No update tomorrow as I'm an old man. Sadge.


Chapter 9


How does one properly react to seeing their beloved teammate, who has been dead for over ten years, not only as a small munchkin of a child, but crying her eyes out because of bullying? A teammate who had, in all the time Qrow had known her, been the definition of "badass". A teammate who had taken their team, bitch-slapped Raven into shape, and single-handedly slaughtered more Grimm in her life than Qrow had downed bottles of beer.

Okay, maybe the last bit was an exaggeration; he'd drunk a lot of beer.

Still!

Qrow was dimly aware of the fact his mouth was hanging open as Summer wiped her eyes on a handkerchief offered to her by Rosa. His weak joke had managed to break through her misery, but only as a distraction. He knew he should do or say something more, and that he should be better at this after helping look after Yang and Ruby. Cheering up kids was his ballpark, but he'd always managed it by making a fool of himself and getting them to laugh. Or through bribery. Ruby was much too easy to bribe with sweet treats.

"Qrow," said Rosa. "Stop staring."

"I'm not."

He was.

"So, uh, who hit you? Do you want to give me a name?"

"Mr Branwen, no," said Rosa. "I will not have vigilante action in school."

"What? No, no, no." He laughed as he shook his head. "I'm just saying the guy obviously wants a sparring partner, you know? Why else would he go hit someone like this? I think I should offer myself up is all. Let him have a crack at someone else for a change." He snapped his fingers, ignoring Rosa's unimpressed glare. "This is a training academy and all. I'll teach him to be careful who he throws his fist at." Qrow grinned. "And how to land properly, and how to take a few hits, and how to extricate himself from the toilet I'll stuff his head down."

Summer giggled through her tears and into the handkerchief.

Rosa sighed. "You cannot solve bullying with more bullying."

"Aren't you always saying us kids can achieve anything we put our minds to?"

Her eye twitched.

"If you become a bully to stop a bully then there will be no change in the number of bullies in the world."

A child his age might not have had a good answer for that. Qrow was not a child. "Just means I have to bully two bullies into stopping. And I can't stop. From there, I'm turning a profit."

Rosa opened her mouth, considered his point, closed her mouth, then glared at him. "No."

"My logic is sound."

"Which is why I am giving you an order right now not to harm anyone. And really, I don't think Summer would want you to do that. Would you, dear?"

"I kinda-"

"I said: Summer wouldn't want that. Would you, dear?"

Rosa put incredible strain on the question, but it somehow wasn't threatening at all. More like an inside joke. Summer giggled again, and Qrow had the feeling the teacher was deliberately bouncing off him to try and cheer Summer up. Rosa had always been cool like that. It was a damn shame she'd be an old woman by the time he was old enough to make a move on her. Damn shame.

He wished he could do more to cheer Summer up. It was a struggle not to just force himself into her face and tell her they had to become friends. He wanted to – he wanted to do a lot. Calm. For fuck's sake, do I want to scare her off? I come on too hard now and she'll bolt. Summer was right here, and she wouldn't be going anywhere until Beacon. He had time aplenty, and rushing things could make her avoid him forever.

"I'm sorry to cut things short, Qrow, but Summer needs me and your problems…" The woman eyed him shrewdly. "Well, your problems are myriad but since we've cleared out every drop of alcohol from your room, it's not like they'll get any worse."

Crap. He wanted to stay and listen in, but Summer wouldn't want that either. He was a stranger, and this was obviously a personal thing for her. Damn it all. He had to grit his teeth as he pushed himself up. His response was forced out. "That's fine. Hey… uh… Summer. Don't let some loser's words get to ya. Okay? So what if some idiot punched you today. You'll get stronger and knock 'em on their ass another day."

Rosa sighed. "Qrow…"

"I'm going. I'm going." He slid to the door. "But give me a shout if the guy who did this tries it again – I really do need to vent after my own sister sold me out. I'll be good – and Rosa won't even find the body."

"Out!" The teacher waved her hand, while Summer trembled with tears and laughter. "And no hiding bodies on my watch, Mr Branwen! Goodness, that boy. Don't take after him, Summer. He talks big but he'll be dead within the year if his liver has anything to say about it. Now then, let me get some ice for you. That's going to leave a bruise."

Qrow forced himself to close the door and walk away. It was hard. He'd finally found her, finally, after all these years of pain and grief; Summer Rose was there. And he had to walk away. Qrow bit his lip as he pushed himself to keep walking.

