A/N 3/7/17: Apparently deleting chapters counts as an update. Nothing new here, folks. I'm done with school and have a job, a lovely girlfriend, and a PS4 (Final Fantasy XV, Tales of Berseria, and Persona 5) which makes it very difficult to find time to write. When I do make time, it's mostly for AO3 where I spend my time nowadays under the same moniker, inkbender. Zodiac is still on indefinite hiatus, but if I was to start writing again I'd probably jump straight to homecoming night, in an arc that would bring Ruby's, Weiss's, Blake's, and Yang's paths together finally.

Maybe it's the harried, wild-eyed demeanor on the face of one usually so passive and peaceful, but faunus give Jaune a wide berth as he makes a beeline straight for Dragon dormitories.

Good. He's not sure how much more duress he can handle after his little 'chat' with Blake.

His scroll buzzes again. Right… duress. Well, if there's one thing he's gotten fairly proficient at during his stay in Zodiac, it's being doggedly perseverant and stayin' alive. This is small fry compared to what he's put up with in the past. All of Weiss's questions so far have been binary-answer inquiries that would take mere seconds to answer. Compiling and categorizing them into a spreadsheet in the silence of his single bedroom is going to be child's play—

"Dude, what took you so long?"

Neptune is sprawled on his bed, a piercing blue presence in a sea of bright sunshine yellow. He taps away some minigame on his scroll before gracing Jaune with a lopsided smile.

Jaune remains cautiously within the doorway. And rightly so. "Where's Sun?"

"Not here," Neptune says. "What are you waiting for? Com'on in."

He doesn't bother shielding his sigh. "It's been a really long day…"

"Just wanna chill tonight? I'm here to help."

Jaune cringes at a particularly bright twinkle of Neptune's pearly whites. "Past experiences tell me that I can't let my guard down around you," he says, a purple-green spot temporarily burned into his retina.

Neptune sits up. "And this is me trying to change all that, man. Look, I know we haven't been the best of upperclassmen to you. Mostly because you're kinda pathetic—not that you haven't grown and flown by leaps and bounds over the past few weeks!—but you make it so easy." He rubs the back of his neck anxiously. "Argh! What I'm trying to say, bro, is that we—at least I—meant it when I said I was gonna instruct you in the ways of The Man. Completely serious."

Jaune folds his arms and refuses to trap himself in his room with his conniving senior. "Funny. I can't really tell."

Neptune shrugs. "This is a two-way relationship, dude. There's only so far I can stick my neck out before my noggin rolls right off. Com'on, I came all this way for you."

"Because breaking into my room really builds trust."

Blue eyebrows rise. "Uh, bro, hate to tell you this, but you left your door wide open. I chased out a couple dweebs scouting out your place. Not like there's anything worth taking in here anyways." Neptune flops onto his back. "The comforter's kinda nice, but it's so bright. How do you sleep with all this beaming into your face?"

That would be Miltia.

Speaking of which, of the three beings with full access to his room (the others being Zwei and Penny), Miltia would be the most likely suspect for "accidentally" leaving his door open…

Given their minor spat right before he got sucked into the Frozen Panty Raid Massacre and aligned himself with Weiss, he wouldn't put it past the younger Malachite to spite him. Then again, he wouldn't put it past Neptune to snag Sun's master key, all to lure him into a false sense of security before springing another trap or prank or—

"You look kinda pissed off," Neptune remarks. "Hey, I'm not going push you into this. If you want to go back to all the teasing and crap, we can forget this peace offering happened. Not to say that it doesn't sting a little, being bro-jected and all." He rises off the bed. "I'll just—"

Tap. Tap tap.

Neptune freezes as a paw against glass cuts the silence between them. Jaune takes a bit longer to respond, his mind caught in a swirl of varying emotion directed at Miltia and Sun and Ruby and Zwei, why now of all times—

Despite being forced to fit his stubby little feet on a ledge four inches wide outside a window that's normally left unlocked, the corgi still manages to sound exuberant. Did Neptune inadvertently shut the window or did Miltia lock him out? Never mind that—even with his superior standing right there, Jaune can't ignore Zwei's call for help. He toes the door shut before crossing over to the window to unlock it.

Zwei practically barrels into his chest. He pirouettes wildly on one toe to maintain his balance but is impeded by a storm of slobbery dog kisses from nowhere. Like, literally nowhere, because until now Zwei has never been so openly affectionate, but now he's a squirming, barking, slobbering furball of love and happiness.

"Ack, gross, stop!" he gasps. He pushes Zwei out at arms' length and is abruptly aware of how heavy this stumpy puppy is. "And what have you been eating? You were nowhere near this heavy last…" Slowly, he remembers the presence of Neptune, which prompts him to drop and attempt to nudge the illegal pet underneath the bed with his foot. This isn't what it looks like doesn't seem like a suitable enough excuse. "Uhhh…"

Zwei playfully wrestles with Jaune's shoe for all of two snarling seconds before scampering out the other side of the bed and straight into Neptune's open arms. "Dude!" Neptune has absolutely no problem having his face covered in a sheen of spittle. "How'd you'd manage to sneak a dog onto campus?"

"That… That's a long and, um, humiliating story…"

"True. Not sure why I expected anything normal with you." Faunus and dog share an Eskimo kiss before Neptune releases him and hops back onto the bed. "He's your roommate?"

Interesting that Neptune should refer to Zwei as an equal and not a possession, but there's quite a ring of truth to it. Zwei comes and leaves whenever he wants. They share the bed; Zwei's the big spoon. A collection of Zwei's things occupy a corner of the closet and Jaune's never seen them because they're covered by a spare blanket and Jaune respects Zwei's privacy (and it smells nice, like nature-y pine scent. Significantly better than Jaune's sweaty equipment scent.) He and Miltia are on the rocks because part of her hammock encroaches on his territory. They regularly trade stink-eye. Zwei's like the absentee roomie who disproves of Miltia, the clingy brat who really needs to…

…Needs to move out.

"Yeah," Jaune says faintly. "Yeah, you could say that."

"Lucky you," laughs Neptune. "Too bad even Sun has to follow rules…" He inclines his head in Jaune's direction. "We'll just have to keep this secret."


"Yeah. Secrets." Neptune winks. "Thanks to Zwei here, I am now privy to one of your greatest secrets!"

I know your greatest secret.

"I genuinely want to make it up to you, Jaune. So your secret's safe with me. You get to keep Zwei, I'll be your senpai, and we all get along. Sound like a plan?"

Jaune glares at Zwei accusingly.

Zwei rolls onto his back and begs for a stomach rub.

As Neptune is the closest, he complies.

Zwei purrs and looks back at Jaune.

Jaune throws up his hands. "I don't really have choice, do I?"

His scroll buzzes in his pocket yet again, reminding him that he has a spreadsheet to complete before he can hide in his bed, seeing as there are two foreign presences nearby that are currently preventing his room from being the safe haven it was designed to be. Alas.

"Schnee still bugging you about homecoming?" says Neptune. "Dude, let me help. I've got the school vibe down. I am boss at the networking game. Seriously. How first-year freshies got onto the planning committee I'll never know. Usually I'd say that the committee's going to ignore anything Weiss has to say, but judging from how much help she needs from you, I'm going to say that she threw around so much money that she's practically running the show herself. Which means you really need my help, otherwise this is going to blow up in her face. Your face."

All good arguments. So why is he finding it so hard to trust Neptune? He sounds awfully genuine. Zwei likes him. But as far as lasting first impressions, Sun and Neptune are attached at the hip and telepathically linked. Anything that goes to Neptune will find its way to Sun, then Yang, and then Jaune finds himself at the bottom of a flaming mound of crap.

"You gonna get that?" He gestures at Jaune's vibrating pocket. "Can I field those calls for you?"

Jaune closes his eyes and lets out a deep breath. Something harmless. Something like… "Invitations."


"I need to send seven different designs to Weiss by tonight." He pauses a moment to think up just why she'd want so many drafts (well, aside from setting impossible standards and pissing him off). "Seven different invitations that'll cater to different demographics. Elegant, down-to-earth, exciting; romantic, raving, ace; all of the above, whatever."

"Did Weiss give you those description words or did you just come up with those yourself?" Neptune laughs weakly. "Uh, I can probably give you what's going to catch the attention of the majority of Yang's pack. Sun's pack is pretty much a subgroup of Yang's. I'm not going to even pretend I know what Adam's thinking. Malachite's sorta a mystery to me too. Weiss's pack is sort of in hiding or are rich bitches in it for the money, so that's easy enough to… 'cater to.' How's that?"

With his back propped up against the foot of Jaune's bed and a hand still rubbing Zwei's tummy, Neptune doesn't look like he's headed anywhere anytime soon. Jaune presses his lips together before giving up and popping open his scroll.

Holy mother of Monty.

"…Either she's flipping out or messing with you," concludes Neptune. "I'd go with the former. No one could be so sadistic as to fill up an entire scroll's memory with pointless A or B questions. Are you her only secretary or somethin'?"

If Assistant #1 is Blake… Jaune can't imagine her sitting down for administrative duties like this. "I'm going to say yes…"

"You can automatically say no to the first eleven questions. After the whole ice tower sculpture fiasco, Yang'll set fire to anything remotely related to snow. We still have a month of autumn left anyways."

Jaune links his scroll to his desk's holospace and begins the arduous task of manually categorizing every question. After a couple minutes of slightly-but-not-too-mindless shuffling, Neptune reaches in and flicks a question into the scroll's trash bin icon.

"Hold on!" Jaune pulls out the text byte. "You can't just…"

[Pin the tail on life-sized posters of Sun Wukong in suggestive poses. Send me at least five sketches by the end of this week. Refer to accompanying file.]

Neptune helpfully places said video file in front of Jaune. "I'm starting to lean towards the messing with you side of things," he smirks, "with a healthy dose of sadistically perverted. Jaune, you give me great honor: I'm another side of our heiress that I've always wanted to see."

It's video surveillance of Weiss's sitting room. In three dimensions at the highest definition available to faunuskind, his scroll's holospace explicitly documents just how Weiss managed to maneuver Sun's body into the provocative pose Jaune had found him in last night, frozen within a ten-foot block of ice.

"Oh. Oh my."

"I wonder where she learned to do that."

"Is his body supposed to do bend that way?"

"He likes it though. Yes he does. Just look at his face."

"She's blushing. I think she likes it too."

Jaune has to toss the video in the trash bin around then because the silent video is disturbingly producing a positive response below his belt and he really can't think about that too much otherwise his brain will explode and Ruby might be sad.

Neptune pats him on the back consolingly. "I tried to shield your innocent eyes from that," he says, almost managing to hide the glee in his tone. "Dude, I tried."

"Um." Jaune wills his blush to fade. "Continue fielding."

After a couple more minutes of silence (in which Jaune regains control of himself), Neptune strikes up conversation. "So I said she might be messing with you earlier? I'm going to partially retract that statement. I think Schnee genuinely can't get a good read on Sun or Yang, so she's trying to see if you have a better idea. Like, Sun wouldn't have a problem turning a situation where everybody's shoving pointy things into his ass in his favor. Hell, he'd probably even look like he was enjoying it. But seriously, it's not like Sun or Yang are legit psycho whores, you get me?"

He can't keep the surprise from slipping into his response. "Huh?"

"Oh Jaune." An artificial laugh reverberates out of Neptune's mouth. "So socially awkward. Is that a Lemming thing?"

His processing power is practically halved as he handles this new information. "So you mean… are you saying… Sun isn't really…"

"He and Yang have a couple personas, sure." Neptune is tight-lipped for a good few seconds, his eyes still picking out trigger keywords from the myriad of texted questions. "Okay, look, this is me sticking my neck out. Legit, Jaune. Better believe it. But if you really think about it, Yang's the last one out there, right? Pretty much guaranteed she's only looking out for herself and hers. If she has to act a certain way to manipulate her peers, she'll do it. Wild child, angsty teen, last of her kind… you're easy. You get the pervert."

"What about you?" He's not even bothering to sort through Weiss's stuff. He watches Neptune's eyes carefully. The man continues his scan and refuses to meet Jaune's gaze, though a corner of his mouth does quirk upward.

"Eh, Sun's Sun. Yang just doesn't hold her alcohol very well."

Jaune clears his throat and clarifies, "And your personas."

Neptune grins. He still doesn't meet Jaune's eyes. "If you get down to it, everybody puts on a different face to deceive everybody into liking them just a bit more, don't you think? Deception varies from faunus to faunus though. It depends on how many secrets you're juggling." For a split second, Neptune's gaze flashes in his direction. "Not gonna lie Jaune, but you seem like a pretty open book. Makes idiots like me want to trust you. To be honest, to be loyal, to not backstab me the moment I stop being useful."

If Neptune's only here because of a political play against the forces of Weiss and Yang… ugh this makes his brain hurt. Can they just go back to the part where Neptune just wanted to be friends?

A group of texts practically fly into his face. They bounce to a halt when they reach the edge of the holospace, but Jaune flinches back anyways. "Hey!"

"Whoops. Not sorry. Say yes to all of those," says his companion proudly. "I guarantee that will bring in the dough."

[I've heard good reviews for DJ Monokuma. He frequents a mafia dance club in Zodiac's red-light district but wears a stuffed bear head, so you shouldn't need to be there for more than a couple seconds.]

[We should take pride in our truce with humanity. Tukson's Book Trade is a great place to obtain information of faunus history. Safe neighborhood too, so I expect you to spend at least an entire afternoon there.]

[The trees of the Forever Fall forest produce a delicious red sap which is the key ingredient of the Schneetastic Fruit Punch. Please bring me at least ten gallons by next Monday. By the way, it's rapier wasp mating season. Please be careful;]

His heart is oddly warmed by Weiss's warning.

"Hey Neptune? What are rapier wasps?"

The older boy takes a peek at the message before flicking a second text at him. "Ah. I was wondering where the first half of this went."

[after all, I've just deposited a small stipend into your student account and would appreciate if you could continue living for another three weeks to fulfill your service requirements.]

{Le sigh…}

"These requests are sort of random." Jaune flicks the faunus history text back at Neptune, who catches it straight in the palm of his hand without removing his eyes from his task.

"Oh, this one? Weiss's phrasing is really… politically correct, but Jaune, think about it seriously. This is the most significant and relevant question Weiss has asked you all day. We're attending a human-approved combat school in a human-created country, training to enter a human-dominated workforce hunting down the monsters who were apparently our evolutionary descendants. Gotta have a little faunus pride thrown in there, yeah?"


When he'd first forged his papers and stepped onto that airship, he'd been very focused on his side of things: prove to his absentee father and estranged brother that he wasn't absolutely useless by throwing himself into the lions' den, prove to the ladies that he had more than pure charm going for him, prove to the world that the Arc legacy was not over. Zodiac Academy was perfect for that: filled with students who'd been previously trained to combat humans but were by now hopefully less inclined to assassinate him and more motivated to kill creatures of Grimm.

Instead… he's gotten a normal school experience, more or less. More on the crazy side of things, but when boiled down to the bare basics, his first two months have been a politically-charged social circus. He's made friends, enemies, enemies into friends, questionable friends, enemies pretending to be friends, frienemies, and everything else in between.

He didn't come to Menagerie to find out how the mind of the faunus ticked, but that's definitely what he got. And it turns out… Faunuspedia (and he and humanity, to an extent) made a whole lot of wrong assumptions. Establishing dominance, acting first and thinking later? One could easily use that to describe the mindset of the idiot known as Jaune Arc. If anything, the social networking within faunus culture as seen in their packs and their Clans fosters a unity and strength that far exceeds the teamwork of the human politicians Jaune's observed. Combined with their ability to use weapons and ability to transform into modified creatures of Grimm at a moment's notice… "Why did faunuskind lose the war?"

"Eh, that question again." Neptune sits up and ignores Zwei's unhappy bark. "I swear, ask anybody and they'll all tell you something different. My take though? After the Dragons went down, plus the whole fiasco with General Schnee, none of the Head Clans wanted to do anything that might put their numbers at risk. The lesser Clans didn't count, of course."

{Whoaaa there is a canful of wormy bitterness in that last sentence. Don't open that can; don't open—}

"You're from Dolphin, right?"


Neptune closes his eyes for a little too long to be a blink. He sort of angles his face away from Jaune while he's doing it. Zwei snuffles and pushes his nose into Neptune's hand until Neptune rubs his head absentmindedly.

His upperclassman laughs. "Not anymore." He flashes Jaune another brilliant smile. By the time his retinas have recovered from the sparkles, Neptune's eyes are dry. "It's kind of funny actually: I'm terrified of the ocean. Even more ironically, I wield an electrical trident. Worst Dolphin ever, right?"

Jaune laughs halfheartedly. "I guess."

"So… yeah. It's all kind of hush-hush, but I've got the political backing of Sun and Yang, so… I get a free pass. But!" He sits up abruptly. "You're not included under that protection, so don't go spouting what I just told you to anybody on the street. Seriously. If our lovely heiress says you've got to live for at least three weeks, then don't mention anything about Dolphin and ocean and electrical bombs to anybody, got it?"

Jaune nods numbly. Electrical bombs do not sound fun.

Zwei headbutts Neptune so hard, he sways slightly. "Okay, okay! No more serious talk. Though I'm not kidding about faunus pride, Jaune. Everybody at this academy would appreciate it if you found some way to represent the Clans together. Including the lesser ones."

Jaune nods solemnly as he pulls up his scroll's map function. "Um… do you have any friends who'd like to visit a book store with me tomorrow afternoon?"

Neptune peers at the three-dimensional representation of Tukson's Book Trade and outright laughs. "Jaune… this neighborhood…"


He just grins. "You'll find out."


Jaune's holospace flashes red as an urgent text arrives on his scroll. Neptune raises an eyebrow at the admittedly small content from a private sender.

[23 now]

Oh. He can't help but glance at Neptune.

"Secret admirer?" he smirks.

Uhhh… "Yes?"

Neptune stands up and brushes dog fur off his pants. "Jaune, my boy," he says fondly. "They grow up so fast."

For the longest time, Blake can only stare at Jaune's responding text.

[Only if you go with me to Tukson's tomorrow]

"What is it?"

She hastily minimizes the message, but not before Weiss catches the sender's identity.

"Jaune? What's he doing texting you?"

She marches over, loose white hair billowing gracefully behind her. Blake quite likes it when Weiss lets her hair down in private quarters like this; it's almost as if she transforms into an entirely different woman. Not the heiress, not the stuffy schoolgirl, not the politician. Still prudish, yes, but also kind of a dork.

A gossipy dork.

A nosey, gossipy dork who won't give up.

She's too tired to wrestle with Weiss right now. Weiss could never physically best her, but she's so damn persistent… so she sighs and blows up Jaune's message. Weiss reads it instantly—she has the talent of comprehending groups of words and speed-reads everything almost instantaneously—and promptly squeals. "Is he asking you on a date?"

"No. I told him to pick up the identification chip at station #23. The piggyback tracker will upload itself to his scroll as soon as it gets close enough. That's all."

"Tukson's is only the largest bookstore in Zodiac's most romantic neighborhood. A book date, Blake, this is perfect!" She catches herself. "Well, Jaune himself is certainly far from. But the concept is perfect."

"He's asking me to do one of your requests," she points out. "Do you not remember?"

Weiss waves off this concern. "Of course I don't, but that's inconsequential. You should go."

Blake hears what Weiss left unsaid: if only for my personal enjoyment. "I don't want to."

"You don't want to read?" Weiss sniffs. "Inconceivable." She seats herself on the right side of the couch. Blake immediately feels affronted for reasons she can't explain but settles opposite Weiss, on the left side (wrong wrong wrong). "I know for a fact that you skip History tomorrow afternoon to take a nap or disappear off to wherever. Go read a book with a weirdo who also likes reading books."

"You don't know he's a bookie. He's only going in the first place because you asked him. What about you?"

"I'll be fine without you, I'm not made of ice crystal." She procures a brush out of nowhere. "Come here. I'll dress you tomorrow."

"This isn't a date," she grumbles.

"It most certainly is not. It's you getting out of my shadow for a couple minutes. Monty knows you need some socialization!"

Blake presents her head of tangled hair to Weiss, thankful that she doesn't have to meet the heiress's eyes. Three weeks.

Three weeks before she becomes much more than just a shadow.