The Visitors

by Spikesgirl58

Looking mighty proud
I see you leave your table, pushing through the crowd
I'm really glad you came, you know the rules, you know the game
Master of the scene
We've done it all before and now we're back to get some more
You know what I mean
Voulez-vous (ah-ha)
Take it now or leave it (ah-ha)
Now is all we get (ah-ha)
Nothing promised, no regrets


Illya Kuryakin moved easily around the kitchen, despite it being a little more cramped than usual. He paused in front of the stove to tilt back a lid and checking the contents of a simmering sauce. Deep rich woody scents drifted up to him and he stirred it for a moment, before pulling the spoon out to taste it. Good, not too earthy, just enough mushroom flavor to compliment the steak au poivrer he was prepping for tonight. With four people actively cooking in the house's small kitchen, surface space was at a premium, but they were making it work. Well, they would be making it work if his lover would stop thrusting up against him in time with the music.

"Napoleon, would you mind?"

"Not at all, amante." Napoleon's hands snaked forward, holding Illya's hips firm as he rocked easily to the rhythm of the music.

"Faro cadre, lei due," Matt yelled from his station at the sink. "Take pity on a dying man." Rocky laughed and danced around his own partner, moving in cadence with Voulez-vous's driving beat.

"I'm not doing anything," Illya protested. "I'm just standing here."

"Not you, Napoleon and you!" Matt waved a threatening spoon at Rocky, but the man just started singing along with the chorus. "Cara, I think it's time we change to some music more appropriate to kitchen work."

Illya could feel his erection strained against his jeans and nodded tightly. "While we can both still stand upright." He wiggled out of Napoleon's embrace and pointed, "You are supposed to be making buttermilk biscuits—now go!"

"Killjoy," Napoleon half muttered, half laughed. Outside, it was a bright sunny day. Spring had finally arrived in the small Foothills community and everyone was enjoying the change from the rainy days to something a bit more seasonal. The kitchen door stood open and a soft breeze drifted through the kitchen. Sighing, he returned to the table and picked up his recipe. "How you can think about cooking on a day like today is beside me. This is the perfect day for pursuits of a more basic nature." He measured the flour into the bowl and reached for the baking powder. "A little song, a little wine, and a whole lot of messing around..." He added salt and pushed the bowl aside for the shortening. "Okay, it says to incorporate the shortening until it resembles corn meal. What does that mean in regular everyday language? Just mix it in?"

"This is when you have the chance to make the biscuits either hockey pucks or light bits of love, Napoleon. You want to combine in such a way that it is totally blended. You have three options," Matt answered, trimming the end of an artichoke. "You can use a fork, a pastry knife or..." Matt wiggled his fingers at him."By hand."

"Tactile experiences, always a plus." Napoleon dumped the shortening in and began to squeeze the shortening with the flour. "Um, Matt, what am I doing wrong? It doesn't look like corn meal?"

"Cara, are you in this much of a hurry when you make love?" Matt moved to him and shook his head. "No wonder Chef looks so... come lei dice? fare spese indossato?"

"I don't look shop worn," Illya protested as he checked his onion marmalade. "Rocky, I think your p'te choux smells ready..."

Immediately the waiter bounced to the oven and reached in with a stained pot holder to pull out a try of small pastry puffs.

"Thanks, Chef! You saved me from disaster."

"What are you going to fill them with?" Illya looked over his shoulder and touched one to ascertain its doneness.

"French custard, I think. I still have a couple of those Tahitian vanilla beans that I've been steeping in cream..."

"Good choice."

"No, Napoleon, roll it in your fingers." Matt was starting to sound slightly exasperated.

"Like a ball, then?"

Illya smiled and joined Napoleon at the table. "May I?"

"Please. He and I are not on the same wavelength today."

Illya reached into the bowl and took a small bit of dough. Leaning close to his ear, he whispered, "Like this, like you would a nipple, Napoleon."

"Oh...ohhhh, like this then?" Napoleon immediately understood and replicated the movement.

"Yes, exactly." The silence from the other room was deafening as the record ended and the spring day was able to intrude. Illya wiped his hands off on a towel and tossed it on the table.

He pushed through the swinging door and headed over to the stereo. He knew to pick something a bit other than ABBA would result in cries of outrageous fortune, but he couldn't but help think that it would behoove their dinner to have some jazz, or better, classical, especially with Napoleon in the mood he was in. There were days when Napoleon was mankind's tribute to testosterone.

Of course, truth be known, he'd have already taken Napoleon up on his offer if Rocky and Matt weren't there. Like his partner, he felt that itch, almost a rut as it were, towards his lover these days. It was going to be a grand evening, he could feel that already. He was beginning to see the attraction of Spring Fever.

The tap on the door jarred him from lustful thoughts and he shook his head to clear it.

With any luck it wasn't another wine vendor. Napoleon had been stocking the racks of Vinea for two months now and Illya couldn't see where his lover could possible store one more case of wine.

He pulled open the door. "Yes, may I..." To say he was stunned was a given. Startled would equally apply, considering the state of thing between them when they parted, but sheer pluck was the reaction he settled on. " are the last person I would expect to turn up at my door." He kept his voice and face neutral.

"Hello, Illya." Josephine's voice was tired, weary. Around her stepped a second person and Illya couldn't help but smile at the tall, lanky figure.

"Winston!" The young man merely bobbed his head up and Illya knew right then whatever had driven Napoleon's sister to his door, it wasn't good. "I'm sorry; would you like to come in?"

"Could we?" Josie asked, taking a step in. As was par for the course, both started to study the living room. Napoleon had moved a good portion of books and papers upstairs and even convinced a few plants to grow. He was far more domestic than Illya had ever been and had converted a storage room with furniture into a comfortable living room and Josie looked like she wanted to be any place but in it. "Illya, I really need to talk to Napoleon."

His first inclination was to mention that there was this little invention called a phone, but the look in the woman's eyes stopped him. If she'd traveled all the way from Vermont to see him, so be I, he thought. "Have a seat and I'll get him." Illya gestured to the couch as Rocky and Napoleon began a chorus of 'Super Trooper' each in their own key and neither in the one the composers had intended. Obviously, lacking music. those two were content to make their own.

"Is that Uncle Napoleon?" Winston asked softly as he sank down on the sofa and began to scratch Moutard's head. The cat started purring like a little trip hammer and stretched. Josie smiled sadly and joined her older son on the couch.

"Sadly, yes, usually we pay him not to sing," Illya said. "Excuse me."

He walked back to look into the kitchen and immediately, Rocky protested. "What happened to the music, Chef? Napoleon and I, while gifted singers..." Matt interrupted him with a low groan. "...heartless cur...we could use a back up."

"You could both use a vocal coach, you mean," Matt corrected, laughing. "Napoleon, there's someone here to see you." He held the door open and Napoleon frowned, obviously at a loss for who might be knocking on their front door. As he passed, Illya murmured, "Brace yourself."

"Brace myself?" Napoleon stepped through the door and caught his breath. "I see what you mean."

"I'll give you some time alone." Illya started to move, but Napoleon caught his hand.

"I'd...I'd rather you didn't."

"She's in our home, Napoleon. I doubt very much that she's here to start anything." But as always, Illya followed.

"Whatever she has to say, she can say to both of us," Napoleon murmured, then louder. "Well, this is a surprise."

Josie got to her feet, standing awkwardly, apparently indecisive as to her actions. "Hello Big Brother."

"What, I don't even get a hug?" He held his arms out and his sister took refuge there. Illya knew the comfort those arms could support, the kindness, the strength they offered. Josie seemed relieved to know Napoleon's arms weren't closed to her.

When they had left Vermont the last time, a few months earlier, it had not been on a good note. Napoleon's mother had passed away, leaving everyone with exposed emotions. It had been especially hard on Napoleon, having to deal with the legal end of it as well as his sister's reaction to the news that he and Illya were together and in a very physical relationship. Napoleon's announcement that he was out of the closet hadn't set especially well with Doug, Josie's husband. The man had become more rigid, more conservative as he'd aged. To have a gay brother-in-law was not news he welcomed and he'd made their stay as uncomfortable and awkward as was humanly possible. It had been with great relief that they fled Napoleon's childhood home and retreated back in to the welcoming arms of their friends and family.

And now, here was the one world intruding into the other yet again. Illya watched Winston, curious. Usually the boy was full of life, enthusiastic and outgoing, eager, full of questions and new experience. This was not the person sitting and concentrating his attention upon the yellow cat. It was as if only the cat existed to him. Sensing that Napoleon was in full control of the situation, Illya joined Winston on the couch.

"What's his name?" Winston's voice was small sounding, almost fragile.


"That's French...for yellow?"

"Mustard." The cat glared at him as if to say, 'Now see? This is how cats should properly be kowtowed to.' Illya reached out and rub the exposed stomach. "I should have named him gros chat, fat cat, instead."

"French can make anything sound good." The boy's eyes flicked up and then down again, but in that moment, Illya saw age, burden, and guilt. That seemed odd.

"It is their curse and their gift." Illya said, watching body language. "Why are you here, Winston?" He hesitated and Illya leaned forward. "You know you can trust me."

"Could we talk some place, just us?"

"Certainly." Illya stood and glanced over at his lover. "I'm going to show Winston Taste." Napoleon, still holding his sister, nodded. "Follow me." He headed towards the kitchen, not bothering to see if the boy followed.

"Cara, all is well?" Matt asked as they entered. The sight of a stranger wasn't so odd that it caused him any anxiety.

"Not really sure quite yet. Matt, Rocky, this is Napoleon's nephew, Winston. He and his mother have joined us. I'm going to show him the restaurant." Illya grabbed a set of keys hanging by the door. "Matt?"

"Yes, Cara?"

Illya held up two fingers and the redhead nodded.

Napoleon guided his sister to the couch and Moutard, realizing that three was a crowd, jumped off and strolled to a nearby spot of sun that Beurre Noir had already claimed. He plopped down and started grooming her. "So, talk to me, Josie. What's going on?"

"I'm sorry to just show up on your doorstep, but I had to get Winston out of there and I couldn't take the chance that Doug would find out and stop me. He's probably just realizing now that I'm gone, but he'd rather have his tongue cut out than call you to find out."

"I'm still confused." Napoleon leaned back and crossed his legs. "Start at the beginning."

"You met Keith?"

"Winston's boyfriend."

"Don't call him that," Josie snapped and then held up her hands. "I'm sorry." She broke eye contact with her brother, studying any and everything in the room. Finally, she murmured, "We'd both started noticing a real change in Winston lately. He was starting to slack off on his schoolwork, leave his chores half done, stuff he'd never done before. And he was hanging around Keith more and more. Keith smoked, drank, partied and he started dragging Winston along with him."

"Sounds like pretty normal pursuits for boys their age. I remember doing a bit of that myself."

"Doug didn't like it and one night, he just had enough. He and Winston got into a huge fight—the worse one I'd ever seen between the two and Doug started making slurs, really bad ones against you and Illya. Winston was upset with that, but he was handling it. Then Doug started to drag Keith in the mix and Winston went ballistic. At that moment, Keith had the inopportunity to show up. Doug sent Keith packing and with Nickie's help, they got Winston worked up into such a state that he couldn't see straight."

"Little brothers can do that; they know all the buttons."

"Four hours later, there was a knock on the door. It was a state trooper. He started asking all kinds of very strange questions."

"Strange questions, how so?"

"Where had Doug been all night? Was there any ill will between him and Keith? That sort of thing."

"And they were asking these questions why?"

