So, confession: I have always wanted to write a Soulmate's story, because I am a dirty, dirty shipper at heart.
So naturally, because of that, I have also chosen the most angst-ridden pairing possible, Knightfall, because I love them and all of their horrible, horrible emotional hang-ups.
The title is long, and I actually wanted it to be longer, but FF doesn't let you make your titles that long, which is a crying shame in my opinion.
Trigger Warning for a brief allusion to suicide in this chapter, by the way.
Alright, that's all from me, without further ado, here's the story.
Cinderella and Prince Charming (Well, Kind of, Jaune's Doing his Best)
Jaune's barely old enough to remember when he first feels it.
It's a horrid, coursing pain against his throat. One that causes him to seize along the ground, writhing in a way his five-year-old self has no concept of. It's enough for his family to scream and shout as he convulses, and to drag him out of the house in a panic.
He's pretty sure he's taken to the hospital, he remembers that part well enough, even if he's still out of it at the time. Sure, he remembers how his family had been worried about him, he remembers how his sisters had crowded around, unsure of what to even do… but most of all, he remembers the sad look on the doctor's face when the man tells his worried parents what's wrong with their son.
"There's nothing wrong with him. Nothing, at all. No wounds along his body, no illnesses we can recognize, and even with a rather thorough look, he's the picture of health. If I were to hazard a guess… It's… his soulmate, I'm afraid. It's likely… that the pain he's feeling is the pain they're going through."
Jaune figures out, then, that the world isn't really fair. When his parents hug him and soothe him as the pain ebbs away, when his older sisters coddle him the next few days as they explain what it's like to feel pain that isn't your own…
He understands the world isn't fair because his soulmate has none of it.
Whoever they are, they suffer physically, sure. Jaune's feet hurt all the time. His arms are tired, his legs sore. And what he's gradually begun to realize are shocks – the horrid, electrical feelings that course through his throat – radiate through him for what feels like hours after, even if his body isn't even really experiencing them.
But the worst is what they're going through mentally. The emotional backlash is never quite as extreme as the physical, according to his parents, otherwise soulmates who have different tolerance levels might end up hurting themselves, or worse, if they're overwhelmed with an emotion they don't know how to deal with. But…
Gods, it's like there's a tiny part of him that just wants to die.
Jaune can't help it. He gets angry. Because he wants nothing more than to protect this person. This person who is clearly suffering so horribly from something, somewhere…
And he can't do a thing about it.
And so… so he's determined to do everything he can to counteract it, even if it's the tiniest things.
He tries to be happy. He tries to stay safe. To never get in trouble. He works as well as he can in school, even if he's not so smart. He does as well in his gym class as he can, even if he's not so strong. He never backs down from a challenge, even if he's not so brave…
Maybe he's going to go to Atlas and join the army… o-or be a huntsman like his father, even if the man doesn't want him to be! He…
Jaune wants to protect people, he finds. No… that's not quite it…
He wants to protect them.
Because no one else will.
Cinder wants it to end.
It's hard to admit that. She's only ten years old. She doesn't think she's supposed to be having thoughts like that. But she just wants it to be over.
She wants to stop having to fold the towels and the sheets. She wants to stop sweeping the floors. She wants to stop cleaning the toilets. She wants to stop being shocked for the smallest things. She wants to stop feeling the pain building behind her eyes as the days drone on endlessly. She wants her stepsisters to leave her alone. She wants to stop being bullied. She wants the patrons to not ask every little thing of her. She wants to…
She wants to grip her stepmother by the throat and strangle the life out of her.
…But that won't happen. Because without her, Cinder is nothing. So, if she did die… Cinder's fairly sure she would die too.
Even if Cinder's not sure she'd terribly mind.
And so, she goes on, until the monotony dulls the pain. Until it dulls everything, until the days themselves blend into one tortuous globule.
And then one day… one day there's a knife left behind in one of the rooms she's cleaning. She knows she's not allowed it. She's never allowed anything. And yet, regardless, she reaches out to it and takes a hold of it. It's heavy, impossibly so for such a small object, but she orients it in her grip so that it faces her, and poises it over her heart.
Will it hurt long? She thinks to herself. Or will it be quick and painless. Will she wish when she does it that she hadn't as she chokes on her own blood? Will she drown in it, desperately clinging to the last remnants of life…?
Her hands shake… everything shakes…
And then she feels it.
The tiniest, most infantile light.
It's… it's nothing. It shouldn't mean anything. It's… it's the littlest warmth. Like a sweet word whispered against the back of her neck. Like a reminder that she's not alone…
She's heard some of the patrons speak of them. Soulmates. A thing that the rich and the wealthy have, she first thinks. It would be fitting, given The Glass Unicorn seems to cater to very few else, but no. She hears one of her 'sisters' talking about such a thing, and the girl says that everyone has one.
Cinder's never believed them. She's nothing, after all. They've made that quite clear.
But… it's faint… dimmer than anything she's ever felt… but it's there. A tiny light. This miniscule, little thing…
The knife clatters to the floor a moment later, and she has to do everything in her power, anything she can to not let the tears building up behind her eyes run down upon her face.
It's hard. Nothing has ever been harder.
But she's never had anything before. Never a single solitary thing to call her own. And it's too much for her.
She wraps her arms around herself and sobs, trying to pretend like it's whoever it is. She knows her stepsisters, or her stepmother will hear her soon, and they'll tell her to get back to work, or worse… but… she just wants this moment. That's all.
It's not much… Just… a soft amber glow in her heart that tells her not to give up, not to give in. That no matter how bad things are, no matter how bad they get… it's got her. It won't give up on her.
And maybe she's more naïve than she thinks she is, but Cinder believes it.
The years go by, and Jaune's adjusted to it. Every once in a while the shocks will wake him up in the middle of the night, or they'll act up in class. Some of the other kids will laugh at him for that, and he has to excuse himself to go to the nurse's office and lie down as the residual effects pulse and throb. Even after all this time, they still take a hell of a lot out of him.
Luckily, the teachers are pretty accommodating. None of them have ever seen a case like his, though. Sure, they know the phantom pain of one's soulmate, but… but it's clear none of them have ever felt, or seen, such suffering. There are some days where Jaune hates that it's him who's stuck with whoever it is on the other side, and other days where he wants to punch himself in the face for even thinking that.
And then, one day one of the other kids calls him weak, or some other brand of mockery that has his eight or so year old brain practically fuming. Jaune charges right at him, but his cronies catch him, and knock him down to the ground, and begin to beat on him.
He can't have that, Jaune realizes. If he can feel their pain, then they can feel his. He can't put pressure on them. Not on them. Not with everything else they have wrong.
And so, he fights to get to his feet, and somehow, through the hail of ineffectual blows of children, he gets away. The other kids laugh and call him names, weakling, coward, loser, but he doesn't care, he can't care, if he gets hurt, then–
"Bet yer' soulmates a loser, too!"
Jaune's a bit of a dunce, he's not afraid to admit that. He's also not the strongest eight-year-old to walk Remnant, and he's certainly not the only one to have ever had that insult directed at them.
But Jaune's pretty sure he takes it the harshest.
His bully has his eyes closed, as does the rest of their little gang, all laughing up a storm together. So, they miss the sounds of Jaune's little feet charging forward, and they don't see him as he leaps at the main offender. Even bigger and stronger than Jaune is, he's not ready for a running tackle.
Jaune has him on the ground, and he's pounding and pounding, screaming for him to take it back, for him to take back what he's said. He's out of it until his teacher hauls him up, and then it's all of them being dragged to the principal's office.
When he's asked to explain himself, Jaune does.
"He said my soulmate was a loser."
The principal doesn't really understand. Jaune had known he wouldn't. Jaune doesn't think anyone will ever really understand like he does.
If he doesn't protect them… if he doesn't look out for them, then no one else is going to.
They're strong, Jaune knows that. They're way stronger than him to be able to put up with what they do.
That doesn't matter. He's going to protect them anyways.
His parents get called in, and Jaune's dad is the only one who can show up, because mom is busy working trying to feed eight mouths, and his dad just happened to be in the Village off a mission. The man seems beleaguered to have had to be called in at all, and Jaune feels terrible about that, barely stifling a cry, before the principal explains what happened.
Jaune's not quite sure the talk the two are having, can't really follow the words, but from what he sees, the Principal's eyes are wide, like he's being told some terrible secret, and then he looks down at Jaune and his eyes are filled with sadness.
Or… well, it's not just sadness, but Jaune's not quite sure what the word is for it, so he doesn't think anything of it.
He gets sent home, told that he's not allowed to come back to school for a day or two for getting into a fight. Jaune expects to be in trouble for that, so when his father sits him down at the kitchen table on his own, he's prepared to be yelled at.
And then, his father asks Jaune to look at him, and he does.
And he sees something in his father's eyes for the first time directed at him.
"Never, ever tell your mother I said this, son," Nicholas Arc smiles ruefully.
"But I'm proud of you for fighting for them."
