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But What if They Had Kids?

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     Crowley could use less than one hand to count the things that he hated. The first spot went to people who acted out of sheer malevolence, murders in particular. Morgarath was the second and had more than earned his spot for a variety of reasons. But the final thing overpowered everything else by far. It’s perhaps the main reason for his hatred of Morgarath. Anyone who willingly hurt a child was dead to him. Hearing what Halt went through as a child tore at him. Morgarath battling an apprentice to the death, has Horace not won, would have been enough motivation for Crowley to end the bastard himself. So when he saw a baby left alone in the middle of the woods, he was understandably ready to raise hell.

     It didn’t take long to figure out she must have come from. There weren’t any horse prints nearby, and there was only one village within a day’s walk. So he scooped up the crying child and rode off. It was a struggle to keep his body loose enough to ride and not jostle the kid with the sheer amount of rage coursing through him. The Gathering could wait. The first day was just drinking coffee and catching up anyways.

      The sight of a Ranger riding up to your village was enough to make people nervous. The sight of a Ranger on a warpath was enough to send people into a panic. The instant he crossed into the village a few people rushed over, all of them armed but doing their best to hide it.

     “Ranger, what can we do for you? the person who appeared to be the leader stammered. Crowley would have admired his bravery if he wasn’t preoccupied with the bigger issue.

      “I found her in the woods. I don’t suppose you might know who her parents are,” Crowley questioned. He tried to keep the steel out of his voice, but a little bit creeped in. The kid seemed to have noticed this and woke up. She immediately latched onto Crowley’s cloak and started to babble happily. The men stared in shock. In their panic about the Ranger they didn’t even notice he was carrying her.

     “Are you sure she’s from here?” the man said, leaning forward to study her closely.

     “Positive.” That seemed to be enough for him, since he got a sudden thoughtful look.

     “Samantha was pregnant recently, and she and her husband have red hair just like this little one. She looks around the right age, too. I wouldn’t put it past the two of them to have a pregnancy to get extra help with labor and financials, then abandon the kid once they’re born,” the man mused. He didn’t even appear to be aware of what he was saying. Conscious or not, it was enough for Crowley.

     “Where can I find these people.” Crowley didn’t try to keep the bite out of his words this time. The people seemed to have decided it was out of their hands and merely sent Crowley in the right direction.

     It took Crowley all of two minutes to decide that the couple were in fact the kid’s parents. Mostly because as he was crouched under their widow he heard the husband come home and report that ‘the brat was taken care of’. Crowley readjusted his grip on the baby on his arms and stood up. Thankfully neither person was facing the window, so he sat down on the windowsill and swung his legs over.

     “I disagree with that. Abandonment is the exact opposite of care,” Crowley interjected, taking great amusement in the way they jumped and spun around. He could tell you the exact moment they realized who was sitting in their window.

      “Ranger! What do you mean by that!” She shouted, lying so obviously that her husband looked defeated.

      “I mean that you have given up all rights as this kid’s parents and will be arrested if I have anything to say about this,” Crowley responded in a cheery voice that was so fake it made the couple flinch.

      “You can’t do that! James here is a officer in the army! You don’t have the rank!” By this point you could tell that she was doing everything she could do avoid her fate. Now, if she had argued over losing her child, Crowley may have gone slightly easier on her. But she didn’t, so he’s not.

      “Yes I can. As the Ranger Commandant the only person that outranks me is the king himself,” Crowley casually mentioned, rocking the gurgling kid in his arms. “I wouldn’t go anywhere if I were you,” was all he said as he stalked out. He stopped only to inform the local guard that Samantha and James were to be arrested, to absolutely no one's surprise.


      “Is that a baby.”

      “Nice to see you too Halt! How’s Gilan?” Crowley was actually cheerful this time, and not particularly excited to explain to Halt about how he had technically kidnapped a child.

      “Don’t dodge the question. Who’s the kid. If it was yours you would have told me by now,” Halt said, slowly losing patience.

       “I may have found her abandoned in a forest,” Crowley admitted. Halt stilled. His body tensed and he got a dangerous look in his eyes. “Don’t worry! I found her parents. They should be arrested by now,” Crowley reassured him. Halt may have said something after that, but he was distracted by the fussy baby in his arms. He cooed at her as he pulled out the supply of cow’s milk he had brought along, courtesy of her ex-parents cow.

      Once she settled down he turned his attention back to Halt, who seemed to have accepted that this was happening.

      “What’s her name?” He asked after spending a solid minute staring up at the sky.

      “I don’t know,” Crowley admitted, “I didn’t bother to stick around after I confirmed the identities of the parents.”

      “Well you’re obviously keeping her, so you’re going to have to give her a name at some point. Now come on. You’re supposed to have already kicked things off by now.”

      “Oh yeah I forgot about that.” Thankfully, all of the other Ranges seemed to just accept the kid without too many questions. Although due to her soft red hair it was possible they just assumed she was Crowley’s daughter. Though it did raise the question of what Crowley was going to do with her. Halt seemed to think he was keeping her. But that was very irresponsible. He had paperwork and……..other stuff. Actually, was there anything that was keeping him from raising her himself? Not that he could think of.

     “How about...Artemis,” Crowley mussed while lightly stroking her hair. The newly dubbed Artemis giggled and grabbed onto his fingers. Well, that settled it. He had a kid now.


 

      King Duncan took one look at Artemis and decided that he didn’t want to know. Just arranged for Crowley to be moved to a bigger set of rooms. Though he was secretly pleased that Cassandra could have a friend.

Chapter Text

      Gilan has a toddler in his arms. To be honest, he wasn’t entirely sure when or how that happened. One second he was riding into the Gathering, the next Crowley presumably put his daughter in his arms and dragged Halt off. Leaving a very confused apprentice standing there with a child babbling and grabbing at his bronze oak leaf.

      “Erm...hello there. I’m Gilan,” Gilan hesitantly said. Artemis momentarily abandoned his oak leaf to smile up at him and gurgle happily.

     “Galan!” Artemis cheered. Gilan blinked, surprised.

     “Close enough,” he said, chuckling. He swung her up on his shoulders, much to her delight. It would take about half a day for everyone to arrive, so he had some time to kill. Might as well look after Artemis in the meantime.


 

     “Hello!” Gilan looked away from the little hut he was making with Artemis to see a jovial Crowley being followed by Halt, both of whom had acquired several bruises and few rather large coffee stains.

      “What happened?” he questioned, concerned but not overly surprised. Incidents were bound to happen when you have this many Rangers in one place, even somewhere as secluded as this. Gilan had only joined the Corps last year and he already knew that.

      “Well it started this morning-“ Crowley began, only to be interrupted.

       “The less said about what just happened the better,” Halt injected, nearly slapping Crowley in the mouth in his haste to shut him up. Naturally, this only heighten Crowley’s curiosity. But considering how nosy Rangers are the story will spread to him eventually.

      “Did you have fun?” Crowley asked Artemis, scooping her up.

      “Yeah!” She responded with one of the only words she knew.

      “Thanks for looking after her, Gilan. I need to get going, so I’ll see you later,” Crowley called over his shoulder as he strode off to do whatever is it that the Commandant does.

      “Why do you have that look on your face.” As soon as Crowley was out of earshot Halt immediate hounded on Gilan.

     “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Gilan replied, voice dripping in faux innocence. Halt just grumbled before stalking off towards the fire pit, most likely for some coffee. Hopefully it stayed in the cup this time.


 

     “I hope you suffer,” was the first thing Crowley said to Gilan the next morning.

     “Why?” Artemis asked from her perch on Crowley’s shoulders. Where she had been sitting all morning, asking the same question over and over. Crowley let out a defeated groan, while Gilan just cackled.

       “Now you know how Halt feels!” He replied, giving Crowley a thumbs up and a cheeky grin. Crowley just gave him a glare that held more annoyance than any real anger. Halt made a noise of agreement at that statement, shuddering at the memory of just about every time Gilan opened his mouth.


 

       Halt knew how to make flower crowns, and Gilan was confused. Mostly because Artemis was supposed to be at Castle Araluen, not braiding flowers into Halt’s hair while he weaves one of the aforementioned crowns. Gilan made a soft noise of confusion. Halt looked him straight in the eyes and said nothing.

     “Is she supposed to be here?” He finally stammered after about a minute of awkwardness.

      “Yes. Crowley’s out of the country, so she’s staying with us.” Halt acknowledging his presence seemed to notify Artemis that he was in fact present.

      “Geelan!” She cheered, abandoning Halt’s mess to latch onto Gilan’s leg. He picked her up and spun her around, both of them laughing. Halt took the opportunity to stand up and brush some of the loose leaves off his cloak. Gilan noted that he left the flowers in, though he would never mention it to Halt. Although telling Crowley later was certainly wasn’t out of the question.

      “Bye bye!” Artemis shouted to Halt’s retreating form. It filled Gilan with a sense of satisfaction that Halt trusted him enough to leave him alone with Artemis.

      “Fort! Fort!” Said child demanded, looking at him with eyes burning with excitement and affection. Gilan couldn’t help but ruffle her hair before setting her on his shoulders. With Artemis secure, he joined in on her cheer and headed off into the woods right next to the cabin.


 

      Crowley’s parenting methods could definitely be described as unusual. Most people disapproved of teaching a ten year old child anything related to battle of self defense. However, most people weren’t the child of the Ranger Commandant and most people certainly weren’t a target for kidnappings. There had only been one incident a few years ago, but it scared Crowley enough he had her trained with a slingshot as soon as he could trust her to not somehow shoot herself in the head.

     Princess Cassandra had often watched Artemis practice. Upon seeing the interested glint in her eyes Crowley mentally prepared his apology to King Duncan for when she finally managed to get ahold of one.

      Artemis didn’t share the same enthusiasm. She had a mild interest in fighting at best, but understood it was in the name of her safety. Though given the choice she would rather sit with a book in the little cavern inside a large bush in the palace garden. Despite having a much less assertive nature than her father, she did acquire his love of the outdoors.

      Which lead to the current situation.

      Artemis was covered in mud, head to toe. Crowley only escaped the same fate by being considerably taller than a ten year old. And the fact that he didn’t jump directly into a puddle of mud. He merely sat down in it. Though he doubted that the annoyed maid currently trying to get them somewhere where they could wash without running into someone important or going anywhere near something clean would care for the distinction.

      Crowley suggested that she just bring some buckets of water out and dump it on them. The maid seemed a little too enthusiastic about that idea for Crowley’s liking, but it was most effective way. Artemis also seemed to find great joy in dousing her dad in water, even though she was soaked as well. And if Crowley spend the rest of the day wrapped in blankets with his daughter, much to the irritation of the retired Rangers, he had the excuse of not wanting to get sick.

Chapter Text

         Horace was not proud to admit that one of his first actions as a new father was to wait for his wife and newborn daughter to fall asleep so he could go panic on the balcony. And Horace was not one to panic. He was skilled enough to get himself out of most situations, and humble enough to not overestimate himself and get himself into situations that would induce panic. Although bashing someone with a sword was one thing, this was much higher stakes.

 

        “Feeling alright there?” A sudden, very friendly voice piped up from the other side of the balcony. Horace spun around, unaware that anyone else was up there with him. He instinctively reached for a sword that wasn’t there before realizing who was was in front of him.

 

       Crowley stood from his perch on the railing to pat Horace reassuringly on the shoulder and give him a big, yet tired, smile.

 

         “Feeling alright there?” He asked again. Horace couldn’t help the conflicted look on his face. Crowley gave him an understanding look and motioned to a bench a few steps away. Horace collapsed and buried his hands in his arms. His shoulders shuttered from the deep, frantic breaths he was taking in every other second. Crowley took a seat next to him and slung his arm around Horace’s shoulder.

 

        “I don’t know what to do!” Crowley was momentarily startled by his outburst, but calmed down after a second. Horace moved to stand up but was pulled back down.

 

        “Slow down there. You need to talk about some stuff, friend,” Crowley informed him in a way that was warm but made it very clear that Horace wasn’t going anywhere. “So talk away!”

 

        “I don’t have parents,” Horace told him in a sad tone. Crowley was taken aback. It certainly wasn’t what he had been expecting, but he could work with it.

 

        “Yes?” Crowley took it back. He didn’t know how to work with that. But now was as good of a time to lean as ever, and thankfully Horace seemed too lost in his head to notice.

 

        “What does a parent even do exactly! All I know is that I’ve already screwed it up,” Horace muttered darkly.

 

       “Why do you say that?”

 

       “As soon as she was born I just wanted to run. Parents probably don’t do that.”

 

         “Wanted to run before or after you cared and supported them?”

 

          “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

         “Horace, I’ve been out here for awhile. I saw how you tried to be in there with her for the birth. I saw how you held and swaddled your daughter as soon as you were able to. Besides, you’re in a situation you have little to no knowledge of. Of course you would want to step away and clear your head. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Croley reassured.

 

         “Still, I’m supposed to be there for them,” Horace restated.

 

          “You are. You can see them right there. I’ve seen cowards who flee at the first sign of trouble. Trust me when I say you are not one of them.” Crowley pointed to Horace’s wife and child who were very visible from the spot on the balcony. Crowley saw a spark of understanding in Horace’s eyes and decided to drop the matter for more pressing things.

 

            “Did I ever tell you how I met Artemis?” If Horace was surprised by the sudden subject change he didn’t show it.

 

          “She was born and you were there?” He questioned.

 

         “Nope! I found her abandoned and within a day I was a dad. Unprepared doesn’t mean incapable, Horace.” Horace just sat there stunned for a second while his very tired and stressed mind processed everything.

 

          “At least you had parents,” he muttered under his breath, so softly Crowley might not have caught it if he wasn’t listening. But he was, and he just so happened to have the perfect comeback this time.

 

         “Then think of parents you have seen with their kids, then. Like Halt and Will,” Crowley suggested. Technically they weren’t related, but technicalities meant little to Rangers.

 

         “I don’t think arming my daughter, sending her on dangerous missions, and make sarcastic comments is going to help much.”

 

          “Not that part. I’m talking about the care. Going out of your way to ensure their safety. Do what’s in their best interest. There’s not a set of rules and techniques for being a parent like there is for swordcraft. Just do what you think is right.” Crowley embraced Horace in a tight hug. He could still feel indecisive tension in his shoulders, but it was a start.

 

          “What if I screw it up?” He asked. If Crowley didn’t know Horace he never would have connected the strong future king to the anxious young man fretting right in front of him.

 

         “Do you really think that Cassandra, Artemis, myself, and all of your other friends would just step back and let you screw up?” Horace may be lacking confidence personally in the parental department, but one thing about him was that he had the utmost confidence in his friends and loved ones.

 

          “You’re right. I can do this. I might not know exactly how to do this, but I know people that do. It’ll be fine.” Crowley could tell that Horace said that more out of hope than real confidence. But Horace, especially when motivated, had a tendency to turn hope into results.

 

         “She’s going to turn out great, just you wait,” Crowley reassured, and he meant every word. It didn’t take a skilled Ranger to see that Horace was still apprehensive, but Crowley was confident in the progress they’d made.

 

         “Wait, why are you on out balcony anyway?” Horace suddenly asked.

 

         “I watched Queen Rosalind die from childbirth. Sue me for being worried.” Crowley immediately realized that he had said the exact wrong thing as Horace’s face morphed into panic.

 

          “Died! Is Cassandra going to be alright!”

 

        “Yes! She’s going to be fine! Calm down!”

         


 

         Horace held Madelyn in one arm while he searched through some papers on his desk with the others. Crowley, knowing first hand how jumbled a pile of paperwork can get, watched in comfortable silence. Horace finally just handed Madelyn over to before diving back in.

 

           About a minute later, he resurfaced with a letter sealed with the Ranger insignia. He handed the letter to Crowley in exchange for his daughter.

 

            “It’s from Will, but even though it’s addressed to me he used the official stationary. I figured I’d be best to have you here when I opened it,” he explained as Crowley pried it open. A few seconds of reading later, his mouth dropped open and wordlessly handed it over to Horace.

 

         His reaction to what was written was drastically different from Crowley’s. He jumped up, whooped, then charged out yelling for Cassandra.

 

          “Alyss is pregnant! I’m gonna be an Uncle!” Horace’s shouts were accompanied by Madelyn happy babblings at the fast pace. Crowley just sat back with a small smile. This would certainly be interesting. And if Halt’s predictions of the kid’s personalities written on the back were anything to go off of, Halt certainly thought so too.

 

         

Chapter Text

    

         Will was tired. Fall asleep on his horse tired. His loved ones threatening to tie him up until he takes a goddam nap level of tired. Struggle against being tied up more on principle than any real objection tired. If he didn’t constantly have the twins within hearing distance he would have cursed every piece of parenting advice Horace had ever given him, loudly. ‘It’s easier than you’d think!’ Horace has said. Will had just thought of a few….colorful…statements to add onto that when his exhaustion caught up to him.

 

         At least Alyss can’t be mad at him for what happened when she comes back from her assignment because he was, you know, immobilized. And Jenny was very good at knots. He blames Gilan.

 

       Will lucked out, since Alyss wasn’t really sure if she should be mad at the situation. Sure Paula became the supreme ruler of all the kids in the village, but she was nice about it and included her twin brother Daniel. So she just shared an amused look with Jenny, who had taken responsibility for the kids while Will was taking his forced nap, and gave her a ‘what can you do’ shrug.

 

      “Wait is Will still tied up?”


 

       If one more person gave Paula a weapon Artemis was going to lose it. They were only a day into the Gathering and Paula had already managed to convince three people to let her hold their knife. Said gremlin was currently splayed out in the tent she shared with her dad and brother. Still, this was better than the time she figured out how to (mostly) move unseen. It took nearly three minutes to find her, and that was with nearly the entire Corps searching!

 

         Thankfully, Daniel was easier. Usually when she had free time during the Gathering Artemis would seek him out, mainly because while she didn’t have to worry about him getting a knife or going missing there was a strong chance of him falling in the river. Though she wasn’t above using the twins as an excuse to slip away from her father’s shenanigans.

 

        A few minutes later Artemis was drying off a very wet Daniel who had decided that jumping in the creek was the best way to fish. Artemis just gave him a soft look and ruffled his wet hair. He reminded her so much of Horace it was jarring.

 

       “How about you stay away from the creek from now on, okay?” Horace responded with a slow nod and a glum look that worried Artemis slightly.

 

         “You okay there bud?” She prodded gently, scooting next to him so she could wrap her arm around his shoulders.

 

         “I’m fine Aunt Artemis. Sorry for screwing stuff up.” As soon as she heard that last bit Artemis knocked him gently on the head and pulled him close. Something was going on here, and there was no way she was leaving Daniel alone to sort it out.

 

       “Now where on earth did you get that idea?” Artemis was having a very hard time repressing the urge to fight whoever made her nephew feel like this. Eh screw it. Her throwing hands with someone for messing with her family wasn’t that uncommon.

 

        “It’s just…everyone in my family’s so incredible, you know?  I just don’t think I can live up to that.” He answered in a soft tone, but Artemis could tell that what was going on in his mind was anything but. “Dad’s one of the best Rangers there is, Mom’s a spy, and Paula is just like them. How am I supposed to catch up?” he murmured into Artemis’s shoulder.

 

        “You’re not,” she responded brightly, maybe a little too happily. Daniel’s crushed face was a pretty good indicator of that. “My dad is the Ranger Commandant, and do I look like a Ranger?” she asked, poking him in the cheek.

 

         “Well yeah, but you’ve been really successful where you are.” Daniel wasn’t entirely sure where this conversation was going, but knowing his Aunt Artemis there was no way he was walking away from this sad. Many similar encounters over the year had taught him that much.

 

         “Exactly! Your success isn’t determined by how well you follow someone else’s footsteps! If it was nobody would do anything new and then where would we be,” she reassured, stroking Daniel’s hair with one hand and threw the other around his shoulders. Daniel tried to argue back but Artemis just gave him a look and he succumbed to the affection.


 

         “I’m taking Daniel for a month or so.” Artemis stated it so matter-of-factly that it took Will’s brain a moment to catch up. So for that moment he just kept drinking his coffee. Standing perfect spitting distance away from Halt.

 

         “Wait, why?” Unfortunately for Artemis, Will question was not accompanied by a spit-take. Curse these Rangers and their ability to not outwardly react to startling news.

 

         “I think he needs to spend time with Horace. I love Paula to death, but I think Daniel needs some extra encouragement. Separated from each other.”

 

        “So you’ve seen it too. I’ve been thinking about how to help him, but I don’t think it’ll help much coming from the people he feels inferior to.” Will conceded with her, sadness clouding his eyes as he thought about his son. “I think the main issue is that Daniel has the body of a soldier, so he won’t be able to pull of subtlety. He needs to see that there are other paths. Horace would be the best person to help him develop his own skill,” Will mused. Artemis inwardly cheered, but maintained a happy yet polite look.

 

        “Exactly. Besides, you Rangers are terrible with emotions. If you didn’t have Alyss you probably would have turned out like Halt,” Artemis teased. Will opened his mouth to argue, but then promptly closed it.

 

          “Sounds like a plan. Just keep him away from badgers,” Will warned.

 

         “Wait what do badgers have to do with anything.”

       

Chapter Text

            No matter how many times he saw it, Castle Araluen would never cease to amaze Daniel. Every time his family would visit his mom would have to drag him inside because he was too busy looking at the architecture. Most of those visits went the same way. The adults would go do whatever it is that adults do while Paula and Maddie caused chaos in some form, usually involving knives a lot of lecturing. Leaving Daniel to wander around and do whatever, which more often than not lead to him watching the knights train.

 

In Daniel’s honest opinion knights were the coolest. They were honest and fair and kicked butt. He sometimes imagined himself as a fearless knight charging into battle. But most of his family did sneaky stuff, and all the kids in the village said that you were either supposed to follow your parent’s footsteps or do the thing they picked out for you. And the adults always asked him if Dad was already training him to be a Ranger, and that he looked strong enough to shoot the bow. But then his parents went and told him he could do whatever he wanted. All in all it was very confusing and not the least bit helpful.

 

Which was why he was currently standing right in the middle of the Battleschool armory in Castle Araluen looking at a bunch of very sharp weapons. Uncle Horace seemed to be amused at him astonishment.

 

    “You’re a little too young to be using those. Maybe in a year or two,” he laughed, nudging Daniel’s shoulder to steer him further back to a few racks holding wooden swords. He eyed Daniel up and down for a moment before choosing one of the smaller ones.

 

    “Most people are usually bigger and older than you when they start training, so most of these will be too big for you,” Uncle Horace explained as he had Daniel tests about a half dozen swords to find the perfect weight. Eventually, he seemed satisfied and shuttled him back out. Daniel’s head was still spinning from the excitement over having a sword (kinda).

 

     Although that paled in comparison to Maddie tackling him and literally making his head spin. Despite the fact that he was easily a head taller than Maddie, she still managed to pin him down. Horace just let out a tired sigh.

 

       “Maddie, we’ve talked about this. Don’t tackle innocent people…” Horace began. It was easy to tell from his familiarity with the statements that he was no stranger to this conversation.

 

        “Especially when they’re carrying weapons,” Maddie mechanically responded back, equally familiar with the exchange. “Though Uncle Crowley taught me how to not hurt myself!” she argued, apparently forgetting the fact that she was still sitting on Daniel.

 

        “Has he trained Daniel to not fall on his own sword when attacked?” Horace fired back, giving his daughter an unamused look and gesturing to the wooden sword that was pressed up against Daniel’s ribs. Maddie grumbled but seemed to accept defeat.

 

         “I still don’t see why I’m not allowed in the armory but you let Daniel in,” Maddie griped, not even fazed by her loss a second ago.

 

        “I don’t have to worry about Daniel using weapons he’s not supposed to, and he was supervised.”

 

       “Why are you giving his a practice sword anyways?”

 

        “I’m training him.”

 

       “Why?”

 

        “That’s not your business. Go bug Crowley and maybe he’ll let you throw a knife again.” Horace pinned his daughter with a stern look. Maddie decided that she’d pushed the matter enough and made the wise, yet reluctant, decision to stall off. Daniel watched her retreating figure with confusion.

 

        “Maddie isn’t allowed in the armory? I thought she was the Princess?”

 

        “She’s a princess who needs to learn to take fighting and weapons seriously.”

 

          Daniel just looked at him in shock. Nearly every time he saw her Maddie was carrying around some form of weapon or at least trying to find one. He’d thought it was cool how weapons seemed to be a part of her everyday life. Well, weapons were a part of his life too but it was small stuff like knives. He’d never actually held a sword, and the wooden one doesn’t count. Was using weapons not normal? Was it not weird that he didn’t already have experience using them?

 

        “Swordplay is a big responsibility. And everyone has agreed that Maddie shouldn’t try it till she’s older. It’s not something special for her, it’s rare for someone to start below the age of fifteen,” Horace explained as he guided Daniel over to a clearing.

 

        “Why aren’t we doing this in the main training area?” Daniel asked. It was deserted at the moment except for a few nobles and servants walking around.

 

        “If too many people saw me training you...well I don’t even think about what would happen,” Horace responded with a laugh, pointing to the people already peering at them.

 

        “Wait, why are you training me if it’s so special?” Daniel asked. Horace gave him a find look.

 

        “Everyone has decided that it would be good for you. Your age shouldn’t be too big of a deal as long as we don’t do anything too crazy.”

 

       Daniel gave him a wide smile in return and clumsily hefted up the sword. This could be his chance to finally be as skilled as Paula! Aunt Artemis said that he shouldn’t think like that, but he had to catch up.

 

        “I’ve seen some of the students holding their sword like this, is it right?”

 

        “Move your left leg a little more to the right and you’re spot on.”

Chapter Text

    Crowley’s office was the oddest place Daniel had ever been in. In his personal experience, paperwork was always neatly piled somewhere or hidden under the floor. Crowley’s paperwork was stacked in small mountains that toppled every time some wind blew through the open window. He was fairly certain he saw some fly said open window. It made him eye the fire burning in the corner with a bit of apprehension.

 

    The owner of the office was pointedly ignoring the paperwork in favor of having a conversation. Artemis was making a point to slide papers directly into his line of sight with a raised eyebrow. Daniel had grown used to their interactions over the month that he had been at Castle Araluen, but he still found it funny. He just settled in the chair he had claimed as his own and watched with a smile over the cup of coffee Crowley would inevitably give him every time he stepped foot into the office. He expected another evening of calm before Horace finished with whatever royal thing he had to do that afternoon.

 




    The knock was unexpected. Nearly everybody who was comfortable enough to actually come here just kinda walked in, and the people who did announce themselves just said their name and that they were coming in. Artemis’s relaxed posture immediate straightened out to give her a sense of power and grace, similar to the one Mom and Grandma seemed to emit. Though it was slightly ruined by the dive she took to get out of view of the door.

 

    Crowley silently walked to the door and peered through the hidden peephole. After a second he relaxed and threw the door open.

 

    “Anything I can do for you?” Crowley asked the mystery person that was still out of Daniel’s sight. He shifted over and peered to catch a glimpse of the person. It turned out to be a nervous looking maid holding a letter. She squeaked slightly and held out the letter.

 

    “Ranger Crowley! This arrived for you…” She trailed off as she noticed the kid looking at her. A look of recognition flashed across her face as she glanced at the small pile of weapons piled on a table. 

 

“Thank you very much!” Crowley announces as he slides slightly to block her view of Daniel. The maid seemed to remember what she was there for and handed Crowley the letter. Crowley gave her a friendly wave as she gave a hurried curtsey and scutteled off. Crowley closed the door and spun around as he pried the letter open with a small knife that he apparently had stored in his boot. Artemis appeared from the corner she had slinked off to. 

 

“Wonder how long it’ll take for more gossip to surface,” Artemis questioned as she slid back into her chair. 

 

“Luckily she didn’t see you. We don’t need more rumors about my secret lover because apparently no one bothers to remember what my daughter looks like,” Crowley says as he scans the letter. He gets a thoughtful on his face as he starts to dig through his desk. With a smile he pulled out a letter sealed with a very official-looking broken seal. He strode to the other side of the room and casually tossed it into fire. 

 

“What is it this time?” Artemis asked as she stood up and stretched.

 

“I’m afraid that there has been a terrible organization error and some important documents have been lost. I hope you don’t mind making a quick trip to Cordom Fief and getting another copy of the inventory they just sent us. And if you happen to bring the Ranger assigned there a uniform and sneak him into the castle as your guard, well who am I to stop you. Oh, and try to find the very illegal scheme that’s probably happening there while you’re at it.” Crowley told her with a casual wave of his hand. Artemis gave him a nod and scooped up her share of the weapon pile. 

 

    “See you in awhile, Daniel. Dad, just do your paperwork.” She gave her father a hug and ruffled Daniel’s hair on her way out. Daniel gave her a wave as she breezed out. Crowley and Daniel sat there in comfortable silence for a minute.

 

    “Crowley? I have a question.” Daniel decided to ask.

 

    “Question away, youngling.”

 

    “Can’t Rangers sneak into places by themselves? Not to sound rude, but why is Artemis always going have to go on these missions as a cover?” 

 

    “It’s just easier to infiltrate castles that way. Pretending to be a courtier’s escort gives you instant access to the Baron when you’re delivering the fake message, especially if you’re supposedly coming from Cassandra herself. Artemis is just one of the very few people outside of the Corps that most Rangers trust fully, so if they need easy access to somewhere official they go to her.” Crowley explained as he finally picked up a stack of papers to look over, only to set it back down in favor of drinking more coffee.

 

    “Like how Uncle Horace and Mom went on all those missions with Grandpa and Dad?”

 

    “Exactly! Most Rangers prefer to work alone or solely with people from within the Corps for either security reasons or personal preference, but if you’re with the right people they can really help you out.” Daniel nodded in response as he drained the last of his coffee. He stood up and set his cup down. 

 

    “It was nice to see you again, but Uncle Horace’s meeting is probably over by now.”

 

    Crowley gave him a thumbs up and a quick hug before Daniel went on his way. Occasionally people would stop conversation short in favor of blatantly staring at him, but nowadays it was getting easier to ignore. He mentally shook it off as he continued on. After a few minutes he found himself outside in their usually training spot strapping his armor back on. 

 

    “Enjoy the break?” Uncle Horace piped up from behind Daniel. He gave Daniel a small wave as he stretched his arms and took his usual spot. It didn’t take long for them to fall into their usual rhythm of Horace calling out moves for Daniel to repeat, slowly upping the difficulty and speed as they went. After a few hours, Horace called it quits and Daniel sank down and chugged about half of the container of water they had lying nearby. 

 

    “I think you’re about ready to use a real weapon,” Horace said out of the blue, causing Daniel to nearly spit out the water he was pouring down his throat. He gave Horace a hopeful look. 

 

    “Really!”

 

    “Well you haven’t managed to stab yourself, so I’d say you’re ready.”

 

    “Wait, how would I even do that? The sword’s made of wood.”

 

    “You’d be surprised.”

Chapter Text

     “What is it with this family and leaves?”

 

    “It’s an identification thing. Apparently wearing a leaf somewhere tells other Ranger that they can trust you.” Will apparently didn’t see the need to explain further, and just kept...examining ... leaves or something.

 

    “Mom’s going to be mad that you put dirty leaves on the table,” was Daniel’s...dignified response. Will froze for a second before shaking it off, which might have actually been a terrified shudder. Still, it didn’t stop him from shoving a leaf into his hands.

 

    “What do you think about this one?” 

 

    “You know what, why not. The entire country’s probably going to think that I’m Uncle’s illegitimate successor or something, but that sounds like a Ranger problem.” Daniel sighed. He ran his fingers through the short sprig. His dad gave him a smile and ruffled Daniel’s hair on his way out the door.

 


 

 

    “How do you feel, Sir Daniel?” Daniel turned at the teasing voice. His little sister was perched in his windosill, despite the fact that he was on the third floor and there were guards everywhere.

 

    “I get it, you can climb. Now get in here before you give some newbie a heart attack.” The siblings laughed softly as Paula crossed the room to give her brother a quick side hug. 

 

    “Still, you doing alright?” Paula asked, dropping the humor for concern. Daniel laughed softly.

 

    “Shouldn’t I be asking the same thing, Ranger Paula?” Paula instinctively ran her fingers over the bronze (soon to be silver) oak leaf hanging at her throat.

 

    “Alright, all things considered. And don’t think I don’t notice you dodging my questions.”

 

    “It’s been a long few years, hasn’t it.” Daniel strode to the window instead of answering her. Paula’s only response was a huff.

 

    “Now that’s an understatement if I’ve ever heard one.”

 

    “Well, at least we match.” Daniel gestured to his shield that was sitting in a corner. The silver willow leaf stood out proudly. She shorted. 

 

    “Well, there goes the mood. Now let’s go already.” She gently slapped Daniel on the back before jogging towards the door. He smiled before easily catching up to her.

 


 

 

    “You’ve met all the criteria to be a Ranger. I don’t think I really need to go through them, so I’m just going to skip that.” Paula stared at Crowley with a blank look as he rifled through some very stained and very wrinkled papers thrown haphazardly onto the table in front of him. “Ah… I’m forgetting something…” 

 

    “I think you’ve forgotten more than one thing,” Paula muttered. Daniel furiously resisted the urge to crackle. 

 

    “The oakleaf, sir,” the tired looking assistant standing at Crowley’s side offered. 

 

    “That’s it! Thank you,” Crowley replied. He snapped his fingers before dumping half of the papers onto the floor in order to uncover a silver oakleaf. He made a gesture for Paula to hand over her necklace. Looking extremely confused, she complied. Without any fanfare, Crowley replaced the bronze leaf. He looked at it for a moment before chucking it over his shoulder and turning back to Paula with her new oakleaf.

 

    “Right, then. Paula Treaty, as my last act as Commandant, I decree that you are a full-fledged Ranger. Sign here...and I’ve lost that paper too. One second.” Everyone stared at Crowley for an awkward minute as he managed to throw another chunk of the papers onto the floor. 

 

    “I think this is the right one. Well, I guess I can always forge your signature later if it isn’t. Here’s a pen.”

 

    Paula stepped up to the desk where the paper laid. The sheer chaos that had been the last few minutes distracted her from her panic long enough for her to sign the sheet without externally combusting. 

 

    As soon as she set the pen back down a loud noise came from the rafters of Crowley’s office. Dad landed in a crouch and swept up Paula in a tight hug. 

 

    “I’m so proud of you!” he shouted. Alyss clapped from where she was standing next to the door like a normal person and joined the hug. Daniel joined right after that (aka given the death glare by his mom when he didn’t move fast enough to join). 

 

    “Looks like you two are officially empty-nesters. Tell me how it feels so I can guilt myself into changing diapers in the middle of the night,” Gilan joked from where he was leaning up against the wall holding his daughter. Jenny gave him a sound wack over the head without even looking. 

 

    “New parent life giving you trouble?” Will answered, finally releasing his family from the hug but still keeping an arm around his daughter’s shoulders.

 

     “I still don’t know how you managed two at the same time.” 

 

    “I think taking over as the Commandant will make up the difference.” Crowley’s voice came from under the table where he was trying to pick up all the papers under the assistant’s pointed gaze.

 

    “This is payback from all those times I didn’t help you with your paperwork, isn’t it.” Gilan signed as he gently rocked his daughter in his arms. 

 

    “That’s part of it, yes.” Crowley cheered.

 

    “Alright, enough of that. Who want some cake?” Jenny cut in, somehow procuring a cake that hadn’t been there before. 

 


 

 

    Of all the things Daniel expected to see when he walked into his room in the middle of the night, Paula huddles in the corner eating an entire pie was only number five. 

 

    “Master Chubb is going to give you a new dent in your skull if he finds out you took a pie.”

 

    “I have one for you.” True to her word, she held out a blueberry pie that she apparently had stashed behind her under her cloak.  

 

    “What happened this time?” 

 

    “Someone kept going on about how Dad must have rubbed off on me. I hate it when people assume I’d be nothing if I wasn’t his daughter. And apparently balancing your entire identity and self worth on something like being a Ranger leads to a mental panic every time I miss a shot. Even if it’s just during practice.” She pushed the empty pie tin away as Daniel settled down with his pie next to her. 

 

    “Most people haven’t made the connection between Dad and I yet, but people say the same things about Horace and I. Pisses Maddie off.”

 

     She snorts. They weren’t quite cuddling, but their shoulders were pressed together and Paula’s cloak was somehow draped across them. 

 

    “I wouldn’t want to be the one to deal with that.”

 

    “I just loudly announce that Maddie mastered some brand new skill and sprint off. Used a window once. It was only on the first story but I still freaked out a maid passing by,” Daniel told her with a small smile and a laugh. 

 

     “Is she going to officially become an apprentice? Her birthday was a few months ago.”

 

      “Gilan suggested it, says she could use the discipline. Uncle Horace and Aunt Cassandra agree.” Daniel shrugged, nearly toppling the pie wobbling on their knees.

 

      “I guess he would know a thing or two about that. Last I heard Ally had developed quite the fascination with coffee.”

 

“I’m buying Jenny a new ladle for her birthday. Hers probably has a dent in the shape of his head by now.”