Here we go.


Beta: College Fool

Cover Art: Kegi Springfield

Chapter 30 - Off to Lamb


Winter tried to be kind towards her sister's boyfriend, she really did. She tried to keep her thoughts positive as she watched him spar with Qrow, but it was hard. Maybe that was because he'd taken her sister's innocence, and although Winter preferred to imagine they hadn't gone that far, there were still other forms of innocence he'd tainted. It could have been that which turned her against him, or it could have been the lack of sleep and the bright, morning light that burned through her retinas.

Or it could have been the crippling hangover. It was hard to tell, really.

Now she remembered why she didn't normally drink, except for the odd glass at some social event or military gala. It wasn't that she lost control of herself or couldn't handle it, for her discipline held strict either way. It was just that her body made sure she regretted it come the morning. The fact that Qrow, despite imbibing far more than her, looked as fresh as a daisy only made it worse – and made her want to wring his neck. Qrow, or Jaune Arc. She wasn't feeling particularly picky.

He was just so… aggravating and weak. Both of them with the former, and Arc with the latter, naturally. Whatever she might say about Qrow Branwen – and there was a lot to say – but she wouldn't have called him weak. Arc, or Jaune as she tried to force herself to refer to him as, was as skilled as a sack of potatoes, and posed about the same risk to Qrow's long-term health.

Not everyone falls in love for reasons of strength, the logical part of her mind pointed out. If Weiss cared for such things, there were plenty of strong and influential suitors for her back home. She'd turned them all down however, much to Winter's not-so-secret pleasure. Once she'd joined the Atlas military, and father made Weiss his official heir, Winter had worried her sister might be swallowed by his machinations. To her joy, Weiss had proven more robust than that.

But this was far too much! What if her relationship here was a form of rebellion? Weiss had already defied their father by doing this, and then chose to dye her hair bright green – white hair which defined her as a Schnee. The twin acts, and now a relationship with a young man of no particular standing or ability.

Winter didn't want to question Weiss' feelings, but… well, she was questioning them. She bit her lip and wondered if that made her a bad sister. Probably, but it didn't make the thoughts go away. Instead, she tried to think of his good points – things she might be able to appreciate in him as her sister's partner.

Well… he was trying to get stronger by training with Qrow. That had to mean something, right? He was also okay-looking, she supposed. He was polite and spoke well. And… uh… probably other things. Maybe.

Maybe I need to get to know him better. If this continues, I'm only going to end up upsetting Weiss. Decision made, and with a little nod to herself, Winter subtly edged closer, enough so as to hear the muffled conversation and instruction between the two. From what she could see, Qrow was goading him in and using variations of the same move on him each time. It honestly looking like he was trying to enrage the blonde, but the younger man wasn't having it, and seemed patient enough to take the humiliation without complaint.

"So," Qrow said, "I hear you picked up a girlfriend."

Damn that man. What was he doing?

"You mean Weiss? Um, yeah, I did. Well, it was more like she picked me up."

"Blonde bastard," Qrow mumbled. "Anyway, how's that going for you?"

"Oh, you know… every day is wonderful." The boy's eyes slid to her. "Every day, I wake up and thank my stars Weiss is in my life. That kind of thing."

"You shared a bed yet?"

Winter's hands clenched into fists.

"No."

"Why not?"

"Well, it's not come up, I guess." Jaune ducked under Qrow's fist and almost – almost – managed to sweep his legs out from under him. All he got for his trouble was a fist against his cheek. Despite that, he spoke as if unaffected. "We have enough beds in the room, and we've not had to share. Even if we did, I think Ruby and Pyrrha would be better to sleep with one another."

"Wait, what? Ruby and that girl…?" Qrow's eyes widened, before he sighed and shook his head. "Ugh, you're talking about actual sleeping, aren't you?"

"Yeah. You asked if we'd shared a bed."

"Sex!" Qrow yelled, a little too loud if the sudden nervous looks from several students was any indication. "I meant sex, you moron. Have you and the Ice Princess done it?"

"W-What!? NO!"

Winter slumped on the spot, and it was only once he'd denied it that she realised she'd been holding her breath, and was actually on the verge of passing out. Thank the heavens above.

"Sheesh kid, don't be such a prude." Qrow blocked a kick with his leg, then winced at the force behind it. "How'd you not know what sharing a bed means, anyway? You do know what it means to sleep with someone, right?"

