It was evening on the quiet island of Patch. The sun had set only just set, and the fading light reflected warmly on the little house sitting in the middle of the woods.
Shutting the door behind him, Qrow sighed as he leaned tiredly against it. Letting his sword drop he placed it in the alcove in the wall Tai had made for their weapons. He was exhausted. He’d been clearing out a nest of grimm in the east of Patch on Ozpin’s orders and the job, which was only supposed to take a few days, had ended up taking a week. Unfortunately the headmaster hadn’t realised how big the local grimm population was and Qrow was nearly overrun before he’d managed to get the upper hand. With his eyes closed and head leant back against the door he took a deep breath. He was ready to sleep for a week.
But the pattering of small feet against the floor alerted him to the fact he wasn’t going to be able to sleep just yet. Mouth crooking in a smile he opened his eyes to see his nieces’ delighted little face as she toddled as fast as she could towards him.
Bending down, he scooped her up into his arms, cuddling the little girl close to his chest. Something warm lit up inside him as she snuggled as close as she could.
‘Hey little Rosebud.’ Qrow ran his hand through the toddler’s black hair, and smiled gently as Ruby looked up at him, silver eyes shining with excitement.
‘You back!’ The little girl’s hand patted his cheek gently and Qrow laughed.
‘Yeah kiddo. I’m back. And shouldn’t you be getting ready for bed?’ He raised an eyebrow as the little girl pouted, and rubbed her back through her red onesie to settle her down again.
‘Yes she should.’ Qrow looked up to see Tai smiling exhaustedly at him from the door to the lounge room. ‘You’re finally back.’
‘Took longer to clear out the infestation than expected.’ He replied, rocking slightly on his feet to settle the two year old in his arms. ‘Did I miss anything?’
‘Yang decided to redecorate the kitchen in your absence.’ Tai grinned ruefully. ‘Apparently there weren’t enough windows in there.’
Qrow barked a laugh, feeling Ruby giggle against him. Damn it was good to be home.
‘After all the trouble you caused at school it serves you right that she takes after you. Where is the little firecracker anyway?’
As if summoned by his words, the little girl ran into the room, pyjama top on backwards, blonde hair still in pigtails. The four year old burst into smiles as she saw her uncle and ran forward, latching onto his leg.
‘Uncle Qrow! I missed you! Did you kill the bad monsters? Did you? Did you?’ He laughed, and mussed up the four year old’s hair. His nieces were the only ones able to make him laugh so much. They dulled the need for a drink with their bright innocence.
‘Yeah lil’ firecracker. I got all the monsters.’
‘You took forever Uncle Qrow!’ Yang pouted up at her uncle.
‘Ever!’ Ruby echoed her big sister.
‘Well I needed to make sure all the monsters were gone so they couldn’t try and eat you all up.’ He smirked at Yang’s indignant face.
‘They wouldn’t eat me! I’m too big. Besides I’m going to go out and get them with you next time!’
‘Oh really, squirt?’ Qrow asked, looking out of the corner of his eye at his old teammate who seemed content to let Qrow monopolise the girls’ attention.
‘But if you’re out there with me, who’s going to stay and look after Rhubarb here?’
This seemed to stump the blonde for a second, who reached up and swung her little sister’s foot backwards and forwards in thought. But her bright amethyst eyes quickly lit up as she thought of the solution to the predicament her uncle gave her.
Qrow smirked. ‘Shouldn’t your daddy be helping me slay the monsters?’
Yang’s pigtails bounced as she shook her head forcefully. ‘Nope! I’m better at killing monsters than daddy.’ she leaned forward and whispered loudly, ‘He stinks!’
Qrow felt laughter bubble up inside him at Tai’s indignant ‘Hey!
‘Looks like your daughter thinks she’d be a better monster hunter than you Tai.’ He smirked at his brother-in-law as Tai strode over and picked up Yang.
Tickling the little girl, Tai called out, ‘Oh you’re in for it now missy. You’ve woken the dragon.’
The house filled with shrieks of laughter as Yang tried to escape her father’s clutches, squealing with glee every time Tai threw her into the air. Looking down, Qrow smiled as he saw Ruby smiling and giggling, thumb stuck firmly in her mouth. Nudging her gently under the chin, he stroked her cheek softly as her tired silver eyes focused on him.
‘Your dad and sister are quite silly, aren’t they Ruby?’ The little girl nodded and he felt a deep pang at how much she reminded him of Summer. He pushed it aside, determined to focus on the happy atmosphere, relieved that Yang was so happy. The little girl had been slow in recovering from the blow of her second mother’s death.
Humming a nonsense tune gently, he cradled Ruby close as she struggled to keep her eyes open; he sidestepped Tai and Yang, and headed up the stairs to the bedrooms. Unlatching the baby gate, he stepped through and walked to Ruby’s room.
Opening the door quietly he walked past the crib to the window, rocking Ruby gently. As he shut the curtains he glanced at the little girl, utterly unsurprised that she was trying to keep her eyes open. Between the excitement of his return and her sister’s laughter he knew the last thing that the toddler wanted to do was sleep.
‘Come on petal,’ he whispered. ‘It’s all right. Go to sleep, we’ll all still be here in the morning.’ Slowly he was rewarded with Ruby’s silver eyes taking longer and longer to open, until finally they remained shut. Leaning forwards he lowered the dark haired girl into the crib, gently removing her hand from where it was clutching tightly onto his shirt. He pulled the scarlet blanket up over her small shoulders and with a wry grin tucked a stuffed crow into her hands. It had been a gag gift from Summer to remind her daughter of Qrow, but to his chagrin the little girl fell in love with it and absolutely refused to sleep without it.
Running his hand through her soft hair one last time he carefully backed out of the room. He closed the door quietly, but left it just a crack open. Headed back towards the stairs, he caught sight of Yang curled up beside her father in bed, a stuffed dragon in her hands and a book of fairy tales open in the elder’s lap. Tai looked up and caught Qrow’s eye.
‘Sound asleep in bed.’ Qrow replied.
Tai smiled and gently extracted himself from his daughter’s bed, planting a kiss on her sleeping forehead before leaving the room, also leaving the door slightly ajar. He heaved a sigh before heading towards the stairs, not even bothering to open the gate, just stepping over it. Qrow followed suit.
Seated in the lounge, drinks in hand, the two surveyed each other. Both clearly exhausted.
‘Man I barely managed without you this week. Being a single parent is hard.’
Qrow chuckled darkly, taking a swig of his drink. ‘It probably doesn’t help that the two of them are possibly the most energetic children to ever live.’
Tai raised his glass in acknowledgement, taking a sip. ‘So how was the hunt?’
In response Qrow finished his drink, running a hand through his hair.
‘That bad huh?’ Tai muttered, leaning back and staring at the ceiling.
‘It was a disaster from start to finish. Intel was wrong, there was too many grimm and I’m honestly surprised the whole area wasn’t a complete write off.’
Tai frowned. ‘You shouldn’t have been out there alone like that. Oz shouldn’t be risking hunters on dodgy intel.’
‘Yeah well at least it’s the last big mission for a while. He’s agreed to lay off during the school semester and only give me short missions that shouldn’t take me away from this place for too long.’ He stood and Tai sighed and did likewise, finishing his drink and clapping a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
‘Good. I need your help here and those girls need their Uncle Qrow. We can’t afford to lose anyone else.’ A shadow crossed Taiyang’s face and Qrow frowned.
‘I’m not going anywhere Tai. I said I’d help didn’t I? I’m in for the long haul. Besides,’ he smirked, ‘those girls need someone to protect them, as the great Taiyang apparently sucks at fighting off the monsters.’
Tai groaned. ‘Oh go to bed Qrow. You’re clearly delusional from exhaustion.’
Waving Tai off dismissively Qrow staggered up the stairs towards his room. Pausing at the girls’ rooms as he went past, he peeked in and saw both of them sleeping peacefully. Smiling to himself he entered his room – opposite Ruby’s – closed the windows and collapsed face first onto the bed with a yawn. Those two were the reason he fought so hard against the darkness. They made every injury, every piece of crap the world threw at him, worth it. Snorting at himself he rolled to his side, closed his eyes and fell asleep.