"I'm back." John closed the door behind him and raised the bag of ice cream. "Got you the ice cream I promised, Meggie."
"Finally!" Meggie jumped up from her bed. And then she immediately winced and doubled over. "...Stupid mortal food."
"Still feeling it, huh?" John smirked and placed the bag on the counter. After that, he pulled out a cup of ice cream and a plastic spoon from the bag before walking over to Meggie.
"That's why you should have come back sooner!" Meggie pouted and said, "What kind of Dad are you, leaving your cute daughter in pain like this?"
"It's just growing pains, Sweetie. You'll get used to it." After saying that, John held out the ice cream and spoon.
"Hmph." Meggie took the ice cream and spoon from John and then peeled back the lid on the ice cream cup. "I don't want to grow up then if it hurts this much."
John sighed and sat down next to Meggie. "...Yeah. I agree. Growing up sucks, but you gotta do it some time. Don't worry though." He wrapped an arm around Meggie and pulled her into a hug. "You'll always be Daddy's little girl, even if you grow up."
Meggie face turned red and she quietly ate her ice cream. Still, there was a faint smile and happy light in her eyes that she couldn't hide.
Seeing that, John smiled. "Good ice cream?"
"...Only because Dad's here. I'd never eat it otherwise. Too cold and sweet."
John laughed. "Ouch. Well, I'll make you some myself next time then. How does that sound?"
Meggie let out a genuine smile at that and then kept eating.
John pulled his arm back and just sat beside his daughter, watching her eat.
As he did, he couldn't help but feel a bit proud... and a bit regretful.
Meggie really looked a lot like Yue. She took after her mom in both personality and appearance. But now that he was watching her, John noticed that she took after him a lot in mannerisms.
The way she scraped off the ice cream from the top with the edge of her spoon instead of gouging it. How she held the spoon gently with her index finger and thumb like he did instead of the weird way Yue did by holding it between her ring and middle finger. And the way she turned the spoon upside down before eating the ice cream.
John hadn't noticed. And he was sure that she hadn't been copying him since there hadn't been a chance for John to eat ice cream like this with Meggie yet. So that meant it was just the way she ate it.
Meggie paused in the middle of scooping up some more ice cream and then tilted her head. "What?" She looked down at her ice cream cup and then pulled it close to her chest. "I'm not sharing!"
John laughed. "It's fine."
"Good. Get your own if you want it, Dad. This is for my upset stomach that *you* caused."
"Me?" John raised an eyebrow. "I'm not the one who thought it'd be a good idea to speed run eating the mountain of food."
Meggie blushed. "W-Well, you're my dad! You're supposed to stop me from doing stupid things!"
"Right, right." John patted Meggie's head. "My bad. I'll make sure to keep an extra close eye on you next time, Meggie."
"You'd better." She took another bite from her ice cream and then said, "But seriously Dad. Why were you looking at me like that." She frowned and said, "You had a weird expression on you... Am I eating it wrong?"
"No." John smiled and said, "I just keep getting reminded that you're my daughter as much as you are your mother's."
"Well, duh. You might be a dumb dad, but you're still my dad."
"Right. And I'm grateful that I am. And that I have such a wonderful daughter."
Meggie's face turned red and she looked away. "...Thanks, Dad."
Meggie continued eating her ice cream.
Seeing that she was running low, John stood up to grab the rest of the ice cream cups. But as he did, Meggie spoke up.
John grabbed the bag and walked back. "Yeah, Meggie?" He sat down beside Meggie and said, "What's up?"
"...Can you tell me about you?"
"Hm?" John blinked and then pointed at himself. "Me?"
Meggie nodded. "I know a lot about Mom and her family, but I don't know anything about you." She frowned and said, "Do I have a grandma? Or a grandpa? What about aunts and uncles? And not your adopted sisters."
"Ah. That's..." John trailed off and muttered, "That's complicated."
His family... John had been hoping to eventually reconnect with them after getting back to Earth. But now... that was impossible.
He never existed here. At least, not the 'John Smith' who was sent to the Three Realms. And after scouring the world's databases, he knew for a fact that his family never existed either.
His hard working father didn't exist. His mother who loved cooking and gardening wasn't anywhere to be seen. Even his genius brother who went missing one day without a trace just before graduating with his Bachelor's Degree. He was missing too.
And considering how much stuff his brother made, there should have been at least one sign of him. But there wasn't.
John Smith and his family were things that didn't exist in this world.
Not until he arrived with the family he had now.
"Dad? ...Are you alright?" Meggie leaned over to look at John's face. "I didn't mean to bring up bad memories. Um..."
John smiled and patted Meggie's head. "Don't worry about it, Meggie. And they aren't bad memories. Just... Well, Dad's only family are you guys now."
Meggie froze. "...What do you mean?"
John sighed and pulled out an ice cream cup and spoon. He peeled back the lid and then set it aside before scooping some of the ice cream up and taking a bite.
Cold. A bit bitter too... Ah. That was because it was matcha ice cream. No wonder.
John shook his head and then said, "This world doesn't have your grandma or grandpa. And your real uncle isn't here either." He let out a wry smile and said, "Even after all that your Dad's done, he still can't return home."
John was sure of it. No, he became aware of it after the incident with Yue.
His Earth wouldn't let him return. The moment he left was the moment he gave it up entirely.
...No. It wasn't just a matter of permission. He was sure he could get the permission to return. But it was a law of existence preventing him from returning.
That Earth did not allow supernatural beings. Trying to reach it would result in him missing it and landing on a similar Earth... but only a 'similar' one.
And even if he could return, he wouldn't be able to bring anyone with him.
His wife, his daughters, his sisters... the friends he made here and the connections he forged.
All of them would be gone. Wiped away like a dream or a fantasy.
"O-Oh..." Meggie trailed off. "That's... I'm sorry, Dad."
John pulled Meggie into a hug. "Don't be sorry, Meggie. Dad wouldn't give you guys up for anything in the world."
And he wouldn't.
It was a little sad. And he regretted it. John would never be able to make it up to his parents. Not only that, but they would have had two children suddenly vanish from their lives.
But that was the price he paid. The consequence for selfishly running off like that in a fit of anger.
Meggie leaned against John and said, "I wouldn't give you up either, Dad."
A soft voice. A simple remark.
It wasn't anything particularly special.
Even so, when Meggie said that, John's eyes started watering.
"D-Don't worry, Meggie." John turned to the side and said, "Just... a bit of brain freeze. Right. It's that. I'm not crying."
"You're totally crying! Why are you crying? What'd I say!?" Meggie stood up and started panicking. "Don't cry!"
"I told you, I'm not crying."
"Don't lie to me! Uuuu..." Meggie set her ice cream cup down and rubbed her forehead, as if massaging it would help her think better. And then she said, "Here." She walked over and hugged John. "I promise I won't disappear on you, okay Dad? Even if I grow up and leave, I'll make sure to call you every day, okay? I won't let you be lonely. So don't cry. ...Okay? Wait! Why are you crying more!?"
"S-Sorry, M-M-Meggie! Just... You're such a good daughter! I love you so much! I'm sorry that I made you sad!"
"T-That's fine, Dad! But please, stop crying! Y-You're g-going to make me cry too...!"
"D-Dad!" Meggie sniffed and said, "N-No fair! Y-You're not supposed to cry...!"