(Written for DTC 2013. Posted in two parts due to LJ size constraints. This is Part I)
Oh, Christmas Tree!
Dr. Rousseau attached the final piece of tape, securing the thick white bandage covering Illya's eyes. He stepped back with a sigh. “We've done all we can for now,” he said. “Go home and get some rest, Mr. Kuryakin. Let nature do its work.”
Illya reached up, feeling the soft, woven texture of the gauze under his fingers, and the heat of the injured flesh beneath the dressing. He traced the singed brows, the cheeks, scored with dozens of tiny cuts from flying debris, and the nasal bone, broken when he fell. His fingers paused, trembling, above the eyes, reliving the blinding flash of green light that had exploded all around him – the last thing he saw before his world went dark. After that came the terror, that awful, floating panic, and Napoleon's voice screaming at him to get up, get clear of the blast zone.
He pushed the image away. “How long will I be – like this?”
“Retinal tissue regenerates fairly rapidly,” the doctor replied carefully. “You're already seeing gradations of light and shadow, so that's encouraging."
"I was hoping for something a bit more specific."
"And I wish I could give that to you, Mr. Kuryakin. Truly, I do. The reality is that, for some people, vision returns quickly. Others – well, they take a bit longer.”
It was all Illya could do to keep from snapping at the poor man. “How much longer?”
“Again, it varies. Days. Weeks perhaps. In rare cases, a few months. With flash burns, there's no hard and fast rule.”
“But if you were to guess –?”
Dr. Rousseau sighed. “You were in close proximity to the death ray when it was fired, so your retinas received the full brunt of the flash. They're completely bleached of pigment. If I had to guess, I'd say a minimum of three to four weeks.”
Illya absorbed the information. “But my vision will return?”
“I have no reason to think otherwise.” He smiled kindly. “And now, just give me a moment to let Mr. Solo know you're ready to go home.” He retreated to his desk, and spoke softly into the phone.
“Yes, of course.” Illya slid off the examining table and fumbled his way toward the nearby chair to retrieve his suit jacket. His hand closed on empty space. Frowning, he groped along the cushions, patting the slick naugahyde upholstery with increasing frustration. “Chyort! Where is it?”
The doctor glanced up. “Can I help you find something, Mr. Kuryakin?”
A flush crept up Illya's cheeks. “No. Well, yes. I – I appear to have misplaced my jacket –”
The door to the examination room slid open, and Napoleon strode in. “Okay, partner. Let's get this show on the –” He took in Illya's flustered expression. “Oh, crap. You were looking for this, weren't you?” He placed the missing jacket into Illya's hands.
A long, unsteady breath. “I need to know where things are, Napoleon.”
“Of course you do. I didn't think. Your jacket was getting wrinkled, so I had the nurse hang it up.”
Illya fought to master the emotions threatening to spill forth. Breathe. He felt his diaphragm lift, his lungs expand and contract. Again. Lift, expand, contract. He focused on the sensation. He felt dizzy – disoriented and slightly nauseous – as though he was riding a speeding roller coaster blindfolded. He was reminded of a play he'd seen several years ago at the Queen's Theatre in London's West End. Stop the world, I want to get off.
He put the jacket on, buttoned the buttons, tugged on the cuffs. He rotated to face the desk. “I presume you will want to see me again, Doctor?” he inquired crisply.
The answer came from somewhere to Illya's left, startling him: “Mmm, yes. Three or four days should do it. I'm heading out of town tonight for the Christmas weekend - that is, assuming the storm doesn't put a kink in my plans. It was snowing pretty hard when I checked an hour ago.” His footsteps moved back toward the desk, and Illya heard the sound of pages being flipped. “Let's set up something when I return – say, Tuesday the 27th at ten?”
The doctor pressed a handful of prescriptions into Napoleon's hands. “Have the pharmacy fill these for Mr. Kuryakin on your way out. There's an anti-inflammatory to help alleviate swelling in the surrounding tissue, and a paralytic to help relax the ciliary muscles. Also an antibiotic ointment for the infection, and something for the pain. Beginning tomorrow, you'll need to change his bandages twice daily.”
“Got it.” Napoleon took Illya's arm and laid it atop his own. “Ready to go, tovarisch?”
“I was ready five minutes after they admitted me.”
“Okay then. Let's get out of here before the good doctor changes his mind.”
They moved in tandem along the corridor to the in-house pharmacy, and from there to the UNCLE parking garage. Illya sensed people staring as they passed by, their curiosity marked by abrupt silences where there had been casual chatter moments before. He heard the gurgle of a coffeemaker and the clack of a typewriter, smelled the flowery fragrance of Prince Matchabelli and the musky scent of Tabu. He sighed with relief when they reached the relative anonymity of the garage.
“Next stop, Greenwich Village.” Napoleon threw the DeLorean into gear, and they roared down the spiral ramp onto Second Avenue. “Wow, it's really coming down. There's a couple inches of snow on the ground already." He switched on the headlights. "Looks like it's going to be a white Christmas.”
“'Just like the ones you used to know.'” Illya pressed his cheek against the windowpane. The cold glass felt wonderful against his overheated skin.
The municipal snowplows were already out in force, and Napoleon was relieved to see that the roads were still in decent shape. They continued along Second Avenue, past the towering skyscrapers of Midtown Manhattan. The shadows of the buildings flashed seductively across Illya's bandaged eyes. Light, dark. Light, dark. Light, dark.
They crossed over onto Broadway and then West 4th. The streets in this part of town were nearly deserted, giving the city a stark, other-worldly feel. A few hardy pedestrians scurried by, clutching their hats, collars turned up against the biting cold. Traffic lights swung wildly on their cables, buffeted by the wind. Illya could feel the rear wheels of the DeLorean fighting for traction on the slippery road.
The familiar landscape of Washington Square Park scrolled by in his imagination: The Arch and surrounding elm trees, mounded with snow. The great fountain, frozen into silence. The nearby campus of New York University, that churning hotbed of social unrest. Edgar Allen Poe house, a red brick walkup not unlike his own, where the author had written "The Cask of Amontillado." The long bank of chess tables at the southwest corner of the park where Bobby Fisher once played... =
“You doing okay, tovarisch?”
“I am fine, Napoleon. Stop asking.”
The streets grew narrower, high rises and skyscrapers giving way to cozy brownstones, bodegas and jazz clubs. The sound of a busker playing Christmas carols on his clarinet drifted faintly through the glass, the wind whipping the notes into fantastic patterns of sound. Illya sighed. Almost home. They turned onto Waverly Place, and he found himself wondering once again at the unlikely chain of events that had led him to the aptly named street.
Napoleon eased the car to the curb in front of an aging brownstone. “I still say we'd be better off staying at my place,” he complained as they climbed the stairs to Illya's fourth floor walk-up. “It has an elevator. Not to mention central heating. The furnace in your building is always breaking down.”
“It is not so bad. The frozen pipes remind me of summers in Moscow.”
Napoleon's sigh of resignation was comment enough.
The building was abnormally quiet, Illya's neighbors having joined the throngs of travelers leaving the city for the Christmas holidays. Napoleon disarmed the security system and turned up the thermostat in the chilly apartment. “There,” he declared, rubbing his hands together to warm them. “Hopefully we'll have heat in a few minutes.” Pipes rattled noisily in the walls around them. The radiator hissed and sputtered.
Illya stood in the foyer, listening to the clanking pipes and creaking floorboards. There was a reassuring sense of familiarity to the sounds. He felt his muscles unclench. It was good to be home.
“Are you hungry, tovarisch? I could whip us up a little something if you like.”
“Starving.” He frowned beneath his bandages. "Did you remember to buy cat food? Jellyroll needs to eat too, you know."
Jellyroll, was Illya's cat, a massive Persian with claws the size of scimitars and teeth that could chew through cast iron. Napoleon and the cat had shared a mutual antipathy from Day One. “Yes, Illya, I bought an extra-large bag of kibble for that miserable beast of yours. Fortunately, he wasn't around when I got here.”
“Hiding, no doubt.” Illya fixed his partner with a sightless stare. “Jellyroll knows you hate him, Napoleon. Cats can sense these things.”
“I don't hate him. I hate what he does to my trousers." He turned toward the kitchen. "Now then, how does a nice, fluffy ham and cheese omelet sound?"
Illya's stomach rumbled at the thought. “Far better than that foul swill they serve in Medical.”
“Omelets it is. Do you need help getting changed?”
“I am blind, Napoleon. Not crippled.”
"Just asking. Go ahead and get comfortable, and I'll start our supper." He edged his way into the apartment's tiny kitchen, and set about organizing their meal amid a clatter of pots and pans.
