Man in the Middle

by Spikesgirl58

It wasn't often that Illya managed to climb into bed before his partner. Usually Taste kept him well into the evening; occasionally it wasn't until one or two a.m. that Illya was permitted to take his repose beside Napoleon.

Tonight, the restaurant was unusually quiet. He was blaming it on the Olympics. People just weren't leaving their TVs and he refused to have a set installed in the bar area. He'd grown up without a TV and felt the world could exist just fine without one. Even now, they rarely turned their set on, except to catch an occasional movie or the news. It was mostly just noise to him.

He knew Napoleon wasn't in even before he came through the front door. In spite of the theatre being within walking distance, Napoleon would take his car at night, erring on the side of caution. There had been two hit and runs along that stretch of road in the past year alone and Illya didn't like the thought of Napoleon walking it late at night. There had been some heated discussion, but in the end, Napoleon agreed to drive.

Since the Lincoln wasn't parked in its usual spot, Illya decided that rehearsal must have, once again, run late or else Napoleon was tarrying afterwards with his fellow actors, talking or kibitzing about things. Part of Illya was jealous, but then how many times had Napoleon sat, feigning interest, as Illya and some fellow chef went on about culinary this or that. Turnabout might be fair play, but it didn't mean he had to like it.

Illya stripped and showered the smell of the restaurant from him, then climbed into bed with the day's mail. He'd at least try to get it sorted out before falling asleep. He'd gotten it divided into four piles, Taste, Vinea, Napoleon's, and his mail. He was sorting through the invoices, requests for services or goods, a couple book offers and the usual advertisements and magazines that went with his work when he heard the front door open and close.

Both cats were immediately alert and listening, then they both relaxed and Illya grinned. They'd recognized the tread on the stairs as friendly. Even then, Illya had to fight the reflex of past training to reach beneath his pillow for a nonexistent pistol as the bedroom door opened.

"Still awake, Dad?" Napoleon asked, unbuttoning his shirt as he walked.

"You're past your curfew, son. Am I going to have to ground you?" Illya was willing to play along with him. Having Napoleon home again and safe gave him a good feeling. He shook his head; his paranoia was working overtime as of late. "Good rehearsal?"

"Sadly, no, we spent three fun-filled hours of people unable to remember their lines, blocking and/or motivation. That was followed by our lead actress having a major meltdown and blaming everyone else for the fact that she still isn't off book." Napoleon slipped off his pants and hung them neatly on a wooden hanger. "That led to our director speaking harshly about us refusing to work together as a team and resisting his efforts. He called us rank amateurs and said we weren't worthy of his direction. Not the best of evenings."

"What is the problem?" Illya took off his glasses to study the man. Usually Napoleon came back from the theatre excited and positive. Tonight, his shoulders sagged and there was an air of defeat around him.

"Absolutely no idea. The script isn't that hard, none of us are inexperienced, yet no one can seem to focus. You walk out on stage and your mind goes blank. The director has changed our blocking so many times that not one of us can remember what we're doing from one scene to the next. When we stop to write it down, he yells at us for interrupting the flow of the scene." He stripped off his tee shirt and shorts and tossed them into the hamper.

"Including you?"

"Sadly, yes. I seem to be of particular concern, given my advanced age."

"What? That's ridiculous! You're fifty two, that's hardly old."

"Not according to him. According to him, I am pasture worthy." Napoleon ran a hand through his hair and sighed.

Illya shook his head slowly and offered his hand. Napoleon hesitated for a moment, then took it, permitting Illya to pull him to the bed.

"You're one of the most focused people I know, Napoleon. You have more energy and commitment than men half your age. I am going to venture that if this is a condition that plagues your entire cast, then it is not you but the director who is at fault. You can have the best cast in the world, but if the man directing you is poor, then your results will be likewise. It's the same thing with cooking. The best ingredients can't help a poorly trained chef."

"I know, but..."

Illya kissed the hand he held and shook his head. "No buts, Napoleon. If this is causing you distress, then walk away. I'm sure your fellow actors are experiencing a similar situation. Your lead...?"

"Melissa...?" Napoleon settled beside him.

"Has been doing this for years. If she's having problems, then rest assured it isn't just you." Illya smiled. "Would you like me to come and watch? I might not be as trained, but I've been observing you long enough to know what is and isn't natural for you. Perhaps it merely boils down to your director leading with the wrong hand."

"Can't, he's closed rehearsals to everyone, even the crew."

"What? That's insane. You should call Pat. I'm going to wager he doesn't know what's going on." Illya moved a hand up to massage the junction of Napoleon's shoulder and neck, carefully rubbing the knot of tension building there.

"I feel like a tattletale fresh out of kindergarten." He sighed again and rested his head against Illya's shoulder, obviously not in a hurry to move.

"I prefer Deepthroat." Illya smiled at the thought.

"I'm sure you do... Beside, Pat's busy with Cass now. He deserves some social life."

"And you deserve to not have something you love turned into a three-ring circus, but you know I will support whatever you want to do."

"I think right now I just want to sleep on it." Reluctantly Napoleon sat up and headed for the bathroom. Illya started to gather the paperwork into piles and then stopped, frowning.

"You got something from Spaulding High School, Napoleon." He set that one down on Napoleon's pillow and the rest of the paper over onto his nightstand. Beurre Noir yawned, stretched, and then crawled up onto Illya's chest for scratches. "I should very much like to trade places with you and your brother, little one. No worries, no problems, just eating and sleeping."

"And you'd be bored out of your mind in two days, if that. Plus there would be the unfortunate consequence of having your balls lopped off."

"Suddenly the thought is not as attractive."

"What did you say about Spaulding High?" Napoleon picked up the envelope and slipped in between the sheets. He glanced at it and tossed it aside. "It's just an invitation to the class reunion."

"You're not going?" Illya slid the cat off his chest and reached behind his head to punch his pillow.

"Never have. When I was with UNCLE, there wasn't time and now I have the time but not the interest."

"Why not?"

"Have you ever been to a class reunion?" Both men settled, Illya on his side, Napoleon nestled beside him, his arm draped over Illya's waist, thumb stroking the soft skin there.

"Never really had a class to reunite with. The fate of being steps ahead or behind the rest of the school."

"You aren't missing much. You go to see who's married to whom and who's screwing whose wife. The thin ones are all fat; the fat ones are all thin. The sports legends are now drunken has-beens and the rest of us never were."

"Never were what? Successful? Napoleon, you listed with both the S&P and Forbes. You have a flourishing business." Illya brought Napoleon's hand to his mouth. "A partner who adores you, more money than a normal person knows what to do with. You still have all your hair and your waistline and you get better looking with each passing day."

"You really want to be screwed, don't you?" Napoleon kissed the blond hair.

"Not necessarily, but if you're offering..."

"I'm a little tired, but maybe..."

"No, no maybes, sleep. I only want you if you're fully involved. It isn't going to kill us to go without." Illya kissed the fingers one last time and returned the hand to his waist. "For a short time."

"Very well, poosy cat."

Illya chuckled at the nickname, pressed back against Napoleon and drifted off to sleep.

Illya drew in deep gulping breaths of air, his skin shiny and slick from sweat. Napoleon was doing his own bit of catch up, but it didn't stop him from dipping in for one last lingering kiss as he lifted Illya's legs down from his shoulders.

"My god," Illya panted.

"You don't have a god, Kuryakin."

"Yours, then, and you are wrong. I do have a god; it's you." Illya grinned through the kiss and then stretched. "That was..."

