One of Us
"Napoleon! Napoleon Solo!"
The dark-haired man paused in his path and glanced around. It wasn't odd for people to stop him in the dining room of Taste. Frequently, satisfied customers from his own business, Vinea, a small wine boutique and tasting room, called out to him. They wanted to thank him for suggestions or ask questions. He was always happy to stop and talk shop.
This voice was different though. It stirred other memories. It took just a moment for him to locate the speaker, a woman with dark brown hair piled into an intricate array of twists and turns as was so common now. She had stood and was waving to him.
"April?" Napoleon was to her in three easy strides. He enfolded her in a warm embrace before glancing over at her dining companion. His grin increased as he stuck out his hand. "And Mark? What in the name of God's green earth are you two doing here?"
"Visiting, old man," Mark's accent hadn't diminished over the years, unlike Illya's which had softened. Of course, Mark had returned to England when he left UNCLE. "April was just sort of taking me on a cook's tour of the States. Never really got to see them from the other side. Now that I'm retired, I'm out to see the world from the slow path." He glanced around and added, softly, "I have to say it's much nicer when everyone isn't trying to kill you."
"Well to be honest, I'd heard you were in this part of the state and I wanted to see what you were up to after all this time. We were at a winery this afternoon and the folk there were raving about Taste as the place to eat," April explained as she reseated herself and gestured to the chair to her left.
"And they speak true," Napoleon said, sliding down into the unoccupied chair. "Five stars wouldn't lie."
"So what's good to eat here?" Mark reached for his menu.
"You're asking me?" Napoleon examined first one, then the other.
"Have you eaten here before or is this just the coincidence from...what?" April stopped at Napoleon's chuckle.
"Read the name of the chef here and ask me the question again."
Mark's finger tracked down the inside cover. "Chef, chef...Chef Kuryakin? Not Illya?"
"The one and only. This is his place."
"Illya cooks?" Mark closed the menu and shook his head. "You leave the country for awhile and everything goes crazy. The last I remember, he couldn't boil water."
"I told you he'd resigned from UNCLE." April had opened her menu to study it, but eyed Napoleon over the top of it. "Rather abruptly, as I recall."
"Resigned, yes. Become a slinger of hash, no."
"Don't let his staff hear you call him that, Mark. They're a tad over-protective," Napoleon warned as Rocky approached. The waiter grinned at Napoleon and then at his guests.
"Welcome. My name is Rocky and I will be your waiter tonight as we guide you through the experience of Taste." Rocky gestured to Napoleon and clapped his hands together. "You know each other, Mr. S?"
"We used to work together in the old days."
"Ah, the old days, I've heard those stories a time or two. Any friend of Mr. S's is always welcomed here."
Napoleon beckoned Rocky closer with a finger. Rocky leaned in and Napoleon asked softly, "How is Chef tonight, Rocky?"
"Firing on all burners, thanks. He and Matt have been at each other all night."
"Still? I thought we'd put that discussion to bed this afternoon."
"Oh, yes, that's what we both get for thinking." Rocky draped a napkin over April's lap as a busboy poured water. "Hell hath no fury and all that. Who would know that a moul-'-manqu could cause such an uproar? They are both incredible stubborn." He looked at Mark appraisingly and grinned. "And incredibly gifted—this doesn't always make for smooth sailing for the galley crew."
"These are also good friends of Illya's as well and I was thinking of taking them back."
Rocky's voice lowered. "Fifteen minutes would be better. He should be through abusing his Chef Tournant by then and possibly in a better mood, but I somehow doubt it."
"Your mouth to God's ear," muttered another waiter as he passed. Rocky smiled, but shook his head slightly, discouraging any further comment from the waiter. "If you do have any questions, please feel free to call upon myself or Mr. S. I'm sure he will steer you correctly. May I bring you something from the bar?"
"Can your bartender make an Old Fashioned?" April asked, smiling at the waiter.
"She can and for you, sir?"
"Any British ale or something close?"
"I'll see what we can find for you. Excuse me."
"He didn't ask what you wanted, Napoleon." April seemed genuinely concerned by the waiter's apparent oversight.
"He doesn't need to, April. I own the wine tasting room next door. I created and maintain the wine list here," Napoleon explained, watching the waiters move around the room. He loved the choreographed moves as they wove in and out between the tables, always making sure the diners were attended to, but never bothered. As always Roxanne watched discreetly, making sure that all ran smoothly. It was almost like watching a ballet.
Rocky re-appeared, carrying a tray with their drinks and small fan-shaped plates. "Tonight, our amuse broche is quail egg with red caviar. The caviar is from the Baltic region and the quail is local. The leaves are formed by carved snow peas. Enjoy."
April looked down at the tiny egg with uncertainty. "It's almost too pretty to eat. And how do they cut that snow pea so it looks like it was woven?"
Napoleon grinned as he popped his into his mouth and chewed. He swallowed and savored the flavors for a moment before speaking. "Mmm, Illya's a bear about details. If you think this is pretty, order the garden salad. Illya makes it with flowers: pansies, marigold, and roses, among others. It's beautiful once you get over the thought of actually eating flowers." He raised his glass of single malt Scotch. "To the old days and the fact that we all survived them."
"Hear, hear," Mark clinked his glass against the other and cautiously sipped his beer. "This is bloody spectacular."
"A local brew. It's a little dark for my tastes, but our customers love it, so we stock it. We aim to please." Napoleon reached for his water glass and April grabbed his hand.
"You're holding out on us, Napoleon Solo! When did you get married?"
Napoleon glanced down at the gold band and smiled. "Oh, must be about six years...um." Rocky suddenly appeared, carrying a bread platter and a platter of iced, delicately shaped butter.
"Six years, eight months and fifteen days and if you forget again, word is that you will be consigned to sleeping on the couch for at least that long." Rocky murmured softly. "Frankly, I've got two to one odds riding on you, so I'm planning a daily reminder at the one month mark."
"You're a good man, Rocky. You forget once and you're marked for life."
"So I've been told."
"You've been married for six years and you never thought to tell us?" It was obvious by April's tone that she was mildly annoyed. "You'd think you would have thought to mention it to me during one of our phone calls."
"Honestly, April, it just didn't come up in conversation," Napoleon said, smiling. "I didn't want it to sound like I was rubbing salt into your wounds." Napoleon had heard that both April and Mark' marriages had ended badly, but he didn't push for details.
Mark once again offered his hand. "Hope it works out better for you that it did for either of us."
"Well, so far, so good." Napoleon's hand finally made it to his water glass. He sipped and locked eyes with Rocky. "Something?"
"Matt just conceded, so it's safe to go back there now." Rocky clapped Napoleon on the shoulder and walked briskly away.
"Who is Matt? That's the second time we're heard the name."
"Matt Tovay—he's the co-owner and the other chef here. He and Illya trained together. The only time it's more interesting in here is when Matt's cooking and Illya's his tournant. Then the knives fly...sometimes literally."
"Chief assistant, jack of all trades—Matt runs him through the wringer every time, but he doesn't give any worse than he gets. It's hard to believe the friendship has lasted this long, but underneath it all they respect one another and each other's skill. Not that you'd know it otherwise. Shall we?" Napoleon stood and set his napkin down. He knew when he came back, there would be a freshly folded one awaiting him.
"I want to hear more about the woman who finally caught the great Napoleon Solo," Mark said, not to be dissuaded. He was also rising.
Rocky glanced sharply over at Napoleon with a frown and Napoleon simply smiled back at him.
"Amen to that—there must have been a wail of disbelief from all your ex girlfriends," April added, linking her arm with Napoleon's.
"Oh, the disbelief was there, you can count on that." Napoleon was almost having too much fun with this.
"So how do you know all this stuff? About the tournant and all?" April asked.
"I sort of married into the business." He walked back to the double doors, careful to enter by the right one. One collision with a tray-carrying waiter was enough to learn that lesson. "Brace yourself."
The calm of the dining room always belied the craziness of the kitchen. The frenetic pace in which everyone moved was made more incredible by the fact that they always managed to avoid collisions in the tiny space, ducking and dodging each other, all the while shouting to and at each other.
Napoleon took April and Mark to a corner out of the line of traffic and let them just digest what they were seeing. It became apparently that neither of them could actually see Illya. After a moment, Napoleon finally pointed over to a series of gas burners and the love of his life.
Illya was flipping the contents of one pan with a smooth practiced air. He set it back down and checked another pan. Touching the contents gingerly, he pulled it from the heat and then opened the oven door to pull something out and put something else in. All of it was done with an ease borne of considerable practice.
"Now, let's just watch for a bit," Napoleon said softly, his hands on April's shoulders.
Rocky entered carrying a tray, true to form, serenading the kitchen staff with song, "I have a dream—a song to sing." Napoleon recognized that ABBA tune easily enough . "I have a dream too, Rocky, that these plates get out before our guests have to chip ice off their food." Illya snapped, never turning from the stove. He ladled something from a stainless steel container into the pan and shook it, leaning back as the fire flared abruptly. He adjusted the heat and reached for a bottle of water, taking a long swig.
"Yes Chef!" Rocky grinned at the party as he scooped the plates up and settled them on his tray. There was another waiter right behind him, obviously awaiting his dishes.
"Two salmon and adjust the seasoning on your court bouillon. It's salty," Illya barked to no one in particular.
A red-haired man, looking as frazzled as all the other bustling through the kitchen, shouted back. "Yes, Chef!"
Napoleon pointed as Matt stirred first one huge stock pot and then another. Matt paused to pull a tray of richly browned bones from the oven and add them to yet a third pot. "That's Matthew. He and Illya go back years."
Matt dipped a spoon into the nearest pot and tasted it. He frowned as he discarded the utensil and reached for a second spoon. He carried a spoonful over and offered it to Illya, slipping easily past Napoleon. He tasted it and looked at the redhead with a frown. Matt leaned in so close that their forehead were nearly touching and conversed in voices too low to carry.
"How's that possible?" April watched all the action with the practiced eye of an agent. "Illya hasn't even aged a day since the last time I saw him and that was over twenty years ago. Does he have a painting in his attic?"
"That's the rumor." Napoleon grinned back at her. "He'd argue the point with you any morning though. Some days, we need a fork lift and a crane to get him going. All those old injuries really play havoc with him after a night like this. He'll turn in excess of two hundred entrees tonight, not counting starters, dessert or anything else that requires his touch."
Apparently, the two chefs had reached a decision and Matt returned to his pots, grinning at Napoleon as he passed again.
"I need a smaller chop on the duxelles," Illya yelled above the noise of the kitchen. "They're not cooking fast enough for the scallops."
Again, it didn't seem directed at anyone, but one of the two men sporting dangerous looking knives shouted back. "Yes, Chef."
"Yes, Chef." There was a chorus of voices as Illya reached into the pan with a spatula to remove whatever he had been sauting. He plated it and carefully wiped the rim with a cloth. He'd barely finished and the dish was whisked away. Immediately, he turned his attention to one of the myriad of slips of papers hanging off to one side of the stove and reached once again for the bottle of water.
"I need two fillets, a salmon and a duck ."
"And this is a good mood?" Mark asked.
The red head had apparently finished whatever he was doing and approached them in time to hear Mark's question. "Very much—of course, it's a slow night too," Matt said as he approached the trio. He spoke directly to Napoleon. "Cara , you're a brave man to risk the kitchen tonight".
"This is slow?" April was agog at the bustle of activity as people nearly ran from one point to the next.
"This is practically a leisurely stroll," Napoleon admitted. "When it gets busy, I just watch through the window. It's safer."
"Speaking of such, if you were waiting for window of opportunity to talk with Chef, this would be it, Cara." Matt grabbed a clean stock pot and touched Napoleon's arm, murmuring softly, "Per l'amore di tutto che santo, lei lo collocher per favore stasera? la ferita pi stretto di una primavera?"
Napoleon nodded at Matt's request 'For the love of all that's holy, will you please lay him tonight? He's wound tighter than a spring'. "I've been trying all day, Matt, believe me." Whether or not, Mark or April heard Matt's question, it wasn't clear, both were still taken with the bustle of the small kitchen.
Napoleon led them around the parameter of the room, keeping out of Illya's line of sight. The man was focused mostly on his stove, so it wasn't a real trick. Finally, Napoleon held up a finger for April and Mark to stop and he continued on alone. He walked up to Illya and settled a hand into the small of Illya's back, rubbing.
"What's cooking, good lookin?" he murmured into the closest ear.
Illya did a double take at him, obviously surprised, but delighted to see him. "Napoleon, is everything okay?" Illya grunted as Napoleon dug the heel of his hand into his back. "Bozhe moi, that feels good."
Napoleon frowned at the tension he felt in those muscles. "You'll need a good rub down tonight, Amante. Everything's fine, but I met a couple of folks in the dining room and I'm giving them the cook's tour."
"Napoleon," Illya chastised. "You know how I feel about..."
Napoleon turned him slowly and April waved.
"Hey, sailor, buy a girl a drink?"
Illya tossed the tongs he'd been holding onto a countertop and walked over to her, gathering her into a tight embrace. "April Dancer, as I live and breathe, and Mark!" He released her and shook hands with the man, grinning. "What are you doing here?"
"Heard about us from a winery," Napoleon said, joining them again and resuming his massage.
"Which one? I'll send them some comps." Illya leaned back against the pressure, wincing.
"Chef, I need another fillet, a lamb and two snapper," shouted an attractive woman.
"Thank you, Roxanne." Illya shrugged his shoulders. "No rest for the wicked. I have to get back..." He gestured back to the stove. "But stay and afterwards we can catch up."
"Oh we're staying, we still have yet to meet Napoleon's mystery woman," April said, with a laugh. She patted Napoleon's shoulder fondly. "He's not wiggling out of this."
"Excuse me?" Illya paused. "Mystery woman? I hesitate to ask."
"Yeah, the mysterious Mrs. Solo." Mark looked around at the dozen people moving through the kitchen. "You said you married into this. Where are you hiding her? Is she back here?"
"Your entire sexual future depends upon how you answer that question, Napoleon." Illya grinned as he returned to the stove. "I can't wait to hear you talk your way out of this one."
"Well, it isn't exactly a misses. More of a mister," Napoleon admitted, choosing his words carefully.
"What?" April grabbed his arm. "What are you saying?"
"You remember all those rumors back at headquarter about us?" Napoleon gestured to Illya and back to himself. "Not rumors."
"I need to sit down," Mark said, fanning himself as if he was swooning. "You and Illya?"
"Not rumors?" April was repeating dully.
"Not anymore at any rate," Napoleon amended.
The man half scowled. "Subtle, Napoleon, very subtle. Have you ordered yet?"
"I was going to let you decide," Napoleon said, ignoring his former co-workers for the moment. "Figured you'd know what was good tonight."
"Excellent choice. Do either of you have any food allergies?" He directed the question to Mark and April. For a minute, neither spoke and then Aril finally found her voice again.
"Not that I'm aware of," she answered, still looking shell shocked. "Mark?" The Brit shook his head.
"We'll leave you to it then." Napoleon knew it was time to leave. Illya was starting to get tense as he always did if something took him away from his stove too long. "See you around eleven then." He snagged a quick kiss to Illya's temple and led the pair out of the kitchen and back to their table.
"Boy, it is hot back there." Mark was fanning himself for real this time. The dining room was almost cold in contrast to the heat the various stoves and burners generated.
"You should be here in the summer. I've seen lesser men pass out." Napoleon held the chair for April and reseated himself. He noted that the menus were gone, but the wine list remained. He opened it and glanced briefly at it, trying to decide what suited him tonight. He knew that Rocky would relay their choice back to Illya and he'd go from there. "So do you feel like a red or a white tonight?"
"I feel like a bloody fool to be sucker punched like that," Mark said, reaching for his beer. " You and Illya? For real?"
"Death do us part and the whole nine yards." Rocky appeared and Napoleon handed him the wine list. "Bin 45, I think."
