As Good As New
Napoleon heard the front door open and close. Back in New York, that would have been cause for panic, but that was across the country and seemed a half a lifetime ago. Here, in the quiet foothills community of Jackson, serious crime was rarely a problem and even more rarely did it come through your front door.
There was also the reaction of the cats to consider. If a stranger had come in, they would be slinking away, looking for a convenient hiding place. Instead Beurre Noir was sitting up and cleaning a paw. Moutard stretched and jumped down, his tail high. He knew a meal ticket when it appeared and he headed downstairs.
Napoleon didn't hear Illya's familiar tread immediately upon the stairs. That meant either the Russian had stopped by the kitchen to grab something to eat or he'd, once again, collapsed face first on the couch and was already dead to the world.
The first time Napoleon had found Illya like that in the morning, he'd panicked. He was certain that Illya was injured or sick, but Illya's abrupt, and festooned with colorful language, awakening had proven him wrong. Illya had simply been too exhausted to climb the stairs.
Napoleon watched as Beurre Noir leapt gracefully from the bed and followed the path of her brother had taken a moment earlier. Still he waited, glancing at the clock now and again, anxiously ticking off the seconds. Finally, and with a resigned sigh, Napoleon threw back the blankets and prepared to confront to cool September night. He'd be damned if Illya was going to spend another night on that couch—he would carry Illya up to bed if he had to.
Then Napoleon heard a noise and he caught his breath—a soft squeak, the steady if slow footfall of his lover and he sighed. At last...
"Well, you..." Napoleon let the tongue lashing he was going to give Illya die away at the sight of the weary figure that came stumbling into the room. It was obvious that it had taken just about all of Illya's energy to make it up the stairs and take these last few steps. "...look exhausted. You look like you are ready to fall on your face. Rough night?"
"A bachelorette party... why don't people tell me these things? We're completely booked and then a limo full of very boisterous women shows up. They took over the bar. A man can only survive being groped so many times." Illya struggled out of his chef's coat and made a half-hearted attempt to get it close to the laundry basket.
Napoleon felt a sudden twinge of jealousy, silly though it was. "They groped you?"
"No, not me." Illya's tee shirt followed. "I wasn't careless enough to put myself in harm's way, as it were. Rocky, on the other hand, by the very nature of his job... well, I very much doubt his honor was intact at the close of business tonight."
"Poor Matt," Napoleon murmured, watching Illya's muscles flex beneath his skin.
"Poor... Matt?" Illya stood and pushed down his pants, stepping out of them and kicking them up in the air to grab them. They too were tossed, towards the dirty clothes pile. "Why poor Matt? I am fairly sure he is not suffering from a dozen bruises tonight." He stretched now and ran a hand across his chest, scratching lightly, eyes closed in pleasure.
"I know how I'd feel if someone was... ah, bruising you in a similar manner." Napoleon leaned back to enjoy the sight of the very naked Russian. "Thankfully, I hold all said marking rights."
Illya looked towards the bathroom and sighed. "Perhaps this is a discussion best served after I've gotten the night washed from me." He headed there next, his step slow but steady.
Napoleon wanted to protest, but knew better. If Illya made it all the way upstairs, he had enough energy left for a shower and perhaps even for something after that.
"Go on, I'll be right here waiting for you. Did you eat tonight?"
"I think so." Illya had bent to his task of taking out his contacts. "Maybe it was yesterday... I can't remember."
"I've said it before, how can a chef forget to eat?" He was drowned out by the shower.
When Illya re-emerged, there was a bowl of soup, a chunk of bread and a large glass of water sitting on his nightstand. He saw it and, smiling gratefully, glanced over at Napoleon. "Thank you."
"You look after the ones you love, even when they should be fully capable of looking after themselves, but refuse to." Napoleon nodded to the bed. "Now sit and eat and tell me what you did today."
This was getting to be a routine and one that Napoleon didn't actually hate. At first, they'd spent the days in very close association with each other, as if afraid to be out of the sight of one another. A year into their relationship and they were starting to move independently again. Twice a week Napoleon would drive into Sacramento to meet with his financial advisors and anyone else whom he needed to see. He would perhaps stop on the way home at a road side stand and buy some fresh produce, or at a winery to sample this or that. He was always careful to be back before Illya buttoned up his chef's jacket for evening service. Some nights he worked the room as the sommelier, but other evenings he left that to the waiters, each one very capable in their own right to advise a wine choice.
He watched Illya attack the soup with a vengeance, secretly proud to see his lover taking so much pleasure in something Napoleon had made with his own hands. Napoleon didn't cook that much, but soup he could manage. This was his mother's chicken and vegetable soup and it was obvious that Napoleon had hit it dead on.
In between mouthfuls, Illya talked about the crazy party in the bar, the antics in the kitchen, just the insanity in general that stalked the confines of the restaurant. He finished the bread, drained the glass of water and plopped back onto the pillows with a sigh.
"Very good..." Suddenly Illya's eyes flew open and he sat up to grab his right calf with a strangled curse.
These, too, were nearly a nightly occurrence. Leg cramps were something Illya was plagued with as of late. Napoleon suspected it was a lack of exercise and too much standing, but he didn't say anything. Instead he climbed from bed and went into the bathroom for the Witch Hazel.
Illya was cursing and trying to flex his foot when Napoleon returned. Shaking his head, Napoleon pushed Illya backwards and then opened the bottle. He poured some of the clear liquid into his hand and set the bottle aside.
"Have you ever thought, just for a minute, that you are working too hard?" Napoleon worked the muscle, ignoring the noises coming from the head of the bed. Illya was not a happy camper at the moment. Both cats watched from the doorway, reluctant to come any further until the ruckus died down. "Or consider going to the doctor to see if there's something that could help with these?"
"They don't need any help," Illya said between clenched teeth. "They do well enough on their own."
"Avoidance isn't always the solution, Illya." Napoleon felt the muscle starting to relax and he continued the massage down towards Illya's ankles. "I'm serious. I mean, look at you, you're skin and bones, always tired, you need a rest."
"If you stop talking, I'll get one," Illya snapped, then sighed. "I'm sorry, Napoleon."
"Don't be sorry, do something about it." Napoleon poured more Witch Hazel into his hand and moved down to Illya's foot, smiling grimly at the groan. "You were in better shape when THRUSH was beating you up twice weekly."
At the lack of response, Napoleon flicked up a look. Illya's eyes were struggling to stay open. He switched feet, keeping his touch firm, but gentle. He worked his way up Illya's left leg, pausing mid thigh.
In spite of Illya's protest to being half asleep, something else was waking up. Still keeping his touch casual, he slid his hands to the inside of Illya's thighs edging closer and closer.
"In the morning, Napoleon," Illya protested sleepily as fingers began to brush through his pubic hair.
"Oh, most definitely," Napoleon murmured before he found something else to do with his mouth. With his partner this tired, it didn't take much effort to coax a climax from him. Illya either didn't have the energy or desire to fight it off. It was over nearly before it began, just as Napoleon had anticipated.
With the taste of Illya still fresh in his mouth, he eased up to settle down against the near comatose blond.
"Sorry." Illya's lips didn't even move to return Napoleon's kiss.
"No worries, I'll catch you in the morning." He waited for a minute. "Illya?"
"Are you still awake?"
"Let's take a vacation together, just us, some place quiet where we can relax, making love when we want to, not when we can grab a minute or two."
"One mph for yes, two for no." The response was a grumble and Napoleon grinned as he snapped off the light. "Works for me."
Napoleon let his attention wander from the small movie screen and over to his dozing partner. Illya never had been one for watching movies on a plane. When they had been agents, a flight was the time to catch up on sleep, cram in some last bit of information or training, or just a respite from someone trying to kill them... or at least Napoleon thought it might have happened that way. He couldn't really recall any details, but that was okay. It didn't matter, not to him, not anymore.
The only regret he did have was that the wide comfortable seats in First Class did not permit the raising of the arm rest and some discreet hand holding. As it was now, the armrest was a solid barrier between him and his slumbering partner.
Seeing how relaxed Illya was at the moment was amazing, especially considering the struggle that had ensued beforehand.
"What the hell do you mean I agreed to this?" Illya was knock-down, drag-out mad, but Napoleon refused to back down.
"I proposed it and you agreed to it."
"I was asleep!"
"And I don't care. I have everything booked."
"I can't just up and leave. It wouldn't be fair to Matt."
"And you hogging the kitchen and sucking up all the glory night after night is?" Napoleon hated to play his trump card so early in the argument, but he had a feeling he needed to take Illya down fast or it wasn't going to happen at all."
"What? How dare you?"
"No, Illya, how dare you? I thought he was your partner and you just shove him aside like he was last week's dirty laundry."
"I don't believe I'm hearing this." Illya's voice had gotten very soft, very dangerous.
"It's true—why don't you trust him?"
"I do trust him! More than I trust you at the moment."
"Then prove it and let him run the restaurant."
"He's right, cara," Matt had entered at that moment. "Taste is half mine; I'd like to have a chance to prove that I am just as capace poiché lei."
"Of course you are as capable as I am."
"Poi lasciarmi lo prova a lei! (Then let me prove it to you!)"
Napoleon had taken a step back then, retreating like a coward to the front porch where Rocky was sitting with a glass of white wine. They had come to Rocky's and Matt's for dinner and he waited until afterward to spring his great surprise. Napoleon hoped being some place other than their place would give him the upper hand; it hadn't.
Rocky passed him a glass and held his up in a toast. "You two make this work and you will be elevated to Supreme Poo-bah in my book." They clinked the glasses and Napoleon sipped, eyes half closed as he evaluated the vintage. "I don't think Chef has taken a single break since I've been here and that's almost five years now. Mattie says it's been even longer than that. A break would do us all a world of good."
Illya came storming out of the front door, glared at the two men, then stalked off.
"Should you go after him?" Rocky asked softly.
"In the middle of a Kuryakin snit? No, I'll let him calm down for a bit. With any luck, he'll not have changed the locks by the time I get home. Whether or not I get him on the plane tomorrow will be another story entirely."
He hadn't and that night, things had been uncomfortable... really uncomfortable. In the morning, Illya had simmered down, but he still wasn't happy. He packed and remained quiet on their drive to the airport.
Now, after a full lunch and a few mai tais in his belly, the Russian had mellowed out. One of the nice things about Illya was that while he might not care for the circumstances, he always tried to make them work for him. For now, Napoleon considered that a minor triumph. The movie credits were running when the captain came on, letting everyone know that they would be landing on time in Kona.
Napoleon sat up and stretched, then reached over and rested a hand on Illya's forearm.
"Wake up, Sleeping Beauty," he murmured softly, stroking his thumb through the arm hair. Illya mumbled something and shifted. Napoleon squeezed gently this time. "Illya, wake up, partner."
"Because it's nearly time for us to land and the captain won't be able to unless you are in an upright position... I think the wings will fall off if you're not."
Illya made a slightly rude noise, but pushed the blanket away and blinked sleepily. The woman across the aisle opened her window shade and a shaft of bright sunlight pierced the cabin. Others followed suit, although Illya remained strangely still.
"Illya, are you okay?" Napoleon was concerned. Usually Illya was one of those 'instantly awake and hit the ground running' sort of people.
"Just waking up." He rubbed his eyes carefully and blinked. "I hate sleeping with my contacts in."
"We have the winner of the Crossing the Halfway Point contest. The passenger in Seat 5 A was the winner with 2:43 p.m."
"Way to go, partner." Napoleon looked over at Illya and grinned.
"Just some routine calculations." Illya had at least gotten vertical.
"Our thanks to everyone for playing. Now if you will make sure that everything is stowed and that your tray table and seat are in their proper position for landing, we will be setting down in Kona in a few minutes. Mahalo."
The stewardess approached, carrying a bottle of champagne wrapped in a gray and white checker-board napkin. "Here you are, Mr. Kuryakin... I hope you enjoyed your flight. You certainly seemed to be sleeping soundly for most of it."
"It was very nice, thank you," Illya said and the woman moved away, her mu'u mu'u swishing as she walked. Napoleon watched after her. While he was definite a one-man man, it didn't mean he didn't still appreciate the fairer sex. He glanced back as Illya continued to speak. "Although I'm not sure which I enjoyed more—the flight or being left alone for a few hours where not one person could ask me a single food related question."
"And all ready the sane part of the vacation is starting to reveal itself to you." Napoleon folded the blanket he'd had his feet propped up on and set it aside. "There really is a reason for vacations."
"I wouldn't know."
"And now you'll find out." Napoleon stood to lean across Illya and slide up the window cover. "No matter what you can say, the ocean here certainly is blue."
Illya looked and nodded towards the huge expanses of black and brown lava. "And desolate."
"This is the side that got all the lava," Napoleon explained.
"Very desolate..." Illya murmured. "This looks like a real swinging place."
"This isn't about excitement, Illya. This is about you getting a rest."
Illya fastened his seatbelt and snorted. "Let me know how that works for you."
Napoleon absentmindedly played with a lock of Illya's hair and sipped his after dinner drink. They were sitting on their balcony... lana'i, he corrected himself mentally. He'd been purposefully picking up as many local phrases as he could, but it didn't matter. Tourist was stamped all over him.
The night air was soft and the only sounds were the crashing waves and the rattle of dried palm fronds. They were stretched out on a lounge built for two, star gazing. It was their second night at the Kona Village Resort and jet lag was slowly releasing its grip on them. Napoleon could remember dashing from one end of the globe to the other, although doing what was a bit of a mystery now. He didn't, however, remember having such difficulty adjusting to the local time zone. They'd spent most of the day lazing around the pool and eating—thankfully, that seemed to be the order of the day here.
"So how is this working then?" He could feel Illya's chest rise and fall beneath his one-armed embrace and smiled contentedly. This was as quiet as he'd seen Illya since arriving upon his doorstep a year ago.
"This relaxing thing, how's it going?"
"So far so good, but it's still early..." Illya rolled his head towards Napoleon and blinked sleepily.
"You look ready for bed." Napoleon continued to play with the blond hair, letting it fan through his fingers.
"Only if it's for something other than sleeping..."
Napoleon grinned at that. "Oh, I imagine I could come up with one or two things." He thrust his hips up to emphasize his point.
"So what are you waiting for?" Illya's hand began to toy with the waistband of Napoleon's pants, fingering its fly.
"For you to get off me? Before I get you off?" Napoleon kissed Illya's head. "Or would you prefer out here? Under the palm trees and the watchful eye of the moon?"
"And our neighbors..." Laughter from a nearby hale drifted across the lava field even as Illya's hand worked down the zipper and slipped in between fabric and skin and began toying with wiry pubic hair.
"I'm game." Napoleon began his own exploration, his right hand working down the small of Illya's back to just the tip of his ass crack. "Mmm, now there's something I like."
"Well, love, actually, but let's not put too fine a point on it, shall we?" He bumped Illya's head with the shoulder it was pillowed on and when Illya looked up, Napoleon kissed him.
Illya's mouth opened automatically to his and for a long moment, they remained like that, kissing, touching, doing nothing more than enjoying the love that they shared with each other. Illya's hand found Napoleon's penis rock hard and very willing to be stroked.
Napoleon sighed into Illya's mouth and continued his own exploration. The angle was too awkward to do much more than merely massage that tight ring of muscles that was Napoleon's idea of paradise, but he did it with a passion.
Illya ground his penis against Napoleon's thigh as just the slightest bit of finger tip penetrated him. Without any lube, Napoleon wouldn't go any further and Illya knew it.
"Bed, now," Illya ordered, pulling away, then dipped back down for a fast kiss.
Napoleon gave him a two second head start before hoisting himself off the lounge, taking care to close the sliding glass door behind him. The hut was far from sound proof; that didn't matter to Napoleon. What he didn't want was a room full of mosquitoes to feast upon them as they slept.
Illya tugged his shirt over his head as he walked. He skimmed out of his pants and stood naked beneath the slowly rotating ceiling fan. Sweat made his body glisten and he'd had just enough sun to have some color to his skin, but not enough to burn. Both of them had been severely warned about sunburns and had taken the words seriously.
Likewise, Napoleon stripped, stepping out of his pants first before removing his shirt. Another time, he'd have hung the shirt, neatly folded the pants, but not now. He left both in a crumpled pile and walked straight for the bed, his penis bobbing as he moved.
As he passed Illya, he grabbed the man's hand and propelled him towards the king-size bed. The quilted bedspread had already been removed to a nearly trunk, the temperature too warm for anything other than a sheet.
Illya flopped back, grinning mischievously up at his lover. "See something of interest?" He flexed his dick and Napoleon chuckled.
"Well, now there's a 'come hither' signal if I ever saw one."
"Then come hither, Napoleon." Illya began to work his foreskin slowly, just the tip of his tongue wetting his lips. "Or will I have to do it for you?"
Napoleon leaned forward, close to Illya's ear. "I am going to suck you dry and fuck you until sunrise." Rarely did he talk like that in bed, but he watched Illya's eyes dilate even more and knew he'd made the right choice.
"You can try." The gauntlet had been thrown down and taken up. Napoleon grinned. It was going to be a very long night—just the way he liked it.
Coming up the gateway, Napoleon could see Matt's beet-red afro long before he spotted the rest of him. They exited and Rocky waved enthusiastically. Matt looked as if it was all he could do to stay upright.
"Now there's a look I recognize," Napoleon said as he, laughingly, gathered the younger man into a hug.
"Sono sciocco," Matt mumbled into Napoleon's shoulder.
"Why are you a fool, Matt, my boy?"
"This vacation of his, it was nearly the end of me," Matt muttered, then looked around. "Wait, where is Chef?"
"He liked the islands so much, he decided to open up a branch of Taste there." At the redhead's stricken look, Napoleon grinned. "Joking, I am joking. He is talking shop with some local Hawaiian chef... he recognized Illya from some competition they both been in and it was like Old Home Week."
"You look good, Mr. S." Rocky moved in for his own hug. "Very rested."
"When you are stuck in an inclusive resort and you aren't much for water sports, there isn't much to do except rest. Illya, on the other hand..."
"Cara, don't tell me tuttavia esaurito?"
"Not exhausted, exhausting. I discovered the only thing worse than wanting him well rested is having him well rested. Certain parts of me need a vacation all their own."
"That sounds like Chef." Rocky spotted Illya as he exited and grinned. "He looks great, Mr. S!"
Matt merely snorted. "You used to say that about me."
"You used to be able to stay awake during sex."
"I fall asleep once and now I am a man marked for life, yes?" He held his arms open and Illya grabbed him, hugging him hard. "Sono così contento che lei sono a casa," Matt said, quietly.
Illya slipped his lei from his neck to Matt's. "It's good to be home, but I tell you I feel like a new man. I can't wait for the next one. Napoleon and you two made me realize that there's more to life than just standing in front of the stove. I think maybe Tahiti next... or Bora Bora." He started to lead the way towards baggage claim.
"Si, si ," Matt said, holding the flowers to his nose to inhale their fragrance. "But not soon."
"I was thinking next month."
The three other men overlapped each other and Matt looked frantically at his partner.
"Chef, you do this to me again next month, and I think Rocky might leave me for—"
"Someone who can stay awake in bed," Rocky finished with a chuckle.
"Now, Illya, I think next month might be rushing things a bit," Napoleon cautioned as Matt grew even more pale.
"Nonsense! I've run that restaurant non-stop for nearly four years. It's Matt's turn now. I have tasted forbidden fruit and I am an addict." He looked Napoleon up and down. "And a month should be just enough time for you to recover... your drive as well."
"Hey, now, it was just the one time," Napoleon protested. "And it wasn't like... well, for lack of trying..."
"Well, perhaps you are merely getting older, Napoleon, and not able to participate as fully as you used to. Rocky, this probably means you'll have to take over the sommelier position along with being head waiter."
"Ah, I'd rather not, Chef."
"Likewise," Matt said.
"Can I say something—" Napoleon started, but Illya cut him off.
"And now, perhaps, when I say it's best that I stay here and cook, the three of you won't be quite so quick to want to ship me off somewhere." Illya quickened his pace, leaving the three men standing dumbfounded.
"There's the slightest chance that he's joking with us," Napoleon said, ignoring the people brushing past him.
"We could always chain him to the stove," Matt said, staring after the blond as he disappeared down an escalator.
"I'll buy the lock," Napoleon offered as he resumed walking. "A really big one... one that he can't pick."
"Make it two of them," Rocky suggested. "And you've got yourself a deal."
"I think, gentlemen, this is called being hoisted on our own petards." Napoleon got to the escalator, but Illya had already disappeared into the crowd of people also awaiting their luggage.
"Sounds painful," Rocky said.
"I suspect we have no idea, but I wager Illya will show us." He got on the steps and held onto the railing. "Have you ever noticed how the railing goes just a bit faster or slower than the stairs go?"
"Yes, Matt?" Napoleon glanced up over his shoulder at the redhead.
"The next time you think Chef needs a vacation, don't think."
Napoleon thought back to all the nights as KVR, of seeing Illya sated and content in his arms and he smiled. He looked over at Matt, so weary, yet smelling his flowers with a sleepy look in his eyes. "Gotcha, Matt, and now we'd better catch up with him or he'll eat all the pineapples and macadamia nuts we brought back for you two. And tell you what, I'll even let him drive home and let you two have the backseat to yourselves."
The answering smiles were enough. Napoleon didn't know what he'd done to deserve a spot in this little family and he didn't care; he was just very, very thankful.
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