I had a real crash and burn yesterday. First time in years I've ever really felt burnt out with writing. I'm relieved to say it wasn't due to my fanfiction, though that suffered for it yesterday. It's more my work outside of this. It's been such a hectic time coming off my seminar then immediately having my assistant leave, having to take over his workload and recruit. I spent Saturday and Sunday working for the most part, and I mean working on top of writing Relic and Arcanum, then come Monday and more work I just crashed. Body and mind couldn't handle it.

I'm back in the office today which probably isn't the best thing for me but I have two job interviews to do, so I can't ignore those. Ahhh. Things should hopefully ease a little when I have a new member of staff. Oh, and this week my other editorial member is on holiday for a week. So, yeah, three times the workload on top of my fics and recruiting.

Fun, fun, fun. I'd have asked my other member not to take her holiday but it was booked ages in advance and she's going off with her girlfriend for a romantic getaway, so I couldn't find it in myself to ruin that.


Cover Art: Serox

Chapter 49


It was rare to find a moment to have a proper lie in when you were a wanted terrorist. Harder still considering the recent raids on first the hospital and then the brothel. Jaune personally felt everyone deserved a long rest, and most of the White Fang were taking it. They'd done good work, saved a lot of people and managed it without crossing any lines. What more could anyone ask for?

The media to be a little friendlier to it all, he supposed. While Lisa and the majority of news channels were hailing them as heroes, a small number had decided to side with the council and were right now discussing how the White Fang put innocent people in danger, how they risked lives by attacking and not conducting negotiations like the police would have, how they were thinking themselves above the law, taking liberties, trying to change Vale to a militaristic state.

A lot of the arguments didn't make sense. They didn't have to. There was always going to be a subsect of people that hated them, either understandably given the White Fang's violent past, or on purely racial motives. There were even some conspiracy theorists claiming the White Fang worked with the council, and how this rivalry between them was nothing more than a smokescreen thrown up to distract people from other pressing matters, like how Mountain Glenn was a state-sponsored culling of the population, or how Beacon was brainwashing children into loyal drones.

Jaune had never realised how dumb people could be until he started paying more attention to their reputation online. Funny how there were no conspiracy theories that he was a human and shouldn't be in charge at all. That must have been a step too far for them – too unrealistic even for the tinfoil hats to believe.

"Good morning!" Sienna waltzed into their shared bedroom – and wasn't that still strange to say? – with a plastic cup of coffee and a steaming bun of bacon and sausage. It stirred Jaune immediately and he sat up. "Breakfast in bed. Don't get used to me being so domestic."

"Those are clearly store bought. That's not domestic…"

Sienna raised an eyebrow and made to take them away. "You don't want them, then?"

"No, no! I want! I want!" He blushed as Sienna laughed and tossed the bap over, then set the cup down. She sat on the bed with hr back to him, brought some of her dark hair forward and ran her fingers through it. The image was strangely comfortable, not unlike his mom and dad.

Jaune wasn't sure if he should say or do anything. They both knew their relationship was fake, yet another masquerade he was involved in, this time to keep the White Fang stable and prevent any coups. He had a feeling she liked him as a person, and he supposed he didn't dislike her either. Then again, she started the extremist White Fang movement, so that ought to be a point against her.

She never acts like she supports how it became though. Maybe she thought it would be more like what we're doing now. He didn't have the guts to ask and ruin the moment. Instead, he peeled open the packaging around his food and dug in.

"Ilia went out and got them for us," she said, taking a comb to her short hair. "I've already had mine. It was smart of you to let everyone have a day off. A good leader knows that a tired army is no army at all."

"I wouldn't call us an army…"

"No. It's probably for the best we're not as well. We never made a good one, not even when we managed to eke out the odd victory against Atlas." Sienna sighed and let go of her hair, sliding her hands back so she could rest on them and stare up at the ceiling. Her hands were close to his legs under the covers. The same covers she had slept under with him.

Only slept. Clothed. That was all they ever did. Jaune would never admit to liking that as much as he did. Not for any naughty or embarrassing reasons – just because it made the bed that much warmer. The warehouse they were living in wasn't exactly well-insulated.

We kissed, though. Just to keep up appearances, he told himself. But still. I wonder if she liked it.

Hard to imagine she had really. He'd been a wet fish, too surprised to be a participant and too new to kissing at all to be a good one if he tried. It didn't help that Sienna was an older woman, though he imagined that was only by five or six years. It would probably be a bad idea to ask. Maybe Ilia knew.

"We've been doing a lot of good lately," Sienna said. There was an odd tone to it, a strange inflection that suggested she might not be all that happy about it. Jaune paused in his eating.

"That's good, isn't it?"

"It is." Sienna's shoulders slackened and she let out a sigh. Call him oblivious, call him a little socially awkward, but when someone telegraphed that hard, he wasn't dumb enough not to notice. Saphron used to do the same – sigh dramatically, and then get annoyed if you didn't ask what was wrong.

Jaune sat up and set his half-eaten bacon and sausage bun down. He considered touching Sienna's back, then her hand, and ultimately settled for sliding over to sit next to her instead. It felt safer. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong."

Uh-oh. He knew that one. This was the kind of marital situation his dad often found himself in, and Jaune knew from watching his father fail the test what the correct response was. It definitely wasn't an invitation to say `cool` and go back to eating breakfast. "It can't be nothing if it's bothering you." He nudged her elbow with his. "I'm happy to be a sounding board if you want to talk."

"I suppose…"

As if she'd had any other intent.

"It just bothers me how easy this has all been," she said. "Not simple – it's been anything but that – but the decision, what to do, how to win their support, it's all so… accessible. You've done so much for the White Fang's popularity in Vale, and probably outside it as well. I have other cells asking me if they can move their own operations to mirror yours."

Oh wow. Other White Fang cells wanted to do what he was doing? That… That was great, wasn't it? Less violence… well, the same amount of violence but not aimed at innocent people, more overall goodness and working with the law where possible. He couldn't say that sounded all too bad, but if Sienna thought it was then maybe he was missing something.

"Are you worried they'll do it badly and make things worse?"

"Ha." Sienna barked a laugh. "Quite the opposite. I'm wondering if I've done things badly and made things worse. Look at me," she sighed. "Seven years in charge of the White Fang, and what do I have to show for it? A hated terrorist organisation hunted down in every Kingdom. Meanwhile, you come in and do a better job in less than two months. Maybe the Albain brothers are right," she said with a heavy sigh. "Maybe you should be in charge of the White Fang instead of me."

Jaune sat like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding car. He imagined it – the vision taking over him like a waking nightmare. Him, stood nervously on a raised platform in the wilderness as an army of masked faunus, many of them violent criminals, chanted his name and thrust their fists into the air. "Jaune! Jaune! Jaune! Jaune!"

"Jaune. Jaune!" Sienna pinched his arm and made him jump. "Are you okay? You spaced out there."

Spaced out? More like he had a vision of the future. A dreadful vision.

"No!"

"No, you're not okay?" she asked.

"No, you're not giving up the White Fang to me!"

Sienna blinked and then said, "I wasn't saying I was going to give it up, just that maybe you should take more control-"

"No! No way. Nuh-uh. Not a chance." Jaune formed a big cross shape with his arms. "I can barely look after these idiots. You can't put me in charge of more!"

Sienna Khan stared at him long and hard, then snickered.

"It's not a joke!" he whined. "Yuma and Trifa argue like an old couple, Bane is gentle giant one moment and Schnee-killing murder machine the next, Ilia is so Blake-sexual it's painful to watch and Perry is… he's Perry! To say nothing of the new idiots I had to recruit. Do you know one of them calls himself Fenrir?" he complained. "The guy even howls like a wolf!"

Sienna burst out laughing.

"He howls!" Jaune whined, slumping. "A-And he's probably not even the worst person we have. There are probably more too. I've barely even talked to the Albain brothers and I can't tell if they're obsessive or into me. They sent me a giant death robot, Sienna! What am I supposed to do with a giant death robot!?"

She continued to laugh, quickly descending into loud, chest-thumping laughter. Sienna buckled over forward, laughing between her knees as Jaune sat there with his arms spread, naked panic writ across his face.

"O-Oh, oh wow, ahah." She wiped her face. "I-I needed that." Her eye sparkled as she grinned at him. "And here I used to be worried you were trying to stage your own coup. I'm beginning to think I'll have to stage it myself if I want you in charge."

"I'll stage a counter-coup," Jaune said seriously.

"You realise that you'd take over anyway if I died."

"Then I'll protect you with my life."

"How sweet of you." Sienna chuckled and rolled her eyes. It seemed he'd managed to fix her problem, even if only by freaking out. "I always wondered if someone wouldn't pledge to protect me like that. I thought there might be more romantic undertones than wanting me to handle the idiots, however."

Quite honestly, he'd do anything if it meant not having to take over. Sienna could not die. That much was a given. He was managing with the White Fang here, but this was one Kingdom – one town even! How much worse would it be having to make sure people on the other side of the planet weren't mucking things up? And the radical factions, the puritans, and the patriots. All those little factions Sienna had to deal with. He couldn't handle that.

"It's not too late to change if you want to." Jaune said. "Those things you're upset about… maybe things are better now, but maybe this wouldn't have worked back when you started. Maybe people are only accepting of the way I do things because they see it as a welcome relief to the way Adam or you used to."

"Contrast?"

"Yeah. I mean, you were peaceful before, right?"

"We were. Back when Ghira and Kali ruled…" Sienna groaned into her hand. "That reminds me, they've probably heard of this by now. Maybe I should talk to them. Apologise or… actually, you might want to speak with them as well."

"Me? Why?"

"Because they had ideas on how to peacefully run the White Fang. They founded it, they controlled it and they were better at it than I was. There's been bad blood between us since I took it away and turned it into what it is now, but I think they would like you. Even support you. It would do a lot to mend the rift between them and the White Fang, which is good considering they effectively run Menagerie."

More people to talk to? At least these ones sounded a lot more reasonable. If more elements of the White Fang did want to follow his example and he couldn't handle it all, maybe the former leader could.

"Sounds good. What were their names again?"

"Kali and Ghira."

"Kali and Ghira…?"

Sienna sighed. "Belladonna."

"For crying out loud! Does everything have to relate back to Blake!?"

Ilia stuck her head through the door. "Did someone say Blake?"

Jaune's half-eaten bacon and sausage bap hit her square in the face.

/-/

Yang kept half an eye on the news the day after their raid with the White Fang. It was never something she used to do, but ever since Ozpin tossed them into the limelight and Coco beat it into her head, she'd started paying attention. It mattered doubly so when the fallout could very well impact their team, and most importantly her little sister! She wasn't the only one doing it of course, but Ruby was more interested in finding out if those poor people they'd rescued were being looked after, which Yang was as well, but moderated with concern for her own family first.

"I see a lot of recriminatory language being used but not much in the way of legal action." Weiss said. She was naturally far more in tune with that. "The council are keen to say we've disappointed our school and the kingdom of Vale by working with terrorists, but they're falling short of actually blaming us for it."

"Then what? We're misguided youths?" Yang joked. The silence was telling. "Are you serious!?"

"They're arguing that the charismatic and manipulative Jaune Arc may have `led us and others astray` and that he – Jaune Arc – is misleading people, tricking them into carrying out his dirty work in a campaign to destabilise Vale."

"That's bull!"

"That's not fair!" Ruby said at the exact same time. "We chose to go. Of course we would – people were being r- they were being abused!"

"Not me that's saying it." Weiss said. "There's a quote from Ozpin included. Hah." Her face brightened up. "Our students are taught not only to be exemplary protectors and fighters, but to be able to adequately judge right from wrong and act in a manner befitting huntsmen and huntresses everywhere. Although we traditionally work with the Government and police authorities, huntsmen are afforded rights and privileges to work outside of those organisations and are not under the Council's authority. It is the right of every huntsman or huntress to assess the risks, danger and lives that can be saved in the heat of the moment and decide for themselves, free from political interference, how best they can accomplish this. Beacon stands by this creed and by Team RWBY for their actions taken."

Yang and Ruby cheered. Honestly, Ozpin seemed like a cool guy but he'd gone up a few notches in her book for that. It wasn't a "fuck you" to the council, but it was a big enough middle finger that you'd need scaffolding to build it.

"They're afraid to insult us because of Ruby's popularity." Yang said.

"Or because it would be seen as endorsing the criminals who abused innocent people. They're very keen to use words like abhorrent treatment, terrible conditions and how grateful they are that these people weren't harmed further, but they're still saying we put them at unnecessary risk because we did an assault before proper hostage negotiation."

"We literally found people in the process of being abused." Yang spat. "Even one more hour would have meant pure torture for them. What of the people arrested? Have any of them been done in yet?"

"They're not releasing names. The law does protect that."

"I bet there's at least one politician among them."

"You can't assume that." Weiss argued. "We'll have to wait and see."

Yeah. Wait and see the council bury the information so no one on their side got implicated. Maybe she was being bit too conspiracy theorist herself there, but she wasn't in the mood for their crap. Everyone in Beacon was pleased with them. Hell, even Cardin stopped them in the corridor to congratulate them for doing a "bang-up job putting those assholes down" and that was Cardin! There wasn't a single person who looked upset, but outside Beacon, oh hell outside was different.

If she had to read one more comment on a news story from some asshole saying they should have "left it to the adults" she'd scream. Dumb bastards who had probably never seen danger beyond a can opener complaining that "these children are being used and aren't wise enough to realise it" or that "they shouldn't be put in such danger by the White Fang". Pah! As if they knew what it was like. They weren't the ones trapped in horrible situations like that. It was easy to complain from the comfort of your own home.

"All in all, it feels like there are more people happy with us than not," Weiss summarised, "But if the council keeps pushing then I don't know how long that will last. The afterglow will fade eventually, but these people can keep attacking us."

"Why are we being attacked for doing the right thing?" Ruby asked.

"It's how politics works." Weiss said. "Sadly, most people don't promote themselves based on their achievements anymore, but instead on how bad the other person is. It's attack-focused campaigning, and some idiots see it as a sign of weakness for the other party to rise above it. They say that the person on the attack is stronger, instead of just being an aggressive idiot." Weiss sighed. "I was always taught you should talk about why your product is better than the competitions, instead of why theirs is worse than yours. Unfortunately, I guess that doesn't make for exciting elections, and most people, even if they won't admit it, want to see some petty form of gladiatorial combat."

"But that's politics."

"You're politics now, Ruby."

"Not you too!" she cried.

"Sorry." Weiss offered an apologetic smile. "I know Yang teases, but people are seeing you as a breath of fresh air and that does have the old guard nervous. Is it childish? Yes. Is it pathetic? Yes. Are they going to keep at it anyway? Yes. You scare them, and they'd sooner bury you than trust you won't come and take their positions away."

Ruby howled angrily and threw herself back on her bed, rocking the top bunk. Normally, Yang would have teased her a little more, but it felt unfair now. No one should be teased for saving people from being abused. "You know, part of me thinks Ruby should run for office. I'm serious!" she said when Ruby's head popped up, glaring down at her. "Even if you don't do it seriously, it'd be a warning to those assholes to stop targeting you."

"What if I did win? I want to be a huntress."

"Why not be both?"

Ruby glared back at her. "How am I meant to fit all that work in?"

"You wouldn't run for mayor despite what the posters say." Weiss said. "In reality, you would run for a seat, and that is a much easier thing to deal with. General Ironwood runs a school, the military, and his seats on the council of Atlas. My father has one as well. It wouldn't be too difficult for you to do the same."

"But I don't want it!"

"Then don't run." Weiss said with a shrug. "It was only an idea."

"We still have to deal with this fallout anyway," Yang said. "Do you think the best way to show people we did right is by going with the White Fang again? If we save more people, it'll be more proof the council are wrong."

Blake stood up slowly from her lower bunk and made for the door without a word. Weiss and Ruby watched her go, then looked to Yang as if to say she was her partner and her responsibility. Yang sighed and stood up.

"I'll talk to her."

Finding Blake in any of a thousand hiding places in Beacon would have been a pain, so Yang chased her down instead. Blake increased her walking pace and ignored her calls, but Yang wasn't afraid to sprint in the hallways and quickly grabbed her arm.

"Let go."

"Not until we've talked. Isn't this getting old, Blake? I know you hate the White Fang and their leader, and I know you have your reasons, but how much do they have to do to prove they're not the villains you say they are? Aren't you being a little ridiculous?"

"Am I?" Blake laughed bitterly. "Maybe I am." Her arms crossed, hands clutching her elbows as she wavered on the spot. "Do you know how hard it is? How hard it is to watch them do so much good, watch them be loved, admired, and respected, and know they weren't when you were a part of it?"

Yang frowned. "You said you left because things were bad."

"They were!"

"Then shouldn't you be happy they're no longer bad? Or as bad?"

"Yes!" Blake cried, then looked away. "But no…"

Yang crossed her own arms. "Gonna have to explain that one to me."

"It's… It's selfish but… Adam and I put our everything into the White Fang. I gave up my family, my childhood, my chances at a normal life, and he gave up so much more – even his life in the end. And for what? Nothing!" Blake scrunched her eyes shut. "For nothing at all. Worse than nothing, in fact. The White Fang are better off with both of us gone!"

"So… you're jealous? Of what they've accomplished?"

"No! I… I'm angry. Disgusted. G-Guilty…"

It was the latter that clued Yang in. "Angry at yourself…?"

"A-Adam and I… we thought we were helping. W-We were convinced we were doing the right thing." Blake's breath caught as she spoke and for a second Yang was worried she might start crying. She didn't. It was close, though. "I thought it was okay because it would all be better in the end. I'd just have to do things I didn't want to because it was for a good cause. Adam was changing, but it was all for helping faunus later."

"Blake…"

"It was a waste!" she snapped. "A waste of my life, of my youth, of my time and effort and blood and sweat. A-And Adam's life!" she cried, almost breaking. "I loved him, Yang. I really did love him once. You would have liked him too! He was sweet and brave and he cared so much about everyone. Cared so much he was willing to sacrifice himself, harden his heart and become a monster to make things better."

"And Jaune is proving that was never necessary." Yang said. It was a rough understanding for her, so she couldn't imagine how hard it was for Blake. This was her childhood and her best friend, her ex-boyfriend's, life. "You've realised you…" she didn't want to say it. Blake did.

"Wasted my time? Wasted his life? Destroyed the life we could have had for absolutely nothing at all? Yes. That's what I've done. And to make it worse, I abandoned Adam because I thought him and the White Fang were irredeemable, and now they're not. Someone else stepped in and did what I should have."

"It wasn't your responsibility, Blake."

"If not mine, then who's?" she fired back. "Jaune Arc's? I've never even heard of him before he took over. Sienna, Adam, and I were the ones who took the White Fang into violence. We're the ones who should have done something. We could have done something, but Sienna didn't, Adam never realised he needed to and I… I ran away. Just… absconded, ignored any blame or responsibility and ran away to pretend I'm a human." Blake's fingers touched her bow. Angrily, she pulled on it, yanking her ears to the side as she tore the ribbon off, then tossed it away angrily. "How much of a coward am I?" she asked in a whisper. "How pathetic am I to keep blaming them, to keep blaming him, just because he did what Adam and I couldn't?"

Yang didn't know. Probably a little, harsh as it was to say it. Blake knew that though, and she'd know Yang was spouting bullshit if she said it wasn't her fault. There was blame everywhere, and maybe she deserved a little herself for failing to see how difficult this was for Blake. She'd just chalked it up to Blake being Blake, never realising it went deeper.

Actions spoke louder than words anyway, and while Blake limply tried to fight her off, she eventually gave in to the arms that wrapped around her, let Yang pull her face down into her chest and cried for the first time in what must have been years. She didn't tell her partner it'd all be okay, but she did rub a hand through her hair, the other up her back, and whispered that she'd be here for her however long Blake needed her. Blake's fingers clutched at her shoulders.

"Thank you…"


One of my interviewees didn't show today. What a colossal waste of my time.


Next Chapter: 9th November

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