Here we go. I hope you enjoy.
Cover Art: Exvnir
Headmaster Jaune Arc of Beacon Academy leaned back in his wooden chair and sighed.
Ozpin probably never had to deal with this. For one, the man had his comfortable-looking chair and desk, along with a hidden stash of coffee and a tower which overlooked the entire school, replete with plush interior and numerous amenities. Right now, those amenities were strewn all over the Emerald Forest, squashed by a dragon. The office was also off limits on account of fire, explosions, dragon, airship and the numerous other things which had turned it into less of a tower and more of a health and safety hazard.
As such, Jaune's desk was now a repurposed classroom, and his seat one of the wooden ones the students might sit on. His desk was thin and chipped, with chewing gum stuck to the underside, and instead of a nice, warm mug of coffee, he had some herbal-infused water. The last bit was particularly soul-crushing.
It just wasn't fair…
A knock on the door heralded a visitor, and he looked up as Glynda entered the room, several folders and books balanced in her hands. A part of him dared to hope they weren't for him, but that soon proved fruitless when she slammed them down on his desk.
"More congratulations and well-wishes," she said. "Along with sympathies and official statements of support."
He sighed and reached forward, lifting the letters up a little. There had to be at least a hundred or more, and the number grew every day. "Can't I just ignore them? If they're just wishing us the best, then we can say we read them and don't."
"No." Glynda crossed her arms. "Many of these are from important people who are required to wish us well. In turn, we are required to respond, and a failure to do so will be seen as a great insult. Beacon isn't in the position where it can afford to insult anyone."
"We can't afford to insult them either. We just can't avoid it."
True, and things were frostier than they ever had been before. It wasn't just on his end, of course. After the Paladins went psycho in the streets of Vale, the people had become understandably concerned about the presence of more Atlas troops. "What's the situation with then?" he asked. "Haven't they moved out of Vale yet?"
"Not yet. Public order is already moving against them, so it won't be long. It seems like James is trying to starve you out, however. Anything that might be seen as a weapon – including dust – has been confiscated before it can be transported to us. All he's allowing through is food, medicine and general supplies."
Jaune blinked. "But I just saw a shipment of dust this morning…"
"Beacon has… other ways of acquiring its dust." Glynda said. "Ways James isn't so familiar with. We also have a stockpile from Amity, so we'll be good for a while. He won't be able to remain in Vale for long. The people are stacking against him, and his delays have only made matters worse." Glynda pushed a newspaper onto his desk and pointed to a particular story. "Even the Council has stopped speaking in his defence. They haven't gone so far as to request his departure, but they can smell what's coming. They don't want to put their positions in danger by endorsing someone the people hate."
"Then why won't they endorse me?" Jaune asked, looking over the story. "This says my approval is over 80% now. I've never even heard of a political figure having that much."
"That's why they won't support you. They fear what this might represent."
Oh, for the love of… Jaune slapped a hand into his face and groaned. "They think I'm going to try and take over, don't they? Are they idiots?"
"They're career politicians. To them, anyone who courts public opinion is trying to take their position. Most of them have reached their positions by being paranoid. Your popularity among the masses is worrying, but also potentially temporary." Glynda sighed. "It was higher last week."
"It's still high now."
"But it's dropped. People are forgetful, Jaune. Yesterday's news is today's trash, and the emotional impact of tragedies are soon forgotten. Much of your support comes as a result of animosity towards General Ironwood. You could be a paralysed Ursa in a dinner suit, and I imagine you would still enjoy at least a 25% approval rating. Much of that will fall once James has left, or been replaced. The Council are trusting in that to protect them from you."
"And then they'll support me?"
"Perhaps," she said. "Or perhaps they will look back on this and believe they have avoided a potential challenge to their leadership. Perhaps they will try to ensure it doesn't happen again by replacing you with someone more aligned to their ideals."
"Ugh…" Jaune shook his head and reached for an ornate letter. He pried it open with a small knife he'd been provided and looked at the eloquently written detail. There was also a printed-out picture included. "Huh. Another engagement proposal."
Glynda tore it from his hand and crushed it into a tiny ball. "Ignore those," she snarled. "I thought I'd taken them out."
"I get those now?"
"People who want the fame and position for their offspring or themselves." She growled and threw it away. "Your position is anything but secure, but there are those willing to take the risk of aligning themselves with you. They smell opportunity, along with the promise of reward later down the line." She paused and hissed under her breath. "I was sure I took those out."
"And I put them back in," a new voice chuckled. The man's heels echoed on the floor, and the grin he wore was smug and self-satisfied.
Glynda's eyes narrowed. "Torchwick…"
"Ah, ah ah, Glyn. It's `Treasurer Torchwick`. I'll thank you to get it right."
"I'll consider that the moment you get my name right," she shot back. "Or when you actually spend time doing your job and not harassing the students. Regardless, what is the meaning of this? I took those out for a reason."
"Oh, I'll bet you did," he teased. "And we all know what that reason was."
Jaune didn't. He thought to ask, but Glynda's fierce glare advised him against it. "Why are you here, Roman?" he asked instead. "Is something wrong?"
"Yeah, our finances." Roman slapped a folder down on his desk. It fell atop what was already a huge pile of work. "There's a bucket load of repairs that need to be commissioned, and we haven't got much in the way of liquid assets to manage it."
"Shouldn't we have a budget from the council for this?"
"We do," Glynda snorted. "It doesn't cover damage of this magnitude, and they are digging their heels in about providing more. It's the popularity issue again. Right now, they're hiding behind the excuse of not upsetting Ironwood."
"Once he's gone, they'll find another," Roman finished. "It might be the fact you have me, or maybe that they don't like blonde hair. Whatever they go with, money is going to be tight. We can't even start to fix this place up without earning some more."
"Sell the gold statue."
"Already did. It's not enough."
"We don't have anything else we could sell."
"Oh, I think we do…"
Jaune looked around in confusion, but quickly realised the thief was staring directly at him. It took him another few seconds to catch onto what he meant, and then several more to suppress the urge to whimper. "I don't like the way you're looking at me, Roman."
"You could be worth a lot."
"I'm not saying you have to accept any of these," the thief said, tapping the engagement proposal. "There's a lot of them come from families with influence and money, though. If we can convince them you're interested, even if it's just a little, then we might start to feel some of that sweet, sweet support come our way."
"And when they find out he isn't interested?" Glynda challenged. "What then?"
"Who says he wouldn't be? Is there someone else he's into?"
Glynda's teeth ground together.
Roman ignored her. "Either way, it's a balancing act. The more you can string along without committing, the more we'll get. Make no mistake, we need this. The lien will help us repair and balance the books, but the influence ought to help against that little problem of the Council turning on us the moment the mutual enemy is gone."
"And the fact I have no idea how to do this?" Jaune asked.
"Didn't stop you becoming a professor, criminal, and then headmaster of Beacon, did it?"
Damn it. Roman had a point. Jaune sighed and held one arm across his face, but didn't disapprove the idea. Everyone else was already giving their all to try and bring Beacon back to life. How could he sit back and refuse to do the same?
"Our second initiative is moving on well, too," Roman said. He brought out a different folder and opened it up for them both to see. It was filled with a list of names.
"What's this?" Jaune asked.
"People for the new training initiative."
What training initiative? He didn't remember talking about one, or signing off on it. What relevance would that have to finances, either? Jaune's eyes narrowed. "Roman…?"
"Lessons are cancelled as you know," Roman said. "With the repairs taking place and the fact half the school is injured, the other half displaced, it's not like we can do anything."
"I know. I signed off to say the entire year was cancelled last week." It was a shame, but necessary, Beacon just wasn't in shape to hold exams and graduations. The other schools had responded to his request for aid by opening their doors to students, promising that grades, coursework and team assignments would remain stable if they wanted to finish their educations with them. He and Glynda had made the offer to all the students a few days ago, and informed them that Bullheads would be coming to help those who wished to move on to another school.
Less than five teams had accepted. More than 98% of the students had decided they would stay at Beacon, whether or not it meant taking an extra year. They'd fought, bled and lost people together. To go through all that and then lose their time at Beacon as well?
Not many had been willing to accept that.
It was admirable, for sure. It filled him with a sense of wonderment and also empathy. It was exactly how he felt about the school, and to know the students did as well was incredible. As Roman had been quick to point out, it didn't help them, however. Students needed housing and feeding and didn't offer anything back in terms of productivity.
"With lessons cancelled apart from the open-air ones we've all been giving, the best way for the brats to get some experience is out in the field. Hence, I present to you – the Torchwick Training Initiative. It bundles together financial, responsibility and budgeting with income support for both the students and Beacon. This lets them learn how to handle money, and even benefit from furnishing their rooms. Also known as, doing the repairs for us and saving us the lien."
"And how does this work exactly?" Jaune asked, leafing through the pages. There was nothing but names, but he hadn't exactly expected detail from Roman of all people.
"Huntsmen are limited and negativity is at an all-time high right now. People need help, we need money – and we need the kudos that comes from showing the plebs how awesome we are at protecting them."
"You're not giving me any detail, Roman. Why does that not fill me with confidence?"
"The people are happy. The students are happy. We're happy. What's more, by helping out with the extra work the huntsmen have, we're technically sticking a fork in Cinder's eyes, too. She wanted to break up Atlas and Vale and cause more Grimm attacks. This is us stopping that."
"Still no detail," Jaune groaned. "This is going to be horrifying, isn't it?"
Roman waved a hand. "Nonsense. We're just offering our students services as interim huntsmen for missions that are a little too low-key for the actual ones to attend."
Glynda exploded. "You want to use our students as mercenaries!?"
"What? No!" Roman laughed. "Think of it as more of a protection racket."
"Eh, think of the all the life experience they'll get."
Glynda looked like she was about to erupt, but Jaune calmed her by placing a hand on her wrist. His eyes were firm as he looked to his old friend and new treasurer. "Roman, I won't force people to become mercenaries for the school. I appreciate the idea, I really do, but that's not the kind of people our students are."
"I beg to differ." Roman pointed back to the list of names.
Jaune look at it.
"That's the list of people who volunteered and signed up to the initiative this morning. We only passed the details to their scrolls two hours earlier, and last I checked, more people were still signing up with Port."
"You're not the only one who wants to help rebuild Beacon. You think all those goody-two-shoes brats are going to sit back and goof off for a year? Bah, don't make me laugh. They'll be bored in two days, then knee deep in White Fang conspiracies and closing down criminal dealings." Roman shrugged one shoulder. "If they're going to do that, we might as well get paid for it."
That was… that was not exactly incorrect, now that he thought about it. It had been an absolute nightmare trying to convince Team RWBY not to get involved with criminal stuff, and that was with lessons and homework to distract them. With so much free time suddenly on their hands, the students were bound to spend it hunting. If people were willing to pay them to do that anyway…?
"Is there really that much work available?" he asked.
It was Glynda who answered. "Unrest is on the increase, Jaune. Even if we prevented Cinder's plan coming to fruition, it still put a rift between Atlas and Vale, and the Grimm have taken advantage of it. The military was badly hurt here, as were many huntsmen, so work is at an all-time high, and our forces are weakened."
"There's stirrings in the underworld, too," Roman added. "With me trapped here and nominally removed from my old position, there's room for aspiring crime bosses to take my place. The police are stretched thin, what with a lot of hate being aimed at faunus over the White Fang, and the Fang themselves having gone into hiding in the city. The truth of the matter is, the Council will probably be forced to request our aid the moment Ironwood ships out. If we do this pro-actively and save them the need to look weak and beg for our help, they might remember our kindness when it comes to judging you."
Both good points, and things they so desperately needed. Naturally, it would rely on people's charity and willingness to help them, but what was lien worth to someone who needed help? "Fine," he said. "We'll trial it this year and see what happens. For the love of god, call it mercenaries though. I dislike that less than I do the idea of a protection racket."
Roman shrugged and held something out for him to sign. Jaune took the time to read it and make sure he was signing what Roman said he was. The older man chuckled. "Such little trust. Right then, I'll get this sorted out and see what we can do."
"I still don't like this," Glynda said. "It feels like we're taking advantage of the children."
Roman paused by the door and looked back. His grin was nothing short of shit-eating. "Should you really be one to comment on that?"
"Excuse me?" Her eyes narrowed. "What does that mean?"
"Well, only that those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." Roman looked pointedly to Jaune and waggled his eyebrows. "There's only one of us here who's ever really `taken advantage` of a minor." He slammed the door shut with a cackle, which proved wise for a wooden chair slammed into it a second later, propelled by Glynda's Semblance.
"I hate that man," she seethed, cheeks red.
Right now, since Roman had as good as riled Glynda up and then trapped Jaune in a room with her, he hated the bastard, too. "He's trustworthy. I know he was a criminal, but he's on our side."
"Oh, I know." Glynda sighed. "I just hate him. I can't believe you made him treasurer."
"Roman's smarter than most people give him credit for. We're poor at the moment. If he's going to start stealing funds, I'd rather it be from someone else and not us. Besides, Atlas will lock him in a bunker if he so much as shows his face outside of Beacon." Much like they would to him. "Roman's only chance of survival is to succeed here. When he's like that, the man can probably make money from mud."
"I will trust in your judgement here, headmaster."
Headmaster. She only said that when she either didn't agree or was irritated at him. He tried not to let that bother him and instead pretended to look through some of the letters she'd brought him. Inside, his mind whirled.
He wasn't quite sure where things stood between them, or how they'd gotten to here. Once he'd woken up from his injury and been given time to recover, all the teachers came to him in private, sealing the door and awaiting their explanation. He'd called Roman and Neo in, just to corroborate what he had known would be an unbelievable tale.
It proved wise. Initially, they all thought he was lying.
They'd expected he had a criminal past. It was hard not to after he worked alongside Roman, and he felt they'd all been ready with a `forgive and let live` speech, only for that to be blown out of the water once they realised just how far his lies extended. Bart had been horrified that he'd used a national tragedy to his advantage. Glynda had been shocked to find the man she'd fallen for and slept with was the age of a first-year. Peter…
Well, Peter had just clapped him on the back and claimed he'd known all along.
No one believed him, of course, but that was the story he'd decided to go with. Considering his propensity for tall tales in his own class, maybe Peter just didn't care if he'd lied or not. In the end, Peter said, he'd proven himself a professor of Beacon when it counted.
The others had been a little less forgiving…
Oobleck came around within a few days. It had been a random meeting, with both coffee and alcohol, and had ended with them both hung-over, but the rift between them healed. He didn't approve of Jaune's usage of the Vacuo tragedy, but had come to the conclusion that he'd done enough to repay that transgression. As Bart had said, history shows us lives filled with mistakes, but it's our ability to move on from them that determines who we truly are. Jaune had a suspicion Roman's sudden turn to legal employment had also had a hand in changing Oobleck's mind, or at least endearing him to the teacher. He'd had no such defence against Glynda.
The arguments had been… loud, to say the least.
She'd screamed and ranted at him, all vestiges of the calm and collected woman gone. Once she'd recovered her senses, the rage turned to simmering anger, and then to the silent treatment. The betrayal he'd heaped on her was far more than Oobleck and Port. To find she'd started to fall in love with what was essentially a minor was… difficult for her to accept.
He understood that. He really did. He'd tried to give her time.
It was all they really had. One result of the whole ordeal had been a unanimous decision to not spread his secret any further. His idea of telling the truth had been halved, quartered, and then buried in the furthest reaches of the land. The school was already hurting. The last thing it needed was for him to out himself as a fake and drive the final nail in its coffin.
And so, here he was… Headmaster Arc of Beacon Academy. Hero of Vale.
"I've also compiled a list of those students who have decided to take the offers of studying at other schools," Glynda continued, unaware of his train of thought. "Most of them at from the older years, those who need to graduate for financial or personal reasons, and so had to take the offer. There is one from the first year, however."
Jaune accepted the file with a raised eyebrow. The moment he saw the name, he slammed it down and rose to his feet.
"I refuse to believe it."
She'd chosen to leave Beacon and join Atlas Academy. All he'd received was a single note from her, with her signature at the bottom. No explanation. No reasons. No personal message. Just a polite, brief letter to say she had chosen to withdraw. His hand clenched it and scrunched it up into a tiny ball.
"That won't change what it is," Glynda warned.
"It's faked," he snarled. "Weiss would never turn on her team like that. Not after what they've been through. Not after what happened to her."
Glynda's hands came to rest on his shoulders. They pushed him gently down into his seat, and also squeezed him comfortingly as his head fell into his hands. "I know," she whispered. "It's her signature, but it would be easy to force or falsify it. There's nothing we can do, Jaune. Her family has a right to demand she continue her education, and Beacon cannot provide it."
"This is Ironwood…"
"On this case, I don't think it is. James is impetuous, yes, but he wouldn't force someone else to be a part of his schemes. What's more, he's remained in Vale to try and catch you. Miss Schnee was taken back to Atlas for treatment by her sister." Glynda sighed. "We couldn't offer her that here. She was far too hurt and Tsune's medical bay was just one of the many places destroyed in the attack. This has to be the SDC's work. They would never allow the heiress to be held back a year, no matter what her wishes. I'm sorry, Jaune. There's nothing we can do."
His stomach dropped. An overwhelming feeling of exhaustion slumped down on him, and he sighed explosively. How was he supposed to tell Yang, Ruby and Blake? They would be devastated. Was there really nothing that could be done?
Once more, his eyes drifted to the numerous envelopes. What if he had enough influence? Would that help?
"On Cinder and her movements, I have a report from Qrow," Glynda reported. Qrow, or Bran as Jaune had once known him. He wasn't sure what he felt of the lie, but it would have been hypocritical to challenge his friend on it. In the end, they'd just shrugged and shared a drink.
"What has he found?"
"They came from Mistral, but deeper investigation suggests they did study at Haven Academy. I suppose that should be obvious from how none of the students questioned their stories. Even so, their records from before that are… vague."
"Vague enough that they should have attracted attention. Qrow suspects Haven, or someone at Haven, may have had a hand in ensuring their easy entrance into the school. No one would have taken on a teacher without a thorough background check." Glynda paused, then let out a long sigh. "Except Ozpin, obviously."
He shrugged. "Obviously. Call him back here. I don't think it's a good idea for him to try and investigate Haven when we need their support for now. Besides, we know what she wants."
"The power that remains within Miss Nikos," Glynda agreed. "Yes, I had thought of that. We'll need to address the issue with Haven, eventually. If I might make a suggestion…?"
"You don't need to ask, Glynda. You know you're more qualified for this than I am."
She nodded. "I would suggest we handle the issue with Haven."
"Once James and his forces depart, you'll be free to move around once more. We can't have you running far and wide, but I would expect that the other Academies will want to meet with you sooner or later. For better or worse, you are now a person of great political importance… at least on a temporary basis. People are going to want to meet you. You will be expected to move among exalted company."
Oh joy… more work. "And you want me to use that time to try and spy on them?"
"If you want to put it in such terms, yes." Glynda shrugged. "It's not as though they won't be doing the same to you. Every school looks out for itself first, as much as they will band together when another is in need."
"Is it really necessary I attend such events?" he asked. "I just feel like I might do more harm than good."
"Atlas has suffered a loss in its international standing. So far, they've pinned the blame for that on you. If they were to change that story, they would be ridiculed." Glynda adjusted her glasses so she could glare and make her point a little clearer. "If you miss events you're expected to be at, then others will take that as a sign of guilt. Even if they don't, Atlas will take the opportunity to push their agenda and harm your chances of being recognised as Beacon's official Headmaster."
"So, I need to attend?"
"You need to attend, and you need to make a good impression. Naturally, I will be coming with you each time. I'm used to babysitting irresponsible headmasters, after all."
Jaune laughed. He doubted she meant it in a nasty way, and any joke from her meant she was relaxing around him that little bit more. Maybe things wouldn't be so bad between them, after all. "Everything is about maximising my chances of being accepted as the headmaster. I take it?"
She nodded. "That, and the repair of the school. Those two things are the most pressing, but we can't forget the possibility this will happen again. While you were able to drive her away, Cinder is still out there."
"She has her allies, too…"
"Indeed." Glynda scowled and thumbed a small scar on her neck. "Were it not for Tsune, I'd have fallen to the two of them. She was able to command the White Fang, all the while having such powerful people aligned with her. I've passed on their descriptions to the other Kingdoms, but Atlas have rebuffed our efforts for communique."
"They also would not confirm as to Miss Schnee's health when I asked. I don't foresee out relationship getting any better in the coming year."
That went without saying. Jaune sighed and leaned both arms on the table, exploring the numerous reports, letters and paperwork before him. "So, let me see if I've got this straight. We need to find the money to repair Beacon, ensure I get chosen as headmaster, find and kill Cinder, rescue Weiss and defend the Kingdom from this `Queen` that Ozpin knew about."
"All within a single year…"
"Any longer, and the Council will have reason to replace you entirely. The only reason we have this timeframe is because I was able to assure Vale we would only be out of commission until the next year starts."
It was too much. It was far too much. How were they supposed to achieve all of that? Several of those things required him to be in different places at the same time, while Roman's plans for them to earn the money they needed would rely both on a mercenary student body, and him being able to court several important people at once – all while making it seem he was committed to one or the other.
"We're screwed," he said. "The chances of this working are… are…"
"No better than the chances of a foolish teen succeeding as a professor of Beacon," Glynda whispered. "No better than him not only making it through, but helping several students more experienced than he to become stronger for it." Her hand touched his. "No better than him turning several criminals to his side… or of saving so many lives."
Her fingers weaved with his.
"You've made it a habit of defying the odds, Jaune. Why stop now?"
Yet again, Beacon was under threat, and although the cause might have been much more mundane, it was no less dangerous. The students needed to eat, sleep and be trained. Beacon needed to be rebuilt, and there was unfinished business with his… old friend. Jaune's eyes lit up and he clenched his hands into fists. When he rose from his seat, it was not as Jaune Arc.
It was as the Headmaster of Beacon.
"Glynda, see to Roman's plan and make sure he doesn't deviate from it. We'll need to move fast if we want to get this underway before Ironwood hears of it and tries to undercut us."
"Yes, sir," Glynda said, smiling widely. "Lisa Lavender has contacted us in regard to an interview. It might be an opportunity to state our position…"
"Tell her I'll agree to it so long as she comes to Beacon. I'm sure she will understand why." An idea flashed into his mind. "In fact, why not suggest she invite a representative from Atlas to take part, as well? I'm sure they'll be keen to have their side of the story heard." Not that anyone in Vale would listen, with how low their opinion was. It would only make him and Beacon look the better.
"I'll pass that on, sir. It's a sound decision. The Council have made a request for you to meet with them at their earliest convenience…"
"Let them know I'm honoured by the request, but don't wish to cause them trouble at this time. Not when we all know Ironwood would put undue pressure on them." He smiled cunningly. "Be sure to tell them I'll be happy to meet them the moment the situation is clearer, but that in the meantime, my scroll is opened to them."
"Understood." Glynda nodded and marched for the door, but paused when he called out her name. "Hm?" she asked, turning back. "Was there something else?"
"Could you also let someone else know something for me?"
"If you wish."
"Can you ask a certain professor if she forgives me, yet?"
Glynda's shoulders stiffened. She looked away but didn't leave. He took that as the sign he needed to continue.
"Tell her I'm sorry for what I did, but that I miss her dearly..."
"I…I understand that she misses you too. Or so I've heard." Glynda wouldn't meet his eyes. "I think she's still struggling over the age difference. I- She still has feelings for you, but… she isn't sure it would work out."
"Tell her…" Jaune's breath caught. Despite that, he forced himself to continue. "Tell her I've made it a habit of defying the odds." He smiled. "Why stop now?"
Glynda ducked her head. She shook it from side to side, but he caught a flash of colour on her cheeks, and also a small, amused smile. "I'll pass the message on," she whispered. Her fingers paused on the door as she brought it shut. "For what it's worth… I think she still wants to give it a go. Age difference or not. She just has to convince herself to stop being such a coward."
The door clicked shut behind her.
Jaune let out a long, steady breath. When it ended, his lips peeled back in a wide smile. Don't get your hopes up, he told himself – not that it made a shred of difference. He wanted to whoop happily, and maybe toss over his desk and dance on its remains. Instead, he reached out for a letter and cut it open, carefully pulling out the contents.
There was work to be done.
Beacon wouldn't be rebuilt in a day.
Consciousness was slow to return to Ruby's mind. Her silver eyes cracked open, but it was the muffled and dry moan that came from her lips which alerted the other person in the room. She felt the palm of a hand on her brow, and then another on her back, which lifted her up into a sitting position. Something hurt, but it was dull, muted.
A familiar scent tickled her nose.
"Yang?" she croaked. Her eyes were still adjusting, but she'd recognise her sister even if she were deaf and blind.
"It's me, Rubes," Yang whispered back. "I'm here."
"Patch." A cool glass was pushed to her lips, and Ruby forgot all questions as she guzzled greedily at it. Some water spilled onto her chin, but Yang wiped it away with her hand. "We're back home," she continued. "You… you were pretty badly hurt, and the facilities at Beacon aren't in the best condition. Dad brought you back here. I came with."
Home? Dad? Beacon?
Her eyes snapped open.
"Whoah, whoah!" Yang's hands clamped down, preventing her from leaping out of bed. "It's over, Ruby!" she hissed. "The battle is over. It's done! You can relax."
"O-Over?" Her eyes crossed. There was a pain in the back of her skull as a headache came on. "What happened? I remember the attack and heading toward the cafeteria. I remember…" A flash of red cut into her mind, and into her body. Ruby shivered. "I remember things."
"You were hurt, we got you out, Beacon was saved. We all lived." Yang summarised the bits that were important, giving Ruby a chance to breathe a sigh of relief. "The school's been pretty much demolished, though. Everything's cancelled. We've been given the chance to study elsewhere…"
"I won't take it," Ruby said. Her eyes were firm. "I want to finish at Beacon."
"Yeah, you can relax. I already said that." Yang ruffled her hair. "Dad okayed it. He seems pretty cool with it, to be honest. Probably because you're already two years younger, so it doesn't really mean anything."
"Where are the others? Why aren't they here?"
"Team Raven are at Beacon still. They came out mostly okay, as did CRDL and CFY."
"What about Blake and Weiss?"
"Blake's still there," Yang chuckled. "I told her to come with is, but she was all `my people did this. I need to make amends`. Last time I saw her, she'd been helping with the rebuilding, but we're sending letters to one another. The CCT is down," Yang explained, noticing Ruby's confused look. "We can still make calls but the signals aren't boosted, so you pretty much need to be in Vale if you want to call someone who's there. Snail Mail's the only option, I'm afraid."
Ruby giggled. "A-As long as she's okay. Is Weiss alright?"
Yang's smile was just a little too plastic.
"Yang? What's wrong? Where's Weiss!?" Ruby tried to struggle out again, and Yang's refusal to let her did nothing for her panic. "Where is she?" she cried. "Where's my partner!?"
"In… She's in Atlas," Yang eventually said.
"I'm sorry, Ruby. She… Weiss chose to continue her education there. A letter was sent to us."
It felt like she'd been stabbed in the gut. Ruby's mouth fell open, but no words came out. It took her a few more tries, and even then, it was weak. "No… w-why?"
Yang smiled as best she could and shifted so that she could sit on the side of the bed. Her hand came down to stroke Ruby's hair, and the gentle motion helped calm her just a little. "She was badly hurt after the battle," she explained. "When you were injured, we sent Weiss and Penny to get you out. Emerald and Mercury attacked them, and… Weiss chose to stay behind so Penny could bring you to safety."
N-No… so… it's my fault?"
"No!" Yang's hand turned firm. She stared down into Ruby's eyes. "No, Ruby. It wasn't your fault. It wasn't any of our faults. Not yours for being hurt, Blake's for her old partner causing this, or Weiss' for choosing to risk her life to save yours." Yang leaned in close, and her arms enfolded Ruby in a warm hug. "Weiss loved you enough to sacrifice her life for you. She lived, but she was hurt and had to be taken away for treatment. They took her back to Atlas."
"Then why would she choose to stay there?"
"She wouldn't!" Yang growled. "Come on, Rubes. I know you're out of it, but use your head a little. Weiss loves the team. She was willing to die for the team. You really think she'd spit in our faces after that? No way." Lilac eyes flashed red as she growled. "They're keeping her there. Atlas are forcing her – the bastards."
"We can't get her back."
Ruby's heart shattered into a thousand pieces.
"Not yet, I mean," Yang rushed. "Sis, this isn't going to be permanent. Worst case scenario, she has to study there for three years, then she's her own person and can come find us. We're not going to stick with that, though. I talked to Blake before Dad came to pick us up. She said she'd try and find a way to pass a message on to Weiss."
"Has she managed it?"
"No idea. Like I said, CCT is down and that means between Atlas and Vale, too. Blake needs to find a different way, and that's going to take time." Yang wrapped an arm around her, smiling. "Chin up, sis. You really think Team RWBY is going to fall apart that easily? You think a little distance is going to instantly destroy everything we made together?"
No. No, it wouldn't. Ruby giggled, more relieved than anything else.
"That's my girl!" Yang laughed, rubbing her hair. "Now, wait til you get a load of everything else that happened. You're not going to believe it!"
Ruby held a hand out before Yang could begin. "We're going to go back to Beacon, right?"
"Huh? Well, yeah, duh! What else did you think would happen?"
Relief crashed down on her. For a moment, she'd worried her father might try to make her stay, or that Yang would too, or that something would stop them. She smiled and shook her head. "Nothing. I'm just being stupid. You'll stay here until I recover, right? You won't leave me behind?"
Yang flicked her nose. "I think you know the answer to that, squirt."
Ruby did. Yang would never leave her.
"Now, as I was saying, you'll never guess who was made the new headmaster of Beacon~"
Taiyang watched from the doorway, arms crossed over his chest and a fond smile on his face. He closed the door with a soft click, not wanting to disturb the beautiful moment. Ruby was awake, and Yang would look after her. They were strong. Just like their mothers.
The future didn't look quite so bleak, after all.
Blake wiped some sweat away from her brow and sat down with a huff. The moment her rear hit the floor, it was followed by three more as Pyrrha, Ren and Nora collapsed down. Nora was the loudest, of course, and made a big show of groaning as she massaged some life into her legs.
For once, Blake felt like joining her.
"Who would have thought rebuilding would be so hard," Pyrrha said. "I'm exhausted…"
"We could use some machinery, but it's hard to get it here." Ren rubbed his own arms. "It's lifting the masonry above you that causes the most pain. Things ought to become easier once we've shifted most of the rubble away." He glanced at Blake. "How are Ruby and Yang?"
"Fine as of yesterday," Blake reported with a small smile. She always received the letters a day old, but cherished them nonetheless. Team RVNN always asked every day as well, so she'd become something of a go-between. "Ruby hasn't woken up yet, but the doctors have said she's in the clear. All there is left is to wait."
Pyrrha and Nora cheered tiredly. The last member of Team RVNN would have been with them, but had taken time off to go and check on Cardin. The tall teen had been touch and go for a while, and almost lost his hand. Apparently, quick work from Tsune had saved it, but she understood he still struggled to close his fingers, and that his whole arm shook.
He was lucky he still had it after the poison took its toll. Either way, she didn't begrudge Velvet the time to look after him. She didn't think any of them did – and knew damn well Coco found it adorable.
"Did you hear about that new money-making scheme?"
Blake looked to Ren and stifled a frown. "I heard about it," she said. It was hard to look at Roman Torchwick and know she couldn't do anything about it. Hard, but not impossible. Better him here than General Ironwood. "It sounds like he wants us to be mercenaries. I'd complain, but we get to keep over half of what we'd earn, apparently."
"We've already signed up," Pyrrha said.
Blake chuckled. "I did, too. I have a feeling Yang, Ruby and Weiss will when they return."
It honestly took her a few seconds to realise what she'd said wrong, and it was only because of the pitying looks she received. She cursed and ducked her head. "Ruby and Yang, I mean." She tried not to sound or look too miserable, but she knew they must have caught it.
The fracturing of their team hurt. It hurt like a broken bone.
Bones healed, however, and this would as well. The pain would be temporary. She had to keep telling herself that. Beacon was hurting, but it would recover in time – and Vale felt much the same. The White Fang had done a number on them, and that number was measured in innocent lives. Of the faunus she'd interacted with, many were horrified. They were also afraid.
People had started to lash out in their pain and grief. Atlas took a lot of it, but it was impossible not to recall how the White Fang brought the Grimm into the city.
Adam had brought death to them all.
Her fist shook. She'd been so close to taking off in pursuit. There'd been a moment of madness where she considered leaving them, of throwing everything away for revenge. If it hadn't been for Yang finding her… for Yang cornering her and setting things straight.
Well… she might have been long gone by now.
Her hand relaxed, releasing as she worked her fingers. Now, with the grief and the anger having been tempered by time, she knew she'd made the right decision. They would wait until Team RWBY was reformed, and then they would move on from there. If lessons started again, then Weiss would technically be able to transfer from Atlas and nothing could stop her.
It didn't even cross Blake's mind that Weiss might not want to. It was a laughable idea. She was a part of the team. She was a friend.
"You're still doing your counselling with the headmaster, right?" Pyrrha tilted her head to the side. "What is it you do?"
"Not much in the way of counselling," she replied. "Mostly, I help him with paperwork and just… I just help out. I acted as something of a secretary to him before, so I know how much he needs it. He hasn't bothered to tell me to leave yet, so I'll keep going."
"Testing your career options for the future?" Nora teased.
"After seeing how much paperwork there is?" Blake snorted. "Not a chance."
Ren's scroll beeped, and he pulled it out with a sigh. It went back a moment later as he staggered to his feet. "There's a delivery of food at the main entrance. Port's asking for any available volunteers to help him shift it to the cafeteria."
Blake's muscles protested the idea, as did her mind. It was a hot day, perfect for reading under the branches of a tree. No one would even fault her, either. She'd worked hard already and Port did ask for volunteers.
She still stood, however. They all did. It was all they could do. Keep standing, day after day.
Only those who'd given up stayed down.
Weiss kept her eyes straight ahead and her lips shut. She stood at attention, more like a military officer than a prospective student. No. With her hands behind her back and head raised defiantly, she looked more a prisoner being taken to execution.
"Welcome to Atlas Academy, Miss Schnee," the simpering man behind the desk said. "A room has been prepared for you, but… are you sure you don't want to be placed on a team? I'm sure there are many teams who would love to accommodate you."
"I'm sure they would," she said. "My decision stands."
"But your father-"
"Is not a student here, sir." She kept her voice firm. "With all due respect, of course."
None. Absolutely none.
The man sensed it, of course. He wasn't an idiot. His eyes darkened and it looked like he might sneer for a moment but clearly thought better of it. An arrogant Schnee. She knew what he saw. Didn't care to correct him, either.
She wasn't here to make friends.
Weiss was handed her starter pack and room designation, and took it without comment, turning her back on the teacher and storming away. Beneath her uniform, the scar around her left shoulder tugged and ached. It was a gruesome and ugly thing, as her father had been only too happy to point out. Some man would be disgusted by that one day, or so he'd said. She'd kept her head high and ignored him, even through Winter's nervous looks and attempts to play the mediator.
This isn't my school, Weiss thought as she walked through the halls, more than aware of the awed looks she received. These people around her thought poorly of Vale now, and likely thought she was relieved to escape it.
It felt like she was surrounded by enemies.
Father will have had my scroll bugged, and I doubt the CCT here would allow me to contact Vale even if I tried. There has to be another way to get in touch with the others, to tell them I'm alright. She'd tried to approach Winter over that, but her older sister had been called away – her attempts to convince Ironwood otherwise dashed.
Weiss suspected the hand of her father in that, too. It would be convenient for him if the only other person on her side was out of the equation. Even with what had taken place between them, she still felt closer to Winter than she did the rest of her family.
Winter hadn't even been allowed to say goodbye as she was called away. She later found out from Klein, that she had apparently given instructions saying she didn't want to see Winter. Her fury had only been tempered when the butler promised that he'd made sure the older Schnee understood that wasn't true. Not that she felt Winter would have believed it for a moment.
The dorm she'd been assigned was larger than Team RWBY's, even though it was for one person. She had a huge bathroom, a walk-in wardrobe and a bed they could have fit all of them in. It was comfortable and soft, but not the precarious bunkbed she'd come to love. The walls were white and grey, with a window that looked out over regimented buildings and a bright sky.
The whole thing lacked any character, life or passion. Weiss' eyes hardened as she refused to shed the tears she felt bubble. "I guess this is my home, now…"
There was a knock on the door.
Weiss ignored it.
It knocked again.
Couldn't they take a hint? She stormed over, but not to the door. Instead, she turned on the shower and put it on full power, hoping they'd hear it and believe her busy. In the mirror, she caught sight of her eyes. They were ringed with red. Damn it. She couldn't afford to show weakness.
The door swished open.
"Do you mind, I'm—Penny?"
The orange-haired android smiled and stepped into the room. The door closed behind her. "I apologise, Weiss. I should not use my abilities to open the door without your permission, but I wanted to be the first to welcome you to Atlas."
"A-Ah, yeah…" Weiss turned the shower off guiltily, wondering if Penny even realised what that meant or why she'd done it. Her eyes strayed over the girl. "I see you got your arm back."
"Yes, father was able to repair me once we returned." Penny smiled happily. "He said he was amazed my systems continued working as well as they did, and that by all evidence, I should have de-activated hours before."
"Then why didn't you?"
Penny looked down at her hand, a curious expression on her face. "Father doesn't know. He says it's perhaps an unexpected glitch." She moved her fingers back and forth. "I disagree."
"When we fought to protect Ruby, I felt things that I have never felt before. I was badly damaged and I knew I would not continue operating. I knew it should not be possible." Penny looked up, and for once, her eyes were firm. "But father made me with aura, and aura is the soul. I refused to stop and let Ruby be killed – to let your sacrifice mean nothing, Weiss. I wanted to keep fighting and I did. I didn't let myself stop."
"That's…" Weiss didn't know what to say. In the end, she took a deep breath and bowed her head. "Thank you, Penny. You more than anyone else saved Ruby that night. I'll never forget it."
"Neither will I, Weiss." Penny stepped forward and rummaged for something behind her. "Here, I went and bought this for you. Consider it a gift."
Weiss took the object with a confused expression. It was a book. When she looked down at the cover, she realised it was a mature book. A very mature book. She sighed. "Penny, the whole thing about my liking smut books was a stupid lie. It was actually Blake who did. She just let me take the fall and my reputation get dragged around for it."
"It's not that," Penny said. "Look closer."
Closer? Weiss lifted the book up and looked at it. The title read Ninjas of Love, and she recalled that being Blake's favourite. It was an old and used copy by the look of it, the pages dark from use, and several corners bent where they'd been turned over to mark a page. She opened the cover to read the intro. Something slipped out onto the floor. Weiss knelt down to pick it up, then froze when she saw what it was.
Her fingers gripped the edge of the picture so tight they turned white. She tried to breathe but nearly choked.
It was a picture of Team RWBY. They were in their dorm messing around, with Ruby fighting for a textbook with her, while Zwei barked at their feet. Blake looked to be reading, but her eyes were clearly focused on the fight, while Yang had taken the picture with one hand, shoving her face into the frame. Her smile was bright, the scene being behind her.
There were some words written on the bottom. Weiss recognised the handwriting, since both Yang and Ruby's was akin to a small child. It was a message from Blake.
"Don't give up, Weiss. We haven't. We won't."
The tears she'd been trying so hard to contain spilled free. They ran down her cheeks, and she was only just able to pull the picture away so she didn't ruin it. A pair of strong, inhuman arms wrapped around her.
"I know you don't want to be here, Weiss." Penny said. "I know you think you don't have any friends here… but you do."
"T-Thank you," she whispered, resting her face on the girl's shoulder. "Thank you, Penny. But… won't Ironwood be angry? Wouldn't he have told you to watch over me and report back to him? Why would you pass this on for me?"
"Because my father made me with a soul."
Weiss nodded and slowly wrapped around the other girl's waist. She tried to hold back her tears, but it didn't work. Penny rubbed her back the entire time, while Weiss clutched the picture of her team like a lifeline.
Suddenly, she didn't feel quite so alone anymore…
Cinder panted for breath as yet another Ursa was burned to a crisp. She tried her hardest to stay standing, but fell to one knee with a gasp. The last time that happened, Salem had been quick to remind her how she needed to master this power. Fortunately, her mistress wasn't there to witness her failure again, but it was still just that.
She was weak.
Her muscles protested as she forced herself to stand once more. How humiliating it had been to return like this. Her only comfort had been that they'd all technically failed, and all earned Salem's disappointment. Tyrian had cried like a madman, but Cinder's frustrations burned deeper.
Half a maiden. That was what she was.
An Ursa growled behind her. With a roar, she turned, sending a wall of fire several feet tall in its direction. It was incinerated instantly, along with those behind it, but she kept the flames going, determined not to lose control like she had before. They expanded around her, filling the small room as her lips peeled back in a satisfied smile.
A shadow moved within one of them. Cinder turned towards it, hand extended. Had one of the Grimm somehow survived? She increased the heat, burning it down as she focused on the shape. It grew larger, closer.
Jaune Arc pierced through the flames with a roar of anger. His accursed blade flashed in towards her face.
Cinder fell back.
A scream tore itself form her lips before she could stop it, and she tried to back away, only to slam into a black wall. The blade slashed in and she clenched her eyes shut in preparation for searing agony.
Nothing happened. Of course nothing did. She was in the Grimmlands, he back in Vale. She slammed a fist into the wall behind her, then another – and another. She screamed her rage, sliding down the wall until she was on her knees, and the rage had been replaced with something else. Something that slid down her cheeks and fell onto her hand.
"Damn you," she whispered. "Damn you, Arc."
There were twin splotches on her hand, each having fallen from her eyes as the tears came forth. One was clear. The other was red. As she looked up to the nearby window, she could see her ruined face in the reflection, along with the space her left eye had once occupied.
Headmaster Arc returned to his rooms, one of the few things he could still claim to own, and even then, not the one he'd originally started with. The scorpion faunus had wrecked that one, a ploy by Cinder to distract him from her by throwing a red herring his way. The day done, a hundred or more letters hand-written, and as many forms signed, his right hand felt like he'd put it through a meat grinder.
What a day… and it looked like things were set to continue that way, which hardly left him with the promise of much rest in the future. He fell back onto his bed with a sigh, eyes drifting shut as he took a deep breath.
Nothing was simple. He'd gotten a call from his Dad, too, which basically came down to him saying that since he'd gone and earned the ire of an entire Kingdom – and didn't that sound bad – he was going to come down and impart some direct training on his wayward son.
He was finally going to be trained by his father… funny how that would have once filled him with glee. Now, he wanted to hide under his blankets and not wake up until sometime in the middle of next year.
His progress was somewhat blocked by the small form which had already claimed them. Neo immediately rolled over, sensing heat and latching herself onto his side with a quiet sigh. Her eyes were shut, her breathing even.
"You know… Glynda will freak out if she finds you in here again."
And hadn't that taken some explaining? He wasn't even sure what situation he and Neo were in, but she seemed content so long as she could use him as her pillow. As for work done around the day? Well, Neo was Neo. She didn't put a single bit of effort in. Fallen Beacon or not, she was only in it for herself.
Except also, in some strange way, for him as well…
He couldn't find it in himself to argue, and as her elbow slammed into his stomach as she rolled over, he couldn't find the breath in him to argue, either.
Some things never changed.
I'm the ruler of Beacon Academy, but not my own bed. I'd complain, but she'd just kick me out of it.
Well, complaining would just get him a sharp heel to the face, especially if he woke her up. He hadn't even crossed the concept of how to explain to Yang that the girl who'd tried to kill her was now their ally. Honestly, he was half-hoping too much stuff would have happened and she'd have forgotten. At least he'd gotten the news that Ruby was okay, which was a breath of fresh air. Things were looking up for a change.
With a tired yawn and a shake of his head, Jaune allowed Neo to wrap around him and slowly drifted off to sleep.
His scroll buzzed and beeped angrily.
Neo didn't release him so much as she did propel him. He wasn't sure if she was still asleep and dreaming, but she'd accurately judged the direction of the intrusive sound and thrown the only thing she could find at it. As her heels pushed him out of the bed, it was all he could do to sigh and wince as he crashed into the wooden table.
His scroll slammed down atop his head, and then fell into his lap. It was still going off. The number was unrecognised.
"Ugh?" Jaune greeted, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
"Ah, excuse me? Is this… uh… Jaune Arc?"
The voice was young. He didn't recognise it. That should have been clear from the scroll being an unrecognised number, he supposed, but his mind wasn't exactly working straight. "Who is this?" he asked. "How did you get my number? How are you calling me?"
"Uhh… from a CCT in Mistral."
Jaune groaned. Why did the kid choose the worst question to answer? "I'm hanging up."
"No, no, wait, please!" It sounded just desperate enough to make him pause, and that was all the time the young boy needed. "I need help. Help only you can give. Please, Mr Arc, you need to help me!"
"Ugh. What help? I don't even know who you are."
"There's a weird man in my head and he keeps talking to me. He gave me your number and asked me to call you. He keeps talking about relics, chess and… and coffee for some reason."
Jaune's breath caught. What?
"He says you know him." The boy paused. "He also says you owe him an office, but that he'll let it go if you ship a crate of coffee to Mistral. He says you know the kind."
No way. It wasn't possible… and yet, the kid had his number. Knew his name. Knew about the coffee? It was stupid, and maybe he was just overthinking it since he was so tired, but the name slipped from his mouth before he could stop himself.
"Yeah, that's his name. He says congratulations on the promotion, by the way. He also says you're a poor, poor soul and that you'll soon regret accepting it."
"I already am, Ozpin." Jaune sighed, head in his hands. "I already am…"
Just so you know... I did originally start to write Jaune's confession out in full, but it looked like it would take two or more chapters, with that kind of thing being all but impossible to realistically resolve in a single conversation. Glynda stormed off, as did Oobleck, and then Jaune felt awful and things looked bad... It was just more drama heaped on top of everything else, and felt terrible for it. Even though I always intended them to come together again, it would have either been an argument that happens and is solved in a single chapter (which I feel is often weak), or one that felt unrealistic because Glynda instantly accepted it all straight away, when a real person "would" need time to come to terms with it. In the end, I decided on this version where a week or two has passed, and they've had this amount of time to sort it out between them.
Okay, well… here's the end of Professor Arc in a sense. As people may know, this is slated to continue. Originally, I did want to end it here, but RT just introduced so many things that I couldn't. I'd have had to pretend that Salem and the rest didn't exist, but that would have made holes (since at first it was hinted the Queen might be Cinder, but then it wasn't…). All in all, it would have ended in a way that left loads of loose ends hanging about.
Instead, I've tried for this. It ends enough in the sense that if you DO want it to end here, then go wild. There's hope for the future, some signs of life, and also plenty of room for your imagination.
For those who do want to see it go on… it will, in time.
Essentially, this fic is going to pause to let things happen in the show. There are a set of things I need to know about, and these include the relics, Raven's tribe, Salem's end-game, and maybe… MAYBE… Jaune's Semblance and history.
For now, a new fic will be taking the place of this one, but here is an important note. It will start in TWO WEEKS on Sunday, not next week. The reason is to allow me to plan ahead a bit on it and make sure there aren't any early mistakes. As such, the first chapter of "In the Kingdom's Service" will come out on Sunday 16th July.
When will Professor Arc come back? Honestly, when it does. I can't say for sure, but it could be less than a year. On my current schedule, a year is very possible, as I don't see the fic replacing this going for a whole 52 chapters.
Until then, I've enjoyed the ride, and I hope you have, too. Professor Arc has been a fun fic with a fun following, and plenty of memes of its own. Thanks for reading through it, thanks for sticking with it, and thanks to those who chose – and continue – to support me with donations. I appreciate that a lot, and it lets me keep up my punishing pace of writing.
I hope you look forward to "In the Kingdom's Service", and also to Professor Arc's continuation as Headmaster Arc. Again, it won't be as a separate fic. For one, I think the name is taken, and secondly, I just don't see too much point. If I change my mind, I'll let people know.
Who knows. I might. I'm unpredictable (edgy way of saying indecisive) like that.
Thanks to all, and have a great night!
Next Chapter: Don't know
P a treon . com (slash) Coeur