Achieve Men was playing on the speaker, sunlight was cheerfully streaming through the blinds, and everything was going well.
Saphron bobbed along to the music as she dusted the mantle. Really, today was a miracle. Adrian was napping, she was actually able to take care of her chores, and everything was on schedule for getting ready for Terra's boss at the CCT to visit for dinner tomorrow! Parenthood was… a trial, but she felt like she was getting better at it. Early on, it had been stubbornness, a refusal to admit that her mother or her Aunt were right about "you're going to want to stay close to family when you have kids!" But now… now she was glad she'd struck off on her own and made her own way in the world. She felt proud of her accomplishments, that she didn't have the ability to just ask her mom to take care of Adrian and still managed.
She heard a knock at the door, flinching as she braced herself for Adrian to rouse from his nap, but… she was in the clear! Wow, today was really just going her way, wasn't it?
Opening the door she-
Her younger brother blinked in surprise to hear her so aggressively shut him down. But she wasn't just talking to him.
She was talking to his entourage.
"I know what this is," she said to the dozens of people behind him, a wrathful finger pointed at them, "I told my Aunt that absolutely under no circumstances were any cultists supposed to know about me or Terra, and they most certainly were not welcome in my home."
Saphron knew what this was. She knew exactly what she was looking at and she was not about to let them bring their insanity into her home. Especially not when she had a baby—a baby she was not about to let them wake up from his nap—that was not going to have to deal with cultists while he was still a child! They were nothing but trouble and entangling yourself with them only led to… to… to this!
But Jaune just stared at her wide-eyed. "You… you knew about… about Auntie's cult?"
With a long, drawn-out sigh, Saphron gave Jaune a serious come on look. "Did you really think we were just teasing you about her magic powers? Or did you think it was normal to have an immortal aunt who can-"
"I knew about that stuff!" Jaune sputtered, "But… but I never knew she had cultists and-"
"Ummmmmmmm," a rabbit Faunus timidly interrupted, "Wh-what if… what if we're not in your Aunt's cult, but are in… are in Jaune's cult?"
Saphron's only response was to stare a hole into Jaune until she saw his blush slowly overtake his entire face. Of course, of course her little brother would go out into the wide world and immediately fall into a heap of trouble exactly like this. This was the consequence of treating him like a little princeling, their dress-up doll who lived in a bubble of cooing adoration and compliments on how good he looked in chiffon. She must have told Blanche a million times that they were leaving him completely unprepared for the wider world—he was Auntie's favorite, after all, that was never going to end well for him!—and of course, his well honed "I'm an adorable doofus, take care of me!" would make him catnip for cultists.
"No. Cultists," she glowered, "In fact… in my home, the only uninvited guests are family only."
"Well then," a middle-aged woman with silver eyes, Huntress by the look of her aura-honed features, smoothly cut in, "as his mother-in-law, I suppose I'm welcome?"
That statement triggered a mix of horror, revulsion, anger, and any number of other responses from the group, but Saphron was more focused on her brother's face, blushing even more furiously as Saphron just stared at him. He'd found the cult, created his own splinter cult, and apparently got married under controversial circumstances. This was what happened when a little boy grew up with seven sisters who thought he was just the cutest thing in Vale, a Kingdom where the eldest son could simply do no wrong. Particularly when a dark goddess was also of the opinion he was the cutest thing that could do no wrong.
Seriously, what were any of them expecting! Of course he came out super weird and of course he came out of Valois with absolutely zero context for-
"Wa- wa- wa-" oh nooooooooooo, "wa-WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!"
"You know," Jaune's apparent mother-in-law said, "as the mother of two children, I have considerable experience-"
"Okay, yes, go," Saphron just pointed to the bedroom as she disappeared in a whirl of white cape. Maybe she shouldn't be allowed to be alone with Saphron's child, but the confidence in her voice that she could put Adrian back to sleep was more than enough for her. Getting Adrian to sleep was a herculean effort, so she would allow some of her brother's lunatic entourage to step in if they could actually put him back to sleep.
And… as Adrien's cry almost immediately faded away, Saphron felt like the weight of the universe simply sloughed off her back. Maidens this was-
Oh no, she knew this feeling.
