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Taiyang

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He is young when she leaves him behind. He cradles their daughter in his arms, small and with tufts of golden hair that shine like the sun, a bright flame spewed from the mouth of a dragon. Yang is the only evidence of their love besides the titanium ring that hangs from his neck and her’s. Yang wails in his arms, tiny and helpless and filled with pain.

Or maybe it’s just him that is filled with pain--an ache in his chest, an ache he isn’t used to. His chest is usually filled with a warmth that brings him comfort, or an anger that fuels his berserker rage in the adrenaline-filled moments of a fight. The ache makes him empty, and he feels nothing. The only thing he feels is Yang wriggling, beating her small fists up and down in her fit.

Taiyang Xiao Long is young when Raven Branwen leaves for a mission and never returns.

Taiyang Xiao Long is young when he sets his daughter down in a crib and cries as he rocks in the chair beside her, fingering the ring that still hangs from his neck.

Summer and Qrow deal with their own aches differently--Summer continues her job as a Huntress, filling the ache with the rush of a fight. Qrow’s drinking gets a little heavier, and he disappears for long periods of time, presumably to look for his other half, his twin.

Taiyang tries to raise his daughter. She is a little over a year old when she takes a few wobbling steps before plopping back down, but there is a look of triumphancy on her face that is suited for someone far older than she is.

He is older when Summer Rose comforts him, the smallest member of the former team STRQ, and yet their leader. She is petite, but filled with power, and possesses cold, clear eyes that stop enemies in their tracks.

But she is also soft, in her words and personality. His ache is dulled down when she is around. She holds Yang, bounces her up and down, and when she smiles at him--the ache is almost gone. It has slowly been replaced by the warmth he is most familiar and happy with, the hearth of comfort.

Taiyang Xiao Long is older, but still young, when he marries again.

Summer is probably one of the best things that has ever happened to him, something a berserker like him doesn’t deserve. She is, honestly, too kind and too good for him. Him, who wears his heart on his sleeve. Him, who uses his bare knuckles in a fight.

Their wedding rings are made from ivory, and merely looking at it on his finger fills him with a warmth only his new wife can bring him.

“How wonderful!” Summer cheers when Yang manages to knock over a chair with her own fists in an imitation of her father. She does it easily, and Taiyang laughs. Yang looks up with an expression that resembles her mother’s so much that for a moment Taiyang is thrown off guard.

Qrow mentions it later.

“She looks just like her,” he says, sipping from his flask while leaning back in a chair around the dining table. Taiyang nods, looking down into his own cup. It’s filled with cider. Summer made it herself.

“Just wait until her hair is longer,” Summer says knowingly. She’s four months pregnant, and it hasn’t really settled in yet that Taiyang’s about to be a father again. He does feel joy, however, when he looks at her, eyes going soft and his mouth quirking at the edges.

Qrow watches him carefully from across the table, finger tracing the rim of his flask. His eyes flicker between Taiyang and Summer. He can’t read Qrow’s expression--sometimes, he thinks he can, but realizes later that he still doesn’t know Qrow like he thinks he does--just like he didn’t know Raven like he thought he did.

Qrow is gone the next morning.

Yang takes the news that she’s getting a baby sister with a look of excitement on her face.

“I’m getting a sister?” She asks, bouncing up and down. Taiyang nods, balancing her on his knee. Summer is across from him, eyes soft and exuberant, shining with her own excitement. They’re eating cookies she made. They’re the best, as always.

"Yes. Would you like to help us pick out a name?" Summer's laughter is soft and beautiful. Taiyang could listen to it for hours on end. He hasn't ached in so long because of that laugh.

There's a look of concentration on Yang's face as she ponders a name, before exclaiming, "Rainbow Sparkle Butt-Kicker!"

They burst into laughter as Yang grins at them earnestly.

The day that Ruby is born, Qrow is present with him at the hospital.

“You’re a dad,” he says, crossing his arms and smirking at Taiyang. "Again.”

“Yeah." Taiyang rubs the back of his neck, grinning. The feeling in his chest is his beating heart trying to escape, excited, because he is ready to meet he and Summer's child--his second daughter. “I guess I am.”

“Ready to have two running around the house?” Qrow jokes, nudging Taiyang in the side.

