It was hot.
It was blisteringly, blazingly hot. The sun beat down from an empty sky and even the dried grass underfoot was hot to the touch. Even in the shade the heat was oppressive, a heavy weight that bore down anyone standing under it.
James brought his horse to a halt on a ridge overlooking the town, and dismounted. He’d left Long Lake three days ago, and three days of hard riding had brought him finally to Mantel. He stretched, hearing joints pop, and reached up automatically to scratch Vagabond’s cheek when the horse put a head over his shoulder.
“What do you think?” he said. “Does it look like the sort of place that’s crawling with bandits?”
Vagabond just snorted and turned away without interest, leaning his head down to crop at some grass instead. James smiled, and patted his neck.
“We don’t really have time for a snack break, my friend,” he said. “But we should get to the town in time for a late lunch. All right, come on.” He grabbed the saddle and hauled himself up, urging Vagabond onward, toward the town.
The man tied over the back of Qrow’s saddle was waking up. Qrow paid him little attention, watching over Chance’s ears as they headed toward the watchhouse, but when the guy started swearing, Qrow reached back and thumped him.
“Shut your mouth,” he grumbled, then reached into his vest for his flask. Empty. He scowled, and looked longingly to The Beacon as they passed it, where he could hopefully soon go get a drink and some lunch. Chance, sensing his rider’s thoughts, snorted and shook his head, plodding on toward the watchhouse. Qrow sighed.
Town sheriff Winter Schnee was not having the best day. It wasn’t awful, but it was about to get a lot worse. She looked up from the letter on her desk when the door burst open, followed by a booted foot and followed, behind that, by one of her least favorite people to deal with: Qrow Branwen, bounty hunter, town drunk, and walking headache. He had a person thrown over his shoulder. She rubbed at her temples and reminded herself to hold her temper, and then shot him a glare.
“I have a doorknob ,” she said. He just dumped the man on the floor with a grunt, then straightened up and turned around to squint at said doorknob. He turned back to her.
“So you do.”
“Qrow.” She ran a hand through her hair and took a deep breath. “What do you want?”
“Paying.” He aimed a light kick at the man on the floor, tipping him onto his back so that Winter could see his face. He folded his arms. “He’s not worth as much as the guy I was trying for, but it’s a little bit more scum no longer bothering our fair little town.”
Winter had rarely heard anyone turn an innocent phrase into something so vulgar-sounding, but that was Qrow. She pulled the bandit up to his feet and prodded him toward the cells, while Qrow moved to lean back on her desk and take out his flask to wait.
Once she was in the back, Qrow leaned back a little further and eyed the letter she’d been reading. It was invasive and disregarded her privacy and undermined her authority, which was the main reason he did it, but it also helped him to know what was going on in the town. And it annoyed her since she knew he was doing it but had never been able to catch him, and that was even better.
The letter was from the Atlas Council, and a quick skim told him that there was a Marshall coming to deal with their bandit problem. A handsome Marshall, judging by his picture, Qrow added to himself, twisting his head a little so he could get a better look at the tiny photograph. He scanned for the name- ah, there it was. James Ironwood. He looked military, and would probably impress Winter.
A board near the door creaked, and Qrow shifted away, turning his full attention to his flask and letting a slightly glazed look take over his expression. He gave Winter a smile with an unnerving amount of teeth as she opened the door- in two years, she had never figured out the tells that the building held for him, but then she hadn’t spent a decade wrapping the building around her like a cloak or a particularly well-worn blanket the way he had before she’d ousted him.
Her eyes flicked over to the letter in a completely unsubtle motion, but he gave no indication that he’d read it or that he’d even noticed it, instead capping his flask and returning it to his shirt. He moved over to the bulletin board with her, and watched while she ran her eyes over the various posters.
When she reached for one, his hand shot out like lightning and caught her wrist. His smile didn’t leave his face when he said, “Look again, sweetheart. My guy had a smaller nose and a mole under his ear.” He let go of her wrist and reached for a different poster. “ This is my guy. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to make a mistake like that, and cheat me out of my hard earned money.”
“Of course,” she said stiffly, and took the poster in question. She moved back over to her desk and took out an envelope and a bank voucher. While she filled out both his payment and the forms to send back to the council for reimbursement of the bounty, he ambled over to the poster wall again. A face caught his eye, and he turned to scowl at her.
“I brought this guy in two months ago,” he said. “He should be rotting in prison waiting for a death sentence. What is he doing back on the wall?”
Winter looked up, returning his glare before lowering her gaze again. “He got out on a loophole,” she muttered. “And immediately went back to his crimes.”
“A loophole?! He murdered three kids! What kinda fucking loophole-“
“It was a legal loophole,” Winter repeated, teeth gritted in anger. “I had nothing to do with it. Here’s your money. Don’t spend it all on drink- oh, whatever, we both know you will.”
She brandished the voucher at him, and turned her attention back to the letter she’d been reading.
The dismissal was clear. Qrow took the voucher and left, ambling over to the bank so he could throw the money into his account, still fuming about the escape of the man he’d brought in once. He sneered. He had a feeling he knew what “loophole” had let the man off, and he suspected Winter had been involved, if only for the paperwork she’d been asked to fudge for the sake of it.
Once he’d gotten his payment sorted out, Qrow shoved his hands into his pockets and slouched down the street to Beacon. Chance followed after him, tack jingling merrily in anticipation of the comfortable stable he had waiting on him.
“Go on around,” he said, giving the horse a friendly pat on the neck. “I’ll be back there in a second.”
Chance gave him a look of judgment, then turned and trotted around the building to the stables, where Qrow trusted one of the hands to unsaddle him. He pushed open the door to the saloon and looked around until he spotted a tall, stern woman cleaning one of the tables. When he came in, she looked up, and sighed.
“You could at least pretend to be happy to see me.”
“I’m ecstatic,” she said drily.
“Yeah, you look it.” He didn’t bother stopping on his way through the building. “Have some food and a bath set up in my room, yeah? I’m starving and dirty.”
“You could say please!” she called a parting shot as he passed through the door. She huffed and went back to wiping the table, but Qrow poked his head back through the door and gave her a disarming smile, or at least a smile that would be disarming to someone who hadn't known him for half a decade.
By the time Qrow had finally gotten Chance settled and come back in, Glynda had managed to conjure a hot bath in his room. Once he’d cleaned himself up- and it was nice to be clean again, to feel human again- he headed back downstairs, where he could smell food cooking, and hopped up onto a stool. He’d barely sat before Glynda had come over to him with a plate.
“Supper won’t be served for a few more hours, but I know you must be famished after your ride so I made you a plate.”
“You’re an angel, Glynda,” he said, grabbing his fork and digging in. He’d missed lunch, and he was starving: for a few minutes, there was just the sound of Qrow eating and Glynda arranging bottles, but once he’d cleared his plate she’d put a drink in front of him. He knocked it back in one quick go, and beckoned for another, then said,
“So what do you know about Schnee calling in a Marshall from the capitol?”
Glynda sighed. “You heard.”
“I did. What’s going on?”
“What makes you think I know?”
“Because you run the bar. You know everything that goes on in this town. Come on, Glynda, I’ve been away. What’s going on?”
Gynda hesitated, and, “There was a raid, while you were gone. Schnee’s second daughter was taken by the tribe. Winter rounded up a posse and rescued her. After that, Jacques decided he’d had enough and sent away for a Marshall to solve our bandit problem once and for all.”
Qrow considered this, then drained his drink, and drummed his fingers on the counter thoughtfully. “Okay,” he finally said. “Now what aren’t you telling me?”
“Weiss… may not have been kidnapped. Not exactly.”
“She might have been running away. Jacques held a ball, a charity ball-” She paused, while Qrow sneered. “-and according to what I heard , Weiss lost her temper on one of the guests. After that, she wasn’t seen for a few days, and next thing you know, she’s been kidnapped? You know she’s friends with your girls,” Glynda added.
He nodded and took a long time on the fresh drink she set in front of him, running through the various angles of the scenario in his head. Once he’d done, he went on.
“So this Marshall- know when he’s getting here?”
“Last Winter heard from him he was leaving Long Lake, so he should be here today or tomorrow. Winter has me putting him up here- I think she doesn’t want him at the manor.”
“Tch. Even a Marshall isn’t good enough for her highness?” He snorted. “I’d think she’d be all over impressing him, he looks like just her sort.”
“Looks- Qrow, were you reading Winter’s mail again?”
“Eh, that mail should be mine anyway.”
“What? Come on, Glynda, you know I’m right! She’s a child, she should never have been given that badge- just cause her dad…” He broke off, and sneered again. Glynda passed him a fresh drink without a word, and he took a gulp before slamming it down on the counter and jabbing a finger in her direction. “That bastard thinks he can just come in and ruin our town- everything we worked so hard to build- all down the drain!” He downed the rest of the drink. “You know I’m right.”
James was met at the watchhouse by a young woman- a very young woman- wearing the silver star of a sheriff. She snapped into attention when she saw him, but he dismissed ceremony with a wave of his hand. He strode closer and took her hand in his own.
“Marshall James Ironwood,” he said. “Sheriff Schnee?”
“Please, just Winter will do.”
“Winter, then. It’s good to meet you.” He smiled, and reached into his riding jacket to take out his papers. “My identification, and a letter from the Council, regarding their intentions toward Mantel. I also picked up these while I was in Long Lake,” he added, reaching into a different pocket and pulling out several letters addressed to citizens of the town. “I thought I’d save the courier a trip.”
“Thank you.” She took the stack of envelopes, and noticed the top one was addressed to Qrow, then set them aside. “I’ll take those to the post office once I’ve gotten you taken care of.”
Once she’d gotten him taken care of, Winter directed him to Beacon and then leaned back in her chair, eyeing the stack of letters he’d brought. She wasn’t planning to open the letter, of course. It wasn’t addressed to her, and while Qrow might be willing to read someone else’s mail, she would not stoop to his level.
But the return address gave her pause. Why would Qrow be getting a letter from someone in Mistral, of all places?
She drummed her fingers irritably on the desk, staring at the letter and willing it to either give up its secrets, or release its hold on her.
Eventually, and with a huff, she picked them all up and stormed out and down the street to the post office, fuming.
Once he’d left Winter, James headed down to the saloon, Beacon, where Winter had arranged for him to board for his visit. His stomach rumbled. He hoped he was in time for supper. He pushed the doors open and looked around; there were only a few drinkers at the tables, being served by a man in a green suit, and one drinker- no, scratch that, one drunk slumped over the bar, being scolded by a woman in purple.
His smile, before soft and amiable, now threatened to split his face. He moved over to the bar and waved to the woman, who looked startled and came over to join him.
“Glynda! I thought that was you.” He held out both hands and she let him take hers; he held them for a moment too long before letting them drop. “I didn’t realize you were in Mantel- I’d have sent a telegraph letting you know I was coming.”
“Well, I know now.” She shrugged, a little awkwardly. “Are you hungry? I saved you a plate, Winter sent word that you’d arrived.”
“I’m starving, actually, but I need to take care of Vagabond first. Can you have someone show me to the stables?”
The mention of Vagabond got an actual smile from her, and she moved around the counter, taking off her apron as she went. “I’ll do it, our stable boy is upstairs- or he’s supposed to be!” she added, sending one of her trademark glares at the stairs. James thought he saw a flash of orange disappear up the stairs, and heard a distant door close. Glynda turned back to him. “Come on.”
He followed her out the front, to where he had Vagabond tied, and then after untying him she led them around to the stable. While he got his horse settled, she came over and stroked Vagabond’s nose, her normally stern look falling to one full of affection. James came over to stand beside her once he’d done.
“I think he missed you,” he said. He touched her shoulder, barely perceptible. “He’s not the only one,” he added. “Why didn’t you send word that you’d settled somewhere? We’d have all liked to know you were safe.”
“I needed to be alone for awhile.” She pressed a soft kiss to Vagabond’s velvety nose, and turned to join James on returning to the saloon.
“You couldn’t have done that without letting us know you were safe? Glynda…” He touched her elbow, stopping their progress. “We’re your friends. We care about you. We want you to have the things that you need, but we want to know you’re safe while you get them. Okay?”
She frowned, and then sighed and nodded. “I’m sorry. I never meant to worry you- I think I was just worried if you knew where I was, one of you would come rushing out to check on me. Anyway, this is home now.”
They resumed, and when he was back at the bar she brought him his food. She was a little less awkward around him now, and while he ate she chatted with him, the two catching each other up on all that they’d missed since last seeing one another.
She’d left to take his plate to the kitchen when the drunk at the other end of the bar suddenly sat up. He squinted around the room, and when his gaze landed on James he slid off of the stool and stumbled over to lean on the counter beside him, giving James a cock-eyed grin.
"Hey there, stud,” he slurred, waggling his eyebrows. “You’re even more handsome than your picture. Photographs don’t really do you justice.” He tried to move, and stumbled: James reached out and caught him before he fell, getting a vice-like grip on his upper arm for his troubles. The man grinned, and hummed a little, obviously pleased. “So what’s a stud like you doing in a backwater ditch like this?”
“Qrow, if you’re going to flirt with my customers, at least wait until you’re sober enough to comprehend personal space,” Glynda said, coming back. “Back off.”
“Awww, come on, Glynda, I’m just having some fun.” Qrow turned his attention back to James, and wiggled his eyebrows again. “Right? What do you think, Stud? Wanna have some fun?”
James sighed, and shook his head, then put his hands on either of Qrow’s shoulders to hold him in place. He held him at arm’s length, looking him over in return, and shook his head again.
“Try again when you’re sober,” he said, and turned away, picking up his drink. While he drank, Glynda came around the counter and took Qrow’s arm, throwing it over one shoulder and steering him to the stairs.
“Come on, Qrow,” she said. “You can flirt with the pretty Marshall once you’ve slept off your drink.”
“He’s reeeeeal pretty, Glynda,” Qrow mumbled, while Glynda helped him up the stairs and out of sight.
“Yes, Qrow, he’s very pretty. In you go…”
And then there was the sound of a door opening, and the last thing James heard before it closed was the thump of a body being shoved onto a mattress with slightly more force than necessary.
Glynda came back downstairs, and paused, eyeing James thoughtfully. After a moment, she returned to her post behind the counter and folded her arms.
“That’s a bad idea, James.”
“What’s a bad idea?” he asked, taking an innocent sip of his drink. Glynda scoffed.
“Qrow. In general. Don’t get involved with him, he’ll only bring you heartache.”
“I’m sure you’re exaggerating.” He set his glass down and stood up, and picked up the saddlebags that held the few belongings he’d brought with him. “Anyway, who said I was thinking of getting involved with him?”
“Your face? James, I know you.”
“It’ll be fine, Glynda.” He waved her concerns away, and headed to the stairs. “Which room is mine?”
“First door on the left,” she said, hurrying to follow him. “James, seriously. I’m saying this as your friend who loves you. Stay away from Qrow.”
“You don’t like him?”
“That’s…” She hesitated. “...not a fair question. It’s complicated. Just, please, trust me?”
They’d stopped outside his door, and he turned to her, searching her face for some kind of explanation. Finally he shrugged.
“It’s not a big deal. I’m sure he was only making advances because he was drunk, anyway.”
Glynda sighed, and unlocked the door, passing the key to him. She leaned on the doorframe and folded her arms while he went in and set his bags down on the bed. “You’re setting yourself up to get your heart broken, James.”
“Yes, well.” He sat down and started pulling his boots off, not looking up at her. “I’ve had my heart broken before.”
“Which is why I don’t want to see you getting involved with Qrow. I don’t want you getting hurt again.” Her voice was soft, her tone gentler than most people got to hear from her. He finally looked up, catching her eye, and gave her a reassuring smile.
“I’ll be fine, Glynda. You don’t need to worry about me.”
“Never stopped me before. Do you need anything before bed? Or in the morning? Breakfast is at eight, by the way. If you want something earlier, you’ll need to sweet-talk Ozpin, but he’s generally accommodating. If you think it’ll be later, you’ll need to leave a note for us to save you a plate.”
“Good to know.” He stood and took his jacket off; Glynda wordlessly shifted to close the door behind her. Once she had, he slipped his gloves off, and her eyes slid down to the mechanical hand peeking out from his shirt cuff.
“You got a new model.”
“Hm? Ah. Yes. There are some definite benefits to being Josef’s main test subject.” He held up his hand, opening and closing it several times. “I’ve got individual finger movement now. No more mitten grips.”
“I’ve got toes now. It really is a marvel- takes a hell of a lot of Dust to use, though,” he added. “Pete’s working on that next.”
“I’m sure he’ll manage. There’s plenty of study into more efficient Dust usage to support him.”
James nodded, and then covered a poorly suppressed yawn behind his hand. Glynda gave him a smile packed with affection.
“I’ll say goodnight, now,” she said. “You need to rest- I’ll have Ozpin save you a plate in the morning and see to Vagabond myself, you just get some sleep for now. You’ve got a busy day ahead of you tomorrow, if you’re going to save our town from bandits.”
“That’s the plan,” he said quietly, leaning back on the bed and setting his hat over his face while she quietly excused herself.
After she left, it was a good while before he got up and finished undressing. This time he crawled under the covers, and was asleep in moments.
James starts his investigation. Enter Jacques.
The characters in this keep informing me that they have their own subplots going on, so who knows how that's going to end. I wasn't expecting Pyrrha, of all people, to grab one, though, usually she's pretty happy to be all "Hello! Thank you for including me and not murdering me like you keep contemplating."
Qrow woke up to a friendly pair of green eyes looking down at him. He groaned, and squinted until said eyes were now topped by a head of bright red hair and a dusting of freckles. He managed a weak smile.
“Hello~” she chirped. “Glynda’s taking care of the Marshall, so she sent me to be your wake-up call.”
“Aww, why does he take priority?” he grumbled while he rolled slowly, stiffly out of bed. Pyrrha glanced up from setting down the tray of food she had brought up for him and shrugged.
“Maybe because he’s a guest and you just live here? Glynda says you’re to take another bath, she refuses to believe that you got clean enough last night, and I’m to bring your clothes down so she can have someone mend them.”
“Did she bother to arrange me a change of clothes, then?”
“I rode out to Taiyang’s this morning and picked some up. They’re lying by the tub.”
“Sounds like Glynda thought of everything.”
“She usually does. Will you be needing anything else?”
“You tell me.”
Pyrrha laughed. “Only that Ozpin needs to know whether you’ll be around for lunch.”
“Haven’t decided yet. Tell him to save me a plate just in case.”
He stretched, while Pyrrha, duty done, excused herself. His head was splitting, but he was used to that- and anyway, Glynda had had the foresight to send up one of the doc’s remedies, so it wouldn’t be for long. He stumbled over to the table to eat, and tried to organize his thoughts.
Okay. So matter one, there was the Marshall to consider. No doubt he’d go try to track down the bandits today, get his job done quickly. Or would he go to the manor, and talk to Schnee? Either way, Qrow would have to run interference, and see if he could stop him or at least slow him down.
He also had to get out to the camp himself sometime today- Raven needed to know he was back, and he needed to know what had been happening since he was gone. The tale about the younger Schnee girl running away, or perhaps being kidnapped, worried him.
What else? Oh yes, he had to stop by the watchhouse at some point, find out what he could weasel out of Winter about her plans regarding the Marshall. Should he do that before or after seeing Raven? Before, probably. Both women could be a pain to talk to, but at least if he caught her in a good mood Raven would be willing to cheer him up after his encounter with Winter. It wasn’t a guaranteed success, but the other way around was a guaranteed failure.
And… he had to go out to the house and let his family know he was home, too. Thanks to Pyrrha they already knew; he would be expected today. Maybe he could head around for lunch. Or sooner, he thought, hit by a sudden pang of how much he missed them, his kids in particular. He’d been away for over a month- how much had happened that he wasn’t there for?
By the time he’d finished breakfast, he’d decided to ride home as his priority, and then worry about everything else. That decided, he stripped and sank into the tub, grumbling to himself about two baths in two days. Thanks, Glynda.
Glynda let James sleep in the morning, but in that usual efficient way of hers, she still managed to be at the door just as he was waking. When her first soft knock didn’t get a response, she thumped it irritably.
“James! You’ve got sixty seconds to cover anything you don’t want me to see, and I’m coming in.”
There was a muffled groan from inside, and she counted a few seconds before going in anyway.
“Oh calm down,” she said, when he hastily dragged his cover over his lap. “It’s not like I haven’t seen it all already.”
“That’s not the point,” he mumbled sleepily, rubbing at his eyes.
“And it’s not like you’ve got anything I’m interested in, either.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“Shush.” She turned away while he dressed; once he murmured that he was done, she turned back to him. “Have you decided yet what you want to do today?”
“I’m going up to the manor to talk to the girl who was kidnapped,” he said. “I’d like to know a little bit more about how the bandits function, and perhaps she was able to notice something.” He added, a bit hesitant, “After that, I’d like to talk to Qrow.”
“I looked again at the information they gave me on the bandits,” he said, before she could get any further. “Led by Raven Branwen, twin sister to former town sheriff Qrow Branwen. You knew?”
“It’s not a big secret. It’s a small town, and both of them were in the group that founded the town twelve years ago.”
“How does a woman go from respected town founder to bandit?”
“That, I’m afraid you’ll have to learn on your own. James…” She rested a hand on his shoulder. “There’s a lot going on here that I think you don’t realize, or understand. Do your job, but keep an open mind while you work. I think… this little town may surprise you.”
He searched her face, and finally nodded. “You know I will.”
“Hmm. You do have a habit of jumping the gun a bit. Just don’t assume everything you’re told- especially when Jacques is around- is accurate.”
“Good. Now go on- Ozpin saved you a plate for breakfast, and I sweet-talked him into packing you a lunch, too.”
“Oh good, I get to meet the man who persuaded you to stay in one place for five minutes.”
“That is not what happened and you know it.”
She followed him out into the hall, and down the stairs, where a red-haired girl was clearing away the breakfast dishes. He stopped short, and stared.
“Is that who I think it is?”
“Mm. She’s grown up a bit since the last time you saw her.”
“She certainly has.” There was something wistful, regretful in his tone, and Glynda gave him a soft look.
“Go say hi,” she said. “She might even remember you. Go on- I’ll get your lunch from Ozpin.”
“Hm. Are you trying to keep us from meeting?”
“Maybe.” She disappeared into the kitchen, leaving James standing in the main room with Pyrrha. He chewed his lip, and then cleared his throat. Pyrrha jumped, startled, and turned around.
“Oh! Good morning, Marshall.”
“Good morning, Pyrrha."
"Oh- how did you...?"
"I- ah-” He rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “I guess you don’t remember me- you were only so big last time I saw you-” He made a gesture to indicate that she had been very small, and added, “I could pick you up with one hand, then. Sorry. I’m a- I was a friend of your- your family. We met once, a long time ago.”
Pyrrha tilted her head during this, studying him thoughtfully, and then smiled. “I think I might remember you. You came to see Glynda once- and you were so tall, all the way up there, and I was frightened.” Her smile softened. “And then you knelt in front of me and you had the kindest smile I’d ever seen. And I wasn’t afraid anymore.”
A blush spread up his neck at that, and he smiled, unconsciously mirroring the same smile that had reassured her all those years ago. “I’m glad to hear that. I’d never want anyone to be afraid of me, especially- especially a small child.”
“You’re not so frightening now I’m grown up,” Pyrrha said cheerily. “Did you need something?”
“Ah- no, I, just wanted to say hello.” He glanced around hopefully, and was saved from having to answer further by Glynda appearing with a packed lunch in one hand and a warm plate in the other.
“Making friends?” she asked Pyrrha, who nodded.
“Marshall Ironwood was just telling me that he knew my parents.”
“Oh yes, we were all old chums.”
“Yes- all of us. I’ll- I’ll let you get back to work,” he said, and hurried over to a table with his plate. Pyrrha waved, and got back to work; Glynda came over to sit with him. He gave her a look completely devoid of all feeling or meaning.
“She’s… what, seventeen now? Or eighteen?”
“She’ll be eighteen in a couple of months.”
“You’ve done well with her.”
“I do my best.”
He nodded, and for a moment there was a very awkward silence, and, “Glynda-“
This got her a cold look. “I’m not a soldier anymore, Glynda.”
“You think that changes anything? Your assignments from the council have you moving on no notice and you’re still in danger- maybe not as much as when you were getting shot at but-“
“And you’re any better? You’re in as much danger in a town plagued by bandits, and you were never good at staying put yourself.”
“But I have control over my moves. It’s not the same thing.”
“Are you sure? Because from where I’m standing it seems awfully similar.”
“Stand somewhere else, then. You swore you’d respect my decision on this matter, James, and my decision hasn’t changed.” When his expression remained cold, she reached over and touched his arm gently. “James, believe me, it’s better this way.”
“Better for who?” He stood, abandoning his half-eaten breakfast, and picked up the lunch. “Tell your man I said thanks for the food.”
“He’s not-“ she began, but he’d already stormed off. She sighed and pinched her temples. “Never mind.”
Qrow dropped into the kitchen on his way to the stables. Ozpin, resident owner and cook, was in there, already getting started on lunch while a young boy washed dishes in the corner. He ruffled the kid’s hair on his way by, earning a disgruntled noise and some half-hearted hand-shooing, and hoisted himself up onto the counter beside Ozpin.
“Ah, Qrow,” Ozpin said, not looking up from the pie he was putting together. “Have you decided whether you’ll be joining us for lunch?”
“Nah, I’m heading out to the house to see my family, I’ll just grab some grub there. Speaking of which, hey squirt.” He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder when the boy at the sink looked up. “Mind saddling Chance for me? I need to talk to Oz.”
The boy hurried out, no doubt glad to be free of doing dishes, and Ozpin raised an eyebrow at him. “Yes?”
“This Marshall,” Qrow said. “You been able to find anything out about him?”
“Why in the world would I?” Ozpin asked, innocence dripping from his tone. Qrow gave him a flat look, and he shrugged. “All right, I… may have done some digging. Out of curiosity, of course.”
“Yeah, curiosity . Nah, I believe you. So what were you able to find out?”
“Not much. His name is James Ironwood, he was a decorated soldier, retired with honors after a severe injury in the war, and went on to become a Marshall instead. Legally speaking, his record is impeccable.”
“All right.” Qrow reached for his flask and took a long drink from it. “Now.” He gestured knowingly with it. “What were you un able to find out?”
“Ah.” This got him a smile. “Well… the nature of his injury is classified, he gives large sums of money to an unknown recipient or recipients, and he has a history of… very careful rebellion that is none-the-less quite effective. He has a lot of pull with the Council.” Ozpin looked pointedly over his glasses at Qrow. “He may prove very useful to you, if you can get on his good side. If you want my advice… I would pay a visit to Schnee before you go home.”
Qrow squinted at him. “You think?” He nodded. “All right. Looks like I’m heading to see Schnee.”
Qrow reached the stable at the same time James did. Oscar had already saddled Chance, so he leaned on the gate and watched while James saddled his own horse, the biggest palomino that Qrow had ever seen.
“So, Marshall,” Qrow said, folding his arms and enjoying the sight of the man bent over in front of him. “Heading out to Schnee Manor?”
He straightened up- regrettably so- and turned to give Qrow a curious look. “How do you know that?”
“Just a hunch. Well?”
“Yes, in fact. I want to talk to the girl who was kidnapped. I need to know what really happened, and she’s the only reliable witness.”
“Maybe.” Qrow snorted. He doubted Weiss would tell the Marshall anything he could use, especially if her father was standing there when he asked. “Mind if I come with you?”
“Cause I wanna check on Weiss, make sure she’s okay.”
It was technically true, but the Marshall gave him a disbelieving look. “Really? Everything I’ve heard suggests you have no love lost for the Schnee family.” When Qrow took out his flask, he added, “Are you ever sober?”
“Depends on the context you’re asking in.” His voice was butter-smooth, and he was pleased to note the blush spreading up the Marshall’s neck. He smirked. “But you’re right, there’s no love lost between me and the family. Her brother is a brat, her sister is a lackey, and her dad can bite me.” He shrugged. “But Weiss is friends with my girls. She’s the only good Schnee of the lot.”
He still looked disbelieving, so Qrow added, “Anyway, you need someone to show you how to get to the Manor, right?” This got him a sheepish nod, so he grinned and hauled himself up onto Chance’s back. “Well, come on, then.”
It was a nice day, not as hot as it had been the day before. Once Qrow had Chance pointed toward the manor, with Ironwood’s Vagabond following along, he took out his flask again and turned his attention to Ironwood.
“So you and Glynda are old pals, huh?”
“Something like that,” he said quietly, eyes straight ahead. “We were close back when she lived in the capitol. We fell out of contact after she left, though.”
“Well, now you’ve found each other again! Isn’t that nice.”
Ironwood glanced over at him, and then back ahead. “You two are close?”
“Eh, sort of.” He pocketed his flask. “I’ve known her for years, and she’s never tried to kill me.” He shrugged. “It’s complicated.”
“That’s what she told me, too.” Ironwood shook his head. “I guess I don’t understand what’s so complicated about it.”
“Wellll, that’s something you’ll have to ask her about. I don’t go around bandying a lady’s business. Except Winter, but she hardly counts.”
“She seemed perfectly respectable to me,” Ironwood said, amused. “The only time she didn’t was when she warned me that you may try to stand in the way of my duty.”
“Hn.” Qrow sneered. “And did she tell you why ?”
“She said you were bitter about your job.”
“Bitter? I guess that’s one word for it. But how would you feel if after all your time serving the Council, doing your Marshall thing, they came along and kicked you out and handed a literal child your position instead?”
“She is an adult,” Ironwood said. “A bit young, perhaps, but…”
“She was eighteen when she took the job. Far too young but her old man couldn’t have me hanging around worrying about things like enforcing the law.”
“Is that why you became a bounty hunter?”
“Because it’s the only way I can still enforce the law? Nah, I was already a bounty hunter before I became sheriff, it’s just a good way to make a decent paycheck.” And it had been a good way to keep down the competition for his family, but he wasn’t about to tell Ironwood that. He suspected it would go badly for him. “Besides, when you’re the town drunk there aren’t exactly a lot of people lining up to hire you.”
“So you bring in outlaws? Unless they’re part of the Branwens, of course.”
Qrow scowled at that, and fell silent. It wasn’t surprising that Ironwood knew about his discretion, but it wasn’t fair that he just assumed he was playing favorites- no doubt that’s what Winter had told him. As if she didn’t know the truth.
The ride to the manor was quiet after that, until they came in sight of it. Qrow pulled his horse to a halt, and James followed suit, wondering what came next. Qrow reached for his flask again, then frowned and returned it to his shirt without drinking from it.
“Listen,” he said flatly. “When you go in there, when you talk to Schnee… keep an open mind, okay? I can’t tell you anything until you’ve met him, but just know that not everything here, and not everything you’ll be told, is as it seems. Okay?”
It was the same thing Glynda had told him. James was starting to wonder what he wasn’t being told, and got annoyed. Why was everyone determined to keep him in the dark?
“Is that all?”
“Nah, there’s one more thing. If at all possible, try to talk to the girl alone. You won’t get the answers you’re looking for if her old man is there.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” James said quietly, and urged Vagabond on again.
The door was answered by a butler, a stout, balding man with green eyes. Qrow held up a hand in greeting.
“Hey, Kline. Weiss around? The Marshall here wants to talk to her.”
“Miss Weiss is attending her studies,” he said. “I shall go fetch her down. You may wait in the parlor.”
A bow, and he vanished in the way of a good butler, while Qrow jerked his head in the direction of one door and led James through it. James stood with his hands folded behind his back while Qrow snooped around, and after a moment of waiting the door opened. It was not, however, Weiss, unless he’d been misinformed and Weiss was a middle-aged man with a cruel look to his eyes.
The mayor, then. James inclined his head politely.
“Jacques Schnee, I assume?” He said. “I’m Marshall Ironwood. I came to speak to Weiss on the matter of her encounter with bandits last month.”
“Yes, of course,” he said, a suspicious lilt to his tone. Then Qrow moved over beside him and his expression soured.
“Hey, Jock,” Qrow said cheerily. “How’s the family?”
“Qrow.” James had never heard anyone’s name spoken like a curse before, but when Jacques said it, it might as well be the most profane of swears. “What are you doing in my house?”
James rested a heavy hand on Qrow’s shoulder, ignoring the pointy smile Qrow directed at Jacques. “Mr. Branwen has volunteered to act as my aid in my investigation,” he said.
“So I’m with him,” Qrow added, jabbing a thumb in James’ direction. “Got a problem with it?”
Jacques’ lips were a thin white line. His tone dripped with disdain when he responded. “Marshall, far be it from me to tell you how to do your job, but surely our sheriff would be of more use to you in this matter?”
“Perhaps,” James said, forcing a friendlier tone. “But I would rather not monopolize her time- she has a duty to the people of this town, and I would be loathe to pull her away from it. I’m certain Mr. Branwen will be perfectly capable of aiding me instead.”
“I merely question the wisdom of asking a known criminal to aid in such an investigation. After all, the leader of the Branwen tribe is his twin sister.”
“Is that so?” James gave a dismissive wave of his hand. “It always is a shame when one of a family turns away from a duty to good. However, I’m not aware of any warrants for Mr. Branwen’s arrest, nor any past record of illegal activity. In fact, his record is spotless.”
“It is?” Jacques and Qrow said in unison, the former shocked and the latter incredulous. James ignored both of them.
“So while it is unfortunate that he has such a connection to a known criminal, I for one do not believe in condemning anyone on the, shall we say, sins of the sister.”
Jacques’ eyes narrowed; it was obvious he was furious, but before he could think of a response, there was a knock at the door, and Kline entered with a girl, about sixteen or seventeen by the looks of it. She was much smaller than Winter, but her resemblance to the sheriff made their relation apparent. Most noticeable of all, though, was that the demure, submissive way she held herself seemed very out of place on her.
He turned to her, dismissing her father from his attention, and held out a hand. She allowed him to take hers, and he gave her a gracious nod before speaking.
“Hello, Miss Schnee,” he said gently. “I’m Marshall James Ironwood. I’ve been sent from the capitol to deal with Mantel’s bandit situation.” He guided her over to the sofa against the window, and once she was seated followed suit. He knew how intimidating he could be to people smaller than him, and he wanted her at ease.
As soon as they were seated, Jacques joined them, settling in the chair nearest Weiss. Qrow, for his part, ambled over and leaned back against the opposite wall, taking his flask out and for all appearances ignoring the conversation. James tuned out both of them.
“I’m very sorry to ask this of you, and I know it must be difficult, but I’d like to know more about your experience with the bandits that kidnapped you. Would you be willing to answer my questions on the matter?”
Weiss didn’t answer immediately, instead glancing over at her father, whose face had gone rigidly passive. He nodded.
“Answer the good Marshall’s questions, Weiss,” he said. “He’s here to help you.”
She turned back to James. “Yes, sir. What do you want to know?”
“I’d like to know how you came to be taken by the bandits. I’ve read the report, but I’d like to hear it from you firsthand.”
Weiss’s eyes turned immediately to her hands, folded tightly in her lap. “It was my own fault,” she said quietly. “I’d behaved shamefully toward a guest of my father’s, and when he rightfully punished me I decided to run away rather than live with the consequences of my actions. After that, I was found by bandits, who thought that they could trade me for a ransom of some kind.”
“I see,” James said, and glanced over at Jacques. “When did you become aware she’d gone?”
“The next morning,” he said. “I went to check on her, because I knew she’d been quite distraught after our argument, only to find her gone. I sent my elder daughter out to search for her immediately.”
“A wise decision,” James agreed. “I’ve heard a report of the search from Winter already, so I won’t ask about that for now. But I would like to know more about Weiss’s stay with the bandits, and for that I’d like to speak with her alone.”
James kept his eyes on Weiss when he said this, watching for her reaction- but she was either completely apathetic, or she was a very good actor, because there was nothing.
Jacques, however, was bristling. “I assure you, Marshall, anything you wish to say to my daughter can be said in front of me.”
“Perhaps,” James agreed. “But I’m asking her to relive a traumatic experience, and I believe it may be easier if she does so without an audience. I would ask Qrow to leave as well, of course.”
He still didn’t take his eyes off of Weiss- she looked over at her father, and there was no way she could have seen the barely perceptible nod that Qrow gave in her periphery, except that as soon as he did she nodded as well, and said, “I’d like to speak with him alone, please,” very quietly.
Jacques was clearly furious, but he stood all the same. “Very well. I will be just outside should my presence be required.”
“Thank you,” James said, and waited until he heard the door click shut, still watching Weiss.
No sooner had her father disappeared than her demeanor shifted- still demure, still submissive, but with a certain caution to it now. He felt he was being sized up, and while this still felt out of place- still felt rather prey-like- it felt more real than her previous body language.
“Why do you want to talk to me alone?” she asked. He held up a hand.
“Not yet. First- how well is the soundproofing on these walls?”
“It’s okay. As long as you don’t talk too loudly, your voice shouldn’t carry past the door.”
“Good to know.” He lowered his hand, and relaxed somewhat. “As to your question, it’s because I have been in this town for less than twenty four hours, and already three people have warned me that I shouldn’t trust anything you say when your father is present.”
He nodded. “And if I can’t trust the answers I’m given, then I can’t properly do my job. Now.” He waved a hand at her, as if to say ‘go on’. “What is it everyone is carefully not telling me? It’s about your kidnapping, right?”
Weiss watched him suspiciously for a long moment, and then seemed to come to a conclusion. “I wasn’t kidnapped,” she said. “I ran away, and I went to the tribe because it was the only place I knew my father would be unable to look. I wasn’t counting on my sister tracking me to there.”
“I see.” He’d begun to suspect as much already, but the confirmation helped. “And how did you come to choose the bandits’ camp as your destination?”
“Because I have friends there. I knew they would protect me.”
Again, she was only confirming things he’d already suspected. He decided to change the subject. “Thank you. I have another question, now.”
“What did the woman you assaulted say to provoke you?”
This one caught her off guard, and that was enough to make her drop her carefully constructed demeanor for a moment, in favor of an angry glare that passed, briefly, across her face. That expression seemed much more at home on her, and it was quickly replaced by a calculating one that seemed equally in place.
“Qrow says I can trust you,” she said slowly.
“Yes.” Another moment, while she studied him openly, and, “She made some unsavory comments about a certain recent mining disaster,” she finally said. “So I told her to use her mouth for something beside spewing garbage or I would shut it for her by force.”
“ Do you?”
“I’m beginning to. I take it you don’t share your family’s views on the matter of the Faunus?”
“It’s disgusting,” she said, haughty and angry and sad all at once. Full of vinegar. He suppressed a smile. He’d managed to dig down to where she was keeping her real self, it seemed. “People died in that collapse and that woman had the nerve to sit there and say that it wouldn’t matter because of how fast they repopulate.”
“You have friends among the Faunus?” he guessed. She shrugged.
“A few.” She looked away. “They’ve been very… patient with me. I still have so much to unlearn. But I’m working on it!” She looked pleased now. “And one day I’ll be in a position to do something, something that actually makes a difference.”
“An admirable goal.” He stood, and gave her a polite bow. “I won’t disturb your day any longer,” he said. “And if you need anything of me, or think of anything you’d like to tell me, I’m lodging at the Beacon in town. Glynda will know how to reach me if I’m out.”
Back out in the foyer, Qrow folded his hands behind his head and stared amiably off into space, until Jacques turned a glare on him.
“What are you really doing here, Qrow?”
Qrow just gave him a toothy grin. “Oh, you know me, y’mayorship. I’m just trying to jump on that Marshall dick, you know how it is.”
Jacques pinched the bridge of his nose. “You are horribly crude.”
“You asked,” Qrow said, shrugging and going back to staring off into space. This only seemed to infuriate Jacques even more, because when the door finally opened and Ironwood came out, followed by a quiet, demure Weiss, he looked like he was ready to kill.
“Weiss, return to your studies,” he said through clenched teeth. “As for you, Marshall.” His face was carefully, rigidly passive. “I am a very busy man. Unless there is something else you need, I would ask that you leave me to my work, and take this- man with you.”
“There’s nothing else,” Ironwood said amiably. “I’ll take my leave of you now. Come on, Qrow.”
Once they were outside, they mounted their horses- who, Qrow was pleased to note, had been grazing on Jacques’ front lawn- and headed away. James turned a raised eyebrow at Qrow.
“What in the world did you do to him in that foyer?” he asked.
“Why do you think I did anything? I was perfectly well-behaved the entire time.”
“No doubt that was it, then,” James said, amused, and turned his attention back to the road.
“So did ya find out what you needed to know?” Qrow asked, after a few minutes of riding in silence. James nodded, and Qrow glanced over at him. “You already knew about my sister, didn’t you?”
James nodded again. “Oh yes. I read up on the history of the town before I came out here, and I studied all of the warrants that originated from here as well. It was hard to miss.” He looked over at Qrow, who had given Chance his reign so he could reach for his flask. “I assumed that was why you approached me last night.”
Qrow paused with his flask halfway to his mouth, and gestured at James with it. “No, I approached you cause you’re sexy as hell. The whole you being here to arrest my sister thing had nothing to do with it.” When James said nothing- though Qrow noticed the faint blush crawling up his neck-, he added, “So did you mean it, what you said? About me trying again when I’m sober?”
“Why don’t you try when you actually are sober and we’ll see.”
Qrow scoffed. “I’m sober!”
“I can smell you from here.”
“I have a high tolerance!”
“Not high enough.”
Qrow pouted. “Tch. You’re no fun.”
“It’s a matter of principle,” James said. “I have very poor experiences with drunken fumbles- I’d prefer not to add another one to the list.”
“That’s dumb. Drunken fumbles are the best.” James said nothing, merely urged Vagabond to pull slightly ahead, and Qrow made an offended noise. “Aw, come on.” When this still failed to get a response, he huffed. “You’re heartless, Jimmy.”
After the Marshall and Qrow had left, Jacques went up to Weiss’s room, where she’d returned to her studies now that he was gone. He gave a small nod of approval to see that she was studying diligently, and approached with his hands folded behind his back.
“What did the Marshall ask you?” he said.
Weiss resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “He wanted to know about what happened after I was captured.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“I didn’t tell him anything that I haven’t already told you.”
“Yes, that’s what worries me.” He caught her shoulder, turning her around to face him. “Weiss, it is in the best interest of this family that Marshall Ironwood be allowed to do his job and rid this town of those vagrants.”
Weiss sighed, and shrugged him off, turning back to her lesson with a sigh. “I know, Father,” she said quietly. “I’ll behave.”
“Good. See to it that you do.”
They rode in silence for awhile, but as they came to the fork in the road that would lead them either out into town, or out to some of the oldest homesteads, Qrow brought them to a halt.
“So what did you think about Jacques?”
James considered this. “He… made an impression.” And Weiss’s behavior had told him more about the man than any comments that had been made by his rivals, as well.
“So.” Qrow reigned Chance around so they were facing each other. “Ready to learn the truth?”
“I’ve been ready since I got here,” James said. “You people are the ones keeping me in the dark.”
“Well… come on, then.” He clucked at Chance, who perked up and took off down the road at a slow trot.
James stared after him, and then urged Vagabond to follow. The enormous horse had no trouble catching up to the other.
“Where are we going, then?”
Qrow grinned. “Home.”