Jaune was still in a daze as Weiss led him away from the… very many people who had gone after him. All the way from Vale to Mistral, even as he'd been kidnapped from his first kidnapper! And Vernal was in the group, so… so Jaune had no idea what that meant, but right now, he knew that there was an overwhelming number of unknowns and unsolvables floating right in front of him, and when he was facing problems at this scale… he had to focus on the most immediate things first and try to weather the rest as best he could.

And the most immediate thing was the woman leading him from the group, his girlfriend who'd he'd… betrayed.

"Weiss, I promise," he began, "I didn't sign that because I-"

"I know," she said, uncharacteristically quiet, "and right now, I don't care."

Without warning, she pulled him into the tightest hug he'd ever felt as she buried her face in his chest and… and he felt how small Weiss seemed against him, seeing her for the first time in weeks and feeling her do something he never imagined Weiss could do.

She had started to cry.

"D-don't you ever," she said through her tears, "don't you ever leave me like that again."

Jaune wrapped his own arms around her, the girlfriend he never thought he'd find at Beacon. She'd seemed so incredibly perfect, so unreachably above him with her accomplishments. She might have been born into a wealthy family, but her career as a singer, her drive as a Huntress, they all seemed to stand in contrast to Jaune, who knew he was of a remarkable family of his own, and yet it always felt like she was so much more confident and purposeful as she set out to make her own name. But now he knew the real Weiss. Knew the girl who felt so small in his arms, who had her quiet insecurities, who wanted to accept the friendship of her peers and let go of her snobbishness. And he knew… knew how much she cared for him as he just held her tight.

And so Jaune felt emotion overtake him as well, all the time spent apart, the fear and uncertainty and the knowledge that Weiss had trekked across continents for this reunion… it made everything else trivial. Nothing really mattered but the moment they were sharing right now.

"I won't," he promised, tears stinging the corner of his eyes, "I won't ever put you through… through this again."

She gave him a punch in the arm. "You better not," she said with a sniffle, but her voice seemed to have regained a bit of her cheer, particularly as she wiped the tears for her eyes.

"And…" Jaune murmured, still unsure about what to say, "I'm not… a marriage license doesn't mean anything, we can get it annulled and just… you know, return to normalcy."

Jaune hoped that it was how it worked. As a Team Leader, he actually had some education in the various laws of Remnant, thanks to classes on contract management and rules of engagement while within the complex patchwork of jurisdictions that made up the Kingdoms. Things were often… uneven at best, contradictory at worst, but there were generally ways to settle things when one polity and another had a disagreement regarding the laws on the books. However, Huntsman very rarely had to settle marriage disputes, so… it was kind of an unknown for him.

"Well, I guess it's only fair," Weiss said, a weak attempt at humor in her voice, "after all, you did have Ren ask me out with SDC blackmail."

What.

"What?" he choked out.

Weiss looked up in alarm, evidently realizing she'd said something Jaune hadn't known. "You- oh, you never… you only just learned about the cult!" she lamented before giving him an insistent look, "Jaune! J-just because our relationship started with blackmail doesn't mean anything, I crossed two continents to get back with you because I actually like…"

Her voice trailed off as Jaune began to laugh. There had been so many crazy and ridiculous things in his time at Beacon, but… well, what was one more, really? And as he laughed, Weiss laughed too, making Jaune laugh even harder at how absurd everything was until he too had to wipe a tear from his eye.

"I'm just kind of embarrassed," he admitted, "It feels like I'm never going to stop learning things that only happened because-"

"HEY!" a voice suddenly interrupted. Jaune looked up to realize it was, of course, Coco Adel's, the one girl blunt enough to completely interrupt his private reunion with his girlfriend. "You tell him 'bout your deal with Velvet yet?"

"COCO GET OUT OF HERE!" Weiss shrieked, not even turning to look at her.

But Coco barely reacted. "I wanted to see the fireworks-"

"Coco, so help me, I will tell Vernal all about your pink phase—Velvet showed me the photos!"

"You wouldn't dare," she hissed back.

Weiss growled, "Just get out of here and you never have to learn what I would and would not dare."

Jaune really had to wonder exactly how much had happened in his absence. He knew Team CFVY, had had the occasional shared meal with them, but they certainly weren't as familiar with him as Weiss and Coco had evidently become! Heck, the fact that CFVY traveled with his team and RWBY was a surprise as well. Other than a one time exercise with Velvet, Jaune had barely had any real interactions with them—Velvet didn't even talk to him after that exercise! Jaune had just chalked it up to not making much of an impression, especially after Velvet just tore through those Grimm, but-

Oh, hell, were they cultists, too?

As Coco backed off (with one last "I ain't leaving my girl hanging!" suggesting that, yes, there was something about Velvet he was destined to learn about), Jaune gave Weiss an overly-weary look and asked, "So… I guess it falls on you to fill me in about everything?"

Weiss tried to hide her smile as she asked, "I guess the question is… how much time do you have?"

"We've got a long walk to Argus."

"Then let's start with this," she said, shaking her head at the absurdity of it all, "you actually have two cults that are invested in you…"


"Alright, so… Jimmy, Leonardo, and Oz all have an interest in this… plus Salem, obviously. Anyone from Vacuo a part of this?"

"Not to our knowledge," Vernal shrugged, "And Raven had a pretty high confidence in knowing all the players on the board. But, of course…" she glanced at Summer, who feigned ignorance, before continuing, "And who knows, maybe one of the kids is a double agent?"

Qrow looked around this gathering of the adults in the room. Which was a… not inspiring group, particularly because, somehow, the only one who seemed sane was one of the Atlas lapdogs- wait, shit, can't say that. The Atlas bootlicker… was that still racist? Shit, he was in a real hole when it came to that guy…

But Marrow, if he had to call him that, or Specialist Amin, if Qrow was feeling inclined to respect him, was at least as apprehensive, shocked, and alarmed as Qrow was with the whole situation. Summer, he had just discovered, was both a traitor and a lunatic, and also, she was in league with a known serial killer… who apparently had children who were infiltrating Beacon. And then his sister had an agent here…

"I don't see what the problem is," the serial murderer shrugged, "Salem wanted to get her nephew married, and now he is! Problem solv-"

"You do realize we are enemies, right?" Marrow cut in, "Like, the only reason you haven't been arrested is no one here has the force to-"

"But the matter of the marriage is settled, correct?" Summer interrupted, "I don't anticipate Jacques will have any interest in his daughter marrying someone he didn't choose, and I think James isn't inclined to make a move on the legal matter when Mistralian-Atlesian relations are already so tense..."

Marrow just stared at her. "That is… that is not at all our priority, why- why do all of you care so much about a teenager's marriage prospects?"

Tyrian shrugged. "I mean, that's why we're all here, right?"

Qrow just stared at him, since he knew damn well there wasn't a single thing he could say that would make this make sense or knock the lunatics off their singular focus. So instead, he focused on the people he'd had any success speaking with: the Atlesian jackboot and his sister's minion.

Gods above, there were slim pickings for sanity here…

"Well, we can't stop the kids from doing what they choose, we know that," he thought out loud, "And they're on their way to Argus to head to Atlas, to see about the marriage situation-" it sounded even crazier every time he said it aloud, "-so I suppose… all of us have a duty to… ensure they get to their destination safely and- I can't believe I'm in league with all of you."

Summer shrugged. "Of all the things you've done for Ozpin," she dryly replied, "surely this isn't your limit for what's insane, Qrow."

"Yeah," nodded Tyrian, "that guy is the worst."

Qrow didn't rise to it. Arguing with an idiot only brought one down to his level, and Tyrian's level was… not something Qrow wanted to spend time in. Instead, he just stared at Summer until she spoke.

"I'm the only person here who knows both Salem and Ozpin," she explained, her voice suddenly cold and sharp as she reminded Qrow that she had been the leader of STRQ even as she was all smiles and sunbeams, "And so I think I can say I know more of how the world really works than any of the rest of you know. You want what's best for Remnant? Then step aside and let this marriage go through."

"And if we're not invested in the good of Remnant?" Vernal dryly replied. Qrow raised an eyebrow at the girl, but her words did remind him… he had no idea what her angle was. It was extremely in Raven's character to see her plans go sideways and simply throw her hands up and insist that she never even cared in the first place as she stomped off to pout. It was also extremely in her character to have a labyrinthine plan that was so needlessly confusing that Qrow would swear it was just good luck when she actually pulled it off. Like when she somehow pitted a half-dozen factions against each other into an all-out melee to… achieve whatever needlessly petty goal she was trying to advance with kidnapping Jaune in the first place.

Marrow seemed to have similar thoughts as he shifted uncomfortably before speaking up. "I… think we're best able to get along for the time being if we don't ask too many questions about each others' motives and just… get the kids back to civilization."

"And then we can fight there," Tyrian nodded, simultaneously finishing Marrow's thought accurately while saying the most impolitic thing he could. He was impressively good at just making everything worse, but, in a way, that was better for Qrow. Maybe Summer would catch on that she was making common cause with Salem's most depraved minion. Maybe she'd realize that she was very much in the wrong here.

Or maybe they'd just talk in circles for hours because the five of them, in spite of thinking themselves the "adults in the room," were agents of more powerful forces, forces who were intractably angled towards contradicting agendas. What Ozpin wanted, what Raven wanted, what Jimmy wanted, what Salem wanted… Summer was the only one here who actually had her own thoughts on her sleeve, and she was giving the cultist a run for her money!

Qrow briefly wondered if maybe Ms. Fall, the… vaguely Haven student or cultist or something else (he… wasn't sure about everyone's exact layout of double identities yet) that had a claim to being "not a teenager," should have been here. She at least seemed motivated by selfish agendas that could be maneuvered towards one side or the other.

Or she was also trying to slip a ring on the boy's finger.

Gods, just a year ago, Qrow thought he was a badass secret agent of a global conspiracy and now he was trying to figure out how to advance the future of the people of Remnant via marrying off a teenager. When had his life gotten so… so weirdly dumb?

But on that note, the group had reached the end of their rope. There was nothing left to debate, not really, so they just agreed to keep the antagonism to a minimum as they made their way to Argus. Where the cultists almost certainly had reinforcements, not to mention, the Atlesians would be better poised to snatch up Jaune. Which meant he should be siding with Summer… nope, meeting was ending and so was Qrow, because every other option just led to something dumb.

Opting not to join the others around the fire, Qrow decided to take a walk in the woods while there was still some daylight. Probably not a safe move to isolate himself when there was at least one professional assassin around, but hey! If someone tried to kill him, he'd at least be fighting to not die, which would be a step into a conflict he at least understood. So he… hold on.

Qrow wasn't the only one looking for a bit of solitude to think things through. Seeing the quick, pacing steps that made her red cloak flash through the trees, Qrow could practically feel the anxiety and uncertainty radiating off of Ruby. Just like yesterday, just before Summer arrived, still caught up in dozens of questions. And like always, the sight of his niece in trouble never failed to twinge that part of Qrow that was the exact opposite of his cynical, badass persona.

"Hey kiddo," he quietly said, revealing his presence as she snapped around in a flash to look at him, her silver eyes wide open with worry, "Looks like… you've got something on your mind?"

And the floodgates opened.

"I'm getting married!" she cried, heedless to any thought of being overheard, "And do I like Jaune? I don't know! Am I supposed to know? Is it worse if I do? Cause he's Weiss's boyfriend, and there's no one lower than a boyfriend-stealer, and I had to keep an eye on Emerald cause she seemed like a boyfriend-stealer but then I was watching her butt and I didn't know what I wanted with her, but now I'm married to Jaune and I can't talk to mom or Weiss or Yang or anyone about it because when I tried to talk to Blake she just started talking about her weird books and harems and I can't ask Pyrrha, because I'm not in love with her, and I have to-"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, Rubes!" Qrow cried, throwing up his hands, "It's okay, it's okay, just- just breathe a little, okay?"

Ruby, fortunately, did exactly that. Sometimes, it was hard to remember that she was only 16, with how much she was capable of, with how even Glynda's assessment of her proficiency as a Huntress and a Team Leader was glowing, but then there were things, like her surprisingly insane mom signing on her behalf on a marriage certificate or her panic right now, that just underscored that she was a teenager who… who should never have been thrust into these situations. Not just with the marriage, with everything. With the Grimm and her Silver Eyes and Salem. She deserved a better world than she had, but…

But it fell to Qrow to make up the difference with the hand she was dealt.

"First off, no, you're not getting married," he said, raising a hand to cut off Ruby's objections, "Your mother… your mother sometimes gets like this, but you're legally too young for the marriage to be binding. So we've got until you're 18 to figure something out, but more so, no, we're not going through with enforcing some contract signed under duress, especially when one of the parties has… I don't even know how to begin with what he's got on his side. 'Heavily armed lunatics' is only the start of that group. But on top of that," he flashed Ruby what he hoped was a confident and reassuring smile, "you've got your Uncle Qrow looking out for you. And he's not going to let anything happen to his niece."

