I'll be taking two weeks off at xmas as usual. It'll be from 20th Dec – 3rd Jan. Wednesday to Wednesday, so no update on either day but you get the idea.


Chapter 11


Fight like a girl.

Okay.

He could do this.

He'd helped raise two nieces.

He'd watched "Mean Girls" with Yang.

How did Yang fight?

With her fists.

Right.

That didn't help.

Qrow paced his and Raven's quarters.

"You're giving me a headache," said Raven. "Is this about your charity case again? She doesn't want your help. Let it go."

He ignored her. There was no good way to explain to Raven why Summer was so important, and he wasn't about to try. The only way she'd ever accept someone was if they proved their strength to her, which was a thing Summer would do in a couple of years, but not now. There was a cynical part of Qrow that wondered if maybe he just shouldn't do anything. Summer had gotten through this on her own and he knew she would again. She was made of stern stuff. But how could he look her in the eye later having done nothing? And what if she didn't want to be on his team because of it? He wouldn't be able to look himself in the mirror.

"She's not even the only one so weak that she's drawing bullies," drawled his sister, "and yet you're not running around to play the white knight for them. What's so special about her?" Raven grimaced. "Don't tell me you've fallen in love with her softness—"

"Of course not!" he barked.

Very defensively.

Summer was Taiyang's wife. Qrow would never allow himself to step in on his blood brother's life like that. They had a code, and they also had Ruby! The world was worse for lacking her presence, and he sure as hell wasn't going to jeopardise that.

Raven was sitting up and giving him a startled expression, though. "No..."

"What? I said it's not that."

"You cannot be serious, Qrow. She's a weakling!"

"First of all, she's not. Secondly, it doesn't matter because I don't have the hots for her. She's a kid!"

"We're all kids."

"I like my women like I like my beer."

"Illegally sourced?"

Qrow grimaced. Trust Raven to find a way to make it sound bad. "Leave it be. I don't have the hots for Summer."

"Sure." Raven was still eyeing him strangely. "You're just spontaneously starting a crusade to defend her against every ill in Signal despite the fact that you've gladly ignored the same happening to anyone else. Is that it?"

"Yes."

Her red eyes narrowed to slits.

"So, should I start rumours or something? Is that how this works? Am I meant to start whispering in people's ears that one of her bullies is pregnant? I don't get it." Qrow groaned. "I mean, anyone with eyes can tell they're not, and why would it matter if people were saying they were? Who cares about rumours and gossip?"

"A weakling."

"I'm asking the wrong person, aren't I?"

"That should have been obvious from the start."

It was. He'd mostly been thinking out loud. He and Raven had only entered civilised society at seventeen, and even if he was a whole lot more settled into it come forty, he still hadn't had a normal childhood. He'd seen a lot of it second hand as a teacher, but only in the sense of rolling his eyes when two students were sent to him for fighting in the halls. It was only ever the male students, though. And Yang. Most of the female ones didn't get caught. You just heard second-hand tales about the things that went on in the locker rooms.

He really could have used Yang's help for this. Or anyone's, really. Maybe if this were the future, he could have at least called up Glynda and asked for advice teacher to teacher—

"That's it!"

"What's it?" asked Raven.

"I'll ask Glynda!"

"Who?"

"The girl who showed us our dorm."

"Who?"

Qrow sighed. Raven would be Raven. "The strong one with the glasses."

"Oh. Her. I mean, you could, but I still think you should just wise up and stop crushing on the weakling. She isn't going to give you any strong children."

That triggered something. "She'll have the strongest children!" he snapped, barging through the door and out. He wouldn't put up with any insults toward Yang and Ruby. "You just wait and see!"

Inside the room, Raven sat on her bed with wide eyes.

"What the fuck..."

/-/

Glynda Goodwitch had her life in order, or so she believed. A skilled student at Signal approaching her last year, and one who was almost certain to make it into Beacon. That didn't mean she could afford to get complacent of course, but she was one of the stronger huntresses in her year and was quite confident in her ability to handle any challenge that came her way.

Except this one.

Pinching the bridge of her nose, she counted to ten.

"Say it again..."

The younger boy clasped his hands together before her. "I need to know how to bully like a girl!"

No. It still didn't make any sense. Glynda sighed and gave up on this being some unfortunate mistranslation or mishearing on her part. If only she could be that lucky.

It shouldn't have been the case that she knew of two children two years under her as well as she did Qrow Branwen and his sister. Of course, she'd been the ones to show them to their dorms, but that was a duty she'd done before for other students that she soon forgot. The reason she knew of them beyond that was because they'd become something of a hot topic among the upper years for several reasons.

