It took a lot to distract Illya Kuryakin when he got 'into the zone'. For him, that was standing in front of his stove in his restaurant's kitchen, with all six burners going and the hum of activity around him at frantic levels. The sheer intensity of it fed his energy level and kept him focused on his work.
He had a Matura pilau and the evening's special, a Thai fire pot, simmering on the back burners, while he split his attention between Atlantic salmon in a potato crust and pheasant on the front grill. The pheasant would ultimately end up paired with a saffron risotto and tomatoes while the salmon was destined for a chili oil and leek puree.
His mind was totally focused on his cooking when he became aware of a noise behind him. Illya glanced over his shoulder as Rocky, Taste's head waiter, staggered into the kitchen holding his chest. Immediately, Matt Tovay, Taste's co-chef and Rocky's partner, was at his side.
"Che ha torto, cara? What's wrong? Are you having a heart attack?"
"Mattie, he's here... he's really here."
Matt took a step away from his partner and took a deep breath. "Oh, mio Dio! Rocky, you're joking, right?"
"I wish I was." Rocky gestured back to the dining room again and shook his head. "It's really, really him."
"So who the hell is he?" Illya's voice stopped the man in his track and Rocky spun around.
"You're joking, Chef, right?"
"When have you known me to joke when I'm in the kitchen?" Illya split his attention between his employee and the salmon. Nothing was worth having that dry out.
"You don't know who Johnson Matell is?" Matt walked up to Illya and slapped him on the shoulder. "Do you live in a cave?"
"Not the last time I looked." Illya lifted the salmon out and onto a bed of jicama and red pepper salad.
"I don't believe this..." Rocky took a step and then retreated back the same step. "You honestly don't know? Everyone knows who he is... except for you, I guess."
"Yes, we have now established that your boss is a media and cultural hermit. Who is this man?" Illya carefully wiped the edge of the plate free of drips.
"He's a reviewer."
"That helps considerably, Matthew, thank you."
"Chef, he's the man who closes restaurants.
"His review alone cost Le Machon a star.
"They lost their head chef to a heart attack and the idiot hadn't written down any of his recipes. What did they expect?" Illya shot him a glance as he offered the plate to another waiter. "It was not from a review."
"They say it was the review that caused the heart attack, Chef," Rocky argued. "And now he's in our restaurant."
"Matt, will you take over here?" Illya tossed the towel he'd been using aside and walked over to the waiter. "Rocky, come with me for a minute?"
Reluctantly, the waiter followed Illya out of the kitchen and into the late summer night. Illya stood there, staring out into the star-filled night sky. "Rocky, we have worked too hard and too long for some East Coast know-it-all who doesn't understand the nuances of West Coast cuisine to take what is ours. You are going back out there and you will serve him, with no more and no less than the attention and professionalism that each one of our customers is due. Do you understand me?"
"Now, say it like you mean it."
Illya patted his shoulder affectionately and pointed back to the door. "Go. Do what you do better than anyone else here, Rocky, and I will do what I do best. Perhaps together we will save our asses if not our stars."
Rocky smiled, just a shadow of his normal one and Illya returned to the kitchen. He was working on a steak and searing scallops when Rocky re-entered the kitchen and moved directly to him.
"Chef, Table Six wants to know if there are any clam products in the cerviche."
"Why would there be clam product in a scallop cerviche?"
"Johnson Martell's dining partner is allergic and she is very concerned. She said she wouldn't take my word for it, but wanted to hear it from the chef himself."
Illya sighed and shook his head. "It's going to be one of those nights, isn't it?" He started to untie his apron. "All right, Matthew, again?" The redhead just grinned.
"No worries, Cara."
"Let that veal dry out and I'll have your ass on a brioche." Illya pulled off his stained apron and reversed it to the clean side and took a moment to exchange one chef coat for another. It always behooved a chef not to go into the dining room with the menu clearly displayed on his clothes.
Stepping into the dining room was a bit like walking out onto the stage before a packed house, heads turned, conversations stopped and eyes either searched out his or hid from view. He stopped by the table of some friends, chatting with them for a moment and thanking them for coming.
Usually he would work the room until he reached Table Six, but tonight he headed there first. The man seated there was tall, almost as tall sitting as Illya was standing, but that was of no matter. Size never spooked him as he'd found early on how to play it to his advantage.
"I'm Illya Kuryakin," he said by way of introducing himself. "Your waiter said that you had some questions?"
