The last chapter, it has finally come… It is short, yes. It just wraps things up a little. Also, by the time you finish this - the new fic should be out. Check my profile, though it may take an hour or so to load.
Beta: College Fool
Cover Art: Rachel Marks
The snow fell gently, blanketing the world around them under a layer of frost and ice. Jaune didn't seem to notice it, crouched as he was before a collection of grey stones, his hands holding a stuffed animal of some kind. His eyes stared at it, though Pyrrha did not believe they perceived it. His mind was elsewhere, perhaps with the woman he loved.
She felt the cold where he did not. Her breath crystallised before her, a sheen of mist that was whisked away a second later by the stiff breeze that ran through the trees. No words had been spoken since they arrived. He came every day and she with him, even if their two teammates could not understand it.
Cinder Fall, the monster of Beacon… there were many who celebrated her death. Ozpin had fallen - or gone missing, Pyrrha hadn't been able to tell at the time. Beacon too – and much of Vale had suffered under the attack of Grimm, White Fang and those Atlas robots that had turned on their creators. It was probably only the two of them who would remember the woman as anything other than a violent murderer. Some had been suspicious of Jaune's grief... one or two had even looked angrily at his tears, or asked Pyrrha to tell him the truth.
None of them seemed to realise that this was the truth. At least... to the two of them it was. Nora and Ren tried to understand but they could not. At the very least they never argued, nor did they have any bad words to say about the woman who had destroyed their home. Pyrrha was thankful for that. She didn't think she could deal with a split within the team itself.
The rebuilding efforts had been underway as they left, Team Juniper now camped out in a copse of trees in Patch. Their sister team was scattered; Weiss back to Atlas – Blake to wherever it was she had run. Only Yang and Ruby remained, though the former had been badly hurt, physically as well as mentally. They would stand by them, however, if only to offer what support they could.
Frost had begun to accumulate on her partner's shoulders. The tiny flecks of white piling up until it looked like he might be buried beneath them. The snow touched her too, but it did not settle. The power of the Maiden ran through her, and though it was not her season, she still found the ice melting the moment it touched her skin. Or maybe it did not come from the Fall Maiden at all, but the woman who had held her powers for but a moment.
"Ruby has woken up," Pyrrha said, breaking the silence as she waited two or three metres behind her partner.
"I'll go see her later." He leaned forward suddenly, to brush aside the snow that threatened to topple the small pile of stones. There was no body there. Pyrrha had used her new powers to set it alight atop the ruined spire of Beacon. It had been his request, his fear of what the people of Vale might have done to her remains. That Pyrrha held the Maiden's powers was proof enough of Cinder's fate.
"Nora spoke with her earlier," Pyrrha went on, knowing that he was listening. "From what Ruby told her, the exhaustion came from using her eyes to freeze that dragon. There shouldn't be any side-effects, she just needed to sleep."
"Hmm…" Ruby had saved their lives with that ability. The power had been too new, and whatever control Cinder had over the great beast had disappeared with her death, turning it into a wild animal bent on pure destruction. If it hadn't been for Ruby, Pyrrha did not think they would still be alive. "Apparently Qrow mentioned something about Haven to Ruby, about an investigation taking place there."
That made him pay attention, even if it was just his shoulders shifting a tiny bit, scattering the snow from them.
"That coincides with what General Ironwood was able to get from Emerald and Mercury," he said. The two had been captured easily enough, bereft without their master's support. Suspicion had naturally fell upon Cinder's team, and once the robots were back under their control, Ironwood had been merciless in tracking them down. "Is she ready to leave?"
"Soon. Yang is… she's not taken her injury well. I expect Ruby will want to make sure she is at least okay before she comes with us."
Jaune nodded but didn't speak, his eyes going back to the stuffed dog animal that he held between his hands. He brought it with him each time, and every time Pyrrha wondered if he would leave it at the marker. He often tried, placing it down before inevitably coming back for it. She knew the tale of it, of course. Jaune had been enthused when he came back that first time, with tales of how his girlfriend had won him a prize at the carnival. At the time Pyrrha had felt such incredible jealousy… now, it filled her with shame.
"She loved you," Pyrrha said. "I know she never said it, but she did love you."
"I know." He shook his head, a bitter laugh slipping forth. "I always knew, perhaps before she even did. The little things she did, the way she would reach for my hand at the end. She was a liar and a cheat, but her actions were always honest. She just didn't realise."
Pyrrha could not have said it better herself. Cinder Fall twisted her words, she twisted the truth and the world around them, but there was no denying the honesty in what she did. Even at the end, even if Pyrrha had realised that too late. The threats to kill Jaune, the signs of combat – and her tall frame stood above him, sword raised.
She'd acted on instinct, hurling her weapon with all the force in her body. The memory of it made her eyes sting, as tears prickled at the edges of her vision, only to freeze solid a moment later. Such a strike should have thrown Cinder aside, but the woman's aura would still have protected her.
Unless she didn't want it to. It would not if she had focused on manipulating her aura away from her heart. Actions and words, indeed. If only Pyrrha had understood that truth earlier. She should have known something was wrong the moment Cinder's arrow punctured the glass beside her, smashing open her tube but not drawing blood. At the time the sheer relief of the woman having missed had overrode that thought, along with the fear of what she might do to Jaune.
But Cinder hadn't missed, had she?
"I think she would want you to keep that," Pyrrha nodded down to the toy in his hands, catching his eye as he looked up towards her. They were rimmed with red, the evidence of tears obvious. Pyrrha did not comment on them, she never did, simply offering silent support wherever she could. "I know she wasn't ever sentimental, but I think she would be happy to know it gave you some pleasure. At the very least, I don't think she would be thrilled with being given it."
"You're right," he laughed. "If I left it here she would just ask what the point of it was." The teddy was pulled tight to his chest, so that the top of its head rested beneath his chin. Pyrrha smiled sadly at the sight, pleased at least that he would have some comfort at hand. "I don't hate you Pyrrha."
He sighed and shook his head, both knowing it was an argument neither would win at the moment. How he could not despise her, Pyrrha had no clue. She had killed the woman he loved; she had fallen for what in hind sight seemed like such an obvious ploy. Pyrrha had been prepared for his angry words, for his hate and him to attack her. She would have accepted it all.
"I think I'm done here," he whispered at last, shaking his arms out as he stiffly rose to his feet. Blue eyes lingered on the marker one last time, before he shook his head and turned to look at Pyrrha. "It's not like she's here anyway."
"She's wherever you keep her," Pyrrha said, nodding towards his chest. Jaune's hand came up reflexively, clutching at his heart.
"I suppose so… I don't think I'll ever stop loving her."
Pyrrha didn't think he would either. He was broken now, and though one day he might bring the pieces back together, she didn't think he would ever be quite the same. That was normal though, wasn't it? The experiences people went through changed them for better or worse. There was no turning back the clock – and she would not try. To try and make him back into how he had been would be akin to removing Cinder from his life. She wouldn't do that, not to either of them.
"I'm going to go and speak to Ruby," Jaune smiled, weak, brittle – but the smile was still there. The recovery had already begun, even if the grief lingered still. "Do you want to come with?"
"Go on without me," Pyrrha returned his smile with one of her own. "If it's okay with you I'd like to say my own goodbyes as well."
Jaune nodded, clapping one hand on her shoulder as he trudged by, snow crunching underfoot. She heard him pause at the edge of the clearing, however, clearing his throat with a cough. "Cinder wouldn't have hated you either," he said, making her green eyes drift shut. "I just thought you should know that." He sighed and walked away, towards the wooden family home in the distance.
"I know," Pyrrha laughed softly, kneeling down to trace a finger over the cool stones. "I think you were always frustrated with me. But I don't think you ever truly hated me, did you Cinder?"
