A/N: Not even going to try to come up with excuses. Everyone should know how bad I am at updating by now, hopefully the longer than normal chapter will help keep people from being too upset with me. Leave a review or pm with your thoughts/questions and thanks for sticking with me.
Also I gotta thank my beta for always helping out despite how long it always takes for me to send them anything xP
My mind blanked. I wanted this all to be a bad dream, some horrible prank that would end with a hard pat on the back and a cheeky smile telling me to loosen up. However, I knew that wasn't going to happen.
The only thing keeping my body moving right now was pure instinct. Although my mind refused to process the reality of the situation, my body knew that if I didn't move, I was going to die.
Mercury's spinning roundhouse barely missed my temple, but he effortlessly converted it into a sweep at my legs using the rest of his momentum. The combination nicked my ankle and almost caused me to fall flat on my ass. Mercury's always been just a little bit too fast for me to follow properly and the shock still permeating through my head didn't help me.
The dull pain I felt as my body failed to twist out of the way of his sidekick awoke something within me. A man that I considered my best friend, one of the closest things akin to family to me, was trying to kill me. Mercury was going to kill me. Slaughter me as if I was nothing more than cattle like he's done to probably countless others.
I've been through far too much to accept that sort of reality.
My hands tightened around the grips of NightWing and when I ducked under his leg my weapon traced an arc towards his thighs. Attacking below the knees would be pointless, I wouldn't be able to properly deal any damage, but If I could debilitate his thighs somehow then I could have a chance at winning no matter how small it would be. At the very least it would give me the chance to attempt some form of escape.
Of course, succeeding was another story all together. It was effortless, the way Mercury evaded my attempt at crippling him. Even if I did hit him, he still had the full store of his aura available to him.
Again, winning was almost within the realms of impossibility. I've trained with Mercury enough to know the difference between our skills was too far for me to surmount without some form of divine intervention. My eyes glanced past him, towards my objective. The two bullheads that I could use to fly out of this piss-poor scenario were within reach, but Mercury never failed to keep himself between me and my means of escape. My semblance could only help me so much too. Theoretically I could blink past him and try to make a run for the bullhead, but then he'd just follow me into whichever of the two vehicles I move into and then I'm stuck fighting him in a tighter space. Something which I needed to avoid at all costs.
That was one of the key weaknesses of my semblance. I wasn't capable of just blinking straight into the cockpit. I'm incapable of blinking through solid objects in such a manner and Mercury knew that, and running back where I came from would just get me noticed by the Grimm and Atlas military personnel. The fact remained that there was no easy way out of this.
"It took you long enough to wake up and come to terms with reality, Athrun. I didn't want to kill you while you were in such a sad state. Really, it almost made me want to coddle you instead. Think of this as a show of goodwill towards an old friend," the silver-haired betrayer chided.
My blood boiled at hearing 'friend'. How dare he use that term towards me? He knew how much I appreciated the second chance given to me by him and Cinder. The fact they took advantage of me to such an extent left me bitter, oh so bitter.
"It's funny that you would use that word, 'friend'. All I wanted was to have somewhere I belong again, to no longer feel the empty void that plagued me. The time I spent with all of you had its ups and downs. I didn't like nor agree with all of your methods but I reluctantly went through with them because that didn't matter to me. Not nearly as much as the feeling of having a home again did. I wanted to be friends with all of you." My chest started to convulse just a little before full-blown laughter erupted from my throat.
"So this is what it comes down to, huh? Tell me, does Cinder have any last words for me?"
My words didn't even phase the butcher, he merely waited an extra second to see if I was finished. Once he confirmed I was done the answer I demanded flew carelessly out of his mouth.
"Thank you for your service, please die quietly."
That was all she had to say to me. "Heh, curt and to the point. Well maybe you're the one that will be put six feet under when you report your failure. I'm sure she'd love to hear about that."
We both tensed up simultaneously, looking for any sort of sign which would give away the planned action of the other.
The subtle shift on the grip of my chosen weapon caused Mercury to bolt forward. I had no time to even attempt to go with my original plan of trying to lower his aura just a margin with any sort of dust round. My weapon wouldn't finish transforming before he reached me. So I merely threw one of my blades at him instead.
It was one of my favored moves, and one Mercury knew that well, but the brief moment that it took for him to shift out of the path of my thrown weapon allowed me to raise my right arm to block the crescent-axe kick and the subsequent follow-up strike. The force behind it sent waves of pain through my arms and it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that if I blocked too many more then I'd quickly lose feeling in them altogether. But this was the only way I could think of to land an early blow on my more skilled opponent.
My right arm wrapped around his leg and locked it up under my armpit. Dust activated and coursed through my clothes. I wasn't sure how the electric dust would affect Mercury through his legs but my hope was to short circuit one of his prosthetics. If you're less skilled and not as powerful as your opponent, then cheap tricks are all that's left.
A sudden impacted rammed into the side of my head. Stars invaded my vision and the blow to my head instinctively caused me to release the hold I had on Mercury's leg. I reeled in my thrown weapon with my wires in a bid to buy me some time. The familiar weight encompassed my grip as both arms crossed in front of me just in the knick of time. My arms smashed into my chest as I was sent hurtling backwards. If I didn't put up my hasty block the fight may have been finished right there. Hell it might be finished within the next couple seconds. I could barely feel my arms and my aura wouldn't be able to handle much more.
It took no time at all for Mercury to push his offensive. Once again I found myself just barely managing to evade his kicks, but I couldn't keep dodging forever. This stalemate would end the moment one of us began to tire, or when a mistake in movement was made. Unfortunately for me, neither option favored me.
A memory of a blazing fist entered my mind for a moment. Yes, that could work...
Both of my weapons flew out of my hands but not at Mercury. I would have preferred to sheathe them but doing so would take a millisecond too long. My steel wires came free and I made a net with them between my hands. Mercury's left leg got caught in my trap, and although I felt his leg tug and try to pull me down I was able to keep myself upright and in control. The force from his kick dispelled between the threaded mesh I made.
"How about you piss off!"
With both hands occupied, my left leg shot up and my boot found itself buried into Mercury's chin. I didn't even relish in the immense satisfaction my first clean hit gave me as it lifted him off the ground. If I did, then I would lose my chance.
I blinked forward before Mercury was even able to finish correcting his position. Although my blades may be out of my reach after I discarded them, there were other tools at my disposal. Tools that the man before me had gifted.
My chakrams came to my hand and, with a quick spin to add more, force flew freely. Mercury managed to lift his arms up in a hasty guard. His vambraces blocked the spinning edges of the weapons but from the way his face scrunched up it still hurt and hopefully took a chunk out of his aura. I know that I didn't have much left.
The weapons came back to my hands with ease, and I blinked once more throwing a chakram from behind Mercury, then I would blink to his side and throw the other one. The cycle was randomized so he couldn't guess where I was going to attack him from unless he got lucky, which could happen, but was unlikely.
The way beads of sweat formed on the brow of the man sent to kill me excited me. It was a feeling I was unaware of, and honestly should have filled me with disgust.
The fact remained that I was enjoying that Mercury couldn't find a way to fight back, he was caught in a cage of flying steel. The curvature of the weapons flight patterns made it all the more difficult to protect how they would come to torment him. Even if he did get lucky I managed to recover NightWing as I weaved my assault. If he manages something then I could blink close and catch him off guard.
Both chakrams found themselves in my hands once more, this time they would come at him from a thirty and sixty degree angle. Then I'd close in and finish this. Make a new identity for myself and start fresh.
That was when my weapons exploded.
Pain filled my senses as I was knocked sideways. My mind couldn't even process what happened. All I know was that I needed to get up. The moment my hands touched the ground to push me up I collapsed. A howl of pain escaped from my lips, and that was the moment I saw the state of my hands.
They were mangled and covered in blood. My gloves were torn to pieces and I could see metal bits protruding from the palm of my left hand. My right luckily avoided the same fate but was still horribly injured.
"Ah, you were really throwing me into a bind there Athrun, I gotta give it to you. You played to your strengths and my known weaknesses. I was about to have to use my own semblance, but that's when I remembered something."
A hand grabbed a fistfull of my hair and hoisted me up off the ground before throwing me hard against a wall. A steel-toed boot slammed against my chest and the air in my lungs left me for a moment as I tried to intake oxygen. My eyes eventually met Mercury's, the frustration in them as he dealt with my previous offensive was now gone.
"I made your weapons Athrun, and Cinder made sure that when I designed them that we had some sort of insurance for if the situation came that we would have to eliminate you. To put it simply, a small crystal of unrefined dust that I could detonate at my leisure. You got lucky though, I was sure you would get off a lot worse than you did. Must have had more aura left than I accounted for," Mercury looked at my left hand. "Not that you got out without injury."
"If you're done, then can you just end this. I'm tired of everything. For a second I thought there might have been a chance that I could have gotten out of this." Those words were the truth. I was without aura, and couldn't safely use my semblance. Reaching for NightWing wouldn't do me any good since I couldn't even wrap my hands around the handles of my blades with the state my hands were in. Instead of trying to defeat Mercury, I should have taken the opportunity my advantage gave me to escape. I've lost.
Moisture gathered at the corners of my eyes, no matter how hard I fought against the tears. Mercury's hand reached down and grasped onto the mask on my face. I couldn't let him see my face, not like this.
My head started twisting erratically as I tried to rip my mask from his grip but all I managed to do was help him in the end. The mask fell from my face due to my movements.
"Son of a bitch, you're making this harder than it needs to be."
By this point it wasn't possible for me to hold the tears back any more. Honestly, I've cried more in the past week than I have in years. The pressure on my chest disappeared when Mercury's lifted his foot up and readied himself to deliver the final blow. I could see the fine details of his boot as well as the chamber which held the dust round that would end my life.
Maybe death wouldn't be too bad? I probably deserve it, although it wasn't my intention I inadvertently helped cause this disaster, the creatures of Grimm which were slaughtering innocents, the blood they spilt was on my hands.
If only I could go to the same place they were at, Kira and Sasha. However, while they most likely rest in the heavens I'm going to be cast aside in the depths of hell. I probably wouldn't be able to look them in the eye if I ever saw them in the afterlife anyways.
When he let his foot fly two more faces appeared before me, one had skin as white as snow with hair to match. Her crystal blue eyes pierced into me, and a small scar was the only thing that marred her otherwise flawless face, but if anything it only accented her beauty. The other belonged to girl that I've known for years. For as long as I've known her appearance was always flawless, not a single blemish ever on her face. She had heterochromic eyes but in my mind they gave way to what I believed was their natural color of white. They were both people that I cared about and it was the thought of them that made me realize something.
I didn't want to die.
The sound of shattered porcelain filled my eardrums. It took me a second to realize it wasn't my skull that cracked open as I saw my mask shatter in air.
"What are you doing?" It took more effort than what I would have liked for me to not choke as the words spilled from my lips.
"My job. I was instructed to kill the Blue Hawk which I have just successfully done," Mercury curtly replied.
It made no sense to me.
"Are you just fucking playing with me? If so then-"
"Shut up and let me speak!"
The silver-haired assassin interrupted me with such abrupt force that even in my addled state I found myself listening to him.
"Athrun, let me tell it to you straight. I don't want to kill you. You're a loose end according to Cinder and in the end we came to the decision that you would never truly be able to fit in. You're too good of a person, Athrun."
I wanted to argue that I could have dealt with it, that I could have fit in but he was right. If I could barely come to terms that we caused the breach then there was no chance I would have accepted their other plans. Not if they were going to be anything like what happened today.
"Hell, us becoming friends wasn't even supposed to happen. Cinder told me not to get too involved with you. That's why she sent me to come kill you, it was a test of loyalty on my part. Even to those that have been with her for a couple years she still deems it necessary to watch them."
"Then why are you still with her, Merc?" I couldn't help but ask the question. It almost sounded as if he didn't care for Cinder, or at the very least found himself annoyed with her.
"I'm in too deep, Athrun. I can't just leave, anyone that gets involved with her can't just leave. Besides," Mercury's face relaxed slightly. "There's someone I gotta look after."
It dawned on me the moment the words were spoken.
"Emerald, you love Emerald."
"Please, as if anyone would give half a shit for someone like her." The small smile on his face as he spoke about his partner said otherwise.
So it would be impossible to make Mercury leave with me then, but I still had questions I wanted answered.
"If you were going to let me go then what was the point of us fighting? I was genuinely trying to kill you in the end!"
He shrugged off the fact that I was going for his life so easily, as if it didn't concern him one bit.
"And I needed you to. I had to put up a believable act for when I returned to Cinder. She at least acknowledged your skills and cunning which is also part of the reason why I was sent instead of Emerald. You could have won against Em, not me. To be frank though, if I actually wanted you dead then you would have been dead after the first blow. Seriously, what assassin gets the drop on someone and then waits for them to recuperate? Luckily for the both of us, Cinder thinks that I enjoy playing with my food too much to just go for the easy kill. Returning with the injuries you gave me, plus this..." He picked up a piece of my now shattered mask.
"That should be enough to convince her that you're dead. But you also can't show your face around her or anyone she's associated with ever again. The sad thing is you have no clue how deep her connections are."
Mercury knelt beside me, my eyes drifted to his pockets as he pulled out some bandage wraps and disinfectant.
"This is going to hurt like a bitch."
I nodded in confirmation, as he pulled the warped piece of metal from my left hand. I probably should have let myself scream, but the little bit of pride I held made me refuse. I've already cried in front of Merc, I wasn't going to let him hear me scream like that too.
Blood flowed freely, as he quickly applied the disinfectant, the alcohol caused my wound to sting but it was more bearable then when he pulled the metal out of my hand. The bandage was applied quickly after. Who knew that the assassin would be so well versed in emergency first aid?
"That should do for now. Still try to get it looked at by someone better though. If you can, that is. If Cinder catches whiff of you then I won't be able to fake your death, I'll probably be killed alongside you, so try to stay off the radar." Mercury tried to chuckle at the mention of our shared demise but I couldn't find the humor in it.
"Then you may be better of killing me. If Cinder's connections are as far spread as you say they are, then I don't think I can avoid detection. Let's face the facts, I don't have the resources that she does, not by myself," I told him. Yet for some reason he still gave me a look as if everything was going to be okay.
"Heh, you're such a pessimist, can't blame you though. Let me tell you something." He had that familiar smirk on his face, and seeing that gave me faith that maybe things would work out.
"You don't have to be alone. There are two other individuals that aren't deep within Cinder's organization that she's planning on cutting lose when we're done in Vale. Luckily for them she doesn't find it necessary to kill them. They also didn't know about her plan to end you."
"Neo, and Roman…" Their names were little more than whispers out of my mouth, but I could feel the edges of my lips twitch up slightly. Looking back I would never admit that having Roman on my side would in any circumstance make me feel joy.
Mercury helped me onto my feet, before pulling me into a loose hug. I appreciated how mindful he was of my injuries. Although my hands suffered the worst, there were several scrapes and cuts which littered my body, and the pain which accompanied his kicks from earlier still lingered.
"Just please promise me something. Don't do anything stupid like trying to get back at Cinder," Mercury whispered into my ear.
"What do you mean?"
The man clicked his teeth in response.
"I know how you are, you might be a good guy but you have a vindictive streak. You get even. It was evident since the day I met you, but it's not worth it this time, Athrun. Cinder is about to hold more power than you can even dream. It would take too long for me to explain. We both need to go our separate ways. When you find a safe place try to grab intel on the four maidens. You'll understand then."
The four maidens meant nothing to me, but it was important enough for Mercury to give me this last warning. I wanted to listen to him, but I wasn't sure if that would be possible.
"Will she cause what happened here elsewhere? If so then it won't matter where I go, business will be tough."
"I can't say if it would be as extreme as what happened here in Vale, but plans do exist for the other kingdoms," Mercury responded.
I separated myself from the man who risked the ire of his employer for me.
"It would have been great if this could have been done in a less drastic way, but the fact you're doing this for me at risk to yourself is enough. Thank you, Merc. But I can't promise anything. I will at least try to make sure that neither of us dies due to my actions."
My eyes conveyed my message better than my words probably did. With a small sigh the assassin relented.
"Yeah, that's how I thought things would turn out. Now get on one of those bullheads and get your ass out of here. Neo and Roman should be on the General's main ship if you plan on meeting up with them. Better move fast, things are about to get even worse."
Despite my curiosity, as to how things could possibly get worse I decided to just take his word for it. It was an arduous process, slowly making my way to the cockpit of one of the two bullheads, Mercury occupied the other one and took off before I even sat down in the seat of my own. My hands burned in protest when they grabbed onto the controls, the bandage wraps which covered my wounded hands were already stained a deep red. I was starting to fear that I may end up light headed and pass out while I flew the bullhead.
What greeted my eyes when I managed to get the hunk of metal airborne filled me with dread. Grimm were everywhere. Nevermores, and griffins littered the sky. The only thing working in my favor was that they were more attracted to the despair felt by the common citizen than my own anxiety.
That was when I saw it. A hulking beast unlike any other grimm that has invaded my vision. It was massive, and looked like a dragon from fantasy novels. Unlike the dragons from those books which gave off a presence of regal power and dominance, this was a creature that evoked fear and despair. It's presence almost caused me to forget all about piloting the bullhead, luckily I came to my senses in time to stop myself from just falling out of the sky.
Cold sweat poured down my brow, I needed to focus. The Grimm dragon wasn't important, no, my objective was. It already flew past me and so long as it doesn't try to come back my way then there's no reason to give it a second glance. Not giving that thing a second glance, Oum almighty.
Just gotta keep things cool, Ironwood's ship was the only one in the air at this time, probably due to Neo and Roman's interference. It was easy to spot the large flagship. The dragon Grimm already flew past it. With a little bit of luck there should be no more surprises on my way to the only two people that I could hopefully still call my allies.
As my bullhead approached the hulking airship, it caught my attention that there were three people fighting on the hull of the ship. Two of them were easily picked out due to the scheme of their clothing, but the last one caught me off guard.
Ruby Rose was trying to fight Roman and Neo at once, and it wasn't going well for her. That iconic scythe of hers was planted in the side of the airship and was the only thing stopping her from taking a plummet to her death.
"She always gets involved somehow," I muttered under my breath.
My intentions shifted to trying to get the wannabe hero away from the two experienced criminals, but the girl must have the devil's own luck. The moment Neo was going to plunge her blade into her, the red hooded huntress in training opened up Neo's umbrella.
Forget trying to save Red. The intense winds managed to carry Neo off of the airship and into the night sky. I wrenched the wheel to the side and changed the bullheads trajectory to save the woman that was now defenseless in skies filled with the creatures of grimm. Thank Oum that she wasn't being carried away too fast. It only took me a scant couple of seconds to catch up to her.
The moment the bullhead maneuvered under Neo a loud thud rang out as she dropped on top of the craft. I instantly flipped the switch which opened one of the hanger doors and began to move us back towards Roman. Once my course of travel has been corrected. I swiveled my chair around to check on Neo's condition.
It was just in the nick of time too. If I was a second later she might have speared me right through. Her blade was just a mere centimeter from my throat, and her eyes turned a faint white in surprise, before she dropped her umbrella and looked at me in shock, happiness, and then concern as she noticed my wounds and most importantly my hands.
It was too difficult for me to hold back the wince of pain as she grabbed my left hand. The blood of which now saturated the bandage wrap so heavily that it started to drip through the patch job Mercury applied. A couple droplets fell onto her pristine clothes, staining them.
I knew she wanted to know what happened, but now wasn't the time nor place. We needed to get back to Roman, and I needed to somehow stop a fifteen year old girl from burying herself in an early grave.
I tried to wave her concerns away. "Later Neo, I promise."
Her eyes were full of concern, it was hard to believe that we were at the point of not talking to each other not too long ago. But this just proved that we still did care about each other. The way she looked at me also confirmed something else for me.
Neo and Roman truly didn't know about Cinder's ploy to assassinate me. The overwhelming wave of emotion that flooded me upon realizing that consumed me and for what felt like an eternity I couldn't do anything but stare into Neo's sparkling white eyes.
"Thank you for being here."
She obviously wanted to ask why I said that, but she didn't pry. The way her eyes widened up at my words told me she saw noticed something at that moment, and that something was enough for now. That didn't stop her from forcing me out of the cockpit so she could handle the small flight back Ironwood's main airship. The way she asserted herself told me there would be no room for argument on this matter. Not that I would have.
"Red's still putting up a fight I see. Wait… something else is approaching them."
Ruby just didn't seem to know when to stay down. She was without her weapon, and I just saw Roman slam the side of Melodic Cudgel across her head, knocking the defenseless girl off her feet. The two of them were so focussed on each other that they couldn't see the grimm that strayed off from the rest of its pack, making a beeline towards them.
"Neo, step on it and open the side hatch. That griffon is getting too close to them."
With a nod of her head Neo opened the side of the bullhead before placing the craft on autopilot, her small frame joined me as I prepared to jump. The griffin was dangerously close and from what I could see it was larger than the norm.
"You get the grimm, I'll make sure Roman doesn't get himself eaten."
I didn't need to see any form of acknowledgement, Neo would accomplish her task without fail. I just needed to make sure I didn't fuck up on my end. So I jumped.
Roman had his cane hoisted in the air, the griffon and I were both approaching him at high speed, but the grimm was just a bit faster, and was a couple feet closer to the criminal. At this rate I wasn't going to reach him in time.
Using a Semblance without any aura was something that wasn't done. Aura, besides just being a barrier to protect us farm harm and augment our physical capabilities, also allows humans to stabilize the unnatural abilities granted to them by their semblances. That was why some aura is used whenever a semblance was activated. Side effects of trying to force a semblance without your aura varied in intensity by person due to the unique nature of each semblance.
So when I blinked forward, crashing into Roman, everything within my line of sight became blurred. My stomach felt as if it was trying to expel anything that was in it, and intense pain invaded my chest cavity. I couldn't properly breathe.
There was the sensation of someone shaking me as I was laying on the ground, but I couldn't make out their appearance properly. From the general height I'm guessing it was Roman, but whatever he was saying wasn't being processed by my brain. The ringing in my ears wouldn't allow me to hear anything else.
Eventually the sick feeling in my stomach overtook me, and I turned towards the deck and attempted to empty my insides, the stinging in my hands was forgotten. There was no food in my stomach so it was just a mess of me dry heaving. After a couple more seconds past my vision began to clear up and my other senses returned to me.
That was not an experience I was looking forward to repeating.
"Kid, are you okay? Come on, speak up! I know you love to run that mouth of yours."
"Yeah, I think I'll be okay." My voice was hoarse as I croaked out my reply.
"Okay? You look fucking awful, what happened!?"
"Like I told Neo, I'll explain later," speaking of the aforementioned girl she quickly rushed to my side. From the corner of my eye I could see the dissolving body of the griffon that tried to make Roman into a quick meal. Despite all that happened, I smiled. It looks as if I can at least stay with these two. The joy that invaded me caused me to momentarily forget the other person that was with us.
"Athrun? Is that you?"
The small visage of Ruby stared at me in a mixture of horror and concern. The small girl had no clue how to react. Not even someone like her would be able to deny it with the truth slapping them in the face like this.
Here I was, Athrun Crocell. Someone that Ruby considered her friend being looked after by the two criminals she was just fighting. Even worse, although my attire was damaged and my mask gone it was still easy to recognize my garb as the same clothes the Blue Hawk wore.
"Please tell me this is just a really bad joke. You're going to spring up and then help me fight the bad guys, right?"
"Ruby, this is no joke," My body groaned in protest as I tried to get back on my feet. A small, yet steady hand assisted me, and I mouthed a quick 'thank you' to Neo.
"Leave while you have the chance, because if you keep trying to fight these two I can't guarantee your safety."
She clutched the sides of her skirt, her hands balled up into little fists and began to tremble.
"How do I know you're not lying now? You let Penny die! Was my team just a game to you? We trusted you, Weiss loved you!"
Her screams echoed through the grimm infested skies, and after everything I did she deserved answers.
"I've lied countless times, but I will tell you the truth about some things. I could care less about Penny. She was just a machine simulating human emotions, and was something Atlas should have never attempted. Originally your team was just supposed to be a means to an end, but I," Ruby's silver eyes opened up as my yellow ones met hers. A sad smile graced my lips.
"Truly came to like all of you. And Weiss, she became someone I cherished."
"Then why? Why did yo-"
"Because I had to make a choice," I interrupted. "My life as a student was a fleeting fantasy that was destined to end at some point. I was never one of you, Ruby. When it came down to it I put my priorities with whom I already knew and cherished like Neo, maybe even Roman as well. To the family I thought I gained. Karma's a real bitch though, it turned out that I was just another convenient tool for them that has lost its used and tried to kill me." I didn't know what my face looked like at that moment but it was far from pleasant. "You were a fresh of breath air, naive yes, but that innocence was blinding. Now I came to realize that I was naive as well. Cinder came up to me and told me she would change the world. It was my fault for believing it would become a world that would treat those that had nothing like myself better. I never wanted any of this too happen."
Once the words left my mouth Neo began to tremble beside me, Roman was gaping like a fish, and even Ruby looked horrified.
"That flaming bitch really tried to have you killed…"
I nodded in response before turning back to Ruby.
"These two are the only people I have left, so I'll tell you again. Leave, Ruby."
"I can't! They're doing something on this ship and right now I'm the only one that can stop them."
It didn't take long for me to realize what was probably going on. This was Ironwood's main ship.
"Then I will handle that." Surprisingly enough Roman didn't say anything after my declaration.
"How can I trust you to do what you said after everything that's happened?"
"You asking me that question at least tells me you're finally maturing to the ways of the world." In a painstakingly slow manner I hobbled over to the leader of Team RWBY.
"There's something I always try to do, and that's get even. Cinder fucked with me, and although this won't balance out her attempt on my life it's a start." Soon enough we were just mere inches from each other.
"If you can manage to learn one lesson from a shitbag like myself then take heed of this. You're the kind of girl that would try to save everyone, but you need to realize something."
Despite my haggard appearance I was an overbearing force as I gazed down at Ruby.
"It's impossible, Ruby. No matter how hard you try you can't save everyone. Saving one person means letting someone elsewhere perish, because no matter how you look at it you're only one girl."
She kept shaking her head in denial, this poor girl was just too innocent.
"However, even though you can't save everyone you can save those most important to you," those words got her to not just look at me, but to try and understand me.
"Alone there's only so much you can accomplish, but together. Well it only took about six people to plan the disaster going about right now. Surely a couple of justice nuts could do something to change things for the better. Go to your team."
Ruby just walked past the three of us picking up Crescent Rose on the way.
"Tell Weiss I'm sorry," I whispered as she passed by me.
"You can tell her yourself."
Those were the final words exchanged between us as she jumped off the General's airship. Hopefully she doesn't get attacked by grimm along the way. She may be naive to the ways of the world, but she's a good kid with a strong heart.
"Now that you let Red leave, what are you planning to do now Athrun?" Roman asked as he stepped in front of me.
"I already mentioned it. I'm going to be getting even with Cinder, and also," my voice trailed off for a moment as I struggled to find the right words. "I also want to be with the both of you, you're all that I have left."
Roman scratched the back of his head, clearly conflicted.
"Athrun, look. I'm no fan of Cinder. It it were up to me I wouldn't be working with her, but she's dangerous more so than I'll ever be. Do you know what you're doing by trying to pick a fight with her? Just look at yourself! Then you want to drag Neo and I into it too. You gotta look at things from the other perspective. I won't stop you from doing whatever with this ship. My job is done, but I'm grabbing Neo and we're disappearing somewhere she can't catch wind of us."
Neo glared at Roman, but he chose to ignore her
I couldn't help but grimace at his rejection. However, what he said was logical. It was more than enough for me to find out that the two of them had no part in my attempted execution, and the man had his own priorities.
"Then, this is where we part ways I guess."
I gently shrugged Neo's hold on me off, which almost caused me to stumble from the sudden lack of support but I stayed standing, and held my not as badly damaged right hand out to Roman. I've never shook hands with him before, but it only felt right if this was where we would go our separate paths.
"Heh, you won't hear me say this again, but it was good knowing you," Roman reached forward to clasp my hand but a painful slap hit both of our outstretched hands preventing them from meeting.
"How about instead of deciding things with just the two of you, you both listen to what I have to say. And a handshake? Really? Do you not see that state of your hands right now?"
My ears were graced with a voice filled with sass, but at the sametime I couldn't help but find it to be beautiful. That's when it hit me. There was only one other person that was on the airship with Roman and I. The both of us turned towards the owner of the voice in disbelief.
Neo just continued to tap her left foot in annoyance as she glared at the two of us.
"What? Have you never heard a girl speak before? Honestly, the two of you should take what I want into consideration as well instead of deciding everything on your own."
"But I thought you were mute," I looked at Roman in confirmation, and he was looking just as surprised as I was. He didn't seem to know either.
A teasing smirk split across Neo's face. "Just because I never talked didn't mean I couldn't. Everyone just made that assumption, so I rolled with it."
"We've been partners for years! How come you've never said anything to me until now?" Roman asked.
"That's simple, Roman." Neo gave the man her sweetest smile. "Just didn't feel like it."
Knowing that Neo wasn't actually mute just gave me a headache. The entire time I've known her, hell, the entire time Roman's known her she was capable of speak. Who does that? Who purposely pretends their mute for years? The look she gave me told me she could read the thoughts going through my head.
"Yes it was fun while it lasted but the fact that my vocal chords are in perfect condition isn't what's important here. We, and I mean the three of us are not splitting up." Neo declared.
It didn't take much to realize that this wasn't a request from the small statured woman, it was a fact. Even though not too long ago she was avoiding me. She wasn't going to accept any other outcome and that filled me with warmth.
"Listen, I don't know if you were paying attention. Athrun wants to get even with Cinder. If he was willing to leave it after he returns the mechs' control back to Atlas then I'd be more okay with it. He's not though, and that would put us in the line of fire of some lunatic that can throw fire!"
Neo poked Roman in the chest with her umbrella, shutting him up.
"I don't think you're the one that understands. I said that we aren't splitting up, and that's final. If Athrun wants to settle the score with her, that's fine, besides..."
Neo stepped beside me and I could feel how soft her hands were as she gently caressed my cheek before a dangerous glint erupted in her eyes. A gaze that wanted blood.
"I'm tired of being pushed around by her. Cinder needs to learn what happens when she hurts what's mine."
I unconsciously swallowed at Neo's words, completely ignoring the fact she said I belonged to her.
Both Roman and had no words for the small woman, so she rightfully took that as her victory. With a winning smile she directed Roman into the airship with a glance before she assisted me.
Once we were in the bridge of the airship it was simple enough to deactivate the Loki virus. Neo and Roman explained what the virus was doing as we were walking. It was tied to Neo's scroll and removing it from the main terminal should be enough to revert the control Cinder had over the Atlesian Knights. Just needed one thing from it first.
"Alright, we're good."
Upon my confirmation Neo removed her scroll from the mainframe, while I had my own scroll transmitting a very important call. It didn't take long for a deep baritone voice to come through.
"I don't know how you were able to-"
"I've boarded your airship and just finished returning the control of the Atlesian Knights back to you. Hopefully that should help you with the Grimm," I interrupted, right now it was important for Ironwood to take control of the situation on the ground,
"Roman Torchwick was on my ship, I believe he was the one who somehow wrenched control of my forces from me. What's happened to him?"
It was good to see that he was able to focus on more pressing matters than my identity.
"Torchwick has been taken care of."
Hopefully if I kept things curt he wouldn't press for more on the subject.
"I see, if he's still alive then it would be crucial for our success if you could bring him to me. It is still unknown how he managed to escape and hack into our systems. There are other questions that he needs to answer as well."
I guess it was wishful thinking that he would let the matter drop so easily.
"Sorry General, gonna have to respectfully decline your request. Torchwick needs to answer a couple questions for myself and I have a feeling that if I gave him to you it would be very difficult to see him again."
"It may have been phrased as such, but it wasn't a request. This is beyond whatever petty reasons you have to go after Torchwick, something you wouldn't be able to understand. Bring him to me, before I go up and get both Torchwick and you."
How come every person in a position of power has to have a stick up their ass?
"You can kindly go fuck yourself. Even though your machines are once again fighting the Grimm the streets of Vale are still overrun. Given the fact that a good soldier like you should be fighting to save civilians instead of throwing out threats you can't back up I'll call your bluff. If you get up here before I drag myself and Roman into one of the nicely lined-up transports in this airship then you can have us. Have fun on the ground." I ended the call with a sharp tap on the scroll's screen, ignoring the jolt of pain that accompanied the action. Who the hell does he think he is, trying to order me around like that after I gave him access to his damn robots?
"Hmm, that didn't seem to go as you planned it," Roman couldn't help but laugh at how my conversation with the Atlas General deteriorated so quickly.
"I kind of enjoyed aggressive Athrun," Neo chimed from the side. It was difficult to tell if she was being serious or just teasing me as usual, possibly both.
"You both can make fun of me later. The only reason why I called him was because I thought he would be able to better control the situation on the ground if he knew he had control over his forces again. Neo, could you wipe all the video footage on the ship? I don't need soldier boy to be able to identify me, or you for that matter."
"Already done, we're ready to leave whenever you are." Her hands were on her hip and a cheeky grin was on her face.
It was still weird to hear actual sounds besides the occasional chuckle that would escape her lips but it held a captivating charm to it. Despite how everything fell apart today the fact that somehow I would still have the two of them with me was almost enough to make me forget about everything else.
"Perfect, then let's get out of here. Vale's gonna be a shit show after this with everyone at wits end. All the local Huntsman and Huntresses are going to be on the lookout for anyone suspicious so we need a place to lie low until we know our next move."
"Then it's a good thing that I'm here. Take notes kid, it's always good to know a guy for these sort of situations. He might not be the happiest man in the world right now because his business is going to plummet tremendously after this, but he should take us in," Roman informed me as he let a fresh cigar between his lips.
That was all I needed to hear to get a move on. Roman led the way to the docking bay as Neo supported my injured self to one of the many transports on the General's ship. A few moments later we were in the air with Roman at the helm. I wanted to be up front with him, mostly because a part of me desired to see the damage that I inadvertently helped cause to Vale and its citizens. The lives I helped ruin. Neo must have saw my solemn face and refused to let me do so. She argued that I needed to rest and basically forced me to lie down in the back. It would have been useless to argue with her so my body just obeyed to her request. My head found itself on her lap as she softly ran her fingers through my hair.
"Neo… if you don't mind me asking what made you so adamant about the three of us sticking together?" The question had been on my mind ever since she spoke back on the General's airship.
"You and Roman have been the only two people that didn't just want to use me, Athrun. He picked me up when I was just struggling to survive on my own and taught me to survive with the cards given to me. Even though he isn't too much older than us he's kind of like an older brother or really young father to me. But you?" It was captivating, the way her face softened as she reminisced over the past. "I originally just thought you were an idiot, an interesting idiot. I mean seriously? Who tries to steal from Roman Torchwick?"
"You almost got away with it too, decent amount of dust and lien on you, but not enough that it would immediately go noticed. If it was anyone else you would have gotten away with it, but Roman and I are extremely stingy with our profits. Caught you just as you were about to get away with the deed. The look of confusion on your face when I tossed your ass onto the ground almost had me burst out laughing." An innocent chuckle filled my ears.
"Well, what made you not kill me? You had the chance to do so immediately when you caught me." It was a question I always wanted to know the answer too.
"The fact you didn't beg for your life for one thing. You immediately sought for a way to escape, but had the dignity to not grovel at my feet. Another big contributor was that I was bored. For a couple months before we met that day it was just easy and simple robberies, one after the other. So I thought you would give me some form of amusement if I gave you a chance to make it out alive. It was refreshing to see that you had no issue with fighting a girl. Your semblance made things fun too. Chasing you down in that warehouse as you avoided gunfire and my blade for as long as you could while Roman was screaming about how he wanted you dead was the most fun I had in a long time."
She flicked my nose with one of her slim fingers. "That's why I didn't let Roman make sure you were another body floating around the docks of Vale. It occured to me that if I kept you around, then when jobs slow down you could offer me some amusement. The fact you had a cute face also helped."
My cheeks warmed up a bit at that last little tidbit which didn't go unnoticed if the look in Neo's eyes meant anything.
"To be truthful, it would be hard to pinpoint when exactly it happened, but eventually I started seeing you as a friend instead of as a toy to help keep myself occupied. You would try to communicate with me when only Roman ever did before hand. Everyone else was always wary of me, not that I could blame them for it though. Heh, there was even that one day when I was upset with Roman after some stupid argument that I can't even remember the details for. Everyone steered clear of me that day and while I was perched on the rooftop of our hideout at the time you sat next to me with a tub of my favorite ice cream. If I had to guess, that was when I genuinely started to care for you. So don't you worry Athrun, I'll be here for you. And wherever I go Roman will follow. We might not be heroes, but we'll always have each other."
The softness and warmth of Neo's thighs left me as I sat up and met her eyes. I didn't realize it but at some point during her story I grabbed onto one of her free hands, holding it gently as to not aggravate my injuries but enough to know that she was still with me.
"You really won't leave me?" I couldn't help but ask the question one last time.
"What do you think I was trying to tell you with that last story? Of course I won't." The hand I wasn't holding came up to caress my cheek. Her petite body slowly came closer to my own as the distance between our faces, our lips, began to decrease. Our eyes gazed into each other and the moment our lips came into contact I felt all my worries and anxieties melt away.
In the midst of destruction and betrayal I may have finally found a place to return to.