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This time of year the ground was hard.  The top layer of dirt was still frozen through with frost as if refusing to accept the end of winter.  Whatever blades of grass there were to be found crunched loudly underfoot, making it impossible to walk quietly, but also difficult to be caught by surprise.

She’d always enjoyed the winter weather as the onset of spring began to announce its presence through tiny shoots of green peeking out from the brown.  The visible clouds that escaped her mouth with every exhale, the chill that snuck into her bones no matter how many layers she wore, the way ice and frost slowly released their holds on the dormant land…this was the end of winter in Atlas, which stubbornly lingered for as long as possible rather than slipping wordlessly into spring.

This was the weather she’d grown up with.  This was the weather she was accustomed to.  But, if she was completely honest, she’d be forced to admit that she missed the warm springtime of Vale - where winter disappeared with nothing but a whisper of white amongst a sea of green, purple, red, pink, and every color in between...where the sun’s rays were enough to thaw away any last breath of cold.

But being nostalgic at this moment served her no purpose.  She wasn’t in Vale. She wasn’t even in Atlas right now. She was out in the middle of nowhere where the city lights ceased to exist and wilderness claimed every bit of space surrounding her.

Alone.  Just like she wanted to be.

If there was any benefit to this weather, it was that it was perfect for hunting.  Twigs and branches snapped easily as Grimm passed through the trees. The frozen ground wouldn’t allow the creatures to dig their giant claws into it, removing a small advantage of speed and agility that the terrain normally afforded them.  These two factors would certainly play into the outcome of the night, when she tested her skills against the worst the forest had to offer.  

The test would begin soon - as the pack of Beowolves trailing her had become almost obnoxiously loud while she led them deeper into the woods.  There was no good reason for pushing further into Grimm-infested territory, yet she pressed on. Her pace was steady and controlled while she ducked under branches and dodged around thorn bushes.  Even as her pulse began to accelerate, she didn’t allow her pace to creep up from the combination of adrenaline and apprehension. Her current speed would be enough to keep the Grimm behind her - for now.

Her eyes and training led her in the direction of a patch of trees which appeared only moderately lighter than the others.  Following that invisible path, the forest grew thinner and thinner as the trees spread apart and suddenly fell away into an open clearing. 

It was a decent sized space and likely existed only to serve the small pond set within the ring of trees.  The banks were muddy and she would wager that the water would be icy cold if dipped into. The rest of the clearing was a mixture of compacted dirt and the first efforts of grass to return to the area.  Bumpy, with some old debris strewn about, it would serve her purpose.

Racing to the edge of the pond, which would act as a natural barrier behind her, she skidded to a stop right before the dirt turned into a sticky mud.  Raising Myrtenaster in her left hand, she spun to face her pursuers as they crashed out of the tree line on her heels. 

A surge of adrenaline swept through her veins as she readied for battle, yet sight of the Beowolves was mildly disappointing.  It was only a group of ten, which wasn’t anything she couldn’t handle on her own. The purpose of traveling this far was not to find an easy battle - it was to find a struggle that might be out of her reach.

Disappointment fell into action as the Beowolves rushed across the clearing towards her.  Her eyes instantly pinpointed the howler - the one Beowolf left behind to call any Grimm in the vicinity to the battle at hand.  Every combat strategy she’d ever been taught began and ended with eliminating the howler as quickly as possible. Cutting off their call would keep the fight contained to the local level and prevent it from potentially snowballing out of hand.

But there were only ten…

Eyes shifting away from the howler and to the nearest Beowolf, she surged forward with a glyph under her feet.  The slight jolt of Myrtenaster contacting skin and bone sent another kick of adrenaline racing through her veins as the creature collapsed to the earth behind her, only to fade into black ash and drift away on the breeze.

One.

The next two lined up for her perfectly, allowing her to dash into the space between them and swipe left and right to dispatch them in succession.  Immediately ducking as a set of claws sailed over her head, she skated backwards several steps to reevaluate the remaining Grimm. There were eleven now - four more joining the fight in the time she’d spent destroying the first of them.  

This section of woods must be densely populated for them to be showing up so quickly...

Another howl cut through the air while numbers four, five, and six rushed her all at once from different directions.  In the time she had before they reached her, she summoned glyphs behind each of them before shooting through in rapid succession - taking their hearts with her.  If Grimm had hearts, which she was certain they did not.

Growls and snarls filled the air now - that and her own breathing as her heart raced with energy.  The pounding was exhilarating - proving to her in no uncertain terms that she was absolutely not one of the creatures she sought to slay.  Somewhere, deep down, she was still human - living, breathing, with a soul.

There was no time to count Beowolves now because her entire focus needed to remain on those that were on the cusp of attacking her...but there were a great deal more than when the fight had begun.  Every second there was a claw slashing through her vision as they charged from every direction but from behind her. The pond had, thankfully, given her only 180 degrees that she needed to defend. Almost as if it was her -

Taking a quick step out of the way of another attack, her foot unexpectedly caught a divot in the ground and sent her pitching forward.  Correcting into a tumble, she jumped to her feet as fast as she could while swinging Myrtenaster blindly for protection. Catching an arm and causing the Beowolf to howl in anger, she sketched a path between the Grimm to another bend of the lake.  As she flew through them, she slashed and stabbed constantly - trying in vain to thin their ranks. New enemies were arriving faster than she’d anticipated, lining the edge of the forest in black with glowing red eyes.

Reaching a clearer patch of land, she planted her feet before being swept instantly back into the fray.  Her temporary escape had been nothing more than a momentary reprieve that had bought her maybe two seconds of additional damage done.  Considering the howls ripping through the night and the constant flash of black and red crossing her vision, she needed much more than two seconds to tilt the scales in her favor.

A dot of concern pricked the back of her mind.  If there had been more time to adequately analyze the situation it might have been a flash of fear, but there was no opportunity to analyze anything.  There was only time to breath, react, and survive.  

Summoning a greater portion of her power, she drew a large glyph on the ground before using considerable energy to thrust it forward - throwing half of the beasts backwards with one flick.  Some of them howled as they slammed into the trees before falling to the hardened ground and struggling back to their feet.  

It wasn’t enough to kill them, but it was enough to give her a little breathing room and hopefully prevent her from having to concede anymore ground to the onslaught.  The swarm of Beowolves in the clearing was forcing her steadily backward, inch by inch. Already she could feel the slight gumminess in her shoes as the ground grew more and more saturated by water.  She couldn’t let them push her too far back - 

Ripping her weapon out of the nearest Grimm, the black dust was still swirling in the air as a giant claw swung through it.  Jumping backwards, she then burst forward to run the Beowulf through with Myrtenaster. The creature to his left fell immediately after as she slashed in a circle and ducked another claw from further to the left.

The second her eyes lost sight of the rightmost portion of her semicircle what felt like a freight train slammed into her side - knocking her to the ground and filling her nostrils with the stench of Grimm.  A glyph tore the creature off of her before it could attack, but another heavy body pinned her ankle before a searing pain cut across her right elbow.  

The unexpected burning spurred a burst of icicles shooting from her in every direction like shrapnel, clearing out the area in her vicinity and allowing her to regain her footing just as another Beowolf lunged through the air towards her.  Cutting it down before it had retouched the ground, she retreated to the edge of the pond and fell back to the basics to clear the wave of enemies.

Always moving, always fighting.

Breathing.  Heart beating.

Tearing Myrtenaster to one side, she caught a glimpse of the trail of red running freely down her right arm.  The wound was burning, but hardly enough to draw her attention away from the battle that was consuming all of her energy.

It was a scratch.  Just a scratch.

Planting Myrtenaster into a Beowolf’s chest, she then kicked off of a glyph with both feet to catapult herself over the heads of the pair that had collapsed behind her.  It was when she’d landed several paces away that she heard it - the skittering sound of too many feet interspersed with the loud clacking of powerful claws closing around nothing but air.  The sound forced her heart into her throat as the Death Stalker burst into the clearing an instant later.

Groaning, snapping, cracking trees willingly allowed the creature through as it falsely navigated through the foliage in order to join the fray.  Once in the clearing, it charged directly towards her - forcing Beowolves to jump out of its armored way or risk being bowled over themselves.

Mere sight of the Death Stalker turned her blood to a roiling boil in an instant.  As another Beowolf fell, she watched the incoming tank out of the corner of her eye.  Death Stalkers were surprisingly fast for having to operate so many legs in unison...or maybe it was their outsized appearance which made any amount of speed seem terrifying.

Not that she was scared of it in the slightest.  Instead, she was filled with a visceral need to destroy the creature.  To snuff out its very existence in a flash of ferocity.

As it drew nearer, she once again decided to go against the training that was telling her she needed to conserve as much energy as possible.  Efficiency of attacks - defend, defend, defend - use as little movement as possible. That wasn’t going to happen today. Not with the Death Stalker headed her way.

Focusing her mind, she began drawing her semblance together - the feeling akin to some larger force tugging on all of her body at once.  It had taken years of practice to perfect the ability and even longer to figure out how to keep fighting while concentrating so closely, but today it came more naturally to her than ever before.  Although it still rapidly drained her strength...   

Beheading a Beowolf with Myrtenaster before slicing the arm off another, she could see the tip of a giant sword materializing above her head while a portion of her mind fixated upon the image.  Connected to the sword came an arm, shoulders, helmet - down to the torso, legs, and chained boots. A small gasp of effort slipped past her lips as the soldier solidified into a fighting force and stepped over her head.

With one swing, the giant sword cleared all the Grimm from her immediate vicinity, cutting the creatures cleanly through the middle as easily as sliding a hot knife through butter.  Another swing emptied the space to her right and sent the remaining Beowolves skittering towards the edge of the clearing in both confusion and caution.  

Breathing room granted, only then did she turn her full attention to the Death Stalker.  The foolish creature hadn’t ceased its rapid approach even in the face of this new enemy.  She directed the soldier out in front of her to greet the Grimm - his large boots taking enormous, running strides away from her.  The Death Stalker attacked first, shooting its tail forward like a shot out of a cannon. The sword raised and deflected the tail just in time, allowing it to sail past the soldier’s head harmlessly.  When a pincher followed it was knocked downwards as the soldier brought the sword back towards his side.  

The stinger darted forward again, only to be separated from the creature in a black haze that disappeared into the sky.  In that moment of weakness, her warrior brought his sword quickly above his head before slamming it down through the Death Stalker’s back - ignoring the thick, protective plating entirely.  The creature struggled for several seconds in vain, pinned to the ground and unable to free itself. Before it could fade to ash, her conjuring pulled out his sword and grabbed the remainder of the beast’s stinger in his free hand.  In one fluid motion, he swung in a circle before letting go, casting the Grimm out over the treetops...where it burst into a cloud of black dust in front of the rising moon.

The clearing fell oddly silent - the Beowolves being far more wary than the Death Stalker and skirting away from this new foe.  Unperturbed, the soldier put his sword on his back and dusted his hands off as he walked calmly back to her. It was purely showmanship on her part - he had no feelings of vindication of his own, but she relayed her own through his actions.

Ronnie.

The giant stumbled and disappeared when the name flashed through her mind, causing her to suck in a strangled gasp of breath.  Clutching her chest as pain hooked into her heart, she hastily scanned the treeline. There were red eyes peeking out behind every tree - each creature waiting for the opportune time to resume their assault.  They wouldn’t wait much longer.

Using her conjuring had drained much of the stamina she’d had remaining and left her panting heavily from exertion.  A small cloud of air billowed out in front of her in the cold evening air. Myrtenaster felt like a sack of bricks in her hand.  The howls of Grimm were echoing in the distance, growing closer and closer with each passing second. In a few moments, the forest would be bearing down on her.

She may have won the first battle, but she’d declared war on this tiny section of the world.  By herself.

The Beowolves were emerging from the trees again, approaching her carefully - crawling on all fours.  Trees were toppling in the distance as something big and powerful barrelled her way.

And she was exhausted.

There was a line somewhere...the line between life and death...and she’d missed it.  The pounding of adrenaline and her heart had carried her right over it. All of the times she’d come out here by herself trying to push that boundary...and she’d finally done it.  She’d pushed herself too far - too hard - all for the chance to feel alive again. All for the chance to feel...something.

Glancing down, she noticed droplets glistening on the ground by her foot.  Closer inspection revealed that it was blood - her blood - dripping from the gash running from her right elbow down to her wrist.  She hated the way blood looked when it got on her clothing...such a stark contrast to white that it made her heart race.

Watching another drop appear, and another, her breathing hitched in her lungs when the color spread across the ground and covered the bottoms of her boots in the thick liquid.  It wasn’t all from her. It was someone else’s blood...on her hands, her skirt, her everything. Her palm slipped against Myrtenaster’s hilt when she tried to clutch her weapon tightly - the red refusing her grip.  Wiping her hand on her side did nothing to remove the stain. And why would it, when it was scarred across her heart.

Hearing a loud hissing, her eyes found the King Taijitu as it emerged from the forest directly in front of her.  One of the heads bit the top off of a nearby tree, spitting malice in every direction while sliding swiftly towards her.  The Beowolves decided that it was safe to continue with the addition of the monster snake - charging as a pack one last time.  

Myrtenaster was shaking in her hand.  The sweat pooling in her palms slid too easily across the grip.  Her semblance, which normally burned like a candle in her chest, felt faint - nearly extinguished.  Her mind, which refused to slow down regardless of how tired her body felt, knew that the exit was behind her - across the pond.  

But she refused to run.  That’s all she’d been doing for the past year...and look where it had gotten her.  

You can’t just leave her!  Ruby needs you now!

Tears sprang into her eyes as her mind began to shift and crumble like grains of sand.  The voice was so clear, so lifelike - it was growing impossible to hold herself together.  Not anymore. Not after all this time. She was done fighting. It was time for her to atone for her mistakes - she would not run again.

Facing the advancing Grimm, who were only her temporary enemies compared to what lived inside her mind, she fell to her knees and dropped Myrtenaster onto the ground beside her.  The clang of metal hitting hard ground sent a tremor through her skin. It was the sound of defeat. Surrender.

Please think about what you’re doing…

“I can’t,” she whispered, closing her eyes to block out the charging Grimm.

She’s your partner.

“She’s better off without me…”

No one asked you to leave.

“They didn’t want me to stay.”  

It was cruel humor that it was in this moment that she found herself wishing for what she’d been running from this whole time.  One more glance, one more hug. The opportunity to say goodbye. If she could go back in time...there were many things she would do differently, but one of them would be to say goodbye.  Even if it didn’t matter.

That’s when, above the growls, she heard the voice she really didn’t want to hear.

Weiss, what are you doing?

It was upbeat and chipper, but she’d never heard the question any other way.  So filled with innocence and blissful happiness...it tore at her heart in her last seconds of life.

“I’m tired of living like this...I’m tired of living without you...”

The Beowolves were close enough that she could smell them - the scent of a dirty dog that had spent its life living in garbage.  But she didn’t get up. She waited for the voice to come back to her, just one more time. She wanted to apologize - to beg for forgiveness.  

‘Please come back,’ she silently begged.  ‘Please don’t leave me alone at the end.’  

“Weiss!” 

“Weiss!  What are you doing??”

Her eyes flew open when someone grabbed her shoulder and shook roughly.  Looking around in confusion, a minigun started firing right beside her - the sound loud enough to temporarily deafen her left ear.  Velvet was pressing Myrtenaster into her hand and dragging her to her feet, fingers digging roughly into her shoulder in urgency.  

“Get up!” Velvet yelled over the sound of the gun.  “We have to get out of here!”

Dazed by the turn of events, Weiss grasped Myrtenaster and nodded her head numbly.  Coco was laying down fire all around them - mowing down the Beowolves like blades of grass while the King Taijitu still slithered forward.  Its dual heads hissed in unison at the incoming bullets, weaving in an attempt to dodge the attacks. Velvet’s eyes were jumping from point to point, searching for a way through the Grimm and away from this place.

“The pond -” Weiss managed to say before stumbling a few steps back through the mud and plunging the tip of her saber into the water.  Searching for the thread of her semblance, a patch of ice began to appear at her feet - growing quickly and spreading until there was a thin ice bridge crossing the surface of the pond.

Velvet didn’t need instruction to race across the ice, grabbing Weiss’ elbow to drag her along while Coco brought up the rear.  Her muscles were screaming from overuse and exhaustion was beginning to spread like an infection in her mind, but Weiss continued on anyway - allowing Velvet to pull her away from the reality she’d just begun to accept.

The forest on the other side of the pond was relatively clear, but more Beowolves were racing around the outer edge in an attempt to cut off their retreat.  The ones that tried to follow across the ice bridge were plunged into the water when Coco slammed one heel down and crushed it into splinters before catapulting to join Weiss and Velvet on solid ground.

Grouped together, the three of them tore into the trees at a full sprint with an army of Grimm on their tails.  While they raced blindly away from the scene of the battle, Velvet never let go of Weiss’ elbow - providing support whenever Weiss stumbled across a tree root or was snagged by a low branch in their path.  Every part of her physical being burned. Every part of her hurt, but Velvet’s fingers were strong and unrelenting in their firm grasp.

For the longest time, she had no idea where they were headed - they just ran and ran while hoping that the Grimm would surrender their noisy pursuit.  It wasn’t until the trees thinned and the ground tilted to an incline that she found her bearings in the form of a wall of rock to their left.

“That ridge -” she huffed to Velvet between giant gasps for breath.  Unable to say more, she simply pointed up at the plateau she’d descended earlier that day.  Her companions didn’t need further explanation before altering their path to meet the towering cliffside as quickly as possible.  It wasn’t far, if they could make it.

Twigs were scratching at her face and pulling at her arms as they pushed recklessly through.  The uphill race was pushing her to her very limit, depriving her of oxygen while she tried to coax more strength from her depleted muscles.  When the forest finally began to thin at the base of the cliff wall, she lined the ridge with glyphs to be used for a rapid ascent and flinched when the ground shook as a resounding boom filled the air.

The Grimm were close - destroying the forest piece-by-piece in their pursuit.

Velvet finally released Weiss’ arm and bounded up the wall effortlessly - using tiny outcroppings of rock like stepping stones to propel herself upward.  That left Weiss and Coco to use the remaining glyphs and the very last of Weiss’ semblance.

Flying up the side of the ridge with Coco right behind her, Weiss glanced down only after she reached the top.  The forest floor below them was alive - teeming with blackened beasts racing through the trees. Most of the Grimm had momentarily paused their pursuit, but several were already attempting the steep climb to reach them.  Instinctively, her eyes scanned the horizon for Nevermores that might be able to reach them. There were several, but they were so far in the distance they wouldn’t be a threat anytime soon.

One strong hand on her shoulder turned her away from the ledge and pushed her onward.  There was more running to do.  

Velvet was waiting for them - and once they caught up they resumed their retreat through the woods, albeit this time with the sound of Grimm slowly breaking up and fading into the distance.  The ascent up the ridge might have been enough to convince most of the Grimm to search for easier meals tonight...meaning that now they could move at a fast jog instead of an all-out sprint.

Regardless, Weiss’ breathing was labored as her lungs struggled to recover enough oxygen to fully operate.  Coco and Velvet were also breathing quickly, though they didn’t seem to be in as bad of condition as Weiss was currently in.

“I have a transport,” she managed to get out between breaths.  “Waiting -”

Neither of them spoke while following her up the path she’d taken into the forest earlier that night.  Velvet remained by Weiss’ side like glue, while Coco brought up the rear of their small hunting party.

It was only a few moments later, when they could no longer hear the sound of beasts howling through the woods, that Coco slowed to a stop and called out, “Hold up.”

Immediately coming to a stop with heavy feet, Weiss sucked in air while Coco lowered her glasses and scanned the skies and forest around them.  Satisfied with what she found, or the lack thereof, a curt nod said that it would be acceptable to walk from here.

Putting one hand softly on Weiss’ shoulder, Velvet sighed as they fall back in line towards the ship.

“I’m so glad we found you in time,” she said, her tone filled with relief.  “When we heard the Grimm moving away from us, we figured someone was in trouble.”

Turning towards Velvet, Weiss found concerned, warm eyes directed her way.  She tried to smile in return, but she doubted it came out convincingly.

“Thank you...for coming to help.”

That had been the end for her, she’d been sure of it.  Instead, she was panting for air while returning to her transport with two well-heeled guardians at her side.  There would be another day, another battle, another struggle.

And more regrets.

In relative silence, they picked their way carefully through the trees.  Navigating the growing darkness was becoming increasingly difficult with her mediocre vision, but, thankfully, they were close.

“What were you doing - kneeling on the ground like that?” 

Coco’s question broke the quiet and announced that Weiss’ actions hadn’t gone unobserved by her old schoolmates. 

“I was...baiting them.”

“Really?  Because it looked like you were -”

Coco’s words abruptly ended when Velvet threw one pointed look towards her leader.

“What are you doing out here?” Velvet asked instead, her soft accent dispelling any hint of suspicion in the question.

“On assignment.”

“All the way out here?”  Velvet’s voice was incredulous at Weiss’ lie and she shared a glance with Coco before turning back to Weiss.  “I didn’t know they had solo hunts this deep in Grimm territory.”

Keeping her eyes forward and focusing on regaining her breath, Weiss avoided saying anything in response. 

Maybe she wasn’t on an official hunt.  Maybe she hadn’t taken a mission in over a year now.  So what was she doing out here? When she lied to herself, she said that she came out here to ‘clear her mind,’ but in actuality it was to feel alive.  And the only time she felt alive these days was when she was out here flirting with death. She liked to see how far she could push that boundary...and maybe a small part of her wished that it would push back.

But she didn’t feel the need to explain herself to the two who had just saved her life.  Not right now.

“There it is,” she said instead, pointing through a line of trees to the small transport ship waiting to take them back to the edge of Atlas.  The pilot had been instructed to wait for her return and, if she wasn’t back by midnight, to return on his own. The ship was well-hidden and he’d stayed inside the entire time, prepared to lift off immediately in case of an attack.  It was a risky proposition, but that’s why Weiss was paying him extraordinarily well. Fortunately, it looked like everything had remained quiet in this part of the woods.

“Do you want a ride back to the city?” she offered as they grew close.  Velvet and Coco looked at each other for a second before nodding in unison.

“I could use a good night’s sleep,” Coco answered with an easygoing grin.  “And a shower.” 

As soon as the pilot saw them, the hatch lowered so they could walk aboard and liftoff.  Their shoes clanged against the metal steps into the small ship as the engines quickly spurred to life.  No sooner had Coco made it into the cabin did the door close and the ship’s engines grow even louder as liftoff became imminent.  

Dropping Myrtenaster onto an empty seat, Weiss quickly found the first aid kit and began pulling out supplies.

“I can help you,” Velvet offered as the ship took to the air so quickly it made Weiss’ stomach drop.  After their altitude had stabilized, Velvet stepped closer and gestured towards Weiss’ still bleeding arm.

“I can do it.”  Weiss pulled the supplies out of Velvet’s reach like a greedy child before taking a deep breath and adding, in a much calmer voice, “Thank you, but I can do it myself.”

It was abundantly clear that Velvet still wanted to help, but she reluctantly nodded and went to sit beside to Coco on the opposite side of the small ship.  Ignoring their gazes, Weiss sprayed the healing gel down her arm before gritting her teeth and scrunching her eyes closed in pain. The stuff stung like Grimm, but it would clean the wound, slow the bleeding, and stimulate her aura to do the rest.  It wasn’t that bad - if you enjoyed injecting yourself with snake venom and then taking an Ursa punch to the gut.

Taking slow, deep breaths through her nose, she kept her arm as motionless as possible until the pain began to fade away.  Once it had reached a steady, dull roar, she was able to continue the process of piecing herself back together. Picking up a roll of bandages in one hand, she wrapped it slowly and tightly around her arm, grimacing when the first layer touched the open cut.  After the wound was fully wrapped in a good layer of protection, she tore the end between her teeth and stuck it into place so it wouldn’t unravel.

Over time she’d gotten pretty good at taking care of her injuries by herself.  Although she wasn’t necessarily sure if that was a good or bad thing.

“What are you doing in Atlas?” Velvet asked curiously while Weiss stowed the first aid supplies underneath her seat.

“Working for my family’s company.”

“Couldn’t you do that anywhere?”

“I suppose, but our headquarters are in Atlas.”

The lie was easy because it was rational.  Her family owned the largest Dust company in Remnant.  She was one of the next in line to take over management and, as such, needed as much experience as possible in preparation.  What better way to gain that experience than at the headquarters in Atlas, where the majority of her family also happened to live?  

No one needed to know that experience wasn’t really necessary for the position she was set take over.  Or that the company practically ran itself these days, especially with the addition of the artificial intelligence that had recently been completed.

“Why don’t you go home, Weiss?”

The question was unexpected and, for the briefest of moments, filled her with confusion.  They were currently headed back to Atlas, but Velvet’s kind eyes implied that she wasn’t talking about the large mansion Weiss had been staying in for the past year.

‘Why don’t you go home?’ 

It sounded so easy when Velvet asked it like that.  But go home to what? Weiss had left that life in ruins.  Or maybe it was more appropriate to say that she’d ruined that life.  She stayed in Atlas because...because there was a part of her that truly believed this was what she deserved.  Second chances were for the fortunate, and that certainly wasn’t her.

“I can’t.”

A disbelieving huff left Coco’s lips.

“Never took you for a quitter.”

“I’m not a quitter,” Weiss shot back, indignation bursting through her chest at the perceived slight.  But Coco merely shrugged, not affected in the least by Weiss’ attitude.  

“Not what it looked like to me.”  

Narrowing her eyes, an assortment of retorts stepped onto Weiss’ tongue but failed to make it into existence.  Coco never said anything as an attempt to insult - she said what she observed. It was pointless to argue or retaliate against someone who was merely speaking what they saw as truth.  They would only take the reaction to be confirmation of what they’d already observed.  

Lack of argument didn’t mean Weiss was willing to agree that Coco’s words were true.  She wasn’t a quitter. But...she was tired and worn down.

Deep down Weiss had always envied Coco, although she was too proud to ever admit that aloud.  Coco had been raised in a wealthy family, similar to Weiss’. Maybe not quite as wealthy, but Coco surely never wanted for anything.  And yet, while Weiss was seen as the spoiled ‘princess,’ Coco was respected, well-liked, and popular.

If only Weiss could borrow some of Coco’s natural poise and confidence.  Maybe then she could fix some of her mistakes...  

“Vale isn’t for me anymore,” she mumbled, hoping that the sound of the engines would drown out her words.  Of course, Velvet’s ears were far more powerful than ordinary hearing for that to happen.

“How could Vale be worse than this?” Velvet asked while gesturing out the window at the expanse of forest that stretched for endless miles in every direction.  The land had been untouched by humans for generations, left to the Grimm and the spirits that haunted there.

They didn’t understand.  How could they? Vale could be much, much worse than this.  Sure, Weiss might not be in a life threatening situation back there (although she wouldn’t bet on that anymore), but the psychological torture…it was just better to stay where she was.

“It just is,” she replied before grabbing her scroll out of the bag she’d stashed earlier in order to avoid anymore questions.  Unlocking the device, she found several missed calls and two messages left by her sister.

“I tried to catch you at the office, but you were already gone for the day.  Let’s have dinner tonight? I’ll bring your favorite.”

Then another after that:

“I just stopped by your place and was told you never returned home tonight.  You went into the forest again, didn’t you? For Grimm’s sake, Weiss. If I don’t hear back from you soon I’m bringing an army out to find you.”

Glancing at the time, Weiss immediately typed out a message in hopes of avoiding the threatened outcome.

I’m fine.  Be back in a bit.

Not a half second passed before she received a response, letting her know that Winter must have been waiting by the scroll.

You need to take better care of yourself.

Even through text the words carried a heavy weight of scolding in them - enough that Weiss knew exactly what expression her sister was wearing at that moment, glaring at the screen while clutching the scroll too tightly.

Winter had been chiding Weiss quite often recently, but none of it seemed to be doing any good.  Her actions had only grown more and more imprudent...a trend that hadn’t gone unnoticed, given Winter’s growing agitation.  But no matter how much Weiss wanted to listen to well intentioned advice, she couldn’t seem to rein herself in. She couldn’t bring herself back together.  She was like a piece of shattered glass and the only glue that made her feel even partially whole was being out here in the middle of nowhere - just her, the trees, and the Grimm.

It wasn’t something she’d been able to explain to Winter.  Instead of attempting that feat via scrolls, she typed a quick response that she hoped would be somewhat reassuring.

I’m trying.

As soon as the message sent, she set her scroll down on the seat beside her so she wouldn’t hear a reply even if she got one.  Leaning her head against the headrest, she closed her eyes and sighed. How long could she do this before she slipped up? She’d been lucky today.  If Coco and Velvet hadn’t been out there…

“She’s better now, you know.”

Her eyes snapped open at the comment, finding Velvet watching carefully from across the cabin.  It was a calculated expression, one that was analyzing every piece of information Weiss gave in return.

Her first response was consternation, replaced quickly by realization.

“Blake.”

Even after all this time, her teammate’s name burned the tip of her tongue.  And when Velvet nodded, something akin to anger and resentment stirred in Weiss’ chest.  

Blake was sending Velvet updates?  It made rational sense since the two were friends, but Weiss didn’t appreciate that Velvet knew more than she did.  That Velvet was kept in the loop while Weiss remained in isolation.  Self-imposed or not, didn’t she deserve to know? And if she refused the information, why should anyone else have it?

“Actually,” Velvet continued, scrambling around in her pockets before pulling out her own scroll.  “She sent this to me a few weeks ago.”

After tapping several buttons, Velvet turned the screen and Weiss instantly closed her eyes and turned away - biting her bottom lip to keep it from quivering.

It was a picture - she’d caught just a glimpse before looking away.  There was no way she could look at that picture and hold herself together right now.  In it was everything she’d avoided so diligently for months. If she looked...

“That’s...great to hear...” she replied quietly, the sentence broken by the inescapable feeling of sobs growing in her chest.  Only when Velvet retracted the scroll did Weiss dare glance back, greeted by sad eyes. Rather than receive the sympathy, she closed her eyes again - preventing her tears from slipping out.

What are you doing?

The question played over and over again in her mind, flashing behind her eyes while she struggled to find an answer.  It used to be so easy to answer that question. In a matter of seconds she’d been able to fire off a handful of fallacies that made perfect sense of her actions.  But with time, and with the experience of tonight, those reasons had faded away. Time had eroded her certainty and hopelessness had frayed her resolve. She’d been left with nothing but guilt, regret, remorse...  

What are you doing?

Running.  Hiding. Because it had been her fault.  Because she’d made a mistake. Several, actually.  Because when everything had been taken from her, she’d felt there was no reason to stay.

Weiss .

For the remainder of the ride she listened to the voice say her name and question her decisions over and over again.  It was a salve and sandpaper on her wounds...and by the time the transport was preparing to land she was feeling appropriately worn down by the day.

When the ship had settled down on the landing pad built in the back of the large house she would never call home, they all stood and stretched their legs before hopping down to solid ground below.  Clutching her injured arm to her chest, Weiss made sure to descend from the ship carefully - trying not to jar it too much while it was still healing.

Now that the adrenaline of battle had left her system, she was beginning to realize how long it had been since she’d spent time with anyone from her days at Beacon.  Shuffling her feet and giving Myrtenaster a small shake, she hoped it didn't feel as uncomfortable to her companions as it did to her.

“I can have a car take you wherever you need to go,” she offered as they stood outside the airship. 

“You really don’t have to -”

Waving off the nicety, she said, “It’s the least I can do,” while beckoning one of the drivers who’d appeared upon seeing the transport.  There was always at least one driver on the grounds at any given moment ready to whisk her off to some important meeting or another. Most of the time the subtle company was welcome - far better than being completely alone.

“Guess we could use the lift,” Coco replied as the driver raced to the garages beside the airship landing.  When a sleek black car pulled to a stop in front of them a few moments later, she turned to Weiss with a small smile.

“You’re still one hell of a fighter,” Coco said, giving Weiss a gentle knock on the shoulder before heading towards the passenger door and disappearing inside the vehicle.  It was as much of a compliment as Weiss had ever heard Coco utter.

Moving to follow her leader, Velvet paused and turned back to Weiss with one of those shy smiles she was famous for.  One tall ear bent forward and the next second Velvet pulled Weiss into a warm hug, being careful to avoid jostling her injured arm.  Unaccustomed to any type of physical contact, she stiffened while Velvet leaned down to whisper in her ear.

“It’s not our mistakes that define us, Weiss...”

When Velvet pulled away with a small smile, she tapped her scroll on top of Weiss’ - which emitted a soft beep alerting her to an incoming message.  

“Our reactions to them do,” Velvet finished before hurrying over to the car and ducking inside to join Coco.  

Completely stunned, Weiss could feel her legs shaking while watching the vehicle pull out of the drive and smoothly disappear down the quiet, dark street.  Her hand gripped her scroll tightly, but she forced her gaze away from the device as tears of anger burned the edges of her eyes.  

How dare she...how dare Velvet throw that quote at Weiss like that?  And to leave her with a photo that she didn’t want to see - that she couldn’t see without tearing apart whatever semblance of a life she’d been able to craft for herself.  What gave Velvet the right to talk to Weiss about something only she had had the misfortune to experience?

The only way Weiss was ever making it back to Vale was if she somehow found the courage to do so.  But courage wasn’t in her - it was in the person whose photo was resting in the palm of her hand. It was in the soul of someone who gave selflessly without regard for their own wellbeing.  It was in the person who sacrificed everything for someone unworthy.

Scrunching her eyes shut and letting out a loud exhale, Weiss stuffed her scroll into the bottom of her bag and walked towards the front entrance.  Immediately upon entering the house, there was an installed weapons locker where she stored Myrtenaster away for the evening. From there, she continued upstairs to her room and carefully peeled away her destroyed clothing before tossing it unceremoniously on the floor.  The house cleaners would throw the garments away, as usual.

Once in a pair of fresh clothes, she sat on her bed and gingerly scooted back with one hand until she was leaning against the headboard.  Holding her injured arm carefully across her chest, she closed her eyes and tried to take a deep breath, but it hitched in the middle with the beginnings of a sob.

Why was she doing this?  It was so hard to remember now.  It had been so long, yet the pain had never faded away like she’d expected.  Instead it had crept into every aspect of her life and taken over. It had become a disease that had infected every cell in her being.

Tonight, she’d glimpsed what end Atlas had in store for her.  It would be solitary, and it would be soon. Knowing this, the only question was...what was she supposed to do now?  She wasn’t strong enough to go back, but she wasn’t strong enough to remain here either.  

Could she really accept this ending without saying goodbye?

Slowly opening her eyes, her gaze drifted to the bag lying on the floor by the bedroom door.

She might as well, right?  

Standing, she walked over and fished her scroll from the bag with her left hand and turned it on before she could second guess herself.  Velvet’s picture took up the entire screen, the photo bringing with it a wave of agony that was unlike any physical injury Weiss had ever received.  The image blurred as tears instantly flooded her eyes and she covered her mouth with her free hand, ignoring the twinge of pain that accompanied the motion.

Ruby…

All this time Weiss had managed to prevent any new information of Ruby from coming into her possession.  It had taken quite a bit of self-restraint to do that much, but now here she was, grasping onto a singular photograph like it was the only thing tying her to this life.

But...it was, wasn’t it?  Ruby had always been Weiss’ lifeline.  Their severed connection had led Weiss to this place, where she willingly risked her life for no reason other than to feel something in the absence of everything.

Standing in the doorway, she tried to collect herself - wiping away tears while her mind raced in a million directions at once.  All the while her eyes remained glued to her scroll while she soaked up every miniscule detail to be found. The smile was still there - the liveliness was still there - the vitality was still there.  All of the things that had since left Weiss were still there - visibly living on through Ruby.  

Why was she doing this?

Right now, she couldn’t say why.  All she knew was that every corner of her mind was screaming at her to get back to Ruby as quickly as possible.  Because she was there - she was happy, she was alive.

And Weiss needed to see her.

Before she had a chance to think through her decision, she was racing downstairs and flying out the front door to wave down the second driver on the property.  The instant he’d pulled the car around she jumped into the vehicle and slammed the door shut. Her hands were shaking and her teeth were chattering together as a tidal wave of anxiety washed over her, but if she was going to do this, she was going to do this right now.  If she gave herself time to think it through she was positive that she would convince herself out of it.

Maybe this was it.  Maybe this photograph was the short boost of bravery that Weiss had needed to help her accomplish her last mission.

Distance was supposed to make the pain go away, but no matter how she’d been injured, or how close she’d come to never coming back, she’d failed to earn a single shred of forgiveness for what she’d done.  The guilt in her heart had never loosened and the harsh reality had never eased away. If there was nothing for her here, then there was nothing left for her at all. And with nothing left, maybe it was time to make one last, drastic decision - because the next punishment could very well be her last.

Could Vale be worse than this?  

Yes, it could be.  But when she’d already found the bottom there wasn’t any further left to dig.

“Take me to the airship station,” she ordered the driver before focusing her gaze back on the scroll clasped in her hands.

At least now she could say goodbye.

Chapter Text

It was lunchtime, but she was eating cereal.  Maybe because she’d just woken up but mostly because she wanted to.  Just like she wanted to stay in her pajamas and not brush her hair.  Running her fingers through it a few times worked well enough anyway!  Plus, it wasn’t like she had anyone she needed to impress while sitting at home alone.

So she was eating cereal for lunch in her pajamas with messy hair.  And it was awesome.

Today, she’d accomplished nothing!  Ok, nothing wasn’t quite the right word.  She’d woken up super early and done like five hours of grueling training, but then she’d showered, gotten back in her PJs, and fallen asleep.  Talk about a lazy day!

Training had gone super well though, which was why she’d given herself permission to act like a sloth for the rest of the day.  The house was empty anyway and it wasn’t like she had much in terms of responsibilities, so...what could she really do when she was left alone?  

Well, there was training and studying and fiddling with stuff in the garage...actually, there was a whole lot of stuff she could do.  Being alone didn’t mean she didn’t have things to do, it just meant the house was weirdly quiet.

“‘Nother bowl, Rrrruby Rose?” she drawled in what she imagined the pirate with the eyepatch on the cereal box must sound like, tilting the box towards her as if he were actually speaking.

“Don’t mind if I do,” she replied in her normal voice while pouring another helping of sugar coated pebbles into her bowl.  Setting the box back in front of her, she gave Mr. Pirate a small salute with her spoon. “You know, for a pirate you’re awfully generous.”

Staring back with that weird, toothy grin and super fashionable eyepatch, he didn’t say a word in response.  Of course he didn’t say anything - he was a cereal box mascot. But after all the mornings they’d spent together she would’ve thought he’d have warmed up to her by now!

Shoving a heaping spoonful of cereal into her mouth, she planned out what remained of her day while chewing happily.  Yang and Blake should be back sometime in the afternoon, meaning Ruby would have to change into ‘normal’ clothes eventually.  Bummer. And then she should probably look like she’d been doing something kind of productive instead of slothing around the house.

But first she’d finish her breakfast-lunch.  Lunchfast? Breakunch? There had to be a word for it…

Absentmindedly chewing, her left hand picked up the small, red, palm-sized bag of sand she carried pretty much everywhere with her.  It felt like a balloon on the outside, but was squishy and malleable when squeezed between her fingers. When she squished it as hard as she could, it would bulge and bulge and look like it just might explode, but it never did.  Believe her, she’d tried.

It was a gift of sorts from Yang, who’d gotten it several months ago because she thought that maybe it would help Ruby regain some strength in her hand - any little bit could help, right?  She’d estimate she was at abouttttt...70% right now. Which wasn’t that bad! It was a ton better than not being able to pick up anything with that hand. 

The obvious conclusion was that the little toy was helping and was so much better than all that friggin physical therapy the doctors had had her doing for months and months and months.  That stuff was the total dumps. Repetitive, difficult, boring, bleh.  

Yeah, Mr. Red was way better.  Plus, she’d used a black marker to draw a happy face on him, so he always had a smile for her!  

Pretty soon, her fingers were squishing the sandbag in sync with her chewing.

Squish, squish, squish.  Chew, chew, chew.

There was nothing more relaxing than eating a bowl of cereal for lunch in pajamas with messy hair while hanging out with Mr. Red!  Actually, if she really thought about it, drawing was also pretty relaxing.  Or taking a nap - that was the ultimate in relaxation.  Or! Burning around a track a hundred times in under three minutes - now that was relaxing.  Of course, the wear marks she’d accidentally scorched into the track’s surface meant she wasn’t allowed to do that anymore...at least not until she had enough money to repair it every time she wanted to go for a jog.  Considering she didn’t have a job or money, that could be a long ways off.

Reaching the bottom of the bowl, she frowned when she realized that there was still a lot of milk left.  The normal solution was to add more cereal, but she’d just eaten two bowls and she was stuffed .  What a dilemma...and this seemed to happen to her all the time!  Finding the proper milk to cereal ratio always seemed to elude her for whatever reason.  Whenever Yang commented on it, Ruby would say that it must be another one of those things she’d forgotten.

Yang didn’t like that very much...but maybe it was true!  Ruby just had no way of knowing.

But since her older sister was nowhere to be seen, no one would scold her for wasting milk this time.  And seeing as how she was the only one home right now, she could also try out a little something she’d been trying to perfect recently. 

Standing from the table, she picked up the bowl still partially filled with milk and held it in one hand.  The kitchen sink was on the other side of the room from where she was currently standing, separated from her by the dining table, a lot of chairs (only like four but that’s a lot to some people), and a lot of space (again, not much, but to some people…).  Staring at the sink intently, she eyeballed the distance while gently swinging the bowl up and down like a bowler preparing to release a bowling ball for a perfect strike.

Maybe it would work better if she threw it like a frisbee?  Or should she stick to tossing it underhand?

“Underhand, definitely underhand,” she muttered to herself while taking a few more practice swings.  Find the perfect trajectory and the perfect speed. And the perfect angle.   

On the last upward swing she released the bowl, tossing it in a high arc that would land directly in the kitchen sink.  Theoretically. Of course, the bowl would shatter in the sink if someone wasn’t there to catch it. Believe her - she’d...seen someone else do it several times already...

The instant the bowl left the palm of her hand, she activated a section of her semblance to shoot her across the room.  Moving fast in short distances was still something of a difficulty for her, but it was such a thrill to be moving faster than the rest of the world (well, most of the world).  She got to watch things move in slow motion - kinda like a movie on slow forward. That’s what Yang called it, at least.

And, in slow forward, she watched as the bowl reached the pinnacle of its arc.  When it began its descent, the milk began to separate from the container - defying gravity as it floated in large, white globules in the air.  She was pulling past it by that point though, racing a bowl and milk globules to the kitchen sink.

This time she totally had the catch in the bag.  There’d be no tripping over the chairs or getting her sleeve caught on an open cupboard to foil her plan.  

Theoretically.

Releasing her semblance, the bowl began to speed up while she slowed down to normal human speed.  The last time she’d run into the counter at full speed and almost knocked herself out...so she didn’t want to do that again.  Stretching out her hands while simultaneously planting her feet to stop any forward progress, a heavy whoosh of air rushed past her just as the bowl hit her fingertips above the sink.  Immediately pulling it towards her, the floating milk hit the sink an instant later with a splash that sprayed droplets of white all over the basin.

But she’d done it!!  The bowl was safe, the milk was in the sink, and, most importantly, she hadn’t broken anything this time!  And she hadn’t knocked herself out! Maybe that last one was the most important, but the bowl .

“Yes!!” she exclaimed, raising her trophy over her head like the champion she was.  “Ruby Rose, one.  Cereal bowl...a number slightly higher than one.”

Bobbing her head in satisfaction, she rinsed out her bowl and the sink before drying off her hands.

That little trick was just about ready to show Yang, who would surely approve of the masterpiece.  Although...maybe Ruby could try it with something flaming? Could milk catch fire? Because that’d be a whole lot cooler and more impressive…stuff on fire was always more impressive.  Don’t ever tell Yang that though. Then the house would burn down for sure.

Strolling out of the kitchen, Ruby’s next stop was a few feet down the hallway at her bedroom for a change of clothes.  After pulling on the first things that were as close to pajamas as possible, she headed to the small, single car garage attached to the house which also served as her pseudo workshop.  

She liked to think of it as her mad scientist’s lab, but instead of beakers and chemicals there were piles of metal and ammunition.  Once, Blake had made a joke that if there was ever a fire in the garage the entire house would explode. They’d all laughed at the time, but...there were lots of fire extinguishers in the garage for a reason...

“Okie dokie...what can I tear apart today?” she asked herself, clapping her hands together and putting on her mad scientist’s hat.  It was invisible and fireproof. Although a fireproof hat wouldn't really do much good in any type of emergency...

The workbench was a bit of a mess right now.  ‘Mess’ was probably the nice way to describe it, since it was completely covered in various odds and ends and bits of trash.  That wasn’t a problem though! She could navigate the mess like the cereal pirate could navigate the grocery store. 

Waving her hands over the workbench like she was working some type of magic, she was sure that something would jump out at her.  Hopefully not literally though. Last time that had happened she’d screamed so loud the neighbors had come over to see if everything was alright.

Giving up on her pointless hand waving and pushing several scraps of metal to one side, something immediately caught her eye.  Not caught her eye like actually caught her eye.  More like...uh, well it caught her eye in a non-painful way.

The eye catching piece of mess was actually a small dagger Yang had brought home the other day.  The blade was a cool color - black with a red tint along the edge - and the grip was really well made, but other than that there was nothing special about the weapon...yet.

“Let’s see what teeny, tiny, evil toys I can add to you,” she said as she picked up the blade and held it carefully in her hands.  “Mwuahahaha! Eh...still have to work on the laugh...”

Sitting down on her stool, she pulled out various tools and began the process of dissecting, analyzing, and planning.  The first part she really enjoyed. Taking weapons apart gave her the chance to see how they worked and discover creative new ways to hide perks in small places.  

But she also liked planning additions to old weapons - the more clever, the better!  Sometimes all that separated a ‘meh’ dagger from a blade of unholy reckoning were just a few well thought out upgrades.  Like a hidden pistol. Or a grappling hook. Or a small set of explosives!

Finding the nearly hidden seams in the hilt, she worked at pulling it apart without damaging the housing.

It hadn’t been too long ago that she never would’ve had the energy to come out here after the training she’d done this morning.  Before, it had been training, or studying, or fiddling around, but never a combination of those three. One of those things used to max her out, but now she had the energy for all three and then some.  What was ‘and then some’ supposed to be though? That was the question…

Succeeding in pulling the base of the weapon apart, she pulled out a magnifying glass to study the inside of the weapon carefully.  It was pretty important to figure out what was going on inside a weapon before touching it.  This was a very important lesson she’d learned a long, long time ago.  Like when she was still a little kid. Don’t touch the inner workings of anything without figuring out where somewhat important and slightly shocking items like power sources might be.

Seriously.  Don’t do it.

Poking around (carefully), she pulled a notebook and random pen over to jot down notes and ideas as they sprang into her mind.  What could she do in such a limited space? This was actually more of a challenge than she’d initially expected. Crescent Rose was huge compared to this tiny dagger!  

Small meant difficult.  Although big also meant difficult in a lot of situations...like, which would she rather face - a small Beowolf or a big Beowolf?

The answer to that was any Beowolf, but first she needed Yang’s approval.  That was another story though.

Rapidly scratching notes and drawing small diagrams onto the page beside the dagger, she was now so absorbed in the process of redesigning a weapon that a meteor could land next door and she might not notice.  This was something she was actually kinda good at though! And working on weapons gave her a feeling of purpose almost as strong as when she was training. It added meaning to her day, like she was actually accomplishing something other than running through a bazillion repetitions with Crescent Rose.

In the midst of welding together what she hoped would be a viable Dust port for a weapon this size, she heard the front door open and close, followed by voices that could only be Yang and Blake.  Well... hopefully Yang and Blake and not intruders.  Although Ruby was currently standing in a garage filled with weapons and explosives...

“Ruby?”

“In here!” she called into the house through the open garage door.  Normally, she would’ve gone to greet the two, but she was justtttt finishing up fusing two tiny pieces of metal together…

A few seconds later Yang poked her head through the doorway before immediately shielding her eyes from the blinding light of the torch. 

“Gah!  When did we move the sun into the garage??”

Giggling as she put the last weld in place, Ruby turned off the machine and set everything down on the table in favor of running to give her older sister a big hug.  Yang was still wearing her fighting attire, which was smeared with a combination of dirt and the heavy scent of gunpowder, but Ruby didn’t mind in the slightest.

“How’d it go?” she asked, a bubble of excitement and happiness growing in her chest at having her sister safe and home once again.

“Ah, you know - lots of Grimm, lots of smushing Grimm,” Yang replied with a grin while reaching out to tousle Ruby’s still-unbrushed hair.  “How’d it go while we were gone? Get bored?”

“Nnnnope!  I had tons of stuff to do!” Ruby answered, gesturing at the variety of pieces spread out on the workbench.  “Made lots of progress on...stuff. And trained a whole bunch! And -”

“Ok ok.”  Yang raised one hand to stop Ruby’s list before it really started.  “You could miss me a little, ya know.”

Ruby laughed, but she never wanted to let on that it was a little lonely without Blake and Yang around.  The last thing she wanted to do was make her sister feel bad for leaving.  It was their job, after all - how they paid the bills. And how they paid for all the tools and materials she used for weapon crafting.  Or, as it had seemed these days, weapon fiddling.

“Whatcha makin’ now?” Yang asked while hopping onto one of the stools by the workbench and picking up a hunk of metal, looking at it curiously before setting it down and picking up another one.

“That’s what I call a...whachamadiddle,” Ruby tried to say with a straight face before failing and laughing.  “I have no idea what it does.”  

Yang chuckled along with her before picking up another random item.

“And this?”

“Whachamacallit.”

“What about this one?”  This time, Yang picked up a small black lump and lifted it to her nose to sniff.

“A very, very fried egg.”

When Yang threw the egg back on the table and wiped off her hands on her thighs, Ruby giggled happily.

“You’re so gross sometimes.”

“I thought they’d explode!” Ruby exclaimed in her defense, picking up the carton to show her sister the rest of the sadly unexploded eggs.  “Turns out they just get all crispy and smelly...”

“Well, at least you had fun,” Yang replied, shaking her head in amusement before hopping off the stool.  “I’m gonna jump in the shower, but Blake should be making dinner - see if she needs help?”

Making dinner?”  

Normally when Yang and Blake got back from a hunt, they’d order delivery.  It was Ruby’s turn to pick the restaurant too, so she’d been doubly excited for their dinner of pancakes, waffles, and french toast.  But from the way Yang rolled her eyes, that wasn’t in the cards tonight.

“Something about how we should have a healthy meal after three days of junk food.”

Moving towards the door, she then remembered something and turned back to Ruby.

“Oh!  Those adjustments you made to Ember Celica are awesome .  I got my arm wrapped around this Ursa’s head,” Yang looped her arm in the air as demonstration before making a punching motion with her other hand.  “And boom, boom, pshhhh!”  

When Yang exploded one hand in the air with a huge grin, Ruby felt a matching one grow herself.

“Yeah??  Should I make it stronger??”

Yang laughed while walking out of the garage.  “Any stronger and it’ll take my arm off too!”

Still grinning, Ruby followed her sister into the house before making her way to the kitchen.  After spending so much of her time taking weapons apart and putting them back together, it was nice to know that she’d made an improvement.  And something that was useful for Yang in battle! That small bit of encouragement was enough to make her want to spend all night in the garage, but she’d be a good sister/roommate and help with dinner first.

“Hey Blake!” she called out to the girl’s back when she bounced into the kitchen.  “Need some help?”

When Blake turned around, it was with a small smile, warm eyes, and relaxed ears.

“Sure, why don’t you start cutting up that broccoli.”

Finding the broccoli already sitting on the cutting board on the counter, Ruby wrinkled her nose.  

“Broccoli??”  

Not that she didn’t like broccoli.  Yang, on the other hand…

“Three days.  Three days listening to nothing but The Achieve Men.”

Giggling at the answer, Ruby obediently picked up the knife and started chopping.  So this was how Blake would get revenge. Fine by her - she was getting tired of listening to that band too.  Yang only played their album all the time .

“How were things here?” Blake asked while turning back to the salmon she was preparing to cook.

“Oh, you know...the usual.”

“That exciting, huh?”

Shrugging her shoulders, Ruby deflected the look of concern Blake sent her way.

“It’s not so bad.  I actually did a lot of training.”

“How’d that feel?”

“Good!  I don’t get tired as fast, except for -”  Raising her left hand, she dropped it after Blake glanced over and nodded.  “I just get a little bored sometimes, ya know? Like how many times can I swish Crescent Rose back and forth before my brain melts?”

Blake’s only response was a thoughtful “hmm” while they carried out their tasks in preparation for dinner.  Even if Blake didn’t have a reply at this moment, Ruby knew that there’d probably be some type of task or challenge set up for her the next time she was left alone for a few days.  That’s kinda how Blake worked - give her information, she’d mull it over and then come up with a thoughtful solution.

In the meantime, they remained in silence while bringing dinner together.  Normally Ruby was like Yang - they were both terrible with silence.  They were always the ones to break it, no matter how awkward it was.  But there was something about Blake’s presence that allowed Ruby to be quiet and not feel uncomfortable with the lack of noise.  Yang was the same way - the only time Ruby ever saw her sister sitting quietly was when Blake was around. Otherwise, Yang was constantly chattering about something.  Which made Ruby chatter. Which made Yang chatter more .  Which made Ruby - yeah, it was never ending.

Just when she’d finished dropping the tiny broccoli pieces into the steamer, she heard heavy footsteps bounding towards them.

“So what’s for dinn-blegh!  What’s that smell?” Yang held her nose as soon as she entered the kitchen and Blake turned to give her an innocent smile.  

“Just some salmon and steamed broccoli.”

“Broccoli??  Are you kidding me?!”

“You pick the music, I pick the food,” Blake replied pointedly before turning back to the stove.

“I see how it is.”  Sauntering over to Blake, Yang offered the salt shaker before Blake even had the chance to ask for it.  “You can’t stand that I have men in my life.  You’re jealous!”

Ruby rolled her eyes when Blake scoffed.  

“You wish.”

“You totally are!  You’re so jealous! Oh my god...I never thought I’d see the day Blake Belladonna was jealous of someone.”

“That Ursa must have hit you in the head harder than I thought,” Blake said, pressing the back of her hand to Yang’s forehead with feigned concern before holding up three fingers.  “How many fingers am I holding up?”

“One too many,” Yang quipped with a grin.  Blake promptly slapped Yang in the shoulder before walking to the cupboard to pull out some dishes.

“Oh!  I have an idea!”  Taking the stack of plates when Blake thrust them into her hands, Yang followed her girlfriend around the table with a big smile on her face.  “How about - if you admit you’re jealous, I’ll never listen to The Achieve Men again.”

Clearing the knife and cutting board off of the table, Ruby giggled and shook her head to herself.  There was no way Blake would ever admit to being jealous!  But...Ruby was a little tired of listening to the same album over and over again too...

“Do it, Blake,” she encouraged, nodding when Blake turned to her in surprise.  “You have to do it! Make her pay for all the suffering she’s put us through!”

“So...what do you say?” Yang teased, wiggling her eyebrows in a friendly challenge.  Blake looked between them carefully, ears twitching ever so slightly while pondering her reply.

“I say...dinner’s almost ready.”

When Yang let out a loud crow of victory, Ruby groaned.

“Blake just sentenced you to another year of The Achieve Men’s greatest hits!” Yang said happily, quickly squeezing Ruby’s shoulders while Ruby tried to give Blake a look of disappointment.  It probably came out wrong because Blake only laughed and shook her head - the joyful sound making Ruby join in the laughter too.

A year ago she hadn’t been sure how well they’d get along, especially because Blake came off as a little...unapproachable.  It had never been easy for Ruby to strike up conversations with strangers, especially strangers who weren’t very talkative, and Blake was the definition of quiet.  But once they’d gotten to know each other a little better, Blake had turned out to be someone Ruby really enjoyed spending time with. Compared to her sister’s more upbeat energy, Blake brought a calm, steady attitude to their home.  Most importantly, Blake seemed to be really good for Yang...and vice versa. 

Grabbing a handful of silverware, Ruby began setting forks and knives around the table while Blake brought over the plates of food.  Yang was in charge of getting water, and lots of it. The two were probably a little dehydrated from their recent trip through the forest, after all.

In the middle of setting the bowl of freshly steamed broccoli on the table, Blake suddenly straightened.

“Yang, there’s someone at the door,” she said, nodding in that direction while repositioning the broccoli so it was directly in front of where Yang normally sat.

Setting a glass of water on the table, Yang plodded over to answer the door before the first knock could even occur.

“That’s so cool,” Ruby commented to Blake while pulling out a chair and sitting down.  “I wish I could hear that well!”

“Believe me, sometimes it’s not -”

“What are you doing here?”  

The annoyed, almost angry sounding question instantly drew Blake and Ruby’s full attention.  Ruby couldn’t see who was outside, but Yang’s posture was rigid and tense as she gripped the door knob tightly in one hand.  It looked like she wanted to slam the door shut, but was restraining herself.  

Blake was already at the door, tapping Yang’s hand so she’d release the poor, dented knob.  Ruby hadn’t even noticed Blake getting out of her seat! Let alone walking out of the kitchen.

The voice of whoever was outside said something, but Ruby couldn’t make out any words from where she was sitting.  In unison, Blake and Yang both glanced back towards her before returning their gazes outside. Now even more curious, Ruby slid out of her seat and walked over to join the two at the door.

“What’s going on?” she asked hesitantly, looking first at Yang and then Blake before stepping around them to see who was causing such a commotion.  

From their reaction, she’d expected it to be...she didn’t even know.  Some sort of evil villain, maybe? Not that many bad guys would be polite enough to knock or use the front door, but she certainly hadn’t expected to find a girl standing on the front step, looking really tired from the dark bags under her eyes.

The moment the girl saw Ruby, however, those eyes widened while she practically tripped off the front stoop taking a rushed step backwards.

There was nothing about the girl that was recognizable to Ruby.  Long, white hair, on the shorter and really slender side, with light blue eyes that stared at Ruby like she was a ghost or something.  

But their visitor was pretty - like the type of pretty in magazines or movies.  One of Yang’s friends, maybe?  

Glancing back and forth between the stranger, her sister, and Blake several times, Ruby struggled to figure out what about this person was making Yang grit her teeth together so tightly.  

“Ruby,” Yang finally said, turning to give Ruby a forced smile.  “This is Weiss. She was just leaving.”

The way Weiss’ brow furrowed at the comment suggested that she hadn’t actually planned on leaving, but she said nothing in return and continued to stare at Ruby.

Yang’s open hostility was confusing.  Yang liked anyone and everyone, so what could Weiss have done to make her this upset?  Pull her hair or something?

“Nice to meet you!” Ruby finally rushed out with a smile, extending one hand when she remembered her manners.  “I’m Ruby! But I...guess Yang just said that…”  

With Ruby’s hand hanging in midair, Weiss continued to stare.  When several completely awkward seconds passed and Weiss still hadn’t made any movement to accept the handshake, Ruby chuckled nervously and ran the hand through her hair, wishing that someone would say something.

Maybe it was the scar on her arm.  It was visible in her short sleeves and sometimes it freaked people out a bit.  Some people had scars though! Just like some people had freckles or ears or extra fingers and toes.

But Weiss hadn’t looked at Ruby’s arm, so...that probably wasn’t why this felt so weird.

“Nice to meet you, Ruby…” Weiss finally said with a miniscule nod while her eyes flitted to and from Ruby’s.  Her voice was soft, like a whisper, but had a nice melody to it - like one Ruby would expect to hear in a music box.

But as soon as Weiss’ voice disappeared, another uncomfortable silence settled over them.  Thankfully, Blake came to the rescue before Ruby said the first stupid thing that popped into her mind.  Which had been about ants. Why ants?

“We were just about to eat dinner...if you wanted to come in.”

Ruby nodded her head at the invitation, but Yang’s gaze was still locked onto Weiss.  It looked like she wanted to strangle their poor visitor with just her eyes. And maybe she was, because Weiss seemed to struggle with the question before finally giving a quick nod of her head.

“That would be nice, thank you.”

“I’ll set a place for you!” Ruby offered before shooting into the kitchen to pull out an extra place setting.  They hardly ever used the fourth chair at their table because they hardly ever (or never) had dinner guests, but it would come in handy tonight!  This was a special occasion!

Noticing that her companions hadn’t immediately followed her, she shot a glance back towards the entryway and found Yang having what looked like a pretty tense conversation with Weiss.  But the second Yang noticed Ruby’s gaze, she gave Ruby a big smile as if nothing were wrong. Talk about mixed signals!

“Ok guys, let’s eat!” Yang remarked with a loud clap of her hands that made Weiss noticeably flinch.  “Before Blake’s delicious salmon and broccoli gets cold and inedible .”

“We wouldn’t want that, now would we,” Blake commented in return, gently squeezing Yang’s shoulder before taking her place at the table.

While Ruby watched curiously, Weiss quietly took the remaining seat and meticulously unfolded the napkin before laying it across her lap.  Eyes trained downward like she reading something very important, Weiss’ hands smoothed and smoothed and smoothed the napkin until every last wrinkle had to be gone.  And then she smoothed some more.

Meanwhile, Ruby had loads of questions about what had just happened - like who was this girl?  Why was Yang so upset to see her? Why did they suddenly seem friendly again?  And when would the napkin be smooth enough??

A long time ago Yang had told Ruby that the only way to know if she’d stared at someone for too long was if they caught her in the act.  Well, she stared for too long. Blue eyes suddenly looked up and locked onto hers, causing her to give Weiss a sheepish grin for being caught openly staring.  Forcing her attention elsewhere, Ruby tried to remember her manners and not make guests uncomfortable.

But she was curious .  It wasn’t like they had guests over for regular dinner parties.  And she didn’t really interact with many people other than Yang or Blake.  That, plus her own tendency to be a tad socially awkward, meant that having an unexpected guest for dinner was making her a little more squirmy than usual - especially a guest who’d arrived under such mysterious circumstances.

“So Weiss,” Yang began while spearing a piece of broccoli as if it had personally offended her.  “What brings you to Vale? Last I heard you were on the other side of Remnant.”

“I was in Atlas.”

Weiss’ reply was met with a scoff.  “Same difference.”

“You’re from Atlas??” Ruby asked excitedly.  “What’s it like there?”

The expression Weiss gave Ruby was almost pained - like it was physically difficult to describe what Atlas was like.  Was it really that awful there?  She’d heard that there was a lot of snow, but it couldn’t be that bad.  Lots of snow meant lots of playing outside in the snow - which meant lots of fun.

Maybe it was Yang’s lack of hospitality that was making Weiss uncomfortable.  Not to fear though! Ruby could easily make up for her sister - until she was given a good reason why she shouldn’t.  As of right now, she couldn’t find a reason why she shouldn’t talk to their dinner guest.

“It’s...usually cold,” Weiss replied slowly before clenching one hand in her lap and turning towards Yang.  “And to answer your question, I’m here because I have business matters to attend to.”

“Ah, so I’m guessing in a few days you’ll be running off again?  Back to your little oasis?”

The reply made Weiss’ jaw square - her gaze not leaving Yang.

“No.  I’ll be here until it’s finished.”

“How long’s that gonna take?”

“I don’t know.”

“It could be years then,” Yang said, waving a piece of salmon through the air.  “Can you really spend years here?  I mean, doesn’t that seem like a long time to stick around in one place?  ‘Specially for you?”

“Like I said, I’ll be here until it’s finished.”

While Weiss and Yang stared each other down, Ruby shot a glance towards Blake to see how she was interpreting what was going on.  Of course Blake was so good at hiding emotions it was impossible to tell what she was thinking at this moment. Was she concerned?  Curious? Hoping Yang didn’t drop any salmon on the table?

Ok, Ruby had a lot of questions, but they must all have answers.  This situation was easily solvable if she used logic .  Maybe not, but that’s what the most recent chapter of her battle strategy book had told her - ‘logic may be a huntsmen’s most important tool in battle.’

So, using logic, Ruby knew that Yang had let Weiss into the house for dinner.  If Weiss was a bad person, Yang would’ve literally slammed the door in her face - Ruby had seen it happen before.  Murderers didn’t make it inside the house. At least, she hoped murderers didn’t make it inside the house.

If Yang would slam the door on a murderer and she hadn’t slammed the door on Weiss, then Weiss wasn’t a murderer.  Logic!  

Wait...was that the question Ruby was trying to answer?

“What happened to your arm?” Yang asked bluntly, gesturing a fork towards Weiss’ right arm.  Looking carefully, Ruby finally noticed what Yang had already seen - there was a bulky section that looked an awful lot like a bandage under Weiss’ sleeve.  And Weiss was moving that arm rather tenderly, like she didn’t want to hurt it.

But Yang’s comment made Weiss draw her arm off the table and hold it carefully across her stomach.

“It’s just a little sore.  It will be better soon.”

Looking between the two, Ruby was now super wondering what had happened to Weiss’ arm, but it wasn’t really her place to ask that type of question.

“What do you do, Weiss?” she asked instead, wishing to break up the tense staring and also learn some more about their guest.  Weiss seemed pretty interesting - but, again, maybe that was just because Ruby didn’t have the opportunity to speak to new people very often.  From the way Yang and Blake were watching Ruby so closely, they seemed to agree that Ruby was a total klutz with social interactions.  

She knew that she didn’t have much experience talking to strangers, but she wasn’t that bad, sheesh!

“I...I help run my family’s business.”

“You’ve heard of the company, Ruby,” Blake added, finally breaking her silence while delicately picking up a piece of salmon.  “Does the name Schnee ring a bell?”

“Schnee...Schneeee…”  Ruby tried out the sound of the name while mulling it over in her head.  “Oh! Schnee as in Schnee Dust??”

While Weiss gave a thin smile, Blake nodded her head.  Jaw dropped, Ruby turned her full attention back to Weiss, floored by the revelation.

“No way!  Your family owns Schnee Dust?  That’s so awesome!  Do you know any of the like...super secret Dust secrets?”

“I don’t know what you mean…”

“Like, what happens when you mix all the different colors of Dust together?” Ruby asked, waiting intently for an answer.  “I’ve heard that something really awesome happens.”

“You should never mix Dust on your own,” Weiss remarked, looking alarmed by Ruby’s question.  “You’re not mixing Dust, are you?”

“Oh, no,” Ruby replied, waving it off as if that was a silly question (when it actually wasn’t).  “I mean, I’ve always wanted to...but I’ve been told not to do that.”

“Repeatedly,” Yang added with a stern look cast across the table.

Ruby puffed out her bottom lip in a fake pout before turning back to Weiss, even more interested now.  Dust was one of Ruby’s favorite things! She’d read an entire book on it recently!  

“But there has to be something, right?” she continued.  “Another super secret...uh...secret...that you can tell us?  One that won’t get you in trouble though?”

Weiss thought about the question for a second before shaking her head.  “If there are secrets, I probably haven’t been told about them yet.”

“Oh…”  Turning to Blake and Yang in disappointment, Ruby could feel her balloon of excitement deflating.

“But, being in charge of such a big company, I’m sure you have some great stories.  I’ve heard that red dust in particular can be quite...explosive,” Blake pressed gently.  

Weiss’ expression went from confusion to understanding as she slowly nodded her head.

“I have seen a large shipment of red Dust explode once,” Weiss replied.  “It was impure and too dangerous...or expensive...to dispose of any other way.  They took it out into the middle of the desert and set it off. Watching from a few miles away you could still see the tower of sand shoot into the air.  It actually covered the sun for a few seconds and caused a ripple to run through the ground even where we were stationed. The explosion was so hot it liquefied hundreds of yards of sand into molten glass.”

Mouth hanging open, Ruby looked at Yang and received one raised eyebrow before turning back to Weiss.

“That’s SO COOL!!!” she squealed.  “Man, I wish I could’ve seen that! If I ever got my hands on that much Dust, I’d totally - do something really safe with it…”

Pushing a piece of broccoli around her plate, she gave her sister a guilty grin at the almost confession to her future crimes.

“Maybe you could come to one of the purification plants sometime.  I’m sure I could arrange some type of demonstration for you, albeit on the much smaller scale.”

“Are you serious??”  Never in her life would she have thought that a stranger would walk into her house and invite her to see the place where Dust was purified AND let her watch it blow something up.  “Yang, we should totally go!” 

“I dunno Ruby, we don’t want to inconvenience Weiss.  She’s a very busy and important person.”

The response made Ruby’s brow furrow for a second.  She didn’t actually remember Weiss saying that, but now that Yang mentioned it she realized that it must be true.  Weiss must be very important to have the power to arrange something like that.

“I wouldn’t mind,” Weiss interjected.  “I actually need to visit the plant in Vale at some point, anyway.”

Ruby gave Yang what she hoped was a look of pure begging, playing the ‘cute little sister’ card as hard as she could.  When Yang sighed and said, “We’ll see,” Ruby clenched one fist in celebration.

“Blake could come too, right?” she asked, turning back to Weiss and finding blue eyes watching her intently.  As soon as their eyes met though, Weiss lowered hers and nodded her head.

“Of course,” Weiss answered while picking delicately at the food on her plate, most of it still untouched.  “All of you are more than welcome. If you’re free, of course. I’ve heard you two have been pretty busy recently.”

“Oh, yeah!  Yang and Blake are one of the best huntress pairs out there!” Ruby announced proudly, grinning at her sister.  “They get all the cool hunts. They just got back from one where they had to get rid of a whole forest full of Nevermores!”

Yang grinned back at Ruby while Blake playfully shook her head. 

“That’s right - an entire forest,” Yang replied with a truthful nod.  “Must’ve been a hundred of those dang things.  Plus the Ursa. But Blake and I taught ‘em a thing or two about flying without a license, if you know what I mean.”

Giggling at her sister’s corny line, Ruby glanced over at Weiss to see if she had thought it was funny too.  But Weiss had her eyes trained on Yang with a blank expression on her face.  

When Ruby looked away, it felt like Weiss was looking at her.  But when Ruby turned back Weiss was always looking somewhere else.  It was probably just the universe paying Ruby back for staring at Weiss earlier...

“Man, I wish I could’ve been there,” Ruby commented mostly to herself.  In her mind, she was seeing skies filled with Nevermores and forests filled with Ursa.  Merely the thought of it added adrenaline to her veins - she could only imagine how it would feel to be in that situation for real.

“We could’ve used your speed.  Damn Nevermores are tricky when they’re swooping in full tilt.”  Yang made a dive bombing gesture with one hand to symbolize what she meant.

“Maybe I could go with you next time?”

The question was extra hopeful, making Blake and Yang share a surprised glance before Yang smiled and flicked a piece of broccoli onto Ruby’s plate from across the table.

“A little more practice first, k?  When you’re ready, you can come - promise.”

Momentarily let down, Ruby still managed to smile and nod her head.

“Yeah, of course!”

The answer was disappointing right now, but she knew that her sister was only looking out for her.  And Yang would have a better idea of what was needed out in the forest than Ruby did, so she trusted her sister’s judgement.

If Yang made a promise though, she would stick to it.  Ruby just needed to fulfill her end of the bargain and train as hard as she could to get better.  That’s what she’d been doing anyway and everyday she could feel herself getting stronger and more capable.  As long as she kept giving it her all, she’d be ready soon - she was sure of it!

“You’re training for something?”

“Yeah!” she said, diverting her attention back to Weiss.  “I’m a huntress in training!” 

Puffing her chest out proudly, she deflated slightly when Weiss gave her a look that seemed more shocked by the proclamation than anything else.

“I’m really fast!” she added, “And I’m perfecting all my moves!”

Right as Weiss opened her mouth to respond, a loud ringing went off in the room.  Confused by the sound, Ruby searched for the source before realizing that it was coming from Weiss’ pocket.  When Weiss pulled out her scroll, she glanced at it briefly before putting it away and giving all of them an apologetic smile.

“I’m sorry to eat and run, but they need me at the office.”

“This late?” Blake asked curiously.  “Shouldn’t everyone be home already?”

“We have employees working around the clock,” Weiss answered while standing from her chair, looking hasty about taking her leave.  When Yang stood to escort Weiss to the door, Ruby did too - it felt like the proper thing to do, after all.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” Weiss said while quickly striding to the front door and opening it herself.  “I...I hope we can do this again soon.”

The words seemed to be directed right at Ruby, so she bobbed her head affirmatively.  Weiss’ eyes lingered on Ruby for a little longer before stepping outside the door.

“I like your necklace, by the way.”

Grasping the item on instinct, Ruby scoured her brain for any compliment she could give Weiss in return.

“I, uh...I really like your skirt!” 

At the response, Weiss grasped the hem with a small smile.

“It’s a...combat skirt…” she whispered before rushing down the sidewalk towards a car that must be hers.  Ruby watched Weiss’ white hair disappear into the night until Yang closed the front door and bolted it shut once again.

Even after the door was closed, Yang stared at it intently...like it might decide to open again on its own.  There was a small silence while Ruby waited for her sister to move, or blink, or anything. But Yang just stared - deep in thought about whatever the door was telling her.

“She seems nice!” Ruby finally cut in, causing Yang to turn and smile before gently rustling Ruby’s hair.

“Yeah.  I suppose she is...” her sister replied absentmindedly before walking back to the kitchen without another word.  Turning to the side, Ruby found Blake watching Yang’s retreat very carefully.

“Did you think she was nice?” Ruby asked, succeeding in making Blake smile and nod.

“She did seem nice.  Help your sister with the dishes though?”

Nodding, Ruby raced over to start clearing off the table from dinner.  Every few seconds she cast a glance towards Yang at the sink, who was still suspiciously quiet.  She must be deep in thought over what had happened, but Yang was hardly ever deep in thought about anything!  The crease in her brow hadn’t left yet - if anything, it looked like the dishes had just personally insulted her.

“You ok?” Ruby asked while setting a stack of dishes next to her sister and lingering to wait for the answer.

“Huh?”  Clearly distracted, Yang’s eyes found Ruby’s before relaxing into a warm smile.  “Yeah, Ruby. I’m just fine.”

“You’re being awfully quiet though!”

“Do I need to talk all the time?”

“Yes!” Ruby answered emphatically.  “Otherwise you’re not Yang! You’re...bizarro Yang!”

When Yang grinned mischievously, Ruby skipped away the instant one soapy hand came shooting out of the water towards her.

“Ha!” she exclaimed proudly.  “Who’s too fast for slow-poke Ya-hey!”

Sputtering when a splash of water hit her in the face, Ruby quickly wiped it away on her shoulder before grinning at the sight of Yang laughing happily.

“Who’s the slow-poke now?”

“You are!” Ruby shouted back from the safety of the other side of the table while Yang held up a glass half filled with water.  When Blake calmly walked between the two of them, Ruby stuck her tongue out when Yang smiled innocently and set the glass back in the sink.  

There was no way Yang would risk accidentally splashing Blake with water.

“How do you guys feel about some ice cream?” Blake asked while setting a plate beside Yang and placing a quick kiss on her cheek.

“Yes!” Ruby exclaimed, her excitement soaring into the clouds before it just as quickly disappeared.  “But Yang ate it all last week, remember?”

“I ate the last of it, but, if I recall, I wasn’t the one to eat the first ninety percent of that carton.”

This time it was Yang’s turn to stick her tongue out at Ruby.

“I’ll go get some more,” Blake offered, ignoring their childish antics in favor of giving Ruby a questioning glance.  “If you want some?”

“That’s a question with only one answer!”

Laughing, Blake placed another quick kiss to Yang’s cheek and whispered several soft words in her ear before heading towards the door.

“I’ll be back soon.”

When the door closed again, Ruby turned and caught the way Yang was watching after Blake with that stupid little half smile on her face.  Shaking her head, Ruby picked up the bowl holding the leftover broccoli and tossed it lightly between her fingertips. But before taking it over to the sink, she remembered her practice from this morning - her very successful test run, actually.  And broccoli would be even better than flaming milk because it combined Yang’s distaste for the vegetable with an easy way to prevent them from having to eat the leftovers.

This was genius.

“Hey, Yang!” Ruby called out while spinning the bowl in her hand.  “Can you turn on the disposal? I wanna show you something!”

Chapter Text

After shutting the car door, she waited for the interior lights to turn off before resting her hands and forehead against the steering wheel and taking a deep breath.  She was still shaking - her entire body quivering with its own life. Hopefully no one had noticed her hands trembling while she’d tried to eat her food - and if they had, hopefully they’d written it off as a result of the cold...even though the Vale spring weather was anything but chilly tonight.

Sighing, she closed her eyes and told herself she would remain that way until her heart calmed down to a more normal speed.

That had been hard.  Far more difficult than she’d ever imagined it could be.  Ruby’s smile...her laugh...that little giggle whenever Yang said something funny...none of it had changed.  Every little gesture was painfully familiar and yet Weiss had been forced to watch dinner unfold as an outsider - looking through the window of something that had once been hers.  

It had grown more unbearable with every second that ticked by without some form of recognition from Ruby.  And when Ruby brought up wanting to become a huntress...Weiss had purposefully set off the ringer on her phone and jumped at the opportunity to escape.  It wouldn’t have been possible for her to remain in that conversation without giving away something bigger...

But she’d done it.  After spending the entire airship ride to Vale and then the remainder of the day convincing herself that this was the only task she had left to accomplish, she’d actually managed to summon enough courage to see it through.  

She’d done what she’d come here to do.  She’d seen Ruby one last time. Yang and Blake too.

As an added bonus, Yang hadn’t knocked her into the next century and Blake hadn’t riddled her in sarcastic barbs.  

But now her chest burned - consumed by an ache and longing she’d tried long and hard to stifle.  This was what she’d been trying to avoid in the first place. This was why she’d run. And why she wanted to run again.

What’d she’d thought would be a mountain to climb had turned out to be an entire range of mountains.  The river to cross wasn’t just wide and deep, but roiling with rapids and invisible undercurrents. If that small interaction had been enough to melt her resolve...there was no possible way she could stay.

Right?

Fear was growing in her chest - impossible to stamp out with any degree of fake boisterousness.  But was there a point of continuing to lie to herself? She was terrified. Terrified of making the wrong decision, terrified of returning to Atlas, terrified of remaining in Vale.  

If she went back to Atlas, she’d return to a life without Ruby - which was...well, it wasn’t truly living.  Foolishly, she’d always believed that being apart would become easier as time passed, but that had turned out to be nothing more than another miserable fallacy.

Life had only gotten harder.  Living had gotten harder.  Things she’d once loved had become meaningless.  Everything had grown dull, boring, and lifeless.  

But if she remained here…

What was she thinking?  Staying in Vale wasn’t an option.  There was nothing for her here. Except for Ruby.  Ruby...who was the same shining star she’d always been.  Ruby was the key - Weiss’ key to the vibrant world they’d once shared together.  If she ever wanted to see that place again, she needed Ruby.  

But Ruby didn’t even know who Weiss was.  It didn’t matter how much she needed Ruby - needing her and having her agree to be in Weiss’ life were two separate issues entirely.

With another heavy sigh, she opened her eyes and briefly rubbed at her right elbow.  The wound was much better today, but she was favoring it and evidently in an observable way.  The last thing she’d wanted her teammates to know was that she’d been injured, but of course Yang had pinpointed the weakness.  Weiss was certain Blake had noticed, as well, but had decided not to comment upon it. 

Sparing a quick glance towards the small home, her heart instantly jumping as she did so, she finally fished the car keys from one pocket, brought the vehicle to life, and drove away.  There wasn’t a particular destination in her mind other than away .  Away from the memories, away from the pain, away from Ruby.

Yet while she drove aimlessly through vaguely familiar yet strange streets, her mind drifted back to Ruby and Ruby only.  Her brunette hair had grown a little longer than Weiss had ever seen it, most likely to cover the scar she knew hid underneath.  But it looked good. And, impossibly, Ruby had grown taller - or maybe Weiss just wasn’t used to being in her presence.

Tall, healthy, and...strong.  

Just as it had been obvious that Weiss was injured, it was obvious that Ruby had regained a great portion of her strength over the past year.  There was nothing about her that hinted at frailty. And there was nothing but the scar tracing a jagged line across one wrist that suggested any previous injuries.

That hadn’t been the same girl Weiss had left behind.  That had been...someone new and unfamiliar, yet so heart wrenchingly familiar Weiss had had trouble doing anything but stare and wish that their lives had turned out differently.

Stopping at a traffic light, Weiss glanced out the side window at what had once been a row of houses, but had since been torn down and replaced by a bustling shopping center.  Momentarily watching shoppers walk in and out of the stores, she willingly averted her gaze when it was time to drive away.

So much had changed since she’d been here last.  Even herself - she’d changed in ways she never would have imagined several years ago.  None of it was for the better, but it was change regardless...

She could leave.  She could drive herself to the nearest airship station right now and be on the next flight to Atlas.  She could leave this world behind and make her peace with the fact that Ruby was going to live on without her.  That’s what she’d already been doing, wasn’t it?

But something seemed different...something had changed.  A few hours ago Weiss had expected to be running from Vale with wings on her feet, but those wings hadn’t yet appeared.  Instead, it felt like...it felt like she wanted to stay.  

Maybe for a few more days.  There’d be little harm in delaying her return to Atlas until she was absolutely certain that’s what she wanted to do.  And maybe, just maybe, while she was here she could find a way to see Ruby again. If there was any glimmer of hope for Weiss - any extra breath of life to fuel the tiny flame of resolve that was trying to spark in her heart - it was what Ruby had been wearing.

On cue, there was a fluttering of emotions in Weiss’ chest that had grown unfamiliar from its extended absence.

Ruby still had it.  The necklace - Weiss had noticed it immediately.  There must be a reason why Ruby had kept it.  Did she know what it meant? Did she understand its significance?  It couldn’t be that Ruby had decided to wear it on a whim...could it?

Weiss had to believe, or hope, that there was still a section hidden away in Ruby’s mind that remembered.  Somewhere there was still a thread of connection between them.  If Weiss somehow found the courage and determination, maybe she could reach it.

But first things first - she needed to call Winter.

Pressing a single button on the dash, she said “Call Winter” in a steady voice before waiting patiently for the call to go through.  It connected on the very first ring.

“Where have you been?” Winter immediately demanded, her tone stern and unhappy.  “I left three messages with your office today and no one knew where you were.”

“I’m in Vale.”

There was a long silence at the other end of the phone while Weiss clutched the steering wheel a little tighter in anticipation of a response.

“Vale?” Winter finally repeated in a whisper of disbelief.

“Yes.”

“Did you -”

“Yes,” Weiss spoke again before her sister could ask the entire question.

“And?”

And her life had been thrown on its head, again.  And she didn’t know what was right, again. And she didn’t know what to do, again.

“I might be here for a little while,” she said in lieu of answering the question directly.  “Would you mind if I stayed at the place you have here?”

“Yes, of course, Weiss.  But...how long do you think you’ll be there?”

The answer to that question was still so far up in the air Weiss couldn’t even begin to guess at a timeline.  When would this small breath of willpower fade away? It could be a few minutes before she decided to leave. Or a few hours, a few days...

“I’m not sure…” she muttered, mostly to herself.  “As long as I can…”  

“I can take care of everything here while you’re gone.  Do you need anything?”

“No,” she replied on instinct before realizing just how ill-prepared she was for an extended stay in Vale.  Sighing, she tapped her fingers against the steering wheel while asking, “You wouldn’t happen to have any clothes I could borrow at the house, would you?”  

She’d been in such a rush to leave Atlas that she hadn’t brought anything with her but the clothes on her back.  Unless she wanted to wear the same outfit everyday, she was going to need some new clothes.

“There might be some, but I’m really not sure what I left there.”

Even though Winter couldn’t see her, Weiss nodded in understanding while a possible solution came to mind.  

“That’s alright.  I think I know where I can find some…”  

“But if there’s anything else, you’ll let me know?” Winter pressed.  “Even if you need me to come to Vale -”

“No - no, that’s alright,” Weiss cut her sister off before Winter actually jumped on a transport to follow her.  “I’m doing fine right now, but I’ll let you know if that changes.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

There was a short silence while Winter analyzed the situation - calculating whether or not to believe in Weiss’ words.  Weiss would like to say that she’d never broken a promise made to her sister before, but there had been times when she hadn’t wanted Winter to worry.  As the eldest Schnee child, Winter already had so many other worries to deal with...

“Alright,” Winter finally acquiesced.  “If anything changes, let me know right away.”

“I will,” Weiss repeated before pausing briefly.  “And...thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Weiss.  Please update me soon.”

“I will.”

Ending the call, Weiss felt as if a tiny weight had been temporarily lifted from her shoulders.  It was a challenge to go through this on her own, but Winter’s support and understanding went a long way in making her feel not quite so alone.  Those were qualities that Weiss could be nothing but grateful for in her sister.  

The two of them had always been close, but the past year had forced a wedge between them.  Seemingly overnight Winter had become, in many ways, all Weiss had left in the world. And even though Weiss loved her sister unconditionally, she’d found it close to impossible to explain a fraction of the thoughts and emotions running through her head.  Winter had been as helpful as possible given the circumstances, but Weiss knew that her sister worried more than was ever expressed through words.  

Weiss wished that she could say the worry was misplaced, but given the events of the last few days and her ever deteriorating frame of mind, it likely wasn’t.

Regardless, Winter’s unflinching support removed worries about the life Weiss had abruptly left behind.  There would be no angry calls from her father for abandoning the headquarters and no panicked calls from managers who had no idea what to do if they weren’t pointed in the right direction.  There was always work Weiss could do from Vale, if need be, but right now she didn’t need to concern herself with those matters.

Having been driving aimlessly since leaving the house, Weiss blinked out of her thoughts and took a few seconds to figure out where she’d ended up before charting a course to her second destination.  There was one more stop she had to make - one that was probably ill advised, but she was determined to see this through tonight.  

If she’d managed to sit down at a table next to Ruby, she should absolutely be able to do this.

That comparative knowledge did little to quell the dread that began to creep through her mind as the streets grew more recognizable.  Looking through the windows no longer greeted her with new sights, but with memories of days past.

There was the house that attorney had purchased only to lose several months later in a messy divorce.  There was the treehouse a devoted father had spent months building for his twin sons, who then used it religiously as their hideout.  There was the street that led to one of the best coffeeshops in town - the shopping center with Ruby’s favorite ice cream parlor - the stump of the poor oak tree that had been struck by lightning in a huge thunderstorm that had rolled through.

And then, the familiar iron gate that ran along the property line, dividing the lawn beyond from the street and neighbors next door.  Behind the fencing and up a small drive was a white home with dark blue shutters framing the windows.

Steering the car up to a keypad outside the entrance to the drive, she punched in a set of numbers and waited patiently for the gates to slide smoothly open.  They screeched as they slid apart, likely to do lack of use and proper oiling. Once they were fully opened, she continued up the drive before pulling to a stop by the front door and turning the car off.

Just a quick run inside.  She’d grab a few things to wear and that was it.

Sitting in the car, she stared out the passenger window and felt her palms grow clammy at the thought of moving any closer.

The home was very moderately sized - at least, compared to what Weiss was used to.  Two stories, three bedrooms with a large yard out back, she’d actually found this house to be more comfortable than any of the mansions her family owned.  The porch light was on - as were the interior lights in the hallways, visible through the white slats of plantation shutters behind clean panes of glass. Her personal code at the gate had lit the house up in expectation of her arrival, as if welcoming her back.

In and out - five minutes maximum.  

She’d sat right next to Ruby at the dinner table.  She could do this.

Clenching a fist and pushing the car door open, she crept towards the front door with more and more uncertainty beginning to swell in her chest.  This seemed like a horrible decision, but it would be the fastest and easiest way to get an entire wardrobe of her own clothing without spending needless hours shopping.  The outfits would be a little out of style, but that had never been a problem as far as Ruby was concerned.

Three wide stone steps led her up to a front door in the same color as the shutters.  The door handle was a glowing bronze that looked newly polished. The side windows were sparkling and clean.

It almost looked as if someone still lived here.

Beside the front door was a separate keypad which required a separate code - but this code hadn’t been changed in years.  Even though Weiss hadn’t been here in quite some time, she’d refused to change it. Buried deep down, she’d hung onto a foolish feeling that maybe one day…one day everything would be different.

“One, six, five, eight - now I know I won’t be late,” she whispered to herself while punching in the code.  The keypad immediately lit in green and she heard the deadbolts unlock.  

Reaching for the door handle, she found her fingers were trembling.  Drawing them back and curling them into a ball, she took a deep breath and reminded herself what it had been like walking up the sidewalk to Yang and Blake’s front door - how it had taken almost an hour to convince herself out of the car, how her feet hadn’t wanted to leave the street, how she’d nearly turned back a dozen times as she shook like a leaf in nervousness.

This would be far easier and faster than what she’d just gone though.  For one thing, there would be no one here. Plus, she knew exactly what she wanted to grab and exactly where to find it.

Turning the handle, she pushed open the door and glided through before she lost her miniscule burst of courage.  Once inside silence quickly enveloped her - silence and stillness unlike anything she would have expected, broken only by the unsettling tick tock of a faraway clock.  A car drove past on the street behind her, but then the sound faded into nothing and left her alone with the clock.

The chandelier in the entryway still sparkled like it had been installed yesterday.  The dark wood floor was immaculately clean. The little wooden table by the coat closet was devoid of dust.  The bookcase near the entry to the living room was tidy and clean. The cleaning crew she’d been paying was doing an excellent job - everything was spotless, but cleanliness did nothing to remove the unnerving lack of motion surrounding her.

A mental timer was ticking in her head - urging her to move faster, to not dwell for too long in any particular space.  She needed to hurry , but instead she inched forward, looking left and right while trying to decide if she wanted to head further inside.  

When her eyes lit upon some of the items that hadn’t moved in years, her chest tightened with emotion that compounded with every momento and photograph she found.  While Yang and Blake’s house had been devoid of memories, this one was filled with them. They were staring at her from the walls, the table, the bookcase…happier days that had been captured for eternity, filled with smiles, pride, and love.  Birthdays...anniversaries...vacations...

Focusing her eyes straight forward, she tried to move towards the staircase directly in front of her.  The long wooden banister was beckoning her to move upstairs, to leave the wood floor behind in favor of plush, off white carpet that had seen its fair share of wear and tear.  But when she forced one foot forward, it felt like the eyes were following her. They begged her to turn towards them - to take a painful trip down memory lane that she might never return from.  ‘Pick me,’ they all said. ‘Don’t you want to remember this day?’ ‘Don’t you want to remember how things were?’

‘Don’t you want to remember what you used to have?’  ‘Don’t you want to remember how it used to be?’

Finally breaking, she shot over to the nearest wall and turned the frame around so the photo was facing away from her.  The frame on a nearby table was flattened immediately after. The opposite wall had two more pictures. The table by the front door had three little ones.  Each and every one was turned down or flipped around so she could no longer see what contents they held.

It was only when the memories had been silenced that she could breathe a little more easily.  The fewer memories, the better.

Walking towards the staircase, she’s just set one hand upon the banister when her eyes landed upon a vase sitting on the table by the closet.  It had been the subject of great turbulence during its short life - having been repeatedly on the verge of death due to the great winds that used to tear through the hallways at hurricane speeds.  Now here it sat...perfectly still and safe from any potential harm.

Lifting her hand from the railing and diverting from her course, she decided that it would be best to put it out of sight - just in case.

Walking over and carefully picking it up in one hand, she opened the closet door only to gasp in surprise and stumble away - shoving the door shut as she did so.

How, after all this time, did it still smell like roses in there?

Heart pounding, she stood in the middle of the hallway - freezing to one spot like her feet had just been set in cement.  If memories were like ropes, she could feel them tying around her limbs - tugging and pulling her away from her grip on reality.  Her eyes darted around the room, trying to ground herself in this place while her past tried to tear her away from it.  

She’d left the front door open.  She’d turned the pictures around.  There were roses in the other vase by the front door - had those always been there?  There were roses in the vase in her hand - she immediately let go and watched it fall to the ground with a crash, shattering into pieces as water and flower petals flowed around her feet.

Her breathing was desperate - her pulse pounding erratically as she struggled to regain control of her emotions.  She knew what was happening. Emotional trauma, they called it. Each mind has its own way of coping with pain and loss, especially after events that were particularly distressing.  Her scars manifested themselves in the source of her pain - memories. Memories of Ruby. Memories of the past. They haunted her.

But understanding what was happening didn’t make it any easier to stop it.

Closing her eyes, she focused on taking deep breaths.  One long inhale - she held it until her lungs burned before letting it out in a long, shaky exhale.

“One...”

There weren’t roses in the vases.  She’d specifically instructed the housekeepers to keep all plants out of the house.

Another deep inhale.  Wait. Exhale slowly.

“Two…”

So it couldn’t smell like roses in here.  Because there hadn’t been roses in here for over a year.

“Three…”

Because Ruby hadn’t been here since -

‘Four!  Ready or not, Weiss - here I come!’

The front door slammed behind her as she raced back to the car and jumped inside.  The house disappeared in the rearview mirror as she sped down the drive before re-entering her code at the gate to let her back onto the streets and lock the memories away behind her.

That had been a horrible idea.  A horrible, horrible idea. And clearly one she wasn't close to ready for.  New clothes would be easy to find - she’d just have to go shopping. She didn’t necessarily want to go shopping, but she would have to because her other option was…

She couldn’t set foot in that house again.  It was still too soon, which was remarkable seeing as how it had already been a year.  But it was still...far too soon...

When the house was gone from view her heartbeat finally began to return to a normal speed while her hands loosened their death grip on the steering wheel.  Sounds of the street passing by outside came back to her once her pulse stopped pounding in her ears. And her brain came back to reality - only to find that she’d again been driving with no purpose and no direction.  

Quickly picking up her surroundings, her new destination took her to the part of Vale where small neighborhoods gave way to massive plots of land.  The houses grew further and further apart as lawns and landscaping grew by leaps and bounds with each passing block.  

It was in this area of town where Winter’s house lay - and it was one of the larger buildings in sight.  Rather than hide the enormous size of the mansion behind cleverly placed trees and winding drives, this house was ostentatiously standing at the top of a small knoll.  The heightened elevation ensured that passerby would take notice of the grand manor from afar.

The entrance to the property was accompanied by a guard station, where the singular guard was probably tasked with one of the slowest jobs in Remnant seeing as how Winter spent all of her time anywhere but Vale.  This lack of duties likely explained the pep in his step as he shot to his feet and walked out of his guard booth to greet her. 

“May I help you, Miss?” he asked after she’d rolled down her window.  His eyes lit up at the sight of her, but he didn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that she and Winter were related.  That was a good sign - the guards her family needed to be concerned about were the ones who jumped to conclusions about relationships.  Even though she and Winter had the same hair...one could never be too careful.

“You should have received a call from my sister, Winter,” she replied calmly.  “I’m guessing the code will be...six-five-zero.”

That was the passcode Winter had assigned to Weiss when she was much younger, and they now used in any situation where Weiss needed access to something her sister owned.

Six - the age Weiss had been when she’d gotten Myrtenaster.

Five - the number of moves it had taken her to defeat her first Grimm, a lowly Boarbatusk.

Zero - the chance of Winter ever not having Weiss’ back.

The guard grinned at the correct passcode and reached into his booth to push the button to open the wrought iron gates for her.  

“Welcome, Miss Schnee,” he said while the gates quietly slid open.  “How long will you be staying?”

“I’m not entirely sure yet,” she answered truthfully.  “It could be awhile, if things go well.”

The news seemed to make his night while he waved her through.

“Take your time!  And if you need anything while you’re here, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

“Thank you -…?”  Her words trailed off when she realized she hadn’t gotten his name.

“Charles!  But you can call me Chuck - everyone does.  Well, you can.”

“Thank you, Chuck,” she replied with a courteous smile before rolling up the window and continuing up the drive towards the large manor.  In the rearview mirror, she watched him duck back into his outpost as soon as she’d left. It was entirely likely that Winter had requested him to update her whenever Weiss arrived.  And she wouldn’t be surprised if Winter had also instructed him to provide consistent updates on Weiss’ comings and goings while she was staying here - that sounded entirely like something her sister would do.

But that subtle supervision was to be expected regardless of where Weiss decided to stay while in Vale.  If anything, she’d saved her sister the effort of finding and hiring a good tail on such short notice. Although Weiss did know of an exceptional tail who happened to live in the area…

Pulling around the large circular drive to the front of the building, her pulse beat easily at the sight of the unfamiliar house sprawling in front of her.  She’d been here several times before, but always by herself and never for more than a brief visit when Winter happened to be in town. The lack of memories was a breath of fresh air and exactly what she needed after a tumultuous couple of days that had put her through both the physical and mental wringer.

Striding easily up to the front door, she found that she had to use both hands to pull it open due to its massive size.  That was one of the problems with such an impressive oak door. It was beautiful, but weighed far too much to be reasonably practical.

As soon as the door had opened, lighting inside the house clicked on to welcome her into the expansive foyer.  After stepping inside and pulling the front door shut behind her, she took a minute to survey the decorations surrounding her.  Elegant paintings, an impressive crystal chandelier, soft lighting that was perfect for the evening, and several large open doorways leading elsewhere in the house.

The unfamiliarity nearly made her sigh out loud in relief.  

Winter’s home was a bit...large...for a single person, but that meant there would be plenty of bedrooms to choose from.  She should be able to easily find one that was comfortable and as different as possible from any room she’d stayed in before.

Leaving the foyer behind, Weiss walked through the downstairs living room first to create a general feel for the layout of her temporary housing.  Before she could even attempt to find the light switch for the room, the lighted chandeliers turned on automatically. Staring into the room for several seconds in surprise, it was only when she found the set of complex light switches along wall that she remembered that Winter had had an automatic lighting system installed.

The lighting in the entire house ran off of sensors hidden throughout the walls.  The room would speak to each other and turn the lights on and off as the home’s inhabitants walked about.  It was one of those technologies she’d always found to be a little unnerving, but was highly touted by the wealthy elite.  

Walking through the living room, with the carpet absorbing any sound her feet might make, the light in the room up ahead turned on before she’d even reached it.  It left her with the feeling that someone was always a few seconds ahead of her - flipping switches to save her the effort.  

Entering a well-equipped study next, which was decorated in soft blues instead of the cream and gold of the living room, she turned around to see when the lights in the recently vacated room would switch off.  They remained on while she watched, so she took several more steps into the middle of the study before sensing the change in lighting behind her.

The system was accurate, which was good.  And she was sure she would eventually get used to the lights following her around the house.  Maybe she would even enjoy not having to flip switches all of the time, not that that was any real hassle.

Continuing her brief tour, she left behind the study filled with books on combat strategy and Dust manufacturing in order to peruse the massive kitchen and dining room.  The dining room table had enough chairs to seat twelve, which seemed inordinately excessive for a person who lived alone.  

Making it to one end of the house, she found a staircase that would lead her to the upper level - where the bedrooms would lie.  After taking the stairs, she found that the second story was nothing more than a long hallway with doors along both sides, split in the middle by an upstairs living room lit by moonlight.

About a third of the hallway was currently illuminated, but it was difficult to tell how far the hallway went in the darkness that stretched beyond.  Unperturbed, she began peeking into the rooms to find one she might like. The bedrooms didn’t seem to be connected to the automatic lighting system, which made sense from a rational standpoint if people were sleeping, but this meant that every door she opened greeted her with a pitch black room beyond.  The darkness was short lived, however, as each room had its own light switch tucked right inside the door - in an easy to find location.

After peeking into the first two rooms and immediately marking them off as viable options, she searched the next few rooms before coming to the same determination.  It would most likely be one of the corner rooms she was searching for since those were often the largest and most livable spaces, but she would check each one just to be sure.

While she slowly made her way down the hall, she heard the soft ‘click, click’ of lights shutting off behind her and turning on in front of her.  Each room she glanced into was nice and immaculately decorated, but she wanted something a little bigger if she was going to be staying here for the foreseeable future.

Marking off two more bedrooms, she finally made it to the upstairs living room.  It was a large space that stretched the entire width of the house with windows lining the walls on both sides.  Combined with a skylight overhead, it was essentially a room made of glass with hallways attached to both sides.  

With the night sky surrounding her, the ambience of the room was calming and magnificent.

Standing in the center of the space and looking up, she could easily make out several fragments of the moon shining above her - glowing brightly amongst the stars.  One piece in particular immediately drew her full attention - the small sliver that Ruby firmly believed held the soul of her mother, Summer Rose.

They’d still been in their first year at Beacon when Ruby had explained her beliefs...which Weiss might have immediately refuted had it not been for the undying love and adoration in Ruby’s eyes as she told the story.  Even though Weiss had known it was fundamentally incorrect, she hadn’t been able to bring herself to tell Ruby as much. What type of person knowingly tried to take away the faith that helped a girl cope with having lost her mother?

It had only been after Ruby’s confession that Yang had pulled Weiss aside and explained exactly how it had come to be - how Yang had made the entire story up as a way to make Ruby feel better about what had happened.  How Ruby had latched onto it with her entire being and firmly believed it to this day.

Regardless of its factual shortcomings, none of them had ever said anything to contradict Ruby’s belief.  Instead, they’d started sending little ‘thank yous’ up to Summer whenever they were particularly lucky in battle.  Strange happenings were Summer’s way of playing a trick on them. Fortunate turns of events were gifts. A sudden gust of wind on a still day was Summer’s way of saying ‘hello.’

It had begun as Yang’s attempt to make her little sister feel better, but in the end it had affected them all.  The idea that there was some spirit up in the sky looking after them was preposterous, but also...comforting, in a way.  And there had been many instances where their team had either been entirely too lucky, or something else had intervened in their favor.

Staring up through the skylight at the piece of moon she could pick out without hesitation, she gently rubbed at her right arm before dropping both hands to her sides.

“Summer...” she whispered, the name strange on her tongue.  There were some days, like today, when she really wished it was true - that Ruby’s mother was up there like some type of angel, looking down and protecting her daughter.  Because Weiss hadn’t been.

The threat of tears forced her eyes down, but she sent one last glance up towards the moon - one last whisper that would go unheard.

“I’m sorry - I...wasn’t there for her.  But I’ll make it right, somehow...”

Rushing out of the living room and into the next hallway, she quickly found the master bedroom - it was the only door on the left side of the hall and took up an incredible amount of space.  It was...too large. The sheer size of the suite made the king sized bed inside look comically small. She didn’t understand how Winter could stand to sleep in such cavernous spaces…

Well, Weiss had once been able to too.  Growing up, her room had been far larger than necessary.  It had actually been a set of three rooms - bedroom, sitting room, and study - with enough space that it probably could have comfortably housed two full families.

What had changed?  She’d gone to Beacon and she’d been forced share a tiny room with three other girls.  There had been some growing pains, but in the end...comfort wasn’t having space, but rather having company.

Shutting the door to the master bedroom, she had two doors left on the opposite side of the hallway.  Based on the spacing of the doors these had to be smaller suites - demi-suites, she believed they were called.  Heading towards the one at the end of the hallway near another staircase, she paused for a second when she sensed that something wasn’t quite right.  Turning back down the hallway, she instantly found what had caused her unease.

The lights in the upstairs living room were still on.  They shouldn’t be...since there were sections of hall between her and the room that had already switched off, yet they were.  

Standing in the hallway, she stared for several seconds while trying to decide whether or not she should walk back to the room and see what was wrong.  It could be that the sensor was broken or set up incorrectly, but caution won out in the end and she crept quietly back to the room.  

It was impossible to sneak with the lighting announcing her approach, but she kept her eyes and ears peeled for any sight or sound of movement.  One hand went defensively to her side only to remember that she didn’t have Myrtenaster with her at the moment - her weapon still safely stored in a locker back in Atlas.

Undeterred, she focused instead on her semblance while taking calculated steps forward.  Her eyes swept every bit of the room while it slowly came into view, but there was nothing out of place.  Dropping some of her caution, she walked fully into the room and stood between two dark blue sofas, spinning in a slow circle and carefully checking every corner.

Nothing.  There was no one here, which was as she’d expected.  And there was nothing noticeably changed from when she’d been standing here last.

The sensor must be broken.  Or maybe there was a faulty wire somewhere.  The system probably worked just enough that the lights would trigger to turn on, but now they weren’t capable of turning back off.  

Finding the set of switches on one side of the room, she headed over and pressed the pad where the ‘off’ command should be.  When nothing happened, she pressed it again - a little longer and harder this time - but again nothing happened. Next she tried all of the possible commands, but was met with the same results.

Apparently the lights in this room were critically broken.  Seeing as how she wasn’t an electrician, it wasn’t anything she’d be able to fix.  She’d just have to live with the lights staying on for the time being, which wasn’t a huge issue at all.

Quickly heading back to the corner suite, she made sure to check the lights once more and, sure enough, they were still on.  Making a mental note to call someone in the morning, she finally opened the door and immediately knew that this was the room she’d been searching for.  

It was perfect - large enough to call home for an extended period of time, but not overbearing like the master suite.  It had four sets of windows, two on each side of the outer wall, along with an outdoor balcony that appeared to stretch the length of all four windows.  The bed was a traditional four-post with what must be a mile of covers and blankets on top. The room was also equipped with a rather large closet which she could stock full of new clothes as soon as she had them.  

With a safe place to sleep, the events of the past day were quickly catching up to her.  She’d been traveling for several days now, stretching back to before the battle in the forest, and was sufficiently exhausted.  In fact, she was so exhausted that it felt like she’d be able to fall right into bed and fall asleep.

First, she walked into the bathroom and found it was stocked with new toiletries like a fine hotel, which was superb since she hadn’t brought any of those items with her.  The more she thought about it, the more she understood how much of a knee jerk reaction this trip had been. All because of a picture.

But that picture had told her something her imagination never could have.  Maybe her mistakes hadn't completely destroyed everything. Maybe something good could be salvaged from the wreckage.

After preparing herself for bed, she gratefully laid down only for her mind to begin racing the instant she closed her eyes.

Ruby...Ruby was in every corner of her mind.  

Her memories of Ruby had been frozen in time for so long that new memories were nearly overpowering in their clarity.  Hearing Ruby laugh...seeing her smile...answering questions…the entire evening had been one Weiss had never believed possible.

Internally groaning, she remembered the very much failed handshake that would have given her the opportunity to feel Ruby’s warmth again.  How she’d managed to blunder such a simple display of manners was beyond her. All she could remember was that the very sight of Ruby had made her want to run back to the safety of the car.  Somehow she’d willed herself to stay...it had been the necklace. She’d seen it as soon as Ruby had stuck out a hand towards her. That little token had given her the temporary boost of courage she’d needed to stick around a little while longer.

She hadn’t exactly been the most engaging dinner guest for the time she’d managed to stay, though.  She could have spoken up more - been funnier or more clever. She knew how much Ruby enjoyed humor of any sort, but in that moment her mind had been frozen solid.  It was easy for her to think of things she should have said now ...but now was too late.  It had only been with Blake’s help that Weiss had even been able to tell the story about the shipment of red Dust.

At the recollection of that moment, something stronger than sadness began growing in her chest...despair.  It was the same despair that had crushed her spirit this past year. It was the same despair that had pressed her into a tighter and tighter box, unwilling to let her breathe.

Lip quivering as her chest tightened, she squeezed her eyes shut and struggled to push away the emotion as it fought against her.

Ruby didn’t recognize her, but Ruby also didn’t remember any of the memories they’d shared together.  They’d all watched that shipment of Dust explode. They’d all watched the tower of sand shoot towards the sky.  They’d all felt the blast of heat roll over them even at the distance they’d been sheltering from.

Those moments were gone from Ruby’s mind.  And Weiss was now a stranger - someone Ruby wouldn’t be comfortable spending time alone with - which was why she’d invited Yang as company.

Yang’s image popped into Weiss’ mind then - her purple eyes narrowed in loathing.  Honestly, Weiss was surprised that Yang hadn’t slammed the door in her face. Or worse, knocked her into the next century with one good punch.  She wasn’t dense - she knew that Yang was beyond livid. And she’d been able to hear the sound of protesting metal as Yang had crushed the door knob on the other side of the door in self-restraint.

At least Yang had been straightforward in her quickly uttered warning - mess things up and she would rip out Weiss’ trachea.  It was certainly one of the most violent threats Weiss had ever received, but she didn’t think it was undeserved. Honestly, she probably deserved far worse than that - although she wasn’t going to go volunteering that admission to Yang at this point.  

Thankfully, Weiss had no plans of ‘messing up.’  Although she wasn’t sure that anyone ever actually planned to do that.  She certainly hadn’t planned on making such colossal mistakes herself, yet here she was...struggling to atone for them.

Yang and Blake’s new house had been an unexpected surprise - Weiss hadn’t even known they’d moved until she’d gone to their old address and discovered a new family living there.  As a stroke of good fortune, the kind older couple been able to point her in the right direction - Yang’s propensity to overshare working in Weiss’ advantage for once.  

She’d always pictured Blake and Yang moving into a bigger place, not smaller.  But the pair had always had their own way of going about things. Blake, in particular, was more fond of comfortable than lavish.

Thinking about Blake, Weiss covered her eyes with one hand even though the room was completely dark.  Before attending Beacon, she never would have thought she’d be close friends with a Faunus, but now...Blake seemed to be the only one even remotely willing to have Weiss around - and maybe even slightly happy to see her again.

Of course, that made sense because Weiss had never abandoned Blake’s little sister. 

Letting out a heavy sigh, she decided that she probably wasn’t going to get any sleep tonight after all.  Rolling onto her side, she pulled out her scroll and started making a list of everything she needed to do, could do, should do, and would do.

First, new clothes.

Second, call an electrician for the broken lights.

Third, find some excuse to see Ruby again, and find the courage to actually go through with it.

Fourth...she really didn’t know.  Everything very much hinged upon the third item on the list.

Chapter Text

“Yang!” she shouted to nowhere in particular.  “Have you seen my boots??”

Sticking her head back inside the hall closet, she began picking up random shoes and tossing them behind her in search of her missing boot.  She already had one in her hand, but the other one was nowhere to be found - which made sense because there were always so many friggin’ shoes in here!  And they weren’t hers. Or Blake’s.  

This was just great.  Now she was going to be late.  Blake had said five minutes and it had definitely been more than five minutes already.  It would be fine if Blake was like Yang and always late, but nope.  Blake was a pretty precise person.  Five minutes meant five minutes which meant Ruby was late.

How could one person have so many shoes??  What could the purpose possibly be? One for every day of the month?  Or year?

“YANG!” she shouted again after giving up a second time.

“WHAT!”

The word was yelled directly in her ear from behind, making her nearly jump out of her socks in surprise.  Standing up and spinning around, she glared into Yang’s pleased grinning face while rubbing her (mostly likely ruptured) eardrum with her free hand.

“Have you seen my left boot?” she asked impatiently, holding the right one up to show her sister.  Not like she needed to - Yang should know exactly which boots Ruby was talking about. They were her only pair, after all.  Unlike someone else she knew...who’d apparently robbed a shoe store recently.  Although why Blake would help Yang rob a shoe store, Ruby had no idea...

“Uh...you mean that one over there?”

Looking in the direction Yang pointed in, Ruby groaned out loud.  Of course it was hiding under the hallway chair separated from its partner.  Which was totally not where she’d put it last...but maybe it had been and she just didn’t remember.  Or maybe someone had moved it to make room for all their stupid shoes instead.

Scrambling over to grab it, Ruby shoved her foot inside before hustling towards the backyard.

“You have too many shoes,” she shot at Yang on her way out.  Yang’s only response was to chuckle and start shoving shoes back into the closet with one foot, not caring that it was creating an even bigger mess than before.

The hall closet, which should really be called the shoe closet given how many pairs were stuffed inside, was something they’d already had an argument about before.  It had ended with some sort of explanation about ‘fashion,’ but that little word had made Ruby tune out the rest of the conversation so fast she might as well have completely lost her hearing for a few minutes. 

End result - she had no idea what had come of the conversation other than that the shoes were still there creating a huge mess.  And that apparently ‘fashion’ meant owning a whole bunch of crap that was hardly used - and that crap took up so much space they needed an entire closet to house it all.

Hopping on one foot through the hallway to the back door, she used both hands to yank her other boot on straight before stomping both feet to make sure they were ready.  Satisfied that they weren’t coming off anytime soon, she grabbed Crescent Rose from the table, pushed open the screen door and hopped onto their small back porch.

Just like she’d thought...she was late.  Blake was already waiting in the middle of the yard, Gambol Shroud hanging across her back while the slight evening wind blew the weapon’s ribbons gently to the side.

“Ready!” Ruby exclaimed while jumping off the single step of the back porch to the grass below.  But before her feet had touched the ground, a flash of black slammed behind her knees and sent her crashing to the grass.  She let out a loud ‘eep!’ of surprise as she tumbled onto the dirt before finding herself looking up into amused amber eyes with the black metal of Gambol held close, but not too close, to her throat.

“Don’t say ‘ready’ until you’re actually ‘ready,’” Blake told her with a satisfied smirk before pulling the weapon away and taking a step back.

“Jeez, can’t catch a break with you two today...” Ruby grumbled, pushing herself to her feet and dusting off several blades of grass.  Picking up Crescent Rose, she unfolded the weapon and assumed her defensive stance.

“Ok,” she said firmly.  “Ready.”

“Are you sure?” Blake asked, eyes twinkling in anticipation while Ruby rolled her eyes at the question.

Yes , this time I’m actually - eep!!”

Maybe she hadn’t been completely ready, but luckily she reacted fast enough to get Crescent Rose in a position to block Blake’s sudden flurry of attacks.  Unfortunately, her continued lack of actual readiness caused her to back up several paces and concede valuable ground in their medium-sized yard.  

There were two wooden fences separating their yard from the neighbors on either side - one behind Ruby and one behind Blake.  Besides the back of the house, the last ‘wall’ in their square yard was made up of a large, open wooded area. Ruby had learned pretty fast that while the trees seemed like they’d be good obstacles to add to any fight, the woods were in fact the last place she wanted to be.  As in, the very last place .  Do not let the fight go into the woods, ever

Twirling her weapon in her hands, she blocked several more of Blake’s attacks while searching for an opportunity to launch a counteroffensive.  But first, she needed some separation. Immediately after feeling the next jolt of Gambol striking the edge of Crescent Rose, she activated her semblance and burst away from the house towards more open space.

At least she tried to burst in that direction, but a ribbon reached out and snatched her ankle - throwing her to the ground face first.  As soon as her chin hit dirt, she kicked her feet to roll to the right while a surge of adrenaline coursed through her veins.  The sound of metal clanging off the ground confirmed her instincts as she clambered to her feet and got her weapon in front of her as quickly as possible.  

She almost wasn’t ready - resulting in the incoming blow knocking her back a step in order to absorb the power put behind it.  She was a little more prepared for the next one, but it still forced her back a half step before she was able to hold her ground.  Still playing defense...but at least she wasn’t giving up any more ground.

Using her semblance to try to slip away again would be risky at the speed Blake was currently attacking.  Like Ruby had just learned, her margin of error was narrow for escaping unscathed. Whenever she blocked one incoming blow, there was always another a millisecond behind it - or a shadow clone blowing past her that she would mistakenly twist around to react to, losing valuable time to react to the real attack.

Yang and Blake had both repeatedly instructed Ruby to identify her enemy’s strengths and weaknesses within the first few seconds of a battle and use that information to find points of attack.  It had seemed like such pointless advice at the time - how was she supposed to figure out someone’s weaknesses in just a few seconds? - but it actually came more naturally to her than she’d thought it would.  Somehow she knew things about Blake’s style without really knowing them, if that made sense. Like, Blake was extremely smart and calculating. Her attacks were deadly accurate, like an assassin, but she’d only attack furiously if given an edge and could only keep up a fast pace for a limited time.  

Seeing how this practice had started, Blake definitely had the upper hand - which meant that she was looking to deal the death blow immediately.  If the opportunity didn’t present itself quickly enough, she would retreat and regroup. In the meantime, Ruby just needed to hold on.

Much easier said than done, especially when Blake’s attacks were flying at her so fast she barely had time to deflect one before the next one was on its way.  And then the shadow clones - oh sweet shadow clones - they were making Ruby’s life miserable right now. Fighting one person was difficult, but the clones made it feel like Blake was attacking from six different directions at once.  Six different directions.  At one time. Ruby could hardly even think six different thoughts at one time!

The clones were amazing and Ruby thought that they were just about the coolest things ever…but she only thought they were super cool when they weren’t making her twist and spin and nearly trip herself in confusion.

That was such a lie.  They were still super cool even if they were extremely disorienting.  

But their inclusion in battle meant that Ruby needed to be extra aware and always, always on her toes.

Left, right, up, behind - shuffle, repeat.

The clang of metal meeting metal found a rhythm in the air as she spun in every direction to protect herself from the onslaught - sometimes jumping backwards to give herself breathing room, only to find that Blake had already flipped behind her.  

Somehow Blake was always one step ahead, but Ruby had to hold out.  That’s all she had to do. There wasn’t a break in Blake’s armor, so she had to hold out and tire her opponent out.  Wait until there was a fraction of a second more between each blow - that’s when Ruby would be able to find some sort of opening...hopefully.

This was the exact opposite strategy of what she used with Yang - who would attack, attack, attack and absorb blows like a freaking tank.  Yang only needed to land one good hit to end the battle with a knockout. And good luck trying to tire her out.

Blake would tire.  Hopefully before making Ruby eat grass again.

Or…

Blocking several more attacks, oxygen was abruptly forced from her lungs when what she’d thought was a clone had actually been a very real set of boots planting into her ribs.  Staggering momentarily from the impact, she somehow managed to locate Blake behind her and react to the next strike in the nick of time. There was a smirk on Blake’s lips now, like she was really pleased with what she’d just done - knocking most of the wind from Ruby’s lungs.

Ruby wasn’t gonna lie - that had sucked a lot.  Oxygen was kind of important to being able to function and now her breathing was nothing more than a wheeze for air while trying to keep up with the whirlwind surrounding her.

No wonder Blake was pleased.  Ruby would be pretty pleased too if she could ever get close enough to the real Blake!

Crashing their weapons together, Ruby quickly jumped and slammed her own heels down on Crescent Rose.  Springing off and somersaulting backwards, the force was enough to temporarily shove Blake a few feet away, but unfortunately not much more than that before a clone again appeared behind Ruby’s right ear and caused her to stumble in surprise.

Dang.  She could not catch a break today.

But...maybe Blake’s confidence could be used against her.  Not that Blake was overly confident or cocky, but she was clearly in charge of this fight and on the cusp of winning.  If Ruby presented an opening, Blake would probably take it. The bait just needed to be convincing enough...and Ruby needed to be ready to get out of the way before getting absolutely destroyed.

No problem - all she needed to do was put herself in a super precarious position that looked precarious enough that Blake believed it was precarious.  And Ruby had just the idea!

Taking a large step backwards, she pretended to stumble over an invisible hole in the yard.  It was convincing because, unfortunately, she was rather clumsy on a good day. And it was precarious because, while she pretended to trip herself, she allowed Crescent Rose to dip ever so slightly.  Not too much, but enough to project a briefly lowered guard.  

This presented an opening in her defense and Blake immediately took it - lunging forward in a flurry of clones.  With Crescent Rose out of position, Gambol Shroud whizzed past Ruby’s ear as she burst to one side to dodge the attacks.  Again a ribbon caught her ankle, but this time she used the sudden loss of balance to propel herself into a controlled tumble and regained her feet instantly.  

Blake had already tracked Ruby and was rushing to pursue, but that small moment was enough of a break to disturb the rhythm of the battle.  Swinging Crescent Rose blindly when she rolled up to her feet, Ruby forced Blake to deflect the scythe upwards. Sensing an opening, Ruby pulled upon her semblance for her follow up - bringing the weapon quickly downward before Blake had time to counterattack.  The instant Ruby felt another clang reverberate through her arms, she was swinging up again - using an ever flowing motion that allowed her to swing continuously without ever having to withdraw and attack again.  

Always in motion - a blocked upswing became another attack on the downswing.

Crescent Rose sang through the air - a sound Ruby absolutely loved.  Weapons were special in that way. Each had a unique call, with Crescent Rose being different from Gambol, being different from any of the other weapons they had laying around.  Even in the heat of battle, she could hear the difference as clearly as if they were different people speaking.

Gambol might have been doing most of the talking at the beginning of this battle, but now it was Crescent Rose’s time to get a few words in.

Firmly on the offensive, Ruby knew that now she needed to knock Blake off balance.  Which was going to be hard to do because one, in case no one had noticed, Blake was a cat Faunus - as in, the tiny, super agile creatures with incredibly good balance?  And two, Blake was exceptional at blocking.  She’d actually been teaching Ruby several really cool techniques to manage blocking and efficiency, but there was still so much Ruby needed to learn!

Picking up the speed of her attacks, Ruby could see the petals swirling in the air around them, but somehow Blake seemed to know what Ruby was going to do before she’d even done it.  Dozens of blows were easily deflected while Ruby tried to swarm her opponent, leaving Ruby with nothing to show for her efforts except for slightly reduced stamina and strength.

Unlike Blake, Ruby didn’t have awesome shadow clones that she could use, but she could use her semblance to leap from one side to the other as fast as possible.  Rose petals filled the air with each dash while she searched and searched for an opportunity to attack.  But each time Blake reacted to her perfectly - Gambol already in place to thwart Ruby’s attempt.

Block, block - blockblockblockblock.  

Blake was too good at defense for Ruby to crack, but if she could keep up the pace, eventually…

Sensing an opening - a small, small window - Ruby bit on it immediately, realizing too late that Blake had just baited Ruby the same way she’d baited Blake earlier.  It wasn’t actually an opening. It was a pretend opening.  

And Ruby must have projected her intent to attack because Blake was already gone - easily catapulting over Ruby’s head without so much as a running start.  Swiveling her head to track Blake’s movement, Ruby deflected a rapid barrage of bullets that pelted down on her before two boots planted on her chest and sprang down.  

The crushing force sent her stumbling backwards, completely off balance.  Her eyes dropped to the ground for the briefest of seconds in order to get her feet back underneath herself, but by the time she looked up she found herself staring into nothing but forest - with Blake nowhere to be seen.

“Crap…” Ruby muttered under her breath while creeping towards the treeline.  She’d just made a really, really stupid mistake by allowing their fight to get so close to the edge of the woods.  The early twists and turns had disoriented her enough that she’d lost track of their position in relation to the house.  Now she realized that Blake had been leading them this direction the entire time without Ruby ever catching on until too late.

There was clever...and then there was the extra tricky version of clever that Blake brought to the table - the invisible table that she’d just tricked Ruby into trying to sit down at.

Stifling the urge to chop all of the trees down (she’d been expressly forbidden from doing that), Ruby stuck one toe into the darkness as if testing the temperature.  Nothing immediately pounced on her, which was good, but she still didn’t want to go any further into the woods.

Unfortunately, it had been established as a rule some time ago that she couldn’t just wait by the house for Blake to re-emerge.  That would be an automatic forfeit and Ruby would have to do the dishes for the next two weeks .  So no, waiting Blake out wasn’t an option.  In order for the fight to continue, Ruby would have to pursue the Faunus into the woods.

It was basically as dumb as following a shark into water when you couldn’t swim.  And the shark was really hungry. And was also invisible. Plus armed with a sword and bullets.

It was just...really, really not smart.

Suppressing a groan, Ruby took a few more hesitant steps forward until she was firmly covered by trees on all sides.  Her eyes took a long time to adjust to the dim light - a period during which she was expecting to be attacked at any second.  But when her sucky low-light vision finally caught on and nothing had happened, she figured that Blake must have been allowing Ruby to fully prepare for battle on this new and really awful terrain.  

How kind - don’t attack the poor blind girl the instant she walked into the trees...just wait until she’s a bundle of anxious nerves and then attack.  That probably won’t give her a heart attack...

Head swiveling expectantly, she snuck onward, trying to keep her footsteps as quiet as possible in order to listen for sounds of her opponent.  A flash of movement on her left caught her attention - without thinking, she spun towards it and fired. The crack of a sniper rifle echoed loudly in the quiet area while a large leaf slowly floated to the ground - a perfect circle blasted through the center.

“Ha, gotcha Mr. Leaf,” she mumbled to herself before turning back to the trees.

All the speed in the world did nothing to help her if she couldn’t see her opponent.  And finding Blake in a dim, shadowy area was about as easy as finding a specific snowflake during a blizzard.

The attack would eventually come.  It was only a question of when, and from where?

Once upon a time, in a setting not quite as nerve-wracking as this, Blake had explained to Ruby that humans rely far too much on their vision.  When sight was taken away from them, they acted far more lost than they ought to - especially when considering how strong the other senses could be.  Vision wasn’t everything and, in many cases, it could be deceiving - like Blake’s clones.

Taking the pseudo-advice, Ruby focused on using her other senses to find what she couldn’t see.  Starting with her ears, she spun slowly in the circle while listening to leaves rustling in all directions, with the faint evening calls of crickets far away from their fight.

Well...it might be great advice when fighting someone like Yang, whose footsteps sounded like giant meteors plummeting into the ground, but this was Blake.  Ruby was pretty sure that Blake couldn’t hear her own footsteps, so there was no way someone like Ruby would ever be able to hear her.  

So...what?  Smell?

Sniffing the air lightly, Ruby couldn’t pick out anything but grass, trees, and her own sweat.  That was...not helpful.

At a loss, she stood perfectly still underneath the tree canopy and tried to figure out what to do next.  Blake could be right above Ruby’s head or standing on the branch right next to her and she would have no idea.  Or maybe Blake had gone back to the house to make a tuna sandwich and left Ruby out here by herself.  

Ugh...   

This was Ruby’s weakness - being blind as a bat with zero sense of smell and hardly any hearing when a blessed thing called ‘sunlight’ was taken away from her.  Unfortunately, these played right into Blake’s greatest advantage - the ability to disappear. To hide, sneak, and attack the unsuspecting with deadly precision.

Sighing softly, Ruby closed her eyes and waited for the end of the battle to reach her.  Hopefully this time Blake wouldn’t completely smash her off of her feet...

That’s when she felt it.

It wasn’t that she heard something, saw something, or even smelled something, but she felt something.  It was a tingle of realization - maybe something as small as a breath of wind blowing against the tiny hairs along her arm.  But in that microsecond she knew exactly where Blake was. She could practically see Blake - flying directly at her back.

Before the blow could arrive, Ruby capitalized on Blake’s mistake.  Whirling around with Crescent Rose in the lead, she caught Gambol by surprise and Blake twirled off to the side to avoid colliding with Ruby without a weapon prepared.  Re-engaged in battle, Ruby’s semblance blasted her out of the trees to the relative safety of the yard with Blake trailing close behind.

Ruby could feel the pursuit and knew that if she could surprise Blake again, she could gain an advantage.  On instinct, before Blake would think an attack was coming, Ruby slammed the end of Crescent Rose into the ground while her semblance was still powering her forward at full speed.  Gripping the handle tightly without letting up, the speed began to rip her around in the tight circle to propel her straight back into her opponent’s face.

But the unpracticed maneuver placed an unexpectedly heavy strain on her hands - forcing them to try to hold onto Crescent Rose’s grip while her momentum tried to tear her away.  The fingers on her left hand were weakening under the demand and her right didn’t feel strong enough to compensate for the excessive force.

Too late she realized that she wasn’t strong enough to execute this move.

What had begun as a sound battle strategy ended with the power of the swing tearing her away from the weapon when her grip failed her.  The next few seconds were filled with dizzying flashes of house, dirt, forest, sky while she went tumbling across the yard. As soon as she came to a stop, she found herself looking down the long, shimmering steel of Gambol Shroud pressed to her neck.

As soon as their eyes met, Blake withdrew Gambol, placed her weapon on her back, and reached down to pull Ruby to her feet.  Groaning slightly at the bumps and bruises she’d accumulated over the course of the past few seconds, she carelessly brushed at some of the dirt and grass that had collected on her clothes before limping over to collect Crescent Rose - who was still sticking in the ground.

“Your hand?” Blake asked, following Ruby to the weapon. 

“Yeahhh...kinda failed me there,” she replied, holding up her left palm so Blake could see that she was ok.  Dropping her hand, Ruby wrapped her fingers around Crescent Rose and yanked the weapon from the ground in one strong tug.

The defeat stung her with frustration.  Not because she’d lost - she lost to Blake all the time - but because of all the rehab she’d done and her dumb hand still wouldn’t get back to full health.  If a normal person had done all of the finger and hand exercises she’d done over the past few months, their hands would be stronger than steel.  But in her case, she couldn’t seem to get any better than this. And if she couldn’t get any better than this, then she’d never be able to beat Blake.  And if she could never beat Blake, then she’d never get to be a huntress again.

“My hands get sore sometimes too,” Blake offered in an attempt to cheer Ruby up, holding up one hand so Ruby could see the red callouses there.  “Especially if I use Gambol for too long.”

The response was intentionally off target - this was something Ruby had noticed Blake would do to draw attention away from what was truly the issue.  It was a subtle reminder of other conversations they’d had - that Ruby was still getting better, that there were still obstacles to be overcome. These setbacks were only temporary.  Only temporary. But sometimes it felt like everything in Ruby’s life was temporary right now.  And if everything was temporary, what was permanent?

Brushing off the feeling, Ruby gave Blake a grateful smile instead.

“I could probably fix that for you!” she offered.  Ever since she’d laid eyes upon the blade, she’d been practically drooling at the idea of seeing how it worked.  But Blake possessively reached a hand up to touch Gambol, running the ribbon through her fingers.

“We all have things that are important to us,” Blake responded, her amber eyes flashing quickly to the chain around Ruby’s neck and away.  It was enough to make Ruby reach up and grab it, feeling its weight in her fingers and understanding exactly what Blake meant. Sometimes things were important in ways that were hard to describe, and it made them difficult to give up to other people.

“But if you ever wanted to make a change, I could help you...I dunno...make a new grip or something.  Something more cushy, maybe?”

Blake’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully for a few seconds before widening.

“A new grip - Ruby!  That’s a great idea!”

“Yeah?”  Ruby hopped once in excitement.  “You want to do it??”

Immediately shaking her head, Blake said, “No, no.  Not for Gambol - for you , Ruby.  You should create your own grip!”

“Huh?  But I have one -”  Reaching down, Ruby touched the custom grips she’d created and then re-created for Crescent Rose.  

“Not like those,” Blake explained.  “But couldn’t you make something that would help you hold onto Crescent Rose better?  Like Yang’s arm only...not so extensive. More like a glove?” 

When Ruby looked from Crescent Rose to her hand and back again, the sparks of an idea began to fly.  A mechanized glove. It would have far greater strength than...well, than a normal hand, really. If she could get it to work properly, it would react to her own hand movements perfectly.  It could override the scar running across her wrist, where the ligament damage was too severe to ever be 100% healed. It...could totally work.

Nodding enthusiastically, a big smile lit her lips.

“I could.  I definitely could!” she said, her mind drawing the up plans now.  “It could have reinforced fingers so that my hand would be stronger than it actually is!  And maybe some sort of weapon tucked into it that I could use if Crescent Rose ever got taken from me…make it Dust powered too.  That’d be cool...”

“Maybe you should just work on the glove part first,” Blake said with a small laugh.  “Then you could add to it.”  

“Yeah, good call...” Ruby replied, tapping her fingers against Crescent Rose while staring at the palm of her bad hand.  A glove that reacted when she told it to. Made of reinforced metal that could lock into place. Theoretically, it could be way better than a regular hand...

“How did you know where I was, by the way?”

“Huh?”  Completely distracted, Ruby looked up in confusion.

“Earlier,” Blake pointed back to the trees lining their yard.  “You reacted without knowing where I was.”

“Oh, I don’t know!  It’s hard to explain - I just...felt it.  Somehow I knew where you were.” Wrinkling her nose, Ruby shrugged her shoulders when she couldn’t come up with a better explanation than that.  Now that she wasn’t in the middle of battle she couldn’t remember exactly how it had felt.  “Maybe it was just dumb luck though.”

Shaking her head, Blake seemed to disagree with that statement.

“Your instincts are really good.  Make sure to listen to them.”

The compliment made Ruby grin from ear to ear - Blake didn’t hand them out very often, after all.  Of course, Ruby wished that she was being complimented on something that could be easily reproduced instead of something that she had no idea how she’d done in the first place, but beggars couldn’t be choosers!

“And one other thing,” Blake added.  “Remember to focus - try your best to focus on one thing at a time.  Even if you’re only spending a millisecond of time on it, focus so you don’t get distracted.”

Nodding her head, Ruby repeated the advice to herself.  Focus. Blake emphasized focus a lot .  The problem Ruby had with focusing was that, in the middle of a fight, there was so much to focus on.  There were moments when she could tell that she’d gotten distracted, but hopefully maintaining her focus would become easier with more practice.

“I’ll try to do that.  And thanks for sparring with me!” she replied before allowing her mind to wander again.

Fighting against Blake was a great opportunity for Ruby to practice at full speed, but in a safe setting.  It was Ruby’s opportunity to put her hours of training to the test and see what would happen - try out the moves she’d practiced thousands and thousands of times on her own.  Sparring together had also led to them becoming close friends - so close that Ruby knew that she could always count on Blake for good advice, and advice that wasn’t tinted with the protective older sister vibe.

It hadn’t always been this way though.  There’d been a period of time when Ruby hadn’t exactly been sure of how to talk to Blake.  They’d been introduced under pretty...weird...circumstances and then thrown into the same house together.  The temporary awkwardness had completely changed over time, especially after Ruby had learned who Blake really was, and now they were closer than ever.

And it was nice to have a friend!  

Speaking of friends...

“Hey, Blake?” Ruby asked while they walked back towards the house, her own feet dragging slightly.  There’d been a curious thought gnawing at the back of her mind since last night and if she could ask anyone about it, it would be Blake.  “The girl from last night - Weiss - how does Yang know her?”

Blake stopped walking and turned towards Ruby, looking thoughtful while responding.

“They were friends awhile back.”

“Like from school?” Ruby asked, to which Blake nodded.

“They used to be really close, but then...let’s just say Weiss made some decisions Yang didn’t agree with.”

“Oh…”  Ruby thought about that for a moment, wondering what kind of decisions Blake could be referring to.  When Yang was really set on something, she could get pretty upset if someone went against her.

“But you know how well Yang can hold a grudge,” Blake added with a reassuring smile.  “And it looks like Weiss wants to make amends, so maybe she’ll be over here more often.”

“Really?”

“I hope so.”  Blake shrugged her shoulders before giving Ruby a contemplative expression.  “You two would probably get along really well, actually.”

“You think?”

“I do.  What do you think?  Want to make a new friend?”

With Blake’s encouraging smile, Ruby couldn’t help but grin.

“Sure!  That’d be awesome!”  

It might be nice to have a friend outside of Blake and Yang.  Although...

“Won’t it be weird though?  Because she’s Yang’s friend?”

“Why would that be weird?  Yang and I have lots of friends in common.  Didn’t you two have mutual friends in school too?”

Turning away from Blake’s questioning eyes, Ruby drew one toe across the ground.  She hadn’t really had friends in school because everyone had thought she was ‘weird.’  Since when was liking to build weapons weird?? It wasn’t weird - it was awesome. That’s why she’d begged Uncle Qrow to teach her everything he knew.

“Um...no, not really,” she answered instead of getting into that whole story.  “Yang kinda did her own thing and I did mine.”

“Well...there’s nothing wrong with sharing friends,” Blake reassured Ruby.  “If anything, it would probably be good for Weiss to have another excuse to come over.  That way Yang won’t feel like Weiss is always trying to bother her, you know?”

“Then you’ll be Weiss’ friend too?”

“I’m going to try,” Blake answered with a nod that made Ruby break into another smile.  “It’s going to be much easier for you though. Because then I can run interference with Yang.”

This time Ruby beamed.  It was like their own secret mission to get Yang and Weiss to become friends again!  It sounded like it could work and be a good idea.  Ruby could test out her new and improved social skills while attempting to make a new friend.  And she could help Weiss get back in Yang’s good graces! Then everyone would be happy, which was really what she wanted in the end.

“Oh!” she exclaimed when she remembered something kind of important.  “But do you think I should tell her?  About...you know -” She tapped the side of her head a couple of times.

Was that something that she should bring up right away?  Or more of a secret type deal that she should explain only if they became better friends?  This was all assuming that Weiss even wanted to be friends, of course.

“That’s up to you,” Blake replied.  “If you want to tell her you can, but don’t feel like you have to.  It’s your story to tell.”

“Yeah...I just - I don’t know if that’s something people normally bring up!  I guess it’s not something that normally happens to people either...”

“I think you’ll know when it’s the right moment.  Besides, Weiss will understand no matter when you tell her.”

Something about the comment struck Ruby as strange, so she tilted her head curiously.

“How do you know?  Do you know Weiss too?”

At first blinking, Blake immediately backtracked.  “Oh I mean, Yang has told me enough about her that I feel like I know her, but I was just saying that I think most people would be understanding of what you’ve gone through.”

Nodding her head at the response, Ruby still bit her lip with nerves.  

“I hope so…”

The last thing she wanted was to have something else that made more people think she was weird.  She had enough of those things to begin with!

A warm hand landed reassuringly on her shoulder, making her look over into caring eyes.

“Don’t worry, Ruby.  This isn’t going to hold you back anymore.  And if you want, I could tell her for you.”

Blake and Ruby were friends, but a lot of times it felt more like they were sisters.  Maybe because Blake was the same age as Yang, or that Blake was dating Yang, or that Blake always seemed to be looking out for Ruby’s best interests.  Whatever it was, Ruby appreciated it a ton.

“I can do it,” she said with a thankful smile.  “I’ll just...wait and see when.”  

If she was ever going to get back on her feet, she needed to start doing things on her own and stop relying on Blake and Yang to do everything for her.

“Ok.  In the meantime, have fun getting to know each other.  Likes, dislikes, you know the drill.”

Ruby nodded like she did ‘know the drill,’ but honestly she had such little experience making friends that it made her nervous thinking that there might be a drill to follow.  But Blake’s reassurance still made her feel a lot better. She could try to be Weiss’ friend and in the process, maybe help Weiss and Yang be friends again.  What’s the worst that could happen? Weiss hates Ruby and then Yang and Weiss are never friends again?

Eh, that didn’t exactly sound great , but at least no one would die!  No one would die, right??

“Thanks, Blake,” she finally said, reaching over to give Blake a quick hug.  “I’m lucky to have you and Yang around to look out for me!”

“Funny...I consider myself to be the lucky one,” Blake replied with a small smile.

“Blake!  Is my sister still alive?” Yang called out of the house before appearing on the porch seconds later and grinning towards Ruby.  “Oh good. You’re still here.”

“Heyyyy,” she whined, pouting while folding up Crescent Rose.  “You could have a little faith, ya know!”

“Sorry, Ruby - gotta play the odds.  Blake’s hard for me to beat.  And if you let her get in those trees…” Yang let out a fake shiver of horror while Ruby scoffed.

“Jeez, Yang.  Like I’d be dumb enough to let her get to the trees,” she replied, giving Blake a look that begged her not to tell Yang what had just happened.  “That’s like...‘Fighting Blake 101.’”  

Keeping quiet, Blake gave Ruby an amused smile before accepting the kiss Yang placed on her cheek.

“How about we go a few rounds tomorrow night, huh?” Yang asked, swinging a few punches in between them while Ruby nodded enthusiastically.

This was one of the best parts of having Blake and Yang back from their hunt - Ruby got to put her training to the test.  They’d practice with her as often as she wanted, as long as they felt good enough to do so.  

Normally she’d alternate between them - getting experience with two super different fighting styles.  With Blake, Ruby got to try out her semblance and weapon skills - fighting in an agile and fast paced way that seemed to come naturally to her.  Yang’s style of fighting was much more...stand there and let everything hit her, then explode like a bomb and destroy everything in the vicinity.  As great as that was, Ruby could only take being leveled by a wrecking ball so many times before she risked some more serious, permanent damage. So these days she mostly worked with Yang on hand-to-hand combat, but it was strictly no semblances allowed.  

If Ruby was ever going to become a huntress again, she needed to practice against the real deals - and Yang and Blake were some of the best she could possibly hope to find.

Things were changing - she could feel it.  For the first time, real opportunity was within reach.  With the possibility of making her own grip to fix her hand, and maybe even making a friend at the same time, it felt like the work she’d been putting in was finally paying off.

Most of the last year she’d spent recovering.  ‘Just worry about getting healthy,’ Yang had told Ruby so many times it might as well be their new family motto.  ‘Then you can worry about everything else.’ It was good advice...what with all the rehab and doctor’s appointments she’d had to go to.  The last thing she’d needed to worry about was training and making friends at the same time.  

But for the past couple months she could finally say that she felt normal - whatever normal really was.  She’d regained much of her strength, minus her pesky hand. Her next doctor’s appointment was only a check-in and it was several months from now.  She’d been cleared for any and all activity she felt capable of. She was healthy. And ready for more challenges and maybe some new adventures.

She was going to be a huntress.  She was determined to work tirelessly until that goal became a reality. 

“Let’s get inside before it gets cold,” Yang suggested, linking one arm with Blake and pulling her towards the house.  “How about a movie?”

“That sounds nice...and I think it’s Ruby’s pick -” Blake remarked, turning around to smile at Ruby.  Grinning, Ruby jogged to catch up with the pair.

“It is my turn!” she announced joyfully.  “And just wait until you see what I have in mind!”

Yang groaned loudly.  “Nevermind - I don’t want to watch a movie anymore!” she joked before disappearing into the house with Blake.

The reply made Ruby giggle again - knowing that Yang would have to watch whatever Ruby picked because that was the rule!  They all took turns picking a movie to watch, and there were no complaints.  Actually there were always complaints, but in the end there was nothing anyone could do about it.  

Hopping up onto the porch, she turned back to the yard one last time and surveyed the tracks worn into the grass from the latest battle.  Briefly closing her eyes when a cool breeze blew across her, she opened them again with a smile.

“Just wait,” she whispered.  “Next time I’ll be even better.”

Clenching her left hand into a fist, she ran inside and locked the back door behind her.

Chapter Text

How had she ever summoned the courage to come back to Vale?

The question seemed to have little in the way of a plausible answer.  Every single thing about the city set her on edge. Memories seeped from every corner in the form of sights, smells, and sounds.  Simply moving around the streets she found it difficult to keep the assault on her senses from completely fraying her nerves.

That initial surge of fearlessness - which had brought her back to this place - had long since abandoned her, leaving her with hours of uncertainty as to what she should do next.  Half of her wanted to disappear - to head back to Atlas or maybe somewhere else entirely and fade into the background. Whether she continued to work for her family’s company or set out on her own path, maybe this escapade would finally allow her to close the book once and for all on the story of Team RWBY.

But the other half of her, the half that seemed to own her heart, refused to let her leave just yet.  Instead of agreeing that she’d accomplished all that she’d come here to do, it was stubbornly digging in its heels and forcing her to sit in doubt.

Ruby’s image kept filling her mind - those same silver eyes that sparkled with some hidden source of joy, that same smile that was never far from the surface.  Spending dinner with Ruby had been so real .  For someone who’d spent the past year living off of memories and old photographs, the real version of Ruby had shown Weiss how very little of a person’s essence could be captured by mind and memory.

Could she go back to living on memories now that she knew?  Would her memories ever be adequate enough again?  

Had they ever been?

If she left right now, if she boarded the next flight back to Atlas, Ruby would never even wonder where she’d gone.  Their dinner together - the last memory Weiss might have to live on - would be nothing more than a tiny blip on Ruby’s road to recovery.

But if she stayed...she had no idea what would happen.  Could she leave without knowing the answer to that question?

Without an answer, she’d focused on her task list instead - first spending nearly an entire day accumulating outfits that would suffice in Vale’s spring weather.  She would begrudgingly admit that having a new closet filled with the current fashions went a long way in assuring her that she was, at the very least, nicely dressed.  

Next had been the electrician, who’d had absolutely no luck in figuring out what was causing the lights in the upstairs living room to remain on around the clock.  He’d left without solving the problem, but had been kind enough to provide contact information for more specialized engineers, who might be of help. Weiss had already put in a call to one of them, but there was really nothing more she could do on the matter until they were able to come out to the house.

There was a part of her - the same part that wanted her to leave Vale - that suggested she focus solely on fixing this problem before moving on.  After all, who knew what was causing the malfunction? It could be a very serious defect that had the potential to affect the entire house. It could be a critical flaw that could potentially cause more problems if left alone to fester.

Or...it could be her attempt at avoiding the current reality of her situation.  Logically, she understood that a set of broken lights wasn’t serious, but she wanted to believe it was so as to avoid the sole remaining item on her list.  

Ruby.  

If Weiss was going to remain in Vale, shouldn’t she attempt to see Ruby one more time?  Shouldn’t she make an effort to spend even just a few more minutes together?

If only it was as easy as that.  If only Weiss could express a desire and then immediately see it through, but she couldn’t simply show up out of the blue like she might have in the past.  She couldn’t just drop in on her teammates without an invitation...she needed a reason or excuse for her continued presence.

The more strategic and calculating side of her had already supplied an answer - which was as simple as returning to their home to express gratitude.  It was a commonly held practice to provide a gift when shown exceptional hospitality. Showing up unannounced, out of the blue, and being treated to dinner would certainly fall under those terms.

Assuming that she did decide to pay her teammates another visit, she’d already thought of what that gift should be.  Conveniently enough, she’d also made the trip downtown to a bakery she’d heard about while out on her shopping frenzy.  Heard about or asked about, it was the same difference.

She wasn’t placing any pressure on herself, but if she was going to bring them a gift, she might as well pick it up now so she’d have it handy.  If she somehow found the courage, it would be far better to be prepared than to wish she’d been prepared.

Stepping inside the quaint little store, she was immediately greeted by sugar, jovial employees, and happy customers.  From her conversations earlier in the day she’d learned that it was a relatively new shop, but the line that nearly reached the door made it evident that it was already quite popular.  

The newness was a welcome relief after the somewhat abrasive familiarity that had filled the rest of her day.  If she hadn’t discovered this new store, her other option had been to stop by the small bakery she’d once frequented so often that she’d known all of the employees by name.  After the incident at the house yesterday, it might be better not to test those waters again so soon.

Methodically taking in the sights, smells, and elated children running around inside, she was happy to find that the line moved quickly and pretty soon she found herself at the front - being immediately greeted by a young woman with short, dark brown hair and a lively smile.

“Hi!  How can I help you?” she asked for what was likely the hundredth time that day.

“I’d like one dozen,” Weiss answered while pointing to her selection in the case situated between them.

“You got it!”  Setting about her task, the woman quickly counted out a dozen homemade cookies and lined them neatly within a bright pink box.  They fitted perfectly inside in two rows of six before the lid was closed and a white, satin ribbon was tied around the outside in a perfect bow.

“Anything else?”

“No, thank you.”  Accepting the box and moving to the register, Weiss quickly paid and left the store behind with her newest acquisition in her hands.  

Now that she had her theoretical ‘gift,’ she returned to her rented car and got inside with a sigh of exhaustion.  There was little doubt that she was tired - although she’d been more tired than usual for a long time now - but she felt a small amount of satisfaction with what she’d been able to accomplish in the past day and a half.  New clothes, electrician, cookies…

As the baked goods added their sugary aroma to the air, Weiss inhaled a touch of nostalgia that made her turn to the pink box with a thoughtful frown.

The bakery made each product fresh daily...meaning that these cookies had come out of the oven just that morning.  If she held onto them for too long, they would definitely suffer in terms of quality. Really, they were growing staler by the second as she sat there and stared at them.

Tapping her fingers rapidly against the steering wheel, her brow furrowed while she considered her options now that she’d purchased a gift with an expiration date.  The last thing she wanted to do was present a subpar gift...and freshness normally went hand-in-hand with excellent baked goods. Following that line of reasoning, it made perfect sense that she should drop off the cookies now before they grew even staler overnight.

Checking the time, she found that it was already after dinner.  That meant that they’d be home, right?  

If it was just a short visit, that wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience.  She could simply drop off the box as thanks and then take her leave. There would be no pressure to stay and have a conversation.  It would be nothing more than a few minutes at the most. And she could handle a few minutes, couldn’t she?

Starting up the vehicle and setting out on her newest quest, she continued to make rationalizations right up to the moment she was pulling to a stop in front of the small home that currently held her heart.  The home was new and therefore unfamiliar, but her knowledge of the persons living inside set her nerves on edge.  

A plain cement sidewalk cut through the square of grass that served as the lawn and ran right up to the front porch, where there was one step and a single porch light illuminating the yellow front door.  Attached to the right side of the house was a single car garage, but it appeared as if they might favor leaving the vehicle in the drive versus parking it inside. A short fence on either side of the home blocked the backyard from view, while providing a bit of space between the neighbors next door.

It reminded Weiss very much of houses drawn by every young child before they actually understood how to draw.  The slanted shingle roof, two windows - one on either side of the front door - and a single, medium sized tree out front.  

It appeared to be comfortable, but maybe a little small for three people.  And there seemed to be a relative lack of other Faunus in the area - something which made Weiss wonder how much Blake might consider this to be home.

Staring at the front door from the safety of the car, Weiss was much happier dissecting her teammates’ new home than inching any closer to it.  It wasn’t that there was anything overtly intimidating about the house, but it made her heart pound in her chest just looking at it.

There was a very real possibility that she could sit here all night without ever coming to a decision.  Or she could leave right now - she could always pick up a fresh box of cookies in the morning. And the next morning, and the next morning - there would be no harm in doing that other than wasted cookies.

Pulling out her scroll, she unlocked it and quickly found the picture Velvet had given her just a couple of days ago.  Her heart instantly flipped in her chest when the image filled the screen.

It was Ruby - this new version of Ruby who had somehow maintained the essence of the original.  But...this photo hardly did her true personality justice.

“You know you want to see her again...” Weiss muttered to herself, putting away her scroll and reaching over to pick up the package from the bakery.  Grasping it tightly in her hands as if the cookies inside might somehow give her strength, she took a deep breath. “You might as well see what they’re up to.”

Placing her free hand on the door handle, she paused and sat back in the seat.

“But maybe they’re not even home.  Or they’re busy.”

The lights visible behind the window shades made the first worry an obvious excuse.  And the second worry wasn’t actually a worry - it might actually be preferable if they were busy because then she could drop off the gift and leave as quickly as humanly possible.  

But what if -

Sighing out loud, she shook her head and gripped the door handle tightly.  She was so tired of arguing with herself.  

“Less thinking, more doing.”

With that pep talk, she opened the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk.  Of course, she immediately second guessed the decisions that had led her here, but it almost felt too late now.  She’d already made it out of the car and she was already moving slowly up the path leading to the house. With each step her nerves set in just as badly as they had the first time - growing in intensity until it felt like she was trudging through quicksand towards the front door.

“I was out shopping and stumbled across this bakery,” she mumbled under her breath while inching closer, forcing her feet to keep moving.  “I thought I’d bring you a small gift...as thanks for your hospitality the other night.”

Eventually making it to the front step, she took a deep breath and quietly repeated her excuse while summoning the courage to knock.

But what if Ruby answered the door?

There was no opportunity to consider that question before the deadbolt unlocked and the door swung inward - revealing a curious Faunus behind.

“Weiss!  Didn’t expect to see you here,” Blake greeted her with a faint smile.

“I was - I was in the area and, well, I thought you’d like these,” Weiss managed to get out, thrusting the small box into Blake’s unsuspecting hands.  “I know that...you like them…”

She also knew that they were Ruby’s favorite.

Interested in the box, Blake lifted it to her nose and took a sniff to see what was inside rather than to untie the bow on top.  After she did so, her expression inexplicably fell into one of apology.

“Oh, well thank you, Weiss,” she said anyway, looking briefly hesitant before continuing in a softer tone.  “But...you might want to know that she doesn’t really like these anymore...”

The news felt like a punch to the gut, knocking the air from Weiss’ lungs.

“Oh -”  

“But I like them,” Blake quickly added as reassurance.  “And she could warm up to them. It’s just that...Yang called them ‘snakerdoodles’ before she could try them and she didn’t like them as much as she did before...”

Nodding at the hasty explanation, Weiss faked an understanding smile and said, “That’s alright - as long as someone will enjoy them.”

Was it alright though?  Ruby had loved snickerdoodle cookies.  The store had inexplicably run out of chocolate chip so they’d been forced into snickerdoodles or no cookies at all.  But after Ruby had taken one bite, she’d demolished the rest of the package in under an hour and then asked for more. Their dorm room had constantly smelled like cinnamon and sugar from that day on.  

And something so seemingly innocent had changed that?  Weiss understood that the human mind was extremely delicate, especially when it came to perceptions, but was it really possible to sway a person’s opinion so easily?  

The thought filled her with alarm.  What tiny observations had Ruby already made about Weiss that would completely change the way they interacted?  What if Ruby had already come to the conclusion that she wanted nothing to do with Weiss?

A loud squeal from behind the house drew Weiss’ thoughts away from the growing feeling of doom and gloom.

“What’s going on?” she asked curiously.  Smiling at the question, Blake gestured with her head for Weiss to follow her.  Hesitantly doing so, when Weiss stepped through the door she took a moment to inspect her surroundings.  During her first visit she’d hardly been able to keep her eyes off of Ruby long enough to see where she was walking, let alone look at the rest of the house.

The kitchen where they’d eaten dinner was to the left of the front door, the small dining room table nestled within.  On the right was a utility door that must lead to the garage, plus a living room with a well-used sofa and oversized chair situated around a magazine-covered coffee table - from the looks of it, all of the magazines belonged to Yang.  A bookcase in the corner had Blake’s name written all over it and was stuffed to the brim with books, books, and more books.  

Weiss’ eyes sought out Ruby’s mark on the room, but she couldn’t find it in the short time she had while walking through with Blake.  Beyond the living room was a single hallway that led straight through the house to the backyard. There were two doors in the hallway - one on either side - that had to lead into bedrooms.  One of these doors would be Ruby’s, but unfortunately both were closed - preventing Weiss from catching a glimpse into how Ruby currently lived.

Passing by the bedrooms, her breath suddenly caught in her throat when she saw Crescent Rose laying haphazardly on top of a table next to a screen door opening to the backyard.  The weapon was folded up, recently cleaned, and looking like new. But as she stared she could remember the last time she’d touched it - tossing it behind her in order to kneel by Ruby’s side -

“Weiss?”

The voice snapped Weiss away from the forest - away from the panic and pain that were building in her chest.  Realizing that her breathing had sped up to something just short of frantic struggles for air, she turned to the side in order to avoid the concern emitting from Blake’s eyes.

“Are you ok?”

When Blake took a step closer, Weiss shuffled to the side and shook off the tremor.  Forcing a smile that felt weaker than normal, she turned back to meet Blake’s watchful gaze.

“Yes.  Sorry, I was just...remembering something.”

Tilting her head to one side and casting a quick glance at Crescent Rose, Blake seemed to know that Weiss wasn’t being forthcoming.  Fortunately, more noises drew Blake’s attention outside before a big deal could be made about the momentary overreaction.

Now that they were closer, Weiss could easily pick up Ruby’s voice - a sound which immediately made her apprehensive.  She could still turn away - she could still leave. All she needed to do was make an excuse and head back to the front door.  She didn’t have to see Ruby again.

But she wanted to.  In a way, she needed to.  Only a few steps were separating the two of them, only a few difficult steps and she could capture just a few more minutes of pure, living energy.  Just a few more minutes and that might be enough to send her on her way…

Oblivious to Weiss’ internal struggles, Blake paused by the screen door and turned back to Weiss with a more serious expression.

“If you could...please don’t give Yang a hard time about the cookies.  She already feels awful enough about it…”

At first taken aback by the request, Weiss quickly nodded her agreement - which Blake accepted with a grateful smile before pushing open the door and stepping onto the small wooden porch out back.  Following Blake outside, the sight in front of them was so unfamiliar that Weiss’ mind initially struggled to decipher exactly what she was looking at.

Yang had Ruby pinned to the grass and was tickling the poor girl mercilessly.  Ruby had been the source of all the noise, squealing and laughing uncontrollably under her sister’s grasp.  She was squirming mightily, but any resistance was futile when it came to escaping Yang’s hands.

“Yang!!  Stoppppp!” Ruby cried out between fits of laughter and gasps for air.

“This wouldn’t have happened if you’d moved - your - feet!” Yang replied, wiggling her fingers into Ruby’s ribs and pulling out even more adorable squeals.

The mere sight of Ruby made Weiss’ mouth dry out.  It had been so long that Weiss had forgotten what it was like to be in Ruby’s presence.  

She was so alive and...so happy.

When Yang happened to glance towards the porch and found Weiss standing there, her grin instantly disappeared and she ceased the tickle assault on her younger sister.  Freed from Yang’s grasp, Ruby quickly scrambled to her feet and leapt a safe distance away. Her hair was a mess, with blades of grass sticking out in places. Her cheeks were heavily flushed and her breathing labored, but her silver eyes caught Weiss’ not a second later. 

“Oh, hey Weiss!” Ruby greeted her with a cute little wave.

Opening her mouth to say hello back, Weiss found her throat so parched that she was forced to swallow and give an awkward wave in response.

Seeing Ruby after all this time spent without her...it was like stepping in a dream.  Every part of Weiss wanted to run over and kiss the girl. To tell her how much Weiss had missed her - how sorry Weiss was that she’d been gone for so long.  To bury her face in Ruby’s shoulder and have Ruby hold her again and reassure her that everything was going to be alright. To tell Weiss that she’d been forgiven.

But this wasn’t the same Ruby.  This Ruby wasn’t racing over to lift Weiss’ feet off the ground in a hug.  This Ruby was glancing at Yang to see what her older sister was going to make of Weiss’ reappearance tonight.  And, from the look of it, Yang was trying to decide how she felt about that too.

When Weiss gently lifted her hands as if to plaintively say, ‘I’m still here,’ Yang set her jaw and turned away.

“Come on, Ruby - let’s go again.”

Ruby beamed at Weiss for no apparent reason other than to fill her stomach with butterflies before bouncing out to the middle of the lawn with fists raised like a fighter.  Yang followed her sister at a much more leisurely pace before turning towards Ruby and finally raising her fists.

“You want to sit?”

Nodding, Weiss sat next to Blake on the edge of the porch, their knees bent and feet on the grass below.  Even Blake’s presence was making Weiss anxious and fidgety - the likely response from having spent so much time apart and leaving on such poor terms.  But if Blake felt uncomfortable she was doing an excellent job of hiding it. Of course, hiding had always been Blake’s specialty…

“Ready?” Yang asked Ruby.  Immediately ceasing her bouncing, Ruby nodded her head firmly.  With that signal, Yang began advancing on her little sister - taking small, calculated steps that Ruby matched much more tentatively.

Recognizing what was going on, Weiss’ eyes locked onto Ruby in surprise.  Throughout their time together at Beacon, they must have fought against each other thousands of times - learning from one another and teaching each other small moves and bits of strategy.  All of that knowledge had combined to create a fearsome team, but there was one person they’d never prioritized individual fights against - Yang.  

Maybe it was because it had been nearly impossible to beat Yang individually.  Maybe it was because with Yang on their team it didn’t make sense to try to duplicate her abilities.  Or maybe the three of them had just been really horrible at hand-to-hand combat. Whatever the reason, they’d never delved too fully into learning Yang’s skillset - so watching Ruby’s eyes furrow in determination while Yang moved towards on her was absolutely fascinating.  

And terrifying.  Ruby was definitely fighting outside of her weight class right now.

As soon as she was close enough, Yang threw the first punch - not surprising because Yang always threw the first punch.  What was surprising was the speed at which Ruby dodged and then counterattacked.  A swift uppercut missed Yang, who had jerked her head back at the last second, but another hook followed right behind it.

Left hook, right hook, jab, jab - Ruby got in a solid combination of attacks before Yang managed to flip the tables by deflecting one of Ruby’s arms downward and immediately bringing her fist in a cross towards Ruby’s cheek.  Somehow Ruby spun away in time, but Yang didn’t allow her sister to move far enough away to prevent the attacks from flowing.

What made Yang so dangerous as a fighter was her stamina and exquisite combinations.  She could throw blow after blow while hardly taking a breath. And when she got on a roll - like she was now - each subsequent attack built more power than the last, making it more and more difficult to block or deflect.  

But Ruby was still very much in the battle - and not by physically stopping Yang’s fists, but by dodging around them completely.  It was a brilliant strategy that was made all the more impressive in its flawless execution. It also had the additional benefit of aggravating Yang - who was growing increasingly impatient as her fists continued to meet nothing but air. 

Suddenly, Weiss realized that there was something noticeably lacking from the scene unfolding in front of her - something that should have been there but wasn’t.

There were no rose petals.  

Ruby wasn’t using her semblance.

“On your toes!” Yang called out in the midst of throwing a rapid fire series of blows.  The instruction instantly added more bounce to Ruby’s little dance, as she dipped and dodged under her sister’s fists.

It didn’t look like Yang was holding back in her attacks - each punch and hook hurtling towards Ruby like the strike of a snake.  If Yang actually managed to connect one of these blows, Ruby would be in a world of hurt. The thought made Weiss’ heart pound while she watched, grimacing whenever it looked like Ruby wouldn’t make it out of the way in time.

But Ruby’s combination of speed and quickness seemed almost equal to Yang’s pure power and experience.  Every time Yang attacked, Ruby managed to squeeze out of the way just in time. However, Yang was too good of a defender to allow Ruby an opening to counterattack.  If Ruby was searching for an opening, which she had to be, she was running out of time. For the entire length of the fight, Yang had been steadily pushing Ruby back towards the fence on the left side of the yard.  Pretty soon Ruby wouldn’t be able to back up to dodge her sister’s blows - which would most likely spell the end of this match.

Even more unfortunately, Yang had fallen into her rhythm now - combinations of four spewing from her fists in an unrelenting siege that would only stop when the battle had been won.  

It was the worst possible time to make a mistake, but Ruby did.  Instead of dodging left, she dodged right - directly into an oncoming hook. 

The fight should have been over, but instead, impossibly, Ruby found the time to duck the blow.  Popping back up closer to Yang’s shoulder, she threw one quick jab that was followed by an audible smack of contact.  Immediately stepping back on her heels, Yang brought one hand up to her jaw.

“Oh my god!  Yang!” Ruby also went flat-footed, dropping her fists and rushing to her sister’s side.  “I’m so sorry! I didn’t think that would actually work!!”

Moving her jaw around a couple times as if testing it for injury, Yang then gave Ruby a huge grin.

“That was really good!”

The compliment made Ruby hop up and down in excitement.

“Yeah?  I didn't think it’d work, but I just went for it!”

“That was awesome - thought I had you too,” Yang replied, wrapping one arm around Ruby’s neck and rustling her hair lovingly.  “You’re getting too fast for me!”

“Wow,” Weiss whispered from the porch, her heart still racing what would have been considered a miracle just a year ago.  “Never thought Yang could convince her to brawl.”

“It was Ruby’s idea, actually.”  When Weiss looked over in surprise, Blake gently shrugged her shoulders and turned back to the two sisters who were now recreating specific sections of the fight in slow motion.  “She wants to learn everything.”

Turning back to Ruby, Weiss watched how intently silver eyes took in every little movement Yang was showing her, nodding every once and awhile before trying it out herself.  

The sight was endearing and heart achingly familiar.  It had been one of the traits Weiss had fallen in love with - Ruby’s eagerness to try new things, her willingness to fail and fail and then fail again.  Ruby had never known how to give up - no matter how impossible the task.

Knowing the severity of Ruby’s injuries, knowing what the doctors and specialists had feared, knowing exactly where Ruby had started from just one short year ago - it was clear to Weiss that Ruby still didn’t know how to give up.  And look how far she’d come...look how strong and fast and capable she was.

A sigh of longing escaped Weiss then - the soft sound unfortunately not escaping Blake’s notice.  Amber eyes turned her way, but she made sure not to meet them. Instead, she watched with an increasing pulse as Ruby and Yang walked over to join them.

“That was great, Ruby.”  Blake’s tone was one of genuine praise, which only made Ruby’s grin widen.

“Couldn’t have done it without great teaching!” Ruby quipped while elbowing her sister in the side.

“Yang is one of the best…” Weiss commented quietly, her words catching Yang’s full attention and drawing vivid lilac eyes her way.

“Yeah?  How about you and I go a round?”  Yang gave Weiss a menacing smile to go along with the challenge.  “I can teach you a thing or two.”

Caught off guard by the veiled confrontation, Weiss opened her mouth but had no response prepared.

Maybe she was guilty of making some irrevocably stupid decisions in the past, but she certainly wasn’t enough of an idiot to fight against Yang with no semblances.  Even with semblances Weiss would never agree to such a challenge.  She could imagine it now - her broken nose bleeding profusely while she was rushed to the hospital, Yang claiming the entire way how it had just been an unfortunate accident.  

Thankfully, Weiss didn’t have to respond to the dare at all.

“How about a round with me?” Blake asked, hopping off the porch to join Yang on the grass.

Eyes finally breaking away from Weiss, Yang grinned at her partner.  “You know I’d love to, but...in front of the kids?”

When Blake punched Yang in the shoulder, Weiss stifled the urge to roll her eyes.  The next moment a pang of jealousy ran through her when she noticed the smile Blake and Yang were now sharing.  It was one of those instances where Weiss knew that they were only seeing each other - two hearts sharing a connection that transcended the space between them.

They were lucky.  Through everything, they’d always had each other.  And nothing would ever change that.

She used to be so lucky.

Her thoughts abruptly faded away when Ruby skipped over and nonchalantly sat down on the vacant porch step beside her.  It was most likely a thoughtless gesture, but it felt like it set Weiss’ skin aflame. Even though Ruby was sitting a good six inches away, Weiss could suddenly feel every separate particle of air between them.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could tell that Ruby wasn’t looking at her, but was instead watching Blake and Yang preparing for their fight.  Attempting to do the same, Weiss failed to focus as her eyes shifted every few seconds to Ruby. Weiss was close enough that she could hear Ruby’s breathing - fast and deep from the fight with Yang, but quickly slowing to a more normal pace.

This was the closest they’d been since...well, it had been a long time.  The proximity was making Weiss’ skin crave contact - wishing for the briefest touch that would send goosebumps along her arms.

Clenching her fist lightly and taking a deep breath, Weiss did her best to turn her attention away from Ruby.  Fortunately, watching Blake fight in hand-to-hand combat was a worthwhile distraction.

Being Yang’s partner meant that Blake always had some amount of hand-to-hand skill, but she had this particular flair that made her fighting style distinctly different from Yang’s.  For one, Blake’s very essence was based upon being elusive and difficult to reach. Fighting with the hands was a personal, up-in-your face type of combat, yet Blake somehow made it seem more like a competition in illusion.  Even without the use of her semblance, she had this ‘is she here or there?’ quality that always kept Yang guessing.

Out of the corner of her eye, Weiss noticed Ruby’s knee bouncing rapidly up and down with an abundance of energy.  On instinct, she reached out a hand to quell the motion - only to freeze at the last second when she realized what she was about to do.  Trying to salvage the movement, she pulled her hand up in order to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear.

It was too late though - the action caught Ruby’s attention and drew a silver gaze her way.  The glance seized her heart - unbelievably powerful and utterly terrifying at the same moment.  After so many days spent dreaming of Ruby, she was right here, right in front of Weiss’ eyes. Close enough to reach.

Staring into silver eyes that were filled with curiosity, Weiss only managed to look away when she noticed that Ruby’s left hand was moving in a constant squeezing motion.  Glancing towards the movement, she found that Ruby had a small red stress ball tucked inside her palm.

“What’s that for?” Weiss asked curiously.

“Oh, this?” Ruby asked, holding it up so Weiss could see the smiley face that had been drawn upon the ball in black marker.  “I’m trying to make my hand stronger!”

When Ruby gave a little smile, Weiss waited for the rest of the explanation.  But after several seconds of silence had passed, she understood that that was all Ruby was going to say.  There would be no reason for why Ruby’s hand needed to be stronger - and certainly no explanation for the jagged scar running across her wrist.

But why would Ruby explain either of those things?  They were incredibly personal and likely painful moments in Ruby’s recent past and Weiss was nothing more than a stranger.  What had Weiss done to deserve such intimate knowledge?

After years spent as Ruby’s closest confidante, it hurt to be left in the dark.  

The lack of words felt like claws gripping into her heart, but Weiss tried to move past the moment as best as she could.

“So...do you like practicing with Yang?”

“I do!” Ruby answered with that whimsical grin of hers.  “I really like hand-to-hand combat - any fighting style really.  Apparently I didn’t like it so much before though.”

Ruby let out a short self-depreciating laugh at the comment while reaching up to play with the necklace hanging around her neck.  The absent-minded action, although small, sent a shiver down Weiss’ spine. Why did Ruby still have it? Why had she decided to keep it all this time?

Only after avidly watching Ruby fiddle with the necklace for several seconds did Weiss realize that she should attempt to continue the conversation.

“Why do you say that?” 

“Because of how it feels,” Ruby explained without hesitation, her eyes watching Blake and Yang teasingly grapple in front of them - any attempt at a serious battle having already been forgotten.  “Nothing Yang teaches me seems to come naturally, but at least I’m learning!”

“You did really well though.”

“You think??” Ruby let out a delighted laugh at the compliment, the sound lifting Weiss’ heart for a few seconds of what felt an awful lot like happiness.  “Good thing you didn’t see me the first few months. Those fights didn’t last long at all .”

While Ruby chuckled at the memory, Weiss gave a weak smile.  There was something so infectiously joyful about Ruby...there always had been, but to see that it continued to this day was beginning to make Weiss regret the time she’d spent away.  As if she needed more reasons to regret her actions...  

“I’ve never been much for fist fighting,” she commented in lieu of having anything better to say. 

“Do you want to try?”

“Oh - no, I didn’t mean -”

“Come on, it’ll be fun!  Unless -” Ruby paused and her eyes grew worried as she glanced towards Weiss’ arm.  “Unless your arm isn’t ok?”

“It’s actually fine now, but -”

Before the excuse could be fully made, Ruby had hopped up and was reaching down to pull Weiss to her feet.  And Weiss had to decide whether or not to offer her hands - such a small decision seeming like it took an eternity to make.  When Ruby motioned again with an encouraging smile, Weiss hesitantly lifted her hands and allowed Ruby to grasp onto them.

The moment she did, Weiss never wanted her to let go.  The feeling of Ruby’s strong, slightly calloused hands wrapped around hers was as familiar an experience as taking a breath of air.  Tingles flitted through her veins - only to be followed by heartache when the moment quickly passed them by.

But that moment was quickly replaced by a new one as Ruby bounced out in front of Weiss - bursting with contagious energy and excitement.

“Then let’s do it!” Ruby proclaimed before giving Weiss a pleading expression.  “We can just try? It’ll be fun, I promise!”

Finding it impossible to resist those begging silver eyes, Weiss numbly nodded her head and earned a giant grin from Ruby in response.

“Awesome!!  First - show me how you make a fist!”

When Ruby quickly raised her hands in the air as fists, Weiss followed suit.  Her right arm gave a small twinge when it creased at the elbow, but it was more from discomfort than pain.  The bandage had come away clean this morning as the wound had already nearly healed, forcing her to wonder why she so fortunate when Ruby was still struggling to regain her full strength.  Granted their injuries had been far apart in severity, but given all this time...  

Her thoughts scattered to the wind when Ruby stepped close and turned Weiss’ hands around to see how her fingers had been curled into each other.

“Hey - that’s perfect!”

Weiss couldn’t help but smile at the small compliment.  At least she still knew how to form a fist properly - courtesy of Yang forcing her to learn while they’d been in school ‘just because.’

“Ok, now when I say ‘up,’ you’re going to raise this hand right above your cheek and the other right below your chin.”  While Ruby issued instructions, she moved Weiss’ hands into position - raising her left hand up by her cheek and her right slightly under her chin.

“She’s a leftie.”

The unexpected comment made both of them turn towards Yang in surprise - finding that somehow she’d managed to pay attention to them while blocking several of Blake’s playful punches at the same time.  

When Ruby turned back to Weiss, it was with wide eyes.

“You’re a leftie?” 

“Um...yes…” Weiss replied, lowering her hands self-consciously.  “Is that a problem?”

“No!  It’s just awesome cuz I am too!” Ruby exclaimed.  “But then I set you up backwards.” Gently taking Weiss’ hands in her own, Ruby switched their positions.  “There, that should do it. Now you can hit me!”

“What?  But I don’t want to -”

“You have to!  We have to see what your natural punching motion is!” Ruby explained.  “Trust me - this is how Yang taught me too.”

“She let you punch her?” Weiss asked dryly.

“Multiple times!  But ok, how about you hit my hand instead?”  With an encouraging smile, Ruby held up her left hand and nodded for Weiss to take a swing at it.  Which she didn’t want to do, but with Ruby looking so expectant it was becoming exceptionally difficult to say no.  

“Alright...” Reluctantly agreeing so that she wouldn’t disappoint Ruby, Weiss set her feet and punched towards Ruby’s hand with very little power - slow enough that Ruby easily grabbed Weiss’ fist in one palm.  Before letting go, Ruby looked down at Weiss’ hand and giggled.

“You have such small hands!”

“I prefer ‘delicate,’” Weiss answered automatically.  The response made Ruby burst into laughter - the sound sending Weiss’ heart soaring into the sky with affection.

She’d forgotten how easy it was to make Ruby laugh.  Weiss wasn’t even intentionally making a joke...yet somehow the way she spoke had always amused her partner.  Initially it had bothered her because she wasn’t trying to be funny, but eventually she’d grown to love it.  No one had ever thought that she was funny before and, honestly, she still wasn’t sure that she was - but she’d always managed to find a way to make Ruby laugh.

“You have such ‘delicate’ hands then,” Ruby teased while forming Weiss’ fingers into fists and holding them tight.  Smiling up while Ruby grinned down at her, those pesky butterflies began fluttering around in Weiss’ chest once more.  But the moment fleeted away when Ruby released her hands and stepped away.

Feeling eyes on her, Weiss turned and found Blake and Yang observing the interaction closely.  Blake quickly looked away, but Yang’s eyes lingered - letting Weiss know, in case she hadn’t already figured it out, that she was being carefully monitored.

“Ok, let’s try again!” Ruby remarked cheerfully.  “Only this time put more force into it!”

Spinning back, Weiss raised her fists while Ruby beamed happily.  Again, Ruby held up one palm and Weiss swung at it - this time harder, but still not hard enough to deal any damage.  

“Nice!  That was a lot better!”  Grinning at the result, Ruby moved closer and sent Weiss’ heart beating a thousand miles per second.  “Can I give you a few pointers?”

Somehow, Weiss managed to nod and Ruby set about making small corrections in the way Weiss was holding herself.  Wherever Ruby’s hand hovered for an instant, Weiss suffered a trail of tingles that remained far after Ruby had moved away.  

It was, in a word, overwhelming.  It made Weiss’ heart rush, tumble, and swell with so many conflicting emotions - one after another after another.  It was too much, but at the same time it wasn’t enough.

But, unlike when she’d run out on dinner a couple nights ago, her feet weren’t urging her away.  Even though her mind and heart were suffering through a roller coaster of emotions, not all of them good, the conflicting versions of herself had finally come to an agreement - they wanted to stay.  If anything, Ruby’s presence felt like a rapidly growing addiction...just how it had been when they’d first started dating. It was her laugh, or her smile, or how she made Weiss feel this budding amount of happiness.

“Ok, again!” Ruby said after having made several more meticulous corrections to Weiss’ posture.  Setting her feet and focusing intently, Weiss swung forward and placed her fist into Ruby’s palm with a satisfying slap that sent Ruby back a half step.

“Now that was awesome!”

While Ruby grinned in success, Weiss glanced at her fist in surprise.  That hadn’t felt like much effort at all on her part, yet the power behind it had increased exponentially from her first attempt.  All through the small changes Ruby had made?  

With such excellent teaching, it might be fair to assume that Ruby was actually the brawler in the family.

“Thank you for the lesson,” Weiss said with a smile.

“No problem!  And if you forget all that, don’t worry.  I forget all the time.”

Catching Ruby’s grin and holding onto it for as long as possible, Weiss unconsciously shivered when a cool night time breeze swept across the backyard.  Glancing up at the sky and catching the moon beginning to shine on the horizon, she realized that she’d stayed far longer than the few minutes she’d initially planned for.  It was officially night now and she should probably be taking her leave.

It wasn’t much longer before Yang seemed to have the same thought - glancing towards the moon before stretching her arms high above her head.

“Ok kiddo,” Yang said before a yawn slipped out.  “Should probably head in before Blake has to help us find the house.”

“Aww, ok,” Ruby answered.  And was it Weiss’ imagination or did Ruby look slightly disappointed by the announcement?

But the moment disappeared when Yang walked over and clapped one hand down on Ruby’s shoulder before making eye contact with Weiss.

“Weiss,” Yang addressed her with nothing more than a small head tilt before leading her sister towards the door, seamlessly wrapping her arm around Ruby’s shoulders as they went.  Ruby was already talking again - jabbering incessantly about something that Yang listened to patiently as they headed inside.

Resigned that the night was over, Weiss shot one more glance towards the rising moon before leaving the yard behind with Blake walking right at her side.  Once they were through the screen door, Yang disappeared into the room on the right of the hallway while Ruby galloped into the living room to wait for them.

“Thanks for hanging out!  Maybe we can do this again soon?”

Silver eyes gazed at Weiss expectantly until she numbly nodded in affirmation.  It was nothing more than a simple gesture, but it earned a big grin before Ruby raced to the garage door - sending a cheerful wave over her shoulder as she went.  “Have a good night!”

Even though Ruby had already disappeared, Weiss waved before standing in the middle of the living room trying to understand the horde of emotions fighting for attention in her mind.  It was only when Blake moved that she jolted back to reality and turned away from the garage door - not missing the knowing expression Blake was currently leveling her way.

“I should go,” she mumbled quietly while making her way towards the front door.  Blake beat her there and opened it for her, to which she nodded in appreciation before heading back into the cool spring air.  Sensing Blake step onto the front porch with her, Weiss paused and watched curiously while Blake closed the front door behind them in order to prevent cold air from entering the house.

“I hope you had fun?” she asked, her eyes glinting unnaturally in the low light.

“I did.  It was….”  As Weiss’ words trailed off, she thought of Ruby laughing - her eyes sparkling with joy - all of the emotions that Weiss had thought had been lost.  “It was great.”

‘Great’ couldn’t even begin to encapsulate how tonight had felt.  Rejuvenating. Revitalizing. For the first time in a long time, she had felt like happiness might actually be obtainable.  There was still a long way to go, and it was going to be more painful than she’d thought, but she could feel hope. Maybe she could never fix the mistakes she’d made, but perhaps she could atone for them in some way...

“But I’ll...see you later, I guess,” she finished awkwardly, unsure as to how or when she might be able to come over again.  How many excuses could she come up with for randomly stopping by their house?

“Weiss, wait,” Blake said, right when Weiss had started to turn away.  Stopping, she turned back to find Blake searching for the next words to say.

“We’re...going to the carnival tomorrow night,” Blake finally said before nodding towards Weiss.  “If you want to come.”

“Carnival?”

“The Vale carnival is in town,” Blake explained more easily.  “Ruby’s really excited about it. If you’re not doing anything...it should be fun.”

The carnival...how long had it been since Weiss had gone to a carnival?  As a team they’d gone every single year while they’d been at Beacon - it was the only ‘absolutely mandatory’ team trip they’d taken.  And every year it had been immensely enjoyable. Although there’d been that one time Weiss had gotten rather ill on one of those spinning rides...

“Yes, I’ll be there,” she answered.  There was no way she’d turn down the opportunity to spend more time with Ruby right now.  Even if Blake had invited Weiss to a Grimm petting zoo, she’d gladly say yes and then figure out a way to force herself to actually go later.

Blake smiled at the positive response - a smile that wasn’t forced or fake.  It tugged Weiss back to Beacon - where she and Blake had grown to be close friends.  At first it had been due to their shared experience dealing with a certain pair of bubbly sisters, but eventually they’d discovered that they got along in many other ways as well.  

“We’ll be there around seven.  Just meet us out front.” When Blake turned to head back inside, Weiss reached out to stop her before even thinking.

“Blake -” she began before briefly pausing and struggling to find the words to say.  Taking a deep breath, she met Blake’s eyes and said, “I just want to say...thank you.  For being...supportive.”

Weiss understood what Blake had just done by extending the invitation - and it couldn’t have been an easy decision to make, especially considering that Yang still looked like she’d rather Weiss didn’t exist.  

But Weiss’ gratitude made Blake’s Faunus ears twist and flatten ever so slightly - an expression Weiss had long ago learned symbolized sadness.  

“Weiss, you’re talking to the queen of running away,” Blake explained quietly, her sympathetic eyes holding Weiss’ firmly.  “I know better than most what it’s like to be in that situation and make the wrong decision.”

“But you’d never leave Yang,” Weiss answered without thinking, only for Blake’s eyes to shift away and her ears to fall even further.

“Wouldn’t I?” she whispered, briefly giving Weiss a sorrowful smile before disappearing into the house without another word. 

Weiss’ heart fell in her chest as she watched the front door silently close and the living room light click off a few moments later.  Letting out a loud sigh, she tore her eyes away from the door and hurried down the pathway to escape from this evening. 

Having to live with her own mistakes was bad enough.  But reminding others of theirs…

Once upon a time, she’d prided herself in making good decisions.  Now, she couldn’t seem to do anything right.

Chapter Text

“Are there gonna be elephant ears??”

“Yes, Ruby.”

Skipping forward, she gave a little hoot of excitement at the response, which was just what she wanted to hear.

Right now they were walking across a super big, really wide parking lot, but the sounds and smells of the carnival were beginning to drift by them.  The smell of sugar was so strong she was practically getting a sugar rush just by breathing. That, and the bright lights flashing and twirling in front of them were making her more and more excited by the second.  She couldn’t wait to get inside!  

Since they’d gotten here late, they’d had to park pretty far away - hence all the walking.  It had taken Yang too long to find the shoes she wanted to wear - go figure. She only had an entire closet filled with shoes, but whatever.  Water under the bridge now that they were finally here!

“What about ice cream??”

“I’m sure there’s ice cream,” Blake responded calmly, walking hand-in-hand with Yang as they trailed behind Ruby.

“Sweeeeet!”

Her sister had promised her all the sweets she could eat tonight.  Literally anything and everything! Ten cotton candies, fifteen scoops of ice cream - the sky was the limit!  And her stomach, but her stomach was basically a bottomless pit when it came to dessert.

“What about funnel cakes?”

“Most likely.”

Chuckling happily after the reply, Yang pulled Blake closer as the towering front entrance grew nearer.  A crowd of people were standing outside - some in lines to purchase tickets, some congregating in groups waiting for friends or family members to arrive.  Interspersed with the regular folks were the carnival employees - who were super easy to pick out because they were wearing bright, bright yellow and looked like oversized bananas. 

“Man,” Ruby sighed contently, swinging her arms freely.  “The carnival has everything!”

Scanning the scene in front of her, a spark of white caught her eye and she immediately gasped in recognition.

“Even Weiss!!”

Because timing was incredibly cruel, she pointed at the exact moment Weiss noticed them - leaving Ruby to suffer the embarrassment of being caught in the midst of being rude once again.  Oh well. Dropping her hand, she raced over - cutting through a group of high school kids - and slid to a stop right before crashing into Weiss at a very fast jog. For an instant the urge to give Weiss a big hug swept over Ruby, but she second-guessed that feeling away.  To hug or not to hug - could they hug? How long did she have to know someone before she could give them a hug?

“Weiss!” she exclaimed instead, a big grin springing onto her lips.  “What’re you doing here??”   

She’d already been super excited for tonight, but this made it even better!

“Yes, what are you doing here, Weiss?” Yang asked as she and Blake sauntered up behind Ruby.  “Isn’t a place like this way below your...pedigree?”

“I invited her,” Blake responded, ignoring the wide-eyed expression Yang gave her while breaking away.  “I’m really glad you could make it.”

Walking over, Blake gave Weiss a short, one armed hug that nearly made Ruby snap her fingers in disappointment.  She totally could’ve hugged Weiss! Or at least invited her. Why hadn’t Ruby thought of that? Next time!

“That was nice of her!” she babbled happily instead. 

“Blake is just too nice sometimes,” Yang grumbled, but Ruby wasn’t paying too much attention to her grumpy-pants sister at that point.

“You’re gonna hang out with us then?” she asked Weiss hopefully, watching carefully as blue eyes briefly swept away before flickering back.  

“If you’ll allow me.”

“Of course!  The more the merrier!”

Ruby was probably grinning just a little too hard, but she couldn’t help it.  Seeing Weiss here made her really happy!  Teaching Weiss how to throw a decent punch last night had been so much fun, and Weiss was fun to talk to.  Just fun in general, so of course Ruby would be happy that they got to spend more time together!

But it made her a little nervous, too.  Weiss was that kind of pretty - the kind that put the poor, ordinary people around her to shame.  Now Ruby could totally see how Yang and Weiss had become friends - most of Yang’s friends looked like they could be models.  But they were super sweet, so Ruby didn’t always feel intimidated by their beauty. She still was sometimes, but not all the time!

It was the same way with Weiss.  Ruby knew that Weiss was beautiful - the type that attracted a lot of attention too - but she wasn’t intimidated by it.  Just...a little nervous. She didn’t want to come off as immature or stupid.

Weiss extended one hand towards Ruby then, quickly ending the rapid thoughts that had been flitting through her mind.

“I got here earlier so I already bought tickets.  I hope you don't mind.”

Taking one of the tickets being offered, Ruby quickly read the face of them before bouncing up and down on her feet.  They were soooo close! Literally. And figuratively. Cuz the fence was right there and they were about to be on the other side.  Wait, maybe that was only literally then…

“You’re so sweet!” she gushed before turning to her sister.  “Can we go in now??” 

Pointing towards the front gate, she gestured impatiently with the tickets in her other hand.  When Yang and Blake nodded in unison, Ruby raised one fist in victory before triumphantly leading the way to the shortest line in front of the gates.  Due to her expert line-picking skills, within minutes they were standing on the other side of the fence.

The last time she remembered being at the carnival she’d been like, six.  Too short to go on the rides, too young to eat too many sweets, too broke to play the games, and too hyper to commit any of it to memory.  Thus - thusly...this was basically her first experience at the carnival.

And it was awesome !  There was candy everywhere !  And games, rides, balloons - there was so much to look at!  And people - there were a ton of people milling around in every direction - talking, laughing, and, in a few instances, crying but that was ok.  The energy in general was hectic and full of happiness - I.E. welcome to Planet Ruby!

“What do you want to do first?”

Blake’s question made Ruby narrow her eyes while trying to make a selection.  There were so many options! There were rides to their left, right, and in front of them.  There were also games in all of those directions. And vendors with different sweets.  

“How ‘bout that ride over there?” she arbitrarily decided, pointing off to the left.  From this distance it was hard to see exactly what the ride was, but she could see the line of people waiting to get on it.  

Blake and Yang followed the direction of Ruby’s point before Blake turned back with her brow raised.

“The spinning teacups?”

“Is that what those are?” Ruby squinted to see what was happening underneath the red and white striped tent, before shrugging when her lame human eyes couldn’t pick out anything specific.  “Sure! Let’s go on those first!”

“Excellent.”  Bobbing her head up and down in acceptance, Yang then shot Weiss a grin.  “What do you say, Weiss? Ruby wants to go on the teacups - you in?”

“They look cool!” Ruby added as extra incentive.  

“Then I guess that’s where we’re headed,” Weiss answered before giving Ruby a weak smile.

“Yes!”  Hopping once, she pointed one arm towards the ride.  “Onward!”

Making their way over turned out to be an adventure in itself.  There were so many people that every few seconds she had to dodge a running child or sprint ahead to make it in front of an oncoming crowd of loud students.  It was like a crazy game of human pinball where she was the ball and everyone else was trying to bump into her.  

Which actually sounded awesome .  And if she was allowed to use her semblance, she’d totally rock at it.

When they were close enough, she was finally able to see what the ride was really about.  The name turned out to be pretty self-explanatory - there were a bunch of different-colored teacups that spun wildly around a wide circular pen for a few minutes.  Each cup held two riders with a wheel in the middle that must be in control of the spinning motion, while the speakers up above blared a fast-paced, manic tune that she could really use for training purposes.

Joining the end of the line, Ruby snuck a look over at Weiss, only to find that she was carefully watching the ride operator let in the next group of riders.  The way her brow was furrowed made it seem like she was really watching the way he was clicking the doors shut. The small latch did seem kinda...flimsy.  Maybe she was figuring out how safe the ride was?  Or coming up with a strategy for how to spin the fastest?

The line inched forward and Ruby quickly looked away before she got caught staring again.  She’d already been caught pointing tonight, she didn’t need to add staring to that list! When the ride started up, she watched the cups spin and spin and spin - the constant motion enough to make her a little dizzy.  It wasn’t very long, maybe only a minute or two later, when the teacups swirled to a stop and the attendant was back at work again.

“I wanna go on every ride!” she proclaimed, watching the group of riders tumble out and practically fall over each other while leaving the ride behind.

“That’s quite a goal,” Blake commented as they moved closer to the front of the line.  

“And totally doable, right?” Ruby asked before turning directly to Weiss with a grin.  “Right, Weiss?”

At first Weiss looked surprised that the question had been posed directly to her, but then eked out a smile and a teeny, tiny nod that was almost too small to see.

“I’m sure that you can do it.”

Laughing joyfully at the endorsement, Ruby shook her head.  “You mean you’re sure we can do it!”

Sending a smile Weiss’ way, Ruby was more than happy to accept the small one she received in return.  

Weiss was really interesting!  At first, Ruby had expected her to be a lot like Yang - basically, outgoing and loud (like seriously, super loud).  Seeing as how Ruby had spent her entire life dealing with that, she’d expected befriending Weiss to be a piece of chocolate cake!  Instead, she’d quickly discovered that while Yang was loud, Weiss was more quiet and...thoughtful.

That was a good word for it!  Weiss was thoughtful. She always seemed to be analyzing situations and events Ruby couldn’t even hope of understanding.  Not that Ruby minded that Weiss wasn’t like Yang. If anything, that was a great thing! Two versions of Yang would be one too many.

Making it around a bend in the line, they found themselves standing right beside the section of plain cement ground where some of the teacups would spin by.  Whenever one of the cups got close, Ruby watched it raptly until it had raced paced - and then another one would appear right after.  

“Wow, look at those things go,” Yang commented, leaning her arms casually on the metal bar that was acting as the outer edge of the queue. “Makes you feel a little queasy, doesn’t it?  Hey, Ruby - how fast do you think you can spin that wheel? Wanna have a competition?”

Grinning at her sister, Ruby was about to respond when she noticed that Weiss looked a little more tepid than usual.  Or maybe it was more appropriate to say that it looked like Weiss was about to be sick.  

“Weiss, are you ok?” Ruby asked instead, ducking her head in an effort to meet Weiss’ eyes.

“Yes, but...I think - I’m going to sit this one out,” Weiss suddenly said, giving Ruby an apologetic smile.  “It looks a little too nauseating for me.”

“Wait, are you sure?” she asked, turning to follow when Weiss moved to leave the line.  “We could do something else -”

“No, no, really it’s ok.  I want you to try it out.”  The fleeting smile Weiss flashed reassured Ruby that she wasn’t at all upset about it, but...  “How about I get you a cotton candy while you wait?” Weiss offered.

“Ohhh!  Yes please!”  Scrambling in her pockets, Ruby searched for what little money she’d brought with her until Weiss waved at her to stop.

“It’s my treat.”

“You don’t have to -”

“I’d like to, really,” Weiss assured her.  “What color would you like? Blue?”

“Blue was always my favorite!  How did you know that??”

When Weiss smiled, it was that same small smile that Ruby knew was only half as powerful as it could be.

“Lucky guess...would either of you like one?”  After Blake and Yang both shook their heads, Weiss nodded.  “Then I’ll meet you after.”

Even though Weiss was fine with leaving, and even though she was going to get Ruby a cotton candy, Ruby felt her brow crease slightly while watching Weiss walk away.  Something about this pulled at her heart in a strange way. Like it really didn’t feel right, even though Weiss said it was fine.

“Shouldn’t we leave too?” she asked Yang in concern.  Yang pursed her lips together for a few seconds before answering. 

“We’re close to the front - might as well just wait.  It won’t take long.”

“Yeah, but...I don’t want her to have to wait alone…”

“You two go on ahead,” Blake piped up before giving Yang a stern look.  “I’ll wait with Weiss.”

Smiling at Blake in appreciation, Ruby watched her roommate leave the line before following her sister a few steps further.  It wasn’t a perfect solution, but at least if Weiss and Blake were waiting together Ruby wouldn’t have to feel so bad. Still...something bugged her about the situation...as if she should’ve been the one to immediately hop out of line with Weiss.  That would’ve been the friendliest thing to do, right? Man, she really didn’t know the rules when it came to making friends.  Between the hugs and now this...it was all a mystery to her.

Shaking her head, Ruby brushed off the strange feeling in exchange for a smile.

“I’m glad Blake invited Weiss!” she commented happily, drawing a surprised glance from Yang.

“You are?”

“Yeah!  I mean, she doesn’t seem to know anyone in town.  Plus, she’s cool and funny!”

That comment made Yang look at Ruby like she’d grown a second head.  

“You think she’s funny?”

“Yeah!”  Sensing that Yang was implying it was weird to think that way, Ruby followed up with, “You don’t think so?”

Chuckling at the question, Yang lightly shook her head.  “Only you could think that, Ruby...”

While the two of them scooted closer to the entrance of the ride, Yang stopped talking and focused her eyes on the teacups instead.  It only took about three seconds of quiet for Ruby to know that something was up. Silence in their family was pretty rare - the only time Yang didn’t have anything to say was when she was mad, sad, guilty, or had ten cookies stuck in her mouth while trying to beat Ruby in a cookie eating contest.  Which Ruby always won, for the record.

But Yang was being quiet and Blake had given her that look and Ruby had a weird feeling about all of it, so that must mean... 

“Did you know Weiss wouldn’t like this ride?” she asked the instant the question popped into her head.  Looking back on it, Yang had seemed a little too pleased to go on this ride and then was a little too quiet after Weiss had left.  

Instead of looking at Ruby, Yang focused on the teacups swirling beside them. 

“I had my suspicions...”

“Yang!” Ruby shouted in shock.  She hadn’t expected to be right.  And even if she had been right, she hadn’t expected Yang to admit it! 

“I know, I know!” Yang threw her arms up in the air in defeat.  “Bad role model award…”

“Bad role model award is right!” Ruby chastised her sister.  “You know we’re supposed to be nice to people - and that means not trying to force them onto carnival rides they don’t like!”

“I’m not sure that was ever explicitly stated -”

When Ruby pursed her lips, Yang stopped and shook her head.  

“You’re right.  You’re right. Trying to make someone puke is almost never nice.”

“Right,” Ruby agreed with a resolute nod of her head.  Again Yang fell silent while they stepped forward - which only made Ruby frown.  “Are you still that mad at her?” she asked softly.

Staring away, Yang’s brow furrowed at the question while Ruby waited intently for an answer.  They crept further forward before Yang sighed and hung her head.

“Yeah...yeah I’m still mad at her.  Really mad.”

“But what did she do?”

Letting out a shaky laugh and lifting her eyes, Yang ran one hand through her hair.

“I kind of...expected her to do one thing, and she did something else.”

Waiting for the rest of the explanation, Ruby gestured with her hands when there was none.

“That’s not at all enlightening!” she half-exclaimed, half-whined.  A real answer was something more like ‘she stole my favorite teddy bear’ or ‘she called me an idiot,’ not...whatever that response had been!  But this time Yang gave Ruby a sad smile.

“I know it’s not,” Yang replied quietly.  “I just...I don’t want to get into it here.  I’ll tell you sometime, but right now I’m just trying to forget it.  Which is much easier said than done...”

Ok, that wasn’t exactly a good explanation, but at least it was honest.  Ruby liked to think she knew her sister better than most people, so she could pretty easily tell that Yang was struggling to come to terms with whatever had happened.

Finally nodding in acceptance of the partial answer, Ruby glanced behind them but couldn’t immediately find Blake or Weiss outside the line.  Biting her lip, she turned back to Yang.

“If you really don’t want her around...then you should just say so.”  

Did she want Yang to say so?  No! Because Ruby wanted a new friend and she wanted Weiss and Yang to be friends again.  But she also didn’t want Yang to always be upset by Weiss’ presence.

Fortunately, Yang shook her head and waved away Ruby’s fears.

“Don’t worry about me, Ruby.  If you want to be friends, that’s great.  I just don’t particularly want to be her friend right now.  Ever, maybe, but definitely not right now.”

Before Ruby could open her mouth to respond, Yang smiled and leaned over to bump shoulders.

“And if it’s ever not ok, I’ll tell you.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

The word put Ruby completely at ease, so much so that she smiled in relief.  Yang had never broken a promise and she never would, so any doubt Ruby had about befriending Weiss had just flown right out the window.  It was that easy, really - just needed a simple little word from Yang! Now Ruby and Blake could continue Operation Get-Yang-and-Weiss-Speaking-Again with gusto!

But first, Operation Ruby-Needs-a-Friend!

Actually, she wasn’t going to call it that - because that sounded sad.  Operation Befriend Weiss! That was better.

When the group in front of them suddenly rushed through the gate, Ruby saw that they’d made it to the front of the line!  A few seconds later, the ride attendant beckoned them forward and they were loaded into a pink and white teacup whose paint had seen much better days.  Taking their seats, Ruby clipped in place the rather flimsy looking seat belt before giving Yang two thumbs up.

“You ready for this?” Yang asked, her eyes twinkling in happiness.

“You bet!”

“Now remember - if you feel like you have to puke, make sure to do it outside the cup,” Yang told Ruby with such a serious expression she couldn’t help but laugh.

“I’ll try to remember,” she replied with a shake of her head.  That wasn’t gonna happen because she had a stomach of steel! No way some rapid spinning and kind of jarring stops were going to toss her lunch!

They only had to wait a few minutes while the rest of the teacups were filled - with people, not tea - before a loud chime sounded and the ride jolted to life.  The same cartoonish song they’d been listening to over and over again while in line blasted over the speakers as she and Yang began spinning the wheel in between them as fast as they possibly could.

Which was pretty dang fast .  Yang’s arm was kind of an unfair advantage, but with Ruby’s lame left hand it probably evened out.  Probably, but probably not. Either way, if there was a competition for spinning a teacup the fastest, they were definitely winning.  They were spinning so fast that the lights blurred around them, mushing everything behind Yang into one solid background - Ruby couldn’t even tell what it was anymore.  Giggles slipped out as they spun, which quickly turned into laughter that Yang joined in with. It might seem like a silly ride, but it was fun. A whole lot of fun.

And her stomach was completely fine.  Although she was starting to feel like...it was a good thing she hadn’t eaten right before.

In only a minute or so, they’d managed to spin that cup what felt like a hundred bajillion times.  She was using very precise counting metrics to determine that number too. They were reaching their second hundred bajillion when the ride ended - rather abruptly.  Their cup came to such a jarring stop that it could’ve tossed Ruby out if she hadn’t been holding onto the wheel. And if she hadn’t been strapped in by the - apparently really useful - seatbelt!

Even though the cup had stopped spinning, her brain didn’t seem to agree.  Everything behind Yang, including Yang, was moving in this constant wavy pattern that Ruby’s eyes were weirdly following.

A few seconds later the attendant walked by and opened their teacup door without looking at them, which was apparently the signal for them to get up and leave.  Closely following Yang, Ruby unclipped herself, stood, and stepped out of the cup.

And nearly fell right on her face.

The ride might have seemed short, but apparently it kept going after the music stopped!  It was like walking on a moving sidewalk - her legs and head couldn’t agree on where to step next, so she swerved and stumbled awkwardly towards the exit.  This was definitely why they put handrails on the exit line…

Fortunately, Yang wasn’t faring any better than Ruby was.  The other riders seemed to be walking ok, but the two of them were carefully glued to the railing the entire way out of the ride.  When they finally rejoined the general mass of the carnival, Blake and Weiss walked up to them, with Blake looking particularly amused by their current state.

“She didn’t puke!” Yang said triumphantly, raising both fists in the air before lowering them when she staggered to one side.  Standing straight and trying not to fall over in the process, Ruby scoffed at Yang’s celebration.  

“Of course I didn’t puke.”

“You never know, Ruby.  You never know,” Yang replied distractedly, placing a kiss on Blake’s cheek and allowing her girlfriend to wrap one arm around her waist in support.

Rolling her eyes, Ruby turned to find Weiss - holding a giant blue cloud of cotton candy!  Wow, she’d already forgotten that Weiss had offered to go get one. It looked amazing!   But somehow the towering pile of sugar looked wrong in Weiss’ hands, like Weiss was way too refined to be eating a child’s treat.  

“Here you go,” Weiss said, handing it over to Ruby before brushing off both hands.

“Thanks, Weiss!  You’re the best!” she replied, grabbing a handful of blue and shoving it in her mouth.  The cloud instantly disintegrated, leaving behind a trail of sugar on her tongue. Noticing the way Weiss was watching her, Ruby pulled off another piece and held it out.  “Want some?”

“Oh, no, I -”  Backing away from the cotton candy like Ruby might force her to eat it, Weiss stopped a safe distance away and took a deep breath before hesitantly smiling.  “You’re going to have a blue tongue.” 

“I totally am!” Ruby said with a laugh and another bite.  “Does that weird you out?”

For a split second, Weiss’ smile seemed to shine a little brighter while she shook her head ‘no,’ but that moment disappeared even faster than the cloud of sugar in Ruby’s mouth.

“Ok, Ruby,” Yang finally spoke up.  “What’s next?” 

Cheerfully eating her cotton candy, Ruby glanced around to see what they should do.  There were a couple of other rides nearby, but they all looked pretty...spinny. There was no way she wanted to leave Weiss out again, so she pointed towards a long line of game tents stretching what looked like the entire length of the carnival.

“Let’s look at the games and see if there’s any we want to play!”

As she would quickly discover while they walked slowly down the line of tents, all carnival games looked fun to play.  Knocking over tiny milk bottles, breaking plates, throwing darts at balloons...who wouldn’t want to play?  Plus, the prizes became more and more ridiculous the further they walked down the game alley.  Towards the end the stuffed animals had reached gigantic proportions - big enough that she actually had to wonder whether or not they’d fit into the car to take home.  And if they weren’t meant to be taken home, what was she supposed to do with them?

“Can we try each game?” she asked when they’d finally reached the end.

“I don’t see why not,” Yang answered with a smile.  Grinning back, Ruby skipped a few paces forward until something tugged her gaze.  Turning back, she found that Weiss had stopped walking several yards behind them and was now staring at one game in particular.

“Weiss?” 

Curious about what had caught Weiss’ attention, Ruby went back to join her, leaving Yang and Blake walking up ahead.  The two stopped talking when they noticed what Ruby was doing, but waited several paces away while watching carefully.

It looked like Weiss was staring really intently at something...a stuffed bear, maybe.  But she wasn’t moving. She was hardly even blinking!

Glancing towards the stuffed bears, Ruby couldn’t figure out why they were special enough to deserve so much attention.  Compared to the rest of the prizes they’d seen, they were actually pretty realistic, small, and boring!

“Weiss?” she asked again, reaching out and hesitantly touching Weiss’ elbow.  She jumped at the contact, which made Ruby jerk away in surprise, but when their eyes met Weiss seemed to calm down.

“Are you ok?” Ruby asked while Weiss placed one hand over her heart and looked at the ground.  Out of the corner of her eye, Ruby noticed Blake and Yang exchange a worried glance, but she didn’t dare take her full attention away from Weiss because something was up.

“Yes, I’m alright.  Sorry for holding you up.”  Finally meeting Ruby’s gaze, Weiss’ smile was embarrassed and not altogether reassuring...but if she said she was ok, then Ruby really didn’t have a reason to believe otherwise...except for the feeling that something was wrong.  

“Want me to win you that bear?” she offered, hoping it would cheer Weiss up.  “Because I totally can!”

“Ruby, do you even know how to play that game?” Blake asked, as she and Yang finally walked back over to them.

Studying the game intently, Ruby discovered that it didn’t look familiar at all, but she still shrugged her shoulders.

“No, but how hard could it be?”

As it would turn out, the game was pretty darn hard.  Especially when it cheated! She was positive that it did!  She just hadn’t figured out how yet.

In theory, it was a simple game - toss a little metal ring around the neck of a glass bottle to win a prize.  And the rings were big enough to fit (she’d checked when the employee’s back had been turned), but for some reason they kept bouncing off!  It was maddening.

Even if she hadn’t won the bear yet, Weiss seemed to have cheered up watching Ruby attempt the impossible with the rings.  Mission successful, kinda…

“Ok, I swear these things are shrinking in the air!” she whined, picking up her remaining ring and examining it closely.  There had to be some sort of contraption in it that was using the spinning motion to tighten the circumference. Maybe if she tossed it underhand with as little spinning motion as possible…

Clink.

Nope.  That didn’t work either.

“I don’t get it!  It shouldn’t be this hard, right??”

“Ok Ruby - let the master show you how it’s done!” Yang called out, planting some money confidently on the counter before rolling up her sleeves.  

Immensely curious, Ruby watched intently while the attendant set a new stack of rings down in front of her sister.  After failing so many times in a row, she had to know how Yang was going to do this.  It wasn’t like Yang had better hand-eye coordination than Ruby did - they were pretty even in that - so what was she going to do?  Throw the rings hard enough to break the bottles? That probably wouldn’t be considered winning...

While Ruby watched with bated breath, Yang rubbed her hands together excitedly, picked up the stack of rings in one hand, and...promptly set them down in front of Blake.  Blake gave Yang an amused smirk before stepping forward, picking up the top ring and casually tossing it directly onto a bottle - all while hardly even looking!

“How did you do that??” Ruby immediately gasped in amazement.  

“She’s my ringer ,” Yang quipped with a grin, letting one of the metal rings fall around her finger before Blake snatched it away and easily threw it onto another bottle.

“No, really.  How??” Ruby asked again before running over and gluing herself to Blake’s side in order to watch the throwing motion.  Instead of tossing the ring like Ruby had been doing for the past 20 Lien, Blake flicked it so it tumbled head over tails through the air.

“You need the ring to spin downward so it sticks,” Blake explained as if that was the most obvious thing in the world.  But...how did she aim so perfectly?  How did she time the spin just right?  How - just, how??

At a loss for words, Ruby retreated to Weiss and Yang’s side while Blake tossed the remaining rings onto sequential bottles.  The game attendant, who up until now couldn’t have cared less how they did, was now staring with his mouth hanging open at Blake’s success.

“She’s actually not supposed to play carnival games anymore,” Yang whispered into Ruby’s ear.  “They didn’t like that she was winning every game.”

“They were fine with me winning.  They weren’t fine with your boasting,” Blake stated calmly while picking out a small stuffed lion as her prize and handing it to Yang with an affectionate smile.

“I can’t help it!  I want everyone to know how amazing you were.”

“I’m ok if no one knows but you.”

When Ruby heard the softened voice and saw the slightly lowered gaze, she groaned out loud.

“Can’t I take you guys anywhere??” she complained to no one in particular since both Yang and Blake were too interested in each other to hear her words.  “Come on, Weiss - they’ll catch up to us eventually.”

Gently looping her arm through Weiss,’ Ruby led them both away from game stand towards another section of the carnival.  She didn’t have an exact destination in mind, but anywhere else seemed like a good place to be right now!

“They’re so embarrassing sometimes,” she said, glancing towards Weiss only to instantly unlink their arms when noticing the focused stare.  Whoops. Maybe that had been a little too touchy feely. She’d done it on instinct though!

“Um, sorry I couldn't win you that bear...” she mumbled apologetically before briefly checking over her shoulder to make sure that Yang and Blake were trailing behind them.

“Don’t be sorry.  It was very thoughtful of you to try.”

“Next time I’ll win though!” she announced, hopping a few steps forward while dreaming of her future carnival success.  “I’ll get my own bottle and practice at home until I’m a master like Blake!”

Beaming triumphantly - even though she hadn’t accomplished anything yet - Ruby turned around to find that Weiss was smiling at her.  It was a smile that made goosebumps spring up on her arms.

The moment disappