Revised - Nov. 18, 2014
Author' note: This both my my first fanfic for FFN and my first fanfic for Monty Oum's RWBY. This is inspired by the Ciaphas Cain series from the Warhammer 40,000 franchise. For those unfamiliar with the series, the basic premise is that the books are actually the secretly published memoirs of the titular character, who is considered a big hero despite being a self-admitted coward. He somehow ends up in situtations that only enhance his apparent heroism despite his best efforts to stay out of trouble. The books are edited by (in-universe) an Inquisitor and hinted love interest Amberley Vail, who sprinkles snark and informative commentary in the form of footnotes and excerpts from in-universe publications.
That said, I'm going for a different track here, although the basic "fraudulent hero" premise will be similar. The Ciaphas Cain series is written in a first person point of view, but I feel that that's too limiting for this story since I also want to focus on the other characters as well, so this story will be written with switching third-person POVs. There also won't be any Amberley Vail-style footnotes since this story is, consequently, not in a memoir-like form. Lastly, I won't try to shoehorn RWBY characters into exact counterparts of Ciaphas Cain characters since the dynamic is too different.
The characters in the FFN character label slots will hint at which charcters will have a bit more focus and/or plot-important roles. They don't necessarily imply pairings since I'm undecided at the moment and I don't really have any favorite RWBY pairings, except maybe Ozpin/Glynda. And I'm not even that invested in said pairing.
"To thy own self be always in one piece." —Jaune Arc
He could remember a little blond boy who dreamed about being a hero, like many his age. From the glory of a soldier leading armies to victory in the battlefield, to the heroic self-satisfaction of a knight rescuing the resident damsel in distress, to the more down-to-earth but still appealing idea of being a Huntsman cutting a swath through hordes of vicious Grimm terrorizing a village.
The simple, unremarkable dreams of a simple, unremarkable boy.
However, unlike many his age, said unremarkable boy had been born into a family where having a remarkable hero or two every generation or so was treated as a matter of course. So his childhood dreams had been stoked by the grand and sometimes (well, often) embellished tales of derring-do about his ancestors, starting with his father and his many sisters and working all the way back to first member of the Arc family that history bothered to remember. Exciting, stirring stuff for an extremely excitable, often stir-crazy little boy they'd hoped would grow up to do something they could add to the family's collective bragging rights.
He'd wanted that too; wanted to make them proud.
The seventeen-year-old Jaune Arc smiled wistfully at the memories of simpler times, absently running a hand over his scraggly blond hair. His smile faded as the massive, whale-like airship in the distance loomed ever closer.
What a stupid little kid he'd been.
To his credit, it hadn't taken long for that stupid little kid to wise up. After all, one of the best ways that children learned was through stories, and with the tales his family eagerly poured into his tiny towhead, it hadn't taken him long to notice that many of his ancestors had a tendency to all too ... permanently enter the history books far earlier than many of their contemporaries. His older sisters participating in the time-honored tradition of older siblings trying to terrify the younger had certainly been helpful there.
He'd come to note that impressive words like brave, valiant, and long-remembered were all too often accompanied by lost, martyred, and dismembered. A particular memory that still stood out to this day was of the one about an interesting female ancestor that had taught him the equally interesting word immolated.
He'd even learned to use it in a sentence: "B-but, I don't wanna be imma-maladed."
Having learned so much, the boy had decided to learn even more, expand his horizons. Soon enough the simpler childhood dreams had given way to the loftier ambitions of prepubesence—being a baker.
Fascinating stuff, baking. You made all sorts of beautiful, tasty things from variations of water, milk, and what was essentially the powdered essence of plant life; wrought into form by one's own bare hands and transcending the humble origins of the raw materials in an infernal maw of captured flame. Then you ripped it out of the jaws of hell yourself, maybe prettied it up a bit, and used it to nurture life. It was the very power of the gods in a deceptively humble form.
And as far as he could tell, rarely did you ever hear of people dismembered or immolated for being bakers. Well, provided they didn't do it to themselves by being careless around the utensils and ovens.
Unfortunately, he hadn't been smart enough to figure out that a family that prided itself for belting out heroes wouldn't be as keen about producing a lowly baker, much less when that would-be baker was the only son among seven daughters. You'd think a family with so many accomplished females in this generation and generations prior wouldn't be so concerned with so petty a thing as masculine image. It was unfair, really. Men like bakers had been producing food for the masses since the dawn of civilization, accounting for the lives of peasants, warriors, and nobles alike. Heroic enough by his reckoning.
His family hadn't seen it that way. He also hadn't known back then that the louder he was about not wanting to be a hero, the more determined they became about changing his mind.
Jaune shot a look the sword hanging at his side, safely in its currently scabbard-shaped shield. Crocea Mors, his legendary great-great-grandfather's equally legendary weapons—they had a name and everything! His family's brilliant attempt at being subtle. Because sticking him with an antique that forced him into maiming range because nobody wanted to "desecrate" a "classic" heirloom by sensibly sticking a gun in it somewhere was a reasonable argument for the virtues of heroism and the family legacy, apparently.
All the dubious honor of being bestowed the heirloom had instilled in him was a massive callus on his left thigh from the combined weight of the sword and dense shield-scabbard repeatedly brushing against it.
At the onset of puberty he'd come to realize that the perfectly sane position of keeping himself safe from harm by not going into harm's way to give others the same privilege you just denied yourself was an easy way to get labeled a coward, even by—especially by—people not willing to go into risk their own skins but expected you to do it for their sake all the same. He'd been given a hard time for it by neighbors and schoolmates and called all sorts of names. A particularly common one was the old-fashioned "yellow" (or "yeller," as they inevitably mispronunced it), mostly because they thought themselves so clever for punning his name.
His family had made no attempt to discourage it. Indeed, they had been the most vociferous in egging it on in the hope that the near-constant mockery would make him "wise up." It had made all the torturous training they'd put him through to toughen him up even more miserable.
And it had wised him up—just not in the way they'd hoped.
He realized that he needed to be more subtle about it. See, while being considered a coward earned him nothing but grief and contempt, he noticed that being considered an earnest incompetent was given more slack. Indeed, they were often encouraged to try something else before they hurt themselves and others. Still disdained, true, but the sentiment was somehow tempered by the fact that they'd been willing to try.
Which didn't make any sense when one really thought about it since the results were ultimately the same, but another lesson Jaune had learned was that people loved not making—or having—a lick of sense. Making sense of that and convincing them that what he wanted was also what they wanted was the key.
First, he had to work around his established reputation for cowardice. An incompetent coward, after all, was someone people would hate even more. Luckily, the same collective insanity that made people fawn over willful self-endangerment in the name of "heroism" also made them inclined to the notion that some people can "get their shit together" and find redemption by "proving" themselves.
Of course, wallowing in lack of good sense also made people absurdly self-contradictory. So while they might say that they believed people can change and deserved second chances, they usually preferred to stick to their initial preconceptions unless the change fit into another set of said preconceptions—much less thinking to do that way.
He had to be gradual about it—a little muttering about being tired of being called a coward there, a touch more effort every training session there, and then just let people draw their own conclusions. Eventually, they'd think that they finally got through to him, that they finally convinced him to start living up to the family legacy. Alas, they'd also see that he was utter crap at it and start considering that it might be in their best interest to quietly shuffle him away to where his bumbling won't sully the Arc name, somewhere safe.
Jaune winced. I really should've known better.
An annoying issue he hadn't considered was that the people he had grown up around would be damnably good at sniffing out his bull, especially his nosy siblings. They'd looked at his seeming change of heart with a heaping helping of suspicious scrutiny and a whole lot of letting him prove himself—and in the Arc family, that meant being tossed at Grimm of steadily increasingly lethality to see if he was really taking it seriously now. He'd quickly found that it was damned hard to convincingly simulate utter incompetence in the face of actual danger, not if he didn't want to get an unsimulated mangling.
He'd had to draw on his training to keep himself in one piece. Fortunately, he'd also found out that he was excellent at staying alive. Unfortunately, in the course of all that what bumbling he'd managed to inject just convinced them that he was a natural whose skills just needed more refinement. Which meant increased brutal training, even more terrifyingly dangerous "practice" against Grimm, and fighting much harder to stay alive—which just reinforced their thinking. A vicious cycle in the worst, most literal sense.
In the course of their consistent failure to turn him into Grimm-fodder, they'd convinced themselves that they'd honed him into a prospective Hunstman good enough for the prestigious Beacon Academy. Naturally, they'd been happy to send a recommendation with the Arc name attached to it, and the academy had been happy to accept. Supposedly, Beacon only accepted the best. Well, so much for prestige.
One thing Jaune was all too certain of, however, was that Beacon was very likely going to be far worse for him in the "not being maimed or killed" department. He sighed glumly, wondering if his plan to be dismissed as a hopelessly useless goof could still be salvaged or if he needed to consider taking a different approach. He grimaced at the thought of having all those years of effort going to waste.
Of course, effort going to waste was still vastly more preferrable to his own life being wasted. He'll just have to keep doing what he did best—saving his own skin. Besides, at least his family wouldn't be personally overseeing his training this time around. Beacon was also an academy, so there'd be more options when it came to flunking. Worse came to worst, he'd be in a team, so that would hopefully distribute the chances of injury between three other people. You know, optimism.
His grimace deepened. Yeah, just like his original plan was supposed to have been simple. He had the sinking feeling that Beacon was going to be anything but.
Jaune looked up apprehensively, eyeing the airship as it swooped over them serenely before descending slowly toward the dock. The other students around him were similarly staring at it, with varied expressions. He struggled to avoid shooting the ones who actually looked enthusiastic a look of disgust. He still couldn't comprehend how some people could actually look forward to the prospect of facing potential injury and death, much less willingly seek it out in the first place. Maybe people were just inclined to stupidity by nature.
Then again, it was his "clever" planning that had somehow gotten him here in the first place, so what did that say about him? As if in agreement, his belly rumbled, already anticipating the severe motion sickness he was sure to feel in the air.
Jaune let out a long breath of resignation as the ship finally docked and began to extend its loading ramp. To him it seemed as if the vehicle itself was sticking its tongue out at him mockingly.
The students around him began moving forward. Reluctantly, Jaune did the same, dragging his feet the whole way. Other students jostled him as they hurried past him, and he felt a spike of annoyance bubble up from his gloominess.
It seemed as if his experience in Beacon was going to be unpleasant from start to finish. He just hoped that that finish wasn't going to be a resoundingly final one.