A/N: Getting glad I'm getting to the more divergent parts. Writing is fun and all, but going over plot points from the show but adding minor changes can be grinding. Also, while I've added some new story ideas to my profile, I want to get this to an approximation of V4 before I begin anything else. Even more also, hit up JPDE by Meinos if you're a fan of VN's or RWBY. New version released today. :)
"That all you got, Jauney-boy?"
He swung Crocea Mors wildly in the voice's direction, swiping through air from his half-kneel position. Not the best form to swing from, but Cardin's mace hadn't given him much of a choice.
His arm now extended, Jaune was starting to think he had made a mistake.
Yep. Definitely another mistake.
Cardin's heavy hand on Jaune's forearm confirmed it, and the thud of his mace against Jaune's sheath-shield shook his bones. After a few of these pummels, Cardin changed the angle of his swing, catching the edge of the shield and sending it skittering across the floor. It slowly screeched to stop in front of the audience.
Before the fight had started, his friends and teammates had given their usual encouragements. Though their tone had changed noticeably with each time he lost.
You've got this, Jaune!
Watch his movements. Dodge if you can.
Wow… your aura can take more damage than I thought it would.
Uh… good luck?
Barely weeks into the year and he was solidly the worst in combat duels. He knew it, his friends knew it. And he was about to confirm it yet again to the rest of the class.
Jaune could only watch helplessly as Cardin's knee plowed into his stomach, and his concerns went to breathing over all else. He heard Cardin's taunting voice as he fell to the floor and curled in on his stomach, but couldn't concentrate on what was said. An eternity passed by before Jaune could draw a semblance of a breath.
"This match is over."
A certain witch's heels clicked near his head.
"Mr. Arc, gambits such as the one you took are a last resort. Attacking blindly and from a poor position does not provide much advantage, and is a chance better ignored than fantasized about. Aura protects us from a lot of potentially fatal attacks, but their effects can still be felt."
The pain at the core of his being was gradually receding in waves now. What was left of his pride would take longer.
Jaune shakily drew himself up onto his hands and knees. He was so tired of failing. Of losing to Cardin. Maybe he didn't belong here after all.
Wiping the spit from his mouth, he steeled himself before standing. He could already feel the soft, pitying looks from his friends and classmates stabbing into his back.
"Not too bad, Jaune," Cardin stood a few feet away, his mace resting against his neck as part of his casual victory pose. "You almost hit me once."
Cardin's team had a raucous laugh at that, as the leader himself smirked and glanced at them. Though he couldn't tell how they could have heard from across the room.
"Mr. Winchester, you are correct in that. While Mr. Arc's attack was inadvisable, his strike would have done significant damage to your aura reserves had it hit." Goodwitch looked meaningfully at Cardin, whose smile had left his face. "Which it very nearly did."
Cardin and Jaune gave the professor a short nod, and returned to their seats as Goodwitch called for the next combatants.
"You almost had him!" Ruby squeaked from the seat next to his, her tone not matching her worried expression.
"No, I didn't."
"Well... I mean… you didn't, but you almost hit him this time!"
A familiar gloved hand on his shoulder reassured him. "Ruby's correct, you have made significant improvements since your first match."
"Thanks, Pyhrr." Jaune sighed, choosing to focus on the fight between Blake and Nora now occurring. He knew she was right, though that didn't amount for much while he continued his loss streak.
Pyrrha lifted her hand slowly. While it had been a while since she had a loss of her own, she had seen other fighters crack under the burden of too many. It was never a good sight, and she couldn't bear the thought of her partner, her friend, Jaune Arc, going through the same.
Her fingers went to the small of her throat, where her pendant from their first adventure together lay. Gently squeezing the hard, ornate steel, she made up her mind.
"I should have won tha~at!" Nora slammed her fist into the cafeteria table and gave a low growl. A growl directed at the black-bowed girl quietly eating her food across the table. "You cheated!"
Nora's keeper sighed wearily next to her. "Nora, Ms. Goodwitch banning you from saturation-grenading the arena was not Blake's doing."
"It might have been! Did you even see her?! She's a quick, sneaky ninja." Nora narrowed her eyes at the girl in question, who deigned to just watch them bicker.
"That's my partner! Despite her outfit colors, she's pretty light on her feet."
The two teams dropped their conversations to look at Yang confusedly.
"Cause she always wears black? And it's the opposite of light?"
Groans spread from around Yang, even reaching other tables within hearing range of the bad explanation. A faunus with rabbit ears stopped as she exited the cafeteria line, shaking her head in disappointment before she continued to look for her seat.
"Ya~ang!" Ruby whined cutely, her head in her hands. "She wears white too! It doesn't make any sense!"
"You all just have trouble appreciating good humor."
"No! No." Weiss shook her head emphatically. "I've seen good humor, and that is not humor at all."
Yang waved the heiress's complaints away, her grin making Weiss' cheeks flush in frustration. At least, for a moment. Then Weiss gave a merciless smile of her own and pulled out her scroll, tapping away.
"Uh… what you doing there, Weiss?" Yang leaned over, taking a look at her teammate's scroll screen.
"Oh… just sharing some real humor."
Yang didn't like the sound of that at all, and liked it even less when her own scroll and that of the others at the table beeped once with a message.
Pulling her own scroll out suspiciously, Yang opened the message to see a Bullhead appear on the screen. From the video's recording view, she could see it was outside a second floor building, and that its cockpit was facing straight at a window with a familiar figure looking out. Gold mane, all the right curves…
Nora led the laughs around the table, as everyone watched Yang's mishap in high definition. Yang herself could see why it was funny, but remembering the cargo net wrapping around her and forcing her off her feet brought up feelings she didn't want to dwell on.
Ren, only giving a smile in recognition of the laughs the video caused, dropped it towards the end of the video. "Nora," He turned to her, tapping his own screen at a paused scene. "I thought you were the one who caused the mess in our room?"
The redhead turned and pressed the video on Ren's screen, laughing again at Yang's screams as she was ripped pulled out the window. "Na~ah, it was already like that." She tapped her chin. "I figured Yang or the other person there did it."
Everyone sat stunned, while Nora rewound the video and watched it again, laughing at the same volume as the first time.
"Nora…" Yang began, looking desperately through her own memories of the time. "The door was already open, and I didn't go through your things. But there wasn't anyone else there."
"Yeah, there was. They were on the ceiling."
Now everyone crowded around Nora as she rewound the video yet again, and played it back in a slower speed. With her finger she pointed at a previously unnoticed black-clad figure, seen exactly where she had claimed. A few seconds later, and they watched it move unnaturally quick, dodging the second cargo net that had been fired. "Did you know that Bullheads have infrared? That's how I noticed them." She nodded, then laughed as Yang's pleas for help from the video played once more.
The rest of the table was silent at this. Questions whirled in their heads that none could give voice to.
Who was that in the JNPR dorm?
Why did they trash the place?
Did it have anything to do with the journal?
Jaune was still worried by those questions later that night, watching the stars from the upper floor balcony. He had come up alone, looking for peace from his self-doubts and concerns. Looking out over the campus and the bright lights of Vale in the distance, he managed to do so for only a while.
Who was in our room?
If they had been after the journal, how did they know he had it at all?
Jaune groaned and slowly went down to the floor, taking a look at the stars and patches of clouds above. There was too much to think about, and nothing concrete to go on. Before today, he had felt they could safely look for their answers and be as long as Ozpin didn't hear of it. And even then, the worst he could imagine was that they'd be punished with detention.
He rubbed his temples. Now they knew someone wanted what they had, and enough to break into a Beacon itself. Someone willing to risk that would probably be fine with harming people in their way. Jaune's earlier comment to Blake couldn't seem more ironic to him now. He had risked his friends just by letting them know he had the journal.
"I'm such an idiot."
"No, you aren't."
Jaune turned his head to see Pyrrha standing by the open door. She walked over and sat beside him, looking up at the stars.
"You are many things, Jaune, but not an idiot."
