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Candle in the Dark

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He'd thought his life was a misery before. Growing up with the Branwens, discovering his curse, losing Raven and then Summer, learning Oz had no plan, and seeing Clover die right in front of him. 

None of it compared to what broke inside him when Atlas groaned, fell, and shattered, with his nieces and all their friends on board.

He was tempted to break his sobriety, but drink simply wasn't enough this time. The only thing to do would be to lay down in the freezing city and die.

But he couldn't do that. Even if they were buried under tons of rubble, even if all that was left of them would be damaged beyond recognition, he had to find them first. He owed it to their mother, who would have never given up if there was the slightest chance her daughters were still alive.

It's a hopeless endeavor. He knew that. But Summer would have done it and he couldn't go to the afterlife and tell her he'd done anything less.

Just that long. Just enough to find them. Then he'd join the dead below the ice.

It took him all day to find the ruins of Atlas Academy, before he collapsed from sheer exhaustion. Bits of broken, flickering heating provided a safe place to rest among the rubble and bodies of students, every one of them bearing the uniform of Atlas. He should have felt guilty, being relieved at each one that isn't his. He was beyond that.

Not that it mattered. If the kids were here, they wouldn't be in the courtyard. They'd probably be in what remains of Ironwood's office, or in the halls nearby, or one of the towers. Gods forbid they're in the Vault, which would be too deep for him to ever find them. 

Well, except for Oz, when he inevitably reincarnated. Maybe he'd kill him again, just for daring to survive when Ruby and Yang didn't, just for believing that a city could fly and bring hope and not horribly crush everyone underneath when that hope died.

No. He wasn't to blame, and Qrow knew that. Gods damn it, why did Qrow have to be good?

The sun rose yet again, and Qrow forced himself up onto his feet to start heading towards the wreckage of the towers. It took him most of the morning, digging with his scythe where his own hands failed him, but there's nothing in the rubble of what was once the Headmaster's office.

He turned over the same stone three times before finally giving up, collapsing, his mind a grey haze. Not even a day and already his mind was failing him, hindering the search. Not that it mattered anyway.

Where else could they be? He wracked his brains, but without much heart in it. It's hopeless.

Summer, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I couldn't save them.

"Uncle Qrow!"

Now he was losing it, hearing Ruby's voice on the wind. Oh, and a hallucination of her. Definitely losing it. The red blur crashed into his ribs, making them ache-

Not a hallucination. Not a fantasy. Real. Ruby was real.

The world buffered for a bit, as his mind and heart struggled to catch up to the reality unfolding in front of him, of Yang following behind Ruby and adding her own warm, strong, real arms to the hug. Of the other kids rounding the corner, all safe and whole and alive, contradicting last night's nightmares of their broken bodies crushed beneath Atlas' broken bones.

Gods, they're alive. They're alive and they're fine and it's wonderful, so wonderful his heart might just break again from joy.

"Ah come on, Uncle Qrow. You didn't really think a fallen city would be enough to stop us, did you?" Yang admonished him, and he laughed. It came out as more of a croak, tears creeping into it.

"No I...." there are no words. "I....I'm sorry, firecracker. I should've known better." They told him their story, and he held them closer, almost afraid that if he let go they'd vanish. But no, they won't vanish, because they're here now and everything would be okay.

It was Penny. Brave, amazing, magnificent Penny Polendina had shielded his nieces and their friends from harm using her Maiden powers when Ironwood's tampering had severed the Staff's connection to Atlas. Qrow wasn't a hugger, but he couldn't help himself. He swept the android up in a hug that would have crushed any bones she'd had. Brothers bless Pietro for creating such an extraordinary girl!

He hadn't cried when Atlas fell. He'd been beyond that.

But as they all clustered around him and held him, even the ones he didn't think would, he couldn't stop himself from crying, just a bit, just from sheer relief. 

They stayed like that for another few minutes, then broke off. Ruby reminded them that they had people to help, that there were probably plenty of people out there scared and isolated and needing their help. Qrow was only too happy to transform, flying above them, helping them search for survivors.

Summer, I'm sorry. I should have remembered what you taught me. I should have had faith.

I should have known your daughters were stronger than this world.