First of all was the rather amusing case of the sister punching someone in her year at lunch and roundly being beaten black and blue for it. There had been quite a bit of drama at the time over it, as people in her year started to wonder if he'd really attacked a younger year, but it soon became clear she started it and life moved on. Or it should have.

That was when Qrow started to excel in his classes to the point that some people who watched him fight out of curiosity wondered if he wouldn't be bumped up a year or two. It wasn't unheard of for particularly talented individuals. Glynda had been offered it herself a year ago but had refused, not wanting to take any risks by jumping up too early and failing to make it into Beacon. Slow and steady wins the race, after all.

Still, there were rumours that one or two people had decided to try their luck with the Branwen before her and, to her shock, had lost. It was the source of much mockery, and it should have led to exceptional boasting from the small boy.

But it hadn't.

That bigger boys could be so casually dismissed only made it worse for them.

And then there was the drinking. Glynda had been asked – ordered, more like – to keep an eye out for anyone in her year engaging with Qrow and report them if she had to. Tattling was not something she liked doing even if she would, so she'd instead gone and told everyone she felt might buy him alcohol that she was being made to watch them. Sort of a "I will have to report you so don't do it and save us both the effort" mentality. It had worked well, saving her effort and anyone else a disciplinary record.

Honestly, any one of those things would have been enough to have Qrow Branwen be the weekly gossip, but all combined had him a regular topic of conversation. And now he was here, meaning that she was probably going to be dragged into the gossip as well. What did I do to deserve this? I've been a model student. Glynda sighed heavily and opened her door wider. "Come in."

"Thanks." He stepped inside and jerked a thumb back to the door. "Was kinda awkward standing out there with a bunch of girls pointing and whispering—"

Glynda's eyes flashed wide in panic and she bolted for the door, sticking her head out. She caught the tail-end of some girls disappearing around the corner and wondered whether she could hunt them down. Probably not. Glynda banged her head on the doorframe. Great. Now there was going to be even more gossip about how Qrow was visiting her at...

Glynda checked the time.

Ten at night.

Optimal date time.

Or making out time.

"I despise you," she said.

"What? I haven't even done anything!"

"You've already done too much." Glynda closed the door. Explanations would have to be drafted in her head and disseminated tomorrow, but she couldn't come across too desperate to dismiss it or they'd only think her defensive. "What is this nonsense you're talking about? Bullying like a girl? What does that even mean?"

"Right. So, I've recently been illuminated on how bullying between girls is different to boys."

Less physical. Less direct. Glynda understood it. Hell, she'd experienced it back when she was younger, newer, less able to look after herself. Her glasses had been a common source of it, and as unimaginative as the insults had been, it had still hurt somehow.

"Are you being bullied...?"

"Not me. It's a friend of mine—"

"Your sister?"

"What? No. If someone tried to bully Raven, she'd probably just kill them."

"That's hyperbole, right?"

"Yeaaaaah." Qrow glanced aside. "Totally. Anyway—" He ignored her eyebrows raised in alarm. "This friend of mine was being bullied and I tried to step in, but I did it the dumb man way. Raven's words. Not mine. And I got in trouble for starting a fight. She even ratted me out to the teachers as the one who started it!"

"Your sister?"

"No. My friend."

"Are you sure she's your friend if she did that?"

He flinched. "I... uh... This is kind of a friend she hasn't met yet, scenario."

"What?"

"You know. Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet."

Glynda stared at him.

"Yeah, I thought that sounded dumb when the idiot blond said it, but Ruby really liked it." He cleared his throat awkwardly. "Point is, I consider her to be my friend even if she doesn't feel the same way yet, and I don't want her to be bullied. I want to stop it."

"Did she ask for your help?"

"All it takes for evil to exist is for good men to do nothing...?"

Glynda palmed her face. "Stop throwing quotes at me and answer the question."

"No. She didn't."

"Then perhaps she thinks she can handle it herself—"

He shook his head. "She can't. Look, I saw her crying her eyes out—"

"Enough. Enough." Glynda stopped him there. She really didn't want to be dragged into this kind of drama. Younger year drama, but also teen romance drama. Or did they count more as tweens? Glynda considered herself a teenager but wouldn't ever be as beat-around-the-bush as Qrow was being. "I'll offer what limited advice I can, but it really will be limited. Also, stooping to their level won't fix the problem or impress your so-called friend."

"She is my friend," he said, stubbornly.

Sure.

Friend. Girlfriend. Same thing in Glynda's eyes. A waste of time.

"Sure. I suppose I can give you some anecdotal stories of bullying—"

"You were bullied!?"

His complete shock at the idea warmed her a little. It was good to know the image she cultivated of an in-control and competent older student worked out so well that he couldn't imagine her being the victim of any bullying.

"I was young and weak once," she said. "Everyone is, and early on especially there's a tendency for students to try and form their place within the school. Friendship circles. Cliques. Status. Later on, a lot of that status falls by the wayside as skill matters more and grudges are often settled quite ruthlessly in sparring class." Glynda had settled more than her fair share of them. "But at the start when no one really knows how to fight, that's where the bullying was often the worst. I was relentlessly mocked for my wearing glasses."

Glynda waited.

Qrow stared.

Seconds ticked by.

"That's it...?" he asked, lamely. "They mocked your glasses...? And that bothered you...?"

"Y—Yes, well, I did say we were young." Her face flushed pink and she coughed into her hand. Yes, looking back, it was stupid and she accepted that. "What you need to understand is that it's less what is said and more the aspect of pressure. Simply pointing out I wore glasses wouldn't have done anything on its own, but they made it a repeat issue. Every class, every free period, every evening before I could go home. A constant barrage of insults and mockery."

"Like a sustained assault on aura?"

"Yes!" Glynda was relieved he brought it back to combat. That was a safer topic. "I suppose that is a good metaphor. Male bullying is like a coordinated and sudden assault. It is a fight that quickly ends one way or the other. Female bullying is more sustained, chipping away at aura over a long time to exhaust the foe and make them stumble and make mistakes. It takes time, but in the case of bullying that time can be weeks, months or even years."

"I didn't care at all for the first week or two," she reminisced, "and looking back, the words didn't hurt me. But when it's week four and you're automatically flinching on your way into class because you know you will be cornered and harassed, then it starts to have an impact. You become anxious. You begin to worry. You flinch when they draw near and feel unduly threatened even when all they're going to do is call you ugly." Glynda scowled. "It's very psychological."

"Like conditioning."

"Yes." She was surprised he knew of that, given what little she knew of his background. "Yes, it is. You're conditioned into feeling bad whenever they look at you, and that gives them a feeling of power. That's why you can't just fix it by punching their faces in either, because all that does is give them more ammunition to go with. Suddenly, you're ugly and violent. Thuggish. It's why your attempts to stop it that led to this fight you mentioned backfired on you. In that moment, you turned from someone trying to help one girl into a thug cruelly attacking others over words."

"Because violence is what people resort to when they can't win by words," he whispered. "I get it. They're hiding behind that!"

Eh, close enough. Glynda shrugged. "Pretty much."

"How did you end yours?"

"I repeatedly and quite viciously bested them in combat class until the difference in our skill was apparent. They also over-exposed me, and eventually my fear of them waned. And I suppose that they matured as well. It's ultimately childish and they'll grow out of it sooner or later."

Though, she had to admit, she wouldn't have minded a white knight at the time.

Not that she was going to say that to a boy two years younger than her.

Who apparently drank like an old man.

"That's not good enough. I'm not letting it continue until she gets bored or cracks. But thanks for your help. I think I understand it a little better now. I thought I was going to have to start rumours and convince people they're pregnant."

Glynda pinched the bridge of her nose once more. "Please do not do that."

"I won't. I'll just undermine them. Maybe expose them for the bullies they are. See how they like it when people start whispering about them."

That probably wouldn't work on its own but it was harmless enough that she'd let him go at it. Quite frankly, she wanted him out her room before people started to hear about this, and out her life before the gossip clinging to him like glue stuck to her. "Good luck with that," she said, steering him toward the door and opening it. "And good luck with your girlfriend—"

"She's not my girlfriend! Sheesh, I like older women."

There was a hushed gasp in the hallway.

Glynda's eye twitched. She didn't quite boot Qrow out, but she gave him a shove and sent him packing.

Her classmate, Peach, was staring at her with wide, sparkling eyes.

"Not a word."

"He likes them older—"

"Not. A. Word."

"Does that mean you like them youn—"

Glynda spent the evening explaining to the headmistress why she'd chased Peach around Signal for two hours, disrupting a whole bunch of people before they got into a fight in the middle of the library.

Damn that Branwen for marring her otherwise spotless record.

It would only be worse come morning.

/-/

Summer really wished everyone would stop talking about her.

Things had been bad before that fight in the cafeteria, and they'd only gotten worse after despite her best efforts to stop it by telling the truth. Qrow had been punished, and she'd dared to hope it would act as a peace offering to her bullies. Show them she wasn't the one who went to Qrow and asked for him to beat them up.

No such luck.

They'd been on her even more, and it was even more unfair what they were saying about her.

"I heard she got down on her knees and blew him round the back of the bike sheds," whispered one girl, in that way that was designed for Summer to overhear her. "Even told him that she'd go all the way if he beat up Emily for her."

"Disgusting," said the other.

Summer's shoulders bunched up and she hurried into the classroom early, only to find the teacher hadn't arrived. Crud. Whenever there was a teacher, everyone was quiet, but now she was stuck dealing with the gossip all around her.

And it wasn't fair.

I just wanted to become a huntress, she thought. And I didn't ask him to step in. Why are they making it sound like I offered sexual favours for his help? Her eyes began to water. She wasn't even sure why. The rumours were so stupid that she felt she should have been able to just laugh them off, but it was the fact that everyone was joining in.

It was less the content and more the feeling of everyone being against her.

But the classroom went deadly silent when the door was kicked in and Branwen entered.

Raven Branwen.

The girl wasn't as strong as her brother and had actually lost quite a lot of spars to Qrow's none. That didn't mean she wasn't infamous in her own right. She was a bad girl, and not in the way the girls with heavy mascara and painted nails liked to portray themselves as. Raven ran a gang, and honest to goodness school mafia, and she picked up detentions like nothing else. And even if she did lose some fights, it was always against really strong people, her brother, or the older years she regularly picked fights with.

The fact that she hadn't been suspended or expelled yet had some people whispering about her having a grasp over the teachers, too. Why else would she still be in Signal? Raven's eyes scanned over the room and even the meanest girls found interesting things on their scrolls to focus on. Summer did the same, eyes down.

That didn't save her from jumping when a hand slapped down on her desk.

"What makes you so special?" Raven demanded.

Summer cringed. "W—What…?"

"Is it that you're triggering some protective attitude shit?" Raven glowered at her. "You're soft. You let people walk all over you. You don't fight back when people talk shit about you. Hell, you don't even put up a fight!"

Every accusation made her cringe and caused those around her to giggle.

"I hear you've been giving my brother sexual favours, too."

"T—That's not true!" she whispered.

"It isn't?" Raven's eyes narrowed. "Huh. That would have at least made sense why he's going out his way for you. Are you sure you're not?"

"I wouldn't!"

"Why not?" Raven's eyes narrowed. "You think you're too good for him or something?"

"No! Yes! Maybe!" Whatever would get her to back off. "B—Besides, isn't he dating a prefect in her final year? That's what I heard."

"Is he?" Raven rubbed her jaw. "Huh. I'll need to double-check that one. But that's not important. My idiot brother appears to be obsessing on you for some reason—" There were gasps around the classroom. It was bad enough before when everyone knew deep inside the rumours were nonsense. Things were going to be worse now that Raven had as good as confirmed them. "—and I'm not going to allow some weakling like you to drag him down."

"I'm not… I…"

"Not what?" Raven crossed her arms. "Not weak? Not a burden? You can't even look me in the eye! Why are you even here at Signal?"

"I'm going to become a huntress!"

"With that attitude?" Raven snorted, and tears appeared in Summer's eyes. The other girls were cruel, but they'd never preyed on her over wanting to be a huntress. It was what they were all here for. "You should drop out already. You're useless."

"T—That's not true!"

"Doesn't look it. You just sit back and take shit from everyone. That's what weaklings do. The strong survive and the weak fall. Qrow and I are strong. That's why we're here. Everyone else in this classroom." Raven scanned them all. "Weak."

And now everyone else was angry, too.

"Watch it, Branwen," said Becky, who liked to style herself as the queen bee of their classroom. She had pretty golden hair and a figure beyond her age. "Your brother may be a big deal within Signal, but you're not. Don't push your luck and—"

Raven's hand snapped out and caught the girl's ponytail. "Nice hair," she said, making Becky freeze like ice. "I like it when people tie it up like this."

"Thanks…?"

"Makes this easier."

"Makes wha—"

Raven yanked the girl's head forward, clasped her hand to the back of her neck and slammed her face down onto the desk. Summer shrieked, as did most of the classroom, as the girl slammed down and then reeled back, collapsing to the floor unconscious with blood pouring from her nose.

"Seriously?" Raven asked, crossing her arms. "How do you not have your aura up when coming over to talk to me? That's just dumb."

"You bitch!" roared Becky's boyfriend, Brad. "I'll fuck you up—"

Raven planted a foot on Summer's desk and kicked, sending it sailing into the boy's stomach. He had the sense to have his aura up, but that didn't stop him being knocked off his feet by the heavy desk. He landed on his back with a gasp, then cried out shrilly when Raven stamped on his crotch.

