A/N: no taiqrow, unfortunately. they r just two bros. 5 ft apart. clover doesn't realize. that's all this is.

Qrow hasn't called home in a while.

Or what he supposes is home. Taiyang's the only thing left in Patch, him and Signal, and Raven sure as hell isn't it. Then again, it's not like Qrow has the means to visit anytime soon. He tries sporadically to make contact, but the attempts always fall through, until he's left writing letters and hoping they make it. It's the least he can do.

They're rare, but there's a lot that he writes in these letters. Given, there's things that are too sensitive to put on paper, but he focuses mostly on the kids.

On Ruby, who's growing up faster than Qrow is ready for. On Yang, who's so obviously, painfully bad at flirting with the girl she's been attached at the hip to. He frequently mentions the other kids, as well, the group of them who seem to have unanimously accepted him as their uncle.

Inevitably, as time wears on, he starts to write about a certain operative who has a way of getting under his skin.

It becomes a losing battle when he realizes how much the kids like Clover, as well. The mentions are brief, fleeting, up until they're not. Clover, who he's been partnered with; Clover, who loves to toss out the dumbest luck puns when they flirt; Clover, whose compliments make him feel like he's miles above the ground; Clover, Clover, Clover.

Needless to say, a lot of these letters stop being for Taiyang. It's a little self indulgent, and he doesn't write anything even remotely eloquent, like poetry, but it's embarrassingly close. It gets worse after every mission, every supply run, every debriefing. The trash bin by the desk in his room is overflowing with crumpled paper after a few weeks.

Helplessly, he wonders what Taiyang would do. Probably tell him that he's got it bad, probably laugh and jokingly threaten to lock them in a broom closet together. He has a way of getting disarmingly playful when Qrow freaks out over things like this. He was the one who ended up with the picket-fence family, after all, acting like it's natural, like it isn't as difficult as Qrow makes it out to be.

Or at least, he did for a short while.

But Qrow doesn't like to think about that.

Except he does think about it, because it's hard not to brood and even harder not to stress over what comes next. If there is a next. Most of these kids haven't even thought about what they would do, where they would go, once they win. If they win. Not even Ruby seems to be all that sure of the future. If there is a future.

Qrow sighs. Nothing's ever been set in stone, other than this unwavering fact that Salem is an inevitability. He has his Scroll open before he enters the cafeteria, swiping through the photo album that he's kept safe for all of these years. It's a much needed comfort amidst all the uncertainty. There's photos as early as Beacon, photos from his time at Signal, photos of Summer, photos of all of them.

He settles on one. It was from before Yang and Ruby left to Beacon. They're at a festival, one of the seasonal ones that Patch goes all-out on, Ruby wearing some stupid hat that Taiyang won for her, Yang clinging to a ridiculously large stuffed Ursa that she tried her hardest to get. Qrow isn't smiling, but it's close. There's one arm hooked around Taiyang, and the other hand rests on Ruby's shoulder, and he looks happy. Like he's home.

Maybe he'll return to Patch after all of this. It's as harrowing as it is liberating, knowing that after - if there is an after - the kids won't need him. Ozpin is already gone, and all that's left are the kids, and they're growing up faster than he's prepared for, and eventually, going home will be all there is left to do.

"Are you all right?"

He startles a bit at the voice. He turns and tries his hardest to ignore the way his stomach flips when he sees Clover. "Yeah," he says just a little too quickly.

Qrow doesn't miss the way Clover's gaze drops down to his Scroll, lingering for just a moment. There's a subtle curiosity in his eyes, and it doesn't fade even after Qrow shuts his Scroll and slips it in his pocket. Great. The last thing he needs is to go on some broody rant to his partner about his anxieties.

At least, Clover seems to get the memo. He nods, clearly unconvinced, but he still says, "Well, if you need anything, I'm here."

It's said with a soft kind of earnesty that's reserved for things like secrets, promises; it's voiced with a smile that's even gentler, barely there, lop-sided and endearingly stupid, the one that he only uses when it's just the two of them. The floor beneath feels like it splits, shatters, leaves him on two uneven feet.

"Okay," Qrow manages to say.

It's a pain as much as it is a pleasure, watching Clover walk down the hall until he turns the corner.

Qrow makes the mistake of agreeing to a bet.

He can't help it - he's a gambler at heart. Except it's different when the game of poker he plays is against an opponent whose Semblance is literally good fortune. It was Clover's idea to begin with, playful and cheery and everything that Qrow can't say no to. The winner gets to ask any question, and Qrow muses over potential questions until he realizes that it was a mistake.

For the fourth time in a row, Clover needlessly points out, "Looks like I win again."

Although losing isn't particularly fun, Qrow isn't upset. He normally plays to win, but when it's Clover in the seat next to him, leaning close enough for their knees to brush, he can't care less for the losses that start to pile up. He makes a show of rolling his eyes, and he accuses with no real bite to his tone, "You're cheating. You have to be."

"Lies and slander," Clover quips. "You have a deal to uphold, you know."

The way it's said alongside a mischievous grin has Qrow feeling anticipatory rather than defeated. He isn't sure if it was a mercy or a cheeky taunt, the allowance of a few games to catch up that fell through like silks between his fingers. He leans back in his seat, reaching up to idly grasp at his necklace. He doesn't miss how the movement draws Clover's attention.

"Okay, lucky charm." Qrow can't help but feel ridiculously pleased at how Clover flushes just a bit at the nickname. "What's been on your mind?"

"You seem to own quite a bit of jewelry," Clover prompts.

It's a deliberate tactic, avoiding an explicit question, and while Qrow knows that damn well, he can't help but play along. "Hey, contrary to popular belief, I don't actually buy a lot of the jewelry I have."

Clover only grins at that. He asks with mock reproach, "Are you really confessing to a crime right now, Qrow?"

"Oh, you're just dying for another chance to tie me back up, aren't you?" Qrow snorts. Something in Clover's gaze shifts, dips low, undeniably heavier than it was before, and Qrow tries to ignore the white-hot flare in his stomach. "A lot of it I picked up while I traveled. The rest are ones people gave me."

"Well, I hear you're quite the storyteller." Clover passes the pad of his index finger along Qrow's thumb, just over the ring that sits there. It's such a simple touch, but it sends Qrow reeling, has his head spinning almost too quickly for him to process Clover's soft hum, "What's the adventure behind that one?"

Despite their deal, Qrow goes through each one when he's asked. It's no secret that he likes to recount the stories he has, fictional or otherwise, but it's even more gratifying with the too-wide grin that Clover wears at the more ridiculous ones. The only bit of jewelry he admits to buying is his cross necklace. It's part of his aesthetic, sue him.

And somehow, they drift closer. Somehow, the gap between them dwindles, and Qrow isn't blind enough to think it's anything but a deliberate act. Clover keeps his hands to himself, of course, but Qrow can't help but linger on them, focus on the spaces between his fingers.

He wonders how they'd feel, twined with his own. He wonders how pleasant it would be, Clover's fingers weaving through his hair, running down his spine, settling on his thighs. It's impulsive, almost delirious, this raw craving, like the urge he feels to reach for trinkets that glint in the light.

Their eyes meet again in the lull between stories, and the look Clover gives him is vulnerable in a way it's never been before. Like he knows. Like it's mutual.

Qrow tries (and fails) not to think about that.

The jewelry on his ring finger is the last that Clover asks about. There's two rings - one is from Summer, when she'd bought them all matching rings some few weeks after they graduated. She was painfully sentimental, her and Taiyang both. Ever since she went missing, it's been the one ring that Qrow refuses to change out.

The other one looks similar to hers; the only difference between the two bands was that one was engraved with all their initials and the other wasn't. Qrow was, well, a crow when he found it, drawn to it like a moth to the flame, nearly getting himself swiped by a Beowolf when he shifted back into a human to pocket it.

(Back then, it was much harder to resist the impulsive urge to snatch all of the trinkets he found on their missions.

They spent that night laughing about it in their dorm room. Qrow couldn't help but feel a little ashamed - and returning empty-handed was, quite frankly, like rubbing salt in the wound - up until he saw Taiyang walk out of the bathroom with it. He was tossing it from one hand to the other, freshly cleaned and so, so shiny.

"Was this the one you threw yourself into the fray for?" Taiyang asked with a stupid grin.

Qrow stumbled to catch it when Taiyang tossed it over. In turn, Raven huffed, not a laugh, but derisive all the same. She bristled when Summer rolled her eyes and pointed out the coin she snatched just a few days prior when she thought no one was looking.)

Except he can't really tell Clover all of that. At least, not yet. There's only a small handful of people who know about the little bit of magic that Ozpin left him with, and he prefers it that way.

He eventually says, "That one's from Tai." Which isn't wrong, necessarily. Then again, he wonders if it isn't Summer's - it's a little too pristine to have been found in the field, but ah, well. He'll mention the distinction between the two in a bit. "We were about to graduate, I think -"

He's about to go on some exaggerated spiel about how Taiyang grabbed it for him while he dealt with that Beowolf when he notices how Clover's expression shifts. His smile is still there, as pleasant as can be, but the discomfort in his eyes is almost palpable. He's suddenly very interested in gathering up the cards they've abandoned.

Qrow's silence only lasts for a moment before Clover says, "I realize I'm late for a meeting. I'm sorry, I should've told you sooner."

That's . . . odd, but Qrow isn't one to push. He shrugs and hopes he doesn't sound as uncomfortable as the atmosphere feels when he says, "Do your thing, Cloves, don't mind me."

Qrow can't help but feel a little lost at the way Clover averts his eyes.

Qrow hates the tension that jumbles like white noise in the air between them. They're on another mission, forced in the same space while their transport carries them far out into the tundra, and Clover's only responses to him are painfully bland pleasantries.

Qrow catches Clover by the wrist before he jumps out behind Elm. There's mild surprise on his face, his brow quirked upwards in question, and Qrow asks, "Something wrong, lucky charm?"

There's a strained stillness about Clover; his lips press to a thin line for a moment, and something twinges in his jaw, and carefully, he says, "I don't think your husband would appreciate all the flirting that's been going on."

Qrow blinks once. Twice. "My what?"

He lets go in the wake of the shock. His stomach lurches at the look Clover gives him. It doesn't stray very far from the pleasant mask he wears outside of conversation, but something in it is disappointed. Qrow's too stunned to say anything before Clover jumps out of the transport, as well.

It takes an embarrassing amount of time for him to realize that Clover was referring to Taiyang. The laugh that bursts out of him is just shy of delirious.

He's sifting through jewelry to wear that morning, and he stops on the ring that he frequently mistakes as Summer's. That's what makes the pieces fall quickly into place. That, and the few times that Taiyang was brought up with the girls around, typically after Qrow made the rare decision to be the responsible one for once - which, upon being asked, they laughed and jokingly told Clover, "Our other dad."

Yeah, in hindsight, that was probably the worst joke they could've made.

What's annoying is that now that he's out to clear the air, he's suddenly the most interesting person in all of Atlas. He never does manage to catch Clover alone before someone comes up to him. Or maybe it's Clover who's in the spotlight, now, with how often he's whisked away by other obligations. It gets ridiculous enough for Qrow to start to think that it's done on purpose.

Which he guesses is fine. He understands. Or at least it would be fine, if he was actually married.

On the fleeting moment where he finally does see Clover, he's surrounded by the other operatives, strolling down the hall towards James' office. Qrow is far beyond frustrated at this point, and he can't be bothered to keep it from showing when he calls out, "Clover."

There's that picture-perfect smile when Clover turns, the one he gives to everyone, and Qrow wants nothing to do with it. "Qrow? Is something -"

"We need to talk." He glances fleetingly over to the other operatives and irritably adds, "Alone."

The yearning that passes over Clover's countenance for an instant before it's shoved aside is almost guilty. Qrow hates how uncomfortable the rest of the operatives look behind him, how Harriet rolls her eyes, how Marrow's gaze flits worriedly between the two of them like he's witnessing a trainwreck.

His frustration only gets worse when Clover starts, "I'm afraid there's a meeting we have to attend soon -"

Screw it, Qrow thinks, and interrupts him by stating, "Tai's my brother in law."

The silence that earns him is like the fragile lull that comes after the sound of breaking glass. Nothing moves, nothing follows, and Qrow's face burns, but he determinedly meets the surprised stare Clover pins him with. Clover seems to catch himself, and he wavers, a flush starting to spread over his cheeks. Behind him, Vine shifts uncomfortably, and for some reason, Elm looks smug.

Finally, Clover says, "Oh."

"Taiyang Xiao Long, Ruby and Yang's father." Qrow doesn't know why he feels so helpless as he explains, "Divorced from my sister, widowed to a mutual friend."

The moment that follows stretches out for miles between them, dragged out and strewn tight until it snaps, and Clover says again, "Oh." Another dreadful pause crawls on by, with his flush getting steadily worse. "I'm sorry for assuming."

Harriet muffles a snort behind the back of her hand. Qrow wants to throw himself out of the nearest window, but instead, he settles with turning on his heel and starting off down the hallway. He waves a dismissive hand and drawls, "Yeah, don't worry about it."

He can't help but feel a little dejected up until he hears the knock on his door about an hour later.

"Hey, Qrow?"

Unsurprisingly, Yang's the first one to say something to him after Ruby enthusiastically waves him over to their table in the cafeteria. What's surprising is the way she prompts him, her brow furrowed, sounding like she's unsure of what she wants to say. It dawns on him that she isn't the only one; the other three stare expectantly up at him, and he really hopes he doesn't look as clueless as he feels.

"What's wrong, firecracker?"

It doesn't help that Ruby's obviously trying to keep herself in check. He's endlessly patient, head tilted and brows raised, until Yang finally says, "Well . . . we've sort of noticed that, uh . . ." She glances helplessly over to Blake. "you know, a few days ago, you and, uh . . ."

The frustration that has Ruby practically vibrating in her seat finally bursts. She jumps up and blurts out, "Did you and Clover get into a fight?"

All four of them stare with varying degrees of worry on their faces. Qrow tries not to wilt when he realizes that the precarious balance between him and Clover must have been painfully obvious, both to the operatives and to his kids. They care, just as much as he cares for them, and that's more than enough to keep himself from dwelling.

"No," Qrow reassures. "Nothing like that."

It's part of the truth just as much as it's part of an instinctual response. Not a fight, but a problem nonetheless - one quickly resolved, of course, after their subsequent talk just a couple of nights ago. The memory of their meeting the following day after a short supply run is still etched on his skin, but that's no one's business but his own.

The look Ruby gives him is thoroughly unconvinced, and before she can press, he explains, "Just a little misunderstanding. It's nothing any of you have to worry about."

Slowly, Ruby settles back into her seat, and Weiss looks like she finally let out the breath she's been holding. Yang exchanges another look with Blake, and she asks, "So . . . everything's okay?"

Somehow, the concern that they all can't even begin to hide brings an ache in Qrow's chest, but the affection that washes over him does wonders to alleviate it. He reaches out to muss Yang's hair, and she swats his hand away with an indignant noise.

"'Course," he says. "Why wouldn't it be?"

It's enough to draw a few relieved smiles. He's always been pleased with his ability to comfort them when they needed it - they're grown, and they've got the weight of the world on their shoulders, but they're still his kids, every one of them. He isn't sure when he inadvertently adopted the rest, but he definitely isn't displeased by it.

Qrow notices how they perk up before he hears Clover say just behind him, "I'm sorry for barging in like this." When he turns, he sees the smile Clover wears, as warm as dawn, as luxurious as dusk. Clover seems apologetic when he says, "I hope you all don't mind me stealing Qrow for a moment to talk."

In a burst of rose petals, Ruby's out of her seat and nudging Qrow over. "He was actually just leaving!"

Well, he doesn't exactly need the help, but he rolls with it anyways. It's worth seeing Ruby beam up at them both with the rest of her team nodding behind her, all laughter and giddy energy that never seems to leave them when they're all together. Vaguely, he's reminded of his own team. How Summer never failed to cheer them all up, how Taiyang would somehow manage to get Raven to stop scowling, how the four of them were always together.

Qrow tells Clover a few of those stories much later, tangled together under a blanket, until he's eventually lulled to sleep by the hand that traces patterns against his skin.