Baby—an ABBA/Foothills Tale
It was dark, it was hot, it was loud, and Illya Kuryakin had just about had his fill of all of it. On stage, a group of incredibly... athletic young men and women bounced around each other. The number was Dance at the Gym according to his program. He quickly deciphered the message in the music—segregate, keep to your own, and don't associate with others different from youself, until a man, boy, really, Illya corrected, and a girl of the same age began to dance together.
Illya glanced over at his partner and smiled slightly. He remembered getting the same message from his superiors on the eve of his recruitment into UNCLE. They warned him to remember his Motherland, remember his mission and responsibility to the state—Show them the might and merit of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Comrade Kuryakin. Never forget your Motherland and your duty to her. He had taken the advice with all the seriousness with which it was conveyed, although his time in France and England had left him with a slightly opposing view to that of his superiors.
All it had taken was a few months and a man named Napoleon Solo to lure Illya out of the cold and into the warm arms of Capitalism. And the path Napoleon led him down was an adventurous one, but not one that had previously included musical theatre.
Even when he'd lived in New York, Illya had not attended Broadway shows. He had no real interest in the theatre, in spite of being forced onto the stage a time or two during his stint with UNCLE. Now he was sitting through a musical every two weeks and about to go out of his mind. This wasn't his place. Sacramento was big and dirty and he found that even leaving Jackson for a few hours had him longing to be home. Considering he had lived in some of the biggest cities in the world, it struck him as odd that he'd eschew them so readily now. Even trips to San Francisco, with its openness, were looked upon with dread. Illya had to admit, his heart was no longer a part of that rat race.
People were suddenly applauding, shaking him from his reverie, and Illya politely joined in, smiling and nodding as Napoleon turned to him, boyish enthusiasm spread across his face. The joy and delight in his lover's eyes washed away any resentment Illya might harbor.
These tickets had been a stroke of genius, Illya decided. If they made Napoleon this happy, he could sit through any number of these. Just don't ask him if he was happy about it.
More numbers and then the lights came up and he blinked in the brightness. When this had first happened, he'd thought they were through... instead, Napoleon explained that it was merely Intermission and they had another act to sit through. Now Illya knew better.
"So what do you think?" It was always the first question Napoleon asked him as they filed out with the rest of the audience, all desperate for some fresh air.
"Loud." He'd noticed there were two open seats behind the orchestra pit. Perhaps he'd make inquiries as to whether or not they could change their seats to those. If he could watch the orchestra, at least he'd have something else to do while everyone else was focused upon the stage. It also afforded a better view of the stage and a seat on the aisle.
They joined the crowd out in front of the Music Circus tent. As hot and stifling as it was inside, the night air was a nice change. It wasn't much cooler, but at least it smelled fresh and there was a struggle of a breeze fighting the stillness.
He touched Napoleon's elbow and nodded to the restrooms. Napoleon nodded back and wandered off to the boutique.
There never seemed to be much of a line for the men's room and Illya glanced over to where the women were lined up, some more anxiously than others. Why women stood for it, he'd never know. He went in, used a urinal, and then went to the sink to wash his hands. Instead of immediately drying them, he rubbed one against the back of his neck and sighed at the bit of coolness. He really hated summer in the Valley.
"Hot, isn't it?" The man, busy at the basin beside his, asked, glancing over.
"Yes," Illya let the weariness from the heat moderate his tone. "Whoever thought of having theatre productions in a tent in the dead of summer obviously never lived through a Central Valley summer. There are some things even a dozen swamp coolers can't do. Cooling that tent is one of them."
"They're talking about building a permanent structure for the summer productions, one with real air conditioning." The man shook the water from his hands, but was obviously in no hurry to leave. "It can't come soon enough for me. Your wife rope you into this?"
Illya nodded, trying to keep a smirk from his lips. "Although, in all honesty, I was the one who actually bought the tickets. It seemed such a good idea at Christmas."
"Mine, too. I love her, but there are just some things that go above and beyond... like musical theatre."
Illya opened his mouth to say something just as the bathroom door opened and a woman, hand over her eyes, walked in, announcing, "Zip it up, fellas, I gotta pee and I'm not happy about waiting!"
The two men exchanged looks and Illya grinned, gesturing to the stalls. "I'll watch the door for you."
"Oh, thank you!" The woman dropped her hand and rushed in.
Illya wandered back across the small pavilion toward a bench that he knew Napoleon favored. If the man wasn't there waiting for him, Illya knew Napoleon had headed back in.
Sure enough, Napoleon was sitting on the bench, elbows on his knees, chatting with a young girl of ten or so. Suddenly, a woman stalked up, grabbed the girl's arm and propelled her away from Napoleon. Illya wasn't close enough to hear the exact words, but he could tell the woman was not happy. He stepped up his pace and arrived just as the woman, still yanking the girl's arm, huffed away.
Illya stopped, immediately saddened by the look of dismay on Napoleon's face. His lover dropped his gaze to the ground and sighed as Illya sat down beside him. After a moment, Napoleon glanced sideways at him.
"All I did was ask her if she was enjoying the show. When did I become a pervert for making small talk with a child?"
Illya rested his hand on Napoleon's forearm, the most intimate contact he permitted himself in public. "It's not just you. It's the world we live in, Napoleon," Illya murmured, squeezing the arm gently. Beneath his hand, muscles, still strong, flexed as Napoleon worked his hand. Illya recognized it as a sign that Napoleon was working to control his temper. In the old days, they would have gone down to the gym and sparred a little or maybe wrestled. Those times were behind them now.
"I know... it's just... a sad statement of what we've become. When we were in the thick of it, I never thought it would end up like this."
"Do you ever regret it?"
"What? The fight ? Not for a second. It was what I do... did. Besides, no UNCLE, no you."
"Your choice... not to have a more conventional lifestyle? One with children?"
"What are you talking about? I wouldn't change what I have for all the money in the world. And I have more children than I know what to do with. And if you try to tell me that Matt and Rocky aren't our kids, I'll argue the point."
"You know what I mean, Napoleon."
"And you know what I mean." For a moment they sat there, quietly, as the throng of people moved by. Illya caught sight of the man from the restroom, carrying two small children, a third hanging onto his shirt tail, crying about something, while a woman carried a squirming baby her free arm flailing as she berated the man about something.
Napoleon noticed and smiled. "Tell me that's better than what we have." At Illya's non-answer, he patted Illya's hand and stood. "Let's go home."
"What?" That shook Illya from his reverie. "We still have another act to go."
"Somehow, I've lost my taste for it tonight. I'm ready to leave."
"All right, if you are sure."
"Tonight I am." They started to walk in the opposite direction of most of the crowd, slipping out the main gate without drawing attention to themselves. It was then just a fast walk across the street to the parking garage and to their car.
Illya pulled the little coupe out onto the surface streets and rolled down the window. At the first stop light, he unbuttoned his shirt a bit more and pulled the fabric away from his skin, flapping it to encourage air flow. He blew out a mouthful of air and tapped the steering wheel with his thumb, anxious to get moving again. It was just so hot down here.
"Sorry it's so hot tonight." Napoleon's voice drew him back and he glanced over as Napoleon nodded to the now green light.
Illya grinned and took off, cool at least until the next stop light. "I do not hold you responsible for the weather, Napoleon. My world perhaps, but never the weather."
They drove in silence, the car weaving in and out of traffic until they hit Highway 16. Traffic out of town was light and Illya settled into the hour long drive back to Jackson. While he could push the speed limit, warm weather like this brought out the wild life and he had no desire to plow into a deer or anything else. Instead, he set a steady, but below the speed limit, pace.
"What's wrong this evening, Napoleon? You've barely said two words since we left town." Illya spared a moment to glance over at his partner and then returned his attention to the road.
"Dinner isn't agreeing with me tonight." Napoleon rubbed his chest and smiled briefly. "I've got a raging case of heartburn."
"That jerk was pretty intense. Caribbean food can do that." Illya didn't mention that Napoleon had seemed fine during the first act of the show.
"Yours never does."
"That's because you sleep with the chef and he watches out for you." He smiled, and reached over to squeeze Napoleon's knee and left his hand there. Napoleon's hand automatically dropped to cover it. "Was it what happened in the courtyard with the child?"
"Your angina?" Illya dreaded the answer to that question. A month earlier, Napoleon had collapsed in Vinea. What was initially feared to be a heart attack had been diagnosed as angina. Not as serious, but it had still been a wakeup call for both men. Illya had started immediately revamping his personal cooking to drop the fat and salt content of his entrees. He'd bullied Napoleon into joining him on his morning run and he made sure Napoleon always had a nitroglycerin pill with him. The result was an immediate drop in Napoleon's weight, twenty three pounds at last count. He had more energy and was more active in the day-to-day affairs in his wine shop.
"No." This time Napoleon's voice was firm and Illya waited. "I'm... I'm sorry, Amante, I'm just tired tonight, that's all. And I guess a little homesick for New York."
"You were watching two rival gangs wage war. Perhaps it wasn't New York, but rather UNCLE you miss."
"Lying in an alley in garbage and urine, half conscious and leaking blood, yes, I do miss the good old days..." Napoleon sighed deeply. "If I could actually remember them... " Being deprogrammed meant that large chunks of their days with UNCLE were gone from Napoleon's memory. Illya's was still intact and there were days he both envied and was saddened by Napoleon's gaps. He frowned and spared Napoleon another fast look, then relaxed at the smile on Napoleon's lips.
"I'm okay, Illya. Just a little... I don't know, restless?"
Illya squeezed Napoleon's knee again and smiled slightly. "We could work off some of that restlessness."
"Not that restless. I'm just a little too tired and too hot for that tonight."
This time it was Illya who sighed. He'd expected the difficulties in resuming their sex lives after Velon got through with them and had anticipated reticence and concern immediately following Napoleon's angina attack, but not now. Not a month later.
After Napoleon's attack, Illya had assumed things, meaning sex, would get back to normal after a week or so, but they hadn't. At first Illya had been understanding, knowing that Napoleon was worried about his heart. Now Illya was merely frustrated with Napoleon's apparent lack of interest. Short of knocking his partner down and forcing him into intercourse, something Illya would never do, he was at a dead end.
Still he didn't push the issue, upon the advice of Dr. Goyette. The doctor had assured both men that it was fine to resume an active sex life, but only when Napoleon was ready. Until then, Illya would have to make do.
"Sorry..." Napoleon's voice sounded small and Illya shook his head. "I seem to be saying that a lot to you lately."
"I understand, Napoleon." He didn't, but it didn't much matter. He wouldn't force Napoleon and surely if he could make it through one rough patch, Illya could survive another. But again, like attending the musicals, it didn't mean he had to be happy about it.
Illya poked his head out from beneath a pillow and blinked the sleep away. Even with the air conditioning on full and a fan on high, there was a thin sheen of sweat on his skin. Yawning, he fought his way free of the rumpled sheet and flopped back, letting the fan blow over him.
His morning erection was alert and looking around the room for some action, but as it had been for many mornings now, Illya was alone. He could hear the outside water tap going and assumed Napoleon was watering things. Another week of hot weather and they'd be hit with water restrictions, but for now, it was a battle between Napoleon and the sun over the flowers and the herb garden.
"Looks like we're on our own this morning," Illya murmured. He resisted immediately taking matters in hand, opting instead for a cool shower.
He emerged, several minutes later, clean shaven, refreshed, and not as anxious as he'd been upon waking. Still, he was going to have to find some way of convincing Napoleon that sex wasn't going to trigger another attack. Either that or become a monk.
He pulled on a tee shirt and a pair of jogging shorts and made his way downstairs. Moutard chirped and ran to greet him, complaining loudly that he hadn't been fed, the food was of poor quality, and there was so little of it. Illya scooped the cat up and scratched his head as he walked into the kitchen. He set the cat down by his food bowl and walked to the counter.
There was coffee in the pot, which he poured over ice and drank quickly. It was Monday, their day off, a day for them to do as they pleased. However, what would please Illya and what Napoleon preferred were miles apart at the moment. He drank the coffee and watched Moutard nose around in his dry food, carefully knocking the yellow bits of cat food out of his bowl.
Illya carried another glass of iced coffee into the study and sat to review the week's mail. The curtains were closed in a vain attempt to keep out as much of the morning heat as they could. Instead it made the room stuffy. He turned on the overhead fan and approached the desk with both a sense of excitement and foreboding. Bills and invoices went to their separate work addresses, so the only things that arrived here were the usual assortment of monthly obligations and personal mail.
Illya pushed aside the stacks of mail, the usual assortment of pens, pencils, scrap paper, paper clips, and such to make room for his cup. He reached for some hand lotion and worked it into his hands as he tilted his head first one way, then the other to read the top envelopes.
Napoleon handled the daily task of sorting things into three piles, his, Illya's and theirs. While both of their names were on the checking account, Napoleon was always careful to allow Illya to review any bills he paid for them beforehand. Illya reached for a pair of wire-rimmed glasses and slipped them on.
Illya started with the obvious work-related items in his stack, magazines, a check and letter from his publisher telling him his last cookbook had gone into a third printing, a couple of requests for interviews, and so forth. Letters and cards would be tackled last, when he needed a change.
He was skimming through the magazines when he found a piece of mail addressed to Napoleon. It was from a private yacht company. Illya turned it over in his hand and briefly thought about 'accidently' opening it, but Napoleon would be wise to that.
No, it was Napoleon's mail and Illya would wait until Napoleon broached the subject, if he did at all. It didn't matter. They were married, but they still didn't share everything. There were aspects of each of their lives that were still kept shuttered off from the other, whether from habit or necessity, Illya wasn't sure. He set the letter aside, then heard a noise at the study door and looked over.
Napoleon was standing there; a loose tee shirt, wet and dirt smeared, hung out of his jeans. His hair was wild as if he'd been running his wet hands through it and the sun had dried it. He looked very unlike his usual dapper self.
"If all those glamorous ladies of New York could see you now," Illya said, pulling off his glasses. A month ago, Napoleon would have surged forward, made some silly comeback and proceeded to take Illya on a trip to Happy Town. But that was a month ago, not now...
"I wondered where that had gone." Napoleon's focus was upon the piece of mail Illya had set aside, not his partner.
"Yes, it was mixed in with my magazines." Illya held it out to him, but Napoleon didn't take it.
"I've been missing the sea as of late," he said softly, by way of an explanation. "These guys offer fishing charters. While I'm not into the fishing aspect, being on a boat would be nice—"
"I think you should go," Illya interrupted, but it was as if Napoleon hadn't immediately heard him.
"It would only be for a week and we are pretty quiet over at Vinea's. Stacy can handle anything that comes up and it wouldn't interfere—" Napoleon stopped and studid him, then asked, "You wouldn't come too?"
"I can't. Unlike you, this is our busiest season. I have events on the next three weekends and a teaching seminar sandwiched in between those, not forgetting that I'm one of the judges at the county fair and doing a cooking demonstration there as well asrunning Taste. You should go though and get out of this heat. At least one of us would be comfortable. And as you know, the seas and I don't always see eye-to-eye."
"You wouldn't mind... me being gone for a week?"
"No, not if it's something you really want to do. We're not joined at the hip after all."
"We used to be. There was a time you wouldn't let me out of your sight." Something in Napoleon's voice made Illya look sharply at him. He rose and walked to Napoleon, stopping just short of him.
"Yes, and it's taken me a long time and very hard work to change that. It doesn't mean I like it, but I know that you are very competent at taking care of yourself. You don't need me to do it for you."
"That's where you're wrong, Illya." The briefest of hesitations and then Napoleon hugged him, pulling Illya tightly against him.
"Napoleon," Illya murmured quietly. "You need to let me go, I can't take much more of this."
"You want me to leave you?"
Illya pushed him away, breathing deeply. "It's been over a month, Napoleon, and my self control is slipping a bit more each day. If this is a comradely hug, then you need to step quickly out of the room and let me regain control of myself. If it's not, then you have far too many clothes on."
"Illya..." Reflexively, Napoleon brought a protective hand to his chest. "You don't know what it's like... the fear... it's—"
Illya held up his scarred right palm and fingers, the skin unnaturally shiny and smooth, for Napoleon to see. "I know more about fear than you can realize, Napoleon, but I never let it stop me."
A moment and then, suddenly and without warning, the dam burst. Napoleon knocked Illya backwards onto the couch, practically ripping the clothes off them both. For a moment, Illya was afraid, terrified that this was some sort of crazy daydream and he'd suddenly wake up and Napoleon would still be out watering the flowers. Then he felt a mouth, as familiar as Napoleon's voice or his touch, on his skin and he arched into it. His fingers dug into Napoleon's scalp to keep the mouth from retreating, but Napoleon had other plans as well.
Illya suddenly gasped as Napoleon's hand, cool and slick with hand lotion, grasped his penis and started to work up and down. Even though he'd masturbated earlier, it was something very different when it was someone else's hand.
He moaned, knowing that he wasn't far from the edge. Then, fuzzy with arousal, he realized he'd been thrust away and Napoleon was beneath him, hunched over, the invitation all too clear. Despite the urge to just slam into Napoleon, a voice whispered caution. It had been a long dry month, and if he took Napoleon now as quickly as he wished, it would be painful and not pleasant for either of them.
Illya's hand searched for and found the discarded bottle. He squeezed a generous glob into his hands and rubbed them together. One hand headed directly for Napoleon's penis, the other moved more slowly, tracing a more meandering path up the inside of Napoleon's left thigh.
Napoleon let Illya know just what he thought of the side trip and Illya bit down and sucked on Napoleon's skin as he slid a finger into Napoleon, the resulting groan was a combination of pain and pleasure. Illya licked the blood-red mark he left behind and moved his finger slowly in and out, introducing a second one when he was sure Napoleon wouldn't protest.
"I can't.... Illya, I need to... breathe now."
Immediately, Illya stilled both hands, giving Napoleon a chance to ease back from the brink. When it became apparent his lover needed a little help, Illya grasped the base of Napoleon's penis and applied gentle pressure. "Better?"
Napoleon nodded, looking back over his shoulder. "But not for long."
Illya nodded in return and reached again for the hand cream. He applied a fresh coating to his penis and watching Napoleon carefully for any signs of trouble, pressed in, pausing when his glans was past the outer ring of muscles. "Okay?"
"Don't... tease." Napoleon's voice was tight and Illya took him at his word. He withdrew, then slid in, not pausing until he was fully buried inside Napoleon and his fingers were digging into Napoleon's hips. Illya paused, torn between wanting to hold still and just enjoy the sensation and desperately wanting to move. Then it became too much and he abandoned himself to the sensations and a month of thwarted need.
It was practically over before they started, leaving them both sweaty and sticky. Illya slipped out of Napoleon and the man flopped over onto the couch, making sure his tee shirt was still beneath him. Illya collapsed beside him and let his head fall back onto the cushions for a brief second before lifting it to study his lover.
"How are you?"
"Very... relaxed... thank you." He smiled as Illya reached over to massage his chest, just over his heart.
"Just what the doctor ordered." Napoleon closed his eyes and sighed happily.
"No chest pains?"
"Nope, I feel fine." The relief in Napoleon's voice spoke legions to Illya.
"Excellent, then you have five minutes to catch your breath and to get upstairs." Illya turned his head towards Napoleon and grinned.
"Five whole minutes, huh? Well, it only takes me a minute to get upstairs. What do I do with the other four?"
The water in the bathtub was cool, the best they could hope for these days. Napoleon happily rested in Illya's arms, his eyes closed in pleasure as Illya's fingers lightly stroked his brow.
"I was so scared, Illya," he murmured without preamble. "I had so much and to have it suddenly be ripped away from me..."
"I know, believe me." Illya had a cramp in his back, but he didn't move. He would do nothing that would disturb the peace they'd finally found. "You could have told me."
"I don't know why I couldn't. I knew you wouldn't leave me, but a little part of me kept saying that you might not want me if I was anything less than physically sound."
