Qrow is pretty sure Clover is asleep at this point. All signs point to it. His breathing is deep and even, his hands are folded over his chest, and his eyes are closed. Also, his head is in Qrow’s lap. And Qrow is currently resisting the urge to start petting his hair, because while Clover looks really cute as always, Qrow has some standards.
He also has more than a few teenagers in varying states of wakefulness piled around the ship, as well as Maria flying the plane, Robyn calling shotgun, and Pietro.
Eh, most of them are asleep, and Penny doesn’t seem like the type to snitch. He pets Clover’s hair. Hesitantly at first, and then when it’s clear Clover is completely out of it, he keeps doing it.
He’s… really glad Clover is alive. Honestly, he would have taken just alive, but judging by the fact that Clover had chosen to pass out partially in his lap, there might actually be something more there. Or Qrow is reading too much into this. Or he’s being more of a useless gay than some of these kids, and he’s bi.
He might even be coming with them? But Qrow isn’t going to get his hopes up yet. He’s just going to enjoy this moment while it lasts.
It doesn’t last much longer. Not because of Clover waking up—as it turns out, coming back from the dead is more tiring than fighting off Salem’s army. He’s completely zonked out. Or doing a very good job of pretending to be asleep, but. Qrow’s pretty sure he’s asleep.
No, the reason the quiet moment doesn’t last any longer is because of some muffled giggles. Qrow looks up and meets Ruby’s amused look. He holds her gaze, and keeps petting Clover’s hair without missing a beat.
He stood up to Jimmy and Salem in the same day. He’s not going to be cowed by a seventeen-year-old. Even if the seventeen-year-old in question is Ruby Rose, his niece, and somehow managed to get all the collective stubbornness Team STRQ once had passed down through Summer.
“What?” Qrow asks, if softly. Clover deserves his rest.
“That’s kinda adorable, Uncle Qrow,” Ruby says. She grins.
Qrow smiles back. “Yeah? You should be sleeping, pipsqueak.”
“I—” The grin falters. Her face falls, and her eyes drop to the ground. “I can’t sleep. When I close my eyes, all I see is…”
She trails off. She doesn’t have to keep going, and she doesn’t. Penny puts a gloved hand on hers. Weiss, although her eyes are closed, shifts position so her head is on Ruby’s shoulder. She doesn’t open her eyes.
“Me too, kiddo.”
Me too meaning he also can’t sleep, but not for the same reasons. He doesn’t see Salem when he closes his eyes. He sees a man with a scorpion’s tail, cackling maniacally.
He’d forced himself to pick up Harbinger again. It was that or watch his kids die. But… he doesn’t think any of them missed that his hands were shaking.
His hands are shaking now. He thinks of other things, and goes back to petting Clover’s hair He’s alive now, not cold and still on the tundra below Atlas. He’s alive, he’s okay, and he somehow doesn’t hate Qrow. So the least Qrow can do is accept it. Clover being right here, somehow trusting him enough to sleep on him, helps. Quite a bit.
Maybe Clover knew exactly what he was doing, tired or not. Qrow really doesn’t deserve him.
“Uncle Qrow,” Ruby says suddenly. “Can you tell us a story?”
Out of all things that could have come after Uncle Qrow , that wasn’t one Qrow was expecting in the slightest. Not from the grimly (ha) determined huntress Ruby’s become.
But she still is that little girl, silver eyes shining with glee as she bounced up and down on her sister’s bed, the both of them excitedly chanting story! Story! Story!
He glances to Yang, is somehow not surprised to see she too is watching him with tired eyes. Blake isn’t, but her cat ears are twitching. Either she’s not asleep at all or she’s having an interesting dream. Hopefully not a nightmare. Hopefully nobody’s having a nightmare. Hopefully the kids that are sleeping are having sweet dreams, or barring that no dreams at all.
“Ruby, we’re not…” Weiss sighs. “Actually, you know what, I wish I was still five. I’m for it.”
“As am I,” Penny says cheerily, if a little loud. “I would like to hear your story as well, Qrow!”
“Uncle Qrow’s a really good storyteller,” Yang offers. “I’m down.”
“Kids. Please. You’re assuming I have a story to tell you.”
“You’re assuming we don’t know you make them up on the spot every time.”
Qrow opens his mouth and shuts it again. Yang may have a point. But storywise… he does have one story that he doesn’t have to come up with by the seat of his pants. He might swap out some things here and there, but it could work.
Clover’s asleep, which clinches the deal. He’s telling this story, with some slight modifications for his current audience.
“So maybe I did that a lot,” Qrow admits. “I do have a story for you, if you want to hear it. It’s a story of fencing and fighting, torture and revenge. There’s giants, and monsters, and chases. Escapes, miracles, and my personal favorite: true love.”
The ship goes completely silent, save for the dull hum of the engines and everyone’s breathing. For a few moments, Qrow’s afraid he’s lost them. Then he recognizes the spark in Yang’s eyes, remembers it from, oddly enough, Raven. Back when it had been the two of them against the world, and right before she was about to say or do something mischievous.
“You’re telling me you’re not making this up,” Yang says. “What’s it called?”
The original name doesn’t quite fit, with certain modifications being made. So, Qrow thinks a little. Pets Clover’s hair a little. Strokes his chin with his other hand.
“Let’s call it… The Prince and the Pirate. And no, firecracker, I didn’t make this one up. I’ll just be swapping in and out some names to keep you on your toes.”
“What, you’re going to name the main character after yourself?”
Qrow meets her eyes with that same mischievous spark as he says, “Once upon a time, there was a boy named Qrow. Qrow was raised on a small farm on the outskirts of Mantle. His favorite pastimes were exploring the wilderness and tormenting the farm boy that worked there. His name was…”
He pauses, gauges everyone’s reaction. Ruby’s sadness has completely given way to excitement. Penny looks mildly curious. Weiss looks intrigued. Blake and the entirety of Team JNPR look asleep, and the other Ace Op on the plane looks remarkably like he could be just another sleepy kid.
For her part, Yang just sighs .
“I know where you’re going with this,” Yang says dryly.
“The story, no. That other boy’s name, yes.”
“For all you know, I might have been named after that first boy.” Qrow grins. “As I was saying: the farm boy that worked there. His name was Clover, but Qrow never called him that. Now, no more interruptions, or I’ll forget the rest of the story.”
“Farm boy,” Qrow said, “fetch me some polish. My sword is getting dirty.”
A lesser individual might have stuttered an excuse me, at least say please or at least grumbled under his breath some. Clover Ebi was not a lesser individual. Besides, he was getting paid to help out around the farm, and that extended to Qrow Branwen.
“Lucky you,” Clover replied. He waited until Qrow had almost turned away, and then winked. When Qrow whipped back around, the hint of a blush rising on his cheeks, Clover made sure to look perfectly innocent and normal.
Lucky you was all Clover ever said in response. It had started as a lighthearted jab at Qrow’s semblance, then as a quiet nod to his own—and now, the words carried far more meaning than he thought Qrow might ever realize.
Now, when he said lucky you, what he really meant was I love you.
There came a day, the day after Qrow’s sister left for good, that Qrow realized the meaning behind those words. That was a day Clover hadn’t thought would ever come. Even more unlikely was what Qrow did when he found out.
“Lucky you,” Clover said with a wink and a smile, as the two sit on a fence on the edge of the farm. “You’ve got me.”
“Oh, shut up,” Qrow replied affectionately.
They both stared out at the setting sun, that is until Clover looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “Make me.”
Qrow didn’t respond, verbally that is. As it turned out, it didn’t take much to make him shut up. As it turned out, a kiss was all that was needed. And then it became a bit more than just one, singular kiss. Lucky him indeed.
“Uncle Qrow, we know you want to make out with him, skip to the good part!” Ruby protests.
“Bold of you to assume I haven’t already,” Qrow says if only to watch his niece start sputtering in second-hand embarrassment. “Actually, though, uh. He’s asleep, it’s fine. I’ll keep going.”
He waits just a moment on the off chance Clover is not, in fact, asleep and on the even less likely chance that he’d want to reenact that particular scene. There’s no sign of movement from him, save for the faint rise and fall of his chest.
No time to cry. Qrow has a job to do and a story to tell and he’s pretty sure Clover would wake up if he started crying. So no crying for Qrow right now. Even if he kind of wants to.
Clover had no money for marriage, just the clothes on his back, a semblance that brought uncanny good luck, and sheer determination. It was that determination that spurred him to leave, to set off across the sea to seek his fortune.
“What if I never see you again?” Qrow asked.
Clover stopped in his tracks, a pack slung over his shoulder and a sword hung at his hip, but he didn’t turn around.
Instead, he smiled to himself and looked back at his lover. “You’ll see me again.”
“What if something happens to you? Anything could happen. Your ship could sink, you could run into bandits, you could—”
“Qrow. Relax. I’ll be fine. Besides, this is true love. You think this happens every day?”
Clover was not fine. The ship he took to Mistral was attacked by the Dread Pirate Emerson, who never left captives alive. When Qrow received the news, he didn’t take this very well. Understandably.
“I promise it gets better,” Qrow says hastily. “You think I’d be telling a story that didn’t have a happy ending? Especially now? ”
“Good point,” Jaune concedes, and oh wow, he’s awake too. Marrow’s still passed out on top of him, Nora is snoring away curled up next to Ren, but Ren’s quietly looking at him too now. And so is Blake.
So much for everyone getting some sleep, but hey. If Qrow has an audience, he’ll make the story damn good for them.
Five years later, the prince of the Kingdom of Mantle was crowned king. As was tradition, he chose a spouse from among the common people of Mantle, and they were to be wed, regardless of the chosen one’s feelings on the matter. Qrow Branwen would have liked nothing more than to remain on the farm with his sword and his crippling loneliness for… however long he outlasted Clover. Probably not that much longer.
In a way, it was almost good that the newly crowned King James Ironwood chose Qrow to be his husband. Good in that it kept the soon to be Prince Qrow from burying himself in drink to cope, and really not much else. He did not love King James, nor did he believe he ever would. He had loved only once, and he had lost that love.
I will never love again, he had murmured to himself the night he learned of Clover’s death. Despite King James’ repeated assurances that he would grow to love him, Qrow never did. His only joy was found in his daily rides. Every day, late in the afternoon yet well before sunset, Qrow would take up his sword and ride out to the forest. He would kill Grimm there, any Grimm that dared show their faces, and then return to the castle feeling at least a little less terrible.
One day before Qrow and the king were to be wedded, on his return journey, he came across three strange travelers.
One was a tall man, with a bushy black mustache and greying sideburns. He wore a rather distinctive shade of purple, and a seemingly permanent scowl was etched into his features. The second was a woman, tall and blonde, with a scarf wrapped around her neck and an unreadable expression on her face. The third…
Swapping out that bastard Dr. Watts is a no-brainer, and Robyn’s a natural fit for the bold Vacuan swordfighter desperate to avenge their father. Then there’s the giant, which is where Qrow realizes now he’s got a slight problem on his hands.
Well, not so much a problem as realizing that the closest person everyone here knows to the giant would be Elm Ederne, who doesn’t quite fit the reworked story anymore, and Qrow thinks he’d like to keep the story relevant to people here in this ship. Even if the team’s reconciled with the rest of the Ace Ops.
Marrow’s tail wags in his sleep. Qrow gives him a cursory glance, and—yes, Marrow could work. He wouldn’t be a perfect fit, but with his semblance…? Actually, that works. Really, really well.
Yes. Done. He makes a show of clearing his throat, and looks Jaune in the eyes as he keeps going. Jaune’ll like this, even if Marrow keeps sleeping away.
The third was a man with a dog’s tail tucked between his legs, and an unreadable look in his eyes. He couldn’t seem to look Qrow in the eyes as he dismounted to talk to this group. Neither, strangely, could the woman.
“We are three... circus performers,” the man in the distinctive shade of plum says. “Our boat was capsized on the coast down yonder—is there a settlement nearby where we can obtain materials to fix it?”
“Hate to break it to you,” Qrow says, “but no. Nearest settlement to here would be Mantle, which is a couple hours’ ride… that way.”
He turns, and points. The next thing he knows, something hits him in the back of the head, and everything goes black.
Qrow wasn’t aware of his sword being kicked off to the side of the path. Crumpled in an unconscious heap, he didn’t see the his riderless horse be scared back off in the direction of Mantle, and he didn’t feel himself be dragged to the boat on the coast down yonder. The boat was not, in fact, capsized.
Neither Qrow nor his captors stuck around for very long. Consequently, nobody saw the masked man pick up Qrow’s discarded sword and, without a moment’s hesitation, follow them.
That is, nobody saw him until they had already reached the cliffs of Argus. Nobody lived there in those days, for this was before the days of Atlas leading the world in technology. Between the man attired in plum (Watts), the white-haired woman (Robyn), and the really guilty-looking faunus (Marrow), they’d managed to climb the cliffs with a very unwilling passenger.
Or, what should have been a very unwilling passenger.
“You know,” Robyn said once they reached the top, “this is usually the part where you say that the king will come for us, avenge you and all that.”
“Oh. Yeah. Right. Definitely.” Qrow must not have sounded very convincing. He tried again, “He’ll definitely come save me in time. Which is definitely something I want. Yep.”
Robyn opened her mouth and shut it again. Eventually, she said, “Do you even want to be rescued?”
Qrow shrugged as best he could with his hands bound. “If I don’t get rescued, I don’t have to marry Jimmy. So hey, I’ve got that going for me.”
“Watts is going to kill you. He’s going to kill you, and he’s going to use your death to start a war between Mantle and Mistral.”
Before Robyn could say anything else, the hushed conversation Marrow and Watts were having closer to the edge of the cliffs came to an end, and both human and faunus came over.
“Robyn,” Watts ordered, “You’re staying here.”
“Right,” Robyn agreed, getting up. “Any particular reason why?”
“Remember how Marrow thought we were being followed? We are. You’re staying here until he climbs up and dealing with him then. Marrow, we’re going.”
“Of course. Just what I wanted to do with my day.” Robyn drew her sword with an audible sigh.
Marrow looked between Robyn and Watts. His tail started to wag. Whatever he was planning, Robyn seemed to catch on fast. Slowly, her features gave way to a mischievous grin.
“Don’t you dare ,” Watts warned.
“Okay,” Marrow said far too cheerfully. “Hey, Robyn. Don’t be too long.”
“Course not,” Robyn agreed with a careless shrug. “Wouldn’t want anything to go wrong.”
“No. Stop,” Watts said to no avail.
“It would be bad if the guy following us was a… cop.”
“STOP. I mean it! Nobody thinks this is funny!”
“I think it’s pretty funny,” Qrow piped up.
“Nobody asked you, and soon you’ll be dead.”
Marrow winced but, after a moment, he added, “That’s what he said.”
“ENOUGH! Marrow, grab him and come on, not another word . Robyn, wait up here and kill anyone who comes after us.”
“Of course,” Robyn said, “no need to make such a fuss.”
Laughter. Lots of it. Good, laughter is good, and to be completely honest there was a point where Qrow thought these kids would never be laughing again, or smiling.
“Wow, Yang,” Penny exclaims. “You were very correct in saying your uncle was a good storyteller!”
“Hell yeah I was.” Yang makes finger guns in Penny’s general direction. “Even if he made himself the protagonist.”
Qrow grins to himself. “The character who happens to share my name isn’t. The protagonist, that is. He’s a pretty major character, but—”
“It’s Clover, there’s no way he’s dead,” Blake cuts in. “Besides, you never actually said he died.”
She’s grinning. And, despite himself, so is Qrow. These kids are really a force to be reckoned with, both on the battlefield and off. And… well, if this is Blake’s reasoning behind predicting his plot twists now, she’ll definitely be thrown for a loop once he gets to a certain part of the story. He’s maybe not looking forward to that part of the story. But he’ll power through it, for the kids’ sake. And for Clover’s sake.
“Gotta say, I never pegged you for someone who liked puns,” Robyn says from the front of the ship. “I like it.”
“I don’t,” Qrow begins, thinks on this, and amends, “mostly—”
“It puns in the family,” Yang says cheerfully. Half the plane groans. The other half snickers.
“That is terrible and I love it,” Marrow says, and oh wow he’s awake now too. Okay then. Honestly, the only person Qrow’s sure isn’t awake at this point is Clover himself, and he’s perfectly happy to keep it that way. If Clover can get some good sleep, the guy needs it.
And so does Qrow, but he has a job to do and it’s not like he can move currently anyway.
“Hello there!” Robyn yelled down the cliff. “You coming?”
The masked man, two swords at his hips and about halfway up the cliff, looked up at her.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but this really isn’t as easy as it looks,” the masked man called back up. “I know you’re supposed to be killing me, but it would be nice if you weren’t distracting me!”
“Sorry. I won’t.”
“Thank you! Really appreciate it.”
Robyn gave him a two-fingered salute and backed up from the cliff. She took a seat on an old log and, setting her sword down beside her, she waited. And waited. And waited.
After what seemed like forever, she picked up her sword and walked to the edge again. “Don’t suppose you could speed things up just a bit?”
“Well, I could, if I was feeling lucky. And I’m feeling pretty lucky. Afraid I can’t trust this one to luck, though. So, nope! Can’t climb any faster.”
“Damn,” Robyn said. She shook her head in disappointment.
“If you’re that impatient, you could always throw down a rope, or lower a tree branch for me, or something else useful.”
“I could,” Robyn agreed. “And Watts left the rope here. But somehow, I get the feeling you wouldn’t accept my help. I mean, I am waiting around to kill you.”
“True. That does put a damper on our relationship.”
The masked man kept climbing. At that rate, it would take him another hour to get up here. He wouldn’t stand a chance of rescuing the prince, which was almost certainly why he was chasing them in the first place. The prince that didn’t want to be rescued…
...and didn’t want to marry King James. Hmm. This was turning out to be very interesting.
“Why are you following us?” Robyn abruptly yelled down. “Don’t suppose you’re one of the king’s men?”
The masked man nearly fell off the cliff. Luckily for him, he caught himself just in time.
“Absolutely not ,” he called back. “If you’re going to ask for my life story, at least help me up?”
“Not a good enough guarantee. I’m curious, but I’m not that curious. You’d have to be stupid to trust me based on that.”
“I’ll swear on my honor as a Mantelian?”
“Known too many Mantelians, lived there for a time myself, you’re going to have to do better than that.”
“Wait. Really? You lived in Mantle? Who are you?”
The masked man kept climbing without responding. Robyn paced on the edge of the cliff. Eventually, she sheathed her sword, grabbed the rope, and slung said rope over her shoulder.
“How about this? I swear on the soul of my father that you will reach the top alive. He had the honor I may now forever lack.”
He thought on this. “Throw me the rope.”
Robyn did. The masked man climbed significantly faster with its assistance, and when he reached the top she grabbed his hand and pulled him up.
The masked man looked at her, and she looked at him.
“Thank you,” the masked man said, sounding at least a little out of breath.
“No problem.” Robyn’s hand traveled to her sword, then she shrugged carelessly and took a step back. “I’ll wait until you’re ready.”
Robyn did say she’d wait until he was ready, but of all the words that could be used to describe Robyn Hill, patient was not one of them.
“Hey!” Robyn exclaims in the present.
Qrow looks her over and says, completely deadpan, “Am I wrong?”
She doesn’t answer. She knows he’s right. Qrow hides a smirk as he glances down at Clover. He’s so cute when he’s asleep. He’s just really pretty in general. How can someone be this pretty? How is it remotely legal to be this pretty?
Admittedly, being unreasonably pretty wouldn’t be the first illegal thing Clover has done recently. But at this point, Qrow is beyond caring about the law. Cloves does, usually.
He’s so glad he didn’t when it counted. But that’s a conversation for later, after he wakes up. After they arrive, and after they get off the airship. Most importantly, after the story’s done, because Qrow didn’t get dubbed the best storyteller in this family for nothing.
Admittedly, nobody else was really competing. The point still stands.
Of all the words that could be used to describe Robyn Hill, patient was not one of them. So, she asked the question she always asked someone new.
“I don’t want to pry,” Robyn said, fully intending to pry, “but you don’t by any chance happen to have a scorpion tail?”
The masked man looked at her. “No. Do you always begin conversations like this?”
“Not always. My father was murdered by a man with a scorpion tail and an insane laugh. I didn’t think it was you, but it never hurt to ask.”
“It could, if you found the right man.”
“It could. But I’ve slaved away at the art of the blade since then. I can take him. Someday, I’m going to find him. When I do, I’m going to kill him. But first, I’m going to tell him this.”
She cleared her throat and continued, in a lower, more ominous voice, “Hello. My name is Robyn Hill. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
“Oh,” said the masked man, like this was a perfectly normal thing to tell someone you’ve just met.
“And then, I’m going to go to the nearest bar and flirt with pretty women. But I’ll kill him first. The problem is finding him. It’s been decades. At this point I just work for Watts just to pay the bills, there’s not a lot of money in revenge.”
“I suppose not,” the masked man agreed. Behind the mask, a thoughtful expression was beginning to take place. “I certainly hope you find him someday.”
“Thanks.” Robyn shot him a sharp look. “I guess that means you’re ready?”
“Ready as I ever will be. You’ve been more than fair.”
“You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you.”
They both draw their swords, and circle each other warily.
“You seem a decent fellow,” the masked man echoed. “I hate to die.”
Through a combination of extremely skilled swordplay from both sides, some acrobatic stunts of questionable use but amazing appearance, and eventually some sheer dumb luck on the side of the masked man, Robyn was disarmed.
“Make it quick,” she said. “And hurry up and rescue the guy we kidnapped while you’re at it, you’ve got a decent shot.”
The masked man did make it quick. He did not, however, kill Robyn. Rather, in a quick motion, he knocked her out.
“No hard feelings, but I really can’t have you following me,” he said to the woman now knocked out cold. “Please understand, I do hold you in the highest respect.”
WIth that, he rushed off in pursuit of Qrow.
“Oh come on! ”
“You show up again later,” Qrow says without skipping a beat. “I mean, the character who happens to share a name and a lot of notable characteristics with you, but actually has no real resemblance, shows up again later.”
Robyn grumbles under her breath, but otherwise accepts this.
Frozen in place, the masked man was beginning to think that maybe he shouldn’t have blindly rushed into fighting the faunus boy. It really, really would have been helpful if Robyn had given him at least a hint at his semblance.
“That is a… very ironic semblance you have there,” the masked man said, because while nothing else worked, his mouth fortunately did.
“Thanks?” The kid shrugged. “I’m going to take that as a compliment. I’m Marrow. And you’re trying to rescue the prince.”
“Well, yes. That was the plan.”
“You don’t work for the king.”
“Not anymore, no, and never again.”
“Who are you?”
The masked man tried to shrug. He was, unfortunately, unsuccessful. With that in mind, he gritted his teeth and managed, “No one of consequence. I really do need to catch up with… Watts, was it?”
“Yeah, that’s him.”
“I do need to catch up with him. Preferably sooner rather than later, so if you don’t mind…”
“Robyn,” Marrow said. “What did you do to her?”
“Knocked her out. I would really prefer to avoid killing anyone, but Watts…”
Marrow’s tail visibly drooped. “If you can get past me, please do everyone a favor and kill him.”
“Of course. The problem with that would be that I can’t exactly move at the moment.”
“That would be a problem.”
As Marrow talked, the masked man experimentally tried to wiggle his fingers. He could. Marrow’s semblance was wearing off.
“I’d really rather not kill you, either,” Marrow says. “But I can’t just leave you here. So… sorry about this?”
He unhooked a boomerang, of all things, from his belt. He aimed, carefully, and threw it.
Through a stroke of sheer dumb luck—the narrator is well aware that he is using this far too much, and he is far beyond giving a shit, you lot already know who the masked man is anyway, do not give me that look, Yang—the masked man was able to duck just in time to avoid the boomerang. It zoomed through the air, arcing back to the one who had thrown it…
...and clocking Marrow upside the head. He fell like a stone. After checking to make sure this kid was not, in fact, dead, and dragging him off to the side of the path, he kept going.
“No. No, do not give me that look,” Qrow says.
Marrow gives him the look. He thought he knew puppy-dog eyes from his nieces, particularly Ruby, and Tai’s dog, Zwei the adorable little shit. Apparently, he thought wrong.
“You’re really bringing a new meaning to the phrase puppy eyes, huh.” Qrow sighs. “You come back too. Now, we only have another hour left until we get back to Atlas, and I want to finish this story.”
Marrow’s tail wags as he grins. Yes, Qrow thinks he can see why Jaune likes him. Maybe he’ll come to Vacuo with them too. That would be nice.
“Your presence here is inconceivable,” Watts told him. “Inconceivable, I tell you. You made it past both Robyn Hill, master swordswoman, and Marrow, master…”
“At making people stay put,” the masked man offered.
“One way of putting it. Useless, both of them. But I? I am not so useless.”
“Of course not.”
Unfortunately, Watts had a dagger pressed to Qrow’s throat, and him blindfolded. The masked man was quite certain that if he could get that blindfold off, and Qrow away from Watts, that the two of them could take him. Unfortunately, getting Qrow away from Watts would be the hard part.
Fortunately, the masked man who certainly had no relation to Qrow in the slightest had come prepared. One ‘battle of wits’ that really came down to luck later, and Watts was laughing his last laugh.
“You fell victim to one of the classic blunders!” Watts guffawed. “Never go up against an Atlesian when death is on the line!”
“I beg to differ,” the masked man said.
“Then beg , you—”
The masked man and Qrow would never find out what it was Watts was about to call him, because it was then that he fell over, dead as a hammered doornail. Relieved, he knelt beside Qrow, and began to untie his bonds.
“Who,” Qrow asked suspiciously, “are you? ”
“No one to be trifled with,” the masked man said. “For now, that is all you need to know. Here.” He offered Qrow his sword by the hilt.
Even more suspicious, Qrow took it. He asked again, “Who are you? ”
“Oh my fucking gods , it’s obvious, ” Yang says, throwing her hands up in exasperation. “It’s Clover, we get it, skip to the making out.”
Qrow smiles at her and says, quite simply, “No.”
“I know who you are,” Qrow said.
The masked man turned to face him, quirked up an eyebrow. “And who, my dear prince, am I?”
“I’m not a—” Qrow huffed. “You’re the Dread Pirate Emerson. Aren’t you.”
“The one and only, at your service.” The masked man, currently calling himself the Dread Pirate Emerson, bowed low. “What can I do for you?”
Qrow drew his sword. He stood, shakily, and pointed it at his rescuer.
“You. You killed the one person I ever truly loved. And now, you want to kill me too.”
“The one person you ever truly loved,” the Dread Pirate Emerson echoed. “You mean to say you don’t love your betrothed? The King of Mantle?”
“Of course not. Never have, never will. But it’s not like I had any choice.”
“Then who was your true love? Another royal like this one?”
Qrow audibly scoffed. “No. A farm boy. Beautiful and kind, with eyes like fresh mint and a smile that made you feel like you were the luckiest guy in the world. And you killed him.”
“Possible. I kill a lot of people.”
“You attacked his ship. And we all know the Dread Pirate Emerson never takes prisoners .” Qrow takes a step towards him, then another. “You killed him. And I’ll kill you too.”
He charged. The Dread Pirate Emerson parried his blow and took a step back. And yet, for the first time that day, luck was no longer on his side. He tripped, and slipped, and the next thing he knew he was rolling down the slope in a heap.
“TELL ME!” Qrow yelled. Equally unbidden and unnoticed tears streamed down his face. “WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF???”
There was no answer at first. The Dread Pirate Emerson had lost his mask at some point in his descent, and had faceplanted at the bottom of the ravine. For a few, short seconds, Qrow let himself hope he’d killed him.
Then, he got up. He cupped his hands around his mouth, and he shouted, “LUCKY YOU!”
Qrow saw the eyes of a man he had mourned, the eyes of a man he never thought he’d see again. He saw pain in those bright teal eyes, and the beginning of tears. But he also saw hope, and fear. In the end, from the moment he recognized who the ‘Dread Pirate Emerson’ really was, he only had one option, and he took it.
He launched himself down the slope after him.
“I FUCKING TOLD YOU!” Yang yells triumphantly.
Qrow glares at her, even though there’s only one person still actually asleep. Ironically enough, it’s Clover. Either he’s the heaviest sleeper in the history of ever, or he’s doing a very good job of pretending to be asleep. Qrow’s going to believe it’s the first option. Clover needs the sleep.
Well. They all need the sleep, actually. Some of the kids’ eyelids are drooping, but everyone’s still paying close attention. Even Robyn, which is not something Qrow would have seen coming. The issue with a good story, unfortunately, is that it tends to keep people up who might have otherwise gone to sleep significantly earlier.
But hey. Staying up later is alright if it means everyone sleeps better once they do get to sleep. And a good story helps with that, always had. It helped back in the days when it was him and Raven against the world. It helped back in the days of Team STRQ, before Summer died and Raven… left. It’ll help now too.
Qrow tumbled down the slope. He landed, and winced. Everything hurt now. Maybe jumping down a ravine hadn’t been his smartest decision ever, but could you blame him?
Clover was alive. Alive, and offering him a hand to his feet. Qrow took it. Crimson eyes met teal, and stared into them for a long moment. Qrow opened his mouth, then quickly shut it again. Words failed him, so he resorted to actions. He took a small, shaky step towards him—and hugged Clover with everything he had.
“You bastard,” Qrow murmured into his neck. “You cocky, irresponsible, lucky bastard . I thought you were dead. ”
Clover laughed. “I love you too, Qrow.”
For a few, precious moments, Qrow let himself be held by his long-lost love. And he cried. Oh, how he cried. He sobbed and sobbed, and Clover held him through it all.
At last, when his tears were beginning to wane, Clover looked up, and frowned.
“We can’t linger here any longer, unless you want your unbeloved betrothed to catch up with us,” he said grimly.
“Absolutely not,” Qrow agreed without a moment’s hesitation. “But how did you—?”
“We can talk on the way, and I’ll answer any questions you have. I’m sure you have quite a few. But we need to go, now.”
Hand in hand, the pair ran like hell through the ravine, and for good reason—Clover had seen Ironwood on the ridge they’d fallen from. The good news was, he was mounted, and therefore couldn’t come down the way they had. The bad news was, he could almost certainly cut them off before they reached his ship, at the other end of the ravine.
That would be a problem, but Clover was willing to trust to luck and to love, and if they kept up this frenetic pace, they wouldn’t be prepared for what was coming. So, once they reached the trees, Clover let himself slow to catch his breath.
Qrow too, slowed. He too was breathing hard, but that didn’t stop him from voicing something he’d realized about five minutes ago.
“You said you are the Dread Pirate Emerson.”
“That I am,” Clover confirmed. “What about it?”
“The Dread Pirate Emerson was… pirating? Pirating long before you left me. How is that possible?”
“Believe me, it’s possible. The short version is that I got very, very lucky.”
Qrow audibly snorts. “Of course you did.”
“The long version… when my ship was taken, I fought. I lost. I begged Emerson for my life, told him that I had someone I had to return to. It intrigued him. So, he let me on as a sailor, telling me every night that I shouldn’t get comfortable, he’d probably kill me in the morning. This went on for about three years. Until, one day, Emerson called me into his quarters, and he told me what I’m about to tell you now.”
“There’s two Emersons,” Qrow guessed.
“More than two. He wasn’t the original Dread Pirate Emerson, his name was Hazel. The one before him wasn’t the original Emerson either, her name was Winter. The real Emerson was named Ozpin, retired for the past fifteen-odd years and currently living his life somewhere off the grid. As for how people of different genders and body types have successfully pretended to be the same person… well. Nobody really knows who the Dread Pirate Emerson is, now, do they?”
“Except you, but I trust you to keep the secret. In any case, now that we’re together again, I’ll hand the name off to another and retire. Piracy is quite a lucrative business, as it turns out. In a way, I did find my fortune.”
“There is no way this is what you were planning. Even you aren’t that crazy.”
“Well, nope.” Clover winked. “But it worked out in the end. All we have to do is get back to the ship, and we’ll be home free. It’s not too far from here.”
“He jinxed it,” Jaune says automatically. He glances around, gets nods of agreement from the others. More confident this time, he repeats, “He jinxed it. He definitely jinxed it.”
Qrow throws up his hands in mock exasperation. “Oh come on, we haven’t even gotten to the R.O.U.S. yet!”
“The what? ”
“Rodents.” Qrow puts up a finger, and continues to do with every new word he says. “Of. Unusual. Size. R.O.U.S. are a mythical, long-dead type of Grimm. But I’m sure you don’t want to hear all about how a pair of them attacked our heroes, or about the oh-so-tragic loss of Clover’s sleeves.”
“You’re telling me,” Weiss says flatly, “he was wearing sleeves to begin with?”
“Just because these characters happen to share names and a lot of notable characteristics with people we all know does not mean they’re exactly alike.”
“Are you sure about that?” Ren, speaking up for arguably the first time this whole trip, and looking rather pleased with himself.
Qrow sighs. “Yes, he was wearing sleeves to begin with. Shocking, I know. But if you insist, I’ll skip to the part where all hell breaks loose.”
The first time all hell breaks loose, anyway. There’s arguably a second time much, much later, but Qrow would be skipping over far too much to go straight there. And anyway, he’s not straight. Nobody here is straight. So he can't go straight anywhere.
“We actually did it,” Qrow said. “We actually did it. ”
“Not quite, but your optimism is much appreciated,” Clover said lightly in return. “Another mile, and we’ll be—”
“I’m sorry. Were you under the impression that you had gotten away?”
Ironwood was there, mounted, on a wooden bridge crossing the top of the ravine. Oh fuck. Ohhhhh fuck. Oh fuckity fuck, fuck fuck fuck.
To make matters worse, Tyrian was dismounting his own horse beside him. Tyrian. Fucking. Callows. Fuck. As if things couldn’t get any worse.
Tyrian, Qrow unfortunately knew, was fully capable of leaping down into the ravine on top of them in an instant. He could do that, and he would do that, and he’d kill Clover without a hint of remorse and the manic cackling of someone who should not ever in a million years been trusted in a position of authority.
Clover had already drawn his sword, stepped in front of Qrow protectively. He would fight to the death for Qrow, and Qrow him. The problem was—there had to be some way they could both get out of this. And there was. Qrow just didn’t want to do it.
In a low voice, he said, “If I go with them, they might leave you alone.”
“They might. But I doubt it.” Clover looked up at Tyrian. His eyes widened. “That man has a scorpion tail. Do you know who he is?”
“Tyrian Callows. Jimmy’s enforcer. If it was just him, we could take him. Hell, if it was just Jimmy , we could take him.”
“But not both of them.”
“Not both of them,” Qrow agreed. “But I think Jimmy’ll be hesitant to jump down here. Tyrian won’t be. But he can only chase one of us, and Jimmy’ll prioritize me. If you run, you can get away, and we’ll find each other again.”
Clover looked at him. Hesitated, for the smallest of moments. Then he nodded.
Qrow thought on this, and shrugged. “Mantle, probably. Beyond that? I’m feeling lucky, for once in my life. I’ll find you. You’ll find me.”
With that, Clover bolted toward the bridge. Qrow remained there, looking up at Ironwood and Tyrian.
“I’ll marry you, if that’s what you want!” Qrow called up. “I’ll do anything you ask! Just let him go!”
Ironwood looked at him. Clover kept running. Precious seconds passed, and in those precious seconds Clover drew closer and closer to being out of range.
Ironwood turned to Tyrian, and said something inaudible. Tyrian leaped down from the bridge, made a mock salute to Qrow, and… oh gods. Oh fuck .
He began to chase Clover.
“CLOVER! RUN! ” Qrow yelled, drawing his own sword and joining the chase. But he had scarcely reached the bridge when Tyrian caught up, his tail poised to strike.
He struck. Clover fell.
“NO!” Qrow screamed, but it was too late already. Clover was gone, for real this time.
This time, it was his fault. Qrow didn’t struggle when Tyrian came back for him, dragged him up the slope and shoved him on a horse. He didn’t meet anyone’s eyes. He couldn’t even if he wanted to.
“For what it’s worth,” Ironwood said as they come back to the palace, “I’m sorry.”
“No, you’re not,” Qrow replied, and nothing Ironwood said or did could get another word out of his mouth. When they returned to the castle, Qrow wouldn’t eat. Couldn’t sleep. Did everything he could not to think about Clover, and failed miserably on that front.
But it was going to be alright. If he didn’t eat for long enough, he’d see Clover again eventually.
“NO!” Nora stands up, glares at Qrow. “No, no, no, no, no! You are not telling the right story, Qrow! There is no goddamn way Clover’s dead . We fought Tyrian! You fought Tyrian! His stinger didn’t kill you, we got you to Mistral in time!”
“And who,” Qrow replies, “would get to him in time?”
Nora opens her mouth. She shuts it. She sits down and glares at him. Finally, she says, “You wouldn’t kill him off.”
“Maybe I would. Maybe I wouldn’t.” He wouldn’t. He never would. “But for the sake of the real Clover, can we please be just a little more quiet?”
“The story’s not over,” Blake notes, curiosity evident in the way she holds herself and in the way she holds Yang’s arm. Yang clearly doesn’t mind.
“Absolutely not,” Qrow agrees. “But we might have to skip over some parts, otherwise we’ll be back to Atlas before we reach the end. And, trust me, you’re going to want me to reach the end.”
Clover did not come to all at once. His head swam, and he couldn’t move. He couldn’t even wrench his eyes open. For a few seconds, he couldn’t figure out what happened. Then he remembered. Qrow. Tyrian, the man with the scorpion tail. Ironwood.
He should have been dead. He wasn’t, somehow, inexplicably. Where even was he?
Voices. Someone was talking nearby. At least two someones were talking, and he almost recognized the voices. Still, strangely, he couldn’t quite place him. And his head hurt , everything hurt, but his chest more than hurt. It made some sense, that was where Tyrian got him.
That was why he should be dead.
“How do we know it’ll even work? We don’t know if it’ll even work! He’s going to die, and we’ll have wasted all the money we got from working for Watts! Which was a terrible idea, by the way!”
Robyn . He recognized that name. Which meant that the other had to be… Marrow?
“You got yourself into that, and I did too. Mistakes were made. But we can fix them.” Robyn took a deep breath. “He’s not going to die. If he does, it’ll be from something on our end, not Pietro’s.”
From where he was tinkering with his chair, Pietro raises an eyebrow.
“Yes, you’re in this too,” Qrow says. “Robyn, Marrow, you happy?”
“Very,” Robyn replies. “Although I can’t wait for my namesake to kill Tyrian a second time.”
Marrow’s tail wags behind him, betraying his enthusiasm even as he’s trying to appear calm and collected. “It’s alright.”
Jaune laughs. “He loves it, Qrow, don’t mind him. Keep going!”
So Qrow does.
“And what is your plan? Storm Ironwood’s castle , re-kidnap someone who will be far more heavily guarded than he was earlier, and then what? You don’t even know this guy’s name, or if he’ll help us!”
“Clover.” He coughed, managed to open his eyes enough to see Robyn and Marrow looking down at him with varying amounts of concern and surprise. “My name’s Clover. And I think you saved my life.”
“We were in the neighborhood,” Marrow tried. Robyn looked like she wanted to smack him, so he dropped the suave facade and admitted, “Okay, you could have killed us both. You didn’t, and you clearly give a lot more of a damn about the prince’s well-being than that king does. So. Want to help us spring him?”
“He’s not a prince. His name’s Qrow, and he… means a lot to me. I love him, and I want to see him be happy. So: absolutely. But there’s some things you should know first.”
Clover tried to push himself up, but found there was no strength in his arms. Robyn grabbed an arm, Marrow the other, and soon he was propped up against what felt like a stone wall.
“What happened to you, anyway?” Robyn remarked. “That was some potent poison, and the way they got you with it was… strange. But effective. If we’d gotten you help a few minutes later, I don’t think you’d have woken up.”
“That’s what you need to know. Robyn, the man with the scorpion tail. He’s Ironwood’s enforcer. He’s Tyrian Callows.”
Robyn looked at him. Looked at Marrow. Looked back at him.
“Well, fuck,” Robyn said. “Okay. More reasons to storm the castle. We’ll wait for you to recover, then we corner Tyrian. Marrow uses his semblance because giving him a fair fight was what killed my father, and I kill him. Then we rescue Qrow and ride off into the sunset. Any objections?”
“Where are we, how long do we have?”
“Down the road from the castle, and… that’s a good question. Marrow?”
“The wedding is in two hours, we don’t have time to wait for him to recover, and how are we supposed to ride off into the sunset? We don’t have horses!”
“Details. We’ll figure it out. First we need to get into the castle.”
Clover frowned. “I can come up with something. Well. I have to come up with something , but preferably something that doesn’t get us all killed. What do we have? It’s clear you both have aura, as do I, and I know what Marrow’s semblance is. Robyn?”
“Nothing useful for this. I’m a walking lie detector. You?”
“Luck,” Clover said. “Good luck, specifically. Bad luck is Qrow’s. I… I’m guessing he thought I was dead. He won’t have taken this well. We need to find him. Marrow, how many soldiers are there?”
“Twenty or thirty. I… might be able to hold them all with my semblance, but I don’t know how long I can hold them. And they’ll still see us.”
Clover hummed to himself. “Alright. Stealth it is. I don’t think I can stand at the moment, but I think I’m getting better, and we have no time to waste. Help?”
“I fucking told you he wasn’t dead,” Nora crows triumphantly. “I. Fucking. Told you!”
Qrow considers calling her out for language. Then he thinks better of it. Everyone here’s legally an adult except for Oscar and Ruby, and Ruby’s close enough that he doesn’t give a shit. Honestly, he doesn’t give a shit that much in general, it’s just fun to annoy kids sometimes.
“You did,” Qrow agrees. “Can I finish the story?”
It’s a stroke of uncanny good luck that Clover hasn’t woken up yet. Qrow wants to let him sleep as long as he can, but that won’t be for much longer.
“Hurry up,” Maria warns. “I can see Atlas, and I want to hear what happens next."
“Ooohoohoo! What do we have here?” Tyrian grinned his signature grin, reached for his weapons. “Are you, perhaps, lost?”
“Absolutely not,” Marrow said. “But my friend is the one who’s going to kill you. I’m just here for moral support.”
“Oh? And who might you be, hmm?”
“Me?” Robyn smiled a feral, hunter’s smile. “Hello. My name is Robyn Hill. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
“You? Are going to kill me? ” Tyrian laughed. “Oh, you poor lost little girl. I think I remember your father. He died the way he lived: oh so boring . And so will you!”
He charged at her. Marrow pointed at him and yelled, “STAY!”
Tyrian stayed. Robyn breathed in and out, in and out. She drew her sword, and walked up to Tyrian.
“My father’s mistake,” Robyn told him, “was playing fair. Tell Dad I said hello, when he runs you through with his sword in the afterlife.”
In one quick, fell swoop, she lopped off his head.
Robyn’s clapping. “I think,” she adds, “you managed to make this woman more badass than me. Good job. Not an easy thing to do.”
“She had help,” Marrow adds helpfully.
“Definitely. Hey, Wags, drop by next time you’re in Mantle. I’ll buy you a drink.”
“For the story?”
“No, for the beowolf alpha you stopped in its tracks before it could maul me. Thanks for that, by the way.”
Qrow clears his throat. “I really would like to finish this.”
In less than an hour, Qrow Branwen was going to be married to King James Ironwood. He was, as you could imagine, rather put out by that fact. Especially considering that the king had given the order for his one true love to be killed.
He hadn’t eaten in days. He hadn’t spoken in days. Jimmy was, unfortunately, kind enough to keep anything he could use against him well out of his reach. That included his sword.
Lying listlessly on the bed, Qrow stared up at the ceiling. His gaze found a crack in it, nothing that would become a problem anytime soon. Unless, of course, misfortune had something to do with it.
He willed it to expand, to fill up, to do anything . Anything but just be there, staring back at him with complete apathy. His semblance intensified with a thought.
Nothing happened with the crack. But the man attempting to open his door quietly found instead that it fell in entirely with a crash, and he fell on top of it with a muffled thought. His semblance hadn’t been intensified—he hadn’t thought he’d need it.
Qrow only heard a muffled groan. Then there was someone picking himself off the floor, and then a muttered, “Not the welcome I was expecting, but I’m glad your aura’s up!”
Qrow’s breath caught in his throat. He hadn’t thought he’d ever hear that voice again. He didn’t dare to look. Couldn’t dare to look. Instead, he whispered, “Clover…?”
“The one and only. Good to see you too.” A warm hand found his, gave it a comforting squeeze. And then Clover asked, softer, “What happened to you?”
“I thought you were dead.” It wasn’t so much an explanation as it was a confession, an admission of guilt. Qrow looked at him, finally, and caught the pained look that Clover quickly blinked away. “I’m so sorry. I should have waited for you.”
“No. You should have ran, while you could,” Clover said softly. He ran his thumb over Qrow’s knuckles comfortingly. “But what’s done is done. We’re both still alive, and going to stay that way. And this time, I brought friends to help me escape.”
Clover smiled. “You met Robyn and Marrow. They’re dealing with Tyrian. Can you walk?”
“I…” Honestly didn’t know. His omission was, in itself, an answer. So Clover knelt, scooped him up in his arms, and carried him out the window.
They met back up with Robyn and Marrow, and the group did ride off into the sunset. Robyn, in Clover’s opinion, would make a fine Dread Pirate Emerson. And then?
Then, they had all the time in the world.
“That’s the end?” Ruby asks. Qrow confirms with a nod. “I told you all that Uncle Qrow tells the best stories!”
“That was me, sis,” Yang retorts. “Nice try though.”
The girls dissolve into arguing, Penny and Weiss taking one side and Blake taking the other. Jaune and Marrow, Ren and Nora, and Oscar all are carefully neutral, as is Qrow. He knows better than to pick favorites, and he never could anyway.
Qrow sighs to himself, and smiles. Maria’s pulling the plane into a landing bay right now, and soon, he’ll have to wake Clover up. But not yet.
He looks down at him with that same smile—and his heart stops. Metaphorically speaking, although literally speaking it definitely does a hop, a skip, and a jump, and then starts pounding.
Why? Simple. Clover’s eyes are open, and he’s looking up at him, and he’s grinning. He’s still got his head in his lap, and now he’s reaching for one of Qrow’s hands, taking it in his own.
“Hi,” Qrow says awkwardly.
“Hi,” Clover says back.
“Did you… have a nice rest?”
“Nice, yes, although I do admit it wasn’t very restful. I was slightly preoccupied with the story you were telling.”
Oh gods, oh fuck , abort abort abort.
“How much did you hear?”
“All of it.” Clover gives his hand a squeeze. “Although if I didn’t, I suspect Penny recorded the whole thing.”
Qrow looks to Penny. She flashes him a cheeky smile and a thumbs-up. Ruby is definitely rubbing off on her.
“Oh,” Qrow says, because what are you supposed to say to that? What is anyone supposed to say to that?
Teal eyes fill with obvious happiness as Clover says, “I liked it. You’re a good storyteller.”
Qrow hums to himself. He frowns. He starts to say, “I’m so—”
Clover reaches up and presses a finger to his lips. “It’s okay. I’m okay. You’re okay. We’re okay. How did you put it? What’s done is done. We’re both alive, we’re all going to be okay. Atlas is in one piece. Mantle is in one piece.”
“You’re… really calm about this. There’s no way you could have known everything would be alright.”
“Well, no. Guess we just got lucky.”
He winks, and it takes every ounce of willpower Qrow has not to kiss him. After the transport ship is unloaded, after everyone else leaves but them, it’s even harder.
“Hey! You two coming?” Ruby yells back in.
Maybe it’s luck. Maybe it’s fate. Whatever it is, Qrow takes a deep breath and yells back, “We’ll be a moment!”
Clover looks at him. Quirks up an eyebrow. “We’ll be a moment, will we?”
Qrow takes one step forward, then another. Then, before he can change his mind, he wraps his arms around him and kisses him.
As it turns out, they were a bit more than a moment.