Here we are, a new story – el gasp.

Welcome to, "Not this time, fate" – a tale which has been in the planning stages for like… seven months? A long time, anyway… I just never got round to starting it due to having so many other fics on hand.

So what will this be? Humour like Professor Arc, pure serious-ness like Stress Relief? It will be… more of a mix, something I don't want to categorise with a genre. There will be humour, it will make you laugh when it happens. But there will also be very serious moments, and maybe even times when you "aww." We'll see.

Update schedule is every 2 weeks currently, and our beta for this story is College Fool – who you may know for a number of stories, or just from a propensity to drag flying vehicles from the sky at any moment. Worry not, no Bullheads were harmed in the making of this chapter at least.

Pairing is SECRET – but again, no harem. It is a 1 - 1 pairing, and yes, it has been decided… and I suppose I'll throw a bone and say it's also not a pairing I have written before. I like to try out different pairings, as opposed to being that guy who just writes one thing.

Beta: College Fool

Chapter 1 – Back to Square One

"Does it hurt?"

Jaune Arc let his head fall to the side. Thick smoke and rolling heat threatened to fill his lungs, creating a haze of dark shrouds before him. Muscles strained as he pushed forward, only to fall back with a silent grunt as the twisted metal pinning him refused to yield.

"I guess it would," the voice was punctuated by the rhythmic tapping of heels on a tiled floor. "You certainly tried your best, caused me no end of problems… more than a child should ever have been able to."

He was burning. Skin beginning to blacken, every part of his body screaming in agony. His aura was gone, utterly spent, yet even so, his dark eyes locked onto Crocea Mors, charred fingers reaching towards it.

"I think not!" Something slammed down on his hand, bones and cartilage giving way in a flash of pain. Blood, wet and fluid slid between his fingers, and it was with a grimace that he realised her stiletto had pierced straight through back of his hand. "I underestimated you once, and lost more than a few valuable pawns for that mistake. Not again, Arc."

"You're usually a lot more reserved than this," he coughed, but still managed to plaster a weak grin on his face, "something not going to plan, perhaps?"

He was going to die. He knew that. It was as clear as the hair that burned away from his face, and the way he could hear his skin bubbling and popping. It ought to have been a new experience… and in some way it was.

He'd never burned to death before.

"And yet you still gloat?" The bane of his existence shook her head. "You amaze me, really you do. But at this point it doesn't even matter." Uncaring, she stepped into the conflagration, tearing her heel from his ruined hand with a sickening crunch. The very flames themselves flickered and moved before her – giving way to their master. One heel, slick with blood, came to rest by his head as she knelt down, cool hands touching his cheek, one thumb rubbing up and down.

"You've failed Jaune Arc," she whispered – breathing lightly into his ear, "everyone you believed in is dead. Your team, your friends... From your partner, all the way down to little Ruby Rose. They are all dead."

His eyes drifted shut, lips parting to whisper words neither could hear. Eager to know what despair had been released, the woman leaned closer. With his last ounce of strength, blue eyes snapped open, his broken and bloodied hand lashing out to backhand the grinning woman. It was a weak strike… more of a limp slap, and it did little more than shock her – and leave a smear of his blood across her lips.

"I'll kill you Cinder," Jaune Arc promised, even as she wiped bloody lips on the sleeve of her dress. "I'm going to kill you. I will end this."

She rose before him, eyes smouldering like the fire that consumed him. Filled with so much hatred, yet it was nothing compared to his. She would die. And he would relish it.

"No Jaune, I think it's going to be you." And with a snap of her fingers, the flames that had been keeping their distance rushed in, roaring heat and the sound of crackling flesh.

Echoed by a woman's laughter.

Azure eyes snapped open, body lurching forward as a fist swung. The knuckles whistled through the air, momentum bleeding dry as the reality of the empty room sank in. A few harsh breaths escaped him, chest heaving as adrenaline coursed through his veins. Until, with a tired sigh, his eyes drifted shut.

"Fuck…" The mattress let out an unsatisfying sound as he struck it, though it did hurt his hand a little. His fingers flexed back and forth, even as he cradled the hand against his chest, rubbing the skin on the back of his palm. The phantom pain of her heel through skin and bone still lingered, along with the vile taste of smoke, ash and charred skin.

Soon to be nothing more than fading memories, one more death among the many that had come before.

Another sigh, this one filled with a fresh exhaustion, as he pulled himself from the confines of his sheets. Hot and suffocating, they reminded him of the flames. It was always best to just forget, accept that he'd messed up again and move on. Lingering in thoughts of what had happened… of what had happened to his friends…? No. That way led madness, self-condemnation and possible insanity.

