Here we are. Because I'm mentioning it on all fics (at least for a week), I have a new FAQ section on my profile page, which is just to answer some of the really common PM questions I receive like: "Why Jaune" or "Why Blake" or "Can I have you read my story, etc…"

A common one I get asked for Service with a Smile especially is whether people can borrow the story premise for their own story ideas, etc. The answer is always yes, sure, but I've also answered it more fully on my page.

I've had quite a few people want to start stories like SWS and I certainly don't own the idea of a guy opening a coffee shop xD I'm only ever going to be upset if someone literally copy - pastes sections from my work, etc.

Cover Art: Jack Wayne

Chapter 39

Service, Jaune knew, always came with a smile.

General Ironwood made that difficult. It wasn't anything against the man himself; yes, he liked his coffee blacker than space and as thick as tar, but Jaune didn't judge people on their taste for coffee. Not usually. Hell, Ruby hadn't even liked coffee when he first met her, and while Ironwood liking Atlesian Black was still a big deal, he was willing to be the bigger person and let such heresy go.

It was more what the General was saying.

"Criminals, Ozpin. Criminals, White Fang and who knows what out there and you still refuse to listen to reason." He slammed a fist on Jaune's table and the lacquered wood split instantly.

"James!" Glynda Goodwitch rebuked, glaring at the general over a latte.

The General flinched and looked down, realised what he'd done and then turned to Jaune with an apologetic grimace. "My apologies," he said, then turned to the left. "Winter. Please compensate him. I have the budget for it."

Winter Schnee primly put down her coffee, rose and cornered Jaune against a wall. He didn't think meant to look so intimidating, but something about her sharp eyes, tall figure, strict dress and the way she held herself did that anyway. When she reached into her white coat, he half expected her to draw out a gun.

When she did, he nearly fainted.

Winter passed the gun to her other hand and dug a little deeper, bringing out a pure white wallet of some kind, from which she brought forth a single card stamped with the symbol of Atlas, and containing her title as Winter Schnee, Specialist.

"Charge it to this. I believe five-thousand lien should suffice."

Nervously, he took the card. "It's only a little bit of damage. I could probably repair it…"

"The meeting is still young. I would not expect the table to survive it."

Jaune wondered if he should ask them to leave as a result and what the response would be. They probably would go. They were officials, not hooligans. He didn't, however. Something stopped him. It might have been how important they were or the fact that he was terrified of them finding out anything about him and he didn't wasn't to draw attention. Either way, he made his way back to the cashier and raked in five thousand lien with a few clicks of a button.

"No pin or signature?" he asked out loud.

"Unnecessary," Winter said, suddenly beside him once more and taking the card back. "No one would dare to misuse the responsibility of owning one of these. Also, transactions are monitored."

"R-Right. Government funds, I guess."

"Something like that." The woman's frown deepened as she looked him up and down. "You are the one that father is helping." The way she said `father` hinted at things he didn't want to get into. "Why is it that he supports you?"

"I don't know. I assumed it was because Weiss is a friend of mine-"

"That would not be enough."

"Then I have no idea," he said honestly. "I just know that the SDC's lawyer showed up, took over my case, scared Café Prime into hiding and now drops by every morning to drink exactly two cups of coffee, one decaff and then one caffeinated, and that he leaves at exactly 10:30 every day."

"Hm. Punctual."

I was going to say obsessive-compulsive myself…

"I will speak to my sister then," Winter said, watching him for any reaction.

Since he wasn't sure what she actually was looking for, Jaune shrugged and acted naturally. That seemed to please the woman – or at least it didn't displease her; he wasn't sure she could be pleased.

"Your coffee is adequate."

"Thank you?"

"Your venue meets the expected hygiene requirements."

"Uh. Thank you? Again?"

Winter nodded gracefully. "You are welcome."

He watched in confusion as she returned to the General's table and sat down, folding both hands atop the table and sitting quietly. Wait, was that her way of complimenting me? Wow. She's worse than Ruby.

He wasn't sure why the teachers and Ironwood had come to his diner to hold what sounded like an important meeting. Actually, it might not have been one at all, but General Ironwood certainly made it – and everything he did – look and sound like it was important. Either way, the rest of the patrons were blatantly listening in. It wasn't every day important people came, sat down nearby and started to shout at one another.