"Yes it was, wasn't it?"

"And I'm supposed to get up and go to work now?"

"Wouldn't happen if you had a manager. You could stay in bed with me and we could discuss the reciprocal nature of our relationship."

"Doesn't work that way in the restaurant business. You want first crack at the shower?"

Napoleon licked the salty skin of Illya's neck, his mouth lingering. "We could shower together.'

"Not if I'm actually going to be able to stand and cook for six hours tonight." Illya grunted as Napoleon sat up. "If I have another climax like that, you will have to carry me away in a body bag."

Napoleon had woken to an armful of the USSR's finest export and a raging hard on. Separate, neither were exactly uncommon, but together, it made for a noteworthy moment. He'd kissed the nape of Illya's neck and the man shifted slightly, but didn't wake. Napoleon had then turned his considerable skill to loving his partner awake. Once he was sure he had Illya's complete attention, he took it further until Illya was a bundle of raw exposed nerves pleading for completion. Napoleon was many things, but never cruel. Now his stomach was sticky with Illya's semen and the contentment of climaxing spread throughout his body. Time and time again, he thanked whatever force of heaven or nature had brought them together. He thought he'd known love before Illya and knew now that he'd just been playing at it.

Napoleon brushed his teeth, shaved, and then attacked the shower, breaking into Fly Me to the Moon as he soaped up his chest.

"Have you no regards for a dying man?" He heard Illya grumble over the water.

"You're not dying, Illya." He was in too good a mood this morning to care about Illya's complaints. He wasn't a singer, but that didn't stop Napoleon from enjoying himself.

"I meant that guy up in Canada."

That crack made Napoleon sing all the louder.

Fill my heart with song
And let me sing for ever more
You are all I long for
All I worship and adore
In other words, please be true
In other words, I love you

The shower curtain pulled back and Illya stuck his head in, toothbrush in his mouth. "If that was indeed the case, you'd be singing Beethoven's Fifth," he mumbled around his mouthful.

"There aren't any words to that."

"My point..." Illya disappeared from view again.

"An arrow to my music-loving heart," Napoleon said, reaching for the shampoo.

"And leave me some hot water. I'm going to go make coffee."

Napoleon finished buttoning his shirt as he descended the stairs, still whistling the tune to Fly me to the Moon. He deposited a kiss on the top of Illya's head and went to pour himself a cup of coffee. The mail had made it downstairs and was spread out over the kitchen table. Illya was punching numbers into a calculator with one hand, keeping place with the other.


"No, according to our bookkeepers, profits are up, but business is down."

"Fewer customers who are ordering more." Napoleon started to shuffle through his own mail. "I'm heading over to Plymouth today. You have any requests?"

"Yes, drive safely. Those roads can be tricky."

"Not to worry. What are you doing?"

"Duck and apple sausage." Illya pushed the calculator aside. "And maybe some veal if I can manage it. I have do to payroll too." He yawned and stretched, rubbing his eyes.

"You don't have to wait up for me, you know. I am a big boy."

"I wasn't waiting up for you... necessarily." Illya sipped his coffee. "How are you feeling about things this morning?"

Napoleon shrugged his shoulders and picked up the invitation again. "Couldn't go even if I wanted to. It's in the middle of the run."

"Problem solved then." Illya stood and Napoleon caught his hand and squeezed it.

"You need anything today while I'm out running around?"

"There's a shopping list on the refrigerator." Illya hooked a thumb over his shoulder.

"Ask a silly question..."

"And you get my undying love." Napoleon decided it was an even trade.

Napoleon didn't mind shopping, well, clothes shopping, shoe shopping, car shopping. Those were fine, but when it came to grocery shopping, it wasn't exactly his forte. Illya was highly selective about the produce and meat that came into the house, which meant Napoleon was relegated to dry and canned goods. Illya was very specific about brand type and/or his choice. Napoleon just had to follow the list, but then something in the freezer or dessert section would distract him.

He was contemplating a choice between It's-It's and pound cake when he heard a familiar voice.


He turned and grinned at the producing director of their acting company. "Pat, how are you?"

"Could be better. It could be raining." Napoleon tossed both items into the cart and shook the outstretched hand. "How are things going?"

"As you say, they, ah, could be better."

"That right?" They started walking towards the checkout. "I was talking with Rich. He is going on and on about how great everything is."

"Perhaps on his side of the stage, but not ours." Napoleon started unloading the cart onto the conveyor belt. "Just between you and me, I am concerned." Then he grinned again. "And I can't believe I just said that. How is everything with you? How is Cass?"

"We had a parting of the ways."

"I'm sorry, Pat..." Napoleon shook his head, although he'd already known that the relationship wasn't going to end well. The young man was too unsettled, still trying to find the man he needed to become.

"It happens, I guess, but I really thought I had it right this time." Pat ran a hand through his short cropped hair. "How do you and Illya hold it together?"

Napoleon glanced over from exchanging pleasantries with the checkout clerk, a charming young lady with the unfortunate name of Mishka Yudnik. "To be honest, I don't know." He reached into his pocket for his wallet as his purchases were bagged. "It's never been an issue for us, not really."

"But I mean he isn't into theatre, at all."

"Anymore than I am into the culinary world."

"And you both make it work, how?" Pat watched as his own items were tallied up.

"Love, I guess. And the understanding that everything is give and take, especially a marriage." They started to walk back out into the parking lot. Napoleon blinked at the brightness of the sun and put on his sunglasses.

"Late night?"

"Early morning. You want to come for some coffee? We still have some of that cream cheese coffee cake you like so much."

"Twist my arm a bit more and call me late for dinner."

Illya half walked, half stumbled into the bedroom and nodded sleepily to his partner who was stretched out on the bed, surrounded by books, maps, and papers.

"You're home early." He rested a hand on the bathroom door jam and yawned. "Or am I very late?"

"No, I am early." Napoleon shut the book he'd been studying and made a face. "There was an abrupt change in plans tonight."

Suddenly, Illya wasn't quite as tired. "Problem?"

"Let's just say I now have ample time for my leisure."

"Oh, Napoleon, I am sorry. Do you want me to have a private chat with the idiot?" He kissed, then hugged, his partner ferociously. "You have but to ask."

"No, it's a blessing really." Napoleon held onto him for a moment longer than was necessary though and Illya pushed all thoughts of his own exhaustion and concerns aside.

"Tell me."

"They closed us down. Someone let the licensing company know that the director had rewritten the script and they paid us a little visit. When they couldn't get into the theatre tonight, they called Pat and hell descended from on high." Napoleon rested his chin on Illya's shoulder, relaxing into the embrace. "Our beloved director blamed us because we were apparently too inept to be able to handle the original script. He told Pat he was suing for his pay and he'd shut the place down."

"What did you do?"

"I handed him a check and told him exactly what I thought about his type of blood sucking parasites. I also suggested that perhaps he would be wise to leave the area because I was going to make damn sure everyone who was anyone in the local area would know exactly what he'd pulled."

"That didn't end well."

"No... it didn't." He sighed. "I should have just let it be, but he got my back up, Amante and you know what I'm like then."

"That's when I love you the most, when you're fierce and fresh from the fight." Illya nuzzled his ear. "Let me take you."

"You were half asleep a minute ago," Napoleon protested even as he was shifting in Illya's arms.

"But that was a minute ago and this is now." Illya let his breath tickle Napoleon's ear. "Now I want you." He pressed Napoleon down against the bed, ignoring the papers and books that he knocked to the floor.

And for the next half hour, he made damned sure Napoleon didn't think about them either. Then he dragged his partner into the shower and repeated the process, albeit with less desperation and need on either of their parts. When they both managed to stumble back to bed, it was with profound exhaustion and not a little relief.

"That was something else, partner." Napoleon settled the blankets around them.

"Remind me of that when I try to drag myself out of bed in the morning."

Napoleon didn't bother to look up at the slow, measured steps coming down the stairs. He, instead, kept his focus on the stacks of various papers on his desk and the open ledger.

"Why the hell didn't you wake me up?"

"And good morning to you too... or rather, afternoon." Napoleon removed his reading glasses and turned in his chair to study his partner. Even after fourteen hours of sleep, the man still looked... bone weary, as his mother used to say. "And I did. For half an hour, I tried every trick in the book with the exception of hauling you into the shower and turning it on. I figured if you were that tired, you needed the sleep."

"I needed to get stuff done."

"Like what?"

"I was expecting a shipment of produce in for the weekend."

Napoleon handed him a bill of lading. Illya scanned it. "You didn't happen to check the shipment before signing this, did you?"

"I didn't, but Matt did."

"I needed to start smoking the sausage."

"Built the fire around ten and put them on at noon.... with the apple chips." Napoleon added as Illya opened his mouth. "And all the prep for tonight is under way. According to Roxanne, the restaurant is three quarters for the first seating, full for the second, and almost half for the third."

Illya turned and started to head upstairs. "Where are you going?" Napoleon asked his back.

"Back to bed. It's obvious you don't need me." Illya's voice was even tighter than before.

"Ah, the famous Kuryakin snit. Can't you just accept help without making a big deal out of it? You get angry if you have to do all the work; you get even more annoyed when people help you with it."

Illya hesitated at that and Napoleon returned to the desk. He loved Illya, but there were times when he just wanted to punch his thick-headed partner. Even then, he just barely managed not to jump when an arm encircled his neck.

"I'm sorry. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed." Illya's voice was quiet.

"Got up."

"Whatever. It's not easy to accept that you are so effortlessly replaced. One likes to feel needed."

"I didn't say it was easy; I just said we'd gotten it done." Truth of the matter, it had been a three ring circus and Napoleon had inwardly wondered how Illya kept it all balanced and running. "And believe me, you are needed." He ran his hand along the arm and turned his head back to look at his lover. "And wanted."

"I know." They shared a kiss and Illya glanced down at the desk. "What are you working on? Is this the same thing as last night?"

"It is. Since I am no longer encumbered by the show, I thought I'd look at the logistics of heading back to Vermont for that reunion."

"Good, you could use the break."

"So could you... if you'd come."

"I thought this was all about showing everyone how successful you are and strutting around with a beautiful blonde on your arm."

"I am successful and I do have a beautiful... well, handsome blond on my arm. I'd love to show you off."

"I'm not a race horse or prized possession, Napoleon." Illya ran a hand through his damp hair. "I'm not even sure where I stand on the handsome issue. I am simply me."

Napoleon patted a stray strand of long blond hair into place. "And I, for one, am very, very happy about that. I also couldn't think of anyone I'd rather have at my side there or anywhere else really."

Illya sighed, then smiled. "Make your reservations for two and I will make the necessary arrangements here."

Illya watched Napoleon study himself in the mirror, readjusting his tie for the fourth or fifth time.

"Really, you look fine, Napoleon. That cut of suit never goes out of style."

"And you offering me fashion tips. The world has just slammed to an abrupt stop.'" Napoleon smirked. "I'm just worried about this tie, too conservative? Not conservative enough?"

"What does it matter?" Illya flopped back on the bed and grimaced. It was lumpy and saggy and it was the better of the two. They'd given both of them a work out and found each one lacking in certain aspects. "I can't believe this was the best you could find."

"Lots of people come to Vermont in September to see the leaves."

"They don't have leaves where they live?"

"Not in the profusion of colors that they have here. It was just bad luck that the reunion hit at the same time as the peak color season." He undid the tie and reached for another. "Not that Barre has an over profusion of hotels or motels to choose from." He turned back to Illya with the new tie in hand and Illya shook his head.

"The other one was better. When we lived in New York, I never paid attention to the color of the leaves." He laughed. "I was lucky to remember what month it was, let alone what season."

"They were crazy times, my friend." Napoleon reached for a third tie.

"I have a suggestion..."

"At this point, I am open to them."

"Do without the tie. Make a statement."

"So says the man who spends most of his day wearing checkered pants." Napoleon turned back to his task.

"Love me, love the uniform." Illya hefted himself off the bed and walked to Napoleon's side. He studied the myriad of ties laid out on the suitcase and picked one. He pulled Napoleon's hands away and placed the tie around Napoleon's neck, knotting it with deliberate concentration. "There, perfect." He looked over Napoleon's shoulder at their reflection. The tie was two-toned blue, softening the black of suit jacket.

"When did you...?"

"Easy, I sleep with a man of impeccable tastes; something was bound to rub off. Are we ready?"

"This was a bad idea."

"The tie is perfect, Napoleon, leave it."

"No, being here. It's so odd to be here and not be on the farm, to not have any family living there now."

"You and Josie agreed to the sale."

"I know, it's just... odd... like I'm at sea without a port to tie up to."

Illya slid his arms under Napoleon's jacket and pulled him close, not to kiss, but just to hold him. "Let me be your anchor."

"Hold onto that thought." He brought up a hand to tilt Illya's mouth to his. "This will be the last one until we get back tonight."

"Better make it a good one then." Illya opened his mouth, welcoming him in. For a long moment, they stood, lost in each other. "We need to go... or finish this and be very late."

Napoleon shook his head. "I thought we took care of that this afternoon. We...go."

Illya watched Napoleon dance with a rather matronly looking lady. It was hard to believe they'd been king and queen of the prom. Napoleon looked about thirty and she looked about eighty.

He sipped his drink and frowned. Rum punch was not his idea of a good time. It was too sweet and fruity for him. He'd have killed for a shot of vodka right now or even wine.

A guy came by, arm around a woman of ample proportions and squinted at Illya's name tag. Just to be difficult, he'd written Илья , his name in Cyrillic. Most of the people had smiled and turned away. He was purposefully flying low tonight.

"You're who?" the man mumbled, but it was the wife. She was staring, hard, and Illya felt his stomach drop. He'd gone so long tonight without being identified.


"Please don't," Illya said, smiling slightly. "I do not wish to be recognized."

"But you're... him?"


"Oh my God... Glenn, this is... this is... him."

"Who him?"

"That five star chef who was on the cover of Time and Newsweek. I told you about him."

"The commie guy?"

"Illya Kuryakin." Illya took the woman's hand and bowed to her, touching it to his lips. "My pleasure." She blushed and clasped the hand with the other. She studying him and then frowned as if remembering something she'd read. They always remembered that.

"But why are you here? How do you know anyone from our class?"

"I am with Napoleon."

"But the article said that you were... um... that you were... that way."

"Gay? Yes."

"And that you lived with your..."

"As do you."

"But then..."

"I am with Napoleon."

"You're shitting me?" The husband slugged back his paper cup of punch. "Him? Impossible! He singlehanded deflowered more women than anyone else I knew in high school."

"As you will." Illya wasn't about to argue the point one way or the other. He watched the woman lead the man away and he moaned. Looking around, he spotted Napoleon holding court with a half dozen men, their wives off to one side in a lackluster grouping, desperate to be involved in the discussion, but not permitted to be. Illya had no such constraints.

He set the cup down and threaded his way to Napoleon's side. His partner grinned at him, then the smile faded at the look on Illya's face.

"Excuse me, for a moment, gentlemen." He followed Illya to a fairly quiet spot, behind a row of folding metal chairs. "What's wrong?"

"I've been outed. Someone recognized me from the magazines."

"We knew it was a possibility."

"Worse, they remembered that one paragraph towards the end and put two and two together."

"You want to leave?"

"I am afraid that things might become very uncomfortable for you if we don't."

"I'm fine for right now, partner."

"I wanted you to be aware." Illya took a step, pausing as Napoleon caught his arm. He looked down at the hand and then back at his lover.

"I'm not ashamed, Illya, of us, or what we have."

Illya watched the woman move from one group to the next. "Keep that thought in mind then, you may well need it."

The music had finished and a tuxedoed man took the stage, adjusting the microphone, and cleared his throat.

"I want to welcome all of the alumni from the Class of 1950. I'm sure that you've all had a great time reconnecting with each other and getting caught up. Tonight we're fortunate enough to have a classmate who has long since eluded our attempt to bring him back into the fold. Napoleon, this is your first reunion, isn't it? I'm certain that all of us have enjoyed getting a chance to welcome our most reticent member back into the fold."

A woman ran up and handed him a slip of paper.

"Wait for it..." Illya muttered, slumping back in his chair.

"And according to this, he's with his partner, the renowned chef, Illya Kuryakin." The man paused for a moment and glanced over his shoulder. "Well, I think this calls for something special."

Illya pinched the bridge of his nose, a headache threatening to explode. He half expected something as inane as If I knew You were Coming I'd Have Baked a Cake . What he didn't expect was In the Still of the Night.

It was an open challenge and when Napoleon offered him his hand, Illya took it and permitted Napoleon to lead him to the dance floor. There were murmurs through the crowd, but Illya pushed them away and settled into the comfortable familiarity of Napoleon's arms.

I remember
That night in May
The stars were bright above
I'll hope and I'll pray
To keep your precious love
Well before the light
Hold me again
With all of your might
In the still of the night

For a long minute, they were the only ones on the dance floor, then another couple, the prom queen and her companion, then another until Napoleon and Illya were just one of several couples moving to the music, each one lost to the other, their world only the person in his or her arms.

The music ended, there was polite applause and the dance floor emptied. The emcee again took the stage and asked for another round of applause for the band and then started making general announcements about the follow-up breakfast and the like.

"That was... unexpected," Napoleon murmured, his lips close to Illya's ear.

"Welcome to my world. When you least expect it, expect it." Illya sat at an empty table. "How much longer?"

"Anxious to go already?"

"Anxious to avoid what's heading our way, yes."

Napoleon glanced in the direction of Illya's gaze and saw two men, both the size of refrigerators, approaching them. "How are your reflexes, partner?"

"Honed. Yours?" Illya stood again.

"And able." He plastered his best 'playing nice with others' smile and faced the men. "Gentlemen."

"I don't believe it! You're gay?" It took Napoleon a moment to peer past through time to the man's younger face. It was Scotty Hamel, captain of the football team.

"Yes, Scotty, I am."

Napoleon started slightly as the man's arms went around him in a tight embrace. "Thank you."

"You're... welcome?" He threw a glance over to Illya, who was just shaking his head, a smirk playing on his lips.

"This is my partner, Gary." Napoleon recognized one of the second string players and shook hands with him. He gestured to Illya.

"This is..."

"We know who he is." Gary looked ready to bolt and Illya held out his hand. "A pleasure, sir, an honor."

Napoleon sighed. "Don't feed his ego, I have enough trouble with him as it is." Then he chuckled. "Would you like to sit?"

They did. "How are you finding Barre, Mr... Chef...?"

"Illya is fine." The Russian folded his hands in front of him. "It is a bit busier than Jackson and I am looking forward to visiting the Culinary Institute tomorrow."

"Maybe I'll see you," Gary said, looking down almost shyly and then back up. "I'm in the baking program."

It was close to midnight as they left and Napoleon was still floating in a world of contentment. He'd lived through the evening and although there had been a few moments of uncomfortable tension following their dance, for the most part the evening had moved along, unaffected.

"This wasn't bad," he murmured as they headed for their car. The air had a briskness that the air in Jackson lacked. It would still be a month before the cooler weather made it down the hill to the small California town. Yet in this part of the world, winter was not far away.

"Any event I can walk away from is a good one. Do you want me to drive?" Illya held a hand up for the keys, then a whisper of sound drew Napoleon's attention. For a normal man, it wouldn't have been enough warning, but one thing Napoleon wasn't, was a normal man. He reacted, blocking the punch almost before it was thrown.

He could hear similar noses coming from the other side of the car, but Napoleon had more than his own share of trouble to focus upon. Even though he'd been deprogrammed, years of training immediately popped to the surface. He pulled no punches, never hesitating to curb his anger or strength.

At the same time, Napoleon prayed that Illya showed restraint. He was still working with an agent's instincts, armed and very dangerous. With any luck, there wouldn't be a pile of dead bodies afterward to explain.

His opponents got a couple of licks in, but Napoleon was more than a handful. Months of carting cases of wine, stocking shelves, and trying to keep up with his partner had Napoleon, if not absolutely at, at least close to his prime UNCLE days.

There was a scream and Napoleon winced. Undoubtedly, someone would be sporting a broken arm tomorrow. Someone tackled him from behind, dropping him to the ground. Almost immediately another body dropped on him, pinning him. Not a good thing, and from the noises on the other side of the car, Illya had his own hands full, too full to help.

Napoleon grunted as a fist found his kidney, then suddenly the weight was gone and Napoleon rolled, coming back to his feet without questioning the break. In the eerie pink glow of the parking lot, Scotty took on an unreal quality. He tossed one of Napoleon's assailants aside and reached for the other. That one decided discretion was the better part of valor and took off.

"Illya," Napoleon muttered, stumbling a step towards his partner. Scotty caught him.

"He's okay; catch your breath."

Napoleon wouldn't be calmed until he saw Illya, swaying slightly, lift a hand to him. In the distance, he could hear a siren.

"I don't suppose we know who any of those jokers were..." Napoleon let his heart caught up with the rest of him. It had been years since he'd been in a fist fight and yet it seemed like just yesterday. God help him, it had felt good, freeing.

"You could look for anyone sporting some impressive bruising or broken bones tomorrow." Illya straightened up from his position of leaning against the car. He bent down and one handed, hauled someone to his feet. "Or we can ask him. I think I remember enough from the old days to assure you that he'll talk... rather eloquently and nonstop, if that is your wish."

"Thank you, Scotty." Napoleon patted the man on his arm. "Your arrival was nothing less than cavalry worthy."

"I'm just sorry the happened at all. We try to get along, but there are still some bad eggs." He glanced over to where Gary was brushing off his sweater with a casual hand. "You two were doing pretty good until you got blindsided. Where you'd learn to fight like that?"

"Our uncle taught us," Illya murmured, then cleared his throat. The parking lot was lit with a flashing red light as the patrol car slowed.

"As I've said countless times before, Kuryakin, there's never a dull moment hanging out with you." Napoleon watched the officers climb from the vehicle.

"You should see what I do for an encore."

Illya stirred in his sleep and reluctantly came awake. He'd not been out of the field so long as to forget the ensuing pain from a fist fight. When he was younger, it had been easier to ignore the pain and frequently he wasn't even allowed the luxury of hurting. Or at least of acknowledging it.

A groan from his right informed him he was not alone in his suffering.

"We must have been maniacs to think of this as a day at the office." Napoleon rolled over and sighed heavily. "My hands feel like they're been trapped in a vise."

"Just think how badly the other guys feel." Illya got one of his hands to obey his command and snagged up his watch. "You are going to miss your breakfast if you don't start to move now."

"What about you?"

"My appointment was more fluid." He flopped back onto the pillow and shut his eyes again. "I don't mind confessing to you that I don't think there's a muscle I possess that doesn't ache."

"Do you remember, is that bathtub big enough for two?"


"That's enough for me." Napoleon started to sit up, moaning his progress.

"Would you rather I go?" Illya tried to make the suggestion sound wholehearted.

"No, if I don't piss in the next five minutes, there will be hell to pay."

Illya chuckled at the admission, then bit his bottom lip and held a hand to his stomach. "We're not the men we used to be."

"Thank God for that. Now I know why they pull you from the field at forty." Napoleon took a none-too-steady path to the bathroom and pulled the door shut behind him.

Illya managed to crawl from the bed and even brew a couple of cups of coffee by the time the bathroom door again opened and steam gushed out.

He carried the coffee into the bathroom, happy that the steam obscured his image in the mirror. He didn't need to look to know his face was bruised and swollen. He set the cups down, relieved himself and even managed to brush his teeth before permitting himself the luxury of climbing into the tub with his partner.

"I have aspirin." Napoleon offered the bottle as Illya settled back against his chest.

"This will do for now."

"You have quite a bruise coming up there." Napoleon touched Illya's cheek gently. "Do you want to see a doctor?"

"No, I'm fine." He shut his eyes as Napoleon carded slender fingers through his hair. "How are you?"

"Caught one to the kidney, but everything looks okay."

"Your eye is bruised, but not badly. We must have been insane when we were younger."

"No, we were men doing a job that few others could. If it makes you feel any better, I'm imagining there are a couple other guys who are in much worse shape than us this morning."

"Unless I've completely lost my edge, yes. I'm just relieved that your friends showed up when they did or we would have been in much worse shape."

"I'm just sorry it happened it all."

"You get used to it. No matter how warmly others treat you, there are those just as eager to hate you for what they perceive as a choice rather than a reality."

"I'm sorry for that too." Napoleon continued to stroke Illya's hair. "But I'm not sorry I love you."

"I'm glad. My life would be much less without you in it."

Illya was tucking in his shirt when there was a knock at the door. Napoleon adjusted the lapel of his jacket and paused to look out the peephole. He opened it slowly.

"Yes, Officer, may I help you?"

"I'm doing a follow up to the attack from last night. You are Mr...?"

"Solo, won't you come in, Officer... ?"

"Hatch, sir." The young man glanced up from the notebook he held and stepped into the room. Even though it was only September, there was the smell of winter in the chill breeze. "Don't mind if I do. It's freezing out here."

"You should be in Siberia in the winter; that's cold." Illya finished buckling his belt and sat to put on his shoes.

"That cheerful soul is my partner."

"Kuryakin." Hatch sounded the name out slowly, but got it right. He paused for the nod and continued. "We picked up some likely candidates from last night. One guy was sporting a broken arm and another one looked like a truck ran over him."

Illya glanced over at Napoleon and nodded curtly. "Not so old..."

"We'll need you to come down to the station and press charges."

"I don't know that we need to do that. It isn't likely to change their minds. What do you think, Illya?"

"Again, I nod towards Siberia, although that would have probably been our fate and our attackers would have been decorated as heroes of the people." Illya checked his watch. "If I don't leave now, I am going to be late."

"If you're sure..." Hatch let the sentence trail off.

"I think that we proved our point adequately. Perhaps if we show a bit of tolerance, it will make more of an impact." Napoleon watched Illya for a reaction.

" Or get kicked in the teeth, but I will abide by your decision, Napoleon, although I've never been one to turn the other cheek."

"Speaking of such, sir, have you seen a doctor?"

"No, nor am I likely to." Illya pocketed the hotel room key. "Are you coming?"

"If Officer Hatch is finished with us?"

"He is." Hatch flipped the book shut. "You guys are a lot more forgiving than I would be." He walked out with them and watched as Illya carefully shut and locked the door.

"Not forgiving," Illya corrected. "But I've often found an eye for an eye means that both parties end up half blind. It is not so much a case of live and let live as it is a case of love and let love. I don't dictate to them how to think; they should not tell me how to love. The next time, I will not be as tolerant."

Napoleon leaned up against the metal table and watched Illya. It hadn't taken long for the word to make it round to the school that his partner was here. The faculty boasted some pretty heavy hitters in their own right, but none with Illya's credentials. The fact that Illya was now wearing a borrowed chef's coat and cooking while he lectured wasn't lost on either student or staff.

"What are the four things we strive for in professional cooking?" Illya never took his eyes off the onions as he tossed them easily in the pan. "Anyone?"

When it became apparent that no one was going to say anything, Napoleon offered, "Appearance, flavor, texture, and..."

"Replication. Very good, Napoleon." Illya grinned over at his partner and added flour and allspice to the pan. He stirred them around, added a bit more butter. "It doesn't matter if you are creating the most flavorful, eye appealing food, if you can't replicate it four hundred times or more, then you have failed in your objective." He added apple juice and chicken broth, gave everything a stir, then added the diced sweet potatoes and returned the previously browned pork chops to the pan. "Five ingredients, not counting three seasonings and flour. A dish doesn't have to be complicated to be flavorful. Let the food talk for you. You'll be surprised what it can say. Questions?"

"Chef, what about substitutions? Could you use yams instead?"

The young man hadn't taken his eyes off his partner since Illya had picked up a knife. Napoleon wondered if this would be the next name they were hearing about. He certainly had the focus and curiosity.

"Yes, that would add additional color, but make sure you adjust your liquids and keep an eye on them. They cook faster because they have a slightly higher starch content. Napoleon, what would you pour with this?"

"The dish is going to be sweet, so you want something a little sweet, but not too sweet, a chardonnay as opposed to a Riesling, I would think. Something not too young, maybe ten months or older."

"Do you pair every dish or just the entre?" Same young man.

"It depends upon the occasion and the guest. Some diners will want something to go with the appetizer and soup or salad course, then something a bit bigger for the meal. Others want something that will go with the entire meal and follow with a dessert wine or port. I have found that it is best to recommend and then let the guest decide."

"That's it for today, ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Solo, Chef, we hope that you will join us in our restaurant for lunch.

Napoleon's "My pleasure" overlapped Illya's "Of course." There was a flurry of last minute questions and pleasantries and then the students hurried away.

As they were walking down the window lined corridor, Napoleon spotted a familiar face approaching. It took him a minute to put the name to the face, Gary, Scott's partner. The man was wearing an apron and little puffs of flour trailed in his wake.

"Gary, how are you this morning?" Illya paused as they drew abreast.

"I'm fine... ah...

"Illya, my name is Illya." Illya shook his hand and the man's face flushed slightly.

"Yes, sir..."

"What is this power you have over people, Kuryakin?" Napoleon asked, nudging the blonde. Illya, in turn, grinned. "Gary, would you and Scott like to join us for dinner tonight?"

"That would be... it shouldn't be... I'll have to check with Scott..."

"That will be fine." Napoleon pulled out a business card and scribbled a number on it. "Check with him and give us a call."

"What a shy young man," Illya commented as Gary hastily scurried off. "Of course, I've found that many of the best bakers are extremely shy."

"Why's that?"

"Cooking is more of a joint effort, you need team players to make it work right, but baking is very often the labor of one. When you bake, you have to control all the elements. It's more of a science than cooking is. In baking the recipe is gospel; in cooking it's more of a suggestion."

"Which is why you hate baking."

"Yes, it chafes. I prefer the freedom that cooking allows. I don't discredit bakers, just the opposite. I just don't want to be one. That was the longest class of my life..."

"Still, you're a helluva baker."

"Yes, but I don't like it..."

Illya glanced up as the Maitre D approached and he stood as their guests arrived. Both men had obviously dressed carefully for this meal, while he and Napoleon had simply worn what was comfortable.

"Scotty, glad you could join us tonight." Napoleon followed a heartbeat behind Illya. They again shook hands and retook their seats.

"Thanks for inviting us. We missed you this morning."

"Had a few things to sort out with the local authorities and the like."

"We didn't pack for an altercation." Illya drained his wine glass and started counting. In his restaurant, the waiters had a full minute to refill a glass, water or otherwise, before incurring Rocky's wrath. A busboy appeared and lifted the wine bottle in a silent but obvious question. Illya nodded and his glass was refilled. Illya noted that not all the tables were receiving the same attention. Wrong, he thought. Well intended, but still wrong. Consistency of service was a must for all the diners.

Then their waiter appeared, looking a little apprehensive, even more than when Napoleon and he had originally arrived. Either the man was new or Illya's reputation had preceded him.

"I'm Clint and I'll be taking care of you this evening. Would any of you gentlemen like something from the bar to start?" The man stared at his order pad as if it was the only stable point in a world gone mad.

"Yes, make eye contact," Illya said and Clint looked up, startled. Illya smiled. "That's better. Do you have any specials this evening?"

"Um, yes."

"Are you very new?" Napoleon asked quietly.

"Uh, no, just really nervous."

"Why? He doesn't bite." Napoleon resisted the urge to reach over and fluff Illya's hair. He valued his hand too much for that.

"Yes, he does." Clint snuck a glance over to where a grim faced man stared at him. "And if I screw up tonight, I'm history. He'll fire me."

"Okay, Clint, first you need to take a deep breath. Illya, do you want to do the honors or shall I?"

"I'll go. I need to introduce myself anyway." Illya stood and dropped his napkin onto his plate.

Clint watched him, worry wrinkling his brow and Napoleon chuckled.

"Calm down, son. Scott, what would you like?"

"Whiskey sour and an Old Fashioned for my partner."

"Yes, sir, and you?"

"We'll stick with wine, thank you." Clint hurried away, narrowly avoiding a collision with a nearby table. "Poor guy."

"I know how he feels," Gary murmured, his hands automatically readjusting his place setting.

Napoleon smirked. He'd watched Illya do the same thing. "What do you mean?"

"You have to take the general cul art classes before you can even apply for the baking program and it's policy that you have to work in the restaurant at least three weeks during the semester." He smiled and dropped his gaze to the table. "I am not a waiter..."

"You do a great job baking, though." Scott patted his arm in consolation.

"We can't be all things to all people." Napoleon sipped his wine and let it roll about his mouth. It was opening up well.

"So what are you doing these days, Napoleon?"

"I run a small wine tasting room next door to Illya's restaurant and maintain his wine list. At night, I do a little acting."

"Sounds nice."

"It's very pastoral, but I do miss the craziness of living in the big city at times."

"Why don't you go back?" Scott sat back as their drinks arrived.

Napoleon glanced over to where Illya was chatting with the manager and smiled.

"Dumb question, sweetheart," Gary said, sampling his drink. He flushed slightly at letting the endearment slip, but Napoleon just chuckled.

Illya walked back to the table and slid into his chair, a self satisfied smirk on his lips.

"You look like the cat who just ate the canary."

"I love to instill fear into the hearts of restaurant owners..." Illya reached for his wine glass. "I think perhaps a toast is in order."

"To present friends and absent enemies," Napoleon said automatically and Illya clinked his glass to his.

"Nostrovia. And to the Light Brigade. " He saluted the men opposite him. "And although it might appear otherwise, my face thanks you."

"And my kidney." Glasses touched each other carefully and returned to their owners.

"I heard you didn't press charges?" Gary asked, setting his glass back down.

"That's right." Napoleon reached into his jacket pocket for his reading glasses.

"You just let those bastards go?" Scott pushed aside the cloth that hid the bread from view. "You're bigger men than I am... relatively speaking."

"Meeting violence with violence isn't always the best answer."

Clint returned with a sort of glassy eyed look.

"Are you all right, Champ?" Napoleon asked.

"Is it true?" He looked at Illya, who smiled and nodded.

"As far as he thinks, it is, and that's enough for now." Illya reached for the menu, but didn't open it. "Tell me what you like."


"What do you like on the menu?"

"Really?" Clint darted another look, but the manager was gone now. "Don't order the pepper steak. It's seriously nasty, but the shellfish app platter is different." He indicated the dish on Gary's open menu. "Mussels, clams, and oysters, all steamed and accompanied by three different sauces.

"And the trout mousse?"

"Really delicately flavored. If you order it, only drink water. It can't take very much competition."

Illya nodded. "Excellent. For entrees?"

"The oregano roast leg of lamb is good, but it's for three... four if you do a full course of starters, soup and salad."

Illya glanced over at his dining companions, a question in his eyes.

"I'll trust your judgment, Illya." Scott closed his menu and handed it to the waiter. Gary nodded and added his menu to the pile.

"I'm game for anything once." Then his cheeks flushed slightly and he returned to his bread and butter.

"You know my mind, partner," Napoleon said. "Although I wouldn't mind giving that calf's liver with prosciutto a try."

Illya sighed and opened his menu, scanned the selections one last time and cleared his throat. "Very well, Clint, get ready to write."

Napoleon suppressed a smile as he watched Scott's and Gary's face grew ever more astounded. Finally the waiter closed his order pad.

"And your wine order?"

"Do you have a sommelier?" Napoleon now sat forward, ready to make his contribute towards the evening.


"Wine steward?"

"Oh, yes, sir. I'll send him over."

"I thought you sold wine, Napoleon." Gary was beginning to open up as the alcohol took effect. "Don't you have a favorite?"

"I do, but many of the more interesting choices are not California wines. I'd like a local opinion."

Napoleon sighed and took one last sip of his port. "That was incredible. I didn't know they even had food like this in Vermont."

"They didn't until the Culinary Institute moved in. Best thing that ever happened to Montpelier," Scott said and then let his hand drift over to touch his partner's. "And Gary." He smiled as the younger man blushed and dropped his gaze to the table.

"Are you planning to pursue baking?" Illya was still worrying the last of Napoleon's bread pudding.

"I'm hoping to."

Illya set down his fork and pulled a card out of his pocket. "When you're ready, call me."

"I'm not sure where I want to go."

"It doesn't matter. In spite of what others think, we are a rather close knit family. Chances are, no matter where you pick, I will have a connection or two."

"But you don't even know if I'm any good."

Illya winked. "I have eyes, I know what I see and what I see, I like. You have a reverence for your food and you strike me as a man who is methodically precise, and naturally unassuming. These are all good qualities in a baker. If there isn't someone around here who will make you an offer, I will. Jesus can always use the help."

"What? Oh..I..ah, excuse me for a moment." Gary rose hastily and headed for the exit.

"Did I say something?"

Scotty grinned. "He gets overwhelmed easily. His family wasn't exactly quick on the praise. He just doesn't know how to deal with it. With finals coming up, he's all nerves right now." He rose. "I'll go check on him."

"Another Matt," Napoleon murmured.

"That reminds me. I need to give him a call and see how that new waiter is working out."

"Ah... Velon, isn't it? He certainly has the ladies entranced."

"I'm more concerned as to whether or not he can handle the demands of the job. His resume was impressive and I can't help wonder why he's setting up house in Jackson when he could easily get a job in the City or LA."

"Maybe he likes what he sees. I certainly did when I arrived."

Illya snorted. "I'm just hoping he sticks around for awhile. I hate interviewing."

"Velon could be the answer to all your prayers."

"Here's hoping." Illya touched his water glass to Napoleon's.

"You're never supposed to toast with water, it's considered bad luck."

Clint was approaching, his manner much changed since when they had entered. He settled the check folder down and smiled. "The management has comped your evening, Mr. Kuryakin, and the chef has invited you for a tour of the facilities."

"Thank you, I would like that very much. Napoleon?"

"I'll wait for our guests. It wouldn't do to have them think we're run off." Napoleon watched Illya move easily through the dining room and once again considered the very odd path his life had taken. Who would have ever thought it of him?

Scott and a red-faced Gary rejoined him. "Where's Illya?"

"Talking shop in the back."

"Will you be at the farewell picnic tomorrow?"

"I don't see why not. Illya's a terror at picnics. Be there when he starts his diatribe about mayonnaise and the heat. It's a sight to behold."

Scott looked down at the leather folder and started to reach inside his jacket, but Napoleon held up a hand. "It's been taken care of."

"Thank you."

"Not me. It's one of the many perks of hanging around with Illya. A good word from him can make or break someone."

"How did you meet him, Napoleon?" Scott dabbed his mouth carefully with his napkin. "He doesn't really seem the sort you would naturally gravitate towards."

"We were assigned to work together and just hit it off almost immediately. He's good in a tight spot."

Gary smirked, then hid his mouth. "Sorry."

"You can't offend me, Gary, so stop worrying."

"You've been together a long time?" Scott picked up the conversation.

"Since about '61, we had a parting of the ways for a few years, but then got a second chance at it. This time I didn't wait."

"I noticed. It's a handsome ring. Are those real diamonds?"

"So I have been assured."

"What's it like to have enough money to have anything you want?"

Napoleon smiled as Illya pushed through the kitchen's double door. "Useless unless you have someone to share it with."

"You're not going to eat that potato salad."

Napoleon cast a knowing look at Scott and Gary and both men smirked. Illya glanced from one to the other with a puzzled expression. "What?"

"Nothing, partner, nothing at all..." Napoleon regarded his plate, fried chicken, potato salad, macaroni salad and a mess of things he could not immediately identify. "What do you have against potato salad, Illya?"

"Nothing, if it's handled properly. The bowl is warm, the salad is warm, and the day is warm. In my book, this is not the best of circumstances for the safe storage of mayonnaise." Illya had steered away from anything with a mayo base. "This bright orange Jell-o whatever-it -is salad is quite good."

"You avoid mayo, I avoid Jell-o." Napoleon tried his chicken. "And this is very good."

"I agree with you. Not greasy and the coating compliments and doesn't hide the taste of the chicken. Whoever made this knew what they were doing."

At Gary's grin, Napoleon asked. "And why are you smiling?"

"I made it. And the reason it's not greasy is because I baked it." He shrugged his shoulder. "I go with my strengths."

"And then you question my thoughts of your skill." Illya wiped his hands off and reached for his beer. "We have incoming."

"Ah, and this must be the fruit basket," the man, one arm in a sling, muttered as they passed. Illya leaned close to Napoleon and whispered something. In turn Napoleon chuckled. "Something funny?"

"Not really, pathetic, but not funny." Napoleon continued to poke at his food with his fork. "He was just mentioning how anxious you seemed to be to have your other arm broken."

"I fell in the shower," the man protested, his face darkening.

"Listen, Harry, I've asked you this nicely before, now I'm telling you. Back off." Scott had set aside his plate.

"Suddenly developing some balls, Tankster? That must be a new experience for you."

Likewise, Illya set his plate down, then he stood. Scott started to move as well, but Napoleon shook his head slightly.

"Harry, wasn't it?" Illya's voice was very even and very controlled.

"Yeah, what of it, little man?" Harry looked back at the two men to either side of him, their presence giving him bravado.

"I am here as a guest and would never want to do something that would jeopardize the frivolities of the day, nor do I want to do something that would cause Napoleon any discomfort."

He allowed the men a moment to laugh amongst themselves before slowly pulling off the jacket he wore and smiling. Years of being an agent, follow by years of cooking gave him considerable upper body strength. The tee shirt he wore, his favorite and one that Napoleon has accidentally shrunk, only accentuated that fact, something not lost on the men.

Abruptly, he reached out and grabbed Harry's unbroken arm at the wrist. Illya squeezed and Harry gasped, falling to his knees. "My hands are still considered licensed weapons in several countries, including this one. Now, because of that, I cannot strike you without risking arrest for assault with a deadly weapon. But rest assured, I do not need to hit you to hurt you." Illya increased the pressure and the man groaned.

His friends started to move, but Napoleon held up his hand. "I wouldn't advise that, not if you value your friend's wrist. He'll happily crush it if you give him the chance."

"Stay still," Harry ordered, his face wrinkled with pain. "Just stay fucking quiet."

Napoleon nodded to Harry. "Good call. You were saying, Illya?"

"Now, my suggestion to you is to leave us. We are enjoying a quiet time with our friends and do not need your particular brand of poison to infringe upon our time together. If you do not desist for the remainder of our visit, I will hunt you down and hit you hard enough your relatives will feel the blow. Have I made myself clear?"

Harry muttered something and Illya cocked his head. "I'm sorry, what did you say?" The muscles in Illya's forearm bunched and the man gasped again, his eyes wide.

"You're crushing my wrist. Yeah, I will, we will, let me go."

"Napoleon?" Illya was unmoved.

"Let him go, partner, before you destroy his only good wrist." Napoleon carefully speared a pickled string bean. "You made your point." He bit into it and smiled at the tangy sweetness. "Besides, you should really try these beans.

Illya opened his hand and the man dropped. "I believe you have now somewhere else to be?" He addressed the other men. They gathered up Harry and moved away as Illya continued. "I cannot stand bullies."

"How did you..?" Gary started and then stopped. "Were you telling the truth? About the licensed weapons thing."

"As I said, I cannot, nor will I tolerate bullies." Illya reseated himself and took the bean Napoleon offered. He eyed it warily and then bit into it. "You're right, these are good. But don't eat the potato salad."

Napoleon flopped back on the bed and made a face. "I can't say I'll miss these beds. I think we'd have been more comfortable if we'd just put the mattresses on the floor."

"And you waited for the last night here for that revelation?" Illya shrugged out of his jacket and peeled off his tee shirt. His arms and face showed the effect of too much time in the sun. He toed off his shoes and sat to remove his socks, sighing at the freedom.

"Before last night, it didn't really matter. The night before I was too tired to care."

"How is your back feeling?"

"About the same as your face I suspect."

Illya tugged off his jeans and, naked, settled beside his partner. "With your back and my mouth, I think we should give it a pass. If anyone asks, we can always say we had mad passionate sex. They'll never know one way or the other... deal?" He looked over at Napoleon and then back up at the ceiling.

"Deal." Napoleon reached down and took his hand, squeezing it gently. "At least we didn't have any more trouble after that initial go."

"That's the thing about bullies, once you confront them, they usually leave you alone. If you are worried about possible repercussions tonight, I do have a weapon in my suitcase."

"You're carrying?"

"Force of habit. I never leave home without one." Illya sighed. "But it has been many years since I've slept with it. I was afraid I'd pull it on Matt."

"That would have taken some explaining. Do you ever miss it, Illya?"

"What the beatings, the torture, the humiliation of having to be rescued? I do. You?"

"Almost every day. That's what I liked about the acting. It gave me a chance to pretend... and remember."

"Why are you talking about it in past tense, Napoleon?"

"I'm not sure there will be a place for me with the company when I get back."

"Of course there will be. You are far too competent an actor..."

"Thank you, my harshest critic."

"I am, you know. I wouldn't hesitate to tell you if you stepped wrong."

"I know, that's why I love you."

"That's why you love me?" Illya let a smirk play on his lips. "And all this time I thought it was my cooking."

"Well, that too, both in and out of bed."

"There's the Napoleon I know."

"How about if I lie here and think dirty thoughts about you and you lie here and think dirty thoughts about me? Would that qualify as wild, crazy sex? Because quite honestly, that's all I'm up for at the moment."

"It will for tonight." Illya moved higher up on the bed and winced. "I feel as if a truck backed over me."

"Aside from your face, you don't look too bad. I'm sorry that happened."

"Wouldn't be a trip to Vermont if it hadn't. Roll over for me."

"Masher." Napoleon, grinning, complied, grunting softly as he did.

Illya ran a hand down Napoleon's back until it rested on the bruise. "It's hot, are you urinating blood?"

"No, of course not." Napoleon sprawled out onto as much of the bed as his partner left him.

"Would you rather I slept in the other bed tonight?"

"I'd rather clean all the toilets in Grand Central Station with a toothbrush than sleep without you."

"That reminds me. I forgot to brush my teeth." Reluctantly, Illya rose and walked towards the bathroom.

Napoleon was almost asleep before Illya returned, sighing as Illya settled in beside him, flesh to flesh. Napoleon's arm automatically went out and draped over the slim waist, spooning him even closer.

Napoleon wasn't sure what had woken him, but he stayed still, his senses stretched to their fullest extent. The curtains kept the moonlight out, but the luminescent dial of the clock radio made up for it. The room wasn't so dark that Napoleon couldn't see most of it through half open eyes. Nothing was moving with the exception of the gentle rising and falling of his partner's chest.

He studied Illya's face in the half light, looking so deceptively young in sleep. Napoleon remembered that Christmas so long ago. That night his mother had told him that they would be sharing a bed and the next morning, when Napoleon had woken up with Illya in his arms and it had felt like the most natural thing in the world. He'd ached to make love to his partner then and there, but had lacked the nerve to confess his love.

Finally, nearly a year later and under the effects of a truth serum, Illya confessed he felt the same. Napoleon had acted upon his feelings then and after an initial moment, they'd consummated their relationship. Napoleon never looked back from that moment on. He still dated, still flirted, because that was what was expected of him. Even through the years they were separated, his heart belonged to his partner.

Illya shifted in his sleep, murmured something, sighed and fell silent again. Napoleon gritted his teeth and slid out of the bed. His back protested the movement as he walked to the bathroom. He moved through the small room without turning the light on, sitting down to use the toilet. He flushed and was just washing his hands when he heard the noise, presumableythe same noise that had initially awakened him up. He quietly slid open the bathroom window a crack and stared out into the parking lot.

Three shapes were huddled around a vehicle, their clothes dark, their faces hidden from view.

"Will you be quiet you asshole! You do that one more time and I cut you a new one! What if you woke someone up?"

Napoleon couldn't make out the faces of the men, but it appeared the one talking had his arm in a sling. He sighed, walked to the phone and lifted the receiver. Punching the '0' button, he waited for the operator.

"Barre Police Department please," he spoke softly to keep from waking Illya.

"Police Department, Hatch speaking."

Napoleon grinned at his luck. "Ah, Officer Hatch, this is Napoleon Solo. We spoke earlier this weekend."

"Yes, Mr. Solo. I'd ask how you are, but seeing that it's two a.m., I suspect that would be a stupid question."

"There appears to be three men attempting to vandalize the rental car that's parked in Space 53 just outside our room." He heard Hatch murmured something softly.

"We have a car on the way, sir. Same three fellas as last night?"

"Not certain, but one has his arm in a sling, so that would be a safe bet."

"We'll take it from here, sir. Thank you for calling."

Napoleon resettled the receiver into the cradle and glanced back over at the bed. He'd never known Illya to sleep so deeply during their time as active agents. And yet he seemed to be doing it more and more these days. Now the man seemed in a constant state of exhaustion.

Since it was obvious Illya was determined to sleep through the whole affair, Napoleon retrieved his robe and belted it firmly closed around him. Then he walked back to the partially open bathroom widow to listen and watch.

Waiting for the police provided him some helpful nuggets of information. He figured out the men were Harry Stoner, Billy DeYoung and Glen Longley. Shame it was some poor victim's car that was getting trashed. They'd gotten in so late that Illya had had to park at the far end of the lot. Napoleon wondered whose car was being vandalized.

When the cops arrived, there was a brief tussle, some words were exchanged, but in the end the three were apprehended and went quietly more or less. Napoleon watched one of the uniformed officers come towards their room and opened the door before he could knock.

"Mr. Solo?"

"Yes, I am."

"Would you rather come down to the station in the morning to file a report?"

"That would be easier, thank you."

"Sorry about your rental car."

"Not ours, we're parked elsewhere."

The officer grinned. "Oh, their world just got so much messier... Have a good night, sir."

"And you."

Napoleon closed and locked the door, stripped off the robe and climbed back into bed.

"Did you have fun?" Illya voice was partially muffled by his pillow.

"It was glorious. Sorry that I woke you. How long?"

"About halfway through the phone call, but I figured you had it well in hand. No use both of us losing sleep."

"Smart Russian." Napoleon reached for his partner, ignoring the grunt that followed.

"I prefer opportunist."

As Napoleon settled down, adjusting Illya just so, he sighed. "Just once though, I'd like to come back and have nothing happen."

"Then you shall have to do it with someone other than me, I suspect. Trouble tends to dog me."

"Well, then hang a Porterhouse steak from my neck and call me Rover." Napoleon grinned into Illya's hair, kissing it. "Because there's no one else I'll come here with." He ground his pelvis into Illya's ass, laughing at the groan.

"You'll be the death of me someday, Solo."

"But here's hoping not for a long, long time."

"Agreed. Now go to sleep, we have an early plane to catch."

Tomorrow, they would climb back aboard a plane and make the trip back to California; again their world would start to explode into action, Illya going one way, Napoleon the other, but his heart was warmed by knowing that at the end of the day, they would be in each other's arms, loving, reassuring, and moving forward, two people lucky enough to have found what so many other still search vainly for. They'd found love, they'd found happiness, they'd found each other. Napoleon grinned again and sighed. Some guys just have all the luck...

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