Lisle Solo looked down into her suitcase for the last time. "I'm still not too sure about this, Leon."
Her husband grinned. "What could go wrong, sweetheart? Our dads have been with the kids since they were born. It's not like we're leaving them with strangers. They will be fine... and they love Dad and Illya, and they won't let anything happen to the kids. "
"It's not the kids I'm worried about, luv." Lisle shut the suitcase and splayed her hands over the lid, as if trying to pull comfort from the Samsonite luggage. "They don't know what it's like to be with them all day."
"It's not like they haven't babysat before."
"This is for an entire week, Leon." She sighed. "Our health insurance does cover going raving bonkers, doesn't it?"
"What are you really worried about?" Leon gathered her up in his arms. "Are you worried about the kids or..." He nuzzled her neck and tickled her gently, making her squeal. "Are you really worried about spending a week alone with me?"
"Like I couldn't handle you and lay you out flat in ten seconds."
"Mmm, I can't say I'm hating that mental image right now. You all stretched out." He fingered a bit of her hair. "So willing, so able, so..."
"Ready to kick your arse if you make us miss our flight."
"Ah, there's the woman I know and love." He gave her a kiss. "Lis, honey, they will be fine."
"Illya, there's nothing to worry about." Napoleon Solo was the epitome of confidence. "You, me, it'll be like old times."
"With four children in tow, somehow, not exactly like old times." Illya glanced up at the clock and ran a hand through his hair. "We can't take them to work with us. One of us will have to stay here with them."
"Well, home schooling for one reason."
"So you've had experience with that. Remember Miki?"
"I remember a young woman in need of a good spanking to readjust her attitude."
"It'll be just like that, but without the attitude. "
"Your grandson is seven, Napoleon. Attitude is all he has at the moment. Also, the last time I was in the men's room at HQ, there was not a changing station in there. Peter and Inessa haven't been toilet trained yet."
"So one of us will stay home..."
"You're the head of an international organization. I can see the Israelis being very understanding as they postpone their peace talks because you have to change a diaper or heat up a bottle..." Illya reached for his coat, checking inside the pockets.
"Well, perhaps you would be the better choice."
"I'm not exactly expendable, you know. I do run Section Three. You do remember that?" He pulled out a yoyo, a partially eaten candy bar, a truck, a pacifier, three Lincoln logs, two pink hair ribbons, a handful of crayons, and a teething ring. Life with toddlers was never boring.
"Let your Number Two take over. It will be good training for him." Napoleon held out his hand and Illya passed over everything except the chocolate bar.
"I will permit you to make that phone call then. I have no intentions of telling Codell that I'm stuck home baby-sitting." Napoleon continued to stare at Illya, eyeing the chocolate. "What? This is mine."
"Well, better that than the hair ribbons, I suppose. Illya, we can't back out now. We're two grown men, we've run UNCLE for a decade now and the world is still holding up just fine. We can do this. And the kids haven't had any time to themselves since Alex was born. We owe them."
"If Lisle comes back pregnant..." Illya shook a finger at Napoleon.
"It won't be my fault." Napoleon caught the finger and winked. "Now they will be late if you don't get started."
Inessa held out her arms to her mother and howled as Illya pushed his daughter out the door.
"No, Nessa, you're staying with me," Napoleon cooed and the child looked at him, terrified. Peter clutched at Napoleon's leg, not as distressed about his mother leaving as he was his twin's wailing. He joined in and Irina clamped her hands over her ears.
"Nessa, Peter, shut up!" she yelled at the top of her six year old lungs and both toddlers and her grandfather stared at her. She nodded to her grandfather. "You just have to reason with them, Grampy." Irina held her hand out to Peter. "Let's go play."
Napoleon allowed Inessa to slide to the ground when she made it obvious she had no intention of staying behind with him. Instantly, the little girl headed towards the blocks that Irina was carefully stacking.
"It's okay, Grampy." Alex patted him on the arm. "I'll hang out with you."
"Grampy, do you know anything about fractions...?"
"Any port in the storm, am I?"
"Well, I'd ask Poppy, but he just makes me think things out."
"And I don't?"
"Grampy, have I ever told you how smart you are?"
"Drop the Eddy Haskell routine..."
"Boom!" Inessa slapped the blocks, sending them skittering all over the floor in every direction. "Again, Neenee!"
"I want Haskell too!" Irina protested from her spot on the floor. "It isn't fair if he gets Eddie Haskell and I don't!"
"You're too young!"
"You're too stoopid!"
Peter had calmly picked up a throw rug and was proceeding to decide which end looked more appealing to chew on. "Don't eat that, Peter! Grampy!"
Inessa tossed a block and it hit Peter, who stared at her for a moment and then began to howl. Inessa laughed and reached for another one.
"Inessa! Peter...!" Napoleon looked at the door. "ILLYA!"
Napoleon stretched out in bed and smiled contentedly. After a shaky start, things had quieted down. By the time Illya returned from the airport, Napoleon had managed to bribe all four children into relative obedience. Inessa was happily shredding newspaper, Alex was recopying his homework in his own handwriting, Peter had a jar of peanut butter and Irina was painting her Grampy's toenails. The room exploded when Illya walked in, but that was fine, even if it did smudge his polish.
By the time they got the kids to bed, Irina was too tired to even stay awake for the appearance of the pale, pale pink pony and Alex had fallen asleep amid his comic books. The twins went down without a complaint as did he.
He sat up and looked over at his alarm clock. It was still a bit early, but perhaps it would be good to get a jump on the insanity. He climbed out of bed and grabbed his robe, knotting it closed as he walked. He started the coffee and that's when he realized Illya was nowhere to be seen. He walked their small apartment and was only greeted with emptiness.
That was odd, but it didn't stop him from showering and shaving. He poured a cup of coffee for himself and noticed that Illya's cup, emblazoned with -Your opinion, while interesting,- is irrelevant' hung in its usual spot. Napoleon grinned, filled the mug and went in search of his partner.
He finally found Illya in the family room, in Lisle's rocking chair, his arms full of Peter. Napoleon shook his head. Illya looked like hell, unshaven, his hair askew, dressed only in a pair of jogging shorts and a severely rumpled shirt.
Illya turned blood shot eyes to his partner and Napoleon held out the cup, a sort of peace offering. "Bad night?"
"THRUSH has nothing on a cranky toddler." Illya took the cup and nearly drained it without waking the toddler. "I think he's teething again."
"Did you get any sleep at all?"
"A little around three... until Peter woke up, decided he was hungry and tried to nurse."
"Ow." Napoleon's hand went protectively to his chest. "Isn't he a little old for that?"
"Ask him, not me." Illya's head turned as Alex walked in, yawning, dragging his blanket behind him.
"Morning, Poppy... Grampy"
"Good morning, champ, how are you?" Napoleon went to the boy and ruffled his blond hair.
"Good... I dreamed about trains."
"Dreamt," Napoleon corrected automatically.
"I dreamt about trains."
"You too? That's funny..."
"Poppy, Nessa is stinky..." Irina came in, holding her nose...
"Napoleon, I believe your public awaits." Illya continued to rock in the chair. Napoleon nodded and walked from to room to perform his sacred task before Illya could come up with something even worse.
"Poppy, I want cereal this morning."
"No, waffles... I want waffles!" Alex protested. "It's my turn and I want waffles!"
"No, Mommy said..."
"I want waffles!"
Peter stirred and Illya shot the older children a glare. "The next one who starts a sentence with 'I want,' gets a double math assignment and an extra bath. Have I made my point?"
"Yes, sir." Alex looked glum.
Inessa toddled into the room and headed for Illya, raising her arms. "Want, want want...uppy."
"Oh, she's in trouble now," Irina said, her voice forlorn.
Illya grunted as he heaved the child up and onto his other knee. "Hmm, at least Grampy changed you before sending you to me." She settled into the crook of his neck and sighed, drifting back to sleep.
Napoleon stuck his head in the door. "If anyone wants to eat, they should come now." Alex and Irina started to walk from the room as Napoleon crossed back over to the chair and caressed the head of the nearest child. "Everyone asleep again?" He lifted Peter up.
"All four of them."
"Four?" He carefully settled the toddler into the playpen and returned for the second one.
"Both kids and both legs." Illya sighed at the relief of being able to move. He got up and had taken two steps when Inessa started to fuss and again held her arms out to Illya.
Napoleon handed the child back to Illya. "It must be that you look more like Lisle than I do. She is their primary caregiver. Okay, I get to go to work now."
"Have to. I meant, have to."
"Run, Napoleon, just run!"
Cautiously, Napoleon eased opened the front door after he'd waved a goodbye to his bodyguards for the evening. He wasn't entirely sure that he would not be requiring their services.
He took a step and something crunched under his foot. Wincing, he lifted his shoe and bent to inspect the damage. He couldn't really tell exactly what it had been, but since there was scattered elbow macaroni all over the floor, he had a good idea. He set his briefcase onto a table, well out of toddler range - he'd learned that lesson with Alex - and carefully picked his way through the entry hall.
He stopped in the formal dining room and after a bit of searching, found a dusty bottle of gin and an equally dusty bottle of vermouth, and proceeded to mix up a batch of martinis. Napoleon had a feeling Illya could do with one and he, if nothing else, would use it as another way of smoothing the path before him.
Unfortunately, there were no olives and Napoleon knew of only one spot to find them. He gathered up two glasses and the shaker, and headed out to the kitchen.
Instinct told him that this would be about the time for the family to start clustering there. Sure enough, Alex was sitting at the table, his fingers twisted in his blond hair as he struggled with his math assignment. Irina was stringing something; he couldn't tell what. Peter was gnawing on his fist and the table leg alternately, and Inessa was busy scribbling onto a huge piece of paper with a purple crayon.
"Grampy!" Irina shouted and slid from her chair, eager for a hug. She waited for him to set things down and to pick her up.
"We had such fun today. We made macaroni pictures and macaroni jewelry." At this point she slid a pasta necklace around his neck. "We counted macaroni and made up stories about macaroni." She wiggled her way back down to the floor and ran back to the table.
"And thusly, dinner should come as no surprise this evening." Illya said as he stirred the macaroni and cheese.
Napoleon poured two drinks and went to the refrigerator. He found a jar of green olives and carried them to the table. Instantly, Peter was all attention and Inessa abandoned her crayons to join her brother at Napoleon's side.
"Can he have an olive?" Napoleon asked.
"No, he'll choke. Give him a teething ring instead. They're in the freezer."
Inessa, on the other hand, stared at Napoleon's glass. "Dink," she demanded.
"No, this is Grampy's Sippy cup." Napoleon made sure the glass was well out of reach. "Illya?"
"Cupboard, top right hand side. Milk, preferably."
"How are you holding up?" Napoleon joined him and glanced into the pot before passing over the martini glass. "Please tell me I am not relegated to eating orange food tonight." He raised his hand and began to massage Illya's neck, gently.
"Depends upon what you order..." Illya lowered the heat and leaned back, sighing, his drink still untouched.
"Looks like you survived today." Napoleon kept the pressure firm but easy.
"Only because there's some obscure rule about humans eating their young," Illya murmured. "I don't know how Lisle does this and she makes it look so easy. I'm almost too tired to put two thoughts together."
"Use a conjunction," Alex suggested. Napoleon chuckled as Illya lifted his glass and sipped.
"At least you know they are listening."
"And always at the wrong time."
"Poppy taught Peter a new word today when the vacuum cleaner exploded," Irina said, holding up her newest creation for inspection. "A whole bunch of new words... what does дерьмо mean?
"I think that's a word best left to grownups for now. I talked with housekeeping and they are going to come in a couple of times this week."
"Music to my ears." Illya twisted and looked over at the table. "Anyone interested in dinner should go wash their hands now. And use soap... and water," he added as an afterthought.
Alex happily pushed his work aside and jumped from the chair. "C'mon, Peter!"
"Peebe Jay," Peter shouted, dropped his well-gnawed upon teething ring, and climbed to his feet. Irina had also abandoned her art work and offered a paste-crusty hand to Inessa.
"Let's skip, Nessa." Inessa squealed and started to jump in place, so Irina hopped as well. "This way!"
"Where do they get the energy?" Illya said, spooning the macaroni and cheese onto four plates. "I'm exhausted just watching them."
"You're just exhausted, period." Napoleon tipped Illya's head back to look into his face. "And you look a little peaky. Are you okay?"
Illya nodded and carried two of the plates to the table. "I expect a medal for this."
"How about having a well rested daughter and son-in-law instead?" Napoleon asked as he pulled a jug of milk from the refrigerator.
"Poppy, Grampy, Peter's flushing the goldfish!!!!"
Illya looked over at his partner and smirked. "A big one..."
"Everyone asleep?" Illya asked as Napoleon entered the bedroom and collapsed upon the bed.
"And it only took three reading s of the Happy, Happy Hamsters go on a Picnic." Illya looked at him strangely as Napoleon cleared his throat. "Sorry I was stuck in hamster voice."
Illya smiled and reached out to ruffle Napoleon's hair. "How do our kids do this day in and day out?"
"What choice do they have? They are parents." Napoleon moved until he rested alongside the Russian, his head against Illya's shoulder. It felt good to have this easy camaraderie, the sense of peace that Napoleon always got when Illya was close at hand. Well, peace when someone wasn't shooting at them or attempting to eliminate them from the gene pool. "Sort of makes you wonder how Serena and Angelique managed."
"Not really. I'm sure THRUSH presented them with help and they only had the one child apiece."
"For which I am grateful. What if Leon had been twins?"
"I think Lisle is at times to keep up with that mob. Did twins run in your family?"
"Not really. Must have been yours." Napoleon reached out to turn off the light.
"Not mine... at least, not that I know about." Illya adjusted his pillow. "You're not going to sleep in your clothes?"
"I'll get up in a minute. I just wanted to get your poor aching body properly tucked in."
"And the body appreciates how you jumped in tonight and helped." Illya sighed. "Poor goldfish...."
"It could have been worse... at least Peter didn't eat them. Guess he'll save that for college. Nice eulogy, by the way ..."
"Just one more service I offer."
Illya kept from groaning, but it was so tempting. Inessa had joined her brother in her unwillingness to sleep and Illya had spent much of the night pacing and rocking first one twin and then the other. More distressing was the low fever each one seemed to be running. He checked the medical book and it reported that a low fever was typical with teething, especially molars. About four a.m., they had finally both nodded off at the same time, only to come awake at the first on/off blat of his communicator. Trying to coordinate an air strike over two wailing toddlers had been on par with trying to mop up a flood with a Q-Tip. Now, he was trying to get his oldest grandson to settle long enough to listen to him, but it was as if someone had put itching powder in Alex's pants.
"Alex, look at me. You know how to work this," Illya said, pushing the four pieces of paper towards him. "You start with taking away half." He did. "And then half of that. What do you have?"
"A reason to stop living?" Alex rubbed his chest through his tee shirt.
"I'm itchy, Poppy..." He wiggled. "I can't think."
"Me too," Irina muttered, glancing up. "Look, look, look, Spot chased Fluffy up the tree. Who cares? Stupid cat! She should have just swatted him!"
"She's a girl. Girls don't fight back," Alex muttered.
"Girls don't start fights, but we can sure finish them!" She attempted to kick him from under the table. "Can I have something more age appropriate please?"
"May I and, Irina, sadly that is age appropriate. It is you who are out of step with your reading skills."
"Reenee's outta step, Reenee's outta step," Alex sang to her and she slammed her book down.
"Knock it off, broccoli head."
"No, you knock it off, diaper bottom!"
"Enough! You two have been at each other's throats all day," Illya shouted and the two looked at him as if they didn't have the faintest idea what he was going on about. "How convenient that your itchiness developed just in time for math and reading."
"I'm serious, Poppy." Alex twisted and contoured his torso before pulling off his top. "Look, I'm polka dotted!"
"What did you get into?" There was a bright red rash all over the boy's back and chest. Illya looked over at his granddaughter. "Irina, come here." He lifted her shirt. "You as well? Did your mother change detergent?"
"Huh?" Alex paused in his scratching to stare at his grandfather as if he'd grown a second head. Illya got up to go to where Peter was gnawing his way through something. Illya took it away from him and winced.
"Alex, do you remember the discussion we had about leaving your toys out where the little ones could find them?"
The boy looked up from his scratching. "Yes, Poppy."
"It would appear Mr. Indestructible hasn't quite lived up to his billing." He held up the mauled figure so the boy could see.
"Don't yell at him; it was your fault for leaving it where he could find it." Illya took one of the child's arms, looking at the multitude of spots. "And I am assuming it's a fool's task to think your sister has escaped a similar fate." He looked over at Inessa who was rubbing her face and pounding pegs into holes.
"Don't scratch. I'll call the doctor and see what she has to say."
Napoleon glanced over at the jangling phone and frowned. It was his private line, one that his secretary wouldn't answer. The people who had this number made up a very short list, still...
"Napoleon." He could barely make Illya's voice out from the crying in the background.
"Illya, what's wrong?"
"I need you!"
"Ah... I need you too. And you just suddenly felt the urge to call and tell me this?"
"No, you didn't let me finish, blockhead. I need you to stop by the store on your way home."
"Okay, what do we need?"
"A gallon or two of ice cream, the biggest bottle of vodka you can find and all the calamine lotion you can carry. All four kids have the chicken pox."
"Ooh! The calamine is such a pretty pink! Look, they make my pops such a pretty color."
"You aren't supposed to LIKE the medicine, Reenie." Alex scratched his head with both hands.
"Oh quiet, Alex, really." And she went back to delicately dabbing pink spots on her arms. "Don't you think it's beautiful, Poppy? When is it going to make me stop itching?"
Illya rolled his eyes and continued trying to sooth the fussy baby in his arms, watching as Napoleon walked the crying baby in his own. "Shh, Inessa, shhhh Когда морей прокатки в, kогда звезды горят четкие, kогда призраки воют близ , kогда мы поем колыбельную русский." (When the seas are rolling in, when the stars are shining clear, when the ghosts are howling near, when we sing the Russian lullaby), he sang softly to her.
"When the ghosts are howling near?" Napoleon translated. "That's in a children's lullaby? Why doesn't that surprise me?"
"It's okay. She doesn't speak Russian... yet. Irina, your love of pink may well be taxed after this experience."
"Oh no, Poppy, pink is the perfect pretty color, forever and ever." She danced around the bathroom, flicking droplets of lotion off herself.
"A woman of her convictions, partner mine."
"I'm still itchy, Grampy. What should I do?" Alex asked. The little boy looked completely heart-wrenching in his little white shorts and bright red spots.
"Do something to take your mind off it."
"Can I play with my trains?"
"I don't see why not."
The boy ran off in the direction of his room.
"Trade me, Napoleon, Inessa is almost asleep." They traded the drowsing Inessa for the still crying Peter. Napoleon's communicator trilled and Inessa roused but did not wake as Napoleon juggled her and the pen.
"Leon, what are you doing? This is a secured channel."
"And guess who secured it? They didn't put me downstairs because I was an idiot." There was a murmur. "How's everything going?"
Alex suddenly appeared, Abigail, Irina's favorite doll, in his hands. "Train wreck victim!" he shouted as he raced by.
"Don't you touch her, Alexander!" Irina took off, naked except for a veneer of pink, leaving the bathroom, intent upon the living room.
The last thing they needed was calamine lotion on the new shag carpeting. Napoleon jerked his head in that direction. "Illya!"
Illya plopped the still fussing Peter on the floor and went running out, almost tripping on the throw rug on the way out. Inessa jumped in Napoleon's arms, abruptly awake, and looked at him with wide, betrayed eyes. She started to cry again, blending in with Peter, who was clutching his leg and hiccupping. "Oh, we're doing just fine here... How are you?"
Illya pulled up the blanket over Peter, who made a small peeping noise, but didn't wake. Inessa cuddled up close to him, her mouth moving gently as she sucked her fist in her sleep. Illya caressed her face gently and crept out of the room. He half expected them both to start screaming, but they didn't. He got to the hall and partially closed the door then leaned against the opposing wall.
"All quiet on the Western Front?" Napoleon came out of Alex's room, carrying Abigail, a large plastic bat, and an inflatable pool toy.
"For the moment, it is. Although how long the peace will hold is anyone's guess. How can they look so angelic asleep and be such a handful awake?"
"Survival technique - all babies are cute. It keeps us from killing them at other times. I say we take advantage of the moment and fall into bed."
"I've had better offers in the past, but at the moment I can't think of anything I'd like more." Illya looked back over at the door. "Now I know how the bomb squad feels... just waiting for the device to go off."
"Honestly, referring to your own grandchildren as devices..."
"You have a better description at this point?"
"No, I can't say that I do."
"Then it stands, even though I might not for much longer."
The second day dawned to a chorus of wails. Napoleon lifted his head from the pillow and groaned. "I wonder where they hid the off switch on those two."
At the lack of response, he glanced around the room and then hoisted himself out of bed. As tempting as it was to let Illya do all the dirty work, his sense of duty to his partner was even stronger. He stretched and yawned, running a hand through his hair and then trying to pat it into some sense of normalcy. He hastily pulled on some shorts and his robe before heading out.
He didn't stop for coffee, but instead headed down to the second floor and towards the nursery. Both Peter and Inessa were clinging to the side of their crib and renewed their efforts the moment they saw him.
"Who wants to be first?" Napoleon asked, then scooped up the closest one. He'd learned from experience: no matter what, you never changed Peter without a cloth close at hand. It reminded him a bit of his first attempts at changing Leon. The mechanics of diaper changing were old hat now, but back then, he'd been so cautious, so worried, it had been a miracle that he'd ever gotten the first one figured out. Then he chuckled, remembering Illya right there beside him, coaching him every step of the way.
They'd been through a lot together, Napoleon thought as he switched out one for the other. Living through Section Two, both belatedly enjoying the pleasures of fatherhood and more recently grandfatherhood. Napoleon grinned and blew a raspberry on Inessa's stomach. The baby stopped crying and began to giggle.
"There's my girl, sobs to laughs in five seconds flat." He set her down and she got shakily to her feet. Immediately, Peter was there.
"Peegee Bee, Gamp."
"You're ready for breakfast?" He hefted the boy up and kissed him. "What a silly question, you are always ready to eat. You have that in common with your other grandfather." Peter wiggled and squirmed until Napoleon put him down and the two headed towards the stairs.
He'd always worried about the gate there, whether it was strong enough, but the twins were smart enough to wait until he arrived and opened it for them. Instantly they started a backward crawl down the steps.
Alex was in the kitchen, playing with his bowl of cereal.
"How are you today, my boy?" Napoleon asked when it became apparent the boy wasn't going to respond.
"Itchy, tired and my froat hurts."
"Thhhh... throat, Alex." Napoleon often forgot Alex was still young, just barely seven. He acted so old at times.
"That's what I said..."
Illya came walking in, his demeanor one of exhaustion and resignation.
"Morning," Napoleon tried cautiously.
"That's the rumor, but I'm not so sure."
"Maybe you should go back to bed."
"A nice sentiment, but as you leave for work in about thirty minutes, I don't see it being worth the effort."
"I had my secretary clear my schedule for the rest of the week. I wasn't going to abandon you here with four sick kids. I wouldn't be that cruel."
"I don't know... I remember a couple of times, back in the day."
"That was different... we were younger and better able to defend ourselves. You look like I could knock you down with a ball of Play Doh."
"You probably could. Irina didn't have a good night." Illya dropped into the chair and leaned forward onto the table, rested his head on his arms. "I think this is about the seventh load of laundry I've run."
Irina came wandering in, dragging Abigail behind her. "I feel better now, Poppy." she announced, looking up briefly from her scratching. "But I'm still itchy and my froat hurts." She stopped and stared at her grandfather and started to laugh. "Grampy, you're wearing clown panties."
Napoleon looked down at his spotted shorts and rebelted his robe. "Shorts."
"Panties," Irina half sang out, reaching for the apple juice.
"Shorts." Napoleon grabbed the carton just before it went over. He poured some juice into the glass and pushed it towards her. He then filled matching Sippy cups and offered one to each toddler. Peter sat down and instantly began to suck on it. Inessa looked at hers, dropped it and giggled at the noise it made hitting the tile.
"Ka- pow," she announced happily.
"I suspect she will have a wonderful career in demolition."
"Or heavy artillery." Illya's voice was muffled. "I just want to know how you slept through all of that last night."
"No idea. If it had been a THRUSH..."
"You'd have been awake in a heartbeat." Illya sat back and scratched his head. "I would kill for a shower."
"Then go take one. I've got everything here."
Illya stood under the water, not bothering to even try and soap up. It was just a relief to have a moment to himself. It wasn't that he didn't love his grandchildren, but he could now understand why Lisle had practically burst into joyful tears when Leon gave her a deadbolt for the bathroom as a birthday gift.
Six days, he only had to make it six more days.
"Yes, Alex." He tried to keep from sighing. He didn't want the boy to think he was not welcome.
"Do we have to have schoolwork today?"
"Can you and your sister amuse each other without getting into fights every five minutes?
"If it means not having school, yes." He stopped and then. "What's that?"
Illya looked in the direction of the point. "Alex, you know very well what that is. You have one too."
"But it looks different than mine." He checked just to be sure. "Really different."
"That's because you were circumcised and I wasn't. They do things differently here."
Illya waited for the door to open and close again before sighing. "And to think I used to have privacy."
He was halfway through shampooing his hair when he heard the door open again.
"Not Alex, just me and my clown panties... I'm going to feel weird about this all day." Napoleon's voice filtered through the running water to him. "I just have a question, partner."
"So when exactly did Magellan circumcise the globe?"
"What?" Illya had to admit one thing. Life was seldom boring these days.
Peace had finally descended in the household. Irina and Alex, after an initial struggle, had surrendered to a cool bath with baking soda. Alex was reading and Irina was playing house with Abigail and friends. It came as no surprise that Abigail had also developed chicken pox, thanks to Alex and a red marker. Irina tended to her needs attentively. The twins were down for their morning nap and Napoleon was cleaning the kitchen.
"Poppy!" Illya's head swiveled in the direction of Alex's bedroom. He'd not heard from the boy in nearly two hours. He'd stopped to check on him occasionally, but the child was stretched out on his bed, reading - never a bad thing to his way of thinking.
"What's wrong, Alex?" He walked in to the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed.
"What's this word mean... mas..turrr..bate? Or orgah...smmm?"
"What?" Illya reached for the book. "What are you reading?"
"The Fear of Flying. I thought it was about airplanes, but it's mostly about this lady and her boyfriends. She's a little weird, Poppy... I don't understand a lot of it..."
"Napoleon!" Illya took the book from the boy and sighed.
Almost instantly, the man appeared, a dish towel around his neck, looking a little harried. "What's wrong?"
Illya held up the book. "How many times have we discussed leaving your reading material lying around?"
"But I didn't... Alex, where did you find this?"
"In the pocket of your armchair, all the way in the bottom."
Napoleon shot Illya a look of innocence proven. "What were you doing in there?"
"Trying to find where that old stinky bottom of a sister hid my locomotive."
Irina stuck her tongue out at him as she walked by the door. "Next time, leave Abigail alone. She was happy without chicken pops."
"Well, you're ugly!"
"Enough!" Illya commanded and both children looked at him. "Napoleon, take Alex and find him something a bit more age appropriate."
"But what do those words...?" the boy started, then fell silent at Illya's stern look.
"They'll mean more if you ask later, say in about ten years," Napoleon said with a smile.
"But I could be dead by then!"
Illya turned to Irina. "And you go get his locomotive right now and return it with a proper apology."
"Yes, sir..." Irina managed a great theatrical sniffle and Napoleon took a step towards her, but Illya shook his head.
"Now, Irina!" He pointed and she plodded away, the weight of the world on her shoulders. Alex was grinning widely and Illya turned to him. "And if you so much as even think about touching her doll again, I will make quite certain that all TV privileges are taken away from you for the next forty years."
"He'll do it too." Napoleon put the book under his arm and offered his hand to the boy.
"Boy, he's grumpy," Alex muttered, taking Napoleon's hand and sliding off the bed. "I wonder what blowjob bit him."
"I think that's another word you probably shouldn't use for a few more years." Napoleon ushered the boy quickly from the room as Illya tried to hide his grin.
"But why can't we have Frannie over?"
"Because you are still contagious and she hasn't gotten sick yet." The phone rang and Napoleon was to the instrument in three steps. Almost instantly, Peter was there, jabbering away as fast as he could. Napoleon could not quite figure the connection between the phone and being interrupted.
"Hi, Napoleon, this is Martha."
"Martha! How are you and Jess?"
"A little harried at the moment. I just wanted to let you know. Fran has somehow contracted chicken pox, which probably means that Irina was exposed as well."
"Oh, we know..."
"We have four cases running around."
"Poor Leon and Lis. They must be fit to be tied. We're pushed to the limit with just one."
"I don't want to, Poppy!" Alex raced by, naked except for his Batman shorts. "I'm the Caped Crusader!" He paused to strike a pose and then raced off, Illya hot on his heels.
"Oh, don't feel so sorry for them. They are currently languishing in a B&B in the Catskills."
"Not you and Illya?"
Napoleon watched Illya pick up the squirming seven year old and haul him back towards the bathroom.
"Yup, me and Illya."
"Anything we can do to help?"
"Yes, bring over a big stick and beat me until I lose consciousness." Napoleon suddenly realized Peter had found his briefcase, gotten it open and was attempting to eat the Nighthawk Affair folder. Inessa was busy trying to pound his communicator into the floor. "Preferably within the next five seconds."
The door opened and Leon carried Lisle over the threshold and set her down. "Welcome home, Mrs. Solo." They embraced. "And, boy, does it feel good to be here."
"And it's still standing. I'm impressed."
"Hey, your dad and mine- they are an unbeatable combination! Ask anyone at work."
"I wonder where everyone is."
Leon walked into the living room and then grinned. "It looks like they are taking advantage of the Indian summer weather." He pointed out the plate glass window to the back yard.
Lisle followed his point and laughed. Napoleon was sitting in the wading pool, Inessa between his legs. He was totally drenched as Inessa pounded the water again and again. Fran, Alex, and Irina were chasing each other with squirt guns. Illya was sitting crossed legged on a blanket, holding Peter who was messily eating a popsicle, staining himself and Illya's tee shirt a brilliant orange.
