Here's the chapter. Just to note that it is long, and in a way, it might also feel like it would have been better split into two chapters. I'm not going to bother with that, but for those thinking of writing their own books in time, it's worth pointing out that this definitely isn't just one chapter. I'll even include a little sign in the fic of where the chapter transition would occur if it was split up. I just find it easier not to.
Basically, where it says /-/ C-E /-/ that is where one would imagine the chapter ending, and a new one beginning.
Beta: College Fool
Cover Art: Sa-Dui (Commissioned: Booya93)
Chapter 51: Not this Time, Fate
Weiss' chest rose and fell as she stood over the defeated form of Cinder Fall. It had barely been minutes but they felt like hours, in which she stood guard, half-expecting the woman to rise once more and strike them down.
She did not.
Cinder was dead, and she, along with Yang and Blake, were alive. It was over. They'd done it. Outside, the roars continued, but this time it sounded sharper, more elated, and she realised that was because it was the roar of people, not Grimm. The elevator door behind her pinged open, and Ruby – bedraggled and covered in soot – staggered out. Pyrrha was behind her.
"Is it…?" Silver eyes widened, and Ruby dashed across the broken glass and frosted ice. "Yang! Yang, are you okay!?"
"I'm fine," the blonde mumbled, one arm waving limply. "Blake?"
"Alive," the faunus called, limping up. She would have fallen were it not for Pyrrha catching her. "Is it over?"
"Well, the dragon is dead and the Grimm have been killed." Pyrrha said. "Some are still roaming, but the worst is done and the White Fang are in full retreat. All the teachers are in Vale, I'd imagine, so things should be even safer there."
Weiss nodded, even as the others cheered weakly and laughed between themselves. It really looked like things had worked out, but there was something that didn't sit right. It was all too convenient, all too nice. She shook her head, dismissing such pessimism.
She had to find Jaune. Just the thought of the look on his face was enough to make her smile, and as tired as she was, she limped to the elevator.
"Where are you going, Weiss?" Ruby asked.
"I need to find my partner." She held a hand out when the others moved. "Yang and Blake are badly hurt. Don't let them make it worse by chasing after me. I'll see to him and find you later." She smiled. "Trust me."
Yang was in no condition to argue, but Blake hovered for a moment, before she nodded and sagged in Pyrrha's arms. They were both so spent, and neither had the soul of a dead woman feeding power into them.
The elevator door slipped shut.
Outside, in the plaza outside of the main building, students and civilians stood in tightly packed groups. Though the battle was over, the lingering negativity could summon more Grimm, and many stood guard while they waited for the teachers and huntsmen to return and deem it safe. There were some injured, too, though Weiss could see the tell-tale figure of Kitsune knelt by them. They would be fine.
Weiss' heart beat faster as she rushed towards the cafeteria, ignoring the discarded bodies of terrorists that had been allowed to remain where they fell. She even ignored Mercury and Emerald, whose bodies were beneath a tree, their throats slit and blood dried across their chests.
Everything was coming together. There were no enemies left, and no one to ruin this for her – for them. Weiss laughed happily as she pushed through the broken doors and into the cafeteria.
It died in her throat.
Sun Wukong stood by a nearby wall, shoulders hunched and head low. He turned at the sound of her entrance, and all Weiss caught was a flash of tear-stained eyes, before he looked away, unable to face her.
There was a figure slouched at his feet.
Weiss' body shook.
No… no, no, no.
She could barely breathe, but her feet carried her forward nonetheless. She half-stumbled, half-fell towards him, and her hands landed on his chest, only to come away tinted red. "Wake up," she begged.
He didn't respond.
"Jaune…? Jaune, I did it. I beat her, I saved you." Her fingers clutched his jacket. She shook him gently. "Wake up, you idiot. You're always sleeping. You… you can't sleep here…"
There was still no answer, and tears burned at her eyes. Her forehead fell to rest against his.
"I-I tried to help him," Sun gasped. He tried to speak more, but it took him a few seconds to clear his throat. "We had everything under control, I swear. Things were working, and then… I don't know. The next thing I saw, he'd been stabbed and… and…"
He broke off with a frustrated sob. Nothing more needed to be said. She could piece the rest of the story together.
And then… Jaune died.
It seemed unreal, especially after everything they'd been through. Weiss' mind tried to process it but couldn't. She felt light, too light, like nothing made sense and her mind was detached from her body. Her hands continued to tug and touch him, urging the fool to wake up. He'd promised to wait for her. This was supposed to be their victory – their moment. Tears tracked down her cheeks as she pressed her face against his blood-stained body.
"What am I supposed to do now?"
He didn't answer.
She slammed a fist against him.
"What am I supposed to do!?" she screamed. "You can't leave! You were supposed to stay! What's the point of even trying if this is all that happens?" She felt hands take her shoulders, Sun trying to pull her away. She shook him off violently, and sobbed against Jaune's body. "Come back… please come back…"
She searched for something. Something, anything, really… she just wanted to find that little heartbeat, weak and alone. If she could find that tiny piece of proof that he wasn't gone, just badly injured, then she could save him. Her hands searched, her face too, cheek pressed against his chest. Please, she begged, please let there be something.
There wasn't. There was nothing. No fairy-tale ending, and no lucky break, not even a whisper of breath past his pale lips.
He was dead. Jaune was dead.
What was the point of all this power if she couldn't use it to protect him, what was the point of all the pain and sacrifice? What was the point of fighting so hard if he was stolen away from her at the last second?
There was no point. She couldn't let it end like that. Myrtenaster scraped across the floor as she dragged it forward. The tip came to rest between his legs, pressed against the ground. She pushed her forehead against the hilt.
"Sun… you might want to move away. I can't promise what will or won't happen."
"What are you doing?"
"Something foolish, no doubt..." Her hands tightened, gripping the hilt. A white circle spun out underneath her, travelling several feet before it latched into place, forming the familiar glyph. She heard Sun move cautiously away, but she paid no attention to it. The glyph was a simple one. It was the same type she used to speed people up.
It clicked and started to travel anti-clockwise, slowing down instead. Winter had warned her of the folly of this before. There had been arrogant Schnee in the past who had tried to use their glyphs for such a purpose, and those all died. Not enough power, or maybe just foolishness at thinking they could do something so impossible.
Weiss' body groaned as her muscles constricted. There was a high-pitched ringing in her ears, and blood leaked from her nostrils. "I'm sorry, Winter," she gasped. "I'm not willing to let things lie. I… I guess I'm just an arrogant Schnee, too."
To think that she could challenge Fate, and now to think that she could challenge Time, as well.
But what was the point of all this power if it could not be used? Weiss poured the maiden's power into the glyph.
It began to turn faster. It shone a brilliant white, one that threatened to overwhelm her as she felt her heartbeat slow. Would it beat in reverse, or would she die before that happened? If it slowed too much, she'd surely perish long before such a foolish plan could yield results. She didn't care. This had to work. Her teeth gritted as agony rushed through her. She could feel her blood flowing, every breath she took – even the way her nerve endings burned as though they were on fire.
Something was wrong…
Her aura was fading, reserves dwindling. She felt the Maiden's power wane, too. It wasn't enough. Winter had been right, and even for this it wasn't enough. The glyph flickered and began to dim. No… she'd lost it. She'd lost everything!
And then, without warning, it began to glow again.
The glyph imbedded itself into the ground, slowing to a crawl but looking stronger than ever. It was impossible, not only because she'd weakened, but also because… because it had been wrested from her control. Without her aura feeding it, and her concentration maintaining it, the glyph should have shattered. Instead, she watched in mute horror as it slowed down, and eventually came to a crushing halt.
In panic, she tried to cancel it, but the glyph held. She was no longer in control. It was no longer hers.
Darkness rushed in.
It was like a thick fog from every direction, and Weiss slashed at it with her rapier. It parted, and then engulfed around her. What was happening? What was this? If the seal had stopped time – and that was an insane thought in the first place, but she knew beyond a doubt time control was real – but if it had stopped time, then nothing like this should happen. Her wide eyes scanned for Sun, for the cafeteria, for Jaune or anything, but the fog had completely obscured the world, leaving her with a foggy floor, with a fog-filled sky and walls made of the same.
"What… what is this place? Did I die? Did I use all of my aura?"
She wasn't alone.
Weiss spun and flicked Myrtenaster behind her. Her eyes were wide and fear raced through her. There was no one there, but she knew – felt – that she was not alone. There was someone here. She couldn't see, feel, hear or smell it, but a part of her, something beyond the normal senses, knew.
"Who's there? Where am I?"
There was no response.
Nothing but silence greeted her, at least for what felt like a minute or so. A minute in which she scanned the area with her weapon at the ready, prepared to mete death out on any who might challenge her. Eventually, however, a distant voice came to her. It was weak at first, but repeated, and somehow grew louder each time, as though the speaker was walking towards her.
"I have to save them…"
Weiss' eyes narrowed. "Hello? Who's there?"
"This is my chance. I don't know how, or why, but it's a chance for me to finally save them all."
"Who is that?" she called. "Save who? Do you know the way out of here?"
"I won't be the burden anymore. I swear it on my name. I swear it on the Arc name."
"J-Jaune!?" It came out as an agonised sob, and she staggered forward with one hand outstretched. "Jaune, where are you? I'm over here!"
"I'll fix everything."
"Jaune?" she screamed. "JAUNE!"
He couldn't hear her, damn it. Weiss growled and pushed herself forward; travelling through the thick fog in what she was sure was the direction of the voice. If she could just find him, then everything would be okay.
"Again!?" he cried, the voice no louder, but now tinged with despair. "How did I fail again? How do I keep failing? No, I won't give up. No matter how long it takes, I'll find a way." The voice drifted away, fragmenting slowly. "… find a way…" it echoed. "… a … way…"
Her feet came to a stop. Fog crept up them, but it wasn't cold and it didn't touch her skin. Her hands clenched into fists and she stared forward into the mist. The voice, and the way it had vanished, told her he wasn't here. For a moment, she dared to think they were memories, perhaps her life flashing before her eyes, but she was certain she had never heard him say something like that.
Weiss sighed and closed her eyes.
"You're Fate, aren't you?"
It was a foolish question, and she felt ridiculous for asking it of the empty air around her. Still, since she was alone here or maybe dying, it wasn't like anyone would be around to hear her make a fool of herself. At the worst, the only one to know she'd spoken to nothingness would be herself. She didn't expect an answer.
She received one.
Emotions not her own crashed down on her skull. She staggered back in shock, crying out as she felt a wave of feelings wash over her. Frustration, despair, anger and something else… it was an eclectic mix that barely made sense, but that more than anything told her they weren't her own.
Was Fate… was it trying to communicate with her?
"I… I hear you," she gritted out. "Y-You are Fate. You're the one responsible for Jaune's repeats."
The crushing sensation was replaced by one softer, as though the entity had seen what she was capable of and adjusted accordingly. This time, it didn't hurt quite so much, but it still felt alien and intrusive, and still caused her brain to throb. The emotions were jumbled once more. Sadness, despair, but also… happiness?
That didn't make sense. It was like someone trying to speak with words without knowing the language, and that something was inherently wrong with it all. Still, that it felt the need to respond at all suggested she was on the right track.
"Why?" she asked, rage tinting her words. "Why are you doing this to him? Why are you putting him through all of this?"
No answer. Perhaps the question was too complicated, or maybe it didn't have an answer to give. Maybe it just didn't care to talk with her anymore. She had no idea what she was dealing with, and there was no physical being to look at.
"My glyph failed because I didn't have the power to fuel it, but it was you who took over, wasn't it? You used my glyph to bring me here."
Happiness, joy, pleasure…
That was probably as close to a "Yes" as she would get.
"Why bring me here?"
Despair, anger, frustration – and also a voice. Cinder's voice. "H-How…? Impossible…"
"Yes." Weiss smiled grimly. "I beat you. I fought against Fate – I changed the way things were supposed to be."
Anger, rage, frustration, despair. Fate wasn't happy about it, that much was clear, but for her to be here instead of dead… was it unable to harm her directly? Come to think of it, although Fate had made small changes to events, as Jaune's stories suggested, it had never made any overt changes. At least in terms of outright forcing her hand…
It convinced my show organisers to run a competition so that Jaune and I would meet, but it couldn't control what we said to one another. As for an attempt to force Jaune into Beacon, that one failed. It wasn't until he fought Yang and was forced in by Ozpin that Fate's interference achieved any discernible results. Does that mean it can't influence all things?
Fate was not all-powerful, but then… she should have known that. If it were, then none of this would have ever happened, because Jaune would not have been able to make some kind of mistake to be sent back in the first place. And she wouldn't have been able to defeat Cinder.
A memory assailed her. It was the only way to describe it, because the memory wasn't hers. She caught brief snippets of a struggle, of a silver blade clashing against a crimson one. Her eyes widened when she realised it was Jaune's, and she screamed in despair when she saw Adam's sword flicker and imbed itself in his chest.
She fell to her knees.
She'd… she'd been the one to kill Jaune. Was that what Fate was saying?
"You killed him," she accused.
"Don't act like you didn't want to! You killed him. You killed him because of me, because I went against what you wanted to happen. Is that it!?"
There was another mix of emotions. What stood out was a sense of reluctant confirmation, a sense that it had, but that there had been no joy in it. No desire.
It didn't change anything. Whether Fate enjoyed this or not, it was still putting Jaune through this nightmare, and it had still killed him because of her… punished him for daring to tell her the truth about what was going on, to give her the means to defeat Cinder.
"I hate you. I hate what you've done to him."
Fate's rebuttal was immediate. Images flashed into mind, and this time they were her own. She saw Jaune smile at her, saw him laugh, saw her get angry – saw them dance, hold hands, kiss. The memories faded quickly, leaving her with tears running from her eyes.
"Are you… are you saying I should thank you?" she asked, voice pausing as she gasped for air. It was true that if he hadn't been through this, she wouldn't have ever been with him. He'd told her how in the early lives, she'd despised him – but did that really mean she should be grateful for Fate's cruel torture?
It felt incredibly selfish, but there was no denying it.
There was a faint trill in her ear, followed by several emotions; sympathy, pity, happiness and maybe even hope. Ha, so Fate could read her mind now as well? Or was she just that obvious? Probably the latter.
"So, I was right about there being some plan you're working towards. Jaune would have been safe if I'd allowed myself to die atop the tower, wouldn't he?"
The swirl of emotions confirmed it.
"And because I didn't… you killed him."
There was confirmation again, but also a strange sense of… doubt. It took Weiss a second to piece together what that meant.
"Are you saying you didn't kill him?"
Confirmation again, and more doubt.
"You're responsible for his death…"
"But you didn't kill him?"
Fate agreed again, not that it mattered. It was probably some technical thing she didn't understand, but it might also have explained why Fate couldn't have just killed her. Then again, maybe it had. Cinder had seemed unusually strong, so perhaps she had been getting some kind of boost. According to Jaune's story, the usual fights between Pyrrha and Cinder were close, but that even when he fought alongside her, Pyrrha and he still lost. More than that, Weiss liked to think that she, Yang and Blake could have defeated Pyrrha with ease. She was strong, yes, but so were they and numbers played a big part in a fight.
Yet Cinder had almost dominated them. Had Fate been interfering there as well? It was possible, but if so, then it again showed there was a limit to how much it could interfere. Her eyes widened. What if its power was weakened because it had to split in two directions at once? It had to maintain Adam and Jaune's fight, but also mine with Cinder. Could that have led to it being distracted, or somehow unable to force its will on us?
"You still facilitated his death, no matter how much you might say otherwise." She paused, but there was no denial from Fate. "Either way, there's something I don't understand. The future you want is one where Beacon falls and the maiden dies, isn't it?"
A swirl of excitement and pleasure shot through her. It was so sudden that it forced Weiss to her knees, and also made her lick her lips. This… this way of communicating felt more intrusive than she liked. Regardless, it seemed she'd hit the nail on the head there.
"Then the one thing I don't get, the big thing that eludes me… is why this is even happening in the first place? That was the original time line! For Jaune to even know that happened means he's been through it before. If that's what happened in the first place, then why send him back in time at all?"
Fate should have already won the first time.
There was no immediate response from Fate, but the fog around her swirled into life. It formed a strange tableau, an imaginary stage with a figure hunched against the floor.
"Why did you send me away, Pyrrha?" Jaune's voice emanated not from the tiny figure, but the world around her. It was weak, and filled with grief. "I could have fought alongside you. I could have helped. Why did you send me away?"
He sobbed angrily, and she felt an immediate urge to find and comfort him. Were these words he'd uttered before? It seemed likely.
"You sent me away because I was weak… because you knew I'd only drag you down. If it had been someone else, if it had been Ruby, then you wouldn't have faced her alone. You wouldn't have died."
Weiss looked away. She knew what would come next before he spoke. It was obvious… painfully, horrendously, obvious.
"It's my fault," he whispered. "You died because of me."
"No she didn't," Weiss argued. She took a step towards him, but he didn't hear her. She had to tell herself it wasn't real, but even then, she was wrong. It was real, and it was something which had happened a long time ago. Weiss' hands fell to her side, useless. "She sent you away because she loved you… because she thought she would be enough to deal with Cinder."
Jaune didn't hear her. He staggered to his feet and swayed to the side. It looked like he might fall, and she instinctively reached out to steady him. He caught himself. His body paused, looking down at the sword in his hands.
"I can't even do this," he whispered. "I really am useless…"
The sword fell from his fingers, clanging loudly against the ground. He took the scabbard off his belt too, expanding it into a shield and then discarding that. With an audible sigh, he trudged ahead, towards what looked like a set of trees.
Where was he going?
Weiss jogged after him, trying to read his expression, but the figure was made of dark clouds, and it didn't give anything away. It was more an indistinct shape with his voice than anything. She waved a hand before his face, but he didn't see it.
There was a growl ahead of her.
Her heart leapt into her throat, and she spun on the spot. Red dots glowed in the dark, among the trees formed of dark fog – and she watched in horror as one stepped forth, the vague shape of a Beowolf, its arms poised to rend and tear. She glanced back. Jaune had his head low, his hands empty. He had nothing to defend himself with.
And he didn't stop walking forwards.
"Look out!" she hissed. "You idiot, look out!"
The Beowolf let out a ferocious howl and darted towards her. Weiss growled back and lunged forwards, Myrtenaster aiming for its throat. She pierced it dead-on, but there was no resistance, and no contact. The cloud dispersed around her, and then reformed behind.
It stormed on, roaring its victory.
There was a sound like tearing flesh – and a long, relieved, sigh.
Weiss' body shook as she stared forwards with wide eyes. She didn't dare turn around, even as several other Grimm shapes poured from the trees, rushing through and around her. Snarls, growls and roars filled the air… along with the sound of something far worse. Myrtenaster clattered to the floor.
Her knees hit it a second later, one hand clamped to her mouth. Tears leaked from her eyes, and she clenched them shut against the terrible sounds.
"Stop it!" she cried. "I've heard enough, please!"
The noise vanished. The clouds wafted away too, leaving her alone and free. Despite that, there was no banishing the memory, the sound and… and what had happened.
"He… He killed himself," she whispered.
Fate confirmed it with a barrage of emotions, all of them bad.
Suicide, Jaune… she couldn't believe it. No, she could, not in terms of him, but at least in what took place at the time. With the fall of Beacon, the death of a loved one, and the world being ripped out from underneath you, it seemed more than reasonable for someone to feel that way. Not to ever go through with it, but…
Her eyes widened.
Jaune had always told her he couldn't remember his first life. No matter how much she asked, how much she pried, he always claimed it was too far away, too far back, and that the memories had faded long ago.
She wasn't even sure if he was lying or not.
"Did he repress those memories, or did he really forget them? I… we always knew he had problems, traumatic problems..." It explained the nightmares, too. Particularly the ones about Pyrrha… "He's still blaming himself for what happened. He might not remember, but his heart does." She looked up, even though her unwelcome companion was not in any given direction. "That's why you had to bring him back, isn't it? He died, and that wasn't part of your plan. Still, for you to let other people die instead of Pyrrha, someone like me… that means there was something about him that couldn't be replaced."
Her eyes narrowed as Fate sent a wave of feelings through her. Most of them were positive ones, likely hinting that she was correct.
"You need him," she realised. "He's necessary for something, something in the future which would go badly if he wasn't alive. Of all the things you can influence and change, his survival isn't one of them."
She felt Fate's frustration, but also its acceptance. Before her, another scene swirled to life. This time, the figure lurched up from a position where it had been laid down. Its hands flew to its chest, the head turning left and right.
"B-But I died. How am I here? Is this a dream?"
The moment he first woke up. The scene swirled again, this one to where he was down on one knee, sword held before him.
"This is incredible. Is it my Semblance, some kind of God? Thank you, thank you! I'll make the world better, I'll make everything better. I'll save you, Pyrrha. I promise!"
It swirled again, and although the pose was the same, it felt like the figure's feelings were different.
"I failed again. Okay, that's fine. As long as I keep going back, I'll find a way eventually. I won't let you down, Pyrrha. I won't let anyone down."
The foggy depiction was dashed away, and a wave of frustration, anger and despair struck Weiss like a truck, driving her back a pace. It was so sudden that her head seared with agony, and blood ran from her nose. Despite that, she smiled grimly.
"Did you expect anything different? This is Jaune we're talking about. He's a stubborn as a mule, and twice as determined. You might have wanted him to do the exact same as he did in the first life, but not kill himself. The thing is that he wouldn't sit back and do that. If he hated it the first time, he wouldn't let it repeat the second."
Or the third, or the one hundredth, or a thousand times later. Fate's explanation was clear. It wanted to achieve the original – the expected – result. However, it wanted one thing to change. Jaune had to live.
Jaune, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with that, and refused to waste what he saw as an opportunity to save the people he loved. Fate wasn't the one fighting against Jaune; he was the one fighting against Fate. It was enough to make her smile.
But only for a moment…
If Jaune continued to fight, and Fate continued to send him back, then this would never end. Neither would give up, and there would be no resolution. He'd held on for a thousand years or more, but would that last forever? He was already deeply traumatised. What would he look like in ten thousand years' time?
He was going to break. Jaune was going to snap… and then what? What happened when he couldn't fulfil his apparent destiny? Would the world end? How many people would die as a result? It was unreal. After so many failures, a part of her wondered if she would be the same as him or if she'd have given up and accepted sacrifices. It was the rational choice, after all. The definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. In a way, he was being irrational – and that was likely why Fate didn't understand his actions.
It worked on the principle of the rational mind.
Weiss' stomach fell.
"That's why I'm here, isn't it?" she asked. "You've realised that he isn't going to last. You know something is wrong, and you don't know what to do. If he breaks, you'll not get the future you want. You have something you need of me."
Sorrow, grief… but also an incredibly reluctant sense of agreement. Why else would she have been brought here otherwise? If Fate didn't care for her, it could have let her kill herself on that glyph. She let out a long sigh.
"What is it you want of me?"
White light shone beneath them, and Weiss looked down in time to realise her glyph was still in place. It still wasn't she who fed it with power, and now it was moving once more, moving backwards. It was what she'd wanted, but not had the power to achieve. Of course, Fate would. It had already been sending Jaune back in time, so the power wasn't beyond it. It might not have had the same means to send Weiss back as it did Jaune, but she'd provided it with a method when she'd summoned her glyph. Weiss watched with bated breath as the fog around her dispelled, revealing the world – and Fate's answer.
It was predictably rational.
She was back in the tower, and Cinder stood on two feet, frozen in time along with Blake and Yang, but clearly alive. Weiss looked out the window, and swallowed when she saw the dragon still in the sky.
She'd really travelled back in time. That meant Jaune was still alive, and also that she had now experienced a fraction of what he went through. Such thoughts were quickly tempered as she realised what it was Fate expected of her.
"You want me to die…"
Fate confirmed it a second later.
"I see…" Weiss' shoulders slumped. It was what she'd asked of Jaune before, but that had been so easy. Now, faced once more with this… she had to let herself die. "What about Yang and Blake, though? I can't let them die."
A memory was forced into her head, or perhaps this one might be more accurately called a premonition. In it, she saw her death, impaled on one of Cinder's blades. She saw the woman turn to Yang and Blake, but also saw the elevator open. There was a flash of red as Ruby screamed her name, and then it was washed away in an explosion of silver light.
Weiss gasped for breath when it passed.
"Ruby saves them…?"
The relief she felt was tempered by despair. There went another excuse she could cling to, another reason not to go ahead with this. Wasn't it unfair that Jaune was necessary, that his life held some greater promise, but that hers did not? It felt unreasonably cruel. My life feels important to me… but I suppose that Pyrrha's did as well.
If Jaune was being irrational because he refused to accept Pyrrha's death, then wouldn't it be irrational of her to not accept her own?
This would save him, after all. It would save all of them.
"Why not just kill me yourself?" she asked. "You could force Cinder's swords into me like you did with Jaune."
There was no answer.
That was an answer in itself. If Fate could have done as such, it would have. Whatever limits it ran by, that option seemed beyond it. Maybe it only had a limited ability to interfere in any one life. Maybe it could only do one big thing in a single life. Everything else had been subtle, but forcing Adam's blade into a new place had been a concrete change to reality. In the end, she didn't know what the rules were, and Fate couldn't – and likely wouldn't – tell her.
It required her to kill herself… and she knew what the punishment for failure would be. Jaune would die and time would reset, and this time there would be no second chances. If she tried to use her glyph again, Fate would not intervene, and the attempt would kill her.
There was only one option, as agonising as it seemed.
"Do you promise Yang and Blake will live?"
Emotions rushed through her, and although she couldn't place them together, she got the vague sensation that both were important in some way. Like Jaune, they were not expendable. Unlike her, Fate could not afford for them to die.
Weiss closed her eyes, and thought of her girls and Jaune, and knew what she had to do to protect them. She opened her eyes, and composed herself with all the Schnee decorum she could muster.
"I'll do it."
The fog, what little remained, swirled around her once more, but this time it caressed her softly. If it was Fate's attempt at gratitude or comfort, she didn't know. It faded away soon after, and the glyph beneath her started to pulse slowly. The power was waning from it, and soon time would snap back into place.
Jaune would be so angry if he ever found out. He never would, of course. She just hoped he would look after Yang and Blake. Weiss looked down to them, frozen in time, and smiled. Gods, they'd both annoyed her at first.
Now, she knew she would miss them. What little time she had, she used to remember the happier moments they had together, of them chatting in their dorm, of training as a unit, even those damned moments where Jaune electrocuted Cardin on stage. She recalled the dance too, and their heated kiss – and then their later ones, far more desperate, but no less special.
Sound snapped back into place.
"I won't let you hurt them!" Yang snarled. Her hand had caught Cinder's wrist, and Weiss watched as Blake's ribbon snagged the other. It was a moment's opening, the point at which she had killed Cinder.
This time, she didn't.
Cinder broke free from their grasp, rushing forward with pure triumph on her face. In her ear, Weiss could almost feel Fate's triumph as well, the two of them in perfect concert as everything finally clicked into place. Yang screamed her name, both in warning and in terror. All she had to do was stay still and it would be over. She would die, her team would survive, and Jaune would live. It was the right choice.
It was the rational choice.
That was why Fate had never been able to influence Jaune… because it always expected him to act rationally, to act with perfect objective thought and react in a predictable manner. It couldn't understand why he continued to rail against it, or why he never gave up. He was a fool like that, so brave and stubborn. She loved him for it, even as she hated him for it. Love was irrational too, and something she'd thought she would never truly experience. He'd made a fool of her there, and she loved him for it. Like love, and like their refusal to give up, humans were irrational creatures.
Weiss was human, too.
And Jaune wasn't the only one who could be a stubborn fool.
"Not this time, Fate."
Her body moved at the last second, twisting to the side and dodging the blow as her arm came around in a long arch. Myrtenaster bit home, through flesh, muscle and then organs. Her eyes snapped open, staring into shocked amber orbs that could not believe what had just happened.
"H-How?-" Cinder began.
Weiss didn't stay for the rest.
The taller woman struck the floor as Weiss let go, abandoning her rapier and everything else as she dashed across the room and hurled herself at the windows. What little glass there was gave way and shattered before her. The wind took her a moment later as she hurtled towards Remnant.
"I'm not rational either," she screamed, voice muffled by the wind. "None of us are!"
Her hands came down before her, and white glyphs shimmered to life in the air. The wind pressure almost snapped her arms back, but she held strong – hurtling towards the glyphs.
"Humans believe they have the right to decide their own fate. If you try to take that away from us, we'll always fight it. Jaune never stopped, and I'll be damned if I do either!"
Fate didn't answer in words, but Weiss felt she could hear it in the agonised whistling of the wind in her ears. It was fast and rapid, filled with an anguished, almost angry tone. Up ahead, a Griffon wheeled off from the pack, drawn towards her.
