"Run away, run away if you can't speak,
Turn a page on a world that you don't need,
Wide awake and you're scared that you won't come down now."
- Pieces, Rob Thomas
“Can I come in?” Qrow asks softly, stepping out of the darkness engulfing the elevator.
“You are always welcome in this place; you know that,” Ozpin says, and Qrow complies, walking forward, the doors sliding silently shut behind him. He brings more than his own body, and he knows it, because his semblance wreathes around him like some unspoken promise that will always, always come true.
The headmaster doesn’t turn around, and Qrow observes him briefly in the solitude that loneliness brings. Ozpin is a silver statue, drawn in lines of starlight and shadow, his head tilted towards the shattered pieces of the moon as light shines down upon his face, and he is so unreachable and remote it makes Qrow’s heart hurt.
“Are you thinking about her?” Qrow asks, crossing the stone floor in a few long-legged strides, and taking up position by the great, arching windows, like a sentinel. He sits with his legs crossed, back to Ozpin, but his spine prickles with a chill, because he can feel those eyes on him.
“You’ll have to be more specific,” Ozpin says, voice whisper-soft. “Which ‘she’?”
Salem, or Autumn, or Winter, or Spring, or Summer... or our Summer, who is dead now.
“Summer.” Qrow answers, tilting his head back, silver light washing over the hollow of his throat. “I can see you watching the moon.”
“No, not particularly. I am thinking of every tragedy that results from the actions of simple blindness,” Ozpin tells him, his eyes lowered, hooded and hollow with shadow. His hair hangs in his eyes, and he looks suddenly young and sad. Qrow looks away.
“She died because of me,” the Huntsman manages, his voice faltering in the still night. It feels like some godforsaken tragedy, chords of some heartbroken song and rivers of tears, a lonely heart wandering the night under the silent stars and empty sky. Everything about him, from the broken, bloody shards to the trouble that haunts him like a shadow, would be so much more poetic if someone less screwed-up was doing it. “She died because I was there.”
Ozpin is quiet for a long moment, and the silence between them feels like it could stretch across all the years they’ve been playing this game. Qrow rolls over onto his chest, elbows folded beneath himself. He can feel his semblance coiled up like a snake waiting to strike, but he pushes it away, keeping it at bay. The vast night sky that spills out above their heads holds so many stars that he wonders if he could fly to them all, connecting each one by the point of his wingtip. The scent of coffee wreathes the room, the quiet ticking of the gears counting each second, spinning him closer to the moment they will finally have to let go. It’s peaceful and silent in a way that makes his heart ache in his chest.
None of this can last forever.
“I can wander,” he says. “A part of me wants to. There’s a lot of allure in being a nomad, but it loses so much promise when it’s only a self-imposed exile. I never want to hurt them, but if my presence itself is what’s causing harm… what the hell am I supposed to do about that?
“It started off innocently enough— this was back in the beginning, when Taiyang was still getting over Summer dying, and I had to watch over Ruby and Yang when he couldn’t. I would play with them, and one of them would get hurt. Ruby would slip and fall, or cut herself, or get injured somehow. Yang would be leaning against me while I was reading her a book to help her go to sleep, and the candle in her room would tip over and catch the curtain on fire, and I had to beat out the flames. She fell asleep after it— fire’s never scared her— but I always wondered what would have happened if I wasn’t in the room when the candle fell, Oz. She would have been burned to death and it would have been my fault. So I left.”
“And you came to me.” Ozpin’s voice is soft. Qrow can’t discern what he’s feeling. “You came and asked for a job. A distraction.”
“Yeah, and you sent me away. But I don’t think any semblance can touch you.” Qrow rests his head on his hands, the stone colder than ice on his arms, on the strip of skin where his shirt rides above his hips. “So I guess that’s why I’m here.”
He can hear Ozpin rise from his chair, padding over the stone floor as soundlessly as a cat, and he settles down beside Qrow with a quiet sigh. “Your semblance can touch me just as much as it can touch anybody. I’m not exempt from it. If I could take away your pain, I would. No one deserves to be walled off from the ones they love for something they cannot help.”
Qrow sits up abruptly, reaching over and pulling Ozpin down on top of him with barely a whisper. He tangles his hands into his already-messy silvery hair, kissing him as if he could burn away his sorrows. Ozpin’s hands weave into his hair, cupping the back of his neck, and Qrow kisses him harder, deeper, some terrible mixture of misery and longing blazing through his veins like liquid fire.
“I can’t leave,” he whispers against Ozpin’s mouth, breathing hard, their foreheads barely brushing. “Not here. Not if I have to leave all this behind, and you. Can’t you see it’s killing me? Can’t you see that, Oz?”
They press back into each other, Qrow’s hands running down the careful slant of Ozpin’s jaw, down his shoulders, down his strong, steady arms, capturing his mouth and almost wanting to tear himself apart with the pain of it.
Qrow breaks away for a breath, and Ozpin lifts himself up slightly, propping up on his elbows. “I know,” he says hoarsely. “Gods, I know.” He draws back, moonlight dappling his face, his eyes unbearably sad. “I don’t want you to leave either.”
They are tangled up in each other, holding onto each other, because they are all the other has. They are lost and falling. Qrow bends his neck forward, forehead resting against Ozpin, his breath rustling out in a sigh, and Ozpin’s hand touches his chest like a promise.
“If the stars control our fate, we shall simply have to control the stars. Now and then, there is a light in the darkness— always, there is light. Always choose that light, Qrow, and I will be with you, even when I cannot stand by your side.” Ozpin’s hand comes up and brushes his cheek, and he lets his head drop, his breath on Qrow’s neck. “I wish it were not this way. I wish the decrees of the stars were different, but we are all—” He falters, his voice breaking and falling for only an instant. “We are all only human.”
Qrow looks up at him, his voice flat, without inflection. “If the stars were to tell me you could not love me, would you listen to them?”
Ozpin stares down at him. There are millions of memories in his eyes, coming to life like sparks and dying just as quickly. Just as swiftly, he looks away, his throat moving as he swallows. “I would not. Qrow… find where your heart went. There, you may find solace.”
Qrow reaches out, placing one hand on Ozpin’s. Ageless as he is, his heart beats there, through Qrow’s fingers, like a golden thread connecting them. His hand, scarred and roped with veins, strong, steady muscles haunted by the shadow of misfortune, reaches up to rest on Ozpin’s face, sad and far-off. “My heart is always here with you. And so is my peace. I know I walk around like nothing ever hurts me, like the past is in the past, but I can’t forget you or her, and I never will.” He leans in once more, his lips barely brushing against Ozpin’s, and the moonlight pools around them in a silver veil. He thinks of the two of them as the sun and the moon, always chasing each other and doomed to never be together, to never stand by the other’s side. By now, at times like these, he can catch up, however briefly, and the whole world stands by in silent awe at their eclipse.
Ozpin breaks away first, and rises to his feet just as soundlessly as he sat down, his eyes closing. "Any solace you find here, with me, is not one that will last forever. You need not break your heart again, not on my behalf. It has already been splintered enough, hasn't it?"
Qrow is quiet, and that's all the answer that Ozpin needs. A wall rises up between them as Ozpin backs away, the rift widening once more. "You should go back to your family," he continues, turning away from him. "Yang, and Ruby... her peace will not last forever, and you should enjoy while you can. Your semblance will not hurt them, not as long as they love you. They need you more than I."
Qrow rakes a hand through his hair, frowning as Ozpin moves as if to sit back down at his desk, even though the shadows in the room would prevent him from any real work. "Are you going to stay up here all night?"
"I think so. Hours of self-reflection and thought can be useful to clear the mind," Ozpin replies, already sounding distracted and far-away, as if the spark between them - only moments ago - is already weeks away, something to be dwelled upon momentarily, and then forgotten, discarded as unimportant. Qrow backs away, wiping away the expression of sadness on his face, the ache of hurt that throbs through his veins like a chill of ice-water. He slides back on his mask of ice; it does not matter if it is easier to wear that mask of ice than to live it. He only needs the facade, for now.
Qrow heads for the elevator, feet falling into the path he has walked thousands of times now, and he stops to look back once he is at the doors. Ozpin stands, back straight, an untouchable solitude in the weight of the air around him, his hands gripping the cane as if he could hold the whole world together with it. He does not turn around, but his voice rings out against the rhythm of the gears, dancing with starlight and sorrow. “Good night, Qrow.”
Qrow watches the doors slide shut, the last of the moonlight slanting through the gap before it is extinguished and plunged into shadow. He is alone.
“Good night,” he whispers into the silence, the darkness pulling him down into its bottomless depth, the depth of nightmares. It is a fitting punishment, he thinks, for when dawn comes, his semblance shall create them.