Here we go.
Cover Art: Curbizzle
He was in what he thought might have been a bunker. It was a long, angular, square corridor chiselled out from rock, but the walls were too smooth to be a mineshaft. It was more akin to one of those levels in a videogame where you were running through a sewer but the level designers had saved money on the design, so there was no water, no sewage, and dark shadows everywhere to hide the low-quality textures.
There was no one around him for a change. No dreamer. Jaune had to wonder if this wasn't his dream, and whether he could dream at all now. Maybe his body was dreaming right as he slept but he never experienced them because he was off hopping around someone else's.
"Hello?" shouted Jaune. "Helloooo?"
His voice echoed back at him from the depths of the tunnels, and around intersections and corners. He moved ahead, shoes clicking on stone and eyes roving the many right-angle turns and intersections. Maybe he'd been wrong to call this a sewer when it was clearly a labyrinth. Immediately, his mind started referring to the texts he'd been given from Oobleck along with his own reading. A maze might imply feelings of stress and confusion, of the dreamer not being able to make a difficult decision in real life and that being reflected in the maze in their dreams. It could also imply helplessness, or a lack of direction in life.
Or a crippling phobia of mazes.
Not all dreams had to be subtle.
Jaune tensed at the sound of running feet down a tunnel to the left. His own imagination brought up all the different horror scenarios that could come from following "mysterious sounds" in a place like this, but it was a dream and he had his ability to change things if they got bad. Plus, it wasn't like anything could stick to him. He could be killed a hundred times over and wake up fine. With a muttered reminder that the fear was all in his head, Jaune ducked into the tunnel and followed the sound of hurried footsteps. They grew louder, and soon he heard panting as well. Human breathing, ragged and hoarse and afraid. It was probably cruel of him to feel some relief at that.
"Hello?" called Jaune. "Can you hear me?"
The breathing cut off with a startled gasp, and then the footsteps turned and came closer. Jaune watched as a man – or a teenager, but at least it wasn't a child like his last few dreams – came sprinting around the corner of an intersection ahead. It was too dark to make out much other than that he had a light shade of hair coated with shadow. He was in a pair of grey jeans and a dark blue jumper.
"Run!" shouted the man, almost tripping as he raced toward Jaune. "It's coming!"
"What is-" A black, inky shadow splashed out the tunnel the man had come from, sloshing across the floor and up the opposite wall like a wave of black ink. It moved slower than water, slow enough for the guy to have run away from it, and inky black hands kept reaching out from the mass to grip the floor and pull it along. "-oh. From that."
A horror dream where someone was being chased by a monster. Jaune wasn't sure if he should be relieved at so mundane a nightmare, or disappointed. There wasn't much chance for either as the guy reached him, grabbed his shoulder, yanked him around so he was facing the other way and shouted, "Run!"
Jaune pushed his legs to sprint next to the man, and since "fatigue" was a concept that didn't exist for anyone but the one dreaming, he was able to keep up easily. The mass was forever behind them and nipping at their heels, and that remained the same even when Jaune glanced back and expended a little aura to will a solid wall between them and the monster. It just phased through it without losing any momentum.
Fear of pursuit, fear of being caught, not being able to escape pressure. Jaune rattled off psychological theory as the two of them took a left, then a right, then another right. The thing never once fell back, nor did it gain on them. Wanting to escape from real-world responsibilities instead of facing them? Maybe? It's obvious this thing isn't losing or gaining on us so it must represent something he knows he can't run away from.
Psychologically speaking, the guy should stop and confront his problems and work through then, but Jaune wasn't sure that logic held for a dream. This reminded him of Blake's nightmare about killing her friends. It didn't work on logical grounds. There was a good chance this guy would be captured and eaten if he stopped. Confronting your problems in real life was the right choice, but confronting a monster in a nightmare that represented said problems might not be. It was a nightmare after all. It'd just adapt to hurt you further.
Well, if they couldn't run from this guy's problems then maybe they could hide from them? No. it was too close for them to slip away, and it obviously wasn't getting tired anytime soon. It was starting to look like they'd be running until morning when, all of a sudden, the wall to their left exploded into flame. It burned the tunnel but, in a stroke of luck, missed them. The fire hit the beast instead, making it scream and wail and lash out at the walls around it.
"Lucky!" shouted Jaune. "Let's go!" He raced on, then realised his new friend wasn't with him. He turned back to see him halfway between him and the monster. "Come on!" shouted Jaune. "While we've got a chance!"
"I'm trying!" cried the man.
He was pumping his legs and arms like he was running a marathon, and yet he ghosted ever-so-slowly across the floor, covering a foot every two seconds. His face strained as he tried to haul himself forward.
Jaune wanted to slap himself. Not this thing. He'd experienced this in his own dreams when he was younger, though in his case it had been a dream about the school race and being so slow like this that everyone laughed at him. It wasn't quite so laughable here with the flaming ink monster behind him slowly creeping forward.
"For the love of-" Jaune groaned and raced back. He'd carry the guy if that made it easier. His movement wasn't nearly so impacted. "Grab my hand!"
To his credit, the guy went for it. He hurled himself forward and stretched himself out like an action hero jumping across a bottomless chasm and not someone walking on the ground. His hand grasped Jaune's wrist, and Jaune was able to wrap his own fingers around his. There was relief there, naked and raw, and Jaune pulled him back far faster than he could run.
The monster lunged. It moved impossibly quick, reacting perhaps to Jaune's interference. An inky mass swelled out and clamped onto the dreamer's feet, then swept up to the backs of his shins and tried to drag him back. Jaune felt the tug, and the guy locked his other hand further up Jaune's arm, holding on for dear life. The man's body rose up off the floor and was pulled taut between them.
Okay, thought Jaune. Enough of this. Let's see how you like a more active opponent.
White glyphs aped from Weiss sprung up around the monster and spikes of purest white shot out, pinning it to the floor and burning with angry hissing and smoke. Weiss couldn't to that specifically but it was his imagination and aura that was the limit here, and he summed several more to slash into the creature and try to kill it.
Sadly, he was working against the imagination of someone else as well.
The mass gurgled and bubbled and swelled bigger and bigger, until it was creeping across the ceiling and the walls. Jaune kept attacking, but he wasn't the only one there. The boy he was helping pulled desperately at Jaune's arms, his face contorted with pain and beaded with sweat as he hauled himself closer and closer. Jaune noticed the fire from before approaching behind the monster, slowly engulfing it and filling the tunnel until the threat of immolation was almost as great as the threat of whatever it would do to them.
"YoU'rE mInE!" the monster gurgled in a deep, masculine, and cruel voice. "ThAt'Ll NeVeR cHaNgE. YoU bElOnG tO mE!"
An inky hand slammed down on the back of the boy's legs and fire crept around his legs, burning through his trousers and making the skin of his legs crackled and burn. With a cry of pain, the boy clung to Jaune and pulled as hard as he could, dragging himself forward. The fire was creeping up his thighs so Jaune pulled as well, determined to drag him out.
And then, suddenly, he was let go. Jaune stumbled back and the boy with him.
But the boy's legs remained with the monster.
"Arghhhhhhh!" screamed the boy, his hands in Jaune's, but his lower legs ending in stumps above the knee. Bloody, hideous stumps that left a horrific trail of blood between him and the monster. Jaune dropped him, shocked, and watched in horror as the boy opened his eyes and reached out a hand, slowly dragging his legless body away from the now burning monster, who shrieked and writhed behind them.
"Well," said a woman's voice behind Jaune. "This is unexpected…"
"And it ended there," said Jaune. He was sat on a sofa, reclined, as Oobleck listened and mulled over a report at the same time. "I'm not sure if it was anything deeper than a typical nightmare, though. I guess it could be a trauma, but being torn in half by a monster is good enough nightmare fuel without the psychological aspects."
"That is true." Oobleck sighed and set his paper down. "You can't hold yourself responsible for every nightmare. You did not cause it and the young man would have experienced it whether or not you were there. It's not your job to grant people a good night's rest."
"I know. I know. But I can't just stand there and do nothing, you know?"
"I do know, but you are going to have to try and learn. In real life, yes, I'd ask you to step in, but painful dreams are sometimes a way of helping us deal with our problems in the waking world, and having you rescue people from them won't help anyone grow." He waved his hand dismissively a moment after. "That's neither here nor there. I assume you saw what happened to the CCT."
"Hard not to, sir. I was outside with Yang."
"Spare me the details."
"We weren't doing anything!" cried Jaune, embarrassed.
"Good. I never want to hear different within my presence or line of sight. Anyway, the CCT has been sabotaged – and quite badly. I needn't tell you just how problematic this is with the Vytal Festival around the corner."
