Here we go with a new fic. As explained elsewhere, this will take over Professor Arc and come out each Sunday. I'd like to throw a few quick warnings now, however. Firstly, this fic will not make use of OC's. That said, several characters will be unknown at the start. Jaune will not know the identity of certain people, and may even use code names at some point. These are not OC's, however. They are characters from the show.
Secondly, this story may have some darker themes. It's not going to be an angst-fest, but it is dealing with subterfuge and intrigues, so expect some uncomfortable topics. It's also going to be AU. I mean, every fanfic is AU (surely), but this may be more AU than usual. Beacon will still be a thing, as will the characters, and while major events will still happen as expected, there will be a change in terms of micro-events. This is just to keep things interesting and make this not another canon rewrite. There shouldn't be any OOC characters, and no OC ones either, it's more AU in terms of what events occur.
Pairing is secret. It's my new rule, and all pairings will now not be told ahead of time.
Jaune Arc knew he'd made a mistake.
He'd made many in his short life, some more devastating than others, but all of which he'd come to regret in time. In truth there was more he regretted in life than not, mostly on how he'd not bothered to train when he was younger, and how he'd coasted through school without putting much effort in. Those were little things now, unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Most went forgotten. Most went ignored.
His attempts to forge his transcripts and fake his way into Beacon hadn't. It had only been a few days ago, after all. He'd just gotten his acceptance letter today.
That, he regretted.
He'd expected life would get a little bit more exciting when he signed up to become a huntsman. He thought he knew the risks, the danger. There were Grimm, stronger students, and probably a lot of training he wouldn't know how to do. He was ready to face that. He just needed to be aware of the risks ahead of time and prepare for them. If there was one thing he didn't fear, it was hard work - and he had a whole litany of things he knew to watch out for.
Funny how being strapped to a chair with a sack over his head hadn't made that list…
"You heard his story," a voice said. It was muffled through the burlap. "Not sure – fake – lies?"
Jaune struggled to hear. It was hard, not only because of the sack, but also because of how terrified he was. His heart beat in his chest like a drum, and the occasional whimper that slipped from his gagged mouth didn't help. Whatever they'd used to bind his hands behind his back chafed his skin badly. His body shook.
I don't want to die here.
"I suppose we should find out," a gruff voice said.
A hand settled atop his head, he could feel it through the sack. It gripped tight and then tugged. There was no flash of blinding white light. The room was dark, but for a small glow from a lamp in the far corner. It was a bare and empty space made of concrete floor and walls, with only a single table nearby. Atop it, lay a small bag with unknown implements inside.
There was also a gun.
Jaune couldn't take his eyes off it.
"You gagged him?" one of the two men asked. He was tall and thin, but his face was hidden by a porcelain mask. It was pitch black. He couldn't see through the eye slits. It was too dark. "How is he supposed to talk like this?"
"If you'd seen what he was like before, you'd understand." The second, a far bulkier figure dressed in black and with another mask, crouched down and reached toward him. "Stay still," he commanded, clutching Jaune's chin when he flinched away. He untied the knot at the back of Jaune's neck, then pulled the crumpled cloth out of his mouth.
Jaune gasped, but quickly shot into action. "Whatever you want, it's yours. I didn't do anything. I don't know where I am or what I did, but I'm sorry. Please let me go. I don't want to- mfph!"
"See what I mean?" the bulky man asked, holding the cloth back in Jaune's mouth. "Getting him to talk isn't the problem. He's good at that."
"It's the validity of those poisonous words," the tall man said. "I see." He crouched down and looked Jaune in the eye. "Are you listening to me, my boy? Nod if you are."
Jaune nodded. He'd have done anything they asked of him at that moment.
"Good. Now then, I'm going to have my associate here remove your gag, but this time, I don't want you to speak. Do you understand?"
He nodded again. The gag was removed, and despite the strong desire to gasp, or maybe sob, Jaune kept his lips sealed. The gentle words did little for his fear, however. If the man thought it had, then he needed to look in the mirror. The black mask was terrifying.
"Ah, that's much better. You see, friend, so much more can be accomplished with a little bit of kindness." The tall man pulled a chair out from the shadows and sat down on it backwards. Jaune's Mom would have had words about that, but probably not to someone dressed like this. "Now, Mr Arc, isn't it? Please answer with a nod or a shake of the head. Save your words for now."
Jaune nodded a yes.
"Good, good. Can I call you Jaune?"
Yes. Whatever, they could call him whatever they wanted so long as it wasn't corpse. He nodded frantically.
