Hot Tropic Nights

by Spikesgirl58


The three friends `clinked' their glasses together and Napoleon laughed a little as the champagne splashed over the edge. He hurried his glass to his mouth and sipped the alcohol carefully. He had discovered the hard way that the bubbles were indeed evil and loved to tickle his nose.

"How does it feel to be wealthy, girlfriend?" Maizie was his closest and dearest female friend.

"I'm not wealthy," Napoleon protested. He set his glass down carefully on a coaster and crossed his legs. Out of habit, he smoothed down the linen fabric of his pants.

"I would argue that." Vic was his publisher and he would know. "The sales figures are in from your latest book and, Napoleon, sweetie, you are wealthy. " He poured himself more of the Taitinger Comtes de champagne. "From now on, you can afford the best."

"But only as long as my books continue to sell."

"I think you are okay for a while." Vic exchanged a sly glance with Maizie and Napoleon caught it.

"Okay, what are you two up to?"

"What makes you think we are up to anything?" Maizie was all innocence and Napoleon shook his head and grinned.

"When you flutter those baby blues like that, Maizie, I know you are brewing up some trouble." Napoleon looked over at his desk and wished his friends would leave so he could write.

The desk was cluttered with his life, his only life, really. Notebooks were piled to one side of his trusty IBM Selectric. Without meaning to, he got up and walked to his desk. Right next to his typewriter was a small ceramic tchotchke, a tiny thatched hut on stilts. It was the only thing of his mother's he'd kept. He didn't even know where she'd gotten it. He'd fallen in love with it as a child. He'd pick it up and try to imagine what it would be like to climb those steps and sleep under a roof of thatched coconut fronds.

Napoleon started when he felt two thin arms encircle his waist and he looked back at Maizie as she rested her chin on his shoulder.

"Go there," she murmured. "You've been dreaming of it for as long as I can remember. Go and find your little grass shack, Napoleon. You've earned it."

"It's Tahitian, Maizie, not Hawaiian." He set it carefully back down, rubbing invisible dust from the green thatched roof.

"What's the difference?"

"A few thousand miles, for one thing." He wiggled out of her embrace. "And it is not some place you can just go to. It's exotic and almost unreachable... I'd be afraid to even try without someone there to show me the ropes. Maybe you could come."

"New job, girlfriend, and zip vacation."

"You wanna bet?" Vic was on the other side of him. "If you have the money, you can make anything happen, Napoleon."

"It's a nice thought, Vic, but..."

"But nothing, Napoleon. You hole yourself up in this apartment all day and night."

"No, I don't."

Maizie interrupted. "Napoleon, sweetheart, I live next door. I hear you typing when I go to work in the morning. I hear you when I get home at night. I hear you when I get home from my date. You never leave this apartment."

"Yes, I do. I go grocery shopping every Wednesday night."

"Big whoop." Mazie twirled a finger in the air.

"I like it here and I get a lot done."

"Except living life, Napoleon." Vic gestured to the book case, nearly one entire shelf filled with Napoleon's novels. "You write about the world, Napoleon , but you live in only nine hundred square feet of it. You need to get a life, Napoleon."

"I have a life! I have my books and my papers. I don't need anything else," Napoleon protested.

"Yes, girlfriend, you do." Mazie kissed him on the end of his nose. "There's a big beautiful world out there. Go out and taste it. Maybe you'll find a nice Jewish boy to bring home."

"I don't want a nice Jewish boy."

"Okay, a naughty Jewish boy, then," she amended, laughing. "The point is that you need to get out of here and enjoy some of the fruits of your labors."

"How about I think on it?" Napoleon knew there was no way he could win this argument, but at least he could get a stay of execution.

"Good enough, but really think about it, Napoleon."

Napoleon stepped from the small plane and took a deep breath. Even at nearly midnight, the air was hot, humid, and lush with strange new smells. Sweat started to prickle along his spine and he loosened his tie a bit as a trade wind blew across his face, its touch sweet and tender.

When Vic had handed him the plane ticket, Napoleon had very nearly torn it up. However, Vic was his boss, sort of, and Napoleon had been raised better than that.

He'd taken the ticket home and stared at it for a long time. He could hear his mother's voice in his ear.

No good ever comes from wandering from home, Napoleon. Be a good boy and stay close. Momma loves it when you stay safe. Momma doesn't have to hurt people when you're safe.

But, Momma, he thought. I've been playing it safe for thirty years. I'm so lonely, Momma. I just want someone to love.

Boys like you can't have someone to love, Napoleon. You're defective. The only one who will ever love you is me. You need to remember that, Napoleon. You are no good for anyone, except me.

Napoleon shook his head hard at that. No, not anymore. He'd been the dutiful son, always putting her and her interests first. He didn't date, he didn't hang out with his friends, not that he had any back then. He'd gone to college and taken the classes she selected for him. He studied hard to make her proud and graduated at the top of his class. A month later, she was dead and he was lost.

Lost until Maizie took him under her wing. He'd done some typing for her in college and when her firm needed a typist, she got him the job. The other women liked him because he didn't bother them that way. They could talk to him and he would listen. Women loved him; he just didn't much care for them.

Napoleon remembered the first time he realized there was something a little different about him. He didn't care much for girls, but he certainly enjoyed looking at the boys. It wasn't until later he realized there was a name for people like him and it wasn't a name you said out loud or in polite company.

However, Maizie didn't care. In fact, she helped Napoleon come out of the closet... not that he strayed very far from it. He tried dating, but his only attempt ended badly and it was all he could do to look at himself in the mirror for a long time after that.

One night, Maizie had brought over some Chinese food and saw one of his manuscripts. Napoleon lacked the confidence to actually mail it, but he still felt proud that he'd finished something. She started reading and asked if she could take it home and read the rest of it. Napoleon was flattered and said yes. The next thing Napoleon knew, he was sitting in Vic's office and the man was offering him a contract.

The rest was history, if only because Maizie and Vic took care of him. It would be very poor form to repay their latest kindness with anything less than gratitude. So, he'd packed, far too many bags, of course, but he didn't want to be caught short. He climbed onto the plane and here is he was in Tahiti... incredible.

A heavy-set woman came up to him and draped a fragrant tiare lei around his neck.

"Ia Ora na !" She smiled. Her face was so warm and kind that Napoleon couldn't help but smile back.

"What's Tahitian for thank you?"

"Maururu," she said slowly and Napoleon repeated it carefully.

"It's beautiful." He brought the strand to his nose and inhaled again. "Maururu."

"Welcome to our island." She gestured towards a beckoning door where a group of men played instruments and women danced. Napoleon didn't know where they got the energy in this heat, but they smiled and waved to him. Napoleon waved back.

He got up to Customs and handed over his passport. The woman inside studied it, frowned and then looked back at him.

"No! You are not."

"I am not what?" Napoleon felt a jolt of panic kick his stomach or one of those organs down there.

"You are not the Napoleon Solo."

"Yes." He took a deep breath. "Yes, I am."

"Your book picture doesn't do you justice. You are much more handsome in person."

He grinned widely, blushing just a little, and said, "Maururu."

"And already picking up the local language?" For some reason, she made Napoleon feel very cerebral. "Are you here to research a new book? It must be so wonderful to travel the world like you do and write about what you see."

"Yes." Napoleon didn't correct her. The cover story was that he was indeed a globetrotter, but in reality this had been his first time on a plane.

She stamped his passport and then pushed a piece of paper towards him. "Would it be...?"

"A pleasure." He glanced at her name tag and carefully wrote it down and signed it with a flourish.

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Solo." She gestured around the corner with an open hand. "If you go through there, you will see baggage claim."

Napoleon tucked his passport away and started walking. Already he could hear the buzz behind him as she excitedly spread the word among her co-workers. It felt odd that anyone would find him the least bit interesting.

He turned the corner and glanced over at a group of slightly frightening looking men who were stationed by the front exit. One was arguing loudly in French with another, and Napoleon hoped he'd be gone before it was time to leave. The man looked like trouble from the top of his dirty blond uncombed hair to the tip of his scruffy shoes.

When the loudspeaker blared to life, Illya Kuryakin only half listened to it. He was busy arguing with Arava, a friend of his. They had a bet going over a local football game, and Illya was certain the local team was going to smear the field with the team visiting from Huahine.

"Vous êtes fou (You're crazy)!" Arava was waving his hands in the air as was his style.

Non (No, I'm not)." Illya poked him with a stiff forefinger. "Tu n'as pas de chance (you are unlucky)! Tu es toujours du côté des perdants (You always back the losers)."

"Here dey come." Heiva nodded as the first passengers started to hit Customs "What dat fella look like?" Heiva's English was pidgin at best.

"According to what I was told, he's dark haired, slender—"

"Sounds like you kinda fella."

Illya snorted. "Right. That's exactly why I took this job. Like I don't get enough of that already."

"Lui." Arava pointed to a tall, thin man.

"No, too tall." A woman joined the man and grabbed his arm, pointing. "And too married. Our guy is about 5'10" and... there he is." There was a man at Customs and the clerk was making a big deal out of it, asking for his autograph. "There's our fella."

The man was wearing a suit and looked very unsure of his next step. He seemed flattered that the woman had recognized him, but also very anxious.

"Heiva, you get a luggage cart."

"I'll get my car," Arava said, in perfect English.

"Thanks for lending it to me. Mine's in the shop."

"More like hock." Arava walked away and Illya took a deep breath. Heiva was right, though. The man was exactly Illya's type. He could tell from the way the man walked that though he might look scared, but he was able to handle himself. He was aware of his surroundings and that told Illya he was a man used to watching out for himself. Yet Illya was told that this Solo guy was afraid of his own shadow and completely in awe. This was going to be more interesting than Illya could have hoped for.

Napoleon waited patiently as his luggage made its way to him. He had just retrieved his third bag when he turned around and that man was standing there.

From a distance he looked dirty, but, standing directly in front of him, Napoleon could tell he wasn't dirty, at least not in the typical sense of the word. His blond hair was long and wind tossed and he needed a shave, but it was the man's eyes which caught Napoleon's attention. They were so blue Napoleon almost forgot to breathe.

"Wha...?" Napoleon cleared his throat and held his suitcase before him like a shield. "What do you want? I don't have any money." He looked around for a policeman or anyone of authority that would route this troublemaker.

"I heard different. I was told to look for someone who appeared uncomfortable and a..." The blue eyes squinted for a moment in concentration. "A nervous Nellie and you, mon ami, look like you're about to piss your pants, so I'm guessing you're Napoleon Solo."

"I'm not nervous!" Napoleon snapped and the man laughed. Despite his irritation, Napoleon liked the sound.

"Whatever you say. I'm Illya Kuryakin and your employer hired me to be your handler."

"My what?" Napoleon released his grip on his suitcase and let it drop just a little.

"Guide, pilot, interpreter, bodyguard, whatever. Your employer thought you could use someone's help."

"He thought wrong. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself."

"Parlez-vous français ?" Kuryakin leaned a little closer. "Ua ite oe i te parau Marite?"

"What? What did you say?" Napoleon renewed his grip on his case.

"I asked if you speak French or Tahitian. Very few people speak English here."

"Everyone I've met here so far has spoken very good English."

"We're at the friggin' airport. If you can't speak English, you don't work here. Out there, it's very different. Do you have any CFP?"

"Is that a customs form? I filled out one on the plane."

"It means French Pacific Franc? Not too many places here will take American money."

"Oh, yes, you mean this?" Napoleon pulled a whole wad of brightly colored bills from his pocket and Kuryakin immediately covered the hand and money with a baseball size hand of his own.

"Keep that out of sight, Solo, or you'll attract the wrong kind of attention."

"What do you mean?"

"That's more than some of these people see in a year."

"People like you, you mean?" There was no mistaking the condition of Kuryakin's clothes. They were practically white from numerous washings and all showed wear.

"Yeah, something like that." Kuryakin looked at the pile of bags. "All of those are yours?"

"Almost, I'm still missing a small black bag. Ah, there it is." Napoleon pointed as it was deposited onto the floor. The airport was too small to have a luggage belt.

"How long are you staying?"

"Two weeks."

"I live here and I don't have this much shi... stuff." Kuryakin followed Solo's point. "Which one is it?"

"The small black one over there off to the left. It latches on the side. It's right there."

Kuryakin nodded and whistled sharply. The man Kuryakin had been arguing with appeared, pushing a rusting luggage trolley, and he started loading the suitcases.

The blond walked over to the suitcases and grabbed the case Solo had pointed to. Carrying it, he grabbed Napoleon's elbow and pulled him through the `nothing to declare' line.

Out of the airport, Napoleon was again amazed at the heat. "Is it always this hot here?" He began to fan himself as Kuryakin opened up the door to a small sedan.

