No Hay A Quien Culpar
Napoleon Solo glanced cautiously left and right and then pulled out from Hwy 16 onto Hwy 49. He could feel his mood brightening as he got closer and closer to Jackson. It was just a mere dozen or so miles before he reached the small Foothills community he called home. While he loved the travel and visiting the various wineries of Northern California, after a few days, his soul would begin to yearn for the peace and quiet of the small town... and the company of his mate.
He drove through Sutter Creek, happily humming to himself. That became a full-on song as he pulled off 49 and headed down Main. There just to the other side of Court sat his destination. Even though it was pushing ten at night, the parking lot of Taste Restaurant was still packed. Final seating would just about be over and Napoleon could already see himself walking into that kitchen and seeing Illya for the first time in nearly two weeks.
Frequently, Illya would accompany him, but when the trips were more than a week in length, he would always refuse, citing a need to stay behind and watch over their businesses. It wasn't really necessary, Napoleon knew, but he also knew when to put up a fuss and when not to. And being away for a while did have its advantages. Napoleon knew he would have some mind blowing sex in store for him tonight. A few days without and Illya would get wound tighter than a spring and Napoleon was always delighted that first night back. Whoever thought sex after fifty was dead obviously had been misinformed. They'd evidently never camped out on his doorstep.
He ignored the parking lot, heading instead for their garage and eased his sedan in behind Illya's latest acquisition, a candy apple red 1940 Indian Four motorcycle. The fact that it was still sitting outside told Napoleon that Illya was up and about. He'd never leave the motorcycle out for very long.
The house they shared was dark and Napoleon grinned. That was hardly a surprise. Leave Illya alone for more than a few hours and he would inevitably end up at the restaurant. Even though he wasn't doing much of the day-to-day cooking any longer, he was still active in menu selection and the daily routines.
Checking his hair once in the rearview mirror, Napoleon climbed out of the car and just stood. The smell of smoke was in the air, even though the night was warm and he recognized it as cherry. It shot a jolt straight to his groin—the first night he'd made love to Illya here, the smell of cherry smoke had clung to the blond and Napoleon would forever more have that scent memory. It occasionally made his life uncomfortable when dining out with clients, but it was well worth it.
He breathed deeply, taking in the air that spoke 'home' to him. Then, still smiling, Napoleon made his way into the restaurant. It wasn't a surprise that most of the people in the dining room were familiar to him, for nearly everyone in town dined here at least every couple of weeks. By changing the menu regularly and offering inexpensive specials, Taste was able to keep the locals happy. It had helped them weather the Recession. When other restaurants crumbled and fell, Taste was able to continue. By keeping the restaurant small and working with Foothill distributors, Illya kept the money local. He didn't advertise regionally, he focused upon his neighboring communities, and worked in behalf of their interests, and the residents, in turn, showed their appreciation by continuing to dine with him. They would never be the largest restaurant, but as Napoleon stopped and ran a finger over the plaque that announced their five stars to the dining world, he knew they didn't need to. Taste, just like him, had found a home.
He wove and danced his way through the crowded tables to the kitchen doors, taking care to enter by the right one. Rocky, a tray balanced on one hand and a shoulder, glanced at Napoleon as he passed by and flashed a welcoming grin at him. Napoleon nodded, but was far too intent upon his target to stop.
As he predicted, Illya was at the stove, his attention focused upon plating something. Napoleon couldn't tell immediately what it was, but he didn't care. He moved quickly and slipped up behind Illya, wrapping his arms around the blond's waist. The man wasn't the reed thin boy he'd met so many years earlier. Illya had filled out, growing more solid as the years passed. Now well past fifty, Illya was carrying a few extra pounds around his middle and Napoleon enjoyed that the Russian was now in the same boat he was of having to actually watch what he ate.
"Mmmm." Illya leaned back into the embrace. "I wondered when you were going to get here."
"How did you even know? I'm not due back for another four days."
"Just a feeling I had I this morning." Illya carefully set down the saut pan and slid the dish away from him, then turned in the embrace and kissed his partner, then hugged him. "Welcome home, my love."
"Is that the best you can do?"
"In a kitchen full of staff and a dining room full of patrons, yes." Then Illya pulled back and Napoleon released him. He had learned long ago to try and hold Illya against his wishes was a bad thing. "Have you eaten?"
"McDonald's." Napoleon angled his head a little better to examine the plate Illya had just finished.
"Oh, run your blade through my heart!" Illya pressed a fist holding a pair of tongs over his chest. "Fast food and you expect me to kiss you after that admission?"
"Cara!" Matt had finally spotted him and joined them, hugging Napoleon tightly. "You are right on time!"
"For getting this matto capriccioso out of my kitchen."
"Your kitchen? Scusarmi, I don't think so!" Illya snapped back, his attention back on the pans simmering on the stove.
"And that's the problem." Matt leaned forward and whispered in Napoleon's ear. "Take him, my sanity begs you!"
Napoleon chuckled. "Oh, I plan to, Matthew, my boy." He looked around the kitchen and frowned. "Where's Winston tonight?"
"He had a date and, with both of us in the kitchen, it was a problem of one too many chefs and not enough pots. I gave him the night off... and now, I think you too, Chef." Matt nodded to the door and Illya smiled.
"And a good warrior knows when to fight and when to throw in the towel. " Illya handed the tongs to Matt and gestured to the door. "Shall we?"
"Before I am incapable of moving, yes." Napoleon fell into step beside him and they slipped out the kitchen door.
Illya paused to run an affectionate hand over the motorcycle as Napoleon opened the garage door.
"She runs like a dream; you are going to have to take her out for a ride."
"There's only one thing I want to ride at the moment and there's definitely no she factor involved." He heard Illya chuckle as he pushed the motorcycle in to rest beside his others. He waited for Illya to throw a cover over the bike and shut the door.
He let Illya take at least half a dozen steps into the hallway before catching the man in a kiss, longer and more intense than the one they shared in the kitchen. His hand roamed over the familiar form in his arms, holding the man as close as he physically could. He worked his mouth over Illya's, drinking in the man's smell and taste as greedily as he would a fine wine.
"I want you," he murmured into Illya's ear.
"I'm hot and sweaty, Napoleon. I've been cooking for hours."
"I know, I can smell it on you. You don't know what an aphrodisiac it is."
"Maybe for you, but definitely not for me." Illya however, did relent enough to tip his head back and give Napoleon access to his neck, eyes closed in pleasure at the delightful havoc Napoleon's tongue was causing to his nerve endings.
"Time was I would have taken you right where you stand." Napoleon worked his way from Illya's lips down his neck and back, mouthing the flesh tenderly as he did. "Have we gotten that old?"
"Time was I would have let you. You do that now and tomorrow I won't be able to move." Illya pushed Napoleon away, smiling an apology. "I'm sure you can think of something to do for the five minutes it's going to take me to shower."
"Oh, one or two things spring to mind."
"I thought as much." Illya ran a finger down Napoleon's cheek. "And think of me while you're doing it."
Illya watched Napoleon from his lounging spot on the bed. "When you said one or two things sprang to mind, I will confess that unpacking never occurred to me." He rolled over and studied the ceiling. "Are we so married now that all the fire has gone out?" Illya propped himself up on an elbow and reached for his wine glass. He sipped it, rolling it around in his mouth and then swallowed. "This is very good, by the way."
"I thought you'd like it." Napoleon said, hanging up the last shirt. "I didn't want to start anything without you and this was the best way I could think of distracting myself."
"Oh, you have gotten old, my friend." Illya barely had time to replace the wine glass on the bedside table when he suddenly had to contend with an armful of UNCLE's former fineness.
"Old? I'm old? I'm the same age as you are." Napoleon, his hands on the Russian's shoulders, pressed Illya down onto the bed.
Illya grinned and challenged. "Prove it." He flipped Napoleon off him easily and assumed the top position, dropping his mouth to latch on to a spot just below Napoleon's collarbone and a bit over from the small tattoo of five stars there.
Napoleon arched against him, his hands holding Illya's ass in place against him as he thrust up.
"In a hurry, are you, old friend? Not so good in the long race anymore?" Illya moved from the spot, now suffused with blood, down to Napoleon's nipple and began gently abusing that with his teeth and tongue.
"You are going to die, Kuryakin. I'm going to make you beg for it." Napoleon promised, entwining the fingers of one hand in the blond hair and pulling Illya's head back.
Illya merely grinned back. "Old, old, old."
Their love making was gentler than it had been when they were younger, but they were still evenly matched and neither in a hurry to surrender control. They wrestled for a moment longer and then, as if a switch was flipped, the horseplay was set aside, passion pulling the focus.
Illya moved down Napoleon's body, his mouth making love to his favorite spots, spots he knew made Napoleon frantic with need. His attention never straying from the body before him, his hand went hunting and retrieved a half used tube of lube. One handed, he fumbled the top off and squeezed a healthy amount onto Napoleon's penis, massaging it in with work-calloused fingers, while Napoleon thrashed against the sheets in anticipation.
Satisfied, Illya wiped the rest of the lube from his hand on Napoleon's stomach and positioned himself, eyes closed against the first bite of penetration. He didn't stop until Napoleon was fully buried in him and then he sat back, letting his body recognize and accept the intrusion.
Napoleon used that time to cup Illya's genitals, working his testicles gently before moving to capture his penis in a perfect envelope of warmth and firmness. He moved his hand in a well practiced motion, knowing Illya's favorite rhythm.
Illya rumbled encouragingly and began to rock, gently at first, letting both of them build until suddenly it was a free-for-all and common sense was pushed aside by sheer need. Napoleon met each one of his downward thrusts with an equally demanded upward one and the fingers of his free hand caught Illya's hip in a bone-crushing grip. One more arch and Napoleon tipped his head back, groaning out his lover's name as he climaxed.
Illya didn't stop, his own concentration now solely focused upon his own satisfaction, then he gasped and angled back slightly, Napoleon's still erect penis throbbing against his prostate and Napoleon's hand tightening deliciously on his penis.
"Oh, God, Napoleon," he managed at least that much before abandoning himself to the flood of sensations and heart-stopping pain pleasure. Napoleon used that moment to roll them, then moved his mouth to Illya's neck and clamped down, his hand still working semen from Illya's penis. Illya groaned and twisted in Napoleon's embrace, but wasn't released until Napoleon was satisfied with his handiwork and the pale skin had blossomed red.
He rode through the spasms until he was wrung dry and felt Napoleon slip from him while he was still distracted by the sensation of his own climax.
"I don't remember hearing any begging," Illya murmured, his breathing still deep and frequent. He brushed sweat damp hair from Napoleon's forehead and smiled.
"Oh, there was begging involved," Napoleon stretched out, lounging against Illya. "I remember it distinctly. I'm not sure who was doing it, but my feelings are, why split hairs when there's something so much nicer to split? You are such a tight ass and I mean that in the best way possible."
"I'm sure I will come up with a convincing argument against that in the morning." He didn't move as Napoleon rose from the bed and disappeared into their bathroom. A few minutes later, a warm washcloth enveloped his genitals and Illya smiled. Napoleon cleaned him off, as was his routine, and then rejoined him in bed.
"Welcome home," Illya said as the brunet once again stretched out against him and pulled the sheet and blanket up over them.
"Mmm, I am now." Napoleon clicked off the light and settled down, dropping one last kiss to Illya's cheek. "It's good to be the king."
"Not if that makes me the queen." Illya argued sleepily.
"How about the lusty pageboy?"
"Lusty page...man? That just sounds wrong, amente."
"Could we argue semantics in the morning then when I'm at least awake enough to participate?"
"Good night, Napoleon."
"Good night, poosycat."
It took nearly a full minute for Illya to make the transition from thinking about being awake to actually achieving it. The days of needing to be instantly aware and functioning were a thing of the past now and he didn't really mind that. Waking up slowly with your most prized possession less than a breath away was a much nicer way to greet the day.
At least until he tried to move. Equally gone were pain-free mornings. It wasn't too bad if he either pulled a shift or spent time making love with Napoleon, but the two together were almost an argument for unemployment, abstinence, death or possibly all three.
He spent a moment wiggling free of Napoleon's embrace and the tangled bedclothes and then another minute trying to convince his body that it was in its best interest to make it to the bathroom.
After bribing it with the promise of a good long soak, Illya's body finally agreed to his demands and he got to the bathroom. Propping himself up against the sink with one hand, he stared at the old man looking back at him. When had this happened? There were times when he still felt like he was thirty and saw Napoleon not as the man he'd become, but as the suave, flirtatious American that had met his plane that first day in New York.
He took a few aspirins, pulled a comb through his hair and brushed his teeth, running a finger over an ancient snapshot stuck onto the mirror. It was so old, the colors had faded or even changed, but he could still see Napoleon stretched out on his belly, the dirty limerick inscribed on his back in chocolate—their first Valentine's Day as a married couple. He chuckled and decided that if getting old was the price he had to pay to spend his days with his partner, it was an equitable trade off.
Dressing quickly in sweat pants and a tee shirt, he moved from the second floor down to the first. Out of sheer routine, he opened the door and let the cat in. Moutard waltzed in like he had nothing better to do and Illya started to call for Beurre Noire and then caught himself. They'd lost Moutard's sister nearly a year earlier and Illya sometimes forgot even now. It was amazing to him just how much space something so small and unassuming could take up in one's heart.
He fed the cat and started coffee. A little wisp of something had caught him yesterday morning, while thinking of Napoleon and he just had the sense that the man had finished up his business early and was headed home. After many years of learning to trust his instincts, he went to Jesus, their baker, and had him do up a dozen croissants for breakfast today. They'd teased him the first couple of times he'd done this, but now his friends and co-workers just nodded and didn't question how he knew what he knew.
He'd poured off a cup of coffee for himself, settled down at the small kitchen table and was mentally arranging his day when there was a soft knock to the door.
"It's open," he said, setting aside the paper he'd been writing on. Napoleon's nephew Winston entered, so tall that he instinctively ducked coming through the door.
"Hey, Chef, I saw Uncle Napoleon's car and wasn't sure if you would be up and about yet."
"The jury is still out on that, but I am awake at least and a quick scan of the paper assured me that I was not on the obituary page, so I concede that, but nothing more." He poured a cup of coffee and handed it to the young man. Being an agent had taught him to read people, but it didn't take an expert to pick up on the waves of excitement coming off Winston. "And your news would be?"
"How did you...? Never mind, I should know better than to ask." He grinned and sighed. "This is it, Chef. I have met Mr. Right."
Illya gestured to a chair and smiled. "Do tell."
"He's gorgeous, funny, employed..."
"Always a plus," Illya interrupted, his smile growing.
"He has his own place and he's gorgeous..."
"You already said that. Where did you meet him?"
"At the grocery store. He was trying to figure out what to do with eggplant."
"And you of course, came to his aid with a host of suggestions?"
"He's gorgeous, I said that, right? But, Chef, he doesn't know one end of a knife from the other. I told him the pointy end goes away from you."
Illya chuckled. "Remind your uncle of that as well. My advice has been falling on deaf ears for years." He sipped his coffee. "So you have a non-cooker?"
"He tries... he really tries, Chef, but if he invites you to dinner, don't accept. His idea of haute cuisine is adding fruit to his cereal." Winston paused to finish his coffee. "Anyhow, I'd like for you two to meet him."
"Bringing him home to the parents already? How long have you known him?"
"About six months..."
"And I didn't notice? Your uncle is right; I am getting old... er."
"I was thinking of tonight, since the restaurant is closed."
"To be honest, tomorrow would be better."
"Ah, you and Uncle Napoleon, huh?" Winston flashed an understanding smile as if the bruising on Illya's neck wasn't a clear sign in itself.
"Me and Uncle Napoleon, no. Me and the delivery trucks, yes. Matt is off and someone needs to be in the restaurant to sign."
"Tomorrow will be great. It will give me today to get him ready."
"Bring him here around seven."
"You're gonna cook, Chef?"
"Unless you would prefer to leave it to your uncle?"
"No, that's okay, really..." Winston sat forward slightly. "I love my uncle; I really do, but..."
"Yes." Illya smiled again, nodding. Winston held out a hand and Illya took it, shaking it firmly. "Go to him and leave me to mine."
"Thanks, Chef." And he was gone in a flurry of arms and legs. Illya could still remember the little boy who had climbed up into his lap and demanded to know what a Commie was. He sighed and stood, poured another cup of coffee for himself and one for Napoleon. Placing some croissants on a tray along with some locally produced preserves, he carried it upstairs and placed it on the bedside table.
In previous years, he would have climbed back into bed and employed other techniques to wake his partner, but that was then and this was business. He leaned down and kissed a graying temple.
"Your breakfast has arrived, your worship."
There was a grumbling from beneath the bedclothes and then Napoleon's muffled voice filtered out. "Thank you, my something other than queen."
Illya chuckled and caressed a shoulder through the sheet, then headed back to the bathroom.
Napoleon rolled over in bed as he heard the shower start. As appealing a thought as it was to go in and take Illya in the shower, the thought of coffee edged it out by just the slightest of margins. He sat up and stretched, wincing at the hitches in his joints. When he was an agent, he hadn't thought about the repercussions of being tossed from a train, or engaging in almost daily fist fights and derring-do escape attempts. Now he felt every one of those injuries and a dozen more. Of course, it was better to be alive and complaining than dead and not.
He drank most of the coffee and finished off a couple of croissants before deciding it was time to check out the bathroom. The shower was off now and if he was very lucky, he'd be met with one of his favorite sights, a damp Russian.
Sure enough, Illya was toweling off as he entered and Napoleon stepped in for a hug and a kiss.
"Good morning, did you sleep well?" Illya let the towel he was using on his hair to drape around his neck, looking wonderfully tousled and slightly impish.
Napoleon pulled him closer. "After the sleep aid you gave me? Like the proverbial rock, but how are you this morning?"
"Nothing that a handful of aspirin and a case of C4 couldn't fix." Illya twisted just slightly in the embrace and Napoleon loosened his grip. "What have you got on tap for today?"
Napoleon's grin was crooked, an open invitation. "Oh, not much of anything really, although one or two things might come... up. Give or take the circumstance, of course."
"One must be hopeful in such situations." Illya stepped back in for a fast kiss. "And if I had a few free minutes, I'd take you up on that right now."
"Promises, promises," Napoleon chided and turned to the sink to brush his teeth. As he expected, he felt Illya against his back and broad hands embracing his chest. This was a game they played many mornings, occasionally taking it to its completion, but usually just letting the other know they were still desirable and wanted. Napoleon leaned back into the embrace and smiled as the hands caressed his chest and belly.
Illya's hands dropped down to his hips and Napoleon almost caught his breath, wondering if this would be one of those more and more infrequent interludes, but then Illya was gone and he was alone, just him and his morning hard on...
Napoleon glanced down and chuckled. "Well, my friend, it looks like you and me this morning." They still probably had a more active sex life than many men half their age, but there were now times when the moment eluded them and other, more solitary methods were employed.
The house was empty by the time he finished his shower and dressing. He took a cup of coffee to the porch and watched a delivery truck carefully back up to the service door of the restaurant. In another few minutes, he'd wander over to his wine store and check in with his general manager. He had a more hands-off approach with his business, but he didn't think he was quite as vested in Vinea as Illya was in Taste.
He glanced up towards the road and his hand started to shake. Thankfully he had the rail to grab or he would have dropped to the ground. Standing by the entrance to the small parking lot the two businesses shared was a man staring back at him. Someone Napoleon had thought was dead and buried years ago.
Napoleon stood rooted, unable to do more than attempt to keep his knees from folding. A hand suddenly touched his arm and despite the years that had passed since he was an active agent, instinct and training took over. A moment later he was looking down at a very scared and confused head waiter.
"Don't hurt me, Mr. S. I didn't mean to surprise you. I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Rocky was almost to the babbling stage from his spread-eagled spot on the porch planks.
"God, Rocky, you shouldn't sneak up on me like that." Napoleon removed his foot from Rocky's neck and offered a hand up. After a moment, the young man accepted it and stood. "I didn't hurt you, did I?'
"I don't think so. I never knew you could move that fast."
"If you think that was something, you should have seen Illya in his heyday." Napoleon looked back towards the road, but the apparition was gone. "He left me in the dust more than once."
"Mr. S, you need to sit down. You are as white as a sheet. I thought you were going to pass out. That's why I came over." Rocky rubbed his bruised shoulder gently and made a face.
"Did you see him?" Napoleon worked hard to keep his voice even.
"Napoleon, he's dead."
Napoleon's head jerked in Rocky's direction. The waiter almost never used his given name. "That's what I thought too, but I swear he was standing there not a moment ago watching me." He looked at Rocky and then back at the road. "I'm not crazy, Rocky."
"No one said you were. I'm gonna go get Chef."
"Yes, thank you." He watched as the waiter, still rubbing his shoulder, walked hurriedly away and then Napoleon retreated back to the safety of the living room. He sat down on the couch and stared at his hands. Even though they were a far cry from his lover's battle-scarred hands, Napoleon could pick out a dozen faint white marks, reminders of the man he'd been. Maybe this was God's way of punishing him for that.
It seemed like barely a minute and more than an hour passed when the door opened. He jumped slightly and then smiled, self-depreciatingly, at the sight of his partner. Illya was by his side in a few long strides, kneeling and resting a hand on Napoleon's thigh.
"Napoleon, what's wrong? A very concerned Rocky said you needed me right now."
"I don't know, Illya, I think I might be going crazy, really and truly crazy."
"Why's that?" Illya used one thumb to stroke the back of Napoleon's hand, tracing a random pattern on its flesh.
"I just saw Velon." Napoleon flickered up his eyes and saw a spark flare in Illya's eyes. It had been a bad time for both of them.
"We buried him, Napoleon. I watched them put him in the ground."
"I know, but I also know what I just saw." Napoleon gestured back towards the front of the house. "I was standing there and he was watching me, just like he used to."
"Perhaps a thought, a smell triggered a memory?"
"No, he abducted me on a rainy night late in the summer, not a dry, bright, just barely summer morning. I was watching the delivery truck and he was just there."
"And nothing you can think of would have caused that?"
"That's the problem. I was thinking about talking with Sandy about the new wines I'd ordered and signing some paperwork. And he was just there."
"I think you need to call Dr. Hilbert." Illya reached up to caress Napoleon's cheek. "Or would you rather I do it?"
"No, my demons..."
"Our demons," Illya corrected and smiled. "He's as much mine as he is yours. I brought him into our lives and I carry scars from it too."
'I know." Napoleon sighed and sat back, shaking his head. "When is this going to be over?"
"Never, I suspect, we just have to learn to deal with it and move forward." Illya caught up his hand and entwined their fingers pressing a scarred palm to his. "Together."
The shadow moving caught Illya's eye as he lifted the last box up onto the store room shelf. Automatically, he checked his escape route, but his options were limited. Just the door and nothing else, not even a ventilation shaft.
"Can I help you?" he asked, moving slightly to balance his weight. While he wasn't the warrior he used to be, Illya knew he could still hold his own in a fight.
It took him a moment to place the voice and then he relaxed. Brushing his hands together to free them from loose dust, he then wiped them on his pants and walked out of the small storage closet.
"Dr. Hilbert, how are you?" He extended a hand to the man, smiling as it was encompassed by the doctor's double hand shake.
"I'm well, thank you." Illya gestured to a stool. "Would you like something to drink?" He offered the doctor a bottle of water.
"No, I'm fine." He watched Illya drain half of his water and cleared his throat. "You know why I'm here?"
"Napoleon saw Velon this morning."
"He thinks he did."
"I've known Napoleon longer than anyone else in my life and if he says he saw Velon, then he did."
"And you wouldn't question that? The man is, after all, dead and buried."
"Agreed." Illya drained the last of the water.
"So how could Napoleon see a dead man?"
"That's your job to figure out," Illya said, tossing the empty bottle towards the garbage can. "I'm just a cook."
"Had you been talking about the case?"
"Never. Napoleon just returned last night from a two-week trip to Napa. We had other... things to discuss."
The doctor chuckled. "Considering Napoleon's libido, I imagine you did. Any problems with that?"
"Nothing that couldn't be blamed on being older and not as flexible as we used to be."
"I'm serious, have there been any problems between the two of you lately? Is there any reason for Napoleon to start digging up past events? Think, Illya."
Illya was tempted to snap off a quick negative, but instead decided to take the doctor's advice and seriously ponder it. Their businesses were doing well, considering the current economic climate and it wasn't like either of them needed money. Illya had cut back his hours at the restaurant and they usually spent their free time together. They both had enough outside interests to keep them busy, Napoleon with his acting at the local playhouse and Illya with his motorcycles, but each was the other's top priority. They were healthy, content, and settled in their life and love together.
"I can honestly say no, nothing that I can think of." He looked up from his study of the back of his hands. "Granted we aren't as sexually active as we used to be, but it's nothing that I would classify as outside of the norm."
"The hot tub?"
"Gone. The deck needed replacing and we weren't using it any more. It was easier just to get rid of it."
"I'm at a dead end, Illya," Hilbert admitted softly. "I can't answer this question."
"I'll watch him. I know the signs. If he... regresses, I'll call you."
"And what about you, my friend? Who will watch you?" The doctor reached out and turned Illya's right hand palm side up. "You were equally raped and tortured, just in a different way."
Illya removed the hand and clenched it into a fist. "The same person who's been doing it for years. If we don't take care of each other, who will?"
Illya watched the doctor leave the restaurant and sighed. Illya knew he talked a good story, but the truth of the matter was that he didn't know what to do. He'd thought that whole affair was buried deep in their past now. He didn't want to think about it, dwell on just what it had nearly cost them. Napoleon had healed and moved on; Illya wasn't quite as lucky. He had a daily reminder imprinted on the palm of his hand. He did as he had so many times in the past, buried it deep and left it alone. It just didn't make sense for it to resurface now for Napoleon.
He left Taste and walked next door to Vinea. Even though it was just barely noon, the tasting room was filled as people sampled this wine or that. Illya waved to Sandy, the general manager, and she pointed towards the back of the shop. Illya nodded and pushed through the 'no admittance—private' door.
"Napoleon?" he asked the moment he stepped through. He had no intention of surprising his lover today. Illya knew all too well the impact Napoleon's fist could make.
"Office." Napoleon's voice was muffled slightly by the partially-closed door. "Dr. Hilbert find you?" he asked the moment Illya pushed through and settled into a chair. Illya leaned back and stretched his legs out in front of him.
"He did. Asked me a lot of questions about our sex life." He chuckled. "I'm not sure if he thinks sex is the root of all evil or if he just lives vicariously through us."
"My thought is that half the town lives vicariously through us, one way or the other." Napoleon pushed the paperwork he'd been signing aside and reached out to capture the back of Illya's head and brought him close for a kiss. No hesitation, no reservations, Illya moved easily and greeted the kiss eagerly, his tongue touching Napoleon's a split second before their lips met. Jaw working, he drew Napoleon deeper, sucking, probing, responding to his lover as if he hadn't been touched in years as opposed to hours.
Illya instinctively responded to Napoleon, knowing his need for Napoleon was what his partner craved right now; he wanted to see and feel Illya react to his touch. Illya hissed through his teeth as Napoleon latched onto his neck, biting and sucking worthy of a vampire, but he didn't pull away until he was certain he carried visible proof of Napoleon's effort.
"Your office door does have a lock on it, yes?" Illya asked as Napoleon swapped sides and repeated the action just above the bruising he'd left the night before.
Illya pushed him away and smiled, a sly, hungry smile, and Napoleon moved to lock it. Almost instantly, he returned to Illya's arms, holding him so tightly that he could hear bones creak a warning, but it was something neither of them wanted to pay attention to.
Illya managed to work his hands free and fumbled with Napoleon's belt and pants button. Then carefully, he eased the zipper down, freeing the erect penis trapped within. He stroked Napoleon with a sure single motion, one born of many years of practice and familiarity.
Napoleon leaned his head against Illya's shoulder, watching the hand working his penis and let his fingers dig into Illya's upper arms. He went for Illya's mouth again, attacking it with a need to possess and take this man.
"Tell me," Illya whispered, his lips still on Napoleon's. "Tell me what you want."
"You, here, now." Napoleon dropped his hands, frantically working Illya's fly open. He smiled at the lack of underwear as he pushed the pants down and Illya kicked one leg free, then turned and braced himself against the desk.
Even as desperate as he was for release, Napoleon slowed now, finding a jar of cold cream in his drawer and smearing it onto his penis while he worked Illya's with his free hand. Dipping in for more cream, he smeared it onto and into Illya, using his fingers to pave the way first, knowing that Illya was still tender from their previous encounter. He worked his fingers in and out, stretching and teasing the Russian until Illya groaned.
"Napoleon, please, I can't wait much longer...I'm too close."
Positioning himself, he pressed in and Illya growled, tilting his head forward and breathing deeply. Napoleon knew better than to stop and he kept moving until he was buried completely inside Illya. He kept his other hand working Illya's suddenly flaccid penis.
"Too much too soon?" he whispered, holding still now.
"Not enough ever, fuck me." Illya rocked back against him and Napoleon withdrew nearly completely and pressed back in, evenly and smoothly. "Napoleon, you fuck like an old man," Illya ground out and Napoleon took that as his cue as Illya's penis sprang back to life. The next time the thrust was harder and faster. "Yes... good... harder..."
