Jaune Arc Expelled Challenge: A Different Path

(A RWBY Fanfic)

Outline: Cardin Winchester took his information to Glynda Goodwitch, leading to Jaune being forced to leave Beacon after the events at Forever Fall. But just because that avenue was closed to him, it didn't mean he couldn't find another way. When he and his former friends meet again, Pyrrha see he's a changed man. [One-Shot].

In Ozpin's Office

"You had much potential here in Beacon," were the first words out of Headmaster Ozpin's mouth as he stared out the window of his office, part of the grand clock that overlooked Beacon. The gears churning above and below gave a low and continuous groan as the cup of coffee he held by the handle slowly swirled its contents with a simple motion of his wrist. "I am truly sorry it came to this, Mister Arc."

Jaune Arc sat on the other side of his desk, the blond hair that fell over his downturned face covering it in a shadow. The expression on his face was one that was crestfallen, his dreams dashed. How could he be a hero now that Cardin had exposed him to Glynda Goodwitch the moment they got back from the Forever Fall?

It had been a choice, he knew. Protect his team or betray them. He'd chosen the former with no regret, but….

"Your dismissal will be kept quiet, for the most part," Ozpin continued. "Merely unforeseen circumstances have led to you being unable to continue your studies for the time being. That should avoid the news getting out through official sources and prevent anymore fallout than there already is."

It couldn't be helped. He forged transcripts. It was unacceptable to the other students who entered after years of training, a level of dishonesty unbefitting of a Hunter and illegal. Professor Goodwitch had made that clear: No matter how good his intentions were it wasn't proper.

"What will happen to my—" he cut himself off abruptly. He never once led them properly since they were formed. They had never been his team in reality, never the team of a liar and failure. "What will happen to the other members of the team?"

Ozpin took a sip of his coffee. The taste was unusually bitter with the flavoring of the atmosphere. "There are other future Huntresses and Huntsmen who are lacking partners. Some had lost their teammates to unfortunate circumstances, while others weren't placed due to an irregular number of candidates. It would be for the best if one of the latter joined a team that has already formed, under the leadership of Miss Nikos."

"I see." It was for the best. Pyrrha was the most talented and skilled. She would lead them right.

"There's nothing barring you from returning next year," Ozpin told him. His cane clacked against the floor as he walked towards the disheartened former student. "So long as you qualify during the entrance exam, we will have no problem with welcoming you back."

"I'll consider that then," Jaune said. "I'm still thankful for everything I've learned while here for such a short time."

Ozpin nodded to the woman loitering in the distance, her expression stern. Glynda approached them as Ozpin set a hand on Jaune's shoulder. "Then, this is goodbye for now, Jaune Arc."

Jaune stood and followed Glynda to the elevator, catching a final glimpse of the Headmaster before the doors closed. The lift lurched to life and descended. Silence hung between the two for a brief moment.

Then the witch spoke. "This is for the best, young man. You aren't ready for this level of combat. It has been a miracle that you've lasted this long without a serious injury."

He didn't argue with her. There was no denying that the truth was she was right. He'd only made it this far because of the people who had been at his back. It wasn't fair that they couldn't count on him to do the same.

Glynda took his silence as a sign to continue. "While you will make a wonderful addition to the Hunters one day, I'm afraid that isn't now."

"I understand," was all he said as the lift stopped and the door opened.

"The airship will be departing in thirty-minutes," she told him. "It will escort you to Vale. Please be aboard it or there will be ramification."

"I will." He took three steps off the elevator and into the corridor before turning back to the huntress and asking, "Will Cardin get away with everything he's done?"

"Absolutely not," she stated. "His actions will see him into an appropriate punishment by my hands. I assure you, he will not go unpunished, nor will his team."

It was all he could ask for. He made his way down the corridor and then out of the building. In the courtyard, by the statue that stood at the center and would lead to the main avenue and landing platforms, he saw a student wearing their formal clothes and waiting for him. Her gaze was cast towards the cobblestone, arms around her waist.

"Pyrrha," Jaune muttered with his throat dry. She was one of the last people he wanted to see at the moment. After the last time they had talked, he had said a lot of things that he wasn't proud of. She'd offered to help him and he'd taken that offer and cast it aside rather than suffer the blow to his ego that came of it. He looked around to see if there was another path to take, maybe if he circled around the courtyard and behind the pillars…

"Jaune," she called out, her face still out of his view. "Can we talk?"

There was no running away now that she had spotted him. He sighed and then tried to put a smile on his face, for her sake. Waving his hand as he approached, he tried to slip back into the role of the loveable idiot one last time. "Hey, Pyrrha. How's it going tonight?"

Her emerald eyes rose to meet his blue ones. There were a number of things that were nestled within them, emotions that she tried to tamper down on: Guilt, Sorrow, Anger, and Regret. "You're leaving."

"Well, you know I didn't get here on my own merits," he said, making a gesture with his hands that said it was no big thing. "It was only a matter of time."

She shook her head. "If I hadn't taken you to the roof where Cardin's room was—"

"It would have come out anyway," he said, brushing her arguments aside. "Besides, maybe it's good that I'm leaving now, y'know. One day it could have cost us our lives, and it would have all because of my… my pride."

The last words were choked out. His pride ended up being his downfall, hubris reaping its toll. What right did he have to be proud when he had cheated his way in rather than taking the effort to rise to the same level they did, through years of hard work? He really had no right to even be there or had met people like her.

Clearing his throat, he looked away from her. "If that had happened then I would have never forgiven myself…. No, even if it was because Cardin was a jerk, this way was at least less harmful. Besides, what's done is done and there's no changing that."

She didn't find it in her to argue. There was no changing the Headmaster's mind. "Then, we'll have to say goodbye here?"

"I might be back next year if I can pass the entrance exam properly." He rubbed the back of his head. "And it's not like we can't still talk, or send letters, or messages, or something like that. It depends on where I go from here."

From there the night air whistled as it passed between them, cutting the silence in two. The short locks of his hair rustled, while her long flame-colored ponytail was caught in its fickle sway.

"I'd better get going," he finally brought himself to say, stepping around her. The longer he dragged this out, the more painful it would be.

She reached out to grab his hand a final time, only to falter at the last minute. Instead she held it her chest and looked aside. "For what it's worth, Jaune, you were a fine partner."

"And you were the best," he replied in kind, glancing over his shoulder a final time to burn into his mind the future huntress. "Tell the rest of the team that I'll miss them. And do the same to Ruby, Weiss, and the others."

He left down the path and boarded the small airship that was waiting, the metal lurching as the dust-powered lift-off began. Everything he'd brought with him had been packed onto the plane, not that it was much to begin with. The things that Beacon itself supplied were taken back, including the custom Scroll.

As he watched Beacon grow small in the distance, he could only think to himself that even if by some miracle he managed to pass the entrance exam the next year, it wouldn't be the same as it was before. Even though the time since they had become a team was short, he'd felt closer to them than he would have thought possible. By next year there was a chance they'd never remembered he'd existed as anything but a clumsy fake… then again, that was to say if he could pass the exam in the first place.

The years of schooling needed to be able to match people like Ruby or even Cardin weren't something he could invest in. If he could then he would have done so in the beginning. It was most likely a hope spot offered by Ozpin to make him not feel so bad about being a failure.

Realistically speaking, going to Beacon and becoming a Huntsman, his original path to being a hero, weren't on the table for him as it was. But he couldn't go home and face his family after this. Not after he vowed on his soul that he would become a hero.

If one avenue was closed to him, he would find another…

One Year Later

The airship housing the second-year class members of Beacon had touched down on the small town bordering the Jawenn Wilds. Pyrrha was amongst the first off the ship, her team falling behind her. Team PNRA (Pandorea) was still an intact and efficient unit.

Nora was still excitable and energetic, although Pyrrha suspected she was having some conflicting turmoil with her feelings regarding Lie Ren. Speaking of the intellectual of their group, they had been trying to do something about his stamina and endurance but only time will tell if that panned out. And their newest member, Aladdin, proved himself to be a suitable and capable partner.

While he wasn't the same as Jaune, that was to be expected and compensated for. The team didn't treat him as they would Jaune and accepted him for who he was… well, Nora did for a time but grew out of it. But the question of what could have been occasionally tip-toed on the edge of all of their minds, more than a little guilt and concern about his dismissal and subsequent disappearance for Pyrrha in specific.

Maybe that was why she didn't exactly chastise Nora when she 'accidentally' broke Cardin's legs. After all, while they all received consecutive detentions, it was never proven intentional.
Regardless, she didn't let her emotions become influenced by those thoughts while in the middle of their training. For Hunters, in the battles against the Grimm and other forces that threatened the peace, causalities were to be expected and occurred even in Beacon and Vale. While they were fortunate enough not to have suffered any losses after last year's Vytal Festival, there had been a number of them. It was a harsh reality of their lifestyles and careers.

So she put it away and merely hoped for the best as she armed herself for the training exercise, where they would survive in relatively hostile wilderness for a few days as part of survival training…

At least that had been the plan, until the initial training exercise had been postponed by Professor Port.

Apparently, rather than just the usual Treehopper, Beowolves, and Ursa variety of Grimm in the woods, a Timber Wyrm that was passing through had taken up residence shortly before they arrived. The professor wanted to wait until it had passed through to continue, as the training exercise was supposed to be a three-day one and at this time of the season it would be getting ready to advance south. There was no need to risk their lives when the fight could be avoided without anyone being harmed.

But complications abounded when children had gone missing in the forest and the locals had asked for help. As they weren't full-fledged Hunters, a Timber Wyrm was the equivalent to the Death Stalker and Nevermore, and the terrain was laden with hostiles and ran the risk of starting a forest fire, Professor Port made it clear that it was an unfavorable fight. Then he announced he was going and asked for volunteers since, as future Hunters were there for the good of the people at the risk of their own lives, there would be many such encounters throughout their lives.

Now her team and few others were inside of woods with orders to find the children, only confronting the creatures of Grimm if the fighting could not be avoided. They synchronized their Scrolls for constant communication and spread out, with orders to notify the rest when the children had been found dead or alive. They could ping the signals from there and track them across the map.

Team RWBY's leader called in first, right after a shrill and hoarse roar that rang throughout the forest and was followed by gunfire and explosions.

"We've got the kids in custody," Ruby started out. "The good news: They're safe and mostly unharmed, they just came across the Grimm while it was sleeping and one of them sprained their ankle over a root and the other couldn't carry them both—"

Ruby was briefly cut off by the clicking of mandibles and then an explosion as it caught what sounded like a mouthful of Ember Celica's explosive rounds. "The bad news: It just so happened to have woken up by the time we got there and stirred a nest of Treehoppers. We're managing a fighting retreat while they hold the wyrm off, but there's so many that we won't be able to get back to help them in time!"

"No other Scrolls are registered in the immediate vicinity are near your coordinates," Port spoke over the line. "The closest are those of Team PNRA to assist. Who exactly is it that's fighting it then?"

"Uh, it's a funny story really. I mean, really what are the odds of— " A scream came from a young girl close to the Scroll, followed by the sound of ice parting the air and leaving an exoskeleton run through with a nasty splash of ichor. "Agh, let me just put it on the screen! How do I do the remote viewing… here we go!"

The screen transitioned from the audio and map to a video on the top of the screen, with the map being pushed off to the right and the details and markers made smaller. In the video they saw a clearing that was on fire in the distance, slowly being closed upon and clarity increasing as three figures came into view.

The flames that shrouded the clearing resembled a pond of fire that was slowly spreading, spilling out in all directions and would eat into the forest to create a bigger blaze. Standing amongst those flames that danced over the surface of the grass were two people and the massive creature of Grimm.

Pyrrha almost stopped her sprinting towards them in shock when she saw the first figure, the video capturing those same blue eyes she recognized instantly at a side angle. His blonde hair was longer than she remembered, but it had been a year. He also had a pair of firearms affixed to his lower legs by holsters, as well as a cloak that had seen some use. But, even if those allowed her fleeting thoughts of the young man being someone else, she couldn't think of anyone else who was wielding that all-too familiar shield and sword: Crocea Mors.

Then there was the pure white, untainted outline that surrounded him, the aura shrouding the beige cloak that was being hefted by the hot air, rebuking the flames that tried to lap at his flesh and devour him as eagerly as they were doing the clearing. While his aura could shield him from the heat, the flames would be a constant drain as long as he stayed within them.

Is that…" Lie Ran started, only for Nora to blurt it out.

"It's Jaune!" she exclaimed, leaning over Lie's shoulder to watch the video.

Aladdin raised an eyebrow at the news, the large curved sword in his hand still held upright as he cut through the brush. "The former teammate who left?"

Nora nodded. There was a grin on her face as she poked at the corner of the screen. "Oooh, and he's brought a friend to help slay the dragon!"

The view expanded to reveal another figure wearing a similar cloak, a blonde-hair Faunus that had ears that looked to be that of a ferret's. He had some type of gauntlet-device, sleeker than the ones that Xiao Long used with a carousel filled with different colors of dust. With it, however, he cast a violet-blue bolt into the sky and it ruptured into a glyph.

The moisture in the air was drawn in by it, a dark cloud enveloping the glyph completely. It brought rain with a gesture of his fingers. Heavy drops of water came down to smother the flames, drowning the hungry tongues and quenching the parched earth.

The rain caused the third figure to move. Obsidian scales that ran uniformly along its body seemed to bulge as the clawed toes of its hind legs dug into the hearted earth. They sprung forward and upturned the soil and grass they held, the pinions on its back flexing as it lurched for the Faunus. The light gleaming off of the jagged claws of its left arm made it seem like the blade of the Grim Reaper as it sought the neck, carrying enough force to take everything below it off in a single swipe and spray it over the landscape.

Jaune intercepted. Taking to the front of the Dust-Mage, the Knight stood with his left leg forward in a solid stance, his shield angled to parry as his aura contorted to the front to reinforce both him and the white heater shield with golden trims. The jagged claws came down to rend the metal only to be rebuked by it and the Knight brought his longsword around to carve a bloody furrow through the scaled-palm between the claws, the blade biting into it with a faint tail of light following.

The blood that clung to the blade was then smeared across the shield rather than flicked onto the grass, across the emblem emblazed on the front. It served as a constant reminder to the wyrm that he had been the one who drew first blood, a puny man with only a blade and shield to oppose it for all its size. He was literally painting himself as a target.

The Grimm snarled in pain and rage, the antithesis and bane of its existence shrouding the blade causing the wound to froth as if poisoned. The black slits of its jade eyes, hidden behind a white-mask of bone as its skull protruded out of its head and the points formed what looked to be a frill, fixed narrowly as it lurched back, arching its long and serpentine neck in the process so its head was angled towards the Knight clad in the pale light. Small columns of acrid smoke then emerged from its nostrils as fire swelled within it.

The Knight dropped his shield hand from its rigid posture and used it to grab the shortened, triple-chamber, revolver shotgun (STCRS) in his left holster. He raised it towards the wyrm's head and pulled the trigger thrice. Three shining darts of crimson light with thinning tails streaked forward like fireworks and exploded when they made contact with the head in a rush of heat and force.

With a flick of the wrist the chambers were exposed and the crimson casings of the spent shells were ejected, replaced by arctic-blue ones instead as he closed it and then sheathed the gun to holdfast the shield again. With careful motions he edged away from the Dust-Mage, tapping his heater shield with his sword to keep the Timber Wyrm's attention focused on the one that hurt it.

"We have to hurry," Pyrrha told her team, tearing her gaze away from the video as her pace doubled. The others followed suit, well aware that facing off against an enemy of that caliber with just the two of them alone was suicidal. She sped the thick of trees, crossing arching roots that jutted out of the ground trying to trip her up.

As they were the closest to the site besides Team RWBY, they made it first to a steep overlook with the clearing at the bottom. It was there they witnessed the battle still raging on, small pockets of fire that refused to be quelled by the rain still flickering in place now that the downpour had stopped.

The fact that the large Grimm now had a few weeping red lines over where black scales should have been showed that the Knight had opened it up several times when she had last checked. Just by watching the way Jaune moved she could tell he had improved in the last year. His movements were sharper, calculated and stable. It was a far cry from the memories she held to, when he was a clumsy and lovable idiot—his choice of words, not hers.

The wyrm let loose a deep and shrill rasp as its head came around from the left, maw with scorching flames pooled. It exhaled and spewed forth a blazing stream, hungry flames seeking to devour everything caught in their path greedily. And Jaune was right in that path, his shield upraised to intercept it.

There was a flare of white, blinding as it met the aura-reinforced shield. Even from the overlook they nearly took a step back as the meeting of the two created a crashing wave of force, leaving her heart to lurch at the thought of him being point-blank. She managed to pry open her eyelids and squinted at the sight of the flames washing around the shield and leaving the earth beneath him scorched black as his sneakers slid back. The sheer force of the controlled breath of flames was trying to knock him down, grounding him and then enveloping him in its fiery embrace until his bones were charred and then scattered into ashes.

She noticed he gritted his teeth. The strain to hold on must've been staggering. For an instant his legs seemed to buckle, only adrenaline and sheer determination straitening them out. They became marble columns, pillars of stone that would not fall. She knew from the look in his eye from behind the shield, visible if she struggled to look beyond the flames and between the gaps as the tongue tried to lick at his flesh, that he refused to collapse.

However, the Grimm was not merely a mindless beast. It had a feral cunning befitting a predator that was not to be underestimated. If the Knight wouldn't fall on his own, then it would take away the legs he stood upon. The flames continued to pour out while its elongated tail snaked around like a serpent, hidden by the glare as it sped towards his legs to take them from under him.

Pyrrha could see it coming from her vantage point and screamed for him to notice, but his focus was on barring the flames from bathing him and the roar of the blaze drowned out her voice. Thus she watched as the tail came around like a sledgehammer to knock down the pillars that wouldn't bend…

A flash of green appeared between the Knight and the sledgehammer tail, a viridian glyph that held a circle within a circle that had numerous hexagons within the outer ring and a pentagon within the inner one that had a second glyph woven into it. Defensive in nature, the first acted as an unyielding bulwark to stand against the sledgehammer while the second softened the blow by applying reverse vectors upon impact, discharging the aura in it to rebound the tail so that it didn't by some change breakthrough using sheer physical force.

The Dust-Mage was still there. He had always been there, silently preparing for the counter-attack. Watching the Knight's back as he held the front-line, the Faunus flicked his hands out like he would if water were on his fingers and then brought two digits together as he used them to mark invisible symbols into the air.

The flames were pushed back by a reddish glyph that appeared in front of the shield, a second layered behind it. Naval-blue in hue, it drew in moisture and created a stream of water that was ejected through the first glyph and met with the flames. The resulting steam created a veil that obscured them from the Timber Wyrm's view.

The Grimm stopped heaving fire at the target it could not see. It spread its mighty wings, black pinions with leathery skin between them, and then began to beat them. The gale it called up washed away the steam to reveal the Knight standing where he had been, only with his aura built up around the tip of the sword, swelling as it took the shape of a wedge of light.

The wyrm lunged with its maw opened. Charcoal fangs dyed the color of blood in patches held strands of thick saliva between them. It would devour the Knight whole.

Jaune thrust the blade forward and the coalesced wedge of aura was launched and slammed right into the gaping jaws of the Grimm. Its head snapped back, the long neck whipping around and into the ground from the force. The wyrm warbled as it tried to stop the world from spinning and the stout yet short hind legs stumbled back as it tried to correct itself sloppily.

Pyrrha wondered if that was his Semblance. Some sort of repulsion effect that turned the defensive nature of his aura from a shield to a sword. It must've been a drain to fire it like that, given he was now huffing, even with the amount of aura he possessed from when she pulled it out of him. It was more proof that he had been training his usage in it as he looked like he was getting ready to do it again, strings of light drifting off his body and slithering along the length of his sword.

Not that the Grimm would let him charge for another strike. The Timber Wyrm was flapping its wings and kicking up a gale again, this time readying to take to the skies. From there it could rain fire down on them with impudence if it got high enough.

After that last attack and series of glyphs it was possibly their combined auras were depleted enough that there was a chance they couldn't defend against that sort of assault. Or it would set the forest ablaze and catch the rest of the teams inside of it. That thought snapped her out of the trance she had been in watching them do battle.

"Nora, get ready to bring it down before it gets too high," Pyrrha ordered, shifting Miló into its rifle form and taking the Grimm's eye in her crosshairs. Aladdin and Lie's ranged weapons couldn't cover the distance. The excitable heroine, who had been enjoying the fight between the Knight and Dust-Mage against the Grimm, saluted with a wide grin on her face before readying her Magnhild. "On my mark…"

They needn't bothered.

No sooner than it achieved lift did a glyph, more complex than Pyhrra had seen before and large enough to encompass the girth of the Grimm, appear on the ground beneath it. It shone with a twisted-dusk light that created some sort of downward force that made the air around it shift. Localized gravity manipulation if she had to guess, meaning it would alter the trajectory of the missiles and gunfire depending on the strength and throw them off.

A defiant hiss escaped the maw of the Grimm. Muscles straining beneath the scales as pinions struggled to flap against the gravity well. It was possibly too big to bring down so easily. More than that, it refused to bow to the two of them of its own accord.

The Faunus refused to let it continue to hold its head high above them. Like it had tried to knock away the pillars that held the Knight upright, he would clip the wings that held the Grimm aloft. The discharge of dust was heard thrice from both the gauntlets of the Dust-Mage as he extended his right hand forward and braced it with the left.

Smaller glyphs of the same design at the one pinning the Timber Wyrm encircled it in a square-design, multiplying the force drastically. The ground strained and rumbled as it gave way under the pressure, small fissures running from the center and spreading out as the depression beneath the glyph grew deeper. The atmosphere itself seemed to be shifting in the clearing, drawn into it like a black hole.

Pinions became lead and dropped down, the mass of scales buckling under the assault. With a mighty crash it deepened the depression and would have thrown up a cloud of dust if the gravity didn't keep it anchored. The Dust-Mage made the Grimm kneel, its head low to the ground with a muted, bubbling growl as the columns of smoke from its nostrils were flattened as well.

Jaune said something that was partially drowned out by the Timber Wyrm's furious cry at being bound, tethered to the ground by the glyphs that acted as localized points of intensified gravity. The Dust-Mage heard, however, and nodded. A gesture of his left hand was all it took for a glyph that was angled skyward to spring into existence in front of the Knight.

He rushed for the glyph and jumped through the luminous design. The moment contact was made he was accelerated skywards, the g-forces pulling at him like thick chains that bound him to the earth. At the apex of his climb he raised his sword and light gathered into it, swelling like before into a newborn star shining radiantly and casting aside the shadows below.

He swung downwards. Caught in the gravity well, the blow bore the weight and force of his entire aura was backed by the intensified gravity. The dazzling daystar fell to Earth in the form of a crescent blade.

Pyrrha saw it for what it was as the mighty Grimm laid helpless, with its neck outstretched. If the blade followed the same theory that it carried the repulsion of his aura then, concentrated in a point, it would repulse against both sides of the blade as it moved down, forcing them apart. With the gravity ensuring it would come down hard, the end result would be…a guillotine, of course.

The impact was thunderous, snuffing the flames as a fierce wind and dust was kicked up with the destruction of the glyphs holding the Grimm down. By the time it cleared they could see that the Timber Wyrm had been beheaded, black steam rising as it began its slow evaporation of decay. The skull-masked head was in the distance, eyes dim without the crimson light of life within.

Jaune had landed at some point when the dust was still lingering in the air. He whipped the blade sharply to the side, flicking off any remaining life-blood of the Grimm from the blade and onto the scorched and depressed grass. He used his cloak to clean the shield, revealing the emblem once more that had been emblazed upon it.

Shifting it into a scabbard, he sheathed the sword and slung it over his back. He then turned towards the Faunus and walked towards him. He was leaving again, back to her without noticing them.

Pyrrha wanted to call for him, but a thought occurred after watching that fight. He and the Faunus made an excellent team, partners she even dared to say if she could speak. The role she once held with him and lost. What if he didn't need them anymore? What if he didn't need her anymore?

"JAUNE!" Nora yelled with all the force she could muster, waving with the hand that didn't hold the grenade launcher at the ready. If she had any doubts like Pyrrha did, they didn't show at all. She honestly admired that about the hammer-wielder.

Jaune turned in a swift-motion, one hand reaching to his side for a firearm and the other reaching back for his sword, until his blue eyes fell upon them. It was then Pyrrha noticed his once unblemished face had been permanently marred, a large scar running diagonally from the left side of his forehead, past the bridge of his nose, and then down to his right cheek. His expression was one of surprise, before he relaxed, put on a smile, and waved back.

She opened her mouth to say something, but the sound gunfire in the distance reminded them that this was a battlefield. He nodded towards the direction of the sound, tapped his partner on the shoulder, and then drew his firearms to confront the excess numbers that remained. Pyhrra motioned for the others to do the same and assist their comrades still performing a fighting retreat…

An Hour Later

"Excellent hunt, my boy!" Professor Port told the young Knight after every team had gathered back in town and the children were tended to before being reunited with their parents. "Why, back when I was in my prime…"

Jaune listened with half-attention as his gaze fell to the distance where his friends, or former friends depending on how well they remembered him, were.

Nora seemed like she was ready to jump up, always the bundle of energy that she was. He couldn't help but wonder how Lie Ren, who was keeping her in check at the shoulders, managed most of the time. Ah well, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

Ruby, the first friend he'd made during his time at Beacon, had a giddy smile on her face and was waving at him with both hands above her head. He noticed that her hair had grown somewhat and she'd gotten just a bit taller too. Her sister, Yang, was also waving, only with much less enthusiasm. Blake just hung back next to them, although she gave him a welcoming nod.

Weiss, the Snow Angel, seemed content to strike up a conversation with Noyuu. The Dust-Mage had been his partner for a few months now as they made their way here. They were gesturing and bringing up small glyphs, so he guessed they were exchanging notes or something.

There was someone he didn't recognize leaning against the wall. The new guy was tall; dark with tanned skin behind a vest and thick pants, and possibly handsome if Jaune had to admit. He wore a Scimitar on his back with an abnormally thick blade that had a hinge halfway through. Given what Jaune knew from his travels and time at Beacon, the blade probably folded down to reveal the barrel of a gun hidden in it.

His eyes stopped roaming when they fell on Pyrrha, the flame-haired warrior who he'd been partnered with by pure chance. For a moment he noted that her taut figure seemed even more alluring than before while draped in her combat armor. But he brushed the thoughts aside when he saw how close she was to the new guy.

Once the professor had taken his leave to report the situation to Ozpin, they approached him. Nora ran up to him and slammed into him with an open-arm hug alongside Ruby. It was almost enough to bring him down when the Grimm couldn't.

His excitable teammate promptly started to ramble. "You were practically like one of those knights in the fairy tales who had to slay dragons to rescue princesses and—"

"—that was so awesome how you just stood there, with the flames rolling around your shield and then you jumped and then—" Ruby, also seemed to be just as excited now that the fighting was over. Apparently her Scroll had caught the entire thing.

It was this atmosphere that he'd missed since his departure from Beacon. The weight of their lives on the line sinking down and impressing upon them absent, knowing that there was safety in numbers. Not just allies, but friends.

"Where'd you get the cool scar?" Nora asked, snapping his attention back to her.

Ruby added hastily, "Not that it looks bad or anything. In fact it kinda makes you look cooler, and—"

"Okay, you two give him some space," Yang said, lifting her sister with one hand easily by the hood of her cloak. "He just got back from fighting a wyrm. Give him some time to breathe."

"Nora, that's not polite to ask someone," Lie Ren chided his childhood friend while he managed to wrest her free.

Freed of the other two, he managed to scratch the back of his head. He didn't want to bring up exactly how he got the scar since it would sour the mood. So what he said next was a carefully measured lie, the truth buried within it to an extent. "It's no big deal. Just ran into something I wasn't expecting. It's a risk when fighting the Grimm."

"Those are an interesting choice for firearms," Lie Ren mused as his gaze fell towards Jaune's legs. "May I?"

He pulled out the STCRSs and handed them over so Lie could inspect them. "They were a gift you could say. I know they're nothing special, probably even relics, but at the time I needed a ranged weapon and they're easy to use. On the positive-side, they've been modified so they're dust-cartridge compatible as well as being able to use regular rounds. I usually keep those in the right one while the left contains the dust ones."

As Lie turned them over and noticed the age and wear on them, the new guy approached and stuck his hand out for Jaune to shake. "Name's Aladdin. I joined up after you were gone."

So that makes him Pyrrha's new partner, Jaune guessed. He looked like he knew what he was doing and could keep up with her. That was more than what he was capable of back then. That was probably the case even now.

The Knight shook his hand earnestly. "Jaune Arc. Thanks for looking after them. All of them."

"Al's all sorts of fun!" Nora told him. "Not that we didn't miss you too, right Boss?"

Eyes turned to Pyrrha, whose head snapped up from being deep in thought. "Huh? Oh, um… right. Yes, we missed you very much, Jaune."

The smile that formed her face at the end almost drew him in, but he turned his head and gestured towards the Dust-Mage. "Well, since we're doing introductions, let me introduce Noyuu Arcys."

The short-haired blonde Faunus bowed his head, obscuring his green-eyes. "It's nice to meet all of you. Jaune told me a bit about you when we were traveling."

Blake then spoke up for the first time. "So, what were you doing in the forest? It's not the sort of place we expected a reunion to happen."

"We were passing through the forest to get here to restock on supplies as we made our way to Vale," Noyuu began. "Jaune had some business there, a delivery to make I believe, and I've been following him for some time. We've been on foot for the most part, passing through small villages and such."

"It was just a coincidence that we all met this time…" Jaune trailed off as Lie handed his guns back.

Yang then popped up between the Knight and the Dust-Mage and slung her arms around their necks, bringing their heads towards hers in the center. "Well, since you two seem to have some interesting stories to tell, let's go find some place to sit and talk about them."

She then dragged them off, the rest following…

Later On

Night had fallen, draping the sky like dark satin, as Pyrrha excused herself from the others who were leaving to get ready for bed. The training exercise would begin in the morning and they needed to be well-rested. Likewise, the Faunus accompanying Jaune had left to get them a room for the night.

That left the two of them alone, Jaune sitting at a booth with his eyes staring into the half-filled cup. The flame-haired huntress-in-training steeled herself, before taking a seat next to him and asking. "Are you okay, Jaune?"

He looked up from his cup and tilted his head slightly. "What do you mean?"

"Your stories," she started. "They were measured, the words carefully chosen to leave out some details. When no one was looking and your friend had their attention, your expression changed too…"

He acknowledged her points with a nod and then took a sip from his cup before addressing her. "Some of the others probably noticed too but didn't want to bring the mood down when we've just gotten back."

Pyrrha looked towards his scar and asked. "Jaune, I know I don't have any right to ask this now, but… what is it that's happened to you?"

He closed his eyes and sighed. "Pyrrha, it's been harder than I ever thought possible. The hazardous terrains, dealing with monsters other than the Grimm—Human Bandits and Thieves, Rogue and Corrupt Hunters, Racist and Extremist Faunus…"

Blue-eyes opened and stared coldly at his hands as the fingers slowly closed into fists. "I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of to survive, from scavenging from corpses to having to kill in self-defense. I've lost the people I fought alongside against some Grimm that we'd never seen before, been stranded in hostile territory without my weapons, and betrayed by others I thought I could trust. I didn't want them to know, so I lied and put on the same mask as before—the lovable idiot."

"If it's hard then you can always come back to Beacon," she offered, slipping his hand into hers. She felt how calloused the tips of his fingers were from all the fighting he'd done. "I'm sure that Professor Port would give you and your friend recommendations for a belated entrance examination for the second semester in a few months, and I could tutor you so you could pass the written portions. You'll be with people you trust, comrades who'll fight alongside you, and when you graduate you won't be alone handling everything out there."

"I… I don't know if I want to," he admitted, his head low as he gently removed his hand from hers.

She seemed taken aback by the admission. "Why not? If it's about Cardin—"

Jaune laughed a bit at that. "No, he doesn't even rank as a threat anymore. Not after all the stuff I mentioned. I've dealt with people much worse than him. If anything I'd be afraid that I would hurt him too badly."

"Then why?" she asked again.

"Pyrrha…" He turned towards the window facing the direction of the forest and just stared into the Grimm-laden territory. "Those children… would you guys have reached them in time before the wyrm seared their skin and turned their bones to ashes?"

"There's no way of knowing," she admitted. Her team probably wouldn't have at least. "I'm just glad we didn't have to find out."

"The thing is, in the villages and towns outside of the four kingdoms they would have given the children up for dead because they couldn't risk losing more people looking for them in that sort of terrain. All of you being here and willing to help was a fortunate coincidence, but normally Hunters wouldn't even be on the table since there simply aren't enough of them around to look for one or two people or the people can't afford the services of those willing to take that risk."

"That's why we need more people like you," she reasoned. "When I think about everything that happened this last year, I think about how things would have been different if you were around. If you were leading us…."

"I know, but you're still three years away from being certified Hunters," the Knight said. "What about the people who can't wait until then? Someone has to do something to keep them alive until that point and, for all of the problems, pain, and suffering, I'm making a difference out there…."

At least I'd like to think so, he tacked on silently.

Pyrrha let a soft sigh flow from her lips and looked down at her hands on the booth table. She stayed like that, quiet in thought with only the sound of Jaune sipping his drink and the chatter in the other booths as ambient noise. What was she supposed to say to convince him to at least try and come back when his point was valid?

They could only reach so far from Beacon and Vale. Would it be better for the world to just leave him to continue what he's doing? Even if it meant she wouldn't see him again, just knowing that he was out there, doing good and being a hero like he wanted… that should make her happy, right?

"I thought about all of you," Jaune said abruptly, breaking the awkward silence. "During the especially rough times, I remembered all of you and the fun we had. It was all that kept me going at some points. I would always ask myself: What would Pyrrha do?"

"… When I have to make decisions for the team," she started, in admission to his confession, "I can't help but wonder if you would have done something different. Better than me. Like, one time Nora had gotten really hurt and I blamed myself for weeks because it was my call that led to it happening. I asked myself what it was that you would have done too, so I understand."

She stood up, set her hand on his shoulder, and looked into his eyes softly. "I won't try to convince you to come back if you think what you're doing is the path for you, Jaune. Just know that I'll always be there and, no matter what has been said and done, I was proud to be your friend and partner. I still am."

"Pyrrha…" He lowered his hand into his pocket and pulled out a Scroll, using it to send his contact information to her. "Use that to contact me, for any reason. If you just want to ask me what I would do, or talk, or… anything really…"

She nodded and left, her ponytail drifting gently from side-to-side as she walked away.

After his former partner left, Jaune turned his attention back to his drink and noted he was almost out. He called for a refill. While he waited, he reached up and touched his scar, running two fingers across the marking from forehead-to-cheek as he thought about the offer to return.

Once he'd finished what he was going to Vale for, he didn't have much of a destination in mind. He'd thought about wandering around outside the kingdoms where they needed it, but truth be told there was only so much ground he could cover. Any people he helped like today would be more chance than anything, but there were those who needed a chance at the very least. A small part of him wondered if he was just using that as an excuse to run into the mysterious Grimm again by pure chance and avenge the dead.

Maybe he should at least try to get entrance to Beacon again? In the last year he'd learned a lot and gained a lot of combat experience. What seemed like a mere hope spot before was a real possibility for him now. More so if Noyuu followed….

Once the drink had been refilled he figured they'd been in town for another day or two and he could decide then…

End Notes: As of right now this is a one-shot. I was looking around for stories where Cardin followed through on his threat and Jaune got expelled because I saw potential in the story. Take this one for example. If I were to expand it there are a few ways I could do it:

1.) With Port vouching for him having exceptional skills (like Ruby did) he could be allowed to enter into the same year as the others if he passed a combat and written exam, which Pyrrha could help him study in Vale when not in class. If he got back in, he could try and reconnect with his old team while still dealing with the losses he went through prior, or join with a new team.

2.) He could act on his own or with his companion to deal with Grimm surrounding the continent as an exterminator. Maybe he discovers a plot involving the Grimm or faces off against the mysterious one from before that scarred his face and cost him a lot of people he knew.

3.) He could end up getting swept up as a bodyguard for some official and end up as a key figure against Cinder and Roman for whatever plan they have.

4.) The story could flashback to after he left and chronicles the events that happened to the point we're at.

See, plenty of potential from that alone and, if you're willing to tamper with the time of how long he was gone rather than a full year, you can find more.

Also yes, the Faunus helping him was an expy of Yunno Scrya from Nanoha series. Because the man doesn't get enough love…