For minutes or hours, he faded in and out, never lingering long enough to catch more than flashes of his surroundings. The darkness of the underground city became the muted moonlight of the streets above. Howling Grimm were replaced by a bullhead's rumbling engines. At some point, someone made a phone call. He didn't catch the words.
When he did finally wake up, he did so to cuffs on his wrists and bandages around his chest. For a minute, he stayed still, feigning unconsciousness until he had a better sense of where he was.
"—not too bad. I mean, we've all taken out a lotta Grimm."
That was Yang's voice. Judging by her tone, he was coming to in the middle of a conversation.
"Ah, but Grimm and people are two very different groups." Male—had to be the professor, unless they'd picked up someone else on the way out, someone other than the pilot presumably in the cockpit. "What you saw today would affect even the most seasoned of huntsmen and huntresses. There is no shame in admitting that."
"Can we," that young voice had to be Ruby, "can we maybe talk about something else?"
"Of course. I don't mean to make this hard on you but please know that after we return to the school there will be resources made available to you should you desire to use them."
"Thank you, Professor." The Schnee. The Schnee who was very much still alive.
As the silence dragged on, he debated "waking up" in an obvious way just to get it over with.
"Hey, Blake," Yang said quietly, stopping him from doing so. "He's the mentor you were talking about, isn't he? The one who let you go."
"He is." Blake was sitting right next to him. That was unexpected.
"So much for his claim that he would change the White Fang," the Schnee sniffed. "He nearly killed me on sight!"
"Adam's been through a lot. And…he didn't, if that counts for anything."
"That scar on his face," said Ruby, voice small. "Did your company really do that?"
"W-well, I may be the heiress, but you can't expect me to know every little thing that happens in every little corner of every Dust mine!"
"We're not accusing you of being okay with something like that," Yang said. "You admitted it yourself last night: the SDC does some messed-up stuff."
Last night. Was it morning?
"Yeah," Ruby added. "I just—something that bad. Is it possible?"
"I…didn't think it was."
"There are many parts of this world far darker than what you ladies have been exposed to thus far in your lives." The professor again. "Granted the faunus fought hard for equality and recognition after the Great War and achieved great progress towards those goals but there will always be discriminating individuals who will not see them as equals and, well, discriminate. While the Schnee Dust Company certainly has extremely questionable business practices and there are accusations aplenty of labor force exploitation I believe cases like Mister Taurus's are indicative more of the darkness within individuals than the system as a whole."
He could almost picture the Schnee's relieved smile. "See, that's—"
"That being said Miss Schnee, it is a knowingly permissive system that allows these kinds of horrors to be perpetuated and that kind of missing oversight is precisely why organizations like the White Fang always appear to have more fuel to add to their fires. To ignore an issue is to let it fester, as they say."
"People say that?" Ruby whispered, presumably to her sister.
That was enough listening to people discussing him as though he wasn't present. He hadn't worn a mask most of his life because he wanted people talking about the mark on his face and how it got there.
He sat up with a grunt, and all conversation died.
Blake was sitting against the bullhead's interior wall to his left, shoulders bowed from exhaustion, bandages peeking out from under her vest on her stomach. Everyone else was across the hold. Only the strange professor split the difference, but he was so busy flipping through a notebook and making annotations that Adam wondered if he even realized he was in no man's land.
Wilt and Blush weren't with him; they were on the opposite side of Blake. A fair compromise, he supposed, and it was leagues better than any of the humans handling his weapons. His mask was there too. Blake must have grabbed it.
Ruby slowly let her hand fall from whatever gesture she had been making to Yang.
He glanced at Blake. "How long was I out?"
"About an hour. How are you feeling?"
Closing his eyes, he took stock. His aura had clawed its way into a percentage that was probably only in the single digits. The wound in his chest, now treated, was healing slowly. He could feel the bandages lightly pulling on his skin under his shirt every time he took a breath. His bruises and burns from the explosion and Cinder's wrath were also healing, but they flared with pain when he tried to move them. He was as weak as he'd ever been, weaponless in a ship full of huntresses in training and a full-fledged huntsman, and without an exit strategy. The only thing waiting for him beyond this ship's walls was prison, if not execution.
He opened his eyes. "The cuffs are too tight."
For a second, she didn't get it. He let the wry twist to his lips show, and she smiled. It was a poor joke, but it was enough to ease the suffocating tension. Across the hold, Yang's eyes went wide.
"Hold on a sec," she said, and his walls crashed back into place. The short one elbowed her and the Schnee hissed something at her, but she kept going. "You're that guy Blake's always calling, aren't you? I thought I recognized your voice." She looked between them. "Are you two, like…"
"Yang!" the red one whispered, a little desperately. Adam was reminded of a puppy.
"A thing?" she finished.
Oh, the irony. Perhaps it was his exhaustion loosening his tongue or perhaps he just could not see a point in holding his silence, but he found himself responding. He did glance at Blake first, just to make sure he was doing so appropriately. Her face was red, though whether it was from the question itself or the fact that Yang had asked it in circumstances like these he couldn't tell.
"No," he said, looking back to Yang. Sure, they used to be. Many, many years ago for him. It was more recent for Blake, but they had both known that when she was leaving him at the camp, she was leaving him. He was…surprisingly okay with the thought. Possibly because Blake was still sitting next to him. "We're just friends."
"Friends," the Schnee repeated weakly, more to herself than anything. She was still visibly shaken up from nearly dying at his hands. As long as it saved him from hearing more from her than was the bare minimum, he was fine with that.
"Adam," Blake said, lost.
"Do you disagree?" he asked softly. "We're not good for each other, Blake."
Not entirely true. She was good for him, current state aside; his choice to blow up the train and accept the consequences was his own.
Because he had listened to her in Forever Fall, he could think with a clarity he hadn't known in years. He was, oddly enough, satisfied with where he was. And, because he had listened to her in Forever Fall and in every call afterwards, the White Fang was gaining unprecedented support from faunus across Vale. Every White Fang recruit saw him not just as some specter of vengeance against the humans but also as a protector of their people.
Yet, in reverse, he could not think of how his influence had benefited Blake. Everything he had done for her was a lifting of a restriction he himself had put in place. Letting her change the mission he'd arranged. Letting her leave the camp he'd pressed her to stay in. Letting her go after Torchwick and—though she didn't know it—Cinder when he'd been the only thing trying to stop her.
It was obvious on every call: at Beacon, Blake was happy. Without him standing over her shoulder, she was quicker to smile, quicker to show her dry sense of humor, quicker to take initiative. Besides, there was no erasing what she'd witnessed while they were both trapped by the Grimm. Even if she believed him a changed man, those scenes would always be in the back of her mind, just like they would always be in the back of his.
As he held her gaze, he saw her finally admit all of that to herself.
"Friends," she agreed.
"You'll still call?" he asked, playful tone hiding the fear underneath. If there was ever a moment for her to reject him as she had before, this was it. Partners to friends was just the first step to becoming enemies. Perhaps she only needed more time to process what she had seen in the warehouse.
To his surprise, however, she let herself slide down the wall until her head was resting on his shoulder. "Yes. I'll still call."
Cuffed as he was, he couldn't wrap an arm around her and pull her just a little bit closer the way he wanted. Instead, he leaned into her as well, letting his head rest on hers.
There was no going back to what they had been before. Too much time and trauma muddying the waters. Moments like this, moments where they could just be together, would need to be enough.
"Why were you even here?" Blake mumbled. "I told you not to worry."
His eyes fell closed. "You saw what happened the first time." Though it had been only a glimpse in the whirlwind of his memories. "I couldn't let it happen again."
She made a quiet noise of understanding. The constant hum of the bullhead's engines and the vibrations they caused had almost lulled him into exhausted sleep when the professor's voice snapped him wide awake.
"I hate to interrupt a moment as tender as this after the unexpected combat we have been through today but it is imperative that we all understand how this mission will be wrapping up. You see, when I called the headmaster a short while ago and shared the state of the underground section of Mountain Glenn as well as the disturbing discovery we made upon encountering Mister Taurus in the warehouse after the train was rendered inoperable he requested that we divert our course and meet with him before speaking with anyone else."
His thermos whipped out, knocking the scroll from Yang's hand. Ignoring her indignant "Hey!", he took a sip of his coffee and kept going while Yang recovered her device. "That means no scrolls, is that understood? We will be landing in the back of the school and proceeding directly to the headmaster's office."
It took Adam's tired mind several seconds to parse the professor's rapid-fire delivery. When he did, he and Blake both sat up straight.
"You're not taking me to prison," he clarified slowly.
"There are extenuating circumstances at play and we will be taking unusual measures to deal with them. So no," he took another sip of his coffee, glasses flashing, "we are not, as you say, taking you to prison."
Adam had assumed—erroneously—that the headmaster of Beacon would have some distinct presence about him. In news reports, interviews, and pictures, he seemed like nothing more than a bookish man with a penchant for having either a mug of something warm or a cane in hand at all times. Surely someone in his position with his power would carry with them some kind of gravitas wherever they went that recordings couldn't capture.
Standing here in his office, Adam observed nothing of the sort. Ozpin was a man. A white-haired, hot-chocolate-drinking man conversing with the motley crew assembled before him while the steam from his drink slowly fogged up his glasses.
Off to one side, Adam found the ticking gears in the ceiling and even in Ozpin's desk more entertaining than the conversation happening around him. Well, more the weapons on Ozpin's desk than the gears inside it. Blake had, at the headmaster's request, placed Wilt and Blush—as well as his mask—on the desk. Doing so seemed to reassure the Schnee, who had taken up her position as far from him as reasonably possible. Next to her was Ruby, then the green-haired professor, then Yang, and then Blake.
Adam glanced behind him. The wall was only a few paces away, but a conspicuous few paces. If he took them, the paranoid humans would probably accuse him of attempting to escape. In truth, he wanted something to lean against. The rest on the Bullhead had been enough to replenish the dregs of his strength so he doubted he would pass out again, but fighting his way out was far beyond him. Fleeing wasn't even an option; he doubted he could outrun the child Ruby at this point. So, right now, even something as simple as leaning against a wall instead of standing straight, would offer a little relief.
Ozpin raised his mug to take a drink, pulling Adam's attention away from the wall that was regrettably out of his reach. "I see. And after the train began to move, it exploded." His gaze switched to Adam, the first time the headmaster had acknowledged him since the start of this meeting. "I assume we have you to thank for that."
Everyone turned to him. He nodded.
"Very well. Please," he gestured to Ruby, "continue."
While the child rambled on about how their side of the mission went, Adam's focus wandered from Blake—who tried to put on a brave front for him before joining in on Ruby's report—to beyond Beacon's walls. No matter how much of an act Blake put on, they both knew this was the end of the line for him. He was caught. Not only that, but he was caught in a stronghold. Without an army of White Fang members, hacked Atlesian hardware, and the Grimm themselves storming the gates, Beacon would not fall.
There was no rescue coming. After this…debriefing, he was done. There was no waterfall, no shattering aura, no broken pieces of Gambol Shroud to make his fate obvious, but there could be no doubt.
He took some solace in that, this time, he would be the only one to suffer. James and Fable, and even Blake, should his absence motivate her, would be enough to hold the Vale branch together. Sienna would appoint someone new to the role. The White Fang would survive. Their revolution would survive.
He just…wouldn't be there for it. His story ended in failure—again.
Ozpin sat back in his chair, the fog clearing from his glasses. "Thank you for the report, Ruby. I appreciate your attention to detail. Professor Oobleck, might you have anything to add?"
The green-haired professor shook his head. "Not at all. I believe Miss Rose captured everything of relevance in her descriptions."
Nodding, the headmaster regarded the girls in front of him. "I informed General Ironwood about the situation in Mountain Glenn as soon as I heard about it from Professor Oobleck. He is, as you may be aware, acting as security in Vale for the approaching Vytal Festival. He sent some of his forces to ensure that there could be no second attempt at breaching Vale's walls."
"Did they find anything?" Yang asked.
"Did they find Torchwick?" Ruby added.
Adam thought back to the explosion. His semblance had not broken Torchwick's aura, merely bypassed it. Even unconscious, the thief likely had significant enough passive aura to take the worst of the blast. His coat would have helped him considerably in that regard.
So he was not at all surprised when Ozpin shook his head. "I'm afraid that they have not yet discovered any sign of Torchwick. Nor have they found any sign of this woman you fought in the warehouse, though the search is ongoing. Something to say, Miss Rose?"
She hesitated under the attention for a second, then rallied. "I think I've seen her before."
"There's a student from Haven, and I kinda sorta literally ran into her a while ago. I never got her name, but her hair was the same, and they had the same eye color," she began to trail off, voice fading, "um, kinda golden-orange, I think…"
"I can confirm these traits in our assailant," Oobleck said with a sharp nod. "White skin, black hair parted to one side, and eyes just as Miss Rose has described. Though visibility was poor in the warehouse I have the utmost confidence that she was of relatively young age as well, certainly not much older than that any Beacon graduate if even that so passing as a student would most likely be well within her abilities."
Ozpin opened his mouth to comment. Adam beat him to it.
Everyone tensed at the sound of his voice. He met Ozpin's gaze with equanimity, well aware of Blake's wide eyes seeking his own. "Her name is Cinder Fall. She has two subordinates, one with green hair, one with gray."
Ruby perked up. "Yeah, they were in the hallway too!"
His plan to take care of Cinder on his own had failed. He wasn't putting Blake at risk any longer by keeping her headmaster in the dark when he knew for a fact that Cinder had infiltrated Beacon. Of course a name would not be enough to keep Blake safe. He should have found some way to get her a picture.
"Do you know anything more about this Cinder Fall, Mister Taurus?"
He shook his head. "Just that she wants Beacon to fall, and," his words took on a pointed tone, "that she's not at the head of the operation."
"Very well. Thank you for sharing." Ozpin swept his gaze over the assembled teenagers and their guardian. "Team RWBY, you have all done very well to handle a mission that went in as unexpected of a direction as this one. You should be proud. You are all dismissed; take some time for yourselves. Rest. Recover. There is far more work ahead."
The girls turned to leave.
"And, please," they turned back, "do keep what transpired in Mountain Glenn among yourselves. Miss Belladonna, would you mind staying? You too, Mister Taurus. I have more questions for you two and what you experienced in that warehouse."
Adam and Blake exchanged a look. Blake exchanged a look with her team. Her team exchanged a look with Oobleck, which was probably the most neutral look among them. Each channel of communication flowed back towards the person who had initiated it, leaving Blake standing next to Adam while her team and their professor filed into the elevators.
Within moments of the doors closing, the only sounds in the office were the ticks and groans of the gears above.
"I don't see the point in you requesting that I stay when I have no choice," Adam said.
"There is always a point in courtesy. Now," Ozpin leaned forward, resting his elbows on his desk and steepling his fingers in front of his chin, "tell me what you saw in that warehouse before reinforcements arrived."
Adam kept his face blank but inwardly frowned. The woman had specifically mentioned Ozpin sending people against her. To think that the headmaster didn't already know about her was absurd. Ruby and Yang had mentioned their observations of a woman in the Grimm during the report. Why was Ozpin dancing around the issue? In fact, why had he not attempted to gather more information on the woman while everyone was present?
"Adam was there the longest," Blake said hesitantly. Unlike Adam, she did not seem as put off by Ozpin's strange priorities. "When I arrived, he was already," she swallowed, "the Grimm had put one of its spikes in his chest. Cinder cut me off before I could get to him. I tried to throw him his weapons, but it didn't look like he could use them. The Grimm hit me while I was trying to fight Cinder, and it…it pulled me into this vision."
"It required physical contact to affect you?"
"I think so."
"And what was this vision?"
"It was…It's hard to describe."
"Whatever you can give will be enough."
Swallowing, Blake glanced at Adam. He only stared back. She had taken the lead; Ozpin was focused on her.
"It was a lot. A lot of places and a lot of people. I think they were Adam's memories."
"The Grimm must have been a seer. Only they possess the abilities to invade a person's mind in such a way. What else did you see?"
Blake glanced at him again. "Like I said, it was hard to keep it all straight. There was too much to process. I saw Forever Fall."
"Did you get a sense of what the woman was looking for? Why she would take such an interest in you and Mister Taurus?"
"I…don't really know. She paid a lot more attention to Adam than to me."
For all that Blake had the spotlight, all this dancing around the issue was wearing on his nerves. He narrowed his eyes. "She was ripping through my memories to figure out how I arrived in the past from the future so that she could do the same thing."
In the ringing silence that followed, the gears were the only things that moved. Ozpin's eyes had gone wide, and Adam got the sense that he was not often surprised like this. Still, he recovered quickly.
He preferred not to think about the final minutes in that dream world. "I doubt it. She said that it was a tear. That it sent only my mind through, not my body. It wasn't anything I was trying to do. My semblance can't cut time."
"And if it were a Grimm," Ozpin muttered, "she would have done something with it by now."
"If someone like her did figure it out at any point," Adam continued, eyeing Ozpin closely, "I think we'd know by now."
The headmaster's shoulders fell. Where the woman had held the rage of ages, he only bore the weight. "Yes. We would have."
Heaving a sigh, Ozpin straightened in his chair, and the uncharacteristic heaviness to his posture vanished. "We should all be thankful the secrets of time remain known only to myth and legend." His gaze switched to Blake. "Miss Belladonna, you must be exhausted. Please, get some rest."
"I'm okay," Blake said, visibly swaying on her feet. Unlike Adam, she'd had almost a full day of fighting Grimm before the train blew up and while waiting for transport back to Vale to arrive.
"I appreciate your loyalty," Ozpin said. He softened his voice. "That said, I must request that you take your leave." Still Blake hesitated. "You are tired, I can see that. What we discuss in your absence I will tell you about later, when you and your team have not just come back from a trek through city full of Grimm and hired guns that, as I have come understand, exploded."
That did it. She glanced at him, composure folding to reveal the weariness beneath. He nodded; she didn't need to push herself like this. A cynical part of him played with the absurdity of this whole situation. He let it do so far in the background of his thoughts.
When the elevator doors slid closed, Ozpin regarded Adam much as he had at the start of this meeting. This was to be a reset, then.
Adam could guess where this was going. Threats, probably with plenty of mention of his future in a jail cell or on an execution stand. Ozpin played the part of the chivalrous headmaster well, but he was still only human. He wanted something, and like every human, he would use pain, real or threatened, to get it. Perhaps he would even incorporate the remaining ships of the Atlesian fleet floating in the skies beyond the window.
"I need you to tell me everything," Ozpin said. "Not just what transpired in Mountain Glenn, but how you became involved with Cinder Fall in the first place."
He was omitting the threats. That was original, at least. "You'll have to be more specific."
"For now, just this timeline, please."
Instead of voicing his derision, Adam provided a clipped and rather abbreviated report of events starting with Cinder's first meeting with him up to waking in the bullhead. His time under the woman's influence was particularly light on details. It was the most antagonistic debrief he had ever given. If Ozpin noticed or cared about his tone, he gave no sign of it. When Adam finished, the headmaster set down his drink, stood, and stared out at the ships beyond his window.
It was…strange. He had described a woman controlling the creatures of Grimm who, now that he was thinking about it, bore no small amount of physical resemblance to them. A woman who knew about Ozpin and had all but stated that Ozpin knew about her.
So Ozpin was calm. Ozpin was too calm. Ozpin was far, far too calm in the face of there potentially being a Queen of the Grimm.
"You know," he breathed, realization washing over him like a wave. "You know about her. Do all of the headmasters know? Is this some grand secret among you? A way to keep the rest of us in check?"
The end of Ozpin's cane hit the floor with a sharp crack. "I would appreciate if you avoided making wild accusations. There is a lot more at play here than you understand, and if you are not careful, you could put yourself, and those you care about, in great danger."
His expression cooled. This would be a familiar kind of conversation after all.
Ozpin, however, sighed as he turned to face Adam, and the austerity to his expression slipped away. "I say this not as an attempt to cow you into submission, Mister Taurus, but rather as a fair warning. That woman, Salem, is dangerous, far more so than any other being on this planet, and she does not take resistance lightly. You have put yourself in her sights. There have been many men and women—each of them brave, each of them strong—who have faced her and not returned whole, or not returned at all." He reached for his mug almost as an afterthought.
Adam shifted on his feet, and the click of his cuffs against each other seemed to draw Ozpin back to the present.
"I didn't go to Mountain Glenn to fight her." He hadn't even known she existed.
"Of course." Ozpin sipped his drink. "You, a known terrorist, went there in what appears to be an attempt to interfere with an official huntsman investigation into suspicious activity in a city that was supposed to be abandoned." Another sip. A strange gleam in his eye. "Why would you do such a thing?"
"Cinder mocked our cause by attempting to ally with us. I couldn't let that stand."
"She mocked your cause, yet you acted alone."
Ozpin was talking circles around him. Adam lost the fight against his scowl. "In the future, I saw where I ended up at her side. I saw how she used the faunus and then threw them aside when we no longer suited her needs. It was her who dragged me into her plans. I acted alone because my comrades don't deserve to be forced into that fight again."
A gear swung by overhead, casting a deep shadow before the light returned.
"By all accounts, you have also encouraged a radical shift in the White Fang's policies here in Vale." He pressed a button on his desk, and holo-images came to life above it: pictures from all the protests his forces had guarded. "Not long ago, your people were encouraging violence at these events, not disrupting it."
He couldn't figure out Ozpin's angle. What did he want? "It was foolish to waste resources fighting ourselves when we could be stronger together."
"A nice sentiment." The pictures disappeared. "Rather difficult to do much as a unified force when you strike out on your own, is it not?"
This was quickly becoming rather repetitive and equally pointless. "It wasn't their fight."
"Do you regret it?"
"After all, I doubt you desired to wind up here with the possibility of imprisonment or worse awaiting you. An army may have prevented this from happening."
Gritting his teeth, he looked away. Ozpin only waited.
"No," Adam finally bit out, unable to take the silence. "I don't regret it."
"I see." Ozpin came out from behind his desk to lean against it, drink set aside and seemingly forgotten. His right hip was less than an inch away from Adam's mask. "You look at yourself and you see a failure. A soldier who has disappointed his creed, his cause, and his kin by ending up here. One who has nowhere left to go." Another shadow of one of the gears above passed along the floor. "I look at you, and I see an opportunity."
A recruitment pitch. Caught between the audacity and the absurdity of it, Adam could only stare.
"Salem has always drawn her forces from those who turn their backs on the world, those who don't care and," his voice grew heavy, "those who believe there is nothing left to do with it but burn it down."
Adam narrowed his eyes.
"Despite our best intentions, there will always be individuals who slip through the cracks of society. That is inevitable. I have hoped for so long that we would be able to narrow those pitfalls, but as your organization has shown, they are as wide as they have ever been.
"So, when the only daughter of the Belladonna family and a known affiliate—if not member—of the White Fang applied to this school, I believed it was the right choice to accept her. I believed, and still do, in second chances. And while it is indisputable that you have a bloodier history than Miss Belladonna, your recent changes to the White Fang in Vale are an encouraging sign that you have decided there may be something worth preserving in this world after all. I can't profess to know what happened in your future, and I will not ask—"
"Are you sure?" Adam asked, tilting his head and speaking with a distinctly sardonic edge. "You could be missing out on valuable intelligence." Like the fact that Atlas's precious mechanical legions had all been hacked.
"I don't doubt it. However, we are all entitled to our own secrets. Consider it a sign of trust."
Trust. He scoffed, crossing his arms. "We both know what happens once I'm dragged out of your office. It doesn't matter what 'trust' or what second chance you think you can offer. It's all meaningless."
Ozpin picked up his mug and took an irritatingly long drink. "Is it?"
Before Adam could lose his patience, Ozpin set the mug down again, where it resumed fogging up the desk's glass surface. "You see, I am not inclined to toss you into prison, as much as a certain Atlesian general might like to have that be the case. I believe you could be a far more valuable resource than prisoner."
Adam's lip curled. "I didn't become what I am to help you righteous fools."
"Fools we may be," Ozpin acknowledged, "but remember: that woman knows who you are. You dealt them a great blow, so they will take time to recover. Nurse their wounds. But they will return. She will return. And she does not need to be able to reach you to hurt you."
Despite himself, the thought of being trapped by that hellish Grimm again had him hesitating. If that woman, if Salem caught him again—
He scowled. "I'm not being used again. Not for a human cause. I don't care what your end goal is. And if you thought for even a second that I would turn on the faunus, that I would spy on them for you, you're far more delusional than I expected."
Unfazed by his hostility, Ozpin let him cool or a few seconds before responding. "Not as a spy, but as an ally. Huntsmen, Huntresses, and the White Fang standing as a united front that can rightly claim it is protecting everyone."
"I just told you—"
"This is something greater than humans, greater than faunus, greater even than the creatures of Grimm." For a moment, as Ozpin stared him down, Adam swore the gears stopped turning. "Just as you do not care about our mission, so too does Salem disregard yours. To her, after your actions, the White Fang is nothing more than another obstacle to be removed. She may start with you. She may not. But she will start somewhere."
Adam's hand curled into a fist. He forced himself to relax. "I won't deny she's a threat. But right now, she's not the one holding a gun to the head of every faunus."
"As headmaster of Beacon, I hold a certain amount of sway with the Vale council and with the direction of this academy and its curriculum. You are within your rights to ask things of me in exchange for this kind of truce, though I will caution you against anything extreme."
"There's nothing you can offer me that will change my mind."
Ozpin's lips turned down at the corners, though his tone remained civil. "If you are not with her, you are against her."
"That's not enough to throw all of the White Fang into a conflict against some kind of god that I didn't know existed ten hours ago. We were formed to fight for the faunus, not against the Grimm."
"Surely you can see that this threat extends to you as well. If we work together, we stand a far better chance of survival."
He could see that. He had seen that. Such observations didn't stop the idea of allying with humans from leaving a sour taste in his mouth, however. Although, even paying lip service to such an alliance would leave him with a huntsman academy's headmaster in his debt…
Just by considering the possibility, Adam knew he was being swayed. The mere thought of Salem was enough to make his heart pound and the room seem colder. He shuddered to think what someone in control of the creatures of Grimm could do to the White Fang, to the faunus, when there was more than just a seer available.
"If you want the White Fang's support, you'll need to give me more than vague threats of annihilation and lofty ideals of cooperation."
He was omitting a few details in how that support could even be gained. Yes, he had sway as the branch leader, but he was far from having the final word. He couldn't even remember his last conversation with Sienna in this timeline, but he would never forget his betrayal from the old one. That was not an option here; his belief that he was a more fitting leader than her had been a delusion encouraged by Cinder's faction.
Force was not the answer, but it would take time and effort to sway the Fang into believing that they should split their focus. Time and effort that he would be investing on behalf of a human.
He needed to be sure.
As though he also needed some kind of proof, Ozpin merely watched him. Adam shifted on his feet, burdened by the sudden and uncomfortable feeling that he was being put on trial in a courtroom he couldn't see. Though the only other man in the room was Ozpin, the headmaster's gaze carried the weight of judge, jury, and executioner. Swallowing, Adam forced himself to remain relaxed and blank-faced.
Still the silence stretched on. The gears were turning, but under their constant chorus were other noises: the elevators operating as they shuttled people to and from the communications room; someone performing maintenance with some kind of drilling tool; air whistling through the grates of the ventilation ducts.
Ozpin's drink was still steaming. Its ring of fog on the desk's surface had widened to a couple inches thick. At this rate, it would reach his weapons. He tried not to twitch. Logically, he knew that a little condensation wouldn't do anything to Blush.
"Mister Taurus." Ozpin's voice shattered the silence. "What is your favorite fairy tale?"
On the bullhead, Yang had her scroll out because she was attempting to take a picture of Blake and Adam leaning against each other. She thought it was cute, terrorist's history and recent Schnee assassination attempt aside. Whether she actually managed to take the picture…I'll leave that up to you.
This is pretty much as far as my plan went after I decided to make this story more than a oneshot. Thus, in the interest of pursuing my other Adam stories, I'm ending it (or, at least, calling it complete) here. I also don't want to make promises I can't keep or take one of my favorite stories that I've written and turn it into a rambling mess. Maybe in the future I get more ideas and come back. Maybe I don't. Either way, it's been fun.
Until next time,