Illya took a moment to orient himself, creating a mental blueprint of his apartment and positioning each piece of furniture clearly in his mind. He turned confidently in the direction of his bedroom, and promptly collided with a recliner.
“Chert voz' mil! K'chortu! Bl'ad!” he roared.
Napoleon's head flew up. “Illya? What hap –?”
“What is my Barcalounger doing in the middle of the living room?”
“Oh, damn, I forgot to tell you. I needed to move it. To make room.”
“Make room?” Illya massaged his bruised shin. “For what?”
“The Christmas tree, of course.”
For several seconds, the only sound in the room came from the pipes banging in the walls.
“What Christmas tree?” Illya inquired with deadly calm.
“Ours. The one I bought.” Napoleon glanced at the tree, with its sparkling ornaments and happy, twinkling lights, and felt a surge of holiday cheer suffuse his being. “I have to say, there's nothing like a ten foot, double needled Scotch pine to brighten up a drafty old apartment. It was a challenge finding someone willing to haul it up four flights of stairs, but –”
“Then presumably you can find someone to haul it back down.”
“What? No!” Napoleon was aghast. “Be reasonable, tovarisch. It's Christmas Eve!"
“I know what day it is.”
“But it's four flights of stairs! Besides, this dismal garret of yours can use a dose of holiday cheer."
“I like my 'dismal garret' just the way it is.”
"Yeah, well, after a week of crouching in a drainage ditch on the outskirts of Yuma, I'd prefer a little more 'comfort and joy,' if it's all the same to you." Napoleon exhaled, clinging desperately to the last vestiges of his Christmas spirit. His tone softened. “Look, tovarisch, there's no place I'd rather be than right here, helping you – even if I have to walk up four flights of stairs to your drafty apartment every day to do it - but don't expect me to miss Christmas because you're too pigheaded to celebrate with me.”
“I am not pigheaded,” Illya mumbled sourly.
“No.” He crossed his arms in sullen silence.
“Could've fooled me.” Napoleon allowed a hint of steel to creep into his voice. “Now hear this, my stubborn Russian friend: the tree and I are a package deal. Either it stays, or I go. Take your pick. And if I leave, it's back to Medical and that 'foul swill' they call food. Capisce?”
Illya could not believe his ears. "You are – blackmailing me?"
"If I have to."
After a moment, he nodded, although he did not look pleased. "Fine. You can keep the tree."
“Good. Now that that's settled, let's see about supper.”
They enjoyed a simple meal of omelets and a salad, topped off with cups of excellent coffee and a bag of ginger snaps. When they were finished, Napoleon did the dishes and put fresh kibble out for Jellyroll. He called the cat several times, but the cantankerous beast never came.
They settled in for the evening – Illya on his repositioned Barcalounger, listening to Duke Ellington's Far East Suite, and Napoleon on the sofa, enjoying the Christmas lights and reading Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas In Wales as he did every Christmas Eve. Outside the apartment, the wind howled, snow and sleet battering the windows with ever-increasing ferocity. The lights flickered once or twice, but they remained on.
The sudden whistle of Napoleon's communicator broke the spell.
“We've got a hostage situation, Napoleon.” The faint tremor in Lisa Rogers' voice betrayed the urgency of the situation. “A radical group calling itself the Weather Underground has planted a bomb inside St. Patrick's Cathedral, and they've threatened to set it off tonight during Midnight Mass. There are over two thousand people in there already, including Francis Cardinal Cooke, Mayor Lindsay and a number of United Nations dignitaries. The hostage-takers are threatening to detonate the bomb if the authorities try to evacuate the building.”
“Jesus. Do we know what they want?”
“What do people like that always want? Money – two million in negotiable bonds – and a platform for their agenda. Realistically speaking, there's no way authorities can meet the ransom demand in time - certainly not on Christmas Eve. Mr. Waverly feels our best hope of saving the hostages is to locate the bomb and dismantle it before the deadline. He wants you there ASAP to supervise the operation.”
“On my way. Solo out.” He turned to Illya. “I hate to leave you in the lurch, but – ”
Illya held up his hand. “I will be fine. Go.”
“Your medicine is on the counter. Back as soon as I can.” He threw on his coat.
The door closed with a muffled thud.
Link to Part 2: http://avery11.livejournal.com/40459.html