A Change of UNCLE

by Selyndae

Prompts for Down the Chimney Challenge (MUNCLE): tolerance, chocolate, something has been lost

Based on comments and suggestions, there have been a few modifications.

Also, the ending has been modified slightly from the LiveJournal posting...

December 15, 1968

It had been a tough mission but at least it was a successful one. If you counted success as thoroughly destroying another Satrap and getting out alive, that is.

Absently rubbing his aching shoulder where he'd wrenched it in his scramble to get out as the place blew up, Kuryakin studied the surrounding area. He shifted carefully, trying to avoid at least some of the thorns adding to his general discomfort. Typically, he'd managed to land in a thicket of raspberry brambles and was scratched up from that as well. Then there was the slide down the muddy slope. Caked with thick mud, bruised, bleeding, hair filthy, and rips in his clothing—he sighed. He was cold and hungry and looking forward to a hot shower followed by a long soak in the tub. With food... served by his no-doubt dazzling and immaculate partner.

His gaze paused for a moment at the smoking remains of the Satrap installation. Remembering the spectacular explosion he grinned, teeth bright against his dirty face.

Settling in the cozy niche sheltered by more shrubs, Illya made a careful sweep with his binoculars. Still looked clear. Tugging out his communicator he twisted it open one-handedly and pulled out the antenna with his teeth.

"Open Channel F." When the telltale click was heard, he confirmed, "Target neutralized. What's your status?"

A crackle of static. "I'm finished, too. Meet you at the checkpoint in five minutes."

Illya glanced down the steep hill. "I've encountered a rockslide. It'll be closer to ten minutes."

"Need any help?"

"I will manage somehow. Goodbye."

Channel closed, Illya settled his pack more securely and began to struggle back up the slippery hillside. The sound of small rocks raining down just to his right stopped him in his tracks.

Now what...?

Stepping carefully, the pause in his rhythm barely noticeable, he started past before suddenly whirling around, gun at ready. In one smooth motion, he swerved to one side as he parted the underbrush to see what he'd found.

A child?

The little girl looked to be about five years old with a dirty, tear-stained face. Her dark, curly hair was in a tangle, only one pigtail remained still held by a ragged ribbon, the other pulled out. Her bottom lip trembled as she stared wide-eyed at Illya's brandished weapon.

Embarrassed, he hastily holstered the Special as he slipped down to one knee and offered a smile to the terrified child.

"Are you lost?"

The child stared still trembling.

"My name is Illya. What's your name?"

This produced a fresh onslaught of tears.

He stretched out a hand. "Come on, I'll take you someplace safe."

Terrified, she tried to back away, but lost her balance and fell.

"I won't hurt you," Illya promised softly, "I'm a kind of policeman."

Oddly enough, this brought on yet another wail.

Sighing, he muttered, "I can't just leave you here," and picked the child up. She was so thin; he could feel her ribs through the thin fabric of her t-shirt and half-buttoned jacket. Realizing she was shaking not only from fear, but from the cold as well, he immediately slipped off his own jacket and wrapped it around her.

Carrying her in one arm, he picked his way to the top of the hill as quickly as possible.

Napoleon was waiting by the camouflaged jeep. From the anxious glance, his partner could tell he'd been concerned—the walk had taken longer than he'd originally stated. There was a quick flicker of surprise when he realized his partner was carrying a child.

"Who's this?"

"She hasn't told me her name, but since there are no nearby houses..." The unspoken words indicated by a quick glance in the direction of the destroyed Satrap explained his suspicion that she'd somehow been associated with Thrush.

"I'll go ahead and report in."

They bundled the child into the jeep between them and sped to the nearest town.

"Oh, that's Cissy Lewis."

Finally; someone who recognized the child.

"We found her wandering around by herself. If we could find her family—"

One of the waitresses in the diner interrupted, "You won't find them. Her daddy left before she was born and her momma is probably off drinking—"

One of the other waitresses tugged sharply on her apron and whispered, "Hush, can't you see the child's right here?"

After a few more minutes, it was obvious to the agents that no one here was going to be of any help.

"Let's go." Illya turned abruptly, suddenly out of patience. The little girl—Cissy—had finally decided to trust him and was holding his hand tightly as if afraid he would leave her.

Once back in the jeep they drove into the next town where they picked up bread, lunchmeat, apples, sodas and a small bottle of milk before heading to their pickup point where they'd be met by a plane.

"Mr. Waverly's not going to be happy," Napoleon said mildly as he looked at the sleeping child snuggled into one of the seats.

"I couldn't just leave her..."

I know, thought Napoleon as he saw a gentle smile cross his partner's face while he tucked the blanket more securely around the sleeping innocent.

Waverly had already heard Solo's report regarding the destruction of the Satrap and was lighting his pipe. His top agent sat in his usual seat, but Kuryakin was still absent.

A whoosh as Illya strode through the pneumatic door. "Sorry, Sir, I was just making sure Cissy was settled in. Michelle from translation has promised to watch her."

Now that both men were present, Waverly spun the tabletop around, sending the folder to stop in front of them. Picking it up, Napoleon gave it a quick glance before handing it to his partner. As Illya skimmed through it, Waverly began to speak.

"We were able to garner some information about the child. According to her birth certificate, she's Christine Carlyse Lewis, born October 2, 1963. Her mother, one Mary Lee Whittaker worked for Thrush; in a low level capacity, but working for them nonetheless. She is dead—" He saw Illya's head jerk up at that statement. "—not from the destruction of the Satrap, but from a hit-and-run driver the day before. Her father, a Carl James Lewis was a laborer who left the area, apparently before the child was born. He did, however, send money at regular intervals to the mother until he was killed in an industrial accident two years ago." He paused, "We found no record of the parents having ever married, but whether by choice or circumstance, we have no way of knowing., The father was a Negro, er Black I think is the term they use these days, and since the mother was Caucasian, in West Virginia, interracial marriage was not allowed until last year."

As Illya remained silent, Napoleon asked, "Are there any relatives who could take her in?"

Waverly frowned. "Neither side of the family chooses to acknowledge her... apparently because of her racial mix."

This was intolerable! She was just a child—a little girl who didn't ask to be born, but because her parents happened to be of different races, she was considered... expendable! Illya knew all too well how prejudice could affect people having grown up during the War and now working as a Soviet Agent within the United States. He was fortunate to work for an exceptional agency that was able to see past the interim prejudices of the day and work toward a common goal.

"So... there is no one," Illya said flatly.

There was a pause before Waverly offered, "There are a number of agencies who are equipped to handle this kind of situation. Social Services for example."

"They'll be swamped this time of year." Abruptly coming to a decision, Illya added firmly, "I'll take care of it myself, Sir. I brought her here and it's my responsibility to see that she's properly taken care of." He bit his lip before asking quietly, "If I could use some of my vacation time...?"

"What exactly is it you have in mind?" Napoleon was watching his partner pack. Cissy was out in the living room playing with her two baby dolls (Napoleon's inspired idea when they'd first gone shopping for her). One was brunette and the other blonde (Illya's contribution). The stereo was playing softly in the background and every so often they'd catch a snatch of her singing to her dollies.

"It's my responsibility. I-I have to do this."

Suddenly Illya was spun around and enveloped in a tight hug.

"Hey, when we moved in together—when we pledged ourselves to one another—that was for everything Tovarisch. Christine is now a part of that." He stole a kiss. "She's brought out such a tender, gentle side of you—something you tend to keep hidden. I like it." He grinned. "Besides, she's as cute as can be! How can I help but love her, too?"

"If things were different, if Social Services would allow this—"

"—but two men living together... would bring our relationship under tight scrutiny. And looking it from an outsider's viewpoint, two bachelors taking in a little girl? If she were a relative, we could chance it, but even here in New York, the big melting pot; there are still problems, still bigotry."

Illya nodded.

Napoleon started to leave but paused in the doorway. "Say, I forgot to mention—I'm on vacation as well."

Illya turned and stared. "You didn't have to do that."

"Maybe... but who knows what kind of trouble my partner could get into without my watching his mmph!"

Now it was Napoleon's turn to receive a strong, affirming kiss.

"Why don't we wait a few days to decide what we're going to do? I'll, uh, see to dinner..."

Cissy was reading a story to her dolls, one on each side of her. When she spotted her Uncle 'Poleon, she smiled, the newly missing tooth giving her a mischievous look. Napoleon had braided her unruly hair close to her scalp using yellow, pink and blue barrettes to match her tie-dyed shirt. Smiling into the clear, almost translucent hazel eyes, he wondered anew how anyone could harbor such hatred against such a sweet child. Each day with her brought new discoveries and enjoyment.

As Cissy grew more comfortable and secure with them, she smiled and laughed more. One moment she would be quietly at play before suddenly jumping up to give Illya an exuberant hug or shyly catching Napoleon's hand to pull him off to show him a new wonder she discovered; usually something in the curio cabinet where she would stare transfixed at the delicate porcelain figurines.

As to the future... well, there would be plenty of time after the holidays when things calmed down. Now looking at her in the glow of the tree lights, he suddenly had a vision of a beautiful young lady dressed up for her first prom. Paternal instincts he'd never felt before suddenly flared up.

Illya took his charge to the park. It was a beautiful day, crisp and cold, but the sun was shining on the newly fallen snow. Cissy was playing a game of tag with some of the neighborhood children. In the short time she'd been in the agents' care she'd already made a few friends; Carlos, Mei-Ling and Sylvia. As they ran around, Illya sat on a nearby bench, ostensibly reading a newspaper, but actually keeping close watch.

Cissy started to skip over to her Uncle Illya. As she did, something tickled at Illya's instincts. Something was... off.

A flash!

Reacting instinctively, Kuryakin drew his Special and fired, his tranquilizer dart squarely hitting the target. Situation, secured, he rushed over to Cissy.

Astonishingly enough, there were no witnesses, no disturbances.

Momentarily distracted by two squirrels boldly chasing each other right in her path, Cissy had been completely oblivious of the danger. Spotting Illya again, she ran to him. Shaken, he snatched her up in a one-armed hug, still caught up in the near miss.

"Uncle Illya, can I have a hot chocolate?"

Illya swallowed before he was able to answer. "Sure honey, we'll even pick up some marshmallows on the way home."

After finally getting Cissy to bed, Illya poured himself a large vodka, gulped it down, and poured another before sitting on the couch and staring into the fire. Napoleon watched him from the small kitchen as he tidied up the dinner things. Illya had related the entire sequence of the afternoon's events calmly and concisely. At the park when he'd called for a pick-up, he had been calm and efficient, distracting himself from any kind of emotion.

Underneath the calm exterior, though, his partner could see the anguish and guilt feelings. Badly shaken himself, even though he'd been at home wrapping presents, Napoleon was feeling guilty himself. Unable to stand his partner's misery, he soon joined him on the sofa.

They sat together, each drawing a small bit of comfort from the other as they stared at the crackling logs.

"She could have been killed..." Illya whispered.

"I know."

"There are too many dangers. I'm a danger to her..."

"We both are."

A long silence stretched out, the only sound was the occasional pop and crackle from the fire and the click of icy sleet hitting the door wall to the balcony. The scent of the Scotch Pine Christmas tree mingled pleasantly with the tangy sweet smell of the ash logs.

Staring down at his hands, Illya finally sighed, "I could quit. Maybe teach or... something..."

"Illya, I—"

"But I'd have to leave you... and would it even be enough?"

"Cara, come to bed. She's safe tonight. In the morning we'll talk."

After they secured the apartment for the night, they finally went to bed. Napoleon's heart caught at the extra brightness of his partner's eyes from unshed tears in the reflection of the twinkling tree lights just before he pulled out the plug, plunging the room into darkness.

Alexander Waverly was sitting quietly as he listened to their report. He'd been expecting something like this ever since he heard of the incident in the park. As he puffed on his pipe, he empathized with the heartache he knew they were feeling; his most difficult job in this had been to allow them to arrive at this point.

"—even if we were to both quit, we'd still have too many enemies out there, those who wouldn't hesitate to use Christine against us."

The words were said dispassionately, but Waverly knew his agent very well; Kuryakin might appear to be cool and unaffected by the world around him, but he knew better.

"What do you propose? I presume you and, er, Mr. Solo have some ideas about this?"

A quick glance at his partner. "Yes Sir, we do. We're trying to locate a family that will take her in, um, long-term. Someplace safe is the first priority, but we don't want to see her shuffled from family to family."

"We've been doing some preliminary checking into various agencies around the country—looking into states where interracial marriage has never been an issue first, since we're hoping to find a family with mixed heritage to help her adjust easier," added Napoleon.

"I see..." Waverly paused before offering his own suggestion, "As it happens, I know of such a family."

Brown and blue eyes stared intently, wondering what the old man had up his sleeve.

Picking up a small folder, he opened it and smiled before sending it over to the men. "Inside you'll find all the necessary information."

"I would have never thought about Estelle. She was Section IV, wasn't she, before she retired?" Napoleon smiled remembering the lovely woman with the snapping black eyes and black hair. A tiny woman, she'd managed the section exceptionally well making her decision to retire early a huge loss. "I'd forgotten—she and her husband wanted to run some kind of farm didn't they?"

"Yes, Mr. Solo, they have a dairy farm in northern Wisconsin. They do however, feel a certain... lack in that they've never had children..."

Watching the couple welcome Cissy into their home was a true delight. Already Napoleon could see Tom Nikkanen, a big, blond Nordic from Finland light up every time this little girl smiled. Already has him wrapped around her little finger.

Estelle's warm whispered thanks, "This is the best Christmas present ever, Napoleon!"

Her impulsive kiss on Illya's blushing cheek was warm and exuberant.

Saying goodbye was one of the hardest things they'd ever done. Illya was very quiet on the way to the airport and appeared to sleep through the entire flight. Napoleon knew not to push...

The apartment had never seemed so empty. Even the tree seemed lost and forlorn. In the rush to get Cissy packed and off to her new family the room had been left in a jumble of papers and general disarray rather than its usual 'magazine layout'; appearance. On the floor, partway under the couch, a story book had been left behind. Where the Wild Things Are; they'd been reading it together that night right before they left... Illya quietly picked it up, ran his finger gently over the spine and without a word, slipped it carefully into the massive bookcase...

"It was the right decision."

"I know that," Illya's tone was impatient; "You don't need to remind me!"

His partner just looked at him quietly.

"I will be fine, Napoleon."

Looking closely at his beloved, he realized this was the actual truth. After a few moments, Illya finally moved inside the security of his arms and allowed himself to be comforted.

They would be fine. Right now the sense of loss was too fresh, too new.

But, they still had ideals they believed in strongly, and most of all they had each other...

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