"Thank you, Jaune. You've been very co-operative so far, to both me and my associate here. I'd like to thank you for that, but also to ease your mind a little." He might have smiled. Jaune couldn't tell. "If you continue to co-operate, there needn't be any unpleasantness here. Do you understand?"
He did. He nodded.
"I'm glad. I'm going to let you speak now, but I'd rather you only do so in answer to my questions. Is that okay? You can say yes or no."
"Excellent…" The man shifted and moved the chair closer. He cupped Jaune's chin and tilted his head so that it faced the mask, staring directly into the thin visor. "I want you to keep looking into my eyes, Jaune, even if you can't see them very well. Worry not. I won't hurt you. I just want to ask you some questions."
"I-I already told you everything," he whimpered. His eyes widened when he realised he'd said more than a yes or a no. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to speak!"
The man chuckled. "That's okay, Jaune. Now then, I've heard your story from my associate here." The other man grunted. "While I'm sure you were being perfectly honest, I must admit that it's a little unbelievable. All I want you to do is confirm a few little things for me. Is that okay?"
"Y-Yes… I'll do anything."
The man stared into his eyes for a moment, and then nodded. "I see you're telling the truth, or at least you believe you are. Well then, let's begin. You are Jaune Arc of Ansel, correct?"
"You recently applied to Beacon Academy, and received your acceptance letter from headmaster Ozpin."
The man tilted his masked face. "You have no training on how to actually be a huntsman."
"You faked your transcripts."
Jaune lowered his head, or tried to. The man kept it firmly raised. "Yes," he whispered.
"You are in fact an ordinary teen, a civilian without any training and without any ability to fight, let alone an aura to protect you from harm."
Jaune's shame was laid bare. It was all true. He was a fake, a fraud. He'd thought he could make it, and then actually believed he'd get away with it once he got the acceptance letter. Now, in this dark and dingy room, his stupidity was revealed in full. "Yes," he groaned. "Yes to all of those."
The man was silent for a few seconds. When he spoke, it wasn't to Jaune, but instead his `associate`. "He speaks the truth," he said, a hint of surprise – or perhaps disbelief – in his voice.
"Are you sure?"
"It's the truth as he knows it."
"Try again. He might be trained."
What did they mean about training?
The tall man nodded and turned back to Jaune. "Once more, Jaune… you are a normal, untrained civilian?"
Jaune nodded. "Yes."
"You snuck into Beacon for the sole purpose of… what was it?"
"I…" Jaune balked. "I wanted to make my family proud. I wanted to be someone. I want to help people and be a person I can respect."
"Hm, I see." The man chuckled. "Let's try again, then. You snuck into Beacon for the sole purpose of wish fulfilment. Is that correct?"
What little remained of his self-respect shattered. "Yes, sir."
"Again, he tells the truth."
"Not impossible, simply improbable… and inconvenient." The tall man sighed. "Jaune, look into my eyes once more. These last questions are important. Did you join Beacon with the intent to cause harm to any of the students?"
"Did you join Beacon in order to acquire anything of value?"
"Did someone ask you to join Beacon?"
"Did anyone suggest you join Beacon?"
"No," Jaune said. "My parents hate the idea," he added.
"One final time," the man said. "Are you, Jaune Arc, a normal, untrained civilian?"
"Yes. Yes, I am."
The man stood, releasing Jaune's chin at last. He worked his jaw for a moment, wincing at the fingerprints he could still feel. The two men stood before him. They didn't look down on him, but instead stared at one another.
"Well," the burly one said, "this is awkward."
"Not quite the words I'd have used, my friend."
"You used your Semblance, right? Never mind, I know you did. Damn it, this went bad fast. Do you have any idea how difficult it was getting his body out of that hotel without alerting anyone?"
"No one said you had to do a bag and grab in the middle of the day, my friend."
"He doesn't move at night," Burly said. Jaune figured they needed names. "He literally spends no time outside his hotel room in the evening, not to party, meet friends or even go the corner shop. The kid barely has a life."
Couldn't they have said it a little better than that? Sure, he'd been kidnapped – and was probably going to die – but did they need to drag it out and humiliate him at the same time? His shoulders slumped. Who was he kidding; he might as well savour every last breath he'd get.
"Well, he still has a life right now, and therein lays the problem."
"Oops," Tall sighed. "I didn't quite think that statement through, did I?"
"Nice work," Burly grunted. He clapped the other man on the shoulder. "Well, my work is done, even if it looks to have been a complete waste of time. I've got to meet with my team. I can trust you to deal with clean up, right?" He shot Jaune a look. "This isn't my cup of tea, if you get my drift."
"Leave it to me," Tall said. The other man nodded and left, leaving Jaune alone with the man who would be his murderer. The door slamming shut deafened him, and in the silence that remained, it was only his heart that could be heard.
The tall man drew a knife.
"P-Please," Jaune whispered, "I don't know anything. I swear. I haven't seen your faces. I wouldn't tell anyone. You can let me go."
"I'm afraid it's not quite that simple, Jaune."
"It is!" Jaune cried, begged. His eyes clenched shut, afraid to see the knife coming, too afraid to face his death like a real huntsman. "I'll do anything, just please – please don't do this." He heard the knife come down. He clenched his teeth and whined loudly.
The rope binding his hands gave way.
Jaune's eyes blinked open. The tall man came into focus, sheathing his knife. He was… he'd released him?
"I already told you," the man sighed. "It's not that simple, Jaune. There's paperwork that needs to be filled in, and we have to have a little chat before we let you go."
After the bare room made of concrete, the plush office he was now sat in felt a little odd. It wasn't the mahogany desk, nor the bookshelf behind it, filled with various tomes from politics to human anatomy. It wasn't the water cooler in the corner, either, which bubbled and gurgled every now and then. All in all, the office was fairly typical, if a little ornate compared to what he was used to. It was what he imagined an incredibly wealthy businessman would have.
None of that was too odd, however. It was more the dark-dressed figure behind it, who still wore his black mask, even as he scribbled down on some paper and hummed under his breath.
Jaune fidgeted in his seat, afraid to move his lands lest the other man see it as a threatening gesture and shoot him. He still had the gun on him somewhere. What have I gotten myself into this time? Jaune wondered. I was just supposed to sneak into Beacon and try my hand at becoming a huntsman. None of this was supposed to happen!
Should he say something…? No, that was stupid. He wasn't going to say anything, especially if it might offend the guy and end up getting him killed. Instead, he tried his hardest to look at the man without making it obvious. It was a little easier to make out detail in the light.
He wore a dark-grey, almost black, trench coat, one that didn't jive with the office in the slightest. There were belts around the upper arm and wrist, small things woven into the fabric, but they ensured the coat didn't bulk or flutter in any way. Underneath, he wore a thick jacket of a similar shade, and Jaune felt fairly confident it was some kind of bullet-proof vest or armour. It led up to a grey collar, and then into the black mask. Not an inch of skin showed through the ensemble. The mask itself was odd, a shiny, non-reflective material. Occasionally, he thought he saw a flash of eyes through the slits, but it was too bright, almost artificial.
"Does my appearance disturb you, Jaune?"
"Ah!" Jaune jerked in his seat, rattling the wood and making the leather creak. His reply was immediate. "No."
It was also blatantly false.
The man chuckled. "You needn't worry. I'm not offended. I suppose I don't need to point out I don't look like this beneath the outfit. If you're afraid I'm some monster, I'll assure you I am as human as you are." The mask tilted up to greet him, and Jaune noticed a single ornament, a white triangle underneath the left eye. "I am wearing this for your protection."
"Indeed. After all, did you not yourself state you hadn't seen our faces? This helps us maintain the status quo. I might be less inclined to let you go if you knew my identity."
It made sense, and also suggested he might be getting out of this in one piece. Jaune's shoulders relaxed just a little, a tentative smile slipping across his face. "I get it," he said. "Thank you."
"So polite… how nice a change from what I normally deal with." The man paused, but quickly began to write once more. "And the paperwork is done," he said. He placed it aside and cupped his palms together, leaning forward across the desk. "I do apologise for the unpleasantness you've faced today, Jaune. It really wasn't our intention to inconvenience an innocent man so. Well," he chuckled, "a mostly innocent man. You did forge your transcripts after all."
"Am I in trouble for that, sir?"
"From us, no… we have larger issues to concern ourselves with. Of course, you might have been in trouble had it ever come to light." The man tapped his finger on the desk. It was a constant beat, one that made Jaune's stomach clench every time. "You needn't worry about us being the cause of that, however. Tell me, Jaune, and be honest… what do you think we are?"
What kind of question was that? "The police," he said.
"A lie," the man countered. He set his hands down on the table. "The first you've told me today, but I'll forgive it. I asked you to be honest, Jaune. I have a way of telling if you are lying or not."
Jaune cringed. Damn it. That was bad. Well, if the guy wanted honesty? He was already in over his head. If he was going to die, might as well do it pretending to be a man. "I think you're criminals," he said, and then cursed as his voice squeaked. "That or the mob, some kind of mafia…"
The man laughed. He laughed long and loud.
It lasted for a minute or more, and it was only when he'd finally gotten himself under control, that he shook his head and spoke. "Well, I can see why," he said, voice still tinted with mirth. "The circumstances of our meeting were hardly conductive to forming a good first impression. Would you believe me if I said you were closer on your first attempt, on your attempt at a lie?"
"No," Jaune answered, sticking to his honesty. "No, I wouldn't."
"Good. You should not be convinced so easily." The tall man stood, and while Jaune's shoulders tensed, he made no aggressive move. Instead, the figure walked over to the window, standing before it. "Come here, Jaune. What do you see?"
His fear spiked, but he made no complaint as he rose and came over to the man. He was mindful of the window. If he fell – or was pushed – out of it, then it would be a long drop followed by a very abrupt stop. When the other man made no move to harm him, Jaune let his eyes take in the tableau. "I see rooftops," he said. "It's a good view of Vale. We're really high up. There's a street or two, a couple of roads… is there anything in particular I'm looking for?"
"Tell me again. Why is it you wanted to become a huntsman?"
"Wish fulfilment." he grumbled. "Isn't that what you said?"
"I was hasty, and that was perhaps a little cruel of me. I'd like to hear the reasons in your own words."
"It wasn't entirely wish fulfilment," he said. "My father is a huntsman. He's a really strong huntsman. Well-known, respected, admired… he's able to protect people in trouble, and save those who need to be saved. Me? I can't do anything like that." Jaune sighed and closed his eyes. It hurt to admit it, but it wasn't like he could deny this man anything. "I want to be someone I can feel proud of when I look in the mirror. I want to save lives. I want to be someone. It's… I know those aren't the most selfless of reasons, but it's not like I wouldn't do good things as well. If someone was in trouble and I could help them, I would. I want to be capable of being a better person."
"Those are not the worst of reasons to aspire to such a goal. People are inherently selfish. This is a fact of life, so you shouldn't feel too bad about it. At least your brand of selfishness comes with self-awareness, along with the promise that others will benefit." The masked man looked back out the window. "Do you know what I see when I look out there?"
Jaune didn't, but he had a feeling he'd soon find out. He just hoped this wasn't a witty lead up to a `you` one-liner and him being thrown through the glass.
"I see Mrs Miggins bakery," the man said, almost fondly. "I see the Artemis Dust Refinery sales office. I see the little coffee shop I visit in my time off. I see crowds of people, all milling about as they continue on their days. I see mothers. I see fathers. I see children, aunts, and uncles. I see families and those who would think of making their own one day." The man looked to him. "I see life, Jaune. I see Vale. More than that, I see a city of people who have no ideas of the dangers that lurk outside their walls. Grimm, bandits, those who would do them harm… they love in idyllic bliss. Huntsmen and huntresses provide much of their protection, though the average person realises it not."
"Ah…" Jaune swallowed, suddenly feeling a little insignificant. "Yeah…"
"Don't worry. That wasn't a test." The man laughed. "Do you know what else I see, Jaune?"
"I see a man who enters Mrs Miggins Bakery every morning at four. He believes he goes unnoticed, but he does not. Mrs Miggins makes an interesting side-business cultivating Class B narcotics, which she sells to a local dealer."
Jaune's eyes widened. He turned to stare at the man, but the mask was looked outside. He had the strangest suspicion the man was smiling.
"I see that the CEO's car is absent from the parking lot of Artemis, meaning that his Financial Director, one Mr Robert green, will be syphoning funds for his own personal use. He's been found out, however. A relatively low-key salesman within the company has seen the evidence. He could take it to the CEO for some small reward, but he intends to blackmail Mr Green himself. The rewards are greater, and our dear sticky-fingered gentleman would rather keep his job and freedom."
"How…" Jaune asked. "How do you know all this?"
"I know, Jaune, because it is my business to know." The man laughed and stepped away from the window. "A huntsman protects the people from the threat that lies without. I, and those like me, protect the people from the threat which lies within. A threat they do not know, which is perhaps for the best…" He paused by a cabinet and pulled out a bottle. "Bourbon?"
"Who… who are you people?"
"I think that's the voice of a man in need of some fortification. It's not poisoned," he said, pouring some of the drink into two glasses. "I wouldn't dare do that to such a fine drink. Would you like me to prove it?"
"Would it matter?" Jaune asked, accepting it with a shaking hand. "If you wanted to kill me, I'd be dead, wouldn't I?"