"Will the systems all be down?"
"No. There are backups for an eventuality like this, but they are weaker and more probe to problems – and they're not designed to handle the sheer capacity of people who will be in Vale." Doctor Oobleck took a deep breath and set his hands on the table. "I should not be telling you this but the headmaster suspects a student is involved in the sabotage. Perhaps it is accidental, but the evidence points to it not being."
"Why would one of us do this?"
"It might not be one of ours, Mr Arc. We have a lot of transfers here. Any of them could be loyal to the White Fang or have their own reasons. The point is that they struck at the dance when they knew everyone would be busy, and I expect they were able to slip back into the dance without rousing suspicions. General Ironwood had planted guards at the CCT, and they were knocked unconscious. That doesn't happen by accident."
"Okay. Wow. I mean, what happens now? Is everyone going to be interviewed?"
"That would take too long and cause too much chaos. And we don't have any evidence to leverage in finding the guilty party. They are not going to admit to this out loud." Doctor Oobleck took a breath. "But they might admit to it in their dreams."
Jaune supposed he should have seen that coming but he really hadn't.
"Wasn't it you who said I should respect the secrets of those whose dreams I invade?"
"I recognise the hypocrisy but I did mean harmless secrets. Could you stay quiet if you discovered that one of our students had murdered someone, or that they were abusing a child? There's a limit to everything – privacy included."
"I guess so…."
"You're uncomfortable with it."
"I just don't know how I'd begin or what I'd do."
"I'm not asking you to put yourself at risk," said Doctor Oobleck. "And I'm not asking you to go out and expend your aura every night trying to interrogate people. There are hundreds of students here and only one of you. What I am suggesting is that those who commit crimes often worry about being caught. A nightmare of someone discovering their crime soon after they committed it wouldn't be unreasonable."
Okay. That wasn't so bad. Instead of invading privacy to force people to experience a nightmare around the CCT and see who reacted, Oobleck just wanted him to keep an eye out for anyone who had crime-related dreams.
"What should I do if I find someone? Surely we can't arrest them based on a dream."
"Not without exposing your Semblance, and I think it's best you learn to control that first. Unless their dream is so blatant as them dancing among the rubble of the CCT, we're going to need more evidence. If you highlight someone then I can keep an eye on them and hopefully catch them in another act. You needn't worry about any risk to you. Ozpin has asked me to keep an eye on anyone I feel is suspicious, so I'll just say I found him or her to be so."
"Right. That's not so bad. All right, I'll keep my eyes open I guess."
"Thank you. Do use your discretion. You don't need to tell me anything you think isn't related. I'm sure many students have done things they rather wish they hadn't in the past. We are looking for someone actively committing crime here and now."
Not Blake, basically. He hadn't been about to rat her out anyway since he knew for a fact she'd been dancing with Sun most of the night. When the CCT did happen, he and Yang had raced to make sure everyone was okay, meeting up with all the members of Teams RWBY and JNPR inside the hall. They were all beyond suspicion, but then he'd have never suspected them in the first place.
Team RWBY and JNPR were eating together in the common room when he returned. Most everyone in Beacon was talking about the CCT, which was why he was surprised to realise they weren't. Instead, Yang was grilling them about their dates.
"Neptune was a fine gentleman once you and Jaune got through to him. You have my thanks for that," said Weiss, nodding Jaune's way. "But I have to admit the initial experience may have soured my feelings toward him a little. Do you think I'm being unreasonable?"
"First impressions matter," said Blake, quietly. "His set a bad one."
Weiss sighed drastically. "That's how I feel. And I was mostly interested in him because he was handsome, confident, and he asked me out. I suppose some of that awe has faded and then he went and abandoned me at the dance and left me feeling positively awful."
"But he rescued it at the end," said Ruby.
"Rescued her from a problem he made," drawled Yang, and they all nodded. Jaune was no more impressed than Weiss, and Pyrrha, Ren and Nora were nodding along as well. "That would be like Cardin rescuing Velvet from one of his teammates. You don't see anyone telling her to give him a chance."
"Let's not be that cruel," said Weiss, but her heart wasn't in it. "Neptune is not nearly as cruel or violent as Winchester. He's just…"
"Silly?" offered Jaune.
"Childish?" suggested Ren.
"A bit useless?" added Pyrrha.