A bunch of guys found Keith over in Tunbridge and they...uh...killed..." Her voice quavered and she stopped to take a breath. "They did terrible things to him and then they tied him to a car and dragged him through the streets." She broke off to heave a sob. "And no one stopped them. Winston blamed his father because he and Keith were going to Barre to see a movie. He blames himself for not having stood up to his father and left with Keith. And I didn't know what to do. All I could see was Winston being hurt or killed and I knew someone had to do something. Mama and Daddy were gone, so I turned to the one person I had left."

Napoleon reached out and took his sister's hand. "I understand."

"I'm just so scared, Napoleon. And ashamed... of the way I treated you...and Illya. You've always been good, honest men, just like I know Winston is a good boy. He's loving and good natured, a hard worker. He never gave me a minute's worry until now."

"What would you like me to do, Josie? And if your response is to talk some sense into him, then you can stop now."

"Not sense, Napoleon, just give him some direction, a path to follow. He idolizes you two, he always has. I can't give him the advice a mother would give her daughter and Doug can't even look at him any more without screaming. He needs a man to talk to and a sort of special man at that. I just want him safe." Suddenly she started to look around, panic touching her eyes. "Where is he? Napoleon, where is he?"

"I'm thinking already seeking out a man to talk to. He and Illya left a few minutes ago." He started to stroke the back of her hand with his thumb. "And I'm afraid that I haven't been entirely honest with you. I didn't want to say anything sooner, only because I thought it would only muddy the water more than it already was. You see, I'm not gay, not entirely, I'm bi, I've just chosen to be with Illya."

"And Illya? Is he...that way too?"


"Are you sure? Napoleon, he's one of the most masculine men I've ever met. Daddy used to refer to him as a man's man."

"I suppose in one sense, he is, but he's also gay. Don't get hung up on a bunch of half truths and suppositions, Josie. He and I, we're no different than you or Doug, not really. We love a different way, but it's still the basic emotion and feelings that you experience. Does that make sense?"

"Nothing has really made any sense since Daddy died, to be honest. I think I'm still trying to deal with that." She sighed and stared at their hands. "And now Mama and Doug...he's so different than he used to be, Napoleon, almost tyrannical. It's like I don't know him anymore." She stood and walked over to the fireplace mantle, lifting a photo of Napoleon and Illya. "You two look so happy together, like Mama and Daddy." She set it back down. "Do you realize this is the first time I've been outside of Vermont since we got back from Germany?"

"I think it should a lot of courage that you were willing to leave with Winston."

"Then why do I feel like such a coward?"

"So how old is this building? It looks a lot newer than everything else around here...well, except for that wine place."

"Your Uncle Napoleon owns that, that's probably why. The building itself was retrofitted about five years before we moved in, but the original structure dates back to about 1894." Illya unlocked the front door to Taste and led the way into the small dining room. The young man glanced around, trying to take everything in. It always amazed Illya how different the restaurant looked during the day—almost like a young girl awaiting her first dance—all dressing, but strangely out of place and ill at ease, waiting for her date to complete the picture just as the restaurant awaited its diners.

"This is really nice, Illya."

"It's home." He pulled out a chair and sat while Winston continued to wander about the room. "What did you want to talk to me about?"

"I sort of know what you and Uncle Napoleon did when you were younger and living back in New York. That you two were in law enforcement."

"Essentially, yes."

"Did you ever get hurt? I mean, bad hurt and it be Uncle Napoleon's fault or vice verse?"

"We were often injured in the line of duty, but I wouldn't necessarily say I blamed any of it on your uncle. It was just a side effect part of our job. Why?"

"Keith is dead and it's my fault." For a moment, Winston was poised on the edge of tears and then rallied.

"You hurt Keith?"

"Not directly. We were supposed to be going to the movies and Dad had one of his wig-out attacks. Started screaming about how you and Uncle Napoleon had contaminated me, ruined the family line, crap like that. Then he started on Keith no good, blah, blah, blah, a menace to decent people, blah, blah, blah. Then Keith shows up and Dad tosses him out. I tried to stop him, Illya, I really did, but then Nick was there too, yelling how I was The Devil and unclean in God's eyes."

"What did you do?"

"What could I do? I went to my room and started to pack. I knew I had to get out of there or it was all over. I was crying and yelling. It was ugly. Then Mom and Helena came in and got me calmed down. Mom has changed the last couple of months, becoming less judgmental, a bit more able to talk to me and look me in the eye when she does it. It's Dad that's the trouble. Anyhow, a few hours later we got a call that Keith had been killed by bunch of gay bashers. If I'd held it together, he'd have been in Barre, not Tunbridge and Keith would still be alive. Oh Illya, I miss him so much..."

The young man looked so miserable that Illya did what he would have done for any of his employees, for any other member of his extended family. He moved to Winston and hugged him, not an easy task considering their size difference. He took a couple of steps backwards, guiding them to chairs as Winston sobbed, hard, sharp-edged moans of pain and regret. Sitting, they were closer to the same size and Illya stroked Winston's head, murmuring soft words of encouragement in a variety of languages, all geared to calm the state the young man had worked himself into. "Winston, did they find out who did this to your friend?" Illya asked once he sensed that Winston was able to talk again.

"Not yet. Small towns, they protect their own, good or bad. His mom had tossed him out of the house about a year earlier. She thinks he got what was coming to him. Why would a mother think that way, Illya?"

"Denial makes people do strange things, Winston. Some parents never come to terms with our lifestyle. A few are accepted and fewer still are even offered encouragement. Forgive for asking this question of you, but are you sure you are gay?"

"Of course, I'm sure. Why would you ask that?"

"We have no voice, not really. We are not represented. If your uncle was to require a hospital stay, I would not be permitted to see him because our union is not recognized or sanctioned. We had to actively petition to be each other's guardian in the event of an accident or medical emergency. People always talk, they always judge us and are quick to blame us for the world's woes. This is not an easy path to choose and you must be certain. If you aren't, you will be just another victim like Keith, for you will never see the true viciousness of people or understand their commitment to see our kind removed from the planet."

"I remember Mom and Dad talking about Uncle Napoleon left us for you."

"They forced him to make a choice and he did. Chances are you, too, will have to make a choice. You need to look into your soul and your heart, Winston, and listen to what it tells you. Either way, you lose something or someone."

"I'm just so mixed up, Illya. It's like I'm being pulled in fourteen directions at once. Nothing is simple or easy anymore and the more I think I understand, the less I do."

"That's called being an adult, Winston, and it comes with the territory. Sadly, that part never changes; gay or straight, it's still a challenge."

"And this is what I was in a hurry for?" He snorted. "I wanna be a kid again."

Illya run a hand along his jaw and smiled. "Believe me, you still are. Enjoy it while you can, it gets worse. Come." Illya stood and gestured to the door. "I suspect your mother is getting anxious." He glanced over at a grandfather clock. "And it's getting late."

"Is that Gramma's?" Winston walked to the clock and ran a hand along the side. "I miss her so much, Illya. It's like there's this big piece of my heart that's been cut away. "

"She was an incredible lady, but she's well represented by the people she left behind. Looking at that clock reminds me to be a bit more kind with the people around me."

"She'd like that." He left the clock and trailed after Illya. "What made you decide to open a restaurant?"

"I didn't really. Your uncle and I had a parting of the ways a few years ago. I left our organization and discovered myself woefully short of real life skills. I liked to eat, so it seemed a logical choice. While I was training, I met Matt and we decided to open a restaurant together."

"Didn't you miss Uncle Napoleon? I know he missed you. He was a mess during Grandpa's funeral and we all knew it wasn't because his dad had died. Grandma tried to explain it, but I didn't really get it until a couple of years later."

"We made mistakes and we both paid for them. That's another part of becoming an adult, Winston, is learning to live with the decisions you make, good or bad." Illya locked the door to the restaurant. "We were fortunate to be given a second chance."

"But everything's great now."

Illya ached to tell him that life was never great, that it was more a case of one day being better than another, but decided at the last minute to remain silent. It was a lesson better discovered for oneself.

Napoleon glanced over at the pair as they entered. Josie had her sleeves pushed up and was rolling out the biscuit dough. He smiled at his lover, his eyes questioning. Illya nodded and crossed to the table. "I thought you were supposed to be making the biscuits, Napoleon, not pawning them off on a willing bystander."

"He was killing the dough, cara," Matt said as he pan fried some garlic cloves. "Is he that heavy handed in bed?"

"Not unless I pay him double."

"But if it's biscuit dough, there's no yeast in it—how could he kill it?" Winston asked to no one in particular.

"He was applying too much downward pressure."

"No such thing," Illya murmured, stirring his brown sauce, ignoring the blush growing on Josie's face.

"We will never make a pastry chef out of him, Chef." Rocky was straining cream as Winston watched over his shoulder.

"What are you doing?"

"Making French Custard."

"What's the difference between that and regular custard?"

"Chef, I believe this is your cue. I just follow the recipes without asking why."

"Which is why you are a waiter and not a chef." Matt said. He kissed Rocky's cheek. "But you have no equal in serving."

"And this is why man as a species is allowed to continue—the knowledge of what to say and when to say it," Illya said. "To answer your question, Winston, French Custard is made with flour, corn starch and vanilla, along with the usual ingredients of cream, eggs, and sugar. It's a bit stiffer than a regular custard is and usually not as sweet. Regular custard you bake and French custard you cook and then fill things with it. Does that help?"

"A little. Is there something I can do to help?"

"Certainly, would you stir this?" Rocky asked. "My arm is killing me."

"Wimp, make whipped cream by hand for eight hours a day," Matt said, peeling a turnip. "It builds up your biceps."

"And your endurance. Or meringue," Illya added. He and Matt looked at each other and both nodded.

"Puff pastry," they said together.

Illya crossed to watch Josie cut out the biscuits. "Where are you staying this evening?"

"Not a clue." She placed the last one on the baking sheet.

"Napoleon, since you managed to pawn your job off onto your sister, the least you could do would be find her some lodging." Illya thought for a moment. "I have some business cards...somewhere..." He gestured to the door and walked from the kitchen back into the living room with Napoleon on his heels.

"Did Winston tell you? About Keith?" Napoleon asked quietly as soon as they had moved a few feet from the door.

"Yes, poor kid. He is very upset, very scared and blames himself. Why do people do that, Napoleon? Blame themselves for circumstances outside their control?"

"And you didn't blame yourself for anything when we split?" Napoleon slipped his arms around Illya's waist and pulled him close. "I did. I blamed myself for things that couldn't have even remotely been my fault. It's human nature. We like to think we're in charge and we're not...not really."

Illya tilted his head up, eyes half closed. Napoleon didn't have to interpret that expression. He knew instantly what his lover was asking of him and he happily obliged, kissing Illya enthusiastically.

Illya pulled away and licked his lips. "Your sister?"

"Finally growing a backbone, I think. Glad to know all this women lib's stuff is good for something."

"Napoleon, that's a tremendously sexist thing to say!"

Napoleon grinned sheepishly. "Old habits, sorry. So what should we do?"

"Aldrich House should have some openings this early in the week and they have doubles. That might be a bit more comfortable for them instead of making them share a bed."

"That's not what I mean. What do you think we should do about Winston?"

"I don't know. How old is he?"

"Twenty...or thereabouts."

"You could offer him a job in your shop. He can't pour wine, but he could stock and sell." Illya suggested as he crossed the desk and began to root through a drawer. "And you do have that loft above the store that you were thinking of rent out. Offer it to him." Illya pulled out a card, squinted at it and tossed it aside. "What's the use of being a rich uncle if you're not willing to throw it around a bit?"


"And if he doesn't like it, he can always look for something else. Summer's coming up; everyone's going to need extra hands. If he's willing to work, there's plenty to do." He drew out another card. "Ah, this one, I think." He handed Napoleon the card and caught his hand. "If Winston stays here, with us, we can perhaps make him a bit more cautious and wise in the ways of the world. If we don't look out for family, who will?"

"When did you become such a Smart Russian?" Napoleon caressed his cheek with a gentle finger.

"Easy, the day I met you. Now, make the call, Napoleon, I have to get back to dinner."

Six months later

The bedroom door opened and Napoleon grinned up as his lover trudged into the room. He closed the book he'd been reading . "In the language of the 'now' crowd, you look whupped, my friend." He said as Illya collapsed upon the bed. "The last time you looked that tired was...last night."

"Funny man." Illya's voice was muffled by his pillow. "You should go out for the Ed Sullivan show."

"He's been off the air since 1971, Illya." Napoleon slid down the bed and eased first one and then the other of Illya's feet out of his shoes. That accomplished, he began to gentle massage the insole of the right foot.

"I know, Napoleon. That was my point." Illya grunted as Napoleon's thumb increased their pressure. "Ow,"

"Shut up. If you're going to abuse yourself like this, you are going to take your medicine." A year ago, Napoleon wouldn't have spoken to Illya quite so abruptly, but he was settled in the relationship now and happy, knowing that he could speak his mind. "You should think about cutting back."

"What?" Illya rolled over, removing himself from Napoleon's reach. "I've worked my ass off to make Taste what it is."

"Yes, and it's killing you. I'm not saying sell the place. I'm talking about taking a step back. Matt is more than able to run the place and he's worked hard—he deserves a chance to shine on his own. He's every bit as good as you and I'm hearing good things about his new apprentice."

After a few weeks of working at Vinea, Winston had started spending more and more time at Taste, asking questions, observing, and just generally getting underfoot until Matt started giving him small jobs. And then bigger jobs until now the young man was working as Matt's apprentice. He was taking classes during the day and working at night.

"He's still got a long road ahead of him, Napoleon, but I will grant that he's a fast learner and a hard worker. He's still got a couple more months under Matt's tutelage and then we'll see how long he lasts with me. If he makes it through Christmas, we'll talk."

"About what?"

"About my cutting back. Until then I don't want to hear another word about it. Deal?"

"Not a word until December 26—I promise." Napoleon twisted around until he had Illya's right foot again. "I wonder where I should take you first."

"Napoleon..." Illya warned.

"A nice long ocean cruise, I think, with lots of sea days...."

"Stop," Illya ordered, then started to snicker as Napoleon's fingers started to tickle instead of massage. There was a free for all which only stopped with Illya sitting astride Napoleon's chest. "Stop. Now."

"All right, you're the boss." Napoleon pulled him down into an embrace and kissed him. "Got a letter from my sister today."

"How is she? Where is she?" Without moving from the embrace, Illya started to strip.

"Down in Washington DC campaigning for Jerry Brown."

"Governor Moonbeam?" Illya sat up to pull off his chef pants. "Even I wouldn't vote for him...if I could actually vote, that is."

"She's happier than she's been in a long time," Napoleon allowed as he set his book on the nightstand.

"She still separated from Doug?"

"Trying to patch things up, from what Helena tells me. It's been easier since Doug's come out of the closet." Napoleon shook his head. He remembered getting that letter. Of reading it and shaking his head in disbelief. Of reading it again and just laughing. The only thing that was funnier was watching Illya's face when he read it.

"It's strange where our paths lead us. I never saw that one coming." Illya flopped back on the pillows and sighed, stretching.

"Nor did Josie. Sure gave her something to think about. And now, I think, we need to think about something else. " Napoleon shut off the light and gathered Illya closer. Illya happily snuggled down against him and sighed. "So what do you think, cruising the Mexican Riviera? Or Hawaii?"

"Good night, Napoleon."

"Anchors aweigh, my love."

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