Happy Easter everyone. Not much happening over here on the day, since I only got one egg and ate it a few days ago. #rulebreaker. Anyway, here's the latest chapter of Professor Arc, which actually took me a bizarrely long amount of time to write.

Well, it sort of did, but I was also going back and forth between parent's house and mine to do more cleaning on stuff. Easter holiday is definitely the best time for that, since quite a lot of shops here are closed and I need to fix their burgled house before they come back off holiday. Fun times.


Cover Art: Exvnir

Chapter 54


Jaune's back was stiff as he heard Cinder excuse herself and leave. Her words echoed in his mind, and no matter how hard he tried, there was no way to imagine them as anything other than a threat. No, a dark promise. There was no way he could hope to stand up against her, and Roman would have been disgusted at his stupidity in trying, but as he looked towards Yang, he couldn't help but think it was worth it.

"Thank you," the girl whispered, her voice choked with tears. Despite the situation, she leapt up from the bed she was sat at and wrapped her arms about his waist. He could feel her tears stain his shirt. "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

"This is ridic-"

"James," Glynda snapped, silencing the man. "Not here." The General drew a deep and audible breath through his nose, but didn't speak. Instead, he turned and stormed out of the room. Ozpin followed with a put-upon sigh. It left just the three of them, and more importantly, the three who supported Yang's continued presence here. The fact wasn't lost on her, for he could feel tension drain from the girl once the terrifying General left.

"It's okay," he said. "It's done now, Yang."

"I swear I told the truth." Her hands tightened in his shirt, even if her eyes never raised to meet his. "I would never do something like that, not even to my worst enemy."

"I know."

"S-Something happened…"

"I know."

"I didn't… I didn't…" Her words cut off as she buried her frustration in his chest. She didn't sob, but he felt angry or bitter tears against him. His arms came up to rest on her shoulders.

"I know, Yang. I know."

No more words were said, and they stayed like that for a few minutes with nothing but the sound of their breathing for company. Her face rubbed against him a little, no doubt wiping the tears away. It was still obvious she'd been crying when she leaned back. Her eyes were rimmed with red and her smile shaky. She was still beautiful, however, and more importantly, she was happy. It was that he'd traded his safety for, in a sense. The smile and his own pride… a refusal to take that final step and make an innocent person pay the price for his mistakes.

Was it worth the trade? It would have to be.

"Miss Xiao-Long," Glynda whispered, laying a hand on the girl's shoulder. "Why don't you return to Beacon and spend some time with your team. It might be for the best if you arrived there early… and if you chose to remain in your room, away from the other students."

"I… yeah, you're probably right." Yang remained brave, even in the face of the knowledge that every other student at Beacon would likely hate her. Even if he'd spared her expulsion, there was little he could do to change the minds of everyone else. "Thank you as well, Miss Goodwitch. I… can you thank the headmaster for me?" Glynda nodded.

"I will."

Yang disentangled herself from him and moved away. She paused by the door, as though to speak, but let herself out without a word. They both heard her steps run away, however. No doubt she wanted to sprint back to her dorm before people could find her. Jaune couldn't blame her that.

"Things will not be easy for her," Glynda said. "Even with your fast reactions, the footage was sent out across Remnant."

"I know. People are going to despise her."

"It will fade in time, as people move on and begin to look back on this as a foolish mistake. In the meanwhile, it would be wise to keep an eye on her."

Jaune's heart constricted. He turned to the older woman with a horrified expression. "You think she might hurt herself?"

"She's a strong girl, but even the strongest can be driven over the edge. It's not unheard of for those bullied in school to hurt themselves, or worse. What she will face could be greater than even that." Glynda sighed and looked him in the eyes. "Keep an eye on her, Jaune." He nodded.

"I will. I'll probably force some counselling sessions on her as well." She wouldn't argue, not after he'd saved her right here.

"That would be a good idea."

Glynda's words weren't a question, so there was no response he could give to it. That proved damning. The conversation dwindled and died, replaced with an uncomfortable silence that stretched between them like fog. With the sudden unifying factor of the safety of a student handled, their own fractured relationship became the Goliath in the room. One neither of them were willing to face. Jaune looked towards her, only to catch her eyes drifting away. She'd been watching him. His mouth felt dry, even as his stomach fell. He had to do something… say something – anything; so long as it broke the poisonous atmosphere.

"It was good of you to defend her," he said.

"Did you think I wouldn't!?" Glynda's eyes snapped to his, lips drawn down into a dark frown. "Or did you expect me to sacrifice her for the sake of convenience, like I did with Miss Nikos?"

"No, I-" He cut off, fighting for words. Argh, what a terrible choice. He'd as good as shown his surprise, rekindling the argument from the party. "I was just saying that I'm glad you voted in her defence."

"She is my student. It's my responsibility to ensure her education and development, neither of which I can if she is expelled."

Responsibility again, the word made him flinch. He deserved her ire, he knew that, but this felt torturous on its own. "Look, I'm sorry Glynda. What I said before was wrong. I wasn't thinking straight and I should have known better."

"Yes, you should have."

"And I accept that," he continued, "I also accept I made a huge mistake, not just in what I said but where, when and how. I could have asked you in private, in your room or even during school hours. I shouldn't have ruined our date like that. You've got every right to be mad, but I just want you to know that I do regret it and I'd take it all back if I could." He watched Glynda not look in his direction. The open-ended discussion wasn't working… perhaps something with a more direct answer would be better. "Can you forgive me?"

"Yes, I think…" Glynda frowned at the nearest wall.

A small spark of hope dared to flicker, but he was too frightened to grasp it. "You think?"

"I'm…" She sighed. "I'm angry, Jaune. I'm so very angry. Upset too, with a mix of hurt and rage that makes me want to scream at you." The flat tone of her voice made him wince. "But at the same time, I don't enjoy it. I don't like feeling this way and I don't want to keep being furious at you."

"I know I messed things up."

"You did," she agreed. "You really did. That was… I can't think of something I was less prepared for than that. You wouldn't listen to my point of view. You wouldn't even let me speak!"

Each accusation stung, more so because they were true. He hadn't wanted to hear her reasons. He'd been afraid she might have one, and that it would prove him wrong. In exchange, he'd forced her to sit there and be insulted again and again. Little wonder she'd slapped him. He hadn't left her the option to talk her way out of it. "I know," he sighed. "I was an idiot."

"I don't know what I feel right now, Jaune. I feel mad and upset, like I said, and that's making me not want to talk with you." He opened his mouth to protest, but she held a hand out. "Not for the reasons you're thinking. I want to try and repair this, I really do. People have arguments and that's normal. I just… I'm concerned my anger might get in the way of that."

He barely even heard the last part. His eyes were wide at the first, and he took a step forward. "You want to keep trying?"

"I… I suppose I do," she admitted. "One poor exchange doesn't seem worth losing what happiness we've had. We were bound to fight over something sooner or later. At least…" Glynda sighed. "At least this was over the safety of a student. Something we can both agree is important."

His heart soared. He moved a little closer, to do what, he didn't know, but she held a hand out against his chest before he could.

"Not now," she said. "I'm still angry. I'm almost certainly going to snap at you, and that will only make things worse." She smiled, and while it was still bitter, there was some genuine amusement in it. "I'm not exactly experienced with relationships, but I'm far too used to shouting at people. I don't want to fall back onto that without realising it."

"Why not? I deserve it."

"Maybe you do, but I don't want `us` to be like that." Glynda shrugged weakly at him. "I'll see you around, Jaune. Hopefully things will be brighter come the morning."

"Hopefully," he agreed, and watched her walk past him. As she did, however, her hand brushed against his. It was just the barest of touches, but done on purpose and enough to grant some hope in what otherwise felt a desolate situation. He watched her leave the room, eyes glued to her back as the door closed behind her. Somehow, against all odds, it didn't feel quite so doomed anymore. That was, until he thought of the other, less desired, woman in his life.

What the hell was he going to do about Cinder? Jaune's eyes drifted shut and he let out a long sigh. Any chance of pretending to work with her was gone now, replaced with the cold certainty that he'd made his choice and that it didn't align with hers. He'd spent so long trying to appear competent in her eyes, so she'd over-estimate him, and he couldn't help but wonder if that would bite him in the ass now. If he were weak and useless to her, then she might have ignored him. Right now, he was a threat she couldn't afford to ignore.

Even if she totally could…

There's a good chance she'll try and find a solution to me once and for all. She could try and kill me, or depending on how close this plan of hers is, she might make it so I get killed during that. In a strange way, the talk of his death didn't worry him as much as he thought it would. Maybe he'd become disconnected from it all, put through so many life or death situations that he'd become accustomed to the concept. Or maybe he was just too shocked to properly process it all. It was hard to tell.

Maybe I should check on Yang and her team. If Cinder wanted her gone so badly, there's a chance she might try again. If he was risking his life for her, there was no chance he was going to let her get killed now.

/-/

Yang and her team were back on Beacon, or so he'd been told. The tournament had been postponed for the day to try and limit the damage and negativity, but the Colosseum was still in full swing, just with the rides, stalls and festivities instead of the fighting. That left the school itself practically deserted, which suited him fine. It was probably best for Yang and her team too, since both probably weren't welcome in public right now. He paused outside their door and raised his hand to knock, only to catch Yang's voice inside.

"You guys believe me, right?"

He paused, hand raised.

"Duhh," Ruby said.

"You're hot-headed," Weiss said, "not ruthless."

There was a long moment of silence, where even he waited with bated breath.

"Blake…?"