"I guess." Kuryakin tossed the small black case into the backseat of the car and then turned to help his partner load the rest of Napoleon's luggage. " Everything stays the same for the most part. Either it's raining or it isn't."

Napoleon hesitated and then climbed into the car. It was clean and in fairly good repair. There were a variety of tags hanging from the mirror, most of them in French.

Kuryakin climbed in and slammed the door. Almost as if on cue, it started to rain.

"Welcome to Tahiti." Kuryakin put the car in gear and they were off.

It took Napoleon a full minute to remember he was not in his own cozy bed in Manhattan. He blinked his eyes open and smiled sleepily. The room was not all that much different from those he'd stayed in during some of his book tours. It was clean but with a splash of vibrant colors that told him he wasn't in Dubuque, Chicago, or Miami. It wasn't his little grass shack, but it was definitely not the Holiday Inns. There was a Gauguin on the wall and Napoleon wondered about the subject.

When you posed for this painting, ma'am, did you have any idea your visage would one day show up in hotel rooms? Then he grinned. There was a nutshell of a story idea there. He sat up and looked about for his ever-present pad of paper. That's when he remembered last night.

They'd driven through pouring rain to the hotel and he'd checked in while Kuryakin had unloaded their luggage.

"Reservation for Solo?"

"Mais oui." The clerk was wearing a brightly colored dress and wearing flowers. Her smile was wide and unaffected. It looked as if she simply enjoyed smiling. Napoleon decided that things would be a lot friendlier back in New York if more desk clerks dressed like this. "I have your reservation here. Two adjoining rooms--"

"Two rooms? But I--"

"The other room is for me," Kuryakin interrupted as he approached pushing a luggage cart. "Your boss told me to stick close to you, just in case, but if two rooms are an issue, we can always share."

Napoleon's cheek blossomed with a blush and he ducked his head so that no one could see. "No, two is fine."

He hated waking up on dry land. Everything was just so still. Illya sat up and glanced at his wristwatch. Nine a.m. He wondered if anyone was up next door. It was always hard to tell with tourists. Either they were lethargic this first day or they wanted to see and do everything. He could tell which one Solo would be.

Illya climbed from bed and headed for the bathroom, choosing to save time by shaving while he showered. He came out and opened the connecting door. Solo's side was still closed and there wasn't a whisper of sound from the room.

Illya's stomach gurgled and he patted it. It was time for sustenance and he knew right where to find it.

He pulled on his shorts, a halfway unwrinkled shirt from his duffel bag, and a pair of thongs. Running a hand through his hair, he grabbed his keys and wallet and headed for a nearby strip mall.

Illya walked into the chaos that was Patachoux in the morning. People were yelling in French and Tahitian and an occasional tourist was trying his best to be heard. Illya took pity on a couple of them before turning in his own order.

A half hour later, he wandered out with six still-warm-from-the-oven croissants. Next stop was the hotel restaurant. He got a selection of honey and jam from their buffet, a large coffee for Solo and a tea for himself.

"How is your guest this morning?" The hotel manager stopped Illya in midstride.

"He hasn't surfaced yet."

"What do you make of him?"

"A little insecure and unsure of what's going on, but a nice enough guy. I think he could be fun if he could relax a little. Why? Is there a problem?"

"You know how some of these Big Name people are. Apparently word has gotten out and there are some unpaid visitors on the property."

"Already?" Illya sighed. "I was hoping we'd get a couple of days here before things got around. Carrie was pretty excited last night, though. I guess we'll be moving sooner than I thought. I'll make the arrangements for tomorrow."

"Where to?"

"Kia Ora."

"Of course."

"Well, it really needs the business right now and it should be enough out of the limelight that Solo can get some rest. His editor seemed to think he was badly in need of that right now."

"Just let us know where you're ready to make the move and we'll do the rest."

"Merci, Jean." Illya headed to the elevator.

Napoleon looked over at the door and smiled. He was glad Kuryakin was close at hand, but he really didn't know why. Movement outside his patio window caught his attention and the shadow of a person danced across it.

For a moment, Napoleon froze. He remembered his mugging all too well. He'd never seen them coming and he had vowed from the moment he woke up in the hospital bed that no one would ever have that advantage again. He'd taken martial arts classes and kept his belt current. He knew how to use his hands and not just for typing.

He sighed and shook his head, regaining control over his nerves. It was probably a gardener or, worse, a fan. The door was locked so, short of breaking the glass, he was safe.

The shadow moved away and Napoleon turned on the radio. It took him a moment to find a station whose music he liked. Once he did, he turned it up a little so he could hear it in the bathroom.

He showered, shaved, and finally felt a little human again, even if he didn't really look it. His eyes were still bloodshot and he felt fuzzy.

This must be what jetlag is like, he thought as he came back out into the main portion of the hotel room. A knock on the connecting door made him jump and then hesitate. He'd written a story in which a man heard a knock on an adjoining door and opened it to see a woman being attacked. The hero dispatched the villain and rescued the woman with whom he subsequently had a passionate and tumultuous romance, only in the end to discover that she was, in fact, the villain and had to be killed. That book had made Napoleon's name a household word and the irony of being in a similar situation wasn't lost on him.

He knew nothing about Kuryakin. For all he knew, the man could be a cold-blooded assassin or kidnapper.

"Solo, I know you're up. I can hear your radio. Open the frigging door."

Napoleon laughed at his own foolishness and did as he was bid. Kuryakin was standing there with a tray in his hands. The immediate aroma of coffee made Napoleon's senses sing.

"Oh, I'd kill for a cup of that."

"I figured as much. You found RFO, I hear." Kuryakin carried the tray through and set it down on the room's small table. "We have coffee for you, tea for me, and some of the best croissants the island has to offer."

"Croissants? I've heard of them, but I've never tried one." Napoleon followed and sat down, almost salivating at the smells.

"Then you are a lucky man." Kuryakin opened a bag and dumped out a half dozen buttery, crescent-shaped treats. "Try them with the honey instead of the jam." He dumped half a dozen small jars on the table. "Each one is from a different flower. My personal favorite is the tiare."

He poured coffee and pushed it towards Napoleon. "Cream and sugar?"

"Yes, please, but only in the morning. My mother always taught me that only the uncouth take cream and sugar at night." Kuryakin looked at him but said nothing. Napoleon prepped his cup and sipped, smiling in bliss. "Paradise," he announced and Kuryakin grinned. Napoleon immediately dropped his gaze to the small jars before his body could betray him.

"That's where you are." Kuryakin tore open a croissant and placed it on a napkin, then dribbled honey over it. "This is made by a local. It's incredible." He pushed it towards Napoleon and fixed one for himself.

Napoleon stared at it for a second, trying to determine the best attack, but there was nothing to do but do it.

He made a happy sound as he chewed and Kuryakin laughed as he stirred jam into his tea.

"Why are you doing that?" Napoleon asked, frowning.

"It's how I was brought up, just like you with the black at night thing. We are mere extensions of our parents." He sipped and sighed. "So, what do you want to do today? I would suggest taking it easy."


"You just flew through how many time zones? Do you even know what day it is?"

"Not really," Napoleon admitted, taking another sip of coffee. "Does that matter?"

"Not from where I'm sitting. There's the Gauguin Museum, a botanical garden, a blow hole." Napoleon's cup rattled and he hurried it and the saucer to the table. Kuryakin obviously noticed, but he said nothing. "There's all the water sports, boating, diving -"

"I don't like the water very much." Napoleon reached for another croissant, this time using a different honey.

"We'll fix that. You can't come to Tahiti and not take advantage of her greatest asset."

"A favorable transfer rate?"

"No, the ocean."

"Oh... and you're right. The other honey is better, but this is good, too." Napoleon set the pastry down and leaned over to snag a magazine he'd picked up on the plane. "I read something in here about an open air market. The March?"

"Le Marc,with an é Kuryakin corrected.

"If the weather holds, do you think it will be open?"

"It's always open no matter the weather. The only time it closes is on Sunday for church."

"Why don't we go there and then the museum and then the garden?"

"You are going to be here two weeks. I think you should do Le Marche, have lunch, and then see how you feel in the afternoon. Nothing ruins Tahiti more than trying to rush through it." Kuryakin drained his cup and took another croissant, which he ripped apart and ate unadorned. "Eat up and I'll take you there." He stood to leave, but Napoleon's voice caught him.

"Mr. Kuryakin..."

"Illya, my name is Illya," he said over his shoulder.

"Illya, I know my publisher told you to watch out for me."

"He did."

"Well, there was someone on my patio this morning. I'm sure it is nothing, but..." Napoleon trailed off and felt a little foolish.

"Lock the door behind me." With that, Kuryakin was gone. Napoleon stood to lock the door and then returned to his coffee. It was amazing just how empty the room suddenly felt.

Napoleon crossed his legs and tried not to be nervous. Kuryakin had come back to the room and just shook his head and said, "It was nothing. Are you ready to experience Tahiti?"

Within a half hour, they were bouncing their way into town on a contraption called Le Truck. It was the mode of transportation of choice for locals and Napoleon was immediately enraptured with the colorful splash of humanity. People were dressed in every sort of outfit, from traditional grab to jeans and tee shirts. Some carried bags and others had carts. There were men, women, and children of all ages, from tots to teens. They laughed and shouted to each other.

The one thing that did surprise Napoleon was the number of people who greeted Illya, as he now thought of his guide. Obviously, the man was well known around the island. For some reason, Napoleon felt proud of the fact that Illya was his guide.

The truck/bus lurched and bounced and jerked along as they made their way through the streets of Papeete. It pulled over and Illya indicated the door. They moved out with the mass of people, and Napoleon just took a moment to stop and marvel at it all.

Here he was. Napoleon Solo was standing in Papeete, Tahiti. Melville had written here. Heck, he'd been imprisoned here for a while. Napoleon glanced over at a small store and froze. In the window was his book. Worse, his photo was beside it.


His guide turned, saw, and grabbed Napoleon's elbow the way he had in the airport the previous evening. There was a small park and Illya led him to a small sheltered spot.

"What am I going to do?"

"Well, first you are going to have to go local." Then Illya reached out and mussed Napoleon's hair.

"Hey, do you mind? I worked hard on that. The humidity here is bad."

"I do. What do you use on your hair? Library paste?" Illya wiped his hand off on his worn knee-length shorts. "Now, take off the tie and open your shirt." Napoleon did as he was instructed. While Illya grabbed the hem of Napoleon's shirt and yanked it from Napoleon's pants. Illya pulled a pair of aviation sunglasses out of his shirt pocket and held them out. "Put these on. Now, no one will know it's you. Next stop, Le Marche."

Late morning blurred into the afternoon. By the time they'd covered both floors of the expansive outdoor market, Napoleon was ready to drop and he felt as if his arms were going to fall off. He'd bought everything and anything that caught his eye. His reason was that he would probably never get back here again and he didn't want to rue the fact that he'd not bought something. He bought fabric, knick-knacks, carved wood masks, and statues. He bought jars and packages of food without even studying the contents. He bought shirts, brightly colored pareaus, jewelry, and trinkets. He was in heaven.

And all the time he watched Illya out of the corner of his eye. It didn't seem that there was anyone here Illya didn't know and Napoleon didn't miss how openly women, and even some men, eyed the blond. Illya seemed blissfully unaware, but Napoleon didn't believe it for a minute. No man could be that clueless.

Illya directed him to a small café just as the afternoon rains started. From their protected spot, they watched as the tourists ran for cover and locals just carried on with their business.

Illya felt the first plop of rain on his neck and he grabbed it, then looked up, just in case. It wouldn't be the first time a bird had bombed him. Another drop hit his cheek and he grimaced.

"I think it's time for a little lunch. What do you think?" He pointed Napoleon in the direction of Les Trios Brasseurs. It would be crowded in another hour, but now the small sidewalk café was peopled with tourists trying to escape the rain and a few late-rising locals. "Stay here and I'll find us something for lunch.

Illya left Solo flipping through one of the many travel guides he'd picked up. He had to hand it to Solo. The man was a shopper. Illya had never seen anyone with such purpose and direction. In fact, Illya's arms ached from Solo's direction and purpose. He'd made arrangements to have some of the larger items shipped back to Solo's apartment, but Illya was still hauling around a seemingly endless supply of bags. It had been paradise to drop those bags on the floor around the table.

He wandered up to the counter and grinned.

"Ia Orana," he called out to the man at the grill. Arava turned and raised a hand in greeting.

"What's shaking, bro?"

"My guest is hungry and tired. How about poisson cru and chicken fafa. "

"E." Arava nodded. "What about you?"

"Two and Hinano. I'll take one now." Illya held out his hand for the bottle of beer. While he waited for their order to be prepared, he sipped the beer and watched the people milling about. None of them seemed the least bit interested in his charge and that suited Illya just fine.

