Napoleon Solo, former UNCLE agent extraordinaire, felt like crap and hardly extraordinary. As if having a flesh wound where a bullet had grazed his right calf muscle wasn’t enough, he found himself huddled on the platform of the last car of the Canadian Alpine Express passenger train. The wind blasts pushed his usually well coiffed hair back flat against his head exposing his forehead and in the next second blew his hair completely forward before whipping it to the sides. He wished he had his cold weather hat, the ones with the flaps that he wore in the Yukon Affair and the warm mittens as well. He lifted his hand to swipe at his hair as another strong gust of wind whipped around the platform. The train lurched to the side closest to the cliff and Napoleon grabbed at the railing to keep from being thrown off.
He needn’t had worried, however. The weight of his partner manacled to his other hand had Napoleon well anchored. The worst that could happen was that he might have been thrown partway off and his legs end up dangling perilously close to the track racing below him or, at the very least, his wrist would snap. He grimaced at the thought.
“Napoleon! Hold still.” Illya shouted against the wind. “I almost had the lock picked, but you keep moving around!”
“Well, it’s not me! The train keeps lurching!”
Illya Kuryakin, Solo’s long time friend and former partner, stopped poking a purloined hair clip into the keyhole of the manacles long enough to try and blow warmth back into the slightly arthritic fingers of his free hand. Napoleon saw how blue his friend’s fingers were. “Here, give me your hand.” Without waiting he grabbed Illya’s free hand and held it between his in an attempt to warm the man’s fingers.
Illya smirked. “Does this mean we are going steady?”
“What?” He saw Illya flash a hint of a smile. “Oh don’t be silly!” He still held his hand while trying to rub warmth back into the flesh.
“Thank you, Napoleon, but I really need my hand back if I am to pick this lock before our hosts return.” While he appreciated Napoleon’s efforts to bring warmth back to his fingers, the truth was Napoleon’s hands were so cold that they were actually robbing him of what little warmth there was.
Finally, he felt the telltale click of the locking mechanism indicating his efforts were not in vain. “Got it! Now what do you suggest is our next step?”
Napoleon moved back from the edge of the platform placing his back against the car’s wall. It felt good to take the pressure off of his wounded leg. Hell, it felt good to be able to move out of the wind just a bit. Illya did likewise glad to ease the stress to his hip as he sat close to Napoleon so to share their body heat.
“I think it may be time to part ways with our friends while it is dark, don’t you think?”
“Of course, however, how do you propose we do that without causing more damage to ourselves, Napoleon? We just are not as nimble and as in good shape as we were when we were in the field, nor can we see if it is safe to jump in this darkness.”
“Well, the train has to slow down sometime. Until then we’ll catch our breath and wait.”
“And if our friends come back to check on us before then?” Illya pressed his back harder against the wall of the baggage car, crossed his arms and hunkered down as low as possible to keep out of the wind.
“Oh, now, don’t go all Russian on me and be so pessimistic.”
Illya shrugged. “You said it yourself…I am Russian and we are NOT pessimistic, we are pragmatic.”
“Look, Illya, if we jump now before our hosts come to see if we have frozen to death or not then they will have no idea when or where we jumped. It is unlikely they will come hunting for us. They will just leave us for dead.”
“And likely sure of their conclusion! Napoleon, we do not know where we are or how far away the nearest settlement is. Even if we do survive the jump, neither of us are up to slogging through deep snow.”
The train slowed down for a particularly sharp bend as it pushed its way north in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Just as quickly their discussion regarding the location and timing of their exit was moot. The slowing down of the train caused the noise level to drop just enough for Illya to hear the sound of heavy footsteps approaching from the other side of the door. He rose up and grabbed Napoleon’s arm. “Whether or not we are ready, my friend, it is time to make our move.” Without pausing he pulled his startled partner to a standing position and heaved him over the platform’s side steps. He followed no more than a second behind. The two agents had jumped in a relatively open area yet the darkness of the night and the depth of the snow quickly swallowed any evidence of where they were.
Napoleon managed to land at the snow covered base of a mound of bunch grass where he quickly dug down into the snow and covered himself. He heard angry voices fading into the distance as the train moved on down the tracks. He waited a few moments to see if the train would slow to a halt and back up to look for the escaped prisoners. After five minutes had passed, and the train disappeared around a bend, he figured it was safe to work his way out of the snow bank and rendezvous with Illya.
Knowing that Illya had jumped after pushing him, the American limped slowly up the tracks. His leg had begun bleeding again from the force of the fall. He stopped to rub his calf before calling.
“Illya?” No answer. “Illya, where are you? Illya?” He stopped to listen but heard nothing but the wind soughing through a nearby copse of old aspen trees. “Illya, damn it, where are you?” Did his friend indeed jump or was he back on the train in the hands of their unwanted guardians?
Napoleon pushed his way through the knee deep snow for several more yards when he heard a different sound nearly drowned out by the wind. “Illya?” Movement off to his right caught his eye. He moved in that direction. There! Against a power pole, or more like wrapped around the power pole, was Illya.
Plowing through the snow, Napoleon crossed the remaining yards separating him from his partner. As he knelt down to check Illya’s condition, the Russian pushed himself up onto his knees, then using the power pole and Napoleon for support, climbed to his feet.
“Illya, are you alright? Anything broken?”
Dazed eyes looked at him. Illya shook his head which elicit a groan.
The Russian glared at him. “‘Let’s take a vacation,’ you said. ‘It will be fun!’ You said. Napoleon, I hate to break the news to you, but I am not having fun!”
“Yeah, sorry about that, partner. I’d sure like to know how those goons knew where to find us.”
Illya shook his head once more to clear the cobwebs and immediately regretted it. “Oh my head,” he grumbled. Then looking at Napoleon, “Are you alright, my friend? I did not push you too gently. Did you injure yourself?”
“My leg hurts like hell, but I don’t think there is any further damage. We need to get moving and find some sort of shelter. I think we’d be better off walking on the tracks. At least we have the benefit of the train plowing most of the snow off of them and it beat slogging through deep snow.”
“Agreed. And the sooner we find shelter the better especially since our hosts declined to give us our winter gear back before chaining us to that platform.” To make matters worse, Illya’s head felt like the train had run over it. He was fairly sure that he had a mild concussion at the least. Supporting each other the two men headed up the tracks.
The moonlight reflected off the iron rails. Frost had begun to them with ice crystals giving the tracks a ghostly quality. “Illya, I need to stop for a minute! I’m afraid my leg is acting up.” They had been walking for quite some time. How long? Illya didn’t know since their watches had been confiscated. Napoleon had become increasingly dependent upon Illya for support as they made their way along the tracks. They both were suffering from the effects of the cold weather and while Illya was loathe to admit it, he too, was having difficulty navigating due to his head injury and to an old hip injury. Between the cold air, jumping off the train, and Napoleon’s need for support had played hell with his hip.
The nearly full moon reflected brightly off of the snow casting a silvery glow across the landscape. As the two men rested, Illya noticed that ahead of them the moon’s reflection shone off of what looked the tin roof of an old shed. His spirits rose at the prospect of finding shelter, then immediately sank again when he realized there was a trestle between them and the potential shelter.
“Napoleon, look! There’s a place to take shelter for a bit. It’s only a little farther up the tracks, maybe a quarter mile, an easy trek if we stick to the tracks. Are you strong enough to make a try for it?” He chose to leave out the bit about the trestle.
“I don’t know if I can go much further,” Napoleon’s voice was strained. “My leg hurts like hell.” Illya bent down to look more closely at Napoleon’s wounded calf. He could tell by the inky black discoloration on Napoleon’s trousers that the bleeding was worse. The long walk and frequent stumbling in the dark hadn’t helped it any.
“When we get to shelter, I’ll try to bind it to stop the bleeding. If we wait much longer we will be in danger of hypothermia. Are you ready? ” Napoleon nodded groaning as Illya helped him to his feet. Illya bit his lip as he placed his friend’s arm over his shoulder and bore most of Napoleon’s weight. “When we get home, my friend, you need to go on an exercise program! Your retirement from the field has not been good for your waistline...or my back!”
“A trestle. We’re going to have to cross it to get to the shelter.”
Napoleon looked at the trestle and the rushing water below it. “Illya, you failed to mention there was a trestle. There is no way I can make it across that span. I’m already throwing both of us off balance as we walk and the space between each railroad tie will make the crossing treacherous. For us to try to cross that thing is suicide! And what if a train comes while we’re in the middle of the trestle?”
“It’s a chance we must take, my friend. We have to get to shelter or we will perish from the cold.”
“Illya! We’re more likely to die trying to cross that thing in the dark, forget about the cold! Nope, I’ll pass.”
Between shivering from the cold, fatigue from half carrying Napoleon several miles, and the pain in his head, the Russian did not want to waste energy arguing with his partner. “Napoleon, we have no choice. Forgive me, my friend.” And promptly hit Napoleon with a right hook. The American dropped like a rock. “I’m sorry, Napoleon,” Illya muttered, “we need to move now.” Bending over he lifted Napoleon over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry. He straightened up and waited for the dizziness to pass before stepping onto the first wooden tie.
As he struggled under the weight of his friend, Illya made a conscious effort to focus only on the next railroad tie ahead and not let his vision travel beyond it to the rushing water below. Halfway across he paused to catch his breath, his ears straining to catch the sound of a train coming from either direction. Nothing...so far so good. He shifted under Napoleon’s weight while ignoring the increasing pain in his head which competed with the pain in his hip. Illya refused to give in. He began moving forward again, carefully placing his right foot on the next tie. Then left...pause...right...and repeat. Shift his burden, take another step...left...right...and do it again.
Finally, he had reached the last tie. One more step and he would be on terra firma. As he took that last step he felt some of the tension release and he let his focus turn to the shelter. Just a little farther. And that was when he took a misstep turning his ankle on a rock and fell. Napoleon fell from his shoulders as Illya tumbled down the river bank and into the cold water.
The shock of the cold water rushing over his head nearly took Illya’s breath away. He was able to grab a tree root which kept him from being swept down stream. Briefly, the shock of the cold water made him forget about his hip and headache. Gasping for air he resurfaced and climbed out onto the bank where he lay a few moments to gather his wits. Napoleon! He looked about and was relieved to see the still form of his friend further up the bank.
He stood, water dripping from his clothes and pooled in his shoes. At least he still had his shoes and his ankle seemed to be only a bit sore. It would support his weight. Illya sat back down. After emptying his shoes and wringing out his socks then putting them on again, he struggled to stand and climb up to where Napoleon lay sprawled on the ground, totally unaware of the drama that had just transpired.
Illya had only been mildly concerned for their well being before. Now he feared for their lives. Napoleon’s leg needed professional care, and he was soaked through facing the real possibility of hypothermia. One hundred yards ahead of them lay the shelter. He had to get the two of them there if they were to stand a chance of surviving. Shivering against the cold, Illya bent down to hoist Napoleon over his shoulders once again. His hip threaten to give way, but he gritted his teeth and worked through the pain as he strained under Napoleon’s weight.
One hundred yards seemed an interminable distance and Illya struggled every foot of the way, yet they had finally arrived. After he placed Napoleon on the ground and leaned him up against the wall of the shack, Illya worked on kicking in the door. It was an easy task. He lifted Napoleon and dragged him into the shed. While it was quite dark, the moonlight that followed them through the open door revealed that they had stumbled upon a maintenance shed for the railroad. It was still too dark to discern exactly what was there and at that point Illya didn’t care.
He lay Napoleon down and ripped open his friend’s right pant leg. It was too dark to see how much damage there was but he could feel the stickiness of the blood. Illya ran his hand along the wound trying to determine the extent of the damage. From what he could feel, Napoleon had a deep gouge along the calf yet the bullet seemed to have missed actual muscle and bone. Only a flesh wound. The Russian smiled ruefully. Maybe in the movies a flesh wound wasn’t serious, however in the real world such a wound could wreak havoc. Such a wound was exposed to debris and infection was always a possibility, left untreated - a probability. Also such a wound hurt like hell as he well knew from personal experience. Maybe John Wayne could get away with “Shucks, m’am, it’s just a flesh wound” but Napoleon was in danger. Illya reached for his friend’s shirt sleeve and ripped it off. “Sorry, Napoleon, but I need to bandage your leg,” he mumbled. He could well imagine Napoleon’s reaction to the damaged shirt, but at the moment he was unable to protest.
Finished with the task of bandaging the leg, Illya turned his attention to himself. He was freezing. His teeth chattered so hard he was surprised he hadn’t cracked a tooth. There was nothing he could do to ease his discomfort or to warm up. He normally would have settled down next to Napoleon to share their body heat, however as wet and cold as he was, Illya knew that he would only rob Napoleon of his own body heat thereby putting his partner in more danger. Instead, he curled up in a ball in a corner trying to conserve whatever body heat was left. He knew he must stay awake. At some point he realized he had stopped shivering. He was aware enough to know that there was little chance that he would see the light of dawn. His eyes closed.
“Illya. Wake up Illya.”
He forced his eyes open. “Who’s there?” His voice was thick from cold. “Napoleon?”
“No, I am not your friend. Look up here. That’s right, up here.”
Illya craned his neck so he could see the ceiling joists of the shed. A shimmering light coalesced, separated into a million points of light, and then coalesced again.
“Oh child, I am your guardian angel. I’ve come to help you.”
“I do not believe in angels.”
“I’m not just any angel, child, I’m your angel. Here just for you.”
“I do not wish to be rude, but I am afraid I do not believe even in guardian angels.”
The light form glowed brightly for a brief moment and Illya could have sworn he heard laughter.
“Dear child. It matters not whether you believe in me, because I believe in you.”
“What about Napoleon? Does he not have a guardian angel?”
“Yes, dear, he does. However, his life is not in immediate danger. He will survive until help arrives. You, on the other hand, need a little heavenly help. I cannot force you to accept my help, it is your choice. I can tell you that if you leave this earth tonight your friend will soon follow, not tonight but in days, weeks, or at the most he might live another year or two. The two of you are bonded to each other more closely than most humans. One can live without the other, but only for a short time. Will you accept my help?”
Illya’s eyes started to close again, he could feel his body slowly shutting down.
“Child? Time is short. What is your decision?”
“What is your name?” His voice weaker than it had been just a second before.
“Thank you, Karina. I choose life.”
“Then it is done. Goodbye, child. You will live a long life and your friend will as well. You will not remember me. Remember this though...there are those who believe in you.”
As Illya drifted off he felt a wave of warmth envelop him. And in that warmth he felt safe, secure, and something else. Something flying about on gossamer wings just out of his mind’s reach. He just could not grasp it, yet he felt completely at peace.
Napoleon Solo awoke from his forced slumber in time to see a pall of twinkling lights settle over his friend for the briefest of moments. Yet as those seconds passed he saw Illya’s deathly gray skin color change to a healthy pink. Then he lost consciousness again.
The newspaper delivery truck roared to a stop in front of the convenience store, threw down several stacks of newspapers onto the sidewalk before roaring off to the next stop. The halo of light cast by the lone street lamp shone upon the top paper. The Calgary Herald, December 20, 1986, “Royal Mounted Police Call It A Christmas Miracle”.
“Two men were found barely alive early yesterday morning when a railroad technician entered the switch shack ten miles south of Calgary to redirect the morning express. The unidentified technician immediately notified the RMP. Sergeant Campbell of the Alberta district responded by bringing in emergency personnel. The two men were airlifted to Calgary where they have been treated for hypothermia and various undisclosed injuries. “Neither of those men should have survived,” reported Sergeant Campbell. “I think we can call it a Christmas Miracle.”
Napoleon woke up in their room at Rockyview General Hospital in Calgary. Upon doing a quick assessment of his physical being he found that his right calf was heavily bandaged and his right wrist sported a gauze and adhesive tape bracelet. No doubt courtesy of the manacles, and a heavily bruised left jaw courtesy of...Illya! He turned to see his friend in the bed next to him. Illya’s head was bandaged and an aluminum cane leaned against the side table.
He called softly, “Illya?”
Long blond lashes fluttered and blue eyes looked in Napoleon’ direction. “About time you stopped slacking, Napoleon! I thought you were going to sleep for another three days. How are you feeling?”
“My leg’s throbbing a bit but really I feel better than I think I’m supposed to. What happened out there. And..” he paused, “hey, you hit me!”
Illya chuckled. “I am sorry about that, my friend. I had no choice. I never would have convinced you to cross that trestle, so I took matters in my own hand.”
“Have you spoken with the doctors at all?”
“So what did they say?”
“You’ll live and apparently so will I.”
“Damn it, Illya, don’t be a pain. What did they say?”
Illya smiled. “Your wound is deep, but no internal structures were damaged. You will have a new scar to add to your collection. You suffered from minor hypothermia, but otherwise you are okay.”
“What about you?”
The nurse came in at that moment and answered for the Russian. “Mr. Kuryakin was severely concussed, suffered from mild to severe hypothermia, and did some damage to an old injury in his left hip. However, the good news is that you both are receiving an early Christmas present. We’re discharging you this afternoon. Oh, you boys made the news. Here’s the latest edition of the paper.” She tossed two copies of the Calgary Herald onto their beds.
After each read the article, Illya looked up. “I guess we really are lucky to be alive.”
“Indeed. Our guardian angels must have been looking over us.”
“Napoleon do you really believe in such things?”
“Of course, I do, partner. It’s got to be the only reason we’ve lived this long.
A slight shimmering of light in the upper corner of the room caught Illya’s attention and he felt a warm flush course through his body.
“This time I think you just may be right, my friend.”