And Jaune… Jaune's just happy that someone else understands.
He hopes his soulmate can too, wherever they are. That they can read the thoughts through the soul link. That he can communicate to them that he's there for them, even if only in spirit.
He never gets a response.
But he hopes they understand.
Cinder's got a routine, now. She's been 'working' at the Glass Unicorn for about two or three years now (she's long since stopped counting back, the only thing she counts is forwards, towards her seventeenth birthday), and it is thus.
When she wakes up at six – usually having gone to bed at around two in the morning, when the last customers stop arriving for overnight stays – she immediately begins to sweep the floors. The floors, as Madame tells her, gather dust and dirt and grime from the shoes of those who step into the space throughout the day, and therefore must be swept daily to keep such messes from building.
If the floors are not swept, Madame explains further, then they cannot be mopped. So, Cinder sweeps, and it usually takes her only twenty or so minutes to do the main lobby. She'll be working on the rooms themselves later when the customers vacate them.
She then mops. It takes longer than the sweeping, because she has to be careful to control the amount of water she spreads around. Once, she'd accidentally formed a small puddle, and when Madame had found it, she'd pressed upon the button for nearly ten seconds, until Cinder had been nothing but a retching pile on the floor.
She finishes mopping around eight o'clock. Breakfast starts thirty minutes later, and Cinder makes her way to that area of the hotel, making sure that the kitchen is properly cleaned before the initial rush can come downstairs. Today it appears that everything is cleaner than normal, so she only ends up sweeping up a few cigarette butts off the floor into her dustpan, humming a tune as she does.
She finds the tunes keep her going, even when her feet hurt, and her back aches, and she just wants to stop, and–
The tune ends, and she has to choose another, so she does, and she keeps going.
Madame and the daughters wake around nine thirty, and Cinder dotes upon them. She helps them to get dressed, and brings them each food, and tries to ignore their putdowns, and Madame's feeling kind today, so when Cinder accidentally misses buttoning one of the buttons on her blouse one too many times, she merely slaps her instead of shocking her.
She appreciates it when Madame is kind to her. It's all she really has.
…That's not true, though, She has the light, too.
The light had been pretty dim, when she'd been younger, when she'd first discovered it. It had gotten brighter in her soul since then, more of a reassuring presence then a simple whispered reminder.
It's as she's gripping onto her ratty shirt, her hand over her heart, thinking of the tiny light, that Madame catches her, gripping onto her wrist and forcing her to look up into her eyes.
"What are you dithering on about?"
She doesn't want to say anything, just shakes her head, but Madame just clicks her tongue, before she reaches into her back pocket, and Cinder barely manages to stutter out, "M-My soulmate!" Before she can press the button.
She lets out a gasping breath as the woman releases the remote, letting in fall back into her pocket without having been utilized.
"Soulmate?" Madame sounds almost offended at the mere concept, and her daughters laugh and squeal their delight at the very idea. "How ridiculous. You?"
Cinder opens her mouth to respond, but there aren't any words. She… she has nothing to say, so she says nothing.
She's nothing. She remembers.
"Remember this, Cinder. No one will ever love you. No one but us." Madame reminds her, placing a hand on her shoulder and pushing down just enough that Cinder's knee briefly buckles, before stepping by her. "Don't get things twisted."
Cinder just stands there, her bottom lip quivering as her stepsisters pass her by, each bumping into her as she's left alone in their bedroom, staring at the opulence of the golden bedframe, the soft mattress, the lights, the way the room is heated against the cold Atlas air.
She thinks of her own room, a storage closet with a blanket and a pillow that Cinder had been told to throw out when she'd first found them in the hotel rooms above. They'd been in good enough shape that she'd decided it was worth the risk to smuggle them back in and keep them. They'd been covered in sweat and grime and vomit, and perhaps worse, but when that had dried, they'd at least kept Cinder warm.
It's remembering that contrast, the way her own room is cold, receiving only the ambient heat of the hotel, the way the occasional roach or rat or spider crawls its way along her, that Cinder remembers.
Cinder forgets herself sometimes. She's nothing.
She'll never be anything. No one will ever love her.
She's nothing without them. Without them, she'd be out on the street, starving or dying. It's… it's better this way. That's what Madame tells her. That's why Madame doesn't stop her daughters terrorizing her. That's why Madame doesn't tell the customers to not yell or scream at her. That's why Madame shocks her for every little thing.
Because Cinder's lucky. Cinder's lucky that she has their love.
Her soulmate doesn't love her. That's what Madame says.
At the very thought, Cinder loses track of the light.
She can't… she feels for it, and she can't…
Her breaths come out labored, and she claws at her shirt, trying to pry into her own skin as she desperately rips away at the fabric.
She can't… it can't…
Cinder's hyperventilating, it can't, she won't, they can't–
It's with a rasping breath, like having been held underwater and barely breaking the surface in time, that she finds the light again. It's… it's so small, now. Like the moment she un-cupped her hands from around it, the winds and the snow of the Atlas air had assaulted the light, dimming it, stripping it of fire.
She grasps it frantically, clinging to it as she pushes it against her breast, and holds it there.
A single breath is taxing, even as she feels a drop run down her face, and then another.
"Cinder! Get out here!"
A small shock flows through her collar, and she says small, but it's enough to have her gasping for air when it finishes, and her legs, deadened and aching, push themselves up, and she manages to sprint out quickly enough that Madame can only sneer at her before telling her to continue working. If she sees the tear tracks on Cinder's face, then she doesn't care.
Cinder's still young. Maybe that's why she can't hold back the tears as she moves into the bathrooms and begins to sweep the floors inside. She appreciates cleaning the bathrooms, because in here, there's no one. Not when she's cleaning, when she can bar the doors, and be alone in her own little space.
Cinder loves being alone.
Cinder hates being alone.
No one will ever love her.
And now she's pushed away that tiny little light, made it as nothing.
It's her fault.
It's always her fault.
Her heart is heavy, but the morning has only barely started. It's only just ten.
So, Cinder hardens her heart, she's had to get so very good at that, and then she gets to work.
Sweep the floors, mop the floors, clean the toilets, wash the sinks, shine the faucets, it's eleven, enter the first vacated room, clean the beds, remove the sheets, remove the pillow cases, stack them high, take the trash out, pour it in the bin, move onto the next. Clean the beds, remove the sheets, remove the pillow cases, stack them high…
Cinder's eyes glaze over.
The clock will soon strike twelve.
Jaune's maybe nine or ten the night his soul feels like it's being rent in two.
The shocks come first. Horrible and unyielding. And even when it feels like it's supposed to stop… it doesn't.
It doesn't stop. It keeps going, even as the resistance Jaune's built up to it breaks down, and he screams out a guttural, inhuman noise, as his family comes and shakes him, and tries to help him. They can't do anything… but he's not worried about himself. He couldn't care less about that.
Because whoever they are is hurting so badly… they're being hurt so badly…
And then, just as sudden as it's started, the pain stops.
And a visceral feeling of raw, pure satisfaction filters through him.
Nothing he's ever felt through their link comes close. It is… orgasmic, like his entire life's purpose has been achieved in the span of a few seconds…
And then it dies. So swiftly Jaune's unsure it had ever been there at all.
He gets flashes of something he's not sure how to decipher.
…And then something slams into him.
He feels like his ribs are broken, and he can barely scrape out a "help me" to his parents, to his siblings, who are all around him, before another emotion slams into him like a sledgehammer.
Sorrow like he's punched in the gut, only so much worse, like the world is crashing down around him. He'd been crying before, messy tears that spilled down his face from the pain, but he begins to cry for an entirely different reason now. He's never felt this before… no, that's not true.
His grandfather… when his grandfather had passed away, this had been the feeling that had been inside him then, only muted. He'd not known the man well, but he'd still been family. It'd still hurt everyone when he'd died.
It's like that, now, only so, so much worse.
…And then a feeling like opening a door that's been locked forever. Like finding something one had never known they ever could…
And Jaune realizes with some trepidation that whoever they are, wherever they are, whatever they've had to do, they've won.
End Chapter 1
Welp, there's the first chapter of... I'm not saying the title again. It's too long and unwieldy.
Maybe that should've meant that I changed it. And yet here I am, with that as the title. I am far too set in my ways to change.
Anyways, lemme know what you thought of the story in a review or a comment or whatever. I'd really appreciate it. Reviews are my lifeblood, and even if I'm going to upload the whole story with 0 reviews, I'll be very sad about doing so.
I really thought I was above begging, but here I am, practically begging.
In all seriousness, I'm going to be uploading this and my other story, Paved with Bad Intentions, simultaneously. This will come out... probably weekly? I've got another story I'm working on too, so we'll see if I end up adding that into the mix as well. If I do, I suppose all bets are off.
If you like Knightfall, by the way, consider reading 'The Distance Which Fools the Skimming Eye' over on AO3 (and maybe it's here on FF too?). It's probably my favorite RWBY story? It's not yet complete, but it's so damned good.
Alright, see you all whenever!