"No problem, Mr. S." Rocky disappeared again and April just shook her head, watching as the waiter vanished back into the kitchen. "How does he know? He obviously anticipated that Illya was going to make our selections for us."
"That's his job and Rocky is very, very good at what he does. Everyone is, that's why they're here."
"But why do they stay if Illya brow beats them like that."
"He's no different from most chefs from what I understand. They get into this head zone and cooking is the only thing they focus on. Manner and niceties go right out the window." Napoleon finished his Scotch and set the glass aside. "So tell me which wineries you've visited so far..."
"That was an incredible meal, Napoleon," April half spoke, half sang her praise and Napoleon recognized the signs of a well-fed, well-wined patron. He unlocked the front door to the house he shared with Illya and gestured them in.
Two cats were sitting just inside and began meowing raucously almost the instant they saw Napoleon, twisting in and around his ankles the moment he paused.
"What? You've already been fed." Napoleon protested. "You're complaining to the wrong person. Illya feeds you, not me."
"According to Illya, they came with the house, but you know how he is about strays." Napoleon hung up his coat and held out his arms for April and Mark's jackets. He hung them next to his as Buerre Noire abandoned him to rub against April's boots.
"Watch her, she has a leather fetish. I've lost three pairs of Italian loafers to her."
April scooped the cat up and scratched her cheek. "This is cozy, Napoleon."
"If by cozy, you mean small, then yes, it is." Napoleon leaned down to start a fire in the fireplace. "But I couldn't pry Illya out of here with a crowbar, so here we stay."
April wandered around the small living room, taking stock of everything. She dropped the cat onto the back of the couch and just took the room in. It was obvious that two men lived here, there was a casual sense of order. The furniture was mismatched, but comfortable looking, books and magazines were crammed into the floor-to-ceiling bookcase. A guitar was leaned against a desk that looked as if it was ready to surrender to the sheer weight of the paper piled upon it. She picked up the nearest one, a newsprint magazine called, Wine Spectator. "I've never heard of this one, Napoleon."
"It's just on the market. It talks about all the up and coming wines and wineries. I prefer to stay as local as possible with our selections. I think Napa wines are over-priced and over rated. Our wines are every bit as good."
"If that one you ordered tonight was any example, I'd agree with you." Mark had sunk into an overstuffed chair and stretched his legs out, obviously just content to relax for a moment. April stopped beside Napoleon and studied the fireplace mantle, looking at the various awards and plaques displayed there.
"The winery is just up the street a few miles." Napoleon got the fire going to his satisfaction and glanced over at the Brit.
"You really weren't gilding the lily, were you?" April asked, lifting a cut crystal diamond and reading the inscription.
"About Illya's reputation? Nope, although he doesn't talk much about it. I found all of those stuffed into a box in the closet." Napoleon closed the fire screen and they walked back towards the sofa.
"It doesn't surprise me. He was always an over-achiever in UNCLE." She pointed to a guitar. "Does he still play much?"
"Not like he used to. He's developing some arthritis in his left hand, but he'd never admit to it. Probably one too many fist fights."
Napoleon indicated a chair opposite Mark. "Why don't you relax? I won't be but a moment."
He disappeared into the kitchen, first to rummage through the wine cooler to pull out a Sauvignon Blanc he'd been waiting to try and then a pitcher of water. He placed them on a large tray and added another tray of cheese, fruit and meats to it, along with some glasses and napkins.
"More food, Napoleon? Thank you for your hospitality, but I am stuffed, mate." Mark did lean forward, however, to accept a glass of wine, as did April. He poured one for himself and filled a tall glass with water.
"And our favorite Russian won't have had anything since about two this afternoon. How a chef can forget to eat is beyond me." There was a noise at the door and Napoleon smiled. "Speaking of such, excuse me again."
He grabbed the glass and met Illya at the door, enveloping him in a warm one -armed hug the moment the blond stumbled across the threshold. The kiss that followed was welcoming, reassuring and loving. Napoleon poured his heart into that kiss and he could tell his efforts were appreciated as Illya's hands moved up his back, holding him firmly in place.
"Tired, my love?" he murmured softly, for Illya's ears alone as Illya rested his head against his shoulder.
"Mmm, long day. Mark and April still here?"
"And trying very hard to look like they're not watching our every move."
"Let them watch. What we do in our own home is our business." Illya lifted his head for another kiss, lingering for just a moment before pulling away. "I need a shower."
"You smell like...what? I can't place it."
"Probably seared fish, if I'm lucky. Give me five." He accepted the glass, emptied it and trudged wearily towards the stairs. He half lifted a hand in greeting to April and Mark as he made his way up the narrow staircase.
Napoleon carried the glass back to the sofa and sat, refilling it and then lifting the wine bottle up in a silent question
"Is he okay, mate?" Mark leaned forward to accept a refill for his wine glass. "He looks a bit knackered."
"He will be once he's had a shower and about three more of these."
Napoleon indicated the glass.
"That much vodka, I'm surprised he can stand." April held up glass up for a refill as well.
"It's not vodka, April, it's water. Illya doesn't drink much hard liquor anymore." He sipped his wine and nodded. He liked it, but he reckoned that Illya would find it too dry and oaky. "When you're a local celebrity, it doesn't enhance your image to be seen staggering out of a bar. If he decides to get drunk, we do it at home—fewer consequences in the morning."
"You really are a couple, aren't you?" April's question made Napoleon glanced sharply over at her.
"And that bothers you?"
"I guess I just never thought as you as gay."
"Wait now, mate," Mark chastised, setting his glass down. "That little display at the door? And now you're telling us you're not gay?"
"I'm not." Napoleon sipped his wine and decided that he did like it even better after it had warmed a bit. "I've never looked at any other man in that sense, Mark."
"But you sleep with Illya. " Napoleon mouth curled into a smile. "Yes and we have sex, wonderful, incredible, mind-blowing sex, but it's just him. Can't you see the difference?"
"No," April admitted. "I can't. Either you are or you aren't."
"It's not that black and white, April. Sex like everything else in life has a myriad of gray areas."
"Is Illya gay?"
"You'd have to ask him that for the definitive answer, but I believe that how he classifies himself. He's been pretty exclusively choosing male partners for a long time now."
"Is that why he left so abruptly? Did the Old Man find out?"
Napoleon chuckled and considered lying, but decided at the last minute against it. He'd trusted these two with his life again and again in the past. "We'd been in a monogamous relationship with Waverly's knowledge, if not necessarily his blessings for nearly two years prior to his leaving. No, I made a bad choice and..."
"I made a worse one and we shall leave it at that." Napoleon managed not to jump at Illya's voice just behind his head. Illya walked around the couch and settled down beside Napoleon, leaning back against him.
Napoleon smiled and studied Illya's face. The challenge in Illya's eyes was clear to his friends—accept it or leave. Napoleon held his wine glass up and Illya took it. He sipped from it and frowned. "Tell me you're not seriously considering putting that on the wine list."
"I knew you wouldn't like it."
"And yet you persist." Illya drained the glass and handed it back to him.
"Then you pick something." With a groan, Illya stood back up and disappeared into the kitchen. "He'll come back with a pinot grigio," Napoleon said, returning the glass to the tray.
"You're still avoiding the issue," April said, helping herself to a piece of cheese. "I can't believe I'm eating more."
"You should live here," Napoleon said, watching as Illya returned from the kitchen. He settled back down beside Napoleon, handing him a bottle. Napoleon held it up towards Mark and April so that they could read the label and see that it was, as predicted, a pinot grigio.
"What?" Illya shifted his gaze from April to Mark and back to Napoleon as he piled meat and cheese onto a napkin.
"April has a question for you."
"Are you gay?"
"Hold on." He glanced over his shoulder at Napoleon, appeared to think for a moment and then grinned. "Yes, still gay."
"But Napoleon isn't?"
"We're not singing this old song again, are we, Napoleon?" Illya stopped to chew a mouthful of food.
"I just can't get my mind around this," April admitted, drawing her feet up to tuck them beneath her. "For how long?"
Illya accepted the glass Napoleon poured him, alternating sipping it between bites of food. "How long have I been gay or been out?"
April thought for a moment, then, "Gay."
"Mark, you never told her?" Illya helped himself to more cheese.
Mark half choked on his wine and reached for a napkin. "Naw, I figured what's a little frottage among friends."
April stared at him finally managing to gasp out, "You slept with him and you never told me?"
"The opportunity never presented itself, luv." Mark's lips curled slightly. "'Sides the way I remember, no actual sleeping went on that night. The man has stamina, I'll grant you that."
"But I was your partner—what else haven't you told me?" She threw a pillow at him in mock rage. "I don't believe this!"
"And this is what it comes down to, April. Mark is as he's always been and the truth of the matter is, April, that I am as I have always been. You could change the color of your hair and people would see you differently, but you'd still be the same person as before. Same holds true for sex partners." Illya took back the conversation as he resettled himself against Napoleon. Out of habit, Napoleon's fingers strayed to Illya's head and he began to fondle the blond hair. "I haven't changed, just your perception of me has. Napoleon, as well, is the same, possibly even less than me if he persists with his 'I'm not gay' stance..." He realized that April wasn't listening to him any longer, but watching Napoleon instead. "What?"
"Do you know how long I've wanted to do that?"
Illya rolled his eyes and sighed wearily, but leaned back into the fingers anyway, smiling slightly. "I don't understand you people. Hair is hair."
"But this is your hair, my friend," Napoleon said. "This is your one big chance, April."
"Really?" She looked hopeful and was up on her feet before Illya could answer. Mark, likewise, started to stand, but Illya held a finger in warning up at him.
"I just figured if it was going around..." He reached for the wine bottle instead.
"I know what you figured, Mark." Illya permitted the manhandling for a minute before pulling away. "Enough. " April laughed and leaned down to Napoleon, kissing his cheek.
"Thanks for sharing."
"Anytime, lovely lady."
"You people need a hobby or possibly professional counseling." Illya refilled his napkin again.
The serious tone of the mood was broken and Napoleon intended to keep it that way. "So how long are you two planning on staying?"
"Overnight, originally, but now that we have local contacts...maybe our arms could be twisted," April said, reseating herself.
"If you're planning to tour the region, Jackson is about a centralized as you can get. You go north and you'll hit Apple Hill and all those wineries. Go south and you'll hit the Calaveras wineries. All are within an hour's drive." Napoleon offered a grape to Illya, but the Russian shook his head.
"No, I'm good, thank you. And if you want a guide, you won't do better than Napoleon. He knows just about everyone up here."
"It sounds fun, but we had a hard time finding a room for even one night," April admitted with a sigh as she resettled I her chair. "Like Bethlehem, the inn is full."
"That's because you don't have the clout. Where are you staying?" Illya asked.
"123 House, located amazingly enough at 123 Main Street," Mark said, grinning. "You Yanks have such imaginative names for places out here." Illya reached behind the couch and pulled the phone over and onto his lap. He thought for a minute and then dialed. "Simone, please, it's Chef."
At April's bemused look, Napoleon explained, "He doesn't use Illya much anymore, just Chef. Only a chosen few still call him Illya." Napoleon kissed a temple and Illya smiled.
"Simone, how are you? I need a favor." Illya switched easily to French as he began negotiations. After a short conversation, he hung up the phone. "When you check in tonight, tell them how long you want to stay. You'll find that a room will be available." He turned his attention to Napoleon. "And you need to keep the 14th open as we will be catering Simone's granddaughter's wedding reception."
"I can't wait for you to spring that on Matt. He's going to eat you up."
"He's going to try."
"Illya, I don't know what to say," April started.
"What the use of being a local name if you can't abuse it once in awhile? " He lifted Napoleon's arm to his shoulder and nestled back into the space. He closed his eyes content to just be for the moment.
"Are we losing you?"
"Mmm, no, I'm awake," Illya said, not moving. "I'm listening."
"Then you'd know that Mark and April left ten minutes ago."
"What?" Illya sat up and grunted. Sure enough they were alone. "Why did you let me fall asleep?"
"Illya, you were exhausted." Napoleon pulled him back down against him, stroking his head. "I kept you from snoring, so that should count for something."
"Help me up stairs and you can fuck me."
"Oh, you romantic fool, sweeping me off my feet with your sweet words," Napoleon said, kissing his neck softly. "I think a full night's sleep will do you moregood."
"You drive a tough bargain."
"You're a tough guy." Napoleon pushed him up and stood. "You head up and if you're still awake when I get there, we'll negotiate." The Russian flopped back down on the couch and sighed.
Napoleon fully expected to find Illya in exactly the same spot when he exited the kitchen ten minutes later, but the living room was empty. He grinned, took another couple of minutes to tidy up the couch and headed upstairs.
Expecting to find his lover down for the count, he stopped at the sight of a naked and very aroused man draped over his side of the bed. He chuckled and Illya's head came up.
"You were saying?"
"That I should remember just how stubborn you are." It took Napoleon only moments to shrug out of his clothes and join Illya on their bed. He lowered his mouth to lick a collarbone as his hand stroked chest hair. His other hand lightly danced its way down to finger even denser coarser pubic hair. Illya jutted up to meet him, but Napoleon played away suddenly, sliding to caress a thigh instead.
"No, if you want this, we are going to play by my rules tonight." He exchanged collar bone for a nipple, listening to the noise he was eliciting from his mate. He relented enough to return to stroking the curly hair around the pubic bone.
He teased, licked and bit until the body beneath him was trembling with need. Only then did he reach for the lube and coat his fingers. Illya watched him through slitted eyes, his breath coming in half gasps, half groans, obviously so ready.
Napoleon lowered his hands, fingers teasing at first, then Illya's head tipped back with a groan as one finger and then two penetrated him. Still, Napoleon wasn't in a hurry, he masturbated Illya making sure that he avoided contact with his prostate.
When he was satisfied that Illya was more than ready, Napoleon coated his penis, pushed Illya's knees back and positioned himself. Slowly, delightfully, he impaled the Russian, who was obviously as enthusiastic as Napoleon was. Napoleon didn't even pause but began an urgent thrusting, not as worried about satisfying his partner's needs as he was his own. Napoleon knew how close he was and reckoned Illya wasn't far behind him. He wrapped a hand around Illya's penis and that was the beginning of the end for both of them. Simultaneous ejaculations weren't all that common between them, but this time, they weren't a hair's breadth apart.
He slid out and settled down beside his still-panting lover. He kissed the neck tenderly, licking at the sweat that had collected there and at the marks he'd left. He grinned at the thought of the comments April was going to make tomorrow. That reminded him... "So did you actually have sex with Mark?"
"He was curious, I was horny, we both got what we wanted."
"Never pegged him as gay."
"He's no more gay than you are. Like I said, he was interested and I obliged." Illya turned so he could kiss Napoleon. "The truth of the matter is that I don't care what you call yourself as long as you remember that there is but one label that fully applies to you." Illya moved down his neck to settle at one particular spot. He sucked and bit until Napoleon was sure the bruising was visible, quite probably from the next state.
"And that label would be?"
"Mine." Illya licked the spot tenderly, striking Napoleon as being obviously pleased with his handiwork.
"Yours." Napoleon smiled, sleepily. "I think I can live with that."
"And what of Mark and April?"
"Let 'em get their own label."
"No, I meant what was decided?"
"Oh, we're going to meet up with them tomorrow about 10:00, 10:30 or so. Thought we'd take them over to Apple Hill and let them run wild over there. Maybe stop by Benson's Farms for some lunch."
"Mmm, apple beer." Illya dragged the sheets up with one foot until he could easily reach them. He twisted over onto his side and Napoleon spooned up against him, draping one hand protectively over Illya's genitals. "Don't worry, Napoleon, they aren't going anywhere I'm not," he said with a chuckle.
"You protect your valuables your way and leave mine to me." He gave his handful a gentle, reassuring squeeze and nuzzled his nose into that blond hair he loved so much. Tomorrow would be another day of defying the odds, bucking the trend and confirming his love for this incredible man. Napoleon smiled and sighed. As far as he was concerned, love was exactly this, no labels, no definitions, just the feeling that they had it right when everyone else had it wrong.