A/N: some shamelessly self-indulgent family fluff amidst a lot of hurt. they are just two dads trying their best to cope and raise their girls. that is all :)))

[TaiQrow Week 2020] Day 4 - As Parents

Qrow never stays for very long.

It is in his blood, in his nature; he is meant to travel, meant to hunt, meant to spy. He has a way of occupying his own place in the battlefield, tending to his own wounds, shrinking into his own space. It is no secret why he never lingers, why he always goes to where the mess is the worst, why his goodbyes far outweigh his welcomes.

This is one of those messes, Taiyang thinks, this must be the kind of mess that Qrow cleans up with nothing more than a nod and a lazy shrug. Except it doesn't feel that way - Qrow isn't picking up the pieces, isn't gluing them back together, instead replacing them, leaving something exquisitely his own.

He is the first to arrive. Summer is still out on a mission far from Patch, and somehow, Qrow just knew when to come home. He knew when to arrive, knew what to do, knew how to get Taiyang to listen when he felt like he was miles away. He doesn't say anything when they meet. He doesn't say a word, but his eyes say it all.

They are nothing like Raven's.

They are pale, almost pink in the sunlight, soft when they look at him, gentle when they glance down at Yang. He is nothing like Raven, never anything like her; Raven's were deep red droplets against the tiled floor, the mind-numbing red that sinks heavy through every thread of a bandage, the smouldering red that trickles down the wet length of an open wound.

That is what is left - a wound, raw and aching, glistening bright, weeping slow. That is all that is left when he settles in bed that night, staring up at the ceiling, the cup of tea that Qrow left on his nightstand still untouched. That is the only thing left when he looks over to the side, to the empty drawer and feathers left behind on the dresser.

Somehow, he falls asleep, but he doubts it is for very long. He wakes to Yang's crying, distant like the ache in his chest, echoing like the shattered remains of the promises they have made. He drags himself out of bed, the process long and arduous, but he manages to leave his bedroom.

The door to Yang's room is already open, the moonlight from the window seeping out into the hallway. Taiyang nudges it open a little wider, but it isn't necessary. Qrow already has her, pacing idly back and forth, his hand rubbing slow circles on her back. His lips form soft, crooning words while she sniffles and settles.

Taiyang listens to Qrow mumble out some odd lullaby he doesn't recognize, voice gravelly with the roughened edges of sleep. Qrow meets his eye, and the ghost of a smile spreads on his lips, and he nods as if to say it's okay, you're okay, I've got this, I've got you.

Taiyang's chest hurts anew.

It is a long while before Qrow stays again.

He visits sometimes, with gifts for Yang and stories for Summer and Taiyang. He spends holidays with them, shows up on time to both of Yang's birthday parties, one time even stops out of the blue on his way back to Beacon for lunch and a much-needed nap.

It is never for very long, not until Summer leaves.

She leaves on a mission and never comes back. She leaves, and no one hears from her for months after her Scroll goes offline, and then they have no choice but to shift her status from MIA to PKIA. She is gone, and there is nothing left but a gravestone with an empty casket, and he has no idea how to explain to Yang why everyone is crying.

Qrow is there. He is there for the funeral, he is there for the aftermath. Taiyang isn't sure how they got home, or when the funeral ended, but eventually, he is at home. There are dry patches under his eyes and tear stains on his cheeks, and somehow, Qrow is there. Slowly, he realizes that it is Qrow who is moving about the kitchen, with Ruby on his hip and Yang at the table.

It is always Qrow, there to fix the mistake, there to clean up the mess. It is always Qrow, always him, always the most drastic situations that tether him to Patch, always Taiyang that he comes back to.

He doesn't know how Qrow does it. He has an idea, briefly, when he sees the stains on Qrow's copy of their Beacon photo, the circular smudge over Summer. When Qrow pulls him close one night after he puts the girls to bed and smells so strongly of liquor that it makes his eyes sting.

Qrow gives him a hollow smile, his words empty and slurred when he says, "It's okay, Tai. It's okay."

It is not, they both know it is not, but that is what Taiyang needs to hear the most.

Qrow stays long enough for the hurt to subside just a bit, and Taiyang almost wishes he wouldn't.

He almost wishes that Qrow wasn't the one holding his arms out to Ruby, spewing out nothing but praise and encouragement when she stumbles on over to him. He almost wishes that Qrow wasn't the one lifting Yang into the air, making her scream and giggle and demand to go higher, higher. He almost wishes that Qrow wasn't the one taking Yang to school when she finally starts, coming home soon after to reassure Ruby for the hundredth time that week that one day, she will get to go, too.

It is easy, being so hopeful.

It is easy, settling down at the end of the day on the couch with Qrow at his side, sharing a cup of tea, watching whatever cheesy action movie Qrow manages to find. It is easy, so easy, to think that everything is okay when Qrow is there to replace the shattered pieces with his own, making Taiyang feel again, making him whole.

Taiyang doesn't realize what the feeling is until the night before Qrow inevitably leaves.

Qrow doesn't have to say anything. He never does. It is in his eyes - rose-tinted, pretty, perfect, like the sunset, like the chambers of Taiyang's heart - the minute he walks in. It is his eyes that tell Taiyang he is leaving, the hurt in them, the never-ending gleam in them as if he wants to say something, wants to let the words spill that he hardly has the strength to contain.

Those eyes soften when they glance downwards. Down to Ruby, who is sprawled out against his chest, drooling over his collar; to Yang, who is tucked under one arm against the couch, trying her hardest not to fall asleep before she gets to see the end of the movie they've been watching. There is something different in Qrow's eyes - something as gentle as the warm kiss of dawn against the horizon, as feather-light as the early morning breeze.

It doesn't fade when he glances back up at Taiyang.

Taiyang has seen that look a few times. Fleeting looks between him and Summer, lingering glances while Raven pretends she isn't listening. He recognizes it, and something about that curls in his gut, nestles in his chest.

Taiyang catches him at the door the next morning. He can't help it, not when it feels like home is being ripped out from beneath him, not when Qrow is taking a part of him along the journey. He whispers as if he is sharing some secret that stems as deep as the lining of his bones, the winding length of his veins. Steps close like the world is listening in on them, like the sky is prying on their moment.

And of course, Qrow makes that age-old promise, says it with a smile that is gentle enough to be a confession of its own, "I'll come back. You know I will."

Soon, he is gone, and Taiyang wishes that it wasn't so easy to get as comfortable as he was.

There is the ghost of Raven, looming in the empty dresser that still sits in the corner of his bedroom, holding nothing but sleek black feathers within. There is the ghost of Summer, her clothes sitting in boxes in the back of his closet, the lullaby she'd always sing to Ruby still engraved in his mind. They are both there, echoes now, faint remains that Taiyang slowly learns to move on from.

Then there is Qrow.

There is Qrow, long gone and off doing Gods knows what on the missions Ozpin sends him on, but it is different. It is always different when it is Qrow - there is a different kind of ache when Taiyang finds a couple of rings left on the nightstand. There is a wholly different kind of yearning when he catches the scent of whiskey and sandalwood that still clings to the pillows.

They do not collectively pose as a ghost that haunts, but a memory that clings. It is a reassurance rather than a reminder. It is a promise that Taiyang knows, deep down, won't be broken.

They are creatures of habit, but this isn't habit alone. He isn't sure if he knows what that means, yet.

(But of course he knows.

That is just how he is - he is a sap, as Qrow so fondly puts it, so dreadfully soft and sentimental and everything that Qrow tries desperately not to mirror.

Except he does. He does, as natural as the flow of water, as innate as breathing, and Taiyang knows what this is.

He knows, and he isn't sure if he is ready for it again.)

"You should tell Yang about her mom," Qrow says. He isn't angry, necessarily, but he is close; it is a quiet sort of displeasure that makes Taiyang's stomach lurch.

"I know."

Taiyang was at work when it happened, in the middle of teaching his class when Qrow called. Qrow waited for him at the dinner table, his arms crossed, his lips pressed to a thin line. He is upset, of course he is, and Taiyang can't help the guilt that sears deep in his gut. Yang and Ruby are upstairs playing, as rowdy as they always are, and Taiyang has never been so grateful to hear their voices.

"They'll both have to know." Qrow unfolds his arms, reaches to his pocket for the flask that is hidden there. Taiyang doesn't remember the last time he has seen Qrow without it. "Eventually."

They haven't talked about it before. It is this unspoken rule between them, never to mention Raven, never to breathe a word of Summer. It is not that they forgot, or that they ceased to care. It is not that the ache isn't there, or that the wound has knitted itself back together seamlessly.

". . . I know," Taiyang eventually says again.

Qrow gives him an odd look, something too nuanced to decipher, and it is almost painful, how reminiscent the expression is to Raven's when she was upset. They are an enigma, the both of them, and it is just shy of heart-wrenching when Taiyang is reminded of that.

Except Qrow isn't Raven.

Qrow hasn't disappeared, has never come close. He calls, he lingers, he cares for Ruby and Yang just as much as Taiyang does. Treats them as his own, helps raise them as best as he can. It is easy to forget the differences amidst all the hurt, but it is even easier to remind himself when old wounds have finally begun to mend.

It is easy when Qrow is there late into the night, far past either of the girl's bedtimes, somehow keeping up with all of their giddy energy as they climb on him and squeal in glee when he retaliates. It is easy, so easy when Qrow speaks to him with a fond glimmer in his eye, his tone hushed as to not wake up the girls now that they have finally tuckered themselves out.

You make it easy, Taiyang wants to say to him as he disappears upstairs to retire to the guest bedroom, to let myself love again.

And, as always, Qrow is there when the sun rises.

He is there until he can't stay any longer.

Qrow stops by for the long gaps in between even longer missions.

Despite only being there periodically, he is still the one constant in Taiyang's life that he clings desperately to. Each visit gets longer, the process natural and unhurried, and eventually, Taiyang is teaching Yang how to fight, and Qrow is teaching Ruby the basics of wielding a scythe.

Qrow is endlessly patient, and his eyes gleam with pride when Ruby starts to nail down the complicated footwork, and he has never looked happier than when she started at Signal and went to him first to brainstorm Crescent Rose. He is equally patient with Yang, sparring with her when Taiyang isn't home, though he focuses more on tactics than he does on the actual technique.

The sink in Taiyang's chest fills once more. It is a gradual process, as raw and vulnerable as a freshly cleaned wound, but it knits itself back together eventually.

Qrow goes through his own rough patches, as well, looking like he has been drawn out for miles on end, but that is okay. Taiyang is there every time, just as Qrow is there for him, and he is guided gently through each one. By Taiyang, by Ruby, by Yang. They are their own family, now; it is just a bit fragmented, just a little wild, but uniquely their own.

Family. That is what this is. Family.

It hits Taiyang so suddenly when he is in the kitchen making dinner, and he listens to Qrow's voice flow from the living room. He pauses for a moment, and he sees how Qrow absentmindedly plays with Zwei's ears, how the girls sit on the hearth and stare up at him with wide, starry eyes. He is telling them a story, exaggerated where it needs to be, pausing at the perfect moments, and the girls are absolutely enraptured by it.

Qrow combs Yang's hair after a shower, and he teases Ruby about something she said earlier, and he puts on some old movie for them, and all Taiyang can do is watch. It is easy to forget that Qrow will have to leave eventually, to forget everything in the world when it is Qrow he is staring at.

It is as natural as the bloom of winter into spring when Ruby and Yang love Qrow so much. It is as unhurried as a sunset when he is just as much of a parent to them as Taiyang is.

It's easy, Taiyang thinks, his chest fluttering at the stupid little snort Qrow makes at the cheesy special effects on the screen, it's so easy to love you, too.

Maybe it is irrational. Maybe it is too idealistic. Maybe it is stupid, maybe it is far-fetched, maybe he is just way too damn hopeful, but he can't help it. He has always been like that, him and Summer both. A sap, as Qrow likes to call him. An absolute sap who melts just a little when Qrow nudges the girls awake and herds them off to bed for the night.

He melts a little more when Qrow settles back on the couch with him afterwards. When Qrow's leg brushes against his, and he leans closer than he has before, and he mentions nothing about leaving. He doesn't breathe a word, and neither does Taiyang.

There aren't thoughts of Raven that plague him, or memories of Summer that lurk in every corner. There is only Qrow now, after all these years, and Taiyang can grow to be happy with that.

He can grow to be happy with the fleeting touches that follow, the ones that are too deliberate to pass off as accidents. The little smiles that Qrow reserves for him, tugging faintly at his lips whenever he catches Taiyang staring. The rare calls that Qrow makes whenever he is far from home, sometimes just to say hello, always to check up on how he and their girls are doing.

"Maybe one day," Taiyang tells him, early one morning when Qrow finally stops by, "you can settle with us."

Maybe one day, he wishes he could say, we can settle together.

One day, when duty doesn't call. One day, when Qrow isn't gone for months at a time, when he isn't sworn to silence. One day, when Qrow isn't called to where the greatest messes are left behind, and there isn't some looming threat that no one dares speak about.

"Maybe," Qrow says. He has this look on his face for a moment - helpless like he wants to say something, raw like a confession of his own is on the verge of spilling forth. Something in his neck twinges, and he repeats like a wish, a prayer, "Maybe."

Taiyang places a hand on Qrow's shoulder, rests there to give a reassuring squeeze, but whether it is for himself or for Qrow, he can't say. He almost startles at the hand that slides over his own shortly afterwards. The movement is tentative, barely there, as if he has been given the means of escape, the very last chance to run away.

Except Taiyang was never one to run away, and Qrow was never one to stay far from home for very long.

The touch is warmer than the sunlight that filters in through the blinds, calloused fingertips halting at Taiyang's knuckles. They press just a bit, shift to almost delve into the gaps between Taiyang's fingers. It is heady, how such a simple touch sends the world tilting off its axis, forces ocean currents to change, drags the sun right out of the sky and beneath Taiyang's sternum.

They remain that way for a while.

They remain until Qrow can't anymore.

Until Qrow finally threads their fingers together, and says again with a bated breath, with a hopeful stillness, "Maybe."