Chapter 46: Casa di Torchwick.

"A man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man." ~ Vito Corleone The Godfather 1972.


I heard a soft rumble and a faint tapping. It stirred me from my deep sleep, gently pulling me from the comfortable abyss I had fallen deep into. I heard soft sounds and gentle hushed voices that further pulled me away from the rest. I felt warm and comfortable and my eyelids were heavy but the more I listened the more my brain started to think, remembering what had just happened before I found myself in the deepest sleep I had ever had.

Eventually I opened my eyes to a brightly lit room. I was laying in an incredibly warm and soft bed. A gentle and fragrant breeze was wafting in through an open window and the sunlight was shining in. I had to blink a few times because it was so bright but my eyes quickly adjusted. I was in some four poster bed with the curtains pulled up. There was no gun resting on the nightstand like I had become accustomed to.

The rest of my other senses began to sharpen as well and I recognized the quiet voice I was hearing. "Anna?" I croaked, finding my throat to be incredibly dry.

"He's awake." I heard her excited voice call out.

I tried to sit up and instead found myself just a little too weak to do that. But she moved over into my view and smiled a big wide smile at me. She looked a million times better than she had in that dirty little prison. She was cleaned up with her curly blonde hair washed and now dressed in a clean pink dress, the only sign that she had been a captive was the bruise Dipshit had left on her face. A second later Neo stepped up behind her and smiled at me.

"Sleep - well?" She asked me with a smile.

I nodded and tried to sit up again with better results finding myself feeling pretty numb all over. "Water?" I asked her in sign language, my throat dry as I looked around the room a bit more. It was a nice white room with wooden furnishings and a lot of windows that let the sunlight in. I noticed that by the foot of the bed there were some board games like candyland and checkers laid out. It seemed the two of them had been passing the time together waiting for me to wake up.

Neo poured me a glass of water from a pitcher that had been waiting on the nightstand and handed it to me. I drank half the glass before looking back at them again and smiling. I realized that there was an IV stuck in my arms, which explained why I was feeling so weak and loopy having all kinds of drugs being pumped into me.

"You two stayed here for me?" I asked groggily.

Anna nodded happily. "After Neo here got me washed and let me borrow some of her old clothes." She said spinning in her hand me down dress. "We both have the same favorite color! Pink!"

I laughed pleased that she was being well taken care of. Neo again showed that she was surprisingly good with kids, far better than I expected.

"She's - quite - competitive - playing - candyland." Neo told me with a smile putting a hand on Anna's shoulder.

"How long have I been asleep?" I asked, still a little confused about my surroundings.

"Two - and - a - half - days." Neo told me. "We - got - a - doctor - to - look - at - you - and - she - said - you - needed - rest."

I nodded and looked at my hands and arms, noticing that they were bandaged up from wounds I didn't even remember getting. It seemed that my aura had indeed done the trick in healing me and I imagined the drugs in the IV had helped me sleep and took away the pain.

A glance to the corner of the room showed me a comfortable chair with a blanket and pillows. Had Neo and Anna been spending their nights here with me?

"Are you hungry?" Anna asked me excitedly. "It's almost lunch time but Roman made chocolate chip pancakes and we saved some for you!" Anna told me excitedly.

"That sounds wonderful." I told her, reaching a hand out and ruffling her hair affectionately. "I could eat a horse. By the way, where are we?" I asked Neo, having no concept in regards to our location. A look out the window showed green grass, trees and a lovely garden. This certainly wasn't anyplace in the city. I couldn't see any tall buildings in the background.

"My home on Longshore." A new voice said. I looked away from Neo and Anna and spotted Roman stepping inside and giving me a long look up and down. "Torchwick Manor as it was once called back in the day. How are you feeling, Gent?"

"Uh… hello sir." I greeted him a little surprised that of all the places they could have taken me, Roman had apparently decided to take me into his home. I had no idea where Roman lived but right now it almost seemed obvious that he would have a mansion on Longshore. I wondered how far away it was from Sal's old home.

"There's no need to greet me so formally." Roman told me. "I asked you how you're feeling."

"I'm a little sluggish and hungry… but I should be able to get back on my feet and out of your hair soon enough." I told him.

"Well there's no rush for you to get back on those feet. And for the time being Gent I think you should stay here. Consider yourself my guest." Roman told me.

"Uh… thank you sir." I said to him a little taken aback by the generosity. Letting me stay here especially for an extended period of time was certainly a show of trust.

Roman smiled and looked over at Anna. "Anna, can you go into the kitchen and tell Gretchen to get out those pancakes I made for Jaune. He'll be eating his breakfast in bed."

Anna nodded happily and skipped out of the room. Roman watched her leave and chuckled. "She's a nice girl, high spirits despite what she went through, and pretty smart to boot." Roman mused to me with a sign. "I don't suppose you know why she was so important to our enemies?"

I shook my head at him. "She was pretty tight-lipped to me about all of that. Though I'm pretty sure that whoever her parents are, they're wiseguys."

"I think so too. Otherwise she'd be telling us all kinds of things to help us find her parents but she's staying quiet. Whoever her parents are, they told her if she was ever taken she shouldn't talk and so far she hasn't talked." Roman told me with a shake of his head. "But whoever she is, she has to be important, otherwise they wouldn't have been holding her."

I nodded to him and looked over at Neo who sat on the foot of the bed. "But - whoever - her - parents - are - we - clearly - have - a - common - enemy."

"So… how's it been going without me?" I asked, wondering how things had progressed. I had no idea how long I had been captured or what had transpired in the last couple of days. "How's the war going? That little rescue you launched wasn't exactly subtle, what's the fallout? I want to help."

"Slow down Gent." Roman said with a raised hand. "Things are going fine for the moment, Cardin and Fat Mike are handling your affairs with my guiding hand and your rescue has been conveniently swept under the rug."

I raised my eyebrow at him. Swept under the rug? That didn't seem possible to me, bullheads circling around spitting lead tended to attract a lot of attention. It was prime material for the five o'clock news. "How?" I asked him.

Neo smiled and pulled out her scroll tapping the screen before showing it to me. I spotted General James Ironwood standing behind a podium speaking into a number of microphones.

"Earlier this morning before dawn I, with the consent and cooperation of Vale Council and police force, gave the order for my soldiers to assault a confirmed White Fang terrorist cell hidden within an abandoned brick factory within the heart of your city's industrial center." Ironwood explained. "It is my pleasure to announce that the operation was a complete success, the cell has been effectively shut down and the members are under arrest."

Then I watched the reporters as they asked various questions only to receive lies upon lies about how the Vale police discovered the largest terror cell in history and how bullheads with airborne troops led the assault and how it was a victory for Atlas and Vale cooperating. I almost wanted to gag but it was quite amusing.

"They covered it up!?" I asked them.

Roman chuckled gleefully. "Isn't it just perfect? We got you back, at least half of Nicky's little army is now fertilizer, and now Ironwood and the Vale Council clean up the mess for us instead of just admitting the truth."

"But why?" I asked. "A fight like that would be an invitation to bring down the heat. I figured it'd be exactly what Ironwood would want."

Roman chuckled. "Ironwood blinked is what happened. If word got out that a firefight that big happened in Vale right under his nose then it'd be as good as admitting that he's all but powerless here. And that's without considering the fact that he had filled the place up with a bunch of rejects from his own military. That would have been a hell of a media circus."

"I think I missed a few things." I admitted to them needing some blanks filled in.

Roman and Neo proceeded to tell me about what had transpired. Roman told me about having to fight not only Blake but the rest of Team RWBY. I was relieved that Blake had managed to get away from him without getting caught. I knew she wouldn't be giving up her vigilante act but I had hoped that she would give Roman a wide berth, but considering the Fang was her target that really was too much to ask for. I wished that I could talk to her, ask her about Ozpin and the conversation she said she would have with him.

They also told me about how Cardin went on the warpath to get me back. Finding my location with the help of Deery and the rest of my crew and kidnapping and forcing the information out of some Atlesian gangsters Cardin remembered from his time working for Michail. They told me how they learned that those goons packed into that abandoned brick factory were all former Atlesian military, released from prison to form a sort of army for Nicky. And now it seemed with that attack most of them were now dead and that the Atlas Military was helping to now cover it up claiming that the fighting had been between the Atlas military and the White Fang.

They also explained how they had caught someone breaking into my rooms above the Moonstone and why they didn't think it was a safe place for me to stay. They said they weren't sure what would have been worth taking but I knew. That was when Wyatt had gotten my stash of burner scrolls, including the very one I used to talk to Ozpin. Not that I told them about that.

When they were done I started to explain my own side of the story. About how I was stuck there, the questions they asked me. It was hard for me to talk about how they tortured me. The look in Neo's eyes was frighting, when I told her about how they cut me with my own blade explaining that I used my aura to dull the pain as much as I could. But when I started to tell them about the waterboarding I started to hyperventilate, Neo moved to my side and put a comforting arm around me.

"You don't need to trouble yourself telling me all about that, Gent." Roman told me kindly, stepping close and putting his hand on my shoulder. "You went through quite a lot, more than any man should. But you need to tell me, and be honest, did you talk?"

I took a deep breath and Neo gave me an encouraging squeeze. "A little," I admitted to him, "I told him what I heard at the rally, that operations were being moved to the southeast."

"Is that all?" Roman asked me.