Besides, he considered as bare feet hit the cool wooden floor, they were all alive right now, weren't they?

Like a man slowly adjusting to walking after a long recovery, he staggered his way toward the nearby window, drawing the synthetic fabric aside. Morning light assaulted his eyes, pain lancing through his skull as he held up a hand to deflect it.

Here he was again.


Once upon a time that realisation might have brought him joy. As each new dawn offered opportunities, the potential to fix what had been broken – save those who had fallen. How long had it been now, sixty... ninety years? Had he finally reached the treble digits, or was he getting close to four? As time wore on, it became harder to keep count. The human mind was only meant to remember so much after all.

In fact, his death had come so many times that the process of waking back up in his younger body was more familiar than his last moments. Death, at least, was varied. Sometimes it would be quick, sometimes slow.

The slit throats were the worst. The feeling of drowning in your own lifeblood, it always seemed to take longer than you'd expect – long enough to really hammer home what was happening. Complete with the bubbling within the windpipe as air struggled to enter – the scratching in your throat, the frantic gasps – like you were trying to dig into your own neck with your fingers to remove some kind of blockage.

He shook his head, dispelling the morbid memories.

It wasn't a pleasant feeling… the explosions were better though! Sudden force, a rushing heat, and then… soft white blankets... they weren't so bad, really. Or such was his fate anyway; no doubt the end for others was a bit more final.

How long had he managed to make it this time? Over two years… the longest he'd ever managed to survive… made it even past the fall of Beacon, and nearly a year into Haven. Just long enough to spark the tiniest flame within his jaded, bitter heart.

Just long enough to make him hope.

Just long enough to dash that hope upon the sharp rocks of reality.

"Should have known better," Jaune sighed as he watched the boy in the reflection of the window. The face was fresh and unblemished, lacking the scars and stress lines. Still… it was probably an improvement on what he'd looked like not ten minutes ago, with charred and melting skin.

No hope, his reflection mouthed.

Hope was for those who wished to have their dreams crushed, to face the cruelty of the real world armed with nothing more than idealistic dreams. His curse was a more powerful one, but it would eventually become his salvation as well. For every time Jaune Arc died, he would be sent back.

Life after death.

Failure after failure.

He could remember the first few times more vividly than any others. Maybe because back then he'd still been so confused, he'd experimented – tried to change the timeline. Aggressively used every advantage he had to try and fix things so that the people he cared for didn't have to die. He'd still been fresh-faced then as well, seeing this - his Semblance - as a boon that would save everyone.

And it would, in time.

Fate might be playing its cruel torture on him, forcing him to live his failure of a life over and over again, but the thing about infinity… was that so long as the objective wasn't impossible, the ending you wanted would certainly happen.


Sooner or later he would succeed, and the cycle would be broken. Until then, he just had to endure. That was why he wouldn't hope – because it only served to wear him down, mentally and emotionally, as the attachments he formed and the dreams he dared to foster were torn away. Time and time again.

He had to remain strong, resolute.

Which meant he'd better get moving, to be honest.

A new beginning meant a new set of plans. His mind travelled back each time, but the conditioning and physical skills he gained didn't. He could remember the forms, even knew the fighting styles of some of his most hated enemies. But that hardly mattered when he was as weak as… well… as weak as he had been as a kid.

Which is about as week as a ten year old by anyone else's standard, sheesh… he spared a rueful grin for the boy in the window, holding one weedy arm up. A polite person might have called his younger body lithe; an honest person would have had less kind words. All this experience, all this knowledge… and all a ten year old Ruby would need to do is activate her semblance and I'm done…

That was pretty damn embarrassing… but it wasn't something he couldn't fix.

How long had he survived this time, two years, a little over? Either way, that meant he had about two years until Beacon started. Figuring out the exact dates could wait til he got hold of a scroll. It was always the same, a pattern he'd managed to hash out after a few repeats. Correlation wasn't exactly causation, but after that one time he had been killed just six hours into initiation - thanks to not making friends with Pyrrha prior to his landing strategy - and had woken up back in the auditorium, six hours before they were to start? Well, even he wasn't that stupid.

But with two whole years to himself, before Beacon even began? That was more than he'd ever been able to get before! It would allow him to attend Beacon stronger than he'd ever been. Might even allow him to save-

No! No hope!

Deep breaths, eyes closed, as he cantered himself once more. Hope led to disappointment, he would do his best, would do everything in his power to save them – as he always did. It was all he could do after all.

Eventually it would work out, and he would save them all. It would.

It had to.

That meant going back to the grind however, a routine he'd perfected over numerous repeats. His biggest weakness was his body, still unprepared and untrained. He didn't need a teacher per se, just a long period of time out in the wilds – where he could get some conditioning done. The sooner he could get out there, the better.

Early morning, judging by the position of the sun just cresting over the hills… I'll slip out tonight when everyone's in bed.

That would mean a delay of at least twelve hours, probably more… painful to say the least, but necessary. It wasn't exactly a matter of just wandering off into the wilderness. He'd need food, water, camping supplies – not to mention Crocea Mors. People might just take notice if he started collecting all of that in broad daylight.

Failing to plan is planning to fail… there's no point rushing off to train, just to find I then need to waste time going to a town for food.

"And speaking of food…" the blond whispered to himself as his stomach did its best Beowolf impression. How long had it been since he'd had a proper meal and not those horrific ration bars? Well… physically probably only ten hours or so, whenever this body last ate – but mentally at least it had been at least a few days. "Alright, alright," he shook his head as his gut went off once more.

The corridors of his home felt awkward and unusual. Still dim, and with the lights turned off he felt like an intruder in his own home. But then again, this wasn't truly his home in any real way. Beacon was where he'd spent most of his life and he could recount every single corridor with almost perfect recollection. In comparison, this home felt more personal, yet from a distance. Like someone looking into a home through a frosted window.

It was neat and orderly, with numerous doors on either side, and between those, picture frames hung on the walls. Draped in shadow, but showing family scenes which, for the life of him, he couldn't remember. They could have honestly happened over fifty years ago to his mind, and time before Beacon – before the real first Beacon? He couldn't remember that far back; it was just too long ago.

"Morning sweetie," Juniper Arc greeted as he strolled into the kitchen. She stood at the counter, humming a gentle tune as she chopped fruit, knife moving up and down with practiced ease. The speed at which she wielded it seemed to add to the scene, like she was playing a soft staccato to accompany it – metal tap-tapping against wood in tune with her humming.

"Morning mother," he yawned as he took a seat at the family breakfast table, leaning back into the comfortable cushion with a sigh. The sound of metal on wood paused for a brief moment, almost tellingly, before continuing once more.

"What happened to calling me mum?" She asked; voice still bubbly but now with a sense of disquiet. He sighed within his own mind, already a mistake? He was out of sorts, how many times had he repeated mornings just like this one?

"Sorry mum," he cringed at the foreign word. As much as it pained him to admit, his relationship with his family was non-existent. Every repeat was just a case of him running away at the first opportunity to train. He didn't have the time or the luxury for school or family gatherings... not when his friends' lives were on the line.

To him, Juniper Arc was little more than a stranger who made him his one recurring meal.

"You look tired," she said, putting the knife down with a gentle clack before turning to face him. With a beatific smile she pushed herself back so that she was sat atop the kitchen surface, looking more like a twenty-year old woman than a middle-aged mother of eight. The women in the Arc family all seemed to have unnaturally good genes, long golden hair and brightly coloured eyes. His mother was no exception. And though there was the slightest sign of wrinkles at the edge of her lips, her bright green eyes still sparkled brightly, while gentle gold curls framed her face. "Those kids at school aren't still causing you problems are they?"

School, kids? Had he ever been bullied, he couldn't remember? School to him was Beacon, in which case Cardin did sometimes try to bully him, in those rare moments where Jaune forgot to do anything about it. It never lasted longer than it took him to put the teen in his place though. Most times it only got out of hand because Jaune honestly failed to even notice it…

"No, no… I'm fine, just didn't get much sleep." It was true enough. Rest had been a luxury they hadn't been allowed in the final days, too much running – too much chasing and fighting. To stop meant death, and it was amazing just how long you could run on fumes when you had to.

"I did wonder why you were up so early, I thought you'd been possessed by aliens," with a quick push she fell from the counter, padding towards him on bare feet. She stepped behind him, wrapping two arms around his shoulders, the cool skin of her hand coming to rest on his forehead. He closed his eyes, a soft sigh escaping him as he felt the last traces of pain from his recent death seep away. "You're burning up," she mumbled against his ear, and it pained him to admit she'd hit the nail dead on. Not that he would ever put her through knowing that… not since the first time he'd tried to tell his family, Ozpin, Ironwood – whoever he thought might listen.

He'd died alone… in an asylum.

"Are you sure you're not coming down with something?"

"Hmm, not sure," he shrugged, unsure of what to say. Literally nothing he did at this point in time mattered. He just needed to wait until the end of the day and slip away into the night. Idly, his eyes scanned about the kitchen, noting cupboards which might contain food even as his mother continued to run the palm of her hand against his forehead. Nicholas always kept good hiking packs in the cupboard by the front door, a concession forced by his wife's threats to kill him if he kept bringing dirty equipment into the house. There was always a few pre-packed with tools and camping equipment, just in case a surprise mission came along, so that would be easy enough.

