"That's heavy machinery." A drop of nervous sweat appeared on Jaune's forehead.
"It is." I nodded.
"That isn't exercise equipment. This isn't a gym." Said drop of sweat ran down his face and to the point of his chin as if it were on a highway, quickly replaced by another. "This is a death trap."
"It most certainly is, if you're a wuss." I agreed amiably as I shooed him through the doors of the campus gym. By huntsman, for huntsman, with everything that implied… He wasn't wrong. "But so what? Stop being a baby and face what's coming like a man."
"But I-I haven't even written my will out yet!"
"Shouldn't have skipped out on that class then, Boss."
It had been a weird two weeks since my plan to deal with CRDL, if you could call it a plan (deny, deny, deny), had succeeded as badly as it had. Weiss had stopped using up all the hot water. Jaune had been in a visibly good mood whenever he wasn't sleeping. Blake had eventually come back to hide in her bed, still alive and twice as grumpy as before… And I'd stopped stress testing the heat seals of my containment cube.
I knew the lingering odor around my couch was all in my head, seeing as Blake didn't notice a damn thing but, damn it, it refused to die… Much like Jaune had refused to. It had been long enough since then for him to start getting the beginnings of a shape that might have been mistaken for that of someone that was physically fit.
By a civilian, to be clear. By my standards, he might as well have been a noodle fresh out of the pot.
His shoulders were less rounded. His waist had lost an inch or so in fat and his cheeks had pulled back some, adding some actual definition to his face. There were hints that his pecs were about to become, you know pecs but hadn't quite figured that whole process out yet… And all it had taken was me kicking his ass for four hours a day (except for Sundays) for a whole month.
That and him grumbling about it when he thought I couldn't hear him, but whatever. I had the physical and moral high ground. The beatings would continue until morale improved and that was that; I was being kind, really. I'd waited until he wouldn't embarrass himself in front of his fellow gym-goers all that badly before letting him run free to mingle with the rest of the rats... That was kind of me, right? Right.
He was just ungrateful. But, meh. I'd known that already and it wasn't much of a shocker. We were here now and that was what mattered.
"What sort of backwoods school did you go to if they didn't teach you that much? Or help you file your paperwork?" Weiss added her input from a couple steps ahead on her way towards the athletics course, aghast. "That is just beyond the pale!"
You'd think he'd stop blurting out stupid shit that would get him outed by now though. You'd think. One day I wouldn't be there to bail him out and where would he be?
… Probably in jail, honestly. Presenting false huntsman credentials, even for those in training, was a felony after all. The sort of shit that would get you a honeymoon suite with a nice man named Bubba who had opinions on how purty your mouth was.
I was too damn nice. Really. This was ridiculous.
"The most backwoods sort of school there is, Weiss. Life. You knew that already though. Don't act like this is new." I gave my leader a good thump on the back, my training showing through when he made a quiet 'oof' noise and didn't fall on his face. That or familiarity. Same difference. "We've gone over this before."
Jaune was from a nameless village somewhere around Sanus, or so the story went. He'd got some training from a passing Hunter, decided to do more with it, and that was that. It was simple, easy to remember and plausible. Even the fact that it was nameless passed the smell test. A lot of villages didn't bother until five years had passed or so. Sometimes even longer.
Life outside the walls was hard and it was best not to get attached. What else could I say? Other than that he could have said its name and been perfectly fine either way. No one would even know where it was unless he told them.
Jaune didn't do his best under pressure.
"We did. I just didn't know that his problems extended this far." Weiss suddenly shoved a finger in Jaune's face, forcing him to lean back. "We'll be squaring that away before the day is out, you hear me?"
"Y-yeah." He cleared his throat and, this time, didn't wince. "Sure."
"As long as you understand." She pulled her finger back with a nod, turned, and walked off into the metaphorical sunset... That being the athletics course, like I'd commented on before. I applauded her choice. It clearly hadn't hurt her any, I'd say that.
It was a good look, all-in-all.
A sidetail held up by a light-blue scrunchie. A loose t-shirt over a sports bra and some shorts that were just at the edge of becoming too short… A body that told a tale of a good diet and a professional dancer's exercise plan. Getting the chance to see her put some work in didn't hurt my motivation any, no sir.
Blake was like that too to be fair, but thinking any further on this was going to obliterate my workout pants. Time to move onto more relevant topics.
"You heard the lady." I gave Jaune another friendly thump to the back to move him along, the poor boy having been paralyzed by the sight of a row of SCN-9 hydraulic presses, several of which were currently in use. "It looks like you're in luck today."
"In luck?" Jaune could only turn to me with an incredulous look on his face. I even got his mouth to hang open in disbelief. It brought warmth to my heart, it did. "How am I in luck?"
"You haven't written out your will. Silly of you, but you haven't. That changes things." A slightly cruel grin spread across my face as I remembered a vague piece of trivia that Jaune most likely wouldn't appreciate. "Your first fight against a modified string cheese press needs preparation."
Jaune blinked. "String cheese what."
Lack of appreciation confirmed.
"Jaune flavor doesn't sound all that appetizing, I know, but I think it has some real potential." I answered a question that no one had or would ever ask. "Sadly though, the market isn't ready for the future yet. Sooooooooo..." I flicked my wrist to the side.
Jaune followed that flick with a look of dull horror, one that quickly slid off to be replaced with one of befuddlement. "Those...aren't death traps?"
"Well, yes. But actually no."
I gestured once more at the 'regular' side of the gym. The place where people went to work on their 'base' instead of screwing around with the finer points of Aura practice… Or with their teammate's heads when they were bored. Dumbbells, treadmills, medicine balls. That sort of thing; it was where most of the people our year went the most that wasn't the cafeteria, actually. Even me.
Maintaining a body like mine was a constant, multi-faceted effort, ya know?
"Free weights can still fuck you up all good and proper, laddie. I wouldn't advise dropping anything unless you think you need a new set of toenails. Or a new spine." I shrugged. Atlas surplus had some pretty good ones I'd heard. "Just stay off the bench until you set a spotting schedule up with Blake and you'll be fine."
Jaune's momentary relief turned into one of minor anxiety and concern between one blink and the next. "That's reassuring…"
"Then I've done my job." And I wasn't even kidding. That he hadn't commented on Blake or her willingness to help when asked was the best possible thing I could think of. How things changed when you had an effectively unlimited amount of ice cream, sugary snacks and movies... "Let's hit the treadmill, get our hearts beating to start before we get into the good stuff."
Jaune winced as he followed along behind me like the dead man walking he was. "Why do you always say things like that?"
I laughed, head thrown back and all. My innuendo hadn't even been all that strong, but I didn't need much of a reason to laugh. Or say shocking things. Or do much of anything, really.
"Because I can, Jaune. Because. I. Can."
That was all the reason I needed; yet another fact of life Jaune should have learned by now. Silly Jaune. Silly, possibly-very-lucky-but-not-really-because-life-wasn't-as-kind-as-all-that Jaune.
I'd been keeping my ear to the ground. Prodding my connections, those being Neo and her connections, and I'd been hearing only the worst possible news one could receive when they had half-remembered future knowledge and a fresh sackload of favor debt to a fun-sized ball-buster.
Nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing was what I'd heard.
Vale's Dust supply was fine. Everything was quiet. The local nightlife hadn't seen any changes in management or gotten a new player. My uncle hadn't been that special kind of drunk that he got whenever he thought he'd fucked up really, really bad… If he had, it hadn't been in the last three months, not since that one pregnancy scare he got from some chick in Atlas. That had been a surprise.
You'd think whiskey dick would have made that difficult.
Anyway, that wasn't conclusive or anything, but all this crap put together made me nervous as shit.
Where the fuck was Cinder? What was the Fang doing? Was the Fall Maiden still under the school? If not, where was she? What were Salem's plans and what the hell was I going to do when they eventually happened in my sister's general vicinity?
There was zero chance that she and I weren't going to get pulled into this, whatever this was. Let's be honest. That ship sailed when she was born with a set of magical laser eyes.
… Man, keeping my shit together in public would be a lot harder if I hadn't taken the chance to blow off some steam earlier.
"HEY, SHITDICK!" I roared as I stepped over the shattered pieces of Roman's office door. "WHERE THE FUCK IS MY MONEY?!"
"I ALREADY PAID YOU, YOU STUPID BITCH!" He roared back, white gloves audibly straining around Melodic Cudgel as he stepped out from around his desk. "AND THAT'S THE THIRD DOOR THIS FISCAL QUARTER! THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM?!"
"I NEED AN EXTENSION, YOU METROSEXUAL HACK!"
"NO, FUCK YOU!"
And that was when he swung at my head and I popped the tear gas.
Good times… Now where do I go from here?
"YANG! I PRESSED THE WRONG BUTTON ON THE TREADMILL! HELP!"
To the treadmill going thirty mph at an incline. Question answered. He must have hit the preset button then picked medium-low intensity while I'd been busy thinking. That sounded like Jaune.
"Hold your horses, damn it!"
I'd miss these easy days when they were gone.
"So, you are saying that you come from nowhere in particular."
"That your parents are entirely unremarkable and not worthy of comment."
"I did say that."
"And that you have no opinions one way or the other when it comes to the weather."
"I said that it was a nice day. And it is." Blake smoothly slid out of her forearm stand and onto her knees at a rest, muscles burning pleasantly as she reached for a water bottle. There hadn't been a lot of time for yoga when she'd been with the Fang. Not a lot of time to focus on the finer things. "What do you want from me?"
"Saying that the weather is nice is the same as you turning the page on a newspaper and growling at me." Weiss scoffed as she followed Blake's lead, ending up on her knees as well without issue. "You have told me nothing of substance. Given me not a scrap to work with. Forgive me if I'd like to know details about one of the people I live with."
"You're wondering about me, but what about you?" Blake's placid blink was met with a scowl. "How's your family?"
"My family is..." Weiss' scowl deepened dramatically, so quickly it would have been comical if not for her being serious. That had been a land mine. Interesting. "I am no longer interested in this conversation."
"That's fine. Let's move on." And it was. If not for Yang being an open book, more than happy to tell anyone and everyone her life story with little prompting, and Jaune saying he had seven sisters, team JWBY would be entirely ignorant as to their member's personal lives. That status quo was good. "Jaune didn't have a will? Seriously?"
"So he says." The change in topic instantly wiped the scowl from Weiss' face and replaced it with a form of disinterested disappointment. "I'm not surprised by anything he says now, no matter how outrageous. What does that say?"
Blake shrugged, ears twitching under her bow as she looked around, listening for his screams. They weren't as common as they once were, but they were common enough. "About him or you?"
"Both. I shouldn't be so desensitized about the things he has or has not done. It is unbecoming."
"He isn't a bad person." Blake didn't argue. Even if the boy, her leader and partner, had grown on her, like a fungus, there was no ignoring that he had problems. "Or an idiot."
"He is not the first, no." Weiss agreed grudgingly and backhandedly, arms raised about her head in the beginning of a cooldown routine. "The second is where I have my doubts. If not for Ozpin being the one to give him his role, I'd have had him replaced already."
That she'd tried once already to do so, only to be thwarted by a teacher as soon as they'd heard, was quietly ignored. Jaune still didn't know that had happened at all and it had been unanimously decided that he would continue to be so. Better to keep that sort of thing in the dark.
Along with Weiss' assumption she'd be the new leader. Blake had her own doubts.
"I am unsure what Yang sees in him," Weiss continued, "he is unfit, uncoordinated, and unsuited for this line of work. That he has enough Aura to nearly equal the three of us together only goes so far."
"You make that sound like such a small thing, Weiss. Just the three of us together. Just." Blake snorted softly. "We are all in the top ten of our year. He's number one."
He was also number one for the next three years above them as well. That was a ridiculous amount of Aura. Nearly unheard of, actually. More than you'd find in even the longest living Huntsman, the rare ones that might actually get the chance to retire. Whatever his Semblance was going to be, Blake put her money on 'expensive'.
"You are the one that started this round of complaining. Please let me do so without poking holes in the things I am complaining about."
"I didn't realize that I'd set up a soap box for you."
"Did you ever notice how one of Yang's inner thighs seems to be somewhat thicker than the other?"
Blake stifled a gasp as she hopped to the side and away from the voice in shock, Weiss doing much the same beside her and away before the verbal claws came out. "What the hell?"
"Don't do that!" Weiss snapped out, eyes wide as Nora, dripping with sweat, took the newly freed space between them to peer down the length of the gym. "Couldn't you see we were having a conversation?"
One that had been about to turn into a squabble, Blake felt.
"It sounded like you'd hit a nice stopping point though," the ginger vindicated Blake's own thoughts on the matter. "...And, yeah. Yeah. One of them is thicker than the other. Just had to check." She nodded to herself, manic grin out in full force with a touch of edge that hadn't been there before. "Squat press is free now if you need it."
And, with that, she was gone and away; towel over her shoulder and straight towards the showers.
"... That is the most peculiar woman I have ever met in my life."
"Second," Blake corrected as she, reluctantly, lifted her head up to see just what Nora had been talking about.
Curiosity was a killer.
"Second," Weiss agreed as she followed Blake's lead.
"... Her thigh, right?" Blake hummed to herself as she watched Yang move, walking around Jaune and poking him sharply with a finger whenever he threatened to slow down. "I think there's something right-" Blake paused as Yang's somewhat loose pants shifted with her, just right. "Ah."
Nora hadn't been wrong. There was definitely something there. It had been just for a split second, but there had been an impression of… Nooooo. No way.
That sort of thing only happened in stories. Stories that Blake read, sometimes, but stories all the same. They weren't real. Yang was as much of a girl as she was, and…
"That is odd. It's something long, something with weight...and with a knob on the end?" Weiss hummed as well, entirely innocent of the bent of Blake's thoughts on the matter. "She didn't bring a weapon to the gym, did she? An unregistered weapon, even!"
Blake slowly turned her head to give the heiress an unimpressed stare.
"We're going to have to talk to her about that, Blake. Immediately! There are rules about that!"
… Weiss was a big girl. She'd figure it out eventually. Maybe. Or maybe she'd end up right and Blake would be caught out as a pervert. Or not, because she'd mastered the art of keeping her mouth shut and letting others take the fall. They'd see.
That talk was going to be an informative one, one way or another.
"She could be expelled!"