Okay, so, this is rushed.

Why? I thought today was my new story, so I spent the day writing the new story. It's 3:20pm at the time of this note writing, and I have… oh, 100 minutes to my usual update time? Yeah, 100 minutes.

Fun


Cover Art: GWBrex

Chapter 16


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Atlas and Mistral Council tease successful talks on new alliance set to rival, or even eclipse, the alliance between Vale and Atlas

Atlas Times

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Headmaster Ozpin says Vale's competitors this year will make compelling argument for quality of Beacon Academy

Vale Daily Tribune

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Pyrrha Nikos secures friendship with Jaune Arc and Weiss Schnee

The Mistral Review

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Vacuo Council shamed as Mistral do what they could not and host miracle healer without issue

Vacuo Today

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Vytal Festival Officials deny formal request for Menagerie trainees to be allowed to compete; just one more insult against the faunus, says Sienna Khan

Kuo Kuana Express

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Jaune sat on the uncomfortable seat and did his best to meet the eyes of the presenter and the lenses of the various cameras, and not the audience of some sixty or so people sat beyond it. The stage was well lit, so brightly lit that it was almost blinding. Sat in a stool a short distance from him was a man in a black suit, with greying hair and a warm smile Jaune was sure had been carefully crafted for the camera.

Oman Freewind was Mistral's version of Lisa Lavender; the media darling and well-known TV personality who had risen from delivering news to hosting his own talk show, and even a couple of quiz shows in his time. Officially, he had retired several years ago after a storied career, but the Council of Mistral had asked him to come out of retirement for this momentous occasion, and the man had apparently agreed. Jaune expected there was a hefty financial package behind that.

The interview had been standard so far, covering the usual topics of introducing him, asking about his life, how he unlocked his Semblance and his relationship with Weiss Schnee. "We're dating," said Jaune, smiling faintly as the audience laughed. He wasn't sure if it was even a secret anymore, but maybe news was slow out of Atlas.

"So, Jaune, you've been in Mistral for a few days now. How are you finding the country?"

"It's beautiful, Oman." It was no lie. What little he'd seen of Mistral was gorgeous, but that was the little he'd been allowed to see. Curated areas where crowds had been dispersed so he could walk down streets and visit tourist sites alone. He knew it, they knew it, but they didn't care. The people of Mistral just wanted to hear him gush about their country. They didn't care for his real feelings. "I've not had as much chance to wander as I'd wish, but what little I've seen has been wonderful. Mistral is a lot more nature-oriented compared to Atlas. There are a lot more gardens, trees, and flowers."

"It's prettier than Atlas, then?"

"It's two different types of beauty," said Jaune, careful not to upset his hosts and backers. "Both are exciting in their own way, and I wouldn't say one is any better than the other. I've only been here a few days."

"A careful answer," chuckled Oman. "Very careful. Not wanting to upset anyone, are we?"

Jaune shrugged. If it was out in the open, then so be it. "I've learned that careless words can have big impacts. I'd rather not have anything I say be taken out of context again."

"Oh, I sense a little fire there. Would this be related to the headlines several weeks ago? What was it…?" He tapped his chin, but it was all for show. The display behind them transformed to show an old newspaper heading, with the dreaded quote about already working twice a day. The audience tittered and giggled. "I think it surprised us all when the golden child of Atlas found himself on the wrong side of public opinion. Would you care to comment on it?"

Actually, yes, he did care. There was no avoiding it now, however. He caught Clover frowning over by the cameras, but he couldn't storm on and end this live broadcast without causing further issues. He would, if Jaune signalled or asked for it, but then there would be even greater focus on why he did. Jaune sighed instead.

"It's a case of people not understanding how much my semblance takes out of me," explained Jaune, leaning on one of the armrests. "People see me go into a hospital and come out an hour later, and they assume it's no different than working an hour behind a counter or at a desk."

"Isn't it?" asked Oman.

"No. I drain my aura from full to nearly empty. Anyone who is a huntsman will tell you how much that takes away. Aura exhaustion can kill if it's not managed, and I put myself through it twice a day to bring people back to life. I sleep more than half of every day away because if I don't, then there's a very good chance I'll become ill or die." Jaune paused to let that sink in, but it looked like everyone thought it an exaggeration. They didn't know better. "People are looking at the time I spend in the hospital instead of the effort, or the results. I resurrect thirty-six people every day. I save over two hundred people in a week – and someone picking their nose behind a desk has the gall to tell me I'm lazy."

Oman's eyes widened and he leaned back. "Whoah. Whoah. No one is saying that here, son. No one at all." He laughed that TV-presenter laugh and quickly changed the subject. "Speaking of saving, I do believe you've visited the Mercy of Mistral Hospital this morning. Eighteen people brought back from death, many of whom died of unexpected causes the night before. Can we get a round of applause please!"

The audience clapped loudly. Jaune nodded, and forced himself to smile, but it all felt so plastic and so fake. He wasn't in this for the recognition. If anything, he wanted less of it. If anything, he wanted to sleep. His body was all aches and soreness.

"Here in Mistral," continued Oman, "We always recognise the hard work people put forward, regardless of how much or how little time is involved. If someone raises a hundred million for charity, we don't turn it away or ridicule them because they didn't spend a full year raising it. I'm surprised Atlas would if I'm being honest."

"Familiarity breeds contempt."

Oman looked intrigued, leaning in to hum and ask, "Do you think that is the reason?"

"It's what I have to assume," said Jaune.

He wasn't sure the ratings back home would like him saying it, but he'd be damned if he stayed quiet. Besides, what would they do, dock his pay? Atlas needed him too badly. He was a paid and hired healer for them, not an elected official. It didn't matter if they liked him or not. There was even a part of him that wanted them to hate him; or maybe it was a part of him that wanted to lash out and spite them.

"I can only assume they've gotten used to me being there and being always available. When the terrorist attack hit the Schnee manor, rather than accept that only I could save those people, they accused me of prioritising the rich."

"According to statements from General Ironwood, you were ordered to attend and didn't choose so yourself. Is that right?" Jaune nodded, and Oman continued. "Then I can't see how anyone can complain at all. How did it feel to you? It must have been shocking to be involved in sudden terrorist action."

"It was shocking," admitted Jaune. "I've seen a lot of dead bodies in my time. I've seen people who have died in gruesome ways, and I've seen the fallout, but this was the first time I'd ever seen intentional murder."

"Intentional murder? Is there any other kind?"

"Back home in Ansel…" Jaune trailed off, his discomfort showing. Oman leaned in, however, and the microphone picked up Jaune's whisper. "Someone who wanted me to bring someone back for them killed my mother in front of me."

Oman's jaw dropped. The audience began to chatter. He was a professional and had wanted a sensational story, but even he didn't look thrilled at this one. "I see. I see. Calm down now," he told the audience. "Let's not talk more on that. This even at the Schnee manor, then. Did it feel different to you? Did it feel unusual?"

"It felt… good."

Oman hummed. "Good?"

"I felt like I was making a bigger difference. I know I have before, in the hospitals, but that's people who so often are dying from silly mistakes, allergies or bad luck. I'm helping them, but that's all I'm doing, if you see what I'm saying. At the Schnee manor, I wasn't just helping them but preventing a terrible crime as well."

"I see. A little bit of heroism mixed in, eh?" The presenter laughed. "I think I can see it. You said it yourself, didn't you? Familiarity breeds contempt. Having to heal at the same hospitals for the same people over and over must get boring."

"It's good work," said Jaune.

"So is working as a teacher, but anything can become boring given enough repetition."

He was right, and Jaune had felt that many times, and yet to say it on live television was a step too far. He hadn't even confided it in Weiss or his family yet. "I'm committed to what I do, and I'm not planning to stop anytime soon. I get plenty of excitement with state visits and interviews like this one."

Oman laughed brightly. "I'm glad to hear it. Well, let's move away from such heavy topics for a while, shall we? It's a bit of an old custom of mine, but I've had permission to bring it back." He brought out several bottles, wrapped up to cover the labels. The audience cheered. "But back when I had my own show, we used to ask every guest to compete in the Mistral hot-sauce blind taste challenge." He smiled challengingly. "Are you willing to take part, Jaune?"

It was stupid, dumb, and pointless. Jaune's laughter was, for once, honest.

"I'm more than game, Oman. Let's do this."

/-/

"I can't believe the nerve of that man."

Jaune made a confused sound. He would have hummed, but his throat and lips were still all tingly from the hot sauce. He'd never been one for spice, let alone extreme spice, and he'd been reduced to tears and sweat, downing milk as the audience clapped and laughed. He had scored 1500 points in Oman's arbitrary scoreboard, placing him in the upper half of celebs he'd made go through it. Not as great as the number one spot, still held by General Ironwood of all people, but respectable enough that Jaune felt proud of himself.

"Why?" he asked Weiss, who was sat huffily beside him on the bus back to the hotel. She had come along for moral support and had been in a terrible mood since the show ended. "I thought it went well. I didn't do anything wrong, did I?"

"You were great." Weiss stressed the word with a genuine smile and a two-handed squeeze of his right hand. "You were perfect. It's him I'm angry at."

"Is this about the hot sauce?"

"What? No!"

"Is it about the news article and the questions about me dodging work?"

"No. No. No." Weiss shook her head primly. "Honestly, Jaune, you and I both know the people who accused you of that are idiots who are jealous of how much you earn – and they don't realise how much you earn every lien. I'm talking about what he said about you getting bored of being a hero."

"Oh." Jaune's voice was flat. "Oh. That."

"Yes, that," said Weiss, missing his tone, and the way he sighed and looked out the window. The scenery passed them by in a blur, but people had figured out his bus and were lining the streets and waving. He raised his right hand automatically, not really waving back but giving the impression of it. He'd only be called callous if he didn't. Weiss kept talking. "I find it incredibly rude of him to assume you would feel that way. You go out your way to save lives, working yourself to exhaustion, and he suggests you would be bored of it."

"Crazy," mumbled Jaune.

"I know! As if a huntress such as myself would look at a village being attacked by Grimm, click my tongue, say I'm bored and walk away." She clicked her tongue then and there, tutting along with it.

"I'm sure he didn't mean it like that."

"I'm sure he didn't, but it still upsets me when people don't recognise how brilliant you are." Weiss squeezed his hand again, and he turned to look at her. Her smile was beautiful, so filled with love and adoration that his heart skipped a beat. Her pale blue eyes were practically sparkling. "It just makes me angry," she whispered. "So angry, that they look at you and don't see what I see."

Jaune had to look away. "Maybe you see me as better than I am."

"Impossible."

"I'm not perfect, Weiss. I can't be perfect."

Don't make me be perfect…

"No one is perfect, but you're still the greatest hero Atlas has ever seen. And you will be," she said, leaning into him and closing her eyes. "You'll continue to be. I know you will. I have complete faith in you."

Jaune's face scrunched up, and he pressed it flat against the cool glass of the window, burying his frustrated expression in his own reflection. "I'll do my best not to let you down," he mumbled.

/-/

It was common for Weiss to win in their spars and knock him to the ground. Even after training with Winter for so long, he couldn't catch up to someone who was also training hard and improving. He liked that she went all-out on him and never let him win; it felt more honest and seeing Weiss happy in her victory was always a bright moment. Today was different.

Today, Weiss hit the mat hard and lay there, panting and spent.

"Match!" announced Harriet, dropping her arm. "Winner is Pyrrha Nikos."

He wasn't sure when Pyrrha had stuck around or when she and Weiss had gotten to talking, but apparently Weiss had all but drafted her into having a spar with her. She'd been talking about it for the last hour, wondering how she would hold up to a championship athlete like Pyrrha, and itching to test herself. The answer, apparently, was that she didn't hold up to someone like Pyrrha. Not at all. He knew Weiss had expected to lose, but the gobsmacked expression she wore told him she hadn't expected to lose so badly.

"Good match," said Pyrrha, hardly winded and not even looking worked up or all too excited about the fact. "You have good form, Weiss. I'm sure you will improve in time." She offered a hand, which his girlfriend took. Politeness trumped bitterness, but he could tell she was annoyed all the same.

"Thank you. I see I have a long way to go. Longer than I thought."

"Oh, don't compare yourself to me." Pyrrha laughed, and probably meant it nicely, but Jaune knew Weiss well enough to say she'd be doing just that. "My whole career has been about fighting other people my age. Being a huntress is about how you fight the Grimm, not who beats who or how."

"Do I get a turn?" asked Jaune.

"No." Harriet stepped in before Weiss or Pyrrha could say a word. The dark-skinned woman shot him a firm look and said, "It's more than my job is worth to have you losing aura during the day. If you go to the hospital later already drained, then Atlas will be held responsible."

"Harriet is right," said Weiss, but with an apologetic smile. "Being able to heal at the hospitals is more important. Maybe Pyrrha could spar with you another time."

"I'd be happy to," said Pyrrha. Even she looked relieved he wouldn't be facing her. Probably for the same reason. He couldn't imagine the backlash she'd receive if he was drained, or injured, and couldn't make the hospital later. Jaune sighed.

"Alright. Fine. I do want a fight at some point."

"Jaune, you can't beat me," huffed Weiss. "And you saw what just happened to me."

"I don't care about winning or losing."

He didn't finish and let them fill in the blanks themselves. They probably thought he just wanted the chance to test himself, the training or even the kudos of facing off against someone like her. He just wanted to not be seen as the fragile piece of glass that had to be kept on a pedestal lest it break.

"Then another time," said Pyrrha. "I'm sure we'll have a chance to interact more before the tournament itself."

He was sure they would. The Council of Mistral were determined to have them spending time together, and he was certain they were pushing a friendship between them, probably to try and entice him to move to Mistral or see the country more favourably later.

A different kind of honeytrap. It didn't feel like Pyrrha knew – in fact, she came across somewhat naïve and unawares of the manipulation in the background. It didn't matter anyway, because Weiss had decided Pyrrha and she were going to be the best of friends. Something about forming a power-duo as huntresses. He had a feeling Weiss was going to try and talk Pyrrha into attending Beacon with her, which he was sure would go down very poorly with Mistral's councillors if they found out.

You really should have taken my advice and run while you had the chance, thought Jaune, watching as Pyrrha was cornered by Weiss and picked apart for advice and even some one-on-one training sessions that Pyrrha looked too polite to reject. She'd probably been asked to be as accommodating to him and the Atlas delegation as possible and getting closer to his girlfriend would obviously count. The poor girl had no idea what she was being dragged into, nor the games that were being played. I ought to do something about that.

"Hey Weiss." Jaune waited for her to turn his way before continuing. "Not to say you don't look as ravishing as ever, but we have another public appearance in an hour, and you're sweaty from the spar."

"I-? Oh yes, you're right." With a sigh, she stepped back from Pyrrha. "Thank you for reminding me, Jaune. I swear I'm not normally so scatter-brained," she added to Pyrrha.

"It's fine." Pyrrha was all smiles. "It's fine."

"I'll keep her company until you're back," said Jaune. "Harriet will make sure we don't do anything untoward."

"I don't believe for a second you would," said Weiss.

She was right, but the complete faith still made him uncomfortable. He watched as she excused herself and hurried out, and he watched as Pyrrha stood in her place, eyeing him every now and then, but obviously much less comfortable around him as Weiss. Stupid fame. Jaune sighed and approached her.

"You don't have to give her the training if you don't want to."

"What?" Pyrrha jumped. "N-No, it's fine. It's no trouble."

"It obviously is trouble. And work. You're a famous competitor, right? I bet people would have to pay through the roof to have you help them. If you're even available for that." He watched her squirm. Yeah, he'd thought so. He drew her aside, not out of view of Harriet, but out of hearing range. The Specialist didn't seem to mind. "Look," he said, "You've been told to basically do whatever we ask and whatever we say, haven't you?"

Pyrrha flinched. Guiltily. "No."

"You don't have to lie. This happens all the time. Everywhere. I can't eat at a restaurant without someone offering to clear the place out, or without the head chef coming out to cook personally for me. It's the same here. You've been told, or it's been hinted, that a lot rests on you making a good impression on us. On me."

She looked like she was about to keep arguing, but one long look from him had her head falling. "Is it that obvious…?"

"It is when it happens all the time already." He felt bad for her. Pyrrha hadn't asked to do this or be put in this spot, but Mistral wanted to wow him, and Pyrrha was the flavour of the day. She was his age, Weiss' career choice and famous for her three-time tournament stint. It was too good an opportunity for them to miss. "Don't worry, I'm not offended. I just want to make it clear you don't have to do what they say. I'm not going to fly off the handle if you say no to Weiss, and she won't either. Weiss doesn't even realise it's happening, and it'll hurt her more in the long run if you pretend to be her friend and you're not."

"She isn't bad…"

"She isn't," he agreed, "But I happen to know she's also pushy without meaning to be, and she assumes a lot." Like how heroic and wonderful he was, and how much he loved using his Semblance to help people. "I can talk to her if you want me to."

"No. It's fine." Pyrrha shook her head. "I think… I think I'd like to try and be friends with her as well. Real friends," she added. "I don't have… Being famous has made… well…" Her smile took on an almost sarcastic quality. "I'm sure you know how it is."

"People don't think you're real enough to have friends."

"I was going to say fake friends or people who want something," said Pyrrha. "Is that the next level? Things are hard enough already. I don't think I could handle being as famous as you are. I'd lose my mind."

"I told you to run away while you have the chance."

Pyrrha winced. "I can't… I can't just stop. I like fighting, and I like the competition. Or I did."

"Not anymore?"

"It's less… it's different now. I'm not sure how." He had a suspicion, but he wouldn't force his view on her. Pyrrha smiled awkwardly and continued. "It'll die off once I lose a fight. All of this is just because people think I'm unbeatable. It'll all blow over once I stop competing and become a huntress. Or when someone beats me in a fight."

He wondered if that would really happen. He couldn't help but compare it to himself, and the idea of what might happen if he one day stopped healing. He didn't think it would be so simple as his fame evaporating into air, and he doubted it would be that easy for her either. People would want to know how she lost, why, and might even accuse her of throwing the fight or her competitor of cheating. People would want a rivalry – the former champion against the new. They'd clamour to see her and her opponent fight again, make a spectacle of it, then turn them into rivals to fight for their entertainment. Even when she grew old, they'd talk about her in hushed tones, be those good or bad, and ask whether she was the greatest, one of the greats or if she hadn't just been overhyped the whole time.

It might not happen that way, and Jaune was aware enough of his growing cynicism to know it was probably colouring his perception. Maybe she was right, and maybe she wasn't famous in the same way he was. Maybe she could fade away. If so, she was lucky.

"Here's hoping you find a worthy opponent in the future then. I won't say anything to Weiss if you don't want me to. I'm happy for you and her to try and become friends. Just don't let her walk all over you."

"I won't." Pyrrha smiled, then added, "Are you sure you should be warning me against your own girlfriend like this?"

"I'd rather Weiss make a real friend than not. Besides, my being in a relationship with her doesn't mean I'm blind to her every fault. Weiss is great." It felt like a defence, even as he said it. "But there are times even I struggle with her." He shrugged. "I'm told that's a normal part of being in a relationship."

"I wouldn't know," said Pyrrha, laughing softly. "I hope we can become friends as well. If that's not too presumptuous of me."

Jaune's eyes met hers. "Why would it be?"

"Because…" Pyrrha stalled.

"Because I'm famous? Because I'm special?" He said it flatly, and she knew she'd made a mistake, and winced appropriately. "I'm not sure I could be friends with someone who looks at me like that."

"I-I'm sorry…"

It would be easy to leave it like that, but for some reason he didn't want to. Maybe it was because if Weiss and Pyrrha became friends then it would be awkward for him and her to be like this, or maybe he felt sorry for her. Pyrrha reminded him of himself, back before he really understood what it meant to be famous. Naïve, hopeful, and ready to stumble into everything like a child who had just learned to walk.

If I leave her to her own ends, she's going to get taken advantage of, judged and dragged into a scandal. And that's if Mistral doesn't decide to just hate her on default for upsetting me. Ugh. If she were manipulative about things, he'd have left her to drown, but Pyrrha really did look genuine. In a fumbling, awkward and clumsy kind of way.

"My real friends call me Jaune, and they don't treat me like I'm some divine being." He held out his hand, and Pyrrha stared at it dumbly. "I'm just saying," he prompted. "Because it's something you'll have to get used to if we're going to become friends. You don't put me on a pedestal, and I won't put you on one. You're not some hotshot fighter, and I'm not the answer to life and death. You're just a normal girl and I'm a normal boy. How does that sound?"

Of all the reactions he expected tears at the corners of her eyes was the last. Pyrrha latched onto his hand with both of hers, not quite crying, but having to suck them back up as she gave him the largest, wateriest smile he'd ever seen.

"That sounds grand," whispered the redhead. "That… That sounds grand."


Okay, wow, I slammed this out. Slammed it out HARD. I guess the new story I was going to release today will instead be released tomorrow, and the other one on the following Tuesday, and then I will be running a poll to see which of the three you want to become weekly. Be that Raise, or one of the two new ones. If you vote Raise (when the poll is up) then Raise will move to the weekly Thursday slot. If not, then it'll stay every two weeks on a Tuesday.


Next Chapter: To be decided by poll (18th Oct OR 13th Oct if voted to become weekly)

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