"They won't last a day," Rima mutters darkly.
Cal shrugs, disinterested at his partner's observation. "Few do," he replies, marking down the two new recruits' names. He pauses, pen poised above the paper. "What did the boy say his name was?"
"Taurus," Rima answers, frowning as she tracks the pair across the camp. "And the girl was Belladonna."
Cal nods. "Right, right." He lowers his head to scrawl down the names.
"They're too young," Rima goes on, watching as they don their White Fang masks. She'd wanted to tell them that they don't make new masks—they just pull them off the bodies off fallen fighters—but Cal hadn't let her.
Didn't make it untrue though.
Cal shrugs, eyes still on the paper. "There's no age restriction on rebellion," he remarks. "They have just as much of a right to be angry as anyone here."
"They don't know real anger," Rima argues quietly. "They don't know what it means to truly hate something. Look at them, Cal. That girl can't be more than thirteen years old."
"A thirteen year-old armed with a Variant Ballistic Chain Scythe," Cal remarks, not looking up from his writing.
"A thirteen year-old still," Rima insists, turning to glare at her partner. "Besides, just because she's got one doesn't mean she knows how to use it."
Cal shrugs again, running his pen down the length of the list and double-checking the day's new recruits. "What do you want, Rima? We can't afford to be picky. You've seen our numbers."
Rima works her jaw in irritation, her long tail swishing agitatedly about her legs. "There's a difference between being picky and being reasonable," she mutters. But Cal rolls up the list of new recruits and tucks it in his back pocket, and Rima knows the issue is as good as dropped. Cal's opinion won't be swayed.
"Did you see her eyes?" Rima inquires softly, more to herself than her partner.
Cal scratches idly at his neck, mulling it over as they make their way back to camp. "The girl?" he verifies. "Sure, they were gold, right?"
Rima nods, but doesn't press it. Cal doesn't see people the same way she does. He looks at Belladonna and Taurus and sees nothing more than fresh recruits.
Rima looks at them and sees hopeless determination burning in their eyes. It makes her worry—that kind of desperation can only lead to disaster—but she keeps her opinions to herself.
"If she can't fight, she's out," she says instead. Cal just chuckles.
Belladonna, as it turns out, does not have a Variant Ballistic Chain Scythe by coincidence.
She knows how to use it.
Months pass, and Rima still sees the pair wandering around camp every so often, so she supposes they must be worth something to have survived. The camp sings with the sounds of combat as she and Cal make their rounds, and she finds herself drawn to the katana in the girl's hands.
The blade—which Rima hears her refer to as Gambol Shroud—flashes like black fire in the sunlight as she squares off against Taurus. At first, Rima had wanted to break up the partnership—in an organization like the White Fang, favoritism is strictly prohibited.
But Cal had insisted on letting them stay together, so Rima had grudgingly allowed it.
"Think he's going easy on her?" Cal asks, settling at Rima's side as White Fang members engage in spars all over camp.
Rima considers it, watching the two trade blow after blow. The dark-haired girl ducks a deadly swing by the redhead, and follows up with an uppercut that makes the air hiss.
"I don't think so," Rima mutters, frowning. If anything, she thinks Taurus is pushing the girl too hard. Belladonna might be handy with her blade, but Taurus outsizes her easily. It's a sparring match, not a championship bout.
"She's quick," Cal notes. "And her Semblance is wicked."
This catches Rima' interest. "You've seen it?" she asks.
A smirk curves Cal's lips. "Watch," he instructs.
Rima turns back to the fight, incredulous and a little curious.
Taurus' blade whistles towards Belladonna, who suddenly splits into two. His attack cleaves the phantom double, while she leaps backwards, unharmed. She surges forward to capitalize on his unbalance, but his rifle cracks twice, forcing her to fragment herself again. Belladonna's ghostly twin takes the bullets while the real thing performs a graceful leap, seeming to use the copy as a springboard to propel herself up and over her opponent.
Rima doesn't realize she's openly staring until Cal elbows her gently in the ribs.
"Pretty cool, right?" he asks. Rima doesn't reply. She keeps watching.
Unstable from her leap, Belladonna teeters precariously, trying to regain her footing. Taurus takes the opportunity to swipe out with his chokutō in a backhanded swing that catches the girl across her jaw. She stumbles back, clapping a hand to her face with a low hiss of pain.
Rima and Cal descend upon the scene in moments—Cal's eyes full of concern, Rima's burning with anger.
"How did you not see that coming?" Taurus is demanding, none too kindly.
"It's the mask," Belladonna defends herself. "These slits are so small, I'm having trouble adjusting."
Taurus opens his mouth, but Cal cuts him off before he can.
"You're fine," he assures the girl with an easy smile. Rima eyes the grin with distaste—he has got to stop being so friendly with recruits they are a rebellion for god's sake—but says nothing. Her gaze drifts over to Taurus, who is still frowning unhappily at Belladonna.
"You're too rough," she tells him firmly, her clipped words catching his attention. She can't see his face, but Rima was born into the White Fang—she can see straight past the masks. He's angry. Furious, even.
"I thought this was a revolution," he remarks coldly. "Not a daycare."
Rima flicks her tail, highly offended. No month-old recruit was going to speak to her like that.
"Revolution is not needlessly violent," she tells him in a voice like barbed wire. Young though he is, Taurus is still tall, and matches Rima's full-grown height. But her authority and pressure give her aura a razor-sharp edge.
"No," Taurus agrees in a voice that tells Rima he absolutely does not agree with what she just said. "But what about them. The humans? Are we supposed to take the needless violence they show us?"
Cal cuts a sideways glance at his partner, who stares Taurus down with a look of sheer coldness. Maybe Rima had been right. Maybe he is too young.
Belladonna speaks before Rima can answer.
"It's my fault," she says, stepping between Taurus and Rima. Cal notices she places a hand on Taurus' chest and grimaces. Rima's not going to like that. "I asked him to go all-out."
Silence reigns, and Rima realizes the entire camp has stopped and is watching them. She grits her teeth.
"Find new sparring partners," she orders. "Both of you."
She turns sharply on her heel and marches away, Cal right beside her.
"Send a medic to Belladonna's tent," she tells him quietly. "Tell him to check out her face, and to look for any other injuries she might have."
Cal's eyebrows rise behind his mask. "You think—?"
She cuts him off, throwing a vicious look over her shoulder, watching as Taurus gingerly takes Belladonna's face in his gloved hands. He bends down to whisper something in her ear, and Rima can see the girl's resulting blush yards away.
"I don't like him," she spits, turning away. "That's what I think."
Rima tries to put Belladonna out of her mind.
She knows a bad relationship when she sees one—she's been in enough to know—but realistically she can't do anything about it. She has a revolution to run, meetings to attend, members to recruit, plans to lookover, maps to plot. Rescuing young girls from volatile and violent young boys does not retain a spot on her to-do list.
Besides, she has a fair sketch of Belladonna's character, and wagers the girl would take high offense to any sort of assistance. Taurus is the only constant in her life, it seems, and Rima's not about to open that can of worms.
"You have to let people make their own mistakes," Cal tells her.
So she does nothing—expect shoot Taurus looks of absolute darkness whenever they cross paths. Belladonna is always at his side, and not even her mask can hide the girl's open adoration.
She's wrestling with tomorrow's plans—she doesn't want to hold another rally but Cal's insisting their numbers are too low—when she hears someone request entrance to her tent.
The voice is soft and distinctly feminine and Rima instantly knows it's Belladonna.
She climbs to her feet, hastily moving through her darkened tent to pull back the flap.
She very nearly has a heart attack.
Belladonna's hair is matted with blood, and more is trickling down her face. Her left arm is curved against her side in a way that instantly tells Rima it's going to be out of action for a while. An enormous purple and black bruise is blossoming across the right side of her face, large enough that her mask can't hide it. Rima hears the rattling in her chest when she breathes, and knows what she can see isn't even half of it.
"The mission was successful," Belladonna reports evenly.
"What the hell happened to you?" Rima demands, lighting the lamp beside her to get a better look. She immediately wishes she hadn't—Belladonna's ghostly pallor looks even worse in the warm light of the lamp, and the crimson smears on her skin give off a dull sheen.
"Mission to the Schnee Dust Company's factory," Belladonna recites stiffly.
Rima frowns. She remembers such a mission, yes, but she has no recollection of assigning Belladonna to it. In fact, she's nearly positive she assigned…
Her expression darkens. "Taurus." The name is fierce wicked.
He appears as if summoned, taking a stand at Belladonna's side. He looks no better than the girl beside him—angry red lacerations bleed all over his body, and he's clearly favoring his left leg—but Rima feels no sympathy.
"That mission was for you," she tells him coldly. "You and Thorne."
"Thorne's injured," he answers easily.
Rima sneers. "Then you should have informed Cal or myself," she hisses. "You are not in a position to be rewriting plans!"
"Please, ma'am," Belladonna cuts in. "I wanted to come. And this mission required more speed than Thorne would have been able to provide. It was the logical choice."
Rima surveys her coolly, lips twitching with distaste. She doesn't believe for a second those words belong to her. Belladonna's mouth is moving, yes, but she'd bet every last lien to her name that it's Taurus' words coming out.
"And we did inform Cal," Taurus goes on. "He approved the change."
Rima scowls at the news. She doesn't doubt it for a second—Cal is probably the boy's biggest fan. He'll chatter endlessly about Taurus' skill with a blade, the way he handles his rifle, how his weapons work in tandem.
Part of her doesn't care—it's not like it's untrue. Taurus is singularly gifted.
But the other part of her—that part that knows that everything and everyone has an expiration date—is uneasy at what their legacy will be if it's picked up by people like Taurus.
"Get yourselves to a medic," she orders. "You can debrief us when you aren't standing in a pool of your own blood."
They both turn to do so, but Rima places a hand on Belladonna's shoulder, who looks back in surprise. Taurus also turns, and she can feel his angry gaze boring into her.
"You can always come to me, you know," she tells the girl evenly. She doesn't care that Taurus is less than a foot away and she's being horrendously unsubtle. She stares into the slits in Belladonna's mask, willing her to understand. "For anything. White Fang related or otherwise."
Belladonna hesitates, but gives an uneasy nod. Rima drops her hand and Taurus wastes no time sweeping the girl into his side, leading her across the darkened camp. She turns to go back into her tent and get properly dressed when she hears the words my darling in Taurus' low, steady voice.
Her hand curls into a fist, and she throws the flap to her tent down so hard she nearly rips it off.
Cal names him as second-in-command.
Because of course he does.
The most infuriating part of it is Rima has no argument. Taurus is the best member they've had in a long time, and Belladonna's not far behind. They're a powerful duo, and Rima gave up trying to separate them long ago.
"You're angry," Cal notes, watching as his partner polishes her scimitar later that night.
"Aren't you a perspective one," she remarks coldly, eyes trained resolutely on her weapon.
Cal sighs, crossing his arms. "What's your problem, Rima? In two years, Taurus has not had a single unsuccessful mission. How can you argue with numbers like that?"
Rima fumes silently. That's the crux of their partnership.
Cal sees numbers—stats, figures, probabilities.
Rima sees faces—expressions, intentions, emotions.
"Is it…" Cal trails off, like he's tasting his words, before saying, "is it because of that thing with the girl? Belladonna?"
A muscle tics in Rima's jaw. "If by thing you mean how he showers her with praise and approval, then the moment she puts a single toe out of line, or does something he doesn't particularly like, berates her until she probably has not a shred of self-confidence left in her, then gathers her up in his arms and calls her my love?" She meets his gaze coldly over the curve of her blade. "That thing?"
Cal squirms, appropriately uncomfortable at Rima's cold and cruel explanation. "Rima…" he tries.
"I don't like him," she says, lowering her eyes back to her weapon. "Yes, he's a good fighter. Maybe the best. Yes, he's got an eye for strategy. Yes, he's the most successful member of the White Fang to date." She looks up. "But look at how he treats those close to him, Cal. Is that the kind of person you want running the White Fang?"
"We can't afford to care about that!" Cal argues. "This is bigger than us, Rima! This is about the future of our species. And if Taurus is the best candidate we have—and he absolutely is—then I'm more than willing to look past a few character flaws!"
"It's more than a character flaw." Rima's voice is deadly calm—the kind of careful cadence that promises nothing but retribution if this issue is pressed. "What he's doing to Belladonna is unacceptable."
"She doesn't seem to have any issue with it," Cal flings back at her. "They're always together."
Rima rolls her eyes. "Of course she is! He's all she knows! If she got out from under his shadow, she'd bloom into a completely different person, I swear to you."
Cal's sharp look cuts her to the quick.
"Desertion is not acceptable," he tells her in a voice of sheer poison.
"I never said it was," Rima returns. "You asked for my opinion, and I gave it."
Cal sighs, turning away from her to pace the length of the tent. "I just…I just thought—" he breaks off before whirling to face her. "I thought they would be the new us!"
And in that moment, Rima can't fault him. He's looking to the future. He's trying to secure some kind of something so that the White Fang—and everything they've worked for—won't fall into chaos.
She opens her mouth to reassure him, when there's a shuffle from outside the tent, and both glance up in surprise. Frowning, Cal pulls back the flap. It's Thorne.
"Well?" Rima prompts, frowning.
"We have visitors," he explains. "Taurus is talking to them now."
"Visitors?" Cal demands. "What does that mean?"
"And why is Taurus speaking with them?" Rima adds sharply.
Thorne shrugs. "Two girl and a guy. Two of 'em looked pretty shady, the woman looked like she was gonna burn the camp down."
"Are they Faunus?" Cal asks.
Thorne shakes his head, and Cal frowns.
Rima glances between them. "Well?" she asks. "Are we going to go see what's going on or are we going to stand here staring at each other?"
But doesn't move. "We should let Taurus handle this," he says.
Rima pushes to her feet so fast her scimitar clatters to the floor.
"What?" she demands. "Let him handle this? Cal, this could be a serious threat!"
"Then he needs to deal with it," Cal returns evenly. He looks to Thorne. "Is Belladonna with him?" he asks.
"Yeah, I think so," Thorne answers.
Cal points to Thorne, like that should be reason enough, and
Rima's mouth tightens with annoyance
"Fine," she snaps, sitting down roughly in her chair and snatching her blade off the ground. "And if he doesn't handle the situation to my standards, we're going to have issues."
Cal nods, and Rima scowls.
The next day, when Rima sees Belladonna, she knows something's wrong.
For starters, Taurus is nowhere to be seen, which is an oddity in and of itself, but Rima is more alarmed by the way the girl carries herself. She looks like she's just taken a bad blow to the ribs, and hasn't quite recovered.
Concerned, Rima calls her over, and Belladonna looks up in surprise.
"What's wrong?" Rima asks as the young girl draws closer. "You look rattled. Did the meeting go okay?"
Belladonna blinks behind her mask. "Meeting…? Oh, you mean Adam's talk with those people yesterday?"
Adam. Realistically, Rima knows she's heard his name before. But the tone of voice Belladonna uses when she says it makes her bristle with dislike.
"Yeah, that," Rima says. Apparently, it had turned out to be a trio of high-handed humans bent on recruiting the White Fang to be the muscle in whatever ridiculous scheme they had planned. And while Rima was glad Taurus had sent them packing, she'd hoped for a reason to chew him out.
Belladonna shrugs. "It was fine, I guess. I wasn't really in on it."
Rima tilts her head. "Oh? But I thought…?" she trails off, confused.
Belladonna looks away. "He didn't ask for my input, I didn't offer it," she answers coldly. "It's not like I care."
"Everyone cares about respect," Rima reasons. "Especially someone as skilled as you."
The young girl looks up at her, eyes narrowed suspiciously behind her mask. "What do you mean?" she asks, guarded.
Rima shrugs. "Taurus doesn't respect you," she states flatly. There's simply no way around it.
Belladonna frowns. "What are you talking about?" she demands. "I'm his partner! I'm with him on every mission! Of course he respects me!"
"As a fighter, yes," Rima allows. "But then who here doesn't? Your skill is inarguable. But when it comes to smaller things—personal things—does he ever ask you what you think? Does he take your feelings into consideration?" She glances sideways at the young girl. "Do you really consider him a friend?"
Her lips pull back in a delicate snarl. "We're more than friends," the dark-haired girl insists lowly.
Rima arches a brow. "There's nothing wrong with friendship," she explains. "Cal and I have been together for nearly fifteen years, and there's never been anything more between us then what you see." She shrugs. "We're friends. We fight, we bicker, we argue, but we trust each other, and value each other's opinions." She folds her arms against her chest, wondering if she's wasting her breath. "That's what real partnership is, Belladonna. And if it evolves into more—great. Wonderful. Cheers to the both of you." Her gaze grows sharp. "But you can't skip over friendship. Or respect, or anything else."
Belladonna peers up at her through the slits in her mask.
"He's getting reckless," she says quietly, like she's admitting a great sin. "And violent."
Rima presses her lips together in a thin line. She's not surprised.
"But…that's not what the White Fang is supposed to be like, right?" Her voice suddenly sounds small. "We're fighting for equality not…not control."
"That was the idea," Rima agrees quietly. "But I'm afraid it's out of my hands. It's turning into something that it wasn't intended to be. And if Taurus takes over—"
"Adam?" Belladonna interrupts, eyes going wide. "What do you mean takes over?"
Rima sighs. "The way things are going, he's probably going to end up leading the charge. That's Cal's intention, anyway."
Belladonna's mask can't hide her look of horror.
"He can't," she whispers. "He can't. I can't…if he…" she shakes her head. "He'll destroy it. He'll destroy everything."
Uneasiness unfolds itself in the pit of Rima's stomach. She didn't know Belladonna had felt this strongly about the matter.
"Belladonna," she says quietly. "If, if you think—if you're that worried—"
"We have a mission tomorrow," she blurts out. "A train raid. In Forever Fall."
Rima arches an eyebrow. "And?" she asks, feeling like there's more.
"I can't desert," Belladonna whispers.
"So don't come back," Rima murmurs back.
Belladonna's eyes rise to her hairline.
"Run," Rima tells her softly. "Run until you find someone who deserves and appreciates you, and don't stop until you have."
Belladonna pulls off her mask, and eyes like the sun stare back at Rima. She realizes she hasn't seen the girl's face properly since her recruitment. They're still full of that tragic hopefulness. The eyes of a girl who has been dealt a losing hand over and over again in her life, but still stubbornly stays in the game because this time—surely this time—would be the time she wins.
"Run," Rima says again. "Run."
And she does.
In the days following, the White Fang caves in on itself.
Adam is devastated, desperate, and defiant. He curses her name at every turn, and no one can stand to be around him for longer than strictly necessary.
He demands full control of the White Fang from her at sword-point—Cal yelling in horror as he's held back—and Rima offers it to him with no resistance. She has lost the support of the other members, and doesn't have it in her to fight this firestorm of a man.
He's monstrous, and so the White Fang became monsters.
Cinder Fall and her band of thieves, liars, backstabbers, and murderers join their ranks, and Rima and Cal watch it all with quiet distress. There is nothing to be done. The White Fang is no longer theirs to guide.
Adam searches for her endlessly, determined to find her and bring her to justice. Rima has no idea what his warped sense of rightness would entail, but she hopes Belladonna took her advice to heart and ran far away from all of this.
He mutters her name to himself over and over. Blake, Blake, Blake, Blake. My darling. My love.
She tries the name out for herself one day, when no one else is alone. She speaks it quietly to herself in the tent.
It has a nice ring to it—strong, but not overwhelming. Delicate, but powerful.
The name of someone who will endure.
Ohhhhh boy. Why do I always decide I hate these long posts like halfway through them.
Blake and Adam have an interesting relationship, and I wanted to explore it from an outsider's perspective. Sorry if you don't like it–I'm not a huge fan myself.
I do promise I am going to write something about Weiss and Neptune though so like you can look forward to that!