The blaring of an alarm startles Qrow awake. The lights overhead are flashing red. He frantically searches the room and zeros in on Watts, who is somehow out of his cell. The guards are nowhere to be found and commotion can be heard from the hallway.
“What did you do?!” Qrow shouts at him. Watts chuckles, tapping away at the refurbished scroll in his hand.
“Just out to take a stroll is all.” he responds, making for the door.
“Wait!” Qrow shouts after him. Arthur pauses in the doorway, glaring at Qrow. “Let us out too.” the hacker gives a hearty laugh at that.
“And why in the world would I do that?” he asks.
“Because we both want to see Ironwood crash and burn.” Qrow growls out. Watts raises an eyebrow, but otherwise shows no reaction.
“As much as I would love to see Ironwood fall, I have bigger plans birdie.” the hacker smirks and turns on his heel. He waves over his shoulder as he leaves the cell block. Qrow yells in frustration as the door slides shut behind him, punching at the energy field wall. Once his fist makes contact, he immediately pulls away in pain. His knuckles are steaming but his aura keeps him from being injured otherwise.
“We’ll get out of here soon, Qrow.” Robyn attempts to comfort from her cell. Jacques chuckles at her comfort. She shoots him a murderous glare.
“What makes you think we’re getting out of here?” he asks, gesturing to the room.
“When I said we, I didn’t mean you. Some of us don’t deserve to be locked up in here.” Robyn snaps, stepping up to the energy wall separating them. Jacques huffs a laugh.
“Well, that’s debatable.” he side-eyes Qrow. Robyn growls and opens her mouth to argue but is interrupted by the cell block door bursting open. The Ace Op Marrow bustles through the door, looking frazzled and frantic. The room is quiet for a moment before Marrow steps up to Qrow’s cell.
“What do you want, kid?” the shapeshifter asks, crossing his arms.
“I’m here to let you go. Well, more like enlist your help.” Qrow’s hardened expression completely falls.
“What? Why?” he questions. Marrow is already unlocking his cell as he speaks.
“The General has completely lost it. There’s Grimm all over Atlas and Penny has gone rogue. Could use as many huntsmen as we can get.” the cell walls drop and he moves on to Robyn’s cell.
“What about The Staff?” Qrow asks. Robyn’s cell walls drop and Marrow sighs, turning back to Qrow.
“Ironwood was heading to the vault last I heard.” he says, walking past Qrow and towards the door.
“Winter has your weapons. We’ll meet her in the weapons lock-up and go from there.” Qrow and Robyn share a glance, unsure.
“Look, do you want to help or not cause I can just-” Marrow starts.
“We’ll help.” Robyn, who has approached the door, interrupts. Qrow is tagging along behind her, still cautious about the situation. As the three go to leave, Jacques shouts after them.
“Wait! What about me?!” the three glare at him, and Marrow speaks up.
“Unlike them, you actually did something wrong.” The faunus quickly leaves after that. Robyn and Qrow share a chuckle at Jacques' stunned face as they follow Marrow. For two freshly released fugitives, the military seemed to not care that they were now out. Most likely thanks to the horde of airborne Grimm descending upon the city causing absolute chaos. The three quickly arrive at the weapons lock-up. Inside, they find Winter nervously pacing the room. Once the door opens, she snaps her head up towards the trio.
“Good, you’re back. I just got word that Ironwood and Penny were seen entering the vault elevator. It’s only a matter of time.” Winter informs, stowing her scroll that she had been frantically tapping away at.
“Better get going, then.” Robyn says, claiming her crossbow and fixing it to her left wrist. Qrow claims Harbinger as well, stowing it at his lower back. Before the four of them rush from the room, Winter gives both Robyn and Qrow an earpiece to keep in touch. They all nod to each other and proceed from the room.
“Penny was hacked into by Arthur Watts. She was supposed to be under the General’s control, but I’m beginning to doubt that is the case.” Winter states, jogging alongside Robyn.
“There’s only one way to find out.” Qrow says.
“How are we going to get down there before them?” Marrow asks as they round the last turn to the elevators.
“I can get down there, but the rest of you will have to take the elevator.” Qrow says. The other three frown at that.
“How?” Robyn asks. The shapeshifter chuckles and promptly shifts into his corvid form, speeding past the others. They watch as Qrow, now a small crow, flies off towards the elevators.
“Well...I certainly wasn’t expecting that.” Marrow quips. Ahead of the trio, Qrow arrives at the elevators. He shifts back to his human form to tear down the elevator door. He makes a hole big enough to fit through in his corvid form. He shifts and dives through the hole. As he plummets further and further down the elevator shaft, he can hear the telltale sounds of a fight. The sound of Penny’s lasers echoing up the shaft. He soon arrives in the vault, swooping down into the vast room. The scene before him is surprising. Ironwood and Penny are...fighting. Initially he thought maybe Tyrian or Watts had shown up. Maybe even Cinder. Penny fires a massive green laser at the General, but he barely manages to dodge. A scorched patch of floor is left where he stood. “Penny was hacked by Arthur Watts”. Winter’s words replay in Qrow’s head. She’s not herself right now, but she’s still Penny. Qrow flies for Ironwood, transforming mid-flight. He draws Harbinger and brings down onto the General in one hard swing. The force of the impact blows up debris and dust. Once it clears, Qrow realizes Ironwood blocked his blow using the metal of his arms.
“Qrow?” Ironwood says in disbelief. Qrow quickly withdraws Harbinger and goes for a horizontal swipe at Ironwood’s abdomen. Ironwood ducks back, avoiding the swipe. Qrow carries the momentum and spins, transforming Harbinger into it’s scythe form. He brings it around for another hit, again blocked by Ironwood’s metal arms.
“Qrow, what are you doing here?!” James questions, struggling against the force of Harbinger. He breaks the block and ducks back again to avoid the hit. Harbinger is lodged in the floor. At that exact moment, Penny sends another laser running up the platform to hit both men. Qrow hops up, dislodging Harbinger and fires a shot to push himself out of the way. Ironwood does similar and fires a shot from his black gun to dodge. With another shot from Harbinger, Qrow is launching towards Ironwood again. Harbinger in sword form again, he makes quick swipes left and right at James, all dodged or deflected but all sure to be wearing down the General’s aura. Ironwood holsters his guns quickly to catch Qrow’s wrist on the next swing. Ironwood hardly manages to hold him, but he takes the opportunity to land a punch directly in Qrow’s stomach. Qrow recoils, yanking his hand from James’ grasp. It’s then that Penny’s swords come sweeping towards them. Ironwood leaps out of the way while Qrow deflects them with the flat side of Harbinger. Half the swords jam into the floor. Qrow takes the opportunity to yank the strings attached to them, pulling Penny down to slam into the floor. Once she’s down, Qrow throws a pair of bolas at her, entwining her and her swords. Suddenly, Ironwood is upon Qrow, swinging both his guns backhanded. He lands a few superficial hits on Qrow’s arms, forcing the shapeshifter onto the defensive. Qrow blocks and deflects many of the hits. He finds an opening when James makes a long left handed swing towards Qrow’s side. Qrow sees the swing, catches Ironwood’s wrist and soon Qrow’s fists finds James’ jaw. The force of the hit coupled with the fact that James had been fighting Penny long before Qrow arrived sent the General halfway to the ground. Qrow doesn’t hesitate to slam his knee into James’ face. The hit knocks the General out, his large body suddenly a heap on the ground. As soon as his body lands, Penny breaks her bonds. She quickly gathers her swords.
“Penny, this isn’t you.” Qrow pleads with the girl. “Please, I don’t want to hurt you.” he relaxes his stance, trying to show Penny he isn’t a threat. Penny’s eyes flicker, her stance becoming unbalanced. Unbeknownst to Qrow, Robyn, Marrow and Winter took it upon themselves to find the sword they had taken from Penny the day before and reverse Watts’ influence.
“Penny, I know you’re in there. You have to fight it.” Qrow slowly stows Harbinger. He watches as Penny grips at her head, orange locks bunched together between her fingers. Qrow cautiously takes a step towards her. She continues to struggle, groaning in frustration.
