Here we go.


Cover Art: Serox

Chapter 36


"Called it."

"They're planning something. I just know it."

"The only thing she's planning is how to knock him out with her tongue," Yang said. "You really need to chill, Blake. Even if they were planning something, they wouldn't do it here surrounded by people. Anyway, I called it. Those two are totally banging."

Blake hissed something under her breath and stormed off to the far side of the dance hall. Zero sense of humour in her lately. Yang sighed, and rolled her eyes, done with trying to keep her partner occupied if she was this determined to sulk her way through the dance. All of a sudden, she was glad Blake turned down Sun since the poor guy would have had a miserable time putting up with her. Instead, she turned her attention back to the dance floor and the real-time soap opera going on there.

Those two are really going at it, huh. Sienna was totally the one in control, almost bending Jaune Arc backwards as she plundered his mouth. It was so intense even Yang rubbed her knees together a little. Damn, she knows how to kiss. Wow.

It was probably a good thing Coco was off on her mission with Port.

"Let me guess," Weiss said as she sauntered up. "Blake is convinced they're exchanging top secret information via the medium of tongue and thinks we should intervene."

Yang snorted. "Something like that. You're not put off by this?"

"By what? Two people making out?" Weiss crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. "They should really find somewhere a little more private to do it, but I've seen far worse at my father's balls, believe me. You'd be appalled at how crass the so-called high class can be."

"At least this makes our job easy."

"Yes. For now."

Yang raised an eyebrow. "What does that mean?"

"Our job is to keep an eye on them and make sure nothing bad happens. That's easy while they're making out in the middle of the dance floor. Who gets the unfortunate duty of keeping watch if they retreat to a secluded corner to get to know one another better?"

Erk. Yang's face went red and then white. It couldn't be Blake for obvious reasons, and she wasn't going to subject Ruby to that, which meant it was either going to be her or Weiss. Considering the risk to Weiss as heiress of the SDC, it was probably going to be Yang's job. Oh hell no.

"I-I'mma go distract them!" Yang said hurriedly.

Weiss laughed smugly. "Good luck with that."

/-/

This wasn't Jaune's first kiss.

This was, however, the first time someone had done a deep inspection of the inside of his mouth. It was the first time he'd had someone suck the air out of his lungs, steal every thought out of his mind and leave him a tangled mess of loose muscle supported only by an arm wrapped around his back. Distantly, as he was dipped low, he realised he'd become the woman in their little show, and that Sienna Khan probably made a more confident man than he did anyway.

And then he was being pulled up. Up and into her, and then away – and suddenly he was gasping for air because his lungs had forgotten he needed it at all. Sound came rushing back in, and it was remarkably quiet for a dance floor. He'd expected a lot more dancing and chatter, and a whole lot less stunned silence and people staring.

"Well." Sienna smiled, completely uncaring of all the attention. "It seems we've made a scene."

"Blurbl." Jaune said intelligently.

"I think we've made our point abundantly clear. Let's not shock these poor children any further."

Sienna took his hand in hers and led him off the dancefloor and to one of the edges of the hall, a relief since if she expected him to have any motor function right now then she was going to very disappointed. Jaune let himself be pushed into a position by the wall and accepted the drink Sienna placed in his hand. Rather than drink it, he poured it down his throat in one go.

"H-Hey there!" The blonde from Team RWBY, Yang, approached awkwardly, waving one hand to announce herself. "Thought I'd come check up on you two, see how you're enjoying Beacon's hospitality."

"Done watching us from afar, girl?"

"Heh. Noticed that, did you?"

"Of course I did. You four have been stalking our every step. I'd accept that from Blake – the girl looks like she has something she wants to say – but the rest of you stand out. Jaune noticed too." Sienna patted his back. "Didn't you?"

"Tongue!"

Yang snickered.

Sienna coughed. "He noticed."

"Oh yeah, he's noticing something alright. Uh, that's not why I came over. I was actually wondering if you'd be willing to have a chat with my sister. You," she said, pointing at Jaune. "I mean."

"Why?" Sienna asked. "Does she have a crush on him?"

"No, no, no. That's not it." Yang waved her hands quickly. "Ruby is just… well, she's always tried to be the best person she can be and his speech about people sitting back and doing nothing hit her hard. She's doubting herself. Which is dumb," she added quickly, "Because Ruby's the kind of person who would instantly stick up for a faunus in trouble, just like she would anyone else."

Sienna's eyebrow rose higher still. "And you think talking to someone in the White Fang will help improve her mood…?"

"I mean, the White Fang in Vale isn't the psychotic murderers most of the rest are."

"You realise who you are talking to…" Sienna warned.

"You realise who you are talking to," Yang fired back. "You're in Beacon and welcome or not you were in charge of the White Fang when it did do a lot of horrible stuff."

Sienna glared at the girl, and for a moment Jaune thought there might be violence. In the end, Sienna sighed. "You're not wrong. I appreciate blunt honesty more than I do pandering anyway. All I'll say is that you have no idea what it was like to be us. You who grew up in a home safe and sound, never beaten, branded and forced into labour, can't possibly understand what drove us to violence in the first place."

Yang's feet shuffled awkwardly. "I guess I can't…"

"Don't look so glum, girl. That wasn't an insult." Sienna huffed. "Bring your sister then. I'm sure Jaune will spare a few words for her." Her eyes slid slyly to his. "If he's recovered enough to find any, that is."

All the blood rushed to Jaune's face, especially when Yang cackled.

"Ha! You're pretty cool for a terrorist leader."

"I'm a normal person before I'm the leader of the White Fang. It's simply not in the interests of your media to show me that way. That is where Jaune breaks the mould. People see him for who he is, not what."

Yang nodded and left to find her sister, leaving Jaune to catch his breath and collect his thoughts. The kiss – he couldn't forget it – had been a shock, almost as much as Sienna's attitude was. He didn't like to admit it, but he'd expected someone a little more gung-ho violence as well. Someone like Adam.

Then again, a lot of people assume I'm a faunus supremacist just because of what I do. She's right, people are too happy to slap a label on someone and call it quits.

He was guilty of that as well, though at least knowing about it now he could try and stop it. Putting in that effort had to mean something. "W-What was that all about?" he asked her. "That kiss. People are going to think we've always been together."

"Is that a problem?"

"I thought you wanted to avoid claims of nepotism."

"Nepotism is only ever an issue if the person put in command is incompetent. That's why it's called that, because the person would have never gotten there if it wasn't for their connections. Even if people think we were always lovers, you've proven why you deserve your post. It won't be an issue."

Convenient. Also not his main point. Why were they apparently together now? When had this been decided? Did he not get a say in this?

I was probably supposed to say my part in the time between her leaning in. Or in those comments before that now seem awfully obvious with the benefit of hindsight.

Sienna had given him hints and a chance to back out, and he, mostly because he'd been worrying over how to keep this trip to Beacon going bad, had been too dense to see them. Was it a problem? It wasn't like he had a girlfriend or even a girl he liked, and there was no one waiting in the wings who would have their feelings hurt. He wasn't likely to date any girls as a confirmed and wanted terrorist either.

The fact it wasn't real… well, that kiss had felt real. He swallowed and glanced away, finishing his drink without finding the words to express or even explain what his feelings were. He wasn't against the idea per se, but he wasn't sure what Sienna's feelings were about all this. Was it just a move for the betterment of the White Fang with nothing else between them? Or were they actually trying this?

Maybe he could ask Ilia for advice later.

"Looks like she's found her sister…"

Yang came back dragging a reluctant girl in a red dress behind her. He recognised Ruby from the few times they'd interacted, and he had to admit she'd never looked so nervous around him before. It wasn't like they'd really had all that much interaction, but she'd never been afraid to confront him.

"Looks like you have your work cut out for you," Sienna said. "She won't feel comfortable talking with me and her sister here. Why don't you go dance with her and see what she has to say?"

"Huh. Oh sure. Okay…"

/-/

Yang watched her sister go with Jaune Arc onto the dancefloor with a complicated expression. On the one hand she wanted this to go well and for Ruby to feel better, but she would also now have to trust that happening outside her control. He better not hurt her feelings. There were more immediate things to concern herself with, too.

"So, you've gotten me alone," Yang said. "Is this the part where you threaten my sister if she develops feelings for him? The part where you warn me to keep her away from your man?"

Sienna laughed. "We can both tell your sister has no such feelings."

Yang grinned back. "True. So, what is this about?"

"It is a warning, though not for you or your family. It's about Blake."

"Ugh. I don't want to get involved-"

"You're already involved, girl. Blake is on your team, so whatever she does will drag you along for the ride. I'm not trying to turn you against her or recruit her back. If she left once, she could leave again. The White Fang doesn't need those whose loyalties can be so flexible."

Ouch. Yang wanted to defend her partner, but she really couldn't here. Whether Blake had made the right choice or not, that didn't change the fact she had betrayed her previous allies. Yang personally thought she'd made the right choice in doing so, but that didn't change anything.

"You're not wanting your own back, are you?" she asked.

"I have better things to do than chase down every single person who decides they're done with us. Blake knew little of value and little we haven't already changed so there's no need to silence her. If she thinks otherwise, tell her that's a problem with her own ego. She isn't nearly important enough for an entire international terrorist organisation to want to kill."

Insult aside, that was a relief. Yang let out a quick breath and stepped in to lean against the wall beside Sienna. The faunus raised an eyebrow but let her. Them not wanting to go after Blake made sense, at least once she started thinking of the White Fang as a group with a mission and not a mindless blob of anger. Expending resources on one girl who left them wouldn't help their goals any, and it would cost them a lot of time.

Blake might not appreciate the jibe at her expense, but Yang did.

"Does the same go for my other teammate?"

"The Schnee?"

"She has a name. It's Weiss, and she's her own person."

"To us, she's a Schnee. It's hard to look past the red mist that descends when hearing that name. Too many of us lost friends and family to the SDC mines, their foremen or their private security firms. Did you know they scout far-flung villages for new miners? They even like to find faunus villages and attack them, killing those who fight back and enslaving the rest."

Yang's head shot to the side. "That's a lie."

"Is it?"

"It has to be! No one would let them get away with that shit!"

"I'm sure that no one would, but then what if no one knows? Outpost settlements disappear regularly. All you need to do is burn a few houses down, leave some bodies strewn about and anyone who came along would think it was a Grimm attack. There are times I wonder if even the SDC knows. They hire their PMC's to recruit faunus and they come back with a hundred. Does Jacques Schnee even ask how or where they found them? Does he care?"

The sickening sensation in Yang's stomach grew. There was no way she could confirm if this was true or not and she had every reason to distrust Sienna. Then again, why should she trust the other side any better? She'd seen and heard what the SDC forewoman in that lumber camp had done, not only to Jaune Arc but to others before him. Was it really hard to imagine stuff like that happening elsewhere, too? Why did she instinctively side with the SDC on this? Innocent before proven guilty?

Or was it because it was Weiss' family's company.

A company that Weiss often said she wanted to reform, a company that Weiss' sister had even removed herself from, joining the army instead. A company that even Yang knew had gotten in trouble more than once for poor business practices.

"Weiss wouldn't know about it." That was all Yang could think to say. "And if she did, she'd never let something that horrible happen. Never."

"What evidence do I have of this? What evidence does any faunus?"

"Maybe if you got to know her…"

Sienna raised an eyebrow and Yang felt stupid for suggesting it. This was about every faunus in the world potentially. Had Weiss' dad really made that bad an impression on them? How the hell did one man offend an entire species? Heck, she'd thought Qrow could be an ass at times. Jacques Schnee took the cake.

"How about innocent until proven guilty? You all complain that people call you violent extremists without understanding who you really are. It's the same for Weiss. You can't just assume she's the second coming of her father."

"Better. At least you give some reasoning there. I do not assume such things," Sienna said simply. "I couldn't care less about what she feels, but the same can't be said for all faunus. To many of us, asking us to simply give her a chance is like me asking you to invite a Beowolf into your home. Sure, it may not have killed your family yet, but it could decide to at any moment."

"That's-"

"Not the same? Extreme? You may well think so but the SDC has destroyed families. They have eradicated faunus settlements, enslaved our people and yes, in some cases they have killed them. Perhaps this is done without Jacques Schnee's direct knowledge. That doesn't change anything. At least you have huntsmen and huntresses to save you from the Grimm. Who will save us from the SDC? Or from all the other people who hate us solely for what we are?"

That was… fuck, Yang didn't know what to say. "I just want to look out for my friend," she said desperately. "Weiss isn't a bad person. I know it's not fair and all, but can't you make an exception for her sake?"

"Asking me that after all her family has done…?"

"I…" Yang swallowed. "I'll fight to defend her if I have to. I'll fight you and the White Fang."

Sienna smiled victoriously. Yang knew she'd walked into a trap, but she couldn't for the life of her see it. Until Sienna opened her mouth, that was.

"Oh my. How quickly you resort to violence to protect what is yours."

You're no different from us.

Yang sucked in a sharp breath. "I-"

"I'll not harm your friend so long as she doesn't harm any faunus." Sienna waved the tense moment away and gave in at the same time, sending Yang's already fragile emotions into haywire. "I expect Jaune will have the same opinion since he wants to portray our kinder side. Your teammate won't face any harm at my command. Is that enough?"

"Y-Yeah. Thanks…"

"It looks like your sister has found her peace as well," Sienna said.

Yang's eyes widened. Whipping about, she caught Ruby dancing awkwardly and clumsily with Jaune Arc, at last smiling again and even laughing at something he said. The tension was gone, the stiff shoulders finally relaxing and her eyes shining once more. He'd done it. Whatever he'd said, whatever comfort he offered, had done it.

"For their sake let's pretend we only chatted," Sienna whispered in her ear. "It's not your teammate, Schnee, you need to be worried about. It's your partner."

"You said you didn't care for going after her!"

"We don't. However, it doesn't seem as though the sentiment is mutual."

Blake wanted after them. Damn it.

"Let me make one thing clear," Sienna said. "Just as you will kill me to protect your teammate, so too will I kill Blake if she attempts to harm Jaune Arc. He is important to the White Fang, and to me, and I won't see our brightest star falter because a certain someone couldn't keep her paranoia in check."

"Message received." Yang nodded. "I'll keep her away."

/-/

There was a disturbing lack of screaming coming from the hall hosting Beacon's ball. That could only mean Mercury and Emerald had failed in their task to assassinate Jaune Arc, something Cinder was not overly surprised at. Obviously, if you wanted something doing properly you needed to do it yourself.

The problem was that she couldn't attend the dance and run the risk of Arc recognising her.

And calling me a stripper…

Cinder gritted her teeth together and imagined his head popping like a ripe tomato. It helped keep her focused as she inserted Watts' virus into the CCT mainframe. At least this was going well. Sienna Khan and Jaune Arc showing up to the school dance was bigger than any distraction she could have had Mercury and Emerald execute.

"Hmhm. Hmm." Fingers dancing over the keys, she watched the chess piece flicker on the screens before disappearing. "And done. Almost too easy. No, it is too easy. Is no one going to challenge me…?"

A quick look at the elevator door showed it still open from her last using it. It hadn't even been called down for a new person. Really, and she'd left unconscious guards outside the front door as well, Atlas soldiers draped on the floor like marionettes without string.

She'd planned her response to an interruption. She would leap back, scream "for the White Fang" and smash out a window. Going even a step further, she wore a White Fang mask now instead of her black domino mask. It would instantly set suspicion on Jaune Arc, and with General Ironwood here she could only imagine how much trouble that would cause. She could both infect the CCT and frame it on the White Fang, killing two birds with one stone.

Except that no one was coming. No one cared.

Cinder was left sitting on the table with one leg crossed over the other and her fingers drumming on the surface in silence. The elevator did not move. There was no commotion outside.

"I'm literally here sabotaging the CCT. This is the sole method of communication from one Kingdom to another. Does anyone even care? Hello?"

The elevator did not go down.

Ozpin, Ironwood or a plucky huntress did not come up.

"How are two terrorists at a dance off more impressive than me?" Cinder shouted. "What are they even doing back there that's so damned interesting?"

And unfortunately, she was stuck here as well. She couldn't go near the ball and run the risk of being recognised, she couldn't go into Beacon or people would ask why she was skulking around, and until Mercury and Emerald gave the all-clear, she needed to stay either in the CCT or in the Emerald Forest. One of those was more comfortable than the other.

Bored, she used her Semblance to form a bow and some arrows, then busied herself shooting them at a designated target on the closest wall. They thunked into the motivational picture of a cat hanging from a rope before fading into motes of dust.

"Arghhh!" Cinder threw herself backwards, splaying her arms out over the desk. "They'll not be able to ignore me forever. Once the Vytal Festival hits and my plans are put into action they'll notice. Oh, they'll notice alright. Mwahahaha!"

The elevator beeped and the door closed, taking it down.

"Finally!" Kicking her legs out, Cinder rocked onto her feet and summoned two swords, a suitably imposing first impression. The elevator dinged again, and the doors opened. "You're too late!" she yelled. "For the White-"

An elderly man walked out whistling loud enough to drown her out. He dragged a bucket on a set of wheels behind him and had a mop in his other hand. On his head, covering his ears, were a large pair of earphones, the music to which he was whistling along with.

"-Fang…"

Still whistling, eyes closed, he dragged the bucket and mop along, opened a cabinet and shoved them in, then closed it with a bump from his hip and walked back to the elevator without once noticing her. The doors closed, the elevator dinged, and it went back down again.

"…"

Cinder flounced back onto the desk, angrily cupping her chin.

/-/

"I'm dead." Mercury almost collapsed down into the seat next to Emerald. "I can't feel my feet."

"You don't have feet."

"Oh yeah. Well I can't feel my hips either so…"

Emerald sighed and reached down to wrench the knife out of Mercury's metallic foot and hand it back to him. He stashed it away quickly enough, but no one was paying attention to them anyway.

"You're lucky you didn't get caught stabbing someone."

"I don't feel lucky. I feel abused."

"We'll both feel worse when Cinder finds out we've failed."

Mercury grimaced. "Maybe we could put the competition aside to work together. Thing is, we've tried poisoning him and we've tried stabbing him. Couldn't you just make people not see me as I walk up and snap his neck?"

Was he kidding? There were over a hundred people here and she'd have to make eye contact with and effect each and every one of them. Forget a migraine, her brain would explode.

"Just the one, huh?" Mercury looked up. "How about the Belladonna girl?"

"Hm? What about her?"

"She hates Arc."

"I think everyone in Beacon is aware of that. What of it?"

"Well what if you made her see him doing something that she just had to stop? Say she sees him draw a gun and aim it at one of her teammates, she'd just go leaping into action, wouldn't she?"

Huh. That was a clever idea coming out of Mercury's mouth for once. Emerald looked to the black-haired girl brooding in the corner. It wouldn't be hard to control her, but she doubted Blake could make the kill. Or that she would. She was a goody-two-shoes at the end of the day, so she'd probably go for the disarm first. Emerald said as much.

"Worth a shot, isn't it? And even if it fails, we can at least tell Cinder we caused an incident between Beacon and the White Fang. That's got to be better than telling her we failed to do anything."

Good point again. Well, wasn't this a day for wonders when Mercury could say two things without her wanting to castrate him. "I'll try it. A gun, you think?"

"Something she can't ignore."

Right. Emerald took a deep breath and concentrated on Blake across the hall. Her Semblance took hold, and she gently prodded the girl along, for the first ten seconds or so not changing anything. If she really wanted to convince someone then she had to be slow. Subtle.

Blake's eyes narrowed. They were drawn against her control and she never realised it, to Jaune Arc's hand reaching under his jacket. It brushed against something, the grip of a weapon that only Blake saw. Her eyes widened, and then she noticed Sienna nod toward Ruby. Jaune nod back. Ruby turn away.

"Ah!" Blake pushed off the wall and hurtled forward. Her hand reached for a weapon, grasping for a moment on a glass bottle left on the counter by the drinks.

Emerald smirked. Perfect.

A white glyph appeared in front of Blake, bouncing her off it and onto the floor. Before she could recover, and before Emerald could even think what might have happened, the same glyph pushed back, practically scooping Blake up and away along with the irate heiress in charge of it.

Blake's arguments went unheard as she was rolled out the hall and away from Jaune Arc, and also away from Emerald's control.

"Damn it."

"Okay, looks like even they expected her to lose her cool and pull something." Mercury chuckled. "Maybe she was too obvious a pick. On the bright side, I bet they won't even believe her if she says she saw a weapon. Your secret is safe for now."

"There's still no progress to show!"

"You're not thinking big enough. Up there."

Emerald followed his gaze to the general of Atlas' military watching the dance from the second floor balcony. He looked furious, murderous even, and it wasn't hard to figure out why.

"All he needs is a reason to arrest Arc, and I very much doubt some first year team will have the strength or the clout to stop him if he tries."

And succeed or fail, it was a diplomatic crisis in the making. Emerald nodded and focused her gaze upward, taking control of General Ironwood's senses just as she had Blake's. A subtle push, a quick focus on a concealed weapon. The man gasped and gripped the railing of the balcony, throwing himself over and into the open air ready to drop down on Jaune Arc and Sienna Khan.

Only to casually defy gravity and float there flailing his arms.

Slowly, languidly, he floated back to the balcony and in front of a very cross looking Glynda Goodwitch, who flicked her crop to the left and candidly marched a floating military general out of the hall. Down below, no one even noticed, only Ozpin, who sent a quick and grateful nod to his deputy before she left with Ironwood. Emerald's brow twitched.

"Seriously…?" Mercury whined. "Seriously!?"

/-/

Jaune shook hands with Headmaster Ozpin before stepping aside to let Sienna Khan do the same. The fact they could was a huge sign of the possible future ahead, one in which faunus and humans could stand side by side and where he could have his name cleared.

"Thank you for coming today." Ozpin said.

"Thank you for having us." Sienna replied. "And for ensuring nothing unfortunate happened."

"Beacon holds little ill will toward the White Fang and none toward the faunus, Miss Khan. It is only your illegal activities that hold you back from being fully welcomed here. If you wish to change the White Fang as Mr Arc has begun, then I dare say that might change in time. With any luck, so will people's perceptions of this silly prejudice."

"With luck? It will take more than that unfortunately. Cheap labour is as appealing a prospect as ever for the greedy. So long as faunus are exploitable, they will be exploited."

"I have personally worked to put an end to that."

"If only your name was Jacques Schnee," Sienna said. "Still, I appreciate the effort. I'm not here in Vale as a sign of power. Jaune will remain in charge of Vale's sect," she said, patting his back. "I'm only here to lend my support and legitimise his position."

Having something like that admitted out loud shouldn't have pleased anyone, and yet Ozpin looked thrilled. "I'm glad to hear it. In that case, would you both accept an invitation to attend the Vytal Festival as my guests? You would have access to the VIP box."

"It's a generous offer."

Sienna didn't decline or accept, and it took Jaune a moment to realise she was waiting for him to decide. It was his decision as the one in charge of the White Fang in Vale and she didn't want to step on any plans he might have.

"Oh. Yes, that sounds great." Jaune laughed. "We could both be there. Right, Sienna?"

"Then we'll be there, headmaster Ozpin. Thank you for the invitation." Sienna looked about. "Where is our ride home?"

"We're having a little trouble getting a good signal." Ozpin said. "There's probably a bug in the CCT or a Nevermore has flown into the antennae again. Don't worry about it. I'll have one of our own pilots drop you off wherever you wish."

"Thanks." Jaune looked around. "No General Ironwood to see us off?"

"Ahah." Ozpin laughed. "My old friend is a little busy at the moment. Too much punch. I'm sure he would send his regards and well wishes were he here. He longs for peace as much as any of us."

"Is that so?"

In the distance he was sure he heard Ironwood roaring angrily.

"Yes." Ozpin said, still smiling. "Absolutely."

/-/

The arrow flew up.

The arrow flew down.

The arrow flew up.

The arrow flew down.

The arrow flew up.

Riiing. Riiing.

Cinder sat up and answered her scroll, ignoring the arrow thunking down where her eyes had been a second before. "Report."

"Um. Ma'am. The ball is over. You can come back now."

"I've yet to plan the evidence of White Fang activity," Cinder argued. "By now my impact on the CCT should have been noticed. Any moment now, someone will be coming to check and-"

"Ma'am." Emerald interrupted. "It's two in the morning. Everyone's gone to bed. I… I don't think they're coming. I… uh… I don't think they care. Or they haven't noticed. Sorry."

Cinder Fall stared into the middle distance.

"No one is coming…?"

"No one, ma'am."

"Ozpin?"

"Has retired for bed after seeing the White Fang off."

"Ironwood?"

"Carried away by Goodwitch."

"A plucky student interfering in things that don't concern them...?"

"No one, ma'am."


Poor Cinder.


Next Chapter: 27th April

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur