Here we go!
Earning Raven's forgiveness was easier said than done. Almost everything was that way with his sister, but, if he'd thought a middle-aged Raven could be a pain to deal with, then he'd forgotten how obstinate she'd been as a teenager. Most teenagers and young children were nightmares to deal with, though you never really realised it until you had to look after a bunch of them. Combining that natural difficulty with Raven being Raven made for an awful experience that involved no small amount of grovelling for forgiveness, promises for spars, and a whole day of him being forced to "act like a servant" and bring her food, drink, and whatever else she asked for.
Or, translated to "angry teenage girl", a whole day of being made fun of to punish him for having been a bad brother. The humiliation was more important to her than the drinks and food, but, thanks to Summer's advice, he now understood that Raven was doing all this because she didn't want to lose him.
He was still a little unsure on that front, but it was mostly his bias against the older version of his sister that was holding him back there, so he did his best to ignore it. Fresh start and all that. Besides, it was kind of endearing to see his sister being a childish brat, rather than a misanthropic twat, so he'd put up with it.
Harder to put up with were the therapy sessions he was still mandated to attend. Qrow would be the last person to call therapy useless, and the first to say he needed it – especially after everything that happened since Beacon fell. The problem was that he couldn't say any of that, or broach any of those subjects, so no matter how much they tried to help him, it wouldn't be enough. That was his fault more than theirs, but it made the sessions awkward. He told them about being away from his parents, and they did their best to understand, but it was like the blind leading the deaf, except that the blind person wasn't actually blind, but was mute and couldn't communicate the fact properly.
It would have been easier to just give up on alcohol, but that wasn't a simple thing either. Qrow knew Ruby and Yang hated it, but he'd been a wreck ever since Summer died. Alcohol had been his crutch for over ten years, and it wasn't easy to kick such a destructive habit. He found himself longing for the feeling of a bottle in his hand sometimes as much as he did for the taste on his lips. He took to holding other objects instead like it and nursing them like a chain smoker might suck on a pen.
Taiyang and Ozpin used to act like he needed explaining why alcohol was bad, but Qrow wasn't an idiot. He knew it was unhealthy, and he didn't much like how dependant he was on it either. He also knew Summer wouldn't have been happy. Qrow had tried to stop several times, but it just didn't happen. Maybe he was weak, or maybe it was too easy to get hold of, but, whatever the case, he'd never been able to shake the habit.
Well, that looks like it's going to change if the whole school is locked down on booze. Awww man, is this the rehab thing Taiyang was always on about sending me to? For crying out loud.
Qrow tapped his bottle of juice on the table, the constant tap, tap, tap helping to centre his thoughts. It obviously wasn't helping Raven because she kept kicking his feet under the table. "What?" he asked. "What's wrong?"
"I'm trying to fucking concentrate on this homework!" she spat. "How are you done with this?"
"Maths? Ray, it's easy-"
"Fuck off is it!" she snarled. "This is the worst shit!"
Algebra. Qrow supposed that he had probably struggled with it his first time around, so Raven's problems weren't unexpected. It was just hard to take it seriously now he was older and knew how to do it all. Maybe he should have played dumb, but that would have been even more of a pain. Instead, he sighed and moved closer to his sister to help her.
"Look, it's not that hard. All you need to do is…"
They stayed like that for half an hour, Raven doing her best until, with an explosive growl, she shoved it all away and told him she'd finish it another night. They'd gotten halfway through, so he supposed that'd do. He would have offered to let her copy his, but Raven got upset whenever he offered, as if he were suggesting she should give up and just accept he was better.
Everything was a competition to her.
And she was losing at most things thanks to his age.
"At least I have actual friends!" she said. "When was the last time you hung out with someone who wasn't slipping you booze?"
"Hey, I tried to make friends." He really had. "It's not my fault all they wanted to talk about was cartoons and which girls they think are cute."
And they'd looked at him so weird when he said the hottest girl in Signal was one of the teachers. What? It was totally true. There were some absolute babes on Signal's staff, and they put the pimply, acne-ridden girls of this place to shame.
Teens, Qrow decided, had no taste. None whatsoever.
Even Summer wasn't what one would call "good looking" and she was one of the most important people in the world to him. They were just all too young, and in that awkward stage where their bodies hadn't decided what to do with themselves, and their pores were determined to produce enough oil to flood Vacuo.
"Maybe if you weren't a colossal douche, you'd have more friends," said Raven.
"Excuse me? I'm generally a nice guy."
"You called that girl a from a year up a paedophile."
"Uh." Qrow held up a finger. "That girl asked me to go on a date with her. I'm a child."
"Qrow, she's, like, nine months older than us at best." Yeah, but she still asked a child out. Ugh. Creepy. Qrow shuddered, which made Raven sigh and say, "Why are you such a weirdo sometimes? The teachers look like they don't know what to do with you, and most of the year thinks you're some hermetical prodigy who lived in a temple for huntsmen. The rest think you're just insane."
"I thought I was fairly popular."
Raven bounced a scrunched-up piece of paper off his nose. "You were, but then you turned out to be some anti-social weirdo and people started to realise you're less cool and more useless."
"I'm not anti-social. I just…"
Can't really connect with children. Qrow's lips thinned out. It was hard to talk to them. They just didn't understand things the same way he did. Boys in class talked about girls, or video games, or bands and tv shows. Things he hadn't seen, let alone didn't care about. Qrow didn't recognise most of the names because he'd still been in the tribe at this point and learning them all would have involved having to sit around and play them or watch tv, which felt like a waste when he only had a limited timeframe to make sure the future panned out as it was supposed to. And, frankly, the few times he had tried to fake it, the kids he'd been talking to had been able to tell instantly and had pretty much zoned him out.
Nowadays he just sat with Raven, sort of joining her group of friends (hangers-on) by association. They didn't really talk to him either, but they'd gotten used to him hanging around and so weren't all that bothered when he did.
He was sure things would improve in Beacon. Seventeen was that age where people started to wise up and think a little more maturely. Not completely, but better than this cesspit of hormones and childishness. It was close enough to adulthood that he'd never had trouble, and he'd also know things then as well. He could remember his time in Beacon, so he wouldn't be as confused when people started talking about big events and things.
"Your weirdo is being bullied again, by the way."
"What!?" Qrow rounded on her. "Summer is! Still!?"
"Uh-huh." Raven wasn't interested but answered anyway. "I dunno what you see in her. Girl is a total wuss. Just lets people walk all over her."
"Why didn't you do anything?"
"Uh. Because it's not my business? If she isn't gonna stand up for herself then I'm not standing up for her." Raven then shrugged. "Also, I didn't see it, so yeah. Only know because Rosebud told me, figuring you'd want to hear about it."
Rosebud. One of her friends. Also, a guy, despite the name. "What happened?"
"I dunno. Ask Rosebud. Something about girls being bitchy to her. Idiot in tears." Raven rolled her eyes. "It's losers being losers, Qrow. You should ignore it. Let her toughen up. You think she's gonna have a chance as a huntress if you step in to fight all her battles for her?" Raven looked over, then sighed. "You're not even listening to me, are you? For fuck's sake."
"I'm listening. I'm just disregarding your advice."
"Knock yourself out," she said, waving a hand. "But don't come crying to me when this backfires."
"It won't backfire. I know what I'm doing."
Qrow slammed a hand down on the cafeteria table, and several eyes swivelled to meet him.
"It backfired. I don't know what I'm doing."
Raven, cheek resting on one hand and a straw poking out a Juicebox in her other hand, sighed. "You're such a useless idiot sometimes." She kicked a chair out for him to sit. "What did you do, you idiot?"
"Okay, it went like this…"
Locating Summer's bullies wasn't a difficult task. Qrow just had to find her and follow from a distance. Most people were used to seeing him wandering around on his own, so they didn't comment on it or call out to him. Summer always arrived at Signal early but didn't live there like he and Raven did. Her commute from Path tended to bring her in around 8:30, though she occasionally slipped in a little earlier. Qrow suspected that was to avoid anyone causing her trouble.
She had her white hood up and moved like a nervous mouse, keeping it tugged down over her forehead as if she were trying to hide away in it. Summer didn't have her weapon yet, and probably wouldn't start making it until they took lessons on that later in the year. Instead, she had a bookbag that she pushed into a locker, moving quickly with her cloak tugged about her, trying to get out the entranceway before she could be spotted.
Qrow grunted softly to himself as three girls cornered Summer before she could escape and started talking to her – or at her – as she leaned back against the lockers. It was obvious she wasn't a fan of what was going on. He moved in immediately.
"Hello there," he said, voice dripping danger as he slammed a hand onto the lockers. All four of them jumped, including Summer, and the three bullies rounded on him with wide eyes. He flashed them a smile full of teeth. "I hope there's a good reason you're pinning Summer against a locker here. I can't stand bullies."
They were tongue-tied. One said, "We were just talking to her, Qrow," and battered her eyelashes at him.
He'd have taken that with a smile if it were a twenty-something woman instead of a little kid who was still struggling to learn how much makeup was too much. It's like dealing with the brats who try and make excuses for why they couldn't hand their homework in on time. And, unluckily for them, Qrow had a reputation for being something of a hard ass as a teacher. Especially when he had a hangover.
"It doesn't look like you're `just talking to her`. It looks like you're harassing her. I hope that's not the case, because I don't think much of bullies." He leaned in, knowing he could look intimidating when he wanted to. Sure enough, they backed off.
"We're not bullies," said one. "We were just talking."
"Just leave it, Kimmy," said another. "We should go."
They walked away, their eyes remaining on him as they went. Qrow held his ground, feeling pleased with himself as they left Summer alone. Or, at least, he did. Right up until Summer whispered, "You shouldn't have done that…"
Huh? Qrow turned to her, a little surprised by the lack of gratitude. He knew she didn't know him well, but he'd seen her crying in the office. He knew how bad things were. "Why?" he asked. "They made you cry." He saw her face scrunch up in shame. "There's nothing wrong with that," he added. "People cry when things go bad. It's normal."
Summer obviously didn't believe that as she looked angrily down at her feet.
"Look, I was trying to help—"
"Well, you didn't," she mumbled, pushing past him. "Excuse me."
He didn't know what to make of that but didn't want to pressure or follow her, so he let it go and went to lessons as per usual. It wasn't until lunch when he ran into her again, this time being harassed by the same group of girls from before, but at the cafeteria table. They'd settled down around her, trapping her on a table, and they were saying all kinds of things to her. Qrow couldn't hear them, but he could see her tense up and withdraw into herself, and he saw her knuckles turning white as she tried to eat. One of them slapped her hand and fork to the side and spilled her meal. The others laughed.
That was how Qrow ended up behind the one who had done it, an empty bottle of orange juice held out in his hand, and a trail of liquid dripping down the girl's hair, face, and clothes. The rest of the table stood frozen, unable to process what had just happened. Most of the cafeteria had gone quiet as well.
"I warned you," said Qrow, voice flat. "But I guess you were all too fucking stupid to listen."
A hand grabbed Qrow's shoulder and yanked him around. "THAT'S MY GIRLFRIEND!" yelled a boy, hurling a meaty fist at Qrow's face.
It wasn't a bad punch, he supposed. A little wider on the approach, a haymaker, but the guy had caught him by surprise so, if you were going to throw one, now was the time. Unfortunately for him, Qrow was not a normal teenage boy and had already spread his legs the second he felt someone touch him. He could have blocked the hit with his aura, but old training kicked in and had him swaying under it instead.
Taiyang had always been more the fist fighter, and he passed that onto Yang, but you didn't have a teammate and a niece who specialised in it without picking up a few things. How to not get smacked in the face was one such thing. Qrow ducked, weaved under the arm onto the outside of the guy, and swung a fist under the arm, up into his chin. His teeth clacked and he staggered back. Qrow then followed up with a haymaker of his own, right into the stunned idiot's mouth, dropping him like a sad sack of shit.
Two of the boy's friends lunged for him, but Qrow skirted left so they got in one another's way, then struck out with a foot on the lead one, knocking him down. He hopped onto the guy's back while he was on all fours and speared up to drive a knee into the chest of the second. The boy toppled back over the cafeteria table and down the other side.
"What?" asked Qrow, into the silence. "I get he went for me because I dumped juice on his bitch of a girlfriend, but what excuse do you two have? Is he your boyfriend? Because, man, I hate to break it to you, but it looks like he's cheating on you both."
Jokes like that would have drawn a rolled eye from Taiyang, Summer or Raven, but, when you were this age, they might as well have been threats of bodily harm. The one he'd kicked down tried to tackle him around his waist, but that was an amateur move and Qrow treated it as such, holding a knee up and letting him crack his own face against it. One of the girls behind him scraped their chair back and slapped him across his left cheek. It stung a little, but not much.
"You realise this is a huntsman academy, right?" he asked back. Her dumb expression whipped sideways as he slapped back. Harder. With a closed fist. There were gasps around the cafeteria, which was so much nonsense. "What?" he shouted. "Grow up – this is an academy for huntsmen. We learn to fight here, and that means you don't slap someone and expect it to stick." He rolled one shoulder. "Anyway, who's next? Come on, I haven't even used any aura yet."
"STOP!" roared a voice. An older voice. One of the teachers came rushing in, panting from a long run. He looked furious, and he stood up to gaze over the hall. "What is the meaning of this? You will stop immediately. Who did this? Who started this?"
Qrow made to point.
Someone beat him to it.
Summer beat him to it.
"It was Qrow Branwen, sir!" she shouted.
"Summer, what the fuck!?" cried Qrow. "I was helping—"
A hand grabbed Qrow's arm and locked it behind his back. The teacher had him, and he was no slouch. Qrow figured he might have been able to get out, mostly because the teacher was taking it as gentle as he could so as not to injure him, but it would be pointless. Qrow simply snarled as he was marched out the cafeteria.
Raven sighed and rolled her eyes while her friends gawked at him.
"I figured it was something like that," she said. "You really are an idiot, aren't you?"
"I must fucking be," said Qrow, "because I was pretty sure I helped Summer and stopped some bullying. Sure, it got violent, and that's against the rules, but they attacked me first." He pointed his fork at Raven. "Badly, I might add."
"What do you expect? Not everyone here is like us."
"But why did Summer turn on me?"
"Because you're an idiot."
Qrow scowled. "I'd like a more specific answer, please. Dear sister…"
Raven shrugged. "How should I know? I've got no idea how losers think."
"Then why call me an idiot if you don't know what I did wrong?"
"Because it's a fair bet you were an idiot," she said, then turned to the others with her. "Can someone explain for his sake? I don't get this shit, either. Never been a victim. Never understood why anyone would stay as one."
A few girls tried to speak at once, then stopped. They came to a silent agreement that one could go first. A blonde called Mist.
"Well, the first thing you did wrong was assume girl bullying can be solved like boy bullying."
Qrow pulled a stupid face. "Eh?"
"When boys bully one another it's, like, always physical. You corner someone, push them around, rough them up." The guys at the table were nodding. "But bullying among girls is different. It's more about reputation and rumours, and who's who. The popular girls can put a lot of pressure on a person if they don't like them."
"Last year," said another girl, "there was a fight between two girls who were about to leave for Beacon. It got so bad that one of them basically got the other's boyfriend to break up with her before graduation. It was a huge thing."
Mist nodded. "That's how it goes. It's a lot more emotional bullying and words than physical, and you can't fight it off the same way because then you just look like a brute."
"Like you did in the cafeteria," said Raven, catching on. "And now you're seen as the aggressor because all they were doing was throwing mean words around, and you came in fists swinging like a Beowolf. Good job on that by the way."
"Not now, Raven," groaned Qrow.
"No, I'm serious. Good job on showing those whiny bitches how a real person fights." Raven, naturally, missed the point, and 100% sided with his unfounded aggression. Because she thought he'd done the right thing. "If any of them tried that shit on me, I'd break them in half, then make them eat the other half."
Great. So, he'd gone in and messed it up. Honestly, he'd never been assigned to deal with bullied girls as a teacher, probably for this very reason. It must have been easier for female teachers to understand female problems and vice versa. He'd certainly been tasked to help bullied boys, but that was much easier to sort out. As Mist said, it was usually physical, and could be warded off with threats of punishments from the teachers.
It was a lot harder to police mean words, rumours, and social manipulation.
"I still don't get why Summer turned on me."
"It could be for a number of reasons," said Mist. "Maybe she thinks she should be able to handle it herself and got angry you butted in. Maybe she thinks they'll let her go if she gives in a little. Maybe she thinks your attention will make it worse."
"Or maybe she's a bitch," said Raven.
"Or that. Don't look at me like that, Qrow. Some people do give in to bullying." Mist held her hands up in surrender. "I'm just saying you have to keep it in mind. Not everyone is like you or Raven. Or us."
He wanted to say Summer wasn't like that, but the reality was that Beacon Summer wasn't like that, and a lot could change in one or two years. Maybe Summer had faced this and grown up, grown tough, fought back. Maybe she'd not and saw Beacon as a chance to reinvent herself. Either way, he knew she'd come out better, so the best choice might be to sit back and do nothing.
But how could he look Summer in the face in Beacon if she knew he'd watched her be bullied?
How could he look himself in the face, or Summer or Ruby?
"I don't like that dumb look on your face," drawled Raven. "I kinda need you to not get expelled. Just saying."
"I've learned my lesson," said Qrow. "I won't go starting any fights."
"I'm going to beat them at their own game!"
Raven sagged. "Not good. Qrow, no. Just no."
"What? You think I can't pull off the mean girl act?"
"Yes. Yes, that is exactly what I think."
Bah. Zero faith. How hard could it be? He was a forty-something year old man. It couldn't be that hard to step into the shoes of a teenage girl and upstage them in front of the school. He was an adult, for crying out loud. He was a huntsman! Qrow rubbed his hands together, as Raven despaired, and began thinking up his plans.
Summer's bullies wouldn't know what hit them.
Next Chapter: 2nd December
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