The Day Before You Came
Their footsteps grew slower as they climbed the last flight of stairs to the small apartment they shared. The taller dug through a pocket, finally finding a set of keys and working the lock on the door.
It creaked open and wearily they stepped inside.
"Oh, mio Dio, mio stancato stancato!" Matt Tovay dropped the black bags he was carrying the moment he cleared the door.
"Your tired is tired? Is that even possible?" Illya Kuryakin dropped his knife bag down on the hall table and sighed. "I never want to see another chicken again. Seven hours of dmembrer se dgonfle and I have had my fill of chicken parts. It's going to take me a week to get the smell off my hands."
"But you can completely bone a chicken now in what, four minutes?" Matt Tovay collapsed down onto a second hand couch and caught Illya's hand tugging him downward. Even if he was inclined to protest the action, gravity was against him and he toppled down onto Matt and into his arms.
"Three and a half, but I could probably get it down to three if I wasn't worried about cutting myself." Illya toed out of his shoes and winced, flexing his toes.
"Just when I think I have reached my limit, Chef pushes me harder." Matt pulled off his hair net and shook his bright red hair free. "How do you do it, Cara? I can hardly breathe I am so esaurito, and I am fifteen years younger than you." He began to massage Illya's neck with a long-fingered hand.
"You don't know what hard work is yet." Illya leaned into Matt's hand, his eyes closed. "But you will... eventually."
"Comforting, that is not."
Whatever Illya was going to say was cut off by the jingling of a bell and the sudden arrival of a ball of fluff pouncing upon his stomach. "Oof, Muscade, you weigh a ton," Illya protested to the small Himalayan as he scratched her ears. She started purring even before her feet started kneading. "Did you have a good day, little one?"
"I don't get it, she's my cat." Matt scratched the dark brown head affectionately. "Why does she come to you first?"
"Easy, I have bigger hands and I know where all the itchy spots are."
Matt rubbed his cheek against Illya's ear and whispered, "And what about mine, Cara, do you know where my itchy spots are?"
Illya reached out and trapped Matt's shaggy head with his left hand and pulled his mouth down to meet him. Matt grinned and Illya took advantage of it to plunder the mouth, if not lovingly, at least hungrily.
It had taken him a while to realize the difference. He and Matt had a connection the moment they met in the Cooking Basics class. By the end of the class, they were acquaintances. By the end of the week, they were friends. By the end of the month, they were lovers. No, Illya corrected himself. Not lovers, he'd not permit himself that luxury again. He'd loved once and it had proven disastrous. He knew he'd never trust another person the way he'd trusted Napoleon. He knew he'd never love anyone else as he had his Napoleon. Without trust, you couldn't have love. Matt was convenient, a warm and willing body when Illya's needs overtook everything else, and Illya was extremely fond of the young man.
He worked his mouth on Matt's for a few seconds and then pulled away. "I thought suo stancato era stancato."
"But never my passione for you, Cara." Matt rubbed his groin against Illya's hip.
Muscade stood and butted her head against Illya's chin, refocusing his attention. Illya disentangled his fingers from the tight red curls and stroked the cat from head to tail. "And what would her ladyship like?"
"Probably dinner," Matt said, letting his fingers trace circles against Illya's neck. "One of us should feed her."
Illya sat up, holding the cat to his chest as he moved. "As you so succinctly pointed out, she's your cat. Be my guest."
"But she sleeps with you."
"So do you."
Matt protested, but he was sliding out from beneath the Russian. Illya passed the little rumbling bundle of fluff to her owner and stood himself. "I'm going to take a shower."
Matt raised a hand in acknowledgement and walked towards their kitchen as Illya headed further into the tiny apartment they shared.
It was a true testament to their friendship that they were able to work side-by-side all day and then share this cracker box sized home the rest of the time without coming to blows. But they did cohabitate and managed quite well, knowing when to give the other space and when to offer support.
Illya stripped and dropped his work clothes into the hamper. Tomorrow they would have to grit their teeth and spend part of their precious day off doing laundry. They shared the task just as they shared all the others, so that neither would feel overly burdened. It didn't mean they cared for them though and bartering was often the order of the day as they resisted the less attractive tasks around the house.
One chore they never fought over, however, was cooking. When it came time for that, they stood shoulder to shoulder, each approaching their dish with an individual style and determination, much like they did their sex. For Illya refused to call it love making.