"You've seen me fight. You saw earlier, someone came into our room for the journal. They didn't find it, so they'll try again." He heaved a sigh. "I shouldn't even be here."
At this, Pyrrha propped herself on an elbow and slugged his arm. "How can you say that? You were accepted into Beacon, so the professors must see potential in you to be a great Hunstman."
Her hand went to her collar, and began unbuttoning her uniform. "Look here, Jaune."
"Uh… Pyhrra?" His cheeks were burning as he looked away. Her serious voice demanded his obedience however.
He looked back at her, where she held the pendant around her neck out by the chain. Her voice was softer now, her emerald eyes meeting his. "You do remember how we got this and the journal, don't you?"
"We met something unknown, a potential danger. Something all Hunstmen and Huntresses are trained for years to deal with, but can never expect." Her eyes went to the locket, and she spun it gently, the three faces and the Arc family crest flashing by. "We found questions and answers that make no sense to us, and you wanted to look for more." A wistful smile came to her face as she looked back to him. "You may not be an idiot, but you are mistaken if you think you do not belong here, after years of combat school and how you've handled yourself thus far. You just require more time and training."
Jaune lay silent, his eyes back on the stars. When he didn't respond, she lay herself back down and watched them as well. Her own cheeks began to redden this time, as she thought of her real reason to find him.
"Jaune, I would be willing to train with you, if you'd like."
A cool night breeze passed over them both, and the leaves of nearby trees whispered. Jaune didn't answer.
"We could meet here a few nights a week, and I'm sure you'll see results."
A dark cloud passed directly overhead, obscuring the stars from the two. Jaune raised himself up and stood. When he spoke, it was monotone.
"Pyrrha, I had my transcript forged to get here. I never trained with my own dad, not to mention going to a combat school."
She pulled herself up, and was truly at a loss for words.
Even softer now, his every word saddened her. "If I hadn't been so selfish, you would have been partners with someone who knew what they were doing."
She called his name as he went inside. His eyes were burning, but he didn't want the attention a crying Huntsman in training would get. He just wanted to be alone.
Pyhrra could tell as much, so while she did stand after Jaune shut the door behind him, she didn't follow. She herself wasn't sure what to think.
Neither did the shadow, hidden on the other side of the roof's peak.
Pyhrra went to the balcony railing, and hung her head. When she had decided to talk with Jaune one on one, she had thought things would end on a much better note. A part of her even dared to think they could have had a moment. Now, she could only see her past thoughts as naive.
She fondled the locket distractedly. She had meant what she said, that he did belong here at Beacon. With their friends. With her.
But she was also disappointed in him. She felt betrayed. Lied to. And it hurt, like a hole in her heart.
What was she supposed to do?
Blake wasn't one to go looking for people to talk to. Even during her childhood, her friends had been the first to introduce themselves. It had taken quite an effort on their part to get her to come out of her shell.
So why was she currently approaching a clearly distressed Jaune Arc?
She had left her team dorm earlier that night and began testing the campus trees in an effort to find her own personal reading niche, since daylight would have brought more attention than she'd have liked. She did not relish the idea of anyone catching her uniquely feline way of stretching out on a tree limb.
Which is why she initially froze when she heard the slow cadence of depressed footsteps. Seeing Jaune come into view from the direction of the dorms, she watched from her perch as he headed towards the steep embankment separating Beacon from the Emerald Forest.
For a worrying moment, she had thought he would jump down, but he sat by the edge and looked out into the dark forest.
She had watched him for a few minutes until surrendering to her impulse. Blake knew it wasn't like her to do this, but Jaune was one of the few people outside her team she didn't have too much of a problem with. It wouldn't do for him to drag down their group with his issues.
Well, that was how she rationalized it.
She jumped down from the tree, making the effort to adjust her gait, letting her shoes rustle the grass noisily in advance of her presence. This went unappreciated, as Jaune didn't acknowledge her until she sat beside him, and only did so with a yelp and an attempt to push himself away from her. At least he stopped once he recognized her.
"Blake?! What are you doing out here?"
She shrugged. "Out for a walk."
"Oh… uh… me too."
She could see he was lying, but didn't press him on it. Everyone had secrets of their own, and it was up to them when to share.
She gave a small smile and stretched her arms to the ground behind her. Closing her eyes, she let the silence wash over her like the breeze wafting up from the forest.
They sat together for a while, before Jaune spoke up.
"I want to apologize."
"Hmm… for what?"
"I've made mistakes… mistakes I don't think I can make up for."
She turned her yellow eyes to meet his at this. Her gaze was curious, though not pressuring.
"I think I got us all in trouble. Life or death trouble." He reached into the jacket of his uniform, and pulled out the mysterious journal. "I think whoever broke into my team's dorm was after this."
"Why would you think that?"
Jaune gave her a disbelieving look. "Why else would someone break into a first year dorm, and make a mess without taking anything? This whole thing is weird enough for me to bet on it." He sighed as he returned the journal to its hiding place.
"And that's not all. I did something that ruined the future for everyone around me, all so I could follow my own dream."
"Everyone makes mistakes," Blake began slowly, "but I believe in second chances."
He laughed harshly. "What if your mistake stole someone else's first chance? What happens then?"
She went quiet, thinking of what he could mean by that.
"Maybe I should rephrase," she tucked her arms under her knees and hugged her legs against herself reassuringly. "I think people can't change their past. We can only do our best to make better choices from now on."
"How do you know what you're doing isn't another mistake?"
"You don't." Jaune raised an eyebrow at her, letting her know what he thought of that. The situation almost made her laugh, and he could see it in her soft yellow eyes. She couldn't restrain a pleasant smile however. "You know what I mean."
"Yeah…" He shut his eyes. "I have to do the best I can with what's happened."
She watched his face relax as some of his worries bled away. His hair even seemed lighter, shifting wildly with the occasional soft gust. His face looked so peaceful now.
She stood and wiped the grass from her uniform. "I'm going to sleep. You should too, if you don't want to sleep through Professor Port's class tomorrow."
"Yeah. Thanks, Blake."
He watched her gracefully walk a ways, before she turned back and gave him a mock glare. "If you tell anyone about tonight, I'll kill you."
He just smiled and waved, as she sighed and gave up on the effort.
When Jaune got back to the JNPR dorm, he was surprised and a little guilty to see that his team was up and waiting for him.
"Uh… hey guys."
"You're in troubl~le!" Nora crooned, and tackled him. He cried out in surprise as she expertly twisted his arms behind him in a hold.
"Look, guys, I know I screwed up, but-"
Everyone looked at Ren with surprise, though Nora had more than a little pride and something primal in her eyes. She had Jaune on his knees now, and gripped his head back by the hair to meet Ren's eyes.
His gaze was hard, unflinching. Jaune tried to turn his head out of discomfort, only to have Nora twist it back.
"Jaune. I forgive you."
His surprise must have been all over his face, as Nora let him go. "Same here. We're not going to let you be anything else but the best team leader at Beacon!"
Jaune caught himself before he fell on his face, and was glad for the seconds to compose himself. Not that it helped much. His eyes were already watering. He had to close them when Pyrrha's brown boots entered his view, waiting for her turn.
He didn't deserve this. He didn't deserve such a team. He didn't deserve his partner. But he would do his best to do so.
Jaune wiped at his eyes, and stood straight before opening them. He met Pyhrra's enchanting green eyes, and gave her his attention.
"Jaune, I wasn't sure what to think when you told me about what you had done." She came closer, grabbing his shoulders. "Then I realized it didn't matter. If you hadn't done so, I would have never met you, and team JNPR would have never existed. That is unacceptable to me."
Her grip tightened. "I will be helping you train. You will not tell another soul about your transcripts." She paused, and Jaune could only nod.
"I forgive you, Jaune." Her grip released, only to envelop him in a tight embrace around his neck. He should have felt awkward, especially with Nora and Ren watching, but didn't. He hugged her back, and felt the warmth of his team's actions pour into him.
It was fortunate that he didn't notice the light from his scroll blinking until the next morning, as the header for the message waiting for him would have ruined the mood entirely.