A Cinderella Ghost Story

by Charlie Kirby

I glanced to my left and right and then slid quietly out of the house and headed for the taxi. I was bundled from my toes to my nose, as Lisle would say, both as protection from the sun, weak though it was, and the cold. The winter wind was just biting and it was extra hard to stay warm. I am still not sure how Poppy does it. It doesn't seem to bother him at all.

I'm sorry, his name is Illya, but it just seems off to call him that. Only Grampy, that's Napoleon, and Leon, Grampy's son, call him that. And Poppy seems okay with it.

Anyhow, he's already waiting in the cab for me. He just had some hip surgery and he's not moving very fast, especially now that there's snow and ice everywhere. It wasn't as hard for him to sneak out of the house as it was for me. The kids seem to have built-in radar that detects the second I need a minute to myself and that's when they come looking for me. A whole afternoon away from the Solo house, my first since I'd moved in here early in the fall. It was both exciting and a bit scary, but I was with Poppy and he has a way of making you feel safe.

The cab driver took off without asking for directions and I sat back to watch the world race by. We live on the outskirts of the city, in a suburb with old houses in the middle, like the Solo's, and newer ones added around the edges. I like the older ones. They have character, they scream security and security is one thing I've never had in my life. I watched them pass from behind my dark glasses. Even though the sun wasn't bright, it still hurt my eyes.

"Are you all right, Genève?" It's been nearly four months since anyone addressed me as Ghost - Genève Helena St. Thomas was always too long for people to bother with. Add into the mixture the fact that I'm an albino and the nickname just stuck. At least, it did until Leon and Lisle took me in.

I sighed happily. "I couldn't be better, thank you. I'm in a cab with a handsome man on my way to an adventure. My world is wonderful." He gave me a funny little smile and dropped his head, as if he was embarrassed by the comment. "Where are we going?"

"Some place wonderful." His eyes got really sad for a minute and I didn't know why. He seemed so sad lately, but I figured it was because he had had surgery and couldn't play with the kids or join in some of the daily activities. He didn't strike me as a man who willingly sat on the sidelines.

"Okay." I didn't care where we were going, not really.

The car wove its way through the traffic and then into Manhattan. It was beautiful with the Christmas trappings and lights. This was the first holiday season I'd really ever been a part of and I wanted to do it all, even down to sitting on Santa's lap. Truth was, though, I'd already gotten my Christmas wish.

The cab turned onto a small side street and down into a parking garage. It paused in front of a small parking kiosk and then drove through to a small door.

"We are here." Poppy opened the door and got out. I climbed out of mine without waiting for him to open the door for me. I was too liberated for that. This place didn't look like anything wonderful to me, just a parking garage like a million others, but I followed Poppy out of the cab. It drove off without him paying the fare and then I realized he'd probably asked for it to come back at a certain time. I sighed happily. I was getting wiser in the ways of the world.

He walked to the door and held it open for me. I stepped through and into a small room. There was a desk and some chairs and that was about it. Oh, and on the desk was these rack holding all these different colored triangles.

"Mr. Kuryakin?" The woman behind the desk was on her feet and hugging Poppy awkwardly. "I knew they were just rumors... Where have you...?" Then she saw the cane and let him go. "Sorry..."

"It's all right. Janice, this is my very good friend, Ms. St. Thomas. We are on our way to see Dr. Jessell."

She seemed torn and her hand hovered over this yellow triangle with a '2' on it and he shook his head slowly. The sad look was back in his eyes again as she handed him a red triangle and offered me another one. "Welcome to UNCLE, Ms. St. Thomas; I hope you have a pleasant visit."

"UNCLE?" I pondered that as I clipped the badge onto my jacket. "Wait, this is where you work? You and Leon and Grampy?"

"Yes, it is." He walked down a corridor that looked just like the other corridor and then another one. They were all identical and I couldn't have found my way out if I wanted to. We got to some elevators and Poppy waited for me inside and then hit the G button.

We got off into yet another similar corridor, this was getting really old by now, and he stopped in front of a door. It slid open automatically and we were in an office. The woman at the desk looked up and smiled.

"Mr. Kuryakin, just on time, as always."

"Thank you, Mercy."

She ushered us into another room and I looked around at all the gadgets and gizmos. They looked a little scary and I stood a little closer to Poppy. Then I gasped as the biggest man I'd ever seen came through the door.

"Morning, Illya, what can I do for you? Having trouble with headaches again?"

"No, Sammy, we are here for my friend. She needs something special to keep from standing out in a crowd." Poppy looked at me and held out his hand. "Take off your sunglasses, Genève, and let the doctor see."

I cringed, but did as he asked me to, waiting for the doctor to gasp. But he didn't. He took me by the chin, looked into my face, and nodded. "What color?"


"Yes, what color eyes do you want?"

"What?" I felt like someone had hit me with a very big fish or something.

Poppy was standing beside the doctor now. "One of Dr. Jessell's specialties is color contact lenses. You said you wanted to lose your pink eyes, so what color do you want them to be?"

"May I make a suggestion?" For as big as he was, the doctor was very soft spoken and I nodded. He fiddled around with something and gestured me to a seat. I looked over at Poppy, who nodded and I sat.

He tipped my head back and put something in first one eye and then the other. They burned and watered and he waited as I blinked the tears out of them. Then he carefully set something in my right eye and then my left. It felt weird and I shut my eyes and reached up to rub them.

"Don't rub them." The voice was soft, but without room to argue with it. "Open your eyes and take a look."

That was easier said than done, but I did and gasped. "Blue eyes, I have blue eyes." I touched the mirror and then my face, just to be sure it was really me. I didn't look weird anymore. I looked like Poppy... well, sort of, I was still whiter than he was.

We tried on a few more, but I stayed with the blue lenses. The doctor showed me how to take care of them and then he left the room.

"Poppy?" I was happy, but it was time for this to be over.

"Yes, Genève?"

"I can't... I can't pay for these..." I tried to hand the small case back to him.

"It's already done, Genève, don't worry." He pushed my hand away. "Lisle would not have been able to survive without your help; we would not have survived. Consider this a thank you gift."

I flung my arms around his neck and hugged him hard, feeling him chuckle. "Thank you," I whispered and he pushed me away a little bit to smile at me.

"You are quite welcome, but we are far from done yet."

I tucked the empty case into my pocket and followed him out, no longer hiding behind my sunglasses. And would you believe, no one looked at me twice. Is that great or what?

We got on and then off the elevator almost at the same time and this corridor was very different from the last one. This one was teaming with people and they all looked like they'd already started their Christmas party a few weeks early.

"Welcome to Research and Development. This is where all the insane people hang out, although I prefer to call them creative, for what truly is creation but insanity." Several of them greeted him by name and with waves of hello. It was obvious that Poppy was no stranger down here.

We walked into a room and I squealed happily. It was a giant sewing room or something just like it. There were clothes everywhere, on mannequins or on racks. There was a huge cutting table and sewing machines - real ones. I itched to sit down and start sewing something - it didn't matter what. I could happily stay in this room for the rest of my life.

"Suki, are you here?" Poppy shouted and looked around.

One of the mounds of clothes sort of moved and I heard a voice ask, "Illya? Illya, is that you?" This tiny little Asianl lady emerged and ran up to us. "You are looking sweet, brother!"

"Thank you." He hugged her carefully, as to not trip her up with his cane, and introduced me. "This is the young lady I was talking about. Genève this is Suki, a genius."

"I would kill for your bone structure, Genève."

She grabbed my hand and dragged me away. Illya waved and sat down.

"Okay, so I pulled these, but I wasn't sure which would look best against your skin color." She held up first one dress and then another. "The reality is you will be gorgeous in no matter what you wear." She selected a pale pink gown with a million tiny seed pearls sewn into it. "Try this one on."

"I... I shouldn't. I can't afford..."

"This is just a loan, sweetie." She swept my hair back. "And while the white hair is nice, I bet you'd look fabulous with a rinse."

"A rinse?"

"You don't have a clue what's happening, do you?" She started to laugh and after a minute, I joined in, still not getting the joke. She turned and opened a door. It exposed racks and racks of clothes to me. At one end was a beauty salon. "Cinderella, welcome to your fairy tale."

"How many of these things have we been to by now, hundreds?"

"And I'm sure you have hundreds more in front of you."

Napoleon turned and caught the frown that Illya almost managed to hide from him. "You will have the same hundreds, you only get to beg off this year, you know," he said as he turned back to the mirror and tried to get his vest to lie smooth under his holster.

Illya limped over and brushed Napoleon's hands away and resettled the leather straps in place, doing his best to ignore the small smile that Napoleon hid as he did so. When he had the vest situated he held out a hand for the tie.

"How is our young lady holding up?"

"She is nervous. You must remember to be patient with her. She has never attended a dance or a dinner like this; I doubt she's ever even been taken to a burger joint, let alone a nice restaurant. She gives new meaning to the phrase 'sheltered life'."

"And yet she was hardly sheltered, certainly not from the cruelties of her fellow humans." If there was bitterness in Napoleon's tone, it was brief.

"True, my friend, but we will do what we can to make up for it." Illya finished the bow tie with a bit of flourish and for a moment Napoleon saw his partner lurking in the pain-tired features of his lover's face. It had been a long battle, this last surgery and recovery. He was ready for his partner to be by his side again, as he knew he would be. He refused to contemplate any other outcome.

"I have explained to the troops that I will be introducing her as my goddaughter. It makes explanations easier, and we are sort of her godparents, don't you suppose? We plucked her from the garden like a fairy tale heroine, after all."

Illya did smile at that. "Yes, we did, Napoleon. I like to think she's the better for it. We certainly are."

"I hope so. How did the day in R and D go?"

"The entire staff was captivated and I think Genève has decided that the sewing room in Research and Development is a slice of heaven. She really has an eye for fabric and design; with a bit of training I think she might make herself a career."

"We will see to it then, shall we?"

"I think she will be pleased. And speaking of our young charge, she should be about ready for me to transform her into a princess for the evening."

"If I am her godfather escorting her to the ball and you are the one who procured her finery for the evening, does that make you her fairy godfather, partner mine?" The twinkle in Napoleon's eye was unmistakable and full of wicked humor.

Illya tilted his head and glared. "No, that makes you the rat turned into a coachman. And don't forget to be home on time or you will turn into a pumpkin."

"I believe it was the coach that turned into a pumpkin." Napoleon was still smiling, happier than he could say that Illya was giving as good as he got, again the partner he knew so well and not the pale imitation of himself he had been after his recent surgery.

"Do not doubt that I could do as I will with you; I learned more from the Gypsies than you imagine," the voice was stern but the look in Illya's eye was pure mischief.

"Promise you will wave your magic wand at me later?"

"Napoleon, really." Illya did his best to sound scandalized, but his laugh as he left the room belied the harshness.

I was a little embarrassed about how long I took to get ready. I could hear Irina outside Lisle's and Leon's bedroom door. They had agreed to let Poppy and me use it, but didn't know why. Lisle was already dressed in a beautiful gown of blue satin.

Poppy had appeared carrying some boxes and nodded to the room. "Now it's your turn."

"Genny, are you okay?"

"She's fine, Irina, go play," Poppy shouted. He was brushing out my hair with long sure strokes. It nearly gleamed in the light. My hair wouldn't take any color, but that was all right. Poppy had twisted and curled it until it hung in massive curls around my face. With my contact lenses and make up, I didn't even recognize myself.

Then I stepped into the dress and Poppy zipped it up. He stood behind me and looked over my shoulder into a floor length mirror.

"Ms. St. Thomas, you are beautiful." I started to cry and he hugged me gently. "No tears, you'll smudge your makeup and we have pushed this to the limit. Now, wait here."

I followed him to the door and kept out of sight as he left, fielding about a million questions from Irina as he did. I waited until I heard him call me and then, taking a deep breath, I walked out of the room. I thought Irina was never going to stop squealing and Grampy, well, he looked like you could have knocked him over with a feather. Poppy, on the other hand, just looked happy, happier than he had for a long time.

"Have fun and don't let Napoleon ditch you the second he gets there. He always does that to me."

"That's because it's you; I would no more let this enchanting creature off my arm than I would fly to the moon." Grampy patted my hand and beamed at me.

"Mommy, it's almost time!"

"Yes, Irina, I know, and I promise that Poppy will have Genève ready in time, he likes things just so and will not send her out before he is satisfied that she is perfectly ready to face the evening. Trust me on this."

"Do you think Poppy will dress me up for dinner someday?"

"I am sure he would like nothing more, sweetness. Now you promise to keep an eye on the twins and help Poppy tonight, and I will tell you all about the dancing and dinner tomorrow, deal?"

"Deal, Mommy." Irina turned toward the stairs when she heard footsteps. "Oh, Grampy, I thought you were Poppy bringing Genny."

"Sorry to be a disappointment, my sweet."

"You aren't disappointing, Grampy," Irina shrugged, "you're just not Poppy."

"And thank heavens for it," Napoleon said as he continued down the stairs, coming to his daughter-in-law and brushing a kiss across her cheek. "You look delightful. My son better know what a lucky man he is, Lisle."

"He does," came a voice from the stairs, Leon joined them, dressed in a tuxedo almost identical to his father's. "The gang's almost all here."

They stood for a moment chatting and then Irina again alerted at the foot of the stairs like a bird dog. This time it was Illya, and a few steps behind him was Genève.

Genève came down the stairs slowly, but there was a new sureness in her carriage, her head held high and the smallest of smiles played on her lips. The soft pink of her gown gave her milky skin a glow and the sheen of the pearls sewn on the dress seemed an echo of her paleness and made her exotic, but never odd. Illya had transformed her silver-white hair into a fall of curls that cascaded from the crown of her head and down her back like moonlight made solid, and there were pearls on the pins holding her hair up, making her seem ethereal and not like the sideshow attraction she always feared she would become. She came to stand next to Lisle and waited for someone to say something.

"Oh," there was a whisper from knee height, "you really are a fairy princess aren't you, Genny?"

Genève leaned down to Irina and kissed her cheek. "I feel like one tonight."

Irina studied Genève's shoes for a moment, then looked up again, "Those aren't glass, are they? Wouldn't they break if they were glass?"

Genève held up the hem of her dress to let Irina see better the pink and silver brocaded slippers she wore, "No, honey, they are just shoes."

"You do look lovely, Genève, just a vision." Lisle smiled and handed her a wrap against the evening chill.

"The two of you standing there together, like the sun and the moon, you could be sisters." Leon leaned over and kissed his wife's cheek. "It's uncanny, really."

"I can honestly say that we are the luckiest men attending this event tonight, having such beautiful companions. Shall we?" Napoleon held out an arm and Genève hesitated only a moment, glancing at Illya who gave her a smile, then linked her arm with Napoleon's as Illya had taught her.

"One last thing before you go," Illya said, then nodded to Irina who ran for the kitchen and returned with a florist's box. Illya took out a brilliant white orchid and pinned it on Lisle, against the deep blue of her dress it was like a star in the night sky. For Genève he had Sweet William, the pink flowers only slightly darker than the color of her dress and seeming as if they were a part of it, completing the picture. He handed boutonnières to the men, a white rose for Leon and a red for Napoleon.

"Now you are ready to go! Have fun. And you have to tell me everything tomorrow!" Irina's excitement was not dampened a bit by the imminent departure of the two couples.

Genève turned back and hugged Illya, whispering in his ear, then again took Napoleon's arm and was ready to go. She and Illya shared a smile full of secrets before they all turned and headed out.

"Hold the fort, Amante, don't let the natives get the better of you," Napoleon said over his shoulder before Illya shut the door.

"Poppy, will I be a beautiful princess like Genève someday?"

"You are already a beautiful princess, Irina, you always have been."

"Has Genève always been?"

"Without even knowing it."

"She has the most beautiful dress."

"Well, it was a guaranteed win in your boo; it is pink after all."

"Will you make my hair look like hers?"

"How about for your next party, hmm?"

"Oh that would be perfect." Irina danced into the living room ahead of her grandfather. "But how will you make it silver like that?"

"I think you will have to wait many years for hair that color, my dear. But I can give you curls like hers, how about that?"

Irina threw her arms around Illya's neck as he sat in a chair, kissing his cheeks. "You are the most perfect Poppy ever."

"I am relieved you think so."

Irina danced out of the room and Illya could hear her continuing to dance, and sing now, as she went up the stairs. He was tired just watching and listening, but the secret smile played about his lips again as he thought back to what his 'goddaughter' had said before she left.

And Grampy was good to his word. All night long, he attended to me and made sure I wasn't alone. Lisle and I sat for awhile, just talking while Grampy did what he had to do, but he danced almost all night with me and I have to confess falling asleep on his shoulder on the way home. I woke up just as we were turning onto our street and sat up stretching a little. The sky was awash with reds and blues and at first I thought they were Christmas lights.

That's when Leon suddenly sat up a little bit. There weren't just police cars in front of our house, there was an ambulance and lots of people, all sort of milling about.

"You two stay in the car," Grampy ordered as Leon parked the car. I could see the frantic need of Lisle to get inside the house and I gasped as I saw a gurney coming down the walk with a sheet-covered body on it. It was too big to be one of the children and I started to wail.

When Grampy opened the car door, I couldn't even move I was crying so hard. Something bad had happened, I knew it from all the activity, and if I'd been home, then I'd be the one dead, not Poppy. Lisle too was crying and Grampy scooped us both into his arms.

"Shh, everything's okay... everyone's fine. He's in the house with the kids. Shhh." It seemed like it took forever for his words to make it to me. Then I sat back and he handed me his handkerchief. I wiped my face, smearing my mascara, but I didn't care.


"That was one of the bad guys. They just don't learn." Grampy shook his head slowly. "You never underestimate the Russian..."

So that's my Christmas tale really. Poppy and the kids were okay, although Poppy got sort of beaten up. I remember seeing one of my fellow foster kids messed up like that and it was sort of scary, but Poppy seemed okay with it. It was hard to turn the dress back in to UNCLE, but it came with an invitation to interview for a position there once Lisle didn't need help anymore. It would be a couple more years, of course, but they said that they would wait for me and I believe them. For the first time in a long time, I believe in a lot of things, including the idea that Santa isn't just this big jolly guy from the North Pole, but that he's also this skinny little blond guy from Russia. Life. Is. Good.

Orchid~ Belle, Magnificence

Sweet William~ Protects from ill

White Rose~ Reverence, humility

Red Rose~ Passionate Love and Respect

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