Crazy to be here at the end of Paved with Bad Intentions!
More in the Author's note at the end, but for now, let's get into it!
Chapter 62 - Finale
Cinder's days were filled with visits from all sorts over the course of the next week or so. She spent a good deal of that time debating with Glynda as to the method she should be using to get back on her feet, and ended up settling on the prosthetics.
Surprisingly enough, a good word from Ozma to Ironwood had a prosthetic arm shipping to them within the next few weeks, and given that the injury to her thigh only required a single muscles movement, she was able to obtain a rather simple prosthetic from a more local company.
Or, well, she said local, but in reality, it was the second most prominent supplier of prosthetic limbs on Remnant, a subsidiary of the same Atlesian company that was supplying her arm.
Her first day or so on her 'new leg' was a bit of an oddity. Her balance wasn't off by much, but it was noticeably different, and it was a good deal of time before she actually had her bearings. Eventually, though, she was able to run up and down the hospital corridors without falling, which – even if her doctors continuously told her was needlessly reckless and dangerous – had her feeling a bit better.
Of course, the matter of her new lack of depth perception presented itself rather colorfully when she crashed into the wall at the end of the hallway, but Cinder didn't particularly want to dwell on that embarrassing moment, and so she wouldn't.
Glynda was by her side nearly every step of the way. But as she'd said earlier, numerous other figures stopped by. The first of which was Pyrrha Nikos, who had been a friend to her during much of her time in Beacon, even if Cinder had only ever really keyed into that truth after the fact.
"It's good to see you up and moving," she said, smiling at Cinder as she flexed the mechanical muscles in her thigh. "How does it feel?"
"It feels like there's a section of my leg that I just can't… well, feel." Cinder explained, shrugging a bit. "It's honestly not that bad. It's as if it's permanently numb."
Pyrrha nodded, and, seemingly without putting much thought into her actions, reached out and poked the metal section of Cinder's leg. It was a terribly odd sensation. Her leg could feel it, but only in the sense that the real muscle beneath the metal felt the compression, and the skin around it felt slightly pulled.
"Huh. Weird." Pyrrha noted, and Cinder had to let out a breath of mirth.
"I suppose it is."
Their talk went through multiple different phases, but for once, Cinder actually had questions she wished to ask.
"How have you and Jaune been getting on?"
"We've been getting on." Pyrrha said, laughing as Cinder rolled her eyes. "In all seriousness, however, we haven't been doing much in a romantic sense. You disappearing and Beacon being destroyed kind of put a stopper on that. I think… now that we have some downtime, I might ask if he'd like to go to a movie with me."
Cinder found herself grinning. "Perhaps I could ask Glynda if she'd like to do the same. We could make a night of it?"
Pyrrha looked ecstatic about that. "Oh! That's a grand idea. I've… always wanted to do things like this. I had plenty of chances back in Beacon, but, well… training and focusing on my studies often took precedence. Jaune and I only ever went on a single date, and while our team occasionally went out into town during the weekends, it was often only to shop for supplies. Rarely did we ever go out just to enjoy ourselves."
Cinder felt an odd warmth in her chest at that, the idea that she could give something to Pyrrha. It was… nice. In a way that she wasn't entirely sure what to make of.
"Well then, I suppose we'd best hope our partners agree to this."
Pyrrha laughed. "I suppose we'd best."
That seemed to be the spot at which a conversation between them would normally break down. Pyrrha would excuse herself, and they'd meet back up later. However, there was something that Cinder found herself wanting to say to Pyrrha, something that she didn't think she'd be willing to in front of Glynda – and especially not in front of Jaune Arc, not that she meant the boy any particular offense.
"What is it?" She asked, turning back towards her from her position at the door, where she'd already made to stand and exit.
"Would you mind… sitting for a moment longer? There's something I'd like to say."
Pyrrha seemed moderately confused, but sit back down she did.
"Lately I've been… thinking."
"Mostly about Glynda, and Emerald, and my place in the world, and… well, a lot of things that are rather heavy. But there's been a not so insignificant piece of my mind that's considered you among that vaunted company as well."
Pyrrha's eyes widened somewhat.
"So, I suppose… I just want to let you know that you mean something to me. That you're a friend." Cinder stated, feeling a bit embarrassed.
Cinder's brow furrowed. "You… know?"
"Of course," Pyrrha giggled. "You told me back at Beacon, remember?"
"Well, yes, but…" Cinder felt oddly perturbed. "You didn't doubt my words when it came out that I was a traitor?"
"Why would I?" Pyrrha asked, tilting her head. "I mean, of course, initially, I thought you may've been attempting to fool me one final time. But when I heard about what Ms. Goodwitch had gone through, what it was she thought you were putting yourself through, I realized that the emotions that we'd shared had been genuine. Ever since… I suppose I've simply had faith that you meant what you said. If I was wrong, then I was wrong. But… I didn't think I was."
Pyrrha grinned up at her. "And now, I can say that I definitively was not."
And that… Cinder couldn't really find fault in that, truth be told.
So, she smiled, and said, "Thank you, Pyrrha."
"You're welcome." Pyrrha Nikos said back.
Emerald had been waiting entirely too long to finally have a real, honest to goodness back and forth with Penny, and thanks to her conversation with Ms. Goodwitch, she was forced to face that truth.
She girded herself, prepared as best she could, and found Penny later in the day outside of the hotel they'd had assigned to them for the time being. Penny herself wasn't really up to much; one of the benefits of being an android was that she couldn't truly grow bored in the same way that humans could.
She could simulate boredom, and Emerald imagined that, in time, she would begin to grow into such emotions. But to Penny, standing outside the hotel and watching for any potential threats – which to all of them was a very real fear, given that none of Salem's men had been permanently taken out for the count – was an important duty, and one she was entirely willing to give her all to.