"I want to believe you…"

Jaune sighed and pushed the door open without knocking. He stepped in at the same time Ruby and Weiss leapt to their feet in shock.

"Jau-" Ruby shook her head. "Professor?"

He shot her a quick look and nodded for her to sit down. His feet carried him to the middle of the room, where both parties could turn to see him. "I'll admit," he began, "I never expect to feel so disappointed in this team."

"Sir…" Ruby protested, as Yang buried her face into her hands.

"I am, though," he continued, ignoring her and casting his eyes upon them. "I'm more disappointed than I have been in a long while." He looked at the girl in question. "Would you care to tell me why, Blake?"

"Me?" The girl looked up, amber eyes wide.

"Is that such a surprise?" He stepped towards her, idly noticing how Weiss pushed herself away so she wouldn't be in the line of fire. "I specifically stepped in to protect you from being expelled on the wishes of your teammates, Blake. Yet here I am, in time to hear you say you don't trust in and believe your own partner. Would you care to explain?"

Blake looked panicked. Her eyes strayed from his to her team, but there were no answers there. What was more, there was no support there, either. Yang looked distraught, tears in her eyes, while Weiss looked away and Ruby looked just as upset with the faunus. "It's not…" Blake fought for words. "I didn't mean it like that. It's just, people do things, small at first, until they get larger. I've trusted someone before and they turned out to be a bad person."

"And so, you'll casually paint Yang with the same brush. Is that it?"

"No, I… It's not easy to explain."

"I can imagine, and yet, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't there a scenario not so long ago where it was you painted in an ill light?" He crossed his arms as he watched the girl squirm. "A far worse light than this, I imagine. After all, Yang went too far in a fight, but you were part of an organisation which murdered and executed innocent people."

Blake's eyes sought answers on the floor. Even her hears were flat.

"I seem to remember there was someone who didn't lose faith in you, though. Someone who continued to believe in you, no matter what." Jaune tilted his head to the side and stared down at Blake. He knew she felt it from how her shoulders stiffened. "Do you remember who that was, Blake?"

"Yes…"

"Who was it?" He wouldn't let her avoid the question, no matter how she struggled. "Who was it that stood by you and continued to believe in you? Who was it who wanted to give you a chance, no matter what things might have looked like? Who was it that-"

"Stop it!" The voice made him pause. It wasn't Blake who yelled that out. His eyes traced over to Yang, who stared at him with angry, red eyes. "Just stop it," she said. "Blake… she gets it. You don't need to rub it in like that."

She'd defend her partner, even after what Blake said? Jaune looked towards his part-time secretary and felt another flash of annoyance, but he bit down on it for Yang's sake. Even so, he couldn't resist one parting line. "And even now, she defends you."

"Prof!" Yang hissed.

"I'm sorry…" Blake whispered.

"Hmm?"

"I'm sorry," she repeated.

"Is that apology for me?" he asked. "I don't think I'm the one who deserves it."

"No, it's…" Blake struggled to lift her head, and when she did, it was to reveal her anguished expression. "Yang, I'm so sorry. I… I shouldn't have said that. I shouldn't have even thought it… not after what you did for me."

"It's fine," the blonde replied. She didn't stop glaring at him, in fact. "It's not you I'm mad at."

Well, I'd rather an irritated Yang than an upset one. Mission accomplished, I suppose. He shrugged it off and took his glare off Blake, even going so far as to raise an eyebrow towards Yang to ask if she was happy now. The girl nodded once and stopped glowering at him. Ruby giggled.

"I didn't come here to yell at people," he said. "I actually wanted to make sure you were okay, Yang. I guess you know you've been disqualified."

"Yeah," Yang sighed. "It sucks but… I'll be okay, I guess."

"There's going to be a lot of negative feedback from people. I figured it would be best to warn you."

"I know." Yang sighed and pulled one leg up onto the mattress, to rest her chin atop it. "I mean, it's bad enough with what the crowd were like, but class is going to suck. I'm just going to lay low for a bit."

"That's probably for the best." Jaune paused to glance between the four of them, two distraught, one doing her best to comfort her team and the last woefully out of place but trying nonetheless. Team RWBY was a mess, but really, when had it ever not been? He smothered a laugh and pulled out one of their seats to sit on. "I'm sure Team RVNN would stay with you if you explained yourself, but the four of you are going to need to stick together for a while. If you trust in one another and look after yourselves, you'll make it through."

"Already planned!" Ruby giggled.

"I intended to as well," Weiss agreed.

Blake sighed and looked up. Her guilt was still clear in her expression, but her eyes were a little more focused than before. "I'll do my best as well. I won't…" She couldn't finish but Yang seemed to know what she meant, for the smiled at her partner and nodded.

