“D’awww.” Simon leaned back against the minivan, grinning, as Aladdin fell to the grass in a paired pounce attack. “It’s like having our own little tiger cubs.”
“Siberian tigers,” Ja’far said, half under his breath, almost leaning against Simon’s side.
Malachy eyed the pair of them – so close yet so far – and cast Tiburon an arched brow. They ought to get over it and cuddle already.
“Not everyone’s comfortable with a Red Lion’s level of skin contact,” the swordsman said practically. “Especially with Hollywood the way it is these days. Everyone assumes touching implies sex. No wonder you wanted out of there, Simon. When it comes to the important things, you’re sane.”
Simon blinked. “I’m honestly torn between, ‘Of course’, and, ‘How dare you call me sane?’”
“You are,” Malachy said steadily. “Didn’t need me out here to watch you play with lightning. What do you want?”
Simon let out a deep sigh, fingers drumming against painted steel. “Help. You’re a father. I’m… not. At least not anytime soon. Alan and Aladdin – they’re very mature, very willing to take care of themselves. But this world’s more complicated than Balbadd, and they deserve someone willing to be a good parent.” He shrugged, honestly rueful. “I’m not asking you to take the job! You’ve got three wild cubs of your own, and damn it, I volunteered. But I could really use advice.”
Malachy thought that over. Nodded once. “First rule. Most important. Love them.”
“That’s not hard,” Simon reflected.
“Wait until they descale a fish right in the middle of your income tax,” Malachy advised. “Second? Very simple. Never tell them to do something you know they won’t do.”
“Okay, so it’s a bit like being a director,” Simon said, half to himself. “Which can be highly satisfying at the end of the week, but in between times you’d rather be fighting a dragon. I think I may meep.”
Malachy smirked. “Third. Never assume. Never. When you find them with the car upside-down in a creek, ten gang members smashed through the walls, or a whole bison gutted to roast on the front lawn, the first thing they’ll say is, ‘But you didn’t say we couldn’t.’”
“But that’s- um. Er….”
“Long story short,” Ja’far said with great relish, “just imagine what you got into as a kid. And add magic.”
“Oh.” Simon blinked, a little pale. “So that’s what Dad meant.”
Malachy arched a curious brow.
“He always said, ‘I hope you have a dozen kids just like you’.”