"You would be, yes." The man lifted the corner of his mask. A small amount of skin flashed, but it was soon gone as he took a sip and lowered it once more.
Jaune did the same, except that he shivered at the taste. It was ridiculously strong – and it wasn't like he'd ever drunk any alcohol before, so he didn't even have anything to compare that to. This seemed like a good time to start drinking though. If it calmed him down, he was all for it.
"Now, then. Isn't that better?"
Surprisingly, yes. It hadn't done much for his nerves, but the drink did settle him a little, and gave him the strength to repeat his question in a more even tone. "Who are you people? What is all of this?"
"Why, my boy…" The man laughed and held his arms wide. "We are the VSS – the Vale Secret Service."
Jaune almost choked on his drink. Almost. He managed to keep it down, but still had to bang his fist against his chest a few times. "The… Secret Service?" he gasped. "Like, spies? From the movies?"
"If that makes it easier for you to understand, sure. We are a Government Agency, one that serves the Kingdom of Vale. Our job is not unlike a huntsman, except that the prey we hunt are far more dangerous."
"More dangerous than Grimm?"
"Indeed, Jaune. After all, the huntsman might hunt the Grimm, but who hunts the huntsman?" The man finished his drink and placed it back down on the table. He didn't sit, even as he pushed Jaune down into the seat once more. "Think on it for a moment. A huntsman can fight off any number of Grimm. How much danger would someone like your father pose, for instance? Imagine if he went rogue and decided he wished to destroy Vale."
He did imagine it. His father never would, of course, but he knew a hypothetical situation when he saw one. Normal people probably wouldn't have any chance against his Dad, and he had a feeling the police wouldn't, either. "I always assumed it was other huntsman who did that."
"Often, it is. For low key or simple criminality, we're not often called in. Our prey is often much larger, and – much like your movies – of the Kingdom-threatening kind. When the people who protect the Kingdom are huntsmen, it's not uncommon for our enemies to be as strong, if not stronger. Otherwise, they would not dare make a move in the first place."
"And you protect Vale?"
"Essentially, yes. We protect the city from the threats few see. As cliché as it may sound, we operate in the shadows, tackling enemies who do much the same."
It sounded insane, but not in an unbelievable sense. He took another sip of the drink, and though the taste was still unpleasant, it did ease his mind a little. It made sense Vale would have people like this, if they were telling the truth, that was. Vale was a Kingdom. All Kingdoms probably muddled around in subterfuge to some degree, and there had been that old war Nicholas used to speak of. The one between Atlas and Vale. It was ages ago, well before he'd been born, but he could imagine an organisation like this being pretty useful in it. There was one thing that didn't add up, however.
"If you're the Vale Secret Service, then why kidnap me? I'm nothing special. I'm definitely no threat." He frowned down at the desk. "It doesn't make sense."
"No, I suppose it does not." The masked man sat back down, leaning his hands atop the desk. "With what we know about you now, it was a rather fruitless effort, but you must understand that we didn't have the benefit of hindsight. In a business like ours, finding an unknown is a unique and startling thing."
"There's no way you know every single person in Vale, though. That would be insane."
"Oh, of course we don't. Not in the way you're thinking. That said, if someone were to appear on our radar, we could run searches to find out who they were." The man waved a hand. "We could access medical records, academic, birth, career… whatever we needed, we could have access to. From this, we could begin to form a picture of whom the person is. You, on the other hand, were much more difficult."
"Because I'm from outside of Vale?"
"Indeed." The mask stared into his eyes. "Frontier towns rise and fall without warning and it's all but impossible to keep accurate records of them. Even those that survive for some time struggle, as the records of those who first founded the town are unlikely to have been brought with them. Even two generations on, we might only have a name at best. With you, we had even less to work on. You simply appeared one day, claiming to be a powerful huntsman and with transcripts that agreed with this analysis."
"Is that so rare? Surely, Beacon gets transfer students all the time. What's so weird about it?"
"Those students tend to have actually been present at the school their transcripts come from, Jaune." The man rebuked. "It took us hardly thirty minutes to discover there were no records of a Jaune Arc at the school you claimed to have graduated at. Do you perhaps see why our attention was roused?"
"Y-Yeah…" Jaune's cheeks burned. Gods, he'd never thought of that, but then again, the whole plan had been bundled together on the fly. He'd just paid for some fake transcripts and hoped for the best. When the acceptance letter from Beacon came, those hopes had seemed about to come true. "I was accepted by Headmaster Ozpin though," he said. "They can't have been that bad."
"They were, Jaune. Trust me." The man sighed. "Well, not like it matters now. You'll be returning to Ansel shortly and I doubt we'll meet one another again."
Jaune's glass froze less than an inch away from his lips. Back in Ansel? Go home? Jaune swallowed, fighting past his nerves, along with the part of him that said to just nod and get this over with. "What about Beacon?" he asked. "I was accepted…"
"You were, but you won't attend. Come now, Jaune. You're hardly trained, let alone competent. Did you think you would be okay there without aura? I take it you haven't heard what the initiation is. They throw you off a cliff into a forest filled with Grimm."
Jaune's face went white.
"What, did you expect someone would help you land? Maybe pick you out of the sky, unlock your aura and carry you to victory?" He laughed. "Honestly, we've saved your life here. You'd have surely died if you entered Beacon with such a naive mindset."
His heart sank down in his chest, ending up somewhere around his stomach. There was no arguing with what the guy said. If that was truly what things were like at Beacon, then he'd have died. Still, this was his dream, something he'd boasted he would achieve to his family. He couldn't see it end here. Not like this. Not without even trying. "I won't give up…"
His captor paused. "Excuse me?"
"I said that I won't give up. I can't! I've already come this far, I've already risked so much."
"Have you? From where I'm sitting, the only risks you've taken are securing fake transcripts. There would have been risks ahead, yes, but you haven't taken them yet."
"It's the same thing," he argued. "I can't give up on this."
"You are determined to pursue this foolishness?"
He expected anger. He expected irritation or stern words. What he received was a curious tilt to the man's head as it came down to rest on one hand. "Interesting," he said. "Very interesting. Make no mistake, you are a security leak for us, Jaune. You might say you would never talk of us, but you've already shown a little pressure can make you quite verbose."
Jaune's cheeks darkened, but he stood his ground.
"There is also your ability to survive which ought to be taken into account. There are but a few days until Beacon begins, and right now you are one initiation away from being food for the Grimm. I expect you have no plans or ideas for how to become strong in so short a time."
"I… well, I…"
"I thought not."
He felt shame pool inside of him, but it was quickly washed away when the man filled his glass once more.
"Then again, it's not like I didn't already think of this."
Jaune's hand froze on the glass. "Huh?"
"Answer me truthfully, Jaune. Do you think I need to fill in paperwork to deal with someone like you? Do you truly believe it is not within my power to ship you away to Ansel myself?" The man chuckled. "I can assure you it is. I could have you barred from the city, exiled in disgrace, and perhaps with a criminal record to boot. Thievery, Assault and Battery, Sexual Assault. It is within my power and would even be to your benefit. I didn't need to bring you here, nor talk to you of who we are and what we do."
And yet he had. Jaune's brow creased as he considered that, and in fact the idea that he'd been kidnapped in the first place. Sure, he'd been suspicious, but would something like the VSS really do something like this on a whim? They had to be worried about something. Very worried.
"You want something from me," he said. "That's why you brought me here. You want something."
"A good intellect. No common sense, as can be seen from your decision to apply for Beacon unable to defend yourself, but common sense can be learned. You are shrewd, adaptable. The fact you leapt straight to forgery shows a… flexibility of character that others might struggle with."
It didn't take a genius to figure out the man meant moral flexibility. Jaune winced and looked away. If his Mom heard about this? Yeah, he was seventeen now, but he had a feeling she'd be more than willing to bend him over her knee.
"Remind me, Jaune. What were your reasons for wishing to become a huntsman again?"
"I want to be someone. I want to feel proud of myself. I want to help people, to make a difference." His eyes hardened. "I want to do a job that means something."
The man leaned forward.
"In that case, have you ever considered life as a Secret Agent?"
Jaune's mouth fell open. "You… You want to hire me!?"
"Does that sound so unusual?"
Yes. At least, that was what came to his mind immediately. On further thought, it didn't seem quite so crazy an idea, at least from their point of view. He was an outsider, which meant that in the same way his records didn't show up to them, they likely wouldn't appear to any other people either. On the other side of things, this almost seemed obvious. Why else would he have bothered with the talk earlier, with explaining how much he knew and what the VSS did?
Why explain all of that to someone you were just going to ship off to a frontier town and forget?
"Why?" Jaune asked. "There has to be some reason. Why would you want me of all people? I'm weak. I'm useless."
"Weak, yes. Useless, no. We are not an organisation which values brute strength, so your relative lack of ability isn't quite a concern. More than that, we can train you to be stronger. Our Agents aren't always of the huntsman calibre. Some are politicians, others are diplomats, some are merely in our employ and run stores and shops in Vale or even the other Kingdoms." The man tapped his desk with one finger. "We value the position a person holds as much as we do their potential, and your position is an interesting one indeed…"
"Because of my lack of records?"
"Partly, but that is not the full picture. You have already been accepted into Beacon. Our work has led us to be… concerned as to the future of the school. We need someone on the inside, and believe me – we have people on the inside. Our problem is that not all are as inconspicuously conspicuous as you."
"Your lack of records makes you difficult to track, but they also make you stand out," the man explained. "Those in our kind of work will find this suspicious and investigate, but given that criminals cannot simply ruin their disguise by kidnapping you, they will approach you in secret instead. There, the truth of your past comes into play." He waved a hand. "You tell the truth, and when they delve deeper, they will find the signs and come to the same conclusion. Your story checks out knowing you come from a frontier town, and suspicion will be quickly diverted."
"Kind of like a double bluff?"
"Yes. More than that, you will be weak going into Beacon. No amount of training from us will make up for the years you've missed at a prep school. If you'll forgive me saying, you do not exactly fit the image of a Government Agent. You're outspoken, unconfident, clumsy, untrained…"
Jaune fidgeted as the man listed off his worst aspects. When the list reached about eight adjectives, his brow twitched. "Okay, I think I get it!" He had the distinct feeling the asshole was smiling beneath the mask.
"I'm glad to see it. Suffice to say, no one would think it possible that you were a spy. Even if I asked my best agents to pretend to be so weak, their instincts would shine through. It is hard to let your guard down, and even harder to lose fights against teenagers." The man cocked his head. "I have a feeling that will come naturally to you."
"Wow, thanks…" Jaune rubbed his face with one hand and let out a long sigh. "So, I'm perfect because I'm weak and no one would expect that I could be a spy?"
"It's not quite as bad as it sounds. We would want you to disguise yourself as a young man entering a new school. What better applicant than someone who is just that? There is something more, however. One final thing which trumps everything else." The man helped himself to the rest of his bourbon before he continued. "I want you to make an informed decision on this, Jaune, so I shall be honest. The reasons I just gave are all relevant, but there is one other which counts above all others. If it wasn't for this, I'd never have considered you a viable candidate."
Jaune straightened. A part of him had thought everything seemed a little too good to be true, a little too convenient. He ticked all the boxes, sure, but a Government agency like this wouldn't just drag a random person off the street. "I'm listening," he said.
"Your transcripts were fake, Jaune." the man said. "They were obviously fake. They did not fool us, and would not have fooled anyone else. Despite this, you were accepted into Beacon. Curious. Is it not?"
"Maybe someone overlooked it."
"In our line of work, you'll find that nothing is left to assumption. Ozpin is a shrewd and intelligent man, but he is one with his own agenda. An agenda which has left some people rather nervous."
"What kind of agenda?"
"That, I cannot tell you. Understand that everything you have learned so far is knowledge we can disavow with ease. No one would believe you if you were to speak of it, and nothing would cause us any trouble."
"Knowing this would?" Jaune guessed.
The man nodded.
"We're moving into the area of operational secrets there, I'm afraid. Suffice it to say, what I wanted you to be aware of is that our primary interest in you comes as a result of the unknown interest the headmaster has already shown. You did not fool him. He chose to accept you even though he knew you were neither trained nor ready for the responsibility. This has made us understandably curious."
"That's the real reason you kidnapped me, isn't it?"
"It was the final nail in the coffin, yes. You sparked our interest for the other reasons I gave you, but it was Ozpin's interest that made your capture… shall we say, a little more rushed than we might otherwise have liked." He held his arms out. "I apologise. We didn't have the time to waste. What we did, we did in the best interests of the Kingdom."
"Because that's what you do, right? You protect the Kingdom from the threats no one else sees."
"Indeed." The man stood. "It is not the most glamourous of work. It is not the most famous of work. It is well-paid, and it is good work we do, but I shan't lie to you, Jaune. The work is hard, frightening and often dangerous. The VSS looks after its own. You will never be betrayed by us. You will never be abandoned. We can't afford to allow the secrets an Agent might hold to fall into enemy hands, so trust that we would always come for you." He sighed. "That said, you are seventeen and hardly qualified to be a huntsman, let alone a spy for the Kingdom."
Jaune swallowed. "Yet you're offering it to me anyway."
"And this is the only way I'm going to be allowed into Beacon, isn't it?"
"It is." The man said, sighing. "Make no mistake, I am not doing this in order to force your hand. If you choose not to accept this offer, I will respect that choice, but I will not send a young man to his death. I won't allow you to enter and die at Beacon. You will be sent back to Ansel, and I shall personally see to you taking some lien away with you to sweeten the deal." The man waved a hand. "If you wish to be proud of yourself and make a difference, there are many ways to do it. You could become a doctor, a civil servant, a teacher. You could work on reforming criminals or charity. There are any number of careers that don't involve risking your life for-"
The man paused.
"No," Jaune repeated. Whispered. He had to attend Beacon. It was his dream, and maybe it was selfish, but… it was still his dream. This wouldn't be the same, but in a better way. He wouldn't just be going as a huntsman. He'd be a Secret Agent, too. "I'll do it."
"Are you sure? You would no longer be a free individual, Jaune. You would belong to the VSS. You would be an Agent. We will pay you, but the choice on when to leave our organisation would not be yours. People retire, but you would be unable to do so until after Beacon at least. For security reasons, of course." The mask bore down on him. "Your life would be in danger. Make no mistake, and do not believe this like the movies. If you fail here, you will die."
Fear settled on him. He would die, wouldn't he? Was he prepared for that? Had he even thought about that? The answer was no. He hadn't considered death, even when it meant fighting Grimm. It scared him. It scared him more than he dared admit. And that disgusted him. Dad wouldn't be scared. He'd do what had to be done. He'd fight this head on. All you need is a little confidence, right? Jaune took a deep breath and let it go. When his eyes opened they weren't calm, but they could have been mistaken for it at a distance. More than that, he knew what he wanted – and what he had to do to achieve it. He was afraid. But he was also ready to face that. If he were to be afraid of death, then it wasn't just a job as a Secret Agent he should abandon. He'd best give up his dream of being a huntsman too.
"I'm in," Jaune said. "I know I'm not the strongest or the smartest, but I can learn. I'm determined to help people, too. Please believe me. I want to be a huntsman to protect people. That's what you do here. If I have to choose between both or neither?" He shrugged. "I choose both. I'll be a huntsman and a spy."
The man smiled. He placed two fingers down on the desk, atop the paperwork he'd been filling in either. It swivelled around and was then pushed toward him, a pen atop it. Jaune looked down at it.
It was a contract.
"Then all you need do is sign on the dotted line. If you are sure, that is. You can still back out. I'll think no less of you, but I will think less if you sign this for foolish reasons now, and lose that commitment later." The man pressed his fingers down harder. "This isn't a game. People's lives will be at stake. Your life will be at stake. If you are serious about being something, about becoming something more than you are right now… then sign this paper. Otherwise, put the pen down."
Jaune's hands were clammy. He reached for the pen, and had to work hard to pick it up for how much his hands shook. His eyes breezed over the document, and he felt his stomach drop at mentions of secrecy clauses, sentences should he betray them, even mentions of being locked away. Every part of his mind told him to put the pen down. Don't sign it. Walk away. Go back to Ansel and live a safer life.
This was insane. Stupidity. Madness!
He scribbled down his name. He signed away his fate.
The contract was tugged away before he even had a chance to regret it. The man signed his own name alongside it and then tucked the sheet of paper away. One hand reached up to his mask, and it clicked and hissed a little. Jaune's breath was caught as it was removed, revealing a middle-aged man beneath. He had a narrow and pale face set with brown eyes. His most distinctive feature was his hair, which fell down beside and behind his face. It was a vibrant green.
"Welcome to the Vale Secret Service, Mr Arc," he said. His voice sounded different. "Doctor Bartholomew Oobleck at your service. Director of Operations for the VSS, and now your direct superior. Welcome to the Organisation, Field Agent."
Jaune smiled warily in return. He'd made a lot of mistakes in his life, some more devastating than others, but all of which he'd come to regret in time.
He hoped this wouldn't be one of them.
This chapter is slightly shorter than what I'd expect as the average, which is 7-8k words (same length as PA chapters were). I always have shorter intros since they work so well. Anyway, a few of you might notice some teensy tiny similarities with how Professor Arc started. In all honesty, when I came up with Professor Arc, I came up with a few others as well.
Namely, there were three fics based around a Goldilocks concept.
Professor Arc: Jaune tried his transcripts but they were too good. He then became a professor.
Service with a Smile: Jaune tried his transcripts but they weren't good enough and he was rejected. He then became a café owner.
In the Kingdom's Service: Jaune tried his transcripts and they were just right. Unfortunately, that drew suspicion and got him forced into the secret service.
Next Chapter: 23rd July
P a treon . com (slash) Coeur