Hey, are you there?
Oscar fidgeted with his belts for another moment, nervously looking over the others’ sleeping forms. The light from the moon filtered in through the bars of their cells, casting long shadows against the floors. He sighed.
“Stay calm. It’s going to be okay.”
“You mean he’s been watching us this whole time?!”
Was he looking at them now, through his eyes? Or did he lock himself away once more? When Ozpin had re-appeared, Oscar had felt flickers of surprise and confusion before a gentle calm had come over the other’s presence. That had been enough to steady him- and enough to land the plane without any deaths.
The others… their reactions had been varied but Oscar expected that. Other than Yang, no one was angry as much as they were surprised or wary. Oscar had heard them speak of Ozpin- he knew of the missing fourth member of JNPR and how he had been grooming other students like Ruby and Jaune’s teams to combat Salem without giving them the full story.
He had wanted answers too. But the price…
His hand came up to clutch at his chest. He had felt it all: the terror, the anguish, the mortification, all as acutely as if it were his own. And considering the merge, it would eventually become his own. Then the resignation that followed in watching the anger, disbelief and disgust of the others with no sign of understanding or empathy…
He had been thinking it towards since Ozpin had come back, hoping the man would hear or acknowledge it. Right now, it didn’t matter to him what he had done or how many people had died in this war. No one should have gone through what he went through- not the thousands of years, or having those memories pried open for all to see.
It wouldn’t surprise Oscar if Ozpin lost all faith or trust in them. He’d be within his rights to.
Oscar looked up- Ruby smiled tiredly from where she leaned against the bars of her cell door across from his own. “Yeah.”
She gave a weak laugh. “My eardrums are still ringing from General Ironwood’s lecture.”
Oscar was torn between smiling ans grimacing. He knew that they were in for a rough landing when they saw Atlas (A FLOATING CITY WHAT EVEN) surrounded on all sides by airships (”Mantel-5, welcome back.”) But the fact that General Ironwood was there to greet them (with a look that could kill a man a hundred times over) and then “escort” them away- because while Cordovin had given them the chance to leave, the theft and fight had still been broadcasted to Atlas- quickly destroyed any feeling of triumph the group had.
And when they explained why Ozpin wasn’t present to give him the details…
“If you think you’ll receive any sympathy from me, you are sorely mistaken. Be grateful I’m not sentencing you to the full time for your crimes.”
Oscar’s eyes flickered over to where Qrow was snoring, his entire left cheek purple and black with part of his lip split.
”Why didn’t you do anything to stop this?! What, were you just drinking while all this was going on?!”
Yang and Blake were asleep against the wall- and if it didn’t exist, they’d be back-to-back. Maria had taken it in stride and was the first to fall asleep.
“It’s bad enough that you compromised the only man capable of giving us direction and wasted a question on the relic, but you let loose the most compromising information possible in front of a complete stranger! What if she had been a spy, or enemy?!”
“You know it’s rude to speak of someone when they’re right in front of you.”
“You’re not involved in this!”
“I’m feeling pretty involved!”
Nora was snoring quietly, sprawled over her cot while Ren and Jaune were curled up in their blankets.
Weiss… had been taken back to her manor. Oscar knew she hadn’t been eager to return, but one look at Jacques Schnee made it clear why. Ruby had made it clear that they wouldn’t leave Weiss alone from the moment it was made clear they’d be returning to Atlas. His eyes closed in sorrow at remembering the looks on their faces.
“This is my fault.”
Ruby looked out over the others, her eyes hidden by her bangs. “Ruby,” Oscar said gently, “you know that’s not-”
“Don’t lie to me!”
“When Ozpin said he had trust in you, I went along with it. He’s wiser than I could have ever given him credit, and I only learned this after it was too late. But now, even I can see that his faith and patience was misplaced with you all. I’m cutting you out of the fight- from here on out, you are no longer affiliated with us. Any of you. You’ve all made it clear that you are not worthy of trust.”
Her fingers clutched at the cell bars, eyes filled with tears. “I’m the one who asked Jinn! I’m the one who traumatized Oz! I’m the one who insisted on the plan! I’m the one who wouldn’t back down! I’m the one who wrecked the mecha! I’m the one who attracted the grimm!”
“You’re not huntsmen, or huntresses. Neither would ever conduct themselves like you did. Right now… you’re nothing but criminals and thugs, bulldozing whatever’s in your way with no regard for consequence. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
Ruby crumbled to the ground, one fist slammed on the ground while her other hand was barely able to muffle her sobs. “Here I was, thinking we could do things better-! But we only made everything worse! If I hadn’t- the Cotta-Arcs- Argus- Oz-!”
Oscar’s heart clenched harshly and while he knew it was impossible to reach her, his hand outstretched towards her, trying in vain to give her comfort.
“He must hate me-” she choked out, voice cracking in despair on the last two words. “I’m the one who asked Jinn- the one who- who-“
No. No. I don’t. I could never.
Oscar stiffened at the voice, filled with sorrow and compassion. “Ruby, he doesn’t hate you!” his voice cracked, eyes burning with tears. “He couldn’t!”
“How do you-?!” Ruby began to snap before her eyes widened. “Is he-?”
But just as quickly as his voice and presence had returned, both were gone just as fast. “He’s gone again,” Oscar sighed before his gaze hardened with determination. “But I heard him. He doesn’t hate you Ruby- and I know it. I felt him- he was sad, and he wanted to help…”
Ruby stared in wonder before wiping the tears and snot away. The two sat in silence and Oscar desperately wished he could reach her.
“The first time I ever saw him…” Ruby said softly, “I got into a fight with some crooks. I thought I was going to go to jail- even though I had saved someone- and he just… came in with a plate of cookies.”
Oscar blinked at that- he had seen pictures of Professor Ozpin (and a younger Ruby) and the image of him just giving a plate of cookies to a fifteen year old girl was at once completely at odds with the man… and suited him exactly.
“I… I met him during the morning,” he said quietly- it felt like years had passed since then, even though it had only been a few months. “I felt something strange and I looked in the mirror. I felt crazy- and then out of nowhere, he just says ‘I’m Professor Ozpin’ so brightly. Like he was saying ‘the sky’s blue’ or ‘grass is green’.”
Ruby stifled a giggle. “That must have really shocking.”
“It was- I fell over backwards and nearly cracked my head open.”
“That’s nothing- you should have seen the initiation exam. We were launched right into a forest filled with grimm.” Her face adopted a half exaggerated, half sincere horrified expression. “And the worst part was that whoever we made eye-contact with first was gonna be our partner for the next four years!”
Okay, that was a little much- not just the platforms and grimm, but the eye-contact thing. What if he locked eyes with a jerk or something? How would they co-exist? But he could see that the thought of social activity was what horrified Ruby the most, and considering his own lack of friends and peers, he could identify with that.
“Well, it worked out for you didn’t it? You and Yang seem really close with Weiss and Blake.”
Ruby snorted a soft laugh. “Me and Weiss couldn’t stand each other at the beginning! You should’ve seen-”
She stopped, eyes rolling back before she sweat-dropped and said with a higher-pitched voice, “Actually, it’s better that you didn’t see.”
Oscar chuckled softly at that. “He sounds… unconventional.”
“He was… but he was really warm too. Weiss was mad at me at the beginning for not taking leadership seriously. And Oz helped me come to terms with it.”
She stopped for a moment. “He… he said he made more mistakes than any man, woman or child. But he didn’t consider making me leader one of them.”
Oscar smiled. “It wasn’t a mistake. You… you’re absolutely amazing,” he said with earnest.
Her smile fell off, expression saddened. “I don’t feel like it. It’s my fault we’re in this mess.”
Oscar frowned at the loss of the mood before his teeth clenched. He was not going to give up.
“You made a mistake, but you’re not the only one who did. We all made mistakes, every last one of us. We could have done better, we could have handled things differently… but we didn’t.”
His hands tightened on the bars. “But if we let that stop us, and didn’t try to make things better or improve… then we really wouldn’t have the right to be called huntsmen or huntresses.”
Ruby looked back at him, eyes wide. “Oscar…”
His chest tightened. “We did something… horrible. And we escalated a situation that put a lot of people at risk. So we have to make it right. We have to get better, be better… and then, we can make things right with everyone. We can make things right… with Oz.”
“… the others aren’t gonna like it,” Ruby said sadly, eyes flickering to where Yang, Qrow and Jaune’s cells were.
Oscar’s eyes hardened. “Well they’re just gonna have to deal with it.” His hand settled against his chest. “We can’t let things stay like this. I can’t let things stay like this. And I won’t.”
Ruby looked at him with an expression he had only seen her use towards Ozpin before they went to Argus, or Qrow when he showed his power: admiration. He could feel his stomach flutter and his head ducked down, face burning.
He looked back up as Ruby rose to her feet. “You’re right. We can’t let things stay like this. And you’ve made it clear… you’re gonna stand by his side, right?”
Oscar nodded, resolute.
“Then I will too.” Ruby gave him a true smile. “Promise.”
His smile widened. “Ruby… thank you.”
She nodded before giving a yawn. “We- we should… hit the hay.”
He rolled his eyes good-naturedly. “Very funny,” before going back to his cot and pulling the blankets over him.
“Good night,” he murmured, to Ruby and Oz.
As sleep overtook him at last, he could hear a soft, Good night, echo in his mind…