Co-authored by georgiamagnolia
Word Count: 2093
Carrot (georgiamagnolia) sent this to me, saying that she'd found it in an old file and had no idea what she was going to do with it and did I want it? Of cousre, I did. First it was a chance to play with my old writing buddy and second it was a challenge.
My thanks to her and to sparky955 for her clean up.
“If I’d known coming late to dinner would get me this I would be late every night.” Napoleon arranged his fork and knife crossed over his clean plate then smiled at his partner next to him. Rocky appeared from nowhere to retrieve the plate and disappeared again, hummed bars of ABBA trailing behind him.
“What did you do, lick the platter clean?”
“I will take that as a vote of confidence for our newest menu additions,” Illya gave Napoleon the barest of smiles but his eyes danced with pleasure at the approval.
“And here is dessert,” Matt sat the confection in front of Napoleon and waited for a reaction.
“It looks amazing, like I shouldn’t disturb its perfection,” Napoleon said even as he raised his spoon to try it. Matt smiled when Napoleon took the first bite and then closed his eyes in pleasure to savor the textures and tastes. “Mmm, the perfect end to a beautiful dinner, I assure you. And I like the way the dessert mimics the appetizer, quite clever.” Napoleon took another bite.
“We started with a mushroom and garlic soufflé topped with a sauce infused with truffle oil, then a miniature Chateaubriand steak and new potatoes with tarragon butter and fresh greens on the side and finally a bitter chocolate soufflé with a splash of vanilla infused raspberry compote.”
“I give my wholehearted approval, if you needed it.”
“We appreciate it. What do you think of the double soufflé? It was my idea but Chef thinks it might be too much.”
“Matt, I vote with you, it’s perfect to bookend this way.” Something tickled the back of Napoleon’s memory, something involving eggs and Illya but he just couldn’t find the right path to that memory. He realized that it must have been something involving his former job and stopped trying to remember, but was a bit sad that he might have lost another memory of his time with Illya before California. “Perhaps he just doesn’t want to make millions of soufflés?”
“But no, he was the best at soufflé when we were in school, has he not said this?”
Illya broke in then, “We don’t often speak of the past, Matt, and I was no better than any of the other students.”
“Not true, you were best at soufflé, our instructor even said…”
“I am sure we don’t need any reviews of our school days, really, and we have a kitchen to finish cleaning if we want out of here before three in the morning. Off we go,” Illya put an arm around Matt’s shoulders and led him to the back of the restaurant. Napoleon finished his dessert in a thoughtful mood.
Later when Illya returned home from his duties at the restaurant he found Napoleon with a glass in his hand staring out the window into the dark night over their backyard. Napoleon turned and even in the dim living room Illya could see the welcoming smile though it was perhaps not as wide as it might have been another night. He was further greeted with a kiss and led upstairs before he could bring up the pensive mood that had settled over Napoleon. Illya did his best to distract his lover from whatever had been the trouble.
Napoleon woke the next morning to the scent of baking bread and fresh coffee. In the kitchen he found Illya up to his elbows in paperwork and produce receipts, coffee rings and crumbs evidence that he had already sampled the wares. Napoleon poured himself a mug and joined his partner at the table, careful not to disturb the sorted stacks of the past week’s business at Taste.
“Busy this afternoon?” Illya did not look up from the list he was consulting as he addressed Napoleon.
“I am sure I can carve out a moment or two for you, partner.” Napoleon didn’t need to mention that his time was entirely open these days having become a gentleman of leisure once he left New York to join Illya in California. Illya was well aware of his dearth of plans.
Later, Illya drove them toward the city but stopped well before any urban sprawl. He led Napoleon into a well-lit cinderblock building.
THIS IS WHERE CARROT ENDED THE STORY AND I PICKED IT UP.
Napoleon climbed out of the car and looked around. “Storage units? This far out of town?” He watched Illya as he took a small cooler from the trunk of the car and grinned at him as he approached. “Don’t tell me you have a secret hideout.”
“Well, not exactly secret.” Illya dug a key from his pocket and unlocked a padlock. ”I got this storage area when I moved from San Francisco. I still had some parts of my past that I didn’t want to share with Matt, for his own safety.” He lifted the roll-down door. The shed was empty except for some folding chairs and a table covered by a sheet of plastic. The air inside was dusty smelling. “Now I use it when I really want to be alone and not be disturbed.”
“All the comforts of nothing.”
“Don’t judge so harshly.” Illya removed the plastic sheet and consigned it to a corner. He pulled out a chair and gestured to it. After a moment, Napoleon sat and Illya grabbed another chair and arranged it in front of the other. As Napoleon watched, Illya opened the cooler and pulled out a bottle of wine and two glasses. From his pocket he withdrew a corkscrew. “If you would do the honors?”
“My pleasure.” Napoleon studied the wine label before opening it. He checked the cork as it slid from the bottle. It was clean and the bouquet of the wine lingered on it.
He poured a small amount, swirled it in the glass, sniffed it and then swirled again, studying the wine as it ran back down into the bowl of the glass. “In wine circles, those are called the legs of the wine, although in Italy, they are called the tears of the wine. How quickly they cling and flow will give you an idea of the sweetness of the wine.” Then he sipped, held the liquid in his mouth and let it play over his tongue. Then and only then, did he swallow, closing his eyes as he did so that he could savor the wine. “Mmm, buttery, with a hint of roses and brown sugar.”