Well, unless you worked in politics.

They can't be here to arrest me, though. There's no way they'd do this is Ruby blabbed to them. They'd just come and arrest me themselves. He didn't think for a second Ruby would have told on him, but there was always the chance she'd been overheard.

Ruby was loyal to her friends.

Loyal, but not subtle.

"Things have been relatively peaceful of late," Ozpin said, nursing his fourth cup of coffee. Each previous had been a different blend and Jaune relished the challenge of making each and every one exciting.

Ozpin was a man who indulged his taste buds. Jaune could respect that.

"Peaceful!?" Ironwood hissed, striking the table again. Yep, that was another crack. "The White Fang caused a huge commotion and a fire on the docks. You have stolen military equipment in their hands."

"Which belonged to you," Ozpin pointed out.

"And which was brought to Vale," Ironwood countered. "I'll admit our fault in losing it but does the fact that they specifically brought it here not tip you off just a little as to the fact they might be looking to use it!? Unless you think they just wanted a very expensive paperweight."

"It would be quite the conversation piece."


"I know, James. I know. I acknowledge that we have problems – what Kingdom doesn't? – but bringing your military here and stationing them around the festival is not going to make things better. You'll look like an invading army."

"In the event I invaded you, Ozpin, attacking and subduing a tournament between children would not be my first move."

"I said look like an invasion, James. Spare me the hypothetical details."

"I am offering my men in good faith, Ozpin. In good faith as security to help an ally and a friend."

"We already have security in place. Why, I spoke to this wonderful gentleman yesterday. Very enterprising fellow. I think his name was Rowan Candlestick. He came highly recommended. Can't say much for his eyeliner or his smoking habit, but he had a lot of security officers at hand."

Jaune choked.

Ironwood looked like he'd swallowed tar – which wasn't far off what he actually was drinking.

"Please tell me you're joking…"

"Of course I'm joking." Ozpin rolled his eyes and set his mug down. "I have at least a hundred huntsmen prepared to look over the festival and be on hand should things go poorly. Yes, Qrow is among them, but no, he isn't commanding them. Do I look like an idiot?"

Ironwood didn't answer.

"That was your cue to say no, old friend."

"Out of respect for our friendship, I chose to remain silent. Huntsmen are all well and good, Ozpin, but the threat here isn't from a couple of Grimm breaking through. Huntsmen should be busy outside the walls, not within. What you need is a force dedicated to facing insurgents, terrorists and human opponents."

"A force dedicated to subduing faunus, you mean." Ozpin let one eyebrow raise. "Atlas certainly seems adept at that."

"Must you bring up the past? We have made mistakes, I admit, but we're not talking about policies against faunus or humans. We're talking about a criminal element known for causing trouble, which has caused trouble in Vale already, and who will almost certainly be looking to do so again."

"And we're talking about it in a public diner…" Glynda bemoaned. "Where anyone could be listening in."

"I doubt the White Fang would come here of all places, Glynda," Ozpin said.

Several tables over, Adam nibbled on some chocolate cake and rolled his eyes towards Mercury Black, who was busy dunking his into the frothiest cappuccino to have ever graced Jaune's and lived to tell the tale.

"Besides, it's not as though we're discussing anything of any real importance. The world knows I will have huntsmen defend the festival. That is not set to change anytime soon."

"You are being unusually aggravating today," Ironwood growled.

"Funny. I was thinking the same of you."

"Very well." Ironwood straightened, finished his drink and slammed the cup down. For once, the desk didn't crack, nor did the mug. "I can see that my words aren't making it through to you. I hope for the both of that your security holds true. You've made a habit of mentioning how often you've made mistakes. Let us hope you're not bullheadedly walking into another."

"James!" Glynda growled, slapping her hand down on the table. "You can't-"

The woodwork, already weakened by the repeated barrage from General Ironwood, cracked under Glynda's palm, even if it was a relatively weak blow. It was testament to its construction that it had held up so long, but Glynda's hand was the straw that broke the camel's back. The table collapsed, spilling wood, cutlery and mugs – not very much shattered – across the floor.

Glynda sat frozen, hand extended. Ozpin, having picked up his mug, sipped at it.

"Glynda!" Ironwood rebuked. "Control yourself."

Winter tutted.

