"Damn, this is going to be great!"

Yang Xiao Long punched one fist into the palm of her other hand. The buxom blonde grinned broadly at the other three members of Team RWBY.

"You've been saying that ever since they announced the brackets for this round of the tournament," Ruby Rose pointed out.

"C'mon, sis, how can I not be excited to take on Pyrrha? Every morning at breakfast, there she'd be, staring back from the front of my cereal box. It's like getting a chance to fight against your favorite cartoon character, only in real life. How cool is that?"

"Who thinks about that kind of thing?"

"Now, now, who was it who used to run around with a toy sword pretending she was taking on Moloch Seven-Fanged?"

"I was six years old!" Ruby yelped, glancing aside at the other two members of the team to try and figure out just how many mature-example-of-leadership points she'd just lost. Except that she was suddenly reminded of a different kind of point she might have lost altogether. "Um, sorry, Blake, I guess that show was kinda racist, now that I think about it."

"There's a difference between having a Faunus villain and saying that Faunus are villains, Ruby," Blake Belladonna said gently. It was times like these that it really hit Ruby that she was two years younger than everyone else in the first-year class at Beacon Academy. Blake gave her a smile and added, "I liked that show when I was six, too."

"So if we've gotten through the moral lesson for this week," the fourth team member chimed in testily, "can we get back to the fight that's going to happen three minutes from now? There's not much point in having a strategy session if we're going to spend it on childhood memories." Weiss Schnee was not known for mincing her words.

"Strategy. Right. Um, I heard somewhere she has bad heels, so you could sweep her legs?" Ruby tried.

Yang laughed.

"Look, what's to plan? I don't fight by waving around a giant piece of ferrous metal, so I don't have to worry about her Semblance screwing with my moves, and that gun of hers is next to useless close up, so pretty much we get in there and go sword and shield against my fists and see which girl's got what it takes. Simple, right?"

Weiss looked back and forth between Yang and Ruby.

"I have no idea how anyone could ever have thought one of you was adopted."

"Be nice," Blake said gently. "And honestly, by now Yang knows Pyrrha and what she can do well enough; it's just a matter of carrying out the strategy."

"You tell 'em, partner," Yang gave Blake a thumbs-up.

"On the other hand, it would be hard to do that with your hair in your eyes." Blake took a quick step until she was standing right in front of Yang, close enough to pick up the highlights in the blonde's violet eyes. "Here." Blake brushed back a stray bit of Yang's bangs and pinned them off her partner's forehead with a hair clip shaped like a black cat's face.

"Um...thanks, Blake," Yang said, sounding a little taken aback. Maybe it was because she was so used to being Ruby's big sister that being taken care of by someone else took her off-guard.

"You're welcome. Besides, a black cat is a little bit obvious for me to wear myself, don't you think?"

"Definitely," Weiss agreed.

"I think it'd be cute," Ruby pouted.

~X X X~

Meanwhile, Team JNPR's attempts to help Pyrrha Nikos to prepare for the fight were going much more smoothly than Team RWBY's.

Mostly.

By some measures.

It didn't have Weiss, so there was less yelling?

"And then," Nora Valkyrie told the others, "the narrator completely lost track of where he was going with his point, so he had to desperately backtrack."

"I didn't know you liked to read, Nora," Pyrrha said, genuinely surprised. Probably because she didn't quite understand how Nora could sit still long enough to do her homework, let alone read for pleasure, but she'd never have said that out loud. It might have hurt Nora's feelings, which Pyrrha genuinely didn't want to do. She was weird like that.

"Ren always gets mad if I try to wake him up before five," the perky brunette replied with a shrug. "So I'm getting my revenge by reading all his books while I wait, then putting them back out of order."

"It's horrible. I suffer so," Lie Ren commented flatly, in his best "I am very happy Nora settled for that; please don't inspire her to greater creativity" voice.

"You poor boy," Pyrrha consoled him.

"Do you have a plan for this, Pyrrha?" Jaune Arc tried to stay more or less on point. Jaune was Pyrrha's partner as well as Team JNPR's leader; he wasn't really much of a fighter but he was learning, and he did care about his friends and would put his neck on the line for them. Heck, Pyrrha had once seen Jaune fling himself between a giant Ursa and an enemy, which she found really impressive. Plus, there was the light blond hair tousled as if he'd just gotten out of bed, and the soulful blue eyes, and the cute way he'd pretend to be confident when he was utterly clueless, and the...

...Let's just say that it was an impressive act of willpower that Pyrrha could talk to Jaune and actually have a coherent conversation.

"Yep, she's totally gone on him," Nora said.

"What?" Pyrrha asked, blinking.

"I think they're still talking about books," Jaune said. "Don't get distracted; you know how dangerous Yang is in a fight."

"I know. Ruby is faster and better at dealing with monsters, and Weiss's glyphs make her a considerably more versatile combatant, but in one-to-one combat Yang is probably Team RWBY's best fighter. Quite possibly she would be superior to me."

"Hey, don't say that. She may be good, but I never looked at her face while eating Marshmallow Flakes. Which is kind of weird, because she'd be kind of natural for that because she's got...um, never mind that," he quickly cut himself off.

Like she'd thought before, he was learning.

"Anyway, what I want to say is," he got back on track, reaching up to give her shoulders a reassuring squeeze, "I believe in you, Pyrrha. Just do your best and we'll all be here cheering for you."

Pyrrha wondered if it was possible to fight well while grinning like an idiot.

"...which is why the Brussels sprouts almost got Ren, if I hadn't been there to drown them with honey."

"Obviously, it is. Thank you, Nora."

~X X X~

"In the final third-round match of the Beacon Academy First-Year Individual Combat Tournament," Professor Ozpin announced, "we present, from Team JNPR, Pyrrha Nikos."

He gestured with his coffee cup to stage left, where Pyrrha stepped up into the area set out for battle. The Amazonian redhead's expression was serious and focused; she didn't even seem to notice the cheers from her substantial fan club.

"And her opponent, from Team RWBY, Yang Xiao Long."

Yang leapt onto the stage with a whoop, pumping a fist in the air. Unlike Pyrrha, she waved at the crowd (whose cheers involved a lot more hooting and whistling; Yang's fans tended to be a little more over-the-top in their approval), even sticking her pinky fingers between her lips and returning the wolf whistles. The smile didn't go away even as Ember Celica extended and locked into place over her fists and forearms and she slid seamlessly into a guard position.

"Remember that the rules effective in previous rounds will continue to apply. Combat will continue until one party yields, or until one fighter's Aura reaches a critical state within red levels, at which point our instructors will intervene to end the match. Disobeying an instructor's order will result in immediate disqualification. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"Uh-huh. Got it!"

"Then, begin."

And begin it did. The two girls launched themselves at one another, Pyrrha with her shield thrust out before her and Yang with an extended fist. That seemed to give Pyrrha the edge in the moment of collision, but right in that instant as her knuckles hit the metal Yang fired one of Ember Celica's shells and the blast equalized the force so that they were both jolted back, Pyrrha's shield-arm being knocked up and away while Yang's arm seemed to mirror hers.

Neither girl was slowed by that initial clash, though, with Yang's foot whipping up in a kick while Pyrrha thrust Miló at Yang's side. Yang's left hand dropped to strike the spear-shaft and deflect the blow away, but the twisting motion of Pyrrha's body pivoted her left hip away from the kick, taking virtually all the impact out of it.

It went on like that for the next forty seconds, a flurry of strikes and blocks, explosions flashing from Ember Celica when Yang scored a blow, but neither one was able to land a direct hit. They separated for a moment, springing aside and pivoting, then launching themselves at one another again. A thunderous flurry of punches, kicks, shield-bashes, sword-strikes, spear-thrusts, and sweeps with the haft of Miló's spear mode ensued, drawing cheers and cries of surprise from the crowd. It was incredible to watch for anyone, but the Beacon students were themselves all highly talented combat trainees who could actually follow the action and realize just how impressive it was that one particular punch hadn't come out the back of Pyrrha's skull, or how one sword-slash hadn't left Yang's left leg flopping around on the floor.

~X X X~

"Whoa," Jaune marveled, seeing the rapid-fire exchange. He knew that Pyrrha was good—her tutoring was the primary reason he himself had advanced from "class clown" status to "there might be something there"—but this was something else entirely.

"She is impressive," Ren agreed. "Sometimes, you can only see a person's true ability when they face a challenge worthy of that talent."

Nora grinned at her childhood friend.

"That's my Ren! He doesn't talk much, but when he does it's usually something deep."

In the ring, Yang seemed to overextend herself on a punch, letting Pyrrha grab her forearm with her shield hand and hook Yang's leg behind the knee. Even as she was being whipped to the ground, though, Yang's free arm caught Pyrrha around the head and pulled, shifting their weight and bulldogging the redhead down so that they both hit the floor hard. They let go and as one rolled away and flipped back to their feet before launching themselves at one another again.

"Whoa," Jaune repeated.

~X X X~

Pyrrha locked eyes with her opponent as they clashed once more, Yang turning aside her sword, then firing a punch at her jaw above the locked hands which Pyrrha was barely able to bob her head out of the way from. She brought up her shield and shoved with both arms, sending Yang staggering back, then snapped Miló into spear form and fired it, using the cartridge-assist to give it an extra burst of speed. It nailed her dead-center, stopped only by Yang's Aura, but the redhead wasn't hesitating for a second, whipping Akoúo at Yang like a discus, hitting her in the upper chest and sending her staggering back.

Though she hadn't had a chance to talk it over with Jaune before the fight, she actually did have a strategy. Thanks to the two teams' friendship, Pyrrha had a fairly good idea of Yang's character. Specifically, Yang liked fighting. To a certain extent, any huntsman or huntress did. After all, they took up arms to guard civilization from monsters. They didn't shirk from a fight, honed their skills, and took pride in their abilities.

Yang, though, took it to another level. She loved the rush of adrenaline from physical activity, and combat was probably the best of all, the challenge, the risk, the thrill of exerting herself to the utmost and emerging triumphant. Pyrrha wasn't, she hoped, too full of herself, but she knew she was one of the strongest of the first-year class. Yang would be eager to fight with her, not just a casual spar but a real bout with something at stake. She'd want to savor it, get everything out of it that she could.

Which meant that she'd want to make it go on as long as possible.

A fight that ended in two seconds wasn't fun. Yang would want to test her skills, match blow for blow with Pyrrha, feel the bronze warrior's strength, and see what she herself could do. It wasn't just feeling out her opponent and taking her measure, but a genuine enjoyment of every moment of the duel.

Knowing that, Pyrrha had been willing to give Yang exactly what she wanted—right up to the point that she could get serious to greatest effect.

Even as Yang went tumbling back Pyrrha was already exploding towards her, her magnetic Semblance letting her snatch Akoúo out of the air, pulling it back to her hand after the impact. She swung Miló in a horizontal slash, nailing Yang across the waist and hurling her a good ten feet back Springing, she swung down a massive two-handed overhand blow that would, she was sure, have ended it.

Maybe it would have, had it landed.

But the exploding punch Yang whipped up into Pyrrha's exposed midsection insured that it wouldn't. The followup to her face sent Pyrrha flying back; when she struggled back to her feet she saw Yang watching her with eyes that glowed red, her hair shining like it was literally made of golden flames.

Her smile was bigger than ever.

~X X X~

She's even better than I'd heard! Yang thought. This is great! Of course, Pyrrha had nearly suckered her there, but hey, this was a combat tournament, not tiddlywinks. It was really a shame this was going to have to finish now, but all good things had to come to an end, hey?

Except it didn't.

That last combination had put a nice dent in Pyrrha's Aura, she was sure, but when Yang shot forward to put a period to this fight, she found herself greeted by a combination of blocks and counters that made certain the taller girl never had to take any of Yang's hits full-force.

Yang found herself readjusting some of her own assumptions as a quick combination put her on the defensive. She countered and struck back, but the pressure was almost too much, and she ate a particularly vicious shot to the mouth with a shield-bash that split her lip even while landing an uppercut with Ember Celica that rocked Pyrrha off her feet.

Wiping the blood off with her thumb, Yang chuckled.

Then Pyrrha swung her weapon around in rifle form and fired from her back.

~X X X~

"Keep working her legs, Yang!" Ruby shouted encouragement to her big sister. "She can't attack full-out without a solid stance!"

"Oof!" Weiss grunted as Ruby's arm banged into hers. "Ruby, I almost dropped my scroll."

"Well, don't check your mail while the fight's on. You should be cheering for Yang. Ah! Yang! Watch out for her gun!"

"I'm not checking mail; I'm tracking Yang's Aura. It's almost in the red now."

"Er, Weiss, there's giant screens displaying both their Aura statuses. See, Pyrrha's almost as bad off."

"Yang's constant use of her Semblance is draining her now, though," Blake pointed out. "It makes her faster and stronger, but if she can't use that to land something decisive, she might end up vulnerable."

The cat Faunus shared a look with Weiss.

~X X X~

A cloud of smoke burst just in front of Yang as Pyrrha got back to her feet. The blonde had been surprised by the sudden shot, but had still had the presence to counter with a blast from her own weapon. Pyrrha didn't hold back, hurling Akoúo through the clearing smoke. She heard the soft smack of it hitting something, but nothing more, and when she tried to pull it back she met more than the usual resistance countering her polarity.

The smoke cleared, then, revealing Yang holding Akoúo in her hand. Somehow, she'd sensed it coming at her and caught it. The kitty-face hair dec she'd been wearing wasn't in place, though; Pyrrha noticed it a moment later on the floor next to Yang's foot. It was easy to spot, since the lock of bright golden hair beside it really stood out.

Yang wasn't smiling any more.

"I think this big, round knife," she ground out between clenched teeth, "belongs to you. So take it back!"

In all fairness, Pyrrha did try to use her Semblance to push the shield away. She tried to block the incoming missile. She even tried to dodge. That was quite a lot of trying.

The only thing she succeeded in doing was in getting blown clear off of the stage to crash-land in the middle of the rest of her team and knock them sprawling on the floor.

"The winner, Yang Xiao Long."

"Pyrrha! Pyrrha, are you all right?" Vaguely, she recognized Jaune's voice. Likewise, the lap her head was currently laying on was, in fact, Jaune's lap. And it did make for a nice, snuggly pillow.

She supposed this was what they referred to as a consolation prize.

"Yes. Yes, I think I am," she murmured, before letting her eyes drift shut for a badly needed nap. Distantly, she felt her lips curve into a smile for the first time in the match.

~X X X~

"Well, that went off without a hitch," Weiss summed up. Smug was really the only way to describe her voice.

"I'm not sure I'd agree with that," Blake said, shaking her head.

"But it did! The blade in the hair clip triggered with the remote signal I sent just like we built it. One snip, one bit of hair falling past Yang's eyes, and one very finished fight. What could be more perfect?"

"For one thing, we could have let the fight end honestly."

Weiss rolled her eyes.

"And whose idea was this, anyway?"

"Yours."

"Excuse me? I definitely remember you saying, 'It's too bad that Yang's hair wouldn't be sure to be cut during the fight. Then she'd be certain to win.' And it was you who put the hair clip on her."

"I'm just having second thoughts, that's all. My conscience is bothering me a little."

"Conscience!? Listen, Blake, I'm the heiress of an international conglomerate whose ruthless and unethical business practices have made them the butt of every cliché the news-mongers could think of, while you're a former ninja terrorist for a racial-supremacy group. People like us don't have consciences; we keep people like Ruby around to do that for us. And, we're using our sneakiness and lack of scruples to be loyal and helpful teammates. I'd say that ought to more than satisfy any vestiges of conscience you may think you have."

Blake gave up and chuckled.

"It's...hard to find the words to argue with that."

"Which is exactly as it should be. No, the only thing that you and I needed to worry about was getting caught."

"I couldn't agree more."

"Aaah!" the two girls squeaked while all but jumping out of their boots.

Professor Ozpin calmly sipped from his mug while Weiss and Blake stared at him. Blake was especially amazed that he could have come up behind them so quietly, given her exceptional hearing and the way that the whole thing about being an ex-ninja-terrorist who'd been masquerading as a human had honed her awareness of her surroundings to the point of near-paranoia.

"I believe this belongs to you?" He held out the hair clip to Blake. "Quite ingenious, really; if you're not getting a top score in your microelectronics class then I'll have to review our grading standards."

She couldn't quite meet his gaze as she took the clip back.

"As for you, Miss Schnee, may I suggest that the next time that you carry out some plan that involves electronic communication that you choose a method that doesn't employ the school's network. It...makes things somewhat conspicuous."

"The next time?"

Ozpin smiled. "I've been teaching school for as long as you've been alive, Miss Schnee. Experience tells me that there's always a next time. Learning from your mistakes is part of your education."

"Then in that case, there'd be no point in punishing us, would there, since it's a learning experience."

Ozpin sipped from his mug.

"You have a point." He paused just long enough for her to start hoping. "On the other hand, it's also a point of your education that you learn that crossing boundaries can have consequences. And, of course, there's the question of recompensating Miss Nikos, who was the victim of your plot. Mind you, I cannot simply reverse the results of the match, as Miss Xiao Long was merely your dupe, and does not deserve to suffer." He sipped again. "One idea would be for the two of you to withdraw from the tournament. This would permit me to advance the best two third-round performances among the losers into the missing spots, which would definitely include Miss Nikos, while costing the two of you the opportunity for success on your own."

"But, Professor Ozpin, we did earn our victories fairly!"

"There is that. Well, all right. If you like, I do have a second idea for your punishment."

"What's that?" Blake asked warily. Good instincts, that one, Ozpin thought.

"I'll simply explain to Miss Xiao Long everything that happened and how it was done, and leave it at that."

Weiss and Blake shared a look that carried considerably more fear than they'd felt when they'd faced the giant Nevermore in the Emerald Forest.

"We're officially withdrawing from the tournament, sir," Weiss answered.

"...For health reasons," Blake contributed.

"Excellent; I'll make the announcement, then, and we'll say no more about this. Though I am pleased to see students showing clear tactical thinking under pressure." Ozpin lifted his mug to his lips again, only to find it empty. He glowered down at his nemesis and the two girls went scampering off, lest his apparent wrath fall on them after all. Sighing, he set out for the cafeteria and a refill; the wheels of education did not turn smoothly when not well-lubricated with caffeine.

~X X X~

A/N: Yep, I wrote a RWBY fic at long last. Hanging around Moczo and RadiantBeam, it was pretty much inevitable. ^_^