"You could use a haircut."
Illya Kuryakin glanced over his shoulder at his partner and rolled his eyes. He spit out his mouthful of toothpaste and rinsed. "I thought you liked my hair long."
"Not this long, you look like Dorothy Hamill."
"Skater—she won a mess of medals at the Olympics a few years ago." Napoleon Solo ran a hand over his jaw to make sure he hadn't missed any whiskers. "You wear your hair just like hers."
"I was here first; she wears her hair like mine."
"Either case, you need a haircut." Napoleon reached out and pushed it back from Illya's face. "What would you say if a customer found a hair in his or her soup?"
"That there is enough to go around?" Illya wiped his mouth off on a hand towel. "I take precautions in the kitchen, Napoleon."
"That sounds like you're having sex with your cook ware." Napoleon placed the back of his hand to his forehead. "Are you casting me aside, suh? Taking up with that frying pan that has been giving you the eye-ah all week?"
Illya chuckled and kissed Napoleon's cheek. "You really are a blockhead." He turned to go. "And I'm holding out for a sauté pan or nothing."
"Should I swoon?" Napoleon followed him out of the bathroom and went to the closet to puzzle over his choice of clothing for the day. Illya pulled on a white tee shirt and a pair of jogging pants, his usual early morning attire. Later he'd swap the jogging pants out for blue jeans or chef pants, whichever came first. Much would depend upon whether he was needed in the kitchen or not before his shift.
Illya poured out a cup of coffee and pushed it across the table to where Napoleon sat, reading the morning paper. In spite of the fact that Jackson was in the middle of a building boom, there still wasn't much to their local paper. That was fine with Illya—he got as much news as he needed walking through Taste at night. Gossip, upcoming events, businesses coming or going—it all seemed to find their way to his doorstep.
He poured himself a cup and took a swig, smiling as it slid down his throat. A couple of cups and he would be ready to face the day. He pushed his hair up and out of his eyes and sighed.
"I told you it's too long..."
"And I suppose you want me to shave the moustache off as well?"
"Let's not get crazy." Napoleon had gone on an extended wine buying trip and returned to discover that Illya had grown a moustache in his absence. Napoleon's reaction had involved some initial disbelief and some fairly incredible sex.
Illya suppressed a grin and returned to prepping some breakfast for them. "Do you want Eggs Benedict, an omelet, or a quiche?"
"Why make it sound as if you are going to make anything besides oatmeal? I know that's what you're going to cook, no matter what I ask for." Napoleon held his cup out for more coffee. "I hate being responsible."
"You like not having to take high blood pressure medication or a half a dozen other things though." Illya began to heat the water for the oats.
"Yes, but it doesn't mean I have to enjoy it."
"It's oatmeal, Napoleon, not a firing squad. As I recall, you seemed to face that with fewer protests."
"I had a lovely woman to be brave for."
Illya rolled his eyes and poured him more coffee. "I am not even going to dignify that with a response, but you really are pushing—" The phone interrupted him and he frowned. It was their private line. "Kuryakin," he answered after the second ring.
There was nothing for a moment, then. "Chef, this is Winston."
"Is my uncle there... Uncle Napoleon, I mean." Illya frowned and gestured to Napoleon.
"Of course." Illya held the receiver out to his partner. "It's Winston, for you."
Neither of them had heard much from the young man since he and his lover had returned to Vermont. Doug, Napoleon's brother-in-law, had converted Napoleon's boyhood home into a refuge for AIDS patients before succumbing to the illness himself. Winston had gone back to continue his father's work. It had come on the heels of Winston's own long recovery from an attack by a dog pack. Going back to Vermont seemed the way to begin again. While Victor hadn't been especially keen to go, he never wavered in his support and immediately packed up and left.
Illya continued to move around the kitchen, adding the steel cut oats to the boiling water and stirring it down. He tried not to listen, not that there was much to listen to, just Napoleon's single word responses.
Quietly, Napoleon hung up the phone and turned back, watching Illya as he portioned out the oatmeal. "That was odd. Winston asked if we could pick him up from the Sacramento airport in two hours."
"Why is that odd?"
"After you clock as many hours as an agent as we have, you sort of tune in to what people aren't saying as opposed to what they are. He's not saying something very loudly." Napoleon stared down at the bowl and sighed. "Why can't the stuff that's good for you taste better?"
Illya pushed raisins, brown sugar, and nonfat milk towards him. "Here, drown your sorrows. And think about it, Napoleon, if everyone was healthy, what would the doctors do? You better eat up; we'll need to get on the road shortly."
Looking around the small airport, it wasn't hard to see the young man. Over six feet tall and lanky, he tended to stand out in a crowd. He was carrying a knapsack and a suitcase, looking tired and resigned. Napoleon instantly recognized the signs of having spent a day in the air.
"Did we look that bad?" Napoleon referred to their bygone years as UNCLE agents.
"I think we looked worse and I have the scars to prove it." Illya looked around. "I wonder where Victor is."
"From the expression on Winston's face, I'd say not here."
"That would explain much. Ah, he's seen us."
