Here we go
Cover Art: Serox
The studio chosen for their live TV debate was a huge thing surrounded by people long before their arrival. Some were wielding signs protesting the coverage being given to the White Fang. Signs reading `White Fang are evil` and `Say no to terrorists` marched alongside more blatant symbols and slogans like `faunus go home` and `Vale is for humans`. At least some were pretending their dislike of the White Fang was for their past crimes. There were just as many boldly flaunting their racism either without a care in the world or without the awareness to realise what it was in the first place.
Naturally, they had supporters as well. Jaune was relieved to see they were mostly normal folks. No protesters, no signs, just people heckling and insulting the protestors themselves. Normal people who didn't like having the loud side of the population act like they could make decisions for them. There was none of this in Ansel, but then there weren't any faunus either. It was impossible to tell if Ansel was just lacking in faunus or if they hadn't driven them all out. The lack of an answer bothered him, but there were much more immediate concerns. Tugging the grey hood down over his forehead, Jaune slid into an alleyway off the side of the building, away from the loud audience, and tapped a button on his scroll. The message was sent with a quiet pinging sound.
Invited or not, he was still a criminal and didn't feel safe walking in the front door. After two or three minutes of waiting, a side door in the alley unlocked and opened. Lisa Lavender peeked her head out, spotted him and grinned excitedly. Jaune found himself frowning at it.
"You're here! About time. I thought you were going to be late at this rate." She ushered him inside, closed and locked the door behind. "You're not going to attend the debate in that, are you? A hoodie and an overcoat?"
"I have better clothes under."
"Good. Good." Lisa led him quickly down a well-lit corridor and up a short flight of stairs, talking all the while. "This is going to be a huge moment for you and the White Fang. People will look back on this generations into the future. If it goes well. You need to win this. You need to look perfect."
He needed to win. Not us, not we, but the singular. He might not have noticed it before, but Adam's warnings had him paying attention to the exact language she used. Lisa was unafraid of this going wrong. Why would she be? Her career would be secure no matter the result. If he succeeded here or failed and ruined all the White Fang's chances, Lisa would still reap all the publicity for hosting it. This was her chance to make it big, and he wasn't sure why he'd expected anything more than that. Lisa was loyal to the story, not to the White Fang.
"In here." Lisa pushed open a door with a golden star and her name on the front. Inside was a changing room in a state of disarray. A metal rack at the back contained numerous suits and dresses, and several were strewn out on the floor, tried on before a full-length mirror and thrown away. A chair sat before a vanity mirror with more makeup than all his sisters combined owned strewn out on the table. Lisa pushed him down onto it, swept his hood back and ran her fingers through his hair. "I'm going to give you a quick once-over," she said breezily, reaching for a shallow cup and a powder brush. "You'll look fantastic. Trust me."
"Is this necessary?"
"Of course it is." The brush gently traced over his cheeks, casting a cloud of dust up into his eyes. Lisa hummed as she worked, lightly brushing over his face and coating him in foundation. "Almost all men on TV use makeup," she said. "All the lights and cameras make even the smallest blemish show. Do you know how much of an advantage beautiful people have? A handsome man is three times less likely to be convicted in court. A beautiful woman is twice as likely to get a high paying job or promotion."
"It is," she agreed without stopping, "but it's the way the world works. There are a lot of people with lovely singing voices, and yet ninety per cent of pop stars are famous for their looks, and girls still need to sexualise their music videos to make them sell. It's the same here. If you look your best, people will be more likely to side with you. Show your ugly side and they'll turn away."
It was such a cynical thing to say and yet he wasn't sure he could argue with it either. Back in school, the popular kids had so often been the prettiest girls and most handsome boys, and few were the actors and actresses that weren't stunning in their own right. Even in his head, he could imagine how much leeway a handsome and charismatic villain would get over anything else. There were enough stories on the news of sexual assaults where people online would make stupid comments like saying the perpetrator was probably innocent because with looks like that he wouldn't need to sexually assault anyone. On the other hand, less attractive people were somehow more likely to be guilty. The world was a horrible place. He was beginning to realise that, and the fact that all the cruelty perpetrated on the faunus was but the tip of the iceberg.
Lisa ran a few brushes over him as he sat in silence with his eyes closed. She powdered his cheeks, trimmed his eyebrows, ran some liner around his eyes and then took a brush and some hairspray to his hair. It was not a quick process by any means, but she obviously knew her way around it all. Looking her best must have been a requirement for being on set, or for being hired in the first place.
"There. We're done. What do you think?"
Jaune opened his eyes.
And felt them widen.
The man looking back at him was for a moment unrecognisable. He was handsome – that was the first thing Jaune noticed. Smooth skin with defined cheekbones and sharp eyes. His hair was swept back a little, standing up as if it had a life of its own. There wasn't so much as a spot, a freckle or even a break in the smooth expanse of his face. It was as if he was all one colour, all one texture, all carved from one piece of marble. It was fake. His face felt heavy and dry, more like he was wearing a mask than not. The man in the mirror was handsome, that much was undeniable, but it didn't feel like Jaune Arc. It looked like some idealised, manufactured façade of him.
"You can change this much with makeup…?"
"That's the point. People say it's to enhance natural beauty, but every woman knows that's nonsense. It's to look perfect." She clapped a hand on his shoulder and smiled into the mirror at him. "It's to fit what society expects, nay demands, of us. Smile and be pretty. Be desired."
"Lisa, we need to talk."
"Not now." Her eyes lit up suddenly as a light began to blink in the changing room. "That's the signal. We're needed on set. This is going to be incredible," she gushed. "This is going to be the greatest moment of my career. And of yours," she added quickly. "This will legitimise everything you've been working on. Make sure to do your best – and remember, I can't be too favourable to you. I'll need to be impartial."
Nice excuse there, with a fair heaping of plausible deniability. Jaune understood that the makeover was the last help she'd be giving him tonight. Luckily, he'd been prepped intensively by Trifa and the others. Even if their methods were a little… unusual. He was going to have nightmares about diaper Yuma. That was if he was lucky, and if this didn't go horribly, horribly wrong.
"Welcome and good evening!" Lisa declared loudly for the cameras and the live audience of some one or two hundred people. She had her back to them, facing an ocean of bright floodlights that were more than a little dazzling. "We have a very special occasion tonight, a live debate – but between whom? Not your regular politicians vying for election tonight, ladies and gentlemen. No. Tonight we have some very special guests indeed, who will be discussing the recent developments taking place in the city of Vale. These include, but are not limited to, the raids undertaken by the White Fang to promote law and order, co-operation between Beacon Academy and a terrorist group, unannounced military operations by Atlas in the streets of Vale and the upcoming Vytal Festival."
"Our guests for this evening, in no particular order, are: Jaune Arc, leader of the White Fang's Vale sect."
Lisa paused and Jaune raised a hand in greeting. The reaction from the audience was a polite applause, though he certainly saw more than a few refusing to clap.
"General James Ironwood of the Atlas military."
More polite applause. Also a few people not clapping. The sentiment toward Ironwood seemed to be about the same as toward him. Jaune was just grateful that they were on the furthest seats, separated both by the final two panellists and also Lisa's seat in the centre. She'd obviously realised putting those two within arm's reach of one another was a bad idea.
"From the Vale Council, we have our current Chief of Council and Mayor of Vale, Andrew Coppersmith."
An elderly man with grey hair streaked with black on the sides, a wrinkled face and a very nice smile. A political smile. He closed his eyes as he offered it, waving happily to the audience. His applause was possibly the loudest, though it was also the politest. No one hated him but no one liked him was the impression Jaune got.
"And finally, representing Beacon Academy, we have Ruby Rose – team leader of Team RWBY, youngest applicant to Beacon in forty years and huntress-in-training."
The small girl blushed prettily and raised a dainty hand, shyly waving her fingers. Jaune felt himself melting, let alone the audience. Ruby got as many "Awws" as claps. Ruby was dangerous, he quickly realised. That level of cute was being weaponised by Ozpin, and it was quite frankly a genius move. No one – no one – was going to ask Ruby any tough questions. One watery-eyed sniffle and even the hardest politician would back off.
The stage they were on was a simple raised platform surrounded by cameras and lights to the front, and a projected view of Vale behind them. It wasn't real – the backdrop was some cardboard material from what he could tell, but viewers would see a moving depiction of Beacon's streets as if they were looking out a window. On the stage itself were five plush chairs in a neutral shade of blue, one for each of them and one for Lisa, and each chair had a small wooden table beside it with a bottle of mineral water, the label torn off because no one had paid for a sponsorship deal.
"Don't drink too much," Trifa had warned him. "The people who keep drinking instantly look fidgety, like they have something to hide or are guilty. Also, you don't want to need the toilet halfway through. That'll look stupid."
No one else was drinking either. Jaune settled his hands in his lap and smiled blankly for the audience, trying to forget there were probably tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people watching this live. Even more would watch the highlights later online. No pressure. None at all. Just every faunus on Remnant watching and hoping for him to change the status quo, and hopefully in a non-violent manner.
"Our main topic for this evening revolves around the White Fang." Lisa said. "Violent terrorists, dangerous extremists, freedom fighters and now clearing our streets of dangerous villains and exploitative businesses. Vale's White Fang sect, under Jaune Arc's leadership, has taken a markedly different approach to things when compared to the White Fang's actions before. Some are saying this is a change for the better, while some are suggesting it is only a ruse to garner support." Lisa turned to him. "Jaune Arc. What would your statement on the matter be?"
Jaune leaned forward. They'd each been fitted with a small microphone that fed into a box attached to their hips. He tried to speak normally and not sound like he was trying too hard. "I will say this is how we intend to do things from here on out, Lisa. Taking the White Fang in this direction was my first choice when I was made leader, and I don't intend for it to change anytime soon."
"Bold claims." Ironwood snapped. "Easy to make for terrorists. The White Fang's word is worth nothing."
"The general does have a point," Lisa said happily. "The White Fang is a terrorist organisation, and your reputation has not been good before this. Why should people have faith in you?"
"I'm not asking anyone to have faith." Jaune answered. "Actions speak louder than words. We've worked hard to help innocent people, human and faunus both, and we intend to keep doing that. I won't ask people to believe or not believe me, but I will ask them to watch and make up their own minds free of bias. If you are going to judge me based on what other people have done, then is that any better than judging every faunus by the actions of a few?"
The audience mumbled and muttered. Some clapped, but they were few in number and it was impossible to tell if they weren't being prompted to it by one of those `applause` cue machines he'd seen before.
"Actions speaking louder than words." Lisa said. "That's an interesting point for Vale, isn't it Mayor Coppersmith? The White Fang have brought to light several instances of corruption and criminal activity that the city has otherwise missed. There is no denying that. What do you have to say with regards to the fact?"
The older man smiled and leaned forward in his seat. He didn't look pressured at all. "I would say that even the most shining jewel will have a few flaws. In the Council, we deal with hundreds of issues on a daily basis and no matter how hard we work, there will always be one or two things that slip by. While it is a good thing those people have been brought to justice, I would question why a concerned citizen did not see fit to inform the proper authorities about them. We have our police force for a reason, and I personally know and trust the commissioner of them to do her job. The last thing Vale needs is rampant vigilantism."
"A good point, mayor Coppersmith." Lisa leaned to the left. "Do you see yourselves as vigilantes, Jaune Arc? Do you believe you have the right to uphold Vale's laws?"
"I don't think of it as a right," he said carefully. That felt like a trap. "It's more that we've seen these crimes continue for a long time unabated. Perhaps the Council is too busy," he said, offering an olive branch. "I'm not saying it's their fault, and plenty of these businesses that exploit their workers hide behind the law, so their and the police's hands are tied without conclusive proof. If we went to the police, as concerned faunus have many times in the past, then it's our word against theirs. The police have to get warrants, go through lawyers and get bogged down in red tape. We don't. We find proof, bring it to light and we do leave those responsible to the proper authorities. We don't take punishment into our own hands."
"You have in the past." Ironwood said. "You have executed prisoners!"
The audience grew louder. Lisa had to ask them for quiet, and he just knew she wasn't going to ignore such a juicy statement. "Again, there's no denying the White Fang have committed terrible crimes before. Do you condemn such actions?"
"I… Of course I do." This would go down with the purist and fanatical factions like a lead balloon, but what was he supposed to say? This was how he felt. "There are a lot of different opinions in the White Fang, especially on the global level. Some of those are born from anger, from mistreatment, from being branded and beaten and enslaved. Those people have lashed out and done things I personally find abhorrent. But I never have, the Vale sect never will."
"I would still ask what right the young man believes he has to take the law into his own hands," Mayor Coppersmith interrupted. "If he would but work with the authorities, we could avoid so much unpleasantness."
"But I have worked with them." Jaune said. "I've worked with Beacon."
Both General Ironwood and Mayor Coppersmith frowned.
Lisa bit onto it. "You certainly have. Mayor Coppersmith, what does the Council have to say about Beacon Academy working with, and even joining joint operations alongside, a terrorist organisation?"
"Ah. Well. It is not ideal, obviously." The old man was less confident now, and with good reason. Huntsmen were not to be taken lightly. Aside from the fact they were powerful individuals, they were both popular among the normal folk and also very protective of one another. If he insulted Beacon, he could kiss goodbye to any voters who were either huntsmen, from huntsmen families, or had friends who were huntsmen. To say nothing of insulting them right before the Vytal Festival. You might as well insult all four academies at once. "We have the utmost faith in Headmaster Ozpin and his people, and they have proven themselves time and time again. On the other hand, it's obvious their partnership with the White Fang has undermined the government. It is making life very difficult for law enforcement especially."
"Is that so?" Lisa turned again. "What do you have to say in regard to that, Ruby Rose? Do you believe your actions, and the actions of your team, as detrimental to the city and its people?"
Ruby flinched at the sudden attention. She drew back into her seat, shrinking slightly and hunching her knees up. She looked so much smaller than them, especially Jaune and Ironwood, and that only made it worse.
"Um. I. Well…" Ruby's stammering voice was amplified by the microphone. "W-We just want to help people," she whispered. Despite it, her words carried to hundreds of thousands of people. "I just want to protect people. Everyone. W-When we heard about the horrible things happening in s-some of these places, we couldn't not do anything." Her silver eyes slid to the mayor. "I-I'm sorry if that upset anyone…"
Mayor Coppersmith looked like he was witnessing his career nosediving in real time. "No, no, no!" he assured her, and the audience. "I'm not criticising you, my dear. Such wonderful ideals should be celebrated. I'm only saying that there is a time and a place, and that such a devoted young woman should be in school learning. You should leave matters like these to those who are more qualified to handle them."
Maybe it was petty, maybe it was out of place, but Jaune saw his chance to needle an opponent, and if someone else was squirming then that meant he wouldn't be. "This girl you're referring to is a huntress-in-training. She isn't weak."
"I did not say she was."
He had implied it, however, and Ruby's eyebrows had drawn down. Her lips jutted out as she instinctively turned toward the politician as if regarding him her enemy. It wasn't an obvious thing, more body language than not, but Ilia and Trifa had hammered how important body language was into his head, and right now by turning her back on him, Ruby was instinctively making it look like he and she were on the same side. Or at least that she trusted him more than she did Ironwood and Mayor Coppersmith.
"Ruby is an accomplished huntress, and her record speaks for itself," Jaune went on. "The White Fang considers itself fortunate to have her and Beacon's support when it counts, and that support recently let us close down a fighting ring that was organising to-the-death battles between homeless faunus. Without Ruby and her team's help, many of those faunus would have been killed for sport."
The audience grumbled and heckled. They didn't like that – even those who disliked faunus didn't like it. There was racism and then there was literal murder. Just because you were prejudiced against a race and didn't trust them didn't mean you actively wanted them rounded up and killed. That was ridiculous.
"The crimes committed by the group known as The Legion were atrocious, of that I will agree," Mayor Coppersmith said quickly. "There is no argument they needed to be stopped. However, taking the law into your own hands may well have placed those faunus in greater danger."
Ruby did not like that.
"We made sure they weren't in any!" she said, frustration and defensiveness shining through. "We were careful, and we made sure to protect them as quickly as we could."
"I do not doubt that, but the police are more experienced. You are but children-"
"I've killed Grimm." Ruby stated loudly and firmly. "I've killed Beowolves, Ursa, Nevermore and Deathstalkers. How many have you killed?" The man's jaw worked open and shut but no words came forth. They both knew he'd likely never even seen one, let alone been in danger to a Grimm. "That's what I thought. Our team – my team – aren't amateurs. We're trained huntresses. Just because we're not professionals yet doesn't mean we don't know what we're doing. Those gang members weren't nearly as strong as what we usually fight. I…" Ruby's eyes hardened. "I'm not going to stand by when something bad is happening and I can stop it. I don't care if I have to undermine people if it means saving lives. That's how I am and that's what Beacon teaches us to be."
No one made a sound.
In the end, Jaune was the first to clap. Was it manipulative? No. He clapped because he had to, because what Ruby had said amazed him. Here I am doing this to protect my own skin and Ruby truly believes it. She would risk her life to help someone in danger, and I'll be damned if that doesn't deserve an applause. Apparently, he was not the only one who felt that way. In the audience, peopled took his cue and surged to their feet. One, ten, fifty and then quite possibly every single one of them clapping wildly to Ruby's passionate words.
And poor Ruby looked like a deer caught in the headlights. She "eeped" vocally, drew her knees up and buried her bright red face in them. Such adorableness only made them clap louder, and snap pictures on their scrolls. It was such a sweet image that Jaune could feel his teeth rotting.
Lisa was clapping too. "Marvellous. Simply incredible." She obviously knew which way the wind was blowing and leaned on Ruby's armrest to smile at her. "I think we're getting our first view of a future huntress right here. I, for one, will feel so much safer with Ruby Rose keeping the Grimm at bay. Your team have also garnered their fair share of attention of late. Weiss Schnee, heiress of the SDC, Blake Belladonna, daughter of Menagerie's chieftain and Yang Xiao-Long, your own sister. From catwalk to raiding criminal gangs, how does Beacon teach you to be so versatile?"
"A-Ah, well, we get a lot of advice," Ruby stammered. "And Coco helps us. That's our mentor; she's another student. H-Hi Coco. I just wanted to say thank you for being so patient with me…" Ruby waved to the cameras and the audience again melted. "For most of it, we just train. We train really hard."
"And do your team share your passion for helping people?"
"Yep!" Ruby smiled proudly. Proud of her team. Visibly so. "They're the best teammates ever and they refuse to stand by when bad things are happening. They're all for this."
"Speaking of all for this, we have someone who is of course all against it." Lisa leaned the other way. "General Ironwood, as a representative of Atlas, you naturally have a bit of a history with the White Fang. What do you think of their latest actions?"
"I think it's nonsense." Ironwood said firmly. "As you say, we have a history. The White Fang have done great harm to my people. Theft, hostage taking and murder to name but a few. To think they can simply wave away that much bloodshed because of a few good actions is frankly insulting."
"But you must agree that Jaune Arc has done none of these things."
"That we know of, Lisa," he said. "He was obviously working with them before he took over from Adam Taurus, who I will remind everyone he murdered himself. This was no democratic takeover. He killed the previous leader and took control out from under him."
"Any comment on that, Jaune?" Lisa asked.
"Adam's death was a tragic event-"
"Did you kill him?" Lisa had to know.
"Yes." Jaune closed his eyes, swearing over and over in his head. Lisa could have avoided this if she wanted to, but she wanted the controversy. The story. "I did kill Adam," he admitted, "But it wasn't so that I could take control. It was…" He whispered an apology in his head to the man, even if he knew Adam would encourage this answer. His reputation didn't matter. The White Fang's did. "It was to prevent a worse tragedy taking place, a tragedy that might have seen the White Fang harming innocent people during the Vytal Festival."
"You admit it then!" Ironwood growled. "You admit your plans!"
"I admit Adam had plans," Jaune said. "I do not. My only plan is to show everyone how corrupt even the relatively kind Vale can be, and to help them grow better. I'll do this with Beacon's help if I have to. And without Atlas' if they want to keep waging their own personal war on Vale's soil."
"Ah yes." Lisa took the bait. "What do you have to say about that, General? It was quite the shock when your robotic units came crashing down on the city, broke numerous vehicles, caused extensive damage and panic."
Ironwood's face was unshakeable. "We did what we believed to be best to protect an allied Kingdom. Even now, I stand by my actions. The White Fang are a threat."
"And Vale's sovereignty doesn't matter?"
"We had permission for the operation."
"Did you now?" Lisa looked thrilled and rounded on the mayor. "That permission must have come from the Vale Council. So, Mayor Coppersmith, can you comment on this?"
The politician looked irritated at what Ironwood had said, though Ironwood had to say it to absolve himself of what would have been a breach of international law otherwise. "The operation was sanctioned by the Council. Obviously we did not expect such disruption or damage to our citizens."
"Do you regret granting it now?"
"Regret is a strong word. Had we known it would fail – and it's impossible for us to have – then we would have suggested a different approach, obviously. As we could not have known, we also stand by our decision."
"And what do you think, Ruby?" Lisa asked. "Do you think it was the right approach?"
Ruby looked at the two men and shook her head. "No."
"W-Well, the White Fang were already retreating, weren't they? After not doing anything illegal and not hurting anyone. They were no threat right then and there. I think they risked making it worse for everyone."
"Huntress or not, commenting on international co-operation is a little beyond her mien," Mayor Coppersmith complained. "This is an unfair line of questioning."
"This is a live debate, sir. Everyone is entitled to their opinion." Lisa all but leaned over Ruby's body. "And what is yours, Ruby? You say they might have made things worse. How?"
"W-Well…" Ruby leaned away from the woman but answered all the same. "The White Fang retreated into a multi-storey car park to fight the robots, but that wasn't their only choice. T-They could have gone elsewhere…"
Jaune saw his own chance. "We chose the car park to better avoid bringing innocent people into the conflict. We could have chosen to hide in the mall among hundreds of shoppers, but we decided to risk our own safety to prevent them being placed in harm's way."
Ironwood looked like he'd sucked on a lemon. It wasn't strictly true. Yes, they would have chosen to avoid the civilians, but then Ironwood would have probably called off the robots if they had, or he might have turned it into a hostage situation from which there would have been no escape. That didn't matter though. What mattered was what people thought and how he looked on the big screen, and while Ironwood's stubborn adherence to military order would have viewers in Atlas rolling in bliss, it wouldn't win him many fans outside of it. That probably didn't bother him. He was secure in his position and power so long as Atlas supported his methods. In a way it was like Adam and the fanatical factions in the White Fang. This was as much an ideological clash as it was an international one.
"I see." Lisa nodded. "And do you think Atlas could have done things better, Ruby?"
"A little bit. If they really wanted to stop the White Fang doing anything, they'd do what we're doing and stop all the bad things going on in the city. If there are no bad things, if no one is being hurt or taken advantage of, then the White Fang won't have any reason to exist and will have to peacefully close down. That's what I think. And this way we get to save all those people as well," she added, smiling bashfully. "I'd rather save them and stop the bad guys, then find out if the White Fang is good or bad later, than fight them now and let those bad people get away."
"Why? The letter of the law would say to do the former."
Ruby thought on it for a brief moment. "Because it's the right thing to do."
"Is that it? All that matters is doing the right thing?"
Silence. Absolute silence.
"Ruby for mayor!" someone in the audience shouted.
"Ruby for mayor!" another yelled.
"B-But I wouldn't even know what to do…"
"Ruby! Ruby! Ruby!"
As Ruby waved her hands and tried to calm them down, and as the calls and applause kept coming and coming, Jaune couldn't help but wonder if he'd won the day at all. It felt more like Ruby had, and that she was winning a whole lot more with her innocent honesty and likeability. Well, at least Atlas and the Council had lost the day harder than he had.
I'll take that.
No, Ruby isn't going to become mayor. Not like she'd put herself up for any elections, or that Vale would have any right before a huge event like the Vytal Festival. Still, Ruby is the winner of the TV debate for sure. Who even had a chance against her?
Next Chapter: 10th August
P a treon . com (slash) Coeur