"I'm a dragon," Haley says, because she doesn't know a better way to say it. She glances at Susan. "Mom's family…. They're all dragons."
"It skipped my generation," Susan says quietly, "but it's true. There's a reason all the family reunions on my side happen to fall when you are too busy at work to get away."
Jonathan's eyes are wide, but he says nothing.
Haley gets to her feet, walks the short distance to the middle of the living room, and transforms. The curtains are pulled, the outside world cut off, and it's just the three of them. For once, she doesn't need to be careful. She doesn't need to be sure that her father is out of the house or out of the room or distracted enough to not notice. This time, she wants his full attention, even…. Even if it doesn't go as well as she hopes, she wants him to know. He deserves to know.
Jonathan is clutching Susan's hand, but he doesn't scream, not even when Haley approaches him and holds out one hand so he can examine it, scales and claws and all.
"This…is real," he says when he finally begins to prod at it. She keeps her hand loose, letting him shift her fingers and pick at the edges of her scales. "It's real. These…. It's not…."
"Magic is real," Susan whispers. "Magic is real, and dragons above all other magical creatures are tasked with keeping the mortal world from knowing that."
Jonathan lets out a nervous chuckle. "No wonder your father hasn't warmed up to me."
"He knows you're a good man, that you have a good heart, but he knows how dangerous this knowledge is."
Jonathan doesn't ask why they didn't tell him before.
He doesn't ask why they've chosen to tell him now.
He doesn't pretend they kept this from him because they don't trust him, and Haley realizes it must be because he knows that they love him.
It lets her release a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding, because it also means that he still loves them.
Not that she'd ever really thought he'd take it poorly. It's just…. It's hard not to be nervous. This is a secret that's been kept from him since long before she was born, and it's one that could tear her family apart. But he isn't going to let it. He's still holding onto them both, her and her mother, and he isn't going to let them go. He isn't going to push them away.
"I have to admit," Susan says quietly, "that you're taking this better than I'd ever hoped."
"You were always magical to me," he replies. Then he grins down at Haley. "Of course, I didn't think of you as magical magical, but I did suspect that there might be some family secret you all had. I just figured it was something between you girls that you didn't want to let the old man in on, and ladies are entitled to their secrets."
He isn't mad, not in the slightest. Not about the years of secrets, not about the depth of the secret, not about anything.
Her dragon face isn't as expressive as her human one, at least not to those who aren't used to reading them, but Jonathan must see something of her emotions in it because he releases Susan's hand and gathers Haley in a hug. He has to readjust his grip around her wings, and she laughs as he carefully lifts her up onto his lap. "This is just a part of who you are," he says to her. "I never saw it before, as much because I never looked for anything more as because you didn't want me to know, but that's okay. You're still my little girl. You'll always be my little girl. My little dragon daughter."
"Our little dragon daughter," Susan adds, wrapping her arms around them both. She shifts her head, angling her mouth towards Jonathan's ear, and murmurs, "Thank you."
"There's nothing to thank me for," he replies, but Haley's sure there is. He could have been angry about the secrets. He could have scorned them and driven them away. He could have threatened to expose them. He could have tried to deny the truth in front of him, preferring an old lie to the magical reality.
Haley gives him a fierce squeeze before pulling back. "I'm the American Dragon," she says, though she knows he doesn't understand what that means. She tells him, Susan interjecting with the little details when she sees Jonathan's face begin to crease with worry. It never settles quite smooth again, staying a little pinched around his eyes. Despite all Susan's reassurances, despite the precautions she and Gramps and Fu have taken, he's still worried.
He poses it as a question, but it's not. It's a truth. Haley and Susan tell him about the Huntsclan. Haley tells him about Huntsgirl, Susan about 99, and Haley finishes by confessing what she's been doing these last few weeks. How she's been looking for any sign of the dragon the Huntsclan has captured. The dragon she needs to save, if she can find any of them again.
Jonathan frowns. "Are dragons common?" he asks, looking between the two of them. "Besides your family, are there many others?"
"There are others," Susan answers, "but they're not common. Haley's description of this one has been circulated in the magical community, but no one knows who he is. No one knows of a missing dragon. If they do, the Huntsclan has them too afraid to admit it, and that means they've given up hope of ever freeing him."
"A secret ninja society and a rogue dragon," muses Jonathan. "It's right up there with talking dogs and a magic shop full of potion ingredients." He looks between Haley and Susan as he asks, "What can I do to help you, Haley Hoo?"
"For now, it's safest if you don't try to do anything," Susan says. "If Huntsgirl finds Haley, we'll all be in danger, but that doesn't mean we can't fight back."
"Not sure I'd do too well against someone like that."
"Honey, you'd do just fine." Susan's lips are quirked with amusement now, pulling at one corner. "You scared off a pair of hobgoblins when we were dating. That's when I knew I could follow my heart and not have to worry about you every moment."
"You thought they were trying to mug me," Susan says. Laughter dances in her voice. "I rather think they were trying to capture me and use me as bait to get at my father, but they never got me because you were there. As I recall, you wouldn't even let me lift a finger in my defense. You were determined to prove to me—and perhaps to yourself—that you could protect me as well as I could protect you."
Jonathan blinks. "Those were hobgoblins?"
"Dad really fought hobgoblins?" Haley knows it must be true, but she's never pictured her dad fighting anyone. She's faced a few evil hobgoblins in the past, and it was never a particularly easy fight.
"Hobgoblins, a few rogue pixies, and that one dwarf, but the dwarf was more an interaction than a fight," Susan says. "That's only what I've been around for, of course."
Haley starts to laugh. It's as much a release of her fear as it is a signal of hope, because she finally thinks they might have a chance. Maybe Huntsgirl will be able to find her, but Jonathan won't be completely unprepared, and she doesn't have to hide the truth anymore. And if she finds the dragon, or if any of them hear anything that might lead to the dragon or to Huntsgirl or to 99, especially now that Fu won't have to guard his tongue around Jonathan—
Maybe they can do this after all.
Maybe they'll be able to rescue the dragon, and maybe…. Maybe showing Huntsgirl her face won't turn out to be the death sentence Haley had feared, just like telling her father that he'd married into a family of reptiles hadn't gone terribly.
Mostly, though…. Mostly, Haley appreciates the freedom she feels. She hadn't realized how restricting it was before, dancing around the subject of the magical world whenever her father was in earshot. "I'm glad we don't have any secrets between us anymore," Haley says.
"Me, too," her father agrees, giving her a kiss on her forehead and not even flinching as her scales brush his skin.
Susan just hugs them both, and Haley ignores the wetness on her mother's cheeks.