"I am deathly allergic to clams and wondered if there were any clams in the cerviche." The woman was reed thin and Illya caught himself wondering if she really ate anything at all. She looked just this side of emaciated.
"No ma'am, I can assure you there are no clam products used in it."
"How about the veal piccata?"
"The soup of the day?"
Illya grinned. "Yes, I do tend to use clams in clam chowder, but we also offer a French Onion and tonight a Cream of Celery and Apple with brandy."
She smiled. "I wondered if you were really listening to me or just paying me lip service."
"No, ma'am, it doesn't pay for us to ignore the concerns of our guests. My partner is deathly allergic to clams, so I am doubly cautious."
"Do you think there's any way we could see your kitchen?" The man's voice was loud and booming, befitting a man of his size.
"Not during service hours, but if you would like to stay, I would be more than agreeable to that." Illya was proud and stubborn, but he wasn't stupid. If this man closed restaurants, so be it, but it didn't hurt to not play nice with him.
"Do you know who I am?"
"I have been informed, yes, sir."
"And you deny...?"
"You nothing, but surely a man of your experience knows how busy a production kitchen can be and of the hidden dangers within. For the sake of my insurance broker, I must insist that you wait until after service is complete."
"Very well." Martell wasn't happy. Well that makes two of us, Illya thought as he made the circuit around the other tables. Like most Saturday nights, the restaurant was full and the waiters were working at a near run to keep up with the level of service Illya demanded. He paused at the bar, stopping beside a dark haired gentleman who was openly flirting with a red head.
"Stella, would you do me a favor and put some Kubanskaya on ice for me. I have the feeling I'm going to need it."
Instantly Napoleon Solo's attention shifted from that of the red head to his partner. He and Illya had work as partners for nearly ten years at UNCLE, until the day Illya walked out, angry and heartbroken over Solo's dalliance with a woman. It had taken Solo nearly that long to track the Russian down again and he wasn't about to make the same mistake twice. Of course, that was before he'd put a ring on Illya's finger.
"What's wrong, amante?"
"Reviewer in the restaurant and his date is making me crazy." Illya accepted a glass of ice water from the bartender and watched at the reviewer gaped at him downing the glass in one go. "Now he thinks I just consumed a pint of vodka, no doubt." He handed her back the glass. "Better get back before Matt burns the lamb. I may be late tonight. The reviewer wants a tour of the kitchen and will then have questions."
"I won't wait up then."
"That's it," Roxanne announced with a sound of relief. "We have lived through another evening."
"Well, some of us have. Some of us have the hardest part still ahead, isn't that right, Chef?"
"Are they still out there?" Illya began to untie his apron.
"Moved into the bar about an hour ago, but yes, they are still there, chatting with Stella."
"Swell." He tossed his apron into the soiled linen basket and stretched, one hand rubbing his neck. It was replaced by another pair and Illya stood still, as Rocky worked tired and aching muscles. The waiter seemed to know just how much or how little pressure to use and when to switch, working the shoulders until they grew limp with relaxation.
"Anymore and I'll drop where I stand. Thank you." Illya grinned at the waiter gratefully. "I might just be able to swing this interview now." To Matt. "Now I see the attraction."
"Just one of many, cara, I assure you."
Illya undid his chef's coat and dropped it into the pile as well and the bag was hauled away to await their linen service. He donned a clean one, grabbed his glass of water and went to meet his fate.
The couple had settled into one of the corner tables and both straightened as Illya approached, their attitude clearly shifting from causal to something more formal, more business-like.
"Chef," the woman began to rise, but Illya held up a hand.
"Please, allow me to sit before I fall." Illya slid into a vacant chair and set his glass down.
"What are you drinking, Chef? Absolut? Stoli?"
"Water," Illya admitted with a smile. "Lots and lots of water in the kitchen. You only need to pass out once from dehydration to learn that lesson." Stella walked up to them with the bottle of Kubanskaya vodka, still caked with ice from the freezer and three highball glasses on a tray. "Now we drink vodka and we talk, like civilized people."
"And then the kitchen?"
"Yes, then the kitchen." Illya poured three generous glassfuls of vodka and raised his."Давайте выпьем за то, чтобы мы испытали столько горя, сколько капель вина останется в наших бокалах." He downed half the glass in two large gulps and smiled as the alcohol hit his stomach and unfurled a delightful sense of warmth. Martell and his guest sipped cautiously at theirs and the woman gasped after the first mouthful.
"That's powerful stuff. What did you say?"
