A/N: Ugggh...Black Friday retail is hell. Hardly any time to write!

Please read this note, would you kindly?

As ever, we're following the Ember's Rule here. That's no joke. Really, it isn't.

If folks don't like this, it'll be deleted. Poof! Gone! Every bit of feedback helps. Reviews are the fuel which keeps me writing in these crazy times. With my tight schedule, I simply don't have time to write a story folks don't like. Without them, my inspiration cannot take wing and I can't write a word. So by all means, speak up!

Now lets answer a few questions, eh? Onward!

Q: More Arcane stuff! Do something with Ahri! You know what her past is like!

A: Don't...don't tempt me. I don't want to do a THIRD Arcane fic. Two is enough. I need to resist.

Q:...Naruto does realize he hasn't won yet, right? Watts is a slippery bastard and Hazel's a bloody ROCK to deal with, to say nothing of the gods themselves. And why do I get the feeling there's yet another mastermind pulling the strings here, one Salem isn't aware of.

A: What was that last bit about? No, nevermind.

To clarify, Naruto is well aware of who works for Salem and who does not. Before Cinder's meddling, he didn't care.

Cinder messed with Yang. Cinder died. Tyrian's fate is left unspoke -for now!- but the last we saw of him wasn't all that pleasant for him.

Do you REALLY think everyone's just going to let Hazel and Watts plot in the shadows?

Hahaha no.

Q: More Arcane references in your stories!

A: Caught the one in Practice Makes Perfect, did you? Alas, I need to tone those down. Wouldn't want to cram them into stories like I did with Genshin for awhile...

Q:...Leonardo's fucked, isn't he?

A: Right in the down under. Ozpin's more active now than ever; he's bound to notice that damn cat being sus.

Q: Is this story nearly over? Feels like you're wrapping it up...

A: *zips lips*

Alright then, I've kept you long enough. Lets get into the meat of the matter and have some fun!

Once more, I own no quotes, references, or memes. Not a wit or a one. NOT! A! THING!

Papa!Naruto is still best Naruto, and woe betide anyone who hurts his kids.

"I went by many names in the past. Lived many lives, too. Demon of Vale. Storm of Vacuo. Madman of Mistral. Warden of Atlas.

So many lives. So many mistakes. So much chaos. I'm not that man anymore.

...now? I'm just a baker. Care for a cookie?"

~?

Best Served Boiling

Running security for the Vytal Festival was pure hell.

In the words of one James Ironwood, there could be no other description for the complete and utter clusterfuck that was this gods-damned tournament. There were delegates from other kingdoms to welcome, flight paths to check, students to account for...and half of them weren't even his! It was a tireless, thankless task, one that left him running from sunup, to sundown. Not so much as a word of gratitude given.

To be fair, he supposed it was his own fault. He'd practically parked his flagship in the skies of Vale to begin with.

Of course it would fall to him to impose order on the chaos when the world went mad.

And one way or another, he would have order.

Logistics aside, the fact that he had to do nearly everything himself didn't make matters any easier. Ozpin's abrupt absence only made things. Qrow seemed to know where he was, but he'd not said a word. Glynda had likewise disappeared to parts unknown. Something about an ax to grind. If there was a reference there it sailed right over his head. Likewise, poor Port and Oobleck were too busy trying to run Beacon and prepare for the festival in Ozpin's absence to offer any aid. And then there was that blasted baker, Ozpin's former agent, running pell-mell across the city.

No, perhaps that was unfair.

He'd seen the reports. That "Baker" had done good work in rooting out Cinder Fall and disposing of Tyrian Callows. Two agents of Salem, right under their very noses, and they none the wiser. Good work indeed.

Too good, some might say.

Precisely why he'd put him under surveillance. Ozpin was last seen there, but he'd never emerged from that so-called bakery. Furthermore, his association with Raven Branwen was troubling. Roman Torchwick had also been sighted on the premises more than once. Was he attached to him as well? There were too many strings at work here. He needed to be watched.

One could never be certain of that one's intentions. And he must be certain before acting. Had to be him. Someone else might've gotten it wrong.

Just thinking of it threatened to flare his Semblance and reignite his migraine all over.

"None of that," he pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'll deal with it tomorrow."

After a long afternoon's work, he was looking forward to nothing more than a glass of whiskey and eight solid hours of sleep. Those were his reward, his sole solace before he flung himself back into the fray. Only three days now. Three days and this blasted tournament could commence; once it did he could finally focus solely on security and leave the rest to Beacon.

With that thought firmly in the forefront of his mind, he gripped the door to his office and swung it open.

A dart hit the side of his neck. James recoiled with a start, yanking it free. "What in blazes?!"

Winter! He had to call for Winter, someone, anyone, before-

"Scream and your entire staff dies."

He whirled to face the voice and froze. In the dark of his room, blazing red eyes met his, each bearing wild, cross-shaped pupils. Mistakes were made. All the mistakes. Every last one. Ironwood felt his body lock up against his will, fingers frozen in the act of reaching for the light switch. He didn't move. Didn't blink. Didn't dare breath. Every fiber in his being denied him and refused to obey. Or perhaps that was poison currently running through his body, currently turning his every muscles to stone?

Probably the latter, a distantly detached part of him mused as the world began to whirl and shift around him. He sucked in a ragged breath.

An unseen hand closed the door behind him, then bound both hands behind his back. Another nudged him forward.

Those eerie scarlet orbs shifted just so. "A little more to the left, Sapphire."

Ironwood felt rather than saw someone materialize on his flank. Sapphire. He knew that name. Her semblance merely confirmed her. It had come across his desk early on in his career. She should be dead. She'd vanished ages ago. She was a ghost. A phantom...and hearing her name made his blood run cold in his veins. Breathing had become an effort now, but even so he managed to force two words out through sheer bloody willpower.

"Sapphire...Torchwick?"

White teeth flashed in a smile. "The one and only."

Oh, dear. Roman had a mother? This terror was that man's mother?!

When she shoved him down into a chair, his body couldn't resist. Even his mechanical arm felt stiff. Sluggish. And yet despite that, his heart continued to hammer. Fast. Faster. Fastest. It beat furiously; there wasn't a thing he could do to control it. Why wouldn't it slow down?!

"James, James, James." Naruto hummed as he stepped out of the dark, "I always thought you were so much...smarter than this." he clicked his tongue in mild admonishment. "Whatever would Winter say if she saw you now?"

Ironwood's heart continued to thud against his chest. A hundred beats now as a defiant rasp escaped him. "Where is she?"

Sapphire wriggled her fingers. "I made her a snack."

Ironwood's world shuddered to a grinding halt. "You...what...?"

"Yup." Naruto's smile didn't waver. "Whole tray of cookies. Piping hot. She's got one helluva sweet tooth."

James tried to mount a retort. All he managed was a wheeze. Thank the gods. For a moment he'd thought they actually...!

"Having trouble breathing?" his guest grabbed his chair, spun it 'round to disorient him, and planted one foot upon his false leg "It is a rather nasty poison. If left unchecked your heart will burst in about an hour or so." His gaze slipped past him, to the quiet woman who even now stood guard. "Sapphire wasn't feeling very merciful. She wanted to kill you on the spot." He leaned in just so, voice dropping to a whisper. "Old habits and all that, you know? She's not fond of being watched." Sapphire's hand came down on James' shoulder as he spoke, squeezing painfully. "But I'm not here to give you a sermon."

It took nearly everything he had to respond. "Then why...the hell...are you here?

"I'm here for answers." Naruto spun away from him, coat trailing in a sudden breeze summoned by the abrupt movement. "You're starting a war with me James, and I'm trying to be polite here, but you've made it real difficult." Quick as the flash that was his namesake, he pivoted back around. "You didn't think I'd find out?

He could venture a guess, but he'd not give them the satisfaction. "I don't know what you mean...

Clawed fingers closed around his head. "Don't lie. You're better than that."

Ironwood's heart lurched and his tongue failed him once more.

"You don't seem to understand." Naruto shook his head slowly when words wouldn't come to him. "I'm not angry with you, James. Just dissapointed. The great general of Atlas." one hand rose, sweeping toward the ceiling. "A learned man." the lights snapped on for a moment, impossibly bright, forcing a flinch from the paralyzed general before they fizzled out again. "Now I see you weren't." his lips pursed in a frown. "Because your boys were sniffing around where they really shouldn't be." His fingers rose, cradling a spark in the dark. "I don't take kindly to trespassers. But you know what always say: keep your friends rich, and your enemies rich, then wait to find out which is which."

Sapphire pursed her lips, hiding a smile behind them. "You've never said that, Naruto."

"You're right!" he snapped his fingers at her. "I haven't. But the point stands. Which are you, James?" His fingers flicked and a violet vial appeared between then, shimmering with light. "I have the antidote for you right here." Naruto waved it before him, even as his gaze snapped toward it. "You just need to do me a tiiiiny little favor." he slotted a syringe into it and drew back on the plunger. "One question, really. Did you intend to attack me?"

James gurgled. Forget speaking, it was impossible to speak now.

Naruto read his intentions, his emotions all the same."

...not a lie, then. Alright."

The needle slammed into Ironwood's thigh. Pain blossomed there; only to be eclipsed by a numbing relief.

"There." Naruto leaned back, casually tossing the syringe over his shoulder. "You should be fine in about...an hour or two. However." his hand flitted out, grabbing a fistful of the general's hair. "Should you ever attempt to spy on me, or threaten my position again. I will be forced to accept your call to arms. Do you understand?"

James managed a nod.

"Good boy." the baffling blond released him. "Now, you're going to help me find an annoying little parasite. His name is Watts."

Why search for a dead man? "I don't see any reason why I should trust a word you say-

The blond shoved him back into the chair. "Sit the fuck down, son."

His world crashed. "...son?"

Naruto tutted.

"You're mother would be so dissapointed in you...


(.0.0.0.)


Ozpin whistled softly to himself as he sauntered into Haven with the -formerly!- Branwen tribe at his back.

Truly, there was nothing quite like visiting a dear comrade.

"Leonardo, old friend! I've come to bargain...

A/N: Yeah, Lawson. Wonder who that was? *Whistles inoocelty.

Bit of a stopgap chapter, but I hope it whetted your appetite.

Feels strange to have this story wrapping up soon. I almost don't want to see it end...

As ever, reviews are my lifeblood. Without them, I cannot write.

So In the Immortal Words of Atlas...

...Revieeeeew, Would You Kindly?

They keeps an old man alive.

And enjoy the previews.

As ever:

SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!

PLOT DETAILS AHOY!

YE BE WARNED!

Get ready to smile~!

Obvious references are obvious~!

(POTENTIAL!) Previews! What can I say? I've been busy.

"Again."

Nora crashed into a tree.

Pyrrha landed facefirst in the mud. "Owww...

Yang stumbled back, rubbing her jaw. "You hit like a truck!"

"And so will you lot when I'm done with you." Naruto raised his arms, took a boxing stance, and waded in. "Up and at 'em, girls! Dodge!"


Raven's brow shot into her hair as she considered the sheer destruction before her.

"I want that!"

"No." Naruto tutted once. "You don't."


Watts slid a holographic chess piece across the board. "And, checkmate."

This was his victory. The fools knew not what lay in wait.

But they would. Soon.


Hazel raised his arms. "I've come to parley."

"Have you, now. Funny. I was just about to pay you a visit...


...how do I make her forgive me."

Ah, young love.

"You can't make someone forgive you, Adam." he took a long drink from his glass. "Forgiveness is earned...


Blake winced.

...you're not my father, right?"

"Nope. Just the guy who called yours."

"Oh. That's good-wait, you did what now?!"


"UZUMAKI!"

"That's my name." Naruto sauntered around the corner, carrying a fresh tray of cookies. "Don't wear it out."

R&R~!