"O-Of course I do. Everyone explained that to me, it's just that Mom and Dad never really used those terms for it." He frowned. "I mean, I don't even know why people say that. There's no sleeping involved from what I regularly hear late at night, and judging from the places me and my sisters keeping walking into and getting scarred for life, the bed is the last place on Remnant they'll actually do it. It's normally a table, a doorway, a wall, a convenient rock-"

He was cut off by a vicious blow that came out of nowhere, Qrow suddenly going from bored to brutal in an instant. Jaune bounced several times across the grass before he came to a stop.

"Too much information, kid." Qrow said, looking ill. "I did not need to know that."

"You brought it up," Jaune grumbled, staggering to his feet and wiping his mouth. "Why are you so interested in what Weiss and I do, anyway? Isn't that a little weird?"

"Yes," Winter said loudly. "Yes, it is."

"No, it's not," Qrow denied with a little growl her way. "You're my student. It's my responsibility to make sure you're not making any mistakes in your life."

"And sleeping with Weiss would be a mistake?" he asked.

"Yes," Winter said.

"No," Qrow countered. "Quite the opposite. I say go for it."

Winter's lips peeled back. "Excuse me!?"

"What?" Qrow looked at her with an innocent expression… one she immediately mistrusted and wanted to pin to a wall with her sabre. "You can't get in the way of young love like that just because you're middle-aged and alone."

M-Middle-aged!? Winter choked on air. She wasn't middle-aged. She wasn't even thirty, yet. So what if she'd never been with a man? She was still young. "Watch who you call middle-aged, old man! Weren't you a student here before your dear student was even born?" She grinned viciously when he flinched. "That would make you what, forty-five?"

"Thirty-five, actually."

"I'm afraid I'm not some foolish bar wench with a poor grasp of mathematics, Qrow. That might fool them, but not me." She looked away and sighed dramatically. "It's a poor sight to see someone lie about their own age like that."

"At least I have a social life. You're only as old as you act, Ice-Queen!"

"Keep telling yourself that, Qrow." She leaned forwards, eyes flashing dangerously. "Why don't you go enjoy your mid-life crisis instead of interfering in my sister's love life."

"I guess it's because I'm such a nice person," he growled, striding up to her and staring into her eyes. "I'm not the one trying to get in the way of his sister's happiness." He paused. "Sort of…"

"I'm not trying anything! Why are you so insistent he date Weiss, anyway?" Her eyes narrowed. "You're planning something, aren't you?"

"Talk about paranoid…"

"That's not exactly a no, Qrow."

"I'm just doing my best to offer some manly advice to me young student."

"At the expense of my sister!"

"They're already together," he taunted, forehead close to hers. "Far as I can see, you're the one who looks about ready to interfere."

"How dare you. I would never betray my sister like that!"

"Then bless their relationship."

"I… Weiss is still young. It's too soon for such a thing…"

"Ha!" Qrow placed his hands on his hips and laughed. "I guess that shows it. The wicked witch of Atlas is here to ruin her little sister's love life. You spent all last night whining about it."

"As though you were any different! You couldn't shut up about your sister sleeping with someone!"

"That's different!" Qrow growled.

"Ahem…"

"It's no different at all you… you infuriating man."

"Oh, infuriating. What a scathing insult. Can you not swear, or is it that you're afraid you'll upset Daddy?" The bastard of a man smirked. "Or is it Ironwood you're worried you'll upset? Then again, from what I've seen, maybe you call him Daddy as well."

Her patience snapped.

"You've crossed the line, you stupid piece of sh-"

"AHEM!" A loud voice interrupted. The two of them froze, eyes shifting to the left in time to see Glynda Goodwitch, and beside her an amused headmaster Ozpin. "If you could," Glynda said, "there are students around. I doubt they need to experience your advanced vocabulary, Miss Schnee."

Oh Gods. Her cheeks turned red immediately. Suddenly, she became aware of just how many people were watching, students and teachers alike. Had they really been that loud? Then again, it was a weekend, and there were no classes. If Ironwood ever heard…

"Huh, where did the brat go?" Qrow asked, far less bothered than her.

"I believe he left when it became clear the tow of you were more interested in one another than training him." Ozpin sipped from his mug and smiled. "In future, I think I should ask you to keep your emotions in check, or at least reserve them for a private rendezvous."

Winter bristled. "He and I are not like that."

"Not in a million years," Qrow agreed, scowling at her. "I'd not tap that if I was the most desperate man on Remnant."

"I believe the headmaster was merely referring to a spar," Glynda said. "Should the two of you have something else in mind, then I will ask for you to handle it off-campus. There are several hotels in Vale which might be able to cater to your… tastes."

Qrow grumbled something under his breath, while Winter's cheeks flushed. She stammered something unintelligible and stormed away. Damn Qrow, damn her hangover, and damn the White Fang in general for putting her through this.

Oh, and damn Arc and Weiss, too.

Qrow was planning something, and if it involved her sister, then she was not going to sit by and let it happen. Not at all.

/-/

Jaune found his team outside the library, and on their way inside. It was a common haunt for them, though not for the reasons Oobleck might have wished. The library was quiet and unoccupied, which meant they could be as loud as they wanted to be without interference. By now, the librarians had given up trying to stop them, or maybe they just hadn't cared from the start. With Nora among their group, it would have been a wasted effort anyway.

"How did your training go?" Ruby asked.

"It was cut short," he said, standing beside Weiss. They nodded to one another, but when a group of students walked by, she tapped her hand against his. He swallowed and took it, their fingers intertwining.

The three girls noticed – and one of them noticed for so long that she walked into a wall, and had to be helped up by her friends. Was it really that strange to imagine he and Weiss being together? It wasn't the first time someone had stopped and stared. Ruby giggled as they moved past. "You're safe now."

"Thank God," Weiss said, letting go. "What do you mean it was interrupted? What happened?"

Jaune wasn't sure what to do with his hand now. It was overly warm from Weiss' touch, and he could admit to having been both surprised, and subtly pleased with how soft her skin felt. Holding hands was something he'd come to enjoy. The problem now was what to do with it. Did he wipe his hand on his trouser leg? Weiss might notice and take affront. In the end, he stuffed it into his pocket and followed Pyrrha and Ruby into the library.

"It got interrupted, I guess, but in terms of what actually happened?" He sighed. "I have no idea. Your sister came to watch."

"Winter did? Why?"

"I've no idea. She arrived with Ruby's uncle."

"At the same time?" Ruby asked, suddenly interested. "Why would Weiss' sister be with Uncle Qrow?"

"Why, indeed," Weiss said, humming to herself. "Strange. I wasn't aware the two knew one another, but I suppose it's possible. Your uncle is a huntsman, as is Winter. They might have worked together in the past." She glanced at him. "How were they interacting? Were they on good terms?"

Huh, how was he supposed to answer that? Jaune held a hand to his chin and hummed, trying to find the right way to explain it.

"Let's just say they either hate one another, or want to tear each other's clothes off."

Weiss and Ruby stopped so quickly that he and Pyrrha bumped into them.

"Y-You must be mistaken," Weiss said. "Winter would never be like that."

"Yeah," Ruby agreed. "Uncle Qrow could never be successful with a girl. That's crazy!"

"Well, I could be wrong," Jaune allowed. "I only have the way my family acts to draw on." He'd have asked Remy what he thought, but the parasite was currently asleep, and didn't like to be woken up for useless stuff like that. "Maybe it was something else."

"But Jaune did say your sister arrived with Ruby's uncle," Pyrrha pointed out.

"She probably wanted to witness Jaune's training," Weiss said. "She does believe he is my boyfriend, after all. It would make sense for her to want to know more about him."

"Couldn't she just talk to him?"

"I'm afraid you don't know my sister, Pyrrha."

"Ah, I suppose you're right." The redhead chuckled. "Still, did either you or Jaune tell her about the fact he was training with Mr Branwen in the morning?"

"I don't think we did," Jaune said, eyeing Weiss. She shook her head as well.

"Then how else could she have known other than to speak with him directly? It seems obvious to me that she must have spent time with Ruby's uncle, and he must have told her."

Ruby's mouth fell open. "No way… I have to tell Yang!"

"My sister and your uncle?" Weiss asked. She looked queasy, though there was no telling if that was disgust at the idea of the two of them being together, or the concept of Weiss and Yang becoming sisters. "This is can't be happening. It's a nightmare!"

"I didn't mean they had to be like that," Pyrrha said. "They might have just spoken to one anot-"

"I refuse to let my sister marry that man!"

"Hey," Ruby protested. "That man is my Uncle. Besides, you can't get in the way of true love."

"Watch me…"

"I didn't say they had to be lovers!" Pyrrha said louder. She went ignored. "Oh, forget it," she said, turning to him. "Did you at least manage to put Yang's training into practise and get past Mr Branwen's one move?"

Jaune sighed and shook his head. "I tried, and I got close, but he seemed unusually vicious today. He also smelled of cheap booze and smoke, and his eyes were bloodshot. I think he was sick."

They pushed into the library proper, with Pyrrha and him rolling their eyes as Weiss and Ruby debated the merits of their respective family members and why that meant one was too good for the other, or why the other was more than good enough. The argument died as they reached the table with Team RYBN, however. Blake was on her feet, a shocked expression on her face as she stared down at her scroll.

"It came through," she gasped.

"What did?" Weiss asked, drawing out a chair.

"The…" She cut off and looked around to make sure no one was watching. When it was safe, she lowered her voice and continued. "The White Fang… they sent me the message about meeting with the actual White Fang. Don't you remember that I gave my details to that recruitment guy?"

"He got in contact!?"

Blake nodded, and silently pushed the scroll out onto the table. They all leaned over to read it.

Brave Warriors,

Your enthusiasm for our cause has been noted, and the chance to become a part of something greater than any one of us has arrived. If your determination has not yet waned, then meet at the following address one night from now. Be safe, and tell no one.

Sincerely,

Your friend.

"Friend, he calls us," Weiss snorted. "That fool certainly likes to wax lyrical. I suppose that's the point. At this stage, anyone who still attends is going to be a frightened little lamb. They don't want to make the work sound dangerous or frightening."

"It's so soon, though," Yang added. "One night from now, so that's tomorrow night, right? It doesn't give us much time."

"That's kind of the point," Blake said. "If there is a spy among the recruits, then they don't want to give them any time to mount an ambush. I imagine the rendezvous location is heavily guarded even now. Any attempt for the police to form an ambush would end in disaster." She tossed her hair, then frowned when it caused her bell to tinkle and chime. She cursed under her breath. "The address came in a separate message. It's an abandoned warehouse in an old industrial district, the kind of place the White Fang love."

"Out of the way and unlikely to draw attention," Weiss nodded. "You'd think it would be the first place the police would look."

"Nah, they're too busy trying to protect people," Yang said. "They're already stretched thin with normal crime and the like. They can't afford to scope and watch every single empty place in Vale."

"And Torchwick is probably making it worse with his robberies," Jaune added. It was an easy distraction, and one Uncle Watts would have approved of. Have the loud and flashy party draw attention, while the far more dangerous one laid low. There was still one problem, though.

He didn't want this to go ahead.

Another attack on the White Fang was another chance for him to run into Roman, which was more chances for his alter-ego to get exposed.

"Should we really be the ones to do this?" he asked.

Predictably, his words mad everyone pause. Blake in particular scowled, crossing her arms and glaring at him. "If not us, then who?"

"The police? Weiss' sister?" He nodded vaguely in the direction of outside. "That's what she's here for, after all. Didn't you all say it would be terrible if she found us doing this? Why not let her do it instead?"

"Jaune raises a good point," Pyrrha said, earning a relieved nod from him. "Our initial plan was to do this because no one else was and we can't afford to leave military hardware in their hands. With Atlas here, surely it would be best to leave it in their hands."

Jaune nodded happily. "Exactly!"

He should have known it would never last. Even before Blake could form some kind of argument, Weiss killed the idea stone dead.

"And how do you propose we let Winter know?"

"Eh?"

"We can't go up and tell her, or she'd ask where we found such information," Weiss pointed out. "Similarly, if we're unable to come up with a good excuse, she simply won't believe us. If you have any ideas, I'll be happy to hear them, but we have barely a day to come up with something."

"Well… couldn't we just say we overheard it somewhere?"

Weiss rolled her eyes. "Jaune, no one would just overhear the White Fang talking about something like this. Be realistic. Even if we came up with an excuse, it would just draw Winter's attention onto us. The best-case scenario is she becomes suspicious and we're in danger, while the worst might lead to her finding out the truth, or discovering Blake's past."

"Which isn't good," Nora said needlessly. "Weiss is right. We're kinda stuck with this. We can do it or not do it, but we can't tell anyone else without telling them what we did the first time."

Jaune bit down on his rising panic. Okay, this wasn't good, but it wasn't a disaster yet.

"Isn't this a bit risky, though? We're not enough to take on an entire terrorist organisation."

"I know, but that's not the plan." Blake crossed her arms. "We're not going to fight them. We're going to investigate them, find out what their plan is, and then leak that to Weiss' sister and ruin the White Fang's plan."

"Isn't that just the same as my plan but with an added step in the middle? A dangerous step?"

"Not at all."

"I really think it is."

Weiss sighed dramatically. "Jaune, it's similar, but not the same. This will give us time to think of a good way to inform my sister, of which we have none now. Besides, like Blake says, we're not planning to cause a scene. We'll go along, stand in the crowd and leave peacefully when it's over. Right?"

Everyone nodded.

"Wasn't that the plan for the last meeting?"

"Yes. What's your point?"

"Oh, I don't know… maybe that it's nice to make plans, but that ours never work?" Jaune waved a hand. "When was the last time anything we planned went according to the plan?"

The long silence as good as confirmed his point.

"I see what you're saying, but it's not that simple," Weiss said. "We have a choice here, and as I see it, there are three options. Option one is that we tell my sister, and then invite suspicion onto us from Atlas itself. Do you want that?"

"N-No…" Not with his secret.

"Option two is that we choose not to do anything here at all, and let the White Fang get away with their goals."

"Not an option," Blake said, scowling.

"I'm not sure I'd comfortable with the idea either," Yang added. "This sounds pretty dangerous, especially if Torchwick is involved. There could be innocent lives riding on it."

Jaune shuffled awkwardly. She had a point… and he did come to Beacon to try and be a hero. What kind of hero let others suffer because they were scared of getting in trouble? A pit opened up in his stomach. "And option three is us going to stop it," Jaune finished, defeated. There just didn't seem to be a way out, or not one he was willing to take. "Fine… I'm in."

"It'll be fine," Ren said. "We'll come up with a good plan."

"That's what I'm worried about…"

/-/

"You want me to watch over him!?" Emerald asked, horrified. "Why me? I thought Mercury was supposed to follow him?"

"Are you questioning me, Emerald?"

"No, no, no!" Emerald shook her head, suddenly wary. The news was unwelcoming enough, but she didn't want to draw Cinder's ire by rebelling against it. "I'm just trying to understand. Could I at least take Mercury along?"

"Unfortunately, I have need of him." Cinder closed the door of her wardrobe and looked down at herself. She was back in her red dress, which certainly would have turned the student's heads. "Roman is worried about this red-eyed monster who has been causing him problems. With the rally tomorrow, he's concerned it might make an appearance, and we know it isn't Jaune."

"You're going to hunt it down?"

Cinder nodded, distractedly checking her scroll. "That is why I want Mercury with me. Your skills and your Semblance make you better suited for subtle work, of which I doubt this will count. On the other hand, I want you to speak with Jaune, and make sure he isn't doing anything related to the rally tomorrow night." Cinder looked her way. "You heard what I promised Roman, I take it?"

"That you'd keep him distracted," Emerald agreed. She didn't bother to point out that Cinder had said she would keep him busy, and not one of her underlings. That would just invite trouble. "I understand, but I'm not sure how to manage that."

"I'm sure you will come up with something, Emerald. Simply put, you are best suited to this because you can use your Semblance if needs be. Mercury has more direct applications, which is why I want him with me if things turn bad."

Emerald sighed. As much as she hated the idea, it made sense.

"I understand, ma'am…"

Maybe it would be a chance for her to earn a little more of Cinder's attention and goodwill. After all, she was being trusted with an important task on her own, and that task was protecting Cinder's family. There was a small tug in Emerald's stomach. It wasn't happiness, but it was better than nothing. This had potential… if she played her cards right.

"When are you leaving?" she asked.

"Now." Cinder said, and stepped past her. "If anyone asks as to our presence, tell them we're out camping, drinking or whatever else you come up with. I wouldn't expect us to return until the end of the weekend."

Emerald nodded. She didn't imagine the teachers would care. As long as they made it back before classes on the Monday, it was usually fine. Beacon was a boarding school for teenagers, and young adults, so they often got up to things in their free time. The green-haired girl waited for the two to leave, and wilfully ignored Mercury's cocky smirk. The bastard was smiling now, but she would be the one to do so when he returned to find her boasting of her triumph.

The first thing was to find out what he was up to, which was why ten minutes later, she was stalking the hallways outside of their room. No one had seen them recently when asked, and luckily there was no Cardin plotting any more problems for them. Whether that was lucky for her, or him, she didn't know. If he dyed her hair again, she'd kill him.

All I need to do is keep him away from the White Fang rally tomorrow. That shouldn't be too hard. I just need to keep him with me, so I can watch over him.

Any guy would be thrilled to spend time with her, and although it would be a pain in the ass, it was only one day, and then she could report her success to Cinder. In fact, he might even know of some other ways to impress her, which would make this mission even better. Emerald rubbed her hands together gleefully, and secured herself in a nearby alcove, waiting for him to arrive.

It didn't take long.

"I know, I know…" Jaune said. "I said I'll do it. I was just worried."

"And I understand that, but we have to-" Weiss Schnee saw her immediately, and quickly latched onto Jaune's hand. She smiled a wide smile and leaned against him.

Huh…

That was weird.

"Hello… Emerald, wasn't it?" Weiss stumbled over the name, but Emerald nodded. "Is there anything we can help you with?"

Yeah, an explanation for why the two of them were acting so weird would be nice. In the end, that wasn't important though, and she shrugged her shoulders. "I was wondering if I could talk to Jaune for a moment. It won't take long."

"What about?" he asked.

"About something we both got up to the other day," she hinted. It wasn't until the other three looked at her suspiciously that she realised how bad that sounded. "It's about Cardin," she clarified with a sigh. "I helped him with a prank on Cardin."

"Ah, the prank war thing." Pyrrha Nikos tapped her cheek. "That's still going on? I didn't realise you were involved."

"The asshole dropped dye in my hair," Emerald snarled.

Weiss released her partner and stepped forward. For a second, she thought the heiress might attack her, but she instead placed a hand on her shoulder and nodded instead. There was a strange sense of camaraderie Emerald wasn't fully comfortable with.

"I can talk," Jaune said. He broke off from the others with a smile. "I'll be with you all soon. Give us a minute."

They all nodded and made their way inside, and Emerald nodded away once they did, drawing him a few metres down the hall just in case his team decided to try and listen in. He followed easily enough.

"This isn't about Cardin, is it?"

"You catch on quick. What gave it away?"

"You hate Cardin for what happened. If you wanted to cause him more trouble, you'd have said whatever you're about to say in front of my team. It would just make them angry enough to try and help, which is better for you."

Huh, so he wasn't half as dumb as he let on. Cinder had warned her as such, saying naïve and foolish weren't quite the same. It seemed to apply to him for sure. "You're right, it's not about that. Answer me one thing first, though. What was up back there? With the Schnee being all touchy-feely, I mean."

"Weiss is my girlfriend."

"Bull," Emerald said instantly. She already knew he and the blonde, Yang, were dating. Cinder had already confirmed that, so this couldn't have happened under their watch. "I don't believe that for a second."

"It's… uh… complicated."

"Sounds like it." She cocked her head to the side and looked him up and down. He didn't look like someone who'd gotten with a girl, at least recently. You could tell sometimes, normally in the way a man walked a little taller, more confident in themselves, or just a smug asshole. Mercury looked like he got laid every day, but that was just because he actually was that arrogant. "This is fake, I'm taking it?"

He sighed, "Okay, fine. It's not real. Just… you can't make a big deal out of this. Can you tell Big Sis not to, either?"

"Cinder?" Emerald asked. "Why? Why should we agree to this?"

"Because it's Winter Schnee who we're lying to," he explained. "And unless you want her and the Atlas military's attention on me, it'll be good to avoid it."

Emerald opened her mouth, and closed it again a second later. He… had a point. Huh, he could actually be pretty sneaky. She'd thought to force another favour out of him, but he'd caught her dead to rights. Cinder would be angry if she heard about this, and especially if she learned that Emerald had potentially put him in danger with Atlas. It would mean more work for Mercury and her, too. Neither of those were good things.

"Fine," she snapped. "I won't anyone, but I still need you to do what I came here for. I wasn't fully lying when I said it was to do with Winchester. It's related. Do you remember that you promised me a favour for helping you?"

His face instantly became wary, "Yes…"

"I want to call it in."

"That goes without saying. You wouldn't have come to see me otherwise." He shifted nervously. "What is it you want?"

There were a lot of things, but sadly this favour would go wasted, mainly because she needed to use it to check on something. On the way here, she'd agonised over how to ask him. She couldn't specifically mention the rally, because if he didn't know, he would after she spilled the beans. That might only make him go after it. Similarly, she couldn't make any vague hints, because she wouldn't be able to tell if he wasn't catching them because he didn't know about Torchwick, or if he just didn't understand the hints.

That left only one option.

"I want to impress Cinder and improve myself in her books. I was wondering if you could help me with that."

He relaxed quickly. "You mean just to talk?"

"Yeah, sure. Nothing illegal, just you, me, alone in private…" She flashed him a seductive smile and leaned a little closer, bunching her arms so that he could see down her cleavage.

Her smile died an ugly death when he didn't react in the slightest.

"Well, that doesn't sound so bad. Do you want to do that now?"

"No, tomorrow." Emerald smiled cruelly. "Tomorrow evening at ten. Meet me at my room and we can talk. It shouldn't take an hour, maybe two." That ought to be more than enough time for Roman to conclude his business. That was… if Jaune didn't already have plans to go there. She cocked her head to the side. "If you're busy, I understand, but Cinder and Mercury are out tomorrow, so it would be a good chance to talk in private."

The moment of truth… if he tried to make an excuse, then-

"Okay, sure."

Wait, what?

There was a moment of shock in which she stared at him, not quite able to believe his easy acceptance. She swallowed and shook her head. "You're fine with it!?"

"I guess so. It doesn't sound too hard." He glanced away. "I'll meet you tomorrow night."

"You will?"

"Sure. I'm happy to help you get on better with Cinder."

Huh… that was anti-climactic. Emerald nodded stupidly, even as she was breathing a sigh of relief inside. That had been easier than she thought it would be. Maybe he didn't know about it after all. Maybe she'd just been paranoid. Besides, it wasn't like Torchwick would be so stupid as to let news about this get out.

"Great… thanks." She grinned once her surprise wore off. "I guess I'll see you there."

"I guess so."

"My room, ten, and-" Emerald cut off as she sensed someone nearby. There were students passing all the time, but most paid no attention. This was different however, mostly because the person had come to a dead stop behind her.

"Arc," the person, a woman, snapped. "Would you care to explain what you are doing cavorting with another woman, and why you are making plans to visit her room late at night?"

"Oh, hello Miss Schnee."

S-Schnee? That sure as hell didn't sound like Weiss. She turned on the spot, eyes at the same level the white-haired girls would be at – only to instead find herself looking at a much taller woman's chest. She knew her dangerous people, and her brain knew of one other woman called Schnee. Despite that, her eyes still tracked slowly up the figure, until she was staring wide-eyed into the angry eyes of a very dangerous woman indeed. Her stomach fell down to her ankles.

Shit.

"We're making arrangements to work on homework together," Jaune said, lying with far more ease than she'd have been capable of. This was Winter Schnee, an Atlas Specialist, and definitely someone Cinder either wasn't aware was here, or wasn't aware was involved with Jaune. What's she doing here at all? This is ridiculous. Is Atlas on to us already?

"Homework, hmm? So late at night?"

"It's when we do it in Team WJRP. This is Emerald Sustrai, by the way. She's a friend of mine, and of Weiss'," he added. "Emerald, this is Winter Schnee, my girlfriend's sister."

Frankly, she was glad he felt it prudent to take over the introductions, even if he did lay the hint on a little thick with the girlfriend comment. So this was who they were trying to fool. Good Gods, that wasn't something she needed to know. He was right. Cinder would go ape if she knew he was getting himself in trouble with Winter Schnee of all people.

Better that she didn't know. Better for her and Mercury, at least.

"I-It's nice to meet you," Emerald said, wincing at her stupid stammer. "I'm a friend of Jaune's, and in case you're wondering, I would never, never try and do what you might be thinking I was doing."

Jaune blinked, and then like an idiot, felt the need to open his mouth.

"Huh? What did she think…?"

"That I was trying to seduce you, idiot!" she hissed, elbowing him.

"Oooh…" He laughed. "Oh no way. I'd never cheat on someone in general, and definitely not with Emerald."

Hey now… what the hell was that supposed to mean!?

"And if I were to ask Weiss about this?" Winter asked.

"Go ahead. She's just in our dorm over there. I can let you in if you want."

Winter Schnee's lips turned into a flat scowl, and although he seemed either impervious or oblivious as to why, she was not. So, the elder sister doesn't approve and wants to catch him out. If I'm reading this right, she won't ask Weiss because to do so would make that obvious. Jaune might not understand the gesture, but Weiss would, and probably be angry. I'm not sure if there's any way I can actually use this…

"No, that will be fine," Winter scowled. "It was… nice to see you again, and I apologise for interrupting your morning training. Perhaps I could make up for it by offering some of my own, free time permitting."

Emerald shook her head subtly.

"Sure, that sounds great."

Ugh… forget it. He was on his own, and frankly, her job was done. It was better to escape while she could, and before something happened to make the situation worse. She nodded both to Jaune, and then sent a polite one towards the older woman. "Thanks for agreeing to help me, Jaune. I'll see you tomorrow."

"No problem. Say hi to your team for me."

Emerald fled while she had the chance. The entire time, she couldn't help but be aware of the older woman's eyes boring into her back.

Those piercing eyes followed her around the corner and away.

/-/

Jaune breathed a sigh of relief once Winter and Emerald left, allowing him to head back to his room and team. He paused at the door, letting out a short sigh.

"You do realise you offered to meet her at the same time you'll be raiding the White Fang, right?"

"Technically not..."

"How do you intend to be in two places at once?"

"I don't, Remy. I'll stick with the original plan and then go see Emerald afterwards. Technically, I only said I'd see her tomorrow night. She was the one who gave a time, but I never agreed to it." He grinned. "I guess there are advantages to people assuming I'm not exactly a genius."

"Why the deception, though?"

"Isn't it obvious? Cinder would freak out if she knew what I was doing. It's better to just tell a little white lie and dodge it. I'll make it up to Emerald another time."

Remy didn't respond, but Jaune caught a faint feeling of satisfaction from the Grimm. It looked like it agreed with his reasoning, or at least understood it. He did feel bad for Emerald, but what she didn't know, wouldn't hurt her.

Besides, he didn't want to get her involved with the White Fang and Roman. Cinder would probably be upset if the girl got hurt.

/-/

Far away in the Grimmlands, Salem sat on her stone throne, a fierce frown on her face. She glared down at the information she'd been presented, and her eyes glowed like red hot coals.

"This is everything we were able to find," Watts said. "Much about his past is shrouded in mystery, but one thing that is not is his allegiance to Ozpin."

She nodded and traced one finger across the information, committing it to memory. It was the man her dear Nicky had warned her of, and apparently, he had an inkling as to their relationship. A frantic message to Cinder had assured her Jaune was still safe, but this still presented problems.

What was Ozpin's role in this? It seemed impossible that he would not have slain Jaune if he knew the truth, so had this Qrow Branwen not informed the headmaster? Did he have his own agenda that parted from the fool's?

To strike recklessly might place her son in harm's way.

She could not allow that, and so would have to… curb her desire to deal with this man personally. There were bigger things at stake.

"What would you suggest, Watts?" she asked. While normally loathe to accept their opinions, his approach to such problems was often a little subtler. "I cannot move for fear of what would happen to Jaune. What angle would you take?"

"For now, my mistress, I would investigate further. If his allegiance can be bought, then why not take control of him. If he were truly loyal to Ozpin, then he would have surely killed Jaune by now, and certainly wouldn't have contacted Sir Nicholas."

"Yes, that confused me as well. Do you truly believe there is no immediate risk?"

"If there is, I think it something Cinder might be able to deal with." His expression made it clear how much it hurt to speak kindly of her, but in a matter of such seriousness, he did not bother with petty dislike. "I think she should be warned, but that any overt action might force his hand. Let us see what it is he hoped to gain, but also make our own movements in the background."

"If he were to be removed, he would pose no threat."

"Indeed," Watts agreed. "So long as he died due to an accident or unrelated Grimm attack."

Salem nodded. That would be the plan for now. She could create some Grimm with the express purpose of hunting him, but make them normal ones. As a huntsman, he would likely prove capable of slaying them, but anything more exotic might arouse Ozpin's suspicion. For now, it would have to do.

She rose from her throne and moved away, the folder of information held at her side.

"Come with me, Watts. I believe a visit to the spawning pits is in order, and I would have you take down a missive for Cinder."

He nodded. "As you command, my Queen."

As she moved away, Salem failed to notice a single sheet of paper fall from the collection of such in her hand. It drifted down onto the cobbled flagstones where it lay discarded as they continued on. After a few minutes however, another figure stumbled upon it.

"Hmm," the woman mused. "What's this?"

The blonde figure knelt and picked it up, dusting it clear and looking at what turned out to be a printed photograph. In it, a roguish figure with black and grey hair winked at the camera. His red eyes, chiselled jaw and stubbled chin were on full display – as a was a generous portion of his chest.

The girl's cheeks darkened as she continued to stare at it.

"Oh my…" she breathed, fanning herself quickly. She glanced around, suddenly nervous, and then stuffed the picture into her pocket. "She'd never seen a human like that before. Maybe this required a little extra research…"

For taking over the world purposes, of course…

Maybe he could be a prisoner.

Her cheeks darkened even further as she recalled what her mother had done with her last prisoner. M-Maybe she could do the same…? It was okay, right?

"I just need to find out his name first."

Coral Salem Arc placed one hand against her bright-red cheek and giggled. Behind her, four tentacles swayed dreamily, several intertwining and playing with one another. Maybe there was more wisdom to her little brother's decision than met the eye if the humans in Vale looked like that.


And there's the chapter. Kind of busy this week since I'm finishing NTF, while also putting up with a few idiots from it actually going so far as to send me death threats. Yay… the joys of Fanfiction, sigh.


Next Chapter: 17th August

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