Illya Kuryakin sat back in the seat, arms crossed, privately delighted that the stage lights were very low now. Even though he'd already seen the show six times, Willy Loman's subsequent mental breakdown and decision to commit suicide for the good of his family still brought tears to his eyes. Illya easily understood the depth of desperation that Loman felt for his wrongful acts, his regret, and perceived failures. It was heart wrenching to watch him slowly crumble both inside and out. It was harder still that the actor because playing Willy Loman was Illya's lover and partner, Napoleon Solo.
The fallout from Napoleon's abduction and the trial, and Illya's injury and painful recovery had led Napoleon's therapist, Dr. Hilbert, to suggest Napoleon look for some sort of hobby. Something that was his alone, that Napoleon could work at and enjoy while Illya was busy with the restaurant.
Napoleon's business filled the days easily enough, but the nights grow long when you are alone and it is easy to let your mind play games. When the small local theater talked about opening up once again, Napoleon's interest was piqued. That was two years ago and Jackson's Little Theatre quickly became Napoleon's home away from home. Illya became used to having his partner's speech peppered with unfamiliar names and phrases.
Used to it, yes, but he didn't have to like it. Illya, in fact, had serious jealousy issues initially. They'd only been officially married a short time and he had thought them to still be firmly in the honeymoon stage. It hurt to think Napoleon needed something else besides Illya in his life.
He didn't like that Napoleon wasn't there in bed when he came in at night and it took him a little time to adjust to the fact that Napoleon was beginning to carve out a place for himself in Jackson. Napoleon was suddenly making his own friends and that was hard for Illya. Admitting to himself that Napoleon needed more than just him hurt, but Napoleon was far more social than Illya had ever been. Illya knew that, knew Napoleon missed the excitement and constant push that New York offered. It was easy to lose yourself in New York, get swept away in the night life, the glitz of the lights and activity. Those things didn't exist here.
It was at that point that he saw Napoleon in his first show and realized what a selfish bastard he'd been. Napoleon was a brilliant actor, capable and obviously talented. And it was also obvious that Napoleon loved it. Illya's world had to shift a little, but it was either that or lose Napoleon. The latter was never voiced, never even hinted at, but Illya knew it as well as he knew how to spell his own name. And losing Napoleon was not, had never been, an option—not any more.
When Napoleon began, his roles were small, the love interest of Charley's Aunt, Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but the lead in Death of a Salesman had resulted in Napoleon's greatest challenge to date. During the course of Napoleon learning his lines, Illya had played all the roles, including Willy's missing brother, Biff, the ne'er do well older son, even Linda, Willy's wife. He'd learned the play nearly as well as Napoleon had, yet to see it brought to life added a new dimension.
Illya steeled himself for Napoleon's last big scene, the fight between Biff and Willy, the one that drives Willy to make the decision of his family being better off without him. It was nearly impossible for Illya to watch this and not come out of his skin. It was too immediate, even with the passage of time, even with knowing that tonight Napoleon would climb into bed with him and they'd sleep in each other's arms.
Illya remember all too well the fights he and Napoleon had just before he left, the horrific screaming matches, the sudden explosions of temper and rage. Now Illya couldn't even remember what the fights were about, but he was sure many of them were his fault, frustration borne out of Napoleon's over protectiveness, his refusal to let Illya live as he saw fit. Illya had known it was because Napoleon worried about him, but Illya chaffed under Napoleon's protection and watchful eye and he needed to break free the only way he knew.
He remembered that night as if it was just moments ago; of coming to a snap decision that would soon take him down a path so foreign and new that even he had to re-evaluate his choice, sometimes on a daily basis.
The emotions tore at his throat as he watched Napoleon exit hurriedly. As Linda called out to him to come to bed and as the three listened to the car drive away and the ensuing crash.
The funeral scene was heart wrenching if only because here was a man who'd given everything he had for his family and his job and no one really cared. A handful of people marked Willy Loman's passing and Illya found himself wondering how many people would have mourned his passing during his early days of UNCLE or even of cooking.
He slipped from his customary aisle seat and into the lobby. Within a few moments, curtain call would begin and soon they'd be at Taste, laughing and drinking, celebrating the run of the show. However, for the moment, he needed space to realign his head and put his emotions to bed.
The house manager looked up as he exited and nodded. She'd gotten used to Illya moving in and out of the theatre. He was always quiet and never a distraction, so she didn't protest him being there. He was also a large contributor to the theatre and was allowed special privileges, not to mention being Napoleon's partner. Even though she ruled the lobby with an iron hand, for Illya it wore a velvet glove.
"How were they tonight?" she whispered.
"Good. They've hit their stride. It's a shame it's the last performance."
"Yeah, what are you going to do with Napoleon underfoot at night now?"
"Oh, one or two things immediately come to mind." The easy acceptance of their relationship surprised even Illya. True, Jackson was fairly easy going, but the theatre people were downright joyful about them being gay. The company embraced it, accepted it, even actively encouraged it. Illya wasn't used to such across-the-board acceptance of their lifestyle and it had made him a bit uneasy at first, thinking he was being pandered to.
There was a burst of applause and Illya knew the play had ended. He and the house manger stepped back into the theatre for the curtain call. The house came to its feet when Napoleon stepped out on stage and Napoleon's eyes raked the audience until he saw his partner. There he stopped and bowed.
As the cast exited into the wings, Illya glanced down at his watch. The restaurant would have closed by now and his staff would be prepping for the cast party. It had started out as a small affair, but now Illya was truly amazed at how eagerly people volunteered to work on a show solely for the benefit of attending the closing night party at Taste. That aspect of his life still amazed him.
People started filtering out of the auditorium and spilling into the lobby. A few raised hands in greeting to Illya, recognizing him from the restaurant, and he acknowledged them, content to bide his time. The actors entered from a backstage door and were met with murmurs of approval and congratulations, then the noise level rose and Illya knew Napoleon was with them.
Illya held back, content to let Napoleon have his moment in the sun until the bulk of the crowd had moved through and then Illya finally left his spot by the concession stand and approached the actors. They welcomed him as if he was their most valuable patron, a fact he didn't hate. They made him feel as much a part of the theatre as they did his partner.
Napoleon's grin widened as he spotted Illya and pulled him into a rough embrace. "How was I?" To have asked anyone else would have seemed a blatant plea for praise.
"Better than usual. I almost believed you were going to kill yourself before curtain call. Then I remembered your ego and knew better," Illya said with a wink, then he added softly for only Napoleon's ears. "You were incredible. You are always incredible."
Napoleon's smile softened as did his eyes. "Thank you, my harshest critic."
Illya dropped his head to hide his smirk. "So I'm about to head over to the restaurant to make sure everything is in place for you."
"If you'll wait a few minutes, I'll join you. I just need to get this make up off."
"Oh I don't know. That shade of eye shadow is quite fetching." Illya fluttered his eyelids at Napoleon and then chuckled. "Go on then and I'll wait."
"Oh, Napoleon, you were wonderful." A voluptuous young lady launched herself into Napoleon's arms and planted an exceedingly generous kiss upon the startled brunet's mouth. He quickly moved her away and threw a frantic look in Illya's direction. It was apparent he neither welcomed nor enjoyed the woman's enthusiasm.
"Thank you, Maria, I am glad you enjoyed the performance." Yet he wiped away her kiss with the back of his hand and his smile remained fixed.
"It was you though, Napoleon, you so made me believe in Willy and his strength and his courage."
"Willy wasn't a hero; he was a coward." Illya came up behind her and nodded to his partner. "Willy, instead of dealing with the fact that his oldest son was a failure and that he had failed as both a business man and a husband, chose the coward's way out. Instead of fighting, he chose to run."
"Who are you that you would know?" She crossed her arms over her chest and stared at Illya, the challenge obvious in her eyes. She pulled a bright, multi colored scarf up around her neck and tried to stare him down.
"A former coward." Still locking eyes with the woman, Illya purposefully situated himself between Napoleon and the woman. "But no more. Go and get ready, Napoleon. I'll wait here for you."
"Won't be but a few minutes." Napoleon walked eagerly away and Illya took a step to block the woman from following.
"I think he can handle that on his own, don't you?" Illya said and for a moment he wondered just how hard the woman was going to push. Then she retreated a few steps and moved away towards the concession stand. When it became apparent that she wasn't going to follow his partner, Illya relaxed and started talking with some of the other actors.
He was leaning against the arm of a couch when he heard the woman's voice again.
"Just who the hell does he think he is? That's what I want to know."
"You're an idiot, Maria. There's no one more committed to his marriage than Napoleon. If you'd been with us longer, you'd know that. Leave him alone." Illya recognized the voice of the house manager.
"Like hell I will. He's got all the signs of a lonely man! I've been with enough of them to know! His creativity is being stifled and smothered. He needs to have some fire in his life. And who is that jerk anyways? The wife hire a body guard or someone to keep an eye on Napoleon? Doesn't she trust him?"
"Maria, that is Napoleon's wife, sort of, although I'd never say that to his face." Illya grimaced at the statement. Why did everyone peg him as the feminine one in the relationship?
"Napoleon's gay. That jerk, as you referred to him, is his partner, Illya."
"I don't believe it."
"He's also some kinda retired super cop, so if I were you, Maria, I'd disengage that motor of yours and back off."
The woman stalked away, out into the night and suddenly his radar pinged and Illya glanced up to see Napoleon approaching him.
"I've got an armful of stuff in the back. Would you give me a hand?"
"Of course." Illya rose and followed behind Napoleon.
Illya was always amazed at how different the set looked backstage. From the front, it looked so solid and real, but it was nothing but window dressing.
Napoleon led the way to his dressing room, one of only two private ones backstage. He pushed open the door and sighed at the mess of things that had accumulated here during the three-week run.
Illya watched him start to gather together several individually wrapped flowers. "Napoleon, do you feel stifled?"
"I'm sorry?" He stopped and shot his partner a look. "In what way?"
Napoleon dropped the flowers back onto the counter and moved to shut the door. The room was barely big enough for one person, much less two. "What brought this up? That little display from Maria?"
"It's just something I've been thinking about. You just seem so happy acting. Are you sure you wouldn't be happier somewhere else?" Illya shoved his hands into his pockets, taking care with his still healing right hand. "Somewhere that would offer you more challenges and more possibilities?"
Napoleon tilted Illya's chin up. "I think you are about all the challenge I'm up for." The kiss he settled upon Illya's lips was soft. "And without you, there are no possibilities, only impossibilities." He followed it with a deeper kiss and Illya opened his mouth as Napoleon's tongue entreated entrance. His hands came out of his pockets to wrap around Napoleon.
"We need to stop this," he whispered the moment Napoleon gave him a chance. "Or finish it."
Napoleon exerted gentle pressure until Illya felt the wall against his back. He half stifled a groan as hands groped their way down his body, fumbled with his belt and fly. His penis sprang forward, delighted to be freed from its denim restraint.
"Hold on," Napoleon whispered and slipped Illya's penis into his mouth. Illya was happy to do just that, his fingers digging into Napoleon's shoulders as he was sucked and teased. The fingertips of his right hand screamed out a warning to him, the skin grafts still overly sensitive. Illya ignored the pain, focusing instead upon the pleasurable sensations slamming through his nerves.
Napoleon had slid his hands around to grasp Illya's ass and hold him still as his mouth worked up and down, licking, sucking, biting until Illya could bear no more. Mindful that they weren't home and he had no idea how thick the walls were here, Illya kept his jaws clamped shut, swallowing the cry that tore at his throat as his climax shot through him.
Napoleon kept Illya's penis in his mouth until it started to soften. He rocked back onto his heels and grinned up at Illya, a lock of hair falling forward over his forehead. "I decided to go with the finish option."
"I thank you for that." Illya brushed the dark hair back into place and pulled Napoleon to his feet and to him. He dropped a hand to caress Napoleon's erection through the cotton material of his slacks. "Repay the favor?"
"Later, I think. I have something special in mind..."
Illya pushed away from the wall and smiled seductively. "I'm intrigued."
"And you look completely goofy." Napoleon returned to the counter and re-gathered the flowers. "We need to get home before they start the party without us."
"With my lot, they already have." Illya took the armful and opened the door, surprising the woman crouching there. "Can I help you with something?"
Maria stared up at him and past to Napoleon. From their disheveled appearance, there were very few conclusions to jump to besides the obvious.
"She doesn't believe you're gay, my love," Illya murmured as Napoleon came up behind him and wrapped his arm around Illya. "She thinks you're confused and stifled."
"And I think she needs to mind her own business before I have her arrested for stalking." Napoleon's voice had taken on a no-nonsense approach. "You need to leave, Maria. Now..."
Illya watched the woman scramble to her feet and run in the opposite direction. "That young lady is going to cause you a world of pain, Napoleon."
"She already has. She's been an issue from the moment she signed on with us. I'm going to talk to the artistic director tomorrow about encouraging her to move on. None of us need that sort of problem and the last thing I need is another stalker."
"Agreed." Illya worked the fingers of his right hand and Napoleon caught it, bring it up to his mouth to kiss the reddened palm gently. "Did I hurt you? Are you alright? "
"I am now. Let's go home."
They carried the items back to the house and deposited everything on the couch. Moutard immediately jumped up and began to sniff his way through the various items, taking time to paw anything that might appear food like.
"If there's something there you don't want messed with, the time to move it would be now." Illya advised, scooping up the cat and rolling him over in his arms. The cat let up a yowl of protest, but almost immediately started purring.
Berra Noir was more cautious, but no less intrigued, as if she'd never seen cellophane wrapped flowers before.
"They can't hurt anything," Napoleon said, taking the cat from Illya's arms and dropping him back down onto the couch. "You want to join the party... or..." Napoleon's eyes flicked down and then back up to Illya's.
"You tell me. I've already spent five hours in the restaurant tonight." Illya started to finger the top button of Napoleon's shirt. "But I am more than prepared to wait. After all, I've had my afters."
Napoleon licked his lips and brought his hand up to capture Illya's. "Perhaps an appetizer? I hate going to parties hungry."
Illya pulled his hand back, bringing Napoleon with it. His free hand caught and held the man hard against him. "Then tell me what you want. Tell me how you want it and it's yours." He traced Napoleon's ear with his tongue. "Hard? Slow? Here? Bent over a chair?"
Illya smiled as Napoleon caught his breath as he sucked in the lobe. For several moments, Illya made love to Napoleon's ear, his jaw, neck, working his way slowly to his lover's mouth. Once there, more moments were spent, tasting and enjoying the intimacy of each other.
"Let's go upstairs," Napoleon murmured as Illya started to work towards the other ear. "I want you naked. I want you bent over and my dick buried so far up your ass that it's coming out your mouth."
Illya chuckled and pulled away. "You are welcome to try, although that might be a bit much even for your considerable... talents. Still, I certainly approve the sentiment." He offered his hand and tugged Napoleon towards the stairs.
Illya yawned and glanced down at his watch. Another two hours and the day crew would be coming in. He'd sent all the staff home hours ago. It was just about time to do the same with his guests. Most of the people had, in fact, headed for home, just a few stragglers here and there.
He took a quick tour of the dining room, making sure the windows were secure and then he walked into the kitchen. There was a noise that immediately caught his attention and he froze. Someone was in the storeroom... his ear then caught the sound of frantic breathing and soft moaning. No, correction, some ones. There was a couple making out in the storeroom. One part of him raged, wanting to snap on the light and demand that whoever it was get out; another part was tempered by his earlier exploits of the evening. He'd already had his fair share of loving this evening and it was the still warm glow in his stomach that made him retrace his steps back into the dining room.
He saw the director propping his chin up with a hand. "You look ready to drop, Bob."
"I am. It's time to be getting home. If I could find Napoleon, I'd say goodbye."
"He must be around here...somewhere." Illya scanned the few still occupied tables.
"Last time I saw him, he was headed for the kitchen, looking for you."
"The kitchen?" Bells went off in Illya's head. Bells he didn't like and a feeling he didn't like even more. He spun and stormed back into the kitchen, heading for the store room. It was empty and he froze. Too much, too soon, his brain screamed. Not Napoleon, not... a faint twinge nudged his consciousness and he spun. Napoleon was sitting there, on a kitchen stool, looking a little dazed, a little rumpled and way too pleased with himself. Just like he usually did after...
"Finally!" Napoleon exclaimed, his voice an odd mixture of false gaiety and relief. "I have been looking everywhere for you."
"Have you now? I have been in the same spot all evening." That was mostly true...
"Can we go home now? I'm exhausted!"
"And I think a little drunk." Illya admitted, permitting a small smile to crawl to his lips. He hated it when he leapt to these conclusions. Then he spotted the brightly colored scarf on the floor. He bent to pick it up, frowning at the very noticeable smell of perfume and semen that permeated it.
"Oops, looks like someone dropped something." He reached for it, but Illya moved it out of his reach.
"I'll see that it gets back to the proper person." Illya tucked it into his pants pocket.
"Okie dokie." Napoleon slid off the stool and very nearly all the way to the floor. "I think I'm a little drunk."
"I think you are more than a little drunk, Napoleon. It's time to go to bed."
Napoleon brought a long slender finger to his lips. "Shhh, okay, don't tell Illya."
"Wouldn't dream of it."
He got the restaurant locked up, Napoleon tucked into bed and still he couldn't sleep. He kept staring at the scarf and hating himself for the thoughts going through his head. Why couldn't he trust Napoleon? Had the man ever given him any moment of doubt since they were reunited? Any indication that he even thought about sleeping with someone else?
He hated himself and yet he couldn't stop his mind from racing, jumping from one stomach lurching thought to the next. Glancing up at the clock, he reached for the phone and dialed a number.
"Drexel Labs, Dr. Kaufman speaking."
"Harry, Illya Kuryakin."
"My God, Illya, how are you? What the hell have you been up to? I haven't heard from you in years!"
"You wouldn't believe it if I told you. Look, Harry, I need a favor..." And Illya continued to stare at the scarf in his hand. "I need a rush job..."
A week had trickled by and Illya's mood grew worse with each passing one. He knew Napoleon picked up on it. Hell, even the cats had picked up on it and steered a wide path around him. His kitchen staff, likewise, was starting to avoid making eye contact with him.
Napoleon rubbed his temples and sighed. Illya glanced over the top of his glasses at him, ignoring the morning paper for the moment.
"What's wrong?" Illya tried to keep his voice neutral.
"The property taxes in New York are eating me alive." He dropped the invoice he'd been studying down to the table top. "I should sell the place."
"Why don't you?" Illya returned to the paper he was making a great pretenses of reading.
"I'd have to be gone for about a week." Napoleon's voice was carefully neutral.
"Okay." Illya flipped a page and reached for his cup, looking up as Napoleon caught his hand.
"Illya, what's wrong?"
"That might work with someone else, but not me. What's wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong. If you need to take care of business, then take care of business. I have a hard enough time dealing with one business in my own back yard; I don't know if I could handle one on the opposite coast."
"Not too long ago, you wouldn't let me out of your sight for more than a few minutes at a time, what's changed?"
"Dr. Hilbert, I suppose. Made me see things in a new light." Illya carefully extracted his hand from Napoleon's and picked up his cup.
Illya drained the cup and stood. "I've got a couple of errands to do before we open."
And he walked out, knowing Napoleon's eyes never left him until he disappeared from sight. He turned quickly across the parking lot that separated the house from the restaurant and the tasting room, not even feeling the pavement beneath his feet.
He walked through the kitchen, ignored the greetings that various employees half heartedly offered him and went directly into his office. He closed the door behind him and took a deep breath. Then he spun and lashed out, slamming his fist as hard as he could into a wrapped pile of aprons. Pain lanced up his arm, clearing his thoughts, giving him something other than the pain in his heart to focus on.
There was a knock on the door and he caught the sob that threatened to clog his throat. He swallowed it and managed a couple of deep breaths.
"Cara?" Matt's voice as muffled by the door. "Posso entrare?"
"Of course," Illya said, moving quickly to his desk and dropping his right hand into his lap, out of sight. He picked up an invoice to study it.
Matt entered, almost hesitantly, and quietly shut the door behind him. He settled into a chair beside the desk and watched Illya for a moment.
"Exactly, cara? What?" Matt reached out and touched Illya's shoulder. "I have known you for a long time, Illya. I have seen you exhausted to the point of tears, I have seen you in tremendous pain, I have seen you frustrated, angry, elated, and over-committed nearly to the point of insanity. But I have never seen you like this." He moved his hand to Illya's face, cupping his cheek. "I have never seen you broken like this. What has happened?"
For a moment, Illya was almost tempted, almost ready to surrender and throw himself into Matt's arms, sobbing on his shoulder, but something held him back. Something made him take his emotions by the throat and stuff them, strangled and mewling, into the deepest reaches of his soul, into a place where no one could even find them. And Matt was off limits now, no longer his to take as he chose, although Illya had no doubts that Matt would let him.
"Nothing has happened." His voice sounded strange even to himself.
"Napoleon is worried about you."
"Napoleon needs to worry about Napoleon and leave me to me."
"Honestly, cara, I do not believe you are up to the task." Matt withdrew his hand and sat back. "Both of you have been through so much lately. Perhaps you should take some time off."
"He's going back to New York."
"Go with him."
"I wasn't asked." Illya kept his voice even as he stood. "Excuse me, I have work to do."
Napoleon was still sitting at the table, still staring at the mail and trying to figure out where he'd stepped wrong when Matt came through the door. The red head looked distraught, almost to the point of tears.
"Matt?" Reflexively, Napoleon stood, a throwback to his 'fight or flight' days.
He got no more out as the man moved to embrace him, wrapping him in a near suffocating bear hug. After a moment, Napoleon tried again. "Matthew?"
"You're leaving us?"
"I didn't know the place was so contingent upon my sticking around."
"How can you even joke about this?"
"About what?" Napoleon extricated himself from the younger man. "I'm just going back to New York to sell my old place, move my accounts, and ship the rest of my stuff out here. I'm only going to be gone a week."
"Then why... when Chef... Che diavolo sta succedendo?"
"Couldn't have said it better myself, Matt, but can't answer that to save my soul. I don't know what's going on."
"You had a fight?"
"Not that I'm aware of. I had a little bit more than usual to drink, but that's never been an issue before." Napoleon began to rub his temple again. "I have no idea, Matt."
"Forgive me for asking this, Napoleon, but you have not... come si fa a dire che? Dallied?"
"Dallied?" Napoleon chuckled in spite of the tension coiling up in his stomach. "Like he gives me the chance to? Matt, you've been with him, you know what he's like."
"Si, Cara, that I do."
"I'm an old...er man. It's all I can do to keep up with him. Why do you ask?"
"This is how he used to be... when we first started cooking together. Totally focused on the job and emotionally shut down. It was never this bad and that's why I asked."
Napoleon sighed, long and low. "I love him, Matt, but he makes it so damned hard at times. I wish just for a moment he'd open up and let me in... really let me in."
"Then that wouldn't be our chef, would it?"
Napoleon grinned and shook his head. "No, it wouldn't and then I'd really be worried."
"I will leave you to it then," Matt said, turning back towards the door.
"Would you toss me the phone book on the way out? The sooner I get to New York, the sooner I can get back."
Illya hefted the fifty pound bag of potatoes up onto his shoulders and caught sight of a half familiar figure. The woman was walking slowly with her eyes on the ground, apparently looking for something.
A dropped scarf, no doubt. Illya thought as he re-settled the bag and carried it into kitchen. Too bad he'd already mailed it off... it would have been fun to see how she would have reacted to seeing it in his possession.
He dropped the sack beside the others he'd carried in and wiped his sweating forehead with the back of his glove. Why on earth he thought he needed all these potatoes was beyond him, but he frequently found himself getting distracted these days. That never happened back in UNCLE, but of course, you get distracted in the field and you could easily wind up dead.
He sat down on the sack and rolled his shoulders. It had been months since he'd been to the gym or had a proper workout. Splitting his time between the restaurant and Napoleon didn't give him much free time these days.
Napoleon, he thought and glanced around the store room. Why was he even thinking that Napoleon would betray him by heading into the arms of someone else? If anything, they were closer now than they'd ever been, working their way through the emotions and fears that Velon had left them with. He bared as much of his soul to Napoleon as he comfortably could and even a bit more, why would Napoleon go through that and then flee into the arms of a woman? It made no sense. Illya knew their relationship was still struggling. Napoleon's nightmares were less frequent and his own anxiety attacks were fewer... until now. Illya knew he was on the brink of the Mother of all Panic Attacks and he couldn't stop it. His pride kept him from asking for help, even though he knew he needed it... needed something... needed... He stood and glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the house. Needed Napoleon.
Illya startled Napoleon when he entered and he watched the man hurriedly replace the phone receiver.
"Illya?" He could see a range of emotions from concern to annoyance to hesitation scramble across his lover's face, each one on the heels of the other. Napoleon rose from the desk where he'd been seated. Illya crossed the gap between them in a few steps, pushing Napoleon back until the living room wall prevented him from going any further.
Illya's fingers dug into the muscles of Napoleon's shoulders, but the man gave no indication of discomfort or resistance. And when Illya kissed him, he returned it passion for passion, fury for fury.
There was nothing gentle about their lovemaking, it was as brutal and hard as the two men engaged in it. Napoleon gave as good as he got, never giving Illya an inch, insisting he fight for everything, knowing instinctively that it was what the Russian needed. By the time they collapsed onto the living room floor, each bore a dozen fresh bruises as they marked each other as claimed.
Illya looked down at the thoroughly ravaged and exhausted Napoleon, then he leaned down to take a mouthful of tender skin. He could feel Napoleon squirm beneath him, but he kept Napoleon pinned until he was through. Not until he tasted the sharp tang of blood did he stop.
The mark was ugly, brilliant red against tanned skin, and Illya eyed it with a certain degree of satisfaction.
"And don't forget it." Then he was gone, leaving Napoleon, still half dazed and completely bewildered, lying in the floor.
"Forget what?" Napoleon asked quietly, but the two cats, spectators and well accustomed to their masters' strange behaviors, merely looked back at him with sea green eyes.
Napoleon rolled over in bed and one of his arms went out, instinctively searching for Illya. When only empty space greeted him, Napoleon sat up and turned on the light. He blinked in the sudden brightness and looked around the small bedroom. It wasn't as if there was any place to hide in the room. It was barely large enough for their bed and dresser.
He reached for the clock and frowned. "Three a.m.? Illya, where the hell are you?" The past two days had been a mystery to him; Illya was running hot and cold, either all over him or not even looking his way.
Napoleon climbed out of bed and pulled his ratty blue robe on. His first thought was there had been trouble in the restaurant and his partner had been delayed. A quick glance through the guest bedroom window put that thought to bed. Taste stood quiet and dark.
Napoleon was about halfway down the stairs when he spotted Illya, stretched out on the couch, dead to the world. He'd managed to get his shirt and shoes off, but that had been it. After Napoleon had been released from the hospital, Illya had taken to sleeping on the couch when it became apparent that even his touch caused Napoleon pain. Napoleon made a vow to himself that he was going to get an actual bed for the guest room so at least there would be a proper place for Illya to sleep.
As to why Illya felt the need to sleep down here now, that was the question that bothered Napoleon the most. He'd thought they'd gotten beyond this. Napoleon came to stand beside the couch, wondering upon a course of action. He could wake Illya and make him come to bed or let him be and deal with the inevitable bad back the next day.
"Illya, my love, wake up," he said, not venturing too close. While there was a good chance Illya, even asleep, would recognize his voice and not react with violence, there was an equal chance that he would. Even now, it didn't pay to surprise either of them in bed.
"No," the voice was muffled against the sofa cushions. "Go away."
"Come on, your back will thank you for it."
Napoleon sighed and hunched his shoulders. "Okay, your call." He grabbed his favorite quilt and draped it over the sleeping man. At least Illya would know he'd been here.
When Illya woke the next morning, it was to an empty house; he didn't need to move from the couch to know this. Illya stared up at the living room's pine paneled ceiling and took shallow breaths. His back was on fire and any movement just seemed to make it worse. A hot shower would help, but that was all the way upstairs.
A movement caught his eye and a moment later a soft ball of fur leapt up onto his stomach. "Berra Noir, you're not helping..." He ruffled the fur under her chin and the cat responded by purring and kneading the material. Illya picked up a corner of the quilt and wondered when Napoleon had found him. He'd had disturbing dreams all night, a mixture of half conscious, sleep-muddled memories.
The front door opened and Illya expected Napoleon to walk in. He was surprised to see Rocky instead.
"Morning, Chef," he said, tucking away his house key. "I was coming to leave a note."
"I sort of rousted Napoleon out of here fast this morning , he didn't get a chance to say good bye to you. So, he wrote you a note." Rocky offered him a folded sheet of paper. "Should I ask why you're sleeping on the couch?"
"No." Illya took the note and set it aside.
"Okay then." Rocky grinned, not put off by Illya's sharp response. "But if you need to talk, you know where I am." And he was gone, whistling some ABBA tune that Illya only vaguely recognized.
The kitchen phone rang and Matt leaned over to pick it up. With the mood Chef was in these days, a jangling phone would send him sky high.
"Kitchen, Tovay here."
"Napoleon!" Matt said, raking the kitchen for a sign of Illya. The Russian had his back towards him, his attention split between the four pans he had going. "You want to talk to Chef, yes?"
"No... not really. Ah, Matt, could you let him know there's been a couple of snags here. It's going to be another week at least before I'm going to get free. I have some probate that I didn't know about and the penthouse needs some work I need to oversee before I can get it on the market."
"Napoleon, is everything all right?"
There was a long pause and he could hear muffled discussion in the background. Then, "Yes, everything is fine, Matt, could you just tell him?"
"Of course. Be safe, my friend. We miss you."
"Miss you too."
Matt hung up the receiver and slowly shook his head. He didn't know what had happened between the two and quite frankly he didn't want to know. It scared him because if something could break them up, what chance did he and Rocky have?
Rocky came walking into the kitchen and set down his tray. He didn't sing much these days, not after the tongue lashing Illya had given him about unprofessional behavior. The waiter was practically in tears by the time Illya had finished and stormed away. It had taken all of Matt's considerable expertise to tease his partner back into a good mood later that night. Illya apologized the next day, in front of the staff, but Rocky remained silent now.
"Mattie, sweetheart, what's wrong?" he murmured softly, lest anyone else hear.
"Napoleon's not coming back... again."
"He just called to say he's been delayed."
"That's the third time..."
"He... I don't think he wasn't alone, cara."
"I don't believe it." He glanced over at Illya. "What are we going to do? What about Chef? What about Vinea?"
"I don't know... I honestly don't know."
Illya collapsed onto the couch, feeling more dead than alive, almost wishing at this point that he was dead. Running Taste at night and Vinea during the day was killing him, especially when he was only averaging about three hours of sleep at a time. He'd already managed to isolate himself from most of Vinea's staff and even some of his own. Even Rocky wouldn't meet his eyes any more. He was just so tired. He'd been too tired to even react to Matt's news that Napoleon was, yet again, delayed back in New York for another indeterminate amount of time.
The mail slot clapped and Illya watched the postman amble away. It took him two attempts to actually get off the couch and to the mail box. He didn't know why he was even bothering. It would be the usual assortment of bills, magazines and junk mail.
He gathered the handful up and went back to the couch. Pushing aside the crockery from his late night snack, Illya found a half empty glass of vodka and grinned ruefully. Vodka on an empty stomach, that was a winning combination, but he drained the glass anyway, set it down and found his reading glasses.
He shuffled through the envelopes and then stopped. Drexel Labs... Illya's hand trembled slightly as he held the envelope. Part of him wanted to tear it into pieces, another part of him wanted to scream... instead he reached for a letter opener and neatly slit the envelope.
He skipped the personal note and went right to the lab results. He'd been out of the circuit for awhile, but he still knew how to read the reports. The scarf had revealed three donors and Illya swallowed at the painful lump in his throat, terrified to let his eyes drift down to the next line. None of which matched the sample he'd submitted.
Illya crumpled the paper in his hand and began to cry, painful, guilt-laced sobs. He'd destroyed his marriage, practically ruined his business, lost his best friends all because he couldn't...
For a long time he just sat there, letting his emotions take him where they would. Then he reached for the phone. He hesitated for just a minute and then dialed a number. It rang and a man's voice, even and steady answered.
"This is Dr. Hilbert, can I help you?"
"Doctor, it's me... Illya," he added after a moment. "I have a problem..."
Napoleon returned the tumbler of Scotch to the coffee table and took a deep breath. He was so tired of New York he could scream. At first it had been fun being thrust back into the non-stop explosion of New York's pulsing nightlife and reacquaint himself with old business colleagues. But it didn't take long for the glamour to wear thin and he found himself looking towards the west more and more often. Marking time by a different clock than the one on the wall. Hmm, it would be four back home, Illya would be starting to poke around n the kitchen, deciding on the night's special and Rocky would be serenading everyone with a new ABBA tune. Hmm, eight, Illya would be in the dining room. Hmm, ten, I wonder who's opening Vinea today and which wine they're serving? So his days went, not by what he was doing, but what he should have been doing, what he wanted to be doing.
He thought the change in diet would be nice, but it only took one night to make him realize how spoiled he was. California cuisine was its own acquired taste, but now that it was his, everything he ate was benchmarked against it and he found East Coast cuisine lacking.
He missed the quiet of Jackson, of being able to walk down the street and know the name of nearly everyone he met. He enjoyed the easy camaraderie that came from living some place where he felt he made a direct impact and was viewed as important and not just another bank account.
Mostly, he missed Illya. Even the most recent 'who the hell are you and what have you done with my partner?' version of Illya. Napoleon missed him in more ways than he count. Not just because of their relationship, but rather because New York reminded Napoleon of how cold the city could be without Illya. Those months of gut-wrenching loneliness, the feeling of having lost not only his friend, but the only person he truly cared about. So many times he'd turned around to say something or expected to hear some soft, caustic observation only to be met by silence.
He picked up the glass again and stared at it. No wonder he was drinking again.
There was a tap on the door and Napoleon glanced at his watch. It was a little early for room service, but the hotel's service ran hot and cold, depending on which manager was on tap.
He got wearily to his feet and opened the door, ready to point to the dining room table of the suite. For some reason, they always had to be directed. And he stopped and took a deep breath.
"Can I come in?" Illya asked, a shy expression on his face, as if he half expected to be refused.
"I'd like to see you try and refuse." Napoleon managed to sputter after a moment and then reached for him, but Illya took a step back. Napoleon frowned, but stepped aside. "Sure, come in."
Illya glanced around at the hotel room. Napoleon knew it was more from habit than actual interest. If asked later, Illya would faithfully reproduce the room and all the key elements in it. Once an agent, always an agent.
Illya walked past him, hands still buried in the pockets of the pea coat he wore. He looked so much like the old Illya, back when they were hot shot agents that Napoleon wanted to make a crack, but there was something about how the man was carrying himself, about the dark shadows under his eyes, that kept the comment from seeing light.
"So, don't take this the wrong way, but what are you doing here?" Napoleon led the way back into the room, pausing at the bar. "Drink?"
The blond head bobbed up and down just once and Napoleon poured a generous measure of vodka into a highball glass and passed it over. He frowned at the hand that accepted the glass. Illya's knuckles were red, split and bruised, as if he'd been in a massive fist fight. And that was his bad hand. Napoleon didn't want to see the other one.
"You want to tell me what happened?" He tried to make the question casual as he retook his seat and reached for his own glass.
"I needed to work off a little steam."
"Is the town still standing?"
There was a ghost of a smile as Illya murmured, "Barely." He drained the glass as if the vodka was plain water and set it down. Illya sat at the far end of the couch. Napoleon frowned at that, at how Illya was keeping himself tucked away, out of touch.
"You want to explain this?" He gestured at the space with two fingers.
"I need to be able to think. When you touch me, I can't. All I do is feel."
"Is that a bad thing?"
"For me right now, yes.
"So, if you need to think and not feel, why are you here?"
"I thought you might need some help with your... loose ends... and that might help me with some of mine."
Napoleon leaned back and sighed. "I am so tired of dealing with lawyers I could scream. The good news is that there was a solid offer made for the penthouse and I'm taking it. I should be finished with everything here within the week."
"...Then I come home." Napoleon studied Illya closely. "What did you think I was going to do?"
"I thought maybe you'd be staying here."
"Why would I stay here when my entire life is bundled up in Jackson? There's nothing for me here. You're not here... Well, you are here now, but you know what I mean."
"I had thought perhaps after the past few weeks, because of the past few weeks..."
Napoleon sighed, aching to reach out, but he knew if he did the man would only evade his touch again.
"Illya, what is it going to take to make you believe, truly believe, that I want to be with you? I've married you. I have your goddamned initials tattooed on my ass. What else do you want from me? Me to rent billboards all along Highway 49 declaring Napoleon Loves Illya? My dick in a pickle jar? Tell me! As far as I'm concerned, where I live doesn't matter, what I do doesn't matter. You are the only thing that matters to me. Why can't you see that?"
"Dr. Hilbert asked me the same thing..." Illya remained still, moving nothing but his eyes.
"Did he now? And what did you tell him?"
The answer was long in coming. "Before or after I started crying?"
"He finally broke through, did he?" Napoleon's comment was soft. "About frigging time." This time he did reach out and rested a hand on Illya's arm. "Illya, I don't know what else to do or how to help you realize that all I've pledged to you is true. I'm not leaving you, we're in this together. Our life has never been easy and I don't expect that to change, but my feelings for you have never altered one bit..." He touched the wedding ring Illya wore. "I promised you as long as I had and I meant that."
"That's the problem. Part of me knows that, the rational logical side, but there's always this little voice. It's never quiet. It whispers terrible things and I listen to it. I don't want to but I can't stop myself."
"And what does this voice say, Illya,that you have to listen to it?"
"That I'm not enough, that I've never been enough!" Illya was on his feet, pacing. "I'm not good enough, clever enough, or strong enough." He held his right hand up palm out, red and forever scarred, then curled it into a fist. "This, Napoleon! This is what I am! I'm raw and I'm ugly and sooner or later you're going to go looking because of it."
"I can't believe I'm hearing this." Napoleon got to his feet as well. "I spent nearly ten years of my life and a considerable amount of money trying to find you, determined to do whatever I needed to do to get you back into my life, even if it wasn't my bed. Just to know where you were, to be able to talk to you again, I was that desperate to find you. I'm sorry I hurt you before, Illya, but you have to trust me that it isn't going to happen again. I'm not willing to pay that price a second time. Not for anything!"
"I know." Illya was facing the wall now, his entire upper body heaving with an effort to control himself.
"But you can't?"
Napoleon sighed and repressed the urge to throw the glass against the wall. "Then tell me what to do Illya, because quite honestly I'm out of ideas."
"I don't know." Illya suddenly shouted. "Don't you see? I don't..." His voice fell again. "...know what to do, Napoleon." He walked to the bar to pour more alcohol into his glass. "Short of committing myself, I don't know what else to do. Neither does Dr. Hilbert."
"Do you love me, Illya?"
"Do you want me?"
Napoleon crossed the room, took the glass from Illya's hand and brought the fingers to his lips, kissing them gently. "Then we'll start there. Commit yourself to me. If it takes forever, Illya, I'm willing to take that long. Are you?"
Napoleon turned the damaged hand over and kissed the palm. "Then trust the moment, Illya, not yesterday, not tomorrow, just right now. Trust your heart."
"I don't deserve you."
"True, but you are never the less, stuck with me." Napoleon brought Illya's wrist to his lips and mouthed it, feeling the pulse quicken beneath his tongue as he licked the soft skin. Slowly, he reached out and unbuttoned Illya's jacket. "And as much as there's nothing I'd rather do than take you to bed and make love toyou, I think a solid night's sleep would do you more good. How long has it been since you've properly slept?"
Illya rubbed one of his eyes and sighed. "About four weeks. Maybe five."
"Then I'd say you're due." Napoleon pushed the jacket off his shoulders and then paused. "You didn't bring any luggage?"
"No. I wasn't sure you'd want me to stay. Not after you heard what I had to say."
"Just try and leave."
Napoleon shifted in bed and winced at the pins and needles shooting down his arm, but it would never occur to him to actually shove Illya aside and reclaim his arm as his own. It hadn't been the best night for either of them, but they'd gotten through it.... somehow.
It amazed Napoleon that security hadn't shown up. To say Illya was stubborn would be like conjecturing about the pope's religion. He was stubborn and proud and Napoleon knew better than to try and subjugate him. Then he would lose Illya. Instead, he stayed as calm and relaxed as he could, let Illya talk, argue, rage, accuse, apologize, in short, Napoleon kept his mouth shut and just let Illya say what he needed to.
It had been insightful, and at times, heartbreaking. He'd found out things that he couldn't have even guessed, but for the moment he didn't pry or ask questions, he just listened until his usually reticent partner finally ran out of steam and fell asleep in his arms.
Napoleon shot a look at his wrist. Somehow, he had to get out of bed, cancel all his appointments for the day, order some breakfast and crawl back in beside Illya without waking him. No matter what his plans were today, nothing was as important as the man beside him and settling the score with his demons. He couldn't believe that Illya had ordered DNA testing on him; he couldn't believe Illya thought Napoleon was actually taking back up with women. He could believe Illya's level of desperation, insecurity, and despair; that was apparent even to a blind man and Napoleon was far from blind.
If they were going to survive, they needed to get this taken care of. He needed Illya to trust him, really trust him again. He didn't know how to make that happen, but he was determined. He kissed the blond hair gently and Illya shifted, suddenly awake, blinking at him with bleary, bloodshot eyes.
"You have very patriotic eyes this morning; they're red, white, and blue," Napoleon said, brushing sleep crazed hair from Illya's face.
Illya mumbled something and rolled over. Napoleon grinned at the normalcy of the moment, so much like the ones they'd shared so many times previously, back when they were first married.
"Same to you, fella." Napoleon sat up and stretched, shaking out his arm. "I'm ordering breakfast. Is there anything in particular you want?" At the look that greeted him, Napoleon decided that perhaps breakfast, the appointments, all of it could wait just a bit. Right now, he had some bridges to build, some confidence to restore and someone to love.
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