A/N: Spoiler alert. Some of the concepts in this tale are those I will be using in my other, current tale, To Find Your Way Home.
Just so you know, that was about the lowest I've ever been in my life. When my own daughter was terrified of me...well, let's say I'd rather have a grimm chew off my other leg than go through that again. I missed her first words and her first steps, because I had to lose a leg while protecting people who later scorned me. It was one of those moments that I really, really questioned my choice of careers.
But there was nothing else to do but to try to muddle through things. The very next day, I contacted Taiyang and was happy to learn that the combat academies had a policy; jobs are automatically held for hunters on missions for headmasters. I also called our doctor and got a referral to a specialist in Vale. I wound up going to the specialist once a week and on my very first visit, he suggested several possible hobbies to keep me occupied. Since it was springtime, I thought I'd take a try at gardening. This all set up what I like to consider my real homecoming.
I want you to understand that I was trying to ease into my home life. Kids are adaptable and within a couple of days, Peridot wasn't afraid of me any more. She wasn't ready for me to be 'dayee' but it looked like we were going to go that way. I still wasn't sleeping all that well and it was taking time to get used to sharing my bed again. I was also a little nervous about re-establishing the physical relationship with my wife. It was an awkward time, but things were looking up when Ruby got called in to handle some discipline problems on a Saturday.
I fixed breakfast for my daughter and myself. Afterwards, I marked out where the garden was going to go in and set up a small fence, getting Peridot's rapt attention. I dug up the sod and hauled it away, also to my daughter's amusement. When I hauled in more dirt from the surrounding forest and started to spade up the plot, she found a stick and started to help me...sort of. I learned a valuable lesson; if you want to bond with an eighteen-month old, do it over dirt. Pretty soon, we were close friends.
At lunch time, I washed up a little, fixed myself a sandwich and some food for her. Since we were both very dirty, we ate on the back step. To a child of that age, eating anywhere other than the table is an adventure. In Peridot's eyes, this 'dayee' character was starting to be a fun guy to have around. After lunch, it was back to work in the garden. Needless to say, my daughter was more than ready for her afternoon nap. I made her a little bed under a tree where I could keep an eye on her, which she considered another adventure, and kept working.
Shortly after she woke up, she supervised me as I put a roast in the oven for dinner. After that, it was back to work in the new garden. We got the soil leveled, furrows dug and were planting when Ruby got home. Her expression was priceless. While she was overjoyed to see our daughter actually bonding with me, she wasn't very enthusiastic about how dirty I had let her get. As the sun sunk towards the west, Ruby informed us that we wouldn't be allowed in the house until she took the garden hose to us. Being chastised by Ruby was another bonding experience for me and Peridot.
Since I had allowed our daughter to get so dirty, I had the honor of giving her a bath before dinner. While Peridot wasn't speaking full sentences yet, dinner conversation was dominated by her showing off the new words she had heard that day: dirt, mud, seeds, worm and ouch. Okay, I was a little clumsy with the tools at times. After dinner, I thought I would be able to read Peridot her bedtime story but she had had too big of a day for that. She was asleep before we got her up from the dinner table. Instead of reading to her, I tucked her into bed and kissed her forehead before turning out the light. I was suddenly feeling much better about myself.
As soon as Ruby and I took care of the dinner dishes, she chased me in to the shower. Yes, I had put in a strenuous day and I needed it. I was also looking forward to a good night's sleep after the hard, peaceful work. I was about halfway finished with my shower when Ruby joined me.
Apparently, she had some tensions to work out and was finished waiting for me to make the first move.
Here's an important safety tip; while you probably already know that it can be awkward and potentially dangerous to try certain activities while in the shower; you might not know that the awkwardness and danger are multiplied when the male only has one foot. We somehow figured that out before injuries or damage occurred...but it was a close thing.
Later that night, Ruby and I were lying in bed, completely spent and with her head resting on my chest. She slid up my body, whispered that it was good to have me back; then drifted off to sleep. My sleeping wife's breath was gentle in my ear and my daughter, who now thought I was a great guy, was asleep in the next room.
I was finally, completely, back home.
The good stuff had started. Our day care provider was close to Signal and I worked more regular hours than Ruby, so the day almost always started with me giving Peridot a ride on my shoulders and dropping her off. After work, I would pick her up and give her a ride on my shoulders back home. It was actually disappointing on those days that she decided that she was a big kid and could walk. I loved having her talk to me on the walks into and back from town, even though I could only understand about a quarter of the words at first.
