Could the day get any better? Napoleon tipped his head back to study the fluffy clouds as they drifted along. The weather was perfect, sunny and not too humid, the renovations to Yankee Stadium were done and Napoleon had nothing more to do than look forward to some excellent baseball and spending the afternoon with his grandchildren - low key and more than adequately protected. There always seemed to be a great rush of volunteers among the Section Three agents whenever Mr. Solo announced his was taking the afternoon off.
It wasn't by practice or desire that he spent little time with the twins. It was more a case of Illya being stuck at home with them and Napoleon being busy running a major organization. Now that Illya was back at UNCLE, Napoleon felt a bit more at ease taking an afternoon off to spend with his grandchildren. It made his bodyguards crazy, being out in the open, but Napoleon didn't care.
He smiled over at Peter, who was happily stuffing Cracker Jack into his mouth. Give the boy something to eat and all was right in his world. Inessa would be more content if something exploded, but at the moment she was busy studying the field.
"Inessa, do you know how baseball works?" Napoleon asked the child. The blonde head swiveled in his direction and the young girl sighed.
"Yes, Gampy, of course. You got somebody who throws something at somebody else. It's okay if you call it baseball, though. If you get hit, you run to Miss Nelson's No-no's."
"That's what she calls her fleurs," Peter mumbled around his mouthful, catching the crumbs that fell out.
"She calls her flowers No-nos?" Napoleon handed the boy a napkin
"Uh huh, every time we get near them, she says,' No No.' I guess that's the kind they are or somethin'.'" Peter pulled out a small envelope. "Hey look at this, Grampy!"
"That's your prize. Don't eat it." At Peter's laugh, Napoleon held out his hand. "Would you like me to open it for you?"
"Yes, please." Peter handed it over and returned his full attention to the sweet popcorn and peanuts. Toys were nice, but obviously snack food trumped them.
"So, what's next after first base, Inessa, my sweet?"
"Second base, of course, and that's Chewy's house 'less he's home, then we use a rock."
"Then you have to call the game on 'count of slobber." She looked around and whispered confidentially. "Chewy likes to kiss too much. Poppy says it's gonna get him in trouble and will lead him down the garden path. If Chewy gets pregnant, can we keep the puppies?"
"Chewy can't get pregnant; he's a boy."
"Oh, but Poppy said --"
"Poppy says lots of things. He was pulling your leg." Napoleon grinned at the earnestness of the child.
"No, he wasn't... but he did yank my hair a little." She rubbed her head at the memory.
"And what about third base, my sweet?" Napoleon shot a look to one of his Section Three bodyguards. They seemed as interested as he was.
"Those are Mama's roses - don't slide into them, though - they bite."
"Gotcha." He winked at her.
"And we all play until somebody starts crying, we break something, or it's dinner time." She happily dangled her feet over the edge of her seat. "How was that, Gampy?"
"Perfect, that's exactly how baseball should be played."
"So what are they doing?" She squinted at the men warming up on the field.
"Grown up baseball," Peter said, tilting his head back to get the last few crumbs left in the box. "More rules, no fun."
"That's not good..." Inessa wasn't impressed.
Napoleon carefully tore open the envelope packet and shook out the toy. He handed Peter the small plastic figure. "Look, you got a cowboy."
"Thank you." Peter was polite, but looked less than impressed as he shoved it into his pants pocket. He was more focused on the approaching vendor.
It was the bottom of the seventh inning when Napoleon felt a bit of a stir in his stomach. While Inessa and Peter had been snacking throughout the game, he'd been good, resisting all temptations - until the hotdog vendor walked by and Napoleon got a whiff. It went straight to his stomach and he lifted an arm.
A foot-long dog and money were exchanged and Napoleon sighed happily. He got ready to take a huge bite when a six year old voice rang out.
"No eating puppies, Gampy!" Inessa's shrill shriek lifted over the crowd and Napoleon swore he saw more than one player look in his direction. Worse, Inessa made a lunge for the hot dog and dumped the whole thing on Napoleon's tie. Thankfully, it was wide enough to take the brunt of the attack and save his shirt, but the hot dog went tumbling. "No, you can't!"
"Inessa, what's gotten into you?"
"They make hot dogs out of puppies no one wants!" She was wailing now and everyone close to them was watching and listening, so much for low key.
"What? That's disgusting! Who told you that?" Napoleon held his ketchup and mustard smeared fingers away from his suit jacket.
"Alex... he said that what they did and we should never ever eat them." Inessa calmed down a little and was hiccupping. Peter offered her his root beer.
Napoleon's first inclination was to glance back over his shoulder at his new grandson-in-law, but he knew the young man wouldn't be that cruel. That left only one other Alex.
"I see, I'll have a chat with your brother when I get home. Inessa, sweetheart, listen to me, hot dogs are not made from puppies."
"What are they made of?"
That was a good question and one that Napoleon didn't immediately know the answer to, but that wouldn't have stopped him as an agent and it certainly didn't now. "Other stuff, but no puppies were harmed in the making of this or any other hotdog."
The Section Three agent behind Napoleon chuckled good-naturedly and offered him his handkerchief. "Older brother?"
"Older brother." Napoleon nodded his thanks and wiped off his fingers enough so that he could dig out his own handkerchief without making the mess worse. "Thank you."
"Only takes one. I wouldn't take a bath for a week after mine told me there was a drain monster in the tub." The agent shoved the handkerchief into the pocket of his windbreaker, his attention never lingering on any one place for too long. Napoleon knew too well that this could be when things were the most dangerous, when everyone's guard was down. Yet his bodyguards weren't just anyone, they were trained and knew what they were doing.
"The bubbles confuse them." Peter said, his attention refocused upon his peanuts. "The factory surfaces make their brains hurt."
"Refractory, I think you mean," Napoleon automatically corrected. He was in too good a mood to let the incident ruin it. Instead, he took off the tie and wadded it up in his handkerchief and stuffed it into his pants pocket.
"At least the tie is red and hides the ketchup," the Section Three agent on the other side of Inessa said. "Too bad about the mustard and relish though, sir."
"Poppy says Grampy eats too much condoms anyhow." Peter leaned forward to shout over Napoleon's lap. A red flush stained Napoleon's cheeks as a chuckle went up in the immediate vicinity.
"Condiments, Peter, the word is condiments," Napoleon murmured, just imagining how this story was going to make the rounds.
"Oh, Poppy says you even put ketchup on peanut butter sandwiches. That's weird, Grampy, even for me and I eat everything..." Peter continued,.
"Watch the game, Peter."
Napoleon climbed the stairs leading to the apartment he shared with Illya. It was little more than two bedrooms, a central room that acted as their living room, dining room, and kitchen and a shared bathroom. Small, but a place to escape when the grandchildren or the world below got to be more than either bachelor could handle.
Illya was sitting on the couch, reading the paper, his bad leg propped up on the coffee table. Immediately Napoleon frowned, which made his sun burnt nose hurt. He gingerly felt it and sighed. He had been so careful to put suntan lotion on the twins. Too bad he'd forgotten about himself.
"Evening, partner," Napoleon said as Illya glanced up at him over the rims of his glasses.
"You should put something on that or you won't be able to sleep tonight. That's what you get for slacking off when the rest of us are working."
"I wasn't slacking off and I will. Leg bad tonight?" Napoleon sat on the arm of the couch, something he would have yelled at the kids for doing.
"No, just a little tired." That was Illyaspeak for it hurt like hell and he was dutifully trying to pretend it didn't. Thankfully, Napoleon had a Masters in Illyaspeak, but also knew when not to push the subject. Illya closed the paper and barely suppressed a grin. "How was the game?"
"I am detecting a distinct smirk in your voice, Illya."
"Let's just say the hot dog incident made the rounds in the locker room this afternoon." Illya broke into a huge grin. "And the condoms. You should try cutting back on them."
"Those two are going to be the end of me." Napoleon laughed. "But at least the Yankees won. I'm going to change. Would you like to stay in tonight?"
"I'd prefer it."
"Thought so. I already gave the charming Lisle our regrets."
"You're not the only one to hear things around work, my friend. And a word of advice, judo is for younger men." He saw a snap in Illya's eyes and continued. "Or for older men who haven't had their hip replaced - twice." He dropped a hand to Illya's knee and squeezed gently. There was no trembling from masked pain and the limb was no hotter to the touch than normal. "You need to go easy on yourself, Illya. Besides, you put Mataga in Medical."
"That will teach him to not underestimate his opponent." Illya returned to the paper.
"Or at least not to underestimate you." Napoleon patted his arm and stood. "Why don't you get some dinner started? I'm going to do some laundry. Otherwise, I am going to be reduced to wearing a jogging suit to work."
"The secretaries would lose their eyes. Their eyeballs would literally pop from their sockets if you showed up to work in anything other than a suit."
"Funny guy." Napoleon walked to his bedroom, unbuttoning his shirt as he walked. It didn't take long to change into a pair of casual slacks and a favorite polo shirt.
It took even less time to round up his laundry as it was neatly stowed in a hamper, as it should be. Illya's was more of a challenge. Sighing, Napoleon merely picked up the pillowcases reserved for such tasks and went into Illya's room.
Illya was always a dichotomy; at work he was incessantly neat, as he was in the common rooms of their apartment, but his own room was not exactly a haven of order. It wasn't dirty, just messy. As predicted, Illya's dirty clothes were in various locations around the room, piled up on the bureau, the chest under the window, the foot of the bed, the floor, everywhere except in the hamper.
Napoleon stuffed everything he could find into the pillowcases and he carried them back into the living room. Illya had abandoned the paper and was in the kitchen, rummaging around in their small freezer.
"Help you find something?"
"No, just deciding what I feel like tonight. You have a preference?"
"Edible would be a good start." Napoleon loved kidding Illya about his cooking skills. He never did get that soufflé quite right. Napoleon also knew when to make an exit and he hurried down the stairs with his load.
Lisle and Genève were sitting at the table, having a cup of tea and talking. Both stopped when he entered and Lisle smiled.
"Now if you could convince your son that laundry was manly, that would be so wonderful," Lisle said, hiding her smile behind her cup.
"One miracle at a time, my dear. It's enough that I got your father to cook dinner."
"I'm amazed you got him off the couch with what I'm hearing went down at work today. We Kuryakins are a scrappy bunch."
"Out of the mouths of babes." He kissed her blonde head and then leaned down to kiss Genève's shock white hair as well. "And how is my favorite newly married granddaughter?"
"Still adjusting, but good." Genève and Alex had only been married a few months. "A couple of days ago I got into an argument with someone who wanted to speak with Mrs. Phillips before realizing he meant me." She blushed a little and Napoleon chuckled.
"You'll get used to it. Heaven knows I did."
"I don't understand." Lisle picked up a Nutter Butter cookie and dipped it in the hot tea.
"The Chief, the Old Man, Head of UNCLE. It took me a long time to stop looking over my shoulder for Mr. Waverly."
"Must be hard to be the one in charge."
"Caesar had a slave walk behind him, constantly reminding him that he was mortal. Me, I have laundry. Is there anything you want to add to this, Lisle?"
"You're kidding. I have five children, I have laundry that rivals the word." She stood and led the way into the laundry room. "Mostly I just need someone to start it up for me.
"Consider it done." Napoleon started to sort out colors from whites - a mindless job he found relaxing.
Behind him, he heard Genève say her good-byes and Lisle came into the room to grab her apron. He'd just found the mess that was his handkerchief and tie and was unwrapping it when they heard the scream.
It was blood curdling, it was angst ridden, it was Irina. Napoleon was on his feet before he even made the conscious decision to move. Lisle tossed her apron aside onto the pile of whites and ran.
She got to the family room a few seconds before he did and it was all Napoleon could do to keep from slamming into the back of her.
Irina screamed again and Napoleon briskly moved his daughter-in-law aside. Irina was standing in the middle of the room, staring up at the ceiling. Slowly moving about in a lazy circle was her favorite doll, dangling from the ceiling fan by a noose. Chewy was racing beneath the fan, jumping and yipping.
Merde, Napoleon thought, and hit the off switch as Leon came thundering into the room. "Irina, calm down."
"What's wrong? I heard screams."
Napoleon just pointed upward and sighed. "Alex strikes again."
"I knew I shouldn't have taught him how to tie knots." Leon dragged the toy chest over beneath the fan and untied one end of the noose. "And I don't even want to know how he got up here." He loosened the end of the noose and tossed the doll to Irina. She retreated to the corner of the room cooing placations to the doll and glaring just in case her brother showed up.
"Where did he even get those skills?" Napoleon offered his son a hand down.
"My fault, he wanted to learn about knots, so I showed him." He looked at the cord in his hand. "Why does this look familiar?"
Lisle shook her head and stalked over to the bottom of the staircase. "Alex git your arse down here. NOW!"
Peter exchanged a look with his twin and giggled. "Mommy's talkin' Brit; he's in trouble this time."
As much as Napoleon would have liked to have seen how this all played out, he returned to the laundry room and piled the whites into the machine. Soap and bleach and the hot cycle and all would be well with the world.
Illya barely glanced over as Napoleon entered and he walked over to see what was cooking. Illya was stirring vegetables in a bowl and Napoleon rested his chin on his partner's shoulder. After heaving a long suffering sigh, Illya held up a piece of buttered carrot to him and Napoleon happily popped it into his mouth and chewed.
"We had great excitement downstairs."
"I heard Lisle. What's Alex done to his sister now?"
"He strung up her favorite doll." He made an appropriate gesture, lolling his head to one side and mimicking a hanging. "Leon gave Alex knot tying lessons."
"That boy, he is prime UNCLE material."
"Considering who his parents and grandfathers are, I don't think he has much choice." Napoleon inhaled and smiled. "Dinner smells good."
"Then you must be hungry." Illya grinned and awkwardly bent to pull two breaded chops from the oven.
"Once I eat, I'll take something." The tone said it all, 'drop it now.'
Napoleon remained quiet, knowing what it took to even get Illya to consider taking pain medication. "So, ah, I started the wash."
"Good. Would you be so kind as to set the table?"
"No problem." Yet even as he carried the dishes and silverware to the table, Napoleon could tell he was in for a long night.
Yawning, Napoleon walked down the stairs, keeping one hand firmly on the railing. With kids, dogs and an overabundance of toys, he'd learned the hard way to be cautious descending. Blinking wearily, he trudged into the kitchen and over to the table.
Lisle was sitting there, reading part of the paper and sipping coffee. Ginny sat in her high chair and pushed Cheerios around in her bowl with the spoon. She spotted him first and held up a spoonful of air to him. "Pop pop!" she shouted and Lisle gave him a sleepy smile.
"Good morning." He kissed her head and then went over to blow a raspberry against Ginny's neck. The young child giggled hysterically and wiggled.
"Morning. There's coffee on the stove." Lisle was watching him closely. "Bad night?"
"Spent a large portion of it applying ice to your father's hip. He finally dropped off about three."
"For the record, I did try to stop him." Leon had entered on Napoleon's statement. "He was very... determined." He bent to kiss his wife. "At least I know you come by your stubbornness honestly."
Napoleon drank half a cup and walked into the laundry room. The dryer was running and he felt the door, it was just barely warm.
"I had Alex toss your load into the dryer last night as part of his penance. I turned it on this morning to unwrinkle things."
"Good." Napoleon popped open the door and gasped. "Son of a..." he caught himself on the last word.
"What's wrong?" Lisle was by his side and also gasped. "Oh no...no, no, no... how did that happen?"
"I'm more worried about how I'm going to explain it. Illya is not going to be a happy camper."
Leon looked over his wife's shoulder and chuckled. "Chief, you have an amazing talent for understatement. There's your culprit right there." He pointed to a spotted and faded red tie. "Shall I take and interrogate the suspect, boss? I'll use some of my most persuasive techniques."
"Better than that, find me a way to break it to Illya that he's now the proud possessor of bright pink underwear."
"Not for all the money in the world, Chief." Leon hugged his wife. "I have too much to live for."
Napoleon settled back on the sofa with a grandchild to either side of him. Peter, as per usual, had a bowl of popcorn on his lap. Inessa was carrying a stuffed toy that resembled sticks of dynamite. Genève had stitched it together for her and it had become an instant hit with the young girl.
Alex was lying on the floor on his stomach. Elbows propped up on a pillow, he happily kicked his feet. Irina was cuddled up on her father's lap, her rescued doll held protectively against her.
Ginny was rocking in place and pulling herself up using anything that was handy, the chair arm, the sofa, or an obliging sibling.
"Ginny is standing up more and more, Daddy," Irina said, brushing her doll's hair slowly. "But I didn't think she was ever gonna walk."
"She's just developing a little slower, that's all. She couldn't crawl, after all, she had to go from a sit to a stand all at once, didn't you, sweetheart?"
Ginny hugged the arm of the couch and giggled. "Love you!"
Lisle walked in carrying a tray of cups and a pitcher. On Sunday night, the rules about juice and food in the family room were waived. After all, it was time for The Wonderful World of Disney.
Illya walked behind her, carrying a tray of popcorn and bowls. It was just easier to give Peter his own bowl and let everyone else share the other.
Ginny saw him, laughed and took a step towards Illya and then another. Lisle gave a happy gasp.
"Look, everyone! She's walking!"
All eyes turned to Ginny, who suddenly realized what she'd done. Flailing she reached out and grabbed the first thing she could reach, which was her maternal grandfather's leg. She clutched at the material of his jog pants with both hands and sat down ,taking the pants with her as she did.
For a moment, there was dead silence and then Irina cried out in delight, "Poppy, you're wearing pink panties! You sure have hairy knees though. You should use Nair."
Napoleon looked over at his daughter-in-law and chuckled. "I'm just glad he's wearing any panties."
"Very macho, Grandpop. Irina's probably going to need counseling for life after this." Alex gave him a thumbs up and returned to the TV screen.
"At least now we know why the cord looked familiar," Leon added. "It went to your jogging pants, didn't it?"
Illya looked down at the young girl who giggled again and reached out. She pulled herself up again, this time with the help of Illya's leg and he gritted his teeth, his eyes shut in pain.
Napoleon saw that and was on his feet in an instant. Two steps and he scooped up the baby, giving her a toss in the air before passing her off to her mother. He took the tray from Illya, who reached down for the jog pants that puddled around his ankles and yanked them back into place.
"Bad leg?" There was no missing the scarring that ran the length of Illya's thigh.
"Hair," Illya muttered. "She took two handfuls with her when she left."
Peter and Inessa had been watching them closely, their heads bent together in quiet conversation. At last Peter sat up and shook his head.
"Sorry, Poppy, it's agreed. Mr. Disney is still better entertainment for the whole family."
Napoleon laughed and shook his head slowly. "Our family, Illya, I think I'll keep them."
Illya took Ginny from her mother and she wrapped her arms around his neck. "Love you!"
He smiled gently and held her close. "Me too, but I've reserved judgment on your older brother."
"Grandpop!" Alex was scandalized and he clutched his heart in mock pain and rolled around on the floor.
"You're my hero, Poppy." Irina shouted.
"That's because you're a girly girl."
"You're a carrot head."
Napoleon grinned and looked over at his partner. Love couldn't get any better than this.