Illya stepped carefully into the bathtub and drew the curtain inside. He turned on the water, waited while the pipes clunked, banged, and finally decided to flow before turning on the spray.
Despite his glib comment earlier, he was tired, bone weary down to his very core. He'd never had to sustain this level of energy output in UNCLE. There, the demands were harsh, but often short in duration. Bursts of activity followed by long periods of inactivity before being called to arms again. Now, he hit the ground running every day and if he was very lucky, at some point, he was allowed to pause long enough to check and see if his heart was still beating. Between work and school, he tumbled from day to day, week to week without a thought beyond the task before him. Now he wandered aimlessly from one month to the next, only major holidays alerting him as to the time of year. He used to be able to tell you the names of every leader in the free world, their military capacity, and warring factions within and without. Now he was lucky to remember who the president of the United States.
Illya reached for the soap and lathered his chest, his fingers so thick with calluses he no longer felt the ridges of scar tissue that decorate it and the rest of his body although Illya carried the worse of his internally... Napoleon.... To Matt's credit, he'd registered each mark, but never offered comments or questioned their origin. Matt' own body too carried many scars, scars he'd earned from a savage gay bashing that had left him more dead than alive, but Matt freely offered the explanations that Illya hid. They were such total opposites in many ways, but both he and Matt were marked as survivors.
Illya shook his head to stop the thought before it had time to go further. That was over and he was determined to move only forward now. He turned his attention to his hair, eager to wash the smells of the day from it. He wore it longer now, as was the fashion. He didn't care for the hairnets or having to wear it pulled back by a rubber band, but those days would be behind him soon. His and Matt's internships were nearly through, they'd both be certified and able to claim the titles of Chef, and Illya had very definite plans for his future. He'd hoped they included his friend as well, but if not, Illya was used to striking out on his own. He'd done it before and he'd do it again.
Illya climbed from the tub and began to towel off. He had just draped the towel over his head to dry his hair when he felt hands on his body. Decades of training surged through him and it was only sheer will that kept him from ripping free of those hands and dispatching with his attacker.
"You're a little jumpy tonight, Cara," Matt whispered as he pulled the towel from Illya's head and leaned forward to kiss him, but Illya evaded him.
"You're lucky I was still awake enough to control my impulses. I've told you before, Matt, don't surprise me like that. It's not... safe."
"La cassaforte, il mio amore? Perch la vorrei la cassaforte quando lei pi eccitare come questo?" (Safe, my love? Why would I want you safe when you're more exciting like this?)
"Because I could easily kill you without even pausing for breath and you'd be wise to remember that."
"Ah, the mysterious past that you refuse to divulge." Matt tried again and this time Illya stayed still as Matt's tongue teased the corners of his mouth. "In someone else, not attractive. In you, la mia debolezza."
"My weakness as well," Illya admitted, turning his face into the kiss, content for the moment to let Matt take control and just feel. To not think, not imagine, not wonder, just feel.
His breath started to catch as Matt's mouth began a predictable but still much appreciated path southward. Illya enjoyed oral sex, probably more than just about anything and Matt was both a gifted instructor and student. It had only taken him a very few tries to discover exactly what Illya preferred. He knew exactly the angle, the depth, and the suction to rip an orgasm out of Illya as effectively as Illya could pluck the pit from an avocado.
Illya just held on and let Matt take him on a nerve-jolting ride, his grip on the counter the only thing that kept him from sinking to his knees as he came. Illya cried out, just once, sharp and merciless, just like his climax and Matt immediately began to calm him.
He rose and kissed Illya, letting him taste himself. "You were too close, Cara. Now I think we have time to play, yes? Or are you still too tired, old man?"
Illya's smile was lazy now as he backed down from his high. He caught Matt's head and again kissed him. "I'll show you old."
"That was what I was hoping, si."
When he'd first gone to bed with Napoleon, Illya had been an attentive but submissive partner, giving Napoleon the opportunity to shape their love making to his liking. And Illya was quick to never refuse him. No matter how tired, how sore, or how distracted he might otherwise be, if Napoleon showed any interest, Illya always obliged. And Napoleon proved a skilled, if insatiable lover. Napoleon would see an attractive woman and the next thing Illya knew, he was bent over a chair with Napoleon pounding into him.
Those days were over. Illya had adopted a much more selfish attitude now; he had sex only when he wanted it. And Matt was okay with that. Illya didn't understand it, but he was appreciative. Matt would offer and Illya could either accept or decline. If he declined, Matt would disappear for an hour or so and then return, slip into bed beside him and drift off to sleep. And as time went on, Illya found himself refusing Matt's offers less and less. And considering some of Matt's more 'interesting' proclivities, it was safer to keep him home and entertained than risk him going elsewhere.
Illya led Matt to bed and pushed him backwards. The redhead toppled, boneless, to sprawl out, opening himself up completely. It amazed Illya how Matt trusted, so easily, so openly, considering his past.
He reclined, half off, half on Matt, letting his fingers play over the milky white skin. Matt was one of the few people even more pale than he was and it fascinated Illya, almost as much as Matt's red pubic hair did. "So, tell me Mr. My Tired is Tired, what would you like tonight?" He leaned closer, nuzzling his ear, whispering, "Do you want my dick in you? My tongue? Something else? Something... bigger?"
He could feel Matt shiver beneath his touch and he smiled, a wicked, "You are in so much trouble" smile. "Are you sure?" The red head bobbed once and Illya reached for a large jar of cold cream. This was going to be messy, just the way he now liked sex.
Matt stretched out in his arms, totally relaxed and content. Illya had only experienced the act of fist fucking once and it hadn't proven an extremely pleasurable interlude, but Matt seemed to thrive on it. Illya couldn't understand the attraction, but at least with him, he knew Matt was safe. The Italian gave him so much that it was the least Illya could do in return.
"What do we have, Illya, what do we call this thing between us? It's more than friendship, but it's not love. It's more than just sex though, si? I feel your strength when you touch me, but you're so careful never to hurt me." Matt's voice was soft now, his accent blurring the edges of his words.
"I don't know. Perhaps it's just what it is, Mattie." Illya caressed his head, trying to pet the wild curls into submission. "Does it need a name?"
"Not really." Matt yawned, snuggling down against him and Illya sighed, readjusting his position so his arm wouldn't go numb. If he was lucky, he would be able to snatch a couple of hours of sleep now before he'd wake, the old familiar ache in his gut tearing him up, ripping any hope of sleep from him. He couldn't remember when he'd last slept more than four hours. When he was an agent, he could fall asleep standing up, now every second was a struggle until his body nearly collapsed from its tiredness.
There was a slight movement on the bed and a soft 'meow?' and Illya patted the mattress beside him.
"Shh, don't wake Matt," he cautioned as Muscade bypassed the bed and moved to her usual position, curled up on the pillow right beside his head. He stared up at the ceiling, listening to the little cat's purr thrumming in one ear, Matt's slow breathing in the other. He closed his eyes against the thought of deep brown eyes, a quick smile and dark hair. He closed his eyes to the tears that threatened to creep out. He closed his eyes to what had been and would never be again.
Tomorrow they would climb into a car and drive up into the Sierra foothills to check out a small restaurant up there. If it was all that the owner claimed, that was his future. With Matt, his new career and what little bit of happiness he could chisel out for himself. Muscade increased her song and rubbed her cheek against his, reassuring, doing her best to tell him to be patient for just a bit longer.
2800 miles away and a year later...
Napoleon Solo pushed aside the financial section of the paper and sighed. His aunt's passing had left him great wealth, and with that came great power, but it didn't ease the ache in his heart. Nothing, he'd found seemed to help that. And try as he might, he couldn't find the one thing that would. He'd hired the best detectives he could find, but to no avail. Wherever his former partner had gone, he had dug himself a hole so deep no one could find him. Napoleon was just about to the point of deciding Illya had fled the country, despite insistence to the contrary. He didn't want to admit Illya was gone, not before Napoleon could right a wrong...
He picked up the travel section of the paper and flipped through it. He would never be able to explain what made him read the small article, a column he'd never even looked at before. It was as if an invisible, soft nudge had pushed his attention to it and he read, with increasing excitement, about a small restaurant nestled in the Sierra foothills that was drawing huge culinary attention and how the chef, a slender blond Russian, was taking the dining community by storm.
He sat up quickly, nearly upsetting the glass of Scotch he was holding. He reached out and grabbed a phone. "Miss Hampton, get me my travel agent. I don't care that it's the middle of the night and neither will he when I'm done. Just do as I ask, please."
Napoleon looked back down at the paper and shook his head in disbelief. Yet he had no doubt he'd been sent a sign, a second chance, if you will, and, by God, he wasn't about to blow this a second time.