The young man raised a weary hand in greeting and walked over to them, embracing first one and then the other in a loose hug.
"Gosh, Chef, you look like that skater." The scar running down the left side of Winston's face gave it a lopsided expression. Winston glanced from one to the other. "And before you ask, Victor's here," he said as he held up the knapsack. "I promised him that if anything happened, I'd bring him back here."
"What?" Napoleon looked from the knapsack to his nephew's face and back. Realization dawned as Winston pulled a small jar from within. "Oh, Winston, I am so sorry. What happened?"
"If you don't mind, I'm sort of just keeping from losing it right now. Later?"
"Of course." Illya started to walk from the terminal and a moment later, both men fell in step with him. He kept silent as he climbed into the driver's seat and the others chose the back seat.
For a long time, there was nothing said and Illya flicked a concerned look up into the rearview mirror, but Winston appeared to be asleep, his head resting on Napoleon's shoulder, the scarred left side of his face hidden from view.
Napoleon met Illya's gaze and shook his head briefly.
"He was so worried about being old." Winston didn't open his eyes as he spoke, obviously not asleep. "I tried to tell him it didn't matter, but we were surrounded by these younger guys, most of them either dying or with someone who was dying. And that didn't help. All he saw was youth and he was so vain. He started getting really careful about what he ate, even my stuff. He started exercising a lot, more than he should have. He was running miles a day, pumping iron, the like." He paused and took a deep breath. "He went out for a run one morning and never came back. Deer hunters found him a day later... they said it was a heart attack... that it was quick." Winston's voice grew thick. "He died alone in a place he hated, all because of me not being able to face what I am."
"What are you, son?" Napoleon's voice was soft with concern.
"A monster." He began to cry then, deep, gut wrenching sobs and Napoleon just held him, comforting him the best he could. He murmured soft comforting words into Winston's ear.
Illya kept his attention focused on the road, letting the two have as much privacy as could be had in the vehicle.
"I just had to get away from there. I let them buy me out and came home." Winston had gotten his voice back again. "Isn't that weird? I was home and all I could think about was getting back here. It was a mistake to ever leave here. If we'd stayed, everything would have been fine. He didn't want to leave here, he did because it was what I wanted. It was always about what I wanted."
"You know what they say about hindsight being 20/20." Napoleon offered Winston his handkerchief to wipe his eyes.
"I'm sorry to dump this all on you, but I couldn't exactly go to Mom with this. She was happy; she said it was God's will. My heart was breaking and all she could do was quote scripture to me."
"It's not a problem, Winston, you'll always have a place with us, you know that," Illya said from the front seat.
"I know, it's just I can't feel anything. All I want to do is sleep and pretend it never happened. Pretend that he'll come walking through that door with some goofy excuse and everything will be all right again. I'm so tired of being brave and trying to hold everything together. It was as if everyone else could grieve but me."
"I know how you feel," Illya said.
"How could you? Uncle Napoleon isn't dead."
Illya met Napoleon's eyes in the mirror and Illya sighed. "You're right, he's not." After that, there was nothing more to say.
"He's making me insane, Napoleon," Illya muttered, staring up at the ceiling as they lay in bed. "I've tried being the supportive friend, the approachable boss, the willing listener, and he's got me at my wit's end."
Napoleon took his hand and squeezed. "Care to elaborate?"
"Winston." Illya sighed, long and hard. He'd been doing that more than usual these days. "He's lost his drive in the kitchen. He doesn't care anymore. I don't want to fire him, but I'm running out of excuses. Matt and he practically came to blows earlier tonight."
"Matthew? I didn't think he fought with anyone."
"Oh, he fights, he just prefers not to if he can avoid it. He caught Winston plating something wrong and when he corrected it, Winston blew up and Matt went along for the ride. Thankfully, Henry was there and kept them from coming to blows."
"Where were you?"
"I was out front, apologizing to a customer for having served her raw chicken. Apparently, Winston had seared it, but neglected to cook it."
"You don't forget that, not with chicken. I'm not a chef and I know that you need to thoroughly cook it."
Illya let go of Napoleon's hand and reached for his ever present glass of water. "When I called him on it, he just shrugged and said it was no big deal, the customer was oversensitive and if she didn't like it, she could leave."
"Um... probably not the best answer." Napoleon lifted his head and watched as Illya replaced the glass.
"Yes, most assuredly. I told him to take the rest of the night off, but I can't let him back in the kitchen. Not with that attitude. Thankfully, I knew the woman and she understood, but if it had been a reviewer or worse, someone from the Health Department... that would have meant a large fine and possibly the closing of the restaurant. I want to help him, but not if it means putting two dozen people out of work." Illya settled back and smiled as Napoleon settled against him. "I love him like a son, Napoleon, you know that, but I'm done."
"Let me talk to him. What you are describing is classic depression. Perhaps I should give Dr. Hilbert a call."
"Is he still practicing?" Illya reached out to grapple for the light switch.
"No, his son just took over the business and I understand he's supposed to be even better than his father." Napoleon slapped his hand away and turned off the lamp, then resumed his position beside him.
"Hard to believe that. Dr. Hilbert saved me."
