"It's just not fair."
"Life seldom is—and the afterlife is certainly no exception."
"But even He has to admit, they have suffered long enough; we should be allowed to step in."
"And, thankfully, we aren't them."
"Hadraniel, you of all, should see the wrongness of this."
"You want me to tell God he's wrong?" A long low laugh followed. "Oh, I can see that ending well."
"But you're responsible for eternal love. Look at those two. It's not fair."
"Micah, you have the soul of a poet."
"No, that's more Ecanus's line, not mine. I'm not saying we should interfere, just make it a little easier."
Hadraniel sighed. "You know I cannot refuse you anything. Very well, I will petition again on your behalf."
Napoleon Solo unlocked the door to Aunt Amy's penthouse and stepped inside. Even now, after all these years, he still thought of it as her home, not his. He didn't have a home, not anymore. He dropped the keys on the hall table and walked across the marble floor to the wet bar and reached for a partially empty bottle of scotch.
He was drinking too much these days, he knew that and his doctor confirmed it. His doctor could tell him what was wrong, but he couldn't offer a solution. He poured a generous amount of amber liquid into a glass and carried it to the leather sofa.
He slipped off his Italian loafers, John Lobb to be precise, and sank back into the butter soft leather. Sipping the scotch, he thought back upon the day, one of disappointment and loneliness. Oh, he'd made a killing on the stock market today, boosted his personal wealth considerably, yet it did nothing to bring any sense of peace or accomplishment. Nothing that brought him any closer to finding his partner.
Napoleon leaned back and closed his eyes. He'd learned quickly just how few real friends he had when he inherited Aunt Amy's fortune. Sycophants, gold diggers, ex-friends, and strangers, you name it and they all found their way to his door, pleading, flattering, threatening, in an attempt for a sliver of his wealth. Napoleon knew how to defend himself and he did it admirably. He discovered when you had as much money as he now had, you could accomplish great things. Except find the one thing he wanted most of all.
He sighed and took another drink, remembering Illya's grin, his sly sense of humor, the feeling of his hands, strong and capable, as they held him... his taste, his passion. Napoleon wasn't even aware he had thrown the glass until the sound of it shattering against the wall roused him from his despair.
Amy's money had allowed him to leave UNCLE, even though Waverly voiced great disappointment in his decision. At the time, nothing mattered except to find Illya. Napoleon hired the best detectives he could find and set them on the trail. He'd anticipated it might take as long as a month, then two, then six and before he knew it, a year had passed and then another. And every report had been the same—Illya Kuryakin had, quite seemingly, vanished from the surface of the planet. Still, he kept searching, following up lead after lead, disappointment squashing each momentary flare of hope.
God, I'm so tired, please... just let me know he's okay, Napoleon thought, wearily rising to his feet for a replacement glass. Barring that, just let me sleep tonight and not dream. He was so weary of closing his eyes and seeing Illya's face, the betrayal, the anguish in it, again and again.
"All right, he's relented just a bit."
"One thing, you can offer him one hint. If he chooses not to react, there will be no further attempts. Those are his conditions. Take it or leave it."
"He drives a hard deal."
"He is God, after all."
"One hint, huh?"
"And, Micah, make it a good one."
He started to walk back to the sofa and nudged the coffee table. The action knocked the paper off and it fell, scattering as it did. Napoleon sighed and reached for it. Glancing down, his eye caught something.
Dear Travel Editor:
I have just returned from a trip to the Sierra Foothills and wanted to share with you this jewel of a discovery. In the small community of Jackson, California, we found an absolutely fabulous little restaurant. It's owned and operated by a man simply known to the community as Chef; I'm not even sure he has another name. The meal was a fabulous adventure of the most innovative and imaginative dishes. When introduced to the slender, blond Russian, I offered my congratulations upon being aware his fourth Michelin star and my willingness to share his triumph when I returned to New York City. He grew sad and wistful when I mentioned our great city, saying that he'd spent many years there before coming west. I strongly urge anyone who wants a true culinary experience to try Taste. You'll not regret the trip, Napoleon.
Napoleon blinked and read the last sentence again. "You'll not regret the trip, New York." With a trembling hand, he reached for the phone and dialed a number.
"This is Mr. Solo, would you see that my car is gassed and brought around? Thank you." He hung up and then immediately dialed another number. "Miss Hampton, get me my travel agent. I don't care that it's the middle of the night and neither will he when I'm done. Just do as I ask, please."
It took him just a few minutes to throw last minute items into his suitcase. It had stood ready to go for years now. He unpacked and repacked it with each passing season, always praying that this would be the spring, summer, winter or fall that led him to Illya.
"It has to be him," Napoleon muttered to his reflection as he smoothed his hair and headed out the door.
He'd planned to fly, but, at the last minute, decided to drive. He wasn't sure why, except that it gave him both time to collect his thoughts as well as to formulate a game plan. He both dreaded and celebrated as he pulled into the parking lot of the small restaurant.
The letter writer hadn't been lying when she said it was the jewel of this town. The main street was barely three blocks long; it was about as far off the beaten path as you could get.
And just the sort of place no one would ever think to look for a ex-pat Russian, Napoleon thought as he rest his hand on the enlarged fork that made up the door knob. Opposite it was an equally large knife.
Napoleon drew a deep breath, squared his shoulders and pushed open the restaurant's front door. Almost immediately, a woman, close to his age, was there, inquiring as to a reservation and guiding him to a table.
Once he was seated, a young man was at his side, draping a linen napkin over his lap, offering him a warm welcome and a warmer smile. There was something about the man that appealed to Napoleon's sense of security, as if this man would make sure that everything about the evening would be perfect.
"I'm Rocky, welcome to Taste. Is this your first time with us?"
Napoleon drew a deep breath and said the sentence he'd been practicing since he hit Kansas. "Yes, it is. I read about the restaurant back in New York and decided to try it out."
"Long drive for a good meal, but I can assure you, I will do my best to make the journey worth your effort."
"Can you tell me, your chef's name, is it Illya Kuryakin?" All time stopped then.
"Yes ,it is, but we just call him Chef. It's easier to pronounce." The waiter winked and then Napoleon felt a hand on his arm. "Are you okay, sir? You look a little flushed."
Napoleon offered him a smile, the first one he meant in a long time. "Believe me when I say, I couldn't be more fine. What do you recommend tonight?"
"Well, you really can't go wrong with the Grenadine veal."
"Excellent, and the oysters to start... and the St. Jean please."
"Of course, sir."
Napoleon nursed his brandy and stared at the kitchen doors. The restaurant was busy and he really should surrender his table. He'd sent his compliments back to the chef, to Illya, and waited. Either Illya was too busy, reluctant, or just not interested. As much as he didn't care for the last choice, Napoleon had to know. He swallowed that last bit of brandy and stood, brushing the wrinkles from his pants.
Stepping into the kitchen was like stepping into another world. People were racing back and forth, but they all stopped when they saw him, watching him slowly approach a white coated blond at the stove as he talked with a tall red haired man. Napoleon felt his jealous flare at how close the two were standing.
"No, I can't...Matt, you go. It's your menu tonight—I'm just cooking the stuff. I'm busy here."
It took a moment for Napoleon to find his own tongue. He'd never thought he'd ever hear that particular voice again, only dreamt it.
"If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I'd be a wealthy man." He nearly gasped when Illya turned. All those years and the man looked nearly the same as when he'd walked from their apartment. His hair was a little longer and darker blond, but he was still reed thin and his face unlined.
Damn Russian really did have a portrait hidden away in his closet. The years hadn't been quite as kind to Napoleon, but he didn't care, not now.
"Napoleon."—The voice was even, just as he'd remembered it.
"The first time you see me in God knows how many years and that's all you can say?"
"With a kitchen full of staff, it was the safest thing I could come up with and probably the cleanest. You shouldn't be back here. It isn't safe."
"And when has that ever stopped me? I thought maybe we could talk...or something."
Micah smiled as Illya grabbed Napoleon's hand, dragged him into his house and claimed what Lilith and Azrael had stolen from him years earlier. He laughed as the two made love again and again. But after all, what else could you expect? God didn't make mistakes.