Same not as in other fics this week - just making sure all see it.


Hey all. To those who don't read it or didn't see, the business I work for is going insolvent. This is gong to cause some short-term chaos, but will change things for the better long-term. There's a more detailed post on my p a tr eon for free, but you don't need to read it. Basics here:

1) Company is going insolvent. I'm going to be involved in lots of meetings and stuff for the next while. Might take 2-3 months. I don't know as have never been involved in this before. This may cause sporadic or short updates, typically on weekday fics.

2) I will be OKAY so please don't worry or feel you need to rush to support me. I've wanted to quit for a while but had too much loyalty to staff to leave them. I want to commit to full-time writing, so I'll be happy once this is concluded.

3) I'll do my best to keep updates going as usual but if you see me absent for a day, please assume it's me being called to meetings with accountants and insolvency agency. I won't always be available to post a notice on my profile but just assume it's the reason.


Cover Art: Aristeo Storm

Chapter 32


The day – or evening, really – of the graduation prom came with a whole lot of unnecessary fanfare in Qrow's humble opinion. There was an absolute flurry of last-minute confessions between boys and girls which really were too little too late. It wasn't that he was aromantic, but it just seemed like a recipe for heartbreak to keep your feelings pent up forever and confess when you were about to part that you'd always like one another.

What was better at that point? To be rejected and know it'd have never worked, or for them to accept and to realise you'd missed out on the opportunity to date because of fear, and to then see them go to another school far away and know the chance was gone forever? Better to have loved and lost, they said, but it was always easy for philosophers to sound smart when they weren't knee deep in the mess.

Qrow received his fair share of confessions, too. Not as many as Raven, thankfully, but enough that he tried to field off with the tact an adult should have, and which he probably failed at. Trying to let someone down easily wasn't a skill he'd mastered even in old age, and teenage girls were much less emotionally stable than the women he'd known in his life. Despite his best efforts, there'd been no shortage of girls running away in floods of tears.

Or boys from Raven, though she also got her set of "nice guys" who, after confessing their love and being rejected, felt the correct response was to shout abuse at her like she was a cruel bitch who "never gave them a chance" when they'd wasted so much of their lives pining for her. Typically, Raven had responded with her usual tact.

"You chose to waste your life on me. I never asked for it."

At least he hadn't had to deal with that from the girls.

Summer had received two confessions as well, which seemed to surprise her – which, in turn, surprised him, because he'd never really pegged her as someone who'd be self-conscious about her image and think no one would like her. Summer was good looking for her age and had plenty of admirers. Then again, even Yang had managed to go through a phase of thinking herself ugly. Over-analysis appeared to run in the family.

Most huntresses and huntsmen got over it fast enough. It was hard to feel like you should stick to unrealistic beauty standards when your very lifestyle forced muscle mass and calories on you. Trying to stick to a movie actress diet to look stick-thin would literally put a huntress-in-training in the hospital due to malnutrition. You needed calories, and they trained rigorously for hours a day. It was yet another reason kids from families outside the huntsmen lifestyle struggled, because they'd grown up being told that thin women lithe men were the definitions of beauty and what they should aspire to look like.

I'll be glad to be out of Signal, thought Qrow. Being here keeps reminding me I'm a teacher and making me go on rants criticising the youth of today. Or the youth of tomorrow. Just one silly teenage prom to get through and then I'm done.

He couldn't wait for Beacon to start.

Of course, the prom was still important to others, including Summer, so Qrow dressed up and had his hair cut at a barber in Patch. He didn't much care, but she'd want him to look good for any of those over-priced photos they sold at these events. He shaved off the thin patches of hair on his chin that had yet to become thick enough to be called stubble, and showered off, scrubbing dry and putting on just enough aftershave to not be offensive. Another skill a lot of boys their age hadn't mastered yet – just because you couldn't smell your aftershave didn't mean you needed more. With a chuckle, he pulled on the overly constricting suit and checked himself in the mirror.

"You know, I hate suits," he said to himself, "but I have to admit they make a man look good."

Formal events still weren't his thing but the truth was the truth. He looked damn good in a well-fitted suit long coattails, and his Semblance hadn't even stepped in to ruin it. Not that it would bother this early. It'd want to wait for the moment of greatest embarrassment before it made him tear a whole in his pants. But he'd prepared and worn black boxers today, so even if a hole did appear, it'd be hard to notice.

"Other guys don't have to dress around their Semblances, you know. Why do you have to sabotage me so much?" His reflection, and his Semblance, had no answers for him. "Typical. Even my Semblance is blanking me."

A knock came at the door, followed by Raven's voice. "You decent?"

"I'm always decent."

"Debatable," she said, pushing inside. Raven's dress was a deep purple with black lace and shoes. It was long, reaching down to her feet. "This thing is a pain in the ass. How come I don't get to wear pants and a suit?"

"I mean, are there any rules against that?"

"Yeah, Summer's rules."

"Ah. Well, there's your answer. Because Summer won't let you."

"I wonder if she's worth it sometimes." Raven was lying, he knew, and just annoyed. She flopped on her bed and peeled her skirt up her bare legs. There were a lot of guys in Signal who would kill to see what he rolled his eyes and turned away from. "This skirt is too fucking long."

"You could have gone shorter."

"Didn't want to deal with asshats gawking at my legs. Gh. This would be fine if Summer let me wear boots underneath. You can't even see my feet so who gives a shit? These heels are killing me."

"I've never seen the point myself, either."

"Of course you haven't," she snorted. "We grew up together. Can you imagine heels in the tribe?"

Qrow laughed, even as he reminded himself there was, in her mind, no opportunities for him to have formed different opinions. It wasn't like she'd known he'd spent decades growing up. Lucky, then, that he shared the same opinion on high heels. Neither Yang nor Ruby liked them either. Smart girls. They both wore boots.

Special occasions were special occasions, though.

Raven had worn slippers and a long gown for her wedding, and she'd worn it willingly, too happy at Taiyang slipping a ring onto her finger to care about how the shoes felt, or how odd she'd looked in such a soft dress.

Better times.

Times that would come again soon.

"It's about time," he said. "You ready to go pick up Summer?"

"Go ahead without me," she grunted. "I'll catch up. I just need my feet to stop hurting."

"Don't take too long or Summer will come look for you."

Raven snorted. "I think she'll be too distracted to care."

"Distracted with what?"

"The prom, idiot." Raven rolled her eyes. "This is a big deal for her. Try not to fuck it up, okay?"

Qrow rolled his eyes. He might not be enthusiastic about all this but it was a little much to say he was going to ruin it for Summer. It wasn't like he was going to be a sore attendee and make her night worse or anything.

/-/

Summer's dress was red, as promised, with white accents and a white scarf. It wasn't called a scarf, of course, but the name eluded him. It was more like a shawl, but thin and lacey and dangling down her shoulders, the end being toyed with by thin red gloves that reached to her elbows.

Most noticeably, Summer had curled her hair. He'd only ever seen it straight and wasn't sure what to make of it. She looked good, but so different to how he always thought of her that he had to stop and stare for several long seconds.

Summer tilted her head away. "Is it too much?"

"No. You look good." He recovered swiftly. It was more surprise than shock. "You look great, Summer. I'm just not used to seeing you so dressed up."

"I wanted to make an effort tonight."

For the prom, of course. He still didn't quite know why it was so important to everyone, but he and Raven were kids from a bandit tribe, so he chalked it up as one of those unknowable cultural things that they'd just missed out on. It was easier to assume they just didn't get it than it was to believe so many other people could be wrong.

"The effort has definitely paid off. I feel like a peasant next to you!"

Summer giggled and covered her mouth, angling her body away shyly. It was a little strange for her, must have been the "prom mood" going about making everyone act all weird.

"You look handsome as well."

"Hah. A suit like this can make any man look good."

Summer ought to see how Taiyang looked when he dressed up. Man filled out a suit like a banana did its skin, and while that metaphor didn't work so well, Taiyang was still an absolute snack according to any woman who saw him.

A benefit to wing manning Taiyang for so long was knowing when to extend his arm and take Summer's, and how to slowly walk toward the prom. It was tempting to move at a normal pace, but Summer sure as hell couldn't in a dress with heels. As Taiyang would say, you're supposed to "take your time and enjoy your date's company", not march about like you were on a deadline.

And he really wasn't on a deadline. It'd be years before Cinder Fall was even born.

Summer clung to his arm and leaned heavily on him the whole time, a fact he attributed to her being uneven on those heels. He let her, not all that upset at the warm weight. They chatted lightly as they waited in line, everyone showing up early but not being allowed inside the hall until the buffet was set. It was a measure to protect the punch from being spiked, he was sure, and that was a damn shame.

"Where's Raven, by the way?"

"Struggling with those heels. She said she'd catch up with us later."

"Hmmm." Summer didn't sound as annoyed by that as he expected. "That's nice of her."

"To what, show up?"

"Not that. Um. Oh look, the doors are opening."

They weren't, but before he could call her out on the weak distraction, they actually cracked and began to open. He caught Summer's relieved breath and rolled his eyes. The two of them joined the line with the other students, everyone needing to be ticked off a register as they entered. Qrow highly doubted anyone would actually try and sneak in but you never knew. The White Fang wasn't a dangerous terrorist group just yet, but that didn't mean weirdos didn't exist, though this was more likely to catch people trying to smuggle girlfriends or boyfriends inside.

On the inside, a large dance floor stood illuminated by neon lights while a bunch of amps played out music. There was no live band but they had brought in a DJ, and it wasn't like anyone here was old enough to be so picky. There were several tables stacked with food and snacks, and another two with drinks of various non-alcoholic varieties. A teacher stood behind them, shrewdly looking over those who approached. The teacher's eyes rose, caught Qrow's, and he shook his head warningly.

Talk about an unfair reputation. I haven't even done anything!

Yet, anyway.

"Are you thirsty?" asked Summer. "You're looking at the tables."

"Ah, no. Just the teacher giving me the stink-eye." He laughed. "I'm not really all that sure what to do at a prom like this, so how about you take the lead. I'm happy to follow."

He did know what to do, mostly anyway, but being an old man made it feel awkward to set the pace. Easier to let Summer decide and then tell himself he was going along with it to make her happy. It wasn't even untrue.

And with how widely she smiled, he knew she was happy. "Let's dance!"

"This early? We'll be the first ones."

"That's perfect," she said, drawing him with one arm. "There's no one to compare us to."

Dancing was one of those skills Qrow had never bothered to master. Luckily, Summer was only sixteen and three quarters, and so wasn't much of a dancer herself. No one here was. Qrow simply took her hand in one, placed his other on her hip, and suddenly they were dancing just as well as the others there, and better than most.

Apparently, it was enough for Summer to be happy. She stared up at him with vibrant silver eyes, her painted lips glimmering in the flashing lights as the slow music played. Realising she wasn't expecting anything too impressive, Qrow relaxed into it, finally allowing himself a small grin of his own as they moved about the dancefloor with the others.

Maybe this wouldn't be so difficult after all.

It was a shock to find Summer wanted to spend almost three quarters of an hour on the dancefloor like that, and she only surrendered when her feet must have been in agony. "We can dance again later," he assured her, helping her limp off toward the buffet. "I never realised you liked dancing so much."

"This is a special moment," she whispered back.

Was it really? He supposed so, given it was her first ever graduation, and thus first prom. Qrow resisted the urge to roll his eyes and let her have her fun. "Fine. Fine. I promise you more dances later, then."

"You're my date, so you should dance with me whenever I ask."

"How very demanding. Oh look, it's Raven."

Ray saw them coming and grimaced, making to book it for some reason or another. He wasn't sure what he'd done to deserve it, but they got to her before she could run.

"You idiot," she grumbled.

"What?" he asked back. "Is there some reason my sister is running away from me?"

"I'm trying not to be a third wheel."

"Hah. You're welcome to join in, you know."

Raven looked kind of ill at the suggestion. "You really are dumb, aren't you? I'm trying to let you have your—" Summer laughed awkwardly and made a slicing motion across her throat toward Raven. Qrow caught it but wasn't sure what it meant. Raven just sighed. "Ugh. Whatever. I'm not even sure why I'm here."

"Hmmm." Qrow looked her up and down. Raven looked good, but also relaxed. "Hmmm." Without warning, he stuck a hand down, grabbed her long skirt about halfway up and lifted it a foot or so to expose Raven's legs.

"Oi!" she swore, yanking it down.

Summer gasped in shock.

And then, Summer gasped in anger. "RAVEN!" she hissed. "Where are your heels!?"

"Nevermore abducted them."

"You filthy liar! You're wearing boots!"

"Yeah, I am, but who cares?" Raven glared at him and pulled her skirt back down over the heavy, black boots. "No one can fucking see them anyway."

"What if you step on someone's feet when dancing?"

"First of all, I'm not dancing. Secondly, I'll do a whole lot less damage with these boots than I would a stiletto heel. Thirdly, I don't care for looking pretty like a certain someone does tonight—" Raven dodged back from Summer's claws. "What? I called you pretty. That's a compliment."

Bright red in the face, Summer Rose frantically shook her head at Raven.

Qrow raised an eyebrow.

"Is this a woman-only conversation that happens without words?"

Summer tugged his arm tight against her side. "Nope. Raven just thinks she's being clever when she's not, but that's normal for an idiot like her."

Raven made to retort then, in a rare instance of not rising to a fight, thought better of it. "Whatever. You two lovebirds can do your own thing. I'm going to eat, drink, and fantasise about pulling out a chainsaw on half the guys here."

"Don't kill any who ask for a dance!" called Qrow.

"Don't tell me what to do."

Raven stomped off on her boots, making sure to slam them down with every step just to annoy Summer further. A few guys, having been within hearing distance, wisely got out her way when they'd looked like they were tempted to ask for a dance before. Signal really was full of hormone-addled idiots who would throw away all common sense when faced by a pretty face. He'd said it before, but teenagers were the worst.

"We should go outside," Summer said, smiling at him once more. "I've heard there's going to be a fireworks display at nine. Apparently, it's to mark the official time at which we graduate."

It was the official time at when their papers were filed. That was the excuse, anyway. Qrow knew the true reason was that the teachers just picked a time so they could get it over with. When punch often did end up spiked, they didn't want fireworks hanging around. Better to shoot them off when everyone was still sober.

But Summer didn't need to know the boring truth behind the pretty lie.

"Sure. You won't be cold out there, will you?"

"I have you to keep me warm, don't I?"

He chuckled. "Would you like my jacket?"

"No." Summer squeezed against his side instead. "I have you to keep me warm."

/-/

The fireworks were better than he remembered.

Maybe it was dust shortages and cost, or inflation, or just the fact he was watching them from the intended distance and not jogging between them setting them off and trying not to have his Semblance kill him in the act. Either way, not having to work tonight and just being able to enjoy the display made it a lot better.

The fact that he had Summer, his long lost friend, at his side once more made it perfect.

His arm gently tightened around her.

Summer leaned into him.

He was worried about the future, he'd admit, and how he'd manage to bring about Yang and Ruby both when he didn't want Raven to divorce Taiyang this time, but those concerns would be dealt with. Summer loved Taiyang so much, and Raven loved Summer, so maybe he could convince them into an unconventional relationship. It didn't sound so impossible when Taiyang was involved.

"I'm glad you came to Signal," Summer whispered.

"Me too."

"I'm glad I met you."

"More like I forced my presence on you."

Summer giggled. "But I'm still glad. I... Qrow, I... There's something I want to tell you... I..."

"Hm?"

He looked down, meeting her eyes as she gazed back up at him, her bottom lip pinched by her teeth. She looked so nervous, so alike to Ruby, that he wanted to ruffle her hair and tell her everything would be okay. Summer was a year and a half older than Ruby when she made it into Beacon, and Summer would be seventeen come the start of it, but they still looked alike. Mostly, anyway. Summer was a few inches taller, but then she was still short compared to him.

But none of that mattered. This was Summer. This was his teammate. This was his best friend. This was the woman he'd lost, who had left a gaping hole in his heart. This was Ruby and Yang's mother, Taiyang's wife, and his best friend.

"I like you!" she whispered.

Qrow smiled back at her, hugging her against his side. "I like you too, dummy."

Summer sucked in a breath.

"And I'm glad we're friends."

Summer's eyes widened, and then she looked down and away, no doubt flustered by his uncharacteristic display of affection. She refused to look back up at him, drawing her knees up as they sat on the grass and watched the fireworks herald the end of what was but the first step of their lives.

His fate for the evening didn't have much to say after that, but that was fine. Everything that needed to be said had been said, and it wasn't like they were going anywhere. They'd be spending the summer together, then four years at Beacon, and hopefully the rest of their lives as well. Qrow grinned and made a mental note to not show up drunk to their wedding this time. This time, he'd prove himself worthy of the title of "best man" and not embarrass them.

If he had his way, he'd never disappoint Summer again.

/-/

Raven found Summer sniffling and wiping away tears with her hand in the girl's bathroom near their dorms, hidden away in a cubicle sat upon a toilet with the seat down. Crying was for the weak, which was why she chose to ignore it was happening and simply let herself in, locked the cubicle door and leaned on the wall.

Summer wasn't weak. This was just a moment.

"Do I need to kill him?"

"No." Summer choked a little but forced out a smile. "He didn't say no. He didn't reject me."

"Then why...?"

"He didn't notice. Never figured it out." Summer laughed hoarsely. "He thought we were just going as friends, even after I dressed up and danced with him. He... He said he was glad we're friends." Summer choked on her words. "A—And that's better than him saying no, isn't it? At least I still have a chance."

It didn't look like it was better. Raven intended to still hit her brother despite Summer saying she didn't have to.

"I'm just... This is because I was so worked up," Summer said. "I put everything into this, planned it all, and now it's just... it's not even wasted, just... it didn't matter." Another laugh, this time slightly hysterical. "I'll be okay, Ray. I just thought it would be over. He'd know, I'd get an answer, all the uncertainty and butterflies would be done with. But they're not and they're going to continue, and I just want to go to bed."

"I'll hit him."

"Nooo, please. Qrow was great. I... I wasn't clear enough."

"Bitch, you were clear as a fist to the face. He's just a dumb idiot who can't read the signs if they aren't tattooed to the insides of his eyelids." Raven knew she wasn't much better but come on, at least she knew when guys were trying to flirt with her. "And it's not like it's all bad," she added, taking a note from – of all people – Taiyang. Or at least what Qrow kept saying to Taiyang. "He rejected a whole load of girls leading up to this but said yes to you. If he didn't care, then he'd have said no straight away."

Summer tried to smile. "You always say that's bullshit when Qrow says it about that guy from Mistral."

"We've already established Qrow is an idiot. Besides, you're going to be spending all summer together, then four years in Beacon. There's plenty of time to beat your feelings through his thick skull, right?"

Summer sniffed and nodded. "Hmm."

"You'll have chances. Qrow isn't going to be able to stay dumb forever. Just let a towel slip when we share a dorm—" Summer squawked and punched her arm. "What? It'll work. I mean, you could always just jump him naked and kiss him. Hard to misunderstand that one— ow! Stop hitting me."

"Stop saying stupid things, then!" Summer growled.

But she wasn't crying.

"Maybe if you weren't such a bitch out here moaning because Qrow didn't figure out you fancy him. Geez. Talk about pathetic."

"You bitch!" Summer cried. "I'll kick your ass!"

"Like you could."

With a howl, Summer tackled her to the floor. Their fight was swift, vicious, and involved a lot more hairpulling and scratching than Raven normally liked in a fight. But it was cathartic for Summer and it stopped her crying. It took her mind off Qrow being a stupid twat and not picking up on Summer's many, many cues.

And to be fair, he hadn't rejected her. Raven knew he cared for Summer more than almost anyone else, maybe even her sometimes. Besides, they'd have years together, the three of them and whichever person won the last spot. Not Taiyang, obviously, despite Qrow's constant badgering.

That guy was too weak to make it into Beacon.


Next Chapter: 1st June

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