A Dad for Sebastian
"What's your name, kid?"
"Sebastian Love," he said, holding out his hand to shake Aries's. "Pleased to meet you." The kid's name was, again, setting off all kinds of alarm bells. He should know this kid, but damned if he knew where.
"Aries?" The kid's eyes got big. "The Greek god of war?"
"The very one," Aries chuckled. That comment about his name usually got his hackles up, but Sebastian was looking at him with something like awe. His glasses seemed to take up half his face and he continually pushed them up on his nose. With the thick lenses, he reminded Aries of the really smart baby chicken from the Foghorn Leghorn cartoon.
"Wow! Are you really a Navy SEAL?"
"Used to be."
He looked confused. "I thought once a SEAL, always a SEAL."
Aries couldn't help but smile. "You know about stuff like that, do you?"
"Well, that's what I read. Was that book wrong?"
"No. That's pretty much the way it is. I hurt a knee, then got offered a job in a different area of the Navy." He shrugged. "I guess when you get old you want away from the action." Aries grinned at the child. He didn't look like he was old enough to read. At least, not a book about Navy SEALs.
"How old are you?"
"Six. How old are you?"
"What book have you been reading about SEALs at your age?"
The kid immediately went fishing in his backpack and pulled out a book. It didn't look like it was geared toward kids his age. In fact, it was by an author he recognized as being a New York Times bestseller. The book too.
"Isn't this a bit old for you?" No way this kid could read and understand something like this. The thing had to be more than six or seven hundred pages long.
"Well, it's a bit violent, but since I've never seen the stuff it's describing it doesn't give me bad images." Was this kid for real?
"I mean," Aries pinched his forehead, "you can read and understand the story?"
"Oh, yeah. I'm advanced for my age." Sebastian talked like an adult. Read adult books.
"What else are you, uh, advanced in?"
"Pretty much everything," he said matter-of-factly. "I have a special teacher for math and science. My reading and spelling teacher just lets me work through the books on my own and tests me when I reach an end of a section." Then he got a down and out look on his face. "But I suck at music."
Aries blinked. "Music."
"Yeah," the kid shook his head as if it were the worst possible failure. "My mom says I'm tone deaf." He shrugged. "She doesn't seem to mind, though. Just laughs and says I have to not be good as something."
"So, music and basketball then?" Aries couldn't keep the grin from his face.
"Pretty much. Well, basketball and every other sport. Mom says I have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time but she loves me no matter what." This kid was just… God, just... to damned cute!
"Maybe we can play ball sometime," Aries said, in no way able to keep a straight face now. "I'll bring some bubble gum along. That way, you'll be able to tell your mom you can so walk and chew gum at the same time."
He giggled then. "I think I like you, Mister," he said. "I bet Mom would like you, too. You want to meet her?"
Actually, he did. Anyone who would leave a kid alone in a public park needed a good talking to like he'd given the young bullies. He'd gone from trying to redeem himself to being this young boy's protector and teacher. How the fuck had that happened? The second he thought it, the more the band around his chest since his brother had left seemed to loosen a little. What he was doing felt right. Necessary. Both for him and for the boy.
"Tell me something, Sebastian. What are you doing here by yourself? This is a great park and all, but it's dangerous for someone your age to be here alone."
Sebastian immediately flush and looked away. Aries thought he might not tell him, but he finally sighed, that defeated posture again tugging at Aries's heart, and confessed. "I told my mom there was after school supervision so she wouldn't leave work early. I heard her boss told her if she left early or brought me there again he'd fire her."
"Sebastian!" A female voice came from behind them, the shrill panic evident. "Get away from him!"
Sebastian turned and grinned, oblivious to the woman's discomfort. "Hey, Mom! Come meet my new friend! He's a Navy SEAL! Can you believe that?"
Aries glanced over his shoulder...and nearly lost his breath. Hurrying toward them was the most exquisite woman he'd ever seen. Strawberry blond was pulled back into a bun but strands fell about her face in unruly curls like they'd escaped during her day. She impatiently batted at one curl doggedly swinging in her eyes only to have it blow right back. And he fucking knew her!
She dressed in a waitress uniform of pale pink, the skirt hitting just above her knees. The V of the collar was low enough to show cleavage if she'd had any, but her breasts were either too small or she wore a minimizer bra. Aries was dying to figure out that little secret. Why had he never noticed her figure before? Probably because she'd still been a kid. Now, her pale skin was a temptation. She sported a generous amount of freckles, but not enough to camouflage her creamy complexion. A thought struck him in the head so hard and the image boured into his brain, refusing to be jostled loose. What it would be like to connect every single one of those freckles...with his tongue.
God! He had to stop thinking like that. The girl was so much younger than he was he didn't even want to think about the difference. She'd been his brother's age but still a couple of years behind him in school. And he'd been eleven years older than Apollo.
"You don't know this man, Sebastian," she said as she picked up his backpack, urging him up to hurry him away.
Aries raised his hands in a non-threatening gesture when Sebastian spoke up. "He kept the Rat Pack away from me, Mom. He's cool." He resisted her trying to force him away, as if his explanation were enough to satisfy anyone.
"Sebastian…" she started, glancing at Aries. The wide eyed expression on her face told Aries she remembered him. Which was good since he planned on getting acquainted with her really soon. Then she gently turned Sebastian to her by his shoulders. "We've talked about this, baby. You're not supposed to talk to strangers. And where's your teacher? I thought you said there was a math workshop the rest of the week?"
The kid's face turned beet red as his mouth worked, obviously trying to form an answer his mother would believe. Sebastian looked at Aries helplessly, looking for help Aries couldn't give since he had no idea what was going on.
"Hi, Ms. Love," he said, addressing her in a familiar way so she knew he remembered her, but also for Sebastian's benefit. Also, he wanted to steer Sebastian away from trouble. "I'm working with St. Mildred's Outreach to keep the park clean."
"Sounds like community service to me," she said, not meeting his gaze. There was a becoming blush across her fair cheeks that kind of made the freckles across her nose blend in to her face slightly. "Are you on probation or something?"
"I promise I'm not. Check me out with Father Luke if you think you need to. Though, I suspect you remember me and know I'm not a bad person." That answer seemed to satisfy her a little. At least, didn't look like she was going to bolt.
After a moment or two, she let out a weary breath. "Why are you here, Aries? And don't call me Ms. Love." She scowled. "I hate that," she mumbled.
"Sure," he fought a grin and lost. "Honey."
Aries couldn't help it. Having been teased his entire life about his name, he should be the last one to smile at an unusual name, but his lips quirked. They always had. In the past, when he'd even thought about her, he'd grinned. Now, when the smile came, Honey Love punched his arm. Hard.
Aries chuckled, unable to help himself. So she punched him again.
"Mom! You don't mess with a SEAL unless you're ready to fight!" Sebastian's eyes were wide as he stood, moving his little body between his mother and Aries to push her away. "He'll clobber you!"
"Relax, little man. I'd never hurt your mom." Aris rested a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Your mom has just as an unusual name as I have. I'm thinking she doesn't like people grinning at her name."
Sebastian turned to Aries. "Wait. You smiled at her?"
"Oh, man." The boy winced. "No wonder she was ready to fight you." He turned back to Honey. "I still don't think it's a good idea."
Her lips twitched even as she went for a scowl. "He grinned, therefore he's taking his life into his own hands. Besides, don't let my size fool you. I can take care of myself."
"Oh, I have no doubt," Aries said, trying his best to keep a smile off his face.