"Us." Napoleon reached for Illya's right hand and kissed the scarred palm. "He saved us. I am honestly terrified to think what would have happened if he hadn't been there."
"I hate pushing this off on you."
"Not to worry, partner. It's what we do, it's what we've always done. Now, say good night, Gracie."
"Good night, Gracie."
Napoleon chuckled, kissed the head that rested beside his and willed himself to sleep—tomorrow was soon enough to deal with this. Tonight was theirs.
Napoleon knocked on the door a third time and then tried the knob. It yielded easily to his touch and he frowned. Even though there wasn't much crime in Jackson, it still was common sense to lock your door at night. He looked around the darkened room until he found the bed. There was a lump in it, but it never moved, even when Napoleon came and sat down on the edge of the mattress.
"Winston?" He shook a thin shoulder. "Winston?"
"No, I'm not going away. We need to talk."
The shoulder pulled away from him. "No."
"Yes." Napoleon stood and walked across the room to open the curtains. The sunlight streamed in and he winced at the sight of the room. It didn't appear as if Winston had picked up a piece of clothing or thrown out a piece of paper since his arrival. "This place is a pig sty, Winston. What's gotten into you?"
Napoleon lifted a brown bottle of pills and shook it. It sounded nearly empty. "I don't think that's the case, is it? How many of these did you take?"
"What difference does it make?" The lump shifted again. "I can still feel."
Napoleon blew out a mouthful of air and shook his head. "Okay, this has gone far enough. I know you are in pain, I know you are missing Victor, but what would he say if he saw you like this?"
"Nothing , he's dead."
Napoleon sighed and tried again. "You can't keep going like this. Illya's not letting you back into the kitchen."
"I expected that. Big deal."
"It used to be. I can remember you begging to be let in and a time when you would do anything to wear a Taste jacket."
"Yeah and if I'd spent more time on my relationship and less on my career, maybe Victor would be alive."
"And maybe he wouldn't." Napoleon shifted some clothes from a chair and sat. "Do you know how many times I nearly lost Illya?"
"But you never did."
"Wrong, I did. I made a mistake and he left. I never had any reason to believe I'd ever see him again."
Winston rolled over, his voice a bit stronger, less reedy. "I remember you being a basket case when Grampy died."
"That was the reason."
"But he wasn't dead; you found him."
"I didn't know that he wasn't. Back in those days, we had enemies, not-so-nice people with very long memories. Without UNCLE at his back, the possibility of one of them finding and killing Illya was very real. Every day I went to work and scanned the 'lost agents' report terrified I was going to see his name on it."
"Then you found him and it was happily ever after." He rolled back over. "Leave me alone."
Napoleon repressed the urge to groan and shake some sense into the young man. "I almost died, you know. By my reckoning, I had an hour at the most when he found me."
"Velon—yeah, I read the reports. It was all very tragic."
"No, I meant on that mountain. How Illya carried me down, I have no idea. Then the jungle, I was more dead than alive and somehow Illya managed to find the only hospital that had the anti-venom to treat that snake bite. Then there was that time I got shot... I can remember him pleading with me to not go to sleep, to stay awake just a bit more." Napoleon stood and walked back to the window. "He saved my life a dozen times over, just as I did his."
"That was different. It was your job." Winston retreated back into his cocoon of blankets.
Napoleon stared at the lump for a long time. "That's true and I found love in spite of it, not because of it. And not because I was too afraid by past hurts not to make one last effort. You know where I am when and if you're ready to start acting like a man again."
Napoleon walked down the stairs and turned into Vinea. Even though it was early, there were already people there, wandering through the aisles, lifting this bottle or that. His staff was well trained; they offered help, but they didn't bother the customers. Eager, knowledgeable, but never intrusive.
"Excuse me?" The speaker was a tiny, elfin looking woman. Her age, Napoleon guessed was between eighty and one fifty. "Do you know anything about these wines?"
"I've tasted all of them and I know which ones I would recommend for various occasions."
"Do you have a wine that says, "Happy Birthday -now drop dead, you old coot?"
Napoleon repressed a grin. "Let's see what we can find."
And so much of his morning went, helping first one person and then another with their purchases. One long-time customer brought along his menu and Napoleon guided him course-by-course to what he felt were the best choices for each. This was the part of the job he loved, the helping without being shot at. Definitely beat his days with UNCLE hands down.
The door jingled happily and he was surprised to see Matt standing there, looking slightly odd man out in his chef's coat. A few people recognized him and called out greetings. Matt absently waved back to them, scanning the shop until he found Napoleon.
"Cara, che è le notizie (what is the news)?" Matt looked upward.
"Is there someplace where we could talk?" He glanced around. "In privato?"
Matt let Napoleon lead the way back to the small office. He pulled a chair around for the lanky red-head to sit in and seated himself behind the desk.
"What's on your mind, my friend?"
"Your nephew. All is not as it seems." Matt sat, a bit awkwardly as if extremely uncomfortable.
"He is in mourning, but I think perhaps not for Victor."
"I don't understand."
Matt took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Victor and Rocky had been exchanging letters since his departure from Jackson. They had attended the same college and were friends. Victor was estremamente infelice in Vermont."
"Very unhappy, we all knew that."
"Not with the move. A bit of homesickness, that is to be expected." Matt picked up a pencil and began to fidget with it. "He was becoming unhappy with their relationship."
"He had no connection with cooking; he readily admitted that. Rather than attempting to make Victor a part of it, as Chef did with you and you with him, he felt Winston was purposefully shutting him out."
"What? Why would he do that?"
"If am I to say something from the heart, you would not be angry?"
"Of course not."
"I think Winston no longer likes the person he is. The rest of us, we see past the scars, he doesn't. He won't. Victor believed that Winston was punishing himself and that Victor deserved better. He was taking on outside jobs, teaching at the Culinary Institute, and in short doing everything he could to avoid spending time with Victor. Victor started working out just to fill the hours. He had left his career here and there's not much call for mine inspectors back in Vermont. He helped as he could, but..." Matt let the sentence trail off and set the pencil back down. "You and Chef, you had a life together before this one and then you both managed to make this work for you. Rocky and I, we have a life because of this. I don't know that Winston has found that life yet. I think perhaps he cooks because he sees Illya doing that. For a long time, he has had... um...how do you say.. . Culto di idolo?"
"Si, si." Matt snapped his fingers. "That's it. He saw what Chef had accomplished and he wanted that. What he never saw was what Chef paid for it. I did... no one should have to pay that price, Napoleon."
Matt's use of his Christian name made Napoleon pay closer attention.
"I would agree, but what do we do? Victor is dead and nothing will change that."
There was a deep sigh. "No, cara, he's not."
"What? Then who's... in the jar?"
"I am thinking it is one of the unfortunates from the hospice facility."
Napoleon dry washed his face for a moment. "I don't understand, Matt, and I really, really want to understand." His voice had dropped in register. "Tell me."
"They had a fight, apparently a knock down drag out fight, and Winston said he would be happier if Victor had just left him as opposed to ... um... soffocare—"
"That's it, yes, suffocating him. "
"He was complaining about that before he left. He said that Victor was being overly supportive."
"That's not exactly the words that Winston used, I fear, Cara. He wanted out of the relationship and told Victor the state wasn't big enough for both of them and that one of them had to leave." Matt glanced at the clock and stood. "I think this is something that Victor concocted to give Winston his freedom. Now that he has it, he doesn't want it or perhaps knows not what to do with it."
"We were thinking about contacting Dr. Hilbert."
"That might help, but not just yet, Cara. Winston is like a stew right now, he needs to simmer, to let his feelings concentrate first before he sees a... um... "
"Psychiatrist?" Napoleon suggested with a smile. It still amazed him how much suspicion and bad press psychiatrists got. You said you were seeing one and you were suddenly crazy. Yet it had been the only thing that brought their sanity back from the brink.
"That's it. Give Winston a chance to first decide what is wrong before taking such a step." Matt patted his head, smiling sheepishly when he realized there was no afro there. He'd gone the opposite route from Illya and shaved his head practically to the scalp. He was now sporting a brilliant red cap of short hair. "Chef, he is not allowing Winston back into the kitchen?"
"Ah, I must go then! Before Chef goes." He made a gesture with his hands and Napoleon smiled.
"That would be wise, yes." Napoleon watched Matt leave and settled back in the chair. Part of him wanted to immediately swoop in and take care of Winston's situation. That might do the young man some good or a world of harm. Napoleon didn't know which and he decided that perhaps Matt was right. Perhaps the boy just needed to stew a bit and Napoleon smiled slightly. He knew exactly what he needed.
Illya flopped back on the bed, an expression of mixed emotions on his face. "Don't take this the wrong way, Napoleon, but what's come over you?"
His lover was nuzzling his neck and Illya obligingly tilted his head even as Napoleon's hands were caressing his skin, fingers digging in now and then, as if afraid Illya would attempt to wiggle away at any moment.
"Do I need a reason to make love you?" Napoleon whispered, rubbing his cheek against Illya's.
"Of course not, it's just..." Napoleon's mouth on his made speech impossible and Illya greedily sucked Napoleon's tongue into his mouth even as his pants were being eased down his legs. Long, powerful fingers found his penis and Illya rumbled his pleasure, still not inclined to break the kiss.
"Just what?" Napoleon released his death grip on Illya's lips and began to lick his way down Illya's body.
"What? Were we saying something?" Illya arched as Napoleon found a nipple and then the other, nibbling and sucking. "You're making me... making me..." Illya's ability to speak was rapidly abandoning him. "I... I..."
"You are amazingly articulate today, partner," Napoleon said, his mouth still on the move.
"Less talk, more... uh..." Illya trailed off as Napoleon continued southward, finally reaching Illya's penis and flicking his tongue across the tip. "Uh..."
"Hmmm?" Napoleon smiled at the responding groan from Illya, knowing the vibration was capable of reducing his lover to mere guttural responses. He thought about what Matt had told him and again thanked whatever powers looked over wayward lovers that he'd been permitted a second chance with Illya. More than that, he was determined to let Illya know how happy he was with their relationship.
As they had aged, it had taken the edge of desperation off their lovemaking. Napoleon was still convinced they had sex more than anyone else their age, but that didn't mean he didn't appreciate each and every time he had this opportunity. To have Illya so trusting, so completely open and willing, that was something no one else ever saw or experienced.
For just a moment Napoleon's fingers and tongue shared the head of Illya's penis, just until Napoleon was certain his fingers were slick with saliva and then they slipped down, first to fondle and squeeze Illya's testicles, then to massage his perineum.
Illya's legs splayed wide, shamelessly asking for more and Napoleon, being a considerate lover, didn't refuse. He fingered Illya's anus for a split second before Illya pushed down against it, impaling himself on the finger.
At the groan, Napoleon withdrew it and again Illya pressed downward, eager and desperate. Napoleon was aware of movement in his peripheral vision and a familiar tube came into full view a second later- a wordless plea.
He sat back on his heels while withdrawing his fingers and made a rolling motion. Illya nodded, but not before bending to swallow Napoleon's penis in one movement.
It was almost more than Napoleon could bear, but bear it he did for a full minute before pushing Illya away. "Any more of that and it's game over, partner, and that's not what I want."
Illya gave him a sly grin, dipped in for one last kiss to the head of his dick and flopped over on his stomach, his ass elevated and enticingly close.
Grinning, Napoleon positioned himself and pressed in, just enough so that the head of his penis slipped in. Illya growled and tried to push back, but Napoleon wrapped a hand around his own dick, preventing any further penetration. All the while, his free hand roamed Illya's genitals.
"What are you playing at?" Illya's voice was that of a near stranger's now, thick and slurred, demanding and pleading at the same time.
"Oh, I never play when it comes to sex, partner, you should know that." He withdrew and slipped in again and again it was just a fraction of what he knew Illya wanted. He repeated the action again and again, watching tension bunch in Illya's back muscles, feeling the sweat trickling down his temple, and hearing Illya respond, just Illya—nothing else mattered at that moment.
Then suddenly Napoleon pushed in all the way and Illya was off the bed and gasping. He felt Illya's penis suddenly deflate.
"Just... surprised. Give me a minute."
Napoleon withdrew and began the process all over again, until he felt Illya regain his erection. He pushed in again and Illya's penis stayed rock hard in his grip. "No more surprising you then?"
"I don't think so."
Now Napoleon rocketed home, his attention gradually shifting from that of his partner's needs to his own. The only sounds were the creaking of the bed, the slick noise of skin slapping against skin and their collective voices.
Napoleon arched and held Illya tightly against him, the fingers of one hand gripping so hard that bruises were a foregone conclusion. It was only after his heart started to slow down that he realized his one hand was sticky with Illya's semen.
He pulled out slowly, knowing Illya was likely to be a little sore after that, but heard no complaints from his lover. Illya merely flopped completely flat onto the bed and took a deep breath. Napoleon followed suit, his arm still encircling Illya's waist as he kissed a scarred shoulder.
Bullet wound, he thought without conscious effort. It still surprised him what he did and didn't remember about his days with UNCLE. Some days it was as if their half-forgotten past with UNCLE was just a hair's breadth away, but the moment he thought of it, it was gone.
"Don't think I'm complaining, but I think an explanation is in order." Illya's voice was muffled by the pillow his face was partially buried in.
"Did you ever wish I was gone?"
The question drew an instant reaction from Illya. He was up and around, facing Napoleon in less time than it had taken Napoleon to ask the question.
"No, never, why would you even ask that?" Illya's hands cupped Napoleon's face and he kissed him thoroughly. "Was it something Winston said?"
"Matt. Apparently Rocky and Victor have been pen pals." He pulled Illya down against him and Illya rested his chin against Napoleon's breast bone.
"Correspondents back and forth. Victor said that Winston had kicked him out, told him to leave the state."
"That is certainly contrary to what Winston told us. The urn?" Illya turned his head to settled down more comfortably against his partner.
"The ashes of no one we know." Napoleon started to play with Illya's hair. "Apparently, Victor was taking the path suggested by that one poet, 'If you love something, let it go. If it returns, it was meant to be. If it doesn't, then it wasn't love to begin with,'—a little bit like us, I guess."
"I'm not letting go." Illya's arms tightened.
"I know, Illya. Thank you." He continued to play with the strands of hair, still amazed that so little silver was mixed with the blond.
"Still want me to cut it?" Illya's head was up again.
"Well, maybe just a little." Napoleon ran a finger over the moustache and smiled. "But this I like."
"A lot..." Napoleon tugged him upward for another kiss. "My little Russian bear..."
Fingers suddenly found his rib cage, tickling. "Not so little," Illya chastised as Napoleon struggled to elude him.
"No, there's nothing little about you, partner. My mistake." Only then did Illya acquiesce and stop.
"That's better. What are we going to do about your nephew?"
"Matt suggests letting him simmer for a day or two before making an appointment."
"Sounds reasonable." Illya glanced at his watch and groaned. "And I've got to go." He pressed up for one more kiss. "Don't let my spot get too cold. I'll be back before you know it and then I think a little reciprocity will be in order."
Napoleon grinned and watched as Illya climbed from their bed and hurried to the bathroom, his work clothes in hand. No matter what had happened in their past, it was good to be Napoleon Solo.
Napoleon was staring at the wine rack behind the bar. Most of the wine Taste served was in a special, climate controlled room, but the house wines and the by the glass wines were kept behind the bar. The door to the restaurant banged open and he glanced in that direction.
Winston was standing there, fury making the scars on his face a brilliant red. He saw his uncle and stormed up to him.
Napoleon came around the bar, concern knotting his brow. "Winston, what—?"
Instead of a response, he got a fist, full in the mouth. It had been a long time since anyone had raised a hand to him, although old reflexes kicked in, letting him roll with the punch to keep too much damage from occurring. He caught himself on the bar and held on.
"You bastard!" Winston followed him and Napoleon managed to block the next blow, but not the one after that. Napoleon threw a punch, but pulled it at the last minute. No matter what was going on, he had no desire to hurt his nephew. Winston wasn't as concerned.
Napoleon tried to stay upright, it was the first thing you were taught, but it was getting increasingly difficult. Then he was suddenly abandoned and he leaned on the bar to catch his breath and collect his thoughts. He knew the fight was continuing, he could hear fists meeting flesh, but he just couldn't drum up enough energy to find out what was going on.
Suddenly there were hands on him and he rallied, began to strike out, then he heard Illya's voice.
"Calm down, Napoleon, it's me. What the hell is going on?"
Napoleon turned and glanced over to where Winston was stretched out on the floor. He caught one of Illya's hands, not surprised to see his knuckles bloodied. "I have no idea."
"I think maybe I can answer that." Both men looked to the still open front door of the restaurant. A figure was standing there and Napoleon felt his gut clench. Even after all these years, the old fear still caught him unawares. The figure stepped in further and he heard the collective gasp.
"Victor?" Illya released Napoleon and approached him slowly. "You have five minutes to explain or you will join Winston on the floor. My patience is wearing thin."
"I changed my name to Alasee after my mom and dad separated. I wanted people to see me for me, not for them. I threw away a promising career and went in the opposite direction—anything that made me something that was not their son. It wasn't until later that I realized that that was exactly who I was, and no amount of running could change that."
"And who are you?"
"Now? Dr. Hilbert..."
"Oh my God..." Napoleon trailed off, wiping the blood from the corner of his mouth with his thumb. "I didn't know..."
"None of you did. I came back under the cover of night and took up where Dad left off. I didn't think for a second that Winston would follow me back here." He looked over at the man beginning to stir. "I just wanted him to be happy."
Winston sat up and looked around to get his bearings. In a moment he was back on his feet, moving towards his uncle. "You set me up and in my own place."
Likewise, Illya was also moving, putting himself in Winston's path. "Touch any of them and you will not have the option of getting up a second time."
"You don't scare me."
"I should. You should be very afraid."
"I'm not weak! I know judo." Winston straightened to his full height.
"And I know survival." Illya tossed a concerned look to Napoleon. He talked a good game, but he wasn't an UNCLE agent any more, nor was he a young man. He took Winston down before because he had the element of surprise, then he glanced to either side of him as the rest of his staff came to stand there.
"I thought we were a family!" Winston shouted at Matt, flicking nervous looks at Rand, Henry and Jesus.
"We were, mio amico, until you started beating on il papa." Illya flashed him a glare and Matt shrugged his shoulders. "It's the hair, Cara."
"It's not right! I've worked hard. I learned a new career, built a new life and found a new path." Again he glared at his uncle. "It's not right!"
"No, it's not." Napoleon pushed off the bar and began to set his clothes to rights. "Life isn't fair and it occurs to me that you've been doing a lot of talking lately and very little listening. I think it's time you listened."
"You aren't going to say anything I need to hear. I'm through listening, Napoleon! I'm not your partner!"
"What? You've never been my partner, but you'll always be my nephew." Napoleon was starting to look openly confused.
"Then listen to me," Victor said, taking a step towards him. "There was a time when you used to do that. Remember, we used to talk about everything."
"We never talked!" Winston retreated a step back towards Illya. "You're as dead to me as that guy in the urn."
"You don't mean that."
"I do! I hate you. I hate all of you! How can any of you think you know me? No one knows me!" Winston spun, stumbled, and Illya caught him. Winston's eyes widened, as if seeing Illya for the first time. "Who are you?"
Napoleon didn't even know Victor had a hypo until he was depressing it into Winston's arm. The young man struggled for a minute and then went limp, making Illya grunt with effort to support him. Napoleon was at his side, helping him ease Winston back down onto the floor.
"He'll sleep for a couple of hours now."
"What's wrong with him? He was so..." Napoleon brushed the sandy blond hair from Winston's face.
"Angry?" Victor knelt and pushed Napoleon's hand aside to stroke Winston's face. "It doesn't remind you of anyone else?"
"Well, Illya, in an odd way..." Napoleon stopped then. "You have to be joking, please tell me you are joking?"
"Please tell me what's going on?" Henry muttered, wiping his hands on his stained apron. "I'm getting more and more confused by the moment."
"It's been a long time in coming, but Winston has convinced himself that he's Illya Kuryakin." Victor's voice was soft, but strong, in control.
"He thinks he's Chef?" Rand asked before punching Illya lightly in the shoulder. "No offense, boss, but why?"
"I would agree," Illya said, smirking. "Why would anyone want to be me? There are days that I don't even want to be me." To Napoleon. "Am I really that angry?"
"Not as much these days, but yes, that was classic you until a few years ago." Napoleon rested the same hand on Illya's arm and squeezed gently. "You were that angry."
"Huh, I don't..." Illya frowned. "I... can't remember..."
"That would be some of our UNCLE's handiwork."
Victor glanced around the small room, looking for something. "May I use your phone?"
"Of course. Why?" Napoleon gestured to the wall phone partially hidden in the hall leading to the restrooms.
"I'm going to call for a ride. He needs more help than I can give him on a bar room floor. I need to get him calmed down at the very least." Victor stood slowly and brushed off the seat of his pants. "And I probably used the wrong word; he doesn't think he's Illya, not really. He's just become so used to using that to gauge everything he does or says... well, it's complicated..."
"You're going to commit him." It was a statement, not a question. Napoleon didn't even know who said it.
"He needs more help than I alone can give him. Napoleon, I hate to ask you this, but you're his closest relative at this point. Would you be willing to sign the papers?"
"Will it give me my nephew back?"
"It's certainly our intent, my intent."
"Illya?" He looked at his partner and sighed. "Opinions?"
"He deserves the chance to get well and became the man he's meant to be. I don't think he's going to achieve that by himself."
"All right," Napoleon said with a sigh, "I'll sign. Whatever it takes to make him well." Victor nodded, walked to the phone and started to dial.
It was times like these that Napoleon wished society as a whole was a bit more open towards same sex relationships. Even though most of Jackson knew about them, it didn't mean they wanted to see it. Napoleon and Illya knew that and kept their private life just that—private. Still, to feel Illya's arm around his waist right now would be comforting.
"Are you ready to do this?" Illya asked quietly. There was no reason to keep his voice down, it just seemed more respectful of the other patients, the ones who sprawled, barely conscious, in wheel chairs or sat in a common room, staring, uninterestedly and uncomprehendingly, at the TV.
"I'm just... what if he's no better? What if we've honestly and truly lost him?"
"I don't think Victor would have suggested you visit if he wasn't showing some signs of improving. Would you like me to come in with you?"
"The doc said it would be better if it was just me this time. Sorry."
"Okay, I'll be over there." Illya gestured towards the TV. He winked. "With the rest of the viewing populace."
Napoleon took a deep breath and walked into the private room. It was small, but an attempt had been made to make it seem more comfortable. The walls were a soft blue, and there was furniture, a small table and chair along with the bed. There was a nightstand stacked with books and yet everything was neat. The sole occupant of the room stood, staring out the window.
The head turned slowly. "Uncle Napoleon?"
"One and the same."
"I'm surprised you'd even bother."
"Why wouldn't I bother? You're family, you're my nephew."
"After what I put you... and ... you through? I'm amazed you can even look at me."
"No harm, no foul." He held open his arms. "I used to at least rate a hug back home." The force of the man coming into his arms made him stagger back a step and Napoleon grinned. "There, that's better."
Illya sat trying to take up as small a space as possible. These places always made him slightly uneasy, as if they were suddenly going to decide he was a patient and grab him.
"Illya?" Hearing his name surprised him, so few people called him that any more, just Napoleon. He looked over and saw Victor approaching him. He started to stand, but the doctor waved him back down. "Can we sit? My feet are killing me."
"Of course." It was still hard to think of this man in the role of his old confidante.
"I'm not, you know."
"My father." He stretched his legs out and sighed in pleasure. "I've had a chance to review your file, yours and Napoleon's. Now I can see why you flew off the handle the way you did when we first met. What you two went through was pretty... amazing."
"I have another word for it, but yes, it was a... difficult time." Illya settled back in the chair and stared straight ahead, his face carefully neutral.
"A lesser man would have broken."
"A lesser man wouldn't have Napoleon at his side."
"I can see part of his spirit in Win. And yours, if you can believe that. He's so stubborn, so resistant."
"How is he?"
"Better, at least he is acknowledging things and that's a big first step. Now we just have to find out who Win is."
"And how are you?"
"Surprisingly okay, but I won't say it's been easy. Part of me just wants to love him and tell him it will all be okay in the morning. Another part wants to shake him and tell him to wake up. And a third part of me is completely detached. Thankfully, that's the one that's been doing most of the work."
"What can we do?"
"Exactly what you are doing. Be supportive and available." Victor leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees. "I'm sorry you can't see him right now. He's just starting to put together Illya the man as opposed to Illya the legend."
"How? Why? I never... encouraged any hero worship."
"The easy explanation is that he saw you as so strong and perfect." He paused for Illya's snort. "I didn't say he was sane—he's in here, okay? Anyhow, he saw you as determined and invincible. It didn't go very well when you and Napoleon visited and openly admitted your relationship, I take it? "
"Understatement of the year. Doug was angry, Josephine was defensive, but approachable at that point. When Doug came out, she went around the bend, turning to her religion as the stable force in her life."
"She doesn't approve of you or your relationship with her brother."
"No, but she has always acknowledged the connection between us."
"The more he got stressed, the more dependent he became upon you for strength. For example, when he came out."
"You're saying he's gay because of me?"
"No, I said he acknowledged it because of you. You gave him the courage to admit it and he thought if you could handle it, he could. When he couldn't, he became a little more like you or as he saw you, if you will, to gain some strength. He used you as a defense mechanism. It gave him courage to do things and he came to rely upon it for other things. If it worked for you, it would work for him. That's why he decided upon cooking as a career."
"He is very good at cooking."
"But not ever as good as you." Victor gave him a sidelong glance. "You see, it wasn't enough that everyone on the farm loved his cooking, he wanted a restaurant, a popular one, like Taste. He wanted the fawning clientele, the fame, the attention—"
"—That's not why I cook."
"I know that, but he wanted the acceptance, the popularity, especially after the accident. However, when you have close connections with a hospice center for AIDS, a black cloud follows you. Most people didn't want him even eating in a restaurant with them, much less having him cook for them. It didn't matter that they couldn't contract anything from him, it was just the thought. He was a pariah."
"People are fools."
"Yes, I won't argue you that point." Victor sighed and glanced over at one of the people pushing puzzle pieces around on a card table. "I figured he wanted out of the relationship because he was scared of becoming too dependent upon me. He wanted to be strong and he saw dependence as a weakness."
"Why fake your own death?"
"I didn't. I told Win that if freedom was what he wanted, he could have it. Broke my heart, but he didn't need to know that. I was willing to give him this last gift. I moved into Burlington and finished up my psychologist's degree. I moved back to Sutter Creek and took over Dad's practice a few months ago. Not even Rocky knew I was back, just in case Winston wrote something to him. I just wanted him to think of my as completely gone. But it wasn't enough for him, so he killed me, figuratively. When that wasn't enough, he came back here." He chuckled. "No one was more surprised than I was when he walked into my office."
"Surely you recognized his name."
"It has taught me to pay more attention to my receptionist, that's for sure."
Illya sighed and tipped his head back to stare up at the stained ceiling tiles. "Helluva world we live in, isn't it?"
"Considering what we make of it, yes."
"What about you two? Do you have a future? Do you even want one?"
"I don't know. It's usually frowned upon to date one of your patients, but we sort of have a pre-existing relationship. I'm just not sure right now. I'm willing if he is, but right now there's just too much in his head to sort through. Once we get who Win is squared away, then we'll see." He smiled. "I still really love him, you see."
"You really are, you know—your father." Illya smiled slightly. "I can hear him, even see his compassion and determination in you now."
"A few years ago, I would have thrown a punch for that comment, but now I thank you." He looked over. "Napoleon's coming. And he looks like he could use a friend."
Both men stood as Napoleon approached. He raised a hand in a half hearted attempt at a wave and immediately Illya was by his side.
"It's odd... one minute, he's fine and then suddenly it's like he's channeling you."
"That's why I asked that Illya not see him right now. Win's still not sure where he ends and Chef begins." Victor gestured towards the hall. "We can talk in my office if you'd like."
"I think I'd rather just go home, if it's all the same, Doc."
"Okay, you know how to get hold of me if you need to."
The car ride home was quiet and it wasn't until they had pulled up in front of the garage that Napoleon sighed, long and deeply.
"It's a sorry state of affairs, old friend. It makes me glad I'm not a father."
"Why do you say that?"
"Look at the mess I made of a nephew. Just think what I would have done with a son or daughter."
"What happened to Winston is not your fault, Napoleon."
"I know that, but I can't help wondering, did I miss something, some cry for help, talked when I should have listened."
"You have to let Winston take responsibility for his own actions. You are no more responsible for what happened to him than you are for what happened with Velon. It simply is as it is."
"When did you become a philosopher?"
"Me? No, I'm a cook."
"I prefer lucky man." Illya leaned over and kissed him. "Winston is in good hands. Victor has him, just as I've always had you. "
"Thank you for that." A moment passed and Napoleon didn't move. "Illya, they say insanity is hereditary, what if I were to become someone else?"
"You already have."
"What do you mean?"
"You used to be Napoleon Solo. Now you're Mrs. Illya Kuryakin."
"What? No, you—" Napoleon started to bluster.
"Are not the wife..." Illya grinned, happy that he'd shaken Napoleon from his funk. "Let's go inside. If you're really good, I'll let you bring me my slippers and pipe."
"You don't want to know where I would stuff them."
Now Illya laughed. "You and whose army?"
"Me, myself and I." He moved back to take Illya in an embrace, uncaring of who might be watching and what they would say. Right now it was just them, and to Napoleon's mind, that was all that mattered.