The next few days passed quickly. With the weight of his confession off his chest, Jaune felt much more at ease around his team, and spent more and more time with them.
They were walking back from class together when a black-and-white blur streaked out of a tree and sent him rolling into the bushes.
"Jaune?" called Pyrrha worriedly.
"Ninja!" cheered Nora.
Jaune groaned, shifting his weight slightly to get away from the pebble which was carving a groove into his lower back.
"I'm fine," he called out, replying to the team he could no longer see. "I'll meet you guys back at the dorm soon. Forget homework for tonight. Take some time to relax before tonight."
"Don't be long," answered Pyrrha, ushering the remainder of Team JNPR away. Jaune grunted his assent, still winded from being knocked down, and looked up at his attacker. Blake sat atop him, straddling his hips to pin him in place.
Jaune could feel leaves and dirt caught in his hair and clothing from the tumble, but Blake did have so much as a crease in the fabric of her clothing - just a mischievous smile creeping out from behind her attempts to put on a stern expression.
"Nora tells me that you're going out tonight," she said, leaning forwards to whisper conspiratorially. She propped herself up on her elbows, her face only inches away from Jaune's. Her chest brushed against his, and the movement caused her to grind against him slightly.
The effect was slightly ruined by the reek of tuna on her breath.
"Did you really need to mount me in public to ask if you could come?" Jaune grumbled, turning his face away.
"The odds of me coming seemed better if I was on top when I asked," Blake replied. Jaune glared at her, but couldn't tell whether she'd intended the innuendo or not. He suspected that it was on purpose, and glared at her all the more because of it.
"The odds would be better if you brushed your teeth. You smell like a whale with indigestion," complained Jaune. Blake huffed, and sat upright. Still straddling him.
"Is this better?" she asked, raising an eyebrow sardonically.
Jaune felt his body begin to respond to the beautiful young woman sitting on top of him, and shoved her off, sending her face-first into the ground.
"Now it's better," he said, the oncoming crisis happily averted. He looked over to see that she'd managed to catch herself on her hands and feet, and frowned. "Damn," he said. She laughed, and climbed to her feet, dusting imaginary dirt off her spotless uniform. Jaune copied her a moment later, although in his case the specks of mud, leaves, and twigs were very much real.
"I already invited you, anyway," he said. "Last night?"
Blake looked away, her cheeks reddening slightly.
"It was a good chapter," she mumbled. Jaune sighed.
"Did you hear any of what I told you?" he asked. She shrugged noncommittally in reply.
"Some. Not all. You're going out clubbing. Drinks, illegal blood sports, maybe some cavorting with criminal low-lifes. I'll have to dress like a stripper to blend in with the crowd, but drinks are on you."
"You already dress like a stripper," muttered Jaune.
Blake slowly raised an eyebrow, and then jammed a set of surprisingly sharp nails into Jaune's throat.
"What was that?" she murmured in dangerously soft tones. Jaune gulped, and immediately regretted it, as the tiny movement of his throat pushed her nails further into his skin. A tiny droplet of blood appeared on the nail of her first finger, and slowly rolled down the digit.
She pulled her hand away and licked the finger clean, not taking her menacing gaze off Jaune the whole time.
"A classy stripper?" he tried weakly. Blake gave him a long stare, and then shrugged again.
"Good enough," she agreed, and then paused, a queer expression crossing her face. "And I spend half my time dressed in a school uniform," she added, giving a shudder. "Maybe the third tackiest stripper outfit after nurse and maid."
"Don't wear your uniform tonight," advised Jaune. "Your normal outfit would be better."
"Mhm," said Blake. "I already told Nora something similar. She thought going clubbing in her uniform would be cute."
"Don't worry," said Blake, cutting him an amused expression. "I talked her out of it. And she's already agreed to leave her weapon at school. She'll be fine so long as the bartender checks her Scroll ID before serving her."
"He won't," said Jaune despondently, but then turned a serious expression on Blake. "But you should bring your weapons tonight."
Blake cocked her head, curious. A moment of silence passed, and Jaune realised that she was waiting for an explanation.
"High-class Hunter weapons in The Pit would be an unfair advantage against the off-the-rack mass-produced garbage that fights there, but you won't be fighting in the ring if you come out. I'm meeting Roman tonight," said Jaune, and then hesitated. "He's got a job for me. I was hoping you could come along."
"Need a cat burglar?" quipped Blake, startling Jaune into blinking in astonishment. This was one of the first times she'd so easily brought up even a suggestion of her Faunus heritage. After the moment passed, he grinned.
"More of a lookout. And I wanted to show you something."
"Is this that secret you still haven't told even your team yet?" she asked.
Jaune nodded grimly.
"More than one, actually. Come by my dorm around nine? I don't want my team out too late, so I'm hoping we can wrap the fights up early and send them home before we have to leave with Roman."
"Actually, I'll meet you by the fountain. If Yang finds out we're going to a nightclub, you know she'll insist on coming," said Blake.
"So long as she went home with the others, I don't see a problem," he said. Blake gave him a fixed stared that went on for far too long. "What?" he asked, confused.
"You said Junior's Club?" she asked. Jaune nodded. "She blew it up less than six months ago."
"Yang's attacked Junior and Ruby's attacked Roman. Shit. I'm glad I decided not to get your team involved in this," he said, mind boggling at the implications. "I only held back because Ruby's so young and Weiss is famous. That could have been a disaster," he muttered, and swore under his breath. Blake smirked.
"So it really is Roman Torchwick that you're friends with," she said softly.
Jaune gave her a speculative glance, and then smiled.
"Not many criminals out there called Roman, huh?" he asked.
"Small world," replied Blake. "You sure he's your friend?" she asked, her tone empty of the judgement or concern that would have been in most people's, but only a simple curiosity about Jaune's opinion.
Jaune smiled at her easily.
"There aren't that many terrorists out there called Blake Belladonna, but we're still friends, right?" he replied.
She instantly froze, stiller than he'd ever seen her go.
"I've never told you that," she whispered. "Even Professor Ozpin only knows that I'm a Faunus."
"Are you sure?" asked Jaune quietly. "He knows more than he lets on."
"How did you know?" insisted Blake, grabbing Jaune by the collar forcefully. She wasn't quite desperate, but there was a fierceness in her actions that he'd never seen quite so openly before. He grasped her hands, slowly unclenching her fingers to free himself from her grip, and lowered her hands, squeezing them.
"Roman did some digging when I told him about the friends I'd made. He likes to keep tabs on me," explained Jaune.
"That doesn't sound healthy," muttered Blake, still staring intently and unblinking at him.
"I wouldn't have brought it up unless you chose to tell me, but Roman knows. And since you might be meeting him tonight...I guess I wanted you to find out that I knew from me, not from a stranger," said Jaune.
"How long?" asked Blake. Her face had gone pale, and even though Jaune had released her hands, she was still holding their fingers interlocked together tightly.
"Almost as long as I've known you," he replied.
"And you didn't say anything?" she asked, looking both hurt and confused. Jaune gave her a perplexed look, and eventually shrugged.
"What was there to say?" he asked in response. "You're my best friend now. You weren't a year ago. I don't know that Blake."
She looked at her hands, her expression distant, and let go of Jaune to turn her palms upwards and stare at something only she could see.
"I do," she whispered.
"That look on your face makes me glad we're going somewhere I can get you a drink tonight," muttered Jaune.
"I'm not sure I should go," hedged Blake, looking as if she was about to flee. Jaune caught her in a strong grip by her shoulder as she turned, causing her to lose her footing and fall against him with a muffled yelp.
"Why?" he challenged. "Nothing's changed. You just found out that I know something you thought I didn't."
"Everything's changed," whispered Blake. "Nobody was supposed to know."
"Nobody does. I do," said Jaune.
She looked up at him, tense as he'd ever seen her, and with a redness in her eyes that worried him beyond words.
"And you're okay with it?" she demanded.
"You don't seem to be," said Jaune, ruffling her hair. She made a noise of annoyance, and batted his hand away. He laughed quietly, and she finally relented, giving him a small but frustrated smile. "Come with us tonight. Not because of your secrets, but because of mine. Since I know your dark secret, it's only fair that I share mine with you."
Blake finally slumped into a resigned heap, still leaning against Jaune.
"Fine," she mumbled. "But I'm holding you to the offer of free drinks."
"You can start with mouthwash," Jaune joked, his nose still wrinkled from the strong smell of fish on her breath. She whirled around to glare at him, but somewhere in the motion her melancholy was lost, and she began to shake with silent laughter.
"My first drink's going to be a tuna martini," she promised, beginning to relax once more.
Jaune shivered in horror at the thought.
"Please don't ask Junior for one. He'll take it as a challenge and try to make it work."
Blake began to grin wickedly.
"Blake?" pleaded Jaune desperately. "Don't make me bring your toothbrush to a nightclub. Don't push me."
Her grin didn't fade, and Jaune felt a chill run up his spine at the thought of a club full of fishy-breathed goons in red shades.
"Blake!" cried Jaune, but she was walking away from him, sashaying her hips in the way that she only ever did when she was taunting him. He groaned aloud in frustration for her benefit, but inwardly felt a rush of relief that she hadn't taken his sudden revelation as badly as she'd seemed intent to.
He watched her walk away for a moment, and then was knocked out of his thoughts by somebody grabbing him around the neck in a cross between an affectionate tackle and a war-crime.
"Y'know," said Yang, his unseen assailant, "for a girl you're not dating, Blake spend an awful lot of time walking away from you wiggling her ass like that."
"Spend a lot of time looking at her ass?" retorted Jaune, squirming in an attempt to get free, but Yang's grip was too strong.
"About as much as you," said Yang.
Jaune looked up at her out of the corner of his eyes suspiciously.
"That's a lot," he said flatly.
"I know," said Yang, in a voice of shameless good spirits. "But not because she's wiggling it at me like that."
"It's just her way of saying 'fuck you'" complained Jaune, finally extricating himself from Yang's near choke-hold.
"Funny," said Yang, putting her hands on her hips. "It's how most girls say 'fuck me', not 'fuck you'."
"So is that it?" asked Jaune, exasperated. "You keep pushing me to make a move on Blake to remove the temptation of doing it yourself?"
"Nah," said Yang happily. "I've just caught an eyeful in Team RWBY's communal showers while I've been scrubbing her back. Does your team all shower together too, or do you and Ren pair up and let the girls go separately?" she asked, wrinkling her nose. "I bet you only shower with Ren, but you should really all pile in. It really builds team spirit!"
"You do not all shower together," said Jaune flatly, working as hard as he could to keep the image out of his head.
Yang grinned at him mercilessly.
"You can say that all you want, but you'll never know for sure. And you'll never stop wondering," she taunted.
A small squeak came from somewhere nearby. Jaune looked to his left and slightly down to find a mortified Ruby, her face the same colour as her trademark cloak and scythe.
"Hi Ruby," he said dryly.
"I'm so sorry about Yang," she rushed out in a tiny voice. Jaune smiled disarmingly.
"It's not your fault. Just don't take after your sister too much, okay?"
"I'll kill her first," promised Weiss, striding up to join them. She gave Ruby a pointed glare, and added under her breath "and not even for that reason."
"How long have you guys been here?" he asked.
"We were with Blake after class, but then she disappeared up a tree and attacked you," explained Ruby.
"So naturally we didn't want to interrupt while she was mounting you, or when you were making out," continued Yang.
"We were talking," interjected Jaune, but Yang ignored him and steamrolled past his feeble attempt to correct her.
"And then you were holding hands, and she looked upset, so we thought you guys needed some space, but then you had this whole weird hug thing going on when she tried to bolt, and we knew everything was okay when you got the ass-wiggle as she walked off," finished Yang.
"We didn't want to interrupt a private conversation so I shared some of my notes from class with Ruby," she said. "Honestly, Yang, have you ever tried to walk in heels as high as Blake's without a bit of extra movement in your hips?"
Yang looked confounded as she looked at Weiss.
"Why would I want to do either of those things?" she asked, sounding affronted. "I can't walk in heels that high, and I'm not going to stop my hips from going where they think you ought to be!"
Jaune took advantage of the distraction to duck out of the conversation and slip away. Ruby trailed along beside him, leaving Yang and Weiss bickering behind them.
"Is Blake okay?" she asked in a quiet voice. Jaune shot her a grateful look.
"Yeah, she's fine now. It was just a bit of a misunderstanding," he explained, leaving out just about every scrap of detail. "Hey, Ruby, can you do me a favour, team leader to team leader?"
"Sure!" said Ruby, her chipper self immediately reappearing. "What can I do?"
"Make sure Yang doesn't notice Blake sneaking out tonight. She's helping my team out with something, and we need to make sure we're quiet about it," said Jaune.
"Can Team Rwby help?" offered Ruby immediately and enthusiastically. Jaune laughed aloud in pleasure at her naked enthusiasm, but shook his head.
"I thought about asking you guys, but it turns out that Yang has a history with one of the guys we're meeting up with tonight. I didn't want her feeling left out, so I only invited Blake."
"Gotcha," said Ruby, wincing slightly. "But you better invite us on the next mission!"
"So long as it doesn't involve anyone Yang's set on fire," promised Jaune. Ruby smiled at first, and then wilted as she realised just how many people that added up to over the years.
"Well, at least we'll have a field trip with you guys when we go to Forever Falls," said Ruby, her bubbly personality never pushed down for long.
Jaune nodded distantly.
"When is that, next week?" he asked.
"Yup!" exclaimed Ruby. "Next weekend. Think we'll get to fight any Grimm?" she asked eagerly.
"Well they are attracted to negative emotions," mused Jaune. "If you spend all week really annoying Weiss you might be able to turn her into the perfect bait for an Ursa or two."
"I could never do that!" cried Ruby. Jaune chuckled, holding back a comment about how she probably wouldn't need to do anything different if she wanted to wind up Weiss.
Ruby protested her innocence and the unfairness of Weiss' accusations and personality all the way back to the dorm building. Jaune listened with half an ear and the occasional nod of agreement, until eventually saying goodbye in the corridor outside their respective rooms.
Hours later, long after the sun had set, JNPR and Blake set out towards Junior's Club. Although it was deep in Vale, and would normally take Jaune several hours to walk there, he'd made alternate arrangements since he was bringing a group with him this night.
The roar of engines flared as a Bullhead rose over the cliff edge, and settled down onto Beacon's landing strip.
"I thought you said you'd booked us a taxi," muttered Blake in surprise.
"There aren't any road up to Beacon," replied Jaune. "You can only get up here by the air."
"I sometimes got private flights to tournaments, but you mean to say that you've been taking a Bullhead to a nightclub three times a week?" asked Pyrrha, sounding both amused and horrified.
"Shotgun!" called Nora, ignoring all three of them.
Jaune snorted at Nora's reaction, hiding a smile.
"No," he said. "The Bullhead's just for tonight. I usually walk into town."
"Down a cliff?" asked Blake, sarcasm thick in her voice. Jaune rolled his eyes as the Bullhead door slid open, revealing a familiar face.
"I climb the cliff. Then I walk," said Jaune, raising a hand to Roman in greeting.
The others had much more varied reactions. Blake narrowed her eyes silently, as did Ren. Nora bounded eagerly towards the aircraft, and Pyrrha turned to look at Jaune.
"When you said your friend was called Roman, I was so hoping that you didn't mean Roman Torchwick," she said to him quietly.
"I know his reputation," replied Jaune. "But if not for him I'd never have met you. A lot of good people would have died in the wilderness. Give him a chance?" he asked.
Pyrrha fidgeted hesitantly, not meeting Jaune's gaze. He caught her chin in one hand, pushing her head up to make her look at him.
"I'm not asking you to trust him. In fact, I'd warn you not to. But remember that he's more than just what you see on the news."
"Jaune, dear boy! And all your little lambs! Best hurry it up on board before somebody wonders why we're flying around Beacon so late at night," called Roman, gesturing with his cane for everybody to move inside.
They filed inside, one by one. Roman standing in the entrance meant that there was only room for them to pass one at a time. Jaune had no doubt that it was deliberate, but couldn't guess why - although Roman was certainly taking the opportunity to size up his team and Blake as they walked by.
Jaune was the last on on board. Roman rapped his cane on the metal floor, and the door shut as if automatically, nearly catching the edge of Jaune's sleeve. Everybody had found a seat and strapped themselves in, but there was no more room for Jaune or Roman.
"You can come up front and enjoy the view," declared Roman. Jaune took a step forward, expecting to be shunted into the co-pilots seat, only to stumble backwards as the aircraft lifted off the ground.
He swore loudly enough to be heard over the engines, causing Nora to giggle and Roman to grin.
"I thought you were flying this thing!" he exclaimed, and Roman winked.
"Who says I'm not?" asked Roman, putting an arm around Jaune and shepherding into an empty cockpit. The controls moved by themselves, as if operated by a ghost. Jaune stared with an open mouth before turning back to Roman with a skeptical expression.
"Don't tell me your Semblance is Autopiloting," he bit out, feeling the queasiness of air travel already begin to affect his stomach. He pushed it away with a flare of Aura, but it left a sour edge to his mood.
"Jaune, meet Neo, my dearest friend and partner in crime," introduced Roman. The cockpit froze as if caught in a still image, which then shattered into glass, revealing a petite woman with brown and pink hair sitting in the pilot's seat.
Neo looked back at them with a silent smile, and then there was a strange feeling in the air for a moment. Jaune felt a sudden pressure in his ears, and his eyes watered. As soon as it began, it was over.
"As she has so adroitly demonstrated, Neo's Semblance is Illusion. A particularly useful gift, and one which she uses masterfully. This entire craft is caught in her shroud. Nobody can see us from the ground."
"Useful indeed," muttered Jaune. "Pleasure to meet you, Neo."
Neo bobbed her head in acknowledgement without turning around. Jaune guessed that she was too focused on flying the Bullhead and maintaining the illusion simultaneously for idle chitchat.
Roman dropped into the co-pilot's chair, and took over the controls. Neo released her set, and climbed to her feet. Jaune marvelled internally at her tiny figure. She was noticeably smaller than even Ruby, and yet looked similar in age to Roman, which was to say that she had an air of maturity that the students of Beacon did not, yet also had the ageless, youthful appearance possessed by many Hunters.
At a glance Jaune could have mistaken her for a child because of her size, but she could also be a fully grown woman.
Neo bobbed a surprisingly elegant and unexpected curtsey to Jaune, not losing her balance even the tiniest bit despite a sudden pocket of turbulence. Jaune's stomach lurched at the motion, and Neo smoothly slid back into her chair.
He caught himself against some straps hanging from the ceiling, clinging on tightly. His heart hammered wildly, and his breathing matched it in both pace and panic until the plane levelled out.
Once Jaune had regained control over himself with a few deep breaths, he noticed Roman's lips moving silently.
"What?" he asked, and Roman turned to grin at him.
"Forgive me, I was just speaking to Neo. Her Semblance covers sound as well as sight."
"Private conversation?" asked Jaune, raising an eyebrow.
"She was just asking if you'd heard from Junior recently," said Roman, and then he gave an apologetic shrug. Neo was staring intently out the cockpit window, making no sound and not moving her lips, but then Roman moved his lips silently again, and gestured with his hands. It happened a few more times, and Jaune got the feeling that he was only seeing one half of a silent conversation.
After a few minutes, Roman turned back to face Jaune, who'd managed to wrap himself securely in various straps to prevent himself from being knocked around. It worked, but he felt a little like a fish in a net.
"We've all got our quirks," Roman said by way of explanation. "Neo's a very...visual woman. She's not much of a one for chatting. And hates being overheard."
"She made a lousy choice in partners if she doesn't like mouthy people," joked Jaune. Neo flashed him an amused glance, and winked.
"She's very fond of my mouth," quipped Roman. "Why else would she steal everything I say to her away all to herself if she didn't treasure it?"
Blake appeared in the doorway, snickering at the sight of Jaune trussed up in a mess of knots, and gave Roman and Neo a spurious look before beginning to untie Jaune, despite his protests.
"Is that the only reason she's fond of your mouth?" muttered Blake sarcastically, under her breath, and almost inaudibly because of the sound of the engines. Moments later, her fingers fumbled on the strap she was attempting to unravel, and she blushed a deep crimson.
Roman began to laugh, slapping his leg in mirth.
"What am I not getting?" asked Jaune, giving in to Blake's pushing, and finishing the job of untangling himself while looking from one friend to the other.
"If I had to guess, Jaune, my dear Neo has just explained to Miss Belladonna that her razor wit was spot on the mark," said Roman, tipping his hat in an exaggerated gesture to Blake, who was still bright red.
"She still is," whispered Blake, frozen in embarrassment. "In graphic detail."
Suddenly her eyes widened, and she opened her mouth in shock.
"A word of advice, Miss Belladonna?" suggested Roman. "Neo is very sensitive to words like graphic, or image, or vision, and so on. She tends to take them as suggestions."
"So I see," mumbled Blake.
Jaune looked at Roman, overwhelmed by amusement, and then back to Blake, who was wearing an expression of interest and fascination under her burning cheeks.
"Not just partners in crime, then," he said eventually. Roman glanced at Neo, listening to something that Jaune couldn't hear. He grinned wickedly.
"Oh, that particular scene was a crime as well. Trespass, burglary, and a touch of debauchery to celebrate our success before heading home. Ah, that was a good night," he said fondly.
Blake blinked rapidly, and let out the breath she'd been holding.
"Did you see…?" she asked Jaune, trailing off mid-sentence.
"Do I want to?" asked Jaune cautiously, seeing how breathless she was. She nodded, not saying a word. The colour in her cheeks said more than enough. "Why did your girlfriend just show Blake an amateur porn video illusion?" he asked Roman, both bewildered and amused.
"Partner, Jaune. Partner. Not girlfriend. That word is so puerile."
"Partner, then," said Jaune, sighing.
Roman raised his palms upwards and shrugged innocently, although he couldn't quite mask the smug glee from his expression.
"She was just replying to Miss Belladonna's comment. But as I said, she's very visual. Whereas you or I might simply say yes - that would be you - or describe how right she was in exquisite and tawdry detail - that would be me - Neo possesses the ability to demonstrate anything she wishes."
"So you just watched Roman do something with his mouth other than talk?" asked Jaune, both stunned and curious.
Blake nodded silently.
"Huh. I didn't think he could do anything other than talk," mused Jaune. "I mean sure, I've seen him drink plenty of times, but I figured that was just a way of bribing somebody to listen."
Roman snickered with laughter, and then an image flashed before Jaune's eyes.
It was only there momentarily, but he saw enough to gather that it was a brief glimpse of what Blake had been watching. He felt heat rise in his cheeks, and exchanged a look with Blake.
"Ah," he said eloquently. "Does she do that to everybody she meets?" he asked.
Roman shook his head.
"Illusions, yes. But not that kind. I suggested that she demonstrate her abilities to you both when we were making plans for tonight."
"So you picked the scene," muttered Jaune. "That makes a bit more sense."
But then Roman grinned broadly, and shook his head once more.
"Oh no, that was all Neo. Miss Belladonna made a rather suggestive comment, and Neo's not one to be outdone when it comes to suggestive images."
Jaune sighed, leaning his head against the cool metal wall of the bulkhead.
"I thought men were supposed to be the ones with dirty minds," he muttered.
Roman gave Jaune a pitying smile.
"I'm afraid that women have us beaten in that area. Men are simply so much more vocal and crass about it. Women are simply subtler about it."
Jaune gave Roman a long, hard stare.
"Nothing about that was subtle," he said.
"The rest of your team haven't a clue what you and Miss Belladonna just saw," said Roman teasingly. Do you think they'd like to?"
"Don't corrupt them," ground out Jaune. "Blake reads too much smut for her own good, but the rest of them are innocent as - as…" he trailed off.
"A duck pond?" suggested Blake wickedly. Jaune closed his eyes, and bit back a scream of frustration. While he was concocting a plan to bash Roman's head in with a brick, Blake moved past him to lean on the back of Neo's chair, watching the skyline of Vale out the window.
"Stop calling me Miss Belladonna," she said offhandedly. "My name is Blake."
"Oh, but Belladonna is a wonderful name! Both the name of a poisonous flower and meaning a beautiful woman, it suits you perfectly," declared Roman. "Exquisite and dangerous, just like my Neo. I can see why Jaune is so fond of you."
"I only need the tiniest excuse to bash your head in with a brick," said Jaune, speaking his fantasy aloud. "Call her Blake, or I'm pulling the first loose brick out of Junior's wall and denting your hat."
Neo spun a brief image of Jaune repeatedly hammering a brick against Roman's head until his hat was crumpled and stained red with blood. Jaune let out a deep breath, and smiled - partly at the image, and partly at it disappearing before it made him feel too uneasy.
"Thank you, Neo," he said in a strained voice.
Roman's eyes were wide, and Jaune assumed that she'd shown the illusion to both of them.
"Oh, lovely," he muttered, and then clapped his hands together, leaning forwards eagerly. "Well, at least it seems that Neo likes you."
"Are you sure?" asked Jaune, only slightly skeptically.
"She showed Blake an illusion of herself orgasming for several minutes and gave you a cathartic outlet to look at before you felt the need to act out the scene for yourself. I recall the outside of Junior's Club has a great many loose bricks in it after the damages earlier this summer," said Torchwick. "Ah, isn't bonding fun?"
Jaune exchanged wary looks with Blake before dropping his head and sighing.
"And yet all of this has distracted us from my original question," reminded Roman.
"Yes, it has," replied Jaune. "I don't remember any question. Or what it felt like before I knew what you looked like naked."
"Have you heard from Junior?"
"Not since I told him I was going to come by with my team to rack up some serious Lien. I let him know a few days ago so he could stack the house odds and make sure he didn't lose any money from our little venture," said Jaune.
"That was well thought-out. It gave him a chance to profit, and avoided you from pissing him off," said Roman, nodding in approval.
"And my team are all underage," muttered Jaune. "I didn't want to drag them out this far and get one of them thrown out when one of the schmucks working security or bartending asks for an ID."
"If they're seen coming in with you, a toddler could buy a double vodka and a bag of heroin, kid," said Roman in tones of wry amusement.
"I know. But I'm not putting any faith in the ability of Junior's goons to pay attention to detail. Or my team's ability to stay where I can see them."
"Fair enough," replied Roman. "But you forgot that Junior knows that Pyrrha Nikos is on your team." Still leaning on the back of Neo's chair, Blake stiffened, and turned to look at them warily. "Ah, Blake gets it. You still don't appreciate how famous she is, do you?"
"So she won a few tournaments," said Jaune. "It happens. There are lots of skilled Hunters."
"Jaune," said Blake quietly. "She's never lost a bout. Ever."
"Junior's set something up on the sly. Word isn't on the street, just among the regular fighters. Put down some serious cash for the chance to fight the Invincible Girl. One hundred entrants, winner keeps the pot."
"I didn't think he'd have told you," muttered Roman to himself. "Alright, look. He's going to ask, but he's not really asking. He's already set this up behind your back, without your permission. He didn't tell me, either, so it's a sure bet that he's deliberately trying to put you on the spot."
"You mean Pyrrha," said Jaune darkly.
Roman shook his head.
"You're bringing her. It's not about her. This is about you. He's pushing you to see how you'll react. Think of it like, oh, you started your own operation on the side with a few of his men. He's using a member of your team without your permission. Do you let him?"
Jaune growled, low in his throat.
"Bastard. I was starting to think of him as a friend," he snarled. Roman jabbed Jaune in the gut with his cane to get his attention.
"He is. This is business. Your first order of business with him. Are you some freelancer looking to cash in, or are you a peer to do talk straight with and be respected? This is your time to show him whether he's in control or you are."
Jaune gripped the hilt of his sword without thinking, biting the inside of his cheek. A hot coppery taste flooded his mouth, and he swallowed the mixture of saliva and blood with a grimace.
"I needed the money from this for my sisters," he said quietly. "But I've waited seven years. I can wait a little longer. He's not using my team as playthings for profit."
"Anger is good," said Roman quietly. "Junior's a big guy. He understands anger and violence better than logic and profit when it comes to jostling for position. But don't just come at him angry. Come at him smart. You have three choices; roll over for him and take your cut, cut the deal he's already broken, or take back control of the situation."
"Turn a loss into victory," muttered Jaune.
"You haven't lost anything yet. You can back out and show you're not to be fucked with, or you can turn the tables on him. He won't try anything like this again either way, but if you're good, you can get everything you set out to without losing face."
Jaune stared at Roman for a moment, weighing up his options. Finally he bit down on an angry retort, and spun around to leave the cockpit.
"It's not me who he wants fighting. Pyrrha's not going in that ring unless she agrees."
He couldn't hear Roman's response. The door sliding shut behind him cut the conversation off as cleanly as if it had been a knife.
Jaune's team looked up at him, all wearing eager expressions and dressed in casual clothing. He sighed, and sat down in the only empty seat.
"Are we there?" asked Nora excitedly.
"Nearly," said Jaune. "But something's come up. Junior's decided to change the rules without telling me. If Roman hadn't given me a heads-up, we'd be walking in there blind."
"What's wrong?" asked Pyrrha. Ren studied Jaune silently, idly touching the sleeve of his coat. Jaune caught the gesture and sighed at the implication. Apparently Ren had disregarded his instructions and snuck one of his easily concealed pistols onboard.
"Nothing like that, Ren. Don't worry," said Jaune, giving his cautious friend an uneasy smile. "It's you, Pyrrha. Junior knows you're on my team, and he's decided to use your reputation to make some extra profit."
"This sounds familiar," murmured Pyrrha to herself.
Jaune leaned forward, trying to keep the anger off his face.
"He's gone behind my back and broken our deal. Worst case scenario, I tell him that straight to his face, and we walk out of there. He loses his opportunity, and learns not to try to mess with my people. You don't have to do anything that you don't want to do. I'll earn the money another way, okay?"
"What's changed?" asked Pyrrha, in a resigned tone.
"He's been advertising the opportunity to fight you. Pay to enter the ring, one hundred tickets. I don't know what he's charging, but the winner takes it all. Minus his twenty-five percent cut."
"This is public knowledge?" asked Ren in tones of quiet alarm. Jaune shook his head.
"Just about everyone who knows will be there. Nobody's going to talk to the press. They'd have to reveal what's happening in The Pit to do that, and they'd lose their only source of cheap and dirty violence to sell the story. Not to mention getting a pissed off gang out for their blood."
"So long as nobody's going to find out, I can do this," said Pyrrha quietly.
Jaune winced at the forlorn sound of her voice.
"Pyrrha, I don't want to abuse your friendship for a quick payout. He's using me to take advantage of you. To sell tickets at ridiculous prices."
Pyrrha was staring at the Bullhead floor for a long time, but when she looked up it was with a smile.
"I know, Jaune. That's why I'll do it. Not for some crook running a gambling den. For you. It's a good cause. You're not after money or fame. You just want your family back. I can do this," she said firmly, looking him square in the eye.
Jaune let out a guilty breath.
"If I win, we get the prize, right?" asked Pyrrha.
"When you win!" corrected Nora, almost leaping out of her seat.
"Right," said Jaune.
"Then maybe we can get enough money in one night and never have to do this again," she said, smiling sheepishly at Jaune. "I'll just think of it as a new kind of training."
Jaune smiled at her awkwardly, opening his mouth to thank her.
His clumsy words of gratitude were interrupted by the Bullhead abruptly rocking. The engines roared into life, and a hideous screech of concrete on steel and rubber announced that they had landed.
Roman had landed the Bullhead atop an abandoned warehouse, less than half a mile from Junior's Club. Neo did something peculiar to it, making it blend in perfectly with the surroundings without actually covering it or turning it invisible.
Jaune looked at her quizzically, and she flashed a split-second illusion in front of his eyes. For a moment he could see a map of Vale covered in tiny Bullhead icons, all paired with bright red question marks. And then the map changed to show a single, blurry Bullhead. He caught her eyes, noticing how they flickered from one colour to another, and nodded in understanding.
It would be impossible to find an invisible plane, but this way, the Bullhead was hidden in plain sight. So long as they remembered it was there, they'd be able to muddle its outline out from the camouflage of obscure shapes and shadows.
Soon they were at Junior's Club. Jaune made his way towards the main entrance, but Roman caught his sleeve before he could go around the corner, putting a finger to his lips. The self-proclaimed master criminal then pulled out a set of lockpicks, and opened a side door with only a few seconds of fumbling.
And then they were inside, standing in an empty service corridor. Jaune could hear the music blasting away from upstairs, and figured that they were somewhere between the dancefloor and the pit.
"Neo, be a dear and take Jaune up to see Junior. Keep him out of sight. We'll get some drinks and wait in your favourite booth."
Neo nodded, and twirled her skirts as she skipped up towards Jaune, gesturing for him to lead the way.
"Oh, and Jaune? Have you come to a decision?" asked Roman, before they could get too far away. Jaune stopped walking, and gave him a cold smile.
"Pyrrha's agreed to fight. I just need to let Junior know what the terms are."
Roman smiled, raising his cane in a salute.
Neo seemed almost to dance through the throng of people that steadily grew thicker as they wandered through the club, but Jaune suffered a dozen bumps into bewildered strangers, and twice only narrowly avoided having drinks spilled all over him.
But soon enough, he was at the bar on the upper level, where Junior was serving drinks. Jaune vaulted over the bar, and wondered how to signal to Neo that she should drop the illusion. He gave it a moment's thought, and then shrugged. She'd figure it out.
He grabbed Junior by the shoulders, and slammed his forehead into the bigger man's nose. He heard the sound of breaking glass at the exact moment that he heard cartilage crack, and knew that the illusion was down.
Junior staggered backwards, swearing in disbelief. Jaune kicked one of his legs out from under him, and then delivered a sharp kick to his other knee.
While Junior struggled to pull himself upright, Jaune put a foot on his chest, pressing him to the ground, and leaned forward.
"Change of plans, Junior?" he hissed.
Junior swore at him loudly, grabbing hold of Jaune's leg with one meaty hand. A second later Jaune's sword was unsheathed, the tip pressed against the inside of Junior's wrist. Junior opened his hand in a gesture of surrender, glaring up at Jaune.
"Your office. Two minutes. Or this deal is over."
Before Junior could regain his composure, Jaune leapt back over the bar, and felt the familiar sensation of Neo's illusion settle around him.
He made his way to Junior's office as quickly as he could, matching pace with Junior himself. After all, Jaune didn't have a key to Junior's private rooms. Timing was critical. Just as Junior opened the door, Jaune slid inside, and dropped into Junior's office chair. He felt his ears pop as the illusion left him, the very moment he landed on the cushion. Junior stared at him in shock for a moment before turning around, locking the door, and settling into a chair opposite.
Jaune leaned forward, resting his elbows on Junior's own desk, and stared at the object of his anger.
"I've made you a fair bit of money in The Pit," he began conversationally. "Tonight I was going to make you even more. So what made you decide to throw it all away and fuck with me like that?" Jaune demanded.
"You said you wanted your team to fight, so I set up a fight!" growled Junior. "Who's going to want to fight some schoolkids when Nikos is on the roster? Who's going to say it was a fair fight when they get chosen to go up against Nikos without knowing about it?"
"One hundred fighters, from what I hear," said Jaune lightly, tapping his fingers on the desk. "What did you charge them for the entry fee?"
"What does it matter? You're going to win it all anyway. You've got Pyrrha sodding Nikos fighting purse-snatchers and two-pint brawlers!" roared Junior, his voice taking on almost inhumanly deep guttural tones. Jaune idly filed that away as yet another sign that Junior was a Faunus.
"And how much did you charge the spectators for their tickets?" asked Jaune. Junior glared at him in silence.
"Double the usual? Triple?" he prodded.
"Five times," snapped Junior. "What are you getting at? House rules are I get paid by spectators and a cut of the winnings. You're getting three times more in prize money. What part of that sounds wrong to you?"
"You sold those tickets in Pyrrha's name, not yours," mused Jaune. "Five times the usual price, eh? The way I see it, eighty percent of that came from her, not from you providing the venue."
Junior growled wordlessly, but didn't move from his chair.
"Here's what's happened so far tonight," said Jaune. "You've broken a deal made in good faith. You've tried to use one of my team to bring in some extra profit instead of our agreement. And you didn't bother to tell me about it. Did you think I was just going to gloss over all that when I saw how big the prize pool is tonight?"
"Yeah, I changed the fights up a bit," said Junior. "You're making more money, I'm making more money. We. Both. Win."
"No," said Jaune.
"No?" repeated Junior dangerously, standing with clenched fists and a furious expression.
"No. You don't get to fuck me around like this. You changed the rules. So it's only right that I change them in turn. You can keep your house cut. A quarter. That's fair. It's your venue. A quarter of the prize money - and a quarter of ticket sales."
"Those are my damn seats. In my club. You've got no fucking claim to the spectator tickets, kid," snarled Junior.
"At five times the normal price, you bet I do. You couldn't get away with charging that without Pyrrha to draw in the crowd. You pay up seventy-five percent of everything but the fucking drinks you serve, and I'll consider that your apology," snapped Jaune. "You pay up, or I walk, and you have an arena packed with punters pissed off at you for selling something you didn't have. I'm betting the hundred fighters who you promised a match to will be eager to fight something if they don't get the fight they paid for."
Junior glared at Jaune for several seconds. Jaune could feel his heart thudding in his throat, feeling almost as if he was choking on it.
But then slowly, like an Ursa collapsed, Junior flopped back down into the chair he'd been sitting in. It gave a horrendous creak of protest at his sudden weight.
"Half," he said dully. "You get Nikos to fight and you get half of everything."
"And you never try to pull this shit again," demanded Jaune.
"Alright, kid," muttered Junior. "Any deals we make in future, I'm sticking to them word for word."
Jaune left Junior at that moment, leaving the older man sitting in a chair and stewing about what had just happened. As soon as the door clicked shut behind him, he felt his hands begin to tremble, and clenched them into fists to stop them from shaking.
His pulse didn't stop racing until he'd found Roman and his team downstairs.
"Well?" asked Roman.
Jaune collapsed onto the leather sofa, ignoring the slight stickiness, and stole Roman's drink, downing it in one go before choking on the fiery liquid.
"That bad?" asked Pyrrha quietly, rubbing Jaune's back as he spluttered.
"The drink or Junior?" he joked, bringing a grin to Roman's face.
"Hah! You nearly had me worried for a moment there!" he cried. "What's the score?"
"Usual terms for the prize money. Winner takes three quarters. But he's been charging five times the normal price for seats in the crowd," explained Jaune.
Roman gave Jaune a speculative look.
"With the increased size for a special event, that could be nearly two weeks' profit in a day. Damn." He picked up another glass and sipped it slowly. Jaune glanced across the table, seeing nearly twenty different glasses, and wondered whether Roman or his team was responsible.
"I got half," said Jaune softly.
This time it was Roman who choked on the drink.
"Half the seat fare?" he spluttered. Jaune nodded mutely in response.
"Shit," said Roman. "How'd you pull that? Threaten to walk?" he suggested, and then shook his head. "No. That can't have been it. He never gives anyone a cut of the crowd's money."
"I just reminded him that if I walked, he'd have cheated a hundred pissed-off fighters who think they're good enough to take on Pyrrha Nikos and win. And they'd be backed up by every person who bought seats to watch a fight that wasn't happening."
Roman swore softly.
"If they didn't tear him apart, his reputation would be as bad as mine ended up before you helped me sort out that misunderstanding, the first night I took you here. Was he angry?"
"At first," he said. "But after he agreed to half he went quiet."
"Fuck," said Roman. "We shouldn't stick around after the fights."
"Aww," complained Nora. "I wanted to dance!"
Roman looped an arm around her shoulder and smiled rakishly at her.
"Well, there's no need for us to watch the lovely Miss Nikos beat up all of the one hundred slack-jawed twerps who had too much money and too little sense when they were making their evening plans. We can cheer her on at the beginning, then catch the finish."
Pyrrha smiled distantly, staring at the table.
"I'll try not to be too long if you think there's going to be trouble."
"Just a precaution, Miss Nikos," said Roman. Jaune's made me promise to take good care of all his friends."
"Has he, now?" murmured Ren, watching Roman from across the table.
"Emphatically," replied Roman, shooting Ren a sly wink. Ren looked more nonplussed than usual at the gesture, and buried himself in his drink.
Jaune counted the drinks on the table another time, and then counted the number of people sitting at the table. Seven people. Twenty drinks. Two of them were empty. Five were in front of Nora, all brightly coloured and full of pieces of fruit, umbrellas, and straws.
Nora pierced a chunk of strawberry on the end of an umbrella and popped it in her mouth with a satisfied smile.
In equal parts disaster control and because he didn't feel like waiting at the bar, Jaune stole two of Nora's drinks. She pouted, but didn't say a word of complaint. Something about that struck Jaune as ominous.
A little under an hour later, Junior appeared at their table. His nose looked to have been snapped back into place, although it was still red and swollen.
"Fights begin in ten," he rumbled, and swiftly moved away from their table.
Jaune and Roman exchanged looks, and then Roman gave the table an easy grin.
"I think that's our cue to head downstairs," he said. "And a reminder not to overstay our welcome."
As they were heading down the narrow stone corridors which led to The Pit, Jaune leaned in close to Roman, trying to avoid being overheard.
"You really think there's going to be trouble?" he asked.
"Not a chance. Junior gets loud, not quiet when he's angry. You stared him down, called him out, and demanded compensation for him trying to fuck you over," said Roman softly. "He's probably remembering that you're his friend, after a fashion, not just some kid who can be shaken down for easy money. I'd bet that guilt is what made him offer you half the cut, every bit as much as the threat to his business did."
"Then why -" began Jaune, only to be interrupted.
"Have I been suggesting that things are going to get dicey?" finished Roman. Jaune nodded, and they turned a corner into the large open basement which housed the pit. Lined in crude stone and the roar of a bloodthirsty crowd, it looked more like a cavern than a basement. "Well, you did say that you wanted to get your team home safely before we went out on that job."
Jaune sighed, and rolled his eyes.
"I should have known," he muttered. Roman patted him on the back approvingly.