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The Weight of a Guilty Conscience

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Coco shifted in her chair - it wasn't all that different than the one in her dorm room, but she couldn't find a comfortable spot on it either - refusing to meet Ozpin or Goodwitch's eyes. The single bare bulb over her head cast an odd pattern of shadows over the room, muting what few colors there were between the three of them. It felt like she had sat down for an interrogation.

She walks in without warning, two weeks before she was supposed to come home, and the glass her mother had been holding shatters on the tile floor. "Coco?"

"Miss Adel, can you please tell us what happened?" Goodwitch asked, opening up her scroll and turning on the record function. Ozpin passed her a cup of steaming hot coffee, expression one of understanding and pity she didn't deserve.

"We always wave exams for students in this situation, Mr. Daichi. We try to be understanding," Goodwitch says.

An interrogation would be an appropriate description for what was going on in the room - though her two professors would never have called it that, they kept telling her she wasn't in trouble.

"Who gave you the right to choose who lives and who dies?" Coco demands, ignoring the tears streaming down her face.

If she were being honest with herself, Coco would have felt better if she were up on charges for something.

Fox buries his face in his hands as he sits across from his father. He's not cried - not yet. He's not sure he ever will.

She wrapped her hands more tightly around the mug of coffee Ozpin had given her, soaking in the warmth through her black gloves, staring down at it without seeing it. What had happened - her mind blanked as she tried to comprehend it, tried to summon up the memories of what had happened.

No one comes to investigate the screaming in the middle of the night - not anymore, at least; it happens too often.

"Coco," Ozpin said, gentle voice cutting through her distraction, but she still didn't look up at them, preferring to stare down at the mug. Maybe if she didn't look at them, they wouldn't realize she was crying again. "I am sorry, Coco, there are procedures in place and we must observe them. I promise this is just a formality. You aren't in trouble."

It's too early - the sun is starting to peek out over the horizon, and yet Yatsuhashi hasn't slept yet.

She swallowed hard, closing her eyes as if she could hide away from their kindness - their understanding, their sympathy. She should be in trouble - it was her fault after all. "If - if I do this, will Fox and Yatsu…" she tripped over their names - everything about her team hurt to voice.

"Yatsu, sweetheart, we can find a place for you here on the farm, you don't have to go back," his mother says. It's a sharp contrast from the year before when she was encouraging him to go - when his parents were saying there wasn't room for someone with his strength and build.

"No, Miss Adel, we won't need to speak to them at all," Professor Goodwitch said, gently - too gently. Everyone was treating Coco as if she might break, and, gods above, she felt like she would if anyone so much as raised their voice around her.

"Well maybe if you feel that way, I shouldn't go back with you to Beacon!" Fox shouts at her. He doesn't seem to notice the tears streaming down his face.

Coco nodded, throat too tight to form words, and she swirled the coffee around in the mug, staring at the steam that drifted up. "Just - ask questions, please." She couldn't do it if they didn't walk her through it, asking questions to help her keep it all straight - it was all a mess in her mind.

Fox is holding her back - but that isn't right - she's screaming; she's waking up screaming for the third time this week.

"Can you start at the beginning, when you left Beacon?" Ozpin prompted.

"Can you explain it to them?" Yatsu asks into his scroll, unable to find the words to tell his family.

She wanted to yell at Goodwitch, at both of them - to scream at them stop being so kind - but she refrained. "It was supposed to be an easy mission," she said, voice hoarse - she'd had a screaming nightmare every night this week and her throat still hadn't healed.

4:23 AM - at least this time he had managed to wake himself up; he quietly walks out to the kitchen for a glass of water - no one is coming to check on him because his nightmares aren't the screaming kind.

Her mind conjured up the image of the four of them choosing their mission together, laughing - happy. She shook her head against the unwelcome memory. "Just a search and destroy - go in, take out a couple of nests, come back."

His scroll beeps at him - one of the messages he sent comes back undeliverable - and he ignores it. It was to be expected, but he can't bring himself to delete the number either.

"Professor Peach was with us." They knew that - she knew they knew that, and yet she needed to include that piece of information. Facts. She could relay the facts. Facts were easy. Facts were simple, they didn't come with judgement - that would come later.

"You'll always have a job with our company, Coco," her father says. The idea sounds a lot more appealing now than it had the year before.

"The first day was fine - it wasn't until the second day that we saw it." She let out a bark of laughter, bitter as the untouched coffee in her hands. "It looked so innocuous. All the buildings around it were in ruins - it had stood tall for over fifty years; we didn't think - "

"Yatsu, tell me about Beacon! What all did you learn?" Yatsuhashi stares down at his brother, unable to find the words to explain, stares down at the innocent look that only a five-year-old could muster and breaks down into sobs.

She shook her head sharply - a movement that would have sent her beret flying if she'd been wearing it - and corrected herself: "I didn't think. It looked stable, I made the call - we should go investigate it."

"I don't know I can go back, mom. It's too much." Fox sighs and shakes his head. She rubs his back, too kind to remind him that she'd been worried about the toll combat school would take from the start.

"Yatsu and Professor Peach decided to scout around the outside - we thought there was a nest inside, we were just going in to scout." She blinked up at her professors. "We were just going to investigate - it wasn't supposed to be dangerous."

She had insisted on carrying everything back herself - it was her duty as leader, even if the family had already been informed. She raises her hand to knock on the wooden door.

Her next laugh was even more bitter. "Did you know Fox's semblance is that he can teleport short distances? He can even take someone with him - just one, though." She blinked back tears that threatened to well up. "Just one." She let out a sigh, and added quietly, "There were two of us with him."

"I don't ever want to use it again!" he shouts, punching a wall. "By the gods, Coco, I didn't think - I just - I grabbed you; it was all I could do! I grabbed you and went!"

She couldn't look up at her professors; she was too aware of the tears that were in her eyes - she couldn't handle the look of pity they would have no doubt had. "We didn't make it far - I don't even know what caused it; the additional weight or something shifted when the grimm noticed us - "

The sun is coming up and he's still at it - this punching bag has out-lived his fists, the rough cloth slowly turning a bloody red; Yatsuhashi pretends not to notice.

"- and the building started to collapse around us. Fox - he isn't to blame, you know, he just acted on instinct - "

"You should have left me! You should have grabbed - " she chokes on the name, unable to voice it.

"- and teleported us out. I saw - I saw the look on his face just as it happened too, the realization of what was happening, what was about to happen - I will never forget that look."

Yatsuhashi makes himself another cup of tea as he watches the sun rise; maybe tomorrow night he'll be able to sleep.

She was rambling now, but she couldn't stop either - now that she'd started the words came easily, an uncontrollable flood of them.

Her first night back, she wakes up half the household screaming.

"I didn't want him to grab me, I didn't have a choice and just as we got out the building collapsed completely…"

She can't look at Fox; she's staring out at the landscape that speeds by below them - but whether they're running to something or away from something is still unclear.

"Miss Adel - " Goodwitch started. "It's not your fault."

"It's not your fault, Coco," Yatsu says; it's three AM and this isn't the first time they've had this conversation at this hour - though who is reassuring whom changes.

Coco started laughing. "It is, though. It absolutely is. Isn't that what's supposed to happen? The leader of the team dies while the rest of the team goes on living?"

"I'm so sorry," she says to them, holding out a box of belongings that had been left at Beacon. "I am so very sorry."

"Coco -" Ozpin this time, but it's too gentle and her tenuous hold on her anger broke.

"It's not fair. It should have been me," Fox says to Yatsuhashi, who says the same thing the next night.

She threw the coffee mug - still full, untouched - at the wall beside her. Neither of them flinched when it shattered. "No! It should have been me! I should have been the one to die, not Forest!"