A/N: so this is my first & only soulmate au that i will ever write and i am glad it got to be taiqrow. as always, i was shamelessly enabled. based loosely off a tumblr prompt that i ran wild with.

[TaiQrow Week 2020] Day 2 - Confession

Qrow can see the red strings of fate.

He wishes he couldn't.

It is an extremely rare trait. Both him and his twin are able to see them regardless of person or circumstance; they are two halves of one whole, their own strings seething bright but stretching far beyond either of their eyes can follow. They see the tethers between each person like the ribbon of dawn across the horizon, thin and delicate, but they are always there.

They have come to the mutual agreement to never speak of them, and it has been a long time since Qrow learned to ignore it all.

There is something distinctly sobering about seeing the plans that the universe itself has set out for each person. He sees the strings when they dissipate far into the depths of the ground beneath them, either cut short or simply too far to determine where their other half is. He sees them when they are close together, seething brighter than blood while both parties remain blissfully unaware.

So Qrow has known since the moment they met.

He has known the moment he landed on a ground littered with leaves that smouldered crimson. He has known since he flit between each tree, Harbinger held ready by his side, searching desperately for his twin before anyone else could reach her. He has known since he followed the racket of something crashing through the leaves just over his shoulder and found his other half.

Not his twin, but his soulmate.

It is there, barely perceptible amongst the crimson-hued leaves and midday sunlight; it is there, tied tightly around his finger, long and winding between the bushes and low hanging branches, all leading to him. He has always seen the string, just as his twin has, but never where it ended. Never where it led to.

Blue is what Qrow notices next - blue deep enough to drown in, blue as if the cosmos gifted him the ocean and nothing else, blue like the outline of his veins against the paper-thin skin of his wrist. He told himself this day would come, but nothing truly could have prepared him for this.

Nothing could prepare him for the way Remnant seems to spin faster until he was struggling to catch up. Nothing could prepare him for the way time withers away like a leaf that curls and grows to ash amongst flames. Nothing could have prepared him for the way the boy eventually claps him on the shoulder, jerks him out of his trance, and says, "Well, I guess this means we're partners now, right?"

Qrow still hasn't grounded himself from wherever he had drifted off to. He still doesn't remember what it means to take in the oxygen he so desperately needs, still doesn't remember what it means to stand on two even feet. He opens his mouth and almost says the words, almost points out the string that pulls like gravity between them, but he falters.

He remembers very suddenly that the boy doesn't see the string. He remembers that it is only him that sees the glow, the pulse of it, like a heartbeat between them, like a tether that keeps Remnant on its axis. This urge is irrational, he knows, and once he catches himself, he resorts to staying quiet. This isn't what he came to Beacon for.

"I'm Taiyang," the boy introduces as he tugs Qrow further along, ever so blissfully ignorant to the string between them that hangs like static. "But you can just call me Tai."

Qrow blinks a few times, tightens his grip on Harbinger's hilt before it clatters to the ground, and somehow manages to respond, "Qrow."

Taiyang beams at him, and Qrow wishes desperately that his heart would stop pounding so strongly against his sternum. He starts off towards the general direction of their goal, talking endlessly the entire time. He smiles, and he laughs, and he burns brighter than any star that the Brothers could have gifted them.

Needless to say, it is a losing battle from that point onwards.

It is a struggle from the start, because in theory, with all of the contradictions between them, they should have clashed. They should have collided like celestial bodies that sent ripples through the cosmos, they should have flared like sparks to a fire on the verge of losing control.

But they don't.

They coalesce, because Taiyang is so damnably friendly, and Qrow is charismatic, and the two spark nothing but trouble. Because then they are paired with Summer and Raven, and Summer is just as contagiously cheerful as he is. Because fate is a dreadful thing, and it has a way of prying under his skin and making him wonder why it is he enrolled at Beacon.

They all fit like one jigsaw with pieces crafted perfectly to fit, all joining together as if they are paths carved solely to meet at one destination. It must be a sign, Qrow sometimes thinks when he sees two strings crossed on the floor across from him and his twin, it must be something more sinister than fate.

(Raven also found her soulmate that day.

And with the way the string draws tighter between her and Summer as time passes, Qrow guesses that it is a losing battle for her, as well.

There is tension that lingers between them, pulling itself taut, and both Taiyang and Summer are oblivious to it all. It finally snaps when Raven mumbles to him once while they are all in their dorm together, "This has to be some kind of joke."

Qrow only clenches his jaw and shrugs. He knows the fix - they both do. He knows what will solve it all, knows what will sever all ties he has to Beacon and to his teammates.

But then he glances over to Taiyang. He lingers on a smile that bleeds starlight, on eyes that hold the heart of the ocean in them, on a laugh that rings sweeter than any song he could ever listen to.

Their eyes meet, just as they always do when Qrow doesn't realize he is staring. It is yet another offense to the pile, another crime they do not speak about. But with the way Taiyang's smile shifts into something a little softer, a little gentler, a little more vulnerable, he knows that it isn't a crime that he alone commits.

Qrow tries not to sound so helpless when he looks back to Raven and sighs, "Yeah.")

There is a gift that comes with being able to see the strings of fate.

Though it is also considered a curse.

Or at least, that is what Qrow remembers from what he has been told, but it is difficult to determine what was being referred to as a curse when it was directed towards him. It is both a complicated and a simple concept; it is not that the strings are tangible, but they are arguably real, and they are things that may be manipulated.

Things that may be altered.

Qrow does not know what comes with snipping or reconnecting different strings, only that it is not common but also not unheard of. He does not know what the consequences will be when defying the very laws of soulmates that have been established since the dawn of Remnant, only that they are unfavorable, but there are many unfavorable things he has endured in life.

He can endure this.

Or at least, he thinks he can on those rare occasions when he pinches the string and feels it twinge like a heart, flutter like a bird trapped within a cage, spark like flint to steel.

Those moments are very few and far in between. Those moments are silent, deathly silent, a silence that is thick enough to nearly suffocate him. But before that happens, there is no silence; there is the steady drip of water as cloths are dipped and cleaned, the whisper of bandages as they are unraveled, and soon, the hiss that rushes out between clenched teeth when disinfectant is applied.

Taiyang is horrendously reckless during battle and Summer is no better. Except this time it is Taiyang who intercepted the Beowolf before it swiped at Qrow. This time it is him who took the blow, even though it should've been Qrow, it should've been the omen, it should've been anyone but him.

But Taiyang does not listen to these complaints, only sits there and has the audacity to look sheepish as Qrow patches him back together with trembling fingers. Raven takes off to scout the area, and in the opposite direction, Summer gives them a watery look before she leaves to gather wood for the fire.

"This is why you should stay fucking put," Qrow says, emphasizing the word with a swipe of the cloth that smears red and elicits a small grunt, "and stop throwing yourself at Grimm for me."

"Well, it worked out, didn't it?" Taiyang half-whines, and it takes genuine strength for Qrow to resist rolling his eyes.

He supposes it did work out, considering that Taiyang's Aura was enough to mend the crevices along his bone and knit the severed tendons back together before it finally shattered. Blood still seeps out into the bandages when he fixes them on, sinking heavily through each thread before it weeps its fill, but for now, it will be enough.

Though he can't help but focus on the gleam of red on Taiyang's finger when he trails lower. He takes Taiyang's hand in his for a brief moment and lifts it upwards, close enough to run the cloth over the dried blood that smears over his wrist and cakes the valleys of his knuckles. It dislodges, runs pink, drips against his own skin; the string burns bright, spills over his fingers, hangs low before it arcs upwards and connects to Qrow.

He tries not to focus too much on it.

He tries not to focus on the faint tremble in Taiyang's arm, as if the slightest movements rattle through his bones, as if the bandages are hardly enough to keep him from falling apart. He tries not to focus on the glide of Taiyang's skin against his own, searing like the kiss of the sun, igniting every nerve that weaves through muscle.

"You're lucky you've got so much Aura," Qrow grumbles, and it is almost funny, the mention of luck when there isn't any when he is involved. Taiyang's fingers twitch against his own at the last pass of the cloth against the crimson-lined beds of his nails. "And I thought Summer was the one shaving off a few years of my -"

He trails off when he glances upwards. The atmosphere slows, stills, thrums like static in the wake of the fire that sparks bright in Taiyang's eyes. It flickers, dances, fills the void of his pupils, ignites his irises like the moonlight that glimmers over the rocking surface of the ocean.

Lost in oceans deep is a longing that is perilous, a yearning that is dangerous, lingering like a silhouette that flits just beneath the surface. Qrow glances away before he drowns in them, and in turn, the glow of the string catches his eye. He has seen several before - pink before they fade, red before either half meets, rust before they snap - but rarely does he see them glow so brightly.

It is crimson, hotter than blood, than fire, than the breath that muddles between them when Taiyang parts his lips. Faintly, he asks, "What're you staring at?"

Qrow blinks. Lets go of Taiyang's hand, tries to pretend the string isn't there. "What're you staring at?"

Taiyang flushes, and there isn't a sight lovelier than that, Qrow helplessly thinks, there's nothing lovelier than skin that burns like fire, than the lip that is pulled between Taiyang's lower teeth for a brief moment. Even without the added touch, even when there is red smeared over his skin and glowing splotches of rust that taint the bandages, Qrow thinks of how easy it'd be to close that distance.

He considers how easy it would be when the string pulls itself taut, when it connects them like capillaries beneath flesh, something so miniscule and so vital and so natural to flow through. He thinks of how easy it would be to tell him, how the words would weave like silk, how the confession would be as innate as breathing, as right as living.

But then he hears the footsteps that follow, loud and clumsy and belonging to no one other than Summer, if the small whine that accompanies the unmistakable clatter of dropped wood is anything to go by. Raven arrives shortly after, rolling her eyes at the mess Summer has made, but Qrow doesn't miss the faint smile she hides behind her hand.

"I would do it again, you know," Taiyang quietly tells him, enough vulnerability in it for Qrow's heart to feel weaker than glass.

For the brief moment that their eyes meet again, there is a want that is so painfully tangible, as if there is something that Taiyang can't hope to reach for. The string feels tighter than before, tighter than life, tighter than muscle moulded to bone when Qrow promptly sits at the other side of camp and stays quiet for the remainder of the night.

At some point, he presses his finger to the string. Digs his nail under what he can. He can snip it if he tries. He can tear it apart and leave it to wither amongst the fire.

Then he thinks of the convergence of oceans and the promises within them and a smile that shines brighter than a sunset over the water.

He doesn't dare to try.

("This won't end well."

Qrow glances sharply over to his twin. She is breaking this unspoken rule between them, but it is an inevitability, it seems. An inevitability unlike the strings - there is no absolute in them, not to him or his twin when they can snip the bonds at will and defy all laws that the universe has set.

But he doesn't want to do that. He doesn't, even though he has this biting fear that Raven isn't wrong. He doesn't, even with a cursed Semblance like his.

He doesn't, even when his eyes linger on Taiyang until it aches.)

There is a pull between them like that of the gravity between planets, the axis around the sun, the swell of the cosmos that never ceases.

To Qrow's dismay, it only worsens over time.

It is something absolute, something inevitable, but for the most part, Qrow can ignore it. He can pretend the string is not there, pretend that it does not forever draw him to Taiyang like a magnet that draws the iron in his veins and the oxygen from his lungs. He can ignore the way it seethes bright, strong and whole and there every step of the way, and simply move onwards.

He ignores it because he has learned not to be hopeful.

He has learned better than to hope. There is no room for hope in the face of an impassive sky and a lifetime of being someone else's problem. Hope is not granted to someone whose footsteps are dogged by many minor and frequent inconveniences.

There is no secret as to why he keeps to himself in the battlefield. Why he lingers behind the other three on their way back, why he never stays in their dorm longer than necessary, why he never speaks of exactly what his Semblance is when every little thing that goes wrong are explanations in and of themselves.

He keeps to himself, just as he always has since the tribe deemed him a blight, and he can live with that.

But Taiyang won't.

That is one of the many things Qrow notices about Taiyang - he is stubborn, and he is steadfast, and if there is one thing he will never let go of, it is Qrow. Maybe it is in his blood, in his very nature, to try his hardest to get Qrow to unravel those bandages and reveal the raw stretch of skin underneath so that it may finally heal.

Or maybe it is merely fate.

Which Qrow thinks about sometimes while he stands alone outside of the infirmary before something goes wrong again. They have been here several times over the past couple of years, and every time, Qrow thinks about fate. He thinks about the blow he couldn't take for one of his teammates and wonders what Taiyang did to deserve to be tethered to someone like him.

He wonders what crimes Taiyang must have committed to have been fated for a walking bad luck charm.

He wonders what it is that has Taiyang seeking him out afterwards. He wonders what it is that has Taiyang constantly drawn to him, because only one of them sees the string, and only one of them will ever know that it exists between them. There is no obligation to keep returning to him, and yet still, Taiyang finds him.

Taiyang has no reason to be so kind, but even so, he rests a hand on Qrow's shoulder and murmurs, "Hey. Listen to me instead."

Qrow blinks a few times before he confusedly points out with a needless gesture to the empty hallway, "You're the only one here."

Taiyang's fingers twinge, but he does not pull his hand away, only sidles closer when he says, "Yeah, but you're doing that thing again."

"What thing?"

"Thinking too much." He squeezes, then gives Qrow a little nudge, saying, "It's not your fault, Qrow. It never is."

But it is, Qrow would insist, it absolutely is. It is when he lingers too close to them; it is when Summer trips over her own two feet, or when Raven's shoulder is caught by a fallen branch, or when all of Taiyang's bullets miraculously miss their marks. There is no secret, now, there is nothing to prevent Taiyang from understanding what this is. There are no secrets between them, none besides this tether, this anchor, this curse.

And yet when Taiyang finally lets go of him, he quietly tells him, "Things go wrong on the field all the time, whether it's your Semblance or not. But even then, you shouldn't run from us." From me, is what Qrow hears beneath the words, or wants to hear; maybe it is just a trick from the weight on his finger, the tension that tugs him along, the yearning that pounds in his chest. "We're a team, right? We're in this together."

Even if Taiyang has withdrawn his hand, he is still too close, and there is too little space and too grand of an opportunity for something to go wrong. He is too close, almost close enough to hear the drum of Qrow's heart in his chest, the rush of his blood beneath his skin, the pull of oxygen into his veins with every steadying breath he takes.

He is too close for his own good, too close to be deemed healthy, and despite it all, Qrow only wants to pull him closer.

Wants to reach out and feel the way the string burns against his fingertips. Wants to pull Taiyang in, feel the warmth of his skin, drink in the heavy breaths that follow, and hear him rumble out those same promises against his lips. Wants to look Taiyang in the eye, weave their fingers together, tug the string ever tighter, and talk about fate.

But it isn't about what he wants, anymore. Not when Summer wears white and weeps red and coughs raggedly enough to nearly shatter through her ribcage. Not when he wishes he could have taken the blow instead.

"Right," he deadpans, ignoring Taiyang's small sigh.

(The time comes when they are given hollow bones and a metaphorical cage.

They both know better, of course. They know this is not a gift. They know what the price is and they agreed to it. But Summer cooes endlessly when she first sees them, and Taiyang never stops with the bird jokes for weeks to come, and for a while, it doesn't feel like an omen.

For a while, it truly does feel like a gift.

It feels like a gift when Qrow is small and simple and hides away in one of Taiyang's discarded shirts. It feels a little less ominous when Taiyang finds him, gathers him up in his hands, and lets him hide for a little while longer. It feels right to be held, to be touched, to be granted respite while the glow of the string on Taiyang's finger keeps him company.

They do not talk about it, not even after Raven glances between them at some point and says, "Qrow."

"What?" Qrow asks, pretending he doesn't know, forever pretending that he is entirely innocent of this dangerous game he is playing.

If looks could kill, then her glare would have torn through his jugular and left a ribbon that seethes brighter than the string in its wake. Her lips press to a thin line, but eventually, she relents and merely grumbles, "Nevermind.")

There are many things that Qrow has seen in the strings that span like veins throughout Remnant.

He has seen them pulse crimson, growing brighter the closer the pair gets. He has seen them start to wither, fading to a burgundy like that of dried blood before it finally frays. He has seen them twined with several, weaving instead of tangling, holding multiple souls together.

But he has never seen one snipped while it was still bright.

He has never seen a bond broken from anything beyond death.

Though he wonders about it sometimes. He stares at the string tight around his finger, almost moulding into skin, the rest of its length disappearing just out of sight. He knows where it leads to, though - he knows that it spills itself forth upon the ground, drawing a spindly line over to Taiyang's own finger.

Qrow stares often, it seems. Though when they are both drunk out of their minds, he gets away with staring. He gets away with staring regardless, but it is different when liquor thrums like fire through every space beneath his skin. It is different when his inhibitions are nearly nonexistent and the only thing he is capable of focusing on is the twinge of Taiyang's throat as he takes a drink directly from the bottle.

"Hey," Taiyang prompts, and it is just enough for Qrow to tear his gaze away from the glisten of whiskey that drips down his chin. "You ever wonder about soulmates?"

The question leaves Qrow feeling like his bones are made out of glass, like his skin is weaved from silk, like his heart is on the verge of tearing at the seams. He takes a moment to breathe but the oxygen doesn't seem to filter, doesn't seem to hold. Maybe it is because of the alcohol, the atmosphere, the heat of Taiyang's skin against his own where their arms brush together.

"Sort of," Qrow says. Taiyang gives him an odd look. "Why?"

"Summer talks about it all the time."

He is almost wistful, almost reflective, and if Qrow didn't know any better, he'd assume that Taiyang was aware of the string, as well. But that is an unlikely occurrence - it is rare enough for one person to be born with that simultaneous gift and curse, and it is even rarer than that to have twins that share it - and Qrow can find solace in that.

There is both serenity and calamity to the fact that he is hidden in a place where he cannot be found.

There is also a rocky peace to the gaze Taiyang pins him with, as well. There is something there, something akin to the calm before the storm, to the stillness in the air before lightning finally strikes. There is acceptance as much as there is loss; there is want as much as there is grief; there is a spark in them, simmering low, too nuanced for Qrow to understand.

But he wants to.

He wishes he could understand, wishes Taiyang could understand. There is a pull there just as there always is, and he wants to give in, wants to stop looking fate in the face and laughing at its poor planning. He would tell Taiyang if he could get his heart to stop pounding, his breaths to stop coming out thin and stilted, his thoughts to start filtering through again.

"It's romantic, I guess," Taiyang says, and very suddenly, Qrow realizes how close they're pressed together. Shoulder to shoulder, knees brushing together, the bottle Taiyang holds mere inches away from his own fingertips. "But how are you supposed to know? How do you know when you have so much love to give?

Qrow wishes he could answer, if he only knew what it meant to love the three of them without this soul-deep fear of the hurt he will inevitably bring. His weapon is not named Harbinger for no reason. He is not deemed a harbinger, a blight, a curse for no reason.

Though he supposes he isn't all that bad when he quells the urge to weave their fingers together and confess. It is better this way, he thinks with a twinge in his chest, it is better than giving false hope for an uncertain future. He ignores the coils of the string on their thighs and instead holds his hand out for the bottle, and Taiyang wordlessly passes it to him after taking a long moment to process it.

But in a way, he does confess that night. In a way, he spills out this secret that has been branding his throat like whiskey and his tongue like the bile that follows. In a way, he stokes the flames, adds fuel to the wildfire about to ignite when he admits, "You just know. You meet them, and you know. It can be anyone."

There is a small pause before Taiyang breathes, "How do you know that?"

When he meets Taiyang's eyes again, there is a wish in them. A hope. A prayer that will not be heard. There is nothing that Taiyang doesn't know. There is nothing that Summer doesn't know, either. They coalesce, the four of them, they create a picture that is impeccable, fill a bond that is almost infallible.

So Qrow tells him about the strings of fate.

He regrets many things, but he tries not to let this be one of them. Not when there are stars in Taiyang's eyes as if they were created solely for him. Not even when he asks Qrow who his soulmate is afterwards, and Qrow merely shrugs and lies through his teeth, "Beats me."

He tries to ignore the oddly wounded look Taiyang hides behind the bottle.

(Everything gets a lot more complicated the closer they get to graduation.

There are looming threats and burgeoning secrets that stem far beyond any of them. But for the time being, there is only the four of them and the tension that neither of their soulmates can pinpoint the source of.

There is a duty Qrow and Raven are both tied to, but it is not by strings. They can't be expected to remain desensitized throughout years of trauma and bonding alike; they can't be expected to leave everything behind, but they are.

They are, and the time approaches quickly, and Qrow doesn't know what to do. He doesn't want to abandon Summer. He doesn't want to abandon Taiyang.

Neither does Raven, it seems, especially when Taiyang finally gets her to stop scowling.

The events that follow are not what upsets Qrow the most, though. Seeing Taiyang reach that tumultuous happiness for a short while is not what stings the worst. What digs under skin and muscle, wrenches through flesh and bone and rattles him to his core, is the moment he sees the frayed remains of a string.

It pulses limply at the end of Summer's finger like the smoldering remains of a fire left to dwindle away. Later, when Qrow demands to know why, Raven whirls on him, eyes red-rimmed and glossy, and snaps, "Because people like us don't get happy endings.")

For a short while, there is peace.

There is something that lurks just beyond every corner, skulking ever so closer with each pass of the moon, but for a short while, peace does not fray. Qrow does manage to settle in between the missions that Ozpin sends him and his twin on, and when she can no longer hide her pregnancy, they are both tethered to Patch.

Qrow does not mind. He is endlessly fond of his students, and Raven grows more lax with each passing week, and for a while, he can convince himself that he is happy with this fragile peace they have reached.

He never lingers for long, though. Not with Taiyang, not with Raven, not with Summer.

Hardly ever with Taiyang, who looks as if there is a wound along the way that cannot mend, who glances to Raven and slowly starts to look as if he has accepted this as home. Rarely with Raven, who does not talk about leaving, but still perches by the window and disappears into Ozpin's office every other day. Never with Summer, not when the string attached to her fingers starts to mend itself, not when it begins stretching further to the ground.

In a way, Qrow is the first to uncover an inkling of truth to the nature of the strings.

He is the first to understand what fate truly means. He is the first to understand when he sees the way Summer drips red from her fingertip, red into the ground, red that is no longer weak and frayed and withering. It is strong, whole, absolute, and at the end of the string is her soulmate.

At the end of her string is Raven.

Raven notices, as well, there is no denying that. She notices, and she looks as if she is about to shatter, and for a while, the peace they have is made out of glass that can hardly hold itself together anymore.

He supposes there really is no defying fate, not when it mends itself, not when the cosmos rights every inaccuracy within it. He supposes there is no way to alter it, not when the strings left behind are left unattended. They grow, and they heal, and like all wounds, they mend themselves. They pull themselves together, they knit and become whole.

That does not stop Raven from severing it again.

(And that does not stop the string from mending itself again.)

There comes another time where Qrow tucks a finger against his own string. He pinches it between two fingers, feels the life in it, the pulse, the flow of something deeper than blood.

But then he looks to Taiyang, aches in a way he has never ached before, and loses the strength he thought he had to snip his, as well.

("You could've tied it with his," Qrow eventually tells her.

She is fragile, so fragile, like the sleeping bundle in her arms, the shine of the moonlight in her eyes.

"I know," Raven responds. "I couldn't."

Qrow can't help the white-hot flare of anger that curls in his chest. There is a sink there, a hole that cannot be filled, a different kind of wound that will only ever fester. He hears Taiyang's steady breaths just beside her, his head pillowed in his arms, always by her side now, ready to settle while Raven wants anything but.

There is yearning, still, as much as Qrow hates it. There is want, even when he sees the tumultuous happiness there. He wants, even if he has accepted this; he wishes, even if he has become skilled at ignoring the string that smoulders brighter than Raven's eyes around his finger.

"Why?" he asks.

His voice is steady while his heart is not. His words are calm when his ribcage feels as if it is caving in on itself. He does not move, does not dare leave, not until Raven answers. But Raven only pins him with an inscrutable look, and it is then that he realizes that they aren't the same, not anymore.

They are no longer two halves of a whole, two halves of one soul, two unfortunate beings who stumbled upon their soulmates when their only purpose was to learn how to kill other Huntsmen. Huntsmen like their soulmates, Huntsmen like the ones they've grown to love, to cherish, to hold dear to their hearts.

She does not say anything for the rest of that night.

She does not say anything before she leaves, either.)

Qrow picks up the pieces whenever Summer can't.

Some days, it is not too difficult.

For the most part, he keeps the flask out of his hand. He wakes earlier than he is used to, sets clothes out for both him and Taiyang, and gradually teaches himself how to cook a half-decent breakfast. He is there with tea when Taiyang emerges, and he can see the ground-shaking ache in his gaze, a sink in ocean blue that nearly threatens to swallow him whole.

Other days, it is an uphill battle.

He recognizes the distance in Taiyang's eyes sometimes. The way his movements grow slow, mechanical, done out of sheer necessity. It is only then that he allows himself to reach out to Taiyang. He wraps his fingers around his wrists, pulls him close, and reminds him of where he is.

It is touch that grounds Taiyang and brings him back from wherever he drifted off to; it is touch that makes Qrow feel like he is flying at a dangerously high altitude. It is moments like these that make him want to rattle every promise of silence and duty he has ever made to confess. It is Taiyang's chin pressed to his shoulder, the tears that seep into his collar, the tremor of Taiyang's broken voice that makes him clinger tighter than ever before.

Tighter than the string that seems to weep alongside Taiyang.

But he doesn't want to think about that when their time is limited, because a soul-bound promise is not enough to right every insidious wrong in the world.

For a long while, Qrow is allowed to stay. He stays as long as he can afford. He stays until he is balancing Yang on his hip most mornings, talking idly to her as he cooks, wondering when it was that he started warming up to the idea of children. Perhaps it is just because of Yang. Perhaps it is because of Taiyang, as well.

It takes a while before he notices the way Taiyang watches. His eyes linger just as they did back at Beacon. There is something fond in them, as broken as it is healed, something that makes Qrow's heart pound in his throat. The glances are fleeting, just as they always are, but for the first time since Raven left, there is serenity to Taiyang's glances.

He wonders if Taiyang knows.

He doesn't want to think about that, either; not when neither of them are ready.

Inevitably, they drift closer. There is a rift that grew between them since they graduated, since they started teaching at Signal, since Taiyang fell in love as hard and fast as he always does. That is just how he is - he loves with all his heart, loves more than he knows how to handle, loves so wholly that it makes Qrow feel as raw as the underside of a scab.

Duty is as inevitable as fate. Soon, Qrow will have to return to Ozpin and carry out the tasks that neither Summer nor Taiyang can. He will be sent to the ends of Sanus and back, and he will spend most of his time small and hollow-boned. Taiyang knows just as much, but that does not make leaving any easier for the both of them.

So Qrow stays until he can't.

He stays until it hurts.

(A few times in between long missions, Qrow spends time looking for his twin.

He doesn't find her.

She is running now, but not because of his misfortune. They have no reason to run when there is no bad luck charm there to attract unnaturally large packs of Grimm. They can settle, if they want to, when the embodiment of everything gone wrong is no longer there to play harbinger.

He has a feeling he knows what it is that she is running from.

Sometimes, if he is not looking for Raven, he is spending time with Taiyang. He is there for Yang's birthdays, there for the holidays, there to watch Taiyang heal as much as he can. He absolutely does not pay attention to the way the string shines with a heat like that of the sun and of tropical waters.

But he does pay attention to the glances he sees passed between Taiyang and Summer.

He recognizes himself in a lot of them. He knows what it is. He knows what healing and moving on looks like, and he knows what a breach in that barrier looks like. He knows what to expect, and he remains silent, because bad luck charms with no guaranteed future are not granted happy endings.

He also knows - even when he is at the far ends of Sanus and away from two of his best friends slowly finding their own peace together - that his string is still tethered indefinitely to Taiyang no matter how far he goes.

He wants to scream. He wants to laugh. He wants to snip their string short and tie it to Summer's to save them all the heartbreak. He wants to defy all unspoken laws and sever the string and pretend it never existed.

He gets drunk instead.)

Qrow is there for the wedding day.

There is hurt when there shouldn't be. There are moments when Taiyang's gaze turns to him, lingers longer than necessary, and moves on. It hurts when he does, hurts when Qrow stares at the string that stretches with him the further he walks away, hurts more than anything else.

It is an irrational kind of hurt - because love isn't rational, Summer used to say to him when she'd glance at Raven and look just about ready to break, love never makes sense.

Love. What an interesting concept.

He laughs into his drink.

He is not hurt because his best friends are happy. He is not hurt because they found a separate peace together. In the end, he is happy that they are happy, and that is enough to dull the ache until he accepts it. It is easier to handle when he expects this kind of hurt.

But what he doesn't expect is when Taiyang catches him at the door. That happens often, and he never adequately prepares for it - he wakes up earlier, stays up later, tries to evade both of them the best that he can as he leaves, but he is always caught at the door. It is as if he is pulling Taiyang along with him until he can't follow anymore. Until the string pulls taut, until it seems as if it is about to give and snap and free him of this hell.

But it doesn't. It only seems to pull itself tighter when Taiyang tells him, softer than any confession he can ever bring himself to utter, "Come home safe."

His rib cage is made out of glass, creaking and tensing and cracking down its ridges when his lungs fill themselves to bursting. The string is crimson, burning ever so bright, calling him back to Taiyang every time he leaves. Calling him home.

"You know I will," Qrow says. He is too raw to smirk and play games, too vulnerable to lilt his voice and quip something maddening, too tired to do anything but reassure, "I'll always come back."

And Taiyang always believes him.

Taiyang believes him even when he doesn't believe himself.

But this time, when he is caught at the door, he is not about to leave, and he is not nearly drunk enough to handle Taiyang's hand on his shoulder. He is not drunk enough to handle the rush that follows, the swell in his chest, the flutter of his heart when he meets Taiyang's eye. It is always liquor that dulls the ache, never time or distance or experience.


He looks stunning, Qrow helplessly thinks, he looks captivating when he is dressed in a suit and sounds as if he is clinging desperately to some edge that only crumbles further.

"You told me about the strings and soulmates once, and . . . and I don't know if I'll ever find mine," Taiyang says, and already, Qrow knows where it is going. He knows it in his heart, in his soul, in every trembling breath he takes, and yet still, he is not prepared when Taiyang asks, "Would you tie mine to Summer's?"

Qrow almost says no. He almost clamps a hand over the one on his shoulder, pinches the string there, and confesses everything. He almost tells Taiyang about the bond, almost shakes his throne and ruins every stepping stone to peace that they crafted. He wants to, and hates how badly he wants to; he wants to, and hates how selfish it is that he almost doesn't find it in himself to stay quiet.

But he does.

He does, because Taiyang has never looked so tired. He does, because there is something in Taiyang that is more fragile than the bated breath between them. He does, and he swallows thickly around the words, and he nods. Nods, even when Remnant stops spinning and the cosmos stops breathing alongside him. Nods, even when his heart is no longer where he left it, drowning in oceans deep with nothing to save it.

Qrow ignores the thunderclap between the ribs when he sees the relief that floods over Taiyang's face. It is not his place to hurt. It is not his place to want.

But Brothers, does he want.

He wants until it hurts.

(For some time, there is peace, but not for Qrow.

But he can grow to accept that. He can grow to be happy, because Taiyang seems to be happy, and that is enough. Except it is only a matter of time before the limp end of his string starts to glow crimson, and soon, it mends.

Soon, it breaks.

It only takes one glance at the string around his finger one night for him to know. It is no longer frayed, but pulsing bright and strewn tight in the direction that Qrow knows will lead back home.

That is how he knows about Summer before Taiyang even calls.)

The first time Qrow confesses, it is a year after Summer's death, and he is almost drunk enough to forget that night ever happened.

His flask is on the floor, leaking out onto the carpet with each passing moment. Harbinger is discarded to the side, propped haphazardly against the wall, eventually falling over with a loud clatter, but neither of them are listening.

Qrow is lethargic, and Remnant further slows until it reaches a grating crawl, and his throat stings with bile. There is too much gravity, too much weight, too much atmosphere and not enough space in his lungs to breathe in the oxygen that he needs. He assumes it is some liquor-induced dream, some hallucination wrought from dehydration that makes him think that he is home.

Except he is. He is, or he thinks he is - he doesn't know where home is, anymore. He has run too far. He has been small and hollow for too long. His head has been swimming in oceans with bottomless depths and unmoving silence. But he's home, he knows, he is home, because home is where the string leads to, and it is bright, brighter than before, too bright in his bleary eyes.

It takes a long moment before he registers the lips pressed to his temple, the trembling hands running up and down his spine, the broken rasp of a voice as it says, "I know."

Qrow takes a slow, shuddering breath. Squeezes his eyes shut and buries his face into the crook of Taiyang's neck. Finally feels how wet Taiyang's shirt is around his shoulder.

"I know," Taiyang says again. He is a necessary weight, a tether to Remnant, the only thing keeping Qrow from drowning. "It's okay, Qrow. I know."

It takes a while before he realizes that they aren't the same. There is too much time and too much pain and too many secrets for either of them to be the same anymore.

But at the very least, this is the same.

This is a warmth Qrow has rarely ever known, a comfort he only ever dreamed of. This is home, he thinks, this is home, home where the string is no longer strung wire-tight, home where his heart has been running towards this time. He is home, and he is tired, and he is too drunk to think, too drunk to care about anything beyond Taiyang.

He pulls back just enough to see Taiyang's face. The ground lurches beneath Qrow at the action, and Taiyang's hands settle on his hips to steady him, pull him closer to keep him from falling. He doesn't remember how he got there, doesn't remember when he even got to the bar, but that doesn't matter.

All that matters is Taiyang. All that matters is the new singularity that the cosmos expands from, the new axis that the solar system revolves around, the new point where dawn pierces the veil. Taiyang is there, just a breath away, and they share one heartbeat, one soul, one string.

"It's you," Qrow confesses before he realizes what he's saying, "it's you."

For one perilous moment, that seems to split the world and force it wide open, squelching like flesh and cracking like bone. Taiyang looks fragile in a way he's never been before. He looks broken beyond repair, as if his own heart has been wrenched free from beneath his sternum and left out for Qrow to see.

Then, he laughs, hollow and lifeless, and says, "Yeah. It's just me." His hands come up to cup Qrow's face as if to steady him. He smiles, crooked and lethally gut-wrenching, and teases, "You still with me, Qrow?"

The dry patches beneath Qrow's eyes sting anew.

(Qrow only finds his twin once.

Raven is there many times throughout the years, but she is always small, fragile, the crimson gleam of her eyes as hollow as her bones. She makes sure he stays alive, nothing more, nothing less. He finds her, and for once, she is human. She is whole.

Once upon a time, he knew her like he knew himself.

Now she dons a mask, her hand constantly resting on Omen's hilt, tailed closely by a girl who glares daggers at him the entire time. Now the remains of her string are a deep, murky rust, like blood that seeps heavily into every thread of a surrounding bandage.

"People like us don't get happy endings," she says again, the only familiarity there is. "You know that. You know."

Qrow only shakes his head despite knowing that she is right. Rolls his eyes even though he knows in his core that she is speaking nothing but the truth. Because in his heart, in his soul, in the point where it ties around his finger and forever reaches out to Taiyang, he doesn't want to let go.

"People like you don't get happy endings," he responds, if only to spite her.

If only to convince himself that she is wrong.)

There is a separate kind of healing that comes with being with his family.

That is what they have grown to be over the years - family. Because despite his best efforts at first, Qrow inevitably stays for short periods of time in between increasingly longer missions.

He is there for both the milestones and the mundane tasks. He is there for Ruby's first words. He is there for Yang's first day at school. He is there to hold his arms out to Ruby when she stumbles on over for the first time. He is there to comb out the tangles in Yang's hair every morning before he wakes Ruby, which is a coin toss as to whether it goes by smoothly or not.

And as always, Taiyang is there.

There is a rift that mends itself, a pressurized sink that fills itself, and the offenses that ended at Beacon start up again. It is as natural as breathing, as steadfast as a heartbeat, as innate as skin that slowly knits itself back together, and Qrow doesn't know what to do. All he knows is what not to do.

They sit together some nights on the couch, Taiyang's legs draped across his, either one or both of them dozing off. They settle like they used to, press close and linger far longer than necessary, and all Qrow knows as he stares at the spaces between Taiyang's fingers and aches to fill them is what not to do.

He sees the string that glares accusingly at him from where it is coiled between them and knows not to say a word.

But when Taiyang's smile softens at the sight of him, he starts to wonder why he doesn't.

He wonders until his Semblance catches up to him.

He wonders until Ozpin sends him as far as Solitas to track down a rather troublesome agent. Then, after that mission, to stay with James, whose weak breaths now rattle with Dust and too-thin heartbeat thrums within cylinders of undignified metal.

"I would do it again," James says to him, even if his own string points far from Qrow, even if his voice is nothing more than a shallow rasp, "I would do it again if I had to."

For a moment, Qrow is back in a clear, unmoving night, shrouded in the mellow glow of the growing fire nearby. There is silence fit to shatter him, stilted breaths in the sticky air, a clammy hand in his own. Eyes that are too blue stare down at him again, a smile that is too soft there despite the jagged ribbons down his arm, a voice too gentle when he says that he would do it again.

Again, until it breaks him beyond repair. Again, until it takes more than he is able to replace. Again, until he is gone.

Qrow takes a breath, then another, fills his lungs as far as they can go, but his head still spins. He isn't drunk, isn't even sure of where he left his flask, and it is somehow even more painful, not knowing where his source of false comfort is. The lights are too bright, too artificial, too surgical like the clear-cut edges of James' clavicle, sternum, navel. He is far from home. He is far from honeyed sunlight and scathing waters, far enough for his string to pull itself painfully tight.

But for a moment, he is there. It is only a moment, but he is home, and it is Taiyang with ragged breaths and torn muscle and bones too distorted for even Aura to mend.

He pretends his heart doesn't ache when he turns in the opposite direction of home.

He also pretends he doesn't see the crimson that slowly knits itself back together around James' mechanical finger before he leaves.

(Distance does nothing to help.

Qrow knows, and yet he still tries, and after being away for so long, he is tired.

He is tired, and he is far from sober, and for the first time since he left, he aches for nothing but home.

There is more empathy in Ozpin's gaze than there ever was pity in Raven's. He is quiet for a long moment after Qrow is done talking. That is one thing that Qrow has grown to hate - the silence, the perpetually held breath, the stillness like that of a predator that waits for the right moment to pounce.

He is too tired to say anything else, merely waiting, hoping, wishing for an end to the silence. He is too tired to pay too much mind to the subtle shift in Ozpin's gaze towards his finger, tapping idly against his flask, jostling the string as he does so.

"Go home, Qrow," Ozpin finally says, enough polite finality in it for Qrow to halt in the tapping. "That is all there's left to do for now."

His head hurts, his throat is raw, his hands are clammy, and even so, he manages to keep himself from breaking when he drawls, "Is that an order?"

"No," Ozpin tells him, "I'm asking you as a friend."

Qrow is too tired to argue anymore. He is also too tired to hate the way his chest throbs at the prospect of going home, wherever home may be.

Wherever Taiyang may be.)

There is nothing like a midsummer sunset in Patch.

It bleeds in waves over the treetops. The dying sunlight melts over the leaves and tints them gold, paints orange across the walkway paved into the ground, breathes warmth out into the atmosphere until it becomes thick and heady. But even with the embrace of the sunset across the horizon there to greet him, it still doesn't quite feel like home.

Not until the front door finally swings open.

Just like the first time they met, Qrow sees blue before anything - blue dripping low into navy in the shadow of the overhanging branches, blue that is wide and incredulous and as unmoving as the breath that halts in Qrow's lungs. Time should cease, but it does not; Qrow should speak, but he doesn't; they have been here before, staring until something breaks, stuck at a standstill that stretches like starlight across every planet.

It is disarming, just how quickly he loses the resolve to keep running when Taiyang is right in front of him.

Taiyang shifts. Fingers twitch where they are curled against the door frame, and a tendon in his neck twinges, and his jaw drops just a bit. He breathes in, pulls all of the oxygen with him, leaves Qrow feeling like he is at a dangerously high altitude. Holds the breath before he exhales, slowly, shakily, softer than silk, than sunlight, than the string that Qrow knows struggles to mould them together.

"Qrow." Taiyang's voice shatters the world itself, brings the sky crashing down, sends Remnant veering closer to the sun. It is weak, broken, and there is a gleam in his eyes as he breathes out, "You're - Brothers, you're -"

There is nothing that could have prepared Qrow for the sun in Taiyang's eyes, the gleam of it in his hair, the mellow kiss of it against his skin. He is the new focal point where the sun meets the horizon, bright and all-encompassing, as strong and unrelenting as the string that connects them. He is home, and no amount of distance of time could have ever prepared Qrow for the hand that yanks him into a hug.

There is inescapable heat - scathing where they are pressed together, where Taiyang's arms squeeze nearly hard enough to crush him, where Taiyang hisses out against the shell of his ear, "Don't do that."

Qrow's hands quake where they settle at Taiyang's hips, unsure of what to do, of where to go, of how much touch is allowed when the world feels like it is about to fall apart. He tentatively starts, "I'm sorry -"

"Don't," Taiyang snaps. He squeezes tighter. Qrow grunts into his shoulder. "Just - don't," he says again, harsher, fiercer, torn in a way Qrow hasn't heard before. "Don't do that. Don't fucking do that."

Qrow doesn't have to ask to know what he means. In spite of himself, he gradually melts into the embrace, and he says with a gravelly murmur, "Okay."

He feels the next breath Taiyang takes, shuddering against him almost drastically enough to tear apart at the seams. He probably already is, or close to, with how strained his voice is when he asks, "Why?"

Qrow swallows around the lump in his throat. "Tai -"

"No, shut up, I know that tone."

Taiyang pulls away, but Qrow wishes he wouldn't. His hands settle at Qrow's shoulders, squeezing as if to keep him grounded, a storm with lightning waiting to ignite in the pools of his irises. It is as perilous as it is alluring; it is as calamitous as it is soothing; it is Taiyang, the same as he always is, every bit of him a familiarity despite the time apart.

Qrow is too tired to damn fate to hell and back, too tired to do anything but listen when Taiyang deadpans, "You were gone. For over a year. You were - Gods, you were gone." His voice splinters, cracks, reveals nothing but hurt enough to last a lifetime. "You were gone, and Ozpin wouldn't tell me a damn thing, and I thought - I thought you might've -"

That is another familiarity that Qrow isn't prepared for; Taiyang has always been a crier, but that does nothing to prepare him for the dreadful twinge of his heart against his ribs when the tears start to well along his waterline. Qrow has always been bad at this sort of thing, but it feels as natural as the flow of water through a languid stream to pull Taiyang back into another hug.

"I wasn't lying when I said I'd always come back," Qrow says, hardly above a whisper, as precarious as it is any other time.

Except he is not about to leave. He is not about to stretch the string taut until it nearly snaps, not even close to adding distance between them until he is too far to alleviate the pain. He feels oddly exposed, laid out bare for the world to see, his gaze falling to the crimson on his finger. It is the only thing he can see, and Taiyang is the only thing he can feel, and while it isn't peace that settles, it is close.

There is something close to peace in Taiyang squeezing him again, as if he belongs, as if this is what has been calling to him for so long. This was a mistake, he frantically thinks, this was a horrendous mistake when every passing second makes it harder to leave.

But he is tired. He is worn and fragile and so, so tired. And so is Taiyang, who sounds just as ragged as Qrow feels when he continues, "But why did you leave? Where did you even go?"

"It's . . . complicated."

"Damn it, Qrow, I didn't know what to tell the girls whenever they asked. How was I supposed to tell them -" His voice crooks, breaks, and he takes a moment to gather the pieces, holds them together long enough to say, "How was I supposed to tell them that I didn't even know if you were still alive? How was I supposed to accept that?"

The words sting like tin between his teeth when Qrow admits, "I didn't know what else to do."

All he knows is how to run. How to escape to the far ends of Sanus and back, how to crawl into this hiding space he has crafted from liquor, how to leave everything behind with naught more than a lazy shrug. What he doesn't know is how to handle this odd sink in his gut when Taiyang squeezes him again, clinging as if he is too afraid to let go, as if he cannot risk losing Qrow again.

He feels the way Taiyang's shoulders quake, followed shortly by the heat that envelopes his shoulder. Taiyang's words aren't as fierce as they once were when he says, "I wish I could stay mad at you for as long as I wanted to. I wish - I wish I could -" Another breath, rattling against his teeth, his ribs, his lungs. "You're home. You're home. So don't do that again, okay? Don't ever fucking do that again."

There is glass there waiting to break, tension waiting to snap, a string waiting to pull itself taut but never fray. Qrow feels as fragile as his words when he promises, "I won't."

"At least tell me why." Another dreadful silence follows, filled with nothing but heavy summer air and a sunset bleeding quickly into twilight. Faintly, almost too quiet for Qrow to hear, Taiyang breathes, "Please?"

They've been here before, Qrow belatedly realizes, they've been here before when Raven disappeared with nothing but sleek black feathers left behind on Taiyang's doorstep. Taiyang has endured that kind of loss before. He has done this before, and it must be more groundbreaking, more throne-shaking than Qrow realizes, finding himself back at this point.

Qrow's fingers run along Taiyang's back, up the curve of his spine and down again, the action almost surreal to him. They mould together perfectly, nothing but warmth and comfort and home in the firm press of Taiyang's body against his, of Taiyang's arms tight around him. For once since he left, the string no longer seems like an unnecessary weight.

It is liberating; it is harrowing.

He has been here before, as well, craving nothing more than to pull Taiyang close and keep him where it feels right. He has wanted nothing more than to cling and refuse to let go and speak about fate. He curls his fingers into Taiyang's shirt, and while the string is not tangible, he knows that it is there. He knows where it leads to. He knows, but Taiyang does not, and the exhaustion weighs him like tar around his feet, like ashes in the air.

"You asked me who my soulmate was. I wasn't ready to tell you then." This must be it - this must be where oceans meld together, where the sun meets the water, where the moon draws the tide the strongest. This must be what peace means, what serenity is, flowing like blood beneath his skin, like oxygen into his veins when he finally confesses, "It's you."

He is not drunk. He is not on the verge of tears. He is not broken down to the barest remains of who he is, depending on Taiyang to keep him upright and liquor to keep him from remembering it all. He can see the gold that melts across the sky in technicolor detail, and he can hear the odd noise Taiyang makes in his ear, soft and just shy of incredulous.

"Qrow." Taiyang turns his head, tucks his nose just under Qrow's ear, asks with another broken sound, "Why'd you wait so long?"

He could go on forever when the list is longer than the string and tight enough to choke on. He could recount enough hospital beds and intravenous drips for a lifetime. He could talk for ages about every inconvenience and accident, every misfortune and catastrophe, but he doesn't.

He only says, "I'm a bad idea, Tai, you know that. This is probably a bad idea. But after Jimmy, after the shit he went through just to keep me safe - the shit you both go through because of me - I can't risk that. I can't."

Taiyang pulls away just enough to meet his eye. He is too close, with eyes that gleam too brightly and a breath that is too heady where it melds with his own. Qrow wishes he could hate how natural the pull is, how easy it would be to slot them together, to close that gap, to fill in every space that has been excruciatingly empty for so long.

"You were never just your Semblance to me, Qrow," Taiyang tells him, hushed as if he doesn't want the sky and the stars and the dying sun to hear him. "Everything that happens like that accident isn't your fault." Qrow opens his mouth to argue, but Taiyang, being the stubborn bastard that he is, squeezes his shoulders and firmly repeats, "It's not. Try not to blame yourself for the shit that happens when it's out of your control, okay?"

"It isn't that easy, though. It's -" Qrow bites his lip, and he doesn't miss how Taiyang's gaze dips just a bit lower to watch. "It's complicated. And it's . . . kinda fucked up, isn't it?" He laughs, hollow and mirthless. "Being tied to a bad luck charm. It's a bad idea."

"Everything's complicated, but that never stopped us." Taiyang still holds fast to him, and in a way, he is glad for that. He is glad for the tether there to keep him from floating away when the string could not achieve that. He is glad for the familiar relief that comes with the grin that tugs at Taiyang's lips before he teases, "And anyway, all I've ever got are bad ideas. What's one more?"

In spite of his heart pounding in his throat, Qrow still snorts, "You're supposed to be the responsible one."

Taiyang actually laughs at that - short, weak, breathy, but a laugh nonetheless - and it occurs to Qrow just how badly he misses it. Qrow's fingers trail higher, along the stretch of his neck, smooth against the sharp cut of his jaw. He is no longer a concept, an idea, a memory, a dream; he is there, and there is the crook of a lopsided smile on his face, and for once, Qrow feels at ease.

For once, he is finally home.

"I know it isn't easy, but we'll figure it out," Taiyang says, carefully as if he is trying not to shatter the balance between them. But it happens anyways, cracking and crumbling in the wake of the calamitous rush that follows when he adds, "We always do, eventually. Right?"

Taiyang is a breath away, and his eyes linger lower, a yearning in them that Qrow hasn't seen in so long, a want that is stronger than the pull of the tide. Were they back in Beacon, were they at the door late into the night readying to say goodbye, it would be a perilous line that they were crossing. It would be a farce, a blunder, a mistake.

But when the tension finally snaps and Qrow is the one to surge forth, it is nothing like a mistake. It is as natural as the flow of blood through his veins, rushing as Taiyang's lips press against his, pulsing in his jugular as strongly as it pulses in the string that connects them.

They fit perfectly together, and Qrow almost forgets why he denied this, almost forgets why he never confessed when Taiyang's lips move so fluidly against his. He breathes in the noise Taiyang makes, pulls it into his lungs like much needed oxygen, relishes it like a breath of fresh air that he has been aching for since they first met.

They break away just a bit, as gentle and unhurried as the change of seasons, their breaths headier than the golden kiss of sunlight on Taiyang's skin. Qrow carefully reaches for the hand that rests over his hip and weaves their fingers together before he lifts it higher. The string is there, as lively as always, a crimson like that of the point where a spark finally catches, where a flame finally ignites.

"For what it's worth," Taiyang murmurs in the small space between them, "I guess I sort of always knew. It makes sense, now. All of it." He can't see it, and yet he still squeezes Qrow's hand and regards their interlocked fingers for a short moment. "Why I keep coming back to you. Why everything keeps leading to you."

Qrow grins at that. "You say that like it's a bad thing."

"Well, you did age me about twenty years with all of this."

"Consider it payback for all the years you shaved off my lifespan from the bullshit you'd pull back at Beacon."

Taiyang laughs again, captivating enough to make Remnant tilt sharply off its axis, and Qrow can't help but pull him into another kiss. He can feel Taiyang's smile, can hear the pleasant hum that melts against his lips, and there is nothing in the world that would make him run just yet. Not until he absolutely has to, because while fate has strung them together, it is duty that will draw them back apart.

It will take more to undo the damage. It will take much more to mend the wound that has lain raw and aching between them. But for now, for the time that they have and for the moments before the girls find them, this is enough.

For now, Taiyang's lips are soft against his, and his fingers are gentle where they thread through his hair, and that is more than enough.