A/N: i wanted an excuse to write crow!qrow and then this somehow blossomed into existence. idk anymore. just some beacon-era taiqrow with ungodly amounts of pining and angst, as is my specialty, it seems.

[TaiQrow Week 2020] Day 6 - First Love

From the very start, Qrow is an enigma.

But in a few ways, he is also an open book.

There is no secret in the way he flinches back for that brief second when Taiyang would raise his hand for a high-five. There is nothing obscure with the way he makes sure his twin has a full plate before he even dares to look at his own. There is no hidden meaning behind the way he shoves his hands in his pockets, curls in on himself, and stalks off without them.

Like he is better off being alone.

Like he is better off not existing.

The enigma part kicks in when it is just the two of them. He is disarmingly attractive, Taiyang won't deny that, he is lovely and he is horrendously good at the flirting he does. Always off-hand comments, little compliments that leave him white-hot and anticipatory, glances when neither of their other teammates are looking.

Except Qrow is infuriating enough outside of those moments for Taiyang to want nothing to do with him.

At first, they don't get along very well, and Taiyang realizes soon that it is part of the game Qrow plays. He plays a game he knows he can win, and Taiyang hates that he can. He is arrogant, and Taiyang is a shameless hothead, and they clash like waves against an eroded cliffside, like stars that spin faster and faster until they finally collide.

There's no way Qrow doesn't do it on purpose. He smirks that stupidly cocky smirk of his, and shoves Taiyang back in their banter without ever missing a beat, and sometimes, Taiyang just wants to punch him.

And sometimes, Qrow goads him like he's waiting for that punch.

Like today, lost in the forest again, because Taiyang insists that he can lead and Qrow is more than happy to let him. The sun glares from above, weighs the atmosphere until it is thick and sticky, scorches the treetops and every inch of skin it reaches. They do not know where Summer and Raven went, only that they are gone.

It has been hours, and the temperature only seems to rise as midday sets, and the flirting stops very quickly after that.

Qrow has yet to say anything of value to him. Which is, quite frankly, more infuriating than getting lost. Taiyang isn't an idiot; Qrow knows what to do, judging by the little noise he makes when they end up seeing the same landmark for the third time. Something soft, hissed through his teeth, both amusement and annoyance, but at the very least, he isn't as openly scathing as Raven is.

But that does nothing to soothe the burn. It only adds to the fuel that was set by the suffocating heat, stokes the flames until they catch and flare. Taiyang turns around to glare at Qrow, and he stops in his tracks, blinks when Taiyang snaps, "Why don't you take anything seriously?"

Qrow looks vaguely amused. That is one subtle difference between him and his twin, at least - that the mask he is equipped with isn't tailored perfectly enough to disguise what he is feeling entirely. He lazily shrugs and has the audacity to look bored when he drawls, "I am taking this seriously."

"So you're a slacker and a liar," Taiyang growls. Qrow tilts his head, uncannily birdlike, and Taiyang turns away from him to storm off in the direction they have been going. "Gods. We're lost and you aren't helping at all. Where did I go wrong?"

"We're lost?" Qrow repeats just behind him with a little snort. Amused, always amused, not even caring enough to sound even the least bit offended, and somehow, that is even more annoying. "I think it's just you, pal. You've been leading us in circles."

He doesn't wither at the next glare Taiyang tosses at him, almost sharp enough to slice through skin, cleave through bone. "Okay, so you're just letting me?"

"Kind of," Qrow admits. There is a smirk on his face now, the one he always wears when he knows he has dug under Taiyang's skin, when he is readying to pry through every fibre of muscle just because he knows he can. "It's funny when you think you know what you're doing."

He doesn't flinch when Taiyang whirls around again, only braces himself like every other time. Makes a soft noise as he is shoved against the nearest tree, almost imperceptible against the loud rattle. A few leaves skitter down over them, red and seething, falling like droplets against off-white tiles, like spatters that smear against dirt and grime.

Taiyang sees the sardonic amusement on Qrow's face again. Like he was expecting this, like it was an inevitability that he was more than happy to bait. That only makes Taiyang tighten his grip, his knuckles hot and sticky against the stretch of Qrow's throat. Hands fly up to clamp over his wrists.

"What the hell, Qrow?" Taiyang growls.

"What the hell, sunshine?" Qrow counters.

Qrow's voice is just above a growl, scratchy in his throat, disarming enough to steal the breath from Taiyang's lungs. His eyes are red, red, red in the patchy silhouette of the leaves above, almost crimson where they simmer with a different kind of heat around his pupils.

Taiyang wonders if it is Qrow's pulse he feels through skin, through veins, pounding hard against his knuckles through the tendons that layer it. He wonders if it is his own blood he hears, rushing like the spark that ignites from within a barrel, like the echo of the following explosion that signals the start of a hunt.

"Can't - can't you just -"

They are too close, Taiyang realizes very suddenly, too close with too much heat and not enough atmosphere for him to breathe through. Qrow's nails dig into his skin, and there is a predacious stillness to him, some feral thing that waits for the right moment to pounce. Lip pulled back just a bit, the curve of it tantalizing, captivating, lethally alluring -

The bite of Qrow's nails against his wrists snap Taiyang out of that train of thought. It is almost harrowing, but the air is too heavy and his blood is too thick for oxygen to pass through anymore and Qrow is too close, too close.

Taiyang ignores every dangerous thought and tries again, stronger this time, "Can't you just take something seriously for once? Can't you stop acting like everything's a damn joke? Why's that so hard for you?"

Qrow's grip loosens. He rolls his eyes - and maybe it is the sticky heat, the unbearable sun, the simmering frustration, but they're lovely, Taiyang frantically thinks; they're so lovely, soft red like the linings of his veins, the walls of his heart, the flush that steadily creeps up his neck.

"It's harder than babysitting you, that's for sure," Qrow snaps.

Taiyang blinks. Then, incredulously, he starts, "Babysitting -"

His grip falters enough for Qrow to slip away from him. Shoves beneath his arms and slips right past him, fluid and perilously lithe, and Taiyang can only watch, staring between him and the space he was just pinned against. He is evaded with such stunning ease, and that only reinforces that Qrow is the one with the real control, the one who plays this game to win.

Taiyang can't even find the energy to be angry anymore. He can't find it in himself to feel even the slightest bit offended when Qrow sneers, "Shut up. Brothers, Tai, you're never going to learn anything if you expect me to just give you the answers."

Qrow shoves his hands in his pockets, but he doesn't follow anymore; he starts off in an odd direction as if there is something he is searching for, something he knows that Taiyang doesn't. But it's always that way, Taiyang realizes as he grinds his teeth and begrudgingly follows after Qrow, it's always that way and he hates it.

But he can't say that he hates Qrow.

Hates the nonchalance, hates the goading, but he doesn't hate Qrow. Not anymore, at least, and not for a long time after that day.

He can't, not when Qrow tells him, grim and harrowed and wrought from something far deeper than textbook lessons alone, "No one's ever going to hand you the shit you need when you need it the most. You learn when you fail. You learn, and you keep going, and one day, it'll be enough to keep you from getting fucking killed."

It is the first time Taiyang sees what Qrow has been hiding - sees the thing that is left to fester in the sunlight, torn open and blistered from the heat, the thing that has been cultivated through experience alone. It is as innate as breathing, as unrelenting as a heartbeat, wrought from the sheer will to survive.

Years upon years of being someone else's problem, given the bare minimum until he was capable enough. Not raised, but not left to the wolves, either. Left to his own devices, him and his twin both, left to face every uncaring force in the world and survive.

Taiyang eventually hears the low hiss of the river he spotted earlier, rushing and colliding with the rocks that protrude from its tumultuous surface. When they reach it, Qrow glances upstream and removes one hand from his pocket to shield his eyes from the scathing bite of the sun.

Surprisingly enough, his voice is calm and steady when he says, "We passed by this river how many times now? There's always something upstream. Settlement, village, city, whatever - it's there, and you didn't even think about it."

There isn't any malice, any sarcasm, any blood-thick anger that Qrow barely manages to hide; there is only understanding, only empathy, and Taiyang can't help but stare. He snaps out of his trance when Qrow starts walking along the rocky edge of the river.

"Wait, but - but Summer, and Raven -"

"They'll figure it out," Qrow interrupts with a tired sigh. "If they don't, that's not our problem." Softly, almost too quiet for Taiyang to hear, he adds with a murmur, "But they will. I know it."

There is a muted confidence to his words, both towards his twin and their leader. There is something gentle there, something Taiyang hasn't seen past all of the bickering and the banter, deeper than his bones, softer than the marrow that fills them. It suits him, Taiyang muses, this vulnerable thing behind all of the confidence that weeps like a wound beneath a bandage.

Taiyang keeps quiet, if not to preserve the moment, then to prevent Qrow from having second thoughts about taking the lead.

It is a struggle, but he keeps quiet, both now and on the few missions that follow, and for the first time since they have met, Qrow stops goading him so much.

Eventually, they drink together.

That is Qrow's way of breaking the ice, it seems. Taiyang doesn't question where he got the bottle from, and by his fifth shot, he doesn't care enough to even try. He doesn't care for anything but rolling over onto the carpet, because that is what feels best. And because Qrow is already there cradling the bottle far out of his reach.

He eventually shifts, and Remnant shifts with him, and his nose bumps Qrow's shoulder. He slings an arm across his chest in search of the bottle.

"Hey," Qrow murmurs. "Ever heard of personal space?"

Somehow, the remark doesn't sound even remotely upset. Taiyang turns his head just a bit, and he sees how Qrow gazes up at the ceiling, far too lucid despite all the shots he's knocked back. He always has a way of looking inscrutable, of looking infallible, and Taiyang wonders what it is he hides behind that mask, wonders how raw the skin underneath might be.

"Ever heard of sharing?" Taiyang snarks, because Qrow still hasn't passed the bottle to him, and that's the only thing he has the energy to reach for.

Qrow laughs, the sound light and airy, and for once, he doesn't seem like he has dragged himself out from the grave he has dug for himself. He doesn't seem like he is staggering from some nameless weight on his shoulders, doesn't look anything but amused, and Taiyang can do nothing but stare. His stomach lurches, his chest tightens, and for now, he can blame it on the alcohol.

For the moment, he can pretend that it is the rush of liquor he feels when Qrow goads with a faint purr, "Take it from me if you want it that bad."

And Taiyang tries, however uncoordinated he is. It is more difficult than it should be, but with how Qrow looks up at him with a mirthful spark in his eyes, he concludes that it is worth the struggle.

Taiyang discovers what Qrow's Semblance is much later.

The four of them work extremely well together once they look past all of the differences. There is a unique kind of unspoken bond that comes with teamwork, with weeks spent out in the field, with increasingly drastic mistakes that their headmaster merely overlooks with a nearly imperceptible smile. Summer is the thread that weaves through all of them, stringing them tight until they become one seamless entity.

So with time, it is not difficult to notice the little things. Both he and Summer catch on very quickly that the frequent and minor inconveniences are not only happenstance: the shattered plates, the pencil holders that miraculously fall off whatever edge they are placed on, and once, the leg of Taiyang's bed giving out beneath him.

And each time something happens, Qrow looks a little more downtrodden than the last time. He stares for a long while, clenches and unclenches his fists, looks as if he has been dragged out to the ends of Remnant and back. He glances over to his twin, who only averts her eye, something like pity simmering in pools of crimson deep enough to drown in.

Summer has an idea, but she doesn't want to accuse him of something so tragic. Taiyang never questions it, solely because he doesn't know how to.

He only questions it when he has no other option.

He questions it later, far into the school year when the four of them have already grown close enough to weave just as seamlessly in battle as they do in their day to day life. He has no choice by that point, because he eventually finds himself standing outside the infirmary, nothing but stark white walls and fluorescent lights both nearly enough to burn into his retinas.

There is only white, now, white around Raven's legs, clear white pillowing her head. There is white left over on Summer's cape, rolled up in her lap, hiding the red from view. There is white on Taiyang's skin where his nails dig into his palms, leaving crescents behind, biting reminders to keep him grounded while Raven slowly starts to breathe evenly again.

He does not stay for very long, only because Qrow refuses to stay. Qrow is just outside, instead. Curled up right next to the door, nails picking at his knuckles, at his fingertips, eyes strikingly hollow in the moonlight. The lights from within the infirmary wash over him for the brief moment it takes for Taiyang to close the door once more.


Taiyang's voice shatters the glasslike tranquility, the silence that has hung between all of them the moment Raven screamed out from beneath the fallen tree she and a couple of Beowolves were caught under. Qrow does not meet his eye. He only stares ahead, picks harder until the skin is slick and red, until Taiyang has to reach down to catch his wrists and wrench them away.

"Qrow," he says again. "What happened?"

There is something particularly wounded in Qrow's gaze, too raw to handle and too fragile to move without shattering in his hands. Taiyang has seen that look sometimes - it is there when they drink together, there right before they both pass out, there when he's biting his lip to prevent himself from saying something too damning.

"My Semblance," Qrow says, and leaves it at that.

He does not speak for the remainder of the night. He does not know how to, not when his other half remains bedridden with an Aura that skitters and seethes over the expanse of skin too mangled to tell apart from her leggings. He does not speak, and in a way, Taiyang understands.

It isn't the first time he's taken the blame. It isn't the first time he's regretted not taking the blow for another, either.

It is the first time Taiyang wishes - frantically, impulsively, all youthful wish and determination that hasn't been dampened yet - to take those blows instead. Wishes he could harbor some of that pain, wishes that Qrow could return from a mission standing with them instead of lingering far behind.

But there are no Grimm, and there are no correct words to string together, and there is nothing there but a fragile heartbeat and deathly pale skin behind that door. Only time heals a wound like how Aura mends flesh and bone before it shatters; only a distraction may alleviate the ache, and that is all Taiyang knows how to do.

So he sits next to Qrow and talks. About things that don't matter, things that he can't care to remember later, things that make him snort to himself. He talks, but they aren't drunk, and he doesn't expect Qrow to respond when he isn't too drunk to care so much about what comes out of his mouth.

Miraculously enough, Qrow listens to it all.

The flirting picks up in unabashed earnest after their first party together as a team.

It is Summer who drags them there, and as all parties go, Taiyang is drunk by the end. The shattered moon above glows too brightly, and the music that is playing pounds in his skull like a heartbeat, and soon, he has to step outside to remember how to breathe.

