Here we go
Cover Art: Jack Wayne
"Cinder gave you those? Have you checked them for poison?"
Roman was, for some unknown reason, sat in Jaune's wheelchair. It was probably curiosity on his part, and he didn't look all too impressed at how comfortable it was. He was using the wheels to roll himself around the room, though. Just to see if he could. Jaune stood at the counter nearby, using one arm to steady himself as he adjusted to standing on one leg over the other.
Miltia would have his head if she saw him – and Melanie would tattle if she did – but he was recovering, not crippled. He could technically stagger about and sitting around all day had his good leg feeling stiff and cramped. He put the purple flowers in a vase and fluffed them up.
"I'm still not sure what I'm supposed to think about them." Jaune turned and watched Roman swerve onto one wheel, stab down his cane and correct himself. "You realise I have to give that back, right? It's not a skateboard."
"It's taxpayer funded."
"You pay taxes!?"
"Sure." Roman swivelled to a stop and crossed one leg over the other. "Not many, I'll admit, but I really do have a removals business. As a front, of course. It would look awkward if a guy living in an apartment kept buying things but had no visible source of income. Stuff like that sticks out."
"And how much tax have you been paying?"
"Well, business has been bad lately and we've been making losses…"
"Great." Jaune rolled his eyes. "So not only are you a thief, but you're also registering a loss so you can claim tax back on your expenses. You are literally a tax-funded criminal. Great to see my money being put to good use."
"Don't be a bad sport. Besides," Roman nodded to the flowers. "I asked what you're gonna do about that."
"Look at them. Leave them here."
"Not the flowers, doofus. Cinder."
"I don't know. I'm not even sure why you're asking me. She's a deadly criminal, you're a wanted thief and Ruby and her friends are the big heroes. I'm a barista." In the grand scheme of things, he didn't really matter – and that wasn't self-pity speaking, it was fact.
"You're also the only person on Remnant she'd probably apologise to."
"How does that help? Apologies don't mean much if the person goes and does it again. She's sorry I got hurt, not sorry she unleashed Grimm in the city." There was a marked difference there. Cinder could say sorry to his grave and it wouldn't change anything. "You work with her, Roman. Talk to her."
"Ha. And get my head roasted off? No thanks."
Jaune sighed. "She isn't that hard to talk to."
"See." Roman leaned forward. "That's what I'm talking about. Cinder being `not hard to talk to` is something that a grand total of one person has said. You. The only reason I dare question her is because I know she needs me. That could change at any moment and then poof!" He fell back dramatically. "No more Roman."
"And you don't think I could be `poofed` just as easily?"
"Sure, but she wouldn't need to. You're safe. You're easy. Cinder can let her guard down around you because she doesn't think there's a damn thing you could do to harm or stop her." Roman considered that for a moment. "And she's right."
"But that keeps you safe, kid. You're easy and relaxing for her because you're weak and ignorant. You're someone she can let her guard down around and stop being the hard-ass mega-bitch and just be herself with."
"Which will change dramatically if she finds out I'm talking like this behind her back, or that I sicced Ruby and her team onto her."
"Oh, hell yes, you'd be dead in an instant."
Wow. And he'd hoped for a moment that Roman might have lied to make him feel better.
"Point I'm making is that there are two Cinders," Roman said. "You've got Cinder Fall the monster trying to take down Vale, and you've got Cinder Fall, the woman who delivers flowers to her favourite barista and apparently likes dogs."
"Long story." Roman shook his head. "Anyway, you're just about the only person who gets to hang around with human Cinder, so do something to help us all, yeah?"
"I dunno. Seduce and bang her. Convince her to settle down, sprog her up and live a long life of kinky sex and peaceful coffee mornings." Roman waved a hand. "Take one for the team!"
Leaving aside the fact he didn't think getting together would Cinder would be much of a sacrifice, let alone `taking one for the team`, he wasn't about to dignify Roman's suggestion with an answer. Not when Miltia might hear about it. "She bought me flowers, Roman. I don't think the next stage is sex."
"Heh. According to Miltia, that's what you think it is."
Jaune flushed. "And I'm an idiot. That's been established for a while."
"True. You could be a heroic idiot, though. One who saves Vale from the clutches of a megalomaniac Cinder. I mean, the other option is that you poison her coffee and kill her."
"I'm not doing that!"
"Kid, c'mon, I know your professional pride is important and all that-"
"Forget pride! I'm not murdering someone!"
"Oh, right. Forgot who I was talking to." Roman rolled his eyes and mumbled something about sanctimonious brats. "Just think about it, yeah? As things are going, Vale is about to get very hot in the coming weeks. Too hot for even me to survive. I don't mean to put the pressure on you, but like it or not you're the only one she lets her guard down around. If you won't take the chance to do her in, at least try and convince her to stop doing this."
"I don't see why it should be my responsibility…"
"It's not. You're just the unlucky SOB in the right place at the right time. Fate, design or just bad luck. You decide."
As if to echo the latter possibility, the door opened and Miltia stepped in with a tray of food. Her eyes narrowed immediately on Jaune, sat not in his wheelchair and limping around the room specifically how she'd told him not to. Her lips thinned and her shoulders tensed, and he knew the telling-off of tellings-off was coming. One that would doubtless draw his mother's attention, and then lead to both joining forces to harangue him.
Faced with that, Jaune did the only thing he could do. Maybe it was fate. Maybe it was design.
Maybe Roman was just unlucky.
Either way, Jaune lied through his teeth and yelled, "Roman stole my wheelchair!"
Roman's mouth fell open. He looked down at himself, the wheelchair and then Jaune.
"You son of a bitch…"
Despite wanting no more than to throw Roman's words away, they stuck with him through the night, long after the thief himself had gone and Miltia had calmed down from her tirade. They'd eaten together and she'd left him alone soon after, having to work with her sister through the night. He was sleeping at a nightclub after all. It was frankly a miracle that he could sleep at all.
Then again, being a nightclub, Junior had the walls sound-proofed years ago.
His parents had a hotel nearby, even if Junior had offered them room for free. It really was amazing how far the man was willing to go for him. Or coffee. Definitely one or the other. Miltia had laughed when he'd pointed it out and said that their gang wasn't any more immune to PR than Café Prime was. Most of the people who worked here were used to and loved his coffee and cake breaks, so Junior throwing a little charity his way only improved the morale of the gang.
"Plus, he likes you," Miltia had said, and that was it really.
I was never very good at making friends before but now I've got a gang boss, a thief, several huntsmen teams and maybe even the headmaster of Beacon among my list of friends. Or associates at the very least – though even Ozpin would smile and share a story whenever Jaune came to serve him. And then, of course, there was Cinder.
Should he really be the one to do something about her? It didn't seem fair to expect it of him, yet as Roman had said there wasn't really anyone else who she let her guard down around.
Killing her…? That… He didn't think he could do that.
Talking to her…?
It wasn't hard, but then they'd always just talked about random things. Cinder felt safe around him because he didn't know anything of what she was doing, or so she thought. If he brought it up, her walls would slam into place faster than he could blink.
It really wasn't as easy as asking her to stop trying to destroy Vale.
But if I don't do anything, who will? Ugh…
"I just want to serve coffee, damn it!"
The empty room offered its condolences, Cinder's flowers sitting pretty on the counter off to one side while bright neon lights flashed through the curtains. Grumbling, Jaune sat up in bed and let the sheets fall onto his stomach. Reaching onto the bedside table, he picked up his scroll and went through his contacts.
As always, one stood out. The scroll rang for a minute. Then came a click.
"Ughhh-? Uh? Mngh?"
"Ruby, are you okay?"
"Mngh! Pfoo! S-Sorry." Ruby yawned adorably. "I was eating my pillow."
Jaune waited for a good while, trying to decipher that.
"Why?" he eventually asked.
"I thought it was a cookie cloud." More silence. "Don't read into it."
"Okay. Are you awake?"
"Right. Yeah, now you are because I woke you up. Sorry. Is this a good time to talk?"
"After you woke me up at…" Ruby trailed off as her face, barely illuminated by her scroll, pulled away. "Uh. Ten past midnight." Another yawn. "I'd say now is a really good time to talk. Like, I'm going to be really annoyed if you woke me up and don't talk."
Yeah, that was fair. "I need advice."
"And you came to me? Why would you do that?" Ruby was apparently too tired to realise how condescending she sounded, and toward herself no less. "Go – yawww – g-go ask Blake or s-something. I don't do good advi-snzzz…"
"Mah'wake!" she slurred. "Immawake. Was jus' restin' mah face."
"Ruby, I'm serious. Can you not get a drink to wake up or something?"
"Don' wanna'." Ruby rolled over, determined to present him her back. Unfortunately, she seemed to have forgotten she was holding the scroll, and as such he followed her. "Ugh, fine," she groaned, giving up at his `alleged` persistence.
He watched Ruby get out of bed from the perspective of her scroll, which was a dizzy proposition. His view swung up and down, briefly passing over a shape that might have been Blake in her bed, before he was suddenly looking at the floor, a pair of bare feet, a dog and finally bathroom tiles. Water flowed and he heard Ruby splash a little on her face, then drink some.
Finally, she sat down on the toilet. "Talk."
"Y – You're not actually using the toilet, are you?"
"Nope." The view swung down and Jaune's immediate panic was saved by Ruby's polka-dot pyjama bottoms, safely in place. Ruby both looked and sounded more alive too, though she was yawning into one hand.
At least it was a weekend tomorrow. She could sleep in.
"I need advice," he said again.
"And yet you're still coming to me," Ruby repeated. "Is this advice on calibrating a sniper rifle?"
"Then you're in for a rough ride." She pondered. "Unless it's on cookies, in which case I am your girl."
"It's not cookies."
"It's… It's a hypothetical situation," Jaune said, choosing his words carefully. "I have this friend-"
"Jaune." Ruby sounded patient but also impatient. "Do you know how many people came to me in Signal saying they had a friend who `hypothetically` liked my sister? A lot. I know how the `I have a friend` thing goes. It's you. Just say you."
Jaune winced. "And my friend-" He watched Ruby roll her eyes. "Has this other friend who might not be the best kind of person."
"Yeah. My friend's friend is definitely… not someone you'd normally call a decent person."
"How indecent are we talking? Doesn't give to charity? Leaves the toilet seat up? Calls friends at a quarter past midnight and makes them wake up with hypothetical questions?"
"Oh…" Ruby's sarcasm faded away, replaced with something stuck in her throat. "Oh," she said again, swallowing. "That – That's bad. That's really kinda bad. And why are you-" Ruby closed her eyes. "Why is your friend still friends with this person again?"
"Because he's possibly the only friend this person has."
"Hypothetically, of course."
"Yeah. Of course. And there's this other friend – who might not be great either, but who is a lot less murderous or dangerous than the first – and this friend says to my friend that he thinks he – my friend – could maybe help the other friend get better."
Ruby's eyes were crossed as she tried to follow the conversation. "Help the murder-hobo get better?"
"At not being a murder-hobo. Right…?"
"Yes. He thinks I – my friend – should use his friendship with the first person to try and change he- them."
"R-Right. Does… Does your friend need somewhere safe to stay? Because I'd tell you – I mean, your friend – to get out of there really quickly and not be friends with either of those people. They could come stay at Beacon. It would be safe there."
"It wouldn't be safe anywhere," Jaune said.
Ruby stared at the screen.
Her head fell into her hands.
"Jauneeee," she groaned. "Why are you dropping these bombs on me at past midnight in my toilet while I'm wearing my pyjamas?" Ruby whined through her teeth. "There's supposed to be a time and place for these kinds of talks…"
"I just… My friend needs advice." He felt small. "You're the only one I could think to come to."
"Your `friend`," Ruby stressed the word. "Needs to stop getting himself into such stupid situations! Especially if he's not a huntsman! Okay, fine. So, you – sorry, your friend – knows someone very dangerous, but still considers them a friend and wants to… what? Convince them to no longer be evil?"
"More than he's wondering if he should. It would be dangerous. Also, he doesn't know where to start."
"Yeah. Me neither. I normally use Crescent Rose on bad guys. Um." Ruby rubbed her eyes. "I'm going to need more. Like, why are you friends? How?"
"He serves her coffee."
"Oh wow, your friend does the same thing you do. Small world. Can we stop with the `your friend` thing now? This is getting confusing."
"Good! I don't want you charging in and starting a war in my diner!"
"I won't. I won't. Just… you know someone who is dangerous and you're wanting to help them not be dangerous. Okay. That's good, sort of. I mean, it's a good idea in the same way walking into a burning building to save someone is a good idea. Heroic good; common sense not so good. And you're the only person who can do this?"
"My other friend seems to think so. I'm the only one she lets her guard down around."
"And you want to know how to go about changing her mind. Okay, um… ugh. I'm really not good at these things, Jaune!" Ruby groaned. "I want to help but this is changing people's minds stuff. This is talking. It's socialising! It took me a week to convince Weiss to look at me as a human person and not a worm. It took you helping us sort Blake out. I'm more afraid I'd give advice that got you killed."
Jaune's spirits fell. "I guess…" He swallowed. "I've wasted your time with this, Ruby. I'm sorry."
"No, no, no, no, no! I'll help, I'll help. Just… I'm not the best person to help." Ruby bit her lip and tapped a bare foot on the tiles. "Ah! I know! I can talk to Doctor Oobleck. He's really smart and he's all about history and not repeating the mistakes of the past and things. If anyone would know how to stop someone doing something, he would."
"I can't have her find out, though."
"It's fine. I'll not mention you. Leave it to me. I'll get back to you tomorrow with what he says. Okay?"
It was as good an idea as any, especially when he had nothing else to fall back on. While it wouldn't help tonight, having done something would let him sleep a little easier. "Alright. Thanks for this, Ruby. You're a great friend."
"Yeah. Don't you forget it. Now I – Ahhhhh – I'm sleepy. Night, Jaune."
He put the scroll down once she hung up, making a mental note to do something nice for her for helping. There were no answers for now, but hopefully Ruby would find some for him soon. Or if not, he was going to be stuck winging this.
It never crossed his mind to ask when he'd decided to go ahead with it.
It took Ruby way too long to ditch her team so she could go meet with Oobleck. To no one's surprise, her late-night chat in the toilets hadn't gone unnoticed, and since she couldn't exactly tell them the truth of what had been said, she'd just sealed her lips together and refused to talk.
That, it turned out, was suspicious behaviour.
"Stupid Yang thinking I'm having stupid secret boyfriend or stupid something…"
Her team sucked sometimes. They really did. She didn't even think Weiss or Blake believed Yang's idea, but they'd been smirking so much it was clear they were just jumping on the chance to tease her. See how Blake likes that when I sneak Zwei into her bed later.
Fighting back a yawn – even if she'd laid in, she still felt tired – Ruby approached Doctor Oobleck's office and knocked on the door, opening it when she heard a loud "Come in" from inside.
"Doctor Oobleck?" she asked. "It's Ruby Rose. Can I – Can I ask you something?"
"Miss Rose?" Oobleck was at his desk, a magnifying glass in hand and something old and dusty before him. He was cross referencing with a thick book, but smiled to see her and motioned for her to come in. "Of course, of course. It's unusual to see you on a weekend, Miss Rose. How can I help you? You're not struggling with the last piece of homework, are you?"
"It's not that." Ruby came before his desk and sat down in the chair offered. "You know how in history class, you always said that if people had talked more, the faunus war might have been averted."
"And many other wars," Oobleck said. "It's an all too common occurrence I'm afraid. Humanity's greatest advantage over the Grimm, and what het us thrive as a species, is our ability to reason and negotiate, and yet so many people fall to fear, anger or ignorance, lashing out when words could yet bring peace." Oobleck paused, suddenly aware of how passionate he sounded. He laughed and leaned back. "My apologies, Miss Rose. You've caught me in a bit of a moment."
"No, that's fine. Good even!" Ruby's eyes sparkled. "I think that's a good thing. We should be focused on killing the Grimm, not each other."
"I could not agree more. If I can teach but one person this lesson, I'll consider my work done." He smiled. "Now, how can I help you. Is it something related to this?"
"I – In a way, yeah. It's just… How do you change someone's mind?"
"Like in the faunus war," she said. "With General…" Uh. Brain, brain, come on! "Lagune?" she said, more a question than an answer.
"General Lagune, yes." Oobleck nodded, pleased she had recalled her lesson.
Ruby breathed a sigh of relief. "Yeah, so… how would you go about convincing General Lagune to not hate the faunus, and to instead talk to them?"
"That's the million-lien question, and people are asking it still today. How do we convince the White Fang to demilitarise? How do we stop tensions between faunus and humans? How do we turn enemies into allies? It's not something that has an easy answer, I'm afraid." He leaned forward. "Is it something you need help with?"
"Maybe. Or advice. I'm not very good at social stuff. I'm kinda clumsy with talking to people…"
"I would not say so. Acknowledging a weakness and seeking to improve on it is the mark of a true genius, and no one is born perfect. What you are talking about is, at its core, psychology. How the human mind works and how people interact with one another. There are various different schools of thought on the matter, but when it comes to what we're talking about, we need to look at changing the hearts and minds of people like the White Fang."
Ruby leaned forward. "And how do we do that?"
"By first looking at what motivates them. Tell me, what do you think makes the White Fang want to turn from mild-mannered civilians to terrorists?"
Ruby thought of Blake. "They want equality?"
"In a grand sense, yes, but people have been fighting for equality while remaining within the bounds of the law. The White Fang choose to kill and fight for it. Why?"
"Because… they think talking isn't working?"
"Is that a question or an answer, Miss Rose?"
"An answer." Ruby nodded quickly. "They fight because they think it's the only way that works." No, wait. "Or the best way," she countered. "Maybe it's quicker or they think it gets results better than talking."
"That is the important distinction. Most people are results-oriented, even if they think they are not. Desires guide most of our actions, be they selfish desires like wealth, or selfless ones like wanting to help the injured, sick or homeless. We always work towards something. A goal. That is our motivating factor, and what has motivated the White Fang to take up arms is, as you postulate, a desire to affect a more immediate change. One they believe is either not coming through discourse or is not coming quickly enough."
Ruby bit her lip. "Are they right…?"
"Who can say. The Council would have you believe no, as would Atlas, but go back twenty years and the White Fang was a peaceful movement seeking equality through lobbying, protest and integration. They faced racism, prejudice and attempts by Atlas' Governments to deport them to Menagerie."
Oobleck sighed, thoroughly annoyed.
"The White Fang are wrong to go to the lengths they do, but never forget that few people are `evil` for no reason. Behind every madman is likely a sorry tale of someone who was ignored, mistreated or failed in one way or another."
"Does that really excuse them, though?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. But anyone who tells me they would sit back with a smile on their face as their children are taken away to work in mines, branded like animals and then worked to death, is either lying or broken inside. Some people can be worse than the Grimm, Miss Rose, and we hunt and kill those on sight. It's easy for us to judge, safe and sound in our homes with dust to keep us warm, huntsmen to guard us in the night and family and friends to care for us. People are shaped by their experiences. That is the basis of psychology. Or one facet of it, anyway."
Was that information useful for Jaune-? Maybe. It painted his `friend` as maybe just being misunderstood – or was that too simple? Not misunderstood but having a reason for doing what they – what she – was doing.
"So… it's important to figure out what that reason is?" she asked.
"Indeed. Understanding what motivates groups like this is the first step to changing them. You can either change what motivates them, or, in the case of the White Fang, take away those motivations. If the Council would move toward better laws for faunus, or if Atlas would ban forced enslavement and branding at SDC Dust Mines, I dare say many members of the White Fang would retire. They are there because they feel they must be, not because they want to be. Of course," he added, "Exceptions will always exist."
"Change what they want or find another way for them to get it," Ruby said. "Right. That makes sense."
"It sounds as though this is more than an academic debate to you, Miss Rose. Perhaps if you could give a more specific example, I could better help you."
"Okay." That sounded good. Ruby coughed and began. "I have a friend, and he has this friend-"
"Oh?" Oobleck smiled, patient and yet amused, leaning one elbow on the desk and his chin atop it. "Go on then, Miss Rose. Tell me about this `friend` of yours."
Ruby blinked, realising quickly why Oobleck sounded so amused.
"B – But I actually do have a friend who knows a friend…" she whined. "I'm not making this up…"
"I'm sure you do. Please, tell me about your problem – sorry, your `friend's` problem."
Jaune owed her for this.
Pyrrha sped down the path and around a corner, cutting off the main pathway and into the bushes, hiding behind a tree. On the path, several eager fans from Mistral, no doubt here for the festival, ran by, searching for their champion. At seeing them go, Pyrrha let out a long sigh of relief.
Jaune did as well, clinging onto the handlebars of his wheelchair so hard his knuckles turned white.
"I'm so sorry about that!" Pyrrha gushed, ashamed and embarrassed in equal measure at having forced Jaune on a high-speed chase, especially when he was recovering. "I didn't expect it to be so bad or I'd have never suggested we go for a walk."
"No problem." He wheezed the answer, obviously not used to the speeds a huntress moved at. Calming down, he leaned back, forcing himself to let go. "I never realised just how famous you were before now, even if you tried to tell me."
"Hm." Pyrrha was watching for more, but decided hiding was better for now. "It's not so bad in Vale. Still bad in places, but Mistral is where it's the worst. I'm not surprised fans from Mistral would come, let alone that they'd try and hunt me down." She sighed. "They probably want to ask why I left Mistral, or demand I go and study at Haven."
"Why?" Jaune asked. "Isn't it your choice?"
It should have been, clearly, and Pyrrha was grateful for him thinking that. Alas, the average person was not so kind, as she well knew.
"They don't really care about what I want. Even when I was winning and still excited for the tournaments, it was more about showing off what Mistral could do. I'm not a person to them; I'm a commodity."
"Is it really that bad? Aren't they just fans?"
How could she explain it to him in a way that he would understand? Pyrrha hummed for a moment before settling on an unusual analogy. "Imagine that you have a brand of coffee," she said. "It's a decent brand. It tastes okay and isn't too expensive, but there are others just as good and many better."
"Not imagine that the only difference is that this brand is made in Vale. It is Vale's pride and joy. And that every customer you have demands to have that brand served as your main brand. If you don't, you're unpatriotic."
Jaune grimaced, but she wasn't yet done.
"And imagine that this brand is constantly said to be better than all others, even if it's not. Imagine that the brand cannot exist in a supermarket because all the other brands are pushed off the shelves by angry customers. They only want this brand and they want it now, no compromises." Pyrrha sighed. "Now imagine that brand of coffee is a person."
"I think I get it…"
"It was hard to exist in Mistral as Pyrrha when Pyrrha Nikos, the Invincible Girl, was a bigger and better brand. I couldn't so much as give my opinion on a fashion brand without putting competitors out of business. And moving to Vale? That has earned me as many detractors as it has fans. There are a whole lot of people clamouring for my return." A frown crossed her face. "And there are far too many coming up with ridiculous conspiracy theories for why I left. That Haven is inferior, that my parents abused me, that the political leaders of Mistral failed me, or that those in Vale bribed me. That Ozpin and Beacon stole me from Mistral."
There were times when she refused to go online for fear of seeing something, and it had been months since she dared read a newspaper from Mistral. Luckily, that wasn't hard when she lived in Vale now, but with the Vytal Festival coming, there were plenty of people from home making an appearance, and she would be competing in front of them.
On the side of Beacon, not Haven.
"I've had requests for interviews from newspapers and agencies back home," she said. "The questions… well, they're not kind."
"Accusing you of things?"
"It is," she agreed, smiling at his immediate defence of her. She hadn't told him the story to garner sympathy points but, well, she would take them. "Fortunately, I've been able to avoid much of that in Vale. It's only worse now because of the festival."
"Will you be okay?" he asked.
"I will be. Thank you for asking. If anything, I think it will be hard while the festival is going, but easier afterwards. Maybe this is what I need to stop it once and for all, to make it clear that I'm not going to be bullied into going back to Mistral for some twisted sense of obligation. Mistral did not create me."
"You created yourself?"
Pyrrha nodded. "In the same way you created yourself and your diner. Vale had no part in that."
"I guess we're alike in a way…"
"Yes." It was something she appreciated more than she cared to admit. "Except I'm probably closer to Café Prime, as much as I dislike saying it." At his confused expression, she explained, "I'm the established and bigger brand. New competitors would face doubt and insults from my `fans` long before they even faced me."
"Yikes. It was that bad?"
"Oh yes. Some would receive death threats while more would just be told they didn't have a chance. I'm not sure if you know, but confidence is a big deal in fighting. If they entered the ring already doubting themselves, I was halfway to victory."
He laughed. "I bet you hated that."
"I did!" Pyrrha was happy he leapt to that and not the other, more cynical, possibility that she benefitted from it. "There were people who could have given me a run for my money or even beaten me, but they were defeated by my adoring fans before they ever faced me. It was the most frustrating feeling. I tried to tell them not to, tried to say that any fan who would insult another fighter was no fan of mine, but they would still do it." Pyrrha's hand clenched on the back of Jaune's wheelchair. "It was the most frustrating thing. I hated it so much."
"Things are better in Vale, though?"
"Much. Even… Even if I made it harder for myself than it had to be for a while."
"Yes." Pyrrha let out a long sigh, shoulders falling a little. It was foolish seeing as how they were on better terms now. Far more mature to forget the unfortunate past and look to a better future, but she couldn't help but be displeased at her younger self.
"What did he actually do?" Jaune asked. "He never really told me…"
"You'll think it foolish of me."
"I won't. I promise."
It really was none of his business, and yet Pyrrha found herself talking regardless. "You have to understand that I'd just reached Vale from Mistral. I expected the worst, for everything to continue as it had before. I was specifically looking for someone who had no idea who I was. I thought that if I could find and partner with someone like that, life would be easier."
Hence her polite dismissal and avoidance of Weiss Schnee, which Pyrrha realised was a mistake now. Ironically, while Weiss had wanted her for her fame, she would have probably made a good teammate. Both of them knew what it was like to be judged for their name and not their personalities. But she hadn't been thinking straight.
She'd been determined to find her ignorant teammate. Focused on it.
And then she found Russel.
"He wasn't rude by any means," she said. "He just…"
"He recognised you?"
"Yes. He recognised me and his eyes lit up. He was excited to be on a team with me and said something about how he looked forward to learning a lot by fighting with me." She realised now he'd been serious about that, but at the time…? "I reacted badly. Awfully. I'm not sure I even heard his words, it was more like I chose not to and to just judge him like any other rabid fan."
"You got better," Jaune said. "Both of you did." He paused. "Have you apologised to him?"
"Yes. We've made our peace. We're better now."
"Then I don't see the problem. People make mistakes, right? That's normal."
"Hm. I think so."
"That's not the only thing bothering you, though. Is it?"
Pyrrha laughed. He was perceptive, or maybe she was just that obvious. Either way, she wasn't surprised he'd noticed something wrong. She really had been quiet today, almost distant. It was with good reason.
"Something has come up," she said. "I'm not sure how much I can tell you."
"Can you give me an idea?"
"Maybe. I was actually hoping for some advice."
"And you came to me? Wow, you must really be desperate."
Pyrrha snorted, then laughed. It felt good. Laughter had been absent of late for her, though that was no fault of Jaune or her team, more a combination of factors around the Vytal Festival, and then, obviously, the attack that had killed so many in Vale. Ozpin's offer coming on top of all that? The timing couldn't have been worse.
"Have you ever been in a situation where you could help so many people, but to do so you must risk your own life? Your own happiness? And where even then, you're not sure it would work?"
Jaune's smile fell. "Would you believe me if I said yes?"
"I don't know. Maybe?"
"I have," he said, leaning back in his wheelchair. "Or it's more accurate to say I am right now. It's… It's not a good feeling, is it? Doubting yourself."
"It's not." Strangely enough, she had a feeling he did understand. "Have you decided what you'll do?" she asked. "I'm unsure myself. I want to help – it's the right thing to do – but I've only just begun to find my own happiness, and this threatens to take that all away."
"But you feel it's selfish to think that way," he went on, taking over her own thoughts and words. "Because it's the right thing to do, so what else matters. Right?"
"Right. We should do the right thing…"
The two of them waited in silence, hidden in the woods off the main path of Vale's central park, loitering like the most suspicious pair of people that could ever have existed. Luckily, no one noticed them, least of all the fans she knew were still hunting her.
"What did you decide?" she asked again.
"I haven't yet. I… I asked for help instead. I called Ruby."
"Yeah. She's great, a real friend. A proper friend," he said. "Uncomplicated. Just… friendship. Nothing more."
No complicated feelings or expectations. Pyrrha knew he wasn't wrong there, as she'd seen Ruby talking with Jaune before and there didn't seem to be any feelings beyond them just being the best of friends.
"Has she helped come up with an answer?"
"Not yet. She said she'll ask Oobleck today, but that got me thinking. Maybe it shouldn't be a case of whether you should or shouldn't, but how you go about doing it." He laughed. "I was actually calling her to ask if I should do it or not, but Ruby is trying to find a way for me to do it even though I haven't decided."
"Wouldn't that be bad?" Pyrrha asked. "It's like she's assuming your answer already."
"I don't think she is. I think it's her way of saying I should know exactly what I'd have to do before I make a choice."
"Ah." Pyrrha smiled. "So that you'll be well informed."
That wasn't a bad thought, and one she was ashamed to say she'd neglected to consider. Ozpin hadn't been cagey per se, but it certainly felt like she didn't know enough. For one, she had no idea what Ozpin planned to do with her once she accepted the offered power. Would she be allowed to stay in Beacon? Would she be allowed to leave when she graduated? Would he prevent her ever leaving Vale if she wished to?
Those were, she realised, rather big questions to not have an answer to. It was impossible to say whether she would be happy or not as the maiden if she didn't take the time to think what life would be like as the maiden. What was to be expected of her, and what kind of life the woman before her had lived.
"Ruby sounds wiser than her years," Pyrrha said.
"I think she's just direct. I tend to complicate things in my head, but she's good at seeing the direct route."
Another way in which she and Jaune were similar. Pyrrha could be just as bad, her poor treatment of Russel a good example. Coco was her Ruby, however, dragging Pyrrha back onto the right track and pointing out the simple and, to Coco at least, obvious truths.
"Thank you, Jaune."
"Huh?" He looked back over one shoulder. "For what?"
For what, indeed. He hadn't answered her question or given any advice, just talked about his own problems and how Ruby was helping him. "For keeping me company, I suppose," she said instead, taking hold of his wheelchair. "It would have been a boring day if I was just training. It's nice to get out and talk to a friend occasionally."
"Yeah." Jaune leaned back with a grin of his own. "And don't tell then, but it's nice to get away from Miltia and Melanie, too. They're great, but they can be pretty stifling at times. Don't move. Sit down. Don't pull your stitches. Let one of the boys help you to the toilet." Jaune grimaced. "I feel like I can't do anything on my own."
Though it would have been easy to side with him for her own purposes, Pyrrha couldn't.
"They're worried about you," she said. "It's their way of showing how much they care."
"I know. I know. Doesn't mean it isn't nice to get out for a bit, though. A little fresh air and some excitement…"
"There she is!" a voice cried. Pyrrha and Jaune's heads snapped toward the path, where someone in a white T-Shirt with "I `heart` Vale" on the front was pointing in their direction. "It's her! It's the Invincible Girl!"
"And the not-so-invincible boy," Jaune grumbled.
Pyrrha laughed, clutching the handles to his wheelchair. "Hold on," she warned, a small smile flickering over her face. "And you did just say you liked the fresh air and excitement, so no complaining at what's to come."
"Me and my big mouth…"
Hm. My internet at home is still god awful. I hate my ISP sometimes, but it's the only choice for internet since I live in the middle of the countryside and can't even get landline connected internet. Sigh…
Next Chapter: 25th June
P a treon . com (slash) Coeur