A/N: Alright boys and girls. Here's a big announcement for y'all.
Tending to the Soul is finished.
It's abrupt, it's sudden, but to be honest, it needs to happen. It's not fair for y'all to wait a month and a half for me to upload a chapter. I know I wouldn't like that, and at that point in time, I would probably forget a lot of the plot. That's no fun.
And so I've decided to finish the story, wrapping it up with this chapter. I know there's a lot of loose ends. A lot of things that I hadn't touched upon. I would like you guys, as the readers to draw upon your own conclusions for those things. Who knows, maybe one day I'll get back onto writing this story and finish it up with a more solid ending. For now though, this ending is as good as any, and it'll have to do until I'm able to get my life in order. I apologize for everyone that might have hoped for it to end differently but... Well, that's life for you. :)
I hope you all enjoy the last chapter of Tending to the Soul.
Fear found its way into Jaune's stomach, worming into the pit that was already gnawing its way through him.
Jaune didn't remember much after Professor Ozpin left, his mind a complete haze as he continued through the motions of doing his job, but not really noticing what he was doing. The patrons quickly understood that the boy was quickly going on his way out, and that they should follow suit, most of them already starting to clear out. It didn't take much longer for him to close up the bar and sit at one of his cleaned tables, mind still whirling.
It's been almost a whole year since he left his destroyed town, convinced that he was the last Arc alive.
And now Professor Ozpin was talking about the possibility that some of them might still be alive?
The first emotion that he felt was anger. Angry that Professor Ozpin would play that joke on him. Or maybe the first thing he felt was disbelief. It was hard to figure out what he was really thinking when his mind was just screaming at him the whole time, a headache emerging, making the back of his neck pulse, creeping slowly up to his cheek and ending in the center of his forehead. Jaune put down the rag that he was cleaning with and touched the spot where it hurt the most, squeezing his eyes tightly and hoping that it would disappear.
A creak of the front doorway was just loud enough to get Jaune to raise his head, bloodshot eyes blinking as he took in the sight of a grinning Yang, whose face quickly changed when she saw how haggard Jaune looked. With a blur of speed that was almost comparable to her sisters, Yang was standing besides the boy, a hand on his shoulder.
"Is everything alright Jaune?" The blonde girl kept her voice low, but concern was obviously bleeding its way through her tone, no matter how much she tried to disguise it. Jaune knew what she was trying to do. It wasn't hard to figure out that Jaune was the type of person to dismiss help when offered, and Yang was trying not to set off his knee-jerk response of denying that anything was wrong. It probably would have worked if it wasn't for the fact that Jaune wasn't in the mood for entertaining that kind of gesture, and knowing what she was trying to do only set him off a bit more.
"Everything's fine." Jaune snapped shortly, shrugging her hand off of his shoulder and taking a step away, wringing the almost dry towel with his hands. "I just need to finish cleaning the place, then we can go." He muttered, heading towards the back of the counter again.
"Hiding what's bothering you isn't going to help you know."
Jaune didn't bother stopping, instead continuing his motions robotically, deciding to ignore the girl for now, and trying to keep his mind off of everything by working himself to the bone.
Of course, Yang wouldn't be Yang if she let something like that happen.
Jaune grunted when he felt fingers wrap around his wrist, jerking him around to meet a miffed Yang, whose pursed lips showed that she was running out of patience, and wasn't going to let him do something as childish as mope around. Jaune could see her intention, but wasn't in the mood for any of it.
The word made Yang's eyes flash bright red, a growl escaping her before she was able to push it down, to Jaune's disappointment. He would have rather had a fight then go into a civil conversation. Something about that seemed to make sense to him, Jaune being convinced that it would be a big enough distraction for the night. But like Jaune, Yang could see straight through him, and refused to bite the bait.
"I know what you're trying to do." Yang said levelly. "It's not going to work. And don't think I'm not stubborn enough to pester you until you spill." Jaune scowled at the remark, pulling his arm away from the girl.
Yang let out an angry breath, starting to see that she wasn't going to get through to him this way. Crossing her arms, the girl watched Jaune as he finished all of his duties, his movements clearly mechanical. Her expression softened when she saw a flash of his face as he turned around, Jaune clearly hurt and confused. Trying a different approach, Yang pulled out a chair, sitting down on it, the feet scratching against the hardwood floors loudly enough for Jaune to pause, snapping him out of his reverie. Not really appreciating the interruption, Jaune snapped at the girl.
Yang didn't answer, eyes flickering as she continued to watch Jaune's still form. The way she looked at him made him feel… small. Like a child. It made him feel uncomfortable, reminding him whenever he had been caught doing something by his mother, and getting lectured without her having to say a word. Jaune made a point to turn away from her, continuing to clean without having to look at the blonde girl sitting behind him.
It didn't help any, of course. Jaune didn't really think it would do anything, he just hoped that it would diminish the effect. Unfortunately, it seemed to actually make Jaune even more sensitive to the fact that Yang was staring at him, the aura of… disappointment piercing straight through him. It made not thinking about what Ozpin had said a few hours ago impossible, the fact that Yang wanted to know hammering into his mind and chipping away at his defenses. It only took one good hit for the rest of it to shatter, which came in the form of a gentlest of touches on his shoulder, the boy turning around of his own will and facing Yang, who didn't have a concerned look on her face.
Simply an expression that told him that Yang cared about him, and would be happy to stand by him, even if Jaune decided to never tell her what was wrong.
Collapsing into her arms, Jaune buried his head into her shoulder, finding that he had been crying for a little while now, not realizing it because of how much was going through his mind. Yang wrapped her arms around him, stroking his back and whispering kind words that reached his ears, but never went through his mind. It was kind and gentle though, and was constant enough that Jaune didn't need to understand what was being said, just that Yang was saying it, and that would be enough.
Sniffling, Jaune pulled away, wiping his nose with his sleeve and blinking away the last of his tears, gathering enough strength to pull himself together.
"S-sorry." Jaune hiccupped, still struggling to talk. "I just… I just—"
Yang stopped him from talking, putting a finger on his lips to quiet him, shaking her head slightly.
"It's okay Jaune. You don't have to talk right now." Yang placed a hand on his chest, patting him right above the heart. "Just take your time to tell me. It's okay." She repeated gently. Jaune didn't trust himself to talk, nodding his head in thanks as he closed his eyes, body shaking with… well, he wasn't exactly sure what the emotion he was really feeling was.
It took a minute for Yang to help him up onto his feet. With her around though, Jaune found himself able to finish closing up the bar, locking it up tightly, pulling on the doors to make sure that they were closed.
With Yang always in close proximity, Jaune allowed his mind to wander again, this time into a white haze, where he didn't notice the outside world, to the point where the Bullhead didn't trigger his motion sickness. It was only when Yang tugged him gently to notify that they were standing next to the doorway to his room that he snapped out of it, turning to look at the blonde girl.
"Well, this is your stop." The cheer that Yang was able to deliver was surprisingly genuine, but that was what made her Yang. The spirit was enough to make Jaune smile reflexively, nodding his head weakly at her, appreciative of what she was trying to do.
"Thank you," Jaune said, layering the gratitude in multiple layers. Yang nodded back, knowing what she was being thanked for. A lump rose in his throat, choking what he was going to say next. Without giving him a chance to really say anything, Yang cut in, shaking her head and giving him a bright smile.
"Get some sleep, Jaune." She said, pushing him through the door. "We can all talk about this later."
He nodded, murmuring a half-hearted goodnight to her as he shut the door, crawling into bed and closing his eyes. Exhaustion wasn't sudden, but creeped up on him when he wasn't paying attention, and Jaune drifted off into restless sleep, with dreams of chasing after his family, and his family chasing after him, the last words he heard echoing through his head.
"We can all talk about this later."
Waking up was a difficult thing to do for Jaune. The day starts off pretty groggily, with him not knowing exactly where he was. Even within the comforts of his own apartment it had been like that, but mostly because he wasn't sure if he had fallen asleep on the couch, or the table, or the bed. He wasn't the healthiest of sleepers. It was funny too, because he didn't really sleep much either. It was something about how restless he always was, something about the fact that he always liked to keep moving, whether it was jittering his fingers or moving about, some part of him always liked to keep moving. Keeping busy was a good thing in his mind.
Nevertheless, it wasn't a huge stretch to say that it was difficult for Jaune to get out of bed. Opening his eyes was one thing. Rising from the covers was another.
Jaune couldn't tell how long he had been laying there, staring at the white ceiling, his mind swirling as soon as he realized that he was awake. Sitting up out of bed was a hard thing, but stepping out of it was even harder.
The gargantuan task of moving his legs took an hour or two, or maybe about five minutes, but it wasn't something that Jaune was really keeping track of. All he knew was that it took way too long for his feet to touch the ground, and when they did, the cold hardwood floors seemed to jolt some energy into him, allowing him to stand up, even with his body protesting against the dramatic action. A shower and brushing of teeth followed shortly after, Jaune finally poking his head through his sweater and sighing in relief, the feeling of being clean allowing his mind to free up.
Towards the end of his morning ritual, Jaune heard a sharp rap of knuckles on his door, the thing sliding open before Jaune could even process the sound.
Protests withered as he saw Professor Goodwitch, her expression hesitant as she looked at the Jaune. He turned to look at his drawer, not sure he wanted to look at her at the moment. He took a deep breath and turned to look at the woman anyways, as bright of a smile as he possibly could have put on for her.
"Hey there professor. I didn't expect you to be here—"
The rest of his words were cut off as he strode forwards, wrapping him in a tight hug. It was warm, comforting, and completely unwanted. The action made Jaune's heart sink, but he pushed on, trying to sell the facade.
"W-what's this for Glynda?" Jaune laughed nervously, wrapping his arms around her tightly, but attempting to pull away right after. She didn't let him of course, instead tightening her grip, whispering into his ear.
"I know Jaune. There's no need to fake it around me."
His lip trembled, the words hitting him quickly, making him hurt all over. Still, he tried to push on. "I don't know what you're talking about."
The blonde woman sighed, pulling away as she fixed a stern glare at him, disappointed that he would try to pull something like that past her. Shaking her head, she pushed her glasses up, deciding to be as frank as possible.
"The headmaster told me that there was a possibility that some of your family might have survived the Grimm attack." The woman paused, gauging Jaune's reaction.
"Oh." Jaune said softly, eyes downcast as the mask that he had hastily slapped on slipped off, revealing his true emotions for Professor Goodwitch to see. She hated seeing Jaune look like that. It made the woman feel helpless, which was a rare enough feeling for someone as powerful as she was. Reaching out, she grabbed hold of Jaune's hands, leading him towards the bed, gently telling him to sit down, and taking her place next to him.
"How're you feeling right now?" She asked, eyes still roving his form, looking something. What, she didn't know, but she kept looking, hoping to find a way to get through to the boy that she had grown to care deeply about.
Jaune shrugged, turning to face the woman, a small smile adorned on his face. "Okay I guess. I had a whole night to think about it really, so I think I'm okay."
"Did you get any sleep?"
Jaune nodded, blinking in slight exhaustion at the mention of sleep. "A little. Not much." Another shrug. "Still a little tired I guess."
Professor Glynda showed him a kind smile, a hand patting his shoulder. "I can see how it would be hard to sleep with the kind of information Professor Ozpin gave to you the other night." Jaune let out a little laugh at that, shaking his head and exhaling through his nose.
"Yeah, I guess it was the kind of news that probably wasn't a good idea to get a few hours before I had to go to bed." Jaune grinned at her, before turning away to yawn, covering his mouth hastily.
Seeing Jaune so tired caused a rush of anger to course through Professor Goodwitch, directed irrationally at Headmaster Ozpin. She was frustrated at the fact that the headmaster decided that late at night was a good time to give that kind of devastating news to the young boy. She was normally one to trust the old man on his decisions, but this was one of the few times that ended up causing her to blow up, raining hell onto the man for such a poor decision. Sure, there was probably a reason for it, and even if there wasn't, the man wasn't infallible. That didn't mean that she couldn't get angry at the man, which showed when she left his office in a storm, leaving his desk and possessions strewn across the whole room.
And seeing Jaune like this only helped cement her conviction that doing something like that was wholly called for.
And now she was here to ask a few hard questions, and broach a subject that she didn't really want to approach.
"Do you want us to look any deeper into this?"
Jaune looked at her with an incredulous expression.
"What? Of course I want you to." The boy didn't understand why they wouldn't. Was there something else that he didn't know? Something that would make him not want to look into this? The professor squirmed, uncomfortable with the look that Jaune sent her.
"Of course. It's just..." The professor pursed her lips, trying to think of the right words to say. "There's something that you just have to keep in mind." Jaune tilted his head, curious as to what she had to say. Glad that she had his attention, she continued. "I understand that right now you would want to search and figure out if there were any survivors, but maybe..." The woman closed her eyes, taking in a deep breath before continuing. "Maybe you shouldn't try and figure this out."
The words that Professor Goodwitch were saying and what was going through his mind had to be completely different, right? There was just no way that she would be suggesting that he not look into something like this, right? Not when there could be a possibility that his sisters and his mother and his father could still be alive.
"What... do you mean by that?" Jaune said slowly, pushing down the geyser of emotions that was threatening to spill over.
"I mean that maybe it would be best if you didn't know if they were alive or not."
The words were blunt, but sharp enough to pierce through Jaune. Without knowing it, he had scrambled onto his feet, towering over the older woman, an angry scowl on his face.
"Why would you even think of something like that?" Jaune snarled, pointing a finger at her. "After everything that I've told you, do you really think that I would do something like that? How could you even suggest something like that?"
"Because I care about you, Jaune!" The woman surged forwards, and suddenly, he was the one being towered over. It wasn't her physical form that did so, but the aura that filled the air around her, causing him to close his mouth and look at her, eyes wide as she got close. "I would not suggest something like that unless it was for your benefit Jaune, and don't think I don't know how much it hurts to consider something like that." Even underneath Professor Goodwitch's form, Jaune was defiant, more hurt than angry at this point.
"Then why would you ask me to consider it?" Jaune whispered, throat dry. The professor stared a little longer at him before breaking eye contact, looking older than he had ever seen her before.
"Because it might hurt more in the long run if you don't."
The words were just as quiet, the silence wrapping them both quickly, almost suffocating them as it rushed to fill in the void left by those words. Professor Goodwitch winced, knowing just how dramatic she was sounding, and tried to salvage the conversation.
"… Jaune. I don't want you to misunderstand what I'm trying to say here." Glynda said as kindly as possible, grabbing his hands, trying to calm him down. The blond boy stood there impassively, still unsure of what the professor was trying to say. The woman in front of him took a deep breath, deciding to find another roundabout way to get Jaune to understand her point.
"Jaune, how did you feel when you realized that all of your family was gone?"
There wasn't any real need for a worded answer, Jaune's face twisting in pain at the thought enough to answer the question.
"Exactly." Professor Goodwitch nodded, moving on before he could dwell on those memories again. "And now that the Headmaster has so… graciously revealed that there's a possibility of some of your family surviving through the attack, how do you feel now?"
And once again Jaune's face changed, this time to the emotions that he had felt earlier while thinking about this, before Professor Goodwitch had walked into his room. Hope, uncertainty, a slight edge of fear. And once again all the professor needed was the expression on Jaune's face to answer her question for her.
"I don't understand why that would make me want to give up on my search." Jaune argued, eyebrows creasing. The professor reached over and pat Jaune's hand, a sympathetic smile on her face.
"I'm getting to that point," She said, although not unkindly. Jaune nodded, turning his hand over and letting her grip slide into his, warmth suffusing him. "Right now it's not a bad thing. I know you probably feel a little uncertain. There's probably a lot of doubt going through your mind right now. But mostly..."
"I feel happy." Jaune finished for her, finally finding the words that he needed. Glynda's lips drew into a smile, acknowledging what he said.
"Yes." The answer was simple, but caused Jaune's shoulders to straighten up a little, a smile appearing on his own face. Just as quickly though, the blonde woman's face turned somber.
"But what if we found out that we were mistaken?"
Glynda leaned closer, her tone turning more urgent, her voice showing that she clearly expected an answer out of him this time.
"What if we were wrong... and none of your family did survive?"
The question punched him in the gut harder than any of the other questions before. Suddenly, Jaune found that he couldn't breathe. Nothing came in, even though he could tell that he was inhaling rapidly, his peripherals fading. The question was a heavy one, something like a ram to his mind, opening up the uneasy feeling that he had been feeling for the last few hours, giving a name to what he thought was nameless.
The images of him finding his family were suddenly replaced by images of them finding the bodies, of him burying his loved ones. Of a man in a green suit shaking his head sadly, unable to find a trace of hope for Jaune to latch onto.
Sharp pain brought him out of the spiral that he had fallen into, the darkness that he had found himself in disappearing, the professor's concerned eyes on the other side of him. She was shaking him gently, mouth opening and closing, but no sound leaving. Wait. No, that was just him blocking out the sound.
"—alright Jaune?" It didn't sound like it was the first time that she had asked that question. Jaune raised his hands and grabbed onto her forearms, stopping her and nodding.
"I-I'm fine." He answered shakily, extracting himself from her grasp. "S-sorry, I just... I just..."
The blond couldn't figure out what he wanted to say, killing it off mid-sentence without bothering to recover. Professor Goodwitch continued to monitor Jaune, making sure that he didn't have another episode, only relaxing when Jaune let out a deep breath, color returning to him. Calming her own heart down, the professor continued to talk, words coming out a little slower than they were before.
"Do you finally understand the point that I am coming from now?"
Jaune's eyes flickered to hers, before finding their way back towards his hands, a tiny, almost imperceptible nod thrown her way. Nothing but an ache came to the professor as she looked at the boy.
He had been through so much. Lost his family, fell into a pit that he could barely crawl out of. Addiction, pain, tiptoeing across the line of life and death more often than some Huntsmen that she knew. It might have been selfish of her but...
She didn't want him to experience all of that all over again. Not when she would see it all happening to Jaune.
"I think you're forgetting something."
This time it was Glynda who was surprised, hearing Jaune speak aloud, his head drawing up. His eyes danced with thoughtfulness as he looked at her.
"W-what's that?" She asked. Jaune leaned over, a smile appearing on his face as he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into an embrace. It was sudden, it was unexpected, it was full of an emotion that rose and choked her.
"You're forgetting about you." He whispered into her ears, pulling away. "Well, you're forgetting about everyone is what I'm trying to say." He corrected, shrugging in embarrassment as he realized how dramatic he had made that sound.
"The difference between what happened the first time and the possibility that it could happen again is that I've got—well, I've got friends that care about me." Jaune almost sounded surprised when he said those words, even if it was obvious to Glynda that what he was saying was true. "You guys have seen me go through... go through a lot, and every single one of you guys helped me through it all." Jaune was the one to touch her hands this time, confidence rising in him as he talked.
"I know what could happen if we don't find my family. I also know what won't happen if I don't." Jaune shook his head. "I know I won't fall into what I fell into before, because Yang and Ruby and Weiss and Velvet and Penny and—" He took a deep breath, a chuckle leaving him. "You get the gist. They wouldn't let me be alone like that." Jaune turned and looked out of his window at the bright sky, rays of light hitting his face.
"I'm not going to lie and say that it won't hurt me." Jaune said softly, squeezing Glynda's fingers tightly. "It will. It'll hurt a lot, having hope that my family could still be out there, then finding that not to be true." Jaune's smile faltered for a second, making the blonde teacher beside him want to hug him again. "But I'll get through it like I did before, and I'll get through it stronger and faster than I did before. Because..." Jaune took a deep breath.
"Because I already have a family."
That was the only word that went through Glynda's mind, her eyes widening at Jaune's admission. Finally put into words, the woman understood the truth of it all, a smile breaking out onto her face.
"Of course Jaune. You have a family here. In all of your friends... and in me."
When Jaune smiled again, it was something bright and hopeful, hopeful of a better future, one where he was happy, hope of his family, his friends, all coming together. All the pain he went through damaged him, but at this day and age, who wasn't damaged? All that mattered was who picked themselves up and who let it swallow them.
Jaune didn't let it put him down. It hurt him in many ways, brought him to the edge of falling, but he found support on the way. People that would go to the ends of Remnant for him. People he loved, and loved him.
And he wouldn't have it any other way.