Here we go.

Cover Art: Curbizzle

Chapter 16

It was probably too much to say he was "over it" come the next morning, but Jaune found that life hurt a little less. Grief was something he'd read about while delving through psychology books for advice on dreams, and acceptance had come a little too quickly to seem normal. Then again, Amber wasn't dead yet, and there'd probably be a fresh and far heavier dose of grief when she did pass. Ether way, the human mind simply refused to flood him with unhappy chemicals (or a dearth of happy ones) and so he attended and interacted in school through the day without any noticeable differences.

Pyrrha did, too, which only went to show that pain could be easily hidden. Every moment with him and Yang in the same room felt uncomfortably heavy, and he kept thinking of Yang in a wedding gown. That would scare her into dumping him on the spot if he mentioned it. Pyrrha didn't mention it either, and for obvious reasons. The dream version of her might have stood up and objected to their wedding, but he was sure the real Pyrrha wouldn't. If she hadn't mustered the courage to come out and tell him her feelings then she sure as hell wasn't going to find it to do that.

The last lesson of the day was combat – so placed because the teachers knew they'd have all the free time in the world to shower, rest, or get dinner. Nora often complained about the unfairness of the last lesson ending at four, but them all having to lose another thirty minutes of their own time showering off. No one would complain in front of Miss Goodwitch, though. Or not twice anyway. The usual spars were called out. Miss Goodwitch liked to keep things even if she could, which meant no spars of Pyrrha against him, or Ruby against Cardin – her Semblance would make his slow weapon pointless. While she knew their skills however, the same couldn't be said for the transfers, and so she'd opted to let them pick out people to face. Mercury had already fought Pyrrha a few days back, and a few had taken a shot at Weiss as well. More famous names drew more fierce competition. A couple had fought Yang, and no one had challenged Ruby, though that might be more out of consternation for picking on a little girl than because they were afraid of her. It wasn't everyday someone asked to fight him, though.

"I would like to face Jaune Arc."

His name drew his attention and had him looking around to see who had said it. Black hair, yellow eyes, no bow. Oh dear. Cinder Fall was looking at him with a considering gaze, one hand raised lazily and her weight resting on one foot with the other crossed over it. He wouldn't say she looked angry, but he couldn't say she looked happy either. More worryingly, Vanille looked concerned for him. That wasn't a good sign.

"Mr Arc," called Miss Goodwitch. "Up in the arena. Cinder Fall as well."

"Good luck," said Pyrrha.

"Thanks. I've a feeling I'm going to need it."

Pyrrha looked at him, confused, and then at Cinder as she strode toward the arena. "Do you know her?"

"I bumped into her the other day." It was an evasive answer, but not untrue. "And I don't think I made a good impression. Think me throwing up on Yang's shoes level of bad, or my early flirting with Weiss. Except without the flirting."

Ren chuckled. "But with the same results."

"Yes. I think she's upset at me and wants to make that clear. If I die, tell my family it was in a much more impressive fashion."

Miss Goodwitch called him again – with a subtle hinting stare to warn him she wouldn't call him a third time. He jogged away from his team and into the arena to a few polite claps from the transfers and a bit of derisive laughter from his own classmates. Team RWBY cheered for him – or, well, Ruby and Yang did. His team clapped as well, and Vanille was bouncing on her heels waving her hand at him. Her teammates were less than impressed. Jaune strode up to stand opposite Cinder; she had no weapon, but he was sure that could change in an instant. Or she was a fist-fighter. Either way, she'd been selected to represent Mistral, so he had to assume she was in the top set of her year.

"Did I do something to upset you?" he asked, as Miss Goodwitch called out the rules. "I said sorry and I haven't been anywhere near you since. Is this necessary?" Cinder didn't respond but lowered herself down with her fists up. He'd seen her use a sword in the dream. It was strange she didn't now. "Uh. Good luck, then."

He didn't think she'd need it.


Jaune was the first to move. He'd had that drilled into him by Pyrrha after countless defeats at Cardin's hands. He who strikes first holds the tempo, and tempo was a big deal in a fight where aura was concerned. Without it, the balance of skill and counterattack could mean a clumsy attack led to death, but that wasn't a concern here. Even if Cinder dodged – and she was already moving to, swaying to the left – he wouldn't die to a counterattack. His aura would tank it. Pyrrha had once said his aura was some of the strongest she'd ever seen, which meant his best method of winning any fight was to leverage it in an all-out assault. If he scored one hit for every three of the enemy's, then he might still win. A fight was not decided by who was flashier but who remained standing at the end.

His first slash downward was dodged as he expected. Jaune shifted his lunging foot back and used it as a base from which to swipe across his body. That missed too as Cinder ducked back and rushed in after, but he let his sword carry and drag him on, turning him around so that his shield came across his body and in her way.

Cinder hesitated, ducked, and then powered a foot into his knee. He stumbled and she grasped the top of his shield, dragged it down and punched over the top to catch his jaw. Aura flared to protect him and he fought through the small pain to tackle forward like a spear. Her knee caught his stomach and she twisted, breaking his hold and dancing back, then agilely ducking under another thrust from Crocea Mors.

He followed it up. What else could he do? Jaune went on the assault and tried to catch her out. One mistake on her part would give him a chance to score a hit, and while she was scoring many more light hits on him, picking him apart, his aura hadn't yet gone below 90%. It wouldn't for a few more yet. He was learning to gauge it on his own. A skill Pyrrha assured him many couldn't do. Any time saved having to look at a scroll for your readings was time you could spend focusing on the fight.

Cinder skirted back and to her left, on his sword-side, trying to keep his annoying shield from getting in her way. Her eyes were sharp and almost dangerous, but there was a satisfied curl to her lips. He had the feeling she'd been searching him for something, and that she was pleased with what she'd found. Given the fight going her way, he doubted what she'd been looking for was competence. Had she expected something else? He couldn't think what, unless she was worried he took something else alongside knowledge of her dreams.

Her next assault was quicker than the first. Noticeably so. She'd been testing him, he realised, and now she'd upped the ante. He managed to hold his own for a few seconds, maybe twenty, but the moment she snuck a palm past to strike his shoulder, he came undone. A fist caught his jaw, a foot the inside of his ankle, and she butted her hip into his pelvis and drew down on his neck with one arm, flipping him up over her back with a perfectly executed hip-thrust, and sending him crashing down on the mat. Jaune, to his credit, instantly rolled away from her stomp and scrambled back onto his feet. His aura was a little more dented, but still over 75%. Cinder looked almost impressed by that.


The beatdown from there was long and arduous. Cinder lacked a weapon capable of tearing chunks out of his aura, or she was unwilling to use it, so she had to dismantle him piece by piece. It didn't escape him that she refused to use her Semblance, but that was a big thing at the moment, with a lot of teams refusing to so as not to give away anything of use in the tournament. It was only people with necessary ones built around their style like Ruby, Weiss and Yang that couldn't avoid it. Cinder obviously didn't need to break hers out.

Miss Goodwitch called the match when his aura reached 50%. It wasn't where she normally would have. Not even close. "If this continues then we'll run late," she said. "Mr Arc, I assume you will accept this as your loss."

A quick look at the meters showed Cinder at 96%. He'd gotten in a single hit. "Y-Yeah. I do."

After rattling off advice and critique, she ushered them off the arena. Cinder left from the same side he did, and he took the opportunity to talk to her. "Look, I'm really sorry about what happened with my Semblance. I promise I haven't told anyone what I saw. It wasn't even that bad. Everyone has nightmares like those."

"Good. I expect you to keep it that way."

"I will. But what was all this about? Why me?"

"Why not?" she asked, shooting him an arch look. "I had to select someone and I hardly know anyone here. My teammate already faced your Pyrrha Nikos, and most of the other students I know had already fought." She shrugged. "You were just a convenient choice. Don't read into it."

That was it? He wasn't sure he believed it. Cinder had been too pleased up in the arena, and she'd been testing him. Why? The obvious reason was that she wanted to know how strong he was (or wasn't) but for what purpose? Did she think him an actual threat in the tournament? He doubted that. On the other hand, he had to wonder if she thought he'd lied about it being accidental.

His Semblance could be useful for an unscrupulous person to try and spy on other teams and learn their strategies, or for a complete pervert to take advantage of sleeping women by pushing their dreams toward the erotic. He could at least say with confidence she wouldn't suspect the latter since her dream hadn't been anything close to sexy, but the former might have seemed possible. Maybe this was just a warning for him not to push his luck.

"You're alive," said Ren, on his return. "That's a miracle."

"How do you upset so many women, fearless leader?" asked Nora. "There has to come a point where it stops being luck and starts being a fetish." Her grin was terrible. "Are you secretly a masochist? Is that why you and Yang get along?"

"Oi!" shouted Yang. "I heard that. Are you calling me a sadist? That's Blake.

"Excuse you!?"

"Hey, I'm not the one who uses black ribbon as a weapon. All I'm saying."

Jaune laughed it off. It hadn't gone as badly as he feared it might. "It's fine. I think I read into it too much. Cinder said she just picked me out because I'm the only name she remembered who hadn't fought already."

He might not have believed it, but his teammates accepted it.


Cinder could feel Neo's gaze on the middle of her back.

It was nothing short of deadly.

"Calm down," she said, chuckling under her breath. "I didn't harm your little friend. You do realise that whatever relationship you believe you have is only in your dreams, don't you? It isn't real. It's all make-believe."

Neo shrugged as if to say she didn't care, and then fixed Cinder with the same, dangerous look. Emerald was agitated, and already moving to interfere in her defence. Cinder decided it would be best to head that off. She wasn't afraid of Neo per se, but the girl still had the ability to ruin a lot of things if she went and informed the wrong people of what they were doing.

"I wasn't threatening the young man; I was testing him."

"Testing him for what?" asked Mercury, saving Neo from having to emote the question somehow.

"Two things, really. The first is that I want to see if his Semblance is as accidental and uncontrolled as he says it is. I noticed that he didn't enter my or Mercury's dreams until after we had been brought close to him to see why Neo was interacting with him. It makes me wonder if he needs to have met someone before he can enter their heads. I put him on the spot today and was evasive with my reasons after. I want to see if that forces him to come to me again tonight."

"That's a risky play, ma'am. What if he sees something he shouldn't?"

"I was aware of his presence in my mind the first time. I shall be again. As for the second reason, well, it's an unusual Semblance, isn't it? Not powerful in a combat scenario, but rather interesting if he could learn to actually control it. Imagine being able to do more work while you sleep or learn skills while resting. If nothing else he would make an excellent spy if he could harness and control it. I'm always on the lookout for valuable assets. So do calm down," she said to Neo. "If I meant the boy harm, I would have harmed him – and I would have done so outside your line of sight, Vanille."

Neo flinched and glowered at her.

Cinder just chuckled.


It wasn't just Cinder he owed an apology to, however.

Coco Adel was waiting outside her dorm room. Not for him, he imagined, but just waiting for someone inside, or wasting time away. It didn't matter. What mattered was that her eyes found his, her shades lowered, and her lips tugged down. Coco had typically been friendly to him, or at least polite, and this sudden change made it abundantly clear his interaction with Velvet the evening before had been shared with the team.

"Hey," said Jaune, pausing a short distance away. "Is Velvet in? I wanted to apologise to her."

He figured he might as well get that out in the open. Avoid Coco asking why he wanted to talk to Velvet and put him on the spot. The girl leaned back against the wall, wind taken out her sails. It didn't hurt that admitting his intent up front robbed her of the ability to threaten him.

"This about last night?" she asked. He nodded. "Velvet told me about that. Snappy little bastard you decided to be, and she was just worried about you."

"I know. I…" Jaune sighed and tore the bandage off. "Someone close to me was put in a coma and won't wake up. They're going to die. Soon." He saw Coco's eyes widen, her lips peel back in a wince. "I found out the day before yesterday, and yesterday was… well, it wasn't a good day. Everyone picked up on it. And I mean everyone. I went to the library to escape all the sympathy." He smiled bitterly. "And then Velvet showed up. I lost it."

"Shit." Coco heaved a great sigh and pushed off the wall at last. "I guess… ah, I guess that's understandable." Her anger was replaced with an awkwardness; it was as if she didn't know what to say and wanted badly to say nothing at all. Or change the subject. "You want me to tell Velvet, yeah? Make it clear you didn't mean it?"

"If you could. I was an asshole last night. I know. I just want her to know why."

"Yeah." Coco grimaced again and looked away. "Look, I think Vel will get it if I explain. It was just bad luck. I assume that's the message?"

"It is. I was in an awful mood and took it out on her, and I'm sorry."

"I'll tell her. And don't worry, if this was a one-off thing because of shit like that then I guarantee she'll understand. Vel was more upset at the thought she'd done something to make a new friend hate her. This…? Anyone would be upset. Are you… uh… you know…"

His smile was only half there. "I'm better than I was yesterday. You can't really hold onto grief for that long. Let's just say if you or Velvet see me in an absolutely devastated mood a few weeks from now then you can probably guess why. And I think I'd rather you left me to it. No offence."

"None taken. I'll warn her. And… shit. Look, if you do need to talk – not saying you do, but if you think it'll help – then I'm sure Velvet would listen. Me too if you really need it. You stood up for her when bugger all anyone else would, and that means a lot to me." Coco held out her fist, and after a moment of staring he bumped his own against it. "But I'll tell her what happened yesterday and make sure she understands."

"Thanks Coco. I guess I'll see you around."

"Yeah. I guess so. See ya."

Coco looked relieved to see him leave. He didn't take it personally, knowing it was more because of how awkward the conversation had become than anything on his part. His teammates had put up with him because he was one of them, but to Coco he was just a friend of a friend who had stood up for said friend. At least it was all done with now. Velvet was the last apology he owed, that he knew of, and with any luck he wouldn't be adding anyone else to the list.


"Ready or not. Here I come!"

The childish voice echoed from all around him, filled with giggles and laughter. Jaune had watched enough horror movies to know that was not a good thing, and he half expected to be in a dark and haunted mansion being chased by killer children. Instead, he was in a rather bright and well-furnished home.

It was spacious but not huge, smaller than Vanille's childhood home, but still bigger than the average city house. The pictures on the wall were blurry but the frames and the wallpaper were crystal clear, and the varnished floor underfoot was laid out in criss-crossing strips of dark wood. The pitter patter of feet above his head echoed the laughter of a bunch of kids – and not creepy or threatening laughter this time, but excited giggling. There were kids running around upstairs.

I guess I might as well check it out, thought Jaune, moving his way toward the staircase he could see through an archway leading from the living room to the hallway. The wooden floor there gave way to a cream carpet leading up the stairs, with a wooden balustrade on the side. He ascended slowly, listening to the pounding of feet and the laughter. He couldn't see any movement but he heard plenty of it. Even when he reached the top and looked left and right down the hallway up there, there were no children. No people at all.

And yet the sounds of them were right in front of him. He could even hear what sounded like a pair of kids stamp quickly down the stairs, bouncing on every step in a way that made their footfalls echo a bang, bang, bang. A woman's voice called out for them to slow down, but without much in the way of real anger. It was the exasperated tone of an adult trying, and failing, to rein in a bunch of playing children. He also heard plenty of noise on his floor. There was running, laughter, but also occasional words.

"Found you!"

"No fair! You cheated!"


They would then laugh and start afresh. "My turn. One, two, three-" And count until thirty. "Twenty-nine. Thirty. Ready or not, here I come!"

And then more running. More laughter. He could also hear doors opening and closing with loud slams, and furniture scraping across the floor as it was moved – usually followed by excited shrieking. There was music too, he realised. Faint at first, but growing, as a crowd sang "happy birthday" to someone. The dreamer, maybe? There wasn't a name mentioned, but then the singing was distant and muffled, as if the person hearing it was far, far away. If that was the person dreaming then he didn't think they'd been at the party. If anything, it sounded like they were on the other side of a wall.

A neighbour's birthday bash perhaps? He couldn't really tell.

Jaune heard a door to his left creak open and slam shut. He watched it but it never actually opened and closed, despite that he could hear feet inside. Moving over and opening it revealed a bedroom. A teenager's, he assumed, because of the guitar and posters. It was perfectly clean despite being abandoned in the dream, and not at all threatening. He stepped inside, listening as drawers were opened and as someone said, "Are you under the bed?"

Kneeling, he looked. The underside of the bed had a few shoe boxes and what looked like a guitar case for the instrument on its stand set by the vanity mirror. No person, though. Not in this dream. The excited squeal and the scrabble of boxes told him that someone had been under there and found. Their laughter was joined by the person who found them, who then said, "Now you have to help me find everyone else!"


Then their feet stamped out the door again.

It was hide and seek by the sounds of it. He and his sisters had played it enough, along with a stranger variant they'd called "sardines" where only one person hid, and where every person who found them had to hide with them, packing into a hiding spot like sardines until the last person found them all, usually a giggling and clumsy mass of bodies struggling to stay quiet. This was the traditional version, and it sounded like a party of children were playing it across an entire house.

"Kids!" called a woman's voice. "It's time to cut the cake and open the presents!"



It was a stampede at that point, to the degree that the stares began to shake with the sound of it all. It reminded him of home, and of eight siblings being just as bad at Christmas. Jaune stood from the bed and wandered to the door, prepared to go back down to the kitchen and see if he could find anything. That was when he heard a voice.

"But you haven't found me…" A girl's voice. Quiet. Amused. Hopeful. Eager. She sounded proud of her hiding spot, and proud of the fact she'd managed to evade everyone else. "I need to stay quiet. Tee hee. They won't find me."

The voice came from everywhere at once so pinpointing her was impossible. Jaune walked over to the walk-in wardrobe anyway and drew the doors open to peer inside. He checked under the vanity as well, and behind the curtains that reached down to the floor. He wasn't sure why. Maybe it was just the nature of hide and seek making him act, or maybe it was curiosity to see where the dream would go. All he knew was that he needed to find her. He had to.

But she wasn't in this room.

He moved on.

"Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to Jacooob. Happy birthday to you." Cheers followed, from downstairs, as the birthday boy – a Jacob; Jaune didn't know anyone called that – blew out the candles. "Make a wish! Make a wish!"

Jaune didn't catch the wish. He entered the bathroom and looked around, searching the bath, the shower cubicle and the linen closet. Nothing. He moved out and opened the next door, stepping into a work office with a little desk and a computer. He looked under it and around the bookshelves, and then opened a low closet filled with books. No one.

"Gather up everyone. Gather up." The woman's voice returned. Tired, but steady. "We're going to the bowling alley. Is everyone here? Good. Come on outside, kids. No more than four to a car – and mind the road!"

The front door opened, or it sounded like it did. Kids piled out chattering loudly and excitedly, while the adults followed, in good spirits but quite clearly exhausted. He heard the woman thank a man for agreeing to drive them, and him reply it was no problem, before the door was closed and then locked with an audible click. The house fell into silence.

Until her voice returned. "Did I win…? C-Can I come out now?" There was silence. A whole minute of it. And then, "I'm hungry. Can I have some cake as well…? Hello?"

The house felt colder all of a sudden. Darker. The corridor walls closed in on him, or they seemed to. He wasn't sure if it was reality or perception, but the hallway felt – and looked – narrower by about two whole feet. His shoulders were brushing against the walls now. He kept moving, into another room, where he hurriedly checked every hiding spot he could think of to no avail.

"Find me," whispered the girl. "Please find me, please."

"I'm trying!" said Jaune, rushing out the door. He felt a fear that wasn't his own. He knew it wasn't because it was red hot and angry, and he knew this was a dream. There was no reason for him to feel that irrationally furious.

"I don't want to play this game anymore."

"Where are you? Where are you hiding?"

"Where has everyone gone? Why aren't they looking for me? I'm in here!"

"Where is here, damn it!? Be specific!"

"It's dark. It's cold. I… I can't get out."

Wood rattled, like someone was trying to make it move. It wasn't in this room. Jaune barged out and into the corridor, but it was so painfully tight now. He had to stand sideways and drag himself through it with his back and chest both touching opposite walls. He slid along until he reached another door. He banged on it.

"Hey! Hey! Are you in there!?"

His response came not as words but as more rattling wood, desperate this time, and a fevered rise in the girl's pitch as she lost her cool. Tiny fists and feet banged on wood, and she screamed fearfully. The noise came from a direction this time. Not the door he was in, but a door at the end of the corridor. It was shrouded in darkness, and small. Unnaturally small. About half his height. Jaune growled and dragged his way towards it, having to move on tiptoes and suck his stomach in to fit between the narrow walls.

"I'm coming! I'm coming!"

The front door slammed open. He heard it crash back against the far wall. There was a cry, angry and masculine and filled with rage. Jaune was shocked to find the voice coming from his own mouth, in his own voice, but speaking words he didn't put thought to. It reminded him instantly of Ruby's dream. "Where are you!? I'm here!"

"Daddy!?" The girl's voice rose to a cracking peak. "DADDYYY! HELP!"

Terror, raw and paternalistic, gripped Jaune's stomach and sent his heart into overdrive. He felt such a crippling grip on his stomach, and his purposeful dragging of himself down the tight corridor became a frantic melee. He grasped onto a doorframe and yanked himself along, scraping his elbow on the wall until it hurt. "I'm coming!" he shouted, practically roared. "Baby, I'm coming!"

"I can't get out! I can't move! I can't see!" She broke into sobs. "I can't – I can't breathe! Daddy, it hurts!"

Jaune screamed. He screamed in anger and smashed his arms and legs out. The walls shifted, giving way to his demands and slamming back with an explosion of his aura. They flew away like they were on roller-skates, and much too far. Far enough that the corridor might as well have been a hundred metres wide now. He didn't care. Gripped by a panic that wasn't his, he raced to the small doorway and gripped the top of it, dragging it upwards until it was a normal-sized door. He burst through into a dark room. A closet or storage room. There was old furniture here and there, but what caught his eye was a wooden cabinet. It was old and dusty, and there were chains wrapped around it. The thing rattled and moved.

His hands gripped the chains and tore them apart like wet paper. He ignored the way the links flicked back into him painfully. Taking the door handle, he tried to open it, only to find it locked. Screaming, he smashed his fist into it at the head height of an adult, splintering the wood, and then used his hand – still transfixed through the door – to peel down and rip it off its hinges. Light flooded in.

To reveal another wardrobe.

Identical to the first.

Furiously, he smashed its door down as well to reveal a third, only a few inches smaller, and then a fourth, smaller still, and a fifth. It was a nesting doll situation with wardrobes, and they kept getting smaller and smaller, tighter and tighter, and he could hear the small girl choking and struggling to move within. He could hear her weeping, and no matter how much he destroyed, he was no closer to her – to his daughter.

Jaune roared with rage and agony and gripped the new wardrobe – the fifteenth – with both hands. He leaned in, eyes glowing, aura pooling off him like wisps of bright white smoke. His fingernails dug into the wood, but the wood didn't splinter. It melted under his touch.

"Enough games!" he snarled. "I am the one in control here. This world is mine!" He felt it fight him; he felt the dreamer's nightmare struggle to escape his hands like smoke. Jaune wrapped his aura around it so it couldn't. "You will submit to me!" he hissed, squeezing. The walls began to crack. White light seeped in them. "Open!" he commanded. The wardrobe shook. "Open!" It splintered and cracked. Jaune gripped tighter. "OPEN!"

The doors didn't slam open. They exploded open. The wood turned to splinters at first, and then sawdust as it reached him, and then it was worn down even further to the point that it was naught but air when it splashed against his face.

Inside the wardrobe lay a girl.

No, a woman.

Coco Adel. Fully grown, wrapped up tight in the fetal position with her hands clutching her legs and her body tucked up tight. Her big brown eyes met his, rimmed with red and sparkling with tears that had run down her cheeks. Jaune felt the rush again, the relief and the rage and the sorrow and the guilt and a thousand other things. His legs gave way and he fell to his knees, arms outstretched. Coco lurched out the wardrobe for him, crying wildly.



Velvet and her team came up to his at breakfast and took the spots on the bench next to them. Jaune looked over hopefully, and sure enough Velvet didn't look nearly as upset as she had two days ago. She caught him looking and smiled. "Coco told me everything. I'm sorry I bothered you."

"I'm the one who should be sorry. I snapped at you."

"For good reasons. I'm sorry about your friend."

He grimaced. "Yeah."

"You snapped at Velvet?" asked Yang, unable to not overhear them. "Dude. Not cool."

"I'd just had too much sympathy," he said. "I was trying to get away from it all. Look, I admitted it was a bad thing and I went to apologise."

"Well," said Weiss, "As long as you did apologise, I suppose all is well."

"All is well," agreed Velvet, smiling over her breakfast. "I totally understand why he was upset, and I wouldn't have even felt upset if I'd known why. I was only bothered because I thought it was something about me personally."

That was a relief. He'd thought Velvet would understand, and it wasn't like he'd been total scum; he'd just been a bit of an asshole. He smiled at her anyway, and she smiled back, and Yang joked about him cheating on her, which earned her an elbow to the side from Blake, who was not in the mood to put up with her nonsense so early in the morning.

"I guess I should say thanks to you as well for passing the message on, Coco," he said.

The girl in the beret flashed him a grin and a wink, brought her fork away from her mouth and said. "Don't sweat it, dad. Just doing my civic duty as the best damn team leader ever." Coco held up her hand to Fox for a high-five, and only then noticed everyone staring at her. "What?"

It was Velvet who answered, a huge grin forming on her face. "Did you just call him dad?"

Coco blinked, snorted, then said, "What? No. Pft. Don't be daft."

"I heard it," said Ren.

"You totally called Jaune dad," said Yang, leaning forward eagerly. "Something I should know?"

"Whoa. Whoa." Coco waved her hands out, eyes wide beyond her shades. "I did not call him dad. I called him dad." She shook her head. "I mean Jaune. Obviously. Gah. Now you've got me saying it when I didn't mean to!"

"Once is an accident," said Yatsuhashi. "Twice is a pattern."

"Oh, don't you start! I didn't call him dad. Nuh-uh. No way." Coco made a cross-shape with her arms. "Now can you get off my back and let me have breakfast? Thank you!"

There was a bit of laughter around the table at Coco's expense but she ignored it with dogged determination, digging into her meal with an almost unnatural focus. Velvet continued to laugh and tease, not getting many opportunities to pull one over on her teammate. Nora elbowed Jaune as well and wriggled her eyebrows, but he only laughed and shooed her off.

With any luck, no one would dig too much into it.

Or notice his aura tanking at less than half.

Given the amount of dad-vibes I keep writing it's probably inevitable that I'll just do a fill dad-fic at some point. Not sure to whom, though. The whole "all evil children" foster idea is already being used, and I was pleased enough with what I read of it to not want to do the same thing. I did once have a Jaune adopting Cinder idea, but it had a bittersweet ending where he completely turns her away from evil, only to himself get killed by unscrupulous criminals, and for his death to be swept under the rug by a corrupt government, sparking Cinder to turn back to evil to avenge him. Sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy story.

It's kind of less fun writing corrupt governments when that's true to life right now though, so I'd probably want something a little more light-hearted. RWBY sure has its fair share of orphaned children to pick from though.

Next Chapter: 6th June

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