Menagerie, Kuo Kuana Docks

November 19th, 1105 Local Time, 2552

Even before Fairfire had gotten lost in Shunspace, she had never received a lot of social calls. Most of her family was either dead or estranged from her, and all of her friends were right by her side, so calling one another was somewhat pointless. Most of her postings also had placed her right in the thick of the action, so spending time on something so trivial and personal would've been wasteful anyway. So when she was told that she had a call from Curie, it was a surprise, but not an unpleasant one. Since the UNSC was still running the CCTS station in Menagerie, she had to go there, but it thankfully wasn't far from the UNSC's base by the docks.

"Hey there, Curie. Long time no see." She'd already heard that Curie had gotten a body from Atlas, but this was her first time seeing it, and she was pretty impressed with just how lifelike it was. "I'd say you're looking… pretty solid."

Curie rolled her eyes. "Oh yes, very witty. Monsieur Nathan would be very proud of you."

Fairfire stood up straighter with mock pride. "Thank you. Now, what can I do for ya?"

Curie sighed and took a deep breath. A surprising display of trepidation from someone who'd always seemed fairly confident, at least, from what Fairfire had seen. "I need your help with a personal matter, specifically one related to Ben. I remembered that you're familiar with his history, so you seemed like the best person to ask."

How could I forget? Fairfire thought. The shock of learning about what the Spartans really were had faded from her mind somewhat, but she still wasn't exactly pleased with what she'd learned. "By all means, shoot."

Again, Curie showed a bit of hesitation, but forced her way past it. "I… have feelings for him… romantic feelings."

"Oh." Fairfire said, a little dumbfounded by Curie's admission. She certainly hadn't expected that, hell, she didn't even know that AI could feel things like that. Sure, they had emotions, but romantic feelings? That was something she'd always seen as exclusive to Humans. I guess I was wrong…

"I want to tell him that I… love him, but I do not want to hurt him by mistake." Curie explained, anxiously fiddling with her hair as she spoke. "Ben… has had a difficult life. I do not know how he would respond, and I am hoping that you might be able to help."

"You know, the Corps doesn't exactly smile upon interservice relationships…" Fairfire said, although she already could predict what Curie was going to say.

"That didn't stop you in the past, your service record is evidence enough of that." Curie grumbled in response.

And… bingo. Fuck. Honestly, the brass should just accept the fact that people are gonna get together no matter what regulations are in place. Fairfire thought. "Fair, I just want to make sure you know the risks. I don't think the Commander would go out of his way to court-martial either of you, not that he could afford to, but I doubt he'd be thrilled either."

"I am not expecting to enter a relationship with Ben. I cannot let my feelings get in the way of my duties, and if he feels the same for me, well, we both know Ben. Duty comes before everything for him." Curie said with a small, nervous smile. "I just want him to know how I feel, in case one of us meets an early end."

Fairfire nodded, it was pretty solid logic, which made sense given that it was coming from Curie. "Well, the best thing I can suggest is to try to talk to Ben somewhere privately when you're both off duty, in person, of course. Then just… tell him how you feel."

Curie grumbled and pouted in a way that would've been expected of a teenager. "You make it sound so simple! How am I supposed to just tell him something like that? What if he does not feel the same way about me, but feels pressured into saying that he does?"

Fairfire shook her head in disappointment, in just the blink of an eye, Curie had gone effortlessly from flawless logic to utterly nonsensical worry. Wow, she really is just like a teenager…

"Stop, just stop it." She sternly said, and dutifully, Curie obliged. "Ben's not exactly delicate, you know. Yeah, I know he's just a kid, but he's a damn tough kid. I don't think you've got to worry about hurting him."

Curie listened intently and silently as Fairfire spoke.

"He obviously cares about you, probably more than anything else in his life." She continued, "Now does that mean he loves you? I'm honestly not sure, but if he does, I bet you anything that he doesn't really know how to handle it any better than you do."

Again, Curie anxiously fiddled with her hair, making Fairfire wonder if she even realized that she was doing it. "And… if he does not share my feelings?"

Fairfire shrugged. "Then he doesn't, and it would hurt, I won't lie about that. That being said, I don't believe for a second that he wouldn't want to be friends with you anymore."

Curie let out a long, deep breath. "I understand. Then, how should I go about telling him?"

"Be honest, and probably a little blunt. In my experience men tend to be a little dense, you'll really have to spell it out for them." Fairfire explained.

Curie still looked incredibly apprehensive, but she nodded. "I… Thank you, Madame Fairfire. You have been a great help."

She couldn't help but smile, it felt good to be the one offering advice for a change. "Anytime Curie."

Kuo Kuana, Docks

November 19th, 1201 Local Time, 2552

Typical UNSC jetpack training was done in purpose-built facilities, with safety as the number one priority. Unfortunately for Ilia, they didn't have access to such a facility, and so she had to make do with flying over the water with a very strict altitude cap. Seeing as shouting over distance and jetpack thrusters was both tiresome and difficult, Ilia kept tabs with Meadows via their helmet comms.

"You're doing great so far!" Meadows said. "Now, do you remember what I said about landing?"

Ilia recited it off effortlessly from memory, Meadows had ingrained numerous instructions into her long before he even let her touch a jetpack. "Bend your knees, land on flat feet, keep my Aura up. Worst case scenario, roll to dissipate the impact."

It was a bit odd, talking so calmly while she was literally hovering twenty meters up in the air, kept aloft by a pair of fiery thrusters. It had taken a bit of trial and error to really nail down how to hover properly, and she was still far from an expert. Performing proper "jumping" arcs like ODST Bullfrogs typically did was pretty difficult, and performing evasive maneuvers by manually controlling the force each thruster put out was something she was far too nervous to even try.

"Alright, you've got about half a minute of fuel left. Come on down, and try to take it easy…" Meadows said.

Very gently, she reduced the throttle of the jetpack by just a few notches and began to steadily glide downwards. Staying balanced was difficult, but her previous experience with acrobatics proved useful for keeping on a steady course. As soon as her feet touched the ground, she cut power to the thrusters and landed with surprising ease.

"Smooth landing, excellent work!" Meadows commented as Ilia disconnected herself from the jetpack and handed it back to him. "You did very well with the hovering too, are you sure you've never used a jetpack before?"

Ilia shook her head. "Before I met you guys, jetpacks were just the stuff of science fiction.."

"Hmm, you know, I'm pretty surprised by that." Meadows said. "I figured with all the transforming weapons and powered exoskeletons on this planet, at least one of you guys would've made something similar."

Ilia shrugged. "Somebody might have, it's been a long time since I've been to Atlas, and if there was anywhere with tech like that on Remnant, it's Atlas."

Meadows grunted with indignation. "Urgh, Atlas… Yeah, don't worry about missing out on that particular Kingdom. Don't tell Specialist Schnee I said this, but it's a bit of a hole."

Ilia ignored his comment, as she had picked up on something far more important in his statement. "Did you say Specialist Schnee? Is she here?"

Meadows nodded. "Sure is, she's helped us with a bunch of stuff. She's the one who helped us get our Auras activated, and who helped Fairfire get her Semblance under control. She also led the team that brought down Jacques Schnee."

A familiar flash of anger briefly took hold over Ilia, but she banished it just as quickly. "Yeah… when's his trial anyways?"

"Only a few days, but between you and me, I don't exactly rate his chances at a light sentence." Meadows said. "Under normal circumstances, a lot of us would've probably gotten called up as witnesses, but between the Grimm and the White Fang, we're a bit busy at the moment."

Before Ilia could respond, both of their radios came to life and Nathan's voice came through. "Hey, Meadows, Amitola, are you both still alive?"

"Ignore him." Meadows rolled his eyes, before reaching up to his helmet and replying. "What do you want, jackass?"

"Winter says she wants to talk to Ilia." Nathan answered. "I mean, you don't have to, it's not an order. That being said, it'd be damn rude."

Meadows let out a long, exasperated sigh. "Fine, we were just about finished anyway. Come on Ilia, and remember, her dad might be a prick, but she's pretty cool… even if she's got a stick up her ass."

Ilia chuckled. "I assume you don't want me to tell Specialist Schnee that you said that either?"

Meadows shivered. "Not unless you want me to die, thank you."

"I thought you couldn't?" Ilia shot back, with Meadows sighing and hanging his head in exasperation.

"Not you too…"

She and Meadows made their way back to the UNSC's temporary barracks among the warehouses. While it was far from comfortable, Ilia had long since gotten used to sleeping without a roof over her head. Compared to some of the places she'd lived in the past, her current quarters were positively lavish.

They found most of the squad relaxing on some old, slightly deprecated furniture that had probably been left to rot in one of their commandeered warehouses. Ben and Jorge were both absent, which made sense since Ilia had learned that both of them hated being left without something to work on. Fairfire was also gone, although her absence was harder to explain.

There was also another woman present, and there was no doubt at all as to who it could be. Even though Winter Schnee had clearly forgone her Atlesian Specialist uniform in favor of more practical UNSC Marine jungle gear, there was no mistaking her posture, body language, and appearance for anybody else.

Winter, it seemed, was just as perceptive as Ilia was, as she seemed to stiffen up just that little extra bit as she recognized exactly who Ilia was. "So this is her, the defector?"

Ilia couldn't help but scowl, whereas previously she'd felt shame at being called a defector, now she was just annoyed. "I wish everyone wouldn't call me that…"

"Considering what you defected from, I'd wear that like a badge of honor." Nathan interjected from across the room, as he lounged on an old couch with his datapad. "It'd be a cool callsign too, if you ever decided to try some wings on for a change."

"Nathan, not helping." Meadows told him off.

"He's not wrong." Winter stated. "Is it not better to be a traitor than a terrorist?"

"I don't see it as being so extreme." Ilia glared back at the woman, crossing her arms over her chest lest she try to grab for a weapon. While she didn't like the Schnee, she wasn't about to attack an ally of the UNSC. No matter how much she desperately wanted to.

"Oh?" Winter feigned surprise, though she clearly didn't care to try very hard. "I'm surprised you'd still care to defend their actions, even after you've left. Don't tell me you believe all that nonsense about how they were just misguided, or how the media painted them too harshly-"

"Ok, maybe this was a bad idea." Meadows stepped forward to cut them off. "You guys clearly hate-"

"We were freedom fighters!" Ilia replied, although the subtle smirk on Winter's face told her that was exactly what the Specialist had expected her to say.

"It is a thin line between terrorist and noble hero, but I think we both know which side the White Fang fell on." Winter's smirk was vicious. "Don't we?"

Ilia felt her blood begin to boil. "This isn't the White Fang I joined-"

"But it is." Winter cut her off. "Sienna Khan turned the White Fang from peaceful protestors into killers. Now they're out in the jungle, waging a war against the very people who sought to help them!."

"Meadows is right, this was a bad idea." Nathan had left his place on the couch at some point, having moved over to interject in their conversation.

"They've changed." Ilia's hands fell to her sides, where she couldn't stop clenching them into fists.

"They appear just as violent as ever to me." The satisfaction on Winter's face fell away, replaced by a neutral expression that somehow pissed her off even more. "How many people have the UNSC lost because your friends have changed?"

"Specialist Schnee!" Meadows snapped. "I'm asking you to leave-"

"What do you want from me!?" Ilia threw her hands out in anger. "To say the White Fang has hurt people? We did. Do you want me to say that we took the violence too far? We did! But we did it because you gave us no other choice!"

"You always had a choice!" Winter spat back. "But the White Fang never wanted Justice, you never wanted peace, you just wanted revenge."

"I left damn it!" Ilia cried out. "When we won, when your family's company was finally gone and our people were free, I left! I did the right thing!" She yanked the helmet off her head, looking Winter in the eyes as she continued to yell. "Your family are murderers, you're no better than Adam!"

Winter's face turned to rage in an instant. "How da-"

"Cut the shit! Or so help me, I'll call Ben and Jorge back here and send you to the brig!" Meadows snapped, reaching such a volume Ilia was honestly surprised he wasn't using some kind of Semblance. His outburst had its desired effect, however, finally managing to drive the both of them to silence. Oddly enough, even Nathan looked caught off guard. "Corporal Amitola, you are a Non-Commissioned Officer in the UNSC. If I ever see an outburst like that aimed against a foreign delegate again I will make sure your ass is out of the service that very day! Am I understood!?"

Ilia's hands fell behind her back naturally as she tried to answer, and after a few tries, managed to force the words out. "Yes, Sergeant."

"And Specialist Schnee…" Meadows wasn't done, however, turning on Winter as he continued. His voice lost the same tinge of anger, dipping to a quiet and cold tone that felt just as bad, if not even worse. "If you ever speak to another one of my Marines like that, I will make sure that Commander Miller and General Ironwood never let you see field duty again. Corporal Amitola's outburst I can almost understand, she's new to military life, but you, I was led to believe you were a professional! Was I told wrong?!"

"You… are right." Winter was silent for a moment after that, something that seemed to shock both Ilia and herself, before she closed her eyes and sighed. "I… apologize. I let my personal feelings on the matter obstruct the reason I wished to speak with her in the first place."

"Dare I even ask what those were?" Meadows asked.

"I wished to learn whether her motives were genuine or not." Winter responded. "I am aware the UNSC has taken in enemies as allies before but… Atlas does not make a habit of it. I could not trust her until I saw it with my own eyes."

"Corporal Amitola!" Meadows snapped back around to her. "Why did you join the White Fang?"

"I was raised in it by the Belladonnas after my… after my parents died, Sergeant." Ilia cursed her hesitation but forced herself on despite it. "They died working in the mines. I wanted to get justice for their deaths."

Meadows nodded, but the look of fury in his eyes was barely dimmed. "And why did you leave?"

"The men responsible were captured or killed, Sergeant. Then the White Fang… after they decided to attack the UNSC, I decided they had gone too far." Ilia answered. "The White Fang isn't fighting for justice… not anymore."

Meadows turned his attention back towards Specialist Schnee. "There! Specialist, I believe the matter is concluded."

Winter ignored him however, eyes locked with Ilia. "Corporal… Ilia, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I didn't stop my father sooner, I'm sorry for what he did… and I'm sorry for what my family took from yours."

They were words Ilia had often dreamed of hearing, though she had long since given up on ever hearing them. However, Meadows glaring at the both of them, still absolutely fuming, the value of the apology felt somewhat diminished.

"Specialist Schnee personally led the raid to capture that bastard, so don't doubt that her words are genuine." Meadows stated. "Now be a grown ass woman and get over your shit! That goes for both of you. Is this going to be a problem moving forward?"

"No, Sergeant!" Ilia was quick to answer and, after a brief pause, Winter nodded as well.

"Corporal, go get refueled and back outside. For that outburst, we're gonna be doing maneuver drills until you drop from exhaustion or Aura loss, whichever comes first." Meadows gestured off in a direction that Ilia knew vaguely led to the fuel depot. She nodded and left, Winter taking a similar route as the two walked away in silence.

Meadows could feel Nathan's smirk without even looking at him. "Holy shit… since when were you capable of dressing someone down like that?"

Meadows pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to numb the pounding headache he had. "Shut the fuck up, Nathan."

"It's a compliment dude, chill out." Nathan said, and Meadows briefly felt his blood pressure start to drop before Nathan just had to add on to that statement. "Also, it was really fucking hot, if you don't mind me saying so."

Meadows smacked Nathan on the back of the head for being an idiot, and then again much harder when all that did was make him laugh. His laughter did eventually die down, however. "Think the tough love act will get them to work together?"

Meadows sighed, if even Fairfire couldn't beat the stupid out of Nathan, what chance did he have? "It had better, because they're gonna be seeing a fair bit of one another, and I don't think I can yell that much without losing my voice."

"Heh, well… here's hoping your luck holds out." Nathan said. "Hey, maybe I'll get to yell at em' next time, that'd be fun!"

Meadows didn't even acknowledge him, and instead made his way over to the nearest Corpsman, got some painkillers for his headache, and made his way back to the docks to continue Ilia's training.

White Fang Camp, Command Tent

November 19th, 2208 Local Time, 2552

For the first time in many nights, Adam felt genuinely happy, confident even. The sound of sharpening blades and murmurs of excitement filled the air as dozens of White Fang warriors prepared for battle. They were only a small portion of the force of hundreds of Faunus that he and Sienna had managed to rally, and each and every one of them would prove to be crucial in the battle to come.

Sienna has kept these brave men and women bottled up for far too long. Adam thought, satisfied with the confidence that his peers seemed to share. Now they'll get their chance to show their mettle, and show the Humans that we aren't going anywhere.

The original plan of luring the UNSC into an ambush had been a good one, but what Vermillion and Sienna had failed to account for were the fine details that so often decided victory from defeat. The canopy of the rainforest above them wasn't just a form of shelter from the rain, it was a shield that could conceal entire teams of warriors from the devastating UNSC aircraft. Just as the dense mess of leaves and branches blinded the aircraft, ancient gnarled roots and deep mud would do the same to cars, tanks, and other vehicles.

Location would be the deciding factor of the battle and Adam had spared no effort in selecting the perfect battleground. Deep within the deltas of Menagerie was a junction between three rivers, frequently used by the White Fang while traveling on their small boats. The foliage was overgrown and strong, and the rivers themselves provided the perfect avenue with which the White Fang could consolidate their forces. It was there that the White Fang would make their stand, and where the Humans would taste bitter defeat.

"Adam." Sienna said, stealing him from his thoughts. "Word just came in from Kampbell's group, they'll be able to reach the rendezvous in time, but they'll need to leave behind some of their heavier weapons."

"That is… acceptable." Adam reluctantly said, conscious that every weapon that the White Fang wasn't bringing to this battle was another Human that would potentially be allowed to live. "We need them more than we need that kind of firepower."

Sienna didn't look pleased, in fact, she looked outright apprehensive as she looked out doubtfully across the gathered warriors. It wasn't hard to guess why.

"You aren't alone. I care about these men too." Adam said, hoping to inspire some new confidence in the leader who had inspired him and so many others. "But if we never take any risks, we will never win this war. Our people will remain pawns of the Humans forever."

Sienna gave a half-hearted smile, but it was short lived. "It's not the men I have doubts in, it's this spy. We have to assume that the UNSC will know what we're planning."

Adam's blood boiled with fury at even the mention of the traitor. So far, there had been nary a sign of the spy, but he had little doubt that time would bring him into the light. "It won't matter. The UNSC won't have the element of surprise over us, that's what's important."

Sienna did not answer, nor did she greet Vermillion when she joined them in the command tent, her spear clutched in her metal hand. "Adam, the warriors are ready to move out."

He nodded. "Good. I'll keep it brief, we've got a lot of ground to cover tonight."

He passed through the opening tent flaps, standing high on the stump of a fallen tree, and called attention to himself. "All of you, listen up!"

The warriors dutifully quieted down and listened, in their eyes, he could see the confidence that he felt, but also the trepidation that Sienna had shown. It was disappointing to be sure, but nothing that couldn't be fixed with a few well-chosen words.

"Tomorrow we embark upon a righteous crusade, and take one more step on our great journey towards seeing a land free from the shackles of Humanity, free from their ire and disdain!" He spoke as loudly as he could, his voice boomed throughout the camp, there was no doubt that everyone was hearing him. "Just as our forefathers won their freedom during the Revolution, we shall do the same here! Never again will Human boots trample over our people, not here, not anywhere!"

A rancorous cheer erupted throughout the camp, and Adam smiled. That was certainly more like it. Sometimes all a warrior needed was a reminder of exactly what it was they were fighting for.

"These bastards have come to our land as invaders, they have butchered your brothers and sisters and occupied our homes! These crimes against our people will not go unavenged!" He shouted. "Mark my words warriors, we will live free, or we will die fighting!"

The cheering was barely controlled anymore, and that was all the sign that Adam needed to know that it was time to wrap things up.

"Gather your weapons and report in to your team leaders, they'll make sure you get to the rendezvous point." Adam said. It was a reminder that in all honesty they probably didn't need, but it never hurt to be certain. "When the Humans come, show them no mercy, they certainly won't spare any for you!"

His warriors dutifully obeyed, and with one last cheer, they marched forth for war.

Authors Notes: Hoo boy, sorry about the delay folks. Writer's block is a pain, I had the plague, heck, a whole lot of stuff happened. And hey, how about that new Halo TV show, wasn't that a crock of crap? Yeah, I might be a bit bitter…

Heck man, I'm bitter about Halo, I'm bitter about RWBY, that's honestly just been a major issue for me with this story lately. Hard to keep the passion going when both of the things it's about seem to be steadfastly trying to kill themselves. Still gonna keep going though, ain't gonna let some studio fatcat stop me.

An extra special thanks to SardonicEffigy for bailing me out with this chapter as well, you'd be waiting at least another week if it weren't for his intervention.