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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'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?"

" 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…"

" 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."

" 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.

" 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 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."

Chapter Text

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,'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."

Chapter Text

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 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.

" 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."

Chapter Text

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'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. "'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 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 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.

"'s a start." Ruby grinned as she drained the last of her glass.

Chapter Text

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' 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'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 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 Text

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 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'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 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.

" 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. " 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 Text

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! 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 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 Text

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'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'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.

Chapter Text

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 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 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?"

Chapter Text

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, 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.

" 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, 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 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"

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 laughed.

Chapter Text

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.

" 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 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.

" 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 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.

Chapter Text

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 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 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 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."

Chapter Text

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 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?"

", 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?"

" 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.

Chapter Text

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 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.

" 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. " 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 Text

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 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."

Chapter Text

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'" 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 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. " 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 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 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.

Chapter Text

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 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 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' 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.

" mind's just really frazzled 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 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.

Chapter Text

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, 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 stuff on my mind." Ruby replied.

"Heavy stuff?" Coco pressed.

"Confusing 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."

" 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' 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'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.

" 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.

"'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'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 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. " anime."

Ruby looked more excited than ever. "Me too!"

Chapter Text

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 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 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.

Chapter Text

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 take care do you mean as friends...or more. Because I didn't expect Pyrrha to be so open" 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: hahaha]

[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 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.

Chapter Text

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' 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."

" 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'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.

" 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 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."

" 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 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 Text

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, 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-"

", 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 Text

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 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 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. " my place'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 Text

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 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 Text

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. "'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.

Chapter Text

"You don't seriously intend to go lingerie shopping, do you?" Weiss balked at the store before them, front windows featuring dummies clad in skimpy lace.

Blake stared appraisingly at a crimson number. "Maybe, maybe not. You seem about Ruby's size. Do you think she would like these?"

"Don't tell me you're taking another lover." Weiss scoffed.

"Why?" Blake asked. "Intend on taking her for your own?"

"No!" Weiss protested.

"Then answer the question." Blake pressed.

"I don't know!" Weiss exclaimed. "I try not to think of other people's tastes in lingerie."

"A shame, I find it helps ground my views of others." Blake shrugged. "You look delicious in pink by the way."

"I prefer green, and I would rather continue with the purpose of this lovely day together, not waste time looking at cheap lace." Weiss grumbled.

"Well I do need to pick up some groceries, but I assume you have a servant do that for you-" Blake started.

"I don't have servants!" Weiss protested. "And I'm not talking about shopping."

"Nothing's stopping you from talking and walking." Blake shot. "If you have something of worth to say, say it."

"Do you want specifics?" Weiss asked.

"I want to know the divergence." Blake specified. "Why did you turn out so different from your father? Reports said you were next in line, turning around the FOP as some sort of rite of passage."

"It was more than that, though father rationalized it as such." Weiss rolled her eyes. "No, I took over because I wanted to do something, because I'd spent too long focused entirely on my studies and was finally at an age when I could at least try."

"You couldn't try before?" Blake asked.

"I was too young, too young to do anything, too scared to try anyway." Weiss explained. "My life wasn't sunshine and roses Blake, by any stretch of the imagination. I grew up with a drunk of a mother and a tyrant of a father, who spent his time at the SDC painting targets on our backs. My mother and I nearly died because of the Fang's actions, and my experience is the sole reason we are standing here today."

Blake paused at that, her bow flicking once more as she turned to regard Weiss with a look of measured surprise. "I heard nothing about your being attacked." She expressed softly.

Weiss scoffed. "Because Father kept it buried, for various reasons."

Blake held her gaze for several moments more. It unnerved Weiss, seeng Blake so seemingly unnerved herself. Finally the Faunus blinked, looking around briefly before leaning against a nearby wall. "What happened and when?"

Weiss blinked, glancing around for eavesdroppers before stepping closer. "There was a kidnapping attempt, I was fourteen." She admitted. Blake's bow lowered slightly. "My life at the time had been stifling. At school I was expected to sit quietly, work hard, and only associate with desirables." She explained. "Upon returning home, I was expected to do exactly as Father instructed. Even on the rare occasions when I could venture away it was under armed guard, and even still only to approved locations, at sanctioned times, with specific people. So I decided to get away from it all, if only for a short while."

Leaning against the wall beside Blake, Weiss paused, crossing her arms. "I went into a store, took some clothes to the dressing room and waited. When the guard's attention lapsed I slipped away, hailed a cab and took it to a neighborhood where some of the…less privileged students from my school lived. I wanted to experience a sense of normalcy, pretend maybe I didn't have so much pressure on my back for a time. It was stupid, I didn't realize how dangerous it was, I didn't expect to be followed."

Schooling her expression, Weiss took a shaky breath. "I was walking along when a van pulled up beside me. Several men in ski masks jumped out and...everything was a blur. I remember claws digging into my arm, one of them saying my name, and it struck me what was happening...the White Fang had come for me, like they came for Mother before me. So I fought, blindly kicking and screaming. I think I bit one of them. He dropped me. I later found out he'd stomped on my chest...but all I could feel was pain and fear."

Weiss paused to pull a handkerchief free from her pocket, using it to dab at her watering eyes, taking care not to smear her eyeliner. "Then a miracle happened. A man came to my rescue, big, strong and angry...when I could see clearer he was wrestling with two of them. The third must have been unconscious...I guess they weren't expecting any resistance, so they had no real weaponry, or maybe they just didn't plan properly...either way, they cut their losses and fled."

Taking several deep breaths, the tremor in Weiss' hands slowly abated. "The man...he was a Faunus. I could see his claws, and if I weren't so paralyzed by fear and agony I would have fled...but he knelt down and spoke to me softly, assuring me he wouldn't hurt me, that he would stay and make sure I was okay. He called the police, sat by my side and told me his name...Tukson. I think he was the first Faunus to ever willingly speak to me...a-and he knew who I was, I was a human and a...and he didn't care, he didn't care at all. He didn't look down on me, he didn't gloat or take advantage he just...he saw me for what I was, a girl in danger, terrified and shaking...and he risked his life to save me."

Weiss leveled a watery glare at Blake. "Yes, before then perhaps your assumptions about me would have been correct. I was my father's daughter. My exposure to the Faunus beforehand were servants bowing to my every whim and the White Fang attempting to assassinate my parents. I thought very little of your kind, but that day opened my eyes to reality, even if by force...and here I stand before you, the result of that day. Are you satisfied now?"

Blake's stare was unfocused, distant, passing straight through Weiss. Her lips moved in silent, subtle whisper, but no words came out. Eventually amber cleared once more and a look of genuine sorrow crossed the Alpha's face. "I was never told...I didn't...I didn't know we'd stooped so low as to target children."

"The adults did not bother you?" Weiss frowned.

"I rationalized I did many of the Fang's actions...most of the time." Blake admitted.

"How?" Weiss asked.

"For the good of our kind." Blake replied.

"And what good would have come from taking me?" Weiss pressed.

"I don't know Weiss." Blake sighed. "I didn't know, and if I did I don't know what I would have done. I was a different person then, angry and devout. Maybe I would have rationalized that too. Maybe it would have brought me to my senses much earlier. I don't know, it's too late to wonder what if. It's always been too late."

"So why did you leave then?" Weiss inquired.

Blake's jaw tightened, her already pale complexion draining of color. She stared wide eyed for a long and painful moment before pushing off the building. "Good reason." She spoke, continuing down the street.

Weiss let out a breath she had not realized she was holding. Blake's expression had shocked her. She had looked so...sickened. The images of Fang murders sprung to Weiss' mind, and she shuddered. Perhaps she had not been the only one disturbed by them. But even so, how long had she stood by as the Fang committed such atrocities? She had more questions for the Faunus, but it seemed that for now they would have to be put to rest, if only to avoid incident. After all, there was still shopping to be done.

Blake tapped her foot as she witnessed a truly depraved sight - Weiss Schnee, CEO and billionaire, comparing the price of toilet paper. Toilet paper of all things! She had been at it for two minutes. Blake had already traveled up and down the aisle in wait, and still the white haired woman stood in thought. It brought forth that irritated twitch in her ear. "Sometime this century."

"No one is keeping you here." Weiss shot back.

"We're supposed to be hanging out." Blake noted.

"You have an incredibly warped perception of such a phrase." Weiss scoffed.

"You have an incredibly warped perception of pricing." Blake countered.

"I'll not waste money." Weiss refused to budge.

"It's six lien!" Blake exclaimed.

"And it's four lien at my usual store." Weiss insisted.

"A company worth nine hundred billion lien and you're griping over two." Blake grumbled.

"My family did not build the company without due griping." Weiss stated.

"Thank fuck we left the frozen food for last." Blake complained.

"Oh fine." Weiss huffed, dumping a twelve pack of rolls into her cart. "Rest in peace my hard earned two lien." Blake scoffed. "What? You try being in my position. One day Blake, one day in my chair and you'd lose you bloody mind. The amount of stupidity, bigotry and incompetence I have to sift through to get shit done…" Weiss sighed. "I value my money because I work hard for it. Surely you can sympathize."

"I love my job." Blake deadpanned. "It's like a tea party, but I can punch someone if they deserve it."

"Isn't that the bouncer's responsibility?" Weiss asked.

"Security can't handle everything." Blake shrugged. "And I like punching people, good for the soul."

"I feel Pyrrha might disagree." Weiss noted.

"If Pyrrha is like other Mistrali I've met, I'm sure she'd agree." Blake countered.

"Pyrrha wouldn't hurt a fly." Weiss declared.

"Pyrrha and Ren had mandatory military training, surely you know that." Blake argued.

"And I have had basic self defense lessons, but I don't want to just punch people...usually." Weiss muttered, turning into the body care aisle.

"You should give it a shot." Blake suggested. "Might help you sleep at night."

Weiss slumped over her cart. "I'm not going to hurt someone just to make me feel better Blake. That might appeal to you but my family has caused enough careless suffering." Standing tall once more, she turned to regard the items before her, picking up a box to examine - a pregnancy test.

"Pregnancy is a great excuse to punch people." Blake suggested. "You can just blame it on the hormones."

"I'm not pregnant you dolt, it's for Pyrrha." Weiss growled.

"For now maybe, but how long until that little belly is swelling with another Mistrali-" Blake started.

"Stop being so vulgar!" Weiss hissed, features tinting red at Blake's leering. "That would neither be practical nor appropriate. I cannot afford to be in such a state. I am not fit to be a mother, and Ren is not my fiance."

"Why does it matter?" Blake asked. "You love him don't you?"

"Of course I love him." Weiss replied. "I love both of them, but I am not engaged to be married. I am simply a dear friend."

"A dear friend they have threesomes with, delicious." Blake smirked.

Weiss grit her teeth, forcing herself to take a deep breath. "I had already been involved with them for some time." She bit. "At a certain point engagement was discussed, and I chose to distance myself for their safety." She turned around, meeting Blake's almost bored gaze with a glare. "Ren was far more understanding, but Pyrrha has never accepted my isolation, even now she just keeps…" Weiss huffed, biting her lip. "All signs point to our relationship causing harm to them in the future, but I'm tired of being alone in this."

"Life doesn't hand people like us happiness on a platter." Blake mused. "Self hatred or no, you have to take it where you can...sometimes it needs to be forced on you until you understand that."

"But what if I'm right?" Weiss pressed. "What if they become targets?"

"Then take care of them." Blake answered. "Throw your money around, lock them up if you have to. You have the power, use it, abuse it, whatever it takes. Protect your family Weiss, no matter the cost, and let them make you happy, even if you hate yourself for it. Gods know I know that."

With that admission Blake pushed her cart away, leaving Weiss to her thoughts once more. They were familiar thoughts, old friends and foes alike, warring in her head for dominance, one side never truly winning for long. So many dangers, so many risks, so much to lose, and such great desire to indulge regardless, she was truly tired, body and soul. Pyrrha and Ren would do anything to heal her ailments, even if it meant death. That scared her, as much as it warmed her heart. She could not stand to lose her lovers, she could not stand to lose her friends, but someday, something would give, and until that day, Weiss would fret and fear.

Until that day...she had to enjoy what she could.

That curiosity killed the cat was an often used phrase, turned against the Faunus to the great amusement of many humans. Many of those humans would come to pay for their careless jeering, one way or another, just as Blake came to pay for her curiosity. Never an open eye went unblinded. Weiss' story shook a part of Blake she had hoped to leave in peace, if only for a little longer. Those long festering doubts that fueled her departure from the organization suddenly reared their ugly heads. Years of self justification and willful ignorance, of telling herself they deserved it, that the Fang needed to escalate, that her actions were justified. Humans had abused and subjugated her kind for centuries.

Even then, in the great age of ethics and political strength, the Faunus were still used and abused as pawns by humanity. Peaceful protests had accomplished much, but it had taken far too long. Humans had grown complacent, progress had slowed. When Sienna took charge, the wheels began to turn once more, and so Blake had made her choice, going against everything her father had taught her.

Time had proceeded to prove her wrong, and wrong, and fucking wrong with every step she took. By the time she admitted as much, it was too late. She had lost parts of her soul that could never be reclaimed, and the frayed edges never seemed to heal, scabbing over only to come apart at random. Sun dulled the pains, but he would never stop them. One day she would have to admit that to his face, probably before going on the run. It was a miracle the Fang had not located her by now. Maybe they truly thought her dead. Maybe Adam knew where she was and it was only a matter of time before the hammer fell. Or maybe the Maidens had granted her mercy. Her mother would never have stopped praying for her. She missed her more with every passing day.

Blake paused in the apartment hallway to clear her mind, taking in the smells around her. The air was frigid, the slight tinge of cleaner upon it. The landlord may have been questionable, but he was reliable, accepted cash and didn't skimp on the cleaning. Combined with the occasional favor and Blake secured herself the privacy and safety she desired, and had done so for four years without notable incident.

Dropping several bags in front of the door, she smelled the scent of fresh popcorn escaping the crack beneath and heard the television blaring some random action movie of Sun's. Of course he and Ruby would take advantage of her absence to do something like that. She unlocked the door, shouldering it open before picking up the groceries once more.

"If you pissed off the neighbors I'm not apologizing to them." Blake called out as she walked in, kicking the door shut and heading for the kitchen. She paused to look over the couch. Ruby and Sun were not sitting as the movie played, instead only Sun was visible, kneeling beside the couch. Nearby a bowl lay on the ground, popcorn scattered across the coffee table and carpet. "What happened?" Blake asked, lifting the bags onto the kitchen table.

"Ruby hit her leg on the table and the pain isn't going away." Sun explained. "We've got it on ice, but I think she needs to get it looked at, now she won't talk to me." Ruby mumbled something into the pillow. "If it was fine it wouldn't be hurting all the time. Come on Ruby, you can't keep ignoring this."

" me unpack the groceries." Blake ordered with a sigh. Sun grimaced but obeyed, ensuring Ruby's ice pack was still in place before heading over. Blake rummaged through the cupboard above the fridge. "Does she have any allergies?"

"Uh...I don't think so, why?" Sun wondered. Blake pulled down a blank tin and he understood. Blake had never told him exactly what was in the soothing cream, but the effects spoke for themselves, as did her sparing use of the potent substance. "Are you sure that's healthy for humans?"

"Most likely." Blake shrugged, placing it on the bench.

"Most likely doesn't inspire confidence." Sun frowned. He knew the cream would work, but it was from Menagerie, for Faunus. Who knew what effects it would have on a human.

"Just pack away the groceries and let me worry about this." Blake instructed, pulling down a box of surgical gloves. "Unless you want to rub your hands all over her bare leg.

Sun tossed his hands up in defeat, beginning to sort through the bags. Taking the tin, Blake made her way back to the couch, wrinkling her nose at the mess of spilled popcorn as she knelt before the smaller roommate. Ruby was still clad in pyjamas, the ice pack sitting on her right hip.

"Ruby." Blake murmured. "Look at me." She opened the tin, taking a smell of the contents. They were still fresh, as expected. Menagerian goods were always made to last. Ruby inched the pillow down to reveal red-rimmed eyes. "On a scale of one to ten, rate your pain."

"Three." Ruby's still muffled voice came. Blake leveled an unimpressed glare at the girl, lifting the ice pack to receive a whimper of pain. "Eight!"

"I can make it go away." Blake held the tin for Ruby to see. "If you promise to see a doctor about this."

Ruby paled even more so than she had already. "I don't wanna'." She whined.

"Do you want to be in pain?" Blake scolded. Ruby mumbled inaudibly. "Ignoring something doesn't make it go away. You of all people taught me that."

"It'll stop Blake, it always does." Ruby insisted.

"Is it always this bad?" Blake pressed. Ruby remained silent. "Don't be a twit. You should have had checkups for this kind of injury."

"I was busy." Was Ruby's excuse.

"No one is too busy for an hour long doctor's appointment." Blake countered. "You're just scared."

"Of course I'm scared!" Ruby growled into her pillow, eyes watering. "I don't know what's wrong. The last time I talked to a doctor they were telling me my life was over…"

"And look at you now, living strong." Blake soothed. "Are you going to throw that away because something might be wrong and you don't want to face it?" Blake placed the tin aside, gently grasping Ruby's pant leg and pulling it up, revealing the scars beneath and the discolored skin surrounding them. "Ruby, either you make an appointment yourself or I'll make one for you." Ruby stared wide eyed at the bruising, white knuckled grip upon the pillow. "This cream will numb you for a few hours. Afterwards sensations will still be dulled." The Faunus sighed, pulling free a pair of gloves from their box, snapping them on. The sound made Ruby jump. "You may experience a high."

"What is it?" Ruby asked.

"An herbal mixture from aren't due for drug testing, are you?" Blake inquired. Ruby blinked in confusion, then shook her head. "Good. It shouldn't matter, but some ingredients might...raise questions." Scooping some of the cream into her gloved hands, Blake rubbed it evenly across her fingers and palm. "This will hurt at first." She warned before gently laying her hands upon the limb. Ruby tensed, clutching the pillow tighter, gritting her teeth as the touches grew firmer. "Just a few minutes and it'll all go away."

Ruby buried her face in the pillow and shuddered.

Chapter Text

Blake's words stuck with Weiss all the way home, bouncing around her mind, mulled and considered every which way and that. It seemed a shock to hear them come from Blake, but then again she did not truly know the Faunus. The only impressions she had to add to her brief encounters were second hand accounts and fleeting ones at that. Her words echoed Pyrrha's in a way, family above all, dedication and loyalty. Perhaps they were the Fang's words too, or perhaps they were lessons hard learned through suffering. Whatever trials drove Blake from her supposed family had obviously left her disturbed. She did not have the heart to press on that trauma. She understood the fear of reliving it.

All in all, the trip had gone better than expected, which was more than she could say for most recent events. Blake was right, what little positivity existed in her life needed to be kept close, needed to be kept safe. Left alone, Weiss' mind turned upon itself, beat itself bloody, and left her mentally bruised. It was unhealthy, she was unhealthy. But she had a company to run, regardless of the stress it caused, and for years Pyrrha and Ren had been the greatest relievers of said stress. She had terribly missed their company.

It was a familiar sight to see Ren reading as she entered her penthouse. Well, as familiar as a sight could be having never seen him there before. They had read together often once, when Weiss lived more often with them than at her own home. That brief period of her life had been so beautiful, so calming, never wanting for intimacy nor intelligent company. But eventually a decision had to be made. With their engagement, Weiss could not bear to risk them any longer. She wanted them to be happy together, to be safe together, without the risks of her proximity.

It pained Weiss, but it was the only way. Without her in the picture they could focus more on one another, marry, and have children, like a couple should. She had said as much to Pyrrha, in what had become one of the most terrifying moments of her life. Pyrrha had merely smiled and laughed, the notion nonsense to her. Mistrali culture did not care for such exclusive bonds. Love was sacred, to be celebrated, to be cherished in all forms.

Weiss wished she believed so deeply in that, but all she ever felt was fear in love. Fear of loss, fear of heartbreak, of losing the ones she loved so dearly, of losing their love. She had managed to keep Coco, in spite of her father's meddling. She had kept her relationship with Velvet platonic, in spite of many moments of weakness, and resisted so many temptations during her weekend forays. It was Ren who broke her, and Pyrrha who enabled her.

"Weiss." Ren spoke in that lovely, gentle voice of his. "I take it things went well?" He asked, placing his book aside to cross the room to her.

"Yes actually, it was…" Weiss mulled over a correct and apt descriptor for the discussions held. "Enlightening? For Blake at least." Ren held out his hands to take her bags. Weiss chose to drop them instead, grasping his hands in her own and craning up to meet him in a kiss, lingering and sweet.

"I sense a story there." Ren murmured against her lips.

Weiss hummed, leaning into his form, enjoying his warmth. "Later...where is Pyrrha?"

"Visiting Coco and Velvet." Ren replied.

"Oh?" Weiss raised an eyebrow. "And left you all by your lonesome?"

"She had her reasons." Ren noted.

"Hmm, if I were her I'd fight tooth and nail to keep you close." Weiss grinned.

"Were it anywhere else, perhaps." Ren chuckled, leaning down.

Weiss sighed blissfully, feeling Ren nuzzle at her neck, laying small and gentle kisses one after the other, stoking a familiar fire within her, so long neglected. Oh, she had tried to tend to herself - frequently - in all manner of ways, but it was never enough. Nothing she could accomplish alone compare to the gentle touch of a lover, let alone rough. "I wasn't sure what brand of rice flour you wanted…" She whispered.

"It makes little difference." Ren shook his head, leaving a final kiss upon her skin. "It's the soup that you love."

"Gods do I." Weiss laughed, letting go to pick up several of the grocery bags. "I suppose we should get this over with."

"Don't sound so disappointed, we can cook soon after." Ren smiled, picking up the rest. "You know how attractive Pyrrha finds us when we're cooking."

"If slicing vegetables and trying not to make things spontaneously combust can be considered cooking, I suppose I qualify." Weiss scoffed as they made their way into the kitchen. For such an expensive setup it was never used to its true potential. Sandwiches, microwaved and frozen food made up the bulk of her homemade meals.

"You're improving in leaps and bounds Weiss, give yourself credit." Ren countered, lifting his bags onto the table, Weiss beside him. "The great thing about food is that you don't have to be perfect."

"But your pancakes are always perfect." Weiss whined.

"Because my mother encouraged me to help her from a very young age." Ren explained.

"Oh, so that's where my alcoholism came from…" Weiss rolled her eyes, pulling items from a second bag.

"Weiss-" Ren started.

"I know!" Weiss interjected. "I's not that bad...just…" She paused as the pregnancy test box found its way into her hand, the blaringly pink cardboard glowing in the bright kitchen lights. It was odd really, that such a momentous event could all come down to some lines on a stick, that Pyrrha could come home and within an hour know if she had accomplished a dream.

"Weiss?" Ren's gentle voice drew Weiss from her musing. Warm hands found their way to her hips.

Weiss leaned back instinctively, meeting his gaze. "Are you excited?" She asked with a grin. "You might be a daddy tonight." She felt a chuckle run through his chest, his hands moving to link across her stomach.

"Extremely, can't you tell?" Ren asked.

"With a dumb smile like that?" Weiss whispered, pecking him on the jaw. "Pyrrha will be bouncing off the walls."

"You both will, or rather she'll carry you along with her." Ren shook with a laugh.

"I wouldn't have it any other way." Weiss smiled in turn.

"Is that so?" Ren asked, his thumb stroking softly across her belly, the warmth within flaring at the implication.

"Hmm...for now." Weiss hummed, dropping the box to lay her hands across his. "Someday...when the time is right...maybe then I'll reconsider." Grasping at Ren's fingers, she led them slowly lower. "I still want to adopt...but Pyrrha will wear me down, you know she will."

"She always has." Ren craned to the side, planting a kiss on the edge of her lips, his fingers meeting a cold metal belt buckle. "Until then…"

"We can always pretend." Weiss murmured. With a clink her belt came free, Ren's hands making quick work of the button and zipper beneath, slipping within to glide across the silk beneath.

"I suppose the groceries can wait." Ren suggested.

"You're godd-amn right!" Weiss gasped as Ren's fingers brushed across her lower lips, the sensation dulled but not deadened by the thin material, which quickly became sodden from his ministrations. "More." She pled. Ren obliged, hooking a finger beneath the garment and tugging it aside. Weiss spread her legs wider, reaching back to hold onto her partner's hips for support, breathing heavier as he began to rain kisses along her throat. Finally probing fingers graced her flower, her jaw hanging open in silent exclamation as it was massaged and spread, the soft texture igniting a roaring blaze within her. Trembling, she reached upward to grasp the back of his thick hair. "Don't be so gentle with me."

"I don't want to leave any bruising." Ren whispered into her ear.

"Fuck bruising I can wear a scarf." Weiss hissed, hitching as her lover's fingers slid within her core. "I-I want you to mark me. I want you to make me yours and I want Pyrrha to cover them in a-ah!" She choked a gasp as Ren bit down harshly on her collar, sending a shock of arousal through her body. "Gods yes…"

"Tell me how you want this." Ren murmured, his free hand grasping her own, leading it over the bulge pressed against her back. "Shall I take you here? Bent over the counter like a common maid?" Weiss shivered at the thought. She so loved the maid aesthetic and made a note to acquire the requisite outfit. "Or perhaps we could break in the dining table. It could use a lovely centerpiece." His fingers delved deeper, seeking to curl within her depths, stroking the sensitive walls and making her whimper. "Hmm, no, perhaps another time. Comfort is paramount, and I have a feeling you may already use it for such purposes…"

Much to Weiss' lament, she suddenly found herself empty, but the offending digits held before her were so tantalizing she gladly leaned forward to clean them of her juices. Ren took the opportunity to grasp her jaw firmly, turning her head to the side. "I wonder what filth has graced that television." Weiss looked toward the living area, a large screen dormant for the time being. It had indeed displayed many great and terrible fuels for her deepest desires, some of which had been produced by her very own lovers. "How often have you thought of me taking you on that couch?"

Weiss whined a muffled response. She sounded pathetic, tongue held in place by Ren's now cleaned fingers. She loved it, loved being Ren's plaything. So rarely was he willing to indulge her darker side, and all the more arousing for it.

Turning her back, he withdrew his fingers, instead kissing her long and deep. With a swift movement Weiss found herself held aloft in his arms, limp and helpless, utterly given to his control. She shuddered in excitement as he carried her from the kitchen. Though the living area was barely a few steps away, it was enough for anticipation to settle in, her enflamed sex throbbing from deprived attention. Her clothing felt stuffy, she wanted them off, torn off preferably. Her wig not so much, that was actually expensive. Carmine shopped at thrift stores and discount outlets, and the wig cost more than her entire wardrobe.

The world fell from beneath Weiss. She barely let out a shriek before the soft cushioning of the couch stopped her descent. Laughing up at Ren, she lifted her legs obediently as her lower half was stripped in one go. Thankfully the penthouse had fantastic heating, when engaged, and it had plenty of time to warm up that morning. She splayed her legs wide for Ren, to view his work. Pink and engorged, her modest slit drooled in excitement as he tugged off his clothes, the loose shirt and shorts a common outfit for his relaxation. He had not even bothered with underwear.

Weiss' eyes trailed his toned body. He was slighter than Pyrrha but more defined. She was never sure what made her salivate more, his washboard abs or the long, firm length below them, standing tall at attention before her. Another shudder ran through her body as she thought of the impending penetration. The prior night had been arduous, and so very stimulating, coming undone between Ren and Pyrrha both, time and time again, in all manner of positions, they had shared all they were. But at this moment it was just Weiss and Ren, and they were ravenous for one another.

Crawling over his lover, Ren leaned into another kiss, clasping his hands over Weiss' as he rubbed his length against her warmth, slowly, with increasing pressure. Breaking the kiss, Weiss led his hands downward to her chest. "Tear it off." She panted, thrusting weakly against him.

Ren resumed their embrace, happily ripping the button-up apart. It was a nice shirt for what Weiss had paid for it, but she had others, and this was a special occasion. Right now she could have been wearing her best suit and it would not have phased her. Nothing was slowing down love making, except… "Careful." Ren whispered against her lips. Her legs had made their way around his waist, attempting to pull him in tight, but Ren was always careful with this part. Weiss was petite, Ren was very much not. Their first time together had been excruciatingly slow, adjusting to his length had taken time, and it had been a while since she had taken such a size consistently. Nothing compared to Ren, to try only ever left her disappointed.

Wrapping her arms around him, Weiss waited impatiently for Ren to begin. As usual he treated it as a form of foreplay, slowly easing himself in, inch by inch as he trailed bites and kisses down her chest. The ache of her core being spread left Weiss breathless. She barely registered her bra snapping open - thank the gods it had a front facing clasp. Kisses rained down upon the small mounds, gently nibbles upon her peaks, a worshipping tongue lavishing both in equal attention, until she felt him bottom out within her. It was a tragedy she could not fit him in his entirety, but it did make for an intense session. Oh, the tabloids would have a fucking field day if they knew how depraved Weiss' thoughts had become.

"Are you ready?" Ren asked.

Weiss took a moment to focus back on his face, gorgeous pink eyes gazing lovingly down upon her. She smiled, her grip growing firm once more. "Don't hold back." She whispered.

With a final kiss, he thankfully obeyed without question, without hesitation. Shallow and testing thrusts gave way to longer and deeper hilting. It was pure bliss, to be filled so utterly, so heavily, pinned beneath her longtime lover. All ceased to be but for them, her body rocking to his rhythm, her core aching and throbbing. She whined and moaned and keened to her heart's content, expressions of ecstasy doing nought but enticing her vigorous lover. But all great things must come to an end. She could feel the telltale peak of her pleasure, and dug her nails into Ren's back, attempting to communicate her impending climax.

Ren's pace quickened, a wave of fire shot through Weiss' system, and with a choked scream she came undone. Her body ceased to rock and heat filled her core, over and over, until all was a tingling flame, and awareness began to settle in place of bliss. Ren panted down from above her, beads of sweat running down his chest. She let her arms cling to his shoulders weakly, letting her heart calm and her breathing slow, the dull ache of exertion settling in.

In those few moments she could pretend the world was different, that her life was different, that she and Ren were lovers consummating their bond like any others, like Pyrrha so made her hope, that perhaps life would sprout from within her, that she and Pyrrha would raise their children side by side, lovers now and until the end.

If only.

Perhaps in another lifetime.

"Mother still insists on Perseus if it's a boy, which I still refuse, but at least it isn't Archimedes." Pyrrha expressed with a roll of her eyes, pacing back and forth by the dining table. Ren tended to a pot on the stove, carefully boiling the noodles Weiss had painstakingly created earlier in the day. Weiss herself stood glancing at the timer on her scroll, which sat on the kitchen bench beside an upturned bowl: two minutes.

"At least your mother is able to insist." Ren chuckled, taking the top off another pot to check the dumplings steaming within. "I believe my parents are still scaling the Vacuan mountains."

"Weren't they backpacking in Menagerie?" Weiss asked, surprised.

Ren shrugged. "They were, then they weren't. Apparently they forgot to inform me until they were about to go out of service...again."

"Ah, the rigors of retirement." Pyrrha sighed. "Personally I've grown rather tired of mountains. They made my morning runs such a chore. Though I suspect those runs and the thin air had a lot to do with my athletic success."

"I'd like to retire to a mountain home someday, with a view to die for." Weiss declared.

"And an hour's drive to the nearest town?" Ren interjected, leaning against the table beside her.

"Far away from civilization, and all its stresses." She sighed. "I'd have everything airlifted to me, leaving only to visit my friends and family."

"Only to have Pyrrha knock on your door, dragging us all on a sled." Ren joked.

"Now why would I visit our own home hmm?" Pyrrha leered, approaching to pin Weiss against the bench, arms wrapping around her petite waist. "Though bringing you breakfast in bed on a cold morning? Now there's an image for you." Weiss melted into the ensuing kiss, a nip at her lips signalling its sweet end. Pyrrha's gaze flickered to the scroll. "Almost there…" She hugged Weiss closely, the smaller woman pressed into her bosom. "What was the name you suggested? Amelia?"

"Mycelia." Weiss huffed, returning the embrace, the unbuttoned top of Pyrrha's shirt allowing smooth skin to rub against her cheek. "Like the fungus."

"Mycelia...I guess you could say it's grown on me." Pyrrha chuckled. Weiss blushed. "Mycelia...our little mushroom. Oh, she would grow to hate that nickname, don't you think?"

"It was only in jest." Weiss noted.

"I think it's lovely." Ren called, straining the ramen over the sink.

A loud beeping made Pyrrha jump. Reaching a hand over, she slid the bowl closer, clutching Weiss tighter with the other. She could feel her heart beating within her chest. She lifted the bowl off the pregnancy test, picking the small devie up, flipping it over…

One single line.

Pyrrha let out a sigh and slumped. "Not this time." She whispered, looking sorrowfully at her partner.

Ren offered an understanding smile, the ramen long forgotten on the sink top as he circled the bench, joining the two for a group embrace. "There's always next time." He murmured, kissing Pyrrha softly. "Mistral wasn't built in a day."

"No…" Pyrrha grinned. Feeling a small kiss placed between her breasts, she looked down to find beautiful blue eyes staring up at her. "Well I suppose on the bright side…" Pyrrha beamed, leaning down to kiss Weiss once again. "...I can cut loose during the gala now!"

