Author's Note: Something I've wanted to do for a while now. Since the start of RWBY there's been countless fics concerning Summer Rose and her departure, many of them involving a Ruby sadly remembering her and having her friends and other loved ones comforting her when she becomes depressed by either a memory or a nightmare.
With the finale of Volume 2 and more information being unveiled about Ruby and Yang's parentage, I expect more of those kinds of fics with perhaps Yang getting a fair share now with the revelation of her mother. While I have nothing against them, once again it's a case of where I feel like approaching at a different angle that has yet to be really traveled. There have been many fics about the bonds of mother and daughter and, for this, I'd like to explore that of a father who we also know very little of but, based on that information, I can conclude that he is one who loves his daughters and will react as any father would with the loss of their mothers.
Cover image used is the property of weissrabbit, a talented and gracious artist who gave me permission for its use.
He had always preferred more rural areas over urban. Cities such as the four kingdoms possessed their own grandiose splendor when it came to the achievements that mankind had managed to attain with their continued progress born of ingenuity and they had good reason to be proud of it. However, no matter how high their towers may stretch or how large their populations grew and prospered to fill them with lives and ideas, there was the cold, hard truth that they only did so within a limited area. The heights that man have reached can never eclipse how wide and vast the world spanned and what has remained denied to them.
For a Huntsman such as he, those magnificent buildings were nothing but stifling. Any sense of awe and inspiration wilted in the face of what he knew to be confinement.
At the same time, he would consent to any argument that Patch wasn't really any better. Instead of cliffs and walls, the island had the seas as an effective barrier to keep the Grimm from overrunning yet another scrap of land that humanity managed to obtain and hid within.
But there was a sense of freedom that nearby Vale didn't have. The Grimm still roamed, spawning within the darkest corners of the island but they were small and manageable with Signal-schooled students gaining the necessary experience from such minor specimens of monsters. It generated a genuine - or deceptive, depending on how one viewed it - feeling of control among the populace. Huntsmen and Huntresses of Vale went out and could fight the Grimm for days and slaughter hundreds or even thousands, but by the end of it they went back to hide behind their natural and artificial protections along with the rest, accomplishing relatively little in the long run and hoping that the villages they just protected were not fated to 'disappear' overnight. For those of Patch, their settlements were more modest and the threats more immediate yet they remained in existence.
It was those modest settlements that let one take a walk on a well-traveled path as he was doing rather than a road or street paved in concrete and asphalt. Nature that had been driven out by the advances of technology elsewhere was allowed to flourish here with autumn, he believed, being the season to experience the true openness of the world.
His boots thudded against the path, the dirt shifting beneath his soles. The wind swept through, enhancing the added chill with the descent of darkness that had him shifting the furred lining of his parka to better deflect it before it moved on to sweep through the trees. Dead and dying leaves rustled amongst the branches while those that have already fallen rolled along the ground. When one happened to cross his path, it let out a dry, papery crunch beneath his foot.
Most of the wildlife - the ones without the bone masks and instinctive drive to kill - had already retreated but the chirping of crickets braved through to echo across the land from their lowly position within the grass. Up high, the moon and the stars shone brightly and uncontested.
To be venturing out here, within the center of it all, one could truly feel free. During nights like these, he could understand why some of those who didn't have the luxury of absolute protection and a promise of a long, safe life in the kingdoms would come to take pride and cherish what they had outside of them. What they had out there was something that city-dwellers did not; a fulfilling experience that would be worth the hazardous and brief life that they may be destined for. Having these nightly tastes of it used to bring him peace and were one of the reasons why he chose to settle down here in Patch.
Now he was just left with the cruel irony of how something that once exhibited such was supplementing this empty and depressing gloom of loneliness that weighed him down.
He trudged on down the path. The environment gave off the illusion of a great expanse but he knew his destination to be near. A minute later and he took note of a light appearing up ahead. First as a small dot and gradually growing in size and brightness until he could make out the window that separated it and the living room that it hung over from the outside.
Modest. A simple two-story home with a shingled roof and wooden siding. A chimney topped it. There were no fences, the surrounding woods the only boundaries to be found. Boundaries, but not barriers. It was spacious, homey, welcoming.
He felt his heart sink as it did every time.
The path ended at a line of flat stones which led to the front steps that would bring him up to the small deck. He had to take a slight detour around an obstacle - a little red wagon - before beginning his ascent.
A figure had risen from the inside and stopped over at the same window during his approach and he noted the shadow that passed over him. It disappeared when he reached the steps and by the time his feet thumped dully against the wooden planks of the deck, the front door was swinging open in order for him to be greeted with a question.
"How was the trip?"
The one who greeted him was another man, his age, and the light of the house at his back made his hair look more like the scraggly mess that it was. With it swept back, one might compare it to a crest of rugged feathers similar to a bird's.
He shrugged nonchalantly. "You know how it is; mostly a lot of ceremony and catching up with old friends. I don't think even Ozpin was expecting all the effort they put into it." He hoped that the mix of light and darkness would let the slight curving of his mouth be visible but hide how it was so strained. "Nice to see that even he can be flustered once in a while."
"We're in peaceful times," the other man pointed out. "People like to indulge in ceremonies now that they're able to, even for such an inauguration."
"Yeah. Ozpin will make a good headmaster."
