The young man was barely into his twenties, with a fresh-scrubbed, puppyish look about him. When he handed his hat to the footman, it revealed a shock of slightly unkempt, canary-colored hair that was badly in need of a trim. When he slipped off his coat, it revealed a suit of common, inexpensive material but with the fit and cut that spoke of first-rate tailoring. There was something sheepish, almost hangdog in his look that made bullies want to push him down in the street and kind people want to pick him up and hug him.
The tone of voice that greeted him upon entry to the parlor made him snap upright, standing at attention like he was a soldier facing a drill sergeant.
From her chair on the other side of the parlor, Ruby Rose giggled.
"I think you're scaring him, Miss Goodwitch."
So this is the infamous Miss Goodwitch, Jaune Arc thought. But what's she doing here!? I thought she taught at Ruby's school?
Glynda Goodwitch sighed.
"If Inspector Arc is made nervous by a tutor, then I can hardly imagine how he can do his job as a policeman. You may be trying to be humorous at our expense, but instead you only embarrass yourself."
"No fun at all," Ruby murmured under her breath. She was a fresh-faced girl of nineteen with a short cap of dark hair given life by reddish undertones, while her red dress and black trim vaguely suggested a Spanish lady of the previous century. Louder, she said, "It's good to see you, Jaune."
"Thanks, Ruby; you, too."
"Would you care to sit down? I can ring for tea."
"Thanks, I'd appreciate it. Up at the Yard, we don't exactly have the best blends—or the best people at making it," he said with a grin.
"Destroy another kettle, did you?"
"I don't understand how that much steam pressure could build up in something that has a spout to release it!"
Ruby giggled. Glynda Goodwitch just rolled her eyes. Jaune dropped into a seat across the coffee table from his friend.
"It's good to see you, though. Are you doing well?"
"About as well as you can expect," Ruby pouted. "At least you got to go back to your job. You would not believe how angry Dad got." She leaned forward, propping her chin in her cupped palms.
"Sit up straight, Miss Rose," Miss Goodwitch said, seating herself primly on another chair at the long end of the oblong table. "Posture like that is inappropriate for receiving guests."
"This isn't a guest; it's Jaune," Ruby's pout grew.
"He is a gentleman of good family, and it is inappropriate for you to be alone with him, unchaperoned."
Ruby's eyes widened, her face stricken, and even Jaune was taken aback. The things he wanted to talk to Ruby about were...not really private, but he'd feel silly talking about them in front of Miss Goodwitch. Which was, he supposed, the point of a chaperone, although it was something entirely different that was supposed to be suppressed.
"What's wrong with me, then?"
Three heads turned towards the door.
"Yang!" Ruby cried happily.
The blonde...well, sauntered was the only way to put it. The jonquil skirt and white shirtwaist she wore were obviously a concession to the household's standards.
"What happened to you?" Jaune exclaimed, noting the black eye and the bruise spreading across one cheek.
"I got a little careless over at Junior's and let some guy ram my face into a wooden post. You should have seen it three days ago."
"I wish we could close that place down."
Yang stretched like a lazy cat.
"It's the way of the world. Most of the places you Yard boys do manage to raid just didn't grease the right palms, or else they start up again in a different place a couple of months later. Junior's just a little more brazen about it."
"This is hardly a suitable topic of conversation for a lady," Miss Goodwitch sniffed.
"Hey, unlike me, Ruby is a lady to the tips of her fingers, and that isn't going to change regardless whether she turns into a prig on top of it."
"Thank you, Yang."
"Don't mention it. Anyway, you can go, Miss Goodwitch. I'll stick around and make sure Jaune, here, doesn't get the chance to ravish Ruby on the settee."
"Ew, Yang!" the putative ravished and ravisher chorused.
"...as silly as that would be anyway."
"You are hardly old enough to be an adequate chaperone, Miss Xiao Long." Miss Goodwitch, it will be noted, gave Yang's last name its proper Chinese pronunciation rather than the Anglicized version she usually went by, which made Yang raise a curious eyebrow.
"That would be a valid point if I were another eligible young lady. But as the bastard half-sister, society considers me little more than another servant, like taking her maid out shopping or her groom when she rides."
"Very well." The tutor rose to her feet and adjusted her glasses. "I agree that under the circumstances, your presence will satisfy the bounds of propriety, although I wish you would not use such language in your sister's presence."
"I'm not going to have a fit of the vapors at some colorful language," Ruby said.
"Exactly. You are entirely too comfortable with it as part of an ordinary conversation. I do not want you to start adopting such speech yourself through immersion, then repeat something untoward when it might damage your reputation. But I had best be going now, or else I will waste all of Mr. Arc's visit on etiquette and decorum lessons. Good day, Inspector." She nodded in Jaune's direction, then left the parlor.
"Argh! She is so overbearing!" Ruby fumed, throwing herself back in her chair.
"Actually, her last point kind of made sense," Yang surprised the other two by admitting. "I really ought to watch what I say around you."
"Not you, too!"
"Face it, Sis, Polite Society may be mostly made up of pompous hypocrites, but there's no reason for you to slam all its doors in your face unless you've decided on a life outside it. Why waste your opportunities?"
"As if I still have any. You may not have heard, but I'm in disgrace."
"Oh, is that why one of your teachers is here playing governess?"
"Dad hired her from school to tutor me while I'm out of circulation. Apparently, I'm not supposed to be taking part in any social events for a while."
"Geez, what did you do?"
"Is this because of you throwing your punch on Weiss Schnee last week?" Jaune asked.
"That was you? I read about that in the Star. Amethyst Nell had this big write-up on it in the society column, but she didn't name who'd actually done it."
"It was an accident!"
"We were talking," Jaune explained, "and Miss Schnee yelled at us to get out of the way, we turned around really fast, and my arm hit Ruby's, making her spill her drink."
"Wow, when you make a faux pas, you don't do it by half!" Yang grinned at her. "I guess there's something we have in common. But still, the heiress of the Schnee Dust Company, in her own house, at her birthday ball. You might as well have thrown punch at the Queen."
"Argh, you sound just like Dad!"
"I'm surprised he didn't send you back to the country until the scandal died down."
"So far, there doesn't seem to really be any scandal. I think the ball was such a crush that only a few people saw what happened, and for whatever reason the Schnees haven't put my name about."
"That's surprisingly gracious of them."
Yang took the seat Miss Goodwitch had abandoned.
"I guess that when you own half of Europe, you have better things to do with your time than worry about petty social revenge. So Dad cut your Season short and figured you'd be better off trying next year?"
"Right, and he actually hired Miss Goodwitch to act as my tutor and governess."
"I see, since the school term is out, she was available."
"Dad said that as long as I wasn't going to any balls or parties, I ought to at least use my time in London productively. I don't mind missing out on all the social events; I didn't like them anyway. But now every day is a school day, with the strictest teacher in the Academy! Which I graduated from last year, so why would I need to learn more from her?"
Jaune glanced at Yang.
"Dad's just looking out for you, Ruby."
"I never asked for that kind of help! The last thing I want to be is some kind of prissy, stuck-up society lady. You've gotten along fine without etiquette or decorum lessons."
Jaune couldn't help but smile. Really, Ruby's point about Yang "doing fine" would have been better taken when Yang didn't look like she'd been on the wrong end of a beating. Not that she would have contradicted her sister on the subject.
"I didn't have a choice about that, Ruby. Half-Chinese bastards do not get invited to balls or welcomed into Polite Society, unless it's through the back door as someone's mistress. Dad bringing me into his household when your mom died was a pretty big scandal back in the day and I was only seven. There's lots of things out there it's worth giving up your standing in society for, but there's a difference between finding one of those things and letting your reputation go because you were too scared or too lazy to try."
Ruby let out a loud, unladylike groan.
"Yang, you aren't supposed to be on their side!"
"I know. Don't let Goodwitch hear about it or it'll ruin her impression of me. She's got those great scowls that make her look like a headmistress out of The Pearl."
Ruby clearly had no idea what her sister meant. Jaune blushed to the tips of his ears, which made Yang laugh.
"Wait, what am I not understanding?" Ruby asked. "Jaune, why are you blushing?" She gave them both the gimlet eyes. "Yang, is this one of those things I'm not supposed to know about?"
She laughed again.
"Yes, it most definitely is. Wouldn't you agree, Jaune?"
"Then how do you know?" Ruby demanded.
"Hey, I went to Cambridge. Some of the fellows would circulate copies."
"And now you'd have to arrest them, being a policeman and all. Though tell me, wouldn't Goodwitch look great with a riding crop?"
If it was possible, Jaune got even redder in the face.
"This is the sister who's encouraging me to be more ladylike and careful of my reputation?"
Yang just smirked.
"So, Jaune, how about you let us know what you came here to talk about? Then you can stop blushing and I can stop saying things that give Ruby reason to throw something at me."
"That's a good idea. I can only stay for so long before I have to go back to work."
They were interrupted by the entry of a maid in black dress and starched white cap and apron pushing a tea cart. She set the tray on the table; it had three cups, two pots, and a plate of biscuits. As she left, Ruby poured tea for Yang and chocolate for herself and Jaune, then snatched three macaroons off the biscuit plate.
"Thanks," Jaune said. Not only was the tea bad at Scotland Yard, it wasn't even one of his favorite beverages.
"We chocolate-lovers have to stick together, right?" Ruby smirked. "Now, c'mon, what's on your mind? You wouldn't have come if you didn't want to talk it over."
"Have either of you ever heard of the Phantom Gentleman?"
Ruby's face lit up.
"The thief? No one knows his name, but the Police Gazette calls that?"
Jaune sighed again.
"Does that mean that you've been assigned to that case?"
"Uh-huh, and he's delivered another of his warning messages, in triplicate, no less. One copy to us, one copy to the victim, and one to Burnham Brown of the Star, just in case anyone misses it. Why does he do that?"
"Well," Ruby suggested, "he obviously wants fame and publicity, so that's why he tells the papers."
"And sending a copy to the owner is a direct threat to challenge or intimidate them, but he also spreads it around so they can't just go and ignore it all," Yang contributed.
"Ignore it? Why would they do that?" her sister asked. It was Jaune who answered.
"To avoid an embarrassing scandal, for one thing. There's a lot of people who would rather lose the money from the theft than be subject to public scrutiny. And then there's other people who would rather handle things privately. Like, if the Gentleman was going to rob the Schnees, I doubt they'd want to have police guards. They'd have a small army of their own and probably some giant war automaton thing and we'd never hear a thing about it."
"Which would be amazing," Ruby said. "I bet they have all kinds of prototypes and things that we could never even imagine that Dust can do."
Yang snickered at Ruby's open admiration of Dust technology, which drew a sharp look from her sister.
"Anyway, Jaune, what is he going after?"
"The Star of the Tsang, the giant ruby owned by Sir Reginald Galton-Chadbourne."
"The explorer? Hey, he got that on his last expedition, didn't he? They say that only he and one of the crew got out alive, and he spent four months in a hospital in Rangoon afterwards. The only things he ever said about what happened after the crash were delirious ramblings about 'the children of shadows' and 'the elephant god,' and when he woke he claimed to have no memory of it all!"
It will be noted that Ruby had quite a fondness for sentimentalist literature, both real and fictional.
"Wow, I had to look that up in one of our files. I knew I came to the right place."
Ruby smiled, flattered, and inhaled a macaroon.
"Mmph mmrf." She paused to chew and swallow. "That is, it sounds like exactly the kind of thing a Gentleman Thief like this Phantom would steal. It's not the money, it's the drama and the challenge."
"Drama and challenge. That's it, all right. He puts himself on the spot, making sure that the police know that he's coming, and then he goes and gets away with it anyway. He makes us look like fools and puts himself in the headlines. The Police Gazette sells lots of copies, and the Star's full of editorials about how crime is out of control in the city and the government needs to reform."
"The government does need to reform, Jaune."
"Don't tell my dad that. Or my grandfather, for that matter."
"Yeah, guys with 'Colonel' and 'General' in front of their names usually aren't too far out in front of the reform crowd," Yang said.
Ruby gave Jaune a sympathetic look, knowing how the reminder of his family's history stung. Six generations of Arcs had served with distinction in the British army, but Jaune had washed out of his lieutenant's commission and had only ended up in the police as a last-second attempt to serve his country, and he'd only gotten that appointment because the previous Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren, was a friend and former military colleague of Colonel Sir Noirtier Arc.
"Whether it does or not isn't the point. The point is that the Phantom Gentleman makes the police look like useless incompetents. I want to catch him, Ruby. I want to show him up as the fool, the clown, whatever it takes to bring him down!" He smacked his fist against his knee in frustration.
"Jaune, you really shouldn't be taking this so personally. I mean, this guy isn't like Jack the Ripper, out there killing people or something. He's not stealing from anybody who can't afford it; all he takes are fancy jewels and artwork and stuff that's probably all insured anyway, so the companies full of pencil-pushers are the only ones who lose. It's just a big game to the public. Sure, we love to read about what tricks and gadgets he came up with to get away with the crime, but no one thinks badly of the police because of it except some stuffed shirts that can't take a joke."
"Aw, not you too, Yang!" he moaned. "That's it. That's exactly what they all think, what everybody thinks. Do you think I don't know why the Superintendent assigned the Phantom Gentleman case to me? They figure it's all a big joke, and it doesn't matter if I screw it up. Do you know how many constables were assigned to the case? Two! We know that notorious thief is going to attempt to steal a twenty-five-thousand-pound ruby from a knight of the realm, and I get two men to try to stop him with."
He hung his head, making Ruby think he looked like a puppy someone had just kicked. Then the miserable look was wiped away by a surprisingly fierce scowl.
"I want to catch him. I want to bring that smirking, strutting bastard—pardon me, Ruby—down. I want to show the world that even if he's nothing but a joke, that we aren't."
That you aren't, Ruby amended Jaune's thought mentally. That Jaune Arc is more than just a dead branch on the family tree.
"But I need help," he finished off, sighing. "I can't protect against everything he might try with just two constables. At that rate, we'll just be making ourselves targets along with the ruby."
"I remember reading about that net he used in the art gallery theft. The papers said the watchman didn't get cut down until nine hours later."
Jaune looked hopefully in Yang's direction.
"I don't suppose that you'd be willing to lend a hand? My superiors wouldn't like it, much, but as a bounty huntress you'd have a professional interest in the problem. That's enough legitimacy to at least..."
His voice trailed off, as she was already shaking her head.
"Sorry, but no thanks."
"Why not, Yang?" Ruby asked, surprised.
"It's not exactly a professional problem. Scotland Yard doesn't pay rewards for thief-taking, if the insurance companies are acting they've hired their own inquiry agents instead of posting a general reward, and the same is true for the Gentleman's victims."
"But he's still a criminal!"
"Yeah, but...he's a fun criminal."
Jaune blinked in surprise.
"Fun? You think he's fun?"
"Yeah. That whole 'Phantom Gentleman' routine is a better show than anything on Drury Lane." She reached out and snagged the last macaroon before Ruby cleaned out the biscuit tray. "I just wish I coud get a seat up front instead of having to hear about it after the fact." She bit down into the macaroon, savoring the taste.
"Yang, what are you up to?" Ruby said. "You sound like when you and Dad have one of your schemes. I sense the telltale warning signs of you being a big sister."
Yang washed down the macaroon with a mouthful of tea.
"What? I just said that I don't have a reason to put myself in the middle of Jaune and his arch-nemesis."
Ruby looked at Jaune, then back at Yang, then made a face like she'd just had a thought she was trying not to blurt out
"Some arch-nemesis. That's like saying Ruby is Weiss Schnee's arch-nemesis in Society."
"She did throw a glass of punch on her at her own birthday party. That sounds pretty nemesis-like."
"It was an accident!"
Jaune couldn't help chuckling. Ruby went right on talking and seemed to miss his levity, which was a good thing given what she said next.
"And Jaune's right. You can't stop a dreadnought with a hot-air balloon, no matter how much you want to. The Phantom Gentleman's got the advantage of advance planning and all those phantom-thief tricks he pulls. It's a matter of sheer force."
"So?" Yang asked, wondering where she was going with this.
"So, I'm going to help Jaune balance the scales."
"Really? You're going to help out?"
"Absolutely. I don't think it's very fun at all that my friend is stuck in a one-sided fight against a thief and some people want the thief to win."
"Hey, I never said that," Yang pointed out.
"Besides, it's not as if my social calendar is full these days. Waiting around Sir Reginald's house for a thief to show up is as close to I get to an evening out in Society."
~X X X~
A/N: Kudos to Dramon Creator and anyone else who spotted Ruby and Jaune as the couple who caused Weiss's mishap at the ball in chapter 1 of Belladonna Lilies! Also, thanks to Zephyrus Genesis for noting the huuuuuge continuity error in this chapter so I could make snazzy corrections and embarrass myself less!