"Bad hair, used a scythe, and smelled like my dad after a long day. It was him."
He smells like my old man, he thinks and although he is speaking calmly there is disgust in his voice and venom hidden behind his calm tone. Cinder and Emerald understand what he means, but they don't comment. Cinder continues to talk about their course of action, and he follows along with her words, ignoring the thoughts of his old man that want to linger in his head. His dad was dead, so it shouldn't matter to him if someone else had that familiar scent that he hated so much. Besides, if Mercury hated him more because of his scent then that was fine with him, and he knew the others would approve of his hated as well, because it would only make him fight harder.
"He smells like my old man."
This time the thought is vocalized, but it is spoken quietly, no disgust in his voice, only sadness in his hushed tone. But it is masked, hidden from their ears, because he doesn't want them to detect the weakness he has found in himself because of that scent. He closes his eyes and drifts into a restless sleep, thoughts of that scent continuing to drift even as he slips away into sleep and following him.
The scent only grows stronger in the dream, clouding around him like a bug that won't go away. Marcus is caring, feeding him when he has done well for him. Mercury has done well that day. He has trained hard and cleaned the house and kept everything in good condition. His reward is dinner. He thought that was how all families did it, even dysfunctional ones like his own. Away from the rest of civilization, where it was just him and his father, he thinks that his life is not so bad, that it could be worse and that even though it is hard this was just how it was always done.
He is young, and he thinks he understands. He thinks he understands when his father barks orders at him, working him harder and harder in the blazing sun until he collapses from the exhaustion. He thinks he understands when his father hits him, because it is just an accident that happens when Marcus is intoxicated. He thinks he understands when his father hits him again, even though the scent of whiskey and wine has faded and his father is fully aware. It is because he loved him and the proper punishment for a child is to be beaten down until he is black and blue, quivering from bruises and pain and begging for him to stop. It isn't until then Mercury realizes that he does not understand.
And then he is on fire, and his dad is on fire, and everything is on fire. Marcus is hitting him, but this time he is hitting back, refusing to give up and back down like he always did. He understands now, but what he understands is that his father does not love him the way he thought he did. Now he refuses to follow along with his old man's logic, because now he knows that his logic is wrong. So when his father stops moving he keeps hitting him, because he deserves it. His knees are aching and his legs are about to give out on him, but he will not stop. He will hit him until he is black and blue, because that was the punishment he had always been given and Marcus deserves the same. But then Mercury realizes that he cannot feel the pain like Mercury always had, because now Marcus is not moving or breathing and it is his fault. His father is dead, and it is on his hands. It is supposed to feel relieving, like a huge weight has been lifted off of his shoulders. It is not.
"You smell like my old man."
This time it is fierce and more venomous than before. The tension in the air and his gaze is sharp to match the fierceness of his words, but the man not back down as Mercury had when his father gave him the very same look. Qrow does not understand what Mercury means, does not care to focus on the words right now because all that matters is protecting the others. The words are pushed from his mind as he surges forward and his blade is met with a furious kick that is powered by anger and metal. Even if his old man caused the loss of his legs, he wouldn't let him have the last laugh from the grave because he was Mercury, strength and power and swiftness packed into one man who couldn't stand the thought of someone else smelling like his old man.
"You smell like my old man."
His voice is broken and tired, and he lays in defeat wondering why he has lost. He is tired, so tired of the fighting. He has been fighting all his life, for survival and strength. Although Mercury feels old, Qrow can see that Mercury is young, too young to be fighting in this war, and too young to be slipping away in his arms. Qrow is not young, but Mercury is, and so are his nieces and their friends and all the students forced into the mess that has been made out of their world. All he can do is hold this strange boy, the boy that strived to be something more to prove his old man that he wasn't something useless, and ask him why it mattered if he smelled like his old man.
"You'll ruin them if you ruin yourself. That's why he ruined me."
The boy laughs, and Qrow can only wonder how much Mercury's old man could have pained him so much that it drove him to this point. Then the boy slips away from him, and no more questions can be asked.