I would occasionally take her to work with me. I'm not saying that it was a good or a bad thing, but looking back on it, those trips in to work probably went a long way towards her decision to become a huntress. I guess it's only natural for children to want to follow their parents' legacies. But more about that later.
Between my family, the doctor and keeping busy, my nightmares dropped off to the point that they were very rare. I wasn't as jumpy anymore, which was a good thing; you wouldn't believe how much a school full of young teens and weapons can affect your nerves. Sure, the occasional grimm showed up on Patch, but they were rare, common, and easily eliminated.
Also, that garden was a huge help. It not only kept me busy and helped me bond with my daughter, but it did something for my mental recovery. I'm no philosopher or psychologist, but I think that there's something in a man's soul that makes him want to create things rather than destroy things. Working on that garden, seeing the plants grow and thrive under my care, satisfied something inside of me. It was a great way to put myself back into 'peaceful husband and father' mode whenever I had to take on a mission and draw Croeca Mors in earnest.
Yes, we had the occasional mission, but Ruby made it clear to Oscar that we now had a family and wouldn't accept long term searches and we insisted on full support throughout the mission. Six months after I got back, Ruby took a short mission to the outskirts of Vacuo and eliminated a grimm that looked like a giant spider. Three months after that, I led a team of four, newly graduated hunters on a mission to destroy another of the amblypigid grimm that had gotten into the Kingdom of Mistral. We killed the beast and while I was shaking after the fight, my nightmares went away for good.
I got back in time for Peridot's second birthday. Of course, Taiyang went completely overboard with the whole thing. He got the little girl completely cranked up on a cake and ice-cream fueled sugar-rush, then got her playing to the point that she burned it all off. She was fast asleep by the time we got her home. I remember tucking her into bed and going downstairs to the living room. It was then that Ruby brought up the subject of a second child. We talked it over and decided that it was time to grow our family.
In the meantime, life went on. The nice thing about having an actual home was that old friends knew where to find us. Ren and Nora found there way to our house about twice a year, but they could never stay very long. Weiss was a very hands-on owner of the Schnee Dust Company, so she traveled the world inspecting her holdings and managed to drop by whenever she passed through Vale. Yang and Blake also visited the four huntsmen academies every year, so we saw them whenever one of them visited Beacon. We were busy and happy on Patch.
Shortly before Peridot turned five, I made an emergency trip to Mountain Glenn, once again, and helped repel another grimm attack. This one didn't have the desperation that the last such mission had. The defenders were able to hold the grimm at the city walls while I led a band of hunters in a sweep through the surrounding lands. We found and eliminated another of the toadies who was serving Salem's latest incarnation. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get any information as to Salem's location. As soon as I got home, Ruby was pulled away to investigate grimm activity on Menagerie Island. She was gone for three months, missing Peridot's first day of school. When my wife got home, she was missing two fingers from her left hand.
Another of Salem's faction had produced a grimm that looked like a giant mantis. When it attacked Ruby, my wife got Crescent Rose up to block its claw, but that claw hit the weapon where she was holding it. Fortunately, she was with a strong team, including both Blake and Yang, who managed to finish the beast while it was distracted with her.
Ruby seemed abnormally subdued for several weeks when she got home and I assumed that it was because she was coming to terms with her injury, like I had done. You might not think that loosing two fingers would be that traumatic, not after what we'd been through. Somehow, it makes you feel incredibly violated, like someone or something simply decided to modify you, without your consent.
It turns out that Ruby had already dealt with those feelings. It was about a month later, after Peridot was asleep one night, that she told me we should see the doctor. I remember taking her injured hand and asking her if it still hurt. She shook her head and told me that it was nothing to do with our injuries. We had been trying for close to three years to have a second child, with no luck. Something had to be wrong.
We saw our doctor, who sent us to specialists in Vale. In the end, the specialists were stumped. Both of our...ahh...contributions to the effort, were viable. Our efforts were frequent enough that we should have been conceiving and Ruby was perfectly healthy to carry more children. They had no idea why we weren't welcoming a second child into the world. We wound up trying a couple of procedures, but nothing worked.
We found out why later...I'll get to it in due time.
