When All Is Said and Done
Fall was settling onto the Foothills. The days were warm and sunny, the nights cool as the trees started to shift from green to a mixed pallet of reds, yellows and oranges. Illya knew he should stop and take note of the beauty around him. Instead, he just shrugged it off, as he tried to do with the lingering weariness that clung to him, in much the same way a frightened child clung to its mother.
He held his coffee cup loosely. His hands were so calloused and hardened from his years of cooking that he could barely feel the heat dissipating through the ceramic. He could remember a time when his fingertips were so sensitive he could feel tumblers shifting in a lock. Now just the opposite was true. He'd tried hard to escape his past image as an enforcement agent and reinvent himself. All those years of hiding and concealing that part of his life evaporated in one single night—the night a psychopath had snatched Napoleon from him.
Illya had gotten his partner back, rescued him in true UNCLE fashion, but at a price. He'd been forced to expose what he'd been to people he never wanted to have knowledge of his past. They, in turn, had responded by suddenly becoming fearful of him, anxious and nervous in his presence. The trial had, in some ways, been worse than the abduction as there were parts of Napoleon and Illya's pasts which had best served them locked away. Velon's attorneys had dug deep and uncovered some less-than-noteworthy acts committed in the name of UNCLE and tried to wield it against them, to no avail. Then Velon took the coward's way out and killed himself quietly one night in his cell, but the damage had been done. Jackson knew just exactly what and who the Chef of Taste and the proprietor of Vinea had been. Also, their relationship, not exactly a secret, was put on display for all to see. Napoleon was fine with it, but Illya would have still preferred to keep something of himself to himself, not an option apparently.
Strangely, the trial had only increased business until the restaurant was standing room only most nights. Even the bar was packed, just in case Illya should wander out from the kitchen. He felt like some exotic animal, taken out for display and then re-caged.
Every morning he hit the ground running, just trying to stay low and get what needed to be done accomplished without attracting undue attention, and he was exhausted down to the marrow of his bones. It was a tiredness that no amount of sleep seemed to assuage. And at the same time, he couldn't sit still. He was being driven by a need to do something, but he didn't know what, by a force he couldn't explain. He hadn't been this restless since leaving UNCLE.
"Hey, Illya, what's going on?"
The voice almost startled him; it certainly broke through his reverie. Illya glanced up at Winston, Napoleon's nephew, and the newest member of Taste's staff. The young man had shown a flair for cooking, something Illya had been quick to pick up on. Matt had taken him under his wing for some initial training. It was immediately apparent that the talent was there and Napoleon offered to bankroll culinary school for him. Winston jumped at the opportunity. It had also put him well away from the media circus that had descended upon them. While he knew some of the details of his uncle's abduction, Winston had been at least spared the descent of the media vultures.
"Winston, you're up early." Illya didn't move from his spot on the long patio table. The Sunday mornings fetes were now a thing of the past. Taste's staff had grown too large to accommodate everyone, and Illya missed that sense of connection with his staff. There were people working for him that he had just a passing acquaintance with, something that bothered him, especially after Velon, but he had neither the time nor the energy for more these days.
"I'm just waiting for Matt to show up." Winston sat down with a flurry of arms and legs. He was seldom still for more than a few moments at a time. Illya remembered being just like that at his age and wondered how he'd channeled all that energy. "He's going to teach me how to make Herbes de Provence Palmiers this morning."
"Not exactly, I bought the puff pastry," Winston admitted, nudging a clump of dried grass with the toe of his sneaker. "Our instructor said that only a fool makes his own when buying it is so easy."
"You should make it once for the experience and never do it again, that would be my advice. It's an interesting process... the first time, a nuisance the second, and a waste of effort after that." Illya drained his coffee cup and set it aside. "How are you settling in?" Winston has reassumed his old quarters over Napoleon's tasting room. It gave the young man a sense of freedom, while still having family close at hand. "Not too badly. It's nice to have my own place and I love being able to put school stuff to practical use. Matt's a great teacher."
"Yes, he is." Illya smiled at thought of his business partner. Matt had been the first to put Illya's past behind them and the rest of the staff followed eventually. There were still eggshell moments, but it was getting better every day and no one looked like they were afraid Illya would shoot them if they misspoke or broke a dish. "But?" Illya prompted when it became obvious there was an unspoken question.
"When are you going to train me, Illya?" Winston's voice was lined with anxiety.
Illya shook his head. "You don't want that in a million years, Winston. Trust me on that."
"But you're Cordon Bleu, Illya. Matt isn't. There are things he can never teach me, but you can. Like how to make puff pastry..."
"Winston, Matt's as close to being Cordon Bleu as I am, he just didn't did want to deal with the class work. He's had exactly the same training as I've had. I'm too impatient to be a good teacher."
"I've seen you work with Uncle Napoleon, teaching him. You're not impatient then."
"It would be different between a teacher and his student, trust me. I would end up alienating you."
"But you teach the staff the new dishes all the time. How is it different from that?"
"They know me; they understand my approach and I'm paying them to put up with me. I would have you crying within ten minutes of starting." "Why don't you let me at least try to work with you? If it's too much, I can back away. I want to learn and I'm not a fool, Illya."
"No, Winston, you're not," Illya said, nodding to the arriving car. "Matt's here."
"Can we at least talk about it later?" Winston stood, a towering mass of chef wear.
"Yes, go, we'll talk later." Illya waved him on. He watched the young man scamper across the parking lot, waving as he approached the car. Matt stepped out, locked eyes with Illya for a moment and smiled. Then he gestured Winston onward and together they disappeared around the corner of the restaurant. Illya envied Matt his easy approach with people, his ability to immediately put people at ease. When Illya walked into a room, the atmosphere thickened. Even now, after all these years and so many attempts to reinvent himself, people still feared him. The kitchen door opened and Napoleon stepped out, stretching skyward and breathing deeply. He smiled over at his partner. "I love the morning air in the fall."
"So says the man with no allergies." Illya sniffed to make a point. "They say that if you live here long enough, you'll get them even if you've never had them before. Certainly was true in my case."
Napoleon chuckled and joined him at the table, cupping a hand to Illya's face. "Did you sleep at all?"
"A bit." Illya let Napoleon have free rein these days, carefully controlling his movements around his lover, lest something remind him of the still too-recent episode with Velon. He let Napoleon make the first move these days, never offered any resistance or responded too eagerly. It was proving difficult, as he'd grown out of the habit of continually repressing his need for dominance. It was only love that tempered him and kept his passion from taking over. Things were better and he had no doubts that they'd see this through, but it was still difficult.
"What happened here?" Napoleon's finger traced a small cut on Illya's cheek.
"Nicked myself shaving this morning," Illya muttered, still remembering the surprise at the trickle of blood. "That's what I get for daydreaming."
"Illya, I've seen you shave with everything from a straight edge to hunting knives and never cut yourself. What are you worried about? Business is good, the holidays are coming." Napoleon leaned in for a kiss. "We're together. What's bothering you?"
"Nothing," Illya lied and immediately knew it was a mistake. He could never get anything past Napoleon.
"Right and now pull the other leg." Napoleon moved his hand back to run it through Illya's hair. In spite of complaining loudly on most occasions, Illya sighed now, leaning his head into the hand. It seemed the only time he was at peace now was when Napoleon was touching him. "What can I do to help?"
"Make me twenty again."
"Oh, that I could, but then I don't know if I could keep up with you. You're giving me a run for my money now." He moved his hand down to hold Illya's neck, fingers kneading the tense muscles there. "Something else?"
"I'm just tired."
"That goes without saying. You're working an eighty hour week for no reason whatsoever. You push yourself harder than anyone I've ever known and every time we make love, you're so frantic that it's as if we haven't touched each in months. You know what you need to do."
Cut back, slow down. Napoleon didn't have to say it aloud. Illya heard it nonetheless. He wasn't sure why he couldn't take a step back from Taste and let Matt assume the role as its primary chef. Certainly the younger man had earned the right and it was time. Illya could feel that down to his core and he much preferred the thought of turning his restaurant over to Matt than having the man branch out on his own. He wasn't sure he could take Matt on head-to-head and win. He became aware of Napoleon saying something. "I'm sorry, what?"
Napoleon kissed him again, running his tongue lightly over Illya's lips. "You just agreed to sell yourself into white slavery."
"Okay. Were you the top buyer?" Illya mumbled, opening his mouth to that incredible tongue, sucking it in. It was so easy to let go and just stop when Napoleon was in front of him and in his arms. But the moment the man wandered from his sight, the restlessness was back and with it the drive forward. Illya couldn't help but wonder if this is how lemmings felt just before they supposedly drove themselves over a cliff.
"I said why don't you go back to bed? You aren't due at the restaurant for another nine hours and you look like you're ready to drop in your tracks. You're not doing anyone any favors pushing yourself like this, especially not you."
"Matt's doing some training with your nephew this morning and I promised I'd stop in. Winston is anxious to learn and feels he's starting to max out Matthew's abilities. He wants me to start training him."
"You knew it was a matter of time before he was going to approach you again. You can't put him off forever, Illya, he deserves it. He deserves what only you can teach him."
"I'm afraid I'll break him, Napoleon." Illya dropped his eyes back to the flagstone walk and absently rubbed his forehead at the headache starting there. "I don't want to do that to him or to you."
"Better you than a stranger. If he can't cut it, Illya, it's best he hears it from you." Napoleon picked up Illya's discarded cup. "So go and come right back. I promise I have something that will help you sleep."
"And if I had a nickel for every time I heard that, I'd be a wealthy man."
"Illya, you are a wealthy man. You have a successful business, the respect and admiration of your compatriots. You have more money than you know what to do with and you have someone who loves you. You just keep forgetting it." Napoleon pointed to Taste. "And if you're not back in fifteen minutes, I'm coming to look for you."
Of course fifteen turned into thirty, and then forty-five, but Napoleon knew that would be the case. Once Illya walked into a kitchen, all sense of time eluded him. Napoleon tossed the financial section of the paper aside and reached for the entertainment section. There was always something going on in the Foothills, perhaps he could drag Illya off to a wine tasting or food festival. That would at least get him away from Taste for a bit and perhaps let him relax, although Napoleon doubted it. He was growing more and more concerned about his lover. At first, Napoleon had attributed Illya's restlessness to the damage Velon had caused to their lovemaking. They were still working to get beyond that. Then there was the trial, with both of their lives, past and present, flapping in the wind for all to see. Still, they'd weathered that storm as well.
He'd suggested that Illya come with him to his weekly therapy sessions, but the Russian had snorted, pronouncing himself fine. But Napoleon could tell that wasn't the case. His therapist said it was because Illya blamed himself for Napoleon's abduction and rape and felt duty bound to protect him. Napoleon had tried to broach the subject, just to be shot down. But he could feel Illya's eye always on him, watching and guarding him. Between that and trying to devote himself to the restaurant, Illya was tearing himself in two.
And more than that, Illya was starting to hurt himself. Cutting a corner too sharply and bruising a shoulder, whanging his head on a cupboard door that he'd neglected to shut, and now cutting himself shaving were all indicating something, but again Napoleon was at a loss. Was it just tiredness? God knows, the man was barely sleeping anymore and even when he was, he tossed and turned, fighting the demons he denied existed when awake.
The front door slammed open, making Napoleon jump involuntarily. There were still moments when his abduction came back to him. Any sharp noise had that effect, but he was getting better.
Winston barged into the room, his face white, his apron stained. "Uncle Napoleon, you have to come quick. There's been an accident." He didn't wait, but dashed back towards the restaurant.
Napoleon was to his feet and running behind Winston. There were so many hidden and not-so-hidden dangers in the kitchen. He raced through to door to hear Illya's protesting, "Just leave me!"
Matt looked over at Napoleon frantically, grabbing his arm and dragging him forward. "Cara, he needs a doctor."
"I need to be left alone," Illya snapped. That was the key phrase that Napoleon knew so well. Even if his partner didn't recognize it, that phrase was Illyaspeak for 'I've really hurt myself this time.' "It's just a cut" or "I'm fine" meant pretty much that to Napoleon, but when Illya wanted to be left alone, it always meant trouble.
Illya was holding his right hand protectively against his chest and was rubbing his forearm furiously with his left, glaring at anyone who tried to approach him. That didn't stop Napoleon. He moved to his lover and pried the arm away, wincing at the mess that had been Illya's palm.
"Illya, what did you do?" Napoleon asked as Illya pulled his arm free and returned it to its original position.
"I didn't know the skillet had been in the oven," Illya murmured, barely audible. Napoleon glanced over at the cast iron skillet that lay upside down on the floor. The handle was white and Napoleon had a sickening suspicion that part of Illya was still attached to it.
"Matt, call Dr. Seyfried. Tell her I'm coming." Napoleon reached for Illya's shoulders, pushing him towards the door.
"Just leave me, Napoleon." Illya tried to shake free, but Napoleon was having none of it.
"Shut up, Illya!" Matt shouted and both men stared at him. Napoleon belatedly realized who had probably taken the skillet out of the oven and not brought Illya's attention to it. Guilt was making Matt's eyes wild with concern. He ran a hand through his red hair and looked frantically towards the phone. Winston was already there, talking softly into the instrument.
"It's fine, Matt, it was just an accident, it wasn't your fault. I just wasn't paying attention, that's all," Illya said, his voice calm, but shaky. Napoleon could hear the pain creeping into it, no matter how hard Illya tried otherwise to hide it. "It's not the first time I've burned myself. I'm okay, really." Napoleon watched Illya force a weak smile.
"I'm still taking you in to Emergency." Napoleon used his best Section Two voice and Illya nodded reluctantly. That spoke louder to Napoleon than anything else at the moment. If Illya admitted to needing doctor's care, he was seriously hurt. His partner might be stubborn, but he wasn't a fool.
Napoleon stared down at the magazine he'd been holding for the past half hour. He'd made a show of occasionally flipping a page. Even with that, he'd take the title as 'slowest reader in the world' if anyone was really paying him any attention. The foot traffic wasn't much in the small waiting room and the TV was the usual Sunday mix of religious programming, news panels and Westerns.
The front doors opened and Matt entered, his face drawn and haggard. He hadn't even bothered to swap out his chef's coat for a regular jacket. He'd probably just locked down the kitchen and headed straight here. "How is he?" he asked the moment he spotted Napoleon.
"I don't know. They haven't told me anything yet. They've only been with him for a short time." Napoleon indicated a chair. "You want to tell me what happened? I couldn't get a word out of Illya on the way over."
"He watched me take the skillet out of the oven, Napoleon, I swear he did." Matt started dry washing his hands and Napoleon caught them, calming them. "Chef is usually so careful in the kitchen. He's just not with us these days, if you know what I mean. He's even cut himself."
"Shaving," Napoleon acknowledged.
"Chopping onions. It's like his head is somewhere else these days. He's just so distracted. I tried talking with him, but it's like he doesn't even hear me anymore. He nods at the right time and says the right things, but I can tell the words aren't reaching him. I've never seen him like this, Napoleon, and it's sort of scaring me."
"I agree with you, if that's any consolation."
A man wearing a white doctor's coat approached them. "Mr. Solo?" Both he and Matt stood.
After a moment, Napoleon recognized the man. "Dr. Goyette." They exchanged handshakes. "Where's Dr. Seyfried?"
"Delivering a baby at the moment—jack of all trades up here. I assured her I could handle this. How are you doing?"
"I've been better. How is Illya?" Napoleon answered as Goyette suddenly noticed Matt and looked back at Napoleon as if asking for permission to continue.
"You can talk in front of him. He's family," Napoleon said with a smile. "Matt, this is the doctor who took care of me last year. Dr. Goyette, Matt Tovay."
"You're the other chef at Taste. We've dined at your restaurant a number of times." The doctor shook hands with the red-head and smiled. "You want to tell me what happened? I couldn't get much from your partner."
"We were training a new chef and I'd been heating up a skillet to show him how to puff pastry bakes inside an oven. It's an old parlor trick." Matt paused and drew a deep breath. "I'd just taken the skillet out and set it aside. Then I heard Chef yell and drop the skillet. I sent Winston for Napoleon and tried to get his hand under cool water, but Chef wouldn't let any of us near him. He was adamant that he wasn't hurt."
"Still is, I'm afraid." Goyette nodded, more to himself than anyone else. "Mr. Kuryakin is resting comfortably at the moment. From what I can tell, he's got mostly second degree burns to the palm of his right hand with some third degrees to his fingers. It could have been much worse, but I'd wager he'd argue the point. Second degree burns are one of the worst pain you can experience. I don't believe there's any permanent damage, but he was getting agitated, so I went ahead and sedated him. He'll sleep through the night and I'm scheduling surgery for first thing in the morning."
"Surgery?" Napoleon asked as Matt grabbed his forearm.
"He's going to need skin grafts if he's going to use that hand again. It's going to hurt like hell for awhile, but it's nothing that a little healing, some time and physical therapy can't get around. Mr. Solo, am I to understand that you have medical power of attorney in these matters?" "That's right."
"Then I have some paperwork for you to fill out. It was nice meeting you, Mr. Tovay." The doctor nodded once more to Matt and started to lead Napoleon away.
"Why don't you let everyone at the restaurant know what's going on, Matt, and I'll be along as soon as I'm finished here," Napoleon said over his shoulder, to Matt. The man nodded and Napoleon could feel his stare long after they'd started down the hallway.
"Is he really going to be all right, Doctor?" Napoleon asked as they moved into the physician's office.
"That will depend upon him. From what I've heard and seen, he's a determined individual." Goyette gestured to a chair.
"You have no idea." Napoleon's laugh was sharp, even to his own ears. There was some shuffling of papers on the desk until Goyette found what he was looking for. He handed the clipboard to Napoleon. "You just need to fill out the highlighted areas and sign at the bottom. And it's pretty obvious he doesn't like doctors or hospitals."
"It also looks like he's seen his share of both considering what we found when we put him into a hospital gown. Much like you."
"We both have tales to tell." Napoleon's tone indicated he wasn't about to share any of them.
"Will he follow instructions?"
"Yes, providing they're properly given." Napoleon started working through the medical forms.
"Tell me what needs to be done and I'll see to it."
"How about his mental state?"
Napoleon stopped and looked sharply up at the doctor. "He's fine; why do you ask?"
"I mentioned earlier that he was agitated. He was insistent that he needed to get back to the restaurant in spite of the pain he was obviously experiencing. Is that sort of drive normal?"
"He is totally focused on Taste these days. I can get him away for a few hours or a day if I'm lucky."
"He's got to give himself time to heal. He can't go back there, at least not for awhile; is that going to be a problem?"
"Yes, it will be, but if you give it to him straight, you can pretty much count on him to make the right decision."
"How has he handled your recovery?"
"I won't lie and say it's been easy for either of us but we're doing our best. Why are you asking me this, Doctor?" Napoleon set the paperwork aside to study the man.
"He had what I can only describe as a panic attack when he realized you weren't in the exam room with him. We had a helluva time getting him calmed down. Has he had any counseling?"
"No. He did go with me a couple of times at first, but mostly for support. He never joined in the discussion." Napoleon resumed working on the papers.
"Frequently, in cases like this, it's not just the immediate victim who suffers." Goyette handed him more forms. "Just from what I've seen today, he's terrified of being away from you or his restaurant and I'm guessing that's not normal. You might want to take him along the next time and try to get him to open up."
"I think it's safe to say, Doctor, that's not going to happen. Illya is very tight lipped about things. There are aspects of his life that are still a mystery to me and I probably know him better than anyone else alive." Napoleon finished signing the papers and passed the clip board back. "I'd like to see him before I go."
"Of course, come with me."
Napoleon followed the doctor out of the office and through a short maze of corridors to a small suite. There was illumination in one corner, a small lamp, and Napoleon moved toward it and the bed beside it. He stared down at his partner's slack face for a long minute, brushing the hair from his forehead.
"Oh, Amante, what's happened to you?" he murmured, bending to kiss the brow. Even sedated, Illya thrashed restlessly. Napoleon squeezed his shoulder through the hospital gown and smiled as Illya calmed to his touch. "We know what Velon did to me, but I fear what he did to you was much worse."
'Flannel'. It was the first thought that crept into his head. 'No, not flannel, dryer duct lint.' Illya felt as if he was buried in it and had his head stuffed with it. It was in his mouth, his ears, even in his eyes. And for some reason it deeply amused him. He started to chuckle and the sound of his own voice made him even more amused. 'Wait, something happened.' He tried to kick his brain into gear, but it was drifting, aimlessly wandering and poking about in bits of shrubbery that lined the path of his mind. 'Ah, the glories of anesthesia.' It had been awhile, but he still recognized the sensation.
"Button, button, who's got the button," he said, or tried to. For some reason of its own choosing, his tongue had developed a stubborn streak. He coughed.
"Hey, Blue Eyes, welcome back to the waking world." 'Napoleon, thank God—such as he is,' Illya thought, and he managed to get one eye to crack open and blinked a couple of times at his lover. The other one decided it was happy as it was. "Thought you were going to sleep through to Christmas."
"Tired," Illya managed to get out after a couple of attempts and then he started to drift off again, humming softly to himself. He tried to shift, but gravity was annoyingly constant and he noted a stabbing pain in his right leg. It hurt, but at the same time it didn't... just like his hand. Oh, that's right, it got burned or something... He must be pumped full of some primo pain medication to be this adrift. "Why does my leg feel funny?"
"They had to take some skin grafts for your hand." Illya could feel the bed being elevated slightly or else he imagined it. At this point in time, he couldn't really tell... "Do you remember hurting your hand?"
"No...wait, I have a hand?" The fuzzy feeling wouldn't leave him. If he could just get up and move around a bit maybe it would help. He tried to sit up, but Napoleon placed a restraining hand against a shoulder and it took more energy than Illya had in him to fight it.
"Where do you think you're going, Tex?"
"Bathroom." It was a lie, but Napoleon didn't need to know that.
"That's going be tough with the catheter in." Illya watched Napoleon hit the call button and he surrendered to the obvious. In fact, it was so obvious that he started to laugh again.
"Oh, son, you are so wasted." Napoleon's voice was soft in his ear and Illya smiled, leaning into him.
"And you can't have any..." Or at least something close to that. He started to lift his right hand, but it wasn't having anything to do with him. His left hand was all tangled up with cords or string or some such nonsense.
"What do you need, Illya?"
Need? What did he need? Well, he needed a variety of things to be honest. Well, maybe wanted more than needed, but who the hell cared at this point? He didn't. "Home," he decided after a moment.
"Not for a few days yet. They want to watch you for infection and you'll be more comfortable here."
"I need...home." His neck was starting to feel like jelly. 'Mmm, jelly would good and some tea and some pair of skies...not that's not right...pir..oskies..yes!' "Home, need...to go...cook..." He sighed now, happy in Napoleon's arms for the moment. He suspected it was as close to home as he was going to get for awhile.
"You need to rest, Mr. Kuryakin."
One of his eyes, the only one open actually, drifted over towards the door and Illya frowned. There was something familiar about the man, but he didn't know why.
"Illya, do you remember Dr. Goyette?" Napoleon hadn't moved from his embrace and that should be telling him something, but Illya couldn't figure out what. Illya let out a deep sigh and his head lolled for a moment. Goyette approached the other side of the bed and flicked out a small flashlight. "I worked on you this morning." He flicked the beam into Illya's open eye and he immediately retreated away from it, eluding it and the doctor's grasp. "Obviously I need another hand here."
Illya felt Napoleon's hands on his face and stilled at the familiarity of the touch. "Try now, Doctor."
Again the light assailed him and Illya couldn't escape it this time. "Ow," he protested, not so much out of pain, but from frustration. "I'm fine."
"I'm the doctor here. Why don't you let me make that call?" His hand drifted down and touched Illya's forearm. Pain radiated up it and Illya winced in spite of everything. "I was going to ask if that hurt, but I guess I don't need to." A nurse entered, he murmured something to her and she left. "We see what we can do about making you more comfortable."
"Home?" Maybe if he tried long enough, they'd get tired of listening to him and let him go.
"You didn't tell me he had a sense of humor, Napoleon." Goyette stuffed a thermometer into Illya's mouth before Illya could speak again. The nurse returned and the doctor took a hypo from the tray she carried. "This is going to take that pain away." He injected the liquid into the IV line and returned the hypo to the tray. He retrieved the thermometer, studied it and returned it to the tray as well. "You are running a post op fever, Mr. Kuryakin."
Almost immediately, a purple haze started to settle around him and Illya started humming. 'Screw ost pop flexions.'
"Ah, I'd say the medicine has kicked in." The doctor's voice was distant and fuzzy now.
It was annoying like a gnat, so Illya hummed louder, interspersing words every now and again. "Flirting and dancing and dancing and flirting," he half sang.
"You just lie back, Mr. Kuryakin and let me do the driving."
"Okay." He was too drunk to drive anyhow, so he sang some more.
"I should be getting this on tape," he heard Napoleon say and he turned in towards the voice, smelling Napoleon's familiar scent.
"Mr. Kuryakin, can you feel this?" Goyette's voice drifted back to Illya. "Can you feel what I'm doing?"
All he wanted to do was go back to sleep, so Illya flexed his fingers, curling all save the middle one.
"Can you see what I'm doing?" Illya slurred.
"Mr. Kuryakin, there's no need to be crude." But the doctor was chuckling. "Open your hand and let me bandage you back up. We need to keep the hand as flat as possible to keep it from tightening up as it heals."
Illya was content, the medicine against his palm was cool and his mind started to wander away again. Then his head bobbed up as Goyette pulled off the dressing on his leg.
'Oh my God...well, someone else's God, they used skin from my leg for my hand. That means I'm going to have a hairy palm just like Mama warned me about... ' That reminded him of his song and he started to sing again, the few words he could remember. Then it all became too much to deal with, and feeling Napoleon close, he surrendered back to sleep again.
Illya stared out the window and tried to repress a sigh. He'd thought that getting home would make a difference, but it was worse in some ways. It was bad enough that he'd had to hear the story of his rather loopy first few days at the hospital again and again. The pain, even with the meds the doctor prescribed, was more than he'd experienced in quite some time. He'd forgotten how to function with the pain, how to use it and bend it to his will. Instead, it just hurt. His hand, all the way up to his shoulder, throbbed and that was with the meds. He'd only had to try toughing it out once to know he was too old to win that battle. The first two weeks, he took the painkillers, the antibiotics, and the muscle relaxants, slept as much as he could and let the world go by.
By the third week, his body had adjusted to the medication and Napoleon dragged him along on his weekly therapy session. Initially, he was just glad to be with Napoleon, so he didn't protest at first until the focus swung around and landed firmly in his lap. Illya tried to evade Dr. Hilbert's questions, but the combination of the medication, the barely masked pain, the therapist and Napoleon finally wore him down and made him break. It was ugly and angry and left Illya feeling both violated and strangely liberated at the same time.
The next trip had been equally unpleasant, but bit by bit, they started to peel away his fear of losing Napoleon, of having failed in his attempt to protect the most important thing in his life and his need to punish himself for that failure. Illya argued with them, insisting he was fine, but he only had to look down at the splint on his right hand to know the truth. It galled him to feel so exposed, but Napoleon was there, whispering the right words, giving him both strength and support to recover.
By week five, Illya started to feel like he was just starting to wake up from a long nap. Physical therapy was tossed into the mix along the way and he learned to deal with that as well. His hands used to be licensed weapons, now he could barely squeeze a rubber ball with the right one. Trying to pick up a Tiddly Wink disc frustrated him nearly to the point of tears.
Around the house, Napoleon was constantly at him to keep his splint on, to do his exercises and to be patient. To relieve some of the frustration he felt and to escape Napoleon's solicitousness, Illya started running again for the first time in years and realized how much he'd missed that sense of solitude. Of just being by himself and being comfortable with it and of knowing that Napoleon was safe and awaiting for his return.
Illya was in better shape than he'd been in for years, with the exception of his hand, but he still wasn't allowed inside his restaurant. All he could do was now rest his head against the window, stare out at his restaurant and sigh. He'd tried bullying, arguing, bribing, everything he could think of and still he sat, staring at door that so close and yet so thoroughly out of his reach. None of his staff was having any of it.
Hell, even his own kitchen was off limits, with either Napoleon preparing meals or Rocky bringing them something. It gave him a chance to taste what was coming out of the kitchen and make suggestions that Rocky carried back to Matt and Winston and that helped to a small degree, but it wasn't enough. He wanted to, no, he needed to cook.
Napoleon came in the front door, whistling something. It took Illya a minute to recognize 'On and On and On.' It must be the ABBA tune du jour in Taste tonight, he thought as Napoleon came up to him. It was funny to have their roles reversed. So many nights he came in the door doing exactly the same thing to find Napoleon waiting for him, smiling and welcoming. Now he returned the favor, but without the smile or welcome. He felt like a petulant child at best and still Napoleon loved him. Would wonder ever cease?
"How's the hand?" Napoleon asked after a kiss. He didn't mention that Illya had his splint off again.
"All of me is fine, thank you."
"Of that, I have no doubt." Napoleon reached down and took Illya's right hand, examining it. The burn was healing nicely, but it still wasn't pleasant to look at. The parts that the grafts didn't cover were shiny and angry looking. "Squeeze my hand."
Illya complied, used to the command by now. In spite his best efforts to crush Napoleon's fingers, the best he could muster was less than firm. Even if he could get back in the kitchen now, he couldn't hold a pan or even a knife with his hand yet. It hurt to admit that, even to himself. One minute of inattention and his career was practically in the shit can.
"Better. It's even stronger than it was a day ago." Napoleon leaned in for another kiss.
"You're lying, but thank you." Illya returned it. "Why do you put up with me, Napoleon?"
"Is this a trick question? Because I love you, Illya, and we took an oath, remember? Sickness and health and all that jazz? I know what you're going through, more than you will ever be able to believe. You will cook again; you need to give yourself time. It's only been a few weeks. It takes longer for us to heal now." Napoleon gathered him into a hug and Illya's arms came up reflexively to surround his partner's waist. Napoleon stroked Illya's temple with gentle fingers, then kissed him there. "Let me help you, just like you helped me."
Illya's response was another sigh, but he also nodded.
"Want to help me in the kitchen?" Napoleon asked, bringing the hand up to kiss the damaged palm tenderly.
"Dr. Goyette thinks, and I agree, it's time you start earning your keep around here again."
Napoleon's lips are so soft, Illya thought as they moved silkily down his temple to his jaw. Without conscious thought, Illya tipped his head back, letting his breath sync up with Napoleon's. As was his habit now, he kept his right fist clenched protectively, but his left hand tangled itself in the hair at nape of Napoleon's neck. He loved that Napoleon was wearing his hair a bit longer these days. It gave him more of a roguish look, not as polished and spit shined.
"Or would you rather go upstairs?" Napoleon whispered into his ear, his breath tickling. It had only been in the last two weeks that their sex life had come back from the dead. But it had returned with a vengeance. After months of pussy footing around, Illya could stand it no more and took Napoleon in a way he'd not dared since Velon's abduction. There had been some tense moments, but then acceptance, surrender and Napoleon had a very hard time walking the next morning, to Illya's amusement. Of course, he had pain pills and wasn't sharing.
The temptation was strong, but. "I thought we were going to the kitchen." "Not as appealing as the thought of you stretched out on the sheets." Napoleon nibbled his way down Illya's neck to the junction where it met his shoulder and bit lightly. Illya's breath caught. "The spirit sounds willing."
"As is the flesh," Illya conceded, but his eyes wandered over towards the kitchen door . "Ah, destined to always be in second place," Napoleon sighed and released Illya.
"I can...wait," Illya admitted, not moving.
"So can I. We have all night and I have a feeling that cooking is going to do you more good than any amount of sex."
"I don't know that I'd put that fine a point on it," Illya said, smiling.
"Good, then put your splint on and let's cook."
Napoleon expected the gasp when Illya walked in. He'd tried to keep things as clean as Illya liked, but his idea of clean and Illya's was miles apart. To that end, Napoleon had taken advantage of Illya's physical therapy, knowing that the man would come home, grey faced and tight lipped, take his pain meds and immediately drop into a deep sleep. He arranged for the kitchen staff come in and do a spit and polish. The kitchen hadn't been this clean in two months and Napoleon knew that Illya knew that.
"When did you do this?"
"This morning. I had a little help, though."
"Well, I figured it would be in bad form to send you back to the hospital with a heart attack when we'd just gotten you back on your feet." The kitchen door opened and Winston came in, wearing a chef's jacket and an apron. "And here is your tournant for the evening."
Illya glanced from one pair of hazel eyes to another. "I'm sensing an end run here."
"No end run," Napoleon assured him. "You still can't hold a knife, so let Winston do it for you."
"Anything you want, Illya, just tell me." Winston grinned.
For the first time in longer than he could remember, Illya felt a burden shift off his shoulders. "All right, mince some onions for me. Napoleon, would you bring the oven up to 400?"
"Sure, what are we doing?" Napoleon obligingly adjusted the oven's temperature.
"Cooking." Illya instinctively reached for a pan with his right hand and phantom pain seared up his arm, a sharp memory. This time, he knew the pan was cool to the touch and only a catch in his breath betrayed him. He switched hands and moved it to a burner.
"Napoleon, would you get some basil, rosemary and thyme from the garden, providing there's still any growing." Illya began to gather other ingredients together and glanced over as he heard Winston sniff. The young man had tears streaming down his cheeks. "I told you I'd have you crying in the first ten minutes," Illya said, smiling as he handed him a wet towel.
Napoleon gazed lazily into the fire and sighed happily. In his arms, Illya stirred briefly and settled back to sleep. Napoleon kissed his head and smiled. Winston was stretched out in the chair, feet on the coffee table, looking altogether too pleased with himself as he watched his uncle.
"Thanks, Uncle Napoleon." He lifted his glass to Napoleon and drank.
"For what? All I did was open a door, it was up to you to muscle your way in and stay there." Napoleon lifted his glass in return and drank. "Just stay on your toes, pay attention and you'll be fine."
Winston turned his attention back to the fire. After a long moment, he asked. "When did you know you were in love, Uncle Napoleon? I mean, really, truly in love?"
He had to think for a long moment. "I don't really know. There wasn't just a morning that I woke up and thought, 'Oh my God, I love Illya.' It just came to me gradually, simply one day, I knew I never wanted anyone else beside me."
"You are a hopeless romantic," Illya muttered, sitting up and stretching.
"One of us has to be. And you are still half asleep. I warned you about alcohol and pain medication."
"Mm, uh," Illya murmured. He stood up and stretched again. "Be here at ten tomorrow, Winston."
"You have physical therapy at ten," Napoleon murmured into his wine glass.
"Thanks, Illya." Winston started to grin widely.
"Don't thank me yet. If you agree to this, you cease to have an opinion and you cease to have any say. You will not complain, you will not argue, and you will not question my decisions other than to seek clarification. If I hear the words 'But I was taught,' this is over. And in the kitchen, you will address me as Chef. Do you agree to these terms?"
"Yes." Illya looked at him hard, scowling, and Winston added, "Yes, Chef, I understand."
Illya nodded and Napoleon watched as he struggled up the stairs and disappeared from view. "You'd probably better make that closer to one, Winston. It still takes him a little while to recover from PT."
"If it's all the same, Uncle Napoleon, I'm going to show up at eleven. If that's when Chef wants me here, that's when I'll be here, even if it means sitting around for a couple of hours." Winston stood and grinned happily. "I'll see you tomorrow morning, Unc."
Napoleon waited until he saw the light go on over Vinea before he locked up and set the alarm. As he expected, Illya was already sprawled, boneless, across the bed.
"Shift it," he advised, shoving Illya's legs out of his way. Illya mumbled and made a half-hearted attempt to crawl up onto his pillows. He nearly made it by the time Napoleon finished in the bathroom and had stripped off. "You're not going to sleep in your clothes, are you?" he asked, since the other man hadn't made any attempt to undress.
Napoleon laughed and turned off the light. As he expected, moments later he felt a weigh settle against him. He wasn't surprised that Illya had managed to lose his clothes in the brief time elapse.
"I have to drive over to Napa for a few days," Napoleon said, curling one hand up to fondle Illya's hair. For the first time in too long, Illya smelled right to him. He smelled of food and sweat and...something more elusive. Perhaps, confidence? "Are you going to be all right?"
"No, but I'll have Winston to train. That will help. I don't like it, but I know you'll be fine without me."
"Are you sure? I'll check in along the way."
Illya kissed him and nestled down. "If it gets too bad, I'll call Dr. Hilbert. Between the two of us, we'll manage."
It was what Napoleon had longed to hear, the old Illya once again self-assured and comfortable with his tiny spot on the universe. Napoleon shifted slightly, pulling Illya closer until the man lay half sprawling over him as if he were a living breathing quilt. Finally, at long last, they were both home.