Napoleon took a deep breath and smiled. The air in the country seemed so much more fragrant than than in the city. He didn't think he'd ever get tired of it, or of the view. In New York, the horizon was blocked by buildings. Here, he could see for miles in every direction. The summer heat was starting to release its grip on the day and the crickets were getting an early start on the nightly concert.
He smiled, remembering how he and Illya had carefully scouted the area, looking for a place that would provide both them and their growing family with plenty of room, without creating a heartache of a commute to the city.
This place was perfect. They were close to a small town and its conveniences: a store, a school, a train station—everything they needed for their day-to-day existence. During the week, Leon would work at the UNCLE field office nearby, and commute into UNCLE HQ when his job demanded it. Being the head of a small office gave him all the challenges of command, while still permitting him to be home for dinner most nights.
Their homes were built with the perfect geographic balance, far enough apart to give the men the privacy and solitude they craved, yet close enough to enable them to be an active part of their children's and grandchildren's lives. Well, all except for the oldest. Genève, her husband and infant son lived in their old home back in the suburbs. They visited, although never enough for Napoleon's taste. He loved having a baby to spoil again. There was a plot of land set aside, when and if the small family decided to join them here.
Napoleon realized he was wandering down towards the river that marked their property line. It was a favorite walk of his and he made it frequently. Walking the boundary, making sure his little kingdom was safe and secure. He only wished Illya could join him, but the ground was too uneven for the Russian.
Under an elm tree there was a picnic table, the perfect spot to get away when you really needed to. Someone was sitting there.
It took Napoleon a moment to realize it was Alex. At twelve, the boy was growing by leaps and bounds. Napoleon swore the boy got taller with each day, although his mother disagreed. She swore the growth was hourly.
Alex was sitting, throwing rocks into the water. Each time one hit, he sighed.
Smiling, Napoleon walked up and stood a short distance away. "Room for two?"
Alex jumped and turned, then grinned. "Hi, Grampy. You sure walk quiet for a grownup."
"You should have heard me in my heyday, my boy." Napoleon did his best W.C. Fields imitation and Alex laughed and then returned to his rock throwing. "You know, when I was young, a guy throwing rocks usually meant trouble." He sat down beside Alex and stared at the trees. The wind was coming up, just as it did every day about this time. It would blow for an hour or so and then grow still. It reminded Napoleon of his life. He'd had his blustery time and now it was his turn to be still.
"I got trouble bad, Grampy," Alex said, sighing as he threw another rock.
"Grampy... how do you... I mean, how can you tell... why is it so hard?"
Napoleon smiled and nodded knowingly. "Let's guess, a girl?"
Alex's mouth dropped open. "How did you know?"
"Only a girl could tongue-tie a Solo like that." Napoleon picked up a rock and lobbed it into the river.
"Not just a girl, Grampy, a woman! She's in the eighth grade."
"Mm, going after an older woman, are you? You are a Solo."
"Course I am! Mom says so. She also says a lot of other things about glands and stuff that I don't understand. Sometimes talking to her is like talking to Poppy."
"So tell me all about her?"
"No, your girlfriend." Napoleon ruffled the boy's blond hair.
"She's not my girlfriend, Grampy. That's the trouble. She calls me 'squirt' and tells me to come back when I've grown up. I am grown up!"
"Well, maybe you think so, but not quite as much as you'd like." Napoleon patted his grandson on his shoulder and pulled him into a one-arm hug. "You've got to hang in there. It takes time for a Solo to come to full fruition."
"But, Grampy, what if she's the one and I lose her?"
"You won't lose her, Alex, not if it's meant to be." Napoleon's head swiveled in the direction of a faint shout and saw his partner standing there, waving his cane in the air. "It looks like dinner is ready. I know it's hard, Alex, but you have to be patient with yourself." He waved back and Illya walked away.
"I don't need more patience, Grampy. I need a woman before it's too late."
"And generations of Solo men welcome you to the banquet. Okay, too late for what? "
Alex looked around, just in case someone else had crept up on him. "Can you keep a secret?"
"Several of them." Napoleon realized how serious the boy was and nodded. "Of course, anything you say will be held in the strictest confidence."
"I think I'm dying." This announcement was delivered with great drama.
"What? What makes you say that?"
"At night, I wake up and..." The boy's face flushed and he dropped his gaze to the ground. "I'm all wet... but it isn't pee. Things are happening... stuff... I don't know."
"Alex, you most certainly are not dying, but your body is growing up. You're having a reaction called a nocturnal emission, or if you prefer, a wet dream. You're dreaming about a girl, your girl, and your penis gets erect."
Alex jumped up and placed a grubby hand over his grandfather's mouth. "Shhh, don't talk so loud. I don't want nobody else knowing."
"Alex, there's nothing wrong with you. All men have them."
"Even you? Even... Poppy?"
"You don't know the half of it, my boy. Yes, Poppy and even your father. It's perfectly normal and natural."
"I thought I had some kinda disease. I just wanted to kiss a girl before I died."
"I give you my word that you will kiss many of them. You don't need to be in such a hurry."
"Well, not about that, although I think if we don't head back soon, Peter will have eaten his food and ours to boot." Napoleon stood and waited Alex to join him.
"How come Peter eats so much and he's still so skinny? Is he the 98 pound weakling Mr. Atlas is talking about?"
"It's his metabolism. Poppy was just like that when he was young. He ate, my word, how he ate!" Napoleon stopped then and for a moment, he saw Illya young and laughing like a mad dog about something. Reed thin and flexible, Illya was able to wiggle his way into or out of any sort of trouble. He was like a monkey and as good with a safe as he was a bomb.
His grandson's voice brought him back. "Yes, Alex?"
"What were you thinking about? You sort of zonked out."
"Oh, nothing; now we'd better hustle."
When they got to the edge of the lawn, Alex took off towards the long table. His father spotted him and threw some hamburger patties onto the large brick barbecue.
Napoleon followed at a slower pace, smiling as Illya limped up to him. "What happened?" Napoleon looked pointedly at the cane.
"Chewy went after a rabbit. Unfortunately it was behind me and he tripped me with his leash. Don't bounce as well as I used to." Illya cast a look over at the dog that was flopped on his back, blissfully chewing on an old tennis ball.
"Did you hurt yourself?"
"I don't think so, just a little sore and didn't want to take a chance of aggravating it by tripping over something out here. There are times I miss the concrete sidewalks of New York." They walked towards the picnic table that had been set up with plates and plastic ware. "It looked like you two were having an in-depth discussion down there." They watched Alex carry his plate to the blanket where his siblings were sitting.
"Our grandson has discovered women."
"Oh, lock up your wives and daughters, there's another Solo on the scene," Illya muttered as he eased himself down on to the bench seat.
"Listen, you sit and I'll go get you something. Hamburger or hotdog?"
"Yes and don't bother with the condiments." Illya nodded toward the plate that held catsup, mustard, and relish. "I will dress my own, thank you."
"You put catsup on a guy's hotdog just once and you live with the shame for life." Napoleon grabbed two plates and walked over to where Leon was grilling. It was amazing how much Leon looked like him and yet how much of Serena he saw in their son. He had her eyes, bedroom eyes they used to call them. Leon's hair was dark, but it had a wave to it. He smiled like Napoleon, but laughed like Serena. Leon frequently played the fool, but Napoleon knew it was an act. He was as sly as his mother had been, always making sure the hand played out to his favor. He had Serena's cunning and Napoleon's strategic abilities. It wasn't a surprise to him that Leon had chewed through the ranks at UNCLE to become second in command of Section Three after Illya stepped down. Leon was every inch an agent.
"Earth to Dad." Napoleon blinked and looked at his son. "You okay?"
"Wool gathering, I suppose." Napoleon chuckled and shook his head. "It seems to be the day for it."
"I was having a little man-to-man talk with Alex and started thinking about how much I missed out on with your childhood. Your mother gave me a choice: leave UNCLE or lose you."
"And here you have UNCLE and me both!" Leon announced, slapping his father on the shoulder. "Dad, you did what you thought was best and I don't blame you. If you'd left UNCLE, you would have ended up resenting me and Mom. I wouldn't change a day of it." Then he leaned in and gave his father a kiss on the cheek. Napoleon looked at him surprised and then his expression turned to one of being aghast when he felt himself blushing.
"What are the two of you doing over here?" Lisle asked as she approached.
"I was just thanking my old man for being a great father," Leon said as he slipped a spatula under a burger and moved it to Napoleon's plate. "And what would an equally great father-in-law like?"
"One of everything. It saves on multiple trips back."
"No, he gets a hamburger or two hotdogs, that's it," Lisle corrected. At Napoleon's look, she added. "If he won't take care of himself and you pander to him, one of us has to be the bad guy. Dad's putting on weight and, with his hip, that's not good. His last medical wasn't as glowing as it could be." Lisle quickly plucked half dozen ears of corn from the coals with her tongs. "If he doesn't like it, tell him to talk to me about it."
"Harsh taskmaster," Napoleon murmured as the woman carried the platter of foil-wrapped corn to where the kids lounged.
"You have no idea, Dad. Love her to death, but every once in a while, her mom rears her head and I remember what formidable THRUSH agents both of them had been."
"Angelique was quite the wild cat. I'd hoped for better for Lisle."
"That's where Illya comes into play."
"She's mad at herself because Illya got hurt this afternoon. He's really downplaying it, but according to Irina, he took a long time getting back up."
"She shouldn't count him out. Illya's a tough old bird."
"I think the word 'old' is the sticking point." Leon flipped a burger, and watched his wife out of the corner of his eye. "She's getting more and more temperamental these days. I caught her sobbing at a Folgers's commercial yesterday. When I said something about it, she took my head clean off. I didn't even realize it." He paused and chuckled. "Maybe that's how chickens feel... Then she sulked about it all afternoon."
"Oh, the dreaded Kuryakin snit. I've lived through a few hundred of those in my time. The best you can do is to lay low and let the storm blow over. I think I'll take the two hotdogs for Illya. It will give him a chance for revenge upon dogs." He held out the plate.
"What was Angelique really like, Dad? I gathered she wasn't a pushover."
"There are a lot of names I'd call her, but pushover isn't one of them. She was determined to play the game by men's rules and make them rue the day they'd heard her name. She had no scruples when it came to winning and no regrets about who she had to step on to get up the ladder."
"How did her and Illya... I mean, Angelique doesn't seem like the sort of woman that Illya would... you-know-what with."
Napoleon smiled. Leon was an UNCLE agent, a trained CIA assassin and he still used euphemisms for sex. No wonder Alex picked his grandfather to talk with. "She isn't. I tricked him into going on a date with her and apparently they did indeed you-know-what. As far as I know, it was the only time they ever got together." Napoleon watched his daughter kneel and kiss the cheeks of her twins. "I'm sort of glad they did."
"Well, you and me both, for obvious reasons. But, when I try to talk to her about it, she shuts down."
"You could ask Illya..."
"Yeah, right. And have him hand me my balls on a platter? No thanks. Incidentally, you'd better take those hot dogs to him. He's looking a bit anxious."
Napoleon laughed and gestured toward the grill with his chin. "I'll take another hamburger, please." He looked back at his partner and grinned. "Just in case I'm extra hungry."
"About time," Illya groused as Napoleon approached and held out a plate. "What's this?"
"Your daughter made a decree. Apparently you eat too much."
"My daughter needs to worry more about her children and less about me." Illya reached for the mustard. He split open a hot dog bun and coated it with the spicy condiment. That accomplished, he followed with relish and then nestled the hog dog. He took a big bite and chewed happily.
Napoleon popped the top of a can of beer and pushed it towards him. He opened a second can and took a deep swallow. "Beer is one of the great pleasures of summer evenings. And don't be that way. She loves you and wants to take care of you."
"I thought that was your job," Illya mumbled around his mouthful.
"As did I, but apparently we both answer to a higher power." Napoleon began to dress his hamburger and felt a presence over his shoulder. Lisle was there, holding out a platter filled with grilled vegetables towards them.
"Okay, you two, not just meat, you need some vegetables."
"Lisle, we're not kids, you know," Illya scolded his daughter even as he helped himself to a skewer of onions, tomatoes, and peppers.
"I know. The kids actually listen to me." The she stopped and shook her head. "I'm sorry, Dad. I'm just not myself today."
"That's okay, no harm done." Napoleon grabbed an ear of corn and hastily dropped it onto his plate. "Ouch, that's just a bit hot. Is there anything we can help you with?"
"Yes." She handed the platter to her father and then turned to hug Napoleon. "Take care of my Dad for me." Then she was gone, walking towards the house at a fast clip.
"What was all that about?" Illya stared after his daughter.
"As God as my witness, I have no idea. She told me to take care of you."
"I thought you were."
"As did I, but she's upset about something."
Illya pushed his plate aside and stood stiffly. "I'll be back in a minute."
"No, let me. I have a feeling a father might be too close. Better a father-in-law."
Napoleon entered the house and looked around. Without the kids or the usual parade of animals, the place seemed almost tomblike. He and Illya had helped design and build this house. There wasn't a part of it he didn't know like the back of his hand. He headed directly to the master bedroom and tapped on the partially-closed door.
As he walked in, he caught Lisle wiping her face clear of tears. He sat on the edge of the bed beside her, took out his handkerchief and delicately dabbed her cheeks. "Now then, tell me what's wrong."
"Nothing, Dad. It's just been a long day."
"Never try to kid a kidder, my dear." He brushed a strand of soft blonde hair—Illya's blond, not Angelique's brittle and bottle blond—off her face. "You have your husband, your father, and now me concerned."
"I'm just, I don't know, tired all the time, but when I manage to catch a minute for myself, I can't sleep. I worry about Alex. He's so isolated out here away for everything the city can offer. Irina, she's so smart and the school isn't challenging her enough. The twins, are they happy, or aren't they? They seem to be an entity unto themselves." Lisle paused to run a hand through her hair, mirroring her father's familiar gesture. "And I worry about Ginny's disability, and if we can get the right training for her here. Did we make a mistake leaving the city? Then I think about how much happier Leon is here and how settled he seems, and I don't want to rock the boat. I want to control everything and make it perfect for them and I can't. " She stopped and looked at her father-in-law. "I've lost you, haven't I?"
"Far from it. You sounded just like your mother there for a minute."
"Gee, thanks a lot."
"Lisle, your mother and I were very close. I won't call it love, because that wasn't the case, but she was one of the most intelligent women I even knew. The fact that she didn't end up in charge of THRUSH always surprised me."
"Her, too. I can remember being five or six and her coming home, raging because she'd been passed over for promotion again. I know she resented me because she felt I held her back from competing with the men. She used to tell me to never let a man come into my life and take charge or to ever have children. She told me they were vile disgusting creatures that would keep me from my true potential. So, what do I do? I leave THRUSH and marry a nice UNCLE agent, the son of her ex-boyfriend. She'd have hated Leon... and our children." Lisle started blinking again but the tears escaped from beneath her lashes.
"Then she would be an idiot. Your children are beautiful and intelligent. They're healthy and happy, well adjusted and well loved. All of them are going to go on to do well."
"Then why I do feel like I'm a failure at everything I've done?" The tears started in earnest now and Napoleon gathered her in his arms. It was odd, but it felt more as if he was cradling Illya than Angelique.
"Lisle, my sweet, I want you to listen to me and listen well. For many years, it was just Illya and me and we thought we were happy. We blasted our way through the days and nursed our wounds at night. Then something incredible happened and we met Leon. I didn't think it could get any better but then you came into our lives." He kissed her head tenderly. "Lisle, I've never seen Illya happier or more proud of anything he'd done before in his life. He looks at you and he sees the second chance he never thought he'd have, just as I did when Leon came back into my life. Illya never said anything, but I knew how much it hurt him to see Leon and know that he never would have the chance at children—and then he did. Do you know how incredible that makes you in both our eyes?" He chucked her under the chin and she looked up at him. "To top it all off, you fell in love with Leon and kept Illya and me as a part of your lives. I held my grandson when he was just minutes old and, just now, I sat with him and talked about girl problems and growing up. You gave both of us a new lease on life and a reason to keep going. Neither of us would have ever left UNCLE, except in a box, and here we are, retired and content. All because of you."
"Hush. How long as it been since my son has taken you on a real vacation, just the two of you?"
"How old is Ginny?" The laugh was still marred by sadness.
"Then it's time. You two need to get out of here and go some place wonderful, just the two of you. Like the Caribbean or Florida."
"Dad, we can't. Money's as tight as always, and we need to think about Ginny..."
"None of that, now. Illya and I-"
"No, you two already do too much. You bought this land, and then practically built this house for us. You need the money as much as we do."
"Lisle, we have the money. Let us do this for you."
"What if it doesn't help?"
"Won't know until you've tried. Now, why don't you go take a nice bubble bath while we run roughshod over your brood."
He watched her walk wearily into the bathroom. He had a feeling she was just going to sit in there and have a good crying jag instead. It always surprised him when Lisle actually had these moments. Usually she was the in-control, go-to person for any situation. She showed endless patience with her children and remarkable understanding for her husband's career, a career she had shared until the children started coming and she was forced to quit.
"Is Lisle okay?" Illya asked as soon as Napoleon was within hearing range. Napoleon watched as the children played, laughing and shouting to each other as they chased fireflies across the expansive lawn.
"No, she's not. I believe she's feeling a bit pressured, and I think it's time that we offered her some time away from the grandchildren."
"I could use some time away from her as well," Illya muttered, taking a swallow of his beer. "She has been mother-henning me for weeks now. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself, and yet she seems to suddenly think I can't figure out how to do laundry or cook or even shave properly."
"Well, you did look a little scraggly that morning."
A smile appeared on Illya's lips. "If you hadn't kept bothering me, I would have been able to focus more upon my shaving."
"So it's agreed that the kids need to get away for a bit?"
"Please. I could use the break. Some place far away, and for two weeks at least—none of this long weekend stuff."
Illya stared at the child, who glared right back. "Ginny, get dressed. Now!"
"No!" The little girl crossed her arms as much as she could, and stuck out her bottom lip. "Don't want to." The bottom lip trembled threateningly.
"You aren't a baby and you can't go running around without clothes on. It isn't decent."
"No! Don't wanna!" Ginny started wailing.
"What you want isn't the question here." Illya resisted the urge to snap at the child. "Get dressed!"
"Poppy, you're doing it all wrong." Irina had walked into the room and was listening to the exchange.
"You can do better?"
Irina turned to the little girl and grinned. "Hey, Ginny, wanna play dress up?"
"'Kay..." The little girl rubbed an eye with her fist and sniffed. "Not wif him, though."
"It's not his fault. He's a grown up. They're silly."
Illya watched amazed as Irina skillfully and easily manipulated her sister while Ginny laughed and giggled all the way.
Shaking his head, he left them to it and walked back into the kitchen, where Napoleon was washing the breakfast dishes.
"What's wrong, Partner?"
"I have been bested by a three year old."
"Get used to it." Napoleon rinsed off a bowl and stacked it into the drainer. "This morning I made the mistake of trying to turn on the VCR and ended up feeling like a first class idiot."
"The machine that plays video tapes." Napoleon sighed and rinsed off a plate. "Alex had to bail me out. We used to hold the world on a string, my friend, now it holds us at bay, simply by us not knowing what an input channel is."
"We can learn, of course."
"We could, but I am under the impression that that's what grandchildren are for." Napoleon put the last dish in the drainer and dried his hands on a towel. "Okay, so we've gotten the kids up, dressed -"
Illya could see Ginny staggered down the hall, wearing her mother's high heels, her father's boxers and a bright pink feather boa. "After a fashion."
"Dressed and fed and it's only... three o'clock." Napoleon let out a deep sigh ad he sank into a chair. "Face it, my friend. We are out of our league."
"Took you long enough to realize the obvious." Illya poured himself some coffee and then another cup. He carried it to Napoleon's side and handed it to him. "We are completely doomed. What were we thinking?"
"That our kids deal with this all the time and needed a break?"
"We're martyrs, then?" Illya held his cup up in a salute and Napoleon nodded.
"Always said if I was going to die, it would be by your side."
"Poppy?" Alex was standing in the kitchen doorway.
"Inessa was playing secret agent and found something. What's the C4—?" Illya was gone before the boy could say another word, running as fast as he could manage. "He didn't let me finish." He looked after his paternal grandfather with a look of annoyance.
"Your sister found something she shouldn't be playing with." Napoleon rose and took a step towards the door, wincing as his heart kicked up into high gear. "What sort of madman would keep explosives around kids?"
"Then I'll ask you- what's the C for in UNCLE?"
"What?" Napoleon blinked slowly and looked at the boy
"Inessa asked and I didn't know. United Network what?"
"Oh, Alex..." Napoleon placed a hand over his madly-racing heart and collapsed into a chair.
"You okay, Grampy?"
"I will be." Napoleon fumbled a small pill container from his pants pocket and slipped a nitro pill beneath his tongue. "Could you get me some water?"
Illya reappeared and limped to an empty chair, watching Alex carefully fill a glass. "He told you?"
"You look white. Are you okay?"
"Just took a pill. I thought..."
"I didn't think I had anything left over from the old days, but I wasn't willing to risk it."
Alex carried the glass to his paternal grandfather and looked at Illya. "So what does the C mean?"
"'Command,' of which we have little, it would seem." There was a crash and Illya winced.
"Do you want me...?" Napoleon started, but Illya held up a hand.
"You get the next big calamity. Attention all hands, whatever you are doing, stop it now!"
Napoleon watched Illya walk from the room and Alex shook his head.
"Poor Poppy. He's out-gunned."
"What do you say that?"
"Irina and Ginny are almost as bad as Peter and Inessa." Alex tsked softly. "He will have his hands full. They aren't like me—all grown up and proper. " There was a pause, then. "Grampy?"
"Do you think I could have a friend over? We could go fishing or something."
"Can I trust you two to stay out of trouble doing it?"
"Very well, make your call."
"Thanks!" Alex started to reach for his grandfather, then caught himself and held out a hand. Hiding a smile, Napoleon shook the outstretched hand firmly.
A moment later, Illya came in, herding two small children in front of him. They were an explosion of color and Napoleon started to laugh, then coughed at his partner's scathing look.
"Don't even think about it," he snapped as Peter turned towards the refrigerator. "Bathroom, now! And don't touch anything!" Illya pointed and the two children trudged off down the hall.
"What's going on?" Now that they were alone, Napoleon allowed himself a grin.
"Camouflage training. If you think they are bad, you should see the field of war...twins or garage?"
"Which is worse?"
"I'll take the twins."
Illya felt a hand patting his arm, and opened a blurry eye. It couldn't possibly be time to get up. It felt as if he climbed into bed a few seconds earlier. It took him a moment to realize the hand belonged to Inessa.
"Inessa, what's wrong?"
"I had a knifemare."
"Uh huh, about knives. It was scary." Usually possessed of the most bravado of all the children, it was heart rendering to see the tears trickling down her cheeks. "And I think Baba Yaga is in my closet."
"I knew that was a mistake." The children had pleaded for a story of old Russia and Illya, in a moment of weakness, rendered his favorite old folk tale. "Shh, don't wake up Grampy."
He got out of bed, suppressing a groan as his hip and leg grumbled at him. Illya reached down to take his granddaughter's hand and they walked back to the room.
"I think so." She stopped, preferring the safety of the hallway.
Illya flipped on the light and looked around the room. It was messy with toys and scattered clothes. Tomorrow they would have to tidy up. He walked to the closet and looked inside.
"Anything?" She asked, still in the doorway watching his every move carefully.
"Try the bed." Inessa suggested from the safety of the hall.
It took Illya a minute to get down on one knee and look. It took longer to get back up. "Nothing there either. Why don't I sit with you until you fall asleep?" He flipped back the blanket and sheet for her.
"I'd like that, Poppy." She climbed in and looked at him. "You, too?"
Illya sighed and nodded. "Okay, me, too. Just don't hog all the pillows like your Grampy does."
Napoleon woke to a small hand patting his arm. He opened his eyes and looked around, confused. It took him a few seconds to realize he was in the guest room of the main house, not his own bed. He turned on the light, not surprised to see Illya gone.
"Inessa, what's wrong?"
"I had a knifemare, Grampy, and Poppy said he'd stay with me until I got back to sleep."
"And what's wrong now?"
"I want to go back to sleep, but Poppy is taking up all the bed."
"Don't I know that story?" He threw back the covers and went to rescue the child.
Napoleon felt the bed move and then a hand softly stroked his cheek.
"Inessa, not again." He opened his eyes, shocked to see the room in full daylight. His youngest granddaughter was standing there, love shining on her face.
"Good morning, sweet prince," she cooed to him.
Napoleon smiled and cupped her cheek. "Good morning." He wasn't surprised that the bed was empty... again. "Where's Poppy?"
"Slinging hash." The little girl struggled to get up onto the bed. Napoleon resisted helping her, watching as she used her good hand to push herself up and her shorter arm to balance herself. "He said he'd frow it all on the floor if you didn't come."
"That sounds like Poppy. Your mommy and daddy are coming home today. Are you glad?"
"Yup." She got up onto the bed and settled down beside him, her thumb finding her mouth. Her eyes closed sleepily. "But you're nice, too," she murmured.
"Well, thank you." He gave her a hug. "I think you're pretty nice, too.
"And I think you're swell and you have ten minutes to get your Обратной стороной I out of bed and help me," Illya said from the doorway. He was wearing an apron and holding a bowl of something sticky looking. It was only nine a.m., but the former agent looked as if he'd already run a marathon with an entire flock of THRUSH behind him.
"I think I preferred Ginny's wake-up call instead," Napoleon muttered, then winked at the little girl. She giggled, climbed down off the bed, and raced away.
"She has two speeds, fast and asleep." Illya watched after the child.
"You look a little rough." Napoleon patted the bed beside him. "Why don't you go back to bed and let me pick up where you left off?"
"Thanks, but maybe later. We still have the entire house to clean before Leon and Lisle get back."
"Are you serious? Have you no concern for your reputation? Or mine? We can't let them know they bested us." With that, the Russian was gone.
Napoleon shaved and took his shower as quickly as he could. He did feel a little guilty about leaving the bulk of the child care to Illya, but it always seemed to end up that way. No matter how hard he tried, Illya always seemed to be in the middle of the grandchildren.
Napoleon came out of the bathroom and walked into his bedroom. Alex was there, pulling the sheets off the bed.
"Alex, what are you doing?"
"Poppy told me to. He said to grab your towels, too, whether or not you were done with them." The boy dropped the sheet onto the floor and stopped. "Grampy, can I talk to you for a minute?" He looked at the door. "Alone?"
"Of course you can." Napoleon shut the door behind him and sat down on the bed. After a moment, the boy joined him. "Girl trouble, my boy?"
"Does it show? Remember you told me that maybe I needed to play the field a bit more?"
Napoleon tried to keep his expression somber. "Don't tell me you broke up with your girlfriend?"
Alex leaned closer to his grandfather. "Grampy, she likes the Boston Red Sox!"
"So, naturally, I had to break it off. I mean, how would we raise the kids?"
"Of course. You had no choice."
"Now she won't leave me alone, Grampy. Women! You can't live with them or without them."
Napoleon laughed and hugged the boy. "And they never change, Alex, my boy. They will keep you guessing to the bitter end." He released him and ruffled his dark blond hair.
"Why do we do it then, Grampy?" Alex smoothed the hair back in to place, the action already polished.
"Because we must, my boy. It's a mystery as old as time."
There was a knock on the door and Inessa yelled, "Alex, Poppy said now!"
"Excuse me, Grampy." He gathered up the sheets and smiled. "Thanks."
"For being the best Grampy ever." He kissed his grandfather. "I'll come back for the towels." He hurried away with his armful.
"Thank you, Alex," Napoleon murmured. Outside, the birds were singing. Inside, the phone was ringing, the TV was blaring, music was blasting and his Russian was shouting above it all. Napoleon smiled. Everything wasn't just all right with the world. It was perfect.