An ABBA Christmas
Napoleon Solo adjusted a bit of garland on a tree branch and smiled at the result. There was nothing he enjoyed as much as decorating a Christmas tree. He took out the ornaments slowly, almost reverently. To be honest, there was nothing in his life that he valued quite as much as he did these. They were handed down from his great-grandparents to their children and so on.
It made Napoleon sad to think the link would stop with him. His sister had declared Christmas trees a sign of Pagan worship and not something she wanted in her house. Her children didn't seem interested. Not even Winston had seemed to care about the historic and sentimental value of the ornaments.
There was a sound at the door and Illya entered, stamping his feet and brushing the snow off his head. He paused and looked back over his shoulder.
"It's okay, you can come in." After a moment, during which time Napoleon stamped on his inclination to yell at Illya to close the door, a young boy in his early teens came in. He had the look of someone who was used to being belittled. His thin shoulders were stooped and he had an air of complete submission around him. He clutched his hat and wrung it in his hands. "Don't be afraid. This is Napoleon. Napoleon, this is Wes."
"Hello, Wes. How are you?" Napoleon set down the box he was holding and crossed the small living room to offer his hand.
"I'm okay, sir. Thank you." The boy kept his gaze focused on the floor before him and looked up at Napoleon through impossibly long lashes. Napoleon let his hand drop and looked questioningly at his mate.
"Napoleon, Wes is going to spend Christmas with us. I hope that's okay with you." Illya set a small suitcase down on the floor by the closet.
"Um... sure, of course it is. The more the merrier." Napoleon gestured to the fire.
"Wes, come on in and get warm. I'll get you something to drink. Do you like hot chocolate?"
"I'm not sure. I don't know that I've ever had it."
"Not had hot chocolate?"
"I'm sorry. Don't be mad."
"It's okay, Wes." Illya patted the boy on the shoulder gently. "You are, in fact, very lucky. Many people can make hot chocolate, but none of them can make it as well as Napoleon. He has a special gift for it. I would very much like some as well, please."
"Three hot chocolates coming up." Johnny Mathis started singing about a winter wonderland and Napoleon started to whistle as he walked from the room.
"He didn't yell or anything." Napoleon heard the boy say. He sounded truly amazed. "Mrs. Curlee would have shouted."
"Of course he didn't. Napoleon has a heart three times the size of everyone else. He is happy to have you here."
"I could go back to the Home. I don't want to be in the way."
"Wes, you will not be in the way."
The door closed at that point and Napoleon started to go about the task of making hot chocolate. He knew Illya was exaggerating as Napoleon's hot chocolate skills paled against Illya's. It didn't matter.
A moment later Illya came through the door and headed to the refrigerator. "Do you think that roast you bought will feed another mouth?"
"And a half dozen more," Napoleon answered, stirring the milk in the saucepan. He smiled as two arms slipped around him and hugged him tightly. He felt Illya's head rest against his shoulder. "So, you want to tell me what's going on?"
"I got a call from Jocelyn yesterday."
"She's the one who chairs the AIDS outreach program, isn't she?" Napoleon lowered the heat on the milk and turned to face his partner.
"That's her day job. She also volunteers at the local shelter. Wes came in a couple of months ago." Illya looked over his shoulder and then nodded toward the pantry.
Puzzled, Napoleon followed as the blond walked over and pushed the door open. At Illya's nod, Napoleon closed the door behind him. It was a little cramped.
"Okay, spill, Kuryakin."
"Wes was abused as a child. A social worker found him chained up in a barn when he was about eight. He's almost seventeen now."
"Oh my god, I thought he was about twelve."
"It gets worse. He got bounced around a bit and finally settled with a family. Then a few months ago, Wes came out of the closet. They didn't take it well."
"And they disowned him?"
"No, they held him down and branded the word 'fag' across his back using coat hangers." Illya's voice got tight and he clenched and unclenched his jaw. "Wes took off and was picked up a couple of days later, nearly dead from an infection. He's been at the shelter since then. He's terrified of everyone and everything. Jocelyn thought it might be good to have him spend some time in the company of a stable and loving relationship."
"How could anyone...?" Napoleon ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "Illya, we worked so hard for so long to keep obscenities like this from happening and then here? In Jackson?"
"If it makes you feel better, it didn't happen here. They just placed him in Jackson to get him away from his foster family."
"Is he prosecuting?" Napoleon looked at the door and tried to imagine the existence the young man had escaped from.
"No, I think he's favoring the avoidance path. He's scared and understandably confused. I'm going to make a couple of calls from the restaurant."
"Got it. Business as normal." He nodded and gave Illya a kiss before escaping from the pantry.
Napoleon carried the tray out into the living room. Wes was sitting in a chair, staring at the fire. He jumped slightly when he saw Napoleon.
"Here we go — some of my very specially patented Solo hot chocolate to help shake off the cold." He held out the mug and, after a few seconds, Wes cautiously took it.
"Where... where's Illya?"
"He needed to go over to Taste for a few minutes."
"Taste? Taste what?"
"Taste is the name of our restaurant." Napoleon walked to the front window and pulled back the drapes. "There it is and our wine business is right beside it."
"You both own businesses?"
"You're lucky. Mrs. Curlee said that people like me weren't able to do stuff like that."
"Well, you are a little young to be a business owner, but it's not entirely out of the question."
"No, I mean... like me... you know. I know Illya told you... about me and what happened."
"Yes, he did, but Mrs. Curlee is dead wrong." Napoleon picked up his mug, sat, and crossed his legs. "You can do anything you want."
"That I will give you, but, Wes, the one thing life teaches you very early is that it's not easy. Not for any of us. We have to fight and struggle, twice as hard as everyone else."
"What?" The boy set the mug down carefully on a coaster. "You're... gay?"
"I am, although it took me a long time to admit it."
"And Illya?" Wes looked at the front door and then back. "Really?"
"For nearly thirty years." He uncrossed his legs and sat forward. "I won't lie and say it's been easy because it hasn't. We were lucky to have an employer who was supportive. Even then, it wasn't easy, but it's been worth it."
"Wow... and you are okay. I mean, God doesn't hate you?"
"My philosophy is that God made me to be like this, so why would he hate me?" Napoleon smiled. "And I bet he doesn't hate you either."
"He has a funny way of showing it." Wes picked up his cup but didn't drink. "He hasn't been very good to me at all. I don't think I like him very much."
"Now it's been a while since I've read the Bible, but I don't really recall anywhere in there that God promised to make it easy for us. If you have everything handed to you, you don't appreciate it as much as if you have to fight for it." Napoleon finished his hot chocolate and stood. "Why don't I show you to your room?"
"My room? I have a room?"
"Well, you might have to share it with three fat and very spoiled cats, but, yes, while you are here you have a room." Suddenly, Napoleon's arms were filled with a sobbing Wes and he smiled, holding the young man close. Illya walked in and took in the scene, then cocked his head in question. Napoleon's answer was just his smile.
A Year Later
Napoleon massaged his hand and stared at the tree. It stood there, awaiting his touch, but the problem was his touch ached. So many fist fights and so much gunplay was really starting to make itself known. He knew Illya struggled daily, but Illya's only outward concession was the number of aspirin he gulped down in the morning.
There was a soft knock on the front door and Napoleon walked over to it, still staring at the tree. He opened it and looked, then laughed. "Wes! You made it!"
Over the past year, the shy, reserved boy had grown into a confident young man. Under Napoleon's and Illya's watchful eyes, Wes had moved from the shelter and into the apartment over Vinea. He'd finished high school and started attending Sacramento State in the fall, moving onto the campus in the process.
Napoleon didn't realize how much he missed the young man until Wes stood before him.
"Napoleon, God, I missed you." They hugged for a long moment and then Wes pulled back and Napoleon brushed his hair out of his eyes.
"This hairstyle looks vaguely familiar to me."
Wes laughed. "Do you think he'll mind?"
"I think he will be flattered. Why didn't you tell us you were coming?"
"I wasn't sure until yesterday and then I figured I'd surprise you both." He looked around uncertain. "You aren't decorating this year? Oh no, wait — you aren't going away, are you?"
"Illya? Leave Taste at this time of year? I'd have a better chance of convinced Jerry Brown to legalize gay marriage. Where's your suitcase?"
"In the car... in case."
"In case of what? As long as I am drawing a breath, you will be welcomed in this house." He found his arms again full.
"You don't know what that means... I mean, really, really know what it means to have a home."
"Always. Now, get your suitcases and help me decorate the tree. It isn't going to do itself."
As they decorated, Napoleon started telling Wes the history of the ornaments. "Why are some of them paper?"
"Stores used to give those out. It was a way to decorate your tree and never forget the name of your favorite store. Those go back to Grandmother Solo's times."
"Wow... what about this one?" He held up a red glass ornament with the white decorations nearly rubbed off it.
"That was the one I bought my Mom when I was about six years old. Dad took me shopping and apparently it transfixed me. You can't tell now, but it used to have a horse-drawn sleigh on it."
"How come you have it? If you don't mind me asking."
"My sister, in one of her saner moments, decided that I should have the ornaments because she considered them blasphemous."
"What? How? They're so beautiful. I'm sorry, I didn't mean..."
"Wes, it's okay. You can ask me anything, you know that. She said that to decorate a tree was paying homage to false gods. I'm guessing she meant the Druids since this holiday has roots stretching back that far." Right then and there, Napoleon knew who would be the recipient of the ornaments when it came time for him to pass them on.
"That's silly. They are just pretty ornaments on a tree. I am fairly certain God would have one in His living room... if He had a living room, that is."
"Wes, I think you are right." Napoleon turned around and yelled, "Hey, you!" Roux had buried herself in garland. He laughed and looked back at Wes.
The young man cowered by the tree, trying to hide behind its branches. He was trembling and tears were running down his cheeks.
"Don't hurt me," he whimpered and covered his head.
"Wes?" Napoleon kept his voice soft and even. "You're okay. No one will hurt you... calm down..." Napoleon held out his hand and after a moment, a trembling hand took it and Napoleon pulled him into his embrace. "Shh, shh, you are okay, Wes."
After a moment, there was a deep sigh. "Oh, man, all that counseling... down the tubes."
"Hey, you've just hit a little pothole, but you're still on the road moving forward. But, I'm so sorry, Wes. I didn't realize that was a trigger for you. I'm so sorry."
"It's not your fault. You couldn't have known." He wiped his face with his hand.
"Tell you what. Why don't you change and we will get some dinner. I know Illya will love to see you, as well as the gang over at Vinea."
"Do you need some help there? I know you sometimes get shorthanded there with stuff."
"I would love it! You can start tomorrow if you are of a mind." Napoleon patted a still-too-thin shoulder and watched the boy walk quickly away. Inside he seethed at the people who had abused and broken this poor child. Outwardly, he was the picture of serenity and was even more determined to show Wes just how loving people could be.
He walked over to the phone and dialed a number. The other phone rang twice and Roxanne's familiar voice came on. "Happy holidays. Taste Restaurant. How may I help you?"
"Roxanne, my sweet, I need a table for two. Is that possible?"
"The King couldn't get a table tonight, Napoleon, but for you, anything. Can you give me half an hour?"
"Consider it done. Oh, and, Roxanne, don't mention it to Chef. It's a surprise."
"No problem. See you soon!"
They walked into the restaurant and Napoleon took a deep breath. Evergreen boughs decorated the windows and a large tree stood clear of the fireplace. The entire room literally glowed with holiday cheer and Napoleon was rewarded by the look of joy on Wes' face. This was the first time he'd been in the restaurant when it was full of people and Illya was right. There was an entirely different feeling when people were in it—the room was alive and joyous.
Roxanne smiled as they approached. "Welcome to Taste."
"Roxanne, this is Wes. Wes, this is our hostess with the mostest."
He smiled and shook her hand carefully. "Hello, I'm pleased to meet you."
"I'm very pleased to me you at last. These two have done nothing but talk about you. For the longest time, I thought they made you up. I set you up with a table in the corner by the fireplace. It's a little cramped, but..."
"It's perfect," Wes said, his mouth opened in awe. "It's the most perfect thing I've ever seen."
Roxanne beamed and took their coats. "Your server will be right with you."
They'd barely taken their seats when a young man, not that much older than Wes, approached the table. "Good evening and welcome to Taste. My name is Rosco and I will be your server. Tonight, the Chef invites you to start with an amuse broche." A second man placed a small dish in front of Wes and then Napoleon. "This is Roasted Asian Duck Galantine served on a bed of curried onions. While you are enjoying this, may I take your drink order?"
"I will have a scotch over the rocks and, Wes?"
"Of course." The man hurried away and Celeste waved at Napoleon from the bar. He waved back.
They were halfway through their meal when Napoleon suddenly felt a presence and looked up to see a bemused Illya approaching.
"You two have my restaurant in an uproar," he said, sotto voce. "Apparently, everyone thinks my partner is stepping out with a younger man." He opened his arms and Wes stood to hug him. "Welcome home, Wes."
"And I would bring him here? That would just be plain stupid," Napoleon muttered as he poked his poached salmon. "People in this town need more worthwhile pursuits."
"I would agree." Illya squatted by the table and checked out their plates. "What did you have, Wes?"
"The lamb. I've never had it before. Does it always taste that good?"
"It does when I make it," Illya said, winking. "I'll be off around ten. Maybe we can catch up then." Illya straightened and then took a sip of Napoleon's wine. He shook his head. "You should have ordered a sauvignon instead."
"Don't tell your grandmother how to suck eggs, Kuryakin," Napoleon growled and Illya grinned.
Wes watched as Illya moved back towards the kitchen, stopping by various tables and spending a moment chatting with the diners.
"He really loves what he does, doesn't he?"
"Illya? It's hard to believe he hasn't been doing this all his life."
"He's only been cooking for about fifteen years. Before that, we had a different job, with law enforcement."
"The New York job that you two don't really talk about, I get that." Wes finished his garlic wasabi mashed potatoes and sighed happily.
"If you're happy now, wait until you see the dessert menu." Napoleon slipped the last bite of salmon into his mouth, and within seconds their empty plates were whisked away.
"I hope I find something I like in school. There's just so much uncertainty."
"Still haven't decide on a major?"
"No, what did you major in?"
"Philosophy and Illya, if you can believe this, has a PhD in Quantum Mechanics."
"You're shitt... I mean, you're joking—philosophy?"
Napoleon assumed an attitude. "You don't think I can wax poetic about such things?"
"No, I can so totally see that. It's just... Well, I really enjoyed my philosophy class this semester. I wonder..."
"Not unless you plan to teach, my young friend." Napoleon rubbed his hands together. "It would be better to pursue a life on the wicked stage."
"Funny you should mention that..."
Napoleon nestled closer to Illya and closed his eyes in sheer delight as warm breath tickled his ear.
"How could I not be? Everyone I love is at hand. It's nearly Christmas and everything is right in my world." He waited for a moment and then cleared his throat. "Illya?"
"What would you think about adopting Wes?"
"We couldn't as a couple. Gays aren't allowed to adopt, but it would make sense for you to at least name him as your heir and then I could do the same. That way we'd know he'd be taken care of after we've gone."
"It's amazing how things happen. This time last year, he was a stranger and now he's —"
"Family." Illya adjusted his position in bed and grunted as he shifted. "It's how it should work. You should be able to pick your family as you see fit, not the other way around. That's a crapshoot."
"True. I'll talk to Joe in the morning. It would be a nice surprise to put in his stocking."
"Speaking of putting..."
"I wondered if that was you or if you'd smuggled a beef log into bed with you... but Wes is downstairs."
"Then Wes might just hear the sound that two people in love make, although I will concede and try to hold back on the war cry."
Napoleon guided Illya's hand to his mouth and kissed the scarred palm. "Don't you dare."
And while there wasn't exactly a silent night in the house, there was no denying it was one of love, commitment, and goodwill towards men.