All original characters and storyline belong to Scott Westerfeld; I own nothing!
It's going to be a good day, Alek thought to himself.
I'm going to make this be a good day. Perhaps if he kept repeating it the pounding headache brought on by lack of sleep would leave.
Alek sighed and opened his eyes. Inches from his face were a pair of big, blue eyes peeking at him from underneath a mass of auburn hair. He was exhausted, having been up nearly the entire night with their fussy four year old daughter. Currently, the twin of said four year old was standing beside their bed, poking Alek in the forearm.
"Yes, Artemis?" he asked, closing his eyes again. When he didn't respond, he looked at him and the boy looked away sheepishly. Alek recognized this look. Mischief.
"Artemis, what is it?" he asked again while sitting up, trying to muster up some energy and patience. A good deal of both had been exhausted from the night before.
"I can't find my ball; I think I've lost it in Mrs. Erskine's garden," he said quietly.
Mrs. Erskine was the Hohenberg's older and especially cranky neighbor. She kept a magnificent garden, one that seemed to constantly attract nearly all of Artemis' toys. She was feared equally by both of the children.
"I'll ask her for it later, Artemis," Alek answered through a yawn.
"Sophie's throwing another tantrum."
Alek sighed. Despite being only being only four, Sophie threw the most extravagant meltdowns. (The one last night was exceptional; her determination was almost impressive.)
"Where is your mother?" he asked, rubbing his temples.
Artemis stood on his tippy toes and peeked over Alek. She was still in bed beside him, asleep. With the latest addition to the family due for arrival in a few months, she was always tired. It had been a bit of a rough pregnancy for her, too. And it wasn't any easier having two busy children to chase after constantly. Alek loved his children; he loved his life and everything about it, and tried to be helpful as often as he could for Deryn, but this morning he wasn't feeling particularly enthusiastic.
"Artemis, what time is it?"
The little boy thought for a moment, as if counting in his head, and held up two fingers.
Alek frowned. The sun shining in through the curtains told him it definitely wasn't two o'clock. "Can you please hand me the clock?"
The little boy picked up the clock (straining from the weight of it) from the nightstand, and heaved it up onto the bed beside Alek.
"Let's look together," Alek said as he scooped the boy up into his lap and looked at the clock with him. He'd been trying to teach the Twins how to tell time recently, and Artemis had been catching on quite well. He was a studious little boy, with a hint of mischief and a great liking for adventure.
"See," he began, "the big arrow tells you what hour it is. Can you tell which number the big arrow is pointing at?"
Artemis studied the clock for a moment; brow furrowed, and answered, "Seven?"
"Yes, good job!" Alek replied kissing his son on top of his head. "It's seven o'clock."
Seven. He was supposed to meet Doctor Barlow at the train station in half an hour. She was coming to visit, as well as perform a check-up on Deryn. The last time he had been late, and she wasn't pleased.
Alek cursed to himself inwardly (Artemis, at age four, already knew more swears than Alek had at fifteen, and that was plenty). "I'm going to be late!" he said while reaching to the floor for yesterday's clothing. He scooped Artemis up with one arm and raced downstairs to the kitchen.
"Papa!" Sophie moaned from the floor. Her blonde curls were wild, shooting out in all directions. She was a spitting image of her mother, except for the eyes. She had Alek's bright, emerald eyes. Both of their children were perfect combinations of the two of them, Alek thought.
She saw him and wrapped herself around Alek's leg, weeping bitterly.
He expertly stuck an apple into Artemis' mouth and set him down at the table. He limped to the stove (Sophie hanging on tightly) and put the kettle on. He was going to need tea this morning; strong tea at that. He pried Sophie from his leg and set her on the counter.
"Sophie, what is it?" he asked while he went about to getting some bread for Artemis.
She sniffed and wiped her eyes. "Bovril won't play with me!" she wailed.
Alek looked up to the top of the cupboards where the loris sat. Its eyes were wide with fear.
"Did you try to put Bovril in one of your doll dresses again? You know Bovril doesn't like that."
She wrapped her arms around her father's neck and wailed. Being four was apparently much more difficult than Alek remembered.
Bovril slithered away, muttering to itself. "Nasty, being stuffed into a dress."
Alek placed the toast in front of Artemis and set Sophie down in a chair. The child looked positively forlorn.
"Sophie," he said, moving a piece of hair from her face, "sometimes Bovril just doesn't want to play. Sometimes you and Artemis don't want to play together, right?"
She nodded reluctantly (Artemis did so with a bit more enthusiasm).
"Maybe Bovril just wants to be alone for a little while," he said. She opened her mouth to protest, but Alek quickly added, "Here, I'll get you some paper and you can draw."
He moved to the squealing kettle and glanced at the clock. "Artemis, can you please go upstairs and wake Mummy up? I've got to go!"
Artemis swallowed the last bit of apple and trudged up the stairs obediently. Alek guzzled down as much tea as he could without burning his throat. It wasn't ready and was still boiling hot, but he didn't have time to wait.
"Papa, I'm hungry."
He held back a sigh of frustration and moved quickly for a glass. He filled it with milk and set it down in front of Sophie. He found a bowl in the sink which he filled with oats and some hot water from the kettle and stirred and mashed it around. He plopped it down in front of her.
"Blisters! Is it seven already?" he heard Deryn say from upstairs.
She was up. Good; he could finally get going. He ran for his coat and bag and was just opening the door when –
He let out a sigh.
She smiled at him sweetly from the table. "You forgot to kiss me goodbye!"
He couldn't help but smile bit.
"Be a good girl for Mummy today, all right?" he said as he wiped a bit of oatmeal from her face and leaned down to plant a kiss on her cheek.
She nodded contentedly. "Aren't you going to say goodbye to Mummy?"
Deryn usually saw him off every morning. She was bound to miss a morning sometime. "Tell her for me, all right? I've got to go get Auntie Nora!"
And with that, he was finally out of the house.
Still, though, Alek felt a twinge of disappointment as he walked across the porch.
No, that was silly. He'd see her when he got home.
"Alek!" came Deryn's voice from behind.
He turned to see her still in her nightgown, hair wild and unkempt, face glowing. She looked lovely. Before he could speak, she shoved him against the side of the house, pinning him there, and kissed him.
She kissed him like there was no tomorrow, as if it was their first and their last, like they'd never see each other again.
She broke away when Sophie came running out of the house in tears crying about something Artemis had done, clinging to Deryn's leg. But she was undeterred.
Alek smiled against her mouth. "Thank you, liebe; I needed that."
"Have a good day, love," she said, pressing her lips to his twice more.
She scooped Sophie up and went back into the house.
Alek left the porch with a new spring in his step grinning like a loon. He even waved to Mrs. Erskine as he walked past her garden.
This is going to be an excellent day.