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Say "Cheesecake!"

Chapter Text

If Velvet Scarlatina were a TV show, she’d be nothing but reruns.

When Coco reminded Velvet not to use her weapon in the sparring ring, both of them knew it was totally unnecessary. Velvet’s bag of tricks was limited to what she’d already seen other people do. No one could be surprised or excited when fighting a version of themselves from two weeks ago.

Velvet didn’t blame her classmates for passing her over, not really. When every battle against the Grimm had such high stakes, when a single slip-up could mean losing a limb or worse, the students at Beacon Academy had to practice as hard as they performed. So when they came to the sparring ring (unofficially nicknamed the ‘Mojo Dojo’) that meant finding the leanest, meanest, and craftiest partners they could.

Who could fault Pyrrha for picking the towering Yatsuhashi to practice her takedowns on? Couldn’t Jaune better himself by pitting his shield against Coco’s hail of bullets? And didn’t the whole ring go quiet every time Lie Ren tested his martial arts against Fox’s own aura manipulation? Of course they’d choose any member of team CFVY over a flighty faunus girl that didn’t even have a proper weapon.

So Velvet, the girl no one wanted to fight, sat on the sidelines and took pictures no one wanted to see.

The pictures were terrible. Awful. Dreadful. Worse than that, they were boring. Velvet could tell by the looks on her classmates’ faces that they’d rather drink bleach than look at yet another shot of Sun Wukong that somehow managed to miss his diamond-crushing abs in favor of his gunchucks. Velvet couldn’t help it, not really. She told herself that it was how her light box worked. That she needed to focus on her classmates’ weapons, not their faces or bodies.

Besides, if she started snapping pictures of people too often, they’d think she was some kind of paparazzi pervert. She’d had enough of being called “fuck bunny” for no reason at all; no need to add fuel to that fire.

It didn’t take long for team CFVY to wrap up their sparring. Yatsu, that big lovable bear, had gotten in a few good hits on Pyrrha before being pinned. He was improving! It was all Velvet could do to keep her heels from bouncing as she made her way over to her team.

“Am I imagining things, or did that klutz actually get a bullet stuck in his ear?” Coco asked, peering over her aviators at Jaune, who was frantically slapping the side of his head.

“I am not sure,” Yatsuhashi said. “But I will say that there are many jokes about thick skulls that I would certainly never make about a fellow huntsman.”

Fox smirked.

“That’s about as close as I’ve ever seen you get to insulting someone. Nice,” Coco said. She glanced over her shoulder at the last member of the team. “Hey Velvet,” she said with a wave. “We’re gonna shower up and hit the town for some dim sum. Stilts here needs his dumpling fix.”

“Buns are my one weakness,” Yatsuhashi said. “I cannot lie.”

“I’ll remember that the next time the Grimm throw us a picnic,” Coco said. “You coming with us, Velvet?”

Velvet bit her lip and shuffled her feet. She really, really wanted to go… but just like every time before this, she just couldn’t. “I’m sorry,” she said, eyes glued to the ground. “I’m a little short on cash right now. I hope you have fun without me, though.”

Coco glanced at the boys, who gave her their own versions of the ages-old I-told-you-so look. She sighed. “All right. You two go on and wash up. I’ll catch up with you later.”

“As you wish,” said Yatsuhashi. He followed Fox to the men’s showers, nursing a slight limp courtesy of Pyrrha.

Velvet watched them go with a pang of guilt. She was halfway turned around to leave when Coco gripped her shoulder. Firmly.

“Uh-uh. Not this time,” the taller girl said. “You’ve stayed behind on campus for basically the last three years while the rest of us have gone out and had, you know, lives.” She stepped in front of Velvet and stared her down, her eyes barely visible behind her dark glasses. “Is it because you don’t feel comfy with us as a team? Did someone say or… do something to you in Vale? What is it? I’m here for you, honey bunch. Talk to me.”

“It’s nothing,” Velvet said softly. “I just can’t afford it right now.” She hunched her shoulders and pulled her arms close to her chest. She really was being honest when she said she was short on cash. For years she’d been struggling to support herself after buying her battle outfit. It had set her back much, much further than probably anyone else at Beacon. After all, buying engraved armor made of real gold alloy did cost a pretty penny. Enough to put her in debt for years, even with the stipend Beacon gave its students.

But could she really tell Coco she’d put herself into debt just to try and gain the approval of her team leader and her unparalleled sense of style?

“Hm.” Coco said, dissatisfaction etched into the lines on her flawless brow. “You know any of us would help you out a bit, right? You’re our friend and teammate. We want to see you hoppy. Er, happy.” Coco sighed. And she’d been doing so well about that.

Velvet ignored the slip-up and put on a false smile for her leader. “I’m fine. Really. I’ll be perfectly happy working on my photography while you’re down in the city.”

“Yeah. About that.” Coco held out her hand. “Can I see your camera?”

“Um… okay?” Velvet immediately grew nervous, but she did as she was asked and handed over her light box. Coco fumbled with the controls for a second before figuring out how to display the stored images. She clicked through them one by one, her expression unreadable. Once she reached the end, she handed the camera back with a shake of her head.

“Velvet,” Coco said. “You trust me, right?”

“Of course, Coco.” Where was she going with this?

“Good.” Coco smiled. “Since you won’t take charity, I have the perfect solution for all your problems. Let’s see if I can’t help you make a little money and polish up those shutter skills at the same time, shall we?”

“Um, Coco, I’m not sure what you…”

“Get your gear, sharpshooter,” Coco said. “I’m gonna be your supermodel.”

Chapter Text

Velvet’s hands trembled as she held her weapon. In just a moment, she’d be forced to carry out her promise to shoot her team's leader.

Of course, it wasn’t actually like that. Coco had offered Velvet the opportunity to use her as a model in a photo shoot, and Velvet could tell her “no” just about as well as she could lift Yatsuhashi’s sword.

Velvet shook her head, her long ears whipping back and forth as she tried to knock the nervousness out of her mind. It did about as much as she’d expected. Now she was nervous and her hair was a mess. She gripped her camera even tighter.

Hopefully Coco would approve of the equipment room she’d jury-rigged into a studio. With a little creativity and a lot of straining, Velvet had cleared away enough of the back wall to set up a white backdrop. She’d tracked down two lights strong enough to (hopefully) give the set a little definition. If all else failed, she could try and amp up the flash on her camera.

Without warning, the equipment room’s door burst open with a thunderous crash that made Velvet jumped a foot in the air. Coco stood framed in the door, her statuesque figure looming over Velvet. Her gaze swept over the makeshift studio.

Surprisingly, Coco had decided to show up in her school uniform. Velvet hardly recognized the ultra-chic Coco in the tartan skirt and plain black jacket Beacon students wore when they had no other choice. Admittedly, Coco had spiced it up with a trio of brilliant brass bullets slid through the ribbon around her neck, gold trim woven into her skirt’s hem, and a pair of lightly checkered black-and-brown tights. And, of course, she still had her trademark aviators and deceivingly dangerous handbag.

Granted, Velvet was wearing her Beacon uniform, too. To Velvet, it made her feel like a part of the academy… but Coco hated wearing a uniform. Why would she put hers on for a photo shoot?

“Could be worse,” Coco said after a cursory glance around the room. She peered over her glasses at the two studio bulbs with a slight frown. “Which one’s my key light?”

“Um…” Velvet had no idea what she meant.

“Never mind. Old habit,” Coco said. “It might be a little different than I’m used to… Okay, a lot different, but at least I can take charge this time around.” She tapped her foot a few times, then nodded. “All right. Bring ‘em in, Eagle Eyes!”

Velvet had even less of an idea what Coco was saying, but that hardly mattered when Fox came through the door with more bags hanging off him than a mall on Black Friday. Velvet saw makeup kits, turtleneck sweaters, harem pants, knickerbockers, track suits, pantsuits, swimsuits, cardigans, tank tops, crop tops, tube tops, sequins, cords, corsages, ruffles, truffles, and one dress that looked suspiciously like a pop tart.

“H-how much did you think you needed to bring?” Velvet asked.

Coco sniffed. “Cut me some slack, girl. I only had a couple hours.”

If Fox minded carrying so many outfits at once, he didn’t show it. He carefully made his way through the room, with Coco calling out directions to the ramshackle privacy screen beside the stage. She peeked behind the beaten-up screen of wood and vinyl as Fox gently set down what could have been a lesser woman’s entire wardrobe.

“No mirror,” Coco said. “And the screen’s pretty beat up, too.”

“I’m sorry,” Velvet said. “It’s all I could find…”

“It’s fine.” Coco slung out her handbag. With a flick of her finger it transformed into her gigantic Gatling gun- complete with shiny, reflective barrels. Coco quickly touched up her hair and dabbed a tad of extra blush.

Of course, she could have used a miniature mirror from one of her bags, but this way was so much better.

“Here’s how this is going to work out,” Coco said while moving on to her contouring brush. “We’ll do three sets of photos following a theme. I’ll be wearing something new in each one, of course. Since we’re trying to get you some money from selling these, we’ll offer the first two for free.”

"W-what? Why?” Velvet asked.

Coco grinned. “Because the third set is the one everyone will max out their cards for. I guarantee it.”

What Coco didn’t mention was that the first two sets would probably be fairly bad. By the third round, Velvet would probably be comfortable enough with her camera that the shots would hopefully start to look half-decent. If Coco could get Velvet’s self-esteem up, she’d be a better photographer and fighter. Plus, fingers crossed, she’d decide to join team CFVY for a shopping trip instead of staying at Beacon and getting picked on.

“All right, I guess.” Velvet took out her camera. “You said you wanted to do a… theme?”

“Yep. Normally the photographer picks it, but…” Coco shrugged. “Mine’s better.”

Velvet nodded in agreement. Coco’s plans were always better than anything she could come up with. “So… what is it?”

“We’re going to give this school what they’ve always wanted,” Coco smirked. “A date with yours truly.”

Velvet let out a small eep. Fox chuckled.

“That sounds a little… risqué,” Velvet said uncertainly.

“Risqué… That’s a great way to put it, honey bunch.” Coco finished her makeup with a flourish, grabbed a desk from the corner of the equipment room and dragged it in front of the twin lights. “Let’s get frisqué!”

Velvet gulped. She did not feel like a frisky faunus. She was very decidedly un-frisky. But if it was what Coco wanted, she had to at least try.

Fox pulled Coco up a seat at her desk, then took up a spot by the pile of bags. Velvet tried to ignore him. He was blind, after all. It wasn’t like he could see whatever Coco had in mind, or whatever Velvet did during the shoot… but that couldn’t stop him from using his imagination. And sometimes, in the middle of a battle, there were moments where Velvet swore Fox could see even better than she could.

Coco took her seat on the set, framed by books and papers pulled from her old history class. She crossed her legs demurely and sat with her back straight, the model of a perfect student. “I’m ready for my close-up, honey,” she said with a flick of her caramel lock of hair.

Velvet’s camera trembled in her hands as she circled the set. She had no idea what angle to take a picture at. What if Coco didn’t like her photos? What if no one did? What if, instead of buying her photos, everyone just laughed at her?

“Just imagine you’re in class with me,” Coco said softly. “Pretend the camera’s your eyes, and you’re seeing me for the first time. Look at me, Velvet. Pretend you’re falling in love.”

Velvet’s shutter clicked.

She blinked. The camera had taken her back to the Coco she’d met years ago, when they were both freshmen at Beacon. Before Coco had really cut loose in the classroom with her outfits, she’d been just another student in a uniform. That same girl stared back at her from the other side of the lens.

Velvet snapped another photo, this time one where Coco was biting her lip as she tried to remember if there was supposed to be a test that day. Another shot captured her boredom as the professor droned on, leaving her dazed and droopy. One more click of the shutter caught her shocked expression of surprise when her name was cold-called for a particularly difficult question. Velvet was so lost in the scene that she gasped when Coco tilted her head to look at the camera straight on.

Do you… you know… want to go see a movie or something? The words came to Velvet’s mind unbidden, as if Coco herself had put them there.

It was as if Coco could read her thoughts. Coco was smiling the way only she could: a wide grin mixed with a hint of a smirk. She peeked over the rim of her glasses, savoring the moment before she spoke.

“Yes,” Coco purred. “I’d like that.”

Velvet’s camera clicked. Her heart fluttered.

Without warning, Coco burst out of her seat, still wearing her satisfied smile. “And that’s a wrap! Next set!”

Velvet stumbled backwards to make room for Coco to get at her fortress of fashion bags. She turned around and nearly choked as she saw Coco already halfway out of her uniform. “C-Coco!” she stuttered, blushing.

The buttons of Coco’s white blouse yawned open, showing off the exquisite lace of her equally white bra. “Not a fan of deck changing? All right, all right.” She stepped behind the privacy screen. “No peeking, Fox!”

Fox snorted.

A minute later Coco emerged from behind the screen wearing a brown cocktail dress that clung to her like a second skin. The dress was a masterpiece of tantalization: every minute curve of her body was highlighted in subtle relief, especially her tight waist that swept alluringly into her trim hips. The hem came down to just above mid-thigh: daring, but not so bold as to be unfashionable.

As always, Coco knew how to accessorize. She’d swapped her usual aviators for a thin pair of champagne-tinted lenses that perched on the point of her dainty nose. Tiny bracelet-bandoliers of brass bullets clinked across one of her wrists as she strode towards the stage in a powerful set of brown heels. She’d decided to lose her beret, but she’d kept a single, thin black scarf tied around her pale neck.

“Shall we?” Coco said, extending her arm to Velvet, who blushed a deep red. When Coco didn’t move from her spot, Velvet took the hint and snapped a picture.

Fox rummaged around for a few moments in Coco’s bags and pulled out a thick box of oak. Coco clapped her hands together and he tossed it to her outstretched arms.

“Nice toss,” Coco said. “I just hope this is still good…”

She opened the box and placed it on a chest-high cocktail table she’d dragged out in front of the set. To Velvet’s amazement, inside the box was a single bottle of wine, a corkscrew, and two long-stemmed glasses. Coco didn’t even bother with using the corkscrew properly; she twisted it once into the top of the cork, then tugged it straight out with her unbelievable strength.

“Not quite vintage,” Coco said. She poured a glass for herself. “I just had it lying around. Don’t be too impressed.”

Velvet recovered her composure just quickly enough to snap a picture of Coco pouring the second glass one-handed. Looking through the viewfinder, it was hard to avoid being drawn to the slight gap in Coco’s dress above her breasts, especially with the way she was standing. Velvet’s breath quickened. Would it be all right to do take a picture of that?

Coco’s smile returned. She squeezed her arms closer together and leaned ever so slightly forward. Her pale white cleavage practically leapt out at the camera.

“Coco?” Velvet whispered.

“It’s all right,” Coco said. “The camera loves me. I’m just showing a little affection in return.”

Velvet’s shutter clicked. Coco smiled and stood up, imagining the way she’d make all the boys’ hearts race with that one. She had to leave them wanting more. With a lazy sweep of her leg, she turned to show her back to the camera. Her dress clung tight to her back, and even tighter to her rear end. There wasn’t a single panty line to be seen. Velvet snapped another photograph, her mind wandering to places it probably shouldn’t have gone.

Again, Coco proved herself to be a mind reader. With a single finger, she lifted the side of her skirts higher up her thigh. Velvet couldn’t stop herself from taking picture after picture as Coco slid her dress upwards inch by inch. Soon, Velvet found herself taking pictures of shocking amounts of Coco’s creamy white thighs.

And she still didn’t know if her model was wearing anything else.

With a wicked grin, Coco pulled the rise in her skirts backwards. The brown fabric covering the place where her legs met her back slid up to reveal a tiny sliver of Coco’s pale white, very naked cheek.

The snap of the shutter was deafening in Velvet’s ears.

Satisfied on so many levels, Coco let her dress slide back down with a sigh of silk. She spun on her heel and headed back to the privacy screen. “Next!”

Velvet realized it was time for the third set. The money shot. All her nerves flooded back in a rush. What was she doing? What had she gotten herself into? And why was she so excited to see what Coco would step out wearing this time?

The answer turned out to be the same thing she wore to anything important: her favorite ensemble of a brown blouse, black trousers, and black cincher. Every accessory had been perfectly adjusted, even her temperamental beret. It was the outfit every boy in Beacon knew, the outfit that she had worn to the Vytal festival, and the one that had endeared her to so many people worldwide.

It finally hit Velvet that Coco was a celebrity, whether they realized it or not. Hunters and huntresses were the most skilled, most stylish, and most entertaining fighters on the planet. Their names were tossed around like so much popcorn. At Beacon, the names of the best hunters- and huntresses-in-training from the other schools were more talked about than sports teams. Velvet realized that this might even be the case outside the school walls.

So when Coco strutted towards her with flushed cheeks and a sultry smile on her lips, Velvet knew exactly what her leader meant to do.

“No holding back, Velvet.” Coco struck a pose with her hips cocked to one side. “Let’s give them what they’re begging for.”

“Coco, are you sure…”

“I’ve never been surer.” Coco pointed her chin at the sky, daring Velvet to challenge her.

“She’s got that look again, doesn’t she?” Fox said, almost making Velvet jump out of her skin in shock.

“How would you know what…” Velvet asked, her heart beating fast as a jackrabbit’s.

“Don’t need to see it,” Fox said. “I can feel it.”

“He’s a clever one, isn’t he?” Coco grinned. “Almost like a-“

“No, Coco.”

“Such a wet blanket,” Coco said with amusement. “Hurry up, Velvet. I can only hold a pose this stylish for so long.”

Following her orders, Velvet snapped a few photos from different angles.

Coco came alive in front of the camera, glowing brighter with every click of the shutter. She changed poses with each picture, her posture flowing from confident, to arrogant, to amused, to haughty, nailing the subtleties of each with supernatural poise.

Coco took a bullet from her handbag’s bandolier and slowly ran her gloved finger down its shaft. With a hot breath, she put the brass cylinder between her lips. Velvet snapped photo after photo, watching her leader slide the metal in and out of her mouth, tasting it with every inch of her tongue. Her handbag’s strap slid off her shoulder, sending the heavy case crashing to the floor. Thankfully, the set held together. Barely.

Velvet barely noticed Coco’s other hand begin to unlace the cincher from around her waist.

The black cincher hit the studio floor the same time a drop of sweat fell from Velvet’s cheek. She was really about to watch her leader strip right in front of her. Not only that, but she’d be taking pictures of it. Pictures she’d be handing out to the whole wide world.

Her mind went blank. All she could do was keep hitting the shutter as Coco took off more and more.

Next to go was her crosshair belt and the half-skirt attached to it. Her gloves, beret and bracelet soon followed, joining the ever-growing pile of clothes off the set. She unfurled her scarves with a flourish, dragging them under her breasts and tugging hard, raising the temperature in the room a few degrees hotter. She bent over to unbuckle her boots, which let her blouse ride up the small of her back, baring even more pale white skin. Her boots and socks flew in opposite directions. She’d let someone else tidy up later.

She slid her blouse up and over her head to a symphony of shutter clicks. Underneath, Coco wore a bra of intricate brown lace. Between her cups were a pair of brass buttons that held her lingerie together. It was difficult to say which shone brighter: Coco’s brilliant white cleavage, or the sparkle of those brass buttons. Through it all, Coco had somehow managed to keep her sunglasses on, framing her expression of pure exhilaration.

Velvet gulped as Coco popped the button of her trousers. Her pants split open to reveal (thankfully) a stripe of thin black lace. Her trousers slid to the floor, where they pooled around her feet. Coco stood on the set wearing nothing but a pair of sunglasses, her bra, and a nearly insubstantial black thong. She flipped between showing off her front and back, making sure that Velvet got her magnificently toned ass in as many pictures as she could. Velvet could hardly hold her camera with how sweaty her palms had gotten.

Coco picked up her handbag. Grinning, she hit the button to transform it into her gigantic Gatling gun. She straddled the cannon between her legs, riding it like a horse. “I love the feel of metal on my skin,” she said, shuddering from head to toe. The camera caught her expression of pure bliss. Coco’s lips parted, her back arched, her fingers gripped the cold metal tight. The only possible way to describe her pose was one of spine-tingling arousal.

A tiny moan escaped Coco’s lips. She turned her chest away from the camera. With quivering hands, she undid her bra’s brass buttons. Her breasts spilled free in excited release, but Velvet was denied a view of anything but the side. Coco tossed her bra aside, covered herself with one arm and turned back to face Velvet.

Coco’s sunglasses had slid down the sweat-slick bridge of her nose. Her eyes were wild with passion. She owned the stage. This was her moment.

“No holding back, Velvet.” Coco breathed. “Come closer.”

Velvet froze.

“I want you beside me,” Coco panted. “I want you to feel what it’s like.”

“I- I can’t,” Velvet said. “I-I… I have to take pictures.”

Without a sound, Fox moved behind Velvet. She didn’t resist as he slid the camera from her grip.

“There. You did great,” Coco panted. “Now come here. Hurry.”

Velvet’s legs moved of their own volition. She found herself straddling Coco’s gun, facing her nearly-naked team leader. Coco smiled and lowered her arm from her breasts, baring her tiny, rose-tipped nipples to her teammate.

Coco leaned forward and kissed her.

Velvet melted from head to toe. She closed her eyes.

Suddenly she heard the familiar click of a shutter. Her eyes flew open to see Fox holding her camera in the exact same spot she’d been a moment ago, holding it in the exact same way.

“W-w-w-wha-“ Velvet stuttered. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t breathe. What had just happened?

Fox stepped onto the set and held out the camera to the two girls. Velvet saw herself kissing a topless Coco, sharing a moment of schoolgirl temptation, confusion… and bliss. The shot was at just the right angle so that Coco’s arms crossed over center of her breasts, keeping some tiny semblance of modesty.

“We need… we need you to do more photography, Fox,” Coco said. “For a blind guy, you’re suspiciously good at it.”

“Just copied Velvet’s motions,” he said, shrugging. “Might as well have been her.”

Velvet snatched the camera back from Fox, still quivering. “W-what was that?” she finally asked.

“I told you,” Coco said. “The third set is the one people will pay anything for.”

Velvet shook her head, ears nearly hitting the taller Coco in the face. “No! I… I can’t share that! Not that one.” Was that all Coco had done? Played her? Toyed with her like a stuffed animal?

“Sorry, Velvet. I thought you’d loosen up if we got you in front of the camera.” Coco raised an eyebrow. “Did it work?”

Velvet glanced at Coco’s naked breasts. Her tiny black thong, running between her creamy thighs.

“…I don’t think I’m that loose.”

Coco blinked. She paused for a second- then laughed uproariously. “Damn, Velvet! That’s harsh!”

Velvet caught on just a second too late. “I-I didn’t mean-“

Coco giggled and stood up. “It’s fine. Well, we don’t have to sell that photo. Even if it is the best one.”

“Good.”

“If you say so.” Coco found her bra and slid it around her chest. “Can’t say you didn’t enjoy it, though.”

Velvet tucked her camera away, giving Coco nothing more than a pout.

Chapter Text

“More butt. More butt. More butt,” Coco urged. “Come on, crop that ass.”

Coco stood over the extremely embarrassed Velvet’s shoulder, pointing at a picture from the day before. Coco’s nearly naked rear end took up almost the entire screen.

“Brighten up that dark spot on my leftie. No, not that one,” Coco said with a jab at the terminal. Velvet sank even deeper into her seat, but she did as Coco asked. “Yeah, that’s it. God bless Photomop!”

The girls were camped in a secluded corner of the Cross-Continental Transmit Center. Coco had insisted that the Atlas-run terminals had the best software for photo editing and distribution, and that meant reserving a private room (which were almost always booked) or using one on the man floor. Having no luck with the rooms, they’d picked a terminal whose screen couldn’t be seen unless someone walked right up to the desk. Of course, that hardly reassured Velvet, so Coco was forced to bring in team CFVY’s very own immovable object.

“Hey, tallboy,” she’d said. “Us girls need a little privacy. Can you protect me and sweet lil’ Velvet for a bit?”

And that’s how Yatsuhashi became a bouncer.

“Sir, I must please ask you to move. You’re unsettling the customers,” said the Atlas hologram. “If you could at least let them use a bit more of the south corner…”

Yatsuhashi eyed the projection up and down. “You have your duty. I have mine.”

The AI frowned.

Meanwhile, back at the terminal, Coco and Velvet were putting the finishing touches on their photos. Coco had been right: a lot of the work was done after the shoot. In fact, Velvet was almost beginning to think that the pictures might even look a little good.

“Great work, sharpshooter,” Coco said. “Now we just put these babies online and let the money roll in.”

“Eh? How?” Velvet asked.

“Scoot over. I’ve got a few site templates left over from… a while ago,” Coco said. “I’ll just load them up and put the pictures inside. Then, we set you up as an anonymous administrator and decide just how many people get to see my unbelievable sense of style.”

“Administrator? People?” Velvet’s head started spinning. “Coco, please…”

“It’s no big deal,” Coco reassured her. “Administrator just means you’re the one who controls what photos go up, who can see them, and for what price. And of course, we’re using the CCTS. That means you can share these with the whole world, if you want to!” Coco tilted her head back dreamily. “Think of all the people who would kill to see these photos. Think of all the money you could make! Think of how many people would beg on their hands and knees for more of my- I mean, your- photo shoots.”

Velvet clutched her ears and whimpered.

“Guess we’re not quite there yet,” Coco said with a sigh. “All right, all right. Let’s limit the site to just visitors from Vale. Hell, we might even save a little on hosting costs.”

With a few more minutes of clicking, Coco had everything set up. She grinned as she set a few options, with her smile spreading hungrily as she punched in a few numbers under “pricing.”

“Done!” Coco said, slapping the desk and making Velvet jump. “It should all sync up to your scroll in a sec.”

Velvet took out her scroll. A new app had popped up on the main menu, simply titled “Anon. Hosting.”

“You’ll be the first to know when the money starts pouring in,” Coco said. “Though I really wish you’d let me credit you as the photographer.”

“No! No, no need for credit,” Velvet rushed. “Um… how long will that take for the money, again? And aren’t there taxes?” She tugged at her ears nervously. “What if we’re doing something illegal?”

“Oh my God,” Coco laughed. “You are just the cutest. No, it’s not illegal, the taxes are taken out automatically, and what, did you expect people to just stumble across this site? Let me do a little leg work and spread the good word.”

Velvet was afraid of what “a little leg work” meant, but she was more afraid of asking.

“Now come on,” Coco said. “Let’s go see how much trouble Yatsu’s gotten into.”

 


 

“You know, they were actually fairly polite about the whole thing,” Coco said.

“Banning poor Yatsu from the center until the predicted heat death of the universe isn’t very polite, Coco.” Velvet sunk her head onto the table, her ears flopping over the edge. “I’m so sorry for him.”

“Ah, he’ll be fine,” Coco said. “We’ll just ask Ozpin or someone to make them lift it. He’s a hunter-in-training, he has to be able to use the comm center.”

“I still feel bad for him.”

“Hey, he was willing to get banned from watching his favorite Atlas TV shows for us. He’s a good guy.” Coco patted Velvet on the head. “Don’t feel sorry about having someone like him around.”

“Ahem!”

Coco and Velvet looked up. Doctor- not Professor- Oobleck stared back at them from across the classroom.

“Missuses Adel and Scarlatina, your attention, please,” he said. “This is a very important lesson on the impact of the Great War on the direction of the creative arts, and as future Huntresses, it would behoove you to deepen your knowledge of this subject, as it is most relevant to your intended profession and how it relates to society as a whole.”

“Sorry!” Velvet squeaked. Behind her sunglasses, Coco rolled her eyes.

“Apology accepted, Miss Scarlatina. And Miss Adel, I did indeed see that.”

Dr. Oobleck continued his lecture. Most of the students in the hall had already learned about the Great War from their introductory courses two or more years ago, but this course on the history and politics of warfare was special. Dr. Oobleck only taught it once every four years, so the students of Beacon had only one chance to pass it.

Though Velvet tried to keep her focus on the lecture, she couldn’t help but notice Coco’s intent swiping and typing on her scroll. From the looks of things, she was bouncing from messenger to messenger, app to app, media to media. Then, without warning, she stopped cold. She slid her scroll into her handbag and steepled her hands, smiling broadly.

A few rows in front of them, Jaune reached for his scroll. He peeked at it, confused, then looked at it more closely. He gasped. Loudly.

“Mister Arc!” Dr. Oobleck swooped down on Jaune like a hawk, snatching his scroll like a fish from a river. “Dare I say I have interrupted your social media experience? Or perhaps you have been conducting research critical to the understanding of contemporary thought?”

“No! I mean, yes! Oh, dear.” Jaune frantically glanced at Pyrrha, seated beside him. She gave him a dry look. He was on his own. “Can I have my scroll back? Please?”

“Hm!” Dr. Oobleck exclaimed. “What’s this?”

He seized Jaune’s scroll and tugged both ends, enlarging the screen to its full size. There on the device was a picture Velvet instantly recognized. Her stomach fell.

It showed a woman lifting her skirts with a single finger, showing off a mile of leg and just a peek of naked cheek. Either she wasn’t wearing panties, or they were so insubstantial that they might as well not exist.

It was a photo from yesterday’s shoot, one Velvet had taken of Coco in her brown cocktail dress. Though the photo didn’t show her face, it had just enough of her head and hair to make two boys glance over at Coco, not quite sure if what they’d seen was true.

“I-I-I-“ Jaune stuttered. Beside Velvet, Coco’s grin grew to Cheshire proportions.

“Mister Arc! This photo is quite scandalous indeed,” Dr. Oobleck exclaimed. “Did you intentionally bring this to my classroom?”

Jaune wiped a river of sweat from his brow. “I am so sorry, Dr. Oobleck. It just popped up and-“

“Of course he did, Dr. Oobleck,” Pyrrha said, cutting Jaune off with a vicious elbow to the ribs. “It’s an amazing example of contemporary art. Jaune thought it would fit perfectly with your lecture.”

Jaune gaped. Pyrrha’s eye twitched.

“That is… spectacular!” Dr. Oobleck shouted. “Amazing! Such foresight, Mister Arc!”

“Uh. Thanks?” Jaune said uncertainly.

“Yes! Truly, the advent of modern communications has brought the tantalization of the ideal human form right in front of our fingertips! Why, such a revolution has only been seen since the modern masters first explored the science of proportion! In the years since…”

Velvet looked with horror at the grinning mastermind beside her.

“Free advertising,” Coco whispered. “By tonight, the whole campus will know.”

Velvet whimpered.

 


 

Velvet and Coco almost made it out the door before Pyrrha cornered them.

“I know that was you, Coco.” Pyrrha’s expression was disapproving. Velvet shrank back.

“I have absolutely no idea what you mean,” Coco said, flipping of her copper lock of hair nonchalantly.

“In the photo. The one ‘mallrat101’ sent Jaune,” Pyrrha said. She tapped her foot. “Come on, Coco. Don’t play dumb.”

“All right, you got me.” Coco raised her hands in the air and smiled. “Fabulous as charged. Want a copy for yourself?”

“Very funny.” Pyrrha’s voice took on an edge. “I don’t know what you’re doing, but leave Jaune out of it.”

“Oh, that.” Coco shrugged. “You probably wouldn’t understand, Spartette. It’s a thing between team leaders.”

“You’re unbelievable.”

“I know,” said Coco. “You sure you don’t want me to hook you up with my photographer? That gig with the cereal boxes really did not do your figure any justice at all.”

Pyrrha huffed, spun on her heel and left them behind.

“That wasn’t very nice,” Velvet said, clutching her satchel. “Coco, Pyrrha’s kind of scary when she’s mad. And she won the Vytal Festival… she’s really, really strong.” Visions of horrible, awful things Pyrrha could do to her raced through Velvet’s mind. “Why did you do that? You know she doesn’t like it when people mess with Jaune. She’s gonna hate us, Coco!”

Coco gingerly put a hand on Velvet’s shoulder. “Take it easy, honey bunch. There’s a reason Jaune’s the team leader for JNPR, not her.”

“…Why?”

“It’s because Pyrrha can never tell when she’s being played.” She took Velvet by the hand. “Now come on, let’s get some strawberry shortcake. I hate seeing you upset like this.”

“Okay,” Velvet sniffled, allowing herself to be led out the door.

 


 

Coco could say whatever she wanted about the old shopkeep’s taste in décor, but he could make the best desserts this side of Heaven.

Velvet snuggled into her plush seat and eagerly watched him bring out her treat. Strawberries, fresh from the vine. Warm shortcake, hot from the oven. Whipped cream, sculpted artfully into a tower of sugary delight. Velvet raised her tiny fork in anticipation.

The moment her dish hit the table, Velvet pounced. She raised the delicious confectionary to her lips, opened wide, and let the sweetness take her.

Coco watched Velvet nibble, finally happy to get her teammate away from the school. She’d chosen a small tray of chocolate petits fours for herself, which she picked at distractedly. She could easily work off the calories, but too many sweets were terrible for her complexion. A girl had to be aware of these kinds of things. She envied Velvet for the way she could dive in without care. The girl had probably never known what it was like to plan an entire diet just to avoid the slightest possibility of breaking out.

Coco waited for Velvet to slow down her assault on the shortcake before she spoke. Some things were too precious to interrupt.

“You know, Velvet,” Coco said idly. “All this time, I’ve never seen you take any pictures of yourself.”

“Hm?” Velvet asked, cheeks stuffed full of whipped cream.

“Nope,“ Coco said. “All the Grimm you’ve taken out, and not a single shot of you standing over them. No pictures of your first days at Beacon, back when you still had that adorable little bow in your hair. Nothing. Not even one little selfie.”

“Oh,” Velvet said, putting a hand to her head in embarrassment. “It made my ears stand out. Even more than usual, I mean.”

“Yeah. That’s what made it so cute.” Coco tilted her head to the side. “You’d probably have gotten better if you’d tried using your camera on yourself a bit. Build a little confidence, you know?”

Velvet blushed. “I’m not really worth taking pictures of.”

“That’s bull.” Coco took a bit of whipped cream on her finger and dabbed it on Velvet’s nose. “You tell yourself that for some reason, but it’s just not true. I know plenty of people who’d love to have you as a model.”

“Coco, stop trying to make me feel pretty,” Velvet said, unable to look her in the eyes. She wiped her nose and licked her finger with an expression of wistfulness. “I’m not. Not really. Not compared to you, or any real models.”

Coco gave a sound that was half-snort, half-groan. “Honey, you know firsthand how much work went into editing my photos. I’m hot, but not that hot.”

“Yes, you are.” Velvet said. “You’re prettier than me. You always look good in anything. You’ve got flawless skin, the best clothes, and a super cool hairstyle. Plus you don’t have any extra horns, or teeth, or ears…” Velvet sighed. “You’re perfect. Don’t try to tell me I’m as good as you, because I’m not.”

Silence. For the first time in a long time, Coco didn’t know the right words to say.

“Velvet…” she shook her head. “I’m not perfect. I just pretend like it.”

Velvet looked at her in confusion.

“I never told you what it was like being a model, did I?” Coco asked. “Well, it wasn’t fun. Everyone always tells you where you’re weak, what you need to work on. Kind of like being a huntress, only instead of fighting Grimm, it’s what your body looks like.

“Guppy mouth. Squinty eyes. Chicken legs. Bitchy brow. Tubby tummy.” Coco pursed her lips. “Everyone tears you down. Everyone’s got an opinion on what they hate about you. And it never. Ever. Stops.”

Coco slid her sunglasses down her nose. Her deep brown eyes were clouded.

“Just look at this baby face,” she said. “Eyes too close together. Cheeks too flabby. Some people said I’d never look right in anything but diapers.”

“That’s horrible,” Velvet said. She’d never heard her leader open up like this. She’d just assumed everything went perfectly for beautiful girls like her. “Coco, none of what they said is true. You’re beautiful.”

“Velvet. When I said that, did it make you feel any better?”

She had a point. Velvet frowned. “What did you do?”

“What do you think I did?” Coco asked. She pushed her aviators back into place. “I accessorized.”

“Oh…” Velvet breathed as the realization sunk in. Not a single one of the photos she’d taken the day before had shown Coco without some kind of sunglasses. In fact, the only times she had ever seen Coco without them was when she was struggling between which pair to wear.

“So yeah,” Coco said, her voice returning its regular strength. “I learned how to work with it. Designed my own stuff sometimes. Even got to play around with a little Dust in my clothes. My manager couldn’t be happier, of course. She basically owned me.” Coco flicked one of the treats off her plate. “I got bored of that real quick. Got a scholarship to Signal and whoosh, off I went.”

Coco was obviously leaving out a few things, but Velvet didn’t press. “I’m sorry.”

“Nah. Don’t be sorry,” Coco smirked. “Just thinking of her reaction when she sees those photos from yesterday is enough payback for me.”

Images of Coco straddling her gun, wearing nothing but a thong and her aviators, made Velvet blush again. “Aren’t you… embarrassed? Just a little?”

“Nope,” Coco shrugged. “I mean, it’s not like I did full nudes. You’ve got to be really, really confident with every part of your body to do those. Like, every part.”

Velvet remembered the way Coco had held her arms over her tiny nipples and blushed even deeper. By this point, Velvet may as well have been a tomato.

“Yeah, you get it.” Coco chuckled. “Plus, people look at you differently when you do nudes. Like they expect you to just take it all off right in front of them whenever they see you.”

“That sounds horrible.”

“Not really. All the girls I know who do ‘em just own it. The public calms down after a while.” Coco finally took another bite out of her sweets. She waved her hand in the air. “Speaking of photos… How much have you made so far?”

“Eh? Oh!” Velvet reached for her scroll and flicked over to her site’s app. Her mouth dropped open. “Coco… this is…”

Coco snatched the scroll out of her hands. “Hm. Only eleven thousand lien? I must be slipping. Either that, or Pyrrha didn’t do a very good of job of telling people how much of a slut I am.”

Would Pyrrha really say something like that? Velvet winced at the Coco’s self-insult, but she was still more shocked at the figure. “But… in six hours! With just word of mouth!”

“Yeah. I thought I could do better. Three hundred lien for the set seemed like a good enough price for a small crowd like Vale. Take away tax and service fees…”

“Three hundred?!”

“Hush, honey. The shopkeep is reaching for his extra pricy desserts.”

Velvet’s head spun. With that much money, she’d make a huge dent in her debt. She could afford new clothes. Good food. Maybe even a trip to someplace nice that didn’t involve fighting Grimm.

“Come on, let’s pay up and get out,” Coco said. “I feel like getting to bed a little early tonight.”

“O-okay!”

 


 

Coco was oddly silent on the walk back to the dorms at Beacon. That should have tipped Velvet off.

They took the long way around and managed to avoid stares. Not that Coco particularly minded being stared at. She had thinking to do, and properly basking in her public’s loving adoration did take effort. Tonight, she was a woman on a mission.

Team CFVY’s room was empty when they arrived. Yatsuhashi and Fox had mentioned they were helping a Professor teach new students aura manipulation, and that always led to explosions and infirmary visits. They wouldn’t be back for hours.

Coco broke the silence by clearing her throat. “Velvet,” she said. “Can you go into the closet and find that old blanket? The one with the floral print that we used to lay out on the grass?”

“Um… okay?” Velvet stepped over to the “closet” and threw open the door. Coco had specifically picked a room for team CFVY that used to have an extra suite. Now she simply used it to hold her clothes, and everyone else had forgotten its original use as a guest room for prospective students.

Opening the door took a little more effort than usual; Coco had hung a few extra coats on the other side. Velvet flicked the lights to unveil a labyrinth of fashion. Words almost failed to describe the vast library of hangers, dressers and cleaning bags that packed the extra-large closet. After a few minutes of hunting, Velvet found what she was looking for buried deep in the back. She tunneled her way out of the mass of clothes like a hibernating animal making its way out of a winter hutch.

When Velvet had collected herself and her blanket, Velvet found that Coco had been watching her from the closet entrance. She was leaning against the frame for support, which blocked the way out.

Velvet knew she shouldn’t listen to her Faunus side; she’d tried to fight it her whole life. Sometimes, though, she just couldn’t control it, like whenever she felt like she was trapped in a tight space. Seeing Coco block the way out, her pulse spiked with adrenaline. Her eyes darted back and forth as she instinctively looked for a way out. There was none.

She was trapped. Caught. Dead meat for something bigger and nastier than her.

Seeing Velvet’s panic, Coco gasped and almost fell over herself trying to clear the door. “Damn it,” she swore. “Sorry, sorry, sorry. I’m not thinking right.”

“I-it’s okay,” Velvet stammered, but only after she'd scrambled through the exit.

“No, I mean it. I’m really sorry. I should have remembered.” Coco actually seemed flustered. What was going on?

They both stood in silence. Velvet tried to catch her breath, and Coco tried to compose herself.

It took a minute for Coco to get her bearings. “Velvet… I think you’re a great member of the team,” she said. “I really want you to know that.”

“Um… thanks?”

Coco shook her head. “No, that’s not right. I mean I want you to feel like you belong here. With us. I want you to feel like you’re needed.”

Velvet bit her lip. She’d never felt like a real member of the team, not really. She was surrounded by awesome, amazing, talented people and all she could do was copy them. “But…”

“No buts, Velvet.” Coco stepped over to her, so close that Velvet could feel her breath on her forehead. She took the blanket from her hands. “You’ve always been our secret weapon. You might not realize it, but we really do need you.

“You’re the glue that holds us together, Velvet. Everyone on the team likes you. Every time I piss off Fox or Yatsu with some stupid thing, you’re always there to remind them there’s a heart to this team, too.

“You make us all stronger. Everyone fights harder with you around. You catch the ones Yatsu and I are too slow to get, plus the ones Fox always misses. I keep telling him to try and get better at his bursts, but… Goddamnit!”

Coco spun on her heels and threw the blanket into the closet, where it landed spread out on the floor. She stepped inside and did something shocking: she started grabbing clothes and throwing them on the floor.

Coco had gone crazy.

“Coco! Stop!” Velvet cried, but she was powerless to do anything but watch as Coco ripped sweater after sweater, dress after dress, scarf after scarf off their hangers.

“You don’t get it, Velvet! You just don’t get it!” Coco shouted. A few more dresses flew off the racks before Coco stopped her whirling dervish of clothes, panting for breath. “You’re the most important one on the team. Without you, we’d all fucking hate each other!

“Yatsu’s too bullheaded to do anything but try and protect whatever’s cute and cuddly. Fox doesn’t say a damn thing unless it’s a national emergency. And I’m just an insensitive bitch.”

“Coco, no! No, you’re not!” Velvet said, nearly on the verge of tears. “You’re kind, and clever, and beautiful. You tease us, but it’s out of love. You want us to be better than we are, and we know that’s why you push us and bash us and test us. Coco, why are you doing this?!”

“Because, Velvet, I want you to really understand how much you mean to us. I want you to understand just how much we’d do for you. But you know what? I think I finally get it.” Coco huffed. “The only way I can show you how much I’d do for you is by making you do something for me.”

Now Velvet was very, very confused. Nothing Coco was saying or doing made any sense whatsoever. “…Coco, should I go get a nurse?”

“No,” Coco said. “Go get your camera. I want you to do one last photo shoot.”

Chapter Text

Coco stood in the closet, surrounded by strewn clothes. Her hair was a mess. Her blouse was ruffled and pitted with sweat. Her breath was rough and heavy. Velvet had never seen her look worse.

For the first time, Velvet saw her leader as she was. Not as a fashion goddess. Not as a confident commander. Just a wounded girl who was at the end of her rope, trying desperately to claw her way out of the pit she’d found herself in.

It was the most human thing Velvet had ever seen.

“Is that camera ready, Velvet?” Coco asked. “I need you to do me one more favor.”

“Anything.” Velvet raised her box. “Just ask, Coco, and I’ll do it.”

“I want you to make me feel beautiful.”

Velvet froze.

“I don’t know how to make you feel special, Velvet. I don’t know how to make you feel needed. All I can do is ask you to help me.”

“But you are beautiful, Coco.” Velvet found herself saying the same thing she’d said earlier, at the café. She knew it wouldn’t be any more use than back then, but it was still true.

“And you are special, Velvet. But neither one of us can convince the other.” Coco laughed, though it sounded more like she had a cough than anything else. “So here we are.”

“What do you want me to do?” Velvet asked, desperation creeping into her voice.

“I told you. I want you to use that camera and make me feel beautiful.” The words sounded almost as ragged as she looked.

“I… I ca…” Velvet choked on the words. She wanted to say she couldn’t, but what would that mean? That Coco wasn’t beautiful? She’d crush her spirit then and there.

No. No, Velvet wouldn’t let that happen. Coco was the greatest girl and best friend she’d ever had. She had to do it. No matter what, she had to help Coco heal whatever scars her time as a model had given her.

“I’ll do it,” she said. “Coco, if this is what will help you, then I’ll do it.”

“Thank you,” Coco said. She turned around and gave a half-hearted smile. “Whenever you’re ready, honey bunch.”

Velvet raised her camera, more nervous than she’d ever been facing down a Grimm. This was a thousand times worse. The pressure would have been enough to crush her a minute ago… but this time, she found the resolve to push forward. This time, she couldn’t rely on Coco to prop her up. It was her time to return the favor.

Velvet pressed the shutter-release on her camera. The flash burned bright for the briefest of moments, capturing a girl in tatters. Her battle gear was wrinkled and disheveled. Her sunglasses were askew. Her hair stuck out in all directions. Even her copper lock was missing, tucked up somewhere in her beret.

And yet, Coco had never looked so delicately beautiful.

Coco followed her years of training and shifted poses for her photographer. This time, she simply clasped her hands together in front of her hips. The camera flashed again.

Velvet took picture after picture of her leader, but nothing felt quite right. The pictures were capturing a beauty, yes, but a broken one. Coco would never feel better by looking at these. She had to change something.

“Is it okay if I touch you?” Velvet asked uncertainly.

“Of course,” Coco whispered.

Velvet reached for Coco’s beret, taking it off her head and placing it in Coco’s hands. Her copper lock drifted down beside her cheek. Her hair didn’t look any better, but with her hat off, Coco looked a little less of a mess.

Velvet took a few more photos. She looked at the scene around her. Clothes were strewn all over the floor, some of which had piled over the blanket in the center of the closet. She pointed at the center of the mess. “Could you lie down? Please?”

Coco did as she was asked and stretched herself out in the mess of clothes. She raised a hand above her head. Her blouse lifted upwards off her stomach, baring her pale midriff. Velvet took another picture.

The image all came together perfectly. Coco’s messy hair brown blended into the earthen dress above her. The clothes strewn all around her mirrored the mess she had made of the ones she was wearing. Her glasses faded into a black pair of stockings piled behind her head.

In some ways, Coco matched her wardrobe more perfectly than ever before.

Velvet leaned down to her leader and showed her the picture. Coco gave a weak smile. “I look like a wreck,” she said. “I’m a complete disaster.”

“No way.” Velvet shook her head. “Coco, you aren’t your clothes.”

“Of course I am,” Coco said. It was her turn to be confused. “What I look like is what people see me as. That’s how it’s always been.”

“You’re wrong,” said Velvet. “You’re strong, and brave, and pretty. If you spill a glass of red wine on your white dress, does it change any of that?”

“I’d be a mess,” Coco said. “Like right now.”

“You wouldn’t be a mess, Coco. You’d just grab a red tablecloth, wrap it around you like a sash, and people would call it a revolution in color.” Velvet touched her shoulder. “Coco Adel is beautiful because of who she is. Not because of what she’s wearing.”

Coco was silent. She looked back at the picture of her on the floor.

“…You’re the first person to ever tell me that, Velvet.”

Velvet hugged her tight. It took a few moments, but Coco returned the hug. Strongly.

“Ack.” Velvet squirmed a little on reflex, but she clamped down on her flight-or-flight-faster instinct as hard as she could.

“Hey,” Coco said after a long minute. “You still got room on that camera?”

“Yeah.”

“…I think I’m ready for my close-up.”

Coco let the hug go. Both girls stood up and faced each other. Velvet looked her team leader in the eyes. Or rather, she looked her in the sunglasses. Her breath was rushed. Coco had one last thing to do before she could really get over her issues.

Slowly, Velvet reached for Coco’s sunglasses.

Coco’s hand shot up to stop her. “Wait.”

Velvet gave her leader a disapproving glare.

“Whoa,” Coco said, surprised and shocked at the same time. “Easy, girl. Just… let me take it at my own pace.”

Coco stepped back from Velvet and took a deep breath. She reached for the bottom of her blouse.

“Coco…” Velvet said.

“I told you… I think I’m ready to go all the way this time.” She paused, realizing what she’d just said. “I mean, for photos! Nude photos!” Coco blushed. She actually blushed.

“For a second, I thought you were coming on to me.” Velvet said with a wry grin. She didn’t know where that came from.

Fuck bunny, echoed the mocking voices in the back of her mind. She shoved them down with all her strength. This was Coco’s moment, and she would not ruin it with her own stupid issues.

“You wish,” Coco said. Velvet smiled as her friend’s old spunk started coming back.

Coco drew her blouse over her head, baring her upper body. She wore a bra just a shade lighter than her tan blouse, with lacy vines of ivy growing around the edges of its cups. The modest valley of skin between her breasts was just as brilliantly white as it had been the day before. And still, through what must have been years of practice, Coco had managed to keep her sunglasses on.

Velvet raised her camera. Coco nodded in approval and the shutter clicked obligingly.

Coco undid her belt. Her trousers fell to the floor to reveal yet another tiny, lacy thong, though this time it was only black around the edges. White lace crisscrossed over her mound in a zebra-stripe pattern. The camera took it all in.

Finally, Coco reached behind her back to unclasp her bra- but stopped halfway.

“Could you be a dear?” she asked, smiling.

Velvet rolled her eyes and giggled. She circled behind Coco and deftly unclipped her bra with a single, quick swipe of two fingers. Coco let it fall off her body and collapse on the floor.

There was silence as Coco turned around to face Velvet, wearing just as much as she had the day before. She had a breast cupped in each hand, waiting for Velvet to capture the moment.

Coco tilted her head forward to peek over her glasses. Velvet met her gaze. They were both ready.

Coco swept her hands away, baring her breasts to the camera. Her tiny nipples were a deep cherry red and already stiffened in anticipation.

The camera flashed. Coco gasped.

“That felt… amazing,” she said. Her cheeks were flushed. “More.”

Velvet took shot after shot of Coco’s bare chest. Coco squeezed her breasts for the camera. She bounced them up and down. She grasped them with splayed fingers, letting her cherry-red bumps peek between them. Velvet couldn’t help but pick up on how Coco ran the tips of her fingers over her nipples as she did.

“Hhhnn…” Coco moaned. No longer caring about a proper pose, she bent at the waist and pinched her nipples between her fingers. “I… I always wanted to do that in front of a camera…” she panted between breaths.

Velvet caught one more shot of Coco playing with herself before she straightened. Her blush had spread to her chest, and she was breathing as hard as she ever had in training. Velvet waited patiently for what felt like hours.

Slowly, gingerly, Coco reached for her aviators.

Her hands trembled as she slid them down her nose. Her brown eyes came halfway into view, full of years of doubt and insecurity. She paused when Velvet’s camera snapped. She gritted her teeth. For a moment, she looked like she was going to turn and run.

Then she ripped her glasses off and threw them against the wall, where they shattered into a thousand tiny pieces.

Velvet caught the moment in perfect clarity. The uncertainty. The flicker of doubt. The decision to crush that doubt with every ounce of resolve she had… and the moment Coco finally bared her youthful face.

She caught Coco’s dainty nose, with twin dimples where glasses had sat for years. She caught Coco’s bright eyes, a sight she’d only seen a few times before.

Coco’s unveiled smile was the most beautiful Velvet had ever seen.

“I feel… great.” Coco rubbed the skin under her eyes. “That was even more satisfying than crushing… I don’t know. Fill in the blank.”

“You’re not quite done yet,” Velvet grinned. She pointed her camera downwards, to Coco’s black-and-white striped thong.

“You beast,” Coco said. She pinched the waistband of her panties, tugging them up and down. “You want this?”

“I don’t know,” Velvet teased. “This kind of was your idea. Are you backing out, Coco?”

“Dumb bunny. Of course not.”

Coco swept her panties to the floor at the same time the camera flashed. Velvet’s camera showed Coco’s pale white mound, broken only by a thin line of brown hair leading down to her delicate lips. And between them…

“Is that a stud? Oh, wow!” Velvet couldn’t control herself: she giggled at Coco’s piercing. Loudly.

“Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up,” Coco said, glancing down in embarrassment. “I told you yesterday. I love metal.”

“What’s it like? Does it make you more… you know?” Velvet said, taking picture after picture. She couldn’t help herself. It just kind of happened.

“Yeah,” Coco said. She grinned wickedly. “Especially when I do this.” She ran her finger up and down her slit, soaking her piercing in her own wetness. She flicked the metal stud and gasped, her hips jerking violently.

“Oh…” Velvet got down on one knee. She really, really couldn’t help it. The camera zoomed in all by itself. It really did.

She took an endless stream of photos as Coco swept her finger back and forth over her nub, coming closer and closer to her edge. With a shuddering cry, Coco came right in front of the camera.

“I…” Coco panted, “am going to remember that one… as the hardest… I’ve ever come.”

“I’ll say,” Velvet said. “I think you got some on my lens.”

“What?!” Coco shrieked.

“Kidding!”

They stared each other in the eye. Neither one could help it; they both sank to the floor laughing.

 


 

Both girls, Coco now fully dressed, huddled around Velvet’s camera on their beds.

“Nice shot.”

“Thanks! …But I think I can see a hair there.”

“Fuck off, that’s a shadow.”

“If you say so...”

Coco laughed. “Velvet, you are seriously the best photographer on the face of the planet.”

Velvet hunched her shoulders and let the glow wash over her. “Thanks, Coco.”

“Any time,” Coco said. “Now my only problem is getting one of the guys to clean up that mess in the closet.”

“You’re horrible,” Velvet said.

“One hundred percent.” Coco smiled. “By the way. About these photos…”

Velvet crossed her heart. “I’ll never show anyone else, ever.”

Coco gave her a look of pure incredulity. “What? Why would you promise that?!”

Velvet returned the look twice as intensely. “What? Why wouldn’t you make me?!”

“These are your photos, Velvet. You’re the mastermind here.” Coco handed her the camera. “Do whatever you want with them. I don’t care if you keep them, delete them, or hell, even sell them.”

Velvet’s expression shifted to one of pure horror. “Coco! That’s scandalous!”

She shrugged. “I figure if you’re really, really in need of a little cash in the future… I might have just been your meal ticket. Plus, it’d piss off some people I know that really need a reality check.”

“I’d never do that, Coco.” Velvet shook her head. “That’s just too personal.”

“Whatever you decide.” Coco straightened up in her bed and stretched. “But hey. If you’re still big on the whole ‘privacy’ thing, you might want to hide the camera. I can hear that big lug Yatsu climbing the stairs.”

Velvet dove for her foot locker in a panic, pressing her camera in between her body and the carpet floor just in time for Yatsuhashi to walk in. Of course, in Velvet’s current pose, she was presenting herself in an extremely un-ladylike position. Her butt was raised high in the air, pointed directly at the door.

Brown pantyhose atop glistening white cotton greeted Yatsuhashi as he entered, getting a complete flash between Velvet’s legs as she protected her camera on all fours.

“H-hi!” Velvet shouted, momentarily oblivious.

“…Hello?” Yatsuhashi said, lost for words.

“Nice weather we’re having?” Velvet clutched her camera even tighter.

“…I will come back later.”

The door slammed shut. Coco nearly laughed herself out of bed as Velvet buried her head in shame.

Chapter Text

Ruby Rose, wearing a glorious paper crown and a manic grin, stood atop her pile of riches and gazed down upon her subjects.

“Hear, hear!” she hollered. “Know that your ruler, the high and mighty Queen Ruby, is pleased with the death and destruction you have, uh… reaped before her! Much entertainment and many snacks have been had! You have all fought bravely, even if some of you couldn’t figure out how to use the controller!”

“Not all of us play video games,” muttered Blake, who had made a point of curling up with a book.

“But at last the final match is upon us!” Ruby shouted over her rebellious minion. “This one is for all the horseshoes! The whole ten yards! The big shebang!”

“Ruby asked you to coach her?” a very confused Yang whispered to a very embarrassed Weiss.

“She asked how to act like a Schnee Company executive,” Weiss replied, holding her hands to her face. “I disavow any responsibility for this travesty.”

“Team JNPR!” Ruby pointed at the challengers assembled before her, nearly falling off her pile of cardboard boxes labeled ‘riches’. She regained her balance and straightened her crown without even dropping it. “DO YOU HAVE A CHAMPION?!”

“We do, your highness!” Jaune said, pounding his fist to his chest. “Team JNPR presents the powerful, the unbeatable, the sometimes kind of scary, Nora Valkyrie, master of Ninja Fight!

Nora sprang from her seat and pumped her arms. “Yes! Go Nora! It’s your birthday!”

“That’s next week, Nora,” said Ren.

“I’m just pregaming!” Nora said, whipping out her scroll. “Nora fears no ninja! She takes all comers!”

Ruby nodded sagely. JNPR’s choice had been obvious. If Nora saw something as a game, whether that was a 2D fighter or taking down Grimm, she seized it by the horns and didn’t let go until every last ounce of fun had been wrung from its broken body.

“The Queen accepts this challenge… and answers with team RWBY’s own invincible ninjette! The Queen calls… her big sister Yang! Get over here and kick her butt!”

“You got it, ‘Your Highness.’ I’ll give her a royal spanking.” Yang bit down on a snicker. Her sister could be such a goof when she really got into something. If watching her sister be a little awkward was the price she had to pay for an afternoon of fun, then that was a no-brainer.

She’d never admit it, but Yang appreciated the time off. Between training, missions and classes, it was hard for her to find anything fun to do lately. Her first year had been full of adventure and new experiences, but after her second year, everything was starting to get a little old. After all, it was hard to measure up to the freaking Vytal Festival, excitement-wise. So while she trained for her next adventure, she had to be awesome at something. Today, video games. Tomorrow, the world.

Weiss and Blake had been a tougher sell. Ruby had tried to pitch the video game tourney as a team-building exercise against JNPR, but neither one of them had any interest in the game itself. Blake had seen through the ruse instantly, and had only come along because Yang had begged her. Weiss had bitten the bullet and decided to use the tourney as a way to build Ruby’s ability to organize and motivate a group outside of battle. It was easy to see how that had turned out.

Fortunately, team JNPR was mostly on board. Jaune loved to blow off steam with Ruby with a few evening rounds of Ninja Fight, but he wasn’t terribly good at it. He jumped way too often, setting himself up for anti-air. He spammed projectiles and “cool” moves, even when a simple punch or kick would have done the job without leaving him open for a counterattack.

Lie Ren was a little better, having been “convinced” by Nora to join in. He had grasped the fundamentals fairly quickly, and he even gave Ruby some trouble with his simple, quick combos that were the bread and butter of high-level play. He fell apart a little on timing and reversals, though; if Yang could pressure him too hard or get him off his feet, he had trouble recovering.

Nora had taken to the game like a fish to water. If she had a weakness, it was that she refused to stick to any one playbook. Nora played hulks as speedsters, grapplers as zoners, and any crazy combination she thought was funny at the time. Yang could never tell what the girl would do based on her matches with the other players, and that meant she couldn’t get into Nora’s head. Not that she really wanted to. That place was weird.

The odd duck out was Pyrrha. She had played a few rounds, but it was obvious her heart wasn’t in it, and gladly handed over the controller when her turn was up. Oh, well. She looked distracted anyway.

“The winner of this final round will be crowned as ninja queen!” Ruby proclaimed as the two combatants chose their fighters. “They’ll win bragging rights! The unconditional love of their team! And… this paper crown I totally didn’t make five minutes before you all showed up!”

“You ready to lose?” Yang asked, locking in her fighter. She picked her favorite ninja: Sanguine Dragon, who dealt more damage the less health she had. In a weird way, playing as the Dragon helped Yang practice planning around her own semblance. Plus, the she was the hottest character in the game in more ways than one.

“Of course not. I don’t prepare for anything!” Nora shot back. She’d picked the Mighty Gale, a gigantic zoning character who could summon storms all across the battlefield. “You ready to taste the bitter coffee grounds of defeat?!”

“Coffee grounds? …And who let you drink coffee?”

“LET THE CARNAGE BEGIN!”

Right off the bat, Yang sent her ninja in close. Mighty Gale might have been mighty, but he was weak up close, where he couldn’t combo his storms. With a rising punch, the terrifying beauty of Sanguine Dragon struck!

“Critical counter!” Ruby shouted in her ear. “Sorry, sis!”

Yang’s mouth fell open. Nora had seen it coming a mile away. Mighty Gale swung her Stick of Storms in a vicious parry, sending the Dragon all the way across the stage. She was wide open for a ranged strike!

But nothing came. Nora giggled as she allowed Yang to recover, ending in a very unladylike snort. “I love ping pong! Yang’s so bouncy!”

“Yeah, yeah. Warm-up’s over.” Yang felt the familiar fire building inside of her, but doused it for now. She stuck out her tongue and focused. Time to get serious.

Yang sent her ninja in close, this time keeping a close eye for the tell-tale sparkle of Nora’s counter. Her blows struck Nora’s guard in a hail of punches, chipping away at her health. Finally, Nora found an opening and threw Yang all the way across the arena once again. The Dragon slammed into the arena wall and landed in a dizzy heap on the stone floor. Once again, she was completely open.

And for the second time, Nora refused to do anything but showboat. “She shoots, she scores! Ten points for Nora!”

Lie Ren sipped a cup of tea impassively. “She has more aura than you, Nora.”

“But I’m having more fun. That means I’m winning!”

“That’s not winning,” Yang growled. With a flash-step and a Fireball Finish, she crushed the Mighty Gale in a blazing inferno. “That’s winning.”

“Aww,” Nora whined. “No fair. I wanted to throw your girl around some more. At least it’s best of five!”

Yang looked to her sister. Both Ruby and Yang shared the same look of disappointment. Of course Nora wouldn’t be used to fighting for real. She was used to pulling her punches against people who mostly didn’t want to play a fighting game. If she crushed her opponents, she’d have no one to play with. Unless they could get Nora to change the way she had fun with Ninja Fight, it looked like this match would be a gigantic let-down instead of the grand finale they’d been hoping for.

It was time to raise the stakes.

“Hey, Nora,” Yang said. “What do you say we make this a little more interesting?”

“Yeah!” Nora shouted. “Let’s get Jaune back into my cheerleader outfit!”

Jaune choked on his popcorn. “Nora, come on! You promised never to mention that!”

“Um… no. No, that was definitely not what I had in mind.” Yang said, suppressing a laugh. “I was thinking we could raise the stakes, though. Make a little wager?”

“Gambling? Oooh, that sounds fun.” Nora grinned. “You’re on! If I win this series, you have to follow me around for a whole day, and whenever I go into a classroom, announce that the ninja queen, Nora Valkyrie, has arrived! And do a little dance to introduce me, too!”

“Uh. For a whole day?” Yang blanched. “You sure you wouldn’t rather have, like, a keg of beer for team JNPR? Or just you?”

“Nah, I’m done with those.” Nora looked over at Ren, whose face was made up in a world-weary droop. “Ren said he was tired of rolling 'em down the stairs. No, I definitely want my own personal ninja herald.”

Yang was all too aware of Blake’s sudden interest in her bet. Blake would never say anything if Yang actually had to go through with the bet, but that amused twinkle in her eyes would be just as good as a giggle every time Yang saw it. She couldn’t back down, and neither could she lose. That left only one option.

“Fine,” Yang said. “But if you lose…”

“Yeah?” Nora stared at Yang eagerly. Damn. That girl was shameless. There’d be no way to embarrass her at all. Still, Yang had to pick something that would horrify and motivate Nora just as much as she wanted to do to Yang, intentionally or not.

And then it hit her. Yang couldn’t go after Nora, so she’d pick someone else.

“If I win,” Yang smiled, “then Ren has to be my team’s personal chef. For a whole. Day. Long.”

Nora’s face fell. She looked to Ren, panicked and pining at the same time. “A whole day?!”

“Yep. If Ruby wants cookies, she gets cookies. If Blake wants tuna, she gets tuna. If Weiss wants whatever rich people eat, she gets whatever fancy salad she asks for. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.” Yang leaned in close. “And snacks.”

“You wouldn’t.” Nora’s head snapped back to plead with Ren. “Don’t do it, Ren! I’ll starve!”

“You won’t starve, Nora.” Ren sighed. “I’m not even that great a cook, Yang. People just assume it for some reason.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Ren,” Pyrrha called from atop her bed.

“Yeah, what she said.” Yang agreed, though she was a little surprised. She’d forgotten Pyrrha was even in the room. “You’ll do fine.”

Ruby clapped her hands. “The bets are settled! Your queen… approves!”

“Yang, you had better win. I already know what I’m ordering for dinner,” Weiss said airily.

“Oooooohhhhh…” Nora moaned. “Yang, you poop.”

“Sounds like someone’s ready to throw down!” Yang grinned. “Let’s finish this!”

Round 2 began with Yang’s ninja plastered against the arena wall.

“Ow,” she said reflexively. Nora could make that hulking ninja really move. Well, at least Yang had time time to tech-

A bolt of lightning struck Yang’s ninja as soon as she got up. It was frame-perfect; there had been no time to block at all. For a brief moment, Yang wondered if Nora might be too much to handle. She pushed the thought aside. Nothing was too much for her.

Yang managed to bring Sanguine Dragon back, but a truly absurd combo from Nora took the round. The battle went back and forth, each girl taking another round each. The final round was upon them, and the fighters were practically at each other’s throats. Nora’s teeth were gritted. Her shoulders were hunched. She’d probably never tried so hard at anything in her entire life. Yang smacked her lips; her tongue had dried up from being stuck out for so long.

“Go Yang! Yang! Yang! Yangarang!”

“Bring us victory, Yang!”

“You’ve got this, Yang.”

With her team behind her, Yang knew she could win. It was time for her to be the unpredictable one.

FIGHT!

The instant the round started, Yang mashed her controller as hard as she could. Nora summoned her storms- but the lightning struck nothing but a blazing, blood-red shield surrounded by gold flames. Triumphant music blared. “Face the ultimate warrior! The dragon unleashed!”

Sanguine Dragon’s armor exploded off her body, leaving her with a nothing more than a skimpy bikini and ninja mask. Jaune gaped. Ruby blushed. Nora growled.

With blinding speed, Yang’s ninja dodged every storm bolt Nora threw at her. She closed the distance and slammed into the hulking foe. One wrong move could spell disaster at this range, especially without her armor- but Yang had thrown caution to the wind. She pressured Nora relentlessly, mixing high, low, high, every move putting her guard closer to breaking.

“No!” Nora cried. “I won’t let you beat me!”

Mighty Gale seized the Dragon by her neck and started crushing. Yang’s health bar plummeted. Sweat dripped from Yang’s brow as she mashed her controller. If she could out-mash Nora, she’d break free of the choke hold. Just like a real fight, it all came down to a contest of raw speed and power. Both girls slammed their controllers so fast and so hard that their scrolls’ plastic started creaking ominously.

“YES!”

Sanguine Dragon tore free of the hold and engulfed Mighty Gale in a whirlwind of fire. Her foe disappeared in a blaze of glory, leaving behind nothing but comically charred bones.

Sanguine Dragon. Wins!

“NO!” Nora wailed. She threw her controller to the ground and dove into Ren’s lap, seizing him around the waist. “Don’t leave me, Ren! I’ll be so lonely! And hungry!”

Ren held his tea with one hand and pet Nora’s head with the other. “Nora, you’ll be fine. It’s just a day.”

“I’ll have to make imaginary friends made of pancakes and eat them! Think of how bad that’ll make me feel!”

Yang, meanwhile, wiped her brow and raised her arms in smooth celebration. “Oh, yeah. Gold medal, girls!”

Ruby dashed behind her sister and slammed the paper crown atop her head in the slam-dunk motion all short girls knew instinctively. “Yang is the winner! Best team hug for best ninja warrior!”

Weiss rolled her eyes, but still moved in for the hug. Blake gave a small smile and joined in, too. “Nice,” she said, though her voice was muffled through the mass of bodies.

 


 

When team RWBY’s group hug broke up, so did the party. Weiss and Pyrrha left the room and went their separate ways, while Yang and Blake chatted it up about how best to use their newfound chef. Ruby beamed. Another mission successfully completed for team RWBY.

“Congrats, Ruby. Fun stuff,” Jaune said, taking a spot next to her. He jerked his head to where Nora was still bawling her eyes out in Ren’s lap. “Though I think I may have a little emotional clean-up to do, especially now that half my team’s upset about something or other.”

“Eheh. Sorry about Nora,” Ruby rubbed the back of her neck sheepishly. “How much ice cream do you think it’ll take to solve that problem?”

“Oh, Nora?” Jaune smiled. “This is nothing compared to the time she realized she’d run out of space to put plates on her deadlift bar. Nah, she’ll bounce back, she always does.”

“Wait,” Ruby said. “You said half your team. Ren doesn’t seem that upset, so…” The light bulb lit up in Ruby’s head. “Yeah! Pyrrha was a little out of it the whole time. Does she not like video games that much?”

“No, not that.” Jaune’s voice trailed off. “She’s been a little upset since a few days ago. It’s… awkward.”

“It’s okay, Jaune,” Ruby said. She stared at him until he stared back, then gave him her warmest, most concerned look, the one she saved for Weiss when she talked about her family. “You can tell me about it. Or not. It’s up to you.”

Jaune hesitated. Ruby was a great leader, a rising huntress, and one of his best friends. But could he really count on her to help with something so... mature?

Well, he certainly wasn’t getting anywhere by himself. Ruby’s advice probably couldn’t make things any worse, and he had to at least try to patch things up with Pyrrha. He cleared his throat. “Coco sent me a few pictures a couple days ago. Since then, Pyrrha’s been upset at not just Coco, but, well, kind of everyone.”

“Pictures? Like cats in itty bitty kitty boxes? Pfft,” Ruby scoffed. “I send you those all the time. Gotta be something else.”

“Uh. Not exactly. The pictures were a little more… personal.”

Across the room, Blake’s ears twitched beneath her bow.

“Personal? Like those embarrassing photos of you at the New Year’s party?” Ruby grinned. “I still have a few of those…”

“Ruby, please. We’re all professionals here. Or at least, semi-trained quasi-professionals. Let’s try to go at least five minutes without bringing up something silly I may or may not have done in women’s clothing.”

“All right.” Ruby shuffled her feet. She liked teasing Jaune, but it did have its limits. “So… she sent you some personal photos, and now Pyrrha’s upset. So if Pyrrha’s upset, and they’re Coco’s personal photos, then they might be of her- ohhhhhh, wow...

Ruby blushed a brilliant shade of crimson to match her cape.

“Yeah,” Jaune said. “It’s complicated.”

Ruby stared at her feet. This really wasn’t her thing. This was scandalous. This was something she’d have a lot of trouble imagining- and even more trouble getting out of her head. She danced back and forth on her feet, trying to think of an answer. Nothing came to mind.

Fortunately, a strong hand gripped her on the shoulder just as she was about to sputter something she’d probably regret later. “Hey, Jaune,” Yang said. “Blake says you’re corrupting my little sister.”

“Uh.”

“This wouldn’t happen to be about that little incident in class a few days ago, right? The one that Ruby’s somehow managed to avoid hearing, despite it being practically all you boys talk about?”

“What incident?” Ruby asked.

“Nothing important, sis. Just Jaune embarrassing himself again.” Yang said. “Oh, by the way! Blake just left to go tune up Gambol Shroud. Now’s your chance to tell her about those mods you thought up.”

“Really?” Ruby peeked around Yang’s shoulder. She didn’t want to leave Jaune, but this was just so awkward and her mod ideas were just so good and she was totally not prepared for whatever this-

“Really really. Go get ‘em.” Yang shoved Ruby out team JNPR’s door and slammed it shut with a thunderous bang. Ren and Nora had left for a “last supper” a minute ago, which left Yang and Jaune alone in the room.

“So… Yang…” Jaune gave a half-hearted grin. He pointed to Yang’s paper crown. “Uh… congrats on becoming the ninja queen?”

“Yeah, I’m just gonna save us a whole bucket of awkward here and cut to the chase.” Yang rolled her eyes. “You expected Ruby to help you with girl problems? Jaune, she’s a kid when it comes to these things.”

“She’s a team leader,” Jaune said weakly. “And we just celebrated her eighteenth birthday a few weeks ago.”

“She’s still my kid sister no matter how old she is,” Yang said, “And she still drools more over people’s weapons than she does their equipment. No, she can’t help you here.”

“I see,” Jaune said. He cleared his throat. “Well, I’ll just be on my way, then-“

“Oh no. I’m not done with you yet.” Yang’s eyes glimmered. She didn’t particularly care for Jaune, but she could hardly leave her sister’s friend hanging. Plus, he probably had a few things the school couldn’t stop talking about…

“Come on, make with the pictures,” she said with her most winning smile.

“Uh.”

“I’m not gonna do anything,” Yang said. “I just want to see what’s got so many people talking.”

She wasn’t lying. If Coco had really started selling photos half as salacious as the rumors said, then that might mean trouble for her from the professors. If students started selling themselves as pin-up models, that might not be good for Beacon’s public image as an elite, professional school for future huntsmen and huntresses.

Jaune reluctantly handed over his scroll. Yang opened up the package Coco had sent him: three file folders, each one showing her in a different outfit, and each more salacious than the last. But as Yang scrolled through the albums, she found that Coco really hadn’t shown any of her really naughty bits. She kept her panties on and always had her arms placed just so, denying any glimpse of a nipple. It was mildly scandalous and possibly provocative, but there was no outright nudity. She could have been wearing pasties the whole time and no one would know.

Still, the shots that showed her taut, statuesque figure from behind were pretty darn revealing. Coco’s ass was way better than Yang would admit to anyone that wanted to keep their ears.

“Huh,” Yang said. “You know, it’s almost a shame she didn’t go all the way. There’s just something about it that makes me want to be there and see for myself...”

“Uh.” Jaune wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. “So… now you understand why Pyrrha is upset,” he said, changing the subject.

“Yeah.” Yang paused. “Matter of fact, wasn’t Coco charging for some of these?”

“Uh. Yes, she was. But…”

“She gave them to you for free, didn’t she?” Yang grinned. “You dog.”

“Hey, I had nothing to do with this!”

“Don’t worry. I believe you,” Yang said. “But now it’s easy to see why Pyrrha’s so on edge. She probably knows you were just being used to… promote Coco’s brand? Yeah, that’s it. So she’s not really upset at you for getting these.” Yang wagged a finger at him. “But you haven’t deleted them, either.”

“No,” Jaune said. “No, I did not do that. I should definitely have done that.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Mr. Team Leader,” Yang said. She handed him back his scroll. “Pyrrha doesn’t own you. You can do whatever you want with those. But as long as you have ‘em, Pyrrha will be comparing herself to Coco, whether she admits it or not.”

“So you’re saying I shouldn’t delete them.”

“I’m saying Pyrrha might not have a very thick skin when it comes to you, Jaune.” Yang winked.

“Hm.” Jaune glanced downwards.

Yang shook her head. He could really be oblivious sometimes, even if he was a leader. “So. There’s that. Plus… I think she’s upset with the reaction Coco’s getting.”

“How so?” Jaune asked, confused.

“Think about it. Coco’s gone out and released a whole bunch of sexy photos, and now she’s the talk of the school. Suddenly, popularity isn’t about who’s the strongest warrior or who’s the best student. It’s about who’s the sexiest. And she’s never thought about whether it’s even okay to be seen as a woman, and not a warrior.”

“Now you’re just confusing me.”

“This is just guessing,” Yang said. “I’m not really sure myself. But Coco’s gone and been all sexual up in everybody’s business. Now half the school is wondering if she’ll get in trouble for it… or if she’ll make more.”

“And Pyrrha might not be comfortable with either,” Jaune said, comprehension dawning.

“Now you get it.” Yang said. “Pyrrha doesn’t know how to tease. She might even think it would make her look bad as a warrior if she did. So naturally she might think that the same is true of everyone else... but that cleavage window in her armor isn’t there for no reason.”

“Now my head hurts.”

“Good. If you think you know girls, the only thing that’s sure is that you’re wrong.” Yang punched him in the shoulder.

Jaune rubbed his arm and gave her a sheepish smile. “…Thanks, Yang.”

“No problemo,” she said. “You know, those photos are actually pretty classy, even if she’s down to nothing but her glasses and a scrap of lace.”

“I guess,” Jaune said.

Yang put a hand on her hip and cocked it to one side. “Guys and girls really like those? They don’t think it’s trashy?”

“No,” Jaune said, even more confused. “I haven’t heard anyone say that. Everyone’s pretty impressed.”

“Good,” Yang said, her smile broadening. “Now man up and go talk to Pyrrha. Just don’t say a word about this.”

Jaune nodded and practically dashed out the door. Yang watched him leave and chuckled. All this over a pack of pictures? Some people really needed to learn what was worth being upset over and what wasn’t.

She wondered what was it like to be Coco at that moment. Yang was used to being the talk of the town, but not for just her body. She knew the boys loved her- and the feeling was often mutual. She knew what it was like to be wanted.

But what did Coco feel when she decided to break loose and let everyone see her like that? Did she worry about being judged? Did she care about what other people thought? What would possess someone to strip down in front of a camera, just for a few lien?

The answer was so blindingly obvious that Yang smacked herself in the forehead. It wasn’t because Coco wanted to be the sexiest or hottest girl in Vale. It wasn’t about turning herself into a piece of paper to be bought and sold. That was just what idiots labeled it as.

Coco got in front of the camera for the same reason Yang trained so hard: it was for power, pure and simple. The kind of power that came with knowing yourself, pushing your limits, and owning what came of it. The special thrill of crossing boundaries that other people put in place just to tempt you to break them. The strength that flowed from raw confidence and iron will.

Yang leaned against the wall and dreamed of her next adventure.

Chapter Text

“This isn’t right,” Coco squirmed. “I feel naked.”

Velvet munched on her salad, saying nothing. Instead, she merely stared at the pair of sunglasses on the table.

Coco clasped her hands together. Her deep brown eyes flicked between Velvet and the glasses. “I look better with them on. You know it.”

Velvet took another bite of salad.

“Come on,” Coco huffed. “People are staring.”

It was lunchtime at the Beacon cafeteria. Students flowed around Coco and Velvet’s table like water. Every so often a boy or girl would do a double-take to look back at Coco, but they knew better than to linger. Seeing her without her glasses was unheard of, and enticing in a weird way- but was it really worth it to gawk and risk her fierce yet fashionable wrath?

Finally, Velvet put down her fork. She gingerly placed a finger on the glasses’ bridge and looked her leader in the eyes. “You want to put them back on? So soon? It’s only been a few minutes.”

“It was a bad idea to take them off,” Coco said. “My outfit looks weird without them.”

Velvet raised an eyebrow. One of her ears twitched.

“I have to maintain my brand, Velvet.” Coco blinked twice, trying not to rub her eyes. “People expect to see me wearing those.”

Slowly, deliberately, Velvet pushed Coco’s glasses towards her. She let out a sigh. “Okay, Coco. You know best.”

Coco grimaced. “Ugh,” she said, trying and failing to fight the weight of Velvet’s disappointment. She painfully broke her gaze away from the glasses. “You were supposed to tell me no.”

“This was your idea…”

“Don’t remind me,” Coco groaned. “You’re not supposed to be this good at guilt-tripping me, you dumb bunny.”

“I’m sorry, Coco.”

“Yeah. See? That.”

The two girls ate their lunches in silence, with only occasional fidgeting from Coco. Velvet couldn’t say she was entirely unhappy with the role reversal. Not that she liked seeing Coco uncomfortable; far from it… but it was nice to be the calm, confident girl for once. All Velvet had to do was get Coco’s glasses off and her confidence evaporated into thin air.

Even after her “close-up” two days ago, Coco still had a huge hang-up over her glasses. In hindsight, Velvet really couldn’t expect her to magically get over a decade of self-consciousness in a few hours. After all, it wasn’t like the pair she’d smashed was her only one. But what Velvet could do was try and help Coco reach a few simple goals. For example, making sure she took off her glasses when she was eating. Just some simple stuff. Simple stuff that Coco would, apparently, need a little encouragement with.

“Hey, guys! Room for one more?”

Velvet looked over her shoulder and found herself staring into a canyon of cleavage. Yang Xiao Long stood behind her, carrying a plate of chicken salad and sporting a gold-medal grin. Velvet hadn’t spent too much time with Yang over the past three years, but Ruby’s sister was definitely a nice girl- even if she was a little intense to be around. She was a little like Coco in that she had the same kind of (apparently) unshakeable confidence, but Yang just didn’t know how to dial herself back. Being around her was like sitting in the front row of a roller coaster: fast-paced, full of ups and downs, and never a dull moment. For good or for bad.

“Help yourself,” Coco said, waving at the spot across from her.

“Thanks!” Yang slid onto the bench next to Velvet, who quickly scooted a few inches away. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel comfortable around Yang; it was more a reflex than anything else. Too many years of having her ears pulled could lead to the worst habits.

There was a few seconds of awkward silence. Yang kept smiling, but Coco didn’t bother engaging her. She just kept picking at her quinoa and waiting. Velvet stayed quiet as well, not sure what to say.

“So… finally done with the glasses, huh?” Yang asked. “You look better without them. Cuter, you know? I like it.”

Coco gave her a nonplussed stare. “Thanks, I guess.”

Another awkward silence. Velvet grew nervous, despite trying to fight it. She wanted to run from how obviously uncomfortable everyone was, but she was trapped. She hated the tension in the air; that feeling never led to anything good for Faunus like her.

Sensing Velvet’s nervousness, Coco took a breath and straightened up. She couldn’t just sit back and let her poor teammate suffer like this, even if it meant getting out of this without having to deal with Yang’s compliments, no matter how well-meaning they might be.

“So,” Coco said, summoning up as much false enthusiasm as she could. “What’s up, Yang?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Yang said, relieved. Things went so much easier when people were just friendly with each other from the start. “I just wanted to tell you how awesome you were in those photos.”

The corners of Coco’s mouth turned up in a slight smile. That was a compliment she could appreciate. “I always love hearing from my fans. What did you think of the camera work?”

“The camera guy?” Yang shrugged. “Pretty good. I mean, you looked great. What more is there to say?”

“You should be congratulating the photographer, too,” Coco said, a hint of pride in her voice. “Even if they don’t want to take any credit. Photo shoots are stories that take two to tell. For those shots, I worked with the most talented photographer I’ve ever had.”

Velvet knew Coco was trying to boost her spirits, but there was no way she actually believed what she said. There was just no way. Coco had practically walked her through the whole thing; Velvet was just doing what she’d been told. There was no way she was actually as good as Coco said.

“I never really thought about it that way,” Yang said. “Yeah, the guy behind the camera must have had some really great ideas! In fact, the way you talk about him, he sounds pretty cool. I’d totally buy him a drink.”

Velvet crossed her hands over her lap as she tried to pretend she wasn’t there. Coco’s grin grew to positively Cheshire proportions. “Oh, really?”

“Yeah!” Yang said. “I’m sure he’d love to hang out with a huntress like me. We could swap stories, hit the dance floor, maybe even snap a few photos.” Yang leaned forward. “Think he’d be down?”

“I think you’re treating this like a game,” Coco said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Modeling is tough, Yang. It takes a lot of skill and practice to make good photos.”

“Well, yeah.” Yang said. “I mean, I’d try to learn from him. Obviously. But modeling sounds like fun, too. You know?”

“I’m not so sure about that.”

Velvet felt herself growing nervous again, and it wasn’t because they were talking about her. Coco had put a finger on the bridge of her sunglasses, and was sliding them back and forth on the table in a sort of nervous tic.

Yang’s eyes flicked to the table. She’d picked up on it, too. “Coco, are you saying you didn’t have fun doing those photos?”

Coco shook her head. “…No. In fact, that was the most fun I’ve ever had in front of a camera.”

Velvet blushed. She definitely believed that.

“So what’s the problem?” Yang asked.

Coco picked up her sunglasses and slid them back on. Velvet instantly saw her leader’s old confidence and poise flow right back into her- but she was colder, somehow. Like she’d put up a wall between herself and the world.

“If you really want to be in front of the camera, Yang, it’s not just about confidence,” Coco said. “You have to be ready to take direction. You’ve got to be willing to take criticism. You’ve got to open up to people and let them see the real you. Sometimes, it’s not always fun.”

Yang nodded. “I can do that.”

Coco gave her a half-grin. “Good. Just answer me one more question, and I’ll ask my photographer if they’d like to meet you.”

Yang leaned so far forward she was practically falling out of her seat. “Hit me with your best shot.”

“You’re a huntress. You’ve got a job. Why do you want to try out modeling? What makes you want to put yourself out there?”

Yang didn’t even hesitate. “Because it’s what I want to do.”

“But why?”

“Because it’s exciting,” Yang said breathlessly. “Because it’s something new and thrilling. Because I want to dive right into it. Because when I step in front of that camera, it’s just like you said: I’ll be putting myself in front of everyone.” Yang clenched her fist. “And I take on all challengers.”

Coco sat silently for a minute, then nodded. “All right. You sound like you could actually have some fun with this, Yang. I’ll see if my photographer’s interested.”

Yang pumped her fist in triumph. “Yes!”

“Cute. You sound a little like your sister,” Coco smirked. “Now get out of here before you warm my cold and bitter heart.”

“And you sound like her partner!” Yang laughed as she stood and grabbed her lunch tray. “Thanks for hooking me up!”

Coco waited until the sight of Yang’s golden mane had rounded the cafeteria’s door, then she turned to Velvet. “Wow. I don’t think she even noticed you were here.”

“That’s fine,” Velvet said. “Really.”

“You sure? She really wanted to get your number, honey. Those photos were way better than you give yourself credit for.”

“Coco, please,” Velvet said, her voice barely audible over the lunchtime din. “I don’t want people to think of me as the Faunus who takes naughty photos. It’d be weird.”

“Even if they’re really good naughty photos?”

Velvet hunched her shoulders. “You helped a lot.”

“Not for the ones in the closet…” Coco grinned devilishly. Velvet blushed. “Come on, Velvet. Think about it. You’ve got a gift, girl! You bring out sides of people they probably didn’t even know they had. Hell, it’s even your Semblance!”

“I guess…”

“No guessing.” Coco tipped Velvet’s chin up with a delicate finger. “I think you can give Yang what she’s looking for. Show her a good time with the camera. Let her have some fun, remind me that modeling doesn’t have to be all work, and convince yourself that you’ve got talent. Three Grimm, one stone.”

“But...” Velvet bit her lip. “What if my photos are bad? What if Yang thinks I’m weird? What if-“

Coco pressed her finger over Velvet’s lips, cutting her off. “Shhh. You’re amazing, Velvet. You know where to find the river of inspiration you swam down a few days ago. You just have to have the courage to dive back in.”

Velvet sat stunned as Coco pulled away. If she believed in her that much…

“If you want, I’ll handle the details with Yang and give you a few tips before you start… but you really don’t need them, Velvet,” she said. “What do you say?”

It was all Velvet could do to nod. Just like that, it was time for her to sink or swim.

 

 


 

 

3:00. Freight elevator 4, sublevel 3, key code 1337. Bring your bike.

A text like that might make most girls a little wary, but not Yang. When she got Coco’s message, the first thing she did was cheer loud enough to startle Zwei off his bed. Then she reached for her keys.

The elevator doors opened like stage curtains to reveal a plain storage room. It wasn’t that big- but there was just enough room for a proper entrance. With a roar that could deafen an Ursa, Bumblebee’s engine thundered to life. It shot into the storage room, jerking to a halt quick enough to tilt the bike far forward on its front wheel. As Bumblebee rose perpendicular to the ground, Yang kicked off the bike, gracefully flipping herself over the handlebars. She landed on her feet at the exact same time Bumblebee’s rear wheel came back down.

“Pop goes the wheelie!” she said, beaming. Bumblebee’s engine purred contentedly and shut itself off.

Her one-woman audience was less than amused. Coco groaned and rubbed her temples. “You had it right until you said that. It was cool, then you killed it. Brutally.”

“I take back what I said about you earlier,” Yang sighed. “At least Weiss appreciates wordplay.”

She looked around the room, which was mostly bare except for cargo boxes, a few lights and a carved wooden chair. They’d been arranged around a backdrop of simple white marble, with white sheets spread over the hard floor.

“So… where’s the cameraman? I’d hate for all that to go to waste, it took for-ever to get the timing right.”

“She’s over there, behind the boxes,” Coco said. “I warned her you might decide to make a loud entrance, so she came prepared.”

Yang peered around Coco to see a quivering, wide-eyed girl looking back at her. She was wearing three pairs of earmuffs, four woolen hats, and holding her hands to her head like it would fall off. Two tufts of brown Faunus ears poked out from the bottoms of her many layers of head gear.

“…Velvet? She took your photos?” Yang asked, shocked. How could someone who had been so bad at something suddenly get so good? And so fast! Even Ruby, who barely had anything but nice things to say about everyone, had struggled to find words to describe Velvet’s photos. What had changed?

Her hesitation earned an icy glare that Yang could feel even through Coco’s sunglasses. “I mean… of course she’s your photographer!” Yang said. “Um… is she okay back there?”

“I-I-I-I’-m o-o-o-okay,” Velvet quavered. “J-j-j-j-just g-g-g-g-give m-m-m-me a-a- s-s-sec.”

“Oh. Uh, oops.” Yang scratched the back of her neck nervously. “I guess it was a little loud.”

“I’m amazed she can hear you at all,” Coco said. “It’s a wonder you didn’t deafen all four of her ears.” Or send her scampering, she added to herself.

Velvet may have been used to fighting Grimm, but the noise combined with the enclosed space was just too much. As Velvet started removing her many layers of headgear, Coco just hoped that Velvet wouldn’t be too put off by Yang’s entrance to listen to Coco’s suggestions for the shoot. Bikes were sleek, bikes were sexy, and a good photo of Yang on one would be both. Well, she’d already given Velvet her pep talk. Now for Yang.

“This is your first time doing glamour, right?” Coco asked.

“Glamour? Yeah, but don’t worry,” Yang said. “I studied plenty of Atlesian pin-up posters. I’ve got lots of ideas for poses.”

“That’s what I thought you’d say,” Coco said dryly. “Listen. Just let me give you some tips, and I promise to leave you and Velvet alone so you can get to it.”

That, and Coco didn’t trust herself to not criticize every out-of-place lock of hair on Yang’s head. She knew she’d have serious trouble staying quiet if she saw Yang making the very mistakes Coco had spent countless hours in front of mirrors to learn how to avoid. Yang wasn’t the type to take criticism well, and Coco didn’t want anything spoiling Velvet’s shoot. Especially not Coco herself.

“Sure, I guess,” Yang said, though she glanced at the set impatiently. “I’m all ears. I mean, I’m less ears than Velvet, but you get the idea.”

“Thanks. I’ll try to be quick.” Coco pushed her glasses higher up her nose and squared her shoulders. “You might think Glamour is all about being sexy. It’s not. You have to be alluring and charming above all else. That’s how you draw the viewer in. Be classy yet coy. Be confident without being arrogant.”

“So… be me?” Yang smiled. “I can do that.”

“I think you might have missed the last one.” Coco frowned slightly. “I guess… I’ll just tell you the piece of advice that helped me the most. Just make sure to have some fun with the camera. Connect with the person behind the camera to tell a story you both believe in. Enjoy your time with the photographer, and you’ll be the most beautiful model there is.”

“That... kind of makes sense,” Yang said. “I don’t really know about telling a story, but I can promise that I’ll have as much fun as I can.”

“Good,” Coco said. “Good luck, road warrior.”

With that she stepped into the elevator and hit the button for Beacon’s garage. Her work here was done, no matter how badly she wanted to see what happened next.

 

 


 

 

Yang drummed her fingers against her motorcycle’s seat, bobbing her head to a tune only she could hear.

It must be nice to have theme music for your life, Velvet thought.

Yang was practically a walking guitar solo already, but her outfit dialed it up to eleven. She wore a cream-colored jacket that yawned open to show off her dynamite assets. The black cups of the bustier underneath begged the eye for attention, contrasting with Yang’s equally inviting white cleavage and complementing the jacket’s black sleeves.

As if that wasn’t enticing enough, Yang had chosen a black miniskirt that could barely have stretched a few inches below her jacket, which gave way to a few tantalizing inches of her naked thighs. Garter straps raced upwards from her thigh-high black boots, daring the world to follow the black elastic to the tantalizing finish line beneath Yang’s skirt.

And, of course, Yang knew how to accessorize with the best of them. The twin bracelets of Ember Celica matched perfectly with her gold-studded boots and the blazing yellow trim of her jacket sleeves. Elegant twin belts graced her waist. A lilac kerchief, tucked into the space between her jacket and skirt, drew out the light purple of her eyes.

Yang was, in a word, overwhelming. There wasn’t a single man or woman alive that could ignore the raw sexual energy pouring off her. The swell of her breasts, the curve of her hips, the creamy skin of her thighs, her teasing yet impatient eyes- Yang’s outfit amplified every part of the woman in her. Yang embraced her sexuality with a passion unrivaled in anyone Velvet had ever met.

Velvet realized she was still trembling slightly. She told herself it was from the noise.

“Hey, Velvet,” Yang said, giving her an apologetic smile. “If I knew you were hiding back there, I wouldn’t have blasted in here like that.”

“I-It’s okay,” Velvet said. She held her camera by her side, unsure what to do.

Make your model comfortable, Coco’s voice reminded her. Make things natural and keep your camera clicking. You never know when your best shot might happen.

“I… like your outfit,” Velvet said, her ears bobbing once in appreciation.

“It’s pretty sweet, isn’t it?” Yang ran a finger down the lapel of her jacket. “Once I got the top, I just had to throw something together. Best part? The emblems on my boots were free! Can you imagine?”

“Wow,” Velvet breathed. “Did the clothier recognize you from the tournament?”

“Of course he did. Either that, or he just really likes it when pretty girls come to his store. He’s a sucker when you try on clothes with the curtains ‘accidentally’ slid back a few inches.” Yang winked.

The sight of Yang shamelessly teasing a shopkeep popped into Velvet’s head. Yang stood behind an askew changing stall curtain, trying to hide her grin while she slid her top over her head, making sure to lift her breasts with the cloth for that extra bounce as they were revealed. Velvet couldn’t help it; she blushed.

“For a nudie photographer, your buttons aren’t exactly hard to push, either,” Yang giggled. “It’s kinda cute.”

Velvet hunched her shoulders. “Sorry. I’m not really used to this yet.”

“Hey, that makes two of us.” Yang walked around the set, taking it all in. “For a newbie, you sure did some nice work for Coco. She made me promise to keep you a secret, too. Is she gonna use you as her secret weapon to take over the world? ‘Cause that’s what it feels like.”

“Take over the world?” Velvet asked. “No. I just don’t like people staring.”

“You don’t want the attention?” Yang shrugged. “Hey, I get that. But life’s a lot more fun when you know people are interested in what you’re doing, you know? Sometimes it’s cool to sit back and let people appreciate you for being you.”

That was easy for Yang to say. She was beautiful, strong, and everyone loved her. “So that’s why you wanted me to… you know,” Velvet said, changing the subject.

“Sort of. Kind of. Not really.” Yang stopped her pacing. “I don’t really care how many people would be interested in buying pictures of me. That’s shallow stuff.”

“Then why?”

Yang crossed her arms and puffed out her prodigious chest. “Because no matter how fun it is to be told you’re awesome, it’s always more fun to be awesome.”

As weird as it was to admit, Yang totally made sense. Coco could tell her how talented she was as many times as she liked, but the only times Velvet had really felt talented was when she was caught up in the thrill of taking pictures. The sense of timelessness that she could only feel when she lost herself in her work, the feeling of accomplishment and overwhelming pride. That was what Yang meant.

Velvet had only felt that way twice- but, she realized, Yang must feel that way all the time… or at least she wanted to. If Yang wasn’t chasing the thrill of living, she wasn’t really alive.

“And you are awesome, Yang.” Velvet raised her camera. She wasn’t sure when her trembling had stopped. “Let’s get it on tape.”

“All right!” Yang said with a pump of her fist. “Be sure to get my good side! So, you know, any angle’s fine.”

Velvet started with what everyone first saw when they looked at Yang: a shot of her upper body, breasts front and center, closely followed by a fist to the camera. It was cheesy, it was goofy, but it was Yang. She knew exactly what Velvet was doing, and she loved it.

“Pow!” Yang said, popping her gauntlets to their full size. She struck a fighting pose straight out of a video game, with her feet miles apart and arms raised comically high. “Round one!”

Of course, with Yang’s wide stance, her miniskirt rode up dangerously high. Velvet hesitated before taking the picture- but then she realized Yang wasn’t using her aura to keep her skirt in place like she normally would. A sly grin confirmed that she was doing it intentionally.

Velvet circled around Yang, getting the pose from every angle. From above, where Yang’s cleavage threatened to burst from her black bustier. From the back, where her skirt threatened to slide all the way up to the swell of her butt. From the front, where Velvet could see the very top of Yang’s inner thighs.

Yang started breathing harder as Velvet’s camera went lower and lower. Her smile grew the lower she went, and she clenched her fingers in excitement when the camera caught a picture of her from an almost-scandalous angle.

Velvet pulled away quickly, but Yang was almost disappointed she did. Velvet may not have been interested in snapping upskirt photos of Yang, but somewhere out there, there would be some people who would do very dirty things to have them. The thought made her heart race.

It was Yang’s decision to make. She could ask Velvet to move that camera exactly where she wanted it to be. She could make any naughty photo she felt like, and no one could stop her.

Yang changed poses, this time choosing a classic tease. She bent over, put one hand on her knee, and the other beneath her breasts. She offered the silken swell of her cleavage to the camera with the raunchiest grin she could manage.

It was hard for Velvet not to get caught up in Yang’s excitement. Beads of sweat had broken out on her brow, and she sincerely hoped her face wasn’t as red as it felt.

“I bet everyone wants to see more of these,” Yang said after Velvet clicked the shutter. She bounced her breasts up and down with her arm. “Think it might be fun to show off a little?”

“Whatever you want to do…” Velvet said. She’d tried to be non-committal, though the way she said it, it sounded more like a come-on.

“Ooh, sounds like someone’s having fun!” Yang laughed. She straightened up and, with a single hand, undid the first of her two belts. Yang obligingly waited for the camera to click before she dropped it to the floor and did the same for the other.

Velvet couldn’t lie to herself. She was having fun. Watching Yang unzip her jacket, seeing her strip down one item at a time, it excited her on so many levels. That Yang was comfortable enough to do this in front of her, that she trusted her to capture her on film, and the raw sex of the whole thing… it left her breathless with anticipation.

Ember Celica’s twin bracelets hit the ground, followed by Yang’s jacket and a pair of fingerless gloves. Now all she wore above her waist was a tight, strapless black bustier and a necklace. Her décolletage thrust her firm, full breasts upwards in a glorious display of cleavage.

“Rawr,” Velvet found herself saying. “Look out, world. Here comes Yang.”

Yang smirked and thrust out her chest. “It’s true. Nobody can resist the yin-Yangs.”

Velvet giggled and shook her head. “Sorry, Yang. That pun was a bit of a Xiao Long shot.”

“Ha! Why aren’t you on my team?” Yang laughed. “I need someone on my level.”

“That might be a little tricky, Yang. You’re hard to compete with.”

As she said it, Velvet made it very obvious she was zooming in on Yang’s breasts. Yang squeezed her upper arms together, squeezing her breasts to make a mountain of eye-popping cleavage.

“Yeah, I guess I am,” Yang said with a sly grin.

A few poses later (each one zooming in closer and closer on Yang’s breasts), Velvet lowered her camera and pointed at Yang’s bike. “Do you think you could move that over here? Without, you know…”

“Yeah, I’ll keep the engine off. No worries.”

Yang walked her motorcycle onto the set while Velvet cleared away the chair and moved the sheets around its wheels. It only took her a moment to be right back to snapping photos. Yang leaned back against Bumblebee casually; with her arms back, her chest thrust out again. Velvet had no complaints.

“Could you get on the bike?” Velvet asked, still snapping photos.

“Sure!” Yang lifted her leg to get up, with predictable results for her miniskirt. Velvet’s camera caught Yang’s extremely unladylike pose: one leg above the bike, flashing the crotch of her tight black panties. With her legs spread, there was even a bit of white skin visible around the sides of her gusset.

“Sorry,” Velvet blushed. “I’ll delete that one.”

“What? No!” Yang said. “Heh, why do you think I even wear a skirt this short on a bike? You’re fine. Just make sure it’s not too obvious I’m flashing them, you know? Make it fun!”

“Uh…” Velvet hesitated. Her blush came back in full force when she realized what she was about to ask. “Well… if that’s what you want… then maybe try that again? So I can get a better angle?”

Yang was only too happy to help. She slid off her bike and repeated the mounting motion, this time going extra-slowly to show off every extra inch of black underwear as it came into view. She pretended to be focused on her bike, but the sly look in her eyes gave away how much fun she was having.

“I think I got it. Thanks,” Velvet said. She held her camera like it was about to catch fire. She’d taken naughty pictures before- but she’d never directed them.

It made her feel like she had eaten butterflies for breakfast.

One she’d mounted her bike, Yang wasted no time in posing. She gripped the handlebars and stuck out her rear end in as daredevil a position as possible, as if she were riding a highway at breakneck speed. Of course, since all she was wearing was her boots, garter-belted stockings, skirt and bustier, it came off as something else entirely.

Velvet took picture after picture, but as she did, she noticed that Yang’s skirt was beginning to ride up. It was subtle, but with every picture, Yang’s skirt inched higher up her thighs. A few moments later, Velvet could begin to see the curvy white skin of Yang’s butt.

Yang’s wicked grin told her all she needed to know.

With a wiggle of her hips, Yang released the tension in her skirt. It slid up over the crest of her butt, baring the black panties that clung to her ass so tight they might as well not have been there at all. The thin material didn’t even cover her all the way; Yang’s curvaceous ass peeked out of the edges of her panties in a tantalizing display. Her garter straps only added an extra layer of tease, running still higher up her body.

“I kinda want to do that on the roads,” Yang said, “But I’d probably cause a rear-end collision.”

“Yang,” Velvet snickered. “I can’t hold the camera still if I’m trying not to laugh.”

“All right, all right. No more puns. I promise.”

After another few pictures, Yang reached for a hidden zipper in her skirt. She made sure to let Velvet get plenty of shots as she unzipped it. With a flourish, she tossed the heap of fabric away, leaving her with a garter belt and too-tight panties.

Now it’s a pin-up,” Yang purred. She rolled onto her back, putting her head up against the handlebars and letting her legs fall over each side of the bike. Her hair fanned out around her, highlighting the black and yellow paint of her bike.

The pose was dripping with desire. It was ten times beyond a simple “come-hither” pose. But most of all, it was scorching hot.

Velvet loved it.

Taking pictures of Yang was so different than working with Coco. Whereas Coco had been calm and collected in her first sets, Yang simply let her intuition guide her. Coco’s every move was practiced and calculated for maximum tease’ she knew exactly what she wanted to do, and she did it with ease. Yang didn’t know any of Coco’s tricks with the camera, but she made up for it with raw energy and enthusiasm. The difference was night and day, and Velvet could hardly help being caught up in the moment.

So she really couldn’t be blamed for playing along. She really, really couldn’t.

“Could you… move to the sheets?” Velvet said. “I think you would look great on the floor.”

“Oh, hell yes. I thought you’d never ask.” Yang practically threw herself to the sheets. She slid off her boots, revealing the black stockings attached to her garter straps.

Velvet had Yang move through poses lying on the ground, facing the camera from all directions. From the front, lying on her belly, she showed off her amazing cleavage and ass. From the side, with the full shape of her breasts visible. And, of course, the old-as-time pose on her back, arms outstretched.

Velvet’s heart nearly jumped out of her chest as Yang reached for the clasps on the back of her bustier.

“Hey, Velvet…” Yang said. “When Coco did her photos, was she actually topless?”

“Um…” Was that something she should say? Well, it wasn’t like Coco would mind… “Yes, she was.”

Yang smiled. “Good.”

She undid the final clasp of her black bustier and tossed it away, baring her creamy breasts for the camera.

Yang’s breasts were a model of voluptuous beauty. They were just as firm and wonderfully inviting as they had been in her bustier. Her large pink nipples were surrounded by circles of equally large, puffy areolas.

Velvet almost forgot to take her photos. In her mind, she’d still been comparing Yang to Coco. She was so different than Coco in every way, right down to the tiny details of her body. Judging by the satisfied smirk on Yang’s face, she knew exactly what Velvet was thinking.

“Oh, my bad,” Yang said, pretending to be apologetic. “I’m supposed to tease, aren’t I?”

She took a few locks of her hair and draped them over her breasts like golden waterfalls. It was tough for her to completely cover the rosy tips of her breasts, but she eventually got it. Velvet gulped as she took the photos. She felt like she was crossing some kind of line, but she didn’t know if she’d stepped over it, or if Yang had carried her.

Velvet took pictures of Yang’s breasts from every angle. Some were tasteful, some weren’t. It didn’t matter. Yang didn’t care, and neither did she. Velvet lost herself in the moment, knowing that the pictures she was taking would drive people wild. How many men and women had fantasized about having Yang Xiao Long in lying on the sheets front of them, completely topless?

Yang got on her hands and knees, letting her breasts sway back and forth as she crawled towards Velvet. She looked every bit like a hungry predator, but not the kind that scared her. In fact, she wanted to come a little closer…

Velvet found herself mere inches from Yang. Her camera was right above Yang’s head, looking down the length of her body. Her lens saw every delicate curve, every tender part, every breath she took. From the tip of her golden head to the bottom of her stockings, Yang glowed with life.

“I love this,” Yang shuddered. “I feel like I’m the only girl in the world.”

“That sounds kind of lonely,” Velvet said.

Yang looked up. Not at the camera, but at Velvet. Her eyes were dilated in pure ecstasy, drawing Velvet deep into her violet gaze.

“It doesn’t feel very lonely.”

The shutter clicked. Velvet smiled.

There they sat, saying nothing for what seemed a very long time.

“Hey…” Yang said. “We don’t have to share all the photos…”

“No,” Velvet said. “We don’t.”

“We could keep a few for ourselves. Ones that make you tingle because people don’t have them.”

“Secret photos,” Velvet said softly. “I think I know what you mean.”

“Yeah. I want photos for me. Not anyone else.”

Yang lay back on the sheets and unclasped her garter belt and undid its straps. Slowly, gingerly, she slid her stockings off.

“Just you,” Velvet said. “I promise.”

Yang closed her eyes and let out a long, shuddering sigh. With a delicate motion, she slid her fingers into the sides of her panties.

Velvet caught every moment on camera. From the curl of the soft fabric when Yang began to peel it down her body, to the flush on her face when her panties crested her clean-shaven mound, to the first glimpse of her soft lips. Velvet got it all.

Yang flicked her panties off her toe, not caring where they landed. All that mattered was the heat between her legs. She slid a single finger inside herself, feeling the wetness that had been building up the whole time. Slowly, Yang began to stoke her fire.

It didn’t take long at all before Yang was panting and gasping for breath. With a cry of passion and ultimate release, she came to a shuddering climax. Her face was flushed, her eyes closed, her mouth wide as she let herself go.

It was pure intimacy.

Yang slid to the ground and collapsed in a puddle of post-orgasm bliss. She smiled up at Velvet, who was, if anything, redder than she was.

“Too hot for you?” Yang asked, her voice just a little hoarse.

“No,” Velvet said. “Whatever you want, remember?”

“Heh. You did say that.” Yang sighed. “I wonder what I looked like doing that. It felt great, but…”

“You looked beautiful. Trust me.” Velvet put her hand on Yang’s. “And nobody’s going to see that but you.”

“And you,” Yang said with a smile. “I think I can handle sharing my jerk-off session with the one who saw it.”

“Okay." Velvet paused. "And… you shouldn’t really feel weird about it.”

“Don’t tell me,” Yang groaned. “Coco did it too.”

It would have been wildly inappropriate to giggle like a schoolgirl right then, but Velvet did it anyway.

Chapter Text

Yang’s naked breasts practically burst out of the computer screen.

Velvet sat hunched forward in her seat, leaning close enough to the monitor for it to tickle her nose. Her hand darted back and forth over the mouse pad, fixing blemishes and darkening shadows, making Yang’s bold curves stand out even than they already did. She caressed Yang’s naked body with a touch that was, in some ways, more intimate than any lover’s.

Velvet lost herself in her work. The empty, twilight-lit computer terminals around her faded away. All that mattered to her was recapturing the rush of emotions that she’d felt when she was with Yang. Excitement. Apprehension. Desire. A recklessness that drove both Velvet and Yang to the edge of their inhibitions, and beyond.

That rush of recklessness had ended with Yang sweaty and panting on the floor of the photo shoot. Velvet had sat, trembling with exhilaration, with her camera held tight to her chest. She didn’t know what it was that made her heart race and her heat rise, but in those moments of intimacy with Yang, she’d felt trusted. It was one of those rare moments where Velvet felt like she belonged at Beacon, a place packed with extraordinary people and incredible talent. In a world where an animal like her could never hope to truly fit in, Velvet had felt more than just welcome: she’d felt needed.

Looking at Yang’s photos was ten times more intoxicating than any of the drinks Coco had shoved in front of her. Seeing her beautiful golden hair cascade over her supple breasts, letting just a hint of pink nipple peek through her curtain of gold, was enough to make Velvet sweat. She shifted back and forth on her seat restlessly as she worked. She was irritated and restless, but somehow in a good way.

Before she knew it, she had finished touching up the photos Yang had given the okay to put online. That left just the ones she’d asked to be kept a secret. The ones she’d trusted Velvet with. The ones where Yang bared it all just for her.

Velvet let out a hot, heavy breath as she clicked through them. There was Yang, with her legs spread and her sex flush with passion. Another image showed her gripping one breast tight as she flicked her finger over the tip of her needy clit. And finally, the moment where her head rocked back and her mouth dropped open as she reached the height of her release.

Velvet squirmed. Her seat was cramped and stifling. Her leggings itched mercilessly beneath her skirt. She looked around, confirming that there was no one on the floor. It was just her, Yang and the burning heat between her legs.

Without waiting another moment, Velvet gave in to her need. She slipped a hand beneath her skirt and ran two fingers up and down her mound, trying desperately to stifle a whimper. She was burning from within, and every time she touched herself, the fire roared higher up her body. She leaned back in her seat, not caring that the hard back stabbed into her shoulder. She pressed harder between her legs, obeying the raw, animal desire driving her. Her leg twitched powerfully, slamming her foot loudly against the tile. Velvet gasped and slid down in her seat, letting her fingers dig deeper, not caring one bit about any rips or tears she might make in her pantyhose. Nothing mattered other than satisfying her aching sex.

Velvet shuddered, giving a tiny whimper in between tight, hurried gasps. Her back arched in spine-tingling pleasure as she pressed harder against herself, thrusting her fingers up and down her sex. She could feel a pressure building between her legs, mere seconds away from letting loose in sweet release.

The near-deafening sound of elevator doors crashing open cut through the haze in Velvet’s mind. A pair of heavy boot-steps pounded towards her desk- she was about to be caught! With a jolt, she tore her hand out from under her skirt and sat up straight. Velvet raced to close all the programs and photos she had been staring at. Her heart pounded in her chest as she thought of a thousand different punishments for what she’d just done. Was she about to be hauled off by a security guard who’d come to arrest her for indecency?

Shame washed over Velvet like a cold shower, quenching the last bit of her animal heat. She deserved to be punished. She was a shameless pervert. It was just like everyone said: she was just a stupid Faunus that couldn’t control herself. She deserved to be caught and thrown in a cage.

The boot-steps came around the privacy screen and revealed a familiar pair of sunglasses. Even at night, Coco refused to part with them. Velvet sighed in relief.

“Didn’t see you back at the room, honey bunch.” Coco said. She gave a knowing smirk. “Did I interrupt anything?”

“N-no,” Velvet said, though she couldn’t hide her flushed cheeks and disheveled skirts. She wanted to crawl into a hole and hide forever.

“Of course I didn’t.” She leaned against the privacy screen, taking note of Velvet’s flushed cheeks and sweaty brow. “So? How’d it go with Yang? Though I think I might already have my answer…”

“It went fine,” Velvet mumbled. Usually, she was fine with Coco’s teasing. She meant well, and no matter how many times she called her silly names, it was much nicer than anything she'd gotten from Team CRDL. Right now, though, it just made her feel guilty.

“Hm. Something’s not right here,” Coco said. “Last time you did a shoot, you were all smiles and sunshine. What’s up, doc? Did Yang snap at you? If so, that’s her problem. That girl can’t take direction at all.”

“No, Coco, Yang was great. It’s just...” Velvet trailed off. She didn’t want to think about what Coco nearly catching her doing, but there was one other thing that was bothering her. “Coco, some of the photos are of Yang, you know… topless. What if I’m crossing some kind of line by posting those?”

Coco took a moment to think. True, Velvet would be crossing a line. The boys (and girls) at Beacon would go absolutely wild over having those pictures. The professors might even take notice. But then again, they might not- no one had pulled her aside about her own photo shoot, and if Professor Oobleck’s lecture was anything to go by, a few might even tacitly support the whole thing. Coco knew what she was doing was art- but what about everyone else?

“Let me guess,” Coco said. “You’re worried about what people are going to think about Yang if you put those up.”

Velvet nodded. “I don’t want people to make her feel weird, or tease her, or call her a fuck bu- I mean, uh, you know. Bad names.”

“Velvet, Yang is the last person you have to worry about people making fun of. Can I see some of the photos?”

Velvet bit her lip. That was true. She opened up the folder she’d set aside for Yang’s “public” photos and pulled a few up. There Yang was, beckoning the camera closer, wearing nothing but a pair of black panties, stockings and garter belt. Her overflowing breasts were pressed together in a mountain of soft skin, her nipples stiff and eager.

“Nice,” Coco grinned. “Girl’s got game. Your work’s not half bad, either.”

“Thanks,” Velvet said, letting herself enjoy the slight praise.

“So what’s the problem? Yang gave you the go-ahead to put these up. She looks great. You did great. Might as well make some money off it, right?” Coco paused. “I’m guessing it’s too much to hope for that you took my advice on how to split the money?”

“Um…” Velvet looked away. She hadn’t thought anything but 50-50 would be fair, no matter what Coco said “industry standard” was.

“Eh, whatever. Not my call.” Coco straightened. “Anyway. Nobody’s gonna tease Yang for these, and the photos have my seal of approval, which I’m going to assume counts for something.”

It took Velvet a while to phrase the question, but Coco was thankfully patient. She ran a hand through her hair, sliding a few fingers around the base of her ears. “I just don’t see how she can be so comfortable doing this,” she said nervously. “I mean, with you, Coco, you’re amazing. You’re used to this kind of thing. But Yang… she’s never posed like this for a camera. How can she be comfortable doing something so… sexual?”

“That’s easy,” Coco replied. “She’s comfortable letting other people see her as sexy.”

Velvet gave her a confused look.

“Think about it,” Coco said. “Look at those photos. Are you surprised to see Yang posing like this? Is it so unbelievable?”

“No… not really,” Velvet said slowly.

“Yang embraces the sexy,” Coco smiled. “She lets it be a part of her. A lot of people have hang-ups about that kind of thing. Yang doesn’t. She’s naturally flirty. She has fun letting people see her as the sexy beast she is.”

Velvet glanced down at “sexy beast.” How could anyone be comfortable being called that?

“But hey.” Coco waved her hand at the screen. “Don’t take my word for it. Just look at her in these photos. She’s having a blast. If you can’t see that, you’re blinder than Fox.”

Velvet stared at Yang’s photo. She remembered her eagerness, her excitement, her raw passion. She’d felt it, too, but that had turned to ash when she’d let herself get carried away. Whenever she let her instincts get the better of her, she felt as dirty as an animal.

Suddenly it all made sense to Velvet. Even when Yang had started masturbating in front of Velvet, that was her decision. Yang didn’t have to worry about the animal in her taking over; she was a human. She didn’t have an animal inside her, waiting to break out. Humans were lucky to be so pure. No wonder Velvet couldn’t be as confident as Yang or Coco; she was a completely different species.

Once again, the mocking voices in the back of her head were one hundred percent right.

“You’re right, Coco,” Velvet said. “Thanks for helping me understand.”

“Any time,” Coco said with a smile. “Now let’s get those babies posted!”

 

 


 

 

Pyrrha watched from the couch as Jaune danced back and forth on his feet in the kitchen. Her team leader was whipping a bowl of heavy cream idly, waiting for the right moment to ask Ren the question on everyone’s minds.

“So, Ren. Buddy,” Jaune finally said. “I’ve been thinking.”

“Hm?” Ren looked up from his measuring cups.

“About this plan of yours,” Jaune said. “The one we are, in fact, doing right now.”

“Mhm.”

“I like the idea,” Jaune said nervously. “You know, give a Nora a fish, feed her for a nanosecond; teach a Nora to fish, feed her for slightly longer. I get that.” He scratched the back of his neck. “But… did you have to start off teaching her to make something with so much sugar?

“UNLIMITED CAKES!” Nora shouted, popping up from behind the kitchen counter. “With this power I’ll NEVER BE HUNGRY AGAIN!”

“She wouldn’t pay attention unless it was cake,” Ren said with a sigh. “Hopefully she’ll branch out to something healthier after she learns the basics.”

“Oh! Oh! Strawberry shortcake is healthy, right?” Nora asked.

“No, Nora,” Ren said. “Strawberry shortcake is not part of a nutritious diet.”

“Rats.”

All Jaune could do was watch in dread as Nora gleefully poured an entire bag of sugar into the cake mix. Hopefully, Ren knew what kind of horror he was unleashing. Pyrrha, still was seated on a couch across the dorm’s common room, simply watched with amusement as the apocalypse unfolded before her.

“I think this whole thing is lovely,” she said. “If this is a new hobby for you, Nora, then I look forward to seeing what kinds of wonderful treats you’ll make.” She wasn’t sugar-coating her words; she actually did look forward to seeing what Nora could do, given proper motivation. Nora was a force to be reckoned with, but only when she felt like it. If she could learn to channel that energy, she’d be unstoppable in anything she chose to do.

“You might have to fight her for those treats,” Jaune whispered, joining her on the couch. “I saw the look in her eyes. It was pure hunger. Hunger and madness.”

“Oh, it’ll be fine,” Pyrrha said, not bothering to give Jaune more room on the couch. If Jaune was going to sit close to her, she was more than happy to let him. “After losing that bet a week ago, I’m sure Nora has learned the value of sharing food.”

The day had been a long one for Nora, but it had been even longer for Jaune and Pyrrha. They’d spent hours trying to keep Nora’s mind off of Ren and what he’d been getting up to without her. The thought of Ren being surrounded by four beautiful girls didn’t sit well with Nora at all. Pyrrha had tried to convince her that Ren was fine, that Ren wasn’t being ordered around like a butler by Weiss, used for target practice by Yang, or made to make thousands of snacks by Ruby. Despite her team’s reassurance, Nora just wouldn’t calm down until Ren made it back safe and sound.

“Speaking of which… how was your day with team RWBY, Ren?” Pyrrha asked. Ren hadn’t said much about his stay, and Nora hadn’t bothered to ask him, being her usual motor-mouthed self.

“That… is a long story,” Ren said tiredly. “I’ll just say that they couldn’t exactly agree on how to have me spend my time. They kept me as busy as a real chef.”

“I saw what they did to poor Ren! He came back covered in whipped cream and missing his favorite torque!” Nora stomped her foot, causing the whole floor to shake. “Don’t worry, Ren. I’ll get it back for you.”

“It’s fine, Nora. And it’s called a toque,” Ren said. “At some point my toque disappeared into Yang’s, ah, jacket pockets. It’s gone now. Forever.”

Nora gasped in horror. “She put your favorite hat in her bra? How dare she!” Nora clenched her fists. “That evil thieving thief with her grand canyon of boobs! I oughta rip that bra right off her and string her up with it! That’ll show her what happens when you mess with Ren!”

“Nora, please just finish the cake mix…”

Nora grumbled, but didn’t press the issue. A few dollops of condensed milk, some sprinkles of cocoa powder, baking soda and a pinch of salt later, they finally poured the cake mix into a pan. It was ready to bake!

Nora clapped excitedly. “How long will it take?”

“A little over an hour,” Ren said. “Then it has to cool for fifteen minutes, and then we can put the ganache and sprinkles on.”

“Over an HOUR?!” Nora wailed. “But… I can’t wait that long! What are we gonna doooooooo?!

“Quietly reflect on our life’s choices?”

“Nope. Too scary,” Nora said. She pulled out her scroll. “MyFace it is!”

Nora pointed the scroll’s camera at herself and took selfie after selfie in front of the oven. She moved from bowl to bowl, licking the batter from the utensils, making sure to take pictures of herself as she ran her tongue over the beaters.

“Nora, what are you doing?” Ren asked, though he knew he’d regret it.

“Nothing!” Nora lied. “Definitely not posting stuff online. Nope!”

Jaune pulled out his own scroll and clicked on the MyFace icon while Pyrrha peered over his shoulder. Sure enough, Team JNPR’s page was filled with pictures of Nora messily licking chocolate batter off a spoon.

“Nora…” Jaune was about to say something leader-like, but one picture caught him off-guard. “Wait, what were you doing with that banana?!”

“Oh, my.” Pyrrha held a hand to her mouth.

“Bananas are healthy!” Nora said.

“Oh, come on! Nora, this is embarrassing!” Jaune slapped a palm to his forehead. “Nora, just take those down, please?”

“You’re no fun,” Nora huffed. “If you wanted us to be cool like team CFVY and RWBY, you’d let me post whatever pictures I wanted.”

“Oh, no. Not this again,” Jaune said. “For the last time, Nora. We are not doing a centerfold.” He paused. “Wait. You said team RWBY did something?”

Pyrrha’s eyes narrowed. She’d expected to hear a certain member of RWBY had done something like that.

“Yeah!” Nora grinned devilishly. “You’re never gonna guess what happened.”

“Yang posed topless?” Ren said, completely unfazed.

“Yang got totally tople-“ Nora glared at him. “How did you know?”

“You weren’t exactly quiet when you found out about it this morning.”

So that’s what the screaming was all about, Pyrrha thought. Nora had been even more excited and hyper than usual. But where had she gotten the money to pay for the photos? She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

“Sooo…” Nora slid between Jaune and Pyrrha, elbowing them both in the sides excitedly. “You two wanna see the biggest bombshells in Beacon? The mightiest milkshakes this side of Mistral? The craziest chumbawumbas on campus?” She glanced in Ren’s direction. “Just don’t show Ren. Yang’s too evil for him.”

Pyrrha was totally lost as to how Nora could go from wanting to strangle Yang to showing off what were obviously racy photos of her, but honestly, she’d given up trying to figure out what was going on in Nora’s head years ago.

The real question was whether Pyrrha herself wanted to see the photos. Jaune was right next to her, biting his lip. He obviously wanted to see them, but was waiting on Pyrrha to see what she’d do. She clasped her hands together in resigned acceptance. Jaune was going to see them at some point or another. At least this way, she’d get to see what he thought of them.

“All right, let’s see what Coco’s gotten Yang into.” Pyrrha said. Jaune breathed a sigh of relief.

“Get ready for a ride!” Nora cheered. She raised her scroll in the air. “Next stop: titty city!”

 

 


 

 

When Pyrrha saw Yang’s photos, she was reminded of a line from a book she’d read long ago.

Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

Yang was beautiful in every way. Even frozen in time, she dripped with confidence and sexuality. The combination of her poise, power, and passion was undeniably arousing, even for Pyrrha- but she didn’t really understand why Yang did it in the first place.

“So? Whaddya think? Eh? Eh?” Nora elbowed Jaune and Pyrrha again.

“It’s… nice,” Pyrrha said. “Very artistic.”

“Really?” Nora said, disappointed. “Wow. I’da thought you’d be a little more excited. At least say she’s got great cha-chas!”

“Some ancient heroes used to go into battle naked,” Pyrrha shrugged. “All their statues are very… anatomically correct. Nudity isn’t really anything special.”

“You sound like Ren sometimes,” Nora groaned.

“She’s not wrong,” Ren called from the kitchen.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Pyrrha said with a smile. “If you’ll excuse me? I need to get some fresh air.”

Pyrrha could feel Jaune’s eyes on her as she left. Maybe he’d follow her out, but it was unlikely. He seemed as confused about all this as she did. Sure enough, he stayed put on the couch as she stepped outside. Perhaps it was for the best.

Vanity of vanities…

While Yang, Coco and Nora might have been helping themselves to an extra-large scoop of vanity (and the author would surely agree) the saying meant something different to Pyrrha. Everything earthly was transient and ultimately destined to fade away. Kingdoms rose up and fell down. Generations were born, generations died out. Mountains cracked and crumbled, standing broken like the moon. Things that might appear permanent were, in reality, smoke and mirrors. Nothing subsisted but the spirit. The book spoke of how the only true glory lay beyond death, in the infinite reach of legacy and true immortality of legend.

Like so many others at Sanctum Academy, Pyrrha put her faith in the power of the human spirit to hold back the darkness. She tried her best to live up to the ancient heroes, the ones whose stories were still told a thousand years after their deaths.

There was always a common thread in the heroes’ stories. They were always selfless, putting others before themselves. They were always flawless, never having lost a battle until the very end, finally sacrificing themselves to seal a foe they had no hope of defeating. They were martyrs from birth, knowing their bloody destiny and embracing it with open arms.

Pyrrha wasn’t so arrogant to think she could stand among their ranks, but she tried. She tried very, very hard. Thousands of hours of practice and training her mind, body and semblance until she was the greatest warrior of her generation, which she’d proven at the Vytal Festival two years ago. Pyrrha had faith that whatever fate had in store for her, she would be ready.

If my destiny is already decided, Pyrrha wondered, then why am I so conflicted?

So when Coco and Yang had taken the academy by storm with their scandalous photo shoots, Pyrrha was shocked to find that she envied them. Green isn’t your color, she’d told herself. You’ve had more days in the spotlight than they have combined. It was true, but it didn’t put her mind at ease.

She was a warrior, proud and strong. She tried to be selfless, caring, and kind to everyone who deserved it- and even those that didn’t. She did her best to be a hero worth remembering, if only for a little while. But despite all the love and adoration she received, despite all her honors and accolades, despite her dreams coming true one by one, not a single accomplishment made her feel complete. She was missing something that came naturally to other people, and it hurt to think about.

Pyrrha suspected it was deeper than simple envy. Coco and Yang knew how to connect with people, and she just… didn’t. She tried to use the excuse that people around her had put her on a pedestal, but that was only half-true. Yang was definitely on a golden pedestal, but that didn’t stop her from having more friends than she could fit in her scroll’s phone book. Even Coco, with her haughty attitude and a sneer for all occasions, had people fawning over her like she was a princess.

Pyrrha didn’t know how to banter, joke, or do anything that didn’t match what her idea of the perfect warrior should be. She could be courteous, she could be friendly, she could devote her whole life to helping others and defending the weak… But still, sometimes she felt like she was made of marble, missing the breath of life that would let her walk and talk like a real person, not a crude mold of an impossible ideal. It was only around her very small circle of friends that she really felt real.

Now things were changing. Her own teammate was trying to join in on whatever Coco and Yang were doing. Nora, far and away the most childish and immature member of team JNPR, was somehow totally comfortable exploring territory that Pyrrha was completely lost in.

It was easy to guess why Yang decided to pose for those photos. She was a thrill-seeker, and she probably enjoyed showing off. Pyrrha couldn’t really relate, unfortunately. While humility wasn’t exactly a virtue in Mistral, neither was hubris.

Coco, though… Coco was where all this started. Why had she done it? What did she get out of it? Money? Celebrity? Thrills? And why did she feel the need to manipulate Jaune into helping out? Had she done the same with Yang? Pyrrha sighed and leaned out on the balcony’s edge. If only her life could be as simple as a battlefield. At least there she could feel like she knew what she was doing.

She couldn’t ask Coco. She couldn’t ask Yang, either- not after Yang had spilled the beans on Blake being a Faunus. Yang was an earnest and well-meaning girl, but not exactly the best at keeping secrets. There was only one person close enough to Coco that could both keep a secret and have some idea what was really going on.

Pyrrha picked up her scroll and typed out her message.

Velvet,

If you’re free tonight at 9:30, I’d like to meet you at the sparring ring. I would greatly appreciate a little practice against your particular style of fighting. Also, if you have time, I’d very much like to talk about a few things afterwards too.

-Pyrrha

 


 

 

The Mojo Dojo’s locker rooms were completely empty save for one brass beauty and one fretting Faunus. Velvet wore her impeccably maintained battle gear, complete with hardened yet flexible gold trim. Her light leggings and tight jacket gave her the mobility and flexibility she needed for her fighting style, plus they were Coco-approved. Any other day, her outfit would have given her confidence. After getting a text from Pyrrha, though, she wanted nothing more than to run and hide.

“She knows,” Velvet whined, her voice high-pitched with stress. “Pyrrha knows I took those photos. She’s going to tell everyone and I’m never going to be able to show my face again. Coco, what do I do?

“Take it easy, girl,” Coco said, taking Velvet’s hand to try and reassure her, though she was hardly calm herself. “All she texted you was that she wanted a chance to fight you right before the ring closes. Maybe she just wants to blow off a little steam.”

Velvet pulled her hand away. “No one wants to fight me, Coco, especially not Pyrrha! It has to be about the photos. She’s hated them ever since you almost got Jaune in trouble with your set, and now she’s got to be super mad over the new ones. Somehow she knows it’s me, she has to!”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Velvet.” Coco shook her head in disbelief. “She wouldn’t want to hurt you because of something like-“

“Of course she would! She wants to get me alone in the ring and force me to confess! She wants the fuck bunny Faunus kicked out of Beacon, just like everyone at lunch and in training and the showers and-”

“Velvet, would you just shut up for a second?!” Coco burst out, shocking Velvet speechless. Coco’s jaw clenched tight. Her teeth flashed white in a barely detectible snarl, and Velvet winced. Coco wasn’t just angry- she was furious.

“How can you be so dense sometimes!? I swear, you’re terrified of your own shadow! You just run from one crisis to another like a scared rabbit, never taking time to feel good about anything you do no matter how amazing it is! It’s insane!” Coco threw her hands up in frustrated exasperation. “How do you even function?!”

“I-I-I’m sorry, Coco,” Velvet said, shying away from her leader. Tears welled in her eyes as she inched towards the locker room door. “Y-you’re right. I’m s-sorry for upsetting you.”

Coco’s anger washed away and gave way to stunned numbness when she saw Velvet’s fear. All the energy went out of her in a rush, and she fell back into a locker door, her bandolier ringing out with a cacophony of clinking metal. Velvet quickly turned to leave, desperate to disappear before she started sobbing.

“Wait,” Coco called, her voice hoarse. “Don’t leave, Velvet. Please.”

Velvet paused with a quivering hand on the door.

“I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry.”

She glanced over her shoulder to find a single tear rolling down Coco’s cheek. She couldn’t remember Coco crying, ever. Not even when she’d had her breakdown in the closet.

Velvet wanted to run away more than anything else. She wanted to hide from Coco’s frustration, from Pyrrha’s suspicion, from the stress of keeping her shameful instincts under control. It would be easy- she could go back to what she’d been doing for the last few years and cut herself off from the world, outside a few minutes of teasing every so often.

But if she left the locker room now, she’d be leaving behind not just the part of herself that scared her, but something that excited her. Something that made Velvet want to take risks, no matter how much she worried about them later. Something that made Coco proud.

She’d also be leaving Coco to cry alone.

With a sniffle that turned to a sob, Velvet rushed into Coco’s arms and wept. Both girls held each other tight as they cried, neither one letting go for what seemed a very long time. They sank to the locker room floor, not caring about how dirty or wet it might have been.

“I’m such a bitch,” Coco cried softly. “You don’t deserve a leader like me.”

Velvet just sniffled into Coco’s shoulder. What could she possibly say? She could hardly speak, much less say anything to make her feel better.

“I just keep hurting people I care about,” Coco said. “Velvet, why can’t I stop? Nicknames, teasing, insults, manipulation… I even made you into a glamour photographer, thinking it could help for some stupid reason. Now I’ve turned you into a nervous wreck.”

Coco took a shuddering breath. “I should have known. Pride, glamour, sex… I dragged you into this kicking and screaming, Velvet, and look what it’s done. I should never have let that part of me out of the closet. All it’s ever done is fuck up everything around me.”

“Me, too,” Velvet said, her face still pressed into Coco’s chest. “I’m sorry, Coco. I can’t control myself sometimes. I just get carried away and let myself go.”

Coco was silent for a minute. She scratched Velvet’s head, running her fingers around the base of Velvet’s long rabbit ears. “Velvet… I don’t know what it’s like being a Faunus. But humans are like that sometimes, too. Especially me.”

Velvet unburied herself from the embrace. She looked deep into Coco’s eyes- or at least, she tried to. Those maddening glasses kept getting in the way. She’d never hated inanimate object so much in her life. With a stretch, she plucked Coco’s glasses off her face and set them aside.

Coco’s deep brown eyes stared back at her, still tinged with red from crying. Velvet’s heart ached to see her friend like this. If what Coco said was true, then Velvet realized they were two kindred spirits, convinced they could overcome their nature but in reality totally powerless to fight back.

“Coco, I have to tell you something.” Velvet let Coco trace a finger around her ears as she talked. It felt good, but it reminded her of what she was.

“I really, really liked taking those photos,” she said, her voice full of shame. “I feel dirty about it now, Coco, but I really liked it when you… you know. And with Yang, too.” Velvet closed her eyes in embarrassment. “I’m afraid I turned into some kind of animal in heat. I wanted more and more, and I didn’t care what people would think.”

Coco moved her hand from Velvet’s head and hugged her tight. “Lots of normal people feel like that, Velvet. For lots of reasons. Especially about sex.” Coco gave a long, shuddering sigh.

Velvet sniffled again, feeling the tears come back. “I’m not normal, Coco. Just look at me.”

“I’m sorry,” Coco whispered. “I’m sorry for putting you through this. I… I didn’t consider what this would be like for you.”

“I wish I could talk to another Faunus,” Velvet said, pressing her face into Coco’s blouse. “Someone who could understand what it’s like being different. Not knowing if what I’m feeling is even human. Being hated so much by so many people.”

Coco took Velvet’s hands in her own. “I don’t hate you, Velvet. That’d be my worst nightmare. I… really care about you. I just want you to know that.”

“Thank you,” Velvet said, sinking deeper into Coco’s embrace. “I care about you, too. A lot.”

No matter how scary the world was, Coco was always the one she could turn to, even if she was a little rough around the edges. Even if she wasn’t a Faunus, Velvet sensed that maybe, on some level, Coco could understand what she was going through.

The memory of Coco’s first photo shoot flashed in Velvet’s mind. She and Coco straddling the cold metal of Coco’s gun, their lips gently brushing together in a brief yet burning kiss. The confused passion that had raced through her entire body, leaving her breathless and wanting more.

Those feelings Velvet had tried so long and so hard to ignore, the side she’d always thought was more animal than human, made her heart ache for reasons she was afraid to consider.

“What time is it?” Velvet asked softly.

Coco checked the clock on the opposite wall. “9:27,” she answered. “Wait. You’re not seriously going to go out there and fight Pyrrha, are you? You totally don’t have to.”

“Yeah,” Velvet said. “But… I feel better now. A lot better, actually.”

Velvet nuzzled against Coco’s neck, not caring how it looked or what made her do it. All that mattered was that Coco held her tight as she did.

Chapter Text

Pyrrha stood silently in the arena, waiting for a moment that might never come.

She turned her head towards the sound of a door clicking open. A sliver of light spilled from the girls’ locker rooms, highlighting the unmistakable silhouette of a long-eared Faunus girl. Pyrrha bowed her head in relief. Tonight, the fates were kind.

Less welcome was the second, taller figure following behind. Pyrrha had hoped Velvet would come without her team leader, but that was about as likely as a tortoise outrunning a hare. Well, that was fine with her. On the battlefield, spectators were just that: spectators. The only people who could do anything were the ones trading blows. It was a special kind of isolation, but one Pyrrha was intimately familiar with. If there was one place she could find what she was looking for, it would be here.

On the other end of the arena, Velvet shivered in her battle gear. The evening air was chilly, even more so after leaving Coco’s warm embrace. When she’d decided to go out and meet Pyrrha, she’d wanted to throw herself back into Coco’s arms and let her handle it, like she’d insisted. Coco was strong, beautiful and fearless, but she was also bold, brash and even a little bit harsh. Velvet couldn’t bring herself to upset Pyrrha by letting Coco tell her off, no matter how easy it would have been for her. If there was one thing Velvet wanted more than anything else, it was for people to stop hurting each other. There was enough pain in the world already.

So she found herself face-to-face with the blazing torch of Beacon. Her battle gear glimmered a reddish gold in the setting sun, matching her unofficial nickname. Pyrrha was just as tall as Coco, standing almost a full head over Velvet. As always, she wore a veneer of warm formality like a second skin, standing with ramrod-straight posture and her hands clasped in front of her.

“I’m very glad that you decided to join me, Velvet,” Pyrrha said with a welcoming smile. “I apologize for asking to meet so late. It was the only time the arena was free.”

“That’s okay,” Velvet said, too nervous to meet Pyrrha’s eye. “I don’t really like crowds, anyway.”

“Splendid,” Pyrrha said. “Anything I can do to make you feel more comfortable is my pleasure.”

Behind Velvet, Coco tapped her foot impatiently. Pyrrha’s brow furrowed. “And good evening to you, too, Coco. You’re looking as striking as ever.”

“Yeah. Thanks a bunch,” Coco snipped. “I’ve always wondered: do you stretch before you talk so you can kiss that much more a-“

“Coco!” Velvet gasped. “Please!”

“Fine, fine. I’ll dial it back,” Coco said dryly. “I’ll be good and let the grown-ups talk. Just don’t expect me to play politeness ping-pong with Spartette over there.”

“Thank you.” Velvet turned back to Pyrrha, embarrassed beyond belief. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s fine,” Pyrrha replied, completely unsurprised. “No offense taken.”

Velvet sighed. So far, so good. Now for the hard part. “So… ah… you wanted some help? From me, of all people?”

“Yes, I did. In fact, you’re just the person I’m looking for.” Pyrrha paused for a moment, then started pacing back and forth. Her high heels clicked against the arena tiles in a precise, perfect rhythm. “If I understand your Semblance correctly, it allows you to mimic the fighting style of anyone you’ve observed. Is that right?”

“Sort of,” Velvet said. “I can’t really copy everyone perfectly. A lot of moves just won’t work for someone like me. I’m not really that strong, either.”

“Perfection is relative,” Pyrrha said. “What about your projections? Aren’t they the same as the originals?”

“Not really. They’re weightless, which means I can use them just fine… but it also means they aren’t as powerful.” Velvet was growing more and more uncomfortable. She hated being compared to real huntresses.

Pyrrha reached behind her back and pulled out her own weapons, Miló and Akoúo̱. “But they’re just as sharp, right? They can cut and pierce just as effectively?”

“I guess…”

“Oh, please.” Coco snorted. “Ignore the naysayer. They slice and dice even better than the real deal.”

“Thank you, Coco. Then, if I may stop beating around the bush, I’d like to ask Velvet a question.” Pyrrha cocked an eyebrow at Coco before continuing. “If my understanding is correct, you aren’t able to perfectly mimic an opponent because your Semblance requires a minimum level of observation before it reaches full effectiveness.”

“Yes, that’s right.” Velvet agreed. “And my camera needs time to develop its pictures into projections. More pictures means less time, but it’s never instant.”

“Of course,” Pyrrha said. “With that in mind, I’ve always wondered if you could overcome your Semblance’s weakness by adapting your mimicry during battle. For example, if you were to study your opponent by fighting them, instead of merely observing…”

“I suppose I could learn faster that way.” Velvet put a finger to her lips and thought about it. There was nothing like practical experience, after all. “But there’s no way I could last long enough in a fight to make that happen. I’d have to either fight without my projections and lose, or use them up just to learn how to mimic my opponent.”

“It is a difficult challenge,” Pyrrha said. “But it’s possible to do?”

“Yes, I guess.”

“I see.” Pyrrha stopped pacing and looked at Velvet dead-on. “Velvet, I hate to ask you this, but you’re quite possibly the only person in the world who can help me. I need to see who I really am. If I’m really the huntress-to-be I see myself as, or if I’m just… chasing the Ceryneian Hind.”

“Eh?”

“O-oh,” Pyrrha stammered, turning her head away in embarrassment. “It means trying to do something impossible. I’m sorry.”

In the background, Coco coughed out something that sounded suspiciously like ‘nerd. Velvet shot her a look of disbelief, then turned back to Pyrrha and drooped a little. “I think I understand. You want don’t really want to fight me, do you? You want to fight yourself.”

“I didn’t mean it like that, Velvet.” Pyrrha said hurriedly. “You’re a very skilled huntress, and-“

“I’ll do it.”

“I’m sorry for asking you… Wait, you will?” Pyrrha said, shocked and excited at the same time.

“Yeah. Just give me a second to talk it over with my team leader.” Velvet gestured towards Coco.

“Of course! Take all the time you need.”

Velvet smiled at Pyrrha, then pulled Coco aside. “Coco, you promised to dial it back,” she said in a whisper.

Coco smirked. “I did. She’s just that easy to make fun of.”

“Well… that’s a bad habit. Coco, please.”

“All right, all right. For real this time.” Coco’s shoulders drooped in resignation. “Sorry. I just can’t turn it off, even when I’m around you. Even after what happened in the locker room! I guess I'm just… not a nice person.”

“You are a nice person, Coco. Maybe you just need a little practice showing it.” Velvet gave Coco a hug, which she reluctantly returned. “So… what do you think about this?”

“I think you should lay Pyrrha out like a rug.”

“Coco!”

“What?”

“T-that’s rude! And totally not possible!”

“Rude, maybe. But definitely not impossible.” Coco shook her head and sighed. “As much as I hate to admit it, miss goody-two-shoes is right. You really should test out whether you can learn on the fly. I say go for it.”

“Really?” Velvet’s eyes went wide. “I can really use whatever weapons I want?”

“Really really,” Coco slapped her on the upper arm. “We don’t have any missions coming up, so go nuts. Hold nothing back. I don’t care how good Pyrrha is, she’s totally unprepared for Team CFVY’s secret weapon.”

“Thank you! Thank you!” Velvet said, bouncing up and down. She raced over to Pyrrha to give her the good news.

“Geez,” Coco murmured to herself. “I really should let her loose more often…”

 

 


 

 

They stood thirty paces apart, each eyeing the other for the slightest movement.

Velvet felt the thrill of battle wash over her. When she fought without limits, she wasn’t a timid Faunus girl. She wasn’t even a single person. She was a dozen different hunters and huntresses dancing in perfect unison, swapping partners and trading places in the space of a heartbeat.

Velvet’s sense of self dissolved and her army awakened.

Pyrrha lunged forwards, Akoúo̱ raised protectively in front of her. She rushed towards her opponent, hoping to close the distance before Velvet could reach into her bag of tricks. Unfortunately for her, it was a fool’s errand. No one could move faster than light.

Pyrrha’s profile was sleek and difficult to hit at this range, but her opponent didn’t care about accuracy. Why aim when you could spend that time shooting more bullets?

A blue wire frame in the shape of Coco’s Gatling gun drew itself out of thin air and immediately began pummeling Pyrrha with blue bullets, halting her advance. She leapt high into the air, correctly guessing that the gun would have more trouble tracking upwards than sideways. She took a few stray hits, but her aura was strong enough to absorb it until she got too close for the gun to track at all.

It was just what Yatsuhashi was waiting for.

An instant before Miló was in striking range, Pyrrha gasped as a gigantic sword swung at her from absolutely nowhere. Its blade was sharp, its reach was long, and its speed was terrifying. She felt the wind from the sword’s strike knock into her- the backwash was nearly as powerful as the strike itself. Years of training told Pyrrha that giant weapons like Yatsuhashi’s blade left their wielders open to counterattack after a swing, and she darted closer to take advantage of the momentary weakness.

Fox stepped in to punish her for it.

His twin tonfas lashed out seemingly faster than the eye could see. One caught Miló on the blade, knocking it away. The other cut deep into Pyrrha’s side, taking a huge chunk of aura with it. Pyrrha sprang back into a defensive posture. A twinge of confusion clouded her mind, but Pyrrha quickly pushed it away. Against anyone but Fox, she could hope to pin her opponent with a grip. Here, she had no way of pressing the attack against Fox’s close-quarters blades without her spear. She was forced to take a critical second to recall Miló with her Semblance.

In the brief pause, Pyrrha finally got to see Velvet at her peak: unafraid, unyielding, and unmatched.

It excited her beyond words.

Miló flew into her outstretched hand and Pyrrha charged again, ready for anything. Miló changed from a short sword into a spear that thrust beyond Fox’s range, forcing him back. Pyrrha pressed her advantage, dashing forward again and catching him on the leg. Fox’s tonfa vanished as Velvet’s aura seeped out from where the strike had landed, and she sprang backwards. Again, Pyrrha pursued. It was either that or potentially have to deal with Coco’s Gatling gun again, and she didn’t think she could withstand it. As Pyrrha hunted the impossibly quick Velvet in a deadly game of keep-away, she was reminded of a passage from a book she’d once read.

All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you.

But first they must catch you.

It took an eternity and left her breathless, but Pyrrha eventually corralled Velvet at the arena’s edge. It didn’t matter how fast Velvet was; Pyrrha’s edge was in her tactics and skill, and she’d fought opponents faster than herself before. She raised Miló in anticipation, ready for wherever Velvet would try to leap. True to Pyrrha’s prediction, Velvet darted to the right. Velvet was fast, but Miló struck faster.

Miló met Akoúo̱ in a blinding shower of sparks and blue light.

Pyrrha cleared her vision just fast enough to block the same strike she’d just used. She defected it, but before she’d regained her balance, her doppelganger’s leg swept her feet out from underneath her. Pyrrha caught herself quickly, though, and she recovered with a handspring. She hopped to a crouch just in time to block a strike from Miló, then another, and another. She knew the pattern; it was the one she had tried, and failed, to hit Velvet with just a minute ago.

She exploded upwards in a retaliating strike, thrusting Akoúo̱ out to deflect the final thrust of the pattern. With a quick one-two strike, she struck herself in the chest, knocking her doppelganger off-balance. Instead of recovering, she decided to carry the momentum and land flat on her back. Pyrrha recognized the move as her own, and she raised Akoúo̱ to protect herself from the kick she knew was coming.

What Pyrrha didn’t realize was that while Velvet was using the same style as Pyrrha, she most definitely was not using the same legs.

Velvet’s legs shot out in an explosive kick that crashed into Pyrrha’s shield like a battering ram. Caught off-balance and off-guard, Pyrrha stumbled backwards, unable to protect herself from Velvet’s lightning-quick spear thrust. She took the only option she had and dodged by falling to the ground, leaving her open for the coup de grâce.

Velvet raised her copy of Miló, ready to strike. But before she could claim victory, the wire-frame projection flickered out of existence as quickly as it had appeared. Velvet sank to the ground in exhaustion.

Silence filled the arena. Pyrrha’s heart beat so loudly she swore she could hear it echo.

“Holy. Shit.” Coco gaped from the sidelines, completely overwhelmed by what she’d just witnessed. “Seeing that was literally better than sex.”

Pyrrha may not have been great at what she was about to do, but she knew it was now or never. “I guess that’s true… if your only partner… is a shower head,” she said in between gasps.

Coco stared at Pyrrha, utterly speechless. “Did you just… That’s not… Oh, fuck you.

Pyrrha met eyes with Velvet, who, like Pyrrha, was desperately trying to keep from having a giggle fit. Pyrrha broke first, and the arena filled with the laughter of two exhausted girls.

 

 


 

 

“Coco’s a really nice person once you get to know her,” Velvet said. “She just doesn’t really open up to a lot of people.”

Both girls were seated on the sidelines of the arena, taking a well-deserved rest and drowning themselves in water. Pyrrha finished a swig of her bottle and shrugged. “If you say so,” she said. “Just between us, I wish I’d figured out that insulting her would get her to leave us alone years ago.”

“Pyrrha, that’s not very polite of you.” Velvet teased. “But really. I think she only left because she needed to sit down and handle the fact that she’d just gotten slapped down by ‘little miss goody two-shoes.’”

Well, either that or she wanted to let me have my moment without ‘ruining it’ according to her, Velvet thought. I wish she got along better with Pyrrha. She should be here with me.

“Victory doesn’t always have to make sense,” Pyrrha smiled. Regardless of how she’d done it, she looked very proud of herself. “And while we’re on the subject, Velvet, I’d like to thank you. It’s not very often that I get to learn something new through defeat.”

“Defeat?” Velvet asked, confused. “My projection ran out of charge. I didn’t really win.”

“You had other weapons ready to project, right?”

“Yes, but…”

“Then you won, Velvet.” Pyrrha put her hand on Velvet’s shoulder. “Stop looking for reasons to feel badly about your performance.”

“I guess,” she said. “What you said was true, though; I can learn on the fly. It took a little bit, but once I’d fought you long enough... I’m still sorry I couldn’t do a perfect impression, though.”

“What do you mean? Velvet, you did better than perfect.” Pyrrha pointed at her legs. “You turned my own style against me and used your own strengths to improve it. I saw the kick coming and still wasn’t prepared.”

“I know, but…” Velvet trailed off, trying to describe what she was thinking. “You said you wanted to fight yourself, right? But I wasn’t really you. I was me, pretending to be you.”

“Velvet Scarlatina, you are being far too harsh on yourself,” Pyrrha stood up and stared down at her. “You just let me test myself against my own instincts and reflexes. You showed me how I fight from an entirely new angle. No one else could possibly do that.”

Velvet didn’t say anything. It felt weird to be praised by someone as skilled as Pyrrha, like it was too good to be true; she had to be exaggerating. Both girls sat in silence for a minute, letting the evening air cool their sweat-drenched bodies.

Eventually, Pyrrha broke the silence by clearing her throat. She spoke her words carefully and deliberately, obviously having rehearsed them beforehand.

“Velvet… I asked you here not just for the honor of facing you in battle. I also wanted to talk about something.”

The bottom fell out of Velvet’s stomach. She knew it was about the photos, she just knew. Should she run? Call Coco? Or just stay silent? At least Pyrrha didn’t notice Vevlet’s discomfort. For the time being, she was focused entirely on something else.

“O-oh? W-what did you want to talk about?” Velvet winced, ready for her secret to be revealed… but when Velvet looked at Pyrrha, she didn’t see the look of accusation she’d expected. Instead, Pyrrha’s eyes were clouded with something like… sadness? Regret?

“Velvet,” Pyrrha asked quietly. “When you look at me, what do you see?”

“Uh…” Of all the things Pyrrha could have said, that was definitely not what Velvet expected. “I see the most talented huntress in Beacon. I mean, that’s obvious to anyone who meets you.”

“I’m not a huntress yet,” Pyrrha sighed. “Is that it? Is that all you see?”

Velvet’s gut told her she was being cornered, but she couldn’t tell how. “Well… you’re kind, and smart, and strong. Not just strong out here, I mean. You don’t let anyone stand in your way.”

“I understand,” Pyrrha said. Her shoulders drooped. “You know, in a lot of ways, Yang Xiao Long is even stronger than me. When I fought her, she refused to accept defeat until the last moment. When you look at her, what do you see? Is she a huntress too?”

“Yes. Definitely,” Velvet said, eager to get the conversation away from whatever was making Pyrrha upset. “Yang isn’t nearly as skilled at fighting as you are, but she’s still strong, and fierce, and beautiful. When she steps through a door, the whole room gets hotter. She’s just so intense.”

“I see.” Pyrrha nodded slowly. “That’s also true about Coco. She’s strong, fierce and beautiful, too.”

“Yeah. Coco’s a wonderful person, a fearless team leader, and… my best friend.”

Pyrrha stood up abruptly and began to pace back and forth, her ponytail rocking from side to side in time with her perfectly spaced steps. A wave of different emotions played over Pyrrha’s face. She went from confusion, to worry, to a brief flash of anger, then quiet resignation. She stopped in her tracks and faced Velvet, finally ready with her question.

“I don’t want to ask you to betray your best friend’s trust, Velvet, but I need to know.” Pyrrha got down on one knee to stare the sitting Velvet in the eyes. “When Coco posed for that photo shoot, did she say why?”

Why? Of all the questions, Pyrrha wanted to know why?

Velvet wasn’t sure she knew the answer. Coco had said it was for money, but she’d also done it to convince Velvet that she could be a great photographer. And then, for her second shoot, she’d asked Velvet to make her feel beautiful. So many reasons, all of them tied in to Coco’s own sense of self and her friendship with Velvet. What could she say without giving herself up?

“I… I don’t really know.”

“You have to know,” Pyrrha urged. “Velvet, you understand people. Your Semblance wouldn’t work otherwise.  When Coco posed for those photos, did she do it because she felt she could? Because it was some kind of calling? Because people asked her to? Velvet, please.”

The trap was sprung. Velvet bit her lip. Here was Pyrrha Nikos, of all people, practically begging to know what went on in Coco Adel’s mind.

“Pyrrha... I don’t know what kind of answer you’re looking for. All I can say is that when Coco does something, she does it because it’s what she feels is right. She speaks her mind and follows her heart, even if it ends up making things harder for her. She’s a lot like Yang, actually. I think that’s why they both wanted to get their pictures taken.”

As Velvet gave her answer, Pyrrha bowed her head and stared at the ground as if she didn’t want to hear it. Velvet’s words struck a crack in her armor, one that had been growing ever since she’d met a certain boy her first day at Beacon.

“What if she doesn’t know what’s right? What if there’s nothing to guide her?” Pyrrha glanced up at Velvet, full of doubt. “Velvet, how can she be so comfortable doing that? What lets her be so confident with her body?”

Velvet’s voice caught in her throat. She had no answer.

Pyrrha stood up and began pacing again, the words flooding out of her after being dammed up for so long. “Velvet, why does everyone call Coco and Yang ‘beautiful,’ ‘fierce’ and ‘exciting,’ but they never do the same for me? What does it take for the people in my life to see me as more than just a huntress?

“I feel like I’m missing something important. Something that comes naturally to other people, but something I’ve never had or even understood. People that have it are just happier for some reason. They have friends who understand them, like Yang and Coco. But when I try and make friends, all I know how to do is what I’ve always done. People just see me as a list of accomplishments, and that’s all I know how to present myself as.

“I’ve always looked up to the heroes in the old stories. They were people too, but no one knows what they were actually like. All we know is how strong they were or how many battles they won. Sometimes... I feel like that’s all I’m capable of. Like I’ll never be able to talk to or understand real people, no more than they can relate to scribbles on a piece of paper.”

As Pyrrha spilled her guts in front of her, Velvet wanted to crawl in a hole and hide. She wasn’t a therapist. She wasn’t smart or particularly insightful. All she knew was that Pyrrha was confused and distressed, and it was partly Velvet’s fault.

“No one’s perfect, Pyrrha.” She sighed. “Everyone has times when they’re hurting. Sometimes, the people that look like they have it figured out are just faking it. Coco’s no exception.”

“I… feel like I should know that already,” Pyrrha said.

“Maybe. Maybe not. Experience is the best teacher; you just showed me that a minute ago,” Velvet said. “Pyrrha, you’re not missing anything. Just because you don’t know how to see a part of yourself doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

“But…” Pyrrha shuffled her feet tiredly. “I don’t know how to find that part of myself. All I know is what I’ve always done.”

The familiar silence returned as Pyrrha’s voice faded into the empty arena. Velvet had only one option left. No matter how much she wanted to run, she couldn’t leave someone like Pyrrha alone and upset. Not when she had the power to help.

Even if it meant giving up her secret.

“Pyrrha, I want to show you something.”

Velvet pulled out her scroll and typed in her password, searching for the hidden folder she’d buried deep inside the deep directory. Pyrrha, meanwhile, waited for Velvet to motion her to come closer before taking a seat beside her.

A picture of Coco filled the screen. She lay on a closet floor, surrounded by clothes strewn in every direction. Her hair was askew, her makeup had run, and her outfit was disheveled. Coco herself stared into space with a look of complete helplessness and weakness. She’d lost every scrap of her usual confidence and had it replaced with insecurity and shame. Pyrrha just stared at the photo unblinking, not believing what she saw.

“This is posed, right?” she asked. “This can’t be real.”

“No,” Velvet said sadly. “It’s real. I took it myself.”

“You did? Then…” It took Pyrrha a few seconds for the realization to sink in, but when it did, her eyes went wide. “Oh my God. Velvet, did you take all of those photos?”

Now that the secret was out, Velvet felt numb. She put her scroll away. Coco had given her permission to use the photos however she had wanted to, but it still felt bad to share something so personal.

“Yeah,” she said, her voice flat and empty. “Every last one.”

“I thought those were taken by a professional,” Pyrrha reeled. “Velvet, this changes everything.”

“I know,” Velvet said. Her lip quivered. Her time at Beacon was coming to an end. No one could trust her ever again. “I-If you want me to leave, I’ll go. I understand.”

“What? Velvet, what are you even talking about?”

“No one wants to work with a pervert, Pyrrha.” Velvet could hear the mocking voices already.

Pyrrha gripped her by the shoulder, not caring that Velvet was trying to avoid her gaze. “Velvet Scarlatina, you have no reason to be ashamed. Now that I know you were the one taking those photos, everything makes so much more sense. Now I know for a fact that Coco isn’t trying to pressure anyone into doing this. It’s a completely different situation.”

“It doesn’t matter, Pyrrha. I’m still a dirty, perverted Faunus.”

“Anyone who tells you that is a despicable excuse for a human being,” Pyrrha hissed. “Being a Faunus has nothing to do with this. You, however, have everything to do with this.

“Velvet, the entire point I asked you to come here was because you have a gift. You allow people to see sides of themselves they’d never get to see otherwise. It’s in your Semblance, it’s in your heart, and now I see it’s in your hobbies, too.

“I’m sure you’ve been told this before, Velvet, but you truly are unique. I’ve learned more about myself tonight than I have in years. So stop beating yourself up. Stop being so harsh on yourself because other people told you that you should feel guilty. You don’t deserve it.”

Tears welled up in Velvet’s eyes. For the second time that night, she broke down into a mess of sobbing. Pyrrha wrapped her arms around her and held her tight.

“Thank you…” Velvet said after what must have been ages. Pyrrha offered her tissues from her gear locker, which she gratefully accepted. “Thank you, Pyrrha.”

“No, thank you.” Pyrrha shook her head. “I don’t believe in destiny per se, but I do believe that over time, if you work towards a goal, things will fall into place. Tonight, I think fate has been exceptionally kind.”

“W-Why’s that?”

“Well…” Pyrrha scratched the back of her neck. How could she put this? “I found out that one of the people I respect the most- one of the only people who have bested me in a fight, no less- is also the one that can bring out the beauty in her camera’s subjects.”

Velvet wasn’t entirely certain where this was going, but she felt a rising excitement in her chest. “Pyrrha, what are you saying?”

“You said it yourself,” Pyrrha shrugged. “Experience is an excellent teacher.”

Velvet’s mouth dropped open. “You’re not actually asking…”

“Oh, no! I’m sorry!” Pyrrha raised her hands in the air and scooted backwards. “If you’re not comfortable with the idea, I won’t press you.”

For the briefest of moments, Velvet hesitated. The day had been full of ups, downs, and times she’d been overwhelmed by her own feelings about the subject. But now, she’d taken a risk. She’d been accepted for who she was not by just a friend, but by the smartest, most talented girl in Beacon.

Could she really turn her down?

“Come with me,” Velvet said. “I have an idea.”

 

 


 

 

 Shattered moonlight washed over a marble façade at the corner of the arena, bathing Pyrrha in silver.

“Turn your head a little,” Velvet called. “Chin up! You’re proud! You totally kicked some Grimm butt in the last thirty seconds, remember?”

Pyrrha pointed her chin as high as it would go. She held Miló pointed upwards in both hands as a spear, with Akoúo̱ strapped to her back at just the right angle to shine in the moonlight. “Is this right?”

“Great! Just don’t talk until you hear the shutter click.”

“Sorry!”

Velvet squinted, trying to figure out the right shutter speed for the lighting. There were a dozen things she could do to get a better photo, but they all needed better lenses or different setups; she’d have to be happy with what she got. Fortunately, Pyrrha hadn’t wanted to do anything with the photos once they were done. This set was strictly for fun, and neither of them would have it any other way.

Velvet took a few shots from below, focusing on how Pyrrha’s greaves caught the light of the moon’s shards in a cracked pattern of glimmering white and bronze. Of course, Pyrrha’s toned legs were nice too. But sometimes, Velvet liked to stop and smell the metaphorical roses.

“Good!” Velvet said. “Hey, do you remember any poses that you can copy? Like from those old statues around campus?”

“Of course,” Pyrrha said. “Should I be throwing my shield at you, pretending to stab something, or actually stabbing something?”

“Can you do all three?” Velvet asked with a sly grin.

“Challenge accepted.”

Using her Semblance, Pyrrha tugged a target dummy into the moonlight. While it was still moving, she leapt into the air and thrust Miló, now a short sword, into its chest. In the same motion, she untucked Akoúo̱ and threw it over Velvet’s head. Velvet got a single shot off before she was forced to duck. Well, either that have her ears wrapped around Pyrrha’s spinning shield.

“Nice!” Velvet cheered. The shot was a little blurred, but Pyrrha had come through: she’d thrust her sword underneath the target dummy’s arm. She’d stabbed it, yet not stabbed it.

Pyrrha smiled and twirled Miló idly. “Thank you. Though, may I offer some criticism?"

Velvet blinked. “Uh. Sure?”

“Did Yang and Coco start off with these kinds of poses? This warrior-woman setup is all well and good, but honestly, it feels a little dry.”

Velvet tried to fight the urge to say it, but the opening was just too good. “Are you saying you’d like me to get you wet?”

Pyrrha blushed so hard that it was visible even in the silver moonlight. “Coco would be proud of you.”

“I know, right?”

Velvet took a few more candid shots of Pyrrha twirling Miló, then motioned for her to stand facing the camera. “Okay, Pyrrha. If you want to start turning up the heat, I’ll light your fire.”

Pyrrha raised her eyebrows, unsure if Velvet was using innuendo. Judging by the Faunus girl’s grin, she probably was. “Splendid,” she said. “How should I pose? What’s my best feature? How should I, um, sexy things up?”

“Lean into it!” Velvet cheered. “Show off your curves!”

Pyrrha gave her a blank stare, squeezed her arms together and leaned forward. “Breasts are curves, right?”

Velvet breathed in through her teeth. She’d forgotten how much she’d been spoiled by her previous models. Still, she snapped a few photos of Pyrrha’s cleavage. “Okay! Close enough. Now stick your leg to the side like this, and move your arm here, cock your hips…”

Soon enough, Velvet had Pyrrha in a pose that showed off her inner thigh and sweep of her hips at the same time. It drew the eye right to what was important: the bare white skin between Pyrrha’s armored cuisses and her skirt. The extra cleavage Pyrrha tried to throw in was just a bonus… for now. Velvet gave her the thumbs-up and did a few passes with her camera for good measure.

Once she was done, Pyrrha broke her pose and peered at the camera. “May I see?”

“Of course!” Velvet turned her camera to ‘replay’ and held it out.

Pyrrha took it, flipping through her photos with barely restrained curiosity. “Goodness… I didn’t know I could be that, ah, alluring.” She handed it back, satisfied. “More, please.”

Velvet eagerly walked Pyrrha through a series of poses, each one focusing on a different feature. Pyrrha blushed once she saw some of the shots; she took a long while to stare at one that showed the swell of her breasts from the side, highlighted by her upraised arm and bare collarbone.

“So that’s how she did it,” Pyrrha mused. “This isn’t really that hard, is it?”

“Eh…” Velvet waved a hand. “Compared to fighting Grimm? No.”

“Let me guess: it’s a good thing Coco wasn’t here to hear me say that.”

“Good guess.”

“She’s really the mastermind behind this, isn’t she?” Pyrrha said, trying to combine two poses and failing miserably. “Oh, dear. I don’t think my feet are supposed to point that way.”

“Yeah, kind of,” Velvet said. “She got it going, but let me run my own shoot twice. I think I kind of took over, but she still helps a little.”

“Twice? Oh, you mean with Yang and… that other one.” Pyrrha looked interested, but didn’t press.

“Right,” Velvet nodded. “So… sexy enough for you?”

“I suppose,” Pyrrha said. She put a finger to her lips in thought. “Though really, I expected something more. You did take some rather titillating pictures of Coco and Yang, you know. I didn’t walk in with my eyes closed.”

Velvet’s heart leapt. A familiar excitement built in her chest. “You want to… try something like they did?”

“If you think it would be appropriate.”

Velvet nearly shouted her enthusiasm, but a heavy sense of shame held her back. It weighed around her neck like a chain, dragging her down, back in time to her second year at Beacon.

I knew it, Cardin’s voice crowed. She’s just a bitch in heat. Check it out, guys.

He yanked her camera out of her hands and flipped through its memory. There were pictures of Coco, Fox, Yatsuhashi… and a dozen different photos of couples kissing in the courtyard.

Velvet shoved the memory away. It still filled her with embarrassment, even after all this time.

You are more than an animal, she told herself. If what Coco said was true, then humans had those feelings almost as strong as she did. And if she could trust Pyrrha’s judgment (and who wouldn’t?) then she had to stop being so harsh on herself.

“Of course it’s appropriate,” Velvet said. “Let’s go someplace a little more private, then?”

Pyrrha beamed. “That would be lovely.”

 

 


 

 

“Well… technically you were right, Velvet. This is more private than an open arena.”

Pyrrha and Velvet had walked a grand total of a hundred feet before arriving at their cozy destination: the girls’ locker room.

“Okay, okay, it’s not that sexy.” Velvet said. “But this late at night I had to work with what was available. Plus we both kind of still need showers.”

“A fair point,” Pyrrha conceded. “At least we’re the only ones here. I doubt anyone will come this late, either. Still…”

She raised her arm and twisted in the direction of the locker room’s doors. Two sets of heavy deadbolt locks clicked into place.

“There. No interruptions.”

Velvet gulped. She was officially locked in a room with Pyrrha Nikos. Her Faunus side definitely did not like the idea of being trapped, but… Well, at least it was a big room, and the company was good.

Pyrrha turned to Velvet and smiled. “So what do you propose?”

The heat rose in Velvet’s cheeks. She returned the smile nervously. “Well… You said you didn’t really know how to get in touch with your sexy side, right? So I thought instead of making a big fake set, it’d be better to show you how good you can look when you’re doing something you do every day.”

Pyrrha’s smile turned to a sly grin. “Why, Velvet. That sounds suspiciously like you want to take pictures of me in the shower.”

“Um… But with better poses?” Velvet gave her a sheepish look. “It sounds kind of dumb when you put it that way.”

“Of course it’s not dumb,” Pyrrha said with a chuckle. “I’m just teasing you.”

“Oh. Of course you are,” Velvet said quickly.

Pyrrha took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. “Well, I have one condition, actually.”

Velvet tensed. “Yes?”

“I want you to show me how Yang and Coco turned getting naked into something enticing, not a chore.” Pyrrha waved a hand at her greaves and tightly-laced leather corset. “I’m being serious: I have no idea how to make shuffling around and fidgeting with ties and buckles look anything but awkward.”

“I think I can help with that,” Velvet smiled.

“Oh, no…” Pyrrha groaned. “It’s more posing, isn’t it?”

“Yep.”

Pyrrha rolled her eyes. “All right, then. Get your camera ready, and don’t hold back on my account. I want to get good at this. For, um, reasons.”

Velvet’s pulse raced as Pyrrha stood beside her gym bag. She raised her camera- this was it!

And then Pyrrha almost ruined it by taking off her circlet.

“Wait!” Velvet cried out. “You look great in that! Save it for last!”

Pyrrha froze. “O-oh! Yes. Of course.”

Velvet sighed in relief. Seeing Pyrrha’s hesitation, she pointed at her high-heeled boots. “Maybe you could work in circles? Legs, arms, neck, body. It builds tension.”

Pyrrha put her boot on the locker room bench and started unbuckling. Velvet watched her through the lens of her camera. She wanted to take a picture, but… something wasn’t right. She lowered her camera. Seeing this, Pyrrha paused.

Velvet thought hard. Like Pyrrha had said earlier, there was something missing. Something important. Velvet was excited, but she was far from the most important person in the room. None of it mattered unless Pyrrha was having fun.

“Pyrrha…” Velvet looked her friend- could she call her a friend now? It felt so weird- in the eyes. “I can try and teach you all the poses in the world, but none of it really matters. It’s your attitude that makes you beautiful, sexy, alluring, whatever. Coco gave me a bit of advice my first time I did this, and… I think it might help you, too.”

“What was it?” Pyrrha asked.

“Pretend you’re falling in love,” Velvet said softly. “Pretend the person you care about most is on the other end of this camera. Reach through the lens and speak to them.”

“Pretend I’m falling in love,” Pyrrha whispered. She took a deep breath. “I… I think I can do that.”

Instantly, Pyrrha’s whole posture changed. Color rushed to her cheeks, and her breathing became deeper. Her movements were more reserved and delicate, especially as she undid her boots.

The spark of excitement in Velvet’s chest roared into a bonfire. She took picture after picture as Pyrrha undid her boots, then cuisses and greaves. Her legs were bare but for a pair of black stockings.

“Was that right?” Pyrrha asked shyly. “Not awkward?”

“Absolutely not awkward.” Velvet gave her the thumbs-up and got a smile in return.

Pyrrha moved on to her gauntlets and gloves. She would occasionally glance up at the camera, but her gaze never lingered. When she did look into the lens, it was obvious that it wasn’t Velvet Pyrrha saw. Pyrrha was lost somewhere between nervousness, hope, and a longing she couldn’t express in words… but her face told Velvet the entire story.

Pyrrha didn’t need to pretend to be in love at all.

She undid the clasp of her gorget and let it fall into her bag. Her bracer and gloves followed, then her belt, pouch and the long red drapery that hung from her waist. Through it all, Pyrrha shot looks at the camera, each one filled with need. At first Velvet thought Pyrrha was looking for guidance, but she was too sure of herself for that. Pyrrha wasn’t making eyes at the camera like Yang or Coco, either; she wasn’t trying to give something in her performance. With her expecting eyes and delicate hesitation before she moved from piece to piece, it was as if she wanted something from the camera instead.

She wanted to be noticed. Not as a warrior, but as a woman.

Pyrrha rose up to her full, statuesque height and began to unlace her corset. A flicker of shyness crept across her features, but it disappeared as soon as Velvet gave her a reassuring nod. She wasn’t going to make a fool of herself, not here.

Her corset hit the bench. Underneath it Pyrrha wore a simple strapless crop top and nothing else. Her firm breasts swayed freely as she slid out of her stockings. Her skirt-shorts combination was next, revealing a form-fitting pair of red athletic boyshorts.

“Here goes…” Pyrrha said. She took a deep breath and looked into the camera, trying her best to beckon at the one she wished was behind it.

Velvet’s hands shook as she held the camera, cursing herself silently; she was almost as nervous as Pyrrha.

Pyrrha’s hands reached for her undershirt and pulled it off her body in a slow, sensuous motion. Her lush breasts fell free in a quick release of tension, her light pink nipples stiff with excitement. Pyrrha knew she couldn’t compete with Yang, but she still squeezed her breasts together the same way she’d seen Yang flirt with the camera. Hopefully she could pull it off just as well.

At long last she reached for her panties. But before she slid them down, a dreadful thought stopped her. She looked the camera dead in the eye, her expression full of doubt.

“Velvet…” she said softly, “Do you think I could ever be as beautiful as Coco and Yang?”

Velvet had only one answer to that question. “You already are.”

“Thank you,” Pyrrha said, letting her doubts go in a great sigh. She slid her panties off, baring a small thatch of red hair between her legs. Velvet took a single picture, gripping her camera tight to avoid dropping it.

Now naked but for her circlet, Pyrrha raised her hands to her head. She gave a coy smile. “Now may I let my hair down?”

“S-suretainly,” Velvet said, the words jumbling together in her mouth. Her ears drooped in embarrassment. And she’d been doing so well up until that point, too.

Pyrrha laughed. “For a second, you sounded a lot like someone I know.”

With that, she pulled her circlet off her head. Her ponytail unwound itself in a waterfall of lustrous red locks. Pyrrha stood before Velvet, completely naked and flush with excitement. She shook her hair out and reached for her towel, clearly ready for whatever Velvet had planned next.

“Are you going to join me?”

Pyrrha’s words should have made sense, but they just sent Velvet into a spiral of absolutely inappropriate ideas. She struggled to form a response, but the best she could come up with was random sputtering that sounded vaguely like “yes.”

Pyrrha put a hand to her mouth, doubtless concealing a wicked grin. She left Velvet to undress alone, giving her a magnificent view of her sleek, toned butt as she did.

Velvet looked down at herself, thankful Pyrrha had gone ahead into the showers. She always hated getting naked in front of other people, even girls. She had no features to speak of, her curves were nonexistent, and her legs were freakishly long. And, of course, people always took her ears as an excuse to stare at her.

Velvet stripped down as quickly as she could, then wrapped a towel around herself and followed Pyrrha into the group showers. Her camera would be fine, of course. It would have been a terrible weapon if it couldn’t handle a little water.

The locker room showers were set up as simple showerheads sticking from the walls, without even a single stall for privacy. Pyrrha had already started her shower, so Velvet followed the steam rolling over the cold tile floor. It had been a few hours since the showers had last been used, so she hurried towards the warmer tiles near Pyrrha.

Velvet didn’t feel like turning on her own shower yet. It would play hell with her shot, anyway. All that mattered was getting one or two pictures of Pyrrha. Velvet had a good idea of the shot she was going for: the fearless warrior cleansing herself, relaxed and satisfied after a hard-fought battle.

Pyrrha opened one eye and beckoned Velvet closer. “Think of how much trouble we’d get in for bringing that in here,” she teased, pointing at the camera.

“I won’t tell if you won’t,” Velvet said.

“Agreed. Just don’t expect me to do any poses… I’m drained, and those are quite likely to be difficult on wet tile.”

Velvet raised her camera to focus on Pyrrha. She stood in the shower with her head bowed and eyes closed. She leaned with her hands pressed against the wall and let the scalding water wash over her aching body in an endless rush. Her hair was slick against her skin, running all the way past the small of her back.

What Velvet didn’t realize was that the knot in her towel had started coming undone. The moment she pressed the shutter, her towel came unwrapped. It landed on the soaking tile with a defeated flop.

Pyrrha noticed Velvet’s accident before she did. She opened her eyes and spotted a towel floating away with her shower’s water. Its owner stood in front of her, holding a camera and completely unaware of a different kind of exposure.

“Um, Velvet?” Pyrrha’s half-smile grew into a full-on grin.

Velvet looked down at herself and let out a tiny yelp of surprise. She was naked, from her fuzzy ears to the even fuzzier hair on her mound; it was completely unshaven and wild as a jungle. She slapped her camera over her crotch to cover herself.

Pyrrha could barely contain herself at her friend’s embarrassment. “We’re in the showers, Velvet!” she said, fighting a valiant but losing battle against the giggles.

“Y-yeah, but… but…” Velvet stammered.

“One of these days, it’ll be your turn to be in front of that camera. I’d bet my title on it,” Pyrrha said. “What goes around…”

“I’m just gonna take my shower now,” Velvet said, turning her back to Pyrrha and covering her luminescent blush with a flood of water.

Chapter Text

When Yatsuhashi told Coco he was in love, she laughed at him.

Shaking his head, he re-racked his barbell and waited patiently for her to finish. It took a while.

By the time Coco finally came to a giggling halt, she had laughed so hard and so long that her aviators had fogged up. Her face was flushed and her breath came in high-pitched gasps.

“That was, by far, the cheesiest thing I’ve ever heard,” Coco panted. “Seriously? Your secret ingredient is love?”

“You asked what made me strong,” Yatsu said. “I gave you my honest answer.”

Technically, Coco had asked him how he’d gotten so strong, but the answer was the same. When he’d first picked up the sword, it had mostly been because he wanted to show off. He knew it was selfish, but he didn’t care. Yatsu had towered over everyone he’d known since he was ten, and he’d never met a single person who could beat him in a contest of strength. It only seemed fitting that he milk his God-given gifts for all they were worth.

The girls went wild when he showed up at Signal. They loved the way he’d swing his massive sword like it was nothing, they loved it when he flexed his bulging muscles for them, and most of all they loved it when he decided the day was just too hot for a shirt. They swooned and fawned over him, and he’d pluck them up and let them ride sitting on his shoulders. There were jokes about who was allowed to fall in love with him that week, and who got to be next in line.

Yatsuhashi, of course, loved to play along. He joked about getting a decoy locker for his secret admirers to flood, and always made sure to budget extra time for the girls who always thought they were being clever asking for “a little help practicing my markswomanship.” Every time a girl looked up to Yatsu with sparkling eyes, he had to fight the urge to pat them on the head or do something similarly stupid. To him, everyone was fun-sized.

That all changed three months in when Signal decided they were ready for their first Grimm encounter.

When his admirers first looked to him on the battlefield, it wasn’t with admiration or envy. They’d held their training weapons in shaking hands, cowered at the Beowolves bearing down on them, and looked to see what he would do. After all, if the biggest and strongest member of Signal was afraid, then what chance would they have? If he’d shown weakness in that single moment, if he’d thought of his own safety instead of the people around him, they would have crumbled.

In that moment, Yatsuhashi realized that he cared more about his team than himself. The girls he’d gone to corny movies with, shared unhealthy sodas with, and teased more than he’d like to admit- they were all there beside him. As cheesy and old-fashioned as it sounded, he couldn’t bear to see them put in harm’s way. With his reach, size and strength he had the power to stop the Grimm dead in their tracks and force them to fight him and him alone. All he needed was a reason to do it.

Love, he supposed, was as good a reason as any.

He charged in headfirst, shrugging off the Beowolves’ ferocious bites and swipes. Every hit he took was one that his teammates wouldn’t. He took the hits not because he could, but because he hated the idea of his friends having to.

After that, it didn’t take long for many boys and girls to wash out of Signal. Yatsuhashi, however, persevered. Being on the front lines was his duty, not theirs; the fewer people who had to fight the Grimm, the better. He knew it was selfish, but he didn’t care.

Now, here at Beacon, all he had to do was harness that same love and let it propel him to even greater heights.

“Coco, you probably remember that I was very close with my classmates at Signal,” Yatsuhashi said. “It’s a long story, but I did not want to let them down.”

“You had a harem,” Coco snickered. “An honest-to-God harem, at least for a little while. Are you telling me they gave you super strength?”

“I did not want to let them down,” Yatsuhashi repeated firmly. “After our first ranging expedition, I refused to let the Grimm fight anyone but me. That meant becoming as strong as I could.”

Yatsuhashi couldn’t see behind Coco’s glasses, but he’d known her long enough to know when she was rolling her eyes. She grabbed a towel and dabbed at her brow- she’d obviously struck some kind of dark bargain in order to keep her hair perfect, even when she was drenched in sweat. She tossed the towel into the corner and snapped open her sports drink.

“So,” Coco said in between gulps, “You’re in love. Who’s the lucky girl? Is it Velvet? You never take your eye off her in a fight.”

“Of course I love Velvet,” Yatsuhashi said. “Just as I feel the same love for you and Fox.”

Coco choked on her drink. Yatsuhashi waited patiently for her to stop coughing.

“That was the worst proposal for a foursome I’ve ever heard,” Coco said hoarsely. “And trust me, the ones I’ve heard are pretty bad.”

Yatsuhashi sighed. How could he explain? “For a while I thought the same thing you did, Coco. I cared so deeply about my friends at Signal that I thought I was going to have to ask them all out my junior year.” He smiled. “You thought you could be a drama queen? Bow to your king.”

“Oh, wow. It makes so much sense now…” Coco breathed. “So that’s why the whole third floor of the girls’ dorms were giving each other the silent treatment. I tried to find out why, but they said I was ‘competition’ for something.”

“My point,” Yatshuashi continued, “is that I found it’s possible to care intensely for someone and not have to be romantically involved with them. It’s actually quite common among people who fight alongside each other.”

“Well, duh,” Coco said. “But you don’t have to go around calling it love. That just sends the wrong message.”

“Call it what you want,” Yatsuhashi said, standing up from the bench. “I’ll still lay down my life for you, Coco, and for any member of our team.”

Coco's cheeks reddened and she quickly turned her back to Yatsuhashi, who smiled. Coco was cute when she got flustered. Praise her fashion sense, she loved it. Praise her weaponry, she adored it. Praise her leadership? She melted like butter.

“You’re nothing but an overgrown teddy bear, you know that?” Coco huffed.

“I might be a stuffed animal, but you’re the one who needs a hug,” he laughed, reaching over and ruffling her hair.

“Oh, fuck off the hair!” Coco whirled and slapped Yatsu’s hand away, seething at him in red-faced indignation. He just laughed.

“Now I see why so many girls were head over heels for you at Signal," Coco said. "You treat every girl around you like your cute little pet.”

Yatsuhashi shrugged. “I probably treat guys that way, too. I was taught to love my neighbor as-”

“Doesn’t matter!” Coco stomped her foot. “I am not your cute little pet, Yatsu! Velvet might be okay with your attitude, but so help me if you mess with my hair again I will shove your sword so far up your butt you’ll be slicing your steak by swallowing!”

“Hands off the hair. Got it.”

Coco stormed over to the weight rack, where she promptly put Yatsu’s personal records to shame. He shook his head; apparently, her super-strength Semblance ran off pure spite. He reached for another set of bench presses with the barbell.

A few grunt-filled minutes later, he found himself staring up at Coco’s irritated expression. He doubted she was there to spot him, so he once again re-racked the weights. “Yes?”

“Answer me this,” Coco said slowly. “Then I’ll forgive you.”

“All right…” He didn’t like the sound of that, but he was quite literally trapped; Coco was blocking his path up from the bench.

“While we’re on the subject… Velvet seems like your type, lover boy. So why haven’t you asked her out?”

Ah. The question everyone had made an art of avoiding ever since Ozpin had assigned Velvet as his partner. Well, he knew it was only a matter of time before he’d have to answer. At least he’d be giving it to his team leader instead of a curious gossip that would get it all wrong.

“Velvet is a kind, caring and beautiful girl,” Yatsuhashi said, choosing his words extremely carefully. “But no, Coco. She is not my type, and never will be.”

“Bullshit,” Coco snorted. “Velvet’s possibly the only person capable of giving you a run for your money in the ‘I love everything and want everyone to be happy’ department. If she’s not your type, who is?”

Yatsuhashi sat up. He stared at Coco’s glasses dead-on, unblinking, refusing to say another word until Coco got the message. Finally she relented and pushed her aviators down her nose, letting him look her in the eyes. Sometimes, those glasses of hers were the worst things in the world.

“My type, Coco, is someone far away from all this.” He waved his arm in a wide circle, pointing at the blunted swords, knives, and staves lying around the gym. “Someone that doesn’t have to kill to survive. Someone I won’t have to worry about losing every time I take my eyes off them, no matter how skilled they might be.”

Coco’s eyes widened.

“That, and…” Yatsuhashi gave a small, wry smile. “I would prefer someone whose taste in food is a little more filling.”

Coco laughed weakly. “Heh. Yeah, I guess salad and greens all day, every day would get old fast.”

With that, she straightened her shoulders, as if a great weight she’d been carrying had suddenly been lifted. Well, a different kind from the great weights she’d been lifting a minute ago. For some reason, metaphysical dumbbells were just that much heavier.

“Come on, teddy bear,” Coco said. “One more set, then we can fight over who gets the last dumpling.”

 


 

Though the conversation had happened a long time ago, Yatsuhashi still remembered Coco’s relief when he’d told her he wasn’t going to ask her out. At the time, he’d just assumed she didn’t want drama in her team. Time, however, had a way of putting things in a new light.

Last night, Coco had burst in on the boys in Team CFVY’s dorm room with a swagger that could not be denied. She’d been prouder than a lioness after her first kill, and when she told them why, it was like dropping a bombshell.

“Velvet went all-out and kicked Pyrrha’s ass!”

Fox had the Schnapps out before Coco could finish her sentence.

Yatsuhashi wanted to wait for Velvet to come back before celebrating, but Coco waved him off. “She’s having her own party,” was all he could get out of her. Everything after that was free-flowing booze, laughter and drunk-dialing half of Beacon’s student registry (“just the hot ones,” Coco insisted). They’d be cleaning up the fallout for weeks. They drifted to sleep in a haze, not even stirring when Velvet snuck back in the dead of night.

In the morning, Yatsuhashi awoke to the smell of papyrus.

There was a piece of paper plastered to his face. He blearily reached for it, blinking at the blinding glare of the cracks in the curtains. In hindsight, he really should not have finished that fifth of plum wine.

Once he was confident he could read without his eyeballs falling out of his head, Yatsuhashi focused on the elaborate, looping letters in front of him: Coco had left him a note.

Stilts,

I unplugged your and Velvet’s alarms. She’s sore, you’re hung over, and you both deserve a day off. Fox and I are covering for you. Have fun, but not too much fun, or else I’ll tell everybody you were the one singing on their scrolls last night.

-Coco

P.S.: If anyone asks, Velvet has scarlet fever.

Yatsuhashi pulled out his scroll and checked the time; it was already mid-morning. He’d overslept embarrassingly long. Sighing, he looked across the room to find Velvet sleeping softly with her mouth drooped open, her long ears twitching every so often. She must have been having good dreams.

Yatsu slid off his bed delicately so as not to creak the bedsprings or floorboards, ducking low so his head wouldn’t hit Velvet's bunk above him. There was no winning for Yatsu when it came to bunk beds: it was either sleep on bottom and slam his head into the bed frame every week, or take the top bunk and send it crashing down with his weight. He’d chosen the option that didn’t end with his partner in a body cast.

He grabbed his shower supplies and snuck out of the dorm room for a quick shower and shave. The stalls were empty- even though it was Saturday at Beacon, everyone had already slipped away to their extracurriculars or volunteer positions. Hunters and Huntresses lived and breathed discipline… most of the time. Yatsu just appreciated the fact that the shower stalls weren’t flooded ankle-deep with everyone’s suds. It was supposed to be a shower, not a bath; Beacon could really work on improving their drainage. He’d have to mention it to the old, misty-eyed janitor in charge.

Feeling much better after a good scrubbing, Yatsu wrapped himself in a towel and snuck back into the dorm room. Sure enough, Velvet was still sound asleep. Yatsu quietly slipped inside the boys’ (much smaller) closet and threw together his casual wear for the day: a nice pair of tan chinos and a green double-breasted shirt that Coco had specially picked out for “the man with the most barrel of chests.” He didn’t mind Coco shopping for him- if he did, she would have simply stolen all his other clothes and forced him to wear hers- but he could do without the commentary. He topped off the casual-yet-classy look with a thin brown belt and matching shoes that shone brighter than a spotlight.

By the time Yatsuhashi stepped out of the closet, Velvet had begun to stir. Her ears perked up in the closet’s direction. She rolled around under the covers, stretched her arms, and reluctantly opened her eyes at the sun that was far too bright for seven in the morning.

“Wha-aaaaaah- time is it?” Velvet yawned.

“Eleven o’clock,” Yatsuhashi answered. “Coco is-“

Velvet exploded out of her bed and raced towards the girls’ closet. “I’m late!” she cried, her flannel pajamas flapping in a whirlwind of flailing arms and legs. “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”

She slammed the door to the closet behind her. Yatsuhashi heard hangers being thrown, boxes being tossed, and what sounded like a set of wind chimes clanking together. “I have to get to Professor Oobleck’s guest lecture, he’s going to really throw the book at me if I don’t help him- AAAAH!”

The floor shook violently as what might have been a two-ton armoire came crashing down. “Velvet!?” Yatsuhashi called out. There was no answer. Sensing danger, Yatsuhashi didn’t hesitate. He threw open the door and assessed the scene.

He blushed.

Velvet was upside-down on the floor and groaning, wearing nothing but a white pair of polka-dotted panties. In her haste to get dressed, she’d wrenched the heavy armoire towards her and just barely avoided being crushed. The poor girl’s back was to Yatsuhashi, so thankfully, her decency was (somewhat) preserved.

“Are… you all right?” Yatsuhashi asked, averting his eyes.

“Ahh…” Velvet rolled on her side, trying to get her bearings. Right. She was late. In a hurry. Getting dressed. Was Yatsu helping with that? Then why was he-

“Eep!” Velvet squeaked. She covered her chest with both hands and pulled her legs tight. For Yatsu to see her like this- practically naked and completely shook up- it made her want to crawl in a hole and wait for winter. “G-get out! Right now!”

“Sorry!” Yatsu stumbled back out of the closet, Velvet slamming the door behind him. He pinched the brow of his nose. Not again, he thought. I thought I was done with those kinds of accidents when I left Signal.

Still, even if they were both embarrassed beyond belief, he had to say something before Velvet could get too upset. “Velvet? I swear I didn’t see anything.”

No response.

“Coco said she was taking care of helping Oobleck for you,” he added. “We’ve got the day off.”

The closet door opened slightly. Velvet, who was now wearing a very big, very fluffy bathrobe, peeked out. “Really?”

“Really.”

“…Oh.” Velvet’s face turned beet-red as she realized everything in the last minute could have been avoided if she’d just slowed down.

“You okay?”

Velvet paused for a moment, then she scrunched up her chin in righteous bossiness. “Strawberry pancakes would make me feel better.”

Yatsuhashi smiled. “Two short stacks, coming up.”

 


 

When Nora told Jaune she hated him, he groaned at her.

“This is the biggest waste of a Saturday morning ever,” Nora whined.

“This could save our lives someday, Nora,” Jaune said. “Just put Miló back together. Pyrrha taught us everything about how it works. You can do it.”

Nora planted her chin firmly on the workbench, staring at the dozens of tiny parts that made up Pyrrha’s weapon. Why did she have to do this? Jaune was the one Pyrrha wanted to have handling her goods. Just because it was “random” and “realistic” didn’t mean Nora had to be stuck with the dumbest, hardest, worst weapon out of the group to learn how to break down and reassemble.

No, she’d much rather spend time with StormFlower. She’d get Ren to help her when she had “trouble” despite having every spring in his guns memorized after watching him clean them for so long. She’d run her hands along the metal shafts, delicately slide her fingers atop his, pull him close, and whisper those three special words in his ear…

“THIS IS POOP,” Nora wailed as Miló’s firing mechanism flew apart in her hands. “Pyrrha, help meeeeee.

“Hmm?” Pyrrha glanced at Nora’s workbench. She, the stupid lucky girl, had gotten Crocea Mors. How much work could go into cleaning a sword and shield?!

“You forgot the quick-release,” Pyrrha said, pointing at a tiny metal latch. “It goes here.”

“But… it looks just like the Dust diverter.”

“So it does,” Pyrrha said cheerfully. “I never noticed that. Oh, and you’re going to need to re-align the crosshairs, they drift a bit to the right when you unscrew the mount like that.”

Nora looked down at the hopeless mess in front of her and started crying.

“This is dance class all over again,” Jaune sighed. He turned to Pyrrha and waved at the door. “Pyrrha, you did a great job on Crocea Mors. Let me and Ren make sure Miló gets put back together right.”

“Are you sure?” Pyrrha looked over to Nora, who was only beginning to ramp up her exaggerated sobs.

“Yeah,” Jaune said. “You must be tired from being out so late last night. How were those extra lessons?”

“Very educational.” Pyrrha shuffled her feet. “I taught myself a few things about humility and… other useful skills.”

“I see. Kind of.” Jaune looked curious, but he didn’t press. He had Nora-sized problems to deal with.

Pyrrha quickly excused herself, happy to have a reason to leave early. She wasn’t tired; a nap was the furthest thing from her mind. She didn’t mind dealing with Nora, at least not any more than usual. She wasn’t bored at all by maintaining Jaune’s elegant yet simple hand-me-down from the Great War.

The real reason she left early was to get some privacy.

Pyrrha locked Team JNPR’s door behind herself and breathed deep. Knowing Jaune and Ren, they’d be able to tie Nora down for a half hour at best. She didn’t know how long she’d need, but she would have to make do with what she had.

Pyrrha stood in front of the mirror, looking herself up and down. She wore her circlet atop the standard Beacon uniform of blazer, undercoat and plaid skirt- it was her reminder that even something old-fashioned like a metallic headpiece could be given new meaning and purpose in the modern day. Either that, or she liked the way it held her bangs in place. Probably both.

She slid her blazer off, watching herself in the mirror as she did. It didn’t look sexy. It didn’t feel sexy. Maybe she just wasn’t naked enough? No, she’d caught boys staring at the way her undercoat thrust her breasts up and out. She had plenty of sex appeal as she was.

Didn’t she?

The uncertainty gnawed at her. In need of reassurance, Pyrrha took out her scroll and pulled up the photos Velvet had sent in the wee hours of the night. The poor girl must have worked herself to the bone to get them done so fast- Pyrrha hadn’t asked for them so soon, but Velvet obviously cared a great deal about her hobby. Pyrrha resolved to make it up to her later.

Pyrrha swiped through the photos of herself taking off her armor piece by piece, stripping down for the camera, and losing herself in the moment. Pyrrha Nikos was greatest warrior of her generation, but she hadn’t felt beautiful then, and she didn’t feel beautiful now.

But these pictures showed her someone she didn’t recognize. And that someone was exceptionally beautiful.

She wanted to be the woman she saw in those photos. She needed to master the subtle intimacy that came with a woman baring herself for her lover. She lusted after the power that came with her raw, burning sexuality.

Pyrrha raised her scroll’s camera to the mirror and took a picture.

She unbuttoned her undercoat, not bothering to smooth out the wrinkles it had made around her blouse’s underbust; it made the shot more intimate somehow. Her shoes followed. Pyrrha raised her feet to the mirror, teasing her camera with a shot of her thighs. She’d always thought her pantyhose made her look professional. Now they just felt stifling.

Her skirt came next. Keeping one hand on her camera and another on her skirt’s fastenings, she awkwardly popped her clips open and tugged her zipper down. Her skirt whisked down her legs, collapsing in a dainty pile around her feet. Pyrrha snapped a photo of herself in just a blouse that hung just low enough to tease, a pair of black pantyhose, and her circlet.

Her heart beat faster. Her cheeks were flushed. Her fingers flew down her shirt, moving faster and faster with every button they undid. She could do this. Forget Coco, forget Yang. The only thing that mattered right now was how good Pyrrha looked in that mirror.

She threw off her shirt and shivered in delight. This would be the one she’d save. The photo of herself standing alone in her team’s room, wearing her favorite set of white lingerie, staring longingly at Jaune’s bed. The camera took her in: heaving breasts, eager to spill out of her embroidered cups. Her hand sliding between her legs, tracing circles over her quickening sex. She wanted to tear her pantyhose off her legs- they gripped her all the way up to her waist, stifling her, denying her.

It didn’t matter. She thrust her hand down her linens, beneath her panties, and ran a finger along her entrance. This was her moment to be satisfied, even if she couldn’t court Jaune into satisfying her.

Pyrrha quivered as she slid a single finger inside herself. She took her photo at the moment her mewling gasp left her lips. To Pyrrha, the click of the shutter sounded just like a long-sealed lock being thrown open.

Too late, Pyrrha realized it wasn’t her mind that made it sound like a lock.

The door flew open and Nora burst in, humming a self-satisfied tune. Her foot caught on Pyrrha’s abandoned blouse. She picked it up curiously.

Then she looked in the corner where Pyrrha still stood in nothing but her underwear, one hand down her pantyhose, the other holding her scroll towards the mirror.

Both girls stared at each other for a long, uncomfortable moment: Pyrrha with wide eyes like a deer in headlights, and Nora’s face lit up like Christmas had come early. Both girls broke at the same time.

“I KNEW IT!” Nora shrieked.

“CLOSE THE DOOR!” Pyrrha screamed.

Pyrrha scrambled for the girls’ closet and barricaded herself in before anyone had a chance to peek in the open door. What was Nora doing back early?! She had at least another… had it already been fifteen minutes?

“Nora, didn’t you ever learn to fu- flipping knock?!” Pyrrha called from the closet. “Especially if you ‘knew it’?!

“Ohhhhh… you’re mad about that?” Nora rang back. “I was talking about the camera. Jaune’s gonna have to let me do a centerfold now.”

“You have no concept of privacy!”

“Hey! You’ve walked in on me plenty of times,” Nora said. “It was gonna happen to you at least once.”

“I knocked both times I walked in on you!”

“And I couldn’t hear you because I was really into it,” Nora explained, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Come on, you’d think the noises would clue you in.”

Pyrrha had no response other than to gape at the closet door between them. This couldn’t be happening. Had Nora just promised to tell Jaune about what she’d just walked in on? Was Nora planning on blackmailing her? No, Nora wasn’t that cruel. Then what in the world did she mean? And what did she “know?”

“Pyrrha,” Nora said, a hint of reprimand in her voice. “You can get all upset at me, make me get out and handle your lady stress again but you’ll be thinking about me interrupting you instead of the good stuff which might get awkward… or we can handle this the way mature, responsible adults settle things.”

It was official: the day had officially gotten as weird as it could get. Pyrrha sighed. “…And that is?”

“We go spend lots of money on clothes we don’t need!”

“You’re kidding,” Pyrrha said. “Your attempt at an apology is to go shopping with me?”

“No, my apology is to get you better underwear,” Nora giggled. “You’ve got so much more room for fun stuff. I’ve been in your dresser. I know everything.”

Pyrrha sank against the door. She wasn’t getting out of this bind, not unless she wanted Nora to tell Jaune and Ren about her new hobby. Even if Nora didn’t tell them the specifics, it was bad enough for her to use her selfies as leverage for her “centerfold” plan, whatever that was. There was only one thing she could say that wouldn’t doom her.

“Oh… how lovely.”

 


 

 

Being a good people-watcher wasn’t just about being observant; it was also about being a good storyteller.

An angry boy, barking into his scroll about the tactics used in the Battle of Highwind- he’d probably failed one of Dr. Oobleck’s pop quizzes. A trio of girls, whispering and glancing at a poster for the upcoming dance- likely wondering who they should brush against in the hall in the hopes of being asked out. A boy hurriedly smuggling a slab of beer towards the back stairwell- definitely unaware that Professor Goodwitch always had her eyes on that entrance. There were stories everywhere, if you had the right perch to see them.

Velvet was comfortably reclined against one of the many marble pillars in Beacon’s courtyard. She smoothed her black-and-white striped shirt out, just a little bit annoyed with the length. If she grew any taller, the shirt would to be too short to keep her midriff covered, and that might drive Coco up the wall. Of course, Velvet’s casual t-shirt-and-jeans outfit already made Coco cringe, but Coco couldn’t complain if she wasn’t here. Velvet had learned very quickly that a loud shirt did wonders for drawing people’s eyes away from her ridiculously long rabbit ears.

Beside her, Yatsuhashi had his hands on his knees, his gaze following Velvet’s. Velvet felt a little bad for him. She could see the slight confusion in his features; he didn’t see what Velvet did. He could focus for hours in his own meditation, but when it came to looking outwards, he was terrible at seeing anything but his own pre-conceived ideas. If he wanted to have fun watching the crowds like Velvet did, he’d have to open his mind a little. Still, as long as Yatsu knew how to make fluffy pancakes with slices of strawberry in them, she could forgive more than a few of his flaws.

After the incident, the partners had shared a breakfast and decided how to spend their day off. Velvet was sore and aching from the fight with Pyrrha the night before, so that ruled out Yatsuhashi’s idea of a nice workout. Technically it could help soothe Velvet’s aching, but she just wanted to relax. And Velvet had the perfect idea of how to do it.

“Those two,” Yatsu said, pointing at a boy and girl beneath an arch. The boy was fidgeting with his jacket nervously and talking a mile a minute, glancing all over the courtyard as he did. The girl was smiling and nodding at him, even though he hadn’t given her a chance to respond at all. As he kept talking, her smile just kept growing. “He’s trying to ask her out on a first date.”

“Nope,” Velvet shook her head. “Keep trying, though!”

“Really? You’re sure?” Yatsu crossed his arms thoughtfully. “I must be close. Okay, he’s building up his courage to ask her out for a third date. He’s comfortable talking with her, but not comfortable with what they’re talking about.”

“Almost…”

“I surrender,” Yatsu said. “What are they talking about?”

“He’s asking his team leader for dating advice,” Velvet giggled. “You were so close!”

Yatsuhashi slumped down and groaned. “Ahhh. I wish I had hearing like yours, Velvet. You never miss a single thing.”

Velvet self-consciously brushed a hand over her rabbit ears, which drooped even lower. “…I didn’t have to listen in on them, Yatsu. I just watched.”

He tilted his head in confusion. Velvet sighed. “If he was in love with her, he would have stopped talking ages ago for fear of making an idiot of himself in front of her. He’s running his mouth because he loves someone else, and he doesn’t know what to do but talk about how amazing she is and how little a chance he has with her. His team leader’s seen him at it before and is just enjoying the show before calming him down.”

“How do you know she’s his leader?”

“That one is harder to describe…” Velvet bit her lip. “It’s in their posture, how they move. He’s not trapping her against the wall. He’s talking loud and overpowering her, but his body language is open to, even complementing hers. She’s standing closer to him than a friend, but not that close. There’s a mutual respect. There’s deference and trust. It’s… it’s written all over them.”

As she talked, Velvet felt herself being drawn towards them. That moment of fear, hope and insecurity was too precious to let slip away. The look of happiness and amusement on the girl’s face as she saw her teammate burn brighter with passion. Velvet instinctively reached for her camera beside her.

Her fingers brushed against the familiar box and froze. No, she told herself firmly. Not again.

Her hesitation wasn’t lost on Yatsu. He opened his mouth to say something, but hesitated. He had to choose his words carefully.

“Go ahead,” he said, pointing at the boy and girl. “It would make a cute picture.”

“No,” Velvet said. “They deserve their privacy. How would you like it if people followed you around like a paparazzi?”

Yatsuhashi gave her a quizzical look. He was the last person to shy away from a camera, and he’d proven it at the Vytal festival. He must have mugged for a thousand pictures.

“All right, bad example,” Velvet conceded. “But, you know. I just want to leave them alone. Let them be.”

“One picture is not a big deal, Velvet,” Yatsuhashi said. “They most likely would be all right with it, especially if your picture was a good one… photographs are sometimes all we have to remember our friends by.”

“It’d just be weird, all right? I don’t want to be that girl that sneaks around and takes pictures of everyone,” Velvet said with finality.

It was more than that, though. One bad photo could make a person look awful, and everyone was on their guard when they saw a camera because of it. Cameras drew attention like lightning with their bright flashes and awkward clicking.  Attention was always a bad thing for a Faunus like Velvet. It was as simple as that.

“I see,” Yatsuhashi said.

They both sat in silence for a few minutes. The boy they’d been watching eventually broke off his nervous rambling with his leader, and she sent him on his way with a reassuring touch on the shoulder and a few words of advice. He seemed much calmer after that.

“There he goes,” Yatsuhashi said. “How long do you think it will take him to build up the courage to act on his love?”

“I don’t know,” Velvet said softly. “If it’s too scary for him… it could be ages.”

“Life is too short for fear to stop us from living,” Yatsuhashi said. The boy slipped through Beacon’s doors and disappeared.

“…I guess.”

Another few minutes went by. Students milled through the courtyard, laughing and complaining about everything under the sun. Velvet took it all in, absorbing their stories, letting herself pretend she belonged with them.

“This is nice, isn’t it?” Yatsuhashi asked, looking down at Velvet’s lost expression.

“Yeah.”

“I think it’s worth remembering.” He picked up Velvet’s camera and held it out. “Just one. Just the two of us.”

“I…” Velvet took the camera reluctantly. “I’d be happy to take your picture, Yatsu.”

“That’s what I thought you’d say.” A twinge of sadness flickered across his features. “You’ve never taken a single picture with yourself in it, have you?”

“No,” Velvet said. She set the camera in her lap. It was suddenly twice as heavy.

“Velvet… may I ask you a personal question?”

She nodded, already knowing what he’d say.

“Why?”

She knew why. It just hurt to say it.

She’d never fit in with the normal people around her. Every picture with her in it was all about one thing: ears, ears, ears. They were everywhere: they got in people’s faces, they stretched to the top of the frame, they demanded attention. They were always the first thing people noticed and invariably the first thing people commented on.

Every picture with Velvet in it was “bunny” this, “bunny” that. If she was smiling for a class picture, her ears were just the “cutest thing.” If she was in the background of someone else’s photo, everyone wanted to know if “the bunny girl” was their friend. If she was eating in a candid shot of Team CFVY, they’d comment on how “of course” her lunch was a salad.

Her body wasn’t beautiful, her ears were cute. The whispers in the cafeteria never called her hot, she was just in heat. Any photo of her was just another excuse to talk about how different she was. Or, better yet, how they’d never seen a rabbit Faunus before- wouldn’t you think there’d be way more of them? And those were just the things well-meaning people said.

Velvet felt like the class pet.

“I’m not very photogenic,” Velvet said, head down. “I kind of ruin the ones I’m in.”

Yatsuhashi took a moment to think. Velvet tensed, waiting for him to raise his voice in frustration, like Coco… but then he said something that took her completely off-guard.

“Velvet, do you love yourself?”

“W-what?”

“I mean it.” He took a spot beside her. “Do you care about yourself?”

“I don’t understand,” Velvet said. “I want to care about everyone.”

“You do care about everyone, and that’s why you’re so good at listening to them,” Yatsuhashi said. “But it sounds like you’re listening more to the people who don’t care about you than the people who do.”

Velvet’s heart sank. Yatsuhashi meant well, but she was getting very, very tired of people trying to make her feel better. Once again, her stupid issues had ruined a perfectly good afternoon. Why couldn’t her teammates just ignore her and have fun?

Yatsuhashi knew right away he’d pushed too hard. He sighed. “Okay, I’ll stop. I just think you could be a great photographer and sneak in a self-portrait or two. Coco would love having a photo with you in it, I’m sure.”

Velvet had to fight to keep herself from blushing as the memory of her first photo shoot came flooding back. How she’d straddled Coco’s gun. How she’d shared a soft, passionate kiss. How it had felt to have her bliss captured by her own camera, preserved in time for who whomever found the picture.

Velvet had been too embarrassed to look at it ever since. But if she wanted to relive the moment…

“I-I’m sure she’d like it,” Velvet said, her cheeks turning pink. “She has so many pictures of herself, she probably would like some of other people.”

“That sounds like Coco,” Yatsuhashi agreed. He paused, then looked around to make sure no one was eavesdropping before he continued in a hushed tone. “Is that why she helped out with Yang’s photo shoot?”

Velvet’s heart stopped dead in her chest.

Yatsuhashi knew.

“Don’t worry, Velvet,” he added quickly. “I won’t tell anyone. But… I mean, the next time the rest of Team CFVY decides to keep a secret from me, you should probably avoid making it so obvious when all three of you are doing a photo shoot at once.”

“…Huh?”

Yatsuhashi smiled. “It’s hard to miss Fox carrying half of Coco’s wardrobe out of the dorm room… and then, a few days after Coco takes you aside for one of her secret plans, she pops up online with the kind of photos she would trust only one person to take.”

Velvet held her hands to her face. “It was really that obvious?”

“Only to a teammate,” Yatsuhashi reassured her. “I absolutely cannot see anyone else making that kind of leap of logic. Your secret is safe with me.”

Velvet let out a sigh of relief. “Good.”

“Speaking of wardrobes…” Yatsuhashi peered across the courtyard. “How many bags are those two carrying?”

Velvet looked to where Yatsu had his attention. There, right in the middle of the courtyard, was what appeared to be a moving mountain of shopping bags. In between the shuffling mass of plastic and paper, she could see glimpses of red and orange hair.

“Pyrrha? And Nora?” Velvet scratched her head. “Why would they suddenly decide to pull a Coco?”

“Maybe they’re having their own photo shoot,” Yatsuhashi chuckled. “Could you imagine Pyrrha doing that?”

“Hehe! Yeah! That would be completely unexpected!” Velvet gave him the biggest, fakest smile she could.

“…Are you okay, Velvet?”

“Fine!” she said hurriedly. “Hey, you wanna go help them with their stuff? You wanted to get some exercise, right? Perfect opportunity right here!”

She rushed over to them, leaving Yatsu to stare at her blankly before following. After a few muffled grunts of “Who’s there?! Is it a Grimm?!”, Velvet managed to get enough bags off Nora and Pyrrha to say hello properly.

“Oh, it’s the cream of the CFVY!” Nora said once she could see them. “I always knew you two were the cool ones. At least, cooler than the mime and the model. Wait, did she send you on a secret mission to steal our clothes? You’d better come clean right now or I’ll break your legs once I can move my arms!”

“No! We’re just helping!” Velvet said, shocked and just a little scared. She shot Pyrrha a confused look. Is this what she’s like all the time?

Pyrrha’s drained expression gave her a resounding Yes.

They slowly made their way up to JNPR’s dorm room, with only one or two casualties of fashion along the way, which Velvet made sure to clean up. When they arrived, Pyrrha’s relief was palpable. The bags might not have been heavy, but they’d been carrying them all the way from Vale. The fashionable climb was simply not meant for mere mortals.

“Thank you,” Pyrrha told Velvet once she’d massaged the feeling back into her arms. “I’m sorry for any offense Nora may have caused you. She knows not what she does.”

“It’s fine,” Velvet said, standing clear of Nora, who had started hanging on Yatsuhashi’s arms. “I’m sure Nora is just as wonderful a teammate as Yatsu once you get to know her.”

Pyrrha’s shoulders slumped. “Unless Yatsuhashi also barges in at extremely inappropriate times, I highly doubt it.”

Velvet giggled. “Yours too, huh?”

“My sincerest condolences,” Pyrrha said.

“It’s not so bad. He made pancakes to apologize.”

“Did somebody say pancakes?!” Nora catapulted off Yatsuhashi and landed with a room-shaking thud. “Where?!”

“There are no pancakes, Nora.” Pyrrha sighed.

“Um…” Velvet knew she had to change to conversation to something else before Nora learned that Yatsu could make strawberry pancakes. If that happened, she’d never see him again. “So what did you guys get on your shopping trip?”

“EVERYTHING.” Nora held up armfuls of bags. “We’re gonna be supermodels, just like Coco and Yang!”

Velvet let out a small eep. This was not where she wanted the conversation to go. “That’s… nice. Well, it was great talking to you, I think I left the stove-”

“Hey!” Nora dropped her bags and seized ahold of Velvet’s arm before she could get away. “We need a camera girl. You’re a girl, you’ve got a camera, and you kicked Pyrrha’s butt last night, you’ll be perfect.”

“D-did Pyrrha tell you that?” Velvet said nervously. Pyrrha shook her head in an emphatic no.

“Well it was obvious,” Nora said. “Pyrrha said she took humble lessons from herself, and Miló totally got scuffed up in a fight last night. Pyrrha can’t be in two places at once, that’d be silly. So who can be a Pyrrha other than Pyrrha? That’s right, it’s Velvet!”

“Uh… that’s right? I think?” Velvet tried to pull her arm free, but Nora had her trapped like a tiger. “Could you let go, please? Pretty please?”

“Fine,” Nora said, seeing the look on Yatsu’s face. She let Velvet go, who scampered over to the closed door. “But only because you said please.”

Velvet shook her arm to try and get some blood flow back. Nora’s grip was tight. She squashed the animal part of her mind, the part that told her to run as fast as she could. She was free to go whenever she wanted. Nora wasn’t about to swoop down and eat her. Probably.

“So? Do you wanna be our camera girl? You probably do. I mean, after Coco did her stuff, you must’a been super jealous you weren’t there. She is hot!” Nora rocked back and forth on her heels expectantly.

“Um…”

“Nora, I think that’s enough,” Pyrrha said, stepping between them. “You asked, and she’s clearly thinking it over. Not to mention I don’t really think you should be so enthusiastic about your idea of us modeling all of these outfits. We are huntresses, and we have standards to maintain. Some of these outfits are a far cry from being tasteful.”

“Hey!” Nora said. “You can’t back out now! Not after you come back from hanging out with camera girl Velvet and you’re all gaga over sexy selfies. Did you start without me last night? You did, didn’t you? That’s not fair!”

Velvet and Pyrrha could only stand and watch, horrified, as Nora handled the delicate situation with all the care of a bull in a china shop. “Nora, that’s not what happ-“

“I knew it!” Nora declared. “I bet you just want Velvet all to yourself! You’re going to get Velvet to take super model pictures of you and not tell me anything because you don’t trust me.”

Sweat was beading on Pyrrha’s brow. “Um, Nora… it’s not like tha-”

“Well, I think you’re being mean!” Nora scowled. “We’re team buddies and best girlfriends, Pyrrha Nikos. That means we don’t keep secrets from each other. If this is how you really feel, then fine! I guess some things are just more important than your friends.”

Silence.

Anger burned hot in Pyrrha’s chest. Nora’s outburst was rude and brash. Every bit of it was Nora at her worst. But somewhere, deep down under the layers of jealous petulance, Nora had a tiny point.

“What I do with my body is my business, Nora,” Pyrrha said, doing her best to keep her voice under control. “You have no right to demand I tell you whenever I do something with it. Not only that, but Velvet asked me to keep our time together a secret. She wants privacy, Nora, something you have always struggled to understand.”

Nora fumed. “Hey, you better not be blaming-“

That said, Nora…” Pyrrha interrupted, “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, that’s right you… wait, what?”

“Only a little to you, Nora,” Pyrrha said. “Mostly to Velvet.”

“Me?” Velvet blinked.

“Yes,” Pyrrha said. “I should have known Nora would become involved at some point. She has a knack for seeing things no one else can. Or should.”

“I’m clever like that,” Nora winked.

“I also would like to apologize for having this discussion in front of your teammate,” Pyrrha said. “This must be terrible for you.”

“I… accept your apology,” Velvet said. “And it’s okay. Yatsu already knows about my… little hobby.”

Yatsuhashi gave a calm nod, not saying a word. Well, Velvet had assumed he only knew about Yang and Coco’s photos. But compared to earlier today, this extra bit of embarrassment was nothing.

“I’m waiting for my apology, Pyrrha,” Nora said expectantly. “Come on, give it!”

Pyrrha rolled her eyes. “I’m sorry to you, too, Nora, if only a little bit. It was deceptive of me to dance around the issue. I should have been very clear that this was a private matter between Velvet and I. Not that it would have stopped you.”

“Yer darn right it wouldn’t have,” Nora said. “Guess I should apologize for calling you a bad friend. Ready?”

Pyrrha nodded.

“Sorry!” Nora said, curling her fingers into a heart.

Pyrrha rolled her eyes again. “Apology accepted.”

Velvet didn’t like listening to her Faunus side, but it knew a convenient opening to flee when it heard one. She reached for the door handle as surreptitiously as possible.

“Bye, camera girl!” Nora said. “We’ll call you when we wanna get hawt!

“Nora!” Pyrrha said, clamping a hand over the other girl’s mouth. “Velvet, do not take that as an offer. I will personally make sure Nora breathes a word of this to no one.”

“Mmmmf,” Nora muffled. She peeled Pyrrha’s hand off her. “Yeah, yeah. I’d rather keep a secret than lose a friend.”

“Thank you,” Velvet said, only somewhat relieved. “Yatsu, let’s go.”

Yatsuhashi nodded. Even with his gigantic stride, he had to stretch to get over the pile of bags in the middle of the room. They left the two girls to tear through their new purchases to find out what was worth regretting.

“Take it easy, Velvet. Your secret’s still safe,” Yatsuhashi said, putting his hand on her shoulder.

“For now,” Velvet said. She could already feel the worry eating away at her. She’d just placed herself in the hands of the leakiest bucket in Beacon.

“Well…” Yatsuhashi said. “If she tells anyone, you won’t really feel like taking any pictures for her, will you? She’s smart enough to figure that out.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“That’s the spirit. Hang in there!” Yatsuhashi said, reaching over and ruffling Velvet’s hair between her ears, all while giving her a big, goofy smile.

She couldn’t stop herself from smiling, too. She leaned into the rough but soothing rub, letting him run his fingers over her head. Everything felt better while getting her ears scratched. Too soon, the scratching stopped. Velvet shook her hair out and stretched her arms, feeling refreshed.

“Yatsu,” she said, “You are by far the cheesiest guy I know.”

“I get that a lot.”

Chapter Text

“You do know what you’re getting into, right?” Coco asked. “That girl is crazy.”

There it was. Velvet knew it would come out eventually.

She had just about finished touching up the first set for Pyrrha and Nora’s shoot, and everything was looking great… except for Coco’s attitude. She’d been hemming and hawing about the whole thing. First it was the lighting: it took a half hour to fix that. Then it was the backdrop for the third set: it was “too dark,” and Coco had grabbed Velvet and hauled her around campus to find a drapery to replace it. Another hour there. Velvet didn’t mind the diversions; every bit of advice Coco had to give was something that made Velvet’s shoot even better. But with every excuse Coco found to delay, the more obvious it became that there was something bigger that was bothering her.

“Nora’s not crazy,” Velvet said softly, but sternly. “Coco, you promised me you’d try to be nicer to people.”

Coco’s brow narrowed in irritation. “Yeah, yeah. But I’m being serious, here. You can’t teach a horse to read braille, and you can’t teach a girl like Nora to model. It’s just not going to work. How do you think you’re going to get her to hold still? Or take direction? She’s going to turn the whole thing into a circus.”

“Coco…”

“Seriously, Velvet. Those two aren’t cut out to be models. Pyrrha’s too straight-laced and Nora’s laces are practically velcro. This is art, Velvet. Not everyone can just step in and wing it.”

Being the target of Coco’s disapproval wasn’t just unpleasant, it was oppressive. Velvet rarely had to deal with it, but when she did, it was like her body was being scoured with sandpaper. A month ago, Velvet would have shied away and done anything to get back in Coco’s good graces. Anything to get rid of that scowl framed by unfeeling, pitch-black glasses. But a month ago, Velvet hadn’t seen the real Coco. Now, she could look her in the eye.

“Girl talk,” Velvet said. “No glasses allowed.”

“Seriously?” Coco huffed. “You want to call girl talk on this? Come on. Just admit I’m right.”

“You promised,” Velvet said. She reached out and took Coco’s hands in her own. “Coco, please. This isn’t you. I want to feel like I’m talking to a person, not a wall.”

Coco took a deep breath, seizing up as if she were about to say something insistent- then she let it go in a long sigh. She closed her fingers around Velvet’s delicately, accepting her with more than a little reluctance.

“You’re a real handful sometimes, you know that?”

Velvet smiled. “How else would you catch me?”

Coco kept herself from groaning, but only just. She let Velvet’s hands drop as she reached for her sunglasses. She tossed her head, plucked them off, and her façade washed away. Her shoulders slumped, her gaze fell, and she started twirling her copper lock of hair around a finger. Her disapproval, haughtiness, bluster- it had all vanished. All that remained was the naked truth.

Coco was jealous. Just like with Yang, she saw Pyrrha and Nora stepping in and thinking they could be just like Coco as a threat. Fashion was her world, and in another life, she’d been consumed by it. To have others step in and treat it like a plaything was to trivialize half her life.

But more than that, Coco was afraid.

She was afraid of Velvet getting hurt. Of getting swept up in something she couldn’t control. Of Velvet having another meltdown like she’d had in the locker room- only far, far worse. She’d started Velvet off with a crazy idea she’d never thought would grow- but now she saw just how mistaken she’d been. If there was one thing Coco was extremely bad at handling, it was being proven wrong.

“Coco…” Velvet stepped closer, just barely close enough for her ears to brush against Coco’s beret. “Thank you. Thank you so much for everything.”

Coco kept her eyes locked on the ground, saying nothing, waiting for Velvet to continue.

“You opened my eyes, Coco. You let me see how much I loved doing this. I love it when people can open themselves up in front of me. For some reason they trust me, Coco, and you were the first one to do it. Yang, Pyrrha, Nora- they all trust me… it’s the best feeling in the world.

“I know you don’t like Pyrrha much, but she helped me see that maybe, just maybe, people can accept this kind of thing. I thought she was going to come down on me, but she was so understanding that… it was like what I was doing was normal. Like I was normal. Coco, can you imagine how much that meant to me?”

“Yeah…” Coco whispered. “I can see that.”

“This is where I can be me, Coco.” Velvet pointed at the set, all ready for her models’ arrival. “Even if I’m just a dumb bunny out there, in here… I’m someone special.”

“You’re not a dumb bunny,” Coco said, touching Velvet lightly on the arm. “You never were.”

Coco tensed up as Velvet hugged her, but quickly relaxed as Velvet nuzzled her chin up and down Coco’s neck. She didn’t know why she did it, but it felt right. Just the two of them, sharing a moment in each other’s arms. “And you’re an amazing person, Coco. I… I don’t know where I’d be without you.”

They held each other close, sharing the warmth of two hearts beating as one. Neither moved to break the hug.

“All right, Velvet,” Coco said, her face pressed into Velvet’s hair. “I won’t stop you. Just… call me if things get too crazy, all right?”

Velvet straightened up, suddenly confused. “You’re not staying?”

“No,” Coco said, letting go of Velvet, hating herself for it. “This is your moment, honey bunch. I don’t want to take it from you.”

“But…” Velvet looked to the set. Coco didn’t mean to abandon her, but it certainly felt like it. “You could just watch.”

Coco smirked, a little bit of her old edge sneaking back into her expression. “Girl, please. Have you even met me?”

“Coco,” Velvet said, the name sounding almost like a plea. “You just have to get along with them. Remember, you said you’d at least try to be nicer.”

“If I do learn how to play nice,” Coco said, “It sure as hell won’t be with Pyrrha. Or Nora, for that matter.”

As much as she hated to admit it, Coco was right. Velvet’s ears drooped in resignation. “Okay,” Velvet said. “Just… promise you’ll be there for me.”

“Always,” Coco said. “No matter what.”

They hugged one last time in a brief but intense embrace. Coco stepped back first and reached for her glasses, but her hand stopped short. She shook her head, left them tucked into her collar, and headed for the sublevel elevator.

“Good luck handling those two,” Coco said as the doors slid open. “Don’t be afraid to knock them around a bit. And I’m not saying that just because I’d love to see a repeat of last week.”

“I’ll, uh, keep that in mind,” Velvet said. She didn’t know why, but every fiber of her being was screaming at her to stop Coco from going through those doors. “Coco…”

“Yeah?”

Velvet gulped. “I…”

She wanted to say it. Her heart was racing, her stomach roiling, her knees ready to give out. It would be so easy. Just three words, and Coco would never leave her like this again.

But what if it drove her away instead?

“…I’ll see you later,” Velvet said, pushing those thoughts away. She’d save them for another time, when she could muster more courage than she ever had before.

Coco hesitated for the briefest of moments. She wanted to say something, too, but she brushed it away with a wave of her hand. “Later, girl.”

The doors closed behind Coco, sending her back to the surface and away from a wide-eyed Faunus who still wasn’t sure what she was getting herself into.

 


 

Velvet’s ears twitched. A storm was coming.

“INCOMING!”

Before the elevator doors were halfway open, a duffel bag shot out of the gap, narrowly missing a light stand before slamming into the wall behind. A second later, another bag followed. Velvet dove for cover as a third bag whizzed through the space her head had been a moment before. When the dust settled, three duffel bags lay perfectly stacked atop one another.

Nora strode out of the elevator with a spring in her step, surveyed her work, and gave it a nod of approval. “Told you I’d nail it!”

“That certainly was impressive,” Pyrrha conceded. “But I wish you had at least checked to see if there was anything in the way first.”

“Hey, I made sure to give those lights a warning. They had plenty of time to get out of the way.”

Velvet poked her head out of from behind her stack of gear. It looked mostly safe to come out, but just like with Yang and Bumblebee, she never could be too sure. Thankfully, Nora didn’t have anything else to throw. Nora and Pyrrha were all set to start: makeup done, hair set, and brimming with enthusiasm. They were still in their Beacon uniforms, but with the way they were staring at the privacy screen, they clearly expected to change once they arrived.

Nora’s head snapped over to where Velvet was hiding. She clapped her hands eagerly. “Ooh! I spy a pair of bunny ears! That’s either Velvet or our new team mascot!”

“H-Hi,” Velvet said, standing up before Nora got the idea to try and pull her out of a hat. “I see you, ah, brought your change of wardrobe.”

“It’s good to see you again, Velvet.” Pyrrha said, walking over to shake her hand. “And you are correct. Nora and I worked out the details over the last few days. It took some effort, but we were able to come to an agreement regarding the photo shoot. I thank you for being so flexible.”

“It’s fine,” Velvet said. “Three sets, right? Different outfits on each, with a scary background on the third?”

“Yep!” Nora said. “Pyrrha wouldn’t come until we had a plan. She was all worried about boring stuff like reputation and image and class. Seriously, it’s like we don’t kill evil monsters for a living. It’d be kind of impossible for people to look at us and not see how amazing and awesome we are.”

Velvet listened intently as Pyrrha laid out the deal she’d struck with Nora: for each of the three sets, Nora would get to choose the outfits, except for Pyrrha’s own battle gear- she wanted to save that “for reasons.” Once they were done, Velvet would work over the photos and they’d decide what to do with them, be it selling them online (Pyrrha was hesitant) or just sharing them with the rest of Team JNPR (Pyrrha was even more hesitant).

However, there would be no photos with nudity in them. Teasing was fair game, but anything explicit was absolutely off-limits for both Pyrrha and Nora. Finally, the photo shoot could be called off at any time if one of them decided they’d had enough. Nora had fought hard against that one, but Pyrrha had seen what Nora had bought on their shopping trip: there were limits to what she’d agree to wear, and a few items were just too much to bear (or too little to wear). It was her trump card in case Nora decided to spring one of them on her, and she strongly suspected that without it, she’d regret getting on the set.

Nora, of course, had been unable to decide on what they’d wear until the very last minute. So when she reached into her duffel bags and pulled out the first pair of outfits, Velvet was just as surprised as Pyrrha to see them.

“Ta da!” Nora beamed. She held out a pair of cheerleader outfits, complete with green highlights and the name BEACON in big block letters. “Aren’t they just the best?! We should wear these every day. Why don’t we have cheerleaders, anyway?”

“I’m sure a certain professor has been asking Ozpin the same question for years.” Pyrrha took her outfit and looked it up and down. “This is a splendid choice, Nora. School spirit is important for morale.”

“Morale?!” Nora stuck out her tongue. “I just picked these ‘cause spankies are the perfect excuse to flash people! Now come on, let’s get naked!”

Velvet’s eyes widened as Nora started unbuttoning her uniform jacket, winking at Velvet as she did. Was Nora going to strip down right here in front of her? Coco had almost done something similar, and this time they were in a room locked with a code… Would it be rude to stare? Would Pyrrha notice if she did?

Pyrrha was having none of it, though. Over Nora’s protests, she grabbed her by the wrist and dragged her behind the privacy screen. “Honestly,” Pyrrha said. “This is difficult enough without you making eyes at the camera before we even start.”

On one hand, Velvet was happy to have that particular problem out of the way. On the other, Velvet had her work cut out for her. Nora was invested, but Pyrrha was hesitant. She’d been curious and eager at their first shoot, but with Nora here and the added pressure of possibly all of Vale seeing the pictures, she was, of course, a little nervous. As their photographer, Velvet had to make sure she grounded everyone, took the bad vibes away, and made them all feel comfortable. If Pyrrha and Nora didn’t have a good time, what was the point?

A few interesting sounds later (including such classics as “Ooh! Pyrrha, you’re so big!” and “Stop tickling me!”), Nora and Pyrrha emerged from behind the screen in full cheerleader getup. From halter tops to pom-poms to appropriately short skirts, they were ready to lead a three-girl pep rally. Their stage was set: white floor, white backdrop, and one knee-high white box. All Velvet had to do was point them in the right direction.

“Okay!” Velvet said, raising her camera and giving her models a big smile. “Maybe we could start with a-“

“A cheer!” Nora interrupted. She raised her pom-poms and kicked her legs as high as she could. “Rah, rah! Sis boom bah! Grimm start freakin’, here comes Beacon!”

Velvet’s instincts kicked in, snapping her camera into position for a shot- but Nora was kicking too fast for her shutter speed. The photos she got were too blurry to recognize, much less use. Worse, Pyrrha was just standing and staring blankly. The whole thing was a mess.

Nora elbowed Pyrrha in the arm. “Come on, Pyrrha! Where’s your school spirit?”

Pyrrha gave Velvet a look of confusion. This was getting nowhere. Velvet had to do something to get the shoot on track. But how? Nora wouldn’t respond well to criticism, if she listened to it at all. Telling her to stand still would be a fool’s errand. How could she reach Nora without killing her enthusiasm?

In a flash of insight, Velvet had it. Enthusiasm! Nora may have seemed childish, have a short attention span, and even selfish at times, but it was because she always lived in the moment. Nothing was more important to Nora than enjoying herself right now, no matter what other people thought about it. If she could give exciting, fun direction, Nora would be all over it like a new board game.

While Nora kept trying to get Pyrrha to join in on increasingly bad chants, Velvet ducked aside to grab a discarded newspaper and roll it into a tube. Summoning her inner Nora, she slapped the rolled-up paper against her palm and raised her makeshift bullhorn.

“Hey, cheer squad! Listen up!” Velvet shouted, her voice echoing over Nora’s cheers. “Drills in five! Four! Three!”

Nora perked up instantly, falling in line with her pom-poms at her hips and a beaming grin on her face. Pyrrha paused for a moment, hesitating- but she recognized the twinkle in Velvet’s eye. Trust me, it said. I can make you look amazing.

Velvet called out positions through her bullhorn in one hand and took pictures with the other. Nora moved through poses at twice the rate of Pyrrha, but she held them just long enough for Velvet to get the snapshot.

Velvet had to encourage Pyrrha to kick higher to match Nora’s own energetic sweeps- she knew Pyrrha still felt awkward about the blatant “flashing” of her spankies (or bloomers, where Velvet liked to think of them). Every time she lifted her leg, Pyrrha gave a shameless peek under her skirt, showing off her green, sequin-speckled spankies. She just couldn’t get over the awkwardness of showcasing pants that were too flashy to be panties, but too brief and cheeky to be real shorts.

Though the cheerleading outfits didn’t show any cleavage, they did leave the girls’ midriffs bare. Nora had a soft, smooth stomach that swept into her wide hips. Pyrrha, however, had abs so sharply defined they practically cast their own shadow. Nora was the bubbly, cheerful sprite on the squad; Pyrrha the hard-working underdog. The two cheerleaders were dressed alike, but were so different in pose, attitude and body build that their photos were night and day.

Slowly, as she worked through the poses and cheers, Pyrrha began to loosen up. Her smile was readier, her motions broader, her cheers louder. She was learning something Nora had mastered intuitively, and how Velvet harnessed her Semblance instinctively: how to become something she wasn’t. How to change her attitude and lose herself in the moment.

Bit by bit, Pyrrha was learning how to play a role.

“Yeah! You go, girl!” Nora shouted. “Come on! Backflip time! Get over there and we’ll do it like in practice!”

Pyrrha looked to the set, then to Velvet. She’d need a bit of luck, but if she spaced it right, she could flip right over the set.

“Cheer squad, opposite ends!” Velvet called out. “Let’s see some backflips!”

Both girls scrambled to get to the opposite ends of the garage, dropping their pom-poms and planning their approach. They turned their back to each other, waiting for Velvet’s signal. Nora grinned wickedly.

“On your marks… set… go!”

They sprang backwards, flipping head over heels at dizzying speed but with practiced precision. Velvet lined up her shot, waiting for the moment when the two girls would meet. She had to keep herself from drifting off focus; both girls’ skirts were flipping all the way up every time they touched down with their hands, showing off their glimmering spankies. For the sake of the shot, she held steady.

With a heave, Pyrrha and Nora launched over the set at the exact same moment, reaching the pinnacle of their arcs at the exact same time. Velvet was there to catch it all on film: Pyrrha’s red-faced look of concentration, Nora’s equally red-faced look of exhilaration. Like the professionals they were, both girls stuck the landing. Ten out of ten.

“Whoo! Beacon cheer kicks butt!” Nora cheered, dancing over to Pyrrha and giving her a hearty slap on the rear. Pyrrha blushed, suddenly crashing back to reality. That was the kind of thing she’d expect Coco to do, not Nora.

The spell had been broken, but Velvet had more than enough photos. More importantly, she’d gotten Pyrrha under Nora’s (and, she supposed, her own) spell. There was no denying it: when Nora was having fun at a time like this, it was hard to do anything but join in.

“Next set! Next set!” Nora said, dancing back and forth on her feet. She pushed Pyrrha behind the privacy screen and tossed a duffel bag back after her (getting a very surprised yelp as she did) and leapt in herself. After she’d switched out the backdrop, it was Velvet’s turn to dance anxiously as the two girls’ silhouettes started undressing: Nora insisted she wasn’t staring at Pyrrha, though every few moments the shorter girl’s head turned to peek behind her. Another minute passed as they touched up their makeup and hair, then emerged in their new outfits all ready for the next set.

Nora had chosen a white doctor’s outfit for Pyrrha, complete with toy stethoscope and dangerously short lab coat, just barely coming below the white stockings underneath. Nora twirled in place, making a show of the tantalizingly short skirt on her pink nurse costume.

“The doctor will see you now!” Nora said, gesturing towards a flustered Pyrrha.

“I’m not actually a doctor,” Pyrrha mumbled. It was the best she could come up with.

“How about a love doctor? What do you have for a broken heart?” Velvet giggled. Blame Coco’s bad influence, Nora’s infections giddiness, or her own need to rush over and ask for a checkup: she couldn’t help it. Pyrrha was just too cute to do anything but tease.

“She flunked that class,” Nora said with mock solemnity. “But she’s great with checkups. Aren’t you, Dr. Nikos?”

“Checkups?” Pyrrha asked. “Nora, what are you- oh!

Nora seize Pyrrha’s hand and pressed it against her chest. “I’ve got a fever,” she said, “and the only prescription is you, doctor.”

Velvet bit her tongue to keep from bursting out in laughter. She raised her camera and started taking pictures.

“I suppose we had to start teasing the camera at some point…” Pyrrha rolled her eyes. “All right, ‘Nurse Valkyrie.’ Let’s see what’s bothering you.”

Pyrrha walked Nora to the white block on the set, where she sat as if it were an examining table. Nora stuck out her tongue, making an exaggerated “aaah” and making sure to give the camera a devilish wink as she did. As if it weren’t obvious enough already, she put her hands up to stroke an invisible rod.

“Nora!” Velvet chided, though she couldn’t help but snap a picture. “A little subtlety, please?”

“Party pooper.”

Even to someone like Pyrrha, it was clear what Nora was doing. This wasn’t just playing around in costume. Nora was catering to the fetish crowd, and she was doing it without showing a single bit of nudity. It was playing with the rules they’d set, but it wasn’t scandalous. In fact… it was kind of fun to know that someone, somewhere had just had their wish granted.

Pyrrha went through the motions of a typical check-up, or at least she tried to. Her lab coat kept riding up, and as it did, it became obvious that the black pencil skirt underneath was even shorter than the coat, allowing the lacy tip-tops of her stockings to slide into view. And as Pyrrha leaned down to take Nora’s temperature, her rear end stuck out just enough for a slip of black silk to peek out from between her legs. Pyrrha’s panties had wedged tight between her cheeks, and there wasn’t much material to begin with, either. With the way the tight muscles of her thighs curved sharply into the softness between her legs, she was showing off a lot more than just a flash of delicates.

But for Pyrrha, it was all part of the show. Velvet held her breath as Pyrrha leaned further down, bringing herself closer to Nora’s own beckoning eyes. Her skirt rode up even higher, letting Velvet get an unobstructed view of the way her panties clung tight to her loins. At the same time, she reached for the pink buttons on Nora’s costume.

“Time to check your heartbeat,” Pyrrha said, her voice dropping lower. She undid a pair of Nora’s buttons.

Velvet couldn’t believe it: Pyrrha was taking Nora’s energy and sending it right back at her. The rules of the game had just changed. For the briefest of moments, Nora hesitated. Then she whispered into Pyrrha’s ear.

“Better hurry, Doctor Nikos, or else I’ll have to get a second opinion…”

The camera clicked.

Nora shrugged out of her costume, leaving her in just a nurse’s hat and slippers. Underneath she wore a white bra dotted with pink hearts and white panties with red crosses- clearly, she’d meant to tease a little more before losing the costume. Sometimes, though, the craftiest of plans had to be tossed in favor of something better.

Something much, much better.

“This might be a little cold,” Pyrrha said. She slid her stethoscope underneath the cup of Nora’s bra, pressing against her ample breast. Nora shuddered at the sensation, but her smile only grew. Pyrrha withdrew her stethoscope, but not before swiping her hand down Nora’s cleavage and slyly cupping her breast.

Velvet caught Nora’s moment of surprise on camera, then saw an almost unreadable glimmer in her eyes. Was it pride? Or was it the thrill of finding a new player for her game? No, those were too simple and childish to be right. Nora was a brilliant girl, despite her erratic-at-best attitude.

What she’d seen in Nora’s eyes was triumph.

Velvet had only taken so long to recognize that feeling because it was so unfamiliar to her, but there was no denying it. Nora saw this as a victory. She’d convinced Pyrrha, the most straight-laced girl in Beacon, to try something risky and sexy and totally unscripted- and a large part of it was Nora’s doing. She’d gotten Pyrrha to be just as impulsive and free-spirited as she was; it was like Pyrrha had validated everything about Nora. If Pyrrha Nikos could get caught up and swept away in a few minutes of bliss, then it could happen to anyone on Team JNPR.

Nora was ready to see just how deep the rabbit hole went.

She reached for Pyrrha’s lab coat. The air around them tingled with electricity.

What happened next was so quick that Velvet barely caught it. Nora stripped the white coat right off Pyrrha’s back, tossing it off the set with a manic grin. Velvet’s shutter clicked on Nora’s look of gleeful anticipation, as if she were unwrapping a birthday present.

Pyrrha gasped in shock, but brought herself under control quickly enough. If things got out of hand, she could always call it off. But what if doing that was a mistake? What if, deep down, this was what she wanted Jaune to see? If he saw her sharing herself with someone, would he finally open his eyes?

Would it really be so bad to try something new?

Buttons exploded off Pyrrha’s white blouse as Nora ripped it open. One hit Velvet’s camera lens straight-on, making her almost jump out of her skin. With the way the photo shoot had started heading, she’d forgotten she was even there. Nora and Pyrrha were feeding off of each other in a constantly building whirlwind of sexual energy, without Velvet even needing to stoke the fire. Velvet wasn’t sure she could guide her models, even if she wanted to.

The flush of passion on their faces was genuine. Their poses were charged. Whatever came next was completely beyond her control.

Pyrrha’s blouse joined her lab coat on the side of the set in a heap, followed shortly by her skirt. All she had left on was a stethoscope, a lacy black bra that rivaled anything in Coco’s wardrobe, and a skimpy pair of silk panties.

Neither one of them noticed Velvet in the background. Neither one cared.

Nora seized her around the waist and buried the side of her head between Pyrrha’s breasts, running a hand up and down her back. Pyrrha’s heart beat faster than it ever had before, and she slid her arms around Nora in kind.

Nora swept up and kissed her on the lips.

Pyrrha froze at the first touch, but as Nora’s soft lips took her fully, she melted into the kiss. Her first kiss was slow, passionate and full of longing. One taste became another, and another, until it was a shock when Nora pulled away from her.

“One more outfit,” Nora promised, eyes full of mischief. “Then we can cut loose, and share whatever happens with the boys... if you feel like it.”

Pyrrha didn’t know what to say. She didn’t even know what she wanted. The only thing she knew was that she was surrounded by people she trusted, and that because of it, everything would work out in the end. She followed Nora behind the privacy curtain and reached for the last duffel bag.

Velvet picked her jaw up off the floor and tried to remember how to breathe.

Twitching and shaking, she cradled her camera in her arms like it was made of the most precious Mistral porcelain. It almost burned to hold something so incredible. Never mind the fact that it had survived countless Grimm encounters- if she dropped it, she was afraid it would shatter into a thousand pieces. The images inside were just that delicate.

She nearly did drop her camera when she heard Pyrrha’s shout.

“NORA! These outfits are-”

Velvet clutched her camera tight and dropped to a ball on the floor instinctively. She had to protect the precious with her life, if it came to it.

Of course, she shook off the shock soon enough. Pyrrha’s outburst had subsided to quiet whispers, and though she didn’t like it, Velvet found herself listening in with her Faunus-enhanced hearing.

She caught only bits and pieces. “Inconsiderate,“ “objectifying,” and “embarrassing” were all words Pyrrha seemed hung up on. Nora kept coming back to “super common,” “everyone’s seen it before,” and most loudly, “Just ask her if she’ll do it.”

“No,” Pyrrha said with an air of finality. “If you want to do it so badly, you wear it. I refuse to even consider the idea of asking.”

“Fine,” Nora huffed. There was a quick rustling of clothes, the zip of a zipper, and Nora was done. She stepped towards the edge of the privacy screen, paused, then forced herself to walk out.

Velvet’s hand flew unbidden to her mouth.

Nora wore a tight-fitting orange leotard, mesh leggings, high heels… and a pair of dog ears atop her head.

“Are you okay taking pictures of us if we’re… like this?” Nora asked, her voice unusually quiet.

Velvet fumbled for something to say. Anything.

Nothing came.

It was just an outfit. Nora didn’t mean anything by it. It was just a stupid fetish outfit for people to play pretend with. It was just a role people used for fun. Just like the cheerleader outfit and the nurse outfit, it didn’t mean anything. It was just a fake. A fake outfit with fake ideas about what it meant to be a fake Faunus.

Nora wasn’t a Faunus any more than she was a nurse or a cheerleader. But here she was, asking for Velvet to take pictures of her as if she were.

It was just. An. Outfit.

But if Nora wanted to pretend to be a Faunus right now, when she was ready to do even more… when she had just… "cut loose" with Pyrrha…

What did that say about how people saw Velvet?

“N-Nora,” Velvet said, taking deep, unsteady breaths. “I’m done.”

“Wha…?” Nora blinked. “Velvet, you’re really…”

“I’m done,” Velvet repeated, tears welling up in her eyes. “P-Pyrrha said anyone c-could call this off, s-so I am.”

Nora reeled. She hadn’t meant for Velvet to be the one to use that option. For the first time she could remember, Nora knew she’d made a terrible, awful mistake. She’d gotten caught up in the moment, and she’d been so blind that she’d hurt someone.

“Velvet…” All of Nora’s energy drained through her feet and she stood there, shocked, full of empty regret and at the edge of tears herself.

“Nora?” Pyrrha poked her head around the privacy screen, wearing little more than a half-buttoned blouse. She looked at the scene before her, and the full weight of it finally hit her. “Oh, my God...”

It was getting harder and harder for Velvet to control her tears. It was like a wave of everything she’d held back for years was just getting bigger and uglier and meaner and it just wouldn’t leave. She hurried for the elevator, pounding the call button with one hand while holding an arm over her eyes with the other.

“Velvet! Velvet, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” Nora pleaded, grabbing at Velvet’s free arm. It was the worst thing she could have done. “Velvet, please let me-”

“LET GO OF ME!” Velvet shrieked. In her wild, uncontrolled panic, she could only pull harder and harder at Nora’s iron-hard grip and fail to break free, which only made her feel more and more trapped. “LET! GO! OF! ME!”

The doors to the elevator slid open just as a shell-shocked Nora released Velvet, horrified at what she’d done. Velvet flung herself at the far wall and curled up into a ball, collapsing into a quivering wreck. Pyrrha and Nora watched helplessly as the doors closed in front of them, knowing anything they did could only make things worse.

Velvet was gone.

Shivering, shuddering and crying, Velvet rode the closet-sized box to the surface and away from everything she couldn’t forget.

Chapter Text

The instant her scroll rang, Coco knew something was terribly wrong.

When Coco saw who it was, she was doubly sure. Pyrrha wouldn’t dare call her unless it was an emergency. Pyrrha’s armor of courtesy could never withstand Coco’s biting sarcasm for long, no matter how earnest or well-meaning the warrior-woman might be. ‘Spartette’ may have been a brilliant fighter, but she was an idiot in every way that mattered.

Coco took a breath to steady herself against her workbench. She was alone in the machining shop, so hopefully she’d have privacy. Slowly, she raised her scroll, her whole body on edge. When she spoke, though, her voice was calm and collected.

“Coco here,” she said.

“Coco… I’m so sorry,” Pyrrha said, straining to get the words out. She paused after the apology, saying nothing, but her silence was enough to fill a book.  Whatever happened had made her sound a thousand times more beaten than after her match with Velvet.

Coco gripped her scroll tight. She wanted to scream, shout, stomp, threaten. Anything to get rid of the awful feeling in her gut. That wouldn’t solve anything, though. She was a leader; she had to act like one.

“Start talking, Nikos. Tell me everything.”

“R-Right,” Pyrrha said, Coco’s command snapping her out of her shocked silence. “The photo shoot was going very well. Great, even. But… a line got crossed. There were costumes. Faunus ones.”

Coco’s eye twitched. She knew what it sounded like when someone was covering for someone else’s mistakes. Pyrrha was stupid, but not that stupid. There was only one girl in Beacon who’d dare be so reckless with Velvet’s fragile heart.

“Keep going,” Coco ordered, her voice the deceivingly calm surface of a roiling sea of anger.

“Velvet was upset. We tried to calm her down, but…” Pyrrha’s voice turned hoarse. “She started crying and called everything off.”

Coco’s scroll creaked in her grip, and it took every ounce of self-control Coco had to keep it from shattering into a thousand pieces. Nora Valkyrie was going to get a personal visit from Team CFVY’s brass beauty, and she wasn’t going to be walking away from it.

Chill, girl, Coco told herself. You’ve got all the time in the world to deal with Nora. Focus on what’s important now.

Coco breathed deep, trying to remember her lessons. Sensing her anger. Drawing a line around it and capturing it. Putting it into a tiny box, then setting the box aside. It only took a second, but it was a second of pure torture.

“Okay,” Coco said, as if nothing had happened. “Is Velvet all right now?”

“I’m so sorry, Coco, she… took the elevator out. We couldn’t stop her. Everything was moving so fast, and she was crying so hard…”

Coco’s box exploded in a geyser of boiling-hot rage, spilling its fetid contents everywhere, flooding her mind with red. The hand holding her scroll started trembling violently.

“You did the right thing in calling me, Pyrrha.” Coco heard herself through a muffled fog. Nothing she was saying felt like it was coming from her anymore. “I’ll find Velvet and make sure she’s all right. Just stay calm and take care of Nora.”

“Thank you, Coco.” Pyrrha said, sniffling loudly. She was obviously choking up. “You’re… such a good friend.”

Coco slammed a finger into the red ‘end call’ button, dropped her scroll and screamed.

 


 

Coco hated using her Semblance to sprint. Her super-strength strides were long and ungainly, and her balance was all over the place. It was a far cry from her usual swagger, where she’d turn heads from across the room. Now she turned heads by slamming into them as she flew by.

Velvet wasn’t answering her scroll. That was bad enough on its own; she loved it when Coco called. Fox and Yatsu hadn’t seen her at the library or cafeteria. None of Coco’s friends outside the team had seen her, either.

“Velvet!” Coco called out once she’d reached the courtyard. Nothing. She didn’t expect to find her there, anyway. There was only one place Velvet would feel safe on campus aside from the storage room, and it definitely wasn’t public.

Coco crashed up the stairs to Team CFVY’s dorm room, almost taking out a group of flustered and confused fourth-years. It was their fault, really; if they didn’t have lightning-fast reflexes by now, they deserved it. Coco slowed down once she got to the hallway leading up to the dorm room; she wasn’t about to burst in on a girl with heightened hearing.

As she neared the door, a pall fell around Coco’s shoulders like a cold shawl. Velvet was inside. She knew it.

Coco unlocked the door, carefully twisted the knob, and stepped into a world of hurt.

Clothes had been strewn everywhere. Blouses, skirts, sweaters, and camisoles had been stacked around and on top of Velvet’s bed in massive piles. Bushels of half-done assignments were crumpled and stuffed in between the piles of cotton. A few books lay open, with one history textbook having pages ripped out and savagely torn apart.

In the center of it all was a sniffling bundle of blankets. Velvet lay on her bed, facing away from the door and lying completely still.

Coco’s anger flared out in her chest. In its place was a dull, aching pain for what she’d let happen. Of all Velvet’s meltdowns, this was the by far the worst she’d seen.

“Velvet?” Coco asked, more quietly than she ever had before. There was no response.

Coco closed the door behind her and tiptoed around the piles of Velvet’s clothes and schoolwork. She almost tripped on a heap of shoes, and threw out her arm to balance, knocking over another pile of textbooks with a crash.

The bundle of blankets didn’t move. For a moment Coco feared the worst… but then she heard a sniffle.

 “I’m here, Velvet,” Coco said, heart aching. She took another step through the minefield, finally reaching the edge of Velvet’s bed. “I’m here, now, and that’s all that matters.”

Velvet let out a choked sob, but still didn’t move.

Coco gingerly touched Velvet on her shoulder. Velvet remained frozen in place.

What the hell happened to her? Coco thought, fearing the answer. She felt more powerless than she ever had before. Should she hug Velvet? Would that make a rabbit Faunus panic? Why did everything have to be so complicated?

“Velvet, are you going to be okay?” Coco asked softly.

Velvet broke her silence with a single, pained word.

“No.”

Coco couldn’t hold out anymore. She knew what she had to do: she lay down, pressed herself against Velvet’s back, and hugged the poor girl tight. Velvet broke down into a sobbing mess.

“It hurts, Coco,” Velvet cried. “It hurts so much.

“I’m here, Velvet,” Coco said, knowing Velvet wasn’t talking about the hug. “I’m here for you no matter what. I’ll stay right here all day if that’s what you want.”

Velvet cried. She cried harder than she had in the locker rooms. She cried harder than she had in Pyrrha’s arms. She cried, and cried, and cried until there was nothing left. She could have been sobbing for a few minutes or a few hours, but neither girl could tell the difference.

When Velvet finally fell quiet, Coco just let her lie for a little while. She pretended that nothing could hurt Velvet when she was in her arms, even if it wasn’t true. Some lies were just true enough to be beautiful. Coco slid her hand underneath Velvet’s blanket bundle and took her hand in hers.

“Does it still hurt?” Coco asked.

“…A little,” Velvet breathed.

Coco weaved her fingers between Velvet’s. “I’ll hold you until it stops. I promise.”

“It never stops,” Velvet sniffled. “Coco, it hurts every time someone looks at me. They see what I am and think I’m some kind of rabid animal… and they’re right, Coco. They’re right.”

“You’re not an animal, Velvet. No matter what some idiots think.”

Velvet pulled away from Coco’s embrace and sat up, looking down on her leader with a face full of despair. Her eyes were puffy and bloodshot. Her nose was runny, with snot bubbling out one nostril. Her hair was clumped and frizzy. Velvet was a wreck both inside and out.

“Look at me, Coco!” Velvet said, grabbing one of her long rabbit ears. “Look at these! Don’t pretend they don’t exist. Don’t just forget every time I freaked out inside a tight space or around loud noises. Don’t forget the times you had to check if I packed my supplements because of my stupid diet. Don’t look away and pretend I’m the same as you because I’m not!

Coco stared up at Velvet, shocked at her outburst. She shook her head, letting her glasses slide down to the brim of her nose.

“Yes, you’re different,” Coco said. “But that doesn’t mean you’re an animal. Don’t let other people tell you you’re not a person like they are.”

“You don’t understand,” Velvet looked to be on the brink of tears again. “It’s more than that. Sometimes I feel… urges. Really, really strong ones. Sometimes they’re silly, like wanting to rub my chin on something. Or how I can’t sleep until I’ve cleared a path between my bed and the door.

“Other times it’s worse. I can’t keep my eyes on a single target for long, no matter how much training I get. Even though I’m a huntress, my first instinct is to run, not to fight. And sometimes… I get the urge to do everything they say rabbit Faunus do, and I can’t think of anything else until it goes away.”

Coco blushed. “Velvet, that’s normal. It happens to me, too.”

“It’s not normal!” Velvet shouted. “I’m not normal! I’ll never be normal! Sometimes I can’t even control my stupid urges that come out of nowhere. Coco, can you imagine how scary it is to do things and have no idea why?!”

Velvet’s eyes were wide and desperate, half-mad with fear and a pain that went deeper than Coco had ever thought. Suddenly she froze, kneeling on the bed, face locked in a wide-eyed expression of realization.

“I hate myself,” Velvet said, tears welling in her eyes. “I want to be someone else so badly that it’s my Semblance.”

Coco didn’t know what to say. Instead, she rose up and hugged Velvet again. Velvet didn’t return the hug.

“Everyone gets it but you, Coco,” Velvet said. “Everyone understands what it’s like to be a Faunus. Even Nora.”

“I don’t know what happened in that photo shoot,” Coco said, “But Nora Valkyrie is not someone you should assume understands anything.”

“She understands what it’s like to lose herself in something she can’t control,” Velvet said. “Just like I’ve been doing every time I pick up my camera to take those photos, or every time I fight for real. I just… let my instincts take over.

“They’re right about me, Coco. Everyone’s right. I’m a fuck bunny.”

Coco reached to push her glasses back into place. She wanted to slap Velvet, badly. But now wasn’t the time for anger. If she was going to help Velvet, really help Velvet, she’d need to get answers. She took off her glasses, looked Velvet in the eyes, and took Velvet’s quivering hands in her own.

“This isn’t about the photo shoot, is it?” Coco asked.

“…No.”

Coco squeezed Velvet’s hands lightly. “If you don’t want to tell me, you don’t have to.”

“No.” Velvet gave a shuddering sigh. “I… I want to.”

“I told you, Velvet,” Coco said. “I’m here for you. As long as you need me.”

Velvet shuddered, squeezed Coco’s fingers tight, and began her story.

 


 

After the Breach

Just Over Two Years Ago

 

“Typical White Fang,” Coco smirked. “All bark, no bite.”

“Look around you,” Yatsuhashi said, waving his arm at the destruction around team CFVY. “I see their teeth marks on every broken brick.”

They called it the Breach. The White Fang had masterminded the worst attack on a capital city in living memory, resulting in over than a hundred deaths and countless more lives destroyed. Vale would take decades to recover fully, if Grimm spewing from a city center could ever be forgotten. For now, all the locals could do was count their losses and rebuild.

Beacon Academy had sent each and every team it could spare to help with the fallout of the Breach. Beacon may have been a combat academy, but it was also a civic institution. Hunters and Huntresses were community servants first and foremost; killing Grimm was their specialty, but cleanup after a fight was just as important. Otherwise, there would be no community left to fight for.

“The White Fang just let the Grimm do the heavy lifting,” Coco argued. “Grimm which we then crushed. I don’t see any reason to give those terrorists credit for anything. They couldn’t even get that many Grimm into the city. Remember how many of those Beowolves we mowed down a few weeks ago?”

“One Grimm in Vale is a terrible thing, let alone this many,” Yatsuhashi said angrily. “And yet you want more?”

Velvet tried to ignore their argument, but it was getting harder and harder. If Coco and Yatsu didn’t calm down, they were going to explode at each other. They’d be angry at each other for weeks afterwards, and Velvet hated the tension in the air that came with it.

“We did our jobs perfectly,” Coco said. “We could have handled twice as many Grimm and put on a real show. How often do you think these people get to see us in action? They need to see who’s defending them. It’ll toughen them up and make them more grateful for what we do.”

“How can you be so callous?!” Yatsuhashi demanded. “People died, Coco. As our leader, you should be treating this as a tragedy, not a publicity stunt. You are not a model anymore.”

Velvet bit her lip nervously and looked at Fox, who was staring off into the distance. He was no help, as usual. She had to step in and defuse this herself.

“Yatsu, Coco’s just dealing with this in her own way,” Velvet said, putting herself in between the two teammates. “Coco, can we just focus on our mission? Please? We’ll be done faster, and I know you hate getting dirt on your clothes…”

It didn’t do any good; Coco and Yatsuhashi stepped closer to Velvet and started talking over her head, in between her rabbit ears.

“Yeah, listen to Flopsy here,” Coco said snidely. “What do you want me to do, boy scout? Break down and cry? Would that make you feel better? Would it bring anybody back?”

“No,” Yatsuhashi growled. “But maybe we could have saved a few more lives if you had let Velvet use her weapon.”

The bottom fell out of Velvet’s stomach. Her ears drooped limply.

“Oh, that’s a cheap shot and you know it,” Coco snapped. “That was my call, and I made it to save our asses down the line.”

“I’m sure Vale’s widows and orphans will thank you for it.”

“Fuck you,” Coco spat. She spun on her heel and stomped away, disappearing into a crowd of workers surrounding a collapsed bakery at one end of the market. Yatsuhashi sighed, shook his head and headed to the opposite end of the square.

Velvet was surprised to find her legs were shaking. She sat down on a nearby pile of bricks.

“It’s not your fault.”

Fox’s voice nearly made Velvet jump out of her skin. She put a hand to her chest and looked up at Fox, who was standing a few feet away and staring at nothing in particular. He couldn’t help much with the rebuilding, but he had certainly done a fair share of the demolishing with his Aura Bursts and messy takedowns. He must have felt awful.

“I… I know,” she said, breathing deep. “It’s not your fault, either. We both did the best we could.”

“Not that,” Fox said. “The argument. Your job is cleaning up this mess. Not theirs.”

Fox was surprisingly talkative today. Velvet sighed. “I just hate when people fight, that’s all.”

“Rough way to live,” Fox said.

Velvet didn’t say anything back.

Fox left her to sit on the pile of bricks, choosing to head off in Coco’s direction where he might possibly be useful as a sink for Coco’s frustration with Yatsu. Velvet worked alone in silence for a few minutes before the hair on the back of her neck stood up. At first she brushed it off, but Coco had told her to rely on her instincts more. She kept an eye out for anything unusual, or anyone paying her particular attention. Sure enough, she found a girl about her age giving her an intense stare from across the square.

Velvet didn’t like attention, but she could hardly avoid it in Vale. She was a Faunus, and this was hardly Menagerie. Some people might be seeing one of her species for the first time, after all.

Velvet kept on working, but the feeling of being watched didn’t go away. This girl refused to stop staring. It was more than just curiosity; she wanted something from Velvet.

A minute later, the girl crossed the street and stood on top of the bricks Velvet had used as a seat earlier. Velvet breathed deep and turned to face her, nervous despite herself.

“Y-yes?” Velvet asked, folding her hands behind her back.

“I saw you,” the girl said coldly. “In the battle.”

“O-oh?” Velvet said. “You were in the fighting? Are… you okay? Did you get hurt?”

“No. I’m fine.” the girl hissed. “But your friends crushed my father’s arm when his business collapsed around him.”

 “I’m… so sorry,” Velvet said, bowing her head. “I-if you contact the Headmaster, he can probably-“

“Money won’t fix my dad’s hand,” the girl said angrily. She stepped closer. The girl was just a little taller than Velvet, but it felt like she was towering over her.

“He’s a clockmaker,” the girl said, her voice rising. “Who do you think runs all those stupid gears in your school? What’s he going to do now? Beg for a living?”

“I…” Velvet didn’t know what to say. Unbidden, her eyes darted around for an escape route and her knees bent in preparation for a quick dash to safety.

“You probably wanted all this to happen.” The girl stabbed Velvet in the chest with her finger. “You Faunus are never happy with what you’re given. You got a whole continent to yourselves and you’re still killing people.”

Velvet felt like she was about to throw up.

“As far as me and my father are concerned, there’s no difference between you and the White Fang!” The girl suddenly shoved Velvet with both hands as hard as she could. Velvet stumbled for a second, but her combat training kicked in and she took her stance, feeling nauseous as she did.

“Please…” Velvet said. “Just leave me alone.”

“You want to fight?” the girl challenged loudly, grief and anger emboldening her. “I knew it! You freaks are all the same!”

“Hey, you!” a cocky boy’s voice called out. “If you’re gonna fight a student from Beacon, could you at least pick someone with a weapon? We have a rep to maintain!”

Velvet’s head snapped to the source of her miseries for the last six months. Just when things couldn’t get any worse…

Cardin Winchester, leader of Team CRDL, strode up to the brunette girl challenging Velvet. He eyed the angry girl up and down and shook his head. With a slow, menacing motion, he drew his mace out from behind his back. He smiled at the look of fear and confusion on the brunette’s face.

“Why...?” the girl asked, drawing back a few steps. “Why are you protecting this half-breed freak?!”

“She might be a freak,” Cardin said, “But she’s our freak. They try to teach teamwork at Beacon, and I’m a big believer.”

Cardin swung his mace back and forth a few times, flexing his arm and squaring his shoulders with a grin. The girl scowled, but she knew there was nothing she could do. She looked Velvet straight in the eye one last time.

“We’re all watching you, monster.”

With that, she took off running. Cardin laughed and let her go.

“Daddy issues,” he said. “Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve struck out ‘cause of that.”

Velvet stood frozen in her combat stance, uncertain what to make of things. Cardin had just pulled her out of a sticky spot, and she was definitely grateful. But… it was Cardin. The boy who always knew when she was separated from her team. The one who treated her rabbit ears like his personal toys. The one who, more than anyone else, made her feel like the class pet.

“Come on, bun-bun,” Cardin said playfully. “It’s okay to say ‘thank you’ to your savior.”

Velvet’s skin crawled at the pet name. Not even Coco called her that.

“T-thank you,” she said. With a shiver, she fell out of her combat stance and nodded her head in gratitude.

“Good girl,” Cardin said. “Come on, let’s get you out of here. I saw a few police officers checking you out earlier that looked eager to make an example of some strays. Don’t want to let them pick you up after I’m gone, do you?”

Velvet frantically looked around. Sure enough, there were a few men in uniform at the other end of the square. They’d seen the whole thing, but if Cardin was telling the truth, that might not matter.

“O-okay,” Velvet said, hurrying behind Cardin as he led her away from the officers. They took a few twists and turns to make sure they weren’t followed, and ended up near an old Dust shop that had seen better days.

Cardin waved at the shop’s rooftop, where the rest of his team was working on a piece of Ursa skull to come flying through the second-story shutters. They leapt down from the rafters and landed gracefully- Velvet had to admire how well they handled themselves on uneven terrain.

Still, she shifted back and forth uneasily. Velvet remembered each of her tormentors’ names well: Russel, the boy with a Mohawk. Dove, the shifty-eyed, serious one. Finally there was Sky, Cardin’s right-hand man and self-proclaimed ‘smooth operator.’

“Our friend here picked up trouble and needed saving,” Cardin said with a smug grin. “If you see any cops, they’re probably coming for her.”

“Ha!” Russel cackled. “The hell’d she do?”

“What kind of question is that?” Dove said. “Just look at her.”

Russel blinked. “I’m looking…”

Velvet’s skin started crawling again. She clasped her hands together and stared at the ground.

“Racial profiling. It’s more likely than you think.” Cardin smirked. “The boys in blue just happened to notice our little bunny step in some unpleasant realities.”

“Unpleasant…”

“Russel, you’re an idiot,” Sky said, rolling his eyes. “She’s a Faunus. Nobody liked them even before the Breach. Do you really think she’d be able to walk around and not get eggs thrown at her or something?”

Velvet wanted to curl up and die.

Cardin stepped beside Velvet and swept his arm around her shoulders, pulling her against him. She let out a squeak of surprise and tried to wriggle away, but his grip was too tight.

“Don’t worry, bun-bun,” Cardin said. “We’ll keep you nice and safe until the coast is clear.”

“P-please let me go…” Velvet whimpered. She could already feel a familiar panic rising inside her chest, demanding that she break free and run far, far away.

“Hey, don’t be a downer,” Cardin said. “If we’re stuck together, might as well have some fun, right?”

Velvet yelped as Cardin seized ahold of both of her ears with his free hand, twisting them roughly in his grip. He pressed his hand into her head, scraping her scalp and painfully flattening half the length of her soft ears.

“Faunus love having their ears played with,” Cardin said. “I read it in a book somewhere.”

“Let me go!” Velvet cried out. “Please!”

“Fine, fine. Geez.” Cardin released Velvet and gave her a quick shove away, making her stumble. When she got to her feet, she realized she was missing her camera. Cardin had snatched it free from its holster on her back.

“You really do like taking photos, don’t you?” Cardin said. He raised her camera, curious. “I never see you without this little box. I wonder what’s inside?”

“Hey!” Velvet protested. She sprang over to Cardin, but he put a hand on her head, fingers between her ears, and kept her down away from her camera.

“I do love the classics,” Sky sighed wistfully. “Keep-away never gets old.”

“Those are personal!” Velvet tried jump up and protest, but Cardin’s hand on her head was pushing her down harder than she could believe.

“Just a peek,” Cardin said. “I promise we’ll give it back when we’re done, bun-bun.”

Velvet watched helplessly as Cardin scrolled through her camera’s pictures. His expression changed from snide delight, to confusion, to boredom, to outright derision. He held out her camera’s screen to his teammates, and they gave similar reactions.

“The hell?” Sky said. “Who takes pictures of Yang’s fists?

“I dunno,” Russel said. “Maybe the bunny has a forearm fetish?”

Velvet flushed a deep red as team CRDL mocked her relentlessly. She tried to tune it out, but each barb was more hurtful than the last. It only made sense; her photos were so bad, they had only one way to make looking at them fun: make her the fun.

“Finally,” Cardin said, finding a picture he liked. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”

Velvet started to sweat.

“Hey, it’s workout Coco!” Russel whooped. “Damn! She is hot!

“Good shot of her abs! And that sports bra!” Sky hooted. “Ten out of ten, would bang!”

“Oh, shit. Here’s the boy toy,” Russel said, seeing the next photo in line. He elbowed Sky in the ribs. “Didn’t Yatsuhashi get all the ladies way back when?”

“He took lessons from me,” Cardin proclaimed, “But he got out of the game once he partnered up with fuck bunny here.”

Velvet’s ears twitched. A burning humiliation started rising in her gut.

“Look at her,” Dove said. “She’s beet red!”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Velvet mumbled.

“Nobody said that,” Cardin laughed. “One man can only handle so much rabbit Faunus. He’d die of exhaustion!”

The acrid burning in Velvet’s gut rose higher as Cardin and his team laughed at her. She closed her eyes and wished they’d just disappear.

Cardin kept flipping through her camera, and Sky kept making lewd jokes any time he saw a hint of Coco’s cleavage. Velvet was pretty sure there wasn’t anything scandalous on her camera, but she was still on edge the whole time. It was like having her most personal memories rifled through by someone with the dirtiest, most awful hands imaginable.

And then Cardin choked on his spit.

“Dude,” Dove said.

Dude,” Sky echoed.

“Chicks!” Russel crowed.

Velvet’s breath froze in her body when she realized what photos they must have found.

“No! Give it back!” Velvet shouted, making a renewed grab for her camera. This time Cardin’s shove wasn’t playful or gentle: she fell flat on the ground, hitting hard on the side of her thigh.

On her camera was a picture of two girls in the Beacon courtyard, lost in an intimate kiss. Their hands were intertwined, bodies snaking together as one. They didn’t care who was watching. They were beyond caring; they were in love.

“Wow,” Cardin said, finally finding his voice. “Fuck, bunny. You took a hell of a shot.”

Velvet fought to keep herself from crying as Team CRDL scrolled through the photos she thought she’d moved off the camera. There were photos of couples holding hands. Couples kissing. Some straight, some gay. All of them were Velvet’s guilty pleasure.

“I think we found her spank bank,” Russel whispered.

All four members of Team CRDL stared down at Velvet, red-faced and sitting on the ground in utter humiliation. Velvet could feel them undressing her with their eyes. Her skin crawled as she tried to ignore the obvious: they were fantasizing her, naked, pleasuring herself to those photos.

Every happy moment she’d spent with those pictures turned to ash.

“I never knew…” Dove breathed. “I mean… I guess what they say about her is true.”

“I never doubted it for a second,” Cardin said. “Fuck bunny needs her fuck fix, simple as that.”

“Stop calling me that,” Velvet said quietly.

“What? Fuck bunny?” Cardin held out Velvet’s camera and showed her one of the racier photos, with a girl’s shirt half-off and her boyfriend moving his hand up her stomach. “Come on, cutie. We’re just joking. If you’re really that hot and heavy for some action, we can call you something else.”

“Stop it…” Velvet pleaded. The burning sensation in her stomach was growing hotter and hotter. Her whole body started to tremble.

“If you say so,” Cardin sighed. “Let's get to the end. Maybe there’s some of you?”

Velvet prayed they would finish quickly. Anything to get rid of the sick, acrid burning spreading through her whole body. If she could get her camera back and get to Coco, she’d tell her everything. Or Yatsuhashi. Or Fox. She could call any of them on her scroll right now and have them by her side.

But if she did, she’d have to tell them what was happening. Make them protect her, again. Be the dead weight on the team. That was something she couldn’t bring herself to do. Not when it was her problem.

Velvet was good at making her teammates happy. It was her one special talent. She couldn’t bring herself to ruin it, not even a little.

“Nothing,” Cardin said after he’d finally reached the end of the camera's memory. “I can’t believe it. Not one sexy photo of fuck bunny here. Not even a selfie.”

“Aren’t girls supposed to be really into selfies?” Russel asked.

Cardin shrugged. “I guess Faunus girls don’t count.”

At long last, they were done. Velvet gave a shuddering sigh.

“Give it back,” Velvet said. “Please.”

“Just a minute,” Cardin said. “We’ve got to do you a favor.”

Velvet looked up to see her own camera pointed in her direction. She jumped as the flash blinded her. The boys guffawed at the photo and slapped each other on the back.

“Check it out,” Cardin said, holding Velvet’s camera out to her.

Velvet looked at herself lying on the alley floor in front of the Dust shop. She was a sorry sight: a broken, humiliated Faunus in combat gear far too expensive for her.

The girl in the photo wasn’t a Huntress. She was a fraud.

“A few more?” Cardin said, smiling.

Velvet stared dumbly at the camera as it flashed again, and again, and again. It was the same pose of a beaten and broken-hearted Faunus, but every time the shutter clicked, a part of Velvet died a little more.

With the camera flashing in her eyes, Velvet came to a dreadful, awful realization. She knew that these boys would never leave her alone no matter what she did or who she called to save her. The world wouldn’t leave her alone, no matter how much she wanted to just make it a little less of a pile of shit. No matter what she did, no matter how kindly she treated everyone, she could never have the happiness she wanted. She couldn’t run from this. She couldn’t hide. There was only one option.

The acrid burning in Velvet’s stomach rose to a boil. She stared past her camera and at the members of Team CRDL.

Velvet wanted them dead.

Cardin didn’t even have time to shout before Gambol Shroud’s ribbon wrapped itself around his leg. His head hit the brick path with a sickening crack. Velvet’s camera, shining with blue light, clattered aside.

“What the fuck?!” Sky shouted in confusion. Seeing his leader go down, he reached for his axe, but he was too slow. Quick as lightning, Blake bounded across the alley and slammed Gambol Shroud’s sheath into the side of his head, taking him to the ground as well.

By then, Dove and Russel had managed their weapons out and ready in a combat stance. Their weapons were up, but their grip was shaky and uncertain. Ruby didn’t give them a chance to steady themselves.

Gambol Shroud winked out of existence. Crescent Rose took its place.

Ruby struck them faster than their fearful eyes could see. The alley lit up with bright sparks of brown and gray aura.

Dove and Russel fell to the ground bleeding.

Velvet reappeared at the end of the alleyway as a blue-lit silhouette. She held her camera tight in one hand, Myrtenaster in the other.

Sky and Cardin rose to their feet, horrified at what had just happened. Weiss let them suffer before she struck.

A few short seconds later, only Cardin remained. Myrtenaster faded into the shadows.

“You…” Cardin staggered back, holding his mace out unsteadily. He looked to his fallen teammates, the reality finally hitting him. “You fucking freak!”

Yang bathed in Velvet’s white-hot fury and called on Ember Celica. It only took an instant for her to be inside Cardin’s guard and slamming him over and over with shotgun blasts fueled by months of pain. Yang looked him in the eye as he hit the ground for the second time. His aura flickered and died just in time for her to spit on him. Ember Celica winked out of existence.

Velvet took a shuddering breath. She staggered over to the spot where Cardin had fallen. She had one last thing to do, but she couldn’t do it alone.

Cardin looked up to find Coco’s ice-cold eyes staring back at him.

“If you four ever come near me again…” Coco paused, making sure Cardin remembered it as more than just a pain-induced hallucination. “I’ll kill you, Cardin. You and your whole team.”

Cardin could only gasp through the pain of his broken ribs.

Velvet staggered out of the alley, leaving the bleeding and broken Team CRDL to fend for themselves. She wandered for what felt like a very long time.

Velvet found a gutter, fell to her knees and threw up.

 


 

 

After a drained Velvet finished telling Coco what had happened that day in Vale, she made Coco swear to do the impossible.

“Promise me you won’t hurt them,” Velvet said. She took Coco’s limp hands in her own. “Please, Coco.”

Coco couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Velvet, I can’t keep that promise.”

Velvet gripped Coco’s hands tight. “Coco… hurting those bullies hurt me twice as much as it hurt them.”

“Bullshit.”

“It did,” Velvet said. Tears came to her eyes for the thousandth time that day. “That was the first time I really hurt someone, Coco. I had so many angry voices in my head, all screaming at once. Ruby, Weiss, Blake, Yang, you… my mind felt like it was breaking into pieces.

“I worried for weeks about what would happen. If they’d try and take revenge, or if I’d get kicked out of school, or if all of us would get expelled, but nothing happened. They left me alone. It worked. And… that was the worst part.”

“Why?” Coco asked. “Velvet, I don’t understand any of this.”

“It was so horrible because…” Velvet sobbed. “Coco, I can’t hate people because it hurts. I don’t want to feel like that ever again. I don’t want that to be how I fix things in my life.”

“Velvet…” Coco sat in disbelief, holding her sobbing friend tight. How could someone like Velvet even exist?

“I’m sorry, Velvet,” Coco said once Velvet had finished. “You can’t make everyone happy, not when all some people want is for you to feel sad. You have to find something to live for other than making people happy.”

“I know,” Velvet sniffled. “I just can’t live on hate, Coco. I just can’t.”

Coco held Velvet tight again, suddenly afraid she would disappear if she let go. Velvet, the person who put everyone before herself. Velvet, the impossible girl.

Coco couldn’t believe how lucky she was to have met someone so fragile, yet so strong. Her breath hitched in her chest as she struggled to say the words.

“…I love you, Velvet. I hope that’s enough.”

Velvet stiffened in shock. Then she rubbed her chin up and down Coco’s neck.

“I love you, too, Coco.”

Chapter Text

Blake might have been more excited about her surprise birthday party if it had actually happened on her birthday.

It had been a rough morning for Blake in the showers. Things were already looking to be a bad hair day, and by extension, a bad bow day; her cat ears would be stifled and scratchy by noon at this rate. No matter how much product she threw in her stubborn black tresses, the mess just wouldn’t behave. Blake gave a sigh of resignation, shoved her kit in her bath bag, and re-tied her bow. If Yang was still in the team’s dorm room, maybe she could ask for a second set of hands and try again.

Fully dressed, Blake slipped out of the girls’ showers. She’d long since perfected the art of tidying up in the privacy of her own shower stall with a tiny mirror and a water-resistant hair dryer with an extra-long cord. Blake hated the hassle of bringing her entire day’s ensemble to the humid, messy bathroom, but it was either that or risk having the towel fall off her head on the way back to the dorm room. Better safe than sorry, especially with a secret like hers.

Before Blake could even finish opening the door to her dorm room, she’d been hit by a hail of confetti, a cacophony of noisemakers, and a screaming chorus of “Happy Birthday, Blake!”

Blake jumped a foot in the air and dropped her bath bag. Team RWBY’s dorm room was stuffed full of friends: Ruby and Yang were waiting to ambush her at the door, Pyrrha was waving beside the closet, and Weiss and Jaune were awkwardly pretending each other didn’t exist.

“My birthday was four months ago,” the ‘birthday girl’ protested lamely. She glanced over her shoulder, but it was far too late to run; Ruby was already gleefully sliding a party hat behind Blake’s bow.

“Okay! Happy Surprise Half-Birthday!” Ruby cheered. She accidentally letting go of the party hat’s rubber band, snapping it snap painfully against Blake’s chin. Blake winced, but she couldn’t stay mad at Ruby, not when she was this excited.

“If it makes you feel better, Blake, this whole thing was a surprise for us too,” Yang said. In one hand she held a plate and slice of cake, which she was eyeing eagerly. “Nora showed up with a cake and Ruby just had to do something with it. It all happened so fast, I didn’t even have time to buy you anything!”

“You don’t have to give me a present,” Blake smiled, “But you could check to see if the cake is edible. Didn’t you say Nora made it?”

Jaune, standing beside Weiss, nodded enthusiastically. Two plates lay scraped clean behind him on the desk; apparently, the cake hadn’t killed anyone yet.

“I waf- mmf- furprifed, too,” Jaune said, cake crumbs spraying from his lips. “Nora’f been furprifingly fenerouf fince laft Fa’urday.”

A few bits of cake landed on Weiss’s arm. Her jaw dropped open in horror just long enough for a fresh wave of sloppy crumbs to fly into her mouth.

“Ew! Ew, ew, ew!” Weiss gagged. “Oh, God, it’s in my mouth! Ewwww! Ruby, get the disinfectant!”

“Right! One cleanup crew, stat!” Ruby shouted. She whistled and clapped her hands. “Don’t worry, Weiss! Here comes the professional!”

“Oh, thank God, Ruby, you’re a lifesav-AAAH!”

Weiss shrieked as Zwei barreled out from under the beds and leapt straight at her face. With a crash, team RWBY’s fearless corgi pinned Weiss flat on the floor and bombarded her with big, wet doggy kisses.

“No! Hehe- bad dog!” Weiss shouted, though she couldn’t keep from laughing as Zwei’s sloppy tongue licked her face all over. “RUBYYY!”

“Uh. Forry, Weiff,” Jaune said, wiping his mouth with his sleeve.

Jaune’s apology only added to Weiss’s dusting of crumbs, which Zwei was only too happy to lick away. Weiss’s shrieking giggles mixed with Ruby’s outright laughter, egging the frenzied dog on as he coated poor Weiss’s face with doggy drool.

Blake tried to keep her composure and failed miserably. She put a hand to her lips to hide a giggle, but let out a high-pitched squeak instead. Yang shot her a knowing wink.

With that, the party took off faster than Bumblebee at a green light.

As soon as she was free, Weiss made a break for the bathroom. Pyrrha immediately swooped in to take her spot at Jaune’s side. Smooth as silk, Pyrrha slid her arm around Jaune’s elbow and guided him to the mirror, where she started delicately picking at the crumbs around his mouth.

“Holy crap,” Yang whispered to Blake under her breath. “Looks like you can teach an old cat new tricks. When did this happen?”

“I don’t know,” Blake shrugged. She sliced herself a piece of cake, sniffed it, then began to pick at it suspiciously with a fork. “But it’s about time, I guess.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Yang conceded. Without warning, she reached out and untied one of the ribbons wrapped around Blake’s arm, raised it over her head and dropped it on the floor.

Blake stared at her partner in confusion. “What was that about?”

“Checking to see if gravity still works,” Yang said. “Looks like we’re not in bizarro world just yet.”

“Good to know.” Blake sighed in exasperation. “Can I have my ribbon back now?”

“Already?” Yang teased. “I was gonna play ‘pin the tail on the faunus.’ “

“That’s racially insensitive and wildly inappropriate,” Blake scolded. “…and it’s embarrassing.”

“Aww. That’s the best part,” Yang said. “Come on, everybody here already knows your little secret. Why not have some fun with it?”

Blake gave her a deadpan stare. “Yang, sometimes you can be thicker than Ruby.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Blakey.” Yang cocking her hips and raising her hands behind her head. “I’m always thiccer than Ruby.”

Blake put a hand to her mouth and snorted.

A few more minutes went by and the cake was quick on its way to total and utter destruction. Ruby pointed out that Nora and Ren hadn’t even had the chance to try the cake yet, so a bargain was struck that they’d wait to finish it until they showed up. Of course, Beacon was a school, so team Flour Power had to be punished for their tardiness. Ruby handed out weaponized pillows to whoever would take them.

A few minutes later, the door opened.

“Fire!” Ruby shouted.

“Wait!” Pyrrha cried out too late.

Weiss walked through the door with perfect makeup, perfect hair and perfect poise. A triple-pronged assault of pillows made quick work of all three.

“Hey there!” Yang smiled.

“Uh-oh,” Jaune gulped.

“Uh… we thought you were Nora and Ren,” Ruby said sheepishly.

“Ruby?” Weiss’s voice was deathly cold.

“…Yeah?”

“Of course you know that this means war.”

Shining silver glyphs thrummed to life under Jaune, Yang and Ruby’s feet. Pyrrha quickly scooted away from her team leader and grimaced.

Blake and Zwei shared a look. Without a second to spare, the corgi hopped into Blake’s arms and the duo slipped out into the hallway as the room whipped into a whirling tornado of Dust, flame and rose petals. They shut the door behind them for good measure just as something, or someone, exploded.

“I’d say the universe has it out for her,” Blake mumbled into Zwei’s fuzzy head, “but she’s a Schnee, so it evens out. Kind of.”

Zwei barked in agreement.

Blake scratched between Zwei’s ears for few moments before her own sensitive pair twitched beneath her bow. Someone was nearby.

“…running… you here, Valkyrie.”

“This is my dorm. Of course I’d be here.”

The conversation was coming from inside a nearby stairwell, behind a closed door. The two girls’ voices were barely more than a mumble to human hearing, but Blake didn’t have to worry about that.

“But the odds of us running into each other right here, in this stairwell, at this moment? That’s a hell of a coincidence.”

“Yep. Sure is.”

Blake listened closer. The first girl’s tone was friendly, but lined with the quiet tension of a tigress stalking her prey. The other girl Blake recognized as Nora, but her voice sounded different somehow. She let Zwei down and padded closer to the stairwell door.

“Sure is,” the other girl echoed. “The least you could do is say ‘Hi, Coco.’ “

“…Hi.”

Nora’s voice was strained. Her eager, bubbly personality had fallen away. Something was making her nervous. Very nervous.

“We don’t see each other much outside practice, do we?” Coco asked lightly. “I mean, it’s not like we have class together, but you’d think we’d bump into each other in the halls once or twice… especially since you just made friends with Velvet.”

“…We’re not friends,” Nora said softly.

“Are you sure? Ever since last Saturday, you’re all she can talk about.”

Nora’s breath started coming in gasps. “I-I’m sorry,” she panted. “I’m so sorr-“

“You know,” Coco interrupted, her voice taking on an edge that could cut steel, “I’ve always wondered how strong your Semblance is, Valkyrie. Super strength, right? Just like mine, except for one difference.”

The door to the stairwell shuddered, as if someone had backed against it.

“You channel electricity,” Coco hissed. “I channel hate.

Blake reached for Gambol Shroud.

“Why are you doing this?” Nora choked out, barely holding back a sob. “If you want a fight, just hit me!”

“Bitch, have you even met me? I don’t want to fight you,” Coco spat. “I want to destroy you. I want to tear you apart piece by piece until all you can do is drag yourself back to the hole your little orphan ass crawled out of, curl up in a ball and cry...

“...Which is why I’m not even going to touch you.”

Blake froze a foot from the door.

“…What?” Nora’s voice filled with confusion.

“You heard me,” Coco said. “You can uncurl those fists. You won’t need them.”

“But…”

“Do you think I’m as stupid as you are?” Coco sighed. “A fight’s just what your chunky ass wants. No, you’re not getting a quick fix for this one.”

“I’m not chunky…” Nora whined pitifully.

“Oh, look at me!“ Coco dropped her voice to a low growl. “I’m Nora Valkyrie! I solve problems with my hammer, pound square pegs into round holes and eat tons of cake afterwards, because fuck consequences, right?”

“You can make fun of me all you want,” Nora grunted. “I can take it.”

“I know you can, thunder thighs,” Coco agreed. “That’s why I’m going to introduce myself to Lie Ren tomorrow.”

The floor shook.

“You wouldn’t!” Nora snarled. “Keep your claws off him! I’ll… I’ll break every twiggy bone in your body!”

“Twiggy,” Coco said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Never heard that one before. Got anything better rattling around in that empty red wastebasket?”

“I’m serious!” Nora shouted. “If you hurt him, I’ll crush you no matter how strong you are!”

Coco let out a high, mirthless laugh. “You really are slow, aren’t you? I’m not gonna fight him, either.”

“You know what I mean!” Nora seethed. “You think that just ‘cause you’re pretty and hoity-toity, you can come in and… and… seduce him?”

“Why does everyone assume that’s the first thing I’d do?” Coco asked. “Wrong again, airhead. I’m not going to take him for myself… I’m just going to take him away from you.”

Nora’s whole body went rigid.

“I’m a team leader, chunky monkey. That means for every mission my crew does well, I make a new friend in some backwater village. Sometimes, those friends have a few connections of their own. If I’m lucky, those connections are in high places- like Atlas.

“I’ve been hearing whispers about a creepy little project studying how to hide people from the Grimm by suppressing their emotions. It didn’t work out for Atlas in the Great War, but I think if the right people were to hear about a certain Huntsman’s Semblance… they might want to run a few tests, wouldn’t they?”

“No...” Nora moaned. The floor shuddered slightly as she fell to her knees. “Please, Coco, don’t do it!”

“Do what? Let slip a thing or two in front of a visiting Schnee?” Coco asked innocently. “Atlas treats its soldiers very well. Honestly, I’d be doing Lie Ren a favor. He might even get made a General in their military if he plays his cards right.”

“Please,” Nora begged. “I don’t want him to go, Coco. He’s all I have…”

Coco smiled. “I know.”

Nora sat, powerless and shivering, as Coco turned away. Her heels clacked all the way down the stairs until she disappeared through the Grimm-proof emergency exit. The door slammed with the finality of a thousand pounds of reinforced steel.

Nora choked on her first unsteady breath. The next came as a wailing sob.

Blake backed away from the door as quietly as she could.

 


 

“Oh my God,” Yang said, her eyes wide and unbelieving. “Coco is such a bitch.”

Zwei woofed in agreement.

Blake leaned against the end of the hallway opposite the faintly sniffling stairwell. Nora hadn’t moved in twenty minutes, and Blake only trusted one person for advice on handling explosives this deadly. Zwei wasn’t there for advice; he was there because he was the only one strong enough to survive in case Nora needed a hug.

“I don’t think she can actually do that,” Blake considered. “Can she?”

“It’s Coco.” Yang grimaced. “The last time somebody pissed her off this much, I think they ended up in the cafeteria’s Meatloaf Surprise.”

Zwei whined in worry.

“No, Zwei, that doesn’t mean you have to stop eating it,” Yang sighed. “Look, let’s just call up the rest of JNPR and have a good old-fashioned war council. If Coco wants to ship Ren off to Atlas, she’ll have to come through us!”

“It’s not just Coco,” Blake said. “It’s the entire Atlesian military we have to worry about.”

“Atlas owes my dad a few favors,” Yang replied confidently. “If push comes to shove, we can hit ‘em right back. Coco’s got connections, but we’ve got friends. Besides… Ozpin wouldn’t let Atlas come in and poach students from right under his nose, right? Our headmaster has to be good for something.”

Blake’s brow furrowed in worry. She still wasn’t convinced; just because a bunch of people said they stood for something didn’t make it true. Only actions mattered.

“Fine,” Blake said, “But we’re not going to do anything until we get to the bottom of this. Do you have any idea why Coco would be angry at Nora in the first place?”

“How should I know?” Yang shrugged. She pushed off the wall and sauntered in the direction of team RWBY’s dorm room. “The only things Coco really cares about are fashion and her team, and given the way she treats them, probably in that order.”

“Wait…” Blake muttered. “I remember Nora was about to apologize for something, but Coco cut her off. I think it had to do with Velvet.”

Yang’s swagger evaporated and she stopped dead in her tracks. “…Did you say ‘Velvet?’ ”

“Yes. Does that change anything?”

“It might change everything,” Yang said softly. She spun on her heel and began pacing with her hand on her chin. For a moment, the only sounds in the hallway were Weiss and Ruby’s muffled laughter and the sound of Crocea Mors clanking against Crescent Rose and Myrtenaster.

After a long pause, Yang finally reached a decision. She looked at Blake, determination radiating from every pore. “We gotta handle this one ourselves.”

“Why’s that?” Blake asked.

“What do you mean, ‘Why’s that?’ “ Yang sputtered. “Weren’t you the one who drove herself insane trying to take down the White Fang alone?”

“I was dumber then,” Blake said bluntly. “I didn’t have you.”

Yang blushed.

“But…” Blake gave her partner a warm smile. “If you think we have to solve this ourselves, I’ll trust you.”

“Thanks, Blake.” Yang tried to make a show of how calmly she was playing with a lock of her golden hair, but she wasn’t fooling herself, her Faunus friend, or her corgi. “So… how about we start by getting Nora someplace with pillows and hot chocolate?“

“Nope,” Blake said. “We start by you telling me exactly what Nora, Coco, and Velvet have to do with you and those photos you plastered all over the internet.”

Yang blinked. “How did you know about all that?”

“I’m a woman of mystery,” Blake said. “Of course I know everything.”

“Blake…”

“Fine, fine, I’ll tell.” Blake tried to keep her expression neutral, but her bow bounced proudly. “Since you asked so nicely… Last week I saw that you had Velvet’s number listed as ‘Playgirl McFlopsy’ on your scroll. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together after all this.”

“You went through my scroll?!”

“You were drunk and taking selfies,” Blake purred. “It was my solemn duty to save you from yourself.”

“Whatever,” Yang groaned. “Here’s the short version...”

 


 

 

Ruby was cute when she cried. Her cheeks turned the same shade of red as her hair, she whined like a puppy in between sniffles, and her tears sparkled. She was so cute that her sister almost felt bad about throwing out the moldy old teddy bear Ruby hadn’t washed since she was five.

Weiss was dignified when she wept. She kept a kerchief close at hand, just in case crying would be the socially acceptable thing to do.

Yang was funny when she cried from laughter. Her shoulders heaved, her knees buckled, and her hair flew everywhere. Blake couldn’t figure out what set Yang off; she’d memorized a book of jokes and not gotten a single giggle, but her own minute of frustration with a can opener had left Yang had in stitches for an hour.

Blake didn’t cry. She was too composed for that.

Nora wasn’t cute, dignified, funny or composed when she cried. She was Nora.

“My life is over!” Nora wailed into her hot chocolate. “Why couldn’t Coco just hit meeeeeeeeeeeeeee?”

“I can hit you if it’ll make you feel better,” Yang offered.

“Thanks,” Nora sniffled. “You’re nice, but…. but I need to be pretty for Ren if it’s his last… day… seeing me…”

With that, Nora broke down into a fresh round of sobbing. Yang handed her a fifth box of tissues.

Nora was curled up in a bundle of blankets and pillows on her bed, surrounded on either side by Blake and Yang. It had been shockingly easy for Blake and Yang to get the full story out of Nora. Once she was convinced that Blake and Yang already knew the secret of Velvet’s alter ego as a glamour photographer, she’d broken down into hysterical sobbing and spilled her guts about everything. Nora did nothing halfway, crying included.

No one could doubt that Nora felt badly about what she’d put Velvet through. Not only had the Faunus costumes been in appallingly bad taste, Velvet had been hit especially hard by how callously Nora had broached the subject. She’d wired herself right into Velvet’s insecurities and shocked the poor Faunus with the emotional equivalent of fifty thousand volts.

In sum, Nora fucked up. Big time.

Blake pinched the bridge of her nose in irritation. Of course she’d have to deal with this mess again. Why would fate demand that she be sucked into every possible situation involving the Faunus? Would she always be called on to set things right for (and against) her kin?

The answer was a resounding yes. Blake had signed up for it; it was in her job description. Yang was right: she had to solve this herself. She waited for Nora’s wailing to die down before speaking.

“Coco said we had a day before she did anything,” Blake said. “So if we can convince her to back off, you get to keep JNPR together.”

Nora sniffled, began to cry again… and then burst into a hurricane of hiccupping instead.

“Uh…” Yang stared. “You should try drinking that hot chocolate upside-down.”

“Don’t forget that it’s entirely possible Atlas already knows about Ren’s semblance,” Blake continued, trying to ignore Nora's frantic hiccups. “They might not even care about him.”

“B-but I care ab-bout h-him,” Nora hiccupped.

“We know,” Yang said. “That’s why we gave him a call five minutes ago. He’s on his way now.”

Nora’s eyes widened in panic and she started hiccupping even more rapidly. “Y-you did what? H-he can’t see m-me like this!”

“Sure he can,” Yang reassured Nora. She gave the sobbing girl a big-sis hug, the kind she usually saved for Ruby. “He cares about you, too. This isn’t gonna be so bad, Nora. You’ll see.”

As if on cue, there was a quiet knock at the door. Blake opened it just a crack and found Ren waiting outside. Deep lines of concern that would have marred any other face only made him look more beautiful.

“Is Nora here?” Ren asked softly.

Blake nodded and let Ren in.

When Nora saw Ren, she straightened up in her bed. Her lips quivered, her eyes watered, and she took a deep, shaky breath… but then, a wave of calm washed over her and she smiled brighter than the first rays of light after a storm. Her hiccups were gone.

Ren smiled back. He gave Yang a quick glance, who was still hanging on Nora’s arm. He shook his head. The meaning was clear: he hadn’t used his Semblance.

He hadn’t needed to use it on Nora in years.

“Ren…” Nora sniffled.

Ren sat beside her on the bed, opposite Yang. “It’s all right, Nora. I’m here.”

“No matter what happens?”

Ren put his hand on her shoulder.

“No matter what happens, Nora, we’ll always be together. I promise.”

Nora leaned her against him and rested her head to his neck, feeling the gentle warmth of his body on hers. Everything melted away: her stress, her worry, her guilt. Her whole world was right beside her.

Yang and Blake crept silently out of the room and let the two soulmates rest. There was nothing more they could do.

Nothing for Nora, at least.

Chapter Text

Velvet leaned on her dorm room’s windowsill and stared down at Beacon’s bustling courtyard. Dozens upon dozens of voices reached her ears, but she could hear only one.

We’re all watching you, monster.

Velvet quietly slid the window shut and closed the blinds. Her legs wobbled underneath her; she had to put a hand on the wall to steady herself.

“I’m safe,” Velvet whispered. She repeated it every breath, softly and slowly at first, then more forcefully, until her body believed her. Once the shaking stopped, she let out a deep sigh and flopped onto her bed.

At first, Coco had insisted that she be allowed to clean up the mess Velvet had made. Clothes and textbooks had been strewn everywhere, culminating in a giant pile on top of Velvet’s bed. Velvet had allowed Coco to clean up everything but the pile of soft silks on her sheets. She’d seized on her fortress of favorite books and clothes, refusing to let Coco take them away.

Coco seemed to understand.

The last few days had passed in a haze. Velvet drifted in and out of sleep, always waking up to find one of her teammates ready with hot food or fresh blankets. They took turns watching over her and fetching the movies she’d always wanted to watch but never had the time to see. Yatsu let her sit on his lap while he scratched her tenderly between the ears. Fox played her music on the wooden flute he normally saved for missions.

Coco held her close and wiped away her tears drop by drop.

Coco loved her, even though she was broken and weak. Coco loved her even though no one else even thought of her as a person. Coco cared about her so deeply that she refused to sleep unless she felt Velvet slip into slumber first.

At times Velvet even forgot why she was so upset.  It took her two whole days to remember to ask about the schoolwork she’d missed. Coco told her not to worry.

Around Coco, Velvet felt safe. She felt happy. She felt loved.

A quiet tapping at the door made Velvet jump.

“Velvet?” came a muffled voice from the other side. “I’m coming in, okay?”

“O-okay, Coco!” Velvet glanced left and right, then down at herself in her loose flannel pajamas. She’d never thought about how she looked coming out of bed before. Why would she worry now?

Coco whisked through the door, carrying two bags that could only have been fetched from Vale’s freshly reinvigorated high fashion district. It hadn’t been long since The Breach in the grand scheme of things, but if there was one thing more doggedly determined than the Grimm, it was a lady’s search for style.

“How’s my favorite hoarder?” Coco asked with a smile. “Your hair looks great. Did you try that conditioner I got you?”

“Um… yeah.” Velvet self-consciously ran her fingers through her freshly washed locks. For the first time in days, she’d gotten up the courage to leave the room and use the showers just to try Coco’s gift. She could still smell the vanilla. “It’s really nice.”

“I’m glad you like it! If you’re in the mood for something exciting, I just found the perfect thing,” Coco said, presenting the two new bags.

Velvet took the bags and looked inside. There were a few silk tops barely thicker than a fingernail, paired together with a few slips for lining.

“I know you usually go with an earthy palette, but I found a few things in spring colors that would really work with your skin tone,” Coco beamed. “Check out the other bag- I got you something I could never pull off.”

Velvet reached into the second bag and gasped when she saw what Coco had bought: a blouse that ended in a short, flared strip of a skirt that could barely have been longer than her fingers. “Coco, I can’t wear this! This skirt is way too short!”

“What?” Coco paused in confusion, then burst out laughing. “Oh, Velvet, you are just too cute! That’s not a skirt, it’s a peplum top! It fills out your hips and gives you curves to die for.”

Velvet bit her lip. Of course Coco knew that Velvet was jealous of her hips, and of course she knew that a rail-thin girl like Velvet would look great in a… whatever this was. That was Coco: always accessorizing, always looking for subtle improvements and always stitching together what might be broken.

The funny thing was that Coco still didn’t understand how Velvet had come up with her huntress’s emblem.

“Thanks, Coco.” Velvet set the bags on the floor and sat back on her bed. “I really appreciate everything you’re doing for me.”

“Please, girl.” Coco flicked her caramel lock of hair over her shoulder. “I do it for you, not for the ‘thank you.’ ”

Velvet nodded. Of course Coco would say that.

Coco strutted over to the girls’ closet and tossed her beret inside with a flourish. She reached for another, almost identical hat and slid it on. This beret had a silver lining instead of a gray one.

“Come on,” Coco said, waving at the closet. “Let’s try some of that on.”

Velvet glanced at the bags, the closet, and her pajamas. She wasn’t sure what to say.

“I…”

Velvet flinched towards Coco as someone started banging on the door with clenched fists. There was a muffled groan.

“Who could that be?“ Coco said, turning away from the closet. Her voice was calm, but a snarl sprang to her lips and spreading upwards to ignite a barely-contained rage beneath her glasses.

Velvet shrank down into her bed.

Seeing Velvet’s reaction, Coco forced herself to calm down. Someone like her shouldn’t have to deal with any of this.

“I’ve got this,” Coco said, putting on her most reassuring face for the girl who most needed it. “Probably just a classmate with my projects. You just stay right there, okay?”

Velvet nodded.

Coco unlatched the door and stepped outside to face whatever idiot dared pound on Hell’s gates.

 


 

“I know she’s in there,” Yang said. “We just saw her go up the stairs with those bags. She’s gotta be trying them on right now.”

“Yang, I don’t think the direct approach is the best one,” Blake cautioned. “Coco’s not the type to back down when pushed.”

“I get it, Blake. She’s like me.” Yang raised a fist again, ready to pound even harder on Team CFVY’s door. “Don’t worry. We’re just gonna talk it out like mature, reasonable adults.”

“Yang…”

The door swung open and their target came forth- but she didn’t stop to wait for an introduction. Coco Adel brushed Yang and Blake aside as if they weren’t even there, sliding through the space between the two girls and shutting the door behind her. Yang and Blake found themselves pressed between Coco and the door. Coco was easily a head taller than either girl; Yang had to look up to see into her glasses.

Coco asserted her dominance as naturally as she laced up her boots.

“If it isn’t split ends herself,” Coco said, peering down at Yang. “Got a reason for the rudeness, or are you just here for a comb?”

Yang didn’t reward Coco with a reaction. Her hair was fantastic. “Yeah, actually. We wanted to talk about frilly dresses and fashiony stuff. Got a sec?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Coco said. Her lips pressed together in a hard line. “I was just leaving. If you want to talk, you’ll have to tag along. I’m a busy woman.”

“That’s okay,” Yang smiled. “We can come back later…”

“Of course we can.” Blake sighed in relief.

“After we check in on Velvet,” Yang finished.

Coco’s eyebrow twitched. “No, you won’t. She’s got a case of scarlet fever and it’s very contagious.”

“So we heard,” Yang said. “Everyone’s so worried about her… especially Nora.”

Coco’s voice fell dangerously quiet. “I don’t care what that hammerhead says about Velvet.”

“You should,” Yang said. “Nora said she’d do anything to make Velvet feel better, especially after your conversation with her in the stairwell.”

Blake knew right away that Yang had made the worst move possible. Cornering a tiger only made it more dangerous. Sure enough, Coco tensed up and squared off against Yang.

“Yang, stop it,” Blake warned, but Yang knew she had Coco on the ropes. She had to press the advantage while she had it.

“Listen to me,” Coco whispered. “Velvet is sleeping right now, and she has very sensitive hearing. If you say one word to disturb her, I will pluck every last hair from your scalp.”

“I won’t say a word,” Yang whispered back, “as long as you come with me, apologize to Nora, and promise that you won’t threaten Ren again.”

“Never,” Coco hissed. Her hands clenched into fists and her eyes blazed with a fury born from much more than wounded pride.

Blake grabbed Yang’s arm tight.

“Fine,” Yang said, raising her voice. “Hey, Velvet! Nora wants to say she’s-“

Coco threw a hate-fueled punch directly at Yang’s face. Blake shoved her partner aside as hard as she could.

Coco’s haymaker shattered Blake’s jaw with a sickening crunch of bones.

“Oh my God,” Coco gasped. She stumbled back in horror as a thousand terrible thoughts flashed in her mind. She’d lost control. She’d hurt someone to protect Velvet, right outside their dorm. Would Velvet forgive her?

Before the panic could overcome her, Coco froze. Something didn’t feel right.

Coco looked up to watch as Blake’s broken jaw faded into a black silhouette, disappearing along with the rest of her body. She blinked and looked to her side, where Blake stood beside an off-balance Yang. Neither one was hurt.

“You bitch,” Coco said halfheartedly. Her shoulders slouched as her anger drained away.

“Yeah, you pussy,” Yang snickered at Blake. “Can’t even take a hit.”

“As the only adult in the room, you’re both idiots,” Blake said, rolling her eyes. “Coco, can I trust that you won’t pull a Yang on us again?”

“I’m fine,” Coco sighed. “Just let me talk to Velvet and I’ll come with you.”

There was a soft click of a lock. Coco’s eyes flicked to the door in fear.

“Coco?” came a fearful voice from inside. “Is… everything okay?”

Coco reached for the “leader” voice: the voice she used whenever she had to lie and make it sound like she knew what she was doing.

“Everything’s fine,” Coco said. “Right, guys?”

“Everything’s super,” Blake said.

“Yuppers,” Yang agreed. “We were just taking Coco for a walk.”

“All right,” Velvet said uncertainly. “Um… what did Nora want?”

Yang and Blake stayed silent. Coco had never been so grateful to people she’d just tried to punch.

“Nora wanted to say…” Coco took a deep breath. “She wanted to say she’s sorry. Trust me when I say she’s sorrier than she’s ever been.”

“Oh…” Velvet was silent for a long time. Coco waited on pins and needles until, finally, Velvet spoke up. “She doesn’t have to be sorry. She didn’t mean it.”

“It’s okay to call her an idiot,” Coco said.

“I forgive her,” Velvet said softly. “Could you please tell her that?”

Coco waved her arms at the door in exasperation, looking at Blake and Yang for support. She didn’t get any.

Velvet peeked through the door crack. “Um… Coco?”

Coco quickly hid her arms behind her back. “Yeah, Velvs?”

“I love you.”

Coco felt like she’d been hit in the gut. It took every ounce of strength she had to return Velvet’s gaze.

“I love you, too, Velvet.”

The door closed softly. Coco took a deep, shuddering breath and felt a tear roll down her cheek. She wiped it away with an angry finger.

“Fuck,” Coco sniffled. “I hate this shit.”

Blake and Yang stood still as Coco tried to get her breathing under control.

“Do you want a minute alone?” Blake asked quietly.

“No,” Coco said. She squared her shoulders, cleared her throat and gave a world-weary sigh. “Let’s just get this over with. Where’s Hammerhead?”

“Right where you left her,” Yang said. “Come on. I’ll come with.”

Yang walked slowly beside Coco, giving her a wide berth to get herself together. When they reached the stairwell, she saw that Blake had stopped at the edge.

“Hey, Blakey, you coming?”

“No,” Blake said. “I’m going to talk with someone that needs me.”

“Oh, fuck no!” Coco snapped, whirling around to face Blake. “The last time I left Velvet alone with someone I didn’t trust, this happened.”

“Coco,” Blake said, “This isn’t about you or Nora. Velvet is hurting, and she needs someone who understands her.”

“I understand her,” Coco said fiercely. “Who the fuck are you?”

Blake stayed silent. Yang held her breath.

“You think I’m going to let you walk in there and fuck Velvet up again?” Coco demanded. “No! No more fighting, no more drama, no more crying! I’m sick and tired of this shit and it’s getting old real fucking fast! So what gives you the right to walk into my girlfriend’s room and say what’s what? How can I trust you?!”

Blake looked left. She looked right. She sighed, reached for her ribbon and pulled the knot loose.

Coco’s jaw dropped.

“Trust goes both ways,” Blake said. Her Faunus ears pointed right at Coco as the steel in her amber eyes shone twice as sharp as Coco’s ever could.

“Y-you…” Coco stammered, at a complete loss for words. “You’re a…”

“Come on, Coco,” Yang said. “Blake knows what she’s doing. I think she’s proven at least that much.”

“…Okay,” Coco breathed. She stared at her boots for a second, then looked back up at Blake’s ears. “Hey… if you tell Velvet about what I did… I… I wasn’t really going to…”

Blake raised a single eyebrow at the same time one of her cat ears perked up.

“Just tell her I’m sorry,” Coco finished weakly.

“I think you’ve proven at least that much,” Blake said wryly.

Blake re-tied her bow as she watched Yang lead a stunned Coco away. Blake wasn’t sure what to say to Velvet, but she trusted that she was doing the right thing.

Hopefully.

 


 

Soft as silk on velvet, there came a knock on Team CFVY’s door.

“Who is it?”

Velvet didn’t need to ask who it was. Blake Belladonna needed no introduction because there was no one to introduce. The huntress-in-training was always in someone else’s shadow. She neither outshone her teammates in combat nor stole their spotlight in class. Blake was the carefully crafted black frame on a shining gold painting: always needed, never noticed… and it was entirely by design.

Blake was everything Velvet wished she could be.

“It’s Blake,” came the reply. “Blake Belladonna, from team RWBY.”

“…Hey, Blake,” Velvet said softly, waiting for the unasked question.

“Is it okay if I come in for a minute?”

Velvet looked down at herself. She was still in her flannel pajamas, her bed was in disarray, and her best friend- no, girlfriend- had almost gotten herself in enormous trouble for reasons Velvet didn’t want to believe. She felt trapped in a hundred different ways.

“Sure,” Velvet said. She dug her fingers into her sheets. “The door’s unlocked.”

Blake entered into Velvet’s room with all the unassuming grace of a girl raised in the backdrop of things far larger than herself. She soundlessly closed the door behind her.

For an uncomfortable moment, neither girl spoke. Blake stood at the entryway, taking in the darkened room before her. There was no light but for the cracks in the curtain. Velvet sat on her bed, legs drawn close.

“Y-you can turn on the light if you want,” Velvet offered.

Blake shook her head. “It’s fine.”

There was something unsettling about Blake’s presence that had Velvet on edge. Despite her decision to let Blake in, she instinctively drew further back into her bed. Both girls could feel the tension in the room rising, but neither one knew what to do about it. After interminable moment of Blake’s unnerving silence, Velvet had to say something, anything, to break it.

“Um… Coco hit you, didn’t she.”

Velvet didn’t phrase it as a question. She’d heard it all, from Blake’s doppelganger breaking to Coco’s horrified reaction.

“No,” Blake said firmly. “She didn’t.”

“She tried,” Velvet pressed. “She’s upset and angry at me, even if she won’t admit it.”

Blake shook her head. “Coco’s not angry at you. Don’t blame yourself.”

“Then why isn’t she here now?” Velvet couldn’t keep the hurt from her voice. “Why are you here instead of her? What can’t Coco tell me herself?”

“Lots of things,” Blake said. “One of which is she’s sorry.”

Velvet’s eyes shot wide. “Coco said she’s sorry? For hitting you? Or for… oh, no…”

“Things aren’t as bad as you think,” Blake said, but she still crossed an arm over her chest in discomfort. “Coco said a few nasty things to Nora, but Yang’s making sure Coco makes it up to her. Everything is going to be okay.”

Velvet’s ears drooped over her eyes. “If you say so.”

Blake opened her mouth to object, paused- then her mask broke. Her tongue stuck out of her mouth like she’d swallowed a bug.

“Oh, forget it,” Blake said with a faint twinge of disgust. “If I were you, I wouldn’t have bought that line either.”

“…You wouldn’t have?” Velvet asked incredulously.

“Not even close,” Blake said. “There’s too much wrong with the world for things to just be okay.

“I guess,” Velvet said, her eyebrows scrunched together in confusion. “Um… most people who come in here are trying to cheer me up.”

“I could try, but I kind of suck at it.” Blake gave a half-shrug. “I’m not really a sunshine-and-daisies kind of girl.”

“Well… couldn’t you pretend you are?”

Blake considered the idea. Optimism was kind of Yang’s thing; Blake had learned to keep her expectations as low as they could possibly go, then lower them again for good measure.

“All right,” Blake reluctantly agreed. “Just this once.”

Velvet leaned forward eagerly.

Blake suddenly felt a case of stage fright creeping up on her. She shooed it away and said the first thing that came to mind.

“While you were cooped up in your room, uh… the Grimm died.”

“Every single one?” Velvet asked.

“All of them,” Blake nodded. “Everybody in the world started thinking only happy thoughts and all the Grimm starved to death.”

Velvet hummed contentedly. “That’s good.”

“Now that we don’t need to fight the Grimm, Atlas dissolved its army,” Blake continued. “So without its main source of revenue, the Schnee Dust Company had to rebrand itself as a nonprofit charity organization for… uh… orphans and kittens. Orphaned kittens.”

“Really?” Velvet giggled. “Tell me more about what I missed.”

“The White Fang realized it had strayed too far from its founding ideals, traded in their masks for smiles and became productive members of society. The leaders all apologized and everyone forgave them, but they felt so bad about what they did that they went to live on the moon. Forever.”

“And what about everyone else?”

“Everyone else?” Blake scratched her head. “The humans realized that Faunus deserved to be treated equally and given at least a little dignity. No one calls reptile Faunus lepers, no one ties Faunus tails to chairs, and most of all, nobody pulls on Faunus ears.”

“Oh,” Velvet said softly. She touched her big brown ears eyes turning dull as the memories of a cold, hard reality bled through the dream. “That sounds… wonderful.”

Blake’s high spirits fell back down to the cellar where they usually spent their time. She’d failed again. Could she not even tell a story without having a depressing ending?

Well, if a fantasy couldn’t make Velvet happy again, maybe the truth could do better.

“Velvet,” Blake said, her voice growing softer. “Since things are getting better... No one has to hide. Everyone can be who they really are without worrying about being judged.”

Blake reached up and untied her bow with uncertain fingers. Baring her true nature never got easier, no matter how many people deserved to know her secret.

The motion of Blake’s bow fluttering to the floor caught Velvet’s eye. She looked to the scrap of ribbon, then to Blake, then to Blake’s twitching feline ears. She stared, uncomprehending.

“Are we still pretending everything is sunshine and daisies?” Velvet said, wondering if she’d broken through to some parallel reality.

“No.”

“Oh, um…”

“No, I’m not messing with you out of some sick sense of humor. They’re real.”

“I- I see…” Velvet squirmed. ”Um… may I…?”

Blake rolled her eyes and groaned. Apparently, the urge to fondle her kitty ears was too strong to resist, even for Velvet. She mentally prepared herself for a ferocious groping.

“You get one go. One.

“Oh, thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Velvet cheered. She bounded off her bed and leapt right at Blake, who was already wincing in dread.

Blake held her breath as the rabbit Faunus threw her arms around her neck… and froze as she felt Velvet’s chin rubbing back and forth between her flattened ears.

“Oh, I can’t believe you’re a Faunus too!” Velvet gushed, rubbing even harder. “It all makes sense now! Why you lick the back of your hand…”

“That’s to check my breath!” Blake said, her voice muffled between Velvet’s breasts. “Doesn’t everyone do that?”

“Why you like tuna so much…”

“What, I’m not allowed to have a favorite food?”

“And why you stick your butt out so much in practice!”

“Okay, now you’re just embarrassing me for the sake of it,” Blake flushed. “Chinning time is over! Off!”

Velvet came to her senses in her own flash of embarrassment. “I’m sorry!” she squeaked, recoiling back from Blake’s ears. “I-it just seemed the right thing to do. I shouldn’t have done that…”

Blake put a hand firmly over Velvet’s mouth. “It’s fine. Awkward, but fine. We’ve both seen way weirder hellos at the docks in Menagerie.”

Velvet glanced aside, suddenly even more ashamed. Blake took her hand away.

“You have been to Menagerie, right?”

“…No.”

“Well, you should visit sometime,” Blake said. “There’s a lot less to worry about when it comes to fitting in. For how ‘advanced’ humanity claims to be, they’re way behind on accepting people’s differences.”

“I kind of found that out on my own,” Velvet said, ears drooping. “You’re smart to wear that bow. I wish I could hide these oversized things.”

It was Blake’s turn to lurch forward and grab ahold of Velvet. She took the startled rabbit Faunus’s hands in her own and held her until she was sure she had her complete attention.

“Never hide who you are, Velvet. It crushes your worth as a person and our pride as a people.”

“But… your bow…”

Blake let her grip go slack. “I can’t stand wearing it, but I have my own demons to deal with. Being a Faunus is not one of them.”

Guilt gnawed a hole in Blake’s stomach as she said the lie. She was a coward, plain and simple. Her demons would find her, bow or no bow. In the end she just wanted to hide from humanity’s ugliness while she waited for her past to catch up with her.

Velvet’s brown eyes searched Blake up and down, making her more than a little nervous. How much could Velvet really see, Blake wondered, if the girl’s Semblance could dig so deep inside her? When Velvet mimicked a person’s training, attitude and reflexes down to the barest twitch, she copied more than just movement. Velvet’s mind called upon the image of another’s spirit, the ethereal brush of her soul dipped into a brilliant rainbow of Aura and a beautiful gestalt was born.

Forget The Man with Two Souls; Velvet was the girl with twenty.

“Being a Faunus might not be one of your demons,” Velvet said quietly, “But you said it yourself... humans can’t help but see a demon when they look at me, and they’re right. I am part monster.”

“Just because people call you a monster doesn’t mean you have to believe it,” Blake said. "You’re talking about the… urges, right?”

“Yes!” Velvet burst out. “Yes, I am!”

Velvet blushed. That had come out louder than she’d meant to. She hid her head to the side in embarrassment, but she was still relieved. A huge weight had been lifted from her chest: finally, someone who understood what it was like to have a beast in the back of your mind that might take control at any moment.

“I’m… not the best person to talk about all this with,” Blake said, blushing a little herself. “Didn’t your parents give you the, pardon the expression… birds and the bees?”

“Neither of them were rabbit Faunus,” Velvet admitted. “I was a mutt. They had no idea what kind of Faunus they were going to get when they had me.”

“Well, they still taught you how they handled their instincts, right?” Blake asked. “If not, you had to have had some Faunus friends growing up. There aren’t that many of us in Vale, but we do tend to stick together.”

“I was alone most of the time,” Velvet said as more unwanted memories flooded her mind. “Just like at Beacon. My ears always drew attention, so the other Faunus girls kept away. And the boys… even though they were Faunus too, they thought rabbits like me wanted to do nothing but…”

“Oh,” Blake winced. “I see why you wouldn’t want to go through that.”

“It was horrible. I just took that part of me and tried to pretend it didn’t exist, but then I’d catch myself doing things and I had no idea why. My parents weren’t any help either. They just said to behave like everyone else so I could keep going to school with the humans.”

“Did you?” Blake asked. Just for a moment, she allowed her curiosity to overcome her. “You ended up going to Signal with Coco, right? That’s where I’m guessing you made your first weapon out of a camera, no less. How did you even do that?”

At the mention of her camera, Velvet actually smiled. “It was mostly by accident. I started taking pictures around school and developed them in an abandoned darkroom with a bit of a, uh, ‘loose’ lock. Imagine my surprise when my favorite teacher told me I had managed to sneak my way into the room for an old project that was trying to copy Atlas tech using Dust and pictures!”

“So that’s why Ironwood gave you the evil eye at the Festival,” Blake grinned. “Atlas does love its secrets. I don’t think he’d like you ‘developing’ something he didn’t expect to be copied, like Pe- uh, the Paladins.”

“…I don’t think I could copy something that large…” Velvet said. “What was the first one?”

“Nothing,” Blake hurried. “Sorry. Cat got my tongue on that one.”

“Um… am I allowed to make jokes like that to you?” Velvet asked a little too eagerly.

“No.”

Velvet’s face fell.

“…Fine,” Blake relented. “But don’t do it in public, and especially don’t do it around Yang.”

“Why not around Yang? She’s your partner, right? Does she not know?”

“Oh, she knows,” Blake groaned. “I just don’t want her getting any encouragement.”

“I understand,” Velvet said. “In the winter, Coco likes to tease me by taking a bite out of my snowmen’s carrot noses, then saying it was me ‘cause I got a case of the munchies.” Velvet puffed out her cheeks in irritation. “I only did that once.

Blake breathed air out her nose fast enough that, if one were generous, it might have been considered a snort. If one were not only generous but truly, outrageously charitable, that snort might have been a laugh.

Velvet laughed along with her.

After such a long and deep conversation, Velvet was almost thankful as the conversation died down. She’d made a friend. A real friend. Someone she could ask about the really important things and who she could trust not to sugar-coat how much it really sucked to be a Faunus. The way Blake acted, she might actually be allergic to sweets. In fact, the bitter vibe she was getting from Blake in a lot of ways made her think of Coco.

Coco. Where was Coco?

Blake saw the worry spread across Velvet’s face and knew she was done avoiding the issue. It was time to address why she’d really come.

“Velvet,” Blake said, “I think you know that your team leader- your girlfriend- cares about you a lot.”

“She does,” Velvet said, worry creeping into her voice. “Blake, what did she do?”

There was no point beating around the bush any longer. “Coco cornered Nora Valkyrie and threatened to send Lie Ren, Nora’s closest childhood friend, to Atlas for an experiment they’re conducting.”

“That’s… not what I was expecting,” Velvet said, more than a little relieved. “Coco seemed a lot angrier than that. I’m glad she didn’t hurt anyone.”

“Lie Ren is the experiment.”

“Oh, Coco…” Velvet buried her head in her hands. “She hit you to stop you from telling me, didn’t she?”

“I told you, she didn’t hit me,” Blake insisted. “She may as well have hit a cardboard cutout for all the damage she did. That whole argument was masterfully planned and orchestrated from start to finish.”

Velvet stared at her incredulously. Blake stared back, daring her to challenge it. Thankfully for Blake’s pride, she did not. Instead, she shook her head and into space. There was a tingling in the back of her mind. Something wasn’t quite right. What was it?

Velvet’s gaze returned to Blake. Both girls tensed up; they knew the question before Velvet could even ask it.

“Did anyone tell you?”

Blake took her time before answering. One wrong word could send Velvet running so far from Beacon that she’d never return.

“Did anyone tell me what?”

“You know,” Velvet said, wringing her hands nervously. “Why Coco is upset at Nora.”

“No one told me,” Blake said, trusting that a half-truth would be better than the full truth. “Not until I figured it out myself.”

“Oh, no…” Velvet clutched her arms to her chest in fear. “If you know, everyone knows. Blake… I’m ruined.”

“Hey, give me some credit,” Blake said, more irritated than anything else. “I’m Yang’s partner and one of Nora’s best friends. I know more about them than they know themselves. It’s not like just anyone could figure out who took Yang and Coco’s photos.”

“Nora figured it out first.” Velvet rocked back and forth on her bed, knees locked to her chin in growing panic. “Then you. Who’s next? Blake, I can’t take this. Everyone already thinks I’m a shutterbug rabbit Faunus. If they find out that it’s me… everyone will think I’m just a horny animal that acts sweet but is really just a filthy fuck bunny.”

“Are you asking if I want to go over the hate speech fads of the year?” Blake asked. “Because I’ve got a nice, long list of names I’ve had hurled at me. Half of them aren’t even the right species.”

“I thought you’d understand,” Velvet said, fighting desperately to keep tears from welling in her eyes. “You know what it’s like. Blake, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t have everyone think I’m some kind of perverted freak!”

“Are you?”

“Yes,” Velvet sobbed. “Yes, I am!”

“Okay, you’re a perverted sex freak,” Blake said. “If that’s what you think you are, I won’t argue. Now that you’ve finally figured out that you are not, in fact, a rabbit Faunus and are instead some kind of sex fiend, are you going to go out and have sex with the first person you see?”

“N-no…”

“Are you going to go buy the shortest skirt you can find and stick your tail in people’s faces?”

“No…”

“Are you going to give up your career as a huntress and dedicate your life to some kind of sex crusade?”

“No!”

Blake raised her hands to the ceiling in surrender. “Then why does it matter if you like sex so much?”

“Because I want to be normal!” Velvet pleaded. “Normal people don’t do what I do, Blake! Normal people don’t have stupid animal urges that they can’t control!”

“Really?” Blake said, her voice still as calm as it had been a minute ago. “Are you really so sure?”

“Yes!” Velvet huffed. She leapt off the bed and stomped her foot angrily. “You just admitted that you have trouble with urges! I know it’s not just me!”

“You’re right. It’s not just you,” Blake said. “Yang and Coco have some serious anger issues. Matter of fact, it’s both of their Semblances. Do you think they could both be part boar Faunus?”

“They can control their anger,” Velvet argued. “They’re normal.”

“I think my shadow clone’s jaw would disagree,” Blake said.

“Fine,” Velvet huffed. The unwelcome, acrid burning of anger started rising in her gut. ”Coco has anger issues. How does that make me normal? Are you trying to make me angry?”

“My point,” Blake said, “Is that you don’t have to be in control of your urges all of the time. You can still be a Faunus and be normal, Velvet.”

“Well, I’m obviously not normal,” Velvet said bitterly. “I take perverted photographs of my friends naked and enjoy it too much to be normal. I can’t control my stupid perverted urges. I’m a deviant freak.”

“Okay,” Blake said. She started flipping idly through her scroll.

“Stop agreeing with me!” Velvet snapped. “What kind of argument is this?”

“The kind that ends with a question.” Blake held out her scroll.

Velvet gasped when she saw the screen. It showed a picture of Yang Xiao Long, naked, spreading her legs and thrusting two fingers deep into her sex. Her lips were parted in a throaty moan as she climaxed.

“Tell me,” Blake asked. “Who’s doing a better job controlling their urges: the camera girl, or the girl girl?”

Blood drained from Velvet’s features. She stumbled back and wobbled dizzily. Blake closed the photo on her scroll discreetly.

“I… where…” Velvet’s legs gave out underneath her and she collapsed back onto her bed.

“Yang shared it with me a few weeks ago,” Blake said truthfully. “She said she wanted something that would make her feel anywhere near as good as she did in that photo shoot.”

Velvet’s head was still swimming, but she still had enough clarity to ask very important question.

“...Did she get it?”

The corner of Blake’s mouth twitched upwards.

“Velvet,” she said, “You are by far the most normal pervert I’ve ever met.”

 


 

 

One apology cake later, Coco and Yang walked into a room transformed.

The curtains in team CFVY’s dorm room were drawn back, letting sunlight spill over the clean carpet. Books had been piled neatly on the desk alongside an artful pyramid of pencils. Where there had been a hutch of dirty clothes, there was a neatly made bed.

Velvet was wearing a freshly ironed uniform, holding her camera and smiling. Blake sat beside her, holding a sketchbook and tightening the knot on her bow.

“Hey, Coco!” Velvet called out.

Coco did a double take. She glanced at Yang, who was completely unsurprised at whatever Blake had managed to do in the span of five hours.

“Hey, Velvet,” Coco replied automatically, still trying to process what had happened.

“Blake drew me a picture,” Velvet said, her smile widening. “Want to see?”

“Sure. Why not?”

Coco stepped beside the bed and looked down at Blake’s sketchbook. There were inked gardens of roses, a lighthouse on a black sea of moonless night, and a cartoon of Coco and Yang fighting.

Rar, roared Tiny Yang. I am dargon. I eat u with kechup.

Ree, screeched Tiny Coco. I am glam glam. I make u into purse and shooz.

“My money’s on the fashionista,” Coco said. “She’s got a really big gun.”

“Are you kidding?” Yang leaned in front of Coco and flexed her arms. “Nobody’s got guns bigger than these.”

“Please stop,” Blake groaned.

“Never!”

Coco laughed along with Velvet. It almost seemed unreal how her girlfriend had gone from catatonic to cheery in so short a time, but maybe she was just used to seeing Velvet trapped in a cage of fear and sadness. It was good to see her in a good mood; she’d try to bring that side out more often. Velvet was too precious to see hurting.

“How was your day?” Velvet asked. Her smile dropped slightly, and Coco knew she knew.

“It sucked,” Coco said. “I’ll take a day in the field over a day with those JNPR clowns any time.”

“Nora stole her glasses,” Yang winked.

“I let her wear them,” Coco corrected. “Anything to cover up those puffy red eyes.”

“Is everything… okay now?” Velvet asked. “Blake told me about what happened.”

“I figured as much,” Coco said. “Did she also… you know…”

Velvet bounced her long ears up and down with a nod of her head. “Yep! We had a nice long talk. Blake agreed with everything I said!”

“Really?” Yang asked. “You gotta teach me how to get her to do that. Hey Blake, I’m gonna get the team to go skinny dipping tomorrow, and you’re joining us.”

“No.”

“See?” Yang said. “Imagine how much fun we could’ve had. Now it’s ruined. Thanks, Blake.”

“I am the void where dreams go to die.”

“No, you’re not.” Yang admonished. “You’re just a a big ol’ softie. C’mere, Blakey!”

Blake didn’t resist as Yang pounced and buried her in acres of cleavage. Velvet and Coco shared a glance.

“So…” Coco said once the two had finished hugging it out. “You’re feeling better, then, right? I see you’ve got your camera out again.”

“Yeah,” Velvet nodded. “Blake reminded me that just because people might think something’s weird, it can still be normal.”

“I’m gonna trust you on that one,” Coco said. “It sounds a little over my head. Are you ready to step back out into the real world and kick some ass?”

“Well…” Velvet bit her lip. “I still need something from you, Coco.”

“Oh,” Coco breathed. “Well… what is it?”

“I need you to swear that you’ll never hurt anyone for me again. Not Nora, not Cardin, not anyone.”

“I told you, Velvet, I can’t promise-“

“Yes you can!” Velvet burst out. “I could feel how angry you were at Nora earlier, but you were even angrier at yourself. I can’t stand to see you hurt yourself when you lash out like that.”

“Great.” Coco rolled her eyes. “I got stuck with a psychic. Do you want me to-”

“Coco, please shut up.”

Everyone’s mouths fell open.

“Coco, if I can try to believe I’m normal, then you can try believe you’re a good person. I need you to promise me, for real this time, that you’ll forgive them.”

Coco almost refused, but the memory of how badly she’d felt after hitting Blake stopped her. She had to choose which meant more: Velvet’s safety, or Velvet herself.

She chose Velvet.

“I promise,” Coco said. The hard know of anger in her chest loosened ever so slightly.

“Good,” Velvet smiled. “That went pretty well, didn’t it, Blake?”

“Sure,” Blake agreed.

Coco’s eyes narrowed. “Did you put her up to this, ninjette? You scheming little…”

“No, this one was all Velvet,” Blake said. “In fact, she asked me to do her a favor once you agreed.”

“Oh, really? What?”

“She wanted me to take a picture for you to remember it by.”

“A picture?” Coco asked. “Can’t she just do that herself?”

Velvet gave Blake her camera, stood up and took Coco’s hands in her own.

“Oh,” Coco said meekly. “Velvet…”

“Shh,” Velvet whispered. She laid her head on Coco’s shoulder. “I’m sure.”

The shutter snapped, sealing Coco’s promise to Velvet in film.

“You two look great,” Yang beamed. “It’s a great shot.”

“That’s nice, but…” Velvet nuzzled Coco’s shoulder. “I’d rather look at what’s in front of me.”

Coco’s cheeks started to burn. She wrapped her arms around Velvet and gave her a quick hug. What was this girl doing in her life, and why was she so lucky?

“It’s getting a little late,” Yang said, looking from the girls in front of her to Blake’s fiddling with Velvet’s camera. “We should let these two lovebirds be.”

“Sure,” Blake said. “I’ll see you soon, Velvet.”

“Why?” Yang teased, poking Blake in the shoulder. “You gonna be Faunus friends now? Form a secret society?”

Velvet buried her head deeper into Coco’s shoulder.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Blake teased right back. “I’m a woman of mystery, remember?”

“You’re a pain in the butt is what you are.”

Blake set Velvet’s camera on the desk and followed Yang out the door, closing it behind them and leaving the two girls alone.

“Don’t listen to that bed-headed loser,” Coco said. “You don’t have to be friends with Blake if you don’t want to be.”

“Well… it’s… more than that…”

“Wait,” Coco said, unbelieving. “You’re not actually going to… again?”

“I really do like taking photos,” Velvet said. “I just don’t like what people might think of me when I do, but-”

“You don’t have to take any pictures you don’t want to,” Coco interrupted. “If Blake is being unfair, I can tell her off.“

“Let me finish,” Velvet scolded. “I said I don’t like what people might think… but I won’t let that stop me from making something beautiful.”

“Velvet?” Coco breathed.

“Life is horrible sometimes. Especially being a Faunus. But… that doesn’t mean I should stop trying to make mine better. I want to enjoy my life, Coco.”

Coco hugged Velvet tight.

“You deserve to, honey bunch.”

 


 

A few days later, Blake sat on a box.

It was made of wood, tall enough to come up to her knees, firm enough to make a comfy seat, and painted in a lovely shade of white. It was even missing a panel on the bottom so it could be flipped over and used to carry all kinds of mysterious things.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Blake said, “This is a nice box, but… the set feels like it’s missing something.”

Velvet stood nearby, adjusting a few light stands with extra care. If she was going to pull this off, she’d have to have just the right angle on every bulb.

“Sometimes less is more,” Velvet said. “If the only prop is a white box, you’re the star of the shoot. Your skin is just warm enough to stand out from the white backdrop, and your black hair is a natural contrast. It really does go with everything.”

“I suppose,” Blake considered. “You’ve put a lot of thought into this.”

“Not really. Since you just wanted a quick shoot, I thought you’d appreciate something simple.”

“I see.” Blake eyed the set again.

“Do you like it?” Velvet asked, concerned. “If not, I can go get something better…”

“The box is fine.”

Velvet sighed in relief. Of all the girls she’d photographed, Blake was the hardest to read. Coco had run her whole show herself. Yang’s blazing beauty made anything look good. Pyrrha’s natural strength had carried over to a confident shoot. Nora’s overwhelming enthusiasm let her take risks no other girl would. Each girl had their own style, and all Velvet had to do was complement it.

Blake, however, was someone defined by what she wasn’t. She danced beyond reach, never letting anyone see beyond her veil of indifference. Even Velvet’s previous impression of her was little more than a vague idea of what the elusive girl might have been feeling.

Now that Velvet had been allowed behind Blake’s veil, the gaps in her mental puzzle began to fill. She could begin to understand her new friend- and to complement her desires and reasons to stay hidden. A monochrome setup would play into the shoot’s theme wonderfully.

Satisfied with her work on the lights, Velvet walked to the elevator doors and made sure they were locked. She’d had more than a little trouble coming down here, especially after the way she’d left her last shoot with Nora and Pyrrha, but Coco had given her courage and Blake had given her perspective. She would not let her fearful instincts overpower her, nor would she allow her worries stop her from doing what she loved: taking a single beautiful moment and making it last forever.

“Are you ready?” Velvet called out. Blake nodded, and Velvet found the switch for the storage room’s lights. She threw the breaker, plunging the room into darkness except for four precisely aimed spotlights.

Velvet turned off her flash. Four lights were all she needed.

Blake took her cue to sit on the box. Her back was ramrod-straight and her hands were propped against her knees, locking her shoulders in place. She knew instinctively which light would catch the curves of her legs, which would bring out her bow, and which would light up the swell of her chest.

Velvet took a round of photos, testing her angles and how the light played off Blake’s body. When she was ready, she gave Blake a thumbs-up.

Blake backed away and disappeared into the darkness, becoming visible only to Faunus eyes. The sounds of twin zippers unzipping signaled what was about to come.

“Just one photo, like we agreed.” Blake said. “Just to say I did.”

“Of course,” Velvet replied. “Just one.”

When Blake stepped back into the light, the only scrap of clothing she had left was her bow.

Shadows clothed her better than fabric ever could. Blackness caressed her svelte figure, teasing at the curve of her breasts and drawing out the hard muscles of her toned midriff. Her slim legs were bathed in light; the only blackness between them was a small tuft of hair. As she padded towards the box, the light pulled back and forth over her naked form, teasing at her stiff brown nipples.

“Take the same pose you just did earlier,” Velvet said, her heart pounding. She would only get one chance at this. It had to be perfect.

Blake took her pose as directed. Her back arched, pressing her breasts forward proudly. Every curve of her body was in stark relief.

Sweat dripped from Velvet’s brow. One shot. She was only allowed one shot.

She knew which one it had to be.

Velvet moved behind Blake and took a knee.

“Turn your head.”

Blake glanced over her shoulder to stare sidelong at Velvet’s lens. A single amber eye split the sea of black and white.

Velvet took the shot.

The scene ended, and Velvet’s life began anew.