As the ship flew toward Atlas, Qrow listened to the others speak and tried not to focus on the weird guy that wouldn’t stop talking. Robyn Hill? The Happy Huntresses? Gods, so much had changed since he was last in Atlas. He wondered how much James knew. He also wondered, watching Weiss, just how much had happened to her while she’d been trapped here, before she’d met up with Yang.
He frowned, his gaze on her, and she looked at him, her expression morose and her eyes empty.
He reached out, hands bound together, and rested his hands atop hers, offering her a little smile.
She returned it, and some of the life returned to her eyes.
“This isn’t the police station.”
Qrow looked up and his eyes went wide. He let his hands fall away from Weiss’ and got to his feet as well.
“It’s… Atlas Academy.” Which meant James knew it was them. That put him in a better mood, but he caught himself before he smiled too broadly. The guys carting them around probably didn’t realize who they were carting around – bar Weiss, maybe – and that made this all the sweeter.
He half wanted to correct Ruby, when she sounded so worried about seeing James. But he didn’t want to ruin James’ trust in him. Nor did he want to get her hopes up, if he was wrong. There were a lot of questions he was going to have to answer, once they saw James, and he’d rather answer them all at once, with James, rather than multiple times with multiple witnesses that weren’t people Qrow wanted to talk to him.
“So… what do we do?”
It killed him a little, to hear Ruby not want to tell James the truth. He was worried, but he knew talking to James would sort it all out. Surely, James hadn’t gone off the deep end. He was probably just being overzealous and had gotten lost in all the bureaucracy. It wouldn’t be the first time.
He kept to the back, frowning, watching, listening.
“I swear if I have to sit through one more council meeting like that—”
The whole world dimmed as James came into view, even from behind. Penny’s words, exuberant as they were, faded as Qrow stumbled forward. Screw staying in the back. Screw watching. He moved to the front of the group, stepping around the kids before they could say anything.
To hell with secrets. He’d missed James.
“Qrow.” James’ voice was soft, his confused expression falling away. A smile spread across his face; his nose wrinkled slightly in confusion. “You’re here.”
“James.” Qrow exhaled his name like a prayer. There had been a time, a long time, where he thought he’d never see James, face to face, ever again. Now, he could reach out and touch him.
“You’re here,” said James. He stepped forward, reaching for Qrow’s hands, and Qrow lifted them to show the bonds on his wrists. Annoyance, aggravation, anger flickered across James’ face. His head came up and his eyes were hard as he eyed the guards.
“Why is my husband under arrest?” he ground out, his voice echoing in the small space. The guards snapped to attention, seemingly frozen from James’ words. “I want them all out of their bonds, now.”
Qrow lifted his hands and let the guards do their work. They moved fast, and less than a minute later, all the bonds were on the ground, leaving the group free.
“Now, leave us,” said James, dismissing the guards with a wave of his hand. They hurried out of the solarium and shut the doors behind them.
Once gone, Qrow stumbled forward the last few steps and lifted his hands, splaying them across James’ chest. His heart beat strong and steady beneath his hands.
“James,” whispered Qrow, staring up their few inch height different into those deep, blue eyes. James settled his hands on Qrow’s shoulders and smiled.
“Hello, my Qrow,” James whispered back.
“Husband?” Yang’s loud, incredulous voice broke the spell. “You two are married?” Her voice cracked on the last word. A hot flush worked its way up Qrow’s neck and onto his face. He ducked his head, just slightly, to try and hide it. Bit the inside of his cheek to try and hide how much he wanted to grin.
“See, I told you,” Nora said, from behind. Qrow took one hand from James to turn and look at Nora, eyebrows up. She blinked at him. “What? It was so obvious you had feelings for him.” She jerked a thumb toward Ren, who stood next to her. “He thought you two were doing the unrequited pining thing. I thought that because you guys are older huntsmen, and you know how fragile life is, that you would have already made your move.” She folded her arms in front of her. “Guess I was right!”
“A very astute observation, Ms. Valkyrie,” said James. Qrow looked back at him and couldn’t help but trace the hidden line of James’ jaw with his gaze. The beard was a good indicator of just how far James was gone, but damn if it didn’t work for him. Qrow wanted to rub his face all over it until his skin was raw with the memory of James. “I’m quite impressed. Most don’t figure that much out.”
Nora shrugged. “What can I say? I’m a hopeless romantic.”
Qrow couldn’t help but take the bait. He grinned at her and said, “Yeah, the endless amounts of pining I watched you suffer until you finally told your beau over there,” he jerked his chin toward Ren, who blushed, “means you get free bragging rights for figuring this out.”
“I—you—we—” Nora turned a deep, dark red and clenched her hands at her sides, her cheeks puffing out. She stomped one foot and said. “We figured it out!”
“Indeed,” said Ren. “Though I suspect our story may mirror theirs in some respects.”
“Probably,” said Qrow, shrugging with one shoulder.
Yang pushed to the front. Ruby was still gapping.
“No, no, so I get that we have a ton to talk about and like, the world is ending and there’s monsters and shit.” Yang waved a hand between them. “But I need to know why the fuck you kept this a secret.” She folded her arms and scowled. “Especially when we could have used it to get passed Cordovin in Argus!”
Winter rolled her eyes and spoke before James or Qrow could. “Ms. Xiao Long, do you truly believe Caroline Cordovin would have believed Qrow even if he’d produced proof of his marriage?” She cast a withering look to Qrow and scowled. “Something I very much doubt he has.”
“Hey,” protested Qrow. He held up his left hand, where one of his rings was very different from the others. “I’ve got my damn wedding ring. That shit is basically fused to my hand at this point.” He’d tried to pull it off, several times, at his worst moments. But, whether from changes in his hands or the metal, or just his damn semblance, it refused to budge.
“Uncle Qrow?” Ruby’s voice was small. “Why does Winter know but we didn’t?” And god, she sounded like a child, didn’t she? Soft and confused. She’d been through so much and he’d told her she knew everything. But she hadn’t known this.
He pulled himself from James to turn and rest his hands on Ruby’s shoulders. She was still so small next to him. Was she still growing? Or would she stay this small, as small as Summer, forever?
“Kid—” He stopped himself and took a breath. “Ruby. I didn’t tell Winter. Last I checked, she didn’t know. James must’ve told her while I was gone.”
“And I’m very sorry for that, Ruby,” said James. He rested a hand on Qrow’s shoulder and stepped next to him. “My relationship with Qrow has been…” He sighed. “Regrettably secret, until now.” Qrow tilted his head to look at James, furrowing his brow. James had always worried about his reputation with Qrow. Sure, most of Remnant was fine with sexuality and gender, but Atlas was still old fashioned in a lot of respects. And, even if Qrow and James both being men wasn’t a factor, then Qrow being a lower-class “rapscallion” of a huntsman would be.
James was supposed to date someone of his own class. Qrow wasn’t even close to that.
“Until now?” echoed Yang, folding her arms across her chest. “What, the world is ending, so you figured ‘what the hell’?”
James grimaced. “Honestly? Yes. I’ve told Winter, and Penny, and my Ace Operatives… everything.”
Qrow let out a slow breath. Everything.
“About the Relics, the Maidens, Ozpin, and… Qrow.” James sighed. “I understand you have a lot of questions. And I respect that. I will tell you everything I’ve done and everything I plan to do. If Qrow has trusted you with this knowledge, then you are surely the heroes Remnant needs.” He looked at Qrow and Qrow looked at him. He couldn’t shake the exhaustion, and the fear, that clung to his bones.
Everything. They knew everything. Had the Ace-Ops not known it was Qrow, when they were all arrested, then? Or…
Or was that their way of saying “we don’t approve”?
“You told them everything?” asked Qrow. “Really?” James nodded. “Shit James.” He lifted his hands from Ruby and used one to scrub a hand over his face. “I mean… shit.”
James squeezed Qrow’s shoulder and offered him a small smile. “Would you rather rest?” he asked the group. “Before we talk?”
Ruby looked up at James, then to Qrow.
“Do you trust him?” she asked. And oh, that was a loaded question to ask him in front of his husband, wasn’t it? But at the same time… yeah. She had every right.
Qrow nodded. “I do. With everything I am.” He hesitated, looking up at James, then back at Ruby. She’d understand this part, even if James didn’t at first. “He’s a romantic, Ruby. And he knows what it means to lose, and how to cope.” James stared at him, brow furrowed.
Qrow watched realization flicker onto Ruby’s face, then, bit by bit, the rest of them. They understood what he was saying. Ozpin and Salem’s story would mean something to James. Whatever he was planning, whatever he was doing, that story would alter it.
Ruby nodded, slow, and then looked to James. “General Ironwood, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather we talk tonight.” She held her chin high as she spoke. “There’s a lot we need to talk about.” She looked to Oscar, who nodded, then to Blake, who nodded as well. “And… there’s something about Ozpin you don’t know. Something I think you need to hear.”
James nodded, sharp, and gestured to his office, behind him. “All right. Go on in, I’ll be with you in just a second.”
As the teens filtered passed Qrow – Yang giving him a sharp look, and oh, he’d be trying to make this up to her forever, same with Ruby – he let the situation wash over him.
James would know everything. He’d tell them everything. They’d save the world, together.
“They’re gonna smooch,” Nora stage-whispered to Oscar as they went by. Oscar made a face.
“Eugh, gross,” he muttered. Nora laughed and threw her arm around his shoulders, guiding him into the office. Ren winked as he went by and Qrow flushed. Even the ninja was calling him out on his bullshit.
James turned to face Qrow just as Qrow turned to face James.
“Qrow…” James sighed. He reached up and cupped Qrow’s cheek in one hand. “I’ve missed you.” His voice was hoarse, his eyes wet, now that the kids were gone. “There were times I thought…” He looked away and grimaced.
Qrow lifted his own hands to wind his arms around James’ shoulders. “Got close, once or twice, but Ruby’s a hell of a guardian angel.” He smiled, small, and lifted one hand to comb through James’ hair at the back of his neck. “I missed you too, Jim.”
Now that their audience was gone, James didn’t hesitate to pull Qrow close, one hand low enough on his back to be almost obscene. After a brief moment, held in that hug, James shifted his head and pressed a kiss to Qrow’s lips.
Qrow kissed back, entire body trembling with how much he needed this. He thought he’d never see James again, and now they were standing, wrapped up in each other, about to figure out how to save the world.
James’ hand moved to cup the back of Qrow’s head and Qrow moved with him. Their desperate kissing turned more impassioned, more vigorous, as the seconds passed.
A cleared throat behind them had them jerking apart. Qrow looked over James’ shoulder to see Nora leaning against the wall at the top of the stairs into James’ office.
“You two coming?” she asked. She raised an eyebrow and added, “I mean into the office. Not, you know.” She winked.
James turned scarlet and cleared his throat. Qrow tried not to laugh. Of course it was Nora making that joke.
“Of course, Miss Valkyrie. We’ll be right up,” said James. Nora shrugged and went back into the office, vanishing from view.
James looked at Qrow. “Shall we?” he asked.
Qrow separated himself from James and held out one hand. James smiled and took it. Together, they walked up the stairs to James’ office, and into the next step of their lives.