An uncomfortable silence fell over them and the sound of the front door closing seemed exceptionally loud to his ears, the sounds of nature that he had been admiring before having chosen a rather convenient time to go quiet. Looking past the man's shoulder to peer at the door, that slab of solid core oak had never seemed as immovable as it did now.
"So, you mentioned old friends?"
His gaze switched back. "A few. Glynda's as stern as ever."
That earned him a snort. "No surprise there."
"And James got a promotion. It's Colonel Ironwood now. Nothing made public yet, mind you, but he mentioned some projects that he'll be heading in his new position in Atlas's cybernetics division."
"Speaking of which, how's the arm?"
"Fine from what I noticed." That being when James had used it to shake his hand and keep him in place to pat him on the shoulder. He got a lot of that at Beacon; handshakes, pats on the shoulder and back, even gentle embraces with whispered condolences in his ear. "If I hadn't known any better, I wouldn't have thought anything had happened to it."
"Good to hear." The words were delivered in a way that made the second round of awkward silence predictable. The crest-haired man lifted the cloak he brought out with him but was only now deciding to wear. He awkwardly fiddled with the clasp, using it as an excuse to remain in front of the door. "Any new faces?"
He knew what he was doing; giving him a bit more time to better situate himself at being home again. Grant another minute or two to just stand out here, let it sink in that after the past four days being away he was back where memories, heartaches, doubts, and - what he hoped - the strength to be able to triumph over all of them and move on awaited him inside. Not just for his sake but for theirs.
"A couple professors retired. Ozpin used the chance to introduce their replacements to the school and their positions. Port's still around with the latest variation of the Reaver story."
How genuine his companion's chuckle was in response to him made that grin he was forcing a bit easier to maintain. Eventually though, once the chuckle faded and the cloak had been clasped, he knew that there would be no more delays. He looked up at the house, gazing at one window in particular. The shades were pulled down but he could barely see some illumination peeking through.
His grin vanishing, he finally asked the question that would start it. "Are they awake?"
"I don't think so. Ruby swore she'd wait all night if she had to but she's still so young. She probably went to sleep as soon as Yang convinced her to go to their room with the promise of a story. I was going to check to see if Yang may've gone to bed as well but then I saw that you arrived."
He nodded soundlessly and, when he gave nothing, the cloaked man took it as a sign to step away from the door and began crossing the deck to take his leave. He didn't get out of the way of the stairs just yet and, before he could stop himself, he said, "You can stay for the night if you wish."
It was a suggestion born of his inner fears and his friend knew it. He smiled but then politely refused, "No, thank you. It's their father they want."
He could say nothing to that and finally stepped aside, letting him pass. A moment later he spoke, "Qrow."
The other man stopped after he cleared the last step, the hood of his cloak half-raised.
Keeping the cloth partially up, Qrow swiveled his head back and, keeping his tone light, he said, "There's no need to thank me. I can't think of any other place I would rather use my vacation days for instead of here."
"Not just for these few days. Thank you for being here. For them."
"Not just for them," Qrow corrected. "You will always be a brother to me. We've been through too much together for you to be anything less no matter what the circumstances may be. And I will love your children as if they were my own. Both of them." Pulling up his hood the rest of the way, he turned his back and began walking. "Welcome home, Tai. I hope this night turns out to be a good one for you."
His initial thought was to wait until he could no longer see the ends of Qrow's cloak but he knew that that wouldn't do. To repay Qrow, the least he could do was be the first to disappear. So, holding his breath, Taiyang turned to the door but it was only when he felt a growing burning in his lungs that he opened it and stepped inside.
Four days it's been since he last entered his home and it would take many more than that to prevent him from acting on the ritual that has become instinctive to kick off his boots and remove his parka as soon as he entered. He was breathing again when he placed one off to the side and hung the other on the coat rack, the chilly autumn air replaced with the warm, temperature-controlled air within his house.
He started with the living room, a lush carpet rolled out over a hardwood floor. A sofa and loveseat combo of brown fabric and decorated with pillows dominated the center, forming a small L, with a short table resting in the middle of the furniture. The blades of a ceiling fan hung above, inert, but the light of the bulbs he spotted outside continued to burn bright. In one corner was an older flatscreen - his choice, he remembered, having been more partial to that over a full holo setup -, but it was currently off. An even older-style brick fireplace, on the other hand, had seen recent use with tiny embers glowing beneath charred logs. A wood storage rack was off to the side, filled, but he didn't attempt to restart the fire.
Instead, his attention was drawn to the mantle that hung over the fireplace, a number of picture frames arranged on top with the photos protected behind transparent glass. They were photos of him, of his children, all of them with smiles on their faces and taken during moments that were worth being happy in. Moments when their family had once been whole as these images included his wife.
But only one wife.
And yet he picked one frame that held the stilled image of when she wasn't so. In it, she had been sitting on the same sofa directly behind him, a bundle swaddled in yellow in her arms. A pair of tiny arms were outstretched, attempting to grasp her nose and the camera had clicked when she tilted her head in order to kiss a small hand. It didn't capture what happened afterwards; when Summer had lowered her head down, nose rubbing against another's, and within that yellow swaddle came the laughter of the baby. No camera in the world could ever sufficiently record when, in that moment, he had begun to seriously consider the idea of to always have her in his life and that of his baby girl's.
Taiyang would never regret the decision, especially not in the face of the memories that were made and lined up before him because of it. He had been happy, his daughter had been happy, and he and Summer had been happy and loved each other enough to include a second child into their family and one that she can truly call her own. And that child had been as loved and as happy. It had been one of the best decisions in his life.