Weiss rolled her eyes, burying herself back into her lover's cleavage, feeling it heave with joyful laughter. She appreciated Pyrrha's ability to bounce back from this kind of thing. Her optimist, her positivity in the face of all had always been a great boon to her life. She did not know how she survived without it...or if she ever could.

Chapter Text

Ruby had to admit, Blake had a way with her hands. Once the cream had warmed up and kicked in, she was able to enjoy a surprisingly gentle - if firm - massage. At some point Ruby had murmured a thank you. The smile received in turn had been small, barely meeting her eyes. Blake seemed unfocused, a far cry from her usual sharp and piercing glares. It was worrisome, not helped by a near wordless departure. Her absence was mostly waved off by Sun. It happened sometimes he had said, it used to worry him a lot, but time had taught him to give her space, and she would emerge when comfortable.

Blake did not come out that day, and the next morning was not looking hopeful either. The soothing numbness seemed to have worn off Ruby's leg, replaced with a barely notable dull ache. Pressure flared it a little at first, but a few hours into the day and it was like normal. The bruising was still sensitive to the touch however, and had turned a sickly yellow in places. It frightened Ruby, dredging up old memories of fresh stitches, twinging pains that she could not escape, the harsh white of hospital rooms and the sense of impending doom.

Ruby attempted to shrug off any negativity by applying herself to something. She did not have homework anymore, and she did not really have anyone to hang out with except Sun, and she did not want to impose. Plus, should she really risk hurting her leg again? So she started small, breakfast, or really brunch by the time she woke up, not that Sun was too far behind.

"Are you sure she's okay?" Ruby asked. "Can I make her something?"

"She's fine Ruby, just…" Sun sighed, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "There's just some stuff on her mind, and she needs time to look into it. She'll be fine, trust me."

"There's really nothing I can do?" Ruby pressed.

"Nothing at all." Sun confirmed. "I know, it sucks...but that's Blake for you."

"So what do you do after that?" Ruby inquired.

"Uh...well I don't think you can help with that..." Sun managed.

"Oh...right." Ruby responded with equal awkwardness.

"How's your leg?" Sun thankfully changed the subject, though he chose an unfortunate new one.

"Good!" Ruby cheered. "Better. It hurts if I touch it, but not when I'm walking, so it's good!"

"Have you called a doctor yet?" Sun asked.

"No...I'm gonna' ask Velvet if Weiss isn't back tomorrow." Ruby explained. "I don't really know what my benefits are and she might know what I should do. There was stuff in the employee handbook, but the fine print just went on forever."

"Good, that cinnamon?" Sun sniffed the air.

"Yeah!" Ruby chirped. "Cinnamon swirl pancakes, they're awesome!"

"They smell better than awesome!" Sun enthused.

"Well sit down and be patient, and you can have some!" Ruby chirped.

Breakfast succeeded, for a time. The pancakes were delicious and filling, but after a time sat in front of the television, Ruby was now full of energy, a frustrating feeling for her to deal with. It meant exercise was needed, which meant risking more pain, but it gave her an excuse to use the gym again. She felt like push-ups were starting to get easier, though perhaps that was just the sugar rush speaking. Her workout "routine" was barely existent, a few exercises after work, walking to and around the SDC, a hand weight she had taken to work a few times. It was a sad shadow of a once extensive and fulfilling regime. Sun even joined in for a while, chatting softly as he lifted weights. Ruby tried to avoid unduly stressing her legs, riding the exercise bike while listening to tunes on her scroll, letting time pass in a haze of punk and electronica beats...until a sudden pressure on her shoulder scared the living daylights out of her.

"Aaurgh gods!" Ruby yelled, nearly falling off the bike as she jumped. Looking to her right she found the culprit to be Blake. "Oh, hey Blake. Good morning!" She greeted breathlessly, pulling out her earbuds. Blake looked like hell, frazzled hair, baggy and bloodshot eyes, and one of her ears seemed off-kilter. Suddenly her greeting seemed a little insensitive.

"Can we talk?" Blake requested. Requested, not stated, not demanded. Requested.

"Sure!" Ruby exclaimed. "Uh, like here or…"

"In private." Blake indicated.

"Do you want me to shower or-" Ruby started.

" it's fine." Blake tried to smile, but her expression was dulled even more so than the prior night's. "I'm used to you now."

Ruby blinked, but shrugged it off. She was starting to get used to Blake's...Blakism...even if it still made a tiny part of her want to hide away and never come out. "Right, okay! Uh my room?" She asked, slipping off the bike.

Blake turned, walking toward the hall. "Mine."

Ruby was left standing alone. "Uh...oh...kay?"

Blake's room many ways exactly what Ruby expected from a shut-in, at least once Blake turned on a lamp. The smell was what hit her first, thick, musky, slightly soured with something that bordered on sweat but...not so hostile, and mingled with something else, something alien to her senses, perhaps some kind of incense. Heavy blackout curtains covered the window, two wardrobes and a dresser lining the left wall, the bed pushed against the right. The remaining wall was taken up by a large wall hanging, black with gold stitching, not too dissimilar from the painting in Pyrrha and Ren's apartment. Instead of depicting the Maidens themselves, it depicted Faunus in prayer, one for each season, surrounded by their symbols. A reptilian basked in the sun, a lupine knelt covered in snowflakes, a lioness was wreathed in flowers, and a feline had a single maple leaf clasped in her hand.

"Ruby." Blake's voice drew her attention. The Faunus sat cross-legged on the bed, a black plastic case by her side.

Shutting the door, Ruby joined her, sinking surprisingly deep into the mattress, several layers covering its surface, with a multitude of pillows scattered about. It was comfortable, if slightly awkward to navigate. She finally gave in and flopped onto her back beside her roommate. "I like your bed." Ruby tried to break the ice.

Blake hummed, looking down at the case beside her, lightly trailing her nails across its rough surface. "I bought you's important that you take it, and keep it on you from now on." She lifted the case into her lap, tired golden eyes boring into the plastic. "I...I was going to wait, until we were closer...until you needed it but...I don't want to risk waiting." Taking a short breath, she held the case out to Ruby. "Sun said your birthday was in January, consider it a very late gift."

"Thank you…" Ruby murmured, cautiously taking the offered gift. She was surprised by its weight. Free of any branding, stickers or marks, she could not tell what it was for sure until she opened it. So she did, placing it on the bed, flicking its metal latches and lifting its lid. Chromed silver glinted in the lamplight. Gentle curves gave the implement a graceful appearance, sculpted to fit a human hand, a small one...her own. "Blake...I don't think I can take this." She shut the lid, hiding the silver gun from view.

"I know you don't like it Ruby, but you need it." Blake insisted.

"There's security-" Ruby started.

"Security is fallible Ruby." Blake snapped. "Especially when the Fang is involved."

Ruby swallowed a response as the fire left Blake's voice and her entire body seemed to slump in exhaustion. She looked down at the case, then back to her friend, her Faunus friend, who had expressed ire toward humanity, paranoia toward the world, hatred toward the SDC. "You said you worked in security." Ruby recalled Blake's effortless subversion of the SDC's checkpoint. A single checkpoint. Blake had entered the building with who knows how many weapons hidden on her person.

"Breaking it." Blake admitted. "I was good at it, because people are predictable, stupid and scared. They make mistakes, and I exploited those I was stupid, and I was fearful...and my mistakes were exploited in turn."

"By the White Fang." Ruby said, not in question but admittance. Blake nodded, looking at her properly for the first time. Ruby felt a mix of things. Fear surprisingly ranked least among them. This was Blake, Blake cared for her, feared for her life, promised to protect her...Ruby hated judgement, hated to judge. People were people, they lived complex lives, they made mistakes. Blake made mistakes like anyone else, and here she was, now, being open and honest to a human. Ruby did not fear Blake, she feared what had made Blake like this - quiet, worrisome, paranoid. "What happened?" She chose to ask.

The reaction was subtle but immediate. Blake's lips twitched, her gaze growing watery and distant. Ruby felt the need to reach out, but contact or even movement seemed unwise at this moment. "I made the wrong choice Ruby." Blake whispered. "Time and again I thought I was in the right, I rationalized, I excused and grit my teeth through every worry, every fear and regret...and by the time I realized I had gone too far, I had lost myself. Ruby...I lost everything to the Fang, because I followed them blindly."

Blake wiped at her eyes, tense as she staved her volatile emotions. Ruby finally worked up the courage to reach forward, only to jump as Blake snatched her hand into a tight grip, eyes wild. "I have seen the Fang at their best, and their worst, their most justified and...I thought I had seen them at their most cruel." Blake grimaced, her hold growing gentler. She took Ruby's hand in both her own, clasping it firmly. "They torture, they maim and they kill Ruby." She bit, gaze stony. "They are not freedom fighters, they are not noble, and they have no mercy left for humanity...not anymore. If you stand in their way, if you stand near their way you will be nothing but an obstacle, a witness to silence. You need to understand this."

The Faunus placed Ruby's hand against the case. "Maybe nothing will happen, maybe you will always be protected and maybe the Fang will spontaneously combust, maybe...but if ever there comes a time when you need to defend yourself, this gun might save you life, and the lives of those around you. Please take it, and don't let it go far from your sight." Blake pled. "Please, if not for your sake, then for your sister's, and your parents', and your damn dog's. Think of them, how much they love you, how much they would miss you if you were gone, how much Sun would miss you."

"Okay...okay I promise, I'll keep it close." Ruby took Blake's hands once more. "I don't think I'm allowed to take it to work but I'll talk to Velvet or Weiss and see exactly what the rules are…"

"Talk to Weiss." Blake insisted. "She ought to understand the need for protection."

"Alright…" Ruby rasped, suddenly realizing how dry her mouth had become. She swallowed, licking her lips in the uncomfortable pause. Blake's hands were sweaty, shaking slightly. "You didn't sleep last night, did you?"

Blake shook her head, swaying in place, even still she managed a mirthless scoff. "I don't sleep at all...just...pass out…" She slumped to the side, falling into the mountains of pillows behind her.

"That's...not good Blake." Ruby observed, needlessly she knew, but what else was there to say?

"Neither is drinking the pain away, but I enable you regardless." Blake smirked tiredly. "It's not always this bad, I just...have more on my mind than usual. I needed to do some research anyway."

"What about?" Ruby asked.

"Faunus stuff." Blake replied.

"White Fang stuff?" Ruby inquired.

"Hmm." Blake shrugged. "Don't worry about me, worry about yourself."

"Blake, everyone worries about me." Ruby managed a chuckle. "Then when I worry about them they say crap like that. I'm allowed to worry about others, I'm allowed to worry about you." She joined Blake in lounging on the pillows. "This whole moving and new job thing has been...huge, and yeah, things have been a bit rocky in places, and if it were anyone else I don't think I would have stayed here after the Neon debacle-" Blake opened her mouth to speak, but Ruby laid a finger on her lips before she could utter a word. "-And I'm trying to put that completely behind us. Blake, I'm used to dealing with stress. I'm used to dealing with people who have problems. Yang never talks to me about them because I'm her little sister and she wants to be this perfect supportive figure for me, and that hurts Blake, knowing that she won't ever talk to me about what she goes through. She's done so much for me and all I can do is give her a hug and tell her I love her. The only thing I've ever been able to do for her was help her quit smoking, and now here I am all the way in Atlas and she's alone and she doesn't always get along with mom and dad anymore, and she can lie to me through the phone for all I know. I don't know what to do for her Blake, but at least here I can do something for you. So please, I'll take whatever guns you throw at me, carry a can of acid spray, I don't care. Just talk to me, talk to us. Sun loves you, we're here for you, we're your family." She trailed off, Blake barely peeking out from hiding her face in the pillow pile, tears streaming from a single golden eye.

"You don't deserve it." Blake whispered. "I don't deserve you, or Sun. I don't deserve anything…" Ruby tried to shift closer, only for Blake to place a firm hand on her chest. "I...I can't Ruby. I can't talk about these things, not with you, not with Sun, not with some one. I can't talk about them to anyone because not talking about them is the only thing that keeps me going." She heaved a sharp breath, her hand clenching Ruby's shirt as she turned to glare, bloodshot and manic, only for her expression to soften, her voice falling to a whisper. "I shouldn't be here Ruby. I should have stayed with the Fang and died with the others. I should have been hunted down when I left but it didn't happen. I survived and it hurts, every damn day it hurts because everywhere I look I see more and more reasons why I was wrong…" Blake crumpled, physically and mentally, sobbing silently into the cushions.

This time there was no resistance as Ruby shifted closer, sliding her free arm around Blake's back. "I'm sorry Blake." Ruby murmured. "I'm sorry you went through all that." Blake choked a laugh and Ruby tried to rub the same soothing circles on her back that Yang used to do. It may have been an uphill battle, but what in life did not feel that way? "I know I can't do much, but I'll try anyway, even if you really just want to be left alone...I'll always be here if you need a hug or...or anything really. Sun says you really love fish, I can cook good fish! Not that I think it's because your a cat Faunus I promise I just...don't get the time to cook much and I don't want to make something you don't want, so I've kinda' been holding out on you...sorry."

Blake sniffled, letting out a garbled shadow of a laugh, shaking as her arm moved to pull Ruby closer. The girl found herself pressed against the thin material of Blake's shirt. The musk that permeated the room was far stronger there, yet still somehow not unpleasant. "You remind me of someone I used to know." Blake whispered. "She'd start talking could hardly get her to stop."

"So that's why you like me so much." Ruby chuckled.

"Maybe...I'll miss her." Blake sighed.

"Oh…" Ruby struggled to find the words.

"Thank you Ruby, for trying." Blake thankfully cut the silence short.

"It's okay...I miss being hugged." Ruby noted.

"Hmph...once a morning isn't enough for you." Blake huffed.

"You should meet Yang, when she hugs you she never lets go." Ruby joked.

"I'll bet…" Blake nodded. "I'll try and get some sleep now…"

"Can I stay?" Ruby requested.

Blake tensed for a moment, but only for a moment. "Sure."

Ruby felt a distinct and unique sense of unease, the feeling of subconscious guilt and paranoia one experiences when leaving a store without buying anything, when one finds herself suspicious of a crime she did not commit and likely would never commit. She felt the glare of every security camera, the gaze of the potentially nonexistent security, suspicious of the kind smiles of whatever employees manned the checkpoints. She felt like at any moment someone would blow a whistle, and she would be put away for something she had not even done.

Except Ruby knew exactly what she had done, she knew why she had done it, and she knew it was more than likely very wrong. She had a gun - a real gun. It was small, but a gun nonetheless, and she was not entirely sure what the guidelines on self defense implements were. Perhaps she could ask Penny, but the AI had been mostly silent since their talk the prior week. Maybe she should ask now...but Jaune was right across from her. Sure, she could trust Jaune, but the whole situation had her feeling very insecure, and gods damnit Blake was lucky she cared so much about her sanity.

A chime caused Ruby to jump in place. She instinctively brushed hair from her face, only to remember it was tied back in a ponytail. Right. Work and all that...and then she saw the elevator flash open, and the sight before was...jaw dropping to say the least. Weiss held both Pyrrha and Ren close, the former locked in a deep and passionate kiss, the latter grasped by the collar, looking ever so slightly concerned by their newfound audience.

"Weiss." Ren nudged the CEO in the back.

"I know…" Weiss sighed, breaking free of a very smug-looking Pyrrha to look over at said audience.

Ruby, to her credit, kept her mouth shut. Jaune, on the other hand, gaped awkwardly. "Morning Weiss!" Ruby squeaked, snapping Jaune from his staring.

"Uh...morning boss!" Jaune managed, barely.

"Good morning to you both." Weiss greeted in turn, stepping from the elevator. "I believe I owe you an apology, and a thank you for the events of last week. As of late the stresses have been rather taxing, to the point of affecting my rest. I apologize for the fright, and thank you for taking care of me."

"It's okay!" Ruby chirped.

"It's fine!" Jaune joined in.

"Are you feeling better?" Ruby asked. "You look better."

Better was an understatement. Weiss was borderline glowing, her complexion clear, her eyes free of shadow, and her long, flowing ivory hair hung freely about her shoulders for the first time in Ruby's experience, falling almost as far as Yang's did. Considering what they had just was not hard to guess the reason behind the sudden change. Weiss' smile was nearly blinding, contrasted by a tinge of blush upon her cheeks. "I feel like a new woman...ready to start fresh."

"Good!" Ruby exclaimed. "Good uh...I hope this doesn't put a damper on things but I uh...have a tiny little...issue."

Weiss' shoulders dipped as she heaved a small sigh. She had known it would only be a matter of time before she was dragged back to reality. "What is it?"

Ruby opened her mouth as if to speak but no words were forthcoming. Instead she held up a finger to delay, digging into her purse with her other hand. She extracted a nondescript plastic case and placed it on her desk. Taking a deep breath, Ruby opened the case and spun it around to face Weiss. "Am I allowed to have this? For self defense?" All present stared at her for a moment and Ruby's paranoia flooded back. "It's not loaded! I just brought it so you knew exactly what I was asking. I didn't mean to-"

"Your tiny issue is a tiny gun." Pyrrha barely suppressed a chuckle.

"I assume you want to bring it here loaded." Weiss suggested. "Otherwise it's little more than a fancy paperweight."

"Yes um...Blake thinks I need something for self defense, just in case." Ruby explained. "With everything that's going on…"

"Well, firearms are usually banned from SDC property." Weiss noted. "But they can be authorized on a case by case basis." She paused, looking back and forth between Ruby and the gun. "I'll allow it...assuming you have the requisite carry permit."

"I have one for Patch...they're supposed to be universal." Ruby once again dug into her purse, searching for the document.

"That'll do." Weiss waved her off. "I'll write up an exemption. You'll just have to present that, along with the weapon whenever you enter the building."

"May I?" Pyrrha gestured toward the weapon. Ruby nodded. Pyrrha picked up the firearm, ensuring it was indeed not loaded before more closely examining it. "Brand new, high quality...and it's so tiny and cute."

"I've never been able to think of a gun as cute." Ruby forced a smile. "But I suppose…"

Pyrrha passed the firearm to Ren, who also gave it a once over. "Certainly not military grade, but perfectly useful for everyday self defense. I'd go with hollow points to up the stopping power though."

"You guys know a lot about guns...but that makes sense." Ruby remembered that Mistral had universal conscription. Both Pyrrha and Ren would be well acquainted with guns and probably other weapons besides. "I guess you guys are used to bigger ones?"

Pyrrha only barely stopped herself from laughing aloud and Ruby shrunk in her chair. "Yes, we're used to larger guns." She said after a moment to calm herself. "Officers in the Mistrali military are issued .45 caliber pistols."

"You were an officer?" Ruby asked.

"We both were." Ren confirmed. "Technically we are still reserve officers. I was a medic with the Corps of Engineers, Pyrrha was trained as a Marine."

"And I'm just sitting here with my taser, feeling inadequate." Jaune joked. "I can't believe Ruby will be better armed than me."

"Hmm...maybe I can do something about that." Weiss thought aloud.

The elevator's chime drew the group's attention. Ren placed the gun back in its case as the doors slid open to reveal Coco and Velvet. "Crowded today." The former observed.

Velvet rolled her eyes and walked forward, placing her usual box of donuts on Ruby's desk. "What's with the gun?"

Coco took notice. "Oh my gods! It's the cutest baby gun ever!"

"Ruby got it for self defense." Weiss explained.

"I never liked guns." Velvet mumbled.

"Me neither." Ruby agreed. "But Blake insisted...and I can't really argue with her reasoning, what with everything that's been going on." An awkward silence followed. "Sorry for being a downer."

"It's alright Red." Coco offered a reassuring smile. "Reality sucks sometimes, nothing we can do about that." She looked at the others. "So...I've been dying to sample the donuts, but Velvet wouldn't let me. Can I have one now, please?"

"Oh, go ahead." Velvet rolled her eyes.

"Velvet, may I speak with you in my office?" Weiss requested. "I have a private matter to discuss with you."

Coco took a bite of donut and nudged Velvet's shoulder. "Go ahead. I'll try not to eat them all before you get back."

Chapter Text

Velvet followed Weiss into her office. The CEO sat in one of the chairs in front of her desk rather than at it, allowing Velvet to sit beside her. She looked troubled. Velvet had been hoping she just wanted to know about the work she had missed on Thursday and Friday, but that was clearly not the case. "What's wrong?"

"I made a few inquiries with retailers about carrying Coco's new line." Weiss stated.

"No interest?" Velvet guessed.

"Exactly the opposite." Weiss corrected. "I didn't have any difficulty convincing anyone to sell her products."

"And?" Velvet inquired. "That's good."

"It is...but something feels wrong." Weiss explained. "Just a few weeks ago, these same retailers were treating her like a leper. Now they can't wait to have her products and have nothing but praise for her work. It doesn't make sense."

"Maybe they just want to please you." Velvet suggested. "The SDC probably manufactures most of what they sell. Refusing to carry a line, one you specifically offered, might be seen as biting the hand that feeds."

"I thought that might be it, but I didn't find that explanation entirely satisfying." Weiss grimaced. "Then as soon as I asked about the discrepancy, I couldn't get a straight answer about anything. I couldn't even get a reason anyone stopped carrying Coco's line in the first place."

"That does seem odd." Velvet agreed. "What do you think is going on?"

"I have no idea." Weiss admitted. "But it's suspicious, very suspicious. They wouldn't even give me bullshit stock answers. I've never encountered anything like this before."

"I'll look into it." Velvet volunteered. "I'll contact all the participating retailers, see if I can pry any information from them."

"After the gala I'll join you." Weiss nodded. "And please, until we know something concrete, don't tell Coco. I don't want her to worry."

"Alright, I'll keep it under wraps." Velvet declared. "She's going to be very busy for a while anyway."

"I have a bad feeling about this." Weiss sighed. "But enough bad news. How was your weekend?"

Ruby had been experiencing a fairly uneventful day of running minor errands, brewing coffee and ignoring the irritating drone of pain in her leg. She watched the time steadily tick toward her lunch break, minute by boring, draining minute. Apart from discussing the...revelation of Weiss' true relationship with Pyrrha and Ren, Jaune had little else to talk about that day, as their weekends had been fairly uneventful. Penny had been only a little talkative, leaving Ruby with nothing more than to wait for Weiss' next request. Sure she could probably text Yang, but she could never remember exactly when she was working and how it would intersect with her own time. Still, she did not want to annoy her sister, or start talking only to find herself in the middle of more errands.

"Excuse me, Coco is incoming." Penny's voice startled both Ruby and Jaune from their meandering thoughts.

Jaune looked at the elevator display to see Coco was indeed on her way, and looking awful antsy. "She seems excited."

"Maybe she's taking Weiss to lunch?" Ruby suggested.

"Or she's heard know." Jaune suggested.

"The polyamory?" Ruby responded.

"Isn't it polygamy?" Jaune asked.

"No, that's when you have multiple wives...or husbands too I think." Ruby corrected. "I don't think Weiss is engaged."

"Maybe they're swingers?" Jaune mused.

"It feels really weird talking about th-" Ruby was cut off by the elevator's ding. From within strode Coco Adel, a million dollar smile gracing her lips.

"Ruby Rose!" Coco greeted bombastically. "Noodle boy!"

"Hey Coco." Ruby managed.

"Hi Coco, how's Velvet?" Jaune inquired.

"Oh, running amok." Coco grinned. "Got a taste of true power and can't stop laughing maniacally, you know her. But anyway, Ruby! I need to borrow you for a bit."

"Uh…" Ruby looked at the time - 12:25. It was close enough to her lunch break. "Sure? What can I help you with?"

"I need your body Ruby, I can't stop thinking about it!" Coco exclaimed. "Also I've got this cute little getup I need to get you sized for. You know, for the gala?"

"You got me a dress?" Ruby blinked. She had a dress or two at home, nothing fancy, just a little red getup for when she wanted to feel attractive and one she had never gotten around to wearing...since the accident she had never been one for showing leg, and certainly not for wearing heels.

"It has a skirt yeah, but that's not what's important." Coco waved off, leaning down on Ruby's desk with a smirk. "Weissy'll kill me if her lovely assistant doesn't get the best treatment, and boy do I think you'll love what I've cooked up."

"I can't wear heels anymore!" Ruby blurted.

"You're not a heel gal Red, come on trust me, and hurry up before my models kill each other." Coco slapped the desktop twice, turning to face Jaune. "Now you, you've got a tux right?"

"Yeah, it fits a little snug but-" Jaune started.

"Bring it in tomorrow and i can have it adjusted." Coco ordered. "Penny, tell Weiss Ruby died in a tragic bobby pin accident. Ruby, mush!" With that Coco spun on her heel, striding back toward the elevator.

Ruby stayed frozen in place in a short daze, meeting Jaune's equally dumbstruck gaze before hurrying to follow. "Uh, seeya' Jaune!" She called as she rushed to join Coco.

"Rest in peace?" Jaune returned as the elevator door closed, consigning Ruby to whatever cruel fate Coco had in store.

"A bobby pin accident seems improbable." Penny commented.

"Maybe she speaks from experience?" Jaune suggested.

Penny paused for a moment. "I sure hope not."

Ruby had never really tried to take notice before, but Coco was...really good looking. It was not that she was trans that made Ruby think of it, just...if anything that probably contributed. Coco was taller than average, slightly broader, but slim and just a little curvy. She had to be as tall as Pyrrha, but Ruby had never taken note of them standing close together. Still, Pyrrha had notably thicker...assets. Pyrrha definitely worked out, but Coco was slim, soft and far more...bombastic in her confidence. Coco's sheer assumption that the world would bend to her will would baffle and browbeat anyone in her path. Pyrrha meanwhile seemed to have two modes - either her jubilance and cheerful aura forced you to respect her, or she strode through the world like a ship cutting through the waves. Ruby had never seen Pyrrha so serious as that day - it was intimidating, and just a tiny bit arousing, but she would take that secret to the grave. Well, she might tell Blake if she asked, or Yang...or Pyrrha if she stared her down long enough.

"Hey limping beauty." Coco suddenly spoke...from behind her. Ruby spun around to find Coco standing beside a door with a star sharpied onto its surface. "Got somethin' on your mind huh?"

"Oh, just got my head in the clouds and stuff...nice door." Ruby gestured to the art.

Coco snickered. "I like the aesthetic. Everything here is so orderly and perfect, and there's just this pentagram on a door. Sometimes I watch the camera to see if people stop to stare. Anyway, your leg okay?"

"Yeah, it's fine!" Ruby insisted. "Just hit it on a table yesterday, and it's been a bit achey. I'm fine. said models were here?"

"Well, two of three yeah." Coco nodded. "The third I'm keeping under wraps for a sec. You'll love her, great gal, smack her butt and watch it jiggle for daaaaays." Tapping the door twice, Coco opened it, gesturing for Ruby to enter first.

Obeying, Ruby found herself in what must have once been a conference room...or a very large supply closet. Curtains had been hung all around the walls, the floor space taken up by numerous tables covered in clothes and several racks with yet more clothes hanging up. One corner contained a full workstation surrounded by documents, cloth swatches and the remains of several takeout lunches. But the details were not important. What was important were the models, one of which was entirely nude, stick thin with long black hair and perfectly pale, unblemished skin. The other was her twin, only dressed in an impractical red dress and heals. They barely turned to stared tiredly toward the newcomers. The third model was far more recognizable however.

"Ruby!" Nora cried, also very naked. "My distant friend I met once!"

Suddenly Ruby found herself buried in warm breasts. "Nrrah!" She squealed in surprise. Thankfully Nora was not entirely nude, wearing a pair of banana yellow panties. Jaune was a lucky guy.

"Oh lovely, there's two of them." One of the models rolled her eyes.

"Don't worry, I think the new one is about to pass out." The other quipped.

"Ruby, meet Melanie and Miltia Malachite, the two bitchiest models in all of Atlas." Coco teased. "Mil, get that scrawny ass into something sexy. Mel, oogle your sister. Nora, Ruby's got clothes to model."

"Oh, I can't wait to see what you've got hidden." Nora cheered, allowing Ruby some breathing room. "These chicks are skin and bone, blegh."

"Says the balloon animal." Melanie shot back.

"I'm sorry, what was that, all I heard was rattle rattle!" Nora countered.

"I said you forgot to order more food." Melanie glared. "I think your ass keeps begging for more."

"The only thing my ass is begging for is a nice spanking and some extra breathing room." Nora laughed. Quick as a flash, she deprived her lower half of its meager coverings and flocked her panties toward the twins, who scowled at the discarded garment.

"Is this a declaration of war?" Miltia asked.

"If she sat on us we'd lose." Melanie warned.

"Girls, calm it." Coco cut in firmly, pinching her brow. "Ruby, you gotta' lose the clothes."

"Uh…" Ruby choked, feeling a twinge in her leg.

Coco leaned against the edge of her desk, pulling off her glasses and setting them aside. She had lovely eyes, big, brown and alluring. They fixed Ruby with an appraising look that made her feel very...bare, even with all her clothes on...for now. "You can keep the panties on, and the bra for now, if you're not comfortable."

"You don't have a changing room?" Ruby pressed.

"Oh sweetie, ain't nothin' you've got we haven't seen a thousand times over." Miltia scoffed, now clad in lacey black lingerie.

Her opposite knelt before her, lacing up long red leather boots. "Unless you have some hideous deformity, like a third leg...although I suppose Adel counts."

"Adel Junior is a beautiful third leg thank you very much." Coco huffed. "Don't worry about them. Ruby, focus on Nora, look at her go."

Nora ceased wiggling her body in the mirror to grin over at them. "Come on Ruby! Help fight back against the stick figure sisters. I see those curves hiding away, let them be free!"

Ruby smiled tightly, taking a deep breath before beginning to unbutton her top. She felt the weight of eyes upon her, like being in front of class giving a presentation. In a way she was doing exactly that - every movement, every shuffle, awkward shifts in posture, were just words shakily read from a paper. Nora seemed really at ease in the nude, and light hearted. That did help a little, but the twins intimidated her. They were full fledged models, supposedly perfect, but biting in tone. Nora's build was not much thicker than Ruby's own, and if healthy they would have been easily comparable. She missed her pre-injury body, missed liking what she saw in the mirror, but there was just so much to do and so little free time in which to do it. Or maybe she just lacked the motivation, it was hard to tell anymore.

"Ooh Ruby, are you okay?" Nora asked with concern as Ruby shimmied off her pants, revealing the...slightly better but still ugly bruising and her surgery scars.

"I'm fine Nora, just hit my leg over the weekend." Ruby assured her.

"With a sledgehammer, evidently." Miltia jabbed.

"Hmph, no saving that disaster." Melanie insulted.

"Someone apparently tried." Miltia observed.

"I hope those stockings are dark, Adel." Melanie added.

"Girls-" Coco started to intervene, only to be cut off.

"I'd like to see you strut down the runway with a reconstructed femur." Ruby huffed, kicking her jeans off to the side and turning to face the others.

"Oh I wouldn't bother, my modelling career would be over." Miltia rolled her eyes. "Besides, why waste time on my legs when my back is more convenient."

Nora snickered then burst into laughter. "Oh man, I'd love to see you try. Little twig like you wouldn't last a month. Don't worry Ruby, scars build character, just look at me." Nora raised her arms and slowly turned around. "These were from some kitty claws, lemme' tell ya', that was a fun night...this one not so much though…" She trailed off, pointing at several lines on her rear and thighs. Ruby had been attempting to not stare and now failed entirely.

"When you're done ogling, I'd like to get a better look at you." Coco interjected.

Ruby blushed, but reached up to unclip her bra, pulling it away to toss onto the rest of her pile. Heaving a breath, she turned to face Coco fully, hands fidgeting by her sides. "I used to be thicker…"

"Oh trust me, you're fine Red." Coco admired. "In fact it doesn't really matter if you're thick or thin." She stepped closer. It occurred to Ruby that this was the closest she had been to another while nude...or nearly nude, since Neon. "Besides, the outfit I've got for you is very adjustable, but damn, you're bigger than I guessed, and perfectly symmetrical. Look at those nips." Coco snapped her fingers over Ruby's left nipple. Ruby flinched, flushing a deeper shade of red.

Nora stepped over for a better look of her own. "Mnhmn, it's like lookin' at a younger me. I bet Jaune's been taking a few peeks."

"Uh...I don't think so-Coco!" Ruby yelped as Coco knelt down, taking a look at her bruised leg.

"Ruby, how did you hit this?" Coco asked. "It's not a small bruise."

"It was just the edge of a table, I'm fine, it's happened before." Ruby insisted. It was a lie, she had never hit her leg like this.

"This isn't normal Ruby, you should get it checked out." Coco advised.

"I know, I know." Ruby sighed. "I'm gonna' make an appointment. And I'm pretty sure Jaune hasn't been checking me out. At least I hope not. I don't wanna' be a homewrecker or anything. I've got enough to deal with." She rambled.

Nora merely smiled. "Then he's being sneaky about it, just like I taught him." She winked, reaching forward to lightly poke Ruby's nipple with her finger. "Boop."

Ruby covered her bright red face in shame, from her physical state, and the fact that being touched sent a spike of something through her system that she had absolutely no business feeling at a time like this. "Can I put on some clothes now?"

"Aw." Nora deflated.

"Just a second." Coco stood, running her hands up Ruby's hands to pry them away, clasping them in her own. "Remember, you're beautiful, gorgeous. Flaws only ever serve to propel that into contrast. I could dress you in a brown paper bag and you'd still turn heads. Even Mil's jealous of your butt."

"Fuck off Adel." Miltia flipped her off.

"Chin up, I'll make you see what I see in no time." Coco grinned, letting go to head over to her table, leaving Ruby in a daze.

Nora latched onto Ruby from behind, breath hot upon her ear. "Heya', are you doin' anything this weekend?"

"I-I don't think so?" Ruby's breath hitched as Nora's fingers gently rubbed her hips, the warmth down below uncomfortably increasing. "Why?"

"Well, Coco said she wanted to set you up with a nice guy." Nora replied.

"Uh-" Ruby uttered.

"I've got a nice guy too." Nora continued. "You're a nice girl. I think we could all have a nice time together." Ruby could not even form a response to that. Her vision blurred and a shudder shot through her form. "Unless you've got your eye on someone else…"

Ruby might have laughed under any other circumstances...the situation was so bizarre and sudden...but Nora was beautiful, and her fingers were gentle, and her chest was hot against her back, and Jaune was attractive and had not tried to hit on her past a single awkward time they both agreed they were good looking...and it had been so long since she had been with a guy. "Can I think about it?" Ruby managed, weakly.

"You can think all you want Ruby." Nora allowed. "We aren't going anywhere."

"…" Ruby spoke.

Coco turned around, a large white box in hand, and froze, brows raised. "You know there's a bathroom you guys can lock, right?"

"Oh I'm classier than that." Nora huffed. "Now at least. Oh, it's the-"

"Shush, here you go Red, happy birthday, or Solstice, whichever comes next." Coco held out the box.

Nora pulled away as Ruby accepted the package, holding it with one arm and lifting the top with the other. "Ooh!" She cooed, running her hands across the shiny leather surface of brand new combat boots, chromed buckles gleaming in the light. "Ohmygods they're beautiful!" She gushed, pulling them free to examine in detail. "These...cost a lot, don't they?"

"Well, in materials they cost almost nothing, but the company that makes them loves to charge out the ass, as Velv would say." Coco shrugged. "Just pretend they're about a hundred lien. They're good quality, you'll get a lot of use out of them."

"Thank you!" Ruby cheered. "Now I need actual socks…"

"Stockings, here." Coco held out a bundle of folded cloth. "These are actually cheap, which is a rarity in this industry." The stockings were mostly opaque, rolling halfway up Ruby's thighs. The light pressure made her bruise ache a little, but her mood was too elated from the fading arousal and excitement. The boots were a little stiff when put on, but that was perfectly understandable, leather needed to be worn in. "Weiss couldn't care less what you wear as long as you don't look homeless." Coco explained, pulling what looked like a white button-up off a hanger. "Besides, she'll never admit it, but she's always wanted a cute spunky receptionist, like in the anime."

"Weiss likes anime?" Ruby piped up, holding out her arms for Coco to slip on the garment.

"Oh she loves it." Coco confirmed. "It's probably her only hobby, but again, she'll never admit it because it's unprofessional." She scoffed. Nora began buttoning up the shirt, keeping silent for the time being, but the little glances and smirks spoke louder than was needed...the little brushes of her fingers too. "Because apparently it's unprofessional to like one of the most popular media formats out there."

"She probably just doesn't want people thinking she's too into it." Ruby speculated as Nora finished, the top buttons clasped around her throat in a final caress. She stepped aside to allow Ruby to see her reflection, her blushing form clad in a strange top. It was as if someone had taken a normal button-up and cut out almost all of the material above the breasts, but left the sleeves and shoulders attached. It was snug around her neck, and just sheer enough to show a little too much of her bust, but it looked great. Whatever Coco had planned was interesting thus far.

"People think crazy shit all the time, like that article about her supposed weight gain last month." Coco complained. "It was one picture of Weiss Schnee, the CEO of the SDC eating a big, juicy burger, and rumors are flying around. The picture was hilarious though, it was the size of her head!"

"Pfft, as if Weiss'll ever let herself get out of the ratio." Nora scoffed.

"Oh, her famous ratio...ugh...what I wouldn't give to see some jiggle on that bod." Coco lamented.

"What ratio?" Ruby asked.

"Pretty much body mass index." Miltia explained. "Height, build and weight."

"Yeah, don't try to figure it out." Coco suggested. "For a smart girl Weiss can be pretty dumb." She returned her attention to the assembling outfit. "Now, cover up that butt, before Weiss feels second hand jealousy, or Mil takes a bite of it."

"Eat my ass Adel." Miltia grumbled.

"Sorry to disappoint, but the whole bleaching thing weirds me out." Coco shot back.

"I know right?" Melanie agreed.

"Oh fuck you both." Miltia pouted.

"Come on, leg up." Nora snatched the next garment from Ruby's hands, bending over to hold the skirt for Ruby to step into before pulling it up around her waist. "And now for the-no don't look yet!" Nora spun Ruby away from the mirror. "Now's when it all comes together."

"Literally, in a way." Coco joked, holding up a black leather corset with red lining.

"Oh gods yes." Ruby whispered, running her eyes across the leather with a hungry grin.

"Arms up, you know the drill." Coco instructed, wrapping the garment around Ruby's chest. "How long has it been since you had one of these on?"

"Like...eight or nine years?" Ruby answered. "And it wasn't as nice as this one...none of it was…"

"It's not how nice it was that matters." Coco encouraged, pulling the corset taught. "It's that you liked how you looked in it." Tying up the lace, she ran a hand through Ruby's ponytail. "You'd look lovely with your hair down."

"I look like my mom...I used to cut it shorter but the last year has just been so busy it stopped mattering." Ruby explained.

"You know I could kidnap you for the day, pamper you." Coco offered. "Weiss wouldn't mind."

"It's fine, I think I'm just gonna' get used to it." Ruby declined. "My sister always hated how short I cut it."

"I like it either way honestly." Coco noted. "Long hair is a pain to deal with, though you can do so much with it...but nothing ever beats just letting it flow." Coco gently pried the tie from Ruby's hair, flicking it evenly over her shoulders.

"Hello there Ms. Rose." Nora bit her lip, looking Ruby up and down. Ruby had to admit, it felt good to be admired like that, a beautiful girl with lidded eyes, just like Neon had. Only this time there was no alcohol to cloud her senses, and a clear line of consideration drawn in the sand. "I think we're almost done."

"Just" Coco reached across her desk for a tube of lipstick. Ruby had stopped wearing lipstick at some point. No one commented on it, and it was one less thing to worry about in the morning, but she was not averse to some being applied. Coco had a very steady hand. "There, perfection. Take a look."

Ruby spun around to her reflection and froze, for the girl standing before her...the woman standing before her just seemed so...awesome. She recalled looking herself in the mirror as a teenager and feeling empowered, if only for a brief period. That same feeling was creeping back, followed by a widening grin, matched only by the triumphant expression of Coco and Nora's still appraising eyes. She felt...she looked beautiful, taller, stronger, sexy even. The thin line of thigh between her stockings and skirt shined in the pale light, cleavage shown off by her shirt, long hair framing her beaming face. She swished her skirt around, running her hands over the outfit's curves, her curves. She could only imagine how it would look once she filled out again.

"Well, how do you feel?" Coco asked.

"Amazing, it's great, I love it, I look great!" Ruby stammered, turning to the sides to admire the extent of her outfit.

"Damn right you do!" Nora cheered. "You look better than I do. I could never pull off boots like that."

"I could probably squeeze you into a corset." Coco offered.

"Maybe if she lost a few pounds." Miltia could not help but comment.

"Hmm, I think I'll keep 'em on." Nora mused. "Jauney loves my jiggle wiggle. You okay Ruby?" Nora worried as Ruby rubbed at her eye, the other notably glistening.

"Yeah I'm fine it's just...I look great." Ruby whispered. "I haven't looked great in...thank you Coco."

Coco rubbed Ruby's shoulder with a firm hand. "You always looked great Red. Told ya', I just had to show you what I saw."

"There's no way I looked this good…" Ruby insisted.

"Nora, back me up." Coco requested.

"I wanna' eat you." Nora blurted.

"That explains a lot." Miltia rolled her eyes.

"You're next candy cane." Nora threatened.

"Bring it flapjack." Miltia challenged.

"Can't we all just get along?" Ruby asked.

"Nope." Nora shook her head.

"No." Coco agreed.

"Never." Miltia joined.

Melanie sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "I don't care."

Chapter Text

Ruby was thrilled with her new dress and a bit disappointed she had to leave it behind. Coco wanted to make some adjustments. She had judged Ruby's measurements pretty well by eye, but her appraisal had not been perfect. Coco promised Ruby the outfit would look even better on her once the changes were made, a claim Ruby had a hard time believing - it was pretty damn perfect already. The rest of the day was uneventful, time flying as Ruby completed a number of small tasks for Weiss. Then, leg aching, she headed back to the apartment.

Once home, Ruby brought up the topic of the gala with Sun and Blake. Blake once again confirmed she would not be going. Sun admitted he did not have a tuxedo or any other suitable clothing to wear, but luckily Coco had offered her services for him too. All he had to do was stop by the SDC the next day, and the designer would fit him for a tux. It would not be a unique piece like Ruby's dress, but it would certainly be classy. Ruby felt a little uncomfortable about being accompanied by Sun - he was Blake's boyfriend, not hers - but it sure beat going alone. She had no real idea of what to expect from such an event, but the image of stuffy, rich old folks endlessly chattering about politics came to mind. Hopefully Sun would alleviate any potential boredom.

The next morning's commute was uneventful, and Ruby arrived at her desk to find Jaune already at his. Curiously, after a quick greeting he had little to say. Even a circumspect Penny was more talkative than him. Ruby tried to engage him in some conversation, but he seemed apprehensive and gave little more than one or two word answers to her inquiries. The pattern continued even after Weiss arrived - this time without her lovers on her arms - and Ruby began to grow worried. He obviously had something on his mind.

Ruby had always found situations like this awkward. She could never figure out how to ask about what was troubling someone without coming off as intrusive. In this case, she decided on the direct approach. "'ve been real quiet...somethin' on your mind?"

"Yeah...I...wasn't sure how to bring it up." Jaune sighed, turning in his chair to face Ruby. "Nora said she uh...made you an offer yesterday."

"Ah...yeah" Ruby nodded. Now his demeanor made sense. "She did."

"I know she probably came on strong...she's like that...I love that about her but...I just don't wanna' make things awkward for you." Jaune apologized. "I probably should've brought it up myself but…"

"It's alright Jaune, it doesn't bother me." Ruby reassured. "I mean sure, it was kinda' sudden...and being naked and all was...well it's not that big a deal. It's actually really flattering and...I'm tempted. I just need some time think about it, maybe after the gala when things aren't all crazy."

"Really?" Jaune balked, surprised and relieved. "I guess I've been worrying over nothing."

"I didn't know you liked me...that way." Ruby noted.

"Well...why wouldn't I?" Jaune shrugged. "I mean, you're really cool, fun to be around, and beautiful. It's kinda' hard to not be interested. Don't get me wrong, Nora's my life, I love her, but when even she brought you up…"

"But why did she bring me up?" Ruby asked. "Are you two like...into that kinda' thing?"

"Well Nora's a free spirit but we've never actually done this before...but she asked Pyrrha about you, and she said you were single and lonely." Jaune explained. "Nora's really big on loving and being loved, she felt bad and wanted to help."

"Well...they're not wrong." Ruby admitted with a tight smile. "It's just been...rough, seeing everyone around you with someone to love, and not having anyone for yourself...I'm not sure joining you and Nora will really help though."

"I get that feeling." Jaune nodded sympathetically. "I told Nora the same, but she's really confident we can at least try. She just wants to see you happy, she wants to see everyone happy, it makes her happy, and a happy Nora…" Jaune trailed off with a dreamy smile.

Ruby chuckled, even as the ache in her heart throbbed in longing. "You're a really lucky guy, you know that?"

Jaune laughed uneasily. "I'm reminded every day."

The silence should have been quite awkward, but in truth they had all become quite comfortable around one another over the preceding few weeks. Ruby had not even known there was a conference room on the top floor, but here they were, all seated in a toasty room...all but Weiss and Jaune at least. Pyrrha and Ren were across from Ruby, Coco and Velvet beside her. Jaune was helping Weiss fetch something, to be honest Ruby had been too focused on chatting with Coco to hear what. Ruby was interested in her dress, but Coco wanted to know more about what underwear she was wearing. A part of Ruby felt that should have been strange, but it seemed she had grown desensitized to Coco.

Ruby did not have long to dwell on the subject, as Jaune and Weiss soon arrived with a box and a collection of large, rolled up papers. Jaune placed the box on one end of the table while Weiss set about unrolling and laying out the papers. Once she was done, Weiss took her spot at the head of the table. The papers appeared to be maps, maybe building floor plans, Ruby could not really tell. A collection of colored marks cluttered the maps along with hand-written notes, most of which were too messy for Ruby to easily read.

Weiss took a deep breath and cleared her throat. "As you're all surely aware, security for the gala will be extra tight. The Atlesian Army has loaned us a special operations squad to secure the perimeter, with extra soldiers posted inside at key locations. They'll be carrying concealed weapons, ready to step in at the first sign of a White Fang attack. Their weapons will be the only ones allowed on the premises, and all guests will go through a thorough screening." She paused for a moment. "Any questions?"

"I've got one." Coco raised her hand. "Why do we need to know this?"

"Because I want you to be ready." Weiss replied. "I want you to know exactly where to go if something happens. I want you to be safe."

"Security is going to be airtight." Velvet assured Weiss. "Nothing is going to happen."

"I'm not one to take chances." Weiss insisted. "Emergency exits are located at these points…" She gestured to some marks on the map. "...but if you can, head here. That's where the soldiers will establish a safe zone."

"Weiss, it's going to be fine." Pyrrha placed her hand on Weiss' shoulder. "We're going to be fine."

"That's probably true." Weiss allowed. "Still, prepare for the worst, hope for the best." She took another deep breath. "This isn't just another gala. This is a statement, a direct challenge to the Fang. The extreme security measures should be enough to deter an attack but I'm not going to take any chances." She pointed to the box. "Jaune, if you would."

Jaune opened the box and began handing out the contents - plastic identification cards complete with names, pictures and even fingerprints. Ruby remembered being fingerprinted when getting her SDC identification, but she figured that was just for background checks or records or something. Jaune handed Ruby a second card for Sun, and it too had a fingerprint. She had to wonder when that had been acquired, maybe when he was getting fitted for his tux, or perhaps during one of the visits before Ruby even got to Atlas.

"You won't be allowed into the venue without this pass." Weiss continued. "All guests will have them, and the guards at the entrance will have fingerprint scanners. Even though you're my guests and you'll be arriving with me, you must bring your pass."

"This all seems like a bit much." Coco observed.

"I know it's overkill, but if everyone walks away safe at the end of the night, it's all worth it." Weiss declared. "So, any other questions?"

"You said we'd be arriving with you." Ruby noted. "What's the travel plan?"

"We'll all meet here at the end of the work day, Nora and Sun will join us." Weiss answered. "Coco will assist with your outfits and makeup, then we'll head to the gala from here. I've already arranged transportation."

"Oh, okay." Ruby nodded. She had been worried about getting to the gala - it would be less than dignified to arrive in a taxi - but it seemed that concern was misplaced. "And once we're there?"

"After we go through the checkpoint, we'll head to a VIP room on the second floor." Weiss informed. "There will be formal introductions, you'll descend the grand staircase, showing off your Coco Adel attire to the public, and once the intros are done the gala will begin. Then you can just enjoy yourselves - dance, eat, drink, schmooze, whatever you want. Once the gala's over, we'll return here before heading home."

"Are you going to need any help during the event?" Ruby asked. "I'm still your assistant."

"No, I think I'll be alright on my own." Weiss shook her head. "You can accompany me as I make the rounds if you like, you may meet some individuals you'll come into contact with through your work. Any other questions?"

"Not right now." Ruby replied.

"Good, now-" Weiss was cut off by the high pitched ringing of her scroll. She slipped the device from her pocket, then tilted her head at the sight of the caller's name. She tapped the scroll and moved it to her ear. "Nora, I'm in a meeting." Jaune groaned as Nora presumably spoke, and the room filled with chuckles. "That's not surprising, he's in the meeting too." Weiss paused once more. "Not exactly, I'm sure Jaune will fill you in. I'll see you tomorrow Nora."

Weiss could not help but smile as she tapped her phone to end the call. Ruby was relieved to see a smile on Weiss' face. With all that had been going on, it was far too rare a sight.

Ruby fussed over Sun's tie, the Faunus staring blankly ahead, barely hiding his displeasure. Sun hated form fitting clothing, he always had. It was a rare sight to see him with anything more than a t-shirt and shorts when they were young. Even in Patch's relatively mild winters, he would usually only don a parka or loose cargo pants. He had always been hardy against the cold, just as Yang was. It made them amazing cuddle buddies for cold winter nights.

"It's straight Ruby." Sun sighed.

"It was crooked." Ruby admonished.

"Well it's straight now." Sun huffed.

"You're straight." Ruby grumbled.

"Thank you for noticing." Sun smirked. "I was afraid the shirtless posters on the walls gave the wrong impression."

"Among other things." Ruby muttered.

"Like what?" Sun challenged.

"How good you look in a suit!" Ruby cheered, moving to flatten his already flat lapels.

"I feel like I'm being strangled by a very weak midget." Sun teased.

"Oh, you only have to suffer for a while." Ruby encouraged. "You just gotta' look good for the cameras."

"Like they're gonna' care about me, look at you!" Sun burst, hands waving over Ruby's form. "You're like...god damn I remember you looked cute as a kid with the skirt and corset and all. I never thought you'd some sort of sexy succubus!" Ruby snorted, blushing. "It's true! Like, damn, have you shown Yang?"

"Not yet." Ruby replied. "I wanna' get a real good picture, not a selfie, because you know…" She pushed her breasts together, the already prominent cleavage bulging. "I love this outfit, but tall people are gonna' get a view."

"I think it's kinda' handy." Sun suggested. " could put your drink in there."

"You think?" Ruby asked.

"Probably, or you could put your ID there, so if anyone asks for it you can like, shock 'em or something." Sun joked.

Chuckling, Ruby pantomimed pulling a card from her cleavage, putting on her best bedroom eyes. "Ruby Rose, awkward, shy, and totally out of her depth!"

"Are you even wearing a bra under that?" Sun asked.

"I can't." Ruby noted. "And besides, I hate bras. They're like wearing too tight underwear. Too much junk in too small a trunk."

"That's because you wear bad bras Ruby." Coco interjected. "I'll get you some nice ones to try on." Ruby turned to Coco, who stood in the changeroom doorway as Nora squeezed past, pulling Jaune behind her.

"Oooh I feel like a superstar!" Nora squealed, jumping in place. "We're going in a limo Ruby!" Her dress was surprisingly simple, a soft pink flared skirt, attached to a deeper pink shoulderless top. Jaune was wearing a tuxedo quite similar to Sun's, though his bowtie was already straight...wait.

"A limo?" Ruby blinked.

"If you're willing to endure the red carpet." Weiss explained, arriving in the doorway. "Otherwise I can provide other transport." Her dress was far less simple, a deep blue ball gown contrasting with her ivory skin, shoulderless, with matching evening gloves. It was trimmed with a darker blue lace, flaring into several decorative layers by her hips, the skirt itself adorned by glimmering sky blue snowflakes.

When Ruby had left to thin the crowded changeroom, Pyrrha had still been doing her hair. It was lovely, slightly puffier than normal, a long side fringe plaited, her characteristic ponytail higher than usual. But the dress… "Whoa…" Ruby managed.

"Just make sure no one touches the snowflakes, that thread's really delicate." Coco warned. She seemingly had not bothered to dress up, or perhaps she was always dressed up and her current attire just did not seem all that different. Velvet had shown up already dressed in a very...flowing-looking skirt and top, composed of delicate layered silks and an underbust corset, something Ruby never would have expected to see her wearing, though it really suited her. It was clearly something older and well loved, yet still managed to hold its own alongside all the other outfits Coco had crafted.

"Yes, yes, I know." Weiss rolled her eyes. "Now, is everyone ready here? Everything in order? In place? No one has forgotten anything?"

"We're all fine Weissy, calm down will ya'?" Nora assured.

"I'll be calm when everything is over and done with." Weiss stated as a pair of green-clad arms circled her waist, Ren's face appearing over her shoulder. He wore his military dress uniform, green with gold trim and buttons, a few small pins adorning his chest. Weiss sighed, leaning back into the embrace. "Is Pyrrha ready yet?"

"Just finishing up dear, one moment." Pyrrha called.

"Good, good...grief Ruby, you look phenomenal." Weiss admired, a genuine smile lighting up her face. "Coco, this is truly among your best work."

"I'm thinking a gothic line could work in this day and age, something more affordable without skimping on quality." Coco mused.

"It's really comfy too." Ruby added.

"Of course it is." Coco smiled. "I wouldn't allow it any other way."

"It really emphasizes the assets too." Nora noted.

"Nora." Weiss admonished.

"Weiss." Nora responded.

"Nora, you do understand this gala will not be...loud?" Weiss asked.

"Oh, don't you worry about me." Nora waved her off. "I'll be too busy eating everything in sight to make a scene. Anyone gonna' join me?"

"What kinda' food do they even have at fancy galas?" Sun inquired.

"Mostly finger food, appetizers and such, but the dessert selection is generally quite admirable." Pyrrha's voice came from the changeroom.

Weiss' expression brightened as she and Ren stepped out of the doorway to face her. "Gods you're beautiful." Weiss whispered in awe.

"I merely emulate the gods Weiss, you know that." Pyrrha preened, hands clasped around her stomach...a rather unfortunate pose that emphasized the rather...fleshy nature of her dress. It was quite striking, yet surprisingly simple in make. A vibrant crimson, the dress left little to the imagination, yet somehow came off as more elegant than reique. The skirt appeared to be composed of a single length of cloth, wrapping loosely around the waist and tightly around the stomach. A second, narrow length of fabric wrapped around her neck, crossing over her collar before passing over her breasts, vanishing into the skirt's stomach wrap. The rest of Pyrrha was quite bereft of clothing, legs revealed by the skirt splits to show off delicate gold heels, a single armlet on her left bicep and a decorative leather bracer on her right forearm. The vivid ensemble was crowned by a circlet, polished but obviously well loved.

"Oh mama." Nora drooled.

"Are her nipples showing again?" Velvet's voice called from inside, shaking everyone from their admiration. The slender nature of the cloth covering her breasts made it a distinct possibility.

Pyrrha chuckled. "Let us hope not. This is likely the last time I'll be able to wear this dress for the foreseeable future. Is everybody ready?"

"You guys go ahead." Coco insisted. "Velv's probably still making a mess of her eyeliner."

"I'm fine!" Velvet yelled indignantly.

"You always say that." Coco laughed as she pushed back into the room.

"Okay, alright, everyone's ready." Weiss chanted. "We can go. Are you all sure you're ready?"

"I think so?" Ruby asked more than stated.

"Come now." Pyrrha spoke up, linking her arm with Weiss'. "The longer we wait the more you will fret. Ready or not here we come!"

"Oh, what about Penny?" Ruby questioned. Weiss raised her brow incredulously. "I just...don't want her to get lonely."

"Don't worry Ruby, I have access to the gala security system." Penny's voice came over the intercom. "I can see everything you are doing, at any time!"

"Even the bathrooms?" Sun asked.

"Unfortunately not." Penny replied.

"Yes, unfortunately." Weiss rolled her eyes. "Penny will be fine. We will all be fine."

"So long as they don't serve that quiche again." Ren smirked.

"Ooh, I love quiche!" Nora cheered.

"It was one time, and the culprit paid dearly for it." Weiss mumbled.

"What happened?" Ruby asked.

"Nothing happened, let's go!" Weiss insisted. "What are we waiting for?" She strode off, dragging Pyrrha along with her. Ren smiled smugly before following.

Sun appeared dumbfounded. "How do you fuck up a quiche?"

Chapter Text

Ruby did not expect a limousine. In retrospect she should have, but considering Weiss' paranoia at the time, Ruby had expected armored SUV's, perhaps even a police escort. Instead she was confronted by an ivory limousine with the SDC snowflake branded on the hood and sides. But what truly took her off guard was the honest-to-gods butler standing by its open door.

"Klein?" Weiss called in shock, before breaking into a jog and throwing her arms around the chuckling man. "I didn't expect to see you so soon!"

Clad in a navy waistcoat, dress pants and a white undershirt, Klein fit the classic image of a butler in Ruby's mind, though the waistcoat was far nicer than most, a floral pattern decorating its upper chest, and a silver pocket watch peeking from its pocket. Rotund, balding, with a thick moustache of deep brown, he smiled warmly as the embrace was returned. "It has been far too long since we last met my dear, and your mother had me drop her off early."

"Mother is already there?" Weiss balked, pulling away slightly. "Is she sober?"

"Very much so, and in high spirits." Klein beamed.

"That's...interesting?" Weiss mused before spinning around. "Oh where are my manners? Ruby, Sun, please meet Klein Sieben, my oldest and dearest friend. Klein, my secretary and friend, Ruby Rose, and her friend Sun Wukong."

Klein bowed politely. "A pleasure."

"Hello!" Ruby waved, Sun following suit.

"Hey." Sun greeted.

"Miss Nikos, Mister Ren." Klein nodded to each in turn. "I heard you are trying for a child?"

"Trying, but no luck as of yet." Pyrrha nodded.

"In due time then." Klein offered a reassuring smile. "I wish you both the best of luck."

Sun raised his hand. "Yes Sun?" Weiss asked.

"Uh, not to be a downer or anything, but isn't a limo kinda'...attention getting?" Sun asked.

To Ruby's surprise, Weiss laughed, reaching to rap hard against the vehicle's window, producing a very dull thud. "There are few places safer than inside this vehicle. Think of it as a luxury APC...which reminds me. Ruby, you did leave your gun behind, right?"

"Yes!" Ruby chirped. "I promise, it's in my desk drawer."

"Good, good, Ironwood may be incompetent but his soldiers take security seriously." Weiss noted. "There will be no incidents tonight." Weiss stepped beside the car's open door. "There's plenty of room for everyone, and drinks. Thank the gods I stocked it with wine before the fire." She mumbled as she climbed inside. Pyrrha chuckled as she and Ren followed.

"What about Coco and Velvet?" Ruby asked as she too entered.

"They'll be here soon." Weiss replied. "Come try this wine. I think you'll find it fits your taste." Ruby took a seat beside Weiss, who filled thin glasses with a rich wine, passing them to each guest in turn, Pyrrha and Ren on her left, Ruby and Sun to her right, Nora and Jaune across from her. "To a safe and uneventful night." Weiss raised her glass in toast. "May the Maidens smile upon us, please, just for one night." She half plead to herself before downing her glass in one shot.

Ruby looked at the dark liquid in her glass, took a small breath and down it. "Oh wow that's strong." She nearly choked, gulping in fresh air.

"And worth every last lien...I swear if those two are making out again-" Weiss' phone buzzed on the small table beside her. She picked it up and sighed. "We may as well go Klein, Coco and Velvet will follow."

"Roger that!" Klein called from the front.

"Do you want the rest of mine?" Sun offered his glass to Ruby.

Ruby nodded. "Please."

Ruby felt out of place, standing once again before a crowd of people, watching them all stare silently up at the group. Only this time she was not the one speaking, and eyes were not actually on her - though given her attire there was sure to be plenty of glances.

Weiss drew attention like a spotlight shone upon her, positively regal in her dress. That, however, was the last thing on everyone's minds. It was Weiss Schnee, CEO of the SDC, walking into the event with an engaged couple on her arms that caused the real bustle. Pyrrha and Ren had stuck firmly by her side since their arrival, even as she stood poised to give a speech to the attendees. Ren in his olive dress greens, the ornate uniform was likely a stir of its own in the making, but Pyrrha was positively risque, her outfit a blatant exposure of the female form, standing before the wealthy socialites of Atlas tall and proud. Ruby, on the other hand, was just standing there, hiding in plain sight, Sun by her side, and a dull ache growing increasingly evident in her leg. She could not wait to get another drink.

"Good evening, it is my pleasure to welcome all of you to the SDC Gala benefiting Schnee Faunus Outreach." Weiss began, speaking loud and clear. "This night is dedicated to helping the underprivileged, and to forging new bonds with the Faunus community. But recent events have brought new meaning to this gathering." Weiss paused for effect, taking a small breath. "We will show those who choose hate, bigotry and violence that we will not be stopped by their cowardly acts. We will make the world a better place, a more peaceful place, a more prosperous place, together." Another pause. "I hope you enjoy yourselves this night. I thank you with all my heart for joining me in this vital endeavor." As the crowd delivered a round of applause, Weiss bowed her head and retreated from the podium.

Ruby and Sun offered their own ovation, much to Weiss' amusement. "That was great!" Ruby cheered. "Really...uh...inspiring!"

"It was more a formality than anything, sad to say." Weiss admitted. "Many of our guests are here mere to burnish their public image."

"At the very least their contributions will be valued." Pyrrha noted.

"If not their company." Ren added.

Weiss heaved a heavy sigh, smiling painfully at Ruby. "Yes, Ruby, I won't hold it against you if you choose not to accompany me-"

"Weiss!" Nora burst. "You were great up here!" Jaune stood just behind her, and she held a rather sizeable plate of appetizers and deserts.

"Dear gods, you're not going to eat all of that are you?" Weiss asked.

"Eventually, unless you guys want some?" Nora shrugged, holding the plate out to them. It was an impressive collection, several tarts, some breadsticks, mini caramel slices, and some strange coconut covered chocolate rectangles. Ruby squinted at them.

"I'll pass for now, perhaps later." Weiss declined. "Ruby, you don't have to come if you don't want to. There's a cocktail bar if you'd like to indulge."

"No I'm fine!" Ruby insisted. "Uh Sun, why don't you get something to eat and I'll come find you later?"

"You sure?" Sun asked. "Because I don't mind coming along."

"It's okay, besides, it'll probably just be a bunch of rich people, and you'll get bored, and I don't wanna' bore you." Ruby rambled. "Go have fun!"

"Yeah, come have fun with the kids while the adults be boring." Nora held the plate toward Sun, who took one of the coconut cakes.

Sun took a bite of his chosen snack. "Alright then, I'll uh, bring you a drink?"

"Yeah sure, thanks!" Ruby agreed.

"Come on, I'll show ya' where everything is." Nora added impatiently. "I think I saw hamburgers too!"

"Hamburgers?" Sun questioned. "At a fancy joint like this?"

"I know, right!" Nora exclaimed.

"Uh, do you need me for anything?" Jaune asked.

"No Jaune, thank you." Weiss shook her head. "Go keep them out of trouble, we'll be fine." Turning back to Ruby, Weiss could not help but smile at her eagerness, such bright silver eyes, likely to be dull and lifeless by the end of the night. "Well then, I suppose we had better get started. Pyrrha, Ren, will you be-"

"We will follow from a distance." Pyrrha responded. "Just give us the signal."

"Signal?" Ruby inquired.

"Sometimes I need an escape plan." Weiss explained. "The conversations I get dragged into...ugh."

So it began, Ruby tailing Weiss as she pointed out and interacted with the many high and low profile, wealthy businessmen, businesswomen, celebrities and socialites present. It was an interesting, if underwhelming experience for Ruby. She was thankful that little attention was paid to her. Weiss made sure to introduce her as a friend first, secretary second. She received many compliments for her attire, and much to her surprise, several kisses on the hand. Ruby was not sure how she felt about that. It was incredibly flattering, but they were usually from elderly men. And one woman. Who winked at her. That was going to stick in her mind for a while.

Coco and Velvet showed up not long after, stopping by to fuss over Ruby's outfit before moving on to their own rounds. Two more dull conversations later, Weiss heaved a heavy sigh. "This one is all bark and no bite, don't let her intimidate you." She instructed.

Ruby scanned the crowd for the subject in question. She found her eyes drawn to a rather tall woman with black shoulder length hair, clad in a rich crimson dress with bronze trim. A single stocking clad leg was clearly visible from the hip down decorative clasps resting upon her thigh. An equally ornate glove clad hand rested above. She seemed in conversation with another woman who wore a much simpler olive dress, her mint green hair glimmering in the light. The girl noticed Weiss, eyebrows shooting upward as she spoke. The woman in red spun around and Ruby found herself speechless.

It was not the mask which covered a sizeable portion of the left side of the woman's face, nor the scarring peeking out from within, but the clawed onyx prosthetic that dominated her left arm. It clutched a delicate wine glass, an almost comical juxtaposition. The arm was a work of technological art, fine filigree gleaming as she moved ever closer, a bright white smile on her lips, golden eye burning with glee.

"Weiss, it has been far too long." The woman greeted, neglecting to offer her hand to shake.

"It was only a matter of time Cinder." Weiss responded. "How fares the company?"

"Oh you would know well enough, no major accidents, thank the gods." Cinder's gaze wandered to Ruby, catching her fascination with the prosthetic. "See something you like?" She teased.

"Uh, oh, sorry!" Ruby fumbled. "It's just, it-"

"Ruby, meet Cinder fall, Cinder, Ruby Rose, my friend and secretary." Weiss introduced.

"Charmed." Cinder purred, plucking the wine glass from her claws with her mortal hand, extending the prosthetic to Ruby. "Truly."

Ruby resisted the urge to beam as she took the robotic replica in hand. It was warm and cold in equal measure, certainly not looking to imitate the human form so much as enhance it. The claw tips barely dulled up close, every segment of its fingers had been engraved with a loving hand. "I...I'm sorry for staring Ms. Fall, it's just that I'm an engineer...I mean I'm supposed to be an engineer but I can't work just yet, and I've been studying prosthetics for years and I'm gonna' develop them and...this is a really beautiful arm. I've never seen anything like it, did you make it yourself?"

For a moment Cinder seemed stunned. Not that Ruby noticed, she was too busy gazing at the limb like it was a prized artwork, taking in every little detail. She exchanged an amused glance with Weiss before gently tugging it free. "No, unfortunately engineering is not my forte. I did, however, design it to fit my...preferences." Cinder turned back to Weiss, offering a wider, somewhat brighter smile. "It was a pleasure Weiss. I'll be sure to make a generous donation to the cause, but I can see Ozpin sizing me up for another one of his pacifist lectures."

"And how terrible would that be?" Weiss rolled her eyes. "I hope the rest of your evening is enjoyable."

"Oh I expect something entertaining to occur, eventually." Cinder smirked, raising her glass in mock toast. "Goodbye Ruby Rose, perhaps if you find success here I may have use of you in the future."

"Oh, I uh, thanks?" Ruby stammered in surprise. Not that it mattered. Cinder was already sauntering away, linking arms with the mint haired woman along the way. "I didn't do bad did I?" Ruby fretted, turning to Weiss.

The CEO wore a smug smile. "Cinder fall is a very proud and powerful woman Ruby. I've not once seen her off balance in all our unpleasurable encounters. Congratulations, you made her falter."

"All I did was say her arm was beautiful." Ruby noted.

"Genuinely, a remarkable difference from the norm." Weiss clarified, laying a hand upon Ruby's back as she walked. "In high society imperfection is frowned upon. What compliments are paid are more often than not selfish in nature. You, on the other hand, are not. You admired her genuinely, not out of politeness, not due to etiquette. You simply spoke your mind, innocent and pure." She chuckled. "Oh the look on her face was priceless."

"Uh, who was she exactly?" Ruby asked.

"Cinder Fall, CEO of Fall Armaments, one of the largest weapon manufacturers in all of Remnant." Weiss replied.

"Oh…" Ruby nodded.

"She was the victim of a supposed accident, but of course there was more to it than that, not that anyone was willing to delve deeply into the situation." Weiss continued. "Cinder handled it on her own terms and grew all the more powerful for it." She paused, laying her free hand upon Ruby's arm. "Ruby, I realize your career here has barely begun, but life may lead you through many different places. In several years time you may see fit to leave my company, for whatever reason that may be. Please, if she offers you, do not work for Cinder Fall. That woman is a war profiteer through and through, and you deserve better than that."

"I'll keep that in mind, but I don't want to leave, at least I hope I never do." Ruby stated. "I like working for you, and I can't wait to work for Pyrrha. I've made so many friends at the SDC, like you! I've never been friends with my boss before."

Weiss laughed, genuinely, her cheeks dusted with pink. "I have been a poor friend Ruby. We hardly get to spend time together that doesn't involve me telling you what to do."

"Well, we can change that!" Ruby encouraged. "Any time you have free, give me a call, or a text. We can chat all you like, especially after work, because I don't really have anything to do. Blake and Sun go to their job when I get home and it's just me and...well I sometimes call Yang and mom and dad, and sometimes Coco or Pyrrha...thanks again for the scroll by the way. I didn't realize how painful the old one was."

"You're very welcome Ruby, and I promise to try to speak with you more, but for now I must ask you to go." Weiss sighed. "I've spotted my mother, and I'd rather she not make another pass at you."

"Oh, right, uh...tell her I said hi?" Ruby managed.

"I'll be sure to do so." Weiss agreed. "The catering table is over there, and I believe I spied Sun and the others hidden in a corner somewhere. Don't be afraid to indulge, I'll come by later."

"Okay, and thanks for letting me tag along!" Ruby smiled. "Oh, would you like me to get you a drink first?"

"Oh gods no." Weiss refused. "If I start drinking here I won't stop. No, I need my wits about me. Now go have fun, you're neglecting your date."

Ruby pouted. "He's not my date!"

Chapter Text

Weiss spotted her mother in an unusual place. Instead of sitting off to the side getting plastered, she had walked to one of the catering tables and was pouring herself a drink. Earlier in the night, Weiss had glimpsed Willow with a beautiful young woman on her arm, a surprise to say the least. After instructing Pyrrha and Ren to give her some space, Weiss approached her mother to find out what in the world was going on.

"Oh, hello Weiss." Willow looked up briefly from the glass she was pouring. "It's good to see you in high spirits. Wonderful speech by the way."

"Yes, thank you mother." Weiss responded. She looked at the bottle her mother was pouring…Sparkling Grape Juice was not the label she would have expected. "You know that's non-alcoholic?"

"I certainly do, and it's quite good." Willow noted. "The only trouble is the staff don't walk around with glasses of grape juice on their trays."

"Mother...what's going on?" Weiss sighed.

"I thought you'd be happy to see me sober." Willow almost pouted.

"I am, it's just...odd." Weiss explained. "You're like a totally different person from the last time I saw you."

"I feel like a totally different person, and it feels great." Willow smiled. "You know how I asked the pharmaceutical chemistry department to work on a cure to alcoholism?"

"I remember hearing something like that." Weiss answered. "Don't tell me it worked."

"Well, not exactly as planned, but in a manner of speaking." Willow chuckled. "You see, after visiting you the other day, I stopped there to check on progress. While I was poking around, one of the girls working there - Octavia - followed me around, surely fretting I would cause a problem. I must have been wobbling a bit. She was new and didn't know who I was or why some old woman was stumbling around the lab. Once she found out who I was she was quite shocked! I couldn't help but chat with such a pretty little thing, and we got to talking about our interests. It turns out we both love Comedy Cavalcade."

"The improv show?" Weiss quirked her brow. "You watch that?"

"I can't get enough of it!" Willow exclaimed. "Anyway, I knew there was a live taping that night, so I invited her to attend with me, my treat, for putting up with me. She came along and she was nervous, but we got to talking and I think we made a real connection. I stopped in to visit her at work the day you were out, then she visited me over the weekend and I invited her to the gala."

"That's...I was not expecting this." Weiss shook her head.

"Neither was I." Willow admitted. "But she's been a godsend. I can talk to her about anything...she's so sympathetic and caring. The best part is I haven't had a drink since our first date. I haven't needed a drink. It's wonderful! I never thought I'd have someone like this in my life."

"And you're sure she's okay with all of this?" Weiss pressed.

"As sure as I can be." Willow replied. "I did my best to avoid pressuring her in any way."

"Well...I just don't want to hear from HR that you're harassing one of my employees." Weiss warned.

"Of course dear, I wouldn't dream of it." Willow insisted.

"That's good then." Weiss still reeled internally, but schooled her expression and demeanor. "If you're happy, I'm happy."

"I'm very happy." Willow beamed. "How are you doing tonight?"

"Quite well, though some of the conversation has been predictably dull." Weiss shrugged. It was all par for the course. "At least there have been no...incidents. I'm happy with dull."

"So you haven't seen your brother then…" Willow trailed off.

"No, I haven't." Weiss confirmed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "What's he done now?"

"It's best if you see for yourself." Willow tried to smile encouragingly. "He's over there, just follow the cameras." She gestured to a crowd at the far end of the room. "I tried to dissuade him from his...antics, but he doesn't listen to me anymore than he listens to you." She paused. "Do try to be civil. I know he's...difficult, but he's still my son, he's still your brother."

"I know mother." Weiss nodded, glancing at the group presumably surrounding Whitley. "I'll do my best." She began to walk over but stopped and turned back. "Enjoy your night, mother."

"I will." Willow responded. "You've done a great job here, and you deserve to enjoy it. Farewell."

"Until next time." Weiss gave a small bow before heading for her brother and what would surely be a trying conversation.

The night was going smoothly. Naturally, that continued to ring alarm bells in Weiss' head. Nothing ever went smoothly. Even events that appeared to be going well had their bumps and nicks before the end. There were the rowdy, drunken guests, food poisoning, the occasional fist fight, even an honest-to-gods duel one time. So far nothing had gone nearly so wrong. Even Willow was not up to her usual drunken escapades, relaxing with her date near the edge of the ballroom, giggling about something she had said.

Coco and Velvet were showcasing Melanie and Miltia to a small gathering. Jaune had extracted himself from a rather uncomfortable conversation he had been dragged into with Klein and a fellow war veteran named Port. Apparently Jaune reminded both of departed comrades, though they had fought on opposite sides of the Great War. The pair's bellowing laughter was a joyful thing to hear over the crowd's din. Ruby had been asleep on Sun's shoulder when Pyrrha went to check on her and Ren was currently fetching drinks.

Weiss had caught sight of Whitley - Wisteria as he was styling himself. Crossdressing was such a simple yet eye-catching stunt to pull. Weiss was all for the self-discovery of sexual identity, but she knew that was not what was occurring. She had heard of his escapades at university, knew he was bisexual, probably leaning more gay than straight. He had had a few relationships with men, and many very short relationships with women, whom he seemed to use and toss aside for his enjoyment.

Weiss did not want to talk to her brother, not with the night going so well, but she had little choice. If she did not seek him out, he would find her, and she preferred to meet him on her terms rather than his. At least then she could avoid his date - Mercury Black - an unsavory character in Cinder's employ. He was no doubt on a mission from his boss. He probably intended to gain influence with Weiss via her brother, and the man had done far more disreputable things in the past.

After waiting for Mercury to step away to get some food, Weiss approached Whitley. He was surrounded by a crowd of hangers-on, but they parted at her approach. "Hello Sister, it's-" He started upon spotting her.

"I'd like to speak to you in private." Weiss cut him off. "Now."

"Of course." Whitley grinned and bowed. He turned to the others. "If you'll excuse me."

Weiss led her brother to a side room, and to his credit he obediently followed. "Whitley, what are you doing?" She asked once they were alone.

"Why, I'm expressing myself Dear Sister." Whitley replied. "I'm showing the world the real me."

"This isn't the real you." Weiss gestured to the elaborate dress he wore. "I know this isn't you. If you were trans, fine. If you were into crossdressing, fine, but you're not. This isn't a grand declaration of who you really are, this is a cry for attention!"

"Of course it's a cry for attention." Whitley admitted. "That's all I've ever wanted - a little attention. From Father, Mother, Winter, you, from anyone really, but no. So I must seek validation from the paparazzi, from seeing myself in the tabloids, juxtaposed with your lovely, scowling face."

"I'm not doing this." Weiss growled. "Not now."

"Fine." Whitley shrugged. "Then I shall return to my date and enjoy my night."

"You know who he is, don't you?" Weiss asked.

"Well of course I know who he is." Whitley chuckled. "It would be unbecoming to sleep with a stranger."

"He works for Cinder Fall." Weiss continued. "He's only interested in you because he thinks it'll help her get closer to me."

"He admitted as much, but he's fallen for me." Whitley countered. "He knows he won't get to you, because even I can't influence you."

"How do you know he's telling the truth about that?" Weiss challenged.

"Unlike you, I choose to believe in the good of humanity." Whitley scoffed.

"Oh cut the bullshit." Weiss threw up her hands.

"He's quite good in bed, and I do quite fancy him." Whitley rolled his eyes.

"So it's wishful thinking." Weiss sighed.

"Yes, like your insistence that Winter is still alive." Whitley smirked.

"Get out of my sight you-" Weiss shouted.

"Gladly." Whitley cut her off, heading for the door. "Have a lovely night."

It turned out Nora's plate was barely a sampling of the sheer variety of food on offer. Looking over the tables, Ruby lost count of how many plates were piled with all manner of treats, desserts and snacks. And cookies, big, wide and thick ones, chocolate ones, fudge ones, double chocolate, chocolate was like walking into a bakery back on Patch, only there were no glass windows and everything was free. She was part way through piling a large plate full of whatever caught her fancy when Sun finally made his appearance, a strawberry sunrise in hand. Apparently Nora and Jaune were quite conversational. The drink was barely cool, but that did not matter, it was still delicious and mixed well with the treats.

Ruby was gaining weight no matter what, and it was not like she would get free cookies every day. This was the high life, and it was time to live up to it. Sun was a great help. He knew exactly what she wanted - strawberry sunrise, hard, chocolate chip cookies and what were apparently called lamingtons, the strange coconut covered cakes, which also came in cream and jam sandwich varieties.

The lamingtons came from Vacuo, the original home of Velvet's family, or so she explained during her brief visit, taking a break from following Coco around. Her sandals were comfortable, but the type Coco needed to network with were tiresome, and her lover's tendency to get into deep conversations about current fashion trends wore her patience thin. Still, before long she was back at Coco's side.

Ruby spent the majority of the evening sandwiched between Sun and Nora, while Sun and Jaune traded stories about odd happenings at their old jobs. Nora...well Nora joined Ruby in simply relaxing. It was almost peaceful, despite the bustle of the locale. Ruby was surrounded by friends, Nora's perfume was a lovely fruity blend, the alcohol was lulling her into a gentle buzz, and the pain in her leg had faded entirely. A part of her longed to hold hands - with Sun, with Nora, Jaune, anyone really - physical contact made everything feel better.

When Ruby opened her eyes, Nora was gone, along with Jaune. Instead she found herself pressed against Sun, cheek warm against his shoulder. "Did I fall asleep?" She mumbled, reaching up to cover her mouth as she yawned.

"For a bit, maybe half an hour." Sun shrugged, reaching for a bottle of water and offering it to Ruby.

Ruby gladly accepted. "Where did Jaune and Nora go?" She uncapped the bottle to take a long drink.

"Nora wanted to find Coco, and Jaune wanted to keep an eye on her." Sun replied.

"Oh, okay." Ruby acknowledged.

"Are you feeling okay?" Sun inquired.

"Yeah, I'm fine, just a bit sleepy." Ruby answered. "Have you seen Weiss?"

"Nope." Sun shook his head. "Pyrrha did come by to check on us though, brought the water."

"That was nice of her." Ruby observed.

"Blake messaged me, asked if everything was going smoothly." Sun added. "I sent her a selfie of us."

"You think she misses us?" Ruby asked.

"I think she'd never admit it." Sun surmised.

"Maybe if I gave her puppy eyes." Ruby suggested.

"She hates dogs." Sun warned.

"Aw…" Ruby sighed.

"She does love cats though." Sun noted.

"Not that she'd ever admit it?" Ruby guessed.

"Oh, she admits it...she uh...saved a litter once." Sun corrected.

"Aw, momma kitty." Ruby smiled.

"Hell hath no fury...but I guess you're kinda' like a dog to her." Sun mused.

"Oh?" Ruby quirked her brow.

"Yeah, like when she talks about you at work, she calls you the human." Sun smirked.

Ruby snickered. "Self feeding, self grooming, requires a minimum of one hug a day for mental health."

"So it doesn't bother you at all?" Sun asked.

"Nah, I think I've got a good idea of Blake now." Ruby explained. "She's not good at showing affection, so when it comes through it kinda' comes off as demeaning or awkward."

"Ain't that the truth." Sun grumbled. "It took me like...a year to really figure that out, and even still it's hard to tell most of the time." He shrugged, raising his tail to squint at it, reaching forward to smooth down an awkward tuft of hair.

"You kinda' have to squint, and realize that a hug is like, a huge thing, like every action means more than it should...but that's kinda' just me." Ruby continued. "I don't like seeing people as bad. People are good, and bad things happen to them, and it hurts their souls...Blake's soul hurts a lot."

"I've been trying to help, but there isn't much I can do." Sun frowned. "She doesn't want to talk about her past, and I don't wanna' push her, but that just leaves us with what we have now. I don't even feel like her boyfriend most of the time, just...this guy, who helps her sleep at night."

"But you're her guy, the guy who's stuck by her for three years, the guy she gets jealous when someone takes him away." Ruby encouraged "In Blakism that's like...I dunno' Sun, I dunno' what to say to that. You both deserve better, but Blake is lucky to have you."

"I love her Rubes, and I wanna' be that guy forever, but...not being able to say that sucks." Sun sighed. "Being afraid of scaring Blake with how I feel sucks. I told her once and she just froze up, like, you'd think I'd slapped her."

"Did she say anything?" Ruby asked.

"No I just...changed the subject, and she didn't bring it up so…" Sun sighed, his tail twitching mid air. Ruby gently poked at it and the appendage froze before poking back. "I'm not giving up, but sometimes I just need to vent, ya' know? I've never had anyone to vent to."

"Well you can vent to me anytime you want." Ruby offered, poking his tail once more.

"But doesn't it annoy you?" Sun pressed. "Venting about my relationship when you're not in one?" Sun's tail made to poke back once again, only to be lightly caught between two fingers. The appendage feebly struggled, a farce of course, as Sun's tail was far stronger than it looked.

"Yeah, it sucks, but it's not like you're rubbing it in my face, no one is." Ruby replied. "It's just the way things are, and I'm used to it. I haven't really been with anyone long term since Oscar and that...I was just a kid then. Everything since has just been friends with benefits and one night stands...I don't even know if I'd be good in a relationship. I don't know what I want. I mean everyone looks good to me. Neon was amazing, but now what I think about her I just get mad that nothing came of it. Nora and Jaune are interested in me, but they're together and I've never done that before."

"Wait, both of them?" Sun spluttered.

"It was Nora's idea apparently, but Jaune and I talked about it." Ruby confirmed. "I think I'm gonna' do it, just see what happens. Nora's hot, Jaune's hot, I'm lonely, I wanna' wake up hugging someone again. I'm tired of being alone."

"They seem cool." Sun nodded. "I've never been in a threesome but...hey, even if nothing comes of it, you cross it off your bucket list."

"Have a threesome with a hot couple, underneath use strapons to sword fight, and knock someone out in a single kick." Ruby joked.

"You know Blake could probably help with one of those." Sun suggested.

"She doesn't need a strapon though." Ruby noted.

"Wait, you know about that?" Sun was taken aback.

"I walked in on her using my bathroom." Ruby explained.

"She left the door unlocked?" Sun inquired.

"Your poison gas attack probably clouded her judgement." Ruby teased.

"Oh hardy har-har." Sun rolled his eyes.

"Though while we're on the subject-" Ruby started.

"Of my gas?" Sun asked.

"Of the penis." Ruby corrected.

"Ask your cat sister." Sun deflected.

"But it'll be weird!" Ruby protested.

"Weirder than asking me?" Sun challenged.

"Well you have to deal with it." Ruby countered.

"And I don't wanna' talk about it!" Sun exclaimed.

"Why?" Ruby asked.

"Because it's weird!" Sun groaned.

"Oh, nothing is weird between us." Ruby scoffed.

"Yes Ruby, talking about my girlfriend's penis isn't weird at all." Sun threw up his hands.

"I just wanna' know how you deal with it." Ruby insisted.

"I don't." Sun declared.

"What, like you never-" Ruby started.

"No!" Sun cut her off.

"Not even once?" Ruby pressed.

"Nope." Sun shook his head.

"Why?" Ruby asked.

"I'm getting you another drink." Sun abruptly stood and started walking away.

Ruby stood to shout after him. "Coward!"

Chapter Text

The night was beginning to wind down, some guests trickling out, others too drunk to do much more than sit without falling over. The energy had certainly drained from the gala over the preceding hours. Such events always went this way, excitement up front, drunken stupor at the finish. Weiss had still not partaken in any alcoholic refreshment, though Ren had had a glass or two of wine and Pyrrha was starting to wobble. Even Coco, finished with her rounds, began that slow, mellowing descent into inebriation, Velvet not far behind. Ruby had apparently had one too many, as she was again asleep against Sun's shoulder, the latter nursing his own mixed drink with much greater care. Nora was surprisingly quiet, though that probably had something to do with her frequently kissing Jaune, who looked positively red.

The group had located and taken over a table off to the side, partially obscured from the main area of the venue by a column. It was a perfect hiding spot for those not interested in the exhausting task of networking with Atlas' and Remnant's great and good. Unfortunately it did not prove secluded enough to keep away all unwanted visitors. Weiss spotted Whitley as he approached, stumbling drunkenly with his date smirking just behind him. Whitley was insufferable when sober, he was worse when drunk. She barely had time to turn from Pyrrha and Ren before he was upon them.

"Sister!" Whitley exclaimed, raising his glass.

"Brother." Weiss responded.

"Oh, don't be like that." Whitley slurred. "I'm here to apologize."

"Really?" Weiss questioned. Whitley never apologized for anything. If he was in court facing a sentence of 10 years hard time or one apology, he would choose prison, his pride demanded it.

"I know, so unlike me." Whitley continued. "This…" He gestured to his attire. "This was too much, I'm sorry for embarrassing you. You're right, it was just a cry for attention, and there are better ways I could go about it." Weiss grew even more concerned. He never admitted that she could be right. "And the things I said to you, terrible! I'm just ashamed. Let's start the night over, please. This is my date, Mercury Blake. Mercury, my lovely sister Weiss."

Weiss struggled to find the words. She knew Whitley must have had an angle, but could not fathom what it might be. It was all too much, even if he followed up with a gotcha' and pulled the rug out from under her. Plus he was being far too loud, even considering his state of drunkenness. In the end she decided to play along...for the time being. "Nice to meet you Mister Black."

"Charmed." Mercury said with a wink. If Weiss was reading him right, he was sober, and knew exactly what Whitley was up to. "Your brother's told me a lot about you."

"Nothing good I assume." Weiss glared, trying to divine her brother's intentions.

"Oh lighten up sis." Whitley waved his free hand. "Maybe it's just the alcohol talking, but I think it's about time we put everything behind us and start over. Come on, let's have a nice family hug."

Whitley stepped forward, arms spread out wide. Weiss stood frozen, like a deer in the headlights, unable to comprehend what was unfolding. Then Whitley made his move. He tripped, or more accurately pretended to trip, splashing his drink straight onto Pyrrha as he fell towards her. Then, reaching out as if to regain his balance, he grabbed her top and easily pulled it askew, baring Pyrrha's breasts for all to see. No wonder he had been so loud, he wanted to draw attention.

Everyone stood staring for a moment, still shocked by what had happened. Whitley regained his footing - easily no doubt, since he had never really lost it - and examined his handiwork with a smirk as flashbulbs popped behind him. Of course there were cameras. Mercury could not suppress a laugh. It had all gone according to plan no doubt. Whitley knew exactly how to best humiliate Weiss - humiliating her friends. Coco reacted first, leaping up in an attempt to reposition Pyrrha's top as quickly as possible. Ren placed himself between his fiance and the crowd, a fearsome scowl directed at Whitley, fists shaking with barely contained rage.

"Oh, I'm dreadfully sorry." Whitley grinned. "How clumsy of me! It seems I've accidentally exposed your whore!"

It all happened so quickly. Ren took a step forward, arm raising. Pyrrha made to reach for him, only for the entire room to freeze as a loud, heavy slap sounded out. "You are a disgrace!" Weiss glowered, clenching her hand before her chest, trembling in anger as Whitley cupped his cheek in shock. Ren lowered his hand, reaching for Weiss' shoulder. She turned to him. "Excuse me." Stepping forward, she took hold of Whitley's collar, dragging him away, back to the site of their earlier conversation. Weiss was not about to air the family grievances in so public a matter. At least no more than they already had.

Weiss shoved Whitley against the wall, prompting a breathless laugh from the latter. "Did Father hit like that?" He taunted. "He never cared enough to discipline me."

Weiss took a deep breath, attempting to stifle her temper. She had already afforded Whitley one victory, she would not allow another. "All I ever wanted was for you to be happy and safe. Nothing more. I fill your account, even though I would be justified in cutting you off. I have a security detail make sure no harm comes to you despite your blatant disregard for your own wellbeing, and you come to my event, making a fool of yourself, and now you humiliate one of my closest friends! Do you truly expect there to be no consequences?"

"Come now sister, I was just having a little fun." Whitley smirked, his tone mocking.

"Sister?" Weiss shouted. "Sister?! This is how you treat your family, you own flesh and blood?!" Whitley's infuriating smirk never faltered. "As far as I'm concerned, you have not considered me a sister since we were children, and after trying for so long despite that I cannot continue to ignore the fact. We are no longer family, you no longer have my support, nothing!"

"Oh, but you'll break poor Mother's heart!" Whitley whined in feigned concern.

Weiss took another deep breath, raising herself straight to glare at her former kin. "I'll break more than that." She threatened, voice low and tempered. "I hope you're happy with the mess you've made."

"Thrilled." Whitley preened, arms crossed across his padded chest.

Weiss was done. There was nothing more to say, nothing she could say, nothing that would actually get through to her former brother. It would only be a waste, she would only make herself angrier, his satisfaction would only grow. She stomped out of the room, slamming the door behind her. All she could do now was try to pick up the pieces, and pray nothing else went wrong.

Eventually, much to Weiss' strained relief, the gala came to an end. A calm, scheduled end to a long and stressful night, months of planning, weeks of organization, and the worst thing to go down was a little humiliation and a single slap. Gods she was tired, but the guests took their time leaving, trickling out bit by bit, the more notable individuals bidding her farewell in person. Whitley had not bothered of course. She doubted any word would come from him anytime soon. Willow had offered a hug and a peck on the cheek, whilst her mother's date kept a respectable distance. The poor girl was likely afraid, she was dating her boss' mother after all. Weiss made a note to speak with her at some point.

After what felt like an eternity, the hall was vacant, oddly silent but for the bustling of staff. Coco and Velvet had elected to personally escort the twin models to their hotel. Thankfully they had kept quiet, showing off Coco's work in peace, until the free champagne finally caught up with them, and they moved their exhibition to the nearest comfortable chairs. Not unlike Ruby Rose, who had been dozing for the majority of the evening by that point. The girl had awoken though, in time for Weiss to procure her a box in which to pile more treats to take home. What remained afterward would be delivered to various local homeless shelters. Ruby had given Weiss a hug too, it was nice to hug someone her size once in a while.

Finally it was time for Weiss to leave, in the company of her lovers, the two individuals who made every struggle and pain worthwhile. Unfortunately one had stepped into the firing line in the process. Even after some time in the staff bathroom, Pyrrha still smelled faintly of alcohol. Her dress needed dry cleaning, her matter Pyrrha's attitude toward the matter, people saw, people judged, and Pyrrha would always be remembered for Whitley's foolishness. No doubt Pyrrha would laugh them all off. Weiss wished she shared the outlook, she wished the world's views and opinions did not bother her so, but in high society reputation mattered. Weiss' reputation mattered.

Weiss wished it did not matter. There was so much weight upon her shoulders, so many fears, and so little time to shrug them far. But for now at least, Weiss could relax. The gala was over, cleanup was underway, out of her hands, out of her mind, which now lay focused entirely upon the warmth surrounding her, as Ren and Pyrrha sat by her sides in the limo. She wanted to fall asleep, each arm wrapped around one of theirs, but she could not. She needed to tend to her own first. Regardless of her feelings, Pyrrha deserved a tender touch, from herself and Ren. Any slight, no matter how trivial, deserved the utmost love and care to counter it. Pyrrha would do the same for her, Ren would do the same for her. There needed to be equality in this relationship if she was going to make this work, if she was going to be content.

"Weiss?" Pyrrha spoke, startling her.

Weiss looked up into emerald eyes, crinkled in concern. Right, bathroom, they were getting ready to shower. Ren had taken Pyrrha's dress to tend to it while they got ready. "Sorry, just…" She managed a tired smile. The sight of Pyrrha's bare body should have been more than enough to break her out of her funk, but the faint smell of alcohol kept dragging her back down. She reached over to turn on the shower. "Part of me keeps expecting the hammer to fall."

"Whitley wasn't enough of a hammer for you?" Pyrrha smirked.

"Whitley wasn't the Fang, and…" Weiss sighed, cupping her lover's face. "I cannot express how much I regret his actions. I should have known his ire would turn to my loved ones."

Pyrrha scoffed, arms snaking around Weiss' waist. "Your brother is a child Weiss, crying for attention." She chuckled. "Perhaps there will come a day when he truly matures, but until then I'll happily endure whatever juvenile outbursts he conjures, if only to draw fire from you."

"You have enough to fear without idiotic pranks." Weiss frowned. "Gods, I hit him, I didn't even think I just…"

"You know how rare it is that I endorse such violence but...considering all he has done in the past...I'm sure you've held back long enough." Pyrrha soothed.

"I've wanted to strangle him numerous times in the past but...that was father's way." Weiss whispered. "Harsh, biting words, physical rebukes...I should not have hit him. No matter how satisfying it was it just...I don't want to turn into him."

"You are nothing like him Weiss." Pyrrha encouraged. "These fears and worries prove that. Your father was cold, uncaring and cruel. You are warm Weiss, you care too much, and your love far outweighs whatever malice you may hold for others. You are a beautiful person, a beautiful woman, and we love you. I love you."

Weiss felt her eyes sting, vision blurring as the ache in her chest climbed into her throat. She let out a shaking breath. "I love you too." Weiss murmured, closing her eyes as Pyrrha thumbed away what tears were falling. "Gods I wish things were simple."

"Simple doesn't suit you Weiss." Pyrrha chuckled. "You would go mad without complications to sort out."

"Love should be simple, if nothing else." Weiss countered.

"You know how I feel about that." Pyrrha rolled her eyes.

"And you I." Weiss smiled sadly.

The bathroom door opened, Ren stepping through, naught but a towel on his person. "The dress is soaking, but we should still take it to Coco for proper care." He suggested.

"Thank you darling, now come, let us end this night in a memorable fashion." Pyrrha smirked, trailing her nails down Weiss' back, eliciting shudders from her form. "Our lover deserves a reward for all her efforts after all."

"I wanted to reward you." Weiss gasped as Ren pressed himself against her, hands sliding to rest upon her stomach, length firm upon her rear.

"And we'll have our turn to be rewarded, after you." Ren planted a kiss below Weiss' left ear, as Pyrrha began trailing her own along Weiss' shoulder. "Relax, let us take care of you."

Weiss could not resist, she never stood a chance. Any hint of frustration was swept aside, beneath a barrage of feathered kisses, and the raging heat bellowing within her. She thanked the gods many times that night, and prayed for it to never end.

Ruby fell asleep the second her head hit the pillow. It was a nice night to be sure, but her usual fatigue, coupled with the alcohol and sugary food meant a crash was inevitable. Her naps at the gala counted for nothing. She at least had the energy to store her box of goodies in the fridge. Gods, that was going to last her a week, so long as she rationed it out. A little something with breakfast, a couple more to take to work, one as an after dinner treat. Hopefully she could resist. The lamingtons would definitely be the first to go. Her dress was another story. As comfortable and beautiful as it was, it was not something to sleep in, and unfortunately rather annoying to remove. The boot clasps and corset strings may have been easy for an energetic Ruby to handle, but she was anything but at that time of night. Even the buttons on her top were annoying to fiddle with. She left the stockings on.

The morning greeted Ruby with a headache. It was only a small one, which was good. She had been expecting worse. Her leg was experiencing a sharper ache than normal, which sent a pang of anxiety through her. She needed to ask about medical benefits. If she got over the hurdle she could snowball into an appointment. Gods being an adult was so hard. She peeled off her stockings and headed for the shower, the hot water washing away some of her fatigue and dulling the pain to a thrum. Hopefully it would not bother her too much, she was out of aspirin.

As usual, Blake met Ruby after she had finished breakfast, placing a couple of treats into a container as she snacked on a cookie. Blake looked as tired as ever, but still engulfed her in the usual gentle hug. "Morning you, how was work?" Ruby greeted, returning the embrace tightly, the familiar musky scent filling her nose. It was oddly comforting.

"Dull." Blake mumbled.

"Aw, did you miss us?" Ruby teased.

"No." Blake replied.

"You totally missed us." Ruby giggled.

"Go to work." Blake growled, pulling away before stopping. "Have you made a doctor's appointment?"

"No, I keep forgetting." Ruby admitted. "I'm going to today, I promise."

"Whatever." Blake shrugged.

"Love you too!" Ruby called as Blake shuffled away, her ears flicking at the sound. They really were cute. Ruby wondered if Blake ever let Sun touch them. She certainly wanted to touch them.

Chapter Text

Walking to the subway, the pain in Ruby's leg flared a little. It was still tolerable, but she hoped there was some aspirin left in her desk drawer...alongside her gun. Thankfully Blake had not asked about it. It still felt strange to have a gun in her possession. It was supposed to make her feel safer, but in her mind it just...felt like an extra weight on her mind, something harsh and cold. In a way it was fitting. Blake could be harsh, she could be cold, but she could also be warm and soft. The gun would never be soft...unless she covered it in fuzzy cloth. She doubted Blake would approve of that, but still, it was a fun idea to toy with, and helped distract from the annoyance in her leg. That pain was showing no mercy as she climbed the steps to the SDC and passed through the employee checkpoint.

"Good morning Ruby." Penny greeted as she stepped into the elevator.

Ruby looked up at the camera in the corner and smiled. "Good morning Penny. What did you think of the gala?"

"It seemed mostly pleasant, aside from Mr. Schnee's unfortunate actions." Penny replied.

"Mr. Schnee?" Ruby questioned.

"Mr. Whitley Schnee, Ms. Schnee's brother." Penny clarified.

"Oh...oh gods, I slept through something serious didn't I?" Ruby gasped.

"Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view." Penny confirmed. "Mr. Schnee interfered with Ms. Nikos' dress. I have been attempting to suppress media of the incident, to little success."

"Is she okay?" Ruby asked.

"Ms. Nikos is a sturdy individual." Penny noted. "After the initial shock she seemed quite calm."

"Good, what about Whitley?" Ruby inquired.

"He received a rather sudden rebuke, and a stern talking to." Penny recounted. "I do not believe he will be allowed back to any future events, unsupervised at least."

The elevator chimed and the door opened, revealing a tired-looking Jaune slouched behind his desk. "Hey Jaune!" Ruby cheered, prompting a lazy smile from the guard.

"Hey Ruby." Jaune greeted.

"Coffee?" Ruby offered, dumping her bag onto her desk.

"I'd love some, please." Jaune accepted.

"Rough night?" Ruby asked.

"Kinda, you?" Jaune rubbed his eyes.

Ruby shrugged, heading for the kitchen. "Slept like a baby." She answered as she vanished within.

"Have you been sleeping well lately?" Jaune questioned. "You napped pretty hard at the party."

"I think so." Ruby called back. "I think I'm just having trouble adjusting to the new timezone and all that. And I always get drowsy after having some alcohol and snacks. How was Nora?"

"She was great, I mean, she was having fun and then...didn't stop having fun." Jaune fumbled.

"Ooooh, so you stayed up even later then?" Ruby giggled.

"This is the worst thing to complain about...oh hey, Weiss is early." Jaune noticed.

"Really?" Ruby asked.

"She brought coffee and stuff too." Jaune added.

"Oh sweet!" Ruby rushed out, in time for the elevator to chime once more. Weiss strode out with a smile. "Morning Weiss!"

"Good morning Ruby, good morning Jaune." Weiss greeted. "Nora says you like your coffee black?" She held up the tray in her left hand.

"Dad told me it put hairs on my chest." Jaune explained.

"And?" Weiss inquired.

"It turns out the Arc family genes are kinda' crap for body hair, and now I can't stand milk in my coffee." Jaune sighed.

"Fascinating." Weiss rolled her eyes, placing the tray on Jaune's desk and passing over his cup. "I also brought us fresh croissants. They're a personal favorite of mine." She indicated the box in her right hand, placing it down to open. The smell of warm, buttery pastries wafted from within. Taking one herself, she turned to Ruby. "I feel the need to thank you once again, both of you, for tolerating the more hectic aspects of work as of late."

"It's okay Weiss, I don't mind, but I uh, kinda' skipped some of the gala last night." Ruby shrunk. "Heard some stuff happened?"

Weiss grimaced. "My brother, yet again. I dealt with him, and will continue to deal with him. Perhaps once his money runs dry he will realize the extent of my generosity."

"Is Pyrrha okay?" Ruby asked.

Weiss smirked, chuckling. "Oh she is fine. It'll take more than some undue titillation to phase her for long."

"Titillation?" Ruby tilted her head. Weiss arched her brow, and it struck Ruby in an odd feeling of shock and awe. "Oh fudge."

Weiss laughed.

"So...I was thinking about Nora's proposition...and I think my answer is yes." Ruby abruptly changed the subject.

"Oh uh...good." Jaune managed.

"Are you guys busy this weekend?" Ruby asked.

"I don't think so, but you'd have to ask Nora." Jaune replied. "Send her a text, she'll get right back to you."

"You don't sound that excited." Ruby noted.

"No, I am, I'm just...nervous." Jaune admitted. "I've never done anything like this before. Hell, I've never planned to do anything like this."

"I get that." Ruby nodded. "It's not every day you get invited to a threesome." She laughed awkwardly. "It's something to check off the bucket list though."

"Sure is." Jaune agreed. "Gods this is weird to talk about."

"Sorry, I didn't wanna' make things awkward." Ruby apologized. "It just kinda' popped into my head."

"It's alright." Jaune soothed. "It's not like-"

The door to Weiss' office clicked open and she strode out, making her way to Ruby's desk. "Do you need something?" Ruby asked.

"Yes, a package was just delivered for me." Weiss answered. "Could you head down to the mailroom and pick it up?"

"Sure, what is it?" Ruby inquired.

"Prototype laptops for my approval." Weiss replied. "They shouldn't be too heavy."

Ruby stood at her desk and stretched. She had been sitting all morning. "Do you personally approve every product?"

"No, but I do approve all the special Weiss Schnee Edition products." Weiss explained. "It's about time to finalize next year's models."

"Oh, I have the special edition Dustbuster!" Ruby chirped.

"I loved the art for that." Weiss reminisced. "Well, just be careful with the package. The Lightweight models can be fragile."

"I'll try not to throw the box around too much." Ruby joked as she headed for the elevator. It arrived with a chime. "Want me to get anything else while I'm up?"

"No thank you." Weiss declined.

"I'm good." Jaune replied. Ruby disappeared behind the closing elevator doors, leaving Jaune alone with Weiss. "Do you make lots of Weiss Schnee Edition products?"

"Only if marketing thinks it'll help sell, and I really believe in what I'm putting my name on." Weiss answered. "Penny mentioned Ruby was in the market for a new computer, perhaps she could field test one of the prototypes."

Jaune shrugged. Ruby had never discussed the subject with him. After thinking for a moment Weiss returned to her office, the door locking shut behind her. Jaune was left to his thoughts, and they were a bit unsettled. The gala had been rather boring from his point of view, and it seemed like Nora agreed. After getting home she had to work off a lot of excess energy. He had a hell of a time trying to keep up, and that was just with Nora. Having to handle Nora and Ruby would be a challenge he was not sure he could meet. Of course there were far worse challenges to fail, though few as potentially humiliating. Hopefully things would work out...and Nora would do the heavy lifting.

Before Jaune had much time to dwell on the subject, the elevator chimed. He checked the camera to see Ruby waiting within, box perched on her left shoulder. As the doors opened she smiled at him, happy, carefree. Perhaps he really was overthinking things. Ruby was probably as nervous as he was. As she stepped out, she caught her toe on the lip of the elevator. She stumbled, stepping awkwardly with her right leg. She let out a cry of pain, the box dropping from her shoulder. Jaune hastily stood as the box flipped over almost entirely, landing on its side.

A blinding flash.

A deafening crack.

Jaune felt his ears pop, his sense of balance vanishing. He felt something hard impact his back, then his side, a stinging sensation erupting across his body, the entire world seeming to roar, shaking, his heart beating in his ears, lungs straining for breath. He blinked, trying to regain focus. The floor, he was on the floor, he had fallen...Ruby...Ruby!

Scrambling, Jaune rolled onto all fours, reaching up to steady himself on his desk as he stood. The ringing in his ears throbbed and his eyes struggled to take in the scene before him. Dust and shrapnel littered the room, where Ruby once stood she now lie, pale, staring upward with wide eyes, her mouth shaking as she took sharp breaths, her legs bathed in blood. Shaking his head clear, Jaune scrambled to her side, nearly slipping in the blood surrounding her. Ruby's eyes did not meet his own as he examined her state. It was bad, very bad. Her left leg was severed from the knee down, the other shredded by the blast. He forced himself to look away, sucking down deep breaths to calm himself. Now was not the time for his weak stomach.

"Jaune!" A voice called. It sounded distant, barely audible over the tinnitus. "Jaune!" Clearer this time. "Jaune!" It was Penny.

"What?" Jaune managed, looking up at the speaker in the corner of the ceiling.

"You must apply a tourniquet." Penny instructed. "Use your belt."

Jaune removed his belt and held it before him. Ruby continued to groan before him, barely moving. "Uh…"

"Tie it around her left leg, as tight as you can and as high as possible." Penny instructed.

"Jaune what ha...oh gods." Weiss stumbled out of her office and came upon the scene just as Jaune looped his belt around what remained of Ruby's leg. "Gods…"

"It will hurt her, but you must get it tight." Penny implored.

Jaune took a deep breath and pulled the belt as tight as he could, fastening it in place. Ruby squirmed and released a choked cry. "I know, stay with me."

"I'll call an ambulance." Weiss declared.

"I have already contacted the hospital." Penny noted. "Paramedics and a trauma surgeon are on the way. Now you must-"

" burns…" Ruby mumbled. "Make it stop…" She went limp.

"Is she...gone?" Weiss gasped.

"Ruby is not dead!" Penny shouted, electronic distortion screeching from the speaker. "But she will be if you do not do as I say! Take off her belt and use it as a tourniquet on the other leg. Hurry." Jaune did as instructed. Ruby's belt did not look as sturdy as his own, but it held up when he pulled it tight. Already the rate of bleeding seemed to have slowed. Still Ruby's chest rose and fell, still breathing. "Weiss, there is a first aid kit in the kitchen. Use the gauze to fill the wounds as best you can." Weiss nodded and rushed away, but almost immediately the elevator chimed, opening to reveal a doctor and two paramedics as promised.

"We'll take it from here." The doctor stated, kneeling beside Ruby. He gave orders to the paramedics, who quickly loaded Ruby onto their stretcher and began tending to her wounds.

"Is she gonna' be okay?" Jaune asked breathlessly.

"We can save her." The doctor assured, checking her vitals. He returned to giving orders as they returned to the elevator with Ruby.

Weiss and Jaune could only stand by and watch, surrounded by the results of the blast, as the doors slid closed and Ruby disappeared from their sight. "Are you hurt?" Weiss asked after a long delay. "That's...a lot of blood."

"It's not mine." Jaune sighed.

Weiss gave Jaune a look he had never seen from her before. He could not be sure, but it looked like guilt. "What the hell happened?"

It had not taken long for Weiss to carve out a temporary office. After escorting Jaune to the hospital adjacent to SDC headquarters - he had some minor injuries that needed to be looked at - she had headed to Ren's department. She informed Ren of what had happened and dispatched him to go pick up Nora. Before leaving, he directed Weiss to an unused room, and instructed his co-workers to move some surplus furniture in for Weiss' use. He called Pyrrha as he walked out the door, leaving Weiss to make her own calls.

First on Weiss' list was Nora. "Weissy?" Nora quickly answered her scroll.

"Nora, Jaune has been injured." Weiss stated. "Not seriously, but I'm sending Ren to bring you to the hospital."

"Oh, oh like, broken bone injured or fell on a pencil injured?" Nora asked, surely assuming Jaune's clumsiness had caused the injury.

"I'd rather wait until we can explain in person, please." Weiss requested.

"Oh alright, does he need anything from home?" Nora inquired.

"A change of clothes for sure, but otherwise nothing we cannot provide here." Weiss replied.

"Okay then, I'll see you soon!" Nora cheered.

"See you soon." Weiss hung up, savoring the cheer in Nora's voice. She could have told her everything, but there was no sense in causing such worry early. Jaune would be okay, hopefully. Though barely peppered with some shrapnel, he still witnessed the attack...that would stay with him.

By the time the call was complete, she had been provided with a chair, desk and laptop connected to the SDC network. Weiss sat down to make the second call, one sure to be far more difficult. Using the laptop to access the HR database, she acquired Ruby's emergency contact information, her home phone number. Atlas was a few hours ahead of Patch, so it was likely to be early morning there, and Weiss was not sure who if anyone would be home to answer the call. Part of her hoped to get an answering machine, that would have been easier.

"Hello?" A woman who sounded much like Ruby answered the call.

"Mrs. Rose?" Weiss asked.

"Speaking." Summer confirmed.

"This is Weiss Schnee." She said.

"Miss Schnee?" Summer sounded surprised. "Has something happened?"

Weiss took a minuscule breath. "I'm afraid so Mrs. Rose...there has been...a terrorist attack. Ruby is alive, but in serious condition."

"Oh…" Summer's voice warbled. "Oh Maidens...w-what happened? Is Ruby going to be okay?"

"I don't quite know exactly Mrs. Rose, I'm sorry, Ruby's injuries were mostly to her legs however." Weiss swallowed the lump in her throat, schooling her voice as it threatened to crack. "I promise you the best medical care possible is being administered. I will do everything in my power to ensure Ruby makes it out of this alive and well."

"O-okay, thank you Weiss." Summer responded. Weiss' heart stung as she heard a sniffle through the speaker. "I just...I-I need to organize a trip-"

"I can do that for you Mrs. Rose." Weiss offered. "I will have a private jet readied and sent to Signal Airport by the end of the day."

"Thank you Weiss...I'll...i-is everyone else okay?" Summer asked.

"Mostly...the only other present was Jaune, my security guard." Weiss explained. "He's shaken, but otherwise fine...he...he may have saved her life Mrs. Rose."

"Thank the Maidens." Summer sighed shakily, taking a sharp breath. "Please, keep me notified of any changes...and…"

"I will, Summer, you have my word." Weiss wanted to say more, but what more could she say? What little did it mean over the phone, when the next call might come with even grimmer news. She willed herself to close her mind to the fear.

"Thank you, I'll tell Yang and Tai, and start packing...goodbye Weiss." Summer bid farewell.

"Goodbye Summer." Ending the call, Weiss covered her face in her hands, elbows leaning against the desk as she took deep and steadying breaths. They barely worked. She feared the day she would have to make that call. In a way she sympathized with Ironwood now, that her own failings had brought harm to another's daughter, that her sister and father were going to be confronted with the reality that they may lose a family member, and not even be there to say goodbye. This was Weiss' worst nightmare, but she had duties to attend to. She still had yet another challenging call to make.

Weiss picked up her scroll once again, scrolling to the next contact needed. Hesitating, her finger shook over the screen. There was no escaping it. Gods help her, she would have to tell Blake. Her reaction would be unpredictable. She would demand information of course, but Blake was still an unknown, and this was a conversation she would much rather have had in person, when she had actual information to give. She pressed the contact and held the device to her ear.

The phone did not ring for long before it was answered. "Blake-" Weiss immediately started.

"Weiss?" Sun responded in surprise. "You have Blake's number? Weird...I never would have-"

"Sun, where's Blake?" Weiss interrupted.

"Oh, she's in the bathroom." Sun replied. "I saw the name Bitch on her phone and couldn't help but find out who...oh, I shouldn't have said that. So...what's up?"

"There's been an...accident." Weiss lied. "Ruby's been hurt very badly. I'm at the SDC Research Hospital with her-"

"Oh bad is it?" Sun cut in, all the confidence and playfulness drained from his voice. "Is she gonna' be okay? What happened?"

"It's...serious, but I don't have any information on how serious just yet." Weiss admitted. "I haven't been told anything about her prospects. As for what happened...I'd rather discuss that in person."

"Yeah, of course." Sun agreed. "I'll grab Blake and we'll be right there."

Sun hung up before Weiss could say another word. Part of her was relieved that she had been able to speak to him instead, but that just made the inevitable confrontation with Blake that much worse. The hammer was going to fall sooner or later, but for now she had more to do. There were still calls to make, and Weiss was not going to rest until she had done everything she could to...she was not really sure what. Helping Ruby would not be enough. Aiding her friends would not be sufficient. Even finding the culprits and bringing them to justice would fall short. Still, her friend had been attacked, and she would move mountains until she made things right.

Chapter Text

With her immediate tasks out of the way, Weiss moved from her temporary office to a waiting room near the surgery department to await word on Ruby. Pyrrha sat by her side to provide what comfort she could. It was there that Nora met them. She was her usual happy-go-lucky self, excitedly chatting with Ren, who had obviously not told her anything more than she had already known. Weiss hated to put an end to her good cheer, but there was no way around it.

"Hey Weissy!" Nora called, waving as she approached.

Weiss did her best to force a smile. "Hello Nora."

"So where's Jauney?" Nora asked after scanning the room.

"He's just being evaluated for a possible concussion." Weiss replied. "He should be out soon."

"Did he fall down the stairs or somethin'?" Nora inquired, tossing a bag filled with Jaune's change of clothes onto a nearby chair. "Probably tripped over his shoelaces again. I told him to double knot them so they don't keep coming undone, but he never-"

"No, he didn't fall down the stairs." Weiss interrupted. " should probably sit down."

"Oh it that bad?" Nora gasped.

"Jaune's fine...mostly." Weiss shook her head. Nora sat as instructed, her smile suddenly gone. "There was...a bomb, meant for me, it exploded in the lobby of my floor. Jaune received some light shrapnel wounds, nothing serious, and fell and hit his head on the ground."

"Oh, so he's okay." Nora breathed a sigh of relief. "I was so worried for a second there."

"Ruby...was closer to the explosion." Weiss continued. Nora's relief drained away. "Her legs have been badly hurt and...she lost a lot of blood. I haven't heard anything from the doctors yet."

"Oh that's…" Nora trailed off, never finishing the thought. She sat in uncharacteristic silence along with the others for quite some time.

After some time, Jaune finally emerged. His right forearm was bandaged near the elbow, his left hand wrapped as well. His shirt and pants were caked in dried blood, and his face bore a thousand yard stare. Upon spotting Nora he did his best to force a smile. "Well...a little good news, no concussion." He did his best to be positive.

"Jaune, I'm so glad you're alright!" Nora leapt up, racing to Jaune and wrapping him in a tight embrace. She did not fight back the tears that welled in her eyes. "When Weiss told me what happened I was so worried about you, and Ruby...and…"

"I know Nora." Jaune returned the hug. "I love you too."

After watching the tearful reunion, Weiss wanted to send Jaune home, but that was not going to happen. The investigation was just starting, and the police would want to speak with him as the only available witness. She doubted he would be able to provide any useful information, just as she had nothing worthwhile to offer. It only added to a growing sense of helplessness. All Weiss could do was sit and wait, hoping things would turn out alright. That was not her way, she was a woman of action, one to rise up and take command of a situation. Not being able to do so, particularly in a crisis of such personal importance, was painful.

The police did indeed want to speak with Jaune, and Weiss as well. As expected, both had little to say, but that did not mean the conversations were unimportant. Weiss, for one, managed to make an agreement with the authorities. In return for letting Penny access evidence as it was gathered, Weiss promised to give the police access to confidential business and military databases that were relevant to the investigation. The police would have an ally in finding those responsible, and Weiss would get to keep an eye on their progress, maybe even assist.

Almost as soon as Weiss had finished her conversation with the detective in charge, Pyrrha met her to inform her that Sun and Blake had arrived. They had been delayed by traffic caused by major road construction, turning a twenty minute trip into one that took over an hour. That had surely not improved their moods. Weiss still feared what Blake might do, but when she arrived to speak to the pair, Blake was focused but reserved. Weiss hoped that would not change when she learned the details. For his part, Sun looked like a nervous wreck, borderline shaking with worry.

"Is Ruby going to be okay?" Sun blurted upon spotting Weiss.

Weiss sighed, walking up to the Faunus. "I don't know. She's still in surgery and I haven't been told anything yet."

"What happened?" Blake asked. Her voice was calm and steady but almost whisper quiet. It was as if she knew the answer already.

"There was a bomb." Weiss replied. "It was meant for me, disguised as a package, but Ruby dropped it and it went off prematurely."

"Maidens…" Sun groaned.

"What are her injuries like?" Blake inquired, still calm, almost monotone, more looking through Weiss than at her.

"Her legs were...seriously damaged." Weiss answered. "Her left was amputated and her was hard to tell. Beyond that, I don't know."

Tears welled in Sun's eyes. "I need to sit down." His voice wobbled. He sat down nearby, covering his face with his hands.

Blake still had questions. "How did this happen? How did a bomb get through security?"

"I don't know." Weiss slumped. "All incoming packages are x-rayed and tested for chemical traces."

"The Fang did this." Blake suggested.

"I can't think of any group more likely." Weiss noted. "But no one has claimed responsibility." Blake closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. There was obviously a lot on her mind. The way her muscles had tensed, fists clenched with nails digging into her own palms, said she was screaming inside, ready to lash out, but she remained overtly calm. "I'm sorry...I...I don't even know...just sorry."

Blake nodded at the apology. For a moment it looked like she was about to say something more, but was interrupted. "Ms. Schnee." A doctor called from the door to the surgery ward.

"Yes." Weiss spun around.

"Is Ruby going to be okay?" Sun leapt from his chair.

"'re-" The doctor started.

"Family, adopted." Blake lied.

"Ah, alright." The doctor responded. "Well, I have relatively good news. The surgery was successful, and I expect Ms. Rose to recover. Her vitals are stable and strong, and it doesn't appear she's suffered any serious brain damage. Unfortunately, we were unable to save her left leg. As for her right, we did our best, the team is still working on saving what they can."

"When can we see her?" Blake asked.

"Once the surgery is complete and she's transferred to recovery." The doctor answered. "She won't be conscious however. As a precaution we've put her in an induced coma. If her brain wave patterns look good we could start waking up her in as soon as a day or so, but it could take significantly longer. That said, when she wakes up she should be cognitively healthy, and her injuries are confined almost exclusively to her legs. Aside from her legs, I'd predict she'll make a full recovery."

"Thank the gods!" Sun exclaimed. Blake remained silent and tense, but seemed to relax at least a little.

"I'll inform her fam...the rest of her family." Weiss declared. "They'll be relieved at the good news."

"It's a good thing she got to us so quickly." The doctor noted. "This could have been a lot worse."

"Thank you for saving her." Sun stepped forward, grabbing the doctor's hand and shaking it frantically. "I can't...she's gonna' be okay, she's gonna' be okay."

While Sun joined the others in cheering the good news, Blake pulled Weiss aside. "We need to talk about this." The Faunus insisted.

"I know." Weiss nodded. "As soon-"

"As soon as Ruby's awake and okay." Blake finished for her. "She's my only concern right now."

"I wish the same could be said for me." Weiss sighed. "I've got a call to make, and an investigation to monitor." Blake nodded and Weiss started to walk away.

"Weiss." Blake called after her. The CEO stopped and turned around. "Don't blame yourself."

Weiss smiled, her first genuine smile since the incident. "The same to you."

Weiss was happy to finally deliver some good news that day. Summer answered the call once again. Taiyang was apparently still at work, not wanting to disrupt his students' learning, while Yang was hastily packing for the trip to Atlas. Summer brought Yang over, and the pair were elated to hear the news. After being informed that Ruby's life was no longer in serious danger, and that she would likely be unconscious for a few days, Summer and Yang decided to delay the journey. They would depart after Taiyang finished teaching on Friday, giving them more time to pack and otherwise prepare.

After that rather pleasant call, Weiss turned her attention to a more difficult task. Penny already had some preliminary conclusions from the investigation and Weiss wanted to hear them immediately. She retreated to her temporary office and set up her laptop to interface with the AI.

"What do you have for me Penny?" Weiss asked.

"Based on a review of the security footage, and chemical evidence provided by the police, I believe I have identified the explosive used in the bomb." Penny replied. The screen switched from her avatar to security camera footage, Ruby stepping out of the elevator with the box on her shoulder, tripping…

"Stop!" Weiss shouted, slamming the laptop shut. "I do not want to watch my friend get blown up."

"Neither did I." Penny spoke. When Weiss opened the laptop the screen had shifted to a chart of some sort. "The size and speed of the explosion, combined with the chemical traces, indicate Project 5572-1 is most likely the explosive used."

"I've never heard of it." Weiss admitted.

"It is a top secret compound, developed by Fall Armaments and tested by the Atlesian military." Penny explained. The screen shifted to a number of official reports. "The military rejected it as having too low a yield compared to its weight and cost, but referred the project to the Clandestine Intelligence Service. They considered it more suited for use in sabotage and assassination operations, as the explosive is undetectable by all standard methods."

"That explains how it got through." Weiss sighed. "How did the package get past the x-ray inspection?"

"Judging by the size of the blast and the debris produced, the box did contain laptops as stated." Penny replied. "The quantity of explosive required to account for the focused, directional blast produced would be exceedingly small, easily compact enough to hide within the package. It would be extremely difficult to spot given the other metal and electronic components contained within."

"So Fall sold the explosives to the Fang, and they produced a bomb perfectly designed to evade our safety measures." Weiss suggested.

"Fall Armaments reported a burglary at one of its warehouses a few weeks ago." Penny noted. "Among the stolen items, the company reported a container of 'top secret material.'"

"They're no doubt using the so-called burglary as cover for the sale." Weiss growled. "Is there anything else?"

"Based on records and security footage, it seems the labeling, construction and documentation for the package all match company standards." Penny added, the screen displaying several still frames of the box. "There would be no way to easily distinguish the package from normal intra-company mail."

"That'" Weiss balked. "How could the Fang be so perfect?"

"I cannot answer that." Penny admitted.

"They've got to have someone on the inside." Weiss concluded.

"That is not the only possibility." Penny cautioned. "Perhaps it would be wise to discuss this with the investigators, or someone with an intimate knowledge of White Fang operational procedures."

"Blake offered her a manner of speaking." Weiss noted. "Perhaps she'll be able to offer some insight when she's ready to talk about it."

"That is an advisable course of action." Penny agreed. "In the meantime, should I share my findings with the authorities?"

"Yes, send them everything you've got." Weiss confirmed.

"Very well." Penny agreed. "Have I been of assistance?"

"Yes Penny, you've done well." Weiss praised. "And thank you for saving Ruby's life. Without your help I don't know what would have happened."

"I will do whatever it takes to help my friends." Penny declared.

Weiss nodded, smiling at Penny's determination. In times like this she almost seemed human. Weiss decided to return to the others as they waited for the completion of Ruby's surgery. She wanted to see the girl as much as any of them. Before Weiss got to the door she hesitated, stopped and turned back to the laptop. "Penny?"

"Yes Ms. Schnee?" Penny responded.

"If I had opened the package as intended, what would have happened?" Weiss asked.

"The explosive device was designed to explode upward." Penny stated. "If you had opened the package, the full force of the blast would have struck your head and upper torso, with a near certainty of fatal injury."

Weiss shivered at the thought of so narrowly escaping death. "So Ruby saved my life?"

Penny was silent for a moment before answering. "Yes, it seems so."

It was easy enough for Weiss to excuse herself from Ren and Dr. Oobleck - the doctor now overseeing Ruby's care. They were deep in discussion already, and she did not even need to lie. She was a busy person with a lot to do after all. Her temporary office was only a few minutes' walk away, the glass windows fogged for privacy. It was here that she allowed herself to crumble, if only a little. The ache in her shoulders dragging them down into a slump, she circled her desk and fell into the chair. It was barely cushioned, with hard plastic arms, a horrible shadow of her expensive, custom made office chair. It brought her no comfort, just more thoughts of her real office.

That office was currently blocked off by a crime scene, where Weiss had almost lost her assistant, her friend, Ruby Rose. She was an innocent girl, fresh out of school, now lying in a hospital bed, missing a leg, all because of her, because the Fang had tried to target her again. And failed again, at terrible cost.

The Fang ruined many lives, killed Weiss' distant relatives, attempted to assassinate her mother, to kidnap her, had succeeded in capturing Winter...but all of them were at least targets, specifically marked for torture and death. Collateral damage was not usually part of Fang operations, at least not in Atlas. They were either desperate or...sending a message...and Ruby had suffered for it.

If she would even be Ruby when she awoke. Weiss' entire life had changed after the kidnapping attempt, and Ruby had nearly died. The image of her friend, surrounded by her own blood, crying, pleading for for sister, to make the pain stop...that pain might have burned away any recognizable Ruby Rose from existence. Would she be angry? Would she blame Weiss? Would she refused her presence? She had every right to do so. Ruby had placed her safety in Weiss' hands, worked happily in her presence, only to be handed certain death, perfectly packaged for her execution.

It was all Weiss' fault, all of it. She had failed. She had almost died and she should have. No one deserved this, least of all Ruby, so young, so bright, so kind and understanding, a good friend, and now her life very likely ruined, because of Weiss, her blood staining the tiles of her office, staining her very hands, and no amount of scrubbing and tears would ever see them clean.

Movement startled Weiss violently, her hands falling from her face to hover over her desk as Pyrrha shut the door behind her, clicking the lock. "Weiss." Pyrrha sighed.

"Pyrrha, did something else happen?" Weiss asked, attempting to stand, only for Pyrrha to lay hands upon her shoulders, forcing her back down, before cupping her cheeks.

"Weiss, you need to rest." Pyrrha insisted.

"Rest?" Weiss laughed mirthlessly. "Rest, you want me to rest more than I already do?" She asked rhetorically, looking down to avoid Pyrrha's gaze. "Sitting in my tower, in my comfy leather chair that costs more than most Faunus make in a year, going back to a home with inches thick windows to protect from the terrorists that want me dead, that want you dead, along with everyone I've ever cared about? You want me to rest while Ruby Rose, our colleague, our friend lies maimed in a bed, and her blood dries on my office floor? How can I rest Pyrrha? What would even happen if I did? You weren't there, you didn't see it, the sounds she made, the blood...the blood…" Weiss choked, slapping a hand over her mouth as a sudden wave of nausea overcame her. She barely saw the wastebin shoved beneath her before the bile forced its way past her lips, as she vomited violently into the container. The sour scent soon helped distract her from the memory of copper and dust, but nothing could lessen the sight of teary silver eyes slipping shut, and the reality of her nightmare coming true.

"It's going to be okay Weiss." Pyrrha soothed, her hand firmly rubbing circles on Weiss' back. "We're all going to get through this, but you need to take some time to rest, to be at your best for the days to come." Weiss spat into the bucket, risking lifting her head to reach for the tissues on her desk, only to realize there were none. "Here." Pyrrha slipped off her lab coat to offer. "I have a spare."

Sighing, Weiss moved the bin from her lap and accepted the garment, wiping her hand and her lips of what remained from the contents of her stomach, before balling it up and tossing it aside. "I apologize-"

"Oh shush." Pyrrha cut her off. "You need to vent Weiss. You need to vent more often than most, and yet you bottle it up until you burst." She chastised.

"I don't like venting, I don't like losing control." Weiss insisted.

"You don't have to lose control to vent Weiss, you simply need to realize when your emotions are running high, and find a healthier release for them." Pyrrha suggested.

"I just wanted to spend a few moments alone." Weiss resisted.

"To overthink the situation?" Pyrrha pressed.

"I wasn't overthinking…" Weiss could barely say it with a straight face.

"Weiss…" Pyrrha sighed.

"What if it was you?" Weiss asked.

"There is no sense in considering what if's Weiss-" Pyrrha started.

"And what if it was me?" Weiss continued. "Would you be so calm if my face was splattered all over my office ceiling?"

Pyrrha closed her eyes at that, grimacing. Weiss immediately felt a pang of regret, guilt at lashing out at her friend, at her lover. Pyrrha remained calm, taking several deep breaths before responding. "There is no sense in considering what if Weiss, only what is, and right now you are alive, I am alive, and Ruby is alive, there are realities to face." She dropped to a knee, cupping Weiss' face and holding her gaze steady. "And we will face them together understand? You are not alone in this. You are not the only one fending off grief. Ruby is my friend, and you were the target. I almost lost both of you, but I didn't. So much could have been worse, but it isn't, so take joy in what we retain, and move forward, one step at a time. Understand?" Weiss nodded, the lump in her throat threatening once more to spill over, until Pyrrha wrapped her arms around her neck, pulling her into an embrace. "We're going to get through this together, I promise."

Weiss buried her face in Pyrrha's shoulder as fresh tears stained her skin, and let her grief flow freely with them.

Chapter Text

Ruby looked so young when she slept. It did not occur to Blake just how young Ruby was, but now more than ever it dawned upon her. Ruby was tiny, weak and bent to her will easily. Blake's instincts screamed to protect her, cried to hold her close, and begged to never let go. No doubt Ruby would not have protested were Blake to indulge, but she never wanted Ruby to grow attached to her. She never wanted to grow attached herself. After fearing humans for so long, hating them, it felt so very wrong to feel so strongly for one, but Ruby fit comfortably in her mind - kin, sister, family.

Blake had almost lost her. All while she slept in her bed, Ruby had fallen victim to the evil she had fled, the evil in which she had once participated, believing she was justified. Blake felt sickened, enraged, anguished, as she watched the small human sleep, sickly pale. Her heartbeat seemed such a weak and fragile thing as Blake clenched her hand, sitting impatiently at her bedside. Sun mirrored her, but he had fallen asleep some time ago, holding Ruby's other hand as he snoozed. The heart monitor's rhythmic beats did nothing to improve Blake's mood, simply acting as a constant, synthetic reminder of Ruby's condition. Weiss had assured her that Ruby would be physically fine, but physical health was but a fraction of the matter.

How would Ruby be when she awoke? What scars had the Fang inflicted upon yet another innocent? Would she resemble the Ruby for whom Blake had come to care? Would she be the human she had come to love? That Ruby may be lost, even as she survived. The possibility terrified Blake. Trauma took more souls than lives, and Ruby's was gentle. To see it harden, to see it crumble, leaving something broken and scarred, would be a tragedy. Blake prayed it would not come to pass. She had failed Ruby, in a way far from her control, and yet guilt ruled her conscience.

Blake had tried to do something, anything to make Ruby feel safer, only for the danger to come from the one place that should have been a fortress. She should have taught Ruby more, should have forced Weiss to examine her security. She should have been more. She should always have been more, but she hid, cowardly, shamefully, hoping the world would forget Blake Belladonna, her mistakes, her crimes.

The heartbeat stuttered. Blake's eyes shot open. Ruby's lips were parted, her eyelids fluttering, head shifting. A small groan came from the effort, her eyes opening slightly before crinkling shut. "Sun." Blake hissed, reaching over to hit him.

The monkey Faunus was startled awake with a groan. "Huh?"

"Turn off the lights!" Blake pointed to the panel by the door, her voice a strange combination of shout and whisper. Sun looked from the panel to Blake, then finally to Ruby. His eyes bulged and he scrambled to obey, shutting off the harsh fluorescents.

"...aykey-" Ruby croaked before her voice caught, a dry cough bursting forth.

Letting go of her hand, Blake reached for the jug of water on the table at her bedside, filling a cup halfway. "I'm here Ruby, drink some water." She instructed, gently cupping Ruby's cheek before sliding beneath her head, supporting her as she held the cup to her lips, tilting it upward. Ruby slowly swallowed the entire contents, finishing with a sigh. Blake let her head softly fall onto the pillow, replacing the cup and taking her hand once more, this time in both her own.

Ruby took several deep breaths, eyes barely open as she gained her bearings. She tilted slightly in Sun's direction. "Sun?" She whispered.

"Hey Ruby." Sun answered, plastering on a smile. It was odd to see, painful even. Sun was always smiling, always genuine, to see something so strained was alien to Blake. She stiffened as Ruby turned back to her, eyes open wider now.

"Where am I?" Ruby inquired.

"You're in the SDC medical facility Ruby." Blake answered.

"Why, what happened?" Ruby asked.

"You don't remember?" Blake's heart sank, a horrifying pit forming in her stomach.

"Did I get hit by a car?" Ruby guessed.

Blake looked up at Sun, only to be met with an equally frightened expression. She swallowed. "No Ruby, what do you remember?"

"I was...going to the subway...I think." Ruby replied. "It's all's on the tip of my tongue, ya'know?" Her lips quirked upward.

Blake wanted to cry. She did not want to prompt her memory. She did not want to tell her what had happened. This might be the last time Ruby ever tried to smile again. " made it to work." She began softly, forcing her voice to remain even. "But...there was a package, you were supposed to bring it to Weiss." Blake hesitated. Ruby's brow crinkled in concern, but she had to continue. There was no avoiding this. "It was a bomb Ruby, sent by the Fang. You dropped the box, it went're lucky to be alive."

"A bomb?" Ruby rasped, eyes wide. Her head snapped to her side, her hands wrenched from their captors as she held them aloft, all ten fingers present and shaking before she finally looked down, spotting the end of her bed. Only a single leg remained beneath the covers, abruptly truncated part way up her thigh. "Oh." She croaked, her hands dropping to her sides as she stared up at the ceiling. "Okay."

Sun and Blake exchanged another perplexed look. "Okay?" He spluttered.

"Yeah...I mean...I's just...I got blown up?" Ruby's voice was recovering strength, but Blake was still unsure what tone it held. Shock? Confusion?

"Yes, there...anything you want to know?" Blake offered.

"Did anyone else get hurt?" Ruby asked.

"Jaune was nearby, but he's okay, just some scratches and...can you hear us okay?" Sun inquired.

"Everything's a but muffled...but...isn't that normal?" Ruby shrugged.

"Yes Ruby, it's normal." Blake sighed, slipping her scroll out to unlock. "Sun, can you get the nurse?"

"Yep." Sun gave Ruby's hand a squeeze before standing.

"Who're you textin'?" Ruby asked.

"Weiss wanted to know when you woke up." Blake replied.

" she...okay?" Ruby hesitated.

Blake had no answer for that. All she could do was shrug. "She called your family. They'll be here overnight. Would you like to call them?"

"One step at a time...I just…" Ruby let out a deep sigh, fatigue evident in her eyes. "Weiss first, and when I wake up a bit more, I'll be ready."

Blake could accept that, for now. It was odd for Ruby to not want immediate contact, but Blake could not exactly criticize the decision. She had not spoken to her own family in six years. Trauma changed all, Ruby was likely still processing the situation. Her family would be there for her no matter what. For now at least, Ruby could rest. Though Blake was happy for her recovery, Ruby had awoken far too early for her comfort. She was just not ready.

The nurse was kind of pretty, Ruby thought as she walked in. "Hello everyone, my name is Nebula." She introduced, a kind, reassuring smile on her face.

"I love your hair." Ruby admired, the wavy locks a vibrant purple.

Nebula chuckled, brushing her hand through them as she approached the end of the bed, a datapad clutched in her left hand. "Thank you...Ruby Rose." She scanned the pad briefly, tapping something down before looking up. "May I call you Ruby?"

"Sure." Ruby allowed.

"Okay Ruby, I need to take down some information." Nebula continued. "Have you been in a hospital before?"

"Yeah, I know the drill." Ruby nodded.

"Awesome, it's always a big help when patients know what to expect." Nebula cheered. Sun moved his chair out of the way as she moved to the monitoring equipment. She tapped a few more things, both on the equipment and her pad. "So the info says you work for the SDC, what do you do?"

"I'm supposed to be an engineer, but I've been working as Weiss' assistant until my job starts." Ruby replied.

"Ooh, on first name terms huh?" Nebula observed.

"She's really nice, I like working for her." Ruby added.

"Ms. Schnee has done a lot for the company." Nebula noted. "I don't think I'd be able to work here if she wasn't in charge. The internships were super exclusive before that."

"Same." Ruby agreed.

"Alright, time to take your temperature, you remember this?" Nebula held up a small remote-like device, with an antenna poking out of it.

"Is it goin' in the butt this time?" Ruby asked.

Nebula chuckled, shaking her head. "Oral, sorry to say. Just gotta' pop it under your tongue." She withdrew the antenna to reveal a wand, which she inserted into a cartridge on the back of the remote before holding it up. "Say aah." She instructed.

"Aaah…" Ruby obeyed, flinching as the cold probe made contact with her tongue.

"So, you guys relatives or…" Nebula started.

"Adopted." Blake lied. "Ruby is my sister, Sun is my partner."

"Aw, you guys are a cute trio, any kids?" Nebula asked.

"No." Blake stated.

Nebula withdrew the probe, turning to a nearby receptacle and flicking off its cover before replacing the device in its holder. A few more taps on her tablet and she looked back at Ruby. "Okay, now are you in any discomfort? Any pain?"

"Not really." Ruby answered.

"No pain or discomfort?" Nebula insisted.

"I'm comfortable, I'm not really in pain." Ruby declared.

"Ruby has been dealing with pain for some time now." Blake spoke up. "She will have a tolerance."

"On a scale of one to ten Ruby." Nebula continued.

"Four." Ruby claimed.

"Nine." Blake suggested.

Ruby sighed, grimacing down at her missing leg. "Seven."

"There's no shame in pain Ruby." Nebula soothed. "You've been through a lot. We just want to help you."

"I know." Ruby deflated.

"I'm going to give you a dose of painkillers." Nebula informed, pausing to look at her pad. "Looks like you'll need non-opioids...I can do that." She turned to the door as the harsh clicking of heels approached, coming to a halt. "Oh, Ms. Schnee?"

"Ms. Violette, an I interrupting?" Weiss asked with a practiced smile.

"I'm just finishing up." Nebula replied. "I need to have the doctor put in an order, and get it from the lock box. I'll be right back." She nodded to Ruby before turning on her heel and leaving the room.

All was silent for a moment. Weiss took several steps into the room and stood beside Ruby's bed. Her expression was cautious. "Ruby?"

"Hey Weiss, I uh...heard I dropped somethin'?" Ruby forced a laugh.

"Yes, Ruby, you did." Weiss was unsure of how to respond really.

"Well...oops." Ruby responded.

"Ruby, may I...speak to you alone?" Weiss requested. "Please."

Ruby felt the grip on her right hand tighten. She smiled at Weiss before looking to Blake, meeting her golden gaze with tired silver. "I'll be okay Blakey." She assured, rubbing the back of Blake's hand. "What's the worst that can happen, a promotion?" Sun scoffed. Blake did not look so amused as Ruby chuckled, turning to grimace up at Weiss.

"It won't take long." Weiss assured.

"I'll be right outside." Blake murmured, squeezing Ruby's hand again.

"I know." Ruby squeezed back. Blake reluctantly stood, her fingers slipping away as she left the room.

"See you soon Rubes." Sun smiled.

"Hey, have you guys had anything to eat?" Ruby asked.

"Yeah, Weiss took care of us." Sun replied.

Ruby grinned, squeezing his hand again before letting go. "Go give Blakey a hug."

"Way ahead of ya'." Sun winked, following his partner to the door. Weiss smiled at Sun as he passed, the latter closing the door behind him. Weiss let her shoulders slump with a sigh.

"Are you okay Weiss?" Ruby asked, receiving a chuckle in response.

"I should be asking you that Ruby." Weiss turned around, lips pressed into a thin line. "How are you...handling this?"

"I think I'm okay so far." Ruby shrugged. "I's kind of a shock, but...I dunno', I don't really feel that...bad, really."

"That's...good...I hope, I mean…" Weiss closed her eyes, fumbling for Sun's former chair and slumping into it. "How much do you know?"

"Blake told me I dropped a package, but it was a bomb, sent by the Fang." Ruby replied. "I don't actually remember anything, just crossing the street to the subway's like trying to remember something, but it's on the tip of your tongue."

Weiss nodded, frowning. She looked up, eyes shimmering. "I asked you to pick it up. It was supposed to be for me, laptops of my own branding, was meant for me, but they got you instead." He breath hitched. "I'm so sorry Ruby, I never thought something like this could happen. I thought we were safe but…" Weiss ran her hands through her hair, sliding them down her neck and beyond until they clasped in her lap. "I'm sorry Ruby, I'm sorry this happened. I take full responsibility, and I'll do anything within my power to make this right, anything. I promise you."

"Weiss…" Ruby called softly, reaching out to her. Weiss shakily took Ruby's hand in both her own, neglecting to wipe the tears running down her cheeks. Ruby offered the most reassuring smile she could. "I don't blame you for this."

"It was meant for me Ruby, it's because of me you handled it." Weiss insisted.

"Well, did you know it was a bomb?" Ruby countered.

"Of course not, and I know what you're saying, but that doesn't change the fact that it was meant for me, and saved my life Ruby." Weiss wept.

"I dropped a package Weiss." Ruby scoffed. "I got unlucky and lucky at the same time."

"Ruby, your legs…" Weiss trailed off.

"I never liked them anyway." Ruby joked. "I'd uh...actually been meaning to talk to you about my medical benefits, because I think something was wrong with my old injury. It was probably why I dropped the box in the first place. I'll get a prosthetic for my left, and while they're working on me the doctors can fix whatever was wrong with my right."

"There's...a lot more wrong with your right leg…" Weiss started shakily.

Ruby glanced at the lump beneath the sheets. Her right leg was there was it not? Weiss stood circling the bed. "The bomb was designed to detonate upward, but it fell on its side, directing the blast toward your legs. Your left leg was severed instantly...your right…" She untucked the blanket covering the right leg and pulled it away. The leg was covered in bandages, but even so Ruby could see it looked...wrong. It was thinner in places, misshapen, as if someone had modeled a leg in a computer program, then deleted random chunks. The ache Ruby could not pinpoint seemed to flare at the sight. It was all too familiar, the smell of the room, the beeping of the monitor, the texture of the blanket clenched in her hands. She hated it here.

"It...could be saved Ruby." Weiss continued. "I wanted the choice to be yours, but it would take time, first to heal, then more surgeries to reconstruct it, artificial tissue...but...there is another option to consider." Ruby's gaze snapped to Weiss', who stood wringing her hands, tense and fearful. "We can remove it, and have you fitted for two prosthetics. I'm talking good, high quality ones, the best we can provide. I will spare no expense for you Ruby, you have my word. No matter the choice you make, I will make this right."

Weiss continued to stand, bracing herself for whatever reaction Ruby might have to offer. All Ruby could think was how tired she was, tired of the pain, tired of the effort, the frustration. There had been the trauma of breaking her leg, the anguish of her dream, her love, her career ending before it ever began. Then came the agony of recovery, the humiliation of being so reliant on Yang to function, of watching the body she had so carefully maintained lose its definition, the muscles she had taken such pride in withering away, until she felt a shell of her former self.

The thought of going through it all again, to save a leg that was for all intents and purposes a lost cause in the making, repulsed Ruby. What choice was there but to move forward? She had seen the SDC's prosthetics, on celebrities, athletes, and veterans. They were strong, high quality, and would allow her to walk again, that was certain. They would allow her to run. It was a second chance to be the person she so mourned losing to human frailty. She smiled, as the pain in her remaining leg gave way to hope within.

"We can make this right." Ruby finally spoke, watching as Weiss' eyes lit up. "I just might need a leg up, or two."

Weiss' jaw dropped. " you sure? This don't have to decide straight away Ruby. Your family will be here overnight, we can call them now if you want to discuss it. There's no pressure here."

"Weiss, I know I look comfy but I really, really don't like it here." Ruby shrugged. "The sooner I can get out and back on my feet the better. I don't wanna' live life with a bad leg anymore, it sucks. Every step is just a reminder of how unlucky I was...sure it's gonna' be a while before I can walk again, but at least I know I'll be able to walk. I'll be able to run one yeah, I wanna' do it. Just...the sooner the better. I get really anxious sitting here. I keep expecting someone to come through the door and deliver bad news...again." Ruby and Weiss both glanced at the door, only to see Nebula's face peeking through the glass. "Oh, my painkillers!" Ruby cheered. "Good news!"

Weiss rubbed her eyes, a smile pulling at her lips. "Yes, good news indeed."

Chapter Text

The painkillers Nebula had delivered did a number on Ruby, at least initially. The first hour was a blur, and only afterward did she manage to regain her bearings. Thankfully, the pain stayed away and she was able to have coherent conversations with her rapidly growing list of visitors. Ren and Pyrrha had stopped by, though the narcotic haze obscured exactly how that had gone. A little after Ruby's memory once again crystalized, Coco and Velvet came to visit.

Everyone around Ruby tried to remain as positive as possible when speaking with her, but Coco stole the show as far as being encouraging went. After the usual pleasantries and questions about how Ruby was feeling, Coco soon launched them into a discussion of how Ruby could use her prosthetics as a vehicle for artistic expression. Coco would help accessorize them, no charge, and the possibilities were limitless. Velvet, along with Blake and Sun, could only stand back and watch as Ruby and Coco excitedly discussed creative options, and they could not help but smile.

Much to Ruby's initial disappointment, the conversation was cut short by the arrival of a doctor. He was tall and lanky, with green hair and glasses. He carried a coffee cup, its fresh contents still steaming. "Hello Ms. Rose, I'm Dr. Oobleck." He pushed up his glasses and smiled. "I'll be handling your surgery and recovery. May I call you Ruby?"

"Sure, nice to meet you." Ruby replied.

"Wonderful, Ruby, I'd like to go over some of the details for your upcoming surgery." Dr. Oobleck continued.

"We'll let you get to it." Velvet offered, nudging Coco's arm.

Coco rolled her eyes and sighed. "Alright, business now, fashion later. See ya' Red."

"See you later Ruby." Velvet bid farewell.

"Bye guys!" Ruby responded as they pair headed for the door. Sun and Blake elected to remain.

"Anyway, I wanted to explain exactly what I'll be doing." Oobleck proceeded. "I'll be amputating your right leg, near the level where your left is already amputated, and prepping both legs to accept prosthetics. I'll be affixing mounting points to your femurs, so the prosthetics have a strong and stable connection." He paused to take a sip of his coffee. "Your records indicate you've had major leg surgery before."

"Yeah, I broke my right femur really bad." Ruby confirmed. "I kinda' wish I'd had it amputated then. It's been hurting me ever since."

"I'm not surprised." Oobleck nodded. "In examining your x-rays, I noticed bone spurs near the injury. It seems you've got bone where it shouldn't be, and that would cause all kinds of irritation. You must have been in agony! Why didn't you get it looked at sooner?"

"Well...there was just so much going on…and I wasn't sure about my benefits…" Ruby excused.

"We could have fixed that right up, minor surgery, in and out of the hospital in a few hours." Oobleck noted.

"Told you." Sun nudged Ruby's arm.

" you're gonna' fix it right?" Ruby asked.

"Of course!" Oobleck exclaimed. "I'll actually be making the amputation very near that spot, so I'll do some remodeling while I'm in there." He took another sip of his coffee. "Now, I know you must be nervous, and losing a limb is always going to be a big deal, but-"

"I'm actually not worried." Ruby interrupted. "I'm kind of excited really. I'll finally be able to live without pain, to walk and run and stuff. Cool robot legs are a nice bonus."

"Hmm…" Oobleck hesitated for a moment. "Brilliant! I so rarely have patients who actually want the surgery I'm performing. And there's nothing to be afraid of. The operations are rather simple, and modern prosthetics are incredible, as good as, no, better than your natural legs. Ruby, I'll have you tap dancing your way through the halls in no more than two months!"

Ruby giggled. "Sweet, but I'll settle for walking pain free."

"Now, do you have any questions?" Oobleck asked.

"Um...I know prosthetics pretty well, and I worked with the mounting points school, but I don't really know the medical side." Ruby explained. "I mean, I know a little, but not the fine details. How are the mounting points attached to the bone? There's got to be a special way to limit stress and prevent fractures and stuff."

"Yes,'s far easier to show you." Oobleck slid a scroll out of his pocket, sliding it open and tapping at it rapidly. He slid it into Ruby's hands, the screen depicting what looked like an assemblage of metal rods and screws. "The thick part there slides over the ends of your bone like a sleeve. It's then screwed in place through those holes. Any gap between the bone and the metal is filled in with medicinal dust that boosts bone growth, so your bones will grow to fill the gaps and increase in thickness. A small metal disk will protrude from the ends of your limbs to act as stable mounting points for the prosthetics."

"Cool." Ruby nodded, returning the scroll. "What's the recovery time like?"

"The healing and bone growth process takes about six weeks." Oobleck replied. "Until then, you won't be able to walk while putting full weight on your prosthetics, and it's recommended you stick to a wheelchair. At four weeks you can start physical therapy, using a harness to keep your weight off the prosthetics. I'd say you'll be walking in seven weeks, running in nine or ten."

"That's kind of a long time, but it took longer the last time." Ruby observed. "And once it's all healed up I'll be able to use the prosthetics like normal legs?"

"Yes, you'll be walking, running and, if you wish, dancing in no time!" Oobleck confirmed.

"Sweet…" Ruby paused. "So how will I control the prosthetics? Am I getting a brain implant or something?"

"That's something the neurosurgery team could better answer, but I can give a basic outline." Oobleck admitted. "We'll insert an implant into your spine to intercept the nerve signal between your brain and legs, transmitting them to your prosthetics and returning the feedback from them."

"Oh man, I can't wait to be a's just so awesome." Ruby gushed.

"The wait won't be long!" Oobleck reflected her enthusiasm. "The team is already preparing. Ms. Schnee sent over the completed paperwork, so I just need your confirmation signature." He tapped at his scroll and handed it to Ruby once more. She signed with her finger. "Excellent. A nurse will retrieve you shortly to get you prepped, then we'll perform the procedures. The surgery should only take three or four hours, and you'll be back in your room, awake and alert not long after that."
"That fast?" Ruby was taken aback. "Wow."

"We'll have you on the road to recovery in no time." Oobleck promised.

Ruby smiled. "I can't wait."

Once Ruby went in for her second surgery, Blake had nothing to do but wait. Ruby, Sun, everyone she talked to had assured her the risks were minuscule, but she could not help but worry. She desperately needed a distraction, and luckily one soon arrived. Weiss arrived in the waiting room, looking tired and with a hint of fear to her expression. That look was not dissimilar from the one she usually wore when speaking to Blake, so the Faunus did not even have to wait to be addressed.

"What is it?" Blake asked, fixing Weiss with her gaze.

Weiss did not flinch. "I'd like to speak to you, in private."

"I thought we were going to wait until Ruby was out of the hospital." Blake noted.

"We were, but all this waiting has me on edge." Weiss explained. "Judging by how tense you look, I'd guess you're feeling similar."

"Go." Sun suggested. "I can handle things here."

Blake nodded and stood. "Lead the way."

Weiss' temporary office was only a short walk away, but still too far for Blake's liking. She wanted to be as close to Ruby as possible, just in case. Weiss waved her inside and Blake headed in, only to be confronted by a computer screen displaying Penny's chibi sprite. Though Penny's expression was serious, her appearance still seemed a mockery of the situation. She was not really sure how she felt about the AI, but its seemingly limitless surveillance capability made her uneasy. Ruby had told her about how the AI was networked into every camera, microphone and speaker at the SDC, along with her earpiece. Once connected to the internet, Penny could be everywhere and anywhere.

"Ms. Morelle." Penny greeted with a subtle bow.

"Everyone here knows my real name." Blake scoffed. "There's no reason to pretend."

"My apologies." Penny responded.

"Please, take a seat." Weiss gestured to the office chairs before the desk.

Blake chose the chair farther away, as it would give her a better view of the door. It was an old paranoid habit and one she might never be able to break. "So how did a bomb get into your office?"

"This was an extremely sophisticated attack." Weiss asserted. "We x-ray and perform chemical tests on all incoming packages. Physically, the bomb was disguised inside laptops, so the electronic components would not be detected. The explosive compound used was specifically designed to avoid detection. It was...stolen from Fall Armaments."

"I assume you've taken steps to correct the gaps in your security measures?" Blake guessed.

"Of course." Weiss confirmed. "All x-rays are now more closely examined, and we're testing for this compound in particular. This will not happen again."

"It should never have happened in the first place." Blake growled.

"I know." Weiss frowned. "And I accept full responsibility for that."

"The Fang doesn't usually resort to using bombs for assassination." Blake declared. "That means they're getting sloppy or desperate. They'd want you to suffer, and a bomb exploding in your face wouldn't be enough." She paused to see how Weiss reacted to that. The CEO remained stone faced. "Have you come up with any evidence?"

"Penny, go ahead." Weiss directed.

"Using security cameras, traffic cameras, and facial recognition, I was able to track the individual who delivered the package." Penny started as her sprite was replaced by a series of maps and images. "He was dressed as an SDC employee and left the package among other outgoing mail in the loading dock of one of our satellite locations. The box used to contain the device precisely matched those used for intra-company mail, including accurate addressing and labeling. It is highly likely that the materials were sourced from within the SDC."

Weiss looked uneasy now. "Blake, is it possible that the Fang has infiltrated the company? I don't want to believe it, but I can't think of any other possibilities."

"Not necessarily." Blake cautioned. "Even if the packaging did come from inside the company, that doesn't mean the Fang is inside too. They could have acquired it from a disgruntled employee, or someone who needed money, or could have used extortion. That doesn't rule out infiltration, but there are other possibilities. I'd recommend a thorough screening of all employees with the requisite access."

"That's nearly every SDC employee in Atlas." Weiss sighed. "Even I don't have the resources."

"Then narrow it down." Blake advised. "Look at employees in financial trouble, who have been the source or subject of complaints, any Faunus."

"That's racial profiling." Weiss argued.

"Profiling is a bedrock of investigative work." Blake countered. "In this case race is entirely relevant."

"I'll have Penny go through our personnel files." Weiss allowed.

"Do you have anything else?" Blake asked.

"I was able to track the culprit to a warehouse near the airport." Penny replied. "Unfortunately, I was unable to track him past there, and a police search found the building abandoned and scrubbed down." Her voice became increasingly distorted. "It's a dead end."

"I think your robot's breaking." Blake jeered.

"I apologize, but I am frustrated by my lack of success in uncovering the identity of the bomber." Penny responded. "Perhaps you can assist. Can you identify this individual?" A security camera image appeared on the screen, enlarged and enhanced to provide the clearest image possible.

Blake studied the image for a few moments. "Unfortunately, no. I haven't been involved with the Fang for several years. Even when I was, I didn't meet everyone." She shook her head. "Anything else to add?"

"Actually, I have a proposal." Weiss answered. "For safety's sake, I'd like Ruby to move into the apartment I keep for Carmine. You and Sun may move in as well if you wish."

"Absolutely not." Blake refused. "She's staying with me. You've already proven yourself incapable of protecting her."

"Mistakes were made, but they will not be repeated." Weiss insisted. "I will duplicate the security I use for my own apartment. The place will be a fortress. Plus, I can make sure it's suitable for Ruby's use while she recovers. I assume your apartment isn't handicap accessible."

"There's an elevator, and I can buy rails and whatever else Ruby needs to get around." Blake waved her off. "My apartment is already a fortress, and I trust myself far more than any goons you hire."

"The guards I hire are thoroughly background checked, highly loyal, former special operations soldiers." Weiss declared. "They're well paid, motivated, and willing to lay down their lives to protect me and everyone I care about. The apartment is in the safest, most prestigious part of the city. You live in an extremely high crime area, with no protection beyond anonymity."

"I can protect Ruby." Blake held her hand across her heart for emphasis.

"You won't always be there." Weiss observed. "I can provide multi-layered, 24-7 security. You don't have the resources."

"I don't trust your security." Blake refused to yield. "It's already failed Ruby, spectacularly so."

Weiss heaved a heavy sigh and leaned back in her chair. "Neither of us is going to budge." She observed. The look in Blake's eyes was confirmation enough. "There's only one way to solve this."

"Which is?" Blake asked.

"We ask Ruby what she wants to do." Weiss replied with a confident smirk.

Blake stared daggers at Weiss. The Faunus had lost. She could not argue with Ruby's choice. She had no right to interfere with her free will. Blake knew what Ruby would choose, and she knew she and Sun would be going along too. Weiss knew this, otherwise she would not have made the suggestion. Checkmate. "Fine."

"Very good." Weiss' expression softened.

"If you don't mind, I'll be heading back to the waiting room now." Blake stood.

"Wait!" Penny interjected. "Before you go, I have a favor to ask, of both of you."

The door to Weiss' temporary office burst open, leaving Weiss with barely a moment to calm her suddenly racing heart before the tirade began. "Weiss Marigold Schnee!" Willow shrieked as the door feebly swung shut behind her. "Why, in this great age of information, must I be informed of the attempted assassination of my daughter via the television news, and not said daughter herself?"

Weiss sighed, closing her eyes as she took a deep breath, laying her palms on the cold desk surface to ground herself. "Mother, I have been busy-"

"Busy?" Willow cut in. "Busy! Too busy to inform your own mother that an explosive package was delivered to your doorstep? You were really so busy-"

"Busy cleaning up the mess left in the wake of my friend nearly dying!" Weiss shouted, pushing herself to her feet. "Busy watching her being wheeled into the ICU, busy calling her friends and family to inform them that Ruby Rose, our brightest new employee was just the victim of an I-E-Fucking-D and that I could not even tell them if she was in stable condition! Busy dealing with investigators as the police cordoned off my office! Busy organizing options for when my dearest secretary awoke and decided if life was worth living! Busy keeping the media from making this into yet another circus! So yes, forgive me for accidentally neglecting to inform you that nothing of consequence happened to me. It's just the blood of another innocent on my hands. It never occurred to me to call you because you normally operate on a two week delay!"

Weiss grit her teeth as she glared at her mother's face. All the anger had fled it moments into her rant, replaced by shock and shame. Weiss chose to look down, closing her eyes and attempting to center herself, breathing slowly, in and out. In and out. In and out.

"I apologize, mother...I admit, you should have been informed." Weiss murmured.

"It's...quite alright Weiss I...was just, scared, and angry and...the idea that something almost happened, something could have happened." Willow rolled back her anger as well.

"I understand." Weiss slumped back into her chair, leaning back against the now cushioned headrest. Thank the gods there were good chairs in storage. "I understand perfectly Mother."

"Your secretary, is she going to be okay?" Willow inquired.

Weiss allowed herself a laugh. "Talking to her, you wouldn't think she'd suffered anything...I fear for her mental health least she's smiling. At least she hasn't given up."

"What happened?" Willow asked, voice suddenly warbling. Her posture slumped into one of the other chairs present.

"I asked Ruby to fetch a package." Weiss explained. "It was supposed to contain laptops of my personal line. But Ruby dropped it before she reached me...I...we're so incredibly lucky Mother." She let out a shaky breath. "She saved my life, at the cost of her legs."

"Dearest goddess…" Willow whimpered, hands cupped over her mouth. "We must...we must do everything in our power to repay her."

"I am, believe me." Weiss agreed. "I am doing my utmost."

"Does...Ruby value gifts, gifts are trivial, this is nothing trivial she deserves…" Willow rambled.

"Ruby deserves the world Mother, but she will settle for a simple thank you...and mechanical legs." Weiss observed.

"The finest we manufacture, military grade." Willow suggested.

"All organized, and then some." Weiss smiled, still more genuinely. "But if you wish to gift her something tangible, Ruby has a deep love of sweets."

Willow managed a smile. "Oh...that I can work with."

Chapter Text

By the time the plane got off the ground, Summer had been anticipating the trip for quite some time. She had been ready to go the moment she had received that first call from Weiss Schnee, and the decision to delay - while logical - had been a tough one to make. The rainy weather seemed to mirror the mood as the trio took off for Atlas. Summer had expressed her hope that they could enjoy the flight - riding on a private jet was a once in a lifetime experience after all - but she knew their worry would prevent them from doing so.

Summer was thrilled to hear that Ruby was awake, though the call they shared had been a little concerning. After saying she was alright and asking how Yang and Tai were doing, Ruby had slipped into rambling about how pretty the ceiling was, and how fuzzy Blake's ears looked. Sun had snatched her scroll to explain that she had just received a dose of painkillers, which were hitting her hard, but to hear her so incoherent was still worrying. The sooner they could get to Atlas to talk to Ruby in person, the better.

The prior day and a half had been spent packing and preparing. Tai kept up with work, but Summer was too worried about her daughter to do her own job. Instead she baked cookies and other sweets for Ruby. It was probably too much, but she had friends who could enjoy them too. As the flight dragged on, a creeping worry grew within Summer. What would she find when she arrived in Atlas? Sure, all the news since the first call had been positive, but she could not know how Ruby was for sure until she saw her.

Still, they tried to enjoy the flight. The free alcohol and excellent meal service helped. Summer had been on long flights before - she had honeymooned with Tai in Mistral - but this seemed to be the longest. The luxury could not speed things along, her concern was just too strong. Yang had a little too much to drink, but Tai tried to be encouraging. He suggested she try to sleep, but there was no way that was going to happen. Yang slept, or passed out, it was always hard to tell. She dealt with her worries very differently, but it worked for her...mostly.

The sun was just starting to rise over the horizon when the pilot announced they were beginning their descent toward Atlas. The lights were still on in the city, joining the reflected sunlight in a shimmering display that would have awed Summer under normal circumstances. Now she just wanted to get on the ground and to her daughter as soon as possible. She could see the sights once she knew Ruby was alright. The plane's landing was silky smooth, and in moments it pulled to a stop in front of a hangar, a white limousine parked nearby.

Summer donned her coat and descended the stairs to the tarmac as soon as the door was opened. The ground crew was already loading the group's luggage into the limo's trunk as they approached. An older man, dressed like a butler, opened the car's rear door. Out stepped a pair of women, one with tall lupine ears topping her head, the other wearing sunglasses that did not at all fit the still dim morning light.

"Hello, you must be Ruby's mother." The Faunus extended her hand to shake. Summer did so. "I'm Velvet Scarlatina, Weiss Schnee sent me to meet you here."

"And I'm-" The other woman started.

"Coco motherfucking Adel!" Yang exclaimed. "You make the best boots."

"You wear 'em well." Coco smirked, admiring Yang's footwear.

"Anyway." Velvet retook control of the conversation. "I'm sure you want to see Ruby as soon as possible, so we'll head straight for the hospital." She gestured toward the driver. "Klein will take your bags to the hotel room Ms. Schnee has booked for you."

"That sounds great." Summer agreed, rubbing her arms and shivering in the cold. "Thank you." The trio climbed inside the limo, followed by Velvet and Coco. They would get to see Ruby soon. Finally.

"Are you sure-" Weiss fretted.

"You look fine." Pyrrha insisted. "Stop worrying."

"How?" Weiss asked. "I'm about to talk to the family of the girl who got her legs blown off because of me."

"It'll be fine." Pyrrha soothed. "They don't blame you."

"I wish I had your confidence." Weiss sighed.

"As do I." Pyrrha joked.

"Gods...what should I call Yang?" Weiss asked. "Ms. Xiao-Long would come off as too cold, or maybe condescending, but using her first name might be disrespectful."

"I'm sure she won't mind you just calling her Yang." Pyrrha advised. "You're her sister's boss and friend. I'd say that's close enough."

"I guess you're right, but-" Weiss started.

"The Xiao-Long family has arrived." Penny announced from the nearby laptop. "Velvet and Coco are bringing them here."

"Well, ready or not…" Weiss trailed off. It had been a little under an hour since Penny had informed Weiss of the family's arrival in Atlas. She had spent the time worrying about every little thing, as she usually did.

"Would you like me to stay?" Pyrrha offered.

"No, that's alright." Weiss declined. "I'll speak to them alone." Pyrrha nodded, offering an encouraging smile as she departed. Weiss barely had the chance to begin deciding what she would say when the door opened and a trio entered her office, two women and a man.

The pale woman could only be Summer Rose, for she looked frighteningly similar to her daughter. She was taller than Weiss by a head, yet still shorter than the others. Upon closer inspection, the only details separating mother from daughter were the beginnings of laugh lines, and ever so slight crows feet. Her attire was...a tad thicker than was appropriate for Atlas' current weather, a fur lined crimson jacket over a white knitted sweater, black sweatpants and well worn travel boots buckled to the calf. Still she looked uncomfortably pale and stiff.

Were it not for Summer's husband and daughter, Weiss may have thought herself hardy to the elements. Taiyang Xiao-Long stood in barely more than shorts and a collared shirt, as if he had just stepped off a Vacuoan golf course. He did not look terribly old, barely forty if that, though he was surely middle aged. His skin was sun-kissed, his vibrant blonde hair seeming to glow in the light, upstaged only by his daughter.

Yang Xiao-Long was positively scandalous in attire, booty shorts of all things, and a matching tan crop top which hung from her sizable bust like curtains in a theater, exposing a toned midriff. Weiss had to mentally slap herself to avoid staring. Thankfully Yang at least wore a brown leather jacket and black stockings tucked into her boots, both would help against the chill outside. Were it not for Taiyang's trainers, one would have been forgiven for thinking boots were a family tradition. It was Yang's eyes that struck Weiss most, violet framed by a mountain of blonde curls, which cascaded down her shoulders, impossibly thick and gleaming. It did little to detract from the emotions she displayed - anger, worry and frustration pulled at her emotions.

"Mrs. Rose, Mr. you mind if I call you Yang?" Weiss requested. Yang nodded with apparent disinterest. "Welcome to the SDC Research Hospital. I wish it were under better circumstances." Much to Weiss' shock, Summer extended her hands first, a very Ruby smile on her face, warm and motherly in ways Weiss' friend could not replicate. She accepted the offer, crossing her hands in Mistrali greeting.

"Thank you for bringing us Weiss." Summer returned, her grip remaining firm. A glance at the others saw Taiyang with a similar, if tighter smile. His daughter, on the other hand, seemed passive, her jaw tight, eyes piercing. "Is Ruby awake? Can we see her?"

"Ruby is currently in surgery, but it should not be long before-" Weiss started.

"Wait, what, more surgery?" Taiyang exclaimed, his smile giving way to a confused gape. Summer's grip tightened almost imperceptibly, and Yang's gaze became a glare.

"Yes, did...Ruby not tell you?" Weiss had to fight the urge to shake. She had been told that Ruby had spoken to them. They should have known about the surgery, about her future.

"Ruby was not the most coherent when we spoke...were there complications?" Summer asked calmly, though her voice wavered on the final note, her smile replaced by a look of concern.

Between Summer's sure grip and the tall blonde's flanking her, Weiss felt very small. "No, Mrs. Rose, there were no complications. Ruby is completely safe, as healthy as can be given the circumstances, but she did have a choice concerning her remaining leg."

Summer slumped with a sigh, eyes closing as she mumbled something beneath her breath. Taiyang and his daughter, on the other hand, seemed incensed rather than calmed, the former running a hand through his hair, the latter grinding her jaw, hands pressed upon her hips. "What choice did Ruby have?" Summer inquired.

"Her left leg was lost, but her right had suffered severe tissue damage." Weiss explained. "The doctors likely could have saved it, given time and surgeries, but it would have never been the same as it once was. I offered her the choice of undergoing a double prosthesis, and she accepted."

"Both legs…" Taiyang muttered in shock, reaching for a nearby chair to sit down. Yang frowned, turning away to pace behind her mother, who's silver gaze never left Weiss' own.

Gods those eyes, exactly like Ruby's, staring tearfully up from her office floor… "Everything is completely covered under company health policy Mrs. Rose." Weiss mentally kicked herself as Yang once again faced her with a grimace. Company policy be damned, she intended to go above and beyond for Ruby. "But regardless, Ruby is more than an employee, she is my friend…" She drew a small breath, swallowing the lump growing in her throat as she endured the burning silver stare and lilac glare. "When she came to me, I did not expect us to become close...but she is a wonderful person, and I count myself lucky to have her in my life. Ultimately her safety was my responsibility, and I failed her. You entrusted me with your daughter's life, and I failed you." She could not stop the sting behind her eyes, and damned herself for breaking so quickly. "Nothing I can say or do will ever make up for this failure, but from the bottom of my heart I am sorry."

Weiss briefly saw Yang turn away, before a tug on her hands brought her a half staggered step closer to the Rose matron, and into a warm embrace. She froze, stiff with surprise, until gentle words ghosted her ear. "You have nothing to be sorry for Weiss. Gods above, that you live in such danger is no fault of your own, and I am proud that Ruby made a friend in you."

"All the same...I was the true target Mrs. Rose...Ruby saved my life." Weiss allowed herself to shed a few tears. It felt odd, to be in the embrace of a mother, not of her own blood, yet to still feel that familiar care and consideration she craved.

"And you both live for it, for that we should all count ourselves blessed...and please." Summer beseeched, releasing Weiss to smile once more. "Call me Summer. Mrs. Rose makes me feel like a grandmother, and I certainly hope that's not the case yet."

Weiss allowed herself a breathless chuckle, reaching into her pocket for a handkerchief to dab at her eyes. "I shall endeavor to keep that in mind, Summer." She sniffled and stilled her shaking hands. Glancing around, Taiyang had stood up once more, and Yang looked far less frustrated and more...tired. "For the time being, I can bring you to the waiting room. You will have plenty of company there at least."

Sun knew the Xiao-Longs were coming, but he still found himself surprised to suddenly face them again, for the first time in a decade. Summer had barely aged a day, just a few extra lines here and there, but still the same motherly figure who cooked the best pancakes he had ever eaten. "Gods Sun, you've grown!" She cheered, tugging him into a familiar and long overdue embrace. "And you're wearing a shirt!"

"Yeah well, gotta' keep the nurses off me or Blake gets jelly." Sun laughed, already feeling the prickling sensation of Blake's glare at the back of his head, until he caught sight of something even more unnerving. "Oh Gods, you're still wearing those shorts."

"They're comfy, shut up!" Taiyang whined.

Summer chuckled, pushing Sun toward her husband, and facing the rest of the room. Blake was obvious, taller than her by a head, dark clothing, black hair, and two feline ears poised at attention. Sun had truly found a beautiful partner. "Blake?" Summer addressed her, the Faunus' eyes bulging and her form growing tense. "Thank you for taking my daughter in. It was such a relief that Ruby found a good home, and I understand it was quite a sudden development." She extended her hands in greeting, though Blake's grip was less sure.

Blake's lips briefly opened, only for her ears to sag as she nodded respectfully, giving Summer's hands a brief squeeze. "It was no trouble." She murmured.

Summer laughed, shaking her head. "Oh I'm sure, but all the same, thank you." A part of Summer desperately wanted to pull Blake into a hug of her own, but given her demeanor, and Ruby's own commentary, this simple physical contact was already pushing into her comfort zone. Instead she offered a wider smile and allowed the Faunus' hands to slip from her grasp. Instead she turned to the final two present, a ginger haired girl and her blonde companion, who had stood as they entered. "And you must be Jaune and Nora." She greeted.

Nora immediately embraced Summer, quite enthusiastically at that. It was like hugging Yang, if Yang still hugged her. "Hey Mama Rose! I'm a big fan of your work!" She joked, with a mile wide grin, just like Yang's.

"Why thank you, I wasn't aware I was well known?" Summer spoke in confusion.

"Oh, but Ruby speaks for herself." Nora winked.

It clicked and Summer laughed. "Ah, well I'm glad my Ruby is impressing her peers."

"Ruby's a great gal...I…" Nora's words caught in her throat.

Summer glanced to her side and took in Jaune properly. A few scratches marked his face and fatigue was evident in his eyes. Even so he managed a half-hearted smile. "We haven't known her for long, but she's been a good friend…" Jaune's voice faltered. He looked down, swallowing heavily. When he spoke again his words were thick upon his tongue. "Sorry just...kinda' all over the place, hit my head, yaknow'?"

Summer smiled, her own heart aching at the pain in his expression, and pulled him into yet another hug. "Thank you Jaune, you helped save my daughter. I will be forever thankful."

"I just...did my best, ma'am." Jaune managed.

The sound of doors thudding open startled the room to the intrusion. A tall, green-haired man in doctor's scrubs, with a proud smile on his face, burst in. "Ladies, gentlemen, the implantation was a complete success! Not an issue on the horizon...oh, you must be Yang?"

Summer blinked as the doctor looked to her. A quick glance to Yang saw a look of baffled amusement. She felt her cheeks warm a tad as she chuckled. "Dead Gods no, I'm Summer, Ruby's mother. Yang takes after my husband, Taiyang." She waved her hand toward the blondes as they approached.

Taiyang extended his hand. "Doctor, we uh, are kinda' out of the loop about exactly what Ruby agreed to."

"You weren't informed?" Oobleck asked.

"Rubes was high as a kite when we talked." Yang noted.

"Oh, right, that would have been an issue." Oobleck nodded. "Well, it's quite simple really. Due to the degradation of her left femur I removed a portion of her thighs, ensuring perfect symmetry. Afterwards, implants were anchored to the remaining femurs. These will serve as attachment points for her prosthetics down the line, post recovery of course. Dust infusements have been employed to promote increased bone density and healing factor, but I predict at least two months for a full recovery, with prosthetic acclimatization after four weeks...though some of the acclimatization can be concurrent with her recovery. Any further questions?"

The room was dead silent, not that Oobleck seemed phased in the slightest. Summer had to resist picturing the procedures in any more detail. It reminded her too much of butchered lamb. "When can we see her?"

"In a short while." Oobleck replied. "Though she will not be awake for several hours, and when she regains consciousness I recommend not overwhelming her with visitors. Ms. Rose is a hardy individual, but we do not yet know the depths of her trauma."

"Of course doctor, thank you so much for you work." Summer responded.

"And thank you for your recognition, and all of you for your patience." Oobleck continued. "I understand times such as these are trying and stressful, but the worst is now behind us. Onward to a brighter future!" With that he spun on his heel and pushed through the door once more, leaving the room silent in his absence.

"Well...that was...a thing." Yang managed.

"Yes, a strange man...but informative…" Summer agreed.

The doors on the opposite side of the room opened, Weiss appeared, followed by a tall redhead and a slightly shorter dark-haired man. "I apologize for my absence, did I miss anything?" She asked.

"The doctor emerged to inform us of the surgeries' success...I don't believe we caught his name." Summer answered.

"Oobleck." Weiss sighed in relief. "Good, good that's...good...then Ruby should be returned to her room quite soon. In the meantime, is there anything I can do to accommodate you? We have a professionally staffed cafeteria I can grant access to."

"Yang and Tai might appreciate that, but for myself...would you happen to have a chapel here?" Summer inquired.

"We do, if you would like we can lead you to it." Pyrrha offered.

"I would be thankful, miss…" Summer replied.

"Nikos, Pyrrha." She greeted, extending her hand. "I was supposed to be Ruby's boss...but…"

"I understand, and you must be Lie Ren?" Summer addressed the shorter man, offering another greeting.

"I am." Ren confirmed. "I created electronic implants Ruby now carries."

"It's good to meet you both...Tai, Yang, I'll be but a call away." Summer turned to hug her husband, accepting a nod from Yang.

"I know hon, I'll uh...find somethin' you like, huh?" Tai suggested.

"You know me best." Summer planted a kiss on his lips before turning back to Pyrrha. A sudden movement halted her.

"Mrs. Rose…" Blake spoke softly, eyes pleading. Gods she looked adorable, with those expressive ears. "May I come?" Those thoughts had to be pushed far into the back of Summer's mind.

"Of course you may." Summer nodded. "All are welcome in the Maidens' light." The relief in those golden eyes was conflicting. One one hand, putting the girl at ease brought Summer happiness. On the other...Blake feared her. Summer was determined to uncover why.

Chapter Text

Summer felt keenly aware of Blake's presence, silent footfalls following her steadily as she conversed with Pyrrha and Ren. The Mistrali were as expected - well spoken, religious and kind. It was rare to find those that deviated in more than one aspect. Blake, on the other hand, was quite different from most Faunus. Summer had worked with many over the years, from all walks of life, priestesses, cooks, soldiers, tradesmen...the troubled. The Faunus population of Patch had always been unsteady, with many coming and going as the years passed, but she remembered them fondly.

Summer had never met a Faunus who acted like Blake. They were usually loud and proud, at times defensive, but wore their emotions on their sleeves. Blake seemed smaller than she could be, reserved, skittish, vulnerable, like an abused...oh...dear.

"Religion was a minor concern during Jacques' reign." Pyrrha explained. "Part of Weiss' company overhauls included heavier consideration. The Medical Facility chapel was moved and given proper care, and others were constructed in the main building. She chuckled. "It caused quite the stir in the papers when word got out, among other things. Don't you remember Ren?"

"Weiss Schnee, Religious Zealot?" Ren responded mockingly. "Consideration for religion was never strong in Atlesian corporate environments."

"But no expense has been spared since." Pyrrha continued. "The shrines are quite beautiful, if sanitized."

"May I ask whom you follow?" Summer inquired.

"We walk in the light of Spring, as my mother, and her mother before her." Pyrrha replied.

"My parents followed Autumn, but Spring's teachings drew me away." Ren answered.

"And what of you Blake?" Pyrrha asked, stopping before a set of doors to face the Faunus.

Blake tensed, eyes flitting between Pyrrha and Summer. "Winter."

That interested Summer. Many Faunus followed Autumn for strength in trying times, Summer for prosperity and Spring for health. Winter was among the least popular overall because of its negative associations, but even more so for the Faunus. Winter was steeped in shame and redemption, perseverance through the bitter cold of failings to emerge in a better tomorrow. Faunus did not follow Winter lightly. Blake must have suffered in the past, and continued to do so before her. Perhaps she had failed someone before. Ruby had brought that pain and guilt to the surface. Perhaps she feared Summer's reprisal. The poor girl.

"I admire that." Pyrrha admitted. "So few follow her, yet she holds great purpose in life."

"Mmn." Blake grunted.

With the attempt at further conversation failing, Pyrrha opened the doors, beckoning them through. "I love to come here. The priestesses were painted so wonderfully. At times I find myself lost in their eyes."

The chapel was a sight for Summer, her prior experiences having been rather low budget in comparison. The chapel at Patch General was just a repurposed conference room, but the SDC had spared no expense. The room resembled a cross between a Valean church hall and a Mistrali shrine. Dim in atmosphere, the walls were painted a rich crimson, warm amber lighting illuminating the room. A woven carpet stretched down the middle of the room, flanked by two rows of four pews each. A podium sat at the end of the room, only to be dwarfed by the wall behind it.

Four large portraits hung at the far end of the room, gently lit by soft down lights, a priestess of Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn each depicted with reverence. Winter stared stern from upon her throne, the Atlesian queen respected for her leadership and faith, who had unified the country and asserted control over it's war-like nobles. Spring lounged upon her throne of leaves, a chalice of petals held aloft. She was a soothsayer who had cared for refugees and victims from the civil wars that preceded Winter's rise. Summer stood, arms raised to the heavens, for it was she who had led the church's resurgence in the modern era. Autumn looked on stern and strong, her uniform pressed, her gaze proud. She had brought democracy to Atlas, leading the movement that forced the nobles into figurehead roles via a bloodless revolution and given power to the people.

Atlas' history was no less storied than that of any of the other kingdoms, steeped in military dogma, the seemingly endless struggle for control, through faith and fire. Summer never ceased to feel awed by the great accomplishments of her faith, nor the women who embodied them. Vale's history may have been more peaceful, and Patch downright tranquil, but they too had their heroes, holy and secular, sometimes one in the same.

"If I may ask, were you named for Summer?" Pyrrha's inquisitive voice asked as they walked.

Summer chuckled, shaking her head. "I was named for my birth, on the Summer Solstice. My parents left me with an orphanage."

"Oh my, I apologize for prying." Pyrrha backtracked.

"There is no harm in curiosity Pyrrha." Summer waved away her concern. "My name led me to the faith, I thank the gods every day for that blessing."

"All the same." Pyrrha smiled, approaching Spring's shrine, her partner joining her, linking his hands in hers. "I thank the gods for our presence here this day."

The sight of a couple in prayer never failed to bring joy to Summer's heart. So many lost their faith in this day and age, where the Maidens' teachings alone failed to inspire, and miracles seemed few on the ground. The young were too world weary, and the old too bitter to accept change. Her own daughters held only the barest of beliefs, and she refused to force religion upon them, let alone the impressionable. Ruby at least joined her in prayer at times, but Yang had lost faith long ago. It was a regret for which Summer would never forgive herself, even if Yang had.

To Summer's surprise, Blake did not offer prayer to Winter, glancing her way as she instead headed for Autumn, ears perpetually flat against her hair, tense and uncomfortable. She gave the air of a child, uncertain and scared, like Ruby when she broke her statue of the Summer Maiden. It was a good lesson for the young Rose. Nothing was forever, everything in this existence was temporary, and material objects could be fixed. Humans were far less simple, and Faunus carried their instincts on top of that, but every journey started with a simple step.

Summer took that step. "May I join you?" She whispered, Blake's ears tilting at her approach.

"Of course." Blake murmured, stepping to the side, hands clasped before her in silent prayer.

Summer took her place at the Faunus' side, before raising her own hand in offer. Blake kept her head bowed, even as she slowly accepted, her grasp gentle and heated. Faunus blood always ran hotter than humans', hardy, resilient, passionate. When Ruby told her of Blake, Summer had expected many things, to hold her hand in prayer to Autumn - the embodiment of strength, of change - was not one of them. She wondered what Blake prayed for, Ruby's strength perhaps? That change in her life would bring more good than harm? Or perhaps Blake prayed for herself, that she might bear the burden placed upon her, to take care of her family in this trying time.

Summer knew what she prayed for - Ruby's happiness, above all else. That the seed of her heart may continue to grow, despite the harshest of winters thrust upon her. She prayed for her family, blood and bond, that all who cared for Ruby would find strength in their love for her, that their grief may give way to care. Finally, she prayed for the souls of the Fang, that they may one day find redemption, in life or death.

The pressure in Summer's hand grew, movement saw Blake's head rise the lights illuminating tear tracks upon her cheeks and sorrowful golden eyes, fixated upon the priestess' glowing visage. She was beautiful, young, too young to hold such pain. "I never believed that humans could be like you…" Blake spoke, low and steady. "Sun told me, and I doubted, because I was blind...until Ruby came along, and I couldn't look away." Her head bowed once more, her lips tight in a pained grimace.

Summer looked past Blake to see Pyrrha and Ren. With an understanding smile and nod, they turned, making their way down the hall, until with a gentle click, the doors shut, and she was alone with the Faunus. "When the doctor placed her bundle into my arms...I couldn't look away either…" Summer reminisced. "It was hard to let go, knowing the dangers of the world…"

"She didn't deserve this…" Blake declared.

"No one does, and yet here we are." Summer admitted, morose.

Blake turned to look Summer in the eye. "I'm sorry...I could not stop this."

"You are not at fault Blake." Summer insisted.

"All the same...I once held these views...I feel complicit, yet here I stand unharmed, while Ruby hides her suffering for our sake." Blake managed.

"You believe she is lying?" Summer asked.

"She already lied about her pain, even before…" Blake replied.

"Ruby always has had a tolerance for pain." Summer noted. "That came from her father's side."

"The idea of Ruby suffering out of stubborn care for others is-" Blake started.

"From my side of the family." Summer interrupted.

Blake deflated, sighing as she did. Summer could not help but chuckle. Many times she herself had had that same reaction to her husband and daughters' actions, a bruise here, a sprain there, a few shallow cuts. Being a Rose was suffering, and she had learned that long before marriage.

"Come sit down, let's get to know each other." Summer suggested.

Blake allowed Summer to direct her to a nearby pew. "You're a lot calmer than I expected you'd be."

"Tai panics enough for the four of us." Summer laughed as they sat. "In a family like ours, someone needs to be the grounding core, and I have the most experience to call upon."

"As in?" Blake inquired.

"In my youth, I found myself needing to mature quite fast." Summer answered. "Had I not...well, to say I may not be here today would be an understatement."

"I...can relate." Blake admitted hesitantly.

Summer took the Faunus' hand once more, giving it a gentle squeeze. Blake seemed to relax, if only a little. "I spent my childhood between foster homes." Summer began. "At the best of times it was pleasant, but more often than not I endured trials no one my age deserved, and yet there I was...until I met Tai, and Qrow and Raven, my first true family." She smiled at the memory, watching Taiyang play football from the sidelines, Raven leading the cheer squad, Qrow off drinking beneath the bleachers, and afterward they would all go out for dinner. Nothing could separate them...until something did. "I dedicated myself to preserving my family Blake, and Ruby followed in my footsteps. We endure pain, tolerate hardship, and love even when the object of our affections spits in our face. We're stubborn like that. So maybe Ruby lies about her pain, maybe it's difficult to accept, but I have faith that Ruby will pull through, as I did. If only to keep the people she loves happy, and it will be all the easier if those people accept this, and are there for her when she falls. Because she will fall, we all do occasionally, it's a part of life. Sometimes bad things happen, and there's nothing to be done but pick up the pieces." Summer held Blake's hand in both her own, mustering the biggest smile she could for the worried Faunus. "Smile, and be there for Ruby, by our sides or not, nothing will help Ruby more than simply believing in her."

Blake's lips curved upward, a small amount, but more than enough to have an effect. She looked so much younger, even if the fatigue never left her eyes. "I'll try my best." The Faunus promised.

"That's all I can ask." Summer responded.

There was more to this, Summer knew, but now was not the time to delve. Ruby was their priority, and perhaps in time Blake would open up more on her own. Or perhaps Ruby would beat her to it.

Ruby rarely dreamed. Those times she did they were a confusing, but often pleasurable jumble of sensations, tastes and smells. Flashes of color, gold, red and lilac, cookies and milk and alcohol, fresh baked goods, sweat and adrenaline, warmth and safety...the dreams brought little to Ruby, but she always appreciated the memories they inspired. A piggy back from Yang, cooking with her mother, fishing with her father, her first kiss, her first victory...memories she cherished, memories she clung to in the darker moments of her life. Now the sensations were different. Hostile, harsh, yellow and green, plastic and vomit, smoke and dust, antiseptic, fear and nausea...flashes of...blur...muffled yelling…

Ruby opened her eyes, blurry and bleary. The dim ceiling above did not need to be in focus, she had stared at it long enough to know. It was just another hospital room, just the same rhythmic beeping, just more warm pressure in her hand, just familiar dull agony in her lower body.

"Ruby?" A familiar voice called, and for a moment the pain lessened as blurry blonde curls came into view.

"Yang?" Ruby murmured, feeling a smile tug at her lips. "I missed you."

"I missed you too Rubes." Came Yang's teary reply. "I'd hug you but...I don't wanna' shift you or anything."

"Why, what'll happen?" Ruby laughed.

"Won't it hurt your uh…" Yang fumbled.

"Yang." Ruby sighed, reaching down with her left hand to find the bed's remote. "I wanna' hug from my sister." Pressing a button, the bed began to rise, slowly moving her upper body upright. The pain in her legs sparked and sputtered, severed nerves shifting, barely dulled by the painkillers in her system. She paid it no mind, Yang was here. "Hugs." Ruby beamed, reaching out expectantly. Yang laughed, meeting her sister in a gentle embrace, warm and firm, Yang's hair tickling her nose as she nuzzled within. She squeezed with what little might she could muster and breathed deep the calming scent of home.

"Gods I missed you." Yang declared.

"You said that already." Ruby observed.

"And I'm saying it again, I missed you so fucking much, you scared the hell outta' me." Yang's voice warbled as she pulled away, sitting back in her seat. "Are you...feeling okay? Do you want a drink?"

"I'd like a drink, thanks." Ruby nodded.

Yang sniffled, pouring water from the same jug on the bedside table from the prior day. It had been refilled at some point. "Are you in pain?" She asked, handing Ruby the cup.

"Yeah, but I can handle it." Ruby answered, draining the cup slowly, the cool liquid alleviating the stale taste that followed rest, and soothing what nausea remained from her dream. Letting out a deep breath, she finally took the time to look down at her lap, and the small lumps extending outward - what little remained of her legs. "Huh, weird."

"What?" Yang asked.

"It's just...they're small, and it's weird to look at." Ruby replied. "Like they're supposed to be longer, and they aren't…"

"Well...yeah that's...pretty weird, heh." Yang managed.

"Hey wanna' see?" Ruby inquired.

Yang gaped for a long moment, glancing at the twin lumps beneath the sheets before swallowing. "Sure? I mean, you okay with it?"

"I know what to expect, I just...wanna' see, ya'know?" Ruby responded.

"Right, yeah sure, uh…" Standing, Yang grasped the rough sheets of the bedding, pulling them free. "You ready?"

"I was born ready!" Ruby exclaimed, clenching her fists in determination. Yang laughed and drew the sheets down, revealing… "Aw, they're all bandaged."

Yang let loose a silent sigh of relief, sitting back down as she stared at the remaining limbs, and the disappointed look on Ruby's face. "I think that's normal Rubes."

"Yeah, I just hoped maybe the anchors would be visible, 'cuz I've only ever seen them in videos and pictures and stuff, but oh well...they're kinda' cute." Ruby rambled.

Yang snorted, hands running nervously through her hair as she recomposed herself. It was an all too familiar sight, Ruby in a hospital bed, bandaged legs...only this time the attitude was just...wrong. Ruby was devastated after the accident. It had taken weeks of non-stop encouragement for Yang to break her out of her depressive spiral, but here Ruby was, disappointed that her freshly amputated legs were too bandaged to ogle the implants… "Ruby." Yang began, waiting until Ruby was looking her in the eye before continuing. "Are you really okay?"

"I don't know Yang." Ruby admitted. "It's all know I don't remember right? Anything. It's like nothing happened, just blank in my mind, I was walking to the subway and suddenly I'm here and my leg is gone, and everyone is worrying over me and...I just feel...I don't know what I feel Yang."

"Do you wanna' talk about it?" Yang offered.

"I dunno'...maybe?" Ruby shrugged. "I just don't know how to talk about it. I was there, now I'm here, and things look like they're gonna' get better, and that's all that seems to matter."

"But you lost your legs Rubes, it's kind of a big thing." Yang pressed.

"Yang...I never got over it, ya'know?" Ruby sighed.

"The accident." Yang suggested.

"Yeah...I mean sure, I got better, but only mostly." Ruby explained. "I loved studying cybernetics. It's an amazing industry and I think I'll do a lot more for the SDC than I ever could have running…" She leaned back against the pillow. "But I just felt so weak, my leg hurting after a day of classes, not being able to run or jump or climb because I'm afraid it'll break again, and it got way worse here, because I walked a lot every day...and yeah I wasn't supposed to be doing this job, but that doesn't matter!" Ruby growled. "I hated being like that, going to get drunk after work because I just wanted the pain to stop, sucking at something I used to be good at...and then I'd wake up, and it's either live with one shitty leg, or have two good ones. What kind of choice is that? Why should I feel bad about that? How should I feel about it? Because I'm sure everyone is expecting me to start crying all of the sudden because I have no legs, but the truth is I don't feel like I've had legs for years...I've only been pretending."

"Why didn't you say anything?" Yang asked.

"Because I thought I was being stupid, I thought it was going to pass, I thought I could deal with it." Ruby answered. "I was in denial Yang, and I didn't want to worry you again. I just wanted to keep moving forward."

"But that's what family is for Ruby, you can't do it all alone." Yang countered.

"But I can't keep relying on you to pick me up Yang." Ruby protested.

"Says who?" Yang scoffed.

"Says growing up!" Ruby exclaimed.

"Well good job there, now you're shorter than ever." Yang joked.

Ruby spluttered, bursting into surprised laughter. "Oh gods Yang!"

"I've got jokes too remember!" Yang cheered. "And now you can't run from 'em, because you ain't got no legs."

"You just wait, I'm gonna' get big long legs, and kick your butt with 'em for being insensitive." Ruby threatened.

"Well good!" Yang shouted. "I'll be there to see you get those legs, and then you'll just have to catch me."

"Fine!" Ruby yelled, poking out her tongue.

"Fine." Yang smirked back, crossing her arms with a satisfied smirk.

Ruby retracted her tongue, the smile slowly fading from her face. "You know I'm not going home right? I'm staying here, until I recover, then I'm going back to work."

Yang mustered a weary shrug, shaking her head. "I figured. Dad's not gonna' be happy though."

"I know." Ruby sighed.

"And he's a bit miffed you didn't tell us about the surgery." Yang added. "We didn't know when we arrived. Dad nearly had a stroke."

"Sorry." Ruby winced. "I was...just..wasn't ready."

"But you were ready for surgery?" Yang challenged.

"I wanted to get it over with Yang." Ruby explained. "My mind was made up, and you know how I feel about hospitals."

"Yeah...I know…" Yang shrunk.

"Where is everyone anyway?" Ruby asked.

"After you got out, mom and dad went to the hotel." Yang replied. "It was a long flight, and I was the only one who got any sleep."

"Mom?" Ruby exclaimed.

Yang winced at the shock in her sister's voice. "Yeah...we're...getting better." She shrugged. "I think she and Blake talked."

"About what?" Ruby inquired.

"I dunno'." Yang answered. "Mom's mom. She said hello to everyone, asked about the chapel, and Blake asked to come with." She shrugged again. "When Weiss said everyone should get some rest, Blake started arguing, and mom just put a hand on her shoulder, said something in her ear. She left pretty quietly after that."

"Huh, well, Blakey's religious, kinda'...maybe they bonded over that." Ruby guessed.

"She doesn't really strike me as religious." Yang observed.

"Not everyone's like mom Yang." Ruby countered.

"Yeah…" Yang trailed off.

A short silence ruled the room until Ruby cleared her throat. "What did you think of everyone?"

"I didn't really talk to anyone." Yang admitted. "I was...kinda' not in the mood."

" didn't hug Sun?!" Ruby gasped.

Yang rolled her eyes. "Of course I hugged Sun!"

Chapter Text

It was refreshing being around Yang again. Ruby had feared that maybe living with her all her life had left her tired of Yang's company. She was gladly wrong. It was like she had never left. IT was nice. Ruby really missed her sister, her smile, her warmth, her cheer, most of all her love.

Sun's love was distant and still rebuilding. They had been away from one another for years, and barely had any time to really sit down and talk. When they did, Blake was his priority. Blake's love was like squeezing water from a stone. Maybe it was there, maybe not. Blake found it painful to express, and what little she did was bittersweet. Yang's was expected, and freely given, ever present, overflowing and comforting. After the past few weeks it felt so good to have it again. Yang was there, by her side, and she was not leaving. At least not any time soon...for the time being she slept on a cot beside Ruby's bed, and thankfully did not snore.

Naturally, Blake and Sun showed up as soon as visiting hours allowed. Sun yawned, sipping his coffee, while Blake paced impatiently, her own beverage drained before she had arrived. It seemed like she had not slept a wink, but that was nothing new. She only paused in her movements when the sound of footsteps came down the hall. The room seemed even more silent, as her mother finally appeared in the doorway, baggy-eyed and bleary, her father in tow. The first thing she did was smile.

"Ruby." Summer sighed in relief, stepping forward, greeting Ruby's waiting arms with a warm and firm embrace. "Gods I'm thankful you're safe."

"It'll take more than this to take me down mom." Ruby whispered, hugging back as tightly as she could, until Summer withdrew, allowing Tai to take her place.

"You scared the shit outta' me." Tai half laughed, half choked. His hug was far tighter than Summer's, his voice far less steady.

"I scared a lotta' people dad." Ruby chuckled mirthlessly as her father's teary visage came into view.

"Yeah, well I'm a big pansy." Tai, directed by his wife, fell into one of the remaining free chairs, running his hand through the unkempt blonde spikes that still shone bright in the dull light. "I slept like crap."

"I think everyone did." Ruby observed.

"Not for lack of tryin'." Sun yawned.

"How do you feel?" Summer asked, her eyes flicking to the short stumps beneath the sheets.

Ruby smiled apologetically. "Good, actually. The nurse gave me more painkillers an hour ago."

"Are you comfortable?" Tai asked. "Warm? Your mother's been freezing to death here." Summer elbowed Tai with a grimace.

Ruby scoffed. "I'm fine dad, the sheets look the same but the bed's actually much better than Patch General's."

"Good...good…" Tai swallowed.

Summer slipped her hand over Tai's, her own smile more believable, if grim. "We didn't ask for details, but if you're willing, we'd like to know what happened."

"I don't remember really." Ruby shrugged. "To be honest, my mind just blanks when I was heading to the subway, then I woke up here."

"You don't remember anything?" Tai pressed.

"Nope, just...this...maybe it'll come back to me or maybe it won't." Ruby managed. "Doctor Oobleck said there's no serious brain trauma, so I should be fine."

"And the surgery?" Summer asked.

"Fit as a fiddle, I think." Ruby replied. "Weiss says Oobleck is really good, and I trust her."

"Trust...after…" Tai sighed in frustration, grimacing. "How the hell does this happen? Isn't the SDC supposed to be secure?"

"Nothing's perfect dad." Ruby noted. "Weiss is looking into it, and I trust her. She's my friend, and she's been through enough."

"She's been through enough?" Taiyang balked. "Ruby, you've lost your legs. I don't care what happened, this isn't something you just brush off."

"Dad, I lost a leg, and chose to remove the other, because I didn't want to live my life in pain." Ruby explained. "I made that choice because Weiss gave me that choice, because my only real options were to lay around crying about it, or to move forward, and I've done enough laying around for a lifetime. This is my life, I've made the decision, and I'm going to live with it."

"But why didn't you call us?" Tai persisted. "To talk about it-"

"About what dad?" Ruby shot back. "What was there to talk about? Money isn't an issue, my benefits cover everything, and Weiss promised to cover it anyway. The choice came down to salvaging a leg that would never be the same, or cutting my losses and moving forward. Yeah, maybe I should have told you myself, but I was tired, and high. I just wanted to get it all over and done with as soon as possible, and get out of the hospital, because I hate it here!" Tai gaped in shock as she glared, until her face softened and her head fell back into the pillow. "I'm sorry, I'm just a little frustrated."

"Are you sure you're not in pain?" Summer asked.

"I'm sure mom." Ruby nodded. "It's just the anxiety hitting me, stupid beeping and stupid weird smells."

"Did they say how long until you can come home?" Tai inquired.

Ruby drew in a deep breath, and let out a deeper sigh.

It seemed Weiss had chosen exactly the wrong moment to visit Ruby.

"What do you mean you're staying?!" Tai demanded. It was clear that he was attempting to appear stern, but in truth he just looked afraid. "After everything…"

"Here we go…" Yang yawned.

"But...who will take care of you?" Tai asked. "This isn't like before. Even doing basic stuff will be-"

Summer placed a hand on her husband's shoulder, halting him mid sentence. "Honey, it's her choice."

"I know you don't like it, and I know you'd feel better having me home, but I can't just leave." Ruby spoke up. "My friends are here, my career is here, my whole life is here."

"But your family is in Patch." Tai implored.

"I know dad, I miss you guys a lot, but I can't give up." Ruby offered a reassuring smile. "I'm gonna' get through this, and go on living my life."

"That still doesn't answer who will take care of you until you recover." Tai noted.

"I can help with that." Weiss stepped forward. Suddenly all eyes were on her. She felt far more nervous than she had just minutes before when she was in front of a television camera, sitting for an interview. Weiss had not wanted to speak to the press about the incident, but a rumor that the company was hiding her death threatened to send the company's stock into chaos, leaving her no choice. She sat down for a one-on-one with Lisa Lavender, a reporter she trusted. That would buy some time before she would have to make a truly public appearance. "I keep a spare apartment nearby. I would happily outfit it for handicap accessibility, and gift it to Ruby. In addition, I would extend the security I use to protect my own home to keep her safe."

"That...sounds great!" Ruby smiled before pausing. "But...I kinda' like living with Blake and Sun." She turned to her friends. "I owe them for giving me a place to live at all."

"We have discussed this." Weiss indicated. "We wanted to wait for your family before continuing."

"But who will take care of you?" Tai pressed. "Even with a specially outfitted apartment, it's gonna' be hard until you've gotten used to things."

"Well, I'm not goin' back to Patch if Ruby isn't." Yang declared. "I'll take care of her until she can get around on her own."

"Me and Blake'll pitch in too." Sun added. "Right Blake?"

Blake nodded. "Is this what you really want Ruby?"

"Of course it is, I love you guys!" Ruby nodded. "But Yang, what about your job?"

"Well you see I...kinda' applied for a new one with the SDC...and they accepted, last week." Yang ran a hand through her hair. "I wasn't supposed to start for another month or so, but that just gives me more time to spend with you." She turned to Weiss. "Uh, I hope there's room for me in the apartment too. You know, at least until I find my own place."

"You can stay there, but it only has two bedrooms." Weiss warned.

"I can sleep on the couch." Yang shrugged with a smirk. "See, it all works out."

"And if you like, I can expedite the hiring process." Weiss offered. "There are going to be changes to the company's security arrangements after all."

"We work nights, so if you work during the day there can still be someone home with Ruby around the clock." Sun suggested. "And I could probably take some time off if I have to."

"There, you see, everything's sorted." Ruby grinned joyfully. "Happy dad?"

Tai deflated, weary in his defeat. "I guess." He huffed. "I just...want you to be happy...I just worry, ya'know?"

"I know." Ruby placed a hand on her father's. He flipped his over and gave hers a squeeze, managing a nervous smile.

"Thank you Weiss, for everything." Summer expressed, bowing her head to the CEO. She turned to Blake and Sun. "And thank you for being such devoted friends to my daughter."

"Ruby's family Summer, and besides, it'll be nice not to live across the hall from drug dealers anymore." Sun joked.

"There are drug dealers where you live?!" Tai exclaimed.

"A couple." Ruby shrugged. "They don't bother me or anything."

"Oh for the love of…" Tai let his head thump against the wall in exasperation as he ran his hands down his face. "You're gonna' make me grey before my time."

"I think the SDC has therapy for that, right Weiss?" Ruby smirked at the CEO, much to her amusement.

"Don't push this back on me, I have enough to handle." Weiss shot back. "We all do. Yang, will you be needing anything shipped from Patch?"

"Nope!" Yang replied. "I wasn't planning to go back, so I packed everything important."

"You did?" Ruby balked. "Where were you gonna' stay if I wasn't moving?!"

"Oh you know, homeless shelters, park benches, people's basements, or Blakey's couch." Yang smirked.

"Not damn likely." Blake grumbled.

"Aw, Rubes, come on, stand up for your big sister." Yang tapped her sister's shoulder. Ruby snorted, everyone else blinked. Yang looked around. "Too soon?"

"By a hair." Summer smiled.

"I wanna' laugh, but at the same time I feel bad about it." Sun admitted hesitantly.

"We should leave Ruby alone with her family." Blake suggested. "Schnee, we need to talk." She stated, striding out. Weiss and Sun looked at one another, then over at Ruby.

"Oh don't worry about us." Ruby waved. "We'll find something to talk about."

"I'll have Ren send you the schematics to look over...oh." Weiss paused.

"What?" Ruby asked.

"Your did not survive." Weiss explained.

"Aw, damnit." Ruby sighed.

"Don't worry, that's covered too." Weiss rubbed her brow. "Wish me luck." She grumbled before leaving after Blake.

Sun heaved a sigh of his own. "Pray for us." He joked, following.

"I feel like we're missing something here." Tai observed.

"Blakey's Blake, you get used to it." Ruby shrugged.

"Sounds like someone I know." Tai grinned.

Summer lightly slapped his shoulder. "Oh shush you."

The apartment's security was seemingly simple from the outside, a keycard lock combined with a number pad that required an eight digit code. Weiss entered it and the door opened with a click and the shifting of metal. "The deed is in Carmine's name, and will remain so for your security." She explained as she entered, Blake following beside Sun.

"So what's the whole Carmine thing?" Sun questioned. "Cuz' when I asked Blake she just told me to mind my own business."

"Security and freedom Sun." Weiss answered. "She allows me anonymity in public, and should Weiss Schnee need to vanish, Carmine is a comfortable alias."

The door opened directly into what seemed to be the main room of the apartment. Dark marble tiles covered the floor. The left side of the area saw a rather high end looking kitchen and dining area. The right was a lounge, all furnished quite handsomely, including a gigantic television. The real attention grabber, however, were the massive windows that dominated the opposite wall, a beautiful vista of Atlas gleaming in the midday sunlight.

"I mean, I figured that at least's the whole clubbing thing that confused me." Sun expressed, taking in the view.

"Because I'm supposed to be above such things I suppose?" Weiss arched her brow with a smirk, stepping over to the lounge's couch, grey felt smooth beneath her hand.

"I figured you'd own a club or something, with private rooms and such." Sun shrugged.

"I've spent enough time on pedestals Sun." Weiss noted. "The most refreshing thing about Carmine is that I can mingle and relax among people like normal." She flopped onto the couch, stretching with a rather unladylike moan. "Ah...Carmine has it good."

"I'm glad you're taking the time to relax." Blake grunted from above. Weiss looked up into tired golden eyes. "What makes this place worth caring for?"

"Well, the decor speaks for itself, don't you agree?" Weiss smiled sweetly at the Faunus.

Blake leaned further down, coming nose to nose with the CEO, her own smile familiar and haunting. "Does this apartment have a punching bag, or shall I find a substitute?"

Weiss grit back a shudder and sighed. "Fine." With a groan she pushed herself to her feet. "The kitchen is fully stocked, with non perishable goods for the time being - pasta, noodles and freeze-dried food." She gestured toward the kitchen as she circled the couch. "Two bedrooms, the master with it's own bathroom, and a separate one for guests." Heading down the nearby hallway, Weiss opened one of the doors along the way. "The master bedroom is outfitted as a panic room." She waved into the cozy bedroom. "With appropriate supplies. The spare room contains extra, but I don't believe you would be interested in a lifetime supply of Atlesian Army rations."

"You should have ordered Mistrali." Blake jibed.

"I am hardly a connoisseur Blake." Weiss continued. "Regardless, I will have Carmine's belongings removed today…"

"Uh, you mind if I use this?" Sun jabbed his thumb toward the bathroom. "We were kinda' in a hurry this morning." Blake sighed, striding back towards the lounge.

Weiss smiled politely, gesturing onward. "This is your home now Sun. Paper is in the cabinet."

"Thanks Weiss...this is uh...really nice, of you, just...all of this, it's been a lot." Sun fumbled.

"I'm trying to be a good friend, for what it's worth." Weiss shrugged, moving to follow Blake.

"How thick is this glass?" Blake asked, running her nail down its surface.

"Five and a half inches, comprised of multiple layers of glass and laminate." Weiss replied.

"What can it withstand?" Blake pressed.

"Anything short of an anti-materiel round." Weiss answered.

"And what then?" Blake turned a stern gaze upon the CEO, who turned to a panel on the wall, pressing a button. Blake flinched at the sound of mechanical humming. Shutters descended from the ceiling, sliding over the windows one by one, the midday light slowly fading to thin strips, until with a final thunk, the shutters landed home and the room was shrouded in darkness.

"In theory, this apartment is a bunker, but a morbid part of me considered it a tomb." Weiss laughed mirthlessly. She reached for the nearby couch, fumbling only a little in the pitch blackness, and sinking into the cushions. She wondered if Blake was looking at her now.

"Cute." The Faunus deadpanned. "That makes me feel so very comfortable."

"If there are any modifications I can make, feel free to suggest them." Weiss added. "Money is no issue, you should know that."

"Just throw money at your problems Schnee, someday they might go away." Blake grumbled.

"It was how I was raised." Weiss shrugged. "When I was young, I wished to see in the dark - nightmares you see - they left me paranoid and jumpy at night."

"Fascinating." Blake sighed.

"I expressed as much to my father." Weiss went on regardless. "I wanted to see in the dark, like the Faunus could!" She clapped her hands violently and suddenly. "It wasn't the first time he'd struck me, but it was the first time I...really remember, truly what the cause was. That I could ever hope to be like those wretched animals." Weiss scoffed.

"So the rumors were true." Blake suggested.

"Of course they were." Weiss huffed. "You think a man like that treated his family with a gentle hand? Father expected us to conform, and deviation was punished."

"And did you conform?" Blake asked.

"Of course I did, he was my Father, I loved him as a daughter should, but I feared him all the same." Weiss flinched as the couch weighed down beside her, the odd warmth of human presence by her side. "Winter fell out of love long before myself, watching him abuse me, abuse mother, while suffering the same abuse herself...the moment she was able, she fled to the military." She could almost hear the furrow in Blake's brow at that.

"She abandoned you?" Blake questioned.

"She gave me the choice." Weiss shook her head. "Young as I was, she did not wish to leave me alone, but at the same time she longed for freedom. Even then I understood her need better than my own."

"And then?" Blake inquired.

"Thankfully it was near this time I was introduced to Winter's absence she filled my life with warmth, and then some." Weiss continued. "I loved her, I still love her. Were it not for her, my encounter with the Fang may have left me truly scarred. Were it not for her support I would not have taken those steps into the SDC. I would not have met Velvet, and were it not for Velvet I would not have had the strength and experience to take over the SDC. Pyrrha and lovers, my family, all of them, as important to me as Winter and Mother both, and loathe as I am to admit it to my brother, as stupid and irritating as he is, just another victim of Father's influence...and every day I wake, I fear for them."

"I can't imagine why." Blake mumbled.

"I don't know what to do Blake." Weiss admitted. "I can't lock them away, can't push them away, can't keep them close, and I can't keep them at arm's length. No matter what I do they are endangered by me. I risk losing them, one way or another." She took a shaky breath, looking to where she assumed Blake's face would be. "I fear the day I will achieve my goals, I will have no family to celebrate with. I fear the day I lose one more, and something inside me breaks, the Weiss I am today ceases to be, and I become just another tyrant. I want to do good Blake, but more than anything I want the people I love to survive, and I can't do that if I can make mistakes like this. I need more eyes Blake. I need to see in the dark. I need your help to do that."

"You have my help, you know this." Blake scoffed.

"More than that, more than just a source." Weiss insisted. "I need oversight. I propose a partnership."

"I can't openly work for you." Blake noted. "If the Fang find out about me-"

"We do so anonymously then, whatever it takes." Weiss countered. "I need you Blake, and you need me. My resources in your hands? Imagine what we could do to protect them."

"Imagine the danger we could put them in, if we fuck up." Blake cautioned.

"Then we do nothing, and wait for the Fang to strike, and maybe next time lose a life instead of a limb." Weiss hissed as a harsh, clawed grip squeezed her wrist.

"Don't take my hesitance for refusal." Blake spoke. "I have lost enough to the Fang Weiss. This is not something I take lightly."

"And neither do I." Weiss agreed.

"Then don't trivialize this out of impatience." Blake advised. "This isn't something we shake hands on and begin fighting, let alone so soon...we have other matters to attend to."

"Then we attend to them, and once everything is settled, we talk." Weiss nodded.

"I'll consider it." Blake allowed.

"Argh fuck!" Came Sun's anguished yell.

"Sun, are you okay?" Weiss asked.

"Yep...yeah...just stubbed my little toe." Sun groaned. "Who turned out the lights? I can't see shit."

"I thought all Faunus see well in the dark?" Weiss questioned.

"It depends on the species." Blake explained.

Sun fumbled his way to the sound of their voices. "I should've been born a reptile."

Chapter Text

Chapter 41

Ruby could not help but feel a little jealous of Yang. She got along with Coco so well. They were peas in a pod already, leaving herself and Velvet in the dust. Well, almost. Yang and Coco may have been more vocal, but Ruby and Velvet were distracted by the designs Coco had brought. On arrival, she had handed Ruby a small sketchpad full of drawings of legs, Ruby's future legs to be exact...and her rear, which was shown off very notably in a majority of the designs. Hot pants were popular, for the emphasis was clearly on showing off her prosthetics. Coco was obviously enjoying her new challenge.

"Stockings wouldn't play nice with the joints." Coco tapped the sketched knees on the pad. "But patterned shells can basically fulfill the same function. Hydro-dripping is something I've played with in the past. It'll be fun to have a legit excuse for once."

"Have you been staring at my butt?" Ruby held up another page, the focus of which was squarely on her rear, in delicate lacy lingerie no less.

"Who hasn't?" Coco smirked.

Ruby looked to Velvet, who shrugged. "I'm not blind, I just don't brag about it."

Velvet turned to Yang in turn, who snickered. "The Rubooty has been entrancing men and women alike since she was fourteen."

"Damn, she's had it that long?" Coco balked.

"And she used to wear gym shorts all the time!" Yang added.

"Because they were comfy!" Ruby defended.

"Don't deny it, you loved flaunting dat' butt." Yang teased, raising her arms to stretch.

"You can't talk, you're still wearing those curtain shirts." Ruby poked Yang in the breast, causing her to flinch, grinning smugly.

"Don't worry Ruby, hotpants are a specialty of mine." Coco encouraged. "We'll get that booty back out there, with some sexy kicks to boot!"

"I really liked the ones you got me, but they'll probably throw off my balance as they are." Ruby mourned.

"That's where the modular nature comes in handy." Coco leaned back in her chair. "We can make feet that look like your boots, and shin shells that match!"

"Preserving flexibility and weight…" Ruby realized, a growing grin on her face. "Oh my Gods, I can't wait!" She cheered, hugging the sketch pad to her chest and vibrating in place. "I wish I'd heal faster."

"Wish all you like, at this point the medical division prays daily for their dust to work faster." A strong voice came from the doorway. The group turned to behold Weiss Schnee, leaning casually against the entrance, a wrapped gift in hand.

"Hey Weiss!" Ruby chirped. "Have you seen Coco's designs?" She held up the pad.

Weiss shook her head, moving to approach. "Even I rarely get to see her designs, and I bankroll them now." She smirked at the designer.

Coco nudged her glasses downward, regarding Weiss with narrow eyes. "Because I've been there, done that sister. Ruby is my newest muse."

"I'm sitting right here." Velvet complained.

Coco's gaze turned lidded. "Oh Honeybun, a muse is a passing fancy. You are my divine inspiration." She crooned, leaning in to plant a kiss on her lover's cheek. Velvet scoffed, though pink tinted her features.

"I've never been a muse before...but I did do a nude painting session once." Ruby recalled.

"Oh yeah, I remember that." Yang spoke up. "It was when you gave up shavin-"

"Arghshutup!" Ruby flailed, grabbing one of her pillows to shove into her sister's face. "Hey Weiss, how's it going?"

"I'm going as well as I can Ruby, thank you." Weiss replied. "I was wondering if we might speak alone for a while."

"Sure, Yang's outstaying her welcome anyway." Ruby let the pillow fall, revealing the blonde's smug face.

"Oh, you're sayin' that now, but next time you need to reach something up high we all know who you'll come crawling to." Yang smirked.

"Actually, she'll be wheeling herself around, which is one of the topics I'd like to discuss, in private." Weiss noted.

"C'mon Yang, if you're gonna' work here you'll need a tour." Coco offered, standing. "Ruby can spill all your embarrassing secrets to your future boss."

"Pfft, hey I'm an open book." Yang shrugged off as she stood, circling the bed after Coco and Velvet.

"Seeya' Red." Coco waved.

"Bye Ruby." Velvet bid farewell.

"Bye guys!" Ruby cheered. "Thanks for coming!"

"You want me to bring anything back Rubes?" Yang offered.

"Some gummy bears?" Ruby suggested.

"Sugar free, coming right up." Yang chuckled as she left.

"Noooooooo…" Ruby whined. "I don't know why those are even legal."

"Some people have respect for portion size Ruby." Weiss laughed, taking a seat beside the bed.

"Well some people just want something tasty that doesn't bite them in the bum...but hey, how's everyone doing?" Ruby inquired. "I'm starting to go stir crazy, cooped up in here. I can't check on everyone!"

"Jaune is on leave for the time being, with Nora taking care of him." Weiss began. "Pyrrha has been preparing for your division's upcoming project, and Ren is…" Weiss chuckled. "Playing with his chemistry set, as he puts it."

"And your mom?" Ruby pressed.

Weiss smile grew strained. "Stressed, but otherwise happy."

"Awesome!" Ruby cheered.

"If some sort of large gift arrives, please be assured it's perfectly safe, if expensive." Weiss warned.

"Oh...kay?" Ruby tilted her head.

"Mother thanks you for saving my life, unintentional though it may have been." Weiss raised a finger as Ruby made to reply. "We are grateful nonetheless...and I have gifts of my own to offer." She handed over the small parcel.

"Weiss…" Ruby sighed, a tired smile tugging at her lips as her fingers found the seams in the paper.

"They aren't really gifts Ruby, you're entitled to them." Weiss waved away. "But it was nice to wrap something. I only get to do so a few times a year."

"Thanks Weiss." Ruby bid, pulling a familiar box from within. It was a new scroll. "Hey...this is a different model."

"It's from an early batch, our new line is set to unveil at this year's keynote." Weiss explained. "The specifications are subject to change but overall...I knew you'd appreciate the novelty."

"Cool...ooh, it's red too." Ruby noticed.

"Now, about your transport." Weiss started.

"You're not giving me a car are you?" Ruby asked.

"Ruby, I can very easily grant you a company car." Weiss offered. "It would make getting to work far more convenient."

"I uh...I don't know if I'd be good at driving in Atlas." Ruby hesitated. "Especially not during work traffic. There's nothing like it in Patch, and I never really drove anyway."

"Understandable, though the offer still stands." Weiss allowed. "But what I want to discuss is moving around the facility and home during your recovery."

"You mean like a wheelchair?" Ruby asked.

"We have motorized chairs, they're very nice." Weiss informed. "I've tested them quite extensively."

Ruby snickered. "Did you and Pyrrha race them?"

"Of course not." Weiss scoffed. "We merely tested their battery life and day to day handling."

"You totally raced them." Ruby teased.

Weiss chuckled. "You should be clear to leave the room at will. Your sister looks capable of assisting you."

"I'm probably still heavier than I used to be." Ruby laughed. "But uh...couldn't I have a manual wheelchair?"

"I...suppose...why?" Weiss asked, perplexed.

"I wanna' start building muscle again." Ruby lifted one thin arm to flex. "I'm gonna' have nothing to do for a while, so if I can start some exercise early, I'll be healthier for when my actual therapy starts."

"Oh, well then we can do that." Weiss agreed. "Though I don't think you're supposed to put too much strain on yourself while recovering."

"I'll be fine Weiss." Ruby soothed. "It's only my legs that got hurt. My arms are just weak and noodly from years of pushing pencils."

"Still, I'd like a second opinion from Oobleck before we go setting you loose like that...and should you be cleared, the facility gym will be at your disposal." Weiss noted. "Your therapy will be held there too."

"Great!" Ruby exclaimed.

"How are you feeling by the way?" Weiss asked. "Any pains? Discomfort?"

"I'm okay Weiss, just a little bored." Ruby replied. "What about you?"

"I'm as fine as can be Ruby." Weiss answered.

"You sure?" Ruby pressed. "You don't have to downplay it if you're not Weiss. You're not just my boss, we're friends, you can talk to me."

"It's nothing I can't cope with." Weiss waved away, not that it would discourage Ruby. "It's my job to handle it Ruby."

"Still, I know this is all hard on you." Ruby insisted. "I know it's harder than you want it to look, and you wanna' look strong for us, but...if you wanna' talk, like really talk about it, I'm not going anywhere...y'know…'cuz I ain't got legs yet."

Weiss could not help but laugh at the absurdity. Here she was, talking to a victim of the Fang, laughing over the consequences, being asked how she felt, if she was okay. It hurt, in a way, that Ruby seemingly cared more for her than her own trauma. She barely even knew Weiss. She deserved better.

"I'm scared Ruby, and shaken." Weiss admitted. "First Winter, and now you. I fear for what the Fang will plan next...because I don't know if I can keep you safe."

"I'm scared too Weiss, though I try not to really think too hard about it." Ruby sighed. "I'm scared it might all come back at once, and I won't be able to handle it, but I know that you guys will help me if it does. And we're all here for you...and that goes for if the Fang comes again."

"I don't want to drag you into this Ruby." Weiss frowned. "This is too much to expect anyone to handle."

"It doesn't matter what we want Weiss." Ruby shrugged. "It happened, I got caught up in it, and it sucks, but we've gotta' accept it. I'm gonna' be more careful from now on, just like you, and Blake and Yang. I don't want you to think of me as just someone to protect. When I get better, when I'm on my feet, I'm gonna' stand by your side through it all."

"Ruby…" Weiss sighed. "You can still stay out of this. You're not a true target. The Fang doesn't know of you. I've kept your name out of the media, so you still retain anonymity. You have a chance I never did."

"And I appreciate that Weiss, but I'm not going to hide from this." Ruby persisted.

"Ruby…" Weiss' lips pressed into a tight smile. "You can still walk away...I mean…"

Ruby chuckled, shaking her head. "I know Weiss, but I won't." She reached over, taking Weiss' hand into her own. "You're stuck with me now. I know, it's awful."

Weiss could not help but laugh alongside her friend, despite the gravity of the statement. Ruby could leave, she should leave, she should go back to Patch and find a safer, cosier job at a cybernetics clinic. Weiss would happily facilitate her, she would build the damn clinic herself if it kept Ruby safe. But of course that was not going to happen. It was not that simple. Nothing was ever that simple. She could throw money at simple until it went away. Here in Atlas, it usually just made things more complex. At least Ruby seemed happy. She could at least appreciate that.

"I'm sure I'll adjust...but for the time being, you have another visitor." Slipping a hand into her pocket, Weiss withdrew a circular device, around the size of a hockey puck. The center contained a concave lens of sorts. The casing's edge featured several buttons and data ports. Turning Ruby's hand over, she placed the object into her palm.

"Is this like a flying thingy?" Ruby speculated.

"I'm sorry to disappoint, but we're all out of flying thingies." Weiss smirked, clicking a switch on the device. "Perhaps Penny can help make up for that loss."

The surface of the device lit up, the lens glowing a pale blue. Suddenly a wispy cylinder flickered into existence, before transforming into a orb, and finally the SDC snowflake, which spun twice, the device emanating a three note chime. Ruby gasped, her jaw dropping. "A holomitter!" She whispered, only to squeak in surprise when the snowflake vanished, a new form taking its place, small, chibi and beaming up at her.

"Ruby!" Penny's miniature form cheered. "It's so great to see you again!"

"AwmygodsPennyyou'resocoolandcuteaaah!" Came Ruby's jumbled excitement. She held the device upward to look Penny in her holographic eyes. "You're beautiful!"

"Why thank you Ruby!" Penny smiled. "And thank you too Ms. Schnee, for allowing us this opportunity."

Weiss bowed her head with a smile and stood. "It was no trouble Penny. I'll allow you some privacy now."

"Aw, you don't have to go." Ruby whined.

"Technically I don't have to do anything, but then everything would fall apart and I'd get the blame." Weiss smiled sweetly. "My life is wonderful."

"I shall shoulder the blame by your side Ms. Schnee!" Penny declared.

"Yeah!" Ruby joined in.

"I'm sure you will try, but for the time being I will continue to hold it off." Weiss chuckled. "Have fun you two."

"Bye Weiss, thanks again!" Ruby called after her.

"Goodbye Ms. Schnee!" Penny added.

As Weiss left, Ruby turned back to ogle Penny and the emitter she stood upon. "Oh my gods, this is awesome. Is this a prototype or something?"

"The SDC Handheld Holoprojector, otherwise known as the Schneemitter, is slated for reveal in the August keynote, with a December release date targeted." Penny confirmed. "It will be the first handheld holoprojector released to the public market. I requested Ms. Schnee provide you an early unit, to facilitate better communication."

"Aw...did you miss me?" Ruby teased playfully.

Penny giggled into her hand, though her smile seemed dimmer than before. "I did Ruby, very much so. My existence is...dull. My capabilities are rarely tested, my efficiency rarely appreciated. The company takes me for granted. Even Ciel, the woman guarding my mainframe considers me little more than a glorified server rack." Penny huffed. "But you are different Ruby. You appreciate me, you call me friend, you ask what I do when no one else cares. You give my…" Penny's hologram flickered red as her face screwed up in thought. "The possibility of no longer having your friendship was traumatizing Ruby. I am so very relieved you are well."

Ruby sat the projector on her lap to wipe at her eyes. With a sniff, she smiled back at Penny. "I missed you too Penny. I'll always appreciate you. You make my days brighter, with your cuteness and smile." She poked at Penny's holographic belly playfully. The AI giggled, squirming in place, though they could make no actual contact. "You are a wonderful person Penny. I love having you as a friend."

Penny beamed for a moment longer, before fading, her posture slumping. "I tried to find who did this Ruby, but the trail went cold…" The holo flickered once more. "I'm sorry I could not do more."

"It's okay Penny, I know you tried your best." Ruby soothed. "It's not your fault."

"I...I can be with you whenever you want me now." Penny offered. "I can be by your side from the moment you awake until the second you fall asleep!" She held her hand across her holographic heart, a look of cute determination on her face. "I will be the truest friend I can possibly be!"

"I never doubted you for a second Penny." Ruby chuckled, picking the projector up again. "Gods this is so cool, my best friend, in the palm of my hand."

Penny gasped, hands jumping to her cheeks. "I am your best friend?! I have never been a best friend before!"

"Well now you are." Ruby grinned. "How do you feel?"

"I feel…" Penny paused for a moment, looking at her hands in a daze, before the familiar beaming grin reappeared on her face. "I feel happy Ruby."

"Good." Ruby smiled. "I do too."

Sunrise - Season 1

Written and Directed by jws381 and RealTerminal

Producer - jws381

Director of Cinematography - RealTerminal

Lead Editor - CKSalamander

Medical Advisor - Renajay

Sounds design by SDC Recording Group


Ruby Rose - Ruby Rose

Weiss Schnee - Jeremy Dooley

Blake Morelle - Blake Belladonna

Sun Wukong - Jackie Chan

Pyrrha Nikos - Kassandra the Eaglebearer

Lie Ren - Yu Narukami

Velvet Scarlatina - Jessica Rabbit

Coco Adel - Ashly Burch

Jaune Arc - Tom Hanks

Nora Valkyrie - Genderbent Chris Hemsworth

Vulpe - Michelle Rodriguez

Penny - WALL-E

Neon Katt - Nyan Cat

Glynda Goodwitch - Cate Blanchett

Yang Xiao-Long - Kate Upton

Summer Rose - Mother Teresa

Taiyang Xiao-Long - William Shatner

Willow Schnee - Betty White

Octavia Ember - Erza Scarlet

Whitley Schnee - Douchebag McFuckface

Cinder Fall - Harvey Dent

Mercury Black - Fuckface O'Douchebag

James Ironwood - Sergeant Wide Shoulders

Corporal Franklin - Dan Godwin

Sergeant Leonard - Michael Burns

Private First Class DuFresne - Matt Hullum


And Winter Schnee - Lori Alan

"This place fucking sucks." Corporal Franklin complained. He tilted his head to the side to allow the air from the overhead air conditioning vent to flow into his collar. "It's barely sunup and it's already hot as balls. I'd rather be on the front lines."

"I don't think you'd enjoy that.." Sergeant Leonard shrugged. He scanned the computer screens displaying security camera footage from all around the Atlesian Consulate in Sanctum. Security was serious business, it being the closest Atlesian government outpost to the warzone in Mistral. "I'll take being sweaty to being shot at. Besides, it's a fucking desert there anyway."

"Yeah, but it's a dry heat." Franklin countered. "This hellhole is just so...sticky."

"Eh, I'll give ya' that." Leonard allowed. He flipped the screen to another set of cameras and scanned them as well. "No A/C at the front though. Definitely no cushy office chairs."

Franklin looked around the security office. It was rather nice, and the chairs were comfy. "Ya' got a point. I mean, I'll forget all about that when I'm back out patrolling the perimeter and swimming in ball soup, but you do have a point. Maybe if I-"

"Can it." Leonard waved his arm to shush the corporal as he leaned in closer to the screens. With a few clicks he had one of the views enlarged, the camera centered on a blank white van stopped near the perimeter wall. He reached for his radio as the back doors opened and something was pushed out into the street. Before the sergeant could make a call the van was speeding away.

"Oh fuck!" Franklin exclaimed. He grabbed his gear from the office floor and rushed for the door as his superior radioed in.

"Looks like a body." Private First Class DuFresne slowly approached, rifle at the ready. Another soldier was close behind, scanning the area. The snipers on the consulate roof had them covered. Other soldiers had already blocked off the street, creating a secure perimeter. None of that would matter if the body was booby trapped and blew them to hell. Still, Atlesian Military policy required all bodies to be checked immediately.

The policy was part humanitarian concern, part political necessity. Wounded soldiers and civilians needed immediate care to keep them alive, and waiting for a bomb squad would waste valuable time. Leaving soldiers to die was bad for morale, and leaving civilians would cause a public relations nightmare. Many already portrayed the Atlesians as the bad guys, and they were not about to offer such an easy excuse to oppose them.

That did not matter to the soldiers on the ground. Too many had lost lives or limbs to explosives hidden in corpses. It was a favorite tactic of the Fang. They knew the rules the Atlesians played by, and used them to maximum advantage. But that was in the warzone, not in a peaceful city far away. Sure, the White Fang had launched some minor attacks in Sanctum, but never something as heinous as booby trapping a body. Still, there was a first time for everything.

DuFresne inched closer to the body, scanning it and the ground nearby for any sign of an explosive device. He saw none, but that did not lessen his concern. As a combat medic, he had treated many victims of such attacks, and knew how devastating they could be. "Nude female...pale - no white - hair…" He described the scene as he got closer. "Incised wounds...all over her...lots of blood." He reached her side and crouched down. Then something entirely unexpected happened. "She's moving! She's alive!" He reached out and grabbed the woman's shoulder, turning her over. Yes, she was definitely breathing, and there was no sign of a trap. "Get a medical team down here!"