Luckily, my wheel alloy that was badly bent on Tuesday was able to be pushed back into shape yesterday. Major relief, as that makes the difference between £600 to have everything fixed and possibly over £1500.

I'm just relieved my show, my expo AND my sudden car disaster, is all finally over. Now, if nothing could go wrong for at least a few weeks, that would be greatly appreciated.


Cover Art: Jack Wayne

Chapter 28


"Thank you, Mr Ashari."

"See you tomorrow, Mr Ashari."

"Good work today," Jaune replied, smiling for the numerous students who bid him farewell and waving to a couple of the parents who he was more familiar with. The number of parents coming to watch had dwindled as the weeks went on and he proved reliable, though they increased towards the end as some came to pick up their kids.

It had been at least five weeks now since the ASH Gym had opened and things were beginning to even out. A lot of the students who couldn't cut it had given up, and while a few remained, they were improving, shedding weight and gaining stamina. He wasn't sure they would make the grade for Beacon, but they'd certainly become faster, stronger and healthier, so it might not be a total loss.

It was oddly fulfilling, teaching, though he wondered if that was only because he had to do it for a couple of hours at the end of the day, and his work didn't involve the rampant paperwork and marking of homework most schools had to deal with.

One of the hardest parts, as much as he hated to admit it, was not picking favourites. A good teacher wouldn't, but Jaune was hardly a good teacher in that regard. Winter had been his favourite and perhaps still was, but in her absence, he'd taken perhaps a little more than he ought to giving more focus to Yang and Coco and, after the young man earned it, Sky. Those three he pushed harder than any others, often pitting them against older students to test their limits. To his pleasure, they took to it without complaint, Yang relishing the challenge while Coco bristled with confidence and Sky seemed determined to prove himself.

Of course, Vernal remained at the top of the pack. It was hard for anyone to dislodge her with the life she'd led and who trained her. Though nowhere near as skilled as Raven or him, Vernal made up for the inexperience by being a vicious fighter who wasn't afraid to bend the rules to eke out a win. In that regard, she served as a good example, since beating notions of fair-fighting and movie-poses out of their heads was a long-term plan of his. If anyone tried to grandstand, Vernal cut them down mercilessly.

Speaking of favourites, though, Emerald obviously counted, being his daughter and all. She was no longer the best at the ASH Gym, but she appeared to have become more comfortable with the idea, no longer rising to every one of Vernal's taunts. She still lost her temper, Vernal being good at what she did, but the simmering anger would sometimes be replaced with a smug and satisfied smile, like Emerald knew something Vernal didn't and was taking pleasure in that.

It cut off a fight to the death happening in the middle of the gym, anyway.

In the meantime, Junior continued to expand their criminal empire with the help of Union, and with Roman now on the sheets – though that was kept secret from all but Junior, Jaune and Union's leadership – hits against the other gangs were going well. Better still, no one could pin them on the Red Axe Gang, since Roman was a well-known neutral agent, and he stole from whomever he wanted to steal from.

Jaune made a note to keep an eye on him, however. His recruitment there hadn't gone as… mutually as he'd have liked, and knowing Roman, he'd be looking for the best opportunity to jump ship, and maybe get his own back on Jaune while he was at it.

And here I've become the next Cinder Fall, Jaune thought. Not something I'd have expected.

Having Emerald as a side-kick only made the comparison easier, though Jaune didn't feel any despair at it. Cinder had been in it for herself. There was a difference there. It was a shame he couldn't find Mercury and keep him out of her hands, but he didn't know where the guy had lived. Or anything about his past whatsoever. He might as well have hoped to find Cinder herself.

As the number of people in the Gym lessened, Jaune noticed Taiyang approaching, though this time without Summer. Instead, he had Qrow beside him. Qrow didn't look thrilled to be there, but it was obvious he was hiding his enmity for the sake of Yang, who was flushed from exertion, covered in sweat but obviously happy with her workout.

Jaune nodded to her, and then to the other two. "Good work today, Yang. Evening Tai, Qrow."

"Evening," Taiyang returned, and then nudged Qrow when he didn't respond.

"Hey," Qrow said, more grimace than words.

Well, he hadn't expected Qrow to like him much. Not from the last two times they'd met. For helping save his nieces from Tyrian, Qrow looked to have put aside his dislike of Jaune over the Raven issue – though that might return if he'd known Raven was still around. Albeit occasionally. In the end, the fact Qrow was willing to talk to him at all was enough. Maybe the fault lay with him, Jaune thought. It wasn't as if he'd gone out of his way to befriend Qrow or make up for the previous misunderstanding.

"It's good to see you again, Qrow." Jaune held out a hand, and after a second's thought, Qrow took it. "I thought I should apologise for the first time we met. Things were a little tense back then."

"That's one way to put it."

"Just so you know, I wasn't doing what you thought I was doing. With her, I mean." Jaune danced around the name. It wasn't his place to say it in front of Yang. "I think it was a misunderstanding. She seems to like causing those."

"I don't care about that. But you cost me a chance to get her back-" Qrow cut off with a growl, eyeing Yang from the corner of one eye. Jaune understood, though. Qrow was more annoyed that he'd lost the bet, losing a final chance to get Raven to talk to Ozpin and back on the team.

To be fair, Jaune thought he'd have been angry if he were in Qrow's shoes as well, but that wouldn't change much. He hadn't been ready to face Ozpin and Raven would have stolen his sword and dragged him along. Or even if he'd abandoned Crocea Mors, Raven would have told Ozpin about him and then been able to open a portal directly to him. There would have been no hiding from Ozpin after that.

"Sorry," Jaune said. "I couldn't afford to lose."

"Yeah? Well neither could I – but I did."

"Is this about a girl?" Yang piped up. "Mr Ashari, did you cuck my Uncle Qrow?"

Jaune choked on air. "W-What!?"

"Hell no!" Qrow growled.

"Yang!" Tai gasped. "Where did you even hear that term?"

"Uh. Signal? It's a school, Dad." Yang rolled her eyes, as if the three adults before her were hopelessly naïve. "People talk. I've heard way worse than that."

"You better not say that around your mother. Or your sister!"

"Duh. Like I'd be that dumb." Yang grinned at them. "So, is that what happened? Are Uncle Qrow and Mr Ashari going to fight over some girl? Can I watch?"

"No!"

"I can't watch?"

"No. Because that's not happening," Qrow said.

"And it didn't happen," Jaune agreed. "The girl thing. Qrow and I are not fighting over someone."

"Besides, he likes little kids," Qrow said, earning an indignant squawk from Jaune.

"What!?"

"Hey. I'm just recounting the news. You and that Winter chick. What, she's like, sixteen, seventeen tops, right?"

"Winter is my student!"

"Not according to the tabloids."

"Rumours of our engagement are completely made up," Jaune groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. Made-up, insane and something that had come completely out of nowhere a week or two ago. It seemed people had finally stopped talking about Roman crashing the Schnee party and about the other things that happened there, one of which being that he'd accompanied Winter and that they'd been dressed as a matched pair.

It was just a coincidence, of course. Winter picked his suit, so obviously her fashion preferences meant she liked the same colours both for girls and guys – and she was a Schnee, so it was probably a genetic law they had to wear white. And what was wrong with two long-time friends going to an event together? It wasn't like they'd held hands or made out or anything.

Fucking tabloids…

He hadn't even heard from Winter since. She'd returned his last message with a short and embarrassed – or it sounded embarrassed on the voice mail – response about how she enjoyed the party and hoped they could do it again. The poor girl was probably mortified at the idea of being paired with someone as old and grungy as him.

"The tabloids aren't worth the paper they're printed on. Look, I didn't ask you to come here to talk about me and Winter. Did Taiyang tell you what I was after?"

"Yeah, he told me." Qrow grimaced and looked over the arena. "I see you're teaching the kids to fight like you. Tricks and all…"

There was some irony there, of course. Jaune wasn't teaching the kids his tricks, he was teaching them Qrow's. Or a Qrow from a future who fought dirty and hard because he had to. This Qrow hadn't been through enough to end up like that, which Jaune supposed was a good thing. Even if it meant the Qrow of this time might never grow into his, he had a feeling his old friend and mentor would have been content like this. Old Qrow had been strong, but he hadn't been happy…

This was another improvement, even if it wasn't a convenient one.

"I'm teaching them how to fight smart. They'll need that out there. You never know what – or who – you might run into."

"Yeah? Well, I've learnt a few things from our last fight. I want to test them out on you."

Jaune laughed. "Here? Now?"

"No. After you do what you have to. That's my price for helping out. A fight. We can even do it here, give these kids of yours a show on what two real huntsmen can accomplish."

"Hell yeah!" Yang yelled, ignoring Taiyang's rebuke that she shouldn't be using words like that. "Fight. Fight. Fight!"

"Alright, alright," Jaune said, partly to Yang, partly to Qrow. "But in exchange, you and Tai will run the gym for me for the next week. Right? You'll keep things ticking over and look after the kids."

"Of course." Taiyang smiled and nodded. "We're used to teaching, even if it's going to be a little tiresome doing it daytime and evening. At least Summer and I live nearby now."

"And I'll do it for the fight," Qrow said. "Besides, even I wish more of the kids at Signal would do training outside o' school as well as at it." He eyed Jaune suddenly. "What's this business that you need to take care of so quickly, anyway? And for a whole week no less?"

"A little out of city trip," Jaune explained. "Business itself will only take a day or two. Most of the time is going to be getting there and back."

"No transport links?"

"I need to visit a Frontier Town. Some old friends need my help."

"Ah. It on Sanus?"

"Yes, thankfully. Otherwise I'd have to take more than a week off. I should be back in five days. I'm only saying a week to play it safe."

There was some honesty there, though not entirely. He would be going out into the wilderness around Vale, but it wasn't for a frontier town. Oobleck had come true on his promise to dig around for archaeological finds and located a ruin out towards the west, in the deep forests on the other side of Forever Fall. There was no telling if it was the city in the murals or not, but what had caught Oobleck's eye was an inscription on a plaque brought back, which while he couldn't translate it, shared many of the same characters as his findings.

It was enough of a lead to go on. Emerald and he would have to go and check it out. Sadly, that meant leaving the ASH Gym for a while, hence him needing someone – or someone's – to look after it.

Taiyang and Qrow weren't who he would have normally picked for such a thing, but Summer promised him they'd be great. They worked at Signal, so they had more experience teaching than he, and they'd done well by Summer and Ruby in the future. After a little thought, Jaune realised that for all their levity and joking, the two were probably the most reliable guys he knew.

It was that or trust them to Roman, Junior or Raven.

It was kind of depressing how unreliable his list of friends really was. Sheesh.

"When will you be leaving?" Qrow asked. Probably not for his own curiosity, but for Ozpin's. The last thing Jaune wanted was the old wizard getting wind, but at the same time he couldn't afford to act cagey or that would raise suspicions.

"Tomorrow morning, bright and early."

"And you're taking your kid with you?"

"Emerald has travelled with me before. And I think it would be too cruel to ask you to look after my job and my daughter."

"Aw," Yang said. "I was hoping for a sleepover."

"Ask Emerald when we get back. I'm sure she'd be happy to come and spend some time with you and Ruby."

"Can she…?" Yang immediately asked Taiyang.

He rolled his eyes. "Sure thing, baby. But only when Emerald and Mr Ashari get back." The older blond looked toward Jaune and held out a hand. "Good luck out there and stay safe. And if you need any help, give us a call."

"Thank you, Tai." He took the hand. "And you, Qrow. We'll be back in a week."

/-/

"Ashari," Ironwood greeted. "Nice of you to actually call for once."

Jaune groaned, "Are you ever going to let that go? It was one time."

"One time in which you left behind a scandal – and disobeyed my direct orders."

"Technically, I resigned before that, so I wasn't beholden to follow your orders anymore."

"And technically, I couldn't care less." Ironwood pulled a face. "Oh wait! That's not technically at all."

"Alright, alright, I get it." It was funny to imagine Ironwood like this, willing to mock and tease – in so far as Ironwood could tease. It was easy to look at people and put them into convenient roles in your mind, Ironwood being a stern and uncompromising general and little more, but once you got to know a person, they would inevitably turn out to have a hidden side to them.

In his old life, Ironwood, Taiyang and Winter had been just that – figures he knew by name, reputation and probably one-sentence descriptions. Firm and demanding older sister. Stern, uncompromising General. Beleaguered but loving father.

And yet here they were, three of – dare he say it – his best friends on Remnant. Along with an alcoholic, furniture-stealing sociopath.

"I was just calling to ley you know I'll be out of Vale for a week or so. Try not to panic if you can't reach me."

"I don't panic, Ashari."

"Yeah, sure. Could you pass the message onto Winter, too? I wasn't able to reach her."

"I'm not surprised. You haven't heard?"

"Heard what?"

"The White Fang have started to hit SDC convoys and isolated dust mines. Given her military training, Jacques decided to put Winter in charge of shoring up security and tracking down those responsible."

Shit. He'd forgotten all about the White Fang. They'd been quiet, or so it felt, but it looked like they were repeating the same actions as the last time. That was a small comfort, at least. Despite the inclusion of Tyrian and Hazel, the White Fang were still predictable. What was a bigger surprise was that Winter hadn't so much as mentioned it, even in their occasional scroll call.

"She never told me…"

"Does that come as such a surprise? She probably didn't want to bother you."

"Yeah, but she could have at least mentioned it."

Ironwood chuckled. "Jaune, you have a tendency to make other people's problems your own. You did it with my inquest, even though I told you I would be fine. You interfered, placed the blame on yourself and sacrificed your reputation to save mine. If Winter so much as mentioned this, I expect she imagined you would drop everything to return to Atlas and fight the White Fang off yourself. Without help, without even allowing her to assist you."

"I wouldn't do that."

"You would. I know you, Ashari. You walk like you carry the world on your shoulders, never realising that you don't walk alone. Let Winter have this. She will be fine, and she needs a chance to prove herself. She won't thank you for running in to play the white knight."

Jaune bit his lip. It felt like a problem he should fix, seeing as how he'd gone and started the White Fang this time, and a couple of years early. With Salem also supporting them, it was his problem. But Ironwood wasn't wrong. Winter would chafe if he tried to take this out from under her – and the SDC had done fine in the original timeline without his help.

"I guess I can leave it to her…"

"Don't worry so much. I sent Delta and Echo to help her. They were looking to retire anyway, and life in the SDC Security Corps is easier than the military. They'll support her and offer their experience, allowing her to grow into a woman she can be proud of."

He wanted to say Winter should be proud of herself already, but that was empty praise. She was only sixteen and had plenty of room to grow. Besides, self-respect was always a thorny and subjective issue. He'd had enough problems with it himself.

"Tell her I wish her well, then. And… tell her I said to kick their asses."

"That, I think, she will appreciate. I'll tell her. Good luck on your trip, Jaune. Try not to go missing again, or the next time you reappear, I'll have a team tranquilise and fix an ankle-tracker to you."

"Ha. See you around, James."

/-/

"Blake, deal with the robot."

"On it!"

Adam nodded, not that she could see, and charged the other Schnee droid, cutting it down in a hail of sparks. In doing so, he drew the attention of the one on the rooftop, who opened fire on his location. Adam ducked and weaved behind a tree, using it for cover. He counted slowly to five.

On five, the gunfire stopped, and Blake's voice came back through the comms. She sounded excited. "Got it."

"Good work, Blake. I expected nothing less."

"Thanks!"

The rest of the White Fang rushed forward now that the droids were dealt with. They pressed in to the entrance and placed the charges, blowing the side off the convoy's lead APC and throwing several smoke grenades in to force the inhabitants out. It would be clean-up from this point. The SDC's biggest threats currently were security droids and Winter Schnee, leading the new Anti-White Fang task force.

Adam had chosen this target well, however. Out of the way, low-key and unlikely to be heavily defended. The perfect first mission for Blake. Sienna would flip if she realised he – the White Fang's greatest asset – was `wasting his time` with Blake, but Sienna could bite it for all he cared.

He wasn't here doing this for her. He was doing it all for Blake.

Blake was filling out in the years, grown, and if Adam dared to admit it to himself in the silence of the night when they still slept in bunks far too close to one another, she had grown beautiful. Not a woman yet, but then he wasn't a man. She was attractive in her own right, however, with regal features, piercing eyes and long, flowing hair. It was almost too much for his teenage hormones, especially since she continued to bodily hug him when they were alone.

Like he had time and time before, Adam bit down on those urges, even if he allowed – or couldn't stop – his eyes roving over her tight, black leggings.

"That wasn't so bad," she said, smiling. "It was over a lot faster than I thought it would be."

"That's what happens when a good strategy is implemented, and when the team can execute it well. You did really good out there."

Blake's cheeks heated up and she looked away, pleased. "Adam…"

"I'm serious, Blake. You're the best partner I could have asked for. Easily the best I've had to deal with."

"Adam," she protested, pushing his shoulder lightly. "Stop it…"

"Heh. You still get embarrassed so easily, huh?"

"Not like I get much chance to be in the White Fang."

Adam's smile fell. He knew what Blake meant. Under Sienna, and with her two strange companions assisting, the White Fang had become increasingly militant. The training was brutal now and had little regard for the capabilities of the recruits. Those who could not manage it were hardly punished, both physically and mentally – mocked and jeered by their peers until they were filled with rage. That was how the White Fang liked its recruits lately, angry, violent and ready to lash out at the enemies of faunuskind.

Or, as Adam had noticed, just about anyone unfortunate enough to be aligned against them. He doubted very much some of their targets had necessarily qualified as enemies. They'd just had resources the White Fang wanted.

It wasn't what Blake and he had dreamed of. It was nothing like it. But they had to make do with what was real. Change still wouldn't come following Ghira's outdated methods. If the chieftain was even out of Atlas' cells yet. Information was low, and Adam had a sinking feeling he was being kept out of the loop intentionally. As long as Blake didn't know her father's fate, she could be more easily manipulated, and Sienna seemed to know Adam's loyalty was to Blake first and foremost.

Sienna had plans for Blake. That much was obvious.

It would be up to him to protect her, and to train her so that she could protect herself. He couldn't always be there and as much as he wanted to, he couldn't afford to coddle and watch over her twenty-four seven.

"Things will get better," Adam said.

"Will they?"

"They have to." He nudged her and smirked. "They can't get much worse, can they?"

"Do you have to tempt fate like that?"

Adam laughed. It felt good to do so, and laughter was something also absent from every other White Fang mission. He only managed it around her nowadays. "Sorry. I'll keep that in mind next time. Still, I'm going to try and talk to Sienna. See if you can be my partner on future missions."

"Do you think she'll let me? I'm not sure I trust her…"

"Neither do I, which is why I want to be on any mission you're on." Though he wouldn't say it, his biggest fear was that Sienna might try to galvanise Ghira and Kali back into action by staging Blake's death at the hands of the SDC.

Not on my watch…

"So, what's next?" she asked.

"Once the initial defence force is dealt with, the White Fang troops move in to breach and clear. For a convoy this size, there won't be any surprised, but if there is a bigger vehicle – one that could conceivably contain more droids – then we go in first to deal with any of that." This one was small, however. No robots could fit in the two APC's guarding a single, long truck full of dust. "We use smoke grenades to gas out those still inside. Don't worry, it's just normal smoke. They'll come out coughing, but mostly unharmed. Then, they're rounded up, stripped of weapons and armour and dealt with."

"And how are the prisoners dealt with?"

"We keep them aside and watched while we take what we came for, then we leave them with a single APC. From there, they can radio back in and inform the SDC. They'll be picked up soon enough, and the APC will keep them safe from Grimm until-"

A burst of gunfire cut him off.

"Adam!"

"Shit!" Adam dashed back to the convoy, pushing through the smoke billowing from an opened APC. He had his hand on his sword before he cleared it, and what he came out into was a scene from his worst nightmares.

Two faunus in grey uniforms, masked, stood over a host of bleeding and dead bodies, laughing as they gunned down the prisoners. Wilt cleared its sheathe with a hiss. There was a flash of red as he struck, severing the hand off the one on the left at the wrist. Without pausing, he skidded past that one and thrust back with his pommel, into the throat of the other. He choked, dropped his weapon and fell on his ass – right at the moment the first realised his crippling wound and screamed in agony.

"Adam!" Blake called. "What's happening?"

"Blake, don't look!"

"Adam, I-" She cleared the smoke. Her eyes widened as she took in the scene. Blake's scream was heart-wrenching.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Adam snarled, lifting the second grunt by his throat. "Prisoners. Unarmed prisoners. Helpless prisoners! What were you thinking!?"

"T-They were just SDC!"

Adam snarled and threw the faunus back down. "Just SDC? Just? That's the justification people use to discriminate against us. That it's okay because we're just faunus. We are supposed to be better than that, better than them."

Not this. Never this. Not in front of Blake. Adam brought wilt up.

"If you can't follow simple orders, then I'm not sure what use I have for you."

"W-Wait, Adam," the man cried. "Stop. No!"

"ADAM!" Two arms curled around his sword arm. A warm body crashed into his back, pressed up against him. Blake's voice was choked. She was crying, he knew. "Adam, please no. D-Don't do this. Don't. I can't… Not more killing."

"Blake, they killed the prisoners…"

"I-I know. It's horrible. B-But I don't want to see you kill them. Not you. We'll tell the others, they'll be punished, kicked out of the White Fang. You don't have to do this. There are other methods; less violent methods."

Adam wanted to tell her there weren't. He wanted to tell her that Sienna wouldn't care, that she'd celebrate the death of the prisoners and no one would be punished for this, least of all those responsible. He wanted to make her see.

But he didn't want to disappoint her.

He let her pull his sword arm down. Allowed her – only her – to take Wilt from his hand and gently slide it back into its sheathe. Through it all, his eyes remained locked onto the two who had escaped death this day. They would never serve under him again, of that he was certain.

"You only live because of her," he hissed. "Because Blake is a better person than I, better than I'll ever be. Remember that. Remember it the next time you're looking down a gun at defenceless people. Because if I catch you doing that again and Blake isn't here…"

He fixed his gaze on each and every one of them.

"I'll kill you."

/-/

When Adam entered their quarters that night, Blake gasped and covered her mouth with both hands.

"It's not as bad as it looks," he said automatically, reaching a hang up to his eyes. At least he hoped it didn't look too bad. Except that Blake's eyes were tearing up. Adam sighed and strode forward, ignoring the blood that ran down around and over his nose. He could taste it on his lips.

"Why?" she mewled. "Who? How…?"

"Sienna. I… angered her." Adam shrugged and reached for a first aid kit he kept hidden in the drawer beside his bed. More than once, he'd stealthily stitched a wound, hiding the truth of his injuries from Blake. This time, however, she took it from him, sitting down and reaching in herself for materials. "Disinfectant first," he instructed. "She used her claws." He laughed bitterly. "Who knows where those have been."

Blake didn't laugh. She dabbed some disinfectant out onto a cloth and cupped his cheek with her other hand. Unconsciously, he leaned into the palm of her hand, giving her better access to the wound. It stung when she touched it, but he didn't finch or pull away. If anything, he enjoyed her care and attention. Though he didn't like her guilt much.

"This isn't your fault."

"How is it not, Adam? She did this because you crippled that soldier, didn't she?"

"Hm…"

"Then it's my fault."

"No. It was his. And Sienna's. You forget, I would have killed him. She'd have been just as angry at me for that. No one should have to take the blame for her actions. She… She's changed, ever since those two came into the picture. Sienna was never like this before."

"I…" Blake hissed. "I hate her."

"Careful. That's not going to be a popular opinion around here."

"I don't care. She did this to you. She…" Blake trailed off, and then ran a finger alongside his new facial ornament. A diagonal scar that ran down between his eyes, across his nose. There was a smaller one above and below, ironically mimicking the White Fang's symbolic slash. That had been a fluke on Sienna's part. Had he not pulled back, she might have taken his eyes.

"I know, Blake. I hate her, too. She's warped the White Fang. Changed it. But that's not the fault of everyone here anymore than it is yours. Sienna… she won't be around forever. Once she's gone, and those two with her, we can change things. Make them better. No senseless killing, no brutality, no murder. That…" Adam sighed. "It was what I wanted to show you today. I wanted to show you a raid done properly, how I do them…"

"You did, Adam. You did. Apart from what those two did, I saw how you tried to do things. I know you wanted to keep the prisoners safe." Blake's smile showed how pleased she was, and that brought him more pleasure than he cared to admit. It felt that by confirming her good opinion of him, he'd washed away all his sins.

"This won't need stitches. Just stick a plaster on it and it'll be fine."

"It's going to scar."

"That's fine." He smiled crookedly, hopefully. "Maybe it'll add character."

"Don't be silly. You're already enough of a character as it is." Her hand still on his cheek lingered there. He wasn't about to comment on it. "And I don't think it'll look too bad. Different, but not ugly."

"I'll have to take your word for that."

"What about the ones that killed the guards," Blake asked. "Were they punished?"

Adam remained silent.

"O-Oh… I… I guess I should have let you kill them."

"No." He took her hand and drew her in. She didn't complain and in fact welcomed his touch, nestling her face into the crook of his neck. Adam shivered as her hot breath washed over his skin. Damn it. Not now.

"You're not angry?"

Not that. Certainly not that…

"You once told me you'd pull me back from the edge if I ever went too far. That's what you were doing today. I'm grateful. Even if it would have been satisfying – no, especially because it would have been – I'd have regretted killing them sooner or later."

The moment she looked at him with disappointment. That would be when he started.

Blake tugged him down onto the bed and pulled the sheets up. It looked like they'd be sleeping together again, something she only asked for when she was worried or afraid. It looked like she was that again, though this time worried and afraid for him and not herself. Adam knew he should tell her no. It wasn't a good idea, especially not with how his emotions were going haywire, and yet knowing it was the right thing to do and doing it were two different things.

When her arms wrapped around him and she curled into his chest, what little self-control he had evaporated. Adam folded his arms around her, kept his chin atop her hair and tried to think of anything other than what was in his arms.

"Goodnight Adam."

/-/

Winter's heels crunched on leaves as she hopped out of the Bullhead, which hadn't yet landed. Several members of the Security Corps called out in warning, but she rolled her eyes. She knew what she was doing and was more than enough for any errant White Fang or Grimm who dared approach. They just couldn't accept that from someone as young as her. Or maybe it was because she was a woman. Foolishness.

"Damn it. Too late again."

"We couldn't have expected them to hit this one," Delta, an old member of Team November said. Unlike the others, Delta and Echo – who had chosen yet again to go by their callsigns – did not treat her like she was made of glass.

"It's a fair point, Winter," And that was another thing. They called her by her name and not Miss Schnee. "The White Fang have been picking up their attacks lately, but this convoy was almost too small for them to bother with. It only had a limited guard."

"Father's money saving again. Damn it. Fan out and search for the survivors," Winter called to the others. "Check the APCs. They're normally trapped inside."

"Yes ma'am!"

"Yes Miss Schnee!"

Winter rolled her eyes. As the detail spread out, Winter finally let go of her weapon, trusting that if there had been any White Fang, they would have attacked by now. She didn't lower her guard entirely – Jaune never let her – but she relaxed enough to poke round the fallen body of an SDC combat droid. This one was a melee variant and no small matter to deal with, at least for the average terrorist. This one had been cut in two, however. Crouching, Winter inspected the cut. It was clean, swift and all the way through.

"Taurus was here. I'd recognise this anywhere."

"It looks like it," Echo said. "Kind of surprised, though. This almost seems too low-key for someone like him. You'd expect him to be hitting more valuable targets. Not sure what he's doing here."

"Ma'am!" someone yelled. They sounded panicked.

Winter and her entourage were moving immediately. They dashed around the convoy and towards the voice. Winter's eyes narrowed as she saw someone bent over, one hand on the convoy and being sick onto the ground. It had her nervous, even before she rounded the corner and came on the scene. The first thing to hit her was the smell. Blood mixed with piss.

And then, the bodies.

"Fuck," Delta hissed.

Winter agreed, though she would never use such words. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and let it go. When she opened them again her mind was firm, prepared. She didn't balk at the bodies, even if her stomach roiled. Instead, she clenched one hand into a fist. Someone would have to contact their families. Considering how apathetic her father could be, Winter had a feeling it ought to be her to do it.

"Damn them," she hissed. "Damn the White Fang. Damn Adam Taurus."

"This is the firs time anything like this has happened," Delta said. "They're normally so efficient. The occasional fatality, but always in a gunfight and with the prisoners tied up and waiting for us. Why change things now? Why gun down prisoners like this?"

"I don't know," she said. "But if they want a war, they'll get one."

And she would have Adam Taurus' head.


Poor Adam. Poor Winter.

So, the White Fang plot is still going, while Jaune is off to investigate this new ruin and find out more about the Relics, leaving Taiyang and Qrow to look after the gym. I'm sure Vernal will be totally okay with that, lol.

On the bright side, it should be a good deterrent against Raven. She'll open a portal, appear, see that all that's on offer is a tent, camp food and a cold night, and then walk right back through that portal.

"Call me when you're back home. I miss Couch-chan and fridge-kun."


Next Chapter: 13th October

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur