. Thrush, apparently, had not become any more complacent during the holiday season. He peered around a pipe that was wider than himself and was about to move on when he heard a voice coming from close by. It was complaining.

"Ow, ow, ow, ow, damn cuffs, ow."

Ah, Illya thought as he stood up straight. I've found Napoleon, at least. He made his way through the maze of pipes and consoles toward where Napoleon was, following the sound of his whine.

He was in a boiler room, handcuffed to one of the pipes running parallel to the wall. "Well," Illya said, leaning on the doorjamb. "What would you like your present to be today?"

"A lock pick would be appreciated," Napoleon said through gritted teeth.

Illya fumbled in his pocket. "And I think I'll be able to oblige." He hurried to Napoleon's side and began working at the lock as quickly as he could.

"Thanks," Napoleon said. "From the bottom of my heart, I thank you."

Illya let out a low whistle. "Don't thank me until you're free," he said, and jiggled the handcuffs in frustration. "These are unusually good."

"Yes, aren't they?" A low voice came from the direction of the door. Illya swirled around and saw a tall, dapper man flanked by two muscular goons. "They were designed by Thrush to resist any attempts at picking or prying." He spoke with a laconic Southern accent that stretched every word to twice its normal length.

"And I bet you're very proud," Napoleon said.

"So far I am satisfied, Mr. Solo," the man said. "I would be much happier if you and your people would leave my enterprise alone entirely, but I suppose we can't all get what we want."

"Merry Christmas," Napoleon muttered.

The man grinned and clapped his hands together. “Well, well,” the tall, oily man said. “It looks like I’ll be garnishing my Christmas tree with two U.N.C.L.E. agents this year.”

“You decorate awfully early,” Illya replied weakly.

“Never mind him,” Napoleon said, buying time for Illya’s hand to work the lock pick in vain. “He celebrates Hanukkah.”

“Ah, the festival of lights!” The man crowed. He pulled a silver lighter from his jacket and flicked back the cap. The flame wavered as he crouched down beside a shimmering puddle of something very, very flammable. Lit from below, his face resembled that of some demented jester. “I believe I can be of some assistance, there, gentlemen.”


8.

“That,” Napoleon said, dragging his right hand over his face, “could have gone better.”

Illya used his left hand to smooth down his hair. “That should go without saying.”

“Pure luck,” Napoleon said, peering out the window of the cab into the night. “Thank god for those cufflinks.”

“You’re welcome,” Illya said.

“The handcuffs, however.” Napoleon lifted his left arm; Illya’s came along. “The next step is doing something about the handcuffs.” He caught the eye of the cab driver in the rearview mirror. “We aren’t perverts,” he snapped. “Keep your eye on the road.”

“Whatever you say, Mac,” the driver answered.

“I can’t wait till we get to headquarters.” Napoleon fell back on the seat as Illya leaned forward.

“Not just yet,” he said, and gave the driver his home address.

Napoleon jerked his left arm, and the handcuffs pulled Illya back. “What do you mean, ‘not just yet’?”

“It’s the last night of Hanukkah,” Illya said. “I want to stop by Miss Glickman’s.”

“That can’t wait until after we’re separated?”

“Think about it,” Illya said, his voice irritatingly reasonable. “If we go to headquarters first, it will be several hours before they let us go.” Napoleon gave him a weary look. “Even if they get the cuffs off within five minutes, they’ll want to keep us there several hours more for a debriefing.”

This was true, and Napoleon knew it. “Won’t these cause some comment?” He shook his wrist and the chain clanked.

“Oh, I doubt it,” Illya said airly.

“If you say so.” Napoleon shook his head. “You must really like this Miss Glickman.”

*

They left their bags just inside Illya’s door and then went across the hall to call on Miss Glickman. Illya knocked briskly and then took a step back. “Here, hold my hand,” he said to Napoleon.

“What?”

“I don’t know whether she’ll notice the handcuffs, so just take my hand until we make sure.”

Napoleon allowed Illya to grasp his hand. “We’re not staying long, are we?” He found that Illya’s hand was rather sweaty, clasped over his.

