I Believe in Angels
Everything in Napoleon's world was soft... well, not everything. He smiled even without being fully awake. He could feel the warmth and cocoon-like softness of the sheets. Worn from many washings, they were his favorite set and he kept them long after he'd tossed others.
The fingers of one hand rested against his partner's head, loosely tangled in the blond strands. Illya's hair was slightly damp from sleep, even though the room was now pleasantly cool and impossibly soft to the touch. Napoleon knew women who would kill to have the Russian's hair, even now that it was streaked with silver.
Napoleon opened his eyes to glance over at the clock. It was only just past eight, early in their world. He rolled, nestling against the warmth of Illya's back; his skin like his hair, silky smooth and damp from sleep.
Illya sighed and leaned back, still more asleep than awake and Napoleon slid his hand up the length of Illya's stomach to his chest, to ruffle the hair there.
"You feel good," Napoleon whispered, shifting slightly so he could nuzzle the nape hair of Illya's neck, then let his mouth continue downward to lick the slightly salty skin. "You taste better..."
Muscles flexed, smooth and liquid, beneath his lips as Napoleon moved from Illya's neck, tasting his way from shoulder to spine and back as he let his hand play with whatever fell in his path, hair, a nipple, a ridge of scar tissue, all were given the same loving attention.
Beneath his mouth, his touch, Napoleon felt his lover slowly begin to stir, reluctant to let go of sleep, but too interested in what Napoleon was offering to ignore him or move away.
Napoleon felt himself growing harder, harder than should be possible, considering their still very active sex life. Whoever thought sex after fifty was over was either a fool or an idiot. Napoleon wasn't sure which. Granted, when they were younger, they'd done this more times than he could remember. They'd wake early to make love and then fall back asleep, in each other's arms, at times, still in the other's body, too tired, too satisfied to care otherwise.
He rocked himself into a more comfortable position, one familiar, but still exciting, between Illya's thighs. They parted slightly until Napoleon settled and then clamped down, providing a delicious friction.
"Mmm, heaven." Napoleon rocked gently, even as a rough fingertip began to stoke the tip of his penis, rubbing the moisture collecting there, spreading it slowly.
"I'm fairly certain this is not one of Heaven's approved activities." Illya's voice was still sleepy.
"Depends upon what side of the argument you are listening to. This is absolutely my idea of Paradise." He repositioned Illya's hand to encompass both of them and moved languidly within his grip, unhurried and easy while he took the counterpoint, stroking what Illya couldn't or purposefully missed.
There were still mornings when he'd shove Illya roughly onto his stomach, spread his cheeks and slide home, his head back in sheer bliss as that incredible heat enveloped him, his lover letting him take what he needed. Illya seemed to instinctively know when Napoleon wanted, yearned for that control, to be the one in charge, needed to be the one setting the pace, needed to hear Illya moan and cry out for his touch.
Other mornings, it was Illya anxious and wanting him, desperate for control, trembling with anticipation. Those times, Illya reminded Napoleon of what a dangerous man he'd taken as his mate and of how violent and physical Illya could be if pushed to the limit of his endurance and not allowed to be the one in control.
Then there were those mornings like these of slow, gentle movements, neither of them in a hurry, both willing to share, take a slower path to completion and just languish in the sensation of each other's bodies. No decisions, just moving, skin against skin, slick, smooth and very, very soft.
It still amazed Napoleon that even after all this time, how little encouragement he needed under Illya's touch. It wasn't a world shattering climax, nothing explosive or incredible, just a wave of passion, pleasure, and completion. One moment he was rocking and the next his hand was warm and sticky with their combined semen, and he was listening to his breath calm, feeling Illya, still in his embrace, relax and grow quiet again.
"Love you," Napoleon murmured into Illya's ear.
"And I, you." A moment passed; birds squabbled over something outside and the wind, cool and fresh, tossed the curtain playfully. "What time is it?"
"Still early, if you want to go back to sleep." Even now, Napoleon kept his hand in place, feeling Illya growing soft, yet reluctant to release him.
"And as tempting as that is, I have about fifty pounds of salmon to smoke for apps tonight. If I start now while it still cool, I won't be as inclined to pass out as I might if I do it this afternoon."
"Why don't you let one of the other guys do it?"
"Napoleon, I'm already letting them take the bulk of the cooking and daily tasks away, let me have some fun..."
"Passing out from heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation is fun?"
"You said it this morning, depends upon what side of the fence you're on." Illya rolled free from Napoleon's embrace and stretched, flexing his shoulders and arms, twisting at the waist and yawning. He dropped his gaze to Napoleon's groin and smiled. "You up for a shower?"
"With you? Try and stop me."
Napoleon was sipping coffee and trying to decide if he should risk one more piece of coconut zucchini bread when the phone rang. And since the receiver was right beside the bread board...
Napoleon cut himself another piece as he cradled the phone between his shoulder and ear. "Solo here... hello? Hello?"
Nothing but white noise greeted him, then he heard an odd sound, like something muffled and in the background, something half familiar, but not...
Illya closed the pantry door and looked over at him. "What's wrong?"
Wordlessly, Napoleon offered him the phone. Illya took it and the piece of bread from him, listened for a moment, then shrugged. "Whoever it was hung up." The bread disappeared in three bites.
"That sounded like..."
"A hospital loudspeaker in the background. It was hard to make out the words, but that was the impression I got." Illya walked to the kitchen door and grabbed a set of keys. "Do you want to drive or should I?"
Jackson had gotten impossibly large in an impossibly short amount of time. Once the first casino moved in, the sleepy little town exploded. Parts of it were still quiet, but the downtown had shifted to a point further north. The new downtown was filled with hotels, restaurants and tacky gift shops. The older part of the town was still fairly unchanged and people still found their way here after a fashion.
Taste did fine with the new influx of tourists. Many wanted the noise and excitement of the casinos, but others wanted someplace quieter, more secluded to dine. The locals still frequented them, even when a more affordable choice offered itself. And Illya had to admit, it was nice to not to have to travel quite so far for some things, like a modern hospital. He pulled into a visitor's space and shut off the engine.
"We start in emergency and work our way up?" he asked as they climbed from the car.
"Sounds as good a plan as any."
The doors slid open and Illya purposefully kept from balking. He'd never even been inside this particular hospital, but it didn't matter. They all smelled the same to him. They all reeked of the same cleaner, the same sharp cutting stink of urine and blood. It was better now than before his detraining, but it still made his head feel tight, as if it was caught in a vice. His hand started to throb and he felt an twinge of panic edge in.
"Hey, it's okay." Napoleon's voice was soft and comforting, like a much loved old sweater. "You can wait in the car if you'd rather."
"No, if you can do this, so can I. It just..."
"Believe me when I say I feel your pain." Napoleon rubbed the small of his back and smiled, then he caught Illya's arm.
"Isn't that Vic?" Napoleon pointed into the waiting room, frowning.
"Victor Alasee, Winston's partner?" There had been a bad moment not that long ago when Napoleon had thought Victor was instead Velon, back from the grave, but the man had proven to be exactly what Winston had needed in his life.
"You don't think..." Illya led the way to the man, who looked up as they approached and leapt to his feet.
"Oh, I thought you were the doctors." He sank back down to the couch.
"Victor, what happened?" Napoleon asked.
"I'm not really sure. He went out for a run this morning. We usually go together, but my knee was bothering me, so I stayed in. Someone found him and called emergency.... They won't tell me anything because... because I'm not a relative."
"Well, they'll talk to me then. Excuse me." Napoleon patted him on the shoulder and approached the desk. Vic watched him and then returned his gaze to the floor.
"I just wish someone would talk to me..."
"Have you seen a lawyer?" Illya watched Napoleon walk determinedly away.
"What? To sue them? Is there time?"
"No, to have yourself named as Winston's caregiver in the event of something unforeseen." Illya sat, still uneasy. "It's the only way you will have any say in these matters. You know as well as I do that we are invisible to them."
"But we're partners... for life..."
"And that, sadly, means nothing to them and the eyes of the court unless you have paperwork stating otherwise." He crossed his arms and watched Napoleon talk with a nurse. "We have no voice, no representation other that what we make for ourselves."
"It's not right."
"No, but it is legal."
Napoleon approached them, his face tight. He sat, his knee touching Illya's. "According to the nurse, Winston was attacked by a pack of wild dogs."
"But this is Jackson, not the plains of the Serengeti! I've told him again and again to run with a stick," Victor muttered. "He never listens. He told me he'd just outrun them."
"Those dogs aren't afraid of anything. I run with pepper spray in my pocket," Illya said. "What do the doctors say?"
"Nothing was life threatening, but a couple of the bites were pretty bad."
A doctor walked into the waiting room and looked around, obviously trying to find someone. He spoke with the nurse at the desk and she gestured impatiently to Napoleon, then returned to the couple she was helping.
Napoleon stood as did both Victor and Illya. "I'm Napoleon Solo."
"You are related to Winston Solo?"
"I'm his uncle, yes."
"May we talk in private?" The doctor pointedly stared at the other two men.
"No, we can talk here. These men are also his family."
Whatever argument the doctor was going to make faded with that and he gestured them back to the chairs. "Your nephew was very lucky, Mr. Solo. Although the bites were bad, none of them was life threatening. However..."
"What?" Victor asked, leaning forward, dry washing his hands. "What else is wrong?"
The doctor looked at him and then back to Napoleon. "He is going to require plastic surgery for the bites to his face and he may never fully recover the use of his left hand." His voice fell. "And then there's the matter of insurance."
"I'm his employer," Illya said, quietly. "There is no issue with insurance. Whatever he needs will be taken care of, I'll see to it personally."
"You are a good boss." The doctor's voice was falsely cheerful.
"I'm a better friend. When can we see him?"
"He's just coming out of recovery." The man gestured vaguely towards the elevators.
"Victor, why don't you go see him and we'll take care of the paperwork?"
"I don't..." the doctor started, but then fell silent at Illya's glare. "That will be fine. Would you follow me?"
Napoleon watched as the two wandered away and then let out a breath. "I am so tired of hospitals."
"You're singing an all-too familiar song to me, my friend. This is one part of UNCLE I don't miss." Illya was absently rubbing his hand and Napoleon caught it.
"Does it hurt?" Napoleons gently pried open the fingers and rubbed the scar that marred the palm.
"What? No, of course not... it's just..." He got back to his feet and slid his hand free, as he headed to the front desk. "I'm fine."
"I'm sure you are, Amante, and I'm going to keep you that way." Napoleon wasn't sure if Illya heard him or not, but that part didn't matter—the vow was what mattered to him.
They stopped in the ward doorway and Napoleon took a deep breath before leading the way in. The first bed to the left was empty and there was an older gentleman in the bed opposite. That meant.... Napoleon pushed in and saw a bandaged covered form, alone and apparently forgotten.
"Where's Victor?" Napoleon whispered.
"No idea." The head turned in their direction and Illya smiled. "I've heard of people going to extremes to get out of my kitchen, but you could have just asked for some time off." He rounded the bed and, mindful for the tubes and cables, rested a hand on a thin shoulder. "How are you feeling?"
Winston's lips quivered and then he raised a bandaged hand. "With my fingers... but maybe not these anymore."
"Don't listen to them," Napoleon advised, dragging up a chair. "You don't know how many times they've written us off as a lost cause and yet here we sit."
"Have you called Mom yet?"
"No... we came right here."
"Don't, Uncle Napoleon, okay? I don't want her to see me like this."
"If that's what you want, we shall, of course, honor it," Illya answered. "May I ask why?"
"When I called her and told her I was getting married... well, it didn't end on a good note." He sighed. "Where's Victor? I thought he was here, but maybe..."
"I'll see if I can find him."
It took a while to search the hospital and, granted Illya's first thought wasn't the chapel, but that's where he found the man. He walked over and sat down beside him.
"I'm a coward," Victor said, after a moment. "I walked in and saw him and couldn't stay in that room a second more."
"You are a coward. You have no right to be hiding here when your place is beside Winston."
"I can't... you don't know what it's like or what I'm feeling."
"That is in part true, because there is no force in the world that would keep me from Napoleon's side at a time like this. Is your love that thinly veneered?"
"I didn't think it was, but all I could see were the bandages and think about what he might look like when they come off... why is God doing this to me?"
"To you?" Illya's voice had an incredulous edge to it. "You seem fairly healthy to me, at least compared to the young man lying in that hospital bed. He is going to need you now more than ever before."
"That's what scares me. I'm not good at having people depend upon me. Did you know I was married once before... to a woman?"
"So was Napoleon. What difference does that make?"
"She got pregnant and I left. The thought of having someone completely dependent upon me for life was too much pressure..."
"You walked out on your own child?"
"Turned out it wasn't mine. But the fact remains I'm a coward. She needed me and I left."
"Hear what I am about to say and remember it. You hurt Winston, and I will do what I tried to do that day not long ago. Do you understand?" Victor's answer was an audible gulp and he nodded. "Excellent, now get up. We are going to Winston."
"Is there a problem, my son?" The priest came to stand before them, his brow furrowed.
"Momentary lapse of faith. He's better now, aren't you, Victor?"
"Uh huh... much better..."
"I will pray for both of your souls."
Illya got to his feet and smiled thinly. "Everyone needs a hobby. Let's go, Victor. Someone is waiting for you."
They were stretched out on the sofa, front to back as was so often the case these nights. The TV was playing, a sit com, Napoleon thought from the laugh track, but he didn't know which one. They'd turned it on for the news and then abandoned it for each other.
Napoleon rested his left hand on Illya's rib cage, feeling the regular rise and fall with a sense of contentment. The other hand he kept in Illya's hand, their fingers entwined.
The Russian was so quiet, Napoleon didn't even know if he was asleep or just lost in thought. It didn't matter. Brunir, Fremir, and Roux seemed to understand the need for quiet tonight and they were curled up in a cardboard box, each one grooming the other.
Napoleon hadn't wanted another cat, much less three. Yet reluctantly he admitted that these three weren't too bad. And he did miss Moutard more than he wanted to admit. He had admired that old tom cat and the house had been empty with him gone. The kittens were a handful, always into something it seemed and Napoleon didn't care, not as long as it made Illya laugh and shake his head, eagerly dropping down to the floor to roughhouse or to cuddle them.
"You okay?" Napoleon kept his voice low, in case Illya had dropped off.
"Thinking about Winston... I don't know if Victor is staying and I wonder how he'll take that."
"If he doesn't stay, then Winston is better off without him."
"Might not be the best timing when he's facing reconstructive surgery."
"We'll just have to be there for him." Napoleon tightened his grip. "I wouldn't have made it without you."
"You would have, Napoleon; we're both fighters. It's against our nature to surrender, even when it's so much easier than everything else." Illya disentangled his hand and sat up. "I do feel bad, however, when I think of him possibly being left on his own."
"He won't be. If Victor leaves, we'll move him in here."
"Would that be wise?"
"No, that would be family and it's what you do."
Illya stood and held out a hand to him. "Come to bed."
"Not really sleepy yet."
"Neither am I." One corner of Illya's mouth crept up and Napoleon grinned in return. "Let's go up and be awake together, shall we?"
Illya steeled himself against the smell as he entered the lobby of the hospital and walked rapidly through it to the bank of elevators. He was running strictly on automatic pilot at the moment. He only had a couple of hours before he had to get back to the restaurant, but he promised Napoleon he would stay with Winston until Vinea's afternoon crew came in and relieved Napoleon.
They'd moved Winston to a private room, one with a sofa and chairs. It was homier than a regular room.
The young man was propped up in bed. Some of the bandages had been removed from his face, which was bruised and puffy. He had a long series of stitches running down the side of his face, pulling up the left side of his mouth.
"Morning," Illya said, slipped off his coat and tossing it onto a nearby chair. "How are you feeling?"
"Not so good today." Winston mumbled and sighed. "I went to the bathroom and, against the recommendation of my doctor, I saw what I looked like."
"It will be better once it is healed
Have you seen Vic?"
"Not yet, but I just came from the restaurant. Matt and Rocky said they'd stop by later before we start evening service."
"What's the special tonight?" Winston asked, his head down and slightly turned away from Illya. Illya caught Winton's chin and carefully turned his head back to face him.
"I prefer to have people look at me when I am speaking. App is a mushroom, truffle, and smoked pork, soup is Dutch green pea with chili butter and the entrée is Poularde Pavillion."
"Chicken in champagne sauce?"
"Your uncle had a couple of cases that needed to be moved. A little dry for my taste, but it works well with the dish. I'm infusing the cream with thyme and bay."
"What are the accompaniments?" The young man almost sounded interested, but Illya could tell that his mind was elsewhere.
"Beluga lentils, long beans and a glass of the champagne." Illya settled in a chair and leaned back. "If nothing else, at least we'll shift the champagne..."
"Have you thought about poaching pears in it? Sweeten it with some honey and vanilla..." Winston broke off and sniffed loudly.
"Chef, Illya, what if I can't cook anymore?" He held up a bandaged hand. "They tell me I was lucky not to lose this entirely and that it will never be good for anything."
Illya held up his right hand, palm open to him. "They told me that, too. You just have to prove them wrong."
"Any way you can."
"What if I'm not strong enough? I'm not like you and Uncle Napoleon."
"That's where you're wrong. You're just like your uncle. You just have never had to prove it until now. Your uncle is a great man; I refuse to believe you don't have the same greatness in you." Gritting his teeth against the stink of drying blood and antiseptic, Illya leaned forward and carefully embraced the young man. "You just need someone to believe in you."
"He has someone." Both men turned at the voice. Vic was standing there, holding a bouquet of flowers. "That someone just had some business to take care of this morning." Illya moved and let Victor take his place at Winston's side. He cupped Winston's unblemished cheek and stroked it tenderly before kissing it. Then he looked over his shoulder at Illya. "Doctor said he can go home tomorrow if he feels up to it. I was just making sure everything was ready for him. Sorry I wasn't here sooner."
"It's okay, you're here now."
Illya slipped quietly from the room, neither man even noticing his departure. That was better. That was how it should be.
He was standing waiting for the elevator as another man came up beside him and studied him for a moment. They entered and Illya punched the lobby button.
"The lobby is fine. Is your crisis of faith over?"
Illya recognized him as the priest, although he looked very different in street clothes. "For the moment."
"You never know how strong you need to be until God calls upon you."
"Or how hard you decide to listen. Yes, everything is fine now... for the moment."
"Is there someone I can call for you?"
"No, I'm not the one being challenged this time, for a change."
The elevator door opened and Napoleon was standing there. "Well, small world, partner.
"Yes." Illya exited after allowing the priest to precede him and caught Napoleon's arm before he could enter. "Victor is with him right now. I think they have a few things to talk about. Let's just go home."
Illya clamped his jaws shut and kept from sighing. He mentally counted to ten and took a deep breath.
"Inja, what did I just tell you?"
"Hold it like this and carve it like that." The young woman demonstrated and Illya shook his head slowly.
"No, listen to what I am saying and focus upon my hands as opposed to trying to flirt with Rand. He's far too old for you and married." Ignoring the woman's blush, Illya picked up a section of daikon and positioned his knife. "Hold your knife at thirty degrees, like this. No, stop..." He sighed and set down his section of the white radish and his knife. He walked behind her and wrapped his hands around hers. "At a thirty degree angle, like this... a smooth even pull towards you. You are not whittling a chunk of wood."
"I can't —"
"You can, if you want to. The hardest part about carving is getting over the idea that you need to be an artist to do this." Illya guided her hand until the entire section had deep evenly spaced 'V's' down the length. "Now, you just have to thinly slice them. Go practice." Illya pointed to a metal table set off to one side of the kitchen and the young woman gathered up her tools and cutting board and moved away.
"The things you old guys have to do to cop a feel."
Illya spun at the voice and grinned. "Winston, what are you doing here?"
The young man still bore the scars from the attack. The left corner of his mouth was twisted up in a permanent smirk and his left temple had long still red scar running the length of it. The two made it look as if his face was frozen in a constant sneer.
"To be honest, Chef, if I didn't get out of the house, I was going to scream. Do you need help?"
Illya chuckled. "I know exactly what you mean. How's your hand?"
"Not bad, as long as you don't need anything finessed."
"I'm sure Henry could find something for you to have your way with."
"Great, I appreciate it." Winston pulled off his coat and grabbed a spare apron from a hook. He struggled to get it wrapped around him and Illya batted his hands away.
"Know when to say when, Winston. I know it's not easy." Illya tied the apron and watched the young man hobble across the kitchen. It still hurt to see him so hampered by his injuries. Six months had gone by and he was still walking with a brace supporting one leg, still hunched like an old man. All because he thought he was indestructible.
He walked back to his office and fell into his chair, making sure he still had a good view of his intern. Then he covered his face with his hands and sighed long and hard.
"Penny for your thought, Amante." Illya dropped his hands and glanced up at Napoleon and smiled.
"I was just wondered how either of us managed to survive our youth."
"Sheer grit and will." Napoleon settled into a second chair and looked over at the woman at the prep table. "And who is that charming creature?"
"Young enough to be your granddaughter. She's from the community college on an internship. She has to have twenty hours in a working kitchen."
"Hmm, nice to have a good looking woman in here for a change."
"I think I resent that," Roxanne said, setting down a handful of envelopes on the desk in front of Illya.
"You, my dream, are not normally back here, but up front, wooing our customers with your beauty and charm."
"How do you put up with this, Chef?"
"Sheer grit and will. Thank you." Illya smiled as she bumped Napoleon's shoulder with her hip and walked out. "You need to watch her. She's got a mean right cross."
Napoleon nodded and watched Winston for a moment. "How's he doing?"
"Struggling, busy pretending everything is fine. Has he talked with Dr. Hilbert?"
"Sort of. He goes on about a lot of things, but I don't think he's quite gotten to the gist of the matter. As I recall, it took you a long time to get there as well."
"And never willingly; I just knew if I didn't do something I would lose you." Illya settled one of his hands over Napoleon's and stroked the back of it with his thumb. "You were more important than my stubbornness."
"Eventually, but it took you months to get there."
"He's a good man and he's patient." Illya's attention went back to the intern and he groaned. "As opposed to me. Excuse me." Illya pushed himself up way from the desk and walked back out into the kitchen. "Why are you slaughtering that poor vegetable? What has it ever done to you? "
Napoleon kept a smile from his face as he sifted through the morning's incoming mail. Some were bills and those went into one pile, others were obvious solicitations for money, goods, or services. There were some personal pieces and Napoleon's hand paused as he recognized the familiar handwriting of his sister.
Odd that it should be addressed to Illya. Napoleon wondered for a moment why Josie, someone who had never come to terms with her brother's relationship with another man, would be writing to said man. Without meaning to, Napoleon tucked the envelope into his jacket pocket and walked from the office.
It made his heart ache as he watched Winston struggling to perform the simple task of chopping celery, the knife handle wrapped in cloth to make it easier for him to hold. It had to be his dominant hand that was injured. Still the young man was laughing and grinned, a decidedly lopsided grin, but a grin nonetheless.
Napoleon had to give Victor a lot of credit. After an initial bumpy patch, the two had settled down into a comfortable routine of caregiver and patient, almost too comfortable. It was rare that Victor even let Winston out of his sight, much less come into the kitchen to work. It was almost a mirror image of what he and Illya had suffered.
He walked over to where Winston was working and watched the young man carefully cut the carrots, concentrating upon making each piece the same thickness as the one before it.
"You're getting better at that."
"I'm trying—I'd be even better if Victor would let me have my knives back."
"For some reason, he seems to think I will bleed to death if I nick myself. He won't let me touch anything in the kitchen. Unc, I'm gonna die if I eat take out one more day or anymore of his grilled cheese sandwiches. I just want to cook."
"Then what are you...? You told him what?"
Winston stopped and carefully set the knife aside. "That I was going to Physical Therapy... which isn't that much of a lie, really. Instead of squeezing a ball, I'm doing something a bit more practical. Do you know this is the longest I've stood without help since the attack?" Winston's voice dropped to a whisper. "I can't even take a piss without Victor trying to help me. I can't pee with another man holding my penis, Uncle Napoleon, it isn't natural." He returned to chopping the carrot.
"I would have to agree with you on that. That's taking a helping hand a bit far."
"I love Victor and all, but I need him to back off a little. He's so protective, Unc, I don't know what to do." He paused then resumed. "I'm beginning to pick fights with him just so he'll get mad and leave me alone for awhile. Then he comes back all hearts and flowers. And I feel like shit for treating him like that, but I don't want hearts and flowers. I just want to be treated like a thinking, breathing adult again."
"You've told him this?"
"I've done everything except tattoo it across my ass."
Napoleon thought for a moment, then nodded. "Do you think you could handle working back in here?"
"Yes, sir, I'm a little slow and someone would have to do the cooking, but I could prep and plate."
"Let me talk to the guy in charge. I know where he lives. Can you tough it out a couple more days?"
"You bet I could if I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel."
Napoleon patted him on the shoulder and smiled. "Then leave it to me."
"You want me to what?" Illya twisted his head to look back at Napoleon, who was straddling him and kneading tense muscles.
"It would only be for a week, Illya. Just long enough for Victor to realize that he's not doing Winston any favors by sheltering him like this." Napoleon found a knot and began to work it.
"I can't... uh... believe... ow... you want me to... stop, stop..." Illya bucked and Napoleon lifted up enough for Illya to roll over. "I can't think when you do that... or was that the general idea?"
"Matt can take over the cooking and it would only be for a long weekend—four days away from here. Just long enough to show Victor that Winston is okay and can do this. What would it cost you?"
"Besides my reputation, you mean? Have you thought about what it might say to the dining world to have me need to take a break from the restaurant for mental health reasons? You might as well announce to the world that I've lost it."
"No, first you would have had to have it and we all know that as agents, we checked our sanity at the door." Napoleon repositioned his hands, letting his fingers play with the hair on Illya's chest, carding it.
"You know that makes me insane, Napoleon.... or is that the idea?"
"Think about it, Illya, four days, us in a spa, nothing to do but relax, be pampered." He leaned forward. "Fuck without worrying about interruptions or problems. Four days just to..." He rocked his hips. "...Indulge ourselves."
"We indulge ourselves anymore with that and they will take us away in body bags." He broke off to shake his head. "I need a better cover story."
"All right." Napoleon continued to move slowly.
"And we have to make sure we have a full staff and that this has been cleared with all of them."
"I can do that. I'd do anything for you... or to you..." Napoleon decided at that point that actions spoke louder than words and proceeded to drive home his winning point.
Napoleon loosened his belt and sighed happily. "That was a fabulous meal."
"It wasn't bad," Illya admitted, dropped his jacket over the back of an overstuffed chair. He stretched and walked to the balcony. They were looking out over a sprawling vineyard and he pushed open one of the French doors to let in the evening breeze. "How was your salmon?"
"Not bad, but I really liked the grilled baby vegetables and the balsamic vinegar reduction. And I thought the barbecued pears were incredible." Napoleon walked up behind him, wrapping his arms around the trim waist. "You weren't happy."
"I give them points for trying. The curried beef and chutney tart showed imagination, but you have to do more than think things up. The crust was tough and the chutney was too strong or the curry wasn't strong enough, I'm not sure which. You should never leave your guest in that position." Illya leaned back against him as Napoleon pulled his shirt hem free from his dress slacks. "The scallops in the filo basket, however, that was interesting. I might need to rethink it."
"Rethink, is that chef speak for stealing?" Napoleon's hands found warm skin and he slid his fingers along it.
"That's one theory, but I have another name for it." His voice trailed off as Napoleon rubbed his cheek against his hair. "Aren't you too full?"
"Not yet," Napoleon whispered. "But I could be."
Illya turned in his embrace, facing him, eyes partially closed, a faint smile on his lips. "And there is also for name for you as well."
"And that would be?"
"Insatiable." Illya paused to kiss him. "Incorrigible" Another kiss. "Mine." This kiss was longer.
"I'm partial to the last one." Napoleon pulled away for a breath. "Let's go to bed."
"All right, if you think you are up for it."
Napoleon started to undress when something fell from his pocket. Illya caught it before it hit the floor. He studied it as Napoleon unbuckled his pants and let them fall to the floor. He turned, picked them up and carefully hung them so the crease would stay sharp.
"Should I ask why you have a letter that's clearly addressed to me in your pocket?" Illya's voice was neutral, neither angry nor amused.
"I forgot to give it to you?" Napoleon smiled. "Seriously, it came the other day and I just forget with the arranging of this and all." He undid the knot to his tie and pulled it free, hanging that over the pants. He unfastened his cuffs and then paused. "That's all it was, Illya, just an oversight. I wasn't trying to hide anything from you. If that had been the case, I'd have burnt it straight away."
Illya chewed on his bottom lip for a moment and then dropped the letter to the bed as he started to undress. "Why would your sister be writing to me?" Illya's voice was muffled as he pulled the polo shirt over his head.
"No idea, but I can think of one way to figure it out." Napoleon had walked to the bathroom to retrieve a cork remover. "Open it."
Illya toed off his shoes and kicked them under a chair, then stripped off his pants and tossed then over the back of the chair. Naked now, he stopped and stretched again, running his hands over his torso and sighing.
"I should take you to a nudist colony. I think you'd be right at home there." Napoleon opened the wine and poured the amber liquid into two glasses.
"But you'd be uncomfortable." Illya flopped onto the bed and sighed happily. Napoleon sat down and passed him a glass. Raising it in a toast, Illya sipped. "It's very sweet."
"A Muscat ice wine." Napoleon sipped and let the wine warm in his mouth before swallowing. "Imagine this over fruit or ice cream." He settled back against the pillows and smiled as Illya came to rest beside him.
"I can think of something else."
Illya dribbled the wine onto Napoleon's stomach. He gasped as the cold liquid bit into his skin, but then Illya's mouth, warm and wet, was there licking the wine up, languid, the way a cat licked clean a paw. Once he was satisfied there was no more to be had, Illya dribbled more and repeated the process.
"You're killing me, Kuryakin," Napoleon groaned.
"Not yet, but give me time. The night is young."
Napoleon stared up at the ceiling, too drained to do anything more than roll his head to one side and smile at his partner. "I wonder what the less imaginative folks are doing tonight."
"Probably sleeping... poor fools." Illya made a face and squirmed, then reached beneath him. "Ah, your sister's letter. I'm surprised it didn't spontaneously combust when you climaxed that last time."
"I think I did... does that count?" Napoleon gathered his strength and rolled onto his side
"It should." Illya held the letter up to the light. "The last time she wrote me, the paper had scripture on it. When did homosexuality become the downfall of mankind?"
"I know when it became mine." Napoleon toyed with the small medallion around Illya's neck. "And with whom."
Illya tore open the envelope and pulled the sheets of paper free. "Oh, good, it's a multi-page missive and me without my contacts in. Won't be able to read it until the morning now..."
"When did you...?"
"Last time I went to the bathroom."
"I thought you were gone a long time for a washcloth."
"Didn't want to run to risk of falling asleep with them in again." Illya yawned and closed his eyes, smiling as Napoleon's fingers danced lightly over his chest, tickling the hair there.
"I could read it to you."
"Yes, you could, or you could shut off the light, kiss me, and go to sleep. Which sounds the better proposition to you?"
He grinned as the light snapped off.
They were just finishing up the last bit of breakfast when Napoleon remembered the letter again. He retrieved it, taking it out to the small table on the balcony and handing it to Illya.
He sighed and smoothed the sheets of paper out. "Dear Illya—well, we know she doesn't mean that."
"Just read the damned letter and be done with it."
"All right. Dear Illya, I know this letter must come as a shock. You and I haven't had much to say to one another since Winston decided to turn his back on his family and take up with your sordid lifestyle. Hmm, I'm tempted to just burn it now."
"Just read it..."
"I have tried to write and call Winston several times in the last month, but his letters have been returned to me and his phone is disconnected. I can only hope that means he has seen the errors of his ways and has abandoned your Godless lifestyle... She apparently has never heard you come, Napoleon—"
"She's my sister, I should hope not."
"Obviously, your sister wasn't as big a snoop as mine were... where was I? Oh, yes, Godless lifestyle... If you by any chance know where he is, please tell him that his father has passed from... oh, shit..."
"Doug? I didn't like him, but I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy." Napoleon crossed his arms and grew somber.
"According to your non-too-happy sister, Doug turned the farm into a sort of hospice for AIDS patients. Some place restful where they could live out their last days. He contracted it from his lover and then had to watch him die... poor bastard. He was all right in the end." Illya scanned the sheet quickly. "The rest of the letter is telling him about the funeral and who he can contact about his inheritance. There's a group who wants to buy and continue to run it, but she wants to burn the place to the ground, remove the contamination from the face of the Earth."
"That sounds very tolerant and accepting of her." Napoleon pushed his plate aside. "I've suddenly lost my appetite."
"What should we do?" Illya tossed the sheets on to the table and hastily set a salt shaker on them to keep them from blowing away in the morning breeze.
"Give the letter to Winston and let him decide. I have the distinct impression from some of our conversations that he and his father had made their peace. In any event, it should be his decision to make, not ours." He sighed and stood, holding out his hand. "And I suddenly feel the need to make love to you."
Illya smiled and took the hand, standing easily. "All right, it's our vacation; we should do as we please."
"And nothing would please me more."
It was mid-day on Monday when they arrived back at the restaurant. Illya climbed slowly out of the car, wincing at the pull in his back.
"I am sorry about that, my love."
"Napoleon, stop apologizing. It wasn't your fault."
"You didn't want to and I made you—"
"Excuse me, no one makes me do anything; not anymore. " Illya brought a hand around to massage his back. "I should have known better and remember that I am no longer thirty."
"But you're a helluva good looking fifty-eight."
"Tell that to my back. And no matter what they say, that ball wasn't out..."
"It was after you caught it. Volleyball isn't rugby."
"Have inane games."
"You're still mad you lost..." Napoleon gathered up the luggage and carried it to the house. He set it down, got the front door open, and stepped in. He sighed happily. "It's good to be home."
"I'll decide that after I see my kitchen and hear the report." Illya came in, walking slowly and picked up a phone. He dialed the number without hesitation.
"You've reached Rocky and Matt, we're either at the restaurant or too busy making love to answer the phone right now. Leave a message and we'll return the call."
"If you have enough energy to have sex after you've left the restaurant, I'm doing something wrong."
"Cara!" Matt's voice interrupted him. "You are back... early? Surely you did not break Napoleon?"
"No, he broke me. How did it go?" Illya made a face as he sat. Napoleon grinned as he carried the suitcase past Illya to the bedroom.
"It could have gone better, but it went as well as it could have gone without blood being shed."
"That sounds promising. How did Winston do?"
"Good, but slow, this we expected. He cut himself a couple of times, but never stopped. Victor was a handful, but when he was faced with a united front, he backed down. He is starting to realize that if he holds onto Winston too tightly for too long, he will wither and die like a poor flower in an opera. Così tragica! Così straziante!"
Illya chuckled. "You don't know how good it is to be home. Thanks, Mattie."
Illya walked into the bedroom as Napoleon was going through his suitcase and putting his underwear away. "All apparently went according to your plan. Victor is seeing the light."
"I knew he would. It's really hard after you've had someone you love get really hurt. We sort of got used to it with UNCLE, but this was a first for Victor, I think." He nodded to the bed. "Why don't you stretch out and I'll rub your back in a minute."
"I suspect that will only lead me to other problems. I think a hot shower instead."
"Sadly, yes, it would be better."
Illya was walking slowly down the stairs, mindful of the kittens that scurried before him. "Trip hazards, that what I should have called you." He saw Napoleon on the phone and quieted. He moved stiffly into the kitchen and put on some water to boil. This was of immediate interest to the young cats and they started to serenade him.
Napoleon came in, planted a kiss on Illya's still damp hair and sat down at the table, picking up one of the kittens, Brunir, to pet it. Instantly, he started to purr and arch his back.
"I talked with Winston. He and Victor are going to head back East. He said it's time to take the bull by the horns and deal with it."
"In this case, a righteous cow, and they are much worse." Illya spooned tea into a ceramic pot.
"Yes, but in the end, it's his fight, not ours. He has Victor and that's a good thing. And he always has us, the family that won't walk away from him."
"True." Illya poured the boiling water into a teapot and set it aside to let it steep. "And we'll be here if he needs anything."
"Do you know what that's like? Having this incredible safety net? Knowing that whatever or whenever something happens, there's this huge loving, albeit dysfunctional, family here with its arms open? I didn't know how much everyone here meant to me until we went back East and I saw all that..."
Illya carried the pot to the table and Napoleon stood to grab their cups. "Yes, I do. It was the only thing that kept me from going insane until you came." He sat and then poured the tea carefully. "I wasn't happy, but I knew I was safe and accepted. At that point, it was enough."
"And now?" Napoleon settled the hand over the one that reached for the jelly jar.
"I'm loved and that's more than enough." Roux climbed up his leg as if it was a tree trunk. "And in severe pain." He grabbed the kitten by the scruff of her neck and settled in into his lap. She purred happily and started torment the remaining Fremir, on the floor. The kitten meowed anxiously and stood up on his hind legs to see better.
"We can't have that, can we?" Napoleon picked Fremir up and he scrabbled up onto the table and across the surface, sending papers flying in all directions.
Illya sighed and smiled as first one and then the other jumped up onto the table to join him. This was his life, constantly moving in all directions, but he knew that no matter which way he turned, there would be loving arms to catch him and keep him safe, warm and protected. Some guys just had all the luck.