Edited by Sarah Lindsay and Jane Terry. Thanks to Ariadne and Aithine for beta-reading.
It was hot in Kuala Lumpur, capital city of Malaysia. Stinking hot. Even if he'd worn a T-shirt and slacks instead of his Saville Row suit, Napoleon knew that he'd still feel uncomfortable. He was trapped in a cab surrounded by peak hour traffic. Cars, trucks and the odd tourist bus waited end to end, their exhaust fumes adding to the oppressive humidity. Motorbikes darted in and out, seeking a short cut through the traffic snarl.
Napoleon disliked freezing cold weather. The cold numbed his nose and fingertips, an intolerable situation to a man who embraced hedonism. But he also had the same intense dislike of tropical weather. The sweat, the sticky humidity, the stains on his collar and the extra creases in his shirt...it all added up to more physical discomfort.
He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar. It didn't make him feel better, but at least he could breathe more easily. "Are we nearly there?" he asked.
The lane of cars crept forward a few feet. A cyclist whizzed past, carrying a child in front of the handlebars and a baby clinging to his back.
"Another five minutes," the driver told him.
Another five minutes. It would stretch to thirty if they kept up this pace. He peered out the window. The main hospital building was visible a couple of blocks away. "Thanks for driving me this far. I'll get out and walk."
The stagnant humidity hit him as soon as he opened the door, suffocating him with its thick pervasive embrace. Napoleon took off his jacket and flung it over one shoulder. It wasn't enough. He undid his cuffs and rolled up his sleeves. Still hot and oppressive, but a little more bearable.
It had been two hours since he'd taken Illya to the emergency department. Waverly had sent them to South East Asia to chase a lead on more explosive Thrush fruit. Despite their success in closing down Thrush's explosive apple operation in the States, some Thrushie had managed to communicate the methodology to South East Asia.
Before this assignment, Napoleon had never seen a durian. Now he would be glad to never set eyes on one again.
"What's a durian?"
"It's known as the king of fruits, Mr. Solo," Mr. Waverly said. "It's slightly larger than a coconut, with a solid outer husk of thick spikes. People have suffered serious head injury and, in rare cases, death, from durians falling on their head. But once Thrush have tampered with them, they have the potential to be deadly on a far greater scale."
Waverly seldom ever cracked a joke, and he seemed completely serious. Napoleon managed to keep his expression sober. "If durians are so dangerous, why on earth would anyone want to grow them?"
Illya looked up from the file, reading glasses perched on his nose, and gave Napoleon a pitying glance. "Because they taste divine."
He hated it when Illya put on his know-it-all act. "Really?"
"So it's claimed by the locals," Waverly answered. "Oh, yes, that reminds me. Gentlemen, the durian does have a distinct...odor. It's been likened to that of a sewer or a gas leak. I advise you to take extreme care to avoid spilling any of it on your clothing. U.N.C.L.E. will reimburse agents for dry cleaning expenses, but our funding has its limits." He cast a stern eye in Napoleon's direction.
"Connoisseurs regard the aroma as being an integral part of the durian's appeal." Illya took off his glasses, his expression almost dreamy. "The soft flesh, the sweet taste, and the unique aroma...that's what make it a prized delicacy."
Coming from a man who ate seal blubber while in the Yukon, that wasn't saying much.
"You've tasted these before, haven't you?" Napoleon asked.
"A few years ago. Why?"
"It figures. Remind me to buy a big bag of mints before our flight."
The bag of mints was in his hotel room. But it wouldn't remove the smell of durian from his clothes. Thrush's attempt to drown him in a vat of the sickly sweet pulp failed, but it had left its odoriferous mark. The smell still clung to him after a shower and a change of clothes.
But Illya was in a worse condition, unconscious after two durians to the back of the head. Probably concussion, the doctor had said. But Napoleon was beginning to wonder. During his years with U.N.C.L.E., Illya had suffered more head trauma than the average heavyweight boxer. One day, someone was going to use something that would penetrate that thick skull.
And all the king's horses, and all the king's men Couldn't put Illya together again.
Napoleon rubbed his forehead. It was damp with perspiration. He shook his head and kept walking.
The hospital waiting room was full of people. Wrinkled old men curled up in chairs, young mothers clung to sobbing infants. Inside the department, it was much the same. Staff rushed about, too busy to question the stranger in their midst.
Illya wasn't in any of the open cubicles. "Illya?" He peered behind a curtain, and winced at what he saw. "Errr...sorry."
He wasn't there. Goodness knows where he would be now. Theater? X-ray?
He intercepted an orderly pushing a wheelchair. "Excuse me. Have you seen a man with a big bump on the head? Short, shaggy blond hair, blue eyes?"
The orderly pointed to a small room away from the main department. Napoleon knocked.
"It is I."
He was awake, a significant improvement. Napoleon opened the door a fraction. "Are you decent?"
"I am always decent."
Napoleon smiled. "Just making sure."
The room was bare but clean. Illya was in a small bed, propped up by two pillows. He held a metal bowl in one hand. One his forehead was a cold compress, which slid off as he sat up. "Where have you been?"
"I had to go back and help the local authorities identify some Thrushies. Miss me?"
"Not really." Illya rested his head against the pillows, and readjusted the cold pack. "I was able to get some much-needed rest."
Napoleon sat down in a nearby chair. Up close, Illya didn't look the best. Lines of exhaustion circled his eyes and bracketed his mouth. One of his shirt sleeves was ripped at the seams. His blond hair, always too long for Napoleon's tastes, fell on the pillow in thick lank clumps. There was a graze across one cheek, superficial scratches over the other. A deep laceration over his brow was stitched up. Napoleon counted them. Eight.
Illya wrinkled his nose. "You smell."
"I know. Eau de durian." Napoleon leaned close and sniffed Illya's hair. "Mmm, you're wearing the same scent too."
"You smell more. I've only noticed it since you came in."
"I thought you said the scent of durian added to one's culinary enjoyment."
Illya snorted. "I haven't tasted one since we arrived." Hope flared in his eyes. "I don't suppose you grabbed a sample while you were in that vat?"
"Sorry. I've vowed never to eat apples or durians again." He ruffled Illya's hair. "How are you feeling?"
"Like my head is about to split open. I almost wish it would, because it can't be any worse than it is at the moment." Illya turned to look at him, and the cold compress slid off again. "Did you catch them all?"
Napoleon held it against Illya's forehead for him. "All rounded up and behind bars."
"Good. I wasn't sure how you'd manage on your own."
"I managed." It wasn't an insult, merely the usual banter that peppered their conversation. "So tell me, what did you do to get a single room of your own?"
A few thoughtful wrinkles appeared between Illya's brows. "This is a bereavement room."
"A bereavement room. It's for dying patients and their relatives."
"What?" Illya wasn't that ill, was he? "What did you say?" He clutched Illya's shoulders, almost pulling him into a sitting position.
Illya scowled at being manhandled. "I said, 'This...room...is...'"
"I heard you the first time!" He gave Illya a little shake. Dying or not, his partner could be so incredibly dense. "How can you be..."
Napoleon couldn't say it. His mind baulked at the idea. He was a well-traveled sophisticated man of the world, but the mention of mortality still sent an atavistic shiver down his spine.
"Napoleon." Illya sat up, blond hair disheveled. Stray strands fell into his eyes, and he shoved them off with an impatient hand. Sharp blue eyes, suddenly alert and very much alive, bored into his. "I'm not dying."
Sweet relief washed over him. He eased his grip over Illya's shoulders. "You're not?"
"No." Illya shifted his head closer to his. "Do I look as if I am?"
Napoleon blinked. Illya was so close that they were almost nose-to-nose. He could feel the warmth of Illya's breath, see the slight sheen of perspiration on his forehead, the furrows between his brows. And those brilliant eyes, watching him with a peculiar intensity of concentration.
Napoleon flushed under the scrutiny. He had been in close proximity to Illya many times—he often leaned closer during private conversation—but Illya never looked directly at him like this.
What was he looking for?
Illya drew back slightly, and tilted his head to one side. A hint of a smile hovered about his lips. "Were you worried?"
Amusement. Illya seldom showed it openly, but he did have a sense of humor. Unfortunately, he often exercised it at Napoleon's expense.
"What do you think? It's not a laughing matter."
"I know. Am I laughing?" His eyes widened in innocent surprise.
It didn't fool Napoleon for a second. Illya seldom did laugh, but he didn't have to. The slight twitch at the corner of his lips was a dead giveaway.
Napoleon dropped the cold compress on Illya's chest. He could hold it himself from now on.
Illya grinned, a fleeting movement that briefly transformed his entire face. "Thank you."
But Napoleon couldn't maintain his irritation. This wasn't the first time he'd Illya had found amusement at his expense. He'd omitted important information just to see Napoleon squirm. The assignment involving a Thrush 'fountain of youth' was a case in point. It ended up accelerating the death of those who took it, including the unfortunate Nazarone. But Illya had deliberately said nothing about its horrible side-effects, leaving Napoleon to worry about how he'd lost the formula to the evil Dr. Egret.
Yes, Illya could be mischievous. But if he had enough strength to play such a trick, he couldn't be that ill. Napoleon found himself smiling, partly in relief, and partly in rueful amusement at his own over-reaction. "So if you're well and whole, what are you doing here?"
"They don't have any dying patients at the moment, but the waiting room is full. So they decided to put me here to free up one of the cubicles."
"Are they doing anything for you?"
"They did X-rays of my skull, and they found no fracture. So they're going to observe me for another two hours for any ill effects. If I'm fine, they'll let me go."
"Observe you? How can anyone observe you if you're stuck in a room on your own?"
The door swung open. A young woman in a nurse's uniform came in with a folder. Her glossy black hair was cut in a bob, with bangs that swung against her cheek. It framed a face of classic Oriental beauty: slanted brown eyes, honey-gold skin, and generously curved lips.
"Hello, Mr. Kuryakin." She stopped when she saw Napoleon. "You have a visitor?"
Napoleon stood up, a ready smile on his lips. "I'm a friend of his. My name is Napoleon Solo." He was amazed to find that she just reached his shoulder.
"Mr. Solo." She smiled at him, her eyes crinkling. "I come to check on your friend."
"They've been coming in every fifteen minutes to do this," Illya explained.
"Correct. We must watch anyone with a head injury for three hours." She looked carefully at Illya, a worried look on her face. "Do you feel sleepy?"
"Is your headache worse?"
"Do you have problems with your vision? Do you have weakness in your arms or legs?"
She flashed a penlight over his eyes, and watched for any reaction. Then she popped a thermometer in Illya's mouth, took his wrist, and checked the watch pinned to her uniform.
Illya pulled the thermometer out his mouth. "As you can see," he said for Napoleon's benefit, "I'm in good hands." He quickly popped it back in at her mock-severe look.
Good hands indeed. They were graceful in movement, with long fingers and short, well-groomed nails. Unmarked by wrinkles or lines, they were a thing of beauty.
Napoleon felt a small stab of envy as she placed them on Illya's head, carefully exploring his scalp for bruising.
Illya, for his part, seemed to enjoy the attention. And why not?
From what he could tell from her starched nurse's uniform, her curves were small and tight, befitting her delicate frame. Some men preferred lush curves, but he knew the pleasure to be had in a leaner, petite figure.
He discreetly looked down. Shapely calves, and fine-boned ankles. She could probably fit both feet in one of his shoes.
She checked his blood pressure, and jotted down the results in the folder. "Everything is good. Can I get you something for the pain?"
"Yes, please. Could I have some tablets?"
"Yes, I will bring it for you."
As she left, Napoleon looked around, allowing himself the luxury of admiring her derriere. A very nice view.
"Enjoying yourself?" Illya was looking at him, his mouth twisted in wry amusement. One blond brow lifted in arch curiosity.
Napoleon shrugged. "Just admiring the view." He lounged himself back in the chair, one leg negligently crossed over the other.
The nurse returned with the tablets and a jug of water, which she placed on the table. "Let me know if you need anything else." Her eyes flicked to Napoleon for a moment, and she smiled.
Napoleon smiled back. He watched her hips sway as she left the room, the smile still on his lips.
"Could you pour me some water?" Illya asked patiently.
"Sure." Reluctantly, Napoleon pulled his gaze away from the doorway. "Here you go."
Illya didn't spare him a glance this time. He popped the tablets in his mouth, then drained the glass. When he was finished, he placed the glass on the table with a thud. "I think I'll be able to leave soon."
"Are you sure? The nurse said you should stay in for another two hours."
"I'm sure there's someone else who need this bed more than I do."
Maybe Illya had a point, but... "You were hit on the head pretty hard. Let them assess you thoroughly and clear you first."
Illya sighed in frustration. "I already have first-hand experience of concussion. Planks of wood, metal pipes, bottles of olive oil...a couple of durians may be somewhat exotic, but the mechanism of action is much the same."
"Okay, okay. But you must stay for at least another hour."
"Another hour? But I feel fine."
"This is for my peace of mind, not yours. One more hour."
Illya scowled and folded his arms.
"Hey, maybe if you're nice, that nurse will give you a backrub."
That earned him a snort. "Don't try to be funny. It doesn't suit you." Illya threw himself back against the pillows and placed the cold pack back on his head, eyes firmly shut. With his hair still mussed, he looked like a boy on the verge of a temper tantrum.
Napoleon checked his watch. He wasn't thrilled at the idea of leaving with Illya in one hour. It would mean less time to pursue the attentions of that attractive nurse. Striking up an acquaintance was easy if he came in frequent contact with the lady concerned; his success with flight attendants during long distance flights was proof of that. But picking up a busy nurse within one hour would be difficult.
He stole a quick sideways glance at the bed. Illya's sullen presence was going to put a dampener on any romantic plans for this evening. Napoleon recalled a string of near-certain dates sabotaged by one of Illya's barbed comments. The lady would beat a quick retreat, leaving Napoleon fuming and frustrated. Stuck with Illya for company, they'd spend the night drinking and exchanging insults.
Illya at his most withering was more effective than a splash of cold water.
"Will I be interrupting your plans for this evening?" Illya asked.
Napoleon looked at him again, but Illya's eyes were firmly shut. "I have no plans."
Was he a mind reader as well? "It's all right. I'll get by," Napoleon said lightly. "Get some rest. You can bait me later when we're out of here."
Illya mumbled something and rolled over, leaving Napoleon to reflect on the possibility of being dateless tonight. No one to wine and dine and engage in idle conversation. Just him and Illya.
It wasn't that he missed the company of women. Illya could be great company when in the right mood. He had a delightfully irreverent take on the world, and a sharp dry humor that could cut to the heart of any topic. Napoleon enjoyed listening to him. Talking to Illya was stimulating, invigorating. It made him think.
But there was more to life than conversation. There were other pleasures in life: the sensual, the physical, and Napoleon enjoyed these even more. Nothing could clear his mind of tension as effectively as sex. From the thrill of the successful conquest, to the sensation of thrusting inside a responsive body...it was what he lived for.
Male, female...he didn't believe in being picky about such things. Both had their advantages. But he'd kept clear of encounters with men for several years. Society wasn't ready for it, and he had a career and a reputation to protect. Besides, it was never hard to find a pretty woman to distract him from the occasional man that caught his eye.
He glanced at Illya, asleep on the bed. Illya was not quite handsome. His chin was too square, his blond hair way too long, his eyes too...blue.
Hmm. Napoleon couldn't quite remember the problem with Illya's eyes. Too piercing. Too knowing, too intelligent. That was it. Illya was simply too cerebral for sex. No doubt he could discuss the mechanics of sex, maybe even the pros and cons of the most common sexual positions. But he never pursued it with passion or vigor. Napoleon had lost count of the number of girls Illya had politely turned away. And it wasn't as if Illya was finding his pleasure with men. Napoleon had watched carefully for any of the tell-tale signs.
Maybe he was shy. In any case, Illya had little interest in sex. He probably wouldn't recognize physical beauty if it slapped him on the cheek.
What kind of man would choose a life devoid of sensual enjoyment? Napoleon shook his head, a trifle disgusted. Illya, for all his knowledge, was a philistine. Luckily, I'm not like that, he thought. I have a chance—albeit a slim one—with this nurse, and I intend to take full advantage of it.
But luck wasn't on his side. Over the next hour, two different nurses came in to check on Illya. One was plump and married, the other much younger and barely out of school. Sweet, but too young for his taste. There was no opportunity to consolidate on the promising start with that first nurse. To compound his boredom, Illya ignored him in favor of napping, leaving Napoleon to read a copy of the local newspaper.
After one hour, the first nurse entered the room with a doctor.
"We usually make patients stay for another hour," the doctor explained, "but since you have a good friend keeping an eye on you, we're willing to make an exception."
Illya pushed off the sheets and swung his legs out of bed. "Thank you." Without preamble, he began putting on his socks and shoes.
Napoleon watched in amazement. Illya was fast asleep a few minutes ago. "Well," he said, looking from him to the doctor, "I'm not sure that's such a good idea. What should I do if his headache gets worse, or if he becomes nauseated?"
"Do you know the typical symptoms of concussion?"
Illya's eyes shot daggers at him. "Yes."
The doctor frowned at them both.
"His memory isn't the best," Illya explained. "But I'll make sure to remind him."
Napoleon clenched his jaw. He knew the symptoms of concussion! But he also knew how quickly a person with a head injury could shift from lucidity to profound unconsciousness. He'd been hoping that they'd make Illya spend another hour here. That way, if something were to happen, he would receive prompt treatment.
And if nothing happened, well...all the more opportunity to flirt.
Napoleon placed one hand on the closed top button of his jacket, absently straightening it. His other hand was in his trouser pocket, studiously casual. He flashed a winning smile at the nurse and doctor. "I served in Korea, so I do know first aid. I know about concussion, and if that's all it is, I'll be able to handle it. But I don't want him to leave against medical advice. And besides," he flashed Illya a mocking look. "I'm a bit rusty with basic brain surgery. Don't expect me to drill holes in your skull if you have an intracranial bleed."
Illya looked up, in the middle of doing up his shirt buttons. "I understand, but I accept the risk. Your inexperience with a screwdriver may present a problem—"
"Hey, I know how to use a screwdriver!"
Illya shouldered into his jacket, shirt buttons still undone. "When was the last time you used one?"
The doctor laughed nervously. "I think Mr. Kuryakin will be fine. But make sure to bring him back if you're worried in any way."
"I will. But if his mood is any indicator, he's back to his charming self."
The nurse came forward with a small bottle. "Here's some tablets for the pain, and a prescription in case you need more."
"Thank you." Napoleon's fingers brushed against hers for a moment. "You've been very kind. What's your name?"
"Siew Tan," she said, smiling.
"Siew Tan," he repeated, looking right into her eyes, "thanks for all your help."
"You're welcome, Mr...?"
"Solo, but my friends call me Napoleon." He did his best to infuse it with the right blend of affability and charm. "Siew Tan, I was wondering—"
Illya appeared at his side, not quite placing himself between the two of them. "How often should I take these tablets?" He snatched the bottle from Napoleon's hand.
"Two pills every four to six hours. And make sure you don't drive or operate heavy machinery." She looked at Illya, the same warm smile on her face. "You are very lucky to have such a good friend."
"Napoleon puts on his best front with members of the opposite sex, but underneath it all, he's really a scheming, manipulative—"
"Illya, did you know that the butt of an U.N.C.L.E. Special could inflict the same concussion to your head as a fully ripe durian?"
The nurse laughed. "You are both so funny. Talking, talking. It is so funny to listen." She bent forward and bestowed Illya a quick kiss on the cheek. "No more walking under durian trees. Goodbye."
Napoleon was dumbfounded. He watched her leave, his one chance slipping out of his grasp. "What did you do to deserve that?"
"Maybe she has good taste," Illya suggested, deadpan.
"That is debatable." Illya's blond hair was still askew, despite his attempts to finger-comb into order. His shirt tails hung out of his trousers, his collar was unbuttoned. "I'm almost ashamed to be seen with you in public. Are you ready?"
"Come on, let's go."
Illya said nothing more, but Napoleon knew he was grinning. He'd caught glimpses of it before, one of those cheeky grins that flashed across Illya's face whenever he upstaged Napoleon.
Napoleon looked around. Illya's face was composed, perfectly serene. His eyes seemed a little brighter; maybe it was simply relief at being discharged.
"Something wrong?" Illya asked, all wide-eyed innocence.
"Nothing." But Napoleon wasn't fooled. His sixth sense could still feel the mischievous grin behind him, gloating over his lack of dating success.
Illya wasn't hungry, and neither was Napoleon. The durian smell had effectively ruined his appetite. So rather than enjoying the sizzling and spicy food available from the numerous outdoor hawker stalls, they retreated back to Napoleon's hotel room.
Correction, Napoleon reminded himself. Their hotel room.
Waverly was notoriously tight with accommodation expenses. Agents typically shared hotel rooms when on assignment. This trip to Malaysia was no exception. But at least he'd had the room to himself for most of the assignment. Illya infiltrated the Thrush operation as a durian picker, and lived within the plantation premises as part of his cover.
Now that the assignment was over, he usually share Napoleon's room. That wasn't a problem.
No, the problem was the bed. Some bureaucrat in Operations forgot that Illya would need a bed for the last night, and booked a room with one bed.
In the creaky hotel elevator, Napoleon tried to broach this potentially tricky topic.
"I should warn you about the bed."
Illya leaned against the back wall. "Is it too hard?"
"Illya, there's only one."
Illya didn't miss a beat. "Can you sleep on the sofa?"
Napoleon stopped. He hadn't thought of that. "Why must I take the sofa?"
"Because I have concussion, and you don't."
The lift creaked to a stop, and Napoleon pulled the door open. "How about we toss for it? Heads I win, tails you lose."
Illya scowled at him. But his expression cleared when he entered the small room. "It's a double bed." He walked around it slowly, assessing its dimensions. When he was finished, he looked warily at Napoleon. "You're not inviting anyone else to share it, are you?"
"No! What kind of person do you think I am?"
"Then there shouldn't be a problem. We can both fit without too much trouble." He tilted his head, thinking. "If spatial concerns are a problem, I recommend tying string along the length of the bed, and suspending towels and blankets to demarcate the boundary between the appropriate territories."
Napoleon almost burst out laughing, but Illya looked so grave and serious about it. "You sound like you've done this before."
Illya sat on the bed, already claiming the side he wanted. "Haven't you?"
"No, and I'm definitely not about to start now. If you're okay with sharing this bed with me, fine. But a wall of...of flimsy towels and blankets is absurd! It's not as if I'm going to...to..."
A vision entered Napoleon's mind: Illya lying next to him, blond hair splayed over the pillow, muscled limbs carelessly tossed across the bed, a slight smile on his lips. It made his face flush in embarrassment, and a low ache settle in his gut.
"I know." Illya's voice was subdued. "I have no fear that you will make any unwelcome physical overtures." He lowered his gaze. "I was merely offering my suggestion in deference to your...sensibilities."
His sensibilities? Now Napoleon did laugh. "Illya, Illya." He sat on the bed beside Illya, and patted his shoulder. "You know that I, of all people, have few sensibilities worth deferring to. I have no problems with sharing the bed." He shoved the vision to the back of his mind. "As you don't mind...sharing the bed with me?"
Illya's gaze was steadfast. "No."
"That's...that's good." The directness of Illya's gaze unnerved him. He had a sudden urge to pull his hand away.
"May I use the shower first?"
"By all means."
It was a relief when Illya left the room. Something was odd about his behavior. Maybe it was the bump to the head.
He pinched the bridge of his nose. Maybe he was imagining it. What he need to do is unwind and relax. He'd earned it after this crazy assignment.
So he called room service for a bottle of chilled champagne and a couple of glasses. Then he opened his briefcase and pulled out the standard set of U.N.C.L.E. forms, all pristine and blank, ready for him to write in the details of his report. He shrugged out of his jacket, pulled off his tie, rolled up his shirt sleeves. Nothing was guaranteed to make him drowsier than filling in U.N.C.L.E. forms in triplicate.
By the time Illya came out, Napoleon had settled himself nicely. He lounged against the pillows, a glass of champagne in one hand, a pen in the other, and a sheaf of papers in his lap.
"Would you like a glass of champagne?"
Illya pulled the white bathrobe around him. His hair was fluffy from the shower, and his eyes were larger than usual, as if he was trying to force them open. "I'll have some water. I don't think painkillers and alcohol should mix."
Napoleon poured champagne for him anyway. "A small amount won't hurt. It's not as if you'll be going anywhere tonight. And it's safer than drinking tap water."
"You're probably right."
"I usually am."
Mocking blue eyes flicked his way. "Then far be it for me to shatter your illusions."
Napoleon refused to rise to the bait. He merely gave Illya the fluted glass.
Illya took a sip, and released a long sigh.
Napoleon hid a smile. Maybe he was wrong about Illya not being a sensualist. Illya appreciated fine food and drink. Even though Illya griped about his expensive tastes, he was quick to enjoy the same things as Napoleon. Maybe we have more in common than I thought.
"It's good," Illya announced. "Where are the painkiller tablets?"
"You grabbed them, remember?"
"Did I?" Illya scratched his head with one hand, sipping champagne with the other. He wandered back into the bathroom. He returned a few seconds later, pill bottle in hand.
Napoleon didn't even bother looking up from the form in front of him. "I'm going to resist the temptation to say, 'I told you so.'"
"I greatly appreciate it." Dry with an undercurrent of amusement.
It was comfortable, this familiar bantering dialogue. How often had it defused tense situations, kept them awake during dull stakeouts and long drives? Their friendship, such as it was, had been built on this continuing back-and-fro repartee.
And Napoleon enjoyed it greatly. It was mentally stimulating, this sharp matching of wits. "Did you damage any vehicles during this assignment?"
"One, but it was in a bad condition to start with." Illya lay on the bed beside him, still in the bathrobe. He propped himself up on a couple of pillows, so he could sip more champagne. "I feel rather decadent drinking this instead of water, while you complete the paperwork."
"Enjoy it while it lasts." Napoleon tapped the pen against the paper, mentally estimating the value of the battered truck Illya had bombed earlier today at the durian plantation.
"I'm hungry for a durian."
Napoleon looked up at him. "Did you get amnesia with that bump to the head? A couple of durians knocked you out cold. I almost drowned in a vat of pulp."
"I know. The bathroom smells like rotting garbage. But I wish I could taste one."
"Didn't you get to eat some while you were working at the plantation?"
"No, of course not. We were fed simple meals: rice, water, and vegetables. Durian is a delicacy." Illya emptied his glass of champagne. "What did you think of it?"
"I'm prepared to shoot on sight if I ever see one again."
"But what about the taste? When you were in the vat of durian pulp, what did you think?"
Napoleon dropped his pen, the form forgotten. "I wasn't in that vat for a tasting session. My main thought at the time was survival. I almost drowned in there—"
Illya sat up abruptly and put his glass on the nightstand. "You are being obtuse. You would have tasted it as you were flailing about."
"All right, all right. It was sweet." He thought about it. "Sweet like papaya, but stronger."
"Did you like it?" Illya asked, leaning forward to listen.
"It's too sickly sweet for my palate."
"It is an acquired taste, and you didn't taste it under the best of circumstances." Illya lay back on the pillow. "But when you become accustomed to the smell, you can learn to love it."
"It's a miracle anyone discovered it was edible. They look more like landmines than food." Napoleon took a sip of champagne, and noticed that Illya's glass was empty. "Give me your glass."
Illya passed it over. "True. The husk is hard and thorny, but it conceals a sweet soft flesh."
Napoleon handed the glass back. "Hmm. Hard and tough on the outside, soft on the inside." He cast a glance at Illya. That description fitted him perfectly. Illya liked to hide it, but he did have a soft spot for those who were vulnerable. Napoleon wondered privately if perhaps the women Illya dated had appealed to that protective instinct rather than his more...primal urges.
How many were there? Marion Raven, Alice Baldwin, Tavia Sandor...all beautiful, but all essentially nice. They'd be the type that would allow kisses, and maybe some mutual fondling...but would they let him go all the way?
Napoleon wasn't sure. Illya wasn't assertive when it came to sex. If they said no, Illya would probably accept their decision rather than persuade them otherwise. He may have settled for touching a breast, or the inside of a thigh.
A frustrating existence. Napoleon knew what it was like to be frustrated. He'd often had the same problem when dating woman. If only there was a sure-fire way to determine which of them were stubbornly nice, and which were open to persuasion.
"Napoleon, I want to ask you something."
Illya was half-lying on his side, one elbow on the pillows. His eyelids drooped a little, and he had to blink to keep them open. His bathrobe gaped open, revealing a hint of brown nipple.
Napoleon resisted the temptation to linger. "Ask away."
"When you ask a woman out on a date, what are you looking for?"
This was unprecedented. Illya valued privacy, and he never asked personal questions of anyone. Napoleon was too amazed to speak.
Illya lifted his gaze. "Would you prefer not to discuss such a personal matter?"