“I’m not sure,” Taiyang laughs, “Yang has been getting impatient these last few months. She’s just--been waiting for this day.”

“We all have, Tai,” Qrow says, and there’s something honest in his eyes that makes Taiyang feel warmth. For the first time, he thinks that he knows, for sure, how Qrow is feeling.

The doctor exits the room and says they can see Summer. She’s holding Ruby, a name they’d decided on months before, and she’s quiet. Sleeping.

“Completely healthy,” Summer says in a soft voice, though her teammates hear her voice loud and clear. “Not a day too early or late.”

“She’s beautiful,” Taiyang says, sinking onto his knees next to Summer. Ruby’s face is tranquil, and there’s tufts of dark hair tinged red layered over her head. Taiyang holds his finger out to touch her--Ruby grips it in her sleep.

“Strong,” Taiyang blinks, and smiles.

This is his daughter.

Summer’s daughter.

Their daughter.

“She looks like you,” Summer smiles.

“Really? I think she looks just like you,” Taiyang studies Ruby’s face. It has the same shape, the same colored hair. Taiyang has seen pictures of Summer as a baby--he feels like he’s looking at the picture come to life now.

Summer gives Ruby to Taiyang for him to hold. He rocks her back and forth, reminded of the day Yang was born. He’s so glad--so warm--that he has another daughter. A daughter with Summer.

“Qrow,” Summer says suddenly. "Would you like to hold her?”

Taiyang had nearly forgotten Qrow was in the room--he’s standing near the door, his hands in his pockets, looking out-of-place like the Branwen twins tended to do, even if they were completely in their own element. Qrow clears his throat and steps forward--Taiyang gently passes Ruby to him, and they’re all quiet as Qrow looks down at her face.

“She’s..." He doesn’t say anything for a long time, his eyes flickering over Ruby’s face and occasionally up to Taiyang and Summer. He clears his throat again. “She’s a carbon-copy of Summer.”

“I still think she looks like you,” Summer says to Taiyang. “Just a bit.”

“Maybe the nose, yeah,” Taiyang grins as Qrow continues staring down at Ruby. After a moment, he holds Ruby out to Summer, and she takes her in her arms again.

“She’ll be a great fighter if she’s as much as you as she looks,” Taiyang says as he sits down on the bed beside Summer, and they both watch Ruby yawn--she’s healthy and strong, everything they’d wanted her to be. They are lost in thought, in their awe, for so long, that they momentarily forget their friend is there.

When they both look up, Qrow is gone.

Yang is absolutely excited about Ruby, but she’s not yet allowed to hold her.

“When can I play with her?” She demands as Taiyang feeds Ruby a bottle. Summer’s out on a mission.

“When she’s a little bit older,” Taiyang answers. “And won’t get hurt.”

“What, are you already tired of playing with your uncle?” Qrow asks, pretending to be offended. Yang runs a hand through one of her pigtails.

“It’s not the same,” she says. Her lilac eyes linger on Ruby, but she looks up at her father’s face eventually. “When can I?”

“In a couple of months,” Taiyang answers. Yang huffs, but nods.

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

When Ruby is nearly seven months old, she’s crawling and giggling, silver eyes wide as Yang chases her. Summer manages to maneuver around them, stepping over Ruby as she prepares dinner and Taiyang grades his students’ papers at the table.

“She’s fast,” Summer notes, and Taiyang looks up for a moment--she is, for a baby. Yang is going slower than she can to let Ruby get ahead of her.

Qrow comments on it too.

“Sometimes I blink and the little pipsqueak is missing,” he says, rubbing a hand over his face and crossing his legs at the ankle. Taiyang nods. The girls are sleeping. Summer is out on a mission again. The two teachers exchange horror stories (“Some kid came to my class with knives literally just embedded into his skin and he didn’t even seem bothered!”) and soon Qrow takes off in the night.

Taiyang doesn't notice. Summer is usually there.

"I love you," she always whispers against his chest at night. He always responds by stroking her hair and saying,

"Me too."

And he does. He truly does. Raven is nearly forgotten.

When Ruby is a year old, Summer dies.

The day of the funeral is unlike what funeral days should be. It should be cold and gray and stony, but the sun is shining and the air is warm.

Taiyang can’t feel it, can’t feel anything else but the ache he hoped to have never become familiar with again. It blooms in his chest, mocking him, and it's one of the most painful things he has ever had to suffer through.

He’s silent as the casket is lowered. Yang sits in his lap. She doesn’t understand what’s going on, though her face is somber. She’s too young to understand death. The same goes for Ruby.

But he and Qrow do--are far too familiar with it than they’d like to be. Taiyang can’t read Qrow’s expression at the funeral. His brows are furrowed, and his eyes downcast, but that’s all he can tell. He’s paying more attention to Yang, though, who just keeps questioning where mommy is and God, how does he answer her?

The night after the funeral, he shuts down after he lays the girls to bed. Slumps into a chair at the dining table, where he’d grade his students’ papers and complain about stupid answers, and she'd laugh and encourage him to get through the entire stack no matter how much reading it made him want to yank his hair out.

He rests his face in his arms on top of the table and sobs. Tries to make the ache go away by letting it out through tears--but it still hurts. He can’t even begin to think of how he’d be able to explain this all to Yang, to Ruby when she is older--he can hardly comprehend it all himself.

Taiyang continues to shut down. Stirs in the morning from the table to try to make girls breakfast, drops a spoon and stares at it with wide eyes. Summer used to make the best breakfasts, and he’d do the dishes since she’d cooked, and on more than one occasion he’d drop something because of how slippery it was and he was shut down once again, lost in memory as Yang stirred from her sleep and wandered into the kitchen for food.

He manages to stir every now and then, throughout the day, to make the girls lunch or tell Ruby to stop climbing on the furniture--but he ends up sitting at the table most of the afternoon, staring off into the distance while Yang and Ruby play and giggle and shout.

This carries on for a week. Taiyang tries to hold onto the present, to reality for his girls, his sunny little dragon and his rose petal, but it continues to slip through his fingers like water and he ends up too many times in his room or on a chair sinking into thought.

Two wives. One had abandoned him. One had been killed.

Two girls. Daughters who no longer had a mother.

His wives were gone. He was slipping from his girls.

How pathetic of him.

A week after the funeral, and Qrow is there. Eyes downcast, his face more scruffy than usual. His new best friend--a bottle--is gripped tight in his hands. It’s night time--Taiyang had woken from his stupor long enough to put soup on the stove and kiss the girls goodnight.

The two men sit at the table for a long time and say nothing. Taiyang stares into his cup. It’s cider. But it’s not Summer’s.

“I never should’ve been here,” Qrow speaks in a low voice after a while, tracing his finger on the rim of his bottle. “I never--It’s my fault.”

Taiyang’s eyes flicker up to meet Qrow’s, but they are still downcast. Staring down at the table. Taiyang knows what this is about.

“It’s not,” he says after a while.“Please, Qrow, don’t start this--Don’t do this, not so soon after she died. The blame isn’t on anybody.”

“But it is.” Qrow scowls, his lips turning down as he brings the bottle up to take a sip from it. “Misfortune. On you and your family. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Tai.”

Taiyang shakes his head, eyes closed. If Qrow was here, he wanted to be comforted, wanted to comfort Qrow, not sit here and argue whose fault was whose when it didn’t matter, because Summer was dead and it was nobody’s fault and this was just ridiculous.

“Not your fault,” he repeats. "It’s anything but your fault.”

Qrow doesn’t take it. Just continues drinking. He stops after one bottle and disposes of it. That’s the last thing Taiyang remembers. The next thing he remembers is that it’s almost lunch time and he’s sitting outside on the porch.

There are gaps in his memory, a numbness settling over him. He does things without remembering--drifting, not really there, not really conscious. He gets to his feet and staggers inside, hoping the girls are alright or still asleep and not--not in any danger of any sort--

They’re sitting at the dining table while Qrow wanders around in the kitchen, throwing together what looks like chili but Taiyang isn’t sure. He slumps against the door frame, glad that Qrow is here and looking out for his girls while he--while he’s weak.

“Hey dad,” Yang greets, kicking her legs up in the air. Her hair is drawn up in a single ponytail today. Ruby says something loudly, something that isn’t quite words yet, and slams her fists on the table. Yang follows suit and they continue like it’s a game.

“Afternoon, Tai Tai.” Qrow flicks a small piece of diced onion at him. He lets it hit his shoulder as he sits down between Yang and Ruby.

“I didn’t--” Taiyang doesn’t know how to voice his thoughts, his emotions. I didn’t mean to be gone. But would that make any sense? He’d been here, physically speaking--how would he explain what was happening to him mentally?

He’d never been good at voicing his emotions.

It was such a wondrous thing that Summer could read his emotions for him and understand easily.

Such a wondrous thing that Qrow seemed to have the same ability too.

Did Raven have that same ability? She’d always been mysterious, closed-off, even when they were together.

When he stops swimming in his own thoughts, he realizes that Qrow had set a bowl of chili in front of him and the girls, and Ruby is currently trying to feed herself with her spoon.

It's a disaster.

Qrow disappears the next day, and Taiyang puts more effort into dragging himself out of bed early morning, trying to make pancakes for Yang and Ruby. Ruby is awake first and wailing so he turns off the stove to go calm her down. She’s not only walking now, but walking fast, and Taiyang is proud of her, but he does have to keep a closer eye on her now.

He sets the pancakes down on the table and goes to wake Yang up. They enjoy breakfast together for the first time in a while. He makes a joke and Yang huffs and throws a strawberry at him that he catches in his mouth.

He gets a neighbor to watch over the girls for him in the afternoon when he goes back to his job teaching, but several times a class he ends up trailing off in the middle of a lesson or while trying to grade an essay. None of the students ever say anything. He always picks off right where he left off once he realizes what he’d done.

There are good days, and there are bad days.

The good days are when Taiyang wakes up early afternoon and manages to make soup or sandwiches for Yang and Ruby and teach his class with few moments of drifting off. Sometimes Qrow is there--he drops by from time-to-time, never explicitly stating where he’s been disappearing off to.

The bad days are when Yang has to wake him up late afternoon and tell him he’ll be late for work and he stumbles around in a stupor and when he arrives to class, he becomes lost. Lost in the ache in his chest that is only just now beginning to heal, with Ruby talking and Yang being his sunny little dragon that is a bundle of energy, already as fierce as a warrior.

It’s a weekend when it happens.

It’s a bad day.

He rouses on the couch, startling himself from his dream-like state. He’d been thinking about how much better, so much better, Summer was at this parenting thing.

It takes Taiyang a moment to realize something is wrong.

The girls aren’t playing in their room.

They aren’t eating snacks in the kitchen.

They aren’t in the house.

They aren’t outside.

They’re gone.

He panics. Jumps to his feet and panics, mind a mess, wondering what to do, thinking about how badly he fucked up this time, because he’d been lost, drowning in thought and God, where were they, how could he have let this happen?

He is a terrible father.

He’s calling the neighbor who babysits the girls while still searching outside when he sees them.

Qrow, dragging a wagon towards the house with Yang and Ruby seated in it. Weapon in one hand. Light specks of blood on his clothing. A stony look on his face. Yang and Ruby are asleep. Taiyang has calmed down for a brief second, but then the panic is back.

He tries to stutter an apology as Qrow carries Yang inside, he himself tucking Ruby safely into his chest. Qrow doesn’t respond. He’s fuming. Angry. Taiyang deserves it, God, he deserves it.

They set the girls down to rest. And then Qrow whirls around on him.

“What--were you doing?” His words are short and angry and he’s glaring at him and Taiyang feels small, despite being two inches taller. There’s guilt crawling in his throat, icing his insides, making his head buzz.

“I didn’t mean to,” he says pathetically. “I never mean to.”

“This has to stop." Qrow takes a step back from him, eyebrows lowering, eyes still full of something Taiyang can’t read, won’t be able to read, because he’s not good with emotions. He’s a berserker, emotions weren’t meant for him. Dangerous for him. A stupid berserker. One who should’ve never been a father.

“It’s been six months,” Qrow’s voice has settled into something that’s a tad softer. Taiyang doesn’t deserve it. He deserves to be yelled at. Deserves to be punched. Probably by Raven--'How dare you let my daughter run off like that?'

“Why did--?” Taiyang swallows, trying not to let his body shake. “Why were the girls out in the first place?”

“You owe Yang an explanation,” is what Qrow says. "About her mom.”

Taiyang grimaces. She had discovered? He’d hoped he could put off that explanation for a couple more years--but no. The time was upon him, much too soon.

“I’m sorry,” Taiyang says, dragging his hand over his face, mind reeling. "If you hadn’t been there--Just--I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry too,” Qrow’s voice is quiet, and Taiyang isn’t sure what he’s apologizing for, but he doesn’t ask.

Taiyang tries. He tries his hardest to be there, and not just physically--really there for his daughters, there for Yang and Ruby so this never, ever happens again.

He trains Yang once it’s apparent she has the same fight in her he does. She pummels her small fists against his hands and chest and sometimes it stings a bit, but he smiles, because that means she’s strong.

Ruby runs everywhere, a look of excitement on her face constantly. When Qrow is there, it’s his arms she manages to stumble into, and it’s him who’s there when Yang trips and scrapes her knees and has to get them bandaged, it’s him that’s there when even despite all of Taiyang’s best efforts, he still slips.

He curses himself. Even with how hard he’s trying, he has his moments of relapse, those moments when something hits him hard and he has to sit down and breathe, and ends up drifting off in his own thoughts. His hands twitch and shake, he needs something to do, but he’s afraid that his emotions will get a handle on him, and he’s afraid to be around the girls in case they do.

So Taiyang gets a dog.

It’s a corgi, a small pup, and he names it Zwei. Zwei’s there when his hands shake and his mind is reeling. He pets Zwei to calm his thoughts as though he exists as some sort of anchor. Even better, the girls love Zwei, so it’s a two-in-one.

Taiyang manages to get better. Zwei helps. Qrow helps. The girls help.

The ache has been replaced, for the most part. It’s been filled with the warmth and pride the girls, his girls, bring him every day.

“You’re getting better,” Qrow comments one night. It’s late--Taiyang had managed to make stew earlier for everyone, in a relatively good mood.

“I am,” Taiyang smiles, still cleaning the dishes. Qrow is wiping down the table--the girls are messy eaters, and no matter how hard he wipes, it is still sticky. Qrow throws the rag he was cleaning with down in a bout of frustration, eyes narrowing.

“The girls love you, you know,” Taiyang says, drying his hands on a towel. “You’re the best uncle they’ve ever had.”

“The only uncle they’ve ever had.”

“Same thing.” Taiyang takes a breath, before turning around to face his friend, the brother of his first wife. “Which is why I need you to stay.”

“It’s not happening,” Qrow says immediately, voice sharp. “I’ve already overstayed as it is.”

“Qrow,” Taiyang begins, but Qrow cuts him off.

“I’m leaving in the morning,” he says, crossing his arms. “I’m leaving for a while, but I’ll probably be back in time for Yang’s birthday.”

“'Probably'?.” Taiyang repeats with a frown, his mind reeling. Qrow will be leaving. He will be leaving the girls alone with him. What if he relapses again? Gets lost in thought? Doesn’t wake up for hours and when he does, it’s only to find Ruby and Yang gone? But Qrow then places his hand on Taiyang’s shoulder, and says,

“You’re going to be fine, Tai Tai.”

Taiyang takes a deep breath, before exhaling it out, long and slow.

“I hate that nickname," is all he says.

“You know you love it." Qrow grins, before taking his hand off of Tai’s shoulder. “You’ll be fine. You take care of the girls alright. And besides, you’ve got Zwei, now.”

But there’s a different fear that’s nagging, chewing, pounding at his insides. It’s something that Taiyang fails to voice every time Qrow leaves, but it’s still there, nonetheless. But this time, he says it aloud.

“I--I’m just afraid that,” Taiyang pauses, and has to lean against the counter to regain himself. He doesn’t feel like a Huntsman should feel. He feels weak. But he takes another breath, and continues. “I’m just afraid that you’re going to leave. Forever.”

The unspoken Like Raven and Summer hangs in the air. Qrow stares up at him, head slightly bowed, shoulders stiff. He then clears his throat and says,

“I’d never intentionally do that to you.”