Ozpin shook his head. "For shame, Glynda. For shame…"

Red-faced and with her eyes closed, Glynda took a deep breath, ignoring the whispers of all those watching. She drew her hand back, reaching into her skirt and drew out a small wallet. From it, she procured a single card that she held out between two fingers.

Jaune took it without a word.

"For the record," Glynda said, seething. "I hate each and every one of you."

Even after they'd left and even after Jaune cleared up the mess and stood a `wet floor` sign atop the broken table, Jaune didn't calm down. He didn't have a `Foreign General broke my furniture` sign, and experience had shown him that even though it may have looked obvious, someone, somehow, would find a way to trip over it and break their neck.

That they hadn't come for him should have been a relief, a sign that Ruby had been as good as her word. But in truth, it only left him feeling even more nervous.

Why do I feel so guilty? I'm nothing but a shop owner. A barista. It's not like I can stop an invasion on my own, and I did the responsible thing. I told someone who can do something and who can make a difference.

There was no reason to feel bad about that. Bad things happened so long as good people did nothing, but he hadn't done nothing. Even if Ruby couldn't act, she'd find a way to let Ozpin know that wouldn't incriminate him. That was as good as going to the police himself. Better, even. The police wouldn't be able to stop genuinely dangerous enemies, while Ozpin would.

He'd done his duty.

Ruby would tell Ozpin. Ozpin would stop Cinder's plan. All of Vale would be saved because, he, a simple barista, acted.

If anything, he should have felt proud about that.

Maybe it's just the uncertainty. Ozpin might have known right then and there and all of that might have been a show specifically designed to make it seem like they don't. Or they could be working on plans right now.

The thought helped a little. There was no reason for them to tell him, after all. Less than no reason; it would be a genuinely bad idea to tell someone who the bad guys knew of by name and face. They could find it out from him or trick him in some way.

There was literally no reason to get involved further.

Ten minutes later, Jaune Arc cursed.

"Velvet, can you look after the place for a bit?"

"Uh?" Velvet looked over, swamped with trays and very much on her own. "Yes? Russel's shift starts in an hour, right?" She relaxed when he nodded. "Then yes, of course. Everyone will just have to give me a little slack." She said the last bit loud enough for all the diner to hear, and being the adorable and sweet faunus maid, everyone impatiently waiting for their order melted, unable to bring themselves to pick on the poor girl or hurt her feelings in any way.

Coco called it the `Velvet effect`.

Russel called it bullshit.

Jaune would have said it didn't exist, but then again… this was exactly how he'd ended up hiring her in the first place.

"Thanks. I'll be back later."


The Club was open and yet not open. The doors were unlocked and there were people coming and going, but only those in the uniform of the Red Axe Gang, and the windows were blacked out. It may have seemed odd that such a thing so brazenly criminal could happen on one of the more well-respected streets in Vale, but the truth of the fact was that Junior ran a clean business. Or a clean enough of one.

He paid his taxes, kept his name out there, made sure he wasn't linked to anything bad and dealt mostly in information. Sure, he rented goons out to Torchwick at the drop of a hat, but that was business, and what Torchwick did with said goons wasn't his.

Junior liked it that way. It kept things safe. Kept him from ever being so big a threat that he needed to be dealt with, or too little of one that he became expendable. No matter what side of the law you were on, knowledge was always power.

Midday, however, could fuck off and die.

Most would have said mornings were worse, but Junior didn't wake up until the crack of noon, the benefits of working in a nightclub most nights. Even when he didn't drink much himself, waking up was an arduous affair. The smell of booze and smoke often left him feeling like he was drunk, and that was to say nothing for the inevitable vomit left in the bathrooms each night.

So, as they often did, Junior, Miltia and Melanie were slumped at his bar poking glasses of water with their fingers and wishing they could be anywhere else. Or rather the two girls were slumped, and he was leaning on it with one elbow, polishing a glass not because it needed it, but because the action gave his hands something to focus on.

"Can we just… not run a nightclub?" Melanie groaned. "Have we thrown that idea out there?"

Miltia grumbled into the counter.

"Many times," Junior said, not envying those two their hangovers. Unlike him, they had been drinking. They'd also been dancing, fighting and throwing out some twat who tried to get frisky with Miltia. "You know why that wouldn't work. Place like this has to look legitimate. Nightclubs are good for that."

"Because you can charge ridiculous prices for drinks and make it look like all your money comes through it," Melanie parroted. "I know, Junior." She sighed. "I know. Was just wishful thinking. I need medicine."

"Drugs and alcohol don't mix."

"I drank yesterday."

"Girl, your blood is probably more alcohol than blood at this point." He pushed the glass of water closer to her, ignoring the `blech` sound she made. "Drink. It's good for you."

"Hair of the dog?" Melanie begged.

"No. Water."


The doors at the front opening caught Junior's eye, though not the twins'. His brows drew down. The boys shouldn't be letting anyone in at this time of day. He had half a mind to go up there and sort them out, but relaxed when he saw who it was. The door was closed once more and Junior leaned back, grinning and enjoying the show.

Miltia grunted when someone tapped her on the shoulder. She rolled the limb to knock the hand off and sighed into the counter.

The person tapped again.

"Grr." Miltia's eyes flashed and she spun around on the stool. "Take a hint and fu-"

The look on her face was worth holding back. Miltia's eyes widened to comical proportions as she came face to face with a resplendent bouquet of black and red roses. The petals glistened with little drops of water and the flowers – a large bouquet by any means – were wrapped in a white cloth, clutching at the base by a nervously smiling Jaune Arc.

"Heh. Surprise?"

If it wasn't for him pushing them towards Miltia, Junior didn't think she would have reacted. She embraced them automatically, drawing them closer against her chest and breathing in the fragrant scent. Her cheeks had turned a pretty pink, but there was still no outward reaction from her.

Junior felt certain in saying no one had ever bought the girl flowers. Not Miltia Malachite. Buy her drinks, a dress if you were feeling eager or some chocolate if you were cheap, but flowers and Miltia were two things that didn't seem to go together.

Though, he had to say, the black and red was a nice touch. It matched Miltia's dress perfectly and made it clear – if there could be any doubt – that they had been chosen with her in mind. Miltia clearly realised that in her hungover stupor, for she drew them closer, enough so that her chin and the bottom half of her face was hidden shyly among the blooms.

Huh. Miltia can do shy. I never realised…

Jaune didn't look bothered by her lack of a response. Or if he was, he hid it well. "I've brought other gifts as well," he said, indicating the little cart he'd dragged in behind him. It was stacked with boxes and paper packages with the distinctive steaming cup logo Junior's recycling bins were now full to the brim of.

"Yeeeeessss…" Melanie groaned, doing more than a fair approximation of a zombie as she fell off the stool and staggered over to the cart. "Coffeeee…."

His boys, who were really supposed to keep working, all shuffled awkwardly over as well, shooting him nervous looks as they tried to make their position clear. With a roll of his eyes, Junior waved a hand and let them descend on the offering.

"Thanks, Jaune!"

"Thank you, Jaune!"

"You're a hero."

"Oh. Nice flowers."

"Heh. Look at Miltia."


"Oi! That's mine!"

Junior watched the melee that was about to start and then how Jaune expertly stepped between the warring factions and brokered peace over little paper cups and packets of sliced cake. Should I be worried that my boys are so easily bribed by coffee and cake? Junior thought on the issue for a moment, at least until Junior placed an extra-large and extra-marshmallow chocolate-sprinkle cappuccino in front of him. On second thoughts, bribery never felt so good.

"Thanks, kid," Junior grunted, trying to retain at least some self-respect. "You're a lifesaver."

"I figured you'd send someone down for some anyway and I was already planning to come down and surprise Miltia." Jaune smiled at his new girlfriend again, this time a little shyly. Had Miltia been in the right mind, Junior thought she might have jumped him then and there for that.

Instead, she blinked back at him, looked down to the bouquet of roses in hand and then drew them a little closer to her chest, enough so that the petals tickled her chin and neck.

"I think she likes them," he said, saving the kid any uncertainty. "You'll have to forgive her. It was a long night and they had to take out some trash."

"Do you always have such rough customers?"

"Average of four hundred different people in a night, kid. Even if ninety-nine per cent are great, odds are there'll always be someone either out to make trouble or who can't handle their alcohol." Junior shrugged. "You learn not to take it personally. Most are just out looking for a good time."

"Oh hey," Melanie said. "Jaune's here."

Junior rolled his eyes.

"Ooh, flowers!"

"Long night," he repeated. "And an early morning."

"Junior, it's twelve-thirty."

"Like I said, early morning." He huffed and poured Jaune a glass of soda. Not the same quality as his own drink, but then he figured the kid was as sick as drinking coffee as Junior was cocktails. When you made them all day, the smell alone could put you off.

"Thanks." Jaune sat on a stool next to Miltia. "I needed this."

"Sounds like you've had a rough few nights yourself. Want to talk about it?"

"You're a therapist now?"

Junior shrugged. "Might as well be. You think running a gang is all shady deals, breaking kneecaps and serving hard drinks? I have over a hundred `boys` to look after, not to mention these two. You wouldn't believe how often one of the ever-dangerous Red Axe Gang come to me crying about how their girlfriend left them and they don't know what to do. HR, kid," he groaned. "HR and taxes. They never change."

"Right. I guess I never thought of it that way. Does Roman have to deal with HR, too?"

"He has to deal with Neo. She's a `human resource problem` all to herself. Anyway, you didn't come here to talk business I'm sure, and Miltia isn't going to snap out of this for a while. What's your issue? I've got nothing better to do than listen."

And hell, he wasn't about to let his main source of caffeine fall into the doldrums and take time off work. Miltia wouldn't be the only one on his ass if that happened. His men would revolt!

"It's something I learned about a few days back. Something…" Jaune looked like he wasn't sure how to say it, before he laughed suddenly. "Kind of stupid to beat around the bush here of all places. Something illegal," he said. "Criminal activity. One of my regulars, who I kind of liked and trusted, turned out to be a criminal."

"So?" Junior wasn't emotional enough to be offended. "So are we. Not to mention Roman and Neo, and you've got no problem with them."

"You're not bad criminals, though."

"The people we've scammed and robbed would say different."

Jaune winced. "I'm talking death and destruction criminals."

"Oh." Junior shifted his weight and drew a seat out from under the bar, sitting down to face Jaune across it. His lips drew into a frown. "That kind," he grunted. This was more serious. "How bad we talking here? Minor death and destruction? A hit…?"


Shit. Junior bit back a hiss but couldn't quite stop the disgust showing on his face. Terrorists. Those were bad for business. Very bad. Most crooks were reasonable at the end of the day; total scum, but understandable. They did what they did because of necessity, greed or some twisted sense of satisfaction. Either way, they measured the risks and acted accordingly.

If you took a hostage and the police came for you, you had to measure those same risks. Let the hostage go and you'd be charged for endangering them and whatever your crimes were before, which could all be lessened with a little contrition.

Pull the trigger?

You weren't getting out of that. Shit like that was final.

Junior had never crossed the line. He'd crossed lines, sure, but only with others who crossed the same ones. Keep the murder among the gangs, among the criminals, and the people didn't bat an eye. It was when you actively hurt people who didn't deserve it that you became a problem. A problem for everyone.

Terrorists – fanatics – were just that.

"Talk to me," Junior said. "What are we dealing with here? White Fang?"

Jaune nodded.

"Faunus supremacists. Trash born from the dying corpse of a good cause. They usually cause problems in Mistral and Atlas, but they've been relatively quiet in Vale. Judging from the look on your face, that's about to change."

"I shouldn't be telling anyone about this…"

"Information brokers offer some pretty strict confidentiality," Junior pointed out. "I'm not the Government here. I know how to keep my sources safe."

Jaune nodded, and with a last longing look for the door, spilled his guts.

It wasn't a pleasant tale by any means. Junior grimaced at Roman's involvement, then let out a sigh at hearing it wasn't on willing terms. Somewhere in the telling, Melanie and Miltia both snapped back to life and listened intently, even if Miltia kept hanging onto the flowers like they were a life raft and she was trapped in the middle of the ocean.

Jaune finished by telling them how he'd passed the information onto a huntress – he didn't mention who, but Junior could guess – but that he otherwise didn't know what to do and couldn't convince himself it was none of his business.

Junior leaned back when the story was over, musing over everything he'd learned.

"This sounds bad, Junior," Melanie said, somewhat needlessly. "This sounds like chaos on the streets. Total anarchy. That's not good for business."

"None of this is," Miltia hissed. "And they dragged Jaune into the middle of it. I say we talk to Roman, set up an ambush and kill this bitch while we have the element of surprise."

"No. Too risky." Junior shot the idea down before it could gain traction. "We've no idea of what she can do, who backs her and how many allies she has. We're a gang. We're not equipped to deal with a terrorist army, and while you two might be tough, you couldn't even beat a Beacon trainee. You're not going to have much luck against someone confident enough to take on the entirety of Beacon."

"Maybe she's over-confident."

"Then she dies like a chump and we don't have to deal with it. I don't know about you two, but I'm not willing to bet my life on that. This Cinder," he said to Jaune. "How dangerous would you say she is?"

"Enough that Roman thought crossing her was a suicidal idea."

"Hm. Roman's got a good head for these kinds of things." And part of Junior wondered if Roman hadn't told Jaune for this express purpose; doing much the same as Jaune had in subtly passing the information in Ozpin's direction, but with Roman subtly passing it on to Jaune, knowing the kid's sense of honour would force him to act.

It sounded like the kind of thing Roman might do. A silent cry for help.

"Shit like this is bad for business and Vale is our home. I'm not willing to give it up to some megalomaniac villain out of a bad Spruce Willis movie. Melanie. Miltia. Thoughts?"

"Same," the girls said in unison.

"And she's fucking with my boyfriend," Miltia added, growling into her flowers.

Junior nodded and then turned to Jaune. "Thanks for telling us this, Jaune. I mean that. It might not be happy news, but I'd rather me and the gang know this than not. Gives us a chance to prepare."

"You don't have any ideas on how to stop it?" Jaune asked, anguished.

"Be lying if I said I did, but that doesn't mean I'm ignoring it." Junior grinned and downed the rest of his drink, chewing the last marshmallows. It took him a second to realise he'd ruined his cool persona, especially when he had to make them wait for a good twenty seconds while he worked his way through the gooey treats. "Sorry," he mumbled, wiping his chin. "Anyway, I've no ideas right now, but you can bet your suppliers I'll be working to find one. Chaos in the streets brings one thing. Grimm."

"And taxes," Miltia added. "Council will raise them for repairs."

"HR problems, too," Melanie said. "So many of the boys will be torn between families and us."

"Yeah." Junior grimaced. "So, as you can see, it's serious business on our end. I'm not saying we can act against her; I think Roman has made it clear that's off the table. But I'm an information dealer at the end of the day. My biggest strength isn't in facing people head on."

"I'll say," Melanie mumbled. "He gives us shit for losing to that broad, but he was no better. And he had to call her sir."

Junior huffed, adjusted his tie and ignored their comments. "The Red Axe Gang is on this, Jaune. Don't you worry. You pay your protection money and we're contractually obligated to look after you. That includes up to and from terrorists, Grimm and all the other things that go bump in the night."

Jaune blinked. "I don't pay you anything."

Junior pointed to all his men drinking away.

"You accept coffee as tender?"

"Hey. It's a lot easier to launder than cash."

"I guess so." Jaune sighed. "I'll pretend I didn't hear that last part."

"Appreciate it."

"Thanks for agreeing to help on this, Junior. And thanks for listening, I guess. It really did help to get it off my chest."

Junior shrugged in a `that's what I'm here for` kind of way. It wasn't, but hey, what could you do? Watching Jaune step off the stool and make to leave, Junior coughed into his fist, and then coughed again when no one reacted.

Stupid teens.

"Miltia," he grunted. "Don't you have anything to say for your boyfriend?"

"Huh?" Miltia looked his way.

"After he brought you flowers?"

"Oh!" Her eyes widened and she blurted out the first thing on her mind. "Is this when we have sex?"

Jaune froze.

Melanie choked.

Junior sighed.

"No, wait!" Miltia cried, suddenly bright red and stammering like she never had before. "That's not what I meant, I-"

Jaune burst out laughing.

"Not what I meant," Miltia groaned, burying her face in the roses. "Fuck my life…"

"It's okay." Jaune stepped up with a happy smile. "I think I know what you mean, but I didn't buy you flowers for that even if we talked about it before. I just wanted to come around and see you. The flowers… I saw them being sold next to each other in a florist and they reminded me of you. Black and red. Passion and mystery with a little danger thrown in." Jaune looked a little embarrassed. "That sounded better in my head. Way cooler."

"Oh, I don't know," Melanie said, grinning. "I think it had an effect."

Miltia had closed the distance soon after the statement and taken Jaune's collar in hand, dragging him in. The sounds they made had Junior rolling his eyes and looking away. Teenagers. They couldn't even make out without making a scene of it.

"How's that for a thank you?" Miltia drew back.

"Yeah." Jaune's smile was dopey, as if he'd just gotten high on Class-A drugs. "That… Wow. I should bring you flowers more often."

"You don't need to bribe me for another go at that."

"Then I'll bring you flowers anyway. You deserve it."

"Charmer." Miltia leaned in again and kissed him, albeit a softer, more respectable show. "Get going, you," she said, pushing him away. "Unless you want to take it further, in which case just let me know. But you still owe me a date and dinner. If I'm worth spoiling like this, you're going to prove it."

"I will." Jaune backed up, grinning wildly. "I'll prove I'm worthy of you."

"Idiot," Miltia mumbled. "It's the other way around."

With a final kiss, she sent him on his way, watching and waving as he left, closing the door behind him. With a heavy sigh, Miltia turned back around on the stool and looked down at her roses. She took a quick sniff, sighed happily and reached for her coffee.

"Some day I'm going to snap and pin him down. I'll make him scream my name."

"Yeah?" Melanie was unimpressed and wore a smug smile. "Maybe when you stop blushing like an innocent little schoolgirl."

Rather than argue, Miltia buried her red cheeks in the roses. "Shut up and fetch me a vase…"

Junior brought out a mixing jug from under the counter and filled it with water. He watched as Miltia reverently placed the roses into it and then started to poke them around, trying to make the best display she could. All the while, Melanie teased and prodded her sister. Junior rolled his eyes.



"I didn't expect you to return."

"I didn't expect you to be here."

"Hm." Adam sipped his drink. "You're troubled."

"You psychic now as well?" Mercury asked. "No. Don't tell me. More of your `I've seen this before`." The silver-haired teen sighed and looked around nervously. "I'd rather you not say it, alright? I'm not in the best of spots right now. Nothing you need to worry about. It won't affect your plans."

"Only your life?"

Mercury flinched.

"I thought so."

"What do you care, Adam? I'm not a faunus. I'm not one you need to worry about."

"I've spent a life living under a controlling and cruel individual who saw me as nothing more than a tool to be used and then thrown away. I have the scars to prove it. Did you expect that I would not recognise such in another? Or that I would so happily work with one?"

"Cinder doesn't beat me."

"No. She maintains your loyalty in a far more ruthless fashion."

"Are you any different with your people?"

"I am." Adam said it with such seriousness that Mercury wasn't sure how to doubt it. "There are many who have come to disagree with our actions. Not all are seen as traitors and not all leave. Working with us is not a lifetime commitment. A mask can be put aside, should you wish it."

"How does that factor in for your little runaway?"

"That," Adam said, "Is different. There is choosing to speak to me and making arrangements to leave. Then there is abandoning me in the middle of a mission and potentially leaving me to be caught and killed by SDC forces. I will not claim my decisions are always perfect. They… have been flawed in the past. But in all honesty, I ignored her after she left. I did not seek her out."

"What changed?"

"She attacked our people here in Vale. Showed that she would use her knowledge to harm us. As much as I might wish otherwise, I cannot ignore that." Adam sipped his drink and let out a quiet sigh. "Personal feelings have to be set aside for the betterment of the group. It is neither kind nor just, but neither is letting more of my people be captured or killed because of personal sentiment."

"Makes sense. Never realised it was so tough."

"It has its ups and downs."

"You know, you're a lot more down to Remnant than I thought you'd be. I kinda expected you to be a little more… uh…"

"Savage fanatic? Little more than an animal?"

"I wasn't gonna say it…"

Adam shrugged, and Mercury was yet again surprised by not only the civility of the conversation, but that he was, in some strange way, enjoying it. Maybe not having fun but finding some comfort in the candid meeting between not-quite-associates.

"At least you would have said it based on my actions and not my species. Our group contains a lot of said people and they are valuable at times, but positions of leadership cannot be left to those unable to think with a clear mind. It would lead to disaster."

"You're the exception, then?"

"No. I am the rule. You simply hear more of the fanatics because it is in the best interests of the Kingdoms to use those particularly violent and vicious examples of us to paint our entire organisation the same way. It keeps us looking the cartoonish evil, and also stymies our recruitment efforts. Or it would," he added, "If those same Kingdoms could stop mistreating faunus for all of six months. Alas, even so short a time frame seems impossible."

"People are shit," Mercury said.

"You won't hear me disagree."

"We're shit, too."

"Again. Nothing I do not already know."

"So… about Cinder…"

Adam inclined his head. "I cannot step in to aid you, but neither shall I make any effort to inform her of your… issues. We've lived under the control of taskmasters for years. I'm not about to raise the alarm if another person in the same situation wants to break their chains." He paused, cupping his mug with both hands. "If I could help you, I would…"

"But you need her help and the White- the organisation," Mercury amended, "Comes first."

"Yes. I apologise."

"Nah. Don't. You've done more than most have. Honestly, I appreciate having someone to talk to who isn't either reading into my every word or trying to put me down to make herself look better to the woman she has an obsession over."

"I noticed that," Adam said, chuckling. "I have a subordinate who displays a similar to obsession to the woman she loved. The same woman who happened to be my girlfriend at the time."

"What, seriously? How awkward was that!?"

"Somewhat. Ilia never acted on it – neither against me or in telling Blake – but it was painfully obvious."

Curious, Mercury leaned forward. "What did you do?"

"Ignored it for the most part. Not my business to step in and she never tried to cause us any problems. Ultimately, it was between her and Blake." Adam shook his head. "I don't think they ever sorted it out."


"Such is life."

Grinning, Mercury asked, "And you never thought of the potential for a threesome?"

To his surprise, Adam chuckled. "Not once. I was a young man in love. While a moment like that might appeal to many, I only had eyes for Blake. I was a different man back then. Passionate, angry. Immature."

"And now?"

"An older man. Still angry, still passionate, but hopefully more mature. In the end, I haven't changed much, as much as I might wish it. You, however, still have the opportunity. Situations can change, Mercury. Yours among them."

"I don't think it'll be that easy."

"Change never is. I failed. You should make your own decisions."

"Even if it gets me killed?"

Adam shrugged. "At least you would go out on your terms. On your own decisions. Not hers. Your life is yours to live. Not hers, not Emerald's, and not anyone else's."

Not his father's.

His life.

Mercury looked down at the table, thinking of his legs beneath. His bastard of a father had stolen those, but he was the one who walked out alive. Not Marcus Black. The old bastard had died a sad and pathetic death.

And then Cinder had snapped him up like a stray dog…

Now, he was set to fight and die for a cause he didn't know and didn't care for. He laughed. In the end, there really was no difference between him and a faunus slaving away for the SDC. They both got the same shit deal.

"Thanks for the chat," Mercury said, standing. "You here tomorrow?"

"Two days hence. Saturday. Noon." Adam didn't invite him to come, but the offer was left in the air, nonetheless. Mercury nodded, taking it for what it was.

He left the lonely faunus behind, waved to the cute waitress and stepped out into the warm afternoon air. Cinder would expect him back, but to hell with that. He fancied getting a meal and then maybe catching a movie. If Cinder asked, he'd just say he was busy.

A group of girls from Beacon arrived at the time he left, three quarters of them passing him by without word or glance, but the last – Ruby Rose, or Red as Roman called her – froze with a deer in the headlights look. She caught herself a second later, stumbling and trying to act like it wasn't him she'd reacted to.

Mercury grinned, then shot a wink her way.

"Secret's safe with me, Red."

He ignored the girl's shocked look as the strolled away, though he felt her eyes follow him. It was a small choice in the grand scheme of things, a pretty pathetic one when you thought about it, but it was his choice not to tell Cinder on the girl, and he had few enough choices that he was going to treasure it, whatever it led to.

The girl only continued to live because he had chosen to let her. In a weird way…

It felt good.

Adam's you read in this story may not be representative of the Adams you see in the show, lol. This was planned before Adam went full psycho on us. Anyway, I kind of liked the idea of an odd not-quite-paternal-but-close relationship between Adam and Mercury.

Next Chapter: 26th February

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur