A/N: another classic post fall of beacon fic, what can i say ?
Art available on AO3.
[TaiQrow Week 2020] Day 5 - Last Kiss
Qrow doesn't say anything.
He doesn't know how to.
They're home. They're in Patch, no longer moving, no longer secured in place, but left to tremble, shake, rattle. Beacon is in ruins, and global communication falls still, and Ozpin is somewhere in Remnant trying to pick up the pieces. Qrow doesn't know what to do. What to say.
Taiyang doesn't move, doesn't breathe a word, his hand never leaving Yang's until she starts to slur. Her head droops to the side, and she is soon lulled off to a narcotic-induced nap that will leave her head swimming when she wakes up. Finally, Taiyang reaches out, delicately like he's afraid she'll splinter under any pressure, to tug the blanket up higher.
She is pale, but not like before. Her bangs nearly cover her eyes, frame the curve of her cheeks, the cut of her jaw, and distantly, Qrow thinks about Raven. In a way, he has been here before. They both have. Raven, paler than she already was, bandages seething red like the pools of her eyes, but still breathing, still living.
Qrow watches the steady rise and fall of Yang's chest, if only to remind himself that she's still here. She looks like she's tethered to the bed by the blanket alone, a thin, pearly paperweight that might crush her if she wasn't so strong. Her and Raven both - they're strong.
He reckons Yang is stronger.
They check on Ruby together. She's still asleep, has been for a long while, but she'll resurface in time. She's unresponsive to Taiyang's fingers brushing her hair out of her face, to Qrow's little quip that blessedly draws a hollow sound that is meant to be a laugh. Like this, she looks painfully similar to Summer, more uncanny than ever before.
They've been here before, as well. Waiting by Summer's bedside after her eyes bled white, after they left nothing but crystals and ashes in their wake, Qrow's thumb pressed to her wrist to feel the feather-light pulse just underneath. After a long while, they leave her room, as well, and they move downstairs.
Taiyang is never silent for so long. He fills a kettle with water, sets it over the stove, doesn't turn on the heat. It is mechanical, done through muscle memory alone, and Qrow finally returns to his side.
"They're okay," Qrow says, low and steady despite how tight his throat feels. "It'll take more than that to stop either of them."
And Taiyang knows. He knows it in his heart, knows it with all he is, and yet he still lingers. There's that gleam in his eye that Qrow recognizes; he's there but he's not, he's looking at Qrow but he's not, he's standing but he doesn't know how. Qrow reaches out, wraps his fingers around Taiyang's wrist, and tugs him gently forth.
It is slow, but Taiyang resurfaces. His fingers run across Qrow's back, up and down, pressing and circling, again and again like it can't possibly be real. Except it is - Qrow is there, and Beacon is gone, and the world took a sharp turn left, and morale has hit rock bottom. Qrow is there, and Taiyang's chin rests on his shoulder, and they stand there for a while, wreathed in the honeyed glow of the sunset as it bleeds into dusk.
This wasn't how they were meant to meet again.
This wasn't how Qrow wanted it to go.
He had left Patch not too long ago, endlessly playful, his lips brushing against the crown of Taiyang's head, talking about how he'll bring the girls back home to celebrate. How they'll win the tournament, of course they will, they kick ass, them and the friends they've made.
It wasn't supposed to be like this.
Inevitably, he thinks of the day Summer left.
Thinks of how she spoke, how it sounded more like a goodbye than ever before. Thinks of the melancholy that swam deep in her eyes, blatant enough to make Qrow cling before she walked out the door. Fingers wrapped around her wrist, asking what the hell she means, why she's talking like she might not come back from such a simple mission.
She smiled that lovely smile of hers, and flicked him on the nose, and told him not to worry so much.
It was never meant to end up like this.
Everything crumbles under Qrow's fingers; everything tilts and splits and leaves him grasping at nothing, scrambling for a purchase he can't obtain. The guilt is always there, but it is blatant now, as heavy as the atmosphere, as suffocating as static. It is too convenient to be happenstance, too deliberate to be anything but his fault.
He refuses to make the situation worse.
Nothing could, he imagines, but then again, he has a way of ruining things. He has been here too long. He has overstayed his welcome.
It is soft, as delicate as the glasslike surface of a pond, ready to shatter at any moment. Taiyang's fingers stop, then drop lower, settling over Qrow's hips, holding on tight like he thinks Qrow will fly away if he lets go.
"Don't," Taiyang says, because he knows, of course he knows, he always knows. He pulls back, enough to press their foreheads together, their noses bumping, their breaths coalescing. "Don't," he says again, harsher this time, choked out as if it is a struggle to keep his voice from faltering. "You couldn't have known. No one did."
"Tai." His throat feels raw; his head feels heavy. Gods, he needs a drink. "If I just -"
So he doesn't.
It aches deep in his chest, pounds between his ribs, sears underneath his lungs. He hates how helpless he feels. He hates how the world seemed to spiral overnight, how everything went wrong so quickly, how he can't do anything about it. No one can. No one can do a damn thing, and he knows. He knows, but he still lingers, still broods, still remembers the days he shouldn't.
Taiyang is an anchor, keeping him still, holding him close; he is what keeps Qrow grounded, keeps the thoughts from wandering too far, from getting too murky. The kettle is left forgotten, and there is nothing but them, the comfort of each other, stretching long past dusk and into the stillness of twilight.
There is only Taiyang, the pads of his fingers running idly up and down the length of Qrow's bicep. There's promises etched in purple, comforts painted pink, the familiarity of the ache and the security enough to send Qrow's heart running home. Home to Patch, home to the girls, home to Taiyang.
They're still tangled together when Taiyang says, "Stay."
Until you can't, Qrow hears, lingering in the air, trapped behind kiss-bruised lips.
That is always what he asks of Qrow. To stay, to settle, like he used to. Teach like he used to, visit often like he used to, smile like he used to.
And Qrow wants to. He wants to stay, wants to live out every far-fetched fantasy, wants, wants, wants. He wants, despite knowing he can't; wants, despite knowing he shouldn't.
He holds his breath. Zwei is at the foot of the bed, snoring soundly. Distantly, barely there, he hears Yang's door open, the quiet footsteps down the hall towards the restroom. Under his ear, he hears Taiyang's heartbeat, strong and unrelenting. It beats, beats, beats, and he wonders if he can't get any closer, if he can breathe Taiyang in, if he can feel that pulse against his own.
The world was dragged to a deafening stop, but right now, it is spinning again with Taiyang as its axis. Dawn is still far away, and so is the inevitable call of the duty that has been thrust upon his shoulders. It is a respite, a lull between battles, the calm before the storm.
Qrow shifts, and Taiyang lets him, his hand hovering, waiting for Qrow to settle so he can resume the fleeting touches. They want forever, as unrealistic as that is - they want it badly, frantically, but they settle for tonight instead. For tonight, and then the next, until Qrow can't stay any longer.
He stays until the sun rises, Taiyang's arms wrapped around his middle, steady breaths warming the stretch of his neck. He stays until they've made breakfast for Yang in bed, and the next evening, tea for Ruby once she finally comes to. He stays, and he eventually stops reaching so frequently for the empty flask on the nightstand, and Taiyang keeps him as close as he can afford.
On the final night, he says, "I have to go soon."
Taiyang's hands trail fire along his bare skin, igniting his nerves, sending his blood thrumming with electricity. There is a smile on his face, small and thin and still so painfully fond, and he responds, "I know."
He never asks where. Qrow is glad for that. He never asks, never speaks, allows the touch to do all the talking for him. Night bleeds into morning, gradual and lazy, and Qrow presses his lips to Taiyang's as he drifts off. It is a lingering touch, moving slow, sweet; it says what he can't, expresses what he doesn't know how to say.
It is their last kiss before Taiyang falls asleep. Before Qrow hears Ruby's door push slowly open, her footsteps barely there as she sneaks down the stairs, the quiet creak of the front door closing. Before he pulls his clothes back on and gathers Harbinger and opens the window. His skin sears, his hips ache, and briefly, he glances back before he jumps out.
There are feathers on Taiyang's nightstand, and a letter on Ruby's bed, and the echoes of memories that will bring Qrow home in time.