Her eyes narrowed. It was a weak attempt, and with all the negativity in the air, the fact it would specifically single her out was suspicious enough. "If you think that's enough to stop me, you're wrong," she growled into the wind. Her weapon was still lodged in Cinder's heart, but that didn't mean she was defenceless. As the monster hurtled towards her, Weiss spread her arms wide and accessed the maiden's powers. They were stronger now that Cinder was dead, and she felt revitalised. As the monster closed in, she brought her arms around and pointed towards it.
An explosion of fire lit the air. The force of it blasted her off-balance, but sent the dead Grimm hurtling towards the ground. Weiss caught herself in the air, firing off a glyph below her as she had so long ago in initiation. The wind tugged at her clothing, trying to hold her back. It felt like the hands of Fate trying to drag her away.
"Even if you stop me, you won't ever stop him," Weiss hissed. "Do you think anything will ever change so long as you keep trying to force this on us?"
Frustration and despair washed over her, none of it her own.
Weiss slammed into the first glyph and grunted as her momentum was halved. All the force went straight to her ankle, which would have snapped like a dry twig if it were not for her aura. She bounced off at an angle, striking another and then another, bleeding away her momentum so that she struck the ground hard, but not hard enough to be injured.
Her left foot hit gravel first, and she cried out – rolling across the ground and pushing herself back up onto her feet with one hand. Agony rushed through her, but she ignored it, intent only on the cafeteria building she could see in the distance. She'd cut minutes off, but had no idea if it would be enough or not. It had to be enough. Fate wouldn't give her another chance.
Another Grimm tried to get in her way. Weiss growled and darted under its guard, slamming a hand into its ribcage.
"All you're doing is making us fight back harder," she said.
A spike of ice erupted from its back, dyed crimson from blood. The Grimm gurgled and fell aside, already disappearing. Weiss hopped over it and continued on.
"Don't you see? If you keep trying to force Jaune to do something he can't, or won't, accept, then it won't ever end. The future you want is impossible because you expect us to settle for it." Weiss shoulder-charged a White Fang grunt out of her way, the man crying out as he was knocked back. She ignored him. "If you stop me now and reset, then nothing will change. Jaune will fight just like I'm fighting now. No matter who you use, it'll be the same outcome."
Fate disagreed. Images and thoughts flashed through her mind. It was a jumbled mess she could barely understand, but it hinted at a level of desperation – or Fate trying to convince her.
It spoke of weakness.
"Eventually, it will be too much though, even for him!"
Her path took her by a swirl of melee, in which a woman with black hair pinned a green-haired girl to a tree with her blade. The girl cried out.
Weiss didn't pause.
"Jaune will break sooner or later. He'll snap under the pressure, and then you'll have nothing. What happens to your precious future if he dies inside?"
Uncertainty, fear… denial…
"You've got your choice!" she howled. "I live and save him, or he loops and falls to pieces. People say you can't fight fate, but that never stops us trying! Let go of him. Accept this future. Leave things in our hands." Tears bit at her eyes. The cafeteria was right there. The moment of truth was now. "Trust us. Trust us to make it work."
Weiss pushed off the ground and towards the cafeteria.
"I beg you…"
She crashed through the window.
"How…?" Adam Taurus asked, echoing the words she'd never given Cinder a chance to utter. The similarities were obvious, right down to the sword lodged inside of him.
But also, the one that pierced through Jaune's chest.
He staggered back, gripping it.
His fingers tightened around the blade, and he tugged.
Weiss' hand held it in place.
He was there. He was there in front of her, his beautiful eyes filled with pain and shock, but also bright and vivid, filled with life. His face was beleaguered and twisted in agony, but his chest rose and fell, and his heart continued to beat. As she gently pried his hand away from the sword, she allowed her fingers to splay out against him, feeling it.
"Don't pull it out, you idiot." she whispered, choking slightly. "You'll make the wound worse."
"Jaune!" Sun cried. "I didn't… how-?"
"Sun, Neptune." Her voice was clipped, and they stood to attention. "Run back to the main building and find a fox faunus named Kitsune. She's the doctor. Tell her what happened here and make sure she gets here immediately!"
They both jumped into action, Neptune rushing off, while Sun tore off his shirt and threw it to her, "Here, use this to bandage him!" he shouted, rushing after his partner a second later. Weiss caught the clothing with one hand, and pressed it around the sword, slowing the flow of blood. While Jaune wasn't looking, she also traced a small glyph around it, subtly adding pressure and slowing the flow even further.
"Where's… Cinder…?" Jaune rasped.
"Dead, Jaune. She's dead."
His eyes, exhausted as they were, widened, "H-How?"
"Organ failure," Weiss quipped. "On account of the dust rapier buried inside her. It looked fairly serious. I don't think she's going to make it."
He laughed. His body shook, and was quickly wracked with coughs.
"Don't move so much, you idiot. We need to wait for a doctor."
"I guess you did it," he breathed. His eyes were lidded, almost closed. "You beat Fate where I couldn't. Maybe… maybe things would have been better if it was you who'd gone back instead of me."
"Not yet, I haven't…"
"I'm sorry I couldn't keep my promise."
Weiss choked back a sob. She smiled through the tears, touching his cheek with one hand. "What are you talking about? You're here. That was the promise. You were going to wait to see me beat Cinder."
"And… and the other thing?" he asked weakly.
"I've not given up on that, Jaune. We'll handle it once you're healed."
If he could be healed, that was. Neither of them said it, but both knew. He stared up at her, eyes heavy, but also soft. At the very least, he seemed happy to see her… content that it might end like this and not with him alone.
She was too, even if she might never remember it.
She pressed her lips to his.
He kissed her back.
"I love you," she whispered.
"I… I think I love you, too." He laughed painfully. "I guess you were as good as your word. You'd never return my feelings, not in a thousand years."
Weiss giggled bitterly. "Sorry I made you wait that long."
"It was… worth it."
Jaune's eyes drifted shut, the last of his strength fading. One of his hands came up to touch hers, even as she pressed down harder, keeping Sun's shirt against the wound. She could feel his heartbeat still. He was still alive… just too weak to remain conscious.
"I guess this is it," she said out loud, eyes towards the ceiling. "This is the moment of truth, and… and I guess it's your call. You can let him die now, and keep fighting against him until he breaks… or you can let it go and let us forge our own future. Those are the only options available."
Weiss' eyes clenched shut when there was no answer from Fate. What had she expected? Her shoulders shook as she drew his face against her chest and wept.
Glass crunched behind her.
"Over here, they're over here," Sun yelled. "Come on, hurry!"
Weiss' head rose. Lost and afraid, she turned towards the back wall, in time to see Sun Wukong dash in with a brown-haired figure in white behind him. It was Beacon's doctor and chief medical officer, Kitsune, but how? She'd been all the way back at the main building.
"I found her," Sun laughed hysterically, "She was on her way here. She was already halfway here."
"I just had a feeling…" the faunus doctor said. "It's hard to explain, but I just sort of… felt I should be here." Her eyes widened as she saw Jaune, and she stepped forwards. "Is he…? His vitals are weak, but if he's still alive I should be able to do something. Hold his head for me! You, monkey, come and press the wound down!"
Tears ran down Weiss' cheeks.
"Don't thank me yet," Tsune growled, ripping the bandage free and drawing some syringes from her white outfit. "Thank me when he's alive."
Weiss laughed. She hadn't meant Tsune, and not for this – though she would make sure to thank the woman later. She'd meant Fate. Weiss looked up towards the ceiling and swallowed. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you…"
The wind rustled through her hair, but other than that, there was no answer… only a weight lifting off her shoulders.
His eyelids felt heavy.
He grunted and held them shut for a few seconds, before he took a long, rattling breath, and opened his eyes once more.
Light invaded them.
White light, bright light, from the sun that burned the sky, cutting through synthetic curtains and down onto a bed of white sheets. Jaune Arc blinked and looked around. Panic rose within him, and his heart burned. He tried to move a hand up to touch it, but couldn't.
There was a girl with white hair asleep atop it.
His eyes watered.
His other arm was trapped, too. This time under yellow and black, though he had no idea whose fingers were intertwined with his, as it looked like they had fought for the position, and ultimately come to some kind of truce.
His chest still burned, and now with the fear dispelled, he realised it was a familiar burn. That of a wound not quite healed, of stitches and disinfectant, of blood pumped into him through an IV, and of the dulling scent and feeling of painkillers in his system.
He was crying. He wasn't sure why the revelation shocked him, but it did. How long had it been since he found himself actually capable of shedding years? It felt like a hundred years or more. A hundred years of iron-clad control and discipline.
Weiss shivered, and whispered something under her breath. She calmed when he squeezed her hand in return, and he smiled when the girl settled back down into a peaceful slumber. It didn't seem possible, yet he was here.
He didn't know how, and a part of him felt like he could remember dying… remember the white sheets of Ansel, and waking up to no injuries… of falling apart. The memory was hazy even as he thought of it, and it drifted through his fingers before he could grasp it. All that was left was the near-silent medical room, and his head falling back against the soft pillows.
He was… alive?
/-/ C-E /-/
Jaune's second awakening was nowhere near as peaceful. It started as such, as life came back to him and his eyes cracked open – but any semblance of peace ended when he realised he was staring into lilac eyes but a fraction of an inch from his own.
They widened dangerously.
"He's awake!" Yang crowed. Her voice cracked at the end, and she struggled to breathe. "Weiss, Blake-"
"We heard you the first time!" Weiss growled, pushing past her and placing her face in front of his. Blake was behind, trying to do the same, and he flinched back from the serious looks on their faces. "You're awake," Weiss whispered, as if she hadn't believed it before. "You're awake! Oh thank God!"
"Are you okay?" Blake asked, hands seeking out his own. "Do you want some water?"
The word reminded him of just how dry his throat was, and he nodded. He wasn't quite prepared for how literally Blake took it, trying to help him drink herself. "If you let go of my hand, I can lift the glass to my lips myself…" he rasped. "I don't need you to force-feed me."
"I already trusted you to deal with Adam on your own. Look what happened with that."