So, she didn't get bored. Because even though it was monotonous, it was important.
Emerald couldn't quite help but admire that resolve.
"Isn't it about time you took a break?" She called out.
Penny turned towards her and smiled upon seeing her. "I do not believe so. I have no reason to."
"Well, so that you can just… do something else?"
"Ugh, never mind." Emerald rolled her eyes, even if she was still grinning. "You're a handful, you know that?"
"I have been told this before by several people."
"Color me surprised."
"I do not believe surprised is a color."
"It's not. Color me surprised is a phrase."
"I see. Allow me to search my databases… yes. I have found this phrase. Slightly archaic, more popular ten to fifteen years ago."
Emerald frowned. "Are you calling me old?"
"I am calling your sense of verbiage old, yes." Penny stated, but as she turned back to look at Emerald, it was with a teasing smile. Just another sign of how far she was coming. "It is good to see you, Em. I have missed you greatly."
She couldn't help the way her heart melted at that, despite, the fact that… "It's only been six or seven hours."
"I miss you whenever I do not see you."
Gah. Penny just… she was almost too sweet. Too pure.
A cinnamon roll, Emerald believed the term was.
"Well, I missed you too. It's why I came to see you."
"I see." Penny stated. "Perhaps I could take a break if it was to discuss matters with you?"
"That sounds nice."
"Mm. Then let us sit."
They did, taking a pair of seats on a nearby bench. It was a nice day, even if the weather in Mistral was cold. It was a much warmer climate than Vale, however, and so even if it would've been nearly freezing there at this point, it was hovering somewhere around 'not quite cold' in Mistral.
That was a rather vague sentiment, but Emerald couldn't help but feel as if she'd communicated such as well as she could.
"Penny, what's the temperature outside right now?"
"Scanning… 51 degrees Fahrenheit, 10 and a half degrees Celsius."
"Well, yeah, that too. But I meant more your ability to just… know."
"I did not know that. I scanned my environment using a combination of my–"
"I know." Emerald cut her off. "I meant more… it's just impressive. You impress me, Penny."
Penny seemed oddly stumped by that. "I am… happy. Even if I do not precisely know whether or not I can take ownership over such praise. Given that my ability to scan for temperature and other such phenomena comes from the programs installed into me during my development."
"Well, I think you're amazing. And that you should be incredibly proud of yourself."
Penny's face lit up red. Emerald wasn't entirely certain as to whether or not that was an unconscious reaction, or if she had genuinely made herself blush, but either way, she felt her stomach flittering with butterflies.
"So, what is it you wish to discuss, Em?"
"Ah, right." She felt the butterflies rapidly turn to ice. "Well… it's a bit heavy."
"Yeah." She paused a moment. "I guess… I guess I want to set things right."
"In particular, what things?"
Penny paused for quite a while, then, which was a rather rare phenomenon in and of itself.
"I understand. You wish to talk about what happened during our last meeting, before you left Beacon Academy."
"Yeah." Emerald admitted, silently cursing Penny's growth in social situations, despite the fact that this was what she'd wanted. "About me leaving you behind. And putting you under an illusion. And… that illusion's contents."
Penny nodded. Honestly, Emerald was fairly confident that, being an android, Penny likely remembered what she'd shown her better than she herself did. Even so… it had been a bit of a traumatic moment for her. The first person she'd really, truly given her heart to, and she'd left her because she'd known Cinder had needed her.
And that… well, it still didn't entirely sit right with her, even knowing that she'd likely made a good decision. Not the right one, per se, but a good one.
"You kissed me."
Ah, of course, Penny would cut straight to the chase.
"You kissed me earlier in the week." Penny again wasted no time. "When you were worried about me inside of Haven. You pressed your lips to mine."
"I… I did."
"Do you regret doing such?"
"Not at all."
"Then if you do not regret your actions, what do we have to discuss?"
"That's not…" Emerald shook her head. "Not everything is so logical, Penny. Sometimes… sometimes things are purely emotional; without a hint of logic. Sometimes even though everything worked out, something just doesn't sit right."
"Do you believe the events that transpired between us do not sit right?"
Penny looked down and away from her, and Emerald's heart hurt.
"Do you… is it because of me?"
"Wha– no!" Emerald stressed, sliding slightly on the bench so that her thigh touched Penny's. "Penny, listen to me, the only person who I'm upset with is myself! I'm mad at me for leaving you behind, for… for leading you on like I did, and–"
"Leading me on?" Penny looked heartbroken. "Do you mean to say that you do not feel as–"
"Hold on," Emerald cut her off, raised her hands, and slapped herself in the face. "Okay. That's better."
Penny seemed a bit shocked. "You… hit yourself."
"So that I'd stop tripping over my own tongue."
"…That phrase is also nearly fifteen years out of date."
Emerald rolled her eyes, but she was happy that Penny was teasing her.
"Penny… I was not leading you on by kissing you. I genuinely felt the way that I did. I genuinely care about you. I care about you quite a bit, more than I really know how to quantify. I think… I might even… well…" She looked away, ashamed of herself. "I'm sorry, I can't–"
"Please, do not force yourself." Penny shook her head, reaching out and taking both of Emerald's hands in her own. "I understand what it is you are attempting to say. My father… he often says that love is one of the hardest things to understand. Even for humans, most do not fully comprehend the chemicals at play. It was a part of the reason he was so surprised when I began to feel it for you."
Emerald's entire face blossomed with color, and she wanted to hide it both out of embarrassment and shame.
Here was Penny, having no issue at all coming forward and saying exactly how she felt, and Emerald couldn't even say it after everything they'd been through? So, what if she wasn't sure, she could, for Penny's sake, at least–
"But my father told me something else as well." Penny cut off her internal ramblings. "He told me that love is fickle, and foolhardy, and incredibly hard to predict. He told me that falling into and out of love can be the easiest and the hardest things one will do in their life, and that predicting it is akin to trying to predict the weather. That one can come close; but one can never be exact."
