Just as a brief reminder, Qrow went back before reaching Atlas. Therefore he hasn't met Clover and learned about his Semblance in ruminations on his own.

Cover Art: Aristeo Storm

Chapter 26

It was just his luck, really. Shit from the get-go. He'd been fortunate to eke out two years or so without unlocking his accursed Semblance, and he'd harboured naïve thoughts about how he might be able to go through life this time around without it. In hindsight, he'd always been like that, hoping for the best without ever putting the required action in. Your Semblance was your soul, your inner self, and whatever other jargon scientists like Oobleck could come up with as buzzwords.

Simply put, you couldn't escape your Semblance any more than you could escape your lungs.

Of course, he couldn't come out and tell Ozpin and the others that he'd unlocked it. There was a process to these things, and people didn't typically unlock their own with an instruction manual or intrinsic way of understanding how it all worked. There were even laws in place to protect from liability of damage caused by an unknown Semblance, though the burden of proof was pretty damn steep, and it had never been tested with consequences worse than a few damaged cars or a broken bone. No one quite knew how it'd stand up if someone was killed by one.

Saying "I've unlocked my Semblance, I know what it is and I hate it" would have been far too suspicious, however, so Qrow accepted his loss with a glum expression and ignored the team from Beacon ribbing their member for having been hit by the kid. One good hit wasn't worth having his Semblance unlock itself, so Qrow wasn't feeling too thrilled about that.

He tuned out most of the conversation from then on, including as Ozpin took them back to the hotel. The old man probably thought he was being a sulky little bitch about his loss, which suited him just fine. Raven was complaining loud enough for both of them anyway, absolutely taking her loss with her usual grace – aka none.

Laid awake in bed sharing a room with Ozpin, Qrow stared at the ceiling as he listened to Ozpin's breathing even and transition to sleep. He'd have suspected more spying, but Ozpin was worked ragged what with the Vytal Festival and all. As combat instructor, he also had to look after all the teams from Beacon and give them last-minute training, so it wasn't a surprise he was worn out. Qrow had to remind himself this was a good twenty years before Salem had started becoming more active.

"The Queen has a new piece" wouldn't be a sentence uttered until after Ruby and Yang started Beacon, so they were in a peaceful lull while Salem gathered her forces. Ozpin, therefore, was cautious but not paranoid. Maybe if he had been, he'd have noticed Leonardo being co-opted. If he even was at this early juncture. Time travel wasn't as foolproof as Qrow had imagined, and the knowledge he had felt like it'd take ages to be of any use.

For now, he got to focus on Team STRQ and his Semblance.

Bad luck.

Maybe he was overthinking it, though. Bad luck could exist without his Semblance. There was always the chance, slight as it might be, that the guy had just failed to maintain his weapon correctly.

A water pipe in the ceiling bursting and spraying him and Ozpin put that idea to rest.

"Splrbll! Attack—!? What!? Bwah!" Ozpin flailed and fell out of bed in his shock, which was about the funniest thing Qrow had seen since coming back. The man surged to his feet, eyes wide, fists raised, then took in the state of their room and his and Qrow's soaked clothing. "What on… Qrow, gather your belongings. Hurry. I'll see what management has to say about this!"

Management had a lot to say – mostly "sorry" in many different ways. Wet, with a towel over his head, he felt bad for the poor guy on the desk who a) didn't deserve this and b) was entirely innocent. The whole hotel was, given it was his Semblance biting back for him doubting it. Everyone always said Semblances weren't alive and Qrow believed that, but it often felt like his had a vindictive streak.

Technically, there was no such thing as "bad" luck.

There was just luck – the good and bad being subjective. His foe's weapon malfunctioning had been his back luck and Qrow's good, whereas this water pipe was everyone's bad luck and finding a coin on the floor was bad for the one who lost it and good for the one that found it. Luck was fully subjective and an equal-opportunities bastard, but it sometimes felt like his focused a little more on harming him than other people. Unless those people were important to him, in which case they were fair game.

The fact he couldn't activate and deactivate it at will was another problem. Concentrated luck on demand would have been a great Semblance, even if it was unreliable, but the fact it was always on and seemed to genuinely have a mind of its own made it a complete pain in the behind.

They were shown to another room and Qrow didn't dare question his Semblance a second time. He drifted off, hair still wet, and woke up the next day with a sniffle and the beginnings of a cold.

Just his luck.


His "surly attitude" continued into the next day of the Vytal Festival and provided a good excuse after to "go for a walk" in Mistral and get away from everyone. Ozpin didn't mind, knowing he was mature enough to look after himself and come back to the hotel, and Raven and Summer were happy to make their own fun without him. They liked having their own room for constant girl's nights. Those two had already become like sisters, and with remarkably little of his own work behind it.

Sure, he'd done his best to drag Summer into his friendship circle, but it was ultimately Raven starting a fight with and then adopting her that did it. Much like in the future, Raven and Summer had become friends on their own.

He'd always been the tagalong to Raven back then, the weaker brother who needed his big sister's backing and support. Things had changed in some ways but when it came to befriending people, it was obvious Raven was still better than he was. Which makes sense given she's actually their age mentally and doesn't feel the need to roll her eyes whenever they say something stupid.

Qrow wasn't sure where he was walking or what to. He'd have liked to dip in somewhere for a drink but Ozpin would be able to tell and then he'd catch shit. He wandered aimlessly instead, just clearing his head and mulling on his Semblance and whether – somehow – he could put some time to trying to control it this time around. There had never been the time in the future, what with Salem and him being Ozpin's last loyal agent, but he technically had nothing but time now.

Another year before we go to Beacon and then four years in Beacon. I won't need to study given my knowledge, and training shouldn't take up too much time. I guess I could dedicate some time to researching Semblances. It was uncharacteristic and also an unwelcome idea, because even at forty years of age the idea of sitting in a library reading books made him grimace.

What else was he going to do, though? Four years was a long time and as much as he intended to spend it loving every moment with his team, he knew there would be hours and hours of downtime when they were busy with schoolwork he would breeze through.

"I might as well have something to keep me busy." Qrow raised his eyes upward, as if addressing his own forehead. "Maybe I'll find a way to control you, too. That'd be a nice change." He saw the loose cobblestone ahead and side-stepped it. "Nice try, asshole."

His Semblance didn't reply, but that was always the annoying thing. The doubt. Was that loose cobblestone his Semblance's work or was it just coincidence? There were so many times something small would go wrong and he'd never be able to pinpoint if it was his Semblance at work or just regular old bad luck. Without much to do, he eventually gave in and headed toward Mistral's library, resigned to distracting himself with some reading.

The schools had their own, and those were better for his needs because they kept the books limited. They were focused on huntsman-related subjects, whereas the library here and in Vale general was more of being stocked for everyone. Still, the libraries had some of the same books and it only took him half an hour to find the ones related to huntsmen – the real ones, that was. There'd been a whole section he'd thought promising before realising it was fiction about huntsmen.

He resisted the urge to blame his Semblance for that one, especially when it was probably his own fault. Probably, but not assuredly. It really was annoying to have to doubt everything and wonder what his Semblance did or didn't have an impact on.

The books he found weren't entirely helpful. Semblance theory was one of those subjects shrouded in mysticism and even religion in some instances. Throw the word "soul" around and the crazies always came out in force. Qrow knew about and accepted the existence of magic, but he also knew it was rare and not everyone had it, so he discarded theories that made Semblances sound too magical.

Then there were the psychological theories – ones surrounding terms like "trauma events" and "survival needs" and how Semblances were a human evolution in response to extreme circumstances. How survival of the fittest meant that while many died to Grimm, some unlocked Semblances to fight back – and now Semblances were commonplace among huntsmen, so this was proof of an evolutionary pathway from old humans to new humans.

Those could be controversial as well and some argued they were elitist and even a little dangerous – that they promoted eugenics and the idea of "better" and "worse" humans. It was also hard to say how accurate they were, because while the idea of a person's Semblance being determined by what they needed to best survive "made sense", it was a chicken and egg scenario.

