It was a mystery how I managed to hold onto my purse at all. The taxi seemed to be weaving from side to side with way too much frequency. Sighing, I got my wallet out and found the ten I'd tucked in there—mad money my mom would have called it.
Not for the first time, I wondered just why I'd agreed to go to Wendy's party at all. I didn't know her all that well and I'm not that much of a partygoer. It was just, well, I didn't want to go back to my apartment all quiet and sad tonight. Usually I find great solace there, but not at Christmas. Even though I put up a tree and decorate, there's something missing... my heart. That is firmly tucked at the base of my parent's tree with those of my sisters'. Anywhere else was just somewhere else, but back home was the only place for me to be for the holidays and I was ready.
Anyway, the wine flowed freely, too freely, and while it was fun for a bit, I soon became aware of the fact that I was drunk—really and sort of scary drunk. Thankfully, someone called me a cab and I laughingly blurted out the address. There would be hell to pay tomorrow, but tonight I was pretty darn happy.
The cab came to an abrupt stop and I ended up on the floor, a pretty nasty place in a New York taxi, but I was too drunk to care. I picked myself up, shoved a ten into the cabbie's hand and stumbled into my building.
I felt as if I was trying to negotiate one of those crazy drawings—you know the one with the stairs at all angles? Nothing was where it was supposed to be, but finally, FINALLY, I found a familiar door. Then the trick was to get the key into the lock. No matter how carefully I aimed, the key seemed to veer off to one side.
I slapped the door, knowing it did no good. Last I knew Muffy had not yet figured out how to work the knob. I would have to go see Mrs. Partington and see if she'd let me in. She was going to love this.
Then my front door opened and I tumbled into a warm and solid mass of arms. I got myself righted and stared. "Illya Kuryakin, what are you doing in my apartment?" I blurted out after a moment.
"I think rather the question is why are you trying to break into mine, Nurse Thompson?" I sagged just then and he hauled me back up. "And why are you staggering around this neighborhood under the influence?"
"Taxi left me here."
"I see." Illya guided me to the couch and I sat down. The place was as I remembered it, neat but a bit barren. "So to what do I owe this unexpected visit? Besides alcohol?"
"Isn't that enough, buddy?" I sort of tipped to one side and caught myself. "How about you and me tap the tight lanfastic."
"I think perhaps we need to get you sobered up instead. How do you take your coffee?"
"Orally." I started to giggle.
"At least you are a happy drunk." If he said anything after that, I didn't hear him. I was suddenly face first in a sofa cushion and it felt so nice and comfy, I shut my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
I woke up with a raging thirst and the feeling that my eyes were about to burst from their sockets. I moaned and managed to get one eye cracked open.
I whimpered at the loudness of Illya's voice, although I'm sure he wasn't shouting.
"Let's get you to the bathroom." He was pulling me out of the warm nest I'd made and I wasn't very happy about it.
That became apparent a moment later and I fell to my knees in front of the commode and began to retch. I was aware of the bathroom door closing, but for the next few minutes, that toilet was the focus of my universe. After what seemed a lifetime, my stomach decided it was through torturing me and I was released from its clutches. That was when I noticed a washcloth and a toothbrush sitting on the side of the sink. That crafty Russian thought of everything.
I washed my face, brushed my teeth, and stumbled back towards the bed. That was when I realized I was wearing the top of a pair of men's pajamas over my bra and panties. Illya is so funny. He's seen me naked before. The bed had been remade and one side turned down.
As much as I knew I should dress and politely excuse myself, every fiber of my body was screaming at me. My head felt as if it would split if I leaned over too fast. Maybe I'd rest for just a couple of minutes.
I tucked myself back into bed, feeling only momentarily guilty for pushing Illya out of his own bed, and instantly fell back asleep.
The next time I woke, sun was filtering through a curtain and a check of the clock told me it was almost two. Sitting up didn't make my head feel like exploding, although my stomach wasn't happy. At the bottom of the bed was a robe and I slipped it on. It was like a virtual hug from my favorite Russian.
I walked out of the closet he called his bedroom and into the main body of his apartment. Jazz music was softly playing and Illya was sitting at a battered table, cleaning a firearm. He glanced up as I got closer and smiled.
"So you finally decided to wake up."
"Illya, I am so...
"If you are going to say sorry, don't. All of us have the right to do something-"
"I was going to use ill-advised, but if you prefer. At least you had the sense to come here. Believe me, I have had considerable experience with hangovers." He set the barrel down and I crinkled up my nose at the smell of the oil. It had a tangy, odd and unsettling stink.
"Sit here and I'll get you some soup."
I watched him walk into his tiny kitchen and then looked back at the table. There was a glass of water sitting there and without thinking, I picked it up and took a swig.
It was as if rocket fuel hit my stomach and I gasped, feeling my eyes cross. A moment later I felt someone pounding me on the back and I was finally able to draw a breath.
"Careful. I've heard of hair of the dog, but that's some of Mama's vodka. It's best taken slowly."
"I thought it was water..." My voice sounded thin.
"So I gathered."
"Your mother sends you vodka?"
"She doesn't think you can get anything worth drinking here." He lifted the glass to me in a toast and drained it. "Sadly, she's right." He grinned and nodded. "You'll be more comfortable on the couch."
I took his hint and settled on the couch. He put the bowl of soup in front of me and a glass of what I was sure was water this time. "I'm sorry I've ruined your day off." I tried the soup, discovering it to be chicken and really good. It was at that point I realized how hungry I was and attacked the bowl with gusto. The broth was rich and it was all I could do to keep from lifting the bowl to my lips and drinking it down. The vegetables were not mushy and the small dumplings were light and tender.
"Nothing to ruin. I did what I usually do." He returned to the table and picked up an oil-stained rag.
"You sit in your apartment and clean your weapon?"
"Among other things, yes. I do it for three reasons. One, my life frequently depends upon my firearm operating properly. Two, I plan to spend time at the range tomorrow and it needs to be clean for that. Three, it's a task I enjoy; it allows me time to think."
"It's also Christmas Eve, Illya. You should be out celebrating, not going to the shooting range or working."
"Nellie, this is not my holiday. I am not Christian or anything else for that matter."
"He is busy with his lady friends, his family, and his religion." He blew through the barrel. "It is as it should be."
"That's just not right..."
Illya got up and came to sit beside me. "Nellie, it is very right. Now finish up and I will take you home." A knock interrupted him and he sighed. "This place is like Grand Central at times."
A moment later, a grinning Napoleon was standing in front of me. "Why, what have we here? Nurse Thompson, I hope I'm not disturbing you two. Paying a little house call?"
"Not yet," Illya said. "What do you want, Napoleon?"
"I'll pick you up at work tomorrow around two. Be ready."
"Napoleon, I'm working..."
"And I'm the guy who makes out the duty roster. Your shift is over at 1:45 and I will be there sharp at two. Aunt Amy doesn't believe in being fashionably late." Napoleon bowed to me, a very courtly gesture. "My dear, I will see you later." He winked and Illya showed him to the door. They spoke quietly for a few minutes and I somehow knew that no one at work would ever know I was here unless I told them. And for some reason, I felt better knowing that Illya wouldn't be by himself tomorrow after all.
We drove back to my apartment and Illya double parked outside my place. The traffic was insane, but my street was pretty quiet.
"Nellie, as I said before..."
"Thank you." I finished. "You showed me hospitality and you didn't take advantage of me. You certainly could have."
"Where's the fun in that? I prefer a bed partner who is more... engaged in our activities." He got out and came around, holding the door open for me. "What are your plans for New Year's Eve?"
"A glass of sparkling cider, the TV, and warmed up pizza."
"I'll pick you up at seven." He smiled. "Don't wear anything overly complicated."
That made me smile and I watched him drive off, alone and contented to be that way. I realized what a very special gift I had in his friendship. And isn't that really what the holidays are all about, realizing what you have as opposed to what you don't? I knew tomorrow I would be in the bosom of my family and happy to be there. Illya would be at UNCLE HQ, just as content. It really was great how things worked out at times.