Weiss sagged. "All of the above. Not being able to dance is fine but he knew he couldn't dance from the first day and he never once told me, and he left me standing there thinking I'd been stood up. Would he have ever come back if Yang and Jaune hadn't confronted him?"
"Hard to say," said Ren. "It's not a good look, though."
"Definitely not," agreed Nora. It was probably unfair that no one was on Neptune's side, but he was the outsider here. Weiss was their friend. "It'd be one thing if he realised it on his own and manned up, but Jauney isn't going to be there to kick his butt into gear next time."
"And the last thing I need is Arc employed as a marital aid," said Weiss, rolling her eyes his way to take any sting out of it. Jaune smiled back, even if it did hurt a little. "I guess you're all right. Besides, it's the first year. I've plenty of time to find someone a little more mature. How about you, Blake? How was Sun?"
Blake's ears twitched. She looked over her book, realised she wouldn't be escaping this, and set it down with an irritated huff. "Surprisingly, he was fun to be around. He put a lot of effort into… well… everything."
"Trying too hard?" asked Yang.
"A little, but not obnoxiously. I'd say nervous rather than simpering." Blake shook her head faintly. "I'm honestly surprised myself but it wasn't half as bad as I expected it to be. I'm still not sure we're a good match – I had fun, but I don't think I could be as happy-go-lucky as he is. Still, if he asks for a second date then I might say yes."
"At least someone had some fortune," said Weiss, sighing.
Yang cleared her throat. "Ahem?"
"No one wants to know about your sordid love life, Yang."
"I'm joking." Weiss smiled, amusement glinting in her eyes. Yang grumbled and lowered the fist she'd raised in a threatening manner. "I simply didn't think you'd want to talk about it with the man of the hour right here."
"I wouldn't if it was a disaster." Yang winked his way. "But it wasn't, so I don't mind at all."
Jaune laughed. "Wait, so if I bombed it then we wouldn't be having this conversation?"
"Hell no. I'd be complaining behind your back."
"Is it?" Yang elbowed him in the side. "Or is it just me not wanting to hurt your feelings?"
Good question. Complaining about a bad date to someone's face was unnecessarily cruel, but talking behind their back was allegedly just as bad. You couldn't expect someone to just not talk about an experience though and take the secret to their grave.
"It doesn't matter anyway. We had fun. And no, it wasn't sordid." Yang gave Weiss a solid push. "I don't know where you get that idea I'm like that from."
"Oh gee. I wonder. Could it be the way you salivated over men during initiation?"
"Hey. A girl can admire the physical form just as much as a guy can."
"Yang is all talk and no action," said Ruby breezily, ignoring the panicked look on her sister's face. "Trust me, she talks a big game all the time but she's actually really-mphhhh! Mmmblll!"
"Ignore her," said Yang, hand over her sister's mouth.
Blake and Weiss were smiling cattily, however. If they'd had tails then they would have been flicking in clear pleasure. Jaune laughed along with it, turning back to his team just in time to catch Nora's grin, Ren's amused smile, and the quick flash of Pyrrha's face from agonised to serene. That last one hit him in the throat and choked his own smile to death.
Don't look at me like that, Pyrrha. I tried to take your feelings into account.
He'd done his best to be obvious to her.
"I'm surprised no one is talking about the tower," said Jaune, desperate to change the subject.
"Probably because everyone has already talked about it," said Nora, shrugging. "There's not much more to know than it happened and no one knows who did it. I did hear that General Ironwood is super angry about it, though."
"Two of his men were badly hurt," said Ren. "I'm not surprised."
"I can't imagine who'd do this," said Pyrrha, joining in at last. "But it has to be a transfer, right? If it was someone from Beacon then they could have done it at any point in the last few months – and there wouldn't have been anyone guarding it at the start of term."
"It could also have been someone sneaking through the forest and taking advantage of the dance," said Ren. "We can't just assume it's a student. And really, we can't do anything about it. It's not our job to hunt down the one responsible."
"Hundred lien says they'll try anyway," said Nora, jerking a thumb back to Team RWBY.
Ren smiled. "No bet."
"None here either," laughed Pyrrha. Team RWBY were notorious for finding a way, even if none existed, to get stuck into problems they really shouldn't. The White Fang and Torchwick were just two examples. The general rule of thumb was that if something big was going down, there was a good chance one of them were involved.
But I guess it's me this time, thought Jaune. I'm the one who's going to be roaming around people's heads looking for any reference to the CCT. At least I'll have something to do, I guess.
