New Year's Eve Aboard the Orient Express

by the Lady Rose

"I may put ketchup and mustard on everything, Illya, but at least I know that no self-respecting Italian would ever order red Chianti with fish."

"In other words, you're learning to compensate by mastering the art of how to ply your dates with enough alcoholic libations so they'll overlook your less than gentlemanly expertise."

Napoleon licked his lower lip, ostensibly to clear away a speck of crme brle clinging there. "You, more than anyone else, have been the beneficiary of my less than gentlemanly expertise. Don't you remember that time after the Venetian affair when I showed you how..."

Napoleon's voice trailed off as Illya suddenly loosened his tie and undid the top three buttons of his shirt. Really, couldn't the conductors turn down the central heating in these tiny train compartments? "I'm sure you've dazzled the translations department twice over with your cunning linguistic capabilities, even if whatever you pass off as French could use more than a little tutoring by someone who's actually lived in Paris."

If possible, Napoleon's gaze grew more incendiary than whatever it was powering the train's furnace. "I wouldn't mind having a master like yourself to teach me to become more well-versed in the French tongue."

How much more could those blasted porters turn up the heat? Illya found himself unbuttoning his cuffs, too, noticing from the periphery of his vision that Napoleon's eyes were now drawn to his biceps. "We'll have to save the lessons for later. In the meantime, we've lost the opportunity for the real Marc-Ange Draco to hand over the microdot after you insisted upon handcuffing his impostor to the bar connecting the dining car to ours."

"For the record, you were the one who just happened to have the handcuffs on him. And he did say that he could use a stretch outside when he tried to excuse himself during dinner."

A porter bearing a bottle suddenly knocked on the door, cutting off a chance for a retort. Illya turned around to peer through the door to unlock it and let him in. Handing the bottle to the Russian, the porter murmured, "Gentlemen, compliments of the service," before discreetly exiting.

Illya eyed the bottle of Stoli suspiciously, but his partner took it away. "Promise me you won't mix any Molotov cocktails just yet before I investigate its authenticity." Napoleon took out the device issued by section eight that he had hid in his shaving kit and scanned it over the bottle. "It seems safe enough," said Napoleon as he was putting away the gadget, "What are you looking at?"

Illya held up the dot he had peeled off the "I" in "Orient" to the light before slipping it into a special compartment of his wallet. "Luckily Draco's found another way of contacting us. I should've known that it was too good to be true for even the Orient Express to actually stock the good stuff."

Napoleon nodded appreciatively. "Waverly told me that's how they would communicate with each other during the war; as a member of the Corsican mafia, Draco was already known to smuggle goods across the French border, but now he was able to use his criminal activities to support anti-Axis forces. Alcohol is an irrefutably effective social lubricant, especially when given to otherwise suspicious guards on the lookout for more obvious means of transporting messages. That was the real tip-off about the impostor; the real Draco would've ordered a bottle of the Chianti for the table and handed it to me so I could peel off the dot during dinner."

Illya poured out the vodka into two martini glasses serendipitously found on a shelf and handed one to his partner. "I'm glad that's been settled. Na zaftra, tovarisch."

"Happy New Year, Illya—here's to us."

Needless to say, Napoleon made it clear to Illya afterwards that he was quite interested in brushing up on a little Russian, too, and the blond agent made it just as clear that he was more than happy to start lessons right away. As for who actually ended up teaching whom—let's just say that Illya was more than willing to retract his jibe about Napoleon's French technique and that both parties became intimately acquainted with the universally appreciated language of certain bodily gestures.

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