"It's an old Russian toast. May we suffer as much sorrow as drops we are about to leave in our glasses." He left out the 'of wine' part of the toast; what they didn't know wouldn't matter. He took another swallow, nodding as the warmth started to tendril out. "So you are here to close my restaurant." Putting them on the defensive could only work to his advantage.
"Not necessarily," the woman said and Illya frowned. So far, she'd been doing the bulk of the talking and he began to get a sneaking suspicion that perhaps things weren't as they appeared.
"Will there be anything else, chef?" Stella asked, hopefully.
"No, go home and tell Celeste we miss her and to get well soon."
"I will. Good night."
Illya waited until she had left and then turned back to the pair. 'But I suspect all is not what it appears. You are the reviewer, are you not?" He looked directly at the woman, using an intensity he seldom employed these days.
"You're as clever as you are talented." She smiled and offered her hand. "Yes, I'm Johnson and this is my brother, Lucius." They exchanged handshakes. "You can appreciate how difficult it can be to have someone take you seriously if you're something other than a WASP."
"I usually let my reputation speak for itself."
"You can, you're a man, but most people don't take female reviewer seriously. And certainly not a female food reviewer."
"Why not?" Illya poured more vodka, although the glasses other than his had been barely touched. He drank deeply. "Surely you can appreciate and understand good food as easily as a man. To my experience, it is rather a lack of experience and openness that marks the difference in palates as opposed to the sex of the taster."
"Well put, now let's talk about Taste..."
Napoleon Solo became slowly conscious of a body pressed up against his. He glanced over at the clock, surprised that it read just after six. Either Illya had been very adept at sneaking into bed or he'd just made it there. It didn't matter to Napoleon. He draped an arm over Illya and pulled the man's body even closer until they were spooned together. It was still cool at night here, so he celebrated the opportunity. Soon it would be too hot to have this much contact and while their love making didn't suffer as a rule, it was still uncomfortable. He nuzzled the blond hair, smelling a rich smoky scent, probably from the sausages Illya had been smoking that afternoon, and some traces of cinnamon and molasses—obviously a dessert item he'd been working with.
Napoleon's penis had started growing hard the moment he'd felt Illya against him, now it was fully erect and aching for relief. Napoleon shifted slightly to slip it between Illya's thighs so that it rubbed against his partner's testicles as he slid his other arm under and around the lithe body and let it roam.
His searching hand found Illya's erection and it didn't surprise Napoleon to discover Illya aroused as well. Even though they'd been reunited nearly two years now, he was still delighted at the response his touch rendered. When they'd first been together, Illya was a confident, but not aggressive lover. He would take what Napoleon gave him, but seldom would he demand or even voice a preference in their love making. Those days were in the past. Illya had become a man who knew what he wanted and took it, at times desperately, other times forcefully, but always with an adept hand and the purpose of pleasing both himself and his lover.
Napoleon grinned and buried his nose deeper into the hair, pushing past it until he reached the nape of Illya's neck and he began to kiss it softly, mouthing it, and sucking at the soft skin. He felt Illya's half conscious thrust into Napoleon's fist. He moved his free hand up to pinch and twist at a nipple while he began to rock his own penis, feeling Illya's body respond, now very aware of Napoleon's presence, making little noises as the head of Napoleon's penis stroked over Illya's perineum.
Illya clenched his thighs, using muscles that once could have choked a man's life from him or broken his neck, clamping them together to give Napoleon the friction he needed until he was already to hold back his own climax. Napoleon matched the movements of their bodies with his hand, working it up and down Illya's shaft with more and more pressure as he slid his other hand from Illya's chest down rub his fingers against the tip of Illya's penis whenever it surged forward, pressing into the slit there whenever the opportunity presented itself. Illya moaned at the contact and Napoleon increased it, pinching and working the sensitive flesh.
Illya brought his own hand up, pinching his nipple harder than Napoleon would have dared and thrashing like a captured animal in Napoleon's grasp, but the harder he fought, the more pressure Napoleon brought to bear, continuing to hold and stroke him, his touch now hard and demanding. Then Illya's body arched and he ground desperately into Napoleon's fist, a cry of half pain/half pleasure escaping him as he climaxed. Napoleon felt his fists grow warm and slick as his own ejaculate coated the back of one hand and Illya's flooded his other.
They both lay there, quiet, lost in a moment of serenity that only a satisfying climax could provide.
"This is another fine mess you've gotten me into, Napoleon," Illya murmured, tilting his head back, still moving his entrapped penis in Napoleon's hand.
"Sure, sure like it's always my fault. Maybe if your ass didn't feel so great, I might have a little self control." Napoleon pulled one of his hands, still sticky with semen, away to slip it between their bodies and began to stroke the crack of Illya's ass, transferring the fluid there.
"Self control... likes that's a concept you eagerly grasp." The voice was deeper now, husky with desire.
Napoleon tightened his hand around the still partially hard penis. "I didn't hear any complaints about my grasp a few minutes ago." He slipped a finger into the eager body, smiling at the gasp and then the tightening muscles around the finger.
"That was different," Illya half moaned. "Now you've really woke me up."
"Tell me what you'd like, Amante," Napoleon whispered into his ear, adding another finger. "Would you like me in you? Would you like it slow and easy or hard and fast? Or would you rather be in me?"
"Hmm, decisions, decisions." One of Napoleon's fingers brushed against Illya's prostate, eliciting a little gasp of pleasure. "Since you're already there..."
Grinning, Napoleon maneuvered them until Illya was directly over him and then he lowered the man's body onto his, pressing in on one sure thrust until his pubic bone rested against Illya' balls. He paused for a moment to give Illya a chance to adjust, but the Russian was having none of it. He ground himself down against Napoleon's pubic bone, his hand seeking out his own penis to grip it tightly. Napoleon's hand joined his and together they moved up and down.
Illya's muscles clenched tightly around Napoleon's penis, squeezing it deliciously and Napoleon maneuvered so each stroke rubbed up against Illya's prostate. The man moaned each time, grinding back begging for more and Napoleon increased the ferocity of his thrusts.
Napoleon abandoned Illya's penis, since the Russian had it well in hand and used his own hands to tightly grip Illya's hips and slam into an eager body that met each thrust with an equal downward force. Napoleon arched himself up, lifting Illya off the bed and with a cry, he ejaculated again.
It wasn't until nearly a full minute later that he felt the semen covering his chest and speckling his chin. Obviously, it had been a satisfactory climax for his partner as well.
He felt himself slip from his lover's body and Illya stretched out on Napoleon. Languid and sated, he licked Napoleon's chin free of his own semen and moved to Napoleon's mouth, allowing his partner to taste him.
"So am I to take it that the review went well?" Napoleon said the moment he had the chance. He used a corner of the sheet to clean off his penis and then reached for a washcloth he habitually kept on his nightstand. It proved to be quite the time saver in between bouts of early morning love making.
"What? Oh you mean that Martell character? Who's to say? You can never predict what they are going to write." Illya paused to kiss him again, his tongue exploring every inch of Napoleon's mouth that it could reach, letting his partner know that he was far from done yet. "It matters not to me; one bad review will neither make nor break us. Let her say what she wants, although she seemed fairly sanguine when she left."
"She? Johnson Matell is a woman?" He caught his breath as Illya licked one of his ears and a finger began to stroke his chest, finding and fingering a nipple.
"Yes, he is a she, which sort of makes sense in this place. She also had a new appreciation for the Russian culture and sense of hospitality."
"I shudder to ask."
"No one should make the mistake of trying to drink me under the table." Illya exchanged fingers for mouth, rubbing his tongue over a rock hard nipple.
"You didn't?" Napoleon choked back a groan.
"Of course not; I merely allowed her her options." Illya suckled at the nipple now, the suction hard and soft interchangeably
"If you want it again, Illya, you're going to have to give me a minute," Napoleon warned, although his penis was already starting to respond. "I'm not as young as I used to be."
"And you're not as old as you're going to be." Illya moved up to Napoleon's neck, licking and biting as he went. "And I thought that's what I was doing, giving you a minute to regroup." He worked over to an ear, then whispered. "I want your mouth on me."
"Hmm, I don't know," Napoleon yawned in mock exhaustion. "Two climaxes are about my limit."
"But not mine." Illya illustrated the point rather succinctly by ramming his again-jutting erection into Napoleon's stomach.
"Where do you get it, son? They used to give me a bad time around headquarters about being in a constant state of arousal and look at you."
"That's the thing, Napoleon. They never looked at me; they were too busy watching you to see me. No one ever really saw me, except you." He rocked against Napoleon. "And you are paying the price."
"Well, one wants to dance, one must pay the piper." He shifted, bringing Illya into position so he could reach his partner's again eager penis and started their dance once again.
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