A streak of silver caught Jaune's eye and had him looking aside as his teammates started joking about how Team RWBY would hunt the CCT bomber down. He noticed a guy walking by on the other end of the common room, just coming in one door and heading to go out the next. He had silver hair, which struck a familiar chord in Jaune's head. The face, too.
Was that the guy from last night? The one chased by the ink monster? He was with a green-haired girl and the short black-haired girl that Yang had joked about stalking him. The short girl was looking his way too, bright green eyes meeting Jaune's and head tilted inquisitively. He still didn't even know her name, and yet she'd been caught watching him a few times.
Did he have a stalker?
He stared too long. The guy, maybe sensing eyes on him, turned and glared back, eyebrow raised, and Jaune flinched and turned back to his friends. It didn't look like he'd been recognised, but then the guy probably had a lot more on his mind after that harrowing nightmare. It was none of Jaune's business anyway. It was just a nightmare.
"Nothing," said Mercury, turning away from the guy who'd been staring at him. "Just some weirdo giving me the eye. The blond loser off Nikos' team."
Emerald tensed. "Does he-?"
"Nah. I think he was just checking you out. Or me." Mercury grinned. "Besides, what could he suspect? I was at the dance all night with you. I've not done anything that he could be bothered about."
"I guess not." Emerald let it go. "I'm just jumpy, I suppose."
"I could give him a talking to if you like." Mercury raised his fist. "Or challenge him in class and beat him until he can't look-" Mercury almost toppled as his left leg gave way. It didn't hurt, being mechanical and all, so it was more out of instinct that he yelped out an "Ow! What the fuck!?"
Neo, or Mint, had her foot planted on the outer joint of his knee. If he'd still had legs then she might well have broken his knee by driving her foot down and snapping his leg at the joint. Her eyes were glaring up at him, and they were pink and brown once more. The message was clear.
"Okay. Okay. I won't rough him up. Geez. I didn't realise you had your eyes on him." And he couldn't understand why either, but he also didn't care to try and find out. "Chill. I was just messing around. Sheesh. What is he to you, anyway? Has Roman's little friend got herself a crush? He looks a bit dopey, but I bet he'd be down for it if you flashed-" Her foot rose again. "Okay! Okay! I'll stop. Damn, you're in a vicious mood today."
Neo just smiled.
Jaune dreamt of a familiar room. Or home. He wasn't sure which. It was the fancy place from before – not Weiss', but someone else's that was just as posh. He winced as he heard an almighty crashing sound. Following the noise, he quickly found his way to a kitchen as large as his family's living room, with its own island, two fridges, and a whole pantry off to the side. There were two children in the kitchen. One girl, with brown hair in adorable little pigtails, stood with her hands in front of her mouth, staring down at the ruins of a cookie jar smashed across the floor. The other girl, with pink hair and eyes, wore a viciously satisfied smile as she stood atop the island counter with her hands on her hips.
The shy one whipped her head his way with such speed and fear that he felt bad for her. She flinched, hands raising instinctively to shield her face like she expected a solid slap. Then she paused, nervously staring through her hands as she recognised him. At least she got to recognise someone. Jaune couldn't claim to know every student and transfer in Beacon but he felt fairly sure he'd have noticed a pair of identical twins, especially when one had bright pink hair.
The one on the ground hopped in place and jabbed her hand accusingly at the one on the counter. There was a desperation to her, eyes creased like she might burst into tears at any moment, and like she expected him to not believe her.
As if he wouldn't.
"I can see that she did this," said Jaune. The pink-haired twin froze, snarled, and raced over to a vase with some flowers in. She reared her foot back and kicked it, launching the glass at his face. Someone else might have been hit, but he simply caught it and set it down safely on another counter. "Come on, you little devil. Get off there." Jaune stepped past the frightened child and for the devilish one, who froze and tried to run. Her tiny feet took her to the edge and she leapt with all her might.
Jaune just sped himself up so he could zip over like Ruby and catch her mid-air. Her victorious smile turned to horror, then rage, and she began to thrash and kick in his hands. He'd had worse, though. He'd double-babysat Amber and Lavender when they were little, and his sisters could be literal fiends when they wanted to be.
"Mind your feet," said Jaune, shooing the other girl away from the broken cookie jar. She took tiny steps back, tilted her head down and looked up through her lashes at him with big, sorrowful eyes. Jaune laughed. "No, I'm not angry at you. It's fine. You're a good girl. It's your sister who's the naughty one, isn't it?"
Her head bobbed up and down eagerly, desperately, like she was so relieved someone got it.
He'd seen parents blame everyone for one person's misbehaviour before. Teachers did it too, punishing whole classes when someone wouldn't own up, and he'd always hated it. It was just so unfair. His mom and dad had always been very big on making sure only those responsible got in trouble, which usually meant Jade and Hazel. He'd been a fairly good kid, all things considered. That'd probably changed now he stole his dad's sword and ran to Beacon.
Jaune brushed the shards of the cookie jar away with his left foot, reached into a random cupboard and used some aura to summon a bag of make-believe chocolate-chip cookies which he brought out in his other hand. He tucked the pinkette under his arm, hefting her against his side while her feet kicked and her fists lashed against his ribs harmlessly.
"Here you go," he said, handing the bag to the brunette. She took the bag gingerly, then smiled shyly at him and mouthed thank you without words. He rubbed her hair with his free hand. "That's all right. You deserve them for being a good girl - unlike your sister." He stressed that, and the tuckered-out girl against his side went slack, glaring up at him with pink eyes through pink hair. "Be on your best behaviour and maybe your sister will let you have a cookie."
She huffed. He really needed names for them but neither had said a word yet.
The brunette tugged at his hand and led him through a door and into a playroom of sorts. She kept pointing, and babbling soundlessly, lips moving like she was talking but no words ever coming out. The place was well-stocked with toys, and also some musical instruments. Everything looked expensive, and yet she happily sat down on her knees in front of a sketchbook with some obnoxiously big crayons she had to grip with her whole fist. Jaune sat cross-legged on the other side, adjusting vicious twin until he'd sat her in his lap with her back to his chest and his arm around her waist pinning her in place like an iron bar.
This being a dream and all, he wasn't sure anything that did in real life would work, but he decided to give it a try. Lavender had always had a particular weakness that he could exploit whenever she was being naughty. Jaune reached behind himself with his hand so neither could see and summoned a small hairbrush. He brought it back and touched it to the top of the twin's mane of wild pink hair, and gently brought it down.
The girl froze on his lap, stiffening like she'd never had someone touch her hair before. Then, without warning, she melted into him, tilting her head back just so her left eye could peek through her hair. Taking a risk, he let go of her waist and peeled said hair back from her face, holding it in one hand and running the brushes soft teeth through it with the other.
Evil twin didn't try and jump away – and for once didn't look so evil, either. She was confused if anything, laying her hands awkwardly on her lap and sitting still as he brushed his fingers through her hair, sorting out the numerous knots and tangles and brushing it smooth.
There was a shuffle and a pop as the bag of cookies opened. Good twin, and seemingly very kind as well, even offered one to her less nice sister, who took it and bit into it only once Jaune nodded his head to say she could. She munched quietly as the brunette finished her drawing, sat back and picked it up with a proud smile. She turned it and held it out in both hands for him to see.
It was a child's drawing of a stick figure with blonde spiky hair that might have been him if he had the worst hair day ever. He was stood in the middle of two smaller stick figures, with his hand clutching one of theirs each. One of the girls had brown eyes and a curly smile, while the other had pink jagged hair and an upside down smile, along with eyebrows angled so angrily and so violently that they came up off her head at a forty-five degree angle.
The sun was shining and there was green grass under them. A small face poked over the top, shyly waiting for his reaction. Jaune couldn't help but smile. Whoever this was in Beacon, she was downright adorable.
"It's beautiful. You're really talented. Is that me?" Her head bobbed urgently. "And I'm out walking with you and your sister, aren't I?" Another, excited, nod. "I can tell. It's an amazing drawing. I love it. You should show it to your-"
"Where is she!?" shouted an angry man's voice. "I'm sick and tired of this! Where is she!? Trivia! Trivia, get out here right now!"
The girl – Trivia, was it? – lunged into Jaune's chest and pinned herself against her twin, squashing the pink-haired girl against Jaune and almost knocking them all over. His arms came around them both, but there wasn't much he could do. The door they'd come through banged open and a man in a suit strode in, his lips peeled back and one hand outstretched as if to grab at something.
"You damn ungrateful little brat!" he roared.
Trivia opened her mouth and screamed without sound. Jaune stood, taking a position between them, but the pink-haired girl shot out from his legs and rushed her father. He didn't even react to her. He balled over her, knocking her aide with his legs and sending her sprawling painfully. He didn't even look to make sure she was okay.
"Stop!" commanded Jaune. "What are you doing? You just hurt her!"
"I'll damn well do whatever I want to my daughter!" growled the man, reaching for Trivia. She shied back behind Jaune's legs, her small hands grasping at his trousers tightly. Jaune's, in turn, grasped at the man's wrist and halted him. "Your work is done," hissed the suited man. "I suggest you leave now before I end your contract."
He's acting like I work here. I guess it's the role she's assigned me in her dream.
"I don't think I will, sir," said Jaune. "I think I'll stay and stop you doing anything you might regret in your anger. This is your daughter." He pushed the man away, and he stumbled back. "I think you should take a break, sir. Rethink your actions."
The man snarled and twisted away to storm out the room. "You're fired the moment I find your contract. I'll have you dragged from my property and thrown onto the street!" He slammed the door shut behind him, and then started shouting someone's name. Jaune couldn't place it.
Trivia let go of him at last and rubbed at her face. Jaune knelt and touched her hair, then stood and approached her twin, who was laid out on her side with a dazed look. She tensed upon his approach and looked up at him nervously. Jaune took a knee and gently reached out to take her left hand. "Let me see it."
Her small hand was pink toward the base of her wrist, and she'd likely bruised it when she put it down to halt her fall. It wasn't much in the way of hurt, but it was often the shock that got to children from what he remembered of his sisters growing up. Sometimes just bumping their toe was enough to have them crying. She was braver than that, sniffling faintly, but then he supposed if she was as utterly ignored as she had been, that she had learned that tears wouldn't get her anywhere.
Was that what all the chaos was? A cry for attention? Her eyes were locked on his, wary, but also deeply curious. Desperately curious. As if she had to see what he would do. As if she had to know, even if she was terrified.
"You tried to defend your sister, didn't you?" asked Jaune. The girl looked up at him quizzically, and then away, as if annoyed and embarrassed by the thought. A girl her age wasn't a very good liar, though. Jaune brought her hand up to his mouth and placed his lips against the bruise. He made a little sound, then took her hand back and smiled at her. "There. I've kissed it better. Did that stop it hurting…?"
Eyes wide, she stared at him. Stunned.
"Why don't you come play with me and Trivia…? We won't ignore you." He gently tugged her up onto her feet, then held her hand and walked her back to her sister. It made his back stoop a little to walk beside someone so small, but she dropped to her knees and Jaune brought himself down between the two of them.
Gingerly, Trivia offered out a pink crayon to her sister.
The girl took it and stared at it like she wasn't sure what it was for.
Trivia tapped the paper and placed her own, green, crayon against it. Jaune took a blue one and began to draw slowly, to show her how to do it. With both him and her sister urging her on, the pink-haired girl touched her crayon nervously to the paper and began to draw. A bold pink line slowly appeared on the page, and she marvelled at it.
Soon, she was smiling widely and leant over the paper, shoulder to shoulder with her twin sister, drawing a big, bright home for them all to live in together.
Captain! We're drowning in a sea of sugar! It's – It's the fluff, Captain! It's too much! She cannae take any more! Ah, but this brings me back to writing smol Emerald for Relic. Easily one of my favourite parts.
I should just write a story where Jaune goes back in time and opens an orphanage.
"Jaune's Home for Troubled and Definitely (Probably) Not Evil Children."
"Cinder, put down those matches right now. Emerald, give Mercury his legs back! Roman, I swear if that's your hand in my pocket- No, Neo, you can't have more ice-cream. Adam, will you stop trying to indoctrinate the teddies to violence – I am not your "oppressor" and those teddy bears are not on zero-hour contracts. Roman, drop my wallet now. Good bo- wait, where's Raven? Young miss, you are not a bird! Get out of those rafters before you hurt yourself! Neo, I see you trying to push her. Get down from there!"
Jaune sagged onto his knees.
"Ugh. Why did I think this was a good idea again?"
"Mr Aaaaarc," whined Mercury. "Emerald's using her Semblance to make me think I'm on fire again."
Jaune sighed. "Emerald, stop-" He stared. "No, Mercury. You're actually on fire. Damn it, Cinder."
"Oh." Mercury picked at his nose. "Wait- ARGHHHHHH!"
Next Chapter: 4th April
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