“Summer didn’t want to do it to me, either,” Taiyang snaps, feeling anger blow at him from nowhere, gripping his head and chest like it always did, and he clenches his fists to prevent himself from unleashing it on anybody. Qrow doesn’t back away, like most people do when they sense anger burning in the berserker. Instead, he steps forward and hugs Taiyang.

“I need you here with me,” Taiyang grits out, furious--at himself, at the man whose arms are currently wrapped around him. “The girls need you. I can’t deal with myself--the girls need you too, Qrow, it's not just me. We all need you.”

“Your girls have a perfectly capable dad.” Qrow responds simply into his shoulder, and he hugs him for a little while longer before releasing his hold on him silently.

That’s the end of that conversation, and in the morning, like promised, he’s gone.

Yang and Ruby ask questions, and Taiyang gives them the same answer he always does.

“He’s just out on important business.”

He hopes so. He hopes the reason Qrow is gone is for something important, and that he isn't just leaving him behind for nonsense. He'd kick the other's ass if that were the case.

Yang’s fifth birthday is held outdoors. There’s colorful streamers everywhere and she herself is demanding that they eat the cake as soon as possible. Taiyang relents much sooner than he expected to, and her face is covered in frosting. There are several of Taiyang’s friends here--Glynda, Lisa, a couple of neighbors who’ve babysat for the girls while he was at work--but Qrow isn’t there. And neither is Raven.

Some small part of him always hopes that one of these days, Raven will show up to one of her daughter’s birthdays. It hasn’t happened for five years in a row.

After the party, Yang and Ruby are tuckered out on the couch, having come down from their sugar highs, and he’s still cleaning up the yard. How everyone had managed to drink all five dozen of the soda cans he’d purchased, he didn’t know, but it was a pain looking for all of them. He hears a distinct flapping of wings, and looks up from the trash bag he’s holding. A crow perches on the porch railing, eyeing him beadily.

“What?” Taiyang grumbles. The crow blinks, and then caws. A split second later, the crow is gone and Qrow instead sits in its spot.

“I told you I’d be here for the firecracker’s birthday,” Qrow says, raising an eyebrow. “I’m probably a bit late, though.”

“The party ended two hours ago.” Taiyang sighs, bending down to pick up another can. Qrow pushes off the porch railing and helps Taiyang out. The job is finished much sooner with Qrow’s help. They walk back inside, and Taiyang deposits the trash bag in the bin while Qrow stalks over to the couch. There’s a moment of silence. Then a shriek as Qrow yells “Tickle attack!” and Yang begins crying out in laughter.

Qrow’s present for Yang is a pair of gloves that are just a bit too big for her hands, and they prevent her knuckles from hurting when she punches things, as she discovers while testing them out. She then proceeds to punch everything she can, and Taiyang has to pull her away from punching the oven lest she break it. Again.

“Did you get me a present?” Ruby asks, staring up at her uncle with wide eyes. Qrow kneels down and tells her something Taiyang can’t hear, but a second later Ruby nods and hurries off towards Yang, and they begin chasing each other. It seems as if their energy is back.

“Thanks, Qrow,” Taiyang sighs, carding his fingers through his hair and smiling. Qrow nods, and they make dinner together, which mostly consists of Taiyang managing to accidentally burn the lasagna and Qrow apologizing profusely, though Taiyang insists it was just an accident and it had nothing to do with him.

Qrow spends the night on the couch, and in the morning he offers to take the girls to town where a fair is being held.

“Just for a couple of hours,” he says, ruffling both of their heads. “Pipsqueak and Firecracker here have never been up high before.”

“Do not take them on a rollercoaster!” Taiyang shouts, preparing to leave for work. Qrow merely laughs in response. If that man took his daughters on a rollercoaster, he was going to kill him.

In the end, Qrow doesn’t take them on a rollercoaster, but that was mostly due to the fact that neither Yang nor Ruby were tall enough to ride.

“And thank whatever mighty superpower there is for that,” Taiyang grumbles when Yang finishes telling him about the day. Both girls had prizes Qrow had won for them--Ruby is holding a beowulf bigger than her entire body and Yang has an equally as large ursa.

Qrow leaves once again, but returns much sooner. Taiyang is getting a lot better--there are no longer moments in the day where he blanks out, but there are still times when the sadness is too much, times when the ache returns, unwelcome, to his chest. It never comes back when Qrow is there, though.

Never.

“So where’ve you been going, every time you’re gone?” Taiyang asks one evening. Qrow brought a bottle of whiskey from Mistral, and is currently pouring them both cups, though Taiyang’s amount is considerably far less than Qrow’s.

“Hmm. Around,” Qrow says, dodging the question and sliding Taiyang his cup. Taiyang frowns as he picks it up, nearly crushing the plastic in his fists as they clench unconsciously from frustration.

“That doesn’t tell me much,” Taiyang sighs, taking a sip and forcing the firey liquid down his throat. “Are you going on missions? Are you doing work as a teacher? Are you still looking for...Her?

“I really want to tell you, Tai,” Qrow mumbles, lips pulling tight, and Taiyang watches as red eyes flicker around, refusing to meet his own. “But I can’t. I just--I can’t.”

“You can’t trust me?” Taiyang raises an eyebrow, trying not to let how hurt he is show. Qrow drains half his cup in a second and sets it down again, forehead creasing.

“I do trust you,” he says back, shaking his head. If Taiyang didn't know better, he'd almost say the other's words were earnest. “I trust you more than anyone in this world, but I really can’t tell you.”

Taiyang doesn’t respond. He drains his entire cup in a few sips, but it’s less impressive, as his cup held only half the amount Qrow’s did. After a few seconds of silence, in which he debates which question he should ask, he settles for a simple,

“Why?”

Qrow doesn’t answer. He pours himself more whiskey, even though he hasn’t even managed to finish off his first cup, and continues drinking. The frustration that has been stretched out for years, picking up its pace every time Qrow leaves, is manifesting itself into one big ball made of rubber bands in his chest, and it can only take so many of them. It feels like Qrow has just added the band that snapped it all.

Why do you disappear? Why can’t you tell me? Are you going on missions?” Taiyang stands up, trying to keep his rage in check as his fists clench on top of the table. "Does this have anything to do with Oz?"

He’s tired of this. Raven kept secrets from him. She ran away. Summer died. Qrow is keeping secrets from him, is gone for long periods of time--what if he disappears too?

And damn it, if he doesn’t sound selfish right now, but Qrow is his only teammate left, his best friend, his daughters’ uncle. They love him. They need him as much as--as Taiyang has come to need him, too.

“I don’t want to stick around, and you know why.” Qrow jabs a finger at his chest, eyes narrowing, and Taiyang can't believe that it all comes back to this--to the other's godforsaken semblance, something he can't even control. Taiyang thought they had left this shit behind in school.

“That’s bull,” he grits out, fixing Qrow with a burning gaze. “We were teammates for years, Qrow, and nothing--nothing bad happened. I mean, sure, there were a few accidents, but nothing bad enough for you to stay away from your family.

“You and the girls are the only family I have left, Taiyang. I’m not risking that.” Qrow looks away once again, before pouring himself more whiskey. He’s worked through two-thirds of the bottle. Taiyang fumes silently, trying to speak past the angry lump that’s formed in his throat.

He's not sure where all this anger is coming from--scratch that, he knows where it's coming from, but he doesn't know why it won't stop. Perhaps it is the berserker part of him gaining control, but this is a different kind of anger than usual. This is an anger that hurts him, and one of the reasons it hurts is because he know Qrow hurts too.

“You’re being stupid," Taiyang finally manages to say, the juvenile insult coming easily. “Utterly ridiculous, a stupid fu--”

Shut up, Tai,” Qrow growls, and it’s something he hasn’t heard in a good long while from his best friend--anger, true anger, fury that shakes his vowels. The same anger that had crept into Qrow’s voice on that day with Ruby and Yang, similar to the type of anger that pushed Taiyang past breaking point in battle. Rage.

The two men glare at each other. Taiyang is hurting. Raven kept secrets. Qrow’s keeping them too. He would’ve at least thought his partner, his brother, would’ve told him these things instead of keeping him in the dark like this. But should he have honestly expected anything more from one of the Branwens?

Qrow finally sinks back down into his seat, and Taiyang tries to calm down so he doesn’t accidentally break anything. They had just fixed the table after Yang had destroyed it. Qrow finishes off the whiskey bottle.

“You’ve got daughters now, Tai Tai,” Qrow says after a while, the slightly slurred nickname rolling off his tongue with ease, an affectionate nickname, but there is still some of the same anger in it as before. “I--You can’t risk that.”

Taiyang gives a sigh, and buries his face in his hands, leg bouncing up and down with nerves. He doesn’t know how to feel. What to do. His only teammate left, his best friend, is possibly doing dangerous work--work that he’s implying could risk his own life. It wasn’t just simple Huntsmen or teacher work, judging by his tone of voice, and he wouldn't tell Taiyang what it is. That, on top of Qrow wanting to avoid staying for long periods of time due to his misfortune, left Taiyang feeling drained.

He doesn't quite know how to voice his thoughts.

“I wish things were different.” He says after a while, but it doesn't feel like enough. He looks up to see Qrow gazing at him, eyes soft around the edges but still holding sharpness all the same. A juxtaposition that only a Branwen could achieve.

“You and me both, buddy,” Qrow says and there is so much in his voice that Taiyang can't even begin to pick apart. “I wish lots of things could’ve been different.”

What isn’t said hangs in the air, thick, suffocating, and charged with so much static that Taiyang can feel it prickling the back of his neck. Qrow tosses the empty whiskey bottle in the trash, scowling when the trashcan knocks over a second later.

“I can’t risk Ruby and Yang,” he mumbles, leaning against the table and bowing his head, the line of his shoulders showing only exhaustion. “I can’t risk you.”

“I’m not at risk,” Taiyang says, though it’s more of a gut response than anything. He’s a trained Huntsman, and whatever Qrow thinks he can’t handle--

“Never said you weren’t,” Qrow grunts, red eyes finally looking up to meet blue. "I’m just saying I can’t risk you.

It takes Taiyang a moment. But suddenly, everything--well, at least, lots of things--start to make sense. Qrow probably hadn’t meant to let it slip, probably hadn’t meant to say it, ever--but the whiskey, the tension was loosening him. Loosening them both. Taiyang takes a deep breath, eyes closing, as the realization pounds at him. It’s--it’s hard information to grasp. But when he opens his eyes again, Qrow’s staring at him.

“I’m sorry,” Qrow says when they are both silent for too long.

“I don’t love you,” is the first thing Taiyang says, and then proceeds to kick himself mentally.

“I never expected you to,” Qrow says with an honest shrug. “Don't want you to, either.”

“I’m sorry.” It’s Taiyang’s turn to apologize. Qrow shoots him a look.

“You don’t need to say you’re sorry.” Qrow turns his back, stretching his arms high above his head with a grunt. “There’s nothing for you to apologize for.”

Taiyang is still having trouble processing it all. So he settles on asking a question.

“How long?”

“Not particularly long,” Qrow mumbles an answer. “Mid-third year, maybe.”

“Qrow, that was 8 years ago.”

“Like I said, not particularly long.”

Taiyang closes his eyes, breathes through his nose, and then opens them again. “You’re impossible.”

“I pride myself on being so,” Qrow smirks, and Taiyang lets out a laugh. His shoulders have eased now, and so have his nerves. The new information doesn’t bother him--it never would have, not back then, not now, not in the future, and he doesn’t know why Qrow never told him. It kind of hurts that he was keeping it a secret from him, but as soon as this thought crosses his mind Taiyang berates himself.

It’s a different kind of secret. Qrow isn’t obliged to tell him everything in his life--just because he and Summer wore their hearts on their sleeves, didn’t mean that Raven and Qrow had to so as well, even though that would make life much easier for everyone. But Taiyang can’t complain--Qrow’s life isn’t his own.

"I really am sorry." Taiyang shakes his head, voice sincere. He is. He's sorry that he can't love Qrow back, not when he was just getting over his ache. And he's sorry that Qrow loves him, the man with an ache. 

But it doesn't stop Taiyang from leaning over Qrow, who had at some point slid into his seat, and pressing a kiss to the other's forehead. Qrow just closes his eyes. Taiyang mutters against his hair;

"Thank you."

Qrow leaves in the morning. Taiyang isn’t surprised. Yang and Ruby wonder where their uncle is, and all Taiyang has to say is,

“Safe.”

And he hopes he is.