This was the feeling of accepting her Aunt's help.
Firming up, Saphron gave Jaune a severe look. "Alright," she grunted, "You're clearly in over your head, so if you need a place to stay, you… you can. And to any members of your… thing," she looked over the crowd, seeing what had to be the most convoluted mess of student Huntsmen, a woman who seemed to have lived in the woods, an Atlesian Specialist, judging from the uniform, and a guy who seemed to have the words "cultist" just radiating over his head thanks to the smile that seemed to be liable to escape his face if he grinned any harder, if nothing else, "I have the word of Salem herself, that's right, your goddess, that there would be no cultists in my home. Anyone who's ever pledged themselves to a cult, you're staying in a hotel."
She braced herself for objection, but it never came. Instead, a red-headed girl in bronze armor, who looked so damn familiar, just nodded and barked out some quick commands. "Velvet, Cinder, Tyrian, we are not going to make any trouble for Jaune or his family. Let's go find lodgings for ourselves."
She knew this girl from somewhere, didn't she? It was killing her that she couldn't place her name!
A blue haired young man chimed in, "Yeah, Sun, you're… maybe a cultist? So you're going with them and we're following. You're not ditching us again this soon."
"And I suppose we're also cultists," an absolutely towering young man added, glancing to a woman in fashionable sunglasses, "considering-"
"Considering I have a minigun and I've already said that CFVY is ride-or-die with the bun-bun," she nodded.
…what the hell had Jaune been-
Nope, nope, nope, asking questions was the first step to getting answers and Saphron knew that there were many things in this world that were better not to know. But as the groups parted, Saphron had to marvel that a number of people… weren't cultists. And Saphron knew what her Aunt's cultists were like—they wouldn't lie, not when she invoked the name "Salem," just to slip in. The Specialist who looked as bewildered as Saphron felt, a middle-aged man who looked like he'd been hit by a truck, a girl with sticks in her hair, and four girls who looked like students from- wait a second, was that Weiss Schnee?
Oh what the hell had Jaune gotten himself into!
For the longest time, Nora thought that most Salemists grew up like her. Mostly living in the woods, ambushing travelers and stealing what they needed to live, then packing up and moving out when the authorities started sniffing around. Then, one day, Uncle Tyrian took her and Ren to a city—Nora was a little worried about being somewhere with so many cops—and brought them to a house where the people inside called him "honored elder" and "blessed of the Goddess," and everyone looked at her and Renny in a way she didn't recognize until Uncle Tyrian explained what it was.
It wasn't just that she got to sleep in a big, feathery bed or that she just had to ask for a soda and someone would hand it to her; it was that Nora, for the very first time in her life, even including before she'd met Ren or Uncle Tyrian, could walk into a room and just… not see contempt or annoyance or, worst of all, pity on anyone's faces. Here, she was among… among friends. Family. Among fellow believers who saw her as the esteemed student of Tyrian Callows, servant of the Goddess.
Nora was thinking of that memory as she was handed a cup of hot cocoa from an overawed acolyte in a safehouse of the Argus chapter. "Agent Thunderbolt," she said with a reverent bow, using the super cool code name Tyrian had picked out for her, before slipping away to further attend to the group. It was a thing that reminded Nora that, in the eyes of this hardy community of believers, so close to the jackboots of Atlas, this much presence from the Grimmlands must be quite a sight. Cinder and Tyrian had both met the Goddess in person, she and Renny were escorts of the Goddess's Chosen, and Pyrrha was a local girl made good. Everywhere she looked, locals were taking furtive glances at their group, trying to mask their awe at some of the highest ranking members of the faith all gathered under their roof.
It made Nora remember that that trip had also been where Nora and Ren had discovered that they had a higher calling for the Salemist faith. Uncle Tyrian wasn't raising them like other Salemists, because he wasn't raising to be like other Salemists. He was training them, in subterfuge, demolition, combat, and sabotage to be elite warriors of the faith. Going from a homeless urchin wandering south in the hope of food and shelter to being one of the most respected templars of Salemism… it was simply a miracle of Salem that she'd come this far.
