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Linked in Life and Love - Act III: Family Rights

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She was running. Her lungs burned, her legs ached, but she pushed on. In the distance, a fear-filled yowl pierced through the silent forest. In the same second, a strange noise sounded, like a roar mixed with an enraged snort. She pushed herself harder, forcing herself to move faster, to get to the sounds as quickly as possible. Up ahead, a clearing. She could see something small and thin dart past, a hulking, threatening creature hot on its heels. She leapt into the clearing, putting herself between the two. She growled at the creature, her silver eyes boring into the red burning orbs behind a pale white mask. She tensed her hind legs, ready to leap-

Thump!


Beacon Academy, Infirmary

Ruby gasped, jolted out of her sleep by the sound of something heavy hitting the floor. She blinked her bleary eyes rapidly, the last remnants of her strange dream fading as she registered the early morning light shining through the infirmary windows. She glance down at herself, dimly wondering when she'd changed into her sleep clothes.

"Oh… oh, no… this is… this is bad… can't…"

Panicked mutterings pushed the last bits of sleep out of Ruby's system. Her eyes darted around the darkened room, finding all the other beds empty, save one with a pile of swords on it, thin wires running from their hilts down on the floor. Sucking in a startled gasp, Ruby pushed herself up, ignoring the mild throbbing in her broken leg. She followed the wires' path, finding…

"Penny?"

Penny laid on the infirmary floor, her limbs splayed at odd angles, like a puppet with its strings cut. She turned her head jerkily towards Ruby's voice, her vibrant green eyes filled with fear and panic. Her whole body was shaking.

Ruby pushed herself up further, leaning forward as if to leap from her bed. "Penny, are you okay?"

The robotic girl stared up at Ruby, her face full of shock and desperation. "R-Ruby?" Her voice sounded mostly normal, but still had a slight tinny echo to it, every other word stuttering. "Wha-what am I doing here? W-where are we?"

Ruby frowned, concerned. "Beacon's infirmary. We all came here after the fight. You and me were the only ones hurt bad enough to stay the night."

Penny's eyes widened in fright. "'A-all'? Y-you mean… your team? S-Sun and Ne-Neptune? Th-they saw m-me like th-this?"

Ruby gave a small nod. "Sorry. When we got back here… there was really no hiding what you are, what with the sparks and your… wire… sword… things."

Penny jerked in surprise, twisting her head around. The sudden motion pulled at one of her wires, sending a black and green sword clattering to the ground. Penny watched it fall in horror.

"They… they saw… Ruby!" Penny crawled forward a bit, pulling moe swords off the bed. She looked up at Ruby in desperation. "D-did anyone e-else see me like th-this?"

Ruby swallowed, her heart dropping into her stomach as she looked into Penny's fear filled eyes. "J-just the night nurse." She looked away from Penny's eyes, not wanting to see Penny's reaction. "And… Professor Ozpin."

Ruby jumped as an electrical pop! echoed through the quiet room. Her eyes snapped back down to Penny, and the look of pure terror on the android's face gave her chills. A thin trail of smoke curled from Penny's left ear.

"O-Ozpin?" Penny murmured faintly, her head rocking from side to side in denial. She started pushing back away from Ruby's bed. "Professor O-Ozpin saw me like… he kn-knows that I'm…" She suddenly pushed off the ground hard, almost getting her legs under her, only to fall back down in a boneless heap.

Ruby jolted forward, panicked by her friend's collapse. "Penny! What-?"

She was cut off when Penny tried to stand again, this time not even making it to her knees. As she hit the ground, more sparking sounds came from within her. "I-I have to g-get out of h-here!" Her voice grew more panicked, static tinging her words. "The General s-said that Professor O-Ozpin can't know w-what I a-am!"

Ruby tried to lean down, reaching for her panicked friend. "Penny, wait! If you just-ahh!"

A startled gasp left Ruby's lips when her hand slipped, sending her full weight falling off the bed. Ruby landed with a thud, a metallic twang echoing through the room as her brace hit the ground hard.

Blinding, raging, pain shot up Ruby's leg, nearly making her scream. Unlike the previous night, her leg felt like it was once again in one piece, but that burning, agonizing pain had only gotten worse. Ruby tried to curl up around her leg, but the brace kept it straight, which only created more pain when she tried to force her leg to bend.

So bad was the pain that she almost didn't hear Penny's voice grow even more hysterical, this time with a loud shout of "Ruby!"

Ruby forced her eyes open, flashing her a smile that felt just as painful as it looked. "I'm okay, Penny," she lied through her clenched teeth, her voice just an octave higher due to the pain. "J-just a few bruises."

Penny just stared, frozen in shock, just barely holding herself up by her elbows.

Ruby took a deep breath, forcing herself to ignore the pain. Seeing that Penny had stopped her frantic escape attempt, the sniper decided to move before that changed. Slowly, she reached out with both arms and started dragging herself across the aisle, her fingers slipping slightly on the cold linoleum. An ungodly screeching droned as her brace scraped across the floor with every pull.

Penny watched with wide eyes, her body still trembling. When Ruby's arm slipped just a few feet from reaching her, Penny threw out her arm without thinking, catching Ruby by the shoulder before her nose could crack against the hard floor.

Ruby was surprised, but flashed Penny a thankful smile as she carefully pulled herself up to sit. Her breath hitched as she rolled over, her leg throbbing. She scooted backwards, until her back hit the side of Penny's bed. Once she was comfortable, she reached over.

Penny stiffened as Ruby grasped her by the arms and pulled. Ruby struggled against her surprising weight. Seeing this, Penny gave a jerky kick backwards, pushing herself forward. Realizing what Ruby wanted, Penny forced her damaged body to roll over, sending more swords tumbling, until she was sitting side-by-side with her friend.

Ruby grinned at her, breathing a bit harder than usual. She threw an arm across Penny's shoulders, mindful of her jetpack's sharp edges. "There… that's better… right?"

Penny blinked at her, then looked away. "You didn't have to fall out of bed like that." The stutter in her voice had vanished, but still held that metallic echo.

Ruby rubbed the back of her head with her free arm, smiling sheepishly. "Yeah, well… wasn't exactly my plan." She frowned when Penny didn't smile back. "Are you okay?"

Penny glanced at her briefly. She shifted in place, and Ruby could feel the light tremors running through her body. She also felt oddly warm. "My synthskin has been completely restored, but several of my internal components are still damaged. My aura should repair them faster now that I'm activated."

Ruby nodded, but her frown deepened. "That's good… but that's not really what I asked."

Penny hesitated, then hung her head, letting out a shaky breath. "I'm in so much trouble."

Ruby tilted her head. "Why?"

Penny stared at her in disbelief. "I-I was supposed to be back by ten-o'clock last night… and I was never supposed to let Ozpin know that I'm… I'm…"

"Synthetic?"

Penny's face tightened a bit as she nodded. "Yes… Professor Ozpin was against the project that lead to my creation. The General is worried about how he'll react when he finds out that I was made anyway."

Ruby hummed, shifting a little closer. "Well… he didn't seem angry last night. At least… I don't think he was."

Penny wasn't convinced, her leg giving a slight twitch as something within it clicked back into place. "What did he say?"

Ruby shrugged. "Not much. Just that he wanted to talk to all of us about the fight against Torchwick today. We're supposed to meet with him at ten."

Penny blinked at that. She was silent for a moment, and Ruby thought she saw her green eyes flash. Penny frowned. "It's a quarter past six right now."

That got a groan out of Ruby, as she over exaggerated falling against Penny's shoulder, hanging her head. "Noooo…! Why do I keep getting up early on Sundays?" A wave of exhaustion hit Ruby, as if her body agreed with that sentiment.

A small smile formed on Penny's face at the sniper's antics. "You could go back to sleep."

Ruby thought about it, letting out a low hum. "I could try."

"Okay. Do you want me to help you back into…?"

Penny trailed off as, to her utter shock, Ruby removed her arm from Penny's shoulders, only to then snuggle against her side, tucking the top of her head into the crook of Penny's neck.

Penny's cheeks tinted with a green glow. "Ru-Ruby?"

Ruby just muttered into Penny's shirt, her words muffled. "I'm tired… you're warm."

Penny fidgeted nervously. She'd never been in this kind of situation before. Having someone this close to her was extremely odd… but strangely, it also felt quite nice. Still, she couldn't help but ask, "...is it really appropriate for you to sleep against me like this, given your current relationship status?"

A sleepy chuckle escaped Ruby's mouth. "They won't get jealous. They know I love them and wouldn't hurt them like that. I'm tired and I trust you. They'll get that." She then frowned grumpily. "Plus, they all cuddled together last night without me. I got cheated."

Penny tilted her head a bit, but didn't think much of it. Instead, she let out a quiet sigh. "...you're lucky," she muttered as she felt Ruby's breathing slow. A single silver eye cracked open, looking up at her in question. "Not everyone manages to find such a close relationship, especially with such a unique situation as yours." She hummed to herself, a wayward thought striking her. "I wish I was able to have such a relationship."

"Why can't you?"

Penny flinched in surprise, finding Ruby now looking at her with both eyes. She hadn't meant to say that out loud. She thought Ruby was making a joke… until she noted the genuine confusion on Ruby's face. "Ruby… I'm a robot," she explained shortly, her cheeks glowing brighter.

Ruby frowned deeper. 'So?"

Penny could only blink at that. After a few seconds, all she could say was, "...you are a very odd person, Ruby Rose."

Ruby just gave her a sleepy smile. In just a few moments, she was out.

As light snores filled the room, Penny frowned at the sleeping girl. The way she brushed off her synthetic nature was… disconcerting. And not just her; Weiss hadn't dwelled on her nature at all, either. Penny wondered how the rest of the teens from last night had reacted to the truth about her. If they didn't have an issue either…

Penny leaned her head back, a slight ping! sounding as a joint in her neck popped back into place. She closed her eyes and let her mind wander as her aura did its work. At this rate, she should be fully healed in just a couple hours. Until then, she just listened to Ruby's slow breathing, wondering what laid in store for her at the hands of Professor Ozpin.


Beacon Academy Airfield

It was relatively early on the Beacon grounds. Being Sunday morning, most of the student population were either still sleeping or only just beginning their day. A few small groups of students were out and about, though nearly all of them had some form of coffee or equivalent on hand as they cut across the courtyard towards the waiting Bullheads.

General Ironwood watched them scurry about with a curious eye, standing near an empty platform at the far end of the airfield. There was a certain feel about these teenagers, a lightness that his own students seemed to lack. Frankly, the school as a whole seemed the opposite of Atlas Academy, more bright and cheerful, though there was a worrying lack of discipline among them. He'd nearly stepped in when he witnessed, in broad view of everyone around, a large young man in bronze armor yank on the ear of a passing rabbit Faunus.

The only reason Ironwood didn't was because, no sooner had the young man done the deed, then a girl in a brown beret rounded the corner, and gave the young man a tongue-lashing that left the General both disconcerted and slightly impressed. The young man had sneered at the two girls, until another pair of boys arrived, one of them being a full two heads higher than the bronze-armored boy, and glared him down. The young man had scurried back towards the school shortly after, and the group of apparent teammates had carried on their way, the girl in the beret fretting over the rabbit Faunus' bent ear.

Ironwood shook his head. He knew that some of his own Atlassian students weren't much better in their views and actions, but none of them would escalate things to the point of becoming physical. He simply wouldn't tolerate it.

He glanced down at his watch. His brow creased in concern. His meeting with Ozpin was in twenty minutes, yet there was still no sign of-

The familiar whirl of a Bullhead's engine sounded overhead. Ironwood looked up and watched as a glistening white airship touched down beside him, the SDC logo proudly embossed on its side.

Not two seconds after landing, the Bullhead's door flew open, and a scowling Winter Schnee marched out of it at a brisk pace, leaving a baffled SDC worker standing in the opening.

Ironwood smiled at his second-in-command, already turning to walk towards the school. "Good to see you, Specialist. How was your trip back home?"

Winter shot him an unamused glance, though her face softened as she fell into step beside him. "A waste of time, doubly so after I received the information you sent me. My father had no knowledge of the missing prototypes, nor any of our other equipment."

Ironwood nodded grimly. "I take it then that you read the files on your way here?"

Winter nodded back, though Ironwood took note of the slight dip of her lips. "Yes sir, though the specifics were rather vague regarding last night's events. I understand that my sister was involved in some way?"

Ironwood let out a huff of a laugh. "In a way. From what I understand, she, her team, two Haven students, and Penny all took it upon themselves to take down a rogue Paladin prototype."

Winter's eyes widened a little, then narrowed. "I see," she said plainly, an edge of frost in her words. "That's… interesting. Any idea why Penny would agree to do something so… foolhardy?"

Ironwood shook his head. "That's one of the first things I'm going to ask her once this meeting is underway."

Winter hummed at that, her eyes drifting upwards towards Beacon's various towers and spires, all sparkling in the morning sun. Her frown deepened. She looked towards the General with thinly veiled apprehension. "Sir, is this really the wisest choice of action?"

Ironwood let out a deep sigh of resignation. "Not so much 'the wisest choice' as it is the best of a short list of bad ones. Ozpin has already discovered Penny's secret. To withhold information about her now would not only be insulting, but could be misconstrued as us actively working against him. Ozpin already thinks Project Polendina was a bad idea. Hopefully, once we show him the progress Penny has made, we can change his mind."

Winter hummed in thought. "Some individuals will not like revealing Penny's nature to Professor Ozpin," she stated simply.

Ironwood made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a scoff. He had a strong suspicion who one of the 'individuals' Winter was referring to was. "They'll just have to live with it. Just because they provided funding for the project does not mean I will bend over backwards to appease them."

As Ironwood spoke, Winter's lip twitched a bit, forming a non-existent smirk. "As you say, General."

The General nodded in response, smiling slightly. As they stepped into Beacon's shadow, however, the grin slowly slipped off his face. Just short of the main entrance, he slowed to a stop. "Winter?" he asked, turning to face his second. "May I ask you something?"

Winter stood next to him, giving a stiff nod. "Of course, sir."

Ironwood went to speak, then paused, looking thoughtful. He glanced around, finding that the two of them were currently the only occupants of the courtyard. Meeting the Specialist's eyes, he said, "Winter, you've spent more time with Penny than anyone else short of her 'father'. In your lessons with Penny, has she ever given you her thoughts on becoming the Fall Maiden?"

Winter blinked, slightly perplexed. "Sir?"

Ironwood looked away, his eyes drifting towards the center statue of Beacon's courtyard, a Hunter and Huntress standing above a roaring Beowolf. He let out a short breath. "Something Oz said to me last night. Winter, I believe I may have made an error regarding Penny, one that Oz will no doubt ask Penny about himself." At Winter's bemused expression, he continued. "It's just… we've spent all our time and resources crafting Penny to become the perfect Fall Maiden. Yet, for the life of me, I cannot recall ever asking her if she actually wants to become a Maiden."

Winter's eyes noticeably widened. "Sir…" she started hesitantly. "She… hasn't stated otherwise, at least not to me. But… why would she? Isn't that the entire reason Penny was created?"

Ironwood's frown morphed into a small grimace. "I have a feeling that's exactly the point Oz was trying to make."

Winter nodded slowly. "...this meeting is not going to go well, is it?"

Ironwood took a deep breath, his face blank. "We will see." With that, he continued into the school, Winter following dutifully.

The trip through Beacon's corridors was silent. Very few students were roaming the halls, the few who were ignored the pair, though one or two looked back at Winter in confusion. They were nearly to the right elevator when a voice came from behind them.

"General!"

The two stopped, turning to face the newcomer. Ironwood smiled a little. "Glynda," he greeted, giving the Beacon teacher a respectful nod as she closed the distance between them. "I hope we're not late."

Glynda didn't smile, but she reciprocated the nod, giving one to Winter as well. "You're a bit early, actually. I was on my way to collect Penny now."

In an instant, Ironwood's face tightened. "I see… and do you…?"

"I know, James," Goodwitch stated firmly, her eyes narrowing a bit. It was not so much anger in her voice as it was resignation. "Frankly, I share Ozpin's views on the matter, but I'm willing to listen to your reasoning."

Ironwood grimaced, but only slightly. "That's all I ask. Would you mind escorting me to Ozpin's office? I'm sure Winter would be more than happy to collect Penny in your stead."

Winter gave the General only the briefest glance before nodding in agreement.

Glynda hesitated for a moment, then relented. "I suppose. Ozpin did want to speak to you as soon as possible. Winter, you'll find Penny in the infirmary."

Winter's stony facade cracked in confusion. "The infirmary, ma'am?"

Glynda simply nodded, glancing down at her scroll. "Yes. All the students involved in last night's affair went there after the fight. I'd ask you to collect another student from the infirmary as well, the leader of their impromptu operation: a girl named Ruby Rose."

At that, Winter's eyes widened, then narrowed as a determined look spread over her face. "Of course, ma'am. General." She offered Ironwood a brisk nod, then marched off in the direction of the infirmary.

Ironwood raised an eyebrow at his second's quick departure, but ignored it. He instead motioned for Glynda to pass him. "Lead the way?"

Glynda just nodded, already moving as the General tried to keep up.


As Winter walked down the empty halls, she couldn't help but feel a small amount of anticipation.

She had not spoken to Weiss in months, due to a combination of conflicting schedules and their father's meddling. Finding that she had been enrolled in Beacon rather than Atlas had been an unexpected surprise, but a good one. Frankly, the further her sister was from their bastard of a father, the better.

Unfortunately, Weiss had neglected to contact her in the intervening months since her enrollment. Not surprising, given her sister's mentality when last they spoke, but still disappointing. Winter had several questions for her that a simple scroll call could have answered. How did she like Beacon? How was her training going?

Who was Ruby Rose?

That last one had been burning inside her for a while. Since Weiss wouldn't call her, and likely wouldn't appreciate Winter calling to check up on her 'little sister', Winter tried to get answers a different way: calling in a favor from Professor Ozpin himself. Of course, the man could never give a straight answer (she suspected being ambiguous and aloof was just how the Headmaster had his fun), and had instead sent her a simple file containing the names and pictures of Weiss' team. Or rather… Ruby Rose's team.

Yes, Winter had several questions for her sister when they reunited. She regretted the fact that the first time Weiss reached out to her, just yesterday, she'd been engaged in a relentless battle against her father's bloated ego. At least now, she and Weiss could have that conversation in person. But for the moment, perhaps she could get one answer herself.

A few turns down Beacon's hallways, and Winter found herself at the infirmary doors. She pushed them open, entering a small waiting room. A young woman in a nurse's uniform sat behind a plain desk, reading a pile of paperwork. She looked up as the doors opened.

"Can I help you?" she asked.

Holding herself with her usual poise, Winter nodded to the woman. "I've come to collect two girls for a meeting with Professor Ozpin: Penny Polendina and Ruby Rose."

At the names, the nurse blinked in surprise, then, confusingly, smirked. She pointed to a pair of double doors to Winter's left. "They're right through there. Hope you have better luck getting them up than I did."

Winter frowned at her, head tilting slightly, but the woman had already turned back to her papers, laughing softly to herself.

Curiosity mixing with concern, Winter pushed through the doors, entering a room lined with beds She looked around, finding them all empty, save one with a pair of Penny's swords hanging off the edge. Confused, she went around the bed. When she looked down, her blue eyes widened, her mouth falling open in shock.

When Ironwood had called for her to come to Beacon, Winter had prepared herself for a multitude of situations, ranging from the unpleasant to downright hostile. Finding Penny sitting on the floor, eyes closed, with Weiss' team leader all but sleeping in her lap, was not on the list.

"Penny?" Winter gasped, none-too quietly.

Penny's eyes snapped open, quickly going from a pale grey to their usual vibrant green. Likely jolted out of Sleep Mode, Winter thought absently. Penny looked down at Ruby Rose, blinked, then looked up at Winter. Her cheeks tinted green in an instant.

"M-miss Winter!" Penny whisper-shouted. Winter took note of the faint echo in her voice, and the small jerk when she fully turned her head. "W-what are you doing here?"

A sharp question was on the tip of Winter's tongue, but she forced it down. Instead, she inhaled deeply through her nose, giving Penny a pointed look. "I've come to collect you and… Miss Rose for Professor Ozpin's meeting. If you could…" She gestured towards the sleeping girl.

Penny quickly understood, giving a rapid nod. She shook Ruby's shoulder. "Ruby, wake up. It's time for the meeting."

Ruby gave a groan of discontent, but her eyes soon blinked open. She shifted away from Penny, stretching her arms up as she let loose a large yawn. "Is… is it ten already?"

"9:22, to be exact," Penny replied helpfully.

Ruby nodded slowly, humming in acknowledgement. "Oh, not late then. Good." She then looked up, just then noticing the other person in the room.

Winter met her bleary stare evenly. She expected the girl to be surprised, startled, maybe even worried, depending on what Weiss had told her. What she did not expect was for Ruby Rose to give her a large, almost loving smile, silver eyes shining with warmth.

"Hey, Weiss," Ruby said, stifling another yawn. "Worried I was gonna be late… for…?" Ruby then frowned, shaking her head a little. After blinking the last bits of sleep out of her eyes, Ruby looked Winter up and down. Again, Winter's expectations were dashed when the girl simply tilted her head to the side, looking mildly puzzled. "You're not Weiss," she stated plainly.

Winter blinked at Ruby. In some distant part of her mind, she was impressed. Within the first minute of meeting her, Ruby Rose had managed to confuse her. Rather than dwell on this, Winter simply lifted her chin, looking down her nose at the girl. "No, I'm not. I am Atlassian Specialist WinterSchnee."

Again, whatever Winter was expecting, it was not for the young leader's face to brighten like a child receiving a present. "Oh! You're Weiss' big sister! I was hoping to- Ow!"

Winter actually stepped forward in concern as Ruby Rose tried to jump to her feet, only to slam back down when her braced leg remained unmoving. The girl clutched at her leg for a moment, gritting her teeth. She let out a groan. "Right… forgot about that."

Winter raised an eyebrow at that. "You… forgot about your broken leg?"

Ruby Rose flashed her a sheepish grin that seemed almost too big. "Sorry. It takes a bit for me to really wake up. Weiss says I'm scatterbrained in the morning." She giggled to herself, leaning against the bed as she slowly got to her feet, Penny offering her assistance. "Guess she's not wrong!"

Winter could only stare. This is the girl that had beat Weiss out for team leader? But before she could really think on it, Ruby Rose turned slightly against Penny. Winter's eyes widened, then narrowed as she caught sight of the girl's neck.

Yes, she had many, many questions for her sister.

Once Ruby was up, leaning heavily on Penny, she glanced around the room. "Um, you wouldn't happen to have seen any-"

"Looking for these, Miss Rose?"

Their attention was drawn to the infirmary doors as the nurse Winter had spoken to walked through, holding a pair of crutches. The nurse shot Winter a small smile, nodding to her. "Nice work waking them up. Miss Rose would just mumble when I tried." Ruby pouted at her, which she ignored, simply turning her smile to the young girl. "I suppose you're feeling better then, Miss Rose, given you're back on your feet?"

Ruby's pout faded into a bright smile. "Yep! Right as rain!... ow…" She winced as she adjusted the crutches under arms, accidentally putting too much weight on her bad leg. She laughed awkwardly. "Well, I will be in a couple days."

Winter raised a bemused brow at the girl's words. Healing from a broken leg in two days? She can't really believe that.

To her surprise, the nurse just smirked at her. "From anyone else, I'd call that arrogance. You have some very potent aura, Miss Rose."

Ruby ducked her head a little at the praise. "My Semblance helps speed things along."

The nurse nodded. "I assumed so." Then she turned to Penny, looking the girl over. Penny shrank away from her gaze, keeping her eyes to the floor. Before Winter could think to break the awkward air, the nurse said, "I must apologize for leaving you in the state you were last night, Miss Polendina. I wasn't quite sure how to treat you, given your… status."

Penny flinched when she started speaking, but quickly looked up at the nurse's calm tone. Seeing no scorn or unease, a hesitant smile spread across her lips. "It's fine, ma'am. My aura's fixed most of my injuries, and the rest only require some light maintenance. Thank you for your concern."

The nurse raised a brow at her word choice. "'Maintenance', huh?" Penny's cheeks blazed again, but the nurse spoke again, smiling. "Well, you're polite. That's a good point in my book."

Penny looked surprised, but smiled back, wider than before.

Before there could be anymore distractions, Winter cleared her throat. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but it's almost time for our meeting with Professor Ozpin. Is Miss Rose ready to leave?"

The nurse turned to her, nodding. "She is so long as she doesn't push herself too hard." She gave Ruby a stern look. "At all. The next time you come in here, it better only be to get that brace off. Understand, Miss Rose?"

Ruby gave a sheepish nod. "Yes, ma'am."

"Good," Winter said. "Penny, if you could retract your weapons?"

Penny nodded. "Of course." Penny's eyes glowed brighter, and her jetpack split apart into two swords. A sharp clacking filled the room as each of Penny's blades started to fold up into neat rectangles. Penny's body gave a small jolt, and all the wires running from Penny's back retracted, each of her compacted swords disappearing into her back.

Ruby caught the briefest glimpse of the compartment in Penny's back, filled with a plethora of grey components and glowing green wires, before a flesh-colored panel slid into place, followed by the back of Penny's shirt closing over it like curtains. "So cool…" she murmured, stars in her eyes.

"Miss Rose," Winter's crisp voice brought Ruby out of her amazement. "Penny. If you'll follow me, please."

Without another word, Winter strode to the doors, holding them open with an expectant look. Penny and Ruby gave the nurse one last smile, then followed her. Ruby took a few steps to get a feel for the crutches, Penny hovering close by just in case she fell. Winter thankfully walked at a slower pace, letting Ruby keep up with her.

As the three left the infirmary, Ruby was bursting with questions. She'd been hoping to meet Weiss' sister one day, so this was perfect! Though, why was Winter here at Beacon? Wait, no, she'd already said, the meeting with Professor Ozpin. Well, maybe she could ask some questions about Winter herself. What did she like? What was her weapon?

Ooh! Maybe she can tell me what Weiss was like as a kid! Maybe even-

"Miss Rose."

Ruby froze as Winter came to a stop in the middle of the hallway. The older woman turned around, looking down at her.

"May I ask you a question?"

Ruby didn't like the look she was giving her. It reminded her too much of the one Professor Goodwitch had when she screwed up during lessons, or her dad when he caught her trying to sneak cookies in the middle of the night.

"Um… okay?" Ruby said hesitantly, bracing herself slightly. Penny looked between the two, concerned.

Winter's words were calm, collected, not a hint of accusation in them. Yet they still made Ruby's heart jump into her throat.

"Would you mind telling me why you have a Faunus' Mate's Mark with my family's symbol on it?"

Ruby's response was just as calm… mostly from shock.

"Uh… wha?"