Head Over Heels
It had been one of those nights at Taste. They didn't happen very frequently, but when they did, it was a blistering slap across the face. For one reason or another, be it the way the stars lined up, be it some Divine Intervention, Illya had no way of knowing why it happened. Yet as the night progressed, he watched his highly trained and very skilled crew crumble into an act worthy of the Three Stooges...
One waiter decided to blast through the wrong kitchen door and crashed into Rocky, sending them both to the floor with an enormous amount of noise. A plate came back, the entrée deemed too salty to eat. Illya had personally re-cooked the entrée only to have the patron declare it worse than the first attempt. Illya hadn't gotten into a fight with him, but it was close and the man's departure wasn't something that would help business.
Then, they ran out of a wine, a first, and Celeste dropped a $300 bottle of scotch, sending a shower of alcohol all over herself and three guests. Thankfully, no one was injured, except Stella who sliced a finger cleaning up the glass. Then the convection oven turned up its toes and died, but only after completely charring a Crème Brulee and sending horrific fumes through the kitchen and restaurant.
If there had been a Michelin reviewer in the place, this night would have cost him a star.
Illya unlocked the front door of the house he shared with his partner and slipped inside. Shutting and bolting the door, Illya leaned against it and sank to the floor. He stank from the smoke and his back and feet were competing to see which one of them could ache the most. He really wanted to take a long hot bath, but Napoleon was undoubtedly asleep by now. Perhaps tomorrow, he would coax Napoleon into the tub and they could soak the morning away.
Illya felt a nudge to his leg and he smiled at Beurre Noir. The little tabby rubbed against the rough material of the chef pants, purring and chirping. Illya reached out a finger to scratch her chin and then yanked his head around at the unmistakable sound of a cat with a hairball.
He got to his feet and swayed for a moment at the lightheadedness that threatened to take him down to his knees. He looked around to try and to find Moutard, but when he did, it was too late.
Of course it had to be on the cover of a new cook book, one that he'd been given the task of reviewing, one that was still a work in progress... Moutard regarded him with a look of superiority and pride.
See what I did for you? Aren't you proud? the slanted green eyes seemed to be asking. Illya cleaned off the manuscript as best he could and felt his stomach roil at the smell. It was probably good that he'd not eaten anything for the last few hours, otherwise, he'd have another mess to clean up.
He set the manuscript on the kitchen table, hopefully out of harm's way, and washed his hands, wincing as the soap stung the numerous cracks and splits in his fingers. He hated the change from summer to fall with its drying humidity. There was always about three weeks that his hands got so dry and chapped that no amount of lotion helped, not that he could have anything on his hands while he was cooking. He knew he needed to break down, slather his hands with Corn Husker's Lotion, and go to bed with his hands encased in cotton gloves. Yet, it always kept him from sleeping, and even with tomorrow being Monday and his day off, he was reluctant to lose sleep, not with Winston gone and Matt's unable to concentrate.
The Italian had recently received a letter from his sister, telling him that their father was ill and his mother needed him to come home. Matt was torn; he had a loyalty to the restaurant and Illya, but famiglia è famiglia. At any other time, Winston would have been able to pick up the slack, but he was attending a class in San Francisco for the next month, leaving Taste shorthanded at the height of their busy season. Illya had pressed Matt to leave, but instead the redhead contented himself with phone calls and beating himself up with guilt. It wasn't doing him or Taste any good, but Illya couldn't make Matt see that.
Illya wouldn't mind a night of staying awake, not if he was being properly motivated. It seemed like forever since he and Napoleon had watched the sun rise through sleepy eyes after a night spent in each other's arms. Their days were so busy now, if they had time for sex; it was frequently more of a slam dunk process than protracted lovemaking. It wasn't that neither of them wanted to, there just didn't seem to be the time anymore. Maybe tomorrow he would just let the world hang itself and he'd stay in bed all day and convince Napoleon to do the same.
Illya dried his hands carefully and opened the refrigerator. He didn't have the energy to make anything, but he knew he needed to eat or there would be hell to pay later in the night. He settled for a huge bowl of cereal and tried not to reflect upon the irony of the moment. He'd recently been named one of the state's top chefs and here he sat, eating stale cereal. It had been weeks since he'd puttered about the kitchen, Napoleon sitting at the table kibitzing and laughing while they drank wine and just enjoyed being with each other. Tomorrow night, he'd have to find the energy to try something new and surprise Napoleon with it.
Illya walked quietly up the stairs, trying to avoid the squeaky steps. Even the remodel hadn't helped; it merely moved the creaks to new spots. He pushed open the bedroom door and smiled. The nightstand light was still on, but Napoleon was slumped in sleep, the novel he'd been reading open and Napoleon's glasses dangling precariously on the tip of his nose.
Illya crossed to the bathroom and stripped quickly. He should shower; he was sweaty and the smells of the kitchen clung to him like a frightened child, but all he wanted was to crawl into bed and settle down beside Napoleon. The shower could wait until morning. He brushed his teeth and headed for bed.
He knew if he tried to keep from waking Napoleon, his stealth would have the opposite effect. So he slipped the book from Napoleon's hand and removed the glasses only to be met by a sleepily mumbled, "You're home."
Illya kissed Napoleon's head and smiled. "Yes, finally, go to sleep." He shut off the light and walked around the bed, stubbing his toe and barking his shin in the process. Cursing, he collapsed onto the mattress. He really needed to either break down and bring in a maid service or get his act together and shovel out at least the bedroom. He'd make that decision tomorrow morning.
"Just a rotten end to a rotten day." Flexing his aching foot, Illya slipped in between the sheets and settled back. "Tomorrow has to be better." At least it was Monday...
"I've been called out of town tomorrow," Napoleon mumbled, still more asleep than awake.
"Oh, I thought..." All the plans Illya had made suddenly faded, but he kept his sigh to himself. "Okay."
"Sorry, I know it's our day off and all, but if I don't move, I'll miss my opportunity. At most, Shawna and I will be gone just a few hours..." Napoleon trailed off.
"Shawna's going with you?" The young woman had made no bones about how attractive she found Napoleon, how willing she would be if he was. It twisted in Illya's gut and he stamped down the rising twist of jealousy that he felt. "It's fine." Illya snapped off the light and stared up at the ceiling. It truly was fine; in his heart of hearts he knew Napoleon was faithful. It just would have been nice to catch a break and have a quiet day together.
He'd nearly nodded off when the phone rang. Napoleon jerked awake, involuntary smacking Illya in the process. Napoleon had the receiver before the second ring and Illya contented himself with rubbing his side. He didn't need to hear to know who was on the other end.
"It's okay, Rocky, you do what you have to do; we'll be fine. Tell Matt I'm sorry." Napoleon hung up the phone and sighed.
"They just called in the priest for the last rites. He and Rocky are headed for the airport."
"I don't envy them that plane ride."
"Does Matt's family know about Rocky?"
"That could be brutal. I remember our trip back." Napoleon grew quiet and Illya reached out, finding his partner's hand in the dark. He squeezed it and then, "Where's your ring?"
"Took it off for rehearsal and forgot to put it back on."
"Why did I forget to put it back on? Just getting old, I guess."
"No, why did you take it off?"
"The character I'm playing isn't married. The director found it distracting."
"Are you all right, Illya?"
"I'm... yes..." Illya rolled onto his side and felt Napoleon settle down well away from him. Suddenly, Illya never felt so alone in his entire life...
A strange smell woke him. It wasn't any usual smell, not of their intermingled scents, not even of coffee, it was something very different. Without opening his eyes, he reached out for Napoleon, but encountered only cool, empty sheets.
Of course, Napoleon would want to get an early start... with Shawna. Illya sighed, determined not to go there. He rolled over onto his right side and came up with a jerk. Something soft and cool touched his face.
He snapped on the light and frowned. Two roses, yellow with red tips, lay, crossed, on his pillow. That's when he became aware of the candles, flickering in the dim light of the bedroom.
What? Napoleon would never leave candles burning. This made no sense to him. Still, he picked up the roses and smelled them. Wonderfully fragrant and so unlike the ones they used in Taste. They were always careful to make sure whatever flowers graced the tables, they were scent free.
Since he was awake, Illya decided to pay a visit to the bathroom, wincing as he took the first few steps. He could remember, back in his heyday with UNCLE, of bounding out of bed, even after being tossed from a moving vehicle or hung, dangling, from a helicopter or cliff. Of course, the pain he had now was probably due to those adventures, but it didn't make it any easier to take.
Still holding the flowers, he limped into the bathroom and stopped. There was a bath, still steaming, its water slick and fragrant, to greet him, along with three more roses. He smiled and set the two he held with them.
He peed and flushed, then decided, even as tired as he was, that bath was too good to resist. He climbed in, groaning as the hot water surrounded him. He closed his eyes in bliss and relaxed, letting his body slip for a second beneath the water. He stayed there as long as his lungs would permit and then resurfaced. He didn't squeeze the water from his hair, just brushed it out of his face and rested his head against the edge of the tub. He didn't open his eyes even as the bathroom door opened and the wonderful smell of fresh brewed coffee enveloped him.
"I thought you'd like that." Illya sat up, eyes now open as Napoleon offered him a cup of coffee and a kiss.
"Balm for my weary soul." Illya took the cup, and drank half of it without stopping.
"I didn't want to wake you, but I was duty bound."
"Duty bound?" Illya finished the cup and handed it back.
"Of course." Napoleon slipped off his robe and gestured to his partner. Illya scooted forward and Napoleon slid in behind him. The water rose, precariously close to spilling over the lip of the tub. Illya leaned back against him and sighed.
"This is nice."
Napoleon wrapped his arms around Illya's waist, pulling him close. "Do you know how good you feel?" he whispered into Illya's ear before nuzzling it, teasing it with his tongue.
"Tell me." Illya reached back to catch Napoleon's head. He twisted so their lips could meet in a near kiss.
"You're a dichotomy. Your muscles are so hard, yet your skin is soft. I've seen your eyes promise death and guarantee paradise. Your body, still so capable of so many things, yet willing to rest... a little."
"A little..." He caught his breath as Napoleon's fingers found and caressed his genitals, sighing as they fondled him.
"And after all these years, all I have to do is touch you and you're hard. Aren't you tired of me yet?"
"Ask me again in a few dozen years. Perhaps then I will be able to answer you intelligibly."
Napoleon let one hand travel upward to toy first with Illya's chest hair, then move to his nipples, squeezing first one then the other to rigid attention. "I love the feeling of your skin against mine, the roughness, the softness, your heat." Napoleon's penis throbbed against Illya's back and he started to sit forward but Napoleon held him firm. "We've been in too much of a hurry these days."
"But you have to leave."
"Do I?" Napoleon's lips and tongue were busy, licking, nipping, tasting Illya's neck.
"Your trip... I thought you'd be gone when I woke up."
"There's plenty of time and you seemed to need a little reassuring. You know how I am about rendering care and aid."
"And as lovely as this is, it is hardly the most practical spot for what I have in mind."
"True, but where's the fire?" Napoleon held him firmly until Illya again relaxed. Only then did his hands start to roam over the familiar body against him. If Napoleon wanted to take the time, Illya was willing.
He closed his eyes and just felt, relishing the tactile sensation of Napoleon's fingers as they traveled across his skin, the heat of Napoleon's breath on the back of his neck. Now he understood what Napoleon wanted of him—nothing, nothing but his acceptance and enjoyment.
"Now you're getting it." Napoleon sucked in an earlobe, teasing it the way he would have a nipple could he have but reached. Still, he kept the pace maddeningly slow.
Napoleon let one hand drift precariously close to Illya's penis, only to veer off at the last moment to caress its way up Illya's thigh and then tangle itself in his pubic hair. The back of Napoleon's hand brushed against Illya's very interested penis and Illya grumbled both his enjoyment and frustration.
"You like being teased, don't you? You like having me so close you ache for my touch, but enjoy the desperation my not touching you directly provides."
"Only to a certain point," Illya hissed as Napoleon's fingers traced the base of his penis and went to stroke his balls.
"These feel like they mean business."
"They would be most appreciative of the attention." One of Napoleon's fingers managed to wiggle its way past to stroke Illya's perineum.
"Do you want me?"
"Where?" Napoleon's hand finally found its way and began to travel up and down Illya's dick, squeezing it tightly, rhythmically.
"You need directions at this stage of the game?"
Napoleon chuckled. "You know, for a Smart Russian, you can be very dense when you so choose. I meant would you like me to jerk you off here, have me in you as you are clutching onto the sink for dear life or in our bed with your feet in the air and me buried up to the hilt in you?"
"Yes, please." Illya let his head fall back as Napoleon's hand continued. He felt Napoleon's lips curl into a smile just before latching onto his skin and biting, not hard enough to break the surface, but enough to leave a mark.
He groaned and let Napoleon take the lead, completely surrendering, dropping any pretense of control. He could feel Napoleon's dick, rock hard and throbbing against his back. If Illya had had any sense of decorum at that point, he'd have reached back, taken Napoleon... but instead he just felt.
He started to breathe heavier as Napoleon worked him.
"Come for me, Illya," Napoleon whispered encouragingly, his hand moving faster, his grip tightening. He kissed and bit as his other hand pinched and rolled a nipple between his fingers.
