Tally-ho!


Chapter 9


"Jaune's? Jaune sent you?"

The large, burly man placed both hands on his hips and looked down on her with a stern expression. He was muscled beyond belief with great rippling biceps and a chest like a barrel, offset by a white apron over a cream t-shirt. There were patches of flour across his chest and arms as well as his bald head, but none of that took away from his intimidating visage.

"He normally comes over himself," the man continued. "What's this, then? Don't tell me he finally got himself a girlfriend?"

Velvet felt a rush of embarrassment – one that she wasn't quite able to hide – and shook her head. "N-No. I'm a new employee. He asked me to come and collect his order for the day." She thrust out the letter he'd given her, wielding it like a shield. The huge man took it and read through the contents with a low hum.

"I see," he finally said, lowering it. "Well, that all checks out. I s'pose with that shoulder of his it was inevitable. Good lad, but pushes 'imself too hard. You take care of him now, lass."

To her embarrassment, that still sounded like something he might have asked a girlfriend, and her cheeks darkened. She didn't bother to argue, though.

"Yes, sir."

"None of that `sir` stuff!" the man growled, and Velvet – despite being the huntress in the equation – leapt back. "Sir makes me feel old. I'm a man in the prime of me life. Call me Marron."

"M-Marron, then," she said.

His eyes narrowed. "You're thinking how that's a woman's name, aren't you?"

Yes. "No! Of course not."

Marron scowled at her for a moment, but eventually turned away and huffed as he picked up a large cardboard box carefully sealed with various amounts of tape. It must have been heavy for he let out a quick grunt as he dropped it on the counter before them. "You sure you can handle this?"

"I brought a trolley," Velvet said, nodding to the one Jaune had given her. It was little more than a plastic platform on four wheels with a handle for pulling it, but it would be enough. "I'll put that on it," she said, reaching for the package.

"Careful lass, it's heav-"

"Hm?" Velvet asked, stood looking back with a curious expression and the formidable package held easily before her.

Marron sighed. "Never mind. Here, let me get the other two."

Once the three boxes were stacked on the trolley and secured with some rope to keep them from falling, Marron had her sign some forms – instructing her to tell Jaune to warn him the next time he sent someone new – and with the paperwork done, she was free to go. The trolley wheels squeaked and groaned a little as she pulled it out of the bakery and into the near-empty streets of six am Vale.

It was the first day of her job and she was busy picking up deliveries for Jaune's diner. A part of her wondered if she should be bothered by that, since it wasn't what she'd fully expected when she'd applied for the job, but she just couldn't bring herself to feel that way. If anything, she was relieved to be broken in slowly.

Marron's Bakery wasn't the first place she'd been sent to either, with a dairy store providing the fresh milk for the coffee – sourced that morning from a local farm – and also a wholesaler who had stocked them up on sugar, honey and other condiments. Jaune liked to keep everything as fresh as possible and not order too much at once, both a concession to not wasting his money and also to make sure the customers got the best possible food and drink. Either way, each of the people she'd visited that morning had known her employer by name, and each was a bit of a character in their own right.

Maybe that's just because it's so early in the morning, she thought. She wasn't as tired as she should be since she'd basically stayed awake all night agonising over every little thing that might go wrong. While lack of sleep normally led to exhaustion, she'd hit her second wind and paradoxically felt more awake and alert than ever before. Miss Goodwitch would explain such things away as the body's instinctive reaction to what it couldn't comprehend. Simply put, while her brain knew she was being silly, her body did not, and had decided that the only reason she wasn't sleeping was because she was in danger of being killed. Thus, it flooded her body with serotonin to keep her awake.

Not that it was a bad thing, but she knew she'd be paying the price later in Beacon. At least she had Professor Port's class later, also known as the midday nap.

It only took her ten minutes to reach the diner once more. She could have made it quicker on her own, but she didn't trust the trolley and didn't want to risk dropping the produce on the floor. Haste made waste and when that waste was the cakes and patisseries their shop was going to sell throughout the day, that wasn't a good thing.

"I'm back," she called as she pushed through the door.

"Welcome back," Jaune said, putting down a newspaper.

"Were you waiting for me?" she asked nervously. "Did I take too long?"

"No, no. Not at all. You're actually ahead of schedule, or at least what I'm used to." Her boss rose from his seat and moved towards the boxes, but couldn't do much with them due to one arm being in a sling. "I'm just normally busy myself doing all of this, so to suddenly have all this free time feels a little weird. I just sat around reading the newspaper."

That made sense. She needed to stop being so paranoid about things, she knew. Coco would have had so much to say if she could see her. "Do you want me to put the cakes in the display cases?" Velvet asked. "Is that what comes next?"

"We'll do that together," he said. "What I need your help with now is filling up some of the machines. You need to put milk and water in the tops, but I can't lift things that high."

"Won't that need doing several times a day? How will you manage later?"

"I can keep them filled with one-handed containers through the day," he said, "but it's just in the morning when they're completely empty. I could still do it one jug at a time, but it would take a while."

She nodded and was shown over to the fridge, a rather large thing set behind a wall in between the counter area and the stairs leading up to Jaune's apartment – which she'd been told she could feel free to enter if she needed the restroom. She'd been too embarrassed for that however, and just used the small public restrooms to the side of the diner.

"This is where the milk and other perishables are kept through the day," he said, showing her each individual rack and explaining what it was for. The various different types of milk were important, and he pointed out how she needed to only ever store one type on the correct shelf, which he'd marked with colours to match the labels on the milk itself to make it easier.

Velvet nodded and tried to commit everything she could to memory, as she had been doing with all the other things he'd taught her through the day.

"You don't need to remember everything the first time around," he said, not for the first time. "Like I've said before, I'll be around if you have trouble so don't be afraid to ask."

It was a kind gesture, and she was quickly coming to realise he was a kind man, but that didn't make her any less determined to prove herself capable. Even if she didn't have to memorise everything, she would. I bet Russel could get it all straight away. If he can, then so can I.

"The milk goes in here, right?" she asked, poised on her tiptoes on a chair pulled up to the unit.

"That's right. Fill it to the marker and then we add water."

"What about the coffee beans?"

"Those don't go in it. You mix those in the cup beforehand."

She winced. "S-Sorry."

"There's nothing to be sorry about. I'll show you how to do the blends later."

The work continued like that for another forty minutes or so, and once the machines were tended to, they moved onto the display cases and started to fill them with various treats and snacks. That was a lot easier, even if she had to take the time to make sure each was arranged facing the glass and that each was of near-perfect quality before being put in.

"Do you often get produce that isn't very good?" she asked.

"I used to back when I started," he said, opening another box with a knife. "I didn't know what places were reliable back then. It's better now. Marron never messes up his orders. The guy is basically a wizard when it comes to cakes."

The image of the man flashed back into her mind; his low snarl and angry eyes. "He was a little… um…"

"Intimidating?"

It shouldn't have been possible for a civilian to intimidate a huntress like her, and she wanted to lie and claim he hadn't scared her. It would have been hollow, however. She wanted to change and become a better person, but only if it meant she actually changed. She didn't want to lie about it.

"It's fine," he said, no doubt reading her silence for what it was. "I was like that at first, as well. The trick is to ask him about his children. He melts faster than an ice-cream in the desert."

"He has children?"

"Two girls," Jaune said. "One a year older than the other. They're at a school nearby and he breaks off work at three-thirty every day to pick them up. His wife works in an office until five," he added. "If you ask him how they're doing he'll gush and talk your ear off, but he loses his edge. Just be careful you don't let him drag you inside to see baby pictures or you won't be leaving for a while." He laughed to himself. "Marron is really soft when you get him going…"

Velvet giggled at the thought as well, and wondered if she'd have the courage to try it out the next time. "You really seem to know a lot of people around here," she said a little wistfully. It must have been nice to be able to talk to people like that.

"Do I? Huh, I guess I know some of my suppliers. It's not anything special, though. I just talk to them when they talk to me and I listen. I think that's probably more important than anything else. I listen to what they say, and I remember it the next time we talk." Jaune leaned back from the display cabinet with a small smile. "I guess people like knowing someone cares enough to listen to what you say and not forget about it. There's no big secret."

"But what if you're shy?" she asked.

Jaune laughed. "I am shy."

"You're not," Velvet sighed. Not like her. He was just trying to be kind to make her feel better.

"No, I really am. I'm not joking."

"You talked to Coco and me."

"Because you literally ran into me. I wouldn't have even dared to approach two girls like you normally."

"But you run a café," she said, gesturing around her. "You can't be shy."

"Eh, I think you're right and wrong at the same time." He scratched his head and glanced away, smiling to himself. "I mean, you're right when you say I can't be shy or awkward; I need to talk to people and I do. I do it because I have to, though. Not because I feel comfortable with it. I didn't lie. I'm a really awkward person normally."

And yet he was successful, friendly and able to talk to a wide range of people. She felt a faint hope stir up inside of her. "Really?" she asked, practically pleading for it to be true.

"Really," he said. "I've never even had a girlfriend before. I've never even kissed a girl. I had just about no friends back home other than my sisters, and I'd get tongue-tied trying to talk with someone." He sighed and palmed his face. "You should hear what my flirting is like…"

"But you got better."

"My relationship status says otherwise, but if you mean in talking to people, then yeah, I do feel less awkward now." His cheeks coloured a little as he said that, and she had the feeling he wasn't used to – or comfortable – with praising himself. "That's just practice. This job basically forced me to talk to people and I guess after the tenth in a row didn't snap my head off or confirm any of my fears, I just sort of got into it. You will too," he promised, and met her eyes with his. "If you're willing to do the job, you'll get better."

That was her dream. Velvet nodded, feeling new excitement flash through her. It was accompanied by fear, of course. She was nervous about the idea of waiting on people – and more than aware she'd be doing it in only a few days – but she was determined to make it work. She would make it work.

I'm nervous and shy, she told herself, but no one can call me a coward. I'm going to do this!

"Well, it's early but we can call it off there," Jaune said, dusting his hands. "You can head back to Beacon if you like."

"S-So early?" she said, checking the time. There was an hour left. "Did I do something wrong?"

"No, you were great. Too good, in fact. We're done way earlier than I normally would be. I'm just saying all there's left to do is wait, and you might as well have an hour to yourself. I'll still pay you for it, of course."

Oh, okay. She'd done well. She preened a little at the praise, even if she felt she shouldn't feel nearly so proud since all she'd done was carry boxes around. Still, for her first day and for her to be praised? That was wonderful! Coco would be insufferably happy for her, while Yats and Fox would simply smile and say they'd always known she could do it.

But did she really want to leave early?

"Um…" She held out a hand to catch his sleeve when he turned away. He paused, and she took a deep breath. "Maybe if we have time, could you teach me how to use the machines?"

"Now?" he asked, surprised.

"I'll be using them Sunday. I might as well learn them now. I-If that's okay, I mean?"

Her employer smiled, and all doubt was quickly washed away. "It's more than okay," he said. "Come on. We'll start with espressos and we'll work our way up. The important thing to keep in mind is the blend…"

Velvet nodded as she followed behind him, memorising everything she could as he explained the various benefits, flavours and textures of each blend of coffee and what kind of people might like it best. It was like learning a second language she'd never heard of before and she couldn't say she got it on the first try. She'd stop by the library later and read more on it, however.

A little extra effort wouldn't hurt.

/-/

Jaune smiled as a huntress he recognised by face but not name sauntered away with a bun in her mouth and three more in a bag for her team. Her partner followed with a cup-holder of four to-go coffees, waving over her shoulder. He waved back and waited until they'd left before he let out a quick sigh and looked about the diner for Russel. The young man was off by a table, leaning over with a smile on his face as he told something to the two guys seated there. They laughed and took their drinks, and Jaune watched as Russel handed them the bill, spotted someone who needed service, and went over of his own volition, never losing the easy smile on his face.

He'd worked out as easily as his job experience had said he would, which was a welcome relief. I guess I was worried for nothing. He definitely knows what he's doing, even if he's not used to working here.

Russel had shown up fifteen minutes before his shift and handled everything he'd been shown with only a couple of return questions and otherwise an easy confidence that had made Jaune initially nervous. The crazy hair was still there, but he'd taken the uniform Jaune had purchased and slipped into it without any problems – a set of clean, black trousers with a white shirt tucked into a brown waistband with an apron and lien pouch. He also had a black handkerchief tied around his neck, with the loose ends falling down to the middle of his chest, and a notepad in his breast pocket.

All in all, he'd been surprised at how good the teen made it look, and with the whole outfit combined, he'd come out looking more adorably wild than thuggish or dangerous. The customers certainly thought so, and while there'd been some initial concern from the rare mother and child that still came in, Russel had quickly eroded it by crouching down to talk with the children and take the order from them instead of the mother. That had earned laughter from the child and amused patience from the parent.

"He's good," Jaune whispered, watching as Russel weaved past a leaving customer, flashed them a smile and a polite farewell, then swept down to collect some empty cups from a third table, chatting with the occupants the entire time. Honestly, Russel was better than he was.

Makes sense, I guess. He's been doing this a lot longer than I have. I wonder if that was a part of his plan if he never made it as a huntsman. He could have still escaped his father by leaving to work for a fancy restaurant in Vale.

That wasn't to say he was perfection, of course. It would have been suspicious if he was. He'd clearly never worked with so many different varieties of coffee, and much like Velvet, he occasionally needed help with that. Even then, he wasn't afraid to admit and ask for it, though. It wasn't unusual to get a tap on the shoulder, a quick "Hey, boss…" and then a question as to what he was supposed to do in any given situation. The important part was that he felt confident enough to ask for help, rather than try to fix it on his own and make a mistake.

He appreciated that since any mistakes would reflect poorly on him. He'd have to make a note to tell Velvet that, since she seemed nervous enough to try and do things on her own. Maybe Russel could be convinced to help her with a little roleplay training before their shift. It couldn't hurt.

All things considered, it was hard to fault either of his new employees. He'd have to message Team RWBY later to let them know, since he knew they wouldn't be here today due to their after-class lessons with Miss Goodwitch; the ones they'd agreed to in order to have the day off to help him run the diner.

As he looked out over the customers with a fond expression, one caught his eye – mostly because he wasn't smiling or sipping coffee like any other. It was a fairly normal-looking guy, but he was no huntsman. He wore a black suit with shiny black shoes and was well-shaven and tidy. He wasn't smiling and instead seemed to be looking around the store with a peculiar look on his face. Russel didn't seem to have noticed so Jaune left the comfort of the counter to speak with him directly.

"Can I help you, sir?" he asked.

The man paused in his musings and looked Jaune up and down. His gaze was dismissive. "Did I call you over?"

"No, but you looked like you were searching for something. I wondered if you were trying to catch our attention."

"I was not, but it hardly matters. You work here, correct?"

Jaune nodded. "I do."

"You have a wide range of coffee blends available," the man said, holding the menu in one hand. "How do you expect people to know what it is they want with such needless variety? You are only confusing people, not to mention the staff that work here."

"If anyone is confused they can just ask for coffee," Jaune said. "Or they can ask me for advice and I can recommend a good blend."

"Most customers are happy to just have the option of coffee. No frills and pointless dressing."

"I think a lot of our customers appreciate the range, actually."

"It's inefficient." The man spoke the word as though it offended him. "And what of the table layout? Moving them a little closer would fit at least two, maybe even three more tables in."

"But the customers wouldn't have as much room."

"They don't need as much as they've been given. It's an inefficient use of the space available. And the décor," He glanced towards the left wall, which now had a series of hooks and stands for weapons attached to it. There were numerous swords, guns and weird gun-swords hanging from it. The man rolled his eyes. "It's all very quaint, I suppose. Cater to the huntsmen of Vale and make a statement out of it. It's turning away normal people, however. A foolish decision."

Jaune's eyes narrowed but he refrained from saying anything. He wasn't sure if he should be insulted or not, but the man's tone would have made him unlikable even if he'd been talking about puppies and kittens. As it was, he was just being subtle enough that Jaune couldn't tell if he was being insulted or praised. It didn't feel like the latter, though.

"Can I get you a drink, sir?" he asked.

"Coffee. Black."

"And the blend?"

"Just coffee," he said. "No nonsense."

Atlesian black it was, or would be if he served that crap. As it was, he went for the cheapest type he had. While there was the desire to prove him wrong by going all-out, he wasn't sure he wanted to cater to someone like that. When he returned, he put the cup down with as polite a smile as he could manage.

"Your coffee, sir. Enjoy."

"I'm sure I will," he said, in a tone that made it clear he was anything but. His expression didn't change as he took a sip, but he glanced up and put the cup down. "I would like to speak with your manager."

Jaune smirked. "You're speaking to him. I'm Jaune Arc."

He expected the man to freeze and be embarrassed, but he didn't get even that small courtesy. Instead, the customer looked him up and down with a critical eye. "That explains a lot," he muttered. "Young man. A word of advice, if I may. Business is not something for someone your age. Run along and play video games or something."

His tray cracked down onto the table, startling nearby diners and drawing eyes in his direction. Russel looked worried and seemed to ask if he needed to come over and handle it, but Jaune shook his head and gestured for him to continue. While the man in the suit seemed amused, Jaune struggled to control his breathing.

"You, sir," he said, "are being quite rude." They were not the words he wanted to say, but those wouldn't serve him well when surrounded with customers. "I think I'll ask you to finish your drink and leave."

"Don't worry," the man said, settling the cup down and pulling out some lien. He tossed it on the table, over-tipping quite heavily. "I think I'm about done." He rose from his seat, standing about the same height as Jaune, but feeling taller for his black suit and cocky smile. "This isn't my kind of venue." He reached into his suit pocket and drew forth a small, cream card. "Here, my card."

"Do I want it?" Jaune asked, taking it regardless. It was a soft and solid little thing made of fancy material that felt like velvet and paper combined. It had a stylised imagine of a steaming coffee mug in gold and a company name below it, followed by his name and title. "Alexander Sterling, Regional Director, Café Prime."

"The definitive coffee chain across all of Remnant," Alexander said. "We have branches in all the major Kingdoms, after all, including over fifteen in Vale alone."

He needn't have explained. Jaune knew, since they even had one in Ansel and that was little more than a frontier town. They were well-known, alright. "Why are you visiting a small place like this?" he asked. "Why come here and talk to me?"

"Why? It's business, of course. Nothing more." Alexander brushed past him, his grey eyes glinting with barely hidden amusement. "Good day, Jaune Arc. I'm sure you'll be hearing from me again."

The bell above the door tinkled as he left and was away.

"What was that about?" Russel asked, sliding up behind him. "You know him?"

"No." Jaune closed his fist about the business card, crushing it into a little ball. "It was just someone having a little look around the place. I don't think we'll see him again, so don't worry about it. Let's get back to work."

"Sure thing, boss."

He forgot about the encounter soon after, lost once more in serving the six-o'clock rush.

/-/

"We're here because you said we needed to talk, not anything else."

"You seem anxious, Roman," Cinder said, a slow smirk spreading across her features. He was always nervous around her, as he should be. "Is there something wrong?"

"No. I just happen to like this place, so I don't need your kids causing a problem."

"They will be on their best behaviour," she said, shooting Mercury and Emerald a glare that demanded as such. The two were stiff-backed but nodded their heads. In truth, she was curious as to their destination, not least of all because of Roman's unusual backbone in demanding anything from her, even if it was something as simple as not causing any problems. It was nearing ten at night and she wondered what places, if any, would be open to serve them at all.

Ultimately, he brought them to a small café with a glass-fronted window that glowed with dim light. The sign on the door said it was closed, but Roman knocked once on the door and entered. The bell above the door tinkled lightly. Inside stood a man, or – she realised as he turned to face them – more of a boy. He was Mercury's age at best but could have been younger, and had blond hair and blue eyes. Contrary to the proper response to a renowned thief letting himself into your closed premises, the boy smiled.

"Roman! Good to see you. I was wondering where you'd been for the last few nights."

The boy's happiness at seeing Roman seemed genuine, and Cinder tilted her head to the side, allowing her raven tresses to fall down over one shoulder.

"I've been busy," Roman said, with a rare note of friendly banter in his tone. "Neo sends her regards, by the way. I think she's gone into withdrawal after not having any of your ice-cream for a few days. You might want to keep an eye out for her."

The boy shivered at the thought. So, he knew Roman's little protégé, as well.

How very interesting.

"And who is this, Roman?" she asked, gracefully inserting herself into the conversation and catching the boy's eyes at the same time. She caught them widen as he glanced up and down her body, but he quickly regained control and focused instead on her eyes.

He seemed to have no idea how dangerous she was, reinforcing the image that he was no huntsman. More telling, his left shoulder was injured, his arm was in a sling.

"This is Jaune," Roman said, gesturing to the boy. "He's the owner of this place, which is my favourite coffee shop in all of Vale." The heavy emphasis he put on the word was for their benefit, making it clear he didn't want to lose said place. "Jaune, this is Cinder Fall, a client of mine. The other two are Mercury Black and Emerald Sustrai. They're pointless tag-alongs."

Emerald and Mercury predictably hated his response and growled at him, though Cinder merely chuckled and let him get away with it. She held a hand out for Jaune to shake, and noted that even though she felt the odd callus, they were not pronounced enough to suggest anything other than menial labour.

Not a huntsman and not a thief, either. It was an amusing thought, but he might just have been exactly what Roman claimed; a simple owner of a coffee shop.

"It's a pleasure," she said, caressing each word to gauge his reaction. He swallowed heavily, and his cheeks darkened. Such an innocent boy. "I hope we're not being a burden, Jaune. I did see the sign on the door said you were closed. We can go elsewhere if you would like."

"No, no, it's fine. Roman comes here all the time. I sent my last worker home for the day, so I'm just cleaning up. I can get you some drinks and cake if you like, and you can just do your business and ignore me while I work."

The offer was a good one and she inclined her head to accept it. A few moments later they were sat about a small round table a little away from the window. Roman ordered his drink with the familiarity of a regular customer, but she took a little longer to ponder her choice, browsing the menu while their host waited patiently.

"I shall have a Mistral Redflower coffee," she finally said, finding a blend she had savoured in Mistral but never seen since. "Do you have any honey?"

"We have four different kinds," he returned, and she had to smile, a little impressed. "I'll bring out the rack and you can choose which you'd prefer. What would the two of you like?" he asked, turning to her underlings.

"I'll have the same as Cinder," Emerald said.

"Just a coffee for me," Mercury added. "Any kind."

He nodded and was gone a second later, slipping behind the counter as he worked the machines one-handed and prepared their orders. Cinder watched him for a few seconds and found herself pleased by his proficiency. She said as much to Roman.

"He's good," the crook agreed. "Me and Neo finding this place was great and we've been regulars since. Jaune's from out of Vale so he's not up-to-date on any local news." He tapped his own arm at this, indicating that his identity – or at least his criminal status – was as of yet unknown.

"He will not hear it from me," Cinder promised. "Nor," she added with a stern glance, "will he hear it from Emerald or Mercury. Am I understood?"

"Yes, ma'am," they both said.

Roman nodded. "Good. So, you said you needed to see me. Care to tell what this is about? I thought you wouldn't be coming to Vale for some time."

"It's an early visit, nothing more," she said. "I just wanted to make you aware of what will be happening with our animalistic friends." She waited for him to nod in understanding, before she started to sketch out the developments within the White Fang and how that related to their working together on her plans. Roman needed to know, of course, since he was the one that would be working alongside them in the immediate future. As such, he was her agent and needed to know how to present himself accordingly.

The discussion continued for a good five minutes while Emerald and Mercury listed in silently. It was only broken by a tap on her arm from Emerald, followed quickly by Jaune's approaching footsteps. Cinder leaned back with a smile as he returned to their table.

"Here are your drinks," he said, setting the tray down with his good hand and then setting them before each person.

Cinder took hers with a warm smile. "Thank you, Jaune. It smells delicious."

It did, as well. Redflower was not a particularly appreciated flavour, a little too strong and fruity for many, but it was something with pleasant memories attached – and that was rare. She sipped at it and felt her earlier irritation fade away. The four pots of honey he set before her only made it better, and she took a moment to pick up a small spoon and sample a bit of each.

"Thanks, kid," Roman said while she was distracted, taking his own drink and relaxing with it. "I tell you, I always look forward to starting my day with one of your brews. I wish you stayed open while I worked."

"I have to sleep sometime, Roman. Maybe you should try working at a reasonable time."

"Ah, that's not for me. I'm not good with crowds."

Mercury nodded and accepted his own drink with a quiet word of thanks, but Emerald choked on hers, earning a swift and reprimanding flare from Cinder. If the girl didn't like her drink, she shouldn't have ordered it.

"Try it with a little honey," Jaune suggested, missing the exchange and accidentally coming in to defend Emerald. "Mistral Redflower can be a little strong, but the honey softens it. Most people don't drink it without."

Emerald didn't look certain, but knowing Cinder would be angry if she didn't, gave in and spooned some honey into her coffee, stirring it about. When it was done she had a tentative sip, but her eyes lit up a second later. "It's much better," she said, surprised. "Thanks."

Jaune laughed. "No problem. I'll leave you to your talk."

He turned away and Cinder was about to go back to her drink when the table was rocked by a mighty slam. Emerald flinched, and Cinder looked up to see it had been caused by Roman's cane cracking down on the table. It was atop Mercury's wrist, pinning his arm down.

In his hand was a brown wallet.

"What's wrong?" Jaune asked, turning. His eyes widened. "Ah, my wallet!"

"You dropped it," Roman said, smiling. "Mercury was just about to give it back to you. Weren't you, Mercury?"

"O-Of course…" He wilted in his seat, though that had less to do with the embarrassing position he'd been caught in and more her fierce glare. Had she not specifically said to avoid causing trouble? Pickpocketing their host counted among that.

"Ah, thanks." Jaune took it back with a smile, and Roman released Mercury's arm. "I'd have been in real trouble if I lost this."

"Keep a closer eye on your money in the future, Jaune," Roman advised. "There are plenty of unscrupulous people around who might not have returned it. Hell, I'll bet there are even pickpockets and thieves. You're lucky it was Mercury, here."

"I guess so. Thank you very much." He nodded to mercury.

Emerald, at least, looked amused.

"I'm sure that will serve as a lesson to you," Cinder said once Jaune had left. "Ignore my instructions again and it shall be a lesson I will teach personally."

"Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry."

"And you, Roman," she continued. "I trust that is enough? You may put your weapon away now."

Roman did just that, though not without a quick warning. "Brat's lucky Neo isn't here. She's taken a liking to Jaune and I doubt she'd forgive yours for causing him any trouble, especially if that ends up with him losing his business. She's not the forgiving sort."

"It won't be a problem. I believe this place is quite the hidden gem." She leaned back and regarded it once more, taking in the peaceful atmosphere and wide, open space. "I would be upset if anything happened to it for foolish reasons," she said, directing her comments directly towards her two companions.

They caught the hint if their frantic nods were any indication, and even Roman seemed pleased. It looked like he really did like the place – and the boy, too. He does make good coffee, she thought, savouring hers some more. It reminded her of times long ago. Easier times, stupid times, but no less valuable. It was good coffee. Satisfying, even.

"Perhaps we should meet again here in future," she said.

"I'm a regular, so as long as it never causes any trouble, that's fine with me. I can only come at night, though," he added with a little sigh.

Ah, the perils of being a wanted criminal. She was not nearly so limited. It might be interesting to see how busy this place is during the day. Once I infiltrate Beacon I shall need somewhere to come and relax. Perhaps this meeting with Roman has killed two Nevermore with one bullet.

They finished their drinks in relative peace and, dare she say, enjoyment. That had probably been another motive for Roman bringing them here since it limited how threatening she could be. There would be no risk to him if he angered her, and maybe he'd banked on the atmosphere keeping her happy and distracted. If so, it was well done on his part. The meeting was one of their most peaceful to date.

"I'll have everything sorted," Roman said once she was finished. "I take it you'll be coming down to Vale soon enough."

"We will be transferring to Beacon, yes. I'll have more details for you later."

"That all?" he asked.

"That is all," she said, standing.

"Oh, are you leaving?" Their host had just finished cleaning down one of his sides when he saw them, and came over with a slip of paper and a small, paper bag in hand. "Here," he said, handing it to Roman.

"What is it?"

"Two cakes. One is for Neo."

"You're too good to us," Roman chuckled. "I'll tell her but at this rate you're going to catch her interest, you know. I'm not sure I could look myself in the mirror if I threw you into her claws."

"It's just a cake," Jaune laughed. Despite that, his cheeks darkened a little as he held out another bag – and Cinder was surprised to find it proffered to herself.

"For me?" she asked.

"I'd only be throwing them out later," he said. "There's some for your friends, too. No charge."

How incredibly sweet. Cinder smiled coyly and brushed her hand against his as she accepted it, delighting in his startled reaction. "Thank you, Jaune. That's very kind of you. Mercury, Emerald, what do you have to say?"

"Thank you," Emerald said, nodding.

Mercury's was a gruff, "Thanks."

"We'll get out of your hair for now," Roman said, leading them to the door. "Catch you around, kid. I'll bring Neo next time." He held the door open for the three of them, and they stepped back out into the cool night air of Vale, leaving the warmth of the café behind. Despite that, she felt a little warm still, if only for the good coffee.

As she and Roman said their goodbyes, she opened the paper bag and fished out a slice of some chocolate and cream cake, handing the bag and its remaining contents for her followers to bicker and argue over. She bit into it, and made a small sound of appreciation at the rich taste.

Even someone like she could appreciate the simpler things in life.

"It'll almost be a shame to see it gone," she whispered.

Emerald heard her. "The café?"

"Hm." She nodded, finishing the last bite of her cake and licking her fingers clean. "Well, all good things come to an end eventually. That doesn't mean there is no reason not to enjoy it while it lasts. I do believe we will be paying Jaune a visit in the future, as well."

Especially if more cake like that was to be her reward.


Simple chapter, simple foreshadowing, simple antagonists. Except that the irony is perhaps in how the potentially world-ending criminal is somehow less of an antagonist than a businessman. When has it ever not been so, eh?

I know that Pyrrha, Ren and Nora are still absent. They won't be forever, do not worry. Russel will play a part, as well. I know that right now it looks like he's just existing but serving no purpose. He'll have a bigger part soon enough, or at least more lines and some character development.


Next Chapter: 12th December

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur