At long last.
Rain battered down on the smoldering city. Thick plumes of black smoke billowed from beaten and scorched buildings. The remains of violent staging areas, once bright with fire and chaos, now simmering embers. Quiet. Exhausted.
The Dustcopter sliced through the thick gray rain and choking black smoke. Sam kept a firm grip on the yolk as howling winds dared to swat him out of the sky. He used the strobing lights and jammed chaos of the brightly lit streets as his road map. It was practically the only thing he could see anyway.
He veered around a building whose upper floors wept fire and smoke. Quickly ducked under a fire department Bullhead, and sprinted down the wide gap between the city's corporate sector. He dropped several meters and saw that the flaring lights on the ground were police vehicles of varying types, and amidst the clogged chaos of cars and rubble were little dots of people huddled in clusters.
He imagined the wailing sirens, and the frenzied people below. That reminded him of the softly weeping girl in the cabin behind him, begging the slab of meat to stay alive.
The hospital, unsurprisingly, was the most well lit building in the city. Surrounded on all sides on the ground by gridlocked clusters of civilians, staff, and police. The roof access was a web of whirling blades and scurrying hospital staff. They looked like little white ants in the stormy gloom.
Sam shoved his way into the queue of medical Bullheads, and waited for an opening. There were so many coming and going that they weren't even using the helipad anymore, just touching down, emptying their precious cargo, and taking off again, presumably to collect more injured.
"H-How much longer?" A small voice. Desperate. Pleading, Defeated. Sam grimaced.
He saw an opening and swept low, cutting off a medical transport. He half landed, half crashed onto the busy rooftop. His shocks groaned from the unexpected strain. His tail section scraped loudly against the fencing around the ventilation system. Sam kept the engine running and unbuckled himself from his seat. He hopped to the back, and found Bill already pulling the door aside.
He tried very hard not to glance at the squirming body on the floor of his cabin.
As the door came free, rain and wind whipped throughout the previously dry interior of the Dustcopter. They were surrounded by a group of sopping nurses with several gurneys already set to take the wounded. Their faces were obscured by masks. Their eyes were tired, but dedicated.
Bill gently scooped up the heavily wrapped body and laid it down on the wet stretcher. A little girl with white hair darted out from behind him and nearly glued herself to the side of the gurney. Two burly nurses peeled away the wrappings to reveal the pink and puckered flesh of a heavily burned body. A man with a silver clipboard and rain speckled glasses glanced at the body before barking orders.
"Burn Ward seven. Go!"
The two thick set nurses wheeled the squeaking, wet gurney around and sprinted for the shelter of the hospital. Neither of them noticed the young girl keeping pace beside them.
The man with the glasses watched them go for a moment before rounding on Sam. He needed to yell to make himself heard over the storm.
"We have reports of more casualties on the outskirts of the city, and we're low on air transport. I can't find your ship on the roster, so I'm adding you to it. Get on the emergency band and we'll start giving you coordinates."
He turned and ran off to receive another bullhead before Sam could respond. He gestured for Ren and Nora to get off. They were tired and needed the rest. His own team was used to the long haul. Bill slid the doors shut after the two junior students hopped off. Sam plopped himself down onto his seat and strapped himself in. Ted took up position as copilot. Sam turned on his emergency strobes and wriggled into his head set. He flipped a few switches and tuned into the emergency band.
"This is BEE-03 ready for emergency transport. Awaiting coordinates..."
They came in just as he finished announcing himself to the pool.
Sam took off from his improvised perch and set off through the anguished city at a brisk pace.
"Everybody dig!" The young girl sprinted toward the collapsed cave and fell to her knees, scratching and clawing at the solid stone rubble. They were barely out of the mine when they heard the horrible blast from the center. The whole mountain shook and shuddered, and they were afraid the whole thing would come down on their heads.
It still could.
But for now it was holding, precariously balanced on ancient stones under incalculable stresses.
Ren and Nora were the first to snap out of their stupor and join the young heiress in digging back the way they'd come. Sam and his team joined soon after. To hell with the mountain, one of their own was still in there.
Her nails cracked and her fingers turned raw and red. Her thin arms burned and ached from the unusual strain. She couldn't see anything through the darkness and the tears. All she could do was wail his name over and over, and command every god that ever existed that if even one hair on his head was hurt, she would—
They dug for hours. They tried to pull her away when they saw her hands were bleeding, but she growled, and clawed, and bit at their restraining arms. When they came to a particularly large boulder, she tried to lift it by herself, demanding her overtaxed Aura fix the fractures in her hands and arms. Bill finally wrenched her away and pulverized the meddlesome stone with one well aimed punch.
She scrambled forward into the ruined chamber.
He remembered pain beyond anything he could possibly imagine. And pleading for death. He knew he was still alive because it hurt so much. And he wanted to die because of the pain. And it hurt so much, that he couldn't possibly be dead. This horrible loop kept going over and over in his mind, pain, pleading for death, realizing he was alive because of the pain, pleading, living, hurting, over and over.
An anonymous nurse applied a salve to her hands and bandaged them. There was no real cause for alarm. Her Aura would heal her injuries after a good night's sleep. Another asked her rapid fire questions about the young man she'd come in with. She answered as best she could through a haze of hysterics. Name. Age. Birth date. Relatives. Address. Did he smoke? Drink? Allergies?
The trouble came trying to coax the distraught girl to lay down. She refused to leave the young man's side. She said she didn't care about her damn hands, just take care of the boy.
As the night wore on, they moved him from the corner of an overcrowded waiting room that was normally a nurse's lounge. They wheeled him into another ward where he was sealed off from the world by a thick white tarp. Doctors and nurses poked their heads in to check this and that. Some looked him over with stern grimaces on their faces, others just checked the clipboard at his feet and moved on. Some asked Ren and Nora questions as Weiss sat in a stunned panic. Finally, they moved him into a more intensive area, less crowded with patients, but just as bustling with staff. More advanced equipment. SDC equipment. They hooked him up to an IV and heart monitor, and disappeared.
The slow beat of his heart, listless and worrying, echoed through her battered mind.
She vaguely remembered someone telling them that only family could stay with the patients. Well, that was a silly thing to say. She answered them rather truthfully, and stayed put. Ren and Nora were ushered outside to get some rest.
Weiss let go of a ragged sigh. It was well into the morning. It was still dark and gray. Her body quaked with fatigue. She realized she hadn't slept for over two days. She squared her shoulders and willed her body to stay awake.
Her eyes drifted over the gnarled body of her best friend. The pink and puckered flesh was enough to make her empty stomach churn with bile. Fresh tears sprung up in her eyes and clouded her vision. What if he didn't make it? What would she do? Where would she go? What if he did make it? What if his mind didn't work the same way? Or his body? What if—
Her head whipped up as a hand came down on her shoulder. Ren and Nora hovered nearby; their eyes full of hope, refreshed from their nap. She'd nearly forgotten they were there. She reached up and squeezed their hands. They had survived. Their plan had worked. At great cost, but it had worked.
"You guys should head back. Ozpin will want to hear what happened." Her voice sounded far away, strained, and unfamiliar. "I want to stay here. I'll tell you as soon as something changes."
The pair nodded. Ren gave her a glass of water and she drank heartily.
It was only after the last drop slid down her throat that she knew she'd been drugged. Her vision swam. She gripped the loose sheets on the bed in a futile struggle to stay awake.
"Why? No... I don't want to..."
The last thing she saw were pained smiles on her friends' faces.
The fire and pain ate through his body like a million stinging red ants. His body was gone. There was only hurt. He tried to thrash about to relieve the agony, but he couldn't move. He was suspended in something that rendered his limbs useless.
His mind was next. The burning ate through his memories like firewood. He lost himself to the blaze. His name, his people, his home, his world, his role, his love, everything. Over and over, a girl with white hair would erupt in his vision but she would blaze like the sun. If he still had eyes, he was sure they would boil out of his sockets.
He tried to hold onto her. He knew in the last shred of his charred mind that she was important, but the inferno took her as well.
In the end, he was nothing more than a blithering, writhing mass of cooked meat.
Then the numbness crept in, sweeping over his body like a mute madness.
Then the cold set in.
A terrible flatline cold.
His eyes stared into the back of his lids. A warm brown accentuated by a subtle red that signified healthy skin. It was bright beyond his lids and he allowed his eyes to get used to the filtered brightness before he attempted to open them. No rush.
His hearing came next. The steady rhythmic beep of a heart monitor. His breathing sent a cold zip through his nerves. It was raspy and rubbery at the same time, like someone had stretched plastic wrap across his innards. It didn't hurt, though. So he tried it a few more times just to be sure.
He felt the slight twinge of discomfort that came with an IV line through the arm. There was a light pressure on his right hand, not altogether uncomfortable, but he would need to open his eyes to find out exactly what it was. He would give it a few seconds. His eyes were still getting used to the light filtering through his lids and he wasn't sure how long it had been since he used them.
He tried to think about who he was and where he was, but his mind felt sluggish and spongy. Nothing was coming to him, but it was no cause for panic. He seemed fairly safe, and judging by the sounds, he was most probably in a hospital. Not a bad place to be, all told.
Because he gave himself time to get used to the light blasting the front of his eye lids, it didn't hurt nearly as much when he opened them properly. He saw white speckled ceiling tiles and bright sterile fluorescent lights.
He lifted his head. It felt like a boulder, but it wasn't impossible. He looked down to his left and saw the IV drip. Looking at the thing poking into his heavily bandaged arm was beginning to annoy him. He moved his right arm and slid the itchy thing out of his skin.
The comfortable pressure on his right hand disappeared.
The IV line squirted clear liquid before the machine detected the pressure difference and automatically shut off the valve. He pulled off the heart monitor wires from his chest and listened to the monitor whine for a second.
He pulled himself up and felt his weight rock forward. He fought the surge of vertigo that crashed over him as his body readjusted itself to sitting up. Once the sensation passed and the room stopped swimming, he swung his legs over the left side and planted his bare feet onto the ground.
The shock of cold lashed up his body and into his spongy head.
A flash of ice cut across his mind's eye.
The shock of the alien sensation was too much for his newly awakened body to handle and he collapsed onto the ground. He threw out his bandaged arms to break his fall and lay on the ground for a minute, recovering. He stared blankly into the legs of a char that had been pulled up to his bed.
He took several deep breaths and pushed himself up onto his hands and knees. He saw the bandages went all the way up around his palms and fingers. He slowly got to his feet and examined his hands. They didn't hurt, but they were tightly wrapped. He couldn't really feel the skin underneath them.
He took a tentative step and stumbled a few more. He halted his momentum and bent his knees, opting for a cautious creep rather than a full blown straight backed walk. He maneuvered over to the window and leaned heavily against the cool metal frame. Outside, it was gray and stormy. Little drops of rain streamed down the side of the window. He suddenly wanted to be outside, to feel the rain on his numb skin.
He caught a glimpse of his ghostly reflection in the glossy surface. His entire face was bandaged up, with only his eyes, left uncovered. He thought it made him look a bit like a bandit. They had dressed him in blue hospital issue shirt and trousers. They were neither comfortable nor particularly irritating, most likely by design.
The pitter patter of the rain raised a little niggle in the back of his mind. He probed it and all at once felt a deep freeze. He struggled to move his body, but it was locked tight. He was encased in a sphere of ice, rapidly filling with blue, cold, water. He couldn't breathe.
"Oh! You're awake, Mr. Arc." He blinked and he was once again leaning against a hospital window, with the rain, calm and dull.
He turned on instinct rather than recognition.
The room was built for a single occupant. There was a white curtain bundled up on one side of his bed, some medical equipment clustered around it, and a chair pushed as far up against the bed as possible. On it, was a small bundle wrapped in a hospital issue blanket. A slender white arm poked out from beneath the blanket and rested limply on the mattress where he had been. The tone of the person's skin was nearly as white as the bedsheets. Nearly.
"Come here, Mr. Arc. Come here. You mustn't be up and about just yet." The nurse was a kindly plump woman with thin, but strong black hair tied up in a stiff knot. Her cheeks were dusted with freckles, and her nose was shiny and red. She had the air about her that she'd raised several well behaved children in the past.
She bustled up to him and gripped him by the elbow in a firm hold. She guided him back to his bed and seated him, before turning her attention to the bundle of blankets.
"Oh, the poor dear. She's exhausted herself again." The nurse fixed him with dewy eyes. "You wouldn't mind if we let her sleep a little more, would you?"
The nurse took that as a no and busied herself with straightening the blanket and readjusting the girl's dangling arms so she would be more comfortable. The nurse tucked the blanket around the girl's slender neck. Soft white hair framed a face of clear white skin.
She was beautiful.
"We offered her a bed, but she refused to leave your side. You've got a very good wife, Mr. Arc." She smiled down at the girl not unlike a proud mother. "I'll fetch the doctor. He'll want to see you now that you're awake."
The nurse smiled at the pair once more before gliding out of the room. He faintly heard the intercom from the hall paging for this person and that. The door shut softly, and he was left alone with his thoughts and sleeping beauty.
His wife, evidently.
He tried to consult his spongy mind as he watched the gentle rise and fall of the bundle of blankets. Nothing was coming to him.
He continued to watch her. He watched her eyes move underneath fine lids, framed by fine lashes. Her little nose moved up and down subtly as she peacefully breathed in and out. Her tiny mouth, framed by two soft pink lips, was slightly parted as she lay there unconscious to the world.
After some minutes she began to stir.. Her eyes blinked sleepily, sweeping across the bed, before opening completely. They were large, winter blue lenses of delicate ice.
She unwrapped herself from the course blankets and sat up with a light frown on her face. She blinked a few times before realizing the person she was looking for was sitting a few feet to the right.
She bolted from her perch and settled herself nearly on his lap, winding her slender arms around his frame and squeezing for everything she was worth. Her head automatically found its way onto his chest, and some sort of muscle memory forced him to rest his chin lightly on top of her head. It tickled.
"Jaune." His name. The sound of it brought back vague impressions.
It didn't hurt when she hugged him, and he found, as he lightly put his arms around her, that the feeling was slowly returning to his body. He could just make out the slender bones under her thin dress.
Before either of them could speak the door opened again, and a man stood in the doorway. Short sandy blonde hair parted at the side, maybe thirty, with lines framing his face from being a genuinely expressive person, he had a small smile on his lips and a sparkle in his dark blue eyes. A badge hung from his jacket reading, Dr. Fuller.
"Ah, finally awake, I see." The girl slowly slid her arms back and wound them firmly around his forearm. She slid herself back and settled herself next to the bandaged man. She had no interest in letting go. "Let's take a look at those bandages and we'll see what needs doing next."
The doctor stepped forward and checked his eyes, his ears, his reflexes. Everything was fine. He explained that his body was almost entirely wrapped in bandages. He'd been badly burned and they'd used a rather invasive technique in restoring his body's healthy cells.
"You'll feel sluggish for a while; spotty memories, dulled senses, but ultimately, you should be back to normal within a few days." He checked the clipboard at the foot of his bed and scrawled something in it. He looked up. "It's hard to say. These Dust based treatments vary from person to person. The young lady here says you took to them fairly well in the past, but then again you've only ever had one treatment. Hardly a reliable sample."
Jaune nodded and looked down at the young girl who was still clinging to his arm. She looked back up at him with large blue eyes, and he thought he wouldn't mind losing himself in them.
"Miss Schnee—ah, that is, Mrs. Arc, was absolutely invaluable." He came back around and stood in front of them, his arms crossed. "If we hadn't had her resources at our disposal, we wouldn't have been able to administer the treatment." Jaune lifted his hand up and pat her on the head in thanks. She nuzzled into him and made his side tickle.
Weiss looked up at the gently smiling doctor. "Can we go, sir?"
His smile fell slightly. "I wouldn't mind keeping him for observation for a few days, but I can sense you're going to fight me on it. And since half this building's practically yours anyway, my life could get very hard if I refuse." He sighed. "Mr. Arc is technically well enough to move about, but don't overdo it and make sure you follow the instructions I gave you on changing his bandages. To a tee, Miss Arc."
Weiss nodded and reluctantly untangled herself from the young man. She gently held her hand out for him to take.
"Come on. Let's go home."
Weiss carefully guided him out of the recovery room, nestling herself under his shoulder partly for comfort and mostly to take on as much of his weight as she could. She walked him down to the nurses' kiosk and signed him out. The nurse told her that the hospital would provide her with transportation back up to the Academy. Weiss nodded in thanks.
Jaune, all the while, concentrated on regaining his memories. Like waves growing stronger as the day grew old, the impressions were giving way to images, and the images to snatches of memory. Early memory.
He saw a man, older, with strong features, and a dark complexion. He smelled freshly baked bread. He saw a snappy young man with silver hair and an easy smile. He saw a small girl with soft honey blonde hair, luminescent teal eyes, and velvety cat ears atop her head. He couldn't make heads or tails of any of them.
He felt himself being led out of the hospital. The double doors hissed back and let in a wall of cool air. He could hear the soft pattering of rain on the awning over the front entrance of the building. He looked around at the flock of cars that were waiting to pick up people just like him. The girl at his side was scanning for their ride. Her shoulders were slumped and it looked like she was running on autopilot.
He wanted to stand in the rain. He found his feet meandering toward an ornate path that was awash with cool rain, but a small hand tugged him back. He looked down at the snow haired girl.
She shook her head. "Don't. You can't get too wet right now. Your bandages."
He nodded and the pair continued down the walk to the waiting herd of cars. Theirs crept up, and they filed in silently. She helped him with his seat belt, and instead of fastening her own, she snuggled herself neatly next to him. He noticed that she molded to the contours of his body rather well. She threaded her arm through his and clasped his hand in a tight grip.
The driver peeled out of the line and swept into the quiet rain wary traffic. Jaune looked out the window at the drenched streets. He was lost in the inverted reflection of the city, like wet ink on the dark drenched roads. There was low public on the sidewalks, probably due to the storm, but most people walked hunched and rigid; like they expected the world to fall apart around them at any moment. Several people whipped their heads about as the car swished through the soaked streets.
He looked down at the girl again. Her eyes were downcast and her lips were formed into a tiny frown. She seemed deep in thought. He didn't want to bother her so he observed her silently. She was a slender little thing, like a gymnast or a dancer. He felt warmth spread throughout his body.
She sensed his gaze and looked up at him with large blue eyes. He saw his own bandaged face reflected back at him.
"J-Jaune?" She pushed herself up and cradled his face in her hands. Tears sparkled in her eyes. "Please tell me you're in there. Please come back to me."
He nodded. He didn't trust himself to speak just yet. He felt like he was looking at his own shadow from the light of a low fire; hard to intemperate and ever changing in the flickering light.
The rest of the ride went by in a comfortable silence. The girl settled back into her original position. He went back to looking out the window, waiting for his memories to reassert themselves. They had to make several detours as a majority of the roads were blocked off due to construction, or rubble removal. He could see holes punched out of buildings and craters where the streets had once been smooth. He wondered what had happened here.
He would look down at the girl every now and again, hoping to jog some piece of information loose that was just on the tip of his tongue. Every time he did, she would look up to him with a bright smile. She wasn't forcing it, but he could tell from her eyes that she was tired and ached for proper rest. He was sorry that he had put her through this.
The driver slowly worked his way out of the city and onto more suburban roads, smoother, longer, certainly less obstructing debris. They were crawling up a steady incline, and Jaune could see a mountain in the middle distance that was steadily growing bigger amidst the black trees. The car took the winding path up the mountain with about as much grace as a small size engine could. Jaune watched the view from between the thick trees. The city grew to about the size of a postcard snapshot and then a gray cluster of nondescript urban infrastructure.
They passed the gate to Beacon Academy and Jaune marveled silently at the emerald beacon that sliced through the dark silver sky. The driver asked where they wanted to be dropped off, and the young huntress directed him to the dorms.
The car came to a stop in front of a tall brick and mortar building. A tarnished statue of four hunters stood in front of a circular walkway that led into the building.
"Wait here." The white haired girl hopped out of the car and darted around the other side and opened his door. She helped him out and shoved herself under his arm again.
The car honked twice and made a slow turn. Jaune felt the rain press millions of cool little fingers onto his head. He wanted to stay out there longer, but the girl hustled him into the building.
The interior was dim and sleepy. Students lounged about listlessly. Some watched TV, while others played games, and others still talked in low voices. When they walked into the lounge, all activity stopped. Several students got up and tentatively approached, offering help and a quiet measure of respect. The girl waved them off. Jaune didn't recognize any of them, though he strained to try.
They crossed the lounge and entered the main hall that housed the first level dorms. He expected to have to go up the stairs, as younger students tended to have the last lot in these sorts of places, but he was mildly surprised when he hooked a left and started down the hall.
He looked down at the rug and tried to place the color; if only to give his mind something to puzzle over while he got to where he was going. It was somewhere between puce, mauve, and a hint of maroon. Entirely ugly, and wholly unsettling.
Further down the hall they heard muffled voices. Down a ways two parallel doors were open and the voices seemed to be streaming out of the leftmost one. Jaune thought he recognized some of them.
A head poked itself out the door. It was a young girl of about fifteen or sixteen. Black hair that faded to ruby red at the tips and large expressive silver eyes.
"Hey! They're back! Weiss and Jaune are back!"
The world flip flipped when he heard the name Weiss. A rush of emotions, colors, impressions, smells, sounds, in short, memories flooded every synapse of his mind. A dam broke and the resulting torrent threatened to topple his meager defenses. He stumbled, but Weiss' arms were fast around him, supporting him with strength unusual for her slim arms.
It was too much. Too much.
His vision blurred and the world swayed badly. The little red haired girl was running toward him, with shining silver eyes. He felt vertigo and then nausea. He was going down. The small girl adjusted her trajectory from a full frontal hug to wedging herself under his other arm.
Other people started spilling out of the room. When his swaying eyes washed over them, more images and senses flashed across his mind. Each one hurt like an ice pick through the head.
"We have to lay him down. Hurry." The white haired girl—Weiss—took charge.
They all crowded around him, girls of varying shapes and sizes. Red. Black. Lots of yellow. Bronze. Tall. Slim. Sinewy. Economical. Brash. Observant. Impulsive. They guided him into the room on the right. There was a bunk bed on the right and a large single bed on the left. The gaggle of girls guided him to the left bed and gently eased him down, careful to put his head on the pillow.
He looked up at them with dizzy eyes. A boy with black hair and fuchsia eyes, and another girl with orange hair came up to him. They all looked down at him with equal parts concern and fondness. He got the impression that he was safe, but his overloaded brain could take only so much. He shuddered, felt a lance of dizzying cold, and closed his eyes.
When he woke next it was the middle of the night and he was very confused. He blinked a few times to get the stickiness out of his eyes. He listened to the storm tick tacking against the windows for a few minutes and wondered when the rain would finally stop. He looked around him and saw that he was still in the same room as before. His shoes had been taken off, and someone had rearranged his pillow. He reached up and gingerly felt the bandages on his face. They felt like the same ones he had that morning.
He stared at the inky ceiling and probed his mind. It didn't feel as spongy as before, and he felt like he had a fair bit of his own history pieced together. The shock from hearing that girl—Weiss' name coupled with some sleep had really helped. There were still gaps from his earlier years and everything from after his entry into Beacon was still a haze of color, smell, and even taste, but it was all coming together.
He looked to his left and saw Weiss sleeping soundly next to him. She had changed out of her frosty dress and was currently in a fine, cornflower blue nightgown. The soft fabric flowed along her curves flatteringly, and left her milk white arms and legs smooth and bare. She was turned toward him with her legs tucked together and bent at the knee. Her hands were about half way between them, about level with his eye, as if she had tried to reach out to him, but decided better of it. The frown on her face was deeper than he liked, and if he strained his ears he swore he heard small whimpers coming from her soft lips.
He still couldn't remember anything about her, but if she was really as important to him as he seemed to her, then he would need to put in more of an effort to remember her. He couldn't imagine what she was going through, sleeping beside someone who had been so intimate with her, presumably, not so long ago, who now regarded her as a stranger.
He reached out and placed his right had next to hers—not on top of it, but next to it. He wanted her to know that he was trying to remember.
The next day dawned gray, light, and rainless. Jaune woke and looked to his left. Weiss wasn't there, and the black haired boy, and orange haired girl were silently milling about, preparing for the day. He rolled over and sat up, planting his bare feet on the economical gray carpeting.
"Hey, you're awake." The boy walked over and placed a hand on his shoulder. "She'll be out in a second. Hang tight."
He could hear the shower running through the wall. Not quite sure what to do, he resolved to wait for Weiss to come out. A few minutes later the water stopped, and five minutes after that the door opened. She was dressed in a school uniform, white shirt, black blazer, soft wool skirt, and thin black socks. There was a small red ribbon tied around her collar. The dark colors made her pale white skin stand out even more, almost glow.
Her eyes found his the moment she stepped into the room. She silently padded over and offered him an easy smile; she didn't seem as stressed as the day before. He was glad.
"Good morning. How do you feel today?"
"Hello. I'm alright, s'pose." His voice sounded course. He needed some water.
The black haired boy walked up to her. "We should get ready, Ozpin will want to see him."
They walked him to the bathroom where the boy would help him peel off his bandages. Weiss wanted to stay and help, and Jaune had no qualms about it, but the boy waved her off stating they didn't have time.
The soft white wrappings came away from his torso and arms, revealing pink, blistered, but healing skin. His hands and legs were in a similar state. He lightly poked at the skin on his arm and it felt leathery and tough. It didn't hurt, and he could only just feel the touch.
"Doctor says this is what it's supposed to do." The boy concentrated on undoing the wrappings around his head. His nimble fingers were careful and quick. "Pretend you have the mother of all sunburns right now."
When he saw his face in the mirror he wasn't nearly as repulsed as he thought he'd be. His hair had either been burned or shaved off. In its place was about a months worth of stubble. He was reasonably sure he'd get all his hair back. There was an angry looking scar in the shape of an X over his left eye, but it was long since healed and didn't hurt. The skin on his face was stretched over his skull and wrinkled, like he was wearing a rubber mask that had been out in the heat and humidity too long. His nose and cheek bones poked out from his skin where it was stretched the thinnest.
Honestly, he was expecting something more along the lines of a chewed up wad of expired bubble gum.
"She's really broken up." The boy, observed him silently through the mirror. "The last three weeks haven't been easy on her, overseeing your recovery. You were coming and going. Each time, she felt like she was dying and coming back to life with you."
He turned and drew the bath.
"I'm sorry," Jaune rasped. "I'm trying to remember."
The patient boy offered him a reassuring smile. "You just concentrate on getting better. She's just impatient to see you, that's all. She misses you."
Jaune stepped into the water and sighed as the soothing warmth soaked into his battered flesh. He rolled the water over his rough body and encouraged his flesh to unclench and relax. Things were only going to get better from here.
After his bath was over, the boy helped him apply a healing salve all over his body. Fresh wrappings went on, and a school uniform went on over that. The boy handed him a lustrous light blue tie and gently ushered him out the door. Jaune looked at him strangely, wondering why they didn't complete the outfit, but he simply smiled and moved to collect his own things for the day.
"Jaune, over here." Weiss called him over to the window. She had an anxious expression on her face; her posture radiated barely restrained energy.
He stepped up to her and held the tie lamely in his hand. He didn't really know how to tie ties, and if given the choice, would rather go without.
"Here." She plucked the fine fabric from his hands and slung it around his neck. Her deft little hands wound, flipped, and twisted the fabric until ti was a nice neat knot. A small smile cut across her lips as she worked. She gently tugged the knot until it was snug and comfortable against his neck. The whole ritual felt familiar and comfortable.
When she finished, she trailed her hands down his chest, her fingers lingered as long as they could before reluctantly pulling away.
Her eyes stared into an anonymous point on his shirt, far away in time. Her smile teetered dangerously on the edge of becoming a grimace.
He thought back to what Ren—that was his name, Ren—had said. He didn't want her to dwell on sad imaginings. He was getting better and that was that. He tucked his finger under her chin and gently lifted it up so her ice blue eyes looked into his. "Thank you."
Her smile reached her eyes.
The air was cool and clear. The recent rainfall had lowered the humidity considerably and left the mountaintop academy with a crisp spring atmosphere. It was still overcast, but the clouds were light, and docile. The moist salve on his skin did much to expel his body heat and give him a fresh feeling in return.
This gradually melted away as they crossed the campus in the direction of the dining hall. As they entered, the wave of hot air nearly made him dizzy, but he recovered quickly enough. Weiss' hand squeezed at his elbow in support. The sonorous roar of chatter and the clatter of cutlery filled his ears. He cast his eyes around at the assembled students. Many of them blinked up at him as he was led around from station to station. He tried to place faces to names, but none were coming to him. He reassured himself that this was only because he simply didn't know those students and couldn't have expected himself to know everyone.
Weiss settled him down on the second seat from the left on a long wooden table. He set down his tray of breakfast; a modest portion of eggs, sausage, a cup of fruit, and water. His companions filed into their usual spots judging by the speed with which they settled themselves. He sat across... Ruby, yes that was Ruby. He had Weiss at his left, and Ren at his right.
He took up his fork with his right hand, and felt his left enveloped lightly in Weiss' small counterpart. He ate slowly and chewed thoughtfully. Every once and again he would probe his mind to see if he had jogged any more memories. The impressions were getting stronger. He felt he had his friends' names on the tip of his tongue.
He sensed movement from the corner of his eye and watched a tall, gray haired man weave expertly through the thick crowd of hungry students. An anonymous mug was clasped in his firm, pale hand. He watched the man approach, desperately trying to place who he was. He knew he was important, but that much was evident from how everyone was making way for him.
The man reached their table and stopped just behind Jaune and Weiss. He placed his hand on the bandaged hunter's shoulder.
"It's good to see you're back, Mr. Arc."
Jaune felt the urge to get up and show respect, but the pressure on his shoulder increased lightly.
"As you were, lad." He pat the young man on the shoulder. He turned his head to address the others. "I was wondering what Mr. Arc's condition might be. Is it just as the doctors expected?" His hand was still firm on Jaune's shoulder. It felt warm and comforting.
Jaune said nothing. He concentrated on the long red hair of the taller girl. The itch on his tongue was greatest when he looked at her. There was something just under the surface.
"He says he's coming back to himself slowly, Sir. He just has to take it easy, and his memories should reassert themselves. There's nothing much we can do but wait." Ren spoke for all of them.
"I see." Jaune felt rather than saw the older man take a drink from his mug. "Concentrate on healing, Mr. Arc. All you need to know at this point is that the battle is over, hopefully for good. All that remains is that you return to us whole in body and mind, for all of this to be a complete success. We will speak again when you are well."
Ozpin gave Jaune another pat on the shoulder before raising his mug to the eight hunters in training. He turned and walked back into the crowd, disappearing in the throng in seconds.
Silence fell on the table as no one quite knew what else to say. They tried to go back to their breakfast, but after a moment, they would all glance over at the bandaged boy and wonder what was going on in his head.
So he'd been in some sort of scuffle. He tried to think about it, but he wasn't drawing anything useful. He decided to file it away for later and concentrate on his previous line of thought.
He refocused his gaze at Pyrrha. She offered him a patient smile.
"The tournament." Weiss gasped, her hand clamped down on his. Pyrrha looked mildly surprised. "Who won the tournament?"
For a second no one knew how to answer him. Then, Pyrrha spoke. "Well, we did. They had a rematch two weeks after the attack."
"Yeah, piece of cake," chimed Ruby.
"Good job." Jaune turned back to his lukewarm eggs.
Slow and steady.
The next few days consisted of working through a routine that felt simultaneously familiar and foreign. He would wake and freshen up. Weiss would tie his tie for him every day. They would work their way through the school schedule; breakfast, classes, lunch, free period, more classes, dinner, self study, sleep.
They had been excused from further assignments for the remainder of the year. Ozpin cited the fact that any test they could possibly throw at them would only result in so much anticlimax. They preferred to keep up with the bookwork and practice on their own. No sense getting lazy just because they helped save the world. Weiss helped him catch up on the book work he'd missed. The readings helped keep his mind sharp. He felt relieved when he read the first passage of a completely alien chapter on survival techniques and understood it. He figured his intelligence hadn't been rattled too badly in the fight.
They would practice against one another to keep their combat techniques sharp. Jaune sat out on these occasions, preferring to watch from the sidelines. Forcing his eyes to track his fast moving friends across the sparring field helped, he felt it brought him closer to getting back to who he was.
A quick feint, or a signature twist, a flutter of a red cloak, or a burst of fire from a fist would trigger colors and sounds. He would clamp onto them and wrangle them into focus, forcing them to reveal the elusive memory. He found Yang again in his mind when she threw Ren clear across the room for grazing her hair with one of his knives.
He wouldn't stop smiling the rest of the day.
During one of Oobleck's rapid fire history lessons, he was tracking the speedy professor across the room when a lance of pain shot through his head. He grit his teeth and straggled to blink away the tears. He saw flashes of a fierce head with a grisly mane of golden hair. His eyes were yellow, luminous, and burning. He knew. He knew that this was the person he had fought to the end. The one he barely came back from.
All of a sudden a wedge of his life fell back into place, throwing his entire world askew. He saw himself in the cavern, doing battle with the otherworldly creature. He saw himself throw his body into the flames, fully expecting to die.
But he survived.
Jaune fell out of his seat, panting hard. Weiss was at his side in an instant, holding his head up, looking down at him with shimmering blue eyes filled with concern. He stared open mouthed into her eyes. Shining and blue and clear and large.
After the blinding fire there was raw, cold ice. There was a surge of energy as his protective glyph had run out of juice. The fail safe had triggered. He was immediately encased in a sphere of ice two feet thick. His sword was gone, lodged through his foe. His injuries were being healed by a newly applied healing glyph, and jagged spikes erupted in every direction, simultaneously planting him into the ground, and slicing through his enemy all at once.
The only problem was that he was still on fire, in a confined space with finite air. He began choking and inhaling rolling steam. He collapsed onto the floor of the sphere that was rapidly filling with melted water.
The last thing he saw were the growing pool of tears in her soft blue eyes.
When he came to, someone was dabbing a cool, moist pad across his forehead. They trailed the soft pad down his cheeks and across his lips and around his neck. It felt good and refreshing.
Then he heard the soft sobs and he opened his eyes.
He was back in his room. Weiss sat next to him lightly dabbing the most cloth across his face. Her mint blue eyes were shining with tears. Her soft pink lips were twisted into a pained frown, and her face was badly contorted in silent anguish.
He looked up at her for a moment, not sure if she saw he was awake yet.
She started and looked down at him in mild surprise. "Wha! Y-You're awake." She put the sponge aside and bowed her head over him, placing her hands on his shoulders. He could tell she was struggling between smothering him and respecting his injuries. "Oh, please tell me you're alright."
He ran his mental check again. From his earliest memory, all the way down to about a month ago. It all flowed from one scene to the next. The people, the places, the choices he'd made, they were all there.
He looked back up at Weiss and felt the familiar rush of love and warmth that he always felt while looking at his little angel. He smiled as broadly as his bandages would allow. Oh, how in the world could he possibly forget his little angel?
"Weiss." He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He took her face in his own larger hands. His deep blue eyes sparkled with recognition. "Oh, Weiss. Weiss. Weiss."
He said her name over and over again. Each time he stroked her cheek, wiped her tears, ran his hands through her hair. His hands roamed over her hungrily. And they hadn't had their fill in a very, very long time. She could only take so much. She launched herself onto him. He secured his arms around her as she adjusted herself on his lap. They peppered each other with frantic kisses. And when they were spent and out of breath, she burrowed her head into his chest and he buried his lips into her hair. They rocked back and forth on rolling waves of emotion.
He missed her hair. He missed holding her like this.
He missed her!
He felt warm tears soak into his chest. He responded by holding her tighter and letting the emotion wash over them. They stayed like this, silent and clinging, until the fear and the doubt and the worry had all run their course. It was over now, and they had both come out of it alive and whole.
"I was scared." She spoke in a small voice. He squeezed her. "Every time I looked at you and saw those vacant eyes, I thought this is it, he's never coming back."
He shushed her by rocking back and forth. "Hush. Don't think those things. I'm back. I'm back and I'm not going anywhere."
Slowly, she told him about how they dug and dug, how she was sure her fail safe would keep him alive. She told him how they finally worked their way back into the ruined chamber and found his ice shield. They cracked through it and found his mangled body. The fire and the scalding steam were enough to cook his flesh. They pulled him out and Bill loaded him onto his back. They ran him all the way back to the chopper. She had been by his side ever since, saying silent prayers to every deity she could think of.
"The hospital was already overloaded from the injuries coming in from the city. Somewhere along the lines they seem to have noticed who I was and they put you in a better room, but it still wasn't enough. You were so far gone..." Her voice began to warble dangerously, he ran his hand up and down her waist in support. "I wouldn't accept it. I called my father and demanded he send resources to help you. To help everyone! I screamed at him for hours." She nuzzled closer as if she wanted to fold herself into him and disappear. "No one yells at the Schnee head. No one." A hint of bitterness laced her voice. "Especially me. I don't know if I can go back there when school lets out. I don't know if I'd want to even if I could."
Jaune nodded into her hair. He understood. After everything she'd told him, he understood. "Then come home with me."
She looked up at him, her eyes large, wide, and disbelieving. He shrugged as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
"Yeah. Come with me for the summer. You wanted to see my village all this time anyway. Why not now?"
"Really?" He liked the happiness that shined in her eye. It made her look prettier.
"Of course. We've got more than enough room. And everyone will love to meet you, I'm sure. We make a big deal about newcomers."
She sprung up, unheeded by his injuries and tackled him down onto the bed. They wrestled back and forth for a few minutes, fighting for dominance. Their peals of laughter soaked out through the modest walls and into the hallways. Jaune got the upper hand and pinned the smaller girl to the bed, her neat ponytail splayed out under her, making her look like some ethereal ice goddess.
Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes, large and expressive, and her lips lightly parted and softly panting.
"There's just one thing I'm still fuzzy on."
"W-What?" She felt her face heating up pleasantly.
"The nurse. She said you were my wife. What's up with—"
"No!" Her face went tomato red with embarrassment. In a show of strength unusual for her small body, she reversed their position and straddled his chest. "Lunkhead! You forget all about that right this instant! W-What else was I supposed to tell them!? How else were they going to let me stay with you?" She beat her little fists on his chest mercilessly. "You don't have the privilege to know! Not now, not ever!"
When Ren and Nora came in minutes later, they found the young pair wrestling playfully. A bright smile crashed across Nora's face as she happily threw herself into the fray. Ren chose to lean against the wall and watch as the two girls ganged up on their hapless, partially mummified team leader.
"Hey." Slade looked about the same as ever. Tousled silver hair, sharp gray eyes, pale, dapper face.
"Nothing much. Mayor's drawing plans for a new schoolhouse. Pete nearly set Kia's tail on fire trying to strap her to another one of his rockets."
"Yeah." A beat. "You look like a mummy."
"They told me about what you did. We're all real proud of you round here. Kat's lookin' to claw your eyes out since you never called, but we're all real proud all the same."
"Heh, sorry about that. I just got caught up."
"I... thought I'd come home."
Slade clicked his tongue. "Well, where the hell else would you go?" He smiled. "Dummy. I'll tell Pete of the Crazy variety to come pick you up. Still got those pills, right?"
They shared an easy laugh.
"I hope you don't find this arrangement disagreeable, Mr. Arc. I would have told you sooner, but circumstances being what they were at the time..." The bandages had come off days ago. He hadn't come out much worse for wear. His skin felt rougher than usual, but Weiss said that would fade away as new skin cells replaced the fatigued ones. His hair was coming in nicely... again, and he wondered if it was worth growing out anymore. Maybe he should just keep it short. He stood in his full uniform, back straight, face expressionless, in Goodwitch's office.
"Not at all, Professor. We'd like to know more about it too. And if Slade hadn't invited you, I most likely would have."
Goodwitch nodded and penciled a few things into her black schedule book. She would be spending a portion of the summer with him at Carbo village, working with Slade to figure out not why his Aura was gone, they all know why, but why it couldn't be transferred back. Transference one way was unheard of, so trying to make it go the other way again was simply out of the realm of possibility. It was a question for the ages, and for the foremost authority on Aura, it was a topic she couldn't pass up.
"Have you spoken with the Headmaster?" She didn't look up from her date book.
They had spoken briefly after he had fully returned to himself. Ozpin told him about what had happened around the city while his team was out in the desert. Minutes after the Faunus had attacked the stadium, several civilian militia groups and police had mobilized and fought back against the frenzied people. There had been heavy fighting for hours throughout the city, but late in the day the Faunus began falling back. Their abilities were suddenly stripped from them and they were quickly overpowered and detained.
Ozpin strongly suspected that was about the time Jaune had his final clash with the leader. His team had found the mangled body next to his own. They hadn't thought to take it with them as they had more pressing matters to attend to, but the struggle seemed well and truly over.
Goodwitch finally looked up from her papers. "Then I leave you to your affairs."
Thus dismissed, Jaune nodded and left the office. He walked all the way out the main lecture building where Goodwitch kept her office, and spilled out into the fresh early summer air. The day was bright and cheerful. He took a deep breath and stuffed his hands into his blazer pockets. He walked slow along the pink cobblestone path. Students hustled about, excitedly telling their friends about their plans for the long break.
"My dad scored tickets for a cruise to Vaccuo. Wanna come?"
"Sure. Just remember, I get seasick if I stay out on deck too long."
"I'm workin' the bait shop again over the summer. Come by and keep me company."
"Damn it, again? We're going to smell like fish all year."
"I'm going up to Atlas to do some climbing."
"Those are some of the highest peaks in all of Remnant."
"Don't look down."
He didn't have much packing to do. He never grew out of what he'd brought with him in his rucksack. He had a few new changes of clothes and a nice new tie, a fine length of rope, and that was about it. Ren said he would take the fridge for the summer. That was about everything he needed to square up.
On his way back to the dorms, he passed the assembled members of BSQT, Bill, Sam, Quinn and Ted the Tenor; Beacon Academy's one and only barbershop quartet. They stood in identical pinstripe suits and flat hats with red bands around the tops. The sandwich board at their feet read; BSQT: The Farewell Concert.
They tipped their hats to him as he walked down the lane. Their voices tumbled after him in perfect harmony. He recognized it as a tune from their previous album.
"And that lucky old sun's got nothin' to do, but roll around heaven all day..."
Jaune slung his rucksack over his shoulder and stepped out of the dorms for the last time, for the first time. The sun was coming down, and had cast the sky in a soft orange glow. The lingering clouds were pale and shimmering in the quiet afternoon daze. Many of the students had left by now, and it was just a matter of time before everyone was gone for the summer.
They'd already said their goodbyes with their sister team, promising, mostly to a teary eyed Ruby, that they'd make time to meet up over the break. Ren and Nora set off for their hometown earlier in the day. Blake had lingered before quietly going off with Pyrrha after lunch.
He started down the blazing cobblestone at a leisurely pace. He was in a comfortable pair of jeans and a breezy, open, off white button down. He walked around the winding paths that separated the many blazing lawns and prismatic flower gardens. He passed the main building which housed the iconic emerald beacon, which was lit as a custom for the last day of the year.
He saw Weiss haloed in the dipping orange sun. she was staring up at the statue of Elias Arc, hero of the Great War. He watched her for a moment. Her white battle dress blazed in the afternoon light. Her posture was prim and proper. Her back was straight. Her feet were planted close together, her hands were clasped in front of her, holding a small case which held her essentials, and her fine white ponytail fluttered softly in the lazy breeze.
She turned her large blue eyes toward him as he approached.
"What's up?" He gently combed his hand through her hair. It felt soft, silky, and entirely disarming.
"Hm? Oh, nothing. I just see the resemblance, is all." She leaned into his touch.
He smiled and curled his arms around her waist. "Oh yeah?"
"Mhmm." She nodded.
He paused and looked up at the statue, tall, proud, and shining in the orange light.
He squeezed her and kissed the top of her head firmly. He slid his body to her side and gently led her away.
Pete said he'd meet them at the gate when their Dustplane landed. They had a short walk to the bus depot which would take them through Vale, to the airport. The motor pool was ferrying students every fifteen minutes. Then, after a long, cramped flight they would touch down in the far west. The drive from the airport to Carbo would be about an hour across poorly paved road. Then, finally, home.
The dark room felt right at home bathed in soft silvery light. The eight teenagers sat in a row, staring with glassy eyed wonder. Ruby and Yang had a seat between them with two buckets of popcorn and soda. The biggest they could demand. Pyrrha sat, politely munching on her package of Chocoraisins, a small soda sat dutifully in her cup holder. Nora hopped in her seat, swinging her arms excitedly, pantomiming the moves as she saw them. Ren kept one eye on his friend and another on the screen. Just in case. Jaune and Weiss sat cuddled together, a single large soda and Peanutbutter Pebbles between them.
"Oh, Ryu! This is hopeless. We're part of two rival clans. They'll hunt us across the globe until they satisfy themselves on our blood. We'll never be safe. We can never be together."
"Let them come for us, Suzuka. I'll kill them all. My love for you is stronger than anything they can throw at us."
Blake sat on the last seat, her mouth silently moving in time with the dialog. Her eyes were misted over with tears of joy. Her bow twitched happily. And clutched in her trembling hands was a well worn copy of Ninjas of Love.
Thanks for sticking with me to the end, folks.