Put On Your White Somberero
Illya's eyes narrowed as he studied his business partner Matt Tovay. "Are you out of your living mind?"
"Cara, lei duole il mio cuore (you break my heart)."
"Keep it up and I will break something else." Illya pushed himself out of the chair and went to the stove to check the pots he had simmering. He moved in a clockwise pattern, tasting, adjusting the stock, seasonings and/or the heat.
"They do so much good, Cara." Matt pushed a letter across the table. "My cousin tells me that these people are doing fine work and they are willing to start a chapter of Angel Food in Sacramento, but they need assurance."
"Then assure them, I will donate money and food. I draw the line there."
"Just read and think about it."
"Matt, I need to cook. And you need to do as well or do you think that tonight's special will creative itself?"
"You should—" Matt pulled his hair back into a ponytail and tucked it down his neck of his tee shirt.
"I should what? Compromise myself and my restaurant?"
"Our restaurant! I would lose as much as you, yet I am willing to take the chance. Think what it would mean to our compatrioti."
"What part of no are you having a problem with, Matthew?" Illya slammed a lid down on a pot with a bit more force than was necessary.
"All of it in this instance!"
Napoleon walked in on that last line and frowned. The tension in the room was so thick he could taste it. It was unusual, but not completely out of character for either man. Matt was a passionate humanitarian and Illya was... Illya.
"Matt, I need you out front for a minute," he called and ducked back out into the dining room of Taste. He walked over to a small two top, sat down, and waited.
As he expected, Matt was there almost instantly, obviously delighted to have a reason to get out of the kitchen. His cheeks were still flushed with anger and his hands moved restlessly.
"Si, Cara? What can I do for you?"
"Sit down for a minute." Napoleon kicked out a chair and, with a sigh, Matt plopped into it. "Now I think the question is what can I do for you? What's going on in there?"
"Chef is being a pig-headed idiota!" Matt's voice raised on the last word and Napoleon half expected to see Illya charging out of the kitchen with a cleaver in one hand.
"Matt." Napoleon paused. "Matthew." When the redhead finally turned, looked away from the kitchen and in Napoleon's direction, Napoleon shook his own head slowly. "Matt, you should know that you will accomplish nothing from trying to bully Illya into something that he doesn't want to do." He kept his voice soft, lower than was necessary, just in case. "Why don't you tell me what's going on?"
"There's a group, they provide food for HIV/AIDS victims, preparing it and taking it to them. Most of the people have been abandoned by their families or in some cases are just too sick to cook for themselves."
"All right, go on."
"I have a cugino down in LA. He would like very much to start a chapter of Angel Food in Sacramento, just as he did in San Francisco, but he is unable to secure the funding."
"How much does he need? I'll write him a check. Just give me the address."
"I think he would be appreciative, but you see they were hoping to do a photo shoot for a calendar to help raise money for the entire program. They want to take various gay professionals and have a month dedicated to them. I thought Chef... that he would be willing but, no. He is being a pig headed fool."
"Matt, that's seems a little extreme, even for you. Why did Illya refuse?"
"He is embarrassed to be gay."
"I can't believe that. Did he say that?"
"No, but why else would he refuse?"
"Perhaps it's more a case of professional caution. While he doesn't exactly make a secret out of his orientation, we've spent an entire lifetime keeping it from the public eye. Old habits die hard."
"Matt, I'm asking as a friend, let it go. You have told him your mind. Pressing him on the matter will only make him more resistant. Let him decide now. Why don't you pose instead?"
Matt smiled self-consciously and dropped a hand to his chest. "Sono sfregiato. I did not heal well. Rocky, he doesn't mind, but to share with others..."
"Illya is scarred as well."
"But not like me, Cara." Matt looked around, as if to reassure himself that they were alone, and lifted the hem of his tee shirt. Napoleon grimaced at the scarring.
"My God, Matt. Have you seen a doctor?"
"Si, several. This is as much as they could do to help."
"I'm so sorry, Matt. I didn't know."
"Few do, Cara. I prefer not to share this part of my life with others."
"I can understand that." Napoleon acted on impulse and reached out to embrace the younger man. "I'm so sorry."
"You messin' with my man, Mr. S?"
Rocky's voice made Napoleon release Matt and turn in his chair. "Wouldn't dream of it, Rocky, my boy. It's not as if Illya leaves me with much energy to try for anything on the side as it is."
"Matt, what's wrong?"
"Nothing. Why do you ask?"
"Please, sweetheart, don't even go there."
"Remember what I said, Matt, and get me the address of your cousin." Napoleon stood. "And now I will go and grab the bull by the horns."
"You might do well to grab something else, Cara."
"All in good time, my friend. And I'll tell you what, if Illya won't do your calendar, I will."
"You, Cara?" Matt blinked and looked over at Rocky.
"Me, Matt." Napoleon turned sideways. "Don't you think I can do it?"
"Can, si, si, but I never thought you would."
"You have my word as a Solo and as a gentleman." Napoleon slapped his hands together and headed for the kitchen.
Illya glanced up as Napoleon entered the kitchen and then turned back to his task of rolling a thin sheet of rice paper around strips of marinated beef.
"Did you get him calmed down?" He carefully tucked and squeezed as he wrapped the meat into a tight roll.
"How did you know?"
"Because, Azurro, it is what you do." Illya sighed. "And I can smell his aftershave on you."
Napoleon frowned and sniffed the sleeve of his shirt. "Really?"
"No, just yanking your chain. Try this." Illya held the finished roll out to him. "Dip it in the plum sauce first."
Obligingly, Napoleon dipped and bit, smiling as he chewed. "This is incredible, Illya."
"You say that like it's news." Illya took the roll from Napoleon, dipped the other end and tried it for himself. "Yes, incredible is a good word."
"And humble." Napoleon found a towel and wiped his fingers on it. "I told Matt that I would bankroll his cousin's chapter in Sacramento to start."
"He told you of their money-making scheme?"
"And I'm not so sure I know why you are protesting so much."
"I am not ashamed to be who I am, Napoleon, and I have worked very hard to achieve a certain level of success. This does not mean I want what little privacy I still have to be ripped away and paraded in front of the masses."
Napoleon laughed and embraced Illya, smiling as the Russian settled into the hug. "You are absolutely right, my love."
"Of course I am. Now send that slacker back in here and tell him to get busy. I'm not making all these rolls by myself."
"And you don't have to worry. I told Matt that I'd pose for his calendar. You are off the hook."
Illya clapped a hand over his face. "Napoleon, you didn't."
"Now I'm insulted. Granted I've put on a few pounds, but I still cut a pretty slick silhouette. And it's for a good cause."
Illya stared at his partner for a moment and then erupted in laughter. "Oh, Napoleon, you good-hearted idiot, I don't think I could love you anymore than I do at this very moment."
"Napoleon, it's a nude calendar."
"I... what? No... what? MATTHEW!!!"
Illya watched his mate run from the kitchen and chuckled to himself as he reached for a fresh sheet of rice paper. No matter how this turned out, Napoleon was going to need one big bottle of wine...
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