"That's the only true thing I told them." I said honestly. "I lied a lot, but they never bought them."

"That's better than I expected." Roman admitted to me. "That Belladonna girl already escaped with that bit of intel so it's already off to Ozpin meaning Ironwood and Nicky didn't learn anything that wouldn't be found out."

"Still… I'm sorry I talked." I told him, embarrassed that I had let anything slip.

"You were tortured Gent, anyone would have talked sooner or later." Roman told me with a shake of his head. "They always do."

"So what happens now?" I asked him.

"For now I think you should rest." Roman told me. "Your business is in capable hands at the moment and you're a little too hot right now to be seen on the streets. Stay here, take some personal time."

The door opened and Anna appeared with an elderly maid carrying a tray that indeed had a plate full of chocolate chip pancakes along with coffee, orange juice, sausage, bacon, eggs and everything else a hungry man could want after waking up from a long sleep.

"This is my maid Gretchen, she's an old friend of the Family so you can trust her." Roman assured me, introducing the old maid to me who gave me a bow. "She has been helping attend to you."

I nodded to her. "Hello Gretchen."

"It is a pleasure to finally meet you Master Arc." The kindly woman said, laying the tray down over my lap and giving me a friendly smile. "Mr. Torchwick and Neo have already told me quite a bit about you, it is a pleasure to finally put a face to the name. Now eat, I am sure you must be famished."

I nodded to her and picked up my fork and knife looking at the delicious food with far less enthusiasm than I wanted to feel. I was hungry and it looked delectable, but at the moment the process of eating felt more mechanical than pleasurable.

"Gretchen has been helping me learn sign language so I can talk to Neo." Anna told me, climbing onto the big bed to sit next to me.

"She has a talent for learning." Gretchen said ruffling Anna's hair with a smile. "Anna here is as sharp as a tack."

"Neo told me that you can speak sign language too!" Anna said with a giggle. "It can be like we all have our own secret language!"

"Now Anna, I know you waited a long time for Mr. Arc to wake up. But he's been through a lot, take it easy with him." Roman told her leaning down to talk to her at her own level. "If he or Neo want some time alone you need to give it to them. Understand?"

Anna nodded to him. "I understand… I'm just happy that he's alright now."

Roman nodded to her. "I am too, but it's going to be awhile before he's fully alright. So let him rest when he needs to, if you are bored you can find Gretchen or me and we'll find something for you to do."

Anna nodded to him. "But can I stay with him right now?"

"That's fine with me." I said to them after swallowing a piece of crispy bacon.

Roman nodded. "Alright then, I have your weapons for when you want them, but you shouldn't need them while you're here. You should be able to walk soon but don't be too hasty getting back on your feet. I'll tell your friends that you're awake and that they can see you later."

With that Roman and Gretchen left us as I ate my food mechanically. The whole time Anna told me all about the mansion we were currently in. How big it was, how the gardens were even bigger and how Neo and Roman had been treating her since she had woken up here after the incident at the brick factory. I had to promise her that I would go exploring with her when I was back on my feet and after breakfast Neo was kind enough to take her away and let me go into the bathroom to clean up after helping me take out my IV.

It was nice to finally enjoy some clean hot water but I felt myself get more than a little anxious feeling it on my face. A wet cloth didn't help my feelings about it either but I bore it. I wasn't going to be much good to anyone if I couldn't even clean myself. I had gained a number of scars from the ordeal, removing the bandages showed that my aura hadn't been enough to remove the marks that had been given to me. A touch to the back of my neck told me that the B that had been branded into my skin was still there. I wondered maybe if I should go back to Little Mistral and get it tattooed over.

But most of the marks were on my abdomen where Dipshit had used Astuzia to carve a number of cuts that criss crossed. They were only a bunch of thin pinkish lines but I felt sick looking at them.

A number of my clothes had been brought to me so I dressed myself in a simple set of sweatpants and a t-shirt. But wearing them didn't feel as comfortable as I had hoped and after looking at myself in a vanity mirror in the corner I decided that I didn't like the look of what I saw so I opted to wear one of my more casual suits minus the jacket, just a shirt and vest. I felt better dressed that way, like the appearance gave me some sense of power and control.

I stayed in my room for a long time not knowing what I was supposed to be doing. A part of me wanted to just get back to working but I knew that Roman was right about me having to take some time to myself. I just couldn't help myself but to keep thinking about what had happened. No matter how much I wanted to banish the memories of that awful place from my mind I couldn't help but think about it.

But understanding that being alone with just my thoughts wasn't going to help me I walked out of the room into a long finely decorated hallway. I had always imagined houses like this, rich places with too many rooms. It felt a little empty but also homely in it's own way filled with warm brown wood and nice Vacuan rugs. I heard Anna's voice from down the hall and I followed it taking a stairway down to the first floor where I found Anna and Neo playing a little game involving sign language.

I had to smile a little at the sight of them. Who knew that Neo was so good with kids?

"There he is!" Anna said, smiling at me but staying in her seat of what I could only assume was a living room. "What should we do?"

"How - about - something - simple?" Neo suggested to us, going extra slower with the sign language for Anna who only caught a couple of the words she was using. "We - could - watch - a - movie?"

"What did she say?" Anna asked me. "I got something, simple, we and watch."

"She suggested we do something simple, like watch a movie." I told her with a bit of a forced smile.

"That sounds fun!" Anna said, looking towards the big screen television as Neo picked up a remote and went to Schneeflix, finding a movie that was appropriate for a young girl to watch.

"This - was - one - of - my - favorites - growing - up." Neo told her with me translating. Anna would closely watch and replicate the movements with her hands paying very close attention whenever Neo spoke in sign.

"It looks kind of old." Anna commented, making me chuckle.

"It is old." I told her. "It was old when I was your age, but it's really good, it's about a man with a magical candy factory."

"Does it have any songs to sing?" She asked me.

I smiled at her and nodded as I got on the couch with Neo moving to sit right next to me pulling a blanket over the two of us as Anna took a comfy armchair for herself.

Anna loved the movie and in little time she was singing along to the music and gazing in wonder as they went through the magical chocolate factory.

Neo was being unusually affectionate towards me. She cuddled close and even held my hand under the blankets. It wasn't unpleasant or unwanted but it did seem a little strange. We had of course cuddled together and much much more but I found it peculiar just how she was acting towards me. There was a new warmth to it.

And it helped me a little. Watching Anna get excited and enjoy this classic movie made me smile and having Neo curled against me with her head on my shoulder was pleasant and comfortable. We went on like that for a number of hours, just watching old kids movies together that we could all enjoy. It was a kind of simple pleasure I hadn't enjoyed in a very long time.

It provided a small distraction from the horrors that kept invading my mind. I kept my anxiety to myself as we finished one movie and started another. Eventually Gretchen came in with a bowl of popcorn and other snacks followed by lunch as we continued to just stay in front of the comforting television hour after hour.

Just as we were in the middle of watching Peter's Dragon when Gretchen came in and told us that my friends had arrived. We left Anna watching the movie as Neo led me into the entry hall where Cardin along with my crew and Fat Mike waited.

"Hey Boss! Good to see you!" Russel said, stepping forward with Deery and giving me a pat on the arm, but carefully.

"How are you feeling?" Fat Mike asked me, crossing his arms over his broad chest and looking around the decor of the mansion.

"I'm alive aren't I?" I said, giving them an unconvincing smile.

"I saw those wounds." Cardin told me. "You looked like you were put through hell."

"Yeah it sucked. I'll be leaving them a one star review." I said with a forced chuckle. No one else smiled or laughed at my poor attempt at humor.

Trying to do my best to get past the awkwardness of the situation I scratched the back of my head and looked at Cardin. "How are things going?"

"Mike and I have business in order. It'll be ready for you when you're back on your feet." Cardin assured me.

"Has there been any developments?" I asked him.

"Cardin here is turning the Moonstone into a fortress." Dove told me with a bit of a chuckle. "He's getting a whole new security system and everything for the place."

"Roman told me that you had an intruder." I said, it probably meant that Blake wasn't going to be showing up at my window again after that, which was probably for the best.

"That's right, cut right through that flimsy glass and everything." Cardin explained. "So I'm going to make sure that doesn't happen again, but you really should find a new place to crash, living above a nightclub probably wasn't the best idea anyways."

"Maybe the twins can let you stay with them again." Sky said with a teasing little chuckle and slap to my shoulder.

"Well for now I'm gonna be crashing here." I said to them.

"We know. Roman told us." Cardin told me looking around at the place with its paintings and vases. "So… if this is Roman's place… are you sure it's safe?'

"The - estate - has - been - with - the - Torchwick - family - for - a - long - time." Neo explained to them and to me. "But - it's - technically - owned - by - the - Vale - Historical - Society - which - was - founded - by - Luca - Torchwick."

"Seriously?" Russel asked with a smirk. "This house is just one big tax dodge?"

Neo nodded to him. "No - one - knows -we're - here."

Cardin nodded, accepting his answer. "Yeah so I'm helping to secure the Moonstone and if you want I can be on the lookout for a nice apartment for ya'."

"Go right ahead, just make sure it's really nice." I told him, not really ready to give up living above the Moonstone but I saw the wisdom of the decision. Besides it would be nice not to live over a nightclub that was open till four in the morning. But that was part of the charm.

Cardin smiled and nodded to me.

