Characters: Regulus, Serenus, Tybalt, Serafino, Etienne Summary: Fastidious people and grubby children make for an interesting combination
"Daddy! Daddy! We plant fwowers! Come see!"
Tybalt grinned as he stepped out of the house and into the garden, glad to be home from work and equally glad to see his beautiful, if somewhat grubby, family. Obviously Serenus had the boys 'helping' him with his gardening, and from the look of it, they were wearing almost as much dirt as they'd dug up.
Serafino ran up and grabbed Tybalt's hand, pulling him to see where they had been 'planting' flowers. The dirt in one area had been torn up in clumps, and scattered in irregular rows were somewhat sadly wilting pansies. Those had obviously been Serafino's handiwork; Etienne had planted only about half the number of flowers of his twin, but they were done with finicky care, although Etienne was no less grimy than Serafino.
"I see! Nice job!" Tybalt said, ruffling Serafino's hair and then Etienne's, earning a smile and a scowl in succession. Then he turned to Serenus, blue eyes dancing with amusement as he lifted the hand Serafino had held, now as grimy as one of the boys, and drew a brownish line down Serenus' cheek.
"There, now we can all share the earth love," he said, before leaning close and kissing Serenus soundly.
"As if I haven't been already!" Serenus shook his head and laughed, gesturing to his dirt-covered gardening clothes. He wound his arms around Tybalt and pressed against him, smiling impishly as he transferred the mud on his clothes to Tybalt's with a bit of rubbing for good measure. "We were just about to go inside and clean up. You're just in time to help," he said, grinning broadly.
"Aren't I lucky?" Tybalt said, but in this case, he actually meant it, and he returned the rubbing with a wicked smile, not minding the mud and dirt now streaking his clothes at all. He groped Serenus' arse under the coveralls, even as he felt the twins come up and wrap their arms around his legs. "Oh, my, I have stowaways!"
The twins giggled, and Tybalt took a couple of lurching steps, dragging the boys along. "All right then, bath time! The Daddy Express is leaving the station!"
Serenus watched them go, laughing at the outlandish sight, and then he began gathering up the gardening tools, cleaning them with a charm before turning to go inside and help Tybalt with the children's baths. He paused when he saw someone approaching the gate, and a closer look revealed it was Regulus.
"You didn't take the Floo?" Serenus regarded him quizzically.
Regulus held up a square white box with the Honeyduke's label on the lid. "I stopped by Honeyduke's," he said. "I wanted to contribute something for dinner, and I thought a dessert would be welcome."
"Always!" Serenus waited until Regulus caught up with him, and they walked along side by side. "How are things going at the shop?"
"Quite well so far." Regulus held open the door since Serenus was burdened with an armful of tools. "Barty is quite conscientious, and we've had a number of curious visitors who ended up making purchases. I think business will continue to grow thanks to having a stable base of operations."
"Good." Serenus smiled, genuinely pleased to hear of Regulus' success. "You didn't miss much here. We planted some pansies, and now Tybalt is giving two little ambulatory balls of mud a bath." He paused, giving Regulus a look that blending speculation and mischief. "Actually, would you mind giving him a hand so I can make dinner? It's too much for him to handle by himself, and we'll end up with them running naked around the house, trailing muddy water in their wake."
Regulus hesitated, uncertain he was up to the task of helping bathe two rambunctious children, but he wanted to help out since they had been kind enough to invite him to stay. "I can give it a try," he said dubiously.
Laughing, Serenus clapped him on the shoulder. "You'll do fine. Just soap and scrub and don't let them get away." With that, he headed off to put away his tools and start dinner, whistling cheerfully.
Oh, dear Merlin... Regulus stood up at the bottom of the steps and gazed up, apprehensive about what he was about to get himself into. He went upstairs and followed the sound of shrieking into the bathroom, and he peered around the door.
"Er... Serenus sent me to help you," he said.
Tybalt turned from the tub, where he was attempting to scrub Etienne's face with a cloth while Serafino gleefully scooped up handfuls of water and dumped them over Tybalt's head. His red hair was matted to his head and cheeks, and his own clothes were sodden.
"Oh, thank Merlin, the cavalry!" he said, smiling at Regulus and beckoning him over toward the tub. "Maybe you can get Etienne to let you wash him, since he seems to like you?" Tybalt dangled the damp cloth enticingly.
Regulus' pale eyes widened as he took in the carnage, and his neat and tidy soul recoiled in abject horror at the thought of getting soaking wet and soapy and... and unkempt. What if he ended up looking as bad as Tybalt?
But then Etienne spotted him and let out a squeal. "I get a baf!" he exclaimed, beckoning eagerly, and Regulus knew he couldn't turn tail and run.
Edging closer, he took the cloth and surveyed the scene, trying to decide how he could help bathe Etienne while avoiding getting wet himself. Considering there were puddles forming on the floor by the tub, kneeling wouldn't work, and so he decided to remain standing and bend over instead. He pushed up his sleeves and approached the tub with determination.
Tybalt turned his attention to Serafino, taking another cloth and catching the little boy so that he could swipe at his face. He glanced sideways at Regulus, then chuckled as he noticed both the firm set of his jaw and the look of absolute horror in his eyes.
"Your back is going to be killing you by the end, trust me," he warned as he noticed Regulus' posture. The water was the color of weak tea from the dirt, and he had to resist the urge to flick droplets onto Regulus' pristine clothes.
Regulus eyed the muddy water with distaste, hoping he could somehow avoid getting any on his robes, although that was looking more and more impossible by the minute. "But if I kneel, I'll get soaked," he said, trying to keep a plaintive note out of his voice, and he glanced sidelong at Tybalt. "Are you sure you brought me here to heal? I'm beginning to think you had something more insidious in mind."
"Yes, Regulus, I brought you here to be a slave to Etienne and fulfill his every whim," Tybalt replied dryly, his eyes dancing with mirth. "Here we were talking about how deprived your childhood was, without mud pies and rain dancing, so consider this a way to make up for it." He ran the cloth over Serafino's back as the child sang out in a clear, reedy voice a little nonsense song about flowers and mud. "Or if you like, think of it as a form of occupational therapy, like caring for a cat, only... well, like caring for a child. There's nothing like it, trust me."
Regulus thought he could do without the mud part, but he understood Tybalt's point. Being responsible for Anubis and then Sekhmet had given him a sense of purpose and a feeling of achieving something useful, and that had helped his spirits considerably at one of the lowest times of his life. Besides, there was something oddly pleasant about watching them frolic and listening to the silly little song, the kind of impulsive act he had not been allowed to indulge in himself.
"Therapy," he repeated, nodding resolutely. "Right."
With renewed determination, he drew his wand and cleaned up the puddles on the floor with a charm, and then he knelt beside Tybalt and attempted to wash off the dirt still coating Etienne from head to toe.
"That's the spirit." Tybalt smiled encouragingly, pleased that Regulus was unbending enough to join in. "Trust me, until you've taken care of a child and had them look at you with utter trust and love, you've never known what it feels like to be fifty feet tall and able to change the world."
"Is that how you felt when you became a parent?" Regulus asked, daring to take his eyes off Etienne long enough to glance at Tybalt. He kept a firm grip on Etienne, who was splashing vigorously, with one hand and scrubbed with the other, dismayed when his sleeves slipped down and he found himself up to his elbows in muddy water. He grimaced, resigning himself to getting wetter than he'd like. "Even at times like this?"
"Even at times like this," Tybalt agreed, reaching for the shampoo so that he could squeeze some on Serafino's wet hair. "Of course at other times, I feel scared out of my mind and like the stupidest man in existence. But the joy of children is that they love totally and unconditionally, and they are infinitely forgiving of your faults. All they ask is to be loved in return."
"I remember," Regulus said, his voice soft and distant as he thought back to his own childhood. "I think perhaps one reason why it was so easy for my parents to mold me into their version of a perfect son is that I wanted to please them in hopes they would love me." Shaking his head to dispel the unpleasant memories of his eager-to-please self, he turned his attention to scrubbing Etienne's back while Etienne splashed and babbled with more excitement and animation than he usually displayed, and suddenly, it didn't seem to matter to Regulus how wet he got after all.