Qrow is there already. The moon shines in his eyes, shimmering within the rose-tinted gleam of them, bright like the starlight that stretches across every planet. He's paler than before, stark against the shock of crimson that pools over his shoulders, spills down to the backs of his knees.

Taiyang stumbles over on uneven feet and veins that thrum with some nameless concoction Summer handed to him. Those lovely eyes turn to Taiyang, and for a moment, his chest feels tight, his blood flows with fire, with music, with adrenaline.

The ghost of a smirk passes by Qrow's lips, and he turns back to overlook the courtyard, saying, "You look like shit."

And while it is a blatant lie, a faulty preface, Taiyang can't help but toss back, "You don't look too great, yourself."

Qrow snorts at that. "Bullshit. I always look great."

He looks serene, in a way, his smirk turning into something that faintly resembles a smile, his cheeks flushed and his foot idly tapping in time with the music. One song bleeds into the next with bass fit to rattle through bones, with lyrics that smoulder thick and heady like honey on his tongue.

"Yeah," Taiyang breathes, because he's too drunk to think about it and too drunk to care about anything else. "You kinda do."

Qrow glances sharply over to him, something inscrutable in his gaze, his cheeks burning just a bit brighter. It matches his eyes, Taiyang thinks, matches his cape, his weapon, his veins, his heart. Matches his bottom lip, pulled between his teeth, held there for a moment before he lets it go. That glistens in the moonlight, as well, and Taiyang fleetingly wonders how it'd feel caught between his own.

"Kinda?" Qrow repeats with a grin. "Is that denial I hear?"

Taiyang bumps him with his elbow. But with how lopsided Remnant's orbit has become, with how blinding the starlight above them is, he can't find it in himself to pull away, doesn't have the balance to do anything but lean against both Qrow and the railing as he says, "You're so full of yourself."

"You know it, sunshine." Qrow's arm snakes around his waist to keep him from falling. Briefly, he's regarded with a mildly calculating look, and then Qrow states as if it's supposed to change anything, "You're drunk."

"Well, yeah," Taiyang points out, "you are, too."

"You don't know that."

Taiyang rolls his eyes. "Shut up, I know you are."

Qrow snorts again, airy and just shy of giddy, and that's how Taiyang knows; he doesn't care about how he sounds when he's drunk. Cologne is faint around his throat, whiskey sharp in his breath, and Taiyang wants to drown in it, wants it to be the last thing he ever tastes.

"What're you doing out here all alone, anyways?"

"I'm not alone," Qrow says as if he genuinely believes it.

Taiyang glances down to Qrow's hip, to the outline that sticks out against his cape, and flatly states, "Harbinger doesn't count."

For a moment, Qrow's breath stills, settles in his lungs, takes a long moment before it rushes out between his teeth. It is hot against Taiyang's skin, hot when his jugular is already pumping liquid fire, hot when there's not enough space between them. But then he pulls back, away from Taiyang, stands on his own against the railing once more.

"Crowds aren't my thing," Qrow tells him. It sounds like a confession, almost, whispered out with the breeze, muddled with the thick midsummer air. "You don't have to stick around."

"But I want to," Taiyang says before he can think twice about it.

The honesty is disarming when it shouldn't be; it is enough for Qrow to give him an odd look, something too nuanced to decipher, something just shy of wounded that it makes Taiyang ache. Truth is synonymous with hurt, that much Taiyang knows, truth is something Qrow has never wanted to hear, something that only ever left him raw and seething in its wake.

He will never undo the damage, because there is no such thing as reverting one to where they started. There is only mending, now, knitting back together as skin does, sealing the wound shut with every passing night. There is mending in the way Qrow sighs, soft and vulnerable, and responds, "Okay."

The next song pulses in the background, unrelenting like Taiyang's heart against his sternum, like the tapping of Qrow's fingertips against the railing. There is serenity to silence between them, to the way they drift just a little closer, to the glances Qrow throws Taiyang's way when he thinks he isn't looking. There is peace to the moonlight and the music and the quiet moment that they share.

There is peace up until Raven comes by to collect them with a giggly Summer hanging off her arm.

They notice when the mild form kleptomania manifests pretty quickly.

Taiyang and Summer notice it in a heartbeat because both of the twins develop the habit of snatching trinkets they find lying around. It is almost endearing, how sheepish Qrow looks when he guiltily admits to stealing yet another pen from Ozpin's desk, how he leaves spare jewelry in his nightstand in hopes that it will not call to him.

Taiyang questions it once, to which Qrow shrugs and says, "I like shiny things."

Nevermind that it is a new development. Nevermind that Raven scoffs at the admission and turns away from him as if Summer hadn't found the coin she snatched while they were out on a mission just the other day.

Though Taiyang doesn't discover that magic is real until a crow smacks into their window.

He almost doesn't believe it, not until he sees Raven trying her hardest not to grin while Ozpin explains to a dazed, glassy-eyed Qrow that he will, in fact, fly into glass that he cannot see if he is not mindful enough. He almost doesn't want to believe it, because while the added freedom is cathartic, there is something in his gut that tells him that such a thing - a blessing, Summer insists, while Raven bristles and Qrow shrugs - is not as simple as a mere gift.

But for now, it is a gift. For now, it is an ongoing joke between the four of them and nothing more.

For now, it is an escape, and that is enough for a while.

Taiyang does not know exactly why it is that Qrow sometimes returns to their dorm through the window. He does not know why it is that he's sometimes woken up to scratching and tapping on the glass just beside his bed. He does not know why it is that he sometimes returns to their dorm in the middle of the day to find a small, shivering crow balled up in Taiyang's covers, but he decides that it is best not to question it.

He never questions it, and they never talk about it.

There are a lot of things they don't talk about: the occasional flirting, the fleeting touches, and now, the times Qrow nestles in his bed when he thinks he will not get caught. Except he always gets caught, and they do not talk about it, and it becomes something of a balance. It becomes something like an unspoken agreement, something like a secret.

Everything is a secret eventually, but this is the first of many to come, the first of several that will tear into their seams and wrench them apart.

But for now, Taiyang merely scoops up the corvid from where it is curled in his blanket, holds it up to eye level, and says, "You're in my spot."

For a moment, the bird only stares at him.

"What?" Taiyang plops down onto his bed, and the bird flails in its attempt to steady itself in his hands. "My bed's your nest, now?"

It then tilts its head and regards him with eyes an uncanny crimson, bright despite the lack of sunlight through the curtains. Unblinking, unmoving, and briefly, he can't tell if it is Qrow or if it is Raven. It is like that even beyond their corvid forms - where they both regard him with an inscrutable look, where they both snark him with nearly identical phrases, where they both turn to him and soften just a little more each time.

Taiyang sometimes can't tell if Qrow reminds him of Raven, or if Raven reminds him of Qrow.

But he can tell the difference when they are birds. Everything is simpler when they are birds, because the one in his hands finally nudges closer and starts to rub its little face against his cheek. It makes a soft sound, and the trembling soon stops, and it gazes up at him with eyes too intelligent to be anything but his teammate. His friend.

Taiyang settles as he always does. He turns to his side, allows the corvid to nuzzle against his chest, and teases, "You always get what you want. I shouldn't be spoiling you like this."

It glances up at him again. Puffs up its feathers, then trills something sweet. Sweeter than life and all of its wonders, Taiyang sometimes thinks, sweeter when his thoughts are inherently simpler and his inhibitions are nonexistent. Qrow is sweeter when he is looking for comfort, when there is no room for judgement and no prying eyes to breach the moment.

Taiyang wonders what it would be like if it were skin instead of feathers, if it were a gravelly voice muffled against the column of his throat instead of small chirps that are smothered into cotton.

Taiyang never knows where Qrow gets the liquor.

He should probably start questioning it, but he doesn't.

He doesn't question much when he can't really think anymore. His head is swimming in oceans deep, muddling in a space heavier than gravity, and he lazily turns over onto his side, bumping Qrow's shoulder as he does so. He's touchier like this, he knows, touchier when he's too drunk to really care about the repercussions, but there aren't usually any.

Qrow leans into the touch, and neither of them question it, and no one talks about it afterwards.

But this time, they do. It is a surprise when it shouldn't be, because all silences are made to be broken and all secrets are prone to be spilled. It is an inevitability, an absolute as whole and unrelenting as the passage of time, when Qrow places his hand over the back of Taiyang's where it still rests on his shoulder and murmurs, "You're doing that thing again."

Taiyang blinks. The world refocuses, and Qrow is there in technicolor detail for just a moment. He's pretty, so pretty, pretty with a flush on his cheeks that matches his eyes, pretty when he looks like he's about to fall apart.

"What thing?" Taiyang asks. Slurs, really, but in his head, the words are clearer than lake water, steadier than its glasslike surface.


The glass around them cracks but doesn't shatter, jerks out of its place but settles in a position almost too precarious to hold itself upright. There isn't pain for it to be a plea or anger for it to be an accusation; there is nothing there, nothing but hollow eyes and hollow bones and a hollow voice. It is merely a fact, thrown out of where it has been hiding, left for all the world to see while it shudders and bleeds.

That mask is always there, woven through skin, through cartilage, through every capillary. It is difficult to tell what is Qrow and what is the front he puts up. It is difficult to tell the bullshit from the truth. But when that mask is so obviously there, so deliberately kept in place as if the slightest movement will crack it down the middle, Taiyang knows what it is.

So he bites his lip, pauses for a moment - a second, only a second, but when Remnant is spiraling out of control around him, that second stretches out for decades, centuries, eons - and says, "You stare, too."

Qrow laughs again. He always laughs freely when he is drunk, when he is alone, when he isn't thinking anymore. He laughs, and Taiyang swears it is the loveliest sound he has ever heard, lovelier than wind chimes, than flowing water, than heavy rain across pavement. He turns away, but he doesn't peel himself away from Taiyang's side, only reaches to pour himself another shot.

And Taiyang watches as he does. Watches as Qrow lifts the glass to his lips, watches the fluidity in which he knocks it back. Traces the curve of his lips, the arch of his throat, the twinge in its column. Lingers too long on the sheen against Qrow's lower lip before he wipes it away.

He doesn't want to acknowledge the white-hot spark in his gut, but he does. He does, and maybe it is the alcohol, maybe it is the too little space between them, maybe it is Qrow's skin against his own, but he can't help but want.

Want what, he doesn't know.

(But of course he knows.

He knows and he wishes he didn't know.

He knows and he wishes he wasn't too drunk to care about anything else.)

"Yeah," Qrow admits, and Taiyang feels like he is both sinking and floating, both burning to ash and freezing to his core. He wonders if it'll come up again later when the bottle is gone and when they are both thinking clearly, wonders frantically what it would be like to close what little distance there is left as he listens to Qrow breathe out into the air, "I guess I do."

Taiyang is still stuck on the curve of Qrow's lower lip when he's suddenly handed the bottle. He ends up spilling what is left on them both.

As much as Taiyang tries not to, it gets increasingly difficult not to stare as time goes on.

In his defense, Harbinger is as stunning as its user. That is the one thing he will always admit to; there is a lot of love poured into Harbinger, a lot of practice and dedication and patience, and he will never fail to appreciate it.

So really, Taiyang can't help the way his eyes always inevitably linger on Qrow in the field, drawn to him by some magnetic force that calls to the very iron in his blood. He watches as Harbinger slices through each set of Grimm with naught more than a faint whisper. He watches while it is heavy and blatant and wide, then continues to watch when it finally clicks and arcs into something more clean.

Something more dangerous.

Dangerous like Qrow when he flits between each one. As perilously alluring as its user as it cuts through each rapidly approaching Beowolf with mesmerizing fluidity. Qrow is unfairly stunning - tall, precise, lithe - and really, it is only a matter of time before the staring gets obvious.

It is only a matter of time before Qrow meets his eye.

Each time is guiltier than the last, but Taiyang can't help it. Not when the corner of Qrow's lips hitch upwards into something that faintly resembles a smirk, not when his own gaze lingers enough for Taiyang to catch, as well. It is the same dance between the moon and the tide, the same sway as the ocean, the same push and pull between all things that gravity ties together.

They are the same in a few ways, and this is one of them.

They are both guilty, and they are both terrible at naming this odd thing that grows between them. So they don't.

They don't for a long while.

They don't, because there is never a good time, or if there is, they miss the chance. Because at some point, Qrow glances over during those fleeting moments, pauses to shout something with a desperation he has never heard, and watches as the Beowolf he lost track of barrels into him.

They simply don't. They don't, because Taiyang weeps red out into the grass in frightening amounts, and Qrow is the only one there before Raven catches up. Qrow is the only one there to drag him off, the only one there to keep him awake, the last one he sees as he succumbs to the void that leers at him.

Sometime later, after what feels like an eternity, his back sears with the dozens of stitches and bandages that hold him together where his shattered Aura cannot. He wakes, and he meets Qrow's eyes again from where he lingers at the far end of the infirmary, and there is something dangerously inscrutable in them. They don't say a word, because shortly afterwards, Qrow is gone.

He disappears, and then Raven follows, and Summer stays as long as she possibly can before she leaves to go find the twins. She'll find them, she swears, she'll find them and she'll fix this and they're going to act like a team, Brothers damn it all.

Taiyang believes her until he is allowed to return from the infirmary and finds a shivering crow in his bed.

He takes it in his hands, holds it up to eye level despite the way his back screams in protest, and it only quakes harder.

"It's not your fault." The corvid furiously shakes its head, and Taiyang firmly repeats, "It's not. It's not your fault. None of this is."

It lets out an odd noise. Drawn-out and trembling, some somber wail, a noise too broken to contain. It quakes as if something is rattling its hollow bones, shivers as if there is an unforgiving wind beneath its too-thin wings. Taiyang holds it to his chest, because he doesn't know what else to do, doesn't know what else to say.

There is nothing to say. There is nothing to fill the silence beyond the crow's trills, nothing to alleviate the jagged-edged nails that seethe down the expanse of his back. There is nothing but them, nothing but a hiding space for the corvid to nuzzle into, nothing but Taiyang's hands and chest to keep it from falling apart.

"I know," Taiyang eventually says even though he doesn't, and it continues to trill and tremble and hide. "I know," he says again, running his fingers along its spine, rubbing soothing patterns between its wings as it warbles.

As it cries.

The four of them meld perfectly together.

A little shaken, a little broken, just a little jagged at the edges, but perfect nonetheless. They are always together now, and it is always Summer who keeps the peace, maintains the balance.

She doesn't drag them to a party this time, but she does wrangle them into watching a movie together. She is a blessing, an endless ball of energy, a nearly infallible force that bleeds warmth and life into everything she touches. That is just how she is, they all think, that is just what she is meant to be, both a leader and a friend.

Friends. Something about that makes Taiyang inexplicably giddy. Something about Summer thrown over Raven's lap and giggling to no end over some stupid joke makes Taiyang feel reminiscent of home. He glances over to Qrow, and he sees the faint smile, the gentle one that is only ever there when the burn of whiskey is involved. But he is lucid, and he doesn't smell like liquor, and when he meets Taiyang's eye, that smile widens.

He wonders what that means.

Wonders what the vulnerability in that smile is and wonders what it could mean. Wonders what it is to Qrow when he has no real home to return to, what it means to him when he glances at the three of them and finally softens.

He can faintly see it in Raven, as well, as she sets a hand on the curve of Summer's spine and turns her head away. He sees it when she hides a smile behind her other hand and tries to pretend she isn't having a good time. She and Qrow were the same, once. Nearly inseparable, nearly identical in almost every way, but somehow, they have started to drift.

Somehow, Taiyang and Summer both have begun to unwind that tension that was strewn as tight as yarn packed into a skein.

Taiyang hooks an arm around Qrow's shoulders and brings him closer. They both drop down into the small blanket and pillow pile that Summer threw together, and there is genuine shock on Qrow's face before it melts. There is surprise before it is replaced with something so ridiculously fond that it snatches Taiyang's heart from his chest.

He smiles. He smiles, and Remnant stops spinning, the cosmos stops breathing, the shattered moon stops shining. He smiles, and Taiyang knows in his heart, in his core, that he would do anything to keep him smiling like that. He would do anything to see that smile immortalized, because it means that for a short while, Qrow is happy. Qrow is there, and sober, and happy, and Taiyang would give him anything in the world if he asked for it.

It is then that Taiyang realizes what this is. It is then that it dawns on him, as Qrow's knuckles brush against his, as their knees press together, as his heart pounds with a thrill he's never felt for anyone else before. The movie starts playing, and briefly, Qrow's fingers twinge against his own.

Oh, he helplessly thinks as Qrow lingers for a moment longer before pulling his hand away, oh.

They are at a party again, and Summer is a mess after the game of beer pong that the twins played against her, and Taiyang forgets what it means to walk without stumbling over.

It always goes like that, but he doesn't mind. He can't mind when it is Qrow who he settles with out on the balcony - Qrow coming there to remember how to breathe and Taiyang following close by because it just feels right. Because he drapes himself against Qrow's side, and he feels the way Qrow's breaths ghost over his temple, and it feels right.

A lot of things feel right when it is with Qrow.

Softly, tainted with the edges of a slur, Qrow mumbles, "Hey. Hey."


"What comes after this?"

Despite the way the floor beneath him trembles and tilts at an angle far too steep to stand upright on, Taiyang pulls away just enough to meet Qrow's eye. He tries to think but he doesn't. Tries to contemplate the question but he can't. He merely stares, lost in rose-tinted eyes, in the shade of red that pulses between his ribs, sears through his veins, settles in his gut when Qrow leans just a bit closer.

He doesn't breathe, or maybe he does. He can't, or maybe he can, but he forgets how to. He is stuck on the curve of Qrow's lips, the pale glow of his skin, the stars that dance in his eyes. He can lose himself in red, he thinks, in the gleam of the shattered moon within Qrow's blow-out pupils, in everything that makes his heart take off running.

Qrow's hand on his shoulder nudges him back to Remnant. He blinks once, twice, and Qrow is still there, just a breath away, an inch that feels like a mile, a moment that feels like an eternity.

Then, Taiyang processes the question, and he answers, "Uh. Beats me. Nothing?" He glances at Qrow's cross necklace, then corrects, "The afterlife, actually."

Qrow snorts. "After Beacon, sunshine."

"Oh." He takes a breath, and it is his first lungful of air in a long while, but it only stokes the flames, letting them run wild beneath his skin. "Well. I don't know. Maybe I'll try teaching."

"I thought you wanted to get out of here," Qrow teases.

"I meant younger kids. Like at Signal or something. You can't go wrong with teaching kids."

"I guess," Qrow murmurs. "Maybe I'll try that, too. Stick around here for a while."

Taiyang blinks. "What does that mean?"

Qrow's mouth opens, and Taiyang expects a taunt, maybe even derision, but he only wavers before snapping it shut. Taiyang isn't sure what it is that passes over Qrow's countenance before it dissipates. It is something raw like the skin beneath a scab, his brows furrowing for a fleeting second, a yearning so perilous as if he aches for something he can't have.

He bites his lip, and then explains with a clipped sigh, "Raven wants to go back to the tribe."

The admission is as abrupt as breaking glass, as calamitous as the convergence of vast celestial bodies, and there is something tremulous that lingers in its wake. Taiyang's throat tightens, but he only nods. He watches as Qrow averts his gaze, clenches his jaw, and adds in a voice almost too small to be his own, "But I don't know if I want to."

"So don't," Taiyang says before he can think too hard about it.

Qrow laughs, but the sound is as hollow as his bones, as weak as his heart. "It's that easy?"

"I dunno," Taiyang says with a clumsy shrug. "But I think you should if it feels right."

Qrow holds his breath, shuts his eyes, sways enough to send him rocking forwards. Taiyang catches him as he always does, but there is something distinctly wounded in the noise Qrow makes against his shoulder, as if he's trying to find the right words, trying to tie them together into something coherent.

A long while passes. Music pulses like a heartbeat, thick and heady, the lyrics flowing as freely as blood does. It is sweeter than honey, sweeter than life, sweeter than the feather-light pass of Qrow's lips against his throat when he turns his head. It is too close, too much; he wonders if Qrow can hear the pulse that jumps in his throat, fears that he can feel the way his heart is pounding against his sternum.

Fears that Qrow would know what it all means.

Maybe he does. Maybe he does, with how his fingers tremble in Taiyang's shirt, with how he murmurs against his throat, "It does." It is almost imperceptible beneath the music, the alcohol, the dull murmur of conversation behind the glass doors, but he hears Qrow add, "It feels right."

Taiyang swallows thickly around his heart, pounding along the back of his tongue, pushing against the backs of his teeth. It is the closest he has ever gotten to a confession - and it is painful when there are secrets to spill, promises to utter, wounds to tend to - but then Qrow pulls away from him. Qrow sways just a bit, murmurs something about needing a drink, and then he is gone.

Taiyang wants to call after him, wants to say every pretty thing that comes to mind, but he doesn't.

He can't. Not when he is drunk, not when Qrow is walking away, not when he won't be able to alleviate the ache afterwards.

The first time Summer's eyes bleed white, they are on a mission far from Beacon, and they were separated from the Huntsman they were shadowing.

Summer is not frail. She is the glue that keeps them together, the heat that melds the glass, the force that bends the metal back into its place. But here, pillowed by her folded cloak in Raven's lap, she looks anything but. She is paler than the shattered moon that gazes down from above, colder than the chill that it brings with the unforgiving night.

Qrow is the first one to leave after an argument. Raven might have gone with him if she wasn't holding Summer. It isn't the first time Taiyang has seen them argue; seething words, a snap vicious enough to crush through bone, both of them drifting further apart each time it happens. The distance never closes, though, and the words never stop biting, and over the years, the rift between them becomes obvious.

That night, it carries on until Qrow looks over to Taiyang and wilts. Then he is gone, and Raven stares at his retreating back with an inscrutable expression, her eyes as red and deep as the wounds that run jaggedly over Taiyang's arm.

That is what caused this - the Grimm that attached to his arm, its maw tight over his bicep, its claws curled deep enough to tear through muscle and wrench across bone. There was nothing but red, red like Raven's eyes, red and yellow like the mushy cushioning beneath his flesh until it was drowned out by white.

Off-white like Summer's eyes when she saw him, pure white before she could control it, an ashen white now pillowing her head and spilling over Raven's lap. Red-tinged white around one mangled arm, a red-stained white like Qrow's shirt after he grabbed Taiyang and ran.

One gauntlet remains at his side, cracked down the middle, as useless as his arm is now that it weeps slowly into the bandages Qrow fixed onto him. Qrow was silent the entire time. Hands steady, ever so steady, but his eyes were hollow and distant as if he was moving solely on autopilot. Years of wrapping his own wounds, of tending to Raven, of ensuring they didn't just roll over and die before he shut down for the night.

The world tilts and spins brokenly on its axis when Taiyang stands. The ground shudders with each footstep, on the verge of splitting open and swallowing him whole, but he walks in the direction Qrow went regardless. Raven's fingers pause where they have been brushing against Summer's pallid cheek. She doesn't say a word to him, but her expression softens just a bit, and her scowl isn't so scathing anymore.

While it is the first time Summer utilized her silver eyes, it is also the first time Taiyang has truly seen the hurt that Qrow has been harboring.

He finds Qrow eventually. Harbinger is propped against a thick tree trunk, and next to it, he is balanced precariously on one of the gnarled roots that protrude from the ground. His shoulders are quaking until he hears Taiyang approach, and he passes the back of his hand over his eyes, takes a shallow breath, and stands once more.

"Wait, Qrow," Taiyang starts, but Qrow isn't listening, only walking further away with that telltale slouch and his grip trembling on Harbinger's hilt.

Taiyang has seen that before. He has seen the way Qrow hides, seen the way he avoids the spotlight, but this is something wholly different. This is something new, something defeated, something harrowed, and he has only seen this once before Qrow disappeared. Despite the pounding in his temples, the lightning strike that wrenches through muscle and bone alike, he hastens to catch up.

He reaches out to Qrow with his good arm and grabs him by the elbow, because that is the only way to get him to stop moving, to halt and listen. Except Qrow only makes an odd noise, more fragile than glass, thinner than paper. There is red on his collar - seething, boiling, branding his skin, biting his soul - red that is not his, red that only serves as a dizzying reminder.

"Qrow," Taiyang tries again, voice ragged and airy, "come on, we're supposed to be a team, here!"

"Last time I checked, you weren't the team leader," Qrow snaps back. He almost sounds feral, all bark and on the verge of biting, cornered before he has no choice but to give up. Except he doesn't jerk away from Taiyang's grasp despite how weak it is, only averts his eyes and hisses out, "So why do you care so much about being a team? "

"We're supposed to be in this together," Taiyang mumbles. "Even without Summer here, we're -"

If looks could kill, Qrow's glare would have shattered him, wrenched him down to nothing but mangled flesh and bone. If words could wound, he would have poured what was left out into bandages and clothing alike, would have had to flinch away in order to save himself. But he doesn't, not when there is a gleam in Qrow's eye that Taiyang has only ever seen in his corvid form, not when there is enough hurt in them to last a century.

Qrow gestures to Taiyang's other arm with a sharp nod. "That happened because we were together." He finally wrenches himself free from Taiyang's grasp, and the action only rattles his bones, sears his skin, pounds along the torn flesh that still pulses beneath the bandages. "All of this shit - everything - everything happens because we're - because I'm -"

Taiyang recognizes what it is when Qrow makes a move to sheathe Harbinger. He recognizes the telltale step away that he takes before he compresses himself to nothing but hollow bones and sleek black feathers and crimson eyes that pierce through the night. Then, he will be gone, far away from anyone's grasp, lost in some far-off land until Raven brings him back.

Either that, or until Taiyang finds him again.

Taiyang doesn't know what else to do besides reach for Qrow again and keep him there. That is all he can do, or all he knows how to do, to keep Qrow from running, to keep him safe. There is a knife-jab that seethes in his arm, scraping against the linings of his bones, but he only grits his teeth and bears it. Pain is not new, but this - the vulnerability, the hurt fit for a lifetime, the tears he didn't know were ever there - is something perilously different.

It is almost terrifying, the resignation in Qrow's shuddering sigh when he is pulled in close, the defeat in the way he slacks against Taiyang. He trembles as if his bones are too hollow to support him, as if his skin is too thin to hold him together, as if every breath is too calamitous for his lungs to contain.

"You're not your Semblance," Taiyang says.

"Shut up," Qrow seethes out, his words muffled against his throat, "just shut up. Shut it. You don't know -"

"I don't," Taiyang snaps. "I don't, and you don't, either. Brothers, no one knows what happened to Summer. But I know it's not your fault."

"How can you say that?"

He takes a steadying breath, both from the pain in his arm and the twinge between his ribs, and answers, "Your Semblance - not you, your Semblance - is shit like broken glass and spilled drinks. Not . . . not this."

Qrow squeezes his eyes shut. "How can you say that when your arm -"

"It'll heal," he firmly reassures. As firmly as he can when he feels as if the ground beneath him is about to split down the middle and bury him alive, anyways. "It'll heal and so will Summer and everything will be fine. Eventually."

Or at least, he hopes it will. Hopes the stitches will be enough to hold him, hopes the Aura will fill the crevices dug into the bone once it replenishes, hopes with everything he has that he will not be left with lasting damage. Neither of them need that. Neither of them need more shattered glass to tread carefully over, not while Summer is still unconscious, not when they're both still reeling.

Most of all, though, Qrow does not need yet another blame to add to the pile. There is enough guilt to drown in already, guilt that does not belong to him, guilt that Taiyang wishes he could alleviate.

"Tai." It comes out weak, broken, a shell of what he used to be. Qrow's fingers tremble where they clutch into the bloodstained front of his shirt, and he repeats again, tremulous enough to nearly tear himself apart, "Tai."

This is what it must be, Taiyang thinks, this is what it is when Qrow is small and simple and hides away in their dorm. This is what it must be, this hurt, this wound, this trembling noise that is too human to be a trill, too human to be anything but a sob. This is his lowest, this is what it is, and for once, he is human to ride it out.

For once, he can't hide.

"She'll be okay," Taiyang promises, voice steady despite the shallow breaths he still remembers, the heartbeat he struggled for so long to detect under her thin wrist, her pale neck.

It is the first of many promises he makes that he does not know will thrive. It is one of those hopeful promises, the one he fools himself into thinking he can keep, the one that Qrow can fool himself into believing enough. It is a promise that Taiyang knows he will try to keep even when he can't, because if there is one person he would carry out of hell no matter the cost, it is Qrow.

If there is one person he would do anything for, it is Qrow.

He doesn't say anything more, and neither does Qrow, not for a long while until he settles. Not until he turns his head just so, close enough for his lips to brush against Taiyang's skin when he says again, quieter than ever before, "Tai."


It might have been a confession, with the tension that nearly snaps, the brush of his lips as they part and waver. It might have been the words that would shatter that agreement, that addresses all of these secrets, these offenses between them, but it isn't. Qrow doesn't say anything, only pulls away and starts to tread back to their makeshift camp.

Taiyang doesn't say anything, either.

He doesn't know what to say afterwards. None of them do. No one knows what is the right thing to say when they return to Beacon, when Ozpin tells Summer about her silver eyes, when Qrow stops appearing as a corvid and instead starts disappearing with a flask in his hand.

"I'm tired."

Taiyang is jerked back to reality by Qrow's voice above him. Slow, calm, painstakingly steady despite how many shots he has gone through. He is all festered skin and blood left to flake, amber-rich fire and red deep enough to hurt. He is exposed, somehow, staring blankly ahead of him, the empty bottle held loosely from his fingertips.

"Of what?" Taiyang asks. He tries to lift himself on his elbows, but he only really manages to nudge further into Qrow's lap.

A long while passes, and at some point, he just assumes Qrow passed out already. He usually does this late into the night and this much liquor burning down his throat. Except just as suddenly as the first time, he mumbles out as if he doesn't expect Taiyang to hear him, "Tired of hurting other people with my Semblance. Tired of . . . tired of seeing things go to shit because of me. I don't mean to."

"I know you don't," Taiyang says, because he believes it, because it is a lie to anyone but him and the rest of their teammates. "It isn't your fault."

Qrow only snorts. Loud, jarring. Lifts the bottle, finds it empty, knocks his head back against the wall he is slumped against with a defeated sigh. "Right," he says, more of a bite than it is a laugh. "Right, okay."

"I mean it, Qrow." Taiyang sits upright, and the ground lurches off in another direction, the air currents shift far out of focus, the ocean itself comes crashing through every crevice of his skull. Vaguely, he thinks he feels Qrow's fingers rub idly at his wrist, thinks he sees a wet gleam along Qrow's waterline when he insists, "It's not your fault. You never do it on purpose."

"That's the thing, though," Qrow murmurs, almost too faint for Taiyang to be able to process. "Nothing goes how I want them to. Nothing around me goes right."

Taiyang plops back down into Qrow's lap when it gets too laborious to keep himself upright anymore. His mind is muddled like swamp water, heavy like tar, every vein in his body filled with blood turned sedimentary, but he stays awake long enough to airily say, "But we're going right. I think. Right?"

Qrow doesn't respond for a long while.

He doesn't respond until Taiyang is just about ready to pass out. He doesn't respond until Taiyang feels the ghost of calloused fingertips brushing through his hair, and finally, he says in a tone too weak to understand, "Right."

Taiyang is getting really tired of the drinking.

He never does participate, anymore, but that doesn't change a thing.

No one knows how to bring it up. No one knows what to do. Raven only turns her head, and Summer stresses, and Taiyang wishes he knew what to do. He is tired of the smell, the headaches, the conversations that follow. He is tired of the frequency, tired of the pain, tired of it all.

Said flask is by Qrow's side, spilling out into the dirt and coalescing with the red that pools beneath him. Harbinger is discarded, propped up against the tree until it finally topples over, the clatter of it ringing throughout the deafening silence of the forest. There is a flutter above as a lone raven takes off under Summer's quiet instructions, and from then on, there is silence.

It is silent as Taiyang assesses the damage and tries not to cry. It is silent as Summer holds Qrow's trembling hands and tries not to speak. It is silent until Taiyang glances up into Qrow's glassy eyes, both from pain and alcohol alike, and says, "You can't keep doing this."

Summer sharply looks up at him, but there is nothing but melancholy in the molten silver that pools in her eyes. Qrow follows shortly after her, blinking slowly as Remnant refocuses in his head. He is still functional, still able to think, but not nearly fast enough to quell Taiyang's frustration, and especially not fast enough to handle the surge of Grimm that swarmed them as they entered the forest.

His Aura flickers, floods the expanse of his leg to heal the torn skin, but it will not heal correctly. Not until Taiyang intervenes.

He wishes he didn't have to. They have started to drift apart with all of the running and the hiding and the drinking, but nevertheless, he is the only one capable of doing this, and part of him wishes desperately that he wasn't.

It takes a long while before Qrow blinks again, and Taiyang wishes his voice wasn't so raggedly guilty as he says, "I know."

Taiyang's vision blurs before he blinks it away. His hands quake before there is another flurry of wings that lands on the branch above them, accompanied by an affirmative caw that rings like a gunshot throughout the clearing. His heart rattles as if it is made out of glass before he settles by Qrow's distorted leg.

He sets a hand above the thick shard of bone that protrudes from the skin and holds his breath.

Qrow's grip goes white in Summer's hands.

If there is one thing Taiyang enjoys about keeping lookout while the others sleep, it is the night sky.

For a long while, he stares out into the vast expanse of the cosmos that blankets Remnant. It merely stares back at him, illuminating the empty streets, dancing off every surface as the night wears on. The fire has long since died down, and there is only silence to swathe him, nothing but peril in an unmoving night that clashes with the serenity in a sky streaked with the glimmer of starlight.

He hears the whisper in the night, the wind beneath wings as they flutter close. He hears the way it scuffles and then settles just a few feet away on the ledge of the building that he is balanced on. He doesn't pay the bird any mind. He doesn't know if he can handle crimson eyes and a silence too thick to breathe through, not after Qrow took off before they set up camp.

It has been like that for a few nights now on their way back to Beacon, starting the moment Qrow's leg had healed enough for him to transform and take flight. Summer worries to no end, and no amount of hiding away in Raven's arms helps to alleviate it. So it is Taiyang who keeps watch every night, lingering for a long while before Qrow inevitably arrives.

Clawed feet patter closer, and he finally asks the question that has been plaguing him for days, "Why do you keep running?"

It is close to the end of his watch and his eyes burn, but he refuses to retire just yet. He refuses to move despite the eyes he knows are watching him, refuses to do anything but gaze out into the sky and hope it will swallow him whole. But it doesn't, because no such hopes are ever listened to, and wishes are as futile as resistance in the face of death.

The silence is suffocating. Something in his chest trembles terribly, just as it always has been ever since Qrow started avoiding them all. Something in him feels like it is about to combust like a star that succumbs to its own gravity, but he doesn't say a word, solely because he doesn't know how to.

He doesn't know what caused this rift. All he knows is that he would do anything to close it.

He also knows that Qrow can't hide forever. He knows he won't hurt forever. He knows that Qrow is stubborn, but so is he, and he will wait. He will wait until he can't. He will wait until sunrise, and he will wait until Qrow has no choice but to speak.

Fortunately, the wait isn't very long. There is another shift, lighter than air, quicker than a heartbeat, and then Qrow is perched with his legs thrown over the ledge. Finally, Taiyang glances at him, and he looks paler and thinner than before. More ragged, more tired, more broken, but his eyes are bright, and his breaths are even.

"Keeping lookout," Qrow murmurs. His words are soft, delicate, as if he is afraid that anything higher will bring the remains of the moon falling down from where they hang in the sky. "That's all."

"That doesn't answer anything and you know it."

"Does it matter?" Qrow grumbles. His eyes are red, smoldering red, red like that of the life beneath his skin, and Taiyang wishes his heart would stop aching at the sight. "I don't need to be here."

Taiyang helplessly stares before he gathers enough strength to point out, "Why the hell wouldn't you? You're our teammate. You're our friend."

Qrow wavers a bit before he turns away. He shakes his head. "Not with my luck."

Oh, Taiyang thinks yet again, that's what it is. That is what it is that has been festering like an unbandaged wound, that is what has been simmering beneath the surface like venom that curdles through his veins. There is nothing but pain, nothing but a throb in his chest and an impulsive rush in his extremities, and he can't help but focus on Qrow's hand where it curls against the concrete of the ledge.

He wonders briefly, frantically, what it'd be like to reach out and lace their fingers together. He wonders how long it was since they have last talked without a bottle or enough blood to brand their skin.

"Qrow." Taiyang holds his breath, and the cosmos holds its breath alongside him, ceases all movement before he finally says, "I've said it before and I'll say it as many times as I have to; you're not your Semblance."

This time, there is no skin to desperately hold together, no wounds to heal, no bandages to replace. There is only silence spreading out for miles between them, and starlight that stops twinkling, a moon that glares down at them both, until Qrow finally moves. It is an instinctual thing that Taiyang recognizes, reaching for his breast pocket, but there is no outline of a flask there, and Qrow stops himself midway.

He returns his hand to the ledge. His grip quakes, and Taiyang sees the raw skin of his knuckles, the slick glisten of them in the moonlight. There is hurt enough to last a lifetime, hurt enough to bleed both onto the valleys between his fingers and into the air between them.

There is enough for Taiyang to feel, as well. Enough hurt for him to want to soothe every ache, to coat what is raw and pulsing with a balm to cure it all, if only he had the remedy for it. But there is no remedy, and there is no fixing, and for now, all they can do is mend what has been torn open.

It takes another lungful of air, another pass of blood through the chambers of his heart, another torturous moment of thinking and thinking and thinking, but eventually, he reaches out. There are greater risks he has taken. There are greater offenses to be addressed. His fingertips brush over the back of Qrow's, careful with the skin there but purposeful nonetheless, and there is no alcohol to pass it off now.

There is nothing but stunning clarity and technicolor detail that Taiyang clings to. He watches the subtle twinge in Qrow's neck, the furrow of his brows, the brush of their fingers together. There is tension that follows, heavier than the moon and the stars and the planets that follow, on the verge of crushing him beneath its weight until Qrow finally moves. He shifts, lets out a breath tremulous enough to nearly shatter Remnant itself, and weaves their fingers together.

They don't speak for a moment, but they don't have to. Perhaps it is better that way, with Qrow trembling as if his bones are glass and his skin is fine silk, with Taiyang feeling as if there is not enough atmosphere and not enough time in the world for this moment to thrive. Then, Qrow squeezes, clinging as if he fears of letting go, as if he is trying to mirror the throb in Taiyang's chest at the sight.

"How can you just . . . say that?" Qrow mumbles as if it is a genuine mystery he can't wrap his head around. "How can you just lie through your teeth like that?"

"It's not a lie to me." Qrow squeezes again, and Taiyang squeezes back, and it is a wonder how he doesn't stutter with this giddy rush in his chest when he continues, "I mean it. You're not your Semblance. You're not a bad luck charm, you're not an omen, you're just - you're just you."

He doesn't realize how small the space between them was until Qrow turns to meet his eye again. He doesn't realize how close he has leaned in, and further yet, how Qrow mirrors it, his grip firm while his lungs feel like they are too weak to function and too full for his ribcage to contain.

It is a surprise despite how long the oncoming collision has been set in stone, but neither pulls away. It is the same pull between that of the sky and the ocean, the rising tide and the lowering sun, the convergence between the two that is too muddled to pinpoint. It is an absolute, a fact that is impossible to ignore, and for once, there is nowhere to hide.

"I'm a bad idea," Qrow says, and Taiyang doesn't need to ask to know what he is referring to. He doesn't need to ask what it is that Qrow is warning him of when it has long since been overdue.

"Maybe you are," he manages to tease, "so I'll just have to figure you out like every other bad decision I make."

That is enough to draw a smile. There is no alcohol, no excuse for either of them, nothing but a truth that is meant to mend rather than break. There is nothing but Qrow, calling to him as wholly as winter calls for spring, their breaths coalescing as he asks, "Not just bullshitting me, are you?"

The question is more complicated than he knows how to answer. It stems far beyond the moment. It branches off to every instance, every offense, every fleeting touch and lingering glance. Though at the core of it all, the answer is simple, because if there is one thing he truly believes in, it is Qrow.

It will always be Qrow.

I'm not, Taiyang would say, but his throat feels tighter than Qrow's hand in his own, and his blood runs thicker than the atmosphere, and his lungs feel heavier than gravity itself. I'm not, he tries to say, but it comes out as something broken, something helpless, some soft noise that is muffled when Qrow is the one to press their lips together.

It is soft, barely there, a tentative touch that draws the oxygen out from Taiyang's blood and onto the tip of his tongue. He sighs, and Qrow tilts his head further, nudges closer, slots them together. They fit perfectly, Taiyang thinks, like puzzle pieces crafted to fit, made whole and absolute.

Taiyang is embarrassingly clumsy - there are firsts for everything, and Qrow is the first of many. He isn't alone, though, not when the four of them have grown drastically since they have met. Not when Qrow is tense as if he is on the verge of running but ultimately refuses to. Taiyang can feel Qrow's smile against his lips, and it is perfect. It is right.

He tries not to chase after Qrow when it ends. Tries his best, but he can't help it, not when Qrow sounds so alluringly ragged when he says, "Should've done that earlier. Fuck, Tai, I should've -"

The words melt against Taiyang's lips, and so does the rest of Remnant, muddling and falling out of place until it is only the two of them. It is just them soaring through the cosmos, lost amongst a haze of stardust, hidden within the gleam of the moon. It is only them until he is forced to resurface, until Qrow breaks away. Flushed just so, panting to catch his breath, staring with so much want that it aches.

"I -" Taiyang's voice falters, and he swallows thickly, tries again after a short pause, "I didn't - didn't think you'd . . . you know . . ."

Qrow blinks. Stares with growing incredulity. Then, he snorts out, "How? Brothers, you're so dense -"

His laughter is muffled by another kiss. Taiyang can't help it - if not to quiet him in the midst of a perilous silence, then solely because he can't get enough of the feeling. Can't get enough of the heat, of the thrill, of Qrow. He threads his fingers through Qrow's hair, and Qrow's fingers hook into his collar, and there is nothing in the world he would trade this for.

There is nothing in the world he would trade Qrow for. There is nothing, especially not when they break apart, not when he murmurs against Qrow's lips, "Try not to run so much, maybe?"

Taiyang feels the sigh that bleeds out between them, precarious like the concrete beneath him, fragile like the stillness of the night around them. He feels Qrow's grip falter, then tighten, holding on as if it is the only anchor he has to the ground as he pulls back. He can see every bit of promise in Qrow's eyes despite the hurt in them, every unspoken wish glimmering alongside the stars that illuminate them.