"I know what I saw!"

"Easy, Coco," Velvet murmurs, her voice soft with concern. "Don't lose your head."

"It's not my head I'm worried about," the team leader retorts, still staring down the tournament coordinator. Even battle-battered and missing her trademark glasses, Coco cuts quite the impressive figure. Given Yatsuhashi's status as a literal giant, people tend to forget that Coco herself stands at a respectable six feet, and she milks it for all it's worth and more as she towers over the coordinator.

"Replay the footage." Her tone brooks no argument, and her eyes blaze like smelted bronze. "Now."

"Miss, that violates the rules," the coordinator explains. He looks quite at a loss as to how to handle her. Coco's usual sophistication has been superseded by an unmatchable ferocity. "No replays, no changes. The ruling stands."

A snarl thunders behind Coco's teeth. "I'm not contesting the ruling, I'm saying there is something unnatural—"

"Can't take a loss, can you Adel?"

Fox growls something under his breath, silenced only by a gentle touch from Velvet. Team CVFY turns to face the speaker, as he and Emerald saunter up.

Coco's features twist with anger. "This doesn't concern you, Black," she spits. "Take a hike."

Mercury's lips quirk in amusement and chances another step forward. There's a shrill ring as Yatsuhashi's blade clears its sheath.

"Enough, Mercury," the hulking boy intones. "You have no business here."

"Sounds to me like you're tying to worm your way out of a loss," Emerald remarks, cocking her hip to the side and pursing her lips. "Pretty lame, if you ask me."

"They're doing no such thing," Velvet says firmly, frowning at the Haven pair as she places a thin hand on Yatsuhashi's arm to stay him. "Coco simply wanted to verify something about the fight. There's nothing criminal about that."

A look—so quick it's caught only by Velvet, whose gaze grows sharper—is exchanged between Emerald and Mercury. But before the Faunus can even consider the action, Mercury is speaking again.

"A loss is a loss," he tells them, his disinterested, devil-may-care drawl drawing scowls from the other team. "It was a fair fight. No use complaining. Why don't you go watch the next match and forget all about this?"

"You're contradicting yourself, Mercury," Fox murmurs, his low and steady voice earning him sharp glances from the opposing team. "Why so quick to sweep an allegedly fair fight under the rug?"

Mercury eyes the dark redhead with distaste, prompting Emerald to take a quick step forward. Every eye turns to her as she purposefully draws attention away from her partner's less than perfect poker face.

"No one's sweeping anything anywhere, Fox," she tells the boy, her tone a mixed bag of sweetness and malice. "We could have a rematch right here, if you'd like, but I don't think you'll be very happy with the result."

It's a bluff—kind of. Mercury stubbornly maintains that they could have bested the pair on their own, but Emerald insists that wouldn't have been half as fun. Besides, fighting the match the way they did was Cinder's idea, which puts it on par with any religious tome in her mind.

He wonders, quietly, to himself, if Emerald will still follow Cinder even when she inevitably spirals out. He knows people like Cinder Fall—violate, unsteady, mercurial—and they can only stay collected for so long. And when she breaks, the aftershock will rattle the continent.

He has no desire to be there when that happens, but he also has no desire to leave Emerald's side, and so he finds himself caught in a limbo of sorts.

For now, he settles in, watching as Emerald neatly extricates them from the situation. By the time she's done, she'll have Team CFVY arguing about something completely different. She's got quite the mouth on her. Able to smooth talk, sweet talk, or smack talk depending on what suits her best.

Coco's ego proves difficult to soothe—the pride she holds for her team is not to be taken lightly—but eventually Velvet manages to coax the team leader down a few octaves. Emerald then plays her trump card: pointing out the simple fact that both Coco and Yatsuhashi had been defeated in a resounding TKO. How could they trust the account of a girl who had been unconscious less than ten minutes ago?

With her edge effectively dulled by Emerald's silver tongue, Coco stubbornly drops the issue and spins sharply on her heel. She shoots threatening look over her shoulder that, Mercury has to admit, is reasonably terrifying.

Feeling mischievous, a side of him that only seems to come out around Emerald, Mercury lifts his hand in a sarcastic farewell wave.

The gesture Coco sends back elicits a gasp from Velvet and a snort from Emerald as Team CFVY makes their exit and the tournament coordinator scrambles away.

The two are alone again, and Mercury lowers his hand, a smirk still playing at his lips. "Think she'll figure it out?" he murmurs, reclining comfortably against the wall.

Emerald snorts. "Please. Coco can tell the difference between designer work and cheap knockoffs, but that's it." She shakes her head. "No way she figures it out."

Mercury inclines his head. "Fair point," he allows. He steals a quick glance around before lowering his voice. "She's getting reckless."

Emerald turns to face him, and her eyes hold a warning. "Don't," she orders sharply.

"It's true," he presses. "She pulled that stunt with Yatsuhashi for her own entertainment and you know it."

"Who cares?" Emerald snarls at him. "What Neo does is her business."

"It's our business too," he insists hotly. "What if they had replayed the film? We were on the field, which means we're the ones who are gonna take the fall."

Her eyes spark at his words, and she searches his face suspiciously.

"Mercury," she tells him, and he hates the icy incredulity in her words. "I trust the plan. Don't you?"

Emotions flash through his eyes like quicksilver—anger, jealously, doubt, distrust—but he reigns them all in. He hasn't gone through everything he's gone through to make an enemy of Emerald Sustrai.

"I would trust the plan," he begins in a carefully composed voice. "If I knew what it was."

Emerald shrugs, unrepentant. "It's not my fault," she remarks. "Cinder's not an idiot, Merc. She knows you're wary of her."

"I'm not wary," he gripes. "I just don't worship her like some of us."

His partner rolls her crimson eyes, but makes no move to contradict him.

"Whatever," she says dismissively. "I'm going to go find Cinder and Neo." She strides off, and Mercury wonders if he ought to go with her anyway—he doesn't care much for the idea of crossing paths with Team RWBY without Em to talk them away—when she turns around, cocking an eyebrow.

"You coming or what, loser?"

A smirk plays at his lips and he sets off after her.

They walk in silence, falling into the easy companionship they've developed since Cinder had paired them off together. They pass Team SSSN, who are blissfully unaware of their presence until Sun, the leader, snaps his head around to meet their gaze.

Emerald lifts a hand in greeting, and Sun copies the action, but she notes the way his mouth pulls down with dislike.

"What's his problem?" Mercury mutters, frowning as the golden-haired Faunus turns his back on them once more, resuming conversation with his team.

"I don't know," Emerald admits. "He's probably wondering about our claimed Haven heritage, but it's just a guess." She lowers her voice. "I've noticed he's close with Blake Belladonna. If she's in his ear, we're going to have problems."

He raises his eyebrows at this. "I thought we had Team RWBY under control?"

The thief grits her teeth. "Belladonna's complicated," she grouses. "She's suspicious of everyone and everything. And to top it off, she's a Faunus. An ex-member of the White Fang."

His eyes go wide and he stops dead in the street. "Wait. You mean she's that Belladonna?"

Out of the corner of his eye, he watches as Sun swings his head around, narrowing his eyes in their direction. The largest member of their team, the one with a shock of green hair, reaches for this hilt of his blade.

"Damn Faunus," Mercury mutters as they quickly move on. "I wasn't even being that loud."

"We're friends with Team RWBY," Emerald assures him as they escape Sun's storm-cloud gaze. "Let's hope they just dismiss it as that." She levels a disbelieving glance at him. "And how many Belladonnas do you think there are?" she snaps. "Yes. Blake Belladonna. Adam's Belladonna."

He lets out a low whistle as they resume their walk. "Man. That's gonna be a messy reunion."

She waves his concern away, her nut-brown skin shining in the afternoon light. "Cinder's got it under control," she assures him, and Mercury just barely resists an eye roll.

Of course Cinder's got it under control. Cinder's perfect. How soon he forgets.

Some of his temper must show on his face, because Emerald shoots him a glance out of the corner of her eye.

"Mercury?" she begins.

He glances down at her, arching an eyebrow. "What?"

She eyes him a moment longer, her scarlet eyes tracing his face, before looking at the road before them.

"Keep your opinions about Cinder to yourself," she tells him. "I know you're not stupid enough to be so obvious in front of her, but just—just try not to make her incinerate you, okay?"

He nods, trying to keep his expression properly schooled. There could be no meaning behind her words—a half-hearted request to not be an idiot does not a confession of affection make. But it means she'd rather have him alive than dead and with Emerald, that's no small matter.

"You're better at talking, anyway," he tells her. "Just point me in the direction of who you want dead and I'll take care of it."

She throws him a sideways look. "Excuse you. You think you're a better fighter than me?"

He shakes his head, but a smile tugs at his lips. "No, no," he quickly denies. She looks away again and he adds, lowly, "not when you have Neo backing you up."

She spins on him, jabbing a finger in his chest, and he tries to swallow a laugh.

"Listen, Black." Her words bite, but he only grins wider. "I was the one who yanked Coco through that stupid forest, okay? You think that was easy?"

He plays for nonchalance. "I mean, I kicked up a windstorm with just my feet so like, I think that's worth mentioning."

She scoffs at him, rolling her eyes and marching away. "I hate you," she announces. "I swear the second this whole thing is done, I'm going to kill you."

"Is that why you don't want Cinder to incinerate me?" he calls after her. "You want to kill me all by yourself? Or will you and Neo tag-team again?"

"Shut up, Mercury!"

-0-

"I've got a bad feeling about them," Yang murmurs.

Weiss throws an annoyed look over her shoulder. "Our opponents?" she demands. "Yang, you saw their picture. One is on roller skates and the other fights with a trumpet."

The pair are in the prep room, awaiting their two-on-two match. The place is musty and dark and nowhere up to Weiss' standards, but Yang finds herself comforted. It reminds her of her dad's gym.

The brawler huffs impatiently as she yanks on her jacket, buckling the strap that runs across her throat. "I mean Mercury and Emerald," she explains. "That fight with CFVY was…weird."

Weiss shrugs. "They're not exempt from the rules," she replies. "They lost. That's the end of it." She runs a pale hand down the line of buttons sewn into her pea coat.

"But you heard Coco," Yang insists. "When she was in that forest, she turned and saw Yatsuhashi. And then, in the next second, he'd been knocked out of the ring. While she was looking at him." She pulls on Ember Celica's yellow bracelets. "How do you explain that?"

"It was a high stress situation," Weiss offers, checking the Dust chamber inside Myrtenaster's guard. "Maybe she was seeing things."

Yang fixes the heiress with a dubious frown. "You don't think she can tell the difference between her teammate and a tree, Weiss?"

Weiss crosses her arms. "What do you want, Yang? A ten-page report? I have no idea what happened in Coco and Yatsuhashi's fight because I'm a bit preoccupied with ours."

"Remember that spar back at Beacon?" Yang asks, ignoring Weiss' annoyed huff. "When Mercury went up against Pyrrha but then backed down immediately?"

"Yeah? So?" Weiss neatly plucks a loose thread from her coat. "I don't think many people would choose to face one of the best fighters of our generation. That's not weird. That's a strategy for survival."

But Yang won't let it go. "It was like…a feint," she mutters. "The whole thing. Like, in boxing, when you try and force your opponent to show their hand. You press them just enough to see what they've got, and then you pull back, reassess, and knock them out." She frowns. "It just doesn't sit well with me, I guess."

"You know what doesn't sit well with me?" Weiss demands. "Us losing this match. So I need you to focus."

The blonde nods, finally relenting as the warning whistle blows. She triggers Ember Celica, and the weapon's familiar snap clears all other thoughts from her mind.

It's time to fight.

"Don't get careless," Weiss instructs quietly as they stare at the door that will lead to the arena.

"Don't hold back," Yang counters, knocking her fists together.

Weiss gives a little hmph of indignation before the doors swing open and all they hear is the roar of the crowd.

Not as happy with how this turned out. Mercury and Emerald are a lot harder to write than I thought they would be.

Basically, my thoughts after Episode 4. No way in hell Coco takes that loss sitting down. Also, Neo was absolutely in on that fight. I don't know how and I don't know why but I believe it 100%. That's why it didn't matter when Cinder was picking challengers. No one's gonna fuck with the ice cream truck.

Also, I'm convinced that Yang is onto something. I have no real evidence to back this up, it's just a feeling I have.

AND CAN I JUST SAY THAT IF THE TEAM YANG AND WEISS ARE FIGHTING ARE BASED ON MEMES I WILL BE SO DONE. SO UNBELIEVABLY DONE. I'LL BE OUT OF THE RWBY GAME SO QUICK LIKE ARE YOU KIDDING ME. MILES AND KERRY STOP. DON'T.

So unless episode 5 blows my mind, which is entirely possible, I'm going to try to lay off on the small fics and dedicate more time to what I'm cheerfully referring as my "everything goes to shit" AU. It'll be long. Real long. And sad. Real sad.