Winner Takes it All
Living in a small village had never really appealed to Napoleon Solo. He'd traveled the world, seen more of it that most people would in a lifetime. He'd been to every major country and most of the small ones. He'd seen enough of the world to know his mind. For him, it was the big city that meant life, excitement and adventure. The irony that he would end up happily and voluntarily living in a town that possessed only two traffic lights never failed to amuse him.
Napoleon Solo whistled softly as he walked the planking that made up the sidewalks in the small village. His co-op class, Restaurant Management, had let out early tonight, giving him the opportunity to wander before returning to the restaurant where he now worked as their business manager. It was strictly in title only. While he had experienced with finances and knew his way around a balance sheet, he didn't know anything about restaurants. When the opportunity to take this class arose, he jumped on it.
It reminded Napoleon a bit of UNCLE, the thrill of having to assimilate large quantities of information in a short period of time. For the first time in what seemed an eternity, he was being challenged and he loved it.
He read everything he could get his hands on, exhausting Illya's collection of restaurant management books in a matter of days. Then it was off to the library, such as it was, and the bookstore to order what he didn't have. Not only did it give him a purpose to his life, something he'd been without since retiring from UNCLE, it put him more in touch with Illya's world. That more than made up for the displeasure of cramming himself behind a desk once a week for three hours of lecture.
He paused in front of a small office—'Ned Nichols, Attorney-at -Law' the door proclaimed. Napoleon reached out, tracing the letters with a finger. He hoped he was doing the right thing. It felt good, hell, it felt great, but he could only guess at Illya's reaction. There had been a time when he could second guess the Russian down to the smallest detail, but those days were behind him now for the most part. Napoleon grinned rakishly at the double innuendo.
The church's bell rang nine and Napoleon wandered down to his favorite antiques store to gaze into the display windows. He loved finding some little treasure to surprise Illya with. Illya was incredibly generous with his time and money to others, but surprisingly frugal when it came to his own pleasures. He blamed it on his Russian heritage, but Napoleon tended to think that it was because Illya tended to put everyone in his life before himself, a trait left over from their UNCLE days. If you were concerned with your own safety and welfare, you didn't go into Section 2.
It was amazing how much freer you felt when money wasn't an obstacle to what you wanted in life. Although he was careful not to throw his wealth around, it was of great comfort to him to know that he now could and would meet any financial emergency in their lives. The store was already closing, but the owner, a delectable lady called Monica, waved to him to come in.
It was no secret that the village already viewed him as a sophisticated world traveler who, for some unknown reason, had been taken enough with their town to settle down in it. To this small place, Napoleon represented the outside world, a newcomer from back East. There had been talk about his friendship with the chef and co-owner of Taste, but it was still mostly just that—speculation.
Time would have been not too long ago that he would have sweet talked Monica, praised her looks and admired her figure, all angled around getting her into bed, but not now. He still enjoyed the casual flirting, found that it made women much more amiable to his wishes. But now it wasn't what rocked his world, made his eyes roll back in pleasure or even made him erect. That pleasure began and ended with a certain blue-eyed blond and Napoleon wouldn't have it any other way.
"Didn't expect to see you tonight, Napoleon," Monica said from her spot behind the front counter. Her voice practically purred at him as her eyes roamed his body. "Did class get out early?" Like most small towns, here everybody seemed to know everyone else's business...well, almost. Napoleon's lips curled at the thought and Monica took it as a direct compliment.
"Had a substitute and he ran out of things to say after the first hour. No one realizes how hard it is space out your lecture material to the allotted time." Napoleon checked out the display case. "May I see the cuff links please?"
"Which ones?" Her hand hovered over three pairs.
"Ah, the blue I think. I have a blazer they'd go with, providing I ever get the chance to wear it again. Unless you're working out front, suits seem fairly optional."
"Speaking of that, how's Chef?" Napoleon smiled warmly at her. Everyone wanted to know about Illya. Being a premier chef in this part of the state made you the center of most people's attention, whether you wanted it or not, and Illya definitely didn't. Because of his working relationship with Illya, Napoleon was considered the 'go to' guy for an update on the blond and Illya, in turn, was comfortable knowing that Napoleon would never divulge anything important or tawdry.
"Well, if he'd settle on the new menu, we'd be much happier. If I hear the words 'taste this' one more time, I think I'm going to scream." He chose the cuff links, cerulean blue, and a pair of purple glazed porcelain cow salt and pepper shakers. Their shared expression reminded him of the sloe-eyed look Illya frequently wore after a satisfying bout of sex.
'And again with the sex, Napoleon, you'd think you never get any,' Napoleon chastised himself. He had to admit that all he needed to do was see Illya, even from afar, and his thoughts slid down into a well of depraved and lustful thoughts. Had he ever been that taken with a woman? Napoleon now couldn't remember, but he'd been married, so he must have had some thoughts like that. Monica was babbling on about some event coming to a nearby town and how this person or that was doing something that someone should think was important and all Napoleon could think about had having a certain hard muscled body beneath his.
Abruptly, he realized that Monica had stopped talking and was looking expectantly at him. He handed her the cows and cuff links. "I think just these tonight, Monica."
"Hmm, these remind me of Chef's eyes." Napoleon head jerked up until he realized she was looking at the cufflinks as they caught the light.
'Obviously another female who doesn't have a clue about the inner workings of my lover,' Napoleon decided as he pulled out his money clip. "I guess they do, a little. I hadn't really noticed," he said as he paid for his purchases and tucked the bag into his briefcase right beside a small box. His fingers lingered over the crushed velvet surface for a moment before he snapped the briefcase shut. Giving her a final smile, he wandered back out into the dusk. Thankfully, the encroaching night would help to hide his erection until he got calmed down again. The Russian made him feel like a schoolboy with his first issue of Playboy; Napoleon's stride widened.
The lights of the restaurant came into view and Napoleon quickened his pace, eager as always to return there. It had been years since he'd thought of where he lived as a home. He walked past the restaurant's main entrance, noting with pleasure that the parking lot was three quarters full. That was a good night for a Wednesday and it being after nine meant that this was probably a second seating for many of the tables.
Slipping through a gate in the hedge, he went around back to the kitchen entrance. Two kitchen staffers were sitting on a bench, outside the door, smoking and talking in low voices. They looked up as he approached and one lifted a hand to greeting.
"So how goes it this evening, Napoleon?" He recognized Jesus' voice before actually being able to make out the man's face. The baker was not usually at the restaurant during the evening; obviously he was also working to perfect a menu that would meet Illya's approval.
The heat belched out of the kitchen's open door, leaving a path of searing warmth behind and the evening was far from cool. Napoleon sidestepped out of its path. "I was going to complain that it was hot, but I think you have me beat on that."
"You know what they say about—If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen," the other man, Henry, spoke up. "As for the foothills, love the view, hate the heat. And don't give me any of that, but it's a dry heat kinda shit—hot is hot."
"You got that in one," Jesus muttered and slapped hands with Henry. "Well, back to the grindstone. Are you coming, Napoleon?"" He snubbed out his cigarette and stood, rubbing his lower back.
Napoleon let Jesus precede him. He set his briefcase down just to one side of the door. The staff inside didn't seem to notice the sweltering heat. They rushed from one point to another, plating food, cleaning, doing whatever it took to keep their guests happy.
It took him just a moment to locate his particular point of interest. Illya was working off to one side, away from the main part of the kitchen but still close at hand, should his presence be required. Matt was slaving over the stove tonight, chef's coat long abandoned, working to deliver the food the patrons of Taste had come to expect.
It looked he was working on a salmon filet, a standard on most restaurants' menus, but Taste was always pushing the envelope, always running after that final star that would mark them as one of the few five-star establishments in the state. Still, those stars were not given away easily. Matt ladled some vermouth over the fish and it flared before he doused it with fish stock and began to season it. The salmon was one of Napoleon's favorite items on the menu and he was going to be sad to see it replaced.
Likewise, Illya was sauting something. His pan also flared and he instinctively held it away from his face. He was totally absorbed in his task, adding this and that as he built his sauce. This was one of the things Napoleon enjoyed the most about Wednesday nights, those first few moments when Illya didn't know he was there, when Napoleon could see the man Illya had become in their years apart.
Roxanne paused by Illya and he glanced over at the plates she carried. He shook his head and she retreated back to the prep table. Something was obviously amiss with the plates, although they looked fine to Napoleon. A moment later, she was back and this time Illya nodded with a small smile and she was on her way, carrying the dishes to the pass through.
"I don't know how Chef does it. Where does he get his energy?" Jesus muttered. Napoleon had forgotten that man was still standing beside him.
"Your guess is as good as mine," Napoleon admitted. "I just wish a little more would rub off on me."
The entrance side of the kitchen door swung open and Rocky, the head waiter and, Napoleon suspected, part-time troubadour, entered. As usual, he was singing. Rocky always seemed to be singing, even more these days since he and Matt had gotten together. Napoleon was secretly delighted.
While he knew where he stood with Illya, Matt represented the gap in Napoleon and Illya's relationship. Illya readily admitted to having had a sexual liaison with the redhead and they were still very close, sometimes more than Napoleon liked, but on the other hand, Matt was the same way with everyone he knew and liked.
More than that, he trusted Matt. He'd taken him into his confidence one lazy afternoon while they were wine tasting, laying out a tentative future for Illya and himself. Matt had given his enthusiastic approval and support. In fact, Napoleon didn't know what he would have done without the man's help and cooperation during the past few weeks.
"There's no regret. If I had to do the same again, I would my friend, Fernando," Rocky was singing and dancing with his tray. For some reason, the waiter was fixated on the group ABBA and most nights treated the kitchen staff to their own concert. Unless, of course, something got him started on show tunes, then the night's entertainment often took a different course. Rocky was one of the few people Napoleon had ever encountered who seemed to know every song from every musical.
The waiter paused by Illya, looking over his shoulder at the pan. Napoleon couldn't make out the words, but Rocky picked up a spoon, dipped it into the sauce. Then he tasted and slowly shook his head. Illya's shoulders heaved and he nodded, head dipping with defeat.
"I was so afraid, Fernando. We were young and full of life and none of us prepared to die. And I'm not ashamed to say the roar of guns and cannons almost made me cry," Rocky sang, depositing the spoon into a small pan of soapy water. The fact that it was nearly full attested to Illya's struggle that night. The waiter moved closer to Matt, caressing his waist as he passed. Matt smiled appreciatively and suddenly Napoleon felt equally in need of touching the one he loved, his own amante.
Moving into the crowded kitchen, he paused to snatch a clean dish towel and soak it in an ice bath. Wringing it out, he walked over to Illya and draped it carefully across the Russian's neck. Illya started and then smiled as Napoleon used a corner of it to catch a trickle of sweat.
"You're all masochists. Why do you put up with this heat?" Napoleon muttered as he mopped the perspiration from the Russian's face.
"We prefer to think of it as making us stronger, not crazier, although the jury is still out on that. We are the Marines of the culinary forces."
"So, I'm guessing that instead of Sempere Fi, your motto is Simply Fry?"
A collective moan went up as kitchen staff turned to glare at Napoleon.
"You try to lighten the place up," Napoleon muttered as Illya twisted his head and risked a brief kiss. It was too public to do more than that.
The kiss was followed by a spoon and the command, "Taste this."
Obligingly, for there really was no other option, Napoleon dipped the tip of the spoon into the saut pan and then into his mouth. It was good, really good, but, "Not as good as the earlier one, Illya. That one was more...velvety? The flavor was more intense, but it was lighter. Does that make sense?"
"It does and you're right. Everyone seems to be in agreement, but I had to try this at least." Illya set the pan aside. "You're out of class early tonight." He wiped his hands on a towel that was tucked into his apron.
"Teacher ran out of things to say."
"Don? I don't believe it. He can talk forever on an endless number of topics. Trust me on this."
"He was out tonight." The earlier brushing of his lover's lips left Napoleon hungry for more. "Maybe you could sub next time...you have to be more interesting than that joker was."
"If I talked about restaurant management to your class, what you would be thinking about?"
"Having you, but it seems like that's all I think about these days," Napoleon admitted in a soft voice.
"My point exactly." Illya caressed his cheek and smiled, turning back to the stove.
"Have you eaten anything?" Napoleon had begun asking the same question every night when he discovered that Illya frequently neglected to eat when he worked the kitchen, and these past days he'd gotten worse as he struggled to find the perfect dishes for his new menu.
"Close enough. Do you want me to send something over for you? Something light?" Napoleon had settled into the house enough in that he was finding his way around the kitchen, but the resulting chaos often wasn't a pretty sight and Napoleon always had better things to do with his time than clean up the mess.
"That would be great. I'll see you in a couple of hours then."
Napoleon adjusted the cold towel one more time and squeezed the shoulders beneath it, frowning at the tension he felt corded there. He was going to have to do something about that later.
Napoleon was stretched out on the couch when he heard the front door rattle. The clock on the mantle read 11:15, so he knew the noise heralded only one thing. He set aside the book on finance he'd been staring at for the last half hour and glanced up as Illya trudged through the door, looking tired, but also exhilarated. That could only mean...
"You've settled on the menu." Napoleon said, swinging his legs off the sofa as Illya collapsed onto it. The blond head nodded once and Napoleon smiled. He knew how that had been dogging his lover.
Illya leaned forward and peeled his tee shirt off, dropping it unceremoniously onto the arm of the sofa, goose bumps decorating the suddenly bare skin. That accomplished, he stretched and collapsed back again. Napoleon reached over to adjust the table fan, acknowledging that while his actions seemed caring, they were, in fact, far more ulterior in motive. He knew Illya wouldn't welcome any physical contact until he'd cooled down a little. And Napoleon knew exactly how he'd heat the man right back up afterwards.
"About time," Illya muttered, taking a glass of water that Napoleon offered. It always amazed Napoleon just how much water Illya drank, but considering the dampness of his work clothes night after night, it was probably still not enough. Illya emptied the glass and Napoleon refilled it. "I didn't think we were ever going to get the sauce for that venison down," Illya admitted. "What did you think of the salad?"
Part of dinner tonight had included a spinach salad with strawberries, goat cheese and pine nuts, dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. It was a relatively simple salad for "Taste", but Napoleon had enjoyed the complexity of the flavors. He reached over and wiped his plate with a forefinger.
Leaning forward, he offered it and Illya smiling, opened his mouth, then quickly closing it around the finger, sucking and rolling his tongue around the digit. Napoleon closed his eyes at the sensation.
"Sweet," Illya mumbled around the finger, not showing any sign of releasing it otherwise.
"Pardon?" Napoleon asked. "The dressing?"
"You." Illya quickly swapped finger for lips, leaning into Napoleon with a speed that always surprised Napoleon a little. He frequently forgot just how fast the man could move when he wanted to. After a considerable interval of tongue wrestling, Illya pulled reluctantly away. "I need a shower before we take this to the next level."
"You smell like that brown sauce." Napoleon leaned back up for another kiss. "Taste like it, too."
"Considering how much of it I've consumed in the last three hours, I'm not surprised."
"You need help?" Napoleon dropped his hand to Illya's crotch, stroking the firm erection that pressed against the material, straining to escape.
"If I do, I'll whistle." Illya got to his feet. "Why don't you get us something to drink, iced preferably?"
Napoleon smiled as Illya, almost by sheer will, started dragging himself up the stairs. He wandered in to the kitchen, choosing scotch and vodka as opposed to wine this evening. Ice would dilute the Chenin Blanc that was chilling to the point of it having no taste. In spite of what Illya said, he also knew that Illya only drank his vodka neat, so Napoleon filled an empty glass with ice and water and also took a moment to grab the plate of cheese and fruit he'd put together earlier in the evening. He knew that after sex, Illya would be hungry...hell, Illya was seemed to be always hungry these day. Napoleon grinned again.
As he entered their shared bedroom, he could hear the shower running and Illya softly singing something. It only took him a moment later to recognize the chorus.
"I can dance with you, honey, if you think it's funny. Does your mother know that you're out? And I can chat with you, baby, flirt a little maybe. Does your mother know that you're out?"
Napoleon had to smile at the question. 'No, indeed she doesn't and I am just as happy to keep it that way,' he thought as he set the tray down and stripped off. He deposited his clothes and those of his partner in a nearby hamper and stretched out on the bed, welcoming the breeze from the floor fan. He lounged against the pillows, half listening to Illya sing, half seduced by the white noise of the fan into a languid doze.
A dip of the mattress suddenly told him he wasn't alone, but he didn't open his eyes, relying instead upon his other senses. The soft clink of ice against glass told him Illya had found the drinks. The lips that were pressed against his were cool, but the mouth was downright cold as Napoleon's tongue discovered a bit of ice hiding inside. He manipulated it a bit and then pulled back. "Take that out before you choke."
As Napoleon watched, Illya fished the piece of ice out of his mouth, holding it up for him to see and then began to trace a pattern on Napoleon's skin. Illya swirled it around one nipple, then another, alternately freezing them and then sucking them warm. It was as if his nerve endings went into hyperdrive and Napoleon listened to himself moan at the wet contact.
"You like that, do you?" Illya said, letting the water from the melting ice cube collect in Napoleon's navel before licking it out. He reached for his glass again and took a healthy swallow of the vodka and then dipped his fingers into the water glass. He popped another ice cube into his mouth and began to work his way down Napoleon's body as he in turn writhed and twisted on the bed.
When the ice actually hit the head of his penis, Napoleon thought he was going to come totally unglued and he bucked up with his hips, both eager and reluctant for more of the same. Illya caught him by the hips and held him down against the bed.
"Careful, you'll make me swallow my ice cube," he admonished, but Napoleon was having none of it. He grabbed Illya's head frantically, desperate for more. Illya settled against him and began to see just which one would melt first—Napoleon or the ice cube.
It turned out to pretty much be a dead heat, the last sliver of ice disappeared just as Napoleon groaned and curled his fingers into that blond hair, stilling the Russian, and climaxing in to his mouth.
"Where did you learn that?" Napoleon asked after he'd gotten back the power to form intelligible words.
"Remember Marion Raven?"
"You are kidding. She was such an innocent kid."
"Perhaps outside the bedroom, but inside, she was a wealth of knowledge. She taught me a few things that were a surprise even to me and I've been around the block a time or two."
"Or so the bathroom wall would lead us to believe," Napoleon said, finally turning his attention to his rapidly diluting Scotch. "Talk about still waters."
"Rather than still water, I'd perhaps prefer to discuss retaliation," Illya ground his erection into Napoleon's thigh and Napoleon smiled, even as Illya's hand was lifting to card through his dark hair. Napoleon was wearing his hair a little longer these days, as was the fashion and without the Brylcreme he'd previously been so addicted to.
"Hmm, recalling my history, I seem to recall that Napoleon was especially fond of retaliation." He set aside his drink and reached for Illya, pulling him down onto his sweat-slicked body and then rolling so that Illya was beneath him.
They moved deliciously against one another in slow languid thrusts until Illya was twisting, moaning incomprehensibly and only then did Napoleon take pity upon him and lower his mouth down over that straining erection, his fingers bruising the pale flesh of Illya's hips as he tried to keep the man from choking him entirely with the force of his thrusts. Then just when it seemed Illya was able to take no more, Napoleon released him and Illya groaned from the lost contact.
Knowing that Illya wouldn't last much longer, Napoleon immediately positioned himself and lowered himself onto Illya's erection. He closed his eyes against the brief pain as Illya instinctively slammed up into the heat. Once adjusted, Napoleon began a slow dance of lobs and parries, letting the incoherent babbling of his lover fuel his efforts.
He knew Illya had taken women to bed, they even shared on occasion, but he had never heard a woman elicit the sort of cries that he did from his usually reserved lover. Be he the giver or taker, Illya was vocal during their love making and that, in turn, made Napoleon that much more enthusiastic.
Suddenly, Illya threw his head back, arched and clawed at Napoleon's thighs, but Napoleon was too close to his own climax to pay attention. It was a sudden case of two evenly matched bodies, each determined to have their own way. This time Napoleon won and with two more strong strokes, his hand was suddenly flooded with his own ejaculate, even as he listened to Illya cry his own way to organism.
And for just a moment, there was nothing else, just the two of them. Napoleon always wanted the moment to linger longer than it did, but faintly the sound of the fan gnawed through to him, then the cricket that had taken up residence in the closet, and the moment was lost. Their hearts slowed, their breathing calmed and reality settled back around them. At least until they recaptured it again in their next interlude.
He slid off Illya and discreetly wiped his hand on the sheet before taking the glass Illya offered him. He ran the glass over his face before taking a swig. "You're going to kill me, Kuryakin," he mumbled. "But what a way to go."
"That is my fear as well." Illya selected some cheese and smelled it before popping it into his mouth. "You're too good to me, Napoleon."
"Hmm? And here I thought it was the other way around." He smiled just enough so that he was sure Illya picked up his drift.
"Later right now I'm hungry," Illya said and Napoleon pushed the plate closer, delighted that he was able to so easily read Illya. Illya tipped his head back and dropped another bit of cheese into his mouth. Napoleon passed over the cheese for the fruit instead, dipping it first into Illya's vodka before eating it. "To that means, however, I have something for you." Reluctantly, the blond rolled off the bed and went over to the dresser. He pushed items around for a moment before returning with an envelope, which he handed to Napoleon and then disappeared into the bathroom.
Curious, Napoleon set his drink down and opened the envelope. Two pieces of paper were folded up inside a larger sheet of driving directions. "What are these?" he asked as Illya returned, wash cloth in hand. He draped it almost reverently over Napoleon's genitals and settled back down beside him, gently stroking him through the cloth.
"What do they look like?"
"Theater tickets, after a fashion." Napoleon found his attention beginning to wander slightly from the bits of paper to his partner's actions.
"And again you answer your own questions. That's what I like about you, Napoleon."
"But I don't understand. There are no theaters here."
"You're right. Those are for Murphys. I figured you've been so gracious and accommodating around here, the least I could do would be to take you out on a proper date."
Napoleon studied the tickets more closely. "But these are for Saturday night."
'Nothing gets past you, does it?"
"But the restaurant...I thought you said..."
"I did, but there are times when other things need to take precedence. Matt is more than capable of running the restaurant for a couple of nights. It'll be good practice for him when he has his own place."
"I made reservations at Bambridge House. Carl and Michael run it, you'll like them. I thought we deserved a little down time, just the two of us."
"Illya..." Napoleon's voice faltered for a moment. "I don't know what to say."
"Then kiss me and be done with it." And Napoleon did considerably more than that.
Napoleon climbed off the back of the motorcycle and studied the small inner courtyard of the hotel. According to Illya, the Bambridge had started out life as a mansion, but now it was a B&B. There was also a passable restaurant attached to it that was Michael's passion, while Carl ran the hotel. Illya was as interested in sampling the cuisine as Napoleon was in talking shop with the business owner.
He had to agree with Illya that a motorcycle was the best way to get around these back hills, but he wasn't sure if his decision was due to convenience or the fact that he'd just spent the last two hours with the vehicle thrumming beneath him. It was like sitting on a giant vibrator.
Running a fast hand over his pants to casually readjust himself, he followed his partner up the stairs towards the lobby. The door opened into a tiny room with a huge staircase on one side, a doorway leading off into the dining room on the other, and the final wall was covered with artwork, books and maps of the area. Stuffed to the right of the staircase was a tiny wooden desk, 19th century from the look of it, Napoleon decided.
The desk clerk glanced up from behind the desk and then grinned. "Illya Kuryakin, it's been too long! What the hell have you been up to?" He was around the furniture and had embraced the Russian before Illya could even open his mouth. Still he took the hug with a warm smile.
"So I take it you two know each other?" Napoleon quipped and the man hurriedly dropped his arms.
"Sorry! Sorry! He's a friend of mine!" Carl was immediately defensive.
"Not to worry, Carl; this is my partner, Napoleon."
"Partner or...partner?" Carl asked, running an appreciative eye up and down Napoleon's trim form.
"Whichever one means we're sleeping together," Illya said, grinning. "How's Michael?"
"He'll scream when he hears you're in town. Literally scream." To Napoleon—"Michael's a big screamer."
"Yeah, I got one of those too," Napoleon murmured softly in Illya's ear and thought he detected just the hint of a blush tinge Illya's cheeks. Or it could have just been wind burn.
Carl apparently didn't hear or chose not to and moved back around the desk and began to shuffle paper. "Okay, if you want to fill this out, I've gone ahead and put you in the cottage as usual." He turned his attention to Napoleon, who was filling the moments by glancing through a small brochure. "Have you ever been to Murphys before?"
"No, first time I've been outside of Jackson since I got here, unless you count wineries," Napoleon answered, returning the brochure to its stand. "But I am to understand that you have some first rate entertainment here."
"I'm taking him out to Stevenot tomorrow," Illya said, by way of explanation. "Thought we'd do the town until then."
"Well, that will take all of an hour. How will you fill the rest of the time?" Carl grinned a large, cat eating the canary grin. "What time would you like dinner tonight?"
Napoleon did a fast calculation in his head. If this restaurant was anything like his—he smiled at that thought—then the first wave would be through at about 7:30. "How about eight? Illya?"
"Eight is more than fine." Illya signed the paperwork and passed it back to Carl. "Maybe we can catch up later on in the bar."
"Nothing would make me happier." Carl hesitated and then, "And so how's that red-head of yours?"
Napoleon felt himself bristle at the suggestion, but he squashed the surge of jealousy, determined not to let anything intrude upon his plans for this trip. His hand sunk to a pants pocket feeling for a small box secured there. Thus assured, he refocused upon the hotel's proprietor.
"Matt is fine and slaving away over a hot stove for me tonight. I'll be sure to tell him you asked after him." Illya started for the door, pausing only for a moment as Napoleon fell into step beside him.
Together they moved like a well-oiled machine as Illya led the way from the courtyard, through a small outside patio area where some guests had gathered for cocktails, and to a small house. The porch was large enough to accommodate two chairs and the railings decorated with old fashion climbing roses, bougainvilleas and vines, a haven of coolness against the harsh sun.
The door opened to reveal a room from the turn of the century, a heavy dark four poster bed complete with a canopy occupied the center of one long wall and complimented a sofa and two seriously uncomfortable looking chairs, a substantial bookcase, complete with book and, a small sculpted dining table with matching chairs. Everything was done in deep saturated colors of rust and burgundy.
"I know you're a bit more nouveau dcor, but this room does have a couple of things in its favor—privacy and a bathtub." Illya nodded to a partially ajar door and Napoleon frowned, curious as to why Illya felt the need to mention it. At least until he saw it.
"Illya, that's not a bathtub, it's a swimming pool."
"In any event," Illya paused to check his watch—"It takes about 20 minutes to fill and we have just under two hours to kill."
"Just enough time to unpack and get into something more comfortable." Napoleon said, his smile climbing all the way to his eyes. "I like the way you think, my friend."
"Then you know what I think about unpacking."
"You start the water, I'll grab our duffle bag." Napoleon was back out of the darkness and into the bright sun in a heartbeat. He paused to study the area in front of their room. Set off from the hotel, it faced a quiet one lane road. The lawn in front was neatly trimmed and two dogs lazed in the shade provided by an ornamental maple tree. Still, he wasn't interested in the carefully manicured lawn or hedges—he had just one thought on his mind.
In hindsight, Napoleon had to admit that while the bathtub was nice, he much preferred their own. This one was large, true, and good for some things, but he still preferred the closer contact of the smaller claw-footed bathtub.
The food at the B&B's restaurant was good, but it wasn't great. The sauces were heavy and thick, the vegetables without imagination, and the starches lackluster. He'd much prefer to be dining at home in their small kitchen with a nice bottle of merlot and some of Jesus' crusty French bread.
"I'm spoiled," he admitted, abandoning his pepper steak for his wine glass.
"I would tend to agree, but to what do you attribute this recent insight?" Illya shifted his attention from his plate of Korean pork and spinach to Napoleon's face. Napoleon had always enjoyed Illya's habit of looking directly into a speaker's face. It would often unnerve a bad guy to the point of distraction, always an advantage.
Napoleon glanced around to make sure there was no one important within hearing distance and gestured to his plate. "The food—I think you've ruined me for life. I mean, your sauces are complimentary and you can always taste the entre. All I can taste here is a rather mediocre sauce."
"Different styles of training, my friend. I was taught on this coast. This chef learned back East. We tend to approach food differently here than the rest of the country. It's a relatively new movement, but it has sound backing behind it. Allow the flavor of the food to come through- don't overpower it."
"Whatever, I still say you've ruined me for anything else." Napoleon replaced his glass and Illya reached out, staying Napoleon's hand for a moment, stroking the back with a gentle finger.
"And for that I thank you." Just as smoothly, Illya shifted his hand to pick up his wine glass. Napoleon felt a sudden twist of anger, mad that they constantly had to hide their love from a disapproving world. Even though Michael had tucked them into the most secluded bit of the restaurant, they were still on display. A voice found its way to him, a voice he never wanted to stop hearing—"Napoleon?"
"Are you all right?" Illya's eyes searched his face and Napoleon smiled.
"I'm fine, why?"
"Your eyes got hard for a moment."
"Just thinking about the unjust attitude of the homophobe."
"That too will pass someday...I hope."
"So, what were you talking about?
Illya held up his glass. "This is a wonderful zinfandel you picked out. If you ever get tired with fixing our books, you could always get a job as a sommelier."
"Illya, just as word of caution, never use the words 'fix' and 'books' in the same sentence when talking to an accountant. As for the wine, it would go well with the venison," Napoleon said, returning to his steak. "If not this. I don't think anything can help this. Illya, how should I do broach the subject when they ask me how I enjoyed the meal?"
"Napoleon, I happen to know that no one can spin a better tale than you. It always used to amaze me to listen to how easily you made the improbable seem likely. Be honest, but not brutal and instead of concentrating on what you didn't like, stress what you did. That will speak volumes to the chef."
"How about you?"
"I'm going to lie through my teeth." Illya barely suppressed a smile. "Never fear, Napoleon, the pastry chef here is stellar. I've been trying to hire him away for years, but he's too rich for my blood, plus I don't think I'd be as welcome here if I did." Illya flicked his attention towards the bar, but Michael was still busy attending to his customers. A Friday night was always busy, no matter the restaurant.
"But you and Matt trained under the same chef and his food's very different from yours."
"Matt's technically the better chef—I tend to cook more with my senses, less by the book. It led to some very...interesting discussions when we were first starting out." Illya took another swallow of wine and reached for the bottle. Napoleon knew that Rocky would have never allowed such an oversight of an empty glass in their dining room and felt a little burst of pride. Even with as little training as he'd racked up in the past eight weeks, he was already beginning to understand what set Taste apart from the other eateries.
Napoleon reclined back upon the feather pillows and thought back on the evening. The production of 'Twelfth Night' had been spirited. He'd seen productions that had better scenery, more professional costumes, but never had he seen one with quite so much heart. The actors and actress were doing their best and having a ball with the sheer silliness of the show. Napoleon liked to supposed, that the Bard had intended the sense of play when he'd written it.
Having a winery sponsor the event and provide the acting space was a genius move to Napoleon's way of thinking. The winery made out like a bandit by selling their wine to a, quite literally, captive audience and the production had the advantage of having a little money to spend on costumes and the set and a bit more stability. Like so much else up here in the foothills, the community rallied to their support and the program went on for pages of ads and acknowledgements. Napoleon was pleased to see that even Taste had an ad in the booklet.
The whole evening had been an adventure—from the picnic hamper dinner of locally produced cuisine, to the wine, not the best he'd had, nor the worse, and the sheer delight of spending time with his best friend. It had taken him time to realize that it hadn't been the loss of his lover that had plagued him so much those first months after Illya had disappeared. Instead, it was the emptiness that losing his friend had caused. He and Illya had been friends long before taking that final step in their relationship. And Napoleon had felt that loss as keenly as he had his lover.
They had sat on a blanket, dined on fried chicken and sipped a well chilled chardonnay, before abandoning it for a merlot and then a port as the meal progressed. Napoleon had never thought to pair port with chocolate, but now he couldn't imagine not having one without the other. They talked, laughed and let the moments trickle by until it was time for the show to start. Once that happened, Napoleon found himself swept away. At one point, Illya touched his arm and pointed skyward at a meteor shower and Napoleon found himself strangely choked by the simplicity of the moment.
Illya finished brushing his teeth and shut off the bathroom light, his form momentarily silhouetted by the moonlight streaming in from the bathroom windows as he walked to the bed. Illya settled beside him and Napoleon reached out to fondle his hair. He permitted it for a moment and then pulled his head away, out of arm's reach.
"The truth, Napoleon—what is your fascination with my hair?"
Napoleon considered the question for a long moment, finally admitting, "I don't know, to be honest. I like the way it feels, the way it smells, but I can't really tell you why." He surged forward to embrace Illya and pulled him closer. "But I can always tell it is you by your hair. Good thing they never tried to swap you out for a double. One touch would have given him away."
"Nice." Illya settled down against Napoleon. "I do have one question though."
"Yes?" Napoleon, Illya's hair back within fondling range, was content.
"Who was Cesario again?"
"Cesario was Viola."
"Who was in love with Orsino, who was in love with Olivia who was in love with Cesario?"
"On the nose."
"Who was a woman...and would have originally been played by a man, so we would have had a man pretending to be a woman pretending to be a man in love with a man who was also in love with a woman, also a man, but being portrayed as a woman in this situation, being in love with a man pretending to be a woman who is really a man." Illya sighed. "I am very confused. And they say Russian literature is hard to comprehend."
"Needless to say, but I noticed you were also laughing."
"I can laugh without necessarily understanding. After all, it's how I got through my first year of being partnered with you."
"Oh, is that right?"
"Uh huh." Illya tilted his head up and kissed Napoleon's chin. "That's one of the things that first attracted me to you. You made me laugh, even when I didn't know why. No one else was ever able to do that."
"Well, I guess I can live with that."
"But can you live with me?"
"What frightens me more is the thought of living without you again." Napoleon grew silent for a moment. "Those were the worst years of my life, Illya. Not knowing if you were even alive or dead."
"You seriously didn't think I'd kill myself over you?" Illya propped himself up on his forearms, studying Napoleon's face intently.
"No, but you had made some powerful enemies, enemies with very long memories." He brushed the damp hair from Illya's forehead. "I was always afraid one of them would find you before I did."
"I know this might be quite the blow to your ego, Napoleon, but I can take care of myself."
"Of that I have no doubt...now. However, then I was dealing with some serious guilt. It was...convenient to go off the deep end."
"And this guilt, it's not so serious now?"
"I'm trying to make amends for it."
"There's nothing to make amends for, Napoleon. I want you with me because you want to be here, not because you think you owe me something. That debt was paid long ago. I was foolhardy and believe me when I say that is one trait I have been working to rid myself of. It was my mistake, but we both seem to have paid the price for my rashness."
"So you're willing to take a chance on me?"
"Not so much taking a chance, more like betting on a sure thing." Illya settled back down at Napoleon's side and sighed. "Still there's just one more question to settle if you are really as committed as you say you are."
"How can you even ask this after all this time? Of course, I'm committed a hundred percent, heart and soul."
"So where are you going to do it?"
The question made Napoleon frown—do what where? Have sex? He'd just about exhausted that avenue in the small house they shared. They made love in nearly every room and upon nearly every available surface, with the exception of the kitchen. For some reason, Illya refused to have sex in that room. "So I'm guessing I don't understand the question, amante. Do what?"
"Get your tattoo."
"My what?" Napoleon suddenly felt a surge of panic set it. "Um, I thought we were talking about sex."
"You always do." Illya gave him a smile, a tiny secret smile that made Napoleon's heart sing and his penis, silly thing, suddenly take notice. "However I do occasionally think of other things as well as I'm sure you do."
"A tattoo—I don't know, Illya, that's a pretty big step. I mean, it's permanent."
Napoleon rolled over and retrieved a small box, the one that he'd been carrying around with him for weeks, hell, for years now. One he'd intended to give Illya ten years ago the night before he'd walked out, before Napoleon's life came crashing apart at the seams. He'd had the perfect scenario playing out in his head and when Illya had arrived home from headquarters, tired and argumentative, he'd delayed it, giving instead into words that boiled over into the mother of all shouting matches. They'd made peace after awhile if not love and Napoleon had begun to question his own judgment and his own reasoning. But no more.
He opened the box and drew out a ring, a simple band of gold—nothing ostentatious would do for the Russian. Sliding it on Illya's left ring finger, Napoleon smiled sadly. "I meant to do this a few years ago, but because of my pigheadedness, I never got around to it. Not that our union is any more legal or binding now than it would have been then. I want you to take this in the spirit that it's given and know that I am serious about my love for you, amante."
"I don't know what to say, Napoleon." It was obvious Illya was not prepared for this. He stared at the ring and then back at Napoleon's face, his brow furrowed.
"I was rather hoping it would be yes."
Illya smiled shyly, eyes lowered. "Then, yes with honor." He surged forward for a kiss. "But what of you?"
Napoleon took Illya's right hand and brought it up to his collarbone, a spot that, for some secret reason, Illya marked again and again during their lovemaking. "Here, I think, to help keep me focused and to remember what's important." Illya had used the same words when explaining why he'd chosen the spot he had for his tattoo.
Illya dropped his mouth to the spot, licking, biting and sucking the soft surface until a burst of red was beneath his lips. Then he started a slow crawl up Napoleon's neck, sampling the salty sweat of his skin, bathing his tongue over hollows and crevices until he was up to the jaw line. Napoleon leaned his head back, luxuriating in the feel of Illya's tongue roaming his neck until finally arriving at his lips. It always amazed him that, despite speaking a dozen different languages, the one Illya was the best at didn't need any verbal skills. He spoke it with his hands, his body and his eyes and Napoleon found himself eager as always to listen.
Their tongues met a moment before their lips and the resulting kiss was a delicate dance of lips and tongue until passion started to wheedle itself in, stoking the fire, begging for more.
Napoleon enjoyed the more demanding side of Illya's nature now. Unlike the old Illya, this one knew what it wanted and took it with a gentle forcefulness. It had taken Napoleon by surprise at first, but now he encouraged it.
For a strange reason, it suddenly struck Napoleon how unlike his other conquests Illya was. Illya was the only man he'd ever been with, ever wanted to be with sexually. He couldn't explain it, nor was he sure he really wanted to. His women were soft and yielding where Illya was hard and muscular, the women curvaceous when Illya was flat planes and angles.
More than that, in bed they were equals, giving and taking, neither the master of the other. No woman had ever made his body sing the way Illya did—no woman ever took the liberties that Illya demanded or just as easily surrendered to.
Illya had twisted in bed, working a delightful path down Napoleon's chest, pausing to give each nipple equal loving attention. Napoleon opened eyes that had been clenched closed in delight to see Illya's own body just a few tantalizing inches from his. He pulled the slender frame towards him and let his mouth begin its own exploration smiling as Illya half moaned his acquiescence to Napoleon's touch.
Illya's uncircumcised penis had been one of the first Napoleon had seen and it had fascinated him from the moment he'd glimpsed it in the gym shower. It had taken considerable time to work up enough nerve for him to ask about it and caused even more distress the first time they went to bed. Illya was patient and answered his questions truthfully, if initially slightly embarrassed. Now Napoleon found that extra bit of skin fascinating and very Illya.
He felt Illya's breath against the tip of his own penis and encouragingly licked his way up Illya's. While Napoleon delighted in mutual oral sex, there was always the risk of letting one's attention stray too far and forgetting the task at hand...well, at mouth, in this case.
He took Illya's penis into his mouth before the Russian had the chance to engulf his, although he was only a hair's breadth behind, sucking, licking, moaning. The vibrations made Napoleon's nerves sing and he was sorely tested to remember that he had his own mission to complete.
In the end, he was the one who lost out to the physical pleasure, clutching at Illya's ass as he skyrocketed to climax, feeling Illya gladly accept his ejaculate, the mere motion of swallowing encouraging Napoleon's throes to continue for a moment longer.
While all he wanted to do was relax, Napoleon suddenly realized he was remiss in his duties and began to eagerly work Illya's shaft, taking him as deeply into his throat as he could. He worked his hands, kneading strong fingers into tender flesh, knowing that, like him—as climax approached, Illya didn't mind just a little pain, demanded it—in fact. Illya had reached the incomprehensible babbling stage and Napoleon knew the time was right. He sucked harder, matching Illya's rhythm, and then just as Illya stiffened, Napoleon slipped a finger inside and Illya cried out, suddenly paralyzed, torn between thrusting both forward and back at the same time.
Napoleon swallowed and that was enough of a trigger. He could feel Illya's fingers entwined in his hair dig involuntarily into his scalp as the blond climaxed. Napoleon sucked and then held him in his mouth until he could feel solid flesh begin to soften. Reluctantly he released his hold and pillowed his head onto Illya's thigh.
"Impossibly so. A man shouldn't be allowed to climax like that."
"Think of it as cardiovascular exercise." Napoleon lifted his head so Illya could turn around, capturing that incredible mouth for just a moment, tasting himself and Illya in a delightfully heady cocktail of life. He reached out and held up Illya's hand that so that the light could reflect off the gold. He kissed both the finger and the ring simultaneously. Glancing up, he grinned. "You have a decidedly goofy expression on your face, Mr. Kuryakin."
"Likewise, Mr. Solo, I wonder why?" He settled back against his lover, wrapping one of Napoleon's arms around him. "Matt is going to go through the roof about this you know."
"What makes you think he doesn't know?"
"Because he can't keep a secret to save his soul."
"Then apparently he's got more fortitude than you give him credit for."
"So did Rocky." Napoleon readjusted himself more comfortably. "We'd been trying to figure out how to accomplish this and you did it all by yourself. They want a party, you know."
"And Matt says that he knows someone who will officiate. It would only be on paper, but you've had my heart and soul for a long time, Illya; now you'll be my legal heir. The paperwork has already been filed. You've been listed as my next of kin and my will states that if anything happens, you're my sole beneficiary." Napoleon reached over to the night stand and picked up his watch. "As to the other, well, in exactly three more minutes, Mr. Kuryakin, you are going to be a very wealthy man."
"Remember all those trips Matt and I took to those wineries? There were a couple side trips to a local attorney's office. Matt was my witness as I signed over half my worldly goods to you."
"Napoleon, I don't want..." The old Illya surfaced, the one fiercely independent, determined to rely upon no one but himself.
"Exactly, that's what made you, and now Taste, the perfect choice." Napoleon brushed his hand through Illya's hair. "This needed to be done, Illya, and who better to trust my possessions to than the one I've already entrusted my heart to?"
"How am I supposed to explain this to everyone?"
"Well, you can either tell them the truth or say you discovered you have a very rich uncle."
Illya snorted, but smiled. "Funny."
"Let's see how funny you think it is on April 15th." Napoleon kissed his brow and settled back against the pillows.
"Napoleon, what are you doing?"
"Um, well, I've eaten, proposed, had mind blowing sex and made you my legal partner. I'd say sleep is on the agenda now."
"You just handed me this incredible gift and you want me to sleep?"
"No, I want me to sleep; what you do is entirely up to you." Napoleon reached for the light switch. "However, I would suggest giving the restaurant a call. They've been waiting all night. Roxanne is probably bald from tearing her hair out."
"They all knew?"
"I'm going to fire all of them."
"Good idea, then hire them back at twice their salary. You can afford it."
"That was pretty cocky of you." Illya reached for the phone. "What if I hadn't said yes?"
"Then I would have worn you down with my amazing good looks and abundant charm." Napoleon smiled as Illya began to dial. He stretched out on the sheets and reached for a glass of water. Up to this moment, he hadn't been sure how Illya would react to his proposal. The Russian was so stubborn, so independent that to have refused the ring couldn't have been causally dismiss as nonsense. Now he sipped water and watched as the man talked excitedly into the phone and he knew he'd been worrying about nothing. Illya was obviously prepared to welcome him into his life, lock stock and barrel as he was Illya.
And he, the married man, he couldn't stop thinking about a scene from "Much Ado About Nothing," in which Benedict first rallies against marriage and then, eventually, welcomes it with open arms, just as Napoleon was doing now. Yup, life in a small town; why would anyone want anything else? To Napoleon's way of thinking, he'd found Nirvana, Shangra La and heaven all in one tidy little blond package.