In the past two weeks Napoleon and Illya had traveled from New York to Nova Scotia, down to Oklahoma, back to New York and then to Montreal. They had been hijacked and stuck in a cell, taken in by Ukrainian immigrants and fed pierogis and poppy seed cake.
The two agents had seen a place named Swan Lake and then come back to New York and gone to the ballet. The Nutcracker had turned into more Thrush intrigue when they were picked up by two female Thrushies. Fortunately, the women were no match for the intrepid duo, who were able get the upper hand, quite literally, and save the evening from total ruin.
After escorting a Chinese Thrush defector to Montreal, the handsome UNCLE men were once again picked up by enemy agents, but saved eventually by a bagpipe and a timely getaway in a red Jag.
And now it was Christmas Eve. No phone calls had come in to alert them that Mr. Waverly wanted them to report to his office. Both Illya and Napoleon were at their desks, not any the worse for considerable wear, and looking forward to having the next day off. For the first time in a couple of years, Illya did not volunteer to work the holiday, deciding to leaving it to newer agents who would profit from the experience. Call it sacrifice with purpose.
Napoleon had decided on the perfect gift for his partner. In spite of efforts to dissuade the Russian from his preference for jazz, the man's esoteric tastes remained unchanged. But, it was Christmas, and Napoleon was nothing if not gracious and generous when it came to giving gifts. Both of those qualities were involved in the selection and giving of this gift, and he was confident that Illya would really like it.
Illya had finally finished assembling his gift for Napoleon. Being almost caught that day (how many days had it been since then?) had been a close thing. Napoleon was so nosy; it made surprising him very difficult. But this year Illya thought there would be success.
Napoleon informed Illya that he should be prepared for dinner and something else. He gave no clues, only that it was a Christmas gift with no strings attached.
"Hmmm… you make it intriguing, I give you that. Very well, you can rest assured, I believe, that you will enjoy the time you spend with the gift I have for you."
Napoleon grinned, the game really was on. And each man was playing the game they had originally proposed nearly two weeks ago.
The Christmas Eve dinner that Napoleon hosted for him and his friend was a subdued and private affair, something that suited both men just fine. There were times for just enjoying the company of one's friend, being at ease and not having to be overly social.
Illya was becoming just a little bit curious about what his friend had planned for the rest of the evening. He knew that his own offering was a small thing, but carefully chosen and meticulously examined by his own eye. It was a wonder he hadn't lost parts of it, the little bits of it a challenge even for him.
He had hesitated, initially, to take it apart. His own curiosity had gotten the better of him, however, and afterwards so had his wallet. As he reached into the pocket of his coat now to retrieve it, the velvety cloth bag an appropriate seasonal gift wrap, the blond agent was glad he had taken it to a professional for a proper cleaning. It was a lovely piece, and he hoped Napoleon would appreciate and like it as much as Illya supposed he should.
For Napoleon's part, his gift was only in its first course. The second, he knew, would be a thrill for the Russian, and probably his first time going to this particular venue. Better an experience, sometimes, than an object. This year and this place would come to hold a special memory, although Napoleon could have had no inkling of it when the idea came to him.
"All right, Napoleon, I shall go first. I hope you like this, as it has an interesting history.'
Illya knew he was rambling; gift giving was not something to which he was accustomed. He suddenly felt very vulnerable, and just a little afraid of being rejected. Not that he actually analyzed all of that, but he did feel curiously as though his gift might backfire.
"I, um… I do hope you like it. Well, here… I can tell you about it after you … here."
And with that awkward preamble, Illya handed the velvet bag to Napoleon and waited while his friend untied the cord and reached into the little bag, withdrawing an elegant silver pocket watch that was engraved with an intricate design highlighted with an S.
"Illya, this is beautiful. Did you have it engraved?"
That little shake of his head and Illya let his friend know that he had not been responsible for that.
"It comes from a family I knew in the Ukraine. It is one of the things that I carried with me all of these years. I never felt as though it suited me, especially since it had an initial on it not my own. It has been waiting for a new owner for many years. I hope you like it."
Napoleon noted the hesitancy in Illya's voice and expression. How could he not like it, the piece was very handsome.
"Who were they? The family, I mean, the ones who originally had this watch?"
Illya was uncertain how to explain.
"Have you ever heard of the Russian novelist Vsevolod Solovyov?"
Napoleon thought the name sounded familiar, or perhaps it was the first two syllables making it seem that way.
"I might have. Was the watch his?"
Illya nodded, smiling at the immediate grasp of the connection.
"Yes, according to some of my gypsy friends from back in my youth. Solovyov had been to Paris where he became involved with some people whom he later denounced. Apparently one of that circle had given him this watch as an endearment of some sort, and wanting to shed the memories as well as their influence, he gave the watch to a member of the gypsy band. He was also, it seems, a bit of a rogue, seducing women all over Europe."
At that last bit, both men smiled with a knowing acknowledgement that some things were unavoidably noted.
"Well, it is a beauty. And what a great bit of history… thank you Illya. It will be treasured, truly."
"You are welcome, my friend. You march, as I have heard it said, to your own drummer. Certainly no ordinary gift would have sufficed."
Napoleon was moved, and amused. It was uncanny that this watch could accomplish both, and engender even further the warmth of his friendship with the shy Russian. Life was interesting.
"Speaking of drummers…'
Now Napoleon was really grinning. He hoped his gift was as appreciated as the one he had just received.
"We, my jazz loving friend, are going to Birdland to hear some jazz. This is a special performance, they haven't advertised who will be there because they didn't want a riot. I think, however, that you will be pleased."
Illya was totally taken by surprise. Napoleon hated jazz, but somehow by wanting to take him to this special event, he was willing to at least try and enjoy the music that inspired Illya.
"Really? Are you really going to go with me to hear jazz? I am very happy, and also incredibly curious. Are you going to tell me who we will be hearing?"
"Mmmm… No. But we'd better get going, because the show starts at nine."
With that he called for the check and they were heading out the door on their way to something that, for only a few, would remain an indelible memory.
"Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Napoleon, I am still in awe of this. You have no idea. It is… well, I just cannot say how marvelous this is. Thank you. I would never have guessed anything like this, ever…ever."
The two men had decided a nightcap in Napoleon's apartment was appropriate to end the evening. Illya had no plans for the next morning, so rather than head back to his own home, he had agreed to take the guest room and join his friend for Christmas breakfast. It was a rare thing to have a day to look forward to in which no emergencies called to them.
Illya was certain that even Napoleon had enjoyed the evening. The brilliance of that quintet, and the energy inside of Birdland made for a dizzying night of musical joy for the Russian. They had no clue that within a few months the classic jazz venue would close, another victim of rock and roll.
"So, I guess I chose well then."
Illya nodded, his head still full of the sounds he had greedily absorbed during the ninety minute set.
"Oh yes. I only hope the watch is half as satisfying as this evening has been for me. Thank you, Napoleon. Again, thank you."
Napoleon was thoughtful. Two grown men who regularly risked their lives for a living, and it all came down to expressions of friendship. One inspired a watch once owned by a famous and, perhaps, slightly scandalous Russian author; the other a night of jazz inside of an American original.
"Different drummers, Illya. We both have one, it seems. I guess you could say that makes us syncopated."
Illya had to laugh. It was fairly accurate. They were different as night is to day, and just as complimentary. He might call it Fate, if he believed in such things.
"One last glass to toast the evening? Here's to you, my friend, and the drummers whose beats we hear. May they keep on drumming."
They toasted the day, the gifts, and the friendship that was the best gift of all.