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The Promise of the World

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For quite possibly the first time in Clover's entire life, he stands in front of the Atlas Transportation Center, afraid. He doesn't know where to go or who to talk to. He watches soldiers and military personnel alike walk past him without acknowledgment.  

Clover keeps one hand on the strap of a modest knapsack while the other holds a manilla folder. He doesn't know what to do.

"Dear boy, you're going to become a statue at this rate," 

Clover startles, ready to bolt until a firm hand settles on his arm. He turns. It's Pietro Polendina. 

"Don't you have places to be, son?"

"I..." Clover grips the folder so tightly the crackling sound it makes alerts even Pietro's aged ears. "No, I don't,"

Pietro briefly glances at the folder. "Well then, be a good lad and give this old man a hand," he motions to a few suitcases behind him. "I've got to get all of my things on that transport over there before the pilot bursts a blood vessel," he pushes his wheelchair toward the designated aircraft, assuming Clover will follow with the baggage. 

Clover does as he's told, albeit a tad mindlessly. He shuffles his papers into his knapsack and carries all of Pietro's things inside the aircraft's main cabin. Once everything is accounted for, he turns to leave without a word.

"Say, why don't you come along with me," Pietro suggests.

Clover doesn't meet his gaze, weakly shaking his head. "Thanks, but I don't--"

"Son, you don't have any more business in Atlas, do you?"

It's phrased as a question, but Clover knows it's a statement. And he's right. Clover doesn't... belong in Atlas anymore. 

"C'mon, strap in. Let's get out of here,"

Clover sighs. He closes the transport door and takes a seat. As the aircraft departs, Clover watches sleek high-rises and bright lights slowly fade behind murky clouds. He's never left Atlas before, but somehow, it doesn't feel like leaving home. 

---

Pietro's retiring. After dedicating years of his life to building the backbone of Atlas' military technology, he's ready to spend years in peaceful bliss (just as many years, were his exact words). Clover reflexively says something congratulatory: "You've earned it," or "Good for you," he can't quite remember. Honestly, he's waiting for Pietro to dig into him a bit. He's visited Pietro's lab a few times in the past, can't think of any Atlas soldier who hasn't. But they aren't close. He doubts Pietro even knows his last name.

Pietro never asks.

Eventually, the airship lands in Vale. Clover's seen photos of the Vale Transportation Center in briefings, recognizes the insignia and other notable features. He unloads Pietro's suitcases and pushes them to the main terminal. As Pietro gets his things in order, Clover stares at the airship, watching it disappear in the blink of an eye. Just like that. 

"If you're done birdwatching, we got a boat to catch,"

"Pietro, I think I'll just--"

"I'm glad you're already thinking for yourself, but I'm not asking," he says. "Let's go,"

Clover is more confused than anything, but doesn't have the energy to protest. He's never been to Vale and wouldn't know the first thing to do if left to his own devices. So, he gets on the boat and relegates himself to another hour or so of silence. It's a nice ride, reminiscent of travel scenes in old movies. Definitely not something he thought he'd ever witness first-hand. Then again, Clover figures he'll be experiencing a lot of things he never thought he'd experience moving forward.

The boat docks at Patch Pier. It's a stark contrast to Atlas, even Mantle doesn't have this much foliage or lush real estate. And it isn't unique to the pier - as they continue their journey on foot, they are surrounded by rows of trees bracketing small neighborhoods, kids playing outside, even a hint of nightlife in what Clover assumes is a bustling downtown area in the distance. 

They end up off the beaten path, coming to a sturdy-looking cottage with a large fenced garden. 

"Home sweet home," Pietro announces as he fishes out a keyring. He ushers Clover inside, stretching his arms and giving a relieved sigh. "I'm back!"

Clover quickly takes in his surroundings, wondering if someone else is here. Pietro makes it sound like he's expecting a homecoming. 

"Now then, you leave those suitcases to me," he tells Clover. "Make yourself comfortable,"

"Pietro," he says, trying to summon a stubborn voice. "I... I appreciate your hospitality, but I really should be going," 

"Oh, going where, exactly?"

Clover doesn't have an answer, but despite not having a home, he knows this one isn't his. 

"I'll be fine," Even though he isn't.

Pietro starts moving his items down the hall. "I know you will be, but right now you aren't. There's more than enough room here for a couple of Atlas throwaways, just make yourself comfortable,"

Clover sighs as Pietro turns a corner. He could leave. The door is right there, he saw and remembered enough of Patch on the way here to be able to find a hotel or something if he tried. But he's suddenly so very tired. The tension he's been holding in his shoulders the whole trip feels like it's multiplied, weighing him down. He relents, for now. 

Ambling toward the nearest unoccupied bedroom, Clover drops his knapsack onto the floor, contents spilling out unceremoniously. The manilla folder slides out first, the words Honorable Discharge stamped across the front in deep, red ink.

Clover collapses onto the bed, exhausted, and falls asleep. 

--

The first few weeks are rough. Clover is used to a very particular schedule and even though he knows he's no longer in Atlas, his muscle-memory needs a lot of retraining. Even simple changes like turning 6:00 AM mornings to 7:00 AM mornings is difficult, and a little disheartening when he fails in succession. 

Pietro accommodates him well enough, he's seen his fair share of "retired" soldiers and gives Clover space to figure it out. He also gives Clover a key to the house. He's understanding, but after Clover's first few failed attempts at trying to do his morning exercise routine indoors, Pietro politely insists Clover take it outside. The boy's so shocked at his bluntness Pietro worries for a fraction of a second before Clover laughs out of embarrassment. He sets up his weights by the garden and they don't have problems with it after that.

The days begin to improve from there. Clover isn't as buttoned-up and acclimating is less of a chore, more of an opportunity to try new things. He talks to Pietro over coffee, tours the man's personal lab in the rear of the house, and even helps tame some of the overgrown weeds along the fence.

Clover also realizes that Pietro's house is really, really big. Especially for one occupant. Initially, he feels guilty for commandeering a bedroom, only to find that there are 2 more just like it. He wonders if Pietro rents them out - one has cashews and food scraps strewn near the window and the other contains a dresser overflowing with pink and green fabrics. Not to mention there haven't been any visitors (except himself) for the weeks he's been here. It's ...odd.

He tries to casually bring it up, but the old man deftly turns the conversations and asks what hobbies Clover has. Apparently, he thinks Clover should start getting out a bit. 

"Heh, how long did you work in Atlas? Hobbies... aren't exactly encouraged,"

"Trust me son, I'm well aware of what's taught in that Academy," Pietro says, taking a quick sip of coffee. "But you seem like the type to have a rebellious streak. Surely you found time for an extracurricular or two,"

Clover wishes that were true. He dedicated himself to the military once he had been accepted, even before when he was still training in Atlas Academy. It had been his dream for years. 

"A rebellious streak huh," Clover gently turns the cup in his hands. "No, you've got the wrong guy," he says. No point in weaving lies. "Uh, I suppose I like fishing? Did some of that when I was a kid in Mantle,"

"Fishing! Well that's a time-honored tradition if I ever heard one," he sets his cup down and pulls away from the table. "You're in luck, we happen to be walking distance to the coast. Plenty of fishing to be had,"

"Oh, no, Pietro hold on--"

"And I bet I have a handful of old fishing rods you can take for a spin," he says, already halfway down the hall to his lab. "Great way to get some fresh air in your lungs!"
Clover runs a hand over his face. He's not sure where Pietro gets all his energy from. But he knows better than to try and stop him once an idea gets in his head. And honestly, he could think of worse hobbies to take up.

---

Clover stumbles upon the Patch Farmer's Market on the way to the coast. It has a little bit of everything, from fresh produce to homemade knick-knacks. He feels a little better immersing himself among a crowd of people instead of walking aimlessly with fishing rods over his shoulder and a small tackle box in-hand. He even comes across a few merchants selling fish. They flag him down and ask him how long he's fished ("Not since I was young actually"), how he likes the conditions at Patch's coast ("Haven't been, but I'll let you know another time,"), and if he's new in town.

"Yes, I'm uh... staying with a friend at the moment. Pietro Pol--"

"Old man Pietro?" one of them cuts him off. "Why didn't you say so!"

"Pietro's a gem, we're lucky to have him in Patch,"

"Do you need help getting set up out there? Any friend of Pietro's is a friend of ours,"

And that's how Clover ends up with temporary ownership of a small boat and rights to go fishing in Patch. A little voice in the back of his mind tells him it's too serendipitous, but that quickly fades when he's out on the water and feels a wave of peace flow over him. He can't quite put his finger on it, something from the gentle sway of the water to the brisk sea-salt in the air puts him at ease. He spends the rest of the afternoon re-familiarizing himself with the task, forgetting, just briefly, that the last time he'd done this was before he ever set foot in Atlas.

---

The local fishermen are impressed by the number of fish Clover brings in. Once it had become routine, Clover found himself with too many fish for him and Pietro to handle, and sold the rest to the merchants in the Farmer's Market. Clover wanted to give them away for free, or in gratitude for the boat, but no one would have it. The tidy stream of income, along with the "bonus" Atlas issued him upon separation, led Clover to finding and purchasing a small house near the beach. 

Clover can't vocalize his thanks enough to Pietro for kicking him onto that airship and lighting a fire under him. But he truly believes he has to stand on his own two feet in order to properly carry on. Pietro understands, muttering something like "Kids always want to leave the nest early,". Clover smiles, the people in the market were right, the town is lucky to have Pietro. He should have made a bigger effort to get to know him in Atlas, rather than attribute his name solely to the weapons and items that lined his barracks. Pietro doesn't let him leave without a hug, along with a promise to check-in now and then. Clover readily agrees, unable to stop himself from giving a salute as he leaves.

His house is modest, probably a bit smaller than the studio he had in Atlas. But he has everything he needs: a cozy bedroom, a kitchen with big windows, and surprisingly, a small nook of a fireplace that fills the place up with warmth. Clover unpacks his things in a matter of hours; he didn't bring much with him, to be honest. He nails together a small dresser for his clothes, buys necessities for the bathroom, and stocks the kitchen with enough for one person. His knapsack, still holding remnants of his former life, goes in the closet. He'll sort it out later. This is good enough, he thinks, and looks forward to a fresh start in Patch. 

---

Clover tries to balance his day with enough routine for stability and variety to keep him from being bored. He refines and pares it down over months after leaving Pietro's place and has finally reached something of an equilibrium. He fishes in the morning, swings by the market in the late afternoon, and spends his evenings at home. He's gotten to know a lot of people around town, but for the most part, keeps to himself... for the most part. 

"Clover!"

"Ruby, wait for me!"

Clover turns, his smile growing as two rambunctious girls quickly approach him. The older one, a blonde in pig-tails, grabs her sister's hand to slow her down. 

"Yang, sto-op!"

"What's dad say about running into people?"

The younger one, drowning in a red cape, pouts and turns away. "Not running, you're running!"

Clover waves at them, drawing their attention. "Hello girls, how are you two today?"

"Good!"

"Do you have shells for us today?"

"Ruby!"

Clover reaches into his pocket and pulls out two small shells he found on the coastline. He usually sees a few when he's tying up his boat. The girls stare at them in wonder.

"Here, why don't you two take them,"

Ruby picks up both, marveling at the rainbows arching over the surface. She hands one to her sister. "Thank you!"

Yang holds her up to the sun. "Thanks!" she says. "Dad's waiting for us. Come say hi,"

"Yeah, let's go say hi to Dad!"

Clover follows them out of habit. He's learned that if he doesn't, they'll do their best to pull him along, which isn't the most comfortable feeling in the world. They guide him to the middle of the market, to a near-empty stall lined with a few colorful bottles.

"Dad look!"

"Dad, Clover gave us shells, look!"

"Oh, those are great," he says. "Did you thank Clover?"

"Yes!" they say in unison.

Ruby and Yang never cease to bring a smile to his face. They're quite literally sunshine if he were to guess. 

Their father, Taiyang, bows his head slightly in his direction. "Thanks for spoiling them, Clover," he brings his hand up in apology. "Although I swear, we're not trying to encourage this behavior,"

He laughs. "It's fine! I'm happy to give them whatever I find,"

Tai shakes his head, but he doesn't push back. Clover's sure the girls have him wrapped around their little fingers. 

He glances at the few remaining bottles for sale, only one or two here and there. Tai's wife, Summer, makes salves and creams for ailments and he sells them on her behalf ("I gotta carry my weight or she'll leave me!" Tai once said with a pout). It's not a difficult task. By the time Clover usually visits their booth, the majority of the products are gone. Summer must have the magic touch - whenever Clover overhears a customer making a purchase, they always swear by it. 

"Dad, Ruby's falling asleep on me," Yang says.

Tai steps over to scoop up his youngest, cradling her carefully against his shoulder, despite small squeaks of protest.

"M'not tired..."

"It's ok Ruby, about time we packed up anyhow,"

"Do you need help?" Clover offers.

"Nah, we're good, got this down to a science," Tai promises. There are so few items to pack, between the one free hand he has and Yang's help, they have their stall clear in a flash. 

Clover waves them off. "See you next time,"

Tai waves back before Yang clings onto his arm, Ruby already napping soundly. 

On the way home, Clover wonders what it'd be like to have a family - a loving spouse and happy children. It's not something he gave much thought to in Atlas. Even if he rose in the ranks as he dreamed, getting married and having kids never seemed to fit in the grand scheme. He's not sure it's what he wants now either... not sure what he wants at all.

---

For some reason, the fish weren't biting. Two days in a row didn't sound like a lot, but it's a first for him since he starting hitting the water. Clover decides to cut his losses and turn in early, no point in wasting bait. He docks quickly, ties up in his usual spot, and takes inventory: rod, tackle box, jacket... oh. His jacket is missing. Clover carefully climbs back into the boat and looks around--

A rough wave knocks the boat. Clover slips on a bit of water. He's sure he hits his head on the way down, but blacks out before it registers.

---

"...ver? Clover!"

"--uby wait up!""

"Yang, Clover's hurt!"

"Oh my gosh, Ruby wait, we need to get Dad,"

"Yeah get Dad, I'll help!"

"No, Ruby c'mon,"

"I'll help! Just like Mom!"

---

Clover blearily opens his eyes. Ah-- too bright, he closes his eyes again, groaning. A sharp pain kicks against the side of his head from moving. He counts to 10 and tries opening his eyes again, slower this time. He's inside, but it's not his house. Where is he? Did Pietro find him?

"Hey, you awake?"

Clover tries to look around with jostling his head too much. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees someone.

"Tai?"

"You're awake! Thank God," he situates himself in front of Clover. "We were getting worried about you,"

"Am I... uh, what happened?"

"Y'know, I'm not too sure. The girls and I went looking for you when you didn't come around, and well, they were the ones who found you. Guess you knocked yourself out,"

Clover wonders if someone hit him. No, he was on his boat last he could recall. He fell on his boat? And the girls found him? He hoped it wasn't traumatizing. When he thinks he can manage, Clover sits up slowly. Tai helps him get upright, keeping a hand on his arm to steady him.

"I brought you back to my place," Tai explains. "Wanted Summer to take a look at you as soon as possible,"

Clover gently touches his head, his neck, so far everything feels all right. He is still a little disoriented, but honestly, he's shocked he's in such good shape. 

"Thanks," he mumbles. "Thank you, I'm sorry for the trouble,"

"It was no trouble at all," 

Clover looks up, a woman strolls in from the other side of the room carrying a small tray of drinks. He almost pinches himself - she looks just like Ruby.

"I'm so glad you're all right," she places the tray down and Tai starts putting the mugs on the table. "It's Clover, isn't it? My name is Summer,"

"It's a pleasure," he says. "I can't believe I received medical treatment from the famous Summer. I've only heard good things,"

Summer smiles. "After all you've done for the girls, I only wish I could have done more,"

She briefly describes the salve she used to patch him up, and advises he not do anything strenuous for a few days. He assures her he won't. Clover adds this to his recent string of unfortunate events and makes a note to take it easy for a while - let the streak die out. 

They chat over their tea. Clover takes in the warm tones of their home, filled with pictures of the girls and mementos from trips and years of building a life together. It's quite a contrast to his place. 

"Clover?"

He quickly turns, a bit embarrassed at having drifted off. "Sorry, was thinking about... something. What were you saying?"

Summer offers a smile. "Just a reminder that you'll need to soak your shirt, possibly with detergent, there's a bit of a stain on the collar,"

Clover picks at his collar and pulls, he can barely make out a rusty red fading into the fabric. So he hit his head hard enough to draw blood?

"It might be ruined," Tai muses.

"It's fine, just a shirt," Clover says. He had been was bleeding? He reaches and gently presses against the back of his head. There's no blood or even dried blood residue on his fingers. 

"You really are a miracle worker," he praises Summer.

"You're too kind," she replies. "But to be honest, a wound like that is easy to fix with magic,"

Clover laughs, not even noticing how Tai instantly tenses, coughs, and tries to change the subject.

"It's ok, Clover seems like a good person," Summer directs at Tai, although Clover hears. "Our girls trust him; I think we can too,"

"Yeah, but Summer--"

"Wait, what's going on?"

And before either can get a word in, Ruby barrels into the room. "Clover! You're awake!" she jumps onto her mother's lap, grinning. "My magic healed you! Told you so, Yang!"

---

Many, many cups of tea later, Clover is still trying to reconcile everything. He's half-convinced it's all a dream, that he's knocked out somewhere on the coast waiting to be rescued. That makes slightly more sense than Summer patiently explaining, for the third time, and she and her daughters are witches. 

Summer and Ruby possess healing magic. Ruby's a little too young to control it, but she fussed over Clover enough to help until Tai had gotten him to Summer. Yang has something a little more... offensive. Neither parent clarifies, and Clover doesn't have the mental capacity to ask. He's still turning the idea over and over in his head, but it keeps slipping through his mind like sand.

Sensing Clover's hesitance, Summer tries approaching the subject from another angle. "Have you noticed anything a little odd since you arrived in Patch? Perhaps something that didn't quite make sense?"

Clover rubs his temples. Everything seems odd at the moment. Had he noticed anything... well, there was Pietro's unusually large house, and the two cluttered but unoccupied rooms. Did that count? Or the way the fishermen so readily welcomed him into their hobby and just gave him that boat. That was because he knew Pietro, right? Or was there another cause...

"Let's say, I've noticed some curious things," Clover takes a breath. "They could be coincidences. Or, maybe it's only odd to me because I've lived in Atlas for so long,"

Summer nods. "But you didn't arrive yesterday,"

"If I... have noticed something, how would you explain it?"

Summer hums, smoothing out Ruby's hair. "Have you heard about auras?"

Auras are a concept similar to a soul. According to Summer, everyone has one, but a witch's aura is typically stronger and is the source of their magic. Collectively, witches can give off a passive "go away" magic through their auras, which helps humans forgive inconsistencies they see in everyday life. While Clover may initially perceive something as odd, if he's near enough witches, or a witch with a particularly strong aura, his concerns could be swayed. 

Clover's not sure how he feels about that. He doesn't want to say "brainwashing" but that immediately jumps to the front of his mind. 

"Clover?" Ruby mumbles. "Are you mad at me? Did you not want me to heal you?"

He startles. "Oh, Ruby--"

"What's wrong with Ruby healing you," Yang interrupts. 

"Yang, not now," Tai says, holding her close. 

Yang glares at him and Clover swears he feels a bit of static build-up around her, fluffing her blonde hair. But another sniffle brings his attention back to Ruby and his heart breaks.

"Ruby, no, I'm not mad," he says softly. "I'm very lucky you healed me. You saved my life,"

She smiles at that, looking up to her mom and hugging her tightly. Yang subsequently calms down, although not by much.

"We're not trying to trick anyone on purpose," Summer clarifies. "It's difficult living among humans. I think of it more like a defense mechanism, although that hardly absolves us for doing it in the first place,"

Clover supposes that makes sense. If Summer's to be believed, there must be a lot of witches in Patch. He's willing to bet that most of the merchants are witches. And if a peaceful town like Patch needs this blanket defense, he wonders what it's like in other areas.

"I can't imagine there are witches in Atlas," he whispers.

"Atlas? I doubt it," Tai says. "Witches don't do well in a harsh society like that - no offense,"

Summer nods. "From what I hear, witches don't tend to settle in Solitas. But I suppose it depends, not everyone has a choice in where they can call home," she ends up saying with a sigh.

Tai finishes his cup and heads to the kitchen, taking the girls with him on the guise of getting more tea. Summer stays in the living room to keep Clover company as he continues to digest everything. Eventually, he excuses himself to go outside for a bit of fresh air.

He looks around, taking in the quiet surroundings. The wind feels the same, he can still hear crickets and the faint sound of neighbors shuffling around. He's not sure if anything feels odd. Would he be able to tell now that he's aware of it?

"You may not notice a change at all,"

Clover turns, watching as Summer slowly approaches him. She rests her arms on the porch rail, hands folded tightly. 

"I'm sorry for deceiving you," she says. "I can't speak for all the witches in Patch, but for a good number of us it's honestly not our intention,"

He shakes his head. "You don't need to apologize," he assures her. "You're just trying to make a life for your family. Nothing wrong with that,"

Summer inclines her head just a bit. 

"And, thank you, for trusting me,"

"I knew I could as soon as Yang and Ruby showed me those seashells," she says. "I could feel the brightness and hope within them. I knew whoever gave them to my girls was a good person,"

"Hope huh..." Clover murmurs, looking up to the night sky. "That's a little hard to believe,"

Summer nods. "It may be hard to see at first, but it's there, I promise,"

---

The next morning, Clover wakes and wonders if it had all been a dream. He lays in bed much longer than usual, replaying bits and pieces in his mind. Wouldn't it be easy if that's all it was.

The stain on his shirt and bump on his head tell him otherwise. He grimaces and runs a hand through his hair, tossing the shirt in the hamper and starting his usual morning routine.

Clover tries to be a little more observant throughout the day. He gives everything a second glance, takes his time with every conversation, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Nothing seems truly different: not on his boat, not in the market. Vaguely, he wonders if it's because his aura is too weak to distinguish that anything is even happening.

"I found you!"

Ruby runs up to him in a flash, red cloak billowing behind her. He kneels down and waves to her in greeting, quickly apologizing for not having any shells to give to her. He had been so preoccupied it had slipped his mind. She forgives him and simply says she's happy to have run into him. Clover looks around for her sister. For as long as he's known them, Yang never left Ruby alone. 

"Ruby please stop disappearing," Tai complains, jogging over to them. "You know how it makes Dad worry,"

"Sorry Dad," she says, latching onto his leg. 

"Hi Tai," Clover says. "Where's Yang? Is she not feeling well?"

"Oh no, she's fine. She's helping Summer pack," he explains. "Ruby and I came to buy some groceries,"

"Pack?" Clover instantly jumps to the worst conclusion. "It's not because... I hope I didn't offend you and your family--"

"Ah, no, nothing like that. We planned a trip to visit some old friends in Mistral months ago. We'll be gone for a week,"

Clover exhales, relieved. "I see, that sounds like fun,"

"The girls are excited for sure. But I'm glad we ran into you," Tai digs into his pocket and pulls out a small jar. "Summer asked me to give this to you," he holds it out for Clover to take. "It's to help with any residual aches,"

"I helped Mom make it!" Ruby exclaims. 

Clover smiles. "Thank you, Ruby, I'm sure it'll come in handy,"

Tai pats his daughter on the head and says they need to pick up a few more things before heading out. Ruby waves frantically at Clover, promising to bring something back for him. He watches them disappear, Tai leading his young daughter back into the market. 

Clover holds the jar tightly. It hadn't been a dream. Whether he can sense it or not, there truly is a little magic floating around Patch. A small part of him still wants to find fault in it, but a bigger part of him - the part that feels warmly content at seeing such a happy family living their life - thinks that it's pretty reasonable.

---

Heavy rainfall hits Patch the next day. It rarely rained in Atlas. Snow he could deal with, but he's a little out of sorts when he wakes up to rain. He can't fish, and he never thought to buy an umbrella, so Clover resigns himself to a quiet day at home. After he eats breakfast, he decides to take the opportunity to clean and reorganize. He thinks about all the keepsakes and photos in Tai's home, how it had made the space feel more comfortable and lived-in. Perhaps he could do with a bit of that.

Only, once Clover has all his possessions laid out, he realizes that his choices are quite limited. He had picked up a few books from Pietro (placed on the shelf), purchased spare odds and ends for his fishing equipment (organized near the closet), but those things didn't seem to liven up the space. 

He pulls his old knapsack over and digs inside. He has a handful of photos: blurry cadet selfies, stills of snowy terrain, stark composition shots of Atlesian high-rises. But he doesn't have any picture frames. And even in the group photos, none of the faces stand out. Clover carefully sets them in a stack on the fireplace mantle. He also finds his four-leaf pin, a present he'd splurged on after hitting his 1-year anniversary in the military, top of his class. He remembered how proud he'd been when he'd bought it, immediately pinning it to the lapel of his uniform, teammates congratulating him for making it as far as he did, even nicknaming him after it.

"Congratulations, lucky charm!"

Clover clutches it in his fist so tightly he can feel the rubber backing make an impression in his palm. What did any of that mean now?

The last thing in his knapsack is a tattered red ascot, something he used to wear around his arm. Clover hastily uses it to wrap the pin. He sets it next to the pictures and throws the bag back into the closet.

---

The rain lets up by the evening. He had tried to pass the day reading, but despite his efforts, he hadn't made it past the first chapter. He decides to try and stay productive and runs out to get ingredients for dinner. Taking his luck into consideration, Clover also buys an umbrella, and grudgingly, a few plain picture frames. 

Clover's usual path home is riddled with puddles, so he takes an alternate route. As he turns a corner, he nearly trips over a black lump and frantically grabs a nearby post to keep his balance. 

"What in the..."

At first, he thinks it's a rock or tree stump, but when he leans down to get a better look, he realizes it's a bird. It's slumped over, feathers stuck up in clearly uncomfortable directions. Clover feels sorry for it, wonders if it's even alive. 

He doesn't see any trees that it could have fallen from, or any birds looking for it. Best thing to do is tuck it into the bushes, he supposes. He puts his bags down and picks up a stick, carefully pushing it up against the animal's side--

brrrk!

Clover winces. All right, it's not dead.

The bird tries to wiggle away, but something is clearly impeding its movement. He thinks about leaving it be. Maybe it'll be ok. Birds are smart, surely it'll be fine. 

Looking back, he sees that it's barely made any progress to the bushes and sighs.

Clover shrugs off his jacket and slowly hovers above the bird. He scoops it up in one motion, mindful of its wings, looping the sleeves around to keep it secure. The bird protests weakly, tries to get at his hands with its beak. 

"Hey, none of that now," Clover shushes. He tucks the bird under one arm and retrieves his groceries. "Take it from someone who has also been unwillingly schlepped. It's for your own good,"

The bird continues to beep and cheep until Clover gets back to his house. He grabs a clean hand towel from the bathroom and carefully sits on the couch with his new friend. For a while, Clover's unable to do anything. As exhausted as the bird looks, it still puts a considerable effort into escaping. Clover hums and holds it close, hoping the jacket and his body heat will be enough to keep the poor thing warm. 

He sorely wishes Tai and his family hadn't left so abruptly. He can't recall seeing anything similar to a veterinarian in town, and he doesn't want to push his luck by bringing the bird to the local hospital. Clover's not even sure if Summer's magic applies to animals, but they could have offered some advice. 

"Are you done?" Clover asks when the bird finally stops moving. He gently unwraps his jacket and brings the towel around, patting it against matted feathers. Some dirt and water come off, but no blood. Clover counts his blessings. 

"You'll be fine," he says, although he has no basis for it. "Gonna clean you up a bit and you'll feel much better," 

He continues methodically, doing his best to clean without causing much distress. For a minute, he worries there's some paint stuck on it, but it turns out the bird's feathers have a pleasant variation of grays and black. It's a stark contrast to the bird's deep red eyes, alert and tracking his every move. There are no more escape attempts though. Clover wants to read that as trust or at the very least, tolerance. He hopes the bird knows he's just trying to help.

Clover gets up one more time to find a bigger towel. He also fills a bowl with water and picks up the jar Tai gave him the other day. When he's settled, Clover twists the lid off and rubs a bit of the salve between his fingers. It feels like lotion and soaks into his skin quickly. He looks at the bird, quietly sitting in the folds of his jacket. 

"Ok, you just, uh, let me know if you don't like this," he mumbles. He scoops a bit out of the jar and gently rubs it against the bird's back, working it slowly between inky feathers. The bird doesn't protest, so Clover continues. He's not sure if it'll do anything. It might not even be magic - what if they had just given him regular ointment? But the bird seems to like it, and that alone makes Clover relieved. 

When he's done spreading a light amount on each wing, he wipes the excess off and grabs the larger towel. He doesn't have any shallow boxes to make a nest out of, so he fashions the towel into a large donut shape and sets it on the coffee table. The bird goes in the middle, jacket and all, and the bowl of water sits nearby. 

Satisfied, Clover walks to the kitchen to put away his groceries and then goes to the bathroom to clean up. He brings his pillow and blanket from the bedroom and sets up camp on the couch. The bird is dozing. If it can survive the night, that'd be enough for Clover. He makes himself comfortable and tries to sleep.

"Good night, pretty bird,"

---

Clover wakes to a rattle and crash. He bolts up immediately, hand going to his waist for his weapon out of reflex. His eyes dart around the room, landing on a fussing bird and a broken bowl. He instantly slumps over in relief. 

"Jeez,"

Clover rubs his head, the sudden movement had given him a nasty recoil. As he sits up properly, he eyes his new housemate. The bird struggles to get upright, eventually settling back into its spot. Clover assumes it had tried to drink water and pushed the bowl off the edge of the coffee table. 

"Note to self," Clover mumbles. "Get bird a bigger table,"

He pushes his blanket off and leans closer to the bird. He can't really tell if the salve helped, or if its condition is any better than it was yesterday. It is considerably alert though, and more importantly, it had survived the night. Clover smiles.

"You're a stubborn little bird, aren't you?"

It makes a dismissive noise, tucking its head into the folds of Clover's jacket. Clover hums, getting up to start on his morning routine.

He makes a quick run to the bathroom before coming back to clean up the broken bowl pieces on the floor. Bedding goes back in his room, a few pieces of toast in the toaster, coffee brewing. He sets a new (plastic) bowl of water next to the bird's makeshift nest, along with a handful of fruit he'd bought the other day. Clover isn't entirely sure of what it'd eat, if anything, but it was worth a shot. He's pleased that the little black bird gobbles down everything by the time he's done with his own breakfast.

It's not raining anymore, but Clover minds Summer's advice to take it easy and decides to take another "day off". This time he sweeps, wipes windows, and does a heap of laundry. A cleaner space really does help ease the stress he's slowly accumulated. Or maybe talking had helped? Clover was a touch mortified when he realized that halfway through cleaning the windows he had been talking to his new house guest. It wasn't just mumbling either, he was having full conversations, expecting the bird to respond. It didn't. Sometimes it would let out a little cry when Clover left his field of vision, but otherwise, it lightly dozed the whole day. Who knew birds were such attentive listeners? Not that it had much choice in the matter, once Clover got started venting his frustrations it spilled out, no holds barred. In retrospect, he realized that keeping his feelings bottled up about his... departure from Atlas, hadn't been the best idea. At least, not when it came to getting over it properly.

By early evening, Clover found himself back on the couch with a lapful of bird. It's reminiscent of yesterday, except now his friend is much calmer. Clover works salve into its feathers, massaging gently.

"And the next thing I knew, I woke up in my friend's house! I know they had wanted me to visit, but that certainly wasn't how I was expecting it to happen," Clover says. 

The bird lets out a little noise, as if in agreement. 

"You'd like their house, I think," he muses. "It's much warmer, more lived-in," he looks to the still-sparse mantle in front of him, pictures in a pile and empty frames propped up on the floor. A project for another time, he supposes.  

Clover wipes off the rest of the salve on the towel and puts the jar aside. The bird puffs up a little, ruffling its neck feathers before settling in.

"Comfortable, aren't you?"

No response this time. Clover hums in amusement, picking up the bundle and setting it back down on the coffee table. He really is amazed by its progress in just a day. He hadn't needed to use too much of the salve either - maybe if it was meant for humans just a little was fine for animals. Clover makes a note to ask Summer when the family returns later in the week.

A quick thump and ruffling sound catches his attention. When he looks up, he sees his jacket strewn on the floor, and the bird up on the mantle. 

"H-Hey! How did you get up there?"

By the time Clover gets to the fireplace, the bird had dug out his four-leaf pin from within the ascot, snatching it up in its beak and hopping away.

"Stop! Oh my God," Clover chases it to his bedroom. How did birds hop so fast? "That's not for you, hey!"

When he gets to the door, the little black bird had somehow managed to hop onto his dresser and then onto a decorative beam near the ceiling. Clover walks over slowly, hoping to catch it off guard, but the bird is just out of his reach. He didn't want to chance standing on the dresser, and if he came at it with his fishing rod the bird could fall and hurt itself. 

"You are a little chaotic, you know that?"

The bird tilts its head, beak firmly grasping the backing of the pin. Fluffy bastard wasn't going anywhere.

"That is not for pretty birds, ok? Can I please have it back?" he reaches up, palm open so he could catch the pin if the bird let go. But it only hops further away. 

Clover sighs. "It's important, please give it to me,"

The bird does put the pin down, but only on the beam. It then makes a show of sitting down comfortably, as if it doesn't plan to go anywhere.

"Really? That's what I get for taking care of you and helping you out?" Clover backs up until his legs hit the edge of the bed, falling onto the blankets with an effort. He runs a hand through his hair, grumbling. "That's what I get... all those years training and sacrificing, and I get the same, nothing. Maybe the damn thing is better off up there,"

Clover rests his head in his hands. He wanted a fresh start in Patch, tried to move on, but it looks like it'll take much more than a new house and hobby to accomplish that. Perhaps he hadn't started moving on at all yet. It was hard to think about Atlas, of the team members he had, the life he lived, it was all he knew for the majority of his life and now it's gone. He supposes it won't be something he can forget about over the course of a few months. Not that he wants to forget all of it, but it's hard to remember the good times without a bitter aftertaste. 

brrrpt 

Clover lifts his head, watching as the bird hops onto the bed, setting the pin down between them. He picks it up slowly, turns it over in his palm. There are a fair amount of nicks and scratches on its surface, small indications that it had seen battles, held memories. Things that know one else knew, but wished to be told. It wouldn't be the worse thing in the world, Clover realizes, to tell other people about Atlas.

"Thank you, pretty bird," he whispers. He runs the back of his fingers up and down the bird's neck, gets rewarded with a soft trill and a gentle nip.

His time in Atlas was over, but he could still appreciate that it happened. He could tell people in his new life about it. And he had a decent idea about how to start.

"C'mon, I could use your help with something,"

He holds his arm out and smiles when the bird jumps on. It migrates up to his shoulder as Clover goes back into the living room. For the next hour or so, he puts together the simple picture frames, and carefully slots photos in each. He takes his time arranging them on the mantle, taking the occasional cue from his friend based on how it tugs on his hair or butts up against his neck. There are only five frames total, but somehow it helps brighten the space. Clover folds his ascot and places it in the middle, and after giving it a generous shine, he sets his four-leaf pin on top of it.

---

The rest of the week passes by before Clover knows it. His bird is doing very well. It won't even take another round of medication, flapping its wings and nipping whenever Clover tries to put more salve on it. Clover thinks that's a good sign, although it hasn't made an effort to fly. He wonders if there are limitations to healing even with magic.

As an experiment, Clover brings his bird with him when he goes fishing. The fresh air and exposure might encourage it to take off and return home. But to his surprise, his bird stays with him the entire time. It hops between the tackle box and boat ledges, peering into the water and soaking in sun. Even when other birds fly overhead, it makes no effort to leave. Clover hums to himself, pleased that he can enjoy its company for a little while longer.

By the weekend, Clover thinks Tai and his family should be back. Given how the salve has already done so much, he's not sure if there's really a point to have Summer take a look, but it was better to be safe. If anything, they could at least point him in the direction of a veterinarian. As he packs a few things, he hears his bird quietly beep from across the room. Clover's gotten awfully fond of that sound.

"Morning, pretty bird," he responds. "Ready to head out?"

His bird fluffs up and then hops out of its nest. It makes its way to Clover's fishing equipment and Clover is a bit amazed at how quickly it has picked up on their routine. He walks over and kneels down, extending his arm. 

"Nope, change of plans today. We're going to visit my friend, Tai," 

It pauses, pauses long enough that Clover wonders if something is wrong. But then it slowly grasps Clover's sleeve and makes its way up to his shoulder. He gently strokes under its beak, trying to be reassuring. Guess animals also had a hard time adjusting to change.

---

By the time they reach the Patch Farmer's Market, Clover thinks about going to Tai's usual booth to see if the family happens to be there. That would save him the trouble of going to their house directly. But he's unsure how his bird will handle a busy environment, it's quite a difference compared to the quiet docks. 

"How do you feel about a little adventure, pretty bird?"

His bird looks at him, looks at the market, and in an instant, it takes off - pushing off of Clover's shoulder and flying into the crowd.

"No! Wait!" Clover runs after it, prepared to weave through the endless rows of merchants. He makes it around one corner and then bumps into someone.

"Hey, where's the fire-- oh, Clover!"

"Tai?"

"Good to see you! Didn't expect you so soon--"

Clover pushes past him and looks up, scans the skies for any signs of black inky feathers.

Tai catches him by the wrist. "Are you ok? What's going on?"

Clover pulls. "Did you see a bird just now?"

"A... bird?"

"Yes!  A black bird, well sort of grey and black, it flew right by here,"

"Are you sure you're ok?"

"I'm fine, I just... ok," he tries to put his words in order. "I found an injured bird right after you all left, and I've been taking care of it. I was on my way to your place, so Summer could check if it's all right, and it flew off!"

Tai squares them up so he can look Clover straight on. "You're... looking for a bird? You were going to bring us a bird to look at?"

"It was hurt! And now I don't know where it is," he sighs, still a bit frantic. He had no idea his bird could fly. Was it going to be ok? Where did it go?

"Hang on," Tai says, tugging at Clover's wrist to get his attention. "You said it's grey and black? Like, it has grey feathers?"

"Yes,"

"Does it... have red eyes?"

"Yes! So you did see it?"

Tai laughs, nodding. "Oh I've seen it seen it plenty of times," he shifts his grip to Clover's elbow and pulls him along. "Let's go,"

"No, but Tai," Clove protests. "It flew that way,"

"Yeah, I bet it did, but I know where it's going to end up. C'mon,"

Tai won't listen to any additional complaints and he all but drags Clover away from the market and toward his house. Clover keeps his eyes up, searching for any bit of black in the sky. His bird had just recovered, even if it could fly, it probably wouldn't be able to cover long-distances. What if it already landed in the market? What if it flew to the coast thinking that Clover went to his boat? Would it panic if it doesn't see him there? Do birds panic?

"All right, here we are,"

Clover turns his attention forward. Admittedly, he's grateful Tai had kept a grip on him. The first time he visited their house he had been unconscious, not like he would be able to recognize it or tell which among the row was theirs. But he was still worried, why were they at Tai's house?

"In you go," Tai says as he pushes Clover reluctantly inside. He even makes a show of taking his time unloading his purchases, as if Clover hadn't been having an internal crisis the whole way here.

"Summer! I'm back!" he yells. "And I brought company!"

Clover glares at him. Honestly, if he didn't want to help he could have just said so and left him back at the market.

"Clover!" Summer walks in a bright smile on her face. "It's good to see you again. How are you feeling?"

"I'm... fine," he mutters, doing his best to keep his annoyance directly at only Tai. 

"You look great, I hope the salve I made helped,"

"It did, thank you," he replies, a bit more gratitude in his voice. Sure, he hadn't used it on himself, but he'd clearly seen the results of her magic. "I really appreciate you going through the trouble,"

"No trouble at all, happy to help," she then looks to Tai, who appears to be holding in a laugh. "So, what's going on here?"

Before Clover can start, Tai claps a hand on his shoulder. "Well you see, I was in the market and I ran into Clover. And you would not believe who he said he was looking for,"

Summer notes Clover's miffed expression and carefully responds: "Oh, who would that be?"

"A little black bird," he says, sing-song. "Grey feathers and red eyes to boot, so I'd wager it's really a dusty, old crow,"

Summer's initial shock quickly morphs into a warm smile, followed by soft laughter. "No, what are the chances,"

"I don't see what's so funny--"

"He'd found the poor thing hurt on the side of the road and has been taking care of it this whole time," Tai continues. "Pretty lucky, huh?"

Summer punches Tai in the shoulder as she attempts to reign in her joy. "Stop, tell Clover before he gets mad at you,"

"You're such a good man," Tai carries on, giving Clover's shoulder a good shake. "Kind to children and animals alike. What a lucky bird,"

Clover is one breath away from walking out when Summer thankfully intervenes. She takes Tai's hand in her own and gives his cheek a pinch. 

"All right, you've had your fun," she says sternly. "Clover, please forgive him, he doesn't get out much,"

"Hey!"

"Ruby!" Summer calls. "Yang! Can you two come here, please,"

Clover hears their pattering footsteps coming down the hall, cheerful voices asking what their mom needs.

"Mo-om! We were playing!" Ruby tumbles in first. When she sees Clover her eyes light up. "Clover!" 

Yang nearly runs into her. "Ruby, don't stop like that-- oh hey Clover!"

He brings a hand up to wave when something else comes through the hall - a black streak that hovers over Yang. Clover can't believe it. How did it end up here? Briefly forgetting the girls, Clover runs up to his bird, holding his hand up so that it could land on him.

"There you are, pretty bird," he says, relieved. "I was so worried about you!"

The bird squawks, flapping a bit erratically as it avoids Clover's hand and instead lands on the couch. Clover stares at it, watches as it continues to fuss and hide behind its wing. That's new.

Ruby grabs onto Clover's leg. "Clover! You know Uncle Qrow?"

Clover turns to her, sees Tai and Summer giggling in the background as well. This was a hell of an inside joke.

"Of all the nicknames you had to choose that one," a gruff voice says.

When he looks back, Clover's greeted not by his bird, but by a tall, lanky man, lounging on the couch, arms firmly crossed over his chest. When Clover's able to get a good look at his face he notes the man's deep red eyes, and the flecks of grey in his short, black hair. 

"Oh,"

---

Clover and Qrow are sitting outside on the porch. Clover can hear the girls playing inside, Tai having mercifully told them to stay in while the two of them chat. But they hadn't even started. Clover's still taking it all in. According to Summer, Qrow is an old friend of theirs, and his magic lets him turn into a bird. However, his aura has always given off something similar to bad luck and he occasionally finds himself stuck in his bird form and unable to change back.

It's... unbelievable. When Summer initially told him about witches he thought that had been unbelievable, but this was taking it up a notch. Suddenly, Summer making healing potions didn't sound so far-fetched. It's like making medicine really, and that's nothing new. But turning into a bird?! That's... such a stretch. And yet, he'd seen it with his own eyes. Maybe that "go away" magic had made him accept how easy it had been interacting with Qrow the past few days, but he couldn't deny the man sitting next to him, in the flesh.

Clover rests his elbows on his knees. He's pretty sure that all things considered, he's taking this news even worse than when Summer had told him about witches in general. 

"Doing all right?" Qrow asks quietly. 

"Yeah, yeah I'm... getting there,"

It's also strange hearing Qrow talk. All this time, when he'd been having conversations with his bird, he'd imagine it to have a very light, soft voice, in keeping with its small nature. But Qrow's words came out tired and gravelly, a little coarse even. It's a surprise, but not altogether unpleasant. 

He tries to meet Qrow halfway. 

"Do you live here? With Tai and Summer?"

"Sort of. I travel a lot, doing odd jobs here and there. I didn't want to burden Tai and the others with my bad luck, but Summer is the only one who can help me turn back if I get stuck," he explains. "You saw how inconvenient it is when I'm trapped like that so, this arrangement made sense,"

Clover nods. It's hard to be independent if something out of your control could catch you off guard like that. 

"Plus I adore the girls," Qrow adds with a smile. "Hard to stay away from them,"

"Yeah, I know,"

Clover stares at him thoughtfully. If they had randomly met on the street, he wouldn't have given him a second glance. Aside from his eyes, Qrow's coloring makes him fade into the background, especially in a place as vibrant as Patch. But here, having Qrow to himself, Clover slowly takes him in. He's beginning to reconcile the two, his bird and this man. While hard to compare, it somehow made sense. Qrow seemed prickly from the outside, but he holds a lot of kindness inside. It came through as a bird, when he was keeping Clover company, and now in his body language, open and willing to help him understand this significant change.

"Summer told me she and Tai were taking the girls on a trip, but it completely slipped my mind. It's the first time in a long while I'd been stuck like that without them. Probably would have been fine even if you hadn't come along, but having that salve helped, and I couldn't believe it when you said you were bringing me to see Tai," Qrow says. "I thought I'd misheard,"

Clover laughs. "Quite the coincidence, huh?"

He mulls over Qrow's words and suddenly sits straight up, a flush quickly spreading over his face. Thought he'd misheard... Qrow's been listening to him this whole time. All of those silly conversations, rambling about his daily life, the troubles he had in Atlas, he thought he was telling a bird, but he had really been telling--

"Hey, you ok?"

Clover fights the urge to groan, slumping over and running his hands through his hair in clear embarrassment. 

"I uh... just realized. You probably understood everything I said to you when you were a bird, huh?"

Qrow blinks and chokes a laugh, nods, and then stares at the floor. "Yeah, I did,"

Clover gives up and groans.

"Don't worry about it so much, anyone would have done the same," Qrow says. "And to be fair, I was kind of eavesdropping. Even if I couldn't say 'Hey I'm a person', I could have made a bigger effort to leave when I was feeling better,"

Clover refuses to look at him and Qrow smiles.

"I liked hearing about your life, the one you're building in Patch, and the one you left behind," he admits softly. "You've been through a lot and I felt bad listening, but I was also... glad you were trying to work through it. I know that can be difficult,"

The way he phrases it, Clover wonders if Qrow has had similar experiences, rebuilding a broken life. Maybe they had more similarities than he thought.

"Oh, and I never thanked you, for helping me," Qrow says. At that, Clover sits up to glance at him. 

"Not a lot of people would have stopped to help a beat-up looking animal. I know my bird-form can be a little off-putting too, so, thanks,"

"You're welcome," he says. "And hey, don't sell yourself short. I wouldn't have called you pretty bird if I didn't think it was true,"

Qrow frowns at the nickname. 

"Really! Once I cleaned you up a little, you looked great," and before he can stop himself he adds, "Still do,"

A blush looks fantastic on Qrow, Clover decides. Qrow tries to brush it off by turning away, but it's ridiculously endearing. He takes a deep breath and looks up into the sky.

"Guess you'll like sleeping in a bed again. Can't imagine my jacket was too comfortable,"

"It was all right," Qrow mumbles. "Might need to get used to sleeping as a bird anyway. Now that the girls are getting older, they'll probably want their own rooms. Tai gave me their only spare, so I'll have to figure something out,"

Clover leans back, bracing himself on his arms. "You know, you're more than welcome to stay with me," he can feel Qrow staring at him, and he's not sure where he's getting the courage from, but he continues. "My house is plenty big, I'm sure we could make something work,"

Qrow swallows. "It does sound like you, inviting a stranger to live in your home out of the blue,"

"We're not strangers," Clover says. "And I really do enjoy your company," 

"My bad luck doesn't just affect me," Qrow hedges. "It comes up at the worst times. And my magic isn't useful compared to Summer's,"

Clover shakes his head. "It's not fair to compare your powers like that, you both have your strengths," and before his courage fades, he covers Qrow's hand with his own.

"Besides, it seems like I've only had good luck since I met you,"

Qrow looks at him, holds his gaze for a heartbeat, and can't ignore how fond it is. Good luck? Qrow's never had someone say that in relation to him. But he can tell Clover is sincere in saying so, and that sets off a small warmth within him.

He turns his hand just enough so their fingers lace. "I'll think about it,"

Clover smiles, giving their hands a squeeze. He's about to ask what Qrow plans to do tomorrow, but hears a commotion inside and turns toward the house. Just as Qrow mimics him, Yang bursts through the door, landing on her uncle with a gasp of: 

"Surprise!"

And a small explosion sends Qrow tumbling down the short staircase. Clover falls back out of fright.

"Wow Yang that was so cool!" Ruby cries. Clover quickly grabs her around the middle to keep her from... whatever that was. As the dust clears, Clover sees Qrow on his back, holding a celebrating Yang by the arm. 

"All right," Qrow grumbles, pulling himself into a sitting position. "What did your parents say about using your powers, firecracker?"

Yang pouts, trying to shake her uncle's grip. "That I should practice!"

"Practice where?"

"Uh..."

"Practice more!" Ruby supplies. Clover sighs and stands, helping Ruby to her feet and walking to the landing. 

"Wrong answer," Qrow says. He stands up carefully and tugs his niece along, bits of dust and debris falling off of him. "You have to be careful or someone's going to get hurt, got it?"

Yang nods, puffing her cheeks. Ruby runs over to give her a hug. 

Qrow pats her on the head, smoothing out the static from her long hair. "You're getting better though," he says. "We can work on it some more tomorrow, ok?"

Both girls grin and run inside. Clover hears a faint cry from Tai, most likely at seeing the state of his oldest daughter. Qrow coughs to get his attention. 

"Did you ah, want to stay for dinner?"

Clover nods, a smile on his face. "I'd love to,"

---

A few hours later, after the first family dinner Clover's had in years, he reluctantly says that he has to go. The girls are fighting to stay awake and Clover admits he's a bit exhausted from the day's events. He promises to meet Ruby and Yang tomorrow at the market, and thanks Summer again for her hospitality. He initially sighs at Tai, but then laughs and gives him a hug. That leaves Qrow. Clover's not quite sure how to say good night to him, and luckily, Qrow solves that problem. He opens the door for them both, prepared to leave with him.

"I left some things at Clover's place, should get that sorted,"

"Oh, that makes sense," Tai says. "We'll wait up for you--"

"Take your time," Summer interrupts, having caught on. "Talk to you both tomorrow,"

Clover smiles as he and Qrow leave. Distantly, they hear snippets of Summer explaining the situation to Tai as well as the girls calling out additional good nights.

The walk back is slow and quiet. Clover almost musters a few words along the way, but somehow they don't seem necessary. Much like their initial days of knowing each other, the silence between them is comfortable, with just the wind and fleeting sounds of ocean waves as their background noise. They pass the empty market and the path that leads down to the docks. Clover remembers when he first saw it, how hard he tried to convince himself that this was his life now, that the years prior no longer mattered. But they did. Those years in Atlas made him the person he is today, and everyone he meets and everything he experiences in Patch will make him a better person tomorrow. He has to accept them both.

Qrow touches his hand briefly to get his attention and Clover blinks. He's about to apologize for being absent, unsure if Qrow had said something, but Qrow's not upset. His gaze is warm, a small, amused smile on his lips.

"You ok?"

Clover nods, taking Qrow's hand in his. 

"I will be."