Ruby proved to be a super-mom. To this day, it amazes me how she could lead the defense force into a skirmish against bandits, then read fairy-tales to Peridot the next night. How she could drill her charges hard, form them into a cohesive team, and still make dinner. She could dress down a poor-performing guardsman, using language that made a seasoned huntsman blush, and use that same mouth to kiss a skinned knee just two hours later.
Our inability to get another set of feet running around the house notwithstanding, we enjoyed our life. Peridot grew like a weed and I graduated to the role of "a piece of playground equipment'. Sure, we built her a swing, slide and even a small monkey bars in the back yard. What did she prefer to jump on and climb? Me.
I didn't mind one bit.
I remember running for kilometers behind her bicycle as she learned to ride, building a tree-house for her, and taking her fishing. Yes, I missed her first steps but I didn't miss her first fish! I remember homework and story times, school plays and athletic competitions. Peridot excelled at all forms of sports and was above-average in academics. The future was so wide open for her that it took my breath away. I remember the combination of fear and pride I felt when she applied to, and was accepted by, Signal Academy.
I guess it shouldn't have been a surprise. While Ruby and I took care to not mention the more gory aspects of our adventures around her, we made no secret that we were hunters and proud of the difference we made. Her grandfather, Taiyang was the same way and she loved the aging man. Most of our friends were hunters, as well and they doted on our daughter. She particularly liked Sun, as he would hang from his tail to her delight whenever he came to visit. What I'm trying to get at is that growing up surrounded with proud hunters probably steered her towards that career.
Even if Ruby and I didn't know if we should be upset or proud.
Her acceptance to Signal made me really start thinking about her future, with an instructor's eye. She was clearly going to be taller and broader than her mother, although probably not as quick. She looked like she was going to have a rangy build, opposed to her compact and petite mother. While her face and eyes came from her mother, she seemed to have inherited her build from the women on my side of the family. She allowed her hair to grow out, and it was a light brown with blonde highlights. Sort of a compromise between me and Ruby. Peridot was also more sociable than either her mother or I had been at her age, making friends much more easily. In this, she was almost as outgoing as Yang or Nora.
To this day, I wonder how I could have had any part in creating this delightful child.
One of the first steps to training new students at Signal is to teach them hand-to-hand fighting. From there, they are given some basic training in several weapons, in order to see if the student has and aptitude or, more importantly, an interest in a particular one. Trust me, interest will turn into aptitude much faster than aptitude will turn into interest. I'll admit that I paid more attention to Peridot than I did to the typical student. So did Taiyang. Although my father-in-law was now the headmaster, he was in the habit of spending a great deal of time with the new students, getting an idea of their capabilities.
To his mild annoyance, Peridot clearly wanted to master weapons. To my mild annoyance, she showed no interest in weapon-and-shield. To Ruby's mild annoyance, she showed no interest in the two-handed weapons. Instead, she showed both skill and interest in paired types. For the first year, she practiced with tonfa, kama, sai and nunchaku. She also tried twin blades and even the rapier and main gauche. Towards the end of the year, she settled on the twin hooks and went to work with the weapon master to forge her own set.
It quickly became apparent that she would turn into every bit the legend with the twin hooks that her mother was with the sniper scythe. She named one Whisper and the other Hiss and they became extensions of her own limbs. For the next three years, I had the honor of watching her grow, transforming from a stringy, all arms-and-legs child to a pretty, graceful and confident young woman. In her third year at Signal, I had the honor of awakening her Aura. I will never forget her eyes widening and the blushing pink glow that formed around her. I will also never forget struggling to remain standing. Aura takes energy to awaken and strong aura takes more. I've said before that I have a lot of aura and that's one thing I'm glad she inherited from me. She definitely had a bright future as a huntress, but she threw another curve my way; she discovered boys.
Okay, she had discovered them some time before. I'm an educator and had learned to spot the peek-and-giggle activities among the students. What I meant was that she had discovered them to the point where she was interested in them as...boys. Yes, at the age of sixteen she started to date and my blood pressure started to rise. It's not that I didn't trust her, it's a tradition when you're a father and your daughter starts to date. I have to admit that I felt a certain serenity due to the fact that she was perfectly capable of eviscerating any boy who got ideas that she wasn't fully on board with. That serenity was wiped out by the knowledge that she was a bold and confident girl, eager to try new experiences. What really drove me up the wall was that whenever she brought a boy over for us to meet, the young man in question was always polite and respectful, the kind of boy you approve of your daughter looking at in that regard.
Isn't it terrible when you can't find a valid reason to complain about your daughter's dating life?
The stress to my veins and arteries aside, Peridot thrived during her final year at Signal. It was increasingly obvious to Ruby and me that she intended on becoming a huntress. It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I greeted the headmasters when they came by on their annual visit that year, to test potential students. Peridot signed up to be tested and fought her assigned opponent, who had just finished his second year at Shade, to a standstill. I met the looks that Oscar, Ironwood and the other two headmasters gave me; it was clear that they would all send her offers to attend their academies.
Another excuse to keep her away from the life of a huntress was gone.
In the weeks that followed, she received the four offers, sat down with us and we had some long talks. While Ruby and I both wished she would do something safe, we also wanted her to do something she had both passion and talent for. When she told us that she was so proud of what we had done for the world that she wanted to follow our footsteps, we cried and puffed up with pride at the same time. Our little girl was no longer a little girl; she was a young woman getting ready to find her way in the world.
Where had the time gone?
After talking with us, she informed Headmaster Oscar that she gratefully accepted his invitation to attend Beacon Academy. While Ruby put on a brave face, I could tell that it hit her hard. I think that our inability to have more kids came back to the front of her mind, brought on by the impending empty nest. While it hit me, it didn't bother me nearly as much. I don't know, maybe it's part of the different mindset between a man and a women or maybe so much of my fathering instinct was taken care of by my job at Signal. Still, it was a day of both sadness and pride when we walked her to the airship port and saw her on her way to Beacon.
We followed Beacon instructions and didn't accompany her, or even travel as far as Vale with her. This was her time and having us there would only distract from the reality that Beacon seeks to impose upon its new students; that you are now responsible for yourself and your parents won't intervene. We were on pins and needles, waiting for the first week to finish so she could call us. When our scrolls rang that evening, we probably set world records for the fastest answers.
Yes, we knew that Qrow would have let us know if anything dire had happened. Don't belabor the obvious.
While it was clear that she was at least a little homesick, she was excited about her new team. She was the leader of her team, was partnered with a girl named Norris and their teammates were boys named Insur and Kuroli. They formed Team PINK. She spoke about adjusting to life with roommates, as three of the four had been only children, of the increased class load and greater competition. All too soon, we ran out of things to talk about and all three of us had tears in our eyes when the call came to an end.
Now, our house seemed so large and empty. I called my parents yet that night, and texted every one of my sisters.
After that, it was adapting to the new reality. We got regular calls and texts from our daughter, Ruby continued to drill and command the Island Guard and I continued to teach at Signal. The winter break came and we welcomed our daughter home, for a few, precious weeks, with open arms. We asked her about her teammates. It seems that Norris was from Atlas, Insur was one of Yang's and Blake's students from Menagerie and Kuroli was from someplace outside the kingdoms. He didn't speak much of his life, but was highly skilled and capable.
Yeah, we should have figured it out, but we didn't.
We were sad to see her leave again, but she seemed excited. There was no Vytal Festival that year, but Headmaster Oscar asked me to take a group of his students on a mission. No, I didn't take my daughter's team; I accepted a team of second year students and took them on a patrol outside of Mountain Glenn. During the patrol, we stumbled across another new form of grimm; this one looked like a giant centipede, about the mass of a large ursa.
To this day I wonder why the scientists who study arthropods seem so susceptible to our enemy's recruitment efforts.
Back to the story. The creature actually had one of the students in trouble, wrapping around the girl and digging its fangs and claws through her aura. A lifetime of using my blade allowed me to decapitate the thing without hitting her, then pulling her free before the flailing body could inflict further injury. As soon as it dissolved, I called in the finding to Mountain Glenn and the officials sent two more hunters to back us up. I kept the students with me while we searched the area and eventually found another small outpost where, once again, one of Salem's latest faction members was working with the new grimm form. We managed to take her alive but the lair also had four captives, two of whom didn't make it. The two who survived were traumatized and not terribly grateful.
This turned into a rough, but necessary lesson for the students.
With our mission completed, we caught a bullhead back to Beacon. Before releasing the youngsters, I borrowed a classroom and handed them some solid lessons. I pointed out that our greatest foe wasn't the grimm, but those people who willingly worked with the great enemy. We talked a little about why anyone would work to destroy humanity, so I told them about how Salem seemed to exploit old grudges and exaggerate previous conflicts to keep people divided.
That led into a discussion of what others owed us for our services, and the answer was nothing that wasn't specifically agreed to. This is still something hunters have trouble understanding; that civilians don't owe us gratitude or favors in return for our services. A case in point was the two survivors from the latest mission. I explained to them that sometimes you're just too late to save everyone and everything, and while it wasn't right for people to resent you for it, you were even more wrong to try to change their attitude.
The role of a huntsman or huntress is to give others the right to have their own opinion.
I finished my lecture by explaining the cost of being a hunter, and not just the price in pain. I showed them my prosthetic and explained how I lost the leg, the animosity I experienced in Menagerie and missing my daughter's first words and steps because of the mission. I told them about my close brush with alcoholism and the long road that pulled me clear of it. I told them of my wife missing our daughter's first day of school and first friend over for a sleepover. It was very shocking to two of the students, as I had taught them back at Signal some years previously and they had never seen this side of me.
I must have gotten my point across, because one of them asked me if I was trying to talk them out of becoming hunters. I told them no, the world needed more hunters but we needed hunters that entered the life with open eyes and realistic expectations. It was the hunters who somehow expected cheering crowds and vast gratitude that went rogue.
The four students were somber but thoughtful when I released them. I then reported to Oscar, told him what we had experienced and told him that I would be happy to accompany student hunters on missions, but that I would be giving them something similar to the lesson I had just taught at every opportunity. The old spirit in the young man's body agreed with me.
Just for the record, I've given that lecture to every band of students I've escorted on missions, ever since. I'm convinced that it must have done some good, as only a couple of those students ever went rogue. Many more found other occupations and I'm pretty sure that they were the type that may have gone rogue, themselves.
As soon as I got back to Patch, Ruby took a leave of absence from her job to escort a band of first-year students on a mission of their own. No, she didn't escort Team PINK either. It was hard, but we were determined to let Peridot forge her own future. Ruby wound up taking her team to a town between the kingdoms, where they shadowed a sheriff for a week. They had a couple of clashes, but nothing terrible, just enough to give the kids a taste of the long hours the road can demand.
We did our best to settle into a new routine, even though the house seemed empty with Peridot gone. The two of us continued to volunteer to take teams of student hunters out on missions, with me filling in for Ruby whenever she was the one away. We even got a dog, a Corgi that acted quite a bit like Zwei did. Before we knew it, the spring semester was over and Peridot returned.
I swear that she had grown a half-foot while she was gone. I guess that's the problem when you're the parent of an only child; whenever she's away for any length of time, she sort of goes back to being a child in your mind. It's shocking when you see her in person again and realize that she's not a kid anymore.
We made the most of that summer, going on a vacation to Anima and visiting my folks and as many of my sisters as we could. We knew that our time as a family was running out, that it wouldn't be very much longer before Peridot would move out, take up responsibilities and not be able to visit very often. In other words, I was going through what my parents had. While Perry acted much as she had before leaving, she spent an awful lot of time corresponding with her teammate, Kuroli. Ruby and I often exchanged looks when our daughter was doing so; knowing that life was moving on.
When it came time for Perry to return to Beacon, Dr. Oobleck asked Ruby and myself to come in for a visit. The years had taken their toll on the good doctor, he was only hyperactive as opposed to gas molecule hyperactive. He sat us down and explained some research that he had done on notes and other media that had been recovered years ago, back when we eliminated Salem's incarnation and the giant seer on Anima. While neither of us understood his exact research, the conclusions were chilling.
Somehow, that giant seer had manipulated aura worldwide, affecting the fertility of anyone with an active aura. It was a very rare huntsman who managed to father more than one child and an extremely rare huntress who managed to become pregnant more than once, if they were alive while the creature was. For proof, Oobleck pulled out the enrollment records for Beacon. Almost every legacy student, the child of a huntsman and/or huntress, was an only child.
We thought about it. While Taiyang seemed to have broken this effect, Blake, Pyrrha, Ren and Nora had all been children of hunters, and were all only children. We hadn't managed any children after Peridot, despite enlisting the help of medical professionals in our efforts. While Sun and Weiss had two children, they were twins and I recalled Sun saying something about having no luck with more. We trusted Dr. Oobleck to carefully check and re-check his research, so we were sure he was right.
We also understood the implications; Ruby and I had gotten into the hunters' life because ancestors had lived it. Perry had become one because of our legacy. For generations, the most reliable source of new hunters had been former hunters. It made sense from Salem's perspective, slowly choke out the bloodlines of the greatest of humanity's defenders. Had she simply made all of us infertile, we would have probably realized that something was up much sooner. Instead, she had been sneaky, subtle and clever.
For a long time, I sat there thinking that I had dodged a major bullet in my past. Had I let myself go in one of the towns we stopped in...I could have very well missed out on my family life. Had Ruby and I not taken certain precautions when we first got together and then later realized that we weren't ready to raise a child...
After the somber reflection came rage. The thought that Salem had invaded our bodies in such an insidious way, affecting us in such a fundamental manner. Next to me, Ruby's breath hissed out, clearly just as angry as I was.
"Doctor," she addressed our former teacher.
"Bartholomew," he corrected her. "Or even Bart. We're colleagues now."
"Bart," she nodded. "What about Peridot, or her classmates? Is this...curse...hereditary?"
"I do not think so," he answered, softly. "But I have no way of knowing for certain. The current class of third year students represent the oldest children conceived after the creature was killed. We have no choice but to wait for them to begin families of their own and observe how successful their efforts turn out."
He offered us a sly grin, "I was thinking of spiking the punch at the latest dance, in an effort to spur the process along a little, but I decided that a large number of parents would take offense at that."
"Good choice," I nodded.
Ruby and I left his office and returned home. We didn't talk much that evening, with both of us alternately seething and grieving at what Salem had done to us, without us even knowing.
"So it wasn't us doing something wrong," Ruby finally said. "Or any injuries. For a long time, I was wondering if the beatings I had taken over the years meant that I couldn't..." she began to sob.
"Salem did it to us," I agreed, putting an arm around her shoulders. We snuggled close to each other, comforting each other as best we could. "We couldn't have known."
Again, the house felt very empty.
"At least the trying was fun," I offered, in an effort to cheer both of us up a little. That earned me a snort from my wife.
"Yeah, it was fun," she admitted. "And it still is." She sighed, "I hope Perry can have as many as she wants."
Complaining about our situation didn't make it any better, so we didn't do it. Instead, we continued our lives, defending Patch and educating the young. Another semester went by at Beacon, after which Team PINK was one of those selected to represent the academy at the Vytal Tournament, held in Vacuo that year. We watched as our daughter's team first defeated a team from Atlas. In the doubles' round, Peridot and Kuroli defeated a twosome from Shade. Ruby and I exchanged a look during this bout, as it was clear to us that my daughter and her teammate were something more than teammates to each other.
After the doubles' round, Peridot defeated a fellow Beacon student, then defeated a Haven student before falling to a Vacuo, fourth year student. The cameras caught her teammates consoling her, with her accepting Kuroli's support most readily.
Somehow, the young man looked familiar, but I just couldn't put my finger on why.
There wasn't much to say about the next few years. Peridot's third year passed without incident and her team competed in the Vytal Tournament again during her fourth year. She made it to the championship round, falling to that year's champion in an epic match. Later that year, her team made the traditional, fourth year field trip. Their route took them on a circuitous route across the center of Sanus. We tracked them whenever we could pick up their scroll signals and it seemed that they visited mining town that Ruby and I had visited shortly after admitting our feelings for each other. They also visited the agricultural town where I had the first important dance of my life. Unfortunately, the lumbering town had collapsed by the time they went by. Salem might have been weakened and in hiding, but bandits and grimm were always a threat.
Team PINK returned to Beacon with lien in their pockets and recommendations on their scrolls. Peridot and Kuroli stopped at Patch and spent a few days with us. Ruby and I shared a look; the two of them interacted with each other so much like we had the first time we visited my parents...except they had already figured it out. We offered them the choice between staying in Perry's old room together, or having Kuroli stay in the guest room. They actually thought about it before taking separate rooms.
I'm pretty sure that they were intimate at that point, but it wasn't any of my business. I trusted Perry to make her own decisions in that regard. You might find my attitude a little strange for a father, but like Qrow said so many years ago, huntsmen and huntresses live faster lives than most. My daughter was already making split-second, life-or-death decisions. She was perfectly capable of making those sorts of decisions, as well.
