People Need Love
Napoleon caught the phone on the second ring. "Vinea, how may I help you?" He didn't usually help out at Vinea on Wednesdays, but they were short staffed this week. One of his clerks was busy welcoming his new son into the world and another one had a rotten cold. The least he could do was ease the way for the two remaining employees.
"May I speak with Napoleon Solo, please?" The voice on the other end of the line was male, but bordered on the edge of feminine.
"I'm Napoleon Solo." He reached for a pencil and a piece of scrap paper. When people asked for him these days, it was usually a winery calling to ask him about carrying their product or someone wanting to ask him a wine related question. He'd never intended to become an expert on wine, but somehow it had found him all the same.
"Mr. Solo, I represent Literary Magazine, and we are..."
"I know who you are..." Napoleon had no desire to hear a sales pitch, not with a store full of customers. "We just renewed our subscription, thank you —"
"It's not that, Mr. Solo," the speaker jumped in fast, obviously skilled at getting around resistance. "I'm one of their writers and I'm doing a series of articles about the secret of making love last. Your name and your partner's were suggested to us."
"Our E-I-C recently dined in your partner's restaurant... um, Taste, I think it's called, and had a chat with his waiter. Is it true you and your partner have been together over twenty years?"
"Give or take." Napoleon placed a hand over the receiver as he smiled at a repeat customer. "I will be right with you, ma'am."
"I can tell you're busy, Mr. Solo, but when would be a good time to meet with you?"
"Monday or Tuesday." Those were the only days Napoleon could be sure neither of them would be suckered into helping out at either establishment.
"Then I will see you on Monday."
"Sorry, that would be helpful, wouldn't it? Lee Silliers."
"We'll expect you on Monday then, Mr. Silliers."
Napoleon hung up the phone, meaning to give Illya a quick heads up, but a man approached holding a bottle of merlot in each hand and looking very confused.
"What's the difference between these two besides twenty bucks?"
Napoleon grinned and guided him to the wine bar. "Let's taste them and you tell me."
It wasn't until the middle of Tuesday morning that Napoleon remembered the reporter who was supposed to have been there the day before. He was folding laundry. It wasn't that he necessarily enjoyed the task, but his partner's idea of folding clothes meant stuffing them in a drawer and walking away. Of course, Illya also lived in jeans and tee shirts when he wasn't in his chef outfit. Those, of course, were dry cleaned and returned, neatly hung on hangers and immediately placed in the closet. All the care that went into those pretty much shot Illya's wad for clothes care and everything else suffered.
So Napoleon took on the task of laundry. Plus, it beat the hell out of home repairs. Illya was buried to his waist beneath the kitchen sink, working on a leaky pipe. Even though they could well afford a plumber, Illya still liked to get his hands dirty.
The knock on the door helped jog Napoleon's memory that there was something he needed...
"You were expecting someone?" Illya's voice was muffled by the cabinet and Napoleon snapped his fingers.
"We are. I completely forgot about this." He set the laundry basket on the floor and opened the door and smiled apologetically at the person standing there. The man was younger, hell, everyone was younger these days or so it seemed. "May I help you?"
"Hi, I'm Lee, sorry I'm day late. This isn't an easy place to find..."
"Mr. Silliers, come in." They shook hands, Napoleon kept from making a face at the weak handshake. He glanced over as Illya appeared, grease smeared, wiping his hands on a dish towel. "Illya, this is..."
"I know, I've read his stuff before. You write for Literary Magazine." Illya offered his hand and then gestured inward. "What can we do for you?"
Lee looked over at Napoleon, who hunched his shoulders. "I forgot..." Napoleon started.
"Boy, you two really are married." Lee said, grinning.
"You have no idea." Napoleon led the way back into the living room. To Illya, he said. "Literary Magazine is doing something on the secrets of staying in love."
"Sounds admirable. Would you like something to drink, Mr. Silliers? Some coffee, tea, wine?" At Napoleon's smirk, he added. "It's got to be five o'clock somewhere."
"Coffee would be great."
"Cream and sugar?"
"No, a girl has to watch her waistline." He patted his flat stomach appraisingly.
Illya rolled his eyes, but any comment Illya was likely to make was cut short by Napoleon's. "So what do you want to know, Mr. Silliers?" He tutted Buerre Noire from a chair and brushed the loose hair from it, then reseated himself on the couch as Illya walked into the kitchen.
Silliers was looking around the living room giving everything the once over. "I like what you've done with this space. We should come and get a few shots of this. It's an absolute example of functionality within a limited space. This is very..." He made a gesture with his hands. "Intimate."
Illya appeared with a tray and Napoleon cleared a space on the coffee table. "He's complimenting your cramped and infinitesimal living space."
"I heard what he said, old friend." Illya poured a cup and offered it to each before relaxing back into the couch with his own cup. "It's one of the advantages of living in a small house. What is it that you would like to know?"
"What's the secret of staying in love?"
"No idea." Illya sipped his coffee.
"It will be a very short article if he prints just that, Illya." Napoleon reached for a tea cookie, one of the few things Illya actually did bake and one of Napoleon's' greatest weaknesses. Of course, nearly all butter and sugar, what wasn't to love? He bit into it and smiled as the tender crumbs melted on his tongue.
"I'm serious. I do not wake up in the morning and think: I must stay in love with Napoleon today. Usually, I wake up wondering what day it is and whether I can go back to sleep or if I have to get up and go to work."
"Okay, let's go back for a minute." Lee picked up one of the small round cookies. "What are these?"
"Russian tea cakes."
"Why do you make them?"
"Because Napoleon likes them." Illya glanced over at Napoleon and gave him a half smile. "His doctor, on the other hand, doesn't."
"Which makes them all that much more appealing." Napoleon helped himself to another one.
"If they aren't good for him, why do you make them?"
"Life is too short to not indulge ourselves occasionally. He doesn't ask for much, so when he does, I tend to listen."
"And, Mr. Solo, you were apparently folding laundry when I arrived. Why?"
"Because Illya doesn't like to do it."
"And you do?"
"Not necessarily, but one of us has to."
"So wouldn't you say that'a part of staying in love?"
"No, I'd say it's more a matter of just being conscious of what the other person likes and dislikes." Illya finished his coffee and sighed. "And speaking of such, if we are going to have running water for clean up tonight, I need to get back to my plumbing. Excuse me."
Before the reporter could respond, Illya stood and strode purposefully from the room.
"It's his day off. He always makes it a point to not be polite on them."
"That's... that's okay, perhaps it would be easier to talk to each of you alone." He set his coffee back down and pulled a small recorder out of his pocket. "If you don't mind, I'd like to tape this interview. It keeps me from making mistakes later on."
"That's fine," Napoleon answered, resisting the last cookie on the plate. "Ask away."
"You and Chef Kuryakin have been together for a long time."
"We used to work for the same company."
"Law enforcement." Napoleon purposefully kept his answer vague, although UNCLE was no longer the secret organization it once was. Rare was the news broadcast these days when he didn't hear the name being bandied about.
"When was that?"
"Mid fifties, we both came in about the same time and were teamed up by our boss a little while after that."
"Fast friends from the start."
"Not exactly, but we worked through those glitches enough to permit friendship to follow."
"When did you realize you loved him?"
"It was a gradual process. It wasn't that one day I woke up and decided I was madly in love with him. It was this slow process of realizing that he brought out the best in me, realizing that my life was better with him as a part of it."
"Was he your first?"
"My first what?" Napoleon sighed and reached for the cookie.
"Love, crush, whatever?"
"No, I'd lost my wife a few years before we were partnered."
"So you aren't exclusively gay?"
"Not until I met Illya and even now I don't refer to myself as gay. It didn't matter what shape he came in, I just knew I was meant to be with him. Certainly, it would have been easier if he'd been a woman, but it wasn't important."
"When my boss was talking to the waiter, he indicated that the two chefs had once been a couple."
"Illya and Matt go back to Chef's School. They used to live together and they did have a relationship, but now they are just friends."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." And Napoleon smiled. Of that he had no question at all. He'd seen other men watching his partner, coming on to him and Illya handed the attention back with a 'no thank you' neutral expression. Napoleon liked to think it was his superior love making that kept Illya close, but he knew it was much more than something so transient. Otherwise, Illya would have bolted those first few weeks after Velon's little visit. He suddenly became aware that Lee was staring at him, silent, but with a smile on his lips. "I'm sorry, did you ask me something?"
"I did, but I somehow don't think it matched whatever brought that glow to your eyes."
"One of the nice parts about growing older is those little lapses." Napoleon finished his coffee and reached for the pot. "More?"
"Yes, thank you, it's freezing up here. Well, compared to San Francisco."
"You get used to it in time, I suppose." Napoleon poured. "Now, your question was?"
"How do you feel about the AIDS epidemic?"
Napoleon sighed. They'd already lost friends to it and it was something he feared about for his young nephew. It was everywhere and he worried that Winston would make a mistake. Napoleon had seen what it could do to a man and he wasn't willing to let anyone he loved go through that, so much so that he cajoled Winston into getting tested, along with himself, Illya, Matt and Rocky.
"I won't lie and say it doesn't bother me. The cost to our community has been immense."
"A moment ago, you said you weren't gay."
"Not per se, but I am very much a part of the situation. No one should ever have to go through what the victims of AIDS do. It's not just the disease itself, but the social ostracization that goes along with it. Let's face it, people are stupid and they tend to react without thinking things through. You're dying of this horrible disease and people are telling you the disease is God's will. He's punishing you for being gay. It's not right."
"My view of God is someone who tends to be a bit understanding and loving. I like to think He doesn't make mistakes... but He does like to give people challenges to overcome."
"You consider being gay... I'm sorry, you consider people who are gay to have a challenge."
"Not them, everyone else who thinks what we is perverse, ugly, and somehow an aberration of humanity just because we love differently than the socially accepted norm." He stopped as he felt someone kiss his head.
"I knew I didn't just keep you around for your good looks and endless supply of wine," Illya said softly, hugging him. "I have to go to the store for a part, do you want anything?"
"If you could find my youthful idealism, that would be great."
"I'll look, but I am dubious as to my success." He glanced over at the reporter. "You will be here when I return?"
"I can be."
"Then I will talk with you later."
They watched Illya grab a worn leather jacket and a scarf and head out into the cold. Moutard yowled a complaint at the gust of cold air that swept through the small room and got up to plop down upon his sister and clean her cheek.
"See, the animals have it right. They don't worry about appearance, they don't worry about being judged, they just do what feels right. People could learn a few lessons from them."
Lee Silliers watched Illya move easily in the kitchen. He'd just returned from a tour of Vinea and his cheeks glowed with the glass he had had during the tour. That suited Illya just fine.
"You and Napoleon have been together for a long time."
"But there was a period of time that you weren't. What happened?"
"I made a mistake, one that I am determined not to repeat, and that's as much as I'm willing to say on that topic."
"How long have you been cooking?"
"Professionally? About fifteen years, give or take."
"That's quite a change, going from law enforcement to cooking."
"How did you... oh, Napoleon. Yes, I needed a change; cooking proved to be it."
"Do you resent the career move?"
"No, I would quite probably be dead now if I hadn't and —."
"That's all you'll say. Napoleon told me that you were a cautious individual."
"I suspect the word choice is yours, not his." Illya poured a splash of Gamay Beaujolais into a glass, swirled, and sniffed it. He waited a moment, then repeated the process. Only then did he sip it, holding it in his mouth and pulling in a little air before swallowing. Satisfied, he poured more into the glass and the one beside it.