Emerald was just quiet as Penny kept talking. She was incredibly insightful, then. In a way that Emerald didn't quite know how to process.
"I am nearly certain, Emerald, that I know how it is you feel. But the most crucial word in that sentence is nearly. So…" Penny leaned towards her, still with her hands wrapped around Emerald's own, and placed her forehead against Emerald's, with her eyes closed. "Until you yourself have told me, I will not act. I will not assume. But at the same time… I wish to make my own feelings known. Not because I wish for you to tell me of your own… but because I want the person whom I love to know that I love them."
Emerald felt like she might combust.
Penny's eyes opened, and her pupils dilated as they gazed upon her.
"I love you." She said, and she did not waver at all as she said it. "I do not know what form that love with take, or where we will go from here. Perhaps you do not share my emotions in the same way that I feel them. But regardless of said facts, I feel as I do. I have chosen, regardless of your actions, to feel as I do. And if you apologize, certainly, some part of me will likely shift. My love will somehow change. But do not apologize for the sake of my love."
Emerald found herself sort of… stunned? It was a lot to take in; quite the speech indeed. And yet, somehow, at the end of that incredibly long-winded, but heartfelt message, she found she actually did know what to say.
"Then… allow me to apologize for mine." Emerald said, and she watched as Penny's entire visage lit up. "Penny… when I left you there, I channeled into you an illusion. It was… a weak and ineffectual thing. It wasn't really intended to fool you. If anything, I think that illusion was for me. It was a way for me to try and make you understand how I felt. It was a way for me to express my own emotions; my own… my own love. No matter what form that took. I don't even think I knew."
"But the choice to kiss you… the choice to hold you, and to comfort you, and to promise you I'd stay by your side, despite how much of a lie that was… those were my true feelings, regardless of where I went afterwards."
"So…" Emerald took her hands out of Penny's grip, and interlaced her fingers with those of her girlfriends'.
It felt right to think that. Of the girl – woman – in front of her as her girlfriend.
…She'd think on the semantics of how exactly Penny aged at a later date.
"So, I want you to know, here and now, that I meant everything I said then. Even if my ability to make good on my promises was delayed. And… for that delay… for that I am sorry."
Penny just smiled up at her. There was this look in her eyes that reminded Emerald of a family dog. One who looked upon their owner with such raw, unadulterated affection. With unconditional love. Within whose eyes could be found no fault, or blame, or wrong.
Emerald knew she was not worthy of such a look.
And yet, regardless of what she felt, regardless of the emotions within her own heart, Penny had chosen to look upon her with those eyes.
…So, she'd simply had to do her best to live up to them, regardless.
"I can't say that I know what it is I feel in my heart of hearts… whether or not the emotion there is love, or something else," Emerald admitted, and to her relief, Penny just nodded. "But what I can say is that when I find out what it is… when I learn the identity of my own emotions… I'm going to share it with you."
"And I'll be waiting for you, just as I was before." Penny stated entirely firmly, without doubt. In those eyes, again, Emerald felt unworthy.
"But, may I ask you a favor, Emerald?"
Emerald found her eyes widening somewhat, even as her lips split into a smile, and she said,
And Penny leaned forward, her pupils adjusting. They always seemed to, when she looked at Emerald. She was just so beautiful, so wondrous. Her logical cores had difficulty adjusting against the raw output of her emotional cores these days.
"The last memories I have of you are the illusion you gave to me," Penny stated, reaching up towards her head and tapping the side of her temple. "I've saved it inside of me. But… it is a rather sad thing. Even now that we are together, I find it makes me want to cry whenever I watch it."
Emerald looked devastated to learn of such, but Penny would not allow her to feel that way.
That was not why she was talking, after all.
"So… if I might ask you," Penny stated, beginning to smile. "Might we make a new memory? One which I may watch any number of times and feel only happiness; only joy?"
And to her delight, Emerald's expression entirely changed. She seemed as if she might cry herself, what with the ways her tear ducts opened ever so slightly, and her eyelids drooped.
"Penny…" She breathed out a laugh. "Of course. But… you're thinking too small."
"We're not just going to make one memory, silly," Emerald stated, leaning forward so that her lips were just an inch away from Penny's own. "We'll make so many that you'll run out of room in that head of yours."
Despite knowing it was supposed to be a romantic and touching line, some part of Penny's logical cores couldn't help but point out that, "I do not believe such would be possible. I have 32 petabytes of storage in my head–"
She was granted one of Emerald's chuckles in reward. Apparently, her logical cores had read the situation better than her emotional cores could've.
"Quiet you," Emerald said, leaning forward. "Or I'll have to silence you myself."
"And what would you do to silence me?"
"My, Penny, are you flirting?"
Penny's emotional cores flared. "I am certain I have no iota as to your meaning."
Emerald's grin only seemed to grow all the more devious. "Then allow me to enlighten you."
And as Emerald pressed her lips to Penny's, as she wrapped her arms around her, and held her against her, Penny reached inside of her head, towards the illusion of Emerald, tears in her eyes, sorrow in her heart, and erased it from existence.
She did not need to see such a thing. Not anymore.
After all, it was as Emerald had said.
Now she could make new memories forevermore.
"Alright, I'm sort of noticing a pattern here."
"Oh, this will be good."
"No, I'm serious," Mercury complained, leaning back on his elbows as he tried to convince the others around him of his plight. "We've got Pyrrha and Jaune going out with Cinder and Glynda to the movies. Emerald and Penny are eating each other's faces off. Yang and Blake are happy together. Qrow and Ruby are reunited. Ren and Nora are themselves. And yet, here I am, and I'm… what? Present?"
Nora frowned. "Define 'themselves', Merc."
"What I'm saying is," Mercury fought to take back control of the conversation. "It seems like all our hardships are coming to an end, y'know?"
"Holy crap, Merc," Jaune immediately stood and knocked on a wooden bench just ahead of him. "Trying to jinx us?"
"Hey, I don't believe in that crap."
"Yeah, well I do!"
"Good for you," Mercury rolled his eyes. "So, if everyone else gets like a 'they got married and flew off into the sunset' in the 'where are they now?' segment, what's mine?"
"'He played videogames every moment of every day for the rest of his life,'" Nora Valkyrie spoke in a 'gruff old man' voice. "'Everyone who knew him regarded him as kind of an asshole'."
The entire group laughed at that, and though Mercury rolled his eyes, he conceded that maybe it had been a little funny.
"In all seriousness, however," Lie Ren cut in, smiling over at him. "I do not think life is all about romantic or familial relationships. I think often the bonds of friendship are under-sung. There is something to be said for being able to simply enjoy one's life without hang-ups."
"You do realize we're off to go fight Salem once Cinder's metal arm gets here, right?"
"Well, mostly without hang-ups."
"Good to know that Salem qualifies as a 'mostly'." Jaune joked.
"You understand my meaning regardless," Ren rolled his eyes. "There is nothing wrong with a more understated existence. Especially when things will be heating up rather soon. As you said, we'll be making for Atlas in but a month or so to try and fight back against Salem. Certainly, things won't be as easy for us as we'd like them to be. But for now… for now we can relax, and enjoy the fruits of our labor."
"And the fruits of our labor are…?"
Ren pulled a flier out of his sleeve – why he seemed to always be able to summon objects from out of the seemingly endless wells of space within his clothing, Mercury would never know – and handed it to him. He read it over briefly, and found his eyes gradually widening more and more as the moments ticked by.
'Supreme Smash Sisters Mistral Regional Championships.'
'Open qualifiers available to all who sign up!'
"…Alright, admittedly, Nora?" Mercury looked up, and met the girl's eyes. "That whole 'he played video games for the rest of his life' thing? That might not have been entirely inaccurate."
And after another bout of laughter, the group returned to their respective rooms.
It was time to grind off the rust.
After all, they had a tournament to win.
Cinder wasn't entirely certain what it was she was meant to say when, a while later, Mercury and Emerald both filtered into her room with rather complicated looks on their faces.
It seemed fair; after all, they were due a talk. But even so, Cinder wasn't entirely aware as to how to approach said talk. The last time they'd seen one another before their reunion had been at Beacon, and that had felt…
Well, at the time, to Cinder at least, it had felt rather final.
And yet now there they were.
"So…" Emerald eventually spoke up, rubbing at the back of her neck a bit awkwardly. "How do we actually… start this?"
"Start what?" Mercury asked.
"Y'know… our like… reunion conversation?"
"I think you just did."
"…Actually yeah, I guess I did."
Cinder couldn't resist smiling at that.
"I find it almost funny how we are nearly unrecognizable as people from who we once were."
Mercury and Emerald both looked at her, then, as if wanting for her to continue, so she did.
"I simply mean… a year or so ago, when we went to Beacon… how different were our lives? Our goals and desires?"
"You were chasing Goodwitch's tail, whether you knew it or not," Mercury shrugged. "Pretty sure things are similar now."
Cinder was pleased that Emerald joined her in glaring at Mercury.
"Hey, not my fault it's the truth."
"As I was saying," Cinder said with a roll of her eyes. "We entered into Beacon as cold and callous killers. And we left it, somehow, as people who genuinely cared about not just others, but about one another as well."
Cinder kept going.
"I barely cared a drop for any of you upon arriving within Beacon, and yet, when it came time for you to leave us, Mercury, I will admit I felt a sadness due to our parting."
"You're talking with big, fanciful words all of a sudden." Mercury stated. "Remind me not to let you talk to Glynda too much. I don't think I could take it if you became like this all the time."
"I'll choose to take that as a compliment."
"What, that your actions annoy me?"
"I believe anything that annoys you to be almost by default a good thing."
"I take offense to that."
"And I can't truly blame you."
"Okay, cool it." She said as she cut into their little spat. "Now, getting back on topic, I definitely know what you mean. It's like… I don't even remember what it was like to be me before we came to Beacon. I know I was an easily aggravated person, and I could be nihilistic and just an asshole in general, but… I guess I just don't understand that person anymore. Even if I used to be her."
"I definitely still understand the old me," Mercury said, shrugging as they each looked at him. "Hey, I said I understand him, not that I agree with him at all. It's a helluva lot easier to not give a shit about anyone but yourself. To do everything for you, and you alone. It's when other people get involved in your life that things get harder. The more people, the harder things get."
"But, admittedly… I think one of the things I learned was that an easy life wasn't necessarily a better one. I think I began to long for that; a carefree, laid-back life with nothing in my way, after my horrible childhood. What with my father and the whole 'being raised as an assassin' thing. But in a way, this whole 'being heroes' thing… it's not so bad. I think I've taken a liking to it."
"Welp, we can mark down today as the day that the world officially lost its last marble," Emerald declared. "Given that Mercury of all people has now stated that he wants to be a hero."
"It is, admittedly, a bit hard to believe." Cinder chimed in, chuckling. "You're perhaps the most different out of all of us."
"Nah," Mercury shook his head. "It's you, and it's not close."
"I agree, actually," Emerald said. "You might not think so because it was a gradual thing from your own perspective, but… the you that you pretended to be at the beginning to spend more time with mo– Goodwitch…" Emerald's face was white, and though Cinder herself understood her slip-up, it was clear that Mercury had, somehow, missed it. "Er… there was a time when that 'you' was all fake. Nowadays… I think that really is just how you are. You're a genuinely caring person now."
