A/N: obligatory tw for vaguely thalassophobic imagery, borderline explicit nsfw, and some mild blood/violence
Qrow spots the first set of Grimm nearby the reef while he's on his way to visit Taiyang and the girls.
They are small, largely insignificant, skulking at the bottom of a far-off cliff where coral no longer thrives. Even so, the proximity to the reef, the surface, is alarming. They dissipate into the water, their shuddering hisses falling short between Qrow's jaws, and the waters succumb once again to the stillness that sends his nerves alight.
He searches for a small while before he leaves. There are a few shards of seaglass that he finds as he sifts through sand and algae, but their technicolor glimmer do not call to him. None of them are the familiar shade of green that makes his breath catch and his thoughts slow to a crawl.
Qrow forgot to retrieve the sea glass before he left, but it doesn't bother him as much as it should. A lot of things about Clover do not bother him as they should: the lingering glances, the fleeting touches, the unabashed flirting in between. It should dig under his skin, wrench deep to the bone, this odd thing that has him feeling inexplicably lighter.
Everything feels lighter when Clover is there, as if he is floating along a bottomless expanse of water, soaring through an endless blanket of atmosphere.
Though, at the end of the day, Qrow can't say he wants it to stop.
Sometimes, he sings - long into the night as he drifts off to sleep, late into the morning when he lounges in the sunlight - and he tries not to. Tries his hardest but it happens anyways, this instinctual thing that he cannot help, an inevitability like that of gravity, of growth, of time. He hopes, and wishes, and wants, and the only thing that keeps his ribcage from feeling as if it is about to shatter is a song.
(He knows why, of course.
Taiyang used to sing, as well. To Raven while she would hunt and pretend she wasn't listening; to Summer while she would tend to the coral and pretend she wasn't humming along. Once, when Qrow asked, Taiyang shrugged and said, "It's just . . . a thing. You can't really help it."
As frightening as it is, he finally understands what that means.)
Taiyang isn't there when he arrives, but Ruby and Yang are. The new set of rings and necklaces he brought with him distracts from the sash that he wears, draped over where the wound still heals. He only pauses in his storytelling when he catches Taiyang's scent among the coral.
"I have a problem," Qrow says after he successfully manages to detach Ruby from his arm.
There is a glimmer in Taiyang's eye, the curve of his smile masked by the fish that is clenched between his jaws. He slinks over to Ruby first and hands her all the fish he has tucked under his arms. She fumbles a bit, then pouts at them both before she flits off with minor difficulty.
Once she is out of earshot, Taiyang says, "I know." His gills flare, and with a toothy simper, he adds, "I can practically taste it on you. A human, huh?"
Qrow rolls his eyes. "Shut up."
Something smells terribly off when they pass by the pier.
Qrow stops toying with the shell he has in his pocket to focus on the scent. It is fleeting, faintly permeating the air like the lingering remains of a snuffed out candle. Clover notices quickly; he stops in his tracks, as well, shooting him a questioning glance that he doesn't respond to.
Just as suddenly as it appears, it dissipates, indiscernible now in the bustling crowd around them. The ghost of the smell lingers painfully in his sinuses, heavy with the sharp-tinged edges of the ocean, a scent that clings distinctly to other mer. It is headier than usual, almost stale, tainted with wax and gloss and paint, common in the products rather than the mer themselves.
"What's going on?" Clover finally asks.
"Nothing," Qrow eventually answers. It's frustrating, how the scent lingers just out of reach, hidden somewhere in the crowd that he has yet to pinpoint. "You know what, I'll catch up with you later. I've got an errand to run."
Clover doesn't seem convinced in the slightest, but thankfully, he doesn't push.
Qrow skulks around the stretch of the pier for a long while before he gives up. There is only a hope at this point that the product belonged to an unknowing customer passing through the city. At the very least, the errand excuse wasn't entirely false - by the time he leaves a jeweler with a shell necklace for Yang, it is late into the afternoon.
Qrow knows full well that Clover's patrol has long since ended, but that doesn't stop him from returning to the docks. He finds himself coming there often, with and without Clover, both to snoop and to keep an eye out for the sigil he last spotted in Argus. To his relief, the scent he caught earlier is nowhere to be found in any of the ships docked.
The novelty of the simple necklace he traded for wears off quickly. It's an inevitability, of course, but every bit of jewelry loses its charm almost as quickly as it appears to him since he found that shard of sea glass in Argus. He isn't going to complain now that it's gone, though.
With how frequently he sees Clover reach into his pocket, just for the briefest moments while they walk and banter, he knows that Clover keeps it with him.
Something about that makes Qrow feel inexplicably warm.
Later, he finds Clover at the cove, standing by the edge of one of the platforms. Clover likes to stare out into the expanse of the ocean - for what, Qrow isn't entirely sure, but he supposes living in it does damper its appeal. There's something serene in the way the sunlight washes over Clover's skin, dances in his eyes, obstructed only by the clouds that inch steadily onwards.
"Hey there, lucky charm," Qrow calls as he approaches. Clover seems surprised, but it melts smoothly into a fond smile. "Find anything interesting while I was gone?"
Qrow can't help the giddy rush he feels when Clover glances down to linger over the necklace he wears. There doesn't seem to be a thing that Clover doesn't notice, and the attention is remarkably intoxicating. Qrow recognizes the shift in Clover's expression, tilting dangerously into something heavier, his gaze lingering for a moment too long around his neck and collarbones before it lifts to Qrow's eyes again.
"No, but I'm guessing you did," Clover says.
"I didn't find this one." At the look Clover gives him, Qrow reassures, "Hey, believe it or not, I do trade for things." In an afterthought, he playfully adds, "Sometimes."
Clover straightens a bit, making a show of seeming displeased, but there's the undeniable lilt of amusement in his tone when he says, "You really like playing with fire, don't you?"
It is exhilarating, this rush in his chest that has him pressing close and flattening his hands over the lapels of Clover's coat. "Can't help it, officer," Qrow taunts. He pointedly halts over the clover pin that is fastened to the cotton. "You know how much I like shiny things."
The glint of it in the sunlight is pretty, but that isn't what Qrow is interested in at the moment. He's drawn to the heat in Clover's eyes, heady like the kiss of the sun, as soothing as the warmth of the rocking shoreline. Yet it calms to a simmer, no longer devouring so much as it is swathing. There's a yearning, now, a want that is tentative, a need that is delicate.
"I'd give it to you," Clover says. There's something so disarming in the way it is breathed out between them, quiet like a secret, gentle like a confession. "If that's what you wanted."
The words are heavy in the same way that a promise is heavy - like he's offering Qrow the cosmos in a pendant, the stars in a gift box, the ocean in the palm of his hand. Qrow's heart is racing, jumping in his throat, frantic like it's trying desperately to run home to Clover.
It'd be so easy, so natural to lean in just that small distance between them. It's calamitous, this flutter in his stomach, this flare in his chest. He lingers far longer than he needs to, pulls closer than he has to, and he relishes in how Clover's breath comes to a tremulous halt.
Somehow, he manages to say without stumbling over himself, "I want a few things, but your pin isn't one of them."
"And what is it that you want?"
There's many things that he craves to say, tumbling onto the tip of his tongue, nearly a jumbled mess, but he doesn't know how to express any of it. They're the things that linger in his voice when he sings, the things that catch his attention more wholly than jewelry ever did. They're dangerous, they're lovely, they're every pretty thing lost in oceans deep.
He shifts, his fingers falling from Clover's coat lapels. "I'm not good at this, Cloves. I'm not good with keeping people." There's a furrow in Clover's brow, something hesitant in them, but he doesn't dare tear his gaze away. Eventually, Qrow murmurs, "And that's the problem - I don't want this to be a one-time thing. I can't just walk away from this like nothing happened when it's over."
Clover doesn't sound relieved, but it is close. It is as vulnerable as a wish, as raw as a confession when he reassures, "That makes two of us."
They're too close, Qrow thinks, too close but not enough, both too far from home and closer than he's ever been. Closer still with nothing but the yawn of the tide to accompany them, with nothing but the shared breath between them for him to hold on to.
It is an inevitability, an absolute, like the force that brings stars together, the pull of deep water currents that whisks away everything in their wake. Clover's lips brush against his own, gentle and hesitant, but calamitous all the same. Qrow's lungs feel like they are simultaneously full and empty, like they are void of oxygen, like the atmosphere he breathes in is too thick to filter.
Then, they slot together, melt like the velvety echoes of the sunset over the water. Qrow's fingers linger on Clover's pin before they glide upwards, tangle into his hair, pull him closer, deeper. There is only Clover, now, the only axis Remnant spins on, heady on his tongue, perfect against his lips.
They break apart, their breaths mingling, and the silence that follows is a comfort, a respite. Clover's voice is rough, almost ragged, heavy like the flare in Qrow's gut when he says, "Stay for a while."
Qrow doesn't have half the mind to quip like he usually does. He laughs, then replies, "Okay."
The first thing that Qrow registers is the whisper of the ocean, distant in his ears, barely perceptible over the slow, methodical breathing behind him.
The second thing is the scent of something soft, some heady mixture of honey and lavender, delicate in his sinuses, intoxicating when he turns to bury his nose into the pillow and breathe in deep.
Clover eventually shifts behind him. His arm is a pleasant weight, the heat that radiates from him a blissful comfort. His hand trails down, circles Qrow's thigh, his touch feather-light like the kiss he presses against Qrow's shoulder. Just outside the window, the first rays of sunlight bleed along the horizon, glowing hazel against the water.
Clover settles once more, slowly drifting back off to sleep. Qrow slots his fingers in between Clover's where they rest low on his thigh. He squeezes, waits, and he feels like he's high in the sky, far above the clouds when Clover belatedly squeezes back.
This must be that thing that Summer would sometimes talk about - the one that makes Qrow feel like the world revolves around them, the one that makes him believe for a small while that Clover is the reason the sun rises.
He can get used to waking up like this.
Before their paths diverge once more, Clover stops him at the door. Pulls him into a kiss that has him melting, leaves him with a lingering bite to his lower lip that sends his nerves alight. Clover tugs at his collar and slides his fingers underneath. Qrow doesn't realize that he's fastening a pin to his shirt until he feels the cold shock of its metal back against his skin.
"Here," Clover murmurs gently in the narrow space between them. His voice is delightfully rough around the edges. "I want you to have it."
The sun isn't where Qrow last saw it, snatched from its place in the sky and burning strong in the space between his ribs. He might just need his dorsal fin even on the surface, with how the world tilts and the currents shift and the ground beneath them feels as if it's a hair away from crumbling.
Clover is the only thing keeping him upright anymore, until he smiles that painfully captivating smile of his and says, "I knew it'd look better on you."
Qrow's fingers never stop tracing the outline of the clover pin. Once he's far out of sight, past the docks and deep underwater and lounging pleasantly on a bed of seagrass, he takes the time to revere it properly. It is stunning in the sunlight, mesmerizing in the moonlight.
It's his new favorite trinket.
Clover doesn't need to start a fire. It is more of a routine at this point, done only for the familiarity that is Qrow, his sudden appearance, the guarantee of his company. There is a balance between the days he returns with Clover after his last patrol and the days he emerges from the water.
Clover finds himself thinking about Qrow often. It is different when they're alone, far from the piers or the inns, the bars or the courtyards, in the safety of the cove where neither of them had appearances to uphold. He's an enigma, balancing life on both the surface and the deep with practiced ease, and that only makes him all the more alluring.
He stokes the embers that start to catch and flare, the base of the pit smoldering brightly, licking higher until it finally envelopes the wood he placed. It never takes long after the fire starts for Qrow to arrive; he always hears it, the telltale splash of water that breaks through the crackle of the fire.
Qrow is lounging in the small valley between both platforms where the water pools the deepest when Clover arrives. He's on his stomach, his tail hidden in the water, almost expectant where he glances upwards. The night sky is clear and the moonlight is bright on his skin, reflecting against the wet glisten of his back, his cheeks, his hair.
"Whoops," Qrow drawls, moving to rest his chin on one hand. He makes a show of inspecting the rings on his fingers, lazy and disinterested. "Could've sworn I was sneaky that time."
Clover takes his usual seat by the edge of the platform. He props his arm on one knee, the other leg outstretched against the slope, almost touching the water. His foot bobs lightly against the rock, and the action draws Qrow's eyes for a brief moment.
"You're not all that discreet, you know," Clover teases.
Qrow glances sharply back towards him. His grin is soft, gentle, the hike of his lip upwards just barely enough to reveal a glimpse of his teeth. The sight of them is dangerously tantalizing. "You're not too subtle, either," Qrow says. "You light that fire at the same time every night."
Clover only shrugs. There's no use in denying it. "How else do I get your attention?"
That grin grows wider, melting onto Qrow's face with the same luxurious ease of the rising tide. The shift in Qrow's expression is faint, but Clover catches it; he sees how Qrow's eyes trail just a bit lower, how the rings around his pupils shine a little brighter.
The usual gravel in his tone is all the more pronounced when he says, "You've already got my attention."
Clover swallows thickly, his mouth inexplicably dry, but he manages to prompt just as confidently, "And what is it about me that caught your eye?"
"Fishing for compliments again?" Qrow laughs. The sound is exquisitely lovely, a velvety rumble in his chest, the closest Clover has ever heard to a purr. "You're so gorgeous that it hurts. Can't keep my eyes off you, lucky charm."
Qrow's gaze is heavy, and there is that telltale shine in his irises for a moment, a crimson like that of the blood that rushes in his jugular. Clover tugs at his collar to accommodate the flare of heat that rises to his face, and the movement draws Qrow's attention. He tracks his hand with a careful stillness, watches as if he is waiting for the right moment to pounce.
Clover can't help but goad, "Gorgeous enough to lure you out of the water for once?"
That seems to pique Qrow's interest. It is predacious enough to be alluring, how he slinks closer, slow and calculating, the languid sway of his tail mesmerizing. There isn't a thing that Qrow doesn't notice, and Clover wonders if he can hear the way his heart races, sense the anticipation that sears under his skin.
"I just got back in, Cloves. You know how annoying it is," Qrow says. "What'll it take to get you in here, instead?"
Clover huffs. Close to a laugh, more of a taunt than anything. "You'll have to be a little more convincing."
With stunning fluidity, Qrow lifts himself onto the slope of the platform, settling comfortably between Clover's legs. Water soaks into Clover's lap and shirt, but he can't care less. He runs his thumb along Qrow's cheek, stopping to rest just under his chin, his other hand trailing up the leathery back of one bicep.
Qrow's gaze shifts from his eyes to his lips, lingering there for one tantalizing moment, the heat in it a lure, the weight of it a plead. He's tentative, but Clover is, as well - this is that bridge they have yet to cross, a leap they have yet to take. They meet halfway, and the press of their lips is gentle, the sensation surprisingly smooth, slick.
Clover can feel the way Qrow's hand settles on his thigh, just a bit hesitant, evidently mindful of his claws. He tilts his head further, melts into a more intimate angle, and Qrow sighs a wordless sound into the kiss. There's the faint pinprick of teeth, longer and sharper now, grazing lightly against his skin as Qrow catches his lower lip between them.
Qrow is the first to pull away. He noses just under Clover's jaw, murmurs low against him, "Convincing enough?"
Clover's breath catches at the faint scrape of Qrow's teeth over the stretch over his skin. He presses another kiss to Qrow's temple and responds, "Might as well. I'm soaked through."
Qrow draws back with a faint simper. He sinks back into the water, swallowed up to the waist in the abyss, and offers Clover one hand. His claws over Clover's skin is delicate, a fleeting whisper, and surprisingly enough, the water is warm when he follows. He takes a moment to discard the shirt that clings to his skin - pulls it up over his head deliberately slowly, meets Qrow's sinfully heavy gaze as he tosses it back onto the platform.
He can't help but grin when Qrow grumbles faintly, "Show off."
They halt there in the water, the next kiss languid, the touch as warm as the caress of the water over Clover's skin. The cosmos shines bright in Qrow's eyes when they part, and he looks vaguely inquisitive, squeezes Clover's hand as if asking for permission.
Clover squeezes back, and he is pulled further along, the glide of Qrow's tail against his legs an exquisite sensation. He doesn't keep track of how far they go. There's only Qrow, staring at him like he's the planet that holds the moon in its orbit, like he's the star that shines the brightest in the sky.
He startles a bit when Qrow suddenly asks him, "Ever wanted to go diving?"
"With the proper gear, yes."
Qrow laughs again, the sound gravelly, undoubtedly fond. Clover aches to hear more of it. "I'd show you the reef if I could."
The stars shine in Qrow's eyes, filling his pupils as if they're a void to fall into, an abyss to illuminate. The moon ignites the never-ending stretch of water, its reflection rippling with the languid sway of the ocean.
"I'd go with you," Clover says. There isn't a thing he wouldn't do, a place he wouldn't follow to, a time he wouldn't wait for. "After all of this is over."
Implying that there is an end. That there is this happily ever after, or at least a loose version of such, where Grimm aren't a growing problem, where mer aren't actively hunted. Clover doesn't know what comes next, only that he doesn't want this partnership to end - professionally and personally.
Qrow averts his eye as he mirthlessly jokes, "Duty calls, though, doesn't it?"
"That isn't what I said," Clover points out. He leans in close, his lips ghosting over the wet stretch of Qrow's skin. "Despite my job, I still do want things in my life."
I want you, he would say, breathed out against the column of Qrow's throat, drawn forth from the flutter between his ribs, but he doesn't. He doesn't need to. It is tangible, heavy in the press of his lips along Qrow's neck, in the searing path left behind from his fingertips against Qrow's chest in the water.
Qrow's cheeks burn bright in the moonlight. He slowly lets out the breath he has been holding, both pleased and unsure. Pauses for a moment before he tilts his head back, granting Clover access, drifting further into the water.
Clover wonders how difficult it might be to sink his teeth into the leathery stretch of skin at his neck. If it is even possible to do so, if it is possible to leave Qrow with blossoms of red and purple. He wonders what it is he sees in Qrow's eyes when he pulls back, a flicker above storm clouds, a silhouette beneath the water.
Qrow looks like he wants to say something, his jaw tensing, a tendon twinging in his neck, but he doesn't. Clover presses their foreheads together, and eventually, he realizes that Qrow doesn't need to.
It is audible, gently filling the air between them through the sound of Qrow's voice. Soft, smooth over the whisper of the ocean, the loveliest sound Clover has ever heard. It's accompanied by the traces of a purr that rumbles in his chest, thrumming under Clover's fingers, reverberating past skin, muscles, veins. It settles in his heart like a match that ignites, a spark that skitters, a fire that consumes.
Clover doesn't know what the words are to Qrow's song, but in a way, he understands. It is the closest Qrow can get. It is that barrier, that thin, honeyed lining where the sky kisses the ocean, muddling until Clover can't make out where either begins.
Qrow brings him closer - outwards into the deep, towards home, against the pounding rush in his chest. The pull is that of gravity, whole and absolute, tying them there, holding them together; it is that of the tide, drawing them even further into the unknown, but Qrow's grip never falters.
Out here, there's only the soothing murmur of the ocean and the silvery flow of Qrow's voice. Clover plants a kiss against Qrow's pulse point, and he feels how Qorw's gills flare and fingers twinge, faltering just a bit in the effort to avoid nicking Clover with his claws.
His song continues long into the night, swaying like the ocean does, smooth and enrapturing.
Clover is one of the first called in when the body is found.
The bedroom window is open. There are torn bandages and ropes on the floor, balled up next to a lump of gore that stains the floorboards beneath it. The stench is almost overwhelming, sinking it claws into the back of his throat and the stem of his lungs, but he steels himself and presses onwards.
There are teeth marks, he finds. Jagged edges torn into the man's jugular, too deliberate to be anything but a murder, too meticulously placed to be done by anything that wasn't intelligent.
Qrow isn't the only mer in the ocean, Clover knows, but he can't help but wonder if he would happen to know who the culprit is.
Of course, rumors spread quickly. It is a dangerous thing, this story spread by word of mouth, whispering harrowing words of inhuman teeth marks on a corpse left to deteriorate. Clover hates to think of what the outcome may be.
The face is untouched, at least, and several hours later, Clover discovers who it is. Qrow left him early that morning to investigate the pier again. That seems to happen often. He never does explicitly say what his plan is, but the insinuation is enough, and Clover is long past trying to convince Qrow to take a legal approach.
The new investigation is hard to balance, but at the very least, Clover is allowed the rest of the evening to himself. He returns to the cove, and unsurprisingly, Qrow is lounging at the far end of the small valley. He seems to favor that spot, where his tail is mostly covered and shielded from the sun.
The sunlight is lovely over the wet glisten of his skin, and his tail flicks idly, stirring the water with every movement. He holds a trinket up to the light, the silver glinting brightly alongside the rubies that are encrusted in intricate patterns along its length. In a way, he looks bored, as if the rubies are just barely enough to hold his attention.
"I'd ask where you got that, but I think I know better."
Qrow glances over to him, lowering the trinket just a bit, a small simper on his face when he lazily reassures, "I found this one by the beach, actually."
There is a hint of teeth that accompanies his words. Clover is hyper aware of the glint of them, of their jagged edges, of the rows that no doubt linger behind the ones that are visible. He is aware of the claws that balance the trinket, long and curved inwards, designed to sink, cling, tear.
Clover isn't naive. He knows what Qrow is capable of. He is aware of the things Qrow may do in a heartbeat if he so wishes to. Except he hasn't, and Clover knows that he won't.
His reminder is the sea glass in his pocket, left behind when Qrow returned home, something that Qrow clung to despite the storm, the fisherman, the wound that wept out into the water. There is also a reminder in the way Qrow glances up at him when he approaches the platform.
It is subtle, how he brightens, how his eyes glimmer and his smile crooks just a bit and the trinket is quickly forgotten. There are the traces of something fond in his eyes, fleeting but there, growing brighter as time passes. There is a balance, Clover thinks, a balance between them, like balance between the ocean and the land, the sky and the abyss.
Water rushes forth, swallowing Qrow up to the shoulders. He only slinks closer when Clover settles at the apex of the slope, asking as casually as any other time, "Anything interesting happened while I was gone?"
Interesting isn't a word Clover would use - it is too trivial, and it sticks to his tongue, stings like tin between his teeth. Carefully, he says, "Found a man dead in his home today."
Qrow tilts his head. He doesn't seem too interested, but he prompts regardless, "Yeah?"
"There were teeth marks." That snatches Qrow's attention from wherever it had wandered to. His eyes narrow, calculating as he listens to Clover state, "A human didn't do it."
He hums, the sound just a bit standoffish, but Clover knows that it isn't guilty. It is anticipatory, as if he knows what is coming, as if he knows where the hesitance in Clover's voice stems from.
"Would you happen to know. . . ?"
Qrow snorts at that. "As if I know every mer in the ocean." His gaze lingers, surprisingly guarded, his voice perilously steady as he continues, "And if I somehow did know who your culprit was, do you expect me to tell you?"
"No," Clover admits. "And I wouldn't force you to, either. I just thought I'd ask."
Qrow blinks up at him a few times. His expression is inscrutable, and for a moment, Clover wonders if he shattered that balance, if he sent it tilting too far off until it plummeted far out of reach. Then, it shifts into something subtly pleased, something vaguely reminiscent of relief.
"Hey. What you saw there -" Qrow sounds as if he can't quite grasp the words, struggling to get them into order, to unstick them from the roof of his mouth. Eventually, he manages to say, "I understand if it puts you off from - from this."
From me, he would say, but he doesn't need to. It is blatant in the pause that follows, in the tension that hangs thick in the air, heavy and suffocating.
"No," Clover reassures in a heartbeat. That is the one thing he's sure of; this is the one thing he refuses to let slip from his fingers, to crack and shatter with a sound like breaking glass. "I don't think any less of you. Or us. Whatever happened there and the consequences of it has nothing to do with you."
The simultaneous wonder and apprehension on Qrow's face is almost painful - it probably wasn't the response he was expecting, but with the small smile that tugs at his lips, it was the correct one. Clover ponders for a moment, and he tentatively muses, "Though it is a bit of an eye-opener. I could bite you as hard as I could and it would hardly matter, but I doubt the opposite is true."
It isn't ominous - rather, it's a curious thing, this stark difference between them, one of many that Clover lingers on more than he should. Interestingly enough, Qrow falters at that, something twinging in his neck, tight in his jaw. It is gone as quickly as it emerges.
"It's not common, but it definitely is in some families," Qrow says. "But you knew that already, right?"
Clover nods. There's no point in denying it; he knows where myths stem from, understands where stories begin, however inflated. Qrow averts his gaze for a brief moment, his lips pressed to a thin line, absentmindedly toying with a ring on his thumb.
"My sister, Raven - she'd lure a lot of humans back in the day before she left with our tribe," Qrow tells him. Slow, deadpan, recounted by necessity rather than reminsicience. "I promised myself I'd never use it. She calls it a moral high horse, but I call it having basic standards."
It is as much of a confession as it is a reassurance. He dislodges one ring and twirls it between his fingers, against the length of his claws, but that isn't what Clover focuses on. He thinks only of how their fingers had interlocked, how Qrow had pulled him into the water and held firm and sang a song that Clover has only ever heard of in poems, in stories.
"I know you wouldn't, and I know you have no reason to lie," Clover firmly tells him. "And I also know that the culprit is probably long gone. As deliberate as it looks, I have a feeling there's something deeper to it."
Qrow relaxes back against the slope. There is a familiar relief in the way he quips, "Detective Ebi hot on some poacher's tail? Do tell."
"Well, you're not far off," Clover laughs. He is smiling, and as always, Qrow mirrors it, drawn to him like the moon draws the tide. "The body belongs to Adam Taurus. I've seen that name before - quite notorious around Mistral. It's convenient that the culprit just so happens to be the very thing he hunts."
"Back to business, then?" Qrow stretches out against the water, the sun glistening off the wet expanse of his torso. "I was enjoying my little vacation here. There wasn't anything cool at the pier, by the way."
"There's no harm in taking the afternoon off. We're still waiting on the warrant to search his ship."
"Oh, really?" Qrow flits back upright, slinking close once more. "Well, then. Now that that's out of the way. . . ."
Clover watches as Qrow reaches up to grasp at the jagged edge of the rocky platform. He almost looks mischievous, seafoam frothing at his hips when he rears, a spark in his eye. He doesn't quite pull himself onto the slope, instead settling at Clover's thighs, his tail curled under him. Water clings to him, dripping down the curves of his clavicles, sinking into the portion of Clover's thigh where his other hand reaches out to settle.
"What were you talking about earlier?" Qrow asks him. His eyes are heavy. His teeth look sharp. "About biting me as hard as you could?"
He is stunning, speaking with a simper that is almost playful, looking up at Clover with the shine of the sun in his eyes. They're breathtakingly pale in the sunlight, Clover finds, rose-tinted, almost pink. There is a familiar weight to the prompt, a flare in his extremities that Qrow never fails to ignite.
Clover runs the pad of his thumb slowly along Qrow's lower lip, back and forth. "I think about it sometimes. Making you fall apart in your own domain," he admits. It'd be embarrassing, almost shameful, with how frequently the thoughts carry him late into the night, but he's focused more on the hand that trails higher against his inner thigh. "Though I've never really figured out a way to bring it up."
There's that glint in Qrow's eyes again, smoldering an alluringly bright crimson for the briefest moment. What catches him by surprise isn't how Qrow moves to wrap his lips around his thumb; it's how mesmerizingly slick his mouth is, and soon enough, the ease in which Qrow's tongue wraps around it.
He catches Clover's hand before he pulls away, weaving their fingers together, tugging him gently forwards. It is more an invitation than it is a demand.
"That doesn't sound like a bad idea," Qrow purrs.
Clover has never wanted anything more - never wanted anyone so badly, never had such a difficult time keeping himself in check. Except it's only them now, secluded in this cove, with Qrow's hand in his, the other still inching higher.
Clover sets his other hand on Qrow's chest and shoves him backwards. The ease in which he slots them together is exhilarating, his hands pressed to Qrow's shoulders, straddling Qrow's hips in the water. A brief pause follows, in which Qrow can only stare up at him, a flush burning high on his cheeks.
He eventually catches himself and rests his hands over Clover's thighs. The water is pleasantly warm, the sun a kiss in and of itself, but there's a different kind of heat that is nearly unbearable when Qrow pulls him closer. Gradually, Qrow shifts until his back presses against the other slope.
He bares his neck, the traces of a growl lacing through his words as he says, "Show me, lucky charm."
The sheer pliancy of the act is remarkably heady. There is trust in it, obvious beneath all of the anticipation, the bated breath that sits in his throat. A small, nearly imperceptible shiver runs down his spine at the first press of Clover's lips to his skin. Clover is hyper aware of the claws at his thighs; they are sharp and looming, a faint pinprick even through the fabric of his trousers, curved to tear, but they never come close.
But he can feel the tension in them at the first press of his teeth. He can feel the way they tremble in time with Qrow's sigh. He is gentle despite how leathery the skin is, soothing each bite with an open-mouthed kiss, until he feels Qrow shift beneath him.
Lips press against his temple, and he can practically hear the smirk when Qrow murmurs, "That all you got?"
His voice isn't as collected as he probably hoped it to be - breathy, gravelly, enough of an urgency in it for Clover to move lower. Down the curve of Qrow's neck, against the column of his throat, lingering there before he sinks his teeth in harder than before. There is a twinge at his thighs, just sharp enough to send his nerves alight.
Qrow is strong, undoubtedly. He is a solid weight beneath Clover, all lithe muscle and a maw fit to break bone, and yet he still quakes like a leaf. He still gasps out against Clover's hair, still begins to writhe at the bruise that is sucked onto the column of his throat where the skin is the softest.
That only encourages Clover to get bolder, rougher, and at a particularly harsh bite to the crook of his neck, Qrow lets out a sharp moan. The sound is raw, ragged, as helpless as the press of his claws. They dig harder, not close enough to wound, but enough to send Clover's blood rushing. Qrow tenses, quakes, pants out wordless sounds, but not once does he ever break skin.
It is as comforting as it is arousing, the control that is yielded readily to him, the glassy eyes that meet Clover's when he finally pulls back. Marks blossom between leathery skin, a coalescence of red and purple, galaxies and nebulae alike that breathe out onto the expanse of his throat. The rest of the marks beyond that point are tragically faint.
They are thin, crescent-shaped, perceptible only once he runs his fingertips against them. He halts for a moment before he digs his nails in, needlessly saying, "I was right."
For a long moment, Qrow's eyes are seething. The want in them is almost tangible, heavier than a pressurized sink, as thick as the seafoam that gathers around them. He says with a low purr, "Guess we'll have to try again later, won't we?"
He strengthens his grip and pulls Clover closer. Grinds their hips together, and Clover follows the movement, languid like the tide, the breeze, the heat that pools between his thighs. Slowly, Clover trails his hand between them, away from the marks and towards the smooth curve of Qrow's lower abdomen.
Interestingly enough, his fingertips eventually brush over a thin stretch of skin, right along the length of a slit. Qrow stiffens and growls, the sound ticking low in his throat, the rapid dilation of his pupils sending a thrill down Clover's spine.
Breathlessly, Clover laughs, "Point of no return, I take it?"
Despite the obvious lilt of a quip, Qrow still tells him, "You're welcome to walk away at any time." It's painstakingly earnest. Clover's heart takes off running. "But you're going to make it extremely hard to behave before you do."
"Implying that I plan on leaving." He presses his forehead to Qrow's, murmurs against his lips, "Which I don't."
The next kiss is as gentle as the water that laps over his legs, as pleasantly languid as the caress of sunlight on his skin. He rubs over the length of the slit once more, down and back again, repeats the motion a few times before he delves inwards. His fingertips meet something firm and velvety, and Qrow sighs against his lips.
Tentatively, Clover applies a bit more pressure, rubs in slow circles, wonders what it is he presses against - the kiss becomes messier, all slick heat and heady desire, the groan that melts between them an exquisitely lovely sound. Qrow makes a sharp noise, and that is Clover's only warning before there is pressure that pushes back against his fingers.
He doesn't immediately recognize what it is that spills forth from the slit and into the palm of his hand. He breaks from the kiss, glances downwards, and it takes a long moment for his ribcage to finally accommodate the expansion of his lungs. He then wraps his fingers around one of the twin cocks that protrude from the slit.
"Oh," Clover breathes.
Qrow only simpers, the glimpse of his teeth a promise, the low purr in his chest a reassurance in and of itself.
The point in which they meet is a searing bliss, a pulsing ecstasy.
Fingers trail over Clover's quivering thighs as he lifts himself once more. Full, so full, slick and full and drowning in the wave of sparks that skitter up the curve of his spine. The rasp of claws over his skin ignites the nerves beneath, sends his heart pounding, his hips stuttering as he drops back down.
Qrow makes a pitiful noise, ragged and helpless, sunlight glistening off the lovely arch of his throat. One hand rises to curl over Clover's hip, pinpricks too light to tear, too gentle to ever wound. The other passes over Clover's chest, feather-light, softer than the glimmering droplets in Qrow's hair. Then, Clover is abruptly pulled forwards, pressing them flush together.
The new angle only sheathes Qrow deeper, the suddenness of it drawing the breath from Clover's lungs. He scrambles for purchase, clenches hard around the cocks inside him, relishes in the full-body shiver that the action elicits. It's both too much and not enough, too much water to steel himself against and not enough oxygen in his veins to accommodate it.
Qrow tucks his nose just under Clover's jaw, takes a torturously long moment to breathe in. He clings tightly, tighter than life, tighter than the heat around him, tighter than Clover's fist in his hair. There is a small pause, a heartbeat that he can feel between the bones of his wrists, a lull in the water that laps over his knees.
Then, there are teeth. Grazing along his neck, sharp and looming, but Qrow doesn't bite. He doesn't, despite how Clover tilts his neck further, grinds against him, aches with so much want that he almost sobs. Achingly full and achingly anticipatory, achingly lovestruck and achingly fond of the man under him.
There is tension that hangs heavily, gathering like the seafoam that clings to Qrow's skin. Qrow noses along the length of his neck, takes another shuddering breath, and Clover wonders if he can feel the pulse against his lips, if he can hear the rush of blood. There isn't any fear that follows the thought, nothing but a surge of frustration from the standstill they've reached.
He wants to move, wants to roll his hips and continue, but then Qrow's lips brush against his skin. The touch is hardly there, and just barely audible over the hiss of the tide, he hears Qrow's gravelly murmur, "Can I -?"
Qrow quakes as if he isn't the one with the talons, the razor-sharp maw, the raw strength. His teeth linger but never sink, never come close, never daring to until Clover responds. There is obvious restraint, a struggle that Qrow trembles through, but he never urges him further, never rushes the process.
Something sweet thrums in Clover's blood, resonating from the pressure in his hips, in the whisper-soft brush of teeth against the crook of his neck. It pulses in his heart, rushes through every chamber, something so exquisitely lovely that he almost has to pause to learn how to breathe again.
It is visceral, this searing want, this smoldering ache. It is tangible, this odd feeling in Clover's chest, this exhilarating rush under his skin like that of a tidal wave. They can both feel it; they're both drowning it.
Faintly, Clover says, "Yes."
He groans at the sink of Qrow's teeth - swift and firm like tension that releases, wire that snaps, glass that shatters. Except he is painstakingly careful, gentle despite the subtle tension in his maw, as if Clover is a treasure to hold close, sea glass to keep safe. An odd noise follows, something deep in Qrow's chest, too feral to be a moan, too human to be a whine.
The sentiment behind it is obvious. Clover recognizes it when Qrow finally lets go. He nuzzles closer and purrs, his tongue slick and hot against the crescent of the wound. Clover has never seen him so pliant, so content; he has never heard anything lovelier than the rasp of Qrow's voice, the rumble of his purr, the lilt of his song.
The words almost tumble out of Clover then. A confession of his own, not a song like Qrow's, but just as powerful. He catches himself, and he can't help but laugh and melt into a stupid grin. The purr tapers off, and Qrow takes another steadying breath, his grip finally faltering.
"What?" Qrow mutters.
He's stunning, Clover thinks as he pulls back, he's stunning with the sun in his eyes, the seafoam in his hair, the smear of crimson over his lips. Stunning when there is so much reverence in his gaze, as if the sight he beholds is more captivating than the shimmering blanket of the cosmos over a clear night sky.
"Nothing," Clover reassures. He lifts his hips, grinds back down, draws out a gasp from them both. "Gods, you're handsome - you're gorgeous, Qrow, you're so lovely -"
"I get it, you sap," Qrow interrupts, though he sounds just as lovestruck as Clover feels.
The next search by the pier proves to be just as fruitless as the others.
He hates the scent that lingers, too fleeting to pinpoint, always hanging just above his head until he's too frustrated to stay there any longer. By the time he returns to the docks, the sun has long since set, and interestingly enough, Clover still stands by the ledge, overlooking the water with his Scroll in his hand.
He's reading something with a furrow in his brow when Qrow approaches. Qrow resists the knee-jerk urge to butt his head into Clover's shoulder, instead waiting for a moment before he says, "Should I ask?"
Whatever tension there is splits and crumbles from Clover's shoulders, replaced only by an endearingly lopsided smile. Qrow wishes he could capture it in a picture frame, because if there is one thing that should be immortalized, it is him. His joy, his smile, his little hum he makes when he closes his Scroll in favor of conversation.
"Shipment running unusually late," Clover tells him. "I suppose it's lost somewhere in the chaos, but you never know."
Qrow only nods and glances outwards, over towards the rocking abyss that awaits him. He's seen the streaks of red left behind, marring the surface, dissipating below. He's tasted the ashes, sticky like tar, clogging his gills for the brief moment it takes before they fade into the deep. He hasn't heard from James lately, but he will not be surprised when the call comes, demanding that he keeps watch over the coast.
Which he doesn't mind, necessarily. That is his job, that is what he is meant to do. But it is different when his family is so close by. It is different when Clover is the one he frequently returns to, as well.
"Well, I don't know about you, but I'm bored," Qrow says. "Let's go waste some time."
There's mild amusement on Clover's face, lacing into his words when he points out, "I'm still in uniform."
Qrow makes a show of raking his eyes lower, over Clover's vest, his belt, the stupid little charm he wears at his hip. The once-over is slow, blatant, rising only when he says, "I noticed."
Clover's tone is innocuous, but the weight of his gaze betrays him entirely when he asks, "Did you have something in mind?"
Qrow considers a few things, all revolving around the persistent urge he's felt to reopen the wound that brands Clover's neck. Hidden well by his collar, but Qrow knows it is there, a red-tinged purple that heals slowly. It is impulsive, almost primal, like the urge he gets to reach for trinkets, and it is only a shame that the marks on his own throat have already faded.
Clover's teeth are not meant to penetrate his skin. They aren't even remotely close to a threat, but Qrow wishes they were.
He has been good about keeping his hands to himself, however difficult it has become. Clover has a way of getting to him, prompting him in a way that is deceivably innocent, yet the insinuations are all Qrow can focus on. They're barely there, fleeting like a sin, weightless like a prayer.
"Poker's always fun," Qrow answers before he can entertain that perilous train of thought. "Especially when there's something on the line."
Clover seems entertained by that. He muses idly, "I didn't peg you as one to gamble."
Qrow shrugs. "Wouldn't you if you knew you'd win?"
Qrow doesn't miss the faint lilt, the nearly imperceptible edge of a smirk that Clover wears. He can't help the way his eyes seethe brighter, both a call and a warning, a spark that ignites the gunpowder and signals the start of a hunt. The beginnings of a purr rolls off his tongue when he asks, "Is that a challenge?"
Clover is inscrutable for the most part, disciplined enough to maintain that professional demeanor. He reaches out to pass his thumb over the pin that is attached to Qrow's coat lapel. It is cheeky, goading, the way he tugs just a bit, playing a game he knows he can win. It is difficult for Qrow not to grab his wrist and tug him closer, not to hold him still and mark him anew.
"If you'd like it to be," Clover hums.
"Place your bet now, Cloves," Qrow warns. His voice crooks lower, close to a growl, and he catches the twinge in Clover's neck. He tracks the movement with a renewed hunger, aches terribly to feel it under his tongue, against his teeth.
Then Clover smiles, as pleasantly lovely as the glow of dawn as it pierces the veil, and says, "There isn't much I have that isn't already yours by default."
He is as disarmingly earnest as he always is, not a single shred of doubt in his words, and briefly, Qrow can only stare. Hears nothing but the whisper of the ocean, the beat of his heart up against his sternum. Clover's fingers are still on his coat lapel, still thumbing the pin that he keeps there, lingering there for a long moment before he pulls away.
The streets of Mantle are not as busy at night. That is when the offenses begin - when Clover's arm lingers a little too long around Qrow's waist, when Qrow's lips inevitably press to the mark once more, drawn to it like a magnet that attracts every pretty thing in its reach. They walk that familiar path to the diner that they frequent, leaves crunching below their feet, skittering past with the brush of the cool breeze.
It is then when Qrow catches the scent that faintly permeates the air.
It is sharp, lingering in his sinuses, simultaneously heavier than water and lighter than air. His nose is pressed to the length of Clover's neck, lips brushing over his pulse point, but even so, even when there is sandalwood and salt and a scent so unique to Clover, he can still smell the stench that comes from the ocean.
He pulls away, the inquisitive noise that follows falling on deaf ears. It is hardly there, nearly imperceptible, but the breeze carries it regardless. He almost doesn't believe it, because it is too close to the surface, too close and too far and too much. Except there is no doubting what it is that smells of ashen rot, something dangerously indisputable at the hints of tar that he catches in the air.
"Qrow," Clover says, and judging by the small sense of urgency in his tone, it is not the first time. Qrow glances at him, and he asks, "What's wrong?"
It's rancid despite the distance, nearly thick enough to paint the walls of his lungs black. He makes a disgruntled noise, passes the back of his hand over his nose, but nothing dulls the scent. Not even Clover, who steps closer, passes his fingers over his cheek.
"Grimm." Qrow turns on his heel and says over his shoulder, "Don't follow."
There is a finality to his tone, a warning within the growl that singes the edges of his words, but Clover still calls out, "Qrow!"
But he's already running, drawn by the breeze that whispers with traces of Grimm, and through the blood in his ears, he thankfully does not hear any footsteps behind him.
The closer he gets to the piers, the stronger the scent becomes, heavier than any tar-laden trench he approaches at the bottommost part of the ocean. It is heavy in the back of his throat, thicker than the waters that crash beneath the floorboards, the salt that the tide throws against his feet. At the very least, the piers are vacant.
Well, vacant save for the ship with a sigil he has been searching for, but there is no time to worry about that just yet.
He doesn't catch any traces of a human scent, only wax and paint and rot so potent that it aches. He has no time to linger at the boat, not when there are silhouettes in the waters below that steadily grow larger. He curses and dives off the edge.
The first breath that filters through is a burst of life, simultaneously frigid and searing, coursing through his veins with a purity that his lungs would never provide. The scent is muted here, at least, still blatant but not enough to ache as terribly as it did on the surface. He has just enough time to tug his clothes free before he flits off between the surrounding legs of the piers.
Red pierces through the murky stillness of the water in pairs. They grow in number the closer he gets to the ends of the piers where the waters are unobstructed. There isn't much that he knows about Grimm - not much that Ozpin has told him, either - but at the very least, he knows that they are nothing.
Alone or in packs, they are still mindless, still easy enough to evade and handle. He has dealt with enough before. Once he is at the end of the pier and free of any support beams that hinder his path, he delves deeper, nearly reaching the ocean floor before he arcs backwards into the group that follows him.
Their distorted jaws shudder with their hisses, their jagged-edged claws extending with their spindly limbs, but they are not coordinated enough to nick him. He only flits between them, unhinges his jaw when the time is right, and snaps into their leathery flesh with enough efficiency to tear through their throats in one strike.
There is a different kind of clarity when it comes to slaughtering Grimm. There is a tranquility to the stillness of the water, the oxygen that filters quickly through his gills, the undivided focus it takes to aim and tear through them. It is both an ease and a difficulty, the arcs between each one, the flesh that squelches between his jaws before they dissipate.
However natural the movements come to him, he eventually has no choice but to retreat. There are too many, filling the water with sticky ashes, growing murky as each one dissipates. It nearly clogs his gills, fills his throat with tar, and he has to resurface before he suffocates, before it bleeds into his veins and tints them black.
He is losing teeth quickly, he realizes, growing loose in his gums with every bite, the beds of his claws starting to ache with every chest he pierces through. There are more, he knows, more that are deeper still, quickly approaching from Brothers know where.
He breaks through the surface just in front of the pier, quickly regurgitating the tar-heavy water from his gills before his next lungful of air. It takes a moment to realize that he is not alone. He is about to delve back below when he catches the eyes that watch him from above at the end of the pier. With it comes the glint of the moonlight off the sleek edge of a harpoon.
"Oh." It's sighed out into the air, a notch above a whisper, rushing past the man's lips as if he is beholding some fleeting delicacy. "There you are."
The recognition follows quickly, starting from the wound that brands his hip and ending at the sigil he knows is looming somewhere near. Qrow watches with a lakewater stillness as the man aims the harpoon, both a show and a threat, crooning out into the sticky night air, "I want you alive, but I won't make any promises if you try using that voice of yours."
Faintly, he can hear the hisses that approach, lost somewhere in the trail of tar he left behind. He snaps, "You're going to get us both killed."
"I'm willing to take that chance." The lurid gleam of the man's smile only widens, more chilling than that of the harpoon's white-tipped glare. "Aren't you? You do fraternize with humans, after all."
"Who the hell are you?"
It isn't much of a surprise when the man lowers the harpoon. Not when there is nowhere to run, not where Qrow will only be met with spindly limbs below that will tether him in place long enough for the man to take aim once more. This isn't the man's first or his last hunt - he is not a fisherman, not a poacher, something distinctly rancid, something that almost helps Qrow understand where Raven was coming from.
"I've called myself Arthur Watts for a while, but I do grow tired of playing pretend." With an exaggerated bow, the man says, "Tyrian Callows, at your service."
The hisses are louder, now, but even the slightest movement to submerge himself has Tyrian aiming the harpoon again. His heart rocks with the water, aching where it pounds against his sternum, because there is no time left. There is no room to weave if he goes back, only a mass of hollow eyes and jagged-toothed maws fit to tear through his flesh as easily as he sinks through theirs.
"Do you know what attracts Grimm?" Tyrian asks. Despite the lack of a response, he gleefully hums, "Merfolk."
Qrow can't help the next growl that seethes into the air, his lip curling as he snarls, "Bullshit."
"Oh, there they are," Tyrian sighs. It is there again, that sickening reverence, the hysterical lilt of his voice long gone. His finger caresses the curve of the trigger as he purrs, "Show me your teeth, Branwen."
Qrow's breath stutters, gills flare, trapped in a web of a damnable fate whichever way he turns. There is no clarity, not for a brief second before he catches the familiar scent. But by then, it's already too late - Tyrian is already shoved forwards over the edge, the harpoon jerked out of his hand by the action. It splashes just out of reach, sinks far out of relevance and into the jaws of the void below them.
Qrow flits out of the way, but he pays no further mind to the plunge into water next to him, only drifts closer to the pier. He isn't sure if it is a blessing or a curse, the seafoam eyes that he's come to adore so much, glassy where they stare down at him, both fear and adrenaline alike flooding his pupils. Clover's eyes glance elsewhere, against the silhouettes and the tumultuous waters, lingering for a heartbeat before they snap back to Qrow.
"Don't die on me."
There is no room for argument. There is only room for Qrow to nod and say, "Right back at you, boy scout."
That is enough for Clover to sprint back down the pier. Back to land, back to where the Grimm cannot reach him. A billow of water rushes past Qrow, disappearing between the legs of the piers to follow behind Clover. There isn't time to focus on Clover just yet, though; Qrow is snapped back into focus by the nails that dig into his gills and yank him backwards.
The stench becomes unbearable, nearly splotching his vision white. Or maybe it's the bite of a blade that follows shortly afterwards, nearly slicing through one fin with a practiced ease; maybe it's the billow of red that taints the water, the fire that wracks through each nerve as the blade reaches his other forearm.
Though none of that matters, not when he finally turns and catches Tyrian's wrists. This is his domain, after all. There is nothing but them and the water, nothing but them and the tendrils that reach them both.
Qrow hooks his claws through flesh and bone, pulls Tyrian close, and plunges into the abyss.
Clover does not hear the high-pitched snarls until he is halfway down the pier.
He trips as the pier lurches, the water beneath quickly growing tumultuous as he scrambles back to his feet. Somewhere off in the distance, he can hear the voice that calls, "Clover!"
It is almost imperceptible above the screech of splintering wood that rings out into the night. Clover is jerked sideways against the ledge, its chains rattling precariously, the support beams beneath quickly collapsing into the abyss. Tar-like tendrils force themselves between the cracks of the floorboards and over the ledge of the opposite railing.
The pier lurches again, shifting at an angle that Clover can barely stand upright on, the floorboards beneath him beginning to rattle. He thinks he hears a familiar voice, but it is difficult to decipher much through the pounding in his jugular, the ice that rushes like fire through the winding length of his veins.
There is nothing beneath him, nothing but a void that waits to swallow him whole, an unmoving abyss that stares luridly up at him. There is nothing before him but cracked floorboards, quaking until they shatter, until there is enough space for a red gleam to peer through.
His only hope is the land, but he can no longer run when the pier shifts at an angle too steep to stand on. He thinks frantically of what to do, of what comes next, of what is left when limbs that are too long and tendrils that seethe black begin to reach towards him.
There is a certain clarity that comes with the call. There is a purity to the way Remnant fades from existence, crawling to a standstill, refusing to spin on its axis any longer. There is peace, now, nothing but silence, blissful silence that has him turning his head towards the water.
There is only crimson, now, crimson like the lining along the water before the sun dips out of sight, like the stardust that scatters before every stretch of the cosmos. There is peace in crimson, a peace he's never known, a peace more captivating than life itself.
Qrow's eyes never leave his, burning bright like they have several times before, but they do not fade. They remain solid, whole, absolute; they are unmoving, unblinking, the prettiest gleam Clover has ever seen as he croons, "Hold your breath."
Clover is only vaguely aware of the wood that splinters beneath him, of the claws that scramble closer and the hisses that grow louder. He takes a breath, fills his lungs to bursting, and he can hear his rib cage creak, can hear the blood that filters through the chambers of his heart.
Qrow reaches out to him. There are gaps in his maw that glisten, torn spaces at the ends of his fingertips, rivulets of crimson running down his forearms from where his fins hang by threads. Even so, he is lovely, Clover thinks, lovely no matter what the casualties are, lovelier than the never-ending stretch of the sea before dawn.
With a voice that outshines the starlight above, Qrow says, "Let go."
Clover does as he is told.
For a long while, there is nothing but the whisper that accompanies the tide and the faint scent of sandalwood amongst it.
Remnant begins to spin on its axis once more, the process dull and unhurried, refocusing enough for Qrow to curl his fingers into the fabric of the sheets beneath him. He turns his head, buries his nose further into the pillow, and breathes in the scent that is light and exquisite and nothing like the ashes that branded his lungs.
It smells like Clover, he thinks as he sighs out against the pillow, it smells like home. He faintly registers the voices alongside the biting ache in his forearms, pounding deep to the bone, held together by bandages seething red. He shifts, tilts his head, allows their voices to filter through the haze that lingers between his temples.
He cracks his eyes open, blinded by the light that filters through the window, the exhaustion refusing to allow any real clarity to settle. He merely listens to the smooth rumble of Clover's hushed voice, a smile lilting his words. He listens to the story Clover tells, nowhere near grandiose as Qrow's, but just as enrapturing to the two girls who sit before him.
A lot of things are unclear from the previous night. There is red, and there is pain, and for a short while, there is only his family there.
(And if there is one reason why Qrow loves the reef, it is because of his family.
It is because he is safe there. Safe despite the ashes that muddle the water, safe while the hisses are slowly snuffed out one by one nearby.
He is safe while he clumsily coordinates through the water and back to land. He is safe while he resuscitates Clover. He is safe while the night slowly grows silent and the stars start to shine too brightly in his eyes. His family returns to him, and the world begins to spin too rapidly for him to keep up with, and he cannot hold Clover any longer.
But Ruby and Yang still can, even if their own teeth are loose and Ruby is missing a few claws. He complains profusely, but Taiyang only shakes his head, uncaring to the jagged ribbons down his own tail, and tells him, "It's our home, too.")
There are stars in Ruby and Yang's eyes, growing brighter as Clover delves into another story. They're both wearing shirts far too large for them, both playing idly with the buttons on their collars while Clover speaks.
He tells them stories about the stretch of grasslands that extend as far as the eye can see, about the mountains that take days to climb, about the canopies of blended treetops that bleed light below in sparse patches. He tells them about the far-off lands that they have only ever heard whispers of, about the jagged-peaked borders of land that surrounds Mantle, the delicate mystery of Atlas and every other city that they almost can't believe exist.
And Qrow listens. He listens just as his nieces do, listens with a fond flutter between his ribs, listens until the hazy edges of exhaustion begin to settle once more.
For a long while, there is dreamless sleep, blissful and empty, until he stirs once more.
It is the silence that wakes him this time, clearer than before now that he has rested and his body refuses to slumber any longer. There is silence fit to shatter the atmosphere, silence that is deafening enough to send his ears ringing, silence that he does not know. There is silence only the surface holds; there is too much around him, too much space and not enough gravity, too much to handle when he is alone.
He stirs. His head lurches, stomach twists, skin sears in the wake of the thunderclap that rattles in his forearms. He hisses, holds still, catches the movement behind him in the dreadful silence. Instead of more pain, there is relief that rolls through him in waves from the fingers that thread through his hair.
Clover says something, a hair above a whisper, a feather-light sound in the wake of the fire that rages between the bones of Qrow's forearms. It takes a small while for Qrow's ears to stop ringing, for the knife-jabs in his bones to settle to a muted ache. He focuses enough to hear Clover muse, "Your nieces really are a lively bunch, aren't they?"
He sounds vaguely amused, and when Qrow finally glances up at him, there is a glimmer in Clover's eyes. They're verdant like home, he thinks, like the foamy mouth of the water across the sand, like the sea glass that Clover has set aside on the nightstand. It is next to his pin, two halves of a whole, pieces made to fit, shards of glass melded together.
"That's a nice way of putting it," Qrow snorts, but he's smiling, and Clover's fingers still thread gently through his hair, and there is nothing he would trade this for.
Nothing in the world, nothing in the yawning depths of the ocean or the winding expanse of the land, nothing he would trade Clover for. He shifts, sidles closer to the edge of the mattress pressed against the wall, and Clover withdraws his fingers, watching with a small quirk in his brow.
"C'mere," Qrow mumbles.
Clover's smile widens like the luxurious stretch of dawn across the sky. "You're injured, Qrow."
"I'm also cold."
"I do have extra blankets, you know."
"I didn't ask for a blanket. I asked for you."
Clover huffs out a laugh, but nevertheless, he gives in to Qrow's demands. He is painstakingly gentle, mindful of where he rests his hands, settling slowly by Qrow's side. Qrow can't say he isn't grateful; there is an ache that pounds like a drum in his forearms, flesh hypersensitive to the air at his fingertips, gaps in his teeth that have not been replaced yet.
Gingerly, he presses his ear to Clover's chest, listens to the steady beat of his heart. It is strong, healthy, whole. It beats, beats, beats, and there is as much relief as there is dread that accompanies it. Qrow would go through hell and back if it meant he could listen to this same heartbeat at the end of every day.
He would go through hell and back if it meant that Clover would be alive and well and safe.
In a way, he has. He's gone through hell and taken Clover with him. Crooned in a way he hasn't in years, pulsed crimson in his gaze until Clover had no choice but to listen. He remembers the chilling pliancy, the glassy eyes, the grip that loosened around his neck after he spent too long beneath the surface.
His throat tightens against the bile that rises, the sheer disgust that wedges beneath his sternum and wrenches it open. Clover's fingers are in his hair again. The touch is fond, endlessly gentle, accompanied by a faint smile. Qrow can almost retch from the guilt that surges beneath his skin and sears the back of his throat.
"I'm sorry." Clover makes a soft noise, equally confused as it is concerned. "About the lure," Qrow explains, and he takes a slow breath, but it does not ground him as much as he wants it to. "I didn't - I didn't know what else to do."
Clover's fingers pause, and the ocean currents falter, the atmosphere stills, the cosmos ceases to expand any longer. There is only a heartbeat, pumping blood, energy, life. Then, the touches resume, and Clover tells him in a gentle murmur that makes his own heart stutter, "You did what you had to do. There's no harm in that."
"You almost -"
Qrow's breath catches, lodges itself in his throat, the rest of it nearly bursting in his lungs within a rib cage that tightens. He can't say it - doesn't refuse to, just can't - and Clover presses his lips against the crown of his head. Clover's chest rises and falls, and Qrow can hear every breath, every beat, every word as they leave his lips.
"I'm here. I'm okay. And you're okay. That's all that matters, now."
Qrow shifts higher to nuzzle into the crook of Clover's neck. There is a pulse there, as well, one that is strong under his lips, under the faint mark that brands his skin. Clover hums, tilts his head back, and Qrow doesn't remember what this warmth in his chest means.
He doesn't remember when he last felt so close to home in a place that was anything but. He doesn't remember when he last breathed in smooth oxygen, filled his lungs to their limit, and thought of it as home. Or perhaps it is just Clover. Perhaps it is just the fingers in his hair, the hand that settles over one bicep, squeezing gently while his thumb rubs circles over his skin.
There is a flame that burns strong within his ribs, an odd thing that flutters lighter than air between his lungs, and he doesn't know how to express it. There is no sense of time, not anymore, not when Clover is the axis that Remnant revolves around. There are no words that he knows, nothing that he can string together in a way that Clover can understand.
So instead, he sings.
He sings, gentle and unhurried, and Clover's grasp on his bicep tightens. He sings, and his eyes do not smolder, and his voice is not meant to snare. It is meant to convey what words can't, to alleviate that pressure, to express what it is that weighs like gravity, pulls like the moon, rushes like the tide.
"Love you, too," Clover breathes.
Qrow only nuzzles closer and continues his song. They can worry about the details and the consequences of that night later; for now, it is only them, and that is enough.