Napoleon looked up when Illya joined them, noting exactly how many buttons of his white shirt were undone. While Illya combed Miss Lydecker’s hair, Napoleon continued prattling about his supposed products. The cover almost caused him to smile. Then Joanna lifted her hand with an air of entitlement and the corners of Napoleon’s lips drooped. When Illya’s hand curved around Miss Lydecker’s fingers, Napoleon’s lips parted in a small, silent gasp. He didn’t dare glance up again at Illya‘s face, at his exposed throat.
Illya loves playing a role. He does it so well. With a change of expression, a shift in posture, he changes himself into someone else…someone who holds a pretty woman’s hand when she raises it in search of reassurance.
Napoleon envied the way their hands curled around each other. He wanted to kiss Illya’s knuckles. The fake nose would get in the way, he reasoned, in an effort to dispel the urge. Napoleon stared at Illya’s thumb, positioned on top of Joanna’s fingers, pressing gently down on them, holding them captive. How content they are to be captive, Napoleon thought. To surrender to the power latent in Illya’s grasp. Napoleon saw how her thumb tried to hold Illya’s fingers in place, to keep him. As if you could. From the corner of his eye, Napoleon observed Illya leaning forwards over the woman, solicitous, protective. He’s only acting. He considered Illya’s expression. He knows she wants him. He doesn’t want her. He’s enduring it, slightly amused, Napoleon concluded. It's just a cover, a charade performed for the greater good.
Still Napoleon fumed. You aren’t entitled to his touch! Then he looked more carefully at the woman. You don’t feel entitled, do you, however much you affect that pose? Even through the make-up, he could see the flush in her cheeks. You‘ve already fallen under the spell, haven’t you? Despite your dark glasses and controlled expression, the hope transforms your face. That dreamy half smile gives you away. Caused by such a light, public touch.
You imagine that it’s more though, don’t you? That it’s a promise of touches yet to come? Napoleon felt an odd compassion for the woman. You are destined to be disappointed, Miss Lydecker. You are part of an assignment, nothing more. Joanna released Illya’s hand. Napoleon flicked a glance up at Illya. He was intent once more on his task of grooming the lady’s lacquered hair.
Despite the ridiculous disguise covering half his face, Napoleon knew that for an instant his expression had revealed everything he felt. He hoped Illya’s suppressed amusement wasn’t at his transparent desire, at his obvious envy of every touch that wasn’t for him. But that might be too much to hope for.