Even though Napoleon usually tempered Illya's requests with a bit more care, this time he didn't and slammed into Illya again and again with enough force to make Illya grunt, their bodies making wet slick sounds as Napoleon pounded towards his climax. His mind was shuttered against everything now except achieving his own climax. He didn't hear Illya's groans and half-choked cry, he didn't even realize his hand was growing sticky and warm from Illya's semen. His last two thrusts were nearly enough to lift Illya off his feet and then Napoleon froze, his climax pounding through him from his toes to the top of his head and with it seeming to pull every bit of oxygen from his body. He held Illya firmly, still pressing his body against the Russian's, feeling his penis throb in time with his heart and not caring about anything but his own pleasure at that instance. It was as if the world stopped then and there.
Then something clicked and Napoleon became aware of the ticking of the clock, the intermingled smell of the cold cream and ejaculate, the warmth of his lover's body held tightly against his.
"Napoleon, I hate to interrupt you in your blissful interlude, but do you think you could let me up any time soon?" Illya voice was strained and Napoleon suddenly felt guilty and pulled free. There was a half bitten gasp from his partner and the guilt factor grew.
"Did I hurt you?"
"It was a little rough, even for me." Illya didn't move, but remained braced up against the desk panting.
"Why? You gave me what I asked you for." Illya pushed off the desk slowly, wincing more at the pull in his muscles than from the sex. He'd suffer more from that than anything Napoleon had dished out. "I just sometimes forget I'm not the man I was."
Napoleon pulled him into a tight hug. "Yes you are; you're forever young in my eyes."
"Tell my back that then." Illya used a handful of tissue to clean himself off as Napoleon did then same, then tucked himself away and cracked open a window to let the summer breeze play through the room. He took the used tissues and flushed them, remembering to unlock the door as he passed it.
When Vinea's general manager knocked on the door few minutes later and stuck her head in, Illya was back in his seemingly boneless sprawl in the chair beside Napoleon's desk and Napoleon was shuffling papers.
"Why do we need this much insurance? Couldn't we self insure?"
"We could, but we shouldn't. We're well off, but we don't have bottomless pockets, old friend," Napoleon said.
Illya set down the pencil he'd been playing with as the woman cleared her throat.
"Hey, Chef, you have another delivery truck pulling in."
"I do? That's odd. I've gotten all my shipments." He stood gracefully, with not a hint of any discomfort or stiffness. Napoleon watched after him for a moment and smiled.
"Oh, hey, boss man, I almost forgot." Sandy disappeared for a moment and then returned with a small square box. "A guy came in and left this for you."
"Really?" Napoleon's hand reached out even as his mind was screaming at him to retreat.
"Yeah, good-looking tall guy. Killer eyes." If she noticed Napoleon's hand shaking, she didn't comment.
Napoleon opened the box and looked down at the chocolate truffles and the card that read, 'Can't wait to see you...again!' There was no way to hide his shaking now and pain radiated down one of his arms. His heart felt like it was going to explode. He grabbed the desk top, gasping as he fought for breath. "Get Illya... now!"
"I don't understand who ordered this." Illya was studying the driver's manifest and glanced up as Sandy came running up to him, white faced and crying.
"Sandy, what's wrong? Is it Napoleon?" He barely let the woman nod before he was off on a dead run back to the tasting room.
The nice thing about small towns is that nothing is very far from anywhere and it helped that both of the doctors in the small town frequented both the wine shop and the restaurant. As Illya approached the door, one of Vinea's new hires held up a hand. "The doctor's with him. He asked to not be disturbed." Illya fastened his 'move or die' look upon the young man and in a heartbeat, the employee had stepped aside.
Illya walked into the room and the doctor shot a glare over his shoulder before realizing who it was. Smiling ruefully, he returned to his patient.
"Nothing to worry about," Dr. Goyette said. "Mr. Solo just had a panic attack." He'd been the attending physician when Napoleon has been rescued. He'd also done the repair work to Illya's hand and knew both men well.
"Napoleon doesn't have panic attacks," Illya muttered, kneeling beside his lover and took an ice-cold, slack hand. "What happened, Napoleon?"
Napoleon, mouth full of thermometer, pointed to a small box, dropped upon the desk top and Illya retrieved the card, scowling at the message. "What the hell?"
"What's wrong, Illya?" Dr. Goyette retrieved his thermometer.
"When Napoleon was abducted, we were both given drugged truffles."
"I understood that the man responsible for that was dead."
"Apparently not." Illya suddenly snatched the box and threw it against the wall with as much force as he could muster. "But he will be." He turned and walked out, pushing past the half dozen employees and Winston as he stormed out.
"Chef is in a bad mood," Sandy muttered and Winston shook his head.
"That's not Chef in a bad mood; that's Chef in a killing mood. There's a big difference." He shouldered his way into the room and moved to his uncle's side. "Uncle Napoleon, what set Illya off?"
"An old enemy."
Winston glanced over at the box of truffles, then down at the card and frowned. "Who?"
"Someone before your time."
The doctor tucked away his stethoscope. "I'm going to recommend that you get a little rest. Take these if this happens again and call me." He handed Napoleon a small packet of tiny white pills and patted him on the shoulder. "Try to relax and get some sleep." To Winston he added, "Would you escort your uncle back to the house?"
Napoleon hesitated as he entered the small house he shared with Illya. With a still unsteady hand, he opened the coat closet and looked cautiously inside.
"Go through the upstairs. Make sure no one is here. Look everywhere, under the beds, in the shower, everywhere."
"Okay..." Winston took a step towards the stairs. "Uncle Napoleon, are you going to be all right? Do you want us to reschedule?"
"I'm bringing someone to dinner tomorrow night. Didn't Chef tell you?"
"No, it must have slipped his mind." Napoleon used the topic to change his focus. "Someone in particular?"
"Very much so." Winston ducked his head and started to smile. "Special."
"Am I seeing a blush?" Napoleon suddenly reveled in having something to take his mind off his own worries. "Winston, how special?"
"Really, really special."
"Good, I'm glad. Now, up you go."
"Oh, sorry." Winston was off at a lope and Napoleon watched after him. Rubbing his chest with one hand, he carefully checked the lower floor and saw nothing out of place. He even checked the refrigerator to make sure there was no Jell-o inside.
"Nothing upstairs," Winston announced, bouncing through the kitchen door and Napoleon spun, his arms in a defense posture. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
"It's okay, Winston." Napoleon dropped his arms and sighed. "I'm just a little edgy."
"What's going on, Unc?" Winston perched on the edge of the kitchen table. "This has something to do with that trial thing?"
"How much do you know about that?"
"Next to nothing. No one in the restaurant will talk about it."
"That's understandable; it was a hard time for all of us." Napoleon settled into a chair and studied the table top, stained from years of use. "A waiter, and a homicidal maniac as we later we found out, kidnapped, tortured, and raped me, nearly killed me. Another hour and I would have been dead, but Illya found and rescued me. He blamed himself for taking so long, for not being more vigilant..."
"His hand..." Winston connected the dots quickly. "I remember Matt saying that he was punishing himself for something, but he wouldn't elaborate."
"He blamed himself for hiring Velon, for not picking up on things sooner." Napoleon sighed. "In our former job, one of his duties was to watch out for me and he still feels that sense of obligation."
"Uncle Napoleon." Winston's voice was very small. "When I was upstairs, one of the bureau drawers was open and stuff was all messed up."
"The right top?"
"Illya's armed himself." Napoleon shook his head slowly. "This is not a good thing, Winston. We need to find him and stop him before he hurts or, God forbids, kills someone." He stood and Winston caught his arm. "Times like this, he forgets he's not an agent anymore and can't operate outside the law."
"Not you. You heard the doctor. You need to rest. I'll go." The kitchen door opened and Matt entered without bothering to knock.
"Cara, it's not true." He ignored the younger chef and spoke directly to Napoleon. "It can't be." He dropped his voice. "Chef and I saw him in the morgue."
"Illya's out there, Matt," Napoleon said. "Armed."
"Stay with him," Winston urged the redhead and headed for the door. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
Night was drawing to a close and Napoleon was getting more and more agitated. He had given up trying to rest and now paced their bedroom under the watchful eye of Matt. The redhead wouldn't even leave Napoleon alone to get a glass of water.
"Where is he, Matt?"
"I don't know, Cara, but he's armed and capable of taking care of himself."
"I just... I can't help worrying about him." Napoleon stopped by the foot of the bed and ruffled the fur of the cat asleep there. Moutard stretched and rolled over at the touch. "If anything happens to him because of this, Matt, I swear someone will pay."
"Someone already has." Matt came up and wrapped his arms around Napoleon. "More than his fair share."
It felt odd to have someone other than Illya holding him, but Napoleon took comfort in the warmth of his friend's embrace. Then the front door banged open and both men's heads jerked in that direction.
"We're home!" Winston yelled and Napoleon took a deep breath.
"I'm not a religious man, but thank God." He moved from the bedroom and down the stairs. Part of him wanted to bawl Illya out for taking off, part of him just wanted to bawl, happy that his partner had returned uninjured.
Illya glanced up at Napoleon as he descended. He pulled off his jacket, revealing the shoulder holster and gun hidden beneath it. Both men were dirty and their clothes were caked with mud and detritus. Moutard stared at them for a moment, then rose and walked politely to the door and sat.
"Where were you? You had me scared out of my mind." Napoleon didn't mean to make the words sound so harsh and accusatory and he apologized with his eyes.
"We checked on Velon." Illya replied, apparently unconcerned by Napoleon's tone, hanging the jacket. "He was right where we left him."
"You dug him up?"
"Yup," Winston answered, brushing his hands over his filthy jacket.
"How can you be sure?" Napoleon asked.
"Even as decayed as he was, there were certain signs." Illya toed off his mud-caked sneakers. "It was him."
"Or a corpse altered to look like him."
"No, it was him." Illya voice was firm. "Which is even worse, for now we have a copy cat on our hands. Someone has decided to take up where Velon left off and that can't bode well for any of us. I spoke with the sheriff. They are going to post a guard out front tonight. Between that and the alarm, we should be okay."
Matt pushed past Napoleon and caught Illya, kissing him almost feverishly and then enveloping him in a hard embrace. He cupped the back of Illya's head to whisper into Illya's ear and the blond nodded once. Then Matt released him, caught Winston by the arm and headed for the door. Moutard stood and slipped out with them.
"I don't mean to come off sounding proprietary, but what was that display all about?"
"He's worried, that's all. You know how Mattie gets." Illya unbuckled his holster and slipped out of the leather harness with an air of resignation. "Did you get any rest?"
"No." Napoleon didn't bother to lie to Illya. He might be able to get it past someone else, but not the Russian. "Couldn't get my brain shut off."
"Let's try now, shall we?" He rubbed a bicep and grimaced. "I could use a hot bath and some sleep."
"You head up. I'll set the alarm and join you."
"No, you're not alone while I can help it."
"I'll be fine, Illya, it's just..." Napoleon half turned, heading for the alarm.
"NO!" Illya's voice was sharp, brittle edged, freezing Napoleon in mid stride. "No one takes you from me. Not again! Not ever! "
Napoleon knew better than to offer resistance at the moment. He merely walked over and punched a set of numbers into the alarm panel. "You hungry?"
"Not really." Illya's eyes never left him as he moved around the room, giving everything one last check. "Have you eaten?"
"No, but now that you mention it, when were you going to tell me about Winston and his friend?"
"At the lunch that never happened." Illya walked into the kitchen and to the refrigerator. His outstretched hand hesitated and then he yanked the door open rapidly, causing bottles to rattle. He heaved a sigh of relief at the contents.
"I already checked that. Whoever it was didn't know about the Jell-o."
"Or couldn't get inside to plant it." Illya pulled out some eggs and cheese, passing them to Napoleon. He knelt and rummaged through the crisper for a moment, gathering a variety of vegetables and carrying them to the counter. "Scramble okay or do you want a frittata instead?"
"Scrambled is fine." He watched Illya wash the vegetables and peel the onion. Moving to a cutting board, Illya positioned the halved onion and started carefully to chop. He almost exclusively used his left hand to chop with these days, still not able to hold the knife to his satisfaction with his damaged right hand.
"What did we do that was so wrong, Illya?" Napoleon asked suddenly.
The knife paused for a moment, then resumed. "I'm sorry?" Illya's eyes never left his work.
"Why do we have to live through this again and again?"
"I don't know. " Illya turned the heat on under a pan and added a bit of oil before tossing the onions in it. Almost immediately the smell of cooking onions filled the room and Napoleon's stomach came alive. "And to answer your question, we have done nothing wrong. Shit happens for no reason other than it does. We just seem to attract more than our share of it."
He worked quickly and quietly, chopping the rest of the vegetable as the onions sauted off. Illya dumped them in and one-handed snatched up an egg, abruptly crushing it in his grip.
As the yolk oozed through his fingers, Illya just stared at it. Napoleon moved quickly, turning the stove off and pushing the pan to a back burner. He didn't need a degree in psychology to know the Russian had finally reached his breaking point.
"I can't do this again, Napoleon," Illya whispered, as if afraid of his own voice. "I... just... can't."
Napoleon gathered him into his arms and held him. Together they were so strong, people tended to forget that they were still fragile humans, just like everyone else. He could feel as Illya struggled to regulate his breathing, to keep hold of his rapidly dwindling control.
"It's okay, Illya... I know..." The breathing caught and Napoleon could feel tremors running through his partner. Everyone always counted on Illya to be the strong one, the go-to guy, so that even Napoleon sometimes forgot that even Illya's reserve had its limits.
The first time he'd encountered this, they'd been partnered for about six months. The affair had been stressful, but not as over the top as others. There had been a couple of breathless moments, but in the end, Illya came through, the good guys won, Napoleon got the girl, and everyone was happy. Or so he thought.
That night, he'd returned from an evening of wining, dining, and screwing to find the hotel room they were sharing empty. Since Illya had made a great noise about staying in, Napoleon had felt a burr of worry build in his gut.
Then he looked through to the balcony curtains and saw his partner silhouetted against them. At first he didn't understand, but then he saw the shaking shoulders and heard the half strangled moans. At first, he thought Illya was masturbating, but then realized, in that moment, just how human his partner really was. Not jacking off, he was crying... and hiding it from everyone, obviously determined to maintain his illusion of unbreakable control. Standing there alone, the Ice Prince, as some at Headquarters called him, was sobbing his heart out.
He'd not hesitated to go to Illya's side and hold him, letting the buildup of stress, adrenaline, and whatever other demons he faced, pour out. It didn't happen often and almost always took Napoleon by surprise when it did. Over the years, he tried to figure out the trigger and never had; he just made damned sure he was around when it happened.
Like now. He just let the moment run its course, murmuring soft encouragement in Illya's ear until the trembling had calmed and his breathing grew regular again. He kissed a temple. "We beat this before, we can do it again."
"That sounds like a World War II slogan." Illya dragged a sleeve across his eyes and then abruptly remembered the egg still oozing through his fingers. He slipped from Napoleon's arms and went to rinse his hand off and then run the wet hand over his face.
"A bit before my time, but it probably was." Napoleon came up behind him and wrapped his arms around Illya's waist, keeping his grip firm, but not suffocating. "You okay now?"