With a gasp, Illya obliged, ejaculating in short hard spurts. Napoleon's hand never stopped until it was obvious that Illya was finished.
"Thank you." Illya turned slightly to kiss Napoleon.
"You haven't seen anything yet. Get up."
Illya climbed dripping from the tub and stepped carefully upon the throw rug. Its rubber backing kept it from slipping. He offered Napoleon a hand up and his partner rose gracefully from the water. Without reaching for a towel, Napoleon gestured to their pedestal sink and Illya smiled.
"All right." Illya threw a towel over it, mostly to keep himself from slipping against the porcelain. He leaned over and looked back over his shoulder, his eyes partially shut, his lips curled in open invitation.
Napoleon grabbed up a jar of petroleum jelly and dug out a large gob. "Do you know where this is going?"
"One is hopeful." Illya reached back to spread his cheeks.
"You really are shameless." He didn't toy, but slid two fingers into Illya. Illya gasped even as he was moving backward to meet the intruders. Napoleon curled his fingers and let the tips brush against Illya's prostate, first one way, then the other. "You like feeling me in you, don't you?"
Illya wanted to answer, but Napoleon took that moment to add one more finger and his vocal abilities were reduced to a throaty, needy whine. He tried to move, but the sink preventing him from having any real freedom of movement.
The tiredness, the aches and pains of a reckless youth, every mistake, every incident, every other moment of time was banished. He wasn't even certain when Napoleon swapped fingers for dick, but Illya was suddenly aware of hands holding his hips as he rocked in an ancient movement of time.
Then just as Illya thought he couldn't take a second more without exploding, Napoleon pulled free and Illya collapsed forward, holding desperately onto the sink to keep from falling to the floor. "What the...?"
"Come on, Amante, I know you're made of sterner stuff than this." Napoleon took two steps and held out his hand. "I told you the way I want you."
Swallowing, Illya pushed off the sink and followed Napoleon back into their bedroom. He flopped down on the mattress, his dick bobbing angrily at Napoleon. The man merely grinned, leaned down a planted a kiss on its tip.
"Napoleon, I swear..."
The man knelt on the bed, moving first one foot, then the other to his shoulders.
"You swear what, partner? You are hardly in a position to complain. By my reckoning, you've already come one more time than me today." He slipped back into Illya and sighed. "Let's say we take this home, shall we?"
Illya didn't bother to speak, at least not with words. Instead, he let his body answer, silent except for vocalizing his pleasure.
Napoleon's control was good, but not absolute. No man's was when he got to that point and Illya squeezed his muscles and Napoleon was gone, thrusting into him and gasping, his head thrown back as he climaxed. Illya needed nothing else at that point to encourage his own and he ejaculated again with a groan, feeling his heart pound like a locomotive as it strove to keep up with him.
Napoleon eased Illya's legs down, knowing that Illya's body, so content to play dumb a moment prior, now protested every little movement. He leaned down and kissed Illya. "Good morning."
"Oh, yes, I think that qualifies as a very good morning," Illya murmured, his lips not leaving Napoleon's.
Napoleon's hands were moving again, easing the blankets back up into place, even as they continued to kiss. "You get some sleep and I will see you tonight."
"Mmm uh," Illya murmured, suddenly too sleepy to protest or argue. With Napoleon's fingers caressing his face, he drifted back to sleep.
Illya woke and blinked furiously for a moment before snatching up the bedside clock. Two o'clock? He shook the instrument, but only its regular ticking answered back. Then he remembered. It was Monday. It was a day off and then he smiled as the memory of the morning's activities came back to him.
He rolled over and sat up and other memories returned, some not as pleasantly recalled. Only the roses, now in a vase on the nightstand, and the various candles, now extinguished, made him know it hadn't been a dream. He stood and other things verified the reality of his morning.
Good, pain is sometimes good. The bathroom stood as usual. The bathtub was empty, the jar of Vaseline again stored, the towels replaced and hanging neatly. He turned on the shower and grabbed his razor, stepping into the sharp streams of water with a sigh of contentment.
The water helped soothe the aches and pains away and he emerged feeling rejuvenated. It was amazing what a bout of incredible sex and ten hours of sleep could do for a man. That's when he saw the heart drawn on the mirror. Napoleon was such a hopeless romantic.
He'd have loved to have called Matt and just wasted time talking, but he remembered the late night call. He never pestered his other employees on their days off, figuring it was the least he could do since they put up with him five days a week.
He spent the rest of the day doing chores around the house, gathering up magazines and books to donate to the local college, sweeping away months of accumulated stuff.
Something kept niggling at him from the back of his mind, but he couldn't put a finger on it. He checked the calendar in the kitchen—the one spot where everything in their incredibly busy lives was written down, but the day was free, completely open. That was nearly unheard of for either of them... and Napoleon would have to work that day.
Around six, Illya opened a bottle of his next favorite wine. It struck him as odd that they would again be out of his favorite—they never seemed to run out of Napoleon's but such was life. He could have gone to the restaurant or Vinea and pulled a couple of bottles, but it wasn't worth the effort. He settled down on the couch with the preview cookbook and jotted notes as he skimmed the recipes.
By seven, he was starting to get an uneasy restlessness in the pit of his stomach. He needed to start dinner or at least be thinking about it. Then the phone rang. Illya grinned and lifted the receiver.
He was surprised when Napoleon's voice didn't greet him. Instead it was Henry, his misen poux chef from Taste.
"Chef, I've got a bit of a problem." Henry was having to shout over a crowd.
"Of course, what's wrong?"
"It's our monthly meeting down at the community center and the frigging pilot light on the stove's gone out again."
Illya grinned and chuckled. He got at least two or three of these calls a month. "It always amazes me that I'm the only one in town that can light the pilot on that. We really need to buy that place a decent stove."
"I hate to bother you and all, but you can hear the crowd. They want to eat and..."
"No problem, I'll be right over." Illya hung up the phone and stood. He jotted down a note for Napoleon, just in case the man returned while he was gone, grabbed his jacket and headed out the door.
While the September days were still warm in the Foothills, the nights were growing cool, especially when riding his bike. He pondered for a moment as to which one he wanted to take and settled on his favorite Suzuki.
The community center was neither in the community nor the center of Jackson. It sat on the edge of town, a short trip, but long enough that when Illya climbed off the bike, his face was tight from the cold. The parking lot was full tonight and Illya tried to remember exactly what group Henry was with... the Clampers or maybe Knights of Columbus? One fraternal organization was much like the other to Illya's way of thinking.
Two men were hanging out on the steps and one hurried away at his approach.
"Hey, Chef, thanks for helping us out in our hour of need." Richard, their rep from the county seat and a frequent guest to Taste, greeted him
Illya grinned. "It's what I do. What are you doing in town?"
"I don't get to do stuff like this very much, so when I'm here, I like to stop in and rub elbows, sort of pre, pre, pre campaigning.
"Like anyone would challenge you for that seat." Illya reached for the door and Richard grabbed it a second before he did and pulled it open.
"After you, Chef."
Illya nodded, stepped through the door and almost immediately slammed to a stop. "I'm going to kill him..."
"Admit it, you were surprised," Napoleon said as Illya snapped off the bathroom light and joined him in bed. The single nightstand light made the room glow a soft orange.
"Yes, and you were lucky I am no longer armed or I would have probably shot the closest people to me." Illya settled down and sighed. "Giving a former agent a surprise party isn't exactly safe."
"But safer than giving a current one a surprise party." Napoleon scrunched around for a moment, punching and shaping his pillows into the proper shape before completely relaxing. "And you were surprised. I just can't believe you forgot your own birthday."
"You try to remember all the stuff I have to and not lose track of a day or so." Illya felt Napoleon's arm snake over his waist and dropped his arm over it. "So Matt's father is fine?"
"And breathing fire, according to the son. Apparently the recent harvest isn't what he'd like. I just knew I had to get Matt out of town to give him enough space to actually be able to cook... and Winston also."
"This whole school thing was a ruse as well?"
"No, but after the third failed recipe he figured out that the instructor didn't know what he was doing. He's been back for about a week, staying at a friend's house in Arnold." Napoleon chuckled and kissed Illya's head. "And you just waltzed in there, Mr. Ignorant. The look on your face was really wonderful."
"So many people..."
"I had to turn twice as many away. You are very well liked and respected in the community, Illya. I don't think you are even aware of how many lives you've touched."
"There's only one I really care about though." Illya squeezed Napoleon's arm tightly. "Thank you and be prepared to meet your Waterloo, Napoleon."
"Are you threatening me, little man?"
"Well, more than adequate man just doesn't have the same ring to it."
"No, that's not a threat... it's a promise. When you least expect it, expect it."
"I shall wait with breathless anticipation." Napoleon's hand slid from Illya's waist and down a muscular thigh. "So did I break you this morning or is the playground still open?"
"Depends upon what you have in mind."
Illya's answer was a sly smile and to turn off the light.
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