Seemingly moments later, a tray piled high with poisson cru and chicken fafa was shoved in his direction. "Put it on my tab."

There was a snort, but Illya just smirked and returned to the table.

"Illya, what is this?" Napoleon studied the food warily and Illya tried to repress a smile. He always found it amusing to watch people try the local food for the first time.

"Poisson Cru is fresh fish that has been cooked chemically by adding lime juice. It's a bit like cerviche, but it has coconut milk, chilies, cucumbers and scallions. Just try it. If you don't like it, I'll order you a hamburger."

Napoleon took a bite, chewed, and his eyes opened. "Oh, my god, this is so... incredible. It's so fresh!" He pointed with his fork to the chicken fafa. "What's that?"

"Chicken fafa. It's made with chicken, coconut milk, and taro greens. That's like spinach." Illya pushed the bowl towards Napoleon, along with a bottle of beer. "Go ahead. It'll put hair on your chest."

"Okay, nothing else has worked." Napoleon speared a chunk of chicken and popped it into his mouth. "Heavenly. Is all the food here this good?" He took a swallow of beer and nodded. "Even this is really good. I don't usually drink beer."

"Well, the atmosphere helps."

"This has been incredible, Illya. Thank you, but I can understand what you meant earlier." Napoleon stifled a yawn and brought a hand to his mouth. "I feel as if I could sleep for a week."

"Eat up and then I'll get a taxi."

Within forty minutes, Napoleon was back in his hotel room, his treasures set off to one side. He flopped back on the bed and sighed happily while Illya checked the patio again and turned to leave, hiding a yawn of his own behind his hand.

"Illya," Napoleon propped himself up on his elbows. "What are you doing for dinner tonight?"

Illya shook his head. "Nothing that I know of." Besides watching you.

"Join me."

"Aren't you ready to be rid of me by now? Most people find I wear on their nerves after a couple of hours." Inwardly, Illya was pleased. He like the man and Napoleon was proving to be easy company. Besides, dining with him made it easier for Illya to keep tabs on him.

"I'm serious. Have dinner with me, here in the restaurant. It's the least I can do to thank you."

"I don't..."


Illya sighed and then nodded. "All right, but you'll be sorry. You haven't seen me eat."

Now Napoleon wondered if he'd been stood up... or was that the proper term. It wasn't as if they were on a date or anything. A beautiful woman moved past him and he caught a whiff of her perfume.

"Your scent? What are you wearing?"

"Pardon?" The woman smiled politely but looked confused.

"Quel est votre parfum?"

Napoleon turned at the voice and felt his mouth drop open. Illya was standing there, wearing a muted tropical shirt opened at the neck and white slacks. His hair practically glowed under the lights and both Napoleon and the waitress were transfixed.

"Je l'ai acheté dans un petit magasin dans Papeete

"Pouvez-vous m'en indiquer l'adresse ? »"

The waitress took out her pencil and hurried scratched something on her order pad and then passed it to him. Illya glanced at it and smiled, tucking it into his shirt pocket.


"Souhaitez-vous boire quelque chose?"

"Oui. Vodka."

Illya sat down across from Napoleon and nodded. "Good evening. Did you get some rest this afternoon?"

"I did. May I ask what she gave you?"

"The name of her perfume, the directions to the store, and her phone number." Napoleon tried to not let the disappointment show in his eyes, but Illya caught it. "Hey, if you want to play through..."

"What? Oh, no, not my type."

"I didn't think so."

Napoleon bristled at the comment. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Illya's smile was easy. "Only that I think your tastes run towards a different class of people. More... upper crust and not a matu'a vahine."

"Oh." Napoleon fell silent and the silence drew out for a few minutes as he struggled for something to say. Catching sight of the bowl of olives on the table, he asked. "Why olives?"

"Why not? They are plentiful and they keep well in this climate. Potato chips go rancid almost immediately here." Illya snatched up a couple and popped them in his mouth. "Olives are less fattening than peanuts and they are very French."

"How do you know?"

"I spent some time in Paris at school."

"Oh, and you returned here?"

"Wouldn't you?" Illya accepted the glass as the waitress offered it and held it up to Napoleon. "Nostrovia!" He took a large swallow and smiled, eyes closed.

"That's the first Russian I've heard you speak."

"No real reason to speak it." Illya picked out a few more olives and studied them for a moment before popping them in his mouth. "There aren't many Russian speakers here, but old habits die hard."

"How did you come to end up here?"

"Papa didn't care much for the Bolsheviks. The first chance he had, he and Mamma sneaked out of the country and kept going. When they hit water, they jumped on the first freighter they found. The freighter was bound for here. I was born at sea during the voyage." He finished his drink and signaled for a refill. "Mamma said that's why I have blue eyes."

"It's a nice story." Napoleon made a mental note to jot that thought down later. It had the germ of an idea.

"Now, but at the time it wasn't quite so blissful."

"Are your parents still alive?" The Maître d'hôtel approached them, interrupting Illya's answer.

"Monsieur Solo, your table is ready." He led them through the dining room, out into a small wooden room with just a few tables, and up to a table right by an open window. Outside, the sun was slipping beneath the horizon and the few clouds in the sky were painted a brilliant array of oranges and reds. Through the open window, the sound of distant surf crashing up against the protective coral reef could be heard over the softly playing music. It was a night made for romance and Napoleon felt a twinge of regret. He'd hoped that perhaps Illya... but no.

They sat and Napoleon opened up the menu. Because they were in a major hotel, the menu was written in both French and English, but that didn't help Napoleon. There were many terms he didn't recognize. His tastes tended to run fairly simply.

"Illya, I've been to some of the best restaurants in New York City and along the East Coast, but I don't..."

"We are very French here," Illya said with an exaggerated French accent and Napoleon laughed. "Would you like me to order for you?"

"Yes, thank you."

"Anything you hate?"

"Liver, and I'm not too crazy about dill pickles."

"I think we can avoid both tonight."

Napoleon sat back in his seat and watched the moonlight dance over the waves. "This is so incredible," he whispered. "I see why you love it here."

"It's my home." Illya poured the last of the wine into Napoleon's glass and turned the bottle upside down in the ice bucket. "I have seen many parts of the world, but none of them ever captured my heart the way Tahiti has. Not Paris, not London, not even Leningrad."

"Home is where the heart is." Napoleon pushed his empty dessert dish aside. "And my heart is still pretty wrapped up with that shrimp appetizer. Who would have thought of skewering them on a vanilla bean? They were so succulent and flavorful."

"Mais oui," Illya drained his water glass and sighed.

"And you weren't kidding when you said you could eat."

"I don't get this opportunity very often, and when I do, I like to make the most of it."

The waiter arrived with the bill and Napoleon held his hand out for it. He glanced at the bottom line and smiled. His mother would have had heart failure at the figure.

Napoleon Solo, you are not made of money! He heard her voice in his head and thought, That's where you are wrong, Mother. Now I am. For how long is anyone's guess, but for now, I am going to enjoy myself. Screw you! He felt very brave.

"Thank you," Illya said watching Napoleon sign the bill and hand it back.

"It was my pleasure. The more I talk to you, the more insight I'm permitted into this culture and its people. "

They were approaching his room when Napoleon got a funny feeling in his stomach. He stopped and after a few feet, Illya did the same, looking back over his shoulder at him.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know." Napoleon looked at his door and it was standing slightly ajar.

"You stay right here," Illya ordered and he walked quickly to the room. He paused , then pushed the door open suddenly.

The room was practically turned upside down. All of Napoleon's suitcases had been opened and dumped out, the contents spread over the floor. His bags had been torn open and his recently purchased treasures strewn about.

"Oh, no," Napoleon muttered from the door. "Who would do this?" That's what you deserve for defying your mother. You see, God is on my side.

"I don't know, but we are going to find out." Illya found the phone and quickly punched a number. He spoke in French, his tone sharp and angry. Napoleon didn't know what he was saying, but he could tell Illya wasn't happy.

Napoleon looked around at the mess, mentally cataloging this and that. Thank God they didn't find Cecil, he thought and then felt a jab of panic. "Illya!"


"My black bag! It's gone!"

"Black bag? I don't..." Illya trailed off and then snapped his fingers, making Napoleon jump at the sound. "It's still in the car. I left it in the back seat of the car. Do you need it?"

"No, no, it's fine there. I was just... it's very personal." They were interrupted by the night manager, two security officers, and several maids.

By the time Napoleon had given them a detailed description of his night's activities, the room was neat and tidy again. His clothes were gathered, folded, and placed in the various drawers of the bureau.

He watched them leave and then looked back at Illya, who was emerging from his room.

"Would you rather sleep in my room tonight? It wasn't touched."

"No. With the added security, I should be okay." Napoleon looked around the room, once so welcoming and now slightly threatening, but he wasn't going to back down. "I'm just having a hard time believing a fan would do this."

"I agree. Tomorrow, we will go someplace else. I will take you to another island. Pack one bag, just the bare essentials. We will have Management put all of this in storage for you. Good night and call me if you need me."

Napoleon nodded and watched Illya disappear again through the interconnecting doors. He wanted to ask Illya to keep the door open, but at the last minute closed and locked his. Tonight Napoleon needed to feel secure.

He used a chair to block the hall door closed and he wedged one of his suitcases into the rail of the sliding door, along with securing the locks. God help him if there was a fire.

Napoleon climbed into bed and stared up at the ceiling. He was certain he wasn't going to sleep a wink.

Yet a few hours later, he came awake with a sharp gasp and sat up in bed. His lights were still on and he knew instantly he was alone, but there was a noise. It sounded as if it came from the next room... Illya's room!

Napoleon scrabbled out of the bed and rushed to the interconnecting doors. He opened his and raised his fist to knock. That's when he heard and understood and his heart clenched. The noise was of two people in the throes of sex. Napoleon had heard it more than once coming from his mother's room, the sound of grunts and groans, his mother's hoarse demands and harsh breathing wafting out through the heat vent to his room. It made Napoleon sick to his stomach.

Once, when he was a young boy, he'd rushed in and attacked the man he found in bed, demanding he leave Mother alone. Mother had trotted him back to his bed, slapping and belittling him before locking him in.

"All right, he's locked in." He heard his mother through the heating vent. "The little shit will leave us alone now." After that, Napoleon made himself very small whenever he heard those noises.

As an adult, he understood now, but it still made him uncomfortable and incredibly sad. He'd thought he and Illya were... but Illya apparently wasn't, despite the messages Napoleon had picked up. Apparently he wasn't what Illya wanted in a bed partner... of course, it was stupid of him to think that someone who looked like Illya would, first, not have someone and, second, want someone like Napoleon. His sadness gave way to bitter acceptance.

He woke up in a sullen mood, a condition made even worse with the fact that Kuryakin was already gone. There was a note pinned to his interconnecting door instructing him to have the front desk take him to the airport. Illya had already left instructions with the bellman as to where to take him.

"Of course, Mr. Kuryakin. You call the shots and let me pay for everything!" He tossed a suitcase on the bed and began stuffing clothes into it. He didn't care about packing light. He didn't care about anything. He lingered in the shower and took his time shaving and preparing himself.

Around eleven, there was a soft knock at his door.

Napoleon wanted to jerk the door open and shout, but instead he reined in his anger and looked out the peephole. A young woman was standing there, a clipboard in her hand.

Napoleon opened the door and then saw a second maid and a bellman.

"May I help you?"

"We were told you were checking out and to put your luggage into storage." Or at least that's what Napoleon thought she said. It was hard to tell as her accent was very thick.

Napoleon disappeared back into his room and tucked his shaving kit into his suitcase before nodding to the bellman to take it.

At the front desk, Napoleon was surprised to see just a single room charge and dinner on his bill. Apparently, Kuryakin was taking care of himself. That's when Napoleon realized that Kuryakin had been taking care of just about everything -- breakfast, lunch, and transportation. Napoleon was sure it would all be tallied up and handed over at the end of the trip. Everyone loved to take advantage of gullible tourists like Napoleon.

They ushered Napoleon to a car, plush and air conditioned. He grimaced and stared out the window as the car started up. He slipped his hand into his pocket and felt the small ceramic hut. Maybe now he'd see the Tahiti he'd dreamed of as opposed to a bunch of high rises.

Illya wiped his hands off on a rag and darted a look at his watch. Where the hell is he? He felt a little guilty leaving Napoleon behind, but the man was still sleeping so soundly when Illya looked in on him that Illya didn't have the heart to wake him. The combination of food, drink, sun, and the break-in had certainly taken their toll.

Illya's hand drifted to his lower back and he massaged it. It wasn't exactly sore, just tired from him have bent over the engine of his fixed-wing Piper. He ran his fingers over the name, Моя любовь. It was Russian for My Love and she was. He'd seen her a few years ago and it had been love at first sight. Illya grinned and hoped his boat understood.

