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Promises of an Unknown Coast

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In the Mercury News, dated February 8, 2014:

 

PANIC, GUNSHOTS AT STANFORD QUAD

TWELVE DEAD, FIVE WOUNDED IN TARGETED ATTACK

In one of the worst mass shootings in California’s history, two gunmen with semi-automatic rifles opened fire on attendees of an interfaith celebration at the Stanford University quad Friday afternoon. Seventeen people were shot in total; eight were dead on arrival, and another four died overnight. Five more victims are all said to be in critical condition, with witnesses stating at least two being airlifted from the quad to UCSF Medical Center.

The assailants, identified as Adam Taurus, 18, and Cinder Fälen, 21, are in police custody….

 

 


 

James didn’t like his new home.

Not that anything about the house itself was wrong, per se. Mountain View was a wonderful city—albeit insanely expensive—and he’d chosen it specifically for its proximity to Ames Research Center. He loved it, loved his job, even if he took a lot of shit from the Air Force staff stationed next door at Moffett Field. Always good-natured, thankfully, despite the rivalry between them and the Army; that probably had more to do with James’s history than anything else.

Penny loved the house. She’d been there when he’d picked it out—Mission-style, curved entryways and smooth edges, clay tiles in scallops over the roof. High ceilings and handmade brick accents and an openness that prevented her from feeling too claustrophobic. Warm, she’d called it. The opposite of their home in Tennessee, she didn’t have to say, cold Colonial and cold colors and a mother tired of being bound to a military life.

Ella hadn’t fought him for custody, only because she loved Penny too much to do so. Penny had always been his girl, ever since she’d been adopted as a toddler, and he was so very grateful that his ex-wife had never shown jealousy or anger towards their daughter. That had been the easiest part of the divorce. The rest had been… not exactly messy, but when Penny wasn’t there, there was a quiet sort of separation too far to reach across. The request hadn’t surprised him. He hadn’t even contested the divorce. After all, she’d been a perfect mother, a good wife.

But God, he had been a terrible husband. He was man enough to admit that.

James leaned back into his massage recliner with a sigh, letting the chair knead the cramps out of his left shoulder. That was why he didn’t like his new home. It was too empty. Too quiet. Even with their new 4K TV and stereo system taking up half the living room wall (Penny had been watching reruns of Mythbusters before bed and he’d just left it on), it just didn’t sound right. He missed the noise of other people: Ella, shuffling about as she tidied up before bed; laughter and grumbling as his soldiers settled in for the night; the vague memory of Qrow comforting him in a place dark and cold; Ozpin—

He swore violently under his breath as the shiatsu rollers hit a knot in his back. Ozpin was the problem. How, how was he supposed to be comfortable here, in this house, this city, this fresh start, with that reminder living so close by?

I forgot about you, he’d told Ozpin. I made myself forget.

That was a damned lie.

Less than two years later and Ozpin had changed so much and yet so little. More ragged-looking. More tired. He’d been something of an open book back in rehab, but now most of the pages were glued together. The guilt that had shrouded him since the day James had met him just seemed thicker now, an old and bitter veil suffocating any joy that might try to come through.

Part of that guilt, he knew, was his fault. He was man enough to admit that, too.

And yet there was so much of him still the same. Still rail-thin, still crutched heavily on a cane, his bad leg still twisted at just a bit of an outward angle. Still bearing dark circles under chestnut eyes. Silvered hair that James knew curled wildly when wet, the bridge of his nose peppered with pale freckles barely visible, callouses on the knuckles of his ring fingers where pens and pencils sat.

Still—and he would never acknowledge this out loud—absolutely, unfairly beautiful.

The recliner stopped its rolling massage; James clicked it on again with a sigh. Neither of them had been in good places when they’d met, back then. James, bitter and angry after losing his limbs and his career; Ozpin, broken, in most every way a man could be. But they’d… mended, in little steps. Helped each other mend, for a time. And now, it was clear, after everything—James had managed to heal.

Ozpin had not.

He’d left Ozpin a note, after. When he’d run away, too ashamed of his thoughts and actions and his very being(what are you what are you, bitter anger and Ozpin didn’t say a word)—a note.

I’m sorry, it said. Be well, it said.

James clicked off the chair and picked up his cell phone.

The past couldn’t be changed. It couldn’t. But the future could still be written, and he could do better. He could be better. James had made amends with most of the people in his life, through therapy, the people he’d run roughshod over while steeped in his own suffering. He could blame much of his reactions on trauma, on PTSD.

This, though? This was all on him. But there was an opportunity there, part of his new beginning—that precious chance to start again.

It was so difficult to ask, a text of three words as he shuffled into his bedroom: Can we talk?

And the answer, when it came at two in the morning, felt like a step towards absolution.

I would like that.

 


 

In the San Francisco Chronicle, dated February 13, 2014:

 

DEATH TOLL RISES IN STANFORD TRAGEDY

Three more victims of the shooting Friday afternoon that rocked the Bay Area have died, bringing the death toll up to fifteen, says a spokeperson for USCF Medical Center in a joint conference with Stanford Medical Center. “Our hearts go out to the families of those victims that have passed,” said Dr. Pietro Polendina Monday morning. “Rest assured that our staffs are working tirelessly around the clock to try and save these lives entrusted to us.”

The survivors, Pyrrha Nikos, 19, an exchange student from Athens, Greece, and Dr. Ozpin Pine, 32, associate dean of Anthropology at Stanford University, remain in critical condition at UCSF Medical Center.

 


 

In the Mercury News, dated February 14, 2014:

 

IN MEMORIAM

Officials have released the names of the victims of Friday’s shooting. We present them here with permission of the victims’ families:

Vega Bleu, 18

Gustavo Caspian, 11

Dr. Edward Caspian, 83

Phoebe Gray, 19

Iris Marilla, 20

Salem Pine, 42

Roy Stallion, 18

 


 

How does the tree art project reflect Melinda Sordino’s character growth throughout the story? Give three specific examples.

Yang groaned and let her head thud against the kitchen table. Ruby didn’t even look at her, headphones on and cranked up high. English Lit was the worst. The freedom to choose which book she wanted to write on was nice enough, but what good was this? She was made for action, not for this heavy dissection of something obvious. It was boring, all the constant writing and analyzing and sitting still. Patience was not something she had inherited from her father; she wanted to move. To use her intelligence in practical ways, not this theoretical bullshit.

She glared daggers at the essay question, willing it to turn into something useful.

It began playing Taps.

After a second she jerked up, scrambling; that wasn’t the paper but her dad’s cell phone, metallic bugle notes ringing through the air. “Goddammit, Qrow,” Taiyang groaned from the living room, sales invoices scattered all over the couch beside him. “Yang, can you get that for me?”

She pulled it out and almost dropped it.

Central California Women’s Facility, read the caller ID.

She muted it.

“Who is it?” he called. Ruby looked at her curiously for a moment before going back to her math homework.

“Wrong number,” she hollered back, scurrying quietly away from the table and into the closest bathroom, locking the door.

She swiped answer just before it stopped ringing.

“This is a collect call from CCWF from” the operator began in a nasal tone, followed by her voice, the dry flat tones she still remembered so well: “Raven Branwen.”

“I—I accept the charges! Don’t hang up!” she pleaded. The phone suddenly clicked, a rush of sound.

“Mom?” Yang asked desperately when Raven didn’t immediately speak. “Hello? Please don’t h—“

“… Yang?” she asked quietly.

“Yeah.” The world suddenly blurred around her; she rubbed her eyes hard, her voice wavering. “Hi, Mom. It’s—it’s me.”

 


 

MOTIVE, TARGET UNCERTAIN IN STANFORD SHOOTING: Watch the Live Police Conference

KRON4 News (@KRON4News)

(Embedded in the tweet is a YouTube video of police officers—a mix of Stanford PD and Palo Alto PD—congregated around a podium placed in front of the Palo Alto Police Department. Three FBI agents stand at the fore, one speaking; the voices are indistinct, but there is a running transcript. The beginning is corrupted; it starts midway through the conference.)

Ms. Nikos is being returned to Greece for burial at the Consulate General’s request. I can’t tell you more than that.

Reporter: Do we have a motive for the shooting?

Agent Evans: Not precisely. We know from internet records that Adam Taurus is a member of a paramilitary organization with ties to white nationalism and Cinder Fälen was expelled from Stanford last semester due to violations of the school’s honor code.

Reporter: Can you comment further on that? Could that have played a part, especially given that one of the victims was on the board that made the final decision?

Agent Albarn: Our investigation is still ongoing, Ms. Lavender. You, what is your question?

Reporter: What about the timing? A Jewish organization on campus was holding an interfaith event prior to the shooting. Given Taurus’s ties, could this have been racially motivated?

Agent Evans: We have no comment at this time.

(Shouting; unintelligible; agent points at another reporter)

Reporter: Do we know who the target was in the shooting?

Agent Evans: Again, our investigation is still ongoing. We have time for one more question. (Reporters shouting, chaos.) You?

Reporter: Have you been able to get a statement from any of the victims? What about the last survivor?

Agent Albarn: Ms. Nikos and Mr. Stallion were able to give brief statements before they passed. As soon as Dr. Pine is stable enough to give a statement, we’ll get one from him as well. Given how grave his condition currently is, however, that could be several days or several weeks from now.

Agent Evans: That’s all the questions we can take for today. Thank you.

(Flashing photographs; reporters shouting as the FBI agents walk away from the podium.)

 


 

When Qrow had told James he was taking him out for an authentic Mexican experience, he’d had expectations. Back when they were at Fort Campbell, that meant a hole in the wall restaurant—usually next to either an Army surplus store or Korean grocer—where the menus were bilingual, the food to die for, and the only ones batting an eye at the six-foot-six Korean-American were the dumb rednecks from out of town.

What he didn’t expect was this: an orange trailer—clearly a U-Haul in its former life—parked at the world’s shabbiest gas station, surrounded by overturned paint buckets for seating and a torn patio umbrella for shade. The other three corners of the street were occupied with a classy sushi restaurant, an expensive apartment complex, and the local Mormon church, respectively.

It was just a little jarring.

“Great, ain’t it?” Qrow exulted through a mouthful of elote. Ironic, James though, that one of his favorite foods was essentially dressed-up birdseed. “Best tacos in the South Bay. I follow them on Yelp—sometimes they travel up by the school.”

James hummed, examining his tacos. Qrow had done the ordering for both of them, seeing as his Spanish was pretty much non-existent; it unfortunately meant he had no idea what he was about to eat. This also meant that Qrow often took advantage of his ignorance to gross him out in the name of ‘good fun.’ “This isn’t heart or something, is it? You know I hate organ meat.”

He waved him off. “Nah, it’s just lengua. Local specialty. You’ll love it.”

James begrudgingly had to admit he did. “So what’s the special occasion? This was supposed to be my turn to treat.”

Qrow sucked a glob of crema off his knuckle, thinking. Hesitating. “Nothing, really,” he finally said. “Just—what happened when you came out here? The first time. You never would tell me much about it back then.”

The fine robotics in his left hand creaked against his bottle of beer.A bead of cold sweat rolled down his temple into his eye, stinging. “Dr. Polendina’s the only one in the nation working on—”

“I know why you came out here, James.” Guilt rose heavy in James’s chest as he watched Qrow pick a jalapeño off of a taco and pop it into his mouth. He’d run. That was all it came down to. Yes, the prosthetics the Army had given him were shit and his marriage had been on the rocks and he had been desperate to avoid everything and everyone that reminded him of Kandahar. That hadn’t been a good reason to desert the one person who’d stuck by him through it all. Qrow’s gaze was soft, though, never judging, and he shook off the guilt with another swallow of tepid beer.

“You know these prosthetics are controlled by my brainwaves, right?” He thumped his fake leg with his fake arm and gave a hollow laugh at the thud it produced. “Dr. Polendina’s work—this is important, don’t hush me—required another set of surgeries. Implants for control. Steel rods into the bone, to be anchors. It was miserable.”

“I remember the phone calls. If I hadn’t been tied up back at Fort Campbell—”

“I know. But you helped. You helped a lot.”

“Yeah, well. I was just glad you’d had someone there with you.” He snitched a jalapeno off of James’s taco. “I always wondered who your mysterious roommate was. I never could tell if you liked him or hated him. Never thought I’d actually meet the guy.”

James heaved a sigh. This wasn’t the usual Qrow Branwen laid-back attitude. This was Sargent Alejandro Branwen, Scareqrow, a terror in the skies with his uncanny observation skills, dogged perseverance, and willingness to brave the worst of whatever crossed his path. They were great assets… until he turned them on you. “Yeah,” he said to the ground. “I never expected to see him again either.”

“Sounds like there’s a story there.”

“Well... you heard the basics back at the school. Ozpin wasn’t lying. We met at the rehab facility. Dr. Polendina was his surgeon too, and neither of us were wealthy enough to afford a private room, so we ended up as roommates.”

Qrow made a thoughtful humming noise under his breath. “I read some newspaper articles. Looked up a few YouTube videos. They didn’t mention he’d had an amputation.”

“He didn’t.” He’d lost his appetite. Tossing his taco bits to a pair of hungry-looking crows, he shot back the last of his beer in one go. “I shouldn’t be telling you any of this.”

“But you’re going to.”

He sighed. “Only so you’ll understand. He was gutshot, Qrow.” he waved a hand over his lower stomach and down the length of his thigh, resting his palm on his knee. “Shattered almost every bone in there and just missed his spine.”

“Jesus Christ.” Qrow fingers twitched across his chest, a quick sign of the cross, and swallowed. “Kind of a miracle he’s alive, much less walking.”

“He couldn’t, when I first met him. Walk, I mean. Not for more than a step or two. Which was still more than I could do, and I was pissed about it.” A smile tugged its way onto his lips even as he spoke of it, time softening the edges of those old memories. “I was pissed about everything. That far away from you, and Penny, with Ella only calling so we could gripe at each other? We clashed, at first. But it was tiring to stay bitter. After a few weeks, we became… friends.”

Under the fading sunlight, the broken bits of beer bottles scattered on the pavement looked like his eyes, warm glints of amber in deep brown. The memory came unbidden: waking from a nightmare at three AM. Opening his eyes to the bedside lights, Ozpin watching him across the tiny room. The worried frown furrowing his brow. His slender fingersreaching out to entwine with his, a touch that said you’re okay. “It helped so much,” he said. “On the good nights we’d sit up and talk about anything. The dumbest shit. I taught him how to swear in Korean—did you know he speaks six languages?—and he’d share the treats his kids would sneak in for him.” A shaky breath. “On the bad ones…. He was there. He listened.”

Qrow drew little circles in the dirt with his heel. “What happened? ‘Cause I get the feeling the friends bit is past tense.” A beat. “I’d almost say he looked scared of you for a moment.”

“That’s not—” Wilting, his heart sinking, James let his head rest in the palm of his good hand. “We had a—disagreement. A rather large one. And before you ask, no, I don’t remember what it was about.” The lie rolled off his tongue, shame welling up within him. “You remember how… volatile I was back then.”

“You were a dick. So was I,” Qrow said quietly. He pulled a flask out of his hip pocket and swallowed down a hefty dose, then passed it over. “Hell, I still am. Kandahar fucked us up and we were both in really, really bad places. Worse then than now.”

“Yeah.”James tilted back a shot, the burn of whiskey a welcome distraction. “I was cruel to him, Qrow. If he was scared of me then I don’t blame him.” The smile came back, just a bit. “But he’s willing to give me a second chance. I’m glad for it. He was so easy to talk to when things got—hard.”

“He still is.” The little sun-weathered lines around Qrow’s eyes softened, thin lips relaxing in a faint smile. Something small and cold and bitter gnawed at James’ chest at the sight. “I ran into him the other day. Coffee shop. I’ve met him once or twice before but that was all school related, y’know? This was different. He’s—kind.“

“… that’s all?”

“He’s kind,” Qrow repeated. “James, we’re military, special forces. They stomp most of the softness out of us in boot camp and train us into killers. Sure, we can pretend most of the time, but how many times have we just straight-up shot people and not given a damn?”

His hands shook.

“Qrow….”

“We’re not kind. Kindness is weakness; isn’t that what our CO used to say? Ozpin should read as a weakling to me and he doesn’t. I mean, meeting him was a disaster, and he had every right to punch me and he was still kind. I spilled coffee all over him and insulted his weird soap cookies and—” He broke off.

“And?”

But Qrow didn’t go on. He rubbed his wrist instead, gently yellowing bruises mostly hidden under the many leather bracelets he wore, the vague shape of a hand. “… it’s nothing,” he muttered under his breath. “I thought—it’s nothing. But back to my original point, he listened. He was kind. I can’t count how long it’s been since I just talked to someone without them bringing this,” and he wiggled his abbreviated fingers for a second, “up. Or Afghanistan. It just—”

That was true. It wasn’t as if their service records were a secret. Their capture and return had been international news. They even had Wikipedia pages, which Qrow often vandalized. “It was nice to talk to somebody who let you keep your secrets to yourself?” James guessed.

Qrow glanced up at him. “Yeah,” he said roughly, and got to his feet. “It really was.”

He stayed seated on his paint bucket while Qrow went back through the line. His shadow cut a long line across the blacktop, thin, transparent, only solid when it crossed over James’s own. That somehow felt profound, in a way his mind was too tired to comprehend.

The thought vanished when Qrow emerged a few minutes later, balancing fresh, hot churros and two more bottles of beer in his hands. James took the bottles before he could drop them and popped the caps off with practiced flicks of his mechanized thumb. “We made it another day,” he said.

“Another day,” Qrow echoed, and clicked their bottles together in a silent toast. James huffed a laugh and tipped his back.

“… so did you two ever fuck?”

James spit out his beer. “Qrow!

But Qrow was doubled over laughing, his grin nearly splitting his face in two. “I’m joking, I’m joking! Holy shit, James, your face—don’t hit me, fuck!”

“Did I—” He stopped punching him long enough to whack him in the face with a limp churro. His face burned hot enough to steam. “Not all of us can be bisexual disasters like you, birdbrain.”

“And ain’t that a shame.” Qrow grabbed the churro and took a hefty bite out of it. “C’mon. You can’t tell me you didn’t look at him back then and think ‘I’d love to tap that’. Not after Amsterdam.”

“We agreed to never bring up Amsterdam, dammit,” James griped.

“You did. I didn’t.” Qrow waggled his eyebrows. “Best leave ever. Even if we did get in trouble.”

James chuckled, the tension rushing out of his body with each breath. “You’re lucky I like you,” he said.

“And that I’m cute. Can’t forget that.”

“No,” he said, and laughed again. “I certainly can’t.”

 


 

One Year Memorial for Victims of the Stanford Massacre

1CoffeeBitch1 1 year ago 1,274,892 subscribers

(A shaky, somewhat blurry video of the Stanford quad at night. Hundreds of students have gathered. Many wear deep green. Some wear yarmulkes. Others hold the Greek flag. All holding candles. What looks to be family members of the victims stand at the front of the assembly, some sobbing, as the students sing.)

Comments (279)

...

ScarletBun 11 (3 6 replies ) : did you hear the news about Dr Pine?

IceQueenS: He resigned yesterday. I may have overheard him talking to the president while out at dinner with my family.

1CoffeeBitch1: srsly??? that SUCKS! dr. pine was THE BEST. he always brought us cookies during finals week

lotusinthedeep: You see him often, don’t you @1CoffeeBitch1 ? Is he back to the coffee shop yet?

1CoffeeBitch1: once a week like clockwork. he just sits & stares out teh window for 1hr. it’s fuckin depressing tbh

ScarletBun11: he’s only been out of hospital for a month, leave him alone.

1CoffeeBitch1: velvet hugged the prof when he first came back & he almost cried

ScarletBun11: WHY ARE YOU TELLING PEOPLE THIS

1CoffeeBitch1: i’m yr gf i can tell whatever. like u huggin sad old men. i didnt tell them about u crying all over him like a dork

JauneOfArc: @1CoffeeBitch1 FUCK HIM he didnt even show up to the memorial!!! he talked pyrrha into going to that stupid interfaith event and look where she is now in a hole in the ground.

IceQueenS: Are you still on about that, Arc?

ThorCallsMeDaddy: YEAH FUCK HIM WAIT WHO ARE WE TALKING ABOUT

ScarletBun11: i get that you miss Pyrrha. we all do. she was a wonderful person and we were all lucky to know her.

JauneOfArc: HE should have died. not her

IceQueenS: You’re angry that a man who had to watch his wife die in front of him, and nearly died himself, did not attend a memorial revolving completely around that event? You’re blaming him for NOT DYING? Are you serious, Arc?

JauneOfArc: YES! fck you and fuck them and fuck him too

lotusinthedeep: @JauneOfArc come over so we can talk about this. Please.

1CoffeeBitch1: no FUCK YOU arc. it’s not dr. pines fault some crazy bitch and her boy toy decided to shoot up the campus

ThorCallsMeDaddy: WATCH IT I’LL BREAK YUOR LEGS COFFEE GIRL

lotusinthedeep: No you won’t.

JauneOfArc: SHE SHOULDNT HAVE BEEN THERE. none of you had to WATCH IT HAPPEN

JauneOfArc: its my fault

ScarletBun11:no. it's not.

JauneOfArc: its not fair

IceQueenS: Jaune. You shouldn't be alone right now. @lotusinthedeep can one of you go see to him?

lotusinthedeep: We're at Jaune's apartment. We'll take care of him.

1CoffeeBitch1: ice queen are u meltin a bit? thats hot. @lotusinthedeep, tell jaune hes a ~<==3 but we love him anyway

IceQueenS: Thank you? I think? And what is ~<==3 supposed to

IceQueenS: oh

1CoffeeBitch1: rip

ScarletBun11: i want to know who the next anthro dean will be. Prof Port is an okay adviser but nobody’s as good as Dr Pine was. it’s just not the same.

IceQueenS: No. It’s not.

 


 

Two days later, a buzz on Ozpin’s phone. A text from James, with an address for a popular Mediterranean restaurant, and a time. 11 AM, Friday morning.

I thought this might be a good start. Somewhere private to talk. Just the two of us.

If he didn’t know better, he’d say it sounded like a—

His wedding ring burned fire against his chest, a counterpoint to the cold upswell of terrorhurtlonging that pulled at his ribs.

He wasn’t ready for this.

“Why did you have to come back here, James?” he whispered, his thumb sliding against the glass.

I’ll meet you then.