He offered it to the reporter, who followed the same process, but a bit more clumsily. It told Illya that he'd only just been introduced to the procedure. "Nostrovia." He didn't subject the next swallow to the testing.
"I'm an American, but of Russian descent." Illya used the wine to deglaze the pan.
"Why do you taste the wine if you are just cooking with it?"
"Why would I cook with a wine that I wouldn't drink? Granted the wine that might best compliment this dish isn't the one I'd necessarily cook with, but more good dishes have been ruined because a chef tried to skimp on ingredients." Illya swirled the pan and lowered the heat. "I do not skimp... on anything."
"So, Napoleon tells me that it was a gradual process for him, of his falling in love with you. Was it the same for you?"
"No, I knew instantly. However, Napoleon had the reputation back then of being something of a skirt chaser, so I saw no future between us." Illya added some chicken stock and stirred the contents of the pan. "If being friends was the best I could hope for, then that's what I would take."
"That sounds very..."
"Sad... you would be willing to throw away love for the sake of a friendship?"
"Yes, it was worth it. And later, imagine my surprise when Napoleon approached me. I had no idea he'd even looked at a man, much less had a prior history."
"Most assuredly. Napoleon is an amoureux de l'amour."
"I don't speak French... I'm guessing?"
"Napoleon loves love. He will take advantage of it in any way it is presented to him. Or perhaps that should be in the past tense. He is a bit more... selective these days."
"Yet he identifies with the gay community."
"He is well liked wherever he goes. Napoleon has this uncanny skill of bringing out the best in people. When you are with him, you feel that no one else is as important as you are at that very moment. It can be an intoxicating rush for those not prepared for it. And it has led him to more than one uncomfortable moment in his considerable romantic past."
"You don't feel...?"
"I know I am the most important person in his life, as he is in mine." Illya returned the pork chops to the sauce, brought the heat down to a bare simmer and covered the pan. "We shall let that reduce for the time being. Do you like gnocchi?"
"Is that a board game?" Lee sipped the wine and grinned. "Or did I just ask a really dumb question?"
"I find your lack of knowledge refreshing and just a bit amusing. People who fake knowledge annoy me. It is a form of soft, very small dumpling. They are traditionally made with semolina, but I prefer potato."
"I don't believe I've ever had one."
"Tonight will be an adventure for you then." Illya turned to the task of collecting the necessary items for making the gnocchi.
"This might be a stupid question, but do you need any help?"
"Yes, fill that large pot over there with water and a generous amount of salt, perhaps two tablespoons and place it on the stove with the heat on high."
"I'm gone ten minutes and you've already replaced me." Napoleon came in carrying two bottles of wine.
"Opportunist," Illya murmured, removing the premade dough from the refrigerator. Breaking off a small pinch of the dough, he rolled it in his fingers experimentally. "Good. I think those Yukon Golds make for a better dough. They are a bit starchier than the Russets."
"You'd know." Napoleon put the bottles into the deep freeze and pulled out a white. "Will your sauce stand up to a Sauvignon?"
"It should. Pour and I will tell you."
"I always thought you had to drink the same wine that you used for the sauce," Lee said, resuming his seat at the small kitchen table.
"If you are inexperienced and uncomfortable with pairing wines with food, it's a safer route to take," Napoleon said, uncorking the bottle. Illya opened the oven door and reached in with a towel to pull out a tray of blackened peppers.
"Your peppers burned," Lee said sadly, sipping his wine and sighing. "I probably distracted you."
"Nothing distracts me when I'm cooking." Illya dumped the peppers into a brown paper sack and rolled the top to close it firmly. He absently began to flex his right hand, stretching his fingers. Napoleon caught the hand and offered him a glass of the white. Illya sighed and nodded, then went through the same procedure as before. "It will work well enough."
"How do you know?" Lee asked Napoleon. "Experience?"
"Partially because I am familiar with this dish, but it always comes out a little different. Here." Napoleon offered him a fresh glass and then took a spoon from the drawer and dipped it into the sauce. "You tell me. First the sauce, then the wine."
Lee did as he was bid and blinked in surprise. "Wow, that's really good."
"And now you know another reason why it is good to have a Solo gracing your doorstep." Illya murmured as he gingerly began to peel the still hot peppers.
"If you hadn't liked it, would you say so?"
"Yes, I am always honest with Napoleon," Illya answered without hesitation. "But that is a rare occasion. Napoleon has a unique gift when it comes to wine."
"Earlier we were talking about the chef's career change, Napoleon. This must have been quite a leap for you as well."
"Not really, I've always enjoyed good food and good wine. Illya takes care of one, it only seemed reasonable that I take care of the other." Napoleon added more wine to all three glasses. "Plus it keeps me off the streets at night."
"I thought that's what the acting was for." Illya julienned the peppers into thin strips and returned to his task of forming the gnocchi.
"You act as well?"
"And set the table?" Illya carried the tray of small dumplings to the boiling water and dumped them in.
"Mr. Silliers, if you'd help?" Napoleon flourished his glass to the kitchen door and herded the man out.
They stopped as they arrived at the set table. "But this is already done," Lee protested.
"That was Illya-speak for 'get out of my kitchen.' When he says it, I know it's time to leave him."
"Why was he flexing his hand like that? There seemed to be a moment between you two in there."
"As I'm sure you were very thorough in your background check, I am assuming you are aware of the incident we went through a few years ago."
"I am, but wasn't going to bring it up."
"Illya was physically injured as a result. He grabbed a hot pan out of the oven without realizing it. It resulted in some very severe burns and it is comparable to getting back on a horse that has thrown you when he opens a hot oven."
"That must be scary for a chef."
"He considers it a serious character flaw and beats himself up for it. God forbid, he'd actually admit to being human. I just make sure he doesn't have to."
"You're a good friend, to not try to change him."
"Why would I change him? I do that and I'm left with a stranger. You want to know the secret of staying in love, be friends first. That was one of the things I missed the most in our time apart. Not only had I lost someone I loved, I'd also lost my best friend."
"So you're saying it's more important to like someone as opposed to loving them."
"I'm saying that you should like the person you're going to be with. Love is a fleeting and fickle thing, friendships can be more lasting, more honest and more fulfilling in a way. When we are together, I don't think Oh, I should be hanging out with my friends because I am already with my friend."
"Nice sentiment, friend, would you care to pour the wine?" Illya carried in two plates and set them down on the table. Instantly he disappeared back into the kitchen and Napoleon ushered their guest to his seat and took his usual place. Illya appeared a moment later with his plate and settled in.
"This looks incredible. Do you eat like this every night?"
"Would my ever expanding waistline lie?" Napoleon chuckled as he raised his glass. "A toast, I think, to love, in its many states. May we always have an abundance of it in our lives."
"Did the reporter finally get off?" Illya blinked at him and Napoleon laughed. "I meant, leave. Has he gone?"
"Last I saw of him he was talking into that little recorder of his and staggering in the direction of 123 Main Street House." Illya said, peeling off his tee shirt and dropping it into the hamper. "Were we ever that young, Napoleon?"
"We were never that gay," Napoleon said, after spitting out his mouthful of toothpaste.
"True, but what is gay? Just another label slapped on us by people who fear and shun us." Illya came up behind him and slid his arms around Napoleon's waist and kissed his neck. "Labels are labels, Napoleon. Weak people use them as an excuse, cowards use them to hide behind, the indignant righteous use them to condemn what frightens them and then there are people like us."
"Us?" Napoleon leaned back into the warmth Illya's body offered.
"Friends, partners, lovers, we are who we are and to hell with any labels that someone might try to hang on us. They would not make me love you any more or less."
"I think we need to go to bed." Napoleon looked over his shoulder. "And you can properly show me how much you love me."
"All right, you go, I'll be right in."
Napoleon pulled back the blankets and quickly slipped out of his robe iand into bed in one motion. Not because he was necessarily modest, but because it was cool in the room. Of course, that also assured him that Illya wouldn't be pushing him away come about two o'clock because he was too warm. Winter in the Foothills did have its perks.
Illya, on the other hand, didn't bother with a robe, didn't bother with hurrying, he moved quickly out of a usual conservation of effort not from the cold. He came to bed and crawled in, neither hurrying nor lagging. As Napoleon reached for the light, Illya said, "No, I want to see your face."
"You see it every day."
"Yet seemingly never enough." Illya reached out to cup his face and study him intently.
"I was trying to think of what I would change about you, if I were inclined."
"And if you were inclined?"
"Your eyes are pleasant and evenly spaced. They see things clearly and without pretense." Illya kissed each eye lid in turn. "I wouldn't change them. Your nose is relatively straight and inoffensive. You keep it out of others' business unless you see a desperate need otherwise." He kissed the bridge of Napoleon's nose. "This would also remain unchanged." He turned Napoleon's head first one way, then the other. "Your hair, although short, is long enough for my purposes. It frames your face well and that is enough. This, too, I will keep." Illya nuzzled the closest ear. "These hear me when no one else can. They listen, they don't judge, for that, they must remain unchanged."
Napoleon smiled lazily at him and brought a finger to his lips. "And these?"
"Particularly appealing, as they are capable of great gentleness and aggression. When they speak, I listen as they have never lied to me... well, almost never lied to me. They spoke to me with great patience and kindness when no one else could be bothered. They spoke the words friend, companion and lover to me. How could I want more than that?"
At this point, Illya settled against him, kissing him deeply, letting his kiss convey the emotion in his heart, his soul.
"I could further catalog you, but the whole package is far too attractive to want to change anything." Illya let his hand move slowly down Napoleon's chest to stroke his palm over one nipple, then the other. He smiled as they grew rigid beneath his hand. Napoleon reached up a hand to grasp Illya's and brought to it his mouth.
"I think not."
"I'm not recalling having asked permission," Napoleon said, tugging downward, bringing Illya to rest on top of him. Once there, he wrapped his legs around Illya's. It would have been an easy hold to break, but Illya didn't try.
"Then say what you will." Illya brought up his free hand and rested his chin upon it.
"Well, unlike you, I see a package that is flawed."
"Excuse me?" Illya pushed up, a look of mock annoyance on his face.
"Let me finish." A hand was touched to Illya's lips. With a smirk, Illya settled back down. "All right, then." Napoleon rubbed his thumb over Illya's mouth, grinning as it opened to capture it. "I see someone who is willing to allow weaknesses in others, but never in himself. I see someone strong, capable, and loyal."
"You make me sound like a dog, Napoleon, and we both know how fond I am of them."
"You do okay with Chiquitita."
"You should well know that size has no meaning when it comes to determination, my love. You, if anyone, should know that you never discount someone because of that." Illya sighed and Napoleon continued. "I see someone who seeks perfection in what he does, but not in others. Someone who will sacrifice all and everything to help someone, even a total stranger." Napoleon moved his hand to run it through the blond hair. "And I see someone who really sees and likes what he sees."
"This is all very well and fine, Napoleon, but if we aren't having sex within the next five minutes, I'm going to be taking care of things myself."
"And someone who has the patience of a gnat."
"Does a gnat have any patience? How would they measure that?"
"I'm trying to be romantic here," Napoleon grumbled. "And you seem to be determined to be pragmatic."
"Nonsense, I'm as romantic as they come. Didn't I once paint a dirty limerick on your back?"
"Oh, you wild and heady fool!" Napoleon brought his mouth to Illya's. He moved slowly upward against Illya, groin to groin, until they were both impossibly hard. Without breaking the kiss, Illya flung out a hand, groping for the lube.
Once he had the tube in hand, he disentangled himself from Napoleon's embrace and sat back on his heels, resting his hands on either leg. Napoleon held out a hand and Illya gave him an almost shy smile. He uncapped the tube and squeezed a bit onto Napoleon's fingers. With one hand, Napoleon slid Illya's foreskin down as far as it would go and massaged the lube in with the other hand, paying careful attention to the tip. He let his tongue play with his lips as he applied the gel and he could tell Illya's appreciation by the way the man's fingers dug into his thighs.
Illya hissed as Napoleon slowly manipulated him. "More." He closed his eyes and leaned further back.
Napoleon obliged by squeezing the lube directly onto Illya's penis, knowing that the coldness of the gel would add another aspect to their lovemaking.
Illya's eyes flew open at the application, gasping.
"I knew you'd like that." Napoleon wiped his hands on his stomach and reached for a pillow. Doubling it up, he stuffed it under his back and let Illya lift his legs to his shoulders. Once he had Napoleon's legs in place, he reached for the lube, but Napoleon stayed his hand. "No."
"No? I could hurt you."
"Never." He gave Illya a smile and Illya shook his head.
"As much as I think I understand you, there are times I don't understand you at all. Tell me if you need me to stop." Illya positioned himself and pressed forward, carefully, neither too fast nor too slow.
Napoleon's eyes clenched shut at Illya's entrance, even as he worked to relax his body to accommodate the hot, slick intruder.
"I warned you."
"You feel so good... more. I need more."
Illya pulled out and applied more lube to the tip of his penis. He fondled Napoleon's genitals with a loving hand and slipped back in, a little faster and harder. He repeated this until he was completely buried and then he stopped sighing. "Do you know how good you feel? God, Napoleon, you're so tight, you're strangling me. I can't think, I can't breathe."
"Then don't -just make love to me."
Illya did, moving more and more quickly. Napoleon let his head thrash back and forth, then with a groan, he thrust hard into Illya's fist and, with another groan, climaxed. Assured that Napoleon was satisfied, Illya turned his attention to his own pleasure and gritted his teeth as Napoleon's fingers found his nipples and pinched. It didn't take him long from that point on. Three more long vicious thrusts and he let his climax find its voice. Only when Napoleon was certain that Illya had finished did he drop his legs, wincing at the pins and needles as the circulation returned to them.
Suddenly weak and without will, Illya toppled forward, sliding out of Napoleon's body. Napoleon made a face and Illya shook his head.
"You are going to be sore tomorrow."
"I am going to feel well loved tomorrow." Illya started to rise to get a washcloth and Napoleon caught his arm. "No, stay."
"We'll make a mess of the sheets."
"I'm the one who has to wash them. I'd rather feel you against me right now than worry about stains on the sheets."
Illya settled back down against him, lazily working Napoleon's semen into his stomach with slow easy strokes. Every third or fourth stroke, he lifted his fingers to his mouth, tasted, and smiled.
"You look like the cat that got the canary."
"Or something along those lines." He was quiet for a moment. "Napoleon, do you ever wonder how, out of this huge world, we managed to find each other?"
"Nope, I leave that to Higher Powers. I just worry about keeping my own armful content and happy." He tightened his arms and Illya sighed. After a moment, he snaked out a hand and shut off the light. Napoleon pressed a kiss to his head and shut his eyes. "Love you."
"And you. Sleep well."
"With you beside me, how else could I sleep?"
"On your side of the bed?"
"If the label fits."
Illya flipped the contents of the pan and gave it a shake. The brandy flamed and then died out. Quickly, he set the pan aside, lifted out the lamb medallions to a warmed plate and added a dollop of butter to thicken the sauce. Carefully, he drizzled the sauce over the lamb, keeping it well clear of the baby vegetables and cous cous. Almost instantly, the plate was snatched away and he turned to his next pan, checking to make sure the parmesan crusted chicken was golden brown before he slid it into the oven.
