"Come on, Lucy," Napoleon Solo coaxed. "You're in charge of this thing, you could do it."
"It's supposed to be a secret. No finagling allowed. If I let you pick yours, I'd have to let everybody do it, and that would ruin everything."
"No," the plump grey haired woman stated firmly. She pushed her glasses up on her nose and glared—or tried to glare— at Napoleon. But a reluctant smile was twitching the corners of her mouth. Napoleon smiled back. "Why do you want Illya's name so badly? If you want him to have something special for Christmas, just get it for him. Why bend the rules so you can be his Secret Santa? Why do you want to be a Secret Santa anyway? You've never been interested before."
"Lucy, you know as well as I do that for the past three years Illya has gotten shafted on this Secret Santa thing. He buys faithfully every week for whatever name he has, and gets nothing in return."
"That's the luck of the draw, Napoleon. Everyone has those years."
"Three in a row," Napoleon repeated. "He only ever gets the big present at the end, none of the little ones that are supposed to make it fun, and even his big presents are crap."
"Napoleon Solo! Some people are on a budget, you know."
"Crap, I said. Cheap junk even when it's supposed to be at least twenty dollars for the final gift. I want to make that up to him this year."
"Only five dollars for the weekly gifts, tops," Lucy warned. Napoleon only smiled. "Napoleon, you'd really have to stick to that if I... which I won't!"
Napoleon sighed. "All right," he said. "I'll tell you why I want to do it. But it's a secret, Lucy."
Napoleon whispered in her ear and she blinked. Then she took off her glasses and stared at him. He stared back, and his dark eyes were serious. She whispered something, and he nodded. She squealed. "If you had told me that first I never would have given you such a hard time. Here!" She rummaged in her filing cabinet and pulled out a hat. In it were dozens of slips of paper. She hunted through them and triumphantly pulled one out, handed it to him. On it, in Illya's delicate, looping script, it said 'Illya Kuryakin'. Napoleon took it from her and very carefully tucked it away in his wallet.
"Now you have to pretend to draw one at random when I bring the hat around at lunch today," Lucy warned. "And don't tell anyone I let you do this."
"I won't. Lucy, you're a darling." He kissed her, full on the mouth and she let him, then, when he released her, she feigned a swoon.
"A Napoleon Solo kiss. I'd have done it for that alone."
"Oh, really?" Napoleon said, and kissed her again, the full production this time, bending her backwards. When the kiss was over she was blushing and giggling. "Merry Christmas," Napoleon said and walked away, touching his jacket pocket to be sure his wallet, with its precious cargo, was still there.
"Look!" Illya exclaimed when he came into the lab the next morning, the day after names had been drawn. He had watched in wonder as Napoleon picked one out of the hat. Napoleon had not only never participated in this ritual before, but had openly heaped scorn upon it. He had been discussing that with his lab partner George Piper as they rode down together on the elevator, but the brightly wrapped gift on his work bench pushed it out of his mind. "A present on the very first day! I've never had that happen before."
"Open it," George said, as eager as Illya himself. Illya did, and lifted a blue hat out of the tissue wrapped box.
"Oh," he said in surprise. It was soft, and looked very warm. Concealed earflaps could come down, or be tucked away. "Oh." He put it on. It fit perfectly.
"Hey," June, one of the lab techs, complained. "That had to cost more than five dollars. That's not fair."
"It's in a Wal-Mart box," George pointed out. "They have cheap hats sometimes. On sale."
"Let me see." June held out her hand and, reluctantly, Illya took the hat off and gave it to her. Already it felt like it belonged on his head.
"Feel that?" June demanded of the girl beside her. "No way is that a five dollar hat."
"It has a Faded Glory label inside," the girl said. "That's Wal-Mart's brand." Both of them peered at it. George pulled it out of June's hands.
"So somebody hunts the clearance rack," he said. "Here, Illya. It suits you."
"It does, doesn't it." Illya put it on again and admired his reflection in the little mirror George obligingly held up.