Carefully, Leon slid open the door.
"Chew, Peter, chew."
"Yea, Peter, you need to masturbate your food," Irina shouted.
"Masticate, Irina," Illya corrected, choking back his laugh. "The word you want is masticate, not... the other."
"Well, what's the other one mean?"
"It's a grown up word, you silly!" Alex pumped a steady stream of water at her. She squealed and went after him, her own water pistol at the ready.
"Saved by the proverbial bell," Illya said, evading a waving sticky fist.
"Or water pistol, in this case." Napoleon blew out a mouthful of water. "Inessa, no splashing." The child doubled her efforts in response. "That doesn't mean splash more."
"Did anyone miss us?" Leon asked. Instantly, there were cries of Mommy! Daddy! You're back! Leon walked out and scooped up a soggy Irina. "Miss me, Sweetheart?"
"Oh, yes, my handsome prince!"
Inessa struggled to get out of the pool, sending water everywhere. "Ma, ma, ma!"
Lisle picked her up and hugged her. "Why is it the smallest arms give the biggest hugs?"
Inessa squealed and laughed happily.
Napoleon climbed carefully out of the pool, running a hand through his soggy hair and over his face. "When did you two get in? You were supposed to call us."
"We decided just to grab a taxi." Inessa was passed over to Leon as Lisle went to Peter, who held out his Popsicle to her.
"Meejaw, Ma, meejaw!"
"So I see." Peter abandoned her for the pool. "How are you doing, Dad?"
Illya got to his feet and looked down at his shirt. "Sticky I think would be the best description." He pulled off his tee shirt and Napoleon started to laugh as he toweled off his hair.
"Illya, please tell me you had the chicken pox growing up."
"I thought I did."
"You thought wrong, partner." Napoleon's voice was muffled by his towel.
Illya's chest and stomach sported several red spots and he groaned. "I don't believe this. This isn't happening."
"Poppy, you look like us now!" Irina was delighted and she hugged his legs happily. "Now we can paint you a pretty pale pink."
"My joy knows no bounds." Illya ran a hand over his chest and winced. "This has to be some kind of freakish joke."
"This is no joking matter," Leon piped up as he eased Inessa down to the ground and she took off at an unsteady run back towards the water. "Chicken pox in adults is serious."
"Really?" Napoleon glanced over at his son as he pulled on his tee shirt.
"Yes, it can lead to pneumonia, joint infections, which could give you a world of hurt, consider the mess your hip is in, Illya, and even encephalitis. " Leon looked at his wife and father-in-law and hunched his shoulders at their open-mouthed stares. "I had a professor die from it. That's how I know."
"That's a cheery thought on so many levels," Illya muttered. "Napoleon, have you...?"
"Oh yes, I remember as it was the night of our first boy/girl dance. I'd been practicing for weeks and had my eye on Molly Haskins, the prettiest girl in the school." Napoleon sighed at the memory. "It was a memorable night for more than one reason. And now..." He turned to his partner. "It's time to give you back a little of what you've been handing out this week."
Illya was running a hand over his face and frowning. "What? Extra homework? What are you talking about?"
"All week, you've been taking care of us, now it's time for us to take care of you."
"Could you just ignore me instead?"
"I'll read to you, Poppy." Alex offered. "I found another book that's really interesting. It's one of Grampy's flower books."
"Flowers?" Illya looked over at Napoleon. "You have books about flowers?"
"It's called, 'My Secret Garden.'" Alex stopped and then frowned. "Of course, there are still a bunch of words I don't understand."
"And we shall do our best to keep it that way for a few years yet. What do you say to some catch, champ?"
"Okay!" Alex ran off to get his glove while Fran and Irina retreated to the sand box.
Napoleon slid an arm around Illya's neck. "Let's put you to bed, partner. I'm sure after the week we've had, you won't protest too much."
"Only a token amount," Illya admitted. "But I can do this myself, Napoleon. You stay and get caught up."
Lisle rose up to her tiptoes to kiss him. "Thank you for all that you did this week, the pair of you."
Napoleon watched Illya walk away and smiled. "It was our pleasure and now I need to ask you a favor."
"Shoot. I certainly owe you one."
"Where can I find a medal?" Napoleon asked as Illya paused, gave Peter a hug and a tickle, and then trudged into the house. "A really big one?"