Back from the expo, still tired but alive. And thank God nothing dramatic happened. Year before last I had two people get into a war with one another on the questions, which threatened to turn violent. Over, no less, an argument on serialisation on pharmaceutical packaging and how it could help stop counterfeit drugs, but how one of the industry's biggest players – who was one of the arguers – was preventing the attempt to bring it into law because even though it might save lives from dangerous counterfeit drugs, the change to all their packaging would be `expensive` to implement.
The argument got heated. It was actually a rep from Unilever doing it, arguing that a little extra cost would be worth it to save lives. Meanwhile, the rep from the pharma company (who I obviously won't name) was deflecting and deflecting hard.
I had to wade in and break it up. But, luckily, nothing like that happened this year.
Cover Art: Jack Wayne
"He did what!?"
Velvet didn't normally raise her voice, but this time she felt justified, such was her shock, horror and downright revulsion. It hardly helped that Jaune – her boss, but also something of a friend – looked positively sick, sat at a table with one hand on his face, the other atop several formal letters.
"It's like I said, Velvet. I'm being sued for libel."
"I agree with her," Russel said. "That's bullshit. Doesn't libel require you to have said something?"
"I don't know. I'm not a lawyer. All I know is that I have these." Jaune waved the documents. "And that I'm to respond or face them in court. Oh, and there's an NDA I have to sign. I'm not allowed to say or comment on Café Prime or face worse."
Velvet stomped one foot, not that it did her any good. There was a burning desire to march down to Café Prime and give them a piece of her mind – and it was less than five storefronts away, too. How convenient – but she knew that would only make things worse.
Is this because of what we did? Is Jaune paying the price for me spreading the news of what Café Prime were doing?
That wasn't fair, how they were going for Jaune and not her. And besides, libel was lying, right? The only rumours she'd spread were that Café Prime was cheating to push Jaune out of business, which was absolute fact.
"They can't do this," Velvet said.
"Yeah? Well it looks like they are. I…" Jaune's head fell into his hands. "I can't do this…"
Nausea welled up inside her. Velvet reached out a hand, but Russel caught her wrist and shook his head. He placed a hand on Jaune's shoulder and shook it gently. "Hey, you're not in the right mind to work today, boss. Why don't you take a day off and let us look after things?"
"I can't. I feel ill just thinking about this…"
"Then go upstairs and rest," Russel suggested. "Put your feet up, watch the TV or get some sleep. Fretting about this isn't going to solve anything and if you work looking like that, people will just ask what's wrong. You'll be at risk of breaking that NDA all day long."
Velvet didn't like the fact Russel phrased it like that, like Jaune should try and follow it, but she kept silent, shooting her colleague a glare that told him he'd better have a good reason for talking like that. He nodded back.
"I… I guess you're right." Jaune stood, wavered gently and leaned on Russel.
"Did you even sleep last night, man?"
"How could I? All of this…"
"Get some sleep, boss. Come on. I'll help you upstairs." Russel hooked Jaune's arm around his shoulders and helped him stagger away, leaving Velvet to man the shop. It was still early in the morning and before it officially opened. Being a Saturday, the diner was festooned with a `movie` theme day, Velvet dressed as a mafioso gangster.
The general effect was ruined, of course, by the current mood. Velvet placed both hands down on the table before her, closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. They didn't calm her nearly as much as she would have liked, and her fingers gripped the table edge so tight she was afraid it might break. Those bastards. Those rotten bastards. It wasn't enough that they were pushing him out of business, was it? Now they had to go after his health, too. Drag him through the courts and over the hot coals.
"Hey." Russel was back, behind her. "Calm down."
"Calm?" She whirled on him, snarling at the young man who wore an outfit straight out of a Spruce Willis movie, fake gunshot wounds and all. "How am I supposed to stay calm at a time like this? They've gone after Jaune, and it's our fault for prodding the rapier wasp's nest!"
"This is why you need to calm down. You're letting them get to you." Russel stopped talking and pointed a finger toward the ceiling, miming for her to speak at a lower volume. "They're doing this because they're angry," he said. "It means we're getting to them. If we stop now, they win and Jaune loses out. Maybe we'll lose anyway, maybe we can't win at all, but since Jaune isn't the one actually saying anything, the suit won't go anywhere. It's us they should be trying to sue."
"How does that make it any better?"
"It doesn't, but it means Jaune will be safe. This? This is bluster."
"How can you say? Are you a lawyer?"
"I don't need to be a lawyer to see that something that says Jaune can't talk won't stop us talking. If we do it outside our job, anyway. It won't stop Pyrrha or Weiss, either way." Russel brought forth a local newspaper off the stand – he bought a bunch each morning for people to read – and slapped it down on the table.
The front cover held a picture of Pyrrha sat at a table, smiling up at Jaune as he took her order. There was a serene, casual quality to the image, though Velvet wondered if it wasn't her knowing the truth that made it obvious Pyrrha had romantic feelings for Jaune. The article seemed to hint at it, but only in the way most tabloids did.
"People are talking about what's happening," Russel said. "They're talking about Jaune and Café Prime. This is the best we can do and if we stop, they win. They take the building, kick Jaune out and then bury him in court costs until he goes bankrupt. Do you want that?"
"N-No." Velvet bit her lip. "But they're hurting him. We're hurting him by doing this."
"No. We are doing what we have to do to help him. They are choosing to hit back at us by targeting him. They want us to stop."
"Maybe we should…"
Russel fixed her with a stern look, "Even if you do, do you think Ruby and Weiss will? Do you think Pyrrha will sit by and watch Jaune be pushed out of Vale, out of her reach?" He snorted at the very idea. "They'll keep fighting, and Café Prime will keep hitting out at Jaune to try and force them to stop. If you give in, all you do is prove to them that it's working." He looked away, collected the court documents and stashed them in a drawer behind the counter, out of sight of any customers. "But it's your call in the end. I won't tell you what to do."
And yet it really feels like you are, Velvet thought, watching Russel get the shop ready. He knew it, of course. The way he phrased the offer made it clear that if she backed out, she was playing their game and turning her back on Jaune and everyone else.
Maybe he was right, but he didn't have to be such a smug asshole about it.
"Looks like the hungry mob is here," Russel called, working on a machine. "Can you clear them off? No customers will feel brave enough to come close if you don't."
"Hungry-?" Velvet looked to the entrance.
Her ears drooped.
Reporters, journalists and what she would have assumed were paparazzi if it weren't for the fact she couldn't see past the bright flashes of light. Velvet wanted to duck and hide behind a table. Become a waitress, she'd thought. Become more confident, she'd thought.
This wasn't in the job description!
And yet it was getting closer to eight, opening time, and if she didn't unlock the front door, she had a feeling the windows would cave in from the mass of people. Taking a deep breath and adjusting her black miniskirt – damn you, Coco – Velvet made her way to the door and unlocked it. The second she did, the door was pulled open and some fluffy microphone thing was pushed into her face.
"Miss Scarlatina, can you comment on the reports of Café Prime's business practices?"
"Is Mr Arc here? C4S here, requesting an intervi-"
"Are Pyrrha Nikos and Jaune Arc an item?"
"Suggestions that Café Prime-"
"Is it true that-"
"STOP!" Velvet shouted, arms held out on either side. The sudden sound bounced around the street, echoing off the nearby buildings. Not only did the reporters stop, but several passers-by froze, following her orders instinctively.
How did they even know her name? Ugh, likely by talking to someone. Any customer knew. Even so, this was ridiculous. Too many questions and all at once. Velvet took a deep breath and tried to calm her beating heart. It didn't help that she was suddenly the centre of attention for so many people – and was that camera broadcasting this?
"One at a time," Velvet said, more to bring some order than because she wanted to answer any questions. If she didn't, they'd just start shouting again. She pointed at a random woman. "You there."
"Jaune Arc and Pyrrha Nikos," the woman said, smiling ferally. Velvet groaned. "Is there any truth to the rumours the two are dating?"
"Pyrrha Nikos is a customer here and gets on well with Jaune," she answered truthfully. "I don't think they're together, but I wouldn't know for certain. You'd have to ask Jaune or Pyrrha directly. Next question. You."
"As an employee of Mr Arc's, what do you think about the recent problems with Café Prime?"
A question about her? Velvet paused for a second before answering. "Um. I'm pretty upset by it, I guess. I like working here. I like Jaune and the customers, and even Russel. Uh, my colleague." She jerked a thumb back toward Russel nervously. "I don't think I'd like working for Café Prime from what I've seen. Not if they're willing to do things like this."
There. That seemed perfectly PC enough, and she'd made it clear it was her opinion. Prime shouldn't be able to bounce it back on Jaune.
Except they would try anyway, wouldn't they?
That was just the kind of company they were. Velvet sighed and pointed to another reporter, a middle-aged man with grey hair.
"Café Prime seems unusually worried about so small a business, miss. Can you comment on what you think gives Jaune's an edge over the competition?"
"I think I can. Café Prime is a chain. It's standard. Everything is familiar, measured and made to a criteria. You can go to any Café Prime in any city in Remnant, and what you order will be the exact same every time. Jaune's… Jaune's is different." Velvet smiled whimsically. Yeah, it was definitely different working here. "There's more to it, more… feeling. Everything is made by us in shop and we have all these different blends, not because it's better for business – it's not and it sometimes makes working here hard, because you have to work with so many blends – but we do it because it makes the experience special for our customers."
"Everyone has a different favourite. It's actually pretty crazy how many people like coffee, but how different everyone likes it. Remembering all of that can be hard sometimes," she said with a laugh. "But there's a certain sense of pride when you make a drink here, because it's not something they can get anywhere else. It's something special, made with care and attention… and passion, I guess. Jaune wouldn't have made everything like this if he wasn't passionate about what he's doing. I think Café Prime lacks that. To them, everything is about the money. It's about efficiency. It's a machine."
Velvet trailed off as she realised everyone was staring at her silently. Her cheeks flushed, and her ears drooped. She played with one nervously. "A-At least that's what I think. S-Sorry, I kind of went off in my own world there…"
"N-No," the man said. He looked shocked. "That… The answer was perfect, miss. Thank you." He drew a deep breath. "Can I… Would you mind if I came in for a coffee?"
"Oh, by all means." She smiled and stepped aside, and the man smiled and walked in, making his way to the counter. "I don't think I can keep answering more," Velvet said, realising that the morning rush was on its way. "Maybe later, when it's not so busy?"
"One last question," someone bravely called. "Is Jaune Arc here? Would he be willing to answer questions?"
Hesitated, considered the words she'd just said, and made her choice.
"Jaune is here, but he can't answer any questions, I'm afraid. Café Prime is currently trying to sue him for libel and have forced a Non-Disclosure Agreement on him. He's not legally allowed to say anything about what's happening, or to tell anyone anything about Café Prime."
And just like that, Velvet bowed, leaving the reporters with shocked, indignant and - in some cases – gleeful expressions. She had a feeling she knew what would be in tomorrow's reports, and probably online within the hour, too.
I just hope this is worth it, she thought.
Because even if she wasn't sure how it would go, she was going to keep on fighting.
Team RWBY were predictably unimpressed when they arrived later that afternoon. It didn't even taken Russel giving them the story, since they'd all caught it on the news already.
"We can't storm Café Prime, Ruby," Weiss said.
"Why not? They're being eviller than the Grimm."
"They're being callous and unethical, yes, but they're not killing anyone." Weiss paused. "That I know of, anyway. Regardless, violence is not the answer here."
"You sure?" Yang asked. "Might make us feel better."
"I don't doubt that, nor do I deny it would please me. I'm just saying it's not the answer."
Yang sighed and slumped back in her seat. It was busy today and the diner looked amazing, festooned with movie pictures, references and stuff like that. Velvet looked smart and hot in her tight-fitting mafia outfit, while Russel rocked muscles she hadn't been aware he had.
Still, there was something missing and it wasn't hard to figure out what. Jaune was absent. Sleeping off his own angst upstairs if Velvet was to be believed. Well-deserved angst, Yang thought with a shake of the head. The kind of shit Café Prime were pulling was getting old. She hadn't been serious about attacking the place, but she'd be lying if she said the temptation to crack a few heads wasn't there.
"Do you think I should go and talk to him?" Ruby asked nervously.
Welp. Time to head that off. "Let him rest, sis. I know you want to help and all, but sometimes a person wants to have a little time to themselves. Besides, if he was up all-night worrying, he must be exhausted."
"You could send him a text message," Blake suggested, tapping her own scroll.
Ruby's face lit up and Yang nodded her thanks to Blake. That, at least, might cheer the poor guy up. Her sister meant well but smothering someone didn't always help. "Seriously though, that little interview with Velvet probably did more than anything. Did you see her when she went red and played with her ear? Literal cuteness meltdown."
"It was a rather endearing image," Weiss agreed, flushing a little.
"It's also ironic that she was talking about Café Prime's practices while dressed as a mobster," Blake said. "Even the mafia turns its nose up at them. But damage or not, this isn't going to stop them, is it?"
"Why not?" Ruby asked. "I thought reputation was everything to a business."
"It is," Weiss said, "But they're in a do or die situation now, Ruby. They can back off and let Jaune win, regaining some public opinion, but in doing so they'll have drawn far too much publicity to Jaune's. I wouldn't be surprised if investors lined up outside to offer him funding to make this into a chain. It would be the death of Café Prime."
"On the other hand, they can grit their teeth, take the hits and put him out of business," Blake said. "Pain in the short term, but people's memories are short and everyone who needs a drink in the morning will come back because they don't have any alternatives."
"That's not fair!" Ruby crowed.
"I didn't say it was. It rarely is. The SDC were just as bad with faunus workers… No offence," Blake quickly said, looking to Weiss. Though the heiress probably was annoyed by the comment, she accepted it graciously. "Not everyone liked how the SDC treated its workforce, but at the end of the day people needed jobs and the SDC knows that people need dust. They can complain about how it's made by low-paid faunus in terrible positions, but you still need dust for Crescent Rose."
Ruby's hand snapped to her side, caressing her weapon almost guiltily.
Yang grimaced, too. Yeah, Blake could hit hard when she wanted to. None of them wanted to imagine supporting poor labour conditions, but the SDC controlled the dust and they all used it for their weapons. They just didn't have a choice.
And like the SDC, Café Prime had something of a monopoly. Or would have when Jaune's was shut down.
"Do you think Jaune has any chance of winning?"
The piteously asked question came from Ruby, and as expected, everyone at the table flinched. Blake's book came up like a shield, while Yang instantly turned to Weiss, making it clear the question had been fielded in her direction. Weiss winced, looked for an escape, and found none.
"It's not… That is to say…"
"Weiss? Please be honest…"
"The chances are slim." Weiss's face fell when Ruby's lip quivered. "But that's no reason not to try in the first place. If you lower your weapon in front of a Grimm, then you shall never know if you might have defeated it. I've heard underdog stories with worse odds than this."
But they'd never involved business, Yang thought to herself with a grimace. A plucky person with a knife might strike lucky and fight off a Grimm, but business had laws around it. Jaune couldn't act without being slapped down by something, and at the end of the day the Council was incentivised to protect the bigger businesses. More tax money that way.
This, Yang thought. This is why being a huntress is easier…
The front door of the diner slammed open. The bell practically cracked as it bounced up into the celling. Alexander Sterling stalked into the diner with a barely concealed snarl on his face. It was obvious even through the veneer of civility he portrayed.
He was flanked by two people, one a black-suited man with sunglasses who screamed `bodyguard` to Yang, and the other, a wiry man with a long face and pinched eyes. He wore glasses and a smile that was just a little smug and self-satisfied.
"Where is he?" Sterling demanded, looking left and right.
Yang reached for her scroll, but Blake nudged her foot under the table. Her partner already had hers out and was recording. Ah, Blake. Dependable as always.
Russel was behind the bar, but the guy looked almost eager to jump over and answer that question. Yang could imagine why. She hadn't thought they had anything in common, but the guy had a mean streak like her own.
Sadly, it was Velvet who was out serving customers and she beat Russel to it, stepping in front of Sterling with a pleasant, if forced, smile. "Can I help you, Mister Sterling?"
"Where," Sterling said, speaking each word slowly, as if to a child, "Is. He?"
"Yes! Your boss. Your manager. The one in charge." He waved a hand. "Bring him out, wherever he's hiding."
"He's not hiding, sir. He's asleep. Has been since this morning."
"Don't think to play games with me, girl," Sterling stepped forward and poked a finger at Velvet. Being a huntress, if in training, Velvet didn't look all that impressed and casually caught the finger before it could reach her. Sterling scowled but acted like it didn't happen. "And don't think you'll be getting off lightly for what you did this morning. Mr Smithson here has something for you to sign." He looked over Velvet's shoulder towards Russel, who was watching the situation closely. "You and your little boyfriend."
"We're not like that… and I'm not signing anything."
"I think you will, my dear," the solicitor said, coughing into his fist. "We've more than enough material to launch a libel suit against you for your defamation of Café Prime's good name this morning. Live on TV no less. Of course, we might be able to settle out of court on the matter. Such would be the best for you." He looked Velvet up and down. "I doubt you have the… ah… finances to face it in court."
Yang bristled, along with just about everyone else listening. A couple of chairs dragged back, and although no one stood, there was a tension in the air. Yang had the distinct impression Jaune's could become a battlefield at any moment.
"I'm not signing anything without a solicitor of my own," Velvet said neutrally. "As a student, I think the school would have something to say if I did."
"I'd be happy to take you through the details myself," the solicitor offered. He smiled in a condescending manner. "Pro bono."
Velvet frowned. "I think I'll talk to the school first."
"Enough of this," Sterling snapped. "Where is he? He's broken the terms of his tenancy by inviting a legal suit. I expect he didn't pay attention to that, but the previous tenancy agreement strictly stated that no criminal, or individual pending a criminal or civil case, can rent the premises."
"What?" Ruby cried, standing. "But you're the ones forcing the case on him!"
"Contract Law is precise," Sterling deflected, eyes still on Velvet. "Those who breach contract must pay the consequences. I am officially closing down this store now, pending an immediate investigation into whether or not he breached contract."
That generated a reaction. Numerous voices were raised in complaint, some going so far as to throw abuse. Yang was about to stand herself.
"This is the law!" Sterling called out over the mess. He stepped away from Velvet, closer to his bodyguard. "Enough of this nonsense. Bring Arc down or we'll go up and conduct business in his apartment. It does belong to us, after all."
"I've told you he's sleeping. He's exhausted!"
Sterling sighed. "Remove her, please," he said to the man beside him.
The suited bodyguard strode forward. "Come on, miss," he said, trying to sound kind and unthreatening. "It's not our place to argue while the bosses are talking, eh? Let's just come aside." He laid a hand on Velvet's shoulder.
Mistake, Yang thought.
Velvet evidently agreed. She twisted suddenly, snapping one hand up under his to push him off, and then another over the top of it, twisting her body and his arm against her side, pinning and spinning around. The bodyguard was dragged forward and down with a yelp, forced to comply or have his arm wrenched out of its socket. He came to a halt on his knees, face down and captured arm twisted up above him, in Velvet's hands. His other hand was flat-down on the floor, supporting his weight. Yang knew that if Velvet so much as leaned forward she could apply pressure to his shoulder joint. Snap it if she really wanted to.
Alexander Sterling and his solicitor recoiled at the casual violence, despite that they'd initiated it. Ironically, the same could not be said of the clientele of Jaune's. They seemed remarkable unaffected, some nodding along and others shaking their heads.
It wouldn't have surprised Yang if they were commenting, praising and critiquing Velvet's technique. Jaune's was a huntsman diner, after all. Everyone here probably knew the same move, and most of them could do it better and faster, being professional huntsmen and huntresses. To Sterling, Velvet might have seemed to move so fast he couldn't react. To everyone else, Velvet was average. Good for her age and experience, but nothing more. An adult huntress in the corner casually raised a hand and called on Russel for a refill.
Sterling was not so unaffected. "What is the meaning of this? Release him!"
"If he agrees to back away, sure," Velvet said. Sterling didn't agree, but evidently the man on the ground did, for she stepped back and let go.
To his credit, the bodyguard stood and dusted himself down without making a fuss. He stepped back to Sterling's side, and Yang thought she heard him cuss out his boss for not telling him she was a huntress.
"How was I supposed to know?" Sterling growled. "It doesn't matter," he added, this time louder. "You just assaulted someone in broad daylight. You'll be lucky if I don't stake you out for this!"
"You started it," Velvet said.
"But you escalated," the solicitor countered. "This is a business transaction an – ah – failure on Mr Arc's part to follow the terms and conditions of his tenancy." His smile was slimy, and that said something seeing as he stood beside Sterling. "We are within our right to demand clarification from Mr Arc, and these are his opening hours. Given the – ah – dangers involved in an eviction, it's not uncommon to bring alone someone to serve as a deterrence against violent action. It is, however, an offence to attack and subdue said person, as you did."
"You're going to arrest me, then?"
"Now, my dear, I'm sure that's not necessary."
"I think it is." Velvet looked surprised to hear herself say that, but she stood her ground nonetheless. "Jaune is my boss, but he's also my friend. I respect and care for him. Your letter this morning left him unable to sleep and he's exhausted, both physically and mentally. I… I'm not going to let you bully him any further. I refuse. You'll have to come back with some police and arrest me."
"And me," Russel said, finally speaking up. He came out to stand next to Velvet with his arms crossed. He nudged her elbow with his, grinned and winked. Velvet scoffed but didn't move. Russel, smirk in place, turned back to Sterling. "We'll tell him you came by if you like. How about making an appointment to meet him another time? Say, tomorrow?"
The solicitor frowned. "If that is the only-"
"No!" Sterling snapped. The veins in his neck bulged and his face was bright red. "Enough of this… this nonsense! I want him out now. I want this place closed down and everyone in it out. I've had enough of his foot-dragging and enough of his… his slander!"
"Slander, you say?" a voice by the door asked. There was a man there, middle-aged going on elderly with white dark hair streaked grey and a clean-shaven face. He had a briefcase at his side and wore a long, cream coat with a black scarf that fell on either side. The front was open, revealing a navy-blue suit of immaculate design. "Slander," he repeated, stepping into the diner. "Hm. Quite the bold claim to be making. Very bold indeed. You would not be making such wild claims without due cause, no? I would like to know what that is." The man's eyes zeroed in on the papers in Sterling's hand. "An eviction notice? I think I would like to see those, too. I think we shall be lodging an appeal in that regard."
"Who the hell are you supposed to be?" Sterling asked, stepping forward. The man in the suit turned to the side, dodging Sterling's finger.
"Ah. Please, do not touch what you cannot afford."
"And my name is Grey, Richard Grey, of Grey & Sons." The man smiled when Sterling's solicitor paled. "I see you've heard of me." He brushed by a stunned Sterling and approached Velvet and Russel. "Is Mr Arc in? I'd like to speak to my client if he's available."
"He's sleeping," Velvet said.
"Oh? Then I shall have a cup of coffee, and perhaps a slice of cake."
Yang could hardly take her eyes off the scene. The guy, without so much as stating his purpose, had left Sterling red in the face and shaking with rage. It looked like he wanted to say something, but his solicitor was holding him back, hissing something into his ear. Combined with the bodyguard, he was able to drag Sterling out of the diner. Yang whistled and then looked to the others at the table, quickly seeing the look of shock and clear recognition on Weiss' face.
"Yo, Weiss-cream. Who is this guy?"
Weiss was so surprised she didn't even react to the name. Instead, she stared at the man, before she started to laugh.
"Weiss?" Ruby asked. "Is something wrong?"
"No. Ha. Nothing is wrong." She wiped her eye with one hand. "And that, Yang, is Richard Grey. My father's personal solicitor."
Yang's eyes widened. She glanced at Blake. "You got this on video?"
"You uploaded it yet?"
When Jaune slumped down the stairs an hour before closing, he was surprised to see the diner still full, and containing a few familiar faces. Team RWBY were all there, along with Pyrrha, Ren, Nora and a couple of others. They all looked to be on the edge of their seats, like they were waiting for something. Possibly him. Jaune grimaced and hoped he didn't look too defeated.
Velvet and Russel were waiting, too. But for some reason they looked satisfied. Almost too satisfied.
Jaune looked around, for evidence of anything that might have happened. There was nothing, nothing other than all the faces, waiting, some smiling, all looking… remarkably calm for how dire the situation was.
"Did I… miss something while I was asleep?"
Nah. Nothing much. So, Jaune's in full defeat mode but everyone else isn't willing to do the same, with Velvet gaining her determination this chapter and Sterling pushed to the edge. Will Jaune remain the weak link in the chain, and who will it take to knock some sense into him?
That's right. Kanye We-
No. Just no.
This is kind of the last chapter of Jaune being mostly absent from his own story. Last two chapters intentionally had him sort of back off and go into full retreat while others took the limelight.
Next Chapter: 16th October
P a treon . com (slash) Coeur