Weiss waited until the road was clear before flooring the accelerator, whipping past the slowly lumbering van before darting back onto the right side of the road. The driver behind her laid into their horn, apparently annoyed that someone wouldn't want to trundle along behind them, at a good fifteen miles below the speed limit.
Resisting the urge to flip them off, Weiss hit the gas, keeping her speed just below the point where an overeager traffic cop might try to pull her over.
When it came down to it, Weiss wasn't particularly fond of driving. She wasn't a bad driver by any means, but time spent behind the wheel always felt like a waste. There were more productive things she could be doing, rather than watching the road and making sure she didn't go more than ten miles over the speed limit. At least when there was the chance of a cop seeing her.
The radio was hit-or-miss at best. Too many disk jockeys blabbering and trying to be 'edgy,' or vapid talk shows that made Weiss want to bash her head against a wall. Music helped, especially to suppress the urge to murder some of the brain-dead motorists who constantly insisted on getting in her way. Podcasts or audio books helped more, especially biographies. But even then, the long hours from the Schnee compound to Ruby's home in Patch were mind-numbing at best.
Well, they were the last time.
Tearing her eyes from the road, Weiss glanced over at the girl sitting in her passenger seat, teeth sparkling in a good-natured grin as she spoke. Shaking her head, Weiss turned back to the road. The other girl's mood was infectious. She couldn't help but smile, not with Ruby chattering beside her.
When she left home, Weiss had expected another long, monotonous drive ending in the weekend chaos that consumed the Xiao Long-Rose household over the holidays. What she hadn't expected was her phone ringing an hour into the drive. Or for it to be Ruby's voice on the other end.
"Hey, I'm at the big red gas station in Colton. Think you could pick me up?"
Five minutes later, Ruby was clambering into the passenger seat. Weiss had barely said hello before the younger girl nearly skewered herself on the parking brake, pouncing across the car to pin Weiss against the door. After several kisses, hugs, and a minute spent putting Weiss' jacket back into place, they were back on the road, with Weiss' spirits considerably lifted.
A half-hour later, and Ruby still hadn't explained how she'd gotten all the way out there. The younger girl was too excited, bouncing against her seat belt as she talked, staring at Weiss or the passing signs. The holidays at her home were too chaotic, too weird, and apparently Ruby needed to tell each and every story or she'd explode.
Honestly, it didn't matter that Weiss was missing half the stories – just having Ruby there, being able to hear her girlfriend's voice after the long days with her parents, made the ride so much better.
Still smiling, Weiss waited until Ruby paused for breath. "You want to tell me how you ended up in a jerkwater town two hours away from home?"
"I took the bus," Ruby said, staring at the passing signs through the window.
Weiss blinked. That can't be right.
"You rode the bus."
"For ... two? Three hours?"
Weiss saw Ruby's shrug out of the corner of her eye. "Yeah."
Brows furrowed, she risked a quick glance over at the shorter girl. "Why the hell would you put yourself through that?"
Ruby rolled her eyes, sighed, and shifted in her seat. Reaching past the gear shift, she lay her hand on Weiss' arm and squeezed. "Because I knew you'd be miserable driving all the way on your own. And I missed you. A lot."
For a second, Weiss had absolutely no idea what to say. Ruby hated long drives almost as much as she did, hated sitting still with little to occupy her time – and with all the stops, there was no way the bus had made the trip in the two hours it took to go by car. Ruby must have been bouncing off the walls by the end, barely able to sit still without exploding.
But she did it. Came all that way. Just to see me a few hours earlier.
Keeping her eyes on the road, Weiss found an empty stretch of highway and hit her blinker, easing her foot onto the brake as pulled over onto the shoulder.
Ruby glanced around, looking from the dashboard to the road in confusion. "Why are we stoppin-"
Weiss lunged across the car and cut her off, trying to find a way to compress everything she was feeling – the weeks of longing, the gratitude, the relief at seeing her again – all down into a single, desperate, bruising kiss. When they finally came away, the heiress' hair was mussed, yanked out a place by wandering fingers carding through her tresses. She couldn't bring herself to care.
Leaning her forehead against Ruby's, Weiss took a long, heavy breath and sighed. "I missed you too, you dolt."
Two hours later, delayed only slightly by Ruby's need for coffee, the two arrived at the snow-covered house where her father lived. The drive was littered with cars – Yang's and Ruby's were sitting snugly in the drive, but Blake's was parked along the side of the cul-de-sac, as far out of the way as she could manage.
Pulling in behind her, Weiss parked and grabbed for the bag waiting in the backseat. Ruby was already out of the car, grinning as Zwei bounced through the doggy door and ran up to her, panting happily to Ruby's chorus of "who's a good boy?"
Weiss couldn't help but stare as she climbed out of the driver's seat. The house looked like the perfect picturesque suburban home, snow dusted across the roof, broken by the lights strung along the eaves and framed by the conifers flanking the drive. A wreath hung on the door, bound with a big red ribbon that matched the decorations hanging from the porch-lights. It looked festive, like a scene out of a Hallmark card, just managing to keep from being saccharine. It looked-
Weiss swallowed and shut the door behind her. It looks like a home. Like how a childhood home should look. Cozy and warm and alive. Someone had cared for that house, and in some odd way it had cared for them. It looked exactly like what she'd imagined as a child – smaller than her father's palatial estate, but without the screaming, the fighting, or the long silences that had made her want to scream.
A hand found hers. Weiss blinked, pulled from her memories, and glanced down to find Ruby at her side.
"You ready?" she asked, smiling up at the heiress. "It's gonna get pretty wild in there. With Yang here and Blake driving down, the house is already crammed."
"Honestly?" Weiss looked back at the house. "After last week, I could do with a little wild."
Grinning, Ruby made her way up to the door, pulling Weiss along behind her. "We saved some of the presents," she said, taking the steps two at a time. "Figured that way everyone could have some fun when we open ours. Then we've got the gingerbread houses to deal with, and Yang brought a bunch of fireworks to set off at midnight.
The air was warmer near the house, heating the snow on the roof and making it fall in clumps dotting the snowbanks under the gutters. At least the walk had been recently shoveled – there was only a small layer of snow to kick off their boots as they finished the climb up to the door. Fixing her grip on the bag, Weiss reached for the doorknob.
"Wait." Ruby held her back, then pointed up towards the roof. "Mistletoe." Sure enough, there was a sprig of the holiday plant handing right above their heads, little red berries glistening.
"You planned this on purpose," Weiss said, faking a scowl as she wrapped her arms around the shorter girl's back.
"Maaaybe," Ruby smiled and tilted her chin up, humming happily as Weiss kissed her. A surge of heat that had nothing to do with the house ran through her, pressing closer as Ruby's hands came together behind her neck.
Weiss' eyes fell shut, all the stress and tension from dealing with her parents bleeding away. It always amazed her how the world fell away when Ruby kissed her, how her heart pounded in her ears, every nerve in her body singing with the sense of the girl in her arms. It was ... different. There'd been a few women over the years who'd made her heart beat faster, whose kisses left her light-headed and speechless. She'd cared deeply for some of them, even if the relationships hadn't worked out, ending for one reason or another. They'd all been beautiful in their own way, kind or infuriating, and Weiss knew what she'd felt then was love. But ... with Ruby, there was just something dif-
Wood creaked as the door opened, and the murmur of voices inside spilled out onto the doorstep.
"Guess you two aren't gonna finish anytime soon?"
Weiss smile faded, her train of thought yanked irreparably off track. Pulling reluctantly away from her girlfriend, Weiss opened her eyes and found a tall, bemused blonde in a hideous Christmas sweater, looking thoroughly pleased with herself.
"Yang!" Ruby growled, crossing her arms over her chest as she glared up at her sister. "You're a jerk."
"I know," Yang said. "But there's this plate of snickerdoodles that just finished cooling. And Dad and Velvet already snuck half of them, so..."
Flashing her sister one last dirty look, Ruby tugged Weiss' hand and dragged her into the house.
Sighing, Weiss followed, grabbing her bag and letting the smaller girl pull her inside. The warmth blasted them, and soon the hooks by the door had two more coats weighing them down. The whole house smelled of Douglas fir and vanilla, with hints of chocolate, mulled wine, and cinnamon drifting from the kitchen island. Christmas tunes drifted from the TV in the living room, hooked up to a red-and-black laptop Weiss recognized.
Weiss caught a glimpse of the dining room as Ruby dragged her towards the kitchen, making a beeline for a paper plate piled high with cookies.
They'd barely made it ten feet when a tall blond man blindsided her girlfriend, sweeping her up in a bear hug that lifted her a good foot off the ground.
"There's my girl!" Taiyang said, burying his scruffy chin in her daughter's shoulder.
"Dad!" Ruby whined, just managing to keep ahold of Weiss' hand. "You saw me this morning!"
"Feels like longer." Smiling, he set his youngest back on her feet, keeping an arm around her shoulder as he turned to his latest guest. "And it's good to see you too, Weiss."
"Thank you," Weiss nodded, always a little unsure how to act around a father so different from her own. Taiyang nearly had a spit-take when she'd called him 'Mr. Xiao Long' the year before. He'd flat out refused 'sir', insisting, almost begging, that she use 'Taiyang'. It was a familiarity she still wasn't entirely comfortable with, but one she'd come to accept. Giving him a quick smile, she took the offered hand and shook it quickly. "It was very kind of you to invite me."
"Nah. We're happy to have you. Ruby most of all." His eyes twinkled with mischief as he squeezed his youngest around the shoulders. "She's been pining for you the entire vacation."
Taiyang's tanned face split in a grin – it was easy to see where Yang had got hers from. "Alright. I'll stop embarrassing you. If it's okay, I'll take your bags up to Ruby's room. You both look like you could use some food."
Weiss opened her mouth to decline – taking the bag up would give her a few minutes alone with Ruby – and was cut off by a massive growl from her girlfriend's stomach.
"Sorry," Ruby shrugged guiltily and started inching her way towards the plate of cookies. Shaking her head, Weiss smiled and handed over the bag.
Taiyang waved off her thanks and ducked up the stairs while Weiss followed Ruby to the food. It was a short walk to the kitchen, past a crackling fireplace and a Christmas tree that almost scratched the ceiling. They could smell the food the entire way there – it was no wonder Ruby's stomach was begging to be filled. The kitchen island was a smorgasbord of snacks and treats. Paper plates of cookies and brownies and candies lay scattered across the table. A glass bowl with little cups hanging off the sides sat on the kitchen island, plastic ladle ready to dish out the ice-filled burgundy punch. Deviled-eggs with chili sat by the crackers, surrounded by cheese, ham, and little bowls of dip.
Blake looked up as they came in the room, smiling and setting what looked like an artichoke dip down on the already over-loaded table. "Happy new year," she said, wiping her hands before coming over to wrap her arms around Weiss' shoulders.
"H'ppy new 'ear" Ruby managed when her turn came, speaking around a mouth filled with snickerdoodle. "Feres Vulvt?"
"Grabbing your presents," Blake sighed, handing the younger girl a plate before she could start tucking sweets into her pockets. "We just got here – she'll be down once she unpacks enough to find them."
"Speaking of finding things," Yang said, speaking over her sister's head as she came into the room. "Do you remember where we moved the cider?"
Blake tilted her head towards the door. "Outside, boss."
"Gotcha." A blast of cold air swept through the kitchen, just long enough for Yang to dart out onto the patio.
"What was that about?" Weiss asked, looking over at her friend.
"Remember how much I loved working at that coffee shop?" Blake asked, grabbing one of the crackers and scraping the spread across it.
"Enough to consider burning the place down?"
"The phrase 'pit from the seventh layer of hell' comes to mind," Velvet's voice called from the staircase.
Ruby cleared her throat, halfway through another cookie. "You said your manager couldn't find a sense of common decency if you shoved it up his-"
"All true." Blake cut her off, nodding solemnly. "Well, Ruby said she knew a bar owned by someone who wouldn't make my life a living hell, so ..." Satisfied with the amount of seafood piled atop her snack, she nodded over towards Yang, side-stepping through the door with a pack of drinks under each arm.
"You didn't," Weiss said.
"What?" Ruby's sister shrugged. "She's a hard worker and I'm not gonna change her hours every other day." Plunking the cardboard holders down, she looked around the room. "Alright, who wants what?"
There was a quick cacophony of calls as everyone joined in. With practiced ease, Yang yanked, uncapped, and passed the drinks around, grabbing an extra bottle of lemonade from the fridge for her too-young-to-drink sister. Ruby caught it, grabbed one last cookie, and darted out of the room. Happy voices filtered in from the living room, Ruby giving the rabbit-eared Faunus a very warm welcome while Blake trailed along behind.
"Cinnamon, hops, or regular?" Yang glanced over at Weiss as she hefted the twelve-pack up onto the counter. "I know you're more of a wine person, but it's supposed to be festive and everything."
"Cider's fine. And just the regular one." Weiss said and crossed her arms over her chest. "You're stealing my friend."
Yang snorted a laugh, grabbed a cinnamon-flavored cider for herself, and popped the caps off before passing Weiss her drink. "Guess we're even then. I mean, you already 'stole' my sister."
Weiss gave the blonde a long, hard look, then rolled her eyes and clinked the top of Yang's bottle with hers. "Cheers," she said and took a sip. "Seriously, thank you. Blake utterly despised that place."
"No problem. It's a favor to me, really." Yang took a swig of her own and relaxed back against the counter. "She's smart, and hard worker. Good bartenders don't grow on trees. And it means I don't have to work the bar as much."
Weiss huffed a laugh and took another sip. It was pretty good, even if Yang was right and her preferred drink usually came with French regional names and varied drastically by the year. Still, the cider was crisp and sharp without being too sweet or heavy. It was the benefit of having a bar owner in the house – Yang had good taste.
"Suppose I'll need to swing by sometime. If just to see her in action."
Yang laughed. "Good, 'cause you and I still need to plan Ruby's birthday party."
Weiss stared deadpan at the blonde. "That's three months away."
"I know," Yang nodded. "And don't even think about having it anywhere other than my place. We're having Ruby taste-test everything till she finds what she likes."
Weiss shook her head, long resigned to the idea. She'd been surprised a few weeks back when a message from Yang popped up in her inbox, asking her what she had planned for Ruby's twenty-first. It was unexpected – the only real interaction she'd had with her girlfriend's sister was over Christmas. But it had given her an excuse to chat with Yang, and see a new side to the girl she lived with. The conversations had gone from birthday plans to talks of Ruby's childhood, and Yang had proved an invaluable source of knowledge when hunting for Ruby's Christmas gift.
She took another sip and watched as Yang set the remaining unopened drinks down on the counter and busied herself with the last of the preparations, dancing about between the oven, the kitchen counter, and crockpot ticking quietly in the corner. The blonde was everywhere at once, somehow checking on the ham, setting rolls aside to cool, and taste-testing a simmering sauce all at once, multi-tasking with a detached focus Weiss envied.
"Anything I can do to help?" she asked, setting her drink aside and hoping Yang wouldn't ask her to wash something.
"Yeah," Yang said, sounding only a little distracted as she sprinkled one last spice into the saucepan. "Go spend time with my sister. She's been looking forward to this all week, and if I ask you to help out in here, there's a chance she might actually try to murder me."