But she'd have time to reflect upon her adulthood later, because right now, Pyrrha was moving to the lectern to take charge of this meeting and reveal what their next move would be. A hush fell over the room as Pyrrha's eyes glanced up from her papers, a flash of emerald that made her look super badass before she started speaking.
"As the agent tasked by our Goddess to take charge of Jaune's care and safety, I am moving to take full command of this operation as we move into Atlas. Cinder? Tyrian?" She glanced to both of her nominal superiors, both of whom shook their heads to indicate that they had no objections to her authority. Which was really good for Pyrrha! She was really just in charge of taking point on Jaune's protection at Beacon (and getting him a girlfriend, which: huge success), but she'd really stepped up into the role and now she was really getting recognized as a natural leader in the faith.
Nora almost had to wipe away a tear. She and Pyrrha had never met even once before Beacon, and yet, in the few months they'd spent together, she'd really started to see Pyrrha as the sister she'd never had. Her and Renny and Jaune and Uncle Tyrian was all Nora needed, and seeing Pyrrha just… just come into her own, showing that she was so much more than an athlete… it really just warmed Nora's heart.
Particularly as she continued, "Our current tactical situation stands as such: Jaune is currently with family and escorted by Team RWBY, who, while not yet Believers, do have his best interests at heart. Team CFVY is… likewise in an uncertain position, but I believe they can be trusted for Jaune's protection. Team SSSN-"
"WOOO!" Sun cried out from the back, a spray of crumbs emerging from his mouth as he continued to help himself to pastries.
"-are largely a non-concern," Pyrrha continued. "Of those hostile to our faith, we have Qrow Branwen from Vale, but, though he's Headmaster Ozpin's lackey, he seems to be compromised by the strong family presence currently surrounding Jaune. Vernal, from the Branwen Tribe, seems to have no specific agenda in following us, but I don't take that as a reason to trust her. Ultimately, then, there are two people who are a matter of high concern. The Atlesian Specialist Marrow Amin-"
"We can make it look like an accident," Nora confidently nodded along to Pyrrha's suggestion. Nora might not have a great love of subtlety, but if it was her duty and if she had Ren's guidance, she could just, sllliiit, take care of the problem!
But Pyrrha just shook her head. "Nothing so total, no. Specialist Amin presents what I suspect may be an advantageous situation for us—he's clearly out of his depth and reflects Specialist Winter Schnee's current disorganized emotional state in response to having to cross swords with her sister. He is a concern, as a lackey of General Ironwood-" Nora could practically hear the room recoil and hiss at that name, "-but I think he can prove to be an asset for us, particularly when he sees more and more of Jaune… our Chosen's more capable than he seems, and he's demonstrated his ability to win over disparate people, even to the point they'd follow him halfway across the world just to help him."
Pyrrha's voice took on a wistful quality as she said it, a faint smile curling at the corner of her lips as she clearly remembered how much Jaune had brought together… JNPR, RWBY, CFVY, for sure, but also how Vernal seemed to be following out of an interest in Jaune-Jaune and just… just how great he was! He was the best!
"So you think Summer Rose is a matter of concern?" Fall smoothly chimed in. Now that Nora didn't hate her and her team, she had to admit… Fall was pretty cool. The whole sexy femme fatale look really worked for her, and if she was gonna start giving pointers to Pyrrha? Oooooh, Weissy had better watch out before Jaune-Jaune got his socks knocked right off!
Pyrrha paused... then nodded. "It's not what you think. Though Weiss Schnee is Jaune's chosen consort, and thus, we are honor bound to prevent the marriage Summer Rose is scheming, she is also… while she has the favor of our Goddess Salem, I do not dismiss the danger posed by a Silver-Eyed Warrior easily, and more so… she is the most unpredictable variable here."
"Summer?" Tyrian asked with a raised eyebrow, "I don't think you need to worry about her—she's just being a mom, making sure her daughters are taken care of. I used to go to her for advice when I was raising these two!"
He pointed at Ren and Nora to punctuate his remarks. Ren just tried not to blush as Nora waved to the rest of the congregation.
Pyrrha nodded. "I understand that. But she's taking actions directly against Jaune's intentions and, I believe she is… capable of more than what she presents herself as. She's been a double agent at the highest level of Ozpin's conspiracy, and yet she chose this moment to go loud… and in a way that directly contradicts our interests as well. Getting Jaune to Atlas and investigating his legal situation will likely antagonize her, and I want to be prepared."
It was all very sensible stuff, so Nora was starting to get bored. She was also starting to worry about the snack situation, considering that Sun was absolutely going to town on the spread. But she wanted to be supportive of Pyrrha's whole meeting, so she was supposed to be paying attention instead of pigging out, so… well, they hit the big notes. They were going to Atlas, they weren't going to be openly up against Ruby's mom, but they kind of were? And Jaune was gonna marry Weiss or something—Nora was pret-ty sure she'd heard that once Jaune married Weiss, Pyrrha and Velvet would be coming along, too? She was excited for Pyrrha, but she also had to glance at Velvet, looking nervous in the room. She wasn't really a believer, not yet, but once she got to see how nice and welcoming everyone here was, Nora didn't doubt for a minute she'd be happy to pledge her allegiance, and eternal devotion, to Queen Salem!
Ah, but they weren't gonna force it. Salemism was all about the convert's willing decision to forsake their former life and dedicate their soul to Salem! Sure, Uncle Tyrian had taught Nora a lot about violence that could be inflicted upon unbelievers, but it wasn't ever a "join or die" thing. The joining and dying parts were almost entirely separated!
"...and I've been asked to remind the congregation that there are still tickets available for next Sunday's pancake breakfast. And with that, we go in peace to honor and serve our Goddess Salem."
Oh, was the meeting over? Wow, that had been fast… or Nora had gotten distracted by thinking of all the good times with Uncle Tyrian, learning how to set explosive traps, how to best use a grenade launcher, all those good things… But people were starting to get into the regular post-service (even though this had technically been a meeting, not a service) clusters where people talked about stuff. Sometimes cult stuff, sometimes life stuff, but while Nora would love to either go chat up Velvet about the wonders of Salem's glory or try to see if there were any of that authentic Argosian babka left over (she didn't have hope for the chocolate, but there might still be some cinnamon!), she knew that she and Ren had to be ready to tell Pyrrha what a great job she was doing as a leader!
Ren referred to it as "conferring about their next options," but they both knew their real deal was cheerleading their Team JNPR comrade!
"I don't disagree with Pyrrha's priorities," Ren whispered as they headed to where Pyrrha was at the front, "but Mrs. Rose is going to present a- hold on, is that-"
Nora saw exactly what stopped Ren in his tracks. A woman with red hair and glasses who had just shot to Pyrrha's side, no attempt to seem cool and collected like all the other high-ranking cultists, just throwing her arms around Pyrrha as she blushed like crazy. There was only one person that this could be:
And meeting Pyrrha's mom would be the absolute highlight of Nora's life, along with all the other highlights of her life, so she grabbed Ren by the arm and just scampered over to meet her.
"HELLO!" she shouted as she shoved Ren forward (possibly startling Mom Pyrrha), "We're Ren and Nora! Tyrian Callows is our uncle and we're Pyrrha's best friends! We're really excited to meet you!"
Pyrrha just about died of embarrassment as her mother just laughed.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Nikos," Ren said, with less panache than Nora had, but a lot of good Renny energy. "Your daughter is… an exceptional servant of our great Goddess."
She simply nodded, still smiling, but giving a humble bow to them. "It is a pleasure to meet you both, worthy students of Archbishop Callows. We would be deeply honored if two such accomplished servants of Salem spent the night under our roof," she said, before breaking into a total mom grin and adding, "And it's sooooooo cute that Pyrrha has such good friends at Beacon! I'm just so happy seeing my little girl coming out of her shell now that she's off in Vale!"
"Moooooooom," Pyrrha groaned as she blushed, "You're embarrassing me!"
"No I'm not!" she laughed, to which Ren swiftly moved in to confirm with a "No, ma'am, you are most certainly not," confirming his talent as a first-class liar as Pyrrha's mom just beamed. Nora beamed too, because she was 100% down for making moms happy and 100% down for moms embarrassing Pyrrha because that's what best friends did!
