Napoleon turned the collar of his jacket up against the brisk October wind and hurried from Vinea across the parking lot to Taste. The tasting room had been really busy tonight as some of the wines from the newest harvest were proving very popular. There was a Chardonnay he could not keep on the shelf. He'd been as guilty as many others after the first sip. It was butter smooth going down with an incredible range of flavors. He loved it, but he admitted as he rubbed a temple, it didn't like him. He had a raging headache from too much wine, too little food and way too much business. Even now a few of his customers were sitting on Vinea's porch, enjoying a late glass of wine despite the cold.
Napoleon walked rapidly across the parking lot, listening as his feet crunched on the gravel. There were still several cars parked outside the restaurant that his partner ran. It still amazed Napoleon how different their lives were now. He was a prosperous wine merchant, Illya a successful chef. Who would have thought such a thing of two old ex-spies?
He opted to ignore the front door and entered the restaurant through the kitchen. He stepped inside, happily opening his coat to the ever-present heat. The people racing back and forth didn't look as if they shared his appreciation. Several had towels over their shoulders to wipe the sweat away. Others wore sweat bands.
"How's business, Mr. S?" Rand carried a stock pot past him and set it on the back burner of a stove. "This is ready for you, Matthew!"
"Grazie!" Matt was standing in Illya's usual spot and Napoleon glanced around the kitchen.
"Rand, where's Chef hiding?"
"He's trying to find something in the store room that none of the rest of us can find, although I think in reality he's taking five . We really got hammered tonight."
"You too? I don't think I've seen this much business since Christmas last year."
"I'm going out on a limb and saying that I think the recession is over."
Napoleon laughed and patted Rand's shoulder. He threaded his way through the kitchen to the store room and opened the door. The room was unheated and was cool, almost cold compared to the kitchen.
Illya sat on the floor, his back against a crate of toilet paper. His head came up briefly until he recognized the shape standing before him and then he let his head tip back. Napoleon smiled and placed his still cold hands on Illya's cheeks. Illya gasped and then sighed, eyes shut in pleasure.
"You look beat, my love." Napoleon knelt down and kissed him, smiling at the enthusiasm by which it was met. "But maybe not that beat?" Napoleon ran a hand through the sweat-damp hair and pulled Illya's head forward so their foreheads touched.
"Doesn't matter, I still have a restaurant full of people to serve. Is it that late or have I lost track of time?"
"It's well after nine." Napoleon released Illya's head and stood.
"Have you eaten?"
"Not really, a couple of apps, but nothing substantial." Napoleon offered him a hand up, half hoping Illya would pull him down and they would enjoy a few moments in each other's arms.
"Go sit down and I will make you something." Illya pushed the hand aside and stood, pulling his damp tee shirt from his skin and shaking it, encouraging air flow.
"I'd rather lie down and give you something."
"Perhaps later, if you are 'up' for it." The smile that crept onto Illya's face was serene.
Napoleon repressed the urge to pull Illya to him in a crushing embrace and show the man just how up for it he already was. The reality was that Illya would not have appreciated such a move and would probably have laid Napoleon out for attempting it. "Oh, believe me, I will be." Napoleon bent in for another kiss and then turned aside to follow Illya out of the room. "I have to confess, I love a man in checks."
He gave Illya's ass a fond slap and heard Matt yell, "Hey, Cara, no squeezing the tomatoes, huh?"
Napoleon waved him off and walked out of the kitchen into a cooler, but still pleasant dining room. Illya hadn't been joking when he said that there had been a full house. Still nearly every table was occupied and Napoleon headed back towards the bar, only to come to a screeching halt.
There was someone sitting at his table. The bar wasn't crowded and there were other tables available. Stella or Celeste always made sure that this table had a reserved sign on it. More than that, it was who was sitting at the table.
"That's impossible," Napoleon murmured. "He'd have to be almost ninety by now." Hurriedly he walked up and the man sitting there smiled at him and stood slowly, reaching out an aged hand.
"Mr. Solo, I've been waiting for you. You are looking well."
"Thank you, Mr. Waverly, so are you." They shook hands and sat. "I'm a bit surprised to see you here, sir."
"You think we don't keep tabs on our former agents. Granted you were a bit easier to track than your partner. Speaking of which, how is Mr. Kuryakin?"
"A little cranky tonight and tired. This was a lot of cooking, even for him." Napoleon helped himself to some popcorn and savored the first mouthful. Trust Illya to push even popcorn to its limit by adding truffle salt and yeast. "Don't misunderstand my question, sir, because it's wonderful to see you, but what are you doing here?"
"I'd always wanted to visit California and the opportunity recently presented itself. It takes me a bit longer to get around these days, so I thought it would behoove me to strike while the iron was still hot." He packed his pipe, lit it, and took a long draw. "You are happy, Mr. Solo?"
"Happy is a transitory state, sir, and temporary at best. I remember when you told me that."
"It was when you announced that you and Mr. Kuryakin had the intention of becoming much more than just working partners. Do you remember your response?"
"Yes, sir, I replied that a moment of happiness with Illya was worth a lifetime of disappointment with someone else." The candle caught the diamond in Napoleon's wedding band and he smiled at it.
"I would hazard to say you have achieved more than a moment of happiness, Mr. Solo."
"I have, sir." Celeste came by and set Napoleon's usual in front of him. He started to ask what Waverly wanted, but the old man shook his head.
"Nothing for me. At my age, I have to be careful what I eat and drink and sadly, even fine Scotch is beyond me these days."
"How is business?"
"The same, although with our old adversary gone, things have become more corporate than the old days of cloak and dagger. Do you miss it?"
"Sometimes I do, but then I look around at what I have and call myself a fool." Napoleon sipped his drink.
"What do you have, Mr. Solo?"
"A thriving business—two of them actually—a loving partner, more friends than I can count, and, for the first time in a long time, a home—some place where I belong."
"That's good. And Mr. Kuryakin?"
For a moment, they were silent and Napoleon watched the bustle of the dining room begin to quiet as more customers left and tables sat vacant.
"Who would have thought when I introduced you two so long ago of the path you would eventually follow. Although a small confession, there always has been a bit of a matchmaker in me, Napoleon."
Napoleon grinned at Mr. Waverly's use of his given name. The only other time he'd done that was when he'd somberly shaken Napoleon's hand that last time and wished him Godspeed in his search for his partner.
"It's been an incredible trip, that's certain. And, if I forget to say this later, thank you, sir. You made all this possible."
"You are more than welcome, young man. It's nice to know that some things have worked out."
Napoleon took another sip of his drink and felt a hand on his shoulder. He glanced up and back and smiled at his partner. "Look who we have here, Illya."
Napoleon glanced at the seat across from him, but it was vacant. Illya set a plate in front of him and knelt beside of him.
"Are you all right, Napoleon? You seem a little flushed."
"Of course, I've just been visiting with... why do you ask that?"
"Rocky says you've been sitting here, talking to yourself for the last half hour."
"Not myself, Mr. Waverly. He must have just gone to the restroom."
"Impossible." Illya stood and settled into the seat Waverly had vacated.
"Not impossible, so he's a little older and slower, but we all are."
Illya reached out and took Napoleon's hand. "No, sadly, quite impossible. April called this afternoon, Napoleon. Mr. Waverly passed away this morning."
"But... he was here, Illya, I swear he was."
"Perhaps he was, I can almost smell his pipe tobacco. Perhaps he just wanted to check up on you, make sure you were okay."
"Us, he wanted to make sure we were okay." Napoleon gestured to himself and then Illya.
"And are we?"
"Always." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Old Man standing there, fedora on his head, smiling and nodding. He turned and walked away, growing fainter with each step.
"Hey, Cara!" Matthew flopped down in a nearby chair and then sat forward. "Are you well? You look a bit like you've seen a ghost."
Napoleon squeezed Illya's hand tightly and smiled. "Not a ghost, Matt, just the best damned thing that ever happened to me." Waverly looked, touched his hat, and was gone.