As for food… canned food would be the best option. Things he could save for some time, yet cook over an open fire. He winced at the analogy, rubbing a finger across the back of his palm.

"I'll make you some hot soup," Juniper's words cut into his thoughts as she let go of him, "then you'll take some medicine - just in case. We don't need you coming down with something. Not when your sisters will jump at the opportunity to get out of school."

"Yes mum," he droned, scanning for the rest of the things he needed. Lien he could steal from the kitchen drawers, there was a small stash hidden in one of them that he knew about. Two years was a little longer than he was used to, roughing it out in the wild, but it wasn't anything he couldn't handle. There was work to be had, and money to be earned, if you were willing to bend the rules a little.

Some of the outlying villages and towns didn't care how old you were, so long as you could kill Grimm or chop wood.

So that only left his weapon, the ancestral blade of the Arc family – and the weapon he had relied on for so many years. That even now was hanging from its frame on the kitchen wa-

"Where's Crocea Mors!?" Jaune snapped, rising to his feet in shock as he stared at the empty frame – glass pushed aside and blade missing.

"Hmm?" His mother looked over her shoulder as she opened a can of soup, apparently not understanding the severity of the situation. "Nicky? He's on a mission sweetie, remember? He'll be back in two days."

"T-Two days?" The words slipped from his mouth before he could control himself. That was… that had never happened before! Of all the times he'd repeated the first day of going back, Crocea Mors had always been a constant factor. A comforting presence he could rely on for direction and purpose.

And now it was gone?

Calm down, calm down! He shook his head, training kicking in as he took several deep breaths and focused on the situation at hand. It was fine… there was nothing unusual about it. Nicholas had always been on missions; it was his job. He'd just been unlucky and come back on a specific day where his father was using the blade.

It was nothing more than bad luck.

"He wanted to be here Jaune, I swear," his mother took the seat opposite him, reaching across and taking his hand in hers. "Something came up last minute, some small Grimm seen around a nearby town. He didn't want to go, but he was the only one in the area."

"No, no – it's fine." He understood that, it made perfect sense. Two full days… it would be a loss… but there was nothing he could really do about it, other than see to his own training outside. It wouldn't be that much of a big deal; it just caught him off guard.

That needed to stop. Maybe he was still running on a bit of adrenaline from what had happened before… maybe a day or two's rest would do him some good. He was wound up tighter than Yang on a bad hair day.

"It's his job after all," Jaune shrugged, more because it felt like his mother was waiting for a response than anything else.

"I know sometimes his job takes him away Jaune, but your father does love you."

"I know, I know…" he scratched the back of his head as she let go of his hand. Nicholas… yeah, he guessed the man did. It was hard to remember him to be honest. For a while he'd focused on trying to get the man to train him – the early excuses had been that Jaune wasn't fit enough – yet when he'd managed to gain enough mass to disprove that, the excuse had morphed into something else.

In the end Jaune had given up. His training progressed faster if he just ran away to do it himself, and after repeating that so many times? Nicholas Arc was more a stranger than Emerald Sustrai.

A shame… but it was something that could be fixed when he was finally successful. A reunion with his family was long overdue, and once Cinder was dead, the White Fang stopped, and his friends saved? Jaune could take a long-deserved holiday, go back to see his family, and reconnect properly with his father.

Until then however, there were more important things to do, and that meant waiting for Crocea Mors to return so he could enact his plan. For now though? In the short space of time he had until it came back? Maybe… he stifled a yawn, one of the first he'd dared to let out in so many days… maybe it would be best… to finally take some rest…

Jaune's eyes drooped heavily, body slouching forward as he leaned his arms on the table, a cushion for his head. For the first time in so long, he finally allowed himself to rest, lulled into a deep sleep by the pleasant melody of his mother's voice.

He didn't as much wake, as was he roughly woken up. The world flipped, something gave way beneath him, and although his instincts saw him landing in a crouch with his eyes wild, it still didn't stop his feet being tangled in the blankets, dragging him to the floor.

"Wake up!" A feminine voice growled, tearing the blankets off him as he looked up towards a blonde figure above him. His immediate thought was Yang. Because really, who else would feel the need to wake him up by literally flipping the mattress? But the sudden recollection of where he was quashed that thought. Yang was dead, no, well… alive, she was alive.

But she was at Patch with Ruby, or Signal, depended whether this was term time or not really.

The girl above him was blonde however, and had purple eyes just like Yang, though maybe a few shades darker. Her blonde hair was tied into a short ponytail however, something he doubted the bombastic brawler would ever entertain the thought of.

"Why are you looking at me so stupidly, bonehead!?" The girl sighed, throwing a pair of jeans at his face. Ah, of course, this was one of his sisters.



"Ugh… you're blind as well as stupid it seems, it's Hazel – Jade gave up on waking you up like half an hour ago." Hazel crossed her arms beneath her budding breasts, making sure he could see just how unimpressed she was at being called up. Right… Hazel, she was… a little older than him, if he recalled.

"Sorry," he stumbled to his dresser to try and find a shirt, "I was tired." He took a moment to look at the mess across the floor, now including a mattress and two pillows. "Couldn't you just have shaken me awake?"

"Are you joking!?" The girl laughed, though it was less in genuine amusement than to drive a point home. "We tried that oh… two hours ago? Everyone has tried, you just slept through everything."

Was that so? Maybe it was his body's way of trying to catch up with all the sleep he'd missed. Well, his mind's way – his body was actually fairly fresh.

"Sorry, sorry," it was easier to give in then argue the fact, "how long have I been asleep for then? Last thing I remember was breakfast?" And his stomach was giving him some painful reminders about that broken promise.

"Yeah well, mum said you fell asleep at the table, so she carried you back to your room. It's been like… maybe six hours since then? It's gone noon." The girl rolled her eyes, before leaning in with a leer on her face. "What were you doing that got you so tired Jauney? Were you giving yourself a good clean? Polishing your rocket, maybe?"

"Hilarious," he deadpanned, pulling off his top and pulling the white shirt on. His sister turned away the moment he started getting changed, making a disgusted noise as she side-stepped towards the door.

"Yeah well, don't forget we're off to the lake today – so make sure you bring something to swim in," the door slammed shut as he pulled his trousers down, before a moment later opening back up, "and a towel – eww my eyes! I'm scarred!" He rolled his eyes and buttoned the trousers, even as he faintly heard her shouting about having seen his bum, or something.

What a weird family.

A trip to the lake though? That didn't stir any memories, though that didn't mean much. Maybe it had been a boring thing in his first life, or just something that did every now and then. It didn't really matter since he had to wait for Crocea Mors anyway, he might as well go along with whatever they said. Another yawn escaped him as he leaned down to pull some shoes on. Gods, he was still tired?

He did vaguely look back to his sheets, eyes heavy as he considered them – before a thumping through the floor caught his attention. It sounded like someone smacking an object against the ceiling below.

"I'm coming," he shouted as he rolled his eyes and staggered towards the door, "sheesh..."

The whole family was waiting downstairs, or rather the female side of it, which did make up 80% of the Arc household. Not a one of them had a hair colour other than blonde, no doubt an offshoot of two blonde parents, though one or two had lightly dyed parts. A desperate attempt for individuality in a family that for the most parts, looked quite similar.

He could only remember a few names off the top of his head. The youngest Amber, memorable mainly because she was so small – somewhere between the ages of ten and twelve, he supposed. There was Hazel of course, and her twin sister Jade, who she was now talking to. Other than that, he could just recall a few names… Coral, Sable… uh… Saffron?

Jaune didn't get a chance to consider the rest, for the moment he entered the room a pack was thrust into his arms, his mother saying something about looking after it, before she started distributing baskets to the girls. A few moments later and they were turfed out of the house, and trekking through the nearby woods.

Juniper Arc watched her children play with a fond smile. This was her family. One she had made with Nicky, and that she had raised from childhood to where they were now. Little family outings like the monthly trip to the lake were the norm, little things to help build solidarity in a house with so many people. It could be tough sometimes, especially when the kids wanted to have a bit of peace and quiet.

Or when she and her man wanted to have some time to themselves…

Tempers would inevitably fray, and it wasn't unusual for her to be stuck prying girls from one another, making sure they stopped pulling on each other's hair. If it wasn't one thing it was always another.

"Mummy," a little voice cut into her thoughts, a figure climbing into her lap with no regard for the sandwich she was trying to eat. Juniper simply chuckled, putting the treat down on a nearby container as she helped to sit Amber up, stroking the back of her short hair. A pair of baby blue eyes looked up towards her, lighter than her husband's, but beautiful nonetheless.

"What's wrong baby?" She didn't think there'd been any fights yet, Coral and Lavender were sunbathing near the trees, Jade, Hazel and Sable were in the water having fun, and Sapphire was reading with her feet dipping into the lake.

"Mummy, why's big brother still sleeping?"

He was? Green eyes trailed across the surface of the lake in the direction her youngest was pointing, to eventually come to rest upon her one and only son. Jaune sat with his back against the bark of a tree, eyes closed and chest rising and falling with each breath. She had no idea how he could find that position comfortable, but Amber was right… he was asleep.


"I think he's just tired sweetie," she pressed a kiss to the top of Amber's hair, giggling lightly at the affronted look the girl gave her. He had seemed tired that morning, but then again, he'd woken up early too. On most weekends he would sleep in until the crack of noon anyway, so maybe he was just making up for lost time now.

She hoped he wasn't coming down with anything… he just hadn't seemed… right earlier. She wished Nicky was here. He'd be able to help, maybe tell her if she was just panicking about things… he was fourteen after all – puberty and teenage years could change a man.

But that look in his eyes… that was one she knew she'd seen before. He'd inherited so much from the both of them. It made sense that he would have that same expression Nicky sometimes did. The look that said the mission hadn't gone as well as hoped. That he'd seen things, and wanted desperately to forget them.

Being married to a Hunter, you had to get used to those things. That sometimes the man or woman you loved would come back somehow less whole then they'd left.

You're imagining things, she rebuked, there's no reason for Jaune to have that kind of look – you're just over-analysing.

"Why don't you go and see if big brother wants to play then?" Amber looked up towards her for a second, the little cogs in her head whirling behind those bright eyes. Juniper pushed her up a moment later, watching as she rushed over to her sleepy son.

"Ugh…" his eyes opened slowly, one hand coming up to shield his face from the bright light, even as he grumbled against the incessant figure prodding and poking at his face. "Ruby, no…"

"Who's Ruby?" The question slammed into him, delivered by a voice that – while young – was definitely too young for his fellow leader and close friend. Instead, as he blinked away with heavy dust from his eyes, and let out a long yawn – he found himself face to face with an altogether younger figure.

"No one," he sighed, pushing himself a little further up against the tree, "what's up brat, what do you want?" Amber, if he recalled, she'd be about… ten maybe, eleven or twelve, at a push?

"I'm not a brat!" The girl yelled, tiny hands on her waist as she towered over his slumped form. "I'm a princess, and you need to play with me."

Play? He, Jaune Arc?

"Maybe another time," his eyes began to drift shut once more, that great expanse of slumber calling out to him. A sigh escaped him a second later, fighting its way past the small finger pushing against his cheek. "Amber…" he complained.

"Jaune…" she echoed, matching him tone for tone.

Knew there was a reason I hate kids, ugh… the girl cheered as he grunted and pushed himself up from the tree. His body still felt sluggish and unresponsive, a stark reminder of how weak at the moment. In fact, he still had his aura locked away – he was effectively a civilian. Have to do something about that later, I can force it open myself if I have to…

"Alright, alright," he yawned, reaching out to place a hand on the girl's head so she'd stop hopping around, "what do you want to play?"

"Hmmmm... what do you want to play?"

The question made him pause. What did he want to do? When was the last time he'd actually played at anything?

When he wanted some fun he'd… well, maybe spar with Pyrrha or Ruby, or go out to kill some Grimm with Nora. Or he could talk to Yang and convince her to go into Vale with him, visit a club and get hammered – before inevitably ending the night by either metaphorically tearing up the dance floor – or literally tearing it up. There was always doing homework with Ren, or just catching some rest… but between all the fighting, and trying to fulfil his duty?

There hadn't exactly been a lot of time for childish games.

"Hide and seek?" And nor was there now. Crocea Mors might be missing for the next two days, but the moment it was back he would be gone. Until then he'd take advantage of what rest he could get, to prepare his body for the training to come. At least with this game Amber could run off to hide, and he could pretend to look for her until she got bored. That sounded promising.

"Okay, you count to thirty!" Amber giggled, reaching out to take his hands and push them over his eyes, "and no peeking!"

"One," Jaune started, rolling his eyes as he heard her scamper away. He didn't even bother to continue counting.

"Amber, don't go far!" His mother called out, even as the sound of her rushing through the nearby bushes reached his ears. Lowering his hands, he leaned back with a short sigh, closing his eyes.

"Aren't you going to look for her?" His mother's voice blocked any attempt to fall back into his pleasurable nap, grass shifting as she walked up to stand beside him.

"I hadn't intended to," he shrugged, "figure I'll give her ten minutes before I look, let her have some fun."

"I'd…" she hesitated, "rather you went for her now, actually." That caused one eye to crack open, regarding the older woman as her feet shuffled nervously in the grass beside him. A boy his age might not have been able to see the signs so easily, but it didn't require over fifty years of experience to see she was nervous about something.

"You think there might be Grimm around?"

The question seemed to startle her. "What? No!" A shake of her head, "there's never been any Grimm this close, why would you eve-? Never mind, it's just… well you know how she is? Normally I'd be fine with you all playing in the woods, but without Nicky here there's no one to find you all if you get lost."

I could, he almost said, before catching himself. He could track any one of them through the woods if he needed to, but still, he could see her point. He was used to young girls being... well, like Ruby. Independent, trained, able to look out for themselves. Amber, on the other hand, was just a child.

A child he'd encouraged to go run off alone in a forest she was hardly familiar with. There might be no Grimm, but there was still a host of accidents she could run into.

"I'll find her," he promised, pushing against the grass as he climbed to his feet. Juniper seemed a little relieved, though not by a vast amount. She likely expected him to get into trouble too, which was a little galling.

To be fair, he had been a bit useless back when it all started.

His neck cracked as he moved it left and right, hand reaching to seek comfort in a familiar hilt – before realising it wasn't there. Instead he settled the belt about his waist, glancing at the bushes she'd run through. Broken twigs, leaves crunched into hard dirt... this was what he'd been relegated to? She could at least make it a challenge.

"Jaune, are you-?" his mother spoke as he made to move by her, prompting a raised eyebrow from him.


"No… never mind…" She looked uncertain, with one hand clutched beneath her chin as she watched him. He thought about telling her it would be okay, that he'd have no difficulty finding her, but instead decided better. What reason would she have to trust him on that fact, when all her experience would have shown otherwise?

She'd calm down, he supposed, once he had Amber back safe.

Looks like I'll be playing after all, he sighed, feeling no amusement in the thought, even as he pushed his way into the treeline, eyes scanning the floor for signs of her.

They were abundant.

The sun was high in the sky, and there'd been no rain for a day or two it seemed, for the ground was hard and earthy, with a layer of dust and soil atop those patches where grass wouldn't grow. Even if he couldn't see her prints in those patches, he would have had to be blind to have missed the branches she had stepped on – that lay broken on the ground. Or the wildflowers nearby, which had a suspicious parting in the middle, flowers poking to the left and right as though to make way for someone.

He'd learned hunting – or at least, the art of tracking – from the best. Ren might not have had the most in terms of stamina, but there was never any doubting his intelligence. He'd been an absolute machine when it came to stalking down his prey, or – as was more often the case – hunting Nora.

Which was an altogether more difficult task.

"Amber," he called out, brushing the tall reeds and flowers aside as he followed her path, "Juniper wants us back with the others, come out!" He rolled his eyes with a sigh, "no, I'm not tricking you either – I'm serious."

Jaune let out a long sigh, shaking his head as he pushed on. Of course she wouldn't come out, that would be too easy. Do this the marginally less easy way then, he mused as he stepped over a rotten log, noticing how the moss atop it had been scuffed away. Animals wouldn't have done something like that, they preferred the path of least resistance – which would mean under, over or around.

It was only about fifty metres of so into the treeline where the tracks became more fresh, if they could be called that when less than a minute had passed. Broken twigs still wobbled back and forth, clinging grimly to their original branches, but unmistakably knocked aside. Strands of grass still looked to be springing back up, recently pushed down by a small child's gait.

"Amber!" He called again, cupping his hands around his mouth. "Come on out."

"RAW-" a voice howled from his left, a shadow leaping for him.

Jaune knew the sound of a Beowolf, or the differences between one and an Ursa. In fact he could identify most Grimm simply by the noise they made, or even the rhythm of their breathing. This was not a Grimm. He realised that the moment he heard it… but after years of being attacked by just about anyone, that knowledge did nothing to stop his hard-won instincts kicking in.

He saw it happen in slow motion. Her bright eyes grew wide, before she could remove the expression of pure glee from her face. His forearm connected with her cheek less than a second later, tearing the smile from her – even as she collapsed to her knees in shock.

Jaune could only stare in horror. First at her face and the red mark on her cheek – then down at his hand, fist opening and closing slowly.

If he still had Crocea Mors… she would… he would have…

"J-Jaune?" Her voice cracked, light blue eyes sparkling with unshed tears as she looked up at him. In pain, distress…

And fear.

She tried to hold it in, he could see that. From the way her lip quivered and eyes watered, with one small hand clutching at her cheek she looked down at the ground, blinking rapidly - before looking back up at him once more. He could see the confusion clear in her gaze. Why had her big brother hit her, why had Jaune hurt her?

And he realised, with a sudden bout of clarity. That he had no idea what he was supposed to do. As she looked up at him like she was waiting, no – desperately hoping for something. Two small hands reached out towards him, asking for something.

He couldn't figure out what it was. So he stood there, frozen. Until, with a choked off gasp, the tears broke through the dam, the girls hands balling at her eyes as great sobs wracked her body. Do something, his mind cried as he watched her. His mind whirled, trying to recall those times he'd comforted others when they were in tears… but all he could bring up was memories of his friends…

He could remember drinking with Yang, washing away their pain with alcohol and violence. Then there was standing behind Nora, offering silent comfort as she wept over the body of her childhood friend. There were the moments too with Pyrrha, of sharing a bed in an effort to seek comfort in a moment of transient pleasure.

Ruby, staring down at the body of her sister in muted shock, as he stood nearby – one hand on her shoulder.

It was that nebulous memory he grasped onto, as he knelt down before Amber and touched one hand to her sore cheek. He had no idea what it would do, or how it would help… but the next thing he knew, she had thrown herself at him, burying her face in his chest.

"I'm sorry," she cried into him, clutching at his shirt with both hands. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" And yet she apologised to him? After he hurt her, it was Amber who felt the need to apologise? That… didn't make sense, and why did she look so hurt still as she glanced up at him? He didn't know what he was supposed to do, arms slack at his sides as she waited for something.

Was that what she wanted?

He settled his hands on the back of her shoulder blades, drawing her close. Amber sniffled but pressed her face into his chest. She wanted a hug, to be held by her brother, a sign that he didn't hate her.

It made a small amount of sense… when was the last time he had been properly hugged by someone, other than the brief touch of his mother that morning? If his memory served, it had been Ruby. She'd held onto him when they had buried Pyrrha. Not the last repeat… maybe one, or was it two, times before?

"It was my fault," he said softly to the child, as soft hair tickled his neck. Small and warm in his arms, in a way she reminded him of Ruby. Except that - unlike his old friend - Amber would never grow up knowing her older sibling. Because time and time again, he would run away, leaving her behind. "I'm really sorry." For everything.

"S'okay," she huffed and pushed herself away from him, trying to hide her red-rimmed eyes, "it didn't even hurt, I'm a big girl."

"You are," he agreed, something heavy slipping from his shoulders as he held her close. The way she looked at him, despite her small denials and efforts to not say it – he could see nothing but unconditional love in her eyes.

That hurt him more than the red mark on her face did. Because he knew how much it would hurt her when he left. I'm sorry Amber, but I need to save them. When this is all over, I promise I'll come back to spend more time with you. It was the best he could offer, because like it or not he had to save his friends – they needed him at Beacon.

It was his duty.

"I'm sorry for hurting you," he said once more, meaning more than she would ever realise, as he touched her cheek. A little sore judging from her wince, but thankfully his mind hadn't accounted for his gangly, younger body. He'd hit her with his forearm, rather than the back of his hand.

Or a sword…

"The arcade," Amber whispered, looking up at him with suddenly narrowed eyes. "I want you to take me to the arcade tomorrow, to say sorry!"

He chuckled at her expression. What a scary little sister, to go from pain and sorrow to extorting him so quickly. Her puppy-dog face didn't have a chance against Ruby's, but he nodded nonetheless. His father wouldn't be back with Crocea Mors for another day yet. He could afford to give up a single day's training to spend time with her. With the little girl that would soon have to grow up without him.

"Promise?" A small smile, like the morning sun rising on her face.

"I promise."

Juniper let out a sigh of relief when the two appeared from the woodlands, the tension slipping from her shoulders at the sight of her youngest balanced on her boy's shoulders. She seemed enthused, arms waving back and forth as he carried her back to them.

Thank you, she mouthed at him, though she wasn't sure he caught it.

For the rest of the afternoon she simply watched them all, as the seven girls slowly drew Jaune into their games. He indulged them all. A little woodenly at first, as though he wasn't quite sure of himself… but with an expression that said he would give in to any demand they asked of him.

And her girls took wanton advantage of it.

Maybe, she thought to herself – finally losing that last bit of doubt. Just maybe… everything would be okay after all.

So here we go, I'm never very good at first chapters – call it a curse. This was more a case of setting the scene, and importantly, showing what effect a life of repeats and death has had on Jaune as a character. What adaptations he's had to make, both in terms of personality and actions.

Anyway, I want to answer a question I'm sure nearly 100% of readers who still want to see more chapters of this are probably asking.

"How long will it be before Beacon?"

Well, normally I wouldn't say – but I don't think it's spoilery to say when.

Chapter 5 SHOULD (capitalised for a reason here) be when he arrives at Beacon, though he'll start interacting with some canon characters next chapter – the main cast will start to play in chapters 2, 3 and 4. So don't worry, we're not going to have ages of Jaune in a pre-Beacon life. Most of it will be handled with time skips, but stopping every now and then to show important parts in his development.

Next Chapter: Friday 18th March

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