Christmas Eve, 1968
The small group of people sat around the mahogany table resplendent with its linen table cloth, sterling silver place settings, and crystal stemware. The large mantle over the grand room’s fireplace was framed in fresh holly. Balsam wreaths adorned each window. The last hint of daylight shone through the large paned windows. The gray tones of the early evening snowstorm softened the harsh outlines of bare trees as snow flakes pelted the glass.
April Dancer sat to Napoleon’s left, next to her partner, Mark Slate. Roscoe Crowley and his partner, Steve Franks, were seated on the opposite side of April and Mark. Ben Creighton, head of Section III, sat the other end of the table while his second-in-command, Terry Kepner, sat to his right. All were close friends of their host.
Napoleon laid down his linen napkin before gently tapping his knife against the Waterford crystal goblet. He picked up his wine glass and stood facing his guests. “To my dear friends,” his eyes made contact with each of his them, his gaze lingering at the empty seat to his right, “I would like to thank you for joining me in this special Christmas dinner. It’s so rare for us to be able to be together, under the same roof when not assigned to a mission. I am honored that each of you braved the wintry weather to travel here to share in the Christmas festivities.”
The small number of guests raised their glasses echoing their agreement.
“As we enjoy our time here, let’s keep those who could not be with us today in our thoughts as they complete their missions or are assigned duties at headquarters so that we may get this time off.
"While Christmas day isn't yet upon us for another few hours, I would like to wish each and everyone of you a very Merry Christmas."
Again the clink of glasses and murmurs of "Merry Christmas" were repeated.
Napoleon sat down. The smile on his face didn’t reach his eyes as he once again glanced at the empty chair. He really thought that this time his partner and best friend, Illya Kuryakin, was going to share in the festivities.
Every year for the past four years, Napoleon had made a point of inviting Illya to share Christmas with him. The first year, Illya had politely declined. As a new agent in America, a Soviet agent at that, the Russian knew he would feel out of place amongst his colleagues celebrating a holiday of which his Soviet culture did not approve. He also worried that his KGB handlers might catch wind of such a celebration and send unfavorable reports to his superiors back home. That year Napoleon had set a place for his partner anyway hoping that he would change his mind.
The second year, while he truly appreciated Napoleon’s attempt to include him, Illya had the same concerns as the previous year and respectfully declined. Still, Napoleon set a place for him.
In their third year as partners, Napoleon once again asked, but as it turned out, neither agent was home for Christmas. Napoleon had been sent to France to deal with a security problem in Section 2 of the Parisian office. Illya was sent to the jungles of Brazil to lead an operation to quash a growing problem between Thrush operatives and some of the remote tribes living along the Amazon. While both returned to the New York headquarters, relatively unscathed, the holiday season was long over.
This year Napoleon once again invited Illya. “Illya, you are going to spend Christmas with me, aren’t you? Illya? Hey, Illya wake up! Can you hear me?”
He was answered with a loud groan. Whatever Illya might have said was muffled by his swollen, possibly broken, jaw. He hung suspended from the ceiling, his wrists bound by chains. His feet hovered above the cement floor by mere millimeters, just enough to keep his toes from reaching the floor.
Napoleon was chained to the wall in such a way that he couldn’t stand, sit, nor lie down, forcing him to remain in a squatting position. To keep his mind off of his screaming back and leg muscles, he tried again to engage Illya in conversation.
“Hey, Partner, are you with me? Come on, Illya. No sleeping on the job!”
Illya slowly lifted his swollen head to peer at Napoleon through his one partially opened eye, tried to say something that sounded like it could have been, “Napoleon, let me sleep.”
Solo grimaced. It sounded as if his partner was speaking around a swollen tongue and several loose or broken teeth. He had taken quite a beating around his head. “Come on, Illya. I’m trying to sort out my Christmas plans,” he continued hoping to distract his partner from the pain. “I need to know who’s going to join me up in Lake Placid this year.”
Illya tried to respond. Whatever he was intending to say came out as a soft moan before he passed out.
A week later, Napoleon entered medical to retrieve his partner. Fortunately, Illya’s jaw had not been broken and the U.N.C.L.E. oral surgeon was able to reset his teeth. It did make, however, for one surly Russian who was rapidly getting tired of a liquid diet prescribed until his teeth showed signs of settling down. Napoleon drove his partner home. Taking advantage of the situation to invite his partner, he once again, invited Illya to celebrate Christmas with him.
Illya rolled his eyes, "Napoleon, you are like a broken record. Look, my friend, I truly appreciate your invitation, but I really do not think I should. Besides, Mr. Waverly, knowing that I do not observe the holiday, usually sends me on a mission during that time."
Leaning across the small table in Illya's apartment as the blond agent slurped his homemade chicken soup, Napoleon gently placed his hand on Illya's forearm above the bandaged wrist. "Illya, please, it would mean a great deal to me if you joined me for Christmas. I‘m having a few others who are close friends, but you’re my closest friend."
Blue eyes regarded Napoleon's pleading eyes. Illya gave a small half smile. "I cannot promise, Napoleon, but I will consider it."
"I guess that's all I can ask." Napoleon smiled broadly. At least he didn't say 'no'!
Napoleon felt a hand slide into his left hand. He looked up, shaken out of his reverie, to see April looking at him with concern. “A penny for your thoughts, darling. You were a million miles away.”
He gave her an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, April, I was just thinking about Illya. I really thought he’d be here this year.”
Mark, hearing the conversation, leaned over and quietly commented, “Napoleon, you know Illya. He just likes to have his alone time, especially during this time of year.”
“Yeah, Mark, I guess you’re right, a leopard can’t change its spots. Still, it would have been nice to have him here.” With a deep sigh Napoleon turned to make conversation with Steve and Roscoe.
April and Mark exchanged glances with unspoken words of concern. They thought Illya was going to be there this year, as well. He had told them, if he got back from his mission in time he would show up and surprise Napoleon.