All I Want for Christmas
"I don't believe this..." Illya Kuryakin slapped down his pencil and sat back in his chair.
"What?" Napoleon, his own pencil drumming a steady tattoo on the table top, paused at his partner's outburst.
"If you suddenly were faced with three THRUSH agents, would you: A) attempt capture, B) attempt escape, C) kill without question or D) allow them to capture you in the hopes that they will reveal their master plan to you while torturing you?"
"Isn't there an E) all of the above? I know I've done all of them at times." Napoleon returned to his own sheet.
"I've got one even better. What is the primary use of your weapon: A) defense, B) offense, C) both, or the ever popular, D) neither."
"Neither? If we didn't use it for offense or defense, why would we carry it?"
"Are you sure Waverly isn't punishing us for something? It must have been something for us to take the recert today of all days."
"Maybe he just got tired of you eating everything before he got there." Napoleon returned his attention to the test. It was too many pages long, each page as inane as its predecessor.
"What if we flunk?"
"What if we just check anything and head up to the party?"
"First, it would just look bad for a senior agent to flunk his recertification test. Second, it would be hard to explain why an agent of your caliber didn't know the proper use of a communicator. Third, if you want to spend a month at Cutter's Hotel Hell, you be my guest. There will be other parties."
"But this is a Section Four party and you know they do the best ones around."
"I also know you aren't so stupid that you would jeopardize your own standing by failing this."
"I didn't say I was going to fail. I was just curious as to the consequences." Illya returned to his own test. "This one is just wrong—what is the proper turn-around time for a report: A) a week, B) two weeks, C) a month, or D) Napoleon Solo time?"
"You have got to be..." Napoleon reached for Illya's test, but Illya shielded it from him.
"Gotcha and no peeking." Illya chuckled. "Well, if I have to miss the party, at least the company is good."
"Well, you're not quite as comely as Janet Lancaster, but right back at you."
"I thought you gave up on her." Illya finished the page and flipped it over, then moaned. "I hate the logic problems. There never is a right answer."
"They are more interested in seeing the process behind solving them. I usually look for the trip-up word. You know the sort—you have two coins that add up to fifty five cents. One coin is not a nickel—what are they?"
Illya thought for a moment. "Yugoslavian?"
"You're thinking too hard. One coin is a fifty cent piece and the other is a nickel."
"But the problem said one wasn't a nickel."
"But it didn't say the other couldn't be one."
"That's just sneaky..."
"No, it's just seeing if you read carefully and think creatively."
"Of course I do. I'm a scientist, after all. And I have the gift of your partnership."
"Speaking of such, what did you ask Santa to bring you for Christmas?"
"A three-day long hangover, so I can wake up on the 26th and all of this will be over with."
"Is that when you are flying back home?"
"And then, if I remember correctly, the party really begins."
"That's true, but only if Vyetka stops drinking long enough to realize it. I am beginning to worry about him." The last sentence was said softly.
"He's drinking more?" Napoleon's tone matched his.
"He never stops anymore. He lost his job, according to Mama, and his wife and little daughter moved back home to her parents. It's a great shame to be left by your wife."
"It wasn't your fault, Illya." Napoleon pushed the test aside now. "It wasn't the fault of either of you. Neither of you were in love; you were both just told to do your duty to your country."
"And even then I was unable to perform properly. Perhaps failure runs in the blood line."
"Nonsense. Your father wasn't a failure. After all, he survived the Great Patriotic War."
"Mostly by keeping out of the fighting as much as possible." Illya stared down at the sheet. "Although, perhaps it could be said he was more a coward than a failure."
"Okay, now you are getting maudlin. You are not a failure or a coward, neither is your father. He is a decorated member of the government. Your brother just needs someone to help him see the important things in life, like his family. Alcohol is easy; it makes everything go away for a while, but the problems are right there waiting for you when you come back."
"You speak from... experience? You?" Illya's voice dropped on the last word.
"It was right after my wife was killed. I didn't know what to do, so I crawled into a bottle and stayed there until an Army recruiter pulled me out. Best thing that ever happened to me... until a certain Russian came my way." He chuckled dryly and murmured softly. "You know I've never told anyone that before."
Illya smiled shyly and dropped his gaze back to the table. "I, too, value our friendship... at least until I get back all the money you owe me."
Napoleon laughed and took a sip of his coffee. There was a knock on the door and both men looked over. It opened and two women entered. One was carrying a tray of food and the other balanced a tray with a carafe and glasses on it.
"Well, what have we here, ladies?" Napoleon was on his feet immediately, as was his partner, ushering them to the table.
"Well, since you were stuck down here testing, we thought we'd bring you a bit of Christmas cheer." Allesandra was a breathy dark-haired beauty from Communications. "Mr. Waverly gave us fifteen minutes to deliver this and leave you to it."
"They said we should make sure you weren't working too hard. This also being Christmas Eve and all." Robin was a sloe-eyed redhead. "We promised we'd be fast."
"There's nothing that I like better than fast women." Napoleon closed the door behind him and began to unknot his tie.
Twelve minutes later, two slightly tousled women walked from the room, their movements dreamily lazy and slow as if they were drifting along.
Napoleon sighed happily and began to readjust his shirt. "Now, for the record, that was my idea of Christmas cheer."
"Christmas, New Year's, May Day and then some." Illya sat up from his position on the table and picked up a plate. "And we still have food and drink. Would you prefer turkey or ham?"
"Yes," Napoleon answered, glancing down at the test. "Just have the math stuff left now."
Illya licked one of his fingers. "Give it to me. You can do my logic questions and I'll do your math. I did mine first."
"That wouldn't be right or fair, Illya." Napoleon poured some punch into a cup and sniffed. "Rum, I think." He passed it over.
"Why not? We're partners. We each have an area of specialty and it's our right to exploit that to our advantage." He sipped and nodded. "Rum it is and if you think about it, it's our duty to come to the aid of our partner whenever and wherever it is required."
"You are one smart Russian." Napoleon raised his glass to his partner.
"I learned from the best. To the mutual exploitation of our partnership—Nostrovia!"
Behind the soundproof, one-way glass, one of the examiners dabbed his face with his handkerchief and looked over at his partner. "So, what do you think?"
"I think we should give Kuryakin a performance medal. I've never seen anyone do that thing with his..."
"I meant about the test."
"Oh, I think sharing is quite against the rules, but it would be exactly the incentive that makes these guys who they are. I'd say they both passed with flying colors. You?"
"Agreed. So... you want to go check out the Section Four party?"
"I think those ladies have caught their breath by now. Let's go show them what Section Ones can do."
Illya looked over at the window. "Do you think they are gone?"
"Either that or they exploded where they sat." Napoleon pushed the test aside and put down his pencil. "With any luck, that will keep them off our backs for a while."
"I hate having to prove that we can... perform whenever the need arises." Illya's voice was very low now, just in case the examiners were still lingering. Usually they left right after that part of the test... for some reason. He started grinning. "I can still remember the first time I was recertified. Her name was Mai Te. She was a lovely Chinese operative from Section Five. She could do the most extraordinary things with her feet of all things..."
"And were you hungry an hour later?"
"Sorry, couldn't resist."
"And you most certain didn't try."
Napoleon reached out and gathered up Illya's paper, letting his fingers trail over his partner's hand. Illya looked down at the fingers, then up into hazel eyes. "Let's say we drop these off and blow this place? We can get the real party started then. Don our gay apparel, as it were."
"I thought you'd never ask... I'm still going to miss not getting up to Section Four's do though." Illya snatched up one more cookie from the tray as Napoleon stood and gestured to the door.
"Believe me, in a half hour, it will be the last thing on your mind."
"And the first?" Illya's smile was impish.
"Oh, something will come to mind."
"I hope so... more than once." And with that they were gone, taking the life and their love from the room.
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