"It's just for now, Qrow. You've found her. You have years ahead with her. Time to rebuild everything and more. And so what if she has a few problems – just goes to show how she got past them and grew stronger. Summer did it once and she'll do it again."

Not on her own though. Not if he had any say.

/-/

"Are you still ignoring me?" asked Raven at breakfast. He ignored her. "Qrow. Qrooow." Her fist hit his arm so hard that it became difficult to ignore her, and yet he did it anyway through sheer force of spite. "Don't be such a bitch. I was looking out for you."

"Bullshit." He turned at last to look at her. Some of Raven's friends (hangers on one and all, but it felt rude to say that) tittered at their little domestic show. "You sold me out for a sword. Your own flesh and blood."

"That much booze was bad for you."

"I'd accept that if I believe for even a second that it was your reason for doing it." He held her gaze until Raven's eyes slid away. "I knew it. A sword, Ray. Seriously? It's just a weapon."

"It was just beer," she countered. Her face took on an annoyed edge as she glared back at him. "And I hate it when you're drunk!" she snapped, voice rising. "You don't react, you don't talk, you don't even fucking see the world around you! You just retreat into a haze and never come out!"

"That's my business."

"You're my brother!" she all but snarled. "That makes it my business! You think I like seeing you like that? I hate it – I hate you when you're drunk!" Raven grabbed her drink and threw it at him. It might have had a lot more impact if it wasn't a plastic carton she'd stabbed a straw into. A tiny amount of orange juice soaked his shirt. It was enough to send a message. Raven's chair slammed back as she rose and stormed away. He watched her go, stunned. Raven had gotten on his case about his bad habit in the future, but always in a mocking way. She'd never had a reaction like this before.

It was because she'd given up on him in the future, while she still cared here. Qrow sat there as rumours and gossip spread, and as the realisation that his sister was relying on him, and that he was all she had, trickled into his skull. This wasn't a grown woman who had grown used to loss insulting him for being a drunk. This was a child who had lost her parents, her home, been thrown into an orphanage and then brought to Signal. This last year had been nothing but upheaval for her, and she'd been clinging to him as a result.

Ah fuck. I really upset her, didn't I?

Damn it all. He'd been working on assumptions again – assuming that she'd be fine with it since she had been in the future and forgetting that she was a child. He eyed Raven's posse, who were glaring at him. "I'll say sorry to her later," he told them. "Give me a break."

"You should go now," one of them said. "Raven will be upset."

But I'm trying to find Summer, he thought, before wincing at how cruel that excuse sounded even in his head. He wanted to see Summer and try to befriend her, but he'd be ignoring Raven to do it. Not a bad trade in his opinion, but that was when he was talking about his bitch of a sister running the Branwen tribe, not his cute little dependent sister here in Signal. If she found out he'd left her to mope so that he could make friendly with another girl then she'd hate Summer. Good luck Team STRQ ever happening with Raven on the warpath.

"All right. All right. I'm going. Sheesh."

Crying kids in a school at their age weren't too difficult to predict for the most part. He'd been teaching for long enough to know the usual haunts – those being the restrooms, the dorms, and the roof. Nice, quiet places where no one would be at this hour where you could scream your lungs out without anyone knowing it was you.

That was most kids, though. Raven wasn't your average brat. Instead, Qrow made his way to the indoor gym, knowing that she wouldn't be outside because it would mean people watching her. Sure enough, Raven was showing a punching bag in the corner just how upset she was with him. The poor thing didn't stand much of a chance.

"Ray…"

"Fuck off." Raven slammed a knee into it with all her might. The whole thing jerked on its chain.

"Ray…"

"Ray, Ray, Ray. Is that all you can fucking say?"

He didn't think she'd appreciate him complimenting the rhyme when she was in a mood like this. Qrow caught the bag on the next kick and held it for her, but that just served as an invitation for her to go all out and really begin wailing on it, as if she was trying to dig through the thing to reach him and beat him black and blue. Qrow steadied himself and held his ground, hoping she might work it all out so he could talk to her like a normal human being.

That took time. Raven was not normal even by the standards of all the messed-up kids he'd taught in his time; she was pure vitriol, raw anger, and a thirsting desire to be strong enough to look after herself. He'd never noticed the last back when he was the same age as her, mostly because he'd been focused on his own problems, and it was easier for a kid to write someone off as an asshole. He'd always just assumed she was power-hungry for the sake of it. Might makes right and all that.

It seemed so obvious now, with the benefit both of hindsight and the ability to see it happening in real time, that Raven had been afraid. Afraid of being weak, afraid of being used, afraid of just dying in a pointless raid like their parents had. Afraid of growing up a beautiful but weak woman in a tribe of scum. He was glad he'd dragged them out of there before that could happen, because then he'd have had to murder a whole lot more people.

Eventually, the blows on the bag began to lessen in intensity. Raven was crazy, but she was only human. For now. Anger could only fuel you so far, and though she kept at it for a few more minutes, long past the point where she was run ragged, her body finally caught up with her. A last kick had her stumble back and almost fall, but she caught herself and took it as the sign it was, staggering back to a bench and dropping onto it. She was coated with sweat, and Qrow tossed her towel at her, and a bottle of water. Raven gripped it tight enough to crush it and drank angrily.

It was his best chance.

"Okay. So, I know I fucked up…"

"Mngnhm," Raven snarled around the bottle in her mouth.

"I worried you, and I didn't notice-" Which really was unforgivable at his age. "And it didn't occur to me that you'd not enjoy seeing me drinking." Because she'd always been fine with it before. When he'd been an adult. "I'd just like to say I'm sorry, and I know I fucked up, and if you want me to make it up to you somehow then I will."

Raven glared up at him from the bench and wiped the towel across her face hard enough to leave her skin red. Qrow didn't expect her to let an insult go for nothing, not Raven, so he stood his ground and waited for what was sure to be one unreasonable demand or another. He'd fulfil it, of course, because he really had screwed up and upset her, and because Qrow liked to think he was a man (or boy) of his word. Plus, he didn't want to neglect her and set her back on the path to becoming the bandit queen she'd ended up as.

"Is that all you're going to say sorry for?" she snapped.

Qrow frowned. "Is there more?"

It was the wrong thing to say, he knew, but the right thing was to know what he was meant to say sorry for, and he didn't. Raven scowled at him and picked up her drink, then stomped off to the women's changing room. He'd have gone in after her, rules be damned, but he could feel a few other people in the gym watching him. Sighing, he backed off to wait for her to come out, but realised after twenty whole minutes that she wasn't going to. It was a stakeout, and Raven was nothing if not stubborn enough to spend the whole day in a changing room if it meant winning.

He wracked his mind to figure out what he'd done this time, walking away from the gym, knowing he'd have a chance to corner her in their shared dorm later. The drinking was one thing she was pissed at, but what else? He'd taken to helping her train so it couldn't be that, and they regularly sparred together. They ate together, went to class together, studied together and slept together. Well, in the same room. The point was that he couldn't think of anything he might have done.

Maybe the problem is that I'm looking at this from an adult's point of view. Kids can be pretty damn irrational when it comes to holding grudges or falling out with their friends.

If only it were as simple as "thinking like a child". Qrow wasn't sure he could do that anymore than a typical forty-year-old could. Sure, he remembered being this age, but he didn't remember how it felt or what sort of logic his adolescent brain had run on. Hormones, mostly. He sincerely doubted Raven had a crush on someone. Taiyang had very much been the first, and very much an eye-opening experience for his sister, and even that took well over two years of Taiyang pining and Raven doing her best to ignore him.

"And she's likely to slit my throat if I suggest she's interested in someone." He let out a long sigh. "Damn it all, this is so confusing. Wait, I know!" It was obvious in hindsight. If he couldn't think like a teenager then he'd need to find someone who could, and who better than another girl?

It was an excuse at best, but it was one he could run with.

/-/

Summer Rose swung the wooden training weapon down again and again, feeling her arms burn. The pain wasn't fun, but it made her feel like she was getting stronger, and she liked to stick to that – like levelling up in one of the games she used to play back at grandpa's house. No pain no gain, they said, and she was sure that once she was strong enough, she could get back at-

"Hey! Summer, right?"

A treacherous shriek escaped her before she could clamp down on it. She'd been so focused she didn't hear someone come up behind her. She whirled on the spot, forgetting her weapon until she saw it whip across her vision and streak for the speaker's face. Oh no, no, no, she didn't mean to- The weapon slapped into the palm of the boy's hand, and she was absolutely certain she didn't imagine the tiny flare of aura let off by the impact.

Aura control still wasn't great among the students, or so their teachers kept saying. It was hard! Summer could block big hits by tensing up, which was about the level most of them were at, but controlling her aura so finely that she could concentrate it in her hand, at will, was way too hard! Summer didn't think anyone in class could manage that.

Except, apparently, for the strange boy who talked like an old man in Miss Rosa's office.

"I'm so sorry!" she gasped. "I didn't mean-"

"It's fine. I snuck on you. Besides, no one was harmed. You practicing?"

Summer nodded. She wasn't used to boys and girls coming up to talk to her, and he wasn't in her class – though he was in her year. Summer knew who Qrow Branwen was, of course. Most of their year, and a lot of upper years, did. He was without a doubt the strongest boy in their year, and the most desirable as a result. That didn't hold true for the upper years, but she heard they had "other reasons" to know who he was. Something to do with why he was in Miss Rosa's office, no doubt.

Why was he talking to her? She was, without a doubt, the least popular girl in their year. Not the dumbest or the weakest, but the butt of all the teasing, ever since her first class when they'd had to introduce themselves and she'd stood up and told everyone she was going to be the best "superhero" the world had ever seen. Of course, she'd meant it as a hero who saved people from the Grimm, but everyone had taken it as the comic book kind and she'd become a laughingstock. Maybe Qrow was talking to her because he hadn't been here for that. Him and his sister had joined the year later, brought over from Mistral after fighting in a tournament there. Summer knew because a lot of the other girls had looked it up to see their future boyfriend in action. They weren't exactly quiet about their gushing, either.

If they saw her talking with him then they'd be so much worse!

"Hello? Hey? Summer Rose? Is anyone there?"

"Ah!" Summer jumped and stuck her finger out at him. "You can't talk to me!"

"I… I can't…?" He wilted. "Why not?"

Oh crud, now she'd upset him. If they heard how she talked down to him then they'd be so much worse! Wait! Could she even win? Can't talk to him; can't not talk to him; can't upset him; can't make him happy. Summer's eyes swam dizzily, and she swayed, almost falling. He leapt to catch her but that only spooked her awake and had her hopping back.

"M'fine!" she blurted out.

"Yeah. Okay…"

And now he was looking at her like she was a skittish lamb. Great work. Another person convinced she was a weakling because she had an idealistic dream. Summer refused to call it childish no matter what the other kids said. The boy – who even she would admit was handsome. Not cute. Cute didn't really fit him because even at their age, he somehow managed to look older. Not adult old, but he had the air of someone a year or two above them. Maybe it was his height. Summer wasn't done growing yet, but even then she wasn't sure if she'd catch up to him.

Or maybe it was his eyes; they weren't "old" or whatever it was she'd read descriptions in her favourite novels call it, but they were always a bit lidded. Lazy, she'd have said, except that he looked out of them with such focus that it was closer to intense concentration.

A lot of the other boys and girls were wide-eyed and expressive, but he was always looking around with his upper eyelids hanging low, and a tired look to him. That didn't mean inattentive though, as several of his opponents in the rings had found out. Summer realised she'd been staring and brought her eyes down to his chest. Luckily, he had the school uniform on. She fixed her eyes between his top and second button down.

"Look," he said. "I'm not here to cause trouble. I was actually hoping you could help me out."

"I doubt that," she mumbled.

"You… Are you saying I'm lying…?"

"What?" Her eyes shot back up, panicked. "No! I – I mean I doubt I can help."

He stared back at her. "You don't even know what the problem is."

"Y – Yeah, but… I'm not very good at things." Summer looked away again and laughing nervously. "I don't know what I could help someone like you with." And Miss Rosa had been very clear that she was not to take after him, which was an odd thing to hear because half the boys in class tried to imitate him. It was kind of funny. "I probably wouldn't be much use."

"It's about girls."

"Ah." Summer winced. "Then I'll definitely not be any use."

"What? No, not like that!" He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. It was an odd gesture when his hair wasn't that long. Maybe he'd had longer hair before? He didn't seem to notice. "It's not about getting girls – I'll have you know I'm an expert at that."

"Are you…?"

"Ah." His thumb, pressing against his own chest, fell. "Uh. I mean, I will be. Sort of."

This was feeling disturbingly familiar.

"No, look, it's about my sister. I've upset her in a big way, and I don't know what I've done, and I figured since I'm a guy and pretty much hopeless at figuring it out, and because she isn't going to accept an apology until I know what I'm apologising for, that I'd come ask a girl her age for advice. And you're the one I know the best!"

Summer stared.

Qrow smiled hopefully back.

"We have never met before today," she said.

"Uh." He looked away. "We met in Miss Rosa's office yesterday."

"Fine. Never met before yesterday. How could you know me better than any other girl?"

"Because I don't know them at all…?"

"Doesn't your sister have a gang?"

It wasn't technically a gang, but they called themselves that and she'd heard they weren't afraid to beat up anyone who disagreed with them. It was better to call them a gang than earn their attention, and at least they hadn't picked on her. Summer was much too unimportant to be their target. They mostly followed Raven around anyway.

Summer wasn't sure what she thought of his sister. Raven was also pretty popular, but she wasn't as strong as him. She lost a few fights, especially when she kept challenging kids in the higher years, but a lot of people liked the spectacle of it. And the fact she was loud, abrasive, and always got in trouble. They saw her as a rebel in class. Summer wasn't sure, though. Raven never looked like she meant to get in trouble, but more like she couldn't understand why she would. There were all sorts of rumours about their past before the orphanage, but what was clear was that Raven had never been in a proper school before. But then Qrow did fine around the teachers. It was confusing.

"I... I guess I can try and help…?" she finally offered. "The other girls might take it as her stepping on their territory, but they were going to do that anyway just from her talking to him, and at least this way she'd not get on the bad side of his sister.

"Great. So, it went like this…"

Summer listened. And it took a lot of listening. Some suspension of disbelief, too. There were a lot of kids who liked to boast of having fought Grimm, drunk real alcohol and kissed girls, but most of them were talking out their butts. Given that she'd literally heard Miss Rosa chastise him for all the alcohol in his room however, she was sure Qrow wasn't. But hearing him talk about it so casually (and not at all boastfully) was more than a little strange.

Even more strange was his past before, which he dumped on her with no warning whatsoever. There were girls who would kill to have him confide in them, and yet he just told her that him and his sister had lived in the wild with a "wandering group" and that they'd been cast out after their parents died. No school, no formal education, but training in how to fight and a lot of experience surviving in harsh conditions. It sounded ridiculous. That he'd managed to drag him and his sister to civilisation was even crazier, and she was tempted to call him out on it.

"-and then she shouted at me that she didn't like seeing me drunk – which was when I realised I'd messed up there. I apologised for that, but I don't know what else she's upset about. The things she cares about most are fighting and sparring, and I train and spar with her every day."

"Ah. Um." Summer realised it was her turn to give an answer, after he'd poured his life out to her, and she really didn't have one. Oh no, he was going to be so angry. "Um." Summer's eyes darted around for answers. Summer threw out the first idea to cross her mind. "M-Maybe she's upset that you're not including her?"

His reddish eyes locked onto hers. "Really?"

Oh great, now she was even more on the spot. Summer had no idea if she was right or not, but she didn't know what else to say so she ran with it and hoped for the best. "Y – Yeah. You said you've always been together, and you helped her reach Mistral, s – so maybe she's upset that you went and did all those things here without her. Or that you didn't go to her if you needed help. Um. I think that if she thought you were the only person in the world that matters to her, that she'd not want to see you running off and doing things on your own."

"That…" Summer waited for him to tell her she was an idiot, eyes clenched shut. "That might be it…"

"Eh? Really!?"

"Yes." He slammed his fist into his palm. "Ray must feel like I didn't trust her or was trying to get away from her. Man, I'm such an idiot." He moved for her, and Summer gasped, and then gasped again when she realised he'd picked her up and was hugging her. "You're the best, Summer. Thank you so much!"

"Awawawawawa…" babbled Summer, helplessly.

"I'll let you know how it went!" he told her, releasing her and then jogging away. He waved back, a huge grin on his face. "You're a lifesaver!"

He'd hugged her. Touched her. Called her the best. Summer didn't know what to think, let alone how to stand. She stumbled and fell on her butt, at which point her back bumped into something hard. Looking up, she noticed three unhappy girls stood behind her, one of whom's legs she was resting against. They were each of them pretty, with their hair done up nicely and makeup around their eyes despite it being banned in Signal. Summer gulped.

"What do you think you're doing talking to him?" asked one.

"What does she think she's doing touching him?" asked the second.

"I – It's not what it looked like!" she shouted. "He came up to me. He hugged me. I didn't-"

Summer's words trailed off as something sticky and wet landed atop her head and ran down over her face, across both sides of her nose, over her chin, and down onto her white blouse, staining it. The scent of orange filled her nostrils as the last of them poured the juice over her. The carton came next, bouncing off her forehead once it was empty, and then the three of them walked on by, laughing, and content that their message had been delivered. Summer sniffed and brought her knees up to press her face into.

It hadn't been her fault he came and talked to her.

"But I didn't do anything…"


Next Chapter: 25th November

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