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Promises of an Unknown Coast

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“Having fun there, Mr. Branwen?”

Qrow looked up from the sheaf of papers he was flipping through to give the blonde at his doorway a scathing look. It was still odd, after two months, to be sitting behind a desk in a real classroom; even odder, to be wearing a button-down shirt and vest and tie (even if the tie was half-assed and the neck unbuttoned and the sleeves rolled up to display impressive sets of watercolor corvid tattoos wrapping around his forearms). “That’s going to get old eventually, Yang,” he replied. The test he was holding had a dozen red lines already scribbled through it; he added another one, then scratched out SEE ME in all caps at the top.

“Naaah,” his niece drawled. She grinned when he rolled his eyes. “You look so weird all professional like that, y’know? Why do you even have to teach, anyway? I thought being athletics director was enough of a chore.” Which it was, especially for a school the size of Beacon Academy, but there were rules and one of those was that the athletics director had to be a teacher. Qrow didn’t mind, not really. He only had to teach three classes, and he could be selective about who he allowed in. Though, looking at the failing test he held now, apparently he hadn’t been selective enough. Damn Winchester boy was going to flunk at this rate, and that meant a hole in the school’s admittedly lackluster football team.

He sighed. Well. Sports or academics – either way, it was better the kids got something that kept them in school rather than going down the route he had.

His gaze hit the twin ravens interlocked around his wrist and a bitter, nameless emotion swelled up within him. Then again, the kids could do far worse than what he’d done.

They could turn out like Raven.

“I don’t question your life decisions,” he finally said, pen pointing disapprovingly at her outfit. At sixteen, Yang was in the throes of rebellion, and as soon as the school bell rang she was out of the school uniform and into street clothing – jeans worn far too tight, shirts that hung too low, secondhand leather jackets and scuffed shitkicker boots. Today’s t-shirt was one of his, actually, navy blue with a winged centaur printed on it and a banner beneath.

Death Waits In the Dark.

Yang scoffed again and crossed her arms over her chest, oblivious to how his brow tightened and he looked away from her. “You question everything I do,” she argued.

“Yeah, well, I’m your uncle. Second-guessing your ‘juvenile antics’ is part of the job.” He picked up the last of the tests to be graded. “And I thought I told you to stay out of my closet. Tai just bought you new clothes before school started. Wear those.”

“Yeah, and I’m already outgrowing-” She stopped mid-sentence and cocked her head. “You hear that?”

Qrow tilted his head, narrowing his eyes in concentration, as Yang stuck her head back out in the hallway. The noise was elevating and he could hear it now, if only barely. Chanting. “Qrow? I think there’s a fight starting.”

But Qrow was up and moving already, having taken his reading glasses off and dropped them on his desk before pushing past his niece. (“Hey!”) There was, indeed, something going on at the far end of the hallway, past the lockers – students were swarming in a crowd, gasping in horror and egging some unseen combatants on as one youthful voice cracked above the din.

Every school had bullies. Beacon was no exception.

“Hey!” Qrow started running, his dogtags jangling uncomfortably under his shirt. A scathing voice broke through above the crowd, all smugness and cruelty. Shit. He knew those boys, had them both on the junior varsity soccer team. Whitley Schnee was rich, spoiled, and a notorious bully who had a reputation for using his father’s influence to gain favor with teachers. The other, Oscar Pine, was Whitley’s opposite in virtually every way – a quiet student on scholarship with a penchant for daydreaming in classes that weren’t art.

The argument had been going on for a bit, if the trembling and cracking pitch of Oscar’s voice was any indication. Whitley was sneering, cruel humor coloring his voice. Now he was just close enough to hear the distinct words. His stomach twisted in anger at what he did manage to catch, the Schnee family heir’s mocking words: “-least you’re not a limp-wristed faggot like your father – or are you?”

There was a roar, and students scattered back as Oscar flew forward and smashed his fist into Whitley’s face. Blood squirted out from his nose; Whitley threw a wild punch of his own, busting Oscar’s lip open against his teeth. Before either could retaliate further, Qrow shoved his way through and grabbed them both by the collar, jerking them apart. Oscar flailed in fury; Whitley held a hand to his nose and trembled in rage.

Stop it! Right now!” he snapped, giving Oscar a hard shake. Whitley snarled a vile curse, glaring at them both as blood dripped from his nose onto the white of his uniform shirt. “Both of you! I’m not going to tolerate that kind of language – or this kind of kindergarten brawl – in the school!”

“That’s enough, thank you, Mr. Branwen.” Qrow stood up straight, still holding on to the boys, as the sound of heels clicking on the floor came up behind him. Yang hovered behind Glynda Goodwitch, the headmistress of Beacon Academy; she must have gotten her at the sign of trouble. He gave his niece a nod of thanks before looking to his superior. Her face was grave, lips pursed in a scowl and a hand up on her hip as she look them over. It was dead silent now; the rest of the crowd had scattered as soon as she had come around the corner. “Mr. Schnee. Mr. Pine. We have had this discussion before. Brawling is not permitted on school grounds!” Her gaze swept over them. “What started it this time?”

Oscar scrubbed at his eyes but refused to say anything. Whitley scowled and turned away, just as silent. “I saw the fight,” Qrow said. “And if you ask me-”

Glynda held up a hand to stop him. “Who threw the first punch?”

This time Oscar spoke. “I did,” he snapped. “And I’d do it again, too.”

“I see.” She took hold of Whitley’s arm. “Mr. Schnee, Mr. Pine, you are both suspended for three days. I’ll be informing your parents about this immediately. Mr. Branwen, would you kindly take Mr. Pine and get him cleaned up? I will do the same for this young man here.”

The glance she gave him – we will be discussing this later – said volumes. Qrow nodded. “Sure,” he said. “Yang, go get me the first aid kit out of the teacher’s lounge and then go get Ruby. She’ll have to go with you to your driver’s ed course.”

Yang frowned, but ran off as Glynda hauled Whitley away to the nurse’s office. Oscar had finally gone still in his grasp, his fists balled up by his sides and his shoulders trembling. Between them, the polished granite floor was spattered with crimson droplets like rain, the only sign there had been a fight. “Let’s get you cleaned up, pipsqueak,” Qrow sighed as he let go of him. “Come on. My office is just around the corner.”

The boy didn’t say a word during the slow but short walk to his office. He probably couldn’t. Qrow could hear the little sniffles he was trying to hold back, and he had no desire to confront a crying kid on top of everything else. Especially a crying boy; boys Oscar’s age were too damned old to cry, in his opinion, but he wasn’t so heartless that he was going to embarrass the kid. The slowness of the walk was more to give him a chance to get a grip on his emotions than anything – that, and to let Yang get the kit and get out. Sure enough, it was sitting on his desk when they arrived, and Yang was nowhere to be seen. Qrow waved Oscar in, then paused when he stopped at the threshold of the room.

“… I'm not gonna apologize,” Oscar said defiantly, his voice muffled.

Qrow laughed at that. “Not gonna ask you to.”

Oscar looked up at him then, his expression far too old and pained for a kid his age. At Qrow’s insistent nod, he scuffed his way in and sat down in the chair in front of the teacher’s desk, fidgeting. The man took his chin in his hand and tilted his head up to examine his split lip. “You’ve got a hell of a right hook on you, kid,” he said, tugging down on his lip with his thumb. The crack there was nasty, especially inside, sluggishly oozing blood down his chin; he was going to have to get a couple of stitches. “I don’t think you broke his nose, but it’ll be a close thing.”

“I hope I did,” Oscar grumbled with a wince.

He held up the trashcan and let the boy spit a mouthful of blood into it. “Look, kid – Oscar – jerks like him aren’t going to learn because you beat the snot out of them. He wants a reaction out of you. You beating him up just lets him play victim.” Opening the first aid kit, Qrow pulled out a few butterfly bandages, some gauze, and an instant ice pack. “Look up at me.”

He scowled but obeyed. “I get it, okay?” Qrow continued as he mopped the blood from his face. He tried to breathe through his mouth. The smell, the feel, was a bit too reminiscent of other things, of places half a world away. “You want to protect your old man. But they just call him that because it gets under your skin-”

Oscar jerked away at that, teeth gritted in a snarl, and Qrow stopped his ministrations to look the boy in the eye. His eyes were bright with tears again, angry, and the man’s stomach sank. “… shit,” he breathed. “That’s why you’re so mad. Your dad’s gay, isn’t he?”

No. Why? You got a problem with faggots too?” Oscar spat the epithet out as if it were poison. His fingers gripped the chair edge so tight his knuckles turned white. “It’s nobody’s business what he is!”

Qrow sighed and began unwrapping the butterfly tapes. “I didn’t mean anything by it,” he said calmly. “You’re right, it’s none of my business.” Pinching his bottom lip together, he taped part of the gash shut. “Does that hurt?”

He winced. “No.”

“Yeah, I see that.” He placed another butterfly bandage on his lip. “Back where I’m from, you’d get a shot of whiskey to kill the pain. Here all you get is a lollipop.” He paused. “Or you would if I hadn’t eaten them all already.”

Oscar stared up at him, wide-eyed. “I am twelve years old,” he said, his voice wavering somewhere between outrage and awe.

Qrow forced a grin and popped the instant icepack. As soon as it gathered frost, he laid it gently over his face. The boy hissed a moment before leaning his battered and bruising jaw into the soothing chill. “… you did good, Oscar,” he said after a moment’s thought. “Not sayin’ that what you did was smart, mind you, but – you stood up for family. A lot of people wouldn’t.”

The boy’s hazel-green eyes softened into something proud, almost happy. “Dad’s always stood up for me,” he replied softly.

Well. It was hard to reply to that; fortunately he didn’t have to. Someone cleared their throat behind them; Qrow jerked and whirled around, hand dropping to his side, to see Glynda standing at the door, accompanied by a dark-haired, tanned young woman who could have been Oscar’s sister. The younger woman rushed over to Oscar’s side when he got to his feet. “Oh, Oscar,” she sighed, taking him by the shoulders. “Oz is going to have a heart attack when he sees you like this!”

“Amber?” He looked worried for the first time since the altercation started. “Where’s Dad?”

“He’s running late with the-” The young woman paused and looked askance at Qrow, then shook her head. “-the doctor. He knows all about your little stunt, too, I just got off the phone with him.” Oscar’s shoulders slumped in her grip. “We’re going to meet him there and take you to get seen.”

“A good idea,” Qrow said. Oscar gave him a disgruntled look of betrayal; he shrugged and smiled lopsidedly. “He’s going to need stitches in that lip.”

Amber sighed again. “Right. Thanks for taking care of him.” She rubbed at her eyes, looking quite stressed for someone so young. For a moment Qrow wondered just how old she was; she looked like a college student, to him, but he’d never been a good judge of age. “Come on. We’re gonna be late.”

Oscar slid off the chair and squared his shoulders. He looked up at Qrow for a moment, trying to smile, but the gesture just pulled on his busted lip. “...thanks, Mr. Branwen,” he said.

“Yeah, yeah.” He lightly thumped Oscar on the shoulder. “Remember, if they offer you a lollipop, ask them for whiskey instead. Works a lot better.” Oscar snorted a laugh as Glynda glared daggers at him; Amber rolled her eyes and smiled just a bit before sweeping her young charge away.

Qrow waited until they were well out of the room before letting the tension bleed out of his shoulders. He shot a dark glower at the woman still standing there. “… you really shouldn’t sneak up on me like that.”

“For the love of God, Qrow....” Silence reigned for a few more moments before Glynda leaned against the door frame and rubbed at her temples. “Let me guess. Whitley said something about his mother?”

“Nope. Called his old man a-” and he raised his hands, fingers curling in air quotes, “’limp-wristed faggot.’ Pretty sure there’s a by-law in the school rules that says hate speech is against the rules.”

Glynda’s jaw worked for a moment. “He what.”

Shrugging, he looked down at his hands. There was a drop of dried crimson on the corner of his thumbnail. For a second he felt his skin crawl, felt it burning like lava, then shook his head to clear the thoughts away. “I take it Oscar gets bullied a lot, if you already had a prediction of what happened.” He began to pick at the side of his nail, scraping the blood away. Tiny flakes of crimson that settled in the creases of his skin, and oh, he’d gotten some of the kid’s blood on his knuckle too, look at that.

“Unfortunately. Whitley Schnee’s parents are very wealthy benefactors of the academy, though, and they have two children attending here now. His older sister is much more civilized.” Glynda pulled off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. “The Board of Directors has been alerted a few times of the inappropriate behavior, but they’ve always been reluctant to allow any appropriate punishment. Usually we only have the other childrens’ word to go on. If you heard it, though-” She stopped herself and took hold of his hand. “Please tell me that’s your blood.”

“Sure, if you want.” He tried to grin and brush it off, but her emerald eyes were far too serious on him. His fingers went back to scraping at the blood, clawing until his skin was growing red.

“This isn’t a combat zone. You have to be sanitary about these sorts of things! If he gets an infection because you have dirty hands, the school is liable!” She sighed and let go. “Go wash up. You’ll have to write up an incident report about the alteration… but you can do that from home. It’s getting late, and you have your – ?”

Qrow’s fingers tightened, hiding the bloody spots from his vision. “My nieces.”

“Nieces. You should take them home, Qrow,” she said in a voice far too gentle for a woman made of steel. There was a note of pity in there that raised his hackles. “I’ll take care of the rest.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Qrow didn’t even look at her as he left the classroom. He didn’t look at anything – the staff bathroom was empty; he locked the door and cranked the water in the sink up as hot as it would go, lathered his hands until they were pure white, and scrub scrub scrubbed until his skin burned raw.

Gods, he wanted a drink.