He looked at his watch again and fumed. He was going to have to reschedule if Napoleon didn't put some mustard on it and get here. That's when he heard the sound of a car approaching. He glanced up and frowned. It wasn't the hotel car but rather, a rental. Illya could tell because it didn't have rust and paint holding it together. It cruised by once and then again. Illya reached into his back pocket for the knife he carried, but then the car drove away.

"What the hell was that all about?" he asked the plane. She remained silent but, then and again, she didn't speak as a rule.

He was getting ready to walk back to the hangar to call the hotel when he saw another car driving up. This one was emblazoned with the hotel logo. Illya blew out a mouthful of air and felt his temper flare. He hated it when people treated him like a second class citizen and disregarded his time.

Napoleon climbed from the back of the car, his face tight and angry. Illya didn't know why the American was annoyed.

"About time you got here. Much later and we'd have missed our window." Illya watched the hotel staffer struggle to get Napoleon's suitcase out of the trunk and shook his head. "You did remember I said to pack light?" He tried to make it a joke.

"This is as light as I get," Napoleon snapped and Illya's mouth narrowed to a tight line. Okay, so the guy was angry at something and determined to take it out on him.

"Okay." Illya grabbed the suitcase and tossed it roughly into the belly of the plane. He slammed the latch and locked it, running his hand over the aluminum in a silent apology.

"Get in," Illya said, pointing to the stairs. After a moment, Napoleon grappled his way up the narrow stairs and stopped.

"There are no seats back here."

"You're riding up front in the co-pilot's seat."

"I can't fly a plane."

"Good," Illya muttered. He looked over at the staffer and, in French, asked, "Any trouble?"

"Well... it's a little weird, but I felt like we were being followed. I took off and hit some of the back streets. I think I scared your friend. He got kinda panicky toward the end."

"There was someone here. Do me a favor and give the local police a call. Use my name." Illya handed the man a card and the man's face paled.

"Yes, sir!"

Illya climbed into the plane and slid into the pilot's seat. He watched Napoleon out of the corner of his eye as he started going through his pre-flight check. He pulled on a pair of headphones and flicked a switch.

"Tower, this is the Ranger 49-er, requesting clearance to taxi." Illya unhooked the headphones from the back of Napoleon's seat and offered them to the dark-haired man. After a moment's hesitation, Napoleon took them and slipped them on. He looked confused as all of the chatter was in French.

"Can you hear me?" Illya asked and Napoleon nodded, but said nothing else. He was obviously too interested in everything around him. Illya started his right engine, letting the propeller come up to speed before starting the left one.

Receiving his instructions, Illya began to taxi to the designated runway. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the car again and frowned. Perhaps once he landed, he'd make a couple of calls himself.

"Where are we going?" Napoleon's voice was tinny through the headphones.

"To a little motu called Rangiroa. It's about as far away from it all as you can get here and still have a bit of luxury." He studied Napoleon's poplin suit and smirked. "And I can tell you are a man who likes his luxury."

Napoleon made a face and looked away.

After an hour of flying over nothing but water, Napoleon fell back in his seat, apparently bored with the scenery . "You are eventually going to find a spot to land, I am assuming?"

"No, Solo, I'm just flying you out into the middle of the Pacific Ocean to crash." He watched Napoleon's fingers tighten their grip on the arm rest. "Jesus, what is wrong with you today? You are wound tighter than a seven day clock."

"You didn't have your room ransacked last night!"

"No, I didn't and I did offer to exchange rooms with you."

"And would that have gone for your roommate as well?"

"Roommate? What the hell...?" Illya stopped and then put two and two together. "That's the problem. You heard us."

"Damn straight I heard you." Napoleon returned his attention back to the seemingly endless expansive of water.

Illya smiled at that. Damn if he wasn't jealous. This might work out better than I'd hoped. Illya didn't want to tell Napoleon he'd taken a matu'a vahine to bed as a way to defuse his growing lust for Solo. His charge was everything he wanted in a man and a bit more, but Illya wasn't exactly in a position that he could act. Instead, he looked up the matu'a vahine from the bar and spent a few enjoyable and enthusiastic hours in bed. He should have known the walls were thin and noise would travel.

"Didn't mean to disturb your beauty sleep." Illya pointed out the window. "There's where we are headed."

Napoleon pointed. "It's land."

"It's Rangiroa, the second largest atoll in the world. It's part of the Tuamotu Islands. We will be landing on Avatoru. It's only about five miles long and a half mile across at the widest spots. That's where the hotel is." Illya's voice was calm. Now that he knew what Solo's problem was, he could address it, but he had to be cautious.

"There's a hotel here? It can't be much."

Napoleon dropped his satchel and gasped. "Oh... oh, my..." The thatched-roof cabana was broken into three rooms. It had a small living room, a bedroom, and the largest bathroom and shower that he'd ever seen in his life. "This is... incredible." Napoleon's early mood was shaken from him the moment they pulled up in front of the large open-air lobby. Within seconds, a glass of ice-cold pineapple juice was in one hand and a cool washcloth was in the other. He mopped his brow and sat as the registration paperwork was brought to him. The desk clerk was Tahitian and extremely handsome. Napoleon bristled when the man hugged Illya a fraction longer than Napoleon thought was necessary, and then kissed each cheek. Napoleon was abruptly recognized and became the subject of attention. At some point, he realized Illya had vanished. He tried not to panic. After all, the island was only a half mile wide and four miles long. Illya couldn't really go too far.

After filling out a form, Napoleon was loaded into a small golf cart and driven along a wide path past thick hibiscus hedges and large outcroppings of Birds of Paradise. Plumeria trees hung heavy with fragrant white flowers, and Napoleon grinned when manager reached out and plucked one for him to smell. In the distance, the vibrant green grass was shaded by row upon row of swaying palm trees. To Napoleon's way of thinking, this was paradise. At least it would be when Illya rejoined them.

The general manager smiled and dry-washed his hands. "We are just so honored that you will be staying with us and perhaps will glean a little inspiration from our modest hotel for your next book. I've read everything you've written, Mr. Solo."

But Napoleon didn't hear him. He was too busy investigating his accommodations. "There's even a hot tub on the porch!" Napoleon opened the sliding glass door and stepped out, then laughed. "And the ocean is right outside my door." He gestured at the deep blue water not fifty feet away.

"Actually that's the lagoon. The ocean is on the other side, across the street." Illya had rejoined them. "If you stand just right, you can see them both at the same time."

"May I show you to your accommodations now, Mr. Kuryakin?" The manager gestured to the door.

"I'm next door, yes?" Illya hooked a finger over his shoulder at a nearby hut.

"Just as you requested. If you'd like to follow me, sir?"

Illya shook his head. "I'm fine here for the moment, thanks. Just leave me the key."

"As you wish, sir. We will deliver your luggage within the hour." The manager started to back out of the room and then gestured to a large basket of fruit. "I hope you will accept this small token of our welcome, Mr. Solo, and, again, thank you for choosing to stay at Kia Ora."

"It's lovely, thank you so much!" Napoleon paused in his exploration. With a relieved smile, the general manager dropped both keys onto a small rattan end table and hurried away.

"He was certainly awed by your greatness," Illya muttered. "Will this do? I can get you a bigger fare, but this one is the best positioned for the Trades." He plopped down on the sofa and stretched his legs out. He wiped the sweat from his brow and blew out a breath before hoisting himself back up and turning on the overheard fan. He resumed his seat, head tilted back to take full advantage of the breeze.

Napoleon swallowed at the sight of that neck and the bit of chest hair that peeked out from Illya's shirt. "It's wonderful," he murmured, then recovered as Illya's head came up. Napoleon waved his arms in an arc. "It's perfect. There's a sense of rustic, but I've never seen a shower that size before."

"Excellent." There was a knock on the door and Illya was on his feet in a second. "Yes?"

"I have your luggage, sir."

Illya opened the door and a hotel employee stood there with a cart filled with suitcases. As he carried them in, Napoleon fumbled for his wallet. Illya held up a hand and shook his head. He exchanged some pleasantries in French and the man hurried away. "No tipping is permitted, Napoleon." Illya explained as he sorted through the suitcases until he found his duffle bag and set it aside. "This is an all-inclusive resort. No money exchanges hands anywhere on the property until check-out."

Napoleon looked at the suitcases. "Illya... there's a mistake." Napoleon looked and frowned. He recounted. "There's an extra suitcase."

"I rescued your black one from my back seat."

"That's not mine." Napoleon examined the piece of luggage and shook his head. "You must have picked up the wrong one at the airport."

"When we get back to the airport, we'll turn it in."

"Shouldn't we do that now? Someone might be looking for it."

"That's the funny thing about Rangi. The airport is only open a couple of hours a day to accommodate the daily flights. It's closed the rest of the time." Illya picked up their keys.

"I just feel funny with it here."

"Then we'll compromise. I will take it to the lobby and have them store it until the airport opens next time. They will be sending a van to pick guests up, so they can return it and Air Tahiti can take it back to Papeete. Now, my suggestion would be to go and check out the restaurant. I don't know about you, but I didn't have much for breakfast this morning."

That wasn't what it sounded like to me. Napoleon thought, but he nodded. He was feeling a little ashamed of his attitude earlier. All Illya had done was live his life. It wasn't his fault that Napoleon didn't have one.

"Sounds great. Let's go."

Illya finished his fries and washed them down with one last swallow of his beer. He looked around and held up the empty bottle. Napoleon simply laughed.

"I can't believe you want more."

"Life is too short not to take what you want when you can."

The waitress arrived with two more bottles. Illya handed one to Napoleon and raised his. "Here's to a life of never-ending Hinano."

"Is that the only beer people drink here? Everywhere I look, I see it."

"Pretty much." Illya picked up the dessert menu. "I think our next step should be to grab our trunks and hit the water before the afternoon rains come."

"Oh, I don't swim." Napoleon tried to make the remark sound causal, but Illya could see the man's body language change.

"You're in Tahiti. Everyone swims here."

"No, I mean I've never learned how to."

"No time like the present. Surely you brought trunks?"

"Ah, no..."

"Then let's go." Illya gestured to the waitress.


"The shop. You can't vacation in Tahiti without getting wet here. This is an island, after all. Water, water, everywhere. Now quit stalling and let's go."

Illya looked up from the rack of shirts he was idly flipping through. "Napoleon, you can't hide in there forever."

"I... I can't come out. I look stupid and I'm ugly." Napoleon stared at his reflection with dismay. He liked the trunks and thought they made him look manly, but he could hear his mother. Only nasty boys parade their wares for others to see. Make them wait, my darling, and you'll be happier.

"Grant me serenity," Illya muttered and he let go of the shirt he was fingering to walk to the small closet-sized changing booth. "Why don't you let me be the judge of that? Now are you coming out or am I coming in?"

"Are you alone?"

Illya looked over at the clerk, a matu'a vahine, and shook his head. "ça ne t'ennuie pas  (Would you mind)?" He smiled at Illya, then shook his head and disappeared behind into the storeroom.

"I am totally alone out here, Napoleon. Now square your shoulders and come..." Illya trailed off as Napoleon stepped out. The trunks were boxer style, not overly tight, but snug enough to make the most of Napoleon's figure. "Why, Miss Jones, you are beautiful." Illya grinned at his charge. To Illya's amazement, a pink tinge spread over Napoleon's face. "No one has ever told you that before, have they?"

"No." Napoleon dropped his gaze to the floor. "I feel naked." It was true. The only time he had less clothes on was in the shower. Even then, he never really looked at himself for fear of opening the curtain and finding Mother waiting on the other side. She would hold a towel out to him and frown until he'd covered himself. Only nasty boys let other people look.

Illya held up a finger and smiled. He walked back to the rack of shirts and flipped through a few of them, picked one, studied it, and put it back. He chose a second one and brought it to Napoleon. "Put this on then. It should help."

Napoleon took the shirt gratefully and slipped into it. It wasn't a color he normally picked, but he was amazed at how well it looked with his coloring and the swim trunks. "Wow, you have a really good eye."

"Groovy, let's put this on your chit and get into the water." Illya looked at the horizon. "I figure we have about two hours before Ro'o hits."

"What is that? A tropical storm?" Napoleon thought about the lack of decent walls and a roof to protect him back in his cabana.

"Ro'o is the god of the weather and he's mixing up some rain for us. Let's go."

Napoleon's anxiety grew as they left the store and walked down the path. The resort was fairly empty and there was no one pointing and laughing at his pale legs or at the death grip he had on his towel.

They approached the dining room again and Napoleon stopped. Illya took a few more steps and looked back at him. "What is wrong now?"

"I can't go into the dining room like this."

"We're not. We're going around it. Access is from the deck." Illya retraced his steps, grabbed Napoleon's arm and tugged. He was amazed at how strong Napoleon suddenly was.

"I'm not going in the ocean. I wasn't joking, Illya. I can't swim. You won't drown me." Flashes of terror dashed through Napoleon's head. Mother's second husband had decided to help a young Napoleon bathe one evening while Mother fixed dinner. And if Mother hadn't bashed the man's head in with a frying pan, he would have succeeded in drowning Napoleon. All Napoleon remembered was having his nose and mouth abruptly filled with water. He remembered gagging and thrashing and hearing his mother scream and suddenly lift him from the bathtub. The man had apparently decided that he wasn't going to have a wimp like Napoleon as an heir. It was only a guess since Mother killed the man and was acquitted. She saved Napoleon but, since that time, Napoleon had nothing to do with any body of water.

"No, I won't drown you. The horizon pool is only about four feet deep. All I'm asking you to do is trust me." Illya slid his hand down to take Napoleon's. Napoleon felt his ears explode in a blush as their fingers entwined. "Can you trust me, Napoleon?"

Napoleon stood at the edge of the pool and looked into its clear water. He could see to the bottom and it looked okay. He stepped down the stairs into it and stopped. "It's so warm." He remembered at the last moment to take off his new shirt and toss it up onto a lounge chair along with the towels he and Illya had collected.

"It never gets cold here." Illya slid into the water and disappeared beneath the surface only to pop up a few seconds later. He glided across the pool with a few easy strokes and dove again.

He came up next to Napoleon and Napoleon laughed as Illya shook the water from his hair. "You look like a water sprite."

"A what?"

"A being of the water. You look like you are part of it."

"Again, I was conceived at sea. It has to count for something." He held out a hand to the writer and smiled. "Do you trust me?

Napoleon looked into those intense blue eyes and felt a twist in his groin. He forced himself to think of gallery prints, endless book promos, and the parade of talk shows where he felt more like a side of beef than a person. He forced himself to think of his mother, possessive and strict and not entirely sane. He forced himself to think of anything but the flame he saw burning in those eyes. Napoleon had trusted that flame once before. It overwhelmed and consumed him, then he was publicly humiliated and privately abused. It had taken everything Napoleon had to break free of that relationship and he vowed then and there to never trust in love again.

Napoleon shook his head slowly. "No," he whispered.

The edges of the blue eyes crinkled up in amusement. "Then we are going to have a very short swimming lesson. The pool is very shallow; you will not drown, but you do need to trust in my skill."

"Oh, I thought..." Napoleon turned to hide the blush rising in his cheeks. "I'm sorry. I'm trying. I nearly drowned as a child and it's very hard to shake that."

"I understand." Illya smiled and held out a hand. "We'll go slowly."

Napoleon shocked himself by taking the hand and following it into the center of the pool. Illya never broke eye contact with him.

"Okay, I'm going to teach you to float. That's the best thing to keep you from drowning. If you want to stand up, just drop your knees and it will bring you upright. Now lean back against me."

Napoleon swallowed and turned his back to the man. Arms encircled him and Napoleon felt himself growing lightheaded and floating on a sudden cloud of peace and contentment.

"That's right. Just drift along." Illya's voice was soft in his ear. "This is salt water. It has greater buoyancy and that makes it easier to float." Then there was a soft chuckle. "However, you might want to lower your periscope."

"What?" Napoleon murmured, reluctant to lose this sense of well-being. He cracked open an eye and was aghast to see his erection tenting the front of his swimming trunks. He could hear people laughing and saw them pointing at him and his humiliation. He flailed suddenly and his head ducked beneath the surface. He panicked and then arms slipped around him and pulled him to the surface.

"It's okay, Napoleon, relax. Just stand up." Illya held him until Napoleon got his feet beneath him. Napoleon headed for the edge of the pool and gasped it, his head bowed in shame, his back to Illya.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he mumbled over and over again.

"Man, someone messed with your head." Illya was to him in two strokes. "Napoleon, there's nothing to apologize for."

"Everyone saw."

"There's no one here, just us."

Napoleon hazarded a fast look and was amazed that Illya was right. They were alone, but still... "You saw." He felt Illya's fingers travel down his arm until they reached Napoleon's hand. Slowly it was guided back until it was touching Illya's own erection.

"And I didn't mind one bit," Illya whispered. Napoleon started to impulsively jerk his hand away, but Illya held it in place. "Not one little bit."

Napoleon turned and Illya bent in for a kiss. Nothing aggressive, just a gentle pressure of lips against his and Napoleon felt giddy. "We can't do this," Napoleon whispered. "Not here." What am I doing? I've only known this man for three days.

"Yes, we can," Illya murmured back, but at that moment the rain started and within seconds a tropical deluge engulfed them.

Illya laughed and fell back into the water. Floating to the surface, the rain pelted his body. Napoleon lifted his face to the rain. "Maybe we should go in."

"Why? Afraid you are going to get wet?" Illya disappeared from view and resurfaced beside him. He gathered a willing Napoleon into his arms and they shared a long, more purposeful kiss until a rumble of thunder broke the hiss of the rain. "But perhaps you are right... and your shower is very large." Illya pulled away and headed for the pool's lip. He hoisted himself out and then leaned down to offer Napoleon a hand. "Shall we?"

Grinning, Napoleon accepted the hand and willingly followed.

The pavement was rough under his bare feet, but Illya paid it no mind. In fact, he had but one thing on his mind and knew that he would need to progress very carefully from this point forward. Napoleon had obviously had bad experiences in the past and Illya was determined that this would not add to it.

They laughed as they ran through the rain and skidded to a stop in front of Napoleon's cabana.

Dripping, Illya attempted to wring out his shirt as Napoleon got the front door unlocked. He pushed it open to let Illya precede him and then stepped through himself. He pulled it shut and locked it. Compared to the wet heat outside the room, the air inside was chilly and Illya carefully walked to the bathroom and retrieved fluffy dry towels.

"Be careful. The floor is very slick when it's wet." Illya tossed Napoleon a towel and began to roughly dry himself.

"Didn't you say we were going to shower?" Napoleon felt intoxicated by the aggressive question and flushed with pleasure at Illya's responding grin.

"We are, but it's better not to drip water everywhere beforehand." He dropped the towel to the floor and stepped out of his trunks.

Napoleon silently gasped in pleasure at the sight of Illya's partial erection. The dash through the rain had taken some of the starch out of it, but what Napoleon saw he liked very much. Illya walked into the bathroom and a moment later, the shower started, almost indiscernible against the pounding of the rain above their heads.

Nasty boys... his mother started and Napoleon frowned. Shut up, Mother! I've had enough of you for one day.

"Is something wrong?" Illya had reappeared. "You had an odd look on your face. Would you rather not do this? I don't want to pressure you into anything."

Napoleon shook his head and peeled off his trunks. His erection sprang out, obviously delighted to be free from the constricting material. "Nothing at all is wrong."

Illya had set the water temperature to warm and the first brush of it against Napoleon's skin brought up goose bumps. Napoleon shivered as Illya's fingers glided over his slick skin. Napoleon reached for the blond, but Illya stepped just out of reach.

"No, let me." He slid up against Napoleon's back and pulled the dark haired man close. Eyes closed, Illya let his fingers begin to map Napoleon's body, never lingering for more than a few seconds before moving on.

Napoleon gasped as fingers found a nipple and pinched it lightly.

"You like that?"

"To be honest, I don't really know what I like." Napoleon felt he needed to get this out in the open. If they were going to have sex, Napoleon was determined that it would not be starting with a lie. "I haven't had much experience, just the usual... position." He moaned as Illya's fingers tangled their way into Napoleon's pubic hair. Against his back, he felt Illya's penis, hard and solid, seeking.

"Spread your legs for me. Just a little," Illya murmured and as Napoleon complied, Illya's penis slipped between them, resting against Napoleon's own genitals. Illya's hand wrapped itself around both their penises and began to leisurely stroke.

"I can't... so good," Napoleon's voice grew strained as he attempted to hold on, but Illya's hand picked up the pace.

"Don't fight it. Let it come, Napoleon. Let me feel you come..."

Napoleon didn't need anymore; that was the permission he sought and his ejaculation roared through his penis, starting from his toes and not stopping until it felt as if the top of his head would come off. "Wow! That was..." He looked over his shoulder at the panting Kuryakin. "I'm sorry you didn't."

"What makes you think I didn't?" Illya rested his head against Napoleon's back, amazed that he was still standing. It had been a while since he'd come that quickly and with that force.

"You... I didn't notice." Napoleon felt a little dispirited now. "I'm sorry..."

"I'm not. That was spectacular." Illya spun Napoleon and kissed him deeply. "I can't wait for the floor show."

Somehow, they managed to keep their hands off each other long enough to leave the shower and towel off.

Above, the rain continued to pound and Napoleon flopped down on his bed, unashamed of his nakedness for possibly the first time in his life. "What if it never stops? The rain, I mean?"

"It will." Illya followed. "It always does." Illya brushed Napoleon's hair off his forehead. "This is all very new to you, isn't it?"

"Well, not exactly new." Napoleon had gathered courage to start his own exploration of Illya's body. "I have had some experience and I read and research - a lot." He reached Illya's penis, already ready for their next foray. He ran his finger over the tip, slicking it with Illya's own preseminal fluid.

"I've never had much use for books." He moved out of reach yet again and kissed Napoleon. Illya let his lips move gradually from Napoleon's mouth to his neck and chest, pausing to show each nipple considerable attention while Napoleon thrashed and moaned beneath him.

From there, Illya's lips and tongue forged a path to Napoleon's navel and then paused. He blew a gentle breath through the black pubic hair and grinned at the effect his action had on his bed partner.

"Do you know what the French call oral sex?"

"Not a clue."

"Caresses buccogynitale." Illya ran his tongue up one side of Napoleon's penis. "Sounds manifique, no?" He sucked the tip into his mouth.

"Sounds manifique yes!" Then Napoleon surrendered the ability to speak, content to merely feel and listen to the pounding rain.

They had spent the afternoon in bed and he felt positively invigorated. It had been so long since he'd been with someone like Illya and, although he knew it couldn't last, Napoleon hoped it might for a bit longer. After getting up, Illya had made a dash back to his room and Napoleon took time for a leisurely shower and shave. His mother's voice was blissfully silent and that peace alone was heavenly.

He pulled on a crisp white shirt and a pair of beige slacks. He wasn't sure what the dress code for the restaurant was, but he felt comfort would be the word of the day. When Illya appeared a few minutes later dressed in nearly the same fashion, Napoleon felt reassured.

They walked back toward the hotel and its dining room and bar. The wind made the palm trees rattle and birds played tag in and out of the bushes.

Illya greeted the bartender politely in French and then headed for a table for two by the window. The floor of the bar was glass and lights illuminated the crystal clear water below. Napoleon sat, watching in amazement as fish of every color swam by.

"Do you know their names?" He didn't spare a look, even as Illya spoke with their cocktail waitress.

"Most of them, yes."

"What's the green and blue one?"

"It's a parrot fish. It has a beak and it eats coral. The yellow ones are called yellow tangs, the white ones with the horizontal black stripes are called convict tang. The triangular ones are reef trigger fishes. In Hawai'i, they are called, Humuhumunukunukuapua`a. That translates to fish with a nose like a pig."

"Really?" Napoleon snapped from his trance and sat back in his chair. Around them, other hotel guests chatted and drank. The cocktail waitress reappeared and set down their drinks, along with a bowl of olives down.

Napoleon waited for Illya to claim his drink and then sipped his martini. "This is just perfect." He sighed, looking out the window as a blood-red sun started to dip closer to the horizon. "Back home it's cold and horrible. Here it's --"

"... Always like this. Well, except during the rainy season." Illya drained his glass and grabbed a handful of olives. "Although I imagine you didn't mind this afternoon's storm."

"Not at all. This afternoon was incredible. Thank you for the swimming lesson. Both of them."

"Believe me, it was my pleasure." Illya's body ached from their prolonged and imaginative afternoon. What Napoleon lacked in experience, he made up for with enthusiasm. Illya held up his glass and the bartender nodded.

"I'm sorry I was so unpleasant this morning."

"It's okay. I should have realized the walls were so thin. I don't stay in hotels much."

"No, what you do with your girlfriend..."

"Girlfriend? After this afternoon, you accuse me of having a girlfriend?" Illya smirked. "I would have thought I convinced you that my taste lay in other fields, as it were."

"Weren't you with the woman from the bar?"

"The woman from the bar was a matu'a vahine, Napoleon."

"A what?"

"A member of the third sex. It's a man who has decided to go through life as a woman. They aren't all gay nor are all gays matu'a vahines, case in point. It just so happened that the one at the bar was. After your break-in, I needed something to take the edge off and..."

"You should have knocked on my door."

"Had I known that one of the books you'd read was the Karma Sutra, I might have."

"My last boyfriend told me I lacked imagination, so I thought it might help."

"For the record, your last boyfriend was an idiot. It's not always about technique. Sometimes it's about trust and being willing to follow."

Napoleon smiled and finished his martini. He ate his onion. "Mmm, that was tasty."

"Are you hungry?"

"Starving. All I seem to do is eat here."

"You should try to local catch of the day. It's spectacular."

"Don't you mean manifique?" Napoleon grinned at their private joke. It felt so good to have something that only he and someone else shared. "And I think I already have had the catch of the day."

Illya dropped his gaze to the table and Napoleon was thrilled that he'd left the Russian at a loss for words.

The cocktail waitress brought another round and Napoleon's eyes widened. "Another drink? I don't know if I can finish two."

"We have all night." Illya reached out and caressed the back of Napoleon's hand. In the US such a brazen act would have met with swift consequence. Here no one noticed. "And more, if that is your wish."

"And yours?"

Illya nodded and he looked towards the horizon. "I have a surprise for you tomorrow," he said, abruptly.

"Really? I can't imagine anything better than the one this afternoon."

He looked back at Napoleon and winked. "This one is even better. You will need to pack a small bag, just a few shirts, shorts, your swim trunks, and your shaving kit. And you might want to bring a book or two and some paper along, just in case."

"I always bring a pad of paper with me. I am a writer, after all. What about the rest of my stuff?"

"The hotel will store it. You don't get seasick, do you?"

"No, I love boats. Why?"

"Tomorrow. For now the dining room is open and I'm starving." Illya stood and picked up his unfinished drink. "Shall we?"

"We haven't paid... sorry, I keep forgetting."

They walked the short distance between the bar and the dining room. Even though it had rained for three hours this afternoon, the air felt heavy and thick.

"Does it ever get cold here?" Napoleon asked.

"Well, not cold in your sense of cold, but we do get these winds that cut right through you. They can make the toughest man put on pants."

"When do they hit?"

"Another couple of months. Why?"

"I just wondered if there was anything about this place that wasn't wonderful."

Illya slapped his neck and smirked. "Yeah, the damn mosquitoes. Let's eat."

They walked, hand-in-hand, back to Napoleon's fare. It admittedly felt odd to be so openly displaying affection with another person, much less a member of his own sex. It made Napoleon feel slightly lightheaded and giddy, or it might have been all the wine and alcohol he had consumed. He wasn't used to drinking quite as much as he had today. Napoleon didn't care. He felt wonderful and nothing could change it.

They walked from pool of light to pool of light and Illya surprised Napoleon by stealing a kiss every once in a while.

Reaching his small porch, Napoleon gestured. "I still haven't tried out the hot tub yet."

"Why, Mr. Solo, are you trying to lure me into a Den of Iniquity?"

"Is it working?"

"Lead on." Illya grinned. "I could do with a good soak."

Napoleon opened the door and stepped in. "That's odd. I thought I left the light on."

"You did." Illya grabbed him by his arm and pulled him back. "Wait here."

Napoleon nodded. "Be careful."

Snaking his hand around the door jam, Illya groped for the light switches. He hit one after the other, flooding the fare with light. "Not again. Who the hell did you piss off, Solo?"

The room had been trashed. Not a piece of furniture was left untouched, although Napoleon's suitcases were oddly undisturbed.

"Who is doing this and why?"

Illya reached for the phone. "Not a clue." That's when he saw the note. We know you have it. Give it to me! Shielding his actions from Napoleon, Illya carefully picked up the sheet and slipped it into his pants pocket. He'd investigate it later with the local authorities. "Reception, I need to speak to the night manager. Yes, it's an emergency. One of his guests has had his room ransacked."

Napoleon ran a hand through his hand and sighed. "It was such a nice day, too."

"It still is." Illya pointed to Napoleon's luggage. "Pack yourself a small bag and grab your shaving kit."

"I thought you said we were leaving tomorrow." Napoleon looked at his watch. "Will the airport even be open?"

"No airport. From now on, I'm not letting you out of my sight. My room might not be as fancy as yours, but at least I know no will be bothering you with me around."

"But what if they went through your room as well."

"Let's go see."

Illya left Napoleon in his undisturbed fare and waited for the hotel management and security to descend. They did a few minutes later and Illya unleashed his anger and frustration on them. He had thought they would be safe here, away from whoever was after Napoleon. He turned the note over to the security guard and waited for them to simper away.

"How did it go?" Napoleon was sitting on the small couch in Illya's fare. This cabin was half the size of Napoleon's, but it seemed friendlier and less sterile. "I heard you arguing with them, but it was all in French. You used a few words I knew and they weren't nice ones."

"No, they weren't. I am angry and frustrated. They keep insisting that you are safe from harm here, despite the evidence otherwise." Illya plopped down beside Napoleon and rubbed his shoulder. "Are you okay?"

"Perplexed. I can't quite figure out what's going on. I thought maybe back in Papeete that it was a fan or something. That's happened before. Here, though, no one seems to recognize me." He felt as if he were being punished for the little bit of happiness he'd grabbed this afternoon. Napoleon's rational mind told him that was nonsense, but he could feel his mother standing there, gloating at him. He looked up sharply as Illya swept his hair off a sweaty forehead with a gentle hand.

"Don't worry about it. Tomorrow I will put in a call to your editor and let him know what's going on. Then I will take you someplace where you won't have to worry about anyone or anything... except keeping up with me."

Napoleon's smile crept back at that. At least Illya wasn't put off by any of this. "Oh, is that a promise or a threat?"

"A bit of both, if you prefer. Are you ready for bed or do you want to still try for the hot tub? Sadly, my place didn't come with one."

"Bed, I think." Napoleon stood and stretched. "It's been a long day."

"It can be a longer night." Illya took off his watch and began to fiddle with it.

"What are you doing?"

"Setting my alarm. The last thing I want to do is sleep through breakfast."

Napoleon didn't even try to pretend he slept well that night. Every little noise seemed to wake him. At some point it started raining again and he listened to it and settled against Illya's warm body. So, it came as a rude surprise when he felt something, no, someone gently stroking his face.

He got his eyes open and moaned. "Don't tell me it's morning."

"Just past eight, actually. Did you sleep at all or are those bloodshot eyes due to something else?"

"A bit of both, I'm afraid." Napoleon didn't move, but instead closed his eyes again.

"Do you want me to let you sleep? I can bring you back something from the restaurant. You are going to have to be mobile by ten, I'm afraid."

"Shower with me?"

"Wouldn't have it any other way." Naked, Illya walked to the front door and set their suitcases by it. "When we go to breakfast, we'll hand these over. Until then I don't want to take any chances."

"Where are we going, Illya?" Napoleon kicked his way clear of the sheets and sat up.

"Someplace wonderful." Illya handed him a cup of coffee. "Get that into you before we shower."

"What about you?"

"That's the second pot. Now drink up. We have a busy day ahead."

It seemed a heartbeat later that they were standing on the boat dock. The rain had stopped and the boat bounced gently. Napoleon watched the horizon anxiously while Illya supervised the loading of their bags.

"Guess you are the only ones today." The captain checked his clipboard. "Looks like you are going to have the place to yourself."

Illya spun to face him. "What? I don't believe it. What luck!"

"We still haven't gotten back on our feet from the renovation." The captain counted the bags. "Is this it? Just these?"

"Did you get the one I ordered?" Illya asked.

"Yup, already loaded and ready for the island."

Napoleon suddenly came to life. "Island? What island?"

"We are heading for a small motu on the other side of the lagoon. Kia Ora owns it and has a small establishment there. Five huts, only ten people at a time, and it looks as if we are going to have it all to ourselves."

Napoleon watched the captain cast off the lines and hesitantly smiled. "Illya what happens if something goes wrong? Like we get sick or something?"

"There is a host and he has the ability to connect with the main resort instantly." The captain took his position at the helm and pointed the nose of the ship towards open water. "If there's a real emergency, we have a helicopter pad there and can be there in ten or fifteen minutes. There's nothing to worry about."

Napoleon smiled hesitantly. "That's what worries me." He slipped his hand into his pocket and felt his fingers close around the familiar shape of his little hut. He walked to the front of the boat and stared out at the horizon. There was nothing except sea and sky. All Napoleon had were his tchotchke, and his trust of Illya. He hoped it was enough. Napoleon took a breath and squared his shoulders. He turned his face to the spray and smiled as it tickled and flicked his face. The salt air filled his lungs and then he felt arms around his waist.

Napoleon startled, nervous, but he heard Illya's voice. "It's all right, Napoleon. Don't worry. As long as I don't lean you over the side and take you, the captain doesn't care. And he might not care in any event, but I am not sharing you with anyone."

Napoleon relaxed at that, although the image was erotic and thrilling. "Where are we going really, Illya?" Napoleon closed his eyes, the sun warm on his face.

"I told you, a tiny motu. It's twenty-two miles on the other side of the lagoon and it is just us, the host, and his wife." Illya released Napoleon and turned back to the helm. "Hey, Cap, who is the host this month?"


Illya nodded and settled on a bench seat that stretched the length of the boat. "You'll like Hector, Napoleon. He's very funny and his wife is a fabulous cook. She can do things with fish that will truly amaze you. Is Andy with them?" To Napoleon, he added. "Andy is their son."


"I can't wait." The truth was he could, but Napoleon wasn't going to say that. Instead, he opened his eyes again and fixed them on the horizon, even as he joined Illya on the bench. The sun was strong here and Napoleon didn't need any more reminders to avoid sunburns. He found a patch of shade and relaxed back against Illya, letting his mind drift.

Around them, the world began a kaleidoscope of blues and greens as they sailed away from the clouds and into vivid blue skies. Napoleon felt his breath being stolen from him. Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined the beauty of this moment. Nor would he ever find the words to recapture it.

It seemed as if they were part of the sea, wind, and sky forever and then Napoleon saw a dot on the horizon. They drew closer and he realized it was one of many small outcroppings.

"Is that it?" He pointed and the captain nodded.

"That is where we are headed, Mr. Solo."

The closer they got, the more excited Napoleon became. He could see small huts, just like his tchotchke, and felt excitement building in his stomach.

The boat began to slow, almost stopping as it picked its way through the path cut in between coral heads. Illya pointed them out.

"The boats have to be very careful not to run aground." He indicated a pair of men on the shore as they were climbing into a small skiff. "In fact, the boat can't even make it to the shore, so they have to come out and get us. There was a small pier once upon a time, but a tropical storm came through and ripped it out. They never got around to replacing it. This keeps the curious outsiders away."

"The water, it's so blue and so clear." Napoleon looked at the sea bottom as they slowly slipped through the water.

"And it's like a bathtub. You thought the pool was warm. Wait until you dip a toe into this."

Then Napoleon gasped. "Are those what I think they are?" A slender fin slid by and Illya nodded.

"Yeah, those are reef sharks."


"Uh, huh. The hosts feed them, so they are pretty tame. I wouldn't suggest petting one, but they won't bother you." Illya waved to the approaching boat.

There was a fast introduction, a shuffling of cargo and luggage and then they were headed to the shore. Even this boat carefully stayed in the path that was cut.

Finally the boat beached itself and the two men, Hector and Andy, climbed out and secured the boat to a long line of frayed and weathered rope. The other end was tied to a coconut tree.

"So, as you are the only ones on the island, you have your choice of fares." He didn't have to say that twice.

Napoleon pointed to a nearby hut. "That one."

"Are you sure? We have others. Do you want to --" Hector trailed off as Napoleon shook his head.

"Absolutely that one and no other." He led the way and Illya shrugged his shoulders and followed. Each hut was set back from the beach and surrounded by tall coconut palms. They were on stilts to keep them off the ground and were sided with half rounds of bamboo and covered with coconut fronds.

Napoleon was trembling inwardly as he climbed up onto the small porch and pushed open the door. The interior was dark with warm-colored hibiscus wood supports. There was a double bed, draped with mosquito netting, a small chest of drawers, a tall open wardrobe, a tiny table, two chairs, and a twin bed.

"Oh..." Napoleon let his voice grow silent. The hut was everything he'd imagined when peering into the small doorway of his tchotchke. It was so absolutely perfect if was as if he'd seen it in a dream.

"Are you disappointed? We have others..." Hector dry-washed his hands and then waved towards the left.

"Oh, no, no, this is perfect. This is beyond everything."

"I think we'll keep it, Hector. I like the new curtains," Illya said, pushing past Napoleon. He walked across the small room and looked through a door to the right of the bed. "You did some modifications in here as well."

"We took advantage of the renovation on land. Our boss man thought it would be good to improve the septic systems here."

"I'll bet he did." Illya turned back to the man. "Vous avez bien fait."

"Merci." Hector beamed and displayed a smile that was missing several teeth. "I don't know how much Illya has told you. We offer three meals a day in the main lodge. Breakfast is at eight, lunch at noon and dinner at seven."

"Will you put some coffee out for us?"

"Certainly. I get up around six. Will that be suitable?" Illya nodded and listened as a small tractor approached. "That will be Andy with your suitcases."

The younger man wrestled the bags and Napoleon's joy turned to dread. He grabbed Illya's arms, his fingers digging into the firm flesh. "Illya! Look!" He pointed to the black satchel. "It's following us."

"Calm down. I brought it along. We can't be here without proper gear." Illya patted Napoleon's hand. He hefted the satchel and carried it to the twin bed. Opening it, he took out a fin, then another. "We have everything here we need to snorkel."

"In the water... with the sharks?" Napoleon tried to keep the tremor out of his voice.

"I'll take you to the coral garden on the other side of the island to start. No sharks there." Illya left the bag and went to get the others. "You'll blow the conch shell?"

"I will." Hector waved good-bye and started back to the main hut.

"Merci." Illya took off his wristwatch and tossed it onto the bed. "As of now, I do not know what time it is."

"Oh, it's..." Napoleon glanced at his watch as Illya covered it with his hand.

"Time for you to relax." Illya watched after him for a moment and sighed. He pulled off his shirt and tossed it onto the bed as well. "I don't know about you, Napoleon, but I am going for a swim."

"I'll... watch you... from the shore."

"You need to start living a little, Napoleon. I have everything you need, reef shoes, gloves, masks, fins, and snorkels. I won't let you get hurt. If you pass on this, you will hate yourself forever and none of your dreams will come true."

"They already have." Napoleon ran his hand over the golden wood of the support pole in the center of their fare. "If I show you something, do you promise not to laugh?"

"Of course."

Napoleon took a deep breath and pulled his little ceramic hut out from his pants pocket. "I'm not even sure where my mother got it, but I fell in love with it. After she died, I gave away everything, except this. It came to symbolize everything that I wanted but knew I could never have." He passed it to Illya.

"And yet here you are." Illya turned it over, studying it. "The workmanship is very good."

"Thanks to you."

"The resemblance is really uncanny, except for the little out-hut, as it were." Illya handed it back. "So, this is a sign." He reached for his suitcase and placed it beside the satchel. Flipping it open, he grabbed his trunks. "Carpe diem, Mr. Solo."

Napoleon stretched out on the bed but wasn't able to sleep. He was more relaxed than he'd ever been in his life. And the most excited.

They had snorkeled the coral and Napoleon fell in love with the fish, the colors, with everything. The water was so clear and so calm that it was just like being in a large bathtub. Illya was careful to keep them in shallow spots until Napoleon grew more confident. Napoleon couldn't believe the variety of fish or the clarity of the water, and mentally started taking notes. He was going to be sure to include this in an upcoming book.

After their swim, they went back to the hut and showered. The bathroom, like the hut, was open to the air, but the roof fronds dropped to provide privacy. The floor was stepping stones surrounded by shells and coral. The first thing Illya had done was spread out towels over it. The sink was a large clam shell and the counter top had shells imbedded just below in the clear surface. The toilet was separated from the shower by several large plants. However, it was the shower that drew Napoleon's attention. It took up the entire end of the bathroom room and was completely open. No shower curtain or frosted doors to hide behind. Thankfully, this part of the floor was tiled as were the walls.

They showered and were just climbing into their clothes when Napoleon heard a strange wail. It was Hector summoning them for lunch.

Napoleon had expected lunch to be a simple thing, but it was a feast of fresh fish prepared in coconut milk, pommes frites, Illya called them. Napoleon called them French fries. Salads, both green and pasta, and fresh fruit rounded out the meal. Napoleon ate as if he'd never seen food before.

Now they had returned to their fare. Illya was sprawled out on the bed, asleep, while Napoleon was left staring up at the intricate lacing of branches that formed the ceiling. Outside he could hear the waves crashing on the ocean side of the island, the wind crackling through the palm trees, and the occasional peep of a bird.

Glancing at Illya, Napoleon carefully rolled off the bed, fought his way out of the mosquito netting and got to his feet. He pulled on his shorts and a shirt that he'd left on the small table. Going to his suitcase, he found a pad of paper and he sat. They had designated the twin bed as their couch and it was the perfect place to sit and think while still being able to glance out at the tropical glory that surrounded them.

He didn't want to think about their future as they had none. He would climb on a plane in another week and never see Illya again. Napoleon began to sketch. He'd started drawing just after he began writing professionally. It was a way to remember details that he might otherwise forget. He'd never tried drawing a person before, but this was a day of firsts. He sketched rapidly, never pausing to erase. When he was finished, he grinned at the results. Anyone who knew Illya would recognize him from the drawing.

Glancing around, Napoleon flipped the page over and began writing. It was as if he consciously stepped aside and someone else took command of his body. Often when this happened, Napoleon would not remember what he'd written, although it would be there in his own handwriting. He referred to it as channeling the Muse. He couldn't make it happen, but he'd learned to be comfortable with it when it did. It was why he almost always had a pen and paper with him.

How long he'd been writing he wasn't sure, although when he finished, Napoleon's hand was cramped and several sheets were filled with tight, barely legible writing.

With a contented sigh, he sat back and once again became aware of the noises around him. It was raining now, but he had no idea when it had started.

"Are you all right?"

Napoleon looked over at the bed and Illya, propped up on a pillow, was watching him. "I am."

"You were totally unaware of anything, but I didn't want to disturb you by moving too much." Illya rolled over and climbed out Napoleon's side, letting the mosquito netting drop behind him. He moved to the bathroom and Napoleon smiled.

Napoleon set the pad aside and looked out across the lagoon. "It's a shame it's raining."

The toilet flushed and Illya reappeared a moment later. "It'll be over soon. It usually rains about this time every afternoon. Remember the first day in Papeete? It never really stops anything, just slows it down a bit." Illya opened the door and stepped out.

"Um, Illya... you're naked."

"I know."

"Isn't there a woman on the island?"

Illya came back in and shook his head slowly as if at Napoleon's innocence. Still, he pulled on his shorts and crammed his feet into a pair of ragged sneakers. "Wouldn't want to offend her womanly sensibilities, especially since she is the one who feeds us."

"What do we do now?"

"Well, usually Hector goes out around now to catch dinner. He stops to see if we are interested. I'd say we'd missed him, but the boat is still here. Why don't you hold tight and I will go see what's happening?"

Napoleon nodded and reached for a glass of water. He'd read that you needed to drink a lot of water here to keep from dehydrating. So far, so good, but he'd only been here three days. With that thought, he grinned. He still had so much vacation left to go. Life was very good.

Illya walked quickly from their fare to the main structure. There was a soft sound that he couldn't quite place. The rain had stopped, but the wind picked up and he steered clear of the coconut trees. Getting brained with one of those was an excellent way to put a crimp on anyone's style. Unconsciously, he touched his shoulder and grimaced.

He bent to duck under the palm fronds that hid the upper part of the front door and walked into the spacious building. At one end were tables and chairs, although there was only one table covered with a bright tapa table cloth and place settings. It was where they had sat for lunch and would be for dinner.

Halfway down, opposite the front door was a surprisingly well supplied bar and at the end, opposite the tables and chairs, were several comfortable sofas and chairs each flanked with small rattan tables. This was the only place on the island that had electricity as well as shutters that could be dropped in case of a tropical storm.

The sound he'd heard earlier was louder now and he walked to the door that led to the kitchen. Seated there at a tiny table was Hector. He was holding a crying Mele. Immediately, Illya was at his side.

"Hector, quel est le problème (Hector, what's wrong)?" He switched to easily to French.

"Une mauvaise affaire (Bad business)." Hector held his wife tighter. "Il ya eu une fusillade à Kia Ora (There has been a shooting at Kia Ora)."

"Quoi? C'est de la folie. Personne n'a d'armes ic (That's crazy. No one has guns here)."

"Trois hommes armés ont pris d'assaut le hall. Et ont abattu le réceptionniste (Three people stormed the lobby and they pull guns and shot the receptionist). "

"Qui(Who)?"When Hector hesitated, Illya grabbed his arm. "Qui, Hector?"

"Louie..." Louie was Mele's cousin.

"Shit!" Illya had gone to grade school with Louie. "Mele, je suis vraiment désolé ( Mele, I'm so sorry)." He knelt and wrapped his arms around the woman and man. "Ont-ils dit pourquoi, Hector (Did they say why, Hector)?"

"Ils étaient à la recherche de quelque chose ... un bagage (They were looking for something... a piece of luggage)."

"Oh, non(Oh, no)." Illya's voice dropped to a whisper. "C'est ma faute (It's my fault)..."

"Non, Illya, il n'est pas (No, Illya, it's not)."

Illya switched back to English. "Yes, it is. When I picked Napoleon up at the airport, I mistakenly took a wrong bag. The next night, Napoleon's room was ransacked, but I'd forgotten to bring it in and had left it in Avara's car. We came over to Kia Ora and again his room was ransacked. I'd gotten the suitcase and brought it to Napoleon's room, but he said it was the wrong one. I took it back to Reception and asked them to fly it back to Papeete. That must be what they are looking for."

"Illya, they are coming here." Hector's voice was hoarse with fear.

"Hector, you get Andy and Mele off the island."

"What about Napoleon?"

"Napoleon is staying."

All three looked to where Napoleon stood in the doorway. Illya straightened and turned from the couple. "Napoleon, I was hired to watch out for you. Getting you shot would probably mean your editor not paying me. I need this paycheck and you need to be safe."

"No." The tone was defiant. "I have been running all my life, Illya. I'm tired of it. They want their bag, they can have their bag. We just have to tell them to look in Papeete airport's lost and found."

Illya led Napoleon away from the group, back into the main building. "Napoleon, they are not going to believe us. They have been trailing you for too long to believe that this is anything other than another wild goose chase. They will likely kill us, kidnap you, and then kill you once they have what they want."

"Then we will give them a fight. Surely there must be weapons here."

"With what? Machetes and coconuts?" Illya shouted at him.

"With our bare hands if we have to!" Napoleon shouted back.

"Whatever. It's your funeral." Illya turned back to Hector. "When did they leave?"

"About forty minutes or so."

"With the storm, that gives us roughly about an hour and a half. Did they bring a pilot with them?

"Not that I know of." Hector stroked his wife's hair. "Kia Ora just said they had stolen a boat and were headed here."

"Okay, that counts in our favor. There are many motus here. It will take them time to find us. Hector, this is what we should do. Get Andy and Mele out of here. Let Kia Ora know that we are aware and ready for them. Have them dispatch a helicopter with reinforcements. Also have them call the Faa'a Airport and tell them to get the police involved. They are looking for a small black suitcase. It should have come in from Rangi yesterday. Then go join your wife."

"What about you?"

"No idea, but something will come to me... I hope." Illya turned back, grim-faced, to Napoleon. "If they want a fight, then we will give it to them."

The day was starting to surrender to night when Napoleon heard a soft murmur. He frowned and closed his eyes to concentrate on the sound. It was a motor.


Illya climbed to the top of the picnic table and scanned the horizon with his binoculars. "It's them," he whispered. He turned and yelled back to the main building. "It's them!"

There was the whole of the Rangiroa police force, all five of them, scattered through the cottages. The men in the boat had not a clue what they were heading into.

Napoleon came up alongside Illya. "Can you see them?" He was holding a machete.

"Not really, but anyone traveling that fast this close to shore isn't a local." Illya studied him and shook his head slowly.

"What's wrong?"

"If someone showed me a picture of you three days ago and one now, I'd never know it was the same man. You were wearing a suit and every hair was in place. Now you look like a wild man from Borneo."

Napoleon's hair fell over his brow and he pushed it back, wiping the sweat from his face at the same time. "I feel as if that was a hundred years ago."

There was a loud noise and both men turned their attention to the incoming vessel. There was another gut-wrenching crunch and the boat came to an abrupt halt. Smoke began to pour from the engines.

"They hit a coral. They're lucky their ship didn't explode." There was a flash of light and then a crack. Illya hit the ground, taking Napoleon with him.

Napoleon swore as bits of coral and shell bit into his flesh. "Ow, damn it, Illya! What's your game?"

"They are shooting at us." Illya pushed the picnic table over, unsure if it would offer any protection. "I figured better some scrapes than a bullet wound."

One of the officers returned fire and it was answered with three more. Illya chanced a look. It was still light enough to see movement on the boat, but no real details. There was more gunfire and one of the figures staggered back, obviously hit. Return gunfire and then one officer hit the hull with a rifle blast. A moment later, an orange glow leaped up and rapidly lit the interior of the craft. There was a flurry of activity as the men on board, including the wounded man, hastily jumped into the water.

"Oh, I wouldn't do that if I were you." Illya muttered.

"Why?" Napoleon peeked over the edge of the table.

"Remember I told you that reef sharks don't attack anything bigger than themselves?"


"That's if it's not bleeding..." The sea began to froth and seethe. There were screams and then nothing but an eerie silence.

"Oh my god." Napoleon turned away when he realized what was happening, his stomach heaving at the thought.

"They deserved it." Illya's voice was cold.

"No one deserves that."

"They killed my friend!" Illya stormed off, heading back to the main building. Men were starting to move inside, coming out to watch the spectacle, while Napoleon walked back to the fare and went inside. He'd often written about men dying in the past, but he'd never seen it. He'd never heard it and he knew he'd never write it again.

The glow from a lantern filled the fare as Illya entered. He held it up to study Napoleon's face. "Are you okay?"

"No." Napoleon felt sick to his soul. "Men died because of me."

"Not because of you. Because of me. The Tahitian police called. That suitcase was filled with money. They've traced it back to a Central American kidnapping. Fourteen nuns were kidnapped, raped, tortured, and then slaughtered. The money was from the ransom paid for their safe return. The world is better off without those men, Napoleon." Illya set the lantern down. "Mourn if you must, but know who you are mourning for. If you ask me, the sharks did the world a favor."

He walked back out into the night. Napoleon slapped at a mosquito that whined close to his ear. He took the lantern into the bathroom with him and dampened a washcloth in the dribble of water. With the pumps turned off, there was no pressure, but it was enough. He wiped down his scrapes as best he cold and covered them with bandages. He'd read that injuries turned septic quickly here and he wanted to be extra careful. Dropping the washcloth onto the counter, he walked back to bed and climbed under the mosquito netting without taking the lantern with him.

He kicked back the covers and then pulled the sheet over him. It was going to be a long night. No matter how you looked at it, it was going to be a long night.

Napoleon must have dozed off for it was raining again when he woke. At first he thought it was that which woke him, then he heard a noise and saw shadows playing in the lantern light. A moment later, Illya climbed up the two stairs that separated the bathroom from the rest of the fare and walked to his side of the bed. There was a momentary struggle as Illya climbed in and secured the netting. Then he lay quietly as the rain whispered and hissed around them.

Then, softly, Illya began to speak. "When I was twelve, some of the island boys took an exception to me. I don't know if it was because I was smart, or if it was because I was small for my age, or it is was because I was a blue-eyed blond. One day after school, they caught me and dispensed what they thought was island justice. They probably would have killed me if Louie and his cousin hadn't stepped in. As it were, I spent the next four months in the hospital recovering. When I got out, my parents decided to send me to France to school. My Uncle Alex had settled in Paris, so I went and stayed with him. He taught me about food and wine and how to defend myself. I left a boy and came back a man."

"What happened to the guys who beat you up?" Napoleon shifted to roll to his side.

"One had left the island for parts unknown. I heard another one got beaned by a coconut and suffered permanent brain damage. Another one died in a fishing accident when he got too close to a fishing net. They never recovered his body. The ringleader, he got drunk and killed two little girls. Their parents found him and let's just say there are worse things than death." Illya sighed deeply.

"My stepfather tried to drown me," Napoleon said softly. "My mother killed him. When I was a senior in high school, a guy got me drunk, stripped and raped me, then left me in the woods. It was December. When my mother found me, I was nearly dead from the cold. The guy disappeared from the face of the Earth. I didn't ask any questions."


"And the only relationship I ever had ended when I found him in bed with someone else. He said it was my fault and that if I'd been any kind of man, I'd be able to satisfy him properly." Napoleon flopped over onto his back. "I didn't think I'd ever be able to love again after him, but you proved me wrong." Napoleon reached out and found Illya's hand, squeezing gently. "I'm sorry about Louie."

"Yeah, me, too." Illya squeezed back. "Do you want to leave the island?"

"Do we have to?"


"Well, I have money, but not quite that much money."

"You could write your books here and ship them to your editor back in New York. You'd never have to worry about being cold again. You could stay here with me... always... and I'd never tell you it was your fault."

"I'd just have to worry about being eaten by sharks." Napoleon chuckled softly. "As enticing a thought as that is..." He rolled his head towards Illya. "I love you, Illya."

"You shouldn't."

"Why not?"

"You know nothing about me. I'm just some stumblebum who drifts through life without any real direction. I live on a rusted-out boat when I'm not working as a guide or renting myself out as a pilot."

"I'd love to see your boat sometime."

"Why? It's nothing much."

"It's yours. Believe it or not, I love being on the water, just not in it."

"You'd be underwhelmed, I'm sure. You're a big name writer. You know the good life. Millions of people hang on your words and they wait for you to create for them. The only thing I attract is trouble." With his free hand, Illya reached over and brushed Napoleon's hair back. "I'm no good for you."

"I think that's something I should decide... later."

"All right, later, and for the record, Ua here vau ia oe, Napoleon Solo." Illya raised Napoleon's hand to his lips and kissed the fingers. "I think it sounds prettier in Tahitian."

"I think you're right." Napoleon returned the gesture and then, exhausted, they slept.

Illya woke, his eyes gritty-feeling. He didn't bother to fight his way through the mosquito netting for his watch to see the time. He could tell the sun was full in the sky.

Carefully, so as to not to wake Napoleon, Illya slipped out of bed and pulled on his shorts. He walked out onto the porch and looked out at the lagoon. There was always a sense of peace that filled him when he was here. He should really talk to his father about making him a host here. The only problem was that it was the policy to only hire a husband and wife team. Illya looked back at Napoleon and shook his head. He would never be able to convince his father that Napoleon was a woman.

He sat just long enough to pull on his tennis shoes and then walked to the main hut. As he drew near, he could hear Mele singing. That was odd.

Instead of going through the front door, he walked in through the back, straight into the kitchen.

"Ia ora na 'oe," he said and Mele spun.

"Bonjuor, mon ami!" She turned back to the stove. "Isn't it a beautiful day?"

"Mele... what?"

"Louie is alive, Illya. He was shot, but not killed like we thought." Mele giggled. "He is out of surgery and doing well. When you leave, we will be going back with you to be with him for a few days."

"What?" Illya grabbed and twirled her around, kissing her.

"I take it you've heard the news," Hector said and Illya turned to hug him as well. "Should I be worried?"

"Never, cousin." Illya laughed. "Thank God."

"How are you this morning? After last night, does he want to leave?"

"No, he wants to stay. If you want to go in, I can look after the island."

Hector grinned. "No, my boss would kick me botter le cul."

"I can almost promise he wouldn't kick any part of your anatomy." Illya inhaled and smile. "I would love some coffee."

"And Napoleon?"

"He's still sleeping, but I'll take some to him."

"You and he, you are growing close."

"We are."

"Listen to me, Illya. It's time you settle down. This one , I think, is a keeper."

"I have nothing to offer him, Hector."

"Nothing? You are heir to the biggest estate on the island and wealthy in your own right. Your father owns Kia Ora and Napoleon fell in love with you not knowing any of this. This is the one for you - the perfect match." Mele filled a carafe and placed it on tray along with cream and sugar. She added two cups, spoons, and napkins.

"But his life is elsewhere, not here. He is a mainlander. You know that seldom works. It never has for me."

"Maybe this time you will be lucky and he will stay."

Illya glanced back over his shoulder at the fare. "Maybe..."

Napoleon stood at the hotel window and looked out at the Pacific Ocean. As the water drew closer to the shore, the blues gradually lightened until the water was absolutely clear. At this time of day, the brilliance of its blue nearly shattered his retinas, but it was nothing compared to the funk that had lowered itself over him. Two weeks had flown by and in just a few short hours, he was scheduled to fly back to the mainland. It broke his heart to leave this land of warmth and where he'd found such happiness.

"You sure you won't come with me?" He looked back at the bed where Illya was dressing. They'd just finished making love for, what Napoleon guessed, was the last time.

"I can't. Just as you have obligations back home, I have them here."

"I thought you were a stumblebum who drifted through life."

"Even stumblebums have bills to pay and people to dance for." Illya pulled his faded tropical shirt on and began to button it.

Napoleon left the window and sat down beside him. "Who are you, really?"

"Really, just another sap trying to make it day to day."

"I could help you with that."

"Ah, no, that would not work. Being a kept man is not in my considerable repertoire. I may not have much, but I do have my pride, Napoleon."

"I didn't mean..." Napoleon massaged his temples and Illya caught his hand.

"I know. You can always stay here with me. The offer still stands."

"I know... and I can't stay anymore than you can leave and come with me. If it's okay with you, I'd rather you not come to the airport with me. It's going to be hard enough to leave without having you there as well."

Illya pulled him into an embrace and for a long time they sat there.

"You've broken me, Solo," Illya murmured. "I swore I'd never feel for anyone the way I feel for you. Stay, please, I beg you."

"I can't." Napoleon was surprised at the strength in his voice.

"Then go to hell." Illya pulled away and turned his back on Napoleon just as there was a knock on the door.

"Mr. Solo, your taxi is waiting and all your bags are loaded."

Napoleon looked at Illya and then reached into his pocket. "Illya..." he began, but Illya waved him away.

"Go. Get out of here."

Carefully, Napoleon set his tchotchke, his ceramic little grass shack, on the bed beside Illya and slowly left the room. He didn't see the hand reaching out to cover the tchotchke, and squeeze it tightly.

Napoleon returned to New York and put on a happy face for Vic and Maizie. He gave them the gifts he'd brought back and set about trying to recreate the feeling of Tahiti in his apartment. He replaced the drab furniture with rattan pieces, their cushions an explosion of color. He replaced pictures with posters of white sand beaches and palm trees, the water the same shade as Illya's eyes. He gave up his neutral wardrobe and wore only brightly colored tropical shirts. He even draped mosquito netting about his bed. Nothing helped, nothing he did could lift the weight in his heart, for nothing would be Illya. So, he did what he'd always done - he wrote.

Napoleon tacked the drawing of Illya up beside his typewriter and opened the floodgates. Critics proclaimed his book the work of a genius. They claimed made the young fall in love and the old remember their carefree days. It shot to the top of the Best Sellers list and stayed there an unprecedented time. Vic was struggling with competitive bids from various movie studios. Napoleon had gone from being rich to being wealthy. Yet none of that mattered to Napoleon for he had with whom to share it.

He tiredly rubbed a spot above his eyes. "Yes, Vic, I know you need a decision. Just use your best judgment. They are going to slaughter the screenplay anyways. They always do." He hung up the phone and sighed. Picking up a brochure on Tahiti, he began to calculate just how long it would take to wind up his affairs here. Illya had been right and each day proved that. Napoleon could write anywhere, so why shouldn't he write where he was happy? Being trapped here wasn't fair and Napoleon was going to put an end to that here and now.

There was a knock on the door and Napoleon frowned. Usually Derek, the doorman, let no one in without calling Napoleon first. It must be Maizie. She was the only one who could get past Derek without the song and dance.

The last few months had grown strained with his best friend. Napoleon loved her, but she was mothering him to death. It had been fine before, but he came back from Tahiti a different man and she didn't like it.

He no longer relied upon her to make his decisions. He'd faced death and it had affected him in ways he'd never dreamed of. It was his life and his choices. He'd told her three days ago of his plans to leave New York and move to Tahiti. Trust her to pound on his door with all the reasons why he couldn't go instead of supporting his decision.

"Who is it?"

Sure enough, Maizie's voice answered, "Girlfriend, it's me, open the door."

"My name is Napoleon," he whispered. Louder, he said, "Leave me alone. I've made up my mind."

"If you are so determined to leave, then at least let me say goodbye face to face."

"I'm going and you can't stop me!" He flung open the door and stopped. Illya was standing there, looking exhausted and disheveled. He ran a hand through his tangled blond hair and smiled.

"Sorry, it was a long flight and parking was a bitch."

Napoleon grabbed Illya and hugged him hard just as Mazie stepped around Illya and grinned at the pair. "I'm not going to try and stop you, Napoleon. Not anymore. I just want you happy."

"Illya... How did you get here?"

"Your friend called me and said you needed help, so I fueled up Моя любовь and here I am. I think she thought once I got to New York, I might change my mind and stay here. She doesn't know me very well, does she?"

"To the contrary, I think she knows us both very well. She just doesn't know how something or someone can get into someone's heart and soul. " Napoleon kissed him, then hugged him again, relishing the feeling of the man back in his arms, something he never would have again. "I am never going to let you go ever again," he whispered in Illya's ear.

"It's going to make it hard to pee," Illya murmured and Napoleon laughed for the first time in what felt like years.

"Come on, Illya, help me finish packing. I'm ready to go home."

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