"Good. You four are one of the best teams here, but that only counts so long as you all stand by one another – and that counts for more than just this." Jaune swallowed as he thought of Cinder. "There's probably going to be a time where you're all tested in a similar manner… one where I won't be around to offer advice or knock you into shape. I just want you all to remember this and make the right decision when that time comes."

"The right time…?" Ruby gnawed on her lip. "Is… is something wrong?"

"What? No."

"No," Yang interrupted. "I noticed it too. You sound… it sounds like you're giving your last advice or something. Are you okay, Prof? Is something happening?" His last advice? How wonderfully apt. He felt bile rush up from his stomach but swallowed it back down. It tasted of vomit and regret.

"There's nothing." He'd lied all his life, and now this one just flowed off the tongue. "I just want you all to be prepared for when you're not in school. I took you and RVNN out for team training for a reason, and I just want to know you'll stick together out there in the field. Don't leave anyone behind or rush in alone and get hurt."

"We never would!" Ruby laughed.

"Promise me, then." He stared at them each in turn. "Promise me you'll stick together and as a team."

"Is it really that important?" Weiss asked.

With Cinder ahead, whatever plans she had, and his position compromised? Yes, it was important. "It might be your lives down the line, Weiss. Individually, you're all talented people, but you're not incredible until you fight as a team – like we trained."

"I'll stick with the team," Yang said. "That's my promise."

"Me too," Ruby agreed.

"I suppose I shall have to look after those two," Weiss sighed. "Goodness knows, they'd run into trouble without thinking about it." Weiss paused and then looked to Blake. "And you, Blake. Will you come?"

Blake paused to examine each of them, but it wasn't until her eyes met his that she spoke. "I will," she promised, eyes locked onto mine. "I won't run away anymore. I promise."

It felt like a weight lifted off his shoulder. Not enough to make him feel free, for he had way more than that, but it let him breathe a little easier. "I'll hold you all to it," he said. "Personally, I think you've got the potential to be the best huntresses in Remnant… but only if you stick together."

"Stronger than you?" Ruby asked, eyes wide.

"Far stronger than me, Ruby."

He had to laugh at the awed looks on their faces. They were probably already stronger than him, his training with Neo notwithstanding. All he had to his name was a few dirty tricks and an imagination for more. It might be enough now, but their potential was so much higher than his.

"Well, with praise like that, how can we say no?" Yang said, a little calmer now that her team stood behind her. "We'll make you proud, prof!"

"I'm sure you will." They already did, in some cases. He pushed up from his seat. "Well, I'm glad to see the four of you will be okay now. Remember to stick close and support each other, Yang especially. People are going to give her a lot of crap."

"They'll only do it once," Weiss threatened.

"Prof," Yang called, before he could leave the room. "I know you voted for me to stay but…" She glanced down at the floor for a moment, but found the strength necessary to look back up, eyes determined. "Do you believe in me? Do you think what I said was true – about what I saw?" It was obvious his answer meant a lot to her. Jaune smiled at her and nodded.

"I do."

Her entire body sagged for a moment, but she didn't take her eyes off his. "Why, though? Why do you believe me when no one else does? Is it because you trust me?"

"A little," he admitted. "I know what you're like, and much like Weiss said, I know you wouldn't do something like that on purpose." He paused to acknowledge the heiress with a nod, and she smiled at it. "There was one other thing, though. Anyone can make a mistake in the heat of the moment, even someone like you or Ruby. There was one thing, however, that made me sure this wasn't you."

Yang's eyes were desperate, hungry. "What?" she asked. "What was it?"

Did he say? The four stared at him with desperation, but the knowledge might lead them into trouble. Then again, if he left it as it was, they might run into that same trouble anyway. Cinder had already taken the first swing at Yang. There might be a second.

"I believe you," he said, "because you aren't the first person this happened to."

"In another tournament?" Ruby asked.

"No. In this one."

Yang's mouth fell open. She tried to speak but no words came out. Across from her, Weiss leapt to her feet, eyes ablaze. "What!?" the white-haired girl shrieked. It was lucky Beacon was mostly abandoned. "You're saying the exact same thing happened to someone else!?" Jaune nodded.

"That's what I said. It didn't happen in quite the same way, but you might recall another competitor who spoke of seeing something others did not."

"Coco Adel," Blake realised. The girl rose to her feet, hands curled into fists. "She said she saw her teammate behind her, but that she then saw him defeated ahead."

"Blake," Ruby whined. "It was against the same people too!"

"That means…" Blake's eyes strayed to Yang. She hissed angrily. "This isn't Yang's fault at all. Someone tricked her into doing this!"

"They did…?" Yang sounded hopeful, even now.

"But if that's so, why was Yang disqualified?" Weiss asked. The question was directed towards him.

"There's no way to prove anything, and even this is just a theory." A theory he was certain on, but not one that would stand up to the lack of evidence. "Even if it were true, the use of it wouldn't have been prohibited in the fight itself."

"Then that makes even less sense. Why not use it to win? Why use it to lose but then make Yang attack him?"

"I don't have the answers, Weiss, the same way that I don't have any way to reverse the damage." He sighed and knelt in front of Yang. "The audience saw what they saw, Yang. Even if we had proof, there's no way to stop this. Some people wouldn't believe it, others would think it propaganda."

"And it would just make everything worse," Yang finished. "It's like the General said, isn't it? Right now, everyone is upset and don't trust huntsman and huntresses. My disqualification helps, but if we proved someone cheated, that would just make the negativity worse."

"But that's stupid," Blake complained. "The rules exist for a reason."

"And the Vytal Festival exists for a reason too, doesn't it?" Yang looked at him and he nodded. "It exists to lower negativity and increase trust in us… trust which was broken by whatever happened."

"But that wasn't your fault, Yang."

"And we know that," Yang said, smiling at her partner. "Now we all know it for certain. I'm fine with that. I'm pissed off, sure, but that's not going to fix anything. All that matters is that you guys know the truth and you'll stick with me."

"Well, I was going to before I even knew the truth," Weiss said, "so I suppose this doesn't change anything."

"Same," Ruby agreed. "You too, right Blake?"

"Yes. I needed reminding of what's important, but I will stay."

"You guys…" Yang reached out with both arms, and although Weiss and Blake both looked reluctant, they did stand up and move closer for a group hug. Ruby giggled in the middle of it, while Jaune stood on the outskirts, a pleased smile on his face.

I guess my work is done. They'll make it through. He cleared his throat. "I need you all to keep what was said here a secret for now," he said. "You can tell RVNN, but only if they agree to stay quiet as well. In fact, since they might face them down the line, I'd appreciate it if you did tell them. Their team has been re-admitted to the tournament since you were disqualified."

"I'll warn Pyrrha," Ruby nodded.

Gods, Pyrrha… he hadn't made plans about the maiden issue yet, or what to do. If Cinder felt threatened by him, she might speed up her plans, which meant Pyrrha had less time than ever to make her decision. Even so, he hadn't managed to complete Ozpin's challenge and think up a new solution to the issue. There needed to be a maiden, if only to prevent Cinder from getting hold of it all. I need to talk with her soon… but I don't want to do it if I don't have an answer to give her.

"I'll leave that to you, Ruby. Remember to look after one another, and you need to stay away from the team that did this to Yang."

"Why?" Blake asked. "Are they dangerous?"

Yes, but he couldn't say that. "If people see you or Yang approach them, they'll jump to the wrong conclusion. If they did cheat, we'll find out. Leave them to us and don't place yourselves in harm's way."

"We understand," Yang said. "Thanks for all the help professor. Not just this, everything."

Jaune shot them a smile as he left the room. Hopefully, he'd be able to see them grow into a team worthy of their name, but if not, he'd at least done what he could.

/-/

Yang let out a quiet sigh as the professor left the dorm and them once more. As much as she enjoyed his company, she wasn't sure her emotions could take much more flip-flopping. One moment she was the enemy of all people, the next she was being expelled, then not-expelled, then not trusted by her teammates, now trusted and validated. Honestly, she was relieved he left before the pendulum swung the other way and it was revealed she had two weeks to live. Still, there was no stopping the smile that slipped across her face.

They believed her. Her team, the professor, Blake… no, it was more than that. They believed her, but she was also innocent. I knew it couldn't be true. I know what I saw. I'm not a monster.

"Yang, I'm sorry about earlier."

Huh? Yang glanced up in time to see Blake's pained face, and her eyes widened in panic. "Whoah Blake, it's fine."

"It's not fine, Yang. He was right, you trusted me, time and time again, and that was a poor way for me to repay it." Blake gritted her teeth together. "I've spent so long complaining about humans judge our kind without knowing them, but I was no better."

Yang sent a quick nod towards Weiss, and the girl stood up so they could switch places. The mattress flexed beneath her as she sat down and wrapped an arm around Blake's shoulder. "It's fine, Blake. I was hurt, I admit, but it's over now, right? It's not like you'll do the same thing again."

"Never. I'll not forget this lesson, I promise."

"He was filled with lessons today," Weiss said. "I wonder why he was so focused on trying to make us work together."

"What do you mean?" Yang regarded the heiress with a confused smile. "It's like he said, isn't it? We're stronger as a team than we are alone."

"Why let us know that now, though? We've already been knocked out of the tournament."

She was right… Yang bit down on her lip, but at least posed the point he'd raised. "He did say there would be a time after we graduate where we wouldn't have his advice."

"In three or more years, Yang. He has all the time in the world to hammer that lesson home."

"He sounded desperate," Ruby said. For all that she suffered where being social was required, Ruby had the uncanny ability to tell when someone was upset. It led to all sorts of problems back in Signal, but this one felt worse. "It sounded like he needed us to realise that now. Not in four years' time…"

Weiss sighed. "That's what I thought. There was definitely something wrong with him, even if he wouldn't admit it."

"Why would he admit it to us, Weiss-cream? We're just students."

"I know. Still…" Weiss sighed and shook her head. "I can't help but feel nervous. Those people cheating you out of the tournament… if they wanted to win and had a Semblance like that, they could have defeated you like they did Coco. Black could have had you punching air while he snuck up on you."

"Why get himself injured, you mean?"

"Exactly. It doesn't make sense, not if you consider that they want to win the tournament. If they win now, it would be by disqualification. Even if you did act out of line, that spectre would still hover over their win. People would remember he didn't beat you."

She could see Weiss' point, and that only caused an anxious feeling to settle in her gut. She was right, something was wrong here – very wrong. "What do we do?"

"What can we do?"

"We can follow his advice," Ruby said. "We can stick together, no matter what… because whatever happens, we'll have the best bet if we work through it as a team."

"Yeah…" Yang agreed, content to look about the room and watch her teammates slowly agree. At her side, Blake nodded her head slowly. Heh, it looked like he'd gotten his lesson across after all. He always did, in some subtle way that seemed to work better than any of Port of Oobleck's lessons. If something was going on here, they'd handle it as Team RWBY. Yang's eyes hardened. "Ruby… can you get in touch with Pyrrha for us? If she ends up against those bastards, there's no way I want to see her go through this."

"On it," Ruby agreed, leaping away to fetch her scroll.

"His warning about everyone else was apt," Weiss warned. "The students, not to mention the crowd, are all going to hate your guts, Yang. It might be best if we stayed here for tonight."

"If they try anything…"

"They won't, Blake." Yang smiled, and a small giggle slipped out. "After all, they'd probably think I'd run up and break their leg."

"Yang! That isn't funny."

/-/

What was he to do? Jaune reclined back in his seat and tossed his scroll down onto the coffee table. Every conceivable distraction had been pushed aside, but that left him with the true task at hand – how he was supposed to stop Cinder getting hold of the maiden.

"I can't beat her on my own, that much is obvious. I've never really seen her fight, but I have to assume she's at least as strong as a professional huntress." Meanwhile, he was at the level of an advanced student at best. She probably wouldn't fall for any of his tricks, either. At best, he could be called a mini-Roman, and the real one was incarcerated on that airship, out of his reach.

Fat lot of good your advice did me, Roman. By the time I found out about the maiden, it was too late. He'd already wracked his mind to try and figure out something he could use around that, some ability of that myth which would grant him victory. There was nothing, absolutely bugger all. It made sense, he supposed, since if there were some great trick, Ozpin would have probably found and used it before this point. Why is it gender-specific in the first place? Damn it, I'd do this myself if I could.

"This is getting me nowhere," he sighed. "Think, Jaune… damn it."

His eyes scrunched shut as he tried to force his exhausted mind to come up with a solution. What was the enemy? Cinder, of course, but how long did he have? She'd found out his true allegiance only a few hours ago, which meant she'd likely still be mulling over it. It wasn't hard to imagine her at that very moment plotting his demise, and the image was a worrying one. She held way more cards than he did, and unlike him, her cards were at least aware of what was going on. He had RWBY, RVNN and the staff, but none of them even knew there was a game going on.

My father? No, that would just draw attention on my family. If he tried to help me, she'd just attack my sisters to draw him off. I can't take that kind of risk.

Could he use Neo? That seemed even less a plan since she had three of her own people to use against her, and if Neo were strong enough to beat Cinder, then Roman and her would have bailed long ago. It was only fear of what Cinder would do that kept the two in her employ.

What was left?

Only one thing, and it was something he'd had on the table since this all started.

He could turn himself in.

The idea was enough to make his head fall into his hands, even if it had been in his mind for weeks now. He could get rid of Cinder within Beacon, so long as he sacrificed himself to do it. He could help Pyrrha, protect Team RWBY – and even secure a safe future for Glynda and all his friends among the staff.

He just couldn't be a part of it.

All along, the selfish desire to remain in this life had kept him from accepting it – and why not? It was selfish, yes, but it was a life he loved. He didn't want it to end. Once upon a time, it was the threat of prison or a criminal record that frightened him, but now it was the loss of everything he'd come to love. Being a teacher and a huntsman was a part of his life, even if he'd never technically been either. He didn't want to give that up.

In the same way Pyrrha didn't want to give up her memories, or Glynda didn't want to give up her student. Probably in the same way every huntsman ever didn't want to give up their life to save innocent people they didn't know.

They still did it, though. Glynda made the difficult choices, Pyrrha would do it in the end and people like Ruby's mother died to try and help people.

Could he even claim to be a pretend huntsman if he wasn't willing to do the same? I said if the maiden could be a male, I'd accept it. Am I going to go back on that now? Losing my memories would be the same as losing this life.

"Am I nothing but talk, even now?"

Gods, he wished he had some alcohol… some desert rose would really wash the bile away… that or fill him with the drunken confidence he needed in order to do this. He had to do it, though. That much was clear.

"I don't want to," he whispered, head in hands. "I don't want to lose this."

The scroll on the coffee table vibrated. The sound was so sudden, it made him jump and look around. The room was empty apart from him, however. When he reached over to pick it up, it was to see an unrecognised number. He thumbed the accept dial and pulled it to his ear.

"Hello?"

"Jaune…" The voice was familiar. His brow furrowed.

"Who is this?"

"Have you forgotten me so quickly?" The dark lilt, the teasing edge as sharp as a knife's point. It was all it took to make him remember, and to make his throat run dry.

"Cinder." He swallowed. "Sorry, I didn't recognise your number. Are you on a different scroll?"

"Hush now, Jaune. You've made your choice. Let us not pretend any further."

His head fell back on his seat. Gods… he'd known it, but to hear it spoken send chills down his spine. She really was going to kill him. Did he regret it, though? He probably would come the end, he knew, but right now, he couldn't say he did. "I guess I have," he said. "Sorry it didn't work out." Not very sorry, but a tiny bit.

"You could have been a very powerful man, Jaune… but I can respect someone who pursues their own aims. We are not all born to bow to another, after all."

What did she-? Wait, did she still think he made that choice because he was a criminal after something else? He guessed so, if only because she hadn't been able to think up something more believable. To someone like her, sacrificing yourself for another was probably unthinkable. He wondered what it was she thought he actually wanted to gain from all of this. Did she think he was after the maiden's power too? Was there some way he could use her mistake against her? He didn't think so. He was down to his last option, as reluctant as he was to use it. "I guess you're right," he said, if only because it felt like it was his turn to speak.

"I just want you to know, Jaune," Cinder said. "That it's not only you, who has made their choice."

"What do you mean?"

"I wish you well, Jaune Arc."

The call ended with a click, and he was left alone with his thoughts once more. A warning, or perhaps just a friendly ultimatum… was it to make him panic and lose sleep, so he wouldn't be able to stand against her? Or was it a threat, so that he would come begging back to her for forgiveness. Like the latter would ever happen. I've got a feeling if I end up in a room alone with her, I'll be coming out in an urn.

Jaune reached to put the scroll down again, but it vibrated before he could – this time, with a message. A brief glance at the screen informed him it was from Neo, but what could she want? He flicked it open and blinked in surprise. For the first time ever, her message contained actual language. The single word did little to inspire confidence, however.

"RUN!"

It wasn't the warning that caused him to panic; it was the fact Neo felt it important enough to articulate. He leapt to his feet, eyes wide. Was Cinder coming for him already? She'd sent the warning and then followed it up with murder, as expected of her. No, there was no time to waste. If he made it to Ozpin, he'd be safe, and then… and then he could end this.

The corridor outside his borrowed office was clear. That didn't calm him as much as he imagined it would. A perfect set-up for an ambush, his mind whispered. Every shadow seemed to creep towards him, every nook and cranny contained a woman with golden eyes ready to burn him to a crisp. What if her call was just for this, to panic him enough to leave the safety of his room and walk into her trap? He shook his head. No, she hardly had need of that and his room wasn't exactly a fortress either. His best defence was Neo, and she was likely incapacitated. He took a deep breath and hurried down the corridor, trying his hardest not to look too afraid. He glanced behind him in fear.

Only to crash into something.

His heart almost burst. Panic gripped him even as he gripped and fell back, accidentally dragging them down with him.

"Ow, sir!?" The voice made him pause.

"Pyrrha?"

"Y-Yeah," the redhead groaned. "I'm sorry, sir. I must have not been watching where I was going."

"No, it was-" He paused. Was there any time for this? "Pyrrha, why are you here?"

"I-I wanted to talk with you about the issue I brought up before." Pyrrha sat up next to him and looked around. "Is now a bad time? You look like you're in a rush."

"Yes, no…" His eyes scrunched shut. Damn it, if he went to Ozpin now, he'd be out of Beacon before the morning. Whether it was a cell or something kinder, there was no way the headmaster would let a fraud back into his school. He'd never see Pyrrha again. He'd abandon her right when she needed him the most. The thought made him sick, but the risk to her from Cinder was too high. With an almost torturous whine, he decided to do the same as he had to RWBY to her. "Pyrrha, I need you to listen to me."

"Si- Jaune… what's wrong?"

"There isn't any time." He pushed himself up onto his feet and helped her up. "Pyrrha, I need you to listen to me. I'm not sure if Ruby has told you yet, but there's more to Yang's loss than meets the eye."

"She sent me a message about illusions. She said she would tell me tomorrow morning." Okay, good – he knew Ruby could be trusted.

"Make sure you listen to her when she does. You need to believe her too, no matter how crazy it sounds."

"I don't understand. What's going on?"

"Pyrrha," he hissed, forcing her to be silent. Her emerald eyes widened, but he pushed on. "I'm sorry but this is serious. You asked for my help with the maiden issue. Have you talked to your team about it yet?"

"Yes, I-"

"Good. You can trust them, along with Team RWBY – and probably CFY and CRDL as well. Everyone else is out, however, no matter what they say." He paused, tried to find the right words, and then gave up entirely. "I wasn't able to find a way out for you, Pyrrha. I'm sorry."

"Jaune?"

"I tried to confront Ozpin and Glynda, but they didn't have any answers that would help you. I couldn't think of any options either, and now there isn't much time. You remember the headmaster said some people attacked the original maiden?" He waited for her nod. "Well, they're here, in Beacon. They've come for her."

"W-What?" Pyrrha tried to speak, but he pressed a hand to her mouth.

"You need to make your team aware, stick together, help one another, and no matter what happens – do not rush into anything without backup. I took you all out into the Emerald Forest to learn about teamwork. Don't forget that."

Pyrrha shook his hand loose, and it looked like there were frustrated tears in her eyes. "You sound like you're saying goodbye," she whispered. "What's happening? I don't understand. Professor, please..."

Bile rose in his throat. She sounded so afraid and upset, but there was nothing he could do about that. There just wasn't any time. "I'm going to speak with Ozpin," he said. "There's been an… issue related to security. I've got a feeling I'll be reassigned for a little but afterwards, so I'm not sure if I'll get a chance to tell you all this again anytime soon. That's why I need you to remember all of this now."

"How long? How long will you be reassigned for?"

"A… a while, Pyrrha."

"That's not an answer!"

"It's the best I can give you." He paused to take in her pained expression, to remember it. "Can you pass on what I've told you to RWBY as well? I've… I've told them to stick together, but I never got a chance to say goodbye to them."

"You said it would be a while – why are you saying goodbye?"

He could hear footsteps further down the corridor. It could be a student, sure, but he doubted they would be sprinting in this direction. The heavy footfalls denoted haste. He turned back to Pyrrha and pulled her behind him.

"Don't forget what I said, Pyrrha. Listen to Ruby tomorrow, believe what she says, and stick with people you trust."

He pushed her back and away, turning in time to draw Crocea Mors in a rasp of steel. Another blade flashed in the dark, and he brought his father's blade up in time to catch and divert it past him. The force behind it was enough to knock him back a pace, but he growled and locked blades, bringing his face close to his foe's. Blue eyes widened.

"Winter?"

The Specialist took the chance she was given. The moment's hesitation was all it took for her to dislodge a smaller blade from her sabre and wrap it around his wrist. He locked it against her arm and dragged him back and over her shoulder. The world spun as he crashed into the ground, a startled cry escaping his lips.

"Professor!" Pyrrha cried. He threw out a hand.

"Stay back, Pyrrha! Don't move!"

"You would do well to listen to him," a masculine voice spoke. Slow, heavy footfalls echoed across the floor, before a black pair appeared before his face. Winter leaned on him from behind, his sword arm pinned to his back and his face to the floor. "Miss Nikos. I think it would be best if you returned to your dormitory," the General said.

"No! Tell me what's going on here or I'll… I'll…"

"You will do nothing, Miss Nikos. I am acting here under my position as head of security for Vale during the Vytal Festival, and Mr Arc is under arrest."

The words damned him. All at once, the energy fled his body, as he stared wide-eyed down at the floor beneath him. Her choice… he'd assumed it meant she was coming to kill him, but there was more than one way to skin a cat.

"What for?" Pyrrha cried. "You can't arrest him without charge."

"We have a charge," Ironwood growled. The man knelt beside his face, and looked down into Jaune's eyes with a fierce gaze. "Treason."


Oh dear. Well, Jaune, we all make our choices, and here comes the explosion just about everyone has been waiting for. Some have despaired at the thought of it, others have waited with bated breath, others asked if it would ever happen at all.

As for the charge… well, you'll learn more next chapter, but as dramatic as it sounds, Cinder's actions in the show probably would come under treason (as much as most would just do her for mass murder.) In the event of it not happening, however, or her being caught beforehand, treason and conspiracy to murder would likely be used more over something like fraud and theft, etc…

Anyway, no omake this week because again, chapter is kind of a serious one and I don't want to take away from that. On Yang and Blake's little tiff, I think I've said before, but I always did find it a bit annoying they made this line where Blake says that to Yang, Yang tears up, and then nothing is ever done with it. It's like… wow, quite a big moment there, and nothing? I guess they might have planned something but it got cut due to time. Shame.


Next Chapter: 23rd April

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur