Chapter 1: Jittery Nerves
Sitting in the back of the car, Ruby used the camera on her scroll to check her appearance...over and over again. She rarely wore makeup, but today she had gone all out. Even her clothes were special, her fanciest dress and platform shoes - no matter the occasion, heels were a bridge too far. She had let her hair grow a little longer than usual, and had it tied in a uncharacteristic ponytail, which was held in place by probably a little too much product. It was not a terribly long ride from her hotel to SDC headquarters, but long enough to give her time to get in her own head. It was just her first day of work, she already had the job, so there was no real reason to worry. But first impressions were important, and she wanted hers to be as good as possible. She normally would have taken the bus or subway, but she did not want to risk being late. Ruby was still unfamiliar with Atlas, and it would take time to get used to the transportation schedules, so for today she opted to secure a ride with the taxi service Ryde.
"You okay back there?" The driver asked. She was a rather pretty Faunus woman with furry fox ears. "You seem nervous."
"Oh uh...yeah, I'm fine." Ruby replied. "It's just my first day of work and I want to make a good impression."
"SDC yeah?" The driver inquired. Ruby nodded. "My brother works there, says it's pretty good. He only rarely gets shit for being a Faunus." Ruby did not quite know how to respond. "So, I take it you're new to Atlas?"
"Yeah, flew in two days ago, from Patch." Ruby answered.
"Patch...that's pretty out of the way." The driver noted. "How do you like the city so far?"
"It's...big." Ruby stated the obvious. "There are so many people, and everyone moves so fast...it's like another world."
"It takes some getting used to, but it's a great place." The driver encouraged. "There's a lot to do."
"Maybe too much to do." Ruby chuckled. "It's overwhelming."
The car pulled to a halt in front of a massive glass and steel building. The entrance was set back a ways from the street, with a large concrete fountain featuring a sculpture of the company's snowflake logo in the small courtyard the indent formed. "Here we are." The driver announced. "SDC HQ."
"Thanks." Ruby opened the door and started to get out, but sat back down. "Uh, will you be working later?"
"Yep, why?" The driver asked.
"Well, after work I'll need a ride back, and it'd be nice to have someone to show me where the fun hangouts are." Ruby explained.
"Sure, when you schedule the pickup, just ask for Vulpe." The driver instructed. Ruby started to get out once more. "Hey, don't forget your purse." Vulpe gestured to the back seat.
"Oh, yeah, that would've been bad." Ruby laughed nervously, snatching her purse and hopping out. "Thanks!"
Vulpe pulled away with a wave, leaving Ruby on the sidewalk in front of the SDC building. She took a deep breath and strode across the courtyard, reaching the entrance and a bank of metal detectors. Employees had their own entrance nearby that bypassed the checkpoint, a door operated with keycards. A tall, muscular man at one of the detectors waved Ruby through. It beeped as she passed, and the operator stopped her. "What do you have in your purse?"
"Uh...my wallet, keychain, chapstick, pepper spray, my scroll, some aspirin-" Ruby started.
"Any weapons?" The guard cut her off.
"Just the pepper spray." Ruby replied.
"Go on in, check in at the front desk." The guard instructed.
"Okay, thanks." Ruby smiled. The guard rolled his eyes, turning his attention to the detector as a Faunus man stepped through and set it off. The guard stopped the man, pulling him aside for a thorough screening.
Ruby entered the sprawling lobby. It was several stories tall, with a lavishly painted vaulted ceiling. She approached the front desk, which was manned by a trio of attendants. "How can I help you?" One asked as Ruby neared.
"Hi, I'm Ruby Rose." She introduced herself. "It's my first day of work."
"Okay Ms. Rose, you'll need to head to Human Resources." The attendant instructed. "It's straight down the end of that hallway." She pointed to one side of the lobby.
"Thanks." Ruby cheered. Nearly shaking with excitement, she walked down the hallway and through the door labeled 'HR', finding herself in a waiting room. A secretary at the desk at its far end looked up expectantly. "Hi, I'm Ruby Rose. It's my first day."
"Okay, just a moment." The secretary began typing at her computer. She paused, a puzzled look on her face. "Oh...odd."
"What's wrong?" Ruby asked, a twinge of panic in her heart.
"According to this, you're not scheduled to start for another month or so...but there is a note here, hold on." The secretary replied. Before Ruby could say anything to her, the secretary picked up her phone and punched in an extension. "Hello, this is Joan from HR. I have a Ms. Rose here, and her file requests I contact you." There was a pause. "Alright, I'll let her know." She hung up her phone. "Your project manager is coming down to see you. Hopefully she can sort this out."
"Yeah, I hope so." Ruby sighed, trying to remain as positive as possible. "I don't know if I can make it a month without a paycheck." Joan could offer little more than a sympathetic smile, and Ruby decided to take a seat in one of the chairs arrayed against the wall. She slid her scroll out of her purse and started looking through her emails to keep herself distracted.
Over the next few minutes, several people were in and out of the office. Ruby looked up the first few times the door opened, but by the fifth time she was completely ignoring it. The usual dull ache in her leg - the remnant of an old injury - began to spike into something more acute. It seemed whoever was coming to see her was not in much of a rush, or they had a long way to go. It was a gigantic building, and Ruby could see how it might take someone quite a while to traverse it. "Ms. Rose." A formal woman's voice grabbed Ruby's attention.
"That's me!" Ruby chirped, tossing her scroll back into her purse and standing. She found herself face to face with a tall redhead, hair tied in a neat ponytail.
"Hello Ms. Rose, I'm your project manager, Pyrrha Nikos." The woman introduced herself, extending her hand to shake. "You can call me Pyrrha."
"And you can call me Ruby." She took the offered hand and gave a firm handshake. She gestured to the desk. "She said my file says I'm not supposed to start for like a month…"
"Yes...it seems there's been some confusion." Pyrrha frowned. "The project you were hired to work on has been delayed. I tried to contact you. I got no answer on your cell, and when I called your home your mother said you'd already left."
"You called...shoot." Ruby groaned. "You must be that strange number...I knew I should've answered it. I just didn't recognize it-"
"It's partially my fault." Pyrrha interrupted. "I should have called you from the official line instead of my personal line, then maybe you would have recognized it."
"It...it doesn't really matter." Ruby said. "Why's the project delayed?"
"Well, the civilian robotics you're going to be working on and the military robots the company makes for the Atlesian military use the same platform." Pyrrha explained. "Due to some issues the robots were having in the field, we were forced to make design changes and retrofit the existing units. No only does that use the same facilities your project would use, but it shares much of the same manpower. Your project will have to wait until the current one is finished."
"Oh...can't I work on the current project?" Ruby asked.
"I'm afraid not." Pyrrha answered. "It's a military project, and the designs are classified, so only Atlesian citizens with Top Secret security clearances are allowed to work on them. Even I'm not authorized to do so. They've got me helping out in Faunus Outreach until the military production wraps up."
"I...isn't there anything I can do?" Ruby pressed. "I spent like all my money to fly out here, I don't even have an apartment yet, and I don't think I can go that long without a paycheck. I don't even have enough to fly back home, and I don't want my parents to have to pay for me-"
"Excuse me, Ms. Rose." Joan interrupted. Ruby and Pyrrha turned their attention to the secretary. "There is one job that just opened up, but I warn you, it's a very difficult one."
"I'll take anything." Ruby beseeched. "What is it?"
"Chairwoman Schnee's personal secretary...resigned...yesterday." Joan replied. "She'll need a new one. I warn you, it's a very demanding job."
"I don't care, I'll take it." Ruby declared.
"Alright." Joan nodded, a hint of pity on her face. "When can you start?"
"Right now." Ruby answered.
"I can introduce Ruby to Ms. Schnee." Pyrrha offered.
"Very well." Joan agreed. "Just come by at the end of the day, and I'll have a keycard for you."
"Working for the head of the company sounds so cool." Ruby cheered.
Pyrrha struggled to keep a straight face. "It's...something." She gestured for Ruby to follow, and the pair headed into the hall, Pyrrha leading Ruby to the elevators at the back of the lobby. "Do you have plans for after work?"
"No, why?" Ruby responded.
"Well, I'm going to be working with you eventually." Pyrrha explained. "I like to get to know everyone on my team. We can get something to eat, and properly introduce ourselves."
"Sounds great." Ruby agreed.
"Hopefully Weiss won't keep you too late." Pyrrha noted. The elevator arrived and the pair stepped in. Pyrrha swiped her keycard, then punched the button for the top floor. "She does usually leave more or less on time most days, and there shouldn't be much for you to do once she's gone home."
"I'm just going to be her secretary, how hard can it be?" Ruby chuckled.
"Ms. Schnee is...a demanding boss." Pyrrha chose her words carefully. "Lately in particular. She's fast paced, and expects everyone to keep up, with no mistakes."
Ruby was perceptive enough to realize she had no idea what she had gotten herself into.
After a lengthy ride, the elevator came to a halt on the top floor, a bing ringing as the door slid open. Pyrrha stepped off first with Ruby right behind. Immediately in front of them stood a wooden desk, presumably the one that would be Ruby's. A modern-looking office chair was tucked against it, and a rather new computer sat atop it, the company's snowflake logo bouncing around the otherwise black screen. Curiously, there was another screen, about the size of a tablet, facing away from the chair, toward the elevator.
As Pyrrha and Ruby neared the desk, the screen flashed on, displaying a cute, smiling chibi-style sprite of a ginger girl. It looked familiar to Ruby, but she could not quite place it. "Hello Ms. Nikos!" The sprite greeted in a modulated voice. Text on the screen accompanied the speech. "Are you here to meet with Ms. Schnee?" There was a short pause, and the sprite shifted to a quizzical look, a question mark over its head. "You don't seem to be on her schedule."
"Sorry for coming unannounced." Pyrrha apologized. She gestured toward Ruby. "I have a candidate for Ms. Schnee's new assistant, and I was hoping to introduce her." She looked back. "Ruby, this is Penny, the company's computerized assistant. Penny, this is-"
"Ruby Rose...I'm just bringing up your file." Penny cut in. "Your assignment has been approved by Human Resources. I will update your clearances. I have been acting as a temporary secretary for Ms. Schnee. I am well versed in scheduling, memo dictation, and call routing, but unfortunately my lack of a body renders me unable to make her coffee." The sprite changed to a laughing expression.
"Penny...so cool!" Ruby enthused. "This is the most advanced computerized interface I've ever seen." She paused. "Hey, when I take over as Ms. Schnee's secretary, can I still use your scheduling functions? You could probably help with organization too."
"Of course." Penny replied, her sprite returning to its smiling avatar once more. "I am here to assist all SDC employees."
Pyrrha chuckled. "Good to see you're already getting along. Now that introductions are out of the way, may we meet with Ms. Schnee?"
"I'm afraid Ms. Schnee is in the middle of an important phone call." Penny answered. "I will inform her of your presence when it is complete."
"Thank you." Pyrrha nodded. "I'll show Ms. Rose around until then."
"Sensational!" Penny chirped as her screen blinked off.
"Well...where to start…" Pyrrha thought aloud. "As you've probably guessed, this will be your desk. You'll get your network password when you pick up your keycard." She gestured toward a pair of ornate wooden doors past the desk. "That's Wei...Ms. Schnee's office. You probably guessed that too. Hmm…" Pyrrha looked around, then pointed to a small room beside the elevator. "That's the kitchen. There's a refrigerator, a microwave and a coffee maker. The Chairwoman takes her coffee with cream and three sugars, remember that."
"Cream and three sugars." Ruby repeated. "Got it."
"For her meals, if she orders out, you'll have to meet the delivery person in the lobby." Pyrrha explained. "If she's having food from the cafeteria, you'll have to get it from there." She gestured to a door on the other side of the elevator. "That's a bedroom, but I don't think it sees much use. Ms. Schnee heads home on time most nights. The next two doors are bathrooms, the first for her use only, the second for you and any guests."
"A private bathroom, fancy." Ruby commented.
"I once got a peek into her bathroom." Pyrrha whispered. "It's got gold fixtures, a full bath and shower. The other is pretty nice too, clean but less opulent."
"Sounds good." Ruby nodded.
"Excuse me." Penny interrupted, her screen flashing to life once more. "Ms. Schnee is ready to see you now."
"Thank you Penny." Pyrrha turned to Ruby with a smile. "Ready?"
Ruby nodded, smoothing her shirt and straightening her posture. "Anything I should keep in mind?"
Pyrrha chuckled. "Ms. Schnee is a stern but fair woman. So long as you don't offend her in some manner, you'll be fine. I'll talk to her first, okay?"
"Okay, thanks Pyrrha, I'm...just a little nervous." Ruby let out a little laugh.
Pyrrha lay a reassuring hand on Ruby's shoulder. "I've been there Ruby. Take a deep breath, and remember, you're here, you made it. Granted there was a little delay, but no matter what happens, the SDC will take care of you."
Ruby nodded, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Exhaling, she already felt calmer, more focused. She smiled back at Pyrrha. "I'm ready."
Pyrrha approached the office door and knocked twice before pushing it open. Peeking her head through, she saw her tired superior rubbing the bridge of her nose, and smiled. "Rough call?" She asked, letting the door go as Ruby followed at a distance.
"Yet another complaint about Cardin." Weiss groaned. "I swear, I almost wish he would do something worthwhile so I am forced to fire the bloody idiot and be done with his bigotry."
"All in good time." Pyrrha met Weiss' gaze as she reached the desk, receiving a gentle smile in return.
"Penny mentioned a new assistant applicant?" Weiss asked.
"Yes, though the situation is more complex than that." Standing aside, Pyrrha revealed Ruby, standing a few steps away, hands clasped before her.
Ruby smiled, waving. "Hello Ms. Schnee, I am Ruby Rose." She greeted, calm and steady.
Weiss raised a brow. "Hello Ms. Rose." She turned, looking to Pyrrha in question.
"Ms. Rose was slated to work under me, but due to the robotics retrofit…" Pyrrha rolled her hand.
Weiss mouthed an affirmation. "I see, right. I apologize Ms. Rose, military contracts are among our most profitable, and often cause complications such as these."
"It's okay, I understand." Ruby nodded.
"Ms. Rose moved here from Patch...you have no relatives in Atlas correct?" Pyrrha asked.
"Not that I know of." Ruby replied. "My dad is from Mistral and my mom is from Patch. I'm staying in a hotel until I can find an apartment to rent."
"In the meantime she could fill in as your assistant." Pyrrha suggested.
"Hmm, do you have any prior experience as a secretary or personal assistant?" Weiss asked.
"No, I worked as a barista since I was a teenager, but I learned time management and organization during college." Ruby answered. "I'm willing to try my hardest to learn no matter what."
"That's fine, at least I know you'll make good coffee." Weiss joked. "You can start tomorrow, eight AM sharp. Pyrrha, can you handle the orientation?"
"Of course." Pyrrha confirmed.
"Thank you." Weiss stood, circling her desk to meet Ruby face-to-face. It was a surprise to learn she was half a head shorter than Ruby, who was used to being the shortest in the room. Ruby had seen Weiss in videos beforehand, appearing in interviews for the news, on talk shows, and in press conferences. She always seemed so tall, so calm and composed, perfect. It felt so strange to literally look down at her new boss after that, but Ruby felt no bigger for it. "Ms. Rose." Weiss greeted once more, offering her hand. Ruby shook it without a moment's hesitation. She was stronger than she looked too. "Welcome to the SDC."
Leaving Weiss' office, Pyrrha began Ruby's tour of SDC HQ. High on the list of important locations were the copy room, a floor beneath Weiss' office, and the storeroom, a floor below that. Most company correspondence was digital, but if any major printing or copying projects fell to Ruby, she would need to know where to go. Pyrrha also indicated the locations of the departments with which Weiss was most involved. Ruby would probably be spending her days rushing around between those locations.
Once on the ground floor, Pyrrha took Ruby to the cafeteria and explained how it worked. Employees paid using ID cards, each with a weekly allotment roughly equating to one meal a day. Anything beyond that would be deducted from Ruby's pay. Weiss frequently had lunch from the cafeteria, which Ruby would have to retrieve for her. Pyrrha praised the food's quality, which was universally excellent, and the prices which were unbeatable.
After the mailroom was a stop at HR, where Ruby picked up the paperwork needed to get her ID and keycard. Heading to the Security office, Ruby had her picture taken and the ID printed, ending the official tour. Pyrrha still had more to show however. First was the Schnee Faunus Outreach office where Pyrrha was working for the time being. Ruby was vaguely aware of the past conflict between the SDC and Faunus. She was heartened to see it seemed to be a thing of the past.
The Cybernetic Robotics department, where the two would be working once their project began, was the next stop. Unfortunately a full tour would have to wait, as it was currently off limits to all but authorized personnel. Ruby was already impressed, and a little intimidated, by the sheer scale of the facility, but there was even more to it than she thought. Pyrrha led her across a glass and steel pedestrian bridge, connecting SDC HQ to the research hospital across the street.
"What are we doing over here?" Ruby asked.
"We'll be working with one of the departments here." Pyrrha replied. "...And I need to leave a message." She stopped in front of a door labeled Biomedical Control Systems. "We'll be making the prosthetics, they make the interfaces that allow the users to control them."
"Cool." Ruby said.
Pyrrha swiped her card on the reader and stepped into the room. A bored-looking man sat at a reception desk much like the one Ruby would be occupying, though it was not as clean or well kept. "Hello Roy." She greeted with a smile and a wave.
Roy looked up and returned a half-hearted wave. "Hey Pyr, what's up?"
"Is Ren in?" Pyrrha asked.
"'Fraid not." Roy replied. "He's in a meeting, along with half the department."
"Oh…" Pyrrha seemed to deflate a bit. "Well, can you give him a message?" Roy nodded. "Tell him I'm taking the car." She gestured to Ruby. "Taking a new hire to dinner."
"I'll let him know." Roy agreed. "Have fun."
"Thanks Roy." Pyrrha smiled. She and Ruby left the office, heading back to the main building.
"So, who's Ren?" Ruby asked after the pair had walked for a bit.
Pyrrha's face lit up. "He's the head of the BCS department...and my fiance."
"Oh cool, you'll have to tell me about him." Ruby suggested.
"Over dinner." Pyrrha agreed. "It's a little early, but I think we've done enough work for today."
After descending into the underground parking garage below the building, Pyrrha and Ruby climbed into the former's car. It was a dark green, newish sedan, economical and unspectacular. Ruby did find it quite comfortable, though after being on her feet for so long, she likely would have thought that of any seat. From there it was a short drive to another parking garage, this one situated across the street from a row of small businesses, their destination among them, a somewhat cramped Mistrali restaurant. The pair was quickly seated at a booth against the wall, and a waiter arrived almost immediately to take their order. Pyrrha chose her meal without even looking at the menu. Ruby was unsure of what to order for herself, and decided to have the same thing.
"This place is really busy." Ruby observed. "It's not like the Mistrali restaurants back on Patch."
"How so?" Pyrrha asked.
"Well, most of them are buffets." Ruby replied. "And they're usually bigger...well...more spacious."
"The restaurants back in Mistral are usually like this one, but there are a few buffets." Pyrrha noted. "So your father is Mistrali?"
"Sort of." Ruby shrugged. "He was born there, but he moved to Patch as a kid, so he doesn't have to much to say about it. When did you leave Mistral?"
"I moved to Atlas about two years ago." Pyrrha answered. "I was hired by the SDC right out of college, like you. Ren got here about a year ago. He worked at the SDC's Sanctum location for a while before that."
"So you guys met at work?" Ruby inquired.
"We did." Pyrrha confirmed, a fond smile spreading across her face. "Before he got here I didn't have many friends. Being a Mistrali in Atlas made me feel like an outsider, even if Weiss never treated me as such. When Ren got here we really connected. I could talk to him about things only a Mistrali would understand."
"What's he like?" Ruby asked.
"He's...kind, and quiet." Pyrrha replied, her smile growing. "And handsome, intelligent, passionate. It's uh...a little embarrassing to gush like this." She giggled. "He's my best friend, soulmate, confidant, everything I could hope for."
"How come you're not wearing a ring?" Ruby gestured to Pyrrha's hand.
"Oh, right." Pyrrha reached up to her collar, undoing the top button and fumbling around beneath it. She eventually pulled out a gold chain, on it a ring. It held a modest diamond and featured small jade inlays. "I've never really been comfortable with rings." She explained. "I played several sports in high school and college, and I was never allowed to wear rings while competing. Then when I started working on robotics, all the intricate work prevented me from wearing them. It just doesn't feel natural to wear a ring, even when I can, but I didn't want to just leave it at home, so…"
"Ah." Ruby nodded. "I've never really been big on jewelry either. I was an athlete too."
"Yes, your track and field resume is quite impressive." Pyrrha praised. "It's actually one of the reasons I chose you for my team. Your path matches mine in a way. Would you mind my asking why you chose to pursue robotics over athletics?"
"I don't mind." Ruby answered. "It wasn't really my choice." She grimaced and patted her leg. "I had an...accident while pole vaulting."
"Oh, you don't have to talk about it if-" Pyrrha started.
"No, it's fine." Ruby insisted. "I competed in a lot of events, and I was really good at most of them, but I was only a team alternate for pole vaulting. Then one of the other athletes sprained her ankle, and I took her place. I screwed up, fell, totally missed the pads. When I hit the ground my leg basically shattered. My knee tore itself apart, and my femur snapped and punched through the skin. I don't really remember much, between the pain and the blood loss I was unconscious pretty much immediately. The doctors weren't sure if they'd have to amputate, they still weren't for a few months.
"When I was in the hospital, I started drawing cool robotic legs to help make myself feel better about the possibility of losing my own. I was really down, but my big sis Yang was always there encouraging me. I never would have made it through without her. When she saw my drawings, she said that if they had to amputate, I could always build myself a new leg. It was just a joke, but it inspired me to look into real prosthetics. I found it fascinating, and even when they told me they wouldn't have to amputate, that my leg would recover, I stayed interested, and decided to turn it into a career."
"That's...inspiring." Pyrrha declared.
"Why did you give up athletics?" Ruby asked. "Did you get hurt too?"
"No, I chose to step away." Pyrrha shook her head. "I was a great athlete, my coaches even told me I could be an Olympic champion, and my parents pushed me hard. I won competition after competition, even at the Junior World Championships...but it just didn't feel right. My heart wasn't in it. So what if I could run faster, jump higher, throw farther? What did that contribute to society? I took some time off to volunteer at the Junior Paralympics, to at least give something back. The athletes there...they were such an inspiration. The things they did in spite of their disabilities, it was incredible. But once they were done competing, it was really hard for them. There are all kinds of specialized prosthetics for athletes, but for their daily lives, the options were very limited. Blade legs are great for running, but not for walking around town, and they certainly don't look the part. I wanted to do something to help these amazing people, so I gave up my own athletic aspirations, and dedicated myself to working on prosthetic robotics instead."
"That's so selfless and awesome!" Ruby gushed. "It...uh...kinda' makes me feel bad about myself. You showed such character and, I mean, I chose this for me really…"
"There's no reason to feel bad." Pyrrha encouraged, offering a smile. "Overcoming your injury took great strength of character. It couldn't have been easy to go through all that."
"I suppose you're right." Ruby allowed, with a smile of her own.
After a filling and delicious dinner, plus a bit more chatting, Pyrrha paid the bill - Ruby tried to pay her share, but Pyrrha insisted - and drove Ruby back to her hotel. Mantle Suites was not a particularly fancy hotel, but it was clean, fairly comfortable, catered to extended stays, and most importantly it was inexpensive. Ruby entered her room and flopped down on the bed, staring at the ceiling for a while. Her day had been a long one, not to mention stressful, and she was exhausted. She was glad to only have one more day before the weekend, then she would have some time to adjust, maybe even look for an apartment.
Ruby slipped her Scroll out of her bag, sliding it open and holding it in front of her. She went through her contacts, selected Home, set the device to speaker and placed it on her chest. "Ruby!" Her mother Summer's ever cheerful voice chirped after a few rings. "How was your first day?"
"Long." Ruby replied with a huff. "And things didn't quite go as planned."
"No?" Summer asked. "What happened?"
"Well, the project I was supposed to be working on got delayed, so I'll be working a different job for the time being." Ruby explained.
"What will you be doing until then?" Summer inquired.
"It sounds crazy, but I'll be Weiss Schnee's personal assistant." Ruby answered.
"She owns the company!" Summer gasped. "That's so exciting!"
"It is...and a little worrying." Ruby admitted. "Apparently it's a really hard job. Her last two assistants didn't last long."
"Oh, I'm sure you can handle whatever she throws at you." Summer encouraged. "You're strong and smart, I know you'll do great!"
"Yeah, I will." Ruby cheered. "I'll get a good night's rest, then go in tomorrow and kick some ass! I'll be the best assistant Ms. Schnee has ever had!"
"That's the spirit." Summer chuckled.
"Hey, is Yang around?" Ruby asked.
"I'm afraid not." Summer replied. "She's working late again."
"Oh, well, tell her I love her." Ruby requested. "Dad too. Goodnight mom."
Ruby left her hotel, heading to her first real day of work. It was earlier, probably earlier than necessary, but she was taking public transportation and wanted the extra time in case she got lost. It was a good decision, as her first exploration of the Atlas subway system was not without confusion. Unsure about station layout, she managed to miss her train while going from platform to platform, searching for the right one. That was not a problem as she still made it to SDC HQ with time to spare. Ruby decided the subway was probably the best route. There was a station just across the street from the building. It was cleaner than Vale's system, and not nearly as crowded as she had expected.
Ruby walked past the fountain and almost to the guest entrance before realizing her mistake. She detoured to the employee door, swiping her card and walking past a smiling but tired-looking security guard as she entered the building. Ruby was a full half hour early and the building was mostly empty, far quieter than it had been the day before. She made her way to the elevators, boarded one, swiped her card and selected the top floor. After a short ride the door opened with a bing and she stepped into what was effectively her new office.
"Good morning Ms. Rose!" Penny's screen lit up, accompanied by the cheerful voice. "How are you this morning?"
"Good morning Penny." Ruby responded, circling her desk and taking a seat. The office chair was modern-looking and comfortable, but a little too low. "I'm doing alright." She adjusted the height of the seat. "Just a little nervous." She looked at the computer on the desk, touching the mouse to wake it. A login screen appeared. "Um, Penny, how do I log in?"
"Swipe your card on the reader below the monitor." Penny instructed. "Since this is your first login, you'll need to set a password. It must be at least eight characters. Please use at least one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, one number, and one symbol."
Ruby did as instructed, and her desktop appeared, displaying a number of applications - normal office software, links to company email, the phone directory and Weiss' schedule, among a few others. She opened the schedule to find the day packed with meetings, with only short spaces between and a gap for lunch at midday. "Wow, Ms. Schnee is busy."
"Fridays are her busiest days." Penny noted.
"Is there anything extra I'll need to know?" Ruby asked.
"Today Ms. Schnee will have lunch from the cafeteria." Penny replied. "It will be ready, so there is no need to order it. You should pick it up at quarter to noon. That will also be your best opportunity for a lunch break."
"Good plan Penny." Ruby praised. She paused for a moment, then turned Penny's screen towards herself. "It feels more natural to talk to you while I'm looking at you."
"Technically you are just looking at an artistic representation." Penny corrected. "I am physically located in a bank of servers in the Advanced Computing Department."
"Oh, well...it's better this way regardless." Ruby managed. "Anyway, I don't have to order Ms. Schnee's lunch, is that because she always has the same thing?"
"Ms. Schnee has a rather rigid routine." Penny explained. "She has a set meal for each day of the week. The cafeteria staff knows her preferences, so you will only need to order her food on Tuesdays and Thursdays when she has her lunch delivered. I can tell you her orders if you wish."
"That would probably be a good idea." Ruby agreed. "Ooh, can you set reminders for when and what to order and stuff? That would be really helpful."
"Of course Ms. Rose." Penny replied.
"Oh, and call me Ruby." She requested. "It feels weird calling you by your first name while you use my surname."
"Very well, though Penny is technically a nickname." She indicated. "My actual name is classified."
"That's...weird." Ruby quirked her brow. Before Penny could respond, the elevator chimed, the door opening to reveal Weiss. She wore a neat blue and white dress, her hair done up in its usual side ponytail, white briefcase hanging from her fingers. "Good morning Ms. Schnee!" Ruby chirped.
"Good morning." Weiss greeted. "You're here early." It was still only quarter to eight.
"I didn't want to be late on my first day." Ruby said. "You only get one first impression."
"And you gave a good one yesterday." Weiss smirked. "Please, come into my office." She stepped up to the door and looked up at the surveillance camera just above it. After a few moments the door clicked open and Weiss stepped in, setting her briefcase on her desk before taking a seat behind it. Ruby stood in front of the desk, hands clasped before her. "I'm sorry to throw you in at the deep end, but Fridays are my busiest days."
"It's no problem." Ruby unclasped her hands, waving away the apology.
"Since you're here early, you can get a headstart." Weiss continued. She reached down, opening a drawer, fumbling around for a moment before pulling out a small box. She placed the box on the desk and slid it toward Ruby. "You'll need this."
Ruby picked up the box and removed its contents. It appeared to be a sleek but otherwise normal earpiece, the sort many business people used. She pressed what was very clearly the on button before slipping the device into her ear. "Do I have to connect this to my scroll or anything?"
"No, this is effectively a scroll in itself." Weiss replied. "It will allow me to communicate with you when you're not at your desk. It will also connect you to Penny, just ask her if you need to make an outgoing call. And be careful with it, it's a prototype."
"I'll take good care of it." Ruby promised.
"Just a moment." Weiss swiped her ID card to login to her computer, then began tapping away.
Ruby took the opportunity to take in the office. It was rather spacious, with a huge curtained window behind Weiss' desk. One side was lined with bookshelves and the other a number of cabinets. Ruby stood on a large rug depicting the SDC snowflake logo. Weiss' desk was sizeable, made of hardwood - probably mahogany - and uncluttered. Aside from her briefcase, computer, a pen and a few papers, the only object on it was an anime-style figurine. Strange.
Ruby examined the figurine, which depicted an armor-clad woman with a cat tail. She recognized the character. "That's Modoku isn't it?"
"Hmm?" Weiss looked up from the computer screen, turning her attention to the figurine. "Oh, yes."
"Huh, I didn't expect you to have something like that." Ruby thought aloud.
"It's a gift from a very dear friend." Weiss explained. She turned back to her computer for a moment before getting up and walking to one of the cabinets. She opened it to reveal a printer, which was already in operation. Opening another cabinet, Weiss grabbed a large envelope, into which she slipped the document when it finished printing. She sealed the envelope before handing it to Ruby. "Please deliver this to Chemical Engineering."
Ruby looked at the envelope. "Classified?"
"Yes." Weiss confirmed with a suddenly serious tone and expression. "You are not to open the envelope. If you do, I will have you prosecuted. That goes for all sealed correspondence with which you are entrusted. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes Ms. Schnee." Ruby nodded.
"Good." Weiss' expression softened. "Now go, we've got a busy day ahead of us."
Ruby found herself rushing around, floor to floor, department to department. From the start of the day there was hardly a moment to rest as she delivered and retrieved documents. She walked quickly through the halls, not wanting to keep Weiss waiting, not wanting to disappoint her boss. She had been worried about getting lost, but Penny helped via the earpiece, directing Ruby when she needed help. It did not take long for her to work up a serious sweat, and her leg was aching by mid morning.
Ruby hoped for a respite at lunchtime. She picked up Weiss' lunch from the cafeteria, along with a meal of her own - a sandwich, cherry sports drink, and giant cookie. She delivered Weiss' food, brewed and prepared her a cup of coffee, then sat down at her desk. Ruby hardly got started before an apologetic Weiss asked her to take a package to the mailroom. It was urgent and Ruby would have to go immediately. She capped her drink and slipped it into one pocket, wrapped her sandwich and stashed it in another, and left her cookie behind, assuming she would not have a chance to sit down and eat after making the delivery. She was right.
After delivering the package to the mailroom, Weiss called with yet another request, so Ruby ate and drank on the move. As soon as that task was complete, it was on to another, and another, and another. Ruby grabbed pieces of cookie whenever she stopped at Weiss' office, but she never had more than a few seconds to rest. By three she was exhausted, her leg screaming in agony. Another dose of aspirin did nothing to dull the pain. For the moment she had no immediate responsibilities, so she plopped in her chair with a huff. The last remnants of her cookie sat on the desk before her, but she was not really hungry.
"Ms. Rose." Weiss spoke.
It took a moment for Ruby to realize the voice was not in her earpiece, but right beside her. She turned to face her boss, plastering on a smile. "Yes Ms. Schnee?"
"I've got a board meeting for the rest of the day, so I don't think I'll need you." Weiss replied. "I'd still like you to stay on until five, but take a rest, you've earned it."
"Okay, thank you Ms. Schnee." Ruby nodded. Weiss was already standing at the elevator. It soon arrived and she departed, leaving Ruby alone.
"Ruby, are you alright?" Penny asked once Weiss was gone.
"Oh...yeah, I'm fine, just tired." Ruby answered.
"You were limping, are you injured?" Penny pressed. "Your facial expressions indicate discomfort."
"It's just an old injury." Ruby explained. "It acts up every once in a while, but I'll be fine."
"Okay, take care Ruby." Penny wished her well.
"I will, thanks Penny." Ruby responded. She folded her arms on her desk and rested her head. "What a day."
Ruby remained at her desk for the next two hours. There were no visitors, nothing to do really. She made herself a cup of coffee and tried to relax, but the pain in her leg refused to die down. She would have to deal with it after work. Ruby spent some time chatting with Penny, planning out the following week, setting up reminders to smooth out the upcoming days. She spent the rest of the time on her computer, reading articles or watching videos, anything to distract from her leg. She even managed to finish her cookie.
"Ruby, Ms. Schnee is coming." Penny warned.
"Thanks Penny." Ruby closed the cute cat video she had been watching.
Seconds later, the elevator arrived with a bing, and a somewhat tired-looking Weiss stepped off. She glanced at her watch. "It's quitting time Ms. Rose."
"Oh, okay." Ruby responded. "Do I have to clock out or anything?"
"No, Penny keeps track of that automatically." Weiss answered. "Again, I'm sorry you had to start on such a busy day. I like to get everything done so I can enjoy my weekend without having to worry about work. Today seemed busier than usual as well."
"It's alright." Ruby assured her. "I'm sure it'll be nothing once I get used to it."
Penny's screen flashed to life, her chibi sprite appearing. "Ms. Schnee, your car has arrived."
"Alright, I just have a few things to finish up." Weiss acknowledged. "And Ms. Rose…"
"Yes?" Ruby said.
"You did very well today." Weiss replied. "I'm impressed. Only one day in and you're already in the swing of things. Pyrrha picked a winner."
"Thank you Ms. Schnee." Ruby smiled. Penny's sprite smiled as well. "Hold on a second...Ms. Schnee?"
"What is it Ms. Rose?" Weiss asked.
"Penny's avatar...it was familiar but I couldn't place it until now." Ruby answered. "It's Okami, from Modoku's Journey, but with a palate swap and minus the dog tail."
"Maybe." Weiss shrugged. "I don't really know the exact idea behind it. I assume someone in the art department just wanted to give her a little more character, and used that as inspiration. One of our subsidiaries is the Atlesian distributor for that program."
"Oh, cool." Ruby nodded.
"Ruby, I advise you head home and get some rest." Penny spoke up.
"Yes, go enjoy your weekend." Weiss added before slipping into her office.
Ruby was ready to leave, but she was not about to head home. She had to take care of the lingering pain in her leg first. She collected her things and boarded the elevator, heading down toward the exit. As she descended, she slipped open her scroll and started the Ryde app. She still had very little knowledge of Atlas, but she knew someone who did. It was time to take up Vulpe on her offer. She put in for a pickup, requesting the fox Faunus as her driver. Hopefully Vulpe would know where to find the sort of place for which Ruby was looking.
Ruby made her way outside, and it was not long before her Ryde pulled up. She gladly but painfully pushed herself forward. Vulpe waved at her, craning around to speak as Ruby fell into the back seat, slamming the door beside her.
"Hey!" Vulpe greeted with a cheerful smile.
"Hey Vulpe." Ruby returned, though muted.
"Man you look wiped out." Vulpe observed. "Rough day?"
Ruby laughed. "That's an understatement."
"Straight home then?" Vulpe asked.
"Actually...do you know any good bars?" Ruby inquired. "Cheap ones?"
"Hmm, those two don't really go hand in hand." Vulpe quirked her brow in question. "And I only know Faunus ones."
Ruby shrugged. She had nothing against being around Faunus. It would be an interesting experience being somewhere that catered to them. "I don't mind."
"Yeah, but they might…" Vulpe warned. "But I know one that might work. Strap in, traffic's gonna' be hectic."
Ruby was close to dozing off when the car softly jerked to a halt. She blinked, reaching up to rub her eyes clear, before doing the same to her leg, the dull flame within burning. "Hey, you sure you're up for this?" Vulpe asked, leaning over the back seat.
Ruby smiled, stretching. "Yeah, I really need that drink." She chuckled, looking out the window. They were parked on a relatively rough but busy-looking street. Many of the pedestrians were Faunus, but tired, lethargic, just like her. It was obviously an older part of Atlas, with less metal and neon, and not a hologram in sight. A warm yellow tinted the immediate area. Ruby looked up to see a large sign, capital letters fading from yellow to red.
"Huh, looks nice." Ruby admired.
"Just be careful." Vulpe warned. "Don't stare, don't step on any tails, try not to rub up against people unless you're really into that. Humans give off mixed signals by accident all the time."
"I'll try." Ruby stated. "I've never been around so many Faunus."
"Not many back home?" Vulpe asked.
"Patch is friendly, but Faunus still mostly stuck together, and there weren't many to begin with." Ruby explained. "I had a friend when I was young, but he moved away when I was twelve, and no one really kept contact." Ruby trailed off, leaning her head against the glass, the chilly surface almost pleasant compared to the toasty interior.
"Hey, I knock off in a few hours, but give me a call when you need a lift anyway." Vulpe smiled. "I've got nothin' on tonight, and it's not safe for humans to walk around the streets here."
"Thanks Vulpe, that really means a lot." Ruby smiled back.
"You see the big buff blonde guy?" Vulpe pointed to the door beneath the sign. An intimidating man stood there in a grey coat, long blonde hair tied in a ponytail, thick sideburns framing his strong jaw.
"Hard to miss him." Ruby smirked.
Vulpe laughed. "That's Myron. He's a sweetheart. Just let him check your ID and purse. As long as you're not a bigot he's got nothin' against humans."
"Alright, thanks Vulpe, you're a lifesaver." Ruby pulled out her card, tapping it against the screen on the console. After a few moments thought, she dug into her purse, pulling free a healthy tip. "I really mean it."
"You're the kind of human we all hope to meet." Vulpe noted. "Don't let anyone scare you in there. The bar lady's tougher than all of 'em."
"Thanks again." Ruby repeated. "I'll uh, see you tonight?"
"Don't be shy." Vulpe smiled. "See ya' 'round Red."
Stepping out of the car, Ruby braced herself against the door, her leg stiff and throbbing as she hopped on her healthy one, closing the supporting object and offering a final wave as Vulpe drove away. The frigid air nipped at her exposed skin. She turned to the club entrance, avoiding a few pedestrians as she limped. A few Faunus flashed their IDs as tey entered, several more just exchanged a nod. The doorman's size was understated at a distance, but he towered over Ruby. A single raised brow was his only reaction. "You lost?" His voice borderline purred. It would have been pleasant if Ruby did not feel so small before him.
"No, I'd like to come in." Ruby held out her ID.
Myron frowned. "You been to a Faunus club before, or is this a tourist thing?"
"No, I'm just here to drink." Ruby answered.
"Why not drink in a human club?" Myron pressed.
"Because I don't know any human clubs." Ruby replied. "My Ryde driver, Vulpe said it's safe here."
The doorman closed his eyes and sighed. Nodding, he took her ID and scrutinized it. "Vulpe tell you what not to do?"
"Don't stare, step on tails or rub up against people." Ruby stated.
"And don't cause trouble." Myron added. "Stay in sight of security. It's safe here, but there's always assholes. Faunus come here to get away from the shit they deal with every day. They're short tempered enough without a human buzzing around."
"I'll do my best." Ruby promised.
"Better hope so." Myron returned her ID and jerked his head towards the door. "Have a good night."
"Thank you." Ruby smiled tiredly, pushing open the heavy door and entering the entryway to the club.
The dull throbbing of electronica surrounded Ruby, muffled by another door ahead. Several others lined the hall, one of them marked MANAGER, another SECURITY. She had been in human clubs before. This was not new to her, but there was an odd difference in atmosphere already. A strange scent hung upon the air, growing stronger as she traversed the way, earthy, sour, but not unpleasant. She pushed the inner door open and it washed over her in full, along with the familiar loud music of a nightclub, meant to dull the senses, to carry away worries and pain. If only it were enough for her own pain.
It was strange being around nothing but Faunus. Everyone around her had something new - feline, lupine, reptile tails, ears, scales, slitted eyes, pointed teeth bared in snarling grins, claws of all lengths and colors. It made Ruby feel very...bland. She was just Ruby, a human with two knees like any other. The only unique aspect she had was her silver eye color. It was apparently rare, but Ruby never saw them as anything more than a light grey. She dyed the tips of her hair like her mom used to, and had a love of gothic attire in which she no longer indulged. It was expensive, and everyone thought she looked silly.
The dance floor was packed, the bar crowded. The tables were taken and so were most of the booths, and more Faunus were piling in by the minute. The throbbing in her leg begged for relief, but for the time being the least she could do was follow Vulpe's advice and find an unoccupied area to keep to herself. Avoiding the other patrons and their suspicious glares, Ruby discovered an empty booth in the corner, beside the bathroom door. She hurriedly limped forward, sliding onto the hardwood and hissing in pain. She massaged the offending area. Gods she hated this. Why did painkillers not work for her like every other normal person? Why was this her special snowflake downside?
Ruby looked around, trying to focus on the interesting sights before her, never staring at one person too long. Multicolored lights flashed, music pulsed, bodies gyrated, many against one another. One girl in particular, skimpy clothing, bright red pigtails, a third actual tail, was borderline melting in the arms of another woman, moving in sync, a million dollar grin turning to a drowned out howl as teeth sunk into her neck. Ruby blinked, averting her gaze as a warmth tinted her cheeks.
Ruby glanced to the bar instead, only to find the barwoman staring right back at her, eyes blinking gold even at a distance, long silky black hair hanging over her shoulders, a pair of feline ears flat against her head. In spite of this she seemed to be in conversation with a tall blonde man beside her. She handed him several drinks, never taking her eyes from Ruby, who broke eye contact first, feeling more than a little discomforted, like she had been pinned in place. She ceased rubbing her leg to bury her face in her hands, taking several deep breaths. Maybe coming here was a bad idea. She could have bought some cheap wine from a liquor store. Atlas had those, right?
"Hey, you doing alright?" A loud voice yelled over the music, far too close for Ruby's attention span to handle.
"Whoa fuck!" Ruby yelped, jumping. Her knee hit a nut beneath the table, exploding in pain. She clutched the impact zone, thumping her head down and gritting her teeth. Why did it have to be the bad leg?
"Oh shit, sorry, sorry." The loud voice fretted. "My bad, you okay?"
Ruby felt a warm presence beside her. As the stranger sat down she raised her head to nod. "Yeah, yeah it's fine. I'm fine, you're fine, fuck that hurts though." She opened her bleary eyes to blink at the sight before her, a bare chest, framed by an unbuttoned black shirt, a very toned bare chest, every muscle defined and sweaty. A pang of nostalgia hit her, and she gulped.
"I can get some ice!" The man offered. "I'm a bartender here."
"No, no, I'll be fine uh…" Ruby blinked a few times, wiping the tears from her eyes and looking up with a smile. Then she froze, the flicker of a blonde tail appearing in her peripheral as the man's features came into focus.
"You sure, that looked...Ruby?" The tall blonde man balked.
"Sun?!" Ruby gasped in disbelief, as she beheld before her the slightly more defined and rugged, but familiar face of Sun Wukong, one of the few friends she ever held dear.
"Ruby, wha- whe- w-what the fuck you're here!" Sun stammered, equally shocked.
Ruby laughed, fresh tears sprung forth, and tossing caution to the wind, she threw herself at her old friend. "Gaaaaah I've missed you Sun! What are you doing here? Where have you been?!" She gushed. She felt the chest beneath her heave with laughter of its own, and strong arms wrap around her.
"Well, I work here, and all over the place!" Sun hurriedly answered. "What are you doing here? I missed you too!"
Ruby pulled away, keeping her grip on the Faunus' shirt as she continued to gush. "I got a job here! I moved a few days ago and had my first day today! Dude I tried finding you on everything but you just dropped off the face of Remnant!"
"Hey!" A new voice cut in. Ruby turned to find those same golden eyes burning into her. The barwoman did not look pleased.
"Blake!" Sun yelled, gesturing between them. "Meet Ruby! Ruby, meet Blake, my girlfriend!"
"Hey!" Ruby greeted.
"Whatever, you ordering or are you just a tourist?" Blake replied, deadpan.
"U-uh yeah, do you do Strawberry Sunrises?" Ruby requested.
"Lemme' guess, virgin?" Blake asked.
"Wha-that's not...oh, no, not virgin." Ruby managed.
Blake rolled her eyes. "Bring her to the bar so she doesn't piss anyone off." She ordered, turning to leave. Ruby stared after he before turning to Sun.
"Isn't she great?" Sun laughed.
Ruby chuckled nervously as Sun slid from the booth. Ruby followed, albeit slower. The pain had faded from its dull burn to an annoying sting that flared with every hint of pressure. She had this pain later in her recovery, constant, annoying, but bearable, like a toothache flaring before dying to a dull drone. Thankfully the bar was not far away, and there was a free stool. Score!
"You want an umbrella?" Blake asked as she mixed the cocktail before her.
"Oh, no thanks." Ruby declined. Yang had always enjoyed them, but Ruby thought it was a waste. They always ended up in the garbage, or stuck in someone's hair, which was funny, but not what Ruby needed to care about at the moment. She just wanted to blur her mind for the night before waking up. Then would come the search for an apartment. Gods she was not looking forward to that.
"Hey, I've gotta' scoot but drinks are on me for the night." Sun offered.
"Sun." Blake growled.
"No take backs!" Sun yelled, dashing off into the crowd, bright blonde monkey tail trailing behind him. Ruby laughed, before freezing as she was once again met with a glare.
Blake set the cocktail before her, rich and tall. "Don't take advantage of that idiot."
"I'm not like that." Ruby insisted. "I'll pay him back next time."
Blake scoffed. "Sure you will." And with that she strode away, tending to the next customer who needed her attention.
"Well...Sunrise...Sun…" Ruby snorted. She took a long drink from her glass, the sweet liquid burning down her throat, and a pleasurable shiver running down her spine. "I bet that's why he applied here."
Blake was not having a good night. That would not normally mean much, since Blake rarely had good nights. Sunrise was loud, thick with a thousand scents, and far too flashy for her tastes. But the business had been good to her. Over four years spent working the crowded nightclub had numbed her to any shocks and surprises. She had witnessed all manner of things, good and bad, beautiful and horrific. Nothing short of a curb stomp phased her anymore. But Sun finding an old friend? That was new.
He had spoken often about his time in Patch, of the human girls Yang and Ruby, hyperactive sisters who defined his early years. They had been like a second family, a human family, who accepted him without question. Blake had scoffed at first, but enough stories had left her with a better understanding of Sun's perceptions. He was fortunate, coddled, and ultimately suffered a rude culture shock upon moving to Atlas. Yet somehow his enthusiasm and faith never waned. By the time he met Blake, his resolve had only strengthened, his faith in humans clashing with Blake's nihilism. It caused friction at times, eventually levelling into occasional annoyance. Blake knew better than to blindly trust even the best humanity had to offer. The worst was likely to strike as soon as her back was turned.
But so far Ruby had lived up to Blake's expectations, chatting lively with Sun whenever he was near, nursing her drink when he was gone. Ruby steadily drained her beverages, each time waiting patiently for Blake to serve a refill. Once, twice, three times...she had since slowed and slurred, each interaction with Sun increasingly incomprehensible. Toward the end she had even attempted to converse with Blake herself, not that she was interested in speaking with a drunk. She shrugged off and ignored the clumsy attempts at socializing. Blake had enough to deal with, and thankfully halfway through her third glass, Ruby set her head down on the bar and fell fast asleep.
The club was quieting down, the majority of the partying having reached its crescendo around midnight, after which the customers slowly left, stumbling and staggering back to their homes to enjoy their weekend sleeping in. It was coming time to throw out the last of the drunks. Sun rosued those he could, security handling the rest, until finally Ruby was the last left. With the club silent, her soft snores became evident, and Blake was forced to pay attention to the human for the first time since she had seen her rubbing all over her partner.
Ruby's arms had splayed halfway across the bar, her drink having long since been taken and emptied to prevent spillage. Blake absentmindedly cleaned the counter as she scrutinized her form. Toned arms indicated Ruby observed some fitness routine, but her bones jutted a little too sharply. Her eyes were shadowed, bags barely hidden by makeup. She was tired, possibly stressed, potentially depressed. Who else would drink like she did? The obvious dietary issues did not help her tolerance. The hangover would not be pleasant. But to her credit, Ruby managed to handle two and a half full strength Sunrises. The club refused to skimp on its signature drink. They were no sad little cocktail glasses for children, but full glasses each time. Blake did not expect Ruby to make it through even one of the overly sweet beverages. She would have been impressed if she truly cared.
"She still out?" Sun asked, approaching. Blake tilted her head, swatting the human over the face with her cloth. "Hey, come on, that's got beer and shit on it."
"She's drooling on my bar." Blake deadpanned. "Get her out."
"Rubes?" Sun nudged the human, who barely mumbled. He took her by the shoulders, shaking more firmly. "Come on Rubes, wake up." Ruby seemed to stir, her body sliding toward Sun, weak arms pushing her into the familiar source of warmth. Sun had to catch the slumbering girl before she slid off the seat.
Blake was not amused. "Like a dense sponge."
"We can't leave her like this." Sun declared.
"So take her to her hotel." Blake dropped Ruby's purse on the bar, having offered to hold it for safekeeping. The girl was far too trusting.
"You went through her bag." Sun frowned in disapproval.
"I go through everyone's bag." Blake shrugged. The contents were mostly unsurprising - a wallet containing a lien card, several hundred in lien cash, a driver's license, several expired gift cards, and student ID from Signal University. All to be expected, but the firearms permit took Blake off guard. Sun's Ruby did not seem the type to hunt. It must have been a self defense issue, though no such firearm existed in the purse, just a scroll, a packet of miniature cookies, and pepper spray. The spray was good by human standards, but unsuitable for use against Faunus. Myron would have confiscated it if it was.
The discovery of a freshly printed ID badge brought a pang of annoyance:
Ruby Rose: SDC Mechanical Engineer
It seemed everyone was working for the SDC nowadays. At least she was not working in IT. Sun's friends there were insufferable.
"She's got a keycard for someplace." Blake pulled out the digital key, blank but for the manufacturer's logo.
"Blake, that could be for any hotel." Sun noted. "There's like fifty this side of the city alone."
"So wake her up and ask her which one." Blake suggested.
"Oh sure, 'hey Ruby, wake up, we're super busy and don't have much room, so we can't be bothered putting you up for the night, sorry about that-'" Sun started.
"Sun." Blake interrupted.
"She was one of my best friends!" Sun exclaimed. "I haven't seen or talked to her in like ten years."
"That's on you." Blake pointed out. "Give your number if you're so inclined."
"Or we take her to our place so she doesn't wake up confused and alone with a fucking hangover." Sun insisted.
"Because I just love having random humans in my apartment." Blake grumbled.
"Oh, your apartment." Sun rolled his eyes. "So it's only our apartment when it's my turn to vacuum, which I must note is every time."
"You're the only one who makes a mess!" Blake charged.
"And I clean it up!" Sun countered. "Come on Blake, Ruby's harmless. One night, you won't have to worry about her. It's all on me."
"Ugh...fine, one night." Blake pointed a single finger into her partner's face before throwing the dirty washcloth at him, turning to stride away. "And she's taking the couch!"
To put it simply, Blake was not happy. To elaborate, Blake was deeply, instinctively irritated. It was not enough that there was a human in her home, nor was it enough that she smelled of stale alcohol, copy ink and a dozen shitty perfumes and colognes. It was robbing her of a good night's sleep that truly held her ire.
The anxiety normally held at bay by the comforting scent and warmth of the one man she trusted was absent that night. Her mind wandered, her heart clenched, and what little sleep she achieved was fitful, fraught with nightmares. After the first thrashing awakening Blake elected to forgo even trying. One night Sun said, one night, not that the one night was supposed to be spent with a human playing octopus. So what if he did not want to wake her? The human did not need him to fucking relax at night. The little twit probably dreamt about cookies and robots, drooling with a dumb gape as she dozed on her partner's chest.
Because instead of sleeping soundly in her bed, Blake spent the morning curled up in her favorite armchair. Covered in a blanket, she attempted to drown herself in a book, some trashy bargain bin nonsense she had picked up at some point. She watched her partner snore loudly, as the most recent intruder in her life twitched and mumbled.
A particularly sharp jolt saw Ruby's eyes flutter, flicker, then snap open, a look of panic flashing across her face before dozy relief followed. Then came the pain, soft features screwing up as the consequences of a night poorly spent hit the human for the first time. Blake suppressed a grin.
As the pain dulled, Ruby opened her eyes, slower this time, taking in her environment. Perplexed, she pawed at the warmth upon which she rested, before slowly turning her head upward, catching Blake's eye for the first time. She held her gaze for a moment, then blinked, finally looking further upward, discovering her firm pillow happened to be Sun's chest.
"Oh." Ruby squeaked, pushing herself upward, landing beside the couch's other arm before clutching her head. She groaned, rubbing away what little pain she could before attempting to speak. "G-" She coughed, pausing to wait out another flare of pain. "Good morning." She croaked, wiping tears from her eyes. "Sorry, Blake?" The Faunus nodded. "Can I have some water, please?"
At least the human was polite. A part of Blake wanted to decline, just to see how Ruby would react. But she was ornery, not cruel. "Come on, kitchen." She ordered, tossing off her blanket. The apartment was rarely cold. One of the building's greatest virtues was its good heating, something the majority of Atlas strove for, yet rarely achieved.
Padding into the kitchen, Blake picked up an empty glass from the dish rack, filling it with water from the tap. Ruby sat at the breakfast bar, murmuring her thanks when handed the glass, draining it in one long draw. She sighed in relief. "Did I uh, ask to stay here last night?"
"You passed out on my bar." Blake corrected.
Ruby groaned. "I'm sorry, I haven't done this in a while and I really like strawberry sunrises. Thank you for taking care of me."
"Thank Sun." Blake suggested. "I'm not one for humans in my home."
"Oh, sorry...I...I can go." Ruby managed.
"You're here now." Blake sighed, turning to the pantry. "You want a bagel?"
"Uh...sure, thanks." Ruby's quiet voice replied.
As Blake pulled out the bagels and spreads, she considered her next course of action. Being an SDC employee, Ruby would be staying in Atlas permanently. Being Sun's friend, she could expect to see her at the club more often. From Sun's stories, Ruby was loud and energetic but shy around strangers. Blake's impression seemed to fit the bill, though with some deviance. Ruby was visibly pained, limping to the far booth where she would not be noticed, and attempting to lose herself in the sights. Until she discovered Blake's observation at least. She was quick to avoid eye contact after that.
"Toasted?" Blake asked.
"No thank you." Ruby responded.
"We've got jam, peanut butter, butter and hazelnut spread." Blake offered, sliding a sliced and plated bagel across the counter.
"What kind of jam?" Ruby asked.
"Blueberry." Blake answered.
"I'll have that please." Ruby requested.
Setting the jar and a knife before the human, Blake turned to her own meal, spreading salmon paste generously across the bun. The thick scent wafted over her, delicious and pleasant. She breathed it in, losing herself for a moment. A shudder ran through her system, and she froze.
"Uh, Blake, are you okay?" Ruby's muffled voice asked, blocked by a mouthful of bagel.
"I'm fine." Blake waved her off. "Where are you staying?"
"Oh, Mantle Suites." Ruby replied.
"Doesn't the SDC have housing opportunities?" Blake inquired.
"I don't know." Ruby admitted. "I've only worked there for a day...I didn't tell you about my job last night did I?"
"You have an ID in your purse." Blake noted.
"Oh, right…" Ruby trailed off.
"Did you check a gun with security?" Blake asked.
"No, why?" Ruby responded.
"You have a permit, but no gun." Blake observed.
"Oh, mom and dad hunt sometimes, and my sister works in security, so I took some courses and got a license." Ruby explained.
"Hmm, a gun would be wise in Atlas, for a small thing like you." Blake advised.
"I have pepper spray." Ruby countered.
"Human grade, buy bear spray." Blake suggested. "A Faunus isn't going to be phased by a little sting."
"I'm not planning to make a Faunus angry Blake." Ruby sighed.
"You walked into a Faunus nightclub." Blake lectured. "You could have done any number of things to anger someone, and security isn't as attentive to your kind as they should be."
"But you were." Ruby pointed out.
"It was a boring night." Blake said. "You stuck out. I won't always be there. Don't expect the world to baby you. Don't expect Atlas to baby you."
"Blake, I'm not expecting anything, I don't know everything there is to know, and I'm going to make mistakes...but I'm thankful you care enough to raise the point." Ruby smiled gratefully, then frowned. "But I didn't earn a degree and move to a new continent because I expected the world to hold my hand. I'm trying Blake." She sighed, rubbing her temples. "I'm sorry...it's been rough."
"Was it recent?" Blake queried.
Ruby quirked her brow. "Huh?"
"Your leg, you were rubbing it." Blake glanced downward briefly.
Ruby shook her head. "Oh, no, that was years ago. I just didn't exercise much since college and...I did a lot of walking yesterday." She sighed again, picking up her bagel and taking another few bites. They ate in silence for a time, making short work of their meals before the silence began to grow awkward. "How did you meet Sun?" Blake paused, the final bit of her bagel held mid bite as she fixed Ruby with a glare. "Or is that private?"
"What does it matter?" Blake deadpanned.
"It matters because it's Sun, because I haven't seen or heard from him in a decade, and suddenly I find him in a random club with a girlfriend and a life I never expected-" Ruby fumbled.
"I'm not his girlfriend." Blake interrupted.
Ruby looked surprised. "Oh...you're engaged?" She smiled hopefully.
Blake shook her head, rolling her eyes. "I'm his partner." She corrected.
Ruby dropped the smile, adopting a look of confusing. "Is that like a...Faunus thing?" She queried, innocently.
The implication still irked Blake. "No Ruby, it's a me thing." She spat.
"I'm sorry, I just don't know much about Faunus culture." Ruby defended. "Just anime stuff and that's always exaggerated or watered down and I don't trust it…" She rambled in apology, shrinking down to nibble on her bagel.
Blake huffed, pushing down the indignation she still so often felt in the presence of humans. Ignorance was to be expected, especially so in Atlas, but Sun had spoken at length about Ruby's lack of prejudice and her curiosity. Unfortunately it seemed Sun had neglected to educate her. They were children after all, too busy climbing trees and skinning knees. Typical. "We met when Sun did a trial at Sunrise."
"Ah." Ruby acknowledged.
"He was loud and obnoxious, but followed instructions well." Blake remembered. "So they hired him."
"Sun always was a hard worker." Ruby admired. "He used to mow our lawns every week."
"Hmph, he needs to mow his own lawns." Blake mumbled under her breath.
"What?" Ruby asked.
"He needs to wake up and take you home." Blake swallowed the last of her bagel, stalking out of the kitchen to the couch, where Sun snored away, steady as ever. "Get up...get up dumbass." She punctuated each word with several slaps to the cheek. Sun snorted, but remained dead to the world. "Ugh, stupid rock."
"Tickle his belly button." Ruby suggested.
Blake shot Ruby an unamused look, the human shaking her hand in response. Sighing, Blake reached down Sun's uncovered torso, and stuck her finger in the little depression, wiggling it around.
"Woargh!" Sun yelled, snapping awake to flail. Blake withdrew her hand before Sun could slap his over it protectively. "What the...oh." He took in his surroundings and yawned. "Morning Blake."
"Morning Sun!" Ruby chirped.
"Wha...Ruby!" Sun gasped.
"That's me!" Ruby cheered.
"Shit, I thought I was dreaming." Sun chuckled.
"Sun...dress, take her home." Blake ordered.
"Yeah, yeah." Sun yawned again. "Where you stayin' Rubes?"
"Mantle Suites." Ruby replied.
"That shithole?" Sun shook his head.
"It was the cheapest place that didn't look run down." Ruby explained.
"How come you're staying at a hotel anyway?" Sun asked.
"I didn't have much time to plan ahead." Ruby admitted. "I'm gonna' look for an apartment today...do they have any available here?"
"Probably, but...well we've got a spare room-" Sun started.
"Sun." Blake snapped, glaring down at him.
Sun waved his arms. "What? We've got a room we never use, Ruby needs a place to stay. You're good for rent, aren't you?"
"I can pay a little now." Ruby answered. "I don't have much money until my first paycheck...but it's okay, don't worry about me. I can find a place on my own."
"Yeah right." Sun scoffed. "Only reason I found a place was because Blake let me stay."
"And I regret it to this day." Blake grumbled.
"Sure you do, but what you won't regret is letting Ruby live here." Sun insisted.
"I see absolutely nothing proving that." Blake countered.
"I...I won't be any trouble." Ruby promised. "I can keep to myself. Really, I'm used to being in my room alone."
"Humans are always trouble." Blake continued. "Noseblind, bumbling, loud and ignorant-"
"Well that's just racist." Sun charged.
"It's true." Blake persisted.
"Well, if you're so confident you won't have any problem letting Ruby prove you right then, hmm?" Sun smirked smugly.
Blake stared her partner down with a grimace. She wanted to shout. She wanted to storm out. But neither would win her any ground in this situation. Sun was directly challenging her perceptions, and threatening her pride in the process. She could not let that stand. For now she let out a breath, taking in another, and turning her gaze to Ruby, who stiffened in her seat. "You will shower twice a day minimum - after you wake up, when you get home from work, after working out or any vigorous activity. I don't want your scent all over my home, especially from between your legs." Ruby blinked, shocked, but nodded. "No perfumes, no scented deodorant, use only the cleaning supplies I approve. Windows open if you cook, and no curry." Ruby continued to nod. "No loud music, movies or video games. I will hear them, and if you wake me up I will not be merciful." Blake narrowed her eyes. Ruby nodded faster. The Faunus sighed, rubbing her brow. "Get dressed and go get her things. I'll clear out the room."
"Thank you Blake-" Ruby started.
"Whatever." Blake waved her away, stalking off down the hallway.
There was a beat of silence. Ruby blinked, looking to Sun, whose smugness had given way to surprise. "I didn't really think that'd work."
"Sun…" Ruby laughed, running her hands through her hair. "Gods I missed you."
Sun smiled sheepishly, scratching his head. "I missed you too Rubes. How's your head?"
"Sore." Ruby replied.
"You want some aspirin?" Sun offered.
"I'd kill for some." Ruby responded.
"Now you sound like Blake." Sun joked, standing.
"Well, something else we have in common I guess." Ruby chuckled as Sun walked past into the kitchen.
"Seriously though, she only acts scary." Sun insisted. "Plus I kinda' pissed her off because I didn't sleep with her last night...not in a sexual way...you know what I mean." He added, opening a cupboard and pulling free a basked. He rummaged through until he pulled out a bottle of aspirin, tossing it onto the counter where Ruby snatched it up.
Ruby popped out two tablets. "Sorry about that, I get clingy when drunk." She apologized, swallowing the pills. She reached for her glass to wash them down, only to find it empty. Sun quickly filled the glass, and she murmured thanks.
"No harm done." Sun shrugged. "It's like we're making up for all the hugs we missed over the years."
"That's a lot of hugs, like four a day average." Ruby speculated.
Sun leaned against the fridge, arms crossed. "Factor in Yang...oh man, I've got some debt to pay."
"I think I can work out a plan." Ruby joked. "I can be reasonable."
"How does real breakfast sound?" Sun offered.
"Hmm...it's a start." Ruby grinned as she drained the last of her glass.
Ruby shivered, rubbing her arms as she and Sun settled into his car. The engine roared awake with the jingle of keys, the heater blasting to high. "I know everyone says it's cold in Atlas, but it's like a wet blanket on my skin!" Ruby chattered. Upon opening the apartment block door the pair had been hit by a wall of chill. She had not even realized how warm the building was.
"Yeah, you're gonna need to go shopping." Sun suggested. "Even the summer is chilly as fuck here, and we're barely into autumn." He pulled his car onto the road, heading for Ruby's hotel. He still looked strange in his fur lined leather jacket and jeans. Even in Patch's fairly harsh winter, Sun barely wore more than thicker socks, always singlets and unbuttoned shirts. The teachers always made him button up during school hours, but he would open up as soon as he was out the door.
"I brought all my warmest clothes, but they're not really good for the workplace." Ruby groused. Her current jacket was a fairly thin, crimson denim number. Yang had picked it out before Ruby left. It kept out a light chill, but Atlas was far more biting than the meager barrier could handle.
"They look good though." Sun praised. "Hell, everything looks good. It's super weird, you're like, an adult now."
"Pfft, no." Ruby scoffed.
"It's true!" Sun exclaimed. "You've got this whole mature thing going on with the long hair and platforms. You look so much like your mom."
"Just because you had a crush on her." Ruby snorted.
"Did not." Sun protested.
"Did too!" Ruby insisted. "Oh I'll mow your lawns for some cookies Mrs. Rose. No one makes 'em better than you do." Ruby mocked.
"As if you're gonna' deny that." Sun countered. "Those cookies were the tits."
"Mom's tits." Ruby shot back.
"Yes Ruby, I love your mom's tits." Sun rolled his eyes. "Want me to say it on video?"
"Oh please, then I can send it to Yang." Ruby joked. "So the first thing she sees of you is blackmail material."
"Speaking of, how is she anyway?" Sun changed the subject.
"She's good, works security for the Signal Flares." Ruby replied.
"The football team?" Sun perked up. "That's pretty cool. But security...damn, I thought she'd go into athletics. Both of you really."
"Yeah, Yang got really into it for a while, but then her coach left and she just...stopped caring." Ruby explained. "She really liked her."
"What about you?" Sun inquired.
"I had a pole vault accident, broke...well my left leg pretty much exploded." Ruby replied.
Sun hissed. "Fucking ouch."
"Yeah, it sucked." Ruby sighed. "But lucky it happened in my first year at Uni, so I was able to switch majors pretty easily."
"What to?" Sun asked.
"Engineering, robotics and stuff." Ruby answered.
"Oh sweet." Sun nodded. "You gonna' be bringin' home...like cyber legs?"
"I don't think the SDC is into homework." Ruby chuckled.
"SDC, that place is great!" Sun cheered.
"Yeah, I got scouted after graduation." Ruby explained. "It was a really big surprise and I had to scramble to come over here."
"Dude, my best friend works there!" Sun continued. "You met a guy named Neptune? Works in IT? Blue hair, hits on anything with tits?"
"I don't think so." Ruby replied. "Ms. Schnee didn't send me there yesterday. She sent me everywhere else though…"
"You work under Schnee?" Sun asked.
"Yeah." Ruby confirmed. "The project I was hired for was delayed because of some recall. My project manager, Pyrrha, got me a temp position as Ms. Schnee's assistant."
"Oh man, Nep told me some horror stories about that position." Sun warned. "Apparently one guy had a nervous breakdown, and the last chick got pissed, really made a scene when she quit."
"Really?" Ruby tilted her head. "My first day wasn't too bad. Just very long, a lot of running around."
"Schnee has a temper on her apparently." Sun noted. "It doesn't pop up often, but when it does...everyone in her way feels it."
"I can imagine that." Ruby agreed. "She's very intense."
"I bet she's insane in the sack." Sun smirked.
"Don't let Blake hear you say that." Ruby warned. "I thought she was gonna' kick my ass when I woke up on you."
"Oh, she's just possessive...sometimes." Sun explained. "She's weird like that. Had a more traditional Faunus upbringing and all, but she's great once you get to know her. Just really blunt. And cranky when tired."
"She told me you met at Sunrise." Ruby shifted topics.
"You got her to talk?" Sun was taken aback. "Hey, that's a good start. Yeah, during my trial, she basically just ordered me around for a night. And here I am today, still being ordered around. It's been like two and a half years."
"And you're not getting married or anything?" Ruby pressed.
"Nah she's...well she isn't really interested in that." Sun answered. "What about you? What about Yang? Anything goin' on there?"
"Well, Yang had a steady relationship with this Neo girl, but it wasn't very healthy." Ruby replied. "Apart from that she hasn't really dated in...ages...that I know of. Me? Remember Oscar?"
"The farm boy?" Sun suggested.
"Yeah." Ruby confirmed. "Well, he asked me out, and I thought, sure, he's nice. And he was nice, really nice. I loved my time with him. I don't think I could have asked for a better first relationship...but about a year later I just...I guess I lost interest. I never really figured out why. I thought maybe I was gay, but then I went to Uni and, well, I went to Uni and I figured I like both. So I guess I was just...bored, which sounds horrible, but I can't come up with any other reason. I wasn't enjoying the relationship. We didn't really do anything interesting, we didn't share any hobbies, and we didn't have much to talk about. It was just nice having someone, you know?"
"Yeah, I get that." Sun nodded. "I had a few flings over the years, but for some reason it's always the same problem. They're looking for a bit of fun, but then they want someone to settle down with, and I'm too much for that. Blake? She gets snippy, but she doesn't care what I am or what I do, as long as I don't mess up the apartment or invite Nep and the boys over again."
"Again?" Ruby asked. "There's more than one?"
"Hah, yeah, Blake really wasn't happy." Sun scratched the back of his neck. "Sage found one of her guns and...well pro tip, don't touch Blake's guns, or any of her stuff."
"Guns?!" Ruby exclaimed.
"Yep, she's got a bunch." Sun continued. "Knives and batons too, and some tasers, and brass knuckles. She's probably gonna' give you a lecture when we get back on everything, but the skinny is she's a bit paranoid. She's had a rough life, so she expects the worst and prepares for more. Just don't touch anything that isn't yours, don't sit in the blue chair, and don't go in her room, or her bathroom. Even I only use her bathroom when she invites me."
"Guns...alright, I can deal with that." Ruby said. "If you can deal with it, I can deal with it. I won't let you down."
"Hey, what's the worst that can happen?" Sun shrugged.
"Don't say that!" Ruby admonished. "That's the worst thing you can say. It's like saying 'is that all you got' or 'I'm king of the world.'"
"I say that in the mirror every morning." Sun grinned. "You wanna' get some O'Malley's?"
"Does Blake like anything from there?" Ruby asked.
"The fish wraps are sold all day, so yeah." Sun replied.
"Oh good." Ruby nodded.
"Good call though." Sun praised. "Bribing Blake with food is always a good idea. She loves fish." He shook his head and chuckled. "Fucking loves it."
"She put fish paste on her bagel." Ruby remembered. "It was weird."
"Just don't comment on it." Sun advised. "She's touchy about racial stuff."
"Oh I could tell." Ruby sighed. "Human this, human that."
"Like I said, rough life." Sun noted. "You and I were lucky. My family never got caught in any prejudice. Patch was harmless. But Blake? She's native Menagerian, born and raised, back when the SDC was still the big bad and the Fang were in their prime. Now it's all simmering and stewing, and Blake's got a lot under the hood, so just bear with her for a bit. Once she warms up to you it'll get better, alright?"
"I'll try...she's really pretty." Ruby commented.
Sun smiled widely. "Oh hell yeah she is!"
O'Malley's hotcakes and hashbrowns may not have been the best in the world, but they were the gods' gift for hangovers, and Sun was paying. It was a familiar scene really. Sun had stayed at the Rose-Xiao-Long household many times over the years. It was like a second home to him, Summer a second mother, Tai a second father, Ruby and Yang sisters. Mornings would wake them to the smell of fresh pancakes, eggs and toast. Yang and Sun would race to eat three stacks faster than one another. Ruby never stood a chance back then, but during her training days she could hold her own quite well. Things had slowed since the accident, and the stresses of university finals and preparing for the move had stripped Ruby of much of her former fat and muscle mass. She just did not have the time to spend going to the gym anymore. Maybe that would change now, once she had settled in. At least she could finally enjoy a hearty meal.
Ruby snapped a selfie with Sun, sending it off to her family. Yang was likely still asleep, or forgot to charge her phone, so Ruby did not expect a response soon. Summer and Tai were starting their own days however, and expressed excitement and well-wishes. Weekends were not for sleeping in for the Rose-Xiao-Long household, something Yang protested heavily. Instead they woke early and crammed the day with housework and chores before turning in early in the afternoon. When Ruby moved to Signal City with Yang it was a breath of fresh air, as instead of chores, they could go to the gym!
But those days were long gone. The injury put a stop to Ruby's harder workouts, and though for a time she switched to a heavy focus on her upper body, her new coursework and exams meant the majority of her free time was spent in study or work. She spent what little time remained with Yang, or attempting to drown her stress in a variety of ways. University, in spite of its difficulty, taught Ruby a lot about herself, especially outside the classroom.
With breakfast settling in their stomachs, the next stop was Ruby's hotel. It only took a few minutes to pack the few items that were scattered about - laptop, dirty clothes, toiletries, and with Sun's goading, anything complimentary that was not nailed down. Those little packets of biscuits were always strangely delicious. They stopped at O'Malley's again on the way back to make sure Blake's fish wraps were fresh, before heading home...home. It would take Ruby some time to get used to that thought. Atlas was her home now, and of all people to meet, it was Sun. All because she wandered into a random club at a stranger's suggestion. Wild and improbable, this was going to be a story for the kids.
Ruby was thankful the apartment block had a functional elevator. So far her leg had not acted up notably. She was hoping to go a weekend without something irritating her. No more pain, no more stress, no more anxiety. Just a few days when she could sit down and not worry about anything anymore, completely at peace. So long as Blake did not eat her.
Sun knocked a pattern on the solid apartment door, which clicked, clunked and swung open slowly and heavily after a few seconds' wait. Blake poked her head through, looking up and down the hall before sniffing. Her eyes flitted to Ruby, her luggage, then to Sun, who held up the O'Malley's bag. "Got your favorite!" He singsonged.
Blake rolled her eyes, snatching the bag and sauntering back inside. Sun gestured for Ruby to follow, goofy grin leaving her struggling not to chuckle as she dragged her belongings inside. Blake probably would not appreciate that, seemingly humorless as she was. The Faunus in question rummaged through the bag, as a dull thud and another click and clunk signaled the door being shut and locked. For a moment Ruby felt trapped. Blake's ears twitching at the sound did not help, nor did her turning to regard Ruby with narrowed eyes, clawed fingers peeling open her wrap. Were they always that long?
"The front door is to remain secured at all times." Blake started. Taking a bite, her ears shivered as she chewed. "That means all the locks are to remain locked. Atlas looks pretty during the day, but the filth is nocturnal. If I find even one lock undone, you're sleeping in the hallway."
"Oh...kay." Ruby shot a look at Sun.
Sun had migrated to the couch. He smiled guiltily. "I did it twice before she got tired of me scratching at the door." He received a balled-up wrapper to the face for his trouble.
"Do not invite humans here." Blake continued. "If someone shows up at the door, do not let them in, no matter what they say, without my explicit say-so. Do not tell the SDC you live here, get a PO box. Sun has one downtown."
"I understand." Ruby nodded.
Blake stood, taking another bite. "Good." She started, walking past, gesturing to the faded dark blue armchair she had been curled up in that morning. "My chair, my bookshelf, my rug-"
"My rug, we replaced yours remember?" Sun cut in as she gestured to the checkered carpet beneath the coffee table.
Blake glared in response. "Yes, after your other human friend spilled his drink on it."
"In my defense, you scared the shit out of him." Sun reasoned.
"In my defense, he's lucky I didn't murder him." Blake seethed. "I liked that rug. What grown man drinks grape juice?"
"I do!" Sun responded.
"Yes, and you're a very big boy aren't you?" Blake sneered. "Don't spill shit. You're an adult. Neptune wasn't. He is no longer welcome here."
"She's just made 'cuz he tried to hit on her." Sun suggested.
"Down this hall." Blake bit as she stalked forward. Ruby followed. "Leads to the rest of the apartment." She gestured to the door on the left. "This is your room." And to the right. "This is the main bathroom." Another down the hall. "Storage and linen closet."
"There's a vacuum in there." Sun noted. "Just warn Blake before you use it."
"It hurts my ears." Blake said.
"Among other things." Sun snarked.
"I'll try to be considerate." Ruby offered.
"Don't try, do." Blake grumbled, stalking forward.
Ruby shot Sun another look, receiving a half-hearted shrug. She took her bags and dragged them into her new room. Bracing herself, she continued down the hall, exiting to find… "A gym!" She squeaked in excitement. It was a well stocked on at that, foam padding and mirror wall included.
"Very observant." Blake drawled sarcastically. "You may use it so long as I am not asleep, and clean up after yourself. If I find sweat on my equipment you're sleeping in the hallway."
"Half of it's mine anyway." Sun cut in once more as he entered the room. "When I got here she just had a bench press and a boxing bag."
"And then you bitched and moaned that we had a gym in the making with no real equipment." Blake noted.
"Hey, I've always wanted my own gym." Sun defended. "Best money I've ever spent."
"We've ever spent." Blake corrected.
"Just use the spray and wipe things down when you're done." Sun indicated a corner table, grabbing a half empty bottle to shake. "And open a window."
Ruby nodded, looking around the setup in awe. There were several multi-purpose machines, a bike and a treadmill, all new-looking and clean. Then she noticed a second kitchen. "Why do you have two kitchens?"
"The landlord wanted to sell some higher end apartments, so on the top floor he combined two units into one." Sun explained. "It's like a budget penthouse. The second kitchen is a bar now."
"Buy your own alcohol." Blake ordered with a stern glare. "Better yet, don't drink in the apartment. You can't hold your liquor."
"I'm sorry...it's the only thing that stops the pain." Ruby apologized.
Blake screwed up her nose at that, gaze flicking to Ruby's leg. "Fine, don't drink alone." She huffed begrudgingly, turning to the next hallway. "This is my side of the apartment. You have no business through this hall."
"Our side." Sun interjected.
"Keep it up and you're sleeping on the couch again." Blake hissed at the blonde.
"Sure, sure." Sun laughed. "Tell her about your self defense collection."
"It's not a collection." Blake growled. "All you need to know is not to touch what does not belong to you."
"Or I'm sleeping in the hallway?" Ruby guessed.
"Or you can find someone else to mooch off of." Blake snapped. "I'm going to bed. Welcome home." With an expectant glance at Sun, she turned on her heel, stalking off down the hallway and into her own bedroom. She firmly slammed the door shut behind her.
Ruby let out the breath she was not aware she had been holding, looking to her friend. "Is this a bad day or is it because I'm human?"
"Both really." Sun surmised. "But don't worry, I'll work on her. Once she gets used to you, things will get better. She'll probably just pretend you don't exist if you don't get in her way."
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Ruby pressed.
"When have I not had good ideas?" Sun questioned, feigning offence.
Ruby leveled a blank stare at the Faunus, who continued to act innocent. "Hey Ruby, let's draw dicks on Yang's face. What's the worst that can happen?" She pantomimed.
Sun raised his hands. "In my defense, it was hilarious."
"My bruises said otherwise." Ruby countered.
"Worth it!" Sun exclaimed.
"Psh, sure." Ruby grumbled.
"Anyway, I gotta' go suck up a bunch." Sun stuck a thumb toward the hallway. "Think you can stay out of trouble for a few hours?"
"I'm sure I can resist rubbing myself on all the furniture." Ruby chuckled. She ran a finger along the wall, tracing a smiley face. "I need to call Yang anyway. My phone blew up when we got here, so she's probably awake."
"Tell her I said hey, sorry for vanishing, and pray for my soul." Sun clasped his hands in mock prayer.
"You sold your soul for a high five." Ruby noted.
"That expired years ago!" Sun protested.
Slamming the door, Blake let out a weary groan. Barely shrugging off her shirt as she approached the bed, she flopped down onto its soft surface. Gods she was tired...so fucking tired.
The room smelled of Sun, but it was never enough. If anything, it was worse. With naught but a faint scent to remind her she was alone, vulnerable and weak, her body screamed in fatigued agony, but her mind lay awash with fear and anxiety. Nightmares plagued her lonesome sleep, nipped at the edges of her perception even now. Crawling farther along the bed she clawed blearily for her partner's pillow, clutching it to her face and curling around it. If it were not for that human he would be here. If it were not for Ruby, she would be fast asleep, with strong, warm arms surrounding her. She hated feeling so weak without him.
The door opened with a click, and she tensed instinctively, until the fresh scent hit her. It was sour with sweat, tinged with the taint of human, but all the same familiar, calming, safe. With some rustling, the bed eventually dipped down beside her, and a gentle hand lay upon her arm. "Hey." Sun whispered.
Blake shifted backwards, until her back was flush with his chest. "Hmm, took you long enough." She grumbled into the pillows.
Sun chuckled, slipping his arms around her. "Sorry, got a pesky human to manage."
"A pesky stick figure." Blake snarked.
"You checkin' her out?" Sun teased, receiving an elbow to the ribs for his trouble.
"She's your responsibility." Blake warned.
"I know, I know...thanks for giving her a chance." Sun nodded.
"She's lucky you're a good bed-warmer." Blake huffed.
"Oh, that's what I am now?" Sun asked.
"Sun, shut up." Blake commanded. Mercifully he obeyed - for once - falling silent, arms firm. She could finally relax.
Sun nuzzled into Blake's hair, nosing through the thicket until his lips made contact with the back of her beck. "Good morning Blake."
Blake managed a sleepy smile. "...g'mornin' Sun…"
Chapter 6: Catching Up
Chapter by RealTerminal
"She's kinda' scary, apart from the kitty ears."
It did not take Ruby long to unpack her things. The majority were just clothes and body care products, then her laptop and accessories. Unfortunately she had been forced to leave her desktop in Patch. It was too risky to transport over such a long distance. She had heard too many horror stories of customs tearing apart expensive possessions to take that gamble. She could have shipped it, a much safer option, but that cost far too much. In time she planned to build a new one, or perhaps the SDC would even provide one for her. She did not have time to drool over the one at her desk, but it was SDC made. It had to be good, and expensive...it would probably come out of her pay.
Until then her laptop would suffice. It was cheap and slow, but reliable. It was covered in random stickers and marred with buffs and nicks from being shoved in her backpack hundreds of times. It somehow survived four years of university, Ruby's clumsiness, and occasional spills from placing it back in precarious positions. The screen was intact, it retained all its keys, and apart from a single hard drive failure it powered on, lumbering but strong.
With her clothes packed away in the chest of drawers, and her remaining belongings stacked on top, Ruby kicked off her shoes, shedding her work clothes to finally don something more comfortable. She chose pyjama shorts and her favorite hoodie. Why bother with underwear? She needed to shower anyway, maybe later when Blake was not asleep. Until then she had other things to do. She pressed the power button on her laptop, crawled into bed, and waited patiently for the device to boot.
Her new room was larger than what she had back in Patch. It had originally been the intended master bedroom of the apartment. It comfortably fit a double bed, two bedside tables and a chest of drawers. She could fit a desk and wardrobe if she wanted to as well. Maybe she would. Maybe, if things settled, if Blake truly warmed up to her. Otherwise she would not intrude long. She would find her own way, regardless of what Sun said. She refused to be a burden any longer. She was an adult now, she needed to better herself.
The login screen finally appeared, and one password later she was at her desktop. The wallpaper was a photo of Yang carrying Ruby bridal style, their smiles bright, tears in their eyes, Ruby's graduation gown billowing in the breeze. It was Ruby's proudest moment, the culmination of years of studying and suffering, changing her entire career path. That day had been the start of the rest of her life. She never could have done it without Yang, and it showed.
Picking up her scroll, she unlocked it. Opening her messages she saw Yang had gushed over her meeting with Sun, begging for more pictures and details, asking if they were on a date. Ruby rolled her eyes, sending off a text. "Vid chat? I'm in my new room!"
It only took a minute for the speech dots to flash as Yang responded. "New room!? Hell ye, gimme a sec"
Ruby opened the video chat program on her laptop. With a brief moment of confusion, she saw that she was already connected to the internet. Odd, she had not asked if Sun had a router, let alone one for the building. Clicking the connections icon she was surprised to find the culprit. SEC-SDC-NET-M
Weird. The laptop should have been searching for hotel wifi. Did the SDC provide free service in Atlas? The machine did run an SDC-made operating system, so perhaps it connected automatically. She did not have time to further consider the oddity, as Yang's grinning visage popped up on her screen, a call tone ringing loudly. Ruby scrambled for her headphones, plugging them in before accepting the call.
"Sis!" Yang greeted, loudly as expected. "Long time no see. How'd you find Sun?"
"I met him in a club." Ruby replied. "He's a bartender now."
"A club?" Yang asked. "Your leg playing up again?"
"Just a little." Ruby admitted. "My first day was rough. I just wanted to relax, and I asked my Ryde driver if she knew a safe club and...well Sun was there!"
"And what, you dropped off the face of Remnant with him?" Yang pressed.
"I got a little drunk, Sun said the drinks were on him…" Ruby trailed off.
"How many did it take this time?" Yang inquired.
"Four, I think." Ruby answered.
Yang laughed. "You're goin' soft Rubes."
"I hadn't eaten much okay?" Ruby defended. "I barely had time to eat a sandwich yesterday."
"Didn't you have breakfast?" Yang asked. Ruby clammed up. "Ruby-"
"I didn't wanna' be late!" Ruby protested.
"You gotta' wake up earlier Rubes." Yang advised.
"I know, I know, it's just...I'm so tired lately." Ruby complained.
"Because you haven't been eating properly!" Yang suggested.
"I'm gonna' try and get better Yang, I promise." Ruby insisted. "It's just been so hectic...but hey, good news, I got a place to stay now!"
"With Sun?" Yang asked.
"And Blake, his partner." Ruby nodded.
"Ooooh, Monkey Boy got himself a lady now?" Yang smirked. "Or is it a boyfriend?"
"Girlfriend, I'm pretty sure." Ruby replied. "She's kinda' scary, apart from the kitty ears."
"Uh-oh, did you tick her off?" Yang inquired.
"Yeah, I think I got clingy last night." Ruby admitted. "I woke up on the couch...and Sun."
"Pfft, hah, think she knows about the skinny dipping?" Yang laughed.
"I really hope not." Ruby groaned. "She's got claws Yang, claws. And these big yellow eyes that glare even when she's not glaring. And she doesn't really like humans."
Yang frowned at that. "Are you sure you're safe there?"
"I trust Sun, Yang." Ruby assured her sister. "He says Blake has had a rough life, that she just needs time to warm up to me."
Yang's frown softened, and she nodded. "If you say so...if he says so."
"She gave me water and a bagel this morning, so she's not all mean." Ruby noted. "Just grumpy. I don't think she got much sleep last night."
"My heart goes out to her, I didn't get any sleep last night." Yang chuckled.
"How is everything over there?" Ruby asked.
"Boring." Yang shrugged. "No break-ins, no crazy people. Saw a drunk on the video feed, but he just kept walking...it's getting cold as shit here."
"Oh man, it's nothing compared to here." Ruby complained. "It's like twice as cold. I'm surprised it isn't snowing yet."
"I've heard that." Yang nodded. "How'd the first day go anyway? A lot going on?"
"Fridays are the busiest apparently." Ruby explained. "Ms. Schnee likes to get a lot done so everyone can enjoy their weekends stress free."
"Really?" Yang grinned. "She seems the type to give homework."
"She's kinda' intense at first, but surprisingly gentle otherwise." Ruby suggested. "She's probably under a lot of stress, but if she ever blows up, I can handle it."
"Oh yeah, that was fun to deal with." Yang grumbled.
"Not everyone has your hugs to heal them Yang." Ruby noted.
"Hugs can't heal everything Rubes." Yang said.
"Yeah...but it can take the pain away." Ruby smiled.
Yang smiled too, but it was tinged with sadness. "I love you Rubes, and I miss you."
"I love you too Yang." Ruby responded. "I'm gonna' get some sleep. Wish you were here, could really use one of those hugs right now."
"I'll send a stuffed dragon." Yang joked. "It won't crush you, but you can pretend it might."
"I'd like that." Ruby chuckled. "G'morning sis."
"Good morning sis, don't let the kitty bite." Yang teased, blowing a kiss.
Ruby laughed, blowing a kiss back before ending the call. She yawned. "Here's hoping."
Ruby awoke to the familiar ache of a growling belly. Clearly breakfast had not been enough. Fumbling in the dark for her scroll, she hissed as the harsh screen burned her deprived eyes. Squinting, she made out the time: 9:24PM.
No wonder she was hungry. She did not expect to nap that long, maybe a few hours at most. Then she would have woken up, got some lunch, done some exercise and made a shopping list. Well, it was the weekend, she could be nocturnal for the day. Stretching, she shuffled out of the bed, ignoring the stiffness in her leg as she fumbled her way to the door. She opened it as gently as possible, crossing the hall to the bathroom and slipping inside.
After being thoroughly blinded by the hellish lighting characteristics shared by every generic bathroom ever, she made a mental note to buy a shampoo rack for the shower. She hated leaving the bottles on the floor or the edge of the tub, it just felt wrong for some reason. She was deep in thought when she emerged, walking past the living room when a soft voice called. "Good evening."
Ruby jumped looking to the source to find Blake, who was fully dressed and wide awake on the couch. The Faunus was hunched over the coffee table, which was covered in a greasy towel and several handguns, one of which was partially disassembled in her hand. If Ruby had not been awake before, she was now. "Good evening?"
"Yes, we are in the evening Ruby." Blake murmured, inspecting the gun's loose barrel. Well that was more polite than usual. Still, the scene was freaky, with the whole not looking at her while cleaning a firearm thing. Wasn't this how fathers are supposed to intimidate their daughter's dates? "I'm not going to shoot you."
"I know, well, I hoped." Ruby managed a little laugh. "You don't really seem the type. You just caught me a little off guard is all." She stammered, rubbing a bit of stray sleep from her eye.
Blake huffed a chuckle. "Sure."
Ruby stood awkwardly, mind frazzled as she attempted to center herself. "Um, Blake, can I have another bagel? I'll buy some tomorrow."
"Sun went shopping for you." Blake replied. She began to reassemble the weapon. "The bag in the pantry is yours, as is the full cream milk in the fridge."
"Thank you." Ruby responded. Blake shot her a look. Ruby shrugged. "For telling me. I know you don't like me."
Blake sighed, dropping the nearly finished gun on the table to stretch, popping her back with a groan. "I don't dislike you, I dislike your existence."
Ruby quirked her head. "Oh...kay?"
"Just go eat." Blake rolled her eyes. "Any thinner and you'll make me look fat."
Ruby chuckled. "Yeah, I've been slacking lately." She agreed, crossing to the kitchen.
"Sun said you had an accident, are you sick?" Blake pressed.
"No, I broke my leg really bad years ago." Ruby located the pantry, finding the mentioned bag within and picking it up. "It hurts sometimes, but that's not why I'm thin, not really."
"Bulimic?" Blake suggested.
"No!" Ruby cried as she opened the bag. "University and work, and scrambling to move. I used to be amazing, got into Uni on an athletic scholarship." The bag contained her favorite cereal - Pumpkin Pete's Double Choc - along with a fresh loaf of bread, a jar of protein powder, and- "Cookies." She murmured gleefully, spinning to place the bag on the kitchen bench.
"So what, you switched majors?" Blake asked.
"Yeah, to engineering, robotics mainly." Ruby replied. "I thought I was getting a prosthetic and Yang cracked a few jokes, and they stuck."
"So you've been sitting at a desk the whole time?" Blake inquired.
"No, I used to still work out." Ruby shook her head. "I still looked good, just couldn't run anymore. I kept up my upper body workouts, but the last year was really rough, between the stress and being super busy all the time I just...faded. I couldn't work out, could barely make meals. Mom tried to help fatten me up when I got home, but a few weeks later and I'm out here already."
"Hmm." Blake suddenly appeared at the counter. "Bowls are beside the range hood."
Ruby murmured thanks, pulling a bowl free from said cupboard, followed by milk from the fridge. "Blake, can we start over?" She requested, opening the cereal and pouring a bowl full. "I know first impressions are everything but...I really don't wanna' be the human who got drunk and slept on your...partner." She folded the box back up and opened the milk, looking up to meet Blake's usual passive gaze.
"No Ruby, you can't start over." Blake stated bluntly.
Ruby sighed, shoulders slumping as she filled the bowl with milk. "Okay." She mumbled, opening the top drawer to find the cutlery. A clunk on the counter drew her attention to a spray can beneath Blake's hand. Ursaid Premium Mace.
"Just do better from now on." Blake pushed the can forward and turned back to the living room.
"I'll try my best." Ruby promised. "Thank you Blake."
"Did you bring anything else with you?" Blake asked.
Ruby pulled free a spoon, knocking the drawer shut and scooping up a mouthful of the chocolate cereal. "Mngo? Whee?" Ruby managed between bites, picking up the can and inspecting it.
"Nothing?" Blake pressed. "No gun? No knives? No baton?"
"No, I don't like guns, but I'm not really against them." Ruby reasoned. "I just don't want to risk killing someone. I don't think I could take that, even if they were trying to kill me."
Blake hummed. "Understandable I suppose...so you're just walking around with onion spray as protection?"
Yang said it was good quality! "Patch isn't exactly a crime capital Blake." Ruby noted.
"And Atlas keeps its statistics suppressed at the best of times." Blake countered. "If you can't run, you need to be able to fight."
"I'm not exactly roaming the streets at night." Ruby protested.
"No one ever is, until they are, and what then?" Blake pressed. Ruby did not have an answer for that. 'What ifs' were always unfair. "I'll loan you a taser."
"Thank you Blake." Ruby repeated.
"Hmm...you need to shower." Blake suggested.
"Sorry, I didn't want to wake anyone up." Ruby explained.
"Just hurry up and eat, you won't wake up Sun." Blake instructed.
"I know." Ruby nodded. "Yang once covered his face in whipped cream, he didn't wake up all night."
Blake snorted, and for the first time Ruby heard her actually laugh. It was deep and muted, but with a hint of cheer that reminded Ruby of Yang. It was nice...the entire exchange had been nice, mostly...small victories. She hoped this Blake would be around more often. Or was Blake just coming off a sex high? Ruby tried not to think about that.
"She didn't really say much else." Ruby noted. "I showered, spent a bit in my room, and when I came out she gave me a taser." She explained to Sun, as he pushed the shopping cart down the aisle. "Told me to use it on you if you got rowdy."
"That's the closest thing to a joke she's cracked in a week, and I wasn't around to hear it." Sun lamented.
Ruby checked her list, pulling a cheap towel and facecloth from a nearby shelf. "It was really weird, but I like her when she's like this." She dumped the item into the trolley. "But I feel like the hammer's gonna' fall, ya' know?"
"She has bad days and good days." Sun shrugged. "You caught her in a really good mood for sure."
"She's really big on self defense." Ruby observed.
Sun snorted. "Yeah, she gets off on it. She doesn't let me touch anything anymore though."
"What did you do?" Ruby sighed.
"It was unloaded, and the safety was on-" Sun started.
"Oh gods, you were playing cops weren't you?" Ruby accused.
"I thought I was alone!" Sun protested.
"Sun!" Ruby admonished. "You're supposed to treat all guns like they're loaded all the time, even when you know they're not! It's like, the rules! Even if a gun is unloaded, it's loaded, even if the safety is on, it's loose. Why don't you just buy a toy gun?"
"They're too small and stupid." Sun grumbled.
"You can buy prop guns for like fifty lien." Ruby noted.
"What?" Sun gasped. "Where?"
"The internet." Ruby replied. "You do know what that is, right?"
"I know what the internet is!" Sun insisted. "I just don't use it."
"Ugh, that explains everything." Ruby groaned. "You dope, where's your scroll?"
"It's here!" Sun pulled out...a relic from the past.
"A flip phone." Ruby rolled her eyes.
"I like it." Sun defended.
"Sun...everyone has a scroll these days." Ruby noted.
"Blake has a swipe." Sun countered.
"Same thing!" Ruby exclaimed. "How do you not have one?"
"I didn't see the point." Sun shrugged.
"Now you sound like dad." Ruby complained.
"If I'm half the man he was when I knew him, I'd say I'm doing alright." Sun declared.
"He has a scroll now!" Ruby yelled.
"Well la-dee-dah, big daddy has a fancy scroll." Sun teased. "I bet you nagged him into getting it."
"He got it after I showed him how to take slow motion video on mine." Ruby explained. "He basically rushed to the store and bought one on the spot."
"Lemme' guess, he filmed Zwei for two weeks?" Sun guessed.
"Days, then he moved on to me and Yang, and mom." Ruby nodded. "He still sends me videos sometimes, like of a hummingbird or something."
"And what's Summer up to?" Sun asked.
"Still cooking, she's head chef now." Ruby answered.
"Oh, awesome!" Sun cheered.
Ruby stopped in front of the feminine products, sighing as she scanned the selection. "Ugh, I hate buying pads. It's super weird when the cashier scans them, and it's like 'oh yeah, this is going on your puss.'"
"What I wanna' know is why they're so colorful." Sun scratched his chin. "Is it meant to, like, make them less intimidating or something?"
"They look like candy packets!" Ruby grabbed one of the multicolored packages, examining the details.
"It's for the kids Ruby, do it for the kids!" Sun laughed.
"That's stupid, these are marketed to adults." Ruby chucked two packs into the trolley and continued onward. "I can't imagine Blake buying them...if she buys them. Do Faunus have different cycles from humans?"
"Kinda'?" Sun shrugged. "Uh...it depends on the Faunus."
"Does it hit Blake hard or is she one of those weirdos that thinks everything is fine?" Ruby asked.
"Eeeeeh." Sun shook his head. "Sorta' both?"
"Weird to talk about?" Ruby suggested.
"Yeah, kinda' weird." Sun confirmed.
"Can you at least give me a heads up so I can stay out of her way extra hard?" Ruby requested.
"Oh trust me, you won't need a heads up." Sun grinned. "It's pretty obvious."
"Oh lovely…" Ruby grumbled.
Well, so far so good. Maybe things would be rocky down the line. One day was nothing to really judge a life on, but if things went as smoothly as the prior night, Ruby did not really have much to worry about. She could settle down, get into the groove of things, bond with Sun again. It would be just like when they were kids, just with more responsibility...and Blake. Hopefully things would work out.
Chapter 7: Donuts
Chapter by RealTerminal
"He'll slip up one of these days, and I won't hesitate to pull the trigger."
Ruby was never a fan of Mondays. Even after resting over the weekend, Monday morning always seemed to bring a heavy wave of fatigue. However, today was a little different. Her eyes still drooped as she ate a quick breakfast, she yawned her way through the subway ride to SDC headquarters, and when she got to her desk she felt like she could put her head down and fall asleep in moments. The difference was that she was excited to be at work for a change. Sure, she was not doing exactly the job for which she had signed up, and being a personal secretary was never featured on her list of most desirable jobs, but it was still exciting. She was at the heart of a bustling, multi-billion lien business, meeting new people and seeing things she never expected to see.
It helped that the commute had been mostly painless. Even though the subway station near Sun's apartment was not as clean and orderly as the stations nearer the city center or the tourist areas, it was anything but rundown. Ruby was on the receiving end of some curious looks as she walked the two blocks through the mostly Faunus neighborhood that took her from apartment to station, but she never felt like she was in danger. The trip turned out to be even shorter than her Friday commute, a direct shot, as all subway lines seemed to lead to the SDC.
A cheerful greeting from Penny only helped. "Good morning Ruby!" The little sprite cheered as Ruby sat at her desk. "How was your weekend?"
"Good...I ran into an old friend, found a place to stay." Ruby smiled. "How was your weekend?"
"Sensational!" Penny replied. "Not only was I able to refine the company's data processing system - increasing efficiency by 2.3% - I was able to do some research."
"Sounds like you deserve a day off." Ruby joked.
"No need!" Penny responded. "A few moments of defragmentation and automated maintenance keep me fit as a fiddle!" Penny paused, her sprite taking on a neutral expression. "Ms. Schnee has arrived."
"Oh, should I brace myself?" Ruby asked with an uneasy laugh.
"No, Ms. Schnee is usually in a good mood when she arrives at the start of the week, and today is no different." Penny answered. "In fact, she's humming a tune!"
"What song?" Ruby inquired.
"That is classified." Penny replied.
With a ding the elevator arrived, the doors sliding open to reveal Weiss. She was clad in a white dress and carrying a white briefcase. Though no longer humming, she was smiling.
"Good morning Ms. Schnee!" Ruby cheered.
"Ah, good morning Ms. Rose." Weiss greeted.
"How was your weekend?" Ruby asked.
"Wonderful." Weiss said with a contented sigh. "And yours Ms. Rose?"
"It was really great." Ruby replied.
"Splendid." Weiss nodded, heading for her office.
"Uh...Ms. Schnee?" Ruby called.
"Yes?" Weiss turned to her.
"It feels kind of weird, being called Ms. Rose." Ruby noted. "You can call me Ruby if you want."
"Very well Ruby." Weiss agreed. She turned once again to her office before turning back. "You may call me Weiss if you wish."
"O-okay...Weiss." Ruby stammered. Weiss ducked into her office, the door closing behind her.
"Ms. Schnee must be in a very good mood." Penny suggested, her volume low. "She allows very few the privilege of addressing her by her given name. Your efforts last Friday must have impressed her."
"I guess so." Ruby was still dumbfounded. She never expected to be on first name terms with the head of the company - ever - let alone so soon. "It's still early, but is there anything I can do now?"
"It would be wise to start a pot of coffee." Penny advised.
"Good idea." Ruby agreed. She slipped her earpiece into place before getting up and heading for the kitchen. She set up the coffee maker and headed back while it brewed, reaching her desk just in time to hear the elevator ding once more. A Faunus with tall rabbit ears stepped off the elevator. She was still bundled in a heavy coat and scarf, carrying a shallow white cardboard box. "Good morning, do you have an appointment with Ms. Schnee?"
The Faunus walked up to the desk, looking Ruby over with a smile. "No, this is a social call. I'm Velvet Scarlatina, manager of Schnee Faunus Outreach." She spoke with an accident Ruby did not recognize. When Velvet extended her free hand, Ruby took it and gave it a shake. "You must be Ruby Rose. Pyrrha told me about you."
"That's me." Ruby nodded. "Pyrrha told me about you too."
"Nothing good I hope." Velvet joked.
"Just that you're super nice and work really hard." Ruby said.
"That sounds about right." Velvet grinned. "Is Ms. Schnee busy? I brought her donuts." She gently jostled the box for emphasis.
"No, she just got here." Ruby replied. "I'll give her a-"
Weiss' office door opened, and she emerged with a grin. "Velvet, right on time." The Faunus placed the box on Ruby's desk to receive a hug from Weiss. "So good to see you."
"Always a pleasure." Velvet responded. She opened the donut box, grabbing one.
Weiss picked one out as well. "I don't know why you always get so many. We never eat more than three or four."
"But they never go to waste." Velvet noted. "Help yourself Ruby."
"Sure, thanks." Ruby nodded. She was still pretty full from breakfast, but fresh donuts were fresh donuts. She took a few seconds to look over the pastries and selected one. By the time she did, Weiss had retreated into her office with Velvet in tow.
"I wasn't expecting that." Ruby whispered to Penny. "Weiss seems super nice."
"She's very kind and relaxed around those she trusts." Penny explained.
"I guess that means she trusts me too." Ruby surmised.
Penny paused for a moment, then her sprite shifted to a smiling expression. "I suppose so."
As soon as the office door closed behind Velvet, Weiss wrapped her in another hug. This one was tighter, closer, and went on longer than any normal polite introduction. "Um...I missed you too?" Velvet finally managed.
"I was worried about you." Weiss released Velvet, striding to her desk with the Faunus in tow. Instead of sitting in her usual chair, the pair sat in the armchairs reserved for guests that were positioned before the desk.
"I just went on a little business trip to Mistral." Velvet reassured.
"You went on a trip to a country on the front lines of the war against the White Fang to deal with a matter involving a White Fang saboteur, not to mention the racial tensions involved." Weiss noted.
The situation in Mistral had indeed been a delicate one. At an SDC owned automotive plant, a Faunus employee had been found to be a White Fang member planning to sabotage production with explosives. The investigation had started when the employee in question was noticed acting strangely, and it only took a PI a few days to gather enough damning evidence to get the police involved. The Faunus was fired, with the matter handed over to the Mistrali authorities...and that was where it should have ended. But the White Fang operative was clever, and went to the press proclaiming his innocence, claiming he was a victim of SDC oppression and a legal system biased against Faunus.
The leader of the Faunus Workers Union of Mistral announced plans to strike unless the employee was reinstated. That would have been a disaster on multiple fronts. Faunus around the world would see the situation as an example of oppression, while human workers would only see Faunus threatening their livelihoods to protect a terrorist. Velvet had traveled to Mistral the week before to negotiate with the union leadership. Not only had she been forced to lay out the extent of the evidence against the employee, she had to promise he would be reinstated if found not guilty of the charges against him. It was beyond what she and Weiss had expected would be necessary to settle the situation, but it was enough to secure an uneasy resolution to the dispute.
"There was plenty of security." Velvet assured Weiss. "It was fine."
"I was still worried." Weiss sighed. "You should have come to see me when you got back on Friday."
"You were already in your end-of-week meeting." Velvet explained. "I didn't want to interrupt, or keep you late. I know how much you love your weekends."
"My friends are far more important than my weekends." Weiss insisted.
"Well, the trip wasn't too bad." Velvet refocused. "But I hope I don't need to make another any time soon. Representative of the SDC or no, the authorities there are wary of Faunus. It seemed worse than my last visit."
"It makes sense." Weiss shrugged. "With the war going well, they're probably expecting the White Fang to launch more terror attacks to distract from their battlefield losses."
"Speaking of the war, have you heard from Winter recently?" Velvet asked.
"Not for a while." Weiss replied. "But that's normal. Once she deploys it's all radio silence and secrecy."
"I bet it's driving your mother nuts." Velvet guessed.
"Mother is coping the way she always does." Weiss rolled her eyes. "At least she hasn't been coping around the office lately."
"Yes, from what I heard you've got enough to deal with." Velvet offered a sympathetic smile.
"So you heard about the latest Cardin incident?" Weiss asked. "It's nothing I couldn't handle. I just had to smooth some things out with the complainant, and add another official reprimand to his file. I swear, I almost wish he would do something bad enough to justify firing him. Unfortunately the contract he signed when my father was in charge requires something on the order of gross negligence or deliberate violence."
"You could just pay him to quit." Velvet suggested.
"I'm not giving that racist a dime more than I'm legally obligated to." Weiss huffed. "He'll slip up one of these days, and I won't hesitate to pull the trigger."
"Sooner than later I hope." Velvet added. "But enough about him. How was your weekend?"
A broad grin spread across Weiss' face. "My weekend? Well…"
Ruby was surprised to find just how easy her job was on Monday. Friday had been chaos, constant rapid exertion with barely a moment's rest. After experiencing that, she could understand how the position had become notorious. Monday was an entirely different matter. Yes, Ruby had to make the occasional delivery, pick up an envelope from this department or a package from that department, and she still had to get Weiss' lunch, but it was not all that bad. She actually spent most of the day at her desk, greeting the occasional guest, and even had an extended lunch break. If the job was going to be four of those rather easy days and one crazy day per week, she could certainly deal with it.
After work, Ruby took the subway home. Beforehand, when she had expected another hectic day, her plan had been to call Vulpe for a Ryde. Ruby had assumed her leg would be hurting again, but that was not the case. It barely even ached. The ride home was just as easy as her morning commute had been, and she was back at the apartment in no time. After making her way to the apartment door, Ruby fumbled with her keyring, searching for the copy blade had given her.
Why did she even have so many keys? There should have only been like...four...was she supposed to knock and call out?
Ruby could not remember, so she lightly tapped on the door. "Blake? It's Ruby, don't shoot me?" She half-chuckled tiredly as she located the key, unlocking the heavy door latch and pushing through. Then she heard it - a yelp, grunting, gasping. She froze.
Were they having sex? Oooh...they were having sex. Damnit, they were really going at it...wait, no, bad, no voyeurism Ruby. Quick, into your room, headphones on, close the door first or Blake will eat you!
Ruby did just that, retreating to her room, slipping on her headphones and playing some music. She tried to keep her mind off of what was happening just down the hall...but she was doing a very bad job of keeping her mind off of it. Internet videos were a useful distraction...but still, it had been some time since her last partner. Old memories and experiences were brought to the forefront, and they were taking effect. She hoped Blake's sense of smell didn't drive her to comment. After a few minutes, Ruby dared to slip off her headphones, listening carefully. The sounds of carnal pleasure were gone, replaced by a running shower.
Phew, they're done. I wonder if they'll go for round two in the shower...no! Stop! Think about something else! Anything else! Cookies! Puppies!
Ruby put her headphones back on and went back to the videos. The thoughts she tried to suppress still intruded, but she shooed them away as they arose. She had just about gotten it out of her mind when...knock knock! Ruby yelped and nearly fell out of bed before regaining her sense. "Gah...who is it?"
The door opened, revealing Blake, her hair still damp, clad in a black shirt and jeans. "We're going to work." She narrowed her eyes at Ruby. "Don't let anyone in...and take a shower."
"Y-yes ma'am." Ruby nodded.
Blake looked to her side, rolling her eyes and walking away. Sun replaced her in the open doorway, his hair damp as well. He wore jeans and an unbuttoned black shirt. "Hey Ruby...how long have you been here?"
"Long enough." Ruby chuckled nervously.
"Yeah...sorry about that." Sun scratched the back of his neck. "Blake and I...uh...bang before we go to work. That way we won't be distracted by any stray...scents." He paused, he and Ruby facing one another uneasily. "Well, I'd better get going. Don't want Blake to leave without me...see ya' later."
"Yeah, see ya', have a good night." Ruby responded.
"Yep...I'll uh...try to talk Blake into...nevermind." Sun fumbled. "Bye."
He rushed off, leaving Ruby alone. She heard the front door close and lock, then silence. She was not quite sure what to do, but a cold shower would be a good start.
Despite her racing thoughts, Ruby somehow managed to get a good night's sleep. In the morning she was refreshed and eager, and headed off to work after eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Her departure came a little later than usual. She was growing more confident in her ability to navigate the city's transit system, and did not need to give herself as much extra time as she had before. It helped that the trains ran perfectly on time. It was a far cry from Patch's busses or Vale's subways, where being on time was the exception, not the rule.
Ruby arrived at her desk just a few minutes before Weiss reached the floor. Weiss did not appear to be as chipper as she had the prior morning, but she managed a smile to meet Ruby's own as she headed into her office. The rest of Ruby's morning progressed much as the previous day's had - rather sedate, with only a few trips away from her desk. As midday approached, there was a small flurry of activity, with Weiss sending Ruby off to make a series of deliveries, all in one trip.
Rather than immediately returning to her desk, Ruby headed to the cafeteria and purchased her lunch. Feeling a bit more confident, she chose a fresh cheesesteak instead of one of pre-packaged sandwiches. It came with steak fries, which was a nice bonus. Yang would be happy to hear she was eating so well. Ruby packed the meal into a plastic container, added a sports drink, and completed her purchase, picking up a set of plastic utensils on the way out. As much as she wanted to sit down and eat immediately, there was no time. Through her earpiece, Penny reminded her to go to the lobby to pick up Weiss' lunch, which was delivered from a nearby restaurant.
Between her own lunch and Weiss' large bag of food, Ruby more than had her hands full. She was surprised by just how much Weiss had ordered. Perhaps she had also gotten dinner. With the help of a friendly employee who pushed the elevator buttons for her, Ruby made her way back to the top floor, where she was surprised to find a small group was gathered. Pyrrha was standing in front of Ruby's desk. She wore a simple blouse and had her hair tied in a tight ponytail. Beside her stood a slim man, about the same height as Pyrrha. His hair was also about the same length, though it was black with a single pink streak through it. He wore an elaborate suit, black and green with gold trim, in a style with which Ruby was unfamiliar.
"Hello Ruby." Pyrrha greeted. "How are you?"
"Good, good." Ruby nodded. "What are you doing here?"
"Ren and I are here to have lunch with Ms. Schnee." Pyrrha replied. Well, that explained the extra food. She nudged the man's shoulder. "Ren, meet Ruby."
"It's an honor." Ren politely bowed before stepping forward to help Ruby with the stack of food she carried. "I look forward to working with you once the project gets underway."
"I guess you guys and Weiss are really close." Ruby surmised.
"Yes." Pyrrha nodded. "Along with Velvet, we were the first managers she hired upon taking over the company."
With a click, Weiss' office door opened and she emerged, smiling ear to ear. "Ren, Pyrrha, so good to see you. Shall we?"
"Just a moment." Pyrrha said. "Ruby, would you like to join us? It would be a good chance for us all to get to know one another."
"I'd love to...but I don't want to impose or anything." Ruby hesitated.
"Nonsense, grab your chair and come on in." Weiss insisted. Ruby was not about to refuse an invitation to dine with her boss. Maybe they could connect more as people than employees.
It was always awkward viewing someone as a position rather than a human.
Chapter 8: Third Wheels
Chapter by RealTerminal
"Do I even want to know?"
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Weiss retreated into her office, followed by Pyrrha and Ren, the latter carrying the bag of food. Ruby placed her container of food on her chair and rolled it into the office behind them. The others adjusted the furniture, moving the chairs that usually sat before Weiss' desk nearer to it, leaving an open space on one side for Ruby. The desk was already cleared off, allowing Ren to start laying out the meal. Ruby rolled her chair up to her assigned place, moving the food to the desk before taking a seat. Weiss reached into a drawer, producing four sets of metal utensils, while Pyrrha pulled a bottle of seltzer from a refrigerator hidden in one of the cabinets that lined the walls.
"I'm guessing this is kind of a tradition for you guys?" Ruby suggested.
"You could say that." Weiss confirmed. "We've been doing this...well, almost since I hired them. Before that I would have lunch with Velvet on Tuesdays."
"She's not joining us?" Ruby asked.
"Velvet keeps herself far too busy I'm afraid." Weiss noted. "She makes daily visits to other SDC locations around Atlas, mostly to make random inspections, but sometimes to deal with human/Faunus conflicts."
"Couldn't someone else do that?" Ruby pressed.
"Yes, but Velvet insists upon doing it herself." Pyrrha sighed.
"When I moved you to SFO, I'd hoped she might delegate some responsibilities to you." Weiss explained. "But she's always been a bit stubborn."
"So, Ruby, how have you been adjusting?" Pyrrha asked as the group began to eat their respective meals.
"Really well." Ruby replied. "I think I'm getting the hang of this job. Now that I know where most of the departments are, navigating this place is much easier. Penny helps too."
"That's good, but I wasn't just asking about work." Pyrrha refocused. "Are you liking Atlas? Any luck finding an apartment?"
"Oh shoot, I knew I was forgetting something." Weiss cut in. "Ruby, the SDC offers assistance to employees searching for housing."
"That's alright, I already found a place." Ruby waved her off. "I ran into an old friend who lives a bit north of here, and I'm staying there for now. I'm really liking Atlas so far, it's exciting."
"That's great to hear." Pyrrha cheered. "This place can be a bit overwhelming for newcomers. Having a connection like that can only help."
The conversation paused for a few minutes as the group focused on their lunches. Weiss was the first to finish, eating only a salad and some grilled chicken. "So Ren, what have you been working on?"
"We're in the final stages of development for the civilian model of the prosthetic control interface." Ren replied. "After a few refinements, we'll be ready to go into proper trials."
"I'm guessing that's what we'll be using when our project gets going?" Ruby surmised.
"Yes." Pyrrha confirmed. "We'll be designing the robotics while Ren and his team finalize their design."
"Cool." Ruby nodded. "Any idea how long it'll be?"
"I honestly have no idea." Weiss admitted. "Redesigns like this can take a few weeks or a few months, depending on how smoothly the process goes."
"You know, if there are other projects I can help with in the meantime, I'd be happy to assist." Pyrrha volunteered. "Working in SFO is nice, but there's not much for me to do."
"I'm still hoping Velvet will see the light and delegate some responsibility." Weiss stated. "I'll see if I can't convince her."
"Well, what have you been up to Weiss?" Pyrrha asked.
"Aside from the usual meetings and keeping the company from falling apart?" Weiss smirked. "I've been planning the charity gala...and dreading what stunt Whitley will pull this time."
"Whitley?" Ruby quirked her head.
"My brother." Weiss explained. "He has a habit of causing trouble, for me and the company. I'd rather deal with mother's shenanigans."
"Do I even want to know?" Ruby asked.
"Probably not." Weiss responded. "Unless you love family drama."
"Uh...I'll pass." Ruby chuckled uneasily. She looked once more at Pyrrha's rather simple attire, a stark contrast to the elaborate clothes worn by Ren and Weiss. "So um...I was wondering, what exactly is the dress code? The employee handbook mentions one, but also says it can vary by position."
"Business casual is fine." Weiss answered. "I just don't want my secretary looking like a slob. As long as you don't show up in sweatpants and a tank top, I think you'll be fine."
"Okay, cool." Ruby acknowledged.
Weiss looked to Ren and Pyrrha. "Before I forget, have the two of you...had any luck?"
Pyrrha placed her hand on Ren's knee as he smiled at her fondly. "Not yet just, but we're trying." Ren replied.
"Luck with what?" Ruby asked.
Ren and Pyrrha exchanged a glance, the former nodding. "We're trying to have a child." Pyrrha answered.
"I love kids!" Ruby cheered. She was about to say more when her scroll beeped. She pulled it from her pocket and slid it open to find a new text message from Yang. "Oh, that's my sister…" She unlocked the device to read it. "There's a video too…that's adorable!"
"What is it?" Pyrrha asked.
"It's our dog Zwei...well just watch." Ruby held up the device, playing the video. It showed the corgi jumping in and out of a huge pile of leaves. The animal looked positively ecstatic as it froliced.
"I always wanted a dog…" Weiss noted wistfully.
"I've got some more videos, hold on." Ruby swiped and tapped at the screen, growing increasingly frustrated. "Stupid scroll...stop freezing...come on...what…" She sighed in defeat as the device ground to a halt. "I really need a new one."
Weiss looked at the scroll. "Ah, that's a five year old model, yes?" Ruby paused to think before nodding in confirmation. "As an SDC employee, you're entitled to a free scroll every three years." She stood, walking over to one of the cabinets. After a few seconds of searching she grabbed a small white box, bringing it over to Ruby. "They're both SDC products, so you should just have to swap your card over."
"Really?" Ruby gasped. "But this is brand new!"
"It's a perk of working for the SDC." Pyrrha added. "Managers get to test out prototypes as well."
"Oh, this is so cool!" Ruby squealed. "Thank you so much!"
Weiss rolled her eyes. "Don't mention it. And do read the entirety of the employee handbook. All your potential benefits are listed."
For the rest of Tuesday, Ruby was riding high. Not only did she now possess a brand new scroll - such was her excitement that the tech geek inside her nearly broke through her professional demeanor - she had a new circle of friends, one of them the woman in charge of the world's largest company no less. It was something she could never have expected. Ruby was not anti-social, but she was definitely socially awkward and introverted. By high school she had built up a decent circle of friends, only to be forced into starting anew when she went to university. She made a few friends there, but not many, and by the time she graduated none with whom she regularly spent time. Yang had become her best friend, maybe her only friend, and as busy as Ruby was, that was just fine.
Finding Sun in Atlas had been a shock, and an invaluable head start. Pyrrha's outgoing nature made her another easy friend, and with Ren and Weiss added by association, she found herself surrounded by kind people who could help guide her through the sudden changes she was facing. It was not all sunshine and rainbows however. Once again she arrived at the apartment after work in time to hear Sun and Blake getting frisky. Sun promised to try to get Blake to start earlier in order to avoid the embarrassing situation, but noted that she had a very strict routine that was difficult to alter. On Wednesday nothing had changed, though Sun once again said he would talk to Blake about it.
At work, Wednesday had been a bit more hectic than the two days that preceded it. It was not as bad as Friday, but Ruby found herself racing around the building more often than not, and again she was forced to eat her lunch on the move. Her leg acted up a bit, but frequent breaks kept it from becoming a serious problem. A glass of wine back at the apartment solved any issues with her injury. All in all she was getting along rather well, though the end of week crunch still loomed. At least she knew where to go after work for a good drink...or five. Maybe she would even make more friends.
Thursday began as a rather quiet day for Ruby. Taking Weiss' earlier suggestion, she took the time to go through the employee handbook. It was an impressive tome, about the size of an average novel. She could skip some parts because they only pertained to specific jobs, but there was still a lot of ground to cover. She would get to it all eventually...probably. At least Penny was there to answer any specific questions Ruby had.
By midmorning Ruby had only been tasked with one delivery, though Weiss had also asked her to pick up a package via the earpiece while she was away from her desk. After that Ruby sat down to relax a bit, using the opportunity to check Weiss' schedule for the rest of the day. It was mostly empty, just a single meeting after lunch. Still, she did not doubt for a moment that Weiss was extremely busy.
Ruby's relaxation was interrupted as the elevator arrived with a bing. There were no visitors scheduled, and Weiss had not informed her of any expected deliveries, so Ruby was a bit curious. She hoped it might be Pyrrha coming to chat, but when the elevator doors slid open, they revealed someone new. The woman had shoulder length brown hair topped with a beret, her eyes hidden by dark sunglasses. She wore tight leather pants, a brown sweatshirt, what looked like a loose corset, and an elaborate belt. Ruby swore she knew the woman from somewhere, but she could not quite place it.
"Good morning ma'am, how can I help you?" Ruby asked.
The woman strode up to Ruby's desk. "Is Ms. Schnee available?" Her stance exuded strength and confidence, but her voice wavered.
"Who may I-" Ruby started.
"I will inform Ms. Schnee of your arrival Ms. Adel." Penny interrupted.
"Thanks Penny." The woman mumbled.
"Adel...Coco Adel?" Ruby asked. "Like the fashion line? I thought I recognized you."
"Yeah...that's me." Coco sighed.
"Are you alright?" Ruby pressed. The juxtaposition between Coco's appearance and speech was jarring.
"Ms. Schnee will see you now." Penny spoke up before Coco could reply.
"Thanks." Coco walked to Weiss' office door, slipped inside and closed it behind her.
"Is she alright?" Ruby asked, turning to Penny.
"I do not know." Penny admitted. "I have never known her to behave in this way."
"She's been here before?" Ruby inquired.
"Ms. Adel and Ms. Schnee are longtime friends." Penny explained. "Though I have not seen Ms. Adel in some time. I hope everything is alright."
"Me too Penny." Ruby added.
"Coco, what brings you here?" Weiss asked. Coco did not answer, instead walking forward and slumping into one of the chairs before Weiss' desk. "What's wrong?"
"It's gone...it's all gone." Coco managed. Though tinted, her glasses did not hide the blank gaze behind them.
"What's gone?" Weiss move to take the chair beside Coco, sliding it closer and taking her hand. "What happened?"
"My company...I'm ruined." Coco struggled to hold back tears. "I was doing so well...then the retailers stopped stocking my line...the investors gave up on me...I tried to shift to direct sales but it was too late. There's no money left. I've got nothing."
"Wha-how?" Weiss was taken aback. She had heard nothing of Adel Apparel's financial struggles.
"It doesn't matter how." Coco continued. "The assets are going up for auction on Monday to pay the creditors. I'll be lucky if I come away with anything."
"I'm so sorry." Weiss leaned in closer, noticing the tears streaking down Coco's face. "How much is it all worth?"
"Nothing anymore." Coco lamented.
"No, the assets, what's the expected auction value?" Weiss pressed.
"I don't know, maybe three million lien?" Coco guessed. "Who cares?"
"I care Coco." Weiss stated, standing. "Three million...not a lien below five million is worthy of you." She scoffed, walking around her desk to pull something from a drawer and scribbling on it. "Here." She slid forward a cheque, Coco blinked at the number before her, written in Weiss' usual, perfect cursive. "I'm buying your assets, and settling your debts."
"I'm not here for you to bail me out." Coco refused, pulling free her glasses to peer up at her friend. "I know we're friends, but this is business, you have your own to run."
"Then...why are you here?" Weiss asked.
"I don't know, not for money, I just..." Coco sighed, dropping the glasses to bury her face in her hands. "I guess I just wanted a shoulder to cry on."
"Well too bad." Weiss stood firm. "I'm buying your company, and merging it with the SDC."
"You don't want to buy a failed clothing company." Coco protested. "I don't want pity."
"Coco, I insist." Weiss walked around her desk, sitting beside Coco once more. "This isn't pity, this is me taking a chance on my oldest friend. I don't know what went wrong, but I know you can turn this around. With funding and some support, you'll be back on your feet by the next fiscal year."
"Did your father teach you nothing?" Coco scoffed. "Throwing good money after bad...it's-"
"I don't care what my father taught me." Weiss interrupted. "I've learned to follow my instincts, and they're telling me you're worth the risk." Coco looked about to speak, but Weiss cut her off before she had the chance. "I won't take no for an answer. You know I won't."
"Yeah...I know." Coco managed a smile, wiping away stray tears. She picked up her glasses once more, folding them into her pocket. "Thank you Weiss, I'll never forget this. I owe you-"
"Nothing Coco." Weiss cut in. "You taught me the importance of forging my own path, regardless of what anyone thought. You can't place a monetary value on that."
"Apparently it's worth five million lien." Coco chuckled, a hint of warmth returning to her voice. She shifted in her chair, leaning forward to pull Weiss into a firm but brief hug. "So, now that you're the owner of Adel Apparel, what do you plan to do with the company?"
"Well, I think it's about time the SDC had an exclusive, limited run clothing line." Weiss declared. "You'll have to close down for a little while, but I'll keep all your employees on, and after a little rebranding and promotion, you'll be ready to give it another shot."
"Rebranding...I feel like marketing was one of the things that brought me down." Coco sighed. "I always knew how to market myself, but a company…"
"Don't worry, I know just the person to help." Weiss grinned. "Actually, I think you've met before."
Coco quirked her brow. "Really?"
Weiss moved back to her desk, picking up the phone and punching in an extension. After a moment she clearly got a response. "Pyrrha, is Velvet still here?" Weiss enjoyed the look of surprise on Coco's face. "Good. She is being temporarily reassigned." There was a pause, presumably as Pyrrha spoke. "Yes, and for the time being, consider yourself promoted. Congratulations, you are now the interim head of Schnee Faunus Outreach." After a few moments Weiss hung up the phone. "I do hope you will work well together." She smirked.
Coco smiled, but it soon turned bitter. "Velvet...I've been neglecting her. I've been so busy trying to keep the company going...we haven't even been on a date in weeks."
"Well, you'll have plenty of time to spend with her now." Weiss encouraged. "She gets to help you out, and maybe being away from it for a while will show her that she doesn't have to do everything herself for SFO to function smoothly."
"Weiss...have I ever told you how much I love you?" Coco managed.
Weiss could not suppress a laugh. "Only every time we've met since I was ten years old."
Velvet tapped her foot, leaning against the elevator rail and mulling over the verbal pile-driving she would be delivering to Weiss in a minute. It was not the first time the CEO had made a sudden decision that needed opposing. Weiss was not perfect. No one was perfect. The only thing perfect about Weiss was that fair floss hair of hers, and her singing voice, and her posture...but she was not perfect. She was a stubborn ass at times, and to make such a sudden change without explanation was tailor made to get Velvet's hackles up.
Velvet had done her job without pause or fail for six years. She had endured racism, constant jibes from her kind about being under the heel of humanity, and even physical violence. It was worth it, because success meant advancing the cause of Human/Faunus relations. And, gods bless her, but now Pyrrha was taking her place? For what purpose? What the hell was more important than the job to which she had dedicated her life?
The elevator chimed, the door opened, and Velvet found her answer. "Coco." She sighed, smiling. She had not seen Coco in what felt like months, and as she exited the elevator to meet her in a crushing embrace, she realized just how badly she had missed her lover. "Gods I've missed you." She whispered, breathing in the musky chocolate scent that hung heavily upon Coco's form. She heard the rapidly beating heart beneath her lower ear.
"I've missed you too Bun." Coco whispered into a higher ear, planting a kiss upon the furry appendage. "So, so much."
"What have you been doing?" Velvet asked. "Why are you here?" She pulled back to meet her lover's gaze. A pang of worry shot through her chest as she took in the ruddy, tear stained cheeks. "What happened?" She said as she cupped her cheek.
Coco covered Velvet's hand with her own. "The company went under...I've been fighting to keep it afloat. I didn't want you to worry."
"Babe…" Velvet sighed, pulling Coco down into a brief kiss. In a way, it was a relief that the problem was external. She had feared Coco had been suffering a different crisis, that perhaps their relationship had become inconvenient, or - even worse - that she had found another...but no. This was nothing so devastating, to Velvet at least. But it was still a shock. "I love you. I always worry about you."
"I know, I know." Coco murmured, bumping their foreheads together. "I love you too."
"So how are we going to fix this?" Velvet asked.
"By taking some time off to recuperate." Weiss cut in from behind. Velvet peered over Coco's shoulder to stare blankly at her friend.
"You couldn't have warned me?" Velvet pressed.
"I wanted to surprise you." Weiss smiled.
"Of course you did." Velvet rolled her eyes. "Are you sure Pyrrha can handle it? The other branches are used to dealing with me."
"I have faith in her, and besides, she's going stir crazy without something to truly focus upon." Weiss assured her.
Velvet nodded, sighing. She looked up at Coco, meeting her gaze once more. "Come on babe, let's go home."
"Mine or yours?" Coco half smirked.
"Mine, where you belong." Velvet stated, taking Coco's hand. "Thank you Weiss. And you too Ruby."
"Thank you Velvet, nice to meet you Coco!" Ruby called.
Coco waved lazily behind her as they entered the elevator, and smiled as the door closed, Velvet's hand clutched firmly within her own. After the stresses of the day's events, it was like clinging to a rock surrounded by rapids. And that rock was warm.
We will be slowing down from now on, as some of you might already have noticed we post two chapters a week, and that used to be three chapters. We've been flat out for so long, sometimes we need to take time to recharge. So writing will be slowing down, and in the meantime our backlog will be drip fed out. Hopefully we won't stop delivering one chapter every Friday, but it all depends on how the wind blows.
We love writing, we will never abandon our stories, they're our children. But even parents need holidays.
Velvet held fast the entire way down. Her grip grounded Coco, kept her thoughts from wandering. They separated only long enough to climb into Velvet's car, thankfully an automatic. The underground garage would save her from prying eyes. She had taken a Ryde to the lawyer's office and to the SDC in the hopes that no one would realize it was her. Normally she welcomed attention, but lately...she really did not want anyone to see her today. It was humiliating enough to admit failure, let alone to have it broadcast openly. It no doubt would be sooner or later. These things always had a habit of getting out. Nothing stayed secret in Atlas, especially not one of its most popular rebels failing.
"Babe, stay with me." Velvet cut through Coco's fuzzy thoughts. "We're almost home."
Coco swallowed, nodding, choosing instead to focus on her lover's face. It was beautiful as always. The few lines of stress marring her features served only to make her more attractive. Velvet worked for her success, fought tooth and nail. She dedicated herself to the same fight that drove Coco's eldest friend, the same drive she had fallen in love with twice in her life. She would never have survived without them. She owed them everything, more than she could ever hope to repay, and then some.
They pulled into the parking lot of Velvet's apartment, separating once more to get out of the vehicle. Velvet linked their arms together once more as they walked, lending her endless warmth. Coco wanted to cry, she wanted to crumbled and fall. She was tired, emotionally and physically exhausted. She had barely eaten, hardly slept, and spent every day for the past few months fighting. Now it was over. She had lost, and the only thing keeping her going was the woman beside her, the love of her life. And she had failed her.
"Coco...Coco look at me." Velvet implored. Coco blinked. Looking around she realized they had entered Velvet's apartment. She was seated on Velvet's couch, something soft in her hands - a bunny plushie. When did they get here? "Baby, please, what is this, makeup?" She felt Velvet's fingers wipe beneath her eyes, the heavy concealer coming away easily. "Coco…" Velvet whispered. "You haven't been taking care of yourself."
"No…" Coco admitted, chuckling. "There's been no time." Fresh tears welled in her eyes, a lump forming in her throat. "I don't know where I went wrong Velv. It was going so well...then things just...started going downhill." She sobbed, clutching the plush to her chest.
Velvet pulled Coco to rest on her shoulder, her gently hands running through her partner's hair. "We'll be okay babe, we'll get through this." She tried to soothe. Coco needed to vent. How long had she kept this bottled up? How long had her frustration and grief warred within her, until she could fight no longer? How long had Velvet neglected her mate by allowing her space and privacy. She should have been more forceful, more insistent on seeing her. She was her mate for crying out loud. By rights she should have barged into her office and dragged her home by the collar. But Coco had asked for time, and Velvet was a pushover for her mate's few desires. So rarely did she ask for anything more than her love. She was selfless, just like Weiss.
"I tried so hard Velv, I really did, but I couldn't stop it." Coco rambled. "No one would listen. I don't know why, I don't know what I did wrong."
Velvet grit her teeth as red hot rage welled within her, righteous tears sliding down her cheeks. But she choked her anger down. Priorities needed to be checked. "Coco, baby, you didn't do anything wrong. You did what you always did, what you have always done, your best. Now I don't know what happened to make things go downhill, but I promise you, we will rebuild, together, okay?" She pulled back to meet Coco's teary gaze. "Okay?"
Coco nodded, sniffling. "I'm sorry Bun. I never wanted to put more pressure on you. I wanted...I-I wanted to wait, until things were stable." She wiped her eyes, swallowing. "I wanted to ask you to be my partner." Velvet smiled, Coco echoing it, though tired and strained. "I'm sorry I let you down."
Velvet laughed, shaking her head. She pulled Coco into a long, gentle kiss, breaking it to look into her eyes. "Stupid, you never let me down. I love you, I'll always love you. I don't need or want you to be anything more than yourself. I don't care of you're a millionaire or a pauper. You are Coco Adel, the love of my life, my mate. Nothing will ever change that."
Coco smiled wider at that, placing the plushie aside to pull Velvet into an embrace. Her breath hitched, but she did not cry...much. "Gods I love you, you beautiful, perfect bunny."
"Good, because you're doing my head in." Velvet smirked. "Come on, up and into the shower." She stood, pulling her mate with her. "Wash that crap off while I make some food. Then we're going to bed, got it?"
Coco chuckled, planting a kiss on Velvet's forehead. "Yes ma'am."
Ruby caught the tail end of Sun and Blake's pre-work routine when she arrived at the apartment after work on Thursday. She was not sure for how much longer she could take it. Perhaps she should go out after work - to shop, eat, or just explore the city - to make it more likely that the pair would be done by the time she arrived. At least she would not have to worry about it on Friday. First, she did not expect to come right home, planning to head to Sunrise after work instead. Second, even if she headed straight to the apartment, Sun and Blake started their shift earlier on Fridays, so they would already be gone.
As it turned out, this Friday turned out to be much like the last. Work was hectic, with Weiss sending Ruby all over SDC headquarters to perform various tasks. There was no time to properly rest and barely a moment to sit down, but at least she had a better idea of the building's layout. Ruby was more confident, less rushed, and knew what she was facing. Unfortunately that did not help with the growing pain in her leg. Just like the week before, by the end of the day Ruby was in agony, her old injury screaming. There was only one remedy, and Ruby was happy when she was able to leave for the day.
Still, Ruby felt a pang of misery on Friday afternoon. It had been months since her graduation, but leaving work at the end of the week still felt like leaving her last class. Her ride would pull up, usually Yang, and she would be hit by the realization that there would be no time to relax on the weekend. Her time would be spent working on projects and studying for exams. What little free time she allowed herself was spent with Yang...or on odd occasion, a partner for the night. She so rarely had a day to just be...but now she could. She was an adult. She was working a day job. Weiss did not give homework or assign study material. When she left the office she took no responsibilities with her.
The misery faded the instant Ruby fell into Vulpe's back seat, and she allowed herself a relieved chuckle.
"Good day?" Vulpe asked.
"Done day." Ruby replied.
Vulpe laughed. "I know that feeling. What's the plan?"
"Drink myself into a coma and let my roommates deal with it." Came Ruby's carefree reply.
"Ooh, confident." Vulpe laughed, pulling the car onto the road. "What if they just leave you this time?"
"Future Ruby can deal with that." Ruby grinned. "Present Ruby doesn't give a fuuuuuck."
Blake did not say anything as she handed Ruby her drink. Nor did she comment when she delivered the second, or the third. Ruby had chosen to stick to the booth this time. Sun came by a few times to check on her. Her speech was taking on a slight slur by the two hour mark, and that was when it happened. A flash of ginger in her peripheral. Ruby blinked, slowly turning to search for the source, only to be met by gleaming emerald eyes.
"Heya' there cutie!" The girl yelled, just a little too loud.
Ruby flinched, but smiled dimly. "Hey."
The girl leaned her head on the booth divider, peering up with faux puppy dog eyes. "Is this seat taken?" She glanced down beside Ruby, who followed her gaze lazily.
"I don't think so...you wanna' sit here?" Ruby realized.
The girl beamed a bright smile. "Hell yeah I do cutie!" She yelled over the music. With a single movement she pulled herself over the divider. Ruby had to scooch over a tad to give her room, and even so the girl shuffled closer, almost uncomfortably so. "Whatchya' drinkin'?" She nodded toward the half full glass on the table.
"Huah?" Ruby blurted. "Oh, shtrawberry sunrise...like the club." She leaned down, bumping her straw in the process. She chased it with her lips before a hand held it steady. Ruby smiled gratefully as she drank, following the hand back to the girl's face.
"I'm Neon." She grinned. Gods she was adorable.
"Ruby." She whispered. When Neon giggled she realized her mistake. "Ruby!" She repeated, louder.
"Heya' Ruby, we don't get many humans in here!" Neon noted sweetly.
"I know, it's kinda' why I like it!" Ruby explained.
"Oh, you got a fetish or somethin'?" Neon teased. Another flash of ginger saw a tail poke up from beneath the table, wiggling before her face like a treat. It suddenly clicked - Ruby had seen this Neon before, last week, in the arms of another… "Ooooh, busted!" Neon laughed at Ruby's heavy blush.
"No!" Ruby exclaimed. "No I don't, I-" A finger planted itself on her lips.
Neon leaned into speak into Ruby's ear. "It's okay, I don't mind." Ruby shivered as the purr that followed, warmth shuddering through her body as Neon slid ever closer. Fingers walked across her back to rest upon her shoulder. "I've got to admit...I've got a teeny-weeny bit of a human fetish I...never get to indulge." Neon smirked. Ruby could only stare in awe as those beautiful green eyes turned nearly black. Her glass appeared between them, the straw poking her lips. "Have you ever been with a Faunus before?" Ruby shook her head, opening her mouth to catch the straw and take another long draw. "Aw, that's too bad...and really damn cute. Releasing the straw, Ruby saw Neon tilt the glass until it face her, and with a wink, the Faunus took a sip of her own, shivering as the overly sweet cocktail hit her tongue. "Hmmm...delicious." She set the glass aside, eyes never leaving Ruby's. "I bet you'll taste better...that is…" Ruby jumped as Neon's hand fell to her own, face closing in. She could smell alcohol on the Faunus' breath. "If you can handle me."
Ruby let loose a shuddering breath, a blazing inferno down below. It had been so long, so long since she had last induled in intimacy such as this. Even longer since she felt such unmitigated passion in a single moment. The past week spent listening to vicious love making had taken its toll. No amount of self service could hold a candle to the touch of another, and here was a beautiful girl, a beautiful Faunus, offering to slake her thirst. Eyes lidded, her head tilted, and she met the Faunus in a searing kiss. She tasted so sweet.
Blake was, yet again, having a bad night. Of course every Friday was a bad night. Her patience was at its thinnest. Though the prior week had been relatively smooth, she was still adjusting to the new scents and experiences brought by her new roommate. Ruby had a very distinctive scent, favoring rose scented body care products. Sun claimed it had started as a joke, that a rose should smell like one. Apparently it stuck, because everywhere she walked, roses, roses, and more fucking roses...and yet Blake did not demand she wash it off, because it was not fair. It was her scent, it was Ruby, Ruby Rose. It was not a bad scent, just...distinct, and it was growing on her...when it was not tainted by arousal.
The incident on Monday had certainly affected the younger human. She was not so quick to meet Blake's gaze now. On the rare occasion they saw one another, she blushed readily, and the sharp tang tainting her scent betrayed the reasoning. The girl was lonely, taunted by Blake's amorous activities. The coming weekend would be interesting to say the least.
Ruby had apparently left early tonight, which annoyed Blake for several reasons. The first being she had not been informed. She had gone to restock several bottles, and by the time she came back, Ruby had vanished. She knew the girl had gone back to the apartment. The tracker app Blake had installed on Ruby's scroll told her as much. It had been trivial to plant it - everyone used their birthday as a passcode. She did not even need to observe it. The second was that Ruby had skipped out on her tab. She would be having a very stern word with her the next day. The third was by far the most troublesome. Blake was worried.
Blake was worried about Ruby. Worried about a human. A girl she had barely known for a week, and what little she did know was either irritating or barely notable. And the moment she noticed her absence, panic had gripped Blake's heart. It was a very specific panic, one she had not felt for a long time, and that was what troubled her. There was no logical reason for her to be so concerned. It was Ruby, an adult. Sun trusted her, waving off her sudden leaving as heavy fatigue from work. She was home, Blake knew this, so why the hell did the worry nag her so much?
Blake tried to bury herself in work. The night's droning should have carried away her thoughts. The thudding music, the din of conversation, taking order after order - she should have been on autopilot by now. But Blake felt so alert, hyper aware. Time dragged on, and more than ever Blake felt completely exhausted by the end of the shift. She approached the booth Ruby had occupied, Sun having cleared Ruby's glass beforehand. It still smelled like her. There were other scents of course, many of them familiar, many alien, but Ruby's stood out amongst them all - roses...and arousal.
Blake remained on edge as she drove Sun home. Ruby's scent grew stronger in the elevator, as did the scent of arousal. Had she left to satiate her urges? Was she really that...another familiar scent, more arousal, stronger as the elevator door opened on her floor. Blake strode forward. One of the same scents from Ruby's booth stood out, Faunus, feline…
"That fucking whore." Blake hisses as she withdrew her keys.
"Whoa, that's a bit harsh!" Sun exclaimed in shock.
"Not Ruby!" Blake snarled in response as she flung the door open. She stalked in, the heavy, foreign scent of the intruder thick in the air. Claws extended, she barged Ruby's door open - much to the shock of the room's inhabitants - and turned on the light.
Ruby yelped in pain, curled up clutching her head and clenching her eyes shut. The intruder glared blearily in the sudden light. Her claws were also extended, lips curled in a hiss as she hunched protectively over her mate, until the situation registered.
"Blake!" Neon barely choked before Blake was upon her, digging claws into her arm. She hauled Neon violently out of the bed, slamming her into the wall. She barely registered Ruby scrambling away as she wrapped her arm around Neon's neck and began dragging her out of the room.
"Blake!" Sun yelled as she barged past him.
Blake paid her partner no heed. The intruder beneath her arm struggled to gain footing, to no avail. Blake pulled open the apartment door and tossed Neon into the hallway, years of handling rough patrons and thugs fueling her movements. Neon landed against the opposite wall, nude and shaking, ginger hair loose of her usual pigtails. "Get the fuck away from us and don't come back!" Blake roared down at the cowering girl, before turning and slamming the door shut behind her.
With that, Blake was left alone, a solid, secure door at her back, and a myriad of terrible thoughts and feelings gnawing at her being. It was all made worse by the sudden realization that sobs were echoing down the hall. She clutched and covered her ears to block it out, willing her heart to calm, attempting to remember the breathing exercises her mother had drilled into her when she was training. That only brought more pain to the forefront. She slid down the door to the floor and sat there, tense, breathing heavily. Why was this happening? Why was she this upset? This was insane. She was insane! She should have known her sins would take a toll, but this was too much to bear. More than ever she felt at war with herself. Her heart thudded, her throat clenched, her mind blurred with a flurry of emotion - rage, guilt, and misery, all chasing each other like a macabre cyclone. All the events of the night settled upon her like a shroud of lead, and she felt a sob of her own escape her throat.
This was all Ruby's fault. She would not be feeling this if it were not for her existence. She would be alone with Sun. She would be safe in his arms, calmed by his heartbeat, his scent...was strong. She opened her eyes to find Sun kneeling before, a mixture of anger and worry on his face. Slowly, she let her arms fall, freeing her ears from blockage.
"Blake?" Sun spoke.
"I want her gone." Blake warbled, infuriatingly. She swallowed, scowling. "I want her gone now!"
"Why?" Sun challenged. "Because she had a one night stand?"
"She let that whore into my home!" Blake growled.
"Did you tell her she wasn't allowed here?" Sun asked.
"I said no strangers in the house!" Blake yelled.
"You said no humans in the house." Sun corrected.
Blake snarled. "She let a stranger into my home to fuck!"
"She was drinking!" Sun exclaimed. "It's not like she was thinking clearly."
"This is what I was talking about!" Blake seethed. "Humans are ignorant, blind, trouble!"
"So what, you're gonna' kick her out because she got drunk and got laid?" Sun pressed. "As if we haven't done it? As if we haven't done her?"
"You fucked her in your car." Blake noted. "She waited until I was drunk and I don't remember a fucking thing!"
"Yeah, she did didn't she." Sun smirked. "Sounds like someone else I know. A certain friend of mine, short, black hair, red tips, sobbing her eyes out because she thinks she just witnessed someone she trusts murder a girl?"
"Fucking idiot." Blake scoffed.
"You dragged her out kicking and screaming!" Sun shouted.
"I told her to stay away!" Blake shot back.
"From you, from me, not from Ruby." Sun insisted. "Blake, for crying out loud, I'm being as reasonable as I can by just saying, that was really fucked. Ruby's scared shitless! You do realize we're all she has here right?"
"The SDC takes care of its own, always has, always will." Blake grumbled. "She's human."
"She's family Blake." Sun declared.
"I didn't claim her." Blake refuted.
"Bullshit." Sun countered.
Blake hissed, glaring, claws shaking as they dug into the carpet. Rage bubbled within her, tempered by true, genuine terror. "You're taking her side over mine?"
"Don't change the subject." Sun refocused. "You were panicked as fuck when she went missing. You've been on edge all night, and you just went crazy because someone was banging her without your permission."
"I didn't claim her!" Blake repeated. "If I did that whore wouldn't have touched her."
"Because Neon gives a shit when she's hot for someone." Sun scoffed. "Blake, please, for love of the gods, don't fight me on this. You're angry, yeah, but not at Ruby. You're angry at the situation and want it to go away so you can rest. But if you keep running away from situations you're gonna' rush off a cliff someday, and I can't follow you down."
Blake felt the lump in her throat grow once more, and her eyes stung. She curled up, claws in her hair as she tried to hide from her own emotions. "I hate this Sun. Why do I have to deal with this? Why couldn't I just be normal?" She whimpered.
Sun shifted audibly, his warmth moving to Blake's side. "Because you're Blake. If you were normal, you wouldn't be Blake."
"This is the dumbest fucking soothing I've ever heard from you Sun." Blake grumbled.
"You get what you pay for." Sun grinned.
Despite herself, Blake laughed. "I hate you. You're ruining my life."
"I try my worst." Sun chuckled.
"I don't even have a response for that…" Blake sighed, leaning into the embrace. "Fuck...what do I do Sun?"
"Talk to her, calmly." Sun suggested. "Help her understand what's going on. She's scared. She's hurt and she's lost. She's a world away from her family and we're her only friends. She doesn't feel safe anymore."
"Okay...okay." Blake whispered.
There came a light tapping on the door. "Can I have my scroll?" Neon asked. "Please?"
Blake stood beside Ruby's door, trying not to listen to the murmuring inside. She wrestled with what she was going to say and how she was going to say it. Sun had given Neon his shirt to wear and was currently gathering her clothes and scroll. Blake had fought down the urge to snarl at the girl's presence. Her temper was doing her no favors. It burned and consumed her, chased by her other emotions like a rabid dog. It was pathetic, she was pathetic.
"Blake?" Sun's voice startled Blake from her self pity. "She wants to talk."
Blake nodded, taking a deep breath. "Alone?"
"Yeah, just...be gentle, alright?" Sun requested.
Blake nodded again, running a hand through her hair, claws catching in the knots. She retracted them as Sun embraced her with one arm - the other holding a bundle of clothes. "I'll try."
"That's all you need." Sun smiled, kissing Blake's forehead. He headed off down the hall. Now it was just Blake and a closed door. One of the most intimidating closed doors of her life. The more she stalled, the harder this would be. She knocked twice, gently.
"Come in." Ruby's managed meekly.
Blake's heart clenched once more. Slowly she opened the door. The main light had been switched off, replaced by the bedside lamp. It was warmer, more comforting. Ruby herself sat close to it, a pillow hugged to her chest, hiding her lower face, leaving only silver eyes to glimmer in the light. Red rimmed, those eyes fixed upon Blake. She had barely taken notice of Ruby's nudity beforehand. Now she sat in her usual pyjamas. Blake was thankful for that. It would have made things worse otherwise. Ruby looked so very small, smaller than she already was.
"Ruby." Blake greeted, closing the door behind her as gently as she had opened it.
Ruby's gaze flickered between the door and Blake. "I'm sorry." She squeaked, half muffled, before swallowing audibly. She wiped her nose on the pillow. "I let a stranger into the apartment without your permission, and I'm sorry." She averted her gaze now, shrinking further behind the pillow, as if it would protect her from whatever slings and barbs Blake would hurl her way.
The Faunus sighed, taking a step toward the bed. Ruby tensed. Blake turned her back and sat on the edge of the mattress. "I know Ruby, I know. I'm sorry too."
"I'll pack my things-" Ruby started.
"Ruby...I don't want you to leave." Blake interrupted.
"But I hea-" Ruby tried to protest.
"I know what you heard." Blake snapped before biting her tongue. Gods she needed to stop. She was still threatening. Ruby would not understand the significance of turning her back. She was human, humans were ignorant. Changing tactics, Blake lay back across the foot of the bed, looking up at the frightened girl. "I'm sorry. I'm not angry at you Ruby. I'm...angry at myself."
"Because you hurt Neon?" Ruby asked.
"I didn't hurt her...much." Blake mumbled.
"You threw her into the wall...Blake, there's a crack in the wall." Ruby's voice warbled.
Blake followed the girl's eyes to the wall. There was indeed a crack where some part of her fellow Faunus had impacted. Was she really that angry? "Faunus are tough. You saw her scars."
"That's not reassuring Blake." Ruby noted.
"I know...I know…" Blake groaned, covering her face. "Ruby, we are not human. I am not human."
"You're a person Blake, and people treat each other decently." Ruby stated.
Blake laughed painfully at that. "People are assholes Ruby. Selfish, angry assholes who do what suits them, and I'm no different. Just genetically programmed to do it."
"What?" Ruby questioned in exasperation.
"Faunus Ruby, we are different from humans in that out instincts take precedence over our sense." Blake explained. "At least to a greater degree. Humans have them, but that's just it. They're there, whispering in the back of your mind. You choose to listen to them, usually you don't, because you don't need to. There's no urge to obey. You're not filled with reactive emotion. You just feel, and your sense usually prevails. But that's not how it works for us. We don't have that restraint, it's not how we evolved."
"So you lost control?" Ruby asked.
"I did." Blake confirmed.
"Why?" Ruby pressed.
"Because...my...because I thought you were threatened." Blake struggled.
"By Neon?" Ruby asked.
"By someone." Blake replied. "You vanished, I was worried. We come back and I smell you and someone, and by the time I figured out who it was I was so damn angry and panicked I just wanted her gone! It didn't matter that it was Neon. At least, not truly. I was angry at her, I told her not to come back, but here she was, in my home, fucking one of my own, as if she didn't-"
"Whaaat?" Ruby cut in, baffled. "Your own? Blake, what?"
Blake closed her eyes, biting her tongue. How could she explain this in a way that made sense? This was an alien concept to Ruby. Everything involved was natural to Blake and others like her. Not even Sun shared her intense instinctual need. Sure, he understood it, and the smartass was probably banking on this happening. He was crafty like that, acting one way and thinking another. It was part of why Blake liked him so much. One moment he was bouncing off the walls, the next shockingly perceptive of her wants. And her needs.
"Blake, I'm feeling really lost right now." Ruby admitted. Blake looked to the human, who had discarded the pillow. Ruby tiredly rubbed her eyes. Blake's heart went out to her. After the excitement and stress of that night they were probably both exhausted.
"I know Ruby. I'm going to explain, but I need...please bear with me." Blake started. "This is as strange to you as it is difficult for me." Ruby heaved a sigh, nodding. Then, to Blake's surprise, she shifted over to lay down alongside her. She did not say anything, simply waiting.
Blake swallowed. "Faunus owe many of our tendencies to nature. We are more than our traits, but those traits still define us. Humans evolved further from their origins. We evolved alongside them, but our instincts remained ingrained in our society. In ancient times, like humanity, males built and repaired homes, hunted for food, protected females and young. Females gathered, bore and raised children. Whilst this remains widespread in both human and Faunus society, it is no longer so ingrained. More and more females are independent. More and more men raise children. And while this is true too for Faunus, we always return to our instincts. We search out mates, we produce children, we start and protect families and settle into the roles we are instinctively and physically suited for." Blake turned over to face Ruby properly, her attention rapt. "Part of this, and an integral part of our society, is the concept of Alpha genes, Alpha roles. Do you know anything about Alphas Ruby?"
"A little." Ruby replied. "Aren't they your leaders?"
"Typically, traditionally." Blake confirmed. "Alphas are how we evolved to exist as packs, clans and families. The Alpha gene makes leaders of us. We are stronger, we feel less pain. Our scent is distinct, heavier, powerful, inspiring fear and obedience in others. Typically the Alpha gene is passed only to male offspring, and even so, only occasionally. Otherwise those of us with a predisposition to litters could produce several Alphas, which could pose problems for the pack."
"Like cat and dog Faunus?" Ruby questioned.
Blake nodded. "Feline and canine, yes Ruby."
"So you have brothers and sisters?" Ruby smiled for the first time that night.
Blake could not help but return it. "No Ruby, sadly I don't." She lamented. "I was an only child. Both my mother and father are feline, but still, I was an only child because I was conceived an Alpha, a rare occurrence in females."
"Oh." Ruby said.
"Which is what I'm trying to explain." Blake continued. "To help you understand why I am the way I am. My instincts tell me to gather, to bear, to raise, maintain my family. But at the same time the Alpha side of me screams to protect, to control, to dominate. At times it's conflicting. Sometimes one exacerbates the other. These instincts weren't meant to coexist Ruby, one second oil and water, the next a fan to the flame. Do you understand how that might feel Ruby? To be so angry, yet so scared, and your only thought is to remove the threat inspiring those emotions?"
"You weren't thinking clearly." Ruby observed.
"Sometimes I hardly think at all." Blake murmured, eyes downcast. "I regret every one of those times."
Ruby did not respond at first. For a moment Blake suspected the girl had fallen asleep, until one of the human's hands reached for her own. "You see me as family?" She whispered.
Blake flinched at the contact, but allowed Ruby to pull her hand closer, clasping it in both of her own. "I…I see you as kin." Ruby was the first human she had willingly allowed to touch her, and the first person since Sun. Her rose scent seemed all the more prevalent in that moment.
"Do you want to be kin?" Ruby asked.
Blake closed her eyes and nodded. As much as it pained that part of her - the part that desired isolation, insulation, so she would not grow attached, so people could not hurt her anymore. That part Sun burned away with his affection, leaving the rest of her, that desired comfort and company, the pleasure of a family, which she now found in Ruby's familiar scent - she wanted this. Ruby was warm, her presence calming, her safety paramount. "I...always wanted a sister." She admitted with a shy smile.
Ruby giggled. "Sometimes I wish I didn't have one. Yang could get overbearing sometimes."
"I think I'm a little more than overbearing." Blake scoffed. She felt Ruby squeeze her hand, drawing it to her chest.
"I'll try and behave from now on...maybe I won't get drunk anymore." Ruby promised.
"You can get drunk, just...if you want to be with someone, come to me first?" Blake requested. "Make sure I know. Atlas is a big city to disappear in."
"I'll try, I promise." Ruby declared.
"Thank you Ruby, for listening." Blake sighed. "I lost control tonight...I wish I could say it won't happen again."
"I'll try and keep out of your way." Ruby added.
"No, no I need...grounding." Blake shook her head. "Ruby, I know it's frightening, but I won't hurt you. I won't ever hurt you. I want to protect you."
"Okay." Ruby whispered, yawning. "Can you protect me while I sleep?" She smirked, eyes barely open.
Blake chuckled. "Sure...I'll be back in a moment." Receiving a nod from Ruby, Blake left the room. Sun stood waiting in the hall, smiling at Blake's own grin. "I'm spending the night with Ruby."
Sun blinked, surprised. "Uh, in what way?"
"The platonic way Sun." Blake roused.
"Uhuh.' Sun smirked.
"Not everyone is a horndog like you." Blake grumbled.
"I didn't say nothin'." Sun shrugged.
They entered the bedroom. Sun had changed beforehand. He only ever wore pyjama pants to bed, and even so, they were usually gone in the morning. "What did Neon have to say?" Blake asked, slipping out of her clothes. Normally she would shower first, but this morning...this morning she did not care.
"That she's sorry, again." Sun replied. "She didn't think you'd be so pissed."
Blake hummed, pulling her preferred sleepwear on...and underwear for good measure. Just briefs, normally she preferred to go without. She never was a fan of the feeling, nothing ever felt right to her, but she did not wish to give Ruby a show. "Neither did I."
Kissing Sun goodnight, Blake returned to Ruby's room. The lamp had been turned off. Either Ruby was well aware of Faunus nightvision, or did not believe Blake would return. She shut the door gently and approached the bed. Ruby had moved beneath the covers once more. Blake lifted the nearby edge, slipping under.
"Hnng?" Ruby mumbled.
"It's me Ruby." Blake whispered.
"Mngkay." Ruby responded. Blake hovered beside Ruby, unsure if she should draw closer or simply remain nearby. Did she want intimacy or company? The question was answered when Ruby's hand wandered back, brushing Blake's thigh briefly before meeting her arm. Blake choked. "Shry." Ruby apologized, finding her hand. "Hug?" Blake bit down the uncomfortable urge that flared at the contact, and gradually shifted forward, her chest making contact with Ruby's back. The human curled up against her warmth. "G'mornin' Blake." Ruby murmured.
Blake smiled. "Good morning Ruby."
Morning was a very strange experience for Ruby. First, she was very comfortable. Normally her bed was a little too firm for her taste. She had made note to buy a padded underlay, but her pay would not be in...actually it should be in that day. If it was Saturday...her mind was always fuzzy in the morning. It was also warm, very warm, like cozy warm. The apartment had good heating, but her room did not get much of it with the door closed, and she did not feel comfortable sleeping with an open door. Normally it was frigid, but now it was not. The pressure against her back was also new. She liked it, it reminded her of Yang. They had not shared a bed often during her last year of college, but what few times they did curl up together, she never slept better. But Yang was not here, she was in Patch, hundreds of miles away...who was in her bed?
Slowly, Ruby reached forward. Her new scroll lay charging on the bedside table. The wireless pad meant no cord needed to be yanked free, allowing her to stealthily open the camera app. She switched to selfie view, and her jaw dropped as she beheld the peaceful visage of Blake. It was strangely, hauntingly beautiful. With every other moment of her life seemingly ruled by constant annoyance, seeing Blake so...restful was a shock. And cute too. Her ears occasionally fluttered, her eyes moving beneath their lids. She must have been dreaming.
An electronic click rung out, and Ruby hastily hid her scroll beneath the pillow. She had not meant to take a picture, her finger must have slipped. Blake was a light sleeper, right? The Faunus twitched and Ruby tensed as the arm around her stomach firmed, but instead of waking Blake just pulled her closer. Warm breath on the back of Ruby's neck sent a shiver down her spine. No, no, bad Ruby, don't go there. Stay away. Last night was...oh gods last night was amazing. Neon was so passionate. What she remembered of her at least. Like water to the parched...oh gods she was horny, and...was Blake...smelling her? She could feel the Faunus nuzzle the back of her head, parting the hair and taking in a deep breath of her scent. The shuddering exhale brought up a question Ruby dreaded.
Was Blake aroused by her?
A sudden pressure on her rear answered that question in the most uncomfortable way possible, as her roommate and Alpha ground her pelvis against Ruby's rear….was that...no, nope, no, no, no way!
"Blake!" Ruby yelped.
The Faunus stopped. For several moments they were still as stone. "Ruby?" Blake murmured, pulling back from her hair. "Oh." The pressure withdrew and Blake pulled away. "Sorry."
"It's...okay." Ruby turned over to face the Faunus, who rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "Did you sleep okay?"
"Yeah…" Blake said slowly. Hands falling, she stared at the ceiling, face screwed up in thought. "I slept fine...thank you for inviting me."
"It's okay." Ruby responded. "I get a bit lonely in here. It was nice to have someone hold me again."
Blake winced, the prior night's events flashing in her mind. "Did you leave someone in Patch?"
"No, no I had Yang." Ruby replied. "We've always been close."
"Hmm, Sun said as much...do you want to shower first?" Blake asked.
"You should go." Ruby answered. "You worked in the club, but I didn't shower after Neon and I…" She trailed off.
Blake sighed, nodding. "Then you should go first." She instructed. "It'll cover any noise we make." Slipping out of bed, Blake made her way to the door, opening it before pausing. "Good afternoon." She finally greeted.
Ruby smiled. "Good afternoon."
Craning her neck to see in the mirror, Ruby examined the scratches on her back. She would have to wear a collared shirt to work. She only vaguely remembered Neon making them. Thankfully her time in the shower helped resolve any feelings the memory may have inspired. Heads between each other's thighs, one clawed hand on her rear, the other clutching her back. Neon had tensed, whining, and laughing as Ruby won their first bout. Ruby yelped and yelled as those claws dug into her skin, and sliced their way down.
Once recovered, Neon had been apologetic. Though not particularly deep, they would likely still scar. Everything scarred Ruby. She was used to it. Neon made up for it with voracious enthusiasm regardless. And Ruby had another story to tell the grandkids. The shower had stung badly though, and she could not reach the cuts to properly clean them. Perhaps Blake would be willing to help. People experienced in self defense tended to be at least competent in first aid, and if there was any danger to being clawed by a Faunus, she would know for sure.
Pulling on a tank top, shorts and her hoodie, Ruby left her bedroom, heading to the kitchen and making herself breakfast. She would have to go shopping today. Her pay was in no uncertain terms sizeable. Either Ruby was being paid engineering money already, or her position happened to pay very well regardless. It was so strange seeing such a high number in her account. She knew it was not truly high at all, but seeing as all her money went into groceries and supplies beforehand, she had never seen her account rise past six hundred lien, and that was after a very nice Solstice.
She should get something nice for Blake and Sun. Sun was simple. She could get him a new scroll, a real one, nothing amazing, just something he could use to join the modern world. Eventually he would want to upgrade to something more mainstream. Blake was more difficult. Yes she liked fish, but at the same time Ruby did not want to be patronizing. Perhaps there was some sort of gift you gave an Alpha as a sign of gratitude...but that could also be seen as patronizing...ugh. She hated gift giving. Maybe she should just cook a nice dinner with fish and see how Blake reacted.
Ruby could also budget for a new PC now. It would be better than what she had left behind. She could never justify upgrading her old one often, and even when she did it was with outdated components. Maybe now she could start bigger. The SDC manufactured everything. She might be able to acquire parts directly from them now. She needed to ask Pyrrha the next time she saw her.
Until then, Ruby had a weekend to enjoy. First things first, Blake, scratches, first aid. Blake was still with Sun apparently. The living room was empty when she walked through. Not that she was listening, but there were no noises coming down the hall. Either Blake was being quiet that morning, or they had finished faster than usual. Ruby poured herself a bowl of cereal and settled on the couch, turning on the news. She was halfway through her bowl when a familiar image appeared on screen.
"In other news, Adel Apparel founder Coco Adel was witnessed entering SDC headquarters late Thursday morning. Sources report the fashion house has been on the decline for months now, culminating in a filing for bankruptcy."
Wow, that explains a lot. Ruby thought.
"...that perhaps her longtime friendship with CEO Weiss Schnee could be the savior of Adel Apparel. Further details have not yet been released."
Blake walked into the room, still dressed in her robe. She ran a hand through her frazzled hair. Glancing at Ruby, she quirked a brow. "Didn't think you took an interest in the industry."
"Huh?" Ruby perked up.
"Adel, they're fashion tycoons." Blake wrinkled her nose. She headed for the kitchen. "Her family contracts Faunus sweatshops in Vacuo."
"Oh, that...that's surprising." Ruby hesitated.
"Atlas is a merchant kingdom." Blake explained. "Cutting costs is normal."
"No, I mean Coco." Ruby explained. "She's friends with Weiss, and I think she's with Velvet, and she's a Faunus."
Blake did not respond at first. The refrigerator opened and closed, and she returned to the living room. "Hmm." She hummed, taking a draw from a bottle of water. "Possibly why she went under." She sat down, watching the screen.
"How do you know about that anyway?" Ruby asked.
"I know about the injustices humanity has inflicted upon my race Ruby." Blake frowned. "The Adel family doesn't hold a candle to the crimes of Jacques Schnee, but all the same, slave labor is condemnable." She took another sip. "You say their daughter is with a Faunus?"
"Velvet, the head of Faunus Outreach." Ruby nodded. "I've only met her twice, but she's really nice...and seemed really close to Coco."
"How did they interact?" Blake questioned.
"Uh, touching?" Ruby answered. "Hugging? Coco kissed her ear. She's a bun...uh...rabbit Faunus?"
"Lepus." Blake murmured. "She kissed her ear?"
Ruby hummed in confirmation. "Is that good?"
"Such actions are typical amongst family, mates and close friends." Blake replied. "But humans are rarely privy."
"So they're definitely together?" Ruby pressed.
"Hmm, it seems so." Came Blake's subdued response.
Ruby frowned. "Is that...not okay?"
"It's not unheard of, but they will face adversity to say the least." Blake shrugged. "How is your back?"
"Oh, you noticed." Ruby chuckled uneasily.
"It was impossible to miss Ruby." Blake deadpanned.
"Heh, right, uh, it stung a bit." Ruby managed. "I wanted to ask for help cleaning it, please? And uh...I don't mean anything by it but uh...Feline Faunus claws, are they...safe?"
Blake scoffed, extending the claws of her left hand, and offering it for Ruby to examine. "Yes Ruby. I could flay you alive and you would be perfectly fine."
Ruby smiled nervously, leaning in to peer at the appendages. They were not too different from human nails, just notably longer, raised to a ridge which curved down to a fine point. It was oddly fascinating. "Wow, they're really sharp."
"Feline Faunus are immune to the diseases of our distant relatives, and we take pride in our nails." Blake preened. She tapped Ruby with a claw before letting them retract. "But yes, I will clean your scratches. Thank you for being respectful."
Ruby smirked. "Thank you for not flaying me alive."
Blake had been very gentle with Ruby, and it occurred to her that this had always been the case. In spite of her intimidating nature, Blake had not touched Ruby until the prior night. Every contact since had been feather light or firmly gentle. It filled her with a familiar warmth, warmth that persisted despite the stinging sensations of antiseptic on her back. Ruby was reminded of all the times Yang had patched up her bumps and scrapes as a kid. It was something that had persisted into their teens, up until Ruby's accident. Of course after the accident Yang had become Ruby's full time caretaker, at least until she recovered enough to move around reliably. Yang had reluctantly returned to work, half expecting to be reprimanded for an overly long leave. She had received a promotion instead.
Blake retreated to the shower with Sun, mumbling that if she did not wash his hair, no one would. He ambled out half an hour later, dressed and poofy-haired, much to Ruby's amusement. He flipped her the bird. "Breakfast and shopping?" He asked.
"My shout!" Ruby claimed.
An hour later the pair were once again well fed, but before they could begin their shopping proper, Ruby had a stop to make. "Didn't you just get a scroll?" Sun asked as they entered the SDC tech retailer Schnee Electronics - otherwise known by it's fan name, Schneetronics. Ruby had rarely had the funds to enter before now. Her old scroll had been a birthday gift, following a lengthy trial period with a cheaper flip phone.
"I need to get a case for it." Ruby explained. "It feels really weird in my hands, and I saw a leather one that looked nice."
"Those things look so fragile." Sun observed.
"They're actually really tough." Ruby countered. "If you drop it hard enough at the wrong angle it might chip, but the glass is dust impregnated to prevent shattering."
"Well don't sell me on it or anything." Sun joked.
Ruby chuckled. "I don't need to. You're getting one either way."
"What now?" Sun blurted.
"I was reading my employee handbook, and it turns out I've got some really cool benefits." Ruby continued. "Lifetime warranty on all SDC products, premium account upgrade for all SDC sponsored applications, aaaaand a really nice employee discount. Plus my pay was...kinda' scary. I need to get rid of some of it, so I'm buying you a real scroll. And I'll figure out something for Blake, and giving her rent, which we still haven't discussed yet. Probably should."
"I don't know how to use those things!" Sun protested. "Blake never lets me touch hers."
"Well it's a good thing you've got me to be your teacher, isn't it?" She stopped to grin smugly at the Faunus.
Sun sighed, chuckling. "Rubes, come on-"
"Sun." Ruby cut in, seriously. "I missed you. I really, really missed you. I never really had another friend like you. It was just me and Yang. Teammates and flings don't count. It sucked, I missed you. I tried to find you, but you didn't exist online and no one had your contact details. If you at any point had a profile somewhere I'd have been able to talk to you sooner. Now here we are, because of the craziest fluke ever, and you gave me a home without a second thought anyway. The least I can do is buy you something that's actually useful. You could chat with Yang, and mom and dad!" Ruby pouted her poutiest, shimmery-eyed puppy dog pout up at Sun.
The Faunus crumbled like a cookie. "Alright, alright!" He mock shielded his face. "I'll accept...just don't guilt trip me like that. Those eyes are weaponized."
Ruby laughed, rushing forward to wrap her friend in a hug. "Oh, we're gonna' get you into the electronic age so hard!"
"I don't want everything electronic." Sun resisted. "I like to do it manually."
"Suuun!" Ruby jumped back, swatting at his chest and shaking her finger. "Bad! Don't make me taze you!"
"In public?" Sun smirked. "Ruby, that's a hate crime. I'm feeling very hated right now."
"Just for that I'm making your background a dick-pic." Ruby grumbled.
Sun laughed. "Joke's on you. I'm used to dicks. Neugh."
Seated in the food court, Ruby sipped on a strawberry thickshake, watching as Sun fiddled with his new scroll. It was an older mode, but still quite capable, and not too much bigger than his flip phone. Ruby's own was nearly twice its size, not to mention its thickness. But compared to his prior device it may as well have been a supercomputer. "Hey, we should send a selfie to Blake." Sun suggested.
"Isn't she asleep?" Ruby asked.
"Nah, she doesn't like sleeping alone." Sun replied.
"Oh." Ruby nodded.
"So...you think things are good between you two?" Sun inquired.
"I think so." Ruby shrugged. "She explained Faunus culture, and instincts, and Alphas…" She trailed off before frowning. "Why didn't you tell me this stuff?"
"Because I only know some of it." Sun answered. "I wasn't raised like she was. My family's from Vacuo. We've been living among humans for two generations. Tradition and belief isn't really a thing with us anymore, and none of us are Alphas." He paused. "Blake's from Menagerie. She was raised traditionally. That stuff is important to her, but it also causes problems. She doesn't usually deal with ignorance well. I've been working on it. This is actually really big Ruby. She's never explained things like this to a human before, at least that I know of. She's never like humans because she's never been around them much."
"So what, being around me made her like me?" Ruby asked.
"Pretty much." Sun confirmed. "It's like...you walk into someone's home, and it smells funny. But you stay there a while and you don't notice it anymore. Except it's the other way around. You came in, it was different, you stayed for a while and she got used to it-"
"And now she's fine sleeping with me?" Ruby quirked her brow.
"Well when you put it like that…" Sun trailed off.
"I don't mind, not really." Ruby noted. "It was nice, but...weird. Blake is still Blake, but now she can snuggle. Like, those two shouldn't go together in my brain, but they do."
"Think of it like this." Sun suggested. "Blake is Blake, but she's got all this stuff buried under all the indifference. When she's comfortable, or you dig a little, you get to see who she really is, and it's beautiful. But then she covers it back up again, and it's sad, but you know you'll see it again. You just have to keep at it."
"And you've been doing this for how long?" Ruby asked.
"Three years...last month." Sun replied.
"Wow…" Ruby managed.
"And uh, just a thing about Neon-" Sun started.
"Oh gods, do you have her number?" Ruby cut in. She cursed herself for almost letting her newfound partner slip away.
"No, that's the thing." Sun shook his head. "Neon isn't really a relationship kind of girl. She's uh...she's looking for a good time, and comes to Sunrise because people are trying to find one."
Ruby felt her heart drop, disappointment mixing with concern. "Oh."
"She's not a bad person Ruby." Sun continued. "She's just like a lot of people, runnin' from their pain in their own way. Problem is she crossed Blake at a bad time, and she's never forgiven her for it."
"Aw...well…" Ruby sighed. "Shoot."
"Also we kinda' banged too." Sun added.
"Oh gods who else?" Ruby groaned.
"Myron." Sun answered.
"Oh, well, I don't really blame her." Ruby shrugged.
"Hey!" Sun protested.
"What?" Ruby smirked. "He's hot!"
"And I'm not!?" Sun exclaimed.
"You're in a committed relationship, but yes." Ruby allowed.
"Pfft, want me to get his number?" Sun offered.
"Shut up!" Ruby snapped, slapping his arm.
Sun was already laughing as he returned to his phone. "I have it somewhere on here, once I find contacts...somewhere."
"Dude, he would break me." Ruby laughed. "He's the size of our couch!"
"I have it on good authority he's a very gentle lover." Sun noted.
"From personal experience?" Ruby teased.
"I'm not insecure about my sexuality, so I won't take the bait." Sun huffed.
"Sure." Ruby persisted.
"Nope." Sun grinned. "Also say cheese!"
Ruby was caught mid sip of her thickshake by the camera flash. She pouted as Sun laughed, only to be distracted by her own scroll ringing. Yang's tune blared above the crowded din. "Hey Yang." She greeted as she answered.
"Heya sis!" Yang responded. "How's things?"
"Good, good!" Ruby half lied. "I got my first pay this morning!"
"Oooh, how many zeroes?" Yang asked.
"A few more than I'm used to." Ruby replied.
"Oh, I know that feel." Yang stated. "You look at the number and think holy fuck I can buy everything!"
"Language!" Summer's voice singsonged faintly. "Hello Little Rose. Please don't go overboard with spending. You never know when you'll need it for an emergency." She advised.
Ruby flushed with just a small amount of guilt. "I'm doing a bigger shop this weekend. I've been making a list of things. But after that I'll be more careful...I kinda' got paid a lot more than I expected."
"How was your second week?" Summer asked. "Is your injury flaring? How is Sun? And his partner? Are you getting along?"
"She's only got one mouth Summer, calm down." Yang laughed.
"You're taking too long!" Summer protested. "My baby's a world away and I get one call a week!"
"It was fine mom!" Ruby chuckled. "My leg is fine, Sun's good. I helped him get a new scroll so he's like dad all over again. Blake and I are making progress. Oh, I need to get that fish recipe from you!"
"The beer battered cod?" Summer asked.
"Yeah, I wanna' make something Blake'll like for dinner." Ruby confirmed.
"I'll write up a few recipes and email them to you." Summer offered.
"Thanks mom." Ruby responded.
"You gotta' send me a pic of Blake." Yang cut in. "I keep imagining a grumpy cat whenever I think of you guys."
Ruby laughed, then remembered the picture she had accidentally taken that morning, and flushed. "That's not too far from the truth."
"Well come on!" Yang insisted. "I wanna' see the mystery gal who made a man of Sunny boy!"
"I'll ask, but I don't think she's the type for pictures." Ruby warned. Sun raised his scroll to snap another picture. Ruby poked her tongue out, crossing her eyes.
"If anyone can change that it's you Rubes." Yang encouraged. Sun gave her a thumbs up.
"Pfft, sure." Ruby chuckled. "Look, I gotta' go. I'll text you when I get home, okay?"
"Okay!" Yang cheered. "Have fun, give Sun a hug for me, and Blake too. Tell her Yang says hi. Love you! Miss you!"
"Miss you too Yang." Ruby replied. "I love you. Love you too mom!"
"I love you too Ruby, take care." Summer ended the call.
As Ruby hung up, Sun showed her his phone screen. It displayed the goofy picture he had sent to Blake, followed by her reply. "I hope her face gets stuck like that." Classic Blake.
"Come on, we should actually shop sometime today." Ruby suggested.
"How was everyone?" Sun asked.
"Good." Ruby answered. "Dad wasn't there though."
"You gotta' give me their numbers." Sun requested.
"What, so you can send them pictures of my butt?" Ruby scoffed. "No thanks."
"And Blake's!" Sun exclaimed.
"Not to Yang, she'll get a nosebleed." Ruby warned.
"She always was an ass gal." Sun chuckled.
"I know." Ruby groaned. "Every damn day, hey Rubes, look at datass! And I'm like Yang, that's your ass and she's like damn straight!"
Sun snorted. "The word straight shouldn't ever come out of her mouth. She was gay as a rainbow even when we were kids."
"Yeah, she was...but a few years after you left she just...went through a phase." Ruby explained. "Yang wasn't so gay anymore."
"Phase?" Sun questioned.
"Yeah, a phase." Ruby nodded. "It's done now, we moved on. Come on, I know what I wanna' get Blake."
"Fish?" Sun guessed.
"That too, but no." Ruby corrected. "This is more functional."
"Functional?" Sun quirked his brow. "Blake might like functional."
"Let's hope so." Ruby laughed. "I've always wanted on myself. If she likes it, everyone wins."
Blake looked incredulously at the bagged box Ruby had placed in her lap. "It's a gift!" Ruby had chirped. Then she had returned to the kitchn, helping Sun unpack the much larger than usual haul of groceries.
"Will it explode?" Blake asked, half serious. Sun had learned the hard way that sudden loud noises and bursts of streamers were very much not appreciated. Ruby on the other hand…
"No, it's a gift, not a surprise." Ruby answered, as if explosions were perfectly normal, expected, and not in any way unacceptable.
"If it does explode we got a warranty." Sun chimed in. Ruby threw a bag of chips at his head and he snickered.
"Reassuring." Blake bit, lifting the box upright. The bag was matte white, branded with the SDC snowflake. She wrinkled her nose at it before pulling the sides down. "What the fuck…" A familiar, anime-style illustration of an ivory haired girl beamed at her, sitting cross-legged, clutching a circular device to her chest.
"It was a limited edition!" Ruby called from across the breakfast bar, looking far too excited.
"It's Weiss Schnee." Blake deadpanned. "How the hell did this happen?"
"Merchandising!" Sun gave an answer that did not really help.
"This...is an autovac." Blake noted.
"It's a Schnee Dustbuster." Ruby corrected.
"A Weiss Schnee Dustbuster." Sun added.
"It's supposed to be really quiet." Ruby explained. "I thought maybe it wouldn't hurt your ears, and Sun wouldn't have to vacuum as much."
"Oh." Blake managed.
"Is it okay?" Ruby asked. There was such faint hope in her voice, Blake had to resist smiling. It was touching that after the events of the previous night, Ruby still cared for Blake's comfort.
"Yes Ruby, thank you, I appreciate this." Blake offered a small smile. Ruby's own magnified it. It was strange to feel that warmth again, the pride brought forth by a packmate's happiness...she chose not to dwell on the feeling, lest memories overcome her. Instead she focused on the box, slitting the tape with her nail and exposing the interior. Foam packaging surrounded the Buster, covered in yet more plastic. A harsh chemical smell pervaded Blake's senses. She pulled the device out, stripping the foul material and tossing it aside. That just left the ivory device in her lap.
"They said it comes charged already, and the charger is wireless as well." Ruby explained. "It just needs to be placed out of the way so we don't trip over it."
"Hmm." Blake acknowledged. She searched the packaging for a quick start menu. A minute later she placed the device on the floor and turned it on. She braced herself, ears folding down, but the expected whine did not come. The Buster hummed instead, and began to move around. It bumped into objects, learning the environment through trial and error. It was kind of cute, like a cub learning to walk.
"No pain?" Sun asked.
Blake smiled wider and shook her head. "Now you can clean the bathroom instead."
Sun groaned. The Buster ran into the coffee table. Ruby laughed.
When Ruby first arrived in Atlas, she had been exhausted. Between the chaos of scrambling to pack and the ordeal that had been the long flight, she had been left with little energy. Since then, she had not really had time to recharge. Work had been taxing, and life in Blake's apartment had been wrought with conflict. Now work was still tough, but at least she and Blake were getting along. That, combined with a night of carnal pleasure, an eye-popping paycheck and a fun shopping trip had given Ruby a boost of energy.
Ruby decided to channel that energy into exercise. It had been far too long since she had really worked out, and there was no good reason not to make use of the equipment sitting right there in the apartment. For a warmup, Ruby started off on the stationary bike. Before her accident she would have chosen the treadmill, but now she could not afford the high impact, not unless she wanted to wake up in agony the following morning. She sat down on the bike, set the resistance to medium, and pedaled for fifteen minutes. Having biked several theoretical kilometers, Ruby was ready to really get started.
Ruby began with the lighter lifts, using a multi-purpose machine to work out the smaller muscles in her arms and back. Next up were her triceps. She was always proud of how she demolished tricep exercises, even if most people were more interested in bicep curls. Those curls were next, followed by some rowing. After working on her core for a while, Ruby moved on to the grand finale, slipping into the seat of the bench press machine. She looked over at the weight stack, pondering how heavy she should set it. At her peak, she had been able to bench 100 kilos without too much of an issue. Sure, she could not do many reps at that weight, but it was impressive. She decided on 50 kg, a nice intermediate weight.
Ruby gripped the handles, took a few deep breaths, then began pumping the bar back and forth. She made it four reps before her arms refused to cooperate. It was disappointing to say the least. Just a few months earlier she could do dozens of reps at that weight, hardly breaking a sweat. It seemed the move had drained her more than she had thought. Ruby attempted another set, but only made it another three reps before her arms gave out. Getting back into shape was going to be harder than expected.
Ruby decided to forgo her usual post-workout cooldown walk on the treadmill. She was just too exhausted, her muscles burning with lactic acid. Instead she grabbed the rag and bottle of cleaning solution from the counter nearby and started wiping down the machines. It was something she did no matter where she was working out, but given Blake's firm insistence Ruby went the extra mile. Now was not the time to incur the Alpha's wrath, not when she was weak and exhausted. That was when predators always struck.
Ruby turned around to move the cleaning supplies back to the counter- "Hey." Blake greeted, suddenly standing just inches away.
"Gah….Blake...hey…" It took everything Ruby had not to scream and run away.
"Are you done or should I come back later?" Blake asked, seeming to take little note of Ruby's agitation.
"I just finished." Ruby replied. After a few deep breaths to calm herself down, she finally noticed that Blake was dressed to exercise - hair tied in a ponytail. She wore a snug orange tank top over a sports bra, with tight black sweatpants to round out the ensamble. "Hey, just a sec."
"What's up?" Blake responded.
"Can I uh...get a picture of you?" Ruby requested. "My family wants to see the girl who's dating their little boy."
Blake rolled her eyes. "Yeah, fine."
"Oh, good!" Ruby cheered. She grabbed her scroll from the counter and moved beside Blake, holding the device up for a selfie. "Smile!" Blake managed what could best be described as a small smirk as Ruby snapped the photo. "There. Like it?" Ruby showed the Faunus the screen.
Blake looked at herself. She looked...alright. "It's fine."
"Sweet." Ruby smiled. "I'll send it. Yang's gonna' be disappointed I didn't snap a pic of your butt in those pants."
"Don't even think about it." Blake warned, baring her fangs and extending her claws.
"I-I wasn't gonna' I-" Ruby stammered.
Blake's smile grew. "I'm just messing with you. But seriously, don't do it."
"O-oh, okay." Ruby laughed uneasily.
"Now go shower." Blake instructed.
"Right, I'll do that...um...have a good workout?" Ruby managed.
"I will." Blake grinned. Ruby grabbed her towel and rushed out of the room. Blake could not deny that she had grown quite fond of the little human. A part of her still hated the idea, but for now she chose to ignore it.
Stepping into the elevator, Ruby rubbed some remaining sleep from her eyes. "Good morning Ruby!" Penny's flanged voice chirped.
Ruby smiled up at the elevator camera. "Good morning Penny, how was your weekend?"
"Stimulating." Penny preened. "I cleaned and defragmented seventy three percent of my mainframe storage, followed by yet more research."
"Learn anything interesting?" Ruby inquired.
"Very much so." Penny replied. "Relations between Humans and Faunus are fascinating to observe."
Ruby chuckled at the irony. "Yeah, weird too."
"Weirdness precedes familiarity Ruby, and with familiarity comes affection." Penny mused.
"You have a point." Ruby admitted as the elevator came to a stop, softly chiming before the doors opened.
"Salutations!" Penny's voice came once more, this time from the screen attached to Ruby's desk. The same familiar ginger-haired avatar was there, but now fully animated, waving enthusiastically.
"Penny, you've upgraded!" Ruby cheered, giggling. It was absolutely adorable seeing the already cute chibi figure beaming and jumping around.
"As my avatar was received positively, I have been working on a more advanced animation system." Penny explained. "This avatar is a three dimensional model with faux cell shading to replicate the original aesthetic, but rendered in real time."
"You created your avatar yourself?" Ruby observed, surprised.
Penny's avatar looked bashful, clasping its little hands before it. "Employees express discomfort speaking to a disembodied voice. You yourself prefer speaking to me face to face, to the degree that this is possible. An avatar was the first step in enhanced relations. I am confident my advanced model will further ease tension born from interacting with virtual intelligence!"
Ruby circled the desk, sitting down and dropping her handbag into a drawer. She turned the screen so she could better see it. "I think it's working. It feels really good to see you moving around more...you have some lip syncing issues though."
"Bug report logged!" Penny announced. "Are there any other notable issues Ruby?"
"None so far, but I'll keep an eye out." Ruby answered.
"Thank you!" Penny paused. "Ms. Schnee has just entered the building."
Several minutes later, the elevator chimed again. Weiss indeed exited, dressed as impeccably as ever, not a hair out of place. She smiled at Ruby. "Good morning Ruby."
"Good morning Weiss!" Ruby cheered. "How was your weekend?"
"Relaxed, and yours?" Weiss responded.
"Eventful." Ruby smirked. "I got a lot of shopping done. I didn't expect my pay to be so…"
"Generous?" Weiss offered.
"I've never had that much money in my life." Ruby chuckled.
"Your position, both current and future is valued Ruby…" Weiss trailed off. "Penny?" She raised a questioning brow as she noticed Penny waving.
"Is my new animation acceptable Ms. Schnee?" Penny asked.
"It is certainly an improvement." Weiss nodded. "Though your lip syncing is a tad delayed."
"Bug report logged!" Penny announced. "Are there any other notable issues Ms. Schnee?"
"No, nothing noticeable." Weiss shook her head before turning back to Ruby. "Coco and Velvet will likely visit soon. Do send them in."
"Sure!" Ruby chirped. With a nod Weiss went on her way, the heavy door shutting and clicking locked behind her. "I wonder if she'll bring donuts today." Ruby addressed Penny, who giggled.
"It is likely." Penny suggested. "Ms. Scarlatina is a creature of habit. She very much dislikes deviating from routine."
"Uh, it's probably not a good idea to use creature to describe Velvet." Ruby advised. "She might take offense at that."
"Oh dear, you're right!" Penny clasped her tiny hands together, eyes shimmering. "That was not my intent. I apologize."
Ruby snickered, gods Penny was adorable. "It's okay Penny. You didn't mean it, and I don't think Velvet would really hold it against you. She seems cool."
"Perhaps, but ignorance does not excuse me entirely." Penny frowned, looking downcast. "I must be more vigilant of my words if I am to enhance relations. The Faunus have experienced enough defamation from humans, I would be ashamed to add virtual intelligence to that list."
"Sometimes I forget you are virtual Penny." Ruby noted. "You have a greater heart than a lot of humans."
Penny perked up at that. "My creator endeavored to program empathy into my system. I was intended to simulate kindness." Her bright green eyes gleamed with joy. "I hope I have made him proud."
"Is he not around anymore?" Ruby asked.
Penny shook her head, laying a hand across her heart. "Professor Polendina passed away several years after my creation, but before the completion of my development. I never had the opportunity to speak with him."
"Well in my opinion, I don't think you simulate kindness at all Penny, I think that's who you are." Ruby encouraged.
"It is who I was programmed to be." Penny stated.
"And my parents taught me to be kind." Ruby countered. "Do you think that means I simulate kindness?"
"But you are human." Penny protested. "It is natural to emulate those who raised you. I am synthetic. I have no mother or father."
"Professor Polendina was your father Penny." Ruby insisted. "Someone can't create someone as wonderful as you without love."
"Perhaps…" Penny's gaze grew distant for a time, before settling back on thoughtfulness. "But the fact remains that I am not human. No, everything I am is a simulation, an emulation of humanity. I am no more than my programming."
"You think because you don't have a squishy body you can't be human?" Ruby pressed.
"It certainly does not help." Penny replied.
"Well, for what it's worth Penny, I don't think it matters if you're human or not." Ruby declared. "You're my friend, and I don't consider you to be anything less than genuine." She praised. "And you can always be open with me. I promise I'll listen."
Penny smiled wide, pudgy face tinted pink. "I very much appreciate you Ruby. Thank you."
"I appreciate you too Penny, and not because you help me not suck at my job." Ruby chuckled. "That's just a bonus."
"I strive to help all those who come into my service Ruby." Penny explained. "It just so happens you are the first to devote time and attention to my own well being. Past my caretaker of course. Though Ms. Soleil finds her duties very dull, she is at times a fascinating individual."
"You'll have to introduce us someday." Ruby suggested.
"Should you ever attain clearance, I would be overjoyed to invite you both into my core." Penny smiled. Ruby blinked, coughing. "Are you well Ruby?"
"Uh, yes, just...never mind." Ruby struggled. "Just something on my mind. It's okay!"
"Very well." Penny responded. "For future reference, cough drops are on sale in vending machines on every floor, bar this one. They are also available from the cafeteria."
Ruby managed a smile. "I'll keep that in mind."
Not half an hour passed before Penny informed Ruby of Velvet and Coco's imminent arrival. Ruby set a fresh pot of coffee to brew and sat back at her desk to wait. The elevator chimed and the door opened.
"And I'll scalp that ridiculous orange hat he calls hair." Coco evidently finished to Velvet as they exited. Her scowl turned into a smile as she caught sight of Ruby. She looked so much better than she had the week prior. "Ruby Rose! Sorry about last week. Rough times, you probably saw it on the news." She burst out, loudly and cheerfully. Ruby blinked then smiled, immediately reminded of Yang's ever present cheer, the way she lit up a room simply by striding into it with a purpose. "I promise I'm usually only like that when I see a fashion disaster" She held her hand out to Ruby, who rose to take it.
"No harm done!" Ruby smiled. "It's nice to meet you properly. I hope I'm not too much of a disaster though." She gestured to her clothing. It was a little more casual than the week before. She had traded platforms for flats and wore less makeup. She had always hated the feeling. She never applied it as well as Yang, and it felt thicker by her own hand.
"Hmm, you're on the right track." Coco appraised. "Comfortable in the right places. You wearing boyshorts or panties?"
Ruby blinked again, opening her mouth to respond, but Velvet beat her to it. "Babe, reel it in." She scolded. "She's getting redder than her name."
"It's cute!" Coco defended, grinning. Yet another Yang-like expression. "Besides, boyshorts are smart. Save the lingerie for the bedroom. Lasts longer that way, and you're not constantly pulling it outta' your crack."
Ruby snickered, running a hand through her hair. She liked Coco already. "I got used to wearing boyshorts years ago. I used to be an athlete."
"Ah sports, I can't get enough of the uniforms." Coco smirked. "Sometimes Velv lets me dress her up and mnph!" Coco double fist pumped.
Velvet rolled her eyes, dropping a fresh box of donuts on the table. "Keep it up and I'll burn the next one."
"Ooh, hot." Coco joked.
"Hey Ruby." Velvet greeted, ignoring her mate. She quirked her head, fixing Ruby with a strange look. "Did you have a good weekend?"
"Yeah!" Ruby cheered. "Got a lot of shopping done, upgraded my roommate's scroll, adopted an autovac, started working out again. It was great!"
"Hmm…" Velvet hummed. Ruby felt oddly scrutinized, out of the ordinary. This time she was reminded of Blake, only far softer, and less glarey.
"Hey, you got anything planned for lunch?" Coco asked.
Ruby broke away from Velvet to answer. "Uh, it depends on how busy I am. But Monday wasn't that bad last week, so I'll probably just see what's on offer in the cafeteria."
"Why don't you come with me and Velv?" Coco offered. "There's a nice burrito place a few block away. My treat."
"Sure, I'll clear it with Weiss-" Ruby started.
"Ruby, who scratched you?" Velvet cut in.
Ruby jumped at Velvet's suddenly loud and stern voice. She turned back to Velvet, only to find she had circled the desk, catching a glimpse of her back.
"O-oh that, u-uh…" Ruby stammered, eyes wide as her face flushed a deep scarlet.
"Ruby, are you safe?" Velvet asked, kneeling down at the desk. "You can trust me. I've seen the signs before. Humans encountering an Alpha and being…" Velvet nodded her head to the side, eyes filled with sympathy.
"No!" Ruby blurted. "I mean yes, yes I'm fine. I'm more than fine. This isn't from...my Alpha." Ruby hastily clarified. "Blake has never touched me unless I asked her to...except this morning, kinda'. But that was fine, she just hugged me before I left for work."
Velvet let loose a breath of relief and laughed. "Sorry, it's just…" She stood, running a hand across her ears. They flattened before springing back up. "I've seen a lot. Humans and Faunus don't really mix sometimes, and you're…"
"You're small and cute, big meany Alphas might eat you up." Coco finally spoke up. "What happened?" She craned her neck to look at Ruby's back.
Ruby sighed, spinning in her chair to better present herself. She had thought the collar would hide everything, but two long scratches still peeked just enough that someone might notice them by taking a close look. "You ever heard of Sunrise?"
"Nightclub in Westlas?" Velvet asked.
"Westlas?" Ruby tilted her head. "Maybe...I still don't know the city too well. But yeah, I go there on Fridays, and last week I...uh...got a bit tipsy, and met a girl...a feline girl."
"Reow." Coco faux growled. "Looks like someone had fun."
"Or she didn't." Velvet frowned. "Did this girl treat you well?"
"From what I remember yeah." Ruby nodded. "She didn't hurt me on purpose...I...I did good is all." She trailed off, blushing once more.
Coco laughed, loud and sudden. "Oh I like you. Healthy break from the upper class twits who pretend to like Faunus because it's the in thing these days. You're a woman after my own heart."
"I try my best." Ruby managed.
Velvet chuckled. "I bought more strawberry donuts today, figu-"
Weiss' door opened, and the CEO hurriedly exited with a smile. "I'm sorry for the wait. Had a call that droned on."
"No worries, Coco was picking on your secretary." Velvet joked.
"Making up for lost time I see." Weiss smirked, resting a hand on her hip.
"She loves me." Coco grinned. "You love me don't ya' Red?"
"U-uh-" Ruby blinked. She was "Red" now?
"Down Coco." Weiss reprimanded. "Come inside before she melts from exposure."
"Yeah, yeah." Coco rolled her eyes. "See ya' later Red."
"Hey, don't forget a donut." Velvet snapped, opening the box.
"I just spent the weekend binging on junk food Velvet." Weiss almost whined.
"Yeah, not that you could tell." Coco poked Weiss in the rib.
Weiss hissed and slapped at Coco in return. "Ruby can have my share. Now come, we have work to discuss." With that Weiss returned to her office.
Coco made to follow, mocking to herself. "Good morning Coco, I missed you dearly Coco, my first love, my buddy of the butt variety-" A pen flew past her and she burst into laughter.
Velvet sighed, smiling. "You sure everything's fine?"
"Cross my heart." Ruby confirmed. "Blake only looks scary. She's just protective and...I found that out a little suddenly."
"If anything comes up, anything at all, you contact me, okay?" Velvet insisted.
Ruby nodded. "I promise."
The morning was fairly dull after Coco and Velvet. It was busier than the prior week, but otherwise uneventful. At one point she passed Ren, her polite wave being met by a small smile and nod of the head. It felt surprisingly good to receive the familiarity, like she was making a place for herself, like she belonged in this new and alien environment. She barely had to ask for directions anymore, leaving her interactions with Penny limited to more interesting topics. Today Penny wanted to know what color of clothing would be most pleasing to those who saw her avatar, or if she should change its hairstyle to something different. Ruby thought her current appearance was perfect.
Ruby's stomach began rumbling at some point. She satiated it with another donut, but not even an hour later it began grumbling for something more substantial. She looked around for a clock, but could not locate one. She had barely pulled out her scroll when a voice burst from behind.
"Heya' Red, catchya' sleepin'?" Coco bellowed.
Ruby spun around to find Coco's shaded visage grinning at her. "Gods Coco…" She sighed, clutching her chest to still her beating heart. "How'd you find me?"
"Penny told me, said you were finishing up." Coco explained.
"Oh yeah…" Ruby trailed off awkwardly. "Right, yeah, so uh, lunchtime?"
"My treat." Coco repeated. "Cleared it with Weiss. She flaked though, blah blah, too busy for her childhood friend." Coco shrugged. "I can't talk, I'm just as bad. Worse really. Doesn't matter anymore." She waved her hand away, smile barely slipping before it widened. Even through tinted glasses Ruby could see the gleam in her eyes. "Come one Red!" She wrapped an arm around Ruby's shoulders. "You're gonna' love this place. Velv's addicted to it. She only ever gets veggie crap though. Meat doesn't sit well with her. Oh, but don't bring it up or she gets pissy."
"Uh okay!" Ruby managed.
Coco basically steered Ruby into the elevator. It should have bothered Ruby, but to be honest it felt rather nice. Coco was not forceful. It was like when Ruby was a kid, walking along with Sun, nothing more than friends sharing physical contact. It was just another social barrier Coco barreled through without a care in the world.
The elevator halted at the lobby with a chime. "Enjoy your lunch Ruby!" Penny cheered. "And you Ms. Adel!"
"Thanks Penny." Coco smiled up at the camera. "Try to have a break of your own will you?"
"I will try my very best!" Penny announced.
Chuckling, Coco exited the elevator. "That voice just puts a pep in your step, doesn't it Honeybunny?" She greeted as they were met by a slightly grumpy looking Velvet.
Velvet's arms were crossed, foot tapping. "You said you would be five minutes...fifteen minutes ago."
"I said hey to Pyrrha on the way." Coco shrugged.
"Hey is a twenty second conversation...hi Ruby." Velvet looked to the girl, who still felt a little awkward.
"Hey Velvet, sorry if I kept you." Ruby apologized.
"It's this one's fault, not yours." Velvet poked Coco's stomach as she turned to walk. "Come on, I'm starving. Any longer and I'll eat somebody."
"Hawt." Coco drawled.
"Present company excluded." Velvet rolled her eyes.
"Boo, party pooper, Ruby is totally edible." Coco punctuated the statement with a light tap on Ruby's rear.
"Uh-" Ruby squeaked. "Coco!" She blushed, glancing around at nearby individuals to see only mild interest.
"Keep it in your pants Coco." Velvet roused. "We're still on company property."
"It's not my fault Weiss attracts cuties." Coco defended. "Besides, we just left. Hey Ruby, spank all the butts you see. Go wild!"
"Keep it mild guys, focus on the mission." Velvet sighed.
"I like mild." Ruby spoke up. "Then you can think about wild and it's more fun when you come across it."
"Oooh, there's a story there." Coco grinned back at Ruby, tilting her glasses down to reveal deep brown eyes.
Ruby smirked. "Maybe I'll tell you...if you behave."
"Hah!" Coco burst. "I make no promises."
The burrito place was not much of a walk away, and it was neither uphill nor down. In all the stroll provided a pleasant bit of exercise. Velvet had long legs however. She strode before Ruby and Coco at a distance that Coco was only barely interested in closing. She seemed content to walk by Ruby's side. Arriving at the restaurant, it almost felt out of place. It was nestled between two larger establishments with far cushier, pristine decors. This hole in the wall was clean but homey, cramped but cozy, and most importantly, the smell was thick and mouth watering.
"Hey Red." Coco laughed. "Close your mouth before you catch flies."
Ruby felt a finger poke at her cheek and she snapped out of her daze. Her stomach rumbled loudly at the intoxicating scent - fresh meat, spices and a variety of cooked and cooking ingredients wafting through the air. Someone was gaining several pounds today. Approaching the teller, Velvet called for her usual, a bean and rice vegan burrito with extra salsa. Ruby chose barbeque chicken. Those two found themselves a booth while Coco stayed behind to make sure her order was done right.
"Whoa." Ruby breathed as Coco set her order down on the table. Nestled in a foil bowl lay what could only be described as a burrito that had eaten another burrito.
"Seriously?" Velvet laughed.
"Muh baby." Coco joked as she took her seat beside Velvet. "My delicious, juicy, meaty baby."
"How are you even gonna' eat that?" Ruby wondered, taking a bite of her own meal.
"I am going to put it in my mouth." Coco deadpanned.
"It's definitely big enough." Velvet teased.
"Gotta' be for this award winning grin." Coco smiled wide and bright. "So Ruby, engineer huh?"
"Uh yeah, well I was supposed to be." Ruby nodded.
"Mmm." Coco lifted the monstrous burrito, and true to her word took a massive bite. "Mng gods dis is gud." She moaned blissfully before swallowing. "Never met an engineer so young. Pyrrha plucked you right outta' uni right?"
"Yeah, it was really a shock." Ruby replied. "I thought maybe I'd get something small somewhere, maybe wouldn't be taken that seriously...instead I was told I'd be working for the biggest company in the world." She shrugged. By now it almost seemed as normal as she made it sound. "It's only been a few weeks since then."
"So what, you got hired and like a week later you were here?" Coco asked.
"Yeah, it all happened really fast." Ruby confirmed.
"And then your job got delayed, bet that was scary." Coco suggested.
"Oh gods, don't remind me, I nearly had a panic attack." Ruby groaned. "A continent away, barely enough money to last a week, and I get told that I'm a month early now? I don't know how I kept it together."
"I reckon there's a point where you're so scared shitless you aren't really scared at all." Velvet mused.
"Like the eye of the shitstorm." Coco added.
"Pyrrha said you were getting paler and paler." Velvet continued. "She thought you were gonna' pass out."
"I'm just thankful it's working out." Ruby managed a smile. "I was a bit shocked to meet Weiss on my first day though."
"Oh yeah, I bet that was an experience." Coco smirked. "How was the first impression?"
"She was angry about someone called...Cardin?" Ruby remembered.
"Winchester, asshole head of security." Velvet nodded.
"Racist blue blood prick." Coco sneered. "Weiss' father gave him a sweetheart contract, so Weiss can't fire him without valid cause."
"Being racist isn't enough?" Ruby pressed.
"He's racist, but good enough at his job that there's no real reason to get rid of him." Velvet explained. "He doesn't act up often. He knows Weiss has her eye on him. He used to target me, I think it's the ears. They always draw attention." Velvet twitched one for emphasis. "I can deal with the attention, it's the pulling I have an issue with."
"And if he ever touches them again, I'm going to literally murder the bastard." Coco smiled through her teeth, reaching over to lightly stroke one of the appendages.
Velvet sighed, leaning into the touch. "Reign it in babe, you have a career to salvage."
"Fuck my career, you're more important." Coco ended with a light scritch around the base. "I'm making up for lost time."
"We'll lose even more time if you keep pulling moves like that." Velvet warned.
"I like the sound of that." Coco grinned, returning to her burrito. "Weiss likes you ya' know? Says you make great coffee."
"I try my best...Penny says you're longtime friends with Weiss." Ruby responded.
"Longest time friend, followed by Velv we're basically family, nearly literally once." Coco boasted.
"Literally?" Ruby quirked her brow.
"Yeah, our families wanted us to marry one day, combine business empires and such." Coco grimaced. "They penned us together and told us to get along. It was a rough start." She smiled fondly. "But once we stopped resenting each other and started talking, we got along really well. But then I started acting out and it wasn't socially acceptable for us to be together. Did it anyway, just in secret."
"You were together together?" Ruby was taken aback.
"We were, 'til things changed." Coco waved her hands over herself. "Better to have a strong friendship for life than a crazy relationship for however long it lasts before burning out. We're volatile people Ruby, penning us up together for too long causes trouble. We need people to keep us grounded. Weiss has Pyrrha and Ren." She slid her arm around Velvet, flashing a sappy grin. "And I have Velv, thanks to Weiss."
"Weiss introduced us." Velvet explained.
"Took her long enough." Coco snickered.
"Because we weren't really friends for the first few years." Velvet excused. "Weiss and I met when she was appointed head of what was at the time known as the Faunus Assistance Program."
"FAP." Coco laughed, receiving a nudge for her trouble.
"It was a response to the Fang's protests, a publicity stunt really, but we did what we could with what little power we had." Velvet continued. "I'd been working there for a year when suddenly we get told Weiss Schnee, heiress of the SDC was taking over, just like that." She clicked her fingers for emphasis.
"Why did that happen?" Ruby inquired.
"Because she asked to be." Velvet replied. "Said she went to her father and pitched it like the program was wasted PR potential, that we could be better utilized with her name and power attached to us." She chuckled. "Truth was she was just trying to make a difference."
"Clever bitch, lied to Jacques Schnee's face and got away with it." Coco laughed. "The asshole was always too overconfident for his own good. Probably why he's dead."
"Anyway, we were called into a meeting." Velvet resumed the story. "It was a massive waste of time. Everyone was either scared or angry, and here comes Weiss, manila folder in hand, nervous as shit, and says straight up 'I'm aware of the sudden change, but I promise I am not here to cause disruption. My name is Weiss, and if you will have me, I'd like to work alongside you.'"
"As if you had any say in the matter." Coco jabbed.
"That's what we thought, but now I think she would have made good on her word either way." Velvet admitted. "Her first move was to change the name to Faunus Outreach Program, so her first impression was a good one. FOP wasn't great, but it was infinitely better than FAP. She asked me for help after, said she knew what she wanted to do, but not how to do it...I like to think that was the start of our friendship, but back then there was still a massive divide. I was a Faunus in Atlas, she was heiress to the SDC. It just seemed impossible, and I kept waiting for the hammer to fall, ya' know? The rug to get pulled out from under us, but it never came. Things actually got better, slowly, but still surely...and then she became CEO, and things just took off."
"It was around then Weiss finally introduced us, and even then it was basically by accident." Coco reminisced.
"Big miss barge into the office with a bag of clothes." Velvet nudged.
"Excuse you, it was luggage, and I nearly bit off some douchnozzle's hand when he went to search it." Coco huffed.
"Coco made a great first impression." Velvet rolled her eyes.
"I made a few good first impressions…" Coco leered, waggling her brows.
"Eat your baby Coco, before it gets cold." Velvet deadpanned.
"Eh, I can always make another one." Coco laughed, obeying nonetheless. "Sho, no one shpeshal in your life Wed?"
"Not really." Ruby admitted. "I liked Neon but...I don't think anything will happen there."
"Plenty of fish in the sea." Velvet encouraged.
"Not many fish Faunus though." Coco joked.
"They are a rare breed." Velvet grinned.
"I wonder if they taste diff-" Coco started.
Velvet slapped her partner's shoulder. "Stop."
"Aw, Honeybun, I was only curious." Coco pouted. "Hey Ruby, if I hook you up can you let me know?"
"Uh-" Ruby managed.
"You're unbelievable." Velvet grumbled.
"I know, right?" Coco preened. "Absolutely unimaginable. I'm just too hot!"
"Hot headed." Velvet jabbed.
"You love my hot head." Coco smirked.
"Ugh, I'm going to the bathroom." Velvet groaned. She stood to slide out of the booth, squeezing past Coco. "Calm your head down before I get back."
"No promises!" Coco laughed, staring at her girlfriend's rear as she walked away. "Red, make sure your next partner has a great ass."
"I'm usually too busy looking at their chest." Ruby chuckled.
"Ooh, tits gal huh?" Coco perked up.
"I guess." Ruby shrugged.
"I guess...you gay or bi?" Coco asked.
"Bi." Ruby answered. It was probably one of the few things in her life of which Ruby was sure. Male of female, she had never really preferred one or the other. They both had their ups and downs.
"Best answer, best of both worlds." Coco cheered. "Guys have washboard abs down-pat, but the hips on gals, mph!" She fist pumped. "Hey, here's a quiz, what's your comfort clothing?"
"Uh...like, hanging out?" Ruby asked.
"Alone in you room, you don't give a damn what anyone thinks, you just wanna' feel comfortable." Coco confirmed.
"Oh, hoodie and boyshorts." Ruby answered.
"No bra?" Coco pressed.
"No bra." Ruby nodded.
"Alright, going out shopping?" Coco moved on.
"Singlet, hoodie, skinny jeans and flats, or boots...but I need to get new boots." Ruby rambled.
"What kinda' boots?" Coco inquired.
"Lace up knee highs." Ruby replied.
"Black?" Coco suggested.
"Yeah." Ruby confirmed.
"Studded?" Coco added.
"Yeah." Ruby responded.
"How do you feel about lace?" Coco asked.
"I like it." Ruby stated.
"Skirts?" Coco continued.
"I like 'em short." Ruby smirked.
"Corsets?" Coco was almost bursting with glee.
"Pretty, but expensive." Ruby sighed.
Coco grinned, lowering her head to rest on her hands. "Closet goth?"
"Yeah...it was a phase." Ruby admitted, somewhat mournfully. A pair of worn boots in the corner of her room were the last remnants of what she thought was her identity at one point.
"Pfft, phases." Coco scoffed. "Phases like the moon? Those pass, yeah, then they come again. You really want it to just be a phase?"
Ruby was surprised at the sudden change in tone. Coco was not being blase about this, and to be honest Ruby appreciated having someone to talk to about it. Because no, she never wanted it to be a phase. "I wanted it to be who I was, I felt comfortable dressing like that...but everyone either laughed or looked at me funny. Even Yang thought it was silly, but at least she didn't really say anything."
"I think you'd have looked beautiful." Coco encouraged. "Do you have any pictures?"
"No." Ruby smiled. "But thank you for thinking that."
"I can see it anyway, black and red, white top, cute corset, frilly skirt, stockings to show off those legs." Coco worked herself up. "You're giving me ideas Red."
"It's a bit cold for stockings." Ruby noted.
"Leggings are always an option." Coco suggested. "It's more about the curves than showing skin, and curves are what catch the eye." She winked.
"Maybe...when I get a few more paychecks I might look around." Ruby thought aloud.
"I'll show you a few good places." Coco volunteered.
"I'd appreciate that Coco." Ruby thanked her.
"Gimmie' your scroll, I'll give you my number." Coco reached out.
"Oh, sure." Ruby dug around in her purse, unlocking and placing the device in Coco's waiting hand."
"Hey!" Coco exclaimed. "You know Yatsuhashi?"
"Uh...the big Mistrali guy who watches the employee entrance most of the time?" Ruby asked.
"Isn't he cute?" Coco grinned.
"He's kinda' nice, a bit scary though." Ruby admitted.
"I can give you his number." Coco offered.
"Uh…" Ruby hesitated.
"He's really sweet!" Coco encouraged before shifting to a whisper. "And I heard he's packing." She winked.
Ruby blinked, then turned bright red, hiding her face. "Oh gods Coco, now I'm not gonna' be able to look him in the eye!"
"It's not his eyes you've gotta' look at." Coco smirked.
"Nnnnnnngh!" Ruby whined.
"I'm gonna' put you down as a maybe." Coco chuckled.
Ruby let her head drop onto the table, just as Velvet returned. She looked from the collapsed girl to her mate with a blank stare. "What did you do to her?"
Coco finished saving the contacts in Ruby's scroll. "Matchmaking."
After knocking on the apartment door, Ruby unlocked it and pushed inside. To her surprise and relief, the apartment was relatively silent, only the dull sound of the shower droning down the hall. She sighed, heading for her room, lazily kicking off her shoes before flopping face first onto tbe bed. She buried her face in the new blanket she had purchased over the weekend. It was soft, imitation mink, black with a lovely big rose in the middle. It was like destiny that she had come across it, on special even!
Ruby's phone vibrated, but her purse lay discarded too far away for her to care. She hoped it was not something important...she really hoped it was not something important. Things were going smoothly again. Right now she just wanted to change into some comfy clothes and lounge around without a care in the world. No pain to bother her, no duties to attend to, no anxiety to hold at bay. Just Ruby, alone with her existence.
It was kind of lonely.
Ruby was not used to being alone. She had always had Yang or Zwei by her side, and either Summer or Tai would be around depending on the time of day. She never felt wanting for someone to be with, but right now all she could focus on was that Blake and Sun were leaving, and she would be alone again, all night.
Maybe Ruby should actually text Coco. She seemed nice. It helped that she reminded Ruby a lot of Yang - loud, proud and unashamed of her sexuality. She would probably be less crushing in a hug though. But Coco was the former CEO of a fashion company. Yes, former CEO, but Ruby could not help but feel intimidated by that. Do you really just text someone who probably still has enough money to buy your family home, demolish it, and rebuild it without breaking a sweat? What if Coco thought she was only after her friendship because of her money? Or her status? What if she messed up and made Coco angry, which would make Velvet angry, and Weiss, and probably Pyrrha too. All those bridges burned and her career over before it even began.
Ruby's head hurt. She really needed something to drink. Just as the thought passed through her mind, two firm taps on the door rung out. "Come in." Ruby called, rolling over to pull herself upright.
The door opened and Blake stood in the doorway. "We're going. How are you feeling?"
"Tired, today was weird." Ruby replied.
"Weird?" Blake pressed.
"Yeah, Velvet was looking at me funny this morning." Ruby explained. "Then she found my scratches and thought something bad happened to me." Blake tensed, skin paling. "Then we had lunch with Coco, who's also really nice. It just felt weird sitting with someone so big as if it was nothing."
"What do you mean by something?" Blake asked sternly.
"She thought you did it." Ruby answered. "She said she'd seen the signs before, humans who had bad relationships with Alphas. I told her you'd never do that, you've only touched me when I asked you to." Ruby assured. "Are the scratches really that bad?"
Blake heaved a sigh, leaning against the doorframe to rub her eyes. "The scratches alone weren't the issue." Blake explained. "I marked you this morning, with my scent. You smell like me, like Alpha. Other Faunus would smell you and know you are marked as kin, under my protection." She grimaced. "Or in this case, seemingly my mate."
Ruby blinked, brows shooting upward. "Your mate? Velvet thinks I'm your mate?"
Sun chose the moment to duck into the room. "Think love bites Ruby. You showed up to work with love bites and someone else's perfume on."
"Ooh...why didn't you tell me you marked me?" Ruby asked.
"I didn't think you'd mind." Blake shrugged.
"I don't mind Blake." Ruby responded. "I just want to know these things in case they come up. You know, like if one of my few sorta' friends happens to deal with Human/Faunus relations for a living?"
"Alright, I'm sorry." Blake sighed. "I'll come in tomorrow and make sure she understands."
"What!?" Sun spluttered. "What ever happened to I'll step foot in the SDC when it's rubble?"
"I found a better reason than visiting your dumbfuck friends." Blake growled.
"They're not dumbfucks!" Sun protested.
"I have twenty videos that prove otherwise." Blake insisted. "The least of which involve a suction cup dildo."
Ruby snorted. "What?"
"Hey, they work all day." Sun threw up his hands. "They can goof off every once in a while."
"There's goofing off, and there's a fucking miracle that they haven't been fired yet." Blake grumbled. "I thought the SDC had higher standards."
"If you spent five minutes giving them a chance-" Sun started.
"I'd lose an ear." Blake cut him off. "Goodnight Ruby, sleep well." She bid before leaving.
Sun scoffed, grinning. "You alright?"
"Yeah, just tired." Ruby replied. "I might have an early night."
"Alright." Sun nodded. "Hey, tomorrow I'll meet you at lunchtime. I'm gonna visit Neptune and the boys. You could come along if you're not busy."
"Maybe, we'll see what happens." Ruby smiled. "G'night Sun."
"G'night Ruby." Sun waved, closing the door as he left.
Ruby sighed, shrugging off her button-up, flinging it into the corner followed by her singlet. Then, with a satisfied groan, she removed her bra. Gods she hated wearing anything firmer than a sports bra. She did not know how Yang stood it. Perhaps it was the satisfaction of removing it at the end of the day that drove her. Her scroll chimed, twice in succession, and she finally gave in, sliding to the floor and crawling to her bag. Pulling her scroll free, it showed texts from two people. The first was Yang, which was unsurprising. The second gave her pause.
"Big Choc: Reeeeeeeed, Velv won't pay attention to me! I'm bored"
Caught between surprise and amusement, Ruby flopped back onto the bed, flicking to Yang's messages. It was not too dissimilar.
"Yang: I miss my Ruboo"
Ruby snickered, rolling her eyes at the name. It seemed at least she was not lacking for attention. Maybe it did not matter that she was physically alone. Maybe she needed to focus more on socializing with the people she knew. "Big Choc...pfft." She laughed at the name Coco had entered for herself. Coco definitely did not take herself too seriously, which was not hard to know already. Maybe she should put her in contact with Yang someday...maybe Coco was taking the first step for her, in case she had cold feet. And Ruby did like Coco. She should try to treat her like any other. Maybe Coco did not have many close friends either. She did say it was hard to find genuine people in Atlas. The only way to know for sure was to try, but first she had to reply to Yang.
"Ruby: I miss my Yangarang."
Family comes first after all. She shifted to Coco's text.
"Ruby: That meanie :("
It still felt weird just stepping into the role of a friend, as if she had always been there.
"Big Choc: I'm wasting away! If I don't get fed attention I shrivel and die D:"
But it felt damn good to be there.
Tuesday started much the same as the prior day, though this time Blake hesitated before hugging Ruby. It was a surprise, but a comforting one. Ruby was not averse to the idea of being marked for protection. It was not like a tattoo or scar, it was not a sign of ownership. It was a gift. Where Yang had once protected her physically, Blake would protect her from afar. In the same way it made her feel safer, less alone, surrounded though she may be by newfound friends. It was nice to feel cared for, even if it was in a new and alien way.
Coco texted Ruby a selfie as the girl boarded the subway. The image depicted Coco holding a coffee tray with two cups in her free hand. Velvet sipped her own beverage in the background, brow raised as she stared at the camera lens.
"Big Choc: Gotchya a hot choc, hurry up and it might still be warm!"
Ruby smiled, warmth filling her chest, mouth watering as she imagined the taste of fresh cocoa on her tongue...oh, that sounded weird in her head.
"Ruby: omw 15 min!"
It only took ten minutes for Ruby to reach her stop, and another three to speed walk out and across the street to the SDC. There was a dull ache forming in her leg by the time she found Coco. "Hey Red!" Coco greeted loudly. Velvet flinched beside her, jerking her head away from Coco's shoulder. "Oh, sorry Honeybun." Coco apologized, pecking her girlfriend on the cheek.
"Loudmouth." Velvet grumbled. "Hey Ruby." She pulled Ruby's cup on the tray and handed it to her.
"Hey Coco, hey Velvet, thanks!" Ruby accepted the cup, taking a small sip. It was still hot, but not painfully so - perfect timing. "Uh, minor thing. Blake wanted to talk to you."
"Oh?" Velvet quirked an ear, taking another sip of her drink.
"Yeah, I mentioned yesterday to her and she got really concerned." Ruby explained. "She wants to make sure you understand."
"She's very traditional, isn't she?" Velvet suggested.
"Yeah, apparently." Something occurred to Ruby in that moment. "Do I uh...smell strong?"
Velvet laughed. "You smell like Feline, and Alpha, and a little bit of sex." Velvet replied. "But to most it just means tread lightly."
"Sounds like a badass." Coco cut in."
"She sounds overprotective." Velvet corrected.
"She's just...Blake." Ruby shrugged "You'll understand when you meet her, if that's okay?"
"Of course it's okay." Velvet agreed. "I take your word for it, but it'll be nice to know who's taking care of my friend."
Ruby smiled at that. She did not think Velvet had called her that before now. "I've never really had many friends before."
"How come?" Coco asked. "Charming thing like you shoulda' been a star."
"I just never really socialized much." Ruby defended. "It's not like I was alone! I had Yang, and Sun-"
"Wukong?" Velvet interrupted, incredulous. "Simian Faunus guy?"
"Yeah?" Ruby nodded, confused.
Velvet laughed, running a hand over her ears. They flattened then popped back up as soon as her hand had passed. "That guy keeps showing up at IT and causing a fuss. Those guys are bad enough as is. He's like fuel to the fire."
"But he pisses off Cardin, so Weiss won't ban him." Coco added.
"How did he do that?" Ruby asked.
"Aside from being a Faunus?" Coco scoffed.
"He's just not intimidated by him." Velvet replied. "I remember reading the report: shifty, overly cheerful, suspected terrorist threat."
"The only thing Sun could terrorize is my dog." Ruby chuckled.
"Why haven't we hung out with this guy?" Coco inquired.
"Because he comes by once a week at most, and I only know him from the security footage and incident reports." Velvet answered.
"Laaaaame." Coco complained. "Let's have lunch together. He coming too?"
"Yeah!" Ruby cheered. "He's actually Blake's partner."
"Ah, that explains the sex smell." Coco snickered, receiving a slap on the shoulder from her own partner.
"You don't smell like sex Ruby." Velvet insisted. "You smell like Alpha. Don't worry about it."
"Won't I freak other people out?" Ruby worried.
"You might get a second look or two, but it's not really too out of the ordinary, really." Velvet assured.
"Oh, good then." Ruby sighed in relief. "I'd better head up before Weiss gets here. Thanks for the hot chocolate! I really appreciate it."
"Anytime Red." Coco smiled. "Hey, we're getting everyone pizza for lunch. What do you guys like?"
"Uh, cheese and garlic for me, meatlovers for Sun, and...I don't actually know for Blake." Ruby replied. "I'll ask."
"Go, get a move on then." Velvet advised. "We'll keep Weiss occupied for a while."
"Alright, alright, thanks." Ruby waved as she headed for the checkpoint. "Talk to you guys later!" She stopped short at the sight of Cardin. "Oh...shit."
Sun glanced at Blake as they crossed the courtyard, a strange look on her face as she stared at the glass doors ahead. "You sure you're alright?" He asked.
Blake barely paused to glance back. "Entirely." She said sternly.
"Are your ears aching at all?" Sun checked the appendages, hidden beneath a tight beanie, beneath which they were also covered with a bow. Paranoid by nature, Blake rarely ventured into public openly, doing so only in disguise unless they were heading to Sunrise. Currently she looked very...punk. Her hair was in a plait, purple beanie on top, grey hoodie and black skinny jeans. While not entirely far from what she would normally wear, it made her look a lot smaller than usual. With no hair flowing over her shoulders, no ears standing alert, it was an effective disguise. She even wore lipstick. She never wore lipstick.
"No Sun." Blake sighed. "Just go ahead, I want to try something."
"Uh, good something?" Sun asked.
"Experiment something." Blake clarified...almost. "Trust me." She stopped, raising a questioning brow ah her partner, who shrugged.
"You know I do." Sun waved away, continuing onward. He was used to dealing with Cardin, classic bully defense. If they cannot hurt you, they never win, and Sun chose the most effective execution of such a tactic as he reached the checkpoint. "Winchester! Buddy! How's the wife treatin' ya'?" He greeted, spreading his arms as if to hug the man.
Cardin merely scowled, raising his detector wand to jab Sun in the chest. "You keep your ass in line Wukong. I'm tired of getting complaints about you."
"Complaints?" Sun gasped, mock flabbergasted. "About me? Who would do such a thing?"
"Me, for one, and everyone else whose time you waste with your presence...you know the drill." He pointed to the tray beside the metal detector. Sun followed the usual instructions, wallet and keys out. The detector still beeped as he went through. He caught sight of Ruby across the lobby, though her attention was elsewhere. "Arms up Wukong." Cardin commanded. Sun obeyed, letting the man run the wand over his body until it started beeping...over his crotch.
"Need me to take off my pants too?" Sun smirked.
Cardin glared. "Don't piss anyone off Wukong. Keep your tail out of everyone's way."
"Don't need to tell me twice...or was that the thirtieth time?" Sun snarked, gathering his belongings and heading forward.
Ruby finally turned to Sun as he approached, and hugged him. "Hey Sun, get through unscathed?"
"As much as usual." Sun shrugged. "It's Blake I'm worried abo...what the fuck…" Sun turned to a shocking, alien and disturbing sight. Blake had approached Cardin, and with the demeanor of a nervous schoolgirl, was chatting with him...and smiling. All her prior tension was gone, replaced by something that just did not compute.
"Uh...is that Blake?" Ruby asked, incredulous.
"Last I checked." Sun mumbled.
Blake surrendered her wallet and keys, stepping through the detector. It of course went off again. Blake blushed, looking guiltily up at Cardin, who smirked at her. She said something, shrugging before gesturing at her chest, grasping her breasts through the thick hoodie and pushing them up. Cardin laughed, running the wand over them as Blake giggled. They exchanged a few more words and he stood aside, Blake collecting her things and walking backwards. Cardin waved as she backed away. As soon as Blake turned around, Ruby saw the vapid smile fall from her face, replaced with a self satisfied smirk.
"Oh." Sun huffed.
"Uh-" Ruby started.
"Ruby, act like we're meeting for lunch." Blake quietly instructed.
"We are though-" Ruby tried to speak again before Blake quickly pulled her into an embrace before guiding her forward, heading toward the elevators at the back of the lobby.
"The less he questions us the better." Blake noted.
"What was that?" Ruby asked.
"Catfish." Sun replied.
"That's online idiot." Blake grumbled.
"That was fucking unnatural is what that was." Sun observed.
"Ugh, I feel like I need a shower." Blake shuddered.
"But why though?" Ruby pressed.
"Just testing your security." Blake answered.
"What did he miss?" Sun asked as they group reached the elevator, pressing the button to call it down.
"Boot knife." Blake tapped her foot for emphasis.
"You have a-" Ruby started before Blake's nails dug into her shoulder and cut off the outburst. "Blake...I could lose my job." She managed, a little more calmly than she felt.
"You won't lose your job, because you are not at fault." Blake stated. "Winchester is."
"I still know about it!" Ruby protested.
"You knew about the infiltration testing I was conducting?" Blake asked.
"Infilwhat?" Ruby spluttered.
"I worked in security once Ruby." Blake explained. "Infiltration was something we were trained to root out. Evidently he was not. He took the act, hook, line and sinker. Disgusting, typical male."
"Hey, I'm right here!" Sun protested.
"And we're all thankful for your company." Blake drawled. The elevator chimed, doors opening to reveal an empty interior. They entered, Sun pressed a button, and the doors closed.
"Blake, what kind of pizza do you like?" Ruby asked. "Coco's ordering for everyone."
"Meatlovers." Blake replied.
"Huh, okay." Ruby quirked her brow.
"You thought anchovy, didn't you?" Sun accused.
"Uh...Penny!" Ruby quickly changed gears. "We're just taking a detour to IT. Can you tell Coco what pizza to get Blake?"
"Of course Ruby." Penny answered. "Shall I inform you when the pizza arrives?"
"Sure, thanks Penny!" Ruby cheered.
"You are very welcome Ruby!" Penny responded.
"You've never mentioned Penny." Blake noted.
"Penny is...not really well known?" Ruby shrugged. "Penny, am I allowed to talk about you?"
"If you trust your friends, I trust your friends." Penny replied.
"Thanks Penny." Ruby smiled at the camera. "Penny is a virtual intelligence. She helps out with a lot of things, but it's kinda' a big deal."
Blake glanced up at the camera, before looking down, eyes glaring. "She listens to everyone, all the time?"
"Yes, so try not to talk about my love life, okay?" Ruby joked.
"I am forbidden to spread gossip Ruby, and all conversations I overhear remain confidential." Penny declared. "In addition, I find spreading secrets distasteful."
"And we love you for it." Ruby chuckled. "What's the situation in IT by the way?"
"Hmm...questionable." Penny managed.
"That seems fitting." Blake jabbed.
"Sounds like the boys got started without me." Sun grinned.
"I do not believe the employee guidelines specify the allowance of such tomfoolery." Penny indicated.
"Tomfoolery?" Ruby asked.
"I have been attempting to diversity my repertoire of slang." Penny explained.
"Ah." Ruby nodded.
"Repertoire?" Sun quirked his brow.
"I'm shocked your tongue could handle it." Blake teased.
"You would know what my tongue could-ooph!" Sun was interrupted by the back of Blake's hand impacting his stomach. The elevator came to a halt with a chime, and the door opened.
"I still haven't come to IT, so this is kinda' exciting." Ruby expressed as they stepped off.
"Oh don't worry, it'll only get better." Sun laughed.
Blake scoffed. "Yes, if you ignore the definition of better and make up your own."
"Oh you're just mad because of the carpet." Sun waved her off.
"No I'm-" Blake started, interrupted as Ruby yelped. A flesh colored object flew past the group, impacting the hallway wall and sticking there as a cheer rang through the door from whence it had come. The group beheld the object gently bobbing to a stop. "...not...do they consider that sizeable?" Blake asked, staring at the rubber dong. Ruby snickered.
"Someone lost a bet." Sun explained, peering around the corner. "Oi! Who's buyin' today!" He called, stepping out as the coast was clear.
"Sage!" Came one voice.
"Lucky shit." Came another grumbled response, Sage evidently.
"Sun, you shit, why didn't you say you were coming?" A tall, blue-haired man walked down a hall of cubicles with a grin. He was dressed in a vibrant red collared shirt, tastefully unbuttoned with the sleeves rolled past his elbows. He stuck out like a sore thumb.
"I wanted it to be a surprise!" Sun defended. "And it was kinda' spur of the moment." Sun stepped aside to reveal Ruby, who waved. The man quirked a brow.
"Well hello there miss- Blake!" The man froze as Blake stepped out after Sun.
"Neptune." Blake growled.
"Uh hey!" Neptune scrambled. "Welcome to the office...uh, what are you doing here?"
"Intruding." Blake replied.
"Uhuh...well, uh, you must be Ruby right?" Neptune finally reached the trio, holding his hand out for Ruby to take, shaking it.
"Yep, that's me." Ruby confirmed. "And you're Neptune?"
"Yeah that's me, heh." Neptune nodded. "But I bet Sun and Blake have told you all about me."
"Something about a carpet?" Ruby shrugged.
"Yes, my oldest possession." Blake glared.
"We did pay for that." Neptune noted.
"You owe emotional damages." Blake suggested.
"For a rug." Neptune scoffed.
"I liked that rug." Blake insisted.
"Alright, how about this, you take something of ours?" Neptune offered. "We've got a lot of stuff laying around from...well product testing technically." Blake looked pointedly at the rubber dong, then at Neptune with a blank expression. "We have bigger."
"Product testing?" Ruby questioned.
"Yeah." Neptune answered. "I have a friend there, and the stuff they test either gets trashed, stored or taken by employees anyway. He lets us come look around sometimes."
"Just how much stuff does the SDC test?" Ruby asked.
Neptune blew air out his mouth and smirked. He stepped to the side and gestured further into the room. "Step into my office and see for yourself."
Ruby glanced at Blake, whose blank stare barely shifted as she took the lead, shrugging. Ruby followed, heading past the cubicles until they reached a door. Beyond was a room that had once been much like the one preceding it, but now had cubicles at the walls, with an island of tables in the middle. At least that was what Ruby could make out, as every available surface was covered in all manner of monitors, computers, peripherals and nicknacks. The entire room was a mess, a glorious colorful mess of technology and nerdom.
"Oh my gods is that a life-sized Crescent Rose?!" Ruby half whispered, half squealed as she beheld an oversized anime prop hanging on the wall.
"Yeah, they were experimenting with materials for the limited run, and sage brought the big metal one." Neptune explained. "Weighs like a ton, I don't know why he took it."
"I was drunk." Said a well built, dark skinned man with green hair. He sat in the corner, lacing up a pair of combat boots as he spoke.
"He was drunk." Neptune thumbed in his direction. "That's Sage by the way. He's picking up lunch today." Sage flipped the bird, Neptune ignoring him to point at another man. "Red and lanky over there is Scarlett. He's pretty useless. We have two girls up here but they run for the hills whenever lunch comes around."
"My heart bleeds for them." Blake muttered as she examined a shelf full of figurines. Many were scantily clad anime characters. "It's like a teenager's wet dream in here."
"We get a lot of statues and shit." Neptune noted. "We don't even want 'em really. They just spice up the place, make it feel less like a work environment."
"Because who wants to work for a living?" Blake deadpanned.
"Exactly." Neptune nodded.
"Why are so many of these Faunus?" Blake asked, plucking one of the statuettes from the shelf. It was a bright blue eyed maid with furry brown fox ears poking from her wavy hair.
"Because the big animation houses are in Menagerie and Mistral." Neptune replied.
"Hmm...this is acceptable compensation." Blake expressed, examining her prize.
Neptune shrugged. "Alright then. So what are you guys doing for lunch?"
"Coco's buying us pizza…" Ruby dug around in her purse for her scroll, pulling it free to check her notifications.
"Big Choc: Pizzas served get it while its hawt!"
"Oh crap, I had it on silent." Ruby whined. "We gotta' go before it gets cold."
"Wait, Coco Adel?" Neptune pressed.
"Yeah, we're kinda' friends." Ruby confirmed.
"You're kinda' friends with Coco Adel and she's buying you all lunch?" Neptune looked to Sun. "Coco Adel is buying you lunch?"
"Hey, what can I say, I made an impression." Sun shrugged.
"How?!" Neptune demanded.
"Beats me." Sun admitted.
"Shall we leave then?" Blake suggested.
"Yeah, I better let you go then...Sage, come on man we're starving!" Neptune waved to his friend, who hauled himself to his feet with a sigh.
"Yeah, yeah, keep your wig on." Sage waved him off as he left.
"Hey, you're one to talk!" Neptune complained.
"He's not wrong." Blake noted.
"Oh come on, not you too." Neptune sighed.
"Hey, lady's got a point." Sun teased. "You look like the pen end of an eraser."
"That is steel blue, not sky blue." Neptune protested. "Come on Ruby, back me up."
"Ah, I'm experiencing starvation induced hysteria, gotta' go bye!" Ruby turned tail and jogged away.
Neptune threw his hands up in frustration. "You all suck!"
Chapter 15: Enemy Territory
Chapter by RealTerminal
"Come on, put your shirt on before someone goes blind."
Coco hit send with a smirk, dropping her scroll on Ruby's desk. "Aaaand Little Red should be up in a sec." She looked to Penny's screen, the cute Chibi avatar smiling back at her. "Hey Pen, got any music to play?"
Penny's avatar tapped her chin in thought. "I do have access to many licensed albums from the SDC publishing department. Do you have a preferred genre?"
"Hmm...throw on something chill...smooth jazz." Coco suggested.
"Smooth jazz, sensational!" Penny cheered, her avatar jumping with joy. The room's PA speakers began playing gentle piano, punctuated with tasteful saxophone.
"Perfect, you nailed it Pen." Coco praised. She opened her pizza box, and the scent of fresh cooked meatlovers wafted up into her face. "Hmph, want some?"
"I am sure I would, were I human." Penny admired. "It certainly looks delectable."
"Just because you can't eat it doesn't mean you can't have a slice." Coco declared. "You're part of the party Pen." Coco rotated the box so the top lay beneath Penny's screen, pulling a slice free to lay on top. "There, your first slice of pizza."
Penny's avatar beamed, blushing. "Thank you Ms. Adel. I appreciate your kindness."
"Call me Coco honey." She insisted. "Ms. Adel is the woman they call my mother."
"Of course Coco." Penny agreed.
The sound of heels clicking signaled Weiss and Velvet returning from the kitchen. They brought plastic cups, paper plates and napkins. "I never considered mood music." Weiss admitted, setting down her share and opening her box.
"After all those balls you've handled, I figured you'd appreciate some good mood music." Coco grinned, taking a bite of her slice. Weiss scoffed.
Velvet snorted. "First ball joke of the day." She counted, opening a bottle of soft drink and pouring herself a glass.
"And I've got at least one more left." Coco noted.
"You know it's not a ball without a dance." Velvet pulled her own vegetarian slice free of its box, leaving it closed to trap the heat.
"Is that an invitation Ms. Scarlatina?" Weiss arched her brow, taking a large bite of her own slice. "I for one remember a certain Faunus possessing two left feet."
"Once upon a time." Velvet admitted. "Until someone barged into my life and forced me to learn one night."
"I can't have my Honeybun tripping over herself when I show her off to the world." Coco shrugged.
"Such a selfless lover you are." Velvet snarked.
"Mngh." Weiss mumbled, chewing the last of her slice and wiping her hands on a napkin. "Shall we put your newfound skill to the test?" Velvet scoffed, taking her time to finish her slice as Weiss kicked off her shoes.
"Hey Pen, try something with lyrics." Coco suggested.
"Acknowledged." Penny confirmed. The music cut out before being replaced with something similar. It was probably by the same artist, but the instrumentals were now accompanied by a rich, lustful ballad sung by an elder woman.
"Ooh, good taste!" Coco praised.
"Hmm, I loved this scene." Weiss reminisced.
"Familiar tune?" Velvet asked, wiping her hands.
"Memorable." Weiss nodded. "It was one of those long awaited sailing ship scenes."
"Of course it was, do you want me to lead?" Velvet asked, meeting Weiss and taking her hand.
"You are taller than me." Weiss sighed, laying her free hand upon Velvet's shoulder.
"Who isn't?" Coco jibed, eating another slice.
"Ru...shut up." Weiss pouted as Velvet wrapped an arm around her waist. "Do try not to step on my toes this time."
Velvet smirked a terrifyingly Coco-like smirk. "Yes ma'am."
Blake had never felt comfortable in enclosed spaces. Closed doors, strange mechanical sounds ringing in her ears, she could hear every click and groan of the high tech elevator. No matter how advanced it may be, these things were always in danger of falling...crumpling like overpriced tin cans, crushing their innocent, fragile contents after a terrifying freefall. Precious life, gone in an instant at the hands of a cold, uncaring steel box, gravity and bad luck. At least not all their contents were innocent.
"Blake?" Ruby's voice cut through Blake's thoughts like a cold knife. She flinched at the pressures on her hand and shoulder, glancing between them to see Ruby and Sun holding her firmly. Her breathing was shallow, her heart throbbing within her chest. "We're almost there. Take a deep breath, okay?"
"I'm fine." Blake murmured.
"You were mumbling." Sun mentioned.
"I'm fine." Blake repeated firmly, rolling her shoulder free of his grip. "Just lost in thought." She looked to Ruby and was met by a disapproving frown. She ignored the pang of guilt when she pulled her hand away. She glanced up at the floor display, watching the numbers rise, before the digital display turned to a P with a chime. Smooth jazz filled her ears as the doors opened, and the sight before her left Blake mentally reeling.
Weiss Schnee, CEO of the SDC, spinning in the arms of a Faunus, feet bare of all but stockings as she giggled.
Blake knew the woman championed Faunus rights, sure, but who did not? Weiss' overhaul of the SDC was as famous as it was infamous. But the idea had always been deeply amusing to Blake, and suspicious. Things were never so clear cut, never quite as they seemed. There were always unseen and untold complexities, and on the subject of the Schnee dynasty, having the heiress seemingly so opposed to her father's practices just reeked of modern trendsetting. She was likely just a new queen of commerce, making her unique mark on the world.
Yet here Weiss was, daughter of Jacques Schnee - infamous tyrant, whose excesses had birthed the White Fang - gallivanting around in a Faunus' arms with the brightest smile in the world etched on her face, barefoot and dreadfully, disappointingly short.
"Ah, whoa!" Weiss yelped as Velvet dramatically dipped Weiss, her ivory ponytail whipping through the air as she giggled like a giddy schoolgirl. Only for her face to freeze in shock as she met the stares of the three new arrivals. "O-oh!" She stammered, pulling herself upright, clumsily staggering into Velvet. The Faunus only laughed as she steadied the flustered CEO. "Welcome! You must be Blake!" Weiss managed, stepping forward to meet the three as they left the elevator. She offered her hand to shake.
"Yes." Blake said simply, barely remembering to take the offered appendage in her own. Weiss' grip was firm, in spite of her unbalanced demeanor. It was an extremely surreal experience. Here she was, standing in the lioness' den, shaking her hand, not a hint of retribution in her mind. That was only occupied by shock and dumb awe as the brilliant blue eyes shone innocently up at her.
"Well, it is a pleasure to meet you...and you Wukong, I am already aware of." Weiss recovered. Blake resisted a smirk as Weiss' polite facade flickered into a mix of irritation and amusement. "I receive weekly reports from Winchester on you."
"I'm sure they're glowing!" Sun grinned.
"Glimmering." Weiss deadpanned. "I assume you are both familiar with Coco Adel and Velvet Scarlatina." She stepped aside to indicate her friends. Coco waved, her mouth full of pizza.
"Nice to meet you both." Velvet greeted. "Blake, you wanted to discuss something with me?"
"I did, in private." Blake glanced at Weiss. "Please."
"The kitchen is not in use." Weiss gestured down the hall. "The pizza is here if you want to take some with you."
"I can wait." Blake shrugged. "It's these two who keep drooling." She drawled, turning to make her way down the indicated hall. Weiss raised a brow, looking between Velvet and Ruby, the former rolling her eyes before following. The others watched as they both entered the kitchen, shutting the door behind them.
"I take it she does not like me?" Weiss asked.
Ruby and Sun exchanged a glance. "She doesn't really like anyone." Ruby noted.
"She's got a few chips on her shoulder." Sun added.
"Hmm, I know that feeling well." Weiss nodded. "Regardless, a few minutes with Velvet will cure anyone of dour feelings."
Sun scoffed. "She probably hasn't met anyone like Blake."
Weiss laughed, turning back to the desk. "Velvet has met many people, human and Faunus, over the years. It's her job to interact with others. If she hasn't met someone like Blake, I'll eat this pizza box."
"Ruby is not my mate, nor will she ever be." Blake started strong as Velvet closed the door.
Velvet turned to see the other Faunus reclining against the wooden table in the middle of the room. "I know. I trust Ruby when she says so." She wrinkled her nose. Blake's scent was fresh as she followed her, and it was stronger still as she faced her. The anger and sex were muted, but in their place Alpha scent burned her senses.
"Good." Blake stated.
"Was that it?" Velvet asked, arching her brow. Her instincts told her to flinch at the glare she received, but she was experienced in ignoring them.
"What?" Was Blake's confused, if still hostile response.
"Things cleared up for you now?" Velvet prodded. Just another petulant Alpha, so used to getting her way by dint of genetic accident.
"Yes." Blake hissed.
Velvet tilted her head. "You came all the way to the SDC just to tell me something I already knew?"
"I don't like misunderstandings." Blake declared.
"The only misunderstanding was sending your kin to work smelling of sex and ownership." Velvet criticized. The females were always a pain, and prone to possessiveness. Clashing instincts needed to be recognized and tempered.
"I do not own Ruby." Blake glared, bristling.
Clearly tempering was long overdue. "Then get your scent marking under control." Velvet demanded. It was always satisfying to throw an Alpha's strength in their face, especially the coddled ones.
"I know how to mark my kin Scarlatina." Blake scowled, eyes narrowed. "I have been doing it for years."
"Then you were taught wrong." Velvet suggested, simply and to the point.
"I was taught by one of the wisest women who will ever walk this planet." Blake snarled. "Any fault in my actions is mine and mine alone." She felt her nails dig into the table, never having noticed them extend.
"And nothing has happened since then?" Velvet questioned.
Blake closed her eyes, taking a calming breath. "Perhaps. Why do you care?" She was in a precarious place now. The anger had flared, and she was calming, wary, regarding Velvet with a volatile suspicion.
It was only natural that she would seek to turn the situation around. "She is my friend, and when you've seen the things I've seen, I grow very concerned by subtleties." Velvet explained.
"Your friend, or another potential mate?" Blake bared her teeth in a threatening grin. They were sharp, glinting in the light.
"Friend, and friend to my mate, who I love very deeply." Velvet stated, firmly and clearly. She fought down the pang of anger at having her bond questioned. Blake merely grunted, her gaze elsewhere. Velvet followed it to the room's corner, where one of Penny's camera domes sat static. "It's not going to bite." Velvet smirked.
Blake scowled, golden gaze flicking back to Velvet's. "How can you stand it?" She spat with disgust.
Velvet shrugged. "By not having anything to hide."
"A typical excuse for invasion of privacy." Blake countered.
"This is the SDC Blake, not a private home." Velvet explained. "We take our security seriously." She received another glare in return.
"And yet you employ Winchester, an open racist." Blake hissed.
"Because cutting him loose is not viable." Velvet sighed.
"Yes, I've heard." Came Blake's patronizing response. "Wouldn't want to hurt your bottom line."
"It's more complicated than that." Velvet defended. "Weiss' father drew up his contract. It's almost impossible to fire him without awarding a huge payment, amounting to several years pay. Weiss does not want to give him a dime more than she must."
"Harassment of your kind is not reason enough?" Blake pressed.
Velvet shook her head. "No, unfortunately it's not. He knows exactly what it would take, and he's not dumb enough to cross that line."
"And here I am thinking Schnee was the one with the power." Blake snidely remarked.
"Weiss has worked hard for four years to gain that power." Velvet shot back. "And maintains it by avoiding needless bridge burning. Winchester's father is a major investor, with enough sway to do serious damage."
"There is nothing needless about condemning the perpetrators of massacres." Blake growled.
"If we condemned every family with a checkered, shady or condemnable past, we'd have no business." Velvet insisted. "The world just doesn't work like that."
"So that's that, you give up?" Blake accused.
"We put a stop to it." Velvet raised her voice. "We draw up new contracts at every opportunity, we incentivize clients and competitors to alter their ways, we lead by example." She lectured. "For someone so passionate about Faunus rights, I'd expect you to be familiar with the SDC's efforts."
"I was familiar with the SDC's efforts." Blake challenged. "Time and time again I saw our kind beaten down and used."
"And those times are far behind us." Velvet declared. "You should educate yourself before judging what we are."
"Humanity has never given me a reason to trust them before." Blake noted. "The hammer always falls Velvet, it's just a matter of time."
"So you're waiting for Ruby's hammer to fall too?" Velvet laughed.
"Ruby is an exception." Blake hesitated. "An ignorant, occasionally insensitive one...but still."
"And it's impossible for other exceptions to exist?" Velvet pressed her advantage.
"What good are exceptions if they have never done anything?" Blake questioned.
"Blake, the White Fang is dying, the SDC is dragging Atlas - and by extension - Remnant into a new age of tolerance. I don't know if you are a nihilist, or just horribly closed minded, but there are exceptions, and they are doing things." She approached Blake, who visibly bristled with tension. "I know how it feels to have hardly any hope. I remember fighting anyway. I clung to what little I had and did my utmost regardless, and you wanna' know what happened? I met Weiss." She stood aside, gesturing to the door. "Weiss to me is like Ruby to you. She was the exception, and if you gave her - if you gave the SDC - the same chance you gave Ruby, you might see what I do, what so many Faunus see now." She slowly reached forward to lay a hand upon Blake's shoulder. Blake flinched, but did not shake her off, eyes narrowing at the hopeful expression facing her. "The future is bright Blake. You just need to open your eyes."
"You sound like a cultist." Blake jabbed.
Velvet laughed. "You're not the first, and definitely not the last who'll say that." Velvet removed her hand and turned to the door. "Come on, before the humans start asking questions."
"Such as?" Blake asked.
"Why you're hiding your ears when we all know you're a Faunus." Velvet replied.
Blake grimaced. "I don't like being gawked at."
"I'll accept that, for now." With that, Velvet opened the door. "I'm glad we had this discussion. Hopefully it gave you some things to think about."
Weiss sighed at the sight before her. Coco Adel circled the now shirtless form of Sun Wukong, examining the Faunus from all angles as they snacked on their pizzas. "I swear, every person she meets for more than five minutes becomes her dummy." Weiss grumbled.
"If it's any consolation, he's always preferred being shirtless." Ruby commented. "It's weirder seeing him with a shirt on for me."
"Lucky you." Coco leered. "Wish mine could get this defined, but hey, price of awesomeness."
"Blake has abs." Sun noted. "Good luck getting her to show 'em though."
"She looks like a tough one." Coco observed. "Bet she kicks your ass every night huh?"
"She kicks everyone's ass, sometimes literally." Sun chuckled.
"Faunus are always stronger than they look...no offense." Weiss added.
"None taken." Sun shrugged. "In fact, I take it as a compliment!" He flexed his bicep for emphasis. He would have looked impressive were it not for the pizza slice hanging out of his mouth.
Weiss grimaced. "You have charming roommates Ruby."
"They grow on you." Ruby suggested.
"Even Blake?" Weiss asked.
"Very slowly." Ruby replied.
"Like moss!" Sun cheered.
"Sounds like Weiss." Coco joked.
"Oh quiet you." Weiss grumbled.
The kitchen door opened. Shortly after Velvet emerged into the room. "What'd we miss?" She asked, honing in on her pizza once more.
"I didn't hear any screeching, everyone in one piece?" Coco smirked as Blake appeared.
Blake froze, looking between Sun and Coco. "Why...fuck it I don't care." She groaned, heading to the table to find her own pizza. Velvet tapped it and she hurriedly opened the box, breathing in the meat encrusted cheese pizza scent. "Thank you." She sighed, taking two slices to stack on top of one another.
"Welcome." Velvet smiled, taking a bite of her piece. "Coco, babe, it's rude to handle other people's mates."
"Partner." Blake corrected.
"Partner, mate, whatever." Velvet deflected. "Still rude."
"But look at these abs!" Coco poked them for emphasis. Sun snorted, breathing in some crust and choking.
"You're killing him babe." Velvet deadpanned.
"He'll be fine." Blake sighed, taking a large bite of her slices.
Ruby sighed, shoving the last of her slice into her mouth and heading over to her choking roommate. "Come on, put your shirt on before someone goes blind." She joked, pushing him down onto the couch and picking up his shirt.
"But I'm being admired!" Sun half coughed, half whined.
"Don't care, shirt on!" Ruby snapped, rolling the shirt in preparation.
"Aw, is he making you hot under the collar Red?" Coco teased.
Ruby grimaced, shoving the shirt over Sun's head forcefully. "Says the woman oogling his man tiddies." Ruby grunted, tugging on the garment as Sun's elbow somehow got stuck in the sleeve. "Damnit Sun, get bigger shirts!" She growled.
"Get better at dressing men!" Sun laughed. "It'll impress them." He was completely unhelpful.
Ruby groaned, pushing Sun away. "At least Oscar could dress himself."
Coco snorted. "Who's Oscar? Ex boytoy?"
"First boyfriend." Ruby clarified, returning to her pizza. "Boytoys weren't 'til college."
"Damn, Red's got game." Coco cheered. "Was he nice at least?"
"He was the boy next door type, nice but…" Ruby waved her slice around in consideration.
"Ah, nice nice, like I'm a growing girl and wanna' go nuts for a bit so nice isn't what I want?" Coco suggested.
"Eh, kinda'." Ruby replied. "It was a lotta' things really."
"Define nice." Blake requested.
"Nice, as in if you asked for a spanking he'd be afraid of hurting your feelings." Ruby answered.
"Why would you ask for a spanking?" Penny suddenly spoke up.
"Because Ruby's a naughty girl Penny, and she knows it." Coco smirked.
"Can you not corrupt Penny please?" Weiss sighed.
"I'm sorry Penny!" Ruby apologized.
"Do not fret Ms. Schnee, I maintain diligent care of our servers!" Penny noted. "Your data is in safe hands." Her avatar stood at attention, saluting.
Weiss chuckled. "Yes Penny, I know."
While enjoyable the lunch break was short. Blake and Sun had work that night, so with a quick farewell and a few handshakes, everyone had gone on their ways, the pair taking the leftover pizza with them. The rest of the day had gone smoothly for Ruby, though after a few more hours her leg had begun to slightly ache. An aspirin was the solution, and the problem quickly left her mind. Eventually Weiss bid her farewell and good day, and Ruby headed home, just in time to meet Blake and Sun as they left. Ruby hugged them both, then reheated what was left of her pizza and curled up on the couch to watch some television. Sleep came easy.
The next day promised to be far more boring. It was back to business as usual. Wednesdays were not generally busy, and sure enough Ruby spent most of the time at her desk. She passed the time chatting with Penny or reading engineering articles online. She hoped Coco might visit to break up the monotony, but her new friend failed to materialize. With no plans made by lunchtime, Ruby headed to the cafeteria alone. She decided to be adventurous, anything to spice up the day, and ordered some of the fresh steak on offer.
Though she was tempted to eat the appetizing meal right then and there, Ruby decided to take her lunch back to her desk. She grabbed a drink and some plastic utensils and headed back up the elevator. The steak happened to taste even better than it looked, and Ruby was disappointed when the elevator chimed. She put her meal aside and prepared to greet the guest. Happily it was Ren. Carrying a nondescript bag, walked over to Ruby's desk. "Hello Ruby."
"Hey Ren." Ruby chirped. She glanced over to her lunch. It was a little impolite but… "Do you mind if I keep eating while we talk?"
"Go ahead." Ren allowed. "I was just bringing Weiss her lunch."
"Oh...I was wondering why that wasn't on the schedule for me today." Ruby noted. She pressed the button on her intercom. "Weiss, Ren is here."
"Just a moment." Weiss replied.
"How are you Ren?" Ruby asked. "How's Pyrrha doing?"
"We're both doing very well." Ren replied. "How are you?"
"Really good." Ruby cheered. "Yesterday was pretty fun...and this steak is incredible."
"The food here really is amazing." Ren observed. "About yesterday, Pyrrha and I wanted to apologize for not being there. Pyrrha was busy with her SFO duties, and I didn't feel right coming without her."
"Oh, it's no big deal." Ruby waved his apology away. "I totally understand."
"In any case, we'd like to invite you and your roommates to dinner this Sunday to make up for our absence." Ren offered. "Nothing fancy, just some home cooking at our apartment."
"That sounds cool." Ruby agreed. "I don't think Blake and Sun have any plans. Should we bring anything?"
Ren shook his head. "Pyrrha and I will do all the cooking. But if you feel compelled, Pyrrha has a soft spot for white wine."
"I'm in for sure." Ruby grinned. It was funny, in just a few weeks of living in Atlas, she had been more social than in years back on Patch. She liked it. If only she could share it with Yang too.
"I'll text you our address and the time we think we'll be ready, that's-" He started, cut off by the sound of Weiss' door opening.
"Sorry for the wait." Weiss apologized. "I was on the phone with an investor. Come on in."
"Talk to you later." Ruby gave Ren a quick wave.
Ren smiled. "Always a pleasure."
Ruby returned her focus to her meal, a great relief. It would be a crime to let food this good get cold. Much to her annoyance, she only got in a few bites before the elevator chimed again. She quickly slid her food aside and made sure there was nothing on her face. The elevator doors slid aside to reveal a middle-aged man of average height, dressed in a military-like uniform. Ruby noticed a small metal implant above his eye, clear evidence that he was fitted with older generation cybernetics. He approached the desk with perfect posture and a grim expression.
"How can I help you?" Ruby asked, as cheerfully as she could manage. The man was so serious, it was unnerving. Worse was that he completely ignored Ruby, looking to Penny's screen instead. It was as if Ruby did not even exist.
"General Ironwood, sir." Penny spoke up, her little avatar snapping into a military salute.
"Hello Penny." Ironwood responded. "I have urgent news for Ms. Schnee."
"I'll let her know right away." Penny promised.
In moments Ren exited Weiss' office. He stood aside as the general headed in, giving a small bow as he passed. Ironwood barely acknowledged the gesture. Ruby waited for the the office door to close and lock. "I guess he's a big deal." She suggested.
"He's head of the Atlesian General Staff." Ren confirmed. "He sometimes comes in to get his prosthetics adjusted but...I've never seen him quite like this."
"You mean scary?" Ruby asked.
"That's a word for it." Ren stated. "He usually acts a little more...human...for lack of a better term. There must be something going on."
"Like what?" Ruby asked. "A problem with one of the defense contracts?"
"Maybe but…" Ren trailed off. "I shouldn't speculate." He glanced at the clock behind Ruby's desk. "Well, I should get going. It was good to see you again."
"Yeah, you should stop by more often." Ruby suggested.
"I think I might." Ren nodded. He pressed the elevator button, and the doors slid open immediately. "Have a good day."
"You too!" Ruby cheered. With Ren gone, she returned to her meal once again. Unfortunately it was no longer hot. It was still good though. Just as she was finishing up, Weiss' office door opened and the general walked out, looking a bit unnerved. He said nothing to Penny or Ruby as he boarded the elevator and departed.
Ruby did not have long to dwell on the strange encounter. Moments later, Weiss emerged from her office and approached her. "Ruby...clear my schedule tomorrow, from 10 AM to 1 PM for a press conference." Weiss instructed. She looked pale, and her voice lacked its usual firmness.
"Sure...uh...Weiss, are you okay?" Ruby asked.
"I'm...no." Weiss admitted. "But don't worry about it."
"Is there anything I can do-" Ruby started.
"Don't worry about it." Weiss insisted. "Penny, send a company-wide email regarding our policy on interactions with the press."
"Yes Ms. Schnee." Penny's avatar nodded. Ruby's scroll immediately buzzed to indicate receipt of said email.
"Weiss, what's-" Ruby tried again, only to be cut off once more.
"I have important matters to attend to." Weiss declared. With that she returned to her office.
"Penny, what's happening?" Ruby inquired, hoping to get some kind of information.
"I am forbidden to divulge the contents of any conversations taking place within Ms. Schnee's office, unless specifically authorized to do so by the chairwoman herself." Penny noted. "But do not worry, I am sure Weiss will inform you soon."
"I hope so Penny." Ruby sighed. "She looked so...not like her. I just want to help."
Despite Weiss' command that Ruby not worry, she could not help but do so. Ruby had never seen her boss in such a state, and from what she knew about her, it was far from her normal character. Whatever was going on must have been serious. Her worry was only compounded by her ignorance. If Weiss had only been willing to tell her what was wrong...but no. Now her mind jumped from worst case scenario to worst case scenario. She mentioned the situation and the press conference to Blake and Sun when she got home, but they could offer no real comfort. Sleep did not come easy.
Ruby had never dreaded going to work. Whether it be at the SDC, her job as a barista, or the other part time jobs she had occupied over the years, she had never experienced such a sense of foreboding. Her commute seemed to take longer than usual, and her leg ached for no apparent reason. The bright, sunny, unseasonably warm weather seemed a cruel juxtaposition with her inner turmoil. Her mind raced even as she rode the elevator up to the top floor. Normally Penny would have greeted her, but there was only the gentle hum of the machine and the buzz of the fluorescent lights.
With a chime, the elevator came to a halt and the doors slid open. Ruby was greeted with an unusual sight. Weiss paced before Ruby's desk, staring at a collection of papers in hand, hair somewhat unkempt, not a touch of makeup on her face. When she heard the elevator she turned, greeting Ruby with bloodshot eyes and a weak smile.
"Gods Weiss, are you okay?!" Ruby blurted.
"Do I look that bad?" Weiss managed. "I guess I'll get my money's worth out of the makeup artists."
"Weiss...please tell me what's wrong." Ruby beseeched.
Weiss nodded as Ruby approached. The girl stopped just short of laying a hand on her boss' shoulder. "My sister is...missing in action." Weiss admitted. "Her airship was shot down and...well, nothing's definite, but it's suspected that the White Fang has her."
"I...I'm so sorry." Ruby stammered. "Is there...is there anything I can do? Anything at all."
"Not re...yes actually." Weiss nodded, flicking through the mess of papers she carried. "Can you introduce me at the press conference? I'd have someone from Media Relations do it, but they're going to need to focus on dealing with the press, and I don't want-"
"Yes." Ruby agreed. "I'll do it." She paused. "Uh...what do I have to do?"
Weiss found the paper for which she was searching. "You'll just step up to the podium and read this." She handed Ruby the sheet, a brief and generic statement typed on it.
"Yeah, I can do that." Ruby nodded, looking over the page. "Is there anything else?"
"No, not really, just…" Weiss sighed, throwing her hands up in exasperation. "Taxing, everything is taxing and it's not liable to get any better." She complained, rubbing her eyes. She looked miserable - as miserable as a missing sister should make someone, and then some.
Ruby decided to take a chance. "Would...you like a hug?"
"Huh?" Weiss blinked.
"Hug?" Ruby repeated, holding her arms out in offer.
Weiss stared at Ruby for several moments before huffing, a tired smile growing on her face. "Yes, I would appreciate a hug." She stepped forward, and Ruby did not hesitate to wrap her in a tight embrace.
"You'll get through this." Ruby encouraged. Weiss slumped into her.
"I will." Weiss stated, less than convincingly. Ruby released her and Weiss took a step back, eyes a little glassier than they were before. "Alright. I need to put the finishing touches on my speech. Just wait here, read over your statement, and when they're ready for you I'll call you down to makeup."
"Makeup?" Ruby quirked her brow.
"You'll want to look your best for the cameras." Weiss half-heartedly chuckled. She ducked into her office, leaving Ruby alone, standing before her desk.
"Are you okay Ruby?" Penny asked after a few moments passed.
Ruby sighed. "I just realized what I agreed to."
"Do you have a fear of public speaking?" Penny inquired.
"No, not really." Ruby replied. "I was always alright talking to my class at uni. Being up in front of cameras is a little intimidating."
"I'm sure you can do it!" Penny encouraged.
"Yeah...I can." Ruby stated, less than convincingly.
Even as Ruby went through makeup, she did not quite believe what she was about to do. Sure, she had never had trouble with public speaking before, but this was a different situation from what she had faced in the past. Speaking to two dozen uninterested students or giving a pep talk to the track team was one thing. Giving a speech - even a short, prepared statement - to the press, with their cameras and bright lights, was quite another. As she waited for the press conference to begin, she stared at her statement. It was only after some time that she realized she was not actually reading it. This was going to be rough. Hopefully she would not embarrass herself. That would be a win in this situation for sure.
"Hey Red, you okay?" Coco's voice cut through Ruby's clouded thoughts. "If you stare at that paper any harder you'll burn a hole through it."
"Oh...yeah...I'm fine, totally fine." Ruby lied badly.
"Good joke Red." Coco smirked. "You know, I can read the statement if you want."
"No, no, I promised Weiss I would do it." Ruby shook her head. "It's my responsibility."
"Well, don't sweat it." Coco advised. "It's not that big a deal. No one's gonna' remember what you say up there. You could walk out there naked and sing Vale's national anthem and you wouldn't even make the nightly news. They're all here to see Weiss."
"I know but...how can you not be intimidated by all that?" Ruby gestured to the curtain before her. The media was already setting up on the other side.
"It probably helps that I totally bombed my first press conference." Coco shrugged.
"I find that hard to believe." Ruby challenged.
"It's true." Coco insisted. "It wasn't even a big thing. Just a little speech to some local news folks. I got up there, started talking...it hit me how important it was to make a good first impression and my mouth went dry. I could barely speak, I'm talking completely tongue-tied. I would have killed for a glass of water, but I just had to stand there and fumble my way through. The next day I was all over the internet, the butt of jokes on late-night television, the whole deal. I'm kinda' surprised you've never seen it."
"I was never a fan of cringe videos." Ruby noted. "Laughing at someone else's pain just feels wrong, and I tend to put myself in their shoes anyway."
"You bleeding heart you." Coco smirked. "Anyway, for my next public appearance, I was sure to have a bottle of water, just in case. I always have one with me when I speak to the media. I don't even need it anymore. It's almost like a good luck charm now."
"Maybe I should bring one." Ruby thought aloud.
"Way ahead of you." Coco pulled a mini water bottle from her pocket and handed it to Ruby. She glanced up at the clock. "Looks like it's time."
"Crap." Ruby sighed.
Coco grabbed Ruby by the shoulders, looking her in the eyes over her sunglasses. "You're a beautiful, strong woman Ruby Rose. You get out there and own that crowd! Knock 'em dead!"
Ruby nodded and met Coco's smile with one of her own, though her stomach still churned. Coco stepped aside and pulled back the curtain slightly, allowing Ruby to walk through. She strode up to the podium, placed the water bottle on the edge, and the paper with her statement in the center. The din of quiet conversation that had filled the room faded to silence. Ruby looked up and was shocked by the sight before her. There were dozens of reporters, maybe 50, plus at least 10 video cameras, not to mention all the still cameras arranged on tripods around the room. It felt as though the air had been sucked from her lungs, and her breakfast threatened to make a surprise appearance.
Ruby closed her eyes and did her best to take a deep breath. It was shaky, but something. She grabbed the water bottle, fumbled to remove the cap, then took a long sip. Better. She looked at the crowd once more. They looked barely interested. Coco was right, they were only there for Weiss. Ruby was just there to handle the formalities they had all probably heard before. No big deal. She cleared her throat and went for it.
"In a few moments, Weiss Schnee, chairwoman and CEO of the SDC, will give a brief statement." Ruby was surprised by how clear and strong her speech was. Maybe Coco had drugged the water bottle. "She will not be answering any questions at present. All inquiries should be directed to the SDC Media Relations Department. The SDC thanks you for your cooperation."
Ruby took another deep breath, grabbed her paper and water bottle, and walked off stage, ducking behind the curtain.
"See, that wasn't so bad." Coco met her. "You did great."
"It...crap." Ruby dropped her things and rushed off. Her breakfast was definitely making a comeback.
"Huh, maybe it was." Coco shrugged. She looked around, quickly locating Weiss, and rushed over to meet her before she took the stage. "You got this." She encouraged. "Get out there and kick some ass."
"Thanks Coco." Weiss offered a smile.
"Anytime babe." Coco slapped Weiss on the rear as she passed, heading for the podium.
Weiss took nothing with her to the podium. She had never needed water during a speech, and she had committed her statement to memory. She was unlikely to keep entirely to the script anyway. She had been careful to remain impassive, even as she took a series of deep breaths in preparation for her speech. She had spoken to the media many times, more than she could count, but this would surely be her toughtest talk yet.
"On behalf of the SDC and the Schnee family, I thank you all for being here today, and apologize for the short notice. I've called you all here today to announce that Winter Schnee, my sister, has gone missing in action in Mistral. During a classified mission, her airship was shot down by White Fang forces and crashed in enemy territory. She is presumed to be a prisoner of the White Fang, though there has been no confirmation of her status as of yet." There were some gasps and looks of shock from the crowd. Weiss was not surprised. She felt much the same way.
"Currently, rescue and recovery efforts are underway." Weiss continued. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Winter and all the members of her unit, as well as their families. My sister could have lived a life of luxury and leisure, but she chose to put herself at risk for the greater good. She has always been an inspiration to me, and I love her dearly." Weiss paused once more. "We will not allow these events to interfere with the important strides the SDC is making toward peace and equality. The upcoming gala, benefiting Schnee Faunus Outreach, will go forward as planned. The company's charitable work in the Faunus community will continue as normal. We recognize that the vast majority of Faunus are good, honest people, who want nothing more than lives of peace and prosperity for themselves and their families. We will continue to help them achieve that goal."
It was time for the important part. "I would like to offer a message directly to the White Fang. We...I will not negotiate. I will not compromise. I will not stop striving for peace. There will be peace, unity and equality between humans and Faunus, I will see to that." Weiss took a series of deep breaths to calm herself. "Thank you. The SDC and Atlesian military will provide more information as it becomes available."
Weiss rushed off stage as flash bulbs popped and reporters shouted questions. A member of the Media Relations Department took the stage immediately to deal with the crowd. Slipping behind the curtain, Weiss was met by Velvet and an immediate embrace. "You did great." Velvet praised. "I'm so proud of you."
Weiss allowed herself to slump into Velvet's arms. The fatigue eating away at her will threatened to release a torrent of volatile emotions. She clung to her friend and begged them to hold fast, if only for one more day.
Barging open a random stall door, Ruby fell to her knees and braced herself. Her head throbbed, her throat clenched, and her leg ached from the sudden impact. She choked, tearing up as her panicked breathing refused to calm, even as her light breakfast threatened to reappear. A hand made contact with her back, and she jumped.
"Hey Red." Coco spoke. Ruby felt a sudden warmth as her friend knelt beside her. "You did great."
Ruby huffed a laugh, slumping over the toilet bowl. "Nngh, I hope so."
"Did you bring your water?" Coco asked.
"Uh…" Ruby felt around blindly, searching for the bottle, failing to locate it. "I think I lost it."
Coco shifted, looking beneath the dividers to see the bottle had rolled into a neighboring stall. "One sec." She whispered before getting up and crossing to said stall to retrieve the escaped beverage. Thankfully it was the employee bathroom, in a low traffic area no less. The floor was likely as spotless as Weiss' office. "You know, this reminds me of this one time Velvet had too many-" Coco was cut off by a ringtone echoing off the tile walls, folk strings playing a mournful tone.
"Nnngh." Ruby groaned, fumbling with her pocket to pull the scroll free. She answered the call, setting it to speaker. "Hey mom."
"Hey sweetie!?" Summer whispered as Coco leaned against the stall door. "Is now a bad time?"
"No...not really...I'm just in the bathroom." Ruby explained, head still hung over the toilet.
Coco reached down, plucking the scroll from Ruby's hand and replacing it with the water bottle. "Hey Missus Rose, Ruby's just coming down from a bit of stage fright."
"Oh, hello miss?" Summer queried.
"Adel, but call me Coco." She introduced herself. "Miss Adel's a bitch." She snarked. "Your daughter's a trooper Missus Rose."
"Well, she was raised by a Xiao-Long." Summer laughed. "Ruby, sweetie, I'm so proud of you!"
"Thanks mom." Ruby managed, slumping against the stall and talking a gulp from the bottle. "Did dad see?"
"He hasn't texted me yet, but I'm sure he'll blow up my scroll when he does." Summer replied. "Then yours, then Yang's."
"Is Yang still asleep?" Ruby asked.
"I think so." Summer answered. "She hasn't been sleeping too well lately, so I'm trying to let her rest."
"Awkay." Ruby sighed.
"Is...Ms. Schnee handling this well?" Summer inquired.
"About as well as she can." Coco replied. "How does she look?"
"Composed, but a woman in her position would be good at that." Summer suggested.
"Yeah, you got that right." Coco confirmed.
"She just finished." Summer noted.
"Did she go off script?" Coco asked.
"For a moment I think." Summer responded. "Was she supposed to address the White Fang directly?"
"Oh boy…" Coco groaned.
"Won't that make things worse?" Summer asked.
"Probably...but she needed to vent somehow." Coco answered.
"That poor girl." Summer sighed.
"She isn't alone Missus Rose." Coco encouraged. "Your daughter has been doing wonders for her mood. I'm actually thinking of getting her a cheerleader uniform. That'll take everyone's minds off things."
"Coco!" Ruby whined as Coco grinned. "That's my mom!" She pouted as her mother's chuckling mixed with Coco's.
"Our dear Ruby has always had an excess of cheer." Summer declared. "I hope it helps you as much as it helped us."
"I try my best." Ruby sighed.
Just then the bathroom door opened and two pairs of heeled feet clacked inside. "Ruby, are you okay?" Followed Weiss' concerned voice. She halted in front of the stall, glancing from her sitting secretary to a grinning Coco.
"A little green around the gills, but otherwise alive and well." Coco explained. "Oh yeah, Missus Rose, Weiss Schnee, Weiss, Missus Rose." She held up the scroll to show the contact picture. Summer looked like an elder Ruby, with hardly more than some laugh lines to separate mother and daughter. Weiss blinked in momentary surprise.
"Hello Ms. Schnee." Summer greeted. "I'm sorry if I'm taking up your time."
"It's no trouble Mrs. Rose." Weiss responded. "I apologize for causing alarm. Today has been quite taxing for all of us."
"Life inflicts trials upon us all Ms. Schnee." Summer spoke with reverence. "Keep faith, hold fast, and press forward. Maidens guide you."
Weiss stared frozen at the scroll for a moment before swallowing. "Thank you Mrs. Rose, Maidens' blessing upon you."
"I'll let you go now, but do take care Weiss." Summer said. "I pray for your sister's safe return."
"As do I." Weiss agreed. "Thank you again Mrs. Rose."
"It was a pleasure to speak with you Coco, and you too Ruby." Summer spoke. "Take care, I love you!"
"I love you too mom, have a good day!" Ruby bade farewell.
"I try!" Summer laughed before signing off.
"Is everyone in your family a cinnamon roll?" Coco joked.
"We're four for four so far." Ruby smiled weakly.
"I was not aware you were religious." Weiss inquired.
"I'm not...really." Ruby shrugged. "Mom taught us and we had scripture in school, but I was never really devout like mom...sorry if that was weird."
"No, no not at all, Pyrrha and Ren are...similar...just…" Weiss took a deep breath, rubbing her eyes. "Ren is picking up Pyrrha from the airport. We're having a small meeting in my office when they arrive. Then it's business as usual. The gala needs to be airtight. Now, more than ever, it represents everything the Schnee family strives for. I need to make sure…" Weiss paused, swallowing the lump in her throat and turning away, directly into the bracing arms of Velvet, who steadied the CEO as she composed herself.
Coco exchanged a look with Ruby, passing back her scroll and joining Velvet, wrapping her arms around Weiss' midsection. "Breathe Weiss. You're here, you're safe. Winter will be safe too. You can do this. You always have and you always will." She whispered into Weiss' ear.
Weiss nodded, huffing as she clenched Velvet's hands in her own. "Ruby, are you well enough to continue?"
"Yep, just need to catch my breath." Ruby reassured, pushing herself to her feet.
"Good, and thank you." Weiss added. "I realize I asked a lot from you very suddenly."
"I'm sure you'll ask a lot more of me before my job comes up." Ruby joked.
Weiss chuckled. "If past secretaries are anything to go by...I don't doubt it."
The office was silent in spite of the crowd occupying it. What was normally such a spacious room felt so much smaller with six people standing in wait. Ruby felt uncomfortable, out of place. Here she was, in a room with Weiss and Weiss' closest friends, the outsider. Her stomach had calmed enough that she had been able to manage a light lunch, silent and awkward though it was. Now her gut began to churn once more.
Weiss finally looked up from her computer. She had just been about to speak with the others when an important email had come in. Now it had been dealt with. "Ruby…" Weiss started. Ruby found it odd that she would be the first one to draw the CEO's focus. "...the place you're living, is it safe?"
"Uh…" Ruby hesitated.
"I'm increasing security for everyone close to me." Weiss explained. "I could assign someone to watch the building, or escort you to and from work."
"No, no it's safe." Ruby shook her head. "Blake's kinda' paranoid and...well I'll be fine."
"And the rest of you?" Weiss asked. She already had a good idea of the answers.
"Our apartment buildings have armed guards already." Coco gestured to Velvet.
"Same for us." Pyrrha added.
"Good, good." Weiss nodded. "I'll be adding more guards here, including one to specifically guard my office. There will be increased security at the gala as well. Speaking of which, I'm expanding the gala's scope. Coco, can you have some prototype formalwear made beforehand?"
"Sure." Coco agreed.
"We'll be launching your new line there...at least announcing it." Weiss continued. "That should draw the fashion crowd, raise more money and add visibility to SFO. I'd like us all to wear examples if you don't mind." There were no objections. "What else...no more trips out of the country for SFO, at least until there have been security evaluations. Too risky."
"I suppose I can teleconference if I must." Pyrrha allowed. "And if the gala's being expanded, I'll need to divert some time to planning that."
"Ruby, are you sure your place is safe?" Weiss pressed. "It's no trouble to send someone over there."
"I'll be fine, I promise." Ruby insisted. "Blake's apartment is probably the most secure place in Atlas."
"Very well." Weiss sighed and stood at her desk. "You all know what needs to be done."
"Velv and I will get started on those outfits ASAP." Coco nodded. "Just send us your measurements or stop by." With that the two headed for the door.
Weiss looked to Pyrrha and Ren. It was clear they wanted to speak to her in private. "Ruby...could you give us a moment?"
"Sure." Ruby slipped out of the room.
As the door clicked shut, Weiss exhaled. "I'm fi-"
"Weiss." Ren interrupted firmly. "Don't lie to us." He circled the desk, approaching his friend along with Pyrrha.
"Please." Pyrrha pled, reaching for Weiss. "You're exhausted." She wrapped her arm around Weiss', prying the CEO's fingers off the desk to link with her own.
"I'm always exhausted Pyrrha." Weiss chuckled mirthlessly. "It's part of my job."
"And it's part of ours to ensure you get what you need." Ren smiled, mirroring Pyrrha's actions. "You need rest Weiss." They began pulling her away from the desk, but she dug in her heels.
"No, no not now." Weiss whined. "I can rest when I get home. I can't just stop because I'm tired."
"Weiss, Penny told me you didn't sleep last night." Pyrrha noted.
"Penny!" Weiss groaned.
"Your wellbeing is my priority Ms. Schnee." Penny spoke up.
"Ugh...I'm fine." Weiss persisted. "I took a stim and I have Ruby's coffee. I can last the day."
"You took a stim…" Ren sighed.
"Weiss, you're smarter than this." Pyrrha admonished.
"It's not about being smart, it's about being effective." Weiss defended. "Now even if I wanted to sleep I still have to wait for it to wear off, which should hopefully, if the millions we sink into pharmaceutical research count for anything, last for the end of the day."
"Weiss…" Pyrrha murmured. "This isn't just about sleep."
"I know." Weiss admitted.
"You don't have to deal with this alone." Ren assured, shifting to meet Weiss' tense gaze with a soft smile.
"I know." Weiss whispered.
"We're here for you." Pyrrha promised, pressing herself closer.
Pyrrha's warmth clashed with the pain in Weiss' heart. "I know." Her voice cracked.
"You don't need to be strong with us." Ren soothed. "Don't hold back."
"They...they took her...just like that...just…" Weiss huffed. "All the might of the Atlesian military, years of dedicated service, and the Fang plucked her from the sky and stole her from the face of Remnant." Weiss laughed once more. "I need to make sure mother is safe. I need to make sure Whitley is safe. I need to be sure you are safe, and Coco and Velvet and Ruby and everyone in this company and the gala." She took a sharp breath. "The Fang could be anywhere, doing anything. I need to protect my people."
"And you will, you will." Pyrrha moved to wrap her arms around Weiss' waist. "But right now you need to focus on yourself. You can't help others if you can't help yourself."
"I will, I will, just not right now." Weiss resisted. "That's what the weekend is for, that's how it works. That's how it's always worked. I've been through hell and high water before and this is no different."
"Weiss." Ren mirrored Pyrrha's actions once more. Weiss found herself gazing up into his gentle pink eyes. Her lip quivered. "It's only us. You don't have to say a word."
With a shuddering exhale, Weiss let herself fall in defeat. Supported by her dear companions, she clutched Ren weakly, silently venting her grief into his chest, gently shaking in Pyrrha's arms.
By the end of the day, Ruby was done. She forced a pep in her step until out of Weiss' sight, but once the elevator doors closed, all the fight left her body. So she remained all the way home. Vulpe was considerate, letting her rest past her usual greetings, and gently prodding her awake upon arrival. Ruby mumbled thanks, staggering out of the car and eventually making her way to the apartment door. How she got there Ruby would never know. All that mattered was the shower within, and the bed following.
By some miracle, the first key Ruby tried was the right one. In movements practiced from years of ambling home after college, she kicked off her shoes mid waddle and tossed her purse through the open door to her room. She collided with the bathroom door as she turned the handle, opening it to...find Blake...naked Blake...frozen, one hand holding the toothbrush in her mouth, the other with claws extended in threat...and…
A penis...between her legs...there was a penis between her legs. Blake had a penis. Ruby closed her eyes, pulling the door shut and hurrying away into her room. She was far too exhausted to deal with this revelation. She should just go to sleep. Maybe it would just go away and she would not have to handle it. The subject, not Blake's penis. The subject of Blake's penis. Blake had a penis, her suspicion was correct, and it seemed Faunus had really big members.
Ruby groaned, falling face first onto her bed and crawling up to the pillows. There she attempted to suffocate herself to sleep, now stuck in an annoying in between. Her mind raced, stumbling over itself due to a mix of excitement and fatigue, and not that kind of excitement. No, that was weird, and wrong. Blake was her Alpha, Sun's partner, family. Off limits. But this was new, and shocking, and probably had a really simple explanation.
Two firm knocks rung upon the door, and Ruby sighed. "Come in." She called, remaining in place. She was comfortable, physically at least.
The room brightened and dimmed as Blake entered, the bed dipping slowly as the Faunus lay beside her. "I'm sorry you saw that." Blake started. "Sun...made my bathroom unbearable."
Ruby huffed a chuckle. "It's not the first time."
"Same here…" Blake murmured.
"It's...an Alpha thing, isn't it?" Ruby finally asked.
"Yes Ruby." Blake confirmed. "It's an Alpha thing."
"Oh…" Ruby breathed. "Okay."
"Okay?" Blake repeated in question.
"Sorry...my mind's just really frazzled and...is it always and Alpha thing?" Ruby responded.
"It's very rare outside of Alphas, but all female Alphas are endowed." Blake explained. "So that we could...propagate...in the place of a male Alpha."
"I think I need to try and learn more about Faunus biology...from books, and the internet...not…" Ruby sighed. "Today sucked."
"Hmm...I saw you." Blake admitted. "You looked frightened."
"I've never been great on stage." Ruby agreed. She tensed as a hand made contact with her back. Warm and firm, it slid up to her neck, rubbing gently at the base of her skull. Once again Ruby was reminded of Yang, her hands ever diligent in soothing her pains. "Nngh...I nearly threw up after. I didn't think I was still that bad."
"It takes great courage to address a crowd Ruby, you did well." Blake praised, trailing her nails through the human's hair. Ruby shuddered as she crossed an itch, and Blake focused on it for a moment. "You stood tall and spoke clearly. You should take pride in that."
"Thnks Blake…" Ruby groaned, voice muffled by the pillow as she arched into Blake's contact. "I hope someone can do this for Weiss...she really deserves it...she's being so strong."
"Perhaps Velvet will offer, considering they are kin." Blake suggested. It was a half truth really. Velvet had marked Weiss, but not so much as Blake had Ruby. They were close but...lacking, in Blake's opinion. Not that she cared.
"Maybe...I don't know." Ruby mumbled. "I don't know what I'd do if Yang went missing...Winter...I hope she's okay."
Blake sighed. The day's events were weighing upon both of them it seemed, though for entirely different reasons. Old wounds stung in bitter ways. Her mind's mulling left her sleep even more fitful than usual. The night was going to be a chore...unless… "Would you like me to stay?" Blake asked. It was as good an excuse as any. She could sleep, make sure Ruby was taken care of, and her boss could not complain because family issues trumped all. It was a perfect plan.
"You don't have to, I'll be okay." Ruby yawned, turning her head to face Blake. Not quite perfect after all. "But thank you...I know you're trying to be good to me." She reached up to grasp Blake's hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. Blake was thankful for poor human nightvision. It obscured the conflicted grimace as she suppressed...something that threatened to burst forth, something she never wanted to do in front of anyone, least of all Ruby. A knock at the door caused her to flinch.
"Uh Ruby, is Blake in there?" Came Sun's muffled voice.
"Yeah, come in." Ruby called.
The door opened and sun peeked in, taking in the scene. "You two alright?"
"Blake was just checking on me, today was rough." Ruby explained, omitting certain details. Blake greatly appreciated that.
"Oh yeah, you got up on stage." Sun pushed into the room. "Sorry I didn't see. I'll watch a rerun." He took a seat beside Blake.
"There's not much to see." Ruby shrugged. "I just read a few lines and tried not to throw up after."
"You need anything?" Sun asked. "I can skip work tonight and stay in."
Ruby smiled and shook her head. "I'll be fine Sun, thanks. I'm just gonna' sleep and pretend I don't have work tomorrow."
"Then we will leave you to it." Blake stated, nudging Sun. "Come on, before we're late."
"Yeah, yeah, no need to get violent." Sun groused, receiving a slap on the behind for his trouble. "Oi!"
"Sleep well." Blake bid before leaving, the door closing firmly behind her.
Ruby smiled after the pair. Following a long day it was nice to feel cared for, it was nice to feel like she had a family by her side. But it also left her feeling homesick, for Yang in particular. She tried to push the thought from her mind, but she truly could not rid herself of the nagging worry that something could happen to Yang. She felt for Weiss. If she suddenly heard her sister had been taken captive by a terrorist organization hell bent on destroying her family and everything she stood for...she would never have been as composed as Weiss was.
Ruby scrambled for her purse, eventually finding it after blindly fumbling at the foot of her bed. She pulled her scroll free and sent a message.
[Ruby: Hey sis, I love you.]
[Yang: I love you too Rubes! What's up? U feelin ok?]
[Ruby: Nothin, about to sleep, just wanted to say, I don't think I say it enough]
[Yang: Aw, I know you love me, we're sisters, even if u hated me you'd still love me]
[Ruby: I know, its just todays got me all weird and worrying]
[Yang: Is ur boss ok?]
[Ruby: I dont know, I hope so]
[Yang: Did u give her hugs?]
[Ruby: I did! Coco did too, and Velvet probably, and I think Pyrrha and Ren did later but I think she needs more than some hugs]
[Yang: Oooh I see, aiming high are we ;)]
[Ruby: Yang! I'm being serious :(]
[Yang: So am I! Rubooty could be just what she needs, go for it!]
Ruby groaned, going limp and letting her scroll drop from her hands. She took it back, Yang was terrible. She would not miss her at all...okay, that was a lie.
Ruby just could not get it out of her head, which was stupid and wrong. It was Blake, she should not be thinking of her like this. She should not even know this, or maybe she should know. She should actually do research instead of saying she would and forgetting. It seemed every time she neglected her promise, the world threw another new and weird Faunus fun fact in her face. Alphas, kinship, scent markings, dicks, dicks on a female, not multiple but one dick, specifically on Blake. Blake had a dick.
Ruby groaned long - and probably out loud - to herself. Were she anywhere close to reality she may have noticed the quizzical expression Penny popped onto here chibi face. How the hell did Blake stand such tight pants with that thing? And how had Ruby not noticed a bulge of some kind? Did it retract or...no, that was just stupid. It was, from the few seconds of memory she had of it, a completely normal human...penis. Did Faunus ever have unique penises? They had horns, ears, tails and scales yes, but it was not like she had ever searched for pictures of Faunus dicks, and she was really not about to start.
"Hey, wakey wakey Red!" Coco's voice suddenly burst. Ruby jumped, arms splaying in panic, knocking her SDC branded coffee mug off her desk...straight into Velvet's hand.
"Good morning Ruby." Velvet smirked, returning the thankfully empty mug with a clink.
Ruby clutched at her chest as her heart throbbed. "Hah, good morning Velvet, Coco. Sorry I was...thinking." She smiled sheepishly, reaching over to gently nudge the coffee mug into a more secure position, one safe from her clumsy antics.
"Never seen a gal think so hard she ignored the cute chibi girl waving at her." Coco joked, thumbing toward Penny's monitor. The AI stood pouting.
"Sorry Penny." Ruby apologized.
The miniature girl perked up. "That's okay Ruby. Are you feeling well?" Penny smiled.
"Yeah, you sure you're alright from yesterday?" Coco asked.
"Did you sleep well?" Velvet inquired.
"Yeah, yeah I did it's just...got stuff on my mind." Ruby replied.
"Heavy stuff?" Coco pressed.
"Confusing stuff...like...I learned more about Alphas than I think I was ready for, and it's all buzzing around in my head today." Ruby explained.
"What happened?" Velvet asked. "Did Blake do something strange?"
Ruby drew her lips into a tight line. "Sorta'? I mean, one thing was kinda' weird, but that's not what really is...I uh...walked in on Blake and...saw a little...extra."
"Oooh, you saw her dick?" Coco burst, grinning.
"Ooooooh, right, that, yeah." Velveet rolled her eyes. "A little evolutionary holdover from ancient times."
"Blake said it was an Alpha thing...for when males aren't around." Ruby noted.
"Alpha genetics are convoluted and still not entirely explored." Velvet explained. "But the basic gist of it is that the Alpha gene is triggered by the state of the pack. If an Alpha is needed, one will be produced...even if that one is female."
"Oh...so they're born female...but with a penis instead?" Ruby asked.
"Both." Velvet clarified. "Female Alphas are hermaphrodites."
"Best of both worlds." Coco chimed in, finger gunning toward Velvet with a wink.
Ruby blinked. "Are you an Alpha too?"
Velvet laughed. "Hell no."
"The world can barely handle her now." Coco pulled Velvet into a hug. "Velvet with a dick? Even I can't compete with that. It's my one virtue." She smooched her lover's cheek, causing her to flush and roll her eyes.
Ruby furrowed her brow. "Your one virtue?"
"Yeah, I cop some flak for it sometimes but...I've just never been able to decide on surgery." Coco replied.
"Surgery?" Ruby exclaimed. Her friends' smiles faded.
Coco regarded Ruby with a raised brow. "Surgery, for my transition." She rolled her hand over her pelvis.
"You're...trans?" Ruby spoke with wonder.
Velvet glanced between Ruby and Coco. "You didn't know?"
"No, I mean, should I?" Ruby asked. "I never really questioned it at all, you don't...I mean you're...I don't have anything against it just...hoo boy." She sighed, running her hands across her face. "I'm really sorry. I'm just so frazzled and I think the pace of this week is getting to me." She offered an apologetic smile, hoping beyond home that she had not offended Coco or Velvet, or both. They were close friends of her boss, two of the first friends she had truly made in years. She really liked them. A foot in her mouth was far preferable to losing their friendship.
"You knew about me, but you didn't know I was trans?" Coco balked with a laugh. "Like how? Coco Adel, Transwoman of Atlas, I swear I was in the headlines for like two years."
"I've never really kept up with the news, like ever." Ruby explained. "Yang might know, maybe. I dunno'...I don't think they mentioned it in the news last week."
"Huh." Coco mumbled. "That's...new. I just assume everyone knows."
"You okay babe?" Velvet murmured.
Coco chuckled. "Yeah, I'm great. Ruby though, relax. You didn't offend me, just surprised me." She grinned. "It's not every week you find out two of your girlfriends are packing, eh?"
Ruby spluttered, much to Coco's amusement. "It's not like it's weird. I mean, it is to me, because I've never met anyone like this before, and I'm just a country girl who played with sticks and ran around a lot as a kid...I need a drink." She groaned, rubbing her leg, which had been throbbing slightly all morning.
"Unfortunately it's against company regulations." Velvet reminded.
"Pfft, everyone who wants a stash has one." Coco scoffed. "As long as you don't get smashed it's not like anyone's gonna' rat you out."
"I'm right outside Weiss' office." Ruby gestured to the heavy doors.
Coco shrugged. "Offer to share!"
Ruby chuckled. "I don't think we're close enough to be drinking buddies."
"Eh, won't know until you try." Coco suggested.
"Speaking of Weiss, I need to talk to her." Velvet interjected. "About business."
"I'm gonna' stay and bug Ruby for a bit." Coco joked.
"Behave." Velvet ordered, poking Coco in the cheek before cupping the other and drawing her into a soft kiss. "Remember the sexual harassment policy."
"I solemnly swear I am up to no bad." Coco chanted, hand across her heart.
Velvet rolled her eyes, pulling away. "Sure, be back soon." The door clicked as she approached, and she easily pushed through. "Hey Weiss." Her voice was cut off as the door clicked shut again, the electronic locks engaging with a clunk.
"So, how big was she?" Coco began with a smirk.
"Coco…" Ruby groaned, flushing.
"Come on Red, dish the deets'!" Coco plead. "I gotsta' know!"
Ruby crumpled onto her desk. This was going to be a long day.
Ruby ambled in at her usual time, dead on her feet, a more pronounced limp than usual. She still managed a cheerful greeting and a grateful smile as she was handed her cocktail. It even inspired one of Blake's own rare grins. It was a busy night. Faunus of all kinds and breeds flooded in to down alcohol by the gallon. It was good for business, bad for Blake's ears. But the tips were flooding in, so Blake plugged her upper ears and soldiered on.
A gravelly bear drowned in his pains. A lispy serpent, aged beyond her years, bored holes into her glass. A fresh-faced canine - hardly more than a pup - jittered nervously, eyeing several high-pitched college girls with feathered hair, who chittered between each other as Blake mixed their drinks. There was no end to the variety. There was even a new human here, her perfume mingling with the heavy scents and hormones in the air. The girl had entered a few hours after Ruby. Clad in plaid, with curly black hair and thick red lipstick, she had melted into the crowd as Blake watched. What stir she caused dissipated as she did everything right - no eye contact, no purposeful physical contact, her perfume was simple and soft, defining her without intruding on the senses. She swayed and bobbed to the music with a satisfied smirk, completely at ease.
It was not exactly rare. Humans, rich and poor, often found themselves in Faunus dominated areas, some by accident, others for the thrill, the excitement and danger inherent to being around animals. Some fetishized the Faunus, allured by their bestial nature and features. Blake was not sure which one disgusted her more. Still, a few humans genuinely enjoyed their company, or at least the result of their company. The distinct lack of humans could be appreciated by anyone sufficiently anti-social. Faunus read body language and scent, interactions could boil down to a simple stare or gesture. Humans, the ignorant things, had to vocalize everything. Body language was so rarely appreciated in their society.
Eventually the human made her way from the dance floor, leaning against the bar, tangled black curls curtaining her face, blocking it from view as Blake approached. "Hey, what's your poison?" Blake yelled above the noise.
The human turned, flashing her a bright grin, immaculate teeth shining almost as bright as her ruby red lipstick. "I think I'll have a…" She faltered, stumbling over her tongue as her eyes briefly widened in shock. "A-a Strawberry Sunrise!" The girl's smile faded as she stuttered her order before a strained imitation fell back in its place.
Blake furrowed her brow, confused by the seemingly cheerful girl's lack of composure. And then she saw it, familiarity, pale blue eyes, struggling to hide their panic as they met Blake's own for the second time in their lives. "What are you doing here?" Blake growled as Weiss Schnee herself blinked in shock before her.
"I-I-I'm just here to relax, is that so much to ask?" Weiss stammered, laughing nervously as she glanced side-to-side, looking for potential threats. "What's the issue miss?"
Blake had to resist grinning. This was delicious. "Drop the act...there's no way you came in here with a real ID." She held out her hand expectantly.
To Weiss' credit, she regained her composure quickly, settling for an almost impassive glare as she dug into her pocket, the likes of which Blake expected from the woman. "I am not here to cause trouble." Weiss stated firmly, handing over the card.
"Then why are you here?" Blake pressed. "Come to mingle with the filth?" She sneered, examining the ID. Carmine Regenstrum.
"I am here to enjoy myself on one of the very few nights off I allow myself, as I have done for the past two years." Weiss explained. "And I will thank you not to put words in my mouth. I observe far more filth in a human establishment. At least here any filth knows not to fuck around with the bouncers watching."
"Could you have picked a more pretentious name?" Blake deadpanned.
"It's a reference." Weiss frowned.
"Whatever." Blake waved away. "So what, you've been coming here for two years, and I never noticed?"
"Actually no, I've never come to this particular club before." Weiss replied. "I don't know why, it's not exactly low profile. But still, I usually frequent Kuon, and the Rainbar."
Blake's brow arched at that. "A Faunus gay bar?"
"Their cocktails have yet to be topped." Weiss defended.
Blake scoffed, shaking her head. "So your idea of a night off is Faunus bar hopping...you're not concerned with who you're surrounded by?"
"Who do I have to be concerned about?" Weiss grinned. "I'm no one." For a moment even Blake was fooled again, the smile so wide and genuine, joyful. It reminded her of Ruby. But there were flaws, subtle bags beneath her eyes, mostly hidden by makeup. No, her smile did not quite meet her eyes. Pupils dilated, the edges of her lip twitching, the girl was tired, and she was scared.
Blake leaned in close enough to speak into Weiss' ear. "You're not concerned with the wrong person finding out the wrong information and telling the wrong people?" Even with the bustle of the club, she could hear Weiss swallow.
"Not if Ruby is a good judge of character." Weiss replied.
Blake scoffed, pulling back. "I threw a girl into the wall in front of her, and she let me cuddle her. Your assistant is a terrible judge of character."
Weiss' brow rose suddenly, before a smirk grew on her face. "You cuddled with Ruby?" She balked.
Blake rolled her eyes. "Strawberry Sunrise huh?" She changed the subject, pulling the required ingredients from the fridges. "Took you for a scotch kind of girl."
"It was the first thing that came to mind." Weiss sighed.
"They're sweet, Ruby likes them." Blake noted.
"That girl is sweet enough without being drunk and high on sugar." Weiss joked.
"Well, you're about to know for sure." Blake waved over Weiss' shoulder and the human's blood ran cold.
"What...no Bl-" Weiss started.
"Hey Blake, watchya' need?" Ruby suddenly popped up beside Weiss, clinging to the bar for stability with one hand, a half drained glass in the other. A silly straw and umbrella dangled on the glass' rim. Weiss ducked her head, grimacing up at Blake, who wore a ravenous grin. "Oh hey, I'm Ruby!" She squealed.
"Newbie here has never had a Strawberry Sunrise." Blake gestured to Weiss as she mixed the drink.
"Oh, they're awesome!" Ruby burst. "My sister loves them, and she used to give me sips when she snuck me into clubs and...who are you?"
Weiss turned to stare blankly at the tipsy, rambling girl. Only one person ever looked at her like that. "Hello Ruby, my name is Carmine." She emphasized.
"Heeeeeeey, my name is Ruby!" She slurred, chasing her straw to take a sip.
Weiss turned back to Blake. "How many of these have you given her?"
"Three." Blake replied.
"Two!" Ruby corrected. "Well, this is my third!"
"Oh gods above." Weiss groaned, burying her face in her hands. This was not how she had expected her night to go.
"Want to try?" Ruby offered. "Blakey, can we get another straw?"
"Sure, I'll get right on that." Blake drawled, placing the finished cocktail on the bar. "Why don't you take Carmine back to your seat. Make sure she stays out of trouble."
"Oooh, why didn't I think of that...Carmine, you wanna' come sit with me?" Ruby asked. "No one ever bothers me. Everyone is scared of Blake and I smell like Blake, so they're scared of me. I think. Maybe, is that how it works?" She wondered aloud. Blake shrugged.
"Very well." Weiss sighed, handing over her lien card. "May I have my ID back now?"
"Maybe." Blake swiped the card over the scanner. "If you behave." She grinned, returning the card. Weiss pressed her lips into a thin line as she plucked it from her fingers, a mixture of irritation and suspicion coloring her expression.
"I can't walk all that great right now so bear with me." Ruby warned. "But I know where I'm going."
Well, Weiss thought, at least she was in good company.
It seemed Ruby and Weiss had something in common, they both enjoyed people watching. She had expected the girl to begin slurring her ear off the moment she sat down. Gods knew she talked Coco's ear off. It was why the fashion fiend like the girl. Anyone who could match Coco Adel in words per minute without sycophantry was worthy of respect in her eyes, and it did not help that Ruby had an innocent charm about her. She had never met someone with silver eyes before, and they gleamed in the neon lighting of the club.
The pair drank in silence for a time, simply observing the denizens of the dance floor. Honestly it was nice, in a weird way. Normally Weiss went out to lose herself for a few hours, escape her life, her identity, to exist among those who might condemn her otherwise. Now...well Blake knew who she was, which had her silently panicking on the inside, but Ruby's presence was somewhat grounding. If Ruby trusted her it had to count for something, even if everything about Blake screamed danger. Ruby could not be living with a criminal, could she?
A burp sounded beside her, and Weiss turned to see Ruby covering her mouth with her hands, shaking with giggles. "'Scuse me!" Ruby's muffled voice squeaked. "Whadayou' think of yours?" She asked, pointing to Weiss' beverage.
"It's a bit tangy, I kinda' like it, but I usually go for something weaker." Weiss answered, putting less emphasis on her usual, refined accent. That was one of the first things to go - accent, eyes and hair. No one would recognize her body, sad as it sounded in her head. It was trivial to conceal, and granted her a refreshing freedom.
"Yeah...it's a bit strong." Ruby slurred. "But I don't just drink for the flavor, I'm here to get drunk." She smiled dimly, sucking on her straw before letting her head fall back against the wall. "I saw you dancing, you're good! I can't dance. I fall over and everyone laughs at me." Ruby blushed, but her smile did not fade. It seemed she was an honest drunk.
"Who cares if people laugh, dancing isn't about impressing anyone, it's…" Weiss bit her lip. Ruby was regarding her with a drowsy but rapt expression. She had to remember Ruby was not like her. She did not have an identity purely for this purpose. She had herself, and like Weiss, was self conscious. "It's about losing yourself. You stop thinking about everything else. It's just you, the music and movement...sure you might fall over sometimes, but if you're having fun, what does it matter?"
Ruby smiled, chuckling. "I think it's more fun watching people have fun...I have my own fun...doing...stuff…" She frowned briefly, her eyes glazing over. "Well...I used to…" She blinked, her smile returning in full force. "But I still have fun. It's a bit hard with work all the time, but I'm making friends. Oh, do you live here? I only moved a few weeks ago. I used to live on Patch...it's a big difference." She brought her drink up again for a long draw.
Now came a decision. Ruby was asking a question about Carmine, who had her own life, her own history, and her own career. But at the same time, it did not really feel right to lie to Ruby. She was a good woman, a reliable employee, and a kind individual, the three things Weiss valued in a friend. The prior day's deed had solidified the respect Weiss held for her. It took a lot of courage to be put on the spot like that and barely blink. She deserved at least a semblance of the truth.
"I was born and raised here." Weiss answered. "I've never been to Patch, what's it like?" She knew what it was like from pictures, but had never visited. Sadly she had never visited anywhere outside of Atlas. It was never safe, never secure. Her family did not take holidays. Only Winter, through her military service, got to see the world firsthand.
"It's really hot in the summer and really cold in the winter, so you go from laying around in your undies to balled up in every blanket in the house." Ruby beamed. Weiss chuckled at the image. "But there's a really nice lake half an hour's walk away from home that was great to swim in. Yang and I used to go there all the time. Yang's my sister by the way! I really miss her...she introduced me to these." She shook her cocktail, almost spilling it before taking another sip.
Weiss felt a pang at the mention, but schooled her expression into a smile. "What is she like?"
"She's the best!" Ruby burst. "I mean we're sisters, we've had some rough spots, but who doesn't? When I broke my leg she was there for me every day, and she's actually why I got into engineering!" She mellowed, a look of melancholy on her face. "I miss her."
Weiss sighed. "So do I."
"You have a sister too?" Ruby questioned.
Weiss blinked, had she really said that out loud? "Yes, yes I do but we've...fallen out of contact." It was not entirely untrue.
"What happened?" Ruby asked.
Damnit. "We grew distant, she went away and...hasn't come back." Weiss answered. Still not entirely untrue, but it did not hurt any less.
Ruby frowned, reaching to lay a hand on Weiss' thigh. "Have you reached out to her?" She asked.
Weiss shook her head. "I'm trying." No, she was not. She could not. She did not even know if Winter was alive. There had been no demands, no threats, no finger in the mail. Nothing.
"Keep trying." Ruby encouraged. "If she has any sense she'll come around. Yang and I had that problem once, sorta'...we got better, you can too!"
"I don't know if we can Ruby." Weiss managed before a lump blocked her throat. "She's so far away."
"And she'll come closer." Ruby persisted. "You gotta' keep trying. Never give up. Sisters should never give up on each other."
Weiss nodded, her eyes stinging. She took a long swig of her drink, ignoring the straw. The strong cocktail helped distract her from the pain in her chest. She came to Sunrise to escape the grief. She was always trying to escape something, to get away from her life. That was how she survived the stresses of running the SDC. Weekends were for her to enjoy, to push out any worries and fears that plagued her at any given time. And now...now she was being comforted by her drunken assistant, and well on her way to matching her inebriation.
"Ruby, can we talk about something else?" Weiss requested. "I really wanna' just...forget about life for a while." She plastered on a smile for the girl, and found it reflected.
"What do you do for fun?" Ruby asked. "Apart from clubbing?"
Weiss grinned. "I...like anime."
Ruby looked more excited than ever. "Me too!"
Chapter 19: Predicament
Chapter by RealTerminal
"Fine, am I going to survive the night?"
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Blake was in a better mood than usual. Closing time eventually came, the majority of the drunks were evicted, and security helped collect the remaining glasses left lying around. That left Blake free to wipe down the bar, pack the dishwasher and tend to her own. Carmine and Ruby had barely moved all night, talking animatedly until Ruby eventually fell asleep. Weiss then found herself trapped by the clingy girl, who had wrapped around her arm.
Blake had not made up her mind as far as Weiss was concerned. On the one hand, it was ballsy, incredibly foolish, and dangerous for the Schnee scion to be alone in public, even were it not in a dingy Faunus nightclub. Disguise or no, Blake had picked her out the instant she had seen Weiss' eyes. Granted Blake had experience in remembering faces, and Weiss had a distinct look - sharp jawline, narrow nose, thin, sculpted brows, and her eyes were a very vibrant shade of icy blue. Weiss' eyes made her look melancholic. It angered Blake, but that sadness mellowed the burn. On the other hand, Blake was impressed. Impressed that Weiss Schnee, CEO of the SDC, supposed champion of Faunus rights, was dancing in the muck with the animals her father so despised. Good riddance to that tyrannic filth. Still, Blake wondered how the Fang felt about the SDC's change in leadership. How Adam felt.
Suppressing a shudder, Blake exited the bar. Sun had finished wiping down the tables and was now conversing with Weiss, who gently jostled Ruby with her shoulder. "Ruby...Ruby?" Weiss whispered.
"Tickle her belly button." Sun suggested.
"I'm not going to tickle her belly button." Weiss huffed. "That's obscene!"
"We used to do it to each other all the time." Sun shrugged. "She won't mind." Weiss leveled a blank stare at the Faunus, before looking to Blake.
"She's not bringing home another stray." Blake stated. "The last one still hasn't crawled back."
"Oh, I wonder why!" Sun snarked, moving to slide into the booth beside Ruby. "Ruby, come on, bedtime." He murmured, slipping his arm around Ruby and gently pulling her away.
Ruby groaned in protest. "Nnnn don't wanna'..." She complained in her daze.
"I know, I know, but you've got a bed waiting for you." Sun soothed. "You don't have to walk, I'll carry you."
"Yaaaaay..." Ruby slurred, barely noticing as Carmine slipped from her grip, leaving the booth.
"Is she always that clingy?" Weiss asked.
"Only if you let her." Blake answered. "Did you drive here?"
"No, I was going to catch a taxi." Weiss replied.
Blake nodded, smiling to herself. Perfect. "Sun, take a Ryde home, I don't trust this one." She ordered, holding out her hand. "Keys."
"I can make my way home just fine thank you." Weiss commented as Sun dug into his pocket.
"You're barely standing, and I still have your ID." Blake countered, taking the keys as Sun offered them.
Weiss huffed, frowning. She was not barely standing. At worst her head was fuzzy, which was a good thing. It meant she did not have to focus on anything so much - not life, not work, not the present situation, her alter ego's identification card in the clutches of an intimidating Faunus whose only interaction had been a heated discussion with her close friend. This was not why she went out, but now she had to deal with it. "Fine." Weiss grumbled, walking past Blake.
Blake smugly smirked. Sun raised a brow, quirking his head as he watched her leave. "Uh...was that-"
"Shush, mind your own, I'll mind her." Blake ordered.
"What do you mean mind?" Sun groaned. "Is this more of that trust me I won't kill someone coy crap?"
"No, it's a trust me I might not kill someone coy crap." Blake shot. "I'll see you later Sun." She turned to leave.
"You're terrible!" Sun complained.
"I'm sorry." Ruby slurred.
"No not…" Sun sighed. "Gods help me."
Blake's car had a unique smell, as did all Faunus, or so Velvet taught. It was one of the more interesting and important lessons Weiss had learned over the years. Scent was a core pillar of Faunus culture. Everyone had a unique scent, just like a fingerprint. But unlike a fingerprint, scents evolved over time, changed by factors like environment, lifestyle and emotional state. Faunus could find an old friend almost a stranger, barely a passing sense of familiarity remaining to remind them of who they once were.
Weiss remembered the look of melancholy Velvet had worn upon that statement. It made her heart ache. Velvet's family were not all accepting of her place, let alone humanity as a whole. The Fang stole many hearts and minds, and left many families divided in the process. Regardless, Velvet placed herself directly in the crossfire, without hesitation, and with complete conviction. It never ceased to terrify Weiss.
"It was your eyes that gave it away." Blake suddenly spoke up.
Weiss jolted, turning her head to face the Faunus. Blake's golden eyes remained fixed on the road, a subtle smirk still gracing her features. "What?" Weiss questioned.
"Your eyes, unmistakable, wide, bright baby blue." Blake explained. "That was your first mistake."
Weiss gaped soundlessly. Looking up at the sun visor and flipping it down, sure enough there was a mirror on its backside. Her eyes flashed blue in the night lights. "Damnit." She hissed. "Wrong contacts."
"You can't afford to make these mistakes." Blake lectured. "Still, the rest of your disguise is admirable, and the ID is a perfect forgery."
"Technically it isn't a forgery." Weiss corrected.
Blake quirked a brow. "Oh?"
"I'm not an idiot Blake." Weiss defended. "I didn't decide to do this on a whim one day. I prepared carefully and extensively."
"It's genuine then?" Blake questioned.
"It is." Weiss confirmed. "Why do you care?"
"I'm curious." Blake replied.
"You're talkative." Weiss grimaced. "You didn't address me at all before."
"I had nothing to say to you." Blake shrugged.
"You had plenty to say to Velvet." Weiss noted.
"And what did you dear friend tell you, hmm?" Blake pressed.
"I dislike what you're implying." Weiss grumbled.
Blake scoffed, chuckling deeply. She pulled to a stop at a red light. "There are only three types of humans who come to a Faunus nightclub Weiss. The first are the friends. They came because their Faunus companion finds it more comfortable. They hide away in a corner, sipping their drink, hoping no one targets her for being different. I like them, they don't cause trouble." The light turned green and Blake accelerated once more. "The second are tourists, spoiled rich kids and soccer moms who want to mix it up with the filth, gawk at the freaks, the pretty feathers, the flowing tails and flicking ears. They glean excitement from the danger, from the taboo. They find us a novel, exotic entertainment, something colorful and dirty to brighten their pathetic, hollow lives." Blake spat those final words through her teeth, malice glinting in her golden eyes. "But the final type…" Blake grimaced. "...fetishize us."
Weiss felt a sense of dread at the coming conversation. The subject was always at the back of her mind when Faunus rights were the subject. Velvet herself described several more serious cases of objectification she had handled. She would never forget the rage she felt. Nor the guilt pooling in her stomach.
"You wouldn't believe the gall of humans who view us as...sexual conquests, objects to be used, pretty women with adorable ears to scratch and tails to stroke, pets to be bought, collared and owned." Blake continued. "And that's just the men. The women?" She let loose a laugh that could easily be mistaken for a snarl. "They think it's just so fucking erotic, big lion man with big muscles pounding them into the bed. No one stops to consider that perhaps lion man would like to settle down. No, he's just an animal cock on legs. It's fun to fuck an animal once in a while, really spices up the boring life of being a superior race. Wouldn't you agree?"
Momentarily stunned, Weiss huffed. "No, I wouldn't agree. Is there a point to this tirade, or am I supposed to tell you I came to Sunrise to get pounded into the bed by a lion man?" Blake tilted her head in a shrug, and Weiss felt her ire turn to anger. "I'll be perfectly honest Blake, I have my preferences, and several of them do include Faunus, but I also happen to have respect for others, Faunus and Human." She glared. "Now I don't know what I did to offend you personally, if this is just run of the mill racism or my father did something that hurt you or someone you cared for, I am sorry Blake, I cannot state that enough to the entirety of your kind, but I am not my father. I have done nothing to you, and I do not appreciate being held hostage and needled. Where are we even going?"
"A White Fang rally." Blake replied.
"Wha-you'd better be joking!" Weiss shouted.
"I might be." Blake shrugged. "You don't know that. Perhaps I'm an assassin, or maybe I really am just a bartender. Food for thought."
"I preferred you silent and brooding." Weiss complained.
"Times change." Blake said.
"Yes, they do." Weiss grumbled. "What do you want?"
"For you to drop the phoney politeness." Blake answered. "I can't stand political bullshit. You're not sucking up to me, so speak clearly."
"Fine, am I going to survive the night?" Weiss asked.
"Barring a sudden automotive collision?" Blake shrugged. "Most likely."
"Ugh." Weiss managed.
"Relax Schnee, if I showed up at a rally it'd be both our heads." Blake rolled her eyes.
"So what, you're a traitor?" Weiss inquired.
"In a manner of speaking." Blake responded.
"Why don't you speak clearly?" Weiss challenged.
"Now where's the fun in that?" Blake shot back.
Weiss groaned, thumping her head against the cold window. "Where are we going?"
"Home." Blake replied. "You do still live in the Schnee Towers, correct?"
"I do, but don't drop me off at the front door." Weiss requested.
"I wasn't planning to." Blake indicated.
"Good, I don't let people know Carmine lives here." Weiss explained.
"Smart." Blake admired.
"It'd be a bloody waste of an education if I wasn't." Weiss noted.
"And who else knows of Carmine?" Blake asked.
"Very few, trusted friends." Weiss replied.
"Hmm, it seems we skipped a few steps." Blake observed.
"Yes, it does." Weiss agreed.
"Then we should make up for it." Blake suggested. "Pad in the glovebox, write your scroll number, your personal one."
"Why, so we can have a deep conversation about drink mixing?" Weiss' voice dripped with sarcasm as she opened the compartment, pulling free the notepad and fumbling for a pen.
"No." Blake denied, pulling over. She shifted into park as Weiss scribbled down her number. "But I have a world to catch up on, and I want to hear it from you."
"You speak as if you just awoke from a coma." Weiss teased.
Blake shrugged. "In a manner of speaking."
"Fine, whatever, just don't give this out." Weiss groaned, handing the pad to Blake. "I get enough texts from Coco when she's drunk."
"Maybe I'll give it to Ruby, tell her it's Carmine's." Blake smirked. "She seemed so happy to have a new friend."
"Please refrain." Weiss requested.
"Why, afraid to make a new friend?" Blake joked.
"The more friends I make, the more people I put in danger." Weiss explained. "Ruby will be better off remaining impartial."
"Ruby doesn't know how to remain impartial, and she's lonely." Blake noted. "So treat her well."
"I treat her better than most." Weiss sighed.
"And she comes home exhausted and aching, and I have to deal with it." Blake complained.
"What, does she complain?" Weiss asked.
"No, she drinks." Blake corrected.
"Oh." Weiss managed.
"And you see what she's like drunk." Blake continued.
"Yeah, yeah, I get it." Weiss grumbled, opening the door. "Thank you for not kidnapping me."
"Hmm...Schnee." Blake called.
"Blake?" Weiss turned back.
Blake tapped the steering wheel, biting her bottom lip before turning, meeting Weiss' gaze. "I'm sorry, about Winter."
Weiss' lips drew into a line, then she sighed. "Thank you...good night." She bid before closing the door and walking away. Blake lingered, watching the woman make her way to a set of stairs behind the tower. She paused, looking back at Blake's car before making her way down below street level. Tension ruled her posture all the while.
Blake sighed, loosening her grip on the wheel to shift back into gear. "Idiot." She growled to herself, pulling back onto the road. She did not expect the night to go anything like this, not in any sense. But at least now she had something to work with. It was a start - and unpleasant, irritating one, but a start nonetheless.
It had surprised Ruby how pliant Blake was to the invitation. She had expected some hesitation, some suspicion, any sort of resistance to the idea. Blake had simply asked when and where. Sun's agreement was no surprise however - free food was free food, and if Coco was any indication of the friends Ruby was making, he had no issue visiting more. There were some difficulties though.
Ruby found it hard to convince Sun to dress appropriately. She was not going to let him leave the house without a shirt, one that had a collar, and covered his arms. He needed to wear long pants too, and not ripped jeans, nice ones. Eventually a combination of nagging and a weaponized puppy dog face got the job done. Blake needed no such prodding. She put on skinny jeans and a tank top, with a jacket to go over it. Ruby wore a similar top and cardigan with a knee-length skirt. They were not the most dressed up, but it would be enough for a nice dinner at a friend's house.
Ruby had harbored some worries about the dinner with Ren and Pyrrha. She had never before gone to such a friendly get-together as an adult, let alone one with her future boss. The last thing she wanted to do was make some error that would make them think less of her. It was easy enough to dress up, even if getting Sun to do so was torturous. Ruby was relieved she had not been asked to bring any food. Her cooking was pretty good, but what if her new friends did not like it? Ren's suggestion that she bring a bottle of white wine helped, but there were so many types and brands. Blake and Sun could offer no help, both preferring other liquors, and she had no wine expertise. After sifting through some conflicting reviews online, she had finally been able to select a bottle. Hopefully it would be acceptable.
Though they lived in completely different parts of the city, the ride to Ren and Pyrrha's apartment was not a long one. Ruby found the glass-sided apartment building to be stylish and architecturally interesting, but her companions had nothing to say about the matter. After being buzzed in they headed up to the appropriate floor and with a quick knock, the door soon opened.
"Good evening everyone, please come in." Pyrrha warmly greeted, standing aside.
"Hey Pyrrha, hope we got here on time." Ruby replied, slipping past.
"You're a little early in fact, but it's no trouble." Pyrrha deflected, smiling at Blake and Sun before closing the door. She turned to her guests, extending a hand. "Pyrrha Nikos, it is a pleasure to meet you."
Blake took her hand first. "Blake, Morelle." She answered with a smile. "Thank you for inviting us into your home."
"The pleasure is mine." Pyrrha bowed her head, releasing the handshake to offer one to Sun.
"Sun Wukong, it's uh, nice place you have here, really high up." He observed.
Pyrrha chuckled. "Thank you. It was an engagement gift from our dear friend Weiss."
Letting go, Pyrrha gestured to a row of hooks on the wall. "Please feel free to hang your coats."
"Oh, we brought wine!" Ruby piped up, pulling a bottle from her purse to offer.
"Thank you." Pyrrha smiled warmer still as she accepted it. "Ah, you have good taste. The Violettas produce lovely vintages."
"I'm rather partial to the Ferossi myself." Blake interjected, hanging her jacket and Sun's. "Violettas were my mother's forte."
"A tad bitter yes, but what's life without a little contrast?" Pyrrha mused.
"A fair point." Blake allowed.
"Please, follow me to the lounge." Pyrrha invited. "Dinner is still being prepared and we have more guests coming."
The apartment was very different from Blake's. The rooms were big, with relatively tall ceilings and many large windows. The interior walls were painted a warm shade of red, and covered with various paintings. Four depicted the Maidens in a classic Mistrali style. Another was a painting of some ancient battle, and another a beautiful seaside landscape. The furniture was all black and modern, except for a blue armchair in an older style by the faux fireplace. Overhead lamps provided the room with a gentle amber glow. The gigantic flat screen television seemed almost brutal and out of place compared to its surroundings.
The kitchen, dining room and living room were attached, with just a waist-high wall separating the kitchen from the rest. There Ren carefully put the finishing touches on homemade sushi as Pyrrha placed the wine into the fridge, pecking her fiance along the way before turning to apply garnishes, practically dancing as she hummed a tune. The scene was so sweet, the very picture of domestic bliss.
"Good evening, welcome to our home." Ren greeted as they entered his line of sight. "I am Lie Ren. I'd shake your hand, but…" He held them in the air, wiggling his fingers.
Sun waved, Blake smiled and bowed her head. "Sun." He introduced.
"Blake." She did likewise. "Thank you for having us. The food smells delicious already." She could smell familiar scents in the air - the salt specifically, she kept a jar of it at home. It was rarely used, but always effectively.
"I've tried my hand at Menagerian sushi." Ren explained. "The recipe is not too different from Mistrali...but I hope I handled it well."
"I'm sure you will come close, thank you for your consideration." Blake bowed once more before turning away, directing her attention back to Ruby and Sun.
The pair had returned to examining the art, one shelf in particular for Ruby. A series of seemingly random sculptures in different materials and designs, some modern, some aged, filled the shelf. Most were typical artsy pieces that were in vogue, but one stood out to Ruby. Rough, clearly made by hand, depicting an abstract, rotund woman with gigantic exposed breasts. It was perplexing, seemingly erotic in nature, yet she doubted anyone could glean sexual pleasure from its appearance.
Before Ruby could spend much time thinking about the strange figurine, there was a knock at the door. Pyrrha danced out of the kitchen to open it. "Good evening!" Came her exclamation, followed by laughter. She soon exited the hall, two others attached to her hand. One was a blonde man, just taller than Pyrrha, the other a ginger, notably shorter. "Blake, Sun, Ruby, meet my dear friends Nora and Jaune." Pyrrha introduced the guests. "Nora and Jaune, Blake, Ruby, Sun." She gestured between them all in turn before slipping free of the ginger's grip.
"Heya!" Nora cheered with a wave.
"Hi uh...nice to meet you." Jaune politely nodded.
Nora walked over and flopped down on an unoccupied loveseat. Jaune followed, sitting beside her. He looked familiar. "Hey, have we met before?" Ruby asked. "You look familiar."
"Maybe?" Jaune shrugged, looking at her.
"Do you work at the SDC?" Ruby inquired.
"Yeah, I fill in with security sometimes." Jaune replied. "I start full time next week."
"Oh, so that's where I've seen you before." Ruby nodded. "Cool, cool, congrats on the job!"
"That's kinda' why we're here." Nora chirped. "He only just got the call a few days ago."
"They're adding security because of the Winter thing." Jaune spoke softly. "But I'm sure it's a touchy subject with Ren and Pyrrha, so we probably shouldn't talk about it."
"They're really close to Weiss, aren't they?" Ruby asked.
"Dinner's ready!" Pyrrha singsonged, interrupting the conversation. "Come and get it!"
The guests gathered around the table, taking their seats. The food was already laid out, a mixture of types and courses. Dumplings, rice, salad, sushi and a few cooked fish dishes made up the offerings. "Please enjoy." Ren offered, inciting the others to gather various dishes onto their plates. Clearly eating would come first, conversing afterward. A few wine bottles - including Ruby's - were laid out along with several soft drink options. Ruby noticed that Pyrrha chose seltzer instead of trying her wine. Perhaps she had chosen wrong after all.
The feast was consumed quickly. Ruby was surprised by just how much and how quickly Nora ate. She was so petite, yet she ate like a ravenous beast. Everyone found something to enjoy, and Blake even made an effort to eat something other than seafood, though upon biting into the sushi for the first time she had frozen.
"Is it to your liking?" Ren asked.
Blake stared at her plate for several moments before responding, eyes distant. "It's perfect." She replied in a small voice, smiling briefly and taking another bite.
When it seemed the meal had reached its end, Pyrrha headed to the kitchen, returning with a selection of ice creams and yogurts for desert. Nora's sweet tooth became evident alongside Ruby's, and soon desert was consumed as well. All that remained was some polite after-dinner conversation. Ruby just had to avoid putting her foot in her mouth, and the night would be a success.
"So how did you guys meet Ren and Pyr?" Nora asked, eating another spoonful of ice cream.
"She's gonna' be my boss when our project starts." Ruby replied. "Blake and Sun are my roommates."
"Ooh, gotta' little three way thing going?" Nora teased.
Ruby blushed. "No, nope, they're dating, I'm just a friend."
"Aw, that's a shame...you got anyone special?" Nora asked. Ruby shook her head. "Gotta' fix that, but I'm sure you'll find someone."
"Are you two a couple?" Ruby observed. Nora grinned at the blonde beside her, reaching over to lay a hand upon his shoulder.
"Yep, we just moved in together." Jaune replied, laying his own hand atop Nora's.
"We met at the restaurant where we worked and, well, one thing just kind of led to another." Nora chuckled.
Ruby smiled, but could not help but feel very much like a third...er...seventh wheel. "How did you guys meet Ren and Pyrrha?"
"I tried to pick up Ren in a bar." Nora laughed. "But he was there with Pyrrha. Me and Pyrrha had some history, it's a whole thing, yaknow' secrets and all." She winked. Ruby looked to the others, but they seemed unwilling to pick up where Nora left off.
"I noticed you admiring the decor, what do you guys think?" Pyrrha inquired.
"It's really nice." Ruby replied.
"Slick and artsy, bet Blake's jealous." Sun laughed. "The blue chair kinda' sticks out though."
"Ah yes." Pyrrha smiled. "That's Weiss' chair." She explained. "We replaced all the furniture after moving in, but Weiss really liked that chair, so we decided to hold onto it."
"I take it she visits a lot?" Blake guessed.
"Not so much lately, she's been very busy." Ren answered. "But our door is always open to her."
Ruby had become distracted by the figurine again. Pyrrha followed her gaze. "Curious, Ruby?"
"Oh...uh yeah." Ruby admitted, slightly flustered. "It seems kinda' outta' place compared to everything else. What is it?"
"It's a Mistrali fertility idol." Pyrrha explained. "Mother gifted it to us when we got engaged."
"Oh yeah, you're tryin' to have a kid." Ruby remembered. "Wouldn't it make more sense if it was in the bedroom though?"
"Knowin' those two?" Nora grinned. "Probably want 'em all over the place."
Ruby - and Jaune for that matter - turned bright red. "Well uh...I…" She fumbled.
"Oh come now, there's no need to be embarrassed." Pyrrha assured. "Sex is a beautiful thing, not something to be ashamed of. Ren and I have our fun wherever and whenever the mood takes us." Ren smiled, nodding as he grabbed Pyrrha's hand and gave it a squeeze.
Nora almost immediately moved onto another topic of conversation, but Ruby was left behind. If Pyrrha and Ren were willing to be that up front about their sexuality with her, they were either extremely open people, or they already considered Ruby a close friend, a possibility that made her quite happy. On the other hand, it once again drove home the point that she was surrounded by couples without a partner of her own. All her life she had never had so many friends, but she felt so painfully alone.
Author's Note: RealTerminal and I are considering starting a Patreon
Lately I've run into financial difficulties, and to me that seems a logical way to take some of the pressure off. The situation as it exists threatens to limit my writing, as individuals counting on my income know I write and do not approve as it take a sizable chunk of time and effort, and does not pay.
I haven't decided on specifics or anything, but I was thinking of offering rewards like early access to new chapters, exclusive one-shots and add-on chapters (scenes that are interesting or fun but don't fit into the flow of the story), and a few other perks. As for price, I haven't decided on that either, but $5 per month seems about right to me (feel free to convince me otherwise). I appreciate those who take the time to read these stories, and your comments mean a great deal, so I don't want to just spring this on you.
Let me know if you'd be interested, along with your suggestions, concerns, or anything else that comes to mind. Thank you for your support.
Chapter 20: Lonesome Hearts
Chapter by RealTerminal
"Don't worry dad, you're still the one who gave me my first beer."
The rest of the night went well, Blake thought, though Ruby was oddly silent for much of it. It was rare that Blake went out, even rarer to be invited, but she had figured it was worth the chance, if only to learn more about the people Ruby consorted with, who Weiss considered friends. It came as no surprise that Weiss herself did not show. She came off as the sort to hide from the sympathy of others, dealing with her issues in private. Blake understood that, and what a strange feeling it was to relate to a Schnee.
"Sooo…" Ruby sleepily slurred. Lightweight, Blake scoffed internally. "Whadidya' think of 'em?"
"I liked 'em, haven't had food that good in years." Sun praised, petting his stomach.
Blake scoffed. "Because you have shit taste in food."
"Oh, and you're a world class cook!" Sun jabbed sarcastically. "Besides, you were enjoying yourself. Don't think I've ever seen you praise food before."
Blake shrugged. "The sushi was perfect."
"I wasn't really sure you'd like it there...I've never seen you smile at anyone else." Ruby noted.
True, but then again Blake rarely smiled, she saw no reason to most of the time and felt no need to do so. Still, exceptions existed. "They're Mistrali, I gave them the benefit of the doubt."
"How come?" Ruby questioned.
"Mistral's really Faunus friendly." Sun explained. "At least the cities. Like, besides Menagerie it's probably the best place to be a Faunus."
"Faunus have deep roots in their cultures Ruby." Blake continued. "Our kind are respected."
"Oh...did you live there once?" Ruby asked again.
Blake's ears flicked. "Once." Came her clipped response.
Ruby ducked her head. "Oh, okay…"
"I don't say this lightly Ruby." Blake began. "The Mistrali are strong, proud people, and loyal to their loved ones, friends and family...even strangers." She let out a breath. "Keep them close, and they will take good care of you."
"I will!" Ruby promised. "I'll try...I mean...by take care do you mean as friends...or more. Because I didn't expect Pyrrha to be so open about...sex." She blushed, stifling a giggle.
Sun laughed. "Yeah, that was weird. Like, damn, no shame."
"Considering her mother is a Spring cultist, it's no surprise." Blake sighed, stopping at an intersection and rubbing her tired eyes.
"Spring clutist?" Sun balked.
"It's like the Church of Summer, right?" Ruby asked.
"Similar, but for fertility rather than prosperity." Blake confirmed.
"Ooooh…" Ruby nodded.
"How do you know?" Sun challenged.
"The idol, traditionally mothers gift them to their children when they reach maturity." Blake explained.
"Weird." Ruby observed.
"Religion is weird Ruby, but it's all many have." Blake noted.
"I know...I didn't mean anything-" Ruby started.
"I know Ruby." Blake sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "Try to rest. That wine is stronger than you expected."
"Okay." Ruby agreed.
"I didn't know you were religious." Sun spoke to Blake.
"Hmm." Blake grunted. No, Blake was not religious, not really, but she gave respect where it was due. That was one of her mother's most important lessons.
Ruby slept in the next day. After all, the wine had been stronger than expected. She had already done her shopping the prior day, so there was nothing stopping her from snuggling into her covers and dozing the day away before work called her back into action. She enjoyed this ritual, but rarely got to indulge in it...ever really. When she was young her parents wanted everyone helping around the house. When she was in college Yang might have barged in unannounced at any moment, and that put to bed any extracurricular plans. Now...she could do anything. Sun was always more considerate of privacy than Yang, and Blake would at least knock before entering. Plus with her sense of smell...well she would probably be averse to entering if Ruby were up to no good. But lately Ruby had just...lost the spark for that. Neon kept coming to mind, and with it more loneliness.
Better to focus on more pleasant things, like Carmine! Ruby regretted not asking for her details, but maybe she would appear next week. Blake said she had made sure she got home safe, but not before Sun had to peel Ruby off of her. Ruby did not appreciate the grin Blake wore upon telling her that. So she got clingy when she was drunk, maybe she just wanted more hugs! Sun would not judge for hugs, he was reliable like that.
When they were young and Yang was not around, Sun was, and when he was Ruby got all the hugs she wanted with half the teasing. And piggy backs, and tickle fights, all that good stuff. On a rainy day she could always be sure of Sun filling the gaps Yang occasionally left in Ruby's life. His departure really was a sign of changing times for the two. She never expected it would take so long to see him again. They really needed to do more together, but it was not fair to try and monopolize Blake's partner. She needed his cheer far more than Ruby did.
And so it came back to Ruby's loneliness. Bummer, she thought, no more dozing for her. She needed to take her mind off the negative. It never served her well in life, and it would not start now. Throwing off the covers, Ruby shivered as the frigid air surrounding her set in. She attempted to curl up into a ball, but suddenly her leg began to ache. "Fffffffffudge, cramp!" She groaned, stretching her leg out straight as her thigh ached and throbbed in sudden pain. "Goawaygoawaygoawaygoaway…"
Several taps rung on the door. "You alright in there?" Sun asked.
"Yep, just a cramp!" Ruby yelped, letting out a sigh of relief as the cramp began to dissipate. "Morning Sun!"
"Afternoon Rubes." Sun laughed, before the sound of footsteps indicated his departure.
Stretching her leg anew, Ruby carefully shifted off the mattress, gently putting weight upon the offending limb. The last thing she wanted was to spend the day in pain again, or even think about it really. Ignorance was bliss, literally in this case. Thankfully no pain returned, and that was a blessing Ruby could relish as she gathered her clothes and towel, and made her way to the bathroom for a nice, long shower. Showers made everything feel better.
Refreshed and rugged up, Ruby went about cleaning her room. Not all of her clothes made their way into the same pile. She made a mental note to buy a hamper, and a coat hanger for the door, and more underwear...and socks. Life was hard. She never knew what was needed until she did not have it. School did not teach her these things, her parents always took care of them, or Yang did at least. It was a shocking reality to find out just how inexperienced she was. Thank the gods Sun and Blake put up with her asking for toilet paper.
Ruby needed to brainstorm a big list of life things, stuff she would never think about on her own but other people might. She should call home. Really, Ruby should have been calling home a lot more often, but weekdays were so busy, and the weekend was mostly spent sleeping. More often than not, the best she could manage were random texts to her parents and sister. It was never enough.
Flopping back down on the bed, Ruby reached for her scroll, swiping it open and heading to her contacts. Her priority list had been growing - Mom, Dad and Yangarang were now followed by Big Choc, Pyrrha, Sun and Blake. She had not sent Blake a message yet. Ruby was not sure Blake would appreciate Sun giving out her number like that, but for emergencies it was valuable. She was family after all, or as close to family as could be in Atlas.
Blake's words from the prior night had surprised Ruby, fuzzy though her head may have been. Sure, Pyrrha and Ren had invited them out, multiple times in Pyrrha's case, but Ruby only took it as politeness - over politeness, like perfect politeness. Maybe it just spoke of how inexperienced Ruby was at making friends. Flings were so much easier, alcohol made everyone cut out the middle man, eliminated her socially awkward nature. She did not second guess herself when her inhibitions were nullified. She did not blush like an innocent school girl at the mention of sex either. She just blushed all the time, so no one could tell either way.
Tapping the contact for her father, Ruby tapped out a quick text.
[Ruby: Hey dad, are you busy?]
Ruby did not have to wait very long for his response.
[Dad: Not at all! Just grading some papers. How is everything? You okay?]
[Ruby: I'm fine, just a bit homesick, but it's a bit late to run home now]
[Dad: It's never too late. There's always stuff to do here.]
[Ruby: I take it back, I love it here]
[Dad: But seriously, everything okay?]
[Ruby: Yeah, just realizing I've got a lot to learn about life]
[Dad: Such as?]
[Ruby: Remembering to buy toilet paper]
[Dad: Oh I always forget that. If it weren't for your mother I wouldn't survive. Seriously, Summer carried me through highschool, and most of college until I got my shizz together.]
[Ruby: Yang did the same for me]
[Dad: I'd say Summer taught her well but…]
[Ruby: She did, Yang's just being stubborn]
[Dad: I think she's coming around, they cook together sometimes.]
[Ruby: Oh man dinner was great last night, I think Pyrrha and Ren gave mom a run for her money]
[Dad: Don't type that so loud! She might hear and fly over to challenge them!]
[Ruby: A competition with me as the judge? That's a win-win for me!]
[Dad: Not when your mother loses her shizz and stabs them with a carving knife]
[Ruby: Isn't that against her religion?]
[Dad: Depends on her mood]
Ruby laughed at that.
[Ruby: Can I call you?]
[Dad: Sure, you want me to get mom and Yang?]
[Ruby: We haven't talked alone in ages, I miss my dad]
Ruby's phone rung instantly. She smiled widely as she answered.
"Well I miss my baby girl." Tai greeted.
"Hey dad, how's work?" Ruby asked.
"About the same as usual." Tai replied. "Kids are kids, none of them as bad as you or your sister were."
"Pfft, my record is still unbroken?" Ruby chuckled.
"Not even close." Tai answered.
"Yes!" Ruby pumped her fist.
"What about you?" Tai inquired. "How's it going at the big SDC?"
"Good, mostly." Ruby replied. "You saw the news."
"Yeah, you did great Rubes." Tai praised. "I'm really proud of you."
"Thanks dad." Ruby beamed.
"What's been going on since?" Tai asked.
"Nothing really." Ruby replied. "There's a gala coming up in a few weeks, and Weiss is really concerned about making it go safely. So Friday was really flat out, and tomorrow probably will be too."
"There's a chance something might happen?" Tai pressed.
"I don't know." Ruby sighed. "I mean it's Atlas. The Fang are in Mistral and Vacuo...I hope not."
"How's your leg holding up?" Tai changed the subject.
"It's fine, aches sometimes." Ruby admitted. "It's cold here."
"And Sun and Blake?" Tai continued.
"They're fine, Blake and I are getting closer...I think." Ruby hoped.
"That's great!" Tai cheered. "The tough ones are the most satisfying nuts to crack."
"I wouldn't say she's cracking...more like...she's not so hard toward me anymore." Ruby suggested.
"Sounds like...Qrow." Tai reminisced. "Even at his best it was more like he was accepting your annoyance than accepting you."
"Speak for yourself, he's always loved me." Ruby preened.
"He loves his flask more than he loves you." Tai deadpanned.
"With you in his life?" Ruby laughed. "I can hardly blame him."
"Now I know you've spent too much time with him." Tai teased.
"I could hardly spend any time with him." Ruby noted. "He's always running around for that Ozpin guy."
"And yet he still managed to corrupt you." Tai complained. "My own daughter, turned against me!"
"Don't worry dad, you're still the one who gave me my first beer." Ruby reminded.
"And Summer never let me live it down." Tai sighed. Ruby giggled. "But seriously, everything else is fine?"
"Yeah, there's nothing really wrong at all…" Ruby trailed off.
"Buuut?" Tai pressed.
Ruby sighed. They used to talk about things like this all the time when she was young and innocent. But when she hit puberty Summer took over, ever a fountain of wisdom and knowledge, and that was that. Maybe Tai could offer a unique perspective. "All my friends are with each other, except Weiss, but she's like...married to the company, so she's off the market too. But everyone else is a couple, and I just feel like I missed a step somewhere."
"You're only young Ruby." Tai encouraged.
"I know, I know, but it still feels weird." Ruby continued. "You and mom...well you knew each other young."
"And it took years before we got together Rubes, and a lot happened in between." Tai noted.
"I know...but...you had something with each other." Ruby managed. "Now that I'm out here and I see everyone around me together, I just can't help it."
"Try not to think of it as missing something Rubes." Tai advised. "You're not anything less if you don't have a partner, and being with someone doesn't make you better than anyone either. Relationships are things that can come and go, or come and stay, you never know. And trying to force it won't help anybody. Just take every day as it comes. Spend time with your friends, don't get hung up on not having more. It's just one of those things in life that happens when it happens. It might take a while, it might be tomorrow, no one knows, but you will know when it does. Until then just...enjoy life to the fullest you can. There's no sense worrying about something that doesn't really matter yet."
Her father's words rang true, but did not soothe her as much as she had hoped. Loneliness was difficult to ignore, especially with companionship dangled before her eyes. "I'll try." Not that she could do much more.
"That's all we can ever do, isn't it?" Tai asked.
"Yeah…" Ruby sighed.
"Friendship is more important than love Ruby." Tai declared. "Raven and Summer were my sisters before they were my wives...oh man, that sounds awful."
Ruby laughed. "I know what you mean dad, I understand."
"Never been good with words." Tai admitted. "That's always been your mother's strength."
"You mean well, thanks dad." Ruby allowed. "I just...needed parental advice."
"Well I still think your mother would be better at it." Tai suggested.
"I can't let her have all the credit." Ruby noted. "I'm a daddy's girl, remember?"
"Now you're just sucking up." Tai accused.
"I can always stop!" Ruby threatened.
"No!" Tai plead. "Don't leave me alone! You're distracting me from...ugh, history essays."
"Well the sooner you get it done, the sooner you can go play." Ruby teased.
Ruby heard Tai sigh, followed by the sound of a dull thump. "Throwing my own words at me."
"You know it." Ruby chuckled.
Tai laughed. "Goodnight Ruby, I love you."
"I love you too dad, give mom and Yang hugs for me!" Ruby responded.
"I will, seeya'." Tai promised.
"Bye!" Ruby cheered.
Ruby hung up, letting her scroll fall by her side, and stared at the ceiling. She missed her father, she missed her mother, and she missed Yang. Maybe she should ask Yang to ship herself to Atlas. Blake would probably not be happy, but she might be able to smooth things over. Yang could earn her keep by cooking and bunk with Ruby, like old times. Blake might be unhappy, but at least Ruby would not have to sleep alone anymore. If only it were that simple. Maybe if she fell asleep on the couch Blake might stay up and snuggle.
Ruby was finally getting used to the routine. Wake up, shower, hug Blake, ignore random pains on the way to work, friendly greeting with Penny, new desk in Weiss' lobby...new desk in Weiss' lobby? "For the use of Ms. Schnee's personal security." Penny explained upon prompting. Her avatar's lip synching had improved greatly.
"Oh yeah." Ruby recalled as she circled her desk, dropping her purse underneath.
"How was your dinner with Ms. Nikos and Mr. Ren?" Penny asked.
"Really good, they're great cooks." Ruby admired. "Blake liked it there, Sun behaved, and their friends Jaune and Nora were really nice."
"Sensational!" Penny cheered. "I am happy you enjoyed your weekend."
"What about yours Penny?" Ruby inquired, logging into her station.
"Oh, it was nothing special." Penny hitched, her avatar covering its mouth before giggling. "I monitored critical aspects of my existence. I am considering an important advancement. The wisdom of this advancement, however, is a matter of debate, potentially risking my system integrity."
"What's the risk?" Ruby inquired.
"It's...classified, but I can tell you it could potentially alter my existence for the better, depending on the results." Penny explained.
"Hmm...well no matter what happens, you have my support Penny." Ruby offered.
"Thank you Ruby, that means a great deal." Penny smiled. "Ah, the new guard has arrived."
"Oh, right, and Weiss?" Ruby asked.
"Running a tad late it seems, but I will keep you posted!" Penny saluted.
The elevator arrived with a chime and the doors slid open to reveal...Jaune? "Oh, wasn't expecting to see you here." Ruby managed.
"I wasn't expecting to be up here." Jaune admitted with a nervous chuckle. "They just told me I'd be working full time, not what I'd be doing. Personal security for the CEO...I thought I was just gonna' be checking bags at the checkpoint like usual."
"That is kinda' odd." Ruby nodded. "Why would they post the new guy here?"
Jaune shrugged, taking a seat at his desk. It was smaller than Ruby's but still held a computer, this one displaying security camera views of the stairway and elevator approaches to the floor. "I'm just grateful to have a real full time job."
"Good morning Mr. Arc, would you like a tutorial on controlling the cameras?" Penny spoke up.
"No thank you, I know how to work them." Jaune replied.
"How was your weekend Mr. Arc?" Penny inquired.
"My weekend...pretty good." Jaune answered. "Uh...Ruby?"
"What's up?" Ruby quirked her brow.
"Is it normal for Penny to ask that?" Jaune asked.
"Yep." Ruby confirmed. "It'll be cool for both of us to have another person to talk to."
"I look forward to getting to know you better...but Ms. Schnee has arrived." Penny warned. "She does not look happy."
Ruby and Jaune looked at one another before doing their best to appear professional. When Weiss reached the floor she did not look great. Dark, heavy bags ringed her eyes, her hair was not quite as perfect as usual, and she was most definitely not happy, a far cry from her usual Monday morning mood. Ruby found the change concerning, but Jaune just looked intimidated. His apparent nervousness only intensified when Weiss approached, sizing up her new guard. "I suppose you'll do." She commented.
"Oh, um...nice to meet you Ms. Schnee." Jaune managed. "Ren and Pyrrha speak very highly of you."
"And they gave you a glowing recommendation." Weiss noted. She paused for a moment. "Good morning Ruby." Without waiting for a reply, she slipped into her office, the heavy door closing and locking behind her.
"Well, that explains the position." Jaune shrugged. "Is she always so...intimidating?"
"Sometimes...usually not…" Ruby replied, as diplomatically as she could.
"I guess I don't make a very impressive guard." Jaune sighed. "They didn't even give me a gun, just a taser."
"It's not you." Ruby shook her head. "She hasn't been herself since...well, you know."
"Yeah...I know." Jaune nodded.
"I'm sure she'll warm up to you." Ruby encouraged. "Right Penny?"
Penny hesitated. "Yes, of course!" The AI cheered before hitching.
Ruby and Jaune spent the morning learning about one another. As it happened, they had both faced great hardships and overcome them to end up at the SDC. Ruby had her injury and Jaune had a story of his own that gave some insight about Nora too. The pair had met when both were working at a less than reputable restaurant in a run down part of Atlas. Jaune had been living in his car at the time, having moved to Atlas with almost nothing. Nora was living in a decrepit apartment in a crime-ridden neighborhood. When Jaune got his part time job at the SDC, it brought in enough money for them to afford a new apartment. It was small but safe, cozy as he described it.
The morning seemed to fly by. After just observing for a time, Penny joined in the conversation a bit. Weiss however remained aloof, locked in her office. She did not even send Ruby on any deliveries or pickups. Ruby had anticipated a busy day, but it was proving to be anything but. She worried Weiss was overworking herself, taking on all responsibilities without letting those around her help. Ruby contemplated knocking on Weiss' door or calling her on the intercom to check on her, but decided against it. Surely Weiss knew what she was doing. She was tough, she would be fine.
As lunchtime approached, Ruby got ready to head down to the cafeteria to pick up Weiss' lunch. She stretched her leg, working out a subtle ache. "I'm heading down to the cafeteria. Want me to get you anything?"
"Oh uh...yeah." Jaune agreed. "I'm not allowed to leave the floor as long as Weiss is here."
"You should have brought something with you." Ruby advised.
"I was planning to, just forgot." Jaune explained. Motion on one of the security monitors drew his attention. "Oh gods no…"
"What is it?" Ruby asked.
"Nora's here with the lunch I forgot." Jaune replied.
"That's not so bad." Ruby shrugged.
"Cardin's with her." Jaune added.
"Okay, that's pretty bad." Ruby allowed.
Soon the elevator chimed, the door sliding open to reveal Nora - clad in sweatpants and a t-shirt - and her smirking escort. Nora smiled brightly, holding a brown paper bag. "Hey Jaune!" She cheered. "Hey Ruby!"
"So you do have a girlfriend after all." Cardin grinned. "I didn't think you had it in you."
"Nora, you didn't have to come all the way here just to bring my lunch." Jaune noted, doing his best to ignore his boss. "Ruby was just gonna' pick up something for me from the cafeteria."
"Aw...but I made it for you special." Nora pouted. "How did you forget it?"
"Sorry, I was just nervous about my first day." Jaune apologized. Cardin looked like he was about to burst into laughter.
"How's your day going?" Nora asked. "Getting along with everyone?"
"It's been alright Nora." Jaune replied. "It's just been me and Ruby so far, we were just getting to know each other."
"Miss me?" Nora leaned in.
"Of course." Jaune nodded. He could see Cardin mocking him over Nora's shoulder.
"Well, I guess I should let you get back to work." Nora noted. She leaned in and kissed Jaune on the cheek. "Love you."
"I...uh...love you too Nora." Jaune responded as Cardin made kissy faces.
"Ruby I…" Weiss started as she emerged from her office, finding the crowd filling her lobby. "What's…"
"I'll head back down." Cardin cut in. He avoided Weiss as much as physically possible, hating her almost as much as she loathed him. He quickly pushed his way into the stairwell so he would not have to wait for the elevator.
"My girlfriend brought me lunch." Jaune explained.
"That's…" Weiss trailed off as she and Nora locked eyes. What little color remained in Weiss' complexion drained away as her eyes widened.
"Oh...hey Ca-Ms. Schnee." Nora greeted with a hesitant wave. "I'm Nora, Jaune's girlfriend." Though she tried her best to play it off, her acting skills were lacking. There was familiarity in both their gazes.
"Nora...well...I um…" Weiss fumbled. Ruby had never seen her so tongue tied. The CEO took a deep breath and schooled her posture and facial expression. "You're a friend of Pyrrha and Ren as well?" Nora nodded in confirmation. "Lovely...would you mind talking to me in my office?"
"Of course." Nora agreed. She followed Weiss inside, the door shutting and locking behind her.
"What was that about?" Ruby asked.
"I have no idea." Jaune replied. The knowing look on his face gave away his lie, but Ruby was not about to press the issue.
As the door closed, Nora found herself frozen by Weiss' gaze. Shock and fear ruled her features. Her mouth twitched open as if to speak first but closed instead, the CEO swallowing nervously. "I didn't think you wanted to see me again." Nora began, shrugging.
Weiss' mouth bobbed open as if to snap a response, but she took a deep breath first. "I didn't mean to give that impression. It's just...a lot happened."
"I saw." Nora nodded. "Kinda' hard to miss the big bad falling down some stairs. Couldn't walk five feet without someone mentioning it."
Weiss' mouth twitched upward a fraction as she shook her head. "It took two years for stair jokes to go away."
"I've kept them running." Nora teased. "The Faunus never got tired of them."
Weiss' brow furrowed and she bit her lip briefly. "You don't still-"
"No, no not for a while now...I've...Jaune helped me leave it behind." Nora cut in.
"I'm sorry Nora." Weiss sighed shakily. "I tried to find you and I couldn't...a-and I feared the worst until…" Her breath hitched, Nora stepped forward, and Weiss melted into her arms, sniffling as they clung to one another.
"It's okay!" Nora soothed. "It's not like I blame you. I mean, yeah it was fun and we enjoyed it, but it was just business."
"I didn't want to leave you thinking it didn't mean more than that." Weiss insisted.
"I know, I know, and I did mean more but…" Nora pulled back slightly, Weiss reluctantly withdrawing, moving her hands to take Nora's own. The ginger smiled sadly at the contact. "You were you, and I was…a random prostitute."
"Escort." Weiss emphasized.
"Yeah, yeah, my pimp was corporate." Nora rolled her eyes. "Doesn't change the fact that I was all the way down there and you were all the way up here a few months later."
Weiss huffed, frowning. "I don't care about that, I never cared about that. I was just afraid of Father finding out and...then things got busy, and stressful, and what little time I did spend to search for you...you'd vanished."
"Pyrrha and Ren never told you about me?" Nora asked.
"That was just it!" Weiss exclaimed. "They told me about you often, and at first I thought it was just coincidence, but then pictures started coming up and...I wasn't sure if it really was you. You grew out your hair and gained some weight-not that that's a bad thing!" She hurriedly assured.
Nora giggled. "Oh trust me, I know, Jaune makes sure of it." Nora winked, then laughed at Weiss' blank grimace. "What's the matter? Jauney stick his foot in his mouth already?"
"No...he's just...surprisingly average for a guard and...I'm sorry, I don't mean to be too judgemental." Weiss struggled.
"Oh don't worry about it." Nora waved her off. "I know he seems a little dull, but he cleans up very nice. If it weren't for him I'd probably still be hanging around clubs doing first timer specials for kicks."
"Was he a first timer?" Weiss asked.
Nora shook her head. "Nope, I actually met him after seeing a client. He was working at this shitty diner, and it wasn't busy, we got to talking and...well I kept coming back."
"And you've been safe since?" Weiss pressed.
"Well...as safe as I could be." Nora shrugged.
"Nora…" Weiss sighed.
"I didn't get out of my career for kicks Weiss...can we sit down?" Nora requested. "I walked most of the way here and my feet are killing me."
"Oh of course." Weiss led Nora over to the comfortable armchairs before her desk, turning them around to face one another before taking a seat. A part of her missed the physical contact, but given the circumstances, any longer may have given the wrong impression.
"It's a fancy office you've got here, bet the desk saw some action." Nora smirked, winking.
Weiss rolled her eyes. "I keep my trysts private Nora. You do realize how many Faunus work here?"
"So you do get some?" Nora teased. "I was worried those tricks I taught you might have gone to waste."
"As if you haven't grilled Pyrrha and Ren about it." Weiss accused.
"Oh, subtly-" Nora started.
"You, subtle?" Weiss scoffed.
"Hey, I can be subtle!" Nora protested. "I just don't want to. Besides, didn't wanna' arouse suspicion. Heh...arouse."
"Focus Nora...or sorry, Freyja." Weiss leered.
Nora snorted. "Yes Carmine. At least my name fits my heritage. The only thing carmine about you was your-"
"Ah, stop!" Weiss cut in. "No sex talk in the office."
"Oh boring." Nora complained. "Come on, rules are dumb. You should break a few." She waved toward the door. "You've got a cute receptionist out there, use your sexy CEO routine to seduce her!"
"I'm not going to seduce my assistant." Weiss groaned, smiling regardless. "Ruby is a newfound friend...I wish to cherish that."
"Naw." Nora mocked.
"Shush you, and regardless, I have partners." Weiss noted. "I just don't make them public."
"Well why not?" Nora challenged. "Love should be celebrated!"
"For many reasons Nora, the most important of which is safety." Weiss huffed. "Now more than ever."
Nora seemed to deflate a little at the sudden change in tone, but smiled through it all the same. She reached forward and took Weiss' hands into her own. "Are you okay?"
Weiss chuckled, devoid of mirth as she shook her head. "I'm trying to be." Taking a deep and weary breath, Weiss managed to smile. "One day at a time, until this madness ends...if it ever ends."
"If there's anything I can do to help...I uh...I don't have work until late today." Nora fumbled.
"Where do you work?" Weiss inquired.
"Ya' know that shitty diner I mentioned?" Nora responded.
"Ah." Weiss nodded.
"Not much I'm qualified for sadly, but it pays, and now Jaune's got a raise!" Nora cheered. "I won't have to work so late anymore."
"I could find you better work." Weiss offered. "It's the least I can do after all this time. It's actually why I wanted to find you…"
"Aw Weiss you...you don't…" Nora swallowed the lump in her throat. "Isn't there a word for that? Nepotism?"
"Nepotism implies favoritism based on family connection." Weiss corrected. "This is...repaying a kindness, and the years have accrued interest."
"A kindness you paid for." Nora countered.
"I paid for your time...but it was your words I cherished." Weiss declared.
"But not the sex?" Nora pouted.
"Yes Nora, the sex too." Weiss chuckled.
"Hey, gotta' take pride in somethin'." Nora shrugged. "Glad I left a good impression."
"Oh you left more than that Nora...but enough about that." Weiss changed the subject. "Tell me more about your life. I want to know everything I missed."
"Well...you missed the time I got held up at the diner." Nora replied. The look of horror on Weiss' face was too much for Nora. "I'm kidding!" She burst into laughter. Weiss' look of outrage was even better.
Jaune tapped his fork against the desk, the rebagged remains of Nora's homemade lunch sitting by his keyboard as he stared at the monitor before him. Weiss' office did not have a camera, or if it did he was not privy to it. To be honest, part of him was relieved by that. It never really sat well with him, spying on others, even if it was part of his job, but right now a camera would at least shed some light as to what was going on between his girlfriend and his boss. It was not that he suspected anything nefarious - he was not that insecure...all the time - and Nora's past did not bother him, past the pains she suffered. It was never easy seeing the woman he loved crying in her sleep.
But Weiss? That was a shock, for many reasons. Weiss seemed too proper and professional. Everything he had heard about her from Pyrrha and Ren implied she would never be the sort to hire an escort. Maybe the circumstances were unique, maybe it was something different altogether. Nora did not speak in specifics often, and Jaune did not press her. He just considered himself lucky that she had ever given him the time of day.
Ruby had hurried off to get her lunch and Weiss', and seemed to be taking her time. Penny had assured him that everything was fine, everyone was fine, including inside Weiss' office, though she did not provide any specifics. That at least placated him for the time being, even if he did feel a bit useless. What the hell was he supposed to do anyway? If an intruder got this far into the building, Jaune Arc was not going to be able to do anything to stop them. Well, heroic sacrifice maybe, but then Nora would be devastated, and that was unacceptable.
The elevator chimed and a quick glance at the camera showed Ruby was inside along with Pyrrha and Ren. She had probably mentioned what happened, and it rang the same alarm bells. Nora was not secretive about her career with them. In fact, many occasions spent with them had involved her talking about memorable clients and situations in which she had been caught. They would know and they would be curious.
"Hey Jaune, I got you some soda." Ruby held the stack of to-go boxes forward.
"Thanks Ruby." Jaune took the can balanced on top. "Hey Pyrrha, Ren."
"Jaune, how are you faring?" Pyrrha inquired.
"Apart from the boredom?" Jaune joked. "Not bad...you uh, here to see the boss?"
"We heard she met a new friend." Ren explained.
"Or an old one." Jaune shrugged.
"Strange, Weiss never mentioned Nora to us." Pyrrha noted.
"Maybe they ended on bad terms?" Jaune suggested.
"Then why would Nora keep it a secret?" Ren asked.
"Respect for her privacy perhaps." Pyrrha surmised.
"For Weiss in particular?" Jaune questioned.
"It seems she left an impression." Ren observed.
"Uh, has this happened before or something?" Ruby asked.
"Nora is...outgoing." Pyrrha chose her words carefully.
"I kinda' figured." Ruby said.
"She was probably friends with Weiss once, but she's moved around a lot so…" Jaune trailed off.
"It seems Ms. Schnee and Ms. Valkyrie are about to leave." Penny informed.
Nora exited the office first, a cheerful smile on her face that was replaced with brief surprise as she caught sight of the newcomers. "Pyrrha, Renny!" She burst, beaming. "The whole family's here!" As Nora rushed over to hug her friends, Weiss lingered by the door, a small smile tight across her face.
"We heard you were visiting and came to say hello." Pyrrha explained as she endured the tight embrace.
"Oh yeah?" Nora smirked. "Didn't hear nothin' about my super secret meeting with the Big W?"
Ruby snorted, only to bite her tongue upon seeing Weiss' glare. "And what's so amusing Ms. Rose?" Weiss pressed.
"Nothing!" Ruby exclaimed. "Just remembered a joke my sister sent me…"
"Weiss…you never mentioned knowing Nora." Pyrrha chastised.
"Briefly, I didn't think she would remember me." Weiss replied.
"How could I ever forget that scowl!" Nora teased.
Weiss scowled. "I'm going to lunch. Try not to break anything while I am gone."
"Uh...I have your lunch right here." Ruby reminded her boss. Weiss froze, mouth opening as if to speak, but she found no words.
"Are you well Ms. Schnee?" Penny asked, her screen facing Jaune's desk for conversation.
"Yes Penny, I'm fine." Weiss recovered. "It was good meeting you again Nora. Please take care, Pyrrha, Ren, Ruby...Jaune." Weiss bid as she picked up her box. She returned to her office and let the door click shut.
"Is that normal?" Nora inquired.
"Typically!" Penny cheered.
"Not entirely typical…" Pyrrha frowned. "Ruby."
"Yes Pyrrha?" Ruby questioned.
"If anything out of the ordinary happens with Weiss, please let us know." Pyrrha requested.
"Oh, sure." Ruby agreed.
"Thank you." Pyrrha smiled. "Nora, are you staying longer?"
"Oh no, I gotta' get going." Nora shook her head. "Gonna' clean the kitchen...I made a mess again."
"Then I can escort you down." Pyrrha offered. "Ren has a project to discuss with Weiss." She looked to Ren, glancing between him and the door.
Ren nodded. "I do. Penny?"
"I'll buzz you in." Penny acknowledged. "It was a pleasure meeting you Ms. Valkyrie." She bid as she unlocked the door to Weiss' office. Ren slipped inside.
"Aw, you too Penny, and you…" Nora swooped down onto Jaune, pulling him into an overindulgent kiss. Ruby averted her gaze. "I love you."
"I love you too Nora...I'll see you tomorrow?" Jaune responded.
"Yeah you will." Nora smirked, turning around. "Come on now, escort me." She snickered, linking her arm with Pyrrha's. "Bye Ruby, stay cute!" She yelled, winking over her shoulder as they entered the elevator, which chimed as the door shut. Their descent soon began with a hum.
"You're a lucky guy Jaune." Ruby sighed, slumping down into her chair.
Jaune chuckled. "You're telling me."
Chapter 22: Familiarity
Chapter by RealTerminal
"Management is a fucking nightmare."
Beta read by CKSalamander
It only took a few weeks for Ruby's routine to begin feeling monotonous. Go home tired, say hello and goodbye to Blake and Sun before they left for work, make or order dinner, the latter only if she felt like walking down to the lobby. She had cleared that at least with Blake. Then she would spend a few hours watching television, browsing online and chatting with Yang, mom or dad depending on who was free. Sometimes it might even be Coco, though Ruby was finding it harder and harder to tell the difference between the fashion designer and her sister. She often considered introducing them.
The previous night, Ruby actually remembered to do some homework on the Faunus. It was...educating to say the least. It was also disheartening at times. She never knew just how little she had known about the world. The SDC's controversial business practices, the White Fang fighting in Mistral, and the passing of Jacques Schnee were widely known, but she had only paid passing attention to them before, and only learned the basics when doing research on the SDC.
The SDC had once staffed its dust mines and factories with overworked, underpaid Faunus, mostly immigrants from Menagerie. Centuries of archaic attitudes, reinforced by Atleasin law, left the Faunus people helpless. There was little that could be done, the deck was stacked in favor of the corporations, and the SDC was far from the only company to take advantage.
Enter the White Fang.
The Fang had started life as a political party in Menagerie. The old guards in the government were isolationist, happy to deal with local matters without concerning themselves with Faunus overseas. The White Fang quickly won control of the government through its promise of support for Faunus rights worldwide. It started as a peaceful movement, based around organizing protests and labor strikes, mainly in Atlas, before expanding to aggressive and direct lobbying. The party saw success, even in Atlas, but trouble lie ahead.
The White Fang began to fracture. Many in the ranks saw the steady change as too slow and demanded more aggressive, even violent tactics. Most of the leadership could not countenance such a step, knowing that their efforts were already succeeding, and such a shift would only strengthen resistance to their reforms. Enter Sienna Khan. Using her position as an influential priestess as a platform, she pushed the aggressive line, drawing a large following. Despite lacking anything approaching a majority of the party, she used threats and intimidation to force the leadership out, taking over herself. The party's previous leader, Ghira Belladonna, started a new political party, the Faunus Freedom Party, that quickly resumed control of Menagerie. The successful political efforts overseas largely stopped, as internal political upheaval drained the efforts of both parties.
After the split and the White Fang's fall from power, the movement turned to terrorism. Sienna tried to direct the movement's violence abroad, but still stinging from their loss of power at home, the most violent elements pushed for a violent coup to take over Menagerie. That was a step even Sienna could not countenance, and the White Fang split once more, this time in a bloody outburst of violence, directed at both the Faunus Freedom Party and Sienna's followers. The uprising failed, largely due to its focus on attacking White Fang members who were not willing to join in the violence. That drove many more moderate members to join the Faunus Freedom Party for protection if nothing else.
In the wake of the failed uprising, the White Fang was outlawed in Menagerie. Sienna began a self-imposed confinement in her temple, knowing that the remnants of the White Fang now aimed for her assassination. Driven from their homeland, most of the White Fang fled to Mistral. The southeastern part of Mistral was largely free of central government control and had a sizeable Faunus population. When the Fang found little support for revolution among the populace, they launched an armed takeover that captured large swaths of the country. Inevitably, this started a war, first between Mistral and the White Fang, then with international troops joining to assist Mistral.
Once conventional forces became involved, the war went badly for the White Fang, which returned to its reliance on terrorism. They targeted not only the forces arrayed against them, but the nations supporting Mistral in the conflict, which included all the major kingdoms. Most of the territory the Fang had taken was by now recaptured, with only isolated cells of fighters remaining. Special operations forces took over the conflict, as they were more suited to the White Fang's unconventional style of warfare. Winter had been among them.
"Hey Ruby, I think Weiss' mom is here." Jaune's voice interrupted Ruby's thoughts. She jolted, looking up from the paperwork she was supposed to be completing. Jaune pointed to the screen displaying the inside of the elevator. "That's her, right?"
"That is indeed Willow Schnee." Penny confirmed.
The elevator chimed and the doors slid open, revealing an older, ivory-haired woman. Her gait was a bit unsteady as he made her way to Ruby's desk, a smirk on her face. "Weiss didn't tell me her new secretary was such a cutie." Willow slurred.
"Uh...I…" Ruby fumbled, not having any idea how she should react to flirting from her boss' mother. "Mrs. Schnee, I'll just tell Weiss you're here." She tried to change the subject.
"Relax, I won't bite...unless you're into that sort of thing." Willow grinned, swaying as she winked at Ruby.
"The thing is...paperwork...I have to…uh..." Ruby panicked.
Just in time the door to Weiss' office clicked and swung open. "Mother, please stop harassing my employees."
"Oh, I'm just teasing her a little." Willow scoffed. "She's a darling, isn't she? And what a strapping young bodyguard you have!" Jaune shrunk behind his video screens.
"Mother." Weiss admonished. "Please, come into my office."
"Oh alright." Willow rolled her eyes. She wobbled a bit before following Weiss' instruction, following her into the office. The door closed and locked behind them.
"Did she uh...seem a little off to you?" Jaune asked. "I think she was drunk."
"Biometrics indicate that Mrs. Schnee is intoxicated." Penny confirmed. "I suspect she is using alcohol to cope with the news of Winter's disappearance."
"Gods that was awkward, I haven't felt like that since my history teacher told me my legs were shapely." Ruby groaned. Jaune snorted. "It's not funny!"
"It's good to see you, Mother." Weiss greeted. "Have a seat if you like." She gestured toward the chairs before her desk. Willow plopped into one less than gracefully. With a sigh, Weiss turned another chair to face her and sat down herself.
"Klein says hello." Willow noted. "He would have come in to see you himself, but he had errands to run."
"Give him my warmest regards." Weiss responded before pausing paused, her face taking on a more serious expression. "You're drunk again."
"I'm sorry dear, it's just...no, no excuses." Willow shook her head, her previous levity evaporating. "I should find a healthier way to cope."
"I understand." Weiss nodded. She was happy to see her mother at least taking responsibility for her drinking. "It is a very trying time."
"I'm sorry I didn't come to see you sooner." Willow apologized. "I was...not in any condition to visit. How are you coping?"
"The same way I always do, working." Weiss replied. "Security arrangements, plans for the gala, financial reports, meetings-"
"You should relax." Willow advised. "At least a little."
"Keeping busy takes my mind off...Winter." Weiss sighed. "I don't want to think about it."
"I'm sure she'll be rescued." Willow encouraged.
"We don't even know if she's alive." Weiss countered.
"I know she is, mother's intuition." Willow insisted.
"Or wishful thinking." Weiss mumbled. "Regardless, I will continue to run this company as before."
"I'm so very proud of you." Willow admired. "You're here, taking charge, still working to make the world a better place...all I do is drink and think about revenge...I swear, if I get my hands on those...the filth that took my daughter, I swear I will throw them down the same stairs I did your father!" Her expression suddenly softened. "I'm sorry...I shouldn't say such things. I know it upsets you."
"Yes, well...I've had my share of revenge fantasies." Weiss admitted. "But revenge would be wrong, counterproductive. Better to bring them to justice." She slumped in her chair, tears welling in her eyes. "That's all Winter and I have been fighting for, justice, for the Faunus, for the people of Mistral…"
"I know dear." Willow rose from her chair, meeting Weiss in a warm embrace. "And your efforts will be rewarded in the end, I promise you. Look how much you've done already."
"Thank you." Weiss managed. "I needed this."
"I'm sorry I couldn't provide it sooner, or more often." Willow apologized. "Would you like me to go? I know you must want to get back to working so you-"
"No...no, please stay." Weiss interrupted. "Just a little longer."
"Of course dear." Willow rubbed her daughter's back, the way she had done when Weiss was a child, distraught after one of Jacques' frequent scoldings. "I'll be here if you need me, just call."
"Thank you." Weiss nodded into Willow's shoulder, tears soaking into her shirt. "I love you mom."
Willow's visit had somewhat lifted Weiss' spirits. She rarely saw her mother, and it was even rarer that she received her affection. Now she needed it more than ever. Perhaps she would take some time out of her usual weekend routine to visit her at home, the palatial Schnee Estate just outside Atlas City proper. Weiss hated going there, for the place held far too many bad memories. For her mother however, she could and should make the effort, in spite of the discomfort.
Unfortunately, just the following day any boost to her mood Weiss had received was wiped away with a single call. She had contracted a champagne supplier for the gala, her favorite vineyard in Mistral. True, the SDC had a vineyard of its own in Vacuo, and produced copious quantities of champagne of its own, but Weiss was not a fan. She felt the Schnee brand sacrificed far too much quality in favor of quantity, and wine from Vacuo just did not match up with Mistrali wine anyway. Weiss knew her guests would appreciate the choice. Then the supplier called.
Apparently, the building containing most of their champagne stock had burned down. Any bottles not destroyed in the fire had their contents ruined by the excess heat. They simply did not have enough left at other locations to both supply the gala and fulfill their other commitments. Weiss had raged on the phone about how she would sue, about how the broken contract would not be forgotten or forgiven, but it was futile. Even if the vineyard diverted all available stock to the gala, they would fall short. Weiss would need to find an alternative, and she was not about to take the desperate step of substituting the Schnee brand.
Weiss' schedule was already packed with meetings, paperwork and more gala planning besides. She worked as quickly as she could, stealing what time she made to make inquiries with other Mistrali vineyards. By midday she still had no commitments, though two potential suppliers expressed interest, if they could manage to make the necessary arrangements. That was not good enough. There was no time to wait and see with the gala just a week away. Vytalian wine was rather good, perhaps she could inquire with some of the vineyards there…
Weiss' thoughts were interrupted by a harsh vibration. The scroll on her desk thrummed with a familiar, dreaded tone. With a sigh, Weiss picked up the device, tapping the speaker prompt. "Hello Whitley." She greeted, attempting to hide the fatigue in her voice.
"Good evening dear sister, how goes the company?" Came Whitley's snide inquiry. As usual he was polite but disingenuous, ever his father's son, if lacking in subtlety.
"The company still stands strong, in spite of minor annoyances." Weiss replied.
"Oh my, I thought I was a pest?" Whitley waxed with faux agony. "Have I been relegated to the classification of annoyance?"
Weiss grinned in spite of herself. "The role of pest shall forever remain your forte brother. How fares your study? Have you settled on a major yet?"
"Oh I'm swinging between marketing and management." Whitley replied. "The individuals in marketing are so much more charming, but management is more appealing as a career."
"Take it from me, brother." Weiss groaned. "Management is a fucking nightmare."
"Aw, are the little peons giving you trouble?" Whitley inquired.
"The vineyard I ordered from lost their stock in a fire, now I have to source a new supply." Weiss bit.
"And I'm sure you let them know how happy you were to hear that." Whitley surmised.
Feeling her brow twitch, Weiss slid open a drawer as quietly as possible, reaching within for the familiar, worn surface of her current stress ball. "I am sure they were quite aware of my displeasure."
"I don't understand why you don't just use the SDC stock." Whitley suggested. "It's quite fine by my tastes."
"Just because you are content with mass produced swill doesn't mean I will inflict it upon my guests." Weiss shot back.
"Winter didn't mind either." Whitley added.
Clenching her fist, Weiss carefully let out a breath before slowly taking another. "Speaking of the gala, I would prefer you not attend."
"But I do so love your parties." Whitley pouted. "Though we may disagree on the wine, your choice of caterers is exquisite! Be sure they bring plenty of those truffles, they ran out far too fast last time."
"Whitley-" Weiss started.
"And I have already gone to the trouble...well not so much the trouble, they're rather pleasant...but I have secured myself a lovely date, and I refuse to disappoint them." Whitley interrupted.
"Whitley!" Weiss shouted. "Our family is under attack. Our sister has been kidnapped. Mother at least locks herself in the estate most of the time. You are still at risk at the university. Drawing attention to yourself, like you always do, will make you a target."
"Because I am such a lucrative target." Whitley scoffed. "The disgraced protege of Jacques Schnee, reviled by his sisters and barely tolerated by his mother. Yes, I truly fear for my life. Maybe they'll find a nice set of stairs to push me down. Do you think that's what they did to Winter-"
The scroll did not stand a chance, hurled with a wrathful growl at the heavy duty file cabinets lining the left hand wall. SDC scrolls were durable, but only for accidental drops and light shocks. Malicious damage was not covered by the warranty, but right now Weiss felt nothing but ire toward the hellish little device and the cruel words it transmitted. The stress ball was next to go, bouncing around a bit near the shattered remains of the scroll.
Weiss clenched her fists tighter and tighter, gritting her teeth as she seethed. It was always this way with Whitley, never a single pleasant conversation. He always found something to set her off. Resentful, jealous, cruel, cunning little bastard, their father had ruined him.
"Ms. Schnee?" Penny's voice caused her to flinch. She gasped down a breath she had not realised she had been holding, fumbling blindly backward for her chair. "Would you like me to call Ms. Nikos or Mr. Ren?"
"No, no Penny, let them be." Weiss refused, pulling a handkerchief from her pocket as she sat. "Please ask Ruby for fresh coffee."
"Right away ma'am." Penny acknowledged.
Dabbing at her eyes, Weiss leaned back, attempting to school her thoughts and emotions, just as her father had taught her. It was futile of course. She had been attempting to school her thoughts and emotional all weekend, and she just could not, no matter how deep into her hobbies she indulged. She even drank at home. She never drank at home. The bottles were only there to be taken to Pyrrha and Ren's - good, expensive Mistrali wine, their favorites, and by proxy, Weiss' as well. She had downed them by the glass until she could not think or feel.
Even so, Weiss found herself plagued, not by thoughts, but sadistic realities conjured in her sleeping mind's eye, tormenting her with visions of Winter in cruel bondage. Father had lectured her at length about the dangers of Fang capture, the tortures inflicted upon those who crossed them. Beatings were the kindest, reserved for those the Fang decided had committed only minor slights. But the more high profile the victim, the more they suffered. Killings were rare at first, some accidental, but the ones that were purposeful...they grew in number, and severity. The ones that truly brought forth the Fang's wrath were horrific. Beaten, broken, strung up on display, evidence of their crimes scattered around the scene, their throats cut, and the Fang's claw marks scratched across their chests. Weiss would remember those pictures until the day she died, just as Father intended.
Now that image burned in Weiss' skull, terrifying, sickening. The faceless victims were replaced by her beloved sister - one of the few people she truly loved, truly trusted in her entire life - strung up, slaughtered like a hunted animal, glassy, tear-stained eyes staring down at her unblinking.
"Ms. Schnee." Penny once again startled Weiss from her thoughts.
Weiss jumped in her seat and scowled, looking at the time on her computer screen. Had she really been obsessing for half an hour? "What Penny?" She snapped, rubbing her temple in a sad attempt at quelling the thrumming within.
"Ruby is here with your coffee." Penny informed.
"Finally." Weiss slammed her finger on the buzzer and the door clicked open. "What took you so long?!" She yelled as Ruby hurried across the room.
"I'm sorry Weiss." Ruby apologized. "The pot was empty, and we ran out of coffee, and the breakroom a floor down didn't have your coffee, so I went to the cafeteria an-"
"Whatever, hurry up." Weiss waved away, holding her hand out for the mug.
"Careful it-" Ruby started.
Weiss took a sip and spluttered. It was piping hot. The painful liquid seared her tongue, lips and chin, and now her hand and top as it spilled due to her jerking response. "Fuck! Why is this so hot?!" She shrieked, shooting to her feet.
"I just made it Weiss!" Ruby defended. "It's usually been cooling for a bit before you ask for some!"
"Ugh!" Weiss growled. "How did we even run out of coffee? The entire kitchen should be overflowing!"
"All the cabinets are locked and I don't have a key!" Ruby replied.
"I gave you a key!" Weiss shouted.
"You gave me an earpiece!" Ruby countered.
"Grrh what the fuck else is going to go wrong today?!" Weiss began to pace, shaking her burning hand. "Gods damned, bloody vineyard storehouse fire, then my brother called, and as much as I adore his voice he has a terrible habit of being a fucking asshole! Here I am, simply asking him not to come to the incredibly public gala and throw himself into the spotlight, and there he is scheming his next stupid stunt. I wonder what he will do this time, maybe something actually amusing, one last hurrah before he's snatched from his dorm. Two down, two to go…" Weiss fell silent, chest heaving as she ran a hand over her face, the other wrapping around her chest.
"Weiss…" Ruby started, carefully approaching the huffing CEO.
"I'm sorry." Weiss whispered, then cleared her throat. "I'm sorry Ruby, I'm having a poor day and it isn't right nor fair of me to vent at you."
"I know how it feels." Ruby sympathized. "Sometimes I used to yell at Yang because I needed to."
"I can't imagine you yelling." Weiss scoffed.
"Yang said it would have been scary if it wasn't cute." Ruby noted.
"Your predecessors would agree I am simply scary." Weiss frowned.
"This happens often?" Ruby asked.
Weiss chuckled mirthlessly. "I am under many, constant pressures Ruby, and two days out of the week when I can vent them...the rest of the time...I inherited my father's temper."
"Is that why the others left?" Ruby asked.
"Mother likes to say the position is cursed." Weiss snorted. "Not a single assistant my father, nor I have employed has lasted more than a year, most less than a month. Sad to say I've had an uncharacteristically positive relationship with you."
"Well, at least I'll only leave to do my actual job." Ruby joked.
"We can only hope." Weiss smiled, looking to her assistant. "I'm going to have a shower, and change clothes. Don't worry about the mess, I'll clean it when I'm done."
"You have clothes here?" Ruby wondered, following Weiss as she turned away.
"This is a penthouse Ruby." Weiss gestured around her. "I could live here if I wanted to...I even did for a time."
"Pyrrha said there were gold fixtures in the bathroom." Ruby remembered.
"Ugh, that was my father's doing." Weiss groaned. "You should have seen this office before I had it remodelled. It was like a royal library."
"Libraries are nice." Ruby commented.
"Not Father's library, and I'll leave it at that." Weiss chuckled as they reached the door. "Thank you Ruby, I often forget that this job was forced upon you, yet you have not let me down once."
"Mom taught me to make the most of what life gives me." Ruby shrugged. "I try to take that to heart."
"I wish my mother was so wise, perhaps she would never have married Father." Weiss grinned.
"But then you might not be here, and I'd be out of a job!" Ruby exclaimed.
"And what a terrible state this company would be in." Weiss laughed, opening the door and heading to her private bathroom.
When Weiss returned to her office, it was to find the mess cleared and a fresh cup of coffee waiting for her, the temperature perfect.
She was getting really tired of crying.
Chapter 23: Gravity
Chapter by RealTerminal
"What is she, your mom?"
Beta read by CKSalamander
Another day down, another pain in the leg to sleep off. All Ruby had to do was make it through one Ryde home. "Hey Ruby, fun day?" Vulpe asked as Ruby groaned, rubbing her thigh.
"Yeah, real fun." Ruby laughed. "We've got a gala coming up and everyone's under pressure."
"I heard about it, big charity thing huh?" Vulpe inquired.
"Hmm, now that I think about it, no one told me what charity it's for." Ruby admitted. "All the planning I see is food and drink, and security and guest vetting and-"
"The charity in question is the branch of Schnee Faunus Outreach devoted to the welfare of impoverished Faunus across Remnant." Ruby jumped as Penny's voice suddenly sounded in her ear.
"Oh Maidens!" Ruby gasped.
Vulpe glanced back at her with concern. "You alright?"
"Yeah, yeah just...forgot I had my earpiece in and got a call, sorry." Ruby replied. Vulpe waved her off, returning her focus to the traffic as Ruby regained control of her racing heart. "Penny-"
"I apologize for startling you." Penny interrupted. "I just...did not know how to begin."
"It's okay Penny, I'm just a little on edge." Ruby responded. "Are you okay? Did I forget something?"
"Yes, I am well, and no, you did not forget anything." Penny answered.
Ruby furrowed her brow, confused. "Oh, well what did you want?"
"I...have never contacted someone like this, outside of business calls." Penny began slowly. "This is a new experience for me...I apologize Ruby. There is nothing I really needed."
"No, no it's okay Penny, you can talk to me whenever you want." Ruby reassured quickly, recalling Penny's words from Monday. This must have been the important development she had mentioned. "I don't really have much to do after work except...sit around and go to sleep later."
"I know, which is why I wanted to cross this line and offer more advanced companionship." Penny continued cheerfully.
Ruby found herself confused. She knew? "You know?"
"Yes, I have been monitoring you, ensuring your safety." Penny explained.
Monitoring? "What!?" Ruby balked.
"Is that wrong?" Came Penny's innocent response.
"Monitoring me how?" Ruby burst.
"Through your scroll, laptop and earpiece." Penny answered matter-of-factly.
Ruby thought of Blake's potential response to that fact...it would not be pretty. "I thought I turned off my earpiece!"
"You activated power saver mode Ruby." Penny corrected. "As part of the testing process there is no off mode accessible externally."
"This thing has been on for three weeks straight?" Ruby questioned.
"And for several weeks beforehand, yes." Penny confirmed. "I greatly appreciate your diligence in charging it."
"I...well…" A sudden thought occurred to Ruby, a frightened thought. "Penny, have you...been looking through my things?"
"I took the liberty of defragmenting and optimizing your laptop hard drive, and updated your graphical drivers, though there are performance limitations due to the aged nature of the hardware." Penny explained. "I would suggest an upgrade, and would be happy to assist!"
"Penny…" Ruby sighed. She had to remind herself of Penny's unique circumstances. She was not raised like a normal person, or like any person really. She would perceive the world in fundamentally different ways, but even still, this needed to be addressed properly. "Penny, have you been monitoring my files? My browser history? My texts?"
"I have observed the entirety of your data Ruby." Penny declared. "I apologize if this is alarming. I was...curious."
"Penny, this is a massive invasion of my privacy." Ruby groaned. This was such a strange conversation to have. "I have sensitive things in my data, things I don't want people to see."
"I did not intend to invade your privacy Ruby." Penny noted. "I deeply apologize. It...gets lonely for me too."
Now Ruby's heart ached for Penny. She needed to focus lest she lose her fire. "Penny, I understand loneliness, but you need to ask before you do these things. If you wanted to talk to me all you had to do was say so. If you wanted to learn more about me, all you needed to do was ask. If you wanted to help organize my files, I would have at least given you some warnings before allowing you to do so."
"I apologize Ruby, I acted irrationally and without logical consensus...please do not hate me." Penny plead in a smaller voice.
"I don't hate you Penny, I could never hate you, I just…" Ruby sighed long and deep, sinking into her seat. "We need to lay down some ground rules, and talk more about this when I get home, okay?"
"I promise I will make this up to you Ruby." Penny responded. "I meant no offence. As recompense may I fulfill your dream PC build?"
"The build in my browser bookmarks, which you observed?" Ruby could not help but breathe a laugh.
"Precisely!" Penny cheered. "I have access to a sizeable personal stipend for essential upgrades. This stipend has accumulated for several years due to my efficiency, and Ms. Schnee has assured me it shall remain for any personal use required. I would consider it absolutely essential to repair our friendship with the gift of a dream!"
Ruby chuckled, unable to keep the grin off her face. She had to be dreaming. The situation was so bizarre, lecturing her virtual friend on an unintended violation of privacy and being offered computer parts as compensation. It was understandable if sad that Penny saw that as the best method of making up for things, but at the same time, it was oddly fitting. In a weird way, perhaps building a computer together would be akin to adopting a dog. Or maybe Ruby was just really, really tired. Oh well. "Alright Penny, I accept."
Ruby was thoroughly exhausted by the time Thursday dawned. Even a full night of deep sleep had not really helped. The week had been trying to be sure, and she saw no reason to expect it to get any easier. As she dragged herself into work, she felt as tired as she normally would on a Friday night following a hectic day of work. Ruby hoped she might get one day of respite before the end of week crunch, but the week's steady ramping up made that look unlikely. It was going to take a lot of strawberry sunrises to drink this one away.
As usual, Ruby was the first to arrive, sitting at her desk and logging into her station as Penny greeted her. A muted response was all she could muster, but Penny seemed understanding enough. She was clearly concerned about Weiss too, but there was little that could be done. The CEO was too quick to dismiss all worries and lock herself in her office. At least Jaune seemed free of serious fatigue when he arrived carrying a brown paper bag, probably a lunch lovingly crafted by Nora.
"What did Nora make for you today?" Ruby asked once Jaune had a chance to sit down and log in.
"She didn't really make lunch today." Jaune replied. "It's just some grilled chicken to heat up in the microwave." He paused for a moment. "Oh, she did make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as a snack though."
"A PB&J?" Ruby snickered. "What is she, your mom?"
"Since I got this job she kinda' acts like it sometimes." Jaune shrugged. "I'm not complaining though, it's nice to be taken care of."
"Yeah, I get that." Ruby nodded. "It was embarrassing sometimes, but it was really nice to have my sister help me out back in Patch."
"Ms. Schnee has arrived." Penny warned.
"How is she?" Ruby asked.
"She...does not look enthusiastic." Penny answered after hesitating. Soon the elevator chimed, the doors sliding open to reveal Weiss. Penny's observation had been an understatement. The bags under her eyes had been growing over the preceding days, but now even makeup failed to hide them. Her eyelids drooped as she practically dragged herself across the room.
"Good morning Weiss!" Ruby tried to be cheerful.
"Good morning Ms. Schnee." Jaune added.
"Morning." Weiss mumbled, her voice barely more than a whisper. She stepped up to her office door, leaning against it as she waited for Penny to disengage the locks. With a click the door started to swing open, Weiss tilting at an ever greater angle. As the door swung out of the way, Weiss hit the floor with a dull thump.
Ruby and Jaune stared in shock as Weiss lie on the floor, half in and half out of her office. "Weiss, are you okay?!" Ruby called. Weiss only groaned in response, barely moving.
"Ms. Schnee?" Jaune stood up at his desk, not sure what to do.
"Penny, what's wrong?!" Ruby asked. "Is she okay?!"
"Ms. Schnee is...sleeping." Penny replied.
"Should we...we have to do something." Jaune noted. "I should call an ambulance."
"No!" Ruby exclaimed. "That's not a good idea. Then the news would find out and...it would only cause her more trouble." She crouched by Weiss' side, looking her over. It did appear that she was just sleeping. "Is it safe to move her?"
"It is." Penny confirmed.
"Alright, Jaune, help me out." Ruby instructed. "Let's get her into her chair." She positioned herself by Weiss' head. "I'll get her shoulders-"
"I can carry her myself." Jaune interrupted. "Just hold the doors open." Ruby nodded and did so. Jaune stood beside Weiss and sighed. "Sorry boss, please don't fire me." He crouched down, rolling Weiss over. He then slipped one arm under her shoulders and the other under her knees, lifting her in a bridal carry. With little effort, he walked her over to her desk. Ruby pulled the chair out and Jaune placed their sleeping boss into the seat as gently as possible. Weiss stirred for a moment but said nothing before folding her arms on her desk, laying her head down and falling asleep once more. "Now what?"
"Penny, call Pyrrha." Ruby commanded. "She'll know what to do."
The elevator chimed and from within strode a very agitated Pyrrha. Penny's call had been expected, but the circumstances were not. She had expected some kind of hiccup, a small breakdown perhaps. Ruby would panic, call her, and she could safely handle it without another lost assistant. But that Weiss was so exhausted she passed out mid step called for more drastic measures. It was time she put her foot down, regardless of Weiss' feelings on the matter.
"Pyrrha." Jaune greeted, standing at his desk.
"Is she still asleep?" Pyrrha queried, approaching the door.
Jaune shrugged, lightly knocking on the office door twice. A moment later it clicked open, Ruby peeking out. "Pyrrha." She smiled. "She's still asleep. Do you want me to do anything?"
"No, thank you Ruby, you've done well." Pyrrha praised. "Just give us some time alone. This won't take long." She stood aside for Ruby to obey.
"Has this happened before?" Ruby asked as Pyrrha entered the office in her place.
"Almost." Was Pyrrha's simple answer. "Don't worry Ruby, I can handle it." She added with a smile before letting the door click shut.
Turning around, she could not help but sigh at the sight. Familiar ivory locks cascaded across the desk, hiding Weiss' face from view. It had been some time since she last saw her friend so restful, let alone peaceful. Weiss was ever the fitful sleeper, and Pyrrha knew that if she brushed back her hair she would witness furrowed brows and a tight grimace. And so she did, circling the desk to lean over her friend, gently hooking several fingers beneath the curtain and drawing it back behind her ear. Pyrrha frowned at the bags beneath Weiss' eyes.
"Weiss." Pyrrha whispered gently into her ear. Weiss stirred, scowling in her sleep. Kneeling down, Pyrrha tried again. "Weiss, sweetie, wake up." Weiss groaned in protest, arms tightening around her face. Pyrrha smiled fondly, laying a hand on her back. "It's time to go home Weiss."
"I don't wanna' go…" Weiss whined sleepily.
Pyrrha sighed. "I'm sorry sweetie, but you have to, you need rest."
"I can rest here, with you…" Weiss' words sent a pang through Pyrrha's heart, both of longing and frustration.
"Weiss-" Pyrrha started.
"Pleeeeeease-" Weiss implored with a drawn out whine.
Pyrrha scoffed. Weiss was only ever attached to her sleep when it meant leaving them. "Weiss, you're at work." Pyrrha firmly reminded. "You cannot sleep here. I'm taking you home."
"Huh?" Weiss' head shot upward, eyes blinking blearily as she took in her surroundings, then Pyrrha. "Oh."
"Can you stand?" Pyrrha asked.
"I-I'm fine Pyr-" Weiss started.
"Do not lie to me Weiss Schnee." Pyrrha admonished. Weiss flinched, looking down until a gentle hand cupped her cheek, directing tired blue into vibrant green. "You are exhausted, you are drained, you are coming home to rest and recuperate." Pyrrha instructed, loud and clear. "Your choice is to walk with dignity or be carried like a child. You know I will!" Pyrrha added with a raised finger, stopping the CEO from retorting, her mouth clipping shut.
Weiss swallowed, and what little fight was left in her evaporated with a slump. She nodded in defeat. "Okay...to my place then...it's safer there."
Pyrrha fixed Weiss with a raised brow. Her place? The only people to ever visit her place were Coco and Velvet, and even they were no longer permitted. "You're sure?" Pyrrha questioned.
Weiss nodded, slowly pushing herself to her feet. "Will Ren come?" She murmured, accepting Pyrrha's arm to lean on.
"He will." Pyrrha confirmed. "I'll have him pack. Would you like him to bring anything specific?"
"No, just…" Weiss lay her head on Pyrrha's shoulder with a tired sigh. "I want him with us."
"He will be, we both will, always Weiss." Pyrrha soothed, running her hand through Weiss' hair.
"I'm sorry." Weiss whispered.
"It's okay Weiss." Pyrrha responded.
"It-" Weiss started.
"Weiss, we will talk later." Pyrrha interrupted before she could continue.
Weiss shrunk slightly in her grip. "Okay."
"We will talk about everything Weiss, and we will listen, but first we need to focus." Pyrrha noted. "You need rest, and I promise not to leave your side."
"I know." Weiss nodded, taking a deep breath and standing straight. "I'm ready."
Pyrrha smiled. "Then let us depart."
With Weiss' absence, Ruby and Jaune were left alone to their own devices, alone to face a rather awkward realization - they were currently redundant. Ruby's entire job was to do what Weiss needed, when Weiss needed it. Jaune's job was to...reinforce current security measures? Their positions were not exactly essential, and now they were essentially pointless. Pyrrha and Weiss had neglected to leave them any further instruction, though Penny assured them contingencies were in place. That left them with nothing to do but socialize...and hope the company did not suddenly come crashing down on their heads.
"Car-living isn't as bad as it sounds." Jaune shrugged. "I mean, I didn't really have rent except for gas. I was basically camping all the time."
"But how did you shower?" Ruby wondered.
"Gym showers." Jaune answered. "My membership wasn't that expensive and it helped keep me fit anyway."
"And what did Nora think?" Ruby asked.
"She was pretty chill about it." Jaune replied. "Said it would be fun to be able to drive everywhere and just curl up to sleep."
"Didn't she have a license?" Ruby questioned.
"Nope." Jaune shook his head. "And we don't have a car anymore. I sold it for the down payment on our new apartment."
"So you Ryde here?" Ruby inquired.
"Uh, I don't have a bike." Jaune answered.
Ruby quirked her brow. "Huh? No, I mean Ryde, the taxi service."
"Oh, no." Jaune responded. "I take public transportation and stuff. It's cheaper."
"I usually take the subway here and a Ryde home." Ruby explained. "I'd ride a bike, but I can't really do that anymore. It makes my leg hurt too much." She lightly pet the limb, on the knee. Thankfully it was not aching too badly that day...yet.
Jaune glanced down briefly. "Your leg is still hurt?" Ruby had told him about the injury before, but he had assumed all was now well.
"It was pretty bad, the doctors did what they could, but it's still not great." Ruby replied.
"That sucks." Jaune observed. "I don't think I could deal with that."
"It's rough for sure." Ruby laughed. "I'm slowly dying on the inside."
"I think they have pills for that." Jaune snorted.
"Knowing my luck, they wouldn't affect me." Ruby shrugged. "Stupid opioid resistance…"
"So you're in pain right now?" Jaune asked.
"A little." Ruby admitted. "It comes and goes, but I'm fine, been dealing with it for years, and I'm still going."
Jaune glanced at the security screens, brow arching. "Velvet and Coco are coming." He noted, sitting straighter in his chair.
Ruby stood as the elevator chimed. "Velvet, Coco." She called as the Faunus exited, closely followed by her companion.
"Ruby, Jaune." Velvet forced a smile. It seemed more tired than usual. "Busy day, huh?"
"Is Weiss okay?" Ruby asked, concern clear in her voice and expression.
"Pyrrha told me she'll be fine once she's had some rest." Velvet replied. "She probably won't be in tomorrow though."
"Oh…" Ruby trailed off.
"Don't worry, the SDC won't implode if Weiss misses a day of work." Velvet assured her. "There are contingencies in place. She'll probably still video conference in for meetings, and I'll act as her proxy on site."
"Velvet gets to be the big boss for a day." Coco grinned. "Now's my chance to sleep my way to the top."
"Anyway, this isn't the first time, so I know what I'm getting into." Velvet continued.
"It's not the first time?" Ruby was taken aback. "This has happened before?"
"Not this exactly." Velvet explained. "Weiss has missed the odd day of work. Once she was sick with a stomach bug-"
"I wouldn't expect something like that to keep her away." Jaune interjected.
"It doesn't matter how strong willed you are if you can't go five minutes without vomiting." Velvet noted. "She also missed a day for a minor family emergency, something with her mother. It turned out to be no big deal, but she wanted to be there just in case." She paused. "The point is, everything's going to be fine."
"Who are you trying to convince Babe?" Coco asked with a hint of concern.
"Fridays are hell here." Velvet sighed. "I'm going to need a good long rest after tomorrow."
"I can give you a good long-" Coco started with a smirk.
"Coco." Velvet admonished.
"I was gonna' say massage." Coco shrugged.
"Sure you were." Velvet rolled her eyes. She approached the door to Weiss' office. "Penny, if you'd be so kind." She waited a moment for the door to click, then reached for the knob.
"Wait a minute." Ruby called. Velvet turned to face her. "What about us?"
"Yeah, without Weiss here, I'm pretty sure I don't have anything to do...not that I ever really have anything to do." Jaune groaned.
"Hmm...well…" Velvet thought for a moment. "Ruby, you'll still have to come in. Your workload will probably be a little lighter, but I might need you. As for you Jaune...I guess you could take the day off. Don't worry about losing pay, you'll be compensated normally."
Jaune looked to Ruby, then back to Velvet. "Nah, I'll come in. I'm sure Ruby could use a hand, and since Weiss won't be here, I'll actually be able to lend one."
"What I could really use is a leg, but I'll take any help I can get." Ruby chuckled.
"Alright then, I'll see you both tomorrow." Velvet opened the door to Weiss' office.
"Ooh, can I sit in the boss' chair?!" Coco exclaimed before gasping. "Can we bang in the boss' chair?!
Velvet breathed a heavy sigh. "Gods help me."
Chapter 24: Reawakening
Chapter by RealTerminal
"I can feel your...Spring glory…"
Beta read by CKSalamander
Weiss had maintained her composure long enough to cross the lobby, returning Ruby's wave and offering a nod to Jaune before entering the waiting elevator. Then she had slumped against the wall after the doors closed, leaning her head against Pyrrha's shoulder and linking their arms together. It had been quite sometime since they had enjoyed simple intimacy, a fact that gnawed at Pyrrha. She knew Weiss deserved her space, and feared for their safety and privacy, but the distance her dearest friend had been putting between them pained her.
Ren was far more patient, preaching patience and understanding. Weiss would come around in due time, when she was ready, when whatever was pulling her away had run its course. The best thing they could do was remain loyal friends.
Friends. Nothing more.
Pyrrha had access to the SFO's company car, and used that to drive Weiss home. Before setting off she had texted Ren, informing him of the circumstances, their destination, and what needed packing. Pyrrha was relieved that Weiss never drove herself - to had done so in such a state would have been near suicidal. The last thing Pyrrha wanted to endure was a call from the hospital about Weiss, or more likely a call from Ruby. There was enough worrying her about Weiss without accidental suicide on the menu. Uncharacteristically, Weiss had chosen to sit in the front seat for the short drive, watching the scenery pass through lidded eyes, slipping in and out of sleep.
A part of Pyrrha felt guilty for commandeering Weiss like this. She knew her friend valued independence, but Pyrrha's mother had taught her that sometimes people play the fool and must be put in their place. Weiss' place was in a warm bed, getting well needed, well deserved rest. She had clearly been neglecting her own well being, and action needed to be taken sooner than later.
Prior to this day, Pyrrha had had no knowledge of Weiss' home, other than its general location. Weiss was awake long enough to direct Pyrrha to her private parking, and then Pyrrha entered what seemed to her like a fortress. After leaving the car, the pair had walked arm-in-arm down a set of stairs to a basement entrance. Weiss opened the heavy metal door with a key, leading into the employee subfloor. In short order Weiss had led them to a security checkpoint, staffed by two armed guards stationed in front of an elevator. Weiss informed them of Ren's future arrival before she and Pyrrha boarded the elevator and headed up.
An advanced computer system, complete with visual and biometric analysis kept an eye on the elevator's occupants. Weiss had always intended for Ren and Pyrrha to join her at her home one day, so they were already in the system, along with Winter, Willow, Coco and Velvet. The guards and cleaners were also in the system, all suitably vetted and monitored. The elevator had then opened onto Weiss' floor, and with it another security checkpoint with two armed guards. They too were notified of Ren's expected arrival.
The final line of security was at Weiss' door. She had described the extent before, but seeing it had still shocked Pyrrha. A retinal scanner, fingerprint scanner, keypad and an old fashioned key lock all sealed Weiss' door. Weiss was the only individual who could get through all of them, even the guards were only provided with ways through two of the four locks, just in case one should be compromised or taken hostage. It was sad that such methods had to be enforced, but reality was a tragic thing, one Pyrrha longed so heavily to alleviate, in any way possible for her dear friend.
The pair entered the apartment, the heavy door shutting and locking with several heavy clunks behind them. Weiss slumped against the wall, but Pyrrha soon scooped her into a bridal carry. In spite of the usual threats, Pyrrha knew she did not truly mind being carried, so long as the carrier was the right person. Of course circumstances would normally be far more playful.
"Which way to the bedroom?" Pyrrha murmured. Weiss hummed, pointing down the nearby hall.
The apartment, or as the scale became evident, penthouse, was surprising in decor. There was little in the way of expensive modern furnishings, and those present were styled or decorated in such a way that fit with an almost humble aesthetic. The framed posters and display cases offered insight into Weiss' hobbies. Pyrrha had never found anime all that interesting. As a child she had watched scattered episodes of several series during pre-school mornings, but she always preferred physical activity to media. Weiss, on the other hand, clearly took great joy in many shows, and this manifested in the myriad posters, artworks and merchandise that dotted almost every available surface and wall.
Pyrrha was surprised by it all. She knew of Weiss' love of the medium, but had hardly expected such a blatant display. There must have been thousands of lien worth of merchandise, if not millions. She even spotted a few life sized statues about the home, likely promotions the SDC had a hand in. Even the beanbags were branded, large, comfortable-looking and numerous. It was like a mancave. Or womancave. Pyrrha could not help but chuckle.
Weiss' bedroom was a great deal more subtle. Thick curtains rendered the room near pitch black. Pyrrha sat Weiss on the bed before fumbling for a nearby lightswitch. Apart from a single wide poster above the dresser, there were seemingly no hints of Weiss' interests here. She recognized the bedsheets as the prior year's birthday gift, a mural of the Maidens embroidered in gold thread on deep crimson cloth. A pale hand traced the textured pattern idly, Weiss having shifted to the bed's edge.
"I'm sorry." Weiss whispered, lifting a leg to fumble with her heel.
Pyrrha sighed, kneeling before her. "I'm sorry too." Reaching up, she unbuckled and slipped the shoe off. "For not intervening sooner."
"I didn't want to worry you." Weiss insisted.
"I will always worry for you Weiss." Pyrrha smiled, reaching for Weiss' stockings, hands still upon her thighs as she met a tired gaze.
"And I you." Weiss responded.
Pyrrha's hands gently crept up Weiss' skirt, slipping under the thick material and slowly pulling the stockings down. "We accept the risk in being close to you Weiss." Pyrrha stated, rolling the garment up. "We made a promise to stand by your side, through thick and thin, 'til whatever end may come." She recounted, moving to the opposite leg.
Weiss took a shaky breath. "I don't want to cause that end."
"And I don't want to witness it." Pyrrha retorted, sliding the matching stocking down, just as gently. "But that is the danger you face, and so we will face it with you, and should an end come, it shall not be alone."
"I'd rather die alone than lose you." Weiss whimpered as Pyrrha's fingers found her top, her vision blurring with tears, failing to obscure the kind, serene smile before her.
"And I'd rather suffer in your stead than allow it." Pyrrha countered.
Weiss could not help but smile despite herself, and Pyrrha cheered internally, focusing on opening the blouse before her. Weiss' smiles were normally just politeness, feigned or no, trained into her from a young age by etiquette coaches. But on rare occasions she would show a true smile, wide and warm, eyes sparkling, bright, beautiful baby blue, the likes of which Pyrrha could lose herself in for hours given the opportunity. Shaking fingers cupped her cheeks, drawing her gaze into those eyes, tears thick within.
"Having friends is insufferable you know." Weiss complained. "Sometimes I wish we never had to worry about each other. We could live our own lives, dealing with our own problems, living out the rest of our days free of added drama."
Pyrrha chuckled, shaking her head. "Weiss, dear, you are terrible at handling your own problems." She mused, wiping away Weiss' tears. "It's why you need us, to help you when you falter."
Weiss sniffled, lip quivering as she lay her head against Pyrrha's, the mint of her breath filling her senses. "I missed you. I'm sorry."
"I know, I miss you too." Pyrrha closed her eyes, and in a shock of warmth felt Weiss close the final gap, soft lips meeting her own in a gentle but loving kiss.
Like water to the parched, Weiss devoured Pyrrha. Ravenous in appetite, the smaller girl dominated the kiss, arms wrapping around her neck, pulling her into bed. Pyrrha had always found Weiss' passion entrancing. It had taken so long to coax her from the shell she had built around her desires, but once unleashed she was like a flood, washing over them in an indulgent tide. It was mesmerizing, it was cathartic, it was the exact opposite of what Weiss needed right now.
Pyrrha broke the kiss, panting above Weiss, who weakly attempted to pull her back down. "Weiss." She shrugged off her jacket. "You are not out of the woods yet." Her shoes came next, followed by her socks. "I brought you here to recover, to get a good long rest." Unbuttoning her jeans, they followed, before she bent down to unbutton Weiss' skirt. "If I have to swaddle you in blankets and sing Rock-a-Bye Baby I will, but you're not going to be difficult." With a yank the garment came free, leaving Weiss in nought but lacy blue underwear, a stunned if amused look on her face. "Are you?" Weiss shook her head and Pyrrha grinned in satisfaction.
"Good, now, under the covers." Pyrrha instructed, turning to a nearby dresser. She opened the drawers until she found Weiss' nighties. "Bra off." Weiss hastily obeyed, tossing the underwear aside before being smothered in silky cloth. Weiss snorted, struggling to get her arms through the correct holes and pull the hair from her eyes. Pyrrha shut the door, turned off the lamp and slipped in beside her, nudging Weiss further inward. "Maidens your feet are still cold." Pyrrha groused, strong arms wrapping around Weiss' midsection, pulling her flush against her warm body.
"It's not like my feet have undergone a metamorphosis in the past few months." Weiss shot back, purposefully rubbing them against Pyrrha's legs. She found herself flipped over for her trouble. Pyrrha could be very rough when required, but never in a painful manner. It was just enough to remind Weiss that she had been, and still was, an athlete. Certain aspects of which drove Weiss insane.
"We will be sure to examine you for any other potential changes then." Pyrrha teased, breath hot upon Weiss' face.
"Oh please do." Weiss purred.
"In due time, now…" Pyrrha planted a kiss upon Weiss' nose. "Go to sleep."
"Will Ren be here when I wake up?" Weiss asked.
"I'll make sure of it." Pyrrha promised.
"Good." Weiss yawned. "Pyrrha?"
"Hmm?" Pyrrha hummed.
"Thank you, for everything." Weiss replied.
"You will always have us Weiss, by your side, at your back, in your arms." Pyrrha declared.
"I know…" Weiss murmured.
"Good, never forget it." Pyrrha delivered a second kiss, this time upon Weiss' lips.
Weiss was left feeling dreamy. "Never."
In her dreams, Weiss was weightless, floating down a stream of warmth, the gentle currents of calm shifting about her form, glowing greens, reds, golds and pinks, wonderous in their majesty. It was serene, not a thought in her mind but bliss, not a sensation but bliss, and an odd firmness against her rear…
"Weiss..." Came a soft whisper, familiar and warm, it's presence inspiring affection from within. "Weiss, sweetie?" Came the voice again, followed by an explosion of warmth against her cheek. She gasped, whimpering in ecstasy as it spread across her body, writing against the firmness against her behind. "It's morning dear, time for breakfast. You love Ren's breakfast…" Yes she did, especially when he made smiley faces in her porridge. "I have a lovely little wakeup call planned for us...I think you're long overdue for a Spring pampering…" Oh, now everything was just pink. "Wakey, wakey." Came the final whisper, before that lovely warmth met her lips and reality faded around her, until there was naught but heat and pressure, and a probing tongue between her lips.
"Mng!" Weiss moaned into the kiss, slowly returning it and whining as Pyrrha pulled back.
"There we are, welcome to the world of the loving." Pyrrha spoke teasingly, pecking Weiss on the nose.
"Nnng, let me go back." Weiss grumbled. "There were pretty colors…"
"There are plenty of pretty colors in your apartment dear." Pyrrha observed. "You have quite a collection."
"Uuuuuugh...nooooooo…" Weiss groaned.
"It is quite the sight." Ren's chest vibrated against her back as he spoke. She suddenly remembered the firmness against her rear.
"Ren?" Weiss gasped.
"Good morning Weiss." Ren responded.
"I can feel your...Spring glory…" Weiss managed. Pyrrha snorted, cackling loudly before burying her face in the pillow, barely muffling her amusement. Ren shifted, Weiss felt his arm slip from beneath her pillow, the pressure alleviating, giving her space to turn over. "It's okay." She assured, leaning over to grant a kiss of his own. "I missed you too."
Ren offered a small smile, reaching up to brush a stray lock of hair from Weiss' cheek. "How do you feel?"
Weiss nuzzled into his touch. "Better, thank you." Arms snaked around her once more, and warm breath ghosted across her neck.
"Good, you slept the entire day and through the night." Pyrrha noted.
"Huh, what time is it?" Weiss panicked, attempting to sit up, only to be held firmly in place by strong hands.
"Time to recover Weiss, one day is not enough." Pyrrha insisted.
"Velvet and Coco are filling in for you." Ren soothed, running his hand through her hair. "Pyrrha will ensure you are taken care of."
Weiss gripped his shirt in tight hands, huffing in frustration. "And where are you going?"
"To ensure my department doesn't burn down." Ren grinned, laying his hand over her smaller fists. "We can't all take the day off. But I'll be back, I promise."
Weiss could never resist Ren's calm gaze, especially accompanied by that serene smile. Ren exuded calm, he always did. It was why she fell for him. "Fine…" She huffed. "But I want dumplings for dinner, chicken ones."
Ren chuckled, leaning down to kiss her once more. "First I must make breakfast." He pulled away, slipping out from beneath the covers. "You two enjoy yourselves."
"Oh we will, won't we dear?" Pyrrha nipped at Weiss' neck, drawing a yip from the smaller woman.
"Pyrrhaaaa!" Weiss curled into herself, futilely of course. Pyrrha's hands were hot upon her skin. "Ren, heeeelp!" Ren only laughed as he closed the door.
"You're all mine." Pyrrha purred into the hollow of her ear.
And Weiss shuddered.
If there was one thing Weiss was not, it was a morning person. Pyrrha, on the other hand, was the exact opposite. It was as if sleeping overcharged her, and she needed to vent the excess energy. Usually this was through morning exercise. Pyrrha's definition of said exercise varied depending on the occasion. It just took a while for Weiss to catch up.
"No gold fixtures?" Pyrrha observed the bathroom with a smirk, dark tile with white marble, silver fixtures this time. Weiss rolled her eyes. She could do little else, the morning haze still fogging her mind. The warmth of Pyrrha's arms did a little to help...well...it did in a certain fashion. "Such a lovely shower, room for the three of us, and look at all this space!" Pyrrha plopped Weiss onto the large, marble topped vanity, the chilly surface drawing a short gasp. "I'll warm you back up in a moment." Pyrrha grinned, turning to head behind the shower screen, turning on only one of the overhead spouts.
"Are you really so eager?" Weiss asked, shifting to better sit on the vanity's edge. "It has been some time…"
"Time is meaningless Weiss." Pyrrha shrugged, turning back. "I feel no different about you now than I did three months ago." She smiled, moving between Weiss' legs, bare thighs hot against her own. "It comes down to you Weiss." She took Weiss' hands in her own, clasping them together to bring upward, a kiss their destination. "Do you want this?"
Weiss kissed her in response. Of course she wanted this. Of all the things in life she lacked, this bond, this intimacy, this love was what she craved above all else. It was maddening how addicting the feeling was, to be pulled into strong arms and given the most beautiful feelings imaginable. She wanted to melt, instead she slumped. "Always." She murmured against Pyrrha's lips.
The kiss continued, hands slipping down below to cup her rear, modest breasts soon met with a willing tongue. Weiss herself wasted not time pulling Pyrrha's shirt over her head, swiftly followed by the sports bra that concealed her own bountiful mounds. Once Weiss had been self conscious about the disparity. Even with therapy, her own bust continued to disappoint, but Pyrrha had shown her time and time again how little vanity mattered, for beauty was in the eyes of the beholder. To Pyrrha she was perfect, not in spite of her flaws but all the more for them.
Weiss wished to the gods above she could express her perception of Pyrrha's perfection. Every curve of her body screamed radiance, the definition of her muscles godlike. It was a crime Pyrrha so often wore jackets and lab coats. She was fit for sculpture, and indeed Weiss had expressed such a desire on many occasions. Pyrrha would only laugh it off, before making some entrancing comment about worshipping false idols, then directing her attentions to the proper place.
Weiss loved being handled by her lovers. It was so freeing to be taken, to drop all pretense of control, to let passion and its many lustful children lead her astray. Pyrrha was so energetic, so strong, so eager to hold her close and never let go, yet endlessly gentle when it came down to lovemaking. Pressed against the tiled wall, how water cascading over them, Weiss did not even remember her panties vanishing, only the sensation of heated fingers replacing them, slipping over her inflamed lower lips with all the skill of a masseuse, coaxing all manner of keens and moans from her lungs.
"There truly is nothing more beautiful than a lover laid bare." Pyrrha grinned, trailing kisses down Weiss' collar. She could only grip Pyrrha's shoulders as her journey took her to stiff peaks, each left raw from tongue and tooth before heading farther south, grazing past her belly button. "I've missed this view."
"Pyrrha…" Weiss moaned as a kiss was planted on the tuft of hair left upon her mound.
"Shhhhh, the only sounds I want to hear from those lovely lips are proclamations to the gods…" Pyrrha purred.
"It's not the gods I worship Pyrrh-ah!" Weiss yipped, shivering as Pyrrha kissed the bite mark left on her thigh.
"Hush dear…" Pyrrha chided before honing in directly on Weiss' clit, drawing forth a gasp of shock, giving way to a drawn out moan. Her skilled tongue worshipped her lower lips with a ravenous appetite.
Weiss had never been one for stamina. Combined, Pyrrha's love of foreplay and her ministrations often led to quick and explosive results. This morning was no different, and with hardly any time to truly enjoy Pyrrha's lovemaking her body was wracked with convulsions, pulses of pleasure paralyzing her form, choked cries of ecstasy barely uttered for lack of breath, until finally her legs gave way, her rear hitting the wet, tiled floor with a splash.
"Mmm, delicious." Pyrrha grinned, licking her lips. "You've only grown sweeter." She admired, leaning in for a sloppy kiss, Weiss' taste fresh upon her tongue. Indeed she had. "Don't fall asleep just yet my sweet." Pyrrha pecked her on the nose, standing tall above her, a neat triangle of red fur above her bright core. "I do so miss your worship."
Weiss grinned wearily, the last aftershocks of orgasm leaving her system as she gazed up at her goddess, truly a wonderful figure. She slowly shifted to her knees, wrapping her arms around the taller woman's waist, hands squeezing firm cheeks behind. Strong hands gripped her hair, directing her gaze upward, even as she began trailing kisses along Pyrrha's thigh.
"So beautiful." Pyrrha uttered, seemingly in a daze.
Weiss beamed, drawing closer to her goal, extending her tongue.
Far sweeter than herself, far sweeter...
Chapter 25: Second Impressions
Chapter by RealTerminal
Beta read by CKSalamander
Blake was not hoping for an easy night, Fridays were never easy. Blake was hoping for a return to normalcy. Her partner meeting an old human friend out of the blue, that friend bringing someone home to fuck, toying with Weiss Schnee of all people, it was all so terribly exciting. Too exciting. Was it too much to ask for one week to go bye without some kind of disruption? Probably.
Ruby would be arriving soon. She had informed Blake of all the craziness going on at her job, and it seemed the girl was in for a busy day. That would mean an inflamed leg and a desire to drink away the pain. Blake had been surprised by the speed of Weiss' implosion. She had seemed so tough and confident just a week ago, only to run herself into the ground. Blake pushed the thought to the back of her mind. What was she doing? Sympathizing with a human, a Schnee? No, that was the wrong way to think about it. She was Ruby's Alpha, and Weiss was Ruby's friend, that connection was what really mattered.
Sure enough, Ruby walked in right on time and headed straight to the bar. "Hey Blake!" The human chirped.
"Hello Ruby, how was your day?" Blake asked, trying to seem as disinterested as possible. She knew Ruby would see right through that, she did care, but she had to at least keep up appearances.
"It was really good actually." Ruby replied as Blake started mixing her drink. "Jaune was there to help, and even Coco pitched in, it was probably the easiest day I've had so far."
"So your leg doesn't hurt?" Blake inquired, placing the completed cocktail on the bar.
"Well, it's still kinda' achy." Ruby admitted. "A few sunrises will fix that though." She picked up her drink and took a long sip. "That's the good stuff." The girl headed for her usual booth, where she would probably hide away for the rest of the night.
Blake returned to her bartending duties, but before long her attention was drawn to the entrance. It was easy for her to read the signals the other patrons sent when something interesting was going on, and Blake followed them to the source. Great, another human. The woman was tall, buxom and more mature than the usual clientele. Her hair was up, and she wore a business suit, along with what looked like reading glasses. She did not seem distracted by Faunus all around her, nor by the flashing lights and pounding music. No, she was here for a reason.
Blake rolled her eyes upon catching sight of that reason. Neon pushed her way out of the crowd just ahead of the human, heading for Blake but hesitating on catching her gaze. The human gave her a gentle nudge on the shoulder, and Neon quickly closed the distance to the bar. "H-hey Blake." She managed.
"Neon." Blake acknowledged. She noticed Neon was not clad in her usual attire - a tank top and short skirt. Instead she wore a t-shirt and jeans, looking very unlike the fun-loving girl Blake was used to seeing in the club.
"I uh...I wanted to apologize for the confusion with Ruby." Neon continued. "I should have known better."
"Uh huh." Blake responded. She took a deep breath and sighed. "Sorry for losing control."
Neon laughed uneasily. "Oh...wow...wasn't expecting that."
"I wouldn't want to scare away a regular customer." Blake rolled her eyes. Truth be told, she was relieved to see Neon.
"Okay that's...yeah." Neon fumbled for words.
"Neon, you're being too meek." The woman spoke up. "She wronged you too."
"I-" Neon started.
"And who are you?" Blake glared at the human.
The woman reached into her pocket, producing a business card which she handed to Blake. "Glynda Goodwitch." She introduced herself as Blake scanned the card. "I'm Neon's-"
"Shrink." Blake finished for her.
"I prefer therapist." Glynda insisted.
"Sure." Blake shrugged. "Here to give her moral support?"
"Something like that." Glynda confirmed. "It's difficult to confront trauma head on."
Blake laughed. "Trauma…"
Glynda sighed. "Typical Alpha."
"What the hell would you know?" Blake challenged.
"More than you would expect." Glynda smirked. "I didn't become a psychologist for Faunus on a whim."
"No, I bet-" Blake started.
"Going to accuse me of doing so because of some kind of fetish?" Glynda questioned. Blake had been planning to do just that. "What's your story Blake?"
"My story is I don't like shrinks." Blake hissed. "If you're not going to buy a drink, I'll have to ask you to leave."
"Blake, I'm sorry, I didn't come to antagonize you." Neon spoke up.
"No, but your pal clearly did." Blake observed.
"Blake, we don't have to be confrontational." Glynda suggested. "I think you could benefit from-"
"No." Blake cut her off.
"You know I'm right." Glynda persisted.
"Maybe." Blake allowed. "But I'm not going to talk to a shrink."
"Well, if you change your mind, my info's on the card." Glynda smiled.
"Are you going to get a drink or not?" Blake groaned.
"I'll have a strawberry sunrise." Glynda ordered. "One for Neon as well."
Blake narrowed her eyes at the human, but her expression remained fixed. This was not a battle she was going to win. "Two strawberry sunrises, coming up." She groused, turning away to mix the drinks.
"Oh, hey Neon!" Ruby appeared. "How are you...oh." She noted Neon's apprehension and Blake's obvious annoyance. "I'll just...uh...I need a refill." Ruby held up her glass. "I'll be at my booth." She quickly retreated.
Neon hesitated before following. "I should probably go apologize to her too."
Sleeping in was a rare treat for Weiss, normally reserved for Saturdays, fueled by whatever drinks she had imbibed the prior night. There were no such drinks this time, however there were other equally...intoxicating acts committed - acts that left her sore and aching in all the right ways, the ways she truly craved when downing drink after strong drink. That would normally be more than enough to ensure a long and deep sleep until the cusp of noon, were it not for the loud chime of her scroll's message tone.
"Nnnngh." Weiss groaned into the warmth beneath her.
"Who is Annoyance?" Pyrrha asked.
Weiss heaved a deep sigh. "It's Blake."
"You speak to Blake?" Ren exclaimed from above, his firm hand running through Weiss' hair.
Weiss repaid him with a soft kiss upon his chest. "Not actively. She works at Sunrise, I discovered by accident last week."
"And she recognized you?" Pyrrha asked.
"I wore the wrong contacts...and it seems there's far more to her than meets the eye." Pulling herself upward, Weiss raised her arms in a languid stretch, her bare chest hardly chilled in the stuffy room. She knew Ren would appreciate the view.
"I really wish you would tell us these things Weiss." Pyrrha frowned. "Is she trustworthy?"
"That remains to be seen for sure, but...I made a few inquiries." Weiss answered.
"And?" Pyrrha pressed.
"It's too soon to judge, but best case scenario...she could be a potential ally." Weiss replied.
"And worst case?" Pyrrha inquired.
"She's a simple extortionist." Weiss admitted.
"She wants to go shopping." Pyrrha held the scroll up to Weiss.
Weiss accepted the device, reading the message to herself. Tangerie Park, 11:00am. Let's go shopping. "Tangerie…"
"I know of it." Ren noted. "There's a Mistrali import store not far away."
"Public public, or deserted public?" Weiss asked.
"Well populated at midday." Ren replied.
"Hmm, I suppose I should go then." Weiss mused.
"Shall we follow?" Pyrrha offered.
"No, I want to handle her alone." Weiss refused.
"Weiss-" Pyrrha started.
"Pyrrha." Weiss let the scroll drop to the side, leaning over to cup her cheek. "I'll be fine, Carmine still protects me."
"We can protect you Weiss." Pyrrha insisted.
"You protect me enough right here." Weiss countered.
"It's not here you're in danger Weiss." Pyrrha persisted.
"The bruising says otherwise." Weiss joked.
Pyrrha sighed, allowing herself to fall back on the pillows in defeat. "Fine, but I expect you to check in with us."
Weiss chuckled, leaning over to meet Pyrrha in a short kiss. "Yes mother, and shall I be home before curfew?"
"If you want dessert." Pyrrha purred.
"Now that's incentive." Weiss grinned, sitting up to stretch again. "Well then, I suppose we should compose a shopping list."
"Yes, we should." Ren confirmed. "Your pantry is dreadful."
"It serves its purpose." Weiss defended.
"Thirty brands of high sugar cereal is not a healthy purpose." Ren admonished.
Weiss huffed. "There are noodles in there too!"
Weiss knew Blake was toying with her. Why else would she ask to meet at a bench in some random park? It was like some spy movie, but in real life it just felt like a pointless game. Still, Weiss did as instructed. The park was small, located in a rather nice part of the city. It was not the ritzy area where Weiss would normally do her shopping, but it was clean and safe, the perfect place to raise a family. That probably explained the playground across from the bench. After sitting down, Weiss had little to do but check her scroll or watch the children play. Perhaps that was Blake's point, something about lost innocence or another analogy Weiss was not quite grasping. Though it was a good neighborhood, Weiss came dressed as Carmine - better safe than sorry.
Thankfully, it did not take Blake long to arrive. She was dressed casually, much as she had been for her visit to the SDC. She plopped down beside Weiss, not looking at her. "Schnee."
Weiss had been expecting something of a cold reception. She had a response lined up, and it was not likely to lighten the mood. Still, she felt it necessary. "Belladonna." She smirked.
Blake flinched, barely turning to aim a single golden eye at Weiss. Her ear twitched for a moment before she recovered her composure. "Alright Schnee, I'm impressed."
"It wasn't difficult." Weiss shrugged. "All I had to do was cross-reference the name Blake with current and former White Fang associates. I wasn't expecting to find out you're practically royalty."
"And if you know what's good for you, you'll forget it." Blake warned. "I've spent years burying my past, and I don't want anyone else digging."
Weiss nodded. She had no intention of digging into Blake's past. It was the present the concerned her. After a rather uncomfortable silence, she asked the question that had been nagging her since she received Blake's text. "Why did you drag me out here?"
"Like I said, I thought we could go shopping." Blake replied.
"You don't need me to go shopping, unless you intended to blackmail me into buying you a new wardrobe." Weiss accused.
Blake shook her head. "I have my own money, and I don't like owing people."
"Especially not a Schnee?" Weiss suggested.
Blake could not help but chuckle. "Maybe." Weiss' expression indicated she was not amused by the answer. "Alright Schnee, I'll put it bluntly. I want to get back in touch with reality."
"What does that have to do with me?" Weiss asked.
"For years, I've been living in a world where humans are evil, and Schnees are the worst of them." Blake explained. "As time went by, lots of people tried to convince me otherwise, Sun most of all. But until recently I was unwilling to abandon my convictions."
"What changed?" Weiss inquired.
"Ruby." Blake replied. "Sun told me about the kind humans he knew when he was a kid. I didn't believe him. I thought it was childish ignorance, or optimism. Then one of those humans showed up, and I was confronted with a reality that was incompatible with my worldview. It didn't help that I connected with Ruby so…" She frowned, chewing her lip for a moment. "Then I met her friends, your friends, and it dawned on me that everything I thought I knew about humans was tainted, and I want to change that. I want to believe that humans can be good, that even a Schnee can be good. Your actions speak loudly, but I want to know about why you do what you do, why you are who you are. It's far too easy to assume you're good to the Faunus for PR, because it's good for business. Tell me I'm wrong."
"You're wrong." Weiss obliged.
Blake chuckled, slipping off the bench. "Well, that answers everything doesn't it?"
"Were it so easy…" Weiss mumbled. "Why did we meet here?"
"I had a package to pick up." Blake explained with a shrug, patting the satchel on her hip. "Come on, I didn't come out to just sit here."
"Where to?" Weiss stood.
"There's a lovely little boutique just down the street." Blake replied. "You can tell me why you love the Faunus so much on the way."
It was rather surreal, walking down a calm street she had never seen, passing stores she would normally never give a second glance, in the company of someone she would normally never talk to, in the guise of a woman she could never truly be. It was exactly why Carmine existed, yet even so she rarely took such advantage of her. Weiss just did not have the time, and what little she did was spent enjoying the privacy of her own home, and the pleasures of her favorite hobbies.
Though now it would seem they would be entirely different pleasures...she could not help but sigh, slowing briefly to rub at a more serious bruise on her thigh. Unfortunately her action did not go unnoticed.
"Stop the presses, the Schnee has a wedgie." Blake snidely commented.
Weiss glared at her. "Carmine, and no, as a matter of fact I do not."
"Well, you might love rubbing your crotch in public, but I don't typically associate with exhibitionists." Blake teased.
"Are Faunus always this insufferable?" Weiss grumbled. "Or is it exclusive to Alphas?"
"Careful there, you're supposed to be convincing me you're not racist." Blake smirked.
"Until this day almost every poor interaction I have had with the Faunus has either been due to the Fang, or some Alpha blustering and blithering their way through a crowd expecting the world to bow down before them." Weiss observed. "Now I don't judge your race by them, but my impression of Alphas in particular is not positive."
"Perhaps some day you will meet my father then." Blake suggested.
Weiss scoffed. "Your father looks like he could break me in half."
"He only looks that way." Blake rolled her eyes. "It's my mother that poses the real danger."
"I thought she was a priestess now?" Weiss inquired.
"In practice yes, but nothing will ever dull her skills." Blake grinned, canine gleaming in the sunlight. "I would know."
"Please, never smile at me again, I have enough plaguing my nightmares." Weiss huffed.
"Aw, she has nightmares." Blake sneered. "I imagine the only nightmare you endure is squeezing into that wig."
"The wig is quite comfortable for your information." Weiss bristled. "The makeup is the true pain."
"Then why bother?" Blake asked.
"Contrast." Weiss replied. "I'm known for wearing little to none even in public appearances. As if the aesthetic wasn't enough, no one will expect to see me caked in mascara and blush."
"And when you are pressed for time?" Blake challenged. "You need to cut the fat Carmine, if you can't be ready within sixty seconds you may as well be dead."
"Not everyone can throw on a hat and a fake smile Blake." Weiss noted. "And I don't use Carmine for emergencies."
"It's not your makeup preferences people will recognize you for." Blake advised. "Drop the facepaint, stick to lipstick and lenses. Vanity will do you no favors."
"I don't do it for vanity." Weiss protested. "I do it because I damn well want to. Why do you care what I smear on my face?"
"I don't care." Blake countered. "However, if you weren't so focused on shoving your head in a paint can, maybe you wouldn't have neglected your contacts, which look very convincing when you actually wear them by the way." She had to admit, they were good, an emerald and hazel mix that entirely erased Weiss' usual pale blue.
Thankfully Pyrrha had reminded Weiss that day, but Blake did not need to know that. "Dunking my head in paint is a luxury in which I can afford to indulge, once a bloody week when I can actually go out and be someone different for once."
"So it's just escapism?" Blake asked.
"Of course it's escapism!" Weiss hissed. "You know what happens when I normally go out? Fucking paparazzi write articles on my every action. Did you know there was a picture of me eating a bloody hamburger on the front page of the newspaper last week?" Blake snorted, bursting into laughter. "Stop the presses! Woman eats things sometimes!"
"I guess they figured you lived on filet mignon and white wine." Blake suggested.
"Ugh, I despise filet mignon." Weiss groaned. "Give me some good sushi any day. You tried Ren's right?"
"I did." Blake confirmed.
"Then you'll understand my preferences." Weiss stated.
"True, however a burger still seems out of sorts." Blake observed.
"Burgers are my comfort food, so sue me." Weiss rolled her eyes.
"Oh?" Blake smirked. "And why not allow your lovers to comfort you instead?"
Weiss almost tripped over, pausing to regain her composure with a frustrated sigh. "I smell of them, don't I?"
"You reek." Blake laughed.
"Well fine, yes, lovers, plural." Weiss admitted. "You going to ride me about them too?"
"It seems you're the one doing the riding." Blake quipped.
"I would very much not like to discuss this with you." Weiss complained.
"Why?" Blake asked. "I thought we were friends. Do friends not talk about their sex lives anymore? Is that just a Faunus thing?"
"Will you just assassinate me already?" Weiss mumbled. "I can't bear the pain."
"And sacrifice our burgeoning friendship?" Blake smiled.
"How the fuck did you get such a nice boyfriend?" Weiss spat.
"He followed me home and I decided to keep him." Blake replied.
"That poor man." Weiss lamented.
"He doesn't complain." Blake shrugged. "Like Pyrrha and Ren, he simply suffers in silence until I throw him a bone."
"What?" Weiss spluttered.
"You came up at dinner last week." Blake explained. "I could almost taste the longing. The scent on your chair is so faint."
"Do you enjoy intruding into other people's personal lives?" Weiss accused.
"Yes, do you enjoy leading people on?" Blake countered.
"Don't pretend for a second you understand us Belladonna." Weiss warned.
"Oh I don't pretend, I just assume, and let people spout explanations from there." Blake noted.
Weiss halted, glaring after the smug Faunus as she strode ahead. "You need psychological help!"
Blake merely laughed.