A/N: One-shot two of three.

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Never Before, Never Again

In a certain tree stationed in a remote sector of the jungle bordering Rio, there was a hollow. In that particular hollow was a pair of super-rare macaws, who both happened to be displeased with one another.

The young female was irritated that her father had not allowed her to take part in a volleyball game along with her two older brothers.

By the same token, the senior male was irked that his daughter was refusing to keep quiet about the matter.

It was easy for Blu to see that the determined attitude of his mate was being expressed by little Ruby – though at this point he had taken to calling it "stubbornness."

It was mid-afternoon, and despite the hour, Blu was craving to indulge in a spell of blissful silence. The very silence Ruby was repelling with her drawn-out pleading and whining.

"I wanna go, Daddy! I want to prove to them that I can play too! This isn't fair!"

I shifted in the moss-padded nest and eyed Ruby sternly, who was planted near the rim of our home.

"I already told you no, Ruby. Those birds will be playing rough, and it is very likely that you would suffer an injury. You just aren't big enough to engage in such demanding activities right now."

She threw a sharp gaze at me, but I was not intimidated in the least.

"Oh, so now I'm little and weak? Is that what you're trying to say? I'm telling Mommy on you when she gets back!"

I couldn't help but let slip a chuckle at her failed attempt to induce fear in me.

"Nice try, sweetie, but your mother won't do anything to me. She is going to defend my decision to keep you here, not side with you."

With that, I shifted in the nest and released a strange sigh of relaxation and frustration, not once taking my eyes off of her. I had to be ready in case she bolted on those tiny wings of hers.

Not that she would be able to get far, even if she tried her hardest.

It was then that she flopped to the floor of the hollow in a sitting position, crossing her wings haughtily and pouting angrily.

"You're mean, Daddy. You're not being fair. I don't like it one bit!" she grunted.

"You know, Ruby, life isn't fair sometimes. Now, could you please be quiet? I'm not going to change my mind, so you're only wasting your breath."

"Hm! Leave me alone, you big, feathery meanie!" she huffed, twisting away from me and raising her beak into the air.

I dismissed her insults without a care, though I did make a mental note that Jewel and I were going to have a serious talk with her before we put her to bed. She remained mute for a good few minutes, and I was sincerely grateful that she had finally obeyed me.

I craned my head forwards and studiously began to preen my chest, only to spy movement from the corner of my eye. Ruby had risen to her talons and spun towards me, her wings still interlaced in front of her.

I lifted my head to its normal height and stared back at her, noting the miniature tongues of flame dancing behind the two scarlet irises which were her namesake.

"Daddy?" she called with a rude inflection.

"What is it now, Ruby?" I replied with an equal amount of vocal stress.

"I hate you."

She rotated rapidly and showed her back to me, locking her gaze on the right wall of our knothole. I gasped and flinched back, finding it hard to believe that that cruel string of three words had emerged from her beak.

They lashed my heart with their vicious blades, cutting straight down to my soul and slicing up my composure. I remember Jewel professing such a thing during our getaway from the smugglers, but this… this was entirely different and much more painful.

My flesh-and-blood daughter had told me that she hated me… and I could not bear it.

I could not comprehend why she would dare reveal such a terrible opinion about me, and it rocked me to the core. I slumped heavily like a limp puppet, my wings drooping at my sides. My beak trembled under no control of my own, my words catching in my throat.

Most other birds would have denounced an insult of that magnitude and vocally chided their chick, but shyness, not assertiveness, was one of my character traits. I slowly sealed my eyes shut, hanging my head as if it was a waterlogged sock.

Perhaps it was best that Ruby wasn't paying attention to me, the very father she had ruined emotionally.

I struggled to hold back my ingrained reactions to her stinging announcement, but there was one physical response I could not quell. As I lost myself in the dark world created by my clenched eyes, they came, slow and steady.

Hot liquid welled up in the seams between my eyelids, and without a sound, sadness endlessly leaked down my face in the form of tears.

The perpetrator of my internal wounds had given up on consciousness and fallen asleep long before sunset, but I was too wracked to do the same. I had dried my tears and cleaned the salty residue from my face, but my expression failed to change.

Around the time that the tangerine orb at last disappeared below the rim of the world, Jewel and my two sons returned in unison. Their arrival roused my criminal daughter, who instantly donned a mask of disapproval after opening her eyes.

Needless to say, however, everyone sans her had riveted their eyes on me. Their gleeful, worn-out smiles darkened as they regarded me, and my wonderful mate hopped over to me in a split-second.

"Blu, what's wrong? Why do you look so... down?"

I met her worried gaze dead-on, my voice unsteady as I replied, "Ruby… she… hurt me… in here…"

I ruefully pointed to the area above my heart with a single claw.

"What do you mean? What did she do?"

I inhaled a heavy breath, catching a glimpse of Ruby's scrunched-up face before I spilled the mangoes.

"Because I barred her… from going… with Carlos and Sergio… she told me… she hated me. Never before… has she… said that… to me…"

My sons gasped, and Jewel blinked. Dark shadows appeared behind her gorgeous irises, warning me that something was about to happen.

My mate dramatically whipped around and squawked, "Ruby, get over here… right now."

Jewel stabbed her wing into the floor, pointing to the precise spot where she wanted our daughter to stand.

"No," the tiny female chirped curtly.


"No no no!"

I saw Jewel's body tense up, and she marched over to Ruby and seized her in one fluid motion. She subdued our squirming chick and returned to her former location in front of me.

Jewel glared fiercely at Ruby and asked, "You are in so much trouble, young lady! How dare you tell your father you hate him! You are grounded for a week! You will not be going anywhere for seven straight days, do you hear me?"

"NO! You can't DO that!"

"I just did, Ruby!"

"Why? Now you aren't being fair!" she wailed.

"I don't care, Ruby. That is your punishment, and nothing you can say or do will make me change my mind."

Jewel then suspended Ruby in the air, holding her out to me and restraining her movements.

"Apologize to you father… now."

My daughter ignored Jewel's order, and was not affected by the pitiful expression I wore.

"I don't wanna!"

"Do you want to be grounded for two weeks, then?"

"But-" she started, only to be cut off by Jewel's forceful squawk.

"Do it, or I will make it three!"

Ruby stilled for a few seconds, utterly torn between complying against her wishes and the very real threat of being trapped in there for twenty-one days. She began to sob in Jewel's grasp, sparkling drops of fluid emerging from her eyes and plummeting to the floor.

"You were way out of line, Ruby," Carlos squawked.

"I can't believe you would say that to Dad. You know what, you should be grounded, whether you apologize or not!" Sergio proclaimed.

"Mmm… fine! I'm… I'm sorry! I'm sorry… Daddy! Let me go… Mommy… please!"

Jewel cawed, "Do you mean that from your heart? Because if you don't, I'll-"

Ruby screeched and cut her off. "Yes! Yes!"

"Thank you. But you're still in major trouble. I think you need a night-long nap."

Jewel ferried Ruby over to the corner behind me and off to my left, plunking our mewling daughter down and ordering her to go to sleep. Jewel stationed herself right next to her and crouched down, blocking her from my view.

My son reached out and laid a masculine wing on my shoulder.

"Hey, Dad, you alright?"

"Yes, Carlos. I… think so."

My second son moved over to my right and patted my back in a "brotherly" gesture.

"Try not to let it get to you."

"Easier said… than done, Sergio. Some things in life… become permanent memories…" I countered.

His gaze darkened, but he quipped, "Darn. I always forget you're smarter than me. Wish I had as much brains as you, old-timer."

His words were like a needle and thread, suturing one of the lacerations across my heart… and that was all I needed to feel one iota better. Leave it up to my male offspring to remedy the worst of situations, eh?

"No, you're perfect… just the way you are."

I placed my large wing upon his spine in return and added, "And for the record… I don't have gray feathers yet."

Carlos then cawed, "Ruby won't be leaving our home for another few years. With a fiery girl like her around, I bet you'll be growing gray feathers way before you normally would."

"Oh brother…" I said with melancholy, rolling my eyes as another metaphorical cut was sewed shut.

"Jewel will be partly responsible… for my premature aging too. I mean… she is the one who gave Ruby… an attitude…"

I felt a tap on the nape of my neck, and my sons hopped away from me skittishly. I turned slowly around, only to see a sly Jewel staring me down.

"Ahem. What was that, Blu? You saying I have an attitude?"

"Oops. Um… I love you."

I winked at her, and she rolled her eyes.

"Uh huh. Don't make me ground you too, handsome."

She pecked me on the cheek and rubbed one side of my face.

"No, you're too good for that."

She then moved in for a richer, more passionate kiss, and the sewing tools inside began to work at a furious pace. It is safe to say that never before had I been healed from such trauma so rapidly by my faithful family, and never again would I have to deal with an outburst of that style from my daughter.

I sure hope that Ruby had learned a valuable lesson about respect and will think hard before she speaks next time. Then again, she is a stubborn little girl, so I guess I should never say never until the future unfolds.

But hey, I really need to get some sleep, and that's a story for another time.

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