« on: July 26, 2020, 10:38:44 PM »
Chin resting on his palm Peregrine traced his thumb across the stubble that trailed just below his bottom lip. Eyes staring without seeing at the thick wooden table in the center of the sitting room. It was a heavy piece of oak, unstained but sealed from the elements with specially crafted coating. sunlight spilled in through a tall window and crossed the surface in a dance between flicks of woodgrain. Whispering the age of the tree that once had been in dark rings. A blanket, clay cup, and smattering of small toys were scattered on top, hiding the eye in the very center of the table. One pudgy hand with tiny fingers clung to the edge. Balance precarious as Birdy made speedy laps on stubby legs.

She could only walk holding onto the furniture, or gripping someone’s finger. The new trick was one she seemed to enjoy. Occupying herself with crawling from chair to table to sofa and back again. Ten or twenty laps along the reachable sides of each. For the baby it was endless fun. For Peregrine the novelty had worn off days ago. Once in a while he would come back from his thoughts long enough to clap for her attention and try convincing her to walk unsupported. Calling her to him with eagerly reaching hands or the temptation of a treat.

His mind was not on his daughter at the moment, however. It was a hundred miles away. Thousands probably. On a different child, in a place he couldn’t name or reach. Who had held his hand while he took those first stumbling steps? Had he raced along to get as far as he could before losing his balance the way Birdy amused them all by doing? It was fitting, for his child to run before she could walk. She was his child after all. But what about Rias? Did he call out to some other man when he fell on his knees? Did he have anyone to call out to at all? It might have been the distant thunder of an approaching storm, or the restlessness in his spirit from being so often home with the Winds destroyed. Peregrine didn’t know why his mood was glum. But it was, and he was in the habit of fueling that misery with thoughts and fears for a son he had never even laid his own eyes on.

He might have sat in that state for hours more. No Kite in the house to shake him out of his own head. Starling not at home that week. Outside the wind picked up, the first specks of rain splatting on the pillow. Birdy had finished trailing along the sofa. Racing her own shadow she crawled hand and knee to the table again. Big blue eyes turning she looked to see if her father was watching as she pulled herself to standing at the table again. His absent gaze turned her smirk into a pout that would have reminded him of her mother if he had been paying attention. Instead she leaned against the table. Shoulder to the edge, turning a wooden ring toy in circles on her wrist like a bawdy bracelet. A bolt of lightning broke the sky, momentarily brightening the room. Birdy had seen her the same pretty light crackle around her father half a dozen times and was unmoved. Until the sky shook the house with an angry roar of thunder.

”Dada!” She squealed, tiny heart fluttering in her chest. Feet carrying her across the room. More afraid of the sound than of falling.

The thunder had rattled Peregrine out of his thoughts. Face fixed in a toothy smile he leaned forward in the chair, ”Birdy! You said Daddy!” Rias was put back into the only place Peregrine could keep him, that half of his heart that was always aching. Even when the joy of another child threatened to make it burst right out of his chest. He looked around the room, mouth parted to share the moment with someone. Anyone. She said daddy! Fixed on the first surprise he was doubly surprised by the second. Her little body of squishy rolls, bouncing curls and padded diaper plopping into his open arms. ”Look at her!” He told no one cheerfully.

”Look at you, little lady!” He told her instead, scooping her up into his lap. Birdy buried her face in his chest, where it was safe from loud noises- because nothing could roar louder than her daddy. Chuckling as she burrowed deeper into his shirt with another crack of thunder he stroked her hair. ”Aw, it’s alright. The storm won’t last and I’m here.” The rain beat down harder as he held her tight until she was brave enough to sit up again. Driven in from the barn Kite flung the front door open and threw his wet body across the sofa.

”I was almost done that puzzle table!” He complained. Peregrine smirked at his brother, ”She said Daddy.” He taunted. There had been a month’s long bet on who’s name she would say first. Kite had bet it would be Auntie. Peregrine had won. ”Only counts if we all hear it.”

”Dada.” Birdy confirmed, pointing at her father’s chest. It started a scuffle as Kite rolled from his seat to get closer. Nose to nose with his niece to coach her into the syllables of “Kite” while Peregrine pretended to pull her away and cover her ears. Their efforts to make her say other words drowned out in cheerful peels of baby laughter as they took turns tickling her in punishment for failure.

When she finally bored of them she fought her way down Peregrine’s legs to stumble crawl back to the table. This time her father followed to help her fit the pieces of a puzzle toy together. At her side he held the biggest box while she tried to nest the rest inside. Brushing his damp hair off of his forehead Kite watched them with a small grin. She was the perfect little queen for Peregrine, because she was no queen at all. But no one else had ever gotten his brother to kneel.