A/N: just a little something to get myself out of this writing slump i've fallen into :)

this fic is a short series of vaguely chronological stories that will cover days 3 & 4 and 6 & 7 of strq week. we will be jumping between beacon-era strq and pre-canon, post-kids strq (or what's left of them). as per the week guidelines, nothing shippy happens on-screen, but the vibes are there if you squint hard enough.

content warnings will be in the author's notes of each chapter. prompts will be in the chapter titles.

cw: roofies, major character injury, alcohol abuse/alcoholism

the promises qrow has made over the years and the ones he could not keep.

No one could have ever warned Qrow that it would turn out this way.

It starts when Beacon does. It starts with the two of them, one in the same so long ago. It starts with him and his twin, back when she was all he had and he was all she knew how to protect. They were two halves of one whole, side by side in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces and an unfamiliar kindness shown to them by a man who would later give them wings.

Everything is unfamiliar, everything but Raven. Everything but her voice nearby, asking him a question, one that he does not hear over the pounding in his ears. But he knows what it is that she asks, and of course, he promises to come find her before anyone else.

Qrow is not one to make promises that he cannot keep, but Beacon was the start of many things, and broken promises was one of them. Beacon was the start of a crack within the foundation, thin and spindly like lightning within a nebulous sky from the day they arrived.

They were one in the same, side by side until they were not, until they were finally separated at Beacon. Until there was distance between them, filled with leaves spattered like blood and trees thicker than any they have ever seen back at home. Qrow is nothing if not determined, and so is his twin, and if there is one thing he will always do, it is carry out his end of the promise.

But then he runs into Taiyang, and Raven quite literally crashes into Summer, and nothing is the same from that point onwards.

(Once upon a time, they were identical.

But now, with Raven's glare sharper than Omen's edge and her words more lethal than the curve of Harbinger's blade, it occurs to Qrow that change is an inevitability.

They argue like they always do - quiet, lethal, dragging on until Summer finally snaps at them to give it a rest, but something feels different this time. Something feels off, just as it does when she sits by the window for hours at a time or when she disappears into Ozpin's office without another word. Something is fundamentally different, because this time, she does not try to convince him.

From the very start, he promised he would not leave her behind.

He should have known that she would be the one to leave instead.)

At first, Qrow does not recognize it.

It starts slowly, fraying the edges of his vision and dripping gradually into his veins. It starts with a drink a nameless blond bought for him and a few pretty words, and then something finally gives.

Warm lights burn against his eyes - perhaps it is the cosmos itself, whirling, dancing, far too bright for him to see through. He gets up on two uneven feet, tells himself to move, begs himself to move, but he blinks between one eternity and the next, and suddenly he is no longer at the bar.

He does not know where he is. He does not care, because when he opens his eyes, it is dark, and his senses are full of endless oceans and golden sunflowers and everlasting sunlight. He glances upwards as best as he can, feels the arms around him, the skin beneath his cheek cold enough to burn.

He hears Summer's voice first. Then, he hears Taiyang, angry and seething and everything that Qrow wishes he would not be. Angry, so angry, and Qrow wonders why, wonders how Taiyang can be so angry, wonders what exactly he is angry at. Wonders how he can stay so angry, because Raven was angry as well, Raven was angry earlier and now he's here and he doesn't even know where here is.

He wonders where Raven is. Wonder why she left, where she went, why she always leaves to places where she knows he cannot find her. Wonders where she is, why would she go, where did she go, where is she and why isn't she here and why hasn't Taiyang brought her back?

Lost in oceans deep are footsteps, and it occurs to him with a jumpstart between his ribs that Summer is gone. Summer is gone and so is Raven and he wishes they wouldn't leave, wishes he could come with them. He squirms, turns his head, and his bones rattle, veins burn, skin scalds where his arms wrap desperately around Taiyang's neck.

That is the only anchor he has, the only thing keeping him from drowning, his voice a distant slur as he hears himself say, "Tai?"

Taiyang responds, but the words do not filter. Qrow lurches, moves his hands to fist weakly in Taiyang's shirt, clings desperately even when his head finally hits something soft and cold.

"Qrow," Taiyang gently starts. His hands are loose around Qrow's wrists, pulling, asking him to let go. To let himself drown. To let the only person he has left leave him. "We're gonna find out who -"

"Don't," Qrow gasps, or he thinks he does, thinks his eyes start to sting when he rambles on, "don't. Don't go. Don't leave. Don't, don't -"

Taiyang's grip tightens, and Qrow thinks he still pleads, thinks he still begs. Thinks and thinks but nothing sticks, nothing registers, nothing but the spiraling atmosphere and the whirling cosmos and the earth that veers further from the sun. Further and further until he blinks against silence, against an abyss, against something soft against his cheek and a hand that weaves soothingly through his hair.

"Okay," he thinks Taiyang says against the crown of his head. Soft and raw, like a promise, like a loss, like a heart that lays bleeding. "Okay. I won't."

(Once upon a time, they were infallible.

But now, with Taiyang miles away in his own head and the world spinning too quickly around them, it occurs to Qrow that even they can make mistakes.

He wonders idly, solemnly, as he raises his flask with one shaking hand and burns his throat anew, how they got this way. He wonders what happened to Taiyang, where his summertime smile went, how the light in his eyes might return from the fading tide. He wonders what happened to Summer, silent for the first time in her life, a quietude that Qrow knows was wrought from words too sharp and a promise broken to her, as well.

He wonders what happened to himself, when his vision begins to slide out of focus and his legs refuse to work after some time.)

Some promises are not long term, but they certainly feel like they are.

A promise for the next few minutes at most, that much Qrow knows, but knowing does not make it feel as short as it is. Knowing does not make this century go by any quicker, kept track of only by the steady trickle of crimson against the ground. Drip by steady drip, almost black where it muddles with dirt, brighter than embers sparking to life where it seeps into Qrow's shirt.

Omen tears through the veil, and Raven makes an odd noise, sways on her feet while her Aura shimmers but does not break. "Stay there. Keep him from moving," she tells him, even if it is the one thing he never wants to hear from her, even if she knows that it is the last thing he can reliably do. "Don't follow. Don't," she adds when he opens his mouth, sharper than Harbinger at his side, deeper than the splotches of purple mottled black down Taiyang's chest.

Perhaps once upon a time, he would not have listened. Once upon a time he would have followed, because how could he know that she would be back, how could he ever know that he would not be forgotten?

But then he glances downwards to Taiyang's head in his lap. He sees the red that quickly froths and spills from the corners of Taiyang's lips, hears the shallow breaths that are now accompanied by a wet rattle. He knows why Raven asks him to stay. Knows she will be back, knows that she is only trying to find Summer, but knowing does not make the fear any less irrational.

Knowing does nothing to stop him from quaking harder, because this is not his job, this was never his job. Summer is the one who holds them together, Summer is the one who keeps them from falling apart, but Summer is gone and Raven will be soon and Qrow was never prepared for this.

Frantically, he starts, "How do you know I'll -"

"Stay," Raven snaps, raggedly, brokenly, for once talking to him like he is her brother and not her obligation. "No matter what, stay, and make sure that idiot doesn't move."

She does not leave yet. Not until he agrees, no until he promises. She knows him more than he knows himself, knows that he will stay if he says he will, even when everything in his being tells him to run. Even when he trembles almost hard enough to tear apart at the seams, because he knows she is right - knows that no one else is there to keep Taiyang from drowning, and knows that Taiyang would do the same for him.

They all would. Raven would, Summer would. This closely intertwined with one another, this seamlessly weaved into one coherent whole, they all would go through hell and back for one another. It never occurs to Qrow until then how true that is. It never hits him until he is finally the one who has to stay behind, because despite the fear that runs white-hot in his veins, he still knows they will come back.

Wordlessly, Qrow nods.

(Once upon a time, they were thought to be inseparable.

But now, with a decade under their belt and the bonds that were once there now torn at the seams, it occurs to Qrow that not all good things were made to last.

It is just him and Taiyang now. Him and Taiyang, him and the girls, him and the flask that acts as the only sense of comfort he has on long days and even longer nights. Him and the burn in his throat and the pit in his chest, because Summer is gone and so is Raven, and Taiyang is no better.

Qrow is the one to bring Taiyang back from wherever he drifts off to. He is the one to hold his wrists and feel the pulse in them, look into his eyes and see the hurt in them, pull him close and guide him back home.

But he is not Raven. He is not Summer. He is not boundless ambition or everlasting warmth, and at this point, he is tired. But he never leaves. Not for long, not permanently, not if he can help it.

Why he stays until he cannot, why he tries until it begins to hurt, he is not entirely sure anymore.)

One of the last promises he makes is to Summer.

There are fleeting promises that follow afterwards, of course. There are whispers lost to the wind and patterned echoes that fade into the night, and he keeps those, as well.

But one of the last promises he makes to any of his teammates is to Summer.

From the very start, her promises are always too sunny to believe, too determined to enjoy, too far-reaching for him and his twin to dare entertain. But that's the fun in promises, Summer used to always tell him, it's fun to tie useless flowers to their fingers and point out uncaring stars in a crystalline sky.

So the moment she asks him, late into the night with the stars nowhere in sight and Taiyang sitting by an opened window with a lone feather in his fingers, he knows that something is off. She looks just about ready to break, but so does Taiyang, and so does he; all of them are missing a part of themselves, long gone out of an open window with feathers and a titanium ring left behind.

Raven is gone, and now, all Summer can do is ask, "Promise you'll always come back?"

Qrow blinks. His flask is a cold weight in his breast pocket, and he pauses in the middle of reaching for it. This would not be the first night that he leaves to try to find his other half. This would not be the first time that he searches for hours, wonders for hours, flies and perches and hurts for hours, but it would be the first time that Summer finds him before he does.

"You know I will," Qrow answers.

Something flits just beneath the surface, something like pain, something like disbelief, but Summer accepts it all the same. She lets him go, and fleetingly, he thinks to ask her why. Why she suddenly asks him, why something that is a given should be promised, why she looks so wounded even when she goes to soothe Taiyang.

It does not occur to Qrow until much later that he should have made Summer promise the same in return, even if a part of him knows that it would have been yet another promise made to be broken.