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although the truth is free

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Sounds were muted in the northern square of Beacon Academy as students spent their free time unwinding from the early morning's field exercises, and the breeze was sweet and warm. It brushed against the unconcealed fuzz of Blake's ears and that was all right. It really was.

A girl in bright red sat in the shade of a white marble fountain with a space left open beside her on the warm stone, still damp from the rainstorm that morning. "Do you ever," Blake asked as she settled down beside her, "dream of wilting?"

"Uhh." Ruby frowned down Crescent’s barrel and gave it another swab. "Not really! What are you talking about?"

Blake shrugged. "Weird dreams. Like do you ever dream of whole gardens wilting and dying? Stuff like that."

Clang, thunk.

The Gambol Shroud was never large, but beside Ruby's Crescent Rose, it seemed insubstantial, a thin slice of shadow laid out on the ground. Noiselessly, Blake released the blade.

"Not really," said Ruby. She smiled but didn't look up from her work, passing a bottle of solvent to Blake. The Crescent Rose was completely disassembled, custom parts lined up neatly in a semi-circle around her, and she reached for them by memory and long practice. "They're mostly about y’know, defending the weak, being a super-awesome Huntress! The usual. What's up?"

"It’s nothing. I saw your Semblance the other day and it reminded me of something from a long time ago." Blake rested her primary blade in her lap, turning it over in her hands.

"Oh, I see. Sounds kind of morbid."

"Hmm," Blake hummed and she slid an empty bucket over to rest beside her feet. She unloaded, dropping her magazines into the bucket. She checked the chamber, poking out the sole offending bullet and dropping it into the bucket as well. Field exercises in the rain could be a hassle for firearm wielders, speaking of which, "Any idea if Yang is joining us?"

"I heard she was hanging out with her other friends today?" Ruby shrugged. "Why does she need other friends when she has us?"

"Hahaha yeah."

"But you’re happy here now, right? You know, with us and all?" Blake looked up and found Ruby’s gaze fixed on her, wide and worried and earnest. She blinked. Just like Ruby to wear her passions and kindness and strength on her sleeve all at once.

"Of course." Blake smiled. "You guys are great."

 

 

After maintenance with Ruby followed by lunch, it was tutoring with Weiss.

Blake was ten minutes late but she wasn't too surprised to find Weiss still waiting in their usual booth, loose papers and textbooks sprawled out across the surface. Weiss barely looked up long enough to squint in disapproval at Blake's tardiness before shoving a haphazard pile in her direction. "Start with these, I'm rewriting my World Civ. lecture notes."

"Why hello Weiss, I'm sorry I'm late, it's good to see you as well," Blake chirped sweetly, but shoved her things into the seat and pulled the stack towards her with what she hoped was visible enthusiasm.

"Mmhm." Like Ruby before, Weiss continued to look down, hands moving by memory to highlight the page she was reading with more force than necessary before scribbling a note into the margin.

Same old Weiss. It's almost like last weekend never happened.

Weiss had been taken aback when Blake had asked her to tutor her in the beginning of the year, but Blake wasn't the one with a pole up her ass about appearing self-sufficient. Now they took it for granted that Thursday evenings were to be spent organizing their combined notes for the week and getting a head start on written assignments.

"I was surprised that you would want to do this," Weiss had said.

"You thought I was stupid?" A lot of humans had assumed that about her. Not that Weiss knew, then, why that would be.

"I thought you didn't care." Weiss had the decency to look embarrassed. "All of you guys are always goofing off, I thought your grades were some kind of fluke." Her voice dropped. "And if you wanted help, I didn't think you'd ask me."

"Oh. Well. ... I do care." Blake shrugged. "And you're the smartest girl in class, Schnee. Who else would I ask?"

Weiss huffed and tossed her hair, but Blake could tell she was secretly pleased; between the two of them, their group tended to ace their text work. Maybe that had been enough to make up for the tension that had existed between them since Day One.

That old camaraderie, never strong, was strained now, in class, in the field, even at home in their dorm. Words had been said that couldn't be unsaid, only thought repeatedly in uneasy silence - but working like this, and the uncharacteristically shy way Weiss kept peeking at her beneath her fringe which was such a far cry from the angry heiress who had wanted her arrested before the events of Vytal Festival, emboldened Blake to mend bridges.

On impulse, she took Weiss's hand in hers. "I really am sorry I'm late, you know."

"It's fine," replied Weiss, startled. It was a good look on her.

"I wasn't sure you would be here."

"I don't run away," Weiss snapped, then bit her lip. Blake just rolled her eyes. After a beat, she added, much quieter, "I thought you wouldn't come, either."

Neither of them said much after that and Blake gave Weiss back her hand.

 

 

The silence between them meandered on, more peacefully now, until Ruby arrived to put them both out of their misery with a-

BANG

- when a giant book thudded into the plastic diner table. Blake closed the one she was currently reading to glance up at their ever-beaming team leader.

"What is this?"

"Well, remember when we were talking? About your dream and all?"

Suspicious. "Sure, but what does that," she glanced at the massive tome then back at Ruby, "have to do with anything?"

"It’s a dream book! Duh." Ruby tossed it open and plopped down on the bench beside Weiss, leaning across the table to gesture at Blake. Weiss pursed her lips and did her best to pretend the pair of them weren't there. "I just got it from the library, so we can, like, go through and see what roses and stuff mean and then figure everything out from there."

"Ah…" Blake twitched uneasily, but Ruby didn't notice, too intent on leafing through the pages.

"Okay, so ‘roses’ should be in ‘R’. Unless they’re under ‘flowers’ or something but no way, right?"

"Uh, Ruby--"

"Hah, got it! Roses… stand for passion," She nudged Weiss with all the subtly you would expect of the designer of the Crescent Rose. "Ohh, but if they’re wilted, then it’s an absent love. That’s so sad." Ruby propped her chin on her fist, staring down at the page. Blake shifted in her seat.

"If you're not going to help, at least be less distracting," said Weiss, "and can I help you?" This directed at a pair of older women sitting at a nearby table who had been muttering increasingly loudly and staring at the three.

"That's disgusting," said one to the other, blatantly ignoring her.

"Shameful."

"What was that?" asked Weiss again, voice pitched dangerously sweet.

"You seem like a perfectly nice young lady." The woman sniffed contemptuously. "A perfectly nice and normal young lady. Why would you and that child-"

"Hey!"

"- associate with a dumb animal?"

It took them a moment. Bless, but it took them both a moment.

"WHAT DID YOU SAY?!" Thanks to their team training, Weiss's reflexes were now fast enough to catch a hold of Ruby before she could throw herself out of her seat, but it was a close call. As she held grimly on, the pair of strangers huffed and stood, fluffing their outfits and unaware of how near to catastrophe they had come.

"My!"

"Why you're hardly better than a beast yourself!"

Well. With a philosophical shrug, Weiss let go.

In the ensuing chaos, she almost didn't notice that Blake had disappeared, slinking past onlookers. When she did, Weiss raced out the side door, barely in time to catch a glimpse of black hair disappearing around the corner of the building. "Hey! Hey wait!"

Blake didn't stop but slowed enough for Weiss to catch up.

"Does she even know who you are?!" Weiss demanded, catching her wrist, trying to pull her back.

"Of course not." Blake shook her off. "Does it matter?"

"These civilians," Weiss said, still fuming. "Can't they tell we're students at Beacon? How dare they? We're going to be future Huntresses! Blake, why are you taking it so calmly?"

Blake pressed her lips together in a thin line. "It'll come to you," she said, more coldly than she had spoken in days.

Weiss paused, blinking, and Blake skipped a few steps away.

"Oh, and I'm not going to be in class this evening," she said.

"Hey, what?"

But Blake was gone, sprinting in the direction of campus, leaving Weiss to stare after her.

 

 

True to her word, Blake didn't show up for evening lecture. She didn't show up for evening practice, or for dinner, either. She had thought things would get better after Vytal Festival, after her talk with Sun Wukong, after the days she and her teammates had spent rebuilding. Instead, everything was just closer to the surface, twisting and curling inside her like a smoke or sickness, and ugliness trying to break out.

The gym was mostly empty, with the other students in lecture or taking advantage of the mild weather, so Blake was left alone to practice.

She had had more genuine combat experience than any of her teammates except possibly Yang, but she had had the least formal training, so she set the simulation to emphasize form and for the next few hours, she focused on footwork, the placement of her center of gravity, the angles of her knees and the rate of her breaths. She worked her way through all the exercises they had been taught that semester at this prestigious school where not a single course was taught by a faunus and no one else tensed up at the Schnee name and where she hadn't stood up for Velvet that one time, that time they had all still thought she was only human and it would have been so easy to, but it was so easy not to.

She practiced until she was so tired that it would be dangerous to continue, trying to dodge her thoughts like so many simu-bots.

 

 

The others were still out to dinner when she staggered her way out of the shower, so she made her way back into their shared room alone. The lights wouldn't turn on and Blake was too tired to care when she clambered up onto her bed.

It was Yang who found her there later, brooding in pitch darkness, and joined her without a word. She sat there for a while, not speaking, and Blake braced herself, breaths even, eyelids firmly shut.

"I heard from the others what happened today," Yang said at last.

Blake briefly considered pretending to be asleep, but she didn't like dodging things like this, not really. "I'm not mad at you," she said instead, voice thick and unwilling in her throat. "Or Weiss, or anyone really."

"Oh?"

"It is what it is."

"For now." Yang sighed.

Blake didn't have an answer. "The lights aren't working," she offered instead.

"I noticed. We'll need to replace them tomorrow." If it weren't for her faunus eyes, her people's textbook advantage, Blake might not have noticed the way Yang's hand hovered uncertainly before resting gently on Blake's hair and between her ears. Blake nodded and Yang gave them a tentative scratch, then a solid one Blake could lean into.

Encouraged by the response, she scratched a little more vigorously, but missed, a finger landing in one of Blake's human ears instead.

"Ouch!"

"Can I light a candle?"

"I don't need one. I can get by without one," Blake said, feeling childish and defiant, and still so tired.

"I know," said Yang. "I know. But it can be nice to have." There was a light touch at her shoulder, and Blake glanced over to watch Yang carefully patting her way down her arm, forehead creasing. Blake took pity on her, lifted her own hand and wound their fingers together. "And… I need one. And the others are coming back soon – they're going to need it too."

"I… okay." Blake sighed and leaned against her partner. Let herself rest there. "Okay then. Go ahead and light it."

 

 

When the other girls joined them later that night, their room was warm and bright and they learned that Blake's bed could remain structurally sound even under the weight of four people tangled together although it was a close thing. And that was all right. It really was.