"I need two pork and a beef rare," Rocky announced, swinging in with his dish-laden tray. "Chef, there's someone out there asking for you... a Mr. Silliers?"
"Lee, yes," Illya answered absently as he tested a piece of fillet mignon. "I need those potatoes now, Winston."
"On their way, now." Winston rushed the plate over and Illya moved the steak from the grill to the china. "Tell him as soon as there is a break in the action, I'll be out." He grabbed his bottle of water, took a deep swallow and returned to the stove.
Nearly an hour had passed in a blur when Illya suddenly found himself at a dead stop. He sighed and rolled his shoulders. He didn't mind working in the kitchen, but it was getting harder and harder to keep up the pace with his younger colleagues.
"Matt, would you take over for me? I'm going to go see if Mr. Silliers is still waiting."
"Hope not, Cara,we can probably use his table." Matt assumed Illya's position in front of the stove as Illya changed from his stained jacket to a clean one, turned his apron and walked out into the restaurant.
Many of the tables still had people lingering over coffee and drinks, but he didn't instantly see the young reporter anywhere. Then he heard Napoleon's laugh and knew where the man had been taken to.
"So we're both standing there, in muck up to our hips and our boss decides to put in an appearance. I don't know who was more surprised, him or us." Napoleon was sitting at a table with two other men. "That was also the summer we both got caught skinny dipping at the watering hole by a pair of teenage girls. "
"Napoleon, I do believe that qualifies as telling tales out of school." Illya slid into an empty chair beside him and repressed a sigh at just being off his feet for a minute. Napoleon reached out to push his hair back from his eyes and grinned.
"You look like you've been taken out, ridden hard, then put away wet."
"Not yet." Illya pulled away and glanced over at the two other men at the table. One he recognized as the reporter, but the other man was a stranger to him. "Mr. Silliers and...?"
"Chef, this is my boss. He read the article I wrote and insisted on coming up to meet you two."
"I thought he'd been here already." Illya shook the proffered hand and settled back.
"No that was the magazine's E-I-C; this is my direct supervisor, Doug Wilhoit."
"I thought he was gilding the lily a bit with the article he did, but I can see he was right on the money."
"Ask for a raise." Illya held up a hand and a moment later, a highball glass appeared at his elbow. He drained the contents and sighed.
"You're a man of tremendous capacity, Chef Kuryakin." Wilhoit said.
Illya smirked and nodded. "Yes, I've been told that a time or two." Another glass replaced the empty one.
"I brought you a preview copy of the magazine. It will hit the stands early next week." Lee slid the glossy magazine towards him. There was a shot of Napoleon and Illya on the cover. Illya was leaning back against Napoleon, a look of contentment on his face. Napoleon looked like a man who had everything within his grasp and knew it. Illya found himself frowning.
"When did you take this?"
"Actually, Roxanne took it, at least I gave her credit for it." Napoleon turned the magazine slightly to study it again. "I think that was at their last anniversary party when Roxanne was running around snapping photos."
"Huh, I must have been more drunk than I realized that night. I do not remember this at all."
"It's a great shot, though, don't you think?" Lee seemed a little anxious and Illya nodded.
"Yes, it is fine." He retrieved the magazine from Napoleon again and flipped it open to their article. He skimmed it and shut the magazine. "I seriously doubt anyone will take our advice, but it seems well written. May I have this?"
"Of course, we brought several with us," Wilhoit said hurriedly, as if afraid Illya would abruptly change his mind. "And there's something else..."
"You're gonna love this, partner." Napoleon reached for his glass of scotch and took a swallow.
"They want you to do a photo spread." Napoleon looked over the brim of his glass at the Russian and smiled.
"You're insane. I'm a man who wears checked pants for a living." Illya started to stand.
"They aren't worried about clothes, Amante."