Well this is a thing I've been working on for months now. Off and on mostly, in the background or in my spare time. Unlike usual, I have no plans to update this regularly. Chapters will come out when they come out, probably once a month-ish.

Not much else to say, to be honest, so let's get into it!


After Happily Ever After


Chapter 1 - Ren and Nora


The vast countryside of Mistral had always been one of Jaune's favorite places to be in Remnant.

It hadn't really changed much since he and his family had visited when he was just a child, and even less since he and RNJR had traveled through it. Greenery stretched out as far as the eye could see, wildlife poking their heads out of the relative safety of the forests. It was picturesque, in a word, and even though he'd been here only a few months back, he still found himself enraptured by the view.

Sights like these came with drawbacks, as all good things seemed to. As roads this far out of civilization were hardly patrolled, Grimm roamed almost unimpeded. That was par for the course, really, and they weren't exactly a problem, either. Especially when any Grimm he cleared here meant less threat on the settlement he was making his way towards.

It took him another fifteen minutes, complete with felling an ursa, a beowolf, and a flock of juvenile nevermore, but he made it to one of the outer walls. He was fairly sure it was the eastern wall, but honestly, Jaune had never been very good with directions – Even if Ruby had somehow always been worse, so he'd been saddled with them a good majority of the time.

He remembered how he and Ruby had tried to share map privileges on their trip to Haven, and how quickly that had gotten them lost. They'd been going the wrong way for well over two days before Ren had picked up on some of the familiar scenery and steered them the right way. It hadn't been all that humorous at the time, but now…

Well, it was a good memory, and it kept his spirits high enough that he didn't encounter any more shadowy beasts as he stepped close to the gates of the settlement before him, drawing the eyes of the guards atop it, one of whom hopped off the wall to come meet him. Jaune was fairly sure he'd known the man's name once upon a time – he'd been the same person to greet him the last time he'd been by, Marcus, or Mark, maybe? – but it evaded him at that moment.

"Well, look who finally got here!" The man shouted out to him, and Jaune allowed some of the rigidity of his posture to fall away, replaced by the easy lull of society. "Those two said you were comin' by sometime this week. Should I call ahead, or…?"

"No, that's fine." He answered the man – Jaune was pretty sure it was Marcus, now – as he signaled for the gates to be opened. "They're expecting me, but I'd like to surprise them as much as possible."

"Aye, I getcha'." Marcus answered, patting him on the back as he pushed him into the gates. "Well, let us know if ya' need anything!"

"Will do!"

The settlement, or, really, Jaune supposed that at this point it likely constituted a small township, was abuzz with activity. The east side – and he remembered now that he was on the east side after all – housed a good majority of the merchants, fit with a blacksmith, mason, mill, and tailor. They and their ilk took up the large majority of space, but that which remained was absorbed by smaller vendors peddling their wares, sat upon tarps or within small tents that they'd put items and knickknacks in front of. It was a first come first serve environment and judging by the way the square was flocked by people, it seemed a rather competitive one, too.

Jaune allowed his eyes to wander to and fro, taking in that which was up for offer. None of it immediately stood out to him, and that was perhaps in part to the fact that he had a veritably infinite budget these days, or, at least, infinite to someone like him. He decided to grab some rope and a small roll of thread – it never hurt to be prepared – and paid for both accordingly as he stepped into the central section of the town.

In the middle of the large square that stood before him bloomed a large Sakura tree, and the occasional flower petal danced in the wind as it fluttered to the ground, creating a pile of what could be mistaken for pink snow along the stone ground. The houses a way's away, in the more residential sections of the town, were clearly of Mistralian make. The rooves were slanted and accented, and the banisters were carved into intricate designs that would've drawn the eye were Jaune not more used to them.

As he walked along, past the families out and about, he noted that the roads were polished and clearly well maintained. It spoke well of the township's defense force to be able to consistently have the time, and the men, to afford to worry about what to many villages outside the walls seemed pointless work.

After all, what use were well-maintained roads if the village itself was being accosted by bandits, Grimm, or even the threat of starvation?

Such things, however, had become less common as of the last few years. Even so, Jaune knew that the town's leaders took all threats to it seriously, and that no matter what, they wouldn't allow a repeat of the past.

This time, Kuroyuri would stay standing, no matter what came to its gates.

Speaking of…

Jaune moved towards the largest building in the town. It wasn't ostentatious, and it certainly wasn't a mansion – everyone knew neither of its inhabitants, or any of them, he supposed, wanted that – but it was sizable. It was the perfect sort of location to allow a family to grow into.

He stepped towards the front door, and, smiling indulgently to himself, knocked three times.

He waited perhaps ten or so seconds, trying not to let the muffled shouts of "He's here!" From inside make him laugh, and royally failing. The door swung open wildly, a little too wildly, from the way the hinges seemed to groan out their distaste, but all other thoughts were quickly purged from Jaune's body as a surface-to-air-human was launched at him at roughly Mach 5.

"Jauney!"

He laughed at the old nickname. "Hey, Nora."

"Oh, look at you! It's so good to see you!" She said as she swung him around. After a few seconds, she broke the hug – likely saving his ribs any permanent damage – and stepped back. "Well, whaddya standin' around for!?" His old teammate threw back her arms, beckoning him forwards. "Come in, come in!"

He did as commanded, entering into the house and taking in the space. It hadn't much changed since he'd been by a few months prior. A few of the decorations they'd had up for the winter festival before had been taken down, but other than that, the large, high-roofed corridors, and bright colored walls – courtesy of Nora Valkyrie's interesting interior design ideas – lined the space.

Despite all of that, it was homely, and Jaune supposed he shouldn't have expected anything else from the two of them.

"Renny!" Nora leant down one of the corridors, shouting dramatically. "Renny! Jaune's here!"

He heard a small scuffle, and then the quiet pattering of feet as another figure entered into the space. A beaming smile split Jaune's face as he stepped up and wrapped his arms around the man who he'd long since considered his brother.

"It's good to see you." Ren spoke into his shoulder, squeezing as he embraced him just as powerfully. "If you'd told us when you were arriving, we'd have sent an airship."

"I know." He laughed. "But I wouldn't have wanted to inconvenience you, or make the village pay for my air travel. Besides, I like to travel on foot."

"We know. However, that doesn't mean you should have to walk half a continent to see your friends. We can spare the expenses."

"Yeah, Mister!" Nora pointed a finger at his face accusatorily. "You were, what, just wandering the entirety of Mistral!?"

"In my defense–"

"Nope! No defense!" Nora smirked. "Now c'mon! Coat off, and let's talk!"

He rolled his eyes at Nora's bossiness, even as Ren gave a quiet chuckle, and headed further into to the living area. Once more, despite technically having been their leader, Jaune did as commanded. He shirked off the long black overcoat he'd slung around himself, hanging it up on a hook in the entryway. Beneath he wore a rather simple ensemble; some of the pieces of his old armor – albeit modified to allow him to move more freely – overtop a dark long-sleeved shirt. He had on a pair of white pants, not quite jean-like, but more breathable than the stuffy sort of thing he'd be expected to wear to a more formal event. Strapped to his hip was his sheathed blade, catching a few of the sun's rays and glinting a golden ochre. All in all, his outfit was both sensible and, Jaune liked to think anyway, fashionable.

Or, well, that was what Weiss had told him when she'd helped to refit him some years back, anyhow. It certainly always looked better whenever he was among civilization, and not when he'd just finished hiking across half the length of Mistral. Now it was matted with dirt and sweat and blood, which didn't exactly mesh perfectly with his mostly white color thematic.

Even so, he more than approved of his new outfit. It certainly beat the jeans and hoodie he'd once worn, even if he still had a soft spot for the things, all these years later.

Hell, he was pretty sure Weiss had stolen it at some point, so it was probably bunched up in one of her closets somewhere. Maybe he'd look for it if he were ever in Atlas – Mantle? – again.

"I like what you've done with your hair, by the way!" Nora said as he stepped into the living room. "Very pretty."

Jaune chuckled a bit self-consciously as he ran a hand through the mane in question. He'd tamed the beast a little, while still keeping his bangs hanging in his face. The long hair he'd allowed to grow out was tied low, granting him control of it without putting too much effort into maintaining it, which was important when he regularly went a few weeks in between chances to do anything at all with it.

Still…

"You say that every time, Nora." He smirked.

"Bzzzt! Categorically untrue!" Nora refuted. "I did not say that about the Atlas cut."

Ah. Yes. The banana bangs as Yang had less-than-affectionately labeled them.

That had been a thing.

"In my defense, we were quite literally at war." Jaune felt like that was a pretty good defense. "And you liked the haircut at the time!"

"The only thing you were at war with was the hairdresser's union!" Nora argued, completely ignoring his second point.

"And half the Kingdom of Atlas, along with a little thing called Salem, but yeah, sure, let's go with that."

"Bah, paltry foes!"

He laughed, even as Ren rolled his eyes fondly. A second or so later, Jaune heard an excited yell coming from a room off of their own, and a smile crept onto his face as he looked to the hallway.

"It sounds as if there's someone else who's happy to see you as well." Ren grinned.

"Uncle Jaune!"

He let out a warm chuckle as a young child of four-ish years (he'd sort of lost track of time out in the wilderness) came rushing up to him, and practically tackled him, or, well, he made an effort to, but on account of him being about three feet tall and roughly thirty-five pounds, it came off a lot huggier.

Apparently, he'd been learning the art of hugging from Nora, and wasn't that a scary prospect.

"Hey, big guy," Jaune lifted the young boy under his arms, holding him against him. "How've ya' been?"

"Good!" Magni shot him a toothy grin. "Mom's been teaching me how to hit stuff!"

"Well, that sounds fun." He commented, shaking his head as Nora beamed proudly. "And what're you learning to hit stuff with?"

"Ooh, ooh!" The child crowed excitedly. "Mom got me a wooden mallet so I could practice with it!"

"Magni, how about you go get your hammer, and Uncle Jaune can watch you?" Ren asked.

"Oh! Yeah!" The young boy squirmed in Jaune's arms, forcing his way out and to the floor. Within a second, Magni had disappeared, zipping out of the room like a bolt of lightning across the sky.

"Oh man," Jaune bemoaned. "There are two Nora's now."

Both of his former teammates laughed at that, even if the girl in question lightly punched his arm – or, well, it was probably light to Nora, it definitely still hurt.

"Hey, mister, you should consider that a positive!" Said the woman herself. "Now, Jaune, how've you been? Meet any pretty ladies," Nora elbowed him, a saucy look in her eyes as she egged him on. "Or any dashing boys?"

"No to both, Nora." He rolled his eyes at Ren's smirk. "I don't know, honestly. I'm still just sort of… existing, I guess."

"Still traveling?"

"Yeah. That little stipend from the SDC certainly supports my aimless wandering pretty well."

"Ah, yes, the," Nora made air quotes. ""Little" stipend of roughly Five hundred thousand lien a month."

Hey, being among Weiss Schnee's best friends had benefits.

"It certainly pays for my supplies. Honestly, I just put most of it away in a savings account." Jaune admitted, feeling a little silly for admitting that. "I guess I could choose to live my life in luxury, but… I don't know. Just doesn't really appeal."

Nora nodded, even as Ren picked up the conversational slack.

"We use it to hire and maintain our militia, which allows us to focus the city's budget on expanding and making sure the walls are always up to code, along with keeping the merchants quarter happy."

"And we use it to trade with Mistral!" Nora bounced in excitedly. "If we can get trade up to a level where it benefits Mistral to maintain the route, then they might even pitch in to create a road, or even better, a rail line! Our plan is to be what Vale dreamed Mountain Glenn could achieve and be like an extension of the capital!"

"It's not exactly easy." Ren admitted with a soft expression towards his wife, before turning back to him. "It's no short trek to Mistral. Our trip when Qrow was injured after the fight with the Nucklavee took nearly half an hour by airship."

Which meant that on rails, it was roughly a four- or five-hour journey. Laying down the infrastructure for such a process was no easy feat, and neither would be keeping the tracks free from Grimm, fallen debris, or from being raided by elements like the old White Fang.

He didn't at all doubt Ren and Nora, though. If they put their minds to it, they'd accomplish it.

"So, you guys get all that set up, and you make Kuroyuri a major settlement." He listed off, and the two nodded. "Is that all, or–"

"We're going to be the Sixth Kingdom!" Nora announced.

Jaune's eyes widened, even as Ren coughed awkwardly. "We're going to be expanding our borders to allow more to live here with us. Hopefully, with a large enough budget, we can have a full Hunter patrol, which would keep the Village safe even if the two of us were away."

"Aw…" Nora pouted. "But Sixth Kingdom sounds so much cooler…"

"Maybe in a few years, Nora." Ren smiled her way.

Jaune noticed some small commotion off near the entryway to the home and turned towards it in time to see a tiny figure scamper back into the room. Magni ran up to his mother and pulled on Nora's sleeve incessantly.

"Mommy, one of the guards said to come get you, she said there's a sit- a situation."

Jaune's eyes narrowed, as did Ren's. Nora, on the other hand, took it upon herself to keep her son calm.

"Okay, sweetie, here," She stood from her spot, picking up her child and depositing him in the cushions she'd just been sitting upon. "Why don't you sit here, and we'll go see what's up?"

"Aww, but I was gonna' show Uncle Jaune my hammer…" The child whined disappointedly, waving the wooden mallet in his hand from side to side.

"When we get back, you can. And maybe I'll have dad make pancakes for dinner, how does that sound?"

"Yeah!" Magni shouted out excitedly, even as Ren let out a low chuckle, realizing Nora had just signed him up for dinner duty without really asking him.

"Great. We'll be right back, okay honey? Tell Mr. Mark if anything's wrong, got it?"

Oh, apparently it was Mark. Jaune thought absently as Magni bobbed his head up and down.

In the next moment, Nora's expression shifted to one of complete focus, and she gestured with her head towards the entrance to the home. Sort of on instinct, and without really realizing it, Jaune took the lead, and the other two followed behind him.

It was funny how easily the three of them fell back into old habits, even after nearly five years of peace. He supposed they'd joined up for an operation or two since then, but even accounting for those, it'd still been at least two or three years since they'd last fought together. And yet despite all of that, here they were, taking up one of their old formations as they exited out of the Valkyrie-Ren household, and took in the sight before them.

Five soldiers, evidently members of the settlement's militia, stood before them, and just as Jaune realized they were looking not at him, but the figures behind him, one stepped up, and spoke.

"Sir, Ma'am, there's a larger than average force of Grimm outside the gates, about a quarter of a mile out. Unfortunately, our scout was injured on his way back trying to ferry this information, and–"

"The scout's fear brought the Grimm here?" Jaune guessed, earning a nod from the guard who'd been speaking.

"Exactly." The same guard turned back towards Ren. "Suffice it to say, we've got a small problem. It's not something we couldn't probably handle, but you made it clear that if we had any doubts at all…"

"Then to come to us." Ren said, even as he stepped past Jaune, and towards the militia. "I'm glad you did. Myself and my wife will handle the situation, alongside our old leader here. Tell the militia to play support to us in the event of any complications arising."

The soldier nodded curtly, before turning to the others present and beginning to bark out orders, pointing to various sections of the outer wall as Ren took the lead, gesturing for Jaune and Nora to follow behind him. They did as commanded, travelling the small distance to the gate, and seeing the problem hovering on the horizon.

The guards atop the gate were doing a good job of culling the weaker Grimm, firing with rifles and other ranged weaponry at some of the Nevermore that could ignore the gates entirely, or the more agile small Grimm, which could climb up the wall itself. Still, the larger Grimm there, a few Ursa, including a major, and even a minor Goliath, would not be brought down by such weaponry, or, at the very least, not quickly.

Which meant the job of destroying those Grimm fell to them.

"Ah, Sir! Ma'am!" The guardsman immediately turned to Ren and Nora, and though a few regarded Jaune himself more curiously, they apparently knew to keep their mouths shut in a combat situation. "Your orders?"

"Open the gates." Ren commanded, earning a flabbergasted reaction from some of the younger looking guards, even as the older and more experienced leaders just smiled, apparently knowing just what was about to happen. "We'll handle this ourselves."

"Aye-aye, sir!"

The gate, a different one from which Jaune himself had entered into earlier, began to part with an aching creak, and immediately, he watched as the Grimm, previously lost in how exactly to reach the people they could innately sense beyond the infallible metal turned towards the point of weakness. They charged right at the hole, intent on getting in and crushing, killing, and destroying everything in their path.

The three of them, however, would not allow it.

"It's been a while." Jaune allowed himself to smile confidently, cracking his neck to one side. "You guys kept up in your training?"

"Psh," Nora seemed almost offended. "Just watch, fearless leader!"

And then they were gone.

Jaune heard some of the younger guardsman above gasp as the first few Grimm were annihilated in less than a second, and he supposed he understood their awe. To the average soldier, or even the average huntsman, the three of them were almost superhuman. But it was simply the level Jaune, and the rest of his allies, had been at when they'd been fighting against what felt like the very world, the level they'd had to be at to not meet an untimely end at Salem's hand.

Ren flowed through the horde like a river, scything Grimm down like they were made of paper mâché. It was almost humorous that Ren was perhaps the least suited of them to an environment like this, to fighting Grimm in the tens of hundreds. His was a style suited best to anti-infantry, to taking on threats like Tyrian, Mercury, and Cinder alongside Nora. And yet, even so, he had cut down ten Grimm before the horde even noticed, likely owing to the man's mastery of his semblance, which, to the Grimm, made him a nearly invisible threat.

Nora, to her credit, was not to be outdone. She struck like a thunderclap. Magnhild crushed three Grimm in a single stroke, and then, as lightning flowed across the handle, and into her arms, it moved with a blur too fast for Jaune to keep track of.

The Grimm it hit, the minor goliath that had been the primary threat of the small horde, which would've been a pain to down for any of the rest of them, was reduced to a bloody mist in a single swing.

Jaune himself… well, normally, he was the weakest of them. He wasn't particularly suited to fighting against people, and not just because of the ideals he carried. But in the middle of a horde, with Grimm on all sides?

That was where Jaune Arc thrived.

It was where his blade hummed with glee, where his instincts took hold, and he could allow himself to actually feel powerful, allow himself to feel like he had a purpose.

To not feel aimless.

His right hand reached across to his left arm, to the hilt of Aurea Mors. The blade had once been known as Crocea before Cinder had shattered it, but he'd learned much in Ever After, had learned to confront what he'd done, and who he truly wanted to be. After they'd returned to the real world, with Ruby's help, he'd forged himself his own weapon.

He could still remember Ruby's words to him, then, and the memory made him smile from ear to ear.

"Well, you have to name it, you know!"

"Uh… I don't really–"

"Ah-ah-ah! No buts! Name it!"

He'd never been that original. Nor had he ever been the smartest, or the most poetic.

He'd simply upgraded the color.

From the Yellow Death to the Golden Death.

"Well… even if it's not that cool of a name… I like it."

"You do?"

"Well duh." Ruby had looked up at him with such pure confusion that it had stunned him, then. It still almost did again some six or seven years later. "It's your weapon, Jaune, so of course I like it!"

After all, how could she not?

That was… just like her.

So much like her.

He'd figured out who he was in Ever After, too. Jaune Arc was a healer. Jaune Arc was, pointedly, not a murderer. He'd not let himself become someone like Cinder Fall, he'd sworn that. His hands had been stained red with Penny's blood, and he would honor her sacrifice to the very end.

Hers would be the only life he ever took.

But Grimm, the very embodiment of the God of Darkness' anger and hate? Those Jaune could unleash himself upon without regret.

He smiled as he allowed Aurea, in its great-sword form, to part, the two halves of the 'blade' sliding so that a schism about an inch wide formed in the middle. The entire structure glowed somewhat as the dust within the center channel activated.

The hardlight blade that emerged from out of it shone a gleaming amber, not quite the gold he and Ruby had aimed for, but then again, changing the color of the hardlight dust in the first place had been so difficult that even Ruby had called it quits when they had hit something vaguely yellow.

Still… it was his, wasn't it? This blade was his own.

And as it rent an Ursa Major clean in half, drawing the eye of a good half the horde, he allowed that fact to comfort him as his blade and body began that oh-so-familiar waltz.

/

It took them only five and a half minutes to kill the hundred or so Grimm who'd arrived at the gates of Kuroyuri.

It wasn't as quick as they would've managed it at the height of their power, some five years ago now, but it was still faster than nearly any hunter the world over could manage. They were, after all, the very elite among the elite. When they'd been nineteen, they'd already been able to contend with the Ace-Ops, some of the best huntsman and huntresses in Atlas.

Having been given another two years of practice, in battles that threatened the very world? Well, that had done quite well at making sure each of them was honed to a razors-edge.

There was none among their number who would not have ranked amongst the strongest hunters of all time, though, personally, Jaune was fairly sure he'd be at the bottom of that little list. He still, after all, possessed a hell of a lot less training than all of them.

But Jaune was genuinely proud of what they'd done. Even if Grimm still roamed the hills and forests and valleys of Remnant, they possessed no master, and were, mostly, mindless. They made for easier pickings than they used to, even if this horde, numbering only around a hundred strong, wouldn't have really registered to any of them.

Jaune could've taken them all on his own, had he needed to.

Nonetheless, it'd been a while since Jaune had cleared Grimm in such a showy manner, so he'd forgotten the way that crowds would gather atop the walls, or around the gates as they parted, and allowed the three of them back inside Kuroyuri. He'd forgotten, also, the things that the people would say when they saw them.

"I knew it… he's another one of the Seven…"

"Another of the Seven!?"

"That's–"

"I can't believe it!"

"I think it's Arc, right?"

"Yeah, it was Arc!"

"There's a statue of them all at Haven…"

Jaune bit down on his bottom lip, staring hard at his feet as he tried not to overtly react to the people's words. He hated that it was easier than it used to be to not feel resentment towards them. For their usage of that accursed term.

He'd simply always hated that label. The seven.

There were eight of us. Jaune had always thought but never said. Eight of us who fought to protect the world. Just because we didn't all make it to the end…

He shook his head, having long since accepted the argument as a pointless one. There'd been far more than even eight of them come the end, what with a party easily numbering in the twenties or thirties with their various allies all coming together to storm Evernight Castle. Emerald, Oscar, and even Neo had certainly been unofficial members of their little band, not to mention Qrow and Winter, when the latter had the time to move away from trying to keep the surviving citizens of Mantle alive.

And hell, during the final battle, SSSN, CFVY, CRDL, Ilia, Blake's White Fang, Raven, the Professors of Beacon, a few from Haven, the remnants of the Ace Ops, the Happy Huntresses, the Summer Maiden, and half the huntsmen of Vacuo had come to their aid.

And for some reason, only they got the recognition.

Jaune supposed he couldn't particularly complain, and none of those left unaccredited ever did, either, on account that most of them had done so not for the fame, but for the whole 'saving the world' thing.

Which was fair, honestly.

Apparently, Sun often used the fact that he was there on the day of the attack as an icebreaker at both bars and parties, which Jaune couldn't help feeling pretty much summed up his fellow blonde entirely. How that man was still single, he had no idea.

Thinking such aimless things was almost enough to make him smile, make him forget his frustrations, and so he allowed his mind to wander as Ren and Nora spoke to the crowds, announcing the Grimm presence had been felled.

Jaune had found out pretty quickly that saving Remnant came with some perks, like a sort-of diplomatic immunity. He said sort-of, largely because they didn't technically possess an immunity of any kind, but no one wanted to be the guy who arrested one of the people who'd slain Salem.

That way lay losing their job to the court of public opinion.

So, most of the time, they got away with just about anything they wanted. Or they would have if any of them were the type to use it. It covered their asses on the occasion they went a bit too far solving a case, for instance, or if they needed to call in the local police force without any real authorization. Hell, most politicians bent over backwards to get on their good sides, and that was barely accounting for that thing Ilia and Emerald had gotten into a few years back.

They'd been sworn into secrecy on that matter. Not even by the people in question, but by the council of Vale themselves.

Jaune never had gotten the full story out of Blake and Yang, either, who'd been the only two people there the night it'd happened, but apparently, it had involved a particularly drunken Emerald, a series of ill-placed bets, an illusion semblance, and a member of the Valean council admitting just a little too much to someone he believed to be his wife.

Well, that and the fact that the gala had caught on fire shortly thereafter, but according to most present, that had been one of the more reasonable events of the evening.

Ilia and Emerald waking up with a pair of hangovers and matching wedding rings that they'd not had the night prior… well… At the very least, the two seemed happily married these days, so he was glad everything had worked out on that front.

…Though Jaune really had to get the story out of someone one of these days.

He tuned back in to see the crowd dispersing, even as some still pointed their ways, and whispered amongst themselves. Jaune couldn't hear them, but it didn't really help him feeling just the smallest twinge of pain in his heart. It was muted, always quieter than he'd have liked it to be.

He knew that wasn't his fault, even if that never stopped him blaming himself.

The three of them made their way back to the house, and Magni greeted them all at the door, rushing up and hugging each of them. Jaune hugged back, laughing as he let some of the negative emotions he'd been wrestling with fade as he tightened his grip on the child in his arms.

The day went by like that, the three of them – with Magni occasionally interjecting – talking about nothing in particular, doing basic menial tasks, and Jaune helping to braid a bit of Magni's hair, because the boy had been curious about what it was like.

Around nine in the evening, Nora and Ren put their son to bed, and the three of them moved back into the living room, now able to talk more freely. Ren went to the kitchen to fetch them each a drink, and set down the three glasses, bubbling with a rather mild alcoholic beverage that Jaune had always liked.

"Now before something else comes up to interrupt us," Nora began, and Jaune just laughed. "Seriously, no more jokes, how've you been, Jaune?"

"Oh, I've been okay." He deflected. "The usual. Traveling, wandering, strolling, roaming, other synonyms for walking."

Ren snorted, even as Nora pouted and put her hands on her hips. "C'mon Jaune, you've gotta' do something!"

"I am, I am," He held his hands up in mock surrender. "I just… I don't know. I don't really have anything to do."

Nora sighed. "Alright, alright, I'll leave you alone." She eyed him warily. "For now. Don't think you've escaped me, Mister."

He laughed as he sat back down on one of the two couches in the living area, enjoying the small warmth from the hearth burning along the back wall.

This… honestly, it was an age-old argument. Jaune knew that Nora was just worried about him. After all, he was the only member of their little group who hadn't found what it was he wanted to be doing with his life. The others had faith in him that he'd find something eventually – which was honestly more than Jaune possessed sometimes – but Nora always liked to check in on him, make sure things were going okay.

He appreciated it. Really, he did, even if it occasionally felt a little pestering.

But that was just Nora.

"So," The woman said all of a sudden, snapping him out of his reverie. "Did'ya see anything interesting in your travels?"

Jaune shrugged. "Not in particular. I guess I ran into Oscar in upper Mistral. He was visiting his family apparently. Oh, and I called Ruby for her birthday. We had a fun chat, I told her I'm going to visit her in Patch sometime here soon."

"That's good!" Nora said, bright and cheerful as ever. "Maybe you and her could hang out a bit, you could certainly use the break."

He laughed a bit wearily. "Nora, I'm fine. I appreciate you worrying for me, but I swear, I'm not running myself ragged or anything."

His former teammate just pouted even harder than she had before. "Fiiiiine. But you better not be lying to me!"

"I'm not," He said with some small mirth, before sticking out his little finger and holding his hand out to Nora. "Pinky swear."

"Ooh, a pinky swear! That's a serious commitment there, Jauney!"

Nora reached over, and linked their pinkies, bobbing their joined hands up and down, even as Ren let out a breath of amusement.

"Now, how about you guys," He questioned as he leant back in his seat. "How're the day-to-day goings-on of Kuroyuri?"

"They're going-on." Ren quipped, earning a small chuckle from both he and Nora. "We've been experiencing record growth for an outer settlement. But then, you probably figured that out given what I was mentioning before about trying to hook up rail-lines."

"I had some idea." He nodded. "Still, that's awesome, guys. I'm really happy for you."

Both preened, though Ren obviously less-so.

"It is rather impressive, even I'm not afraid to admit that. It's thanks most to those who've chosen to settle here, however. The merchants, and the artisans, those who keep Kuroyuri running. All we do is provide security, and peace of mind."

Jaune sipped at his drink a little, as Ren seemed to think on what to say.

"The Grimm have been growing more and more infrequent. Some Atlesian scholars postulate that without someone to actively command them, they're actually growing and evolving, almost like an animal would."

It was an odd change of topic, and he could tell it clearly wasn't what Ren had wanted to say, but it was interesting enough for Jaune to follow-up.

"I thought such a thing would go against a Grimm's entire purpose, though?"

"It's not entirely unheard of." Ren continued. "Grimm cannot die of natural causes, after all, and so the older they get, it's believed they become more intelligent as well. And the clever Grimm are realizing that there's not really any point. They're just… well, I wouldn't say they're peaceful, it's more like…"

"Like they're waiting?" Jaune asked, earning a nod from Ren. "Not much to wait for. Both their masters have been thoroughly routed."

"Yes, well, the Grimm are intelligent, but that doesn't make them wise." Ren commented with a wry smile. "I doubt they even realize that Salem no longer inhabits this world."

"I bet it's the same with the God of Darkness, too." Nora added, leaning back in her chair as she took a big swig of her drink, slamming down the glass and burping a second or so later. "Not like he designed them to do anything but destroy creation."

Ah, yes, the very reason that the seven of them had become… well, The Seven of them. Jaune recalled what it had been like that day, when they'd boarded onto the airships that would take them to the Grimmlands. It had been… harrowing, surely, but also freeing.

Because that had been it. It was, one way or another, going to end that day.

It hadn't been nearly as simple as they'd planned, but then again, nothing ever really went to plan for them in the first place. They'd been swarmed on all sides by teeming masses of Grimm, and only the combined might of three of the four Maidens, half the hunters in the world, and a scrounged-up, hastily repaired fleet of destroyers Winter and Weiss had been able to scavenge from the ruined docks of Atlas had been able to keep the horde at bay.

Jaune could still remember the way the blackness had enveloped the world, how his sight had been entirely taken up by Grimm, how they'd blotted out the very sun. Yet they'd pushed through, using Ren's semblance on their entire ship, courtesy of some help from Jaune himself, in order to make it to the castle.

Cutting through Evernight had taken a toll on all of them, and they'd each had their battles to fight. Some of which… well, Jaune hadn't lost anyone he was close to, that day, but there were still things he didn't particularly like remembering, and most of them had taken place then and there, in that dark castle.

Still, by the time Jaune and the rest of his squad had reached Salem's throne room, it had been too late. The Gods had been summoned back. And they had not judged humanity well.

They'd sought to eliminate them from the face of the world, and they would punish Salem even still, leaving her to walk a barren planet until the end of time itself.

Except, they hadn't exactly planned on Ruby.

He smiled as he remembered that. Ruby, with her endless optimism, with her billowing red cape, with her gleaming scythe in hand, and her fully mastered silver eyes, standing against the gods themselves as she told them she wouldn't allow them to destroy Remnant, or to punish Salem again, despite everything the woman had done to them all.

How they'd laughed, called her a fool… and then the rest of them had stood behind her. Even Oscar, having fully joined with Ozma, and Salem, realizing that the Gods would punish her even still, had joined them. Ruby's eyes housed the power of creation, the only thing capable of challenging the God of Darkness, and Salem's body was running rampant with the power of destruction, the only thing capable of challenging the God of Light.

In the end, it had barely been enough. With all of their powers combined, on their very last legs, Ruby had used Crescent Rose, wreathed in the Silver Eyes' magic, and cut down the God of Darkness, just as Salem and Ozpin, wielding dark magics and the Relic of Destruction respectively, had struck down the God of Light.

Jaune could still remember the utter disbelief in their tones, the way the Gods had screamed of an impossibility, that they could not be bested by their own creations… but their hubris had been their undoing, ultimately. The magic they'd passed to humanity, how they'd underestimated them all, the way they'd completely renounced them not once, not even twice, but thrice, had come back to bite them.

And so, the Gods, with the last of their strength, had tried to take the entirety of Remnant with them.

But the relics, their very creations, hadn't let them.

Jinn, Ambrosius, and the spirits of Destruction and Choice, had combined their powers to stop the Gods' final attack. Jinn had provided the knowledge necessary, Ambrosius had created what would be needed, Destruction had combined it's strength with Ambrosius' creation, creating a weapon of purest entropy, and Choice…

Had fired the shot.

When the dust had settled, the Gods and the Relics… they had both been gone.

And Salem and Ozma both had been fading.

Jaune… he'd always had a bit of a grudge against Ozpin. The man had, whether he'd meant to or not, been responsible for causing Pyrrha's death. And Salem, well, Jaune felt he could be forgiven for hating her. But… the breaths each of them had let out then, of sheer, utter release… in the end, Jaune hadn't been able to do anything but wish them off with a smile. Ozma and Salem, hand in hand, had laid down together, and breathed their last breaths.

Despite it all, Jaune hoped they were together, wherever they were.

He could still remember the way they'd all jumped when Oscar, now very much alone in his body, had awkwardly coughed and let them all know he was still alive.

Jaune laughed about it now, but it had scared the ever-loving shit out of him at the time, seeing what they'd thought was a dead body just… get up and wave.

"What are you giggling about?" Nora asked him, smiling over the rim of her second glass.

He told them, and the two of them both laughed.

"Man, I still remember the way we all crowded around him, and hugged him," Nora cackled. "I think he was this close to being smothered, which would've really killed the vibe of the festival afterwards!"

Ah, their victory festival. Jaune's mood improved just thinking about it. They'd all returned to Vacuo – because everyone knew that if one wanted to party, they went to Vacuo – and then thrown what he was unafraid to say had been the single craziest evening Remnant had and would ever see.

He'd rocked a dress for the second time in his life. Blake and Yang had made out on the dance floor for like… four or five minutes, which was an impressive feat of oxygen retention. Ruby had sung karaoke, and then Weiss had joined in, followed by Sun and Neptune, who had been so freakishly drunk that they'd both thrown up halfway through their wondrous rendition of 'This Life is Mine', and sort of ruined the song, but Jaune had been too busy clutching his sides and trying to breathe past the howling laughter to really care.

People had laughed, and sung, and danced, and drank, and… other, more intimate things, because why not? Remnant had been protected, and the war, the endless, timeless war, was, in a way, ended. The Grimm would still exist, surely, but the world could, perhaps, know peace. At the very least, for that one night, it had.

He'd drank… well, Jaune had drank too much, honestly, and so had all of them, because hey, they'd saved the world! It felt like a good excuse at the time, and even a good five or so years later, Jaune still felt like it was. Then he and Weiss had gotten to talking about the things they hadn't really talked about, like how they'd been closer ever since Atlas, and how there was definitely something going on between them.

And Jaune really maybe shouldn't have been beating around the bush so much, because Weiss had kissed him before they'd gone on the final mission, for luck, she'd said, and Jaune had been too stunned to really ask questions at the time, but looking back, how had he not realized she was trying to make her feelings clear just in case one or both of them didn't come back from Evernight, and then Yang and Blake had gone off somewhere to do… well… intimate things, and maybe it had just been how well the evening had been going, but…

Well, suffice it to say that he and Weiss might've moved a little faster than they would've normally, given, once again, the whole saving the world thing. Or, well, maybe it was the fact that they'd all survived the saving the world thing.

Basically, Jaune felt the both of them could be forgiven for perhaps losing themselves in the moment.

It had totally been worth it, even if Jaune hadn't been a particularly, er… adept partner.

He thought they'd been pretty subtle about it, honestly, sneaking off when no one was looking. Nora, Yang, Sun – and Neo for some strange reason – shooting him finger guns the entire next day as they all nursed horrible hangovers had let him know that they hadn't.

And then Winter Schnee had caught him, and by the gods, one did not know true fear until they'd been given the shovel talk by someone who'd once wielded ancient magic and was also Winter fucking Schnee.

Still, it was a good memory now, even if… well…

Jaune shook his head, choosing to lose himself in the conversation between the three of them, and as the hours ticked by, and his bloodstream swam with alcohol, despite the low percentage of the drinks he was downing, he allowed that tiny pain inside of him to dull somewhat.

It had been for the best, after all.

/

Jaune had never quite adjusted to hangovers.

It wasn't even the hangover that woke him up, per se, but the nauseating smell of eggs wafting in from the kitchen. He mumbled something under his breath as he tried to hide away under his blanket from the scent itself, which didn't work particularly well. It worked even less so as Nora stepped up towards him, somehow entirely unaffected by the copious amount of alcohol she'd consumed the previous night and set a plate of eggs and bacon down in front of him.

It took nearly all his willpower not to violently wretch.

"Nora… please… mercy…" He begged.

"There is no mercy." Nora beamed down at him. "Now, c'mon, eat. You'll feel better after."

He groaned horribly, but did as commanded, picking a bit at the scrambled eggs as he downed all three slices of his bacon in roughly thirty seconds. When he felt slightly less like death, he drank rather greedily of the milk that'd been set beside him as well and admitted privately to himself that Nora had maybe sort of been right.

Not that she could ever know.

A day of quaint activity awaited them after that. Magni finally got to show Jaune his hammer skills, which Jaune could honestly say were pretty damned impressive for a four-ish-year-old kid. He would certainly be a mighty hero in his day, or, well, Nora kept saying that, and Magni kept shouting out the same thing, so Jaune felt like it sort of added up.

In the afternoon, the four of them walked around the merchant's quarter, just taking in the sights around town that Jaune hadn't caught much of in a few months. He spotted a few items that he'd missed on his way into the Village and purchased them. The first wasn't much, a simple whetstone which he could use to sharpen Aurea on the road, but the second, a portable scroll charger – apparently a prototype out of Atlas, or… maybe he should just call it Mantle these days? – would certainly be worth every lien, even if he'd paid a frankly astronomical sum for it.

Eventually, someone interrupted their little day out. Ren was called away by one of the lead guardsman about something or another, and Magni wanted to go along with his dad. And so, Jaune and Nora were alone now, walking back towards his teammates' home, sort of wondering just what it was he was doing.

And then a question out of Nora caught him entirely unawares.

"Do you still think of her?"

His eyes widened in what would've been a comical manner in any other situation, but here, it was all he could do to prevent himself from biting into his lip and drawing blood.

Instead of that, Jaune just laughed a bit sadly. "…You always know how to read me, Nora."

"Eh, you're just easy to read." Nora waved her hand, as if dismissing the notion, before she continued in a far softer tone than was normal. "And besides, this time, it wasn't that hard. You… kinda' always get that look on your face whenever you hear 'The Seven', Jaune. You've been tense since yesterday."

That… was he really so obvious?

No, Jaune didn't think he was, and because of that, he couldn't help smiling, despite everything. Nora really did know him too well. They all did.

"I guess… I think about her from time to time, yeah. Not as much as I used to. Not even as much as I want to, it…"

It was something he'd been grappling with for a few years, now. The way that the pain within his heart had faded with time. Nowadays, he… he had to watch the video on his scroll, saved and backed up on nearly every device he'd ever owned, just to remember her voice, just to remember her face.

It was almost funny. He'd gone with Ren and Nora, with Ruby, oh so long ago, to get revenge. He'd tried to pretend like it was for something better, back then, but no. He'd wanted to kill the person who'd murdered her… or he wanted to die trying. To the Jaune of that time, nearly eight years ago now, his was the life that should've been sacrificed.

Nowadays… Jaune almost hated the fact that he could consider himself mostly happy. He almost hated the fact that Ren and Nora were living their lives, unaffected, and that he was the same. How could they? How could they all do such a thing when she'd died for them.

But he couldn't even muster that anger, anymore. Because time had a tendency to dull even the sharpest of wounds.

"It's been nearly, what, seven, eight years?" Jaune commented absently, just sort of… thinking. "It's… it's almost painful that when I think about Pyrrha these days, I don't even feel anything. It's like… like I have to force myself to get angry at those comments. I have to force myself to… I just…"

A hand on his shoulder had Jaune looking up, seeing Nora meeting his gaze with an aching melancholy hanging about her.

"Jaune, you can't be blame yourself for accepting what happened and moving on."

"Hah," He laughed like the very concept of Nora's words was hilarious. "You underestimate me if you think I can't do that. I'm a veritable expert at blaming myself."

He'd meant it as a joke, but Nora just stared sadly at him, and he could only cough as he looked away. She didn't say anything for a while, and it took all that Jaune had not to get up and run away, because he could tell when Nora had something on her mind, something she needed to say, and never once had it been an easy thing to handle.

"Jaune, do you mind if I ask you something?"

No. Don't. I don't want you to. Let me run away. Let me hide. I can't do this. I'm not strong enough. I've never been strong enough. If you ask me, I'll–

"…Sure."

"What are you running from?"

His breathing hitched, even as he let out a small gasp. That… that struck deeper than he'd thought whatever Nora might say would. He almost struggled to take another breath, and it was only Nora's hand on his shoulder, steadying him, that kept him from hyperventilating.

"I…"

"No, I'm sorry," Nora backtracked immediately upon seeing his reaction. "I shouldn't have–"

"You're fine, Nora." Just because he'd reacted how he had didn't make Nora's question some horrible mistake. "Honestly, I just… I wish I knew how to answer that." He tried to smile for her sake, even if it never reached his eyes. "I'm not really sure. I just… I travel, and I travel, and I travel, and for what? Where am I even…"

Silence reigned over the two of them for a good while after that, before, eventually, Nora brought the conversation back.

"Y'know, I'm not really sure what I want to be doing, either."

He turned to her, shock in his eyes. "What?"

"I know, right?" Nora laughed a bit weakly, her arms going slack as they sat atop her thighs. "You'd think I have it all figured out. Ren and I are happy, and we have Magni, and… well, I kind of want to try for another. A girl, if I can help it, I always wanted a daughter."

Jaune chuckled softly. Somehow that sounded… nice.

"But I think… I don't know. I don't really wanna' settle down forever, y'know? Sure, getting Kuroyuri back up and running is… it's great. It's been a piece of Ren and I that we've carried around since we were kids. But… It's not really… us, if that makes any sense at all."

He laughed mirthlessly, because it really did.

"So, what's your plan, then?"

"I guess we might try out some hunter work." Nora shrugged. "I think that's where I feel the most alive. I know some of us have kind of given it up entirely–"

"Mostly Weiss." Jaune teased with a grin.

"Mostly Weiss." Nora grinned back. "But… I guess to me, slaying the big monsters and saving the day was… It was satisfying, y'know? In a way that taking care of the day-to-day tasks of a place like Kuroyuri just isn't."

"Does Ren feel the same?"

"Yeah, I think so, even if it's harder for him to say it." Nora sighed, unsaid feelings making themselves known in her tone. "I mean, his parents died here. They'd… they'd given up an awful lot to leave Mistral and try and make things work outside the Kingdom, and they died for it. To him… rebuilding all of this is making up for that. But…"

"It's not for you?" Jaune guessed.

"Exactly. My home…" Her face crinkled with joy. "My home is wherever Ren and Magni are. My mother left me to die in this place. So no, I'm not all that attached to it, not like Ren is. And because of that attachment, Ren thinks that… he feels like… I don't know how to–"

"He feels like it's on him?" Jaune tried.

"Yes! Exactly that!" Nora pointed a finger at him. "And that's not fair to him! It's not his responsibility to do all of this on his own. What he wants to do… well, I'm not sure, but I don't know if it's hunter work, either. Heck, I don't even know if hunter work's what I want. But… that's what a marriage is about, right? Compromise. So, we'll work something out. I know we will."

He smiled. "Of course, you will."

Nora smiled back at him, before bumping him with her shoulder. "And you will too, Jaune. You'll get yourself figured out."

His eyes widened, even as he looked away from Nora's face, away from whatever expression she must've stared at him with.

He…

"Yeah." Jaune said.

"You're right."

He didn't even believe himself.

/

The week or so he'd planned on staying in Kuroyuri passed by rather quickly, and all of a sudden, there Jaune was, hanging by the gate he'd entered in what felt like only yesterday. Despite the fact that he'd not done much of anything major, he still felt… well…

A break was nice, every once in a while.

Even if said break only posed more questions that Jaune didn't have the answers to.

"What are you running from?"

Jaune, he… he had no idea why that question had hit him so hard, and yet, it had, undeniably. He'd been left without air in his breast, like he'd been struck by a blow.

Because he was running. He'd known that for a long time.

But being asked what he was running from was…

Jaune shook his head. Now wasn't the time to be worrying about that. Right now, he should be saying his goodbye's.

He wrapped his arms around the tiny child hugging him and laughed as the boy complained incessantly.

"But why do you have to leave!?"

"Because I've gotta' go other places, too." Jaune explained. "Lots and lots of places."

"But why!?"

"Because I…"

His voice faltered, and right as Magni looked confused, Nora placed a hand on her son's shoulder, drawing him away from Jaune.

"Because Uncle Jauney's got some stuff to figure out, stuff that we can only help him so much with."

Jaune's face morphed against his will, and he wished he could somehow communicate his thoughts to Nora, but…

"Huh?" Magni just seemed perplexed.

"You'll understand when you're older." Ren commented, earning a whine of indignation from his son. "We'll see you later, Jaune. Make sure you come back to visit in a little while. Magni's not the only one who'll miss you."

He laughed with a nod, even as Nora ran up to him again and squeezed the life out of him. The crowds gathered around to see him off laughed at that, and he gave a light wave as he moved towards the gate, which was just beginning to part.

Idly, his mind was drawn back to something else Nora had said.

"You'll get yourself figured out."

Jaune could only give a breath of mirthless amusement as he walked through the small gap in the metal gates, which shut behind him a moment later.

Maybe someday, he would. But it was so easy to say that. He'd been saying "maybe someday" for what felt like the last five years.

It wasn't just Nora asking him, either. It was Ruby, and Sun, and Weiss. It was all of his old friends, everyone who was worried about him. He couldn't blame them. If any of their members had been like him, perhaps he'd have been asking them the same things.

But the way Nora had said that she herself didn't know what she wanted to do… he couldn't help but find fault in that.

Because here she and Ren were, having carved out a life for themselves. So, what if they weren't quite sure if it was what they wanted? At least they were…

Jaune let out a tired sigh, knowing there was no way he'd win an argument with himself.

He wouldn't just solve his problems, not like they had; he couldn't help thinking.

They knew what they were going to do. How they were going to do it. He…

Jaune had nothing.

But the road in front of him called regardless.

And so, he slung his coat along his back, his bag along one shoulder, and he carried on.


End Chapter 1


So that's chapter 1.

This isn't going to be a very long story. Think 7-8 chapters. Maybe less.

Honestly, I've had this chapter one done for like three months and just haven't uploaded it. Decided to get off my ass and do so today for no real reason, but hey, that's life, sometimes you do something without really knowing why!

See you when I see you! If you like this work and don't read any of my other works, consider 'Cinderella and Prince Charming', or 'Paved with Bad Intentions' as well.