“Really?” Illya held out his glass and Napoleon filled it. He took a drink and made a face.
“Tastes like a chardonnay to me. I wouldn’t cook with it, though.”
“Flavor’s too soft. It might work with something light like a dressing or a dessert, though.”
“Not every wine goes with every dish. The trick is to understand what wine is suitable for what dish.” Napoleon took a bigger sip and nodded. “This would go with a first course, maybe a Caesar or even salmon.” That’s when he noticed that Illya had arranged a tray of cheeses and fruits.
“Nice and while I’m flattered that you have brought me to your secret place, I have a feeling that’s not what this is.”
Illya took a deep breath and nodded. “As usual, you know my mind before I do. Napoleon, when I left UNCLE, I was not deprogrammed. For my own safety, I had to hold on to what was in my head… in case.”
“In case of what?”
“In case THRUSH found me. I needed to have my skills intact in case.” He smiled a little self-depreciatively. “Guess they didn’t look any harder than UNCLE did.”
“Are you kidding? Waverly pulled out every stop he knew of. There was a global search for you. Then the years went by and we both knew that if THRUSH indeed had you, there would be very little of what was you left.”
Illya chewed some cheese slowly. He swallowed and said quietly. “I never would have stopped.”
Napoleon smiled at that and took Illya’s hand, then brought it to his mouth and kissed the fingers. “I never did. Aunt Amy passed and with my inheritance, I was able to retire from UNCLE and continue the search on my own.”
“At the cost of your own memories.”
“It was small enough a price to pay to find you. I thought so, then, and still do now.”
“No, Illya, thank you. You saved me. You might not believe it, but you did and for that I can never repay you.”
“But I can repay you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“UNCLE, Napoleon. My memories, our memories are intact.” He tapped his temple. “I might not be able to answer all your questions, but I know there’s many that I can. Here you can ask and I can speak freely without fear or concern of being overheard. A safe house, if you will.”
“You… you can do that?”
Illya smiled. “If that’s what you want, yes, I can tell you all that I know.”
Napoleon tapped his left shoulder. “I have a scar here.”
“Yes, we had to recruit a former UNCLE agent, Albert Scully, to infiltrate a group of terrorists and he contacted an old girlfriend. It was with her help that we were able to bring them down. You, unfortunately, got shot as we were boarding a bus.”
Napoleon frowned. “Bryn…”
“Watson, yes. She got out of the game and Scully stayed to… keep an eye on things.”
“What about… something about a shilling?”
And so it went for the next two hours. Napoleon asked and Illya answered.
“Angelique, wasn’t it? I remember her hair… it was like a helmet.”
“We used to joke that it was bullet proof.” Illya poured the last of the wine into Napoleon’s glass and checked his watch. “Drink up. I am afraid that I need to get back, Napoleon. The chateaubriand isn’t going to cook itself. What do you think I should pair it with?”
Napoleon didn’t hesitate. “Probably a Cabernet Sauvignon. You want something big and bold with beef. Will it have mushrooms?”
“Yes, I am doing a mushroom mirror and then will dress it with a few, along with some fresh thyme.” Illya collected the glasses, empty platter and bottle, returning them to the cooler. “Hey, I just had a crazy thought.” He stood and folded up his chair. “Grab that sheet for me, will you?”
“What’s that?” Napoleon brought it over and helped Illya recover the table.
“You need something to do and I need a good sommelier. Rocky tries, but he doesn’t like it. He’s always worried that he’ll make a mistake and ruin a bottle because of it.”
“What about the twins? Wouldn’t their feelings be hurt?”
“When have you seen them ever drinking wine?” Illya grabbed the cooler and led the way back to the car. The sun was drifting towards the horizon and the day was starting to lose its bluster.
Napoleon had to laugh as he climbed into the car. Celeste went on record long ago admitting her dislike for it. “That’s true.”
Illya got in beside him and took his hand, gripping it tightly. “Help me build my wine cellar, Napoleon. That is Taste’s weak point. We do all right with the food, but the wine pairing really is our Achilles’ heel. With my ability to cook and your knowledge of wines, we could do okay.”
Napoleon developed an attitude. “Okay? A Solo never settles for okay.” He slapped his knee and nodded. “All right, you have yourself a sommelier, but on two conditions.”
“One, that I get full reins to pick and choose. Two, that I use my own money to build the cellar until I’m sure it’ll work for the restaurant. If it fails, then I haven’t become a burden to Taste.”
“I can live with those conditions.” Illya smiled, leaned over to kiss Napoleon, and then added.
“You know, there is an empty building right beside us.”
“Your point?” Napoleon put on his seatbelt and looked down the road. At this time of the day, it was nearly empty.
“Just putting a bug into your brain.” Illya looked left and right and took off, back up Highway 16.
“There should be a bad joke in that.”
“You’ll have plenty of time to think about it. By the way, you do still have a tux, don’t you?”
“Does a baby go goo?”
Illya laughed as did Napoleon as the sun ducked behind a rolling hill. A new menu, a new sommelier and best, an old love. Life was very good, indeed.