The fourth year field trip was the last test before graduation. Of course, Ruby and I went to see the graduation ceremony. Another Beacon tradition is, at the graduate's request, allow a parent or other family member who is a graduate present them with their diploma. We talked it over and decided to have Ruby give her daughter that particular piece of paper. After the formal ceremony, our daughter and Kuroli asked to see us, in private. We were pretty sure what it was about, but we didn't know if we should be happy or sad about it.
It turns out we were only partly right in our prediction.
I remember going into the meeting room that our daughter and her boyfriend had arranged. Before we got the big announcement, we got an apology from Kuroli.
"Mrs. Rose and Mr. Arc," he offered us a slight bow. "I hate to admit, but I have lied to you and to your daughter about my parents. Well, perhaps I didn't lie, but I was keeping things a secret. Had their identities been known, there could have been complications."
I remember noting the shocked look on my daughter's face, learning that her...more than a friend...had kept information from her for four long years.
"Who are your parents?" I asked him. I'll admit that I had dark thoughts about Cardin Winchester, Emerald or, dust forbid, both.
Instead, a door opened and in walked Nora Valkarie and Lie Ren.
My mind was churning as I embraced both old friends. Suddenly, Nora's broadened face and diminished stamina at my wedding made sense. Suddenly, their desperation to get back home, even when I was in the hospital in Kuo Kuana made sense. While I was hurt that they didn't see fit to let us know that they had a child, I realized why they needed to keep it secret. If any of Salem's operatives were to learn that the Fall Maiden had a son, that son would become an immediate target.
Ruby and I had just started to recover from our shock, and Nora's hugs, when the children unleashed the last shock of the day on us. They were going to be hunters. They were going to spend a few years on the road, earning some lien and a reputation, then they intended to marry. At first I wanted to tell them that they were too young, that they didn't know what they were getting themselves into. Then I realized that they were actually older than I was when Ruby and I came to the same decision.
What choice did I have but to give them my blessing?
I could tell you about how their lives went after that, but the details aren't important. The road forged them into a single being, much like it did me and Ruby, much like it did Nora and Ren. They had arguments and made up, had bad times and good. They were lauded as heroes one week and sneered at for being incompetent the next. They occasionally took on additional partners but mostly worked as a duo. They crossed the continents of Anima and Sanus more than once, taking on missions for the headmasters, the Schnee Dust Company and for local townsfolk. At times, they slept in soft feather beds, and at times in the mud at the side of the road. They visited us and they visited his parents at times, but the road always called them back. After more than three years, they decided it was time to formalize their relationship and to move forward.
They were married in Mountain Glenn, where they had just purchased a home. I walked my daughter down the aisle and placed her hand in the hand of the young man who then pledged to care for her as she pledged to care for him.
Not that they needed to make the promise, they had been doing so for years.
Ruby cried a little and I'll admit to a little sniffling, myself. When it came time for Kuroli to kiss the bride, he tried for a dignified peck, but Perry would have none of it. She wrapped her arms around his neck and expressed the passion she had for him. Nora jumped to her feet and cheered, followed quickly by Ruby, Ren and myself. The newly married couple then led us to the reception hall, where I had the fourth significant dance of my life.
I led my daughter onto the dance floor and took her into my arms. We both wept a little, but the road had taught her that change is a part of life, just like it had taught me so many years ago. It was now time for her to leave the family that had raised her and to forge a new one with Kuroli. I remember telling her that she was beautiful and that I was proud of her. Both were true of course. I remember her telling me that she knew that her mother and I were nervous about the path she took. It wasn't until after I had assured her that that was part of the reason I was so proud that I realized I had just repeated the conversation I once had with my own mother. Then it was time. I kissed her forehead, told her I loved her and handed her off to her husband.
I then danced with Nora, while Ruby danced with Ren. I looked around the reception hall; most of my sisters had made it and Peridot had about a platoon worth of cousins in attendance. Weiss and Sun made it, as had Yang and Blake. Taiyang and my parents had also made the trip, although all three were showing their age. Before the dance was finished, Taiyang offered his hand to my mother and Yang offered hers to my father.
"Thank you," Nora told me, bringing my attention back to the woman who I considered closer than any of my sisters. "Thanks for raising such a wonderful girl to marry my son."
"She takes after Ruby, thank the dust," I told her. She snorted out a quick laugh. "But thanks for raising a responsible boy to pair up with Perry. They look good together."
"That they do," she put her head on my shoulder. "It looks like the road approved of the match. If you still want to be with someone after crossing continents on foot, you were meant to be."
We danced in silence for a short time before Nora's sense of humor made itself known again.
"Have you started hinting that you want grandchildren soon?" She asked me.
"That's strictly their choice," I protested. "I have no intention of pressuring them into it. Although it would be nice if Taiyang and my folks live long enough to see great-grandchildren."
"Did you tell the kids that?" She offered me a conspiratorial grin.
"Well, I might have discussed it with Ruby while the two of them could overhear me."
"That's my boy," she pulled my head down and gave me a quick peck on the cheek before handing me off to my wife.
The rest of the celebration passed in a bit of a blur. The important thing was that we sent the new couple off on their lives before taking a few days to reconnect with friends and family that we hadn't seen in far too long. All too soon, it was time for all of us to scatter to our own homes and lives, once again.
Yes, I've said repeatedly that the house seemed empty but I'll say it again. Now, it somehow sunk in that this wasn't her home anymore. Our primary function in life, if you want to call it that, was finished. However, we took solace in the fact that so many people still needed us. We also started to invite neighbors over for dinner, filling the emptiness with new friends. Life is change, after all, and it's also what you make of it.
Close to a year went by; I remember that Taiyang was over for dinner the night that our scrolls all rang, indicating a call from Peridot. It was then that we got the news that we'd been waiting for. When I asked my daughter if she knew if the baby would be a girl or boy, she gave me a huge smile and said that she wanted both to be a surprise. I was confused until she pointed out the obvious, she was having twins.
I won't go into details about the anticipation that led up to the event. All that I'll say is that because Ruby and I had plenty of vacation time saved up, we made plans to be there. As the due day got closer, we packed up our bags and made the trip to Mountain Glenn. Strangely enough, it was the first time that I made that trip that I wasn't expecting to fight once I got there.
A few days later we got the call that she was in labor, so we made the trip to the hospital. In the waiting room, we ran into Ren and Nora. We spent a couple of hours catching up, remembering lost friends and those who were still around, but who we hadn't seen for years. We eventually got hungry and it isn't a good idea, even after all this time, to let Nora get hungry. Ruby and Nora decided to head to the cafeteria for a quick bite. A storm was brewing, making my leg hurt, so I decided to stay and wait. Ren chose to stay with me. Lucky us, the babies came while our wives were gone and that brings me to the here and now.
I'm sitting in the hospital, my leg hurting but holding my new grandson in my arms. Since I had the honor of holding a newborn girl so many years ago, the nursing staff gave me the boy. Since Ren had held a newborn boy all those years ago, the staff gave him the girl. We look at each other, reflecting on the fact that we're finally, truly, brothers. Eventually, our wives will show up and wheedle the babies away from us and then we'll go into Perry's room and thank our kids but until then, we get to sit here and hold our grandchildren.
Little man, before your grandmother shows up and pouts you away from me, let me pass on the wishes I have for you.
I hope that you and your sister have more siblings.
I hope that you choose a path in life that isn't exactly what your parents want you to take, but that you'll be so good at it and love it so much that they'll be proud of you.
I hope that at some point, a lovely, wonderful young woman falls for you and you fail to realize it until it's too late. Then, you'll cherish the right one so much more.
I hope that the path you choose in life doesn't come naturally, I hope you have to struggle and work hard for it, so that you appreciate it.
I hope that you make friends and face adversity and hardship with them, so that the years only draw you closer.
I hope that you face down a bully, but are a big enough man to not take revenge.
I hope that you endure just enough hardship to let you realize how good the good times are. I hope you suffer just enough so that you can appreciate the joy. No, I don't want you to live a life that's all sunshine and rainbows, I want you to go through rough times so that the sunshine seems all the brighter and the rainbows so much prettier.
But most of all, here's hoping that someday, you can sit down next to a man that's closer to you than any brother could be, holding your grandchildren, feeling the aches and pains of a hard life and know, deep in your heart that if you had the choice, you'd follow the same path.
Welcome to the world, little man.
Thanks to everyone who followed this little jaunt through my imagination.
More thanks to Joe Stoppinghem, for his beta reading.