"Weak," she said. "You're all so weak. I don't know what Qrow sees in any of you, but I guess even a weakling can learn something after years in a place like this. Tch. You're all pathetic right now, though. Not worth my time, and definitely not worth his."

"Someone get the teacher!"

"Yeah, sure. Run away like the pussies you are." Raven let them go. It was only Raven, Summer, and the downed duo in the room now. Raven turned back to her. Summer was shaking. "You gonna run as well, Rose? Maybe that'll work against the Grimm as well. Just run away and find a better huntsman or huntress to do it for you."

"N—No."

"You will. Cowards like you always do."

Tears were running down her cheeks. "I'm not a coward!"

"No? You look like a fucking cry-baby from where I'm standing."

"Shut up!"

"Why? You gonna cry if I don't? Wah-Wah." Raven dabbed at her cheeks. "Look at you! You were crying before I even came in, crying because of what these losers said. They're not even strong, but they're still lording it over you. That means you're weaker than even them."

Summer's teeth were gritted tight.

Her pulse was pounding between her ears.

"You might as well give up on becoming a huntress."

No.

Never.

It was her dream.

"You're not going to make it," Raven continued, shrugging sarcastically. "You're just going to drag stronger people down."

"I won't! I'll get stronger!"

"Bullshit will you. If you can't even stand up to me now, then you don't have what it takes." Raven snorted. "And you're distracting me brother. Qrow is strong. And he doesn't deserve to lose out because a pathetic, cowardly, cry-baby, pussy, weak—"

Every word made Summer flinch.

"—helpless, burdensome, childish—"

Tears burned at her eyes. Her vision became blurred.

"—pointless little damsel—"

Something snapped.

"RARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

"—huh? What?" Raven glanced back her way. "Don't tell me you're cryi—oh shit!"

Summer couldn't say what happened. All she knew was that one moment she was on the verge of bursting into tears, and the next moment several teachers were dragging her off Raven Branwen and that her knuckles hurt.

/-/

Qrow came running up to Raven's table at lunch. "I've got it!"

Raven looked up at him. "Got what?"

"I know how to fix the bullying," he said, taking a seat. "It's going to be a campaign against the bullies. I'm going to slowly erode their powerbase day by day, beating them in spars and mocking them. Destroy their street cred to the point that no one can take them seriously. That way they can't pull the undue violence card because it'll be within the rules."

"Go on," said Raven, leaning her chin in her hand, her fingers pushing at her busted and swollen lip.

"And then when the school dance comes around—"

Raven brushed some hair from her blackened eye. "Yeah?"

"—I'll ask the lead bully out. Make it look like I've been crushing on her this whole time but never knew how to approach her." Qrow glanced around the table to make sure everyone was hooked. Raven, Rosebud, Sally, Summer, Tyrone. They were all staring at him. "And then I stand her up on the night! Absolutely humiliate her!"

"Why?" asked Summer.

"Because I need to stop them bullying Su—"

Qrow blinked.

Summer stared back.

Raven sipped orange juice through a straw, which was necessary due to how busted up her face was.

"Ahhh!" Qrow shrieked, pointing.

"Ahhhh!" Summer screamed back.

"Will you both shut the fuck up?" growled Raven. "My head is killing me."

Qrow pointed at Summer. "How? When? Why?"

"What?" Raven looked over, then shrugged. "Oh yeah, her. Turns out she's pretty fucking good when she's angry." She shrugged as if that was all the explanation needed. "So, she's one of mine now. Part of the crew."

"Bwuh!?"

"Stop talking so dumb, Qrow." Raven shoved a cookie in his mouth. "Also, I heard you knocked up Goodwitch." Several older students paused on their way by, heads swivelling. Eyes widening. Raven simple nodded. "Good job. I approve. She was strong, so that'll mean strong kids. Better not call me auntie, though."

"I—I don't understand," Qrow whispered. "None of this makes sense…"

"That's because you're an idiot." Raven rolled her eyes. "Keep up. Oh, I've also been suspended for a week."

"What!? Why?"

"Someone forgot to use their aura."

Qrow sighed. This made zero sense, but Summer was here, safe, even if she looked a little confused about it all. The same as him, basically. "What did you do, Ray?"

"Taught a valuable lesson on keeping one's aura up."

"Did the teachers accept that?"

"Nope." Raven sipped her juice box, then jerked a thumb at Summer. "But she got suspended too. And her whole class is scared shitless of her. What a badass bitch, am I right?"

Summer's head planted into her hands spread out over the table and she moaned.

Rosebud patted her back sympathetically.


Congrats, Summer. You've been adopted.

You can leave your sanity at the door.


Next Chapter: 9th December

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