Ah, the weekly business meeting. It had taken four years of trial and error, but eventually they found a balance of keeping everyone informed without wasting time. Part of the adjustment came as Phoenix grew in members in the last three years. When they were relatively small they could get away with monthly meetings. By the time Ruby and Weiss got married it was once every two weeks. Three years after that they were up to weekly meetings as a group, and nearly daily on an individual basis.645Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡnFKSNecrj1
They were still informal, as they had been from the start. Blake thought they were about half done with this one as they sat and talked; occasionally laughing at a joke. Sometimes those laughs were forced to break tension over a touchy subject, but usually they were with good humor.645Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡjkYE0S6fYB
Blake shook her head again; suppressing a laugh at what she was hoping was a joke. "Whose idea was this again?"
Thompson wasn't suppressing anything as he chuckled. "No one will admit to starting it, but it's been done and no one's inclined to change it." He was still in charge of the Defense Wing, the protectors of businesses and individuals from protection racquets and other forms of sabotage. He had proven remarkably adept at it, and his dedication was one of the things that Blake respected the most about him.
Okay, so this wasn't a joke she realized, even if it was amusing. Well, just because she's the leader of Phoenix doesn't mean she had complete control. This addition had its uses she decided. It might have a unifying effect. That should be encouraged. "Feathers it is then." Why they wanted to call themselves feathers she couldn't quite grasp.
"There is another thing..," Daniel, interjected.
More? This was going to be good. At least she hoped it was going to be good. She had worked hard to make sure that each member felt they could be heard. She didn't expect this backlash though. "And that is?"
Daniel could really stretch out a conversation. That was the nice way to put it anyways. "It's how they're greeting each other..."
She waited a few seconds for him to finish the statement. When that didn't happen she looked back at Thompson. "How?"
Her Defense chief replied "burn brightly," with even more amusement than before.
Huh? "Burn brightly?" she asked incredulously.
Joining the conversation, Alice spoke up. "Well, it does make sense. This is Phoenix, and phoenixes burn."
Blake shot an accusatory look at the leader of her spy network. "You had no idea this was happening?" Not likely. Alice was, if anything, better at her job than Thompson was. Technically it wasn't her job to keep tabs on what was going on within Phoenix, but she did it anyways. She only reported on those findings directly to Blake however. As she put it, 'Spies infiltrate. It's what they do. If someone isn't looking for them they'll do it to Phoenix as well. I'm black ops. If I get caught you have deniability and I'll happily take the fall. You can hate it, but it's necessary.'
Oh and how Blake hated it! She wanted to believe the best in every member of Phoenix from the six leaders to the newest 'feather.'
Okay, I have to admit, I'm going to like that term once I get used to it.
The master thief did her best to look innocent, which in itself was admitting her guilt. "Not a clue."
As good as she was at ferreting out secrets, she was better at spreading information. "I'm betting you started it."
Cracking a smile Alice said "Why would I do that?"
Sigh. "Any other surprises I should know about?"
"Don't forget about your two o'clock tomorrow," Simon reminded her, not that she needed or wanted it. As leader there were things she had to do, no matter how much she dreaded it.
She wished she could forget about this one. "Yes, my interview with Teresa and Friends."
Simon shook his head. He'd been a part of Phoenix since the day it started three years ago. It was long enough for him to know her feelings on such things. "Interview is too strong of a word. It's only a talk show. Mingle, schmooze. They'll only talk about Phoenix at the end once the audience is comfortable with you."
"I get it. It's not them becoming comfortable with me that I have the problem with."
Simon chuckled. "It's you being comfortable with them. I know. If I could arrange for a talk show without a live audience I would have." He became more serious. "You made me leader of Public Relations, and this is necessary." That wasn't entirely accurate. He'd been at least partially voted into the role, but that wasn't worth arguing about at this exact moment. "You run Phoenix, so by definition you are its face. I'm going to make the most out of that. The fact you are a huntress only adds credibility to what you say. I made sure Teresa was going to stress that point."
There were mixed feelings there. She was still proud to be a huntress, and she continued to work out daily to keep her edge, but she wasn't employed as one. Using that title felt like a lie.
Outwardly she simply shrugged. "I'll be there." She moved on to another subject quickly, hoping to leave the tension she felt from the last behind. "You already told me yesterday, but let the others know about Yang's little project."
She was still adamant that all leaders were aware of what the other wings were up to. It had been a good arrangement. Quite often a project could be augmented with the help of another wing. At the very least they weren't getting in each other's way and trusted each other. With a wing like black ops trust was something that could be destroyed quickly. She couldn't have that.
With a wide smile he was more than happy to tell about the success of Yang's show. "Grimm Hunter's numbers have been high enough that it's been renewed for season four and five. From the latest polls it seems that Yang has managed to maintain her popularity while still being viewed as uh... loose and uncouth." Blake smiled. Leave it to a PR exec to try being politically correct.
"In other words, people think she can be a bit of a bitch and a complete slut," Alice supplied. Leave it to a street wise thief to cut through BS.
Simon smiled. "Yes, that would be accurate. As a result her boyfriend Jerry has gotten the fan-fair we were hoping for. I'd say about fifty percent of his fan mail is marriage proposals saying something along the lines of 'you deserve better, I can make you happy.'"
Isaac spoke up for the first time since his report earlier about the last rally his wing had run. "How many of those letters are from humans though?"
Valid question and one Blake hadn't thought of asking earlier. It was further proof that these meetings helped each wing and herself work better. "Hmmmm..." Simon sat for a second thinking then estimated "roughly thirty percent. Higher than I had expected at this point in the show's progression."
"This has to be hard on Yang," Daniel commented. "I've met her a few times. She's spunky, but certainly not what the media is portraying her as. She's very likable."
Yang bothered by public opinion was an amusing thought. "Oh, I wouldn't worry too much," Blake supplied. "She's basking in the spotlight, trust me. She doesn't care what people think of her, just that they are thinking of her at all."
"And it's that likability that makes her work," Simon continued. "People may not like what she does, but they do like her. It leaves the viewers conflicted and transfixed." It also meant that her faunus boyfriend was getting some favorable views as well. That was one of the reasons this was important to Phoenix. Then there's the other reason.
Blake turned her attention to Jenny, their Exchequer. "And how is this affecting our finances?" Again, she already knew but the rest needed to be let in on the loop.
Jenny cleared her throat, then looked at her scroll to find the numbers. "Ms. Long is funneling the majority of her income into our coffers as everyone knows. Last season she granted us approximately one hundred and forty five thousand credits in revenue. We have ear marked all of those earnings for JNPR and Ruby and Weiss's expeditions. Neither of them are in any danger of running low on funds. The next two seasons are going to increase that revenue by fifteen percent. I think it would be safe to move the extra earnings to the general funds."
"I don't see any reason not to. Anyone have any thoughts?" Blake asked.
Daniel had something to add. Of all of the leaders, he was the one who had matured the most in his position. He had little understanding of finances and business at the start, and little confidence to go with it. Weiss had worked with him however. Soon he proved quite adept at manipulating the flow of commerce to put stress on the businesses prejudiced against faunus. He was even better at teaching faunus to run their businesses to compete and attract human customers.
"Could those be ear-marked for my wing instead? Whicker Mining is trying to counter our efforts. They're large enough that we haven't really chipped into their profits, and they're throwing money at the smaller companies to counter the proceeds they're losing from our efforts." Blake reflected that a year ago Daniel wouldn't have asked that in the meeting. It would have been asked afterwards just between the two of them. Definitely an improvement.
Everyone nodded in agreement. "Okay, it's yours. Anything else?"
Looking up Alice responded "I guess it's my turn. I got a report from JNPR this morning."
Blake was instantly captivated. Their mission officially fell under Alice's wing, so that's where the official reports went first. She still got personal letters of course, but they were all of the "We're fine, don't worry about us," variety. The official reports had to be accurate and she was eager to hear the real story.
The reports came in monthly. Longer if they were outside of Vale for a prolonged amount of time where they couldn't be sent. It had been six months. Blake was nearly crawling out of her skin with worry, and with guilt that she was the one responsible if things had turned deadly.
She was pretty sure she was going to kill them herself if they were back in town and hadn't called her first!
"They're about four days east of Vale by bullhead currently," Alice continued. She was holding her voice even, but there was something there... Something she was hiding.
Four days east? That was quiet a distance. "How did they get a report in?" Blake asked automatically, not letting the fear that had started invade until she knew what was going on.
"They found an old SDC mining town where they found an a mostly intact communication tower. They managed to get it working well enough to get a signal to another facility, who then sent the rest to us."
That had to be Ren's doing. Of the four he was the most mechanically inclined. Clever and lucky are an unstoppable combination. "Then we can't be sure how edited the report is, can we?" The fear eased up some. Maybe all she was hearing from Alice was the nerves of a half completed report."
"The report is very detailed, but most of it made no sense for why they were actually out there. It's obviously a smoke screen for any other ears out there."
She had already figured out that was the case. "So what information did you get reading between the lines?"
"They want a bullhead out to their position asap. He said its because Summer was injured." A sarcastic grin spread across her face, trying desperately to hide her unease. "Given that there is no Summer in their party, it's safe to say there is another reason for that."
Blake's stomach bottomed out. "Send out a Bullhead to get them now," Blake said, a feeling of panic nearly overwhelming her. She refused to let it show, and nearly four years of practice allowed the mask to set into place perfectly.
"I did it within minutes of getting the report. CFVY is on their way," Alice said instantly.
These days CFVY was short one member. As her second Velvet couldn't put herself in obvious danger. If Blake for some reason died she needed to be available to step in. Coco and the rest of her team would be enough for something as simple as an extraction though.
She looked over the faces looking at her. Though they couldn't see the panic when she first heard the news, they did see how quickly she ordered for the bullhead. They knew something was up.
Not that she could hide what she knew. That would go against the very purpose of these meetings. "Summer was Ruby's mother. She died a long time ago. Their situation could be very bad if they're using that name." All five faces nodded their understanding, worry crossing each.
There was nothing she could do. She felt sick, as memories of a similar situation years ago raised their heads. Memories of Weiss and Ruby going missing and Blake choosing to stay with Phoenix in a key moment rather than searching for her friends.
From that she had learned to accept that as leader she had to prioritize without allowing personal feelings effect her decisions. Her personal feelings said she should be on that bullhead right now, and she wanted to rip Alice's head off for not telling her sooner.
She knew that Alice had handled the situation correctly, and as leader of the black wing it didn't need to go instantly to her. Each wing worked autominously with her only directing. She would only undermine, maybe even destroy, their authority if she insisted every problem be brought to her for approval.
That didn't mean she couldn't ask for special reports on specific items. "Next time you receive a troubling report like this from JNPR, or Ruby and Weiss, please let me know after you've done whatever you can. I don't care about the hour." Maybe a tad bit of anger was warranted. That should have been a given, regardless of responsibilities.
Something in her voice must have leaked through judging by Alice's expression. "Of course."
"Did you get anything else out of the report?"
"Nothing for sure. He said they were looking around the facility while they were trapped there," she paused for a second, looking Blake directly in the eye. "Those were his exact words. It could have been said without it being literal, but it might not. That's it though. Everything else didn't make any sense for what they're out there for."
Until she heard from them again she knew she wasn't going to be getting much sleep. "Thank you."
She refused to let any of her fear show. Even those she worked the closest with were not allowed to see behind her mask of control and confidence. Doing so would only undermine their own confidence.
She looked over each of the leaders of Phoenix's wings, and smiled. "Anything else?"
Everyone shook their heads. "Alright. I'll be briefing Velvet then preparing for the show tomorrow if anyone needs me."
She started to turn around when all of them said "burn brightly!"
She would have been amused, deciding they had all been in on the new greeting, if not for the dark clouds she saw towards the east and her friends.
Blake reached to pore another scotch, and found the bottle empty. She reached instead for a second bottle. She knew she shouldn't, but she needed something to relax her. The weekly meetings were harder on her than she let on. Even when they didn't involve her friends in life and death situations, they always involved hard decisions. Decisions that likely had no direct effect on her, but would dictate the lives of thousands of faunus for generations to come. Sure, she delegated the responsibility, but in the end it was all on her.645Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡS4Dvl7Dl32
Todays had been the worst so far. Far worse.645Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡoSCfeZIzbw
"There are better ways to kill brain cells," a rough voice came from behind her.645Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡrbiWklmjO4
She shouldn't be doing this either. "Brute's have no right to talk about brain cells." She had grown a high tolerance to alcohol over the years. Though she was delightfully buzzed and nearing wasted, she still sounded like herself.645Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡadkAZ6VbcQ
Thompson laughed, trying to drain the room of some of its depressed tension. "Don't worry, no one saw me come in," he said to the first worry that hit her every time he showed. "They couldn't see it, but I know how hard hearing about JNPR was on you. You don't think I could leave you to your own devices?" He looked directly at the first empty bottle.645Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4Ejejxjb6b
She'd felt it the day they'd met. She'd been so focused on her mission she'd ignored it as a passing fancy. It wouldn't be the first one. Then he went missing. When she saw him alive the relief was enough to stop her mid step in the middle of a war zone. It was an attraction built from mutual respect and rutting lust. For all of his gruff exterior Thompson could be remarkably gentle when needed; like right now.
"You should," Blake replied, though her heart wasn't in the rebuttal. "What you have in mind isn't what good leaders do."
Another of his laughs. She loved hearing them. They were somehow reassuring that everything would work out, even when she was barely holding back the tears. "You have been adamant that we don't act like an army, so why do you have this army mindset about fraternization among the ranks? You do realize how many of our members are dating right? Why us then?"
He was trying to distract her from herself. She knew it, and she needed it. The alcohol wasn't doing it that night."Because we aren't simply members. We're leaders. We can't let them have any impression of favoritism. Especially from me."
A smile crossed his face more felt than seen. "Yeah, don't think I didn't figure out that's why you had everyone vote on who led the wings. If it will make it any easier I'll let my second take my place and become a foot soldier."
What touched her the most is knowing he would for her in a second. It was enough to break through her fears finally, feeling the warmth of his presence at last.
But he was too good at what he did. Phoenix needed him where he was. Even if that wasn't the case she couldn't ask him to resign from a position he loved simply for her. Her mind worked on that problem viciously, trying to use it in a way that prevented her other thoughts from returning.
"I see the gears working kitten. Let's not do this right now. I came to comfort you, not upset you. Let me do it." Little did he know how well he had already comforted her.
She felt his hands start to massage the back of her neck; his fingers finding the knots he had already known were going to be there. She leaned into it, subconsciously. Realizing she'd already given in she temporized one more time can't hurt.
Not that much happened. She finally noticed the effects of the alcohol when she stood up, and nearly fell over as she stumbled forward. Thompson came forward and picked her up. She snuggled into it, and was unconscious before she reached the bedroom.
Blake's mood had improved in the morning, though she was still ever conscious of her friends in the back recesses of her consciousness.
"We just made it back home," Ruby's chipper voice said from a voice message the next morning. "Come over when you get the chance!"
She said it so casually. Like they hadn't been out in grimm infested woods for two months now, and were likely going to be going back out next week. Those two were insane. They had started only weeks after their wedding, not long enough for a proper honeymoon in Blake's opinion, and hadn't stopped since except for a week here and there. She was pretty sure they hadn't even finished decorating their house yet.
From Ruby she had expected it. She had too much of a paladin mindset to do otherwise. Weiss on the other hand had surprised her. She was normally so level headed and pragmatic. She would know that pressing themselves like this was going to wear them down. They needed time off to recharge their batteries, and to have time to themselves to renew their relationship.
If anything, Weiss was the worse of the two. Blake had the distinct impression that if Weiss could she wouldn't be back in Vale until every last facility that treated faunus worse than slaves was left with none of them. She had been that way since the first time they reached a SDC facility.
Blake shook her head, chagrined that she hadn't seen it coming. She knew how bad it was out there, from a statistical sense. She hadn't actually seen it with her own eyes. The statistics were bad enough however. Knowing that she was in any way attached to what she found had to have driven Weiss nearly insane. Blake recognized the signs of obsession from personal experience. She hoped Ruby did too.
Maybe I'll see if Daniel can't use Weiss's expertise. As his mentor she was the first one he'd ask if there was. It might slow her down enough to get at least a bit of rest before going back out. Even if he can't use her help, I'll make sure he understands that he does. That little snafu with Whicker Mining would work.
She never thought she'd miss the days of fighting off Roman and his cronies. Those had been simpler days.
"Get back to bed," she heard from her bedroom. Simple days with three other roommates to stop her from doing things she would regret in the morning. Well, she should be regretting them.ns 126.96.36.199da2