Here is the next chapter of Not this time, Fate – I hope you all enjoy.


Beta: College Fool

Cover Art: A Stuck at Home Tome

Chapter 35 – The Truth in Words


"No," Jaune said, as he watched the weapon in Weiss' hand with a wary eye. "No more, I beg of you."

"It's for your own good, Jaune." Weiss said. As she approached, she gestured to the girls on either side of him. "Keep hold of him. Don't let him escape." Their hands clamped down on his shoulders, hard and unyielding.

"We've got him," Yang said. Jaune struggled limply but was unable to get out of her hold, let alone Blake's.

"I can't," he begged. "Weiss, please, be reasonable."

"You are asking that of me?" The heiress snorted as she knelt on the mattress beside him. "You have to be the most unreasonable person around, Jaune. I mean, just look at what you're making us do."

"How am I responsible for this?"

"For the love of…" Weiss sighed and planted both hands on her hips. "Jaune, it's a chocolate bar. Most people don't act like they're being executed when presented with one."

"Most people aren't stuffed with enough food to make them burst," he pointed out, eyes still locked onto the offending mass of sugar and chocolate. "Come on guys, you've already forced so much down me. I can't fit anything else in."

"Two scrambled eggs on two slices of toast for breakfast isn't a lot," Blake mumbled from his left.

"Nor is chicken and vegetable soup and half an apple much of a lunch," Yang agreed. Their hands tightened on his shoulders. "We've got him, Weiss. He isn't going anywhere."

"Good work, girls." Weiss said as she pushed the bar between his teeth and glared at him meaningfully.

Jaune sighed and bit down on it, rolling his eyes when she nodded happily and allowed him to chew in peace. The same scene had been replayed for a few days now, ever since he'd been allowed out of the infirmary. His team took their duties well, and it was impossible to really feel upset at them for it, even if his stomach genuinely wasn't used to dealing with so much food. He felt stodgy and sluggish, but gone were the days Weiss would huff and let him off with only finishing half a meal.

"See, was that so hard?"

He knew better than to argue. Weiss wasn't afraid to argue back, and she had backup in the form of his treacherous teammates. Even Zwei chipped in, though that was just to bite down on his pant leg when he tried to escape.

And oh, how he'd tried to escape… so many times. They were on top form, almost bizarrely so. The moment he so much as moved a muscle, he could feel eyes on him, and it didn't even stop when the lights went out. Blake could see perfectly well in the dark and seemed to wake up the moment he did. With Zwei slumbering on his chest for most night as well, he would raise the alarm if his `bed` dared move.

Every effort to sneak off would result in Blake tailing him, while Yang and Weiss hovered suspiciously close during meals, walks and even sitting outside in the sunlight. His trips to the infirmary were done with an escort and the one time he had managed to give them the slip, he'd run straight into Ruby. Bad enough she'd given him the watery eyes, but when she'd switched to disappointment? Yeah, he'd sulked back to his caretakers without as much as a word.

"Have you called your family yet?" Weiss asked, breaking the silence. Jaune nodded.

"I've been messaging them, but I haven't called yet." He'd written it off as him being on the mission still and his parents understood. With the amount of babysitting his team put him through, writing to his sisters was the only thing he could do. "I don't want them to see me like this," he added, pointing to his baggy eyes and pale complexion. "I'll do a proper call when my face isn't going to send them into panic mode."

"So long as they know you're okay," Weiss said. "I take it you haven't mentioned what happened to you?"

"Not with mom pregnant. It's… I don't want to stress them over it." He noticed their stern expressions and quickly explained, "I'll tell them once I'm better, I swear. It's just… I'd rather they find out when I can prove I'm better. They'll just worry otherwise."

"I suppose that makes sense. How is she?"

The change in topic was a welcome one, not least of all because he could feel his body tingling in an unpleasantly familiar manner. Jaune bit down on his lip and took a deep breath before speaking. "They're good. Juniper always asks about my `lovely teammates` and wants to know if you're all doing well."

"Does she know what the baby will be yet?"

"Human, probably," Jaune quipped. Weiss scowled at him. "She doesn't want to know. I think she's fairly certain it will be a girl, since seven out of eight have been, but she says it's the surprise she looks forward to most."

"Do you have any preference?" Yang teased. "You looking forward to having another little sister, or are you aiming for a brother this time?"

"I wouldn't mind either," he said, more than aware of how unlikely it was he'd see it. There were still a few months left until the expected birth, and there was no way he could survive that long. It hurt… especially because he wasn't sure it would ever happen again, but there was little he could do about it. "I suppose if I had to pick… I'd want a sister."

"Another one? Sheesh, and here I thought you'd be after something a little different. Don't tell me you're afraid of not being the only guy in the house?"

"More like I'm afraid he would end up like me," he snorted. "From what I can tell, the females of the Arc household get all the brains."

"Can't argue with that," Weiss sighed. "Here, have another bite."

"Weiss, come-" His words were cut off as she pushed the chocolate bar back into his mouth. He'd have refused to eat it, but he knew from experience that she would patiently keep it there until it melted or he gave up. He'd been stubborn the first few times, but she'd just proven her patience and forced him to eat his words and the chocolate. Now, he gave up. "I think when she said snacks, she meant healthy snacks," Jaune complained once he'd gotten the sickly sweet thing down. "Not unless her plan is to rot my teeth and pull them out with her fingers." Jaune paused. "Wait a minute that does sound like something she'd do."

"If you went to her for dentistry, you'd deserve everything you got," Weiss snorted. "Frankly, I'm surprised she's been treating you in mostly painless ways. She almost seems like a real doctor."

"She doesn't like drugs," he shrugged.

"Ah, some professionalism."

"She doesn't like them because they dull pain."

"Jaune," Weiss groaned and massaged her forehead. "Could you let me have my fantasies for even a few minutes, please? I'd almost managed to convince myself we lived in a sane world."

"No such luck I'm afraid," he laughed, and shifted his hands to his side. Blake caught one and pulled it out in front of her, eyes narrowed. He cursed and tried to pull it back but the damage was already done.

"You're shaking again," Blake said. She looked down on him, worried and nervous, and she squeezed his hand between hers.

"It's nothing," he gritted, fighting to resist it all.

"The pangs again?" Yang asked. The blonde shifted herself so that she was front-on to his shoulder and pulled his hand onto her lap. "Is it bad?"

"Not as bad as before." They'd gotten progressively worse for the first day or so, but started to recede. It felt like nothing he could adequately explain, like the temperature between his blood and his skin was different, or that strange rods had been inserted into his arms. It didn't make much sense, but then again the withdrawal didn't either. "It would be worse if I was actually addicted to them, I'd guess."

"Does it hurt? Do you need something to bite down on?" Weiss asked. He shook his head and took several short breaths. She asked it every time and every time his answer was the same. "What can we do?"

"Distract me," he hissed through clenched teeth. "Anything, jus-"

"I set the kitchen on fire when I was younger," Yang said. She clutched his hand a little tighter but smiled down at him. "Back in Signal, I unlocked my Semblance in the middle of class one day. They sent me home after I set one of my friend's hair on fire – she wasn't my friend after that, but what can you do? Anyway, I totally didn't take it well since my hair kept glowing and smoking and flames kept appearing. No matter what my dad tried to tell me, I thought the fire was burning me." She shuddered. "I thought it was burning my hair too, which was about ten times worse."

"Nice priorities," Blake said.

"Shush, you. I couldn't control it very well at first. They give you this little pamphlet, you know? Not exactly useful since the moment I touched it, it went up in flames. Even when dad read it out to me, it said stupid stuff like `stay calm`. I mean, come on… calm? I was on fire! I was anything but calm."

Jaune started to laugh. He could imagine her, small and over-dramatic, screaming as she looked at the fire that surrounded her. The image would have been unsettling but for the knowledge of her Semblance. Even as his muscles spasmed and contracted, he fought to listen.

"My dad tried to calm me down by hugging me, which was a little awkward when he had to stop hugging me to put himself out. Zwei didn't help, either. He just kept running around me barking, which doesn't do much for an eleven-year-old on fire."

"What-" He grit his teeth and clenched his eyes shut. "W-What happened to the kitchen?"

"Fire safety training," Yang cringed. "I couldn't hear dad over my own shouting, and Qrow – the bastard – just sat at the dining room table laughing his ass off. Anyway, I remembered what my teachers always said about safety and decided that if I was on fire, I need to stop, drop and roll."

"Your kitchen was made of wood, wasn't it?" Weiss sighed.

"Try the whole house, Weiss-cream. We live in a log cabin. I've never seen Uncle Qrow go from laughing to panicking so fast. They were both screaming, I was screaming, Ruby came down and started screaming. It was pretty intense."

"It sounds it," Jaune chuckled. His chest rose and fell as he took great gulps of air, but all that remained of his withdrawal was aching muscles. "Thanks," he gasped. "I needed that. It's gone now. You can let go."

Yang and Blake did so reluctantly, and both refused to let him actually climb from the bed, not that he had the energy for it anyway. Weiss was no better, watching him with a hawkish expression and her scroll in one hand. He had no doubt it was set to speed dial the infirmary. "I hate watching that," she said. "It makes me feel useless."

"You're not useless. None of you are." Jaune shook his head and winced when his bones creaked. "How do people go through this normally?"

"I doubt it's ever this bad," Blake said. "You took far more than anyone would have, and those who are addicted likely take more to avoid these very symptoms. At least we can rest assured you won't go and take more."

And put himself through this a second time? No thanks. I suppose that's the different between mental and physical addiction. My body is addicted, or at least thinks it is, but I have no actual desire to take them. In that, at least, he was lucky. It was so insidious, so powerful… part of him felt he could look at those trying to break their habits with newfound respect. He doubted many of them had three wonderful friends willing to do everything in their power to help them. "Thanks. For helping," he added when he saw their confused expressions.

"You can thank us by getting better," Weiss smiled. "And that means full meals, proper sleep and not doing anything silly."

"Yes, dear…" Jaune tried to make his voice teasing, but it came out mingled with a yawn. He blinked past it, only to see the ceiling. It took him a second to realise Yang had already started to pull him down. "Whoah, whoah, it was only a yawn."

"Nap time," Yang said happily, pushing his head back so he rested in her lap.

"Oh, come on…"

"A yawn means you're tired, and that means you need rest, daddy." she teased. "Didn't you just finish telling us how thankful you were for all our hard work?"

"I feel like you've added a few more details onto that," he said, glowering up at her. Anyone else might have been thrilled to use the beautiful girl's lap as a pillow, but it felt like he'd only been awake for four hours since the last nap. He was tired, sure, but this was ridiculous. "I'm not a baby," he growled, and then cursed when he felt how heavy his eyes were. Not now, body. I'm trying to prove a point and win a pointless argument. Don't betray me, damn it!

It was no use. His body was exhausted, his muscles sore, and the food that filled his stomach made him feel too heavy to move. He yawned once more, caught it, but then surrendered as a second, more powerful, yawn broke through. Yang's soft hands brushed across his cheeks, then ghosted over his eyes, making him shut them.

"Cheater," he grumbled.

"Yep," she giggled. "Nighty night, dad."

Annoying, stubborn daughters…

/-/

Weiss watched with a fond smile as Jaune slowly fell asleep on his teammate's lap. The lines in his face, made all the more prominent from his ordeal, seemed to fade and drift away. It was the most relaxed she'd seen him in days, and she nodded approvingly at Yang. The girl winked back.

"I got a lot of practice when Ruby was younger. If you think he's bad, you should have seen how much Ruby hated being told it was bedtime."

"I can well imagine," Weiss said. The girl was hyper-active as a fifteen-year-old, so there was no telling what she'd been like as a child. "He ate the protein bar, at least. I'm surprised he mistook it for a normal chocolate bar. These things aren't exactly the nicest things."

"Too chewy," Yang agreed. "Then again, I don't think I've ever seen him eat snacks before. I guess he's forgotten what normal chocolate tastes like. That withdrawal attack seemed shorter than the last one, or is that just wishful thinking on my part?"

"No," Weiss agreed. The relief that washed over her was welcome, and enough to bring a wide smile to her lips. "They don't last as long as they used to, even if he gets them a little more often. From what research I found, that's supposed to be a good thing."

"Still sucks to watch him go through it."

Yes, yes it did. The first few times had been the worst, both for him and for them. He hadn't been prepared for it and couldn't understand what was happening, while they panicked in turn and were just about useless in helping him. The blind leading the blind, they'd argued and meandered, until he bit his tongue so hard it bled and the shakes slowly drifted away. They'd gotten better over the past few days, but it didn't get rid of that same frustration. She wished this were some enemy they could fight, something they could deal with through skill and determination, but it wasn't and all their vaunted training was useless. All they could do was stay close by and offer comfort as he rode it out himself.

"Distracting him seemed to help," Blake piped up. "Maybe I should find some books for him to read, or ones to read to him. Not mine," she added defensively when they looked her way.

"Might as well be," Yang grinned. "It's not like he doesn't know what sex is."

"I'm not reading those kinds of scenes to my… to someone like…"

"Your father?"

"I didn't say that, Yang."

"But you meant it." The blonde laughed at Blake's scowl. "Chill, I don't mean it in a bad way. I know what you mean, he isn't but he's something else, something close to it but without a word to explain it. I'd say it's like an older brother, but that doesn't quite fit. It's more like an older brother whose opinion is more important than usual."

"Like an older brother who raised you when your parents died," Blake filled in.

"Yeah… I guess that's as good a fit as any. Doesn't fit as well, though, so I'm gonna keep calling him dad."

"Idiot," Blake sighed. "Just try to avoid setting the room on fire."

"Oi! I was a kid."

"Wait, you mean that story was true?"

"We can't all have easy Semblances," Yang grumbled. She looked like she might have tackled Blake but didn't want to move Jaune now that he was peacefully slumbering. "Some people get convenient things like clones, I get my body going up in flames. You should have seen Ruby, though." Yang sighed and shook her head. "The body isn't really ready to suddenly go from normal to super speed with no warning, nor to do it in reverse. It was lucky she had her aura or she'd have hurt herself with all the times she ran into walls, misjudged how long it would take to slow down, tripped or misunderstood the physics of momentum when running up to hug people."

Weiss winced at the thought of a small girl crashing into her at goodness knows how many miles per hour. Compared to that, her glyphs seemed wonderfully simple. Of course, she'd had the benefit of the best teachers money could buy.

"Well at least you bot-" Blake cut off and looked down towards their leader. "He's having another nightmare," she hissed. Jaune's face flinched just the slightest bit, the lines about his eyes tightening. They were never obvious things and sometimes it felt like Blake was the only one to notice them. Or not, it appeared, as Zwei pushed his nose up under the man's chin.

"Hey, hey," Yang whispered and touched his hair. It didn't seem to help. "Should we wake him up? I know he needs his sleep but-"

"No. He needs sleep." Weiss leaned across to place a hand against his forehead. Jaune's temperature was high, but not unbearably so. She moved her hand down to his cheek as she tried to think of some way to help, but his movements began to still entirely.

"Well done," Blake said.

"I… I didn't do anything."

"Well, whatever you didn't do helped." Blake smiled to show she didn't mean any insult. "It feels like he has these nightmares every time…"

"He has good reason to," Yang said. "All I'll say is that Torchwick should count himself lucky he died. If I could get my hands on him after what he did…" Weiss nodded.

"I know, Yang. We all feel the same, believe me."

The three of them sat there for the next ten minutes or so, content to talk quietly between themselves as Jaune slept. His naps were often too deep to awake from easily, but he didn't have any more nightmares and seemed at peace for once. Eventually, however, a knock at the door interrupted the tableau. Weiss left to open it, and blinked in surprise at who was outside.

"Oh, Winter." Weiss blinked at her older sister. "Do you want to come in?"

"I wouldn't want to intrude," the older woman said pleasantly. "I can see your partner is taking some rest and I don't want to interrupt. I was wondering if I could borrow you for a little while, Weiss." Borrow her? Weiss bit her lip and looked back to her team, but Yang caught her eyes and shrugged.

"We'll be fine," the blonde said. "He's not going anywhere and Ruby and Nora made him promise to play games with them later, so they'll keep an eye on him. You can go and talk with your sister."

"You're sure?"

"We won't let anything happen," Blake promised.

/-/

Weiss dusted some crumbs from her chin and laid the napkin down on the table. Though they hadn't left Beacon, Winter had brought her to a more private area set aside for visiting dignitaries and important guests. The food was the same fare, but served at their table, and it afford some privacy, not to mention a beautiful view of Beacon's gardens. The weather was warm and soft. It might be nice to bring Jaune out for some fresh air, in fact. They always did say sunlight was good for the human body.

"I've lost you again, haven't I?"

Weiss blinked, and then immediately felt the blood rush to her cheeks when she saw her sister's indulgent smile. "I-I apologise, Winter. I was just thinking about-"

"Your partner?"

"Yes," she nodded. It took her a second to realise what that sounded like, and she quickly added, "About his recovery, I mean. I was just thinking some fresh air might serve him well."

"How is he?"

"Better! He hasn't yet recovered, not from what happened." Or from the malnutrition. "There is progress, however. I'm confident he'll be back to normal within a week or so, although we'll still need to keep an eye on him."

"That is good to hear. You've been caring for him quite thoroughly. I have hardly seen you these last four days." Winter dipped a spoon into her tea and stirred it.

"Ah, I apologise. I didn't mean to ignore you, it's just that he is my partner and teammate. His recovery-"

"I understand, dear sister. Worry not, I'm hardly offended. In fact, it speaks well of you to take such responsibility seriously."

Once upon a time, that praise might have meant something to her, but now all she could think of was whether he was okay and how Yang and Blake were holding up. Don't be silly, she told herself. You've been gone an hour at most. He's probably still sound asleep.

"I did want to talk to you on one matter, however," Winter continued. "It is about your recent mission and its conclusion." Weiss paid only minimal attention, but hummed nonetheless. "At the end of it, I can't help but criticise how you placed yourself in harm's way."

That surprised her. Enough so as to bring her back to reality and make her stare at her sister. "Excuse me?"

"Your partner," Winter explained. "I understand that he was not in control of himself, and he can hardly be blamed for that. Still, it was a risky prospect for you to rush in like you did and try to calm him."

"Jaune wouldn't hurt me, or any of us," she added. "He wouldn't hurt his team."

"Not when he is in his right mind, perhaps, but you and I both know he wasn't at that time. There was a good chance he wouldn't be even capable of recognising you as being on his team. He might have even hallucinated and seen you as a Grimm." Winter leaned forward. "Your casual disregard for your safety might have cost you your life, Weiss."

"It didn't, though."

"No, and for that we can call this episode closed. However, if something like that were to occur again in the future, it would be best to err on the side of caution. Your partner could have been subdued without any risk to you or anyone else."

Weiss took a deep breath and look at her sister. "There would have been a risk to him."

"Admittedly," Winter said, a little surprised, "but no more than what he already faced. In a situation like that, it's the responsibility of a commanding officer to make the best decision for everyone."

"I'll keep that in mind and pass it on to our commanding officer once he's recovered. Unfortunately, he was a little indisposed at the time."

"There's no need for cheek, Weiss."

"I'm sure I have no idea what you mean, Winter." Weiss said. She kept her gaze steady as she looked at the older woman. Inside, however, her mind was running wild. What am I doing? I've never argued with Winter like this before.

"When he was incapacitated, which can be mentally as well as physically, it would fall on you to make the right choice in his stead."

"I believe I made the right decision."

"Putting yourself in harm's way was not the right decision, Weiss. It feels like you're allowing your emotions to influence your decisions."

"Yes," Weiss snapped. "Yes, I am."

"That is not something to be proud of."

Weiss felt a flare of irritation at the look on her sister's face. She scowled and pushed her seat back a little, though she didn't stand and leave entirely. "I am quite content with the choice I made, thank you. My team came out unhurt and Blake and Yang approve of how I helped our leader. More importantly, he came out unharmed from the encounter, whereas subduing him might have led to injury. I made that decision based on my emotions, I agree, but I don't regret it."

"Weiss, a leader needs to make clear and calculated decisions."

"Perhaps you misunderstood my letters, sister. I am not the leader of my team."

"No, but you are a Schnee. In time, you will become a leader, be that of a team, business or something else."

"I don't intend to usurp that position from my partner."

"After Beacon," Winter sighed and rolled her eyes. "While you might not be a leader now, you surely will be in time."

After Beacon? After her team? She'd forgotten there would ever be an after, and that thought unsettled her. She would be quite content remaining on their team and doing missions together. That wasn't so unlikely, was it? Surely, other teams did the same. She decided not to mention that to Winter. It would only lead to another argument.

"Your relationship with your partner is clouding your mind. It's already led to this and I'm just concerned what it might lead to in the future."

"My relationship?" Weiss laughed. "Jaune rejected me, Winter, and quite publically at that. There is no relationship between us."

"He did reject you," Winter said, "but that does not seem to have stopped you from pining after him. Do not think I haven't noticed, Weiss. Your attraction towards him, and I have no idea what it is you find as such… it's going to lead to disaster."

Weiss' temper flared but she bit down on it. She had to resist the instinctive desire to list off his best qualities too, but that would just prove Winter's point. Yes, she had been rejected and yes, it hadn't meant an end to her feelings. Had someone expected it would? Did they not say that a Schnee did not give up? Was it not a lesson she'd been taught so many times before, that a Schnee persevered where others faltered – and that a Schnee could attain anything they wanted? "I'm not sure where this conversation is going, Winter."

"Weiss…" The older woman sighed and crossed her arms on the table before her. Winter's expression was neutral, a little too neutral, as though she was uncertain how her following words would be taken. "After some time to think about it," she began, "I have decided that I cannot approve of the relationship between you and your partner. I apologise, Weiss."

"Okay."

"Okay?" Winter blinked in surprise. "Well… I admit, I expected you to take the news worse than that. It might be best to consider requesting a change of team or an assignment to-"

"That won't be necessary, Winter."

"Excuse me…?"

Weiss looked up from the table, eyes as cold as ice. Her smile felt brittle too, but not quite as tempestuous as her thoughts, which swirled like a blizzard. "I said, that won't be necessary. I already have a team here at Beacon, and I have no intention of seeing that change."

"Did you not hear what I said?"

"I heard. You said that you did not approve." Weiss turned her head to the side.

"I do not."

"I fail to see how your disapproval inhibits me. I choose who I spend my time with, not you."

"Is that so?" Winter asked. She seemed surprised and not without good reason. Her approval always mattered before, no matter the subject. Weiss never did anything that would make her look bad in her sister's eyes.

Things have changed now, though. I am sorry Winter, but I have a family to look out for and I simply don't trust the three of them to make it through without me. "It is so," she said. "I appreciate your concern, but I believe it is time to make my own decisions. I hope you can understand, but I will accept if you cannot."

"I understand," Winter said, eyes narrowed. "I understand that you are making a grave mistake. Look at the events that have transpired around you thanks to that team. As a Schnee, you are already a target for the White Fang, but things have only gotten worse for you. You could have died facing Torchwick and the White Fang in that warehouse, and now you could have died against them both in Mountain Glenn. Your partner… no, your entire team, are a liability that might get you killed."

"If so, then I'll be there to stop it," Weiss snapped. Her own words surprised her, or perhaps the tone she took with her sister, who looked equally shocked. Weiss took that moment's hesitation and ran with it. "My place is here and I have made my decision, Winter. Not you, not father, not even the world itself can change that."

Winter opened her mouth to speak but soon decided against it and shook her head instead. Weiss was prepared for a counter-argument, for whatever point her sister might raise, but Winter no doubt realised and decided now was not the time. "He has been trying to reach you."

Weiss' eyes narrowed. "Father?" she asked, and waited for her sister's nod. "What does he want?"

"The same thing as ever, I would assume. You cannot ignore him, Weiss. He is your father."

"Our father," Weiss said, "and yet I don't see you rushing back to Atlas."

"My responsibilities preclude me from such."

"As do mine."

"Responsibilities can be changed."

"These can't."

"Are you so sure?"

Weiss' hands curled into fists atop the table. She eyed her sister, but the older woman showed nothing on her face. "What are you trying to say? My partner is injured and I don't have the patience for word games, Winter."

"I simply mean what I said, Weiss. You pointed out that not I, not father, nor the world itself could change your circumstances." Winter lifted one hand to push some hair away, and also display the Schnee snowflake on the collar of her uniform. "You ought to remember that it's not exactly true. Father is as influential as he is powerful."

"Is that a threat?"

"No. I disapprove, but I would never threaten my own sister." Winter smiled to make it clear there was no animosity between them, and it allowed Weiss to relax just a little bit. "It's simply a little advice, crossed with a warning. If father sees no results in trying to speak with you cordially, he might take a more assertive route."

The warning was clear, clear enough to make Weiss' mouth feel dry. Through economic, political or plain old connections, her father could reach her, even in Vale. "I will keep your words in mind, Winter."

"That's all I ask." Winter sighed and stood up from her seat, to step past her. As she did, she let a hand fall onto Weiss' shoulder. "When your partner is awake, wish him well for me. Though I may not approve of you and he together, I find him to be an… interesting person. I would be disappointed if he fell to the machinations of Torchwick."

"Thank you… I shall pass on your well wishes."

Winter nodded and moved away, heels echoing until she was gone entirely. Still at the table, hands balled into fists before her, Weiss let out a long breath and leaned back. She almost expected her scroll to ring at that very moment, but life was not so ironic and her father made no such attempt. It did little to lessen the weight on her shoulders, however.

He always had that effect on her.

/-/

Yang dragged Blake down one of the halls and away from their room. Nora and Ruby had shown up to keep an eye on Jaune, and she trusted her little sister enough to know he was in good hands. Also, Nora was bizarrely reliable in her own way. You wouldn't trust her with just about anything in any normal situation, but if it was serious enough, you could trust her with a live dust explosive and a truck full of babies. Jaune was neither, but he certainly whined like one every time they needed to force food into him.

"Yang, what is it?" Blake asked, not exactly thrilled to be tugged down the corridor.

"We need a daughter – daughter conference."

"Can't it wait?"

"Yes."

"Will it wait?" Blake sighed when she was still being dragged along.

"No."

Blake sighed and gave in, and it only took another five minutes or so to drag her partner into Port's classroom, disused as it was since lessons were off for a week or two because of so many people being on missions. She latched the door shut behind her and stalked over to the main desk. Blake sat down atop it, but watched warily as Yang stalked back and forth.

"Yang, what's the matter?" she finally asked.

"Jaune."

"Well, yes, I guessed that. I don't see the problem, though. He's getting better." Blake shrugged. "Slowly, I'll admit – but he's going to make a full recovery."

Yang turned to face her partner with an agitated expression. "What about next time?" she asked. "Will he be okay the next time he rushes off into danger and nearly gets himself killed? The time after, or the time after that?"

"I… I'm not sure what you mean."

"It's…" Yang sighed and threw her arms in the air. "It's not you, Blake. It's… I'm just worried about what's causing all of this from him. When we first met him, he was lazy and unmotivated, and now that we're becoming some weird kind of anti-terrorist squad, I'm worried he won't be able to keep up, especially if he keeps rushing into danger like this. It's like a Spruce Willis movie, except that he doesn't get the benefit of months to recover before the sequel."

"Interesting analogy…"

"Do you get my point, though?"

"Vaguely," Blake sighed and placed her hands behind her, pushing herself up so she could kneel atop the desk. "You're worried we're treating his injuries, only for him to rush off and get hurt again." Yang slammed a hand down on the desk.

"Exactly! I love him, I really do, but that means it hurts to see him like this, and it's becoming a more and more regular thing. I'm just worried his luck can't hold forever. Hell, with everything that happens, he doesn't even have luck. It's more brute-forced stubbornness. You can't tell me you haven't noticed?"

"Of course I have, Yang." Blake looked up towards the ceiling and let out a long breath. "I feel like I noticed it before anyone else, not that I could place what it was at the time. In fact, this all started because of my running away."

"The docks?"

"Hmm." Blake nodded. "That was when he first started to act out, at least in terms of actually fighting in dangerous situations. After that it was the two of us hunting down warehouses, and that moved into Mountain Glenn." Blake looked away with a frown. "All three of those cases included the White Fang, and all three were initiated because of a mistake I made. Maybe it's me that's the real problem here…"

"You're not the problem," Yang said firmly.

"How can you say that, though? This recent episode happened because I nearly got caught and he pulled me back. If it wasn't for that-"

"Then you would have been through it in his place," she interrupted. It still wasn't the big problem though, and she didn't want Blake to miss that. "Keep in mind, you were only there because you followed him after he left camp. Jaune was the one to make the first move, and that's what bothers me. What if this continues, Blake? What if he keeps throwing himself in trouble like this. Something is going to give some day, and I think we both know what that will be. His body already failed this time and he could have died." Yang's eyes were deadly serious. "He might not be so lucky next time."

"I know, Yang. This is why I asked you and Weiss to help me with the warehouses. I could see he was working himself to exhaustion. He got furious at us, though. What are we supposed to do about it here?"

"He was angry," Yang agreed, "but he was alive."

Blake looked at her for a few seconds before she groaned into the palm of her hand. "I can already tell I'm not going to like this."

"You probably won't and neither will Jaune, but I feel like it has to be done."

"What about Weiss?"

"Ah, I kind of want to keep it separate from her." Yang tried to look innocent but the way Blake's eyes narrowed ruined it somewhat. "It's not because it's bad," she said. "I just… I feel like Weiss is already putting enough into our team. Maybe even too much. Jaune may be our leader technically, but she's the one who does the most work and she's already worried sick about him and that's before her feelings are brought into it." Yang shrugged helplessly. "I just feel like we should give her a break and do this on our own. We can call it the Daughterly Duo or something."

"I'll agree to whatever this is so long as you don't call it that." Blake sighed and wrapped her arms around her knees. "So, I take it this is about trying to find out why he suddenly decided to wander off into an abandoned wasteland on his own?"

"That among many things." Yang pushed past Blake to the teacher's board, and for a moment even considered using the chalk to draw on it. It would be kinda pointless, though, and what she was about to say really didn't need to be spread across school. "Do you remember when you first revealed you were a faunus? Do you remember what he said about the White Fang?"

"Hard not to. He hates them. Not just the Schnee kind of hate, but a deeper, emotional kind."

"Like he's lost someone to them," Yang agreed. "He also went out of his way to kill them at the docks. We always assumed it was because he had no choice, but there should still have been some hesitation." Yang looked to her partner, and it didn't take Blake long to put the pieces together.

"Unless he wanted to kill them," Blake said. "I always assumed he just didn't have a problem killing, but now that I think about it, it's only the White Fang he's killed in that way."

"He fought to kill Torchwick on the train, or from what you saw," Yang added, "but that could have been because he was working with them, or maybe just the drugs. The point is, he has some obvious history with them and I can't help but think it's going to lead to disaster."

"I thought it was strange when he agreed to help me with the warehouses so easily… I assumed it was just because he didn't trust me not to get hurt, but he didn't put much effort into trying to convince me to stop." Blake looked up. "Do you think he wanted to raid them?" Yang shrugged.

"Maybe, or maybe it was a bit of both. I don't know. What I do know, is that it looks to have cropped up again in Mountain Glenn, and that led to him getting in trouble for it."

"And you want it to stop," Blake surmised. "That's what this plan is."

Yang nodded, a determined expression across her face. Whether he did it for the right or wrong reasons, it was still a dangerous game he was playing. Saving Blake was one thing, and she'd never criticise that, but Mountain Glenn? That had just been foolish. "We need to know the reasons first, though," Yang said. "That's what I need your help for. I've been trying to figure him out for ages but I'm coming up with nothing. All I've got is that he hates the Fang, enough to suggest he lost someone to them, and that he'll go out of his way to look after us."

"He fears it happening again… the White Fang taking someone, I mean."

"That's a fair bet."

Blake's expression scrunched up as she recalled something. A few moments later she slapped a hand into her face and groaned.

"What is it?" Yang asked.

"Back when Jaune and I first met. I only just really remembered it. It might shine a little light on the whole thing, at least I think so."

Ooh, story time? Yang motioned for Blake to give her a little room and then clambered up onto the desk and crossed her legs beneath her. Port might have had something to say, especially since there were seats all across the room, but that made it all feel too much like work.

"It was on a train," Blake began. "I was running a mission with the White Fang, and my mentor specifically, Adam Taurus. The vehicle was supposed to just be a dust shipment from the SDC, travelling to Vale through Forever Fall. For some reason, it was running mixed cargo, though, with dust at the back and passengers up front. Jaune and his family were among them." The faunus looked lost for a moment but quickly recovered. "I won't go into the reasons why we were there… I'm sure you can guess them, but after we'd cleared up some of the SDC droids, Adam decided to set explosives to destroy the train and the dust."

"What about the passengers?"

Blake laughed dryly. "That's what I said. Those were the very words that caused me to give up on the White Fang."

It didn't take a genius to figure out what her old partner's words must have been, and Yang winced sympathetically. At least she knew how the story ended, since she'd met Jaune's family and she had the feeling he would have killed Blake on sight if she'd been responsible for their deaths. "How did that end up with you meeting Jaune?" Yang asked.

"We…" Blake sighed and covered her face with one hand. "It was while I was arguing with him over the bomb. Jaune was in the room, along with one other person. It was a dust storage compartment and not exactly somewhere where you'd have expected to find passengers… but I guess that was the whole point of him being there."

"He was having sex with someone, wasn't he?"

"Mid-coitus," Blake groaned. Yang's grin grew to shit-eating proportions, but the faunus only glared at her. "Laugh it up, Yang, but it was almost enough to scar me for life. Needless to say, the appearance of two naked people was a little bit of a surprise… enough so that Adam didn't even think to kill the woman as she ran away. That didn't leave Jaune in a good spot, though, since he was naked, unarmed and in front of two dangerous terrorists with a vested interest in making sure he couldn't raise the alarm."

"Knowing Jaune, I'm guessing running away wasn't his solution."

"More like antagonising the dangerous man with a sword," Blake agreed. "He just started to crack jokes about how Adam was compensating for his penis length with his sword, and how he'd have to step in if we set that bomb. At the time, it was ridiculous, but the thing now is…"

Yang tried to smile but it fell a little flat. Blake's silence said it all, and the implications weren't lost on her, either. "You know full well he would have done it."

"Yes… it's… he would have died for sure, no matter how tricky he is, Adam is well-trained and dangerous and Jaune… well, he was stark naked. You're right though, he would have rushed in, he would have given his life to try and help his family, even if the odds were as good as nothing."

"This is why I want to form the Daughterly Duo," Yang said. "This is the exact problem I want to try and fix. We need to find out why and what causes or caused this, and then understand it. We can then figure out when it's going to happen again, and take steps to help him so he doesn't get captured and messed up like he did here."

"You have me, then," Blake said. "The train fiasco went a little weird from there, but it's not worth going over. SDC droids interrupted, I took the chance to get the…" Blake flushed. "To get what I assumed was a helpless civilian out of danger, and yes, Yang, I realise how stupid that is now. Either way, I thought he was innocent and weak and decided to help him out and we got away. I disconnected the cars so that my old partner and the bomb would drift off and Jaune turned off- no…"

"Blake?"

"I'm such an idiot," Blake sighed. "Before it ended, an SDC droid tried to kill me and Jaune saved me from it. When I asked him how, he said he turned it off. He gave me some stupid story about how he found the switch on the back."

"You believed that? Seriously?"

"It was a stressful situation, Yang. I'd nearly died multiple times, run around with a naked guy who had his… his thing waving around in my face-"

"It's called a dick, Blake. You can say it. We're both adults."

"-and also thrown my old life away." Blake glared and pointedly did not say it. "The point is, I wasn't thinking straight and just saw eight of my nine lives flash before my eyes, so forgive me for not noticing the small discrepancy. How else would a naked civilian have turned off a military robot?"

"So, he was saving you even back then," Yang said. "Heck, I'm a little surprised… if he hated the White Fang so much, why would he help you? I mean, it makes sense by the time of the docks, since you probably grew on him – but there on the train?"

"I have no idea. He knew when I entered Beacon, though, and that's why I was so leery around him."

"That was the reason for the whole name thing?" Yang laughed. "Oh my god, that's rich. He was passive-aggressive bitching at you for being ex-White Fang."

"It felt serious to me back then," Blake growled. "He could have exposed my secret at any time. I still don't know why he didn't… maybe he wanted to see if I'd stick to my conviction and leave the White Fang behind. Maybe that was why he helped me in the first place, because he figured creating a White Fang traitor would be better than a White Fang corpse." She shrugged. "All he had to do for the latter was let the droid finish me, or even tell the authorities who I was when we arrived in Vale."

"But he did neither," Yang said. "I get it, that is odd."

"I feel like it has to do with the White Fang. Every single time he's acted out, it's been for that. The train, the docks, the warehouses and the mission. He hasn't so much as raised a finger unless they're involved somehow." Blake stared at the desk for a few moments, before her eyes widened. "Do you think he became a huntsman for that reason? What if he came to Beacon because he wanted to get vengeance on them and figured this would be the best way."

Yang winced. "I… don't think that was the reason."

"No, it fits." Blake was on a roll and wouldn't see her theory dismissed. "The authorities are no use, we know that. Look at how late they arrived to the docks. It was an inferno, for crying out loud. There is no way they weren't bribed off if they didn't see that. Huntsmen, however, are free to respond to any threat and are better suited to fighting against terrorists. It would give him legal immunity to find and kill every White Fang he found. It has to b-"

"It's not," Yang interrupted. Her stomach twisted itself into knows, but she clenched her eyes shut and pushed on. "That's not the reason he became a huntsman."

"Then what is?" Blake asked. "What else fits?"

Shame pooled inside her, and it was hard to force herself to face it. She was used to making mistakes, but this one festered still. If this was all to work, though, then Blake needed to know the truth – they needed to share what they knew, to help him. "He didn't become a huntsman by choice," Yang said. "He became a huntsman because of me. Because of my fuck up."

Blake listened attentively as Yang explained the way she and Jaune first met. She covered everything, from her reasons for being there, to how she approached him and grew suspicious when he showed a reaction to a picture of her missing mother. The fight, looking back on it, shed all sorts of illumination on him. He hadn't been on her skill level, but he'd been impossible to piut down… a veritable berserker who just kept on coming. He had been smashed too, which definitely should have impacted on his ability to even throw a punch. The dark-haired girl didn't interrupt, however. She simply waited until Yang was finished, until – with a weary expression – Yang explained how Jaune took a bullet for her and joined Beacon.

"If it wasn't for him, I'd have been in a jail cell," she finished. "He did something he didn't want to do, signed up for something he had no interest in, just to bail me – a girl who attacked him – out of trouble."

"That's why you were so defensive of him at first," Blake whispered. "I always wondered… you were always so quick to leap to his defence."

Yang laughed bitterly, head between her hands. "Can you blame me? I owed him so much. I still do… and do you know the worst part?" She looked up with a frustrated smile. "I don't even regret it."

"What!?"

"How can I regret it, Blake? It was the biggest mistake of my life and got him in trouble, but if I hadn't done it, if we hadn't been arrested, then he wouldn't be here." Blake's eyes widened, but Yang carried on. "Every time I think back on it, I feel like I should be guilty, but deep inside – I'm not. It's selfish as all hell, but I really do love this team. I wouldn't want to change anything; I don't want to change anything. If I could go back, I'd walk straight up to him and deck him in the face." Yang shrugged one shoulder. "I'd say sorry straight after, but I'd do it."

"That's…" Blake shook her head. "Honestly, I can't say you're wrong on either account. It is selfish, and it goes against his desires, but… but I guess I'm selfish too. I wouldn't want to imagine a team without you guys. It wasn't what I expected, nor what I thought I wanted." She laughed. "A Schnee, a crazy and the one guy on Remnant who knew my darkest secret. I wasn't exactly thrilled."

"I can imagine. Still, I guess you can see why I don't exactly like to let you take the blame for Jaune getting hurt. If it wasn't for me, he'd be back home, safe in his village, surrounded by family. I basically forced him to make a shitty choice, between himself and some random girl. That he chose me…"

"It's as unlikely as him choosing to help me on the train," Blake realised. "It makes no sense, none whatsoever. I mean, at least with the docks, it could be argued he and I were closer, or maybe that I reminded him of the person he lost, but…" Blake looked Yang up and down. "You and I hardly look similar, Yang. There's no way he could have felt that same guilt for both of us."

"And even if he did, there's a difference between our cases," Yang agreed. "You, at least, made it clear to him that you wanted to stop the bombing. Me? I was a huge idiot and pretty much deserved whatever I got." Yang took a deep breath and let it go in one explosive sigh. "Do you see what I mean, Blake? There's… there's something here. I don't know what, and he sure as hell isn't going to tell me, but whatever it is, it's what is making him go into these dangerous situations. If we can find out what it is, we can help him – we can make sure we don't cause them again."

"And we can make sure he isn't hurt because of us," Blake finished. Her amber eyes were determined. "Alright, I'm convinced. I can also see why it might be best to keep this away from Weiss. She's liable to go straight to him and demand answers."

"And we both know how that would end."

"He distracts people whenever they ask something he doesn't want to answer." Blake smirked. "With Weiss, I can only think of one thing. She might like it, but it wouldn't help us get any closer to the truth. We need a different route." Blake's brow creased in thought, but she noticed Yang's confident expression. "You already have an idea, don't you?"

"I might," Yang shrugged. "With the tournament coming up, it's almost guaranteed that his family will come down to watch him compete, even if they're not keen on him being here. If we need to find out more about his past, that seems the obvious choice."

"That's weeks away, though."

"Which is why it's option number two," Yang said. She held up her scroll with a small grin. "Funny thing about older sisters, Blake. We tend to stick together and help out in looking after our younger siblings. I've not had much reason to use it, but I have Sapphire's number."

"Was she…?"

"The oldest," Yang filled in, "and also the one most likely to remember Jaune when he was younger."

"That's a good start, but you could have done that on your own," Blake pointed out. "Why did you ask me to join you with this if it was just that?" Yang grinned at her, and kept grinning until the girl's expression fell. "You have something worse planned for me, don't you?"

"You get to put that sneakiness to the test, Blakey. The headmaster wanted him in for a reason and I think we ought to know what that reason is."

"You want me to sneak into the headmaster's office? Yang, are you insane!?"

"That's one option," Yang said with a little shrug. "But there's a perfectly good source of information in our room too. He just needs… convincing to share."

"Convince Jaune to talk," Blake groaned. "Somehow that feels even worse…"

"Headmaster's office or Jaune," Yang grinned. "Dealer's choice, I suppose."

"I hate you, Yang."

"Daughterly Duo! Whoo!"

"I really hate you."

/-/

"Ma'am, what should we do?"

Cinder glanced up towards Emerald, who stood a few metres away with a worried expression. Mercury hovered in the background, for all intents not paying attention, but she knew better. They were both nervous from recent events, or more specifically the loss of their original plan. Cinder hummed. "Whatever do you mean, Emerald?"

"Our plan…" The green-haired girl looked about nervously, but they were locked within their room and no one could hear them. It had been their first task, to carefully check the room for anything that might record or listen in. Beacon had no such things, of course, but it never hurt to be careful. "With Torchwick dead, doesn't that prevent us from using the airships to turn the Paladins against people?"

"It does." Cinder smiled and closed her eyes, but she could still hear the girl's bated breath.

"Isn't that a problem?" Emerald asked. "Don't we need that?"

"It might have been a problem, had that plan still been viable. With the recent turn of events, it would seem that the General's robots will not be coming here after all." And because of that, they now no longer had any need for Roman's service, or his survival. "This is nothing but a temporary reprieve for them. The entire reason we desired to take control of those creations was to prevent them being used against us. Now, the issue has resolved itself."

"So this is a good thing?"

"Neither good nor bad," Cinder smiled. "It is simply a variable."

"You're taking this rather well, ma'am."

She was, was she? In all truth, it was a little bit of yes and a little bit of no. Her frustration simmered beneath the surface still, but she knew better than to let it show. Mercury and Emerald needed their fears assuaged, and that required her complete confidence. Even were it not for them, however, she would still have remained calm. "No plan survives contact with the enemy. I expected there might be some issues as time went on. There's no point becoming upset when something doesn't go your way."

"The plan still goes ahead, then?"

"It does. All this calls for are a few small… adjustments. You may leave that with me."

Emerald nodded, and in the back of the room, Mercury's shoulders loosened a little as well. Despite their constant bickering, the two worked in almost perfect synchronicity… it was one of the reasons she was so willing to put up with their noise. Keeping them happy was not necessary, but keeping them confident was. She did not believe they would ever dare betray her, but even the most loyal of people would jump from a sinking ship.

Not that theirs was just yet. She meant every word she said, after all. The plan would need to change, but she'd expected it might from the start. You could not know the actions of the enemy. You could only predict them, and make sure to have a contingency plan in place should they move in an unexpected direction.

"For now, there is not much to worry about," Cinder said. "We have a few weeks until the festival and it would be in our best interests to lay low for that. We want as many people to be present in those stands as possible, after all. It would not do to scare them off so soon."

"What about the team that got him killed?"

Cinder's hands stilled. Her eyes narrowed as a sharp breath left her. That team, Jazzberry… such an innocuous name for so troublesome a group of individuals. She might have dismissed one time as pure chance, but those four had haunted Roman's steps for months. She'd accused him of being incompetent, but their latest performance proved the truth. Not that he could enjoy proving her wrong. Four little teens… they should not be such a problem, but I cannot afford to underestimate then when they killed Roman.

"We will need to learn more about them," she said. "Mercury, Emerald, the two of you should use this time to mingle with our peers and find out what they know."

"Should we try to make contact with them?"

"No." Cinder shook her head. "They have already proven dangerous. It would do no good for you to risk your lives like that." Not when she still had a use for the two of them. "Find out what you can without drawing attention to yourselves. Focus… focus on the leader and Miss Schnee especially. Those two have been the most irksome."

"Got it." Mercury pushed off the wall and smirked. It fell off his face a moment later, however. "Geez, I still can't believe they'd up and do that to Torchwick, though. That guy slit his throat from ear to ear."

"Rumour has it he was drugged," Emerald said.

"Then remind me not to slip him anything. I need my throat for talking."

"I don't know… maybe we could ask him just to nick your vocal chords. I wouldn't complain."

"Children," Cinder chided. She smiled indulgently at them. "The two of you go and see what you can find. I can use my little virus to search through the headmaster's terminal and try to find some more information on those four."

"Yes ma'am." The two spoke in unison and left the room. Cinder let out a soft sigh, but it was interrupted when she felt a weak tug on her sleeve.

"Hmm?" Cinder glanced down at her lap, into the tear-stained eyes that rested there. The small girl was slumped over the mattress, face against her stomach as her tiny hands clung to her dress. "I'm still here, Neo," Cinder crooned, and started to run her fingers through the girl's soft hair once more. "Shh… you need not fear."

The girl tugged once more, and unlike before, didn't settle back down to cry against her. Those mismatched eyes were bloodshot red, but still managed to pierce her own. They seemed to ask a burning question. It didn't take long to figure out what it was.

"The young man who murdered Roman?" Cinder asked. The girl nodded, and settled back down as Cinder stroked her hair. "Worry not, my dear. He won't be allowed to get away with taking dear Roman away. We shall both have our revenge."

Neo nodded weakly against her stomach. The girl had been broken for a few days now, destitute and inconsolable as she wept at the loss of someone that even Cinder couldn't define. Father-figure, lover, obsession? What Roman and Neo once had was a mystery, but also moot now that the man was dead. What Neo had now was quite simple… she had nothing.

But nothing is just what would best serve me, Cinder thought with a smirk. After all, even the coldest of hears could find itself crushed beneath the weight of grief. Comfort in those times could be hard to come by… enough so that one might crave it from even the most unlikely sources. Cinder's eyes flashed with glee as she continued to coo and stroke the girl's hair and back. Neo had nothing left, and so she could now step in and become her everything. So weak, so vulnerable… so malleable.

You may have robbed me of one pawn, but you've perhaps given me something far more interesting, Ozpin. I'll be sure to thank you in person. But for now, she had to put the pieces back together again. Neo was broken and would need to be remade – perhaps in a new image that best served her needs.

"You'll have your revenge, Neo," Cinder whispered. "In fact, I believe the one responsible for poor Roman's fate is someone who might need to be removed soon enough. Doesn't that sound wonderful?"

The girl nodded frantically and took several heaving breaths.

"Shh… it's okay. He'll be avenged, my dear, don't worry. For now, just stay here with me. I'm still here for you, Neo. I'll always be here for you..."

Cinder's eyes flashed with dark amusement.

"I shall look after you, indeed."


Things and things. Not much to say here, and I kind of need to rush off to do some more cleaning and repair at my parent's house. In terms of what was stolen, it was mostly electronics and stuff - nothing too sentimental. Their bedroom is pretty messed up, however, because the thieves found a safe they had in there and decided to try and break into it. Naturally, that didn't work and they decided to take it out on the bed, walls and dressers, etc, like the most petulant bastards in history.

"Oh, they locked their money away and we can't get to it. Boo-hoo, I am so angst right now. Wah wah!"

Bastards...


Next Chapter: 22nd April

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur