Let us make one thing absolutely clear before we begin: Nora Valkyrie does not believe in Santa Claus. She’s considered the logic of it, and while she’s fully prepared to believe in flying reindeer, one-night world-wide trips, and a fat man who can fit down chimneys, she’s too skeptical of the idea that Santa, a man who can create and make anything at all in his workshop, would bring big, extravagant presents to bratty rich kids whose parents are perfectly capable of supplying said gifts on their own, while poor kids with perhaps no family at all are left in the dust. It’s against everything she’s been told about Santa, and the obvious answer is that either Santa is not the kind, benevolent man she’s been led to believe, or he doesn’t exist and he’s just the kids’ parents in disguise.
It’s all very sensible and a somewhat depressing conclusion for a nine-year-old to come to.
But while we might ourselves scoff at the unbelievable, who among us, come zero hour, would not get in a bit of goodwill, just to cover our bases? Just in case ?
So it was that, the night before Christmas, Nora begged and begged and begged Qrow to take her to see Santa again, so she could ask him her wish special.
Just in case.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here- let’s back up about two months, to just before Halloween, when all of this started.
“It’s my birthday it’s my birthday it’s my birthday!!!”
Ruby bounced through the house trailing punctuation while Nora followed, just as excitable, making fanfare noises with her mouth. They skidded to a halt, though, when they reached the door to the kitchen and ran smack into Uncle Qrow’s legs. He put his hands on his hips and stared down at them, only just barely suppressing a smile.
“And just what are you two doing?” he asked.
They pulled themselves up, and Ruby struck a pose. “It’s my birthday!” she said. “We’re celebrating.”
“Okay.” Qrow pinched the bridge of his nose and held up a finger. “One, it’s not your birthday for another two weeks. Two, it’s six o’clock in the morning on a Saturday, so why are you two even awake ? Three…”
“Three, your Uncle Qrow has a hangover, so why don’t you girls keep it down a little?” Uncle Tai came out of kitchen, pushing Qrow aside, and scooped up both girls. They giggled, but quietly, while he carried them back to the room they shared.
Nora twisted around to look over Uncle Tai’s shoulders as they were carried away, and saw Uncle Qrow clutching his head and leaning back against the wall. When he saw her looking, he straightened up a little and gave her a small wave before ambling through the kitchen and back to his own room behind it. She grinned and waved back, even though he was out of sight now.
“Why is Uncle Qrow hungover?” she asked, as they were dropped carefully onto the bottom bunk. Ruby hopped off and immediately scrambled up the ladder to her own bed.
“Because he went out drinking last night and doesn’t know how to stop at a reasonable amount.” He straightened. “You don’t have to go back to bed, but try to play quietly, okay? The rest of us are trying to sleep.”
“Yes, sir,” they both mumbled, properly chastised, while he left. Once he was gone, Nora climbed up the ladder and crawled into Ruby’s bed, pulling the covers up over both of them until they were under a tent of sorts.
“Hey Ruby, I’ve been thinking,” she said.
“Do you like me?”
“Don’t be stupid, of course I like you.”
“Yeah but I mean, a whole lot? Like how much you like Yang?”
“Oh. Um…” Ruby twiddled her fingers silently while she considered. She loved Nora, sure, but Yang was her big sister. The two just didn’t add up.
“Oh.” Nora hung her head. “Never mind, it was stupid.”
“What? No!” Ruby half-tackled her, wrapping her up in a hug. “You’re super great! I love you a whole lot! Please don’t be sad!”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure! Nora, what’s wrong?”
“I- I want Qrow to adopt me!” she said, almost shouted, and then clamped her hands over her mouth, scared of her own words.
Ruby, meanwhile, had lit up in delight. “Nora! That’s the best idea I’ve ever heard! Then we’d be family for real! Ooooooh, I can’t wait!”
“Ruby, shhh! I don’t know for sure yet that it’ll happen. Anyway, I’ve been thinking. He’s a teacher, right? He’d never be able to adopt me on a teacher’s salary.”
“What does that have to do with it? He’s already allowed to take care of you, so why not just make it permanent?”
“I don’t know, but all my other foster families have said that adoption is an expensive process.”
“So how are you going to get him to adopt you?”
“I’ve been thinking about that, actually. What if- and hear me out- what if he marries someone rich ? Then he’ll have plenty of money!”
“Nora, that’s perfect! Oh, but who is he going to marry? We don’t know anyone who’s rich.”
“Ah.” Nora stilled, and folded her arms. “...I hadn’t actually thought that far ahead.”
“Well, keep thinking about it,” Ruby assured her. “Maybe something will turn up.”
In all honesty, the girls had not actually expected anything to ‘turn up’. Though they spent the rest of the morning entertaining the idea that Nora had put forth, they both knew in their hearts that the odds of someone rich turning up in their little town, and being eligible, and being compatible with Qrow, was very slim.
So while they enjoyed the idea, they tucked it away as just an idea, and decided to find some other way to get Uncle Qrow to adopt Nora instead.
They weren’t counting on James Ironwood happening to them.*
They certainly weren’t counting on him happening so soon .
Sunday evening, while Uncle Tai was making everyone lunches for the next day- turkey salad, in case you’re wondering, with all the fixings packed separately so that the bread wouldn’t get soggy beforehand- Qrow got a phone call. He left the room to take said call, and everyone ignored him because it wasn’t important, but a few minutes later he came back in and got their attention because it apparently was important.
“So I’m getting a new student in my class tomorrow,” he said. “That was Ozpin, he was letting me know. Her name is Penny, and I’m meeting with her dad first thing in the morning, before school.”
Ruby wrinkled her nose at that. “Does that mean we have to leave the house early in the morning?”
“Ha!” Qrow reached over and ruffled her hair. “That’s exactly what it means. Sorry, kiddo.”
“Ugh, that’s so laaame.” Ruby leaned back with a groan. “Can’t Dad drop us off at school instead?”
Tai looked up from the orange he was carefully prepeeling. “Sorry, sweetheart, but I’ve got an early morning faculty meeting, I’m leaving early too.”
“Anyway, while I’m talking to the stiff, I want you girls to try to get to know Penny. Make her first day nice- you don’t have to be best friends, but show a good friendly Signal E welcome, okay?”
“Yes, Uncle Qrow,” the girls all chorused, and Qrow ruffled Ruby’s hair again. “Look on the bright side- at least you haven’t got to have a boring meeting with a parent.”
They all agreed that this was a definite positive, but spoiler: the meeting was not going to be boring. It was not exactly going to be life-shattering, but it was going to kickstart a very exciting two-and-some-change months, which was almost as good.
It was a very sleepy trio of girls who sat down in Qrow’s classroom that Monday morning. Yang immediately rolled up her jacket and used it as a pillow to lay her head down on the desk and go back to sleep, but Ruby and Nora glued themselves to the door, opening it and looking out every- what felt to them like- ten minutes (it was, in fact, about thirty second intervals), waiting to see the new girl and speculating about what sort of person she’d be.
“How long until your meeting, Uncle Qrow?” Ruby asked, after about the fifth time opening the door to peek. Qrow looked up from his desk.
“About another five minutes,” he said. He pointed up at the clock over the blackboard. “It’s six fifty-five now. My meeting is scheduled at seven.”
“Five minutes,” Ruby said, and gave a determined nod. “What are we going to do for five minutes while we wait?”
“You could try sitting quietly,” Qrow said, and was immediately dismissed.
Nora went over to her bookbag, and took out her Gamebuddy. Qrow’s attention was immediately back on them.
“Hey, hey, you girls know you’re not supposed to have those at school. Come on, hand it over- I’m not having another meeting with Bart about you not paying attention in class.
“Awww…” She pouted and gave it to him; he tucked it away in his briefcase, and gave her a gentle smile.
“Hey, come on, don’t look like that. If it wasn’t me it was gonna be someone else. At least this way you can be sure of getting it back at the end of the day.”
“Yeah…” She was still pouting, though, so he shooed them back over to the door to wait.
On the bright side, they’d managed to kill half of their five minutes, so it was in no time at all- and in fact, it was right on the seven-o’clock mark- that there was a knock on the door. Nora hurried to grab the doorknob first and swung it open with a bit too much enthusiasm, and found herself face-to-knee with the answer to all of her problems, though she was unaware of this at the time.
She looked up, and up some more, and then leveled her gaze back out when the man crouched in front of her.
“Hello,” he said. “I’m James Ironwood- I’m supposed to have a meeting with Qrow Branwen?”
“He’s over there,” Nora said, she and Ruby both gesturing over at Qrow, who had already stood and was moving over to join them.
Once he was with them, he planted one hand on his hip and gave Mr. Ironwood an amused look. “That’s me,” he said. “Come on in. Where’s your daughter?”
“She’s-“ he paused, and looked around, and then gestured to someone out of sight. “-over here.”
Nora and Ruby leaned around to door and saw a girl their own age reading the big Halloween poster outside their classroom. She joined them at her father’s beckoning, though, and once she was in the room at his side she saluted.
“Sal-u-tations!” She said. “My name is Penny Polendina! It is nice to meet you! I hope that we can be friends!”
“Hey, Penny,” Qrow said, leaning a bit to address her. “I’m Qrow Branwen, I’m gonna be your teacher now. You can call me Mr. Qrow, though, Mr. Branwen makes me sound old.”
“You are old,” Yang said, waking up from her nap to join them. He gave her a look like he wanted to stick his tongue out at her, and ruffled her hair instead.
“And this is Yang, that’s Ruby, and that’s Nora. Why don’t you girls head outside?” he said. “I gotta talk to these two in private.”