"Hmph," June sniffed. "It's just not fair when some people get something that clearly cost over the limit and other people get nothing."
"And how much has Illya gotten over the past few years?" George demanded. "Not "$20.00 total, I'll bet. June," he added pointedly. June, who had drawn Illya's name two years in a row, reddened.
"My dog needed dental work! And the car needed new brakes! You knew I did the best I could, didn't you Illya?"
"Of course," Illya said absently. He was experimenting with the ear flaps.
"He was damn nice about it, which makes him even more entitled this year if somebody is splurging a little."
"Hmph," June said again, but that was all. Illya carefully packed the hat away in its nest of tissue paper, and everyone returned to work.
One week later precisely Illya walked into his office and a box lay on his secretary's desk. He smiled at her. "Isn't that nice?" he said, and she smiled back. Nicole was small and shy, and an excellent worker. She liked Illya, and he liked her. She didn't talk much about her personal life, but a picture of her handsome fiance adorned her wall and when she mentioned him her little face glowed.
"It is nice," she said, and handed it to him.
"For me?" he said, but there was his name, in an anonymous computer type. "Another one?"
"Another one," she agreed and went back to work. He carried it into his office and opened it.
"Look," he said to George later that afternoon. He held out both hands, encased in the black leather gloves he had found inside the package. The lining was soft, and the same blue as the hat.
"Nice," George approved. "You needed gloves."
"I did. I'll be glad of them when I leave tonight."
"I guess so. Fourteen degrees with a wind chill of nine is no joke."
"Let me see," June demanded and once again Illya handed his gift over. She turned them around.
"Oh come on," she complained. "This is real leather, and look how soft they are." She gave them to Barbara, who exclaimed over them. They were passed around the lab and Illya waited patiently until they were returned to him. "Come on," June said again but no one was listening to her. Later, in the cafeteria, she returned to her theme.
"You should see Illya's gloves, Lucy. It's not fair. The rules are there to be followed."
"The rules say everyone should get at least two gifts before Christmas," Barbara said sharply. "When I had you I didn't get diddly squat."
"That wasn't my fault! My car needed tires and the cat was sick!"
"Well it's not Illya's fault someone is spending money on him, and you need to let him enjoy it," Barbara shot back. But after June left in a huff, and after Illya had gone back to the lab, she turned to Lucy.
"You know," she said quietly, "I hate to agree with June, but I worked in retail all through high school and those gloves are high end. I don't care about the Leather Warehouse label someone put in. I don't grudge it, but who on earth could be going to all that trouble, and why?"
"Well," Lucy said, and her eyes sparkled. "I said I wouldn't tell, but if you swear..."
"Oh, I do, I do! Tell me!"
Lucy whispered in her ear. Barbara drew back. "No!"
Lucy whispered some more and Barbara gasped. "Really? He is? I mean, he will?"
"Now don't say anything," Lucy warned. "I promised, but I trust you, Barbara."
"You can trust me," Barbara pledged. "Wild horses won't drag it out of me."
"I'm tired of listening to everybody," Illya complained to George. "They're just gloves. It's not like I got a cruise or a car or something. They're nice gloves, but the tag says Leather Warehouse and I know their sales tables are piled high with gloves. Not five dollar gloves, but still..."
"Women," George said. "They got nothing else to think about. Now I got this nice box of chocolates this morning from my Secret Santa. Want some?"
When Illya came into Napoleon's office the next week he found Napoleon frowning at a ceramic statue of an angel. It was crudely made, and the angel wore a decided simper. It was so unlike him that Illya stared at it in surprise. "Where did you get that?"
"From my Secret Santa," Napoleon said, and he was clearly nonplussed. "What on earth am I supposed to do with it?"
"Display it," Illya said. "So whoever it is knows you like it."
"But I don't like it. It's the ug—ah, you don't have my name, do you?"
"I'm not supposed to tell you."
"No. I don't. I have Alan, in Counseling."
"Good. It's the ugliest thing I ever saw. I didn't think it was possible for something to be this ugly. Where did it come from?"
"The Dollar Tree. I recognize it. But you have to display it, Napoleon. Since you're doing this you have to do it right. Look what I got today."
"Someone is really taking good care of you. It's about time." He watched as Illya took a box from under his arm and opened it. Inside was a scarf, delicately patterned in blue and black, with black fringe.
"See? It matches the hat and the gloves. And it's very soft." Illya laid his cheek against it. "It's the nicest thing I own."
"Is it really, or are you just saying that? The way I'll have to say this hideous thing," he set the angel on a shelf, "is a lovely ornament?"
Illya laughed. "You'll have to say it without the eye roll. But it is really. My scarf, I mean. And my gloves. And my hat." He smiled at Napoleon
"Well." Napoleon smiled back. "You deserve it. You were a good sport these past three years when everybody else was getting gifts and you didn't."
"I don't care that much." Illya rolled his eyes too. "I mean it's nice, but it's a random thing. Nobody picked me on purpose. You never told me, Napoleon. Whose name do you have?"
"I'm not supposed to say."
"But..." Illya sputtered. "You made me tell you!"
"I didn't make you tell me. I asked you, that's all."
"You said my name the way you do when you're giving orders."
Napoleon flicked the tip of Illya's nose with one finger. "Are you going to show June your scarf?"
"No. I showed George, and you. That's all."
"What is that you're wearing?" June demanded the next day when Illya came inside, brushing snow off his shoulders. She snatched at the scarf and Illya sighed, and let her inspect it. She shrieked.
"This is cashmere! I know cashmere when I feel it, and that's what this is! Look, Barbara!"
"From K-Mart?" Barbara said dismissively. "It's one hundred percent polyester, June. It says so right here."
"Oh, give me a break!"
"What do you think somebody's doing?" Barbara demanded. "Changing the labels? Carefully and painstakingly picking one off and sewing another on?" Lucy choked on her breakfast muffin and Barbara surprisingly went off into a giggling fit. "Who would do that?" she finally managed.
"No one," Illya said, exasperated. "It's fleece, that's all. I don't mean that's all, because it's the nicest scarf I've ever owned, but it can't be cashmere. Not for five dollars."
"It sure feels like cashmere," Nicole said unexpectedly. She had taken the scarf from June, and was feeling along the back. "Jason got me a cashmere sweater once, and this is even... what?" Lucy and Barbara grabbed her arms and dragged her off to a corner of the cafeteria. Their heads were together for a minute then all three came back. Nicole was bright pink.
"I was wrong," she said, giving it to Illya. "Fleece. Nice, soft... fleece." Now she was giggling and Illya stared at her, then at Lucy and Barbara.
"What's so funny about fleece?" he asked, folding the scarf and patting it, as if consoling it for June's rough handling and the women's laughter.
"Nothing," George said from behind him. But it's amazing what they can do with polyester these days, isn't it? When I think of polyester I think of those awful leisure suits, but now they make it so it feels just like..."
"Cashmere!" Lucy, Barbara and Nicole shrieked in unison and went off into gales of laughter. George stared at them in honest amazement.
"Women," he said to Illya. "Can't make them out sometimes. Just like my wife Mae and her sister. They laugh and laugh and it makes no sense."
"What did everybody else get from their Secret Santas?" Illya asked, trying to change the subject. "I met Mr. Waverly in the hall—it's nice, the way he comes in for this even though he's retired—and he got another hair trimmer. You know, for his eyebrows. He said he gets one every year and keeps giving them away... oh," he added guiltily, looking around in case Waverly's Secret Santa was present. "Not because he doesn't like them. But he only needs one. Not that I'm saying he needs it! Let's go, George, before I get myself in trouble."
"Okey dokey," George said amiably, and they went off together.
"Hmph," June said as they left. "Next week is the Christmas party and we'll find out just who has been breaking the rules. And when we do, I'll have something to say about it. Trying to make the rest of us look bad, that's all it is."
"What did you buy this week, June?" Nicole asked sweetly.
"Some of us can't do it every week! My washing machine broke! See, that's what I mean! Making us all look bad!"
"Yeah, June, that's why someone is picking off designer labels and sewing discount chain ones in. Just to make you look bad."
"Surely someone is hiring someone else to do that," Barbara said. "Someone rich enough to buy Italian leather gloves and cashmere scarves isn't doing his —" Lucy poked her sharply. "Or her own needlework."
"Well." June glared around at them all. "All I know is, it isn't right. And when I see Illya's Secret Santa I'm giving him—or her—a piece of my mind." She flounced off, whirling around at the explosion of giggles from Lucy, Barbara and Nicole, then stalking away again.
The week before the Christmas party Illya was fairly showered with gifts. They were all small, nothing to arouse anybody's ire or envy except, of course, June's. The sheer quantity was enough to make her furious. There was a candy bar lying on Illya's lab counter Monday morning, and a small Christmas ornament shaped like a Santa Claus Tuesday. On Wednesday there was a gift card good for two movie tickets at an art cinema Illya favored, and Thursday a jazz album he had long sought. And every day that week, when he arrived in the cafeteria, his lunch had already been paid for. He asked the meal servers about it but they only twinkled and laughed and would say nothing. He was enchanted. Nothing like this had ever happened to him, and his only regret was how soon it would end. He wanted to meet his Secret Santa, but was shy, too. A simple thank you hardly seemed adequate.
Friday morning, the day of the party when all would be revealed, Illya and George speculated again on who it could be. It was someone who knew him well, that was certain, because even the candy bar was a particular favorite. "It's some woman with a crush," George diagnosed. "That'll probably be kind of awkward at the party. You'll have to at least give her a dance or two."
"I know. And I'll be glad to, George, if that's the case. But... what's that?"
'That' was a small manila envelope with his name on it in the now familiar and still anonymous computer type. Illya opened it and pulled out a sprig of mistletoe. George howled at the expression on his face.
"Told you," he said gleefully. "Now you're not only gonna have to dance with her, but kiss her too."
Illya twirled the stem between thumb and forefinger. "I will. She's been so nice. Listen, George, I'm eating with Napoleon today. If my lunch downstairs is free again you take it. Tell Nelly and Brianna I said it was all right."
"Thanks. Have fun."
He and Napoleon sat over lunch at an exclusive restaurant. Napoleon had been quiet today and Illya, recognizing and respecting his mood, had been equally silent. He had eaten lunch, his own dessert and half of Napoleon's cheesecake, and now they were sipping cognac and small cups of black coffee. It had been very pleasant—the teeming cafeteria at UNCLE headquarters seeming miles and light years away. Finally Napoleon looked up.
"It's been a good three years," he said. "Hasn't it?"
Illya knew what he meant. It was three years to the day since he and Napoleon had been transferred from Section Two. Both had been ready to leave the field. The work had changed, as UNCLE had, as the world had. Issues no longer seemed so clear cut, former enemies were now uneasy allies, and former allies were no longer to be trusted. No one was to be trusted. That had always been the case of course, but lately it was worse than ever. Even Waverly had seemed glad to retire, although he was still seen around headquarters for select high level conferences and special events. But despite their mutual relief, once the deed was done, once their job descriptions were finally and irrevocably changed, Illya had felt a strong sense of loss. All those years together, all those shared hotel rooms, apartments, even that ridiculous house out in suburbia, over. The shared airplane trips, the train rides, the automobile journeys, over. The missions, with their moments of heart stopping danger and hours of tedium, over. Their partnership, over.
"No," Napoleon had said earnestly when Illya had tried to express some of this to him. They had been standing in the hall outside the conference room where Waverly himself had personally decommissioned his most famous team. "Don't say it's over, Illya. I will always think of you as my partner. As I hope you will do me."
"All right." That helped, and Illya had found a smile for Napoleon. "Thank you."
"I can see the but in your eyes. Talk to me."
Illya had shrugged. "Endings are always sad," he'd said finally. "Especially when it is a good thing that is coming to an end."
"Only the fieldwork is ending. The rest of our lives is just beginning."
"We're not even in the same departments anymore. I'll never see you." That was too much, his grief too naked, and he had averted his eyes. "I mean..."
"I know what you mean. And that could happen. It often does. But only if we allow it. And we don't have to allow it. We won't routinely see one another at work anymore, that's true. But we can make time for one another. We can —" at that moment they had been interrupted by Jake Davenport, UNCLE's new Section Chief. He had a stack of files for Napoleon to go over, and he had raised his eyebrows at Illya.
"I believe they are waiting for you in Laboratory 7, Agent Kuryakin," he had said politely. Illya had nodded and turned away. Napoleon had caught his arm.
"They can wait a minute longer. Illya—let's have dinner tonight. I'll pick you up after work and we can go to Yoshida's. I know you like that. We'll eat, and we'll talk, and we'll sort this out."
"You don't have to..."
"I want to." Napoleon had shot Davenport a look that clearly indicated a desire for privacy, but Davenport had blandly ignored it and stayed right where he was. Napoleon had made an impatient sound. "You are the only real friend I've got. This..." he had tightened his grip on Illya's arm, "is the only real relationship in my life. I am not willing to give that up. Meet me at the main—no." He had grinned. "Meet me outside Del Floria's. Six—well," eyeing the stack of files, "seven o'clock. Yes?"
"Yes," Illya had said, ignoring Davenport's disapproving frown. "Seven o'clock outside Del Floria's. I'll be there."
"So will I."
And that was how it had started. They had talked, long and earnestly, over Napoleon's sushi and Illya's hibachi chicken, and longer over the sake which had closed the meal. The results of that talk were the monthly dinners, the bi-weekly lunches, the occasional weekends away. "I know it sounds artificial," Napoleon had said as they bent their heads over their pocket calendars. "But if we don't make the effort you're right, time will slip away and suddenly we'll realize it's been months since we've seen one another. And then years. And I'm afraid..." he had swallowed and, unexpectedly, reached out to cover Illya's hand with his own. "You're the best of me." His voice was hoarse. "You. Not my work, and not my women. You. And I am very much afraid of what I will turn into without you. Please—please don't let that happen. You are my humanity, Illya. Don't let me lose that."
"I won't," Illya had said with all the intensity of his being. "I won't, Napoleon. I'll be here for you always. Whenever you say, whatever you need, I'll be here." He had wanted to say more, had wanted to speak of his own need, his own devotion, but he couldn't. He never had been able to find those words, unlike Napoleon. He had met Napoleon's eyes instead, and tried to put everything he felt into his. He must have been at least partially successful, because Napoleon's face had warmed. He had reached out with his free hand, and touched Illya's cheek.
"Good," he had said, and his voice had the harsh tone that Illya knew meant he was repressing strong emotions with an effort. At one time, back at the beginning of their partnership, that tone had hurt his feelings. Now he recognized it for the enormous compliment it was. He had smiled, and Napoleon had smiled too. They had sat there, holding hands and smiling at one another until a discreet cough had announced the presence of the waiter with their check.
Illya would have said they were as close at that moment as two people could possibly be. The years in the field had welded them together, and that conversation had put the seal on it. But he would have been wrong. They had drawn closer, and closer still. They met ever more frequently, Napoleon catching Illya in the hall and inviting him over for a home cooked meal, Illya calling Napoleon on a Saturday and asking him to go hiking or picnicking in the park.
At what point Napoleon stopped dating Illya wasn't sure. He became aware of it slowly; that Napoleon never had other plans anymore when Illya called him, that Napoleon's name was no longer linked with one woman or another around the office. He wondered what it meant. He knew what he hoped it meant, that Napoleon was turning to him at last, turning to him not just for friendship, not just for security, not just for relief from the enormous pressures of the job. Napoleon—Napoleon seemed to be offering him his open heart. And Illya, whose heart had long since been given away, given to his partner way back then, now alternated between elation and despair. Elation when he and Napoleon were together, because the signals seemed so unmistakable. The look in those dark brown eyes was almost caressing, and sometimes Napoleon did caress him, lightly and seemingly casually but there was nothing truly casual about those touches. Napoleon spoke love to him in everything but words. And despair because when they were apart reality crashed in, the reality of Napoleon's sexual orientation which had never been in question. How could he presume to think Napoleon Solo would offer... would accept... how did he dare? But then they would meet, and Napoleon would say his name in that soft, insinuating way, would look deeply into his eyes, would stroke a loose strand of hair back from Illya's face, and Illya would be lost again in wild fantastic hopes for a shared future.
Now, this afternoon, those hopes were spiraling up again. Napoleon seemed abstracted, true, but he had moved so his leg was pressed firmly against Illya's under the table, and there was a deep tenderness in his eyes that Illya knew was for him alone. Napoleon never had looked at his women that way, and Napoleon didn't even have any women anymore.
"Yes," he answered Napoleon's question. "It's been a good three years."
"It could be better still," Napoleon went on. "Don't you think?" He put his hand over Illya's, as he had done at that first dinner. Illya lowered his lashes, then lifted them and they were gazing directly into one another's eyes. Into one another's soul.
"Yes," he answered, and Napoleon's hand tightened. "I do." He heard the phrase as he said it, and flushed. Napoleon flushed too, but didn't look away.
"Well," he said finally, and his voice caught. "It's something to think about. Isn't it?"
"Yes," Illya said again, although he had already done all the thinking he needed to do on this subject. He was just waiting for Napoleon to... to what? He didn't know, his mind refusing to call up so unprecedented and unlikely a picture. Napoleon's watch alarm beeped.
"Damn," Napoleon said ruefully. "Time to get back. You... you'll be at the Christmas party tonight, won't you?"
"Oh yes." Illya laughed a little, and Napoleon smiled. He released Illya's hand and stood up. "I'll be there. How could I not be? I have to see who my generous Secret Santa is."
"You have no idea?"
"Well, George thinks it's some woman with a crush on me. He says I'll have to at least give her a dance or two if so."
"I won't like seeing you dance with someone else," Napoleon said and Illya looked up at him.
"Neither would I," he answered bluntly, and blushed crimson. Then he was annoyed with himself. Why shouldn't he say it, when Napoleon had... but the words sounded different coming from him. They sounded presumptuous, whereas from Napoleon they sounded... they sounded... flustered, he pushed back his chair and rose too.
"You won't," Napoleon said softly, and once again Illya felt his face heat up. Then Napoleon turned to put on his stylish overcoat, and Illya slipped into his old one. He put on his hat and his gloves, smiling to himself at the contrast they made with his worn coat. I should get a new one, he thought. After Christmas I'll go to Macy's and shop the sales myself. He tied his new scarf around his neck, and followed Napoleon out the door.
At the Christmas party Illya couldn't resist the pile of gifts on the serving table. He walked around it and around it, and on his third trip he spotted the big box wrapped in silver paper with his name on it, still in computer type. He hadn't seen it at first because a gift bag was on top of it. He looked at the bag, because it seemed familiar, and saw that Napoleon's name was there. June, he thought, putting Napoleon's lone Dollar Tree gift together with the bag, which June reused every year. June had Napoleon's name. That seemed funny to him, and he laughed. Behind him he heard George laugh, too.
"Well, at least Solo doesn't need the presents," he said. "He's loaded, right?."
"Yes." Napoleon was indeed very wealthy, as everyone knew. Not because he bragged about his money—he didn't—but his upper West Side address, his custom made suits, his little sports car which he traded in each year for a new model, all told the tale. "What do you think it is?"
"Something hideous and cheap," George said comfortably. "Not sure why she makes such a big deal about your gifts being over budget when hers are so decidedly under."
"She says it makes everyone else look bad."
George snorted. "It makes her look bad, and that's a fact. Hey, there's mine." He picked up his square box and shook it. Something shifted inside. Illya poked him.
"Put it down! You're not supposed to do that!"
"Let me see yours." Not to be discouraged George walked around again, found the big box with Illya's name on it, and shook that too. "Got to be a clothes box," he deduced. "Like a coat or a blanket or something."
"All right everyone!" Lucy clapped her hands for order. "Find your gift, and after you open it go thank your Secret Santa!"
Illya pounced on his and carried it off to a quiet corner. He opened it carefully, thankful to be—for the moment—unobserved. Everyone else was equally absorbed in their packages.
"Like children," Napoleon said and Illya turned to see him holding a large box of Christmas ornaments. They were red and gold balls, covered with glitter. Illya recognized them because he had two identical sets at home. "Just like a bunch of children on Christmas morning."
"Are they?" Illya said, having no experience of such a thing. Napoleon looked at him, head tilted sideways.
"Yes," he said gently, and Illya knew that Napoleon understood. Napoleon always understood him. "Go ahead. I didn't mean to interrupt you. Want me to leave you alone?"
"No. I never do." Then Illya blushed furiously. He couldn't believe he had said that. "It's the champagne," he said by way of explanation.
"You haven't had any yet."
"Now how do you know?" Illya demanded, going on the offensive. "How do you know what I have or haven't had?"
Napoleon only smiled. "Go on," he urged. "Before you have a bigger audience than just me."
Illya did so, and inside the tasteful silver wrapping paper was, as George had predicted, a large white clothing box. The name of an exclusive men's store was printed on the top and he blinked. "Well," he said and opened it. Layers of pale blue tissue paper greeted him and he unfolded them to reveal a coat.
A black leather coat, lined in deep blue, which he could tell at a glance would go perfectly with his hat, and his gloves, and his scarf. Very carefully he lifted it out. "Oh," he said weakly. The leather was very soft, and he knew before he looked at the label that the blue lining was cashmere. Just like the scarf, he thought. Not fleece at all. He put it on, and it fitted perfectly, as if it had been made for him. Turning around, he admired the fit and hugged it to him. "Oh," he said again. "This must have cost more than twenty dollars." He heard the absurdity of it as he said it. This coat had easily cost twenty times that, and probably more. Much more. This coat hadn't... none of his gifts had... come from Wal-Mart, or K-Mart, or any clearance table either. He lifted his eyes to Napoleon, who was seemingly absorbed in refolding his battered, clearly well used gift bag.
"Here, June," he said and gave her the bag. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," June returned stiffly. "I hope you like them."
"Yes. Very much," Napoleon answered, with those flawless manners that could hide anything.
"Holy cow," George said and Illya turned to him with relief. He didn't know why he was relieved, but he was. He could talk about the coat with Napoleon later. "Who is that from?"
"I... it doesn't say."
"No?" George pawed through the tissue paper. "You're right. No card, no nothing. That's not fair."
"Have you checked the pockets?" Napoleon said, managing to dismiss June without another word. "Maybe there's something in there."
There was. It was another box, gift wrapped in the same silver paper. A small box. A very small box. "Jewelry," George diagnosed. "Got to be. Illya? What is it?"
His name. His name on the small box, and not in any computer type this time. His name in a handwriting he recognized instantly. He turned to Napoleon, who had set his gift down and was regarding him soberly. For a long time they simply looked at one another, then Napoleon cleared his throat.
"Want to open it in here?" he asked, indicating the cafeteria manager's office, adjacent to the cash register.
"Isn't it locked?" Illya said, instead of any of the other things he wanted to say. And, when Napoleon wordlessly held up a key, he swallowed hard. "All right," he managed, and followed Napoleon in.
"Well, June?" Barbara challenged. "Don't you want to give Napoleon Solo a piece of your mind for being such a good Secret Santa?"
"No," June mumbled. "I have to leave. Merry Christmas." She left, and Barbara, Nicole and Lucy laughed among themselves before going over to the buffet table for more punch. Lucy lifted her glass towards the office door in a toast, and the other two women followed suit. They drank, then turned to examining one another's gifts.
Napoleon locked the door behind them and leaned against it, both hands in his pockets. "Go on," he said. "Open it."
"Napoleon, it was you all this time?" Of course it was. Of course. Who else would know that Illya loved Sky Bars, that he had long searched for that particular jazz record, that he went to the Fine Arts Cinema at least once a month. Who else would... he opened it, hands shaking a little, not surprised at all when there was indeed a jeweler's box inside. He opened that, lifted the cotton, and there lay a ring. A gold ring. A gold ring with a subtle design on it, of a wave traveling around the circle
Napoleon took his hands out of his pockets, and extended them. On the third finger of his left one was a duplicate of the ring Illya now held in his palm. "The ocean," Napoleon began, and his voice caught. He began again. "The ocean is eternal," he said. "And I know you love it. And I love you. And... and our love is eternal too. So I thought... Illya? Do you like it?"
"Yes," Illya said, and his voice didn't catch at all. It was clear, and firm. "I do." He gave the ring to Napoleon, who slid it onto his ring finger.
"I do too," he whispered, and Illya kissed him.
He had never thought it would happen quite this way. He had always pictured Napoleon kissing him, Napoleon leaning in, gathering him close and kissing him. But Napoleon's hands were shaking, and Napoleon looked uncertain, so Illya put both arms around his neck, pulled his head down and kissed him.
There was a roaring in his ears... just like the ocean, Illya thought dizzily. The ground seemed to slip away from under his feet and his arms tightened around Napoleon's neck. Napoleon embraced him in his turn. They kissed there, in the nondescript little office, and out in the cafeteria beyond Christmas carols played. "I'll have a blue Christmas," Elvis sang, "without you." Without lifting his head, Napoleon moved his mouth to Illya's ear.
"No more," he whispered. "No more blue Christmases for either of us."
"No. Merry Christmas, Napoleon."
"Merry Christmas, Illya."
When they came out of the office at last the cafeteria was deserted. It was Christmas Eve, and anyone who didn't have to be back at work had gone home. Napoleon tied the scarf around Illya's neck, and Illya buttoned up Napoleon's coat, and they slipped out through the old tailor shop without anyone seeing them.
A limousine was waiting there, and they drank champagne in the back seat while it took them home. "Your home too now," Napoleon said as he unlocked his front door and Illya nodded.
"Our home," he said, and Napoleon slid the bolt across.
"Our home," he agreed.
They undressed in Napoleon's dining room, by the lights of his Christmas tree. "I wondered why you did that this year," Illya whispered. "You never did before."
"Because you like them. And thus, so do I." He drew Illya back into his arms and Illya rested there, cheek on Napoleon's chest, one hand curled inside Napoleon's own. And when Napoleon laid him down beside the tree, its lights blazing in those dark eyes, Illya opened to him, drew him down, drew him in. They moved together, crying out, each man's name smothered in the other man's mouth.
Afterwards they hung cheap red and gold ornaments all over the tree. The lights caught the glitter on the balls, reflected it, making them into things of beauty. "I have two more boxes of these at my old apartment," Illya offered, smiling. "I'll bring them over if you want."
"You do that," Napoleon answered, smiling as well. Glitter had come off on his hands and he put them in Illya's hair, making it sparkle. Illya picked up his pants and extricated the sprig of mistletoe from his pocket. He held it over his head.
"Merry Christmas Napoleon," he whispered. Napoleon kissed him in reply and it was, it was a very Merry Christmas for them both.