Illya nodded, leaning back into his arms. "Thank you."
"Just one of the many services I provide... at least to some people. Let's finish up and go to bed. I'm suddenly very tired."
Illya's eyes snapped open as something hit the bed. A breath later, he heard a purr and relaxed. Moutard started kneading a spot close to his uncovered leg and Illya shifted it back under the protection of the covers. Beside him, Napoleon stirred for a moment and then went back to sleep.
Illya had meant to keep watch last night; even though neither of them had eaten anything he hadn't himself prepared, he didn't want to take a chance. He'd meant to keep an ear open for the alarm, just in case it got triggered. He meant to keep his hand on his Walther all night long, just in case he needed it.
Instead, they'd eaten and gone to bed, where Napoleon proceeded to make love to him so gently, so thoroughly, and so completely that staying awake afterwards had been an impossibility and he'd slipped from being sated to just being asleep without conscious thought. Illya was sure it had been Napoleon's plan all along. He nestled back against his partner's body, not inclined to climb from the warm cocoon they shared.
"Prrfftt?" The sound was soft, but insistent.
"Go eat your dry food," Illya ordered, nuzzling Napoleon's neck, but then felt a furry head butting his back and knew it was too late. The only course he had open to him now was to get up and either toss the cat out or feed him. Then he felt a jab of concern. Moutard had gone out last night... what was he doing inside?
Illya snatched the Walther from beneath his pillow and kicked free of the sheets. He pulled on his jog pants and headed downstairs, pausing halfway down the stairs to study the living room. It stood as it had the night before, quiet and empty.
He then moved to the only other downstairs room, the kitchen and stopped, not knowing whether to cry or laugh. The cat door, the one that Moutard usually refused to use, he'd completely forgotten about it. However they were later than normal this morning and the cat had apparently gotten tired of waiting and used the flap to let himself in.
He fed the cat and started the coffee, reflecting back on how yesterday's morning had begun the same way. It was amazing how everything could change in just twenty four hours. He put some water on the stove to boil and his head jerked in the direction of the door at the knock.
He could see Winston through the panes and he held up a hand in acknowledgment.
"I'll be right there," he said loudly and the boy nodded.
Turning off the alarm, Illya came back into the kitchen, paused to turn off the water and opened the door.
"I wanted to see how you two were doing this morning." Winston was carrying a cloth covered bowl in his hands.
"Fine, you didn't have to bring a peace offering."
"Vic wanted to make something for tonight and the more I tried to talk him out of it, the more insistent he became. I don't have room in my little refrigerator, so I thought I'd leave it here if that was okay. Maybe you can have an accident with it later and we'll avoid the whole issue tonight."
Illya waved him on and returned to the stove, measuring and stirring rolled oats into the water.
"Ick, oatmeal?" Winston stowed the bowl and watched over his shoulder. "You really eat that stuff... voluntarily?"
"You'll be old one day too and know the importance of added fiber in your diet."
"Nope," Winston said, happily. "I'm gonna be twenty four forever."
"From your lips to God's ear," Napoleon said, from the doorway. He shuffled in, heading straight for the coffee via a quick stop for a kiss at the stove and then moved to the table. "Let me know how that works for you."
Winston grinned. "I will, Unc, and if you will excuse me, I left a hot guy cooling off. I think I'll get back to it... him."
Napoleon watched after him as he darted out and Illya locked the door behind him. "Were we ever that young and that horny?"
"What do you mean were, white man?" Illya asked, spooning the oatmeal into two bowls. "Would you grab the milk?"
"Of course." Napoleon went to the refrigerator and pulled it open. "Illya, you need to see this..."
Just the voice alone was enough to send chills down Illya's spine. "What?"
"There's a bowl of Jell-o in the refrigerator..."
The door was locked, but that was of little concern to Illya. He kicked it in with as much skill and fervor as he would have as an agent. He stormed into Winston's small apartment over Vinea, heading straight for the bed, where two men were actively engaged in sex.
The young men jumped, and immediately retreated at the sight of a pistol in the Russian's hand.
"What the hell, Illya!" Winston pulled a sheet up in front of him, reflexively pushing his lover behind him.
"Where is he?"
Illya pointed the pistol at the second man, behind Winston's lanky torso. "Him!" He yanked Winston off the bed and pushed him away. "This ends now!"
He aimed and was tackled just as his finger was getting ready to squeeze. The gun was knocked from his hand. Thinking it was Winston, Illya came up with a hard right, knocking Napoleon back and away from him.
"Illya, no!" Winston shouted, while the man on the bed cowered in fear. "It's not Velon! That's Vic!"
Napoleon moved again, positioning himself in front of Illya and the Walther he held. "Get out of the way, Napoleon. Don't protect him, not after what he did to you."
"Not until you calm down..." Napoleon reached and took control the pistol. "Look at him, Illya."
"No, you don't." Napoleon kept his voice even, but authoritative. "You don't even have your contacts in. It isn't what it seems."
Winston took the moment to return to the bed and the man while Napoleon ran his hands up and down Illya's arms.
"It's Velon," Illya protested.
"No, look at him, Illya... really look at him." Napoleon stepped aside and Illya glanced over to the bed. Slowly the man came out from behind Winston.
"If I'd known they were going to be this protective of you, I'd have waited until after I married you." The man was dark haired, with deep piercing eyes, but that was where the similarities ended. His face was far from the smooth, almost boyish look Velon had. His was more rugged, lined, with a classic hooked Greek nose and a crooked grin. He was older than Velon, much older.
"You'd still want to marry me after this?" Winston murmured softly.
"To be this protective of you, they have to really love you." He offered a large, work scuffed hand. "I'm Victor Alasee."
"Oh, my God..." Illya stumbled back a step away from the hand and into Napoleon, who caught him. "I almost..." He pulled away and stumbled past the remains of the door and its frame.
"But you didn't." Napoleon looked over at Winston. "I'll send someone over later to repair the door."
"I think we all need to talk," Napoleon said his nephew and then to Victor. "I'm sorry about this, Mr. Alasee. You've been the victim of misidentification. Why did you send us Jell-o?"
"It was for dessert tonight. It's one of the few things I can make."
He made a face at Winston who grinned, saying, "Sort of."
"And did you send me those truffles?"
"Uh, huh, I just wanted to break the ice a little. When I saw you earlier in the day, you looked so serious and stern. Win told me you loved truffles, so... well, I'm not above bribery." He glanced shyly over at Winston. "Not for him, at least." He cleared his throat as if suddenly acutely aware of his nudity. He pulled the sheet up around them. "Is your friend going to be okay?"
"He's just had a bad couple of days. Are you still interested in coming to dinner tonight?"
Winston looked hopefully at Victor as he asked, "He's not going to try and shoot me again, is he?"
"No, I think that moment has passed."
Victor gathered up Winston's hand and squeezed it. "We'll be there."
He found Illya standing quietly on their back porch, looking out over the stretch of fields behind their house, his hands grasping the railing in a tight grip. The early summer sun hadn't burned the grass to a crisp yet and brilliant color speckled the carpet of greens.
"You okay?" Napoleon came up to stand beside him, leaning on the rail, also looking out at the pastures.
"Far from it, Napoleon. There are many words to describe me at present, but okay is not one of them."
"So you made a mistake. Welcome to the human race."
"I nearly killed your nephew's lover, Napoleon. I can't be as nonchalant or charitable. If you hadn't stopped me..."
"But I did..."
"If you hadn't..."
"That didn't happen. We can't live our lives with what if, Illya." When there was no response, he continued. "I think that perhaps you need to spend a little more time with Dr. Hilbert, let him dig around and see what he can find."
"I've already imparted as much information to that man as I intend."
Napoleon reached out to stroke the back of one of Illya's tension-knotted hands. "And it's consuming you from the inside out even after all this time. Velon raped me physically, but he raped you mentally and you're still bleeding from it. Let Dr. Hilbert help you, Illya." Napoleon pried one of the hands free and brought it to his mouth. "All your life, you've kept to yourself, hidden things away."
"Not from you..."
"...Even from me. It's what it took for you to do the job you had to do. Those days are over, Illya. You're not a killer anymore."
"Aren't I? I very nearly was today."
"You were never deprogrammed when you left UNCLE. All those little triggers and shit they stuck in your head, they're still there and until you remove them, you can't hope to recover and the next time, I might not be there to stop you. Please, Illya?"
"I... I don't know how," Illya admitted softly.
"Then let me help you. I'll make a call and fly someone from UNCLE out here." He kissed the hand again. "Let them do what they need to. Let me do this for us... for you."
"I'm scared." The admission was so quiet Napoleon almost didn't hear it. "What if there's nothing left when they're done? What is everything I was is gone?"
"Then we cross that bridge when we come to it." Napoleon slid his arms around the Russian. "Together, just like we've handled everything else in life. Besides, I went through it and came out okay."
"Why do you bother with me, Napoleon?"
"Why? Because I love you, you make me strong, you make me happy, occasionally you make me crazy and you make me the man I am. Everything I am is because of you, my love. Now, let me return the favor. Let me be the one in charge again and help you shoulder the load." He rested his forehead against Illya's. "Do you want me to cancel tonight?"
"No, I need to face this." He smiled sadly at Napoleon. "Let me be strong a little while longer, okay?"
Napoleon looked up at the sound of approaching steps. He'd been staring at the same page in the magazine for ten minutes now and remembering back to a few years prior when he sat here waiting to see if Illya was ever going to use his hand again.
Dr. Hilbert sat heavily beside him and sighed. "I can't say much for the techniques of those men you brought in, Napoleon." The doctor shook his head slowly.
"Is Illya okay?"
"I think eventually he will be, but he's going to be like broken glass for a few days." He looked down at his hands. "I'd take him away, Napoleon, some place very quiet and peaceful."
"Quieter than Jackson? Is that possible?"
"Some place very much not here. He'll be a mess until he gets everything put back to order in his head. Find yourself a nice private spot, away from people, and just let him do what he needs to do."
"I can do that. I'll make the arrangements this afternoon."
"Good. You can see him if you'd like, but I would recommend leaving him here until you've got things squared away."
Napoleon stood as the doctor did and followed him down the corridor. As he entered, he was afraid of what he would find, but his partner looked very much as he'd left him.
"Hey, how are you feeling?" Napoleon crossed the room and hitched a hip up onto the narrow bed reaching for a surprisingly cold hand.
"A bit... disconnected." Illya admitted slowly. "Like someone sucked my brains out with a vacuum cleaner and then dumped them back in. But my memories are surprisingly intact... but jumbled."
"I tried to tell you it wasn't that bad. I had to go through it and I lived."
"With your ego, how could you not?"
Napoleon smiled at the jab. "I was thinking of maybe getting away for a little bit. You feel up to a little sailing?"
"You don't still have the Pursang?
"No, sold her off years ago. I was thinking of just renting something for awhile, maybe sailing down the coast. A little moonlight, some wine and..."
"Us... I still remember all your old come-ons, you know. That part of my brain they didn't touch...sadly."
"Guess that means you remember all my old jokes too?"
"Unfortunately, yes." Illya shivered suddenly and sighed.
"Oh well, guess we'll just have to find something else to do on board." He leaned forward and kissed his forehead gently. "I'll be back as soon as I've gotten everything together. You rest until then."
He watched Illya settled back against the pillows, his brow furrowing. Illya suddenly grimaced and turned abruptly to the wall.
Broken, but still alive. Sometimes the world was to blame and other times it was no one's fault. Napoleon thought as he walked from the room quietly and headed for the parking lot. He heard his name being called and for a moment, felt a shiver go through him as the thin, dark man approached. He drew closer and Napoleon recognized his nephew's lover.
"Napoleon, wait up." Victor came running up to him.
"What are you doing here?"
"Stress test. This getting old crap is for the birds."
Napoleon smirked at the unintentional pun. "That's what you get for getting involved with a younger guy."
"But you're still okay with it, aren't you? My being involved?"
"It's really none of my business, but yes, I am." Napoleon paused beside his sedan. "Why?"
"I'm thinking of popping the question and I just wanted to be sure of where I stood."
"Do you love him?"
"Then that's all you need, my friend. Just love him and everything else will be fine." And Napoleon then grinned, his patented no-holds-barred smile. "You do that and the rest of the world will fall into place. And if it doesn't, then it really doesn't much matter, does it? Need a ride home?"
"Thanks, but Win is picking me up. Mr. Solo, thanks..."
"For being such a great uncle."
Napoleon's eye caught sight of the three doctors that UNCLE had sent out from the East coast for the deprogramming. "I do my best." He thought of the blond lying back in the hospital room. "We all do and that's all the world can ask of us." He knew no matter what, he and Illya would make it through this new challenge just as they had every other one they faced, stronger, whole and together.
They lay, spread out on the towels, staring up at the stars. The smell of the sea intermingled with the scent of their sweat and sex. Napoleon studied the night sky, the fingers of one hand carding through the longer blond hair of his lover, the other arm tucked under his head as a makeshift pillow.
Everything was fine now, but for awhile, Napoleon hadn't been so sure. The nice thing about having his kind of money was that you could make just about anything happen and happen on your schedule. It had only taken him just a few hours to arrange a jet to pick them up in Sacramento and fly them to Bora Bora and to rent a boat. He had had Illya out of Jackson before twenty four hours had passed, but he'd wondered if that had been soon enough.
The man he climbed on board the small sail boat with was a near stranger who happened to be wearing his lover's skin. Illya would be fine and laughing one minute, in a deep depression the next. He raged at nothing and then suddenly laughed at everything. Napoleon hadn't remembered it being that bad for him, but he'd welcomed the detraining as one less step between his finding Illya.
Just when Napoleon thought he couldn't take a minute more, something snapped and Illya was back, a little blurry eyed and subdued, but definitely the man he knew as his partner.
"Happy?" he murmured, feeling Illya shift against him.
"Completely. I have you and that's all I need."
"Not really. I had you and I was happy. You left and nothing helped, not money, not power, not anything. Then I found you and life is good again."
"So the bathroom walls have led me to believe." Napoleon flicked his eyes down and let his finger drop to Illya's cheek, feeling the burr of whiskers beneath it. "Do you remember the first time we made love?"
"Cost me two broken knuckles and my heart."
"Was it worth it?"
"Every bit and every minute." Illya turned his face towards the fingers and nuzzled his hand.
"We should go down below before the mosquitoes eat us alive." Napoleon fingered Illya's lips, smiling as a tongue darted out to lick them.
"That's very good advice. I wonder if either of us will listen to it." Illya moved so that he was face to face with Napoleon with a sly smile, his penis digging into Napoleon's belly.
"Again?" Napoleon sighed, taking on a mock air of defeat. "You're going to be the death of me, Kuryakin."
"But I'm thinking, what a way to go. First one down below has to do dishes in the morning." Illya was up and sprinting naked across the deck. Napoleon let out a whoop and followed a hair's breadth later, happy, content, and for the first time in a long time, feeling very, very whole.