"Reader, I married him."

"That's stupid."

Napoleon glanced up over the top of his reading glasses at his oldest grandson. He was lounging on the carpet, studying the undercarriage of a toy car, spinning one tire, then another. "Alex, what have we said about saying things like that?" Napoleon closed the cover of Jane Eyre. And they had been so close to finishing. He longed to be done with the trials and tribulations of the girl.

"Now you've ruined it!" Irina sat up, the beginning of a pout forming on her lips. "Jane was going to get her happy ending and now she won't just because of you!"

His sister's distress didn't matter to him. Alex was on a roll. "Who cares? She should be used to disappointments by now. Are you telling me that after this there were no skinned knees or weird things showing up on her plate? Or having to make the bed or it raining when she wants to play. Life doesn't come with a happy ending. Adults lie… about a lot of things."

Napoleon sighed, long and deep. "Let me guess, Alex. You have been talking to your other grandfather, haven't you?"

"Poppy says that it's wrong for kids to think that just because they have one happy event in their lives that there will never be anything bad to… to…" Alexander paused, his brow creased beneath his blond hair. "It was a funny word…"

"You mean like flibbertigibbet? " Irina giggled then. "It's so silly."

"No, but it started with an s… subjugate!" Alex looked very pleased with himself. "To subjugate them." To his sister, he explained. "It means to ruin something."

"Yes, your grandfather would use that word." Napoleon set Jane Eyre aside and motioned his grandchildren closer. Irina came readily, always ready for a hug from her Grampy, but Alex lagged behind. He was getting to an age when hugging wasn't as cool as it was when he'd been a little kid. "Alex, why do you think the book is stupid?"

"Well, cuz it's a girl book, for one thing, but Jane is dumb. Mr. Rochester lied to her again and again and she never cared. He lied about being married cuz of that crazy lady and then about Adèle, being his 'charge' when she was really his kid." Alex used air quotes for charge. He loved using air quotes. "He's lied to her about a buncha stuff, he was mean to her and she still is gonna marry him. That's stupid."

"Well, life seems rather black and white at your age, I suppose." Napoleon gathered Irina onto his lap hugging her close.

"You smell good, Grampy."

"Why thank you, Irina. So do you."

"Thank you. That's my Channel Number Five."

Napoleon laughed. It was actually a bottle of lilac water with a make believe label on it. "And you, my sweet, what do you think? Should Jane have married him?"

"Oh, yes, because Mr. Rochester really loved her. That's why he called out to her and she heard him even when he was miles away. And he did tell her the truth about his poor unfortunate wife… eventually. He was a much better choice that St. John. He just wanted someone to wash his dishes and clothes."

"Yeah, after her brother made him." Alex lingered, not quite willing to be gathered into his grandfather's embrace, but not quite willing to abandon it either. "He woulda kept her locked up there when he and Jane were tripping the Light Fantastic."

Irina's blue eyes snapped a warning to her brother. "He was tricked into marrying her! Just like he was tricked into taking Adèle!" She was on her feet, ready to take on her brother.

"He was greedy! He wanted everything. He needed a time out."

"No, I think-"

"Who cares what you think? You're just a girl."

Irina let out a cry and threw herself at her brother. Even though Alex was a good four inches taller than her, she was a force to be reckoned with. With a cry, Alex took off, nearly plowing his father over as he charged out of the den, his sister on his heels.

"What was that all about?" Leon was fairly easy going when it came to rearing his children. As long as they weren't bleeding and using anything sharp, he was happy.

"Your two oldest are discussing the finer points of Jane Eyre."

"I'm just impressed that you got Alex to sit through it."

"Don't be deceived, my boy. That young man has a lot on the ball and he pays attention even when he pretends not to."


"Don't get into a bet with him on this book. He knows it inside and out." Napoleon stood and stretched. "Is your boss upstairs?"

"Which one? The one I'm married to or the one I bleed for?"

"The latter one."

"Last I saw of him, he was reading a spirited version of Billy Goat Gruff to the twins and sharing cereal with them."

"No Baba Yaga?"

"Gave Peter nightmares. Inessa wants to visit her and bring her flowers."

"Sounds like her." Napoleon set the book aside and picked up the next one. Leon canted his head sideway and smiled as he took it from Napoleon's grasp.

"Mutiny on the Bounty? Good choice."

"The agreement was that Alex would listen to whatever book Irina wanted if she would listen to a book he wanted. For the record, that is a great book."

"I know. I think I read it in high school. Liked it so much I read the rest of the trilogy." Leon was easing himself into the chair Napoleon had vacated, his fingers already flipping through the pages.

That filled Napoleon with fatherly pride. "I'm not surprised. The sea runs in your blood. Your great grandfather was an admiral."

Leon nodded, already lost in the novel. Napoleon smiled and slipped quietly from the room, heading upstairs.

He and Illya shared a house with their children, a situation that he never dreamt of, but nor did he ever think for a moment he would have a child. It was funny how life turned out. Now, the third floor had been converted into a small apartment, just perfect for two confirmed bachelors. Or so they would let the world believe.

Napoleon paused to look in upon the twins. They were both sound asleep wadded up in a mess of blankets, stuffed toys and dreams.

"You wake them up and there will be hell to pay." The voice was very soft, almost an embrace and Napoleon grinned.

He shook his head and stepped quietly away from the room before turning to give his daughter-in-law a hug. While she had Illya's coloring and sense of wit, there was still a glimmer of her mother in those blue eyes.

"No worries. I just sort of forget what they look like these days. They never seem to stop."

"I know what you mean." She rested her head on his chest. "I could fall asleep right here."

"Go to bed, then, Lisle." Napoleon nodded to a pair of doors. "I'll put those two to bed."


"I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it."

"What about Leon?"

"Oh, I suspect he's boarding the Bounty now in route to Tahiti."

She smiled and slowly walked toward their bedroom. Napoleon was willing to bet she would be asleep before the lamp's bulb had cooled. Both of them seemed so tired these days.

It was a sentiment that he shared as he made sure the third floor door was locked and bolted. It was not from a sense of security, but rather from nighttime visitors. Napoleon climbed the stairs to their apartment slowly. It had taken longer than he thought it would to get the two oldest Solo children to settle and tiredness has settled in his bones.

He walked through their living room, picking up his partner's discarded clothes as he went. They would still be there in the morning, but he would sleep better knowing they were all in one place. And right now he really wanted was sleep.

Illya glanced up from the bed as he entered the bedroom. "All quiet on the western front?" He had his bad leg propped up and a heating pad on it. It was a side that no one, except Napoleon ever saw.

"For the moment. They are predicting thunderstorms tonight."

Illya took off his glasses and set them and his book aside. "My hip's been telling me that for a couple of hours now. That means company's coming."

"Not for us. The kids are going to have to perform their parental duties tonight. I dead-bolted the door."

Illya smiled. "I love our grandchildren, I really do, but there are things to be said for a good night's sleep." He winced as he sat up and climbed out of the bed, amid a barrage of pops, snaps and grunts. "Remember when we used to make more noise in bed than getting out of it?"

"Gone are the days." Napoleon finished undressing and dug out a fresh pair of pajamas. It was really too hot to wear them, but he wouldn't be surprised if Irina figured a way around the deadbolt. She really was her grandfather's child.

Illya returned and stretched out on the sheets, eyes closed. He waited for Napoleon to return before turning off his light.

"Pain bad?"

"It is tonight. I took something." That action spoke louder than words to Napoleon. Illya rarely succumbed to pain meds. "Are you going to read for a bit?"

"No, I had my share with Jane and Mr. Rochester." Napoleon settled back upon his pillow and sighed in relief.


Napoleon spaced his fingers but half an inch apart. "So close. Just a couple more paragraphs, but Alex had something stick sideways in his craw, thanks to a talk he had with you, and we had to get it out."


"He thought Jane was foolish for agreeing to marry Edward." Now Napoleon was awake, for he recognized the challenge in Illya's voice.

"I agree. He didn't have much left of the main house after the fire."

"But there was property and the like. Even maimed, he was still a man of wealth. Rather, Alex thought that it was stupid because he'd lied to her."

"Well, he's not wrong. Jane Eyre is really a poor example of what it means to be a woman." Illya plumped up his pillows and shifted to put his hip in a better position.

"She's left an orphan and in the charge of people who abuse her and who eventually ship her off to a school that's nothing more than a festering cesspool of disease. And somehow, Jane not only finds friends, but also a skill. She is able to become a governess and go on to take care of a young girl. She was able to overcome every barrier placed before her."

"Adèle was the daughter of a prostitute, for back then, that's what many actresses and dancers really were. They were not respectable. When she was left at the altar, Jane staggered around the countryside until she was rescued. She was taken in, nursed back to health and ran a school. She discovered she was left money, so she was self-sufficient and what does she do? She dumps St. John and runs back to Rochester to become his nursemaid."

Napoleon smiled to himself, recognizing defeat. "I take it, it's not one of your favorite books, then."

"I don't hate it, but I think its message is skewed."

"Yeah, me too," Napoleon mumbled. Then louder, he asked. "Illya, have you ever lied to me?"


Napoleon was stunned by the response. "Such as?"

"That chicken dish last night."

"You said you liked it."

"I was being kind. Please don't make it again."

"I'm talking about in big stuff. You don't have a wife stuffed away somewhere, do you?"

"Like I have the patience for more than one of you," Illya mumbled, pulling the sheet up to his chin. "I've never lied about anything important to you or that wasn't in the line of duty. There are no other progeny running around, nor are there any insane wives waiting to set fire to your bed curtains when you sleep. You are the one and only."

At that Napoleon smiled. He leaned over, kissed the whiskered cheek and murmured, "Reader, I married him."

"Smartest thing you ever did, too. Good night, Napoleon."

"Good night, Illya. And for the record, not the wife."