"To those I care about, perhaps." Cinder responded with a laugh. "Those I revile would likely refer to me as many things before caring."
"Eh, that's just how you are. It's your nature." Emerald shrugged. "Can't change that."
"What, that I'm brutal towards those who are my enemies?"
"As long as you're not my enemy, I think it's a rather positive trait." Mercury said, patting her on the shoulder supportively. "You go, Cinder."
Cinder herself just groaned. "You're all incredibly odd. Incredibly annoying, as well."
"We try." Mercury fired back.
"So, what… are we?" Emerald asked, and Cinder and Mercury both raised an eyebrow at her. "N-Not like that! I meant like as a group, what are we."
"Good, because for a second there I thought you and Penny were going poly, and–"
Cinder couldn't help feeling like the slap Mercury received to the back of the head there was probably deserved.
"Yeah, I had that coming."
Seemed she wasn't alone.
"As I was saying," Emerald sighed. "Are we still… I don't know, a team?"
That… was actually a rather interesting question. She and Emerald had become truly close friends, she felt, over the course of their time in Beacon, and had solidified such when they'd spoken with one another in the Branwen's camp a few days back. They had come to a real, palpable conclusion about where they stood with one another.
But that felt like a them thing. It didn't particularly include Mercury, and while Cinder was now unafraid to admit she cared about Mercury, she did not want that particular relationship to involve Mercury.
It was theirs.
"I think we are what we decide to be." Cinder stated after a while. "I think that whatever each of us desires from the others should be communicated, and, if we all agree, then that is what we are. We are not beholden to our old arrangement out of some misplaced nostalgia. We should move forward."
"We do seem to be good at that." Mercury said, offering a knowing smirk. "And hey, in all honesty, I can't much complain. I like the sound of all that."
"It's what we've been doing anyways." Emerald shrugged her shoulders, even if she was wearing a tiny smile herself. "I guess… we might not have needed to have this conversation then, huh?"
"No." Cinder shook her head. "I think we did. I think there were things we needed to get out in the open. I think there still are some things. Such as…"
Cinder cleared her throat, turned to Mercury, and then said, "I think you were right to stay at Beacon."
Mercury's eyes widened somewhat. "Really? I mean, I know that, but I'm glad you also know that."
"I suppose I wanted to clarify that even if I missed your presence… never once did I think that you'd made a mistake in not coming with the two of us."
"And… I think I don't regret going with you," Emerald stated, cutting in. "I was talking with Penny earlier. She and I… I think we'd have done just fine if I'd stayed… but I don't think you would've. I think something could've happened, or gone wrong if I'd left you alone. I think, in the end, you needed an ally off at the end of the world… and I was glad I could be that person for you."
Cinder smiled. "…Yes. As was I."
They shared a moment, then, that Mercury for once did not seek to interrupt. If anything, the man leaned back in his chair, and let out a weary sigh.
"Still… to think we're not even close to done. Hell, we're barely getting started!" Mercury complained. "I mean, we marched halfway across the world to get here, and now we're marching halfway across the world again!"
"I think you're going to be doing a lot less marching this time, on account of Atlas being on a separate continent halfway across the ocean." Emerald smarmed. "We're going to take a train out into a port town, and then hitch a boat or something. I'm not entirely sure on the specifics. I think M– Ms. Goodwitch was talking about it with that kid Oscar and Qrow."
"Hey, that's the second time you've stumbled over something when talking about Goodwitch," Mercury cut in, leaning forward. "What's up with that?"
"Yeah, okay. Sure. Just tell me."
"Why do you care so much? Is it such a disaster if I know?"
"Uh, kinda', yeah!"
"Huh. Well now I just need to know."
"Cinder, help me."
"I'm afraid you're on your own on this one." Cinder stated, smiling somewhat at the familiar antics between the two of them. "I have no authority over Mercury anymore. Nor do I possess authority over you."
"So that means I can hide behind you and use you as a shield."
Cinder paused a moment.
"…I believe technically, that does mean that."
Emerald stood up, stepped behind Cinder's medical bed, and kneeled down.
"It's over Mercury!" Emerald chimed out dramatically. "I have the low ground!"
"…Shit, I forgot the next line. What's that, Tzar Wars, Episode–"
"You all seem to be having quite the lively conversation."
They all looked over to the doorway, which was currently occupied by one Glynda Goodwitch. Cinder's entire being came alive in a way that she hadn't even realized it wasn't as she walked into the room, smiling all the while.
"Yo, Ms. Goodwitch," Mercury called out to her. "Emerald's keeping something from me relating to you, and–"
"Mercury's crazy! He has no idea what he's talking about!"
"Oh, yeah, because that's super convincing!"
"Okay, okay, enough." Cinder cut in, rolling her eyes. She'd forgotten that their antics also used to grate on her nerves rather heavily. "Control yourselves. Mercury, pry less. Emerald… be less obvious."
"Really?" Emerald complained.
"I've little else to offer you."
Glynda looked between them all with a heaping helping of confusion.
"…I've no idea what you're all doing at the moment."
"It's probably best for your sanity that that stays true." Cinder spoke, smiling as Glynda chuckled beneath her breath.
"I'll take your word for it. What were you all discussing, if I might ask?"
"How we were when we came to Beacon, and how we are now." Emerald summarized, and Cinder couldn't find much fault with that explanation, so she nodded her head. "Marveling a bit at how far we'd all come. Dreading traveling to Atlas after walking across a continent for months. The usual stuff."
Glynda laughed again. "Well, glad to see you're discussing very light topics."
"It's relaxing, really."
"Still, it is humorous, somewhat, to think back on your first days in Beacon." Glynda said, craning her head back slightly. "A year and some change ago now. You all seemed normal, at least on the surface. But even within your facades, there were flaws. But perhaps that is what allowed you all to change. The fact that you did not present yourselves as perfect."
"We certainly tried to."
"And the reason you failed is because you are not." Glynda said.
Cinder narrowed her eyes. "Are you saying I'm not perfect, darling?"
"I'm saying that no one on Remnant is perfect, sweetie," Glynda corrected her, rolling her eyes at Cinder's attempt to change the subject. "I'm saying that, when push comes to shove, there is no one on this planet that would not crack in some way. You are all no different."
"Alright, I hate to be the guy to break up the philosophizing," Mercury cut in. "…Actually, no, I love being that guy. I'm breaking up the philosophizing."
"Oo, big word for you, Merc." Emerald clapped the boy's shoulder supportively. "Nice going, chief."
Glynda moved closer to Cinder as Emerald and Mercury got into what had to be their thousandth petty argument.
"Are they always like this?"
"Yes." Cinder admitted. "Somehow, yes, they are."
"New member of the metal limb club! Everybody cheer!"
Mercury side-eyed Yang Xiao Long with a small bit of puzzlement. "Uh… Yang, I know I'm probably not one to comment on what is and isn't socially acceptable, but I don't think you're allowed to be the person to announce a new member of the 'metal limb club' when you yourself have no metal limbs."
Yang stood still a moment, all the while being watched by her girlfriend, Blake Belladonna, whose grin was gradually growing more and more amused.
"Huh… you're right." Yang stated, seeming perplexed. "Weird. I guess I just feel a strange kinship with you guys for some reason."
"Well, that's dumb." Mercury told her. "Don't do that."
Yang flipped him off rather creatively, and then they all turned to see Cinder Fall stepping out of the hotel foyer, with her new arm attached.
Yang whistled appreciatively. In all honesty, Mercury felt rather similarly.
It was a beautiful piece of machinery. Colored a dark but glossy onyx black, the pieces and parts seemed to move together in perfect sync. Unlike Mercury's prosthetics, which were at this point getting on in age – even if he had them tuned every month or so – Cinder's was rather clearly brand new. On top of that, it just sort of meshed perfectly with Cinder's vibe, adding a sort of dangerous edge that, in Mercury's opinion, she hadn't at all needed.
It did look damned good. He wasn't at all ashamed or embarrassed to admit that. He held zero sexual inclinations towards Cinder in any manner, but he could appreciate beauty when he saw it.
"Damn, girl," Yang laughed. "You're rockin' it!"
"Thank you, I suppose." Cinder spoke a bit hesitantly. Mercury doubted she was embarrassed by the compliment, but more didn't quite know if 'rockin' it' was a good thing or not. "I must admit, it has a certain flare to it that I enjoy."
"I've been growing more and more used to my own as well," Blake cut in for the first time in that particular conversation. "Balance comes slowly, but once it does… I honestly forget the limb is different sometimes, aside from when I have to tune it."
Cinder hummed in answer as she flexed the 'muscles' in her new arm. It bent and turned and moved, showing off its full range of motion.
"I suppose it'll have to do." Cinder spoke. "I made my decisions. Time to live with them."
"So now that you're healthy," Yang began. "Does that mean we're making our way to Atlas?"
"I believe so." Cinder stated in answer. "Perhaps not today or tomorrow, but I believe Glynda will be working on securing us a route."
Everyone nodded at that. Mercury had rather enjoyed this time off. The last month or so, during which they'd done little but recover from the events that had taken place here in Mistral, had been rather needed. Mercury hadn't wanted to admit it, but even he had grown quite tired, to the point that a simple gaming tournament had ended up being just what he'd needed.
It was, however, to his eternal annoyance that he'd come in second, losing to Ren of all people – the bastard had clearly been practicing behind his back, he wouldn't believe anything else – in the finals. He and that stupid pink puff ball.
Although perhaps, just this once, they had greater priorities than a videogame tournament.
…Nah. That was an idiotic thing to even consider.
Nothing could be more important.
It was a week or so later by the time the general murmur of conversation about their heading towards Atlas became a much more concrete plan.
Cinder herself wasn't all that involved in said planning. While she'd all but entirely recovered from her time in a hospital bed, her body was still lagging behind what she felt was normal. Her blows came a tad slower. Her breaths a tad shallower. She still hadn't fully adapted to her lack of depth perception. It was enough to annoy someone who was as much of a perfectionist as she was, and so she sought about training as much as she could.
She dealt a flurry of blows onto a training dummy, striking it from all sorts of different angles, and channeling the Maiden's fire into her limbs as well. Ever since she'd allowed it to run rampant throughout her body, to burn away at her insides so that it might burn the parasite as well, it had begun to ache whenever she used it. As if her body still remembered the pain it had inflicted upon her.
Regardless of that, however, it was a tremendously powerful ability. One she could not afford to leave unused just because she was uncomfortable around it.
So, she allowed its flames to wash over her once more, and she unleashed one final hail of blows upon the dummy. It finally gave with a sickening crack, the wooden beam that had been holding it up shattering down the center, and sending the entire thing spiraling backwards into the opposite wall.
Cinder herself took a breath, then, which still came less deeply than she'd have liked.
The sound of someone clapping brought her out of the haze of combat that had descended over her mind, and she turned around to see Glynda standing at the back of the training room, smiling over at her.
"You're already back in form." She commented, and Cinder gave a disgruntled sort of hum as she wiped some sweat away from her brow. "You don't think so?"
"I think I'm but a shadow of my former self," Cinder admitted, even as she accepted that she was likely done with training for the day, what with the dummy she'd been using being strewn about on the floor before her. "It's hard not to compare my current level to where I was at just a month or two ago."
"Yes, but that's an unfair comparison and you know it." Glynda reminded her, stepping forward and motioning for Cinder to sit down beside her on the bleachers at the edge of the room. Cinder did. "Your external injuries were far from the most severe that you suffered. It's things like your reduced lung capacity that will really be slowing you down."
"I know." Cinder sighed, shaking her head back and forth. "Trust me, I've been trying to use logic to explain this to myself for a while now. But every time I do, some part of me just can't quite manage to get it. I feel weak, regardless of whether or not such is earned."
Glynda hummed, even as she scootched slightly towards her, so that they were hip to hip.
"Well, I'm sure that's hard. I know you don't like feeling weak, even if 'weak' in this case means that you've fallen from the second or third most powerful combatant on Remnant to the fourth or fifth."
Cinder let out a sigh. "When you say it, I sound ridiculous."
"That wasn't at all my intention." Glynda clarified. "I think to you that's a far more major thing than it would be for me, for instance, even if I don't consider myself nearly as strong."
"Do not underrate yourself," Cinder chastised her lightly. "You battled me to a standstill atop Ozpin's tower. You're a rather powerful huntress as well."
"You still won."
"But that was as much due to the Maiden's powers as anything." Cinder said, before shaking her head. "But we're getting off topic. I just… It's more that I wish I was able to simply be back to where I was."
"So, you're growing impatient?"
"I suppose so. I've never been very good at waiting for what I want to come to pass."
Glynda smiled a bit teasingly. "Yes, that much is rather obvious."
"Ah, yes, make fun of the cripple."
"Are you going to use your newfound prosthetics to try and win every argument?" Glynda asked as she raised an eyebrow.
"I may." Cinder responded. "Really, it depends how I'm feeling on the day."
"How overwhelmingly mature." Glynda rolled her eyes. "Now, I came to let you know that we've decided to head out tomorrow."
"Mm. We'll be taking a train there, and then hitching a ride on an airship of some kind to take us the rest of the way. In theory, we'll be in Atlas within a few weeks."
"Theory has betrayed me in the past." Cinder couldn't help voicing. "Like, for example, when I decided to attend Beacon Academy a semester early, thinking that nothing of significance would happen."
"Yes, and what a terrible mistake that turned out to be."
Cinder shook her head. "No… it was perhaps the best decision I ever made in my life."
"Oh? Feeling romantic all of a sudden?"
"Perhaps." Cinder stated, feeling a small bit of nervousness crowding her gut. "I've been thinking… I believe I'm feeling much better than I was some weeks ago."
"And I think my body can handle much more strenuous activity now."
"Oh, I see."
"So, perhaps, could the two of us…"
Glynda, out of some sick desire to tease her further, stepped forward, and leaned down so that Cinder had a rather interesting view of certain parts of her.
"What is it you're trying to say, darling?"
"…Might I come to your room this evening?"
"Hmmm…" Glynda drew out the humming sound, placing a hand on her chin rather dramatically, stretching out the intermittent moments. "Well… I suppose that might be agreeable."
And though Cinder didn't want to admit it…
Glynda totally had her wrapped around her finger.
Today was the day.
And they were packing.
Cinder had never really packed before. It was a bit of an odd thing, actually having things she wanted to take with her.
Of course, she'd packed her swords before. And a few changes of outfits. But that was different from packing, well… things.
Little curios. Bits and bobbles.
An electric toothbrush that she'd been recommended by Glynda that, the moment she'd tried, she'd knew she had to have.
Really, most of it was junk. Unimportant and unremarkable. But some of it…
Some of it wasn't.
Cinder stared down at the shirt in her hands. It was a simple thing, just a tee, but it meant the world to her. It was, after all, the same shirt emblazoned with Glynda's symbol; the same shirt that she'd taken with her, accident or no, to Evernight. And without her even realizing, it had followed her here as well.
Perhaps, just as she had back in Beacon, she'd packed it for their trip to the Branwen tribe 'just in case'.
"You still have it…"
Cinder turned towards Glynda, who was staring down at the shirt in Cinder's possession with a soft smile.
"I… yes." Cinder responded quietly, looking away with a bit of red adorning her features. "It was a gift. From you."
Glynda let out a fond breath as she stepped towards her, and brought Cinder into a tight hug.
There was something about such a gesture; so thoughtless from Glynda, so normalized, that always had Cinder's heart so warm. For the longest time in her life, Cinder had only ever been touched as punishment. She had been hit, or beaten, or knocked around in training. It had only been when she'd met Glynda that touch had become something…
Touch was something she sought; she actively desired it. Whenever Glynda touched her, it was thoughtful, and pleasurable, and so terribly, terribly soft. It had Cinder's walls falling down around her, to the point that, when Glynda pulled back slightly in order to kiss her, she practically melted into it.
"I'm happy it means as much to you as it does to me." Glynda stated as she retreated slightly.
"…I love you." Slipped out of Cinder's lips without her even meaning for it to.
Glynda just smiled. "I love you too."
It was a bit hard for Cinder to feel such emotions all the time. Where before she had grown so accustomed to loneliness, now all she truly wanted was to be by Glynda's side forevermore.
And yet, she knew that they had a world to save, despite that.
If it were up to Cinder, she would've had the two of them in some far-flung cottage, together, alone as much as possible. Without a thing to hold them back, without a thing to go and do. With nothing hanging over them.
But it wasn't up to Cinder. Not when even she knew that what she wanted wasn't right.
"…You saved me, you know." Cinder said, quietly, as she held her arms around Glynda and silently spun them in place, ever so slowly, ever so gently. "I don't know where I'd be right now if it wasn't for you."
Glynda hummed for a moment in what Cinder initially thought was agreement, but then, surprised her when she instead said, "No. I didn't save you."
Cinder's brow creased. "What do you–"
"You saved you." Glynda stated, looking down at her adoringly, and Cinder felt herself turning to mush under that look. "I could only do so much. I wanted to give you a place where you could exist as yourself; where you could be you without hang-ups or reservations. But ultimately, it was you who chose to reach out, and take that outstretched hand. It was you who decided to come back, and be with me. It was you," Glynda said, leaning forward so that their foreheads touched, "Who saved me."
She had no words.
None at all.
This woman, she was going to be the death of her, wasn't she?
And yet, it would without doubt be the most wondrous, beauteous death the world had ever known.
Cinder barely hesitated at all. She just pressed her lips against Glynda's own.
And she hoped they might communicate the emotions her mind found itself unable to.
"Alright, final checks, do we have everything?"
"Is it not a little late? We're quite literally at the station. The train leaves in like five minutes."
"Gah, don't stress me, Merc! I'm worried enough I'll forget something as is!"
"Jaune, if you forgot something at this point, it's a bit late to go back for it."
"We can just buy whatever we need in Atlas you know."
"Exactly. I'll have you all know that while my father has, admittedly, made living in Atlas a rather strenuous task, the Kingdom is not regarded as the most advanced among Remnant without cause. I'm certain whatever you need will be readily available."
"Uh, Weiss, that's great and all, but I was really more worried about having forgotten my toothbrush?"
"Oh. Well… I'm sure they have toothbrushes that are quite advanced as well."
Cinder, for her part, was largely focused on checking her own things. The suitcase she had set down beside her was packed tightly, but not overly so. It had everything she'd felt she needed – and then, when that had filled perhaps thirty or forty percent of the room, Glynda had rather helpfully included a bunch of other things she'd not thought to pack, but which she'd begun to realize would likely be incredibly helpful.
She ran through a mental checklist of the important items first, however. Midnight, check. New scroll, check. Scroll charger, check. Toiletries, check. Ration bars in case she grew hungry on the journey, check. An outdoors kit in case something was to happen aboard the train, check. Glynda's t-shirt, check.
She was fairly certain that was everything.
"Running through the list again?"
She nodded her head, gazing up at Glynda beside her, who seemed to have just finished doing much the same herself.
"I believe I have everything."
"Yes, well, trust me, we forgot something."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I've been on a few trips in my life," Glynda said with a little laugh. "It's just how things are. You're never going to remember everything. We'll probably have to stock up on a few things in Argus, and I'm sure given the size of our party that something or another will come up. We're already stopping to visit Mr. Arc's older sister, and Ms. Nikos' family."
"I'm sure that will be something."
"Hah. Yes, as am I." Glynda stated, looking over at the crowd of young adults that they'd be traveling with, who were already being rather loud and obnoxious in a public area. "Still, I believe ultimately, we'll emerge victorious."
"Over anything." Glynda stated, turning back to her and smiling. "After all, we're here together. What could possibly stand in our way?"
Cinder couldn't help chuckling. "I think the Queen of the Grimm might be a worthy match, at least."
"Perhaps." Glynda nodded. "But it's best to look on the bright side, isn't it?"
"I suppose it is."
Just then, the train let off a sort of alarm, and a man stepped out of one of the front-most cars. He straightened out his jacket, and then shouted, "All aboard!"
"I do believe that's us." Glynda stated as she turned towards her, tilting her head towards the train at the edge of the platform. "Shall we?"
"Mm." Cinder answered, smiling over at Glynda all the while.
"I suppose we shall."
And so, their entire group boarded the Argus Limited, a train that would be taking them to the titular town of Argus along the sea. From there, they would board an airship that would take them to Atlas. Once they were there, they would meet up with General Ironwood, and look to team up with him to secure the Relic of Creation, and the Winter Maiden.
And yes, Cinder was nearly certain something would be going wrong along the way. One didn't live a life as she had without learning to hope for the best, but to expect the worst. After all, they were headed towards the Kingdom where Cinder had grown up. To the Kingdom that had, for better and – largely – for worse, shaped her.
Ultimately, they were also headed towards the unknown. Towards a future that was entirely uncertain.
This time she wasn't alone. This time she was not returning with nothing. This time she was not invisible. This time… this time she had someone who turned, and saw her, and whose countenance lit up. This time she had someone who cherished her; who held her in her arms and spun her around and laughed to herself. This time she had someone who kissed the back of her neck, and whispered sweet words of encouragement into her ear. Who fit so perfectly against her form that she was like a puzzle piece that Cinder had never realized was missing.
And because of it, this time, Cinder was strong.
She was with the one she loved. The one she knew loved her, too.
They were together.
And even though they were treading along an unpaved road…
Perhaps that was enough.
End Chapter 62
End Paved with Bad Intentions
Well, that's that!
What's to say? I quite like Paved in its totality. It's a story that I fell in love with after I first came up with the idea. The story being a romance between two characters who have, in canon, quite literally never spoken to one another. I'm not even certain they've made eye contact.
But hey, that's the fun of FF, isn't it?
Some quick news regarding future stories; I plan on stepping away from RWBY for my next fic, which is a Pokemon fanfic starring Bianca from Gen V. It's going to be my most elaborate story yet, and though I feel normally asking people to read a story from an entirely different fandom would be weird, I think the venn diagram between people who've played a Pokemon game and people who read Fanfiction is probably just a circle, so...
Anyways,the first chapter of that will likely be posted sometime next week, depends on how I'm feeling. It will probably release at the same time as Cinderella does, so if you're curious about that story and want to follow it, feel free to check that fic for updates. It will be called 'Who We Used To Be'.
Now, as I do with most of my stories, I'll be responding to all comments/reviews here on this final chapter for the foreseeable future. If you don't want me to, feel free to say so, but otherwise, feel free to ask questions, leave feedback, or anything else.
I hope you guys have all enjoyed Paved with Bad Intentions, and I hope to see you all again!