Another Sunday and another chapter. We're moving towards the end of this, and for those unaware, my plan is to write an ending that could very well "be" an ending, but to also keep it open to a possible sequel. Volume 4 of the show, however, didn't interest me much from what I've seen on it, and there's little plot shown as of yet, so I'll wait til vol5 to see what it is RT actually intend for the story, then decide if PA is to return.

Anyway, can't believe how much they really crammed into volume three. It seems fast-paced in the show, I can admit, and I recall some saying RT admitted to cutting several fights due to a lack of time, but while writing this from a behind the scenes PoV with Jaune as a teacher, I feel like there's just so much I need to cram in! I'll be honest, I'm trying to be selective and not make things drag out, but it's hard. RT wrote in so many little things, then skipped or cut half of them mid-volume. For instance, 2v2 fights for Pyrrha's team, anything between fights (I mean they eat at a ramen stand, but then we see very little else but fights), what the faculty do, etc… We see hints that there are breaks between the days (i.e. where Weiss and Winter attempt summoning), but it just sort of shows that, then skips straight to next day, next fight. I guess they were strapped for time. Anyway, sorry for rant – on with the chapter.


Cover Art: Exvnir

Chapter 50


"And that's the end of the round," Peter sighed, voice devoid of the enthusiasm it showed for the last few bouts. "Emerald and Mercury of Team EMBR, Haven Academy, reign in victorious over Coco and Yatsuhashi of Beacon. They… they…" Peter's head fell, leaving Jaune to leap in.

"They fought well," he said, "and a round of applause for them for that. One as well for our victors, who push on into the singles round, but for now ladies and gentlemen, that marks the end of the first day doubles rounds of the tournament. I hope you all enjoyed, and be sure to remember, just because the rounds are over, the entertainment is not. We have live music, carnival games and great food for the rest of the afternoon. For now, though, this is Jaune Arc and Peter Port, signing out!"

The crowd cheered, almost certainly not at them, but it was nice to imagine it was. Jaune, on the other hand, could only sigh, relaxing back into his chair as the windows shuttered down and cut off the thousands of people outside. He looked to his left, then sighed again.

"Peter… what's wrong? Are you…" Jaune paused and then leaned a little closer. "Are you crying!?"

"N-No," Peter sniffed and wiped his eyes. "It's not like I had fifteen thousand on them or anything, my boy. It's just a manly speck of dust in my eye."

"The dust is manly?"

"It has to be to bother someone like me!" Peter said. "No mere dust could make my eyes water so; no pain could force the nectar that is my tears from my fortified pores. Nothing could-"

Ugh, good job I didn't bother putting any money on the teams. Then again, have I even really spent any money since working here? I'm not even sure I've looked at my bank account. Well, there was the alcohol in his cupboard, which had been cruelly destroyed. He'd still yet to stock up on that. Then there was Neo, who'd almost certainly stolen his card at some point and bought ice-cream off it. He wasn't stupid enough to imagine she'd paid for any of that.

"What did you think of that last fight?" he interrupted, curious for the older man's experience. "Didn't you think it odd how Coco just looked at that girl, then ignored her?"

"Are you honestly asking me that?" Peter's face was incredibly deadpan, a single eyebrow raised and his moustache twitching in clear agitation. "Are you honestly asking me that, my boy?"

Jaune coughed and glanced away. "Okay, yeah, good point – that was kinda obvious. What do you think happened?"

"Battle nerves, a mistake, over-confidence," Peter shrugged and collapsed back into his seat. "It happens to the best of us. Well, not me, of co-"

"But for their team?" Jaune interrupted, before the man could go off on one. "Coco doesn't seem like the type to suddenly develop performance anxiety. They've been on missions with you before, haven't they? I mean, they're strong enough to get this far as a three-man unit."

To do all of that, then fall to something as simple as nerves? It didn't make sense.

"You must remember, my boy, they are performing in front of tens of thousands of people here, then hundreds of thousands more across all of Remnant. I think a little bit of stage fright is warranted here."

And, of course, that helped to remind Jaune of just how many people were listening to him, too, which was enough to make his throat seize up again. Luckily, the day was over, so it wouldn't cause any issues. Still, could Coco really have been affected by just nerves? From anyone else, he might have accepted it. No, it wasn't even Coco at all… if they'd faced any other team, he'd have accepted so simple an answer. But not this…

He refused to believe Cinder's team had won because of something so simple…

In fact, he wasn't going to accept it. "Well, I'm going to call it for the day," he said, standing up and putting his coat back on. He picked up Cinder's scroll too, if only to avoid her wrath if someone removed it. "Will you be okay?"

"I'll be fine, my boy," Peter mourned. "I'll just… drown my woes tonight; imagine how I'll cope until next payday."

Jaune sighed and looked down at the man, wondering if he should offer to lend him some lien. Peter sure loved his bets, though. In fact, wasn't there one about who he would end up dating? Come to think of it, Peter had been the one to bet he wouldn't date any of the students, but would instead go for an older woman.

"Are you coming to the festival social dinner the day after tomorrow?"

"Hm? Yes, why?" Peter looked up at him.

"No reason," Jaune shrugged, hiding an amused little smile. It looked like the man would be catching a windfall soon enough. "I'm going there as well, that's all. Anyway, I'll see you tomorrow, Pete."

The older man waved him off, and as Jaune let himself out and pushed down the corridors of Amity, the smile slowly fell from his face. Emerald and Mercury, Cinder's spies… they'd decided not to use Neo in the fight. Had that always been the plan, or something they changed at the last minute because of him?

If Neo was only ever intended to fill the fourth slot on the team, then why bother with her if they didn't trust her? They could have used anyone, and remained confident he had no idea what team was hers.

They needed Neo for something, and it was for something only she could do. But what?

His feet instinctively took him in the direction of the various tents set up near the arena. Some of the medics working there shot him confused looks, but none questioned his presence, even as he tugged a curtain aside and entered one of them.

"Prof?" Coco asked, looking up from her seat. The girl looked worse for wear, but in terms of injuries, only had a few bruises and low aura. It would have drawn too much attention for her opponents to do anything worse. Cinder no doubt wanted them to remain under the radar.

It was a little late for that.

"Hey, Coco. How you doing?"

The brunette coughed and looked aside, not embarrassed, but rather frustrated if he was any judge. "Fine," she grunted. He crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow.

"You don't look fine."

"Damn, that's savage. I'll have you know I always look fine." She smirked up at him and tilted her beret, but there was a certain energy and lustre lacking from the motion. He'd give it a six out of ten at best, and the way she slumped afterwards didn't help. "Not working?" she asked with a little sigh.

"Not really." He strolled over to take a seat beside her on the hospital bed. She wasn't hurt, and in fact sat atop it normally, leaving room for him. "I guess you're pretty upset about your loss, huh?"

"You make me sound like such a sore loser." Coco tried to smile but failed. Her head fell into her hands. "Ugh… I wouldn't feel like this if it was a loss I could respect, but the way that ended? I looked like a chump – a total amateur. I mean, what's the point of even training if I can literally look at someone and mistake them for my teammate?"

What? Jaune's eyes narrowed, his eyes whipping to hers.

"Okay, sure, they both have tanned skin, but there's a bit of a difference between the two, I think." Coco held a hand out at what might have been Emerald's height as a reference, then simply pointed up towards the ceiling of the tent.

"Go back a minute." he interrupted, "You said you saw your teammate?"

"Maybe I… no, you know what, I wasn't wrong. Everyone's said so, even the medics, and I know what it looked like on that screen, but I'm not insane." Coco looked up into his eyes, her own furious – whether that be with herself or everyone else, he didn't know. "I saw what I saw, and what I saw was Yats standing behind me. I'm not so green that I'd make a mistake like that. Then, when I looked forward and saw him unconscious, it was too late to defend myself when that tart attacked me."

"Tart?"

"I'm pissed off, okay? Let me have my insults."

He chuckled and let it go, even if he wasn't sure what to say. He'd watched the fight just like everyone else, and never once had he mistaken that girl for Coco's seven-foot teammate. But could she really have, either? As she said, there was a bit of a difference between him and her opponent.

"I'm not even sure what to believe," Coco sighed. "Yats and Fox are saying I must have been mistaken, but… ugh… do you believe me, prof? Or do you think I've lost it too?"

Objectively? Yes, he thought she was wrong.

Subjectively…?

"I believe you."

"What? Seriously?"

Jaune nodded, bringing a smile of utter relief to Coco's face. Cinder's team… like he'd thought earlier, he refused to believe anything with them was a coincidence. Maybe it was paranoia, but if so, it would only save his life.

"Tell me more about it," he urged, "Did you feel anything? Was there anything odd?"

"Nothing at all. I… there was a strange moment. Part of me thought it odd, wrong, because Yats wouldn't ever be behind me when he's the front-line fighter. If he was, I'd have been torn up by them long before that, so there was a definite sense of wrongness, but nothing I could place at the time. It was all too sudden."

Hm, that didn't sound like Neo's doing. No, it couldn't have been, since everyone could see what she did, and we'd all clearly seen a green-haired girl.

Some other ability, then? It had to be a Semblance of some kind. There was no other explanation that fit, not if he was discounting it being a mistake on Coco's part. For now, he'd run with the idea. If he was wrong, then nothing happened, but if he ignored this and was right, then it would be one more tool Cinder had over him.

"Not sure what I'm going to do in the meantime," Coco sighed. "Me and Yats were all pumped up for this. It sounds arrogant but… I really thought we'd get further, maybe even win."

Yeah, Peter too. Jaune thought with a little sigh. He wasn't sure what to suggest, not with Coco looking so beat up and his attention elsewhere. It was hard to judge, but he was fairly confident that in a one versus one, Coco could tangle with any member of Team RWBY, and probably RVNN too. Maybe Pyrrha could give her a run for her money, but the girl had experience on her side. If she'd been so casually dismissed by Cinder's people, what did that mean for his friends?

Unless…? Jaune's eyes narrowed as he hid a grin and nudged Coco with his elbow. "Why not start by getting your own back?" he suggested.

"Do what, now?" She looked confused, but not disinterested.

"Well, you're still annoyed about your loss, right?" He waited for Coco to nod before he went on. "Then why not do something about it? You've got more experience on how to fight those two than any other team still in the tournament. If you pooled that knowledge, you might be able to help another Beacon team beat them. I know it sounds petty, but they'd probably do the same for their friends too. All's fair in love and war, after all."

"Hm…" A wicked smirk slowly crept across the girl's face. "Bun-bun's team is still in the tournament. It wouldn't do to let my old teammate face them unprepared now, would it?"

"Not when she might fall for the same trick you did," Jaune prodded. Of course, if Coco shared what she knew with Team RVNN, then it would inevitably make its way to Team RWBY too. They wouldn't face Emerald or Mercury in the doubles rounds, since they were already through, but it might help them in the singles.

"Don't think I don't know what you're doing, prof," Coco said, standing up and forcing him to do the same. "Talk about being biased, huh? You want Beacon to win that badly?"

Not quite, but close enough. He didn't care about the tournament at all, but he wanted Beacon to win against Cinder. He shrugged his shoulders and smiled at Coco "I never said I was a particularly honourable person… besides, wouldn't you want Velvet to win?"

"I wanted to win," Coco said, "but failing that, there's only one other team I'd want to win more." Coco pushed past him with a grin, but he yelped and leapt forward when she slapped a hand against his ass. "Thanks for getting me out of my funk. I'd pay you back, but considering how that went the last time, I'm not sure Miss Goodwitch would appreciate me pushing you up against a wall again."

His cheeks flushed, damn them. That had been his first kiss, not that he'd ever admit it to her – or to Glynda, heaven forbid she ever found out. Sure, they hadn't been together at the time, but he had the ominous suspicion she still wouldn't appreciate knowing he'd made out with a student before her.

"Shame, though," Coco grinned and pulled the curtains back. Her sunglasses fell down her nose and she sent him a lecherous wink. "You've got a tight ass. Can't believe I didn't notice before."

She cackled and let the curtain fell behind her as she left, waving one hand over her shoulder.

That girl, Jaune sighed. She'll be the death of me. Still, the information she'd given might prove useful… if there was anything he could even do about it. Emerald or Mercury had some kind of ability, some kind of Semblance, but he was no closer to understanding what.

And if he did find out and share it with others, what would Cinder do in return?

"Never easy," Jaune sighed and pushed his way out of the medical tent, back into Amity Colosseum. "Nothing's ever easy…"

/-/

Yang sighed and wiped a hand across her forehead. The day was already smouldering, a perfect accompaniment to her mood, since both sapped her of energy and left her feeling heavy and lethargic. She sipped of her grape soda, pulled a face at the bitter taste, and promptly wished Weiss was around, if only to dump an iceberg on her.

She sighed again, this one louder than before.

"That's quite the sigh," a familiar voice said. Yang poked her head up to see Professor Arc stood above her, looking down. At any other time that might have been enough to bring a smile to her face, and she tried this time too. It felt weak, though.

"Hey," she called back, then laid on the grass once more. "Ignore me, prof. The heat's just getting to me."

"You were fine yesterday."

Yang sighed again, though this time she kept it silent. For someone so persuasive and smart, he sure could miss a hint every now and then. Much like he had all her hints of liking him, but now of wanting to be alone.

"Okay, fine, I'm brooding. You happy?"

"You're brooding? I wouldn't have taken you for the sort."

"Well, that's why I'm not very good at it, isn't it? I need practice."

He sighed and planted his hands on his hips. The look he gave her was a stern one, which normally would have made her pulse race a little and for all the wrong reasons. Now, it just made her place an arm across her vision and close her eyes.

"Why not hang out with your team?"

"Can't." She heard him sigh at the one word answer.

"Why not?"

"Weiss is off with her sister learning some super-secret Schnee special move. Ruby is with our uncle, and Blake has vanished."

"Vanished?" Jaune sounded worried, but she waved a hand.

"She does it all the time. Whenever she wants to read and not be disturbed, she sneaks off." Not that Yang didn't have a vague idea where she was, the whole smut shop and seafood restaurant being obvious choices. She just wasn't in the mood.

"I see… and you didn't want to spend time with Ruby and your uncle?" He looked to the side and mumbled something about not even knowing they had one. Wait, hadn't he been on a mission with Qrow? Ah, never mind.

"I'm… avoiding him," she admitted. "That's kinda why I'm here."

An awkward silence settled between them, which was odd since the entire area was filled with noise. Laughing kids, chattering adults and the general sound of hundreds of feet cracking against pavement. Yang shuffled a little, wishing she could take back those words and say something lighter, maybe with a pun so he'd laugh and she could feel stupid.

Fortunately, he broke it. "Want to get some ice-cream?"

She blinked in surprise and pulled her arm back to look at him. The sun blinded her for a moment, but she managed to make out his face and the tired smile he wore. "Ice-cream?" she asked, confused.

"Sure. I've got it on record from more people than I can count that ice-cream improves any situation. It's hot out too and I've got nothing to do."

Heh, how ironic. At any other time she'd have been over the moon for such an offer, even if ice-cream felt more childish than romantic. Right now, she felt tired and lethargic, though.

But she didn't want to feel that way.

"Eh, sure," she sighed, "why not?"

Jaune dragged her up with a smile, giving her a second to dust grass off her outfit before he led her through the crowd and between some stalls. Amity was packed full of them, not to mention people – both students and visitors. It was almost weird to imagine she and her team had planned most of them, but that thought fled soon enough when he led her to an eatery which had a silver bar and stools for them to sit on. It was modelled after a nightclub, but all the signage showed they worked with ice-cream and milkshakes rather than booze. That was fine with her; she wasn't in the mood to get drunk.

"I'll buy," he offered, taking her order and handing over his card to the waiter.

"How sweet," she grinned back. "Careful, prof, I might end up falling for you."

Not that she hadn't already, or that he didn't know well enough. Still, he smiled back, and when their treats arrived, Yang let out a long breath as she sipped her ice-cold strawberry milkshake. Damn him for being right… but it did make her feel a little better.

Almost without thinking about it, and between each spoonsful of sugary goodness, she told him about what she'd found out that morning, about the picture her uncle had shown her – of the mother that abandoned her. She spoke of her frustration when Qrow wouldn't tell her more, when he covered her face with his thumb and advised her to give up on ever finding the woman.

"My own mother," Yang growled when she was finished. "I mean, how can he tell me to just give up like that? And yet, he still knows and talks to her. Does that mean he doesn't care about me enough to be offended on my behalf? Or worse, does he agree with my mom's decision to abandon me?" She sighed and shoved another dollop of ice-cream into her mouth. "I just don't know what to do," she said around it.

"It sounds rough," he said. "And you say you think it's the same woman who saved you on the train?"

"I'm sure of it. She was masked, sure, but her outfit looked identical." It wasn't like Qrow had done much to hide that, either. Oh, he'd refused to answer, of course, but he hadn't said no. Yang groaned and leaned one elbow on the bar. "I just don't know. I mean, she saved me. That means she has to like me, right?"

"I guess…"

"But she left dad and I behind. I get that she might have had reasons for it, but to not even send a letter?" Yang buried her face in her hands and glowered into her milkshake. "That pretty much shows she doesn't care. I've got evidence that she does and doesn't care, which doesn't exactly make things easier when her own brother won't even tell me which way she is."

"Do you want to meet her that badly?" Jaune asked. "I thought you were happy with Summer?"

Yang's head shot up, eyes wide. "I am," she protested. "Summer was great, don't get me wrong. I shouldn't even care about this woman. Summer wanted me, even if I wasn't her child. She always had me on her lap, always called me her daughter and always made me call her mom." Yang sighed and shook her head. "I'm not even sure why I'm so hung up over this. Summer was perfect and I don't want another mom. Even if my real one came back, I wouldn't be able to treat her like I did Summer. She's burned that bridge."

"Yet you still want to know."

"I… I guess I do." She took another glob of ice-cream and devoured it, hoping she'd get brain freeze and thus save herself. Sadly, life didn't work that way, and all she got was agony as Jaune rubbed her back and she clenched her hands onto the bar's surface. Great, and now he was laughing at her and she looked like an idiot.

"In an ideal world," he said once she was back to normal, "If everything was perfect, what would you want?"

"Other than Summer back? I dunno… I don't want my real mom to come back and try to be that, and I sure as hell don't want her near Ruby, if she couldn't even be a mother to me. I guess I just want answers. I want to know why." Yang looked down at the bar, then smirked a little. "And maybe to punch her in the face, but maybe that's just my fists talking."

"She sounds like she deserves it," Jaune mumbled. The quiet words brought a smile to her face.

"Thanks. So… what do you think? What should I do?"

"Honestly? I've got no idea."

"Heh…" Yang chuckled into her arms. "My family life is so messed up, even a counsellor doesn't know what to suggest." That was rich, even if it left her bitter inside. She wasn't used to making those kinds of choices, at least now in a way that fixed anything. What if she messed up again, like she had when they were younger?

"I'm not an official counsellor," he said, "and even if I was, I doubt I'd be one to talk. You've seen me with my family."

"True… I guess even someone like you has issues."

"Someone like me?"

Yang shrugged. "Strong, skilled, brave… someone who has already made their mark. I guess it just seemed like you'd know what to do or not face the same problems I do. Guess it was pretty arrogant to think otherwise."

Professor Arc looked at her for a long moment, and then turned back to the waiter. "Another round for us, please, ice-cream and milkshake."

Yang opened her mouth to point out she wasn't hungry, but closed it a moment later. Who was she to turn down free ice-cream? Instead, she grinned and accepted it as it came, savouring the cool taste once more.

"I'm no more special than you," Jaune said. "And I'm not as great as you seem to think I am, either. I certainly didn't use to be, anyway. When I was a kid, I was such a weakling… I used to rely on my sisters for everything." He shook his head and sighed. "I used to get bullied, and I'd run to them and they'd fight them off. If I was hurt, I ran to them. If I was scared…" He shrugged.

"You, weak and scared?" Yang mused. It must have been a long time ago, back before Vacuo.

"I was young once," he sighed. "The point is, I used to hide away behind them, and they always accepted me. Sure, they got annoyed at times, but they were always there to keep me safe and there were so many of them that if one was busy, there'd be another to watch over me. I guess, in a sense, they were like you with Ruby."

Like her? Yang smiled at the comparison, least of all because with her blonde hair and bright eyes, she could have passed as his sister with ease. "What changed?" she asked. "I've met your sisters. They… not to be mean, but they're complete assholes."

They belittled him, tried to control him – hell, according to Blake, his family had even attempted to drag him out of Beacon entirely. How could they have gone from someone like her, to something like this?

"They didn't change at all," he said. "I did."

"Huh?"

"I went from the kind of person who would rely on them, to someone who didn't need to. I guess I became more confident, more able to look after myself… or maybe I just didn't have the choice and had to change."

Vacuo, the trouble he'd faced there. She could imagine such a situation changing someone more than anything else. In such a scenario, it would have been impossible for his sisters to help him.

"The thing is," he continued, "They never realised that I'd changed, and I never really told them. They came to Beacon expecting me to be the same as I always was, and when I wasn't, they didn't know what to do. I guess they defaulted to what had always worked before. They thought I needed help, and decided to try and steal me away, to protect and look after me like they always used to."

"But you didn't want that," Yang guessed. Her eyes widened a second later as she imagined what she would feel if someone were to do that to her. "You got angry, didn't you?"

"I did… I felt so frustrated; so unreasonably annoyed that I lashed out a little, and then – because I didn't want to hear it – I went and ignored them too. It wasn't until one of them pointed it out to me that I realised I never gave them a chance. I just saw how they treated me and got upset, never realising that they were just doing what they thought I wanted." He sighed and rubbed his forehead. "How were they supposed to know I was completely different?"

"I guess they couldn't… geez, and me and the others thought they were complete scum."

"That's my fault too," he admitted. "If I'd just talked to them, they might not have acted like that. Now, they're pretty much pariahs in Beacon. It took Coral pointing it out to me, and she wasn't exactly kind about it."

"Coral?" Yang whispered, wracking her memory. What she came up with made her frown. "Oh, I remember her… she's the rude one. I've caught her staring at us a few times, it's kinda weird."

"She has difficulties with social things," he sighed.

"Yeah, same as Ruby, but you don't catch her saying things li-"

"Mental difficulties… one she was born with and can't control."

Yang's insults cut off. Her eyes widened as she felt an overwhelming sense of guilt weight down on her. "Oh," she said, eyes wide. "Oh, shit, I didn't mean anything like that. I didn't even realise."

"It's fine, Yang. Coral wouldn't even notice, and if she did, she likely wouldn't care. It's something she's had since she was born and we've all sort of gotten used to it. She pretends well enough and I've seen people with her illness be far worse off. If anything, she's pretty lucky."

Still, that didn't do much to stop her feeling like an absolute heel. I guess that's what dad means about my temper getting the better of me. I need to slow down and think things through a little more.

"So, what are you going to do about them?" she asked.

"I'm not sure. I'm kind of in the same situation as you, I guess."

Heh… somehow, that amused her more than she'd thought it would. Maybe it made her feel less alone, that someone like him could feel as insecure as she did. It meant she wasn't being dramatic, that she wasn't weak-willed for not knowing what to do.

"You want my advice?"

"Sure."

Yang blinked and looked towards him, surprised. "You actually want my advice?"

"I don't see why not," Jaune said, turning to her with a tired smile. "You're not exactly an idiot, Yang. I'd trust your advice more than I would most people's. Certainly, more than I would Port's anyway. He'd probably just start on a long story about when he was young." She laughed at the thought of it. He totally would, as well.

"If I were you," she said, "I'd go and talk to them. I'd just lay it out, say what I did and say what I wanted, then see what they say in return."

"That simple, huh?"

"I'm a direct kind of girl, I thought you knew that by now." She smirked at him and made a kissing motion, delighting in the way his cheeks darkened. Oh yeah, he remembered, alright. "Seriously, though, if Ruby wanted me to stop doing something, I'd feel awful if I kept doing it and never knew it hurt her. I'd rather she just told me so I could stop."

"Maybe you're right," he sighed. "I guess it's just hard to admit I'm wrong."

"Eh, I wouldn't say you're wrong. You changed, but they should have noticed and looked before assuming anything. At most, you're only as wrong as they are. Still, family is family… at least yours didn't abandon you. They love you more than my mom does me. That has to say something."

It also killed her fledgling good mood too, reminding her of just why she was avoiding Qrow and Ruby.

"Do you want my advice in return?" Jaune asked.

She nodded.

"Don't look for her."

Yang's shoulders stiffened. She hadn't expected that. "I thought you'd tell me to follow my heart or something," she whispered. "I guess you think it's a fool's errand too, then."

"Not that," he said. "I'd tell you not to look for her, but it's not because I don't think it could work, and if you choose to ignore my advice, then I'll still support you however I can."

Huh? She glanced over at him, eyes confused. "Then why?" she said. "Why tell me not to?"

"Because she doesn't deserve you, Yang. Because she sounds like a bitch!" The professor's fist struck the counter, and although the waiter looked over in alarm, the angry huntsman's sapphire eyes made him rush over to serve someone else. Those same eyes turned to her, and pierced straight through her. "It's not the best advice, I know – and honestly, I think it's pretty selfish advice on my part. You're special, though, Yang."

Special?

"You're strong and brave, you've sacrificed so much for Ruby without asking for anything in return and your entire team relies on you to be the rock for them. I'd say to quit on that woman because frankly, she doesn't deserve to be a part of your life. If she can't see how wonderful you are, then screw her!" He flung one arm to the side, expression set in a deep frown. "She's the one who loses out and she doesn't get to come back now and pretend she had even a thing to do with making you the woman you are today. In fact, all she's doing now is making you feel even worse. To hell with her. But…" The Professor's voice softened, "but if you still want to look… I won't stop you. Just don't let the thought of what she thinks cloud your mind. Coral's a strange one, but she does have one thing she says that I've always tried to take to heart. Call it advice from a brutal pragmatist if you will, a person who sees the world in a different way to us normal people."

"What… is it?" she asked.

"Why should I be offended by the opinion of someone I don't care for the opinion of?" He smirked at her. "She always said that, and I never quite understood what it meant when I was younger. It makes sense, though. If Summer or Ruby said something about you, you'd take it to heart because you trust and respect them. But if someone who doesn't even know you says you're not worth anything, then why the hell should you care? I could say your dad's an idiot. It wouldn't make it true, though, since I don't even know the guy."

He rose up from his stool and polished off the last of his milkshake. She made no move to follow, but as he walked past her, he laid a hand on her shoulder.

"That's what I think, anyway," he said. "You've got too much going for you to let some old crone get you down." He patted her shoulder and walked by. "I'll see you round, Yang. Make sure to kick ass in your fight tomorrow, okay? I'm deadly serious when I say I expect you and Weiss to win. You have to win."

His footsteps echoed away, until she was alone at the bar. She looked down at the silver surface, her reflection in it, and then the remains of the strawberry milkshake before her.

With a grin, she reached forward and finished it off. "Hah," she gasped, enjoying the sweet taste and the cold sensation. It clashed wonderfully with the hot sun on the back of her neck. She slammed the glass down and burped loudly.

Someone looked her way in disgust, but what the hell did she care about their opinion for? She was special, she had her team – and there wasn't no one who was going to take that away. He'd said so, and his opinion was something she did care for. Enough so that she felt butterflies in her stomach, and that her grin might grow so large it exploded.

And hey, Blake had promised to play some of those carnival games with her. The bookworm thought she'd forgotten, but she totally hadn't. With a laugh, she kicked herself off the stool and cracked her neck.

The prof was right. It was too good a day to waste thinking about some random woman.

It was time to drag her partner out to have some fun.

/-/

Oxford Ram, or Adam Taurus as he was truly known, detached himself from the surrounding humans and watched the two blondes go their separate ways. Rage rose up inside him, as it had for the past few days, but yet again he bit down on it. Fall would become angry, and while he was confident he could survive her ire, there was no telling what it might mean for his people.

The blonde girl was Blake's new partner, however. Her fake partner, for the girl already had one, even if she believed otherwise. His hand tightened on the hilt of his sword, but the unfamiliar blade did little to calm him.

The professor was no better… if only for how he'd caught Blake looking at him.

They'll both be killed in time, he reminded himself. That woman might think herself so smart in her plans to recruit the man, but arrogance had blinded her. This Professor Arc would not be swayed to her side.

He could tell.

The blonde girl pushed by him, not even noticing his presence – nor how close to death she came. His breath caught, but he forced himself to walk by her too. It was not her place to die right now. That could wait; preferably until he could make his beloved watch.

Instead, it was the professor he followed, far enough away not to be noticed, and with the thick crowds about them, it was a simple task. The man would know him as one of Cinder's if he caught him, but that would lead to nothing. The huntsman could hardly attack him now, not when so many innocents surrounded them.

Sure, she might be angered, but that was of little interest to him.

He walks like a civilian, Adam thought, watching the man's easy gait. He doesn't move like a warrior, yet he doesn't seem at ease, either. The man's head would tilt left and right at various moments, something that might have seemed an unconscious tick, were it not for Adam's insight. He's constantly looking for threats. He appreciates the presence of this crowd as little as I do. Interesting…

A man who walked across a battlefield moved with one hand on their weapon, such was the nature of a warrior's mind. This Arc did not do that. He moved like a man who expected an attack, but knew it could not be countered with force. He was like a spring, ready to uncoil and move – but away; to flee or to draw his quarry elsewhere.

Was that a weakness, or a strength? Adam wasn't sure, but either way, it meant the fool would not be cut down by a surprise attack.

That arrogant woman expected him to die against this man, he knew. She might think herself so smart, that she had him wrapped around her finger, but Adam had not risen so high by being nothing more than a tool.

He would let her believe what she liked so long as she delivered on her promises, and as always, it was better to be underestimated.

I will not make the same mistake. If she fears him – even if she cannot admit it – then it is because he poses a danger. Hence, his decision to spy on Arc when he could. A rare moment in which his presence would not be missed by her peons.

He'd watched the Arc since he came from the medical tent, where he'd visited the girl his two teammates had vanquished. He was not so much a fool that he couldn't see the connection there, but unless Cinder asked, he wouldn't bring himself to inform of her of the danger. His people were already in position, and armed with the dust and resources she provided. If she were to fall now, it would matter little to them.

So, he would allow the professor whatever knowledge he had gleaned. More focus on those two was attention taken away from him, and that have him the edge. It spoke of cunning, however. Much like he, Arc sought an advantage over his foes.

If the thought didn't disgust him, he might have said the two of them were similar… certainly, their current actions spoke of it.

Then again, the fool wasted his time with a morose girl, and thus ruined any respect he might have garnered. You're well aware of the danger ahead, Arc, and yet you pause to cheer up some melodramatic chit? Fool… if you wish for victory, you must grasp it with both hands, and be willing to do `whatever` is needed.

That was a lesson Blake failed to learn. He'd held such hope for her too, his beloved. The betrayal still stung; the wound worse than any he'd encountered by blade or bullet.

It would be good to vent that, whether it be upon Blake, the partner she loved so, or this man that would dare take her attention, that would believe himself worth of her respect – her admiration. His eyes blazed behind the thick glasses, his teeth grinding together as he considered throwing his disguise aside and avenging himself at that very moment.

A figure stepped out between he and his quarry, ruining that opportunity. He snarled and moved towards them, unfamiliar with the blonde haired, short girl. He came to a halt, however, when her lips pulled into a wide smirk, bright teeth peeking from one side.

She blinked, and when her eyes opened, they were now pink and brown.

He didn't fail to note how her right hand hovered beneath her left elbow, fingers brushing against a brown handle. She stood before him, challenging and prepared.

Unlike the human, he knew she would not quail at the thought of murder, no matter how many surrounded them.

"So, this is to be your choice?" Adam asked. "You will side with him? I'm sure Cinder would love to know."

The girl flicked her hair back, eyes never leaving him. She seemed unconcerned, amused even. Did she not recognise the danger, or was it that she simply didn't care?

Cinder needs her co-operation for now. She's irreplaceable, but that won't be forever. Surely, she knows that, but if so, why does she risk herself for him? His hand strayed to the sword on his hip. It wasn't his, but he felt it close enough to kill her if needed.

There was a near-silent click from the girl too, the sound of a weapon being loosened in its sheathe.

Adam's breath evened. The noise about him became muted, dulled. All that existed was the threat before him, and those mismatched eyes, locked onto his. His left foot inched forward, and she tensed in return.

Her dangerous smirk didn't waver, but it did become a little strained.

She remained in his way, however.

His fingers almost cracked when he pried them off his sword. So stiff were they that he kept them curled by his waist. The girl relaxed a little too, though not by much. She was still prepared, as she ought to be. We will come to blades one day, he realised, with a cold certainty that made him watch her with cautious eyes.

"Is that is your choice, then you had best be prepared for the consequences."

She grinned back, that dangerous smirk she so often wore, but now somewhat colder, forged with an edge that could cut through flesh. She knew too, it seemed. He wondered what the outcome of such a battle would be, but only for a moment.

The girl was slippery, but no match for him. She would die.

From the way her eyes watched him still, he felt she knew that too.

Adam turned and walked away, content with the message he'd left behind. She didn't follow, for he listened out for it and was prepared for the dagger in the back. She wisely chose not to attempt it, and for that, she would live a little longer.

Her interference mattered less than she thought it did, however, for he'd seen over her shoulder as the professor greeted several girls that looked strikingly similar to him. They'd appeared surprised, but soon welcomed the huntsman among them.

Every man had his weaknesses.

For Professor Jaune Arc, that might well be in the people he cared so much for.


Another chapter, and events progress. I wanted to investigate the idea of a little power play here, as like many antagonists early on in RWBY (even if I think V3 was the BEST writing they've done so far), it feels like Adam was put forward as your dime-a-dozen rent-a-baddie.

They kind of all were, with Cinder's motivation being little more than pure evil and only Roman's catching my heart, before they so brutally killed him. Sob. Anyway, I wanted to suggest a little more with Adam here. He knows what Cinder is trying to do with him, but still recognises her promises as something he and the White Fang need, and so is willing to place himself in risk to acquire it.

Oh, and as for his family, I'm likely going to skip their conversation. Trust from the above, which was meant as a rather overt hint, that Jaune did approach his sisters, and did engage them in the advised conversation by Yang. You'll see the `effects` and how things change, but I don't think the pacing is truly aided by writing out the conversation between them in full."


Omake: by Coeur al'Aran


Jaune settled in between his mother and Lavender, smiling as his younger sister offered him some popcorn from her bucket. He grabbed a few from her, then took the tub as well, which he held for her in case she got tired.

She rolled her eyes but smiled and let him. Just another one of the ways he'd changed, he guessed. Back when he was younger, he'd have felt too nervous to do anything like that – but now he was as stubborn as a mule.

"Another advert," his mother sighed, "I feel like they're really milking this."

"Someone definitely is," Jaune agreed, wondering if it was the strange force that somehow dictated his life. Almost as if in punishment, a bird flew above and pooped directly into his lap. "Great…"

"Shhh!" Lavender hushed, not having noticed as she watched the screen. Jaune sighed and did the same, leaning back.

The screen was black for a moment, before it flicked to what appeared to be a kitchen of all things. It looked like one of Beacon's common rooms; the same ones he'd caught Ruby making cookies in that one time. Ruby was there this time as well, though she stood beside Weiss.

Both seemed… a little wooden-faced.

"Hi, I'm Ruby Rose and I'm here with Weiss." Ruby said, and much like her face, the words felt awkward and stiff. The poor girl probably felt embarrassed to be on the camera. She could be so shy.

"HI RUBY!" Weiss said, just as wooden, just as overly loud.

"When Weiss needs to clean her kitchen, there's only one cleaner she uses, right Weiss?"

"Yes Ruby," Weiss said, one eye twitching. "I use Crescent Rose. I use it all over the house… it's great on lime scale and… oh my god, what on Remnant is `soap scum`? That sounds horrify-"

"Weiss!" Ruby hissed and elbowed her partner.

"Ah, I mean I would totally use it on soap scum, if I actually did any cleaning, that is. You could probably have your butlers do it for you, though." Ruby elbowed her partner again, but Weiss simply stapled a smile to her face and continued. "It tackles those stains with no problems, right Ruby?"

Weiss stood up straight and smiled at Ruby, who turned and smiled back. Well, they both peeled their lips back and exposed their teeth, which he supposed was the closest to a smile they could manage.

"And now for the tough test," Ruby said, then to his surprise pulled out Crescent Rose from behind her. "My own baby."

He blinked as she turned to a dirty-looking cooker and steadied her weapon. The force of the shot knocked her back, but that was small comfort to the cooker, which was devastated and blown to pieces by the high-powered dust-calibre weapon.

"Wow," Weiss gasped. "The dirt is gone… I mean, so is everything else, but the grime is definitely among the list."

Ruby smiled and pulled her weapon back onto her shoulder, cocking it and expelling a spent cartridge that clinked off the camera. "With this much power on the tough jobs, everyday cleaning is a doddle – with Crescent Rose!"

Ruby aimed her sniper rifle at the camera, and he heard the muffled curses of those behind it.

"Bang," Ruby said, "and the dirt is gone!"

The screen flashed black a second later.

"Is this how everything is done in Beacon?" Juniper sighed. "How many times have you had to repair that kitchen?"

"A few times," Jaune admitted, his palm on his face. "Honestly, though, that's pretty tame compared to what happened the last time Pyrrha got a cold."


There we go.


Next Chapter: 26th March

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur