Beta-ed by xenosaiyan


Jaune moaned as he trudged out of the locker room and back to the sparring arena's bleachers. Even if his aura had technically kept Cardin from actually hurting him, the physical force of the other boy's strikes had only been cushioned. He may not have had any bruises, but nobody told his muscles that.

Of course, after all these weeks, he was starting to wonder if they were right and he was wrong. He spent so much time trying to remember to keep his aura up that he had no focus to spare for his already abysmal fighting skills. Cardin was only middle of the pack as far as their year's fighters went and he danced circles around the so-called leader of Team AYBN.

What would happen the next time he fought a Grimm? If his team hadn't been there with the Deathstalker, and if he hadn't hit Ruby when it had thrown him, he would have gone from an idiot stuck in a tree to a dead idiot stuck in a tree. Hell, if Pyrrha hadn't saved him after they'd been thrown off the cliff and then unlocked his aura, he would have been a goner right out of the gate. Just because he'd limped into Beacon and been made leader for some ridiculous reason didn't mean he was any closer to becoming the hero he so desperately needed to be. He was still just a joke.

But he didn't know what else he could do. He'd thought that just being in Beacon, being trained, would be enough to help him gain the strength his dream required, but he was still so weak. He didn't need Cardin to kick the crap out of him again to understand that.

Maybe he could ask his team for some pointers… no.

No, Pyrrha, Yang, and Katsuki were the cream of the crop, some of the best fighters in all four years of Beacon. They'd worked for years for their skills and got into the academy fair and square, unlike him. He was already leeching off them too much as it was. He couldn't distract them from their studies just because his useless, cheating butt couldn't keep up.

His father, his grandfather, his grandfather's father, and so on, they all became great warriors on their own. He had to as well. He had to be worth all the lies he'd told. He had to.

"Hey! Fearless leader! Over here!" Yang called, waving him over to where she sat with Team RIBW in the sparring arena stands.

Jaune was grateful that his fellow blond was still grinning at him after everyone had watched him get trashed across the arena again. He couldn't imagine the tough-as-nails brawler liked having to follow someone as pathetic as him at all, let alone when their entire class was sniggered at him being slaughtered. He could only imagine how she'd tear him apart if she ever learned how he'd really gotten into the school.

He managed to shoot a small smile back before he took a seat next to his teammate in the stands, receiving a hearty clap on the back as a welcome. Ruby and Izuku both gave him sympathetic looks from the other side of the brawler, but Weiss and Blake kept their focus on the stadium.

Given that the next spar had already started while he was in the locker room and who was fighting, he couldn't blame them.

Katsuki had been trying to fight Pyrrha for weeks, but Professor Goodwitch had asked them to focus on fighting people outside their team for the first few weeks so as to not handicap their budding team unity with petty bad blood. Every class, when she asked if there were any volunteers who wished to challenge another huntsman-in-training, the wolf faunus's hand would shoot up, closely followed by Izuku's. The first would ask about the Invincible Girl, be denied, curse his breath, and then reluctantly pick one of the other top members of their year to spar with while the green-haired boy pouted as he retook his seat. It was obvious who he'd been hoping to fight.

Honestly, Jaune was a little surprised that Katsuki hadn't challenged him already. He'd taken on Ruby and Weiss, beaten them both, but he refused to invite Izuku into the ring. Didn't even offer an explanation like the "Why would I want to waste my time on a coward?" growl he gave when Yang had asked if he was going to take a swing at Blake.

Didn't really matter now. Professor Goodwitch had announced that intra-team fights would finally be permitted and Katsuki had snagged the first opportunity he could to face-off with Pyrrha. After the underwhelming warmup of Jaune's beatdown from Cardin, the rest of the class was eager to watch the strongest in their year, possibly the strongest in the school, go at it.

Given how the arena was pockmarked with plumes of smoke, and both of his teammates were breathing hard, it looked like they were getting their money's worth.

"Who's winning?" Jaune inquired.

"Pyrrha, obviously," Weiss snorted, rolling her eyes. "Just look at the aura meters. Didn't Professor Goodwitch just tell you about this?"

Jaune chuckled awkwardly at his crush's reprimand, glancing towards the wide viewscreen. Only to cock an eyebrow at what he saw.

"Sixty to forty?" he noted. "That doesn't seem right."

"Yeah, I know," Yang commented. "Katsuki blusters a lot, but he can back it up. Didn't think Pyrrha would be taking him to school this badly."

"What did you expect?" Weiss queried. "She's the Invincible Girl."

"Yeah! Plus, Milo and Akouo are crazy awesome! They have three different modes!" Ruby added. "Katsuki's barely even using his gauntlets and he hasn't dropped a single grenade. He could probably catch up if he used his weapons more."

"I'm not so sure," Izuku muttered, his eyes narrowed at the battle, his brow furrowed in thought.

Jaune tilted his head to the side. Ruby and Izuku were both really good at figuring out their opponents' tricks, though the former tended to focus more on someone's weapon while the latter analyzed their powers. It made them an impressive pair, but when one noticed something the other didn't, it often meant that was the direction to look in.

So, when he looked towards the spar, he figured the answer to why Katsuki was doing so poorly wasn't in a poor weapons matchup. He'd have to watch to figure out the rest.

Katsuki rocketed across the arena, blasting forward on the recoil of half a dozen explosions. Pyrrha threw up her shield, Milo's spear form thrusting up from its edge to counterattack. The wolf faunus waited for the very last moment before the javelin would have skewered him and fired off a downward explosion, shooting himself into the air and coming down on his opponent's open side. He reached out with his right hand while his left wrapped around his wrist, flickering over the latches of his bracer.

Then, a faint black energy sifted over Katsuki's gauntlets. Jaune had to blink and rub his eyes to make sure he wasn't just seeing things, but he definitely caught it for a brief moment, just like when the Deathstalker had swatted his teammate during initiation. By the time it had faded, the wolf faunus's left arm had been thrown wide… while his right arm streaked inside Pyrrha's guard, its gauntlet taken off and tossed away.

Jaune's partner's emerald eyes widened as an orange glow lit up from Katsuki's palm.

"Die!" the wolf faunus shouted, fire and smoke shooting from his hand.

Only Pyrrha's reflexes saved her, the Mistral champion barely managing to dive roll across the floor, the explosion thundering behind her, shaving a good chunk off her aura, but less than it would have head-on. Jaune was even more awed as his partner built on her dodge to maneuver into a kneeling position, shifting her spear into a rifle and bracing in on her shield. The redhead fired off a quick barrage of shots that forced Katsuki to break off his assault instead of pressing his brief advantage.

It was only a single lightning-fast exchange, but it seemed like it changed the match far more than dropping each of their auras down a few more points. The teammates locked eyes, both tense at the edge of the circular arena. For a few solid moments, they just stared at each other, as if having a silent conversation.

When one of them finally moved, it was not an attack, but Katsuki unstrapping both his left gauntlet and his grenade belt. With strangely casual disinterest, he threw his armaments out of bounds.

"No!" Ruby wailed.

"Hahaha!" Cardin laughed with his cronies from their section of the audience. "Look at that! The animal is getting naked—"

"Mr. Winchester, I advise you not to finish that sentence," Professor Goodwitch cut in.

The burly bully wisely withered at the veteran huntress's reprimand

Their teacher was hardly the only one displeased with Cardin. Yang, Ruby, Blake, and even Weiss all leveled vicious glares at the muscular young man. None of them really got along with Katsuki, but no one deserved that kind of racist treatment.

Surprisingly however, Izuku didn't even seem to notice the slur being thrown from the bleachers. His attention was securely focused on the match below, his eyes widening when Katsuki took off his weapons.

"He figured it out," the green-haired boy muttered.

"What?" Blake squawked. "You can't seriously agree with Cardin?"

"Cardin? What?" Izuku squawked, an eyebrow cocked in confusion. "I'm talking about Kacchan."

"You know he doesn't like it when you call him that," Yang reminded him. "But since he's not here to get pissed about it, please enlighten us about what great mystery the angry explosion boy figured out."

"Pyrrha's semblance."

"What?!" Weiss gasped. "That's ridiculous! Competition analysts have been trying to figure out Pyrrha's semblance for years now and come up with nothing sane. How could Katsuki have figured it out in one spar?"

Jaune's eyes widened. "Because he had more than one spar."

"No, he has not," Weiss reminded him with a gorgeous icy glare. "This is his first spar with Pyrrha."

"I know. But it isn't the first time he's fought with her. Well, not with her, but with her," Jaune clarified. "When we were fighting the Deathstalker at initiation. Katsuki got tossed away, but this black energy covered his gauntlets and stopped his momentum. It let him get back on his feet way faster than he would have been able to."

"His gauntlets," Izuku murmured, rubbing the dimple of his chin. "I saw a similar energy coat Pyrrha's shield when she deflected the Nevermore's barrage. It squares up with what I've been theorizing."

Jaune nodded, his partner's mystery semblance suddenly clear as day. She was usually so subtle with it that he never would have noticed just watching her, but Katsuki must have figured out it was influencing his weapons during the fight. Him realizing what was going on them let them follow the breadcrumbs of what he did to counter it to the same conclusion.

"Um, Izuku," Yang said, tilting her head to the side. "Care to explain to the rest of us what you've been theorizing?"

Huh? Did they not already know?

"Oh, right, sorry," Izuku sheepishly replied. "I think it's some sort of metal control. Maybe magnetism or polarity manipulation."

Blake pursed her lips together, her amber eyes narrowing at the sparring arena as Katsuki and Pyrrha crashed together in a flurry of melee combat.

"Are you sure?" the black-haired girl inquired. "A semblance that powerful, wouldn't using it so little be a waste?"

"Precisely," Weiss nodded. "Almost every huntsman and huntress in the world uses a metal weapon. I use my glyphs as much as I need to win a fight. Why wouldn't she just crumple their weapons immediately?"

"Because she doesn't need to. And it isn't always the best move," Ruby declared. "Sure, she can get rid of the weapons, and for me that'd be awful, but most people would just adapt their fighting style like Katsuki just did. They could work around her once they know what they're up against."

"Exactly," Izuku concurred. "But if they don't realize that she's doing it, she can control the flow of the fight."

Weiss's eyes widened with realization. "She can control them like puppets on strings." The heiress leaned forward in her seat, admiration drowning her face. "She really is a genius."

Jaune turned back to the match, gazing over his teammates as they traded blows in a furious exchange of steel and fire. "Yeah. She is."

They both were. Hell, all his friends were. Their teams were pretty much a who's who of the first-year class's top students, both in combat and academics. And then there was him. The idiot who got stuck in a tree.

He really was pathetic.


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Katsuki snarled, wiping a sheen of sweat off his forehead, the clear liquid splattering onto the arena floor.

He was so pathetic! He'd figured out that Nikos could manipulate the metal he was wearing before his aura had hit fifty, but it'd taken him another ten percent before he'd been able to get into a position to exploit it, set up an attack, and then remove his gauntlet at the last second to get under her guard. And he still hadn't been able to get a solid hit in!

Although, that was really more a credit to the Invincible Girl than anything. Nikos's reflexes had let her roll out of the way of his attack and, since he'd removed the rest of the metal he had on, she'd kept up that lightning-fast performance ever since.

Katsuki couldn't help but grin at that. He'd wanted to fight the best. Fighting the best, beating the best, was the only way he'd get stronger, become the strongest. That much was a rush. Getting his gauntlet and belt out of bounds just freed him up to fight with everything he had without worrying about the Mistralian puppeteer pulling his strings.

Some people might have criticized him for throwing away his grenades as well as his gauntlets, Moon Eyes in particular would probably try to make him kiss them as some sort of wacky apology. But Katsuki didn't like using his weapons too much in spars anyway. Not only was his fighting style more focused on his semblance than his gear, but he didn't exactly have deep pockets to replenish any dust he used. His scholarship may have come with a stipend for combat supplies, but that had been allocated before half the dust shops in the city had been robbed and prices had skyrocketed.

If his ammo was going to be limited, he'd rather save it for when his life was on the line.

Of course, that was hardly an excuse. Even if he'd seen fit to use his dust grenades, there was every possibility that Nikos would have been able to use her semblance to use them against him before they went off. No, discarding them out of bounds was his best bet to make ground and win the fight.

It wasn't without its own difficulties though. Unless he wanted to risk unleashing a maximum firepower blast, Nikos's rifle had him beaten for range. Add to the champion's top-notch tracking and he was getting peppered no matter how fast he flew around on his explosions. He wasn't getting close without losing another chunk of aura.

Fortunately, his own evasion skills had been honed by years of practice with Kirishima and sneaking out to dodge Grimm in the desert. As he rocketed across the arena, Pyrrha could only land glancing shots, draining his aura but not delivering enough force to knock him off course, at least not to a degree that he couldn't swiftly correct for.

The Invincible Girl fell back to try to maintain the swiftly closing distance, but Katsuki had a plan to make sure that plan wouldn't last long. While his approach might have seemed randomly invasive, in actuality, he knew exactly what he was doing, ensuring that his paths always forced his opponent where he wanted her to go.

Sure enough, Nikos found her retreat halted as she was backed up against the edge of the ring.

Katsuki smirked, soaring in close, his arms rising in front of him as he took aim at his cornered foe. He was right in the path of her rifle, but at their current range, his explosions would pack far more of a punch. If he fired a maximum blast, there was no way his teammate could dodge. Her aura would be smacked down straight to the red. A total and complete victory.

Only Nikos didn't take a shot with her rifle. Instead, she withdrew her weapon, cycling to its sword form and tucking the arm behind her shield. Ducking low, she dashed forward, using her hoplon as a bulwark as she slid under Katsuki's airborne body. The wolf faunus's eyes widened as he realized her plan.

"Clever bitc—"

Pyrrha sprung up from below and caught him with a shield bash to the gut before he could finish his instinctive compliment, the breath smashed from her lungs. The muscular huntress hefted him over her head and chucked him behind her, sending him flying out of bounds.

Katsuki growled, twisting in midair and firing off an explosion to keep him airborne. So long as he didn't hit the ground, he hadn't lost. He just needed to right himself and fly back in—gah! Fucking hell!

The moment he stabilized himself in the air, Nikos's shield slammed into his back. The fifteen-pound slab of bronze's impact threw off his rhythm and smacked him into the floor, his face stinging from the final blow.

"Match!" Professor Goodwitch called. "Pyrrha Nikos wins!"

Katsuki hissed as he rose up to his knees, allowing himself only a frustrated punch at the floor. His aura was still in low yellow, his opponent's slightly above it, but the match was his definite defeat.

He wasn't a fan of ring outs, either dealing them or taking them, he preferred total and complete victory, but he understood their purpose. Any common Spider thug or Branwen bandits could win a fight. Huntsmen had to win battles, wars. They had to always be aware of their surroundings and how they played into their current mission. If you let an enemy move you off your guard post, their allies could attack whatever, or whoever, you were protecting with impunity. You had to be aware of what you could do in the situation you were in.

Didn't mean he had to like it. He'd been chafing at what other people said he could be all his life, and proving them wrong all the way. Accepting the difference between their words that he could reject and the reality he couldn't, was more than a bit irritating.

Not helped by a panting, sweaty Nikos striding out of the ring, snatching up her shield and strapping it on her back. The redheaded champion walked up to him and offered down an open hand.

A flash of a kid Broccoli Hair flared over the Invincible Girl, his wide green eyes filled with honest infuriating pity.

Katsuki had to bite back a furious instinctive outburst, his vision returning to reality after a moment. He needed to get his hands on that green-haired bastard soon. If he didn't get some answers soon, there was no telling when one of these visions would come at the wrong time and get him or someone else hurt.

On another matter of importance, Nikos noticed his brief flash of anger. His teammate flinched back a tad, her face coated in just as much worry as sweat. She thought he was being some immature punk who couldn't take a loss.

Katsuki quickly snatched up her hand and let her help him up to his feet. Nikos had fought him with everything she had and forced him to give his best as well. She'd given him her full respect and she was owed his.

"Good fight," he commended, shooting her an eager, friendly (for him) smile so she would know he was sincere. "Rare enough to meet someone who actually lives up to their reputation."

Pyrrha couldn't keep her startled expression off her face, but she quickly shifted into a more genuine grin. "Thank you. You too. I can't remember the last time someone figured out my semblance mid-fight."

Katsuki nodded in reply. She did a good job of keeping it hidden. The adjustments she'd made to his gauntlets were subtle, movements that anyone could have attributed to unintentional overextension or her dodging at the last second. To be able to calculate such movements while in the midst of heated combat with explosions raining down around her, her concentration was incredible. He might not have been able to figure out what she was doing if he hadn't already thought something was up from initiation.

… no. He would have figured it out.

Professor Goodwitch waited patiently for the two teammates to return to the arena, floating Katsuki's gauntlets and belt back into his arms.

"An excellent bout, both of you," the bespectacled huntress complimented. "Ms. Nikos, you did well adjusting to your opponent's adaption, but you took advantage of the fact that this was training. Subtlety has its place, but when lives are on the line you may not have such luxury. Don't let his weapons get 'out of bounds' as it were when they could still be of use to you."

"Of course," Pyrrha nodded, a light red blush coating her cheeks. "I suppose I'm still adjusting from competition fights."

"Understandable but make haste. There will be no referee in a real battle."

Professor Goodwitch turned towards Katsuki, the wolf faunus defiantly meeting her gaze.

"Your performance was exceptional, Mr. Bell," the huntress proclaimed. "Your instincts and improvisation are first-rate as always and your mastery of your semblance is admirable. However, I caution you not to get so focused on defeating your opponent that you lose sight of their avenues of counterattack. You drove Ms. Nikos to the edge of the ring but left yourself open to the danger you hoped to use to your advantage."

Another flash, this one of Broccoli Hair uppercutting into the sky, a cataclysmic shockwave ripping through the building above him.

Katsuki simmered. "Got it."

Professor Goodwitch nodded at his acknowledgment and faced the rest of the crowd. "You've had ample time to acclimate to Beacon at this point. Your training will only become more difficult from here on out. But with it comes opportunity. The Vytal Festival will be hosted by Vale this year and you will all have the chance to qualify for the tournament. Those who do will be representing this kingdom on an international stage, so make sure you are at your best. Dismissed."

The professor whirled around and walked off in the ring, standing over the scattered dots of some of Katsuki's fallen sweat. She flicked up her wrist and the liquid spray gravitated up from the floor, as if a rainstorm had been frozen mid-fall.

The wolf faunus couldn't help but be impressed. He'd heard about plenty of legendary huntsmen: Nicholas Schnee, The Grimm Reaper, even Ozpin himself. He thought of himself as a strong fighter but seeing what a true professional huntress could do even in such a casual display was sobering. He had such heights still to climb.

A few minutes later, he and Pyrrha both exited the locker room back in their school uniforms, the Wet Noodle and Poofy Hair greeting them. Along with Team RIBW because gods forbid Broccoli Hair give him a moment's peace.

"Wow, I figured things would blow up when you two finally got an official match," Poofy Hair smirked. "But I didn't think it'd be so magnetic. I couldn't look away."

Katsuki felt vindicated when he wasn't the only one who groaned at his partner's terrible puns. Moon Eyes especially. Not even the blonde's own flesh and blood could stand her terrible sense of humor.

Nikos, bastion of self-control she was, somehow managed a polite smile at their teammate. "I take it you all figured out my semblance as well."

"Wait, so it actually is metal control?" Weiss inquired. Her head whipped to the wolf faunus. "And you figured it out mid-fight?"

Katsuki stared at her blankly. "Obviously, Ice Bitch." He shifted his gaze to Broccoli Hair. "Let me guess, you figured it out for the rest of them."

The green-haired bastard gulped. "Well, the others were on the right track. They would have worked it out—"

"He sure did!" Moon Eyes celebrated, leaping in front of her partner with a shining smile. "And I was the second one!"

Katsuki didn't doubt that. The Ice Bitch, Poofy Hair, and the coward were the types that Nikos's strategy was meant to work on, fighters who used their semblances as the bread and butter of their fighting styles, who couldn't imagine someone restraining their abilities for a long term advantage. Despite how much he relied on having those emerald sparks, Broccoli Hair tended to put more focus on analyzing his opponent's power than most. Moon Eyes did the same, if she could stop drooling over their weapons first.

Though, if there was anyone else who might have…

The wolf faunus glanced to the back of their group, where their limp noodle of a leader was keeping his distance, his face downcast to the ground.

"Flathead kicked your ass," Katsuki remarked. "Again."

The Wet Noodle cringed, his face flinching away from his team.

Pyrrha winced. "Katsuki, do you have to be so blunt?"

"Yeah," Yang added, stepping between him and their leader with a stern glare. "He may not be the best, but he got in here the same as the rest of us. He'll be wiping the floor with Cardin any day now."

Katsuki scoffed. Flathead might not have been anything noteworthy, but his form was solid, practiced. Combine that with his sheer bulk and his mace, and an enemy would have to use superior speed, firepower, technique, or tactics to overcome him. The Wet Noodle didn't have the first two, and definitely didn't have the third. The idiot swung his sword like a baseball bat at the best of times.

Which left tactics, which the blonde should have been able to use. The only reason Katsuki acknowledged him at all was the strategy he'd put together against the Deathstalker. But whenever he got into the ring with Flathead, the only thing he ever tried to do was match the armored dick's brute strength head-on.

And so, he lost. Over and over again.

As long as a huntsman was part of a team, they were only as strong as that team. A team could only be as strong as its leader could make it. Lose that leader, like for instance if they died because they didn't know how to fight if their life depended on it, and they were all handicapped at the knees.

The Noodle may have gotten into Beacon like the rest of them, somehow, but that didn't change the fact that he was useless. He needed to get stronger or he would make them all weak.

"The professor said they'll be taking the kid gloves off," the wolf faunus reminded his leader. "Shape up, before you drag the rest of us down."

"Hey!" Poofy Hair shouted. "He's your teammate, your leader! You can't just—"

"It's fine, Yang," the Wet Noodle cut in. "It's not like he's wrong."

"Jaune," Nikos mewled, Poofy Hair and Moon Eyes joining her in her pity.

Katsuki rolled his eyes and marched away down the hall. It was lunchtime and if he was going to have to stomach both the Wet Noodle and Broccoli Hair's staring, he needed food.


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"The lab results confirm it. NitroGlycerin."

Ozpin pursed his lips together as he leaned back in his chair, his hands curled in front of his face. "Intriguing. I was curious if the reincarnation would translate his 'quirk' the same as Mr. Midoriya remembered it."

Glynda sighed. "The boy literally sweats nitroglycerin. If I hadn't kept cleaning it up even after taking the sample for the lab, the sparring arena would be littered with it. I don't need to tell you what kind of safety hazard that is."

"Indeed," the headmaster remarked, unable to keep the fascinated smirk from his lips. "Though it seems we can confirm that the reincarnates brought over by the Queen retain their quirks like Mr. Midoriya. Though it also means that they may not have unlocked their actual semblances yet. After all, most modern theories on them agree that they require some sort of instinctive need to be catalyzed into effect. If their quirks suffice for such needs, they may actually inhibit such progress."

"Yes, I'm sure Bartholomew would be fascinated by the matter if we brought him in," Glynda frowned. "Is it not more concerning that Mr. Bell is literally a living bomb?"

Ozpin shrugged. "Perhaps. After all, our bodies secrete sweat in order to cool them down during strenuous activity. I'm sure nitroglycerin is far less efficient in that task than saltwater—"

"Ozpin!"

"Right, right, apologies," the headmaster replied, getting back on track. "I assure you, Glynda. Mr. Midoriya has the matter well in hand."

His deputy's scowl didn't abate. "I have no doubt that Mr. Midoriya is a capable young man. He is clearly brave to jump into this situation at all. But he is still sixteen years old and just as out of his depth in this… interdimensional drama, as we are. Every time I look at him, he and Mr. Bell are staring at each other and not in a friendly way. If things escalate, if these quirks are unleashed to their full potential, I'm not sure we can contain the damage. You saw what that explosion did in the Emerald Forest and if Izuku really does possess even greater power as he says…"

Ozpin sighed. Glynda was an impeccable huntress, an exceptional educator, a lifesaver of an administrator, and the finest deputy that he could ask for, but underneath her professional veneer, she was as human as anyone. And even she had limits, which the details of Izuku's mission (he'd gotten the young man's permission and taken care to withhold certain details such as Salem's immortality) pressed against quite hard.

"I understand your concerns, Glynda. I really do," the headmaster assured her. "But the simple fact is, we are out of our depth too. The Gods told Mr. Midoriya that his friends' souls would influence them towards the people they were on Earth. We know from Mr. Bell that this means they will appear similar to how they looked there, and their bodies will have their quirks. Though, we do not know if the latter holds true for all of them. It took generations for human biology over there to sufficiently evolve to safely compensate for quirks. Magic or not, we don't know if Remnant's biology was physically capable of doing it for all of them."

"You're not making me any less concerned," Glynda informed him. "Ms. Rose is one thing. She has the skills to be here despite her age and we know how to train her in her eyes if they awaken. But we have no way to contain and little way to even understand what Mr. Midoriya and Mr. Bell are capable of."

"But they do," Ozpin insisted. "Or at least, Mr. Bell will once Mr. Midoriya restores his memories."

Glynda paused, her eyes narrowing a tad. "You're so sure he will. You've come to trust him a great deal in a short amount of time."

Ozpin raised an eyebrow, before breaking out into a light chuckle. "Yes. I suppose I have. A young man who jumped into an impossible task set down by the gods. I suppose I have some sympathy for him."

It was a bit more than that of course. Despite how often he advised others to have faith in humanity, Ozpin… didn't. Over the millennia, he'd been betrayed too many times, watched people he'd trusted with everything consumed by fear and desperation the moment they discovered Salem's true nature. That the foe they could not defeat truly could not be killed. At best, when they learned the truth, they abandoned the fight, fleeing into the wilds as Raven did. And at worst, they became like Hazel, a man the headmaster had once trusted more than anyone. To prevent handing the queen another servant of his class, he dared not reveal the truth even to those he had great faith in like Qrow, James, and Glynda herself.

In that way, Mr. Midoriya was a first for the old wizard. Any secrets Ozpin might have had to hide from him, the young hero already knew and accepted, his determination as ironclad as ever. Perhaps that was aided by the fact that Izuku's mission didn't necessarily require him to defeat Salem, just retrieve his friends, but the headmaster doubted the boy was thinking about that factor. If he could save Remnant while finding his friends, he'd do it without hesitation.

Which was why it was Ozpin's job to make sure he understood that he couldn't. He couldn't save his world from Salem, so he'd make sure the aspiring hero could save who he could.

"He can do it," the headmaster reiterated. "I know he can."

"With Mr. Bell, perhaps," Glynda conceded, her face still marred with worry. "But he's not the only one out there. What if the Queen had already acquired the others, twisted them to her side?"

Ozpin did his best to hide his nervous gulp. "Let us hope that if she has, Mr. Midoriya has restored Mr. Bell to his full capacity by the time we have to face them."


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"If you think Mad Magenta is the right fit for the Road Warrior, you're even crazier than you look, Sparky!"

"Shut it, Poofy Hair! If you think the Road Warrior would ever get with that wet blanket over Batter Blue, that rat's nest must be pushing out your brain—"

"What did you say about my hair?! And Batter Blue tried to smash his head in with a baseball bat! Why would the Road Warrior ever want to be with someone who nearly killed him—"

Izuku wasn't sure if he needed to keep listening to Kacchan and Yang's shouting match, his eyes flickering between the two blondes across the lunch table. He'd just tried talking about The Road Warrior of Vacuo in an attempt to bond with his reincarnated rival, Ruby animatedly joining in to rave about the intricate weapon drawings in the comic. They'd actually gotten his childhood companion to open up about his favorite parts of the story, Yang chorusing about how badass the highlights of the first volume were.

Then Yang had mentioned how much she enjoyed the relationship between The Road Warrior and the story's female lead Mad Magenta, Kacchan had scoffed. Yang had demanded an explanation, which Kacchan responded with his own preference for a relationship with The Road Warrior and one of the early arc villains Batter Blue, and… well…

Izuku wasn't as surprised as he'd thought he'd be to find out that shipping wars were an interdimensional phenomenon.

The rest of Team RIBW and AYBN were all recoiling from the blondes' argument, with Blake making an effort to ignore it by reading a book, Pyrrha fearfully glancing between her quarreling teammates, and Jaune aimlessly picking at his food. Ruby, previously excited about the comic book talk, was smacking her forehead into her lunch tray.

"Um, should we stop them?" Izuku asked his partner.

"No. We got banned from the annual Patch Comic Convention because someone tried to interrupt Yang's 'discussion' with one of the other kids from Signal," Ruby moaned. "Just… let them get it out of their system. They'll get tired."

Weiss cocked an eyebrow. "They've been arguing for twenty minutes."

"Eventually. They'll get tired eventually… probably."

Izuku sighed. So that was the solution here as well. He'd lost track of how many All Might fan sites he'd taken a break from because a few people tried to make everything about the Number One Hero's love life.

He glanced around the table searching for something to distract himself, only for his eyes to land on Jaune. The blond boy kept poking at his lunch, not eating a bite. He might have just not been hungry, but he'd fought in combat class as well. He might have spent most of the fight… on the defensive, but that didn't mean his body didn't need fuel.

"Is the food alright, Jaune?" he inquired.

His friend's eyes shot up. "Huh?"

"Your food. You've just been picking at it. Do you not like it?" Izuku asked. He'd been spoiled on Lunch Rush's cooking for a while, but he didn't think the Beacon cafeteria food was that bad. "If you need something else, I can whip you up something back at the dorm?"

"Oh, thanks, Izuku, but I'm alright," Jaune assured him, his blue gaze shifting away from the table for a second. "Just… tired. Wiped out from that spar."

Izuku didn't buy it. His eyes narrowed, following his friend's brief gaze to another table. There, Cardin Winchester and his team were surrounding a rabbit faunus just trying to eat her lunch, calling her names and making rude, mocking gestures at her ears.

The green-haired boy frowned. "Jaune, if you need help with him, you just need to ask."

"What? With Cardin?" the leader of Team AYBN waved off. "Sure, he's beaten me down in our last few fights, but I'll get him eventually."

"That's not what I meant," Izuku said. "And you know it."

He'd been bullied from the day he left preschool to the day he left middle school. He knew what Jaune was trying to do. He didn't want to look weak, he wanted to be the bigger man and ride out Cardin's abuse without making a scene out of everything. He wanted to treat it like a personal matter between him and the other huntsman-in-training. It was what Izuku had done with Katsuki and almost all his other classmates.

But he had been alone. That had been the only choice available to him. Jaune was not. He just needed the courage to ask for help.

Their talk had actually attracted the rest of the table, Yang and Kacchan ceasing their squabble and Blake lowering her book to focus on the new discussion.

Pyrrha placed a comforting hand on her partner's shoulder. "Izuku is right, Jaune. If you need help with him, we're here for you."

"Yeah! I never let a bully pick on Ruby, no way I'm letting one pick on you," Yang grinned.

"Bully?" Jaune said. "Come on, guys. Cardin doesn't… bully me. He's just a jerk. To everyone."

"No, Katsuki is a jerk to everyone," Ruby pointed out. "Cardin is a bully. He goes looking for people to pick on."

"He's a boorish thug," Weiss proclaimed.

"Hardly an uncommon one though," Blake sneered. Her amber eyes turned back towards Cardin and his team. "People who can be cruel, often choose to be."

"Ow! That hurts!"

All the huntsmen and huntresses whirled back to Team CRDL, its leader holding tight around the rabbit faunus's long ears. Cardin tugged tight on the furry lobe, laughing along with his teammates.

"Look!" he taunted. "I told you they were real!"

Izuku's glare intensified. Since arriving on Remnant, he couldn't really say he fully understood the complex conflict between the kingdoms' governments, the state of Menagerie, the White Fang, and the innocent faunus caught in the middle. But he knew a bully when he saw one, and he knew what it meant to be discriminated against because of what you weren't. Tsuyu and Ashido could have been classified as faunus if they had been reincarnated and he wouldn't have stood by and watched them be belittled.

Of course, given it was him, by the time he'd come to that conclusion, he found that his hand was already wrapped around Cardin's, tearing his grip from the faunus girl's ear.

As usual, his body had moved on its own.

"What the hell?" Cardin squealed, wrenching his hand from Izuku's grip and recoiling with wide eyes. His team hovered around him, their bravado sundered the unexpected challenge to their leader. "What do you think you're doing?"

"What am I doing?" Izuku asked, his own nerves at the instinctive action catching up to him. His eyes skittered around the cafeteria. Team RIBW and Team AYBN weren't the only ones watching the scene now. Most of the cafeteria had had their eyes drawn to the unfolding events by Cardin's shout of pain, their gazes locked on thanks to the unexpected standoff.

Izuku was very much regretting not going in with a plan. He knew he'd needed to do something, but this could go extremely wrong if he handled it poorly. He was pretty sure he could beat Cardin and his team if it came down to a fight and even on the slim chance he couldn't, his friends would doubtlessly back him up. But escalating the incident into a brawl in the middle of the cafeteria wouldn't solve anything. If anything, humiliating Cardin would just make the bully even more vicious when no one was around to protect his victims.

His victims… the rabbit faunus! He was an idiot! The Provisional License Exam instructors had been perfectly clear on what his first priority needed to be in such a situation.

Well, not exactly this kind of situation, but helped him sort out his plan. Hopefully, he could use it and a bit of improvisation to solve the problem without letting everything get out of hand.


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Blake wished she could say she wasn't surprised by Izuku's actions. He was an aspiring huntsman after all. Why wouldn't one of the noble defenders of the world stand up to a blatant example of bigotry and bullying?

But if seventeen years of fighting for her people had taught her anything, it was that she couldn't expect people to act out of altruism when they in turn would be inconvenienced. It was telling that none of the others at the table, none of whom could be called 'bad' people by any stretch, had acted to do anything to stop Cardin's bullying, no matter how disgusted they were by him. She couldn't interfere without drawing attention to herself, so she resigned herself to just having to glower at the display. Which really fitted her into that group of inaction as well.

But Izuku had acted. He'd stood up, zipped over to the scene with green sparks coating his pant legs, and torn Cardin's hand off the faunus student's ear without a moment's hesitation. Both the rabbit girl and her bully had hopped back, the green-haired boy standing tall between them like a knight from a fairy tale.

"What the hell?" Cardin exclaimed, his team shoring up beside him. "What do you think you're doing?"

Izuku stared him straight in the eye, not wavering an inch. "What am I doing?"

The challenge was obvious in his tone. That what he was doing was natural. What Cardin had been doing was disgusting, a perversion of the noble huntsmen they were trying to become.

If this was one of her books, Cardin would either be intimidated into backing down or incensed into throwing a punch. Then, Izuku would be guilt-free in beating up the bully and his cronies while then whisking off the girl he'd saved to… do… things.

Of course, while real life wasn't a fairy tale, it wasn't a romance novel either. For a few seconds, Izuku and Cardin just stood there and stared at each other, the bully closing his fists and slowly reclaiming his nerve as he felt the eyes of the cafeteria on him. He needed to make a move, or he'd lose face. And given he hadn't instantly jumped into physical violence, there was every chance he'd actually be a cunning threat.

They needed to be ready to jump in and support their teammate if needed, Ruby was already on her feet and ready to pounce. But Izuku…

Well, Izuku turned around entirely, showing his exposed back to Cardin while he faced the rabbit faunus student.

"Are you alright?" he inquired.

The girl stared at Izuku for a moment, surprised that someone had actually helped, before giving him a slow nod. "Yeah, I'm alright. Thank you."

"You're welcome," the green-haired boy smiled, raising a friendly hand. "I'm Izuku Midoriya."

Blake cocked her head to the side. What… what was he doing?

The rabbit faunus seemed just as confused for a second before a small smile trickled onto her face. She balanced her lunch tray onto one arm and shook Izuku's hand with the other. "Velvet. Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you," the green-haired boy replied. "I think I've seen you in Dr. Oobleck's Intro to Huntsmen History, but nowhere else? Do you have Intro to Grimm at another—"

"Oh no, I'm not a first-year," Velvet informed him. "Don't worry, it's a common mistake."

"You're a second-year? Cool!"

"Hey!" Cardin shouted, demanding everyone's attention back to him, his face red and spittle flying from his lips. "What are you doing? You some kind of animal lover—"

"You were bullying your upperclassman," Izuku spoke, his voice cutting through the other boy's arrogant drivel like a hot knife through butter. Ironic, since when he turned back to face Cardin, his ivy eyes were ice-cold, more frigid than Blake had ever thought the bumbling boy could be. "How dare you."

The leader of Team CRDL staggered back, only recovering when his back smacked against his cronies. He gnashed his teeth together, curling back his fist, like a Beowolf bearing its fangs. "What do you care? She's just a freak!"

"Hey!" In the blink of an eye, Velvet had set her lunch tray down on a nearby table and circled around Izuku, cutting between him and the boy who'd been harassing her. There was no hint of the helpless girl who'd been picked on a moment earlier, her chocolate eyes hard like the huntress she was. "You want to play playground bully on me, fine. I can deal with an insecure little jerk like you. But you throw that punch at anybody else, well… don't throw that punch. Consider it some free advice from your senior."

"Wha… you… you…"

Cardin whirled around and stomped away, his team scurrying after him like the rats they were, sniggers from the rest of the cafeteria following them on their way out.

"Woah," Ruby murmured, sparkles in her silver eyes. "She's awesome!"

"I'll say," Yang smirked. "Wonder why she didn't do that in the first place. She could have kicked their asses six ways from Sunday."

Blake sighed. "It's not that simple."

"How? It's how I handled Ruby's bullies back Signal."

The dark-haired girl frowned. "You're not a faunus."

Yang cocked an eyebrow in confusion, but Blake glanced away instead of providing further explanation. She'd already said more than she should have. If she suddenly went on a tirade about the double standard the faunus were held to, she'd either come off as self-righteous or raise suspicion about her true identity.

Though, given there was one person who already knew that, maybe he would care to fill in the gap?

Nope. Katsuki had already turned away from the rest of them and gone back to shoveling lunch meat into his maw. Apparently, now that the matter was handled, the wolf faunus couldn't care less about the reasons it had happened.

Izuku waved goodbye to Velvet, the rabbit faunus smiling as she walked off. The green-haired boy came back to their table, plopped down on the bench, and let out a relieved sigh before digging back into his meal.

At least, he did for a few moments. Then he realized that the table was unnaturally quiet. His gaze flicked up, a bead of sweat dabbing down his forehead as he noticed that aside for Katsuki, everyone's eyes were on him.

"What?" Izuku asked.

"What?" Ruby grinned. "Izuku, that was awesome!"

"It was?"

"Of course it was! Cardin was all like 'I'm going to be a horrible person!' And then you zoomed over like 'whoosh!' And you were like 'I am here to save the day, evildoer!'."

Yang clapped him on the back. "You were pretty slick, Green Bean. A regular knight in a schoolboy uniform."

"Um, thanks," Izuku sputtered, rubbing his back from the friendly blow. "But I didn't do much. If she hadn't jumped into action when she did, I'm not sure how I could have handled it without a fight breaking out. Really, he should have known better than to be so rude to his senpai—ergh, upperclassman. He should have shown more respect."

"I'm not sure Cardin even knows how to spell respect," Weiss scoffed.

"His vocabulary is hardly expansive," Pyrrha smiled.

But Izuku's was, Blake noted, her brow furrowed. He'd said 'senpai'. It was a really old Mistralian term, one that had fallen out of use before the Faunus Rights Revolution. The only place it was even used at all was her Ninjas of Love and similar books. Izuku's parents may have been from Mistral, but to have his first instinct be to say such a word…

… did he… share her taste in literature?

"That was pretty cool," Jaune murmured. "Izuku… if you just went in without a plan, and you didn't know that girl was going to back you up… why did you go in? I mean, you could have screwed up and gotten in trouble. Or worse."

Izuku chuckled awkwardly, nervously rubbing the back of his head. "Well, yeah. But I couldn't just stand by and do nothing."

Jaune glanced down at his food. "I guess you couldn't. You're amazing that way."

"He's an idiot that way."

Blake and the rest of the table whirled towards Katsuki, the wolf faunus glaring at the green-haired boy with his crimson eyes, watchful and judging.

"Oh, come on," Yang moaned. "Not even you could possibly find something to gripe about this."

"He saved her," Ruby insisted. "What, are you saying he should have just let Cardin keep bullying her?"

"Wasn't that what the rest of you were doing?" Katsuki pointed out. "Or did he just beat you to the punch?"

Blake noted that the entire table could only glance away guiltily at that accusation. Hell, even she had chosen to stand back and do nothing, so desperate she was to avoid anything that might have hinted at her true identity. But the truth was that if Izuku hadn't acted when he did, the rest of them would have done nothing.

Katsuki snorted. "Doesn't matter much anyway. Not like any of you can be there every time Flathead or some other asshole decides to mess with her. If she's only willing to fight for others and not herself, she'll just be their punching bag forever."

Izuku frowned. "If it was only about fighting them off, she could have taken them down whenever she felt like it. She was showing restraint to keep it from escalating."

"So because they're assholes, she has to be better?"

"No, that's not… I'm not saying it's fair, or right. But Velvet choosing to do nothing is not weakness."

Katsuki snorted. "Then why didn't you?"

Izuku's eyes widened for a moment, but unlike the previous times Blake had seen him interact with the wolf faunus, he didn't break down into mutterings. Instead, his gaze narrowed, his face hardening into steel as he answered Katsuki with a glare just as fearsome.

"Because I know what it's like to be in trouble and have no one come to help," he retorted. "Maybe I can't be there every time something like this happens. But if I am there, if I see someone who needs help, I can't ignore it."

"Maybe you should. Some people's business is their business. If you try to fight everyone's battles, you'll be too weak to survive your own."

Izuku smirked. "But I'll still win."

Katsuki's eyes narrowed. "What?"

"I'll win by saving everyone I can," Izuku said. He glanced towards Ruby, flashing a more genuine smile at his partner. "We're in this world to make it better. And I'm not going to stand by when I have a chance to do that."

Ruby grinned at her teammate's proclamation, Yang and Pyrrha showing similar expressions of approval. Even Weiss looked on the green-haired boy with wide blue eyes of wonder.

For a moment, Blake shared in their stupor, only for it to fade an instant later as she recognized the phenomenon. She'd spent her life surrounded by master orators capable of moving thousands with their words, their convictions seeping every sentence in rampant charisma. From her father, to Sienna Khan, to Adam, she'd been enraptured by each of them at different points in time and the supposedly simple answers they'd offered to complex problems. Her former beau in particular had used his allure to lead many down a path of brutal and unconscionable violence.

Izuku was far from a master speaker, but whether he knew it or not, he had a natural charisma when he really got going, one that drew people to him and made them want to believe in what he was saying. And even if he meant well and his convictions were genuine, there was danger in believing that all the world's problems could be fixed just by jumping in to solve them.

Even if they were there to make the world a better place, their definition of 'better' wouldn't be agreed on by everyone.

"Doing the right thing… no matter how hard…" Jaune murmured. The leader of Team AYBN's gaze was locked on Izuku, but unlike the rest of the table, his expression was far morose. Ashamed even.

Blake had a lot of experience with that last emotion.

Katsuki snarled. "Some fights, you can't win."

Izuku frowned. "You don't believe that."

Katsuki's hands clenched tight around his lunch tray, denting the metal as he shot to his feet. "What the fuck do you know about what I believe?"

The wolf faunus whirled away from the table and stormed off.

"Katsuki!" Pyrrha called, rising from her seat to chase after him.

Only for Yang to catch her arm and stop her in her tracks. The blonde shook her head.

"Let him go," she advised. "He won't appreciate being pitied."

"What?" Pyrrha gasped. "I'm not pitying him. I just want to make sure he's okay."

"He won't see it that way," Yang pronounced. "Just let him cool down. We all have Professor Oobleck's later, so we can check in with him then."

Pyrrha glanced down, a frown etched over her face. A frown that was reflected over Izuku's lips.

"I'm sorry," he said, shaking his head in his hand, his siren's charisma evaporated. "I shouldn't have provoked him like that."

"Eh, it wasn't your fault," Yang shrugged. "You said what you thought was right. Honestly, if it wasn't you, he probably would have brushed it off."

Izuku raised an eyebrow. "Me?"

"Yeah, whenever Cardin or anyone else insults him, he usually just ignores it or scoffs at them," Yang explained. "The rest of us can usually get a rise out of him, but you're the only one he gets pissed at." The violet-eyed girl giggled. "Maybe he likes you."

"Gah!" Ruby gagged. "Yang!"

"You were four words away from being poignant," Weiss sighed.

Izuku took several moments to blink numbly. "I… don't think that's what it is."

"Because you don't think he likes boys?"

"More I don't think he likes me. Especially not that way."

Yang shrugged, a mischievous grin dominating her face. "Bullies pull on the pigtails of people they like."

"They do what?" Weiss queried. "I know that I didn't have the most traditional schooling experience, but who in their right mind would think that physical violence was an appropriate method of showing affection?"

"We're talking about kids," Blake reminded her partner. "By default, they don't have a 'right mind'."

And when they didn't grow up and get one, they became far worse than mere bullies. They became Adams, or Jacques Schnees. Monsters who only cared about their own power and hijacked otherwise noble causes or institutions for their own gain.

Maybe that was why Katsuki was so careful with how he responded to the world, why he only allowed himself to get truly angry around their two teams. Where fighting Pyrrha in controlled spars allowed him to test his strength without fear, bouncing off the rest of them allowed him to safely test his ideals. Become sharper and investigate more about the world without that same world coming down on him just because he had an extra pair of ears on his head.

It was touching in a way. No matter how irritable or abrasive he could be, the very fact that Katsuki was willing to argue with them was proof that he felt safe among the teams, that he really did think of them as friends, sans Blake herself. Even Izuku, whatever issues the pair had.

She envied them both. Izuku, being so sure of what was right, and Katsuki, who was so sure of who he was that he could brush off the rest of the world's cruelty so long as he had his own comrades. She'd been trying to figure out what was right her entire life, and all she'd accomplished was running from camp to camp, leaving a trail of mistakes in her wake.

Katsuki could be who he was, because prickly as he could be, he was free of any major sin. Blake had made her choices, and they'd been wrong. If she took off her bow, if she showed who she was to the others, they wouldn't be so forgiving. Because the 'right' thing wouldn't be to be forgiving to a former terrorist.

No, she had to become a huntress, to seek out corruption in the world, and destroy it. She had to succeed, or everything she'd done, all her sins and all her failures, would have been for nothing.

She just had to keep her bow on for… as long as anyone else was present… and keep her ears from twitching while they were under it…

In hindsight, her plan to come to Beacon had quite a few holes in it.


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In hindsight, Ruby's plan to come to Beacon had quite a few holes in it.

Seriously, why did she ever think skipping two years was a good idea? Going to a Huntsman Academy in the same grade as Yang sounded like a dream come true on paper, but Weiss had been completely right about missing material. She could barely keep up with Professor Oobleck's lecture as he was saying it, but she barely had context for a good chunk of the material, most of it building off stuff that would have been covered in her junior and senior years at Signal. And if she'd tried goofing off like she had during her first day in Professor Port's class, her fellow speed semblance user would have come down on her hard, just like he did on Jaune and Cardin for not paying attention during the lead up to a question on the Faunus Rights Revolution.

Fortunately, thanks to many late nights studying with Izuku and Weiss (mostly Weiss, Izuku helped out the best he could but he has some serious gaps in his knowledge, guess running away from Grimm from town to town didn't leave much time for school), she actually had known the answer about why Fort Castle had gone so poorly for the human forces. So her many nights without video games and comics hadn't gone to waste! Maybe that meant it would be okay for her to take a night off and play some online Ultimate Ninja Master with Handym—

Nope! Nope! Nope! She was her team's leader! She couldn't let them down. She had to be at her best and that meant that until she was completely caught up, no late-night video game binges! Her online friends would totally understand. Plus, she could make a big return when she came back to crush Handyman175 in her first tournament back!

But she could take a little time to cheer up a friend who'd been having a hard time lately. No matter what anyone said.

"Look, Jaune having to stay behind for additional readings from Professor Oobleck is his own fault," Weiss argued. "He shouldn't have been sleeping during the lesson. We have our own homework to deal with, and the more time we spend here means less time for it, and less time for catching you up on what you missed."

Ruby sighed. Teams RIBW and AYBN, minus Jaune, stood outside the Huntsmen History classroom, the eight students hugging either side of the hall as their fellows rushed off to their after-class activities.

"I know," Ruby softly assured her teammate. "This won't take long. We'll just make sure he's okay."

Weiss rolled her eyes. "With all due respect, Ruby. He has his own team. We're not supposed to babysit him."

"Yeah, that's our job, sis," Yang grinned.

Ruby shot her sister a flat look. "Yang, I love you and I would never downplay everything that you've done for me throughout our sisterhood. But between you and Katsuki, he will be mercilessly teased from one end and cuttingly derided from the other."

"What?" Yang squeaked. "No, that's not—"

"No, that's pretty much exactly what would happen," Katsuki nodded.

"Ergh. You've betrayed me, my partner," Yang groaned.

"Wait," Pyrrha noted. "You didn't mention me."

Ruby grinned. "You're pretty perfect, Pyrrha."

"Oh," Pyrrha remarked. The champion recoiled for a moment before forcing a plaster smile over her lips. "Thank you. I try my best."

Ruby raised an eyebrow. Did she say something wrong? She knew her social skills weren't perfect, but she was pretty sure calling someone perfect wasn't an insult.

"And you succeed quite often," Weiss complimented, not noticing their friend's reaction to the earlier words. "It is incredibly admirable. Especially when you've been hampered with—"

"Me?"

The teams turned to the classroom entrance, Jaune stumbling towards them. Cardin came up to shove him, but one glare from Yang and Izuku had the bully changing course, stomping off down the hall.

Izuku then turned to the leader of Team AYBN, suddenly far more nervous. "No, Jaune, she didn't mean you—"

"Yes, I did," Weiss bluntly declared.

Yang scoffed. "Don't worry about it, Vomit Boy. The Ice Queen doth protest too much."

"Stop calling me that! And I do not 'protest too much'." Weiss whined, turning her icy glare on Jaune. "You are on a team with three of the most prodigious combatants this academy has seen in years, and you didn't even know what aura was during initiation. Now, you're floundering in spars, sleeping through your classes, and being lumped with even more work because of it."

"Weiss, come on," Izuku murmured. "It's only been a few weeks."

"And soon it'll be a few more," Katsuki chimed in, glaring at his leader. "The Ice Bitch is right. If you're not going to give this everything you've got, why are you even here?"

Jaune glanced away, his fists clenching in frustration. "I… I am giving it everything I've got. It's just… not enough."

Ruby shot her fellow leader a sympathetic expression. She'd gone through Signal believing that Yang was the strongest person she'd ever be in school with. Now, Team ABYN was so stacked that such a title went to Pyrrha without a doubt, and the silver-eyed girl wasn't even sure her sister could best Katsuki in a fight. To be even an average fighter on such a lineup would be a burden, but Jaune was… admittedly subpar. Surrounded by such excessively competent combatants, what else was he supposed to think other than he was floundering?

Except he was the leader.

"Nope."

Jaune and the rest of the group swiveled towards Ruby.

"Huh?" the blond boy muttered. "Ruby, what are you talking about? I'm not enough."

"Nope," Ruby repeated. "You're a leader now, Jaune. You can't fail. Neither of us can. Our teams are depending on us. And if we fail, then… well… we take them down with us. And we can't do that."

Of all people, Katsuki smirked after her little speech.

Unfortunately, Jaune did not. He merely looked down even further, his mop of golden hair completely covering his downcast eyes. Covering them with shame.

Ruby took a tentative step forward, but Pyrrha headed her off, catching her eyes and subtly shaking her head. The red hooded girl reluctantly stood down. It wasn't like her efforts had been much help anyway.

"The rest of you can go on ahead," Pyrrha said. "Jaune, I've got an idea."

The Invincible Girl grabbed her partner by the wrist and jetted down the hall, the blond gasping as he was pulled away faster than he could run.

Weiss sighed and shook her head. The heiress came up and placed a comforting hand on Ruby's shoulder. "You did what you could. In the end, self-improvement is something everyone needs to work on themselves. Though if anyone can help him shape up, it's Pyrrha."

"Sometimes all you need is for someone to tell you that you can do it," Izuku nodded. "So, Katsuki—and he's already gone."

Ruby's eyes widened at her partner's word, quickly scanning the hall to spy Katsuki ducking down a corner. The same direction that Pyrrha took Jaune.

Blake's brow furrowed. "So much for 'some people's business is their business'."

"That jerk!" Yang exclaimed. "How dare he sneak off to spy on our teammates' private conversation!"

Ruby rolled her eyes. "Three. Two. One—"

"I was going to sneak off to spy on our teammates' private conversation!"

Ruby groaned. At least her sister was predictable. She was a social butterfly that didn't always know when to tuck away in a cocoon.

Blake cocked an eyebrow. "Shouldn't you respect their boundaries—and she's gone."

Ruby sighed, her sister's golden locks flowing in the wind as she ran down the hall.

"Well, we should let them handle their own internal team matters," Weiss advised. "We have plenty of homework to get to and several minutes less of a day to do it in."

"Of course we did," Ruby glumly agreed. "Hey, Izuku, any chance you can whip us something special for dinner—and he's gone. Where did he go?"

Blake raised an arm, pointing down the hallway just as a trail of emerald sparks turned the corner.

"Unbelievable," Weiss moaned. "Is he really so obsessed with Katsuki that he'd follow him even when we have far more important things to do?"

"Evidentially, yes," Blake replied.

"Well, we can't let him do it alone!" Ruby cheered. "Team RIBW! Move out!"

"What?! Ruby—"

"She's gone."

"Ugh!"

Ruby felt a little guilty about derailing Weiss's carefully laid out homework plans, her two remaining teammates reluctantly following her charge, but if Izuku following Katsuki got him caught up in Yang's embarrassing big sister eavesdropping, it could be an awkward situation. And it was her responsibility as both his partner and his team leader to keep him from doing something dangerous without her there to back him up.

Though really, they were just going to be eavesdropping while Pyrrha talked with Jaune. How bad could that be?


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"I didn't go to combat school, I didn't pass any tests, I didn't earn my spot at this academy. I lied! I got my hands on some fake transcripts, and I lied."

"But… why?"

"Because this is what I always wanted to be! My father, my grandfather, and his father before him were all warriors. They were all heroes! I wanted to be one too. I was just never good enough."

"Then let me help you—"

"I don't want help! I don't want to be the damsel in distress, I want to be the hero!"

"Jaune—"

"I'm tired of being the loveable idiot stuck in the tree while his friends fight for their lives! Don't you understand? If I can't do this on my own… then what good am I? It's like Katsuki and Ruby said, I'll just drag the rest of you down. Except if we're in the field… that could mean one of you getting killed because I can't handle myself."

"Jaune—"

"Please. We both know you have better things to do. Just… leave me alone."

Pyrrha flinched away from her partner's words, turning around and walking towards the door off the roof and back into Beacon. Part of her was saddened that her partner, that the first friend she could truly say she'd ever made, didn't want her help. Part of her was disappointed in him, learning the truth about what he'd done to get into the school, his initial lack of knowledge about aura now making so much more sense. Yet, another piece of her was simply relieved that she'd caught him during the landing strategy portion of initiation. If she hadn't, he wouldn't have even survived the fall.

She supposed that was one good thing about confronting him here. Even if he had rejected her offer of private training to help him catch up, he had also finally been able to let out some of the emotions that had been churning inside him all these weeks. Maybe with those released, he'd be able to cool down and make a new decision later on.

At least, those were her thoughts before she opened the door and discovered the entirety of her team and Team RIBW just outside.

Pyrrha shuffled in and shut the door to the roof behind her. "How… how much of that did you hear?"

Yang gulped, the boisterous blonde for once incredibly uncomfortable. "All of it."

Pyrrha winced, her emerald eyes flickering around her friends. This… this was not good.

Ruby and Izuku, close to Jaune they may have been, could not meet Pyrrha's gaze. The red hooded girl's face was twisted with disappointment, like she'd just heard that order of cookies had been delayed indefinitely, while the green-haired boy's brow furrowed in contemplation, the turmoil between his care for his friend and his respect for the rules that friend had broken warring in his mind, silencing even his usual mumbling.

Weiss and Blake, less fond of Pyrrha's leader, were able to keep their heads high, though the champion could admit that she was a bit surprised at their reactions. Blake had her usual aloof indifference, but it was cracked with a hint of contemplation, a dash of sympathy. A fracture that was shared by Weiss, who knew perhaps better than any of them the pressures of trying to live up to a family legacy. Still, the Schnee heiress had no patience for cheaters or rulebreakers and it showed through the disgust that dominated her face.

Unfortunately, even that reaction paled in comparison to the one that Pyrrha had feared most of all.

Katsuki's fists were clenched tight at his sides, sparks popping off over his flesh. The wolf faunus's canine ears were rigid at attention, his crimson eyes glaring at the door to the roof, at Jaune, with enough anger to kill him with that alone. For all that her teammate could be irritable, Pyrrha had never seen him so furious, even with Izuku.

The Invincible Girl stepped towards her friend, her arms extended in a placating manner. "Katsuki, listen—"

"Oh, Jaune."

"Cardin!"

The seven huntsmen and huntresses all went quiet, their eyes and ears pressed to the door at the sound of the bully's arrival on the rooftop.

"I couldn't help but overhear you two from my dorm room," Cardin postured. "So, you snuck into Beacon, huh? Gotta say Jaune, I never expected you to be such a rebel."

"Cardin, please, please don't tell anyone," Jaune begged.

"Jaune, come on. I'd never rat out a friend like that."

"Uh… a friend?"

"Of course! We're friends now, Jauney Boy! As long as you're there for me when I need you, we'll be friends for a long time. That said, I really don't have time to do those extra readings Professor Oobleck gave us today. Think you could take care of that for me, buddy?"

A long pause, a long moment. The entire time, Pyrrha was praying for Jaune to stand up for himself, to show them, and himself, that he had the spirit of a huntsman if not the training. That like Izuku, he would not be cowed by a bully.

And yet, there was only silence.

They could practically hear Cardin's smirk through the door. "That's what I thought—"

"AAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHH!"

"Katsuki!" Pyrrha yelped, only for her teammate to shove past her, blasting the door to the roof off its hinges with a single explosion.

Jaune and Cardin both whirled towards the wolf faunus, both bully and bullied faces wide with terror. Katsuki stomped across the roof, steam boiling off his head as his teeth appeared as sharpened fangs through the smog.

"Woah, woah!" Cardin stammered, all his previous bravado gone. "Stay away from me you—"

"Noodle!" Katsuki roared, brushing past the bully and grabbing Jaune by the collar of his uniform. He lifted his team leader up and then rammed him until the wall of the school. Jaune winced as an imprint of his body was left in the brick, only his frantic activation of his aura keeping him from injury.

Though, given his teammate's glare of utter and complete disgust, who knew how long that would last.


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Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, he was gonna die! He was gonna die! He was going to die and Katsuki was going to kill him!

Jaune wished he could claim that there were braver thoughts going through his head at that moment, but there weren't. After his confession to Pyrrha, Cardin suddenly appearing to blackmail him, and then his teammate entering the scene with a literal explosion, the blond leader was utterly spent emotionally even before he'd been shoved against the wall of the school.

If it hadn't been for the constant scolding he'd gotten from Professor Goodwitch earlier that day, he might not have activated his aura on instinct to endure the impact. His hands feverishly rose to his teammate's grip on his collar, but Katsuki's grip was far too strong for him to break alone.

Fortunately, twin blurs of emerald and scarlet zoomed to his side and informed him that he wouldn't have to. Ruby and Izuku used their semblances to rush in before any of the others and together ripped Katsuki off of Jaune. The wolf faunus snarled and made to move back in, but Pyrrha and Yang had been given time to move into his path.

"What the hell, Katsuki!? Yang shouted. "You can't just—"

"Shut it, Poofy Hair!" Katsuki roared, his ferocious glare never leaving Jaune. "You… you fucking weak noodle bastard!"

Pyrrha flinched. "Katsuki—"

"No! You don't get to coddle him! He's too weak for that!" the wolf faunus snarled, brushing past Pyrrha only for Yang to get in his path. "Out of my way."

"No," Yang declared, iron in her voice. "He's our teammate and he's our friend. My friend. Whatever he's done, you don't get to use him as a punching bag."

Jaune's heart shattered into a thousand pieces. Here was Yang, having no doubt heard everything that had gone on with Pyrrha and Cardin, defending him to her partner without a second thought. His friend… who had to save him, because he couldn't do it himself.

He gazed up, finding Ruby and Izuku, his first friends, hovering protectively in front of him, neither one backing down.

Why was he so pathetic? They were so amazing and all he could do was drag them down. Why couldn't he be like them?!

"You think he's gonna get better any other way?!" Katsuki demanded. "He's weak! More importantly, he won't do what it takes to become strong!"

"I want to!" Jaune screamed. "I want to be strong, but I can't—"

"Stop whining!" his teammate commanded. "Stop complaining about what you want to do and how you want to do it, and do it! Be strong!"

"I'm not—"

"Then become strong! Do you think you're the only one who's ever been weak?! Do you think there was a time when anyone here wasn't weak!? Do you think we became strong by pissing on opportunities when they came our way?!"

Jaune reeled back as he'd slapped, his mind resetting at his teammate's reprimand. He was mad… because he'd rejected Pyrrha's offer of help?

"You don't get to keep ramming your head into a wall when your skull's not thick enough to knock it down! We're made weak! You got yourself and us into this fucking mess, you noodle piece of shit!" Katsuki proclaimed, sparks crackling over his palms. "So you don't get to wuss out of it! You don't want Nikos' help? Fine."

He smacked his fist into his palm, an explosive plume of smoke emanating from his callused flesh. "You get me then. You don't get to be weak."

Jaune looked down at his hands, mulling over Katsuki's words. The idea that such amazing prospective huntsmen like the wolf faunus, Pyrrha, Yang, Ruby, Izuku, and Weiss… that they had ever been where he was, hopeless and confused… it wasn't something he'd ever really thought about. His hometown, Ansel, had no combat school, and his dad had always had to be constantly taking on jobs to feed their ten-person strong family, so he'd never had anyone to help him before.

He'd thought that if he got to Beacon, if he just got the opportunity to learn from teachers, then he'd get it, same as everyone who went to combat school who just got it. But, if they hadn't been able to do it on their own… how could he?

"Jaune."

The blond boy looked up, only to find a pair of hands extended towards, one each from Izuku and Ruby.

"Sometimes, you can't do something by yourself," Izuku said empathetically. "But that just means you have to make the most of every chance you get, every helping hand you're offered."

"We're on teams for a reason, you doofus," Ruby chided him. "Just because you have to lead doesn't mean you shouldn't ask for help when you need it."

Jaune couldn't think of what to say. He didn't deserve this. They knew he didn't deserve this. But they still wanted to help.

He tentatively took both their hands and staggered to his feet. Just in time for an unwelcome voice to cut in.

"So you're not going to turn him in?" Cardin inquired, an oily smirk breaking through his fear. "Well, isn't that an interesting situation. Maybe we can all be friends."

To say every member of Teams RIBW and AYBN were completely and utterly uninterested was a vast understatement. As in, comparable to Professor Oobleck not giving homework understatement.

And yet, while most of them had their eyes on the enterprising bully, Katsuki kept his gaze on Jaune. Watching him, waiting to see what he would do.

Strangely enough, through all his turmoil, through all his self-doubt, he did know what he had to do, what he would do. The moment that Cardin had extended his blackmail threat past him, to his friends, he knew it. His mind flew back to Izuku's words in the cafeteria and he knew them to be true.

He couldn't just stand by and do nothing.

"Knowing Jauney boy, he probably wouldn't have done too well on the readings anyway," Cardin continued, glancing about at the utterly unamused glares he was receiving. "Oh, come on. If Ozpin finds out you all knew about this loser's secret and didn't tell him, there's no telling what he'll do to you. All in all, I'm not asking much for my silence—"

"And you'll get nothing," Jaune declared, his voice solid and secure. He stepped forward from Ruby and Izuku's protection and strode past Katsuki, Yang, and Pyrrha, his team, whether he deserved them or not.

He stood before Cardin, head held high with his baby blue eyes staring straight at the bully's stupid flat head. "You can try to mess with me all you like. But you don't get to threaten my friends."

Cardin snorted. "Bad time to try growing a spine, Jaune. Unless you all want to kill me, you don't have any other way to keep me quiet."

"I don't need to keep you quiet," Jaune informed him. "I'll go to Ozpin myself."

"What?!" The bully's eyes widened, only for his lips to press into a sneer. "Nice try, but you can't bluff your way out of this one. I heard your little sob story about wanting to be a hero. You confess to the headmaster and you'll be out of here in a second. You'll be nothing. Or well, even less nothing than you already are."

Now it was Jaune's turn to smirk. "You're right. After I tell Ozpin, he'll be sure to expel me. And you, probably."

"Me?" Cardin stuttered. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Jaune made a great show of shrugging. "Well, I'll have to tell him the full story so he can make an informed decision. How I got the transcripts, what I did once I got here, and the exact circumstances that led me to confess. Trying to blackmail me would be one thing, but seven of the best students in the academy when they only knew for half a minute? Not a great look for an aspiring huntsman. Blackmail is a crime, you know."

Cardin paled. "You… you can't! It'll be your word against mine—"

"You mean it'll be your word against all of ours," Jaune countered. "Your word against, I repeat, seven of the best students in the academy including the heiress to the SDC, the mascot of Pumpkin Pete's Marshmallow Flakes, and the nieces of a huntsman that Ozpin is very… how did you describe it, Yang?"

"Tight," Yang grinned, her violet eyes twinkling with mischievous amusement. "They go way back."

"Exactly," Jaune nodded. "You're just a bit out of your weight class here."

Cardin started breathing fast, his fists clenching so hard his knuckles turned white. He snarled, his hands rising for Jaune's collar. They never reached it.

Jaune took a single step back and Pyrrha and Yang jumped in front of him, halting Cardin's advance like the most attractive brick wall of all time. At the same time, Katsuki came around the side and raised a single finger three inches from the bully's eye.

"Try it, Flathead," he threatened, a small crackle of sparks and smoke sounding off from his fingertip.

Jaune smiled. This was his team. They were amazing, incredible. He didn't deserve them. But he would not let them down.

"I'm already nothing, Cardin. Getting kicked out of here changes nothing for me," he stated. "But you? Getting kicked out of here would make you become nothing. Something tells me you don't want that change."

The bulky, burly, powerless bully staggered back, his face pale and whatever vestiges of his façade utterly shattered, his terror on full display. "I… I… you don't have to. To tell Ozpin, I mean. We're friends, right? I'll keep quiet, you keep quiet, and we just keep going on like normal. That… okay?"

"Perfectly," Jaune replied. He stepped aside and gestured toward the door to the stairwell. "Unless you want to climb back down the way you came?"

Cardin frantically shook his head, before scurrying off across the roof, through the open doorway, and down the hall.

Jaune let out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding, his hands clapping over his knees as he heaved. Pyrrha came to his side while Yang slapped him on the back.

"Hot damn, Vomit Boy! That was badass!" the blonde cheered. "You really had me going with that bluff for a second."

Pyrrha frowned, looking over her partner with concern. "That wasn't a bluff. Was it?"

Yang's smile faded, her eyes widening at her leader. Jaune glanced away, his eyes glancing up to meet Katsuki's.

They held each other's sight for several long moments. Until finally, the wolf faunus shot Jaune a slight nod of respect.

"If you get expelled, we're made a man down. We have to live with everyone looking down on us for our leader being pathetic," Katsuki pointed out. "If you're here, then you're here. But you don't get to be weak."

Jaune nodded. "I won't be. I promise."

He couldn't. however he felt about being pathetic or not being able to do it on his own didn't matter. He was the leader of his team and that meant that he had to be a huntsman worthy of them. Because even if he didn't deserve his friends, they deserved better than him.

So, he'd be better. However he could.


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"Excuse me," Weiss spoke up. "But I believe there is a good portion of this matter that you're all glossing over."

Izuku cringed as the words left his teammate's mouth, the jubilant atmosphere that had followed Cardin's cowing evaporating as the students all turned to the heiress. The green-haired boy knew what she was going to say, knew what it meant for Jaune.

And, despite how much he hated it, he knew what he'd have to do.

Weiss coughed into her hand to clear her throat. "While I concur that watching Cardin get what he deserved was quite enjoyable, the fact is that you did fake your transcripts to get in here, Jaune. That's not something we can just ignore."

"Oh, come on, Ice Queen," Yang said. "Are you really going to be like that?"

"Yes, I'm going to 'be like that'," Weiss mimed back. "This is not a small thing!"

"He got through initiation," Yang replied. "We're gonna make sure he gets up to snuff. Why get all huffy about it?"

"Because it's wrong."

Yang, Weiss, and everyone on the roof whirled towards the one who had spoken, their eyes wide with surprise and shock.

"Izuku?" Ruby murmured.

The green-haired hero sighed. He was right. He hated himself for this.

Jaune was his friend. Izuku sympathized with his desire to become a hero and completely understood his feelings of self-loathing about being unable to achieve that dream. Without All Might, without the one in a billion chance that he'd lucked into, he'd never have gotten into UA.

Perhaps that was an unfair advantage that no one else got, but he'd still had to earn his place at the school, pass the entrance exam on his own merit. Jaune hadn't done that with Beacon. Izuku had no doubt he would have if he'd thought he could have, if someone like All Might had offered him his own version of that one in a billion chance. But just because that chance hadn't come didn't give him the right to cheat his way in.

Of course, Jaune was already in. What was done was done. All that would change if they spoke up would be the blond being expelled and Team AYBN being knocked down to only three members. And Ozpin had told him that few huntsmen teams survived the loss of their leader…

No. No, that was being patronizing, assuming that losing Jaune would cripple Kacchan, Yang, and Pyrrha. It was him trying to find an excuse not to hurt his friend.

Izuku had broken rules before, going to save Iida from Stain and joining Kirishima's mission to rescue Kacchan from the League of Villains. But he only did it when lives were on the line, in a situation where he felt he had to act, a situation where his body would have moved on its own if the events were occurring right in front of him. Even if Jaune was his friend, part of a hero's duty was to uphold the law. If there wasn't a life to be saved, he couldn't just look the other way.

"Jaune, I want to help you," he said. "But I can't cover this up for you. I'm sorry."

Everyone took a moment to stare at him in disbelief. Then Weiss took a breath and stood ramrod straight. "Well, I'm glad someone is talking sense. We're training to be huntsmen and huntresses. We can't just look the other way whether we like. We have to set an example. After all, if we don't obey the rules, why should anyone else?"

"If we're not always performing at our best, what reason do we give for others to follow us," Ruby muttered, as if recalling a quote from somewhere else.

Yang's eyes widened. "Ruby?"

The silver-eyed girl sighed, while Izuku looked on in sympathy at his partner's struggle. He could see the turmoil on her face, likely the same that was going on in him, her friendship with Jaune grappling with her moral conscience. Normally, the two were easily aligned, but in this case… the right thing was not always so simple.

"Does anyone need to know he wasn't acting at his best?" Blake piped up. "I'm just saying. Cardin's not going to be telling anyone, so whatever we decide the truth is about the transcripts will be the truth. No one needs to know."

"We'll know!" Weiss insisted. "How could you even suggest something like that, Blake? He shouldn't have even been at initiation–and it makes so much more sense how you didn't know what aura even was–he could have been killed!"

"We all could have been killed. But we weren't," Blake argued. "Does it really matter how he got to the starting line? Shouldn't we judge him based on what he does with the chance he's been given?"

"No!" Weiss answered. "Someone didn't make it to initiation because he faked his way in and took the recommendation spot they would have gotten. We can't just ignore what he did wrong before we knew him."

Blake melted back into herself, her amber eyes unable to meet Weiss's gaze. The white-haired heiress winced, concern for her partner taking over her face.

Izuku mimicked her expression. Blake usually kept to herself, so he hadn't expected her to speak out in Jaune's defense. Nor to take it so heavily when Weiss was not swayed by her arguments.

Ruby stepped forward, her conflicted silver eyes locked on Jaune. "I'm sorry. We have to tell the headmaster."

"Ruby, come on," Yang argued. "You can't just—"

"She can. And she should," Jaune stepped in. He shot Ruby and Izuku nods of understanding. "I get it, guys. It's… alright."

"No, it's not!" Yang argued. "You don't want to leave us, so you shouldn't have to leave us!"

"Maybe you could tell the headmaster yourself," Pyrrha suggested, stepping in between the two groups as a mediator. "Tell him everything. Professor Ozpin obviously saw something in you if he made you leader."

"Whatever that was, it won't be enough," Kacchan pointed out. "The only way he stays, the only way our team isn't crippled, is if everyone here stays quiet."

Weiss crossed her arms and scowled. "And how exactly do you plan to manage that feat? We have no blackmail ambitions like Cardin. You can't threaten us into not talking."

Kacchan frowned, his crimson eyes darting over Ruby, Izuku, and Weiss. Analyzing them, constructing their weak points, figuring out where he needed to strike. What he needed to do to win.

Perhaps Izuku should have been less surprised when the wolf faunus marched right up to his face.

"You and me, Broccoli Hair. One-on-one," Kacchan challenged. "When I win, you all agree to keep your mouths shut."

"What?" Weiss flatly intoned. "You must be joking. That is the most ridiculous, immature, and irresponsible idea I have ever heard—"

"Deal," Izuku proclaimed.

"What?!"

Weiss wasn't the only one shocked by his agreement. Jaune, Pyrrha, and Blake all looked at him like he'd grown a second head. After talking so much about the moral necessity of telling the truth, suddenly agreeing to wager that 'right thing' over a fight that he had no logical reason to agree to was a befuddling turnaround. Yang looked at him for wide eyes for a second before a thrilled grin blossomed over her face, convinced that he was taking the first possible excuse to not come down on his friend.

Kacchan knew better, or at least a bit more. He knew that Izuku was focused on him seemingly to the point of obsession. He knew from their talk in the dorm kitchen and the weeks of trying to challenge him in Professor Goodwitch's class that a significant portion of that obsession involved fighting him. The wolf faunus was wagering that his best bet of getting Team RIBW to agree to keep quiet about Jaune's transcripts was to play to that obsession, use it to command Izuku's considerable influence on the team to his advantage.

And he was right, though he wasn't aware of the full reasons why. Izuku would only break the law if lives were on the line. In that, he included his friends' memories and saving their Earth lives. A fight like this, charged with emotion and stakes, the two of them finally bringing the tension that'd been building between them to a head, it was the best bet he had at leveraging their relationship as rivals to spark Kacchan's memories.

Which meant he had to plan into the other boy's plan.

"Ruby," Izuku said, glancing towards his team leader. "Trust me."

She had no reason to. By all logic, she should invoke her authority as team leader and shut down his juvenile plan.

But Ruby wasn't running on logic. The red hooded girl was looking between him, Kacchan, Yang, and, perhaps most importantly, Jaune. The earlier choice she'd made to go against the first friend she'd made at Beacon for her morals had not been an easy one, one that her sister's protests against had only made harder. Now, Izuku was not only bringing the force of their friendship to bear but also gift wrapping her a loophole she could use to excuse her friend to her conscience.

She met Izuku's gaze, silver to green, and nodded. "Deal. If Izuku wins, we're free to do what we feel needs to be done. If Katsuki wins, we won't tell anyone."

"What?" Weiss squealed, her eyes madly flickering between all her friends. "Are you all completely insane? We can't wager our moral judgment on the outcome of a spar! Is this another public school thing I'm missing like the pigtail pulling—"

"Weiss," Ruby said. "As team leader, I'm agreeing to the wager. Please, trust me."

Weiss froze, her mouth spasming open and closed for several moments, her eyes cycling from Blake, to Izuku, and all the way back to Ruby. When she finally reached her leader, all she could do was sigh.

"I want it known that I have extreme reservations about this course of action," the heiress announced. "But I said I'd be the best teammate I could. I'll follow your lead."

Izuku shot her a warm smile. "Thank you, Weiss. I won't let you down."

"Yes, you will," Kacchan growled. "I've seen you spar. You haven't combined that borrowed power with your own again."

"Again with that," Weiss groaned. "What are you even talking about? 'Borrowed power'?"

Kacchan's brow furrowed for a moment before he shook his head and resumed glaring at Izuku, but his brief moment of confusion was enough for the green-haired hero to confirm where his headspace was. He'd recognized that Izuku had still been having trouble integrating his use of One for All with his aura. Which meant he remembered, on some level, what One for All was.

All these weeks of constant contact with Izuku, they were working, stirring Kacchan's memories of Earth to the surface. Whatever he'd been doing was working. He needed to give his childhood companion one more big push and bring the walls Salem had forced on him crumbling down.

He needed this fight.

"Give me everything you've got, Kacchan. All your strength, all your power," Izuku challenged, his emerald gaze meeting the wolf faunus's scarlet head-on. "And then, I'll go beyond."


Ah, Jaunedice Arc. The basic character arc that unfortunately is a quarter of a season and about a supporting character. I like Jaune, but this storyline had no business being four episodes when Yang didn't get any focus episodes in Volume 1.

Some lowkey setup this time around, with lots of character moments, interactions, and Jaune showing off his ballsy darker side that got him into Beacon in the first place to deal with Cardin this time around. The debate between the characters at the end isn't meant to have a definitive right or wrong course to it, just the different characters' viewpoints on the matter, all leading up to Izuku vs. Katsuki next chapter, Jaune's fate and the latter's memories hanging in the balance.

Thank you for Reading! I hope you enjoy what comes next!

Go Forth and Conquer!