Plans Falling Through:
For the most part, the mission was considered a success. The trip to Junior's bar was one thing, but this was a live combat scenario where the stakes were higher. Neo was 'captured', a possible strategy for the White Fang was thwarted, and the two teams were still in one piece. Roman, however, reminded himself that complacency did not belong in this operation. This was all just one step closer towards his overall goal - to kill Cinder and escape. But it was a critical step. For whatever it was worth, he had at least a small portion of trust to work with.
"You have another mission to propose so soon?" Ozpin's voice cut the silence that had fallen over the four of them.
He gestured towards the footage, the still image of the screen reflecting the scene of Blake's kill. "We have an invaluable relationship between the two of them. For whatever reason, Adam and Blake are at odds. We don't know what their bad blood is, but what we do know, though, is that she deserted the White Fang. Not only that, though, she's still around. The White Fang isn't a group that takes this lying down. So that means that either they're saving something special for her or they just haven't had the time to go after her."
"So when she willingly appears before him again, that will gives us a picture of what their relationship might have looked like while playing the right cards of suspicion. We need him to be doubtful of his relationship with those at the top. And this," he pointed at the screen, at Blake, "is exactly what we need."
Ironwood was the first to respond. "You would risk sending in Miss Belladonna alone, then?"
He felt a smile grow, teeth just barely showing. "Not truly alone. You can't believe that I would be so reckless to ask for that, would you, General?" He turned his head to the side, arms folding onto his lap and a finger rising to his chin. "Still, you bring up a good point. We can't have her teammates on the field, but our kitty can't go solo."
Roman furrowed his brow, "RWBY has had run-ins with the White Fang before, and after Mountain Glenn JNPR will be posterized if they haven't already. We would need someone who hasn't been involved with the White Fang previously. And no faunus. Can't let any stray opinions get in the way."
Ironwood's stare looked like it could melt steel, but Glynda was the one who spoke up. "Taurus has worked outside of our radar for the past two years, covered by sympathizers and those who agree with his more violent decisions. He's not someone who's green - we're not going to nab him without a fight." She adjusted her glasses as she looked up at him. "He'll know it's a setup, Torchwick."
Roman leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms at his chest. "And that's what we want."
"Your suggestion is sound. Getting at Adam would be very beneficial to us." Ozpin leaned forward in his chair, but he was sure that the gaze he was receiving from the headmaster was one he hadn't seen in a long time. "However, I think you've had enough agency for now, Roman."
He felt himself freeze up. It was a voice of admonishment, but that alone was not what he was afraid of. He knew that he played into Ozpin's trap. The man was watching him, after all - he must have gotten careless with his suggestions. "We have a very good opportunity before us, Ozpin." His own voice turned terse, unable to prevent the sudden upset from affecting him. "Don't tell me we're just going to throw it away."
But it was like digging his own grave. Once Ozpin set his mind to something, the man saw it to fruition. His own tone of voice wasn't helping the matter, either. "That will be enough, Roman. The students have only just returned, and we haven't even been able to determine a plan on what to do with your confidant."
"Look." He stared Ozpin in the eye, as if Goodwitch and the general weren't even in the same room with them anymore. "Whatever they're planning to do, the group is going to use the White Fang's manpower. And we've seen that it in the footage. It is the strongest asset that they can provide, and we'd be stupid if we let this chance to manipulate Adam go by."
The man across him leaned back and returned his gaze. "You know, you seem awfully invested in this."
Fuck. This was a bad sign. He needed to calm down, but Ozpin was infuriating him not just because he wasn't seeing the same strategy but because he had nearly put himself at unnecessary risk. Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, his hand gingerly grasped the rim of his hat and removed it. With the material obscuring his vision of the older man, he slowly ran his fingers over his scalp.
"Wasn't that a part of our bargain?" he carefully said, putting the hat back onto his head again. The damage was done, but that was then. Now, he was cool. Collected. In control. "I'm supposed to be invested."
"And yet you've only recently shown such emotion regarding it." Ozpin's hands fell to the table, fingers interlocking with the other as he leaned in, as if sensing Roman's mistake. True to his warning from that night at the tower, he was watching him. "I would like to remind you that while you are here to provide insight where you can, your previous suggestions were accepted on the grounds that we clearly stood to gain. And now that Mountain Glenn is completed we have no direction established yet. We are not prepared to pursue our next step."
He stared at the older man in silence. "You know, one thing I noticed over time is that while a lot of Faunus left the White Fang when the organization became more and more violent, it also gained an influx of followers. Followers who believe in this violence." He was sure that his frown was very visible, one that had slowly formed as Ozpin continued to speak. But Roman decided to let it hang loose. "They are not a peaceful organization anymore, and they are the backbone of our enemy's operation." His final words came out slow, methodical. "Without them, they can do nothing."
Ozpin's eyes never left his. "Adam is off the table Roman," there was a short pause, as if to let the declaration hang in the air for all parties. "Am I clear?"
"Hmph," Roman slowly stood up, "Abundantly." It was clear to him that the conversation was over. The guards nearby raised their weapons, but he paid no attention, simply walking back to the elevator. He would need to either find another way to manipulate the situation or risk dealing with the White Fang during his escape attempt. Neither was particularly appetizing, but he needed to return to the drawing board. "Let me know when you change your mind."
Ruby offered the cookie a second time, but without the same enthusiasm and questioning like before.
"Do you want a cookie, Weiss?"
Likewise, she turned it down with a calmer rejection.
"No, but thank you."
With a final shrug, her leader popped the treat into her mouth and began to chew. Her head, though, twisted and turned to the left and right as Team RWBY waited for their turn, and the little braid from Yang's handiwork swayed with each movement.
She dared to believe that it was cute, but not even Yang would beat that out of her. Never mind that it had given her reason to pause last night.
She returned to her coffee, gently sipping away at the liquid. They were to be debriefed again, this time on the Mountain Glenn mission. Since the bulk of the mission had RWBY and JNPR working with their teammates, the debriefs were between teams and not the paired partners. Weiss felt that it should have been done sooner, but again the public needed an answer.
Finally, though, the door opened and out stepped JNPR. The four students looked glad to be out of the room, perhaps even just a little exhausted at the thought of being trapped in their with perhaps the two greatest powers in this school. Had Ironwood not been absent for obvious reasons, it would have been some sort of unholy trinity the two teams would have to deal with.
But it was their turn now. Ruby snatched two more cookies, placing both in her mouth as the four of them entered the room. It hadn't changed at all. More chairs were added to seat the four of them at the table, but everything remained the same.
"If you have any questions before we begin, now would be the time. Otherwise, this will be very similar to your previous debriefings," Professor Goodwitch began. "We'll be having you go through your time on the mission starting from the point of entry to when the fighting stopped. We won't be going over the entirety of the situation, as your feeds provided more than enough information." In front of her was her own scroll, ready to type notes on what they provided. "Rather, we are looking for your own thoughts over what had happened."
Her green eyes fell upon Ruby, "With that being said, though, this will be broken into two parts, with the first one focusing on Ruby." Weiss could have sworn she saw the teacher's features soften, if only for a moment. But it was fleeting at best, and it was quickly replaced. "As not just the youngest leader in Beacon's history, but to have gone through that particular… experience on the train, we are interested in hearing your input." Goodwitch looked at the rest of the team. "Do any of you have an objection to that?"
Weiss shook her head to the murmurs of Blake and Yang, and the woman nodded. "Very well then, let us begin."
For the most part, it wasn't anything more than what Weiss had expected. Goodwitch asked about the entry, their way to the train and time on it, and then finally what they had done after they arrived in the city. It was generic to an extent. And as the professor said, much of it was tied to Ruby's experience as it had been the most poignant of the feeds.
But the last question seemed to make everything else prior to that measly in comparison. "After the mission, how did you feel? You seemed more than a little overwhelmed after everything had passed." Goodwitch looked up from her scroll to eye Ruby again. While the question was carefully asked, meant to be heard in a way that wasn't threatening, the small girl had frozen up. Blake and Yang had turned their head towards her, waiting for an answer, but it was still a moment before she finally spoke up.
"W-Well," she started, "after the cleanup and getting something to eat, we went back to our dorm room looking to start unwinding. And, well, Yang said something and I asked for some time alone for just the two of us." Here she carefully looked towards her older sister and received a small nod from her before turning back to Goodwitch. "That whole moment on the train really got to her, so I spent some time with her, nothing special." A hand rose to flick the braid at the side of her head. "Just kinda reliving our life before training to be huntresses, really."
"In that case," this time the older woman looked at the other two, Blake and Weiss. "Where did you two go during this time? I imagine you would want to give Ruby and her sister some time alone." She felt her hand clench her skirt under the table. There was a reluctance for her to share, as that was a private moment for the both of them, and especially her after Blake left. But to her relief, the other girl spoke up.
"Weiss and I had our own talk about what happened, or at least the end of it. It was our first mission as a team, after all, and our team knew that I was involved with the White Fang early on into our first semester. It was a good time to discuss it, and I think Weiss would agree with me there."
"Mhmm…" Goodwitch took down more notes before shooting a glance at her, "Would you add anything onto that?"
Considering the conversation she had with Blake, and then the one after that she had with Neptune, it was an easy no. "I have nothing else to say regarding it, Professor Goodwitch."
Her green eyes watched for just a little longer before bobbing back to Ruby. "And was there anything afterward you wish to add on? Any trouble sleeping from any of you, perhaps?"
Yang's hand shot up, "I uh… I fell out of the bed from a nightmare, but that was it."
"That's understandable," she didn't look up, tapping away the response into the scroll. "This is often an initial symptom of what happens after a traumatic moment, but it doesn't last for long. However," Goodwitch looked up at Yang, "if it continues after several months, please let us know. That may be a sign of something else."
A few more presses on the scroll. "Is there anything else to report?"
It was here that Weiss had expected Ruby to speak up about her inability to sleep. But to her surprise, the girl remained silent about the topic, only shaking her head and responding with a negative. Her brows furrowed and her head and eyes gently turned to look at her at the unusual choice.
Since when was Ruby a liar? And especially in front of authority figures? There had to have been a good reason why she was doing this, but the more and more Weiss tried to dig into the back of her mind, the more it felt like there was no good reason. She might have been trying to keep it a secret from Yang after what she had gone through, but it felt shallow to her.
Maybe she just didn't want to talk about it. Maybe this whole debriefing was uncomfortable for her from the start and she wanted it to end as quickly as possible.
Maybe it was because she didn't want to bring up the fact that the two of them had a short conversation late at night. She didn't want to remember that tiny moment of vulnerability where she just let everything out in front of Weiss. She didn't want to face the fact that, when given the opportunity to back away, she reached out and took her hand, keeping her there and going through that moment of vulnerability, letting the shell of a leader come down.
A part of her hoped that Ruby was doing it to keep the moment personal, just between the two of them, but that was foolhardy. She swallowed back the feeling and turned back to Goodwitch.
Chalk one up for Ruby not being interested. Again.
"Now that we've concluded the first part, we will be moving onto the second part of the debriefing." Once again Goodwitch tapped away at the scroll, and this time an image popped up on the desk in front of them. "During your train ride, a part of your objective was to rendezvous with 'Neo'. Unfortunately we have little information about this character, and now that we have her in custody, we need more information about her and what she can do. Since you four have had some…" the professor grimaced before adjusting her glasses, "experience with Roman, we are hoping that you have seen her at some point outside of the information exchange."
With the previous question behind her, Ruby seemed much more comfortable in comparison. "We have, professor. On the night that we encountered Roman in the Paladin, not long after Yang destroyed the machine, we met someone very similar to the Neo we ran into already so far." Ruby closed her eyes, as if trying to recount details and make sure that everything was correct.
Finally she opened them and continued. "The one we met had black hair. But if we ignore the hair color, I'm sure they're the same person. They're both short."
Goodwitch nodded her head. "Roman has advised us that it's nearly impossible to capture a profile of her because she can change the way certain identifiers look at a whim. He specifically pointed out hair and eye color, so I doubt that we can use that to clearly identify very much. Still, it would be good to know the range of colors she can produce." A few more tacks, and she looked back up. "Would the four of you be able to provide what colors you saw that night?"
"I can't recall the eyes on the girl," Yang clicked her tongue as she gruffly spoke. "But her hair was pretty unusual. White, pink, brown. Hard to forget a mashup like that."
"I'm sorry." A sudden voice interrupted them, and all eyes turned to Ozpin, who had remained silent since the start of the debriefing. Did you say white, pink… and brown?" Weiss felt herself straighten in her seat, having forgotten that he headmaster was right there with them. "Can you say that with full confidence?"
The blonde, however, was able to recover and spoke quickly. "Yes. Not about to forget that face. Not when she disappeared on us like that. I hit her with a punch with Ember Celica and she and Roman just… shattered."
When Yang finished her story and Weiss looked back up at Ozpin, his face was frozen. But his eyes were opened a crack wider than usual. The way his head angled down, mechanically taking a sip from his coffee, a bare twinge in his fingers and then nothing more, she knew that whatever was shared was more than just shocking.
There was another pause of silence before the he stood up, bidding for Goodwitch to continue the debriefing without him. He swiftly exited the room, no doubt on his way back to his office for whatever epiphany he had come across. But as the questions dragged on, she found herself dwelling more and more on the look of absolute fear on Ozpin's face.
It would be his last lesson before the Vytal Tournament. One more lesson, one more day of teaching students how to catch criminals before being thrust into the madness that would be Cinder's plans.
To be fair upon himself, there were many opportunities where Roman could have made his escape. Doubly so now that Neo knew that he was being held on the campus somewhere. It would be just like all the other times they thought he couldn't possibly leave his confines - she'd use her powers to find him and then spring him when the time was right. And while the measures in place at Beacon were good, they were not without flaws. Ozpin was forgetting how he was trained as a hunter.
But at the same time, neither did Roman know whether the man was testing him or not. There was much that he kept under wraps during his time as a trainee, things that he only shared with his teammates after he swore them to secrecy. For all he knew the opening created could have been a trap, and in the end he let it slide.
Just like how he let that chance slide on the night they went to visit Junior. He shot himself and spat out a bullet. It would take more than that and a measly pair of hunter teams to stop him - not if he put his whole heart into fleeing.
Yet that would mean Cinder would have been able to trace down that he was still alive. And she was his objective, after all.
Eyes closed at the front of the desk, he felt his fingers tense at the thought of that woman. One breath. Two breaths. Calm down. Focus. She wasn't in his grasp yet - not when Adam was still such a threat. The hoped-for meeting between him and Blake was just as quickly crushed as it started, and now he needed another strategy if he wanted to try and pull them away from the site.
His means were limited, though. His scroll would not send outbound messages, and it was heavily monitored. He'd be lucky if he could watch the tournament at all. He could risk something during the time of the attack, but that was the best he could think of in the end.
He hated not having a plan, but he hated not being able to formulate one either. All of his options seemed too risky and make his real objective impossible. Escape was easy, after all. It was just revenge that was uphill.
But it would be worth it in the end. With Cinder out of the way, he was free to build up his empire in Vale again - be established and rich and safe and never hunger, never fear again. And as dangerous as the White Fang and Adam could be, with Blake under his thumb for now he was confident that he could control them to an extent as well.
For once, Torchwick looked upset to Weiss as the two teams filed into the classroom again. With the mission two days behind them and the first match of the tournament only a few more away, she had hoped that they would have time for one more teamfight. They had all promised themselves that they would work extra hard, after all. And as much as a welcome rest would have been after their mission, another lesson awaited them.
Once they completed this and graduated, however, perhaps they couldn't afford to have any downtime. Villainy was rampant, it would seem, and her eyes fell onto Ruby.
Would she even have time for romance? With people like Roman running around, it seemed unlikely. A part of her wanted to drop the question altogether, let the chance slip away. But Neptune had already told her to try, and the last thing she wanted to do was let his offer go to waste.
She took a deep breath and shook herself free of the thought. No more of that for now. There would always be time for ruminations. Torchwick was beginning his lesson. But as his voice droned on and on Weiss continually found herself turning her head down to start taking notes, only to find that hardly any sentences were written. She blinked, closed her eyes, and tried to pick up what was shared, but it was more and more of a lost cause.
All she could do was stare at Ruby and wonder what had caused her to withhold information. The braid had long been put away, leaving her with the usual hairstyle she had, but as she watched her, she seemed to betray nothing about her purpose.
She should be paying attention to the lesson. Torchwick could have been prattling on the secret of life and yet nothing was being accomplished.
She should give up on the issue for now, and try to confront Ruby later. That would be the easiest way to get it done - chasing the source. But that meant she had to work up her nerves again like that one night, go to a sequestered and quiet place, and then talk and try not to get caught up on staring too hard.
And there was still the thing about Ozpin and how he exited the debriefing. None of her teammates seemed to pick up on the urgency in which he left the room with, possibly because they hadn't spent time with him alone in the office. They hadn't seen what his more normal look was and couldn't recognize his fear when it was on display.
Her body snapped straight in her chair, turning towards the voice. Torchwick's green eyes stared back at her, a smug smile plastered onto his face. The rest of the class shifted to turn towards her, and she could feel her cheeks becoming warmer and warmer by the second. He let her cook under her gaze a tiny bit longer before finally speaking. "Is there anything interesting about Miss Red here that you'd like to share?"
She felt her gaze drift over to Ruby, where ice blue eye met soft silver.
What a question, indeed. And now she knew that she was staring at her, too.
"No," Weiss closed her eyes and gave a huff. "Continue."
He let his gaze linger a little longer before resuming the lesson. His smile could have widened for the umpteenth time, but ultimately it disappeared not long after the first sentence. Finally able to somehow concentrate and listen, Weiss did her best to write down whatever notes she could. She could ask Blake for help later on the course material.
She needed to stop getting distracted and stay focused on Torchwick. He wasn't trustworthy. He wasn't helpful. And she certainly wasn't going allow him to be pull anything out from beneath her anytime soon.
A/N: Woo, late chapter. Sorry for that. I sorta got roped up in writing everything else for a bit, but I'm back to writing this piece again. To be fair, though, this chapter was a little tough to get right. A lot of the plot points I wanted to touch upon didn't fit pacing-wise, so unfortunately they'll have to go into the next chapter.
But hey, we're now approaching the Vytal Tournament, which probably has all of the action this fic has been holding out on lol. I'm still not sure if the matches fit thematically, but I do want to add at least one of them somewhere in there. We are also nearing the end, and hopefully I've played up the moments properly. Time will tell, though, so we'll just have to see.
OBSERVER01: Ahh, sadly the plan falls through, though. I was going to have it happen but then I realized that I was just giving Roman a free pass to get what he wants. As the chat implies, though, Blake would have been on a near-solo mission where she has a discussion with Adam and tries to convince him to pull the White Fang off.
Sage of Wind Dragon and goddragonking: Thank you, and I hope you enjoyed the fic so far!
Frank Horrigan: Indeed - Roman lives on in our hearts ;_;
Whew! All this tension is kinda building up, so hopefully it all goes the right way. We have Roman encountering roadblocks, Weiss trying to stay on track, and the Ozluminati actually concerned! And speaking of the Ozluminati...
The coffee had long grown cold by now, evidence of how many times Ozpin had gone through Glynda's account of the debriefing. But the words themselves weren't even half as haunting as the the images he had pulled up on his own scroll.
Four youthful faces stared back at him in varying states of smiles. The names were long ingrained in his mind, but here only their semblances mattered. That, and the color of their hair.
Brown hair. Short range teleportation
Pink hair. Clothing mimicry
Orange hair. Semblance unknown
White hair. Illusionary placement
It shouldn't have been possible, he told himself. Semblances were wide and varied, though sometimes there were similarities. And with how skilled some hunters were becoming these days, the limits of the human aura were pushed back day by day. But this…
This was beyond any of his wildest dreams. Even his own semblance was nothing compared to this.
With a slow touch, he minimized the pictures and pulled up a number from his contact list. He took a breath and tapped it to dial, and the other side picked up. He didn't even spare any pleasantries.
"Glynda, I think I know what happened to Roman's teammates."
And as usual, beta'd by ImSoAwesome!