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Chance Meeting

Chapter Text

Qrow scowled, tilting his head in annoyance at the tall buildings in front of him. Atlas Academy has gotten bigger since the last time he visited old Headmaster Jimmy Ironwood. The newer buildings were sleek and modern with large clear glass windows and black trimming. It was professional and cold, but luckily the students were lively compared to the off-putting architecture. Which was all well and dandy, but Qrow was facing a tiny issue. He has no idea where Ironwood's office was located since it moved from the South Building last year. 

How fucking annoying. 


If there were two things that Qrow hated was last minute meetings and lack of information. He had to drop everything yesterday to fly here for a meeting with Ironwood and, now, the old military general forgot to tell him where his office was at, and Qrow refused to call the Headmaster for directions like a simpleton. 


He'll find it himself. Eventually. And if he was late, it was the General's fault. 


"Are you lost?"

A clear and crisp voice asked and Qrow turned to face the owner of it. His eyes widened by a fraction, momentarily taken aback by the student that stood before him. She was dressed properly in Atlas's grey and dreary uniform, the long-sleeved button-up shirt was tucked into her skirt, her vest was fitted and cinched at her waist, and necktie knotted securely and carefully. Due to the cold, she wore thermal white stockings under her tall back boots. 

A normally boring uniform but she made it look good, with not only her figure but her face, too. It looked polished and carefully crafted like a marble statue, but soft and supple, and then there were her eyes, sharp and focus with a vibrant and cool blue that matched the blues in the sky, and her long hair, white like fresh snow that was pulled up high and tied with a red ribbon. 

If he had known there would be cool beauties such as her at Atlas, he would have studied here instead of Beacon when he was a teen. 

"Only in your eyes," he winked at her and she pivoted on her heels with the intention of walking away from him. "Wait! It was a joke," he chuckled, making his way to her before she went too far away. "I am lost."

She turned back to him with a frost gaze that made him stumbling. She perked an eyebrow after a few seconds and gave him a small amused smile. "Where are you heading to?"

Qrow straightened up, shaking off the flutters of feathers inside the pit of his stomach made by her smile. "Ironwood's office." 

"Ah," she looked at the main building with a frown. "I'll take you to the elevator, then. Headmaster Ironwood's office recently moved to the main building and giving you directions to get there might get you even more lost." She gestured for him to follow her and like a pup, he did. 

She led him inside the main building. The walls were tall and made out of grey bricks. Most of the office furniture was made of rich black wood and the scattered lounging chairs for students and visitors were either red or a deep royal blue. On the walls hung old paintings of past stuffy headmasters and landscapes of the land over the years. Students and professors walked about, but only a few.

"The main building was built almost a thousand years ago and used to be an old megaron for a lord; so, it's layout is confusing and unorganized." 

"I'm surprised Jimmy didn't try to tear it down when he became a headmaster," Qrow said, trying to look around the interior of the grand building when they entered it and not at the young girl in front of him, which was surprisingly hard to do. She looked like a senior, which would make her five to six years older than Yang, and if she was then that meant she was thirteen years younger than him.

That means when Yang was born he was nineteen and she was six.

Gross. He should not be looking at her like this.

"He tried."

"Tried?"

"Yes."

"And he failed?" Qrow grinned.

"Yes."

"How did that happen?" 

"I ran a campaign against it," she answered, looking over her shoulder at him. "The floor plan may be chaotic, but this building is part of Atlas' history and must be maintained, respected, and care for despite what the Headmaster believes. The student body agreed with me and so did many others."

Qrow grinned wider, "I imagine he wasn't happy."

"Oh, he was very displeased, especially with me, but what is displeasure of one man over the memories and significance of a thousand-year-old building," she said, stopping them in front of an elevator.

Qrow leaned down to look into her eyes, putting his face mere inches from hers. She frowned and took a step back, causing him to smirk, "You look like the type who likes to argue."

"Oh, no. I dislike arguing," she said, and he felt a little disappointed until she spoke again. "But a healthy and hearty debate? That is another story." There was an arrogant twinge behind her smile that he almost missed and it sent excitement through him again.  He could tell that she was a headstrong and difficult girl off the bat, and he could only imagine the amount of fun he could have with her.  

"Huh, you don't say? Well, maybe next time when I'm back in town, we can play a round of debate."

She looked him up and down once, making her assessment of him quick and final. "Maybe," she answered coolly, almost dismissively, and he hated to say it riled him up. "Take this elevator to the top floor. The room you will enter will be Ms. Nausicaa's office. She is the Headmaster's assistant. She can direct you to his office once you're there."

"Guess our little journey ends here," Qrow pressed the call button.

"Seems so," she took a step back when the elevator arrived and opened. "Good day."

Qrow entered the elevator and watched as the doors began to close and she turned away. "Wait," he called out to her. Qrow pushed the doors open again and held it there by force when it tried to close again. "Your name. I didn't catch it."

She walked towards him, her smile made her eyes soft, and she gently pushed him back into the elevator. The doors were closing again. "That's because I didn't give it to you," she said and the doors shut.

He was already passing the third floor when his head stopped buzzing and realized she didn't give him her name. "That was cold, Ice Queen," he grinned, feeling better than when he arrived. 

When the elevator doors open again for the third time, he entered Ms. Nausicaa's office and was swiftly directed to Ironwood's office. "Jimmy," Qrow drawled when he ambled inside the office, "How's it going?"

"Qrow," Ironwood looked surprised, "you're early...why?"

"I can be punctual," Qrow looked around the office for a drink and found a whiskey bottle on the other side of the room. He grabbed the bottle and poured himself a hefty drink. 

"There's a first time for everything."

"I just like to keep you guessing," Qrow pulled a chair and plopped down on it, propping his feet on the desk. 

"Please, don't." Ironwood sighed, sitting at his desk and shoving Qrow's feet off it. "Now, I got a report from - what is it?"

Qrow was holding his hand up, causing Ironwood to stop and get irritated as Qrow took his time to take another swing from his drink and gaze out the window to the darkening skies. "I heard you wanted to demolish this building."

"Yes?"

"Why didn't you?"

Ironwood sighed, unsure where this was going. "There's student who was against it and she got the entire student body and major key players in Atlas' board to side with her. While it was...inconvenient to my plans, her argument was strong and admirable, and after a while, I saw her side." 

"She sounds like fun," Qrow grinned wider and tilted his chair back, "What year is she?"

"When she ran that campaign she was a sophomore, and that was almost two years ago. So, she's a senior now."

“So, she’s twenty?”

“Almost.”

"Hm, and her name?"

Ironwood gave a short chuckle, "You'll be surprised."

"I love surprises."

"Her name is Winter Schnee."

"Schnee?" Qrow's chair slammed against the floor. "Schnee Dust Company. Schnee?"

"Yes," Ironwood nodded. 

"What?"

"I am in agreement. The head of the Schnee Dust Company is...vindictive."

"More like a dumbass."

"But his children, especially the girls, are remarkable. If we play our cards right, I might say Miss Schnee will be a great ally to us one day. Not only is she the top of her class in her studies, she also shows a lot of skills in combat and strategy. Wonderful at public speaking and has a strong moral and ethical compass." Ironwood paused, "What brought this up?"

"You didn't give me directions to your new office. I ran into her and she showed me how to get here, but little Miss Ice Queen didn't give me her name." Qrow grinned, "I was curious."

"I see. I apologize for the lack of directions." 

"Nah, no need. Your fumble brought something interesting to my attention, after all."

"Qrow."

"Next time I'm here, I want her to be my escort."

"Qrow" Ironwood said firmly, noticing the manner in which Qrow's eyes gleamed. "I won't allow you to fraternize with my students."

"Who said anything about fraternizing? I just want a tour guide."

"I will get Ms. Nausicaa to show you around."

"With a pretty face."

"Qrow," Ironwood scowled. 

"So, what you called me up for. I'm a busy man, you know."

Chapter Text

The conversation with her father did not go as planned.

Winter shut her eyes and took a deep breath, holding it for a moment before releasing it. Yet, the urge to scream and ram her saber through the gymnasium’s wall lingered, but she learned as a young child that releasing her frustration like that would not bring the positive solution she was looking for.

A chime came from her scroll, alerting her to a need agenda item added to her schedule. She swiped through her scroll until she reached her calendar and saw the dinner appointment for tomorrow night at the Blue Moon restaurant. She huffed and rolled her eyes. As if she had time to spend two hours enduring the meandering of a marketing heir because her father wanted to play matchmaker, again.

She brought her scroll to her lips, tapping it there in thought. Her mother warned her of the consequences and hardship she would face if she tried to disobey her father, but she was ready to accept anything he threw at her as long as she could live beyond that golden cage he was preparing for her.

"Hey!"

Winter blinked, surveying the empty training field in front of her. The shouts continued and were slowly getting on her nerves. Who on Remnant was yelling so loudly and to whom?

"Hey, Snow Queen, I'm talking to you!"

Winter frowned and looked around the corner of the wall she was standing against, hiding her surprise when she saw the same tall man she helped two weeks waving at her. She made the choice to ignore him until he yelled her name loudly, causing students to turn to look at them. Winter bristled. She brushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear and made her way to him, tucking her scroll back into her pocket. She stood before him, slightly annoyed that he was a head taller than her despite her wearing heels, and examined his clothing once before she perked an eyebrow at him.

"Need me to hold your hand and take you to Headmaster Ironwood’s office again?" 

"Nah, I know the way there now, but holding hands doesn't sound so bad," Qrow grinned wider and stuck his hand out, “The name’s Qrow.”

Frowning, the tops of her ears reddened only slightly but it was enough that he noticed. "I'm shocked that you want a proper introduction this time around, Mr. Branwen.”

"Oh, you know who I am?"

"Headmaster Ironwood mentioned that you might be looking for me the next time you visit. He also mentioned that you might be drunk."

"Don’t listen to Jimmy, he’s a gossiper and likes to spoil my surprises, and surprise on him, I am only slightly buzzed.”

“Slightly,” She crossed her arms and glanced at his hand that was still held out. Winter repressed her annoyed sigh and took his hand. She expected an average handshake between strangers, but Qrow drew her hand to his lips and planted a soft kiss on her fingers. Winter sharply took her hand back. She regarded him cautiously with a glare, unsure of his intentions. Ironwood mentioned despite Qrow Branwen’s aloof appearance, he was an important ally to Atlas and a highly skilled huntsman. 

"Well, then. As there is nothing I can help you with, I will take my leave."

 She walked past him and he followed. "Oh, but I do need help.”

“In what aspect?”

“Tour guide.”

Winter pivot swiftly on her heels, “If you need a tour guide, I am positive Headmaster Ironwood will gladly provide one to you.” 

“And he did.”

“Oh?”

“It’s you,” Qrow lied, keeping his amusement hidden when she accepted it without question.

“Oh,” Winter frowned and turned on her heels again. If Headmaster Ironwood appointed her, then she had no choice. “Well then, what would you like to see?” 

Qrow matched her strides and hummed, “How about your bedroom?”

Winter kicked the side of his foot and it caused him to trip. “The gardens in the back recently got new flowers for the season, we can start there.” Winter went on without looking back at him, missing the excited grin he had as he rushed to walk beside her.

“We just met and you’re already plotting my death?”

“No, I merely want to pick the flowers for the occasion.”

They spent the day walking around Atlas Academy. Qrow barely listened to her explanations on the history of the academy and, instead, focused more on the manner she spoke and moved. Her pronunciation was clear and curt. She seemed to glide across the campus instead of walk, a skill she mostly gained from being the heiress of the Schnee Dust Company. She naturally gravitated to his right and liked to keep one hand press against the small of her back. She never matched the speed of his steps, but when he purposely fell behind, she would stop to wait for him to catch up.

She greeted all the workers at the academy politely by name and introduced him to the elderly gardener who worked at Atlas for close to fifty years. Throughout their three hours tour that felt more like fifteen minutes to him, they bantered the entire away. At some points, he riled her enough that she purposely made him stumble by either off balancing his steps with a swift nudge of her foot or using her semblance.

He fell once and her pleased laughter, as small and short-lived as it was, was worth the dirt smeared on his face. 

“We’ve reached the end, Mr. Branwen,” Winter said once they were in front of the main building again.

“Call me ‘Qrow,’” he said, and she made a delicate hum, acknowledge his request but not entirely agreeing to it. “Mr. Branwen makes me feel old.”

“It’s a title of respect. After all, you are a teacher.”

“Was.”

“Was?”

“I haven’t been a teacher over three years now.”

“Any particular reason?”

“I wasn’t good at teaching kids.”

“Here I was hoping to catch a lecture of yours one day.”

“Hey, if it’s a lecture you want, I’ll be happy to give you one. Privately, of course,” he winked.

“Do you make that kind of offer to every student that crosses your path?”

“No, but I’ll make an exception for you.”

“Your lectures sound inappropriate.”

“That's one reason why I'm not a teacher anymore,” Qrow said, watching as the sun made long shadows across the campus, and he felt a slight pang of discomfort at the thought of parting with her. “Are you sure there isn’t anything else you can show me?”

“Yes,” Winter frowned. 

“How about the gym?”

“I already took you there and you broke two practice dolls.”

“Is there a library?” 

“Yes, and you were practically falling asleep when we were in there.”

“Hm, how about the dining hall?”

“After pushing a student’s face in mash potatoes; why on Remnant do you want to go back there? Unless you want to get scolded by Mr. Sol again.” 

“It made you laugh.”

“It was a small huff of a chuckle, at most, and a mere fluke,” Winter retorted.

He grinned at her dismissively response and wanted to provoke her even more. For the past three hours, he didn’t think about work or responsibilities. He was entirely focused on her and that sharp tongue of hers that kept him on his toes, the subtle shift of emotions on her face, the flash of heat behind her cool eyes. He liked it even more when her entire composure cracked and her ears turn red.

She brought a sense of calmness that he rarely felt.

Comfort.

“Oh, I know what I still need to see.” 

“And what’s that?” 

Qrow leaned down so his words caressed her cheeks, “Your bedroom, Ice Queen.” He then slid to the right to avoid Ironwood’s strike. 

“What did I say, Qrow!” Ironwood growled.

“To not fraternize with your students?”

“And?!" 

“I don’t listen to you,” Qrow smirked, avoiding another strike from Ironwood. “Calm down, old man. All she did was give me a tour of your grand ol' campus.”

“I told you if you wanted a tour guide, I would assign you one.”

“Yeah, and you would give me a boring old bat.”

“Miss Schnee,” Ironwood turned to the blinking heiress.

“Yes, Headmaster?”

“Did he do anything to you?” 

“Besides wasting my time, not really.”

“I’ll get straight to the point next time, then,” Qrow shot another wink at her.

“No,” Ironwood pointed his weapon at Qrow, appearing to be more of an older brother protecting his younger sister than a well-respected general and headmaster. “Winter, do not get near this man again.”

“Hey,” Qrow sauntered his way to them. “That’s not nice. I just wanted to know more about Atlas’ rising star. Like you mentioned the other day, we might be allies one day.”

“No,” Ironwood pushed Qrow towards the main building. “I don’t care what Ozpin said but we are going to have a serious discussion about this, Qrow.”

“Yeah. Yeah,” Qrow looked over his shoulder and saluted Winter as he was taken away. “See you around, Winter.”

Winter watched silently as they entered the building. Her hand pressed against her back and her face slowly got warmed. “Fool,” she hissed and calmly stormed to her dorm room.

Chapter Text

“Nice of you to join us, Qrow.” Glynda crossed her arms, her foot still tapping the floor as Qrow stride inside Ozpin’s office.

“There was traffic,” he said, taking a swing from his flask.

Ozpin smiled but said nothing regarding the manner of his tardiness. “Shall we begin, then? Ironwood.”

The Atlas Headmaster glanced at Qrow. “From my last report with Team RWAL, they have successfully infiltrated the Gold Claws settlement, acting as merchants from Vale.” 

“The Gold Claws?” Qrow stopped ambling around Ozpin’s office. The Gold Claws were a small group of 20 highly skilled hunters, all were trained to be huntsmen and huntresses, and instead of using their newfound skills for good, they committed crimes and were known for the slaughtering of two towns in Vale. “Why are we looking into them?”

“We believe they might have ties with the White Fang,” Ironwood answered. “When we first got word of their interaction with them a week ago, I sent a huntsman with a senior team from Atlas to look into it. The huntsman abandoned the students in combat, however.”

“He did what?” Glynda hissed.

“He is being looked for by Atlas’ police force as we speak.” 

“What about the students?” Ozpin asked.

“I spoke with them last night when this occurred. Team RWAL decided to continue with the mission as they were already inside of the settlement. Additionally, the information they reported was damning enough that I felt it was necessary to call a meeting to hear their next report together.”

“What information is that?”

“The Gold Claws are collecting large amount of dust and are in search for the Summer Maiden. Their suspicion as to where she is located…is close to the truth.”

“What time are they calling in?”

“In a minute,” Ironwood said. There was a chime and a hologram of three students appeared. All dressed as merchants, and the two girls were dressed like men. There was a moment when Ironwood’s eyes narrowed. “Rust. Alma. Leith. Where is your final teammate?” Ironwood asked.

“There has been an incident,” one of the girls said, taking her hoodie off. “Leith River,” the girl said, introducing herself to them.

“What that might be?” Ozpin asked.

There was silence until Ironwood demanded that Rust, the leader of team RWAL, report what happened. However, it was Alma, a short brunette girl with green eyes that spoke, “In the early morning, there was a failure on the changing of the watch post.” 

“Now is not the time to leave out details,” Ironwood scowled.

Alma sighed, “Rust failed to take his shift at the northbound watch post, causing Leith to remain in that position. She was spotted by a Gold Claw member and was taken to their camp. When I went to take over the shift later that morning, I was ambushed and taken, too.”

Ironwood glared at Rust, “What happened?” 

“He was drunk, sir,” Leith reported.

“How are you two here, then?” Glynda asked. “Where is Miss Schnee.”

Qrow jerked his head to the hologram, stepping closer.

“I told her what happened when she came to take over for her shift,” Rust admitted, “She wanted to go get them. I told her she couldn’t and, in the end, she went to look for them. I watched from the trees. The Gold Claws’ leader has a thing for women, especially since it’s part of his business, and notice Winter was a woman despite her disguise – not that that was surprising. Nothing about Winter’s looks scream male.”

“Rust,” Ironwood warned.

“She was surrounded before she knew it,” Rust went on. “Leonotis, the leader, brought Alma and Leith out, saying he’ll make a deal with us if she wanted to save them. Alma and Leith for Winter.”

“What did you do?” Qrow snarled.

“Nothing,” Rust snapped, “It was Winter! She agreed to it. I was in the trees!”

“They let us go in exchange for Winter,” Alma continued, “They threw us out of the settlement, warning that they will kill her if we show our faces again.”

“How long ago was this?” Ozpin asked.

“Less than an hour ago,” Alma answered.

"Why wasn't this reported immediately afterward?" Ironwood asked and the two girls looked at Rust. "We'll talk later, Rust."

"Yes, sir."

“Qrow,” Ozpin looked over at him, “How fast do you think you can travel to Evergreen forest?”

“Two hours.”

“Get going, then.”

~o~o~o~o~

Qrow landed in front of the three Atlas Students, surprising them all. “I’m here to save you.” Qrow pointed to Rust, “I don’t want to hear a word from you, though.”

The Atlas students nodded and collected their things. “We settled in the west,” Alma spoke as they traveled towards the settlement, “it might be better to scale the walls on the south. The terrain is rougher there and less patrolled compared to the other sides.”

Qrow huffed, “And here I was hoping to knock on the front door.”

The Evergreen forest was abundant in wildlife with a few grimms lurking around. As they made their way around the Gold Claws’ settlement, Qrow frowned at the lack of security. Leith made a comment on it; surprised that all the watchmen from earlier were gone in addition to the border guards when they scaled the tall wall.

Qrow jumped over, leading the three students inside. He surveyed the camp and lifted an eyebrow at them. They made their way around one of the houses towards the main living quarter of Leonotis, the Gold Claws’ leader, when they saw scattered unconscious bodies.

“What?”

“We swear it wasn’t like this three hours ago,” Rust held his hands up.

“Didn’t I say I didn’t want to hear a word from you?”

There were muffled yelling from the Leonotis’ cabin. They all took their weapons out and the students jumped in surprised when Leonotis was thrown out of the doors with two other men.

“You…who are you?” One of the men demanded, standing up with their weapons pointing at the inside of the cabin.

“Insolent brat! I will make you grovel for this!” Leonotis shouted, struggling to stand with his hands pressed against the bleeding wound on his stomach.

Winter walked out of the hut wearing an indecently short skirt and a loose bralette that was more jewels and beads than fabric. She was barefooted and her normally up kept hair was loose. She did not spared a glance at Qrow and her teammates as she walked towards Leonotis.

“Schnee women don’t grovel,” she said, her demeanor stoic and cool. Two glyphs appeared on the ground behind her and two beowolves ripped out from them, they were shades of white and grey and snarled at the Gold Claws members. “Eat,” she said and the beowolves sprinted towards them.

Winter formed a glyph in her hand, summoning a bow and arrow. She pulled the arrow back, took her aim, and hit Leonotis when he tried to escape. The arrow embedded in his leg, pinning him to the ground. As she walked towards the leader, one of the guards sprinted to attack her but Winter made a glyph under him, making the guard frozen and vulnerable to the beowolf that tackled him. Winter pulled the arrow out of Leonotis’ leg, it evaporated in her hands in a white mist. She blocked his strike and bent his arm behind his back, immobilizing him.

“I despise repeating myself,” Winter seethed, forcing him up and towards the closed storage house to the right of them. “Now, open the door unless you want to be fed to the beowolf.”

Leonotis touched the door and turned to Winter, surprised by the sword she was pointing at his neck. “I’ll open this door, but only if you’ll let me go. Deal?”

Winter regarded him and said, once more to her utter annoyance, “Open the door.”

“Okay,” Leonotis nodded and used his semblance to unlock the large door, prying it open. There was silence. The beowolves were gone as the two guards were now defeated. Leonotis took a step back. “I’ll be going then,” the robust man nearly sneered at her, “But, I know we’ll meet again.”

Leonotis took another step back and turned around, facing Qrow and the Atlas students, and began to run towards the exit. He was about to pass Qrow when Winter spoke.

“I never agreed to your deal.”

“What?”

“You heard the lady,” Qrow lifted his arm and Leonotis ran into Qrow’s hand. Qrow pushed forward and smacked Leonotis down to the ground. “Time’s up, Munchkin.”

“We’re here to help you,” Winter said loud and clear towards the dark void of the storage room, “You’re safe. Please, come out.”

From the shadows appeared a tiny child, dressed similar to Winter but with more fabric, less jewels, and covered in dirt. She was skinny and appeared to be weak, and she wasn’t alone. Another girl appeared behind her, holding her hand up to block the sun, and then another and another. Winter watched as they left the small storage room until all thirty-one kidnapped girls and women were standing outside in the sun, crying and cheering at being free.

They called Ironwood and two Atlas ships hovered above the settlement two hours later. Huntsmen, huntresses, and medics were crawling over the site, collecting evidence and helping the victims. Winter stood to the side wearing Qrow’s cape. She refused the blanket they offered her just in case someone else needed. There was a shuffle next to her and she looked up at Qrow, she noticed how much taller he was when she wasn’t wearing heels.

“Purposely getting you team leader drunk to get caught by the Gold Claws to save a fleet of women from being sold into slavery is not an easy feat. And that’s not including you also single handily dismantling the Gold Claws and retrieving the information Ozpin and Ironwood needed.” Qrow looked at her, “If you’re trying to impress me, it worked.”

“Attempting to impress you would be similar to impressing a potato. So, why would you think I would want to?”

“Because I’m devilishly handsome.”

“Standards have been lowered as of late,” Winter glanced up at him and the mirth behind her eyes made him grin wider.

“So, what tipped you off?” He gestured to the empty storage house.

“I read some of the reports they had.”

“You weren’t supposed to read those.”

“I wasn’t supposed to dismantle the Gold Claws either.”

Qrow pressed his hand to her back and led her towards a ship that was waiting for them, “Come on, Ice Queen. Let’s get you some real clothes and food before Ironwood chews us out. Though, I have to say, being able to see the sides of your breasts is-”

Winter smacked Qrow in the stomach and continued walking to the airship.

Chapter Text

It was a grand event for Jacque Schnee who wanted to celebrate and show alliance with the mayor of Altas who announced he was running for re-election. The clinking of wine glasses, the strong odor of perfume and cologne mixing with rich food was making Winter nauseous, but behind her practice smile, no one was able to notice. Everyone at her father’s party continued to gossip and laugh, oblivious to the heiress who hated what they represented, what she represented. 

Winter was able to convenience her father to let Weiss go to bed early, Whitely was too young to be present, and her mother refused to attend the party entirely. The marketing heir she got dinner with last time was here and sulking near the center of the room. She refused his proposal last night. He was an idiot if he thought she would accept marriage to someone she met a month ago and barely knew. Nevertheless, her father already found another suitor for her that was eager to marry into the Schnee name like him.

Taking a last sip of champagne, she left her glass on a table and left the party to go to the gardens where there were less people. The night was bright and the air was cool. Fairy lights scattered throughout the garden and there was a man playing the piano in the corner. She made her way to the garden pathway to take a walk and think. She started her senior year and she was going to have to make a decision about her future soon. Her father laid a path out for her filled with political marriage and company growth. Her mother presented another; one where she could run away from everything and be who she wanted to be, abandoned the Schnee name, but that meant leaving her younger sister and bother vulnerable to their father’s scheme. Ironwood had mentioned the Atlesian military, but she could not bear the thought of having more rules and regulations thrust upon her. There was a moment where she thought about becoming a huntress and helping people, but her father already demonstrated how far his influence and pockets could reach if she choose that path.

How troublesome.

She found a bench under the west gazebo that was far from the party. It was completely empty and she sighed in relief. Letting the stone mask she carried crack. A lone lantern guided her as she sat and leaned far back, relaxing for once knowing that no one was watching her. There was a flutter and she looked to her left. Smiling, she sat up and lifted her hand for the white and blue bird to land on her finger.

“What are you doing here, Gerda?” Winter asked the small bird, patting its head gently. Gerda tweeted and hopped up Winter’s arm until it settled on her shoulder. “You should be sleeping.”

Gerda was the bird her father gave to her last year for her birthday. Tiny little Gerda in her cage made of gold. Winter was insulted by the gift and set the bird free soon after. Klein, the family bulter, told her that the bird was domesticated and mostly would have a hard time surviving out in the wilderness. Winter began to leave seeds out for Gerda and even made Klein promise to do so as well when she was away.

“And look at you,” Winter smiled, “doing just fine. Klein told me you had some children while I was at the Academy. Please introduce them to me.”

There was a squawk from behind that surprised her. She turned to the sound and found a red-eyed crow staring at her, jerking its head side-to-side. Winter lifted a brow and Gerda flew away in fright.

She sighed, “Look at what you have done.” She stood up, looking up at the sky to see Gerda disappearing into the trees. “You cannot eat her,” Winter told the crow and it squawked again. Winter reached out to stroke its head, wondering why she had the habit of attracting birds. “I’ve never seen you here before. Well, a word of advice. You should be careful with Kone, our gardener. Father doesn’t like crows that much and he makes Kone shoot at them. Though Kone always misses.”

She heard a shout from the party and then another that sounded like her name.

“They’re looking for me,” Winter sat back down. The crow squawked and flew away. A quill of sadness was produced in her chest and ached when it left, leaving Winter alone under the dim light of the lantern. She was used to the dark creature that was loneliness. Constantly lingering in the back of her mind and making appearances on her mother’s face, and recently, on Weiss’, too.

The shouts were getting louder and it was clearly her name. She knew it was her father sending Klein or some other staff member to look for her. It couldn’t be anyone else. She had no friends, finding it hard to open up to others. She wasn’t close to her teammates even more so once they disbanded soon after the fall of the Gold Claws. Rust dropped out of Atlas. Alma was getting married and was moving to Mistral. Leith joined a new team.

Winter did not make any protest when each of them left.

It was their choice and she wanted them to be happy.

She fought better alone anyways. She couldn’t count the number of times Ironwood lectured her for going rouge on missions. Maybe that was why it was easy to watch her team separate.

“It’s better to be alone.”

“Depends on who you ask.” The gravel voice of Qrow Branwen surprised her. She watched as he ascended the few steps of the gazebo and lean against a column. “How’s it going, Ice Queen? And don’t lie.”

“As expected,” Winter answered carefully. “How are you?”

“Eh, kind of cold, but that’s Atlas for you. Though, seeing you warms my heart,” he said, and the frown produced on her face made him smile, “Mind if I join you?”

“If you must.”

“Here,” Qrow handed her his jacket as he sat down next to her, spreading his leg far enough that it hit her own. “You look cold.”

She was tempted to reject it but the floor length dress with its long train she wore did nothing to keep the chill away. Besides being made from a thin, royal blue fabric with trimming of heavy gold embellishment on the edges, her back and arms were bare and the neckline was low. Winter frowned at the jacket. It was black and slightly wrinkled, but when she put it on, it was warm and smelled of him, sandalwood and the spice from a rich whiskey. 

“Thank you.”

“How’s the party?”

“As expected.”

“The food?”

“As expected,” she said once more.

“Hm, how about the company?”

Winter looked over at him. She suddenly reached over to push the hair falling against his forehead back, allowing her to see his eyes better. “Unexpected. Why are you here?”

“Ironwood invited me to be his plus one, but I promise you, it isn’t a date. He’s too tall and male for my taste, but you on the other hand,” He wagged his eyebrows and Winter pushed his face away from hers.

“You have no concept of personal space, do you?”

“I do, I just like being in yours.”

“You’re intolerable.”

“You say that, but one kiss from me and black ice won’t be the only thing you’ll be falling for.”

Winter paused and assessed him for a moment, “What a presumptuous statement.”

“Want to prove me wrong?”

Winter was unsure on how to react but before she could come up with a stable sentence, the shouts of her name were getting louder and closer.

“They’re looking for you,” Qrow tugged on one of her loose strands of hair.

“So it seems,” she took the strand of hair back.

“How about we get out of here?” Qrow stood up and offered his hand to her.

Winter set her gaze on him, studied him for a moment and the hand that he stretched out to her. He wasn’t dress properly for the party, wearing a black suit from last spring, a red tie that was knotted sloppily, and he wasn’t announced to her and her father when Ironwood arrived.

If anything, she was sure he crashed the party.

“If I go with you, they will assume I have been taken.”

“I always wanted to steal a queen.”

“Where do you intend to take me?”

“Does it matter?”

Winter took a hold of his hand, “No.”

With ease, they ran through the gardens and away from the party. She picked up her dress to prevent the hem from snagging on branches and bushes they passed by. Sneaking behind the guards, Qrow picked her up and jumped over the fence to get on the main streets of Atlas. He led her by the hand down a few alleyways until they were far enough. He only let go of her hand once they arrived to a café, but he placed his hand on her back and led her inside.

His hand was rough, she noticed. While hers had some calluses, they were smoothed and cared by beauticians. His wasn’t. His were course and jagged, rough in some areas and then smooth like scars in others. He was different than what she was used to, to the people she was around. He was not polished or refined. His short black unkempt hair was in a need of a trim and he constantly had stubble, she wondered if he even owned a razor. His eyes, however, were expressive in a manner she never knew was possible. He spoke brashly and crass, insulting anyone he wanted, but underneath all of that, he was nice and honest.

He was a good man, something she rarely saw in her world of riches and luxury.

Winter looked around the café, becoming aware that she was extremely overdressed when the few people in there stared at her, but they all glanced away the moment their eyes met. The cafe smelled of coffee and lavender. The fireplace was crackling and made it comfortably warm. Winter took a few steps in before Qrow directed her to the counter.

“Get whatever you want, it’ll be my treat.”

“How chivalrous of you.”

Winter stepped forward to order black tea with a chocolate pastry. Qrow ordered coffee, black, and paid, telling her to pick a place to sit. Winter looked behind her, there were a group of men staring at her, but she paid no heed to them and made her way to the corner of the café, next to the large windows facing the streets.

“You know, your family should hire better guards. Never know what kind of thief will sneak in and steal something, especially with a treasure like you walking around,” Qrow placed her croissant in front of her alongside her tea before seating down with his coffee in hand.

She gave him a cool look before accepting her tea, “It wouldn’t matter since I willingly ran off with one.”

“Is that a habit of yours or am I just a special case?”

“I like your company,” she admitted and took a sip from her tea.

“That’s a first,” Qrow gave a snort and she perked an eyebrow at him, “My semblance is misfortunate and I have the habit of bring misfortunate to others. So, most people don’t like having me around.”

“Ah…you’re a bad luck charm, then?”

Qrow frowned but the humor behind her eyes made him huff, “I guess.”

Winter studied him, studied the somber notes on his expression. “I don’t believe in luck.”

“You don’t?”

“It’s all perspective, in my opinion,” she skimmed the rim of her cup with her finger, “But, if I did believe...I would say you having the misfortunate of getting lost that day was what brought me to you. Would you consider that bad luck?”

“Meeting you?”

Winter gave a small nod, drinking from her tea again.

Qrow studied her, amazed that she once again made wings flutter in his chest. He grinned, “No. I feel pretty lucky to meet someone that’s easy to mess with.”

“See. Perspective,” Winter pursed her lips, not taking his bait.

“I like having you around, too,” He said, taking a sip of his coffee. He was pleased at the red that appeared on the tips of ears.

“Is that why you lied about me being your tour guide?”

He chuckled, “Yup, and you believed me.”

“With the manner Ozpin praised you, I felt I had no need to believe that you would lie to me.”

“That’s a lot of trust in someone you just met.”

“I’ll be vigilant of you from now on, then,” Winter set her tea down, smiling softly at him and it rammed an arrow through his heart.

“You should," he said, taking a drink from his coffee. "Ironwood told me what happened to your team.”

“Is that so.”

“You okay with that?”

“I am,” she admitted after a moment. “I’m told that teammates kind of…click together. That really didn’t happen with my team. We worked well together, we even won at last year’s Vytal Festival but…we’re all used to faking relationships because of our backgrounds, and we did the same thing when we became a team.”

“You don’t need to do that.”

“Do what?”

“Pretending to be nice or interested in someone. The people you will meet from now on, you have the choice to form a relationship with them, if you like. Professional, platonic, familial,” he paused and looked into her eyes, “romantic.”

Her cheeks were dusted in pink this time and she refused to acknowledge it. She brought her cup to her lips to hide it. “I’ll take that in mind,” she said.

Qrow leaned back in his chair, needing to resist the urge to reach for her hand, to touch her cheek. “Hey, you can start with me, Ice Queen.”

“What are you insinuating?”

“What kind of relationship do you want with me?” He smirked, “and don’t lie.”

Winter looked at him carefully, “I’m not too sure. As I am inexperience in this, I wish to wait until the night is over to make my decision.”

Qrow gave a short chuckle, “I’ll have to impress, then.”

“And I am not easy to impress,” she warned.

They finished their drinks and Winter split her pastry with Qrow after he made a pitiful whine of being hungry. They walked down the streets of central Atlas, Winter had been missing from her father’s party for three hours now and she had no intention in heading back yet. When it was close to midnight, they came across an arcade.

The neon lights, the shuttering rings of points going off and the lively laughter of people caused Qrow to drag Winter inside. Again, Winter received stares because of the manner she was dressed but when she set her eyes on the House of the Grimms, her attention was entirely focused on beating Qrow and getting first place.

The match of destroying the most grimms with their plastic guns became a little too intense. They shoved and insulted each other to get ahead. Winter pushed Qrow into the small crowd surrounding them and he wrapped his arm around her head to blind her. At the end, they both got first and second place on the scored board with Winter beating Qrow by four points.

They played more games. Qrow won her a small stuff bird and while she adored it, she made a comment that it was a shame that he couldn’t win her something bigger. Qrow frowned, insulted that she would assume that he couldn’t, and won a large stuff bear for her. The large bear with its red bowtie was given away to a little girl who was eyeing it in Winter’s arm. They both didn’t care that much, and honestly, Winter was more pleased with the little stuffed finch bird he won for her.

They left the arcade at three in the morning when it was closing, and she took them to grab porgies from a food vendor that was open twenty-four hours before they began their journey to the Schnee Manor. The night was colder. Their cheeks hurt from smiling and their hearts were warm, surprising them both for different reasons. Nearing her home, she saw the large peaks of the rooftops beyond the trees. There were still lights on and cars littering out of the driveway.

“How much trouble are you going to be in?”

“I would not worry. They will only be extremely upset if I ran away to get marry to some farmer.”

“You sure?”

“If I had to repeat the night…I would be happy to run off with you again.”

Ah, there she goes making his heart race.

“Yeah?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t want to disappoint, then. The night is still young and I think I saw a chapel in the city. I’m sure we can get hitch real quick.”

“Oh? Why should I marry you?”

“Because I have a few liens to my name, a high threshold for pain, and a well-respected reputation of a huntsman that could use…some polishing.”

“Some polishing?”

“Some.”

“And that’s your reasoning?”

“Well, besides that and making father dearest mad, I bet I can make you happy,” Qrow admitted, “So, what do you say in running away with me permanently?”

Winter stayed still for a moment. A car passed by them, another guest leaving her father’s party, and the lights from the street lamp made him almost seem angelic. She smiled when a shout interrupted them. Turning around, they saw Ironwood marching up to them with a scowl.

“Qrow,” Ironwood nearly growled. “After forcing yourself to come with me to the Schnee’s banquet, I cannot believe you left immediately and took Winter with you.”

“Why are you surprised? I told you that was my plan on the way here.”

“I thought you were joking!”

“I never joke,” Qrow threw back.

“You joke all the time!”

“Winter,” a cool voice seeped into Qrow and Ironwood’s discussion. An older woman stood at the entrance of the gate to the Schnee’s mansion, her white hair in a neat braid and her hand held out. “Come now.”

“Yes, Mother,” Winter said and turned back to Qrow with a soft smile. “Thank you. I had fun.” She gave a modest curtsy to Ironwood, “Thank you for attending, Headmaster. I hope you had a wonderful time.” Winter turned on her heels and walked up to her mother. They both wave politely at the huntsmen and headed inside.

Qrow rubbed his chest, feeling a twinge of pain as he watched Winter return to her father’s manor, watched as the relax manner in which she was walking throughout the night with him become rigid and firm, the softness in her face hardened.

She didn’t belong there.

“You…have shitty timing, Jimmy.” Qrow muttered, walking away from the Atlas headmaster.

“Wh-what? Where are you going?”

“To get a drink,” Qrow shouted back at him.

Chapter Text

Qrow blinked owlishly, rubbing his chin in surprise and examined the situation he was in and how he arrived in it. He was visiting Winter for the fourth time this month, requesting missions in Atlas much to Ironwood's annoyance and Ozpin's amusement. They were in the park at Atlas Academy after class hours when he noticed Winter was frequently looking at her scroll, answering messages and emails from her father. She explained it had to do with some visiting Duke that wanted to take her out for dinner. Although he knew she does not particularly want to go on a date with some rich and spoiled duke, it stilled peeved him.

So, he took Winter's scroll from her.

At first, she rolled her eyes and asked for it back and he pretended to hand it back twice. Each time she reached for it, he whipped it away from her grasps. Then, he raised it high above his head as she glared at him.

She called him a child and demanded it back.

He told her to take it.

For some reason, he thought she would jump to reach it as Yang and Ruby did. While she was older and much taller than his nieces, and slightly taller than the average women, Winter Schnee was still inches shorter than him. Instead, she quickly landed a steady hit on the back of his knee that caused his leg to buckle. She then yanked the scroll from him with a triumphant smirk.

There was something about the haughty look that got him nodding, annoyed that he did not read her movements. So, he slapped her hand up and stole her scroll again but she quickly got it back by hitting his inner elbow, tapping his chin to stun him, and swiping it out of his hand.

Qrow was personally insulted.

He had more than ten years of professional huntsman experience and it should not be difficult for him to outsmart a student. He unhooked his weapon and stabbed it in the ground. Winter perked an eyebrow, amused, and did the same with her saber. The scroll was the prize and it swapped between then at least ten times until he smacked it into the air and kicked it to the side.

"Qrow!" Winter exclaimed in shock at the harsh sound of the scroll hitting the ground.

"It landed on the grass, it should be fine," Qrow stood up from where she flipped him onto his back, rubbing his chin from where she gave him a quick hit.

"You do not even sound a bit remorseful."

"Is it broken?" He asked.

She picked it up and examined it, "No."

"See," Qrow marched up to her and took her phone away again. "Ah, we're not done playing yet."

"I do not intend to use my scroll as a prize anymore," Winter took it back.

"Okay. Fair enough. Then how about this," Qrow took the scroll once again much to her irritation and tossed it near her saber. "Let's have a bet."

"Why are you invested in fighting me?" she asked.

"Simple," he stepped close to her, the aroma of her perfume, lilies and delicate musk, soothed the slight throbbing on his chin, "I want to know why I can't read your attacks. It's pissing me off."

“I’m just better than you," she tilted her head up, noticing the short distance between them. "What are we betting."

"Three hits," Qrow stated with three fingers up, "I land three hits on you and I get a kiss."

Winter blinked, “A…a kiss?”

“Yes.”

“From who?”

“From you,” he nearly growled.

“From me?”

“I do unless you don’t want me to kiss you, but I think there’s a small, little crevice in that cold heart of yours that does want a kiss from me.” His eyes slid shut, and when he bent down to press his lips against hers, she stepped back.

She narrowed her eyes at him, her ears burning red. “Fine. Is that really all you want?"

"Yes, unless you're going to give it to me now. I can think of something else more…daring"

"Hm," Winter circled him like a predator, "and if I win?"

Qrow grinned, "What do you want?"

"What can you offer?"

“How about lunch?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“I’ll take you out.”

“We’re already outside.”

“A date,” he clarified.

“Today’s the twenty-fifth.”

“Winter,” Qrow stopped her circling, “you know what I meant.”

“I want something better than that.”

Qrow’s heart thundered, “What then?”

Winter smirked; her eyes gleamed in excitement, “Verbal confirmation that I’m better than you.” She perked an eyebrow at his loud, disappointed sigh. “What? Were you expecting something entirely different?”

“Yes.”

“Hm, what a shame. Anyways,” She went on, not caring about his scowl, “I want you to say the following: ‘Winter Schnee is an outstanding huntress, infinitely better than me, Qrow Branwen, and I am an utter fool with a bad sense of style.’”

Qrow stepped forward and hissed, “You take that back.”

“I will if you win,” Winter said, hands on her hips. “Are we in an accord?”

“We are,” Qrow shook her hand and pulled her forward, aiming a swift hit to her side but Winter countered, blocked, and he felt a solid hit on his leg. Qrow frowned, stunned that she was fast but grinned at the challenge. “Okay. Let’s get started.”

“We already started!”

They met in another flurry of attacks, turning and twisting like a flame dancing in the wind. Qrow recognized her fighting style. It was the rigid training of the Atlas military, firm and straight strikes aimed at his vital points; focused more on impairment than conquest. A fighting style that was easy to read, predictable, but she added extra steps. Instead of continuing with a strike after a block, she would take a step beside him and attempt to aim a hit out of his range. She would avoid attacks by getting into his blind stops. Her steps were light and contained a quality of a dancer.

More than once, she caught him off-guard. Thankfully, he was able to adapt to her change and met her unexpected attacks with his owns. He hit her side and stomach, making it two to one until she swiped his feet underneath him, and gave a solid kick to his chest.

Qrow rolled and flipped back onto his feet, avoiding her second kick. “That was unexpected. Next one to land a hit is the winner…unless you want to call it off.”

“I did not take you as a coward, Branwen.”

“I was just trying to give you a way out, Ice Queen.” Qrow smirked, “But I know you’re desperate for me to kiss you.”

Winter charged forward, launching series of kicks and punches that he all blocked and avoided. The air around them was getting heavy; sweat was perspiring from their skin but the vivid glint in their eyes intensified. At one point, they both realized he was going to win. He had more stamina than her, more experience, and he was beginning to understand her movements clearer now, losing his surprised when she blocked instead of hit and misdirected instead of block.

That was until she caught his wrist, used his hip as an anchor to twist herself up and wrap her thighs around his head. She used her weight to counter him, flipping him over and painfully onto his back. Stunned at the contact, he was a second too slow to recognize her jumping away and landing a hit on his chest. She somersaulted back, hands on her hips with a victorious smirk.

Qrow sat up, lips pursed in annoyance. “Of all the situations where I imaged myself between your thighs, this was not one of them. Shit!” Qrow rubbed the back of his head where Winter’s scroll hit him. “I admit I deserve that, but warning.”

“I’m throwing my scroll at you for being a degenerate.” Winter said, her cheeks burning red due to the fight and his words. “There’s your warning.”

Qrow got up, dusting the grass and dirt from his clothing with a sigh. “Can you at least kiss it better?”

“How about I throw Harbinger at you instead?”

Qrow laughed and tossed her scroll back to her, “Winter Schnee.”

“What?”

“You are an outstanding huntress, better than me and I am an utter fool.”

“With a bad sense of style,” she reminded him.

“With a bad sense of style,” he remedied, “Happy?”

Winter took a deep breath to control her panting, annoyed that he wasn’t as out of breath as she was. She studied him for a moment, ignoring the disappointment she felt at losing. “Satisfactory,” she said, stepping forward to fix his hair for him.

“How about a rematch?” He caught her hand and leaned down, seeing her tense.

“Want to lose again?”

“No,” he said, and knew his following sentence was going to add fire to her rising temper, but the need was too grand for him and he did not care if her glyph would launch him into a tree. “I just didn’t get a good look at the color of your underwear.”

He did get a good look at the color of her underwear.

They were white.

Chapter Text

“We sent Huntsman Duclair to Mice Desert, which, as you know, is heavily patrolled and protected by the Monade Tribe. He has gone quiet. His mission was to carry a message from Mistral to Vale regarding a high-security threat. We couldn’t risk it going through the CCT.” Ozpin placed his elbows on his desk, “Your mission is to find him, alive or dead, retrieve the message, and not get caught by the Monade Tribe.”

“Sounds easy,” Qrow said.

“You will be meeting with a huntress who is already in Mice Desert for a different mission. She has been undercover for three weeks as a traveling refugee. You appearing by her side will lessen suspicion.”

“A huntress?” Qrow frowned, “I work alone.”

“I am aware,” Ozpin said with a slight smile, “which is why you are on this mission alone and only receiving a little help from a huntress who just so happen to be there and can help with you completing said mission.”

“Yeah. Yeah. So, who’s the informant I’m meeting?” Qrow asked, logging everything in his scroll and looking over the documents passed to him by Ozpin and Ironwood. 

“Winter Schnee.”

~o~o~o~o~

Qrow flew behind a tent and transformed back into a human. He arrived at Palms, a tiny town in Mice Desert, a day earlier than scheduled mostly due to his eagerness in seeing Winter, having a full day with her. He has never felt excited to meet an informant before, but knowing that it was Winter Schnee he was going to meet, his grin could not leave his face. His heart was fluttering rapidly at a speed he did not think was possible because of her.

There was something about her perfect posture, competitive nature, and refined manner of speaking that got to him. Then, there were those damn delicate and infrequent smiles she has that made everything brighter. There were moments that she seemed so perfect until he said or did something that would make her scowl and glare at him, or give a genuine airily laugh and it was those moments where she floored him.

He vaguely mentioned the effect she had on him to Taiyang and the blond huntsman simply said that it sounded like he was falling in love. Him? Qrow Branwen who had never been in a relationship longer than a three hours one-night stand? He wanted to laugh but when he tried, nothing came out. Taiyang was smiling so damn much that Qrow told his nieces, Yang and Ruby, that Taiyang hid candy in the living room. While the girls wrecked the house, Qrow was able to slip away to avoid Taiyang’s teasing.

But his words rang in Qrow's head for hours.

He was still reeling over the fact that he somewhat proposed to her. Yet, as much as he told himself he shouldn’t be involved with her, he still looked for her whenever he went to Atlas, strived to get a rise from her that broke that mask she wore. To say or do something that would soften her edges.

Ironwood noticed Qrow’s habit of sticking to Winter when he was in Atlas and began to send her off on missions whenever Qrow was coming to Atlas. Now, here he was traveling to her. He was going to see her after two months.

He wanted to know how she was. Was her father still upset with her after she spent an entire night with him? Has she improved that time glyphs she was having trouble with? How was her sister’s birthday? Had she tried baking a cake for her like she wanted to?

Did she miss him?

Gods, was this what all his colleagues felt like when they were falling love?

Qrow stopped and stepped behind the tent again in a panic, not believing that he admitted to himself in broad daylight with no alcohol in him that he was falling in love. Groaning, he shook his head, almost annoyed with himself. He was doing so well not falling in love with no one for the past thirty-three years, and she just had to mess it all up.

How dare she.

He had a reputation to uphold.

Qrow scowled and walked out to the dusty street of Palms. Communication between scrolls was not advised in this area of Remnant. The CCT connection here was not secured. So, he had to physically look for her.

He swiftly purchased a tan hooded cape to wear and hid his face as he walked about. The people of Palms were commonly tan with dark brown hair and green eyes, dressed an airy linen clothing. He already stood out because of his height, so the cape would help him blend in as he searched for Winter.

Qrow passed stalls filled with different fruits and grains. He noticed some men and women wearing matching earrings, he assumed it was their version of wedding rings. As he walked, he felt a twinge of curling awareness on the back of his neck.

He was being watched.

He kept walking, waiting to see if it would disappear but it didn’t. After a block, he looked over his shoulder and saw no one suspicious. There were a few people walking the street, standing at stalls purchasing produce and knickknacks. No one was looking at him directly. Narrowing his gaze, he kept on walking, opening his senses even more to catch the person. After another block, he snorted and turned into an alleyway and transformed into a crow. He perched on top of a house and waited to see if anyone would enter the alleyway, and only a mother with a child did.

After ten minutes, he felt a twitch on his forehead. He was being ridiculed. Qrow flew to another alley to become a man. Smoothly bursting into the streets again, he looked around discreetly and stopped when he saw a tiny red bird perched on a table, singing happily to the person that was sitting there.

Then, he saw blue.

Winter glanced up from the bird and smirked. Narrowing his gaze, he marched over to her and yanked the chair out from her table, scaring the bird away. He plopped down, tapping the table with his fingers in annoyance. Like him, she was wearing a hooded cape but hers was the color of cream.

“You think you’re so smart.”

“I simply wanted to test the great Qrow Branwen’s hunting skills,” Winter said, taking a sip from her tea.

“Yeah? And what’s my score?” Qrow reached over and took the cup from her hand, taking a long drink to irritate her.

Winter frowned, “in need of improvement.”

She then used her foot to kick the back of his ankle and took her cup back when he jumped in shock. She poured more tea into the cup from the decorated teapot she had on the table before ordering another cup for him in a language he did not understand.

“How’d you know I was here?” Qrow asked.

“It was a coincidence. I was at the stall next to the one where you bought your cape.”

“Hm, I wonder if that was bad luck or good?”

Winter watched him over the rim of her cup, “What brings you here?”

“I need something from you,” he said, surprising her.

She lifted an eyebrow, pouring tea in his cup, too, when it arrived alongside a slice of cake with two forks. She passed a fork to him, “And what is that?”

Qrow leaned back in his chair, distracted by her long black lashes and the pretty ripe pink bow of her lips. Her hair was in a plait, curling down her left shoulder, standing out vividly against her royal blue vest above her billowing white blouse. Winter was lovely. His memory failing to remind him him how beautiful she was. He wondered when he would get used to the sensation. His eyes lingered on her lips again. He had spent many nights wondering what kissing her would feel like, taste like. 

“A kiss."

“Burn in a fire, Branwen.”

“I’m sure that glare of yours will cool me down, Ice Queen.”

“As if I would attempt to lessen your suffering.”

Qrow grinned as he drank from his own cup, taking a single bite of her cake with orange glaze in the middle. “How’s your mission going so far?”

“It’s classified,” she said, “yours?”

“Half-classified.”

“Half?”

“Yup. Good ol’ Ozpin mentioned that you might have some information regarding a smuggler that goes by the name of Albert Tulip.”

“Ah, so you are the Huntsman. What kind of information do you need?”

“The kind that tells me where he’s at, how strong he is, if he got any lackeys following him, what kind of semblance he has,” he listed, “You know, all that good stuff. But, I want it tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Well, if you tell me now, then I have the responsibility of doing my job even though I came here a day earlier than needed.”

“What caused you to do that? I doubt it is to be punctual or to sight-see.”

“I came here to see you,” Qrow admitted, watching as a strong breeze knocked her hood off her head and the look she had was cool and trained. Yet, it inflamed him, from the red tint of her ears to the black fans of her lashes, the way she held his gaze, her fingers curling over her cup. Yes. Everything about her called to him.

“Is that so?”

“It is,” he said.

In the evening, they ran across Albert Tulip in the market. Winter swiftly gave Qrow the information he needed about Tulip before he left her in the town of Palms.

Sighing, he annoyingly accepted again that he does have bad luck. The moment he was tempted to remind her of his question the night of her father’s party, that runaway smuggler just had to appear. Maybe it was a good thing? He knew well that it would be impossible for the heiress of Schnee Dust Company to run off with him.

Her father would have the Atlas Police Force looking for them. Even the military if his influence ran that deep. It would be nearly impossible for anything to happen between them, but when he thought of her curious expression on being given a small jar of dried flowers by him this afternoon, he knew he had to at least try.

He couldn’t leave her alone.

Chapter Text

“Pas de chat, pas de bourrée, attitude pirouettes, and again on the left,” the ballet instruction shouted and Winter followed her instruction. Jumping into fifth position, bending her legs, standing on one and executing pirouettes until the combination ended before repeating it again.

The quartet in the corner of the room was playing rather quick and Winter shot them a glare as she went into the quick steps the instructor shouted at her. She heard the door of the room open and exhaled sharply at the sight of Headmaster Ironwood and Headmaster Ozpin entering the room.

She paused once the quartet and her instructor did but Ozpin waved his hand. “Please, finish up,” he said.

“Thank you, Headmasters. We’re almost done. From the top,” the ballet instructor whipped her stick on the barre and the music picked up again. “Pas de chat, pas de bourrée, attitude pirouettes; yes, just like that, Miss Schnee. Great posture. Now, manège. Go. Yes!”

“If being a huntress does not work out for Miss Schnee, she would make a wonderful ballerina,” Ozpin mused.

“If you’re impressed by her ballet, you should hear her sing,” Ironwood said, crossing his arm. “Or play the piano.”

“She can play the piano?”

“And viola. Jacque Schnee spares no expense on his daughters’ education.”

“Yes, now manège de coupé jeté. Good. Higher. Higher, Miss Schnee,” the instructor demanded. “Two more counts and end with a double saut de basque,” the instructor held her breath and smiled largely when Winter executed the steps perfectly. “Excellent. Excellent, Miss Schnee!”

Winter curtsied to her instructor, panting as sweat dripped from her forehead, “Thank you.”

The instructor nodded, “We're done for today. I’ll see you on Friday.”

Winter went to her bag and mopped the sweat from her brow with a small towel Whitely had given her. She threw on an oversized grey sweater made of thin cotton over her black leotard and changed from her pointe shoes to winter boots, watching her instructor go speak with the headmasters.

“Thank you for letting us finish, Headmasters.”

“Thank you for letting us watch,” Ozpin said politely. “It was very impressive.”

“Oh, yes. Winter is my best student,” the instructor smiled, “She did hit a plateau a few years ago and I believed she wouldn’t be able to continue, but she proved me wrong. I rue the day when our lessons will come to an end.”

“Well, it’s as they say, all good things must come to end.”

“Wise word,” she agreed and went to gather her things to leave, but not before she told the quartet they were sloppy near the end and Winter to work the height of her jumps. The quartet quickly packed their instruments, bowing their heads to the headmasters and scurried out like mice.

“Good morning, Headmaster Ironwood. Headmaster Ozpin,” Winter greeted them, her bag resting beside her feet. “Is there something I can help you two with?”

“Yes, actually,” Ozpin smiled, “Are you available to speak with us for a moment?”

Winter glanced at the clock. She had an hour before classes start. Ironwood noticed the time as well and mentioned that he will inform her professor of her tardiness. So, she nodded and followed the two headmasters out of the studio to the Atlas Academy courtyard. It was still early in the morning that there were almost no students walking the campus. They went up to Ironwood’s office where Ozpin pulled up chairs for him and Winter.

“How are you this morning, Winter?” Ozpin asked, accepting the coffee Ironwood handed to him.

“I’m well,” Winter answered, accepting her tea, too, from Ironwood.

“We’re here to…have a conversation.”

Winter glanced to Ironwood and asked, “a conversation on what?”

“Your future,” Ironwood said, “after graduating. I know we talked about it once before and we would like to revisit the conversation if that’s alright.”

“It is.”

“Miss Schnee,” Ozpin leaned forward and smile, “I see great potential in you. We both do, and we want that potential to flourish under the right guidance and…encouragement.”

“We have become aware of your father’s suggestion for your future once you graduate,” Ironwood said. “While we do not want to overstep ourselves, we do want to offer other options for you.”

“Besides being a huntress?” Winter asked, taking a polite sip from her cup.

“Yes,” Ozpin said, “although a career in the performing arts also seems like a good path for you – Ironwood mentioned you are also a talented singer and musician – I would like to strongly recommend becoming a huntress and working with me in Vale.”

Winter blinked in surprised but waited for Ozpin to continue with his explanation.

“You have showcased great talent. Talent that will be useful in the fight for peace and justice, protection against grimm and groups of terrorism.” Ozpin said passionately. “Talent that should not go to waste.”

Winter nodded carefully, “I will take that into consideration, then.”

“What Ozpin is subtly trying to say is that your talent should not be tucked away so you can marry and work behind a desk because of your father’s demand,” Ironwood injected much to Ozpin’s disapproval. “Winter, I have not seen a student of your caliber, drive, and ambition in all of my years of teaching. Despite not being captain of your team, you exceeded what was expected from you and became the leader they needed. You carried your team twice through the Vytal Festival and won the title both times. When we say you have talent, we are saying you have a gift; a proficiency in strategy, fighting, communication, leadership, and fair delegation of duty.

“We know the difficulties you have as the heiress of the Schnee Dust Company, and I want you to know that if you choose to leave that behind, you will still have a purpose, a reason to live, and we will help you. As I mentioned in that past, I see potential and great growth for you in the Atlas Military Special Operative Unit. The Atlas Military, while not completely free from the influences of companies, is legally free from their orders. They can’t touch you under the law of the Kingdom of Atlas.”

“You graduate in a few months,” Ozpin said, throwing another disapproving look at Ironwood, “And contrary to what your father may have said in the past, you have multiple paths in front of you. As we said before, we would like to offer you the opportunity to either work with me or with Ironwood after you graduate from the Academy. While you don’t need to answer-”

“Yes,” Winter said, surprising them both.

“Really?” Ironwood said.

Ozpin laughed, “And here we were thinking it would be harder to convenience you.”

“I want to help people, as many as I can, and I know following my father’s plan will prevent me from doing so.” Winter gave a smile, one that was rehearsed, “I truly appreciate the offers, but would it be alright if I think over which option to take? I have to take into consideration my younger siblings and…some hindrances. ”

Ozpin nodded, “Yes, we will also look into those…hindrances.”

“Is there anything else?” Ironwood looked over the Ozpin, “Miss Schnee does have class in less than thirty minutes.”

“Not that I can think of. Miss Schnee, thank you for your time.”

“Thank you,” Winter said, returning her empty teacup to the tray on Ironwood’s desk.

“Ah, Winter,” Ironwood stopped her. He sighed in irritation, his head in his palm as he looked at Ozpin and then to Winter. “I…hate to ask this but what is your relationship with Qrow Branwen?”

“Unprofessional, questionable, and exasperating,” She said quickly in a clear voice. “I believe he has the life goal to pester me until I jump off a cliff.”

Ozpin laughed loudly at her answer, “I see. I see. Would you like us to intervene on that?”

Winter paused, regarding them carefully, “It’s quite alright. I can handle him.”

“Are you sure?” Ironwood asked, “Just say the word and we will prevent his interaction with you.”

“Thank you for your offer and concern, but It’s fine,” Winter said, “I know his type. Like his namesake, he will get bored of me and move on to the next shiny thing that catches his interest.”

“As long as you are sure. If you change your mind, please let us know,” Ozpin smiled.

“Yes. Again, thank you, headmasters.” Winter bid them goodbye.

Ozpin snickered behind his mug, “A little hard to read but she’s humorous. I can see why Qrow is insisted in coming to Atlas more often.”

Ironwood snorted, “I would really like to revisit our discussion on Qrow’s involvement with Winter.”

“I still think it’s fine.”

“He likes her.”

“I know.”

“And I mean in more than a platonic manner.”

Ozpin smiled, “I agree.”

“He’s more than a decade older than her.”

“Wasn’t your last partner fifteen years your junior?”

“Yes,” Ironwood nearly sputtered, “but she was in her mid-twenties with some real-life experiences.”

“And Miss Winter is a month shy of being twenty with experiences that forced her to mature quicker than others because of her status and background. From what I gathered, she did not exactly have a normal childhood like others filled with toys, friends, and mischief.”

“They are in two different stages of life.”

“And if they are aware of that and are still willing to make it work, what is the problem?”

“I’m just worried. Qrow isn’t the best when it comes to relationships.” 

“True. He usually moves on after a day but, from what I’ve seen, it’s almost been five months since they met and he is still returning to her.” Qzpin said, “I am positive, just as Miss Winter said, she can handle him.”

“I’m still going to keep an eye on him.”

“If it eases your mind,” Ozpin sighed. “Why are you concern about her, James?”

Ironwood frowned, looking out the window for a moment. “Besides being a student of mine. I know her since she was ten. She reminds me of my younger sister,” he admitted, “Kind and always looking straight ahead with determination - a rare trait to find these days.”

“I see,” Ozpin patted Ironwood’s shoulder; “Despite pushing the Atlas Military agenda to young impressionable minds…I suppose you’re a good man, James.”

He snorted again, “Thanks.”

Chapter Text

“Winter!” Weiss looked up in panic, “help me! I don’t know what I did!”

Whitely was looking over Weiss' shoulder also wondering how to fix the mistake. Winter yawned softly before looking at Weiss’ attempt in making her first scarf. She saw where the error occurred in the stitching and showed it to Weiss and Whitely, “Do you see this? You missed a cross here.”

“How do I fix it?”

“You just have to undo what you did so far and start again from there,” Winter explained and continued with her scarf. It was a stark red and made of stain yarn with a basic cable pattern down the middle, loud and eye-catching compared to Weiss’. She just finished the last looped and closed it when Klein entered the library.

“Children, you’re still here?” he asked.

“Look, Klein!” Whitely rushed up to show a dark grey hat, “Winnie made it.”

“Oh, it looks dashing.”

“Klein!” Weiss ran up to him, too, and showed the scarf to him with a proud smile, “Winter showed me how to knit a scarf.”

“A scarf?” Klein compliment Weiss’ scarf before looking at Winter’s, noticing the color and masculine traits it had, nothing to Winter’s personal taste. “Who’s that for?”

“A present of good faith for a huntsman,” Winter said, folding the scarf and cleaning up their mess as Weiss paraded around the room with her almost finished scarf.

“I see, it’s a fitting gift,” Klein said. “Come now, children, the Year End party is about to start and your mother is waiting for you three to welcome the guests.”

Winter rose from her chair, smoothing her gown, a lace fabric with floral embroidery and beading, before slipping her heels on. Weiss and Whitely handed her the hat and unfinished scarf to save for later, which she handed to Klein to take to her room. Winter led them to the great hall of the manor where the party was taking place. Weiss to the left of her in a charming gown with twists of flowers at its waist and Whitely to the right in a fine grey suit and a blue bow tie. 

It was the same charade as always. The same pointless meandering and actions made over dinner but with a different face each time. She smiled pleasantly at father’s associates, danced with their sons, talked politics with young politicians, and talked business with heirs from other companies.

A blur of an insignificant event that ended after five hours.

Winter entered her room and frowned when she saw Weiss and Whitely sleeping on her bed, their Year End gifts lying on the ground. They tried to stay up to exchange gifts with her. If she had known, she would have left the party earlier. She arranged them on the massive bed and had the intention to get ready for bed herself when she saw the red scarf on her desk.

Glancing at the clock, it was almost three in the morning and that meant that it was almost midnight in Patch. Winter felt nervous as she went to her scroll and searched for Qrow’s contact information. She peered at her sleeping siblings and stepped outside to her balcony. The lights turned on automatically, snow drifted down, and she took a moment to wish Qrow a happy Year End.

Message created.

Sent.

Delivered.

She sighed, almost disappointed for feeling flutters in her stomach. She crossed over to take a seat on a wooden chair, wanting the stark temperature to cool her cheeks and head. There were no stars in Atlas tonight. The looming clouds ensured on that by stretching out thin. Her scroll rang and she almost threw it from the surprise. It was a visual call from Qrow and she thought about not answering it due to the fright he gave her, but after a moment she answered it once she was sure there was no one around her.

“You frightened me,” she accused once the projection gave way to his image.

He grinned, “I did?”

“Of course, I was not expecting you to call.”

“I wasn’t expecting a message from you either. It was hard to believe and, out of the goodness of my heart, I had to make sure nothing bad was happening to you.”

“The only thing bad that’s happening to me is your manners.”

Qrow laughed and his eye softened once the jovial sound ended, “Hey."

"Yes?"

"Happy Year End.”

“Happy Year End,” she replied and set the scroll on the table.

“Wait,” Qrow moved in a little closer, “are you outside?”

“I am.”

“Isn’t snowing?” He asked, but he saw the snowflakes drifting around her and landing on her black lashes.

“It is.”

“Get inside!” He demanded, “Do you want to get sick!?”

“I can not talk to you inside. My siblings are sleeping.”

“Sleepover?”

“I think they wanted to exchange gifts but fell asleep waiting for me.”

“Cute," Qrow frowned, "Now, go get a blanket.”

“Fine, you grackle.”

“Grackle?!”

Winter ignored his cry and went inside to grab a blanket. She draped the first one she saw around her shoulders, making sure Weiss and Whitely were still asleep before returning outside. She sat back down and noticed his pensive frown, “Yes?”

“Had a party tonight?”

“The annual Schnee Year End Dinner Party,” Winter said.

“I didn’t get an invite.”

“Do you have a multimillion lien business?”

“Um…no.”

“There is your answer on the invitation,” she huffed a laugh. “No worries, though. It is the same thing as always, nothing new or interesting unless you simply come for the food. You did not miss much.”

“I missed seeing you in a dress.”

“Qrow.”

“Give me a spin.”

“Qrow!” Her cheeks were red.

“Come on, I never see you dressed up.”

“I’m practically always dressed up.”

“One twirl,” he said, “and I’ll bring you Patch chocolates again.”

“You would bring me some regardless if I showed you my dress.”

“True, but humor me.”

Winter frowned, embarrassed but decided to indulge him. She stood up again and gave a slow turn under the patio light without the blanket, “Satisfied?”

Qrow sighed, “I could have been there in person to see you in a low-cut dress. Such a wasted opportunity.”

“Goodnight, Qrow,” she reached over to end the conversation but he apologized with a laugh.

“You look nice,” he said and leaned forward with a leered grin. "Are you wearing a bra?"

Winter ended the call and she wasn't leaning back in her seat yet when he called her again. She let it ring for a while before answering it with a sigh. He was chuckling when the projection solidified and she wondered, once more, why she liked his company when he annoyed her so much. Winter tugged the blanket over her and asked him, “How’s your Year End?”

“Yang and Ruby wanted to stay up until midnight to open presents, too, but fell asleep. So, I was helping Tai clean up.”

“Oh, is this a bad time, then?”

“I called you,” Qrow reasoned. “I needed a distraction anyway.”

“Lair. You just don’t want to clean.”

“True but I also wanted to talk to you.”

“Well, then. Who am I to keep you from your household duties,” she said, and they delved in light conversation. She laughed softly when he made a joke and listened to the tradition his family did for the Year End: a hearty dinner with pecan pie for dessert, gingerbread house competition, and opening presents at midnight if the girls could stay awake. Qrow mentioned the gifts he got for his nieces. Yang will receive some new fighting gloves and a motorized bike – she kept saying she wanted a motorcycle but he thought she was still too young for one. He and Taiyang agreed to get her one once she entered a huntsmen academy. Ruby got some expensive sweets from his trip to Mistral and a training scythe.

“She wants to be like her good ol’ Uncle Qrow.”

“You must be proud.”

Qrow frowned, “is that an insult?”

“Did you take it as one?”

“Yes?”

Winter laughed much to Qrow’s annoyance. She did not realize that an hour nearly passed until Qrow mentioned that she had to go inside. “Your nose is red,” Qrow argued, “and so are your cheeks. It’s what? Four in the morning other there?”

“It is.”

“Go to bed,” he said.

“Concern?”

“Of course I am.”

“You are more of a mother hen than your namesake.”

“Stop with the bird jokes and go inside,” he scowled, “I’ll give you a call later.”

“Oh? You’ll call me again?”

Qrow froze and she was sure she saw his cheeks reddened, which was a rare sight for her. “Is that a problem?” He asked.

“I’ll wait for it,” she said, collecting her blanket tightly over her when she thought of the gift she made for him. “When will you be stopping by Atlas again?”

“Why? Miss me?”

“I have a gift for you.”

Qrow blinked and gave a small pleased smile, “You got me a present?”

“A Year End gift,” Winter clarified. “So?”

“I have a mission in Mantle in two days, but I guess I can stop by Atlas for a day afterward if you’re not so terribly busy with your high society parties and dates with your trail of suitors.” He said in an overly ornate tone, smirking at her frown.

“Well, there’s always parties but I can miss those. And worry not, I’ll reschedule my dates with my suitors on that day for you.”

His smirk fell, “dates?”

“With my suitors,” she finished for him, nearly laughing at his expression. “I’m sure they have gifts for me, too.”

“Oh,” his tone was deep and annoyed. “Winter.”

“Yes?”

He frowned, his fingers rapping the railing of the balcony he was leaning against. He opened his mouth, about to speak but shut it again. Thinking hard and carefully, but she saw his irritation finally win over. “Don’t go on any more dates,” he requested, but it came out more of an order that had her lifting an eyebrow.

“And why’s that?” She asked.

“Because you don’t need to anymore.”

“That’s not a good reason.”

“Winter, you can’t.”

“I believe I will need a better answer than that for my father.”

“Winter,” his tone was hard and flat. He ran his hand through his hair, nearly pulling it. It was a childish and immature request. He knew that. It was one where he had no right to demand but the thought of her spending time in the presence of another man who had the clear intention to charm and woo her had his blood boiling. He didn’t want to imagine her smiling with another man that way she smiled at him, sharing a meal with another man as she did with him, touching another man in her shy manner as she done with him, laughing and being unguarded with another man that was not him.

Those rare sides of Winter he selfishly wanted them for himself.

“Winter,” he started again.

“Yes?”

"I don't want you to go on any more dates."

"Oh? Are you jealous?"

"I am," he answered truthfully and it stunned her. 

“Father has one pending for the weekend with the mayor’s son,” she admitted, seeing a scowl appeared on his face. “However, I hope you find some comfort in knowing that I’ve been firmly declining every single date he has been attempting to set up as of...recent, though some, unfortunately, slip here and there. I will decline this one, too.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes. I find I prefer the company of birds over suitors.” She said and smiled softly at the amused grin she got out of him.

“Don’t find them nosy?”

“I find them charming.”

“Handsome?”

“Should we exchange them over dinner? The gifts, I mean.” She said, ignoring his last baiting question, “I’ll even let you pick the restaurant.”

“Trying to win points with me, I see. I’ll take it.” He was pacified for the moment but he wondered how long he could keep this roaring emotion inside of him quiet. He would need to tell her soon. It was practically ripping out from of his throat to shout it for all to know. It was a secret he did not want to keep to himself anymore. The snow was falling heavier on her end and he, once again, urged her to go inside. “I'll call and let you know when I'm going to Atlas."

"I will wait for your call, then."

"See you in a few days. Happy Year End.”

“Happy Year End. Goodnight,” Winter smiled, not knowing its appearance made his heart skip, and ended their call. She looked back up at the sky and wondered what she was doing.

Chapter Text

“Should you not ask for someone that isn’t a student to help you out?” Winter walked up to Qrow who hasn’t responded from his seat at the bar. “It’s not even three in the afternoon, yet.”

Winter pushed his shoulder, knocking his head off his hand and onto the counter. She expected him to shout but he just shifted his gaze up at her and grinned, “Snow Queen. You’re here.”

“I was called by the bartender to get you.”

“Oh, you weren’t lying,” the bartender popped out from the back and was momentarily taken aback by Winter's graceful appearance, a beacon of light in the dreary bar, as he placed Qrow’s glass of whiskey on the table. 

"Told ya," Qrow said, moving the red scarf he was wearing, the one she made for him a few weeks ago, and reach for the glass.

“Why call to pick him up if you’re going to continue to give him drinks?” Winter glared at the man, snatching the cup out of Qrow’s hand and handing it back to him.

“He asked for it.”

“Bring me his tab,” she demanded.

“You look nice,” Qrow said in a delighted tone. Under her long grey winter coat, she wore a lavender dress, long-sleeves made of lace and her hair was down for once, a braid crowning her head with tiny white gem pins. “Dressed up to see me?”

“The only reason why I would ever dress up for you would be to see your casket being lowered down to your grave.”

Qrow’s grin grew, “Ah, but you’ll dress up for me.”

“Here you are,” The bartender presented the tab to Winter before she could smack Qrow on the head.

She frowned at the amounts of drinks he had, all cheap but enough to tranquilize a bear, and swiftly paid for it, pushing it back to the bartender. She paused and looked at Qrow. “Why was I called?”

The bartender shrugged his shoulders; “I asked who he wanted me to call and he said his girl, ‘Snow Queen.’”

“And he has me listed as such in his contacts.”

“Yup.”

She shook her head and grabbed Qrow’s hand, tugging him out of his seat.

“Where are we going?” He asked, putting his weight on her. The cold Atlas air was waking up him. Snow crunching soundly beneath his feet.

“To your hotel room, I’m assuming.”

“I knew you couldn’t resist my charms,” he leered.

Winter let go of him, watching as he collapsed to the ground. Her ears were red and she heard him mumbled an amused apology. Huffing, she helped him up and balanced him as they walked down the sidewalk. “Where are you staying?”

“The Plum Hotel,” Qrow muttered, rubbing his head against hers and disarranging her hair from its delicate design. In his drunken stupor, he had the need to cover her with his scent until she had traces of him mingled in her smell. “You smell nice.”

“And you smell of alcohol.”

“When I don’t, do I smell nice?”

“Focus on your walking instead of asking me mundane questions,” she said, not wanting to admit to him that he did.

“Were you doing something important?”

“Yes,” she sighed, thinking back to the luncheon she was attending with the mayor’s son but she won’t tell him that, especially after their conversation on Year End.

“Does that mean you find me more important?” Qrow smiled into her hair, “You like me, don’t you?”

“Do not make me regret helping you out.”

They slowly made their way to his hotel that was a few blocks away. Qrow was leaning heavily on Winter and she ignored his fingers playing with her hair. She noticed the dark rings under his eyes; the shallow lines on his face that hinted his age were graver than normal, making him appear older than he was. While Winter wasn’t accustomed to joy or tranquility, she knew plenty about apprehension and anxiety, and he had weights of them on his mind.

Entering the Plum Hotel, they made their ways to the reception desk. The jolly woman looked at him expectantly but then blinked at Winter. Briefly, she wondered if the woman recognized her due to the surprised look she gave her. “Yes?”

“Pardon. My boyfriend is staying here and I’m hoping to get him to his room,” Winter lied. “His name is Qrow Branwen. B. R. A. N. W. E. N.”

“Y-yes,” the receptionist looked him up in her system, “He’s on the fifth floor, room five-twenty. Um, is he okay?”

“Fuckin’ great,” Qrow answered with a drunken smile, “I got my girl with me.”

“Long morning,” Winter smiled smoothly, “breakfast didn’t go so well with my parents.”

“Ah! I see,” the receptionist nodded as if she understood, comparing Winter’s appearance to Qrow’s. “Do you need a keycard?”

Winter looked up at Qrow, his chin was pressed against her temple and his stubble was scratching the skin there. He was being extremely affectionate and she was in no mood to pat him down to encourage more touching. “Yes, please.”

“Here you are,” the receptionist gave her a copy of the keycard and directed Winter to the elevator.

“Security here is awful,” Winter muttered, carefully getting them to the elevator.

“Snow Queen.”

“Yes?”

“I’m your boyfriend, now?” He asked with a chuckle.

“You prefer if called you my husband?”

“Sure.”

Winter dropped him again and he leaned against the wall, smiling dumbly up at her. “That’s a horrible way to treat your husband.”

“A horrible way to treat my husband is to leave him in the middle of the street with no money or scroll,” she glared at him, hauling him up when the doors dinged and opened.

“How long have you fantasied about me being your husband?”

“Not as long as I fantasied about pushing you into a beowolf’s mouth,” she said as they arrived at his room.

“You’re so cold,” he tightened his arm around her shoulders. It brought her closer to him, his breath tickling her neck and the shell of her ear. She squirmed away with a blush, her hand clasped over the area. “Weak point,” he snickered, entirely pleased with himself.

“Will you behave?”

Qrow thought it over, “Nah.”

“You’re infuriating.”

“And under that icy exterior of yours, you’re nice and care about me,” he stated.

“I have always cared about you,” Winter pushed him off of her to open the door and he wobbled for a second before attaching himself back on her.

"See. Nice."

"How on Remnant are you this juvenile and in your thirties?"

“I’ve fantasied about having you as my wife,” Qrow admitted.

“How unfortunate.”

He snickered, “I was thinking the opposite.”

“You don’t know me.”

“I know you.”

“No, if you did, then you would know I would make a poor excuse of a wife,” she tugged him into the room, seeing only a lone duffle bag on the bed that she assumed was his.

“For most? Yeah. But for me, you’ll be good,” he admitted, “More than good. You'd be imperfectly perfect for me.”

"Nonsense."

"I want to marry you."

“What if I don’t want to get married until I’m thirty?” Winter said, deciding to play along to his drunken rambling. 

“That’s fine. As long as I’m with you, I don’t care. I’ll wait even if you want to get married in your forties or fifties. Hell, we don’t even need to get married,” Qrow prattled on, “As long as I’m with you, I don’t care. I just want to be with you. Live in a nice house, maybe a cabin? Every other day, I’ll bring home takeout for dinner.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s my turn to get dinner.”

“No, why takeout?”

“Because your cooking sucks and so does mine,” he reasoned, allowing her to sit him down on the bed.

“How do you know my cooking is bad?”

“You look like someone that would set the kitchen on fire,” he said confidently and it made Winter give a twinge of a smile as she pulled one of his boots off. “Yeah…when I get home, I’ll have some takeout. You’ll remind me to leave my shoes at the door because you hate to bring dirt into the house but then you’ll kiss me hello. Right here,” he practically hit himself in the face when he pointed to his lips. “Oh, and you’ll be wearing your reading glasses. Black slim ones.”

“I don’t have reading glasses,” Winter pulled the other boot off.

“Shush, this is my fantasy,” Qrow glared at her but the inebriated smile made it weak. “You’ll be wearing your glasses and you’ll probably have a bunch of paperwork on the dinner table instead of your office desk because you prefer working in the dining room. You’re such a workaholic.”

“And you’re an alcoholic,” she lifted his legs onto the bed.

“See. We’re perfect for each other. I’ll make you work less and being with you, it makes me want to be a better man, so I’ll stop drinking so much.” Qrow plopped back onto the bed. “I’ll only drink one glass a whiskey a day. Okay, maybe two. And when I have nightmares, I can relax and good back to sleep because you’re there next to me, and we’ll be happy.”

Winter stood there, glancing at the door for a moment. She thought about leaving. She felt out of place and any conversation about feelings or emotions always made her queasy, embarrassed, and generally uncomfortable. This was not her place but seeing him and that forlorn face made her stay.

She preferred his egotistic smirks and grins.

“Keep me out of your drunken fantasies.”

“Then, you’ll just be in my drunken dreams,” he reached out to her, “Winter?”

“Yes?”

“We’ll be happy, right?”

She didn’t want to answer that.

“So? What happened that made you drink your misery?” She asked instead.

He snorted, “More like what pissed me off.”

“Would you like to tell me why?”

“I can’t,” Qrow said with a childish whine and then mimicked Ozpin, or at least she assumed it was Ozpin, “This information is utterly classified. Do not speak it outside of this room.”

Winter hummed, “Apologizes for not being helpful, then.”

“You’re helping,” he said with a smile, his eyes were heavy and the lights behind her were blinding, but she was here and he didn’t want her to disappear. “When you’re around I feel…what’s the word when you have a fire under your ass to keep trying?”

“Motivated.”

“Yeah! Yes. I feel motivated. When you’re around, I feel motivated.”

“About what?” She perked an eyebrow at his outstretched hand, his fingers wiggling.

“What I’m doing,” he quickly snatched her hand and pulled her onto the bed with him. She caught herself before falling onto his chest and glared but he didn’t notice. “Running around doing missions, I feel like there isn’t a point but when I see you, I feel motivated to keep trying and when I see my nieces, I feel hopeful for their future, hopeful that all these missions will mean something...mean that they fight one less battle.”

“So, this last mission, I am assuming you’ve received bad news,” she leaned back, her hand was still in his.

Qrow groaned angrily, “Yes. It changed everything and now the peace we’ve been trying so hard to maintain is disturbed and it’s just…fucked up.”

“Language,” Winter chided halfheartedly.

“I’m worried,” he admitted. “If I tried harder, was quicker, stronger…would it have made a difference?”

“You can’t change the past,” Winter watched his finger interlace with hers and again she compared his hands to hers, texture and size. “But the future is still an untold story with many paths waiting to be written. So, what will you do to help write it?”

Qrow grinned, “See? Motivated.”

Winter resisted the need to roll her eyes, not feeling as if she said anything astounding but to a drunken man she might as well have told him she cried gemstones. She pushed Qrow back into bed when he leaned up, “You’re falling asleep.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Go to bed.”

“Get in bed with me.”

“Qrow,” she said sternly.

“I don’t want you to leave,” he squeezed her hand and she felt it around her heart, too. “I love you.”

She almost laughed.

“You’re drunk.”

“Hey. I can be both. I love you before I got drunk and I’m sure I can be drunk and still be in love with you.”

She laughed this time, "what a grand lie."

"It's not a lie."

"I have heard that declaration from many men. What makes yours different?"

"Because it's true."

Winter frowned, unsure of the storming of emotions she saw in his eyes and, again, she felt uncomfortable and foreign. “This is not my place,” she said, ears burning and cheeks aflame, she freed her hand from his and went to the kitchen to grab a glass of water for him.

“It could be,” Qrow said, his eyes were shut and he was beginning to breathe deeply. “Since my place is next to you.”

“You do not want to be tied to someone like me. I promise I’m worst than your semblance,” Winter set the glass on his table and wasn’t surprised when he opened his eyes to look at her. They held each other’s gazes for a moment before Winter said goodbye and turned to leave, but she stopped at his door when he called for her.

“Yes?”

“I got you something,” he said, patting for his duffle bag blindly until Winter sighed and pushed it into his hands. “Yeah, um, here it is!”

Winter lifted an eyebrow at the box in his hand, “A box?”

“No, in the box,” he tossed it to her.

Winter caught it smoothly and opened it, tilting it to see a necklace inside. “A necklace?”

“Birthday,” Qrow grunted, “it was last week, wasn’t it?”

“It was,” she said, smoothing the long thin-chained necklace with a round white druse pendant on her palm.

He smiled at her without any resistance, “Happy 20th, Snow Queen.”

“How did you know?”

“I asked Jimmy,” Qrow answered, watching as she put the necklace on, pleased that it looked nice on her. Elegant, he would even say.

“Asked?”

“Tricked. Coerced. Whatever you want to call it,” he chuckled.

“When is yours?”

“In the summer.”

“I would like to reciprocate,” Winter thumbed the pendant, “what would you like?”

“Anything you give me is fine,” he said, “Hell, even spending a whole day with you would be a perfect present.”

“What a humble request.”

“Really? I thought it was quite selfish,” he snorted. “I wanted to see you but…the mission took a few days longer than I wanted. I hope you didn’t miss me too much.”

“I’ll forgive your absence and lack of celebratory message if you spend my next birthday with me,” she said, seeing the pleased surprised on his face.

He gave her a tender look, one that must have slipped through his drunken veneer. “It’s a date, then.”

“It’s not,” Winter looked at the time and frowned, “I have to go.”

Qrow nodded, pleased that he was at least able to give her the necklace that he had been carrying in his bag for the last three weeks. He thought about giving it to her when they exchanged Year End gifts, but he wanted to see her again soon and her birthday was the perfect excuse. It was just his luck that he had to miss it, though.

He realized she was about to leave and he called for her once more time, holding her gaze steadily despite the alcohol swimming in there. “Can I love you?”

“Do as you please,” Winter left his room with her cheeks burning red.

Qrow smiled happily and was ready to sleep. So, he turned to the side wanting his dreams to be filled with soft smiles and cool blue eyes and instead, he fell out of bed.

Chapter Text

"I want to marry a prince," Weiss stated suddenly, looking at Winter to make her statement a reality.

Perking an eyebrow, Winter shut her book to give her sister her full attention. They were in the Schnee library in their manor; a shared sanctuary. The tall grey walls with equally tall white bookcases were filled with books that welcomed them without judgment or expectations. The plush blue chairs arranged around the fireplace warmed them even when winter was over, and the sun streamed through the large windows without hesitation. It was under these ribbons of light that Winter read and matured, observed those around her and made the decision to save herself.

"Oh? Why is that?" she asked.

"Because in the play we're reading at school, the prince finds the princess, rescues her from the evil ogre and takes her away to live happily ever after." Weiss jumped up, her hair once styled in twin tails was now in a high ponytail like Winter’s. Winter always thought it was endearing Weiss wanted to be like her.

"And you can't do that yourself?"

"Well," Weiss looked around the room sheepishly, "maybe, but in the play, the princess couldn’t do it herself."

“That’s because the playwright was not creative and did not think the princess could do more, but she can just as you can.”

“Really?”

“Yes. A princess is a leader in her kingdom. She has more power than you think, and she must use that power wisely because her people look up to her, they are her responsibility.”

“That sounds more interesting.”

Winter smiled, “Agreed. Remember, if you want your own freedom and control over your own fate, you have to grasp it yourself," Winter stood from her seat and walked to Weiss. "Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do, understood?”

"Yes," Weiss said, lowering the book she was reading for class.

Winter tipped Weiss' head up and smiled softly, “I’m proud of you.”

“I’m proud of you, too,” Weiss beamed back.

“Shall we see if Ms. Maples is baking anything?”

“Can we?” Weiss jumped up and followed Winter down the hall to the kitchen. Weiss hummed happily, thinking of the pastries she was going share with her sister. “Can we take some to Whitely?”

“Of course. I heard Ms. Maple is making chocolate cake.”

“That’s Whitley’s favorite,” Weiss whispered in excitement. She looked down at her book and frowned, “Winter?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t want a prince to save me anymore, but is it alright if I find someone to love and live happily ever after with?”

Winter blinked and glanced down at Weiss who was turning fourteen and was entering that stage of adolescent curiosity in romance. “Of course,” she said after a moment, “To love someone and have them love you back is the simplest wish we can make and the most difficult one to achieve. However, I hear it’s rewarding.”

“Is it?” Weiss looked at Winter and raised her chin to match Winter’ posture. “What should I look for?”

“You should look for someone that wants you to be happy, just as you want them to be happy. You celebrate their success as they would celebrate yours. Someone that accepts your flaws.”

“Flaws? But Father said we have to be perfect.”

“Father says a lot of things,” Winter said coolly, one hand folded behind her back. “You must not always take what he says as truth.”

“Okay,” Weiss nodded, “Have you ever been in love?”

Winter jolted and her ears turned red, “W-what?”

“In love? Have you been in love? What does it feel like?”

“I…If I have, someone failed to notify me,” Winter frowned.

“But if you have…?”

“If I have…I would think it would feel like a dream.”

“A dream?”

“Yes. Something strange and illogical.”

“But, good?”

“Yes, I suppose.”

“Oh,” Weiss grabbed the banister of the staircase as she followed Winter down the stairs, “What do you look for?”

Winter nearly missed the last step and huffed, giving Weiss an exasperated look. “Why are you so curious?”

“Because of the play,” Weiss reasoned with a huff as well.

“No, I mean why are you curious about me.”

“Well,” Weiss tilted her head side to side, “why shouldn’t I? I want you to be happy, too.”

“What if I’m happy being alone?”

“Then, that’s fine, too, I suppose,” Weiss said carefully.

Winter sighed, “I would say…I look for someone that sees pass our family name, what we represent and what our name has to offer, and simply sees me.”

“Flaws and all?”

“Yes, heavens know I have so many,” Winter smiled softly, “I want someone who I can show my flaws to, express myself with and he would not think less of me when I show unattractive emotions like anger or sorrow. Someone that challenges me and respects my decisions; someone that…checks in on me every once in a while to see how I am; someone that reminds me of an ill-behaved but humorous bird that wants to be me even if it meant living in a small cabin.”

“Are you sure you’ve never been in love?”

“Weiss.”

“Because it sounds like you are.”

“W-what?! I’m not,” Winter stood there with her heart beating fast as Weiss entered the kitchen first and asked for Ms. Maple.

Pursing her lips together, Winter thought of what she said and would not lie that she did have Qrow Branwen in her thoughts when answered. She accepted that she had him in her favor. She had small feelings, she told herself, insignificant feelings that will wither away in a few days. After all, she was more than a decade younger than him and most likely not his type. She did not drink. She was not casual or easygoing like him. She took things far too serious. She strived to be the best, seeing everyone as competition while he strived to be his personal best and only saw himself as competition.

He already had a life.

She was still trying to get ownership of hers.

Her feelings will erode over time; vanish like paint under the beating sun, like chalk on pavement after a storm. However, there were a moments where she thought back to the day they met and knew she could never forget him. Moments when she reached for his jacket she wore the day they stayed out past three in the morning and inhaled his scent, dreaming of what could not be.

She was not in love.

“Winter!” Weiss rushed back to the hall, “Ms. Maple would like to know if you want green tea or black.”

“I want black tea,” Winter said, stepping forward.

She doesn’t even know what love was.

But she wondered what it would be like to have that with him.

Chapter Text

Winter launched another arrow towards the shooting target, hitting the center flawlessly for the fifth time. Brushing a loose strand of hair away from her face, she looked over at Qrow and waited for his response. His gaze was focused on her but she noticed his mind was not present.

For a moment, she fantasized shooting an arrow at his head but, instead, kicked a rock. "You agree it's a good idea?”

He instinctually caught the rock and smirked, "That could've hit me."

"Woefully, it did not," Winter went to shoot another arrow, ignoring the bird that landed next to her feet. "So?"

"Yeah, yeah. It's a good idea," he said, not knowing what she originally asked but it was Winter. It probably had to do with taking another class in something or other.

Where she would fit it? He had no idea.

Winter's schedule was normally packed with activities starting at seven in the morning and ending at nine in the evening every single day, including the weekends. When he wanted to see her, he would usually drop in when she had a training or study session, which was normally in the late afternoon or evening.

"I knew you would agree."

Qrow stopped rolling the rock in his hand. Something was wrong. She would normally never do something she thought he would agree to. It was that contradictory nature of hers. "Wait. What did you ask?"

"I'm thinking of working as a part-time waitress at the Bell Tavern."

She heard him jump up from the bench he sat upon under the snow-draped tree. She schooled her expression, taking aim with her arrow again and hitting the shooting target soundly; causing the small amount of snow resting upon it to fall. She turned to face him smoothly, the outrage on his face lingered for a moment until it morphed to annoyance.

“You….”

“What is it? You don’t want the opportunity to see me in an awfully short skirt and serving you whiskey?”

“I do, but I don’t want others to see,” he caught the second rock she kicked at him, "I admit I wasn't listening. So, what did you really ask?"

"Why did you decide to become a huntsman?”

“My teammates,” they walked over to the seven targets and he pulled all the arrows out for you. “When I entered Beacon Academy, I was a bitter fifteen-year-old who only knew about hate and destruction. I really didn’t have the intention…to be a huntsman or work alongside them. But, each one of my teammates, besides being loud and obnoxious, taught me something.

“I was taught that being a huntsman was more than killing grimms, but being a protector and a symbol of a better future for humanity. Summer, the leader of team STRQ, taught me that. Tai taught me the usefulness and importance of friendship and camaraderie, that there is strength in being happy and striving for happiness. Raven, she taught me the consequences of turning your back on family, friends, and morals. I didn’t want to be like her. I wanted to be better. Ozpin had a keen interest in me when I was a student, and offered me a position to work under him after I graduated.”

“And you took it?”

“I took it.” Qrow handed her back the arrows, slinging her duffle bag over his shoulder as she organized her arrows back in its quiver and grabbed her bow. “After a few years of solely being a huntsman, I was suddenly asked to be a sub for a class at Signal and then I kind of stayed there for some time.”

“Do you miss it?”

“Being a teacher?”

“Yes.”

“Besides grading assignments, it was fun.”

“Have you ever taught while intoxicated?”

“Do I really give you that impression?” He asked, almost offended.

She looked him over and nodded.

“Your assumption is correct,” he laughed heartily, “I’m pretty sure I was hangover at least twenty-five percent of the time.”

“You’re awful.”

“Never said I was good at it.”

“Would you ever wish to return?”

“Nah, I suck at teaching kids.”

“That wasn’t my question.”

Qrow frowned and thought about it before giving a curt laugh, “Yeah, if everything settles down and the timing was right.” He glanced down at her, “Why all the questions? Got a job offer?”

“I did,” she said. They began to walk back to the main campus, the sun was setting and he knew she had plans to study in the library but he was here. She would never admit it, but he knew she would miss her reservation at the library to grab dinner with him instead.

“And?”

“Headmaster Ironwood wants me to join the Atlas Military's Special Operatives.”

“Of course he fucking does,” he bit out, “recruiting students to join a kingdom’s army. That goes against the pact between the four schools. Don’t tell me you’re going to take it.”

“It’s an option.”

“Winter,” Qrow turned to her sharply.

“Yes?” she met his glare.

“Joining the Atlesian Military will…,” Qrow sighed, “never mind. Do what you think is best for you.”

“Oh? Aren’t you being mature? Here I thought you would start squawking angrily like your namesake about how horrible the Atlesian Military is.”

“The recruitment process is crappy and there’s a lot of questionable things your honorable Headmaster does in the name of your country that I’m against,” he sneered, “and I don’t squawk.”

“If you say so.”

Qrow ran his hand through his hair, “What I’m trying to say is that…there are better options out there for you. Don’t limit yourself to one thing just because Jimmy throws an offer at you. There has to be something else that interests you besides joining the military.”

“Working as an average huntress,” Winter answered.

“You’ll make a great one. Once you graduate, I bet you’ll get loads of jobs. Hey, I’ll even let you travel with me if you ask nicely.”

“How bold of you to assume I ask for anything nicely,” Winter pushed him away when he got close to her. “Ozpin did reach out to me, offering me a position to work as a huntress at Beacon.”

Qrow felt a string of excitement run down his back, “and?”

“I made the mistake of mentioning the prospect of being a huntress to my father. He threatened to drag me back home if I dare to leave.”

“He can’t do that,” Qrow scowled.

“He has his hands in many business and global companies that need dust, and I am a valuable piece in his game of conquest. It would not be underneath him to state publicly that no dust will be distributed unless I am to return home,” she said, lifting an eyebrow at him, “Such an expression.”

“Hard not to have one when you heard about a shitty parent,” Qrow growled.

“It is what it is. I’m tied to the Schnee Dust Company, to my title as heiress. I wonder,” she looked up at him, “do you consider my birth right a blessing or a curse?”

“It sounds like a curse to me.”

She hummed, “Is that so.”

“What do you think?”

The string to her bow snapped and the wire hit her hand, leaving an angry mark. Qrow frowned and grabbed her hand, examining the swelling. Winter glanced at it pensively, feeling warmth filter into her from his fingertips.

“I…think it depends on my perspective,” she answered him.

Chapter Text

There were dozens of grimms crowding around him, most were beowolves but there were boarbatusk trickling in, and he saw some nevermores soaring in the sky. He just couldn’t get a fucking break, could he? Qrow scowled and unlocked Harbinger to shift into a large scythe, and moved.

He cut them down in a steady pattern, more tedious than difficult as he went and cut them down one-by-one like trees. He just dealt with a dozen grimm a mile back and running into another herd was just his luck. Qrow jumped up and flipped over a beowolf, feeling the wound on his side stretch further open. Reminding him not to get too cocky, not to press his luck.

He may be an expert huntsman but he was still a man made of flesh and bone, and he can still die.

Another grimm went down.

And Another.

But he can’t.

Despite feeling cold seeping into his fingers, he could not die. He made promises. He promised Winter he was going to stop by Atlas this weekend and he promised to take Ruby and Yang to the new action movie at the end of the month. And if there was one damn redeemable thing about him, about Qrow fucking Branwen, it was that he kept his promises.

His scythe went through the torso of a nevermore, causing it to crash into the ground and evaporate into the air. He turned around to face another grimm, his vision blurry from the blood loss, but his instincts were still sharp. He moved to kill it when it was impaled with a white sword. The grimm and the white sword dissipate.

“Of course the huntsman that entered the infested Forest of Rhys is you.” Qrow looked behind him, following the steady voice of Winter who sliced through three approaching grimms. “What brought on this idiotic idea?”

She was in her school uniform and was not alone. There were nine other students with her and one of the Atlas professors near the back fighting off a large boarbatusk. He wondered if it was the blood leaking from him, but he smiled dumbly at her.

“A pleasure to see you as always, Snow Queen.” So distracted he was with her, he did not notice the grimm that was creeping up on him. But she did. She used a glyph to shield him when it pounced to attack.

“Are you bleeding?” She asked, her voice sharped in alarm, almost scared, and that was a first. Winter was never frightened but she was right now, and it was because of him. That made him happy. “Wait…are you poisoned?!”

Was he?

Oh, right.

He was. 

That man who knew about that woman who searching for Amber attacked him and was able to make a cut on his arm before running off. That was right. That was why he was here. He ran after him and got surrounded by grimm, losing sight of that bald man.

“My luck,” he grumbled, looking at his wounds.

Winter summoned her own grimm to fight in her place as she rushed over to him. Her hand pressed to his side to look at the wound and stop the bleeding before glancing at his arm where the skin was blackened. “You are,” she said, confirming it for her self.

“Hey. I just remembered something.”

“Your common sense?”

“No, I lost that long ago. I remembered I made a promise to myself,” Qrow grunted, feeling his body grow heavy and pain finally electrocuting through.

“Is it to stop running straight into danger?” she took her jacket off and tore the fabric into strips to wrap around his chest. “Because that would be an absolutely terrific habit to break. That and drinking.

“No,” he laughed painfully, “Before I die, I’m going to kiss you,” he hissed in pain but he was still able to grin at her. “So, what do you say? Make a dying man’s wish come true?”

Winter glanced at him and huffed, “You’re overly drama-”

She wasn’t able to finish her sentence as Qrow tugged her down and molded his lips over hers desperately. His hand firmly behind her neck and she felt his lips lift in a pleased smirk before pulling away slightly.

“That’s how you taste,” he said, his breath brushing over her burning cheeks.

Winter scowled in embarrassment and tugged him up, supporting his weight against her as she shouted to her classmates and professor that she found him, the huntsman that was dumb enough to enter the forest by himself when poisoned. He would have laughed if the pain didn’t become overwhelming.

His vision was getting fuzzy and he felt cold. It was strange. The sensation of getting cold but feeling his skin screaming for oxygen. He was stumbling next to Winter, she was warm and smelled nice. So nice. A grimm went to attack them and she smoothly killed it without jostling him about, and he found that so attractive.

Then, it was black.

In the void, he saw nothing but he briefly could hear some trickles of sounds and the scent of the environment around him faintly before it too disappeared. It was hard to breathe. An unknown pressure weighed down on his body for long moments until he began to feel light, cold sweeping through him starting on his right arm.

He began to hear again, some shuffles here and there, but still could not smell. No scent of dirt or trees, just nothing until there was the harsh smell of antiseptic that curled through him. Following that smell, however, were lilies. White burst from his vision, his eyelids heavy, and it steadied and sharpened to solidified the ceiling above him.

“Oh.”

The sounds of a voice made him move his head towards it.

“You’re awake.”

The voice belonged to Winter who was arranging flowers next to his bed. She looked heavenly; her features were soft, her long hair tied high with a red ribbon, and eyes were that blue he liked and surrounded with inky lashes. He didn’t even notice the blood he left on her shirt.

She met his gaze and perked an eyebrow, “You’re smiling like an idiot.”

His grin widened and he tried to speak but his mouth was dry. She shook her head at his attempt and went to grab water, frowning when she realized she would need to help him drink it.

“Don’t enjoy this too much,” she said, maneuvering him up to take steady sips of water. “I’ll add this favor to the list of debts you owe me. Better?”

He nodded and went to sit up, hissing at his side but it wasn’t as bad as before. “Ice Queen.”

“Yes?” she said in a weary tone and it made him snicker.

“Nothing, just…you’re a sight for sore eyes.”

She rolled her eyes and snorted in that delicate manner of hers, “And you’re only tolerable when you’re asleep.”

“Are you saying I’m handsome?” He asked and she ignored him. “I’m going to take your silence as a ‘yes.’” This time she stifled a chuckle and he smiled. “How long was I out?”

“Three hours.”

“What happened?”

“Well, according to the tavern bartender, you ran into the Forest of Rhys after a man who tried to stab you.”

“Yup.”

“Following that, I assumed you fought some grimm, got surrounded and would have been fine taking care of them all if you did not get poison.”

He sighed, “Yup.”

“Then, I found you and you were rescued.”

He grunted and took a moment to think over the chaos that happened in the forest. “And you?” He asked, “Why are you here?”

“My class is here for a trip, collecting and studying herbs and such.”

“And how did you find out about me?”

“Ah, well, a patron from the tavern called me over when I was passing by. He asked if I knew a tall man with a scar on his jaw, red eyes, and greying black hair.”

“I’m not greying,” Qrow injected quickly.

“You are,” Winter smirked and tapped his right temple, “Right here. Must be the stress.” He glared at her and she chuckled. “Never thought of you as vain.”

“Yeah. Yeah. Go on with your story.” He waved his hand at her to continue, trying to control his longing to reach for the ends of her hair or her fingers that rested on the bedside table next to him.

“I answered I knew someone of that description and asked why. He said that you showed him a picture of me.”

“Oh, yeah,” Qrow nodded, remembering how good the whiskey tasted and presented the bartender and the man next to him a photo of Winter.

“Why?” Winter asked and Qrow shrugged his shoulders.

“He asked me if I had someone waiting for me back home.”

“And you showed him a picture of me?”

“I did.”

“Why? And how do you have a photo of me.”

“Why? Well...” He trailed off but he finished the answer with a knowing smile that made her blush. “As for the how. You’re not very aware of your surroundings.”

“What does that mean?”

“What do you think it means?” He threw back and she narrowed her eyes at him.

“I think it means you’re too much of a coward to ask for a photo.”

They glared at each other with matching scowls until he sighed and looked away. “Can I have a picture of you?”

Winter smoothed the sheet over him, “sure. As long as I can have one of you.”

“Yeah?”

"Yes. Once you’re better, of course.”

He huffed a laugh, “Sure. Anything you want. So, go on, what else happened?”

“He told me what happened and I had a bad feeling. So, I ran off to look for you since the Forest was infested with Grimm. My professor followed after the man told her what happened and the class came, too. We defeated the herd of grimm that was there and brought you here.”

“Could have been worse,” Qrow grunted, annoyed at the outcome of the mission but at least one good thing came from it.

“Of course it could have, after all that man you were after must have had bad luck since he failed to kill you,” she said off-handily and it made him laugh.

“Yeah,” he reached for her hand, his fingers dancing across hers. “I’m touched that you were planning to stay by my side until I woke up.”

“No,” she said quickly, “Only until seven in the evening since we need to take an airship back to Atlas. I was given permission to stay with you until then. And, lucky me, you awoke ten minutes before I needed to leave.”

Qrow frowned, “Aren’t you made of sugar and honey.”

There was a knock on the door and an Atlas student peered in after Winter gave permission. The girl mentioned they were heading out and the professor said to pack up. Winter nodded and dismissed the girl, saying she’ll be out soon.

“Leaving so soon?”

“Airship leaves at seven,” Winter reminded him and went to collect her leather backpack. She wouldn’t tell him that she was actually planning to stay until he awoke despite what she said earlier. No reason to fluff his ego. Especially after what he did to her. “Though, seeing you awake and chirping calms my conscious.”

“Chirping?”

“I don’t want to see you this weekend,” she said and he was surprised how much that sentence hurt him. “Go to Patch and rest. Once you’re better, we can go to that restaurant you want.”

Ah, the pain was dulling.

“Asking me on a date?”

Winter was at the door and turned to him with a frown, “is that your new ‘before I die’ wish?”

Qrow blinked, “what?”

“Take care,” she said and left.

Qrow swung his legs over the bed, feeling better due to his aura healing him swiftly, and was determined to catch up to Winter and ask her what she meant. Then, he remembered the softness of her full lips, the light sweet taste and the rush of dopamine happiness and warmth that filled him like a bright light. He kissed her in the field surrounded by grimm with no real warning and it was the best decision he ever made.

Qrow lay back down with a smile and was even slightly surprised that she didn’t hit him the moment he woke up.

“That’s how you taste,” he said out loud in awe and decided that his new wish was to be able to kiss her as often as he wanted to before he died.

He wondered how she would react once he told her his new wish.

 

Chapter Text

Qrow yawned as he made his way up the dirt path to the Xiao Long residence. He saw the peak of the large wood house appear from the curve of the path. Tall bare trees surrounded the home. It has been more than a month since he last since his family – a few days since he was poisoned but they didn’t need to know that. From this distance, he saw the small figure of Ruby, his niece, practicing using the scythe he got her for Year End. When she took notice of his presence she ran towards him.

“It’s Uncle Qrow!” Ruby tackled his arm and Qrow kept trudging along as if she wasn’t there. “How are you? Where have you been? What did you see? What did you eat?” She spouted out, “Did you miss me?”

Qrow stared at her blandly before smiling, “No.”

“Uncle Qrow!” Yang popped her head out of the door, her blond hair tied up in a ponytail.

“Hey, there, Firecracker.”

"How was Haven?"

"Eh, boring."

"Can we fight?" Ruby asked, "I've been getting better!"

"Wait!" Yang ran out of the house, throwing a few punches into the air, "Me, too! I want to practice kicking Uncle Qrow's butt."

"All of which can be done after he rests up a bit," Taiyang stepped out of the house, his arms crossed. "Come on, girls, let your Uncle be and eat your lunch."

"Fine," Ruby marched into the house with a pout.

"Come on, Rubes. The faster we eat, the quicker we can fight Uncle Qrow!" Yang grinned, dragging Ruby to the kitchen.

"I said 'after he rests up,' girls!" Taiyang yelled after them and sighed as they ignored them. "Man, being strict is hard."

"Only because you're too soft," Qrow said, accepting the welcome hug Taiyang gave him.

"How was it?" Taiyang asked, patting Qrow's shoulder and pushing him towards the house.

"Eh, nothing out of the ordinary. How are things here?"

"Good besides Ruby begging me to let her attend Signal with Yang," Tai sighed, "that girl keeps forgetting she's only twelve."

“She has drive. That’s good in a huntress.”

“Yeah. Yeah.”

“What did you make for lunch?”

“Noodle salad with barbecue pork.”

“Did you overcook the noodles again?”

“Do you want to eat in this house again?”

Qrow laughed, following Taiyang inside. The day was spent catching up and smiling over their meals. It was a rare moment of peace for Qrow. When he came back inside from his match with Yang and Ruby, teaching both new fighting moves, Taiyang stood in front of the television.

“What are you watching?” Yang hopped over the sofa to land next to Zwei, their new corgi pup.

“Hm? Oh, it’s the International Opening of Remnant.”

“What’s that?” Ruby asked, sitting on the other side of the sofa.

“Once a year, the kingdoms come together to basically have a general meeting about state affairs.”

“Boring,” Yang slouched in her seat.

“Hey.”

“I agree,” Qrow yawned and slipped into the armchair.

“Qrow,” Taiyang frowned, “It may be boring but it’s important. These are the people that are representing our kingdoms. What they say affects us all.”

“So…don’t listen to Uncle Qrow?” Ruby grinned, watching as the ceremony was about to start. The announcers stated a huntress from Atlas would open the meeting with a performance of a traditional song based on Remnant’s tale of two brothers.

“Basically.” Taiyang huffed, “Really, Qrow. Be more aware of the girls, they’re still…Qrow? Qrow. Do not ignore me.”

Annoyed, Taiyang was about to mention the greying of hair on Qrow’s right temple when he noted a strange expression on his face. Taiyang had seen a variety of emotions on Qrow’s face; excitement when Ruby said she wanted to use a scythe as a weapon, pride when Yang won her first fight, glee when he was given an expensive bottle of whiskey for Year End, guilt when the topic of his sister came up but never had Taiyang seen an expression that was tender.

Stun at the look, Taiyang followed Qrow’s line of sight to the television. He blinked and realized Qrow was staring at the young woman that was singing on stage. She was refined and sophisticated. A beauty with a face that could have been carved from marble, blue eyes, white hair tied up in an elegant knot, and dressed in a long cream gown with accents of gold lace at the edges. However, what captivity Taiyang, along with the rest of the household, was her singing. It was a rich, clear, soothing but powerful voice that rang pure and harmonized with the melody of the piano.

The audience jumping out of their seats to clap took Taiyang out of his reverie. He saw the caption at the bottom identifying her as Winter Schnee, heiress to the Schnee Dust Company. He heard Ruby and Yang chat about the song, praising the performance – Ruby even whining that she wished she could be able to sing like that. Taiyang looked back at Qrow, expecting the tender look from before to be gone already, but it remained until the young huntress walked off the stage.

Qrow’s smile grew a fracture then fell when he caught Taiyang looking at him. “What?”

“Help me make dinner,” Taiyang said, heading to the kitchen before Qrow could make an excuse.

“I thought you wanted to watch the meeting.”

“I do. I’ll watch a recording of it later.”

Qrow looked over the ingredients Taiyang was pulling out from the fridge and pantry, and took a seat at the table as he juggled peppers in the air with one hand. “What you want to talk about? Both you and I know I’m shit at cooking. So?”

“She’s young.”

“What?”

“Winter Schnee,” Taiyang said, ignoring the thundering of peppers falling to the floor. “The huntress you were gawking at and writing sonnets in your head for.”

“What are you talking about?” Qrow went to pick the peppers up.

“Never thought I’d see you so lovesick. You know she’s out of your league.”

“Tai.”

“If it was legal, I bet her family could buy the entire island of Patch if they wanted to.”

“Taiyang.”

“Also, physically, on a scale of one to ten, she’s beyond a ten while you’re hovering at a six.”

“Taiyang!”

“On a good day,” Taiyang continued with a grin.

“Are you done?”

“Yeah.”

Qrow sat back down with a scowl, “I know.”

“You mentioned you met someone last time you were here. Is that her?” Tai looked over at him, suppressing a laugh at the embarrassed grimace Qrow had. “I guess so. Is she nice?”

Qrow twisted his flask open and took a swing of his whiskey, “Yeah. Cold at first but she’s nice.”

“Spoiled?”

Qrow snorted, “You would think but no.”

“How old is she?” Taiyang saw Qrow begin to chop the peppers after washing them, barely hearing the answer. “What was that?”

“I said she’s twenty.”

“I have students that are thirteen,” Taiyang stammered, “If I had you as a student at thirteen, she would have been a newborn! You would have killed her.”

“I know,” Qrow glared at Taiyang, “but I didn’t meet her when she was a newborn. I met her last year.”

“Right,” Taiyang gave a short laugh, “I don’t know why that was a shock. Professor Clay was married to someone that was sixteen years her junior.” Taiyang went back to slicing onions and adding it to his broth. “Tell me about her.”

“There isn’t much to tell.”

“I know when you’re trying to avoid a conversation.”

There was a long moment of silence between them. The clinking of dishes and cutlery filled the room. Qrow mostly helped with cutting the vegetables and prepping the rice, and when he was setting the table, he spoke. “She has a temper.”

“What?”

“Winter. Normally, she’s reserved and cool but she has a temper. Oh, man, and if you say the right thing, it goes right off. It’s hilarious,” Qrow cracked a smile, “She has a sharp tongue. The kind where days will pass and you’ll suddenly realize she just insulted you, your honor, and your intelligence; I know because I’ve been on the receiving end of it more than once.

“She likes to spoil her little sister and brother with pastries because she has an unnatural liking to sweets. When we’re eating together and I see something on her plate that I like, she’ll just give it to me without a second thought. When she’s embarrassed, her ears turn red. She's the type to buy boring gifts. She got me gloves because she saw me rub my hands together once and socks because I mentioned I only had two pairs left.

“Her family is old money rich; so, she has loads of fucking obligations and expectations she needs to meet. She’s always so composed, needing to keep the image her father wants and I…yeah.”

“Is that why you like pissing her off?”

Qrow tried to chuckle but it came out like a defeated huff, “Guess so.”

The smell of dinner wafting out of the kitchen and would soon call Ruby and Yang down to eat. Taiyang took out a jar of lemonade and placed it on the table and took a seat across from Qrow as the pot continued to boil.

“She must have a lot of guys trying to get her attention.”

“They’re like a swarm of flies.”

“Then, you must mean a lot to her if she’s willing to give you the time of day,“ Taiyang said, not missing the flicker of emotions on Qrow’s face. “You should bring her over for dinner some day.”

Qrow smiled and gave a small grunt, “I’ll think about it.”

Chapter Text

She wore a mask made of antique gold lace and gems that curled up in a crescent to her left temple. Effectively hiding her identity to most if it wasn't for her trademark Schnee white hair. Winter watched wearily as Weiss was being paraded around the room by their father. She gave her first public performance today to a room of three hundred of the most important political and social figures in Atlas. After hours of practice and a thirty-minute performance, Winter thought their father would allow Weiss to retire for the night.

She was only fourteen after all. 

But Winter was wrong.

Jacque Schnee introduced Weiss to the masses, allowed adults in masks to gawk at her and probe her with endless questions. Winter tried to talk to her father in letting Weiss return home with Klein, but he pushed her into a conversation with Perla Cho. The woman in a flamingo pink mask could talk about anything and everything, an impressive trait in Winter's opinion, but after another ten minutes, Winter had to excuse herself.

She avoided anyone that tried to catch her attention, dismissing them with a shake of her head and a comment that she needed to speak with her father. A few steps away, she was behind the tall figure of her father, his hair almost completely white from old age. His back was always imposing to her as a child but in her heels she was at his height. Stepping back, she wondered when she stopped looking up at him. 

The cold night brushed against her and she turned to look at the crowd surrounding Weiss who wore a simpler silver mask compared to her. She was so small. Winter went to her and intercepted the group with a small smile, “Pardon. I want to personally thank you all for attending my sister’s performance tonight, but I am afraid it is time for her to retire.”

“Oh, well, that’s quite alright,” a jolly middle-aged woman chuckled. She lowered her blue mask and smiled, “she had such a day. She must be tired. Heaven knows I would be.”

“Thank you for understanding, Lady Rayne” Winter nodded, “Weiss.”

Weiss looked up at Winter and smiled before curtsying to the group around her, “Thank you for coming.”

“Of course, it was an amazing performance. Rest well. We hope to catch another soon,” the same woman said. The rest followed suit, bidding their goodbyes before Winter guided Weiss to Klein with a steady hand.

“Weiss.”

“Yes?” 

“If Father asked why you left, please let him know I dismissed you.”

Weiss frowned, “But-”

“It’s alright,” Winter smiled, “you look lovely and performed well.”

Weiss smiled big, “Thank you! A-and you, too! I mean, you look pretty, too.”

“Thank you,” she tucked a strand of hair behind Weiss’ hair before calling for Klein who came moments later with Weiss’ coat in hand.

“Will you be leaving with us?” he asked, pushing his grey mask up.

“Afraid not,” Winter smoothed Weiss’ coat. “I still have some socializing I need to do. Please take Weiss home. She had a long day and needs her rest.”

“You need your rest, too,” Klein stated with a frown, his eyes turned red. “Always taking care of others, you should do more on taking care of yourself.” 

Winter smiled and pulled Klein’s mask down on his face, “I will. Goodnight.”

“Oh, I know a dismissal when I hear one,” he said with blue eyes this time, shaking his head at her. “Come, Snowflake. Let’s get you home.”

“Oh, um,” Weiss looked over her shoulder at Winter who stood still while the people around her buzzed. “Goodnight, Winter.”

“Goodnight, Weiss,” Winter answered, watching until they rounded the hall to go back to the party. Some of the guests were already drunk; spilling their drinks on the red carpet while others took to the dance floor to sway with the orchestra. Winter settled her hand over her stomach, smiling at those who greeted her in passing.

She was heading to grab a glass of water when her father spotted her and waved her over, "Winnie, there you are. Where you have gone off to, child?”

“I was just walking the room is all,” Winter answered, greeting her father’s associates.

“Greetings to you, Winter, the Swan of Atlas,” Mimes Craft said with a bow, using the name the media had given her when she first performed when she was Weiss’ age. “When shall you have another grand performance? The Opening of Remnant was,” he sighed, “exquisite.”

“Soon,” Jacque answered, “Since Winnie is in her last year at Atlas, she’s been quite busy.”

“I see! Jacque…you must be so proud. Your daughters are getting lovelier by the day. They are the spitting image of Willow.” Mimes stated, smoothing the tip of his mustache.

“I thank my blessing that they not only received my wife’s beauty but my intelligence and tenacity.”

“True. True. Say, where is your youngest daughter?”

“Where is she?” Jacque looked around for his youngest daughter.

“I sent her home,” Winter said.

“Home?” Jacque repeated with a rage-induced smile. 

"Yes. She looked quite tired after the performance."

"She did have an exciting day," Mimes agreed.

"I agree and due to the tremendous job on her performance, I gave her the rest of the night off."

Jacque's eyes hardened, looking down at Winter and she saw all the kindness he crafted vanish, his eyes almost a steel grey like his mask, "Oh? You sent her home?” He detached them from the group, firmly leading her towards the tall windows.

“I did.”

“You have no right to do that, to speak against me,” Jacque snarled. He looked up from behind her and waved at someone, giving her a cruel smile, “Winnie, be a doll and dance with Charles Lapis."

“Father-”

"I won’t tolerate this disobedience," Jacque nearly seethed. “Do as I say or there will be consequences for you and your sister.” 

“Yes, Father.”

“Liam. Charles,” Jacque turned to the pair that walked towards them, “Delighted to see you two again.”

“The pleasure is ours,” Liam stated. Winter held her tongue and turned around to face Charles Lapis, heir to the Lapis Energy Company, and his father, Liam, who was a stout man with green eyes. “Greeting, Winters. You look beautiful tonight.”

“Thank you,” Winter said politely in the trained manner she had cultivated for years.

Charles stepped forward and grabbed her hand, the corners of his eyes curving, “It’s been a while, Winter.”

Not long enough, she wanted to say. “It has.”

Like her, his appearance was the epitome of the wealthy class of Atlas. He was tall with brown hair perfectly styled; his suit was from this season, ironed and well fitted. His leather gloves matched his shoes and belt, and his mask was the color of orange that flickered in a flame.

“You look as lovely as always. The Swan of Atlas,” he said. “Truly a fitting title for you.”

“Thank you,” Winter smiled, feeling the room vanish for a moment to reveal the dining room at the Lapis Estate.

She recently turned fifteen at the time, attending a dinner by herself with a boy that was three years older than her. She remembered the red wallpaper and cool wood dining table with matching chairs. The smell of roast beef lingered, mixing with the smoke of the burning candles. She liked being able to see the grove of orange trees beyond the windows.

The lecture her father gave to her an hour prior rang in her head. He wanted Charles to be her betrothed, as it would bring an alliance between the Schnee Dust Company and the Lapis Energy Company. It would have been a remarkable political and financial move on both ends.

She remembered the White Fang destroyed a cargo ship of dust that week, and she wanted to make this dinner successful. He was taking his frustration and anger out on their family, and she thought if she could do the right thing and please him; he wouldn’t be upset with them anymore. So, she focused on the orange trees when Charles Lapis slammed her against the wall, his hands were free from their gloves and he used his semblance to drain her aura.

Fear immobilized her, wanting to please her father immobilized her, and for a moment, it did.

Then, she saw a white bird fly across the window and she used the last of her aura to summon a beowolf to attack Charles. Winter mustered the remaining strength she had and ran out of the dining room, left the Lapis Estate, and went home. Her father and mother met her at the door when she arrived; Weiss and Whitely peered over the staircase railings.

It was a shock to them all when Jacque backhanded her and decalred her a disgrace.

After that night, Charles stalked her. Some months were quiet while others he would appear five times a week, leaving her notes or sending her gifts. Her father did nothing about it. She never allowed Weiss of Whitely to meet him or anyone at Lapis.

That fear, rage, and resentment she felt were bottled into determination to improve in every aspect she could, to rely only on herself and to watch out for her own. She became the best in her studies and training. Handled herself with poise and dignity, needing to enchant every single business partners of her father's and take every dinner invitation, to ensure Weiss and Whitely were not options.

So they won’t be further exposed to men like Lapis.

She was in control for so long.

She was nearly perfect.

“Shall we dance?” Charles asked, his hand offered to her. Winter allowed him to lead her to the dance floor, to be twirled under the grand chandelier. “Your aura, it still smells and sings as beautiful as that day. I’ll never forget that taste.”

The fire in her burned cold and she bit back the need to rip herself away from him and thrust her saber through his head. She looked out the window, seeing the rows of Magnolias trees gleaming under the moonlight and met the gaze of a crow. She was twirled and the crow was gone. Charles pressed her close to him, his hand on her lower back and fingers clasped tightly over hers.

She felt disgusting.

“Can I cut in?”

Winter turned to the man before them and held her relief behind her cold façade. Qrow was dressed formally in a suit and tie – again it was a sloppy knot – and went with a simple velvet black mask. There was no ounce of creative at all.

Charles frowned but politeness overtook in the light of the public, and he let her go. “Of course…?”

“Colonel Gen from Vacuo.”

“You’re not in uniform.”

“Most aren’t in Vacuo.”

“Ah, that’s right. Well, then, I will see you soon, Winter,” Charles, bring her hand to his lips, “Thank you for the dance.”

“And I to you,” Winter responded passively and Charles left. They both watched as he went to grab a drink from the bar, stopping to greet an acquaintance of his. She stiffened when a hand encompassed hers.

“Relax, Snow Queen. It’s just me,” Qrow reassured her.

Winter nodded, “For someone whose semblance is bad luck, you certainly bring a lot of good luck to me.”

“That’s a first,” Qrow chuckled and untied her mask, letting the skin underneath to breath. She reached up, wondering if something was wrong with it but he shook his head as he re-tied it on her arm. “I just prefer seeing you without a mask.”

“Charming.”

“And handsome.”

Winter smiled, relieved that he was here.

Someone safe was here.

The thought of proper form and distance did not accord to her as she stepped into his arms. She curled her hand over his gently, feeling him pull it close to his chest, and she leaned a little closer, burying her face into the juncture of his shoulder and neck. She would never admit it, but she was practically melting into his embrace as they swayed to the soft tempo of the music.

“You have never danced before, have you?” Winter closed her eyes, forgetting for a moment that she was in a room filled with masked vipers.

“What gave it away?”

“This music is for waltzing.”

“And what am I doing?”

“Dancing with me.”

“Seems like you prefer dancing with me than waltzing.”

“I do.”

“Do you prefer dancing with me over other men?”

“Are you trying to inflate your ego?”

“Always,” he danced them towards the balcony. “So?” he nestled his cheek against the side of her head and she leaned up to meet the touch instinctually, gently. 

“I do.”

“I know,” he said, feeling her delicate snort against his shoulder.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

“Already am.” 

“Qrow.”

“I think you’re falling for me.”

She scoffed this time, not wanting to deny it nor confirm it. Instead, she followed his swaying steps. She wasn’t paying attention to her surrounding until she felt the temperature drop and cold air skim across her back. “Why are we outside?”

“To get away from those jackasses,” Qrow answered. “Don’t tell me you didn’t notice us dancing our way here.”

“No.”

“Were my good looks distracting you?”

“Hardly,” She went to fix his tie, smoothing the wrinkles the best she could before retying it for him.

“How domestic.”

“Agreed. You’re like a child.” 

“You can be annoying, sometimes. You know that?”

“Didn’t realize I can get under your skin so easily.”

“Too easily, if you ask me,” he muttered, feeling her smooth the neatly knotted tie over his chest. “Come on,” he led her to the side of the balcony where there was a set of staircases leading to the first floor.

“Where are we going, Colonel?”

He glanced up at her with a smirk, “Impress with my title?”

“Your lies never cease to amaze me.”

He winked at her, “The gardens. They’re empty.”

“That’s quite an illicit statement. Should I be vigilant of you, Branwen?”

“Always," he said. They thought back to the kiss all those weeks ago, both wanting another taste. There was a loud crash and thunderous glass shards hitting the floor that came from inside, surprising them.

Winter huffed, “They’re as rowdy as ever.”

“True, but hey, at least we’re not paying, so who cares?”

She smiled despite trying to maintain a composed appearance, but it always failed when she was around him. She tightened her hold on his elbow as she matched his steps. “What are you even doing here?”

“I went home to Patch, like you demanded, accepted and completed a mission early, and decided I wanted to see you.”

“How kind of you.”

“Not really,” he said, looking back down at her with mirth. Whenever he visited, he always worried his semblance would harm her and he knew, he knew, that he should keep her at a distance. But he craved to be with her constantly and that craving always suppressed his fear. So, no. He wasn’t kind. “I’m greedy,” he said, “and I want to see you as often as I can.

“Who am I to stop you, then?”

He brushed a strand of hair away from her cheek. “You look nice,” he said. “Like one of those pompous Mantle’s doll.”

Winter narrowed her eyes, “Your insults are not as clever as your namesake.” 

“Didn’t mean for it to be an insult,” he chuckled

“Sounded like one.” 

“I guess for someone who’s been paraded around like a doll, it looks like it, doesn’t it?”

He tilted his head to look at her. Again, she was dressed in clothing that alluded to the traditional grabs of Mantle royalty. A simple cream silk fabric that settled refreshingly on her body mixed with a sheer material that covered her arms and back, overlaying on top of the silk for a moment before a complex blue thread design brought them together. Even the mask tied the illusion together.

“You really do look nice.”

“Thank you,” she said after a moment. “As do you.”

“Calling me handsome?”

“I think you actually look like you made some effort in your appearance, for once.”

“So, handsome?” 

“Hm, I say decent,” she teased and stifled a laugh at his snort.

They continued the path to the gardens that were lit with fairy lights and heated lamps. The lights behind her cast a halo around her and he forgot, as he always did when he was away from her, how beautiful she was.

“How do you feel?” she asked. “Did the wound heal well?”

“I’m good and I healed up quickly. Even more so after I saw some nurses in their short skirts.” Winter pushed him into a bush and kept walking. He was howling in laughter and stood up, brushing leaves and some twigs out of his hair and clothes. Catching up to her, he wrapped an arm around her waist and she shoved him again but he dragged her back to him.

“Unhand me, Branwen.” 

“I’m joking,” he said against her shoulders, trying to control his snickering.

“I do not care. Let go, you vain, ill-natured varlot.”

“I’m sorry,” he said but chuckles were still littering between the words. She was about to spurt out another insult when he leaned down, his lips almost on hers and the distance caused her to halt and blink dumbly at him. “I never said thank you for saving my ass, did I?”

“No,” she said after a moment.

“Thank you.”

“What a rare delight. If only it wasn’t bitter with your previous comment,” she pushed him and used a glyph to twist him around away from her.

“Winter,” he said her name in a hard tone but the mirth was still there. “Hey.”

“What?” She spun on her feet.

He gestured for her hand and she gave it to him after glaring at his for a few seconds. Tightening his hold on it, he pulled her towards him, “come here.”

Winter frowned, feeling his hands palming her waist. His breath curled across the top of her cheek. She felt a longing in her to press against him once more. Become surrounded by his warm, his rich spicy scent of sandalwood and deep whiskey. He was standing so close and she wondered if he could hear her heart pounding in her chest. He gave her that supercilious grin once more with an apology slipping out, and Winter surrendered to the roaring emotions inside of her.

She leaned up to close the final centimeters between them and kissed him. Her eyes shutting as he pressed into her gently. She felt his lips curled in a smile and she could not help but match it. They felt warm despite the final winter snowfall drifting down around them. Another crash of glass came from inside and she pulled away first in surprise. Blushing, she smoothed her dress and took a step back from him.

“You taste like champagne,” he said, licking his lips and smirked at her embarrassed glare. “How were you holding up in there?” He asked warmly, offering her his arm. They resumed their way to the gardens. “I was there for a few minutes and felt like I was being suffocated.”

“As expected.” 

He frowned at her answer, “What does that mean?”

“That it went as expected.”

“We got to expand that vocabulary of yours,” he frowned, “Who was Leather Hands anyways?”

“Charles Lapis.”

“Don’t like him.”

"Oh? Why’s that?” 

“Besides dressing in a tacky brown yolk-colored suit and making you uncomfortable,” Qrow stopped, bringing her close again until her lashes brushed against his jaw, “this distance…does not belong to him.”

“Whom should it belong to?”

He grinned, leaving her question to the wind, and walked down the path again, descending another set of stairs. “Seems like you hate him. Did he do something to you?”

The pleasantry she was feeling was ripped away. Winter took her hand off of him. “Why do you ask that?”

“Because I know you,” he said, “So what did he do?"

"Nothing."

"Hey. You know you can tell me.”

She studied him and lifted her head up just a tad, “Why should I?”

“Why? It’s because I care about you,” Qrow frowned, seeing that she didn’t find truth in his statement, seeing her reconstruct walls around herself. “You can’t find that so hard to believe.”

Winter felt her anger bubbled, “Why do you find it so easy?”

“It’s never been easy,” Qrow nearly shouted and there was a heavy moment of silence between them. He sighed and rubbed the back of his head. “It’s not. Caring for someone means to be vulnerable towards them and that’s…fucking scary, and I’ve seen and been through when caring for someone ends badly.”

“Why me, then?” she asked, looking down at him from her place on the staircase. “I have nothing truly valuable to offer you.”

He snorted, “I think it’s the other way around.”

“No,” she disagreed, her voice heavy and but soft. “It’s not.” 

“Well,” he gave her a smile, “Because you’re you.”

“That’s not a good answer.”

“It’s not,” he agreed. “Winter.”

“Yes?”

“Do you care about me?”

Winter pursed her lips, feeling the vulnerability he spoke off and wondered if it was too late to run back inside to the world she was accustomed to, to the walls that had painted smiles. He asked again and she nodded, “I do.”

“And why’s that?” It became too much, she felt too much, so she turned to walk back upstairs but he twisted her around. “Winter.”

“I,” she looked down at their hands and felt a plethora of emotions, “I like your company.”

“And I like yours,” he said, hoping she would understand. “Do you really think I don’t care about you?”

“I rarely… know what to be cared for means.”

“I’ll show you,” Qrow said, “Everyday for the rest of my life if need be. I’ll show you to the point you’ll be sick of it.”

Her heart thundered, her blood was coursing hotly under her skin. She wanted to believe him and despite her instinct telling her, no, to run and to remain detached, remain in the world she grew up in; she walked down the two steps separating them.

“That sounds like an inconvenience.” 

“Yeah, it is. But I’m going to do it,” he said, bring his arms around her.

“Why isn’t it easy?” she asked, not expecting him to answer.

“People are assholes and hurt each other way too easily. That’s why.”

“And you won’t hurt me?”

“I probably will unintentionally. I’m not good at thinking before I speak.”

Winter gave another delicate snort, “I haven’t noticed.”

“Yeah?” He grinned, breathing in her aroma of lilies. “Winter.”

“Hm?” 

“I will always have the best intentions for you.” Qrow looked up at the night sky, tightening his arms around her, “And sometimes they can be wrong because Gods know I make mistakes, but I care about you and meeting you…was one of the best things that have ever happened to me.”

Winter shut her eyes, burying herself in his embrace, afraid of what she was feeling and what it meant, but she wanted to answer him honestly and to the best of her abilities.

“Me too,” she said in a small voice.

And it was good enough for him.

Chapter Text

The room was heavy from Ironwood’s anger and Winter’s mortification. Qrow, however, was disinterested and felt slightly bad, only slightly, at getting Winter in trouble with Ironwood, but seriously, it wasn’t as bad as the old Headmaster was making it be.

“Winter, we will discuss your punishment later. For now, you are dismissed,” Ironwood stated.

Winter nodded and turned to walk out of Ironwood’s office, scowling at Qrow who threw a wink and smirk at her as she walked passed him. He followed her figure until she left despite Ironwood's sharp cough.

“What?”

“I expected better from you, Qrow.”

“Calm down,” Qrow went to sit down, “it was just some training.”

“You two practically destroyed the garden courtyard!”

“It was only a pillar and some bushes.”

Ironwood sighed and sat in his own chair, rubbing his temple. “Are you drunk again?”

“If you call one drink as being drunk.”

Ironwood frowned, not finding amusement in his statement. “What was the purpose of confronting her?”

“Confronting?” Qrow grinned, “I was testing her.”

“You’ve read her reports and seen her on missions. You seriously doubted her skills?”

“No. I just wanted to see how far I could piss her off until she drew her sword.” He rubbed his side where she was able to land a hit.

“You’re a twelve-year-old boy,” Ironwood groaned. “Why are you even here? You already gave your reports. Weren’t you supposed to return to Vale this morning?”

“It’s Flowers Day.”

“And?”

“I’m treating Winter to dinner.”

“Did I not warn you to not fraternized with my students?” Ironwood scowled.

“I took it as such and decided to ignore it.”

“You’re a teacher.”

“At Signal which is in a different country and a different grade level.”

“Why? Why her?”

Qrow reached for Ironwood’s cup of scotch on the table and drank from it, “She’s fun, nice, and easy on the eyes.”

“Fun?”

“I know. Surprising.”

“Doesn’t matter. She’s a Schnee.”

“Really? This again?”

“Qrow-”

“So what if she’s a Schnee?”

“You two are from two different social circles!” Ironwood slammed his hands on his desk. “She’s related to nobility. She’s practically a princess here at Atlas. Her father would never approve of you.”

“I know he won’t, but I’m not seeking her old man’s approval or yours,” Qrow snarled back, slamming the cup on Ironwood’s desk, not caring that it cracked into two. “The only person’s opinion that matters to me on this subject is Winter’s.”

“So you two are dating?”

“We’re not,” Qrow stated, “At least not yet.”

They glared at each other, their hands twitching to reach for their weapons as the air between them sparked. Ironwood inhaled and resettled in his chair. “You’re making the greatest mistake in your life.”

“Not fighting for her would be the greatest mistake in my life.”

“Why Winter? Why not another woman? There are plenty out there who are ready to –”

“There’s isn’t anyone out there like her.”

“Think this through!”

“I am and don’t think for a damn second I don’t know why you’re so fucking against me! Winter’s future is not something you or the Atlas Military can fucking claim like one of the Mantels indigenous civilization to do as you please,” Qrow snarled, his semblance snapped and Ironwood’s coffee table broke behind him.

“It's not yours to claim either!”

“We’re done,” Qrow stated and turned to exit. He slammed the door and Ironwood watched as the frame next to the door crash to the floor.

He sat back down in his seat and sighed. That was not how he wanted the conversation to go.

~o~o~o~o~

“Once more, I must sincerely apologize, Mr. Lewis,” Winter sighed, looking around the courtyard as a summoned beowolf collected the last chunk of the broken pillar.

“Oh, no worries,” Lewis, the elderly gardener grinned at her, sweeping the debris into a pan she was holding steady for him. “Watching you and your boyfriend’s love quarrel reminded me of my honey. We used to have squabbles like that all the time. Just remember to kiss and makeup before the end of the day. It’s never good to go to bed angry.”

“Thank you for the council, but, um, he’s not my boyfriend,” she said, throwing the rubble and dust into the trash bag he brought.

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

“But you two look good together.”

“Don’t tell him that,” Winter huffed delicately, “It’ll just give him ideas.”

“The way he looks at you, I’m sure he already has those ideas brewing,” Lewis crackled happily.

“Mr. Lewis-”

“Look at the time. I think we’re done for the day,” Lewis sighed and dusted himself off. “I appreciate all the help.”

Winter took off the garden gloves he leaned to her and set it in his red bucket. “May I help tomorrow?”

“No. No. You’re not meant to tend to the gardens, Miss Winter. Only admire them,” Lewis placed his tools in his cart alongside the red bucket.

“I would still like to help.”

“You saved me a lot of time already by helping me with the cleanup, and that’s enough. I’ll have a team tomorrow to finish the rest,” Lewis patted her head and gave a chuckle as he gestured behind her. “Looks like your boyfriend is ready to make up with you.”

“He’s not,” She frowned and turned around, seeing Qrow waiting at the upper level of the courtyard. He waved at Lewis, yelling he was sorry for the mess, before beckoning at Winter to come over.

“I hope you two make-up and enjoy tonight.”

“Tonight?”

“It’s Flowers Day,” Lewis grinned, passing Winter her backpack. “Don’t forget to send those lanterns off.”

Winter hummed in response and said goodbye to Lewis. Venturing up the stair, she huffed at Qrow’s grin but then stopped as she saw something amidst. “What is it?”

“Nothing. Come on,” he said, “let’s get something to eat.”

She frowned, not believing him for a second but decided not to push the matter at the moment. “What did Headmaster Ironwood say?”

“He gave me detention,” he took her backpack from her and swung it over his shoulder. Carrying it for her like he always did.

“I believe I will get detention. Not you.”

They walked out of Atlas Academy, heading straight downtown when he spoke. “Winter.”

“Hm?”

“If you hate me, you’d tell me, right?”

“Immediately,” she answered.

Qrow laughed, “Straight to the point.”

“You asked."

“And if you hated me, you wouldn’t put up with me, right?”

“Where is all this coming from?”

“I just wanted to make sure.”

“Make what sure?”

“That I’m not pushing my luck with you.”

Winter exhaled softly, “I thought I already told you I like your company. If I didn’t, I would have put you in your place already. Come now. The noodle restaurant that opened is close by and I want-Qrow!”

He pulled her down the path of an Atlas' public garden; a path that would lead them towards the restaurant but it was a detour. Winter let herself be dragged through the garden after realizing he won’t answer to her calls. He led her into the maze. The hedges were tall, a few feet over their heads. They were able to hear a few people, but most would not be in this section of the garden so late. When his grip loosened, his pace slowed, she moved to grab his elbow and walked next to him.

"I," he began after a long moment of silence and sighed, stopping to turn to her. But he wouldn't look at her. His semblance flared and her hair ribbon came undone from its steady knot. "Winter, I," He cursed, unable to complete the sentence. He wilted, pressing his forehead on her shoulder.

Winter closed her eyes; smoothed her hand over his shoulder and cheek. Turning his face to hers, she kissed him lightly with a touch of shyness. "Don't for one second assume I don't know what I want," she said.

“Yeah?” He embraced her tightly, "I want you, too."

"I've noticed," she said, embarrassment painted her voice but he heard the humor tickling her tone.

“Hey,” he smiled down at her before kissing her, a little firmer than the one she gave him. His hand buried into her hair and he gripped her hips steadily.

Winter felt a familiar heat flare in her; similar to when he would touch her in indecorous areas like her waist or hips. Gods, she still had to hide her face when she remembered the time he groped her thigh under her skirt. He said it was an accident, but the lecherous grin spoke differently. That same heat appeared inside of her, but more intense and overwhelming.

It inflamed when the kiss became fierce, he bit her lower lip and dominated her. She whimpered, making him chuckle and kiss her deeper. She was lost in him that she did not notice being pressed into an archway, her own arms wrapped around his shoulders until a laugh ripped through the junction. Winter pushed him away, red and panting, and almost hitting Qrow who laughed. The other laugh, the one she heard earlier, drifted away, not entering the section they were and she sighed.

"I will remove your tongue if you don't hold it," she stated, pulling his cheek as he continued to chuckle.

"Come take it," he grinned, his hands on her waist again until her stomach grumbled. He glanced down. "Hungry?"

"I am. Since you promised to take me to the new noodle restaurant, I skipped lunch."

"You call me a glutton.”

“No, I call you a vain, ill-natured varlot.”

“Lucky for you, I always keep my promises.” He went on, ignoring her. “Let's get some food in you, then."

“I want dumplings, too.”

“Whatever you want,” He tucked her hand on his elbow and led her out of the maze. "Afterwards, we’re going to the river.”

“The river?” She perked an eyebrow at him.

“I got us some lanterns."

It was a tradition in Atlas on Flowers Day to send lanterns down into the sea with a significant other. It was tied to a legend of an old king who waited for his wife to return home and used lanterns to guide her back to him until one day he died. His body was sent out to sea in a glory of flames in hopes to be reunited with his wife.

"Those...are for couples."

"I know."

“Qrow…we’re not a couple.”

He looked down at her with a soft expression, “Yeah?”

Chapter Text

"He's the only one person I can recommend."

"You're lying," Ironwood said firmly, tightening his grip on his scroll. "You have a disposal of more than 50 huntsmen and huntresses that are qualified for this."

"True, but half of them are already paired, a quarter of them are at her level or a little lower, so she won't be challenged, and those that are a little above her level are on their own missions already," Ozpin explained, watching as Glynda rolled her eyes at him. "What happened to the one you originally wanted her to be paired up with?"

"She got injured the day before yesterday," Ironwood said, nearly groaning in annoyance. "The other two I had lined up as backup got paired the week prior with other teams."

"And now you have no one to mentor Ms. Schnee for her mandatory two-month mission," Ozpin smiled, "Hm, she needs to complete that to graduate, doesn't she?"

"You know she does."

"And you can't give a simple mission, can you?"

"You know I can't. If I do, I would fail as a headmaster, professor, and general. I need a tier A mission to challenge her, give her experience, and prepare her for the missions she most likely will acquire in her career as a huntress."

"Agreed."

"And I can't assign her one if I don't have a veteran huntsman or huntress to monitor her," Ironwood grumbled.

"Agreed," Ozpin nodded.

"And I refuse to believe that the only person you have available is Qrow."

"Have you seek a huntsman for her from Haven or Shade?"

Ironwood rubbed his temples, “Yes.”

“And?”

“Too last minute for the former and the latter didn’t have tier A missions,” Ironwood nearly snapped. He thought of Qrow, knowing that drunk only took tier A missions for Ozpin and had one lined up starting on Monday. A mission that would be perfect for Winter to experience.

"He won't agree to it," Ironwood said after a moment. Qrow hasn’t been on a group mission since team STRQ officially disbanded more than a decade year ago.

"Unless I assigned it to him," Ozpin stated, pleased that the Atlas headmaster was open to the possibility of Qrow being Winter's mentor.

“He won’t do it. Last time we spoke it ended badly.”

“Why’s that?”

“I told him he wasn’t good enough for Winter.”

Ozpin hummed, “Well, that wasn’t wise.”

“Agreed,” Ironwood sighed, “He accused me of grooming Winter to join the Atlas army…and he’s right. I am.” Ironwood looked over the open profiles of huntsmen and huntresses on his desk, each one skilled and trained but not at the caliber he believed would improve Winter. "Asked," Ironwood bit out, "If he agrees to it, then I'll agree to it."

"Already did and he does," Ozpin smiled happily.

Ironwood placed his scroll on his desk and took a deep breath to calm himself. He looked out the window to the Atlas landscape and counted to five before grabbing the scroll again. "I do not like being made a fool." 

"No one is making you out as a fool," Ozpin said calmly, "I simply wanted to make sure Qrow was available and agreed to it before offering this option to you. I would hate to have another huntsman fall through for Miss Schnee."

"Thanks." Ironwood tapped his desk in thought, “You don’t think he won’t do anything on the mission?”

“I think they are both adults.”

“He’s going to be her mentor.”

“The lines are blurred there, I agreed. But, again, they are adults and he is not her professor. He won’t be grading her on her performance. Just giving her a review and we both know that review is going to be a positive regardless who the mentor is. Now, the mission will take place in Vale. Can I expect her here Monday morning at nine? That would give her the weekend to prepare."

"Yes."

"Excellent. I will pass the news to Qrow."

"And I with Winter."

The conversation ended and Ironwood rubbed his temples before asking Ms Nausicaa to update Winter's mission assignment to reflect the conversation he had with Ozpin. He would personally contact Winter tomorrow morning during her study period to inform her of the new two-month mission she will be assigned. He would give her the option to decline it. For a second, Ironwood thought to call Qrow and warn against any unprofessional conduct made towards Winter, but felt that would have no effect, or worse, the opposite effect.

"Is this a bad idea?" he asked to no one.

~o~o~o~o~

 

"This is a bad idea," Glynda said, crossing her arms over her chest. "You have seen the way he’s around her. He'll either flirt with her or goad her into sparring matches the whole time."

"I doubt it would be the whole time." Ozpin looked over at her, obviously pleased with the result of the phone call.

"Ozpin!"

He smiled pleasantly, "it will be fine. Trust me."

“Why do you always like to play matchmaker?”

“Not always. Only when I see a good match,” he reasoned. “Being as old as I am, I cannot help but want those around me to experience happiness, and even more so when there is someone that can share with that happiness in a consummated level.”

Glynda frowned, not wanting to verbally agree with him, "Will you tell him or shall I?"

"I will," Ozpin said.

Glynda sighed loudly one last time and left the room, leaving Ozpin alone with his thoughts and cup of coffee. The sun rose and sank and soon the weekend was over. Ozpin stood in the courtyard of Beacon with Glynda by his side. He had a mug of freshly brewed hot chocolate in hand, about to take a sip, when he heard Glynda’s growl in irritation.

“Not even nine and he’s already drinking,” she muttered.

Qrow was sauntering his way to them, yawning loudly with a flask in hand. He swirled it and took a drink before greeting them. “Morning.”

“Good morning,” Ozpin greeted pleasantly.

“Good morning,” Glynda said, “You’re surprisingly early.”

“Got to make a good impression on Papa Jimmy,” Qrow said, readjusting his rucksack on his back as a single Atlas airship flew over Beacon.

The airship hovered over the courtyard for a moment before it sank and landed. The cabin door opened smoothly, revealing Ironwood in his crisp and ironed military suit and his arms pressed behind his back. Winter was on his left, her posture similar but her arms rested a little lower, making her appear softer next to the Atlas Headmaster. The group of Atlas soldiers standing behind them in a straight line brought uniformity.

“Good morning,” Ironwood led the group out of the airship. Winter repeated the greeting formally.

Qrow instantly took notice of her clothing. Instead of her school uniform, she wore her combat clothing that consisted of a high-waist pleated skirt, a V-neck navy blue vest over a long-sleeved white blouse with a ruffled bib, and black thigh-high boots. Her backpack was surprisingly smaller than his and he noted her hair was styled high in a simple bun. He stared openly at the sliver of skin peeking between the top of her boots and the bottom of her skirt until Ozpin hit the back his leg.

Ozpin stepped forward, “Good morning, Ironwood. Miss Winter. I hope your flight here went well.”

“It did,” Ironwood nodded and stepped aside to allow Winter to walk ahead. “I am here to drop off Winter Schnee for her required senior mission with…Qrow Branwen.”

“I can see the pain in your voice,” Qrow grinned.

“Shall we head to my office to go over the assignment,” Ozpin gestured towards Beacon’s main campus building. Ironwood and Ozpin headed the group, talking to each other regarding news of a herd of grimm in a village in Vacuo. Glynda stayed behind to scold some students while Qrow and Winter walked paces behind the headmasters.

Winter rolled her eyes at Qrow’s snickering comment, “Yes, I am puttering around in excitement.” 

Qrow smirked, “Not surprised. I turn down at least twenty groups each year who want me as their mentor.” Winter gazed up at him and hummed, making him frown. “What is it?”

“I was thinking that if you were as important as you say you are, you would be a lot quieter.”

“Are you trying to pick a fight with me?”

“I would never. It’s simply concerning that my complete lack of interest in your existence conflicts with your delusions of self-importance.” Winter’s lips twitched into a smile for a second before she schooled her expression and went on.

“That’s a bold lie.”

“What is?”

He bent down, catching her off-guard, his face was mere inches away from hers, “That you have a complete lack of interest in me.”

Her ears turned red and she pushed him away, hurrying her steps. He saw her throw a glance his way, one that held a question that she seemed to refuse to ask. So, he sped up to reach her easily, his strides were longer than hers.

“That look. What was it,” he asked, smirking at the unimpressed expression she threw at him, “Not that one.” 

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Winter.”

“After refusing all of those students to being their mentors. Why accept me?”

“Three reasons,” he said, holding three fingers up and allowing her to walk in front of him by a few steps, “The first, and most important reason, is your hip-to-waist ratio.” Qrow caught her backpack that she aimed at his head. “It’s pleasing to the eyes and to my hands.”

“Branwen,” Winter marched to him and he skipped a few steps back to be out of her range.

“They’re going to notice.”

Winter stopped and huffed, pivoting on her heel to resume following the Headmasters. Qrow stayed a few steps back, smirking in amusement at her irritation. “Number two-”

“I don’t want to hear it.”

“I don’t need to worry about you not keeping up with me. And, lastly, I like having you around.” 

There was an insult on the tip of her tongue that she kept to herself as they were entering the elevator with Ozpin and Ironwood. She kept silent as they took the elevator up to Ozpin’s office, ignoring the wink he shot at her and thought about the upcoming two months. When Ironwood told her of the mission she was going to be assigned to with Qrow as her mentor, she thought of the massive headaches he was going to give her. Then, while finalizing her essay for a literature class, the topic of romance she was writing about collided with her reality.

Qrow had made it clear what he felt about her, which was not platonic or camaraderie. Even after they kissed, she kept telling herself there would be nothing between them. She could not feel that way about him and neither could he. He was just a flirty huntsman with a drinking problem and she was an overly ambitious student with a need to prove herself to everyone. It would never work. So, with that in mind, she attempted to push him and any possibility of him in a romantic prospect out of her mind.

But, he said he loved her.

Not her family’s name.

Not her family’s influence.

Not her family’s fortune.

He loved her.

And as before, whenever he spoke to her, he made her rethink her choices, made her doubt the future she was constructing, made her reevaluate the reasoning she established as to why she could not feel something for him. He washed away all those expectations with simple words and explanations, revealing in its wake the truth she had been trying to avoid and bury. 

"Well then," Ozpin walked around his desk and pulled up the assignment on his computer screen, sending it to them all. "Shall we go over the assignment?"

"Shoot," Qrow said disinterestedly, handing Winter back her brown leather backpack.

"This assignment will have a mixture of search and destroy, perimeter defense, village security, and intel gathering. We have estimated that it will take seven to nine weeks at most to complete the entire mission; this includes travel time from Beacon to the Village of Row in the Unland region of Vale. Normally, going as who you are would be fine if it wasn't for the intel portion of this mission."

Ironwood looked wearily at Ozpin, "What identities are you suggesting they take?"

"No worries, it won't be something too far-fetched from what they are right now," Ozpin waved him off.

"What kind of intel," Qrow asked, his demeanor changed. The relax posture he had become rigid.

"The kind that Miss Schnee will be involved with in retrieving when she becomes a graduated huntress," Ozpin explained calmly. "Now, in the Village of Row, there is a man there that goes by Aspen. He is a rising crime lord and has ties to political parties in Vale that are against the civil rights of faunas. Aspen has information regarding an upcoming attack on the village of Barznas that will frame the faunas in that city as the assailants. Not only do I want dates and information regarding the attack, but I also want to know what other information Aspen is carrying." Ozpin finished, looking pointedly at Qrow.

"Sounds easy," Qrow nodded.

“What about reporting?” Ironwood asked.

"This is a mission dealing with gathering intel, so we will not expect periodic updates unless it is pressed for time," Ozpin said, perking an eyebrow at Ironwood's scowl. "As for the identities you two will be donning, you will be going undercover as married huntsmen, Aplonis and Zima Starling."

"Ozpin," Ironwood interrupted, watching the pleased smirk curl on Qrow's face.

“Yes?”

“Those identities are far from what their relationship is right now.”

“Is it though?”

"Is there...no other identities they can take?"

"What would you suggest?"

"Siblings? Cousins?" he barked and they both turned to look at Qrow and Winter.

"Yes, they look quite similar now that you mention it."

"Teammates," he tried to reason.

"Their age difference would raise suspicion."

“And them being married won’t?!”

“People have married with a greater age gap.” 

"Calm down, Jimmy. It's just pretending. I would never marry your star pupil without inviting you to the wedding," Qrow laughed before taking a drink from his flask that Winter promptly took out of his hand.

"It will be fine, Headmaster," Winter reassured Ironwood, "we will maintain a civil and professional interaction throughout the mission. Is there anything else?" she asked, holding the flask as a hostage as Qrow tried to take it back.

"Are you sure you will be fine?" Ironwood asked.

“I will,” Winter said, looking at Qrow with a disinterested frown, “Will you?”

Qrow snatched his flask back, “Dandy.”

“We are in an agreement then?” Ozpin asked.

Winter nodded and Qrow held his hand up, “Wait. I need to do this right.”

“Qrow,” Ironwood warned.

Qrow took off his smallest ring, “Winter Schnee, will you marry me?”

“Oh, Gods,” Ironwood covered his face with one hand.

Winter looked at the ring and then to Qrow, “Not good enough.”

“What do you mean it wasn’t good enough?” Qrow asked indignantly.

“It wasn’t,” she pointed to the ground, “On your knee and say it like you mean it.”

Qrow grinned, falling to one knee dramatically and held his ring to her much to Ironwood’s annoyance and Ozpin’s amusement. “Ice Queen.”

“Vain, ill-natured varlot.”

“My stars and moon and pain to my ass, despite having a cold – I mean artic cold – heart, will you marry me?”

She regarded him and sighed, “Pitiful but I suppose it will do.”

“Pitiful?” Qrow barked a laugh, “That was a damn good proposal.”

Winter turned back to the headmasters, “I believe we’re ready.”

“Don’t ignore me! I am your husband!”