But now that that happiness was gone, that Summer was no longer here, there was nothing to stop the many disheartening thoughts that questioned the integrity of what they had.
Yang had barely reached a year when he and Summer married and it hadn't even been that long when her mother had left them. He wondered, as he did when mulling over a suitable ring to present to Summer, if he was going too fast. If his grief was influencing him too much. If his feelings weren't that of love but of desperation to give Yang a mother who would stay and help raise her and, for him, someone who could chase away the loneliness and silence the voices of doubt when she was there to assure him that he was a good father and husband when they went to bed together every night.
It wasn't like they didn't have the years behind them. He, Summer, and Qrow had been on the same team, spending their years living and fighting with one another. They had been good friends - good family - and the loss of a best friend and teammate had brought him and Summer closer together. Their shared lives had already developed a strong base for their relationship and he had come to see that beneath that skill and ferocity of a Huntress had been a loving and caring woman who he chose to be with.
But Summer wasn't the woman he chose first.
He delicately placed the frame back amongst the others before moving on. Ignoring the kitchen and dining room for now, he instead went to the flight of stairs, training and years of familiarity giving him the knowledge to avoid the spots that would squeak if enough weight was placed on them, keeping his steps as quiet as possible.
The narrow hallway was at odds with the spacious ground floor. The walls – the very atmosphere - pressed in from all around him. It grew to be oppressive when he went to the first door that awaited him.
It's been longer since he last entered this room. There were a lot of nights when he had chosen to take to the couch instead and he had done so for the ones before his trip to Vale and Beacon Academy. The bed that greeted him upon entering - large enough for two, sheets and blankets undisturbed - tended to keep him up with the empty space that was right next to him.
When he did reach that age when someone - even a Huntsman - entertained the idea of settling down to start a family, he had taken to it with little resistance. His decision to break away from the fighting and teach at Signal had been him going with the natural flow of life. The older you got, the more experience you collected, you start thinking of not just what you yourself can do with the lessons you learned but how others will benefit from it when you pass it down to them.
He had helped protect and strengthen humanity as a Huntsman. He had done so by slaughtering monsters but taking a route that favored him destroying did not mean that he was closed off to any others. He could still teach and guide the next generation. But, most importantly, he could still create. Being able to create life is the greatest thing that a living being could commit and everything that you accomplished will be passed down to them once you properly nurtured and guided them, completing the natural cycle that would continue long after your time.
But he never thought he'd be doing it alone.
He went to the dresser, setting down his weapons on top of it. There were more pictures. They were also of Summer and their children but, within what was their room, a larger percentage went to their attendance at the combat school with their team and when they were upholding their duties as Huntsmen and Huntresses.
They went through so much together which included an occasional close call. When Summer had been reported as missing during her mission, he wanted to believe it was just another of those. No matter how much time may pass, just when he would be ready to give up, she would come back, alive and well, and he would feel foolish for ever thinking that there was something out there that could take her away when they've come back from so many other challenges.
Many would swear that they would never believe in death unless there was a body to prove it but Tai knew that the Grimm were very thorough in that regard. Maybe they hated humankind that much to leave no traces or, perhaps, they possessed enough of an intelligence to conclude that leaving their enemies with nothing but the unknown would allow them to savor the withering hopes and eventual despair that they fed on with as much gusto as blood and flesh.
It was that knowledge and his daughters' sorrow unable to be held at bay that was part of the reason for when he quietly accepted the change in Summer's status from missing to dead once the limit had been reached. And, to his immense shame, there may have been a miniscule part that was nonetheless there that preferred death than the possibility of another having left him of their own free will.
There was an empty space amongst these pictures. There had been another located there and it was during a time of anger and self-loathing that Taiyang had picked it up and have it shatter on the floor. His gaze rested on that space for only a moment before he went to the connecting bathroom.
A flick of the light switch and the mirror let him check his appearance and he congratulated himself for having chosen to shave before his trip. When he got the private invitation to attend the ceremony, he had been reluctant but Qrow had done hard to convince him to go. Get out of the house, spend some time out of Patch, and see how the world was still turning. Reacquainting himself with old friends and seeing how they were moving on in their lives may allow him to do the same.
"And remember what's waiting for you when you get back," Qrow had told him before seeing him and the airship off.
What he meant was at the end of the hall that Tai went to after exiting the bedroom. While the reminders of loves lost and his weaknesses and failures that became paramount in response to them had immediately begun squashing what sympathetic words and other support that those friends had given him when he was away, that load began to lighten the closer he came to the door.
There were papers with handmade drawings tacked to it. To his surprise, the bright colors of the crayons used overwhelmed the dismal air that had been seeking to do the same to him. The barely discernable but recognizable shapes of a sun and rose were side-by-side, too innocent to find any fault in them.
He slowly turned the knob and quietly eased it open.
He remembered when it had once been a nursery with a single crib and baby supplies stored nearby. Overtime, a bed was brought in but the crib remained out of necessity when he had been blessed with a second daughter. But as the first grew up, more additions were made that weren't strictly furniture in nature as they were toys and other forms of entertainment to keep a child amused. Eventually the crib was finally taken away and the bed became a bunk bed to give more space for the growing siblings to play in.
Without the crib, the cushioned rocking chair was the oldest thing in here and had been well-used by him and Summer. Many a time they had taken one or both of their girls in their arms, letting the gentle rocking relax and lull the little ones to sleep with the help of a story or a melodic humming.
It was as still as the girl who rested in it. Seven-years-old with blonde hair shining like honey and spilled over her shoulders in messy curls, mocking the yellow gown that seemed so pale in comparison. One arm hung slack over the side where a book rested on the floor beneath it.
He hadn't let go of the doorknob and he was thankful for that. His knees felt positively weak and he nearly choked with how high his heart rose within his chest.
She was so beautiful, so innocent. Being away from her for so long, the full significance of what he managed to create and what was actually his...the amount of pride and love that hit him was staggering.
Once he managed to collect himself, he went over to pick her up, leaving the chair to rock languidly as he took her in his arms. She stirred but didn't awaken and he dedicated a few seconds to simply hold her. He had fought monsters for so long, handled his weapons for even longer to permanently roughen the skin of his hands, and braving the elements during away missions had done the same to the rest of his body and mind. She seemed so delicate in comparison and he was hardly able to believe as he did when he held her for the first time that a body so tiny and a breath so light could exist but, at the same time, he knew that it was because of him that she did.
He thought he could make out a...difference. Supporting most of her weight with one arm so that he could trail a few fingers through her beautiful hair, he could feel a subtle change that wasn't there when he had held her last before leaving. She was always growing and he could hardly believe just how much she's done so during these seven years but something had changed during the scant days he was away that made her feel heavier.
She stirred again, this time with a mumble, and he decided to let her get her rest. He placed a foot on the bottom rung of the ladder to give him the necessary boost to reach the top bunk in order to deposit her there, gently laying her head down against her pillow before pulling the blanket up to her chin. He couldn't help but touch her hair once more when he passed a finger to remove a curly lock from her tranquil features.
When she had been born, her mother had insisted that she take his name: Yang Xiao Long. Their own 'little bit of sunshine' she said and he had agreed without thought, having been too overwhelmed by the fact that he was now officially a father and that this little fighter who would always cry and struggle within her swaddling was really his daughter.
Even in the presence of his firstborn, he couldn't prevent the turning of his thoughts as he thought back to that moment. Had that been a sign that he missed? By having her daughter take the name of the father, was that meant to make it easier for her when she decided to leave without notice? Had that been her intention even during the pregnancy?
He pushed it from his mind although he knew it would come for him again. With his bit of sunshine tucked in for the night, he dropped down to a knee in order to admire his little rose bud.
She was curled up beneath the blankets, hands pulled up close to her sleeping face as he knew her legs were. While Yang liked to struggle and demand attention through her wails when she was a baby, Ruby was a quiet one to the point where he had been nervous when she hardly uttered a peep after her birth, thinking that she was unwell. After he had been assured that she was as healthy as any other newborn, he settled with the explanation that she was content with the family that she had been born into, only issuing small gurgles when she wanted something and rarely crying.
That time, he had insisted on her taking Summer's name. Ruby had been the key to truly bringing their family together and he had wanted to make sure that that contentment she exuded since birth would remain so. For several years it did and he thought he could truly relax and be at peace with the safety and stability that had settled over his family.
But having a daughter linked to her by blood and name didn't stop Summer from leaving and Ruby had cried long and hard afterwards.
Taiyang leaned over, brushing aside a section of Ruby's mat of black hair in order to place a kiss on her head, thumb stroking a pale but warm cheek. He pulled back enough to examine her features which twitched and scrunched up at the contact but, like her older sister, she stayed asleep.
Would you accept Ruby just as Summer accepted Yang? he suddenly asked. He looked to where a hook had been nailed to the bunk beds, a red cloak that had been fitted specifically for Ruby hanging from it.
It was while staring at it did he realize that she hadn't stayed long enough for him to be sure that she had accepted Yang.
Was it strange for him to think of the possibility of her one day returning? Stranger still to be thinking that he would accept her back? She hadn't been the one to stay with him. She hadn't been there to at least be a part of her child's life. She left before she even gave the smallest effort to be a mother to her daughter.
There were times where he would chastise himself for somehow driving her away or not predicting it happening but the times where he had been angry at her for leaving and not giving him and their daughter the decency of an explanation outnumbered them. During his marriage to Summer, it was to preserve Yang's happiness to let her think that Summer had always been her mother. If Summer had still been around, if Yang hadn't asked him when he had been lost in the depths of his grief, would he have unveiled her existence or let Yang remain oblivious long after her childhood?
He loved Summer. He was forever grateful to her for being there for him and Yang and for giving him Ruby who he loved just as much. The years which she had been alive and they were able to be a family were the best he ever had.
But there was still that bit of love that was reserved specifically for the woman who he had chosen first. That love that made him decide that she would be the one who he would gladly spend the rest of his life with to raise not only one child with but perhaps more. That love that would persist and, if she did return and ask if he would have her back, would influence him more towards a 'yes' instead of a 'no.'
Did that make him a foolish man? A weak man? He didn't and couldn't think of himself as a loyal man.
He twisted around and bent to retrieve the fallen book. He confirmed it to be one of fantasy which contained the typical collection of stories of heroes fighting monsters, saving princesses, and doing numerous good deeds with the only rewards they received being the thanks of the people and the knowledge that they erased one less evil from the world. There were more of similar nature held in the nearby shelf but the one he held specifically was a more advanced reading and, thus, one that was usually reserved for him to tell to his girls.
Apparently that was no longer the case.
He glanced back at Ruby, hand still on her cheek, and then glanced up to where Yang rested. After giving his youngest one last stroke, he stood to return the book back to its place on the shelf, sliding it into the empty space, and then shut off the lamp on top. Usually he would have to watch his step in here. Children being children and his being no different, it wasn't uncommon for him to navigate through a minefield of strewn toys.
They were absent. Or, more precisely, they had been set in an orderly fashion off to the side. His way was clear when he left but before he did he looked back at his two sleeping girls. "Goodnight. Love you both."
When the door settled behind him he stood, motionless, needing to just stand there and tell himself over and over again that they were there. That the reasons for his heart being so full were right behind him. That, no matter however empty the house may feel or make him feel so, it was that room and its occupants who he would love and be loved in return.
If he needed any other evidence, it was what he would find a minute later when he went downstairs to the kitchen. Not entirely ready to retire to bed and deciding on getting something to eat, he had opened the fridge to see what he could scrounge up.
It waited for him right there, in plain view. A plate wrapped in aluminum foil. Written upon the material in black marker was one word: Daddy. And when he saw it his forehead was pressed up against the appliance, his teeth biting down on his knuckles while he blinked back tears and suppressed the urge to hit something.
They made him better. He knew that, had always known that, and he hated himself for forgetting it. He shouldn't have needed a damn trip to remember it.
He shouldn't have needed to almost lose them.
The breath he took between his clamped appendage shook his form and tears leaked out. He released his hand in order to wipe them away, still using the refrigerator to support him as he forced air down into his lungs which then rushed out before being sucked back in with a gasp.
They'd always be there for him. He could see his reflection on the foil, the word written over it as if to properly remind him what he was to them. What he needed to be for them.
When he could breathe easier and his vision was no longer blurred, he took the plate out and removed the foil to see what had been left for him. Chocolate chip pancakes.
Who has this for dinner? he asked himself, choking on a quiet laugh but knew he was smiling.
He placed it in the microwave to reheat it, using the time to retrieve a knife and fork and filling a glass of water. He didn't wait for the timer, watching and waiting until the chocolate chips had melted sufficiently before taking them out. He didn't sit at the dining room table, choosing instead the soft cushions of the sofa that he sank into.
An orange glow emanated from the fireplace. While he was too far away to feel the insignificant heat, just seeing the embers pulsing with it helped spread the warmth that came when he took the first bite. Warmth, sweetness – not just from the chocolate but from the syrup he added. It refreshed him in more ways than one, the food traveling down and settling in his stomach. The water he sipped cooled it but couldn't do the same to the warmth that spread to and out from his chest.
When he finished he set the empty glass and syrup-stained plate on the short table before leaning back. Rather than look to his surroundings and see the reminders of what he lost, he closed his eyes and focused on what he had. His tongue flicked out and caught the mix of chocolate and syrup that remained on his upper lip and his thoughts went one floor up and two doors down to sustain this sense of fulfillment.
He caught the squeak too easily; the third to last step on the stairs. The faint sounds of tiny feet clearing the other two and a small hand gripping the rail for support had come before it.
It had been her first word and it had instantly become his favorite. He remembered when he came home from work, Summer waiting for him and holding onto Yang. There had been an exceptionally bright grin on her face and just as he was about to ask what it was about, the toddler had turned at his approach, purple eyes lighting up with recognition and a smile coming to those chubby cheeks as she greeted him as her daddy.
It had been a happy greeting which made this soft, tentative one a little dispiriting. He lifted his head and rotated enough to spot the little girl clutching the railing, peering at him through the bars and honey-colored bangs with her eyes of pure amethyst.
The sight stung his heart but he still smiled and his voice had taken the gentle tone of a loving father as he spoke, "Hey, sunshine."
That and the audible pat against the cushions convinced Yang that it was okay to descend the remaining steps, using the rails for support the whole way. She didn't rush to his side, her approach slow and nervous. When she was close enough he scooted over to reach and lift her off her feet to place her on his lap. When he brought his arms around her and held her close, he was happy when she returned the hug, small fingers clutching his shirt while her head rested against his chest.
"Did I wake you?" he asked.
She shook her head against him. "No, I wasn't sleeping. I stayed awake and heard you."
A brief grin twitched upon his face. "You were, huh?"
"Yes," she replied with stubborn insistence that dared him to argue. Still his little fighter. "I'm a big girl. I can stay awake all night if I want to. Uncle Qrow said I could."
He hadn't been keeping track of the time but when he looked at the digital clock beneath the flatscreen and saw that it was a quarter to eleven, his biological clock agreed with it. He had a strict eight o'clock bedtime and he knew that this was regularly defied when their uncle was involved. "And did you finish your homework like a big girl?"
"All of it!" she answered. "Uncle Qrow said he'd teach me how to cook if I got it all done."
He set his chin down on top of her curly head, bringing his discarded dishes into view. "He did?"
She nodded vigorously. "Ruby said she wanted chocolate chip pancakes. I thought it was a good idea and Qrow said it would be easy." She shifted around in his arms and he knew that she was also now looking to the empty plate. "I left some for you. Did they taste good?"
"Delicious," he answered without hesitation but plenty of sincerity. "Ate every last bit. I didn't know we had another great cook in the family. You should make them more often."
On top of her prowess when it came to slaying Grimm, Summer knew how to cook, especially when it came to baked goods. Her missions took her all around the kingdom though, sometimes for as long as a week, and while she had her own personal cookie jar that she filled before leaving, suffice to say that Tai had to learn how to make decent meals of his own even if Ruby was always willing to try and go on a cookie diet.
"I don't want to just make pancakes," Yang said. "I want to make other things too. I want to learn to cook lots of stuff for you and Ruby."
He smiled at that. "I'm sure you'll be able to. I'd be happy to teach you."
"You promise? Daddy?"
His smile twitched. Much like how he noticed something different in her weight, he felt something off here. Yang's voice, which had been pleased with the compliments, was now a bit more subdued to his ears. "I promise."
She said nothing else but that feeling of unease refused to go away. Trying to distract himself from it, he mentioned, "Uncle Qrow already left. Had he been a good uncle while I was away?"
"He was fine." Again that unease that came from how she seemed to be brushing off her uncle so that she could say, "I cleaned my room. Ruby helped."
"You did?" he asked, punctuating his words with exaggerated surprise. "You've been cooking and cleaning? I'm starting to wonder if I need Qrow to watch over you anymore." He was teasing of course. Remembering how Yang insisted that she had been awake the whole time, he said, "Qrow said that you were reading to Ruby when I came home."
"It's the one you always read!" she practically pounced. "The an…ant...anto…" He could imagine her scrunched up face, lips silently mouthing and fumbling over the word.
"Anthology of Legends," he supplied.
"I read it!" she asserted. "Ruby's sleeping cause I read it!"
"I believe you, sunshine." He lifted the knee she was sitting on and his arm hoisted her up to the necessary height to bring her cheek in range of his lips to plant a kiss. "Daddy just can't believe how responsible and grown up his little girl's been."
She didn't have anything to respond with, settling with the grip she had on his shirt and a nuzzling of her head and he was more than satisfied to have her just lying against him. He could feel her heartbeat against him. Like everything else about her, the rhythm was tiny and feeble and made him wonder if such a thing really existed when he had experienced for himself how hard and fast his own could go with those doses of fear and adrenaline.
It was almost enough for him to forget about the measure of uncomfortable disquiet. It and his training and experience made him more receptive to things. Subtle things. How Yang's fingers didn't relax, how she wasn't resting fully against him. There was a slight tenseness to her tiny form.
He hummed in question but that timidness set off another warning.
"Did you go away because of me?"
It all clicked in that instant. The cooking, the cleaning, how his eldest seemed so hesitant – everything.
And he remembered the last time he had been angry at her.
He had gone home as quickly as possible when Qrow messaged him to tell him what happened. The shock and disbelief was overridden with the worry and need to make sure that his daughters were okay. The anger was there but it didn't come to the forefront until after he had rushed through the front door and checked on Ruby. Qrow was waiting for him with her in his arms.
He had pulled back her hood to unveil teary eyes but her face was unharmed as was the rest of her. He wasn't sure, being so young, if Ruby had understood the full gravity of the situation but like any toddler she had known enough to understand that it would make her daddy angry and that was what she was worried about. More precisely, she was worried about how much trouble her sister was in.
Qrow had been silent when Tai had taken Ruby so that he could fiercely embrace her, peppering her with kisses and had been just as quiet when he handed her back to him so that he could march up the stairs, Ruby's desperate pleas following him but his ears had been plugged with how he told her a thousand times to not wander so far from the house. Not only that, but she had done so enough to encounter the Grimm.
He hadn't given any thought as to why she did it. He could only think of how unbelievably stupid it was for her to nearly get herself and her sister killed. Now, of all times, when she had never done this before. Now, only a month after Summer's official declaration of death. What could she have possibly been thinking?
She had jumped up from the rocking chair when he had entered but the wide and fearful eyes that she directed at him weren't going to stop him. What did stop him was the rest of her appearance.
The pigtails that her hair had been done up in that morning were gone. Her curls had become a mess of tangles that stuck out haphazardly. The dirt and grime had been cleaned up from her face but the purplish mark of a bruise was at one cheek, a bandage that was over a cut on the other. Her arms were more of a mess and he could see the red lines that didn't need bandages so were left exposed. Her hands were covered in blisters and dressing due to handle of the wagon that she had to have pulled for hours.
There had been enough time to care for her injuries but she hadn't changed before he came home. Her scarf had been removed but she still wore her tunic. The cloth had been torn in a dozen places at least and her leggings fared little better. Her shoes were on the floor nearby, unsalvageable.
Then he saw the photo she dropped and suddenly he knew why Qrow didn't say a word about where he found them.
The stricken look that he had known to be on his face must've caused the tears to fall from her eyes and the cry to be issued, "Daddy, I'm sorry!"
He had nearly knocked over the chair in his haste when he dropped and held her tight. His anger was diffused when his fingers were caught in the tangles as he held her head against him. To replace it was shame and guilt which only increased as he touched each bandage, each bruise and cut that Yang flinched at. Over and over again he asked how, how did he let this happen? How could he have let his baby girl be reduced to this during the hours he had been away from her?
Yang was crying and the shushes he made were for her and him. He could perceive his own tears as he thanked Qrow, God, whoever and whatever it was that had the power and mercy to decide that a father's negligence wouldn't cost the lives of his daughters.
He didn't hold her anywhere near as tight now but his grip did increase and he ran his hand from her head and down her back, checking to make sure that her hair, gown, and form hadn't come to any harm in this instance when he had been away. Swallowing the lump that had been growing in his throat, he quietly soothed, "No. No, no, Yang; it wasn't you. Daddy just needed some time away and visit some friends."
"You were mad."
"I was, but you know why, right?" He didn't take her silence for a negative. "You put you and your sister in danger. I told you so many times not to wander off from the house and you went so far. If Qrow hadn't found you when he did, you both could've been killed. You didn't listen to me and I almost lost you two."
He heard her sniff and a cool drop touched his collar. "I just wanted to know more about my mom."
She hadn't called Summer 'mom'. Mommy, mama, but never mom. That had started when Tai had let it slip about her real mother and had become reserved only for her.
It was inevitable that the subject would come up again and he had taken some of his time away to try and figure out what he should tell Yang. The sympathies and condolences that he had received from friends and former classmates he had initially been indifferent to as he had been ever since Summer's death. At worse, he had been annoyed by them as he had bitterly asked how they could possibly understand how he felt; to have not lost one love but two in succession due to differing circumstances, leaving him alone to figure out what to do about the scenario that he had constantly feared and now reached when the two girls they left him with would find out that they only had the same father.
He had shut down in response to the misery and it led him to do stupid things with the worst being not giving Yang the answers she wanted. He had become a selfish coward who had been unwilling to take the responsibilities that had been placed on him and would rather hide from them. Nearly losing Yang and Ruby had woken him up and even if he had at first been annoyed, seeing how everyone was going along with their lives while he was completely fine to let his waste away had shamed him and was what he needed.
He gently pushed Yang away and rose her up so that they were face-to-face. Her eyes were glassy and they drifted away but he patiently waited until she got the courage to meet his gaze.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you more about her," he spoke. "But the truth is is that I can't."
"You can't tell me why she left?"
Now it was him who nearly looked away but the courage that he had been shoring up wouldn't let him. He did need to take a deep breath to keep his voice and gaze steady. "I wish I could. Believe me, if I knew I would tell you. I don't know why she left us."
She blinked, producing another pair of tears that slid down her cheeks. "Was it me?"
It was the worst thing that a parent – any parent – could hear and he was no more immune to it. Knowing, without a doubt, how beautiful and wonderful his daughter's life was, only to hear her question it influenced a cool collection of tears in his own eyes. He pulled Yang back to him, her small chin tucked against his broad shoulder, squeezing her with the vigor that was in his words. "No, no it wasn't you, baby. She was looking forward to meeting you just as much as I was. She called you our little bit of sunshine."
Her arms were immediately linked around his neck - so thin - and she sniffed again, the sound tearing his insides to pieces. "Then why?"
"I-I don't know," he repeated with that stutter, swallowing thickly. "All I can tell you is that she did love you. Loved us. She and I had been through so much together. Me, her, Summer, and Qrow. All of us had worked together as Huntsmen and Huntresses for so long, being heroes and helping people. We would never do anything to hurt each other on purpose."
Yang had buried her face into his shoulder, still sniffling and now tremoring, and he could feel a wet spot forming. Rubbing her back comfortingly, he added, "She must've had a good reason to leave. Something she thought only she could do and did it to protect us. To keep you safe."
For all those years they had together, he hoped he knew her enough for that to be true. For now, he had to at least believe that it was true.
"I was sad when she left," he continued. "I still am. I wanted to find her and ask her why but I didn't know where I could possibly begin." He gently bumped his head against Yang. "And I had a daughter who I loved very much and I didn't want to leave you when I knew you were right here. You make me very happy, Yang, and if anything were to happen to you I would be very sad."
"I don't want you to be sad," Yang said. "Daddies aren't supposed to be sad and cry."
"Oh, but they do and I did. Daddies worry because they care about their children and me crying when I almost lost you means that I care about you a lot. I don't want you to do what I almost did; to go looking for your mom and leave behind people who would cry if you were to go away. I know Ruby would cry if you were to leave and you don't want to do that to your little sister, would you?"
She shook her head. "No."
"You may see your mom one day," he spoke. He was torn between wanting to say that she will but he didn't want to give her hope that could turn out to be false. "She may come back to us. But you or I can't be sure of that which is why I chose to stay with you and be happy with you and your mommy."
There came an anxiety-filled pause and it was so because of what he knew Yang would say next. "But Summer wasn't my real mom."
"No, she wasn't," Tai conceded, trying to ignore how much it hurt when Yang used Summer's name. "But does that matter? She loved you and worried about you just as much as I do. She was there to read you and Ruby stories and tuck you in at night and gave you hugs and kisses. She fought monsters to keep you and other people safe and when she was here she would bake you and your sister so many cookies. She wasn't your mom but I came to love her and I was happy to be with her. She made you happy, didn't she?"
"And I remember that you cried just as much as Ruby and I did when she went away. That means you had to have loved her, isn't that right?"
Smiling, Tai finished, "Then she was your mommy."
Yang was quiet and he took that as a sign of having done a good job, truly feeling like a father again. A father who was making amends and keeping what family he had left together. "I'm going to need you more than ever, sunshine. I'm proud of you and I know Summer would be too. You've become such a big girl and I'm going to need your help now that she isn't here. Whenever I'm not home, I need you to look after your sister. Can you do that for me?"
Yang removed her head from his shoulder to look at him, her eyes clear and the smile she had small but present. "I can, daddy."
"Good girl." He leaned forward, lips touching her forehead. "With you here watching after Ruby, there's nothing for me to worry about."
"But I still want to meet my mom," she insisted when he pulled away, her smile slipping back to a frown. "I want to know why she left."
"One day I hope you do." There was no use trying to dissuade Yang from thinking about it, knowing how impossible it would be, but he seemed to have at least succeeded in preventing her desire from keeping her from attempting any other risky search attempts. Right now, the only thing that he can pray for is that, if such a meeting was to happen, it would be one that would not destroy Yang's happiness.
Love or no love, if she ever came back and it was only to hurt their daughter, he would never forgive her.
It was with that in mind that he smiled, attempting to conceal his misgivings as he made Yang promise, "Just promise me that the next time you go looking for her, it won't be anywhere dangerous."
"I promise," she replied and sealed the deal with a kiss of her own.
The touch of her lips – so light yet so uplifting – had no sooner left his cheek when there came a high and excited, "Daddy!"
He hadn't even noticed her approach. When he turned around, it was to see his little rose bud standing exactly where Yang had been. Instead of being nervous, her smile was wide and full of white and excitement. As soon as his gaze landed on her she was rushing down the stairs, using her hands to keep the strings that would usually keep that red cape of hers up to her neck.
Her uneven footing that was becoming the result of keeping that cloth over her rose-patterned onesie was about to have him stand and rush over to her but a hand was placed on his chest to not only keep him down but so Yang could push off him before running over to the stairs herself.
"Careful, Ruby!" she admonished, meeting Ruby at the final third of the way to donate a hand to steady her.
Her sister condoned it for the few seconds it took her to reach the bottom and then she was tearing free as she rushed over to Tai, all the while shouting, "Daddy, daddy!"
"Heeey, there's my baby girl," he spoke, letting out a mix of a chuckle and oof when Ruby jumped and threw herself onto his lap, her even smaller weight nonetheless colliding forcefully against his middle. When he recovered, it was to see sparkling silver irises.
"Daddy, you're home!" Ruby cried happily, willing to relinquish her hold on her cloak to give him an excited hug.
"Daddy's home, Ruby," he confirmed, returning the embrace with just as much enthusiasm. When he met those silvers again, it was to see for himself the youthful energy and innocence that still prevailed in his youngest. It had hurt him the most to see for himself how, at one point, there had been nothing but sorrow and despair in those eyes that had been blurred with seemingly never ending tears when Summer had died. How, yet again, there would be another child of his that would be growing up without a mother.
Seeing them as they were now, while providing him with immense joy, also reminded him of his earlier shame. They were clear and happy right now simply because of his return and would remain so for as long as he did the same.
Grabbing her cloak again before it could completely slip from her shoulders, Ruby whipped her head to Yang who walked back over. Giving her older sibling a cute glare, Ruby complained, "Yang, you said you would wake me up if I fell asleep when daddy got home!"
"Now, now," Tai intervened for Yang. Taking the strings from Ruby's hands, he began to tie them into a knot for her. "Yang was being a good big sister. I heard she even read you a story."
"She tricked me!" Ruby argued, pouting cutely at him. "I told her I wanted to see you tonight!"
"Well you are!" Yang responded, an adorable frown of her own that she directed at Ruby. "It's still night!"
"And way past your bedtime," he pointed out, finishing the knot. "You two should be sleeping."
"But daddy, I want you to tell me about your trip!" Ruby whined, clinging and looking up to him pleadingly. "Uncle Qrow said you went to the city where the hero school is! I want you to tell me about the new heroes and all their cool weapons!"
"Ruby…" Coming up to them, Yang gripped the end of the red cape, using the fact that it was now fastened to tug both it and Ruby. "Daddy said we should be sleeping."
"But Yaaaannng, hero school!"
"Bed, Ruby. Daddy can tell us tomorrow. It's a weekend."
"But I want him to tell us noooowwww!"
Tai watched the scene play out before him, the squabbling of the sisters filling the emptiness of the house and of his heart. Two sisters born of two different mothers but still sisters. And they were his girls. They loved each other, they loved him, and he loved them unconditionally.
For a time that he could only consider as too long, he had only looked at what he had lost. That whenever he thought about or looked upon these two girls, he would only be reminded of the mothers he had lost and his failure of preventing them from being so.
Seeing them now, together, he was no longer plagued with how his two loves left him. Instead, he only saw the parts that they left to him so that he would never truly be separated from them. They were his to love, his to nurture, and whenever he did decide to go back and sleep in his room, he would not dwell on the empty space next to him but the room right down the hall and the smiling faces that would be bared to him whenever he saw them next. It was up to him to preserve their happiness and it was a duty that he swore he would never falter in again.
Maybe a pet, he suddenly thought, already beginning to think of ideas, starting with how to make the house not so empty and lonely anymore and give his girls something else to be happy about. Qrow and I can't be around all the time so maybe a dog. They're loyal, aren't they?
They would grow up. They would be able to live however they want. Perhaps they would find love as well, start a family of their own, and the only memories he wanted them to share with their children will be joyous ones that'll involve a father who had been there for them and gave them such happy lives that they would want to impart to their kids.
"Actually." After catching the attention of his daughters, he put one arm around Ruby to keep her in place while he bent down to slip the other around Yang, and when he leaned back against the couch it was with both of them in his lap. "I think I'll tell you all about hero school. I'm always reading you stories about other heroes so, for tonight, I'll tell you all about where you two want to go to start yours."