“Remember what you’re fighting for. To save Mantle and Atlas. To help you friends. To help Ruby.” at the mention of her best friend’s name, Penny freezes. The vast room falls dead quiet. After a beat, Penny raises her head. Qrow audibly gasps at the sight before him. Penny is crying. Crying actual tears, like people do, yet she also wears a fond smile
“Thank you, uncle Qrow.” she says, voice full of emotion that Qrow can’t put a name to. Her eyes slowly dilate and her body grows still, her expression frozen onto her face. She stood there frozen in place.
“Penny?” Qrow says, hardly above a whisper when he finally reaches her. She’s unresponsive. She shut down. Qrow lets out a relieved sigh. He turns towards the vault door, which has now been lowered to be level with the catwalk. The door is already cracked open. Penny must have tried to overpower Ironwood before he got the staff. He approaches the door and pushes it open to reveal a room shrouded in snow. It’s as if he is out in the tundra during a blizzard. He shields his face and presses on into the room. As he approaches the middle, the storm dies down into a nice flurry. The eye of the storm. In the center of the ‘eye’, the staff is stood hovering a few inches above a snow covered rock. The light in the crystal flickers slightly, almost as if it’s running out of power. He approaches the staff, observing it curiously. He reaches up to touch the staff but before he can lay a hand on it, his hand is shot. His aura flickers but doesn’t break yet. He whips around and readies Harbinger. There he finds Ironwood, panting, Due Process drawn, barrel smoking from the shot he fired a moment ago.
“I can’t….let you have it.” he huffs out. He sounds exhausted.
“You’re not getting the staff, James.” Qrow snarls, spinning Harbinger over his head to shift it to scythe form.
“That’s General to you.”
“I don’t think you’ll be holding that title after this, Jimmy.” and with that, Qrow launches himself at James, grabs him around the waist and launches both of them out of the vault. They both go rolling across the catwalk. Ironwood is slow to get to his feet, so as soon as he is righted, he’s blocking a downward swing from Qrow, crossing his guns together to catch the blade.
“You should have just listened to us! None of this would have happened!” Qrow shouts, swinging again and again.
“I did what I had to do! Salem would have won by now if not for me!” James argues back. Qrow growls, continuing to swing at James left and right. Their dance brings them closer to the edge of the catwalk.
“He’s gone because of you! We wouldn’t have gotten in that crash if you didn’t put out an arrest warrant for me!” Qrow is roaring now, rage consuming his movements.
“You think I care about your little fling?! Look at the bigger picture, Qrow! Salem would have Atlas by now!” Ironwood protests. He notices that his heels skirt the edge of the catwalk, flirting with the imminent long fall into darkness below. Qrow’s rage boils over and before James can react, Qrow is dropping Harbinger and tackling him off the edge. The two start to plummet to what would be a near certain death. For a moment, James is stunned but he soon gathers his wits and wraps his arms around Qrow. It only takes a moment for Qrow to realize that James is crying.
“I’m sorry.” James whispers into Qrow’s shoulder “I love you.”. Qrow audibly gasps, attempting to push away from James. He releases Qrow from his embrace. Qrow quickly shifts into his corvid form, hovering as he watches James plummet into darkness. The shapeshifter flies back up to the catwalk, shifting when he lands. He returns to the vault. To the staff.
“Hey kid, I’m in the vault.” Qrow says, touching a finger to his earpiece. Marrow’s voice crackles through.
“Go ahead and take it, Mantle has been evacuated. The gravity dust should slow Atlas down enough to keep everybody up here safe.” Qrow lets out a shaky breath before reaching out. He grips the staff and easily pulls it away from the magical rock it was sat on. Immediately, the building begins to rumble and the storm inside the room dies down completely. He notices the Staff is shrinking down to a more convenient size, so he clasps the staff to his belt. As he exits the vault, he spots Marrow, Robyn and Winter descending on the elevator. The stalactites above begin to crumble and fall from the ceiling. Qrow rushes to Penny and attempts to lug her to the elevator. Winter casts a glyph to levitate her to the lift. Qrow shifts to avoid the falling boulders. He lands in human form on the elevator, just in time to catch Penny when she reaches the elevator.
“Is she okay?” Robyn asks. Qrow humms, brushing hair out of the girl’s face as a small smile spreads across his face.
“I think so. She fought it off.” he responds.
“W-where’s the General?” Marrow asks hesitantly. Qrow’s expression falls, now one of sorrow and anger.
“He....didn’t make it.” he admits. Both Winter and Marrow gasp. “Look, we don’t have time to dwell on that, we’ve gotta get Penny and the staff outta here before we’re stuck.” Qrow says as he stands. Once the elevator reaches the lowest floor, they are greeted by chaos. Huntsmen, huntresses, students, guards and even citizens are everywhere. Many people are seeking refuge in the academy, believing it to be the safest place in Atlas. Nobody pays any mind to the now five of them rushing through the academy.
“Hangar is still two floors up. That elevator only goes to this floor.” Winter says, ducking around a group of students.
“If we go through the med bay, it’ll be faster.” Marrow suggests. The group heads that direction, carefully weaving through crowds of panicked people. Arriving at the med bay, it’s just as crowded as everywhere else. They weave through more crowds. They pass by room after room filled with patients. They reach a more empty wing of the medbay. They pass more rooms, although most seem to be empty or only inhabited by one person. They pass by one room that gives more than one person pause. Qrow can only stare. His feet moving on autopilot to enter the room. The creak of the door is deafening in the silent room. No monitors or other medical equipment. Just a metal table and an all to familiar form lying motionless on it. Qrow steps right up to the table. The rest of the group just simply watch from the window, Robyn watching from the door. Qrow shakily rests a hand on Clover’s chest, covered by a thin sheet and some sort of bandage. ‘Lot of good that’s gonna do’ he thinks. He hangs his head, now hunched over Clover’s body and clutching at the sheet with both hands. The glint of the staff catches his eye and suddenly he doesn’t feel so hopeless. He grabs the staff off his belt, gripping it tight, his other hand still resting on Clover’s still chest.
“Please.” he whispers, his teary red eyes slipping shut. He doesn’t know exactly what he’s pleading for, but he can only hope for anything but this. Suddenly, the commotion in the halls is gone, the rumbling of the building too. Everything goes quiet. His eyes snap open. Everything is gone. The staff. Clover. The hospital room. Qrow whips around to gauge his surroundings, but there is just...nothing. The horizon is endless. The ground is one endless shallow puddle, barely reaching his ankles. An unknown light source reflects off the still water.
“Is he what you seek, mortal?” a whimsical female voice asks. The huntsman whips back around, reaching for Harbinger, but his weapon is gone too. He shifts his stance to compensate for the lack of a weapon.
“W-who are you?” he asks, cautiously. There stood before him a very tall woman. Her skin unnaturally a vivid blue and long flowing hair stark white that looks as if it is always being blown by a soft breeze. Many different gold shaded cloths cover her, styled like a Roman toga. A gold rope belt cinches her waist, keeping the cloth in place. She dons a gold circlet, choker and many bengals, large hoop earrings hang from her pointed ears as well. Vivid blue smoke shrouds her lower half, making it seem as if she is floating. She approaches Qrow, leaning down slightly.
“I am Merla. What is it you seek?” she answers in a whimsical voice. For a moment, Qrow’s expression softens and he simply stares at her, mouth hanging open slightly. He shakes his head to compose himself and answers.
“I-I’m not sure.” he murmurs. Merla cocks her head.
“I know in your heart what you seek, but you must give me permission to create it for you, or I will be of no use to you, mortal.” a single tear suddenly springs from pale red eyes. Qrow finds himself surprised at it and quickly swipes it away.
“Bring him back.” Qrow says simply, hardening his expression. Merla smiles and gives a wave of her hand that causes the blue smoke to grow.
“It is done.” she says, and the smoke soon surrounds Qrow. He closes his eyes and shields his face from the smoke. A second later, he jolts “awake”, standing in the same spot he was before meeting Merla. One hand still resting on Clover’s chest, the other gripping the staff. Glancing at the staff, he notices the pale blue crystal is now glowing much more than before. He’s so transfixed by the glow that the sudden movement next to him startles him. Suddenly, Clover’s emerald eyes snap open as he takes a sharp inhale, and Qrow can feel it underneath his palm and it’s almost cathartic. Qrow returns the staff to his belt and is quickly helping Clover sit up.
“Qrow? What’s going on?” Clover asks, glancing around the room and spotting Winter and Marrow in the window. Robyn steps into the room, ready to assist.
“I-it’s a long story.” Qrow chuckles and is soon abandoning his helping hand in favor of wrapping his arms tightly around the miraculously revived Ace Op. Clover freezes at the hug for a moment.
“I’m so sorry. None of that should have happened.” Qrow says into Clover’s bare shoulder. The Ace Op relaxes into the hug, gently resting his arms around the shapeshifter’s shoulders.
“It’s not your fault, Qrow.” he feels wetness on his shoulder and soon realizes that Qrow is crying. He gently pushes Qrow away from him to look him in the eyes. He rests a hand on Qrow’s cheek, wiping away tears.
“Hey, hey, I’m here. You have nothing to worry about. I’m right here.” Clover soothes, rubbing small circles with his thumb. Qrow sniffles and smiles; a true, sincere smile full of love. Without Qrow’s arms around him anymore, Clover realizes just exactly how exposed he is and is quickly covering himself with the sheet, his face turning red.
“Uh, Qrow. Can I have some clothes?” At this, Qrow’s face turns a few shades too red as well. With the help of Robyn, they rummage around the room for some clothes. They come up with only basic pale blue hospital scrubs. As Qrow’s handing them to Clover, the building shakes, throwing everybody off balance and causing the lights to flicker.
“Qrow, what’s going on?” Clover asks, taking the clothes.
“Uh, yeah. We’re uh…..grounding Atlas.” a beat of silence before
“WHAT?!” he shouts. Qrow waves a hand at him, ushering him off the table to get dressed.
“It’s a long story and we don’t have any time. We need to get off this rock before it lands. There’s gravity dust slowing it down but it’s still gonna be a hard landing.” Clover hops off the table, the sheet still wrapped tightly around his waist. The group turn to allow some privacy for Clover to dress, although Qrow is resisting sneaking a small glance.
“Alright, let’s get going team.” he says, voice dripping with too much authority for a guy only dressed in scrubs. Qrow grabs his hand and doesn’t let go as they all run for the hangar. Robyn and Marrow are left to carry Penny, to which they do with ease. The building is being torn apart. The only ship left is on the landing pads outside. They make a beeline for the ship. Winter uses her semblance to get to the ship faster and starts it up as everybody else makes for the ship. Qrow and Clover are bringing up the rear, still hand in hand. The two are a few steps away from the ship when the landing pad crumbles apart. Winter has no choice but to begin takeoff. With a burst of strength, Qrow launches Clover into the ship. Clover lands in the ship with a hard thud. He rights himself just in time to see the platform completely slip out from under Qrow right as he’s reaching for Clover. Clover watches in horror as he falls from view. A moment later, a crow flies up and then suddenly Qrow is lying on top of Clover, panting. Clover looks up at Qrow, extremely confused. Qrow pushes himself up off Clover enough to look back down at him.
“Hey. Didn’t know you could do that.” Clover breathes out, a hint of a smile on his lips. Qrow chuckles, but soon realizes the position they’re in. Qrow is sat straddling Clover’s hips, both arms holding him up on either side of the Ace Op’s head. Qrow’s cheeks grow several shades redder and he is off Clover in a matter of seconds. He offers him a hand up, to which Clover accepts with a chuckle. The two stand and dust themselves off. Marrow was watching the whole debacle and rolled his eyes with an exasperated sigh. Robyn is settling Penny onto one of the benches in the airship.
“Where are we headed, Winter?” Qrow asks.
“Marrow has been in contact with your niece. We’re going to their hideout in the mines.” Qrow and Clover move to sit on the bench behind Winter’s seat. Qrow reaches into his jacket pocket to pull out Clover’s pin and hands it to him.
“You probably want this back.” he says. Clover stares at the pin for a moment before smiling. He closes Qrow’s hand and pushes it back towards him.
“Keep it. I think green would look good on you.” he says, offering a wink. Qrow scratches the back of his neck at the compliment, a blush creeping onto his cheeks. He affixes the pin on the gray lapel of his shirt. Qrow rests his hands down and a moment later, he finds his hand in Clover’s. Qrow looks over to him, a blush creeping onto his face. Clover simply smiles and squeezes Qrow’s hand. Qrow returns the hand hold, smiling while moving to rest his head on Clover’s shoulder. Qrow silently vowed to himself that he would never let anything bad happen to Clover ever again.