The skeptical look on Ruby's face cut a lot deeper than Qrow had expected, but on the plus side… it did seem to calm her down a bit.

"We're going to Argus," he explained, "and from there, we're going to Atlas to… figure out the whole legal situation. But after that," he punctuated the remark with, perhaps, unearned confidence, but he owed it to Ruby to show her someone was the grown up in the room, "I'm getting the lot of you back to Beacon. So you and your team can finish out your year learning to be Huntresses, making memories hitting a diner at two in the morning after cramming for a test, not… a globe-trotting adventure to rescue your kidnapped friend. And I'm giving you my word, Rubes, you kids deserve something like normalcy, and we're not gonna rest until you get it."

It might have been an empty promise on one hand and terribly cheesy on the other, but Ruby gave him a smile, weak and uncertain, but genuine, and Qrow knew he'd done at least an okay job as her Uncle.

…wait, what had she said about Emerald's butt?


Jaune had been returned.

Pyrrha's faith had been rewarded. She refused to lose hope, refused to believe that her failure in Forever Fall would forever mark her for shame, or worse… that she'd never see Jaune again. And he was back. Yes, there were questions involving his… marital state, but all those were secondary concerns now that Pyrrha had some time to herself to just… be relieved that she had Jaune back. Maybe he'd choose Weiss or Ruby and Yang or maybe he'd marry the whole Team RWBY. But to Pyrrha… whoever got to wear the veil and walk down the aisle, Pyrrha would be thrilled for them, because so long as he had a place for her by his side… that was all she wanted.

Though it also meant there was work for her to be doing, even after the rest of the group had gone to bed. She had a duty to attend to, and… it was a quiet shame, but she hadn't been the one to rescue Jaune. She could admit to feeling a twinge of opposition to Ruby and Yang's claim on Jaune, not the least because he seemed to want a way out of his forced marriage (the thought made Pyrrha's blood start to burn with that familiar call for battle), but because… because Summer Rose had been the one to save him. Had it been Pyrrha who'd found him, who'd fallen to her knee as she put her hand across her breast and swore her fealty, told him he had nothing to fear, that his protector was at his side, who had been the one to extend her hand to his and help him to his feet… It would have been a memory to cherish forever, and instead, that woman had stolen it from her. And then put Jaune through so much.

With a sigh, Pyrrha looked up to the shattered moon. In the Salemist faith, it had been the spite of false, wicked gods who'd shattered the moon to mark their flight from Remnant after Salem had united humanity against them. A sign of the tragic paradox of their faith—that Queen Salem was Sovereign of the world, the eternal and endless ruler by right, and yet, their faith must be practiced in secret. Until the hour of Salem's true apotheosis when she took the world for her own, they lived in a world marked by the dominion of evil, a world that seemed bereft of her power and mercy. A shattered world and a shattered moon, but in time… they would see things returned to their whole. That even the moon could be repaired through the power of a miracle.

Right now, she felt there was a message in the moon. Perhaps Ren could help her puzzle it out, to reflect upon how powerful and powerless she could feel at the same time, how sometimes, all there was to do was cling to faith and hope for the best… It might make a good sermon someday, and Pyrrha had to stifle a chuckle picturing Ren at the lectern, his voice so clear and full of hope as he shared this story with the faithful.

Pacing about the camp, she knew she wasn't the only one awake. Some of their companions slept with one eye open at the best of time—Belladonna, Branwen, Black, the Atlesian—while others slept like logs. Jaune was a heavy sleeper, Pyrrha knew that. She'd watched him as he slept often enough to know it, and she felt a slight tinge of sadness that she wouldn't be sharing a tent with him. She hoped he wasn't lonely, forced to be the only person to have a tent for himself. Rose refused to let him bunk with a woman other than her daughters, while Yang had adamantly refused to go along with that, and as Nora couldn't sleep without Ren, his logical tentmate, they'd steadily gone down the list of men in their group and found that there simply wasn't anyone all parties could agree on for sharing a tent with Jaune.

Which laid out the tension Pyrrha was feeling right now. There were eyes on her, but she wanted to check on Jaune, to make sure he was alright, to… to just know he was sleeping peacefully and be nearby if he… needed anything. Like if he could use a drink of water or… or if he missed her companionship and would sleep better if she joined him in his tent, perhaps, making up for lost time if she slipped into his bedroll and ensured he had a comfortable night's sleep with her-

Shaking her head, Pyrrha reminded herself that she'd already jeopardized her position at his side enough, and here she was, thinking she could take liberties with him. She… she really was in over her head here, wasn't she?

She'd always been exceptional. Always been the fastest, the strongest, the most diligent. Among the other children, whether in the cult or among those who did not know, she was always the best at whatever she set out to do. When her mother had told her that she had been given a task by Queen Salem herself, Pyrrha had… had, in the small place within her heart, thought of it as a foregone conclusion. Who better than her for an essential task? Who was worthier, more accomplished, more faithful than her?

And now she was reckoning with the fact that, for all her accomplishments and awards, for all the time spent humbly downplaying her achievements as she secretly preened to receive compliments every Fallsgiving from her Salemist community, she was really just… a teenage girl. A mess of romantic entanglements and duties and feelings, thinking of her future at a time when she wanted to focus on the present and realizing how much she just didn't know, didn't have experience with and how- how scary it was to be an adult!

All her life, she just had to do what she was told, to excel in the ring, to practice her catechism, to ace her tests, and she was told she was a good girl. That she should be proud. And now, now she had to make choices, to figure things out and that was-

It was hard!

Just a day ago, she'd accepted Weiss's offer as Jaune's concubine, content in her place now that she'd made peace between herself and Cinder, and expecting all of them to become as close as sisters under Jaune's love, but now? Now that he was back and she had to-

Wait.

Pyrrha realized that she was standing outside Jaune's tent.

She'd wandered here under the moonlight without realizing it, and a tiny voice in her mind told her that no one was watching, but that voice found no traction with her. She'd like to claim it was because she quashed its wicked whisper, but it had more to do with Pyrrha realizing… that Jaune wasn't in the tent.

Fear gripped her heart in an instant as she ran through who might have taken him, who might have brought such humiliation to Pyrrha for a second time as she-

"Pyr?"

Whipping around with a speed that gave away her concern, Pyrrha whirled to see Jaune behind her. But… but it was him. Safe and sound and alright, and in the moment, Pyrrha almost moved to hug him before she stopped herself.

"F-forgive me," she mumbled, "I- I merely wanted to ch-check on you and ensure…"

Her lies fell apart as Jaune's gaze seemed to cut right through her. Not surprising that he could peer into her heart, knowing what she knew about him, but as Jaune sighed and Pyrrha's confidence wilted, he gestured to the log set up near the ashes of their firepit and signaled that they should take a seat.

"I… think I've finally figured out a couple of things about Beacon," he said with a hollow chuckle as he took his seat, "That, well… you and Ren and Nora were assigned to look after me and make sure I did well at Beacon and, um, apparently get me a girlfriend…"

Pyrrha's eyes went wide with panic, but Jaune's features remained so gentle that she… even through her panic, she knew she had nothing to fear.

"And I've picked up that, um, you and… a couple of girls have feelings for me…"

Ah, well, she had that to fear.

"Jaune!" she said, once more too quickly for her own good, "I- I assure you, I don't have any-"

He cut her off with a raised hand. And… a reassuring smile.

"I've learned I've got a lot to figure out," he said, "And… and I'm going to need some help with that. A lot of help. Pyrrha… what I need to know is if you're my friend."

It was hard to meet his gaze as he said it, but Pyrrha couldn't look away when his voice was so honest and pained.

"Because that's what I need right now—the girl who saved me in the Emerald Forest and taught me to be a halfway adequate fighter, and… and the girl who was my friend at Beacon!" he said with a sudden cry, "Before I learned anything about cults and my Aunt and… international intrigue, you were one of my best friends, Pyrrha, and I… I really need a friend right now. So… are you? My friend, I mean, not my retainer, my bodyguard, or my, um, worshiper… beyond all that, are you still my friend?"

That… was not a question Pyrrha had been expecting. But as she put her hand over Jaune's, she gave him a warm, genuine look of her own, the smile that came from her heart when she remembered all the good times they'd had at Beacon, the challenging look in her eyes that she always gave him whenever she saw the potential she could tease out.

"No matter what," she said, feeling more confident about this than she ever had about anything else, "we'll always be friends."

And she saw him smile. And that would be enough.

…for now, at least.

Been a while, huh?

Over a year ago, I posted the last chapter and people got weird about Summer so I decided I didn't want to deal with that and kicked the story aside to focus on other things. But I had a few chapters finished this whole time and figured... you know, it's been a while, maybe it's a chance to give it another shot, see how it goes.

Thanks to Renarde for feedback on this work!