Upon this Winter Night

(posted Tuesday, December 27, 2005)

Aleksandr Stanislav unlocked the front door to his old Kings Row flat and stepped inside, shaking off the cold. It had been a welcome surprise to find that Leroy, his first American friend, landlord and boxing instructor, had left the place relatively untouched, waiting for the day that Aleksandr would come back. And after his recent ordeal, a familiar place to come home to was the best things anyone could offer.

Aleksandr dropped the duffel bag containing all the paraphernalia of Krasniy Oktyabr by the kitchen entrance, and looked up to see that his temporary flatmate was still up. Nataliya sat on the couch up against the loft window with her knees drawn to her chest, staring out into the city through the frosted-over panes and idly twirled a necklace pendant in her hand. The girl's only company was her sonic control headgear resting at her feet and a small portable stereo sitting on the end table. The stereo softly played a lilting melody, yet the apartment was so quiet that the song filled the entire room.

The lamp is burnin' low upon my tabletop
The snow is softly falling
The air is still within the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling

If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you

Nataliya looked up as her uncle dropped his duffel and quickly tucked the pendant into her shirt. She picked up her headgear and put it in place.

"Welcome home, uncle Sasha," said Nataliya. "There's some tea ready on the stove, although it will need to be reheated."

Aleksandr spotted the kettle on the stove and turned on the flame. Soon the kettle was whistling and Aleksandr poured out the tea into two mugs. In an afterthought Aleksandr brought out a pair of shot glasses and a bottle of pepper vodka, and placed everything on a tray. He brought the tray out into the living area and placed it on the coffee table.

The smoke is rising in the shadows overhead
My glass is almost empty
I read again between the lines upon each page
The words of love you sent me

If I could know within my heart
That you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you

Aleksandr unscrewed the vodka, filled the shot glasses and said, "You don't have to hide the crucifix from me, Tasha. I'm not about to report you to anyone."

Nataliya placed a hand over her chest where the pendant was hidden, and turned away with a blush.

"I know that, uncle," replied Nataliya, "It is force of habit more than anything else. Mother taught me that early."

Aleksandr smirked, held out a shot glass and asked, "And who do you think taught your mother? Everyone in the family knew Mama and Gran were Orthodox."

Nataliya took the proffered drink, and Aleksandr continued, "I know it might be hard for you to believe, but familial love and devotion runs stronger in our family than the ideals of the Party ever did. And for some of us, that's saying a lot."

Aleksandr raise his glass in salute, and Nataliya did the same. Nataliya lowered the facemask and threw back the fiery spirit along with her uncle. The vodka burned all the way down and Nataliya quickly put the mask back into place, should a cough escape.

"Why were you out so late on patrol, uncle Sasha?" asked Nataliya, reaching for one of the steaming mugs. "On this night of all nights?"

Aleksandr shook his head, poured himself another shot and said, "This day means no more to me than any other day, Tasha. I know what it means to the faithful, yes. But evil is not resting this night, either."

Nataliya sipped at her tea, repeating the ritual with her headgear. It was awkward this way, but she was getting used to it. Any other time she would have been content with passing notes, but sometimes you just need to say what you really feel needs to be said.

"I understand that, uncle," answered Nataliya, cradling the mug in her hands, "Yet it would be nice to spend this time with the only family I have, and... friends. I do not think it is good to be alone."

This gave Aleksandr pause. He covered up the silence by taking a long pull of his tea. After being an unwilling part of the Clockwork collective for so long, being alone was a welcome change. But he knew that Nataliya could never understand that, and had no wish to subject her--or anyone--to such a heinous experience.

"You have plenty of comrades," said Aleksandr, "Not just in the CCCP, but in the Rebuild Paragon Congress as well. I mention you as my niece, and do you know how they think of you?"

Nataliya looked up at her uncle and quietly shook her head.

Aleksandr answered, "I have been hearing 'sweet child', 'brave girl' and 'sturdy Worker' from all whom you have worked with. They think well of you, Tasha."

Nataliya sighed and replied, "It is good to know they value my efforts. God knows I try my best."

"And believe me, they notice," said Aleksandr with a nod. "Especially comrades Blaze Phoenyx and Seraphic Flame. They tell me how you worked so hard to find me, how much you have come into your own since returning to Paragon City. And I could not be prouder."

Nataliya shook her head and said, "John and Sera are good people, it is true. But their family is large enough and I have no wish to burden them further."

"Of course, there are others," continued Aleksandr, "Your action reports mention quite a few names that have helped you along the way. Like this 'Ratt Murdock' fellow, when you were sick."

Nataliya's face flushed red and she averted her gaze towards the window. "I-I've only seen him the once," said the girl hastily, "He was so kind to answer comrade Bella's call, but it would be inappropriate...I-I could never..."

Nataliya finished off her tea, regarded her uncle critically and asked, "What about you? You've been around with a few, yourself. What of this 'Sugar Dee'?"

Aleksandr chuckled and answered, "Ah, comrade Dee. Quite the flamboyant one, but a strong soldier and a hearty comrade nonetheless. We fight well together."

"And Brigit Morrigan?" asked Nataliya.

"She is closer to your age than mine, Tasha," replied Aleksandr. "Still, I owe her much gratitude for her role in my little 'revolution', along with the others than lent their aid and support."

Nataliya stared out the window, obviously unsatisfied by the answers she was given.

"Tell me about...Sarah," whispered Nataliya.

Aleksandr sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. It finally dawned on him about what was really bothering the girl. He wasn't sure how to go about the topic. Yes, the two were family and Aleksandr would do anything for his niece and vice versa. But he didn't know if he had the right words for this kind of discussion.

"Sarah," answered Aleksandr slowly, "Sarah was a lovely woman. She was strong, and had a passion for life. She gave of herself without asking for anything in return. But it was not all sunshine and roses. The fact that I was a 'hero' tore at her for reasons I never asked into. It was strenuous, but we worked through it. And when I was abducted by the Clockwork..."

Aleksandr paused long enough to get another shot of vodka in his system, and said, "She left. No word to Leroy, no forwarding address. What I had done in my stupidity had been too much, I guess. I do so miss her, but yet I must go on with my duty. Perhaps if I am lucky, I might find such a woman again.

"My darling Tasha, do not weigh your heart with such matters. You are young, and your life here is just beginning. When you start at Paragon City University in a few weeks another world will open up to you, full of people with the same hopes and dreams you hold. You will find your answers, Tasha. With time and patience, you will find them."

Nataliya gazed into her uncle's eyes, and underneath her mask smiled warmly.

"Thank you, uncle Sasha," said the girl.

Aleksandr's own smile turned to a grimace as his shoulder seared with pain. Even with all the care taken in the placement of his new cybernetic arm, the pain would often become unbearable. Aleksandr rose to his feet and stumbled over to his bag, clutching his right shoulder.

"Is there anything I can do, uncle?" implored Nataliya.

Aleksandr shook his head and picked up the duffel.

"It will pass, Tasha," said Aleksandr, making his way to the bedroom, "do not worry. I'll return in a moment."

The bedroom door closed. Nataliya gathered up the tray, took it into the kitchen and began rinsing the cups and glasses. She set them out to dry and refilled the kettle.

As Nataliya spooned out the tealeaves into the server, Aleksandr marched out of the bedroom in his full CCCP combat uniform and adjusting his electric gauntlets.

Nataliya blinked and asked, "What are you doing, uncle Sasha?"

"I told you the pain would pass," answered Aleksandr with a laugh, "Now I've got to get out there and continue my patrol! Forward the Proletariat!"

Nataliya said, "But it's five in the morning, Christmas Day. I thought you would be done, and stay..."

"Didn't I say that evil doesn't rest?" asked Aleksandr excitedly, "The scum on the streets are not about to arrest themselves! Like those Freakshow, they've been running rampant for too long! It is time to show them that the Workers will unite against their crimes! Try to get some sleep, Tasha. You shouldn't stay up on my account."

Aleksandr grinned ear to ear and ruffled his niece's hair, oblivious to her mutant power. He practically bounded out the front door, slamming it behind him. Nataliya could do nothing but stare as her uncle left, dumbstruck. Putting down the tea, the girl shuffled out of the kitchen and stood in the living room hugging herself. The sky was beginning to gray as the day of her savior's birth was dawning. It was then in the returning silence of the flat that Nataliya realized that her little stereo had been repeating the same song. The playful guitar notes danced along with the man's lilting voice, charming but with a hint of sadness underneath, filling the apartment once more.

The fire is dying now, my lamp is growing dim
The shades of night are liftin'
The morning light steals across my windowpane
Where webs of snow are driftin'

If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you
And to be once again with you

Nataliya shut off the player and curled up on the couch. Her thoughts turned back towards her friends and comrades out there in the big city, wishing them joy and happiness as she drifted off to sleep.

* - Gordon Lightfoot, Song for a Winter's Night