Mounds of Mistletoe

by Charlie Kirby

Illya Kuryakin moved slowly, so slowly that he wanted to scream in frustration. Not that it would make any difference. Scream or not, right now he had but one speed.

It was a fairly clear December afternoon and he was at the park with his two oldest grandchildren. Alex and two of his friends were busy chasing each other around the playground equipment while Irina and Fran had already found a bench in the weak winter sun and were tending to their dolls.

It constantly amazed him at how different these two children were. Alex was a living example of Newton's First Law of Motion. He was either asleep or running. Irina was just the opposite. She was content to sit and play quietly. Alex liked to be together, as Napoleon put it. Unlike most boys his age, he didn't leave the house unless his hair was combed, his shirt was tucked in and his buttons buttoned. Not that it lasted for long; within minutes, he'd be a mess. Irina, as long as what she was wearing was pink, was happy.

Illya eased down onto a bench and sighed, rubbing his hip though the thick fabric of his coat. Vic said he was healing incredibly well and shouldn't have any trouble returning to work after the first of the year. Illya was glad, but dubious. While the break from work was at first welcome, he'd grown tired of watching TV and reading. He enjoyed his grandchildren, but he found himself more and more yearning for adults and for a real purpose again.

He scratched his cheeks and neck. His beard was almost an inch long, but almost past the itching stage. Not bad for a couple of weeks of not shaving he decided, although it had been a shock to see white mixed in with the gold hair. Apparently, his beard wasn't able to camouflage it as well his head.

He stretched out his sore leg and watched Alex charge up a slide wrong way round. He was going to be an UNCLE agent, Illya had no doubts about that. He had Napoleon's spirit and Illya's stubbornness. Irina, she had a gift of mimicry that bordered on the awe inspiring. He wasn't sure if she was destined for UNCLE, but her little sister certainly was. Inessa's love of explosions was almost frightening. Peter was anyone's guess, but Illya thought he might end up becoming a chef. The little boy's appetite was incredible. He smiled as he contemplated their lives together.

"Poppy?" He broke from his thoughts and looked to where Irina stood beside him. How'd she gotten from the bench to his side so quickly was a mystery. Children seemed to move as fast as the wind.

"Yes, Irina?"

She held up two doll dresses; one was butter yellow and the other cotton candy pink. "Which one do you like better - the lovely pink one or the yucky, icky, poopy yellow one?"

"Irina, this is what is referred to as a loaded question." He brushed the dark hair from her face, then he smiled. "The pink one, of course."

"You have inspeckible taste."

"Impeccable," Illya corrected automatically.

"What does it mean, Poppy?"

"How many times have we had the discussion about using a word that you don't know the meaning to?"

"A gajillion?"

"That's close. Impeccable means without error or fault. Where did you hear it?"

"Grampy said he has impeccable taste in partners, but I'm not sure what he was talking about."

"I am and he's right. He does." He watched her run back to the bench and sit down. He kept his attention moving, watching the people who walked past. While it was not likely that anyone would try to snatch the children, he wasn't about to take the chance. He couldn't move as fast as he used to and that made him twice as diligent.


His head turned automatically and he frowned at the woman rapidly approaching him. She looked familiar, but he wasn't sure. His hand drifted towards his holster just on the off chance she was an old enemy, but then she came closer and he blinked and then smiled in recognition.


"In the flesh!" She got closer and she leaned down to give him a hug. "Still packing, I take it?" she said as she felt his weapon beneath his jacket. Then she saw the cane. "With the same results?"

"Some things remain constant." He gestured to the bench. "How have you been? You left UNCLE thirteen years ago now?"

"Almost, can you believe it?" She settled on the bench, tucking her coat close around her legs to shield them from the cold.

"No, the time goes faster than you can imagine these days. You look well, just the same."

She laughed and waved a hand at him and then over her hair. "You are kidding. I look every year of it, but you... what secret do you have? You don't look a day over forty." Then she stopped and looked around. "Is Napoleon here?"

"No, he is at work." There was a cry and his head turned as Alex got up from the ground, limping and holding his elbow. Illya shot a glance to Nellie. "Pardon me." He held his arms open and the boy tumbled into them, sobbing. "What happened, Alexander?"

"Stupid slide, stupid dirt..."

"A little more articulation, please?" He peeled the boy's grubby hand away and examined the scrape through the torn fabric of the wool sweater. "You skinned your elbow?"

"Uh huh..."

"Then why are you limping?"

"For dramatic effect. " He sniffed and wiped his face with his sleeve.

"It doesn't work." Illya started to ease the arm from the sleeve and Alex shied away.

"It hurts, Poppy." Alex rubbed at his eyes with his other fist.

"I know." Illya got the arm free and blew gently on the scrape and then dug his handkerchief out. He folded it into thirds, then wrapped it around Alex's elbow and tied it. "There you go. Field dressed, just like an agent."

"Just like Mr. Alex's! Wow... I'm official!" He stared at the handkerchief for a moment, then ran off. "Roger, Tony, look at this!"

Illya smiled, glanced over to check on Irina and then looked back at Nellie. "They grow up so fast. I don't know where he gets the energy except possibly siphoning off all of mine."

"Your... son? That's not possible, is it? I mean, I thought you... couldn't..."

"Believe it or not, my oldest grandson." He nodded to Irina as she tutted at her doll's dress. "And that is my granddaughter."

"Grandchildren... how?"

"Long story, short version. My daughter from an incidental liaison back when I 'could' married Napoleon's son from a similar situation back when he 'could' and Leon is very much his father's son. There are five in all."

Nellie sat for a moment and then started to laugh. "That could only happen to you two, I swear. Napoleon is well? You're still together?"

"He is and we are. He took over the reins from Waverly about ten years ago."

"And you, Illya, how are you? Really?" She took his hand and Illya dropped a hand to his hip.

"I am... currently between assignments, pending my recovery from this last round of surgery."

