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Prise de Fleur

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Weiss sized up her opponent, shifting her weight between the balls of her feet as she ran through her options. She'd fenced Coach Nikos before, and while the woman was a former Olympian, age had slowed her ... somewhat. Not nearly enough. To be honest, the red-haired woman didn't really need speed. She had timing, experience, and Weiss had seen her time and time again go up against the odd uppity student who thought they could challenge the older fencer. It always ended the same way: 5-0, with one ego bruised and an untouched redhead.

She should never have let herself get suckered into this.

Some freshman simply had to bring it up. Had to ask if the team's resident ace could handle their infamous coach. Pyrrha being Pyrrha, she'd been more than up for a 'friendly bout' ... with everyone watching.

At least she had agreed to go with épée. It was no secret that their coach preferred saber, but épée was Weiss' specialty. It evened the odds ... a little. Coach Nikos was taller, more experienced, more skilled, and honestly, a lot more devious.

Weiss didn't like her chances.

Granted, she could probably land a few hits on the older woman. It wouldn't be completely one-sided, and she would make Nikos work for it. Still ... she wanted to win. Wanted to show her coach that she could manage a victory, even in a thoroughly unbalanced fight.

"Let's make this fast. First to touch?" It was the best solution. It ended this little show as quickly as possible, and a single touch meant almost nothing. It could be put down to luck, or the timing, or any number of factors other than the fact that Pyrrha was simply better, and about to kick her ass. Plus it saved at least some of the loser's pride.

Maybe they'd tie. She could always hope.

Pyrrha nodded, fixing the zipper of her jacket before smiling at the assembled students. "That's fine with me."

Resigned, Weiss slid the mask down over her head. The two women saluted, then sank into the ready position, their guards up, both blades aimed at the other's chest.

"En garde."

Her body wanted to tense up, to coil, to spring forward the second the starting gate opened. She fought the urge, doing her best to relax, stay loose. Tensing up would just slow her down.

"Ready." The referee's hands came up.

She could do this. She could do this.

"Fence."

They darted forward, keeping just on the outside of each other's range. It was a fruitless dance, the two of them teasing each other's defense, their shoes squeaking on the metal plates set atop the hardwood floor. Everything faded but for the much taller woman in front of her, the two of them inching back and forth, making the occasional flick with their weapons, testing for reactions.

Pyrrha extended a little – another test, another tease – only this time, Weiss saw it coming. She moved, body singing as her feet pounded the step it took to get her within range. Her fingers twitched, the small movement flicking her blade around Pyrrha's, trapping the opposing weapon between her blade and guard, twisting to force the spring-loaded tip away from her body. She didn't flourish, didn't try to throw the blade away – those were the hallmarks of the black-and-white movies Blake watched when she felt like teasing Weiss. She didn't need flair, she just needed the tip out of her way.

She felt the point of her épée hit the edge of Pyrrha's chest protector, the molded plastic deflecting the blade away from her center of mass. A surge of pride swelled in her, only ruined a little when she felt Pyrrha's tip flick her side.

Weiss heard the buzzer, and allowed herself to breathe. She'd done it. Both red and green lights lit up the score counters. They'd tied.

"Good move, Schnee!" Pyrrha already had her mask off, clapping her on the shoulder as the other members clapped appreciatively.

"It was one hit."

"Sometimes, that's all you need. Better a tie than no point at all."

The other members had started to move, dragging themselves off the ground to pull weapons from oversized bags, running wires down arms and clipping themselves to the fencing strips. The spectacle was over; it was back to training as usual. Weiss nodded, happy to see them not wasting any more time. Everyone needed the practice, especially so soon after summer vacation. She was a second away from finding one of her teammates, asking for a round or two, before Pyrrha tapped her shoulder.

"Yes, coach?"

"I think someone's looking for you."

Just inside the gym door stood a short girl in a red-and-black hoodie over a tank top and yoga pants. She was gazing around the room with rapt attention, her face shining as she watched the other members pair up as practice started once again. Soon the room filled with the buzz of score machines, squeaking shoes, and the sharp notes of clashing blades. If anything, the girl grew more excited, her eyes widening as a pair of saberists began their bout, clashing into each other in the way that only they could.

"Why do you think she's here for me?"

"Because she wouldn't take her eyes off you until you looked over there." Another pat on her back and Pyrrha was whispering in her ear. "Good luck."

Resigned to her duty as the club captain, Weiss unclipped the wires from her weapon, tucking her mask under her arm as she went over to the newcomer. The girl stayed by the door, shifting awkwardly as Weiss got closer.

"Um, are you Weiss?" The girl asked before the fencer could even open her mouth, the wide-eyed wonder now replaced by nervous fidgets.

"... I am. Can I ask wh-"

"Oh, good. Blake just told me you had white hair, so I had no idea where to start and I was soo gonna get lost. I mean, you guys were all fighting and you had your masks on and I-"

Weiss could feel herself being driven back by the onslaught pouring out of the brunette's mouth. The girl must have seen it in her eyes, and stopped herself. Coughing to clear her throat, she took a breath and started over. "Sorry. I'm Ruby. Blake told me to say that she'd 'vouched for me.' Guess you're supposed to know what that means, 'cause she didn't explain."

Weiss scowled. Thanks Blake. She would send this girl now, when Weiss was sweaty, with mussed hair, still hopped up on adrenaline from her bout, and in absolutely no shape to deal with the bubbly girl staring at her with wide, excited eyes. Wide, excited, gray eyes.

She almost growled. She wanted to growl. It was the curse of having your best friend as your roommate – it didn't take long for them to figure out your type, even if you only grudgingly admitted you had one. Short was a plus. When you were as short as she was, it was a nice ego boost to have someone who looked up at you.

Weiss shook herself, trying to get those pesky thoughts out of her head.

"Are you looking to join the club?" Perfect. It was diplomatic. Professional. Totally and completely in control and not at all tempted to check out the new girl.

"Is it okay? I know it's a little late."

"We let anyone join during the first two weeks of a semester. Try-outs for the team are a ... whole different issue, which you're probably not interested in." Weiss turned back towards her coach, nodding her head at the newcomer and giving Pyrrha a look that said in no uncertain terms that this was supposed to be her job. Shaking her head, the redhead smiled before giving her a small thumbs-up. Great. Thanks so much, Coach.

"If you'd like," Weiss grumbled, fighting to keep her teeth from grinding, "I can give you the tour, maybe show you the basics. Apparently, I don't have anything else to do tonight."

"Actually, that sounds awesome!"

Weiss waved her over to the rack of practice weapons. Most of the members had their own, but they kept a small set aside for new students.

"Do you have any background in martial arts? Any sports at all?"

Ruby grinned and rocked on the balls of her feet. "I know kung fu."

The fencer twitched, the part of her brain that reacted to bad jokes already starting to throb. Especially overused bad jokes. And puns. God-awful puns. "Did you take a few classes, or-"

"First-degree blackbelt."

Of course. "Why come here? If you don't mind my asking. There has to be a dojo nearby."

"There's only two groups who practice within an hour's drive from of campus, and they're both bājíquán. Makes it a little hard to practice Wing Chun." Ruby grinned, pulling a glove from the basket Weiss handed her. "Plus, it's college. I'm supposed to try something new. Hitting people with a stick sounded fun."

"It's not just about hitting someone with a metal stick."

"Really? Those two seem pretty good at it."

Weiss spared a glance over her shoulder at the pair fencing behind them. They were doing saber, pounding down the strip with abandon as their weapons flicked towards each other. Wonderful.

"It's much more complicated than most people think."

"It looks awesome."

"... would you like to try?"

"Sure!"

Weiss shrugged, grabbing a weapon off the rack, and holding it out.

"Fencing 101. This is a foil. It's the first weapon most people work with."

"Cool." Ruby swished it through the air like a pirate's hanger, ending in a particularly impressive pose, ruined a little by the girl's striped knee-socks. "Let me guess. The little springy end goes into the other woman."

Weiss rolled her eyes. She got more than enough of that from her roommate. "Come on. Heel-to-heel. Make a ninety-degree angle. Good. Now take two steps with the right foot. Now bend your knees."

Ruby followed her directions without complaint, slowly settling into the stance. A few minutes later, and the girl was making deliberate steps, advancing and retreating, pausing only when Weiss stopped to correct something. Then, Weiss brought up her arms, moving her into the basic closed six position, her weapon up and in front.

Oh god. She was finding excuses to touch the girl. Weiss moved back, fighting the urge to twine herself around Ruby's arms and guide her through the motions, holding her from behind while Unchained Melody played in the backgroun... Dang it, Blake! She'd known movie night was a bad idea. Her favorite nerd's overactive imagination was starting to rub off on her.

A half-hour later, and Ruby was watching as Weiss showed her the basic lunge, her foot whipping out as she pounced, tip spearing the practice target through the chest. Each thrust ended with her tip square in the center of the little padded target that hung on the wall, years of practice having burned the movement into her bones.

She spared a glance back at Ruby, making sure the girl was paying attention to the movement, ready to try it herself after Weiss finished the demonstration.

Good. She's watching the footwork, not my hands. Too many people ... Weiss stopped, and followed the line of the brunette's eyes.

She wasn't looking at her feet.

"Ahem."

"Yes?" Ruby's head snapped up, eyes wide and guilty.

" ... would you like me to show you that again?"

The small girl's face went completely red, gray eyes snapping down to the floor before glancing nervously back up at Weiss. The fencer wanted to groan. Ruby was so obviously embarrassed about staring, and yet somehow Weiss was the one who felt guilty. She hadn't even snapped at her, hadn't done anything, and yet that vulnerable look left her feeling terrible.

"Yeah. If you don't mind."

Weiss forced a smile, then turned back to the target, the foil flicking back up into the guard position. Another lunge, another thrust, and the tip thudded into the padded square.

"Could you ... maybe ... I'm still not sure I ... One more time?"

"Sure. One more time."


Weiss had to hand it to her, Ruby was a fast learner. Having some martial arts experience helped. It would hinder her later, the old footwork movements interfering with the new ones, but the muscle was there, along with the sense of timing that only came with years of practice. Her lunges were hesitant and slow, the girl focusing on moving correctly, rather than quickly. By the end of practice, Ruby had definitely made progress, hitting the general area of the target more often than she missed.

Weiss took the foil back from Ruby, sliding it onto the rack before unzipping her jacket, feeling the colder air rush against her sweat-soaked skin.

"Why try fencing, anyway? Wouldn't something like karate or tae kwon do be more familiar?"

Ruby paused for a second, trying to pull off her glove as she looked over at Weiss.

"Not really. It's like learning Spanish when you already know French. You can do it, but it takes a while before you stop mixing up the verbs." She finally managed to her the glove off, tossing it back onto the pile. "This is ... Russian. Different sounds, different letters. Plus, I don't want familiar. My sister ... she made me promise I wouldn't fall back into the same habits from high school. Then Blake mentioned you, so ..." Ruby trailed off, fiddling with the foil before getting ready for another lunge.

"What did Blake tell you about me?"

"That you're the best the club has." Ruby grunted as she moved, the tip landing about an inch from the center. "That you can be kinda mean, but you demand more from yourself than you do from your teammates. And that you're ... well, I think her words were 'drop-dead gorgeous.'"

Weiss sighed. What the hell. She probably wasn't reading the signals wrong, and if she was, better to get it over with now. Taking a breath, she ran a hand through her hair, wishing it wasn't matted and messy. That she wasn't covered in sweat and smelling of practice gear.

"Normally, the club grabs bubble tea after practice. There's this Korean place ... anyway, they'd have you introduce yourself, give you a chance to meet everyone."

"Yeah! That sounds grea-"

"Or." Weiss cut her off. She had to say this now. It would be stupid to let herself develop feelings for someone who wouldn't or couldn't return them. Especially if the girl kept showing up to practice. She didn't need an unrequited crush sitting under her nose, distracting her during training. If Ruby felt the same way, wanted to give her a shot, great. If not, she'd get over it.

"You and I could grab something to eat. Just the two of us. Give us some time to talk."

" ... like a date?"

Weiss gave her a short nod, her bound hair bobbing against the back of her neck. "If you don't want to, it's fine. I just thought-"

"No, that ... that sounds really nice."

"Okay." Great. They'd gone from awkward to happy and awkward. Not that it made the soaring feeling in her chest any less gratifying. "I'd like to grab a shower, so ... twenty minutes?"

Ruby beamed before turning away, leaving Weiss to wait until her heart stopped hammering.

Oh, she was in soo much trouble.

Her phone buzzed when she went to grab her bag, vibrating inside the pockets of her jeans. She fished it out, trying to get as little of her sweat-soaked arm on the clean clothes as possible.

It was a message from Blake. So? You ask her out yet?

Weiss glared down at the little white slab of plastic, the lit screen flashing, mocking her.

Your timing sucks. ... and I 'm buying you lunch for a month.

Chapter Text

Weiss didn't waste any time ducking out of the shower, towel wrapped haphazardly around her chest as she fumbled for her phone.

Blake. Blake! she typed one-handed, flinging damp hair over her shoulder with the other. She glared into the locker mirror, scowling at the wet length that spilled over her shoulder. Still, Ruby had seen her with a matted and messy bun streaked with sweat, so ... anything would be an improvement. Weiss had just started work on a braid when the phone beeped again.

What?

Finally. What food does Ruby like?

Cookies.

You know what I mean. Italian? Thai?

Cookies. ;)

Weiss glared at the screen, wishing a 4G connection could transfer sheer rage and annoyance as well as her roommate's stupid emojis.

Not helping.

It took Blake a little while to reply, giving Weiss the chance to finish the French braid and start pulling on her clothes, half-wishing that she'd asked Ruby for enough time to go home and grab something a little more date-worthy. Her jeans were half-on before the sharp ring heralded another text.

Her diet is 50% cookies and 50% chocolate. She has chocolate milk in cookie cereal for breakfast. Every. Morning. Miracle she doesn't have diabetes. Just go somewhere nice – she'll enjoy being there with you. And you still owe me lunch.


Ruby was waiting for her by the entrance, her breath a cloud of mist in the November air. She was back in the red-and-black dress, wrapped in a crimson hoodie just big enough to swallow her. The front rippled in waves every time she moved, the sleeves constantly slipping down over her hands. It looked the most comfortable thing Weiss had ever seen.

Straightening her collar, she stalked over to the younger girl, careful to keep her face calm as she looked down at the adorable creature. She was the older one, the responsible, calm team captain who just happened to ask out a brand-new member. Not like it hadn't happened before – there had been more than a few couples come together within the club.

"Are you ready?" she asked, reminding her stomach of all the horrible things she could do to it if it didn't stop its nervous churning.

"Yup!" Ruby chirped, twisting on stockinged legs as she turned to face Weiss. "So, where are we going?"

"How does pizza sound?"

Rose-red lips split in a grin that would have been positively sinful on anyone a little less cute. "Sounds delicious."

Moving along with the trickle of students leaving the gym, the two walked past the parking lot, pausing just long enough to lock her fencing bag in her car. Ruby seemed to enjoy the weather, and Weiss wasn't going to complain about a few extra minutes of walking. Not with the way the cold air made the younger girl's cheeks flush.

"You'll like Rosso's. He uses this buttery dough for the crust that just crumbles when you bite it."

"Sounds like someone's been there before."

"He stays open late. Plus, it's wood-fired in an oven from the forties that gives it just the right amount of char."

"Hipster," Ruby accused lightly, her smile taking any possible bite out of the accusation.

"I am not. I just like the food."

Another half-block, and they were well into the heart of the university village, boutiques and coffee shops sitting low to the ground alongside the parking structure that still wasn't finished. Weiss clocked the second of four Starbucks as they moved through the sparsely crowded path. Street lamps were already hung with unlit strings of lights, floating in purgatory till the twenty-eighth of November, when Christmas decorations could be hung in earnest. Ceramic, plastic, and paper turkeys sat in more than a few windows, preserved and faux pumpkins framing the displays. Customers moved sluggishly, strolling from one storefront to another, the ever-present coffees scenting the air with pumpkin and cinnamon.

Their destination sat in front of what was once the local bookstore, replaced by some furniture depot after the shopping center raised the rent. The stylized sign hung out over the sidewalk, swinging doors releasing warm waves of bliss, scented with garlic, tomato and toasted cheese. Light strumming trickled out the door, the Italian folk music unapologetically out-of-place with the season.

The door jingled as Weiss held it open, letting Ruby slip in ahead of her. Never let it be said that Weiss Schnee was not a courteous date.

One look, and the older girl knew she'd been right: Rosso's was perfect. This late, the place was nearly empty, wonderfully absent the occasional crying child or incessantly chattering students that normally made Weiss get her pizza to-go. The whole room was warm, almost stifling after the frigid conditions outside. Red-and-white checkered tablecloths stayed on just the right side of camp and cheesy, dodging the serious romantic for a cozier, playful feel.

The waiter led them to their booth, menus pulled from a shelf mounted into the table. Ruby scooted in, sweeping her skirt behind her legs as she sat down, drawing Weiss' eyes to the slice of skin sitting between her knee socks and her skirt. She tried her best not to notice how much that appealed to her, but some primal part of her brain wholeheartedly approved.

"Miss-a Weiss. So-a good of you to come," the clearly not-Italian man called as he came up to their table, his accent far too horrible to be genuine.

"Really Rosso? Still faking the accent?"

"Only when you walk in." The rail-thin pizza chef grinned at the two, moustaches twirling as he whipped out his notebook. "I'd offer your usual, but this doesn't look like take-out night. Now, what can I get you girls?"

Weiss was halfway to ordering a beer, when she remembered the girl sitting across from her. The girl who had to be a year or two younger – too young to drink. Granted, it would steady her nerves, something she could really use right about now, but it would mean drinking alone.

"Just water, please."

Ruby grabbed for the menu, flipping through in search of beverages. "Do you have lemonade?"

"Yup. Strawberry lemonade too, if you wa-"

"Yes. That. Definitely that."

The proprietor jotted down their drinks on his pad, flipping the cover shut with a smile.

"Be right back."

And he was, before either girl could get out so much as a word, glasses in hand and asking for their orders. Weiss bit back a smile as Ruby pawed through the menu, desperately panning over the combos list. She shouldn't enjoy this as much as she did, but Ruby made for a cute frantic. It wasn't until the younger girl bit her bottom lip with indecision that she chose to take pity on the poor thing.

"Ruby."

The red-streaked head jerked up from the menu, pupils shrinking as they adjusted.

"What do you like on your pizza?"

"Meat. Peppers. Onions."

Weiss smiled and ordered a medium Deluxe, passing the menu back to Rosso. The aging chef bobbed his head, heading off for the kitchen with another snap of his notebook.

"Do you think that'll be enough?" Ruby asked, trying and completely failing to hide her doubt that it would be enough food.

"Trust me, you want to save room for dessert."

"Oooh. Does he do those giant sundaes with brownies or something?" The younger woman reached back for the menu, already eying the dessert section.

"Or something." Weiss laid her hand on the binder, gentle but firm as she slid it away from her date. "You'll like it. Trust me."

"Mysterious," Ruby laughed, but she didn't argue as Weiss hid the menu. "You're lucky I like surprises."

Her laugh trailed off into silence, both of them waiting for the other to speak, neither particularly wanting to be the one to start. But there were only so many places to look, so many times Weiss could adjust the placement of her napkin, so many packets for Ruby to fiddle with.

"I think this is the part where we try small talk," Ruby chuckled, crinkling the paper wrapper from her straw into a ball.

Weiss nodded, grabbing the glass to give her hands something to do. Ruby was right; even worse, Ruby was the one bringing it up. It should be her. Weiss was the older one, the more grounded one, the more experienced – dear God, she hoped she was more experienced. It should be Weiss reassuring Ruby, the one making sure the date went smoothly.

"So, how's Beacon treated you so far?" Good start, now get it together, you dolt!

"I'm liking it."

"You have a major in mind yet?"

"Not really." Ruby toyed with her straw, whirling it in little circles inside the red plastic glass. "What's yours?"

"International studies." Well, that was the easy answer anyway, and few people outside the department really cared which area your focus was. Western Europe with a focus on post-war Germany was usually a little more information than most people either wanted or needed.

"Is that ... fun?"

"Depends on the day. My modern history class is a pit of soul-crushing despair, but I like the cultural studies." Weiss kept her voice dry, rewarded by chuckle at her misfortune. Good. Humor. That was definitely a good place to start. "What classes are you taking?"

They settled into an easy rhythm, complaints about professors mixing with jokes about classmates and roomies. Weiss took the chance to introduce Ruby to any parts of campus she hadn't seen, lips twitching when steel-gray eyes went wide at the news that the aeronautics department had a laser in their basement. In the girl's defense, it was a very impressive laser.

Then the pizza came, in all its cheesy glory, and their mouths were too busy for talk. Vegetables cooked into perfect softness mingled with sausage and pepperoni, all coated with tomato and mozzarella, all of it devoured and downed by the two young women.

Ruby was halfway through her third slice when her eyes caught on the scar, and Weiss resigned herself to the inevitable question. They always asked. Although, to be fair, how could they not? She couldn't really blame her – the slash went down from above her eyebrow, ending at the edge of her cheekbone, the scar tissue prominent and pink against her otherwise pale skin. Apart from her white hair, it was her most noticeable feature; Ruby's gaze had lingered on it once or twice already. If anything, her date had been fairly restrained in not asking before now.

"Do you want to ask?" Weiss swallowed her bite while Ruby cringed, looking all the part like a child caught misbehaving. "You keep looking at it."

"Sorry," she apologized, and Weiss believed her. Whatever else this girl might be, she was definitely expressive. Someone that open, that honest – she seemed like the kind of person who couldn't tell a convincing lie if she wanted to.

"It's fine." That lie came easily, second-nature after years of practice. Practice with parents, teachers, the occasional therapist ... too much practice. "Do you want to know?"

"You sure it's okay?"

"It's a little ... heavy for a first date. But, if you want ..." and she meant it. She actually meant it. If Ruby asked, she would tell her – something that surprised her more than anything else.

"Let's just talk about something else."

"Probably a good idea." Weiss forced a smile, although the relief she felt was genuine. It was odd – she normally didn't feel this guilty avoiding talking about the scar. It was human nature to stare, to wonder, and she always refused to let it bother her, refused to feel shame over the wound.

Ruby pushed her empty plate to the side, searching for something to pull them away from the conversation neither wanted to have.

"So, what's this secret dessert I was saving room for?" Now the empty plate had another meaning, and Ruby bobbed her head to the side - half-shrugging her apology.

Weiss snorted through her nose at the girl's appetite. She had to have a hollow leg. Or two.

"I'll go get it."

It was only a few feet to the counter that separated the booths from the ovens, giving the curious onlooker a perfect view of the cooks prepping sauces and tossing balls of dough, turning into circus tents around Rosso's practiced hands. Any other time, Weiss would be happy to simply watch them work, admiring the care and skill that went into something that was still always devoured minutes after its creation.

But this wasn't any other time, and the crow she was about to eat ruined the normally welcome sight. She fished out the twenty-dollar bill with a sigh, allowing herself a particularly malevolent scowl. Clearing her throat to get the chef's attention, she slapped the bill on the counter. "Do it."

Rosso's eyes flicked from her to the carefully folded note, widening with recognition. "My god, is Weiss Schnee asking for the special? Because I remember a very precocious girl in pigtails saying she would rather chug a bottle of turpentine that take one bite of something so crass and tacky as my-"

"It's not for me, Rosso, it's for her. If you ruin this, I swear-"

"Whoa there, little lady. Never let it be said I stood in the way of your love life." The moustache twitched above a shit-eating grin, Rosso reveling in his long-awaited victory. "She's cute too. Although, you're robbing the cradle a bit, ain't cha?"

"She's two years younger than me, that's not-"

"That makes her a freshman." Jovial eyes twinkled with humor as Rosso sang the word, pitching his voice just low enough for Weiss to hear. "A vulnerable, impressionable freshman being taken advantage of by a world-weary, cynical junio-"

"I know this place almost well as you, Rosso. It would take me exactly eight-and-a-half minutes to burn it to the ground, and leave no evidence."

The aging chef merely grinned wider, slipping his hard-won money out from under Weiss' fingers. "One chef's special coming right up."

Weiss caught herself before she stormed back to the table, deep breaths pushing the frustration to the back of her mind. She was not going to let herself ruin this date out of irritation over a childhood bet. It should make the girl across from her happy; that was all the justification she needed.

They settled back into easy conversation, Ruby trying and failing to explain the difference between Wing Chun and Bajiquan. Weiss was just about to surrender to the girl's obvious enthusiasm when Rosso returned, hands filled with a serving dish hastily topped by a slightly too-large lid.

"Ladies," Rosso purred, drawing out the 'l' as he set a covered dish atop the table. "I bring you the Chef's Special."

Weiss watched as steel-gray eyes went wide when Rosso swept the lid off their dessert. Red lips split as her jaw dropped, pupils as wide as the monstrous dessert the pizza chef had delivered.

"No," Ruby gasped, her voice feeble with wonder. "You didn't."

"I heard you liked cookies," Weiss shrugged, refusing to show how pleased she was at Ruby's obvious glee.

Ruby practically drooled over the mammoth cookie pizza, the cream cheese frosting layered with fudge and caramel, sprinkled liberally with chocolate chips.

"One cookie-dough pizza, as ordered," Rosso winked at Weiss, drawing a scowl from her. "Enjoy."

It took the girl in the red hoodie scant seconds to devour her first slice, satisfied moans rolling from her throat as she closed her eyes in chocolate-induced bliss.

"You are the best date. Ever."

"I'm glad you like it." Weiss took a bite, eyebrow twitching skeptically at the taste. It wasn't terrible, but she had never been a fan of anything that tasted like distilled diabetes. But Ruby liked it, and in the end, wasn't that what mattered?


It was pitch-dark by the time Weiss pulled up in front of Ruby's dorm, stepping out of the driver's side door to walk the younger girl to the door.

"I had a really good night."

"Me too."

"So, would you ..." The words died in her throat, her tongue tripping over itself as she tried to speak. What the hell was wrong with her? She wasn't some hormone-ridden teen, struck dumb by a pretty girl's smile. Weiss Schnee was not going to get flustered over asking a girl on a second date.

She swallowed, the motion freeing her tongue from whatever nerves had trapped it. "Would you like to do this again?"

"Y-yeah. I'd like that." Weiss blinked as Ruby grabbed her hand, confusion melting into relief as a felt-tipped pen dragged across her skin.

"My number." Ruby let her go, careful to cap the pen before letting it disappear back into her pocket. "Tonight was fun, and not just 'cause you found the best dessert ever."

"Good to know you're not just looking for another cookie."

"Nah." Ruby smiled up at her, lopsided grin flashing in the burnt orange light of the street lamps. "The date made me want to give you my number. Dessert made me want to do this."

Standing on tiptoe, Ruby stretched, her lips pressing gently against Weiss' own. The older girl froze for a moment, her body paralyzed with shock. She hadn't expected this, would have been fine wishing her goodnight and calling the next morning. For a moment, Weiss forgot what she was supposed to do, where to put her hands, how to react to a gesture this intimate. Then she noticed the strain in Ruby's legs, arched up onto the balls of her feet to reach Weiss's lips.

The older girl bent down, sanity restored by the other girl's needs, letting Ruby relax back as the kiss lingered. There was a second where Weiss fought being swept away by the girl in her arms, tried not to let the world fade away but for the young woman pressing herself against her. Then she surrendered, letting the feel of Ruby wipe everything else from her mind, leaving the two of them alone, safe and secure in their own little private world.

Ruby's lips were warm and soft against her own, pulling away only to return, pressing and pulsing against her mouth. She was gentle and tender and all those adjectives Weiss couldn't remember, with just the hint of passion still held back. It was cautious, testing, and Weiss was not about to give her any reason to stop. Her hand stayed safely on Ruby's spine, as possessive as she dared be without pulling her any closer.

Ruby didn't have her reservations. A hand slid up Weiss' neck to the base of her hair, cradling her head as the young woman kissed her just a little deeper, just a little harder.

An eternity later, Ruby pulled away, eyes sliding open as she smiled up at the older girl, her face flushed, lips a few shades redder than they had been a moment before.

"Good night, Weiss. Call me."

Then she was gone, dormitory door clicking shut behind her and leaving Weiss stunned and swaying on the stoop. Her heart pounded in her chest, telling her to run, to cheer, at the same time her legs begged to collapse against the wall, her lungs burning for air.

She'd tasted like chocolate chips and cookie dough, and Weiss couldn't bring herself to mind.

Chapter Text

Flurries whipped by the windows as Weiss traveled down the unlit road, headlights gleaming out onto the snow-covered lane. The wipers swished back and forth, trying to keep at least some of the snow from blinding her. It was a futile struggle. She knew it. As soon as the plastic rods pushed aside the piling snow, fresh powder took its place.

At least she could still see the road. Mostly.

Weiss growled as another blast of snow hit the windshield, wipers working furiously to clear the glass. Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea. She should have left earlier, or called ahead, or ... something. There had to be a better plan than a four-hour, cross-country drive in a snowstorm.

At least she was warm – the radiator working overtime to heat the vehicle – and the roads were almost completely deserted. She hadn't seen another car on the road in the last hour, and only a few others before that.

Then again, of course they were clear. What kind of idiot would be driving in a near-blizzard on Christmas Eve?

Her kind, apparently.

Weiss sighed as she slowed to check her phone again, smacking it lightly against the dashboard when the map program refused to update. She shouldn't even be doing this. She wasn't supposed to be doing this. They'd agreed that seeing each other over the holidays would be weird. Well, Weiss had agreed. Ruby had sat her down and fumbled her words, trying to make it clear that Weiss shouldn't feel like they had to do Christmas together. That two months of dating wasn't really enough to push themselves into the celebrations, if she didn't want to. That there would be other holidays, and if Weiss wanted to take this one slow, Ruby would more than understand.

If anything, Weiss had felt relieved. It was hard explaining to people why her scowl refused to vanish until mid-January, and Ruby hadn't even brought it up. No explanations, no awkward questions, just a short break before everything was back to normal. They'd spent the last few days of term cramming for finals, hiding from the cold in the nearest coffee shop, Ruby constantly trying to make Weiss laugh at her antics.

They'd agreed to call each other on Christmas Day. Weiss had thought that would be enough, that just hearing the younger girl would let her get through the next two weeks. Just two weeks. Fourteen days. Three hundred and thirty-six hours until she could see Ruby again ... not that she was counting.

She'd gotten all the way to the driveway, staring up through her windshield at her father's house, and she couldn't do it. She couldn't bring herself to put one foot past that door. So Weiss had backed out, turned around, and took off to see the girlfriend who did not know she was coming. Who didn't expect her and probably would not be pleased to have an uninvited guest arriving on her doorstep. At least she didn't plan on staying.

She even had time to swing by the dorms and pick up Ruby's gift, hidden away after they agreed on no presents this year – a promise Weiss was cursing herself for agreeing to in the first place.

Especially now that she was going to break it.

She pulled off before the next intersection, the knot in her stomach growing until she was sure that this really was the right turn. The GPS on her phone was being particularly unhelpful, local coverage or the snowstorm itself making the connection unbearably slow.

Waiting for the map to complete, Weiss glared down at the radio, wondering if she could risk turning it back on. The constant loop of holiday songs had grated on her nerves for the first hour, until she finally gave up and settled for silence over artificial cheer. Christmas songs had quietly snuck onto the radio, into the malls, the coffee shops, and everywhere else that had a sound system. She wouldn't mind, except they'd played on a loop since October, the constant cycle of reverent carols mixed with upbeat jingles and sarcastic parodies only fueling Weiss' dislike of the season.

The phone pinged, and she was off again, turning onto small suburban streets, the houses decked out for the holiday. Twenty minutes later, Weiss found herself staring down at the little white rectangle, a mechanical female voiced informing her 'she had arrived.'

Weiss looked up, a lump swelling in her throat as she stared at Ruby's home. Someone had tied red ribbons around the lamps, and wreaths decked with holly hung from the garage doors. Small white lights ran around the roof, with smaller, colored sets ringing the second-story windows. One pane was covered by a crude rendition of a foil, little lights blinking down the blade, curving into the guard. It had to be Ruby's room.

Compared to some of the displays Weiss had passed, it was positively restrained. No giant Santas loomed over the lawn, no tacky plastic reindeer danced on the snow-covered grass. Light beamed out from curtained windows, making it seem impossibly warm and welcoming against the freezing cold outside. It was actually festive, rather than some illuminated red flag of the owner's possible psychotic tendencies.

Somehow, that just made it even more intimidating.

Weiss parked at the end of the drive, wrapping her coat tighter around her shoulders as she marched through the snow, Ruby's wrapped gift in hand. Before she realized, she was on the step, her hand hovering over the brass knocker.

She could go. They probably hadn't heard the engine, not over the sound of the wind. She could leave, find a motel or a car park to crash at, maybe a late-night diner to give her the energy to actually make it back to her father's.

At the idea of her family's home, Weiss' jaw clenched with determination, her hand shaking slightly before bringing the brass ring down in two sharp knocks.

"I got it!" a cheery cry echoed, even through the walls. Panic set in as Weiss heard rustling inside, her heart pounding in her chest as she waited, dreading the moment when that door opened.

A shape slipped past the shrouded glass, no doubt moving to look out through the peephole. Weiss smiled, nerves making it shakier than she would like.

"Weiss?" a muffled voice cried through the door, followed by metal scraping as the lock came undone. Ruby swung the door open, complete with a mug of coco and a Christmas sweater covered in wings of wolves and reindeer.

The shorter girl's eyes were wide with surprise as she stared up at Weiss, her mouth just a little open with disbelief. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm sorry," Weiss apologized, clearing her throat before Ruby could realize she hadn't said what she was sorry for. "I know it's only been a little over a month, and that I agreed not to do the holidays this year, but I..." Weiss paused, the woods catching in her throat as she looked down at Ruby.

"I wanted to give you this." She pulled the neatly wrapped tube out from behind her back, half-shoving it to the younger woman in her haste to be rid of the damn thing.

Ruby glowered at the present, before turning her accusing glare on Weiss. "Not fair. We agreed no gifts this year."

"It's not from your girlfriend – it's from your coach."

One dark eyebrow raised in blatant skepticism as Ruby gingerly took the long tube, cradling it awkwardly in her arms. "My coach is my girlfriend."

"Fair enough." Weiss said, her weight shifting onto her other foot. "Could you open it?"

"It's not Christmas yet."

"I know but ... I'd like to see you open it. If that's okay."

Ruby sighed, closing the door behind her and stepping out onto the welcome mat, pulling at the carefully taped paper around her present.

"Gee, thanks," she said, voice pitching with sarcasm, "A PVC pipe. Just what I've always-"

"Don't be a pest," Weiss scolded before she could catch herself. "Sorry. It's inside the tube.

Giving her a look that promised retribution, Ruby twisted off the cap of the large tube, pulling it aside before reaching her hand into the white plastic. Her brow furrowed as she looked down, staring at the foil that she pulled out. The blade gleamed a dark, metallic red, the colored steel glinting as Ruby drew it from the cylinder. The untouched hilt gleamed, an unmarred shine that only unused blades ever kept for long. The pistol grip's plastic was a deep, dark crimson that fit perfectly in the younger woman's hand, looking as if it was made for her. It should – Weiss had taken it apart herself, making sure the springs reacted perfectly, that the tang was solid within the grip.

"Do you like it?" Weiss waited for her answer, hand clenched to keep from trembling.

"Weiss ... it's," Ruby looked up at her in disbelief, awe and confusion plain on her face. "Why?"

"There's a tournament in January for unrated fencers. It'll just be people starting out. I thought you might want to try, but you need your own gear, so-"

"Weiss," Ruby cut her off, eyes still locked on the gleaming weapon. "It's perfect." She slid the foil back into its tube, looking almost reluctant to strap the hilt back into the protective plastic.

"Would you ..." the red-haired girl took a breath, an odd look on her face before she smiled up at Weiss. "Do you want to come in?"

Weiss wanted to say yes. She really did. But they had decided to keep Christmas separate this year, and she had respect that. This was Ruby's family. Her home. Weiss shouldn't be here, shouldn't have come ....

"... no. I just wanted t-to give you your gift. You were right, it's still too early for something like this."

"How long did you drive to get here?"

Weiss hesitated. "... not that long."

Ruby's eyes narrowed, her lips pursing slightly as she arched one eyebrow at Weiss. "How long?"

"Four hours."

"Uh huh." She rolled her eyes, grabbing Weiss' hand and pulling her into the house. "In."

"Ruby, I-"

"You came all the way here after agreeing not to, so you could give me the gift we said we weren't giving. The least you can do is listen when I tell you to sit down and let me get you some coco."

"... okay," Weiss said.

Propelled onto the sofa, the heiress settled herself as well as she could, only half-seeing the room around her before Ruby rushed off to what she assumed was the kitchen. Trying to ignore the voices she could hear from upstairs, Weiss gazed around the room, forcing her breathing into a steady rhythm, trying to calm herself.

Homemade ornaments hung from every branch, Christmas balls and candy canes dangling between colored lights and miniature reindeer. A fire crackled in the hearth, the heat spreading through the room, banishing the blast of cold that had swooped in when Ruby opened the door. It was quaint, and cozy, but most of all, it was familiar. It deserved being called 'festive,' far more than the clinically dressed tree waiting for her at home.

A quiet cough came from behind her. Weiss turned, looking up to find Ruby standing behind the sofa, flanked by a particularly tall blonde woman, and a man that could only be their father.

Ruby smiled reassuringly down at her. "Dad, Yang, this is my girlfriend. Weiss, I want you meet my dad, and my sister."

Weiss moved to her feet, not quite jumping as she came up to her full height, still well short of the blonde woman staring down at her.

"Ooh. So you're Weiss. Nice to meet you." Ruby's sister grinned, leaning down to whisper about as quietly as a bullhorn, "Nice catch, little sis."

Ruby scowled, elbowing her sister in the side. The ghost of a smile crossed their father's lips as he looked down at Weiss,

"Let them be, Yang. I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to talk tomorrow morning." He shot Weiss a look that promised they would have the time, then ushered Yang back up the stairs, pausing only to look back at the increasingly nervous heiress. "It was nice to meet you, Weiss."

Weiss nodded, her throat working around a steadily growing lump. "You too, sir."

Ruby waited until they were gone before pulling her girlfriend back onto the couch. "It'll be fine," she promised, patting Weiss' leg, squirming closer until she was flush against the taller girl's side, snuggling deep into the sofa.

"This is nice, right?" she asked.

"Yeah. It is."

"So," Ruby pulled just far enough away to look up at Weiss. "You wanna tell me why you don't like Christmas?"

"You knew?"

"When you answer every 'Merry Christmas' and 'Happy Holidays' with a surly grunt, it's pretty obvious. I know you're not religious, so ..."

Weiss paused for a second, her jaw working as she decided how much to tell her.

"I've never had a Christmas I remembered fondly, Ruby. So, let's just leave it at that for tonight, okay?"

"Okay." Ruby shifted back down against her, her head leaning against Weiss' shoulder. "You know, Dad will have put out a mattress for you."

"Thanks. I am sorry I just showed up out of nowhere, I-"

"But," Ruby cut her off, staring at her until she was sure Weiss was suitably chastised. "If we happened to fall asleep down here, it wouldn't be fair to wake us up until morning."

The redhead snuggled closer, pulling Weiss down until she could rest her head on the taller girl's shoulder. "I don't know about you, but I'd rather sleep down here, next to you. Now," Ruby looked up at her girlfriend, a smile on her face. "Are you gonna kiss me or not?"

"... sorry." Weiss leaned down, breathing in the scent from her hair, lips pressed against the top of Ruby's head. She felt the smaller woman stiffen beneath her, an annoyed little sniff coming from her nose.

Obedient, Weiss kissed her forehead, her cheek, her twitching nose, feeling Ruby wriggle a little before finally pulling the younger girl's chin and bringing Ruby's mouth to her own.

She tasted of gingerbread and chocolate, of childhood memories Weiss dearly wished she had, and new ones she desperately wanted to make. It was soft and giving, Ruby pressing up into her as she lingered on her lips. Weiss could feel her warmth through their clothes, the quiet beating of the redhead's heart pulsing against her side. It was comfort and joy, warm and welcoming, perfect in every way she could imagine, and when it ended, Weiss nearly groaned from the profound sense of loss. All she wanted to do was kiss this sweet girl, to spend every waking moment in front of this fire, this tree, with this gorgeous, forgiving person wrapped around her.

She settled for snuggling a little closer, tucking Ruby's head beneath her own.

"Merry Christmas, Ruby."

Weiss thanked whatever spirits had guided her here that the younger girl couldn't see the smile that crept across her mouth as Ruby's arms wriggled their way around her, pinning them together as Ruby yawned and laid her head down to rest.

"Merry Christmas, Weiss."

Chapter Text

"Rose and Sustrai, report to strip eight!" the referee called, dark suit particularly conspicuous among the competitors clad in white-and-silver.

Doing her best to shake off the pre-bout jitters, Ruby rose from the bench, smiling as she pulled the dark red blade out from its capped PVC holder. She let herself stare down at it for a second, warmth rising in her chest at the sight of Weiss' gift, checking one last time that the new blade fit perfectly in the grip.

The original blade had snapped the month before, bent a little too far one too many times, finally giving up the ghost after a particularly close lunge. She'd felt awful after it happened, looking down at the two broken shards of Weiss' first gift to her, the edges jagged where the metal had snapped in half. She'd used one of the club's weapons for the rest of practice, but her heart hadn't really been in it.

She'd hung back after everyone else left, staring blankly into her bag and wondering how to tell Weiss that she'd broken her Christmas present. Which, of course, is where Weiss had found her, already showered and dressed and gorgeous enough to leave traffic collisions in her wake.

She'd tried to apologize, and was mortified when Weiss had actually snickered.

"That's why you get new blades, you dolt," she'd said, smiling down at the younger girl and squeezing her hand, a rare display of affection from Weiss in public. It wasn't that they were hiding their relationship, but the heiress was the club captain. She needed to at least look impartial, or so she said. Ruby had a sneaking suspicion that it had more to do with the way her girlfriend tended to blush when caught off guard.

After that, it was just a matter of showing Ruby the suppliers, telling her the differences between various makers, and thoroughly failing to explain why Weiss preferred German blades to French or Russian ones. Ruby nodded and humored her, ordering a set of the glinting crimson blades and asking Weiss to show her how to put them all together. It was the older girl's third 'serious' gift to her, after that first foil for Christmas and what Ruby could only describe as a crate of chocolate for Valentine's Day: a little box of pliers, screwdrivers, weights, and one plastic-handled hexagonal key (which apparently tightened the blade into the hilt).

Which was how she'd ended up here, with several red-bladed foils under one arm, her mask under the other, juggling the equipment as she futzed with the neck of her lamé. She'd done well in her pool: three wins, one tie, one loss, and that was to one of the D-ranked fencers trying desperately for one of the top spots. There were several of them here, even some from their club, and all were just a little more cutthroat than usual.

Then it was onto the direct elimination round. Ruby had ended up around the middle of the pack – the upper middle, Weiss had been quick to point out – and fortunately for her, her first bout had been easier than she'd expected. She'd fenced Cardin before, and she knew to look for his habit of twitching before he lunged. He went down like a sack of bricks. A large, annoying, All she had needed to do was watch his feet and wait for the attack. Several ripostes later, Ruby had a commanding lead.

She doubted this round would be nearly so easy.

E. Sustrai – the call sheet only had the first initial – was a young woman, maybe a year or two older than Ruby, but only a couple inches taller. Good, she thought, leaving her backup foils by the end of the strip and hooking up to the strip's wires. Someone who won't have too much of a height advantage on me, for once.

Body cord snapped into the reel, she marched down the marked-off strip. Sustrai was already there, crimson eyes staring out from beneath bangs dyed a bright mint-green. Ruby nodded politely, bouncing on her toes while they waited for the ref to finish speaking to one of the organizers. Ruby checked the scoreboard and grinned – she had the red light, and Sustrai the green. Well, at least it suits us.

Finally it was time to start, their test setting off both of their lights. No broken wires or jammed springs. Ruby was rearing to go, and from the look on Sustrai's face beneath her mask, so was she. It was time.

They saluted when told, then settled into the stance, foils held out before them, their off-hands held loosely at their sides.

"En garde."

Ruby resisted the urge to bounce and fiddled her hand, trying to stay loose and ready to go. She had this.

"Ready," the ref called, his hands raised to signal the start.

Come on, come on, come on.

"Fence!"


The buzzer rang, and both fencers lowered their weapons as the ref called for the rest. Turning around, Ruby trudged down to her end of the strip before crouching down on the balls of her feet, bouncing to stay loose and trying increasingly hard not to lose her temper.

She looked back at the scoreboard, seeing the little yellow lights shining out their scores. Seven-one, and not in her favor.

"You doing okay?"

She looked up to find Weiss standing over her, Ruby's water bottle held in one outstretched hand.

"I can't get her," the younger girl sighed and drank, more annoyed at herself for losing her temper than anything else. Glancing over, she watched as her opponent raised her mask to wipe the sweat from her eyes. Dark skin shone above the white and silver outfit. At least I gave her a workout.

"Can I give you some advice?" Weiss asked, crouching down by the side of the strip. Ruby sipped and nodded, only half-listening. The bout was basically over already. Her chances at even getting close to Sustrai's score now .... Still, it was nice of Weiss to want to help.

"Most fencers are like dogs, Ruby. You ring the bell, and they'll come for food." The heiress poked her in the arm, making Ruby look up at her, and took the water bottle back. "You've seen how she reacts, now make her give you an opening. Set it up, then go for the touch."

The buzzer rang. It was time to start.

Weiss held out her hand, offering to help Ruby up. She took it, and Weiss squeezed just a little longer than she needed to, held her just a little tighter.

"She over-commits and tends to aim high. You can still win this."

"Thanks," Ruby said, adjusting her mask and turning back to the line.

She was halfway down the strip when she heard Weiss call after her, "And move your feet!"

She chuckled and settled into position behind her starting line. Weiss was right. She could do this.

Don't get frustrated, she reminded herself, grip tightening on the grip of her sword. Focus on what she does. Don't wait for an opening, make her give me one.

The ref raised his hands, ready to call the start of the round. Ruby looked over her shoulder at the spectators, namely the petite woman with white hair streaming down her back. Weiss was watching.

She could do this.


The buzzer rang, red and green lights shining from the board. Ruby waited for the ref's decision, already knowing what it would be. Sustrai had taken the right of way; it was her riposte that should get the touch. Unless the ref hadn't been paying attention, or missed it-

He hadn't. His hand went up on her opponent's side, and he pushed the scoreboard's remote to add another point to Sustrai's score. Fourteen to thirteen, with Ruby down by one.

Honestly, I did really well, she reminded herself, trudging back to the starting line. In the second and third round, she'd gotten two points for every one scored against her, but she was still just barely catching up.

"En garde!"

She should be happy. She'd done really well. All of Weiss' advice, her coaching, had paid off – this bout had gone from one-sided to a fair fight thanks to her. No one would blame her if she didn't win after working this hard.

"Ready!"

Not that she wasn't gonna try.

"Fence!"

Her club members cheered as loudly as they could, making sure to stay in the polite range of it. She pushed most of the words out of her mind; the support was nice.

Then one voice cut through the din of sneakers squeaking on the floor, of buzzing strips and clashing blades and cheering friends.

"You can do it, Ruby," her girlfriend called, sounding absolutely sure, as if there wasn't a single shred of doubt that the younger girl wouldn't win.

She moved.

The buzzer sounded, and Ruby pulled out of her lunge. She glanced over at the board, just to be sure.

One red light.

Her friends clapped and cheered, ecstatic that their clubmate had gone from six points down to tied in two rounds. Not that she noticed. Right then, all she had eyes for was the white-haired girl standing at the side of the crowd, face beaming with pride at her girlfriend's success.

She spared the scoreboard one last look as she got into position. Fourteen-all, with three seconds left on the clock. There wasn't time for anything fancy. No time to set anything up. This would come down to one final thrust, one last riposte, the match going to whoever could manage to pull this off.

"En garde!"

Sustrai would win. Her parry was faster, and Ruby didn't have the time to set up another trap for her to walk into. Sustrai had seen all her tricks, knew the openings she liked to take.

She could pull back. Run down the clock, let the match go into overtime. They'd flip a coin to see who got priority, who would win by default if neither scored during that last sudden-death round.

"Ready!"

To hell with that. Weiss was watching.

She was gonna win.

"Fence!"

The green-haired girl pounced from the line, bolting towards her, lunging for her chest ... and then Ruby simply wasn't there.

The scoreboard buzzed. One red light. Sustrai stood on the strip, her foil extended out in front of her, little spring-loaded tip hovering in midair. Ruby sat on her haunches, crouched on the balls of her feet, her foil angled up and pressing right into the center of Sustrai's lamé.

Sometimes it pays to be short.

The club lost it, barely contained shouts of joy audible across the gym before they died down. Even with such an unlikely victory, they weren't about to risk a penalty from the refs.

Only half-hearing the order, Ruby pulled off her mask and saluted her opponent, staring over at her mortal enemy of the past fifteen minutes. The two girls were positively drenched. Sweat streamed down the other girl's face, tricking down to her chin and ripping onto her collar. Ruby had no doubt she was just as sweat-soaked, her heart still pounding from that last touch.

They shook hands, both of them completely exhausted, before returning to their separate sides and unhooking from the strip. Well, Sustrai did. In Ruby's case, she jittered in place while Weiss unhooked her from the wires.

"I did it! I did it!" she said as she bounced, still hopped-up on adrenaline, and wrapped her arms around Weiss' chest.

"Ruby!" the heiress scolded, but there wasn't any heat in her voice, and the arms trying to pull her off seemed very reluctant to do so.

Eventually, Ruby let her go, collapsing onto one of the benches that ran along the wall, her legs aching, her feet sore.

Weiss sat alongside her, their shoulders just barely brushing, and squeezed her hand. "I am very proud of you. But, you do know that you have another bout in twenty minutes, right?"

Ruby gave her a mock-glare, annoyed at the trespass of reality on her righteous, victorious joy. Then she smiled, the perfect revenge already coming to mind.

"Hey Weiss, could you take a look at my laméI think the top might be rusting."

Ever the responsible one, Weiss leaned down to look. "It doesn't look like i-"

Quick as a flash, Ruby turned her head and leaned in, pressing her lips against Weiss' before the taller girl could pull away.

The heiress blinked, stunned into silence by the unexpected and completely forbidden kiss in public. Ruby grinned as her girlfriend's face went beet-red, taken aback and completely unprepared for Ruby's teasing.

"Y-you little ..."

Chapter Text

"Then they tell us that the rooms they originally showed us aren't actually the ones they're offering!"

Weiss nodded sympathetically, watching from the couch as Ruby paced back and forth across the common room. Honestly, she was fairly impressed. Five minutes in, and Ruby still hadn't actually mentioned the name of her most hated enemy. Not that she really needed to. By this point, Weiss was more than familiar with the small war raging between Ruby and Beacon University's Housing and Food Services office.

To make a long story somewhat short – and it was always long, when Ruby needed to vent – the whole business had started with Ruby and her roommates looking for a new place on campus. When a new dorm had opened up, the four thought they'd found the perfect room, and eagerly signed up. It was only afterwards that HFS had cared to mention that only two floors of the seven-story building featured those 'perfect' rooms, and that the vast majority was mass housing, where they would be sharing space with up to thirteen people around a common room.

Needless to say, Ruby and her friends had not taken this well. Or lying down. The next several weeks had consisted of escalating conversations, meetings, attempts at negotiation, with both sides stopping just short of threatening actual bodily harm. Weiss was just glad that Yang's college was on the other side of the state. She had a sneaking suspicion that if Ruby's sister was there, they would already be well past that point.

"I am sorry about all this," Weiss said, aiming for being sympathetic while waiting for Ruby to wind down.

"It's not your fault," Ruby sighed, flopping down on the other end of the sofa before slumping over, her head falling into Weiss' lap. "Sorry. I'm not good company. Anyway, I should call-"

"Actually, I might have a solution."

Ruby turned to look at her, "No, Weiss. You cannot let your family lawyers sue the school. Even if they totally deserve it and it would be really fun to watch."

Completely deadpan, Weiss stared back at her girlfriend. "I wasn't actually going to suggest litigation."

"Oh." At least Ruby had the grace to look embarrassed at her assumption. Pushing herself off her lap, she settled back, sitting on her knees as she looked at Weiss. "I'm listening."

"Blake told me last night that she's decided to move out."

"What?" The younger girl's eyes went wide. Blake and Ruby had already been friends before she and Weiss met, and becoming Weiss' girlfriend had only brought them closer. Once the two seriously started dating, Blake had insisted that Ruby came to her weekly 'movie nights,' made sure the two had plenty of time together, and had generally done everything she could to make Ruby feel welcome in the apartment the two older students shared.

In fact, Weiss had a sneaking suspicion that Blake was almost as invested in their relationship as she was, and that Ruby came over as much for the Faunus' cooking as to spend time with her girlfriend. The fact that Ruby blushed furiously every time she denied it didn't help her case.

"Why's she leaving?" the younger girl asked, looking like Weiss had just taken away her puppy.

"She's moving in with Velvet." Sadness gave way to glee as Ruby beamed, ecstatic for her friend. The two Faunus girls had started dating not long after Weiss and Ruby, and it was obvious to everyone how good they were together.

"They've been dating for a while and apparently they decided it was time."

Which was one way of saying that the two of them had been spending enough time 'together' that having a place to themselves would be good for everyone's sanity. Especially Weiss'.

"But ..." Weiss paused, getting to her point and finding herself increasingly nervous. "It means that I have to find a new roommate or I'll get one assigned to me. You can guess how badly that would go."

"Ahh," Ruby nodded, lips pursed in thought. "You could ask Coco! I'm sure she'd be happy to stay with you."

"I ... could," Weiss hesitantly agreed. "Or, I was thin-"

"Oooh, or what about Octavia, or-"

"Actually, Ruby, I wanted to ask ... you."

"Me?"

Weiss ran a hand through her hair and sighed. "We've been together nine months, so I thought it wouldn't completely out of the question." Weiss watched for any sign of what the other girl was thinking, but for once, Ruby was actually managing to keep a straight face.

For the love of God, Weiss, just say it already.

"Ruby, I'm saying ... if you wanted, you could move in with me."

Ruby was perfectly still, her legs tucked up beneath her on the couch, eyes locked on the Weiss' face. Then, without a word, she scooted closer, her knees bumping into the side of the heiress' leg. One hand wrapping around Weiss', she leaned in and kissed her cheek.

"You're cute."

"You're a pest, and I'm being serious."

"Which is why it's cute." Ruby grinned and kissed her again, lips lingering on her cheek before the other girl pulled away. "You really mean it?"

"You already spend half your time over here," Weiss grumbled. "It's a shorter walk to the gym and it's a separate bedroom, so you'd have your own space, if you need it. It wouldn't be like we were sharing all our space, so you can keep your room as messy as you lik-"

Ruby cut her off with a kiss, a real one this time, pressing closer until she had Weiss pinned against the couch, her hands sliding up to stroke through Weiss' long white tresses.

"No need for the tough sell. I'd be happy to." She grinned even wider as Weiss blushed, her face growing serious as she looked down at their joined hands. "Are you absolutely sure you want to do this? You're not going to be able to hide us living together from your dad, and I don't want to push you if you're not ready."

Weiss shook her head. She'd already considered this: what her father's reaction would be when he found out she was dating Ruby, dating another girl. There was an upside of having parents she despised, namely never feeling obliged to actually tell them anything about her personal life. She was lucky Ruby was so understanding, that she knew Weiss' reluctance to introduce them came from her own personal family drama and not shame or embarrassment over their relationship.

"One, it's not any of his business, and two, I don't care."

Ruby smiled and, leaning closer, let her head rest atop Weiss' shoulder. Her eyes slowly drifted shut as she breathed in the scent of the older girl's hair, humming softly as Weiss' hand reach up to stroke through her own. Suddenly, the younger girl giggled, one hand coming up to hide her smile.

"What?"

"I'm moving in with you."

"I know," Weiss said, somewhat put off that Ruby had ruined the moment. "We just talked about this."

"Well, I'm excited." Still smiling, she wriggled a little closer. "Yang's gonna flip."

"So long as your father doesn't read me the riot act, I'm not worried."

"He'll be fine with it. Zwei likes you. That got you solidly on his good side."

"Yes, the tried and true way to be accepted by your girlfriend's family," Weiss drawled, sarcasm dripping from her tongue. "Make friends with the dog."

"Don't knock it if it works." Arms reached out to wrap around Weiss' sides, squeezing tight as the younger girl hugged her. "My roommates are gonna hate me."

"... I am fairly sure that I can live with that."

Sitting there, with Ruby warm and soft against her side, Weiss had a sneaking suspicion that she really could live with being that selfish. But she'd met Ruby's roommates, and she had little doubt that the girls would be as happy for the two of them as she and Ruby were for Blake.

Plus, it was nothing that a few choice calls to the school administrators about possible fraud charges couldn't fix.

Chapter Text

Ruby raised her foil to the guard position, nerves singing as she stared down the strip at her opponent. The taller fencer was perfectly still, looking calm and relaxed as she stood at her line, foil held loosely by her side. She was slim and lean, a fact that even the bulky padding of their protective gear couldn't hide. Toned legs tensed as she stretched, bouncing on her heels, short little hops meant to keep her muscles loose and limber.

And boy is she limber, Ruby thought, absently fixing the Velcro on her glove.

She hadn't really expected this. Okay, maybe something like it – it was the last practice of the quarter, and she knew the club's traditions as well as anybody else. She knew the club always set aside some time at the end of practice for an end-of-year bout, and that they always paired the newer club members against someone on the actual University team. She'd even made sure to prep her lucky red blade specifically because she knew this match was coming. The one with the older handle and the horribly scratched-up guard, scarred by the many tips and blades that glanced of it. The one that, no matter how dinged it got, she'd never replace. Blades might bend too far or break sometimes, and she'd accepted that. But she'd never change the hilt.

It was her first. The one Weiss had given her almost a year ago. Until the damn thing disintegrated in her hand, she wouldn't change a thing about it.

Plus, she got both of her last two ratings using that blade. She wasn't about to stop now.

Flexing her legs, Ruby took a breath, and plugged the body cord into the port at the base of her foil. Everything was fine. Well, not fine – there was a nine in ten chance she was about to get her ass handed to her on a silver platter – but apart from her pride, there really wasn't anything on the line. This wasn't a tournament, or some direct elimination match. This was just for practice. To see how her skills had improved. How far she'd come. It was just a chance to prove herself ... in front of Coach Nikos ... and the rest of the club ... and most intimidating of all, Weiss.

So, no pressure really. None at all.

Jaw tight, Ruby stepped towards her opponent, flicking the tip of her weapon up towards the ceiling. Once she was sure she had the other girl's attention, she bowed, sweeping the weapon out and to the side, the movement as elaborate and fanciful as she could make it.

"My name is Ruby Rose," she said, throwing as much gravel into her voice as she could. "You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Weiss' tip fell as she dropped the return salute, looking over at her girlfriend in utter exasperation. "Seriously?"

Ruby shrugged, grinning behind her mask. "Blake would never forgive me if I didn't say it once."

"She's a bad influence on you." Weiss' voice was dry, but Ruby could see the smile behind the fencing mask. "And I actually am left-handed, so no switching halfway through."

"If you're both ready?" Coach Nikos asked, crows-feet at the corner of her eyes crinkling as she tried to hide a smile.

Taking a breath, Ruby steadied her nerves as best she could, and stared through the mesh of her mask. Piercing ice-blue eyes glinted back, seeing every flicker of movement, every nervous twitch. Every motion was analyzed and set aside, judged for any sign of weakness or vulnerability.

Hoping Weiss couldn't see her swallowing, Ruby stepped forward. She stopped just behind the starting line, the muscles in her legs already itching to go, waiting for Coach Nikos to take the referee position and start the bout. She had this. She wasn't the complete novice that showed up a year ago. She'd been trained by one of the club's best, and for all Weiss knew her tells and bad habits, Ruby knew hers too. Some of them, anyway. She might not win, but she could make Weiss work for it. Show the heiress how hard she'd worked.

She didn't have to wait long. Ruby only half-heard their ref call out, her body going through the motions automatically. She followed along as Weiss raised her blade in a quick salute, waited for Pyrrha to call the start, and moved.


Growling under her breath, Ruby forced herself back to the starting line. She should have seen that trick coming. She shouldhave seen Weiss going for the flick to her shoulder, should have known the white-haired girl would pull that. Weiss was the one who'd shown her how to do it, told her that it was one of her favorite touches, that she loved hitting there on the rare occasion she could actually set it up. And Ruby had fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker.

Now Weiss was up four-to-nothing. Great. Just great.

Taking a breath, Ruby tried to calm down. The nerves weren't helping. She needed to relax, get some of the tension out of her bones.

Don't get fancy, she thought, the voice in her head almost sounding like Weiss. Don't get cute. She knows all the tricks you know. She taught most of them to you.

It didn't help that Weiss was a lefty. Most fencers, like most people, were right-handed. Which meant that, like everyone else, the heiress had spent most of her time fencing other right-handed people. For her, fencing someone using the opposite hand was normal, while Ruby had to deal with fencing someone who did everything backwards. She'd trained enough with Weiss that it wasn't a surprise – at least she was somewhat used to it – but it was still one more thing to deal with. As if this wasn't already hard enough.

Weiss stepped forward, blade flicking back and forth as she advanced. Eyes flicking back and forth, Ruby danced back, waiting for some sign of what Weiss was about to do. Doing her best to keep the distance between then, she nudged the tip of Weiss' blade to the side, teasing for an opening. She stayed light on her feet, anticipating Weiss' movement as best she could. It was really all she could do: dart in and out to threaten Weiss' defenses while keeping herself on guard.

Weiss' tip flicked beneath hers as the two dueled for supremacy. Ruby grimaced, and soon the air was filled with the squeaking of sneakers on the floor and the ting of steel tips dueling for the inside line.

Not that this is getting me anywhere, Ruby thought, leaping back as Weiss tried to close the distance.

You over-commit, that voice that sounded too much like Weiss whispered in the back of her mind. She always says you over-commit. You put too much into a lunge and can't get back out of it.

Okay – that was a valid point. Not an incredibly useful one, but still ... it was a bad habit of hers. Something she'd picked up over the past year that Weiss was determined to train out of her. Which means that she'll expect it, Ruby thought, mind racing as she tried to hold Weiss back. She'll see it as another mistake, another point she can make to try and help me get better.

Ruby couldn't help but grin. And if she's expecting it, she might not see the trick coming.

Well, it was better than any other idea she had. Now she just had to set it up. Wait for just the right moment, when they were at the right distance. She just needed enough room to – there!

Stepping forward with her back foot, Ruby lunged towards the other girl, the momentum carrying her body out and down. It wasn't the longest, or the lowest lunge she'd ever done – that was the whole point – but it still closed the gap between them, her weapon spearing towards the center of Weiss' lamé. Doesn't matter if it doesn't hit, she reminded herself. It just has to look like a real try.

Retreating a half-step, Weiss moved just out of distance, leaving Ruby's tip hovering in midair when her chest had been a second before. Then, not missing a beat, she advanced, ready to take advantage while Ruby struggled out of too deep a lunge.

Man, I really hope this works.

Even as her front foot landed, Ruby pulled her back foot forward. Legs tempered by years of kung-fu and months of training with Weiss coiled and sprung, all the tension in her muscles exploding out in one last hail-Mary of a thrust. Crossing her left foot over her right, Ruby kicked off with the ball of her front foot, and barreled right for Weiss' chest.

Ruby thought she saw ice-blue eyes narrow behind black mesh as the fleché carried her forward. Switching to a retreat, Weiss brought her blade up in a parry, lightly dinging off Ruby's foil, and riposting out towards the younger girl.

She was half a second too late. Ruby's left foot landed just as her foil snagged the light-grey jacket Weiss wore. It wasn't a perfect hit – catching a bit of fabric over her shoulder rather than the center of her chest – but the pressure was enough to press the tip down, clicking softly as she charged by, hoping against hope she could make it past Weiss before the other girl landed her riposte.

She never knew if it was panic or adrenaline, but she'd have sworn she felt Weiss' tip just barely whistle past her as she rushed past, running off the strip to get to safety.

The world came back with the sound of the buzzer and Coach Nikos' voice calling out the hit behind her. She couldn't hear what the older woman was saying – her heart was hammering too loudly in her ears. Turning back to the scoreboard, she looked at the little glowing lights, trying to swallow around a lump sticking in her throat.

Please let me get the touch, please let me get the touch ...

One red light blinked back at her. She could have cheered with joy.


The rest of the bout went as quickly as she'd expected. Weiss barreled down the strip for the last point, finishing it at a solid five-to-one against the brunette. Pulling her mask off by the bib, Ruby swept red-tipped locks out of her eyes and tucked her mask under her arm. With a grin, she flicked her blade up in a salute at the significantly less sweaty fencer across from her and waited while someone she couldn't see unhooked her from the strip. Someone else clapped her on the back while another wished her happy holidays – kind gestures that she barely noticed, eyes locked on Weiss.

One of the other fencers tapped her on the shoulder and said she was done, the end of Ruby's body cord bumping against her leg as it fell free. Thanking whoever it was – Penny probably, from the flash of ginger hair – she walked towards Weiss, sword and mask dangling loosely from her hands. Her heart was still beating wildly in her chest, pounding from the sheer adrenaline rush and the joy of actually landing one on Weiss.

"I'll admit," the white-haired girl said, her end-of-bout handshake lingering a little too long to be strictly proper. "I did not expect a fleché. Who's been teaching you bad habits?"

"Well, I know it's against the rules to cross your feet when you fence saber, and since that's the weapon you like most ..."

"You guessed it might catch me a little off-guard." Bright eyes twinkled as a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. "Good call, Ruby."

"Thanks."

Reluctantly letting go of Weiss' hand, Ruby followed the older girl back towards their bags. Laying her mask down on the floor, she slumped against the wall, watching as the other club members started to gather up their own gear and get ready to leave. She closed her eyes and let her head thump back against the plastered wall, taking a second to just let her heart stop racing. It had been a long night – the last practice before fall quarter finals always was – and the rest of the club looked as tired as she felt.

Still, it had been a good night. Especially considering how hard it was to score against Weiss. That made it all worth it. The time spent training, conditioning, listening to Weiss correct her footwork or tactics, all the effort was worth seeing the look on her girlfriend's face when she succeeded.

"You sure you didn't let me have that one?" she said quietly, half-teasing as she looked over at Weiss. She was pretty sure Weiss hadn't, not with the surprise she'd seen in the heiress' eyes, but still ...

"Absolutely not," Weiss said firmly, sitting down beside her. "You earned it, Ruby."

"Thanks." Ruby knew she was blushing – Weiss always had that effect on her. Especially when she knew the other girl was proud of her. "I had a good teacher."

Weiss snorted in derision. "Hardly. It helps that you're the best beginner I've ever worked with."

"Now you're just being nice."

"Never." Edging closer until their shoulders touched, Weiss leaned in and pressed her lips to Ruby's cheek.

"I thought you didn't like displays of affection in front of the club," Ruby said, grinning in spite of herself. "All that stuff about not showing favoritism during practice."

"I'm making an exception," Weiss whispered, leaning in to kiss her again. "You deserve it."


Pyrrha's breath formed little puffs of steam as she stepped out of the gym and into the winter air. Something cold landed in her hair. Looking up, she watched as the first snowfall of the season slowly drifted down, little specks of white falling on the students and faculty just now starting to head home. One flake hit her nose, swiftly joined by others as they landed on her hair and face. She let them linger for a second, enjoying the cold feeling on her skin, before wiping them away. Then reality reasserted itself and a shiver ran through her, the chill weather twice as biting after the heated gym and the warm shower in the locker rooms. Pulling her tawny woolen coat tighter around her shoulders, she started walking towards the parking lot, moving quickly to hold back the cold.

Breathing on her hands to warm them, the redhead dug her coffee-colored leather gloves from her bag. A few quick tugs and they were snug over fingers, already warming as she shoved them back into the pockets of her coat. She shivered again, and wished devoutly that she'd found a parking space closer to the door. It couldn't be below freezing – the snow wasn't even sticking to the ground – but somehow it just felt worse. In hindsight, perhaps it hadn't been the best idea to wear a sleeveless top that day, even if Nora had been pestering her lately to 'let the guns out.'

Someone called her name, and she looked back over her shoulder to find the rest of the fencing club having just left the athletics building themselves, waving goodbye as they trudged back up the hill towards campus. She smiled and waved back, watching absently as a girl in a red hoodie slid towards the back of the pack, sidling up to the team captain before laying her head on the older girl's shoulder.

Pyrrha stopped waving, the warmth of her smile fading, and let her arm fall back to her side. Sighing, she turned and crossed the road, hopping over the lip of the curb. Breath coming in short huffs, she made her way across the crowded parking lot to the wine-red sedan parked beneath the street lamp. Every few steps, something small twisted in the pit of her stomach, bringing on another surge of annoyance.

Why, though? she asked herself, tugging her right hand out of the glove to rummage in her pocket for her car keys. That wasn't right. Practice had gone great; the team was well on their way to being ready for the next North American Cup in January. None of the team members were slacking off on their conditioning, and with Schnee cracking a hopefully metaphorical whip, Pyrrha was confident they would be ready in time. Even the little 'Year-End Bout' the club liked to do every so often had gone well. Despite being severely outmatched, the Rose girl had managed to land a good hit on Schnee – a difficult task for even some of the team to accomplish, much less one of the regular club members. Then again, maybe she shouldn't be surprised. It looked like Weiss had grown close to the dark-haired girl with the red highlights ... oh, what was her first name?

Sighing, Pyrrha climbed into her car and snapped the door shut behind her. She used to be better about remembering all of the club members' names, but with the World Championships coming up next year and the Olympics soon after, she'd been distracted with her own training. It didn't help that she only worked with the club members once every other month – most of her time with the group was spent on getting the team ready for their competitions.

Plus, with Weiss as the club captain, the less experienced students were in good hands. The girl was relentless, running the club with as much focus as she dedicated to her own training. Still, since last year, it seemed she had taken a particular interest in the young brunette ... Ruby! That was it. She'd brought Ruby under her wing, and apparently in more ways than one.

The little knot in her stomach squeezed again. She stopped, her hand on the ignition. Was that why she was annoyed? That they were together? There was no real reason to be. There were no rules about club members dating, and Weiss was diligent enough that any personal drama wouldn't affect her training. On top of that, it was obvious how well things were going for the two of them. Pyrrha wasn't sure, but she had a sneaking suspicion they had started dating soon after Ruby joined the club. Plus, apart from a few quiet moments of affection and the general club gossip, she hadn't really heard much about them, unlike some of the other relationships that had happened between club members over the last three years. Frankly, in her experience, no news almost always meant good news. And less drama, which made managing the team a whole lot easier.

Then why did she feel so ... off?

Gunning the engine, she glanced over her shoulder and pulled out of the parking spot. Her headlights cut through the night as she rounded the line of cars and made her way towards the gate, illuminating a group of basketball players still tossing a ball back and forth between them.

Sighing, she turned onto the street and headed for the main road out of campus. If it wasn't the worry that the relationship might distract her best fencer, why had it bothered her like that? Why would she ...

Jealousy.

Blowing a stray lock of hair out of her face, Pyrrha stared out at the road and furrowed her brow. That was ridiculous. There was nothing to be jealous of. Just two young women who, to all appearances, seemed to have fallen in love.

Which is exactly the problem, Pyrrha realized, letting out a long breath as she sagged in the leather seat. Not jealousy then. Envy. Or just general wistfulness. Right, 'wistful' sounded better. After all, she was genuinely happy for the two girls. Schnee was a hard worker and great team captain. She deserved someone who made her happy, and from what Pyrrha had seen of Ruby, they seemed perfect together. It was just another reminder of how dull her own love life had been recently.

How long had it been since she was last on a date? Six months? Seven? Granted, training kept her fairly busy. Getting ready for the next championships was her focus right now, and she wouldn't give up her career or let her international ranking slide just for the chance to meet someone. Plus, serving as the club's advisor took up a good bit of her time.

Just not that much time.

To be fair, she had tried to meet people. She'd even let Nora badger her into going to a few of speed-dating events run out of the Italian restaurant three blocks from her apartment. In the end, it hadn't been awful, not exactly. And she wouldn't call it 'pointless.' Just ... fruitless.

At least the food was good.

Maybe it was just generally hard to find someone. That had to be why there were so many services these days. Dating to match your occupation, your religion, your interests ... to keep all those sites alive, there had to be tons of people out there looking for romance, love, intimacy ... or even someone to spend the night. It was just plain hard finding someone you clicked with, wanted to spend time with, not to mention someone who didn't get hung up on the idea of her being an Olympic athlete. Even the most basic conversation starters – what are your interests, what do you do for a living – eventually turned to fencing. Then came the inevitable question of if she still competed, leading to a rather sheepish admission of the multiple medals she had mounted on her wall.

The bicep-baring top Nora insisted she wear that night probably hadn't helped. The second time she'd tried the service out, she downplayed the competition stuff as much as she could, and wore something that didn't show off her muscle tone every time she reached for the salt. Not that it had helped much. All she got in return was her 'dates' asking what she did for a real job. As if being an athlete somehow didn't count.

Fifty different people, and none of them had been any different. Either they were intimidated by her success, or saw what she did as some fanciful pipe dream. Apparently it was rare for people her age to actually be doing something they loved. The closer she got to forty, the more dream jobs had given way to mortgages and car payments and school fees. For most of her potential dating pool – the ones looking for a real relationship, at least – being a professional athlete, even a successful one, just wasn't 'settled' enough. It wasn't stable enough for them.

She hadn't bothered to go back a third time.

Turning onto the freeway, Pyrrha shook her head, trying to kick the mood she'd gotten herself into. Tonight was supposed to be happy. It was the end of the fall quarter at the university, the holidays were coming up, snow was falling, and in about twenty minutes she was seeing two of her oldest friends for the first time in months. Nora and Ren had just returned after a long trip overseas, and Nora wanted to have their 'welcome home' ceremony in style. Pyrrha couldn't blame her – at their age, any excuse for a night out among friends was a good one.

Plus, right now, she could really use a drink.

Chapter Text

Lost in thought, Pyrrha barely even noticed when she turned onto her block. She came to just as she saw the sign at the front of her building, an angled shard of glass and steel that cut up into the night sky. White flakes had already started to gather on the roof and street-level awnings, turning the neo-modern architecture into a palace of ice and snow, glittering darkly against the city skyline.

Chastising herself for getting so distracted, she pulled into the underground parking garage. Locking the car behind her, she bundled herself back up and headed back out towards the street. Shivering in the cold, Pyrrha glanced down at her phone and copied the destination Nora had texted her into the map program. Watching the little loading ring spin, she tugged her coat tighter around her and stared out at the city. This early at night, the roads were packed, as workers pulling late shifts and overtime finally packed up and started heading home. Watching the cars whizz past, she sighed, wondering how long it would be until those same drivers were crawling along on snow-packed roads, desperately trying to not fall victim to Vale's steep hills and icy climbs.

Her phone beeped. Glancing down at the backlit screen, she bit the inside of her cheek, and decided against fighting to find a taxi. Dropping the phone back into her coat, she headed off down the lamp-lit street, gloved hands tucked into well-lined pockets. It was only a twenty minute walk to the place Nora picked. She might as well just hoof it. It wasn't much exercise, but it was one less driver on the road. Plus, if she was being honest with herself, she needed the time to think.

Not that it did her much good. Long legs made for an even shorter walk, and before she knew it, the app on her phone beeped and a muted voice announced that she 'had arrived at her destination.' Glancing up, Pyrrha found herself down by the waterfront, the boardwalk lit by dim lights and the gleam of neon signs mounted in storefront windows. It was colder than downtown, the wind coming in off the bay and biting at her ears and nose. A marina sat off in the distance, lights from the boats and mooring dock splashing over the water, shimmering as the waves swept in. The sea air filled her lungs, frigid and chill and smelling of salt.

Staring out at the water, she leaned against the boardwalk railing and smiled, letting the night's quiet and rhythmic ebb of the tide seep into her bones. She always found something calming about the sea, about that long expanse reaching out towards the horizon. The yellow-orange lights of the city twinkling against that dark, fathomless depth. It reminded her of summers spent at her grandmother's side in Heraklion, falling asleep to the sound of ocean. It was the kind of moment that she always tried to savor, those brief swells of memory and emotion. The kind of moment you wanted to sha-

And there's the problem, she thought, blowing a stray lock of windswept hair out of her face. Shaking her head, she turned back to reality, staring up at the taproom Nora had picked.

The bar itself sat in the bottom floor of a tenement building, taking up the corner space and spilling out onto the sidewalk. Patio tables and chairs sat outside, ringed by a low wrought-iron fence, and completely abandoned. The cold air and the snow had already chased any patrons back inside, seeking refuge from the weather. The storefront itself was all dark wood, a walnut brown so deep it looked almost black, with clouded glass windows that begged passers-by to peek inside, wondering what the vague shapes moving behind were up to. Yellow-gold letters ran beneath the eaves, spelling out 'Golden Gloves' in big, block print.

Staring at the name, Pyrrha sighed. Trust Nora to choose a sports bar. Stepping towards the building, she gave a smile that was only half-forced and pushed open the wooden door.

A bell hanging above the door jingled as Pyrrha entered, already shrugging off her coat. The scarf came next, leaving her in dark jeans and a cable-knit sweater in a deep, charcoal-black wool. Sleeveless, of course. After all, Nora had been the one who picked it out. Moving to hang up her coat, Pyrrha recognized a pink trench and a black topcoat already nestled among the rest of the winter clothes, dangling precariously from the coatrack. Mouth splitting in a genuine smile, she looped her own winter clothes over the peg beside them and peered deeper into the bar.

For all the name evoked the image of a bare-bones concrete gym, filled with punching bags and free weights spread out around a boxing ring, the inside couldn't be more different. The place was packed, and not with the balding men and former high school athletes she'd expected, or with the bright young things that partied till dawn and finals drove them back to the university dorms. She counted as many sport coats and blazers as she did button-downs and hoodies, the clientele ranging from a group by the bar talking animatedly about some programming project to a small circle of women with biceps that looked like they could give hers a run for their money. A soccer game was playing on the massive LCD screen hanging in one corner, the crowd around it groaning as one side or the other fouled up.

It took her less than a second to spot Nora. Even with the crush of people milling about the bar and the servers moving back and forth, delivering drinks and taking orders, it was next to impossible to miss that bright orange-red head of hair. She was seated in the back, perched on the edge of chestnut loveseat alongside a bespectacled dark-haired man in a greenish tweed jacket, brown patches decorating the elbows. The quintessential professor, Pyrrha thought, chuckling to herself.

The two made for a rather mismatched pair, the man dark and lean, a somber look in his eyes while he listened to the short, bubbly woman who seemed unable to sit still for longer than ten seconds. They were practically the poster couple for 'opposites attract,' and Pyrrha doubted if anyone who met Nora or Ren on their own would expect their spouse to be so different.

It was really good to see them again.

"Pyrrha!" the ginger-haired woman shouted the second their eyes met, bounding through the crowd to wrap her arms around the fencer. Grinning, Pyrrha hugged Nora back, having to bend down to reach the shorter woman's shoulders.

"You're late," Nora chirped when she pulled away, hands resting on her hips. "What kept you?"

"I decided to walk."

"In this weather?" Nora's voiced pitched up in disbelief as she took the fencer's hand and started dragging her over towards their table. "I knew you were a glutton for punishment, Pyrrha, but still."

"It really wasn't that bad," she managed to get out before being dumped into plush armchair beside the couple's love seat. Her guest properly secured, Nora flopped back down beside Ren, kicking her legs out to rest atop her husband's knees.

"So, how was the second honeymoon?" Pyrrha asked, smiling at the pair.

"It. Was. Awesome!" Nora cheered, nearly bouncing out of her seat. "We landed at the airport and everyone was speaking French because you know – France! Obviously!"

Listening to the smaller woman babble, Pyrrha grinned and glanced over the menu lying on the low table in front of them. It had the usual bar fare – sliders, bruschetta, and a Dungeness crab dip with artichoke hearts and focaccia that actually made her consider the extra workout she'd have to throw in tomorrow.

Oh what the hell. It was the holidays. She might as well enjoy herself. A little extra running wouldn't kill her. Plus, Nora loved crab, especially if it meant she got to wield a hammer while cracking the shells. Even with just the dip, she'd probably end up eating half of it herself.

"Anyway Ren finds our hotel for the night and the next morning we drive out to Bourgogne for wine country, which was so beautiful. And then-"

Flipping the menu over, Pyrrha scanned down the drink list, past the various beers on tap and the listed cocktails, to find the standard whiskies, scotch, and...

Tsikoudia? Her eyebrows shot up in surprise. Waving over a server, she ordered the crab, along with a shot and a beer, still barely able to believe that a waterfront bar in Vale carried Cretan brandy.

"...we hit Mont Blanc, and did you know you could take a cable car over the pass into Italy? And-"

Ren reached out and laid a hand atop the babbling woman's. Nora glanced over at him and trailed off, smiling and reaching for her beer.

"It was nice." Ren said in his usual quiet voice, summarizing his wife's rant for Pyrrha's sake.

Pyrrha laughed and relaxed back into the armchair, glancing over just in time to watch as Nora played with the long lock that hung down past Ren's chin. It always struck her how the two of them seemed so well-made for each other. They were the kind of couple that had only started dating after every one of their friends already knew they belonged together. It became an inside joke for years, that all of them knew the two were perfect for each other long before they realized it themselves.

And yet they'd been friends for years, Ren's laconic calm making up for Nora's overabundance of energy.

Must be nice.

"Did you see much of Italy?" Pyrrha asked, smiling at the server when she returned with her drink.

Nora shook her head. "We had to take the cable car back. But Pyrrha, you can't imagine the view ..."

"Gorgeous?"

The smaller woman shook her head again, mouth splitting in a Nicholson-worthy smile. "Terrifying."

Ren coughed and adjusted his glasses. "At Aiguille du Midi, there's a glass room on the highest terrace."

"It's called 'Step Into the Void.'" Nora's eyes sparkled at the memory. "You take the cable cars and the elevators up to this jagged peak, and you walk out into thin air, with a pane of glass and a thousand meter drop between you and the ground."

"Several of our group got sick," said Ren. "Vertigo."

"Lightweights." Nora snorted and took another swig of her beer. "It was a great mountain, but those cable car rides take forever."

The conversation lulled when the crab dip arrived. Nora's eyes narrowed to ravenous slits as their server laid the creamy appetizer on the table. Within seconds, she had shredded chunks off their loaf of focaccia and was trying to see how much dip she could fit on a single piece.

Leaving Nora to take the first crack at it, Pyrrha knocked back her shot, the pomace brandy smelling sweet and tasting sweeter. It wasn't quite as good as the homemade stuff, distilled from grape skins and must from any one of the many villages along the Cretan coast, but it was just close enough to bring back memories from the last few trips to her family's homeland. Christmas at her grandmother's two years ago, the family reunion five years before, and the '04 games in Athens before that. It had been her first Olympics, and the image of her wizened, geriatric grandmother threatening to do unspeakable things to the referee – in Greek – never failed to put a smile on the redhead's face.

Sighing as the fire-water slid down her throat, Pyrrha copied Nora and went for the dip. Savoring the rich flavor and trying not to think about how much of it was cream cheese and pure fat, she glanced over at the smaller woman. "Any news on the coaching position?"

Nora swallowed her bite and sat forward, chest puffed out dramatically. "You are looking at the future Head Coach of Beacon University's football team." Grinning, she sat back, taking her piece of focaccia with her. "We filled out all the paperwork yesterday. Now it's just a few months before Port officially retires."

"How is he doing?" Pyrrha asked, brow furrowing. The soon-to-be previous coach for Beacon's team, Peter Port, had put himself on medical leave after he suffered a heart attack in the middle of practice.

"Better," Ren said quietly. "Up and about, at least."

Nora nodded, her appetizer bobbing in her hand. "His cardiologist has him starting physical therapy next month. I'm the interim coach while he's on medical leave. "

"I know the team will be sad to lose him."

"Yeah, but if treatment goes well, he'll still be around." Nora shrugged and reached for more dip. "There's talk of him taking a position with the athletic department, but no one's sure if he'll want to take a job in administration. Anyway, did we tell you about ..."

They were halfway through a discussion of French castles and coaching schedules when one of the servers stepped over to the table, picked a shot of sweet-smelling clear liquor off the tray, and set it down beside Pyrrha's empty glass.

She was about to ask what it was for when the server leaned in slightly, tucking the tray underneath his arm. "From the young woman at the bar," he said, nodding slightly before springing back into motion, heading back through the kitchen's swinging door.

Sitting straighter in her chair, Pyrrha stared over at the bar. She scanned down the line of backs and faces, talking amongst themselves or watching the game in various states of happiness or grief. Past the hipster in a pork-pie hat, past the swaying man trying to hold onto his beer, to ...

To the blonde staring right back at her.

Even seated, the woman looked tall, in a cream top she filled out rather nicely and cropped leather jacket. Skin flashed between the hem of her skirt and her high black stockings. Beneath the cream wool, Pyrrha could just see the hard outline of biceps defined enough to rival her own, and the second skin of her stockings couldn't hide the blonde's toned legs.

Smiling, the young woman raised her own glass in a toast, then turned back to the bar, speaking in hushed tones with one of the bartenders.

"Do it," Nora's voice said, practically from inside her ear.

Jerking away on reflex, Pyrrha turned to find Nora's head leaning over her shoulder. The fencer sat back in her chair, heart hammering from the surprise. "Excuse me?"

"Go talk to her."

"What?" Pyrrha's brows went up in surprise. She looked back at the blonde, still chatting with a dark-haired bartender. "... no. No, I'm here to spend tonight with you two."

"Which is probably why she just sent over a drink rather than interrupting us," Ren chimed in, oblivious to the injured look Pyrrha sent him.

"Come on, Pyrrha," Nora cajoled, needling her in the side with an elbow. "You already think she's cute."

"... I never said I thought she was cute."

"You're playing with your hair, bit the inside of your cheek when she looked at you, and your voice just jumped an octave." Nora leaned over in her chair, bumping Pyrrha in the shoulder with her fist. "You're into her."

Pyrrha's fingers stopped mid-tug, the redhead grimacing as she pulled her hand away. That was the worst part of old friends – they knew all your tells.

"Nora," Ren said quietly. "You shouldn't tease her."

"Thank you, Ren. Now-"

"Although you really should go talk to her," he finished, smiling behind his glasses.

"Not you too." Pyrrha groaned, suddenly glad for the arrival of an extra drink. "You two are not allowed to gang up on me."

"One, we're married," Nora said with a nod, clapping her husband on the shoulder. "We get to gang up on whoever we want. And two, you were the one complaining you couldn't meet anyone. Well, she's clearly interested. Go meet her."

Pyrrha gave the blonde another look, at the thigh-high stockings and unruly mess of blonde hair. "She's too young for me."

"Nah," Nora eyed her from behind and finished the last of her beer. "Early thirties. Late twenties at the youngest."

"Nora ..."

"What? You're thirty-eight. Youngest you should date is twenty-six, and she has to be older than that."

Pyrrha stared at her incredulously, finding herself suddenly speechless. "Where did you get that number?"

"Half your age, plus seven," Nora chirped helpfully. "Commonly accepted rule of thumb for over a century."

"Assuming you're right," Pyrrha started, half a dozen different reasons why this was a bad idea running through her head. "No. No, I am going to the bathroom, and when I come back, we're talking about your vacation and not my love life, okay?"

Nora sighed and slumped back against Ren, waving aimlessly as Pyrrha stood to leave. "Alright Pyrrha, have it your way."


The redheaded fencer sighed as the water streamed down her face. Opening her eyes, she looked up from the bathroom sink and stared blankly at the woman in the mirror. It was something she'd found herself doing a lot more these past few years, as the signs of her age finally started catching up to her. She was almost forty, after all. Laugh lines had started to deepen around her mouth. She was getting crow's feet, for heaven's sake. This was not the point in her life to chase anything attractive in a skirt just because she could. No matter what Nora would have her do.

Drying her hands and dabbing at her forehead, she took a breath and shouldered her way out through the bathroom door. At least it was over. There would be maybe one or two more grumbles from Nora, but at least now she wouldn't have to ...

Pyrrha rounded the corner and froze.

... I can't believe this.

There, by the small table the three of them were using, currently being chatted up by a very energetic Nora, was the blonde.

"Pyrrha!" Nora said, eyes wide in feigned surprise. "We were just talking about you."

Pyrrha swallowed and forced herself to smile. "Actually, Nora-"

"Oh would you look at the time." Ginger hair flicked as Nora jumped out of her seat. "We really should get going. Jet lag, you know. Don't want to fall asleep on the walk home. Come on, Ren."

The taller man unfolded himself from the loveseat, looking at Pyrrha with a smile on his lips. "Good to see you, Pyrrha." Then, with a swirl of coats and Nora practically dragging Ren by the arm, they headed out into the snow.

... and leaving the fencer with a very bemused-looking blonde. Mouth half-open, the woman stared at their retreating backs, at a loss after being so quickly abandoned. Turning to look at Pyrrha, she gave a rueful smile and shook her head.

"Why do I have the feeling we both just got played?"

"Probably because we were," Pyrrha groaned. She couldn't believe Nora had done this. Actually, no ... the worst part was that she absolutely could believe Nora had done this. That was what you got with the perfect cocktail of poor impulse control, matched with a genuine desire to help at all the worst times. Now she'd dragged this poor young woman over to the table, thoroughly embarrassing the both of them, and then just vanished into thin air. This absolutely had Nora Valkyrie written all over it.

Apparently, her thoughts showed on her face. Clearing her throat, the young woman stood, brushing herself off before stepping out and around the table.

"Look, the drink was just supposed to be a conversation starter. You know, if you were interested. You're clearly not, so I'll just-"

"No, it's ..." Pyrrha sighed, caught between relief that she wouldn't have to play host to a random girl she knew nothing about, and the need to apologize for what Nora had put this poor woman through.

Then again ...

Maybe Nora had a point. This woman definitely was not what she would have been looking for, but ... well, maybe that was the problem. Maybe something new really was what she needed. After all, this was just a conversation. If she didn't like the girl, then that would be that. Plus, the blonde really didn't look the type to mind her muscles.

"I'm Pyrrha," she said, when curiosity and responsibility finally won out.

The blonde woman stared back at her for a second, before settling back down on the loveseat Nora and Ren had been sitting in. "Yang."

Pyrrha was about to apologize for Nora, when something about the blonde – Yang – jogged her memory. There was something here, something ... familiar, but she couldn't quite figure out what it was. She was sure they hadn't properly met, but Pyrrha had a decent memory for faces. She'd definitely seen this girl before.

"I'm sorry, do we know each other?" Pyrrha asked, brow furrowed.

The blonde shook her head and sipped at her drink as she leaned back in her chair. "Not exactly. More like 'been in the same room once.' Really, I'm surprised you remember me at all."

"Do you fence?" That would explain why she seemed familiar. Pyrrha had met or competed against most of Vale's resident fencers at one point or another. And the blonde definitely worked out. Even beneath the hip-length sweater, Pyrrha could still make out her biceps and powerful lines of her shoulders.

Blonde hair swayed as Yang shook her head. "Never picked it up."

"Spectator at a tournament, then."

"Getting warmer."

"... you're really going to make me guess, aren't you?" Pyrrha asked, smiling in spite of herself.

White teeth flashed as Yang smiled again. "I'll give you a hint if you need it."

Pyrrha frowned, eyes narrowed as she stared at the blonde, wracking her brain as she tried to remember. Something about her ... it was the kind of thing that Pyrrha knew would come to her hours or days down the line, just when she was thinking about something completely unrelated. And, as always, it would be extremely annoying.

She glanced at Yang again, noting how her smile made deep dimples beside her mouth, at the playfulness glinting in her eyes, and Pyrrha realized who the blonde reminded her of.

Looking down at the drink, she sighed. Just my luck. "I really shouldn't accept this."

"Why?"

"Because you're Ruby Rose's sister, aren't you?"

Yang grinned again, looking sheepish this time as she shifted in her chair. "Guilty. Any reason why it'd be a problem?"

"It's an ethical grey area," Pyrrha frowned. "Ruby's a member of the club I advise, not the team. I don't have much actual involvement with her training, but ..."

"But?"

"But, she is a student in a club I supervise. But, you are the family of one of my athletes, even if she's one I don't interact much with. There's still the chance that it could come across as playing for favoritism."

Now it was Yang's turn to wince. "Sorry. Didn't mean to put you on the spot."

"No ... it was a nice gesture. Somewhat inappropriate, but nice."

Swirling her cocktail in its glass, Yang pursed her lips. "What if I had a completely different reason for sending you a drink?"

"Such as?"

"What if I thought I'd like to get to know you better, and this was a blatant attempt to get you stay a little longer?"

Pyrrha swallowed, a lump rising in her throat. Technically, there wasn't anything that said she couldn't have a drink with Yang. Not really. This wasn't a date, or ... anything. They were just talking. Even if it was, most universities trusted their faculty and students to behave like responsible adults when it came to romantic relationships. Well, at least to an extent. Faculty members dating their own students was outright forbidden, for obvious reasons. But while it was frowned upon, there wasn't an actual ban on professors or teaching assistants dating a student who wasn't in their classes or requesting a recommendation. It was, however, a line Pyrrha absolutely refused to cross. The idea of dating someone who you had any kind of control or influence over, it was just ... skeevy.

But ... Yang wasn't a student. She wasn't someone Pyrrha trained or coached. Just a woman who happened to be related to someone who fenced at her university. Like she'd told Yang, she didn't have that much involvement with the regular club fencers. Team captains and the student heads for foil, epee, and sabre handled the coaching for non-team members. Ethically and professionally, there was nothing wrong with sharing a drink with the girl's older sister – she made a mental note to find out exactly how much older – so long as she didn't let it affect her coaching.

It was just a conversation, and it really was a nice gesture. She couldn't remember the last time anyone had done something like that for her.

... oh, what the hell.

Reaching down, Pyrrha took the small shot glass and raised it, clinking the tsikoudia against the rim of Yang's cocktail. "Then, just to make us perfectly even, I think it would be best if I bought the next round."

Yang's grin returned, and Pyrrha had a sneaking suspicion her dry throat had little do with the alcohol.

"Yeah, I think I can work with that."

Chapter Text

Ruby just managed to slip through the door behind Weiss, juggling her fencing bag in one hand and an early Christmas present in the other. She tried to free up her hands, gave up, and shoved with her knee until the door clicked shut.

The light from the hallway vanished, leaving the two girls in shadow until Weiss found the switch. Knocking it with her elbow, she led the younger girl into the apartment they shared, before laying their bags down next to the washing machine.

Weiss took a breath as she straightened back up. "You mind if I-"

"No," Ruby said, peeling off the jacket she always wore after practice. "Go right ahead. My turn to do the laundry anyway."

Weiss smiled, pushed a snow-wet strand of hair out of her face, and headed for the bathroom. A minute later, the door opened just enough for their laundry hamper to slip through, Weiss' after-practice clothes lying neatly on top.

I will never get why she always insists on folding them. Rolling her eyes and smiling affectionately, Ruby grabbed the hamper and dragged it into the small nook that served as the apartment's 'laundry room.'

The smell of sweat-stained cotton hit her nose as she unzipped their fencing bags, grabbing the oh-so-fragrant white jackets and dumping them into the machine. Underarm protectors, fencing knickers, knee socks, and gym clothes soon followed, filling the machine with a thick swirl of white cloth. Their gloves went on the top of the pile – neither of them believed in the superstition that washing a glove washed the luck out.

Dropping an air-freshener in each bag, Ruby started sorting the clothes from the basket, dropping the whites in with their gear and sorting the rest for later.

She blushed when she found one of Weiss' more lacy undergarments, and set it aside for a delicate cycle. I'm being silly, she thought, shaking her head to try and get rid of her blush while piling their jeans together. It's not like she hasn't seen my laundry. We've been living together for months – I should be over this by now.

She sighed and leaned back against the wall. If Ruby was being honest, the idea of them 'living together' still felt a little new. They'd settled into an easy rhythm quick enough – it helped that Ruby had already been sleeping at Weiss' place two or three times a week. But there was still the odd moment where the closeness, the intimacy embarrassed her.

Dumping in more detergent that she really needed to, Ruby closed the lid, listening as the machine began a long, slow fizz as it filled with water. Leaving the rest for later, she made her way back into the combo kitchen-living room and picked up the Christmas present she'd left lying on the floor.

Well, technically it wasn't for 'Christmas.' The fencing club had a tradition of doing an explicitly random 'White Elephant' gift swap at the end of every year. There were still plenty of chocolate and holiday-themed sweets, but board games and the odd hand-made gag gift showed up to make the fencers happily fight over them. One of the cleverer members had found small glass vials, filling them with cough drops and labeling them after potions and ethers from popular role-playing games. Those had been the year's favorites, followed closely by a fencing-themed card deck with a different weapon for each suit.

Pulling the massive bag of cookies out from her bag, Ruby grinned, knowing what she would be eating during her cram sessions, and put them on the counter. She was about to undo the twist-tie and eat one (well, one to start) when the door to the bathroom opened.

Weiss stepped out in a puff of steam, tying a knot in the sash of a thick, floofy bathrobe.

"It's all yours," she said, running a towel over her damp hair.

"Thanks!"

Ruby leaned in and pressed a kiss to her cheek, and had to stop herself from laughing when the taller girl blushed. Chuckling to herself, she closed the door on Weiss' glare – even after being together for over a year, Ruby could still catch the older girl off-guard. And she's always cute when I do.

Peeling out of her own after-practice clothes, she left them in a pile by the door and headed for the shower.

The hot water felt glorious after the cold walk from Weiss' car to the apartment. Ruby closed her eyes and relaxed, rivulets of heat trickling down her back, easing the few muscles still stiff from the last practice of the year.

She lost track of time beneath the water, and by the time she came out of the bathroom in pajama pants and a tank-top, Weiss was already dressed for bed. A half-empty suitcase sat open on top of the bedsheets, slowly filling up as Weiss pulled clothes from her closet.

"A little early, isn't it?" Ruby asked, bouncing down on the foot of the bed. "You've got days before you have to pack."

Weiss looked miffed and laid another sweater inside the white case. "Well, unlike someone, I'd rather do it now than wait until the airport van shows up."

Ruby grinned and collapsed back on the mattress. And anyway, it was four minutes before the van showed up.

"When's your last final?"

"Wednesday," Weiss sighed, trying to decide between a pale blue and a white cardigan. "I'll head out that night."

"Right." Ruby nodded and stared up at the ceiling. That gave her ... four days with Weiss? Four days before she went back to her parent's estate, while Ruby caught a ride with Yang out to their dad's house. Four days ... and most of it would be spent studying and cramming for their finals. Ruby wasn't too worried, but it was time she'd much prefer to spend with Weiss, not hunched over some mechanical engineering textbook.

The bed dipped, and Ruby looked up to see Weiss sitting on the edge.

"I could always call," she said quietly. "Tell them I just couldn't make it this year."

A part of her wanted to say yes. A big part of her. Having Weiss at her house for Christmas last year had been wonderful, and Ruby would happily have invited her back. She knew Weiss would love it too – Zwei would jump up onto the older woman's leg the second she walked through the door, and Ruby would spend half of that first night smiling and laughing while Weiss played with the family corgi. It was nice to see Weiss that happy, and her lifelong love of dogs always brought out the heiress' cute side.

It would make her happy, make Weiss happy, and yet ...

"We thought about that. You said there'd 'be hell to pay.'" Ruby sighed and shook her head. "It's just a week and a half. You'll be out to my dad's place by New Years."

Weiss nodded grimly and grabbed another pair of pants, dumping them into the suitcase a little harder than she needed to. Her shoulders were stiff, her mouth twisted in a rueful grimace. "You know the best part? Winter's still deployed overseas. So it'll just be me bearing the brunt of my father's disapproval." She paused, staring down at the suitcase as the dread slipped into her voice. "This will be the longest week of my life."

"I offered to come."

Weiss scoffed and went into the bathroom for the little bottle of travel shampoo she used on trips. "I'd rather introduce you to family I actually like. I'm not throwing you to the wolves for some emotional support."

"Weiss, you don't have to protect me. I can handle it."

"I know," Weiss said, smiling sadly from the bathroom door. "You just shouldn't have to."

Ruby held her gaze for a second, then flopped back on the best, staring up at the ceiling. Weiss was always reluctant to talk about her family. Ruby sort of understood why; Weiss had told her about the pressure her family put her under, her parents' expectation that she would take over the family's company. From Weiss' description, both of them sounded like completely miserable people. Still ... they were her parents.

"I'll try to convince my sister to swing by Vale next time she goes on leave," Weiss said, zipping the shampoo inside her travel kit. "I've wanted her to meet you for a while."

"I'd like that." Ruby reached over, tugging on Weiss' sleeve until the heiress leaned low enough for Ruby to capture her lips in a kiss. The younger girl melted against Weiss' side, one hand running along the nape of her neck, threading languidly through her long white hair.

"Call me?" she whispered when they came apart.

"Every day."


"So, 'Ms. Rose'-" Pyrrha started, raising her voice so Yang could hear her over the din. The bar had been packed when she arrived, and more people had crammed in as the night went on. The weather, or the cold kept chasing people inside, knocking snow from coats and hats before heading to the bar to try and find something stout, warm, or both.

"It's 'Xiao Long', actually," Yang cut her off. "I use my dad's name, Ruby uses her mom's. Seriously though, just 'Yang' is fine."

"Alright, Yang," Pyrrha nodded, playing absently with her empty glass. "Is there a particular reason you decided to send a drink to your sister's fencing coach?"

"Honestly? Not many people notice the tsikoudia. Even fewer order it. It's usually a good sign that someone will be fun to talk to." The blonde grinned, and Pyrrha swore she felt her heart skip a beat. "Plus, it's not every day I get to chat up a gold medalist."

You're thirty-seven, for God's sake, she thought, clearing her throat. You're too old to get this excited when a pretty blonde smiles at you.

"You know about that?" the redhead managed, brushing her hair back behind her ear as an excuse to look away.

"I kinda googled you when I heard Beacon's fencing coach was an Olympian," Yang shrugged an apology. "Your last bout at the Beijing games was really something by the way. Still got no idea how points work, but the video was fun to watch."

Pyrrha smiled gamely. It had been a rough match – down to the wire with Pyrrha's winning point scored in the last ten seconds. Even so, a part of her wished the younger woman hadn't found out about it. She didn't seem hung up on the idea, but ... well, it would have been simpler, at least. And this would be even simpler if she wasn't the sister of someone in my club.

Please, some rude and unhelpful part of her laughed. Even if she wasn't, we both know you'd never do anything about it.

"So, you know at least something about me," Pyrrha said, shaking her head to clear it. "What about you? What do you do?"

"Nothing as exciting as an Olympic career," the blonde laughed. "It's boring. I own a bar."

"That doesn't sound boring at all."

Yang shrugged. "I guess. It used to be my uncle's, till he had some sort of midlife crisis, bought a boat, and started sailin' around the world."

She nodded over towards the wall, and Pyrrha turned to look. A dark-haired man with a scruffy beard crouched atop the bow of a sailboat, the white canvas flapping in the wind behind him.

"Last we talked, he was in Barbuda."

"Like I said," Pyrrha chuckled, thinking of the summers she'd spent by the sea. The nights spent on the deck of a ship, staring up at the stars. "It does not sound boring."

They lapsed into silence, Pyrrha listening to the half-forgotten sound of waves washing across the rocks, and trying to ignore the feeling of Yang's eyes on her.

"This is weird, isn't it?" Yang asked once the silence became too thick.

"A little."

"Okay," Yang nodded, smiling widely. "New plan. You're kind of my sister's fencing coach ... or her ... coach's coach?"

She trailed off for a second, brow furrowing before she dragged her train of thought back onto the tracks. "Anyway, how's Ruby doing with the fencing stuff? I get to see her at tournaments, but I'm still figuring out how the judging and the hand signals work."

Pyrrha couldn't help but laugh, and she wasn't quite sure why. "She's doing well, as far as I know. I don't train the regular club members much – I mostly work with the college team to get them ready for competition. But what I've seen from her is rather good. And I do know Weiss is very proud of her."

"Good," Yang beamed, the pride glowing in her eyes. "Honestly, it's hard to get that kind of stuff out of her sometimes. No problem talking about Weiss' victories though."

"Really?"

"It's all I can do to get her to stop," Yang rolled her eyes, but Pyrrha couldn't hear any real bite in her voice. If anything, she seemed happy about the whole thing. "It's obvious how much she likes her. And Schnee seems like a nice enough girl."

"She is. She's also one of the better students I've trained."

"Good. Nice to know I didn't get the wrong read on her." Yang paused for a second, then started chuckling to herself. "Oh, remind me to tell you how she drove all the way across the state, through a snowstorm, to give Ruby a Christmas present."

"She didn't."

"Oh she did. It was a good present too. Ruby thought it was adorable ... Dad thought it was a little much."

Pyrrha joined in the laughter and began to slowly relax back into her chair. This was easier, something to talk about that she was more familiar with. Slowly the topic changed from Weiss and Ruby to fencing itself. Yang might not know much about the sport – although she picked up on the rules quickly enough once Pyrrha explained the basics. She seemed to understand the sense of rhythm, of reading the opponent, of trying to nudge them into giving you and opening.

Perceptive too, Pyrrha thought, when Yang mentioned seeing Ruby telegraph some of her moves in the last tournament the older sister had seen. She has to be some sort of fighter. A martial artist, maybe? That would make sense, especially with arms like hers ...

Pyrrha tore her eyes away from the blonde's muscles and brought her glass to her lips. She was surprised to find it empty. That's not right, she thought, glancing down at her phone. She'd only been taking the occasional sip. She couldn't have finished it in ...

Over an hour. It had been almost an hour and a half since she sat down with Yang. She wouldn't have believed it, but ...

Is it really that much of a surprise? Some treacherous part of herself whispered. Admit it, you're enjoying yourself.

Shaking her head, she met Yang's eyes and nodded towards her empty glass. "Since you seem to be a regular, what would you suggest? Other than the tsikoudia."

Yang pursed her lips, her brow creasing as she considered her answer. Then her face relaxed and she knocked back the last of her own drink. With a sigh, she clinked the glass tumbler down on the low table and stood, stretching her arms above her head and accidentally giving Pyrrha a brief flash of what looked like extremely toned abs.

"Well, that bartender makes a mean Strawberry Sunrise, but ..." the blonde leaned in, speaking in a stage whisper loud enough to hear over the other patrons. "They just whipped up a pretty nice microbrew. IPA, little notes of citrus and pine, not too bitter ..."

"Sold," Pyrrha laughed, waving off the hard sell as she followed Yang to the bar. "Remember, I'm buying."

"Fair enough." Still grinning, Yang walked over to the bar and waved at the woman working at the other end. To Pyrrha's horror, Yang grabbed onto the edge of the wooden counter top and vaulted over the bar with effortless ease, landing back behind the taps with a thump.

"What are you doing?" Pyrrha asked, her heart stopped. Apparently the blonde was a lot more soused than she'd thought.

"What? It's fine," Yang said as she moved over to the sink and started washing her hands. "If anyone complains, I'll put them on dishwashing duty for a week."

Pyrrha just stood there, jaw half-open, her mind working overtime, trying to process what had just happened.

"... you own this bar," she said after a moment, biting the inside of her cheek. Finally, her heart started again, beating heavily in her chest. For a second there, she'd been convinced Yang was much more drunk than she looked, that the both of them were about to get thrown out.

The short surge of panic faded, quickly replaced with annoyance as the blonde flashed her an annoyingly smug grin. With the practiced hands of an expert, Yang pulled two glasses from a shelf on her right, and slid them beneath one of the taps, filling them each in turn. Once one was halfway full, she straightened it out, and Pyrrha watched as the liquid settled with a picture-perfect layer of foam at the top. Once both were done, Yang slid one glass across the bar to the fencer, keeping the other for herself.

Pyrrha took it, and gave Yang the darkest look she could muster. "So, is this the one I dump on you for giving me a heart attack?"

"Hope not – that'd be a waste of good beer," Yang laughed and took a sip of her own, taking the bill Pyrrha handed her and moving over to one of the registers. "You want something to toss, I'll find you a Bud Lite."

Pyrrha shook her head ruefully and took a sip. It was good ... and she supposed the whole situation was at least a little funny. In hindsight. And she was definitely going to get Yang back for it.

"I suppose you have the night off, then."

"More or less," Yang shrugged and took the bar stool next to Pyrrha. "We're testing out a new bartender."

She nodded her head at the cat-eared Faunus in a white dress shirt and black vest standing behind the bar, currently setting out a boilermaker for one of the other bar rats. "Technically, I'm supervising."

"Did she pass?"

"Flying colors. Really, it was just an excuse to give myself the night off."

"Well, I'm glad you're using it to freak out your customers." She paused and gave Yang a level stare until the blonde had the grace to look guilty. When she seemed at least a little contrite, Pyrrha took another sip and continued. "If it's your bar, do you mind if I ask about the name?"

"Well, 'Admiral Benbow Inn' was taken, so ..."

Pyrrha rolled her eyes. "About that Bud Lite-"

The blonde laughed and held up a hand. "Alright, alright. I kicked around a couple of ideas. It used to be called 'The Crowbar' when my uncle ran the place. He always had people calling or walking in thinking it was a hardware store, but he refused to change the name."

"Old memories?"

"Old puns." It was Yang's turn to roll her eyes. "His name's Qrow. So, you know ... the 'Crow' bar. That's a bad one, even by my standards. Hell, he actually kept crossed crowbars over the mantle."

"I can see why you changed it." Pyrrha couldn't help but laugh. "So why call it the 'Golden Gloves?'"

"Well, the actual gloves are mine," Yang shrugged and settled into her chair. "It was the youth division, but I won the championship bout for my weight class in the National Women's Golden Gloves. Since I had the trophy and everything, it just seemed like a fun name."

"Well, that explains the arms," Pyrrha said without thinking, blushing after she realized what she'd said. Ignoring the look Yang was giving her, she school her features in something less embarrassed. "How old were you when you started?"

Great save, Pyrrha. Just great.

"Seven."

"... and how long ago was that?"

"Subtle," Yang drawled, the sarcasm only making Pyrrha's blush worse. "I'm twenty-eight. I was seven when my dad remarried, eight when Ruby was born."

Twenty-eight, she ... it wasn't that bad. Twenty-eight to thirty-seven – nine years wasn't really that big a gap. Pyrrha did the math in her head – going with whatever Nora had said earlier, dating a twenty-eight year old should be considered acceptable.

And why am I even thinking about that? she thought, shocked at how quickly the idea had jumped into her head. She's the sister of a fencer in my club. The age difference wouldn't be the main problem even if I did date her.

Still ... Pyrrha had to admit, she liked her. Yang seemed nice, and funny, and occasionally awkward in a way that made the redhead feel less self-conscious. To top it off, she was an athlete, or at least a former one. That was a plus – Yang would have a better reaction to her being a professional athlete than most of her other recent attempts to date. And from the shape she's in, she clearly still works out. Not that it matters all that much ... alright, it's very attractive. She's very attractive.

Setting her drink down on the bar, Pyrrha swallowed. None of that even mattered unless Yang was ... no, she was. She definitely was. Well ... probably.

Fine. There was a better-than-even chance that Yang was specifically flirting with her.

She was about to ask a question, confirm in her mind exactly what Yang was looking for, when she found the blonde trying to meet her eyes.

"Something wrong?" Yang asked. "You looked upset for a second."

Oh to hell with it. She cleared her throat and met Yang's gaze. "You know, sending someone a drink at a bar usually has a specific meaning."

Yang shrugged. "Maybe. But I'm not some delusional man-child who thinks that every conversation with a woman has to end with her falling into bed with him. Like I said, I'm here because you're interesting. And because almost no one orders the tsikoudia."

Pyrrha let out a little huff of a laugh at that, a smile toying at the corners of her mouth.

Setting aside her drink, Yang turned on the stool to face Pyrrha directly. "Look, the only thing I'm expecting out of this is a fun conversation. It's not every day I get to chat up an Olympian. But if the 'Ruby is your student in a very minor way' thing makes you uncomfortable, then I'll be happy to get out of your hair."

A part of her – the quieter, more cautious part – wanted to say yes. This has the potential to be a problem. In different circumstances, she definitely ... well, probably ... fine. She might have asked Yang out. Especially since Nora would probably have badgered about it till she did. And she still might, Pyrrha thought, groaning to herself.

Then again, it wasn't against any regulations. It wasn't unethical – it might be, if Ruby ever joined the university's team, but even then dating Yang wouldn't be too much of an issue so long as she made it clear to the administration about the connection between the two sisters.

Plus, she was enjoying herself. Nora would be the first to tell her how rare that was. How long it had been since a date, any date, went even this well. And Ren would agree.

"There's nothing wrong with us having a conversation," Pyrrha finally said, then reached for her beer and downed the rest of it in one go.

"Good." Yang nodded towards the empty glass. "So, can I buy you another drink?"

"I really shouldn't."

"Alright," the blonde shrugged and flashed her that insufferable smile. "Then you can buy me one."

It was an excuse to stay a little longer. And Yang was right – it wasn't like there was some kind of obligation for either of them. And it would give her the chance to decide how she really felt about the blonde. And exactly how much trouble she was in.

"Fine," Pyrrha said, faking a scowl, and doing a pretty poor job from the way Yang's smile got bigger. "One more drink. But only if you tell me about your victory match for the gloves."

"Make it two and you've got a deal."

Pyrrha couldn't help but laugh. "Now you're just drumming up business."

"It's a special deal I'm trying out. Two-for-one Fridays. Interesting and attractive redheads only."

Chapter Text

Ιξός, the Kissing Bough

It's just coffee, Pyrrha told herself as she stared out the windshield of her car, desperately trying to convince herself to let go of the wheel. Just coffee. There's nothing to stress over. You had a fun time last night, you made a friend, and she invited you for coffee. That's all.

Right, said the part of her that all-too-often sounded like Nora. Then why are you still in the car?

White-knuckled hands still gripping the wheel, Pyrrha closed her eyes and breathed. This wasn't helping. Her nerves were bad enough as it was without ... whatever this was. She needed to calm down, relax, and just think about what she wanted to do.

Painstakingly slowly, she unclenched her hands from the wheel, each joint complaining as she pried them open, and watched as the color returned to her skin. Flexing her fingers, she looked at the wheel and winced – she'd gripped tight enough to leave little fingernail marks in the padded fake leather.

Folding her hands over her lap, Pyrrha closed her eyes and tried to focus. This wasn't really that difficult a decision. If she wanted to see Yang, she just had to get out of her car and walk the ten feet to the coffee shop door. If she didn't, she could just put the car in reverse and leave.

I could call and cancel. I could say something came up and just head back home. It was a believable excuse – and even if Yang thought she was blowing her off, well ... she was. It wasn't like she didn't have anything else to do today, and with any luck it would end this whole mess with the least amount of fuss.

It would also be easy, and something about that rankled her.

Groaning, Pyrrha slumped forward and laid her head on the top of the wheel. Yang was attractive, and Pyrrha wasn't going to bother pretending she wasn't attracted to her. The blonde was nice, smart, seemed like she was in a good place with her work ... and she stayed in shape. She worked out – religiously, if she wanted to keep those muscles. But even if it was just a habit of Yang's, she still had that past, that history as an athlete. She'd competed. She'd fought. She understood what it was like to face someone down after months, years of training and go toe-to-toe with them. It was the kind of connection Pyrrha hadn't had with someone else in a long time ... longer than she'd really like to admit.

If she was brutally honest with herself, she had feelings for Yang. It wasn't love, or anything that dramatic. But it was close to something ... something that would end with her slipping off that particular slope if she wasn't careful. If she didn't want to get involved, the best thing would be to let that night stay 'that night.' A chance encounter with someone fascinating that she'd simply never see again.

It probably could have happened too. But Yang had asked if she wanted to get coffee, and like an idiot, she'd said yes. She'd said yes without thinking – she hadn't even considered if she had anything to do the next morning, or weighed whether this really was a good idea. She'd agreed instantly, completely on impulse, and spent the entire cold walk home second-guessing her decision.

This is a bad idea, she told herself, trying to get up the will to just put the car in reverse and drive away.

Maybe. Doesn't change the fact that I want to see her.

Growling under her breath, Pyrrha steeled herself, pulled her coat and scarf tighter around her, and swung the car door open.

After the time she'd spent trying to work up the nerve, the walk to the coffee shop seemed much too quick. She locked her car and a few seconds later she was there, her hand on the door. It seemed like it should have taken longer.

The café itself was loud and warm, a nice change from the frigid air outside. The whole place was decorated in earth tones – the rich browns of the wood tables against the pale lines of the fake wooden floor. Everything was tans and browns, broken by the vibrant red, green, and white displays, announcing any number of holiday deals. Bright red bags of Christmas-themed next to cups decorated with snowflakes or menorahs. Cookies shaped like Top-hatted snowman lay behind the glass counter, next to gingerbread men, Christmas trees bathed in green frosting, and butter or chocolate-filled croissants. Everything smelled of rising flour, coffee beans, and chocolate, making Pyrrha's mouth water and her stomach start to growl.

It was exactly what she'd expected it to be. Exactly what it turned into every winter. The coffee shop Yang had suggested sat in the center of the downtown market district – rain or shine there was always a horde of people filling the space. The only thing missing, the only thing she couldn't see as she stood in line and waited for a brunette woman and her son to pay for their drinks, was-

A man standing at one of the display stands stepped to the left, and Pyrrha's heart jumped into her throat. Seated at the back of the room, previously hidden by the man's broad shoulders, was a violet-eyed blonde, sipping from a cardboard cup and smiling at her over the top of her paper.

The nice, warm café was suddenly stifling. Loosening her scarf, Pyrrha managed a quick smile and looked back at the menu hanging above the baristas. Her heart was pounding – not as fast as it did after a good run or the frantic thumping after a fencing bout, but it was still a quick thumping that almost made her miss the woman behind the counter asking what she wanted.

What the hell is wrong with me?

Easy answer. You haven't dated anyone you actually liked in years, the voice that sounded like Nora whispered in the back of her mind.

This isn't a date.

Riiiiight.

Shaking her head and picking a chocolate croissant from the display, Pyrrha managed to order her mocha without making a complete fool of herself. Even managed to wait by the counter, pretending to check her phone while one of the baristas brewed the coffee and wrapped up her breakfast. It wasn't until she headed over to Yang's table – saw the blonde watching her, violet eyes following her across the room – that the heat came back, creeping up her neck and bringing a blush to her cheeks.

"Good morning," Yang said, folding her paper shut and dropping it onto the table beside her.

"... morning. Sorry about the wait."

"No problem," the former boxer shrugged and grinned, making butterflies do cartwheels against Pyrrha's insides. Oblivious to the effect her smile had, Yang grabbed her cardboard cup and reached over for her coat. "Sit and stay, or would you rather walk?"

Pyrrha gave one look at the small table. At the chair that would leave her facing Yang while she worked through her pastry. Leave her sweating in the stifling heat and trying to keep the blood from rushing to her face-

"Walk," she said, more firmly than she'd meant to, and headed for the door.


The cold bite of the air outside was a godsend. It made it easier to focus, easier to keep her mind on what she was doing as the two women walked down the street, glancing into the shops lining the avenue. The food and coffee made it even easier – when she needed a second to think, she could just take a bite and use it as an excuse to buy her time.

Yang didn't seem to notice. The blonde seemed perfectly content to wander down the sidewalk, hands jammed into the pockets of her coat, steam billowing up out of her mouth.

"Glad I got the chance to do this," she said as they passed a kitchen supply store, with Santa hats and reindeer figurine prancing atop the cookware. "Busy part of the year, you know?"

"Really?" Pyrrha asked, head cocked in surprise. "With the holidays coming up, I'd have thought the bar business would slow down."

Yang shook her head, setting her waves of blonde hair rippling behind her. "Nah. Right now, half the people coming in wanna celebrate the season early. The other half come in to avoid it. Or their family."

"That's a little depressing."

"Maybe, but everyone's got that one relative they can't stand. The religious cousin, the mother-in-law who keeps needling you, the niece and nephew who won't stop screaming ..." Yang took a double-step forward and turned, twisting on the balls of her feet so she could look Pyrrha in the face while she walked backwards down the sidewalk. "Holidays are great, but some people just need a break."

"Makes sense. Tree."

Yang stepped to the side, nimbly dodging the plant she'd been about to concuss herself with. "How 'bout you? Any plans for the holiday?"

"Not really," Pyrrha shook her head. "I'll drive down to California to see my mom. Hopefully my grandmother hasn't forgotten how to make video calls."

"I get that." Yang nodded and twisted back around, her coat flapping as she moved.

"Hey, you mind?" she asked, nodding her head over at the store beside them. "I still need to pick up a few stocking stuffers."

Pyrrha looked up to find a confectioner's shop looming above her. The storefront was a soft pink – warm instead of garish – with an archaic sign with superfluous 'E's at the end of every other word. Ye Olde Shoppe, huh?

"Need help picking something out?" the redhead asked, reaching for the door.

"Only if you've got time."

The air inside was warm enough to make both women loosen their scarves while Pyrrha looked around. Despite the name, the shop styled itself as a 'boutique' rather than a 'candy store,' and its wares showed the difference. Gingerbread houses lined the windows, with little spun-sugar birds hanging above them. Clear plastic tubs sat on shelves, filled to the brim with wrapped toffees, chocolate coins, bags of candy corn, and what looked like little chocolate buttons covered in green and red sprinkles. Peppermint bark lay beside little chocolates coated to look like rocks, perfect for lining a path to one of the gingerbread house kits that sat nearby. Everything smelled of sugar and chocolate, and Pyrrha could feel her mouth water the instant she stepped inside.

But it was the glass cases that caught Pyrrha's eye. Next to the truffles and the chocolate-coated cookies sat row after row of little figurines molded from poured chocolate. There were dogs, cats, even a few turtles with little lines making hexagons on their shells.

"If you don't mind me asking," Yang drawled, hefting a bag of 'Christmas' corn. It was dyed in red and green for the season, and looked heavy enough to rip any stocking off a mantle. "I've been wondering – how does an Olympian fencer pay the bills? It's not much of a spectator sport, and I wouldn't think you guys get the multi-million marketing contracts."

"I don't mind." Pyrrha shrugged. Yang wasn't the first to be curious, and at least she was asking how she paid the bills. Most people skipped past the 'how,' assumed the sport was just a hobby, and asked about her day job. It was a small difference, but one she appreciated. "Sponsorships help, when you can get them. But a lot of us do work other jobs outside of training."

Turning to the counter, Pyrrha looked over the confections behind the glass, her eyes tracing over the small chocolate fish sitting next to the truffles. "Sticking to Americans, I know at least two models, an actor, a writer, one other fencer who works as a DJ ..."

She paused and waved over the freckled man behind the counter. The chocolate fish would make a good gift for her mother – she had a thing for fish, and the candy would be a nice change from finding food or decorations for her fish tank. "Outside of that, there's plumbers, chefs, lawyers, soldiers ... it really runs the gamut."

"Neat. Didn't see the DJ thing coming."

"He actually invited me to a gig once. He's pretty good."

She paused long enough to pay for the chocolate, taking the little box the man handed her and slipping it inside her purse. "After I took my first bronze, there were a few sponsorship offers. Fencing equipment makers, mostly, but there was a cereal company after I took gold ..."

"You have a cereal?"

"I had a cereal. 'Pumpkin Pete's,'" she shook her head ruefully. "Almost entirely sugar. Anyway, your average Olympian is generally better at managing their money than cash-flush celebrities or spectator-sport athletes. The coaching work is more a personal passion than anything else."

Yang snorted a laugh, and smirked when Pyrrha met her eyes.

"Right. Your everyday 'average' Olympian." Yang chuckled and carried her purchases over to the counter, muttering under her breath. "Like there's anything 'average' about you."

"You know what I mean," Pyrrha said, crossing her arms over her chest while she waited for Yang to finish. And what was that supposed to mean?

"What about you?" she asked once the door had shut behind them, the little bell ringing a muffled, tinny note. "What's the bar business like this time of year?"

Yang blew out a puff of air and started back towards the coffee shop. "Busy, but not too bad. They'll close early Christmas Eve and take a day off. I've got a few bartenders who don't mind working around the holiday, so they're trading shifts with the people who need to see family."

"You can take the time off?"

"It can run itself for a few days. I've got a good staff. Plus, I mostly handle the business side of things these days."

Pyrrha slowed down to look over her shoulder at Yang, one eyebrow cocked. "I hope this doesn't sound rude, but you don't really seem the type."

Yang laughed. "I'm not. The accounting stuff makes my head ache sometimes. But I do get to work on the microbrews, and getting to taste-test new stuff for the menu rocks. Oh, you should have seen the last one – they made these stuffed mushrooms with sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts. And the wine!" Her eyes closed as the blonde sighed, relishing the memory. "So good."

It was Pyrrha's turn to laugh. The look on Yang's face as she described the food was positively adorable. "That does sound fun."

Yang grinned and bounced a few steps ahead of her, turning to meet her eyes. "You know, you could always come to the next one we do. I can always use a few extra taste-testers."

Pyrrha paused, her feet coming to halt on the sidewalk. One hand untangled itself from the bag to run through her hair, pushing her bangs aside as an excuse to buy time.

They were halfway back to the coffee shop – and their cars. Halfway back to saying goodbye and going their separate ways ... and Pyrrha didn't want her to go. 

A dozen things to say crossed her mind, followed by a dozen reasons to keep her damn mouth shut.

Yang realized Pyrrha wasn't moving and stopped, her brow furrowing with concern. "Sorry. Was that too forward? I didn't mean to-"

"Would you like to do this again?" Pyrrha blurted out, the words springing unbidden to her lips as she fought the sinking feeling in her stomach. She almost closed her eyes, then forced them open, needing to see the look on Yang's face. "G-get coffee, I mean? I have some time off between training and work, so-"

"Yeah!" Yang cut her off, and had the grace to look sheepish for interrupting her. "Sorry. That'd be fun. I still wanna ask what Greece is like."

Relief washed over the fencer, the surf pounding the butterflies in her stomach into oblivion. There was still some nervousness, some anxious fluttering, but she said yes! Granted, it was just coffee – just coffee! – but still ...

Grateful for the change in topic, any change in topic, Pyrrha cleared her throat. "Good, I ... what did you want to ask?"

"I dunno," Yang shrugged, tugging at her scarf. "Never really learned much about it. What do they do for Christmas over there?"

"It's mostly the same," Pyrrha said, and started moving again, thanking whatever gods or spirits had made Yang bring it up. She shuddered to think what would have happened otherwise – probably the two of them just standing there awkwardly, trying to find something to say. This was better. They were going to do this again. She just needed to keep moving, keep talking, move past all that embarrassment like it never happened.

"When I was a kid, we spent every few Christmases with my grandmother in Athens. The other children would sing kalada – carols. And there's the karavaki. Thessaloniki puts up a large version every year."

"The who does what now?"

"Karavaki. They're little boats. The big one in Thessaloniki, one of the bigger cities, they hang lights along the edges and the sails," Pyrrha saw the open disbelief on Yang's face and smiled. "Think Christmas trees – without the ornaments or tinsel."

"You're joking."

The redhead shook her head. "I could be wrong, but I think Saint Nicholas was the patron saint of sailors. Most people have a Christmas tree, but you'll still see decorative boats strung with lights in some towns. And the kids-"

Yang made a choking sound and Pyrrha trailed off, looking over at the blonde in concern. Yang was biting down into her lips, her chest shaking, tears coming to the corners of her eyes as she tried to hold back her laughter.

"What?"

"N-nothing," Yang managed, holding her sides, tears running down her face from the strain.

"It's not that odd. You have to have been at the Vale wharf over the holidays. Half the boats here get decked out in colored lights for the holiday."

"Not th-that. I just ... I c-can't help seeing you singing beneath the mizzenmast." Yang choked out, then finally broke, a loud guffaw erupting from her mouth before she dissolved into uncontrollable peals of laughter.

"Oh come on, Yang. Everyone does the holidays differently. There's Krampus in Europe, Japan has the whole KFC thing, the bungee-jumping in South America ..."

"Yeah, but," she paused and wiped her eyes before breaking into a fairly on-key butchering of a classic carol, laughing the entire time. "O Christmas boat, O Christmas boat-"

"Really?"

"How loyal is your mainsail!

"Yang..."

"Fair winds and seas while summer's here, we'll kiss fair maids when-"

Yang was mid-note, her mouth wide open, when the snowball smacked her in the face.

Knocking snow from her gloves, Pyrrha giggled like a woman half her age, watching the stunned blonde try to get the snow out of her mouth. Her violet eyes, wide with shock, slowly narrowed in mock-fury as Yang reached for her own handful of snow. Ducking the boxer's return volley, Pyrrha slipped and slid across the icy ground, heading for the relative warmth and safety of town, laughing all the way.


Schneerosen, Part II

Christmas Eve

It was after midnight by the time Weiss shook off the last of her father's hangers-on, ducking through one of the drawing rooms to the rear staircase that lead up to the third floor. The Christmas Eve festivities were in full swing – the palatial Schnee mansion was filled with its yearly supply of men and women with too much time and money on their hands, laughing and drinking themselves into a socially-acceptable stupor.

Weiss waited until the door was shut before she let out the breath she hadn't known she was holding. Even with the heavy wooden door to her room locked behind her, she could still make out the echoing rumble of the guests, muffled fragments of conversation trickling up the stairs in an incomprehensible jumble.

It was a matter of seconds to dive for the laptop lying on her desk. Wrenching the white clamshell open, Weiss slammed herself into the chair, nearly knocking it over in her rush. Then the painfully long wait began, her knee bouncing as she tapped the space bar, impatient for the login screen to load.

Come on come on come – finally! The screen lit, showing a random login screensaver. Weiss didn't even bother to see what it was, just sweeping her index finger over the print scanner and clicking frantically once the home screen loaded. Ruby had said she'd stay up until Weiss called, and Ruby always kept her promises, but Weiss didn't want to keep her up any later than she absolutely had to. She knew how early Ruby's sister would be up and about.

After ten long, agonizing seconds, the app booted up, barely logging her in before Weiss hammered the call button, her knee still tapping against the underside of her desk.

This last wait was the worst – watching the little loading ring cycle beneath Ruby's profile picture, waiting for Ruby to answer. The picture helped and hindered in equal measure. It was of the two of them, cut from a strip of photos back in March. They'd walked down to the waterfront after a dinner date and watched the sunset, dying the waters of the bay a deep purple beneath the amber sun.

Ruby had dragged them both into a photo booth once the light finally dimmed, and by the end she'd pulled seven different strips of photos from the machine before she finally had one she was satisfied with. It was as much her fault as Weiss' – the older girl disliked having her photo taken and Ruby couldn't go two pictures without making a face or trying to cajole Weiss into looking silly. But finally she got the one she wanted, both of them smiling into the camera, Ruby's head leaning back against Weiss's shoulder. Weiss was just glad she hadn't used the one after, where Ruby had taken advantage of the curtained booth and pulled the taller girl down into a kiss.

Her laptop beeped the sound for a successful connection, and the words were already on her lips by the time the screen cleared, showing the blurry outline of her girlfriend as her camera refocused.

"Sorry I'm late," Weiss said, wincing when she saw the side wall of Ruby's bedroom in the background. "Couldn't get away."

"S'okay," Ruby mumbled, blinking sleepily and smiling into the camera. "Not your fault. How's the party?"

Weiss opened her mouth, just in time to hear another muffled half-shout come from the floor below.

"Obnoxious, loud, and a complete waste of time. How are you doing?"

"Good. Dad made one last batch of cookies and Yang cooked lasagna – it's been a good night."

Weiss let out a short huff of a laugh. She'd had the leftovers from Yang's 'traditional' Christmas Eve dinner the year before. The blonde always made enough to give them leftovers for days, but even reheated, her cooking was to die for.

"Okay. I won't keep you up," Weiss said as Ruby yawned, looking guilty as she tried to hide it.

"No, it's fine-"

Weiss cut her off. "I know how early Yang gets up. Get some rest – you'll need it. I just wanted to make sure I said goodnight."

"Alright," Ruby nodded, blinking until she could hold her eyes open. "Happy Christmas, Weiss. Love you."

Warmth burst in her chest, the same way it always did. Ruby had said it before, countless times over the past couple months - over dinner, before falling asleep, lying on the couch, or in stolen moments between classes and practice - but it still warmed Weiss' heart every time.

"I love you too. Have a good Christmas okay? I miss you."

"I know. I got your present–" Ruby reached off screen before leaning back and waving the carefully-wrapped box in front of her webcam. "I'll open it when you get here for New Year's."

"Can't wait. Merry Christmas, Ruby."

"Merry Christmas, Weiss." 

Chapter Text

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."

"Yeah."

"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."

"Dad!"

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.

"Thank you."

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."

Chapter Text

It took less than a second for Ruby to cross the living room, leaping around the sofa as she barreled headlong into the rabbit-eared Faunus. Blake tried not to laugh as the blur of red and black slammed into her girlfriend, free arm holding onto her cookies while the other wrapped around Velvet in a one-armed hug.

"It's good to see you too," Velvet laughed, meeting Blake's eyes over Ruby's head. "And thank you, I hear it was your idea to invite us both out here."

"Of course!" Ruby let go and snuck another bite of her snickerdoodle. "I mean, I couldn't not invite you guys. Especially after Blake said neither of you had plans!"

Velvet's expression was just slightly rueful when she glanced at Blake the second time. Blake just shrugged. It wasn't like they'd had plans for New Years; they'd visited Velvet's parents the year before, and while Blake was sure the Scarlatinas would be happy to have them, two tickets to Australia weren't exactly cheap. With Velvet's freelance photography and Blake pulling double shifts at work, they'd been able to save up enough for the trip, but it wasn't the kind thing they could afford every year. And neither of them wanted to put the burden of the trip of Velvet's parents, especially because they knew the answer would be yes.

So they'd had the holidays to themselves, finding ways to mix and match traditions. It was good – getting to spend that time together, their first holidays to themselves, filling the house with the scent of pine from their small tree, the smells of frying sufganyot, and the sounds of Christmas carols and Velvet's rough but steadily improving Hebrew.

It was calm and peaceful, just the two of them, their evenings spent wandering around the snow-capped town or curled up on the sofa watching British Christmas specials. The New Year probably would have come and gone with both of them swaddled in the thickest, warmest blanket they could find, if Blake hadn't accidentally let slip to Ruby that the two Faunus were planning to spend the night at home. The barrage of invitations that followed caught both of them by surprise, and before they knew it, Velvet and Blake found themselves agreeing to make the drive out to Patch for the evening.

"It is nice to see you all," Blake said, moving to stand beside her girlfriend. "It's a lot quieter on campus without you and Weiss around."

"I know, right!" Ruby grinned. "And all the timing finally worked out! You guys, Weiss, Yang – we finally got everyone together for once!"

"Not to mention that having us here means Yang and your dad will be too busy entertaining us to interrogate Weiss," said Blake, the corner of her mouth twitching.

Ruby had the grace to look guilty. "Actually, I think Weiss felt like she was intruding last year. Everyone one else here was family, so ..."

Blake and Velvet both nodded in sympathy. Weiss rarely ever spoke about her family, outside of her sister, and the few times she had left little doubt about their relationship. These days, the best way to describe Weiss and her parents was 'distant', and the heiress seemed perfectly happy to keep things that way. Still, it couldn't have been easy being the only non-family member in the house.

"Speaking of," Velvet said and tilted her head towards the kitchen door. They could just see Weiss and Yang inside, bottles clinking together once while they chatted in hushed tones.

"What do you think they're talking about?" Ruby asked, using the cat-eared Faunus for cover as she peeked into the kitchen.

You, probably, Blake thought and took a sip of her own drink. But since that would probably just freak you out ... "Normal small talk, I guess. That or Weiss is threatening to sue if Yang makes me work on my birthday."

Ruby turned to look at Blake with horror in her eyes. "She ... wouldn't really do that, right? I mean Yang obviously wouldn't make you but-"

Ruby's worries about litigation were cut short by the sound of claws scampering on the hardwood floor, Zwei racing after Taiyang as he came back down the stairs. Within seconds, Zwei was hopping on all four paws by Ruby's feet, huffing and yipping until the girl gathered him up in her arms.

Ignoring the doggy grin the little hellion gave her, Blake turned to Ruby's father and smiled. Taiyang looked just like the pictures Ruby had showed them – tall, scruffy, with a calm to him that seemed to put everyone else at ease. The only difference was the reindeer-patterned sweater Blake knew had to have come from Yang, with little red LEDs for the noses that lit up every few seconds.

"There a reason everyone is waiting outside the room with the food?" Taiyang asked, joining the four of them and absently scratching the dog behind the ears.

"Yang and Weiss are bonding," Velvet joked. "Thank you again for inviting us."

"No thanks needed. Ruby's been looking forward to this for days." He shrugged and smiled, flashing a grin Yang had obviously inherited. "It's nice to have the place lively."

Blake nodded silently. It couldn't be easy – not with both his daughters gone, the house empty except for the dog, the quiet a constant reminder of exactly who was not there.

"Well, I hope neither of you minds the noise," he said, and looked between the two Faunus. "Ruby and Yang have a small arsenal they're waiting to set off."

"It's gonna be great!" said Ruby. "We've got some peonies, a girandola, and Yang got something from Uncle Qrow in Chinese with like five different warning labels on it, and-"

"And don't you still need to wrap Weiss' present?" Taiyang asked, giving his youngest daughter a knowing look.

The unbridled excitement on Ruby's face turned to panic so fast, Blake was surprised she didn't have whiplash. Before you could say 'kringle', she tossed the dog to her father and vanished up the stairs, sock-covered feet slipping and sliding on the floor.


The day descended into wonderful chaos. The Xiao Long-Rose household had never been a quiet one, and the addition of their three guests only added to the cheer. Even with their uncle gone, the house felt full, stuffed with friends, family, mouth-watering smells wafting from the kitchen, and the clear peal of Weiss' singing voice after Blake and Velvet badgered her into singing along with the carols.

Then it was time for presents. A few had been set aside for those who hadn't been together over Christmas. They gathered around the tree, Ruby and Weiss jamming themselves into the leather-cushioned love seat while the others spread out over the sofa, Yang perching on the arm. The two Faunus passed one each for Weiss and Ruby across the living room, receiving two of their own in exchange – Blake's wrapped in bright blue paper covered in menorahs. Those were opened with little care for the wrappings, shredded into pieces and followed by oohs and ahhs and happy thanks. Only after the two Faunus had been properly thanked did Ruby pull a thick rectangular package out from under the tree, smiling anxiously as she handed it to the heiress.

Weiss undid the wrapping while her girlfriend watched with bated breath, painfully obvious anxiety splashed across her face. At least until Weiss undid the tape and her jaw dropped. Tearing off the rest of the paper, Weiss flipped the book over in her hands, eyes going wide as she stared at the inside cover.

Still slack-jawed, she ran her fingers over the inscription, and looked up to stare in awe at the younger woman. "How did you...?"

"I got lucky." Ruby said, grinning with relief. "Blake and I went to a used bookstore and I just ... found it. I know you like the author, so I went to take a look and I saw the signature." She paused, pushing her hair behind her ear as her eyes dropped to the sofa.

"You like it?"

Still holding on to her gift, Weiss wrapped her arms around her girlfriend, squeezing tight and not letting go until she felt Ruby smiling against her neck.

"I love it," said Weiss, as she leaned in to press the ghost of a kiss on her cheek.

Ignoring Ruby's blush and the good-natured eye roll from her sister, Weiss pulled her own oddly-shaped package out from her bag. It was heavy, shaped like a cylinder, with rounded sides carefully wrapped in red paper dotted with snowmen.

"Careful." Weiss warned, her fingers back on her book, still tracing the embossed letters on the cover. "That's not something you want to shake."

Gingerly, Ruby undid the bow and unwrapped the present.

It was a mason jar. The glass sides were bare – no logo or brand name – giving an unobstructed view of the contents inside. The insides were crashing waves of color, most black or red, swirling and rippling into each other over an expanse of white. The waves cut into each other, bisected by sweeps of coarse dark sand atop fine white powder, split by a line of red and green ...

"Are those peppermint chips?" Ruby asked, squinting at the small shapes held between the waves.

"Layered with cocoa powder, flour, sugar, and everything else you'd need to make that particular cookie recipe." Weiss smiled and shrugged. "I figured if I was going to indulge your cookie habit, I might as well make it pretty."

"It is," Ruby said, turning the jar in her hand to see the pattern as the waves of ingredients rose and fell. "It's really pretty. How did you get it to do that?"

"Very, very carefully," said Weiss, earning herself an eyeroll from her girlfriend. "I thought you might prefer something personal to something flashy."

"They look like they'll be delicious," Ruby grinned, then trailed off, brows furrowed as her hand slipped beneath the jar. "Weiss?"

"Yes?"

"Why is there a tiny present taped to the bottom?"

Weiss shrugged. "I said you'd prefer something personal. Didn't say it'd stop me from getting you both."

Ruby gave her an exasperated look and set the jar aside, reaching beneath it for the small, wrapped bundle.

Yang whistled when the paper came undone, followed by an appreciative noise from Blake and Velvet's "Wow." Inside the torn paper sat a pair of earrings, rubies set in silver, the gleaming metal twining in an intricate cage around the gems. The silver split and parted like branches, giving the earrings and almost organic shape, as if the little silver vines had simply grown up around the ruby-red heart.

"I know you don't like to wear too much jewelry," Weiss said, watching Ruby's face. "But I thought you might like these."

Ruby looked up and scowled, trying to look stern and failing miserably. "I told you to stop buying me expensive stuff."

"Tough. It's Christmas, and they suit you." Weiss said, smiling. "You like them?"

Ruby tried to hold the scowl, and failed, a smile creeping across her mouth. "... they're perfect."


Before they knew it, the presents were done, unwrapped with the paper torn and shredded and set aside for the trash. Gifts were set aside for later, while Ruby ducked into the washroom, coming back red-faced and looking pleased, little speckles of silver and crimson flashing on her ears. There was food, more of it than all six could eat, even with Zwei waiting for scraps beneath the dining table. Everyone had a bit of everything: dungeness crabcakes, orange rolls glazed with sugar, cornbread with butter and honey, mashed potatoes with green beans and cheese accompanied by the obligatory gravy, apple pie with a crumbling cinnamon crust, and glass tankards of cider (sparkling for Ruby and hard for the others) to wash it all down, topped by a glazed ham that made Weiss' mouth water and a plate of turkey Yang had set aside just for Blake.

Everyone dug in, and soon the plates and platters were emptied, food vanishing down the bottomless stomachs of the young athletes while Velvet and the adult ate at a slower pace. Stories were told - Weiss turning red when Yang brought up how they'd met the first time, with Weiss covered in snow and standing anxiously at their door.

The house filled with laughter and joy and the sound of loosening belts. The last dessert was eaten, the last plate cleaned, and then it was time to gather around the TV, smiling for Velvet's camera as they posed in ridiculous hats, holding crackers and noisemakers and counting down the seconds until the ball dropped and the clock struck twelve. Weiss' lips found Ruby's the chaos, their kiss short and sweet in deference to the parent and big sister blowing kazoos and twirling hand clappers five feet away. But carmine and silver still flashed when Ruby laughed, cheering and throwing confetti into the air, and making Weiss yearn for the night's end, when she'd have her all to herself.

Then came fireworks, everyone retiring to the backyard as Ruby and Yang lined up their mostly-legal collection. Soon the sky filled with colored lights over the tops of the trees and the smell of gunpowder. The booms carried through the air, only muffled slightly by the snow blanketing the yard, joined by Yang humming 'Auld Land Syne' as she lit the fuses, one by one. The six watched from below, the two couples in each other's arms, Yang running back to stand by her father, a proud smile on her face.

At least until halfway through their little display. Right after a pinwheel of red and yellow lit the night sky, Yang's phone rang, the screen lighting up a rectangle on the inside of her pocket. Wincing and looking guilty, Yang yanked it free, patted her father's shoulder, and stepped inside.


Pyrrha couldn't help smiling when Yang picked up the call. She could only half-hear her over the sounds of fireworks in the distance, and Nora wrestling her latest weapon of mass destruction across her apartment floor.

"How's the happy couple doing?" Yang asked, punctuated by the booming fireworks coming from her end of the call.

"Ren and Nora?" Pyrrha glanced across the room, shaking her head as Ren followed his wife out onto the balcony. "He's trying to explain why they can't set off bottle rockets from here."

"Ceiling?"

Pyrrha laughed and shook her head as Ren slowly pried the explosives from Nora's fingers. "No, neighbors. How is everyone on your end?"

"It's good," said Yang. "Ruby was moping a bit for the past couple days. It's good to see her back to normal, even if it takes a crowbar to pry her away from Weiss."

The redhead tried not to laugh as the image of Yang brandishing a crowbar flashed through her head. "I'm glad. Sounds like you're all enjoying yourselves."

"Yeah. Sorry I couldn't come to yours – Ruby wouldn't have forgiven me if I'd missed this. Well, I mean she would've, but she really wanted everyone for her party, so-"

"It's fine," Pyrrha laughed, unable to keep from smiling while Yang babbled on. "It's probably for the best."

"Why's that?"

It took her a second to answer, glancing out at the couple on the balcony. Ren and Nora were leaning against each other's shoulders, staring up at the city's fireworks display, illegal bottle rockets set aside and forgotten. They'd always been so good together, and it was always moments like this that made her realize how much she wanted that.

Because, Yang, I definitely would have kissed you when the clock struck twelve.

"Weiss. Ruby. Students, remember?" Pyrrha said and forced a laugh, happy to hear the same sound from Yang's end of the call. Eventually, I'm going to need a new excuse. "I need to keep some distance there, professionally."

"Good point." Pyrrha couldn't see her, but she could have sworn she heard the smile in Yang's voice. "Well, we'll do coffee when I get back."

"Sounds like a plan," Pyrrha said, coffee the furthest thing from her mind. "Happy New Year, Yang."

 

Chapter Text

Weiss stifled a yawn as she watched Ruby pull on the white knickers of her fencing uniform. It was much too early – even with liberal sips from the coffee in her hand, the heiress was barely able to keep her eyes open. Even on the drive over, her head had kept nodding against the passenger-side window, Ruby's voice lulling her to sleep before a bump or turn pulled her back to wakefulness.

Weiss Schnee was not a morning person. She had never been a morning person, and she fully expected to never be a morning person. She had, over many long years, learned that pre-tournament jitters and copious amount of caffeine were the only things that dragged her out of bed before a tournament. She wasn't lacking for caffeine, but the fact that it wouldn't be her darting back and forth on the strip today made it difficult to keep her eyes open. Even with Ruby competing, there were no jitters. Ruby would do fine – she was a good student, her fencing had improved steadily since she started, and it was only a D-and-under tournament. Ruby already had her E rank, and most of the fencers here would be at about her skill level. She might not win, but she would do fine, maybe even get her D.

This is what I get for offering to come watch, Weiss thought, yawning while Ruby pulled the rest of her uniform out of her bag. Hands full of white fabric, Ruby looked up to find Weiss watching her and grinned. At least she's in a good mood.

"Is that my underarm protector?" Weiss asked, eyes narrowing as she lowered her cardboard cup.

"No," Ruby said, glancing down at the scrap of white cloth, craning her neck over her shoulder to try and see the initials drawn on the tag. "I mean, I don't think it is."

Before Ruby could sprain something, Weiss reached up and pulled the back of the protector away from Ruby's shoulders, revealing the neat 'WS' written on the tag in felt-tipped pen.

"Oops," Ruby grimaced and reached for the strap running under her arm. "Sorry. Think I grabbed the wrong one from the laundry."

Weiss put her hand on Ruby's before the girl could undo the fastener. Looking down at her, she shrugged and tugged the last strap through the securing ring. Weiss gave both straps a quick tug, then smiled. Satisfied the underarm protector wouldn't slip, she turned and reached into the fencing bag.

"We're the same size. For this anyway," she said and handed Ruby her jacket.

"You sure?" Ruby asked, still looking a little worried. "I mean, I know you don't like people messing with your stuff."

"It's fine." Helping Ruby get her arm into the jacket, she checked the strap at the back, then pulled the zipper up to the collar. Seeing Ruby's grateful smile, she sighed, then fixed the ties holding her girlfriend's hair out of her face.

Quickly, Weiss glanced around the locker room. It was empty. They'd arrived early, and most of the other fencers were either already finished dressing, or hadn't arrived yet. Once she was sure they were alone, Weiss gripped the jacket's collar and pulled Ruby to her, kissing her fiercely.

"Wha-" Ruby blinked as she settled back onto her feet. "What was that for?"

Weiss kept her features as blank as she could. Reaching down, she grabbed her coffee and headed for the door. She glanced back just as her hand touched the door handle.

"For luck," Weiss said, and closed the door behind her. Knowing no one would see her, she took a sip and smiled, remembering the dumbstruck look on Ruby's face.


Yang shoved her hands deeper into her pockets as she waited for the street to clear. There was a steady stream of cars, whizzing around through the crowded shopping center. Even for a Saturday morning, the place was busy. Even from across the parking lot, she could make out families with small children wandering past the busy storefronts. Teenagers too young for the cigarettes they were smoking lounged off to the side of the main doors. They'd arranged themselves on a low concrete wall ringing a decorate flowerbed, and were just waiting for mall security to run them off. Other kids and young adults trickled in and out of the hobby shop, some leaving with board games in plastic bags, others lingering to stare at the tabletop wargame going on inside.

Traffic slowed and the light changed. Yang let out a breath, watched it turn to steam, then headed across the road. Normally she tried to avoid this part of town, at least this early on the weekend. Too many cars, too much traffic, and there was still too much snow this early in January for her to at least have the pleasure of riding her bike.

But that was the time Pyrrha had picked. Yang would have preferred something a little later, but she understood the timing. There was specifically very little that was romantic about a Saturday morning matinee.

Trusting her feet to take her where she needed to go, Yang fell into step behind a parent holding the hand of his seven-year old daughter and let her mind wander.

Pyrrha had made it clear that she wasn't interested in dating. Ruby being in her fencing club, the age difference, or something personal Yang couldn't pick up on – whatever the reason, it was pretty obvious she wasn't looking to date. Even if her friend Nora kept trying to set them up. Repeatedly.

As far as she could tell, her bar had become the three friends' favorite drinking hole. She wasn't gonna complain – not about steady good customers – but it did give the short ginger-haired woman plenty of chances for mischief. Somehow it was always Pyrrha's turn to get drinks whenever Yang was at the bar. When she wasn't, Nora always managed to catch her with a question that turned into hour-long talks with the three of them. Pyrrha always looked awkward at first, but eased into the conversations, helped along by Nora's soft-spoken husband. Yang supposed she should take that as a good sign, especially since the awkwardness had less to do with Yang being there than the pointed looks and nods Nora shot Pyrrha every few minutes.

Yang sighed and blew a lock of hair out of her face. That's life though, right? All the interesting ones are straight, married, or just unavailable. She'd been mildly disappointed, but it wasn't the first time. Far from it, actually.

The good part, was that Pyrrha seemed like she'd actually make for a good friend. They'd talked off-and-on in the weeks since New Year's, and their morning coffee every week was becoming a pretty nice routine. She's steadier than most of the people I deal with, Yang mused, coming to a stop at another crosswalk. More grounded. She's fun to talk to, and the stories she has from all those competitions don't hurt.

It was one of the few regrets Yang had – not getting to see as much of the world as she'd wanted. Apart from trips to Canada and visiting family in China as a kid, the only real travel she'd gotten to do was her time in the mid-east. And that wasn't exactly a good time for sightseeing.

But Pyrrha had been to England, Greece, Russia ... about half of Europe in total. She'd even been to Beijing, and was happy to swap stories of her travels for ones about Yang's extended family in Hong Kong. She was an athlete, a working athlete, and Yang was still trying to find time in her schedule to take her up on the offer to work out with her. Best of all, she was just plain interesting.

Now if only she was interested, she'd be perfect.

Yang let out a short growl and crossed the road to the movie theater, climbing the short steps two at a time. If Pyrrha hadn't made her intentions clear when they'd met, offers of morning coffee and Saturday matinees definitely did. Early in the day, when neither of them were too busy, and very definitely not dates.

Pyrrha was waiting when she got to the top of the stairs, her chin covered by a red scarf darker than her hair. Her breath misted as she smiled, and not for the first time, Yang felt a quick pang of jealousy. It's not fair someone gets to be that strong and that pretty.

"Morning."

"Mornin'." Yang smiled back. "Just us? I figured Nora and Ren were coming."

Pyrrha shook her head. "They're are off on a trip to see something for a paper he's working on."

"Didn't feel like watching something alone?"

"I wouldn't have minded," the redhead shrugged. "I thought company might be nice. If you were up for it."

Two tickets and one small bucket of popcorn later, they meandered their way into the theater, grabbing seats in the center row. Most of the seats were empty – Pyrrha had picked a movie that had been out for a while, but neither of them had seen. So far, the only other people in the room were an elderly couple at the back and a couple teenagers scattered in the front.

It meant the theater was nearly silent when the lights dimmed, and music began piping over the speakers. The screen flashed, the opening credits rolled, and for Yang the world fell away, but for the woman sitting at her side.


"Well that was fun." Yang said a few hours later, stretching her arms over her head as they headed back into the daylight. Her legs were a little stiff from the seat, and the light hurt her eyes after that long in the dark, but neither was quite enough to shake her good mood. It helped that Pyrrha's choice had been a feel-good animated flick, well-written with a core of pure, childlike innocence. It was the kind of thing Yang used to take Ruby to – as a teenager, there'd been no better excuse to see a kid's movie than 'having' to take her younger sister. She'd actually Ruby to go see this one with her. The only reason they hadn't was she had already made plans to see it with Weiss.

Guess I shouldn't complain, Yang thought, glancing over at the redhead beside her. Looks like I get with good company either way.

"We should do this again, next time there's something you wanna see." She kept her voice flat, trying to keep everything casual. She didn't want Pyrrha thinking this was anything more than wanting to kill time with a friend.

When her companion didn't answer, Yang looked over. Pyrrha's chin was tucked down into her scarf, her lips pursed as two spots of color rose in her cheeks.

"What?" Yang asked, brows furrowed.

"Nothing. Just a little embarrassed." Pyrrha shook her head and smiled sheepishly. "The live-action X-Ray and Vav movie comes out next month. I've been waiting to see it."

"Huh." Yang glanced at her, tongue playing thoughtfully across her teeth. "I didn't have you pegged as the comic-book-movie type."

Pyrrha shrugged, her scarf riding up to brush her ears. "Everyone seems into them these days."

Yang gave her an arch look that made the fencer wince. Sighing, Pyrrha pushed a stray hair behind her ear, buying herself some time before she had to answer. It was odd – Pyrrha didn't look embarrassed all that often, at least not in the time Yang had known her.

It's actually pretty cute.

"Fine," Pyrrha sighed. "I am a horrendous geek. That better?" When Yang didn't answer, she continued. "I used to read a lot growing up. My dad would get me a comic book whenever I did well in a tournament. It was our little tradition. I'd wash off, and then we'd go find whatever the newest issue was."

"That's cool." Yang grinned and nudged Pyrrha with her elbow. "He sounds like good dad."

"Yeah." Pyrrha smiled, lost in the memory of her father's confused but earnest expression as she tried to explain how different colored kryptonite worked. "When I had a bad day, he'd buy me two."

"Nice," Yang laughed. "So, who's your favorite? Supes?"

"The 'world of cardboard' speech is good, but I never found him all that interesting." Pyrrha shook her head. "Gaiman's stuff is nice. But when I was a kid, my favorite was Daredevil."

"Not Wonder Woman?"

Pyrrha's answer was a shudder that ran down to her toes. "The TV series was fine, but the first book of hers I picked up was from the Kanigher era."

"That bad?"

"Worse. Later writers did better, but it turned me off to the character. Frank Miller's Daredevil was much better written, and for a Greek-American girl who wanted to fence, Elektra was amazing. Say what you want about her being all of Miller's author fetishes rolled into one, but she helped make the Daredevil comic a real success."

Yang was surprised to see Pyrrha blush again. She was about to ask why when the redhead continued.

"I dressed as her for Halloween three years in a row."

"Really?" Yang couldn't keep the laugh from her voice. It was funny, trying to see the tall, muscled Olympian as a twelve-year old in a cape.

"Yeah. It was just red pants, a shirt, and scarves for a bandanna and a belt, but I loved it."

Now it was Yang's turn to be silent. She just managed to get her face under control when Pyrrha looked over at her.

"What?"

"Nothing," Yang lied, desperately trying and failing to keep from grinning. "It's just funny. You two almost even have the same last name."

Pyrrha blew out a long sigh and hitched her shoulders. "I knew I shouldn't have told you."

"No, it's cute. It really is." Yang beamed and nudged her with an elbow. "So, did the little red-headed girl terrorize her family by dual-wielding whisks or did you actually get your hands on butter knives?"

Yang's laugh only grew louder when Pyrrha punched her in the shoulder.


Weiss watched as Ruby slunk her way back to the bench. The match was long over. The two fencers had saluted each other and their ref, shook hands, and returned to remove the cords attaching them to the strip.

Most days, Weiss would have helped the shorter girl remove the body cords and helped her gather her foils from the end of the strip. But she'd seen the look on Ruby's face, and she'd decided the best strategy was to wait, to let the girl have the short walk to the benches to herself.

Ruby dropped onto the metal bench with a thump, before gently placing her mask into her bag and peeling off the white-and-blue glove. Still half-bent, she ran a hand through her sweat-stuck hair, pushing strands out of her face and staring through the floor.

Weiss resisted the urge to glance at the scoreboard. She knew what it said, and Ruby didn't need the reminder.

To be honest, she'd done rather well. Second out of her pool, and then only to the first-seeded fencer in the tournament. It was just her bad luck that she'd come up against a D who really should have had her C-ranking by now. Even then, Ruby managed to get a few touches on the other girl. She'd lost, but it hadn't really been a fair fight to begin with.

Absently, Weiss reached out to put her arm around Ruby's shoulder, then stopped.

Was that what she was supposed to do? Normally, Ruby was the physically expressive one – all hugs and smiles – but maybe she'd want to just ignore this. Maybe Weiss comforting her would just make it worse.

Should she say something instead? That was an option. But what could she say? What wouldn't sound like empty platitudes? Like a blatant attempt to make Ruby feel better?

She settled for patting Ruby on the shoulder.

Ruby stayed still, long enough for Weiss to reconsider giving her a hug. Then she pulled away, yanking the zipper of her jacket down as she jerked upright.

"I'll see you in a bit." Ruby reached down, grabbed her bag, and trudged off towards the locker room. It was a good thirty minutes before she came out, bag hanging off one shoulder, her hair damp from the shower and hanging in her eyes. She barely made a sound as she slid her bag into the trunk of Weiss' car, and was lost in thought in the passenger seat by the time Weiss put the key in the ignition.

Between Ruby's musing and Weiss trying to give her space, the drive back was nearly silent. This time Weiss drove, sparing quick glances for Ruby as they petered down the highway. It was just after noon, but lucky for them, the weekend traffic wasn't too bad. Ruby spent the time staring out the window, watching the trees whip past as they headed back towards the bridge to the university district.

"I was telegraphing." She spoke so suddenly it startled Weiss. "I kept dropping my shoulder and she saw that."

So that's what she was thinking, Weiss thought, keeping her eyes on the road. She'd fenced too often for too long not to know what loosing badly felt like. It didn't happen much anymore, but she remembered the hours after a bad bout, going over the whole thing in her head again and again. Looking for her mistakes, what she'd done wrong, the openings she hadn't meant to give. The little things that stuck in the back of her mind and needled her until she fixed them.

"That's something we can work on," Weiss said, her voice calm. If Ruby was anything like her at all, that would do the trick. Knowing that she'd fixed the mistake, trained her body to react the right way next time.

"I'm hesitating. And overextending. I couldn't recover fast enough and she kept catching me."

She also had several more years of practice and should have her C-rank by now, Weiss thought wryly. She didn't say it though. Knowing why the other person was better wouldn't help. When she was new to the sport, Weiss could have lost to an octogenarian ex-Olympian and still blame herself.

"We'll work on it"

Ruby didn't seem to hear her. "I'm putting too much weight on my front foot. I'm off balance and I'm letting my momentum pull me forward. And-"

"Ruby," Weiss cut her off. "Those are all things we can practice. I'll run you through some extra drills. But the bigger issue is just experience. You need to work on controlling the distance, that's how she got you as often as she did."

Hopefully, that'll help, Weiss thought and took the next exit. Having something to work on. It shouldn't feel like a failure – or at least it's something she can learn from. She did well, she just thought she'd do better. And she probably would have, if she had ended up with a different opponent.

The younger girl chewed on her bottom lip, staring glassy-eyed out the window. "Okay," she said finally, then slid back into her thoughtful silence.

The rest of the ride was quiet. Weiss was about to say something, to give up and try for one of the shitty platitudes just on the off chance it made her feel any better, right as Ruby turned on the radio. Then it was just an endless chain of pop song fragments, talk shows, and disk jockeys. She'd catch two or three words, then Ruby would hit the button again, skipping along until another few notes or some other over-enunciated voice came in over the airwaves.

Weiss didn't say anything. At least it gave her something to do. Even if it was fraying her nerves. By the time they pulled into the parking lot above their apartment, and the radio shut off, Weiss was grateful for the silence.

Ruby was still quiet on the way up to their apartment, and positively silent as they slipped in through the door. Coats and scarves went on the rack while Ruby marched her bag, still filled with the sweat-stained uniform, over to the washing machine. It had just started to hum when Weiss finished untangling herself from her winter clothes, leaving her boots leaning against the wall.

"Take a seat," she said, and nodded towards the stools by the kitchen table. It wasn't large, just a slab of some synthetic material that served as a combo kitchen-island and dinner table, but it was more than enough for the two of them. "Are you hungry at all? I think we still have some Chinese leftover from Thursday."

"No. I'm fine."

Weiss doubted that. "Let me at least get you some water."

Ruby didn't object, so Weiss grabbed one of the glasses from above the sink and turned on the tap. The glass was almost full when Ruby cleared her throat.

"I'm sorry," she said finally, still staring morosely at the floor. "I know you put a lot of extra time in, getting me ready for this. I didn't mean to disappoint you."

It took Weiss a second to process. Took her another to remember to breathe. Took even longer for her to realize she still had Ruby's cup in her hand.

Trying to control her shakes, she swallowed.

"You didn't. You got several good hits on someone who's been doing this several years longer than you. You did well, and we can work on the mistakes you made." Weiss couldn't quite kill the edge to her voice. Seeing Ruby like this, guilting herself into thinking that she'd given a bad showing as Weiss' student, thinking she was ... it made her stomach roil.

"You were up against someone much more experienced. You didn't do anything wrong. Understood?"

Ruby blinked back at her, eyes wide. "Yeah."

"Good." Weiss said, just managing to put the glass on the table without spilling it. Quickly, she lay her hands down on the countertop, bringing them together to keep them from trembling. "Good."

"Hey, are you okay?"

Weiss flinched when Ruby's hand touched hers. Before she knew what she was doing, she jerked away, looking at Ruby's fingers like a set of vipers. She glanced up just in time to see the surprise on Ruby's face turn to shock. Shock, and hurt.

Cursing herself, Weiss tucked her shaking hands safely behind her back. "Sorry. I just need some air."

Moving fast before Ruby could say anything, she grabbed her coat, and slipped back out onto the stairwell. Only when the heavy door closed behind her, and she heard the automatic lock click shut, did the trembling finally stop.

 

Chapter Text

Il faut battre le fer pendant qu'il est chaud.

The sun had just started warming the door handle to Yang’s bar when she slid her key into the lock. Everything else was cold, from the steel door to the concrete beneath her boots. It hadn’t snowed in several days and the weather was starting to shift, but there were still a few weeks to go till spring. Taking one last breath of the frigid morning air, Yang pulled the rear door open and stepped inside, locking it shut behind her.

Her place was deserted. Appliances, dishes, and bowls sat on the stainless steel surfaces, glinting and flashing when Yang flicked on the lights. Everything was laid out neatly, prepped by her staff the night before. Walking down the aisles, Yang ran a careful eye over the equipment, making sure everything was in order. Even if she was normally the first to hear if something broke, it never hurt to check, to make sure the pricier appliances wouldn’t die in the middle of a rush.

Satisfied with the kitchen, she smiled, always happy to see the place in order. Flicking the lights back off, she stepped past the double doors that led to the bar and slipped down the hallway to her office in the back.

It took her a minute to find the office key. With the keys to the bar, her bike, the boat uncle Qrow left at the Vale docks, and all the other ones she had to carry, it always took her a bit to find the right one. Finally, she found the little brass one she needed and jammed it into the lock.

The door creaked open, reminding her to put ‘oiling the door’ on her to-do list. She sighed and shut it behind her. She shouldn’t be surprised – the list had a habit of growing. There was always something to fix, some issue to solve, something else that ended up on her plate of things to handle for the day. At least the door hinges are an easy fix. Unlike some things ...

A heavy account book sat atop the desk, drawing Yang’s gaze and making her grimace. Bookkeeping was one of her least favorite parts of the job, up there with handling the rowdier customers and dealing with suppliers who shortchanged her. But it was necessary, and something she had to do herself. Someone else might not spot a coming problem before it happened, might not notice a bartender skimming from the till, or a mix-up with the inventory.

She hadn’t had any major problems, not for a little while anyway, but it never hurt to be careful. Being involved with the bar, checking the kitchen, doing inventory herself – knowing the place inside and out was the only real way to keep it running.

Sighing, she grabbed the account book from her desk, re-locked the door, and headed back to the main room of the bar. Not that there was anything wrong with the office, but it was a windowless, closed-off room in the back. It was a blessing on busier nights when she had to work, keeping the noise from the kitchen and the bar to a minimum. But it was also stuffy. Something the air conditioner could never quite fix. She preferred working on the main floor, so long as no one else was here. At least that way she got some sun.

She was halfway through the previous week’s accounts and her second cup of coffee when there was a knock on bar’s the front door. Wondering who would be trying to get into a bar this early in the morning, she turned and squinted against the light. The staff always made sure the ‘closed’ sign was turned the right way ‘round, and only a blind man would miss the business hours carefully stenciled onto the glass panes.

Narrowing her eyes, Yang saw who it was, grinned, and stepped out from behind the bar.

“Shouldn’t you be in class?” she asked as she swung the door open.

Ruby looked back up at her, red-tinged locks falling into her grey eyes. “I only have afternoon classes on Wednesdays.”

Grinning, Yang swept her little sister up in a hug, squeezing tight before placing her back on the top step. Stepping back to get a good look at her, she gave Ruby a once-over, then frowned.

There was something off about her. Not her clothes – Ruby was dressed right for the weather. Spring was still a few months away, and a morning walk in downtown Vale would give you chilblains if you weren’t dressed right. Her hooded jacket was zipped up to her chin against the cold, hands jammed deep into her pockets. Her scarf ... that was the first thing Yang noticed. It wasn’t tied right. Like Ruby had thrown it around her neck in a hurry and hadn’t bothered to fix it. Her hair was shaggy, shaggier than normal. But the biggest sign, what told Yang this was more than Ruby being in a hurry to see her sister, was her face. Ruby wasn’t smiling, a rare thing for a girl who was normally cheerful to a fault. She seemed subdued. Down.

“You wanna come in?” Yang asked, and stepped out of the doorway.

Nodding, Ruby came inside. A minute later, Yang joined her at one of the tables by the wall, two fresh mugs of coffee clutched in her hands, the account books lying forgotten on the bar.

“So,” Yang asked and slid one cup to Ruby across the table. “What’s wrong?”

The younger sister winced. “How d’you know?”

“Well, you didn’t come for the coffee. It’s not that good. So, come on. Spill it.”

It took Ruby a second to answer. Her head hanging, she stared down into the cup, turning it every so often in her fingers. Her eyes tracked absently over the wood of the table, following the pattern of the grain and ending at one darkened knot. Finally, she took a sip, made a face, then took another.

“It’s Weiss,” she said finally. He voice barely above a whisper.

Yang’s eyes narrowed instantly. “She’s not pressuring you into anything, is she?”

“What?” Ruby gaped at Yang in disbelief. “ No . Why would you-”

“Sorry. She’s older, I’m your sister. Overprotective.” Yang held up her hands in surrender. “So what’s the problem?”

Ruby gave her sister one last annoyed look, then went back to staring at the table. “I don’t know,” she said, then noticed the skepticism on Yang’s face. “I mean it. I really don’t know.”

“Okaaay. How’d it start?”

“... I did a tournament over the weekend.”

Yang grinned. Fencing had been the furthest thing from her mind when she suggested her sister ‘try new things’ in college. But it seemed to have done Ruby good, and Yang couldn’t help beaming whenever she heard about her little sister’s victories. “Aww, cool. How’d you do?”

“Not good. I got knocked out in my first direct elimination match.” Ruby took a long breath, letting it out in a long sigh. It gave Yang time to wince, fighting the urge to beat her forehead into the table. Thirty seconds in, and I’ve already put my foot in my mouth. Twice. Awesome.

“Anyway, I was talking with Weiss about what I did wrong, what I could fix, and then she gives me this look.” Ruby glanced up from the table, her eyes wide. “Yang, she looked like I’d killed her dog. Or stepped on her grave, or ... something. I’ve never seen her like that.”

Yang nodded and reached for her own drink, using it as an excuse to give herself time to think. “You ask what it was about?”

Ruby shook her head. “She left. Said she need air and didn’t come back till after midnight. She slept on the couch rather than wake me up, and she’s barely said ten words to me the last couple days.”

She trailed off, still turning the cup again and again on the tabletop, grinding the ceramic into the treated wood. “I just ... I don’t know. Did I say something? Do something? Is she pushing me away, or ...”

“Best guess?” Yang cut her off gently and gave her a small smile from across the table. “It’s got nothing to do with you.”

“Yang!”

“I mean it. It doesn’t sound like anything you did. Not directly, at least. Got no idea what it was, but she’s your girlfriend, not mine. You know her better than me.”

Ruby met her gaze. For a long moment, the two just sat there, Yang’s eyes calm above her smile, Ruby’s wide and nervous. Then she nodded, let out another sigh, and looked back down at her coffee. “Okay. So what do I do?”

Yang shrugged. “Barrage her with puns? Tie her down and tickle her into submission?”

Not helping.”

“What? You’re too young for the stuff I’d really do.”

The look Ruby shot her was exasperation incarnate. “I’ll be twenty-one in two months.”

“Yeah. So in ten years, maybe I’ll be comfortable with the idea.” Now it was Yang’s turn to sigh. The last thing she needed was to think about Ruby doing any of the things she’d do to wheedle something out of a lover.

Yang bit her lip. She wasn’t sure what to say. She had always been the straightforward type. A sink-or-swim kind of girl. But Ruby had always been less sure, less secure. She was brilliant, something Yang would never let her forget, but she’d always had a harder time dealing with people.

“Look, like I said, she’s your girlfriend. I’d say be blunt and ask her what’s wrong, but you gotta figure out what’s gonna help her, and what’s gonna help you .” Yang reached over and patted Ruby’s shoulder. “Just play it by ear like everyone else.”

“... still not helping.”

“I know.” Yang shrugged an apology. “Best advice? Be honest. If you really think you need to know, tell her you think you need to know. If you’re okay not knowing, but you wanna be there for her, tell her that. She might not tell you, but she deserves to know how you feel about it.”

They lapsed into silence. Ruby sat and twisted her cup, Yang sipped from hers and watched her sister. The younger woman was easy to read. Her worries about Weiss, the anxiety that maybe it was something she did – now that Yang knew what was wrong, they were as plain as the nose on her face. Keeping her mouth shut, she waited while Ruby worked through what she said, practically able to see the gears turning in her head.

“Alright. I’ll give that a shot.” Ruby made a face and blew out another long breath, sending ripples across the surface of her coffee. “And thanks. Sorry if I’m a little worked up. It’s just ... things have been good so far. Really good. Maybe not easy, not all the time, but good. And I just don’t-”

Whatever she was about to say was cut off by a rumbling that echoed off the booth, resounding off the walls of the empty bar. Ruby froze mid-sentence, her face gone beet-red, then buried her head in her hands while Yang guffawed.

“Lemme guess,” Yang said, trying stop laughing and failing miserably when Ruby’s stomach growled again. “You were so worried this morning, you forgot to eat.”

“No,” Ruby said, sullen. “I had breakfast.”

“Uh-huh. What counts as breakfast?”

“... a cereal bar.”

The older sister sighed and shook her head. At least that was definitely like Ruby. The girl who used to rush out the door every other morning and forget her lunch. Some things never change. And maybe I don’t want them to.

Yang smiled and went to grab the account book from the bar. “Come on. I’m pretty sure I got some eggs in the back.”


Three plates of eggs later – two of them Ruby’s – and the younger sister was back to her old self. There was still some hesitation here and there while they talked, especially whenever Weiss’ name was mentioned, but by the time she left, her expression was determined, rather than worried.

Full from her second breakfast that day, Yang went back to last week’s takings, double-checking their sales numbers against the inventory lists. A yellow legal pad sat beside her on the table, covered with notes – she needed to make a few calls, sort out a mix-up with her cider supplier. Just the usual issues, which was a relief in its way.

She was just about to start on Friday’s records when she heard a car pull up outside. Yang looked up, just in time to see Blake clamber out of the passenger side door, long black hair trailing behind her as she walked around the car to kiss her girlfriend goodbye. Smirking, Yang went back the accounts, giving the two young women some semblance of privacy. She’d been their age less than a decade ago. It was easy to remember clinging that tight to her own girlfriends or boyfriends, whichever it happened to be that year. Despite the slow buildup of cynicism over the years, she knew they deserved that, even if that passion didn’t last.

She hoped it would. They were cute together.

Finally, Blake pulled away, waving as Velvet drove off. She stood there a minute, watching until the car went down a side-street and vanished. Turning to the bar, Blake made to head for the back, then saw Yang through the window and headed for the front doors instead.

“You’re here early,” Yang said after the bell above the door stopped jingling. “I thought you had the evening shift today.”

“I do.” Blake said, unwinding her scarf. “That’s why I’m here. I need to ask you something.”

“Shoot.”

“I was wondering if I could switch shifts.” Blake gave her an apologetic smile and made her way over to the bar. “Velvet’s gallery showing got bumped up to tonight. I know I arranged everything for tomorrow, but-”

“It’s fine,” Yang waved her hand. With Blake’s track record so far, she was more than willing to pull a few strings for something like this. “We can find someone to cover for you. I know Gayl’s been asking for more shifts.”

The cat-eared Faunus smiled slightly. “Thanks. How’s your morning?”

“Not bad. Math makes my head hurt. But Ruby dropped by, so it all evens out.”

Blake gave a short huff of a laugh and settled down on one of the bar stools. For a second, Yang thought about asking her if she knew what was wrong with Weiss. The two were close – if anyone knew what was bothering the girl, she would.

Maybe not a good idea, she thought. Ruby knew Blake was Weiss’ best friend. If Ruby wanted her to know, she would have asked. Better to let ‘em try to sort this out themselves, for now at least.

They chatted for a little while before Blake made her way to the back. Within a few minutes, the rest of her staff arrived and Yang retreated to her office. Prep work for the lunch shift was about to start, and there was no way she’d finish the books if she stayed.


Three more days of receipts and inventory lists later and Yang emerged from her office, her neck cracking as she stretched. Peeking into the kitchens, she found them in a controlled sort of chaos, dying down as the lunch rush ended. Next to check was the bar, but she needn’t have bothered. Blake was handling it like a pro.

Yang grinned and retreated to her office, patting herself on the back for hiring the raven-haired Faunus. Blake was a complete professional and made the switch from barista to bartender almost effortlessly. Yang was well aware how popular she was with the female regulars, even if the ring hanging around her neck made it very clear she was taken. The whole ‘dark and mysterious smoldering’ thing she had going on didn’t hurt, but it was more than that. Blake was good at what she did, and consciously or not, the customers picked up on that.

The rest of the day went as expected. One of the blenders in the kitchen gave out. It turned out Gayl was sick, which meant no one was available to cover Blake’s shift. Which meant Yang found herself behind the bar at ten that night, pouring shots for a Vale U student’s twenty-first.

Not how she’d planned her night. But there were no other problems, other than a broken glass and a shattered plate. She’d just finished the round of shots when the door jingled again, followed by the quick blast of cold before the door closed. Instinctively, Yang looked up to see who it was.

She grinned. The woman had her back to Yang, but there was no mistaking that long red ponytail. Or the toned legs beneath the well-worn jeans. Or ...

Shaking her head, Yang bent down to grab another crate of glasses. It wouldn’t be a good thing if Pyrrha turned and found Yang staring at her ass. Still, she couldn’t keep from smiling. It was good to see the redhead, even if she had to censor a few of her more randy thoughts.

By the time she stood, Pyrrha had already sat down at the bar, her eyes closed as she unwound the scarf from her neck.

“So,” Yang propped one elbow on the bar and grinned. “What can I get ya?”

Pyrrha froze. Her eyes popped open, wide with surprise. It took a second for her eyes to focus on the smiling blonde, looking almost ... unhappy. For a moment, she just stared at Yang, her mouth moving until she finally found her voice.

“I thought you didn’t work Wednesday nights.”

“One of my bartenders needed to switch shifts.” Yang shrugged and cocked her head. Something about this was off. Yang would swear there was more than surprise in that look she gave her, especially now that she went back to undoing her scarf and wouldn’t meet Yang’s eyes.

Looks like it’s gonna be that kind of day.

“Something wrong?” she asked, grabbing a cloth and pretending to wipe off a glass. Better if she looked distracted – Pyrrha might be more at ease if Yang didn’t seem too focused on her.

“Honestly?” Pyrrha sighed and reached for a menu. “I need a drink.”

That I can do.” Yang grinned. “Anything specific?”

“Whatever ends with me unable to see straight.”

Yang’s brows furrowed. That was definitely unlike her. Pyrrha drank, but rarely more than a few beers or the Greek brandy she liked. And usually only when Ren and Nora came with her. The few times she’d come in on her own, Pyrrha always ordered dinner, and maybe wine or a few beers. Never something like this.

Trying her best to look nonchalant, Yang shrugged it off. If Pyrrha didn’t want to talk, she wasn’t going to press.

“Sweet or heavy?”

“Heavy.”

Holding her tongue, Yang reached for the bottles under the bar. A few quick pours and a dash of bitters and she slid the glass over to the redhead, then turned to the register to start her tab for the night.

She watched from the corner of her eye as Pyrrha reached down and knocked back a large gulp. Her eyes went wide again as she swallowed, then coughed, setting the glass back down on the bar.

“What is in this?”

“Gin, vodka, absinthe,” Yang listed off. “... more alcohol.”

Pyrrha gave her a dubious look and took a much more careful sip. “What would you have made if I said sweet?”

“A Death in the Afternoon.”

“Thanks.” Pyrrha snorted. In one smooth movement, she slid off her stool and grabbed her scarf. “Don’t let me keep you.”

“It’s fine,” Yang waved dismissively. Things weren’t too busy right then. If Pyrrha wanted to chat, she’d be happy to oblige. “You sure you’re-”

A cheer went up in the corner as the newly-legal student finished his last shot. Yang glanced over, more to check to see if they were going to be a problem than anything else. But they all fell back into their booth, clapping their friend on the shoulder for surviving his ordeal.

By the time she turned back, Pyrrha was gone.

Caught up in the birthday celebration (which fortunately for the students stayed fairly contained) and trapped behind the bar, she couldn’t keep her eye on the redhead. Yang only caught glimpses of her throughout the night, lingering in a quiet corner and occasionally chatting with regulars. She saw at least two young men swing by Pyrrha’s table, curious and smiling, only to be politely but firmly waved on.

Every so often, she’d make her way back to the bar for another drink. Somehow, she managed to always swing by the end Yang wasn’t on, and usually while Yang was already busy with another customer. The first time, Yang cursed her luck and went back to work. The second, she frowned, but put it down to it being a busy night. The third time ... she knew Pyrrha was avoiding her.

I shouldn’t have asked, she thought, swiping the foam off another beer before handing it over the bar. Clearly she wants her space, and now she’s avoiding me so she can have it. Cause no one else is gonna notice something’s wrong.

She growled under her breath. She didn’t like this. Having to wait, not doing anything, even if it was the right move to make. Hated it actually. There was nothing more frustrating than seeing a problem and knowing that trying to help would just make it worse. Especially since it didn’t look like Pyrrha was looking to talk.

Whatever had her bothered, Yang was sure of one thing.

Pyrrha was here to drink.

Chapter Text

Ruby sat in darkness, wrapped in a thick black-and-red bathrobe that trailed to her toes, eyes flicking from the TV to the front door. Every so often, she would shift, trying to get a better view, a better look down the hallway. Her knee bounced, the building tension finding no release other than her constant fidgeting. She was waiting, and Ruby Rose was bad at waiting.

Biting her lips, she glanced back at the TV, trying to trick herself into being interested in ... it took her a second to remember what she was watching. It was a singing contest, well into the latter half of the season when the competition got fierce. The judges were talking about something, or at least it sounded like they were, evaluating the last singer's performance and giving the audience time to vote.

Ruby couldn't even remember what song they'd sung. Weiss had been gone all day, and the wait was getting to her.

It was almost midnight when the door finally clicked open, a spear of light shooting in from the hallway. Then Weiss closed the door behind her, and darkness returned. Ruby jerked to life like a scent hound, muscles quivering as she scrambled to her feet, eyes trained on the hallway. It took everything she had to not run over at meet Weiss at the door. But that wasn't the plan. It wasn't what she needed, as much as she might want to. So she waited, her foot bouncing impatiently while the sound of boots unzipping and winter clothes being shed filled the room.

Ruby breathed a sigh of relief when stockinged feet padded down the hallway. Weiss hadn't bothered with the light, and it was still dark when she stepped into the main room to find Ruby standing by the sofa, watching her with worried eyes.

As worked up as she was, Ruby still caught Weiss' wince when she saw her. Noticed the way she froze then looked down and away, looked anywhere, at anything, but her. That hurt, more than she expected it to.

"You didn't have to wait up for me," Weiss said softly, then stepped around the sofa, eyes trained on the kitchen island.

"No, I ..." Ruby started, before her voice caught in her throat. Swallowing, she watched while Weiss made her way over to the fridge, pulling out the water filter and pouring herself a glass.

The younger girl cleared her throat and tried to push away her nerves. She needed to make herself sound sure, stern, confident, even as every fiber of her being trembled with anxiety. She needed to sound like Yang, unflappable and unstoppable.

She almost managed it. "We need to talk," she said, proud that her voice over wavered on the last word.

Weiss glanced at her, then set her glass aside. "I'm sorry, I'm just ... very tired right now. I don't feel up to talking."

Ruby blinked and took a breath. This was fine. She'd planned for this, in case Weiss tried to slip away. Time for Plan B.

"T-then you can listen," she said, sternly. This was it. She was putting her foot down, no matter how much Weiss wanted to avoid this.

Weiss looked at her with an expression that made Ruby wonder if she'd grown a second head. Determined and trying to stay that way, she sat down on the sofa and flicked on a lamp before patting the seat beside her. It wasn't a question, or a request. It couldn't be – Weiss would have ignored those. She just needed to stay strong, keep her wits about her. Then Weiss would listen and they ... she didn't know what they'd do. But it had to be better than this.

Weiss barely made a sound as she crossed the room. Gingerly, as if the cushions might open and devour her whole, she perched on the edge of the couch, her eyes still looking at anything other than the girl across from her.

"Something's wrong," Ruby said, doing her best to be direct. "The past couple days you've barely looked at me, barely spoken to me. I ..." she trailed off.

This was hard, harder than she'd thought. She planned out this whole thing, had every word etched into her brain. She'd practiced it over and over, trying to figure out the best way to say how she felt, what she needed. But now, with Weiss sitting beside her, she couldn't remember a damn thing.

"I'm worried," she said, needing to say something and grabbing at the first thing that came to mind. "I feel like you're pushing me away and I don't ... I don't want that."

"I'm fine, Ruby," said Weiss. "It's just been a rough couple of days."

Ruby and Weiss had been together over a year. They'd lived together for months, spent days in each other's company. She'd seen Weiss stressed and happy and overworked. She knew what a worn-out and weary Weiss looked like. She also knew what it looked like when Weiss tried to lie. Ruby didn't believe a word of it.

"No. Something is wrong. And whatever it is, you don't wanna tell me." Ruby watched and waited, looking for Weiss' reaction. Something. Anything.

"It had something to do with the tournament on the weekend." She watched the heiress cringe, her shoulders hunched as her body fought to curl in on itself. Not much – someone who didn't know her wouldn't have noticed. But Ruby did.

"... was it something I did?" Ruby asked softly, having to ask and dreading the answer. "Something I said? Were you-"

"No." Weiss cut her off, voice raw and ragged, hands tightened into white-knuckled fists on her lap. Ruby pulled away, hearing enough anger in that voice to startle her. Just a quickly, it vanished. The tension slipped from Weiss' spine, her fingers unclenching slowly as the blood rushed back.

When Weiss spoke again, her voice was calm. "No, Ruby. You didn't do anything. I ..." she trailed off, head still bowed.

"Okay," Ruby breathed. She didn't know what to make of what she'd just seen. She'd seen Weiss angry before, usually at someone or something who deserved it, but not like this. "That's good. Not that you won't talk to me, but that it's not ... me."

She floundered, trying to think of something to say, something that didn't sound so ... stupid. Weiss didn't save her. For a long while, the two just sat there, Ruby biting her lip and watching Weiss, the heiress just staring at her hands.

"Look," she started, when she had the courage. "I-I'm not saying you have to tell me. I don't ... I don't need to know, but I need you to know that I don't need to know, and you deserve to know that I'm okay with not knowing if you ..." Ruby heard her own babbling and stopped. This is working. None of this is. I can't ... she needs to hear something and whatever it is, I don't know it.

"I wish you'd let me help you."

Another wave of tension rolled through Weiss' shoulders. The girl looked like tree, bent too far by the wind and straining to stay upright. One gust, one way or the other, and she'd snap or whip back into the face of it. Ruby had no idea which it would be.

"Could you turn around?" she said, when Weiss refused to answer.

"Why?"

"Just do it. Please?"

Weiss glanced at her. For a split second, ice-blue eyes met gray. Something was there – something dark and heavy – but for the life of her, Ruby couldn't read it. Then Weiss turned, putting her back to the silver-eyed girl with red streaks in her hair. And in that moment, that brief span or weakness, of vulnerability, Ruby press against her back and hugged her tight.

"Please don't freeze me out," she said as soft as she could. "It's not ... you don't have to tell me, but I wish you would. It hurts seeing you like this."

She half-expected Weiss to shudder, to have some horrified reaction to being touched. That was how it had gone sometimes, when she let herself imagine the worst. That Weiss would struggle free and leave without a word.

Instead, Weiss ... relaxed. There wasn't another word for it, not one Ruby could think of anyway. She just went limp. The coiled tension, the stress that had knotted itself inside her bones, just drained away, leaving a still, unmoving young woman held tight in her arms.

"Ruby, I don't," Weiss stopped, and took a breath. "I don't talk about my family much, and I truly appreciate that you don't ask."

She paused. "Growing up, my father was very demanding. He had high standards. He wanted the best for me, for Winter. So we had to give him our best, in everything. When you grow up with that sort of parent, you learn very quickly that anything less than your best isn't enough. And sometimes even that doesn't meet their standards. That sometimes, you're just a disappointment."

Weiss started to move. Before she could stop herself, Ruby held her tighter, fearing the worst. Instead, Weiss stopped and turned her head, just enough so Ruby could see the side of her face. "I don't ... you're a moron if you think you let me down just because you didn't win."

Ruby couldn't believe it. All of this, all of this, days of worrying and wondering, over something so ... something so small. Something that didn't matter in the least? "That's what this is about?" she asked, unable to stop herself.

She regretted it almost immediately. Pressed against her back, Ruby was intimately aware as the tension shot back up Weiss' spine, settling her shoulders as the young woman drew back into herself.

"Ruby, I don't, I can't ..." she trailed off, then went stiff. "Let me go."

Her voice was hard. Harsh. It was a demand, and Ruby obeyed, even if she hated it. She let go.

Weiss turned, her jaw set, her eyes two points of ice.

"I can't become my father. I can't become the kind of person who makes others feel small just by being around them. I don't want to put another person through that. And if I'm doing that to you, if I'm pushing you too hard, if you could think I'd be angry or disappointed in you for something so ..." She stopped, and clenched her jaw so tight Ruby feared her teeth might break. "Then this needs to end. I won't do that to you. I won't-"

"No." Ruby cut her off.

Weiss' brows tightened as she scowled. "Ruby-"

"Weiss, I don't really like losing. I'm human. And when I did, I got annoyed with myself 'cause I thought I could've beaten her. It wasn't anything you did." Ruby took a breath. "I just felt shitty about losing. Especially when I wanted you to be proud of me."

Sighing, Ruby pulled Weiss to her. She was too short, and ended up burying her face in Weiss' shoulder rather than the other way around. Still, it worked well enough. She needed the connection more than anything, the reminder that she was there. That Weiss was there. That even if she only had a rough idea of what might be wrong with Weiss, that even if she was pretty sure there was a whole heap of things Weiss wasn't telling her, that she was still here. That neither of them, no matter what Weiss thought, was going anywhere.

"I'm sorry."

Weiss went rigid. "Don't apologize, you d-"

"I'm sorry about your dad."

It took a long time for Weiss to answer. Ruby held her and waited, leaning against her, pressed into the crook of her shoulder.

"I like fencing with you." The older girl's voice cracked ever so slightly when she spoke. "I like training you. I like that it's something we share, but if I'm putting any pressure on you-"

Ruby reached up and placed her hand against Weiss' chin. As gentle as she could, she tugged, brought Weiss' mouth to hers, and kissed her silent.

"Weiss, you're a great trainer. And a great girlfriend. And I didn't mean to remind you of your father."

They stayed like that, pressed together, Ruby's head resting against her girlfriend's neck. Weiss' ponytail hung down by Ruby's face, leaving strands of hair to flick every so often across her nose. She ignored them, and nuzzled closer, not trusting herself to get the words right, to know how to say what she was feeling. So she held her tighter, closer, refusing to move for anything until two arms came up and slid around her back.

Ruby's heart soared as Weiss embraced her back, her head coming down to rest atop the shorter girl's, Weiss' nose pressed against her hair. She didn't let go until Weiss did, and even that was reluctant. Glancing up at the other girl's face, Ruby looked away. She didn't think Weiss would want her to see the tear streaks that ran down her cheeks.

"I need to take a shower." Weiss' voice was husky, but the words came out clear and steady. That was good – no cracking, no tension. Less of it, anyway.

"Okay." Ruby nodded. "I'll wait up for you."

Weiss blew out a short huff of air as she stood, looking exasperated. "You don't have to do that."

"I know." Ruby smiled and squeezed Weiss' hand. "I want to."


If Yang hadn't ducked into the back for another case of beer, she would have missed the sight of Pyrrha at the other end, speaking softly to her bartender as she paid out her tab at the end of the night.

Letting the case thump onto the ground, Yang made her way across the bar, nodding her acknowledgement when one of the patrons tried to catch her eye. She'd seen him – knew he was there. She'd get to him when she had a chance, and when Pyrrha wasn't about to vanish.

"Were you gonna leave without saying goodbye?" she asked, ignoring the surprised look the younger bartender shot her before passing Pyrrha the receipt to sign.

The redhead didn't even look up, fumbling with the pen before scrawling her name across the scrap of paper. "Need to head home."

Yang frowned and looked the older woman over. Pyrrha seemed steady, steadier than some of the customers she'd seen stagger out of her bar late at night. Her words weren't too slurred, her hands weren't too clumsy as she passed the pen back. Still, there was something about the way she carried herself, the way she leaned against the bar that gave Yang the impression it was the only thing keeping her upright.

"Let me call you a cab."

Pyrrha shot Yang a blank look, then turned away. "I'm fine, Yang. Honest."

She nodded back to the woman by the cash machine, putting her weight on her arm as she moved. For a second, everything seemed fine. Suddenly she leaned too hard and slipped, her hand sliding off the polished wood and dropping down beneath the bar. Pyrrha followed, her whole body dropping several inches as it took the weight out from under her.

Yang moved, trying to catch her, keep her from bashing her head on the wood, but Pyrrha caught herself in time. Her other hand slammed into the wood before she could fall, stopping her from crashing to the floor. There was a long pause as the three of them stood still, Yang watching Pyrrha, ready to catch her if she slipped again.

Pyrrha stood, more carefully this time, and let out a long, slow breath. "Thank you," she said, nodding to the bartender, then took her copy of the receipt. She smiled politely, then turned, feet carrying her over towards the coat-rack.

She staggered on the fourth step. This time, Yang was ready. In an instant, she was out from behind the bar, reaching out one hand to gently cup beneath Pyrrha's arm, the other ready to grab her more securely if the redhead slipped any further.

"I really am fine, Yang," she said quietly, once her balance returned.

Yang knew a lie when she heard one. Especially one as blatant as that. Yes, Pyrrha probably could make it home on her own and yes, she would probably be fine. That didn't mean she wouldn't half-kill herself on every patch of ice between the bar and her apartment.

"Do me a favor? Let me walk you home," Yang asked, keeping a steadying hand on the redhead's arm. "Please? Otherwise, I'll be worried the whole night wondering if you made it back or got your tongue stuck to a lamppost."

As jokes went, it was a weak one. Pyrrha looked down at Yang's hand, holding her eyes there long enough to make Yang wonder if she should to back away. She almost did, almost let go and tried to find some other way to make sure the other woman got home safe, before she saw the small nod Pyrrha gave her.

She sighed with relief. "Thank you." Keeping one hand on Pyrrha's arm, she turned back to her bartender. "Gwen, you got this?"

The dark-haired woman gave a quick look over the bar. This late, things were already starting to die down. Most of the younger crowd had already gone, those still remaining were regulars or finishing their last drinks. There was still an hour before last call, but it didn't look like anything her staff couldn't handle.

"Don't worry, boss," she said, giving Yang a sure nod. "We'll be fine."


It was only a twenty minute walk to Pyrrha's apartment building. Yang whistled when she saw it. She'd seen the jagged shape of glass and steel that jutted up into the air – it was impossible to miss – but she'd never known that was where Pyrrha lived. It's a bit much, she thought, staring up at the new-age ... she wasn't sure what shape it was. Some odd wedge-shaped spire that somehow managed to stay upright.

As drowsy as she was, Pyrrha still remembered the keypad code for the building, but from exhaustion of alcohol, she kept missing the keys. After the fourth try, Yang took pity on her and typed it in herself. With a beep and a click, the door opened, and Yang bundled them both into the heated lobby.

Pyrrha lived on the twelfth floor. Luckily for both of them, the elevator was empty and the doorman's suspicious look cut off when Pyrrha greeted him warmly, her careful words free of slurring. Satisfied her wits were about her and that the blonde looked more helpful than threatening, he went back to his crossword. Nudging her along, Yang got her into the elevator and thumped the button.

Finally they were there, Yang waiting patiently while Pyrrha fumbled with her key. This time, she managed it on the third try, the key sliding into the lock with a satisfying click.

"There we go," Yang smiled, one hand ready just in case she staggered again. "Mind if I come in?"

"Yes." Pyrrha said as she walked through the doorway. Then she paused, her brow furrowed. "I mean, no. I ..." She trailed off, a distant look in her eye. With a shake of her head, it cleared, and Pyrrha pressed a hand against her no-doubt aching forehead.

"In. Please."

Still watching in case she fell, Yang followed her into the apartment, moved the keys into the basket when Pyrrha missed, when shut the door behind them. Hitting the lights, she turned and stared.

The place was nice, opening up into a sprawling living room with curtained windows that looked out onto the street. The walls were a slight off-white, a hint of blue or grey rather than eggshell, making a nice contrast with the dark slate kitchen that sat off to the side. The furnishings were pleasant, well-used and well-cared for, giving the place a homey feel it would have lacked without them. It was clean, but not spotless, and Yang spotted at least one empty container of take-out sitting in the garbage can by the kitchen sink.

"Nice place," she said, helping Pyrrha forward as they made their way to the sofa. "Mind if I get you some water?"

She didn't. Once she was sure the redhead was settled against the cushions, Yang slipped into the kitchen nook, stared in mistrust at the oddly-shaped water faucet, then managed to fill a glass.

She had to wrap Pyrrha's fingers around the glass before the other woman realized what she held. At least she was able to drink it herself, raising it to her lips with a steadier hand than Yang expected and downing a third of it in one swig.

"Alright," Yang took a breath and bent down to unzip the redhead's boots. "Let's get the coat and boots off, at least. Then more water. Then we get you to bed."

Pyrrha nodded, then took another sip, her eyes unfocused as she slumped against the couch. "Thank you. For taking care of me."

"Happy to help," Yang said, meaning every word. "I'll stay for a little bit. Make sure you're okay, then I'll head out. That alright?"

Pyrrha nodded again, her head bobbing low enough to make Yang wonder if she was falling asleep. "Thank you."

"No worries ... can I ask what this was about? You usually don't come in trying to wreck your liver."

When she didn't answer, Yang shut up. She wasn't going to press her, not now anyway, and not like this. Not while she could barely keep her eyes open. Yang was worried, the same kind of worried she'd be for any friend who nearly drank themselves under the table, but Pyrrha needed rest. Anything else – the questions, her curiosity, her worries – that could wait.

Seeing the glass was empty, Yang took it and headed back to the kitchen. By the time she came back, Pyrrha was completely still, her chest rising steadily in slow, even breaths.

Yang shook her head and sighed. She would be cute, the blonde mused, finding a coaster and leaving the glass on the side table. Even like this. Leaning down, she slid one arm around Pyrrha's back, moving slow to keep from waking her.

"Alright. Time for bed."

Pyrrha stirred, lids opening slightly. She blinked up at Yang, her face calm and solemn, her eyes sad.

"You're beautiful," she said, the last word only slightly slurred.

"Nice." Yang laughed, then smiled. "That means a lot, coming from you."

"I mean it."

Yang rolled her eyes. She'd heard more than enough drunk talk in her time. "Hope you know I'm legally required to tease you about this when you're sober."

Pyrrha nodded again, her head bobbing, then jerked forward. Swearing, Yang lunged for the trash can. The couch looked expensive, and if Pyrrha was going to be sick ...

Yang froze. The retching she expected hadn't come. Instead, Pyrrha had leaned in, and pressed her lips gently against Yang's cheek. Too startled to move, Yang stayed there, paralyzed, while Pyrrha embraced her, one hand cupping her chin before the redhead pulled away.

"You're drunker than I thought." She laughed, her nerves singing, wishing her heart would stop racing. The pounding was filling her ears, making it hard to think.

"Prob'ly." Pyrrha nodded, her eyes bleary. "Still ... you're beautiful."

Yang's eyes went wide, her heart beating double-time in her aching chest as Pyrrha leaned in, her eyes closed, her lips less than an inch from Yang's own ... and stopped.

The blonde's hand was on her shoulder, holding her in place, keeping her from a making the kind of mistake both of them would regret the following morning. Even just a kiss. Especially a kiss – Yang didn't know what that would mean for them.

Keeping her hand between them, Yang bit her cheek, trying to get her breathing under control. It was coming in short, shuddering breaths, matching her racing mind as she tried to make sense of what just happened. This wasn't at all what she expected when she offered to walk Pyrrha home. She just wanted to make sure she got home alright, that her friend was safe. Something like this ... it had been the last thing on her mind.

But Pyrrha had kissed her. Kissed her twice – or tried to, at least. If that wasn't a sign ...

Yang's lips were dry when she opened them, her words hesitant and careful. "Look, I'd be lying if I said I didn't want this. And if you were sober I'd let you in a heartbeat." She sighed. "You're fun and amazingly attractive, but this wouldn't be fair to either of us."

She never expected to say any of this. Never expected to have to. Pyrrha had made her reservations clear, and Yang respected that. But here she was, kissing her cheek, trying to kiss her. "You're not in any shape to make a decision like that right now. So, let's get you to bed? You sleep this off, and ... we can talk about this in the morning." She cleared her throat. It was tight, making it hard to speak, to say what she had to.

"We will talk about this. Okay?" She paused, waiting for an answer. "Pyrrha?"

Limp in her arms, her chin resting against her collarbone, Pyrrha took in a short, shallow breath ... and snored.

Yang gaped, amazement and disbelief coursing through her in equal measure. Then she chuckled and shook her head. That would teach her to say shit like that.

Hefting the older woman in her arms, Yang carried her down the hall, eventually finding the bedroom a few doors down. With one hand, she yanked the covers back, the slid Pyrrha onto the mattress, taking just enough time to pull her arms out of her coat. Slinging it over one arm, she levered the redhead's legs onto the bed, shifted the pillow into a better position, and flicked the covers back over her.

Still shaking her head, Yang went back to hand the coat on the rack in the hall and move the boots to stand by the door. Grabbing a chair and a trashcan was in case Pyrrha woke up sick, she hauled them back to Pyrrha's room and sat, watching the redhead sleep, wondering what in the world she would say when they saw each other again. What Pyrrha would say.

Hours later, when she was sure Pyrrha was going to sleep through the night, when she was sure she would be fine, Yang rose from the chair and left. She scrawled a quick note, left it on the kitchen counter, and slipped silently out the door.

 

Chapter Text

Ruby woke with the dawn, the light trickling in through the bedroom window to warm her face. Blinking, she reached back and tugged the curtains closed, turning the light to a dull, warm glow. She shrank back beneath the covers, loving the warmth and the knowledge that half of it came from the girl beside her.

She reached up and rubbed sleep from her eyes. Glancing at the clock, she growled. It was almost seven. That meant ... it took a moment for her sleepy mind to do the math. That was, what? Five hours of sleep? It had been nearly two before she and Weiss finally got to bed. Weiss' shower hadn't been too long, but neither of them had been able to sleep easily, not after the night before. Eventually she'd realized that neither would be making any headway that night. With only a little pushing, she managed to coax Weiss into bed, and the two of them had fallen asleep beside each other.

Now she found herself facing the window, trying to ignore the sunlight creeping up the bed. Weiss lay beside her, facing the opposite wall, her hands tucked up beside her on the bed.

Smiling, Ruby settled in and pulled the covers up to her chin. Weiss really was cute when she slept. It wasn't an adjective the older girl would approve of – she hated it when Ruby called her cute – but it definitely applied. There was something adorable about the unconscious Weiss, the way she breathed when she slept, her hair spread out around her at odd intervals and falling across her shoulders.

I want to hold her, Ruby realized, looking over at the girl in the pale blue nightdress. She wanted to feel the warmth of her girlfriend. After everything, I want to ... I want to be there with her. For her.

I'll just be careful not to wake her.

Wriggling beneath the covers, Ruby moved forward until she could wrap one arm over Weiss' side, her chin resting on the other woman's shoulder. Carefully, moving slowly to keep from waking her, Ruby wrapped herself around the taller girl, twining between her arms and legs until they were bound together beneath the covers.

It was nice being the big spoon for a change.

As far as she could tell, Weiss was dead to the world. Snuggling deeper into the mass of blankets, Ruby closed her eyes and breathed. She couldn't sleep, not now, not knowing the alarm would ring in a few minutes, but she wouldn't trade moments like these for anything.

She stayed like that as long as she could, breathing in the scent of Weiss' shampoo. Finally, right before the alarm could sound, she reached over and turned it off. After last night, Weiss shouldn't have to wake to the jarring bell-ring she used. It wasn't as harsh as some alarms, but it was far less pleasant that what Ruby had in mind.

Pushing herself a little ways off the bed, Ruby leaned over and kissed Weiss' cheek. Nothing happened, so Ruby stayed, leaving small, light kisses at the corner of Weiss' mouth, her fingers slowly running through her long waves of ivory hair.

"Morning," she said, keeping her voice soft once Weiss began to stir.

The heiress grunted something, blinked, and buried her face in the pillow. "What time is it?"

"Time to get up." Ruby smiled apologetically and pressed her lips to Weiss' forehead. "Pancakes or eggs?"

"... what?" Weiss asked, rolling over to look up at her. Weiss' eyes were bleary, the poor girl still half asleep as Ruby helped her sit upright.

"Breakfast. Should I make you pancakes or eggs?"

Weiss blinked, her eyes slowly starting to focus. Running her hand over her face, she shook her head. "Ruby, you don't-"

"Weiss," Ruby said, her voice stern. "Don't tell me I don't have to. I like doing stuff for you, and if you haven't figured that out by now, then you damn well better."

The white-haired heiress gave her a level look. "I was going to ask which one you wouldn't burn." Her eyes were serious, but the corner of her mouth kept twitching, trying to hold back a smile.

For a split second, Ruby just gaped at her. She's joking. Actually joking. That was definitely a good sign. If Weiss was comfortable enough to joke ...

With an exaggerated pout, Ruby punched her girlfriend lightly in the shoulder. "Jerk."

"Dolt."

Rolling her eyes despite her grin, Ruby let Weiss reach up and pull her back down into the bed. Still a little sleepy, Weiss rolled over until Ruby was beside her, fingers twining together beneath the blankets. Eyes half-lidded, she leaned in and kissed her on the mouth.

"Just oatmeal, please." Weiss said when she let her go. "Something mild."

Ruby grinned, knowing her face was red and not caring one bit. "That I can do."


Pyrrha woke to find the room swimming, her stomach aching, and her head pounding like the victim of a psychotic jackhammer. Groaning, she reached over and grabbed for her alarm. Instead, her fingers met glass.

She opened her eyes to see what it was and immediately regretted it. Everything burned with an unholy light, driving a spotlight-sized nail into her head. Pulling the covers over her, she moaned and clenched her eyes. When her hangover was a little less painful, she reached for the glass, using the blankets to block out the sun from the window.

It was full of water. She had already downed half of it before she noticed the two small pills sitting on the nightstand. Some kind soul had left a pair of aspirin for her as well.

Tossing them down with the rest of the water, she thunked the glass back onto its coaster and groaned.

Okay, she started, her thoughts feeling as fuzzy as her mouth. Someone was here. Someone nice. So who-

Oh God.

Pyrrha wasn't sure what she remembered. Yang had definitely taken her home. That she was sure of. She remembered the blonde entering her code on the door. She remembered being helped onto the sofa, Yang giving her water ... she must have passed out after that.

Still not completely conscious, she reached down. Her fingers met her shirt, belt, and jeans. She sighed with relief. She was still wearing the clothes from the night before. That was a blessing. She hadn't made a mess of them – which hopefully meant she hadn't done anything as humiliating as vomiting over the nice woman trying to help her home. Yang wouldn't have put her in bed with dirtied clothes, which was at least one more bullet she'd apparently managed to dodge.

Struggling out of the bed, she forced herself upright and stopped. Her stomach did a barrel-roll and tried to rebel. Grabbing the trashcan by the bed – Had that always been there? – she leaned over it and waited. She didn't puke, but it was a close thing.

Standing took some effort, but she managed it. Walking was more of a challenge, but after a second bout of sickness, she was able to move. Keeping one hand on the wall, she made her way over to the door, not noticing the note taped to it until she reached for the handle. With a frown, she reached up and plucked it from the wall, bringing it closer so she could make out the somewhat sloppy writing.

Morning, sunshine. Stayed to make sure you wouldn't ralph. You look okay, but you're gonna feel like you got kicked by a horse. Leaving water, aspirin, and a garbage can just in case.

I'll be doing inventory at the bar if you wanna talk.

- Yang

Pyrrha let her hand fall to her side before thumping her head into the door. Why? Why did Yang have to be working the bar on the one night she shouldn't be?

It was her own fault, she supposed. She could have gone to any other bar in the city. But she'd known Yang took Wednesday nights off, and banked on it to avoid seeing her.

And look how well that turned out.

Sighing, she stumbled out of her bedroom and made her way down the hall. She'd feel better after a shower. A shower, some food, some coffee, and then ...

She wasn't sure what she'd do then.


Ruby blew out a long breath while she watched Weiss spoon honey into her oatmeal. The older girl was wrapped in a blue bathrobe, paging through the newspaper while she ate. She was always quiet in the mornings – and normally Ruby would leave her to it. Most days she'd already be jumping into the shower, breakfast long finished.

But today wasn't quite a normal day.

"Weiss," she said, just loudly enough to be sure Weiss would hear her.

"Yes?"

"Um, could you put the paper down for a sec?"

Immediately, Weiss looked up, brow furrowed in a frown.

"I have no idea how to start this," Ruby tried to look apologetic. There had to be some polite way of doing this, something gentler than 'Hey, talk to me,' but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't think of one.

"Look, last night we talked about you freezing me out."

Weiss stiffened a little, her frown growing deeper. For a second, Ruby wondered if she was going to try to make some excuse, but she didn't, her food and the paper lying forgotten by her side.

"I know you don't want me to have to deal with your family. And I get that it's hard to talk about." God, she was nervous. Without meaning to, Ruby reached up and ran a hand through her hair, tugging on the ends to let go of some of the tension. "But sometimes it feels like there's a whole part of your life I don't know about."

"Ruby-"

"I-I mean, it's not a huge deal, but I still haven't met Winter yet, and I know she's important to you, so I ju-"

"Ruby," Weiss said again, cutting her off. "I talked to Winter after New Year's. She'll be in town in two weeks."

"Oh." Ruby blushed. Of course she did. Weiss always did exactly what she said she would. If she said she'd talk to Winter ... Wait, what?

"New Year's?" she asked, incredulously. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Weiss opened her mouth to respond, then stopped, the words just on the tip of her tongue. Then she looked away, and seemed to sag back into her chair after a moment.

"You don't know what you're getting into."

"Because you won't tell me."

Weiss' mouth pursed into a thin line. "Ruby, my parents are very ... old-fashioned." She paused, the deliberate word choice making it clear she'd been thinking something else.

"Meaning?" Ruby asked, curious.

"I mean Winter is the only one who knows I'm a lesbian." Weiss took a long breath, then let it out. Ruby didn't rush her. Whatever Weiss was trying to say, it looked physically painful for her, like every word hurt just getting the syllables out.

"Ruby, I haven't wanted to talk about this because I know it there is no chance in hell of it going well."

"You don't know that." Ruby frowned. She didn't know what to make of this. Weiss had her cynical moments, but she wasn't normally a pessimist. Does she not trust me around her family? "Maybe-"

"No." Weiss cut her off, her fists clenching on top of the table. "They won't approve of you. Father will be furious at me for keeping this from him. And for what he'll see as me 'throwing away a promising future' on a whim. Mother will say something hurtful or homophobic." Weiss made an expression that could technically be called a smile, but with as much warmth to it as an icicle. "Probably both. Then things will nasty. Father will start by asking what's wrong with me and how I could have turned out like this. Mother will make herself a drink, and one or both of them will start harping on you and blaming you for me not being the daughter they wanted. And the conversation will end with me storming out or when they throw me out."

Ruby tried to open her mouth, but the words didn't come. She didn't know what to say. That Weiss could list that off so, so ...

"You don't even sound angry."

Weiss looked up then and met her eyes. She seemed calm. Perfectly, completely, calm. That shook Ruby more than anything. That Weiss could look almost ... almost fine with this. Resigned to what she knew would be.

She's accepted this, Ruby thought, horror at the mere idea of it slowly gripping her heart. She's convinced that it'll happen. Down to their exact answers ... how many times has she run this in her head? Tried to figure out what would happen?

"I moved past it a long time ago. I avoided bringing it up because I knew how you would take it." Weiss smiled sadly. "I am not trying to keep anything from you. There is just nothing good that will come from them."

Ruby closed her mouth and swallowed. She couldn't imagine what this must be like. What growing up with parents like that must be like. Ruby's home life wasn't perfect, not with her mother's death or the way her dad almost shut down from the grief, but she couldn't remember a time in her life when Taiyang had been anything less than supportive. Of everything she did. Everything she was.

She'd never even worried about coming out to him. Never had to. Yang was older and Ruby couldn't remember a time when she wasn't open about her preferences. Yang had crushes on boys and girls all through Ruby's childhood, and while Taiyang hadn't liked every single person his elder daughter dated, he'd never once said anything, or done anything, like what Weiss described. The worst he'd ever done was magically find ways to be chopping wood or cleaning steak knives when someone he didn't like the look of came to pick her up. Even then, it was mostly for the boys. He'd say it was a little bit sexist and look sheepish, but he never felt right about pulling that stuff on the girls.

Silently, Ruby stood up from her side of the table. Ignoring Weiss' questioning look, she came over, and wrapped her arms around the taller girl's shoulder, squeezing as tight as she could. She didn't say anything, didn't trust herself too. Her voice would have cracked the moment she opened her mouth. And Weiss didn't need the guilt of seeing her torn up over this.

After a second, Weiss reached up and hand her hand down Ruby's hair. She was gentle, working her fingers past the odd stray knot, and stopped right at the back of Ruby's head. She held her close, her cheek pressed down into her hair, Ruby with her face buried in Weiss' shoulder.

"Go shower," she said finally, hand sweeping off Ruby's shoulders as she let her go. "You'll be late for class."

Ruby didn't let go. She didn't want to, didn't want to do anything more than wrap the both of them in a blanket and spend the next few hours alone.

"I love you," she said, meaning it more than ever. Ruby needed her to know that. Especially after everything that had happened. After last night and ... whatever this was. It just wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that Weiss had to deal with this. Any of this.

"I know," Weiss said softly, her lips brushing the top of Ruby's hair. "I love you too."


Yang was just setting up when Pyrrha knocked on the front door. Plunking down the crate she carried on the bar, she looked over, saw who it was, and grinned.

Pyrrha's stomach immediately did somersaults in her chest, and she had a sneaking suspicion it wasn't just from the hangover. She smiled back and stood awkwardly in the doorway, hands jammed into her pockets, woolen cap pulled down over her fiery hair. The collar of her coat was pulled up against her neck to keep away the cold. Her head still ached and she knew she looked the worse for wear after last night, but the worst of it had passed. Now she would just spend the rest of the day dealing with heartburn and the headache until her body finally forgave her for the night before.

Not that any of that slowed Yang down. The blonde had the door open in a flat second, apparently not caring about the blast of cold that raised gooseflesh on her arms the second she opened the door.

"G'morning!" she said in a sing-song voice, full of the cheer that only comes from being both awake and smug about it.

"Less loud and less chipper, please." Pyrrha asked in the husky tone her night of drinking had left her. "I probably deserve it, but please don't rub it in.

Yang just grinned wider. "I'll be nice. So, why'd you come back? Hair of the dog that bit you?" Her grin turned positively evil as Pyrrha shuddered. That was the last thing she needed right now, and from the look on Yang's face, she knew it.

"It's ... can we talk?" she asked quietly. "Sorry, that makes it sound like I have bad news. What I mean is ... would you mind if I-"

Nodding in sympathy, Yang swung the door wide and stepped aside. Pyrrha headed in, breathing a sigh of relief as the door closed behind her and the heat returned. Without a word, Yang headed back to the bar, keeping herself busy while Pyrrha pulled off her coat and scarf.

"Thanks for the note," Pyrrha said as she hung her clothes on the coat-rack. "I'm sorry you had to do that."

"It's fine," the blonde shrugged and waved away her thanks. 'I'd rather know you made it home safe."

Pyrrha wasn't sure what to say to that. Biting the inside of her cheek, she made her way over the bar and sat down on a stool, propping her head up on her hands. Being back here wasn't helping. Maybe it was the feeling of being back at the scene of the crime, returning to the spot where she'd embarrassed herself so thoroughly the night before, but her head was pounding. Every pulse sent another wave of agony through her skull.

She didn't notice what Yang was doing until the blonde nudged a warm mug against the back of the hand.

"Coffee," she said, when Pyrrha looked up. "You look like you need to unload."

"I'm sorry, I don't want to bother you." Reaching down, Pyrrha gripped the mug and took a sip. It wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible either. And it did the trick – either through the warmth or the caffeine, or just the way her mind connected that taste and heat with being awake, her headache started to recede. "If you're busy-"

"Nikos, you're my friend. For you, I've got time." Yang set the washcloth down on the edge of the bar. "What's going on?"

Pyrrha took a long, steadying breath, then another sip, trying to find some way to buy time while the blonde on the other side of the bar waited.

"I need to thank you," she said, when the silence became too great.

"You really don't."

"Yang," Pyrrha's voice went stern for a second. "I might not have made it home without you. So if there's anything I can do to repay you, please, tell me."

Yang was silent for a while, her fingers toying with a glass behind the bar, turning it around and around on its side. "Yeah. Maybe ... don't do it again."

Pyrrha blinked and swallowed. "I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bother you-"

Yang shook her head quickly, sending her mass of blonde hair swaying behind her. "Nah, I'd walk you home five nights a week if you wanted. That's not it.

Now it was Yang's turn to be silent for a second, before thunking the glass back into place and letting out a long, guttural growl. "Sorry, I'm not good at this. Blunt version? If you wanna talk, I'm here. You wanna drink, I'm here. And a wild night every once in a while isn't gonna kill you, but ... just maybe don't make a habit of it? One bender in a while's not a big deal, but I don't really want to watch a friend get hurt."

Yang's eyes met Pyrrha's, holding them just long enough for the redhead to see she was serious. There was no blame there, no anger or disappointment, just concern, worry for her friend. Somehow that just made it worse.

"I'm sorry I worried you." Pyrrha looked down at the bar.

"You don't have to apologize. But if you wanna talk, I'm all ears."

The older woman bit her lip, trying to decide what in the world she should say. It wasn't fair that Yang could be this nice, especially after the night before. Maybe she shouldn't be surprised, it did sound exactly like the kind of thing Yang would do, but she couldn't help that it got to her.

Pyrrha opened her mouth to say something noncommittal, some small excuse about what was going on in her life, and stopped as she met Yang's eyes. The blonde was watching her, waiting, all her attention in the redhead as she struggled with how much to tell her. Not everything – dear god, not everything.

It was the way Yang's brows furrowed that broke her, that plaintive look begging for her to open up. Everything came out at once. Her issues with her job, her life. That feeling of being stuck, trapped doing the same thing over and over and not going anywhere. She enjoyed coaching, but she needed something more, something larger than just working with the students at the university. The problem was, she didn't know what she wanted that thing to be. She would be in the veteran's division in two years, and while she had no regrets about her fencing career, she needed something, something different, something she could dedicate herself to after the competitions.

She poured out her frustrations, the annoyance that she was a grown woman in her late thirties and she felt like she didn't know what to do with the rest of her life. Yang stayed almost perfectly still throughout it all, nodding and listening, leaning against the bar as she led Pyrrha unload.

"I want to do more coaching," she said finally, when she started to lose steam. "But not at the university, not for just the team. I want ... I want to know I did something that mattered. That I'll have something more to show for my life than a few medals on my shelf and my name on a list somewhere."

"So do it."

Pyrrha shook her head. "It's not that simple." She wished it could be that simple, that she could just go for what she wanted and damn the consequences.

"You know, 'gold medalist' is a pretty big accomplishment."

"But I don't want that to be the only thing anyone will remember me for," Pyrrha sighed and thumped her arms on the bar. It was more than that, but ... she couldn't tell Yang the other reason. That she saw everyone's lives moving forward while hers stayed in the same exact spot. That she felt isolated and alone, and that the one person she'd wanted to try starting something with, the first person in a long time, was someone she really shouldn't.

"My life is fine. I shouldn't be unhappy with it, I shouldn't be frustrated, but I am."

Pyrrha went stiff as a hand reached out and laid itself over hers. She looked up into violet eyes that held hers, waiting just long enough to make sure Yang had the redhead's attention. Then Yang pulled away, taking her hand off Pyrrha's and reaching for the glass again, fiddling with it while she spoke.

"Look, we haven't talked about it yet, didn't have a reason to, but after high school, I had no idea what the hell I was going to do." "I thought about college, thought about other things. Found myself some trouble and mostly got out of it. I just had no idea where to go next, so I do have some idea where you're coming from."

Pyrrha let out a sigh, part of her wishing Yang had kept holding her hand. "What did you do?"

"I joined the army."

"You were in the military?" Pyrrha gaped at the tall blonde in front of her. The last thing she would have pegged her as was a soldier. "For how long?"

"Eight years"

"You've never talked about it." That was one of the things that surprised Pyrrha the most. The people she knew who'd served, most of them carried it with them. That training, that service rode in their bones in a way that little else did. You could see it in how they carried themselves, how they moved ... and Yang just didn't look the type.

Yang shrugged, running her fingers absently over the glass. "It's complicated. And not something I bring up a lot." Setting the glass aside, she flashed Pyrrha a quick grin. "Plus we're talking about you right now."

"My point is, you've already achieved more than most people do in their entire lives. You got time and you're not hurting for cash, so there's no reason for you to keep doing something if you want to do something else. If you're not happy, then maybe it's time to find whatever it is you really want to do. Or just go do something ridiculous for the hell of it."

I can think of few things, some part of her in the back of her mind said. What I really want to do.

Pyrrha shook her head. Now wasn't the time for ... that. "Like what?"

Yang shrugged. "I dunno. Skydive over the Pacific. Copy my uncle and buy a sailboat. Go wandering around the Caribbean. Do something stupid and impulsive just because you want to."

"... now that does sound more like you," the redhead said, a small smile spreading across her face.

Yang rolled her eyes and gave her a wry smile. "Cute. Look, you find something, anything, that makes you happy and go for it. Doesn't have to be the one thing you'll do forever. Like I said, stupid and impulsive or ridiculous."

She paused for a second, then put her hand back atop Pyrrha's. It was warm, so warm, the heat spreading through her fingers as Yang's skin brushed hers. Pyrrha looked down, hoping Yang wouldn't notice the matching heat that creeped up her neck to her face.

"Whatever you decide," Yang said, squeezing her hand. "I'll back you every step of the way."

Chapter Text

Weiss bit into the end of her pen and scowled down at her paper, trying to intimidate it into finishing itself.

As an essay on the impact of differing economics theories during the Cold War, it left much to be desired. At this point it was barely more than an outline, with just a few sections fleshed out enough to be considered some sort of draft. And with the paper due the following week, it wasn't something she could put off for much longer. She just needed to focus.

That was the problem, of course. She couldn't focus. Not when Winter was supposed to arrive half an hour ago. But every step of the way, something conspired to stop their reunion. First, her flight was late, then there was a mix-up with the rental car, and the last text she'd gotten was that Winter was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeway. Even that was taking her longer than she'd hoped – apparently there was a four-car pileup on I5. There were no fatalities, but as the wait stretched on, Weiss started seriously considering adding a few of her own. Starting with the idiot who caused the accident.

It didn't help that Ruby couldn't go ten seconds without-

"I made the tea you like!" an annoyingly cheerful voice chirped from behind her, making Weiss' fist clench so hard the pen creaked in protest. "I know you said something you were off about the Earl Grey, so I thought maybe some of the rosehip you keep stashed away would be good. Especially since it's supposed to be good for your skin and an antioxidant and did you know that they're actually-"

"For the love of god, stop trying to cheer me up." Weiss snapped, setting aside her notes. Wait, why is she concerned that it's good for my skin?

Weiss shook her head. She could obsess over what that meant later. When she didn't have a sister coming and a girlfriend making her want to tear her hair out. "Seriously, Ruby. I know you are trying to help, but this is ridiculous."

Ruby frowned, the hand holding the teapot sagging a little. Settling down on the sofa, she put the teapot down, next to the plate of cookies she'd set out a minute earlier. And the remote she'd moved just in case Weiss wanted to watch something. And the tissues she brought after Weiss had sneezed. Once. And the blanket she'd wrapped around Weiss' shoulders, and the extra pens in case hers ran out ...

"You just looked down," Ruby said, her voice sullen. "I thought maybe I could make it easier for you to work if you had everything you needed."

Weiss sighed and rubbed at the bridge of her nose. "I'm waiting for my sister to arrive so I can introduce her to my girlfriend. I can't focus because I'm nervous, not because I'm hungry, or cold, or because I need tea."

"... sorry."

Weiss set her pen down, and reached over to pull the smaller girl to her. She knew why Ruby was so intent on doing something, anything, to try and help. She probably felt the same way Weiss did. This would be the first of Weiss' family the girl had ever met. She was just as invested in making a good first impression as Weiss was. Ruby had even started cleaning before Weiss could, doing anything short of steam-cleaning every object in sight. This was likely her version of Weiss' studying, trying to something to do to keep busy.

"It's fine," she said, squeezing Ruby gently around her shoulders. "I know you're nervous about meeting her too. Just please stop this."

When Ruby nodded, she pulled away, gathering her notes back onto her lap and twirling her pen. Her paper wouldn't finish itself, no matter how much she would rather put the blasted thing off.

"Just try to relax. You flitting around is giving me a headache."

"Oh! Let me get you an aspirin." Quick as lightning, Ruby was off the couch and headed to the kitchen.

This time, the Weiss' pen snapped cleanly in two.

"Ruby, what did I just say?"


"Guess who's co-teaching a class out of the Asian languages and literature department!" Nora cheered in the sing-song voice she used when she was particularly happy, nearly bouncing out of her seat.

Pyrrha turned her eyes to the only professor who could make Nora that enthusiastic about anything. Ren was calm as always, long dark hair swaying as he shook his head at his wife's obvious amusement.

The three were seated in the couple's living room, surrounded by photos from their honeymoon and any number of dates and adventures together. They shared the couch, Nora's legs tucked up beside her while she leaned against her husband ... at least until another round of bouncing. Pyrrha had the loveseat to herself, the rich chocolate leather soft and supple against her back.

"Who are you teaching with?" she asked, smiling. If Nora was this enthusiastic, it had to be someone she found interesting.

"Professor Hori," Ren answered. It wasn't a name Pyrrha knew, but Asian Literature had never been her forte. "All his idea, and he was very persuasive."

"What's the class?"

"Special Topics in Asian Literature," he recited off-hand, using the terminology the university crafted to define its subjects. "Genre film."

"He means martial arts film," Nora grinned, nudging her husband with an elbow. "Everything from Seven Samurai and Lone Wolf and Cub to Ashes of Time Redux and Kung Fu Hustle. There'll be punching and kicking and backflips-"

Pyrrha laughed. That explained why Nora was so happy about it. Action movies were something she'd always enjoyed. "Well, it definitely sounds like it won't be boring."

Ren gave another of his laconic shrugs, but Pyrrha thought she saw a spark of humor behind his eyes. "Maybe. After The Matrix and Daredevil, I wonder how many students will actually be interested in old wuxia and chambara films."

"Stop it. You'll be great." Pyrrha smiled.

This is nice, she thought, listening while Nora tried to convince Ren to add Shaolin Soccer to the list. It had been almost two weeks since the three of them really got a chance to talk. Best of all, it was relaxing. They were all busy – Pyrrha prepping for the cup, Ren with his student's classwork and his own papers, Nora taking over the coaching position for the football team – and finding the time to sit, to talk, was a blessing.

"Plus," she laughed. "You can't do worse than the Matrix sequels."

Nora's eyes went wide. "There were sequels?" Nora whipped her head to the side, sending a wave of regret washing over Pyrrha as she turned to face Ren. "You didn't tell me there were sequels!"

Ren's palm smacked cleanly into his forehead.

"So Pyrrha, when are you gonna ask that girl out?" he asked in a blatant attempt to change the subject, ignoring the glare the redhead shot him. "It's obvious she likes you"

"Yeah! She's gonna yes."

Pyrrha looked between the both of them. Something about the looks they gave her was putting her on the defensive. Really, Ren? Did you have to use me for your escape?

"Her sister is in my club."

"So you're seriously gonna wait two and half more years to date her?" Nora scoffed. "Pyrrha, it's not a conflict of interest – the school wouldn't mind."

"... I know," Pyrrha swallowed and nodded, slumping forward in the loveseat until her elbows rested on her knees.

"Then why?"

"She's worried," Ren said. His words were quiet, and kind, but they still made Pyrrha wince as she heard them. "About what happens if she's not actually interested. Or what happens if she is."

He met Pyrrha's eyes in a look of complete understanding. "And as long as you do nothing, nothing bad can happen."

"Oh for the love of," Nora slammed her hands down onto the couch with a smack. "Pyrrha, she'll say yes!"

Pyrrha looked up, eyes wide as she stared into Nora's face. "How do you know? Did she say anything?"

"She doesn't have to," Nora practically screamed, frustration boiling up and turned her face a brilliant red. "Anyone can see she's into you."

Pyrrha sighed and slumped back into position, her head hanging down towards the floor. Maybe Ren was right. Even if he wasn't right about Yang, he was right about her. She hadn't felt this way about someone in, well, over a decade. Even at their age, that was intimidating. She'd thought about telling Yang several times, even had one dream where she'd kissed the poor woman, but each time she tried nothing seemed right. There was always something off, some reason for her not to go through with it. Yang was younger. She was older. She and Yang's sister knew each other from the university. Barely.

And there's the fact that I'm terrified she'll say no.

Nora took a breath, replenishing her supply of air for another bellow. But before she could unload on their old friend, Ren began to speak. "Pyrrha, you're forgetting something important."

"What is that?" Pyrrha asked, eyes still trained on the carpet.

"That even if Yang is aware you're attracted to her, eventually she will stop waiting." He sighed and shrugged apologetically. "If you do nothing, eventually the choice will be made for you."

"Meaning?"

"You're scared of what might happen if she says no. How much worse would it be to know she would have said yes, but didn't, because she'd already moved on?"


Weiss tried to ignore the way Ruby bounced on the balls of her feet, practically humming with held-back energy as she watched the much taller woman step in through their door.

Winter had called just as she turned into Weiss' apartment complex. That had sparked a brand new round of panicked cleaning, mostly clearing away the detritus Ruby had brought her. Then Ruby decided there was something wrong with her hair, patting and fixing it frantically in the hallway mirror.

She had just enough time for one last "You look fine," before there was a knock on the door. Winter had arrived, her long white coat in a military cut covering a business suit that was only slightly less severe.

"It's really good to see you, Winter," Weiss said and smiled up at her elder sister. She didn't move to hug her; Winter wasn't fond of physical displays of affection. Weiss normally wasn't either, but almost two years with Ruby had broken her of that somewhat. So she waited, hands clasped before her, ignoring the way Ruby's eyes bounced back-and-forth between them as if she was watching a tennis match.

"You too, Weiss," the older Schnee said. "I am glad I was able to arrange a visit. I know your schedule is quite busy these days."

Weiss gave a skeptical little laugh. "Nothing compared to yours." That was an understatement. Winter's posting in the Air Force kept her more than busy, and her recent promotion hadn't exactly helped matters. As a newly-appointed colonel directly under General Ironwood, she had a whole host of new responsibilities, most of them some level of classified. Ironwood's involvement in overseas operations didn't help. Unlike other staff officers, Winter didn't spend her time at the capitol or any number of state-side bases. Instead, she was posted with the general, along with the rest of his staff. Added together, it made finding time to see her younger sister ... difficult, to say the least.

Winter was right in the middle of unbuttoning her coat when Ruby finally lost control. "Oh, um, do you want me to take that?" Ruby asked and stepped forward with her arms outstretched.

The elder Schnee blinked and turned her gaze on Ruby for the first time. Eyes narrowed, she gave Ruby a quick once over, and from the expression on her face, wasn't particularly impressed by what she saw. Turning back to Weiss, she said "And who, may I ask, is this?"

Before Ruby could answer, Weiss stepped to the side, putting one arm around Ruby's shoulders. "Winter, this is Ruby." She paused, a part of her still wondering if she should wait, if there was a better way to tell her. There wasn't – she'd decided that days ago – but that didn't stop the worry. Still, better to tell the whole truth now that piece it out over the course of the evening.

"My girlfriend."

Whatever warmth had been in Winter's eyes vanished in an instant. She gave Ruby a long, cold, calculating stare, eyes sweeping the shorter girl up and down. Ruby might be tactless, but she wasn't oblivious. From the way she tensed, Weiss knew Ruby had noticed the sudden tension filling the room.

Without a word, Winter pulled off her coat and hung it on the rack. When she turned back to them, her face had settled into a stern expression Weiss recognized all too well.

"Would you give us the room?"

Ruby blinked and stiffened, completely taken aback. "Sorry?"

"The room," Winter said, pulling off her gloves by the fingers. "My sister and I need to speak in private."

"Winter!" Weiss snapped, glaring up at her. This was the last thing she needed right now. Ruby needed to know that some member of her family would approve of them, would support Weiss without question. That was supposed to be Winter. Winter, who Weiss had looked up to all her life, the big sister who escaped from their father's clutches and joined the military. Winter, who excelled at everything she put her hand to. Winter, the one member of her family she could trust completely.

"No ... it's okay," Ruby said, using the tone she always did when she lied. "I'll be in the study. If you need anything."

Giving Weiss one last worried look, she walked off down the hall. Weiss watched until Ruby vanished into the study and closed the door behind her.

When Weiss looked back at Winter, her face was drawn into a deep, narrow-eyed scowl. How dare she-

"Explain," Winter said, her voice quiet.

"Explain what, exactly? She is my girlfriend, and you just-"

"That is not what I meant." Winter's words were slow and exact, each one piercing through the air as she stepped towards Weiss. "You know Father will never approve. Neither will Mother, although her reaction is likely to be less damaging."

Ice-blue eyes so similar to Weiss' own stared down at her, flickering every so often as Winter sought her gaze. "You must know what this will do to your relationship with them."

"I do." Weiss looked right back at her, gaze completely steady. "I stopped caring a long time ago."

"Weiss-"

"I love her, Winter." Weiss said through clenched teeth, her jaw set stubbornly.

Winter gave her one look, knowing that Weiss only used that expression when she was ready to dig her feet in, and sighed.

"Your trust fund-"

"Won't last the day once he finds out," Weiss finished grimly. It wasn't anything she hadn't expected. In fact, she'd actually planned on it. "That is why I have been taking advantage of every loophole to funnel the money away from my trust fund. Why I made sure he can't touch my investments or my personal accounts. I'll be fine, for at least a few years after graduate school."

Winter nodded slowly, staring down her nose as the younger, shorter Schnee. Weiss couldn't tell quite what was behind those eyes – she never could – but she could have sworn she saw...

"You are absolutely sure about this?"

"I told you," Weiss said without a scrap of doubt in her voice. "I love her."

Winter held her gaze for a long moment, looking, searching for ... something. Whatever it was, Weiss wasn't going to give her an inch. Not on this. She stared right back, brows furrowed, her scowl implacable.

"Alright." Winter said finally. She straightened with military precision and strode into the central room of their apartment. Within seconds she was seated at the head of the kitchen table, smoothing the pleats of her suit before folding her hands expectantly atop the hardwood.

"Y-you mean it?"

"Of course I mean it," she snapped. "Well, go on. Bring her back. I need to see her properly this time." She must have seen something in Weiss' eyes, some remaining scrap of stubbornness. Winter's scowl snapped back, a perfect match for her sister's.

"Do not give me that look, Weiss. If you are really this serious about her, I need to see if she's worthy of being with my sister."


A few hours later, the two girls collapsed back onto the sofa. Both were exhausted after Winter's ... well, the only correct word for it would be 'interrogation.' The older Schnee daughter had put Ruby through the wringer, asking question after question and demanding answers almost faster than Ruby could get them out. There were questions about how they had met, their first date, the first date Ruby planned instead of Weiss, if Ruby could cook, what she would learn to cook, what her plans for the future were and how she could support Weiss – answered only by talking over Weiss' strenuous objections.

Finally, Winter had called it a night. Deeming Ruby 'adequate' she packed up her things and redressed for the spring cold. Weiss offered to put her up, but Winter had insisted – apparently, her 'leave' included several weekly teleconferences with the General, and Winter wanted privacy she wouldn't be able to find in an apartment shared by her sister. While Weiss was sad to see her leave, if only for a few hours before they met up tomorrow morning, it was probably for the best.

"So," Ruby said, slumping as her body was slowly absorbed by the cushions. "She's ... intense."

"And you're surprised?" Weiss cocked an eyebrow at the shorter girl. "She is my sister after all."

Ruby snorted, then sighed. Scooching over on the couch, she leaned in, and snuggled into the curve of Weiss' side.

"Hey Weiss?" she said, her head resting on the older girl's shoulder. "Can I ask a favor?"

"Of course."

Reaching over, Ruby slid her hand atop Weiss', fiddling with it slightly while she looked up at her. Then, in a tone way too serious to actually be so, Ruby nodded gravely and said, "I want you to talk to me like one of your German girls."

Weiss sighed and rolled her eyes. It had been an accident the first time, when she was half-asleep, seated beside Ruby as they watched some movie late into the night. Ruby had been leaning against her shoulder, and in her barely awake state, she'd murmured to the girl in German.

"That was terrible impression, and you are such a dork."

"That a no?" Ruby pouts.

"... fine. I suppose I owe you that much after today." Sighing, she looked Ruby in the eyes. "Schatzi, kann ich einen Kuss haben?"

Ruby's grin was wide and infectious as she snuggled closer. "Course."

Fingers pressed beneath Ruby's chin, Weiss pulled her up into the kiss, feeling the sweetness flow into her as the smaller woman melted against her side. "Ich liebe dich," she said when they came apart, just before pressing her lips to Ruby's forehead.

Ruby beamed, humming as she wriggled deeper into the curve of her side. "You too."

They stayed there for a second, Weiss holding Ruby in her arms, just reveling in the feeling of the girl she loved resting against her shoulder. Then softly, in a voice barely above a whisper, Weiss said, "Du bist die Liebe meines Lebens."

Ruby's brow crinkled. "Sorry? I only got half of that."

Weiss just tugged her closer. "It wasn't important."


"So," Yang said, staring out the window as she drummed on the dashboard of Pyrrha's car. "You planning to bury my body or just dissolve it in acid?"

"What?"

"When you murder me," Yang nodded and sucked air in through her teeth. "I mean, that's the only way this ends, right? You ask me to take a ride with you, we end up in the middle of nowhere-"

"We're in the suburbs, Yang."

"So were the Stepford Wives."

For a second, Pyrrha almost believed her, at least until she saw the humor sparkling behind those violet eyes. Shaking her head, Pyrrha tried to focus on the road. It wasn't easy. She had picked up Yang from the bar – which meant she was still wearing her work clothes. Micro Black jacket that stretched across her collarbones, short black skirt strapped to her thigh-highs, and a cream top that showed off a fair amount of cleavage.

Needless to say, Pyrrha had plenty of reasons to look away from the road.

After a few more minutes and several protests from Yang that Pyrrha was clearly just finding a good site to bury the body, they pulled up into a parking lot. Before them sat a large, warehouse-looking structure, built just past the edge of a commercial park. From the car, Yang could just barely see the signs for a restaurant and a grocery store, but the warehouse was big enough to block their view of almost anything else. It was enough to block their view of almost everything, actually. If you headed deep enough, into the loading bay between two of the structures, you would be invisible to anyone who wasn't looking straight at you.

"Yup," Yang said, sighing dramatically. "You're definitely planning to murder me."

"Not unless you keep that up." Pyrrha joked wryly. Taking a breath, the first of several, she looked got out and went to look up at the building. Yang followed, curious, standing by her side as Pyrrha stared wistfully at the place. Just say it. Come on, Pyrrha, you rehearsed this a half-dozen times in the car. You can do this.

"You were right." Pyrrha said, still staring blankly at the building rather than Yang. It was easier to focus that way. "I'm not satisfied with coaching for the university. I'd like the opportunity to make my own coaching schedule, my own curriculum."

"So, this is what?" Yang asked, one eyebrow cocked as she stared confused at the warehouse. "Your new gym?"

"More or less. I'm thinking about opening a salle d'armes of my own. Somewhere I can train fencers myself. Where I can work with them earlier, at younger ages than the college kids I do now. More varied classes, availability for individual training for those who are interested in competing-"

"Makes sense." Yang nodded, biting thoughtfully at her lip. "I mean, I meant 'take a vacation,' but this is cool. Now who's Sally Arms, and should I be jealous?"

"A salle is a fencing hall, Yang," Pyrrha said, chuckling. As jokes went, it wasn't very good, but it has Yang's usual charm to it. The same thing that kept people from throttling her after one too many puns. "The building has what I need. It's big enough, and the ceilings are high enough to run the machines for the fencing strips."

"How much?"

"No idea." Pyrrha shrugged. "Haven't told the owners I'm buying it yet."

Yang snorted, but didn't say anything. She stood by Pyrrha's side, craning her neck to peer up at the warehouse. Taking one last calming breath, Pyrrha bit her lip and turned to look at Yang. Now or never. Come on, Pyrrha, just tell her, for Pete's sake.

"Yang, there's also something else. Something I've been wanting for myself." She managed to get the first part out without stumbling over her words. It wasn't easy. So much of her fought the idea of doing this. Fought to just climb back into the car and drive Yang home

"Good." Yang grinned and looked over at her. "Like I said, you should try being stupid and impulsive for a change."

"... do you really mean that?"

"Yeah. Look, do something reckless." Yang cocked her head to the side, ducking down just a little so she could look straight into Pyrrha's eyes. "Take a risk, you'll feel better for it."

"Yang," Pyrrha choked out, her throat tightening. She'd know this would be hard, but did her heart have to beat that loudly. God, she can probably hear it. She's close enough. "Do you really mean that?"

"Uh, yeah? You got carte blanche." The blonde shrugged, a perplexed look coming over her face. "Look, do something stupid and impulsive because you can. Whatever crazy thing you want. Whatever makes you hap-"

Yang never finished her thought. Throwing caution to the wind, Pyrrha cut her off by leaning into Yang and kissing her mid-sentence. It was cautious and tentative, as if she was expecting Yang to pull away and honestly surprised when she didn't. Her pulse was pounding in her ears, to the point where Pyrrha didn't know if her light-headedness was from nerves or from the feeling of finally, finally, kissing her. Then it was over, and Pyrrha pulled back to stare at her, a horrible mixture of terror and hope clutching her chest in an iron grip.

"... py," Yang finished, a startled look on her face..

"I ... I'm sorry." Pyrrha stammered, her throat closing, eyes wide in wistful terror. "I've wanted to do that for ... for a really long time." Swallowing, she brought her hands together before her, squeezing tight as she waited, desperate to know how Yang took it, and dreading every single word. "Was that really okay?"

Yang blinked, then gave her a grin that made her heart stop. "Hon, that was way more than okay." Reaching out, Yang wrapped her hand around the back of Pyrrha's neck and drew her close. Pyrrha barely had time to breathe before Yang's mouth met hers. Lilac eyes fluttered shut as she leaned into the embrace, holding Pyrrha close and pressing ever deeper into the kiss.

For a split second, Pyrrha froze. She couldn't think, couldn't move. Then her body took over, and with a plaintive hum, she surrendered into the kiss. And it was a surrender. Yang wasn't as gentle, pressing hard against her as if it was the only thing she'd thought about for months. Her entire world smelled of Yang's perfume, anchored by the fingers sliding tenderly into the base of her hair.

By the time they came apart, both of them were short of breath.

"So," Yang withdrew just a few inches, a wide grin breaking across her lips. "I'm your stupid impulse, huh? Took you long enough."

"You knew?" Pyrrha was still short of breath, her body trying to remember how to breathe properly. "This whole time, you knew?"

Yang shrugged, a long, rolling motion that set her hair waving behind her. "The lingering looks at my abs were a bit of a hint." She grinned, and one hand slipped slowly up Pyrrha's arm, rubbing almost ... shyly along her bicep. "I might have put it down as professional respect for someone else's workout regimen, but then I caught you checking out my ass. Then you kissed me when you were drunk, so ..."

"That was real?" Pyrrha groaned, covering her face in her hands. Had she really ... "I hoped it was a dream."

"Nope. You got my cheek ... and tried to go for the real thing before I stopped you."

Pyrrha groaned again, a bone-deep sound that carried with it the entirety of her shame. God, this was humiliating. It had been bad enough when she thought Yang had just taken her home, taken care of her.

"Please. Continue. I didn't feel sleazy enough about this already."

"Why?" Yang asked. "Cause you're older than me?"

"It doesn't make this any easier."

Yang sighed and reached out, tilting her chin up until the redhead met her eyes. "Pyrrha, I would be lying – really badly lying – if I said I hadn't looked at you that way a couple times." She grinned sheepishly. "Okay, more than a couple times. But it was obvious that this wasn't something you were up for and I wasn't gonna push."

She took a long, slow breath before pulling away. Crossing her arms, she sat back on the hood of Pyrrha's car, a small smile playing across her lips. "I'd be happy to be friends. But if you want to try being something else, I'm happy to try that too."

There she sat, watching her, that same small smile playing across her lips as she waited, biding her time until ... until what?

She's waiting for me to say it, Pyrrha realized, her heart seizing. To be fair, I deserve that. And who ever said she'd make this easy?

Taking in the deepest breath she could, Pyrrha cleared her throat and looking into those patient, lavender eyes. "Would you like to have dinner on Friday?"

"That's Ruby's birthday, actually." Yang winced, her face falling. The blonde gave her a compassionate grin and brushed her hair back behind her ear. "How about Sunday?"

"It's a date."

Yang laughed, a sound that made Pyrrha's heart soar. "Now who's being sapp-"

She leaned in, and claimed Yang's lips for the second time. The first second was filled with thought and worry, about how long she should kiss her, how much contact was too much, how to keep from scaring her away before they'd even really begun. Then Yang's tongue swept across her lips, and Pyrrha melted into her, hands knotting in the cream fabric of Yang's top.

Neither of them noticed the first few drops of rain splattering onto the ground. Or when the first few dropped into their clothes. It wasn't until the steady plinking of rain against the car hit their ears did both of them realize they were already halfway to being soaked. Laughing and wet, the two of them raced back to Pyrrha's car, shutting and locking the doors behind them and watching as the heavens opened. Within seconds, the whole area was drenched with rain, the windshield blurred by the steady pounding of droplets.

Pyrrha smiles, her heart still beating frantically in her chest. There was something romantic about the rain. Maybe she was projecting, and the sheer joy that she felt and couldn't quite believe was coloring the world. Still, she couldn't help but ...

Her train of thought derailed as Yang leaned across the car, fingers brushing along her jaw to pull her back into another kiss. It seemed to last forever, slow and intoxicating, shutting out any thoughts other than the feel, the taste, of the blonde running her fingers through Pyrrha's hair. Their hands were wet from the rain, damp hair sticking to both of them, the odd droplet of water running down their cheeks.

And even so, it was perfect.

 

Chapter Text

A steadily darkening sky hung over the waterfront. Grey clouds dyed pink and orange by the setting sun hung low over Weiss as she walked down the boardwalk, her silent elder sister a few steps behind. The ground was still slick from the afternoon showers, the scent of wet grass mixing with the sea as the gentle breeze ruffled her hair. Closing her eyes, Weiss breathed it in, tasting the salt on her tongue and the spring-shower-smell she still couldn't quite define after three-and-a-half years in Vale. They were calming scents, the kind she would bottle up and save if she could, set them aside for a rainy day.

She needed that 'calm'.

Glancing behind her, she found Winter looking out towards the bay, carefully pinned white hair still in perfect order despite the breeze. Even out of uniform, it would be hard to mistake her for anything but a soldier—few professions gave a person that straight a posture or that weight to their step, heavier and more deliberate than a dancer and more rigid at times than any athlete. This seemed to be one of those times.

Weiss shook her head, then turned back to the path and kept moving. Within seconds, the sound of a second pair of boots joined hers, clicking on the boardwalk as they made their way down the waterfront to Yang's bar. The tenement building was already within sight, still-wet patio tables and chairs scattered around the outside of the building, ringed by the low wrought-iron fence. Even at this angle, Weiss could just make out the golden lettering on the sign as light spilled out from the frosted windows.

"Are you certain you want me here?"

Weiss turned to look back at her sister. She found her staring coolly up at the building, her face perfectly impassive as her eyes flickered from the eaves to the shadowed shapes moving behind the glass. She was hard to read—anyone who spent their childhood with Jacques Schnee learned that particular lesson. Still, Weiss thought, teeth biting down onto the inside of her lip. It didn't seem like disapproval. Just ... reservation? Reluctance?

"Ruby doesn't know we have a party planned for her," she said, turning back to face her sister. "But if she did, I know she'd ask me to invite you. She wants to see more of you, get to know you better when you aren't giving her the third degree. Since I am not introducing her to Father anytime soon—"

"I am the only family available."

Weiss frowned, her eyebrows arching in silent agreement. Once upon a time, before her grandfather passed, she might have been able to arrange something. As a child, Weiss had loved that kind, tired old man in his wheelchair. Always so gentle with her, so understanding, content to sit and listen as her five-year-old self talked his ear off for hours on end. After Winter, he was the only other relative she told about her first crush on a girl in school, the only one she trusted to keep that particular secret. The only one she would have trusted to meet Ruby. But with him gone, Winter was her only family left that really knew her. Which makes this all the more important.

"Winter, I know this isn't really what you would like to be doing on your leave, but this is a chance for her to get to know you a little bit better. For you to see some of our other friends."

"Few of whom you ever have wanted me to meet, before now," Winter said, in a tone that in a less 'proper' person, would have sounded like a sarcastic drawl. Letting out a short breath, she reached up, her fingers ghosting along the line of her bangs, sweeping them back into alignment. "I am not against coming to the party, Weiss, but I am curious. This is that important to you?"

"If it was just some party? No, it wouldn't be." Weiss shrugged. In all honesty, there would be other chances for them to meet, other opportunities for Weiss to show she was making an effort, that even with her family being what they were, she wanted Ruby to be a part of it. Or at the very least, that she wanted to involved her in the part she liked. Those chances simply wouldn't be until Winter had her next leave, assuming she could get away long enough to actually make it all the way to Vale. That might mean waiting a year or two until they could all find the time.

She shook her head. "I want to give her the chance to get to know you, Winter. I really want you to get to know her. So yes, it absolutely is."


Yang looked up as the door opened, her hands occupied with stringing yet another set of streamers along the walls of the bar's private room. She smiled as Weiss came in, and was just about to wave when a taller woman with identical white hair and piercing eyes stepped in behind her. She looked too much like Weiss to be anyone other than her sister, and sure enough, they had only made it a few feet into the room before Blake headed their way, greeting Weiss warmly before turning to the older Schnee.

With a smile, Yang went back to her decorations. Ruby would be happy about that. She hadn't said much about Winter over the past couple days—the only description she really got was that the older Schnee daughter was intense, pretty protective of Weiss, and kind of a hardass—but it was obvious her little sister wanted to get to know Weiss' family better.

Least it looks like Blake knows her already, Yang thought. If we're lucky, she won't feel too out of place.

Even better, Weiss had entered without any sign of hesitation. No waiting, no reluctance, no wondering if Ruby would actually want her there. That was good. Ruby said they'd talked about whatever happened between them, but it was nice to see the evidence for herself. It would really suck if they were still fighting. Instead, Weiss looked calm, if a little nervous. Probably just because her sister's here. Apart from that, she looks happy.

That, at least, seemed to be going around. Weiss and Ruby worked through whatever was going on with them, Blake and Velvet were as good as ever, and Pyrrha ...

Yang couldn't stop the grin that crept across her mouth, and to be honest, she didn't want to. That had made a good week into a great one. With their date coming up in a couple days, it could only get better.

Yang's teeth found her bottom lip as she remembered the look in Pyrrha's eyes after their first kiss, beaten only by the astonishment on her face when Yang kissed her back. It was a hard sight to forget. Even harder to forget the feeling of Pyrrha pushing back against her, so lost in the moment that she pinned Yang against the car.

A long time coming. And completely worth the wait. If that's any hint of how Sunday's gonna be ...

"You looked pleased with yourself."

Half-jumping out of her skin, Yang looked down to find two ice-blue eyes staring up at her from beneath snowy bangs. Weiss blinked up at her, arms crossed over her chest. "I did not know you'd get this into the surprise party."

Yang blinked and realized she had been grinning like an idiot at nothing. Lost in thought, she'd left one of the streamers slip. It dangled from the wall, the rest of it lying in a heap on the floor.

Making sure she had a better grip on the rest of them, Yang reached over and started pulling the streamer back up to her. Uncrossing her arms, Weiss reached down and started gathering the trailing ends, waiting until Yang was sure of her grip before passing the rest of it up the ladder.

"Why wouldn't I be happy?" Yang said, pinning another section into place. "Ruby's turning twenty-one, Dad drove up for the surprise, and you two seem to have worked out whatever was going on. Seems like a damn fine day to me."

"She told you about that?" Weiss said, her brow furrowed.

"A little. She just wanted advice before she talked to you." Yang looked down and shrugged. "You mean a lot to her, and she was pretty scared of making things worse. I couldn't help much, but it looks like it did the trick."

Weiss nodded and stayed quiet as the blonde finished pinning the last of the streamer into place, leaning on the ladder to keep it stable. She held on until Yang was halfway down, then stepped off to the side, her face solemn. "It did," she said softly, as soon as Yang was back on solid ground. "I'm glad she talked to you."

"Hey, if my sister's happy, I'm happy." Yang grinned, then tossed a couple of the streamers to Weiss. "Now come on. We've got twenty minutes before she shows up and these aren't gonna hang themselves."


"Dad, I know we have to say hi to Yang, but Weiss is wait-"

"SURPRISE!"

Ruby was halfway through asking Taiyang why Yang would be waiting in the back room when the lights came on. As one, everyone immediately began to shout, a dozen different noisemakers and dollar-store kazoos going off at once in a traditional, celebratory din.

Ruby's jaw dropped, stunned by the wall of sound and the room she just unknowingly walked into. Banners and streamers covered the walls, dominated by a massive '21' that hung facing the door. Clumps of red and white balloons sat in the corners, weighed down by little bags that kept them from floating up to the ceiling. Laughter quickly joined the racket as Taiyang started chuckling, followed by a poorly-timed chorus of 'Happy Birthday', all of them out-of-sync as the assembled guests came forward to hug Ruby in turn.

For a moment, Ruby just stood there, struck dumb and silent, battered by the waves of well-wishers until Yang came forward and pulled her sister into a tight hug. "Happy almost-birthday sis!" she said, grinning ear to ear.

"You set this up?"

Yang just laughed. "Yeah. Turns out I know the owner, and she gave me a pretty decent rate." Keeping one arm around Ruby's shoulders, she straightened up and looped her other arm around their father, pulling him down into the family bear hug. "Thanks for bringing her, dad."

"You know me," Taiyang grinned back, his smile a perfect match for Yang's. "Always down for a surprise. 'Specially for my little girl."

"Dad!" Ruby grumbled, unable to escape the circle of her family's arms.

With all the chaos, she hadn't been able to actually look at anything other than the room and the sea of faces cheering and shouting. Now, as things started to cool down a hair, she finally made out the people scattered throughout the room. Blake and Velvet were there, along with her friends from the fencing club. Weiss sat at one of the corner tables, a warm smile on her lips as she met Ruby's eyes. Winter sat next to her, looking askance at the swarm of college kids between them.

"So," Yang said, interrupting her train of thought. "The bar won't officially open for you till midnight. But we've got punch and food for everyone, and I've got a private setup back here for any of the people who can drink for the next," she looked down at her watch. "Three hours. Meantime, your friends brought in a karaoke machine, so that will torment all of us for a while, and then—"

"You know when I said 'do what you like with the place'," a familiar voice said from the still-open door. "I really wasn't thinking this."

Beaming for ear to ear, Ruby slipped from Yang's arms and bounded across the room, jumping straight onto the tall, unshaven man at the doorway.

"Uncle Qrow!"

"Hey kiddo," he drawled, his voice low and casual. One hand came up to ruffle Ruby's hair.

"I can't believe you came!" Ruby pulled away for a split second, long enough to look up at him before hugging him even tighter, her body hanging off his like a limpet mine. "I thought you were in China."

"I was." He chuckled, and leaned down so Ruby's feet could find the floor. "Somebody said that if I didn't come back in time for your birthday, she'd track me down and haul me back herself." He shot a quick glance over at Yang. "Could have just mentioned what you did to my bar. I'd have come running."

Yang just rolled her eyes, head shaking as she and Tai made their way over to the rest of their family. "You had an actual crowbar over the door. You don't get to criticize my design sense."

"What design sense? You've turned my old haunt into a hipster hellhole."

"Oh, please. Trivia night and a few craft beers didn't ruin the place. Plus, I've seen the books." Yang smiled, the toothy grin showing all the gentle friendliness of an angered wolf. "We're making twice as much as when you ran the place."

There was a long pause, just long enough to make Ruby look worriedly between the two of them, before a smirk started to curl the corner of Qrow's lip. With one arm still around Ruby, he reached out and pulled Yang into the ever-expanding family hug. "I knew you could do it."

"You sure as hell didn't make it easy," Yang shot back, flipping her hair back behind one shoulder. She turned to Ruby and winked, before nodding her head over at the throng of college kids and the two white-haired women sitting in the corner. "Can't keep 'em waiting, Rubes."

Laughing, Ruby gave them all one last hug before heading over to the clump of fencers waiting for her, her ears catching one last comment before the crowd enveloped her.

"Come on, unc. Lemme show you what it looks like when a bar stocks something other than swill."


"May I ask you a question?" Weiss asked two hours later, watching from the side-bar as a girl with her red hair in a bob joined the throng of people around the birthday girl. Her friends were swarming, friends from before college and club members mixing with abandon before they all started pulling Ruby back to the karaoke machine against one wall.

In a corner, Blake and Velvet were speaking quietly with Winter, and Tai and Qrow were around somewhere. Yang was pretty sure they'd stepped out for a moment to chat—it had been a while since they saw each other, and with one of the fencers pulling "Summer Lovin" up on the karaoke machine, she couldn't quite blame them.

Yang reached over and patted the seat next to her. Waiting for Weiss to sit, she leaned back in her chair, shifting until she found the perfect spot.

"Shoot," she said, and looped one arm over the chair back.

Weiss glanced over at Ruby, and watched as the younger woman found one of the mics thrust into her hand as the words started flashing on the screen. "Last year, when we met, I kept waiting for you to say something."

"Lemme guess," Yang drawled and glanced down the bar. "That something end with 'you hurt her and they'll never find your body'?"

Weiss turned to face her. She frowned and nodded slowly. "Something along those lines."

Drumming her fingers on the side-bar, Yang reached down and took a swig from her cup, buying herself a minute to think with the raspberry punch. Finally, she swallowed and let the red plastic cup thunk against the bar. "You meet a lot of people working in a place like this. Some good, some bad. I've seen my fair share of assholes, Weiss, the kind I wouldn't let within fifty feet of my little sis."

Yang looked over at her sister's girlfriend, fingers rolling the base of the cup along the wood in small-and-shrinking circles. "I didn't bother because I saw how you look at her. How she looks at you. I mean, I've seen that look a lot too, from a lot of people. It doesn't always end well, but not for lack of trying."

"And?" Weiss asked, eyes still locked on the blonde. She knew a preface when she heard one.

Yang shrugged. "I think you're good for her. I'm pretty sure she's good for you. You're clearly in this as deep as she is." She smiled, a wide, beaming grin without a hint of self-consciousness. "I'm happy for her. That's why I didn't say anything. Didn't need to."

Weiss said nothing as the warbled strains of a late 70s musical number filled the air. She nodded, however, eyes distant as her mind turned to something else—someone else, Yang thought, considering how her gaze drifted until it fell on the red-dressed, almost-21 woman blushing as her friends clapped and cheered.

"Thank you," Weiss said softly, her eyes never leaving Ruby.

"That's the look I meant," Yang laughed, and grinned wider when Weiss shot a scowl in her direction. "Plus, you seem smart enough to know what I'd do if anyone actually hurt her."

Pale blue eyes blinked before Weiss nodded, a rueful smile playing across her lips. "Probably the same as me."

Yang shook her head and placed a gentle, bracing hand on the younger woman's shoulder. "And you wondered why I like you."


For Ruby, the next several hours whisked by, taken up by well-wishes and food, cake and presents, singing and games, until finally she found a moment to slip away, stepping out of the private room they had conquered and out onto the balcony.

She leaned on the railing, looking out over the waterfront to the bay, wine-dark beneath the moonless sky, small lights glinting as the odd boat sailed by, silent in the night. Everything was calm, a nice change from the party inside, if a brief one. Everyone felt the clock ticking closer and closer to midnight, anticipation building until the last half of the party could really start.

She shivered in the cold night air. Spring had come, but the air coming off the bay still chilled her to the bone. Wrapping her arms around her sides, she regretted not grabbing her coat ... just as something heavy and warm wrapped itself around her shoulders.

"You looked cold, Röschen," someone breathed against her ear, sending warmth racing down her spine and up into her cheeks. Ruby turned to find Weiss looking at her, white peacoat pulled over her clothes as she adjusted the jacket she had slung about Ruby's shoulders.

"Thanks, Weiss," she smiled and turned back to the water, leaning in as Weiss took the place behind her. Weiss wasn't Yang, didn't have her always-high body heat to push back the cold, but the jacket took the edge off and her shoulder was more than comfortable as Ruby pressed back into her, smiling as two slender arms came up to encircle her waist.

"Thanks for convincing Winter to come," she said, letting her eyes fall shut as she breathed in the sea-salt air. "I'd say it's nice to see her with her hair down, but..."

Weiss' chest twitched against her with a held-in laugh. "She is not the most ... relaxed of people."

"Compared to what? You?"

"Oh, ha ha," Weiss growled in her ear, but all she pulled Ruby closer all the same.

"I mean it, Weiss," Ruby said, opening her eyes to look up at the woman holding her. "It's ... it means a lot, you know? You're sharing that part of your life with me, and I know how hard that must have been."

"It wasn't, really. Unless you mean it was hard to find a good time." Weiss lowered her head until it rested against Ruby's. "If there had been way, I would have introduced you earlier. She means a lot to me-"

"I know."

"Lemme finish." Weiss said, shooting Ruby a thoroughly unconvincing glare as she tweaked her nose. "She means a lot to me, and so do you. I'm sorry if you ever felt I was keeping you from that."

Ruby opened her mouth, then closed it, placating denials dying on her lips. Instead she turned, and pressed herself more firmly against her girlfriend, her head finding the warmth at the crook of Weiss' neck.

"I should have said something. I knew you had problems with your dad. Just didn't think you were avoiding your family to try and protect me."

Weiss sighed above her, before pulling Ruby's chin up until their eyes met. "I am not having an 'I deserve more blame than you' argument on your birthday. How about—"

The clock striking midnight ruined any chance of her finishing that thought. From inside a brief chorus of cheers went up, and Ruby half-expected a swarm of people to spill out onto the balcony in celebration. To her surprise, no one did. The frosted glass doors stayed shut, leaving the two of them alone in the star-filled night.

"Hey," Ruby laughed. "Guess who just turned twenty one?"

To her regret, Weiss unwound her arms and stepped away, turning back towards a small basket left on one of the small tables by the wall. She pulled back the cloth with a flick of her wrist and when she turned back to Ruby, she held a corked bottle in one hand, clear glass turned pink from the liquid inside.

"I picked this out specifically for you." Weiss handed her one of the slender glasses in her other hand before setting her own down and reaching for the cork. "I think you'll like it—it's sweet and bubbly."

"Like me!"

"I was going to say 'like that soda you half-drown yourself in all the time,'" Weiss said dryly as she carefully popped the cork free. "But you're not wrong."

Ruby held out her glass for Weiss to fill, then waited while she poured her own. With a smile, she clinked the side of her flute against her girlfriend's and raised it to her lips. Weiss was right, the rosé champagne was definitely sweet and just as bubbly.

She pulled the champagne flute away from her lips, and looked up to find Weiss staring down at her. Without a word, Weiss left the bottle on the nearest table and reached for her, arm finding the small of her back before tugging Ruby back to her. She felt her cheeks turn red as Weiss leaned down, closer and closer, until her mouth found Ruby's. Her lips tasted faintly of the wine, but as she pressed Ruby tighter to her, she knew they were far sweeter and more intoxicating than any vintage could ever be. It took an effort of will to keep the glass in her fingers, until finally Ruby set it aside and reached up to twine her fingers through Weiss' hair.

They stayed like that for a long time, happy and safe in each other's' arms, oblivious to the devoted older sister who quietly pulled the balcony curtains closed, giving the two some privacy as the rest of the guests waited inside.

Finally Weiss came away. For a second she simply smiled down at her, lost in her eyes, before leaning in and pressing a kiss to her forehead.

"Happy birthday, Ruby."

Chapter Text

"So, what do you think?"

Pyrrha tried to say something, but no words came to mind. She was completely and utterly floored, frozen to her stool as she stared at the blonde in the doorway, already dressed in her full costume.

She didn't look out-of-place either. Yang's entire bar was decked out for Halloween, with fake cobwebs strung along the walls and large plastic cauldrons set atop the bar for the costumed bartenders to stir, pretending to 'brew' the night's cocktails and concoctions. 'Eye of Newt', 'Virgin's Blood', and 'Love Potion No. 9' had joined the more mundane cocktails on the chalk-written menu, crowned by one only a devoted punster like Yang could love ... the cringe-worthy 'Morgue-a-Rita.'

The whole place looked like a Hollywood witch's lair, and Yang was dressed for the theme. A long, pointed hat sat atop her blonde mane, perched forward so she could give sultry stares out from under the wide brim. Her dress matched ... in its own way. The color was the same, a light-leeching black that made Yang's tan skin stand out, especially since it showed off so much of it. The low-necked bodice of the dress gave off a generous view of Yang's chest, before plunging down into the most cleavage Pyrrha had ever seen outside of cartoons, ending just above Yang's navel. The skirt was frayed and ragged, but that barely mattered compared to how short it was, desperately trying to cover Yang's hips as she walked to the bar, heels clicking on the hard floors.

Pyrrha swallowed and tore her eyes away from the eye-catching strip of skin between her girlfriend's dangerously short skirt and her pitch-black thigh-highs. "It's a little ... short, Yang."

"The skirt is short on purpose." Yang grinned and kissed Pyrrha's cheek. "Making you speechless was kinda the point, babe."

Shaking her head, Pyrrha leaned in and kissed her, trying not to think about how tempting it was to take advantage of all the skin the ridiculous dress offered. Not that Yang would mind ... but that was something Pyrrha wanted to save until after the party, even if they were the only ones in the bar right now.

"So," Yang grinned when they came apart, reaching up to cock her witch's hat. "Did I put a spell on you?"


Pyrrha stared into the bathroom mirror of Yang's bar, her hands gripping the sides of the sink, and tried to remember why in God's name she ever thought this was a good idea.

How did I talk myself into this? she thought, hands itching to grab her bag from the hook on the wall. Her street clothes were folded inside, nice and safe and in no way as nerve-wracking as what she wore now. It would be so easy to undo. A quick change of clothes was all it would take, and she could walk back into the party without anyone being any the wiser.

Except Nora, who helped her pick out her costume.

And Ren, who Nora must have told.

And Yang, who had been planning this party for weeks. Everyone else was already dressed up, enjoying themselves in the company of friends and family just beyond the inch-and-a-half thick bathroom door. She could hear the sounds filtering through the cracks—the low spooky mood music layered over the sounds of glasses being drained and the chatter of friends, guests, and regulars. Yang was out there, somewhere, either behind the bar or just keeping an eye over the place, complete in her jaw-dropping witch outfit.

That was it, she realized, staring into the mirror and accepting her fate. She couldn't disappoint Yang. There wasn't time to find another costume, wasn't time to throw something together and not make it look like she hadn't ignored her girlfriend's party. And after all the work she put into this, she wanted Yang to see it, to see her ... she just wished it wasn't quite so public a venue.

Pyrrha took a breath, and stared at the worried-looking woman in the mirror. Tensing her jaw, she watched as the red-dressed woman glared back at her, working herself up before she braved the crowd outside. She would be fine. Yang was going to love it. She would be fine.

Closing her eyes, she took one last breath, then reached for the doorknob.


From beside the bar, there was very little of the room that Yang couldn't see. It was intentional—it meant she could see trouble coming before it happened, notice impatient patrons, and just generally keep an eye on the place. It also gave her a very good view of the crowd.

Smiling to herself, Yang stepped back, staying near the wall as she watched her bartenders moving back and forth, catering to those gathered around the bar as a crowd of college kids, regulars, and invited friends swirled about the central floor, almost all of them covered in makeup, masks, or bloody smears. She spotted hitmen and slasher villains, wizards and jedi, a raven-winged paladin with his head resting on the shoulder of an antlered druid, all mixing about as the night went on. Ruby was over in a corner booth, the red hood of her cloak pulled up over the black corset dress she wore under it, pointed fangs extending from her mouth every time she spoke. Surrounding Vampire Red Riding Hood sat a number of her other friends from the fencing club, along with a white-haired elf in the garb of Rivendell, elegant and slender, whose hand was conspicuously twined with that of the younger woman in the crimson hood. A black-clad assassin sat nearby, golden eyes gleaming out from beneath her cowl, shoulder pressed against a rabbit-eared woman in a faded explorer's outfit, brown hair pulled back in a low ponytail, belts and holsters strapped all over her body, face smeared with what looked rather convincingly like weeks of dirt.

Yang smiled as she looked over her friends and family. Each and every one seemed to be enjoying themselves. The only thing that could make the night better was if Pyrrha would finally come out...

From her vantage point, Yang had a perfect view as a hush went over the throng of people nearest the bathrooms. Frowning, Yang tried to get a better view—someone could be sick, or fight about to break out—but all she could see through the crowd was a red bandanna-covered head making its way through the crowd.

Then the crowd parted, and Yang's jaw dropped. A woman stepped out of the mass of people, the motion making her long hair sweep back behind her over bared shoulders. She was clad in red from head to toe, a very tight scrap of a costume that hung from one shoulder and left her hips bare. Crimson cloth gathered about her waist before dipping down between her legs in some loincloth-esque design, drawing the eye to every single well-toned muscle of her legs.

Twirling plastic sai in both hands, Pyrrha locked eyes with Yang, and stalked steadily towards the bar. For a second, the bar went silent. Then 'Elektra' sheathed her sai in the back of her belt, walked right up to the speechless blonde in the witch's dress, and swept her up in a kiss that left her reeling.

A roar swept across the room, clapping and cheering as Pyrrha pulled back an inch to look into shocked violet eyes, seeing the amazement there. A smile slowly spread across her lips as Yang's mouth worked, moving soundlessly, trying to find something to say and completely failing with the red-clad beauty currently pinning her to the wall.

Before she could claim Yang's lips again, a burly viking warrior clapped 'Elektra' on the shoulder and grinned toothily up at her. "Told you she'd like it," Nora laughed, and went to rejoin the party, leaving the stunned witch to the tender mercies of a brilliantly blushing Pyrrha.