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Chapter 21


Even if he wasn't being paid by virtue of supporting the orphanage, Qrow would have put his everything into the weapon. He did with all of them, even for those bratty kids who could only just afford his services. As a kid, it would have been tempting to slack off and just do enough to get by, but he'd been a teacher at Signal and he'd had the unenviable task of delivering news of a death to grieving parents. He'd be damned if he was going to hand anyone a less-than-exceptional weapon and send them out against monsters.

"It's so well balanced," said Willow, marvelling at the weapon as she made a few short jabs. "Heavy, but not unexpectedly so."

"You'll grow into it."

"Hmm. Schnee are always tall."

It had certainly seemed that way with Willow and Winter and Jacques, up until Weiss came along. Qrow had always dimly wondered if Willow hadn't found some comfort with someone else for her. The difference in heights between Weiss and the rest of her family was a little jarring. Either way, he knew Willow would grow tall enough to use this, so it didn't matter. The weight would help her against Grimm as well. Light weapons were useful against people but risked snapping in great, hulking masses of bone and muscle. It was part of the reason why Omen had multiple dust blades. He expected them to snap when Raven tried to cleave through an Ursa and got the blade stuck.

Crescent Rose had been designed to give Ruby the power to cut through Grimm by virtue of a heavy blade and a kick from a backwards-facing dust shot. She'd made it, obviously, but he'd chipped in with ideas – mostly just to help make what she wanted work out. He'd forced Ruby to do every bit of the planning and building of it, mainly because he'd hoped it would make her realise it was too complicated a weapon and give up. He'd underestimated her, of course.

But the point was that most weapons didn't have the necessary power to cut through a Grimm without getting stuck. The same went for piercing ones like a spear. It was why combat styles like Taiyang and Yang's were viable. It was also why those who did use swords in some way, like him, Blake and even the Arc kid, tended to have chunkier, heavier weapons with enough thickness to survive being yanked out bone plating without snapping.

Myrtenaster had been a different beast from what he'd seen, made by a real master and probably costing several million lien. And besides that, it was dust-coated and usually used in conjunction with glyphs to offset its weaknesses. Willow could probably have done the same, but he wasn't about to make her a weapon prone to snapping in half.

"It's an excellent weapon," Ozpin said, more for the sake of Nicholas Schnee than him or Willow. They could tell from holding it, but the older man didn't have the same experience and to him it just looked like a pricy object. "Well balanced, functional forms and a lot of versatility – ideal for someone who might yet have time to mix up their combat style. I could not have suggested a better weapon, Miss Schnee."

Willow smiled and tested it with a few jabs and Nicholas Schnee took Ozpin at face value, grunting and smiling. He'd already been to the orphanage and set up the sponsor, but there always been the risk it would end if the spear wasn't good enough.

"Are you happy with it, darling?" he asked.

"I love it, daddy. Make sure Qrow is paid."

"I've already set up the deal—"

"He should be rewarded as well!" she insisted.

"Hmmm." Nicholas Schnee rolled his eyes but indulged her. Soft parenting, Qrow personally thought. Yang and Ruby got away with a lot, but Taiyang knew when to bring the hammer down. At least once he recovered from Summer's loss. Come to think of it, he didn't see a Mrs Schnee. Maybe Nicholas was still in that phase and didn't have the strength to talk her down. "You're not wrong. Sacrificing a reward to support homeless children is a worthwhile endeavour, but you should be rewarded for such courage. What do you want?"

"I don't need anything, sir. The orphanage is fine."

"You must want for something. Money? A home? I doubt you'd want me to adopt you, but I could purchase you and your sister a home in Signal."

Ozpin smiled and indicated he was content to let this play out. That probably meant he believed Nicholas to be 100% honest with this. Ozpin would have stepped in if he so much as caught a whiff of manipulations. It was tempting, Qrow would admit, but he and Raven didn't need their own place and he wasn't convinced they could look after one. Neither of them was particularly good at cleaning, which was more forgivable in someone her age than his. The bachelor lifestyle hadn't made him good at maintaining any place larger than an apartment.

He'd always thought it kind of incredible that Taiyang managed to keep a house clean on his own – and it was on his own because Yang and Ruby had to be whipped into doing chores, and even then, they did the bare minimum around the home. Yang would look after Ruby whenever she was asked to, but that meant takeout and a mess at the end of it. They were kids, after all.

"We're too young to be trusted with a house. We'd destroy it." His frank assessment drew a snort of amusement from Ozpin. "And the same goes for money, to be honest. If you give me a million lien it'll just get wasted on snacks and bee—" Ozpin's eyes narrowed, "—beeeing a spoilt teenager. You know. Normal things."

Ozpin was less than convinced.

"Then I will grant you a stipend," Nicholas declared. "Henceforth, you will receive two thousand lien a month into your account. Twenty-four thousand a year. This will continue all the way until you graduate the academy of your choice. Consider it a bursary if you will."

Sheesh. That was as much as the average annual wage for someone in Vale, and it'd be worth even more in the future given inflation. Trust it to be nothing more than a polite thank you to someone like this. "You really don't need to—"

"Accept generosity when it's handed to you!" Willow ordered.

Qrow sighed and glanced her way. "You realise I'm not one of your butlers you can order around, right? I'll stick my feet in the mud and be stubborn if I want."

Her eyes narrowed. "You will accept this."

"Will I…? Who's going to make me…?"

Her pale eyes narrowed. "A Schnee always gets what they want."

A Schnee might, but Willow wouldn't. Even if hearing her say that should have been funny, it was just a little depressing knowing what awaited her in the future. Fuck. Having knowledge of what was to come was heavy. Qrow pushed past it and offered her a cocky grin.

"Sounds like someone hasn't been told no very often."

"I'm not some spoilt princess! Daddy says no all the time! But you're being stubborn for the sake of it! You made my weapon, now take the money!" Willow paused, then eyed him oddly. "Unless you're hoping for some other reward."

Qrow raised a single eyebrow. "Are you flirting with me?"

"NO!"

Mr Schnee threw his head back and let out a loud laugh, which only grew louder when Willow rounded on him and demanded he stop. There was no stopping him, and he cradled his chest with one hand and balanced the other on a nearby wall. Willow huffed and crossed her arms, looking away with an angry red face.

"Oh, I've not laughed like that in a while. My decision is final, though. The money will be yours. Willow, dear, I know you want young Qrow to be looked after, but you can just say that instead of beating around the—"

"Daddy! You're entirely misunderstanding!"

"Hmm. Am I? Well, I suppose I must be." He chuckled again. "Now, didn't you say you wanted to test this weapon against him?"

Willow snapped the spear out toward his throat.

"I assumed that meant in an arena," Qrow drawled. "Not right here and now."

"T—This is me challenging you, idiot!"

Ozpin cleared his throat. "Why don't I go book a training ring for us?"

/-/

"Are you mocking me?"

Qrow paused in the arena, unsure why Willow was gripping her spear and glaring at him so much. He cocked an eyebrow. "What…?"

"Are you mocking me?" she repeated, hissing through her teeth. "Use your real weapon!"

The training sword in his hand, borrowed from the racks at Haven, was a simple but well-maintained sword. It was obvious the academy had good budget for weaponry, and that someone was taking care of them. "This is better than my weapon."

Willow stomped her foot. "You cannot be serious!"

"Ahem." Ozpin cleared his throat. "Mr Branwen is telling the truth, Miss Schnee. He's not actually built himself a weapon yet and still uses training weapons from Signal."

"What? Why!? You can build weapons like this and Bromen—"

"Omen."

"I don't care what it's called! Why haven't you made yourself a weapon yet!?"

That was probably a good question. He absolutely had the time, and Ozpin probably would have loaned him the materials if he wanted them. Or others would have provided him some in exchange for a weapon of their own.

"Honestly, I haven't seen the point." His casual admitting of that had her slack jawed. "I'm still in Signal for another year or so. I don't really need my own custom weapon yet, and other people have been a lot more urgent. Some of them are going to Beacon at the end of this year."

"How very noble!" said Mr Schnee.

