Our Last Summer
Birds were starting to grow restless, anxious for the day to start, just not quite ready to be the first one to burst forth in song. Napoleon Solo knew how they felt, for he shared their quandary. He rolled over onto his side and glanced over at his partner, smiling gently.
In sleep, there was a peace about Illya's features that his wakefulness often lacked. Sleep demanded from him what he refused to acknowledge when he was awake, the need to let go and give himself permission to not do anything.
When they were first partnered, Napoleon often marveled at Illya's restless energy, his constant need to move forward, no matter the cost to himself. Napoleon was geared more to being an observer, at least initially. He would wait, gauge, and study a situation while Illya waded in, hell bent, ready to take the consequences, good or bad.
The pattern didn't seem to alter much as they grew older. While Napoleon was certainly no proponent of sitting and rocking his life away, he also knew that he'd reached a point of slowing down, letting the days come to him. He settled into semi-retirement with no problems at all. Illya, just the opposite; it was as if he was afraid that if he stopped, just for a moment, that he would... stop—completely, absolutely, and without recovery.
That was why Napoleon was hesitant to wake him, in spite of a morning erection that was making his teeth ache. For now, in sleep, Illya stopped. Aside from the rise and fall of his chest, the man was motionless. In fact, Napoleon wasn't even sure he moved at all during the night. He would come to bed, collapse, and almost instantly fall asleep, unless, of course, Napoleon gave him a reason to stay awake and even that wasn't assured any more.
Outside, the birds finally couldn't help it anymore; there was a peep, cautious and almost investigative. Then another and suddenly the dam burst and the air shattered with a multitude of songs. Napoleon listened, watching the sun start to creep, as if a young man who'd broke curfew sneaking in, beneath the crack of a the blackout curtain in their window.
Then he could finally wait no more and reached out to run his fingers through the blond hair of his partner. Almost as if by instinct, Illya turned towards his touch and Napoleon smiled, feeling the silky strands trickle through his fingers. Illya's hair had been a fascination to him from the start and he would make up excuses to touch it. Now he no longer needed an excuse and he indulged himself frequently.
Still Illya didn't wake. This was also something Napoleon had noticed more and more of. His partner was sleeping longer and harder than ever. It bothered Napoleon just a bit, but he chalked it up to age and Illya's relentless drive.
He ran a finger down Illya's cheek, the burr of his whisker still invisible in the darkened room and Illya moved again, but to roll away from him. That was... odd. And when he stroked a still heavily muscled shoulder, thanks now to years of cooking, Napoleon was even more startled at Illya's muffled, "Leave me."
Instantly, Napoleon withdrew his hand and waited, but there were no additional words, no mumbled excuse or apology. Nothing, just the relentless sounds of a waking world.
Napoleon slid out of the bed and walked to the bathroom, not bothering to be quiet about it. He shaved, brushed his teeth and showered, during which time he took care of his erection himself. Walking back into the still dim light of the bedroom, he noted that Illya hadn't moved an inch.
Napoleon moved to the closet and selected a shirt, linen as the day was promising to be warm, and a pair of equally cool poplin pants. He dressed, leisurely, without hurry, but still the Russian slumbered on.
Finally he had no alternative, no excuse to linger further. Napoleon left their bedroom and headed downstairs. He kept one hand on the rail these days, just in case. He had no intention of joining the ranks of men his age with a broken hip to their name.
The kitchen seemed strangely quiet these days. It would have taken a skilled torturer to make him admit that he missed their cats. Moutard had been gone for nearly six months now and Napoleon still repressed the urge to stand on the stoop and call him. He'd never been fond of cats, but Moutard and his sister had wormed their way into his heart.
Napoleon sighed and started some coffee. He puttered about the kitchen, one ear pricked to listen for any sound from above. Then, he could wait no more and, taking a cup of coffee and the various morning papers that were delivered, he left the kitchen to go sit on their deck.
Before him, the valley stretched out, the summer sun baking the grasses into a golden brown. Pretty, but dangerous as the fire season peaked all around them. He settled into an Adirondack lounger and began to peruse the paper. When he'd first arrived here in Jackson, the paper only came out twice a week and only if there was enough news to fill it. Now the paper was daily, filling the needs of the community that continued to spring up on all sides. Granted, Jackson was still a small town, when compared to nearby Sacramento or even Stockton, but it was three times the size of when Napoleon had first sat down at a table in Taste.
