Qrow had been gifted with two nicknames throughout his life. Scareqrow – his callsign – had been gifted by an old squadron of friends, back in the days when he’d lived in the skies. When he’d been invincible. A name he’d been proud of, until rockets and fire had clipped his wings. He’d never be rid of it, of course – but the only ones who would dare call him that to his face had burned along with him.
His other nickname had been with him, it seemed, since birth. Something of a cruel joke, a thing his mother used to tease him with when she was drunk and lazy and feeling affectionate – or when coming off a high and mean in her bitterness. Raven had picked it up, parroted it, called him that with what she considered fondness.
Bad luck charm.
Considering his fortunes, they weren’t too far off the mark.
Clothing rumpled, head throbbing, and bleary-eyed from a hangover, Qrow had gotten himself together enough to get the girls into school (though he’d set the toaster on fire, stepped on Zwei’s foot, broken Ruby’s favorite mug, and somehow managed to wash something red in with his white polo shirts). His first two periods were free; his plan was to get into his office, lock the door, and sleep.
Or it had been, until he saw one Glynda Goodwitch standing in the doorway looking highly pissed off.
“Qrow,” she began without preamble. “We have a problem.”
Meeting Jacques Schnee, Qrow reflected, was rather like meeting a rabid weasel – though that wasn’t fair to the weasel, really, as weasels had more charisma than Jacques did.
The construction magnate was sitting in a chair by his desk, arms folded over his Gucci coat and ridiculous mustache twitching as he appraised Qrow. The mustache was kind of hypnotic, in a way. It certainly gave Qrow something to focus on other than his strange desire to punch the man in front of him. Jacques was one of those people – Gucci and diamonds from head to toe, faint German accent he’d had to have gotten from a voice coach, hair bleached to hide the oncoming grey, and the kind of ego that required him to gloat about his good fortunes to everyone that he deigned to be under him.
There was a reason Schnee Design & Construction was called the Schnee Dust Company behind the man’s back, and it wasn’t out of fondness.
“I take it you’re Alejandro Branwen?” he asked, holding out a hand.
Qrow’s jaw twitched. “I prefer Qrow,” he replied, taking the handshake. It was a careful, downright painful, grip, one he didn’t expect from someone with such baby soft hands, but he didn’t flinch.
Until Jacques, damn him, flicked his eyes to his hand and raised an eyebrow.
“Well! I’d heard you were in combat. You got off luckier than some, eh?” He started to laugh it off, letting go – until Qrow glared at him, red eyes dark and bitter. Jacques smiled a bit, unfazed. “I mean no offense, of course. It’s an honor to meet someone willing to sacrifice for our country.”
Qrow shoved his hands into his pockets with a grimace. His touch burned now, burned like knives – like then, the broken knives that sunk through bone, watching his fingers get carved off one by – “What exactly is this meeting about?” he rasped with a scowl, eyes hard. “If you’re wanting a second opinion on–“
“Ms. Goodwitch blames my son for the fight that happened yesterday. Her sentence was draconian, especially since he did not even throw the first punch! That Pine boy nearly broke my Whitley’s nose, and yet he’s barely being punished at all!”
“I do beg to differ on that point, Jacques. Oscar is being punished quite enough for his actions.”
Qrow whirled around at the voice behind him. There was a man standing in the doorway to the office – or, at least, Qrow thought it was a man. Warm hazel eyes peeked out from under unruly platinum hair and a pair of ridiculous little John Lennon sunglasses that he pulled off as he spoke. Neatly pressed, with a simple button-down shirt and slacks, but he leaned heavily on a twisted mahogany cane as he limped forward. Jacques was old – in his early fifties – but this man, without his glasses, was almost ageless. Certainly no older than Qrow, at least. “I’m sorry to interrupt. You’re Qrow Branwen, right? I’m Ozpin Pine, Oscar’s father.”
Qrow’s mouth had gone just a bit dry. “Yeah, that’s me. I take it you know Mr. Schnee here?”
He hummed, glancing over at the other man; his face tightened. “Unfortunately,” he sighed. “Are you the one who called this little meeting to order, Jacques? I had to shut my shop down and reschedule a meeting with a client for this.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Ozpin,” Jaques sneered at him. “I thought discussing your son’s horrible manners might be just a touch more important that your dusty old flea market!”
Ozpin’s lips tightened; Qrow held his hands up. “OK, no. We’re here to discuss the boys and their punishment, not whatever issues you two have. Let’s all take a seat and work this out. Like adults.”
Jacques sniffed. Ozpin nodded his head and sank ungracefully into a chair with the help of his cane, his left leg jutting out at an odd angle. “Yes. Forgive me. What exactly is the problem with this, if I may ask? I thought Glynda’s punishment for Oscar was fair, given the circumstances.”
“Fair?” The magnate scoffed. “They should have kicked your boy out of school altogether. He hit my son!”
“And I am not excusing that,” Ozpin said calmly. “But I understand it. Jacques, this is the fifth time in the last three weeks that Whitley has been caught using homophobic language towards my son.”
Jacques rolled his eyes; the urge to punch the weaselly man started coming back to Qrow. “Boys will be boys, Ozpin. Besides, where would he have even heard such language? The school is supposed to be tolerant. If he’s saying it, then he must be picking it up here.”
Ozpin snorted a laugh. “The school – Jacques, you called me a ‘mincing little queer’ at the last PTO meeting. To my face, I might add.” Jacques’s face turned an interesting shade of scarlet as he went stiff in his chair. “While I appreciate you being honest in your feelings about me, I do wonder why you insist on focusing on my supposed sexuality.” His slim fingers fidgeted atop the cane; Qrow could see a very faint tan line across his left ring finger, pale where a ring would normally be. “There are so many other things about me to insult; why just pick that?”
“That is beneath me to even answer,” Jacques spat, his icy blue eyes sparking. “Listen to yourself. Have you no shame in these lies you keep spewing? Or in how you’re raising that poor boy? No religion, no morals, no mother – Salem must be spinning in her grave to see–“
Ozpin was out of his chair in a shot, a snarl on his face and his fingers knotted tightly around the cane. “Don’t you fucking dare say her name, Schnee,” he snarled. Qrow leapt to his feet, hand wavering over the man’s shoulder to pull him away, but he eased back and drew a ragged breath. There were … Jesus, there were tears in the corners of his eyes. “You have no right to say her name,” he breathed before collapsing back into his chair with a thump.
Jacques, for his part, leaned forward without waiting for the other to collect himself. “I want an apology, Ozpin,” he pushed. “I want you and your boy to apologize to me and my Whitley for attacking him unfounded.”
Qrow scowled bitterly at Jacques, hate rising in his chest. Being a rich snot was one thing, but attacking someone like this – and that explained, too, Glynda’s comment, the previous taunting over Oscar’s mother. To taunt a widower over the death of his wife, to taunt a child over the death of his mother – that was beyond the pale. “I was there, Mr. Schnee,” Qrow said coldly. “I saw the whole thing. That attack was most certainly not unfounded. You son had Oscar cornered in public where he would be the most humiliated. This isn’t the first time either. Your son’s picked up the habit of picking on Oscar about his mother too, and I am not having that at all.”
“Oscar didn’t tell me that,” Ozpin murmured quietly, looking up at Jacques. “And you have the gall to ask for an apology?”
“I could demand you pay for his doctor bill.”
For a moment Qrow wondered what would happen if Ozpin told Jacques to go fuck himself. But instead the man sighed and shook his head. “I am sorry your son was hurt, Jacques,” Ozpin said after a moment, running a hand through his already messy hair. “That is the only apology you will get from me. Oscar… Oscar isn’t sorry, and I won’t force him to grovel before you or your son and give a fake apology to appease your pride.”
Before Jacques could protest, Qrow piped up. “I’ve been told by the school board that my decision is the one they’re going to stick by, and I say the original punishment holds.”
Jacques’s jaw dropped; Ozpin bit his lower lip to hide a bit of a smirk. Qrow, on the other hand, didn’t bother hiding his smirk. No, he was looking forward to this. “No groveling. No making each other pay hospital bills. None of that crap. You want to complain that boys will be boys? Fine. They can be boys, and they will be punished like boys. But I do have a caveat.”
Both parents looked up at him. “I’m coaching the junior varsity soccer team this year. And if I catch any of my students fighting, or using any sort of hateful language, I will have them removed. That goes for your boys as well.” He cracked his knuckles, giving them both a glare. “I run my teams the same way I did in the Army. They’ll shape up, or they’ll ship out.”
The pale, horrified look on Schnee’s face made the little power display worth it. “I see,” he spat, clearly unhappy with how the whole meeting had gone. “If that’s all, gentlemen, I do have a business to run. Mr. Branwen.” He sneered. “Ozpin.”
“Jacques.” Ozpin merely inclined his head as Jacques strode out of the room in a huff.
It was quiet once the magnate had left, just Qrow and Ozpin sitting in the office. Ozpin sank back in his chair and closed his eyes tight. “I’m very sorry for this mess, Mr. Branwen,” he said quietly after a few moments. “This is not how I imagine you wanted to spend your day.”
Qrow shrugged. It was strange to be comforted by someone, especially by someone who was obviously upset themselves. “To be honest, it was either this or teach kids the truth about the Iran-Contra affair. Not really ready to bust their bubble about American fuck-ups, so.” He hesitated for a moment, then put a hand on the other’s shoulder. “Are you all right? That Schnee guy was… kind of an asshole.”
Ozpin huffed a laugh. “That’s putting it quite kindly,” he said, opening his eyes to look up at Qrow. He had very long eyelashes for a man, thick and silvery. “But thank you.”
“Yeah, well.” He was standing a bit too close, and Qrow was never good at the whole comforting thing, but it felt right to at least try. “I’m sorry. About your wife, I mean.”
“… ah.” Ozpin pushed himself up with the cane, wincing – whether from the subject matter or from pain, Qrow couldn’t tell. Qrow could see it as he stood up, the silhouette of a black cord around his neck and under his shirt, with a ring hanging off it. “It’s… it’s fine. It was almost three years ago.” He shook his head as if to push the thoughts away. “Oscar’s quite fond of you, you know. Though I’m quite sure I should scold you about the whole ‘whiskey to kill the pain’ suggestion. Now he won’t stop talking about it.”
Qrow scratched the back of his head awkwardly. “Yeah, gotta admit that one’s on me. Probably shouldn’t have done that. His sister didn’t look happy about it either.”
“Half-sister,” Ozpin corrected absently, “my stepdaughter Amber. And no, she’s just very overprotective, Mr. Branwen” He looked to Qrow and smiled then. There was something about him, silver hair aglow in the overhead lights and eyes the color of fine whiskey sparkling in amusement, that made Qrow’s throat just a bit tight.
“You can just call me Qrow.”
“Qrow.” Ozpin’s hand was warm as it squeezed his wrist. “Thank you, Qrow,” he said, and then he too was gone, limping out the door and leaving Qrow behind to stare blankly at the wall.
Fuck, he thought helplessly. Fuck. Me. Running.
Emerald City Antiques was cozy and cool as Ozpin stepped inside, the bells jingling merrily to announce his arrival. “Oh, Oz!” came the shout. “I didn’t expect you back so soon!”
“And I didn’t expect you at all.” He smiled and limped over to the register. Amber was sitting behind it, feet propped up on the glass showcase (this month’s display was antique pocketwatches) and a textbook on geology spread over her lap. She spread her arms out and he stepped into them, hugging her tight. “What brings you home so soon?”
“My geology class got canceled for today,” Amber explained, twirling a pencil in her fingers. “I figured I’d come in and help you out, especially since you had to deal with Junky Schneeze and his bull. How’d it go?” Her eyes scanned him; her face fell. “That bad?”
“No, no,” he reassured her. “There’s no change. He won’t be suing us, there’s no extra punishment. It’s fine, I promise.” He forced a smile onto his face. Amber had enough to deal with, what with college and assisting part-time at the antique store. He wasn’t going to put any extra burden on the girl he’d raised and loved as his own. Amber was too dear to him for that.
“Where’s Oscar?” he continued, kissing the top of her head as he used to when she was little. “I thought I’d make latkes for dinner, unless he’s spoiled his appetite already.”
“Did you say latkes?” Oscar bounded out of the back room and threw his arms around Ozpin’s waist. “Hi Dad.”
Ozpin chuckled and ruffled his hair. “Hello son. Yes, I said latkes. I might even make those horrid little devil cabbages you like so much, if you’ve got your homework done like you’re supposed to.”
Oscar froze. “Gimme five minutes!” he shouted and ran off in a blur.
Amber started laughing, holding her belly. “Oz, you’re so mean! We don’t even have sprouts right now!”
“We do if you go and buy some.” He popped open the register and pulled a few bills from it. “Go get yourself something as well.” At her surprised look, he forced a smile on his face. “We might as well have nice family dinner for a change, don’t you think?”
She took the bills and hopped off the stool, eyeing him closely. “Are you sure everything’s OK, Oz?” Amber asked, worry creasing her brow.
His smile softened. Behind her, on a shelf, was an old and worn photograph – Ozpin, in his younger years, with a thin-lipped smile on his face, standing stiffly besides an older albino woman; Oscar, just a baby, in his arms as an eight-year-old Amber posed like a princess before them.
If one looked closely, they could see Salem’s fingernails digging into his shoulder.
Smile for the camera, love.
“Everything’s fine, Amber,” Ozpin said. “Everything’s just fine.”