Noble, yeah, sure. It was honestly more that he just hadn't felt the need. Harbinger would be made at some point or another, though maybe he'd use a different name for it this time. Harbinger and Omen had been him and Raven in what Yang would have called their "goth periods". Not that they had been, but they'd been edgy teenagers coming from the tribe thinking themselves hot shit, so of course they'd given their weapons edgy names. Older now, and with a lot more to remember, he was tempting to call it something to honour the important things in life. Maybe a dual combo he could call Yang and Ruby, or something close to that.

But, for now, the training weapons were more than good enough. He was only fighting other students anyway, and Raven using Omen against them was unfair enough as it was. Qrow hefted the sword and, without any warning, lunged for Willow's throat.

To her credit, she reacted quickly and twirled the spear like a staff to deflect his thrust aside, then stepped back and brought the butt of it down behind her. She was good, he was forced to admit, and the small amount of awkwardness in her stance could be attributed to getting used to her new weapon. Her feint for his head was a little too obvious, but the weapon was a different weight to what she was used to. He feinted his own parry, then directed it low to deflect the real stab for his stomach.

In truth, even had they been perfectly equal in skill, he'd have probably won just by virtue of not having to get used to such a drastic change in weaponry. But beating her wasn't the point. This was to let her test her new weapon out, so he skipped on the opening she left recovering from her attack and came in overhead instead, letting her bring the metal haft up to block.

Kicking away, she threw her free hand out and summoned a selection of white birds so nostalgically familiar to Winter's that he grinned and cut his way through as he had her. Nevermore were easy Grimm to kill, so it was no wonder she had some of them in her arsenal. What was different to Winter was the strategy, because when he finally sliced his way through them, he found not a sabre rushing for his face, but nothing at all. Willow was gone.

"Hyahhh!"

A spear thrust up from his left. Willow had used to Nevermore as a smokescreen to reposition and he, falling into bad habits with Winter, had completely missed it.

"Clever girl."

The hit caught his shoulder and the blast of dust from the shotgun attachment launched him across the arena, sending him rolling and skidding along it until he was able to push down and flip to his feet using the momentum of his own freefall. I deserved that for letting my guard down. Kinda glad Ruby and Yang aren't here to see me getting bitch-slapped across the ring by a girl Ruby's age.

Some things, you never lived down.

"What's the matter?" she teased, posing with her spear held behind her. "Am I too fast for you?"

Qrow's eye twitched. It shouldn't have gotten to him, and Willow certainly wasn't the wittiest at banter, but the simple fact a child her age had gotten the drop on him was the insult. He lunged and feinted right, cancelled and twisted low, slashing at her kneecaps. When Willow went for that, fully believing him committed, he let go of the sword entirely and drove an elbow into her gut. His sword skidded out the arena, carried away by gravity and leaving him unarmed.]

But he was Taiyang's best friend and Yang's uncle, not to mention a teacher at Signal. He wasn't the combat instructor, but he'd covered enough lessons when she was sick, and he'd be damned if he wasn't good enough to teach a pre-academy beat a lesson.

His assault was furious, sustained, and quick – and Willow did a surprisingly good job withstanding it for the first twenty seconds or so, showing she hadn't just focused on weapon skills to the detriment of all else. Private tuition, no doubt. The people her father paid for must have been determined to earn their worth and forced her to learn some hand-to-hand skills. Good on them. Good on her for lasting as long as she did as well, but it wasn't something she could keep going.

Eventually she faltered, and he snuck a hand through, struck her cheek to distract her, then looped his other hand under her armpit and turned to slam his hip into her waist. Pulling up on her arm and shoulder, he flipped her over him and onto the ground. He stepped on her spear and knelt so that his knee pressed against her neck. "Yield."

He expected anger, shame or embarrassment.

But Willow looked thrilled with his beatdown. "I yield!"

"The spar is over," said Ozpin. "Qrow Branwen is the winner. Good hand-to-hand skills, but I do believe the spar was intended to give Miss Schnee a chance to test her weapon, not for you to disarm and beat her to the ground."

Qrow blushed.

"It's fine!" Willow said, accepting his hand up. "I enjoyed this, and I'm more than happy with the weapon!"

Poor Mr Schnee looked like he was close to having a heart attack. Spars always looked intense to civilian parents, which was part of the reason why teachers from Signal often had to have one-on-one meetings with them. They were a rare breed, though. Well over 90% of huntsmen who made it to the academy level were from existing huntsman families. The drop-out rate from pre-academy to full academy for civilian-family huntsmen-in-training was huge.

It wasn't that they were weaker or less capable, but that they just didn't have the support structure behind them. No family members to spar with, no one to help them refine their skills. The teachers tried, they really did, but even taking time out his week to hold after-class sparring sessions didn't help all of them. It was always a matter of pride for them when one of their civilian students did make it to Beacon or another academy. It felt like they'd made a difference as teachers.

Willow had it lucky with her wealth and her private tutors.

But that didn't take away from her spirit.

"Good fight," he said, offering his hand. Willow shook it and didn't at all look unhappy with her loss.

"It was a good fight, but I want to have another once I'm used to my spear and when you have your own weapon."

"Sure. I'll look forward to it."

"How nice to see you getting along," said Ozpin, walking into the arena with Mr Schnee. "You're quite mature for your age, Miss Schnee. Not everyone takes a loss so gracefully."

"Thank you, sir." Willow offered a curtsey. "But I can accept a loss as a learning opportunity."

"That's my daughter," Nicholas said proudly. "Thank you for indulging her, young man. You're quite the mature one yourself, but I suppose you've had to grow up faster than most. Your stipend will begin next month. I'll have it organised through Ozpin."

"You really don't have to—"

"I won't hear any refusal. You're a good young man to give everything away to help those less fortunate, but you deserve something for yourself as well. I am well-off enough to provide. And what's the point of making so much money if you can't spend it on good causes?"

Profit, mostly. Qrow wondered if this cavalier attitude to it was what led the SDC to need Jacques in the future. It was hard to criticise a man for being so generous, though. It was a shame to think he wouldn't live much longer, but that was life. If it had been a Grimm attack then he might have intervened, butt the man was old, and time wasn't something you could fend off unless your name was Salem.

"Thank you, sir."

"Such a polite young man. Well, Willow. Do you have anything to say to him before we leave?"

"Yes." Willow took a deep breath. "I want to give you a reward for making my weapon as well. Close your eyes and hold out your hands."

Qrow rolled his eyes but did as she asked, waiting for some lien to be pushed into his palms. He'd spend it on sweets for Raven and Summer, most likely. It wasn't like he could go and spent it on booz—

Something soft pressed against his lips.

His eyes snapped open.

Willow was kissing him.

Willow was a child.

Welp. It was a good run but now I need to hand myself in to the police. I'm sorry, Raven. Your brother is a bad, bad man.

He was so shocked that he didn't say anything even after she pulled back, bright red in the face. She got even redder when she noticed his open eyes and incredulous stare. "I said to close your eyes!" she snapped, mortified. "That means you don't open them you— you idiot!" Willow turned with a huff. "D—Daddy, let's go."

Mr Schnee chuckled but bowed his head, waving goodbye as they both left.

"Well," said Ozpin, obviously amused. "What a special reward you've received."

"Don't tell Raven."

"Mr Branwen. Do you take me for a gossiping old maid?"

/-/

"Will you go out with me?"

"No."

"Not even just to get to know one another?"

"Did I stammer?"

A new school meant new people to fight but also new idiots, and this blonde idiot was the worst. The painful part was that he'd been a decent enough fight, even if he lost to Bromen's excellence. But now he'd turned into a moron pestering her for a date.

"Ask Summer, she's single."

"Eh!?" Summer glared. "Raven is single, too!"

"Shut up!"

"Please!" The boy got down on hands and knees. He wasn't ugly by any means, but she wasn't interested in any guys like that. Not when she needed to get stronger. "I can show you around Mistral and I promise you'll have a good time."

"No— You know what, fine. I'll give you a chance." His face lit up. "But you need to pass the same test every guy back home does. You need to beat my brother, Qrow, in a spar. Beat him and I'll go out with you."

It was the usual, impossible challenge and an easy way to get rid of him. Qrow regularly fought his way through idiots trying to win a date with her, and it was easier to let him do it than deal with idiots who couldn't take a no for an answer.

"I'll do it! I'll beat him or my name isn't Taiyang Xiao-Long!"

"You'll try. And I don't care what your name is."

"Miss Branwen. Miss Rose. I trust you have been on your best behaviour."

There was Ozpin, returning at last with her brother. Raven looked Qrow up and down and was pleased to see no bruises or cuts – not because she was worried about him, but because those might have suggested he'd lost his spar. He hadn't. Good.

"Why would you trust them with that?" asked Qrow. "Sounds like a bad idea."

Raven smirked and offered her sibling her middle finger. He returned it with a shit-eating grin of his own, and the world felt right again. Then his eyes slid to Taiyang, and his mouth dropped open. Ugh. She'd almost forgotten about him.

"Is this your brother?" asked the idiot.

He wasn't even as cute as that upper year in Beacon. Lame.

"Yeah, sure. This is my brother. Qrow, this is Schmang So-Long—"

"Taiyang Xiao-Long."

"Whatever." She rolled her eyes. "I told him I'd go out with him if he beat you in a fight. Can you kill him?"

"Ahem." Ozpin cleared his throat.

"Ugh. Fine. Qrow, can you politely bastardise him in a spar. Please and thank you."

"Not quite what I meant," said Ozpin. "And your brother has just come from one spar. Don't you think it wise to let him rest?"

"Pft. Like he needs it to beat this schmuck."

"Miss Branwen—"

"I'll do it!" Qrow said, stepping forward with hand outstretched. "Taiyang, was it? I'm Qrow. Nice to meet you."

"Oh. Hey." Despite being rivals or something, Taiyang grinned and shook his hand. "I'm Taiyang. Sorry if this is weird or anything, but your sister is kind of amazing. I watched her fight and wanted to get to know her better. Sorry if this is weird."

"Not at all, man. Not at all!"

Raven's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Do you two know one another…?"

"Never met him in my life," said Qrow.

"I don't think we've met," added Taiyang. "But you seem cool."

"I'm the coolest."

"I dunno about that, man. I mean, have you seen me? There's no shame in being second best."

Even Summer seemed surprised by the banter, looking between them with question marks in her eyes. Ozpin, too, had raised eyebrows and an odd smile. Qrow could just about function as a human being with her gang, with Rosebud especially, but even that wasn't banter. They'd talk and Qrow would answer questions, but it never had this air about it. He always treated Rosebud like he was a younger person to be looked after.

"What the hell is going on here?" asked Summer.

"I have no idea…"

"So!" Qrow grinned madly. "Spar. Here? Now?"

"I mean, I'm down to let you catch your breath if you're tired," Taiyang said. "Even if I want a date with your sister, it'd be lame to make you fight in this state."

"No. No. I'm fine. Better than fine."

Qrow dragged him to the arena.

"Did something happen to make Qrow this giddy?" asked Summer. She was looking straight at Ozpin.

"Well, Mr Branwen did get a kiss from a young lady."

"QROW KISSED SOMEONE!?" howled Raven.

"OZPIN, YOU GOSSIPING OLD MAID!" an angry voice came from the arena.

Ozpin didn't look overly bothered by the accusation. Raven was stunned, however. Qrow has kissed a girl. Qrow was interested in someone. Dully, she looked at Summer, as if to ask if it had ben her in disguise. Summer looked deeply offended.

What does this mean? Does it mean anything? It probably doesn't mean anything…

But he'd kissed a girl without getting her approval.

That was inexcusable.

"When this fight is over, Qrow and I are going to have words," growled Raven.

Summer wasn't paying her any attention, "You… uh… You may get that chance earlier than you expected. Eheh…"

"What?"

"And victory by submission goes to Taiyang Xiao-Long," Ozpin called out.

"WHAT!?"

The fight had been so quick that Raven missed it, but she caught Qrow on the floor on his front, an arm behind his back with his hand tapping the mat to signal his loss. It was a textbook armlock, and not at all special. Also not at all good enough to catch Qrow even on his worst day.

"Wow," said Summer. "He really phoned that one in."

"Quite the throw," Ozpin agreed. "And not very subtle, either."

Raven's jaw hung open.

"Heh." Taiyang was blushing. "Guess I get that date after all!"

"Welp," said Qrow. "I guess you do."

"QROW, YOU STUPID TWAT! I'LL KILL YOU!"


Forty-something man not so subtle at teenage matchmaking. Who could have guessed.


Next Chapter: 9th March

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