Notes: this is my annual fic in honor of Robert Vaughn's birthday; it's a slice-of-life fic, taking place around Season 4-ish.
Illya paced the apartment he shared with Napoleon as Baba Yaga, the cat, watched him from her vantage point on the cat tree.
"Napoleon's birthday is tomorrow," he fretted. "He is giving a report for a completed mission in Europe as we speak and will be here tomorrow evening—and I still have no idea as to what to present to him."
"Murowr," Baya Yaga stated.
"Da, I know I could merely go to Macy's and get him something from there, braving those crowds… But I am categorically opposed to doing such a thing. It is not a thing I wish to fall prey to, in spite of how it has become the norm in this society. I know Napoleon means well when he buys me expensive presents, but I have made it my personal mission to give him things that do not involve those retail dens!"
Sighing, he sat on the couch and began to page through the newspaper, trying to get ideas, but all he saw were more advertisements for department stores boasting about their wares for the holiday season.
Frustrated, he tossed the paper aside, prompting Baba Yaga to leap from the cat tree and onto the paper, playing with it as it crinkled.
"When did things get so complicated?" Illya wondered aloud. "I remember when I was a child, birthdays consisted of my mother having made me a honey cake, and that was the highlight of the day…" He trailed off. "A honey cake…!"
Napoleon was a man who appreciated fine food; he would, undoubtedly, appreciate an authentic indulgent Russian dessert.
"Mrrup…" the cat commented.
"Yes, I know he views my soufflés with disdain, but that's because he claims I have no idea what I am doing." Illya sighed. "The thing is, he isn't wrong, but it will be a long time before I will ever even consider admitting that to his face."
"It is a matter of pride," Illya insisted. "And yes, I am aware that one does not live on dessert alone. I will order the rest of Napoleon's birthday dinner to be delivered here for us to eat in front of the television. They will be airing Olivier's Hamlet tomorrow night; the timing is truly impeccable."
He didn't mind spending money on food, as long as it was not exorbitant, like the gold-flecked cheeses that he had seen at some of the expensive parties they'd been assigned to supervise—and, in Napoleon's case, he sometimes even got invited to some of these. Illya had never been to one of these by invitation—only by assignment, as no member of the Manhattan upper crust would ever see fit to invite him, though Illya certainly would have had no intentions to go, even if invited. The wasteful spending incensed him—how dare they indulge in such things as consuming gold when, on the streets below, unfortunate souls without a place to stay struggled to find something to eat!?
He shook his head, getting his mind off of it and set about figuring out the menu for the following night, and then started on making the honey cake.
Baba Yaga, who had been watching and commenting on things, now took an active interest as Illya began to put the cake together, repeatedly attempting to stick her face into the bowl of cream that Illya had set aside for the frosting, resulting in Illya repeatedly exiling her from the kitchen—only for the cat to find a way back soon enough.
Somehow, he managed to get the cake done and in the fridge to chill for the night, hiding his amusement as he watched Baba Yaga sit in front of the closed fridge with her tail whipping back and forth in frustration. She made a couple attempts to move the door with her paw, but quickly realized the futility of the effort and left to pursue other important feline activities for the night.
It was after a night's sleep that Illya looked at the cake and wondered… was it really enough? Shouldn't he make an effort to give more for Napoleon's when Napoleon meant so much to him?
He glanced at the Macy's ads in the paper again and could feel himself being beckoned further into the trap.
Baba Yaga let out a clearly judgmental meow.
"Surely it won't hurt to look," Illya defended. "I commit to nothing."
"Mrrrrp…" she dismissed, dragging a cardboard box into a sunbeam and curling up inside of it.
"…Napoleon got you a luxurious cat bed, and you do this…?" He paused, on his way out the door when he glanced back and took a very good look at the cat.
It wasn't as though she hated the cat bed; she used it frequently. But it just happened that she preferred something as simple as a box in the sun.
Napoleon wouldn't dislike something expensive from Macy's—he had plenty of those already, after all. But maybe all Napoleon needed after all was a metaphorical box in the sun, as well.
Nodding to himself, Illya closed the apartment door again, tossing the newspaper to the floor once more. Baba Yaga looked up from inside the box and contemplated going after the paper, but decided against it and curled back up inside her sunny fortress.
He would have to hope that the dinner and movie at home, followed by his Russian honey cake, would be enough.
Illya paused again, going over the menu he had planned the night before. There had to be more than just ordering food; there had to be a way to make it meaningful…
He crumpled up the menu and tossed it into the trash, pacing the room once again. Finally, his gaze fell upon the world atlas that Napoleon kept on his bookshelf.
"…That's it…" he said, as realization sunk in.
Napoleon arrived several hours later, that evening, travel-weary but in good spirits, just as Illya had finished setting up dinner.
"You look rather pleased for someone who had to compose a lengthy mission report," Illya observed, taking his jacket from him.
"Well, it helps that I got complimentary drinks and other amenities on account of it being my special day," Napoleon grinned.
"Ah, but of course," Illya said, with a smile. "Happy Birthday, Napoleon."
"Spacibo, Tovarisch," Napoleon said, returning the smile. "I see you've got a bit of a spread set up for me here."
"Da, I have," Illya agreed, indicating the covered dishes. "Given that you have dedicated your life to traveling around the world to protect it, I thought it appropriate to have a dinner consisting of global cuisine in celebration of you—and what you have accomplished in your time here thus far, courtesy of the finest eateries in the city." He began to lift the lids off of the dishes. "Dolmas to represent your accomplishments in Greece. Naan bread for your adventures in India. Yakisoba to remind you of your many missions in Tokyo. Goulash from Hungary. Moroccan Zaalouk. Italian pasta. Irish salmon. German potato bread. Spanish gazpacho. Ful medames from the Nile. Australian trout. Brazilian cabeça de galo. Mexican chorizo. Louisiana gumbo. And, of course…" He lifted the final dish, revealing two glasses of wine. "Wine from the French vineyards that you helped save."
He gauged Napoleon's reaction—and was pleased to see the grin on his face growing with the reveal of each dish. It wasn't a gourmet meal by any accounts, but it was still an incredibly thoughtful presentation—and Napoleon wouldn't have expected anything less from his partner.
"You have accomplished so much in your first three-and-a-half decades than many can ever hope to accomplish in their lifetimes," Illya continued, handing Napoleon a glass of wine. "Here's to you, Napoleon. Happy Birthday."
"And here's to the partner who made all of these accomplishments possible," Napoleon insisted, meeting his glass with Illya's.
Baba Yaga meowed at that point, eyeing the salmon, and soon, they partook of the filling meal—with Hamlet playing on TV. There were plenty of leftovers, all of which would keep for the next couple of days.
"That was an excellent birthday present, Illya," Napoleon said. "Although… Something seemed to be missing."
"You think so?"
"Well, there was nothing from Russia," he pointed out. "I would have thought you'd have seen to it."
"…Da, well, there is a Russian honey cake for dessert—your birthday cake, as it were…"
Suddenly a lot more self-conscious now, Illya retrieved his finished honey cake from the fridge. Napoleon let out a low whistle, clearly intrigued.
"That looks incredible," he commented. "Did you get that from a specialty bakery, or a Russian tea house?"
"…I made it," Illya said, quietly.
He knew he could make a good honey cake—but the question was whether Napoleon would be willing to trust his baking skills after his less-than-stellar soufflés.
Napoleon's expression didn't betray any emotion as he took the knife and cut a slice of the cake, placing it on a plate. Illya took a slice for himself, but he didn't eat—he watched, nervously, as Napoleon tasted the cake.
"Illya!" he exclaimed.
"This is amazing!"
"…You truly think so?" Illya asked, amazed.
"Yes!" Napoleon said, wolfing down the slice of cake even faster. "I'll probably regret it the next time I weigh myself, but, you know what? It's my birthday, and I'm allowed to indulge in seconds!"
He cut himself a second slice of cake, and as they sat back down on the couch and continued to watch the movie.
Illya was obviously pleased that Napoleon had liked his choice of menu and the significance of each dish—but the biggest victory would forever be Napoleon's approval of Illya's honey cake.
The world was lucky to have Napoleon Solo. And Illya knew that applied even more to him.