A little introduction for this work. First thing I need to say is I really enjoy RWBY as a show, but I do not like how they've treated Team CRDL. In a show with a bunch of great characters I hate that they've fallen into the lazy cowardly bully archetype.

I'm going to make a lot of it up but that's purely because the show doesn't give me a lot to work with. I am also ultimately going to pair Russel and Yang together, and I am calling that combination 'Phoenix'. That won't happen until I've had a chance to develop them as characters, though, so if you're in it for the romance you'll have to stick it out.

Chapter One

Welcome to Beacon!

God, what a joke.

I stand on the airship, watching Beacon approach. The acceptance letter they gave me is tucked into my shirt, and the edges keep pricking me every time I move – a constant reminder.

Welcome to Beacon.

I can still hear them: my 'parents'. You got in, you got in, we're so proud of you for getting in! They weren't, though. They were desperate for me to stay in Vacuo. Beacon is too far away, and too difficult to get to, and the headmaster has a reputation. For what, they won't say.

That's what really sold it to me.

But Russel, Solitaire Academy accepted you!

I didn't accept them.

To my right, some blond joker starts barfing. I don't blame him: I'm not great with heights either. But what sort of Hunter can't control his own stomach? I step away from his vomit-stench and wait for the ship doors to open, then step back again so two girls can go first.

Holy hell, how old is that chick? She's tiny! And then I promptly forget her because her sister is a tall, curvy blonde with eyes like amethysts.

I have to stop short to take a breath, wait for the stabbing pain in my heart to go away. Someone walks into me from behind and a deep voice snaps, 'Watch it!'

'Sorry, man,' I say, getting a hold of myself. The guy behind me is taller than I am and has an arrogant look to his face. He sneers at me and elbow past and I decide to volunteer to spar against him as soon as possible. That is a face that needs kicking.

Before that, there's the actual allocation of teams. I only know how Recluse does it, and I've only heard rumours of how Solitaire does it.

Should be interesting to see how it's done at Beacon.

That evening I camp out in a corner of the hall on my own, down the wall from the Faunus with the bow. She's reading something. I lie back and wish I brought a book. My oak-tree photo rustles in my pocket, but I don't want to pull it out with so many eyes around.

A few minutes later, the little silver-eyed girl and her smokin' sister come over to talk to the Faunus. The Faunus is standoffish and cold at first, and how old is that little brunette? Seriously, she sounds like she's ten! Her sister – and my heart lurches again because I've glanced over and the blonde's looking around. Her eyes meet mine and I look away.

After a moment or so they leave the Faunus alone. I wish they had never come.

Though, it's nice to see that they don't care she's Faunus. They spoke like city-girls, usually the last people to warm up to the Faunus. It's in the country that race stops mattering, because what the hell's a tail worth when there are actual monsters outside your door?

Unless… no. No! Really? Really?

It's a freaking ribbon!

The next day, we put on our party gear and go to the cliffs.

Landing strategy? Are they serious? Fuck yeah!

This is the perk of being a Huntsman. Not the adulation, not the wages – though those are pretty nice – that's not why this is the job I want to do; I want to be launched into the air at a thousand miles a minute.

They hurl me off the cliff. Surprisingly enough, I've never had a problem with the top of cliffs. It's always at the bottom that I start to feel claustrophobic. I spread my arms, feeling the wind tear at my skin. I feel weightless in more ways than one. This is simple: air, wind, trees – rapidly approaching – and weapons – to counteract that last. This is easy. This is pure.

Still, I need to get my shit together. I draw Polaris and Octantis and stab them into the first highest tree I see. My blades can cut stone, so it shouldn't be a surprise when they go through the wood like butter. I catch the next tree, and the one after that, using them as leverage to flick my limbs out of the way of branches and leaves, losing a little more speed each time until I can grab a branch and flip to the ground without dislocating my shoulder.

Maybe I need to make my blades more blunt.

Something is exploding overhead. It fades into the distance, leaving echoes of – cheering? Laughter?

I like this school more and more.

I set off through the woods in an easy jog, keeping my ears open for the sounds of life. I'm not used to forest, but I can recognise an Ursa track in sand or in – soil? Loam? Forest crap. Whatever, I need to be careful. Ursai are unpredictable: they can sniff around on their own, in pairs, in packs – it's impossible to be sure. Plus, I just hate them. I really, really hate them.

Something rustles and I spin, my blades up and my body tensed to run or fight. The sun glints off something metallic in the underbrush, and I relax slightly as another boy barges into the clearing and meets my eyes.

There's silence for a moment. He doesn't look displeased. His eyes linger on my daggers. I can't point fingers: I'm busy checking out his halberd myself, and wow, I've just realised we're standing there admiring each other's weapons. The thought makes me grin, and he grins back.

And then the second guy walks into the clearing. Of course. Because when have I ever been lucky?

'You seen anyone else around?' I ask.

'Sorry,' one says. He's shorter than his partner, and he seems to be walking around with his eyes closed?

'Do you want to come with us?' the other one suggests. His voice is cultured and refined, and makes him sound like a university academic. 'If we make it to the temple, we should find someone else.'

'Sounds good. I'm Russel Thrush.'

'Sky Lark.' He holds his hand out and I shake it, trying to ignore the feeling that I'm turning into my last foster-father. He was the only person in Vacuo who shook hands.

'I'm Dove Bronzewing,' the other says.

'So you're from Vacuo,' Sky says as we set out

'Yeah.' Nobody ever has to guess if you're from Vacuo. The accent goes straight through their ears and hits their back teeth.

Apart from that, we don't talk much as we move. They've both got enough sense to keep quiet in a hostile environment, and they're pretty good at moving through forest – better than I am, in fact.

'Can you keep it down?' Dove says bitingly as I snap a twig.

'Whatever.' That's a dickish response even for me, so I add, 'I'm not used to forests.' I try to mimic his movements as best I can. It seems to help, but it also seems not to matter: this part of the forest is dead.

'Weren't there meant to be Grimm?' I mutter.

Dove shrugs. 'We probably scared them off.'

That seems unlikely.

We make it to a break in the trees, and below us is the forest temple. Dove goes to step out of the tree cover, and Sky throws his arm out to stop him. He opens his mouth to say something, looking angry, but I point at the clearing below us. A shadow the size of an airship is moving across the clearing.

We wait until the Nevermore turns away before we descend into the ruins. Chess pieces sit on the pedestals.

'This is a game, yeah?' I say.

'It's chess,' Sky says, looking at me like he thinks I'm an uncultured barbarian. He's not entirely wrong, but I want to tell them I wasn't talking about the pieces themselves. But then there's movement on the far side of the clearing. We all snap to, our weapons ready. When I see who it is I immediately regret the lack of a gun component on my blades: It's the asshole from the airship.

I need to check my attitude. Maybe he's not such an asshole. After all, I was standing in the doorway.

He looks at us and smirks. 'So. Which of you doesn't have a partner?'

Crap. 'Me,' I say coolly.

He spreads his hands and grins. 'I'm Cardin Winchester.'

I resist the urge to tell him I don't care. It's a failing of mine, but I have a hard time shaking first impressions. 'Russel Thrush.' Chill, Russel, he's probably just nervous and overcompensating. Because if there's one character attribute I would assign to a guy who looks like he does, it's a need to overcompensate – no! Bad Russel. No dickishness. I look around. 'So what now?'

'We just choose a chess piece,' Cardin says confidently. He holds up a black bishop.

Thanks for waiting, guy. Whatever.

Dove glances at the second black bishop, then at Sky, who shrugs. He picks up the piece and we start walking back towards the cliffs.

'Seriously, where are all the Grimm?' Sky asks fifteen minutes later. We're almost at the cliffs and we haven't seen a single one.

'We should keep an eye out for an ambush,' Cardin comments. 'They might be at the cliffs themselves.'

We proceed with great caution after that, but nothing happens. We make it to the cliffs without any problems whatsoever.

That was pretty fucking anti-climactic.

We're the first ones back, apparently. Ozpin and Goodwitch are still there. 'Well done,' Ozpin says, looking mildly impressed. 'You made excellent time.'

Goodwitch directs us to a room off the main hall in the school. There's couches and food in there. We help ourselves to some lunch and sprawl around comfortably.

'So you're from Vacuo?' Cardin asks me.

'Yep. You?'

'I grew up in Vale,' he says. 'I went to Marker Academy.'

'We all did,' Sky adds. 'I don't think Dove and I were in many of your classes though, Cardin.'

'Marker's, what, a combat school?' I ask.

'What, you didn't prep?' he asks, lip raising in a sneer that's clearly so habitual I don't even take offence.

'Yeah, but we only had the one academy.'

'Vale has two,' Dove put in. 'Signal and Marker. Marker's better.'

'Yeah, Signal's good for flower arranging,' Cardin snorts.

I start to see why Vacuo always refused to open more than one academy at each level.

'So why'd you come here?' Sky asks me.

'Just didn't want to go to Solitaire,' I say with a physical shrug. 'I heard good things about Beacon, they offered a–' I almost say scholarship and quickly bite my tongue – 'place, and it was something new, you know?'

'Your family didn't mind?' Sky asked.

'I don't have one.' May as well get this out in the open straight away. 'My foster-parents didn't care.' And that is a bald-faced lie, so I should definitely set it out before they learn how to tell when I'm lying. 'What about you, your families live here?'

Sky nods. 'My parents work in the city.'

'My mum has a store on the main strip,' Dove says. 'She's getting pretty freaked out by all the Dust robberies.'

'She sells Dust?' Cardin asked.

'No, she's just freaked out.'

Sky holds up the black bishop. 'So I guess we'll be on a team together.'

'How do you figure?' Dove asks.

'There was two of each piece,' I say before Sky can respond.

He nods at me. 'Two pieces – each pair takes a piece – and we're put into four person teams.'

'Huh.' Dove looks impressed. 'Neat.'

Cardin looks bored. 'I just want to get started.'

We hang around for another couple of hours. We're in the middle of a game of cards when the final eight stagger in through the door.

I stare at them, halfway through dealing. They're smudged and grimy, a couple are sporting bruises, and the white-haired chick looks like she's about to collapse.

'Ren, Nora,' Sky says, clearly just as surprised.

They clearly went to Marker too, then.

The blonde, her sister, and the Faunus girl escort the white-haired girl over to a couch and fetch her something to eat. A short redhead in a shorter skirt and a tall black-haired boy stop to talk to Sky and Dove. A tall redhead with a body that could stop traffic and melt the road hangs back with a blonde kid. Is that vomit-boy?

'Sky,' the black-haired kid says formally. 'Dove.'

'What happened to you guys?' Dove asks.

'There was a Deathstalker!' the redhead explodes. 'And a Nevermore! And also some Ursai, but they didn't last long.'

'At least now we know where all the Grimm went,' I mutter to Cardin. He laughs. It's hard not to feel smug about coming in completely spotless when we compare ourselves to these guys.

Ren frowns slightly at us, but before he can say anything Goodwitch walks in. 'Alright, listen up,' she says crisply. 'Your luggage is in there–' she points with her cane and a door opens – 'as are showers. Clean up and get ready for the presentation schedule. You have under an hour.'

We – who don't even need to clean up – start our game again, and Goodwitch frowns at us for a moment before she leaves.

'So how likely is it that there was a Deathstalker and a Nevermore?' I ask Sky under my breath. He shrugs.

'Nora Valkyrie is crazy, but Lie Ren is solid. So, pretty good.'

'Aren't Deathstalkers the least intelligent Grimm, though?' I ask sceptically. 'I thought they were easy as hell to avoid.'

They all shrug at me.

Goodwitch shows up as the other eight emerge from the showers, fresh and ready. She chivvies us into rows. 'Now, you finished first, so you'll be presented first,' she tells Cardin, Sky, Dove and me. She rearranges us so that it's Cardin, me, Dove and Sky, then moves onto the other teams.

'This is boring,' Dove says a few minutes later.

'But presentation is so important,' I snark back. We start snickering, then fall silent as Goodwitch clears her throat behind us.

'I'm glad you agree, Mr Thrush.'

She stalks off and this time we wait until she's far, far away before we start to laugh.

I start to think that maybe, possibly, this won't be bad. It might even be good.

AN: They never specify who's partnered with who on Team CRDL. There's no way to tell based on the season 2 episode when you see them fighting, either, since they use a couple of combo-attacks (in season 3 Sky and Russel fight together, but so do Yang and Weiss, so that doesn't help much). For the purpose of the story, Russel is Cardin's partner, and Sky and Dove are together.

I also decided to make Russel from Vacuo because there's a pretty significant aesthetic difference between him and his teammates. If you remember what Sun said about Vacuo being laid back, then that could make sense. I also made up a new academy because there's never any indication that any of the characters know each other previously. Likewise, Recluse and Solitaire Academies are my own creation.