Did the theory come first or the evidence? One of the big holes in the psych theories was how the hypothesis was so often moulded to fit the data, like people had looked at Semblances and kind of made up a story of how they worked that fit the evidence but wasn't necessarily true.

And while it sounded good for Ruby, who unlocked a Semblance based on speed to escape Grimm chasing her at Summer's grave, it didn't make sense for him, who had been doing just fine until his Semblance took a steaming dump on his head. Raven hadn't really needed or benefited from her Semblance at first either. It wasn't like she unlocked it, opened a portal and saved her life by jumping through. Some people fit and some didn't.

And then you took one look at the Schnee Semblance and just threw your hands up in frustration, because that was both broken as shit and also downright bizarre. Glyphs, but elemental formations, but summons – and oh, look, that Weiss brat can literally create solid platforms in the air to jump off, so you might as well add a weak version of flight to her Semblance as well.

He'd challenge any scientist to make sense of that.

"Why, if it isn't Ozpin's little ward." The warm voice jolted Qrow out of the book he was reading and then had him freezing solid. "I don't suppose you remember me—"

"Leonardo Lionheart. Headmaster of Haven."

The lion faunus smiled and drew a seat out. "Hard at work?"

"Shouldn't you be doing festival work?"

"Believe me when I say that's all I've been doing for months on end. Much of the heavy lifting is done – and between you and me, I'll be glad to see the back of this! The event itself is a delight but the work…? Not so much. Don't become a teacher, my boy. It isn't worth it."

There was some fresh irony there.

Was Leonardo already a traitor or had that come later with Cinder? Assuming Salem pushed her recruitment down the line, Leo was still fully loyal to Ozpin, but what if Leonardo had a hand in recruiting Cinder? From what he knew, she'd studied in Mistral, so it was possible Leonardo had been the one to notice her potential and convince her to join Salem's side. But it was also just as possible it was the other way around and he was grasping at straws.

"I'll keep that in mind," Qrow said. "But I'll stick to being a huntsman."

"Best bet, I say. You get the thrill of the hunt, the camaraderie, the free lifestyle – and the best part is that no one can tell you what to do or when to work. You're free to take what jobs you fancy, though we always ask our students to help those in need."

"Of course."

Leo smiled. "What are you reading? Research for Beacon?"

"No." Qrow paused, then changed his mind. "Yes, actually. I'm looking up Semblances."

"Oh? Have you unlocked your own?"

"Not yet," he lied. "Neither me nor Raven have, nor Summer as far as I know, but I'm curious. Ozpin had us spar with a team from Beacon and I saw some of theirs."

"He made you spar Vytal competitors!? Did you annoy him that much?"

"Heh." Qrow smirked despite his misgivings. "Something like that. It went about as well as you might expect."

"I imagine so. You and your sister were exceptional when I first saw you – did you know it was myself who alerted Ozpin to you?" He hadn't. "I'd been planning to offer you a place in Mistral, but he asked me to let him have the first shot at you both."

That was a surprise. Not that Ozpin would step in like that, but that Leonardo had wanted them. Was that evidence he was still on the side of good? Or was it a sign he'd been eyeing them up for Salem? He was running in circles thinking about it, so he did his best to ignore it all.

"Ozpin never said. Anyway, I was looking up Semblances because I was curious about how people control them."

"Not how to unlock one? That's what most of my students keep looking into."

"The book said you can't force it," he deflected.

"Good." Leonardo nodded. "You absolutely cannot – and if we could, then we should not. It's dangerous to treat people like weapons to be moulded. Your Semblance will come in time. As for control, well, it's hard to explain to someone who doesn't already have one – like explaining how to move a limb that you can't feel."

"You can feel it like a third arm?"

"Something like that, but also not. Internal but external." Leonardo smiled helplessly. "Do you see? The words are so hard to place. There isn't a well of energy, but you can kind of feel a drag on your aura, like a thin line of cloth woven into you that tugs away. That's how I'd best explain it. In many ways, using your Semblance is instinctual, but not at first. At the start, it's a nightmare to use and mistakes are made, but over time you start to build into using it without really having to think about it. I use the word instinctual and that fits. It's difficult to train control, though you can obviously practice with things like precision, speed, and using it in different strengths – depending on your Semblance, that is."

"We have a student with super strength currently and he has to learn how to moderate it so he doesn't destroy objects he picks up, or punch the head off a friend with a cuff to the back of the head. Others, who can control elemental attacks, may practice weaving them in the air so they can do more than just blast a Grimm in the face. Making fire do tricks, or making water move from one container to another, can help build up your control."

Neither was good for him. "What about people who can't control when their Semblances activates?"

"Can't control…? I don't think I've ever heard of such a condition. I know some struggle to control the force or intensity but rarely to turn it off and on. I'm sure that's something that would fix itself in time."

It wasn't.

"Can Semblances be dangerous to the person using them?" he asked instead.

"Of course. Fire burns and you can harm yourself with the backlash of any ability."

"No. I mean, like, the Semblance harming you almost on purpose. Not that the person is making it harm themselves, but that it's indiscriminate in who it hurts. Can that be a thing?"

He knew it was but wanted his expertise. A teacher Qrow may have been, but he was a teacher at Signal. He knew a lot about the basics and how to improve a person, but deeper university-level subjects weren't his forte.

"A self-harming Semblance…?" Leonardo hummed and cupped his chin. "I can't think of any I've heard of, but there are some that have costs. I recall a story of one individual in history who could regenerate his own wounds almost instantaneously. However, it caused his body to age when he did. Not so drastic as to kill him as a teenager, but enough that he died perhaps ten years sooner than he should have of old age. Though he'd have been dead far sooner without his Semblance to protect himself."

It wasn't quite what Qrow was looking for. His Semblance didn't exact a cost to give him a positive result, at least not all the time. Every now and then it'd fuck someone else up instead of him, but it almost seemed random in who, when and how it targeted someone.

"I suspect, young man, that if a person unlocked a Semblance which was harming them, that the problem would go deeper than the Semblance." Leonardo had that tone in his voice. The kind adults took on when they thought the younger person was talking about themselves, and the adult was playing along but unconvincingly. "Your Semblance represents your inner self, so if someone's Semblance was attacking them… well…" He smiled sadly. "I would suspect the truth of the matter is that they are attacking themselves. That they, deep inside, consider themselves an enemy to be bested. Whether they know it or not."

"That they hate themselves…?"


That was crazy. Bullshit. Just another example of how his Semblance was unique and no one understood it. Qrow went back to reading, blocking Leonardo out until he excused himself and left.

Hate myself…? I don't hate myself.

He didn't.


Raven blinked at Qrow as she opened the door. Her idiot brother looked like he'd been dragged through a hedge backwards, and he smelt— Her eyes narrowed.

"You've been drinking."

"Nah," he lied, unconvincingly. "I've been thinking. Is Summer here?"


"Good." He barged his way into the hotel room. "I need to talk to you."

"Not to hide from Ozpin? I will tell him, you know."

"Tattle." He said it with fond exasperation, and that pissed her off a little. "I… I kinda need your advice, Ray."

And then her anger vanished.

Qrow… needed her advice…? Hers? This was the guy who always seemed to have his shit together, and who had dragged her through winter. He'd slain Balmung, and even killed his second-in-command. Qrow had never once needed her.

Which was reason enough to sit down on the bed next to him. "What is it?"

"Do I…" He winced. "Do you think I hate myself…?"

Raven's mind blanked. "What kind of question is that!? How am I meant to know what you hate or don't?" She didn't want to lose this chance, though. "Tell me what this is all about. I can't help if I don't know!"

"And you want to help me?"

"You're my brother. Us Branwens need to stick together."

"Yeah…" He smiled. "Yeah, we do. Okay, so, can I get a promise you won't tell Summer or Ozpin? Or anyone." Raven gave it without a second thought. If you couldn't trust your twin to keep a secret, then who could you trust? Qrow spoke. "I've unlocked my Semblance."

Her first instinct was jealousy, then she stomped that down. Qrow didn't look happy.

"Isn't that a good thing…? What does it do?"

"You remember the spar? How that guy's weapon malfunctioned?" Of course she did; it was only yesterday. "That's my Semblance. It's bad luck – or maybe misfortune is a better word for it. Things happen that wouldn't normally happen, and the odds skew themselves."

"In your favour, right?"

"Not necessarily. That water pipe last night was my fault."

"But that hit you."

"Yeah. My Semblance has been trying to trip me up all day. Bad shit keeps happening around me, including to me, so I went to the library to do some research and met a huntsman there. He told me that if a Semblance was ever truly harming the user, it'd be because the user hates themselves – because the user sees themselves as an enemy and is unconsciously attacking their own body." He sounded so lost. "So, do you think I hate myself? Am I really that bad?"

Raven wanted to punch him.

But she didn't.

"Qrow… seriously. Your Semblance helped you in the fight."

"But it's gone after me outside it."

"You don't know that. Maybe it saved you by bursting that pipe. What if it would have fallen on you if you hadn't been driven out the room? And why would you hate yourself anyway? You're… You're…"

He glanced her way. "See. Even you can't say anything good about me."

"That's because it's embarrassing!" Raven growled out, her face burning bright red. "I have a reputation to uphold, you prick!" But it wasn't worth him thinking he hated her. Stupid brother. "I… I love you," she gritted, eyes staring angrily away. "Of course I fucking love you. You're the only thing I have left and you've looked after me. And as for good stuff, you're super strong, competent, mature, clever, and more resourceful than me in literally every single way."

"But I'm useless at making friends. I tried with Summer and failed."

"And you tried with Willow and succeeded right away – and that Taiyang idiot, too."

"It's you he's after."

"Tell me something I don't know," she growled. "But Willow isn't after me, is she? And Rosebud tells me how you've been helping him with his courses. He likes you. Genuinely. He thinks you're a close friend, even if you can be a distant prick at times, and an even bigger prick when you go out drinking rather than come talk to me."

"It was only one bottle—"

"One bottle too many. I'm your sister. You're meant to trust me."

"I do trust you." He looked lost. "But it's not like you're the oracle of all knowledge."

"Yeah, well, at least I have some common sense unlike you." With another growl, Raven attacked him. Qrow flinched but wasn't quick enough to stop her arms wrapping around him and her face coming close to his, their cheeks pressing together. "You're my brother," she grumbled. "And I love you no matter how shitty your Semblance is, and that isn't going to change. So if you do hate yourself then I'm gonna fuck your shit up so you stop."

Gingerly, his hands came to rest on her back. His voice was choked. "R… Ray…"

He pressed his face into her shoulder.

"Thank you…"

Yeah, yeah, she was awesome. News at seven. Raven allowed the tender moment to continue because he needed it – needed her – and she'd be damned if she didn't pay him back for all the times she'd needed him.

But she got a taste of his Semblance first hand when the door opened and Summer walked in, freezing on the spot as she saw them hugging it out.

"Ahhh!" Summer pointed, mouth stretched wide, eyes shining.

"It's not what it looks like!" Raven snapped.

"You're hugging! So cute!"

"It's not!" she argued. "It's… we… we're fucking!"

Summer leaned back. "Ehhhh!?"

"Y—Yeah. We were about to have sex. Sick, twisted, incestuous relationship right here. We were about to paint the room white."

"What the fuck," Qrow mumbled into her shoulder.

"What the fuck!?" Summer echoed with her own face twisted in a grimace. "How is that less embarrassing than just admitting you were having a tender sibling moment?"

"We weren't!" Raven stuck to her defence. "I don't do tender or sweet. I'm a bad bitch! I'll sue you for defamation if you say otherwise."

"So you'd rather have people think you're sleeping with your brother instead!?" At her silence, Summer exploded, throwing her hands up in the air and stalking in. "You are so freaking weird! Move over."

"Hey! What? What are you doing!?"

"I'm joining the hug," said Summer, wrapping her arms around Raven's back and then Qrow. "Awww. This is nice."

"This isn't nice. And I didn't invite you to a threesome."

"No one believes you, Ray," Summer said in a sing-song voice. "I always knew you had a heart of gold, caring for your brother like a sweet little sister. I should take photos for all our friends back home."


Next Chapter: 20th April

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