(Written for DTC 2013. Posted in two parts due to LJ size constraints. This is Part 2.
Link to part 1: http://avery11.livejournal.com/40423.html
Oh, Christmas Tree!(Part 2)Illya reset the alarm and reclaimed his seat on the Barcalounger. He tried to concentrate on the music – a mellow improvisational track by Duke Ellington – but his restless mind refused to relax. He couldn't stop thinking about Napoleon, out there alone, struggling to dismantle a bomb as the seconds ticked away. I should be there, he thought, feeling angry and frustrated. To make matters worse, the pain medication he'd taken earlier in the evening was wearing off. He ached all over, and his head felt ready to explode at any second.
He got up and dry-swallowed the handful of pills Napoleon had left for him. Then he changed the record on the stereo, mentally counting his way through the cinderblock shelf of albums until he found John Coltrane's wildly irreverent Ascension II. Better, he thought as the quintet's wailing anarchy filled the air. Outside, the wind shrieked in counterpoint, sending snow swirling in every direction. Illya lay back, giving himself up to the music.
Pharaoh Sanders had just begun his saxophone solo when suddenly there was a deafening crack, The walls of the apartment shuddered, and the record player stopped. Illya sat up, jolted from his reverie. He replayed the noise in his mind - cracking wood. A tree branch falling on the brownstone? If that was what it was, he hoped it had not caused any structural damage to the roof of the building.
He flicked the power switch on the stereo, but the turntable remained frozen in mid-play. He tried the television next. Nothing, not even static. He picked up the telephone and listened for a dial tone, but heard only silence. The apartment seemed a shade darker to Illya's bandaged eyes, so the lights were probably out too, although he had no practical way to confirm this. Fortunately, the state of the art security system UNCLE had installed came with a built-in backup – reassuring, although he doubted THRUSH would be so foolish as to mount an assault in the middle of a blizzard.
Normally a power outage wouldn't have bothered him – they happened all the time in Moscow, and he had plenty of candles and reading material to keep him occupied. However, with his sight impaired, his options were severely limited. He thought about turning in for the night, but it felt disloyal to do so with Napoleon out in the field. Instead, he grabbed a quilt from the bed, and settled back on the Barcalounger to wait for his partner to return.
The hours passed, and the storm continued to intensify. Illya dozed in his chair, wrapped in his quilt and serenaded by the persistent scrabble of icy pellets against the window.
He wasn't sure what woke him, but suddenly every nerve in his body was alert, adrenaline pumping urgently through his veins, his sixth sense screaming. He cocked his head, stretching out his awareness into the black void, searching for the source of his unease. All was still. Nothing, Illya decided after several uneventful minutes had passed. It was nothing. He gathered his quilt around him...
Footsteps! His head swung in the direction of the sound. A floorboard near the front door creaked. Tvoyu mat'! Someone was in the apartment! They had gotten past the backup security system! He rolled silently to the floor, wedging his body behind the Barcalounger, and reached for his sidearm. Too late, he remembered that he had left it on the night table in the bedroom, along with his communicator. Careless! No weapon, and no way to summon help.
Whispered voices. So, at least two of them. No, he corrected, three. He could hear the third man padding toward him from the bedroom. That one must have come up the fire escape. They were boxing him in, cutting off the exits.
Illya knew he had only seconds in which to decide on a course of action. He pictured his surroundings – the bookshelves, crammed with heavy books. A lamp with a cord. The radiator. A quilt. At least with the lights out, the intruders are as blind as I am. Without further ado, he unscrewed the radiator cap and hurled it away from him as far as he could. It landed with a clang on the kitchen floor. The two men nearest the door opened fire, sending a hail of bullets into the cabinets and ricocheting off the appliances.
He used the distraction to lunge at the third attacker, the one closest to his position, and they went down together in a flailing tangle of limbs. Illya pressed his advantage, gouging his fingers into the man's carotid artery. The intruder gasped and went limp.
One down, two to go. He crawled toward the bedroom and his weapon.
The cold metal barrel of a semiautomatic was jammed against the back of his head.
“That's far enough, Kuryakin. Stick 'em up.”
Illya sighed, and raised his hands. “'Stick 'em up?' Really? Who writes your dialogue ? Lee Van Cleef?”
The man laughed; it was not a friendly sound. "The name's Harry Quill, and these other two are my colleagues. The one with half a brain is Artie Fowler, and of course you've already met Gerald Hawkins. He's the unconscious lump of uselessness on the floor."
So, there were three of them. His original assessment had been correct. "Charmed, I'm sure. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"
Quill leaned down, seizing a handful of Illya's blond hair in his fist. his hot breath brushed Illya's ear. "I believe a man should know the name of the THRUSH who kills him," he hissed. "Don't you?"
Illya tensed, ready for action. If he could catch them off guard – "Why me?" he asked with apparent unconcern.
"Isn't it obvious? You're the prize in the Crackerjack box! The great Kuryakin, the one they said couldn't be killed. Hah! Looks like they were wrong." He shook his head, as though he couldn't quite believe his good fortune. "When I got the word that your partner had been called away to St. Pat's – "
That was interesting. "So you know about that, do you?"
"THRUSH has spies everywhere," Quill bragged. "Solo's unexpected departure gave me the perfect opportunity to put my plan into action. I'll get a promotion for this, maybe even a ticket on the fast track to THRUSH Central." He grinned as the idea took hold.
Illya snorted. “You THRUSH minions have never lacked for ego.”
"Why, you little – !" Quill's henchman cuffed Illya across the bridge of his broken nose. The pain was astounding. Illya bit his lip to keep from crying out. Fowler hauled back, preparing to hit him again -
Quill snapped his fingers. “Enough. He's just trying to delay us." He stepped back. "Get it over with, Fowler. His partner could come back at any minute and I, for one, don't want to be around when he finds the body.”
“With pleasure, boss.” A second barrel pressed against the base of Illya's skull. “Say your prayers, UNCLEman.”
As Illya took what he feared might be his last breath, several things happened at once.
An odd rustling sound erupted from the ceiling. It was accompanied by an ominous rumble, like a motor idling.
Fowler looked up, and found himself staring directly into the eyes of a hissing, spitting, thoroughly enraged cat.
“Hey, boss – ”
With a yowl that would have curdled cream, Jellyroll launched himself off the top of the Christmas tree. He landed squarely on Fowler's face, teeth bared, razor-sharp claws raking his skin. The hapless THRUSH fell to his knees, screaming in pain, fingers scrabbling to pull the psychotic beast away from his eyes. Jellyroll expressed his contempt for this maneuver by biting him on the bare knuckles. The gun flew from his hands.
While Harry Quill was busy gawking at the bizarre scene, the ten foot, double-needled, fully decorated Scotch pine began to tilt. It listed precariously to one side as the jostled ornaments tinkled merrily.Too late, Quill noticed his peril. He tried to scramble out of the way, but he wasn't fast enough. The tree fell with a mighty crash, ensnaring him in an impenetrable tangle of Christmas lights, shattered glass ornaments and thick, prickly branches. Illya clobbered all three attackers with a reading lamp.
“Schitat' chto!” he muttered, massaging his swollen nose.
He secured the prisoners with strings of Christmas lights, collected their firearms, and retrieved his communicator from the nightstand in the bedroom. “Open Channel D,” he declared pleasantly. “Kuryakin here, requesting cleanup on Aisle Six. I have some uninvited guests I would like removed from the premises.”
Napoleon slogged back to the apartment in the early hours of Christmas morning, reeking of cordite and incense. The storm had ended, and the sun was rising above a silent, snow-covered city. He dragged himself up the four flights of stairs, bone tired and desiring nothing so much as a hot shower and a warm bed. He stepped across the threshold....
“What the hell –?!”
The place was a shambles. The kitchen cabinets were riddled with bullet holes, and the appliances bore enough pockmarks to resemble the surface of the moon. The oven door – what was left of it – hung precariously on its single remaining hinge. Cans of food and bags of flour and sugar exploded down the pantry shelves in a disgusting sludge. Bullet casings were strewn across the floor, mingling with fragments of shattered ornaments and odd bits of tinsel. The Christmas tree lay on its side, in ruins.
"What the hell -?" he said again. "Illya –?"
The Russian sat calmly at the center of the carnage, holding a THRUSH assault rifle and looking like a big game hunter posing with his prize. Jellyroll sprawled across his lap, snoring.
Illya gestured toward the three would-be assassins, trussed up at his feet like Christmas geese. “Merry Christmas, Napoleon!” he declared cheerfully. “I hope you like what I got you.”
Napoleon's fatigue-fogged brain struggled to wrap itself around the image. “Sweet Jesus, what happened?”
Illya shrugged. “Some THRUSH and I had a minor disagreement last night. Fortunately, my opinion prevailed.”
“A minor disagreement? From the looks of your apartment, it was an out-and-out donneybrook! Are you alright?”
“Never better. I called for an UNCLE cleanup crew, but they must have been delayed by the storm.” Illya cocked his head. “How did the hostage situation at the cathedral turn out?”
Napoleon waded through the debris to the nearest chair. “It was touch and go for awhile. Fortunately, we were able to defuse the bomb with two minutes and seventeen seconds to spare. Fourteen members of the Weather Underground are in custody, and the parishioners are safely home, none the wiser, all snug in their beds and dreaming of sugarplums.”
Illya nodded in satisfaction. “I am sorry about the Christmas tree, Napoleon. I know how much it meant to you. We can get another one, if you wish.”
“That's okay – I doubt even a Christmas tree could make this place habitable now.”
“Is it very bad?”
“Are you kidding? There are bullet holes in the plaster, broken furniture, exposed wires. It'll take at least a week to repair everything.” He hesitated. “You're sure you're okay? That nose looks pretty swollen.”
“A small price to pay. I am alive and well, thanks to Jellyroll.” He scratched the sleeping cat under his chin.
“Your cat?” Napoleon frowned. “What's that miserable beast got to do with it?”
“Ah, Napoleon, therein lies a tale to thrill the ages. When these Three Not-So-Wise Men attacked, I was caught off-guard. I managed to take out one of the intruders without too much trouble, but the other two overpowered me before I could get to my weapon. They would have killed me, had Jellyroll not been here to stop them. He managed to pull the Christmas tree down on top of them. Jellyroll saved my life. ”
At the sound of his name,Jellyroll's eyes opened. He stretched languidly, turned loving eyes upon his master, and proceeded to lick Illya's fingers, one by one.
“Koroshyi kot,” Illya whispered.
Napoleon studied the three THRUSH, noticing for the first time their bloodied faces and bruised, bitten hands. "Looks like you guys met your match this time," he chuckled.
“No kidding,” Quill snapped. "If it wasn't for that lousy cat, Kuryakin would be dead by now, and I'd be drinking champagne with the big boys at THRUSH Central.”
With a hiss, Jellyroll turned his malevolent gaze upon the man. Ears flattened, fangs bared in fury, he glared down at Harry Quill as though anticipating a particularly tasty meal. Quill cringed, and drew back as far as his tight bonds would allow.
Illya stroked Jellyroll's soft fur with great affection. “Khrabryyi malen'kiy kot.”
“A brave little cat,” Napoleon agreed, meaning every word. “UNCLE could use a few more like him.”
“Perhaps I will suggest it to Mr. Waverly when I return.”
The senior agent surveyed the scene, and sensed opportunity knocking. “I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings,” he remarked casually, “but your kitchen is shot to hell – even I can't cook a Christmas roast in an oven with no door.”
Illya's face fell. “No, I suppose that is too much to ask.”
“Most of the food is ruined, anyway. I guess we could make due with cold sandwiches –”
“On the other hand, a warm meal would be most welcome – ”
“But with no stove – and of course all the restaurants are closed on Christmas –"
"Perhaps your Aunt Amy –?" Illya inquired hopefully.
"She's spending Christmas with her new gentleman friend in the south of France. Oh, well, there's always Medical. They serve hot food, don't they?”
“What they serve in Medical may be hot, but only a fool would call it food.”
“Well, then.” Napoleon sighed, injecting what he hoped was a convincing note of regret into his voice. “I suppose we could spend the holidays at my place.”
“Perhaps it would be best,” Illya replied with a hint of the tragic. “I will go and pack an overnight bag.”
“Great! I'll get Jellyroll's things ready.”
“Jellyroll?” Illya stopped in his tracks. “Did I hear you correctly, Napoleon? You're offering to take Jellyroll with us? To your apartment? The one with the antique Hepplewhite brocade sofa, silk-knotted Aubusson carpet and Viennese crystal chandelier?”
“Well of course,” Napoleon replied sensibly. “The little fella can't stay here all by himself, can he?”
While Illya was still working out a response to this monumental shift in the space-time continuum, he felt Jellyroll leap down from his lap. The big cat sidled up to Napoleon, purring insistently. He rubbed his body against the senior agent's trousers, shedding tufts of pale fur along the finely creased cuffs.
Napoleon gathered the beast into his arms. "Good cat," he murmured. "Nice cat." He massaged Jellyroll's ears. "I have to admit, it's reassuring to know that my partner has someone to watch over him when I'm not around." Gentle hands stroked the animal's soft underbelly. The purring grew louder. "Listen, little fella, I know we got off to a rocky start, but I'm willing to make amends if you are. What do you say to a truce?"
Jellyroll mewed softly, and nestled more deeply into the crook of Napoleon's arm. His eyes closed in ecstasy.
Standing amid the ruins of his beloved apartment, Illya smiled.