It wasn't Cinder Fall, no matter what she might have thought. In truth it was nothing more than the lingering feelings the woman had left behind, as Pyrrha absorbed the power from her body. It was the exact thing Ozpin had first warned her about when they had talked of Pyrrha taking Amber's powers. It was not the mind-merging she'd once feared, but rather an echo – a distant representation of their emotions. It had faded now… and seemed to be fleeting altogether. Nothing lasted forever, and this echo of a distant soul was no exception.
"Just so you know," Pyrrha went on, "The transfer was successful… you must have been purposefully thinking of me at the end."
"More than that, all your plans worked… even if it took me a while to notice them. You made sure to cause as much damage as possible when you fought Jaune. When it was all over there were some who thought he might have worked with you, but there was just too much evidence showing he wasn't. Even at the end, you played not only me, but him, Ironwood and the people of Vale."
Pyrrha laughed, "I suppose you would roll your eyes at that." Her pleasure cut off soon after, as she remembered the look on Jaune's face. "He still loves you, though I guess wherever you are, you probably already know that."
A mix of emotions too complicated to decipher…
"I'm going to focus on being a friend to him now," Pyrrha went on, brushing her hair aside with one hand. "I think after seeing you and him… I'm not so certain of my feelings right now. I liked Jaune, I liked him a lot – I might have even been willing to die for him. But I don't think I could have done what you did, that I could have given everything up for him."
She had been a schoolgirl with a crush, one born of relief that he didn't know her fame – and pleasure at her ability to help and train him. She'd had little fantasies, of course, thoughts of what he might be like as her boyfriend, but it was nothing like what she had seen between Cinder and him.
"I think I just want to be his friend now."
"I'm being honest! Even if I did still feel that way, it would feel cruel to spring that on him – not to mention to your memory."
Pyrrha shook her head with a smile, unwilling to explain.
"Mercury and Emerald talked when Ironwood got hold of them. In the confusion Ren was able to eavesdrop on Miss Goodwitch and him. We found out that there was someone you answered to, someone who told you to do what you did."
"Jaune wants to hunt this person down, Ruby too. We're going to travel to Haven together and find him or her and make them pay for what they did to Beacon. Though I think Jaune wants to make them pay for what they did to you."
Panic, fear, terror…
"I will look after him!" Pyrrha said quickly. "I'll make sure he's okay – with the powers you gave me. Nothing will touch him. I'll make sure of it. You can trust me."
"I promise Cinder," Pyrrha said, staring down at the marker. "I swear to you here and now. I will never let Jaune die, so long as I still stand. It will be me before him, I promise."
Peace, acceptance… and then… nothing…
Pyrrha felt a tear slip down her cheek as the sensations finally washed away, as though those last fleeting thoughts had been caught by the bitter breeze, tugged out of her hands and swept into the distance. She felt so alone with them gone, suddenly aware of the freezing cold and the flakes that fell on her bare shoulders.
But she wasn't ready to leave just yet.
"I remember when I was still in that tube. I remember those final words you said to me, when you said goodbye." Pyrrha shook her head, shaking the tears loose. "I never got it at the time, I was still too certain you were about to kill me, that it was some mocking threat. It was too painful when I realised, almost a full day after your death, when the grief was still so fresh. You weren't mocking us at all, were you?"
It would have been so easy to say Cinder hated her, but if that were the case, why would she have spared her? Why would she have trusted Pyrrha to be the one to kill her? Why give Pyrrha the power of the Maiden? Why leave Jaune's fate in her hands?
"You were saying goodbye to us, and in our fear and panic we never even realised. Was it a cry for help, was it a hint – a subtle request for us to make it not goodbye? Did we miss a chance to save you?"
She didn't know… and the thought had haunted her sleep for over a week now. It was probably pointless, nothing more than her worried thoughts. Cinder's plan had been complete, she'd considered every stage, every angle – and then enacted it. The redhead stood once more, one arm rubbing across her eyes as she took a deep breath. She tried to smile down at the stones, but she had never been as good at lying as Cinder.
"I never got the chance to return the favour," she continued, "And that made me cry even harder when I realised. It's not fair that you got to say goodbye but we didn't, and then I feel worse because who am I to talk about unfairness when you had to die?"
Did she wish that Cinder was still alive? Pyrrha wasn't sure. If she were still alive, then surely it would not have been for long… the death she had caused would have ensured her fate was a swift and public one. Jaune might not have survived being forced to watch that.
Cinder had been right, as much as it pained her to admit it, there really had been no other way…
"What I'm trying to say is…" Pyrrha hesitated, shaking her head before continuing, "I need to stop looking into the past. I'm not going to forget you, but if I'm going to make sure Jaune comes out of this safe then I need to focus on protecting him. I'm sure you'd understand… actually, you'd probably call me a childish idiot for wasting time talking to a grave anyway."
She could just imagine the sneer on the other woman's face, the way she would have rolled her golden eyes. Pyrrha took a step back, letting out a quiet sigh. One step becoming two, and two becoming three. She paused a few paces away, looking down on a resting place that was not even hers. But that didn't matter.
If there was something after life… then Cinder wouldn't even hear her. She would have been too busy watching over Jaune, making sure he was okay. Actions spoke louder than words, and Pyrrha would prove them to Cinder by looking after him. But for now... she still wanted to have her chance to say it. In place of the chance she'd so foolishly squandered.
She smiled one last time, not looking down – but instead up towards the blue sky.
"Goodbye… my friend."
So that's it… in a sense this chapter is just about tying up the loose ends, explaining things as how they are and how they happened, so that there aren't any big questions. Well, other than the `how will they cope` question. The truth being, like all people do.
Thanks for reading everyone. I've had a lot of fun writing this story, more because it was new and novel than anything else. Many feared it could not be done, but I tried to see it through regardless. In truth people likely know that I'm not a fan of Pyrrha (though I've always tried to make it clear it isn't Pyrrha I dislike, but rather her lack of character – which is RT, not her). But in all truth, Cinder is far worse in my mind. We never see why or for what reason she does what she does, and the Chibi episode recently seems to say it best. She is evil for the sake of being evil.
So I tried to mix her up a little, and therein lay the challenge – one that I truly enjoyed. Sadly yes, the story did end a tragedy. This was the plan from the start and I will admit to not labelling it as that on purpose. :D I'm sure there are many who would not have read it, had they known it would be a tragedy, and honestly such a genre tag would have spoilered the entire thing anyway.
There were a few things I tried in this fic, ambitious though they may have been. The sex, for instance, was always meant to be an indicator of "show, don't tell" taken to the extreme. As you no doubt noticed, Cinder lies to herself as much as she does anyone else in this story, but the sex was always honest. If you dig into each act, you can sense the emotions behind it. Another thing is that Cinder never referred to the word "love" and "her" in the same sentence, up until the end. The idea being to explore that she refused to believe it ever existed at all.
Writing from her PoV was fun and interesting too, especially taking the "unreliable narrator" ideal to its extreme, with someone so used to lying that she deceives Jaune, herself and the reader all at once. Very fun.
And it may shock some, but when I first drafted this to CF, like… maybe a full year ago? I seem to recall that he wasn't 100% sure on the idea of the tragic ending. So don't accuse CF of having influenced this too much, lol. I wanted this to be a tragedy from the start, so that I could have a chance to practice and write one.
Thanks again everyone, and I hope you enjoyed what was honestly a fun story to write – even through the flames when my main character suddenly went and killed a main character (and Ozpin - why does no one cry over Ozpin?). Even at the time I remember wincing and going "Oh gods, I'm going to feel this in the reviews, aren't I?"
Next Story: Yang x Jaune – Released NOW
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