Humble Beginnings

Roman Torchwick watched from behind a neighbor's tree as his target got into his car and drove off. Despite himself, the 19-year old thief was smiling at the homeowner's relentless attention to following his schedule. Which made it even easier to plan this robbery for Roman.

He'd first spotted the two-story house a few months ago on his walk to his job as a dishwasher in an upper-class restaurant. Not the best gig for a highly skilled criminal and fighter but it let him have the time he needed to plan his crimes and made sure he had enough money for his apartment, supplies, and whatever else he wanted. His outfit, a tan shirt and dark work jeans with sneakers allowed him to pass himself off a working-class guy that had been hired to work around people's houses anyway. Which gave him something of an air of legitimacy that protected him from police scrutiny on the streets of residential areas.

But back to the target. He thought to himself as he slipped around the tree with his toolkit and made his way to the house's only first-floor window on this side of the house. The side that was blocked by a large rosebush from the street and had one of those showcase homes next door. Meaning no one was going to notice him.

He reached up to touch the window, releasing his semblance into the window frame. The ability to sense any type of electronic device nearby and even short-circuit them with concentrated thought were very helpful to someone in his illegal profession. He grinned as he realized there was no security system of any kind on the window or even the entire first floor. He reached into his toolkit and took out the crowbar that was his best friend and favorite skeleton key. He planted a light kiss on it before he brought it to the window with a full swing. Glass flew in all directions, and some got caught in the hair that covered his eye, but he quickly brushed that out without a care. It wasn't the first time it had happened after all.

Reaching into the broken window, he unlocked it and pushed it up to make it easy enough to get in. Once he was inside, he let his dark green eyes sweep over the room while his semblance started to pinpoint any fancy or expensive electronics he could nab.

"Okay then. I have just under four hours until that guy comes back, and even better there's no pressure from the cops or a security firm. Time to take this guy for everything he has." Roman whispered to himself as he started going through the room he was currently in. It was a dining room with a china cabinet and small desk and a full dining room set of chairs and the required table.

A quick search of the desk turned up personal identification papers: Useful for identity thieves or people needing aliases; a large amount of gold knickknacks: Easy to pawn; about 3000 lien in small bills: Literal cash; and a rather fancy cigar case that Roman decided he was going to be keeping for himself. Moving on to the rest of the first floor, he cleared the kitchen, the living room, a large office and personal study, and two bathrooms of everything of value. Fancy kitchen appliances? In his sack. Bank statements? He knew guys who would pay for those. Credit cards? Easy money on the black market. Extra cash laying around? Straight into his wallet. Flat-screen TV? Just the right size for his apartment.

With the first floor cleared and no basement, Roman turned his attention to the staircase and the second floor. Wisely positioning his haul from the first floor near his pre-planned escape route in case something happened, Roman made his way up to the second floor. He looked at all the doors, remembering which one he suspected was the master bedroom from his observations. He went to it and opened the door, letting his semblance scan this floor for valuables as his eyes looked for other goods. He took the wall-mounted TV down, its size a hair smaller than the one from downstairs. Roman tore through the bedroom, taking the man's watches and literal boxes of jewelry. Roman had never seen a lady come back with the honestly average-looking guy who owned this place, but he must have been seeing someone to have this much female jewelry in his house. Moving to the closet after he finished cleaning out the main part of the bedroom, Roman discovered a small safe. Rather than crack it now, he tossed the thing into his bag. Moving out of the room and onto the others, Roman noticed an odor hanging in the air. He couldn't place it, but it was rather disgusting and reminded him of when he had to throw away an aged steak because the chef had overcooked it for the customer's taste. His semblance pinged a keypad and electronic door lock as he finished going through his fourth bedroom and the two bathrooms on this floor.

Making his way over to the device, he let his mind focus and smirked as the keypad fizzed and sparked before deactivating. He pushed the previously locked door open, confident he would find the man's greatest treasures behind it. Instead, what he saw made him turn and sprint back into the nearest bathroom and start vomiting into the toilet.

He would never be able to get that image out of his head. Decaying bodies were held up by their chained arms as pieces and chunks of them were carved out and scattered around like a surgeon or butcher had forgotten what they were doing. Their limbs were wrenched and any piece of clothing left was shredded and bloody. He couldn't count the amount of bloodstains both old and new that covered the walls and floor. The only thing that made it worse was the little girl, still intact at the back of the room, bloody bandages still wrapped around her throat and dirt covering her from head to toe. Her once white dress was stained and her little arms were marred with bruises. The pink half of hair was blood-caked and the brown half was stringy and even missing in a few patches, like it had been torn out. He puked until all his stomach could give him was pure bile. Wiping his mouth and looking for his ill-gotten gains from this floor, he was shocked when he heard a child whimpering. Turning back to the nightmare room, he noticed the girl's eyes were wide open. Her filthy and stringy pink with white streaks and brown hair blocked his view of her right eye, but he see could pure fear in her left pink iris he could see. He didn't quite remember how he got her out of the room and down into the living room, only that when he regained his senses, she was sitting on the couch next to his bags of stolen goods as he knelt nearby and inspected her for any further injuries. He couldn't see any under the grime but between the dirt and the oversized formerly white dress, he couldn't really see anything besides her face now. When he looked into her eyes, he realized they had changed to a creamy white color and then started to cycle between that shade of white, bubblegum pink, and deep brown as she blinked.

"Don't worry, you're safe now. No one's going to hurt you." Roman reassured her, noticing the girl seemed a little skittish but he couldn't blame her in the slightest. Thinking about what he had discovered, he had two options: Leave and keep it to himself, or report it and risk being caught as the guy that had been terrorizing all of the communities nearby with his burglaries.

Just then, his scroll started to ring, signaling a call. Roman cursed under his breath as he drew it out and saw who was calling. It was his boss from his legitimate job.

"Hey, what is it?" He asked, keeping his voice as even as he possibly could. A miracle was what he needed right now.

"Do you think you can come in? I know tonight's your night off, but the guy that's supposed to be here called in sick." His boss requested, though it wasn't a request. But it gave Roman an idea.

"Sure thing, I'm going to be walking though so it might take me awhile." Roman replied.

"Just get here soon." And his boss hung up. Roman looked at the girl and his bags of loot. Time to put his newest plan into action.

The cops were currently tearing the house apart as Roman stood outside on the sidewalk, clutching the girl to him protectively as he could in hopes of convincing them he was just a gracious bystander.

After he had agreed to the extra shift, he had hidden the loot in one of his nearby caches while the girl had sat on the couch, still in shock from what had happened to her. He got back and carefully led her outside, unlocking and opening the front door before calling the cops. A move that no sane criminal would make, but Roman wasn't certain he would ever be sane again. Not after this house.

"Sir," A detective walked up to Roman with two paramedics on his heels, "These two will take her to the hospital. If you could…?" Roman didn't realize how tightly he had been holding her. He let go and knelt down, pushing his hair behind his ear as he looked into her two white eyes.

"Dearie, I need you to go with those nice people. Can you do that for me?" He asked, actually sincere about his concern for her. He could worry about whether it meant he was emotionally invested or just remembering his conscience later.

The girl nodded and reached out, tweaking his nose before running to the paramedics. They quickly escorted her to an ambulance and raced off with their lights flashing but no sirens. Roman watched as the emergency vehicle turned at the end of the block and disappeared from his sight.

"Mr. ...Torchwick, is it? What were you doing walking through this area at this time of day?" The detective gestured to the late evening.

"I was on my way to my job to cover a shift. I always walk this way because it's safer than the more direct route. Don't want to get mugged when you live paycheck to paycheck, you know?" He flashed a half-sincere grin, inwardly praying the lawman bought it.

The detective studied Roman's face for a bit before replying, "Understandable. You've already given your statement so we'll contact you if we need more testimony from you. You're free to go for the moment."

Roman couldn't believe it, and barely managed to hold back his smirk as he realized the cop had taken the lie without complaint. "Could you at least keep me in the loop about the girl?" He surprised himself by asking this favor of the cop.

The detective seemed to mull it over before he nodded. "It's the least I could do. You might have saved her life and helped us catch this sicko." Roman dumbly nodded before hurrying to his job. He had to finish the cover story anyways.

Over the next few days, Roman avoided doing anything that the cops would classify as suspicious as he waited for any news about the kid he'd saved.

