Baby Makes Three
Ronin wasn't unfamiliar with babies. Just that he had yet to see and interact with one so personally. It was almost amusing that his first real experience with one would be with a stomper baby.
"You'd get crushed, even with a baby," MK noted amusedly.
"Even stomper babies are big," Ronin gave her a huffy look.
"How's Nod?" she asked gently, changing the subject.
"Settling in," Ronin shrugged, thinking of his protégé. "The job comes with many responsibilities, but I believe Nod would be one of the best Generals of the Leafmen in our history."
"He learned from the best," she gave him a sly grin, moving to pick up the baby that was starting to squirm in the crib.
Ronin watched MK rock the baby on the rocking chair, musing that he could not understand how any man could leave their woman pregnant and alone. He and the others hadn't seen MK for a year and a half when she'd gone off to what she called 'university,' and then she'd come back with a baby that was clearly hers, if the small bits of red hair on its tiny little head and its green eyes said anything.
"What's its name?" he whispered, still staring at the tiny and yet big thing wriggling in MK's arms.
"Her name," MK corrected him in amusement, before she hesitated. "Tara. Her name is Tara."
Ronin looked at MK in awe, before a small, sad smile twitched on his lips.
"It's a beautiful name for a beautiful girl."
The second time he saw the baby, little Tara was awake while her mother was exhaustedly holding onto her and sleeping in bed. Thankfully, the baby wasn't squirming and wouldn't wiggle off of the bed any time soon. Hopefully.
The baby cooed and reached up to him, from where he was perched on top of the bed's headboard. However, she couldn't move up too much because of her mother's tight, even in sleep, hold on her.
Ronin hesitated before he lightly jumped onto the bed and made his way over to MK's arm, carefully climbing onto her wrist and then up, and stopping right where the baby was.
She giggled like a stomper, all slow and drawn out, and reached for him. He's wary, not wanting to be accidentally crushed in the grip of a baby, but Tara was careful somehow and held onto him in her tiny fist. She brought him to her chubby, little face, happily rubbing him against a baby soft cheek, and giggling again. And then she's yawning, turning inwardly to her mother, and plastered him against the sleeping MK.
Tara fell asleep, still clutching him, and he embarrassedly realized he's pressed up against MK's bosom because of the baby.
A part of him thought that his late Queen's playful spirit had injected herself into her namesake, because it would be just like her to do something like this and laugh at his predicament all the while.
Being retired wasn't wholly bad, even though he'd hated it in the beginning. When he'd first been made to retire, he hadn't known what he'd do. He didn't like sticking around Moonhaven, unable to do much and unable to return to his duties. Aside from training Nod to take over, with Finn currently the new Leafmen General and taking over most of the responsibility for training Nod, Ronin had been at a lost.
But then, somehow or other, he found himself talking to MK.
Curiously, over time she'd developed the ability to talk to them without needing her father's equipment. And from there, Ronin started coming over on most days, just so he didn't have to be stuck around Moonhaven without anything to do, and pity-filled looks. Soon enough, he was coming over practically every day.
And then she'd gone to university, and he was stuck there and feeling listless.
The house was different without MK around, and while he enjoyed Bomba's presence, it wasn't the same and Ronin visited less than he had. He spent more time around Moonhaven, but he hadn't been happy about it. Being around there was worse than ever, and he spent more time hiding out in his home than interacting with anyone else and being out and about.
If it wasn't for Nod's occasional visits, Ronin would have spent all that time completely alone and to himself, until MK had come back with the baby.
And now, along with MK, he also had little baby Tara to keep him company and from remembering another Tara, and from sliding backwards and being unhappy.
He entered the house to hear MK's frantic calling for the baby. It alarmed him and he rushed to her, only for her to look like a vivid red wind as she whirled around the downstairs, her red hair flying around wildly.
She heard him easily, even in her racket, and found him by her feet.
"What's going on?" Ronin asked uneasily.
"I can't find Tara," MK told him in a panic. "I've searched everywhere in the house! I don't know how this could have happened. One moment she was on the bed, and the next she was gone!"
"Why don't we try to retrace her 'steps?'" he suggested, trying not to panic himself. It was a hard thing, but one panicked mother was enough, and he had to keep calm in order to help MK out and find the baby.
The red head nodded miserably and bent to pick him up. She was quick to get them upstairs and to her room, where immediately Ronin could hear the cries of the baby, even if she couldn't be seen.
"Can you hear that?" Ronin asked anxiously.
"Hear what –oh!" and the two of them looked at each other in apprehension, before MK rushed to the bed, still holding onto Ronin.
And little Tara lay on the bed, right where she had been from the beginning…just shrunk to the size of a jinn.
Ronin's hold on the baby was careful, even if he's terrified. He'd never held a baby, and now he's holding one that's not even supposed to be the same size as he. He was terrified he'd do something wrong. He was terrified he'd drop her. He was terrified something was incredibly wrong with her, and that was why she was now the size of a jinn when she was supposed to be a stomper baby.
But then little Tara cooed happily and snuggled up to his chest, and he felt a smile spread across his lips.
He held her tighter to himself, remembered MK's watery eyes and entrusting the baby to him, and traveled through the forest to find Moonhaven, where hopefully information could be found.
Ronin arrived to Moonhaven, aware of the stares. He knew it was an odd sight, him and a baby. However, he had a mission to do, and he won't let the little one be hurt. Whatever was happening, he could only hope it wasn't damaging and hopefully reversible.
Clutching little Tara to him, he made his way to where Queen Marigold would be at this time, hoping she –even in her young age and inexperience –could provide answers that he could not for MK.
The Queen looked up at his presence, becoming surprised at the sight of him and with a baby at that.
"Ronin! Is that a –I mean what a surprise. Please, tell me what troubles you?" he wanted to smile sadly at her slip, knowing she was still getting used to her new role as Queen, and formalities and decorum hadn't been things she'd bothered herself with before. She was also still a child, so there was still plenty of time for her to grow into the role and learn, and he had faith that she will and in his late Queen's choice of heir.
He won't admit that he had assumed, during that time of crisis, that MK would eventually become Queen of the Forest. She had seemed so attuned with them and the forest, and had seemed so important to them and to the pod, that there had been a small little seedling of thought in his mind then. She fit naturally with the jinn, with him and Nod, that it had been easy to forget she had been a stomper and had been shrunken down, and not actually one of them.
Rebellious thoughts now and then escape him, and he had thoughts still that MK should have been and would have been better in the role.
But he pushed those thoughts away and focused on the situation on hand, patiently explaining the situation to Queen Marigold, who was Queen now and who he must accept.
Queen Marigold looked nervous, but stared at that baby in concentration.
"I can feel the magic of the forest in her," Queen Marigold murmured. "It could be that the magic of the forest that had affected MK had stayed in her body somehow, and affected her in some ways, and eventually some of it coming to affect the baby she bore."
"Can she be turned back?" he asked anxiously.
Queen Marigold concentrated again, before looking forlorn, shaking her head.
"I'm sorry. I tried to do the same for her as I did for MK last time, but it's not working. I think the magic in her will turn her back in time however."
It wasn't what he'd wanted to hear, but he understood.
"Thank you," he murmured, forgoing kneeling and just bowing as much as he could, with a baby in his arms.
He was dismissed and he headed to his home, careful to avoid everyone. He didn't want to answer any questions or upset Tara, but he also didn't want to run into Nod. He knew the younger man still had feelings for MK, and seeing the little red-headed baby would undoubtedly hurt him and remind him that he and MK hadn't managed to stay together or end with a happy ending as his protégé had hoped for.
Now, as he sat in his home with a giggling baby, he just had to find how to tell MK about this situation and hope for the best.
MK had cried for a little bit, but had kept herself together and stayed strong, knowing there was nothing else anyone could do.
Ronin had immediately dismissed the reluctant suggestion of taking care of Tara in Moonhaven by himself, knowing it would upset MK to not have her daughter around. He'd take care of Tara in MK's home. He didn't mind not being around Moonhaven; it wasn't as if he spent much time there anyway.
The old dollhouse that MK had fixed up for him some time ago was put into more use again, with Ronin basically having moved into the dollhouse. He stayed in it with little Tara, and MK was around in her room and spending time with them, unless she had to help her father with something.
It was like before, just with Tara having shrunk down to Ronin's size. It was a cozy existence between the three of them, and felt as normal as ever. The only difference was Tara's new size, Ronin now living in the dollhouse, and he taking care of the baby more since she was too small for MK to do much but hover and worry.
It put a warmth in his heart and it was almost like he had his own little family…
The next time he went anywhere near Moonhaven, he took Tara with him to see Nimgaluu. Nim was as dumbstruck to see him with a baby, as others had been when he'd passed by, but at least Nim stopped gawking quickly and asked what he could do for Ronin.
Once the predicament was explained, Nim actually didn't take too long to find the correct scroll.
"Says here that our little Tara is more or less like the fae of old," and that put a shiver up Ronin's spine.
The fae before the jinn of now were much more powerful. They all had a little magic to use at their disposal, capable of doing much more than the jinn. They were much more dangerous as well, and had meaner streaks to them. Well, at least most of them, because Ronin couldn't see little Tara being one of those fae that stole children from the stompers and did horrible things to those who crossed them.
"It seems like the magic that shrunk MK and then regrew her, as well as the magic of the pod she was exposed to, imbued into her and changed her slightly. And when she became pregnant, the magic in her affected her pregnancy. Think of it like this –MK's sort of became half-fae, but her daughter is full."
It really made no sense to Ronin, but he took Nim's word for it.
"So what does that have to do with Tara being shrunk?" he held the baby protectively to him, not sure if he liked the sound of where this was going.
Nim shrugged. "Fae used to be able to shift their sizes at will. They were usually at our size, but they tended to grow stomper sized when they wanted to mingle with their kind."
But that meant…
"Are you saying that Tara wanted to be this size?" Ronin asked incredulously.
Nim grinned sheepishly. "She sees you around all the time, right? Babies tend to just want things. And since this baby is practically magical and a fae with the ability to shift, I say she just wanted to be a little closer to you…who she sees as a father figure."
Ronin twitched and shook his head. "No, she couldn't. And she's much too young to think such things."
Nim raised an eyebrow. "It's an instinctive feeling, Ronin. And anyway, aside from MK and her father, who else does little Tara see all the time? Who else would she get attached to and think would be her father?"
Ronin uncomfortably shifted, but Tara's little giggles drew his attention and he looked down to see her happy face and her tiny little hands reaching up to him. He felt his face soften.
He looked up, becoming his normal self as he gave Nim a flat stare.
"If you want little Tara to turn back, maybe you should try a little shifting yourself. Unlike the rest of us, your family's got a long history and a little fae blood mixed in as well."
That made Ronin a little thoughtful and wondering.
He walked onto the steps with unsteady feet and held onto Tara a little more closely than even usual. He took a deep breath and walked to the door, knocking hesitantly.
It took a moment, but the door opened hesitantly and MK peered out cautiously, only to look confused. The confusion at the stranger at her doorstep became shock, as she recognized not just him but the baby.
"I –Ronin?" she choked out, tears filling her eyes.
He held out Tara, and MK gently took her baby back. It reminded him of another time, where the reverse happened, and another Tara had been passed from MK to him.
The memories don't seem to hurt so much anymore.
Being jinn-sized again, Ronin was resting in his little dollhouse home. He watched as MK held onto Tara and rocked her carefully. When MK beckoned him closer, he was surprised and yet happy to be included. He made his way closer and once he was by her side, MK held out a hand that he jumped onto, balancing as MK lifted him up and put him on the crook of her arm, right next to the baby's head.
Ronin can't help but give a gentle smile.
"You smile a lot more these days," MK murmured. "You should smile more. You have a nice smile, Ronin."
Looking up at her and seeing her smile down at him, Ronin thought it wouldn't be such a bad idea. He already found himself smiling more than he had in the past.
He felt like he was smiling now because of both the Tara's he knew, and because of MK, and felt like he was living again.
Little Tara was in her play pen, and Ronin had been playfully coaxing her to try to chase after him, trying to get her to start to crawl. It was slow progress, but Tara was growing bigger and older every day, and he knew she would get it quickly.
He glanced over to the side, where he could see MK talking quietly but rapidly on the phone, and can't help feeling the uneasy feeling in his gut.
Something was going to change, and he wasn't sure if he was going to like it.
When MK finally got off the phone, he wasn't sure he liked the hesitant look she was wearing as she approached.
"Ronin, you know how I was only taking a break from uni? I've set things up and I'm going to go back in a week to continue my studies. I'm…I'm taking Tara with me."
And he doesn't like the news, because she was leaving again, and he remembered the last time MK had gone.
He was miserable and lonely and lost in too many memories and –
Now he would be losing MK and Tara.
Ronin was already unhappy the moment he stepped foot back in Moonhaven. And MK and Tara hadn't even left yet.
But he doesn't want them to leave, now that they'd been here and he had solidly formed a new life around them, with them…
He looked around his empty house and felt that it had been a terrible idea to come back, because Moonhaven was no longer his home and he didn't have a life there anymore.
Nod and Finn were the last connections he even had to this place, and even they had drifted too far apart from him to make Ronin face this empty life.
Nim, the Queen, Finn, and then Nod…
He let them know his thoughts and they all had various reactions.
But Ronin had lived his life more for others in the past, so this time he was going to make choices for himself.
MK and Tara's things are packed and ready to go. The cab was coming soon, so MK was just saying her goodbye to her father and looking around for Ronin, though she wasn't going to find him around.
So Ronin stepped into the room, and he could see she was surprised to see him in stomper form. He gave a small wave and an even smaller smile.
"You have room for one more on that ride?"
And the smile that lit up MK's face and the giggles of little Tara made a grin stretch out on his own face, and he knew that this was where he had to be and where he belonged now.
Retiring from not just being a General but a Leafman jinn wasn't wholly bad in the end. His new occupation as a family man felt comfortable and natural in a way he never thought it would.
Looking at little Tara's green eyes peering happily at him, he was surprised to find he'd made a great dad. And as he traveled over to her and MK, taking little Tara and holding her gently while sticking close to MK, he glanced at the red-headed young woman by his side and thought that maybe he'd make a great husband one day too.