Chapter Twelve: Amber and Copper
America couldn't sleep. Every time he closed his eyes he saw Amber in that pod, laying silent and helpless as her life slowly slipped away. How aware was she? Was she in pain? What did it feel like to have her Aura— her soul— torn into three pieces?
He absently touched his chest, feeling his heartbeat. Part of Vale's soul was inside him. That sounded so freaking disturbing. And it was. If he concentrated, was that slight oddness he felt simply his nervousness or Vale's terrified presence?
What would happen when he was given the rest of Vale's Aura? Not if, but when. The process had already been started. He just had to agree to finish it. He didn't have a choice if he still wanted to consider himself a hero. He either agreed and became Vale, or didn't and risked letting Amber's power go to a monster. The truth was there was no one else who could do this. Only him. The 'choice' should be easy.
So why was he so scared?
He knew why.
Loss of identity.
It was only a possibility, but if a piece of Vale's soul gave him enough memory to recall the Kingdom's entire textbook history then what would the whole Aura do to him?
America could guess. He might be completely overwritten. He could lose everything that made him him. He'd lose everything he ever fought for. His identity, his freedom, his memories, his mind, and maybe even his soul. He could vanish like Alfred F. Jones, the personification of the United States of America had never existed. Was he prepared to make that sacrifice? Could he do that to save a world that was not even his own? Could he risk his own country and people for Remnant?
He wanted to be strong. He wanted to be a hero. He wanted to be important. He wanted to save the day.
He didn't want this.
Why? Why did it have to be me?
Canada slept through the night. America did not sleep at all. At six in the morning he finally gave up and got out of bed. He glanced at his Scroll and noticed a text from Ruby. She wanted to know Arthur's last name? Weird. After responding, he looked at his peacefully resting brother and shook his head. He could let Mattie sleep in today. They were on vacation.
The blue-eyed nation showered and got dressed before heading to the teacher's lounge to get some coffee. The students had finally gotten some for themselves too, but it wasn't as good in his opinion. Besides, if Ozpin or Glynda caught him, it wasn't like they could punish him.
Already using my situation for pity points, huh? America mused darkly.
He got his coffee without incident or needing to use said 'pity points'. Setting down the extra mug, he looked to his sleeping brother. He predicted it would be a long while before Canada woke by himself.
He's always such a late riser, America thought fondly. If not for me, he'd be late to everything. School, work, meetings… I'd always have to call him to get him up on time back home. What would he do without me?
What will he do without me?
America watched his coffee ripple, shaken by his trembling hands. He hurriedly downed the rest of the hot liquid and smacked his lips. It was now six twenty-eight. He estimated that Canada would not rejoin the world of the living until ten or eleven.
I can't just sit here for hours. If he did he'd start thinking again. Maybe I should go see if anyone else is up.
He left a note on the bedside table for Canada and strode out with Cobalt Striker and his Scroll. America let his mind wander as he walked, giving vague greetings to the few other early risers. Most were 'older' students who were used to getting up, many of whom were heading out to train. Always ready for excitement and monster-fighting, America had half a mind to join them.
If I tried, would Glynda stop me at the gate? They can't have their precious Vale in danger after all.
His chest seemed to constrict, pressing in on his lungs. He halted in the hall and noticed he was in front of the elevator that led to Ozpin's office.
And Amber's Vault. America squeezed his eyes shut. I'm so pathetic. One day in and I can't stop thinking about what I have to do. They can pretend all they want but I don't have a choice…
America considered going up there and getting it over with. He knew what he had to do. His conscience would not let him choose otherwise. But the thought of stepping into that machine and maybe never coming out took his breath away. He had so much he still needed to do. He needed to say bye to Mattie and apologize to England and play games with Japan and invent with Tony and even pay off his debt to China and—
Stop it. I'm not doing the transfer today. I have time left. He wiped sweaty palms on his pant legs. I— I can't do this alone. I need to talk to someone. But they told me not to tell Mattie. It's too easy for someone to overhear and if they tried to get information out of him…
His mind flashed to amber eyes. Stop being paranoid, brain. You're not helping by being all vague. I have no proof that it was them other than my weird feelings. How am I supposed to explain to Ozpin and the others that I can't breathe whenever Cinder, Emerald, or Mercury are around and I suspect that it's because they attacked Vale?
America shook his head in disgust. He honestly did not know if the vague feeling of panic he got whenever he looked at Emerald, Mercury, or the amber-eyed woman— Cinder— was because of stress or if Vale was trying to tell him something. It disturbed him to think that the other nation already had enough presence in his mind to make him have such a reaction, but he also cursed Vale's inability to share more proof of their possible guilt.
Ugh. It's like having a glitchy GPS for a copilot, America thought. Instead of telling you a street name it randomly tells you to turn left into what appears to be a ditch.
America turned away from the elevator and froze mid-step as a thought struck him. Wait… Amber and I share an Aura… What if we have a connection now or something? I've been having nightmares since we got into Vale. What if they're from her? Maybe I can talk to her and figure out what happened!
The idea was a fantasy at best but in a world with superpowers like Semblances, maybe it had merit. America got into the elevator, pressing the button to reach Ozpin's office. As he rode, his unease spread into his stomach and limbs, making them feel heavy and stiff.
Relax. If Ozpin was going to shove me into the machine by force, he would have done so when I was unconscious.
The doors opened with a ding. Ozpin was sitting at his desk, a fresh cup of coffee steaming within reach. He looked up from the paper he was perusing and immediately set it down, welcoming America with a smile.
"Hello, Mister Jones."
"Hi." Wow, was that really his voice? He sounded so… small.
Ozpin studied him over his dark glasses. "It is nice to see you this fine morning. Is there something I may I help you with?"
Does he think I'm here to tell him I agree to do the transfer? Of course he does. I can't say no. America swallowed roughly. "I-I—" The words caught in his throat.
Ozpin's brown eyes softened. "Don't push yourself to make this decision, Alfred. I don't want you to rush into this."
Stop acting like I have a choice! America wanted to scream at him. Instead he took a breath. "I'd like to see Amber, please."
The Headmaster's eyebrows went up. "May I inquire as to why?"
America licked his dry lips. "I've been having… nightmares and… feelings. I… I think they might be from her."
Ozpin's eyes grew sharp. "You think you have an empathic connection with her?"
"I, w-well—" And now he sounded like an anxious Canada. Great. "Maybe? I just want to see…"
He trailed off, feeling more like an incompetent child than ever. If England saw him now he'd probably scoff at his immature uneasiness. That or gather him into a hug. It would depend on the grumpy nation's mood.
Ozpin rose from his chair and grabbed his cane. "Of course. Follow me."
The elevator ride was completely silent. America reached up and rubbed the inside of his elbow nervously, eyes darting about the claustrophobic space. This was a bad idea. He was in the school of horror movie bad ideas again. Why did he keep getting in these situations? At least he had his Scroll this time in case anything happened.
They walked down the dark hallway, their footsteps loud and echoing in the wide chamber. America glanced at the gloomy halls that went off to the sides and found his voice.
"What's down there?"
"Things from a time long past." The Headmaster said calmly. "Those which I hope you never have to discover."
America wisely chose not to press the subject.
They reached Amber's pod, which was eerily lit in the dim vault. The blue-eyed nation took a moment to study the machine that kept Vale alive, simultaneously awed and disgusted by the piece of technology. She was breathing. Her heart was beating. But was she aware?
"I'd like to talk to her alone." America said quietly. "Can you leave us?"
"Of course." Ozpin agreed steadily.
America listened to the click of his shoes and can on the tile until he could no longer hear it. He did not know if the Headmaster was truly gone. Most likely he was probably watching them through cameras somewhere. That was fine. The blue-eyed nation could pretend they were alone.
"Hi…" Great start, Alfred. Your social skills are unparalleled. "Um. I'm Alfred. Alfred F. Jones. I'm the Hero! I… don't know if you already know that."
There was no response from Vale.
"I just… wanted to see you, I guess. And talk to you. I don't know if you can hear me, but I guess it's pretty lonely down here in the dark." America's chuckle died quickly. He looked at the bottom of Amber's pod. "I have part of your Aura. Part of your soul. I can feel it inside me, and because of it, I can feel… Vale. Your people, your history… so many things that aren't mine." His eyes shut tightly. "I want to help them and save them. But is that because I'm a hero or because those protective feelings come from you? How much of me is still me? How much of me is your soul influencing me?!"
His shout echoed through the lonely vault, slowly growing quieter until it died an anticlimactic death. America wiped at his eyes and looked at Amber's calm, scarred face. "There's only a small bit of your soul in me and I already can't see the line between us. At best, when the rest comes in I'll have some type of split personality or can access your knowledge at will. At worst, I won't exist anymore at all. How is that fair?"
Vale remained silent.
America sniffed lightly. "That was mean. I mean, you're dying. You're going to have your soul ripped out. This could end the other way around and you'll be the one to no longer exist. But… if we don't do this… your power will go to a monster that will hurt your people. Surely you don't want that?" His voice lowered. "I know I wouldn't."
There was no noise except the soft beeping of the machine.
America stepped forward and gently touched the glass that separated him from Amber. "I guess we both don't have a choice about what happens. It's going to happen, one way or the other. Neither of us wanted this, yet here we are. We're both the sacrifice…"
He lowered his head and let his hand fall. He heard footsteps approach but did not look up until Ozpin placed his hand on his shoulder.
"Did you find what you were looking for, Alfred?" he asked softly.
America shrugged. "Not really. I didn't get any huge revelations or memories or anything. But…"
The Headmaster studied him. "But…?"
America swallowed and stood up straight. "Vale didn't ask for this. Neither did I. But… to protect her— our people, w-we need to be the heroes that save everyone." We need to be ready to sacrifice everything for everyone.
Ozpin let him struggle to speak, waiting patiently for him to finish.
America gathered himself and met the Headmaster's eyes. "I'll do it. I'll accept the rest of Vale's Aura."
There was no reason to delay in saying yes. America could never say no and risk people getting hurt. He could never risk letting Vale's power go to someone who would use it for evil. He was a hero, and a hero was selfless and unafraid. This world was not his own, but he had a duty to protect it all the same. No, it was not just a duty. He also held a desire to protect it, because even though they had not known each other long, Remnant was Team RWBY and JNPR's home. His new friends…
Will I remember any of them?
Ozpin relaxed. "All right. Thank you for making the decision, Alfred. We will not do the procedure yet. There are certain precautions I would like to implement to… decrease the chance of side effects." 'To increase the chances of your survival,' went unsaid. "I will contact you personally with the details later. By my estimate, we should be able to proceed after the end of the Vytal Festival."
That was about a week and a half away. So the deadline was the same. The only difference was that Alfred was now a willing participant.
"I understand." He said, barely keeping his voice level. He thought of something and touched his Scroll, which sat innocently in his pocket. "Um, can you leave again? There's something I'd like to do right now and I can't do it anywhere else without being overheard..."
Ozpin nodded in assent and left him alone. America had a feeling that the Headmaster was not watching this time. He sat against one of the plain walls of the vault and took out his Scroll. He carefully adjusted the lighting so his face was clear and smiled at the camera.
Okay, that was more of a pained grimace than a smile.
America tried again, and again, until finally the grin looked natural. He took a breath, smiled, and pressed the recording button on his Scroll.
At ten-thirty Canada stumbled out of his bed like a concussed bear rising from hibernation. The violet-eyed nation blinked at the clock blearily before shooting his brother an accusing glare.
"You let me sleep in." Canada said suspiciously.
America shrugged and settled more comfortably in his chair. "It's break. We don't have to work or anything."
Canada squinted at the comic his twin was holding. "What's that?"
"The latest X-Ray and Vav story." America answered, showing him the cover. "Jaune let me borrow it."
The violet-eyed nation frowned. "No he didn't."
America smiled. "Well, it just so happened to be in his room."
"JNPR's dorm was locked."
"No it wasn't."
"What? I'll put it back. They won't even notice!"
Canada shook his head irritably. "Since when did you steal?"
"It's not stealing. It's borrowing without permission." America protested. "And I got bored and didn't want to wake you with a video game."
"There's this thing called a 'mute button', you know." Canada sighed.
"Hm." was America's reply as he flipped to another page in the comic. "This isn't Batman but it's actually really good."
"Don't get any ideas." Canada warned him.
"I still think a giant robot is an excellent idea." His brother sniffed. He stood up and smacked Canada atop the head with the comic book. "Now get up, lazy butt. We're going into town with Sun and Neptune."
The violet-eyed nation fended off his attack. "Why?"
America smiled. "To have fun, of course! There's this awesome movie that's out that we want to see. I want to compare them to mine from home."
Canada headed towards the bathroom. "When did you discuss this?"
"While you were asleep. Duh." America walked over and shoved his twin into the bathroom. "Now hurry up! Time's a-wasting."
"What's the rush?" Canada muttered, but he hurried to oblige.
Two and a half hours later, four teens walked out of the movie theater. America, Neptune, and Sun had huge grins while Canada's was a little more subdued.
"That was so cool!" America crowed. "The special effects were awesome!"
"I agree." Canada admitted. "I honestly thought those Grimm were real."
"Maybe they were." Sun said conspiratorially.
"No, man." Neptune said flatly. "Just no."
Sun slung his arm around his partner's shoulders. "But they looked so real. Maybe one of the filmmakers can summon Grimm!"
The blue-haired boy shook his head. "Unless they're an illegitimate Schnee, I highly doubt—"
The boys leapt into the air with impressive shrieks and spun around.
"Gah!" America yelped. "Where did you come from?"
The orange-haired girl behind them tipped her head thoughtfully. "That was Ruby's reaction as well. Is that a standard greeting…?"
"No. No it is not." America said hurriedly before she could get any ideas. "Aren't you that girl that came in From Dusk Till Dawn? Penny?"
"Yes. You remembered me!" She beamed. "It is nice to see you again, Alfred F. Jones."
"Likewise." America said, relaxing. Either that or his shoulders were slumping in despair. It was difficult to tell.
Penny turned to Canada, still grinning. "And you must be Matthew Williams, Alfred's brother."
Canada shook her hand gingerly. "Hello. Nice to meet you, eh." He gestured at Sun and Neptune. "These are—"
"Sun Wukong and Neptune Vasilias." Penny said promptly. "Sun and I have fought together before."
"I wouldn't say 'together'…" the monkey Faunus mused. "More like we separately kicked the butts of a bunch of people from the same group…"
"So what are you doing in Vale?" Canada asked out of politeness.
"I was around doing unimportant things and I spotted you coincidentally." Penny hiccupped. "I wasn't told to watch over you or anything." She hiccupped again.
Canada wondered how he and his brother kept attracting such… unique characters. "That's… good." He coughed awkwardly. "I don't think Alfred asked last time, but are you here for the Vytal Festival?"
Penny nodded. "I'm here to fight for Atlas Academy."
This time it was Canada who twitched. "I-Is that so?"
"Yes. I'm here with my team. They're… not around right now." Her smile fell the slightest bit. "We only get together when they're ordered to spend time with me."
That raised a lot of questions Canada did not want to think about, but he did not have the heart to pry. Neither did the others, apparently.
America merely grinned. "Well, since you're here you might as well hang out with us. We just got done with a movie and were going to get ice cream. Want to come, friend?"
Canada noted the blatant addition of the final term. Penny did as well. She nodded so quickly the violet-eyed nation was surprised she did not get whiplash. "I would love to come."
She walked beside Sun with an expression similar to a child who had received Christmas presents early. Canada slowly began to suspect that was America's intention. Did the usually oblivious nation notice the strange girl's desperate need for companionship and decide to give her it?
That was so like America… but it also wasn't. His brother tended to not be the most observant soul. Why had he so easily and kindly— as in refrained from calling her weird to her face— accepted Penny into their group after seemingly being put off by her presence?
The violet-eyed nation had to know. He spoke quietly to his brother. "What was that about?"
"What do you mean?" America asked.
"You're being very…" Selfless. Thoughtful. Observant. "…friendly today."
His brother pouted. "That's cold, Mattie. I'm always friendly. Stop saying weird things and let's just enjoy—"
He froze. Canada followed America's gaze, eyes going wide.
A little girl had wandered into the street and a truck was barreling towards her.
Canada barely took a step before America was at the girl's side, shoving her out of the way. The violet-eyed brother could not hold back a scream as his twin was hit, the truck going completely over him. He barely heard the brakes of the truck screech as a limp blue-clothed form was left in the road. He wasn't moving.
Canada ran to his brother's side. "Al!"
He fell to his knees beside his brother, desperately scanning his body, and was relieved to spot no blood or protruding bones. On cue, blue eyes fluttered open and America groaned.
"Are you okay?" Sun asked urgently.
Canada had not even heard the others approach. The Faunus crouched next to the twins and helped a wincing America into a sitting position. The blue-eyed nation gasped and looked around frantically. He relaxed upon spotting the now-crying girl in her mother's arms.
"Is she hurt?" he asked.
"No." the woman sounded on the brink of tears herself. "You saved her. Oh my God, you saved her life. Thank you!"
America jumped when she hugged him, the girl gripped tightly in her other arm. The nation noticed the kid looking at him and smiled gently. "You okay, little princess?"
She nodded mutely, eyes wide.
"I'm glad." America said genuinely. "Just make sure you don't run into the road again, okay?"
Her lip wobbled. "There was a kitty…" she whispered.
Canada looked around and saw no sign of the feline.
America did not either. "I'm sure she's fine. She's probably back with her family right now."
That cheered the little girl up and she stopped crying. They all got to their feet and Canada noticed the crowd they had attracted. To his horror, he spotted what appeared to be a reporter and camera crew among them, which were quickly approaching.
Were they nearby doing something for the upcoming Vytal Festival?
America spotted them as well. "Time to go. I really don't want to get interviewed."
Giving the mom and daughter one last smile he grabbed Canada and Sun's hands and hurried off. Luckily, the news team seemed intent on interviewing the driver and the mother first so the teens got away.
"Phew. That was close." America breathed once they were safe.
"Indeed." Penny said, expression strained. "Why did you do that?"
There was something in her tone that Canada could not place. Was it admiration or disappointment? Both? Was she upset America nearly got hurt? The way she hovered around the twin gave evidence for the last point.
"I had to help." America told her. "It's what a hero would do."
He said it so simply but to him it was that simple. Stupid, noble, self-sacrificing, idiotic brother.
Sun slung his arm around America's shoulders. "Well, since the hero doesn't want the public to shower him with praise, how about I get him whatever ice cream he wants."
The monkey Faunus paled. "I'm going to regret saying that, aren't I? Whatever. You deserve it."
Was it just Canada's imagination, or was America's smile more genuine? "Thanks."
"What are you thinking, Ozpin?"
The Headmaster of Beacon Academy did not look up from the Scroll he was perusing as Ironwood entered, even when the General angrily halted in front of him and laid his hands on his desk.
"What are you speaking of, James?" he asked calmly.
"Jones agreed to do the transfer. The machine is ready. Why are we waiting?" Ironwood demanded.
Ozpin sipped his coffee. "Your account of the boys' escape made me think of something. When the transfer was interrupted, the only reason Vale's Aura did not return to her was because Matthew severed the pipe connecting her to Alfred. If he had not, her Aura would have been sucked out of Alfred and back to her because of the incomplete bonding process. With that in mind, I have an idea for a slight adjustment in your machine. It should stop Vale's Aura from being forced back into her body if something were to happen. Picture it like a pair of scissors cutting a string or a valve being slammed shut, if you will. That is why I want to wait."
"That's unnecessary." Ironwood insisted. "If we do the transfer now, there is no chance of it being interrupted."
Ozpin lowered his Scroll and studied him. "We both know that it is unlikely Alfred will emerge from that machine as himself. When a resurrected nation remembers who they are, the human personality ceases to exist far more often than not." He said quietly. "Are you truly so eager to possibly destroy a young man's mind, James? And here I thought you cared enough to go behind your superiors' backs and create paperwork for those boys in case they escaped. Or am I mistaken as to how they still had proper identifications during captivity?"
The General's jaw clenched. He stood up straight, glaring down at Ozpin. "Your caution and indecision will only bring misery and chaos in the end, Ozpin. We need to be proactive in this war."
"And we will be." The Headmaster replied just as firmly. "Just give Alfred a couple weeks, James. He deserves to have time to say goodbye."
Emerald watched Cinder carefully, heart pounding in her chest. Amber eyes observed her intently, making her feel like her soul was about to burst into flames.
"You are certain?" Cinder asked neutrally.
"Yes ma'am." The thief said. "After luring the girl into the street, I used my Semblance on Jones to show the truck swerving and hitting his brother. He didn't even react. He's… He's completely immune to my hallucinations." It left a bitter taste in her mouth to admit it but Cinder needed to know the results of Emerald's test.
The dangerous woman tipped her head and drummed her fingers on her leg. "You said Williams seemed confused at first but became unaffected?"
Emerald nodded. "Yes."
Amber eyes drifted to the screen playing the news. A clip of the daring rescue by a 'mysterious teen' was playing, caught live by Cyril Ian and his crew. "I see. He could be a threat to us then. And now Jones is a local hero…" She smirked. "We can use this to our advantage and kill two birds with one stone. I think we need to adjust our plans a little bit."
Emerald leaned forward eagerly. "Tell me what I need to do."
A/N: It may seem like America made his decision kind of fast, but what other choice did he have? His conscience would not allow him to leave things to others to figure out, and if he has a chance to save people he's going to take it, no matter the cost to himself. For him, it wasn't so much making the decision as it was going to Ozpin and telling him he agreed. America couldn't refuse. Poor guy.
Thanks to everyone who read, reviewed, favorited, etc!