"I killed him, didn't I?"
"Somehow," Blake said. She pressed the rim to his mouth to shut him up, and while it was embarrassing in the extreme, he did let her tilt it back for him. Once it was done and she'd put the glass away, she continued. "Is that better? Do you need anything else?"
"Blake, you're smothering him," Yang joked and drew her partner back. Despite the tone, there was no missing how her eyes roved over his face. She looked so relieved she might cry. "Nice to see you back, Dad. I thought you were going to sleep for the rest of your life."
I thought you were going to die…
The message was clear. He caught it, even as he smiled for her benefit. "Your mother wouldn't let me do that. Besides, it's been a while since I had a chance to catch a nap. I actually woke up a bit last night."
"And you didn't tell us!?" Yang's face went from joking to furious in an instant. "What the hell? We were so afraid!"
"I could barely figure out what was going on. Besides, you all looked like you needed your rest."
"We needed to know you were okay, more," Blake whispered. "Don't do that again."
Weiss nodded along, and with the three of them against him, there was really no arguing. He laughed and laid his head back on the pillow, eyes towards the ceiling. "Sorry… I guess I wasn't thinking straight. Please forgive me."
"Only because we love you," Yang said.
Blake snorted. "And even then, only a little. You still need to make it up to us for nearly dying in the first place. You told us you'd be okay."
"And I was. I'm alive."
"Yes," Blake said. "But even then, you managed to get yourself stabbed. Tsune said if it wasn't for Weiss' intervention, you'd have surely died."
He glanced to Weiss, and she looked away. Her hand was still wrapped around his, their fingers joined. She hadn't let go since he'd woken up, and he couldn't really bring himself to care about that. Even so, he had a feeling there was more to the story than met the eye. I'm sure I died. I'm so used to the feeling, I know it by heart. I clearly remember waking up back in Ansel.
Weiss knew something, but she wasn't telling, at least not in front of the others. All she did was squeeze his hand a little tighter and whisper something under her breath. Someone he only just made out, but which he knew neither Blake nor Yang did.
"It's over. You're free."
For a moment, he forgot how to breathe.
Fortunately, the door to the infirmary slammed open, silencing it once and for all. "JAUNE!" Ruby cried. She darted in, paused before his bed – and was quickly wrestled back by her sister. "Yang, let go! What are you doing?"
"Stopping you from jumping on him and making things worse. He's just been stabbed. Give him some time to heal."
"I wasn't going to jump on him," Ruby complained once she was freed. Her frustration evaporated a second later as she rushed over to his side, her hands on the railings of his bed. "How are you? Are you okay? Do you need anything?"
"I'm fine. Blake already got me some water."
Ruby's face fell, and she looked positively betrayed as she turned to Blake. "But… but…"
"Some food, if I'm allowed it," he amended with an amused sigh. "I'm not even sure what's going on. I wouldn't say no to a newspaper, or-"
"No solid food, no newspaper, and no exercise," a curt voice listed. Glynda stepped into the room, and her eyes zeroed in on him immediately. "And I mean it, Mr Arc. If you so much as breathe in a way that jeopardises your recovery, I shall personally make you regret it."
He rolled his eyes. "Good to see you too, Glynda."
The woman tossed her head, unamused at the familiar use of her name, but no doubt knowing there would be no point in arguing against him. She strode up to Weiss' side of the bed, and although everyone else gave way, the heiress did not. Glynda didn't seem to mind, and instead stood politely behind her.
"Tsune tells me your recovery is coming along well, and you should be allowed out of here today, albeit on a wheelchair."
"Can't I have crutches?"
"On a wheelchair, Mr Arc…" She glanced down. "Miss Schnee, if I see him with crutches-"
"You won't," Weiss promised. "Don't worry. He'll follow the doctor's recommendations to the letter. I'll make sure of it."
Well, that wasn't ominous at all.
"I'm pleased to hear it. Now, I understand this may not be the most popular of things to say, but the headmaster has requested a meeting with Mr Arc on his own." Glynda broke off as loud protests came from the others in the room, with even Pyrrha and Ren looking upset. "It is not my decision," the teacher spoke over the top of them. "Regardless, if you can all vacate the infirmary for ten minutes. Why not go and fetch him something to read?"
"I'm staying," Weiss said.
Jaune shook his head. "She can stay. Tell Ozpin I won't speak to him otherwise."
"I'm staying too," Yang said.
"No." Glynda growled under her breath. "My instructions-"
"It is fine, Glynda," Ozpin interrupted, stepping into the room. Beside him stood Qrow, the man now with a bandage wrapped about one arm. "Miss Schnee can stay, but the rest of you will have to give us some space. Rest assured that I'll only be filling him in on things you already know." He chuckled. "I'm hardly going to steal your friend away now that he's finally recovered. You've been without him for three days… another ten minutes won't hurt."
It wouldn't hurt him, but it looked like it did them, for they all grumbled under their breath and glowered at the teachers as they made their way out. Once they were alone, Glynda departed as well, but that still left the four of them huddled around his bed.
He couldn't say he liked the feeling of being so helpless, but he was thankful for Weiss' presence.
"Three days?" Jaune asked warily. "Is that how long I've been out?"
"You've been asleep for three calendar days," Ozpin explained, "but more akin to two and a quarter in terms of time. Your body needed time to heal, although your aura seems to have helped to speed up your recovery. Miss Schnee has rarely left your side in that time."
That went without saying. He had a feeling she wouldn't have moved, and it wasn't like he'd have done any less in return. "What happened?" he asked.
"I was hoping you might better explain that to us, Mr Arc. The attack on Amity caught us all off-guard, but there was a far larger one in Vale. I, along with most of the staff, were forced to leave Beacon to attend to that. By the time I returned, most of the school had been badly damaged."
"And he had a dead woman in his office." Qrow cackled. "And not even a carpet to roll her up in."
Ozpin rolled his eyes at that, not quite as amused at the image. Still, it confirmed the words he vaguely remembered Weiss whispering. She'd killed Cinder. She'd actually managed to kill her. And he was still alive to tell the tale.
"How did Vale fare?" Jaune asked. "Was there any damage?"
"In such an attack, there is always damage, not to mention casualties." Ozpin took a deep breath and let it go. "Things could have been far worse. James, General Ironwood that is, moved quickly to take control of the emergency services, commanding them like his own military. His quick thinking and discipline allowed us to rescue more people than we should have been able to. Some are calling for him to receive a medal."
That was new. After the fall of Beacon, Ironwood normally became someone hated by the people of Vale, and the man went through his own marked changes. Would that happen now? Come to think of it, part of Cinder's plan had been to drive a wedge between Atlas and Vale, to weaken the Kingdoms for her forces to take advantage of. With Ironwood's Paladins absent, and the man himself considered a hero, none of that would happen. Relations between Vale and Atlas would be stronger than ever.
Jaune closed his eyes and smiled at that.
"It sounds like he deserves one," he said. His eyes snapped open. "My family! Did they-"
"Safe, alive, and here in Beacon..." Ozpin rattled the information off quickly, cutting into Jaune's panic before it could truly take hold. "Do not worry about the newest arrival either. She is perfectly healthy, as, I'm sure your sisters are being reminded each and every night." The headmaster smiled coyly. "She has quite the healthy set of lungs on her. Your mother is fine as well, and suffered no ill effects from her difficult labour."
"Thank god…" he whispered, relaxing.
Weiss squeezed his hand. "They've come to visit a few times," she said. "Never with the baby, since they didn't want to disturb you, but they've all visited at some point or another. I promise they're all perfectly safe."
He nodded, trusting her.
"If we can move back onto other topics," Ozpin continued. "I don't want to take this meeting on for too long, or I fear your friends might break past Glynda and bring the wall down."
"Ruby wouldn't," Qrow said. "Yang? Ah… maybe?"
"Quite. Mr Arc, we wanted to ask you about the events that transpired. Much of the night is still shrouded in mystery, and we have little understanding of why this attack was perpetrated. We were hoping you might have answers."
"Why would he?" Weiss asked.
It wasn't Ozpin who answered, but Qrow. "Because he had them before. Isn't that right, Silver?"
"I think you've had too much to drink, Mr Branwen. Jaune isn't-"
"Your partner is in no danger, Miss Schnee," Ozpin hurried. He smiled and raised his mug in a quick salute. "Although James has expressed a desire to hunt down our friendly informant, we believe he was quite the asset to ourselves, and would be willing to let him retire in peace – even anonymously. We simply want to know what it is we're dealing with here."
Weiss looked his way in worry. The message was clear; if he wanted to play dumb, she'd support him.
He smiled back and shook his head.
"Her name was Cinder Fall," he began, "and her plan was much bigger than just grabbing the Fall Maiden's powers…"
He filled them in on everything he knew, every piece of knowledge gleaned over a thousand years or more of direct experience. There was nothing that hinted at time travel, of course. He simply laid out what he knew, and let them make up the reasons why. Whatever those would be, it would be more easily believed than the truth. Once he was done, the headmaster nodded, while Qrow stroked his chin curiously.
"Huh, I always knew you were resourceful, kid. I just have no idea how you managed to figure all this out, not to mention ruin the White Fang's day, all while we barely picked up on what was on the surface."
"Let's just say I had a lot of time to think and plan. It was my life's work."
Ozpin frowned. "Someone so young should not have such a goal."
"If you guys look after things on your end, then I won't have to." He breathed a sigh of relief. "Not anymore."
"And what will you do now, Mr Arc?" the headmaster asked, smiling. "Before, I had to force your hand on entering Beacon, but after all the services you've done, I would feel a monster to do that again. The choice is yours."
A choice… the freedom to make his own choice…
He hadn't considered that, and the realisation hit him harder than it should have. He had no drive, no ambition, and no real reason to continue on in just about anything. Before, there had always been Cinder and Beacon. He had to save them, kill her, and make a future where no one had to die. Now, against all odds, he had.
What did that leave him with?
He wasn't sure. He didn't know what to do. It felt like everything that had ever mattered had been ripped out from under his feet. He tried to think of something, but his head hurt. Perhaps it was the drugs making things hard. Either way, he had nothing, and shook his head.
"I don't have anything else," he admitted weakly. "If you'll still have me here in Beacon-"
"You never left, Mr Arc," Ozpin interrupted, placing a hand on his arm. "We would be honoured to keep you, and I'm sure your team will be relieved to know they will still have their leader." He rose to his feet, moving away. "Thank you for your time, Mr Arc, and for the work you've done. If you'll leave it in our hands from here, I think it would be wise to focus on yourself for a while… both in terms of your recovery, and also enjoying your time at Beacon."
"I'll do my best."
"I'm glad to hear it, Mr Arc."
"Heh, see you later, kid." Qrow followed the headmaster out, but couldn't refrain winking at Weiss before he left. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do~"
He left behind an air that was predictably awkward.
"So…" Jaune began, not sure where to look. He chose the top of her hair. "What happened? I remember dying, Weiss. I know I died."
"You did. I brought you back."
He was right, then. He had died.
"The how isn't important. I'm not sure I could even explain it if I tried. All you need to know is that it's all over." She let go of his hand, then moved closer to place it on his cheek. Her breath brushed against his lips, and his eyes became lidded as heat washed over him. "You're free," she whispered, moving closer. "Fate doesn't hold you anymore."
Her lips touched his.
The door slammed open.
"Hey, we're ba- and okaaay," Yang did a quick one-eighty and held her arms out, preventing the others from entering. "I think they need a little more time, guys! L-Let's give them another minute or two. Back out. Come on…"
"I hate them," Weiss whispered, her forehead pressed against his. "I really do hate them sometimes…"
He wasn't sure he could bring himself to disagree when Yang's efforts proved for nothing, and they all came crashing back in regardless.
"Here, you can hold her."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I am," Juniper said, smiling as she moved the tiny bundle into his arms. He shifted awkwardly, sat in his wheelchair and trying to find a good way to hold the little girl against his chest. She was pudgy and red-faced, but had blue eyes which looked up into his curiously, and a tiny mop of blonde hair. "Aww look," his mother cooed, "she recognises you."
He wasn't so sure, and apparently neither was his youngest sister, for she promptly pushed her head back and screeched like a Nevermore. He winced, and Juniper quickly took her back, crooning to the girl, who quickly went silent and fell asleep.
"Adorable, huh?" Jade groaned. "She does that with everyone, the little brat. You, us, even Dad… talk about spoiled."
"Jade," Lavender hissed, "don't talk that way about her!"
Jade rolled her eyes.
It was the same day as he'd woken up, though after the barrage of questions, his team had been sent off to give him some rest. Weiss had wanted to stay, but a stern word from Tsune about how little she'd taken care of her own health had forced her away. In turn, he'd been left to be pushed about by the Doctor, who for once hadn't taken the chance to push him down some stairs of add to his injuries. That was probably just a sign of how bad they'd been. Instead, she'd brought and left him with his family, which only led to injuries of the ear variety.
He wriggled one finger into his left ear to try and clear it right then, wincing at the ringing that still persisted. Ozpin wasn't kidding when he said she had a healthy set of lungs. Was that a Semblance or something?
"What's her name, anyway?" he asked. "I didn't exactly stick around to hear it."
"You didn't," Juniper said, and he had an inkling she'd have made her displeasure clear if it wasn't for him being wheelchair-bound. Her eyes trailed down to the bandages about his chest once more, and she cringed.
"I'm fine," he said. "I'm going to make a full recovery."
"I think it's more how you're barely reacting to it," Sapphire said. "You nearly died, Jaune. Again, I might add. I hope this isn't going to be a recurring theme."
"No, I…" he paused. "I think I'm going to take a break from it, actually."
To do what, he still wasn't sure. There was a strange emptiness inside him, like his life had was bereft of meaning or purpose. Victory felt good, incredibly good, but when it came to plans for the future, his mind came up blank.
"I'll think of something," he said.
"That's wonderful," Juniper said. "I spoke to Weiss earlier. She's such a lovely girl. She kept us up-to-date on everything that happened, and even made sure we could come and stay at Beacon to see you." She paused suggestively, no doubt hinting at what he should be doing with such a lovely girl. He rolled his eyes. "Either way," she went on, "we didn't plan a name for her because we were still undecided. After the birth, though." She looked to Nicholas and smiled. "One name came to mind."
"We've decided to call her Joan," his father said.
"Huh… weird name."
"It's after you, dummy," Juniper laughed. "You're the one who helped bring her into the world, so we thought she should share a name with you. Though hopefully, she won't share any other habits with you."
"I'm right here, you know…"
"I know," she growled. "It was a hint. Look at you, you're injured and in a wheelchair. Don't you think it's time you settled down with a nice girl?"
"I'm seventeen, Mom."
"And judging from how you live your life, there's no telling if you'll reach eighteen! You need to slow down, maybe get together with someone calm and smart. Someone who won't let you rush off to do dangerous things or-"
He rolled his eyes. "Someone like Weiss?"
"Oh my, what an amazing idea…" Juniper crowed – very unconvincingly. His sisters laughed at his expense, even if none of them offered any kind of argument against the idea. That was very telling from them, especially from Coral. "You know, she's been at your bedside every day since you were injured, plus she was the first to find you, and if it wasn't for her, you might have died. She's also very reliable, beautiful, and the two of you get on well with one another."
"I get the hint, Mom."
"Good." She patted his arm and smiled condescendingly. "In that case, I'll only need to keep driving it home for a few more weeks."
Sheesh, what a terrifying woman he had as his mother.
"If it had been a boy, we might have named him James, since that nice man lent us the use of his Bullhead."
"James," he whispered. "Nice man?" His face turned a horrid shade of puce. "You mean Ironwood!?"
Juniper blinked at him. "Yes. Is that a problem?"
"No, no," he said, shaking his head. "I'm just… rethinking my little sister. Joan Arc is a lovely name. I like it."
Because frankly, he'd rather eat his own foot than have a little brother who might grow up anything like General Ironwood. No… just no. Life could not be that cruel, not after he'd just won his own back once more.
"Here, try holding her again," his mother whispered. "She's asleep now."
"What if she wakes up?"
"She won't," she laughed. "She's just fallen asleep. Come on now, I want Nicky to take a picture of you holding her. How hard can that be?"
She shouldn't have tempted Fate. Maybe it was angry or still a little upset. Either way, Joan seemed to sense the transition, and her eyes snapped open the moment she was in his arms.
She was quick to let him know what she thought of that.
"Are you sure you're allowed out of your wheelchair?" Blake asked.
"My legs weren't injured. I was only weak due to blood loss. Tsune said I would be fine." So long as he didn't push himself, that was, but he didn't feel the need to remind Blake of that. "How are you?" he asked instead.
"Me? I'm fine. I wasn't badly hurt."
"Not physically, mentally. I know it must have been painful to have your old friends come here and do what they did." He sighed. "And despite how it ended, I know it can't have been easy to learn I killed Adam."
Blake's eyes slipped from his and out towards the Emerald Forest. She clutched at her arms, and let out a short sigh. "It's not," she admitted. "Adam… I suppose now that he's gone, now that the fear is gone, I've started to remember the good times. And there were good memories," she added. "He… he wasn't always like he was. He used to be a good man. A wonderful man."
She shook her head. "Don't be. You did what you had to do, and I'd have done no less if I were able, it's just… I suppose it's the nature of people to forget the faults of others once they're gone. I can't help but think of all the times he helped me, or protected the innocent, or when he'd talk and laugh with the new recruits." Blake looked down at the floor. "He changes, though. At the end, he wasn't the man he used to be, and I guess that's why this happened."
"I don't think that's unusual. We all change over time. Adam had something he wanted, a purpose he was working towards, that he was willing to give his life for. Seeing that goal ripped from your fingers time after time changes a person… not always for the better. We need it, though," he said, with a sad smile. "We need that ambition, that goal, otherwise we're lost and adrift."
Like he felt now, with no direction available. It was why he'd sought Blake out, after all.
"What do you intend to do now?" he asked. "The White Fang are gone, or at least as good as. The Vale branch has been destroyed, and even if the others rally, I don't see them staying under the radar. If they can do this, then the other Kingdoms will have taken note. They're not going to stand by and let it happen to them. What are your plans, Blake?"
"I… I don't know." She glanced away once more, but then looked back with a tiny smile. "I guess I'll stay here for now, obviously. There's still a lot to be done in terms of faunus equality, but I'm selfish too. I want to enjoy being part of a team for a few years. I also… I also need to reconnect with some people when I can build up the courage. There are some apologies I need to give."
"How do you-?" Her eyes were wide, but she laughed it off a second later. "I have no idea how you know these things, but I'm not even surprised anymore."
"A good father always knows."
"I suppose so…" She rolled her eyes, but there was no hiding her smile. "Yes, I need to apologise to my family. I feel like I can do it now without backing down, but it can wait. I might try to call them first from the CCT, and maybe even suggest they come here. They could meet you all."
"Would your father appreciate the competition?"
"Depends what you mean by that," Blake said, eyes narrowed. "If you take a step towards my mother…"
"I'm not trying to make it official," he laughed. "I was joking, Blake. I'd be happy to meet your family, and I'm sure Yang and Weiss would be, too."
"I'd be happy for you to meet them as well." She sighed and looked around, then quickly stepped forwards to give him the shortest hug he could imagine. When she backed off, her cheeks were red. "I really am grateful for what you did. I'd have never been enough to stop Adam, and… and I really am glad to be on the team."
"And you really do love me?"
"I didn't say that."
"No, but you meant it…"
She glowered at him, face red. Oh dear, she really was adorable at times. He chuckled and stepped forward to enfold his arms around her, and although she struggled for a moment, it was half-hearted at best. It felt more like she just wanted to be seen to struggle.
"Besides, I should thank you for saving Weiss. Cinder was far stronger than Adam, and I'd have had no hope against her."
"You'd have thought of something," Blake mumbled. "You usually do."
"Not this time, Blake. I don't have the answer to everything."
So, Blake still had her own goals to work towards. He supposed that made sense. She had a full and busy life ahead of her, especially if she wanted to bring equality between faunus and humans. It was a big ambition, a good ambition.
"What about you?" Blake asked.
"What do you intend to do now?"
Wasn't that the question…
"This is one of those times I don't have the answer," he admitted, stepping away from her. "Who knows. Maybe I'll get some rest."
"You and your sleep," Blake laughed. "I suppose it's been a while since you napped through the day. Don't sleep for too long though, lessons will be back on before you know it."
"I'll keep that in mind," he said, strolling away.
Blake's answer hadn't given him the inspiration he really needed. Her purpose was absolutely her own, and he wasn't sure what to do about his. Honestly, he'd never thought about what might come after Cinder. Maybe a part of him had never truly believed there would be an after. That sounded cynical, but after so long having his hopes and dreams crushed, it had been more pragmatism than anything.
His feet took him to the gardens before a voice interrupted.
"Should you be walking?" Yang asked, arms crossed. Her expression said if he didn't have a good answer, she'd carry him back to the infirmary. "Where's your wheelchair?"
"Two for two," he chuckled. "Tsune said I can walk now. It's fine."
"Do you have a note?"
"She didn't give me a sick note for my friends, no."
"Hmm…" She looked him up and down. "You do look steady… I suppose I can trust you, but only this one time."
"Such a gracious daughter I have. What are you up to?"
"I was just helping with some rebuilding." Yang nodded to the devastated cafeteria, now surrounded with scaffolding and construction workers. She then sat down on a low wall and motioned for him to do the same. "Just lifting and carrying things around, but it makes me feel busy. It's funny how I've always wanted a break from lessons, but now that it's here, I'm bored."
"Can't you go off into Vale?"
"Things are awkward there as well. I heard from Coco that anyone from Beacon gets harassed by reporters the moment they step off a Bullhead." She sighed. "I can't be bothered with that." She glanced at him. "What about you? You look… lost, I guess."
As ever, Yang was more perceptive than she let on. He shrugged weakly and looked out over the school.
"I guess I'm just trying to understand what comes next, what it is I'm supposed to do."
"Do?" She laughed. "Just do what you always do."
I can't, Yang. That's the problem.
He faked a smile for her. "I suppose so… what is it you'll do?"
"No idea. I guess I'll keep on studying and keep on kicking ass. I… I want to continue trying to find my Mom, too. She helped us out, you know? She came and killed Cinder's teammates – buying me and Blake time to get to Weiss. I want to find her and ask why."
"What are you hoping for?"
"I dunno." Yang kicked her legs and smiled. "Not that she'll be my Mom, never that. Summer was my mother, and now I've got you and Weiss as parents, too. I don't need another Mom. I just want to know. Even if it turns out she just didn't want me, I want that certainty, the closure. I just don't want to be sat asking myself a question for the rest of my life. I hate that."
"I don't think it's a bad goal," he said. "Just be careful. I've no idea what's going on with her, but you might not like what you hear."
"Oh, I know I won't. Hell, there's no answer she could give that would make me happy, but I still want to hear it. Once that's done, I can move on, relax, maybe even find a boyfriend and start my own family – and I won't be going anywhere once my kid is born. I'll be the best damn mom ever. They'll call me Supermom."
"They'll be horrified by your puns, more like."
"That too," she said, grinning. "It's a parent's right to embarrass their kids, right? I intend to make full use of that."
"Kids and a family, huh? I'd have never thought of you like that."
"Hey, I won't be seventeen forever, you know?"
No… she wouldn't be.
Funny that he'd never thought of that. His existence for the last thousand years had only ever known a Yang between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, with the occasional nineteen. They'd changed much in that time, but who could say what Yang would look or act like in ten years' time? It was a shocking thought.
How would any of them look? Would he even recognise them anymore?
It felt like he was saying goodbye to an era. An era that he'd known for so long… so long that he couldn't even remember a time when he wasn't the man trying to save his friends. In terms of his own life, he only knew of it between the ages of fifteen and nineteen. Never anything more or less… not even distant memories of his childhood.
That… was actually quite sad.
"Hey, you okay?" Yang nudged his arm with her elbow. "I didn't say anything to upset you, did I?"
"No, no… I'm just thinking."
"Time," he said, slowly rising. "Just about time."
It was inevitable that the people of Vale would find out the true story sooner or later. He wasn't sure who leaked it first, or whether they'd put the pieces together themselves, but the media and news outlets had somehow found out about Cinder Fall, or at least failing that, they'd found out that the attack was orchestrated between the White Fang, and a student from Mistral. The fallout was predictable, but there were subtle differences.
Atlas and Vale had strengthened their bonds. Without the Paladin attack, the quick thinking and action of General Ironwood had made him something of a celebrity figure, and his casual dismissal of it all as being `just his duty` only enamoured him more in the eyes of the general public. His offer to aid in the repairs of Beacon and Vale became the final nail in his coffin, cementing him as being just as much a hero as the teachers of Beacon, all of which had rushed to the streets of Vale to protect the innocent. In all honesty, Ironwood looked more irritated at the attention, which made Jaune's day every time he saw that face on the television.
It was good news, though. Stronger ties between Atlas and Vale would mean Cinder's plan to fracture the Kingdoms would fail. In fact, she'd achieved the exact opposite, and cemented them as firm friends and allies.
But it wasn't only Ironwood's achievements which had spread. With the reveal of the woman behind the attack, the focus soon turned to questions of who had been responsible for stopping her. Who was the mystery hero who had challenged the monster and slain her, saving the Kingdom and Beacon in one fell swoop?
Well… it had been inevitable, really. There had been far too many witnesses, and someone was bound to talk sooner or later. It was for that reason that Jaune leaned against side of Beacon's main building, watching the raised white stage surrounded by reporters and journalists. Lights flashed and cameras clicked, while questions flew and the woman stood on the stage struggled to deal with the barrage.
Weiss Schnee sighed dramatically and pointed to a journalist, giving him time to ask a question.
A part of him wondered if he should have felt annoyed at it all. There he was, the one who had gone back time and time again, dying and looping in what he'd feared was a never-ending battle, and now, at the end of it all, it was Weiss who got the glory.
He thought he should have been annoyed, but he wasn't. As he watched her smile for the camera, he was able to pick out the subtle signs that she was biting down on her annoyance, not to mention how white her hands were, showing that she was clenching them hard together. She hated this kind of thing, and so did he, really. Weiss was the best person for this, and she deserved it, too.
She'd been the one to slay Cinder, the one to somehow convince Fate to stop. She'd been the one to achieve the impossible.
She was better for the role in other ways, too. The people needed a hero, and while they'd latched onto Ironwood, and the man would do well in the role, they also needed someone for the future. Someone who could inspire and deliver results, who could lead by example and build morale…
He wasn't the right kind of person for that. He was too jaded, too broken… too tired…
"Miss Schnee, Miss Schnee," a reporter called. "The reports so far state that Cinder Fall was a student of Mistral. Do you believe this was a hostile move against Vale from said Kingdom?"
"I do not, no," Weiss said, leaning forward on the wooden podium. Her voice was calm, neutral. Anyone else might have been nervous, but she looked as confident as she had in that concert he'd watched months ago. "It became clear in our fight that her skills were far beyond what any student might have been expected to have, and she also showed disregard for the lives of other students from Mistral. It is my personal belief that she was a rogue agent working for her own gain, and nothing to do with the Mistral Government."
"What about the strange phenomenon several witnesses claim to have seen?" a different journalist asked. "There were reports of you using ice powers in your fight, and of another woman conjuring fire."
"Simple dust manipulation," she said, lying easily. "Cinder was skilled in it, along with other forms of combat, while my own dust rapier allows me much the same. Next question?"
"Do you believe the White Fang will try another attack on Vale, even though this one failed?"
"The White Fang have lost many of their troops, along with one of their most valued leaders, who was slain by my own partner in the attack. Although I'm sure they will be looking for revenge, they would be foolish to try anything so soon after this one, and I anticipate that the brutality shown here will have done much to erode their support base." Weiss looked out over the reporters and nodded at several faunus ones. "Innocent faunus lives were lost in this attack, and by an organisation which claims to work in their best interests. It would seem that the White Fang has changed much from the honourable organisation they once were."
Her words, particularly the latter, caused a stir among the crowd. Several journalists started to look at her in a new light, and it was the faunus ones especially who seemed to perk up. Blake stood a little taller beside Weiss, both she and Yang also being presence since they had fought against Cinder.
Weiss was going to use this platform to throw her support in for the faunus, huh? He couldn't blame her, and it would hopefully nix any ideas people had to take out their grief on people who didn't deserve it. He chuckled to himself. "Clever move…"
"Lisa Lavender here," said woman called, hand in the air. "I have to ask, Miss Schnee. With the recent attack, and the impact that has had on Beacon itself, what are your plans for the future? I do believe your father has already issued a statement saying you will be returning to Atlas. Do you intend to finish your studies there?" The woman held one arm out. "What happens now?"
What, indeed. The question was for Weiss, but it struck him too. An exhausted sigh escaped him. What now, Arc? What was his plan for the future? Was there even a plan? Unlike Weiss, his entire life – his entire purpose – had been focused on stopping Cinder. Well, now she'd been stopped, and suddenly, there were no more battles to fight. No one that needed saving. With Weiss here as the maiden, Cinder dead, and her conspiracy crushed, there was no real need for him anymore.
He felt incredibly old.
But it wasn't a bad feeling.
His life's work was done. Jaune let out a shuddering breath and looked down at his hand. The skin was tight, his hands young, but he didn't feel young. He felt like a man over a thousand years old, and one who had just felt his years come crashing down on him. He felt exhausted.
With a smile, he turned away, pushed off the wall, and walked back towards the main buildings. He just wanted to curl up under some covers and rest. It had been so long, after all. Maybe he could finally have the rest he craved.
He felt so tired, he wasn't sure if his eyes would ever open again.
Weiss looked out over the bright lights and expectant faces. Her hands gripped the podium before her, but the words had cut straight through her. It was only when she noticed Yang and Blake shuffling awkwardly beside her that she realised her silence had dragged on. She swallowed and lowered her mouth to the microphone.
"I don't know."
The crowd stirred. Several journalists began to call out, while Lisa Lavender shouted to have her questions heard. Weiss ignored them all and spoke again.
"I don't know, because that's the thing about the future. It's a mystery. We never know what's going to happen, and that's what makes it exciting. That's what makes us alive. Humans crave knowledge, but if we knew everything, then there would be no more questions, and no reason to keep on striving for answers." She paused, and so too did the audience, hanging on her each and every word. "Any one of us could be anything, and we'd have no idea if it would work or not until we tried it. One thing I can say however is that we make our own futures. We are the only ones who can decide what comes, so we'll just have to wait and see what we decide."
The words trailed off as she scanned the crowd. She looked out over them, past them, first to her sister, who stood at the back with a proud expression and crossed arms, and then to the headmaster, who nodded his support. Her eyes trailed further however, and her breath caught when she saw him walking away.
Her voice broke. She didn't know what to say or do. They'd been dancing around one another for days now, and things had seemed so much easier with the threat of death over their heads. The words had come so much easier.
Something within her gave way.
"I will not be returning to Atlas."
The words had the expected result. There was silence for a brief second, and then a whirr of activity. "But Jacques Schnee-"
"Is not Weiss Schnee," she interrupted. Her body shook, but she forced herself on. "We decide our own fate, and I decide mine as well. It is my decision as to where I study, and I believe my father has misunderstood that."
The journalists seemed shocked. Over their heads, Weiss nervously met the eyes of her sister.
Winter Schnee smiled.
"I will remain in Vale," Weiss continued, her heart resolute. "I will continue my studies here because I have a team I do not want to leave, I have friends I won't abandon." She took a deep breath and stepped out from behind the podium. "E-Excuse me one moment..."
Predictably, the crowd did anything but stay calm as she jumped off the stage. Cameras flashed wildly, and several tried to get in her way, but she pushed past them without thought. The teachers could have stopped her, as could Winter, but they all stood still and watched, the latter with a small, pleased smile on her face.
She reached her target before he could pass around the corner, and hooked her hand into the back of his collar. "Where do you think you're going?" she snarled.
"Ha?" Jaune glanced back, eyes wide and shadowed. "Weiss, what are you doing?"
"What am I doing? The question is what were you doing?"
"I was tired," he said. "I… I was going to go rest."
Oh, he was tired, was he? He wanted some sleep? Well, so was she! She was tired of the dancing around, the pussy-footing and the awkward silences. She dragged him behind her, one hand on his collar and the other swaying at her side as she marched back to the stage with him in tow. Blake looked terribly amused at the whole thing, but Yang felt the need to whistle.
"You go, girl!"
"Up on the stage," she ordered, pulling him before her and pushing him up. The press were going nuts, many clamouring for answers and more streaming the affair live over the television. Tens of thousands of people would be watching, perhaps more… and she knew her father would be watching, too.
"W-Weiss, why…?" Jaune asked nervously. "What are you doing?"
"What I should have done the moment you woke up," she hissed back. She took him to the podium and leaned forward. "This is Jaune Arc," she said. "He is the man who killed Adam Taurus. He is my partner, my team leader, and… and he is the reason I'm staying in Beacon."
She took a deep breath.
"He is my fiancé."
The reaction was… loud, to say the least. There were no words she could make out, only the angry squabbling of fifty people trying to ask questions at once, and then shouting over one another when it wasn't heard. The cameras recorded all the way through it, even as she ignored them entirely and turned to face him.
Jaune stared at her.
His mind whirled, unable to come up with the thoughts or words necessary, and unwilling to look away from her bright eyes, her coy smile – or the desperate glint of hope in her smile. Something nudged him from behind, two hands pushing him forwards – Blake and Yang subtly telling him not to repeat the mistake of the dance.
His hands caught Weiss' hips, and then wound about her waist. Hers wrapped about the back of his neck, hands joining together.
He was tired. He was without purpose, and he had no idea what the future would bring… but maybe she was right. Maybe that was the beauty of it, the joy that he had long forgotten. There was no telling what the future would bring, and this time, nothing to hold them back from it. One thing was sure, however, even as his lips claimed hers and the crowd cheered.
It wouldn't be quite so lonely.
I'm sure some people will cry about a Deus Ex Machina, but did you expect a story about time travel to not have an ending that was resolved by time travel? I mean, that would kind of ignore the elephant in the room.
I don't really have much to say here, due to some personal things going on at the moment.
Howdy. College Fool here, beta for this formidable fic, with some final beta-like thoughts for posterity.
Some game developer once said that game designers always have a bit of shame about their product on release, because they can see or remember all the things that got cut or changed in the creation process. To a content creator, everything that was good often gets cut out, and it's a surprise when people like what remained. That's definitely the case here. Not This Time, Fate, is nothing like what Coeur and I first started conceiving it as.
Would you believe that, at the start, we talked about it as a pure-comedy story? That Coeur had no idea how the time loops worked, or what Fate was aiming towards? That even the pairing of Weiss and Jaune was in no way central to the premise, despite Weiss being the only character in a time-travel story to be able to manipulate, well, time?
All true. All things changed. And sometimes, that was for the best. Drama was/is kinda necessity for time-travel loop fiction, because without drama or some sort of objective... what's the point? Where's the plot? Time loops got worked out pretty early, but some elements only got finalized at the very end. For about 9/10ths of the story, Fate's motive wasn't set in stone. Weiss as a pairing... well, I'll alwayse regret the dropped plot threads of Jaune's previous-loop paramores causing him guilt (once upon a time, Ruby was Really Important), but I'll also remember how the Weiss romance arc in many respects went from 'When are we going to start it, Coeur,' to thinking 'damn that's going fast.' Plans are fine and all, but sometimes you have to be flexible on the fly for what works in context.
If that sounds like we made it up as we went along... that might be half-right. Things change in the process of creation. Some plot threads get dropped for whatever reasons, and some good ideas come that are worth including. Then there's the simple practice of writing. Coeur went through a number of iterations of how he approached each chapter- different word targets (fixed word count to big word count to flexible), pacing experiments, and so on.
But then there are the things that aren't really making it up as you go along. They're not arbitrary, per see- just part of the conceit of the genre you aim for. Time travel fiction where the time traveler isn't readily believed. An interventionist entity of Fate, who balances somewhere between fallible but also 'But Thou Must.' A timeline structure of, as one mediocre video game once put it, 'variables and constants.' Sometimes, those are frustrating. Sometimes, fiction can be frustrating when things don't make sense/people are stupid/who do people forget the laws of conservation of energy or thermodynamics or anything else 'real.' But if you can accept them, and go with the ride, you can have a good time.
And in the end, I guess what I'd like to say is... this was an experiment, for both Coeur and me, and one that we hope you (mostly) enjoyed. Or at least relished the misery. Coeur tried writing continuous drama. And long chapters. And god damn can that be a slog to not just ready, but try to edit or remark on. And thus we get to things like pacing, and accelerating plot arcs, and so on. Coeur learned some things about writing drama, including that big chapters suck for it and that the last note you end on is always the strongest. I learned some things about being a beta, including burn-out and actually raising uncomfortable thoughts. And hopefully you all learned some things too- if only about how much of a troll Coeur can be. Better keep that in mind for the future, yo... but don't get too comfortable, cause one day he might NOT give you a happy ending.
But today there was one, and I hope you enjoy it. Give credit where credit is due, and Coeur the accolades he's due.
(Accolades, I said. Accolades. Constructive criticism if you prefer. But the people who sent death threats over last chapter should chill out and stop taking fiction so seriously.)
Coeur's Addon: Just for those wondering, the story would never have worked as a pure comedy, which is why the change to being a serious fic had to happen. There are actually quite a few "time traveller decides to mess around and have fun" stories, but they never get finished. That's because sooner or later, the author has to face the issue of "what concludes this". What fulfilling ending can there be when the main character has ignored the story? Sooner or later time will catch up – and the original future he's ignored MUST happen again. How fulfilling could it be when the fact they have ignored the impending disaster causes it to strike again? It would end as a tragedy, with the moral of the story being that you can't ignore terrible things (which is a pretty sad story ending!)
Most of those fics never get finished because of that. Not unless you just run off in a random direction and change the canon story entirely, in which case it almost stops being a time travel fic anyway.
The next fic will be released in three weeks' time. As people know, I normally have a two-week break after a story ends, basically an empty update slot with which to plan. I need that here as well, but I'll also be taking an additional one to set some personal things in order on my side.
Also, this could have easily been two separate chapters too, so it should be fair. You get two now, but an added week with no update.
All my other fics will continue as normal. Two fics will replace this one; "The Beacon Civil War", and "A Hunter or Something." Sorry for the extra week, but it should help with quality, and will at least stop something shitty being written because I'm too busy feeling miserable to write properly. The release dates are as follows:
The Beacon Civil War: 2nd September
A Hunter or Something: 9th September
Thank you for reading this story, and a thank you to College Fool for being there to work with me on such a demanding project.
P a treon . com (slash) Coeur