"No, not at all," Napoleon replied quickly. He had always been curious about Illya's social habits, but he never thought Illya shared the same curiosity about him. Maybe in opening up about himself, he could learn more about what made Illya ticked. "I just need to think about it, because it's a very good question."
"I think so," Illya agreed, toying with the stem of his glass.
"To me, the most important qualities are a friendly disposition and a nice smile. Someone with a sense of fun, who—"
"No, no!" Illya sat up abruptly, spilling champagne on his hand. He shook his head, like a teacher irritated with a slow student.
"What's wrong with that?"
Illya took a gulp of champagne. "That's not what I'm asking. I want to know what you expect when you take a girl out for the night."
"Well..." Napoleon smiled ruefully, "that depends a little on the girl."
Illya rolled his eyes.
"The most important thing is that we enjoy ourselves. Dating is all about eating fine food, drinking fine wine, and spending time with good company. It's the most pleasant way of unwinding I know."
Illya eased back against the pillows, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Good company," he repeated to himself. He looked at Napoleon again, eyes narrowed. "What if you were alone with the food and wine? Could you unwind by yourself?"
Napoleon considered the idea, his glass held midway to his lips. "I'd manage." He took another delicate sip. "But it wouldn't be as much fun."
"Hmm." Illya nodded sagely. A smug smile curved his lips. "How ironic that a man named Solo prefers the company of others to that of his own."
Napoleon finished his glass, savoring the fizz and tartness of the liquid on his tongue. "Come on, Illya, we both know that the pleasures in life are improved when they're shared. Seeing how others are enjoying themselves increases my own enjoyment."
Illya lifted one brow in silent skepticism.
"For example, this champagne." He pulled the bottle out of the ice bucket and showed the label to Illya. "As you can see, the brand is not the best, and the vintage is ordinary. But it was the best the hotel bar had. And you know what? You're enjoying it, and I am, too. I'm enjoying it because I have you to drink it with me."
"Absolutely. Champagne always tastes best with another person."
"I see." Illya lowered his gaze. Damp hair fell over his forehead, but he raked it off with an impatient hand.
"It works both ways too. I'm sure you wouldn't have drunk two glasses of this if I wasn't here with you."
"You may be right." Illya looked glumly at his empty glass. "May I have some more?"
"Not if you're going to guzzle it like soda." Napoleon refilled his own glass and returned the bottle to the bucket. "You've had enough for one night."
Scowling to himself, Illya dropped back on the bed. "If I were alone, I'd be able to drink all the champagne I wanted."
Napoleon smiled. "No, it would never have occurred to you to buy something so extravagantly decadent in the first place."
"Probably not." He stretched his arms above his head and yawned. "Napoleon, am I good company?"
"Usually, but not at the moment. You look exhausted." Napoleon ruffled Illya's hair. He looked like a sleepy boy, awake long after his bedtime. "Go get some sleep."
Illya reached out, seizing Napoleon's wrist in a firm grip. "I want to ask you more questions."
More questions? Why was he in such a talkative mood? Could that hit on the head have loosened his tongue? Napoleon's lips twitched in amusement.
"What's so funny?" Illya demanded.
"You." From his position, Napoleon had to crane his neck to see Illya's face. Strange. Illya looked different from this perspective. The angle of the light fell on his exposed neck, revealing the smooth skin of his throat and jaw, the slight swell of his Adam's apple. No sign of a five o'clock shadow; Illya must have shaved after his shower. The parted folds of the bathrobe revealed the solid musculature of shoulders and chest, a legacy of physical work as much as exercise.
Napoleon's gaze drifted back to Illya's face. Tousled blond hair, sleepy blue eyes, the fullness of his lower lip...
The details merged to form the inescapable conclusion: Illya was a beautiful man. In this drowsy state, he was never more seductive.
Napoleon leaned closer. Illya said nothing, but his eyes narrowed to slits. His thumb moved over Napoleon's captive wrist, seeking and circling the pulse point.
Erotic. There was no other word for it. Napoleon's heart skipped a beat, then pounded double time. Did Illya have any idea of what he was doing?
Abruptly Illya released his wrist, almost tossing it aside. "You often date women you have only a passing acquaintance with, women you've just met, do you not?"
Napoleon blinked, roused out of his trance. Illya's clipped, pedantic tone made it sound like a criminal charge. "Yes, I do."
"How can you enjoy their company if you hardly know them?"
"That's the point of asking a girl out, to get to know her better." Was it his imagination, or did Illya sound jealous? "Does that bother you?"
"I don't understand how you can enjoy the company of the lady in question if you have to waste valuable time assessing her character. What if you find that you have few, if any, common interests? What will you do then?"
Napoleon put the forms away in his briefcase and placed his glass on the nightstand. It was impossible to focus on expense accounts during this bizarre interrogation. "Illya, I can guarantee you that I will always have at least one common interest with the women I date."
"Really?" Illya lifted his chin in defiance. His throat was exposed, vulnerable and open, the muscles clearly delineated by the movement. "What?"
Beautiful. It was impossible to be annoyed in the presence of such unconscious physical grace. Napoleon was fascinated by it, drawn to it. Why hadn't he noticed it before? They'd worked together for three years, and he'd never felt such a powerful tug of attraction for him. Until now.
I've never seen Illya so at ease in my presence. He looks almost provocative lying there on the bed, baring his chest for all the world to see. It would be so easy for me to lower my head and...
"What common interest do you share with all your dates?"
"Oh..." Napoleon took a moment to recall the question. "Well, I usually ask a girl out because I find her attractive. When she accepts, I assume she must also find me attractive." He was deliberately moving closer to Illya, trying to distract him with his proximity. "So, you see, in a few brief exchange of words, we have established our common ground: one of mutual...physical...attraction."
He was now resting on one elbow, the other arm braced on the mattress. Illya was mere inches away, all his for the taking. His heart pounded a little faster at the thought.
Illya wasn't perturbed by his nearness. He turned his head away and rubbed his eyes with the back of one hand, doing his best to keep his eyes open. "I should have known. You're such a hedonist. All the women you date are beautiful, but you know little about their minds. You take them to dinner, and maybe even to bed, and your body is sated for the moment. But it's never enough for you."
"How do you know all this?" And where was all this coming from? Was it the alcohol making Illya expansive? In vino veritas, but in champagne complete madness?
"Observation. I watch you, and I know. With women, you are mindless." Illya jabbed Napoleon in the forehead to emphasize his point. "You feel on an aesthetic level, a visceral level, but emotionally you feel nothing. You think you are replete, but inside you are empty." Illya's voice was flat, expressionless. "A woman you hardly know cannot give you what you want."
It stung Napoleon into retaliation. "How do you know what I want? Who are you to pass judgment on the company I keep, when you keep no company at all? You freeze off any girl who seems remotely interested in you. What are you waiting for, hmm? Do you have any idea of what you want?"
"Yes." Blue eyes looked directly at him. "I know what I want."
Napoleon felt his insides twist, a curious mixture of desire and trepidation. "What?"
"I want to sleep." Illya's eyelids drifted shut. "I feel so sleepy."
"Sleepy?" Napoleon nudged him. "Illya?" He wasn't going to avoid this by feigning sleep. "Illya?"
Illya didn't stir. His head dropped forward on his chest. His breathing, soft and regular, tickled Napoleon's cheek.
Damn. Illya had been on the cusp of...of something. The questions he asked, the way he held Napoleon's wrist, the strange glint in his eye...
It was unsettling, and disturbing. Napoleon had faced a firing squad with more composure. There was something different in the way Illya looked at him. A watchful intensity...like a predator eyeing his next meal.
Napoleon finished his champagne. It tasted flat, mediocre. He sighed, and undressed for bed. It was too humid for a pajama top, but he wore the pants in deference to Illya's modesty. The idea of dividing a bed into territories made him chuckle. Absurd, but in keeping with Illya's old-world manners. He'd probably measure it out beforehand to ensure the division was equitable, too.
Napoleon climbed into bed, wondering. Who was the unlucky lady who'd been consigned to No Man's Land? Some shy virgin, perhaps, one that had yet to develop an appreciation of male beauty?
Whoever she was, she was a fool. Illya, in his current state of deshabille, bathrobe gaping open at the chest, was beautiful. A low sound came from his throat, too soft to be a snore.
Napoleon had avoided touched another man since Korea. He didn't dream about it, he never felt the urge to cruise seedy clubs and pick-up joints. But he still liked to look.
Looking now at Illya...something was stirring, something long suppressed.
Free from scrutiny, Napoleon loomed over him, allowing his gaze to linger over Illya's torso, the demarcated line between robe and skin. Illya must have worked shirtless in the heat, for his skin was tanned a light shade of honey-bronze. One nipple peeked out of the robe, surrounded by a few strands of gold hair.
The nipple would be flat, solid, nothing like the softness of a woman's breast. It had been so long since he'd touched another man. Illya probably wouldn't notice. Just one exploratory caress...
Without warning, Illya shifted his head further up the pillow.
Napoleon froze. Did Illya know? He looked up. Illya's eyes were firmly shut, his breathing even and regular.
Napoleon sat back, deliberately holding his hands together. He was no saint, and Illya was sorely tempting his self-control.
Was he even wearing anything beneath the robe?
With women, you are mindless. You feel on an aesthetic level, a visceral level, but emotionally you feel nothing. You think you are replete, but inside you are empty.
Mindless. Napoleon liked that about sex, the way he could lose himself in pure sensation. He found it liberating, but Illya made it sound like an insult. He'd probably laugh if he could read my mind. It would confirm Illya's view of him as a sex-obsessed lecher.
Napoleon shook his head, banishing the myriad of pleasant imaginings flitting through his mind. Resolutely, he reached for Illya's robe and yanked the lapels together.
Illya frowned at the movement, but he didn't wake.
Mission accomplished. Tempting flesh now concealed by flimsy white terry-towel.
With a rueful smile, Napoleon lay down on his side and watched Illya's profile. His chest rose and fell slightly with each breath. His gold eyelashes were just visible against tanned cheeks. How sweet he looked, such a contrast to the efficient, ruthless, U.N.C.L.E. agent he really was.
"What do you want? Why this sudden curiosity about my personal habits?"
Was it more deliberate teasing, or could it be something more? Why all these intent looks? Why the intimate questions? Could Illya actually want...him?
He pictured himself and Illya on a bed, much like the one they were lying on now. Tumbling together over the sheets, pulling at each other's clothes, lips joined, limbs entwined...
Napoleon clenched his hands into fists. He could almost feel it, taste it. And Illya was only inches away.
But he couldn't. Illya wasn't himself. Concussion, painkillers and alcohol were a potent mix that could loosen anyone's inhibitions. Maybe it was just idle curiosity on Illya's part. He'd probably forget about it the next day.
That thought made Napoleon frown. He didn't want Illya to forget.
Maybe this was all an elaborate prank: tease and tantalize Napoleon until he was driven half-mad with longing, then laugh at his expense the next day. It would definitely be in character, for nothing tickled Illya's perverse sense of humor more than his partner's misfortune. Earlier in the hospital, he'd all but cheered when Napoleon failed to arrange a date with the nurse. And this wasn't the first time Illya had effectively ruined a potential date either.
The little sneak. Of all the agents he'd worked with, Illya was the most frustrating, baffling, devious, prickly...
Illya turned his head, half facing Napoleon. The light fell on half his face, highlighting the slightly furrowed brow, the straight nose, the perfectly sculpted lips. His eyelashes were tinted gold dust, soft, feathery under his fingertips...nothing like the prickly agent he knew.
Napoleon sighed. Illya may be a sleeping beauty, but he was no Prince Charming. An awakening kiss would be a mere prelude to the night's entertainment.
He ran a finger along that tempting lower lip. That incredibly kissable lower lip.
Blissfully ignorant, Illya slept.
But not tonight. He drew the line at taking advantage of the sick and injured.
Napoleon turned his back to Illya, settled himself on the bed, and switched off the lights.
It was the heat that pulled Napoleon out of his sleep. There was a radiator against his back, and it tickled between his shoulder blades. Itchy. He flung one arm over his shoulder to scratch, and hit something with his knuckles.
Illya grunted, and shoved his hand away.
Damn. Illya's face. "Sorry." The last thing Illya needed was another head injury, but he was too close for comfort. Odd. If it were cooler, Napoleon wouldn't have minded. Hell, he'd probably have welcomed it. Pre-coital embraces were nice, post-coital cuddling even better...but they weren't going to do anything remotely coital. Not tonight.
Napoleon grabbed the pillow and wriggled away from Illya's warmth. But within minutes, the tickling sensation returned. It brushed lightly against the nape of his neck, one of his favorite erogenous zones. He loved it when a girl ruffled the hairs at his nape during a kiss.
Illya's breathing was having exactly the same effect. Each breath sent a trickle of languorous pleasure up and down his spine. It seeped into his limbs, making them leaden and weak. Some of it found its way into his groin. His cock stirred, awakened by the desire humming through the rest of his body.
Napoleon absorbed these sensations, savoring this virtual caress. Illya was only inches away. A slight movement and he'd feel Illya's flesh against the length of his body. Skin on skin contact. His nerve-endings, already sensitized, jumped as Illya exhaled again.
He looked over his shoulder, but he saw no movement in the darkness. Illya was asleep, unaware of his actions. His desire for Napoleon's proximity was innocent, devoid of seductive intent. It was simply the desire for touch, a desire that was hardwired in all human beings. It was one that Napoleon understood all too well.
But Illya called him mindless. Even now, the accusation touched a raw nerve.
We'll see who's mindless now. Napoleon shifted away again...
...and almost tumbled out of the bed.
"Of all the..." His fingers clutched the edge of the mattress. It was the only thing that kept him from falling. His knees, once slightly bent, now dipped ominously down, and one foot dangled over the edge. The friction of the sheets wouldn't be enough. They gave way, even as he bunched more of the material in his fists.
He was going to fall if he didn't take action.
With a toehold on the tangled sheets, he pushed his weight away from the precipice. His body slammed into Illya. Illya, ever considerate, grunted and pushed Napoleon away.
"No room," Napoleon muttered. "Move back."
Illya grudgingly obliged, much to Napoleon's relief. He relinquished a few inches of mattress space, enough to prevent Napoleon sliding off into oblivion. But it wasn't equitable enough. There wasn't room enough for him to turn onto his back.
Napoleon sighed, and tried to nudge Illya further back. Illya's 'string-across-the-bed' proposition was no longer crazy; he was now convinced of its merits. But why stop at string? Illya would break through such a flimsy barrier in his surge for more bed space. Rope, even chains would work just as well. Preferably chains wrapped around Illya.
He pushed back again. "Move back more."
Illya murmured something inaudible in his sleep. His hands gripped Napoleon's shoulders, and pulled them together.
Napoleon gasped. Skin on skin contact: Illya's chest against his back, body hair prickling his skin. Something small and round and firm, maybe a nipple, prodded his shoulder. Illya's nose was buried in his neck, nuzzling the short hairs at the nape.
"Illya?" Napoleon could barely get the name out. Illya was holding him, hugging him. One hand was flattened against Napoleon's abdomen, moving in slow circles above the waistband of the pajama pants. The other stroked over his shoulder, down the curve of his bicep. Illya's fingers were callused, another legacy of his work in the durian orchard. Against his skin, it felt wonderful.
Was this really happening or was this a dream? Napoleon couldn't be sure in the darkness. But it didn't matter. He couldn't resist, even if he wanted to. He arched against Illya, craving more of his touch.
Illya murmured something, his voice a low indistinct purr. Soft lips moved against the side of his neck. A tongue lightly toyed at the flesh. Warm and wet, but it sizzled Napoleon's skin like a brand. Napoleon bent his neck forward, offering more of himself for Illya's delectation.
"Delicious," Illya murmured. His hands tightened around Napoleon's torso, hauling him closer. Sharp teeth toyed with the sensitive skin, followed by soft lips and lapping tongue.
Napoleon could feel his insides melting. The roughness of the calluses mixed with the smoothness of Illya's palms, the heat of Illya's body against his own, the gentle breath on his neck...he never believed Illya was capable of such devastating eroticism. Illya's movements were so sure, so confident, so knowing. He continued to nibble his way down Napoleon's neck, slowly tasting every inch.
Torture, pleasure...Napoleon couldn't tell the difference. He shivered in anticipation. In the darkness, it was impossible to see what Illya would do next. The anticipation fired his arousal. He wanted to turn around, to respond in kind, but a stronger urge kept him still. When with a woman, his focus was on her pleasure, and how he could best arouse her to climax. He had a reputation as a considerate and sensitive lover, and he was proud of it.
Rarely, if ever, did he allow himself to be passive during sex. He took control, and enjoyed watching a woman lose hers. He would wait until she had achieved her orgasm before taking what he wanted. But now, with Illya's arms imprisoning him, Napoleon indulged in the luxury of simply feeling. He allowed Illya to touch and taste him as he pleased, obediently arching his neck to one side as those intoxicating lips latched on to his shoulder. He clenched the sheets in his hands, resisting the urge to direct Illya in any way.
Illya moved closer still. His bathrobe gaped open, allowing his skin to set up a silken friction against Napoleon's back. His hair fell across Napoleon's jaw and neck. Napoleon rubbed his cheek against it, inhaled its scent, bewitched by its soft texture. He wished the bedside lamp were on. He wanted to see its pure gold spilling over his shoulder.
He reached out one hand to the nightstand. His fingertips skidded over its wooden surface, fumbling for the lamp.
Illya stroked Napoleon's abdomen in slow lazy circles. His fingertips dipped beneath the band of his pajama pants.
A low tortured groan left Napoleon's lips. His arm retreated from the lamp, the desire for light forgotten. He half-pulled, half-kicked off his pants as a rush of heat filled his groin. Mere inches below Illya's explorations, his cock lifted, impatient at being neglected.
But Illya wasn't interested in his state of frustrated arousal. He seemed content to play with the line of hair arrowing down his groin. The pads of his fingers trailed lightly over the wiry pubic hairs around his genitals.
It wasn't enough. Napoleon thrust his hips up, seeking to brush his erection against Illya's fingers. Illya growled and tightened his hold around Napoleon's waist. His teeth nipped Napoleon's shoulder.
Napoleon jerked in surprise. Perspiration broke out on his brow, and a few drops slid down his cheek. He shook his head in frustration. Words would break the incredible intimacy, but he had to speak. How could Illya leave him hanging like this?
Illya pressed his lips against Napoleon's jaw. "Durian," he murmured. "Delicious." His tongue darted out to catch the droplets of sweat.
Napoleon reached for his cock. It leapt in his palm, welcoming his grip. Yes, that was it. Illya's touch would have been better, but he was past the point of caring. His body ached for release. He wasn't going to deny it any longer. He began to stroke himself with efficient, well-honed movements.
Illya lifted his head, puzzled. His hands shifted from Napoleon's stomach, explored the flexing and extending muscles of Napoleon's forearm. He followed it down to Napoleon's wrist, curious.
It broke Napoleon's focus of concentration. The knowledge that Illya's hand was only inches from his erection twisted his insides. Close to fulfilling his own pleasure, he held back. His heart thudded in his chest, his cock throbbed, waiting.
Illya's hand tentatively reached Napoleon's hand. Illya's fingers curled around Napoleon's knuckles, and tentatively encircled the head of his cock.
"Yes." The last letter was expelled as a sibilant hiss. "Touch me." Napoleon began to move his hand along the shaft, guiding Illya's hand into repeating the same motion.
Illya followed Napoleon's hand, caressing the head lightly with his fingertips. "Durian," he repeated, as if talking to himself. Tantalizing, but Napoleon wanted more.
Napoleon rocked faster, his breath coming in gasps as he increased the tempo of their joined hands. His erection was lengthening, thickening, throbbing as they both touched it. He pressed himself back against Illya, and an erection prodded his lower back. But it wasn't enough to distract him from the sweet ache in his genitals.
Illya shifted against him, pressing his erection just above the cleft of his buttocks. His hands slowly tightened its grip over the flesh not covered by Napoleon's hand.
It pulled Napoleon over the edge. He groaned and trembled, burying his head in the pillow. Wetness spilled over his fingers, Illya's fingers, on the sheets. A few stray drops fell on his abdomen. His muscles, once tense, now lay limp.
Illya's hand still held his flaccid cock. He squeezed again.
Napoleon groaned, and shook himself free. It was too sensitive to be touched. But there was still Illya's. The thought made him smile. He was looking forward to this.
"Illya?" He reached out to touch. Warm skin, smooth and hard. He traced a shoulder, the line of collarbone not covered by the robe. He caressed the planes of Illya's chest, teasing the small nipples.
Illya reached for his hand. "Durian." He pressed his mouth to Napoleon's palm, licking and tasting.
"You're a tease, you know that?" Napoleon moved his fingers to Illya's face, stroking the smooth cheek and underside of neck.
Illya reached for his hand again.
"No. It's your turn now." Napoleon buried his hand into the soft strands of hair behind his ear. His other hand moved down, searching for Illya's penis. With his heavier weight, he pressed Illya against the mattress.
Illya tensed, and pushed at Napoleon's shoulders. "No more durian," he muttered. "Enough."
"Let me show you how it's done." Napoleon gripped Illya's erection, pulling it to life.
Illya shuddered beneath him. His hands clenched into fists against Napoleon's chest. He didn't speak. Illya's cock was the perfect size for his palm. It jerked and shifted with a life of its own. Against the bed, he shifted restlessly, his body taut like a violin string, his breath harsh and sweet against Napoleon's neck.
Napoleon stroked and squeezed, determined to wring a response from him. It filled his hand, thickening with each stroke. Precome seeped into his palm. Illya shuddered against him. There were some reactions he couldn't hide.
Suddenly Illya arched up, a single low note of pleasure leaving his lips. His fists uncurled, and he dug his fingers into Napoleon's shoulders. Napoleon gasped, and buried his mouth against Illya's throat. Semen spilled between them, warm and wet and good.
Illya trembled once more, then lay still. He was silent except for his gasping breaths.
Napoleon released him but still caressed his hair. When Illya's breathing became more even, he switched on the bedside lamp.
Sheets were pushed to the end of the bed, almost tumbling to the floor. Illya lay drained, arms and legs akimbo, the bathrobe coming off his shoulders, his body revealed in all its sweaty, golden-hued glory. His eyelids were heavy with exhaustion.
Napoleon took a towel from the bathroom and cleaned them up. Illya didn't stir at all.
"Illya?" Napoleon reached out to touch Illya's jaw. "Did you like that?"
"Durian," Illya murmured, eyes drifting shut. "Delicious durian."
He slapped Illya's cheek lightly. "Illya?"
Illya's head lolled to one side, his lips slightly parted.
Was he usually so exhausted after sex? Napoleon shook Illya's jaw playfully. Nothing. Never mind. They could continue where they'd left off in the morning.
Napoleon rested on his side, watching Illya sleep. He looked so peaceful, with the lashes over his cheeks. His blond hair was mussed, his cheeks were flushed, his lips pouted invitingly. Kissable lips.
Napoleon could still feel the place where Illya bit him, the way his tongue had moved over him, tasting him as if he was a luscious morsel of food. But why? What had triggered this display of lust?
Delicious, he'd called Napoleon. Delicious durian.
Could that be it? The smell of that damn fruit? Those had been the only words Illya said. He hadn't even spoken his name once.
Did Illya even know whose shoulder he was sucking?
He teased Illya's nipple, feeling it harden under his fingertips. "Illya, open Channel D. Illya?"
Illya was dead to the world. Mindless. Much the way Napoleon felt now. His eyelids felt heavy, his body boneless and fluid. He slid into slumber, curling himself against the lax heaviness of Illya's body, one hand resting possessively on a bony hip.
It was morning. Sunlight filtered past Napoleon's eyelids, even when he screwed them shut. There was no rush, since their flight to New York was not leaving until the afternoon. But the light was too persistent to be ignored. He opened them to find the bed empty. The pillow beside him bore the indentation of Illya's head. A shower was running in the bathroom.
Illya. The memory of last night came back to him. Illya enfolding him in his arms. Illya tasting his neck and shoulder, touching his body as if it were his own. And later, arching as he climaxed under him.
Napoleon sat up, and sniffed. He could smell sex, and perspiration. His body scent mingled with Illya's musk. But beneath it all, there was a hint of something else. Something uniquely vile. Durian fruit.
Illya came out, toweling his hair. Another towel was slung around his hips. With his tanned torso exposed, muscles rippling as he moved, he looked stunning. Droplets of water clung to the stray hairs scattered over his chest.
"Good morning." Napoleon watched him hungrily. Next time, they would do it with the lights on.
"Morning." Blue eyes flashed his way, curious. "Something wrong?"
"Is one of those towels mine?"
Illya allowed the towel to fall on his shoulders. "There's a couple left on the rack."
"I don't know." Napoleon allowed his gaze to linger on the drops of water trickling down his abdomen. "I think the one you're wearing has my name on it."
Illya stared at him, eyes wide. "I beg your pardon?"
"Don't you remember what we did last night?"
"We drank champagne. We talked. We went to sleep."
"We woke up and started arguing about towels?"
"No! Before that."
"I don't remember anything else." Illya looked at Napoleon, one eyebrow raised. "Unless you're referring to how you cuddled me when I woke up."
"Yes, but I understand." Illya opened the wardrobe door and grabbed a few clothes. "No doubt this is part of your usual bedroom behavior." He shrugged and headed back to the bathroom. "It can be difficult to unlearn such an ingrained habit."
"Wait a second." Napoleon knelt forward on the bed, the sheets slipping to his hips. "I'm not the only one with peculiar bedroom behavior."
Illya paused, his hand on the bathroom door. "What are you talking about?"
"Don't you remember?"
Wide blue eyes stared straight back at him. "I remember sleeping."
"And?" Illya was being deliberately obtuse. Napoleon pushed aside the sheets and came to his feet. Casually nude, he padded toward Illya. He kept his body in peak condition for work purposes, but he had no qualms about displaying it for an appreciative audience.
Illya didn't look down, not even for an instant. He straightened and lifted his chin defiantly. "And what?"
He didn't remember. How else could he look back with such unflinching coolness? Champagne and painkillers...could the mix have erased his memory, even as it unleashed his deeply hidden sensual nature? "Are you sure you don't remember anything?"
Irritation, quickly masked, flitted across Illya's features. "Why don't you tell me, since you have such a good recollection of it?"
It was on the tip of Napoleon's tongue. He wanted to describe it in blow-by-blow detail, embellishing the facts as he went along. He could even show Illya the bite he'd inflicted as physical proof. Let's see who's the mindless one now. It would be a perfect revenge for the mockery and sabotaged dates Illya had inflicted on him.
But he didn't. He remembered the sound of Illya's breathing as he slept. The way those lips had felt against his neck. The softness of the hair against his cheek...
He leaned forward and almost whispered the words in Illya's ear. "Durian. Sweet delicious durian."
"What?" Illya shifted his head away, surprised.
"You dreamt of durians last night, didn't you?"
A hint of uncertainty entered Illya's eyes. "What do my dreams have to do with anything?"
"In dreams you can indulge yourself. You can do whatever you want, without worrying about the consequences. You're free to be completely and utterly mindless. You can let go of inhibitions and follow your most primitive desires."
Illya didn't reply. His face was a stone-like mask.
"Imagine doing that in your real life. Imagine enjoying life voluptuously, with all your senses stimulated. Imagine being more alive than you've ever felt before. Haven't you ever wanted to give it a try?"
A memory was stirring. Illya's gaze was troubled, his brow wrinkled in concentration. His mind was sifting through Napoleon's words to decode the hidden message. A flush darkened his cheeks. "Why?"
"I think you should give it a chance." Napoleon tilted his head to one side, his lips inches away from Illya's. "Try some of the forbidden fruit. It could open up a whole new realm of possibilities for you."
Illya's eyes were cold, his expression shuttered. "Really?"
"Whenever you're ready to taste it for real, I'll be waiting." He gave Illya a conspiratorial wink.
Illya stared at him a moment longer, then swung the door shut in his face.
Napoleon raised his brows, not the slightest bit ashamed. He knew now he wasn't the only one who enjoyed indulging his senses. Illya had shown an appreciation of sensual pleasure that more than rivaled his own. And as the unwitting recipient of Illya's attentions, Napoleon had enjoyed it more than he'd imagined possible.
Napoleon snorted. He'd never been mistaken for fruit before. The foul smell was still on him, but maybe he should be grateful to Thrush for dunking him in the pulp.
Napoleon went to the dresser, pulled out his lighter and a pack of cigarettes. He lit in and went back to the bed, inhaling the smoke, then exhaling it through his nostrils. It cleared away any lingering durian odor, replacing it with the familiar acrid scent of tobacco. He lounged back on the pillows, the entire double bed to himself. With a single inhalation, he could mix the scents of Illya, sex and nicotine, satisfying several addictions at once. The thought made him smile. Another simple mindless pleasure.
Napoleon was determined to explore Illya's capacity for sensuality further. He'd thrown down the challenge; the ball was now in Illya's court.
Would Illya come back for a second tasting? Napoleon didn't know. But finding out was going to be half the fun.