Napoleon was about halfway through the Chronicle's business section when he heard the kitchen door creak open. He smiled as he felt a kiss planted upon his head and a second later, a body settled next to his. It wasn't often that Illya cuddled and Napoleon always took advantage of the opportunity.
"And a good morning to you as well," he murmured, kissing Illya's temple.
"Still not awake, are you?" Napoleon slipped an arm around Illya and pulled him closer, the paper, his coffee, even the world now forgotten. At the silence that followed, he tried again. "Hello, party, can you hear me?"
"Shhh, the party to which you are speaking is still asleep."
"I think you've slept enough, partner." Napoleon reached out and snagged his coffee cup, bringing it back to offer it to Illya. "Here, drink."
Illya pushed his hand away and shook his head, instead adjusting his position. After a moment, Napoleon set the cup back down and regarded Illya. The man had, in fact, fallen back asleep. Not exactly how Napoleon had envisioned his morning, but that was okay. It wasn't like he had any place to be. His wine shop, Vinea, would open without his help, just as Taste would churn to life without Illya.
So he simply sat with the comfortable familiarity of his lover in his arms until the uncomfortable familiarity of needing to urinate superseded everything else.
"Time to wake up, partner." He gave Illya a shove and Illya stirred, sitting up and wincing.
"What time is it?"
"Still early," Napoleon lied, standing and ignoring the tingling in his legs from having sat too long. "I'm going for a refill. You want a cup?"
Napoleon came back out a few minutes later, half expecting Illya to be back asleep, but the man was actually awake and reading the newspaper, squinting at the small print.
"It would be easier to read with your contacts in." Napoleon handed him a cup and reclaimed his spot.
"True, but that would mean a trip back upstairs and while I was there, it would make sense to shower and shave as well. Too much for me to think about at the moment."
Napoleon reached out and clamped a hand to Illya's forehead. "You don't seem feverish."
"Then why this sudden change of heart?" Napoleon pulled backwards until Illya again rested against him.
"Illya, for as long as I've known you, you hit the ground running every morning. No matter what I say or do, you've never changed. So what has happened today?"
"I'm just tired this morning, that's all," Illya said, quietly.
"It's called getting older, Illya, and you can't outrun it. You're killing yourself trying." Napoleon stroked Illya's head. "I think you could do with a bit of a vacation from here. Maybe some place a little private and very quiet." He kissed and then nuzzled the blond hair, studiously ignoring the silver mixed in. "Are you falling asleep again?" he asked gently when Illya didn't immediately respond.
"No." A sigh. "I'm not." Illya sat up and stretched. He got to his feet and started to walk back towards the house. "I'm sorry about this morning, Napoleon."
"It's okay." And he meant it; it truly was okay. That didn't mean Napoleon had to like it, of course. He watched Illya move back into their house and sighed. Part of him wanted to follow Illya upstairs and take what had been denied him earlier. A wiser part told him that while Illya would consent to it, it probably wouldn't be enthusiastically and that just wasn't appealing. He got to his feet, brought everything inside and poured more coffee for himself and Illya.
He stopped and glanced over at the phone, even as he heard the pipes overhead announced the shower starting up. It was wrong, it was underhanded and it was totally out of character for him. Napoleon smiled then. That was what made this plan perfect.
He picked up the receiver and dialed a number.
"Kitchen," a familiar voice answered after two rings.
"Matt, Napoleon here. I need for you to do me a favor..."
Illya was startled to see Napoleon stretched out on their bed as he exited from the bathroom. Napoleon could see the surprise in Illya's eyes and he kept his face carefully bland, unreadable, poker faced, as his dad would have called it.
"I would have thought you'd be off by now." Illya carried his clothes over to the bed and started to dress... at least until Napoleon plopped a leg down on to them. "Do you mind?"
"Actually, I do, a lot. I want to strike a bargain with you."
"If it means you moving your leg off my clothes, then I'm listening." Illya rewrapped the towel about his waist and waited.
"Stay here with me today."
"Here?" Illya glanced around the small bedroom they shared.
"Right here, in bed."
Illya sighed and dropped his head, obviously counting to ten. "If I am not in the restaurant in another fifteen minutes, the phone will begin ringing off the wall."
"Then stay with me until it does." Napoleon caught Illya's hand. "We don't have to have sex if you don't want to. You can just read, sleep, relax, or do whatever you want, but here." He patted the bed invitingly. "Beside me. Aren't I worth a day in your life?"
"What? Of course, how can you ever ask that?" But... The word hung in the air, unspoken, but there none the less.
"But what? Only when you decide you have time for me? I don't think so, Amante. This is a partnership. I've always put you before everything else in my life. Now it's time for you to do the same." Napoleon squeezed Illya's hand and released it.
After a long moment, Illya said quietly, "You spoke of a bargain."
"Stay here with me. If the phone doesn't ring, you agree to take a vacation with me, some place nice and private, no forwarding numbers. Just us... no Taste, no Vinea, no anything..."
"And if it does?"
"Then you go to your restaurant and I won't mention it again. I'll step aside and quietly watch you work yourself into an early grave." He offered his hand. "Deal?"
Illya studied Napoleon for a long moment and then moved forward, grabbing the hand and pulling Napoleon towards him to meet him halfway in a kiss. "Deal," he whispered after they broke apart. He dropped the towel and climbed up onto the bed.
Napoleon grinned as Illya settled back against the pillows. "I knew you'd see reason."
"Huh... and to think all I was seeing was a naked man..." He glanced over at the phone and smirked. "Talk about a sucker bet..."
After the first half hour, Illya finally reached for the phone and Napoleon glanced up from his book. "What's wrong? Who are you calling?"
"Just checking." He re-cradled the receiver and resumed his position. Napoleon watched him out of the corner of his eye, knowing how much of a struggle this was for Illya to remain here with him and not suddenly bolt for the restaurant. The therapist they'd seen had spoken of Illya's drive, his fear of being shoved aside, as if that were even possible. Everyone in Jackson knew him or at least of him; he was one of their prized possessions and they had no intention of letting him go. Neither did Napoleon.
He smiled as a finger trailed its way up his side. Illya was playing his trump card. Usually all they had to do was think about having sex during working hours and the phone would start ringing. It was a joke, but also a reality. And nothing made Illya lose an erection faster than a phone ringing.
"Can I do something for you, sailor?" Napoleon was secretly delighted that he'd squashed his earlier impulse to take Illya. The sex was much better when the Russian came to him.
"I have some crew begging for shore leave."
"Semen, crew, same difference."
Napoleon groaned and rolled to face Illya. "Do something for me?"
"Something else? Have you not already exceeded your favor limit today?"
"I don't think so." Napoleon ran his hand down Illya's arm, feeling the strength corded in it, over the tattoo of the five stars on his arm, now barely visible due to age. He brought Illya's hand to his mouth and kissed the scarred palm and the tip of each finger, then guided Illya's hand to his own penis. "Bring yourself off for me."
"You heard me; I want to watch you masturbate."
"What is this, a newspaper interview? I want to watch you jack off. Think of it as turnabout being fair play. You made me do the same thing this morning."
"And that's why I ask." He moved Illya's hand up and down his penis encouragingly. "Let me watch."
"You're an odd man, Mr. Solo." But Illya's hand continued to stroke himself and Napoleon smiled.
Positioning himself at the bottom of the bed, his head pillowed on Illya's leg, he stroked the skin of Illya's inner thigh. "You should know."
He wasn't sure where the request had come from. It had been something he'd thought about now and again. He watched Illya, splitting his attention between Illya's hands and face, cataloging the expressions that played across his partner's face as he drew himself closer to orgasm. He studied how Illya touched himself, where and how he applied pressure.
"What are you thinking about?" he whispered, his breath playing with the sensitive skin on Illya's thigh.
"You," Illya panted. "Touching me."
And as hard as it was, Napoleon didn't. He kept his hands well away from Illya's genitals, instead content to observe.
He saw a familiar expression twist Illya's face in to a mask of pleasure pain and a second later, he groaned and ejaculated. And still Napoleon watched, letting Illya bring himself back down. Once he was sure Illya was finished, Napoleon moved back to lie beside him.
