Happy New Year
It would start subtly, peeking coyly around corners, tapping on shoulders and disappearing from view. It would creep in, almost without warning and then suddenly it was here—the holiday season.
Illya Kuryakin looked up from the mincemeat he was preparing to the sound of Holly Jolly Christmas playing on the kitchen radio and, once again, wondered what the hell had happened.
First it was spring, and then summer on its heels. He and Napoleon would be making their own special style of fireworks for the Fourth and then the first few leaves would start to turn and the air would grow crisp. They'd hide away to celebrate their anniversary and abruptly Christmas carols would start playing.
Of course, he still viewed Christmas as an alien holiday. He didn't have the warm fuzzy feelings everyone else did. Although Napoleon tried, Illya still felt very much the outsider. This was not his holiday, his celebration. He had no fond memories to fall back upon. To him December 25 was as it had always been, just another day on the calendar.
Rocky walked into the kitchen and happily opened up his jacket. "It is freezing out there. They say there's a big storm on the way, but I think it's too cold to snow."
"It's never too cold to snow." Illya started to add spices, freshly ground cloves, allspice, and nutmeg, to the mixture of fruit, suet, and brandy. Truth of the matter, he'd already added a couple of shots of the brandy to himself as well, just to make sure it was good enough, of course. "I can remember it being so cold in Siberia you couldn't blow your nose from October to March for fear of it freezing and it still snowed there."
Rocky chuckled. "I'm going to assign Ray, Toby, and Brian to the big party we have in the back tonight."
"That won't make you short on the floor?"
"No, I think that Isabelle and Joni can handle full stations tonight. I'll keep an eye on them. Ronnie, Clem, and Clair will be in too. That's five tables apiece." Rocky grabbed a handful of carrot sticks. Matt had made it a rule that there always had to be something for staff to snack on. Rocky dipped the end into some bleu cheese dressing. "I have always meant to ask, but what is mincemeat, Chef?"
"Basically it started as a different way to preserve meat. The usual methods were either salting or smoking it. Now it is served as a dessert, but it used to be a main course, usually made with minced mutton. Goes back about five hundred years or so. Now it's mostly just various fruits and some suet for flavor."
"Still doesn't turn my fancy. I'd rather have some pumpkin pie."
"It's an acquired taste, I suppose." Illya finished mixing and pointed with his elbow as he cleaned the sticky mess off his fingers. "Would you pass me that tray of crusts?"
"Just on the work table beside you?"
"So, where's Mr. S gotten to this afternoon?"
"He and Little Tim had a photo shoot."
"Little? You mean Tiny Tim."
"Same thing in my book." Illya started splitting the filling between the small tart size crusts. "Bah humbug."
"You sound a bit Scrooge-like, Chef."
"No, that's Napoleon's response to everything these days. Why they pegged him to play Scrooge is beyond me. It's not like he advertised that he was in drama in school. Now everything is bah this and humbug that."
"That sounds funny coming from the guy who starts digging out Christmas decorations the week before Halloween."
"You should try living with him." Illya lifted the tray. "Could you get the oven door for me?" He glanced over at the phone. The reservation light was holding steady. "We are going to be full again tonight."
"Lots of folks have been shopping all day; they want something to cap off a great time."
"Then we shall give it to them, my friend." Matt entered carrying flats of dried vegetables. "Let's give them something to talk about."
Napoleon stood, clad in nothing more than his robe and a pair of old slippers, figuratively and literally embracing the pine tree, just inhaling the scent as the needles tickled his nose. The smell washed over him, made him six again, dancing with delight as his father set the tree up. It was his job to put the angel on the top and he took that responsibility very seriously now as he did then. Decorating the tree was one of his greatest joys at Christmas and he'd been overjoyed to come home from the photo shoot to find a tree in their living room. This holiday was not a big thing for Illya, in spite of Napoleon's efforts otherwise, but he indulged Napoleon. That was almost as good.
"Should I give you two a moment or just get you a room down at the nursery?"
Napoleon's head turned at the sound of his lover's voice and he grinned. Illya was shaking snow from his hair. Napoleon abandoned the tree and went to him, using the muffler Illya wore to pull him close and kiss the snowflakes from his eyelashes and nose. "Thank you." He burrowed his arms in between the chef's jacket and the thin tee shirt Illya habitually wore.
"Start a fire, give me five minutes to clean up, and you can thank me properly."
Napoleon did better than that. He had the fire crackling happily away and the curtains opened behind the tree so they could see the snow reflected against the night sky. He'd 'adopted' a platter of finger sandwiches from this afternoon's adventure; he had that and two glasses of port ready to go as Illya reappeared wearing just a robe.
Illya slid down to join him on the floor in front of the fireplace. Unconcerned with his gaping robe, he leaned back against the couch and popped a sandwich into his mouth. He chewed, frowned, and shook his head.
Illya swallowed and reached for another. "Too predictable. I would have put a little jalapeño in there, give it a pop."
"Can you ever eat anything anymore without mentally taking it apart?" The question was from interest, not from complaining.
"Can you drink a glass of wine and not wonder about what the winemaker was thinking when he decanted it? Just drink it, without trying to pick up the nuances and hints of what it might be good with?"
"No, it's just something I do whether or not I want to," Napoleon admitted, sipping his port. He frowned as Illya set his glass, untouched aside. "Something wrong, partner?"
"No, I just feel like some Napoleon instead."
"Solo." And Napoleon, being an obliging sort of fellow, wasn't about to protest. He moved easily into Illya's arms and pressed him down onto the hearth rug. For several moments they kissed, then Napoleon looked up as one of the logs popped and hissed.
"Looks like we're giving the fire ideas."
"The fire isn't the only one." Illya rolled to straddle Napoleon's waist and rocked gently, eyes closed.
"Do you know how the angel got onto the top of the Christmas tree, Illya?"
"I'm sorry?" Illya blinked, obviously surprised by Napoleon's question.
"The angel—do you know how it got up there?"
Illya looked down at him, then at their twin erections. "And this is pertinent to our activities at the moment?" He slid off Napoleon and reached again for the plate of sandwiches.
"Might be." Napoleon pulled a sheet of paper out of a robe pocket and cleared his throat. "This was going around the theatre today and I thought of you." He grinned and returned to the paper. "One particular Christmas season a long time ago, Santa was getting ready for his annual trip but there were problems everywhere. Four of his elves got sick, and the trainee elves did not produce the toys as fast as the regular ones so Santa was beginning to feel the pressure of being behind schedule. Then Mrs. Claus told Santa that her Mom was coming to visit; this stressed Santa even more."
"This almost sounds like me in the kitchen tonight... without the mother-in-law part." Illya drank some of his port and sighed.
"Shh, I'm telling you a story here—"
"Reading, but never mind. Proceed."
"When he went to harness the reindeer, he found that three of them were about to give birth and two had jumped the fence and were out heaven knows where. More stress. Then when he began to load the sleigh one of the boards cracked and the toy bag fell to the ground and scattered the toys. So, frustrated, Santa went into the house for a cup of coffee and a shot of whiskey. When he went to the cupboard, he discovered that the elves had hidden the liquor and there was nothing to drink."
"I think it's time to kill the elves and hire some nice Chinese outfit to help."
"In his frustration, he accidentally dropped the coffeepot and it broke into hundreds of little pieces all over the kitchen floor. He went to get the broom and found that mice had eaten the straw it was made of. Just then the doorbell rang and Santa cussed on his way to the door. He opened the door and there was a little angel with a great big Christmas tree. The angel said, very cheerfully, "Merry Christmas Santa. Isn't it just a lovely day? I have a beautiful tree for you. Isn't it just a lovely tree? Where would you like me to stick it?" Thus began the tradition of the little angel on top of the tree. The End... literally." He grinned at Illya's face and the ensuing groan.
"That's terrible and just a bit sacrilegious, even to my way of thinking." It didn't stop Illya from laughing though. "And your point being in all of this?"
"You're looking particularly angelic tonight, my friend."
"Ah, and I and this angel, we are to share a similar fate?"
"In a manner of speaking..."
Napoleon started smiling even before he opened his eyes. The night's memories cascaded back to him and he sighed happily. Easing one eye open, he could tell that was still early. The light that peeked around the curtains was gray and faint.
For a moment, he thought to wake the man sleeping beside him. The only outward sign that the blanketed mass was human was a thatch of sleep-and sex-crazed hair. There were times when their lovemaking was frantic, a desperate attempt to be the one in control, the one to make the other break, but last night, their lovemaking had been slow and easy, neither man in a hurry. It had been an incredible dance, letting their climaxes build until Napoleon was sure his put a hole in the wall opposite the bed. This morning, his back was tight and sore from their efforts, but Napoleon decided it had been so worth it.
"You aren't getting better, Solo, just older," he muttered and he hoisted himself out of bed to go use the toilet. He wrapped his robe around him as he walked. The bedroom was cool, cooler than he'd like it, but it was the perfect temperature to ensure his partner wouldn't retreat from Napoleon's nighttime embraces.
On the way back, he edged back the curtain and gasped in delight. The cold gray light of the morning revealed at least a foot of snow covering every surface like a thick white blanket—Jackson's first snowfall of the season and not a moment too soon to Napoleon's way of thinking.
Napoleon had nearly cried with delight the first time he discovered that Jackson was high enough to get snow. It was so hot and dry when he'd arrived; he'd just assumed they had warm winters too. He remembered dragging Illya out into it, getting into an impromptu snowball fight, then a wrestling match after Napoleon had dumped a handful of snow down Illya's back. It had been glorious fun. The snow never stayed long, but that didn't matter; it was here now.
He walked back to bed and slid beneath the sheet, spooning up against Illya, who came awake with a gasp. "Do you mind, Solo?"
Napoleon snuggled closer. "Not in the least." Not that he minded the sex, but it was also nice to just be able to hold Illya and be content. "It snowed last night. Remember what we did the first time it snowed?"
"Yes, it resulted in me tattooing my initials on your ass."
Napoleon grinned, a funny little 'Oh... yes' smile. "I'd sort of forgotten that part."
Illya rolled over and cracked open on eye. "I haven't and if you don't let me get back to sleep, you will be equally delighted with what I will tattoo on you next and where."
Napoleon smirked at the threat and settled back down against his pillows, still not releasing Illya's waist. Closing his eyes, he listened to the wind whistling, felt and then heard the arrival of not one but two cats and wondered if life could get any better than this moment.
He woke up alone and in full daylight. For a minute, he was afraid the snow was gone, but a glance out the window proved it was still present. The sky had lightened and small flakes trickled down from the sky. Napoleon stretched and heard a protest as his foot nudged something. He sat up and reached over to give Moutard's cheek a scratch.
"Good morning, Mr. Cat, how fare you today?" The question was met by a chirp and a pale yellow stomach rolled upward for a scratch. "Hmm, now you are just giving me ideas."
He got cleaned up and dressed in a pair of gray wool slacks and a cable weave sweater. He pulled on a pair of heavy socks and checked himself in the mirror.
"Not bad looking for an older but still so active man," he told his reflection. It agreed with him.
Downstairs, Napoleon headed to the kitchen and grinned as the smell of cinnamon overwhelmed him. A tray of fresh cinnamon rolls stood on the counter cooling, right beside the coffee pot. If that wasn't an invitation, nothing was. He helped himself, happily biting into the sweet roll and closing his eyes in delight.
A minute later, the back door slid open and Illya entered, carrying an armload of firewood. "Ah, the sleeping giant finally awakes."
"These cinnamon rolls are fabulous. Jesus's?"
"Just because I don't like to bake doesn't mean I can't..." Illya stomped his feet to get off as much snow as possible and carried his armload into the living room and to the fire that was burning there. When it came right down to it, the fireplace wasn't so much romantic as it was practical, especially in the winter.
He set the wood down and was only half surprised by Napoleon being right behind him.
"So tell me, what other hidden talents do you possess?" Napoleon offered Illya the roll and he took a bite, chewing slowly.
"From the world, many. From you, none." His arms now free, Illya moved in, licking the flecks of icing from Napoleon's lips with relish. That developed instantly into a deep kiss.
"Qualcuno prende un tubo di fuoco (Someone get a fire hose)." The familiar voice of Taste's co-owner broke them apart. "You two really need a hobby."
"I have a hobby," Napoleon protested.
"Sex with Chef isn't technically a hobby, Cara." Grinning, Matt dropped his bundle of wood and brushed the detritus from his wool jacket as Illya knelt to pile it up.
"Thanks for the hand, Matt."
"My hands are yours, Chef." Matt bowed low and then laughed. "So you have plans for today?" Napoleon shot Illya a look and Matt dissolved into a fit of giggles. "Besides that, Cara."
"There's something besides that?"
"Apparently." Illya finished stacking the wood and brushed off his hands. "Although, around here, that would be hard to prove." He gestured to the kitchen. "There are fresh rolls and coffee out there."
"And for that I thank you." Matt bowed and followed them back into the kitchen. "Alas, I left a now cold and lonely lover behind so I should go and attend to him..."
"Take some with you."
Napoleon wanted to make a protest, but kept silent as Illya lifted four of the sweet rolls off the tray and onto a plate.
"I will give you a call in the morning to set up a time for tomorrow."
"Have a good day, Chef." Matt covered the plate with plastic wrap and winked at Napoleon as he continued to talk to Illya. "And don't be too hard on my Cara, eh, Chef. Remember, he's only a man..."
"Thank God for that. Any more and he'd be the death of me." Illya chuckled and patted Matt on the shoulder.
Napoleon waited until Matt had waved good bye and left before wrapping Illya in a bearhug. "The death of you?"
"One can hope." Illya returned the hug and Napoleon felt one of his ribs creak, a reminder that his partner was still a formidable opponent when he chose to be. "So what is on your game plan for today, Napoleon?"
"I'd like to decorate the tree."
"And maybe have a roast for dinner?"
"I can do that."
"With lots of potatoes?"
"Also with lots of potatoes?" Illya's expression was one of innocence.
"But preferably with no clothes."
"I most certainly can do that." They resettled into each other's arms, not to kiss, but to merely embrace and be embraced.
"Do you know how happy I am?"
"Show me." Illya tugged him towards the living room and Napoleon sighed. One day, he'd take Illya in the kitchen... one day.
Instead he had to make do with the couch, remembering first to close the curtains and lock the door. It only took being walked in on once to be reminded of those necessities.
He watched Illya lie back on the couch, obviously prepared to relinquish control to Napoleon, if only at first. He was notorious for switch hitting halfway through. Not that Napoleon minded, too much.
Acting upon a suggestion made by Moutard earlier, Napoleon slid up Illya's tee shirt and first rubbed his cheek against the soft skin of Illya's stomach, then kissed it, working his way gradually up to Illya's mouth. That accomplished, he started back down as his ultimate destination poked him impatiently in the hip.
"God, Kuryakin, are you always in a hurry?"
"Only when you aren't." The words came out as a half whisper, half moan as Napoleon tackled him with both his mouth and his hands.
His mouth now too full to talk, Napoleon let his hands talk for him, smiling as Illya let his voice take over for him. Napoleon loved that Illya was so vocal during lovemaking. It just went to prove you couldn't judge anything by its cover. The first time they'd made love, Napoleon had been surprised and just a little worried about some of the noises coming from Illya. Afraid that he'd somehow hurt his partner, or was causing him anguish in some other way. Napoleon savored it now. He'd never been very vocal prior to the Russian; now he took a page from Illya's book and joined him.
Just as he was certain he had Illya right on the brink of climaxing, he backed off and grinned at Illya's protesting whine.
"Get on the floor, Illya..." Napoleon nodded to the hearth and grabbed his mother's quilt from the back of the couch.
"How?" Illya watched as Napoleon spread the quilt.
"You tell me..."
Napoleon rolled his head to the side and glanced over at Illya. The man had his eyes closed and a decidedly loopy smile on his lips.
"You, my friend, look like the cat that ate the canary."
"In a manner of speaking, but I'd prefer to call it being well loved." Illya had his eyes open now, but just barely.
"And are you? Well loved?"
"Very much so." He reached out to cup Napoleon's cheek. "And I thank you for that." He sighed. "I wake up every morning thankful that I've been given a second chance to love you." He brought Napoleon's hand to his mouth and kissed his fingers. "I have something for you."
"I think I'm going to need a few minutes, partner. I'm not the man I once was."
Illya chuckled and climbed from beneath the warmth of the quilt. It took him a moment to find his jog pants and sweat shirt, but he got them on and walked barefoot to a closet. It was one of the few places Napoleon didn't dare go. The whole thing bordered on a proverbial Fibber Magee's closet, ready to spew its contents into the living room at a moment's notice.
Illya opened the door cautiously and poked around for a few minutes, then came back with a cardboard box. It was tied with string and looked as if it had seen better days.
"This came for you about six months ago and I saved it for you."
"What?" Napoleon sat up and took the box. It was light for its size and he recognized his sister's handwriting.
"She sent a letter along with it. It got here first, so that's how I knew to save this. She was going through the attic and found some of your mother's things and thought you'd like them." He offered Napoleon a jackknife to cut through the string.
Napoleon's hand fairly shook as he sliced through the string and the packing tape. He carefully set the knife aside and opened the box up. He instantly recognized the newspaper used to pack it. He gently spread out a sheet of The Times Argus and looked lovingly at the newsprint.
Illya went to the kitchen and brought back two cups of coffee. Setting them down on the coffee table, he turned to stoke the fire before returning to sit on the floor beside Napoleon.
"Good memories?" he asked softly as he watched Napoleon's eyes fill with tears.
"Yeah, the best." He sniffed and dabbed at his eyes with a corner of the quilt. "Even with the reception we got last year, I still miss home."
"Not unusual; I still miss Russia, at times deeply, in spite of my years away." Illya used the couch to lean against. A rustle drew his attention and Buerre Noire peeked around him, eyeing the box. She prepared to jump in, but Illya caught her mid-pounce. He flipped her over on his lap and scratched her stomach. Instantly she began to purr and knead the air, even though she was still interested in the mysterious box. "He doesn't need or want your help right now," Illya said, smiling at the cat.
Napoleon reached in and drew out a newspaper wrapped item. He pulled the paper free and gasped. It was one of his favorite ornaments. It was a small silver ball, cut away with a Santa and reindeer inside it. It wasn't expensive, it wasn't even particularly well made, but it brought back so many memories to him as if it had been made of cut crystal and gold. He caressed it and sighed.
He repeated the process again and again until three dozen ornaments were carefully placed into a basket Illya had retrieved.
"This was one of my favorites." Napoleon held up a snowflake made of woven straw. "Bob, our hired man, made these for us one year. He didn't have much, but what he did, he gave freely. They were so fragile I didn't think any of them had even survived. Obviously, the grandchildren never got to these."
"What is this one?" It was a small cardboard box with a Santa pasted on one side. The glue had yellowed and the paper had started to disintegrate.
"Harry's, a discount store, used to give them away with every purchase. Mom and Dad couldn't afford any store bought ornaments, so they used these and strung cranberries and popcorn for their first few trees. " He sifted through the basket and pulled out a pale blue bird, its faux tail feathers tattered. "They bought this one when I was born. They bought a pink one for Josie."
"And this?" Illya held up a green glass pickle.
"Supposed to be for good luck." He took it and held it. Suddenly he was catapulted back to Vermont, into a crowded and noisy kitchen, full of relatives and friends. So much noise, so much food, and so much camaraderie, the small room bulged at the seams and Napoleon's eyes filled again. Those days would never happen again. His parents were both gone now, as were most of the people from his childhood. Even if he went back again, it could never be the same. He rubbed an eye and smiled. "Sorry."
"For what? Having memories? For wishing for things that can never be again? It merely means you are human, Napoleon." Illya lifted the basket of ornaments and put them up on the coffee table. Napoleon sniffed and shot him a quizzical look.
Illya moved and pulled Napoleon into his arms and they continued to topple to the floor. As the fire popped and crackled, Illya did his best to push the past memories aside and replace them with fresher, happier ones.
By the time he finished, it was Napoleon lying there amidst the newspaper with his eyes half open and a smile on his lips.
"I see what you mean about the cat and that canary." Illya brushed the corner of Napoleon' mouth with his thumb. "Sorry, you had a bit of feather there."
Napoleon chuckled and sighed. He looked over at the tree and Illya followed his gaze. "You ready?"
Illya sighed and got to his feet. "Slave driver. I'll go get stuff out of the garage."
He pulled on a pair of boots over his bare feet and wrapped a scarf around his neck. He opened the door and blinked. "Damn, it's bright out here." Even without the sun out, the snow nearly vibrated with brilliance.
A million boxes later, Illya could swear that's what it felt like, he'd gotten all the decorations in. Last year, he'd surprised Napoleon with a pre-decorated living room and while his lover had been grateful, Illya could tell Napoleon had missed not having had a hand in it himself.
"Why don't you start while I get dinner going?" He kissed Napoleon's cheek and headed for the kitchen, a safe haven in the insanity of the holidays. At least in here, he didn't have to worry about holly suddenly cropping up where it shouldn't be.
He checked the walk in for ingredients and pulled a small rib roast from the deep freeze. He put a mental list together and then stuck his head around the kitchen door.
"Napoleon, I'm going to the store. Do you want anything?"
A mound of garland answered him. "What? No, I'm fine."
Illya broke down and put on jeans, socks, and a sweater before striking out for the store. While nothing was far from anything in Jackson, he still drove. He'd pulled the truck, a sleek black Ford, from the garage; his Christmas present last year. Honestly, he still missed his old clunker, but this one did in a pinch.
Even with the snow and it being a Monday, Jackson had rumbled to life.
The store was not large enough to be a supermarket, but too big for a Mom and Pop store from the city. Illya took his time going through the produce, checking first this vegetable and then another until he found something that suited his taste. The proprietor, a small weasel of a man that Illya didn't very much care for, made a big noise about Illya choosing to shop at his store as opposed to elsewhere. When you were the only real choice in town, what difference did it make?
Illya had paid for his purchases and headed for the truck, when his eye was caught by a Boy Scout troop. They were doing their usual Christmas tree lot. He dropped his bags into the truck cab and headed over there. Twenty minutes later, he had gotten a wreath and some garland for the house and had bartered with them to bring trees and greenery by the restaurant in exchange for a fundraiser dinner later in the Spring. While he didn't hold with the policies that the Boy Scouts had on homosexuality, he knew these boys, knew their parents and they knew him. That made it okay in his mind.
He was loading the greenery into the open bed when he spotted something in the window of a small boutique store. He smiled and, checking his watch, headed in that direction.
The snow was starting to come down again and Illya shook it from his hair and jacket before climbing back into the truck. The store was so nearby that the vehicle didn't even have the chance to warm up before he was home.
Through the open curtains, he could see Napoleon busily working on the tree. The man was truly in his element now. Napoleon should hire himself out as a decorator at this time of year; he could pull a room together the way Illya could create a menu.
He tapped on the window as he passed and Napoleon looked up with a smile as he spotted the wreath Illya carried.
Almost immediately, the front door opened. "Do you need any help?" Napoleon was pulling on a jacket as he asked.
"I brought you home a few hundred yards of garland to do as you'd like," Illya said, stomping the snow off his boots as he handed Napoleon the bags. He leaned the wreath against the railing of the small front porch and went back to get the last two bags. These he carried straight through to the kitchen and pulled off his jacket. Reaching for his apron, he started what he was good at, cooking.
Putting some milk into a pan, he started it warming on a back burner as he began prepping vegetables for the roast. The Holy Trinity of American Cooking, celery, carrots, and onions, was piled around the meat and he slipped it into the oven to roast.
The milk was steaming now and he went to the pantry and pulled out some baker's chocolate. Breaking the bar into chunks, he carefully slid it into the milk and took it off the heat. While it melted, he peeled the potatoes and dumped them into a pot. He filled it with water and set it on another burner, set to low. The best way to boil potatoes, at least in his opinion, was slowly.
That finished, he pulled the milk off the burner and added sugar to it until it suited his taste. He took out a cupful, added a bit more sugar for Napoleon, and poured the rest into a second cup. He added a shot of cherry chocolate brandy and then some ice cream.
He checked on everything one last time, then picked up the cups and carried them out to the living room. Napoleon was nowhere to be seen until Illya opened the front door. Napoleon was draping the garland in even loops along the railing and securing it with pieces of twine.
He glanced back at Illya, who held a cup up to him. Thankfully, Napoleon took it, letting it warm his hands a second before tasting it.
"My God, Illya, what is this?"
"The Peppermill serves it around the fire pit in their cocktail lounge. They call it a Hot Chocolate Combo. I think they could have come up with a better name. Drink it slowly though, as it has an evil side to it. THRUSH should have used these instead of that truth serum they were so fond of."
At Napoleon's blank stare, Illya mentally kicked himself. He forgot that Napoleon had been deprogrammed. There were gaping holes in his memories now, unlike Illya's. His remained intact, which wasn't always a blessing.
"Okay," Napoleon said after a moment. He sipped again.
"The garland looks good."
"You should do something similar for Taste."
"I have the Boy Scout troop delivering an assortment of greenery tomorrow. You will merely have to tell them what and where you want it."
"There is a certain charm to living in a small town where just about anything can be bartered for."
They'd eaten and were having port in front of the fireplace. The tree was lit and Illya had to admit that it looked very nice. It brought a warmth to the living room, as did Napoleon. Before his arrival, this was just a place to sleep and change clothes, now it truly was their home.
"I have something for you," he told Napoleon.
"Oh?" Napoleon's lips curled into a grin and Illya shook his head.
"Don't you think of anything else, Napoleon?" Illya got up chuckling.
"Not with you in the room."
Illya sat back down beside him and handed him a white box tied with a festive ribbon. "Here."
"Isn't it a little early for Christmas gifts?"
"I always have." Napoleon undid the ribbon and took off the lid. His mouth moved for a moment before his voice joined in. "Where...?"
"There is a little store that opened up for the holidays. It was in their window." Napoleon carefully pulled a delicate and intricately decorated pysanki egg from its protective holder. "I thought you'd like to have something Russian for your tree."
"Our tree then." He watched Napoleon get up and take down a plain ornament.
He swapped the wire holder and placed the egg on the tree. He touched the design, of St Nick standing by a reindeer. "This is so beautiful, Amante, thank you."
"I saw it and thought you'd like it."
"I do, very much." He glanced over at Illya and smiled. "I like something else Russian even more."
"And we are back to that topic, are we?"
"Do you mind?"
"Christmas, is, after all, a season of traditions and we started one last year that I wouldn't mind continuing at all." He sat back from the tree, took Illya in his arms and began to celebrate the holiday the way he knew best, with love and a welcoming heart.