And Nora was really excited to get the full besties experience with Pyrrah! "Mrs. Nikos!" she cheerfully cut in, "Renny and I would be delighted to spend the night under your roof and have a sleepover with Pyrrha!"
Mrs. Nikos seemed to almost swoon to see that Pyrrha had friends before righting herself and snapping back into hostess mode. "And you two have been out in the woods for so long," she excitedly replied, "you must be dying for a home-cooked meal. Do you like octopus?"
And as far as Nora knew: she did!
Dinner with Saphron was an… interesting affair.
For one, it turned out that not only did Jaune's sister know far more about their Aunt (and her cult) than Jaune realized, it turned out his sister-in-law did as well. He'd met Terra a few times, and he'd found her to be a very friendly and likable person, who immediately fit in with his sisters in how adeptly she took to teasing him. And, evidently, she'd taken the reveal of the family's immortal witch and Queen of the Grimm shockingly well.
For another, Jaune had to really bite his lip as he saw what Saphron was doing with the family recipes. There was… a time and a place for an Atlesian influence, and there was value in making use of the local produce and flavors, but… this was not Nanna Arc's beef bourguignon. It simply was not, and even as Weiss complimented the food and Ruby shyly asked for seconds, Jaune was giving his big sister a challenging look she was meeting with equal intensity.
"Yeah, I remember the first time I met your Aunt," Terra said, bringing Jaune's attention away from what was feeling like sacrilege. "Saph was always this light-hearted, cheerful ditz-"
"I was not a ditz!" Saphron protested, to which Terra raised a hand to shade her lips as she mouthed towards Jaune she was.
"But anyways," she continued, "Saph suddenly gets really serious out of nowhere and starts telling me her Aunt wants to meet me. And gives me all these… like, notes on how to be respectful and constantly tells me it's going to be fine, and I'm like, 'She's your Aunt? You met my Grandma, and she's the scariest woman I've ever known!' But then I actually meet her and I'm like… 'Whoa, this lady's scary.' But then we talk, she says a few nice things, and everything's good! …and that's when your sister fills me in, on the airship back, that I just spoke to an immortal witch who's been in the family for generations."
Saphron threw up her hands as everyone laughed. "How was I- How was I supposed to tell her? Jaune, how did you tell your friends about Aunt Salem?"
But Jaune just shook his head. "Never got a chance," he replied, before suddenly realizing, "I… actually, how did you all learn about my Aunt?"
And in that moment, everyone gazed at one another awkwardly, before Ruby ventured, "We, um, didn't really know the aunt business until…"
"Hey, yeah, I think this is new information," Yang said, stroking her chin, before giving Weiss a wide grin, "Oh man, Weissy, you're gonna have to meet Aunt Salem someday, and she's gonna judge you…"
"She was very nice!" Terra swiftly cut in to reassure Weiss, "I mean, she was terrifying, but you've met the cultists, so you've probably got some grounding for terrifying."
"They blend in real well, though," Blake added, "I never would have guessed that half my friend group was cultists, and I've been in clandestine organizations before… especially Ren, he seemed so normal…"
"Ehhhh…" Weiss replied, "Ren… definitely has another side to him."
"Yeah," Jaune chuckled, "I… didn't know Pyrrha was a cultist, just thought she was my partner"
"Pyrrha, huh?" Terra asked with a smirk, "That has to suck. Just happening to have the same name as the GOAT and going to Beacon at the same time she is…"
Jaune gave his sister-in-law a quizzical look. "Same name?"
Terra responded with a look of her own, until meaning caught up with her. "W-wait…" Terra stammered, turning pale, "S-so you mean… you mean, your partner, Pyrrha, the partner who happens to be a cultist and followed you to Argus… is Pyrrha Nikos?"
"Yes?" Jaune asked, feeling very awkward as Terra turned to Saphron with a look of pure wrath.
"Pyrrha. Nikos. Was. At. Our. Door," she said through gritted teeth.
Saph, bracing for the storm, sighed. "Oh, I knew she looked like someone I should have-"
"PYRRHA NIKOS WAS IN OUR HOUSE AND YOU TURNED HER AWAY?"
"Babe!" Saphron tried, in vain, to defend herself, "The cultists rule is a necessity, you have no idea how-"
"Don't you 'babe' me!" Terra cried out, "You- we went to the Mistralian regionals together! I was screaming that girl's name until I was hoarse, she is an Argosian treasure, and you're trying to tell me you forgot who she was?"
Jaune had no idea how serious this fight was, but he could definitely feel the maximum awkwardness in the room as several of his friends, plus some… other people, got front row seats to… whatever this was. Saphron was attempting to defend herself, but to no avail, and, if anything, making things worse. He tried not to make eye contact with anyone, which was, of course, when Blake decided to speak up.
"Wow," she marveled, "and if you thought that's bad, depending on how things go down in Atlas, she might be your sister-in-law."
Summer and Weiss's eyes both flashed with fury as Terra whirled on Jaune with an insistent look in her eyes that Jaune was becoming used to, but no less terrified of, as he braced for yet another woman informing him who he was going to marry.
Summer was a walking repository of hard-earned maternal knowledge, both as Yang's stepmother and Ruby's birth mother, and sharing that wisdom was the one thing that made her feel more in her element than even cutting down Grimm with the power of her Silver Eyes. So as she gave Saphron and Terra—new moms were always so adorable!—some pointers on how to best help Adrian sleep, she felt like she was really getting into her zone. Yes, maybe… Terra had some unserious notions about marriage that Jaune would be best to ignore, but young people were free to have any number of foolish notions.
Gently laying Adrian to bed as his mothers cooed from behind her, Summer felt she could very much come to like these two, and why not? They were about to become family, after all.
But with Adrian put to bed, she left them be as she went to find the room where she and Qrow would be spending the night. The house was crowded with so many visitors, but they'd only be staying a little while. And so long as the Schnee girl was kept separate from her future son-in-law, Summer didn't mind sleeping on the floor for a night. Besides, it had been a long time, not since their STRQ days, really, since she and Qrow had had to bunk together. Might be a nostalgic experience!
Stepping into the kitchen for a glass of water, though, she quickly realized that she wasn't alone, and that they were approaching her with hostile intent. But Huntress reflexes and plenty of experience with people trying to kill her had made Summer more than ready for this.
"Yes, honey, do you need something?" she asked as she felt her willful daughter's eyes cut into the back of her skull in a display of her maternal heritage.
"You seem pretty pleased with yourself," Yang coolly replied as Summer turned from the sink to meet her gaze, "Did you find some new way to ruin my life?"
"Yang…" she sighed, "I know this doesn't seem like what you want, but-"
"Doesn't seem like what I want!" Yang practically exploded, her eyes flashing a familiar red, "Mom, you completely trampled over everyone's decisions to just- just decide for me what you think is best! And worst- worst of all…" her voice dropped to a low, accusatory tone, "you did it to Ruby, too."
At that, Summer's own eyes pulsed, silver energy roused by her anger. "It's for your own-"
"Don't tell me it's for our own good," she growled, "Do you have any idea how wrong it is to do this to any of us? To me, to Ruby, hell, to Jaune?"
"Ruby's happy with it," she shot back.
Yang, though, was just as quick to strike back. "Ruby is a mess right now," she snapped, "She had a lot of things to figure out for herself—she's 16!—and you just put your foot in it and now she has to deal with getting married and-"
"It's bigger than either of you!" Summer hissed, stopping Yang in her tracks.
But only for a moment as she stared Summer in the eyes, her gaze cold and livid. "Bigger than your own daughters? Is that what you're saying? Even your real one?"
Summer didn't rise to the remark, but oh, it cut deep. No one could hurt her like Yang could, but Summer knew she had to be firm on this. That this was too important to yield on.
"We're Huntresses," Summer replied gruffly, "and maybe you haven't experienced this, in your first year at Beacon, but when you take up that role, you're expected to put things ahead of… ahead of…"
Emotion suddenly overtook her. Summer staggered, the glass of water trembling in her hand as her vision blurred with tears. Yang's anger melted in an instant as she saw her mother overcome with memories, memories of- of- of-
Yang's voice suddenly came through the haze as Summer realized… when did Yang get so close? When did Yang start hugging her?
"You're okay," Yang murmured, "It's- it's okay."
Summer exhaled, long and slow, as she realized Yang had taken the glass from her hands. Passing it back, she took a drink and tried to stabilize herself.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I just- F-from my field days, I sometimes have…"
"Flashbacks, yeah," Yang said, slowly loosening from the hug, "Dad, um, told us about them."
Dammit Tai… Summer thought to herself, but… it was very much his way to deal with problems externally, to talk things through and not let a secret fester. Even if Summer only wanted to keep her daughters safe.
"Then maybe you understand…" she quietly said to her daughter, "I'm doing this so you don't have to go through anything like-"
Yang's words stopped her in her tracks. When did her little girl get so… tall? So authoritative and so grown up? It felt like only yesterday she was treating skinned knees and fretting if she should be climbing so high on the trees…
"I know you think you're doing this to protect us, but we don't need protecting," she said, her voice forceful, but with the strain of rich, honest emotion quavering in it, "And what you're doing to protect us is just… it's making everything worse!"
Summer shook her head. Yang might have grown up by miles, but there were still things she was too young to grasp. She didn't understand, she just… didn't understand. And there was only one way to make her understand.
"I've met Salem," she replied, "I met her when I spent eight days in her dungeons, knowing in my heart that I was going to die there, that I would never see you or Ruby again. I've seen who Salem is, I know firsthand that she is evil incarnate."
Yang reeled from the revelation. Summer had a rule not to bring work home, to let Ruby and Yang live lives free from the realities of being a top-level Valean Huntress and Silver-Eyed Warrior until they were old enough that she couldn't keep those realities away from them any longer. But Yang… Yang was a willful girl, so much like Raven, and she was quick to regain her footing as she shot back, "Then why are you- why are you trying to get me to marry her nephew, why are you on her side?"
Summer sighed. "It's not that simple," was all she could say, "Sides and factions, it's all… more complicated than anyone understands. And Salem… on the eighth day in her dungeon I finally broke and begged her for mercy, pleaded that she would just let me see my little girls again, that Ruby was only a baby, and she revealed… she was somehow more than pure evil."
That night was eternally seared into her mind. The sudden crack in the Grimm Queen's facade, the moment of pure humanity that slipped into her eyes that, on her merciless, inhuman visage almost seemed like she was suddenly an entirely different person. But once that strand of empathy was there, once that connection was forged between her and the Queen of the Grimm, a bond based on the most important thing in Salem's life, things changed.
"She admitted to me that her niece—I couldn't believe that Salem had a niece back then—had just had a child… Jaune's younger sister Joan, in fact, and once we had a connection there, I got to see that she's more than evil incarnate. That she's a person, somehow, even after thousands of years waging a war on everyone alive. She couldn't kill me, not now that she saw me as a mother, as someone like her beloved niece, and so… we spoke. We spoke about a lot of things. And that's when I realized how little of the world I understood, and how the most important thing I could do, the only thing I could do… was about survival. To make sure my family was safe. To protect those who were precious to me. I used her humanity as a weapon, Yang, and all of this… no matter what Salem is, she will never allow harm to come to her family."
But Yang, though rattled, wasn't a girl who gave in easily. She eyed Summer with that same, fixed gaze as she asked, "And you think marrying us to Jaune is how to do that? That it will make us safe? Not, you know, the fact that without any of your help, Team RWBY befriended Jaune and his cultists?"
"Pyrrha and Nora and Ren, they might be your friends and they seem like truly lovely people," she said, a quick flame of anger before her voice cooled, "But make no mistake, Yang. They're killers, each and every one of them. And the only way to stay ahead in their world… you have to leverage everything you have."
"And that's what Jaune is, then?" she asked, her voice trying to seem challenging, but instead, coming off as just desperate, "Leverage?"
Summer sighed. This was painful, more painful than she expected, and she wished that Yang could win this argument. That her youthful exuberance could beat the voice of experience, but… Summer had once thought that too. And it had almost lost her everything.
"When I was your age, I thought I just had to be the best I could be, fight for what was right, and stand by my friends," she said, then looked at Yang, feeling the sorrow in her heart, its coldness spreading all the way to her fingertips as she finished, "And then I met Salem."
Thanks to Renarde for feedback on this work!