"Thank you," he murmured, kissing Illya's temple.
"And the point of that little experiment?"
"No point, I just wanted to see you do it. It was something I'd never seen before."
"And did you find it riveting viewing?" Illya's voice was slightly sarcastic and Napoleon knew Illya was dealing with just a little embarrassment.
"Absolutely, because now I know what you like the most, where you like to be touched and how." Napoleon's hand was moving again, soft circular patterns, causing goose bumps to rise beneath his touch. He dropped his mouth to Illya's chest, licking his way from one nipple to the other and back.
As they'd grown older, their love making took on a slower edge, more leisurely, less the frantic coupling of their younger days. Napoleon had long since surrendered any fear of them ever being apart again and he knew Illya no longer tried to second guess or distrust him; they were simply together because it was how it was to be.
This was Napoleon's favorite way to approach Illya, when the man was like this, sated and relaxed, more open to suggestion.
"Do you ever fantasize when we're making love, Illya?"
Illya's head lifted from the pillow and then plopped back down. "You are in a very peculiar mood today and to answer your question, no, I do not. I have a hard enough time just keeping focused on you." He propped himself up on his elbows and studied Napoleon for a long minute. "What is wrong, Napoleon?"
"Nothing." Napoleon leaned back, staring up at the ceiling. A second later, Illya's face was over his.
"Surely you are not... jealous?"
"Hmm, interesting that you would pick that pronoun and not who." Illya moved closer, kissing him. "What do you think has replaced you in my heart?" Another kiss. "The restaurant?"
"It does seem to have prior claim." Napoleon traced Illya's bottom lip with his finger.
"No, not prior, but over two dozen people rely upon it as their livelihood and who knows how many others in an extended sense. That has to play into it."
"I have a business too, you know."
"But it relies upon a purchased ingredient. If one winery fails, you can buy from another and Vinea goes on. I fail, and Taste is gone."
"What about Matt? Illya, he's been in charge for years now."
"And always defers to me. I choose the menus, I judge the quality. Nothing leaves Taste's kitchen that I don't ultimately control. I am committed to this town, my love. We lose a star and we survive; we lose Jackson and we're dead." Illya sighed. "You don't understand, do you?"
"No, I don't," Napoleon admitted. "I used to think I was driven, but you leave me in the dust. I just don't want to lose you."
"I'd not leave you, Napoleon."
"Not willingly, but you're not in total control here, are you?" Napoleon placed a hand on Illya's chest. "This stops and you stop."
Illya's head rose from the pillow and frowned. "You're worried about my heart? Do you know something I don't?"
"Apparently... I've pulled back, started taking things a little bit easier, give myself a little down time and I've watched you head in the opposite direction. I saw you more when you were cooking every night. How many vacations have we canceled or cut short so you could get back here? You keep saying you're stepping back, you keep promising to take it easy and all I see is you pushing yourself harder."
Illya's head fell back to the pillow. "This song again, Napoleon?"
"And one you promised to listen to until that phone rings." Napoleon just prayed, harder than he had in a long time, that Matt would make good his word.
"What do you want from me, Napoleon? I can't change..."
"You could if you wanted to. I've seen you change so much from that young man I met at the airport late one night." Napoleon let his hand travel down Illya's chest, feeling the familiarity of the skin, the muscles and scars beneath his fingers. Illya's breath hitched as Napoleon reached his navel and began to toy with the first few pieces of pubic hair beneath it.
"And do what? Stare at the landscape or the TV? I'm not wired that way. I've worked hard from the time I was a child; it's all I know." He sucked in a breath as Napoleon's hand found his penis.
"It's not all you know. You enjoy your bikes, we could take some trips, see a bit more of the area." Napoleon's fingers began to recreate the pattern he'd watched Illya take earlier. "Do you know I've never even been to half of the communities around here?" He cupped Illya's testicles, rolling them lightly between his fingertips. Then he let a finger drift down to deftly rub Illya's perineum.
"You talk about the strangest things at the strangest times." Illya's voice was growing tight.
"I have to wait until I have all your attention and that only seems to happen when I've got your dick in my hand."
"I'm serious, Illya. The only time you listen to me is now, like this." Napoleon moved his hand slowly.
"Then I am listening. Say what you will."
"I want you..." Napoleon kissed him gently, sadly. "But because you want to be here, not because I've had to bargain my way in. I need to know that I am first in your life, Illya."
"What are you saying?" Illya was on the other side of the bed before Napoleon could even take a breath. He forgot how quickly the man could move when motivated. "Are you asking me to make a choice?" Illya swallowed as Napoleon nodded.
"I'm tired of being second in your life, Illya."
"Please... don't ask me to do this... I can't..."
And then he was gone. Illya snatched up his robe and disappeared out the bedroom door, leaving Napoleon with his thoughts and an aching regret burning in his stomach. He hadn't meant to push like this... or perhaps he had. Perhaps after many years of being content to be number two in Illya's life, he was again asserting his need to be alpha dog.
He lay there in the now bitter sunlight of a lovely summer day, alone with his thoughts and listening for the sound of the front door. Minutes ticked by and Napoleon finally sat up, rubbing one of his temples at the headache forming there. That's when he noticed something. Onions?
He followed his nose downstairs to the kitchen. Illya had abandoned the robe, switching to a pair of chef pants and a tee shirt, abandoned on the sofa the night before when they'd made love.
Of course, Illya cooked when he got stressed and preoccupied. Napoleon's stomach started to take notice as herbs followed the onions and garlic, but he remained silent, just watching Illya at the stove.
He remembered that first morning he'd woke here, came down the stairs and found Illya in front of the same stove, cooking breakfast for his crew. He remembered the surge of love he'd felt, the regret for the years they'd been apart as if the feelings were from a moment earlier, not years.
"I thought you'd be hungry," Illya said, without turning.
"Last meal for the condemned man?" Napoleon tried to make it into a joke, but it fell flat.
"I wouldn't go that far." Illya suddenly stopped and stared down at the pan, sighing. "I don't even know what I'm making..."
"I'd throw a couple eggs in it and call it lunch."
"Yes, you would. I, on the other hand, can't." In the end, he settled upon a souffl and Napoleon watched as the ingredients went together, seemingly without any effort on Illya's part. As it baked, Illya cleaned up, still silent and Napoleon respected that, letting Illya be in whatever space he needed to be in.
He wasn't surprised at the flavor of the dish he was presented, for he had long since gotten accustomed to Illya's cooking skill. His partner really was an excellent cook and for the first time, Napoleon felt a stab of guilt.
Napoleon's eyes flicked up to see Illya studying him. "Pardon?"
"Why are you asking me to choose? Why now?"
"Because if you don't slow down, and do it soon, it's going to be too late. Look at you, partner, you're exhausted all the time, your back is shot, and your feet are always hurting. You're in worse shape now than during your worst time with UNCLE. Then it was our enemy doing it to you, now you're doing it to yourself. What sort of person would I be to stand aside and let that happen?"
"Cooking is all I'm any good at."
"Don't feed me that bullshit, Illya, because we both know it's not true. You have more talents than five regular people put together, but you've somehow convinced yourself that the only thing that matters is the food you put on a plate. Not you, not your health, nothing exists except that food." Napoleon pushed his plate aside, the food no longer holding any interest for him. "I can't let you do that to yourself. Not without a fight."
"In my life, I've only accomplished two things of which I am proud. The first was opening Taste."
"And the second?"
"Marrying you," Illya said softly. "Everything else has just been gravy."
"I'm not asking you to give up the restaurant, Illya, I just want you to step back a bit, ease off."
"I'm not made that way, Napoleon. With me, it's all or nothing."
"Then we need to call Joe."
Napoleon's stomach fell. Joe was their lawyer. His mouth grew dry, almost too dry to get the next word out. "Why?"
"I'm not giving Matthew the restaurant without making sure everything is legal." Napoleon's face must have belied his astonishment for a smile played briefly with Illya's lips. "Taste is my life, Napoleon, but you are my world. And I'm sorry that you didn't know that. I've tried so hard to show you and tell you. If it takes walking away from Taste, then so be it. I walked away from you once and regretted it every second afterwards. I'll not do it again."
Napoleon caught him in a tight hug, just holding him. "You won't regret this; I'll make you celebrate this moment for the rest of your life."
"Our lives," Illya corrected softly. "This... will not be easy for me, Napoleon."