There was a moment of awkward silence and Illya returned to watching his grandchildren.

"Did you or Napoleon ever take the plunge?"


"Either one of you find a woman to call your own?"

He shook his head slowly. "As I said before, some things never change." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Pam and Stephanie approaching, coming to collect Fran. "It is three o'clock already?" He glanced up at the cloud-riddled sky and sighed at the twinge that ran down his leg. "And there is more snow coming."

"Really?" Nellie glanced skyward as well. "The forecasters said nothing about snow."

Illya rubbed his hip and thigh. "Believe me. I have a barometer that would make most meteorologists envious." He got to his feet with the help of his cane just as Irina was running up to him.

"Poppy, Miss Pam said that Frannie's mommies invited me home for a pillow party. Can I go?"

"May I go?"

"Poppy," she scolded with a giggle. "You're silly - it's for girls!"

"No, the correct term is 'May I,' not 'Can I'."

"Yes, Poppy, so can I?"

He glanced over at Pam who gave him a nod and a smile.

"All right, I suppose that will be fine. I will tell your mother and she can send over a bag."

Irina wrapped her arms around his bad leg and hugged him hard. "Thank you. I adore you, Poppy."

"I love you, too," he whispered through gritted teeth. She let go and looked as if she was about to cry. "It's all right, Irina, you just forgot. You go and have a good time. Don't forget we are decorating cookies tomorrow afternoon. You don't want to miss that."

"I will, Poppy, I won't. Bye, bye, Poppy's friend." She ran off back to Fran and threw her arms around her.

Illya chuckled and glanced over at the slide. Lifting a thumb and forefinger to his mouth, he whistled. Alex looked and Illya gestured to him. The little boy stomped over to him.

"Lose the attitude, Alexander," Illya advised.

"Poppy, I'm almost eight. Attitude is all I have..." At Illya's frown, he sighed. "Yes, sir."

"Look at you," Nellie said and Illya glanced at her, suddenly startled. He'd forgotten she was there.


"You are a real honest-to-God grandfather."

He stroked Alex's tousled blond hair affectionately. "Yes, thankfully I am. Nellie, you should come to dinner. You and your husband. Napoleon would love to see you."

"I'm not married..."

"I thought you left UNCLE to..."

"Smoke screen. I was just tired of all the drama, the blood, the agony. I work for a private practice now. No more putting you guys back together with bits of string and glue."

At Alex's mortified look, Illya chuckled. "She is speaking metaphorically, Alex. Do you remember what that means?"

"Sort of... I think." He sighed at Illya's look. "Oh great, more homework..."

Illya shook his head sadly at him. "I wait in dread for your teenage years." To Nellie: "You should still come to dinner." Illya dug a card out of his jacket pocket and scribbled down a number. "Call me and we'll arrange something over the holidays."

"I'd like that." But her smile was sad as she wistfully kissed his cheek and walked away. Illya doubted he'd see her again.

"Pinkles!" Peter pounded his hands on the table and giggled as the small bottles danced.

"You might still be a little young for this," Lisle said, placing a tray of unfrosted cookies down onto the table. Immediately Irina picked one up and began to cover it with pink frosting.

"A pink Santa? That should turn Mrs. Claus on her ear." Leon said as he walked up to his wife. "I will be late tonight."


"Not to worry, my darling. We Solos are a tough breed. Those file cabinets will never know what hit them."

Illya looked up from the cookie he was carefully frosting. "I'm sorry?"

"The new Number One wants to reorganize the office."

"Ah." Illya returned to his task and tried not to show disapproval. The office was designed to run with the greatest of efficiency, but it was natural for Franz to want to take possession of it, mark his territory as it were. It didn't mean Illya had to like it. Part of him still wanted Napoleon to admit it was a mistake, reinstate him as the section head, beg him to come back and get things back on their feet. He knew that wouldn't happen; it couldn't happen, not the way he was now, not the way he was going to be.

"It's okay, Dad." He started as Lisle kissed his cheek. "Feeling sad and angry is part of letting go."

"I'm not sad and I'm not angry," Illya protested.

"Which is why you just frosted a star black..." She frowned. "How did we get black frosting for Christmas cookies?"

"Santa's boots, Mommy," Alex answered, holding his Santa up as an example and then he set it aside to return to his bright blue Christmas tree. "It's for realism."

"Realism? A blue Christmas tree?"

"It's a blue spruce..." The tip of Alex's tongue appeared as he concentrated on getting the frosting right to the edges without going over.

"And mine is a black hole..." Illya muttered, scraping the icing off to start again.

"What's a black hole?" Alex was carefully sticking little silver balls onto his Christmas tree cookie.

"It's a star that has died. It collapses in on itself, creating an enormous gravitational pull. It sucks in itself and anything that gets too close, even light."

Alex looked over to where Peter was licking the palm of his hand and pressing it against the scattered sprinkles on the table top, then transferring thecandy to his mouth. "Oh, you mean like Peter."

Illya smiled, "Yes, exactly like Peter. Nothing food-like is safe from his gravitational pull." He pushed a frosted angel cookie towards the boy. "Peter, like this." He carefully shook the red sugar crystals over the yellow surface. "See?"

"Cookieee." Peter did a fair impression of the Cookie monster as he eyed the treat.

Illya sighed and handed it to him, then hefted him out of his booster seat and onto the floor. "I think that one is just too fixated for this task. Go find Inessa. Go blow something up."

"Okie," Peter mumbled around his mouthful of cookie.

"I would love to know where he gets that appetite." Lisle's voice trailed off, chuckling as Illya helped himself to a bit of broken reindeer cookie. "Never mind; I think I just answered my own question."

Irina held up a pink tree that was decorated with cinnamon hearts. "Do you think Grampy will like this one? I made it special for him."

"I think he'll find that one especially delightful," Genève said, wiping a bit of icing from Irina's cheek.

Irina slid out of the chair and walked over to the counter to put the cookie up out of Peter's reach. She came back and stopped to lean against Illya, resting her head on his knee.

"Is there something wrong, little one?" Illya asked. He pushed his glasses back into place with the back of his hand.

"Poppy, are you my Christmas wish?"

"What do you mean, Irina?" Illya set aside the cookie he was working on.

"I asked Santa for a special friend to be with me forever and here you are." She sighed. "I was talking about a puppy, but I guess I wasn't 'pecific enough. It's okay though, 'cuz you're nice too."

Illya smiled slightly. "Thank you, I think you're pretty nice too."

There was a wail from the other room and Irina smiled. "Ginny's awake. I'll go get her, Mommy!" She raced out before Lisle could say anything and Genève stood.

"I'll go help her," she said. "I'll check on the other two as well and make sure neither of them is blowing up anything of great importance."

"She is going to make a fine mother some day," Illya said as the young woman hurried from the room. "And Irina as well."

"I don't know where she gets it." Lisle stood and started to walk to the kitchen door. Illya caught her hand and squeezed it.

"I do. You're a wonderful mother, Lisle. Why would you think otherwise?"

She smiled and he pulled her down onto his lap. "Aren't I a little old for this?" She sat carefully, keeping most of her weight balanced onto his good side.

"Making up for lost time. Unless you are indeed too old for this."

"Never." She slid her arms around his waist and rested her head on his shoulder. "You must be my special Christmas wish as well."

"Why do you say that? I feel more like the perennial freeloader."

"What? Leon and I would never be able to make it without you, Napoleon and Genève." She kissed his whiskered cheek. "I don't think there's a day that goes by I don't thank whatever gods might be listening that you are all here for us."

"I'm getting a little nauseous over here," Alex muttered and Illya shot him a look.

"I hear there's a remedy for that - extra math homework." He rested his head against Lisle's.

"How come, if we're home schooled, I still get homework? Wouldn't everything I do be technically homework?"

"Yes, and I could find a lot more of it if you'd like," Lisle offered.

"No, thanks."

There was a sound and the shouting of his siblings. "Grampy's home, cool!" He slid from the table and took off at a run.

Illya looked down at the table and then at his daughter. "So tell me, why is it that this is all the children could talk about for the past three days and now they are all gone... deserting the ship, as it were? We the few?"

Genève carried in a whimpering Ginny. "I think someone's hungry. Do you want me to warm up a bottle?"

"More a case of you the only, I'm afraid, at least for the time being." Lisle carefully got off Illya's lap and reached for her daughter. "Are you hungry, sweetheart? Let's go take care of that."

Genève passed the baby to her and resumed her chair at the table. "It's okay, Poppy, I'll decorate cookies with you."

Illya sighed and reached for a reindeer. "These hands used to be licensed weapons in five countries, now reduced to this..."

He spread the frosting onto the cookie and heard a soft voice in his ear. "Oh, I'd say they're still pretty lethal, partner, given the right circumstances." Napoleon squeezed his shoulders and Illya sighed.

"Yes, another five minutes and I shall have the Pillsbury Doughboy quaking in fear." Illya shook some chocolate jimmies on the cookie and passed it to him.

"My hero." Napoleon took a bite and smiled.

"My ass."

"That as well." Napoleon's communicator chirped and he shook his head. "All day long..." He grinned over at the young girl. "Good evening, Genève, you are looking very comely with that frosting on your nose."

"I have frosting on my nose?" Her hand went up, touching the tip of it and smearing the frosting from her finger onto it.

"You do now." Napoleon winked as she giggled and wiped it off with a dish towel. "Excuse me, duty calls."

Illya watched him leave, even more depressed. He missed being the one dragged from one task to another, placing the demands and the needs of others above his own. His hip twinged and he sighed. Used up and tossed away like a piece of garbage.

Two slender arms encircled his neck and he turned his head slightly to look back at Genève. "What's wrong?"

"You just really looked like you could use a hug, that's all."

"You are right, thank you. What would we do without you?"

"I hope you never ever find out - I don't want to leave here, ever. As long as Lisle and Leon will let me stay here, I will." She released him and went back to her chair. "After being tossed around like baggage, I know when I've got it good."

"Don't you ever wish for something more?"

"I've spent my whole life just wishing one person would accept me as I am, not as some freak of nature. Now I have an entire household of people who don't see me as Ghost the Albino, they see me as just plain Genève. If I could lose the red eyes, no one would even look at me weird anymore."

"Have you thought about contact lenses?"

She laughed and reached for another cookie. "Money and I are pretty much strangers to each other, Poppy. I have a warm house, food, a loving family and a reason to get up in the morning. What would I do with money?"

"I have a proposition for you." Illya set down his knife. "Every year, Napoleon, as the leader of UNCLE, attends a formal Christmas party given for various heads of state. This year, Leon will attend as his bodyguard and will take Lisle with him."

"Oh, that's okay, I'll babysit. I don't mind."

"That's not what I had in mind. I would like it very much if you could go as Napoleon's escort. A beautifully exotic woman on his arm would be just the thing."

"But aren't you and Grampy..."

"Yes, but there is a time and a place and a formal dinner with various closed minded officials is not it. And, quite frankly, I don't think I could physically handle it. There is a cocktail party, then a formal dinner with dancing. Too much standing, followed by too much sitting, I'd either be in serious discomfort or drugged up to my eyebrows, not an attractive situation in either event."

"You said it was a proposition."

"That's right."

"That means we both get something we want."

"Again, correct. Tomorrow when Pam and Stephanie are here teaching, you and I will go out for a little while. Do you trust me?"

"Of course; you're Poppy, slayer of the Pillsbury Doughboy." She laughed and Illya joined in.

Napoleon walked back into the room and looked from one to the other. "What's the joke?"

"No joke, just a secret."

"It's the season for them." Napoleon walked to the stove. "I feel like cooking tonight. What's on the menu?"

"It's Wednesday, so it's chicken," Alex said, running back in and climbing up into his chair. "I won!" he shouted loudly as Irina followed him in.

"You cheated."

"You only say that when you lose."

"That's because it's the only time you cheat! Otherwise I win."

"Santa's watching and taking notes, you two," Genève said, winking at Illya. Napoleon looked over from his task of crushing cornflakes and nodded.

"Genève is right; he sees you when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake."

"Does Santa watch us always, like God?" Irina's brow furrowed and she looked concerned.

"Yes, but he tends to grade on the curve, fortunately for some." Napoleon winked at her as he dug a package of chicken legs out of the refrigerator.

"I'm going to start wearing my underwear when I take a bath then," she announced, crossing her arms protectively over her chest. "I don't want anyone seeing me naked. That isn't nice."

"Who'd want to, Ugly?" Alex stuck his tongue out and Irina burst into tears.

Illya stood and pointed. "That was totally uncalled for, Alexander! To your room now, before I'm tempted to do something drastic."



Head down, Alex stomped from the room, passing Leon on his way out, a giggling toddler clinging to either leg. They shrieked every time he took a step.

"More! More!" Inessa ordered and Peter joined in with, "Uppie, uppie!"

"Who needs the gym after you two? Dare I ask what's going on here?" Leon watched Alex leave as he picked up his daughter and tickled her stomach until the tears gave way to laughter. Illya had seated himself again and returned to the task at hand.

"Creative differences," Napoleon said, dusting the chicken in flour. He dipped each one into an egg wash and then rolled them in the cornflake crumbles. "What are you doing home? I thought you were on tonight."

"That got scuttled. I only got halfway in when Franz got wind of something going on and grabbed Phillips to go check it out. Told me to come home and babysit you."

Peter immediately abandoned his father and headed for his grandfather, his eyes wide and very interested. "Mmm, chicken!"

"Notice how perfect his diction is when he's talking about food," Leon said, setting Irina down. "Where's my charming bride?"

"Nursing your youngest." Illya pointed with his knife. Leon grabbed a cookie and headed out.

"I don't know why we're bothering, Genève. They seem to be eating them as fast as we decorate them. At this rate, there will be none left for Santa."

He felt rather than saw Peter's approach. "Poppy?"

"Yes, Peter?"

Peter handed him a mushy handful of cookie. "For Tanta."

"I'm certain Santa will appreciate your generosity, Peter, thank you." Illya clamped his teeth together at the sopping mess. "Irina, why don't you take your brother and sister and go wash up for dinner?"

"Okay, Poppy." She held out a hand to each of them. "Let's sing, guys! Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way."

"Jingle, jingle," Inessa shouted and hopped. "Horsie sleigh..."

"Make sure that soap and water are actually used in the process," Illya called after them.

"We will."

Once they were out of the room, Illya limped to the sink and rinsed off his hand. "That has to count as one of the less desirable things I've had handed to me." He flexed his hand and then dried it on his shirt, coming to stand by Napoleon's side.

"Do we have a great bunch of kids or what?" Napoleon began to pan fry the chicken legs, smiling as Illya stole a fast kiss.

"Speaking of such, I should go up to the tower and release the young prince."

"Think he's cooled down?"

"Our grandson, are you crazy?" Illya unhooked his cane from the back of his chair. "The most we can hope for is reticent agreement to not further engage his sister at dinner. Did you fight this much with your sister?"

Napoleon looked up from his task of searching for a pair of tongs. "Sadly, I did."

"It must be universal... I teased my young siblings so much, I was sure that's why my parents sent me to state school. It didn't stop me, just made me a bit angrier."

"But you get along now?" Genève asked quietly.

"As long as I remain here and they remain in the USSR—"

"Russia, my friend, they are now calling it Russia; there is no more USSR."

"The habit of a lifetime, I fear." Illya limped to the door and paused at the foot of the stairs. Setting his jaw, he began to climb. By the time he'd accomplished the twelfth stair, he was ready to lie down on the floor and take a nap. The pain and the limitations he accepted as unavoidable, but the tiredness left him feeling as weak as a baby. It seemed to take so much out of him to just get from Point A to Point B these days.

Sighing, he tapped on Alex's door. "Alexander?"

"Go away!"

"Try again." Illya kept his voice even. The boy was such a handful these days.

"Come in."

The boy was lying on his bed, arms crossed, glaring at the wall. Toys were scattered around the room, obviously the victims of his temper tantrum.

Illya winced and bent down to pick up a remote control car, one of its wheels missing. Illya skipped the lecture about taking care of things. He knew that Alex was not in the mood to listen to him.

He eased himself down onto the edge of the bed and studied the toy in his hands. When he was growing up, he never had a store-bought toy, hadn't even known they existed until he mistakenly happened into a shop near his secondary school. After that, he was a frequent visitor, not to buy, but just to look at such wonders as wooden soldiers, dolls and artfully crafted tin creations of all manners and imagine. Illya also remembered his first purchase with money he'd earned tutoring. Dolls for his little sisters, toy soldiers for his brothers, a hair ribbon for his mother and a tie tack for his father. It had taken every ruble he had, but it had been worth it to see his siblings' delight and watch Mama tie back her hair. Papa had proudly worn that tie tack for years afterwards and announced that it had been a gift from his son to anyone who cared to listen and even some who weren't. It seemed like yesterday; it seemed like a million years ago. He'd been so strong, so able and now he couldn't even get in or out of the bathtub by himself.

"Why do you insist upon tormenting your sister?" He kept his voice soft as he rubbed Alex's back in slow circles.

"Because it's easy and she deserves it." He tried to shrug Illya's hand off.

"Why does she deserve it? Don't you love her?"

"You and Grampy fight... I hear you."

"What does that have to do with you and your sister?"

"Sometimes love is scrambling someone a couple of eggs and other times it's pulling their hair. You don't do it to be mean; you just do it 'cause you have to. Life, liberty, and the right to pick on your kid sister, it says so in the Constitution."

"Not the version I read." Illya placed a hand on the boy's shoulder, rolling him over. "You need to apologize to her. You are lucky to have a sister."

"You want her, you can have her."

"I've got three of my own, thanks all the same."

"Then you should understand, Poppy."

"What I understand is that you need to go downstairs and tell Irina that you are sorry you hurt her feelings. It's the right thing to do and you know it."

"Even if I ain't?"

"Especially then."

"I never have any fun."

"Welcome to my world."

Still the boy slid from the bed and walked out. Illya watched him and sighed.

Slowly he got back up onto his feet and started the shuffle towards the stairs. Down meant another plunge into the madness of the family, where he would be arbitrator, referee, the calm voice of reason, or whatever else they needed him to be. Upstairs meant peace and quiet for a few minutes... and his pain medication. He checked his watch and smiled grimly. He'd managed to go almost an hour past the drug's limit. Better than yesterday when he'd managed just half an hour, but still not long enough. He'd started weaning himself off the pain medication the first part of the week.

Illya looked down and then up. The sound of a fresh flight erupted below and he went up.

Illya had lain down for a few minutes, just to give the medicine a chance to kick in and his hip a rest. Now he woke, confused and feeling woolly headed. There was a blanket over him and his shoes and pants were gone. He must have been seriously asleep for that to happen. Usually the lightest touch woke him.

"Napoleon?" he asked quietly.

"I'm here." The voice seemed a long way off, but he must have been close at hand. "You're finally awake. I was starting to get worried."


"You came up at about four, it's now past ten. I've never seen pain meds knock you out like that before and I became concerned that you'd taken too much. I was about to call Vic."

"I'm okay." Illya started to sit up, but a wave of dizziness washed over him and he fell back down. "Or not."

Instantly Napoleon was there, helping him sit up. "Easy there, partner. You should know better than to take that stuff on an empty stomach."

"It wasn't... I didn't think..."

"You're going to have to trust me on this one." Napoleon stuck a pillow behind his back. "I'll go get you something."

"I'm not hungry."

"A moot point right now. You have to eat something. You lose any more weight and you won't pass the minimum weight requirement for field work."

"I don't want anything, really, Napoleon. And I'm never going to be field qualified, not at my age, not with this." He rubbed his leg, his eyes shut.

"Illya..." Napoleon's voice had taken on a strange fuzzy edge to it and Illya frowned.



"What?" Why Napoleon chose to ignore him, Illya didn't know and he didn't very much care. He closed his eyes again and let himself drift back to sleep. Let's be real, no one would miss me anyhow. I could just sleep for the rest of my life and no one would care. The fact that Napoleon said nothing else to him only strengthened that sense of uselessness. Asleep, he could run, leap, fall, roll and be back on his feet before he even knew it. He chased down a couple of bad guys, let them have five of his finest and went back for more. Then he was in the gym, taking on some of Section Two's best and showing them just how much of a handful he could be.

An explosion, and in that instant, his life changed. It would have been so much easier if Napoleon had just left him there, let him bleed out, let him be done with it. Or if they'd just amputated the leg to begin with and removed any glimmer of normalcy. It would have to have been easier than this.

Then a small bundle was placed in his arms and he looked into the face of his grandson, his granddaughter, the twins, little Ginny, only to have them snatched away and placed out of his reach.


He struggled to get his eyes open - it was too hard, so he kept them shut. "Irina?"

"Why is Grampy crying?"

Illya's eyes flew open and he sat up. He was on the couch and Napoleon glanced over at him.

"Hey, you're finally awake." Napoleon set a hand on Illya's arm. "Are you okay?"

"How long have I been asleep?"

"Not that long. You did miss some incredible chicken though." He squeezed Illya's forearm. "But I managed to save you a couple of pieces. It got ugly for a few minutes, but I beat Peter out of it fair and square."

"I can just see you taking on a two year old for that." Illya managed a smile. "I'm sorry I slept through it."

"Just takes a while to get the energy level back up." Napoleon stood and went into the small kitchen to warm up the meal he'd saved. "We both know that. The older we get, the longer it takes. "

"I'm never going back, am I, Napoleon?"

"What?" He handed Illya a plate. "What makes you say that, partner?"

"A gut feeling. UNCLE is changing, hell, the whole world is changing and I'm falling behind. I can't keep up and I'm not even sure I want to try."

"Now you are just talking crazy and I know it's the drugs. Eat something and get some more sleep. You'll feel differently in the morning."

"And if I don't?"

"Then we'll deal with that when it comes - together, just as we have everything else in our lives." He poured some milk in a glass and set it down beside the plate. "Drink that and you'll get dessert."

"I'll hazard a guess that it's cookies?" Illya picked up a drumstick and bit into it.

"See? You're not as out of the loop as you think."

"Just me and Poppin' Fresh..."


"Pillsbury Doughboy."

"Oh." Napoleon was quiet for a moment. "I... um... had a surprise call while you were sleeping. Nellie."

"I ran into her at the park." Illya took a swig of milk. "Invited her over for dinner one evening."

"Next Thursday, if hell doesn't freeze over and the crick don't rise."

"I'm sorry?"

"An old saying."

"I see." He didn't, but it didn't really matter.

"Illya, do you ever wish things had turned out differently?"

"What do you mean?"

"You were prepared to marry her."

"She was carrying my child, Napoleon. It was only right."

"If you had, you would have come out of the field early." Napoleon pointed to his partner's leg. "That never would have happened."

"I don't waste time engaged in 'what ifs,' Napoleon. Things happened the way they were meant to. I might not like them, but at the same time, what would I give up? My grandchildren? Lisle?" He caught Napoleon's hand. "You?" He shook his head. "None of those options are acceptable to me. I made my choice long ago and I don't regret it for a moment."

"That sounds more like the man I know and love." Napoleon stood and offered him a hand. "Let's get you to bed."

"You are blessed with a singularly one-tracked mind."

"Only when you're around, partner."

Illya rocked a wailing Ginny and rubbed her back. The baby rarely cried except when she was hungry or needed a diaper change. Both of these had been tended to and still she cried.

The older children were in bed, fast asleep. It was just Ginny and him at the moment. "Ginny, what is wrong? Not that you can tell me, of course." He patted her back and she cried that much harder. "You don't have a fever and you're not hungry or wet. Are you in pain or is this just some diabolic plot to push me over the edge?"

She paused at that, sniffled, then started in anew. Illya switched arms, cradling her in one arm as he angled his cane and got to his feet. He carried her to a sideboard and laid her down. He'd already stripped her to make sure nothing was rubbing or poking her. Now, seeing her in just her diaper, he was struck by her deformity. Her left arm was half as big as her right, the limb ending with just three fingers below her elbow.

"The beginning and end of the line, kiddo. We are a matched pair, except you'll never know any different. You'll grow up and adapt. I'll just grow older and more resentful." He wrapped her tightly in a blanket, swaddling her as he remembered his mother doing to his younger siblings, and, he assumed, himself.

Ginny stopped crying and sleepily blinked her eyes. Within another minute, she was sleeping and Illya was shaking his head.

There was a knock to the door and Illya scooped Ginny up and set her in her carrier, then hobbled to the door.

He glanced out and saw Nellie illuminated by the Christmas lights ... and someone else, someone he didn't know... that was odd. He hobbled as quickly as he could to the gun safe and removed his P.38. Checking the clip, he put on the safety and went back to Ginny, sleeping in her carrier. Shutting his eyes in a silent prayer, he tucked the gun behind her and then limped back as the knocking sounded again.

"Alexander, Irina," he shouted as loudly as he dared. After a moment, Irina appeared at the top of the stairs, rubbing her eyes.

"Poppy, is it morning already?"

"Get Alex and the twins into our apartment."

"But Poppy..."

"No arguments. Now!"

The knocking was taking on an edge of desperation as he managed his way back to the door. He could hear movement above his head. He counted to ten and then murmured a slurred, "Yes?" He hoped it made him sound half asleep.

"Illya, please, it's me, Nellie. I've got an emergency."

It was against his better judgment, but he knew he had to open the door. Still, he pulled out his communicator and twisted it on. "I have a situation at the Solo residence. I need backup," he murmured quietly into the instrument and then, without turning it off he tucked it into his shirt pocket, hidden in plain view.

"Yes, Nellie, what's wrong?" He pushed open the door and suddenly had an armful of the former UNCLE nurse. The impetus took him to the floor and the resulting pain nearly caused him to black out.

"What did I tell you? A piece of cake." One man, vaguely familiar, spoke to a second.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Nellie whispered again and again as she rolled off him. "They came to my house, forced their way in, they killed my cats... my poor TomTom and said they'd do the same to me if I didn't..."

"It's okay, Nellie. THRUSH, I'm assuming?" Illya gritted his teeth and got slowly to his feet.

"Ah, you remember me, no?"

"I remember you not at all, but these days our enemies manage a bit more polish and finesse. This exhibits a certain brutality that I attribute to that dying organization." That earned him a blow to his hip and even though the resulting pain was white hot, he kept his face set.

"We are not dying! We are mighty and we will soar again. Not like you, old man." He touched the tip of his pistol to Illya's beard. "Too crippled to be of any use to anyone - even Solo won't let you out in public anymore. All you're good for is to babysit." The man gestured towards the upstairs. "So how much do you think Solo is willing to give for the safe release of his grandchildren?"

Illya shook his head slowly. "You will have to come through me first."

"You, old man? One good solid kick to your hip and you'd be out of commission. We've been watching you for a while now. You're useless in a fight."

"Not all fights are physical, but again, I forget, you are THRUSH. Mental engagement is not your forte." The man leveled a gun to his chest and Illya looked at it calmly. "I do not fear death, not anymore and not for a long time."

"What about hers?" The gun swung in Nellie's direction and Illya hunched his shoulders.

"She is little more than a stranger to me now." Illya looked at her coolly and then back. "Do what you will with her."

"You heartless bastard," the second THRUSH choked out. "He could be one of us."

"Not heartless, just tired." Illya began to hobble back to the living room, his limp greatly exaggerated. He was just marking time now, waiting, hoping that reinforcements were on their way. He had no real way of knowing how long it would take. Since he wasn't in charge any more, he didn't know how the structure might have changed. He'd always kept one man on watch, just to be sure. Who knew what the policy was now?

"Well, then why don't we all sit down and wait for the boss man?" The head man checked his watch as Illya slowly lowered himself down onto the rocking chair. Nellie opted for an overstuffed chair, festooned with various stuffed toys. She picked up a teddy and hugged it to her chest. "Ricky, why don't you go up and get the other kids and bring them down here? That way we can use them as leverage if Solo decides to play hardball."

"I don't know, man - kids? I'm rotten with kids."

"We got their glorified babysitter here. He can take care of them - he ain't much good for much else."

A few minutes later, the yell came. "They ain't here."


"They ain't here."


"Nope, but there's some locked door at the head of some stairs."

The pistol swung back to Illya. "Locked door?"

"Attic. It's dangerous for the kids to be up there, so it's kept locked."

"Where's the key?" The head man walked to Illya and lifted his foot, settling it down onto Illya's throbbing leg. He leaned forward and Illya grimaced. Thankfully the nature of the chair prevented him from suffering too much, but it was still uncomfortable. He just let the THRUSH think it was worse than it was,

"On Leon's belt, I imagine. It's not like I live here."

"Where are the kids, old man?" The man applied more pressure to Illya's hip and black dots swam in the Russian's vision.

He blinked and held on to consciousness by sheer stubbornness. "At friends' houses," he gasped out. "As you said, I'm not much good for anything and one child is all I can handle at a time." Ginny began to fuss and Illya looked over at her. "May I or would my holding a child upset your delicate balance of revenge and bloodlust?"

After a moment, the man gestured. "Go, just shut her the hell up or I'll do it for you."

"It's okay, Ginny, there's nothing to worry about." Illya grunted to his feet and hobbled to the carrier. Slipping a hand behind Ginny as if to lift her, he pulled the P.38 free and fired, all in one motion. He dropped the man with a bullet between the eyes. Even with the silencer attached, it made too much noise. Ginny started to wail, a sound to wake the dead. "Shh, it's okay, Ginny. He's not going to hurt you."

"What the hell is going...?" Illya took Ricky down as he entered the room. Ginny's eyes grew larger at the noise and she started to hiccup as she cried.

"Are there anymore?" Illya turned to Nellie. She was rocking back and forth, shaking her head. He was more than familiar with the signs of trauma. "Nurse, report!" he barked the command and Ginny cried louder.

Nellie looked at him in confusion. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."

"Yes, you've already sung that song to me. Are there more THRUSH?"

"Two keeping watch outside."

"Take Ginny. Go upstairs to the attic door. Knock twice, then once, then twice again. Tell Alex I sent you to him. Do you understand?"

"Two, one, two.

"Go!" He handed her the crying child and gave her an encouraging push.

"But what about you?"

"I'm going to work."

There were three doors out of the Solo residence, the main door, one to the back yard and another to the side yard through the garage. It was the darkest and Illya took the chance that it would be the one unguarded.

Pulling a black cap over his head, he wound a dark scarf around his face and slipped out into the narrow passage. He held his breath, but there was no gun report, no shouts for him to stop. They had seriously underestimated him, it would appear and not for the first time.

He limped first towards the street, keeping to the shadows as much as possible. It took him a moment to spot the gunman, partially concealed in a clump of bushes. A dark lump told him the UNCLE agent assigned was down, either unconscious or dead. If Napoleon were to arrive, he would be walking right into it.

Illya hobbled to the other end of the narrow alleyway and cracked open the gate. The man stationed there was less stealthy. He had one hip propped up on a small plastic slide, his attention focused on the living room curtains. Illya assumed he'd been told to watch and make sure no one exited that way. That could cut both ways.

A loud car full of holiday revelers went by and Illya took that moment to fire, hoping that the noise of the gun would just be attributed to a car's backfire. The THRUSH crumpled and fell to the ground, unconscious as opposed to the two inside the house. Those Illya hadn't taken any chances with.

He quickly hobbled to the man and propped him back up on the slide, just in case Nellie was wrong and there were more than just the two. The ruse had bought him time in the past, hopefully; it would again.

He winced as he crouched down behind the hedge and thought about his next move. If he came around the house, the lone gunman would see him. If he came through the gate on the other side of the house, the movement would again attract attention. He needed to be able to sneak up on the THRUSH.

He was so lost in thought that it took him nearly a full five seconds to register the warm breath on the side on his face. He jumped instinctively and was rewarded by a wet tongue.

"Waldo," he hissed. "What are you doing here?" The dog whined and nuzzled his beard.

The gunman flinched as the dog bounced up to him and barked, tail wagging.

"Go away, dog," he whispered, gesturing with his hand. Waldo bounced, thinking a game was in order. "Get lost!" Waldo ran a couple of steps away, and dropped to the ground, woofing happily. "Stupid dog." He raised his gun and aimed.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you."

The man turned and Illya gave him a fist in the mouth. In his heyday, that would have been enough to have dropped a potential enemy, but now it appeared to just make him mad. It had been over five years since Illya had had any serious hand-to-hand combat and it showed. Still he knew he couldn't lose this. Napoleon, Leon, his daughter, their grandchildren, all those lives hung in the balance now. If he lost, he was determined that it would be only after the fight of his life.

He caught a fist in the mouth and tasted blood, the first time in so long, he'd nearly forgotten the taste, coppery on his tongue. He reciprocated with an elbow to the man's midsection and a simultaneous knee to his chin. Illya's hip screamed its displeasure, but the adrenaline had taken over. He felt nothing now save the need to win, heard nothing but the sound of flesh meeting flesh and the responding grunts.

"Police, freeze!"

It took nearly a minute for those words to get through to Illya's brain. He caught the THRUSH by the collar and looked into the man's face.

"Remember, no matter what, this family is protected." He swayed for a moment and then dropped to his knees, not even aware of the gravel biting into the skin through his jeans. Immediately, Waldo was there, slobbering over an ear. Illya draped an arm over the hairy back and sighed. "Good dog."

A moment later, they were surrounded, first by police and then his own agents. Some of them he hadn't seen in weeks and yet it was of no difference to them. Instantly they responded to him as their leader and waited for his instructions.

Unaided, Illya got to his feet and he gestured to Waldo. "He lives three doors down that way. Blue house with the red lights. Let them know their dog was a hero tonight."

"What about you, boss?" Hawkins, an up and coming Section Three agent, asked anxiously.

"I suspect I have some grandchildren to calm down."

Ignoring the help standing by, Illya limped into the house and up the two flights of stairs. Once he got the children calmed down and Nellie on her way, he hobbled into the bathroom to inspect the damage.

He had a black eye coming up and a split lip caked with dried blood. One cheek was scraped and his back and hip throbbed in time with his heart. Illya smiled, splitting his lip again. It was the first time in a long time he'd felt so alive and he reached for his razor.

Illya yawned and tried to keep his eyes open long enough to drink his coffee. It wasn't bad enough that unwrapping of Christmas gifts started just after the crack of dawn, but he, Napoleon, and Leon had been up until just before the crack of dawn trying to get some of the toys assembled. When a set of instructions buffaloed both he and his partner, it was time to turn in his shingle and last night had very nearly been it.

"Look, look, look." Peter held up a new truck, grinning. "Room!" Immediately he began running it over the carpet, ramming it into Inessa's new blocks. There was a shriek and crying.

Irina was twirling in her pink tutu and waving her wand in a large arc. Alex was transfixed by the latest additions to his train set, a fully staffed town and station. Lisle had been up late for the last three nights, getting all the people painted and detailed.

Even Genève had entered into the spirit of the day, surprised and then delighted that there were gifts under the tree for her as well. She'd taken scraps of fabric and sewn together dolls for the twins, a pink 'princess' blanket for Irina and a stuffed train for Alex.

"So did you get everything you wanted?" Napoleon asked his granddaughter as she sat down at his feet to dig into her stocking.

"No, but that's okay." She pulled out a bottle of faux perfume and sighed happily as she dabbed the scent beneath her ears. "Why can't it be Christmas every day?"

"Adults need the sleep," Leon muttered from his slouch on the couch.

"What did you want that Santa didn't bring you, sweetheart?" Napoleon stroked her dark hair gently.

"A puppy, I asked really nice and Genève even helped me write a really nice letter. I used ink and everything..."

Leon stood and walked quietly out of the room. Illya dropped his head to the back of the couch and sighed. A moment later a little beagle puppy bounded into the room, then started to retreat at the squeals. Leon scooped him up and carried him to the middle of the room. "Get used to it, my fine lad," he advised the puppy. The children crowded around him, trying to pet the wiggling whiny pet.

With a grin, Leon plopped the puppy down on Illya's stomach and the man lifted his head to glare at Leon.

"Just because you're younger than me, that doesn't mean I can't still take you down." Illya grimaced and shifted up slightly, catching the puppy's ears one in each hand. "He's all ears."

"I don't doubt that for a minute, Illya." Leon said, kneeling to catch the twins before they could crawl up onto their grandfather.

Illya sat up to lift the puppy to the floor. It wiggled and suddenly Illya became aware of growing warmth on the front of his tee shirt.

Inessa squealed and pointed. "Puppy pee!"

Lisle giggled and picked up her daughter. "And guess who's going to be cleaning up the puppy pee? Not I said the Little Red Hen. She set the little girl down and drew the excited Alex and Irina to her. "Having a dog is a lot of hard work. He has to be fed and walked, groomed and taken care of. You both will need to play with him and love him even after he's not a puppy. We want to take good care of him so he'll be with us a long time."

"And we'll keep him at our house, not like the irresponsible Waldo," Irina said, giggling as she got a sloppy kiss.

"I don't think Waldo is the irresponsible party in that relationship. Some people should have animals."

"But we should. Can we get a kitten now?" Irina looked hopefully from her mother to her grandfathers.

Lisle and Napoleon started laughing as Illya glared at them and then the puppy, shaking him gently.

"Я не люблю собак (I don't like dogs)!" The puppy yapped and licked his nose. Illya set him on the floor and the children gathered around. "Well, at least I've got a brand new replacement...somewhere amid the wrapping . If you'll excuse me, I think I'll go change."

"What should we call him?" Genève asked. "What would be nice?"

Napoleon stood and offered Illya a hand up. After a second, Illya accepted it and picked his way carefully through the wrapping paper. He was still sore and stiff from the fight, but he didn't begrudge the pain the way he had before. Now he welcomed it as an old friend.

"We could still put that elevator in, you know."

"Thanks, but I'll pass for right now. Those are for old men."

"You're hardly that." Napoleon said, following behind him. "I am glad you shaved, though. At least it's only a small dog," he offered, not bothering to shut the door. "Do you think they'll miss us?"

"They have a new puppy, what you do think? Napoleon, we have joined the ranks of last year's toys, at least until they want something from us."

"I was talking about our kids, not the grandkids." He looked toward the bedroom door. "Bed's pretty damn appealing at the moment."

"So was I. Lisle said something about caroling later this afternoon."

"Leaves me out, I can't sing."

"You do all right," Illya said with a small smile. He disappeared into the bedroom and Napoleon heard the shower running. He grinned and walked into his room. There buried deep in one of the drawers was a carefully wrapped gift. It had taken a near miracle to get it in through the eagle eyes of their grandchildren.

It was sitting on the coffee table as Illya walked back in, dressed in a pair of jeans and a sweat shirt.

"What's this?"

"Pour vous."

Illya picked it up and gave it a gentle shake. "What is it?"

"Open it and find out."

Illya slid off the ribbon and carefully removed the paper. It was a jewelry box and he flipped open the top of it. Inside was a familiar yellow badge with a Number Two on it.

"I don't understand." Illya took the badge out and turned it over. "Is this some sort of American gesture, like retiring a football jersey?"

"Not retired, reinstated. You've been made active again... with provisions."

"I don't... why?"

"We decided we couldn't do it without you. You'll be attached to Section Two and Three in an advisory capacity. Not exactly in charge, but they won't move without your okay."

"You can't tell me Franz is fine with this."

"Franz was the one who suggested it. Said he was fine with the field work, but that administration left him dazed and confused... I'm almost certain that was the phrase he used."

"You're lying."

"Does it matter?"

"No, not really." He returned the badge to its box. "Thank you. It's good to be wanted."

"You still have a long life ahead of you, Illya. I, for one, see no reason for you to not be doing a job you've spent your whole life preparing for." Napoleon stood and stretched. "Now, I am going to try and grab a little more sleep before anyone notices we're missing."

"That sounds like a good plan." Illya ran a finger over the badge and closed the box.

"Now, there's just one more thing."

Illya glanced over at Napoleon. There was an odd tone in his voice. "What..."


The world suddenly tipped to one side as he turned and swallowed. "Mama?"

With the hopes that your Christmas dreams come true as well...

Please post a comment on this story.
Read posted comments.