“Just long enough to say hello and light the candles,” Illya replied.

The door opened and a tiny old woman with curly white hair and a massive pair of spectacles peered out. “Yes? Is that you, Illya?”

“Yes, Miss Glickman, it’s me. I’m sorry to be late, but we just came in from an out-of-town meeting.” Illya pulled Napoleon forward by the hand. “This is my friend Napoleon. I’ve told you about him?”

“Oh, yes! Hello, hello.” Miss Glickman reached up and patted Napoleon on the shoulder. “Good to meet you, young man.”

“It’s, uh, good to meet you too.” Napoleon smiled and nodded and when Miss Glickman turned to go back inside, he turned to Illya with wide eyes and hissed, “You didn’t say she was eighty years old!”

“Does it matter?” Illya stepped over the threshold, pulling Napoleon along with him.

The apartment was pleasantly cluttered and dimly lit. Napoleon could smell something cooking in the kitchen and his stomach rumbled. Illya, usually first to nose his way into getting a free dish, elbowed Napoleon in the side and jerked him into the living room. He stopped in front of a low shelf, where a cheap-looking menorah had been set up.

“I’m sorry we can’t stay, Miss Glickman,” Illya said as she shuffled over to join them, a box of matches in hand. “But we just got back into town, you know, and have to stop at the office tonight.”

She waved him away. “Not a problem at all,” she said as she lit the shamash. “I know you boys are busy.” She shook out the match and then plucked the shamash from its place in the very middle. As she began to light the candles, beginning with the one on the far right, she prayed in Hebrew. Illya and Napoleon listened solemnly. Once the final candle was lit, she replaced the shamash and squinted at her visitors. “Now that that’s out of the way,” she said, “can I put together some food for you to take with?”

“Yes, please,” Napoleon said, at the same time Illya said, “We don’t want to trouble you.”

The looked at one another suspiciously while Miss Glickman giggled. “Oh, you boys,” she said as she made her way into the kitchen. “It will only take a moment! And if you don’t take it, it will all just go to waste, you know.”

“Since when did you start refusing food?” Napoleon said as soon as she was out of earshot.

“This is already an imposition,” Illya whispered. “I don’t want to be a bother.”

“Oh please.” Napoleon rolled his eyes. “Little old ladies love getting the opportunity to give people food.” Illya ignored him, and together they stared at the wavering flames atop the candles. “We’re lucky we didn’t get burned alive,” Napoleon murmured.

“I know,” Illya said.

“We get a lot of lucky breaks.” Napoleon shifted his feet.

“I know.” Illya’s voice was soft.

Napoleon cleared his throat. “I, uh, didn’t get you anything.”

“Nor did I get anything for you,” Illya said. “I was a bit busy yesterday.”

“Me too,” Napoleon said, and they smiled at one another.

Miss Glickman emerged from the kitchen holding a large paper bag. Grease had already begun to soak through one of the corners. “Here you go,” she said as she handed the bag to Illya. “Share it with all your friends if it’s too much.”

“Thank you, Miss Glickman,” they replied in chorus.

She walked with them to the door. Illya stopped and gave her shoulder a squeeze. “Thank you, again, for everything.”

She stood on tiptoe to give him a peck on the cheek. “Come back any time, dear,” she said as she waved them out. “And have a lovely evening, both of you!”

“Happy Hanukkah, Miss Glickman,” Illya called out, just before the door shut. When they were alone in the hallway, he turned to Napoleon. “And Happy Hanukkah to you as well.”

“Thanks,” Napoleon said. “So… back to work?”

Napoleon’s arm seemed to levitate when Illya lifted up his wrist. “Back to work,” Illya repeated.

As they left the building, a thought occurred to Napoleon. “… do I still have to get you a Christmas present?”

Illya considered this. “I have always wanted a toy train set.”

Napoleon frowned. “I’m being serious.”

Illya glanced back over his shoulder and smiled sweetly. “So am I.”


[First posted here in December of 2008 as a Secret Santa gift for laughingacademy.]
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