"Then let me help. A vacation, just like I mentioned..."
The phone rang and Napoleon's heart, so high a moment before, dropped and his disappointment must have shown in his face. Illya ran a finger down his cheek and chuckled. "Let it ring," he said. "I'm certain whoever it is has nothing to say that I want to hear." Then he took Napoleon's hand, kissed the palm and placed it over his heart. "For as long as it keeps beating, it's yours."
For a long moment, they simply stood together. Then Illya pulled back and returned to the table. He scooped a portion of the now deflated souffl onto a plate and started to walk from the room.
"Illya, where are you going?"
"Back to bed; I thought that was the agreement." He held the door open. "Are you coming?"
"Oh, I think we can be assured of that..."
Napoleon flopped back on the bed and wiped a trickle of sweat from his eyes, groaning. "Jesus, Illya, are you trying to kill me?"
"Not in my original plan, no." Illya glanced up from his position between Napoleon's legs, his fingers carefully positioned on Napoleon's penis and testicles, preventing him from ejaculating. "Just thought you might like to draw things out a bit more."
"Says the man who's already come earlier today."
"As did you. Now we're on equal footing." Illya returned to his nursing of Napoleon's penis, restricting his lips to just the glans and smiled as Napoleon groaned again. "So who's driving?"
"You have to ask that at a time like this?" Napoleon's head came up from the pillow and then flopped back down. "I don't care."
"Merely extending a courtesy." Illya groped and found the lube he set on the bed beside him. He squeezed a glob directly onto Napoleon's penis and began to coat it. Napoleon started to move, but Illya placed a hand to his stomach, pressing him back down. Grateful, Napoleon relaxed and focused his attention first on Illya's hand as it stroked his penis, then the delicious searing heat that encompassed him. Then the catch in Illya's breath as he settled into place and waited for his body to signal its acceptance.
Napoleon massaged the thighs that straddled him, running up and down the length of them with his fingers, open on the way down and curled on the journey back, lightly scraping the skin. He flexed his penis and Illya grunted in response. He placed his hands on Napoleon's chest and grinned.
"Oh yes." Napoleon shifted one hand from Illya's thigh and grasped his partner's extremely firm penis. "Race you."
The next few... minutes, seconds, Napoleon couldn't tell for his world became very small, all of it centered upon their movement together, the sound of their bodies, slick and wet, as they moving against each other. Their voices, as intermingled as their bodies, cried out in a cacophony of not words, but sounds, guttural and needy.
Suddenly, Illya arched back, grinding himself against Napoleon's body and Napoleon felt his fist grow hot and sticky. That was all he needed to incite his own completion and he thrust up as hard as he could and pulled down with his one free hand, holding Illya in place as he climaxed.
He took a deep breath and pulled Illya down against him, content with the slickness that spread over their bellies.
"I'm glad this place has thick walls."
"Well, that and the fact that I bought out the rooms on either side of us." Napoleon let his attention wander about the room they were presently holed up in. The spa was very exclusive and very private, just what he'd wanted when he made the reservations. Even so, he went an extra step to ensure their privacy.
It hadn't been as much as a struggle to get Illya to agree to their destination, not when Napoleon concentrated upon the various restaurants and antique shops that dotted the streets of Sonoma. He'd met the owners of the spa at a wine tasting earlier in the season and had immediately taken a liking to the young men.
"That massage today did you a world of good, I take it?" Napoleon wrapped his arms around Illya's waist. It amused Napoleon that now Illya wasn't putting in fourteen-hour days, he'd actually gained weight. Napoleon thought it looked good on him, but his lover wasn't as inclined.
"And the Reiki isn't hurting either. It's nice to not ache all over for a change," Illya admitted, his voice muffled from his buried sanctuary in Napoleon's neck. He yawned and slipped off Napoleon's body. "Love you, but you're a rotten mattress."
""Well, you're not the most comfortable comforter either," Napoleon said, gathering sheets and blankets about them. He kissed the damp forehead. "Happy?"
"Hmm," Illya mumbled. Napoleon shifted away slightly and Illya's arm tightened on him. "Don't."
"Not a chance, partner." Getting older wasn't so scary. Not when you had someone you love along for the ride.