"How's it on the streets?" I asked them.

"Quiet." Dove answered. "A bit too quiet if you ask me, we expected the Atlesians to retaliate but so far nothing. I'd almost call it peaceful."

"We did hit them really hard." Fat Mike said. "If those rumors about Nicky losing an army are true then I imagine the rest of the Atlesian Authority isn't very happy at the moment. Especially when you consider how the military covered it up for us, that's gotta look suspicious."

I was still a little concerned that Ironwood and the rest of the Vale Council had done that. After all Ozpin was also on the Vale council and that meant he was either complicit or there were things happening beyond his influence and neither felt good to me.

"Are there any rumors getting around about that?" I asked. Given how many people had been there during the fight I imagined that it was difficult to keep the truth from slipping out.

"Mostly contained." Cardin told me. "It was just us, some members of the White Fang and the Clan with the 24k Dragons. Some things have managed to get out but we're making sure anyone that was there keeps quiet. And everything that has been slipping out has been drowned out by all kinds of rumors regular people are spreading."

"Like what?" I asked him.

"All kinds of wacky shit." Sky told me. "Some of those conspiracy nuts are claiming things like Ironwood staged the attack on an empty building to justify his army for being here."

"That's actually not all that crazy." I mused, given what I had learned so far it seemed like something the General could very well do.

"True, but if the public learned the actual truth who fucking knows what would be happening." Russel said.

I turned to Mike. "How are things with Sal's warehouses?"

"Well they're your warehouses now." Mike corrected me. "And so far it's fine, the public found out about the rally but they didn't find much of anything in there and since that warehouse was technically registered under numerous holding companies you and your aliases are in the clear. Not to mention the pigs on our payroll have been keeping things smooth for us. As for the rest it's business as usual. Weapons are coming in and getting shipped out while the bank accounts grow fatter. It's all being taken care of."

I was both pleased to hear it and a little disappointed to find that things were going smoothly without my guiding hand.

"I guess you don't need me then." I said casually with a shrug.

"Not right now." Cardin assured me. "It's only been a few days and with everything that just happened we're trying to keep things on the down low."

I nodded to him, feeling a little better from his assurance. We hung out for a little bit until Gretchen announced that dinner was ready and that she had cooked enough for everyone. She led us all into a large ornate dining room with everything including a nice crystal chandelier sitting up top and a long table that looked far too big for a dinner table but considering how many of us there were it seemed reasonable. We all sat down with Neo by my side close to the head of the table that was reserved for Roman.

"By the way, Jaune." Cardin told me, apparently sensing my mood. "Some of that excess dust we got is-."

Cardin stopped as the door opened and Roman walked in looking at the eight of us sitting on one end of the big table. "I can't remember the last time we used this table for dinner." He said with a smirk as he took his seat at the head of the table. "So… what are we talking about?"

"I was just talking to Jaune about some of that dust we-." Cardin explained before Roman stopped him.

"Ah ah ah! We don't discuss business at the dinner table in this house." Roman told him with a smile. "It's an old house rule that I choose to honor. Besides… that's not a conversation our young guest needs to be listening to."

"Where is Anna by the way?" I asked him.

"She's helping Gretchen in the kitchen, it was her idea I assure you." Roman said with a bit of a smile.

"How is the kid doing?" Deery asked, taking a sip of her wine glass. "Did you figure out where she's from?"

"Not at the moment." Roman explained with a shake of his head.

"So - far - she's - being - quiet - about - her - parents." Neo said letting Roman translate to everyone else for a change. "But - whatever - the - case - we're - going - to - take - care - of - her - for - now."

Gretchen opened the door and stepped out with Anna in tow carrying a large steaming pot.

"What did you cook up for us, Gretchen?" Roman asked, taking his napkin and putting it on his lap.

"Valean sausage and pasta!" Anna announced climbing into a chair close to me. "I helped!"

"That she did!" Gretchen said proudly serving us all some of the pasta along with some bread rolls and other sides that she dished out for us.

"How long have you been serving Gretchen?" I asked her as she went around the table.

"Oh I have been here with the Torchwick family for almost thirty years now." Gretchen explained to me. "My own family was in quite a difficult spot and he helped me and was gracious enough to offer my mother and I a job."

"It sounds like quite a story." I said to her. "I would like to hear it."

"I am afraid it is not an appropriate story for the dinner table." Gretchen told me before seating herself.

"Understandable." I said, picking up my fork and taking a couple bites of the dish followed by everyone else who was doing the same. "So… how long has this house been in the Torchwick family?"

"Oh I'd say… what? Three? Four hundred years?" Roman said with a proud little smirk.

"It looks like a castle from the outside." Anna said as she ate her food.

"You're actually not that far off, Anna." Roman told her. "This mansion was indeed once a small fortress, one of three here on Longshore, and it didn't always belong to my family. It once belonged to another noble family of knights called the Gilcrests and these fortresses were tasked with defending Vale's coastline from marauders. Once upon a time the towers of this place housed a battery of cannons, the old black powder kind."

"How did it come into the possession of the Torchwick family?" I asked him.

"Interesting story." Roman said to me. "The Gilcrests attempted a coup against the kingdom and managed to form an alliance with many of the other noble houses. They sent off a number of their forces into the Forest of Forever Fall and captured the king while he was on a hunting trip. I forget which king it was but their plan was to make him abdicate the throne to some other bastard they had an alliance with. During their little coup they hired my ancestors who were only mercenaries at the time to help them garrison this fortress. I suppose my ancestors knew the plan was going to fail because when the Gilcrests were riding back with the king the Torchwicks ambushed them on the road, freed the sorry ruler and brought him back here where they endured a siege for a week until the Kingdom's armies were able to get off their asses and come to the rescue. Naturally the family was rewarded with wealth and titles, and this fortress was one of the perks of helping to save the kingdom from a small, insignificant rebellion."

"That is an interesting story." Fat Mike said between a few bites of pasta. "This certainly is a swanky place, Don, not what I would expect from a fortress."

"It wasn't always this nice. Someone a long time ago decided to refurbish it into a mansion. The towers were a part of the original fortress but most of the rest was torn down and built into what you see around here. It's a lot more comfortable than stone walls and narrow windows. Though less defensible I suppose."

"It's a very beautiful house, and from what I've seen out the windows the gardens are very lovely." I said to him as I ate a couple of bites. I mostly moved my food around my plate since I didn't have much of an appetite. The rest of the table was starting up their own personal conversations.

Neo gave me a tap on the shoulder. "Are - you - alright?" She asked me, looking down at my mostly full plate of food.

"I'm just not that hungry." I told her noncommittally.

Everyone else finished up their meals and Gretchen started collecting dishes as everyone complimented her cooking, myself included. "I hope everyone is ready for dessert." She said to us with a smile.

"If it's alright with everyone… I think I'm going to go to bed." I told them all quietly. Everyone looked at me for a moment.

"Are you sure?" Anna asked a little sadly. "Gretchen made a pie, and there's ice cream too."

"It's alright." Gretchen said to her, giving me a friendly smile. "He's just tired after a long day, we'll save him a slice of pie and thanks to Neo I always keep the freezer stocked with ice cream."

"Goodnight Gent." Roman said to me with a nod of his head.

"Rest well man." Cardin told me. Fat Mike and the rest of my crew wished me goodnight as I stood up from my chair.

"Goodnight everyone." I said them as I turned and left for the stairs ready to just collapse into bed.

"Jaune, wait!"

I had just stepped up onto the stairs and turned to see Deery of all people. I raised an eyebrow at her. "What's up?" I asked her.

"I just wanted to give you this." Deery told me, stepping up and reaching out to hand me something. I opened my palm and she dropped something in it. I looked and saw the little diamond ring that Neo had tipped me when I first met her. My little good luck charm that I had lost. I stared down at it for a long moment.

"W-where did you find this?" I asked her, holding it up to glitter in the light.

"Emerald had it." Deery told me. "I don't know why she stole it from you but I used it and my semblance to find you."

I nodded to her. "I guess it really is lucky… even if it isn't with me it still helps me out."

"Why do you keep it?" Deery asked me carefully.

"Neo gave it to me the night we met." I explained to her. "I was just a taxi driver who got caught up in a robbery. Meeting her was just a twist of fate, but it was my initiation into this life of crime. You know how some businesses hang up their first lien? I suppose it's kind of like that."

Deery nodded to me. "Well… I'm happy to bring it back to you."

"I appreciate it." I told her. "And I appreciate you for helping to save me. And I'm happy to welcome you into my crew, you earned this."

She nodded reverently. "Thank you."

"I mean it, I'd be dead or worse without you." I told her as I pocketed the ring, maybe I'd get a chain or something that'd make it harder to lose.

"They would have found some other way." Deery told me. "I don't know how, Jaune, but believe me they were on the warpath to find you. Nothing would have gotten in their way."

I nodded to her.

"Listen Jaune, maybe it's not my place to say this since I work for you." She started looking away. "But I uh… I know what you got going with Neo isn't exactly… serious… but I just think you should know that when you were gone, you were the only thing on her mind… when she wasn't doing something to help find you she was practically a wreck. I just thought you should know."

"Thank you." I said to her, meaning it.

"Are you going to be alright?" Deery asked me.

I shrugged to her. "I think Roman is right… I just need some time."

She nodded and leaned forward, giving my cheek a kiss. "Well take your time, boss. Goodnight."

"Goodnight." I said to her before turning back and walking slowly up the stairs and making my way back to my room.

I dressed in some sleep clothes that had been left for me and feeling exhausted I climbed back into bed and closed my eyes to surrender to my exhaustion falling into relatively comfortable darkness for a time. But it wasn't long before the nightmares came to me.

I dreamed that I woke up in the very bed that I had fallen asleep in. Only that I was chained to the posters of the bed with Wyatt and Bill and Dipshit all there with their various implements of torture that they didn't hesitate to use on me. Cutting, burning and shocking me without even a single question being asked of me.

The rag was pulled over my face and the water started pouring and I found myself waking up violently in a cold sweat. I thrashed beneath the sheets as I opened my eyes to a peaceful dark room. Almost instinctively I reached a hand out to the nightstand only to find it empty of any weapon.

I panted for a long moment in the bed as I forced myself to take deep breaths. Partially to calm myself, but mostly just to remind myself that I actually could breath. I clutched my head and cursed at myself. I wasn't there anymore, I was here in Torchwick's mansion and there was no way those people could get to me. I didn't know what kind of security Roman had here at his family's estate but I imagined they'd need quite a bit of firepower to get in here.

But knowing that did little to calm my nerves or banish the thoughts from my mind. The fact that there was no gun by my bed or any real weapon close by made me feel naked. I told myself to ask Roman for my guns and cane back tomorrow.

I got out of bed and went into the bathroom to wipe the sweat from my face with a dry towel.

I looked back to my bed and its sweat soaked sheets and decided that the last thing I wanted to do was go back to sleep and let those nightmares come back to me. I checked the time and found that it was one in the morning.

I didn't want to intrude or be rude but since Roman had told me that I was a guest here I decided to step out of my room and walk down the hall. Perhaps I could numb myself to some television, maybe find something to drink to take the edge off. Who was I kidding? I wanted to get sloshed.

I put on a pair of slippers and stepped out of my room walking down the hallway.

As I went down the stairs however I heard the soft sound of music coming from a direction opposite the room where I had binge watched kid movies with Anna and Neo. It was the soft sound of piano keys being played.

Following my curiosity I tracked the sound through a corridor and found a heavy wooden door cracked open just a little with a warm orange light coming from it. Walked to it and peeked in through the door finding a library with a fireplace bathing the area in a warm glow.

At one corner of the room was a grand piano that Neo was sitting in front of pressing the keys to play a simple melody. She was dressed in a pair of white and pink silk pajamas which I actually found pretty odd. I had never seen Neo in pajamas before, every time we had shared a bed together it was usually with nothing on and leaving with yesterday's clothes. It seemed almost strange but inviting in a strange way.

I pushed the door open and stepped inside and I must have made some kind of noise because Neo stopped and turned to look at me.

"Hey." I said to her with a little wave. "I didn't know you could play."

"My - aunt - Lucia - taught - me." Neo told me.

"You're pretty good." I told her.

"Don't - flatter - me. I'm - crap - with - it." She told me.

"Maybe you're just a little rusty." I said, I couldn't deny that she had been a little slow on a few keys but from what I heard she seemed fairly practiced.

"I - haven't - played - much - since - Lucia - was - put - behind - bars." Neo told me.

"Why'd you pick it up now?" I asked her.

"She - wanted - me - to - play - for - her." Neo told me, pointing across the room. I turned and saw that Anna was fast asleep in a chair having fallen asleep reading some children's book.

I smiled a bit at that. "She is one tough kid, she comes out of that place and its like she's unphased."

Neo shook her head at me. "She - wasn't - so - fine - a - couple - days - ago." Neo told me. "She - cried - a - lot - and - she - told - us - that - it - was - her - fault - that - you - got - hurt - so - bad. And - she's - been - having - nightmares."

I frowned watching that little girl sleep with an open book draped across her. It was so fucked up, putting a kid through that. Hurting wiseguys was one thing, but a fucking kid? To think that she too was experiencing those kinds of night terrors was infuriating me.

"Why - are - you - up - and - about?" Neo asked me with a look that told me she knew exactly why I decided to wander downstairs after midnight.

"Trouble sleeping." I told her simply.

"Nightmares?" She asked me.

I nodded to her. It wasn't like it was anything new. I had nightmares before, mostly about killing Michail but she knew that. Hell, since becoming bedmates I had witnessed her having restless sleep before. She never told me what they were about, and wanting to respect her privacy I never asked her.

"Do - you - want - to - talk - about - them?" Neo asked me.

"I… I think I want a drink… and a cigar." I told her realizing that I hadn't had a smoke since Wyatt had offered me a crappy cigarette while I was cuffed to that torture chair.

Neo nodded to me and looked back towards Anna. "Let's - put - her - to - bed - first."

I nodded and stepped forward. "Here, I got her." I said pulling the book away from her and marking her page before pulling her sleeping limp body up to carry her.

"Do - you - have - her?" Neo asked me.

"She's not that heavy." I said to her, Neo was clearly just worried that I was still feeling a little weak after everything but I actually felt a little good about myself carrying her up the stairs and following Neo to the room they had given Anna. It was a lot like my room but it seemed that they had brought or bought her a number of toys and stuffed animals and books to occupy her while she stayed here.

"Why was she up so late with you?" I asked Neo quietly as she pulled back the covers on the bed so I could lay her down and tuck her in.

"I - let - her - stay - up - with - me." Neo explained to her. "First - night - when - she - had - nightmares - she - came - to - me - and - I - stayed - up - until - she - couldn't - help - but - sleep. It - seems - to - work - so - far."

I gave her a smirk.

"What?" She asked me.

"I just… I never figured you were so good with kids, I'm a little impressed." I told her honestly.

"I - have - experience - with - them." She told me as I tucked the blankets around Anna's sleeping form and moved quietly towards the door.

"Really?" I asked her.

"I'll - show - you - sometime." She told me.

I didn't know what she meant about that but I nodded as we walked back down to the library. Neo motioned for me to sit down and I sat down at a leather couch as she went over to the end of the room where indeed sitting on a table was a humidor along with a couple of crystal decanters.

She poured us both some port and pulled a cigar from the humidor bringing it to me along with a cutter and a box of cedar matches. I took the port and sipped at the thick sweet wine before putting it down to cut and light my cigar. "I was thinking about something a little stronger." I admitted to Neo.

"I - don't - think - you - should - be - drinking - too - much." Neo told me.

"You're the one who told me to look to vices for comfort." I said to her remembering that night in the Forest of Forever fall when Neo and I dumped Ryu and Michail's bodies. The hurt look on her face made me instantly hate myself, she was simply trying to help me and I was throwing it in her face like an asshole. "I'm sorry… if I'm going to be honest I came down here hoping to get shitfaced with a bottle of Glengoolie."

Neo nodded to me. "I - thought - you - might."

I took a few puffs of the cigar and sipped the port savoring it. It did compliment the cigar well and for a long moment Neo and I just sat together in silence. I looked over at the fireplace and stared up at the large oil painting that hung over it.

"Is that Roman?" I asked, looking at the picture and seeing a young red headed boy standing behind who I could easily recognize as Luca Torchwick holding a hand on his son's shoulder. He was dressed in a black suit and his orange hair was slicked back as he stood next to his wife, daughter and another taller son with dark hair.

Neo nodded to me. "That's - the - family."

"So that's Lucia and Tony Torchwick." I said looking for the first time at Roman's brother and sister as they stood in the picture. I had never really seen them. Neo had told me about Lucia helping to raise her and how Nicky had gotten her thrown in prison after forcing Nikolai to betray her. I had heard less about Tony, the one who had destroyed the Triumvirate by letting the Atlesians destroy the Fanus gangs and was shortly assassinated afterwards. And I had never heard anything about Luca's wife, I didn't even know her name.

Neo nodded. "And - grandmother - Amara."

"Did you know her?" I asked.

Neo nodded to me. "For - awhile - she - was - a - very - kind - woman. But - she - passed - a - few - short - years - after - Roman - found - me."

"It must have been nice growing up in a nice big house like this." I told her as I turned my eyes downward to the fireplace watching it crackle in the low light. We sipped on our glasses of port and I turned to find Neo stifling a yawn.

"Tired?" I asked her. We were used to staying up practically till dawn so finding her yawning at only two in the morning seemed a little strange. If there's one thing wiseguys aren't rich in, it's sleep.

"It's - been - a - long - day." She told me.

"You don't need to stay up on my account." I told her with a shake of my head.

"You - need - sleep - more - than - me." She told me, setting her empty glass of port down on the end table.

"I'm beyond sleep." I told her plainly.

"Because - of - the - nightmares?" She asked me.

I silently nodded to her.

"What - happened?" She pressed.

I took a sit up port and a long puff of my cigar before I decided to answer her. "I dreamed that those people were here… torturing me all over again, here in this house." I told her, looking away from her in embarrassment. I honestly knew that it wasn't anything to be embarrassed about, she knew that these experiences left their scars on the mind. But I still felt a strange sense of shame and knowing better honestly just made the feeling worse to me.

"You - can - tell - me - about - it." Neo told me with a sorrowful look on her face.

With another sip of port and another few puffs of my cigar I started telling her. I kept my eyes focused on the fire as I recalled the various details that I didn't tell her and Roman when I woke up. I told her about how the waterboarding had made me talk, about how they took a car battery to me and other grim things that were difficult to talk of, things I still haven't told you about. But as I started it was hard for me to stop.

Neo slid closer and put her arms around me. I realized that I was breathing heavily and that my eyes were streaming tears. I had gotten so lost in telling her all about it that I had completely forgotten myself staring into the fire. She too had a misty eyed look in her eyes.

I dropped the smoking butt of my cigar into a tray and let her embrace me. I took deep breaths but I couldn't keep myself from sobbing into her shoulder. She ran her fingers through my hair and squeezed me. I felt her fingers brush down the back of my neck, over the raised flesh of the branded B.

"That bastard… he wanted to humiliate me, he tried to brand me in the back of my neck." I told her. "He was going to have it say bitch… he only got to the first letter before those others stopped him."

Neo gently pushed me away and looked into my eyes for a second before wiping away some tears of her own. "These - scars - are - a - badge - of - honor - Jaune." She told me. "They - prove - your - loyalty - to - the - Family."

I looked away feeling disgusted with myself. I wasn't loyal, I was a fucking spy and here she was praising me for keeping my mouth shut like it was all for the Family. "I only kept quiet because I knew that I was dead if I talked." I told her, unable to admit the whole truth to her.

"Then - they're - the - scars - of - a - survivor." She told me encouragingly.

"I feel broken." I told her honestly.

She shook her head no. "You're - not - broken - Jaune. I've - seen - broken - people - and - you're - not - broken. You're - just - damaged - like - the - rest - of - us."

"What are your nightmares about?" I asked her, feeling that if there was ever any time to ask her that question it was now.

"I - dream - about - killing - Nikolai - my - uncle - and - teacher." Neo told me. "It's - been - years - but - I - still - remember - how - he - let - me - drive - that - blade - through - him."

"I'm sorry." I told her.

She shrugged to me. "I - have - those - nightmares - less - and - less - as - time - goes - by. Just - give - it - time - Jaune."

I nodded to her and sighed, laying back on the couch. "Thank you, Neo." I told her as I sat with her watching as the logs in the fire crumbled into sparks and glowing red embers. "I needed that."

She nodded to me.

I released a breath looking at the dying fire. "I guess I should try getting back to sleep." I said, not wanting to keep Neo up on my behalf.

"How - about - I - help - you." Neo said with a bit of a smile.

"What? You got some sleeping pills?" I asked her.

She shook her head. "Did - you - like - what - I -did?" She asked me. "After - we - pulled - you - from - that - place?"

"What… you mean using your lap as a pillow?" I asked her.

She nodded.

"Like it? I loved it." I told her with a smile. "It was very comfortable."

She scooted closer and brought her lips to mine in a gentle kiss. I felt like I was kissing her for the very first time. I was strangely chaste, it wasn't the hot and passionate type of kiss I was used to sharing with her. It was soft and tender in a fashion I wasn't used to but I enjoyed it greatly.

When it ended she gently lowered me down to rest my head once more in her lap. "Are you sure?" I asked her. "I don't want to keep you up?"

She didn't say anything to me, instead she started running her fingers through my hair. I stayed there with my eyes open using her warm thighs as a pillow watching as the fire died feeling her fingers run through my hair. At one point she stopped and grabbed a blanket folded over the back of the couch and draped it across me when she thought I had fallen asleep.

Eventually my eyes grew heavy and from the relaxing feeling of her fingers running through my hair I slowly slipped off into a peaceful and dreamless sleep, swallowed by comfortable darkness.

I eventually awoke from the light of the morning sun shining through the windows of the library and the sound of footsteps. I opened my eyes and looked around the library seeing a shadow move and stop.

I raised my head up off of Neo's lap and saw Roman looking at the both of us with a somewhat amused smile. "Sleep well, Gent?" He asked me.

"Uh… yeah." I said awkwardly to him sitting up all the way. Neo was still fast asleep, her head was leaned back against the couch looking quite peaceful if a bit goofy with her mouth parted open.

Roman nodded to me and moved over to a desk opening a drawer and pulling out some paperwork. "Business?" I asked him, pulling the blanket off and draping it over Neo. I felt like a teen who had just been caught by some girl's father. And then I realized that was exactly what had happened to me. Though Roman didn't seem to mind the fact that he found me resting my head in Neo's lap.

"Yes, just some things that I need to tie up personally." Roman said to me as he looked over the paperwork before folding it up and tucking it away into his jacket. "So I'll be out for most of the day, I probably won't be back until later tonight."

"Is it serious?" I asked him.

"Not really, just some errands, orders to give, palms to grease, you know how it is in this business." He told me with a grin.

"I do." I agreed automatically, actually knowing very well how it was. "Just imagine how much time we'd save if we could just do all of this by email."

Roman chuckled a bit at that, "Well I certainly wouldn't have to go out as much. You know a lot of white collar guys complain that a lot of their company meetings could have been an email."

I chuckled with him. "Well we black collars get to have our meetings in nightclubs and fancy restaurants so I guess I can't complain too much. Though we don't exactly get weekends or holiday pay."

"There's no business like it." Roman said with a smirk.

"I've only been away for a couple of days and I kind of miss it. I felt a little bad yesterday when Cardin and Fat Mike told me that everything was running smooth without me." I admitted to him.

"That just means you got a well oiled machine, Gent." Roman told me with a sly grin. "Don't worry about it, there's going to be plenty of need for you in just a bit. Besides, what kind of boss would I be if I let a department grind to a halt because I gave an employee a vacation?"

We both chuckled at that and Roman gave Neo another look as she slept peacefully on the couch next to me. "You kids stay up?" Roman asked me.

"I had trouble sleeping." I answered him honestly. "Neo just helped me."

Roman nodded, not looking displeased with the state he had found us in. I honestly didn't know how much Roman knew about Neo and I but I suppose it was better he find us like this instead of some more compromising position. "I see," he simply said. "Well don't let her sleep all day, she will if you let her."

I nodded to him and he left us. I stayed in the library for a little bit looking around the place but it wasn't long before Gretchen stepped in with breakfast for two on a silver tray. She looked at us and smiled. "Asleep in the library, just like I told Mr. Torchwick." She said laying the tray down in front of me. A quick scan showed that the ashtray with the cigar and port glasses had been removed so I supposed that she had been in here first and told Roman.

"Sorry about that." I told her looking over the chicken fried steaks along with eggs and toast.

"Oh don't apologize, you two looked absolutely adorable." Gretchen said, flashing me a friendly smile. "And it is no trouble at all."

"Do you really take care of this whole place by yourself?" I asked her looking around the big room and out the window to the grounds of the estate.

"Oh, heavens no." Gretchen told me. "I am the only servant here but most of the actual upkeep is handled by the Vale Historical Society. They keep the grounds nice and handle anything that requires a skilled hand."

"Still, it sounds like a lot of work for just one person." I told her.

She shrugged to me. "It's not so bad, especially when this house is usually so empty. It's rare for Mr. Torchwick to allow company."

"Has it always been this way?" I asked her. "I know this house used to have more people staying here but has company always been this scarce?"

She shrugged to me. "It has gone up and down through the years. There used to be quite a number of parties held here back when I was young. Luca Torchwick used to host dinner for city officials and his associates. Back then the servant quarters used to be rather full. Though this house was never fully staffed in my time. Luca only hired those he felt he could trust."

I imagine, being a mobster with all kinds of people you barely knew wouldn't be wise. Then I realized that was essentially what I had been doing with the Moonstone. Maybe it wasn't trusting a maid to clean my bedroom but it was still a risk.

"Do you stay in those servant quarters?" I asked her.

"No, Roman was kind enough to give me a room of my own, just a few doors down from where you are staying." She said to me with a smile. "I have come to feel that this house is my home."

I nodded to her and picked up my fork and knife cutting a corner from my chicken and taking a bite. It tasted wonderful and I released a moan of appreciation for Gretchen who smiled before leaving me to eat.

I set my cutlery down and gave Neo a nudge awake. "Hey beautiful," I told her as her brown and pink eyes opened. "Your breakfast is getting cold." I told her motioning to the plate Gretchen had left for us.

She shrugged off the blanket and picked up the mug of coffee taking a sip before putting it back down. "Gretchen - must - like - you." She told me before picking up a piece of bacon and nibbling on it for a second.

"Why do you say that?" I asked her.

"She - wouldn't - let - just - anyone - eat - here - in - the - library." Neo told me with a smile before picking up her fork and knife and digging into her breakfast.

We ate together like that for a while. It seemed that I just needed to give it a day for my appetite to return and it seemed to have returned with a vengeance because I cleaned everything off my plate and drank down both the coffee and orange juice.

"You - wanna - finish - my - plate?" Neo offered, seeing how I wiped up every dab of gravy with the crust of my toast.

"Sure." I said as she moved the plate closer to me and I finished off the scraps of her chicken fried steak and bits of bacon. "I feel like I haven't eaten in forever."

"You - hardly - ate - yesterday." Neo told me.

I shrugged. "I didn't have an appetite yesterday, maybe it was the drugs."

She nodded as I devoured the rest of the food. We talked a little bit in the library together, digesting the hearty breakfast we had just eaten together.

I was already feeling a little better. My body was still a little sore and weak but I could feel the improvement after a night's rest. My thoughts still drifted towards those awful moments and thoughts of pain. But the weight of anxiety had at least seemed to have lightened a little bit as I started spending my day in the mansion; mostly wasting the hours away with Anna and Neo finding ways to entertain ourselves.

The next night after Neo and I put Anna to bed she followed me to my room and crawled into my bed. I had expected her to want to fool around with me but when we crawled under the sheets together. But aside from a few tender kisses she just held me and told me to go to sleep. I did, and the nightmares came. But when they did, she just shook me awake, kissed me and we cuddled until I fell back to sleep.

It was strange, sharing a bed with Neo in such an innocent manner. Everything had been so rushed with us once we had gotten started. Once we had hooked up the first time it was all hot and heavy but this was different. It was slow and pleasant. A part of me wondered if she felt I was too delicate at the moment for the kind of fun we used to have. But I wasn't really complaining, it was nice and Neo spent every night with me like that. I wasn't waking up from nightmares alone anymore.

During the days I helped Anna practice her sign language with Neo and Gretchen who took just about every opportunity they could to teach her something. She was pretty good about picking up the various words and always asked to learn a new word. It wasn't long before she was asking me to tell her words I didn't know and I ended up having to look to Neo to teach me how to sign new words I never knew until then.

When we weren't giving Anna a lesson on sign language I just did some basic things like watch television, catching up on some of my stories and playing video games. I even got my crew to bring me a good stack of comic books since I had gotten way behind on my reading since starting out in this business, so it was nice to catch up on the things I had mostly been missing out on since I started spending my nights out in nightclubs or fancy restaurants or fooling around with Mel and Mil. It was nice, bringing some of my favorite shows with Neo or reading my comics where the bad guys were just silly bad guys and the superheroes were just superheroes. I even got Anna and Neo to read some of them with me.

But every now and then I'd turn on the news or give Cardin and my boys a call and I'd start hearing about how the war was getting on. It wasn't much news, like Cardin and Fat Mike told me things had slowed down but they hadn't quite stopped. There were some moves being made, and usually it was by our side keeping the pressure on the Atlesians. We had knocked them down and now we were kicking them while they writhed on the floor.

But the news was making everything easy for us. Ironwood's little cover up didn't stop at the fucking brick works. Sure the White Fang might have been public enemy number one before that night but after the rally that showed a prototype Atlas mech suit running across the freeway and the fireworks of the brick factory the Fang had become the city's official fucking boogieman. Anything bad enough to end up on the ten o'clock news was pinned on the Fang by Atlas and the Vale Council.

Gang members gunned down in a drive by? White Fang! Body washes up in the river? White Fang! Atlesian owned nightclub burned to the ground? You better believe the Council and the media was pointing the finger at the Fang calling them filthy faunus terrorists.

It was nuts, it was like the council was inviting us to fight the war because they were afraid to admit that they didn't have control of anything. It was almost like having a hunting license on Atlesians and there was no bag limit. It seemed like the war was going to be ending soon from where I was sitting.

Still though the Family knew how to keep squeezing the Bratva without overplaying our hand. There were still rules to us fighting them. Anyone that wasn't a wiseguy was off limits, targeting civilians was forbidden as it had always been. Just as cops and reporters were off limits without special permission from Roman himself. But more than the usual rules there were a couple special ones Roman had to enforce.

The first was to keep away from the drugs. No killing dealers or targeting stash houses or anything like that. As tempting as it would have been to start ordering hits on the very foundation of Nicky's power here in Vale, we knew that if the drug money stopped flowing then the Cartels would have no choice but to get involved, so Roman decided not to give them a reason to stick their noses into our business. The second was to never target any members of the Old Guard. Roman knew as well as I that they were the most outspoken in opposing this war and Nicky himself so we kept the strikes purely to Nicky loyalists. Which meant that Sophia wasn't going to be in the Family's crosshair for the time being.

Anna wasn't joking about the mansion looking like a castle from the outside. It didn't take too long for her to insist we enjoy some time outside on the mansion grounds walking around the gardens. Indeed I could see the towers that had once been a part of the old fortress coming out of the wooden mansion that had been built around the old stone walls and fortifications. It certainly didn't seem as big and imposing as I would have expected an old castle to be and it made me wonder just how much of the original fortress had been kept around. Whatever the case it was certainly a beautiful home and I could see why after all these years Roman had decided to go through so much trouble to stay here.

"Jaune, look!" Anna cried as she inspected a pink rosebush in the garden. She pinched her fingers and ran them from one side of her nose to the other letting me see as I walked side by side with Neo. "That means flower! Did you know that? Did you?"

I shook my head no. "No I didn't Anna." I told her with a smile as she ran ahead of Neo and I, seeming to be enthralled with every plant and blossom, taking a moment to look at it closely before moving on with the speed and excitement that only a kid could have. "Do you know the sign for tree?" I asked her.

Anna proudly put her elbow in her palm and raised up her arm, fingers extended and waved, giving me the sign for tree.

"Very - good." Neo praised her as we walked down the gravel pathway lined with roses and other colorful flowers.

Anna beamed and sprinted down the path as Neo and I kept an even pace together. I took a breath of the clean summer air. Fall was approaching, it could be felt in the air so it seemed good to be enjoying summer while it was still around. It was hard to appreciate the warm weather in the city, all those hot sidewalks and smog made anyone want to shut themselves up in an air conditioned building. But out here away from all the streets and tall buildings it was all warm sunshine and cool fragrant breezes.

"This place almost feels like a dream." I told her, watching a bee land on a rose. "Though I bet the commute isn't pleasant, you're almost an hour drive from the city."

"We - actually - have - a - couple - apartments - in - the - city." Neo told me. "Otherwise - we'd - never - get - any - sleep - going - back - and - forth."

"Any recommendations for a place of my own?" I asked her, so far the look for a new place to stay wasn't going so well. But I was starting to feel accustomed to the mansion and Roman wasn't pressuring me to stay anywhere else.

"I - could - just - lend - you - one - of - ours." Neo told me. "We - have - one - penthouse - apartment. It's - very - nice - and - Roman - owns - the - building."

I nodded to her, liking the sound of it. "It sounds perfect." I told her.

She nodded to me. "But - don't - feel - like - you - need - to - move - away - once - your - little - vacation - is - up. You're - welcome - to - stay - as - long - as - you - like."

"I just don't want to wear out my welcome." I told her with a bit of a smile, pleased that she was willing to let me stay indefinitely.

"You - won't." She told me with a little smile.

"Come on you two! You're taking forever slowpokes!" Anna cried to the two of us who were far behind her.

I chuckled at her impatience, not understanding what she was in a rush to get to.

"You - heard - her." Neo told me with an amused smirk.

"Where is she leading us?" I asked her.

"I - showed - her - my - favorite - spot - while - you - were - sleeping." Neo told me. "Now - it's - our - favorite - spot. Come - on."

Neo grabbed my hand and pulled me into a run chasing after Anna as the path led to a shady collection of trees around a clear pond. We passed by some benches and little clearings that seemed perfect for a picnic. Eventually Anna went off the gravel path into a small little dirt trail between some bushes. It was certainly easy to miss if anyone wasn't looking for it.

I squeezed through some brush with Neo and stepped into a moss covered clearing beneath a willow tree with low branches and a long curtain of vines hanging down with a part letting us look out over the rest of the shimmering pond like we were looking out a window.

"Wow." I said taking a knee to look over the nice cool spot by the water. "I can see why this is your favorite spot."

"It's a secret spot!" Anna told me firmly. "Neo told me! You can't tell anyone about it!"

I smiled at her. "Alright, I won't tell anyone."

"Do you swear?" Anna asked me.

"I pinky swear." I told her, holding out my uncut pinky for her which she accepted. Then I did the same with Neo sealing the unbreakable pact. "So… what do you do here in your secret spot?" I asked them, sitting down in the green moss thinking that this would be a perfect spot to have a picnic or just read a book listening to the wind through the trees.

"Look! Neo taught me." Anna said reaching into her pocket and pulling out a stone that she tossed into the pond letting it skip across the still surface leaving a trail of ripples.

"Wow!" I said pretending to be impressed with it.

"You want me to teach you?" She asked me.

"Sure." I said standing up to join her. I'd skipped rocks before but I couldn't bring myself to ruin her fun of explaining it to me by showing me the small flat rocks she had pocketed during the walk here. She showed me how to hold it and toss it so the flat end would hit the surface of the water.

I did it as she told me and managed to get only three skips just like her.

"You're pretty good." Anna praised. "But Neo's the best, show him!"

Neo smiled smugly and took one of the stones from Anna, confidently tossing it in the air and catching it before she shot it out across the water. I counted the skips as it bounced across the water again and again and again. I counted a dozen skips before eventually the stone plopped into the pond with a long trail of ripples left in its wake.

"Wow," I said, genuinely impressed. "You really do have a talent for this. What's your secret?"

"Lots - of - practice." Neo told me.

We spent maybe an hour skipping stones across the pond in Neo's little spot together until Neo got a text on her scroll. She read it and pocketed it. "Roman - needs - to - meet - me." She said.

"Anything serious?" I asked her.

She shook her head no. "Just - an - errand. Don't - have - too - much - fun - without - me."

"Don't worry, we won't." Anna told her having managed to discern her sign language.

Neo smiled and turned to leave. Anna and I took our time skipping the last few stones she had gathered up across the water before finally taking a moment to sit down in the cool moss and rest.

"Is Neo your girlfriend?" Anna asked me.

I shook my head at her.

"Is she your wife?" She asked me.

I shook my head to her once more. "What makes you ask a thing like that?"

"I've seen you kiss, and hold hands." Anna told me, leaning her back against the tree. "I thought people only did that kind of stuff with people they like."

"It's complicated." I told her, not really sure how I could possibly explain Neo and I to a little girl. I hardly understood it myself.

"Why?" She asked me.

"It just is." I told her with a shake of my head. "You might understand it more when you're older."

"Why?" She asked me again in a way only a child could.

"Because some things only make sense when you're older." I told her with a smile before standing up from the moss and offering my hand to help her stand. "We should get back, Gretchen should be preparing lunch right about now."

That was pretty much how I spent the next several days in the Torchwick mansion. Spending my time with Neo and Anna or just having some quiet moments to myself. Sleeping cuddled up next to Neo who'd help me get through the nights and the nightmares. Sometimes when I awoke and couldn't get back to sleep I'd just tell her about what happened in the dreams. Telling her about Wyatt and just rehashing everything that had happened to me only sparing the details of them learning about Ozpin.

Talking about it helped, as it usually does with these kinds of things. And as the pleasant days blurred together I found myself thinking about what had happened less and less. I can't even imagine how fucked up I'd be if it wasn't for Neo and Anna and Roman. Even Gretchen was a big help, she saw that I wanted for nothing while I was there and she always had a kind word or a friendly smile for me.

"Any plans after dinner?" Roman asked me one night as we sat together in the smaller dining room together eating a nice hearty steak dinner Gretchen had prepared for us. I found it rather nice that Gretchen was allowed to sit here and eat with the rest of us. It didn't seem like something someone who owned a house like this would do but Roman did it all the same.

"I was thinking about reading a little in the library." I told Roman, it had become a habit of ours to read a little before going to bed. Anna with one of her children's books and me with either some adventurous novel or a stack of comic books. Neo usually read a novel herself or some magazines.

"How about you come with me." Roman suggested. "I have something I'd like to show you."

"Alright." I said as I ate the last few pieces of gristle off my plate and pushed it away completely cleaned. "Gretchen, that steak was superb." I praised her. "You could be head chef at Georgetties."

Gretchen smiled and nodded. "Well I happen to buy the meat from the same butcher as them, I want only the finest in this house."

"Anyone can buy a roll of silk." I told her. "But it takes a good skilled hand to make something of it."

Gretchen beamed, understanding my sentiment.

Dinner ended and I followed Roman upstairs and through the house towards the interior of the house. The parts that had once been a part of the old fortress with its grey stone wall. But it was no less finely decorated than the rest of the house.

"So… what is it that you wanted to show me?" I asked Roman as we walked together.

"Here." Roman said, reaching a heavy wooden door and opening it letting me follow him inside. "I thought we could have a drink in my den."

The room was almost what I imagined a castle to be on the inside. It was roomy with a nice big fireplace that was already burning, a shiny suit of armor standing against the cornerl and old weapons on the walls. Everything from long swords to rapiers, battleaxes to warhammers, crossbows, blunderbuss and old muskets.

"Wow!" I exclaimed looking over at it all. "This is a nice den!"

Roman chuckled. "I'm glad you like it, believe it or not this used to be an old storage room, most of these antiques were shut away until I decided to use them for decorating."

"You did a good job." I told him.

"I'm glad you think so." Roman told me. "My father wasn't a fan of it."

I raised my eyebrow at him. "Luca didn't like it?" I asked him.

"This room is a bit of a testament to what you could call my rebellious teenage years." Roman said moving to one end of the room to a small bar and grabbing two large brandy glasses that he proceeded to heat up and fill. "Grab us a couple of Vacuan cigars will ya, Gent? The long Ramones."

I stepped over to the large humidor and opened the doors looking through the fine collection of cigars Roman hand stocked it with. Sometimes it felt like a tenth of the Torchwick fortune was spent just making sure Roman always had a cigar to smoke.

"What does this room have to do with teenage rebellion?" I asked him as I took the liberty to clip the cigars as he poured us both a hearty glass of warm brandy.

"I was obsessed with my family's past." Roman told me. "I idolized the chivalric knights of old and wasn't too thrilled about the direction my family had gone after the Great War. I didn't want to be involved in the business and instead I decided that I wanted to be a huntsmen. My father and I fought about it for so long, he once even threatened to take everything in this room and burn it. But it was an empty threat, I knew he cherished our family's legacy too so he never went through with it and I spent much of my time here getting away from the rest of my family and studying for the huntsman exams."

"I see… It must have been tough trying to grow up to go against the grain of your family." I said to him.

"It had its ups and downs… My father in his own way respected that I wanted to uphold the legacy. But he would have preferred that I help with the family business and that I went to Mountain Glenn instead of Beacon. But here, this is what I wanted to show you."

He directed my attention to a tapestry hanging on one wall depicting a battlefield in what I could only assume was the Forest of Forever Fall, a group of armored knights fighting hoards of grimm and leading lines of pikemen and arquebusiers. The fighting looked desperate with more than a number of the knights and soldiers shown having been ravaged by the monsters. But from the side a number of other knights dressed in bright armor were riding in on horseback cutting into the horde from the flank.

Interesting as it was on its own I didn't know why Roman felt the need to show it to me. "A tapestry?" I asked dumbly.

"It was sewn hundreds of years ago. A sizable grimm threat had been amassing in the Forest of Forever Fall. The Torchwick Family was tasked to assemble a force of men at arms and mercenaries and march them in to clear it. But when they arrived they found the grimm threat was far larger than had been believed, they were outnumbered and when a messenger got back to the city it prepared it's defenses while the Torchwick family did their best to hold the line against the grimm. For three days they battled in the forest ready to die before letting the grimm reach the walls of the city. And during those three days a man named Javier Arc requested permission from his lord to ride out with his knights and assist the fighting in the forest. With much persistence the king eventually relented and Javier was allowed to ride out with two hundred mounted knights and three hundred cavalry. They charged the flank and broke through relieving the embattled forces in the forest. The fighting lasted another three days but it was said that not one grimm managed to even reach the city wall."

"Arc?" I asked, completely unfamiliar with the story.

"I hadn't looked at this tapestry for some time. But I recently remembered it and wondered if maybe there was a connection given your surname." Roman explained stepping forward and pointing his finger at the lead knight atop a grey horse dressed in bright armor with a lance and shield. And on the white shield were the twin gold crescents of the Arc family. "Look familiar?"

"Wow… I knew that I had knightly ancestry, but I never knew about this." I admitted to him inspecting the tapestry more closely. "And I certainly didn't know that there was any shared history between our families."

"It seems there is." Roman said with a little bit of a smile. "A brief history, but one nonetheless."

He showed me a little around the room telling me about the various antiques that were arranged all around the room and their link of the glory days of the Torchwick family before they had become kings of the underworld.

I looked at a chess set on a table in the center of the room. "This doesn't look very old." I told him looking at the small wooden pieces perfectly arranged on opposite sides of the board.

"It isn't." Roman admitted to me. "My father made this chess set, woodworking was a hobby of his and he had a habit of making gifts for everyone."

"Really? That's cool." I said to him.

"I didn't think so at the time." Roman said. "I was sixteen when he gave me this chess set and I wanted an expensive car, I was a fucking brat. And my old man just told me that one day I'd have a dozen cars and that this chess set would probably mean more than any of them."

I nodded to him. "It sounds like he was right."

Roman nodded in agreement with me. "He was, money was fairly plentiful growing up. Those years after the Great War weren't so generous to my Family so my father understood the value of lien more than we did. But money was always cheap when I grew up, anything that could be bought wasn't special… I think that's why my old man wanted to make us gifts. It was his way of showing us all that we were worth his time."

I nodded to him, wishing that my own relationship with my father was half as good as that.

"Do you play?" Roman asked me.

"I've played a little chess, I'm not particularly good at it." I said to him,

"How about a game?" Roman suggested setting his brandy glass down and sitting at the chair choosing the black pieces.

"Alright." I said, taking a sip of my brandy and taking a seat opposite him.

"White moves first." He said to me, motioning for me to start the game. I picked up one of the little wooden pawns and moved.

Roman and I fell into a bit of idle conversation as we played together answering questions I had about the Torchwick family and the various artifacts here in this room. It didn't take very long for Roman to beat me on the chess board. We set the pieces back up for another game.

"Do you think you're ready to get back to work?" Roman asked me.

I nodded to him as I took one of his bishops with my knight. "I think this little sabbatical has helped, but I'm ready to get back to working the streets."

"Good." Roman told me with a smile before taking down one of my rooks. "We can have you start off with some simple things to get back into the feelings of things. Neo has requested that you use one of the apartments we have in the city."

"If it's not too much trouble." I told him.

"It's no trouble at all. Some of those places are empty for months at a time, my way of staying close to the empire so to speak. But since you're eager to return to business I'd like your input on something."

"And that is?" I asked him before moving another pawn to be taken by his queen only for me to remember that his queen wasn't in position to take it. It seemed odd to me but I chalked it up to me not paying close enough attention to the board and I picked up my brandy glass as Roman made his move.

"Your boy Cardin… I'm thinking about making him." Roman told me casually.

I almost choked on my brandy. "What? Really? That's wonderful!" I said feeling a ton of pride for Cardin.

"Neo was certainly impressed with his leadership when you were taken and the lengths he went to. I decided since he's your man I should ask for your input." Roman explained to me.

"I think it's a great idea." I told him honestly. "I can't think of anyone in my crew who deserves it more. But uh… where would that leave the two of us?"

"I think Mr. Winchester would feel comfortable if he still worked for you." Roman told him. "He'd still manage your crew, but from a more official standpoint and we'd see that he is given extra duties."

"But he wouldn't work for me, right?" I asked him.

"If I do decide to make him, I'll let the two of you handle your working relationship together. You have a similar understanding with Fat Mike if I understand things correctly." Roman told me.

"Well… sure." I said to him. "But that's just temporary since Sal is gone."

"We can figure that out as well in the future. We're a business that needs to be flexible after all, and you're certainly far more well off than most soldiers. You have a crew and plenty of people working under you at the moment anyways and the last thing I want to do is break up a crew that works so well together."

I nodded to him and made another move on the chessboard seeing that I was losing once more. "Listen, I'm not the most impartial person to say this. But if you think Cardin is ready to make his bones then I say open the books. There isn't anyone else I'd rather have as an equal in this life."

Roman nodded and moved his piece. "I believe that is checkmate." He told me with a smile.

I looked at the board and saw that my king was indeed surrounded. Indeed my king was in check, and there was no way I could move it without putting my king at risk. But something was wrong.

"This rook wasn't here four moves ago, and you haven't touched it since." I commented pointing at the black little castle. For a second I remembered how Nora had taken a similar piece from the ruins in the Emerald Forest during the Beacon entrance exam singing that she was queen of the castle.

"And this pawn wasn't here last move… you cheated!" I told him looking up and into his eyes.

Roman laughed and looked back at the board where I saw one of the pieces move on its own without him touching it.

"There's magnets in the pieces that I can help control." Roman explained to me. "A feature my father built into it. It took me a long time to realize he was cheating."

"Cheating against his kid?" I asked him with a bit of disgust. "That sounds petty."

"It was a lesson." Roman told me. "He would tell me all the time that if I wasn't cheating then I wasn't trying. When I finally caught him cheating he was thrilled, and he told me that if I was going to waste my time in Beacon then the last thing I should let hold me back was arbitrary rules."

"That's pretty wise." I said to him.

"I didn't think so at the time." Roman admitted to me with a chuckle. "I was too focused on living up to some fake idea of knightly honor by becoming a huntsman. I just called him a petty thief at the time."

"You know Roman… I was a lot like you. I wanted to honor my family's legacy. But my dad didn't think I was cut out to be a huntsman." I told him. "Last I saw him he told me I was gonna get myself killed. I haven't talked to him since."

"Well fuck him." Roman said with a grin. "Look at you now, you're still kicking and I bet you're making more than he ever did exterminating grimm."

I nodded and we set the pieces back up for another game. "If you catch me cheating next time I'll take off whatever piece you see moving on its own. But of course, you're allowed to cheat as well."

I nodded and we started playing a few cheater matches together. I found the levers underneath the table that let me set a magnet under the pieces and move them with no hands. But it was difficult to do without looking obvious. I caught him cheating a few times and called him out getting his pieces eliminated but in the end my forces were getting thinned out.

"Is the knight your favorite piece?" Roman asked me.

"I like how it can move over other pieces." I explained to him. "It's harder for someone to see it coming."

"Good answer." Roman told me.

"What about you?" I asked him. "What's your favorite piece?"

Roman reached out to his collection of lost pieces and picked one up, holding it out for me to see.

"A pawn?" I asked, finding the answer dubious.

Roman grinned at me. "You know what pawns are great for?" He asked me.

"Being sacrificed?" I asked him.

Roman chuckled. "That's what everyone seems to think of them, and not without reason, sacrificial pawns are a useful way to tempt your opponent into a trap. But more than that they're the bulk of your forces, more than any other piece they shape the battlefield, you can arrange them to guard your king, you can use them to divide your enemies forces. But that's not why they're my favorite piece, Gent. They're the only piece that can be promoted."

"Promoted?" I asked, unfamiliar with the concept. I wasn't an experienced chess player, I thought a pawn was just a pawn.

"Yes." Roman said, reaching his hand out and moving one of the pawns forward one more space to the end of the board. "You see Jaune, a rule with chess is that if your pawn reaches the opposite end of the board then it can be promoted. It can become a rook, a bishop, a knight or even a queen, the strongest piece in the game. You see Jaune, if the pawn makes it through hell it can become as strong as anyone. But it's even more dangerous because it's now both powerful and on an opposite end of the board, where it can do some terrible damage flanking your opponent."

Roman pulled off the pawn and replaced it with a queen. "A promoted pawn can do more damage than anyone Gent, if it's in the right place. Why sacrifice what you can promote?"

It was a good lesson. I had often called myself Ozpin's pawn but I couldn't help but feel that in moving straight ahead and taking down whatever pieces got in my way I had managed to reach the end of the board and was stronger for it. But if Ozpin's pieces were white and Roman's black I felt more than a little tempted to change my colors. I suppose that's one thing that chess can't teach about strategy, whatever your pieces are they stay that color. They never question their loyalties, to disobey orders or move for their own sake. Chess is black and white, but I was all grey.

"That's a neat trick Roman." I told him, reaching across the board and touching his black king. "But while you were dishing out your words of wisdom you moved your king away from my bishop, so I get to remove it, which means checkmate."

I knocked the piece down and let it roll on the board toppled and defeated. Roman grinned with pride. "Another lesson Gent, never gamble what you can't afford to lose."

"That doesn't make any sense, we gamble with our lives all the time in this business." I told him as I rearranged the pieces.

"True enough, but there are plenty of things we value more than our lives." Roman told me helping to properly arrange his pieces. He drained the last of his brandy and dropped his cigar into the ashtray before standing up.

"You're not up for another game?" I asked him, actually enjoying it now.

"Maybe later." Roman told me, moving over to a bookshelf and grabbing a small leather bound tome that he stepped over and set down on the table next to me. It read The King.

"You should give this a read." Roman told me.

"What is it?" I asked him.

"The King," Roman told me. "It's a manuscript written several hundred years ago by some political philosopher named Nicolo Martinetti. He gave it to the newly crowned king of Vale after he had crushed a rebellion that tried to usurp the crown and establish a republic not too unsimilar to our current Vale Council. All the wiseguys read it, usually in prison."

I picked up the book and thumbed through the pages finding a line that I read off. "It is better to be feared than loved." I quoted, finding it to be a strange thing to say. "This looks like it was written by some wannabe tyrant."

Roman chuckled a bit. "That's how a lot of people remember Martinetti, as some cruel conniving man with elaborate schemes for power. But there's a funny thing people don't understand about this book. You see, Martinette was a civil servant and loyal member of the republic the king crushed and was imprisoned and tortured with a number of his friends. When he was released he wrote this and sent it to the king as a sort of interview. But it was more like he was giving the king and his court the finger, he never meant for this to be taken so seriously."

I chuckled, indeed finding that to be amusing. "So why should wiseguys read it?" I asked him.

"Because even if Martinetti only wrote it as a subtle insult to tell the Vale court what he thought of them he actually has some rather meaningful advice. Just read it for me, I'm sure you'll find it enlightening."

I nodded to him. "I will." I told him, sure that Roman wasn't asking me to read it without reason.

"You're welcome to come in here and read it if you like. But before you do… I'd like to test your mettle." Roman said stepping forward and grabbing his cane which I realized was sitting next to mine in the corner. Roman tossed mine to me and I stood up catching it.

"You wanna fight?" I asked him.

"If you're gonna get back to work, then I wanna see if those lessons with Neo have paid off." Roman told me. "Make sure you can handle yourself before getting out there."

I smiled at him and followed him out with my weapon in hand, ready to learn a thing or two about fighting from Roman. It was a very educational experience and it wasn't the only time Roman and I sparred together.


Author's Note: Hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving.

I also hope you enjoyed this weeks more easygoing chapter with Jaune recovering with Neo. It felt nice to write them actually feeling more or less normal for a chance and to have Roman finally sit down with Jaune and act more as a mentor like I've wanted to for a long time. I really wanted to get into this part and explore the past I made for Roman and Neo a bit more trying to get more a glimpse of their day to day life and have some much needed tender moments.

The character Martinetti if you didn't guess already is based off Niccolò Machiavelli, you know the guy who I quote who wrote the Prince. And that bit of backstory is based in fact. Machiavelli indeed wrote The Prince trying to get a job with the Medici who just turned the Republic of Florence into a principality which he hated. The Prince was pretty much his subtle way of calling the Medici a bunch of power hungry tyrants. But despite that many mobsters, politicians and political philosophizers have read it trying to gain wisdom from his text.

Please share your thoughts and opinions on the story and how it is progressing by leaving a review.

And as always I need to thank my Comittiee for all their help and support. Thank you MidKnightMoonglow99, TheSlySage, MajorBrony95, CrypidCobra, FireFly25, Cyperink, BigBrain411 and DrknssRules1 for all their help and support in this story making it what it is. And thank you to Rak-Vojak for translating this story into Russian so more people can read and enjoy it.