"Saved? What the hell went so wrong that I did something good?" He questioned himself as he sat in his apartment after his latest shift. He felt himself start to remember his life before he had taken up burglary, unbidden and escaping under his lax mental security. But he squashed the memories before he could fully experience them.

No, he denied himself. That was a different Roman. A different life. He turned away from his thoughts as his scroll rang. He didn't look as he answered the call.

"What is it now?" He bemoaned, exhausted from the sleepless nights and his recent shift.

"Mr. Torchwick, I thought you might want to know that the girl is asking for you." The detective informed him, "Apparently she is refusing to talk to anyone until her 'father' arrives and the description she gave of him matches yours exactly."

"What?" Roman thought he had misheard the detective. Was the guy saying that the kid actually thought Roman was her dad? God what fucked her head up that bad?

"I'm letting you know since you requested the information anyways, but please do go check on her. If you can spare the time of course."

Roman felt a new surge of energy course through him, "Of course. Just tell me where to go."

Roman arrived at the hospital and was surprised at how easily they let him pass. He headed straight to the girl's room, easily identifiable by the two cops standing guard outside and a frazzled-looking doctor waiting with an impatient foot tapping a staccato rhythm on the tile floor.

"Ah, good you're here." The doctor said, her exhausted face not matching the energy he saw in her flat gray eyes.

"Yep. I came as soon as the detective hung up." Roman replied. God it had been an awful and long walk but until he could afford a car it was going to be his only transportation. They didn't teach you how to ride a bike where he grew up anyways.

"Now before I let you in there, we have to discuss some things." She told him, pushing her dark hair into something resembling a professional look.

"And that would be…?" Roman was feeling uncharacteristically impatient. God above, this kid was getting to him. And he wasn't sure if that was good or bad.

"First off, she's clearly been physically abused and suffered from severe starvation. We don't know if she'll ever grow as much as she ever could. She's particularly undersized for a six year-old, meaning that she'll likely need to undergo some physical therapy for her injuries and atrophied muscles. But what's most concerning is the damage to her vocal cords. Whoever did this knew exactly what they were doing. She'll never be able to talk." The doctor shook her head. "You might have saved her life, but I doubt the quality of it."

A fist slammed into the wall next to the doctor's head, shocking the doctor but not even stirring the cops nearby. "Listen here, and listen well. That girl in there survived shit you couldn't even come up with in your worst nightmares. I don't care how much it'll cost or even how long it will take, she's going to get a decent life like she deserves and I don't give a fuck about what you recommend or have to say on the matter." Roman nearly roared into the woman's face. Cowed by his outburst, the doctor shrunk away as Roman made a move towards the door. The two stationed police officers didn't stop him as he threw the door open.

Sitting up in a hospital bed was the girl. She had been cleaned up, letting her pale complexion shine under the fluorescent lights. They had even fixed up her hair so it was out of her face, meaning he could see her two pink eyes widen as she recognized him. She blinked and her now-white eyes glowed with happiness. She opened her mouth, trying to call out to him. But when no sound came out, she reached for her throat. Her hands played over the scarred and healing flesh, confusion bringing tears to her eyes.

To say Roman was heartless was an absolute lie spread by him to protect and maintain his image as a criminal. But rather than let her cry, he snapped into action.

"Hey Dearie, it's okay." He rushed to her side, pulling her close. She started to sniffle noiselessly, but managed to hold back her tears as she hugged him back. They held onto each other for what felt like an age before a feminine cough made them separate. Roman stepped away but remained at her bedside.

"I'm sorry to interrupt but I have a few questions for her. In private." The doctor requested. The girl looked at Roman as if requesting permission.

Roman nodded and muttered, "Fine, ask your questions. But I'm not leaving." The doctor humphed, but acquiesced. It was an unusual circumstance and she felt she should act more accommodating.

"Very well. I'm sorry to tell you that your injury has rendered you unable to speak. Do you remember what happened to you?" She asked, her tone measured. She had heard the police stationed outside talk and seen injuries for herself, so she could only imagine. Roman stiffened as a recollection of the room he had found her in flashed through his mind.

The girl shook her head no, and looked at Roman. Her expression grew concerned as she noticed how tense Roman was. Her eye color shifted, her right eye becoming pink and the other becoming brown. The doctor quickly noted the unusual ability and watched as Roman managed to relax.

"Next question. Do you recognize this man?" She pointed at Roman. The girl eagerly nodded and smiled at the question. Which made Roman feel rather embarrassed, especially since this was the second time they had met.

"Exactly who is he then? To you." The doctor asked the open question, momentarily forgetting her patient's condition. Roman immediately caught the doctor's mistake and started to rummage through his pockets. Just in time too, as the girl remembered she wasn't able to talk, so she started miming writing. He pulled out a few old receipts and a pen he had habitually pickpocketed off of the doctor and then handed them to the girl. She smiled at him then concentrated on writing.

They watched as she carefully wrote out in fittingly childish letters: Papa. She held it up proudly, pointing at Roman with a beaming smile.

"Right." The doctor said before turning to Roman, "Sir, if you would be so kind as to step outside with me?"

"Uh, sure." Roman followed stiffly as the girl watched. She wondered why the doctor-lady wanted her Papa outside.

The doctor closed the door and her eyes immediately tried to bore holes through his head.

"What is it now?" Roman was really getting tired of all this. Frankly the girl had him by the heart at this point and he knew lying to himself about it would get him nowhere.

"You yourself saw whatever she underwent yet apparently her mind has suppressed it. Furthermore, your apparent gallantry has planted this idea that you are her father into her head to replace the missing memories. I'm not sure if you are the best suited for…." She was cut off as Roman's expression turned dark.

"For what? To make a decision? To take care of her? I know what happens in situations like this. She'll be put in the foster care system and get floated around with no one who will understand her or what she went through. So after we're done here, I'm going down to the police to petition for their help to let me adopt her. So don't try and pull any of your shitty doctor bullshit to stop this. Got it?" Roman ordered her before reentering the girl's room. He went to stand by her bed as the visibly rattled doctor returned. What the hell did I just promise? He thought as he focused on the returning doctor.

"Just one more question. What is your name?" She asked the girl. The combined forces of the police, the hospital, and even immigration authorities hadn't been enough to figure out who she was. The girl looked up from the doodles she had been making and started to write again.

Neopolitan, the paper proudly proclaimed as her eyes both turned pink again. She looked at Roman with a pleading look, then pointed at him. He got the sense that she was asking for his last name.

"Torchwick." He said, making Neo, as he decided to nickname her, smile.

The next few weeks and months were an absolute rollercoaster of half-expected insanity for Roman.

Negatives: Multiple court hearings, visitations, classes and paperwork out his ass to get approved to adopt Neo; trying to offload some of his stolen caches without tipping off the police was made harder by their search for the thief that had broken into the killer's house and then apparently fled; several sessions of testifying and serving as the material witness to the insane serial killer's trial while maintaining his lie about being an unfortunate bystander. All of it made him want to beat someone until he felt better. Oh yeah, and his boss fired him for spending so much time in courtrooms and not working. Maybe he would be willing to take a few hits for Roman's stress relief.

Positives: The police and court didn't suspect him of being the thief and took his words at face value. Which meant Mr. Demented, as Roman thought of him, was spending the rest of his natural life in prison. One of his fences happened to come across a very snazzy weapon for him as well. A cane that came with a flare gun built in and more than a few surprise features once Roman was done with it. Which came in handy considering he got a job offer to be the night bartender at the upscale Xiong nightclub. Mr. Xiong might have been on the shadier side, but Roman was too and he needed the well-paying job anyways. Though the best part of it for him had to be when the bureaucrats finally got off their asses and declared him Neo's adoptive father and awarded him full custody. All he did after that announcement was run down the streets, belting showtunes at the top of his lungs. For which more than a few people tossed him some cash for his impromptu performance. Another bonus to a day already made.

The day that they finally let him take Neo home, Roman was nearly as giddy on the inside as she was on the outside. He practically had to carry her to keep her from bouncing ahead of him in her unbridled joy. He showed her around the apartment, then showed her what he had designated as her room.

When she saw the specially made teddy bear Roman had ordered sitting on her bed, she practically teleported in her haste to hug it. Roman smiled as she squeezed the bear, their shared size making it even more adorable. With its two-toned split of strawberry pink and chocolate brown, he could have passed them off as twins.

When she stopped trying to squeeze the stuffing out of her new toy, Roman signed his question to her. What-do-you-want-for-dinner? Neo eagerly signed back an enthusiastic request for ice cream. His reply was a sigh as he went back to his kitchen and started making a light dinner for the two of them. Once he was finished and they had both eaten, he took her out for the ice cream she wanted. It didn't come as a surprise to him that she made him order her a cone of her namesake ice cream.

They soon found themselves developing a suitable routine. Each morning Neo would wake up for school and eat breakfast with Roman after he showered and then he would see her off to school. Then he would sleep until she got home, and they would do whatever needed to be done that day together. Grocery shopping, homework, cleaning the apartment, whatever it was they did it together. After that, Roman would wait until it was Neo's bedtime, and then he would tuck her in and after he made sure she was asleep, he would leave for his shift at the nightclub. When that finished up around 4 in the morning, he usually spent the rest of the time he had until he needed to be home for Neo doing his best to limit his criminal activities to ones that weren't too risky but still made a profit.

Thanks to their routine, the days flew by until it was a year from the day that he first met her. From the day he became her savior and protector. But all of that was overshadowed by Neo's sudden illness. It started as a sniffle and a cough that turned into coughing up blood and a severe fever in a matter of hours. Roman had her back in the hospital in a flash as he prepared himself to do whatever it would take to save the girl that had made remember what about life was good.

The doctors blamed this new illness on a latent infection from her injuries at the hands of the killer. And no matter what they did, they couldn't do much more than slow its progress. Roman spent everything he had, selling all of his stolen caches to cover the expenses, but the bills kept coming as he pressed them to do everything they could to save Neo. And as much as it pissed him off, Roman found himself working bigger and bigger jobs to make ends meet. Which meant less time with Neo. "The Will' O' Wisp" as he was known to the police, became one of the most feared criminals and occasional killer in Vale as Roman managed to build his own criminal empire to try and save his daughter. All the while, he managed to stay by Neo's side as much as he could and maintained his cover at the nightclub.

One night as he mentally cursed every higher power he could think of, he heard a new voice at the bar.

"Are you Roman Torchwick?" The sultry voice wormed its way into his brain in a way that immediately set off warning bells in his mind. He looked at the speaker and barely managed to keep his jaw attached. The woman who sat in front of him was beautiful. Her ash black hair curled and framed a face full of the deadliest type of beauty. Her curves were hugged by the red silk dress that only served to highlight her fiery yellow eyes. He subconsciously compared her eyes to the flame of his lighter, the only thing he always carried besides his cane since he had taken up smoking as a stress reliever from all the bullshit he put up with.

"Nice to see you can read." He replied, his more sarcastic nature drawn out as a defense mechanism. This woman was trouble and every fiber of his being told him to run and not look back.

"Just wanted to confirm." She gave him a smile that might have charmed a weaker-willed man but Roman was a man on a mission and some chick's smile wasn't going to derail him. No matter how hot she was.

"All right. What do you want?" Roman asked, leaning on the bar to match her gaze. She smirked at his brash question.

"I'm looking to hire you and your people for something." She replied, her sly grin setting a pit in his stomach. Yep, going to be the death of me.

Roman tried to play it off with a flip of his long bangs, "Listen, I'm a bartender. I don't have people, I serve drinks." He gave her a humorless smile. "So what are you really after?"

For a second the woman's eyes flared with rage before fading into unreadable embers. "What I'm after Will' O' Wisp, is the best thief in all of Vale and bane of its government."

Roman couldn't hide his reaction this time as she mentioned his criminal alias. "I'm going to ask again. What do you want?" He snarled at the woman.

"I'm looking to hire you for your talents. And I'm willing to pay more than you can imagine. But then again your imagination might be a little stretched with your daughter in the hospital." Roman stiffened and looked around the bar, and once he was sure no one was close by he leaned in to reply.

"You have ten seconds before I shoot you."

"My dear Roman that would be a bad idea. Considering I happen to have the connections necessary to get that specialist from Atlas here, just for her." The woman smiled the way a poker champion would after beating their archrival.

Roman was torn by his desires. He could shoot her and eventually make enough money to get the specialist himself, but he knew Neo didn't have that much time. Or he could hire himself out to this woman, who would probably find some way to enslave him or keep him on a leash at the minimum. Fuck this woman and her ball-crushing tactics. "Fine. What's the job?"

The woman's smirk was too self-gratifying for Roman to find pleasant.

Looking at the Schnee Dust Company depot, Roman knew his hands were full. Security cameras, robot guards, and classic rent-a-cops made up his opponents. So he was really glad this wasn't a smash and grab mission. Even he couldn't handle this much, which meant he'd taken the liberty of making the job into a con.

So in order to look the part, Roman had updated his wardrobe. He took his dress uniform from the nightclub and made it the base of his new outfit. Removing the red tie, he replaced it with a gray ascot and pulled on a white jacket with a red velvet interior to add in the required air of professionalism. To top it off, he found himself a bowler hat, one that he had fallen in love with a long time ago and could only now afford. It was made of some of the rarest and exquisite materials in all of the kingdoms, and now it was his. Adding a little bit of flair to get-up, he used some eyeliner to make sure his eyes popped the way he needed them to for this to work. And he couldn't forget his cane if he tried.

Properly dressed for the job, Roman did what no one would expect a thief to do, he waited until morning and everyone was on the job to strike. He walked right up to the gate of the depot, a clipboard in his hand, a lit cigar in his frowning mouth, and the air of someone pissed off emanating from him.

"All right Mac, let me through. Today's inspection needs to get underway." Roman told the gate security guard, puffing his cigar angrily. The only guard at the gate, a male wolf-Faunus, sat up in surprise and stared at Roman blankly.


"You heard me! Let me through! I've got three more inspections to do today so I can't dilly dally because you haven't had your coffee." Roman angrily shouted at the Faunus, making him cringe. Though Roman chalked it up to the Faunus's lack of a spine than his tone.

"Of course!" The guard quickly buzzed Roman through, terrified by the idea of upsetting a superior. Roman rolled his eyes to cover his relief at the gullible Faunus. Making his way into the facility, he made his way to their offices, unchallenged thanks to his intimidating presence. Once he was ensconced in their server room, he pulled out his scroll and docked it in the central system. With a quick press of a few buttons, Roman was the proud owner of a copy of the Schnee Dust Company's shipping orders, manifestos, and timetables. After deciding he needed something more concrete and personal for this theft, he left the offices and entered one of the warehouses. Snuffing his cigar so he didn't die to some stupid accident, Roman looked through some of the crates and lined his pockets with some vials of Dust. Satisfied, he left the depot, a slight grin on his face as he waved goodbye to the guard. The stupefied guard waved right back.

"Here." Roman passed the drive with the information on it to Cinder as she sat at his bar again. His mysterious employer gave him one of those false smiles meant to bewitch him, but he detected a sincere hint of elation at his speedy completion. Great, now to be done with this woman. He turned his attention back to his normal job, cleaning some dirty glasses to kill time until she left.

"I am sincerely impressed. I only gave you the job two days ago and I already have the fruits of your labor in my hands." She held it up before pocketing it.

"Now you hold up your end of the bargain. I expect that specialist to be getting Neo back on her feet by this time tomorrow." He replied, turning back to his more mundane job of mixing drinks and cleaning glasses.

"Oh, Roman… don't worry about it. He arrived yesterday and was only waiting on my word to go. Though I do have something else to offer." Roman could hear the baiting tone in her voice but he was too overcome with relief to consider avoiding the hook.

"And what would that be?" He didn't bother to look at her as he continued to clean glasses nearby.

"How about you come work for me? You would earn ten times what the petty doctor is getting paid for this single consultation for each job." She offered a small envelope, but he could see the lien practically bursting from it. "Consider this a signing bonus, if you would." Roman looked at the envelope and considered his options. Become a full-time criminal, which would require Neo becoming homeschooled and learning from him between jobs, but making tons of money or go back to his roots and try to live the mostly clean life and working until he died?

His hand decided for him. It snatched up the envelope and stuffed it into his pocket. "Just give me a month to settle everything before we go into business there, partner." Once again, her smile was too self-satisfied for his liking but at least he was getting some serious lien out of it.

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