Napoleon Solo awoke, slowly, gently, almost as if being seduced from sleep by a determined lover. Still half asleep, he smiled and reached out. Nothing. He forced his eyes open, squinting in the half light of the room. For a moment, his thoughts whirled as he tried to remember where he was. Then a smell assailed him, the scent of sweat, sex and something else...something...Illya. He sat up in bed and glanced around the room. He hadn't paid any attention to it the night before, having other things...well, one thing in particular on his mind.
The bedroom was small, barely bigger than his walk-in closet back in his now-abandoned New York penthouse. For a moment, he wondered if it had all been some sort of strange dream and then he caught the scent of something else. Coffee and...cinnamon? Reluctantly his brain slugged into gear and he remembered. Remembered finding an obscure comment made by a diner in the leisure section of The New York Times, of her going on and on about this fabulous restaurant she'd found out west and of its Russian chef, a blond with incredible blue eyes.
On a hunch or desperate gamble, he still wasn't sure which, Napoleon had closed up shop in New York, stuffed what he thought he might need into his car, gave strict instructions to his secretary of how he could be reached and headed west.
Even walking into Taste hadn't provided a clue. No, it wasn't until he'd begun chatting up his waiter that his hopes were confirmed. Yes, the chef was called Illya Kuryakin; yes, he was in the kitchen and no, he wasn't in a committed relationship. Unsuccessful at getting the Russian out of the kitchen, Napoleon took what he felt was the biggest gamble of his life and went to the man instead.
He was prepared for Illya to punch him or to have him forcibly evicted or to be studiously ignored. What he wasn't prepared for was the almost apocalyptic sex he gotten instead. He stretched and his back moaned a small protest, stressing that fact.
Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he made his way to the bathroom, not surprised to discover that Illya had taken a shower without waking him. After the night they'd spent, he was amazed he didn't hurt more. He hadn't had a marathon session like that in quite some time, although his ego was a little bruised that Illya wasn't still asleep. He'd thought he'd screwed the man into the mattress last night. Or had it been vice versa? His memory was still a little hazy on that point.
He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and grinned at his reflection. There were some truly spectacular bruises around his neck and torso that he would be hard pressed to explain in polite company. Of course, to be fair the Russian would be sporting some bruising of his own. Napoleon hadn't remembered Illya as an aggressive lover—compliant, enthusiastic, but not aggressive. Obviously the man had changed more than just his career and Napoleon discovered he liked it.
There was something sensual about using Illya's still damp toothbrush and razor. Napoleon preferred an electric, but just one quick glance through the medicine cabinet told him his partner still clung to some of his old ways. He helped himself to some aspirin he found there as well.
A hot shower worked most of the kinks from his muscles and helped him to plan out the next step in his effort to ensnare the blond object of his affection. After a few misdealings with fakers, syncopates, and outright scam artists due to his newfound wealth, Napoleon had eschewed close contact with people. It hadn't taken Napoleon long to learn that you simply couldn't trust just anyone, not when money was involved.
Money, money, money, must be funny in the rich man's world—Napoleon remembered his waiter singing that softly last night and wondering if there was subtext to the man's motive before learning the man's passion was not money; it was a singing group Napoleon had never even heard of before. Now he seemed to be surrounded by it.
Napoleon grabbed a towel and hurriedly dried off, anxious to be back in the presence of his too long absent partner. He was still reluctant to call him his lover, still unsure of his standing. Just like Napoleon, Illya was not the man he'd been ten years earlier and Napoleon wasn't going to ruin anything by rushing in. Indeed, last night, he'd simply meant to talk, to try to explain why he'd done what he had, but the Russian hadn't given him the opportunity beyond a few brief exchanges between bouts of rocket sex.
As he came out of the bathroom, he spotted his suitcase on a small trunk and smiled. The implication was clear—he was being invited to stay. Illya had told him to ask about him their future in the morning and had now made the first step.
As Napoleon buttoned his shirt, he stared through a curtained window to the hills beyond. In New York, to look out a window meant pretty much the same view unless you lived around Central Park. No matter where you looked, you saw gray, certainly various shades of it, occasionally dressed with a splash of color, but not much more than that monochromatic pallet. Here the hills rolled away from the building, dressed in shades of green, yellow and brown. Below the window was a vine-surrounded courtyard with a long picnic table in the center, dressed, apparently, for some sort of function.
He reached for a tie and then stopped. No; he refused to hide the results of their lovemaking last night. Napoleon was going into battle fully armed and if it resulted in his Waterloo, he was prepared for that. Besides, he sensed that the more casual look was the order of the day here.
Coming down the narrow staircase, Napoleon lingered. Last night, he hadn't bothered to even glance at his surroundings, but this morning, the light—and the absence of a hand down his pants—now permitted him the luxury. A quick look around told him that either the place had come furnished or Illya's sense of style had grown even more eclectic over the years.
A roll top desk stood in one corner of the open living room, looking as if it was ready to collapse beneath the piles of papers, magazines and books stacked up on it or possibly to bolt for the nearest door. The over-stuffed chairs and matching sofa housed boxes, the end tables—more books, papers, clothes, boxes, and the such. Napoleon shook his head in wonder at the hodgepodge. It looked like some sort of store had exploded and this was the aftermath. He'd not seen anything this cluttered since as his mother's kitchen back home. It wasn't dirty; it just looked like a catch-all in a hectic life.
He reached the first floor and glanced off to his left in response to the music softly drifting out from the kitchen. Illya, wearing gray jog pants that looked as if they held in place by sheer pluck and a tight white tee shirt, stood in front of a stove, his back to Napoleon. He watched muscles ripple smoothly beneath the shirt fabric as Illya went about whatever task he was performing. He was obviously cooking something, but Napoleon couldn't see what. He could tell it smelled heavenly, especially since dinner last night was just a fond memory.
The music was coming from a small radio just to Illya's left, set on the window sill and the man moved slightly in time with the tune, humming softly beneath his breath as he cooked.
Sunlight streamed through an open door, pulling out the highlights of the bird's-eye maple trim, cabinets and wainscoting that decorated the kitchen. Unlike the living room, the kitchen was a model of cleanliness and efficiency; everything was neat and orderly, highly polished and obviously well cared for.
A cat straddled the door sill, lying half in and half out of a sun beam, chattering at a bird. Another sat a short distance down the cobblestone walkway, its interest focused upon a pair of dragonflies dancing over the neat edging of marigolds. Bird song threatened to overwhelm the music coming from the radio and the air carried a clean, crisp edge to it. And one word suddenly forced its way into Napoleon's brain—uninvited and unexpected—Home. And he smiled, couldn't keep from it actually.
He was overwhelmed by a feeling of contentment and completion, something that all his current wealth or his time with UNCLE had never provided—a feeling of being exactly where he was supposed to be at exactly the right moment in time.
Napoleon walked up to the man in front of the stove and slid his arms around Illya's waist, hands stopping to a rest on a hip bone. He nuzzled his nose into the blond hair—god, he'd missed Illya's hair most of all during their separation and his grin widened Illya pressed back against him in response.
"So I take it you're up then." Illya looked back over his shoulder without moving the rest of his body. In response, Napoleon ground his erection against the small of Illya's back. "Mmm, I will take that as a yes..."
"I want you," Napoleon whispered softly into an ear.
"Sadly, an obstacle stands in your way." Illya set down his spatula, turned off a burner and pushed the cast iron skillet towards the back of the stove. He rotated in Napoleon's embrace and garnered a kiss for his efforts. There was nothing chaste or passive about the exchange.
Napoleon tasted the same excitement and need that he had last night as his tongue battled with Illya's. After a moment, Illya pulled reluctantly away from the kiss, breathing heavily and desire dilating his pupils until his eyes were nearly black.
Napoleon's lips curled into the smallest of smiles. "And the obstacle?"
"Obstacle? There's an obstacle?" It seemed to take Illya a moment to pull himself back from whatever edge he was standing on. He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. "Oh, yes, that obstacle—in twenty minutes, my staff will be here and ready to eat."
"And when have I ever needed twenty to get you off, Illya?" Napoleon began an assault of a willing neck as his hand dipped down to caress Illya's erection. "Mmm, you taste good."
"And I have nineteen minutes worth of work left to do, ten of which will be taken up by my having to take a cold shower just to be able to think straight." With great reluctance, he pushed Napoleon an arm's length away. "We shall have to discuss this again later." There was a firm but inarguable edge to Illya's voice that Napoleon recognized from their field days. This was a time for business, not pleasure and he acquiesced easily
"Is there something I can do to help?" He rubbed his hands together enthusiastically to show that Illya refusal engendered no ill will.
Illya pointed to a sink and then to a bowl of fruit. "Wash your hands and slice that up for me."
Doing as he was bidden, Napoleon took up his position in front of the bowl. A cutting board, a second bowl, and a small knife had been laid out, as if Illya was expecting help. It warmed Napoleon to think that man was already starting to make demands on him. It had been a long time since anyone had asked anything from him or at least anything he was willing to give and it gave him a sense of acceptance.
A movement caught Napoleon's eye as the cat jumped up and slunk from the kitchen. A moment later, a voice drifting in, singing, "Honey, honey, how you thrill me, ah-hah, honey, honey. Honey, honey, nearly kill me, ah-hah, honey, honey." A heartbeat later, a half-familiar red head poked in the door.
"Ah, Cara, you're still in one piece this morning." Illya's business partner, Matt, walked into the kitchen, glanced over at Napoleon and beamed. "Ah, it does my heart good to see a man slaving in the kitchen." He set down the platter of sweet rolls he was carrying. "For a change..."
"About time you showed up," Illya muttered, back at work at the stove. Matt walked up behind him and slipped his arms around the Russian, hugging him tightly and kissing his neck. Napoleon stared, but stayed his hand, openly annoyed at the man's familiarity.
"Ooo, and what have we here? Hick..ies? Multiple hickies, hmm, someone's been busy." Matt pulled the collar of the tee shirt away from Illya's neck and peered in. "And where are we likely to find more of these?' He let his hands drop towards Illya's hips—"Down here, perhaps?"—and was roughly shoved away.
"Get off and no place you're going to see anytime soon." Illya slid the French toast he'd been sauting out of the skillet and onto a heated plate. "Now leave me alone before I burn myself or, worse, breakfast."
"Are you using the honey and nut bread this time?"
"Wasn't enough of it, so I'm using the shepherd bread instead. The nut seems pretty popular, though. I'd like Jesus to keep it on the menu."
"No arguments from me. I don't see many slices coming back from the dining room. And this I would have noticed. It makes the best bread pudding base." Matt chuckled and walked over to Napoleon. "Oh, Cara, what are you doing?" His voice was disturbed enough to make Illya look in his direction.
Napoleon stopped and looked down at the peach he was chopping. "Illya asked me to cut this up."
"I'm pretty sure, Cara, that he said slice, not massacre." Matt slid long fingers over Napoleon's hands. "First lesson: you need to hold the knife right, like this, and you slice the way you make love. Slide it gently, firmly, lovingly."
Illya muttered something and both men turned in unison.
"What was that, Chef?" Matt grinned at Napoleon. "You say something to wound my heart?"
"Nothing, nothing." Illya didn't bother to even spare a moment away from dipping another thick slice of bread into batter and sliding it into the pan.
Napoleon felt Matt nudge him with his shoulder. Go on, Matt mouthed and Napoleon nodded. "No, come on, Illya."
"I just said Napoleon Solo doesn't need lessons in how to make love. I thought we'd put that rumor to rest last night."
"Then I suspect it was the only thing sleeping in this house last night. Still, I sadly surmise his love making talents have yet to enter the kitchen. I'll show you the difference between making love to the food and raping it." Matt guided Napoleon's hand as he sliced while swaying in time with the Brazilian music playing on the radio. "Like this, Cara, see? Make your cuts uniform and it's more pleasing to the mouth. Would you like yogurt to go with this, Chef?"
"There's some in the walk-in, new is on the right."
"Any grape left?"
"Not anymore. You ate it all."
"And that should be your cue, Chef." Matt released Napoleon's hands and he suddenly understood what Illya had meant about how much he would miss Matt should he ever leave. There's was a certain joive je vie that poured forth from the man and permeate the air about him.
Napoleon wasn't at all surprised to find the same sort of energy running through much of Illya's staff. They arrived in small groups until they filled the picnic table and the morning air with their chatter and laughter. While making him feel welcome, they kept him at arm's reach and he held himself apart from them, observing, gauging how they reacted to him and to each other. There was no doubt that Illya was in charge. No matter what he said about being partners with Matt, the younger man deferred completely to the Russian, obviously content to play second fiddle in the arrangement, just as Illya had done in his partnership with Napoleon at UNCLE.
Napoleon was sipping coffee and watching one of the dishwashers perform a bit of sleight of hand with a fork and some jam when he felt arms slide around him and a warm presence press up against him. He lifted a hand to caress one of the forearms and sighed. "You would never had touched me in public like this before."
"This is hardly public, Napoleon. Is this a problem?" Illya's voice was a caress in his ear.
"No, just amazed at the changes I see in you. Back at headquarters, you had the reputation of being a lone wolf—here I'd say you're alpha dog, head of the pack."
"An illusion at best," Illya kissed the back of his head before releasing Napoleon. "Most days, I just try to contain the chaos." He slid down onto the bench close enough so that their knees touched.
"Is this a usual Sunday morning thing?"
Illya nodded and reached for a piece of goat cheese. "When we started this place, we gave new meaning to being on a shoestring budget. It was all we could do to pay minimum wage. Jesus, Rocky and Roxanne came on and we wanted to thank them for their trust and patience with us." He broke off a piece and popped it into his mouth, chewing slowly to savor the flavor. "This seemed the best way to do it. It was a step towards building bridges and friendships."
"Friendship, hell, this is a family, Illya, and probably less dysfunctional than most."
"That's because you haven't seen us in the kitchen yet. The gloves come off in there." Rocky started to sing as he carefully collected an armful of plates. "Waterloo, finally facing my Waterloo. And how could I ever refuse? I feel like I win when I lose." Napoleon could only guess that it was yet another ABBA song.
Roxanne leaned close to Napoleon as she passed, carrying a tray of dirty dishes. "He's a freakin' tyrant and a pain in the ass, but he's our pain in the ass."
Matt grinned and slid a little closer to Napoleon, "And now yours too, Cara?"
Illya dropped his head, his cheeks pink, and grinned as Napoleon murmured, "I don't believe it."
"Oh, you should, every word of it." Illya straightened and glanced at his watch. "Guess it's that time." He stood and gathered condiments together.
"So now what?" Napoleon followed suit.
"Those slackers go to work and earn their paycheck," Illya said, passing the jelly and jam jars to Napoleon.
"And you? What's next?"
"Oh, Cara, if you have to ask, you might as well leave now." Matt exited from the kitchen and held his hands out to Napoleon for the jars. "Chef has about five hours to kill before he comes in and makes us all cry in our assorted sauces. Usually he goes wine tasting now and that always makes him grumpy and so sweet to be with. Go see if you can mellow him out. Barring that, at least wear him out a little. It will make our evening quieter." To his partner, Matt said, "You take your time tonight, Chef. We don't have any reservations until six and I can always call if we need you sooner than that."
Illya shook his head easily. "Remember, Matt, always lead by example. I'll see you at three."
Then, suddenly, they were alone on the patio and Napoleon listened as his heart beat started to pick up in anticipation, but also with apprehension. It must be akin to what a newlywed would feel waiting for his partner that first time and then Illya reached out a hand, smiling shyly at him. "I may have changed, for better or worse, in some aspects of my life, Napoleon, but I'm not taking you out here."
However, Napoleon reflected in hindsight much later, it was about the only place he didn't. He had taken but a few steps into the kitchen when his arms and mouth were suddenly occupied by another presence. Again, the Russian was on the offense, but Napoleon had decided it was time to take charge himself, just to see how far he could push back in this deliberate tango they were dancing.
Illya moaned as Napoleon's lips slid off his, starting a tantalizing march towards his neck and hands suddenly Napoleon reached behind to cup his ass, kneading, pulling him even closer until not a breath was between them.
Napoleon reached up for the hem of the tee shirt and Illya was out of it before he could do more than register the action. Bare chested to Napoleon's still fully clothed body, Illya let Napoleon's mouth work down, nuzzling chest hair out its way on its path to first one, then the other nipple. Previous assaults had left them more sensitive, and for a moment Napoleon held back, licking them tenderly until it was clear that his Russian wanted more than gentleness. He felt one harden in his mouth and when Illya groaned—"Not the kitchen. Bed. Now. Napoleon!"—he was more than happy to comply.
Sated and languid, Napoleon watched from the bed as Illya dressed, remembering how that body had bucked beneath his, hearing and feeling the passion that it offered and just as gladly took in returned. Somehow, they'd managed to while away the five hours as if it were five minutes and Napoleon already missed the feeling of that achingly familiar body pressed up against his.
"You sure I can't come with you?'
"Haven't you already come enough today?" Illya teased as he pulled on a chef's coat, leaving the top of it unbuttoned. "No, you'd be far too much of a distraction. What they say about me is true; I am a bastard in the kitchen and you wouldn't want to be around me. I have people who are paying a lot of money to eat my food and they deserve my full attention. I'm sure you'll find something to do around here. There's food in the walk in if you get hungry. I'll send you over something about eight, if that's all right."
"That'll be perfect. So, do you even have a TV?" Napoleon stretched out on the bed, already entertaining a long soak in the tub he'd spotted earlier.
"Um, I've heard rumors that there's probably one somewhere in the living room. If you get really bored, you can always balance our books." Illya kissed him and ran his fingers through Napoleon's hair, smoothing it back into place. "I'll be back around eleven."
- A brief search had uncovered a TV, but the choices were abysmal. Instead, he investigated the stereo and nearby records, settling on that instead, especially when his perusal turned up a copy of ABBA's "Greatest Hits". It was nice to hear the actual songs he'd been hearing bits and pieces of for the last two days.
Checking out the various stacks of books and magazines, he wasn't surprised to discover most of them had food as a main topic, and instead he'd been drawn to that messy desk. Back at headquarters, it had always been Illya who maintained the neat and tidy desk, everything carefully filed and completed. Apparently, that trait was one of the things that had gone by the wayside in Illya's life. Napoleon sat back abruptly at the sharp tap on the side door. He'd been staring at the restaurant's books for the better part of three hours now and hadn't even realized time had passed.
Rocky opened the door, balancing a large tray upon one shoulder and hand. "Hey, Mr. S, Chef sent you over something." He didn't even smirk at the ratty old blue robe Napoleon wore over his tee shirt and slacks or raise an eyebrow at the reading glasses. Instead he moved to a small dining room table and eased the tray down, using one hand to push aside papers and magazines.
Napoleon's dinner bell started to chime even before Rocky tipped back the cover to reveal the tray's contents.
"Okay, Napoleon, so, we have a Caribbean tiger shrimp cocktail served with a mango -tomatillo salsa as your starter, followed by a chilled yellow delicious apple and peach soup. Your entre is Branzino Cileno, sea bass served over a black risotto and a tomato salad. I'll be back in about thirty with your dessert."
"After this, I won't need dessert," Napoleon admitted.
"Rule No. One at Taste—Napoleon, never argue with Chef when he's in the kitchen and he thinks you do."
"Is he really that hard to get along with?"
"He's one of the best bosses I've ever had. He's a hard worker, a good friend and a better confidant, but make no mistake, he is the boss. He doesn't suffer fools or slackers, but he demands no more from us than he does from himself." Rocky finished off loading the plates. "And when you've proven yourself to him, he gives you the freedom to do your job as you see fit. That's why I stay."
"So what's for dessert then?"
"You're going to love it—one of Chef's specialties, a Grand Marnier soufflé." He grinned as Napoleon started to laugh. "Something wrong?"
"No, it's an old joke."
"Those are the best kind. I'll see you in a few." Rocky let himself out and as Solo sat down, he heard Rocky start to sing as he moving away, "But I'm gonna stick to you, boy, you'll never get rid of me. There's no other place in this world where I rather would be. Honey, honey, touch me, baby, ah-hah, honey, honey. Honey, honey, hold me, baby, ah-hah, honey, honey."
Napoleon had to admit that he was becoming quite fond of those songs, despite his rather recent introduction to them and he started the album again.
Napoleon glanced up from his book as the bedroom door open and Illya walked in. He moved directly to the bed and collapsed on it, face down, groaning in delight.
"Tired, my love?" Napoleon set the book aside, all attention.
"Beyond tired." Illya managed to crawl up towards the head of the bed. He toed off his shoes and lay back against the pillows and Napoleon, resting his head on Napoleon's shoulder. "Sometimes the greatest accomplishment of the day is the moment you get to take your shoes off. However, we did three turns tonight, that's nearly unheard of on a non-holiday Sunday. Must be the weather."
"Well, you can rest up until tomorrow and do it all over again." He slipped his arms around Illya and held him close. "Mmm, you smell like smoke—hickory?"
"Good guess, cherry. I was smoking ducks this afternoon. Thank god, we're closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Probably just as well, I'm going to need two days to recover from this afternoon."
"Dinner was fabulous, by the way." A grunt followed and Napoleon smiled, kissing the side of his head. "I especially enjoyed the soufflé."
"I thought you might once you recovered from the irony." Illya brought a hand up to rub one of his shoulders and Napoleon easily flipped the man over and straddling him, began to knead stress-tightened shoulders.
Illya groaned as fingers worked at the tense muscles. "That's almost better than sex...almost." He caught one hand and brought it forward to his lips, kissing it softly. Napoleon pulled the hand back and returned the favor before releasing it and working his fingers down one leg to his foot. He began to massage the arch and grinned at the responding moan.
"Keep that up and you'll have to marry me," Illya murmured into the pillow.
"All right." He switched feet, taking care not to apply too much pressure to the instep. "I was sort of thinking about hanging around here for awhile anyway; if that's okay, say maybe the next 30 years or so."
Illya rolled over and looked up. "This isn't New York, Napoleon," he warned. "This is Jackson. What you've seen is all that you get. Ten minutes from one end to the other, unless you walk and then it's thirty. No museums, no night clubs, Taste is about the only finer dining establishment you're going to find within miles. There's nothing here for you."
Napoleon brought Illya's hand back up to his mouth again, kissing each finger tenderly. "You're here."
"But is that enough, Napoleon?" The tired blue eyes were cloudy with concern and Napoleon brushed the blond hair off Illya's forehead and smiled.
"Why don't you ask me again in the morning?"