Illya kissed his head. "You are speaking to the master of the tight-lipped crowd, Napoleon. I, if anyone, can absolutely understand. It's just not like you to internalize something like this."
Napoleon sat up a bit, giving Illya a chance to change position slightly. "It was the first time my body turned on me, Illya. All the other times, there were external reasons, THRUSH, Velon, but it was never me against me."
"What changed your mind?"
"You, telling me to leave. I suddenly realized I'd rather die in your arms than live a minute without you by my side. I did that once, never again."
"With any luck, we shall do neither." For a moment they were quiet, then Illya said, "I still think you should take that charter."
"Really?" Napoleon twisted around to look Illya in the face. "I thought you were telling me to go to get rid of me."
"Napoleon, you have always loved the sea and it's not like we haven't been apart for a week before. I will simply anticipate a week of preparatory sex and then a suitably invigorating home... coming upon your return."
"You? Punning? It has been a dry month for you, hasn't it?"
"You will never know."
"How about we get out of here and I give you a back rub? It must be killing you by now."
"How did you—?"
"I'm usually in your position."
"And you never say anything. Why?"
"An easy price to pay for having you in my arms."
The back door to Taste banged opened and Illya spared a second-long glance away from the entrée he was plating. Various people shouted greetings as Napoleon moved through the kitchen and to Illya's side, hooking his chin over Illya's shoulder.
"What's the special tonight?"
"Agneelo a Scottadito con l'Aceto Balsamico e Rosmarnio."
"Lamb chops, mm, one of my favorites. Save me one."
"I fear after a week, even I could not make it presentable."
"What are you serving it with?"
"Gnocchi cone zucchero e canella," Matt said, with a chuckle. "And from your face, you are thinking gnocchi with sugar and cinnamon, that's a dessert, yes?"
"Taste." Matt offered him a single gnocchi on a fork. Without hesitation, Napoleon popped it into his mouth, ignoring the scowl from Illya.
"That's not exactly on your diet, you know."
"Even better, Cara," Matt said, smiling at the bliss on Napoleon's face as he chewed.
"Oh... oh my..."
"Si, si it is as I say, a dessert, no."
"I could... ah... do with a few more of those." The he sighed as Illya shook his head. "Then and again, my diet and all." Matt laughed and dropped the fork into a container of water.
"Are you off?" Illya wiped the edge of the plate with a damp cloth and handed it off to the expediter for delivery to the waiter.
"All packed with minutes to spare." Napoleon looked around the bustling kitchen, then back at Illya. "Would you believe me if I said I was going to miss this?"
"No." Illya reached for the next ticket.
"Would you believe me if I said I was going to miss you?" Napoleon moved a bit closer to his partner.
Matt bumped Illya with his hip. "Go, say good bye properly with a little privacy," he said softly and then louder, "Chef, I could use some fillets from the walk up."
Illya nearly said that it wasn't his job to fetch ingredients and then suddenly grinned and nodded.
"Good idea, Matthew. Napoleon, could you give me a hand?" He didn't wait for an answer, but headed off in the direction of the walk up, knowing that his staff was all chuckling and grinning at his expense.
"Already did, Amante, along with the rest of me." Napoleon realized he was talking to himself and hurried to follow Illya.
Illya waited for Napoleon to shut the walk up's door and slid easily into his embrace, mouths meeting the second they neared. They stayed like that for a long time, each man desperate to let the other know their love, commitment, and approval. When their kiss ended, Illya was thankful that his chef pants were a baggy affair.
"I'm going to miss you," Napoleon murmured, diving in for another helping of Illya's lips and grinding his groin against Illya's. After a few seconds, Illya pushed him away a scant inch.
"I'm not going to be able to walk if you keep this up and you are going to miss your plane. Bring me back some fish."
"I'll give you a call when I can. I don't expect they'll have a phone on the boat, although these days you can never tell." Napoleon pulled him closer and Illya shivered, although he wasn't sure if it was the coolness of the locker or what. "I love you," Napoleon whispered into Illya's ear.
Illya pushed him away again and stroked his cheek. "Be safe."
Napoleon grinned, blew him a kiss, and walked out whistling. Illya followed, remembering at the last minute to grab a tray of fillets.
He resumed his place at the stove and Matt glanced over at him a sly expression on his face. "You didn't compromesso any of our product in there, did you?"
"The only thing compromised in there was me." Illya gave him a playful push aside. "Now, get out of my way and let me cook."
Illya was sitting at the table, nursing a third glass of iced coffee and reviewing his notes. His next cookbook was going to feature more health conscious recipes. When Napoleon had been discharged from the hospital, they had given him a pamphlet with several recipes. Illya could tell from looking at them that they lacked flavor and imagination. More and more people were starting to get on board with the newest health craze. If he could push hard enough, he could get his next book out quickly and be in the fore front of the movement.
The kitchen door opened and Rocky ran in. His was unshaven and his hair in disarray. It looked atsif he'd just climbed out of bed and thrown his clothes on before coming here.
"Morning, Rocky, what—"
Rocky cut him off. "What was the name of the boat Napoleon was on?"
Illya blinked at the request and thought for a moment. "Uh...it was a guy's name... Dick... no, Donald. I remember because I made a joke about a duck. Why?" Illya watched Rocky close his eyes and sway in place. "Rocky, what's wrong?"
"Do you have a TV that works?" he demanded.
"Of course, we do. Just because I don't watch—"
"Turn it on—right now!"
Shaking his head, Illya rose and stepped over the cat on his way to the living room. Rocky was right behind him. Illya turned on the TV and looked at Rocky as it warmed up.
"... in breaking news, the search continues for the eight missing men. The Mexican Coast Guard reports that at 2:12 this morning a rogue forty-foot wave hit and capsized the fishing charter boat, the Donald. Fifteen men were rescued while eight men are still unaccounted, three crew members and five guests. Three of the five are from our own Foothill communities. If you have any more information or for more information regarding the missing, relatives can call—800 for info, that's 800-367-4636."
Pictures came up on the screen and for a moment, Illya stared at Napoleon's photo, remembering how much the man had hated that particular shot when it was taken. Then the phone was in his hand and he was madly trying to dial the number, except his fingers seemed possessed and refused to do his bidding. Taking the phone, Rocky dialed the number then handed it back to Illya. Illya cleared his throat and waited.
"Information hot line, how may I help you?"
"I'm calling about the capsized ship... uh, for Napoleon Solo?"
"Are you a relative?"
"I'm his partner."
"I'm sorry, sir, we can only give that sort of information to a relative."
"But... we're... married." Illya stumbled over the words, looking at Rocky for some sort of stability in a world suddenly gone crazy.
"I'm sorry, sir, but California does not recognize same sex unions as marriage. Only a relative can be given that information."
"You don't understand... I."
"Sir, I cannot give you that information, I am sorry, but it's the rules."
"Break the rules." Illya raised his voice.
"No, sir, I can't..."
The phone was suddenly taken from him and Illya found himself looking into Winston's hazel eyes. He never realized until that minute how much like Napoleon's they were.
"This is Winston Solo. I'm Napoleon Solo's nephew."
He sounds so adult and so in control, Illya thought, remembering when he'd held the boy on his lap and told him stories of Baba Yaga. Where had those days gone? They had been so young, their whole future spread out in front of them like some giant picnic.
"Chef, what's Uncle Napoleon social security number?"
The question jarred Illya from his daydream. "What? Oh..." and he rattled off the number.
Winston repeated it into the receiver and waited. "And his date of birth?"
Again, Illya supplied him with the information, growing ever more annoyed. Winston knew nothing about Napoleon and yet they were glibly giving him the information Illya needed, while Illya, knowing all the intimate details of Napoleon's personal information, was pushed aside.
"All right, I see. Yes, I can be reached at..." He gave Illya's phone number to the person... strangely enough, Illya couldn't remember now if he'd been talking to a man or a woman. "They'll call when there's more information. They told us just to sit tight."
"Illya, I think you need to sit down," Rocky said softly.
Illya looked at him, surprised, and frowned. "I think I can count the times you've called me Illya on the fingers of one hand." Then he looked down at his right hand and sat down abruptly. "He's not dead."
"I'm sure he isn't." Rocky sat beside him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
"No, I mean, I know he's not dead. I would know if he was..." Illya tapped his chest. "In here." Then he tapped his head. "And in here."
"I'm sure they'll all be found alive and well. The storm has passed and the water there is warm."
That day and the next passed in a blur; the TV was now his constant companion. Illya only moved from the sofa to use the bathroom or feed the cat. Eating and sleeping weren't even in his game plan. And when he did leave it, even for a moment, he turned the volume up to full just to be sure. When the first survivor was found, Illya was hopeful, but it wasn't Napoleon. Then four more were found, two crew men and two passengers. Then another was found on a tiny island, but time was running out. Illya knew that a man could only hold out against the sea for so long and Napoleon was not a strong swimmer.
Every time the phone rang, he jumped, but he'd given up answering it. They wouldn't talk to him, only to Winston. The young man had been camped out in the living room with Illya for two days now. He didn't have a phone in his apartment and it only made sense to stay here. Matt, Rocky, and he had been taking turns answering when it became apparent that Illya wasn't going to. Many were calls from friends and mutual acquaintances wanting to know details or to express their friendship and support.
There had also been steady foot traffic both from friends and the media, but Henry and Rand took turns sending them away. Matt hung the closed signs on Taste's and Vinea's doors and told the staff from each that they would be contacted when either establishment opened again.
Part of Illya was amused by all the attention. Before New York, he'd built up a reputation of being a loner, only to have UNCLE and Napoleon come along, and with them came humanity. Illya was never alone after that; there was always someone with him, Napoleon, Matt, his family at Taste. Now Napoleon was gone and more people flooded in, offering condolences, support, anything they had, to him, to Napoleon.
A body was found and Illya's world slammed to a stop until it was identified as the last crew member. Two men against overwhelming odds, the Mexican Coast Guard were searching some of the nearby small islands and found one more man alive... but not Napoleon. The California Coast Guard was giving it one more day and then they were calling off the search as well. Their Mexican counterpart had already surrendered to the inevitable, prepared to proclaim the last man, Napoleon, to be lost at sea.
The phone rang and Winston grabbed it. "This is Winston Solo. Yes... I understand... thank you." He hung up the receiver. "That was the Coast Guard, calling to say they are throwing in the towel. They said no one could make it against such odds."
"Your uncle could," Illya murmured, shaking his head, refusing to accept it even when common sense told him otherwise. "I saw him face far greater odds and never falter. Surrendering is not something Napoleon does."
Matt rubbed Illya's shoulder gently. "Cara, you know there is no shame in crying. You'll feel better."
To do that would be to admit to himself that Napoleon was truly gone and Illya refused to do that. Everything inside him screamed that Napoleon was still alive. He got to his feet and turned to face his business partner.
"Matt, can you watch the place for a few days? I'm going to go down and look for myself. I was always pulling Napoleon's ass out of the fire... I can do it again." He stopped and tried to smile. "The last thing he said to me was that he loved me and I couldn't even say it back to him. I told him to be safe."
"And I always do what I'm told... well, usually, unless it cramps my style."
A vise clamped in Illya's chest and he turned to look at the open front door. Napoleon was standing there, grinning, sun tanned, his hair tossed by wind. No one moved or even took a breath.
"What's wrong with all of you? You look as if you've seen a ghost." He looked down at his fly to make sure it was up.
"We are, Uncle Napoleon. You're dead," Winston managed to stutter out.
"Not the last time I checked." Napoleon set down his suitcase and checked his wrist. "Well, the heart disagrees with you. Still alive. I'm hurt that I don't even rate a welcome home hug from Matt. Illya I expect to be stand offish. I remember once I spent the week on the Riviera and he made my life hell because I didn't bring him back any calissons d'Aix en Provence. I told him those almond candies were over-rated, but he never quite believed me." Moutard wandered over to him and rubbed against his ankle, chirped plaintively and took two steps towards the kitchen. "Well, at least someone is happy to see me."
Illya moved towards Napoleon, almost as if he was sleepwalking. He touched Napoleon's face with none-too-steady fingers and then wrapped his arms around Napoleon. That's when all the frustration, anger, resentment, sorrow, and helplessness broke through and his shoulders started to shake.
Napoleon laughed, then immediately sobered when he realized Illya wasn't laughing, but was crying. Softly he murmured into Illya's ear. "Illya, what is wrong? Shh, shh, shh, what's wrong, Amante?" Illya clutched Napoleon as if he would be washed away by Illya's tears and Napoleon held him and looked wildly from Illya to Matt. "Will someone please tell me what is going on? I leave for a few days and all hell breaks loose."
Matt joined Illya in the embrace, holding both men. A moment later, Rocky and Winston joined them as well and Matt murmured to Napoleon, "Cara, you have no idea."
"So that afternoon when the captain announced he was going out even after the port authorities advised against it, I decided to give the trip a pass. There was a stand by passenger, so I gave him my ticket. I guess he never bothered to change the reservation to his name. The next morning I chartered a small sailboat and cruised some of the outer islands. That was okay, but then I got lonely." He moved his hand lazily back and forth against Illya's back, but Illya didn't register the sensation, he just stared into space, emotionally and physically spent by his crying jag. "It wasn't the same by myself, so I came back in early and decided to drive back instead of fly. I wanted to see a bit more of the state." He kissed Illya's head. "Sorry I didn't bring you back any fish."
Illya didn't say anything. He hadn't since Napoleon's return, nor had he left Napoleon's side. He simply sat, holding his partner's hand, reassured by its warmth. He still didn't believe it, he didn't dare believe it. He was afraid that at any moment, the phone would ring and jar him from the daydream
"Why didn't you call, you ingrate?" Rocky asked, balancing a glass of wine in one hand and a plate of cheese in the other.
"Didn't even think to. Illya knew I was going to be out of phone range for a few days on the fishing trip and it never crossed my mind, even when I saw the Coast Guard searching. I feel sorry for that guy's family though. They'll never know what happened to him. I guess we should give the Coast Guard a call and let them know they are looking for the wrong guy."
"We should wait—once they know you're here, it'll be a feeding frenzy." Illya knew Matt was watching him, but he didn't react, didn't move a muscle lest it disturb the moment he'd seized to bury himself in.
"They had your photo. You would have thought..." Winston took a big gulp of wine and shook his head.
"I keep telling you, it's that photo—it's awful." Napoleon shrugged his shoulder against Illya's. "You agree, don't you, Illya? That's a rotten photo." Illya just blinked at him and Napoleon smiled. "You know, guys, it's been an eventful day, what with coming back from the dead and all. I think I'm gonna catch some sack time."
"Oh, right, yeah, where are our manners?" Rocky stood and carried his plate to the kitchen. Matt and Winston hastened to follow, putting down the last bits of cheese for the waltzing Moutard to finish.
For several minutes they sat there in the quiet, save for the ticking of the clock and Moutard's content purring. "I really am all right, you know," Napoleon finally said. "You can let go of me, Illya. I'm not going to vanish."
"I know." Illya's voice was still a bit rusty from his crying jag. He cleared his throat, but he didn't release Napoleon's hand.
"Illya, I'm sorry you went through this, but I really need you to let go. If I don't use the bathroom in the next minute, there is going to be an unbelievable mess on this sofa that neither of us is going to want to clean up."
"What?" The comment jarred Illya out of his daze.
"Let's go upstairs, Amante, I could use a nap and you look like you are about to fall on your nose."
"I haven't slept very much," Illya admitted, slowly.
"Or eaten, or done much of anything else. You know I love you, but you smell a little ripe. Let's get a shower and take a nap. We could use both."
Illya opened his eyes and stared at the far wall. The bedroom was stuffy and dust motes danced in the beams made by the sun that wiggled its way into the room. For it to be coming in from that angle told Illya that it was late afternoon. For a moment, he was afraid to move, afraid that he'd been asleep and he'd dreamt everything. It was as if the oxygen was sucked out of the room and his fingers clenched the sweat damp sheet beneath him. Then he felt a hand, roughened by a week at sea, stroking a shoulder blade.
"It's okay, Illya, just breathe. I'm right here."
He rolled onto his back and saw concerned brown eyes studying him. Unlike anyone else, Napoleon could see right down to his core, but this... "How did you...?"
"You've had a couple of nightmares already." Napoleon did nothing to come closer, waiting for a cue from him.
"I am... concerned that I've lost my grip upon reality." Illya squinted over at the clock. Four p.m.—high time for him to be dressing for work. He started to sit up, but Napoleon's splayed hand gently pushed him back down.
"Taste is closed tonight. I thought you slept through the conversation Matt and I had about it. I didn't think one more night was going to cripple the place and it gave him time to order fresh produce."
"That's a good call," Illya murmured, reaching to capture the hand pressing against him and bring it to his mouth. He closed his eyes as the fingers traced his lips. "When you were gone, I was nothing, just a shell."
"Believe me when I say I know how you feel. At least I had the satisfaction of knowing you were still alive, even if you did hate me."
Illya chose not to rise to the bait. Instead, he said. "The officials wouldn't even talk to me. Being your partner meant nothing. I wasn't a relative. They gave Winston any information they had and he didn't even know your birth date, your social security number, your blood type. I could tell them anything they wanted, but I didn't count." He stopped and sighed. "For the first time in a very long time, I felt the pain of being different. Up here, it's easy to forget that in the real world, we are nothing but an abomination of nature."
"We're anything but that." Napoleon pulled free of his grasp and reached for a glass of water. The ice cubes tinkled and rattled against the sides. He pulled a chunk of ice from the glass and transferred to Illya's chest.
Illya hissed at its bite, then sighed as Napoleon traced a lazy circle on his belly. "You're getting me all wet."
"That was rather my intent." Napoleon's mouth followed the ice's blazed trail lower and lower until the ice ran out and Illya was moaning from the sensations.
Napoleon reached for another piece, the rough edges smoothed by the water. He held it up and inspected it carefully. He blunted the tip by biting off the sharp point, then dulled the edges against Illya's skin. He ran it down tantalizingly close to Illya's genitals. Then he smiled wickedly.
"Guess where this is going?"
He didn't give his partner time to answer, rather he latched onto Illya's penis with his mouth and slid the ice home. Illya came up off the bed, torn between hot and cold. His climax, when he was finally permitted to have one, was just this side of soul shattering.
"Now do you believe I'm really here?" Napoleon wiped his hand, sticky from his own ejaculate, on a rumpled sheet.
"If not, that was the wet dream from Beyond and I never want to wake up." It took too much effort to move, so he didn't. "I feel as if I'd been wrung out and left on the line to dry."
"Near enough. There's food downstairs if you want it. Matt took pity on us and made soup."
"He likes to cook when he's happy... and when he's worried... and when he's scared..." Illya was starting to drift off again.
Napoleon moved back to the head of the bed and plumped a pillow into shape. "But you're wrong, you know."
"That wasn't an incredible orgasm? You should have felt it from down here. Or were you referring to Matt's cooking? Seriously, anything makes him cook."
"No, Pooseycat, that you are nothing. From where I'm sitting, you are something incredible. You don't need me to be that."
"And that's where you're wrong. Is there any more water?" He accepted and drank deeply from the glass before handing it back. "The only time I'm something is when you're around, you make me three dimensional; you make me real."
"Well, I can live with that." He caressed Illya's cheek with his condensation-dampened hand. "Just as long as I don't have to ever live again without you."
Illya smiled at that. It suddenly didn't matter to him if this was just some sort of delusional dream concocted by his grief-addled brain. Reality, if this wasn't indeed it, could just go hang itself for all he cared. As long as he didn't have to be without Napoleon, this fantasy was all right with him.
"I do love you, you know," he murmured, close now to sleep again.
"With your every breath, Amante. I saw your notes on the kitchen table. Writing me a cook book, taking care of me, you say I love you a dozen times over to me every day. I don't need to hear the words to know it." Napoleon settled against him, hot skin against Illya's cool body.
Yup, very all right with him.