“Can youse see me, Fordy? Can youse see how high I’s is going?” Shiloh’s loud, happy voice yelled at me.
I shifted little Bastian in my arms and smiled at the happiness in Shiloh’s voice. Thank fuck she could do this now, play at her favourite park on her favourite swings without the worry of dangerous threats hanging over her.
“You bet I can, Squirt. You are the best at swinging,” I agreed with the beautiful girl, who stole my heart the minute she was placed in my arms as a newborn. Shiloh’s birth into this world went a long way to fixing the dark places I was dragged into—for my brothers, too. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for the Wounded Souls’ princess, absolutely nothing.
“Of course, I am, Poindexter. I’s the bestest,” Shiloh said matter-of-factly. The nickname she used brought a lump to my throat, knowing Darth had used that term for me more than once over the years. Shiloh’s parroting was usually funny as hell, but today, her saying that to me in her innocent way brought back the pain of losing one of our own. Darth’s death at the hands of Rogue had hit us all very hard. Due to his loyalty to Shiloh and Memphis, he sacrificed his life for them. Shiloh was the most important person in the big prick’s life, and he proved that in the most amazing way anyone could.
“You’ve got five more minutes, kiddo. Your baby brother is starting to get grumpy,” I warned her and received a miniature chin lift.
“Copy that. Daddy says when Bast gets grumpy, we should evacuate,” Shiloh said as she swung her little legs out in front of her and performed a nearly perfect dismount.
I laughed loudly. Fuck, this kid is a fucking joy, I thought to myself.
“We’s betta goes now. The only thing to stop his grumpy moods is Mummy’s boobies,” Shiloh said gravely.
As I took her outstretched hand with my free one, more laughter bubbled out. “You are one of a kind, Shiloh Johnston, you know that?”
“Sure do. Vinnie said they broke the mould whens I’s was borned.” The confidence and pride in her voice made my heart melt.
“Thank God for that, hey, Squirt?” I turned, and the sand that covered the swing area was now in the cuff of my military pants. Fuck, I hated sand and the shitty memories it conjured up.
“Amen to that, Fordy,” Shiloh said with a relieved sigh, and just like that, my happy place was restored.
Where would I be without the four, nearly five-year-old princess? I thought to myself as she nestled her small hand trustingly in mine. A hand that had taken lives… and felt heaven… just once.
The walk back to the compound consisted of Shiloh doing all the talking and me laughing. The kid had some really weird ideas about her baby brother’s future and some disturbing ones about her own. I wondered how Deck was going to take the news his baby girl planned on being the president of the Wounded Souls one day. Probably lock her up and throw away the key, I thought, chuckling to myself.
“What’s so funny about that?” Shiloh said with a mini growl.
Okay, so I didn’t chuckle to myself.
“Nothing, Squirt. You got yourself some big plans there, kiddo. Booth won’t give up his patch without a fight, you know?” I informed her as I shifted Bastian to my other arm. The kid was a brute, that was for sure. How the hell Teach carried him for nine months was a mystery.
“Darf said I can do anyfink I’s wants,” Shiloh said in a huffy voice.
I stopped walking at the mention of her beloved Darth, who was one of my closest friends. As members of the Souls, Darth and I had worked closely together, and with his role as the primary purchasing officer and security, we spent a lot of time together. Booth kept us busy with ordering new equipment every time he had a fit of rage and threw something expensive. Now that Rogue was gone, we hoped that was behind us. I just wished the big prick was still here to see all the new babies. He would have loved being an uncle to them all.
“Is that what he used to tell you, baby girl?” I asked absently. Bastian’s head fell to my shoulder, and I palmed the back of his small head, his downy hair soft against my hand. The poor little bloke was getting tired. You should feel my arm, little man. Damn, this kid was heavy. What the hell did his parents feed him?
“He’s told me that last night,”
I whipped my head around and looked down at Shiloh, who was twirling a length of her long, black hair around her finger. It was something Darth used to do when Shiloh was on his knee when they would watch Tour of Duty. I swallowed the lump in my throat, my eyes still riveted on the finger twisting her hair. Shiloh never did that, and I would know since she spent hours with me every day. Only Darth did that.
I held tighter onto Bastian and knelt, getting eye level with Shiloh.
“Squirt, what do you mean when you said last night? Did you mean you dreamt about Darth, and he spoke to you in the dream?” I asked carefully, hopefully.
“Nah, I’s was awake. He waits until Mummy and Daddy leaves the room, then he comes and reads me another story,” Shiloh said nonchalantly as if what she was saying wasn’t sending shivers up my spine.
I shook my head, careful not to wake the sleeping boy. “Shiloh, are you seeing Darth and talking to him, honey?” I asked quietly and hoped she would give me an eye roll and say, ‘Sucked in, Fordy.’ Of course, she didn’t, except for the eye roll.
“Darf promised me he woulds always be wif me. We watch Zeke every night.” She paused and narrowed her gaze at me. “You ain’t gonna tell that I’s watch telly when I ’posed to be sleeping, is ya, Fordy?”
I reached out and lifted Shiloh’s chin so she could concentrate on my next question.
“Shiloh, do you see Darth when he watches Zeke with you?” I held my breath and waited.
Shiloh smiled hugely at me. Her front tooth that she lost after an accident on her bike a few months back had now grown back. I inwardly smiled at the memory of Darth and Mannix blowing that bike up—the big man never tolerated anything that hurt his little princess.
“He sure does, tech man. He is all better now. His shirt has no blood on it anymore, and his ouch is all gone.” The nickname Shiloh used for me barely registered. The mention of Darth’s gunshot wound, or lack of it, had me reeling.
Jesus, fuck, I think we may have a major problem, I thought to myself. With a nod of my head, I moved my hand to Shiloh’s cheek.
“I’m glad, Squirt. How about we get back to the compound and get your baby brother to bed. Then maybe we can play some C.O.D,” I suggested. I kept my voice light, but I was worried about what Shiloh had told me. If she has visions of Darth, it could be a symptom of PTSD. After seeing what she saw that day when Darth was killed and the car accident she had been in, not to mention all the other crap she had endured because of Rogue’s sick game of revenge, it wouldn’t surprise me if Shiloh needed some help.
Getting back up, I made sure Bastian was still asleep. I reached down and took Shiloh’s hand in mine, and we started back for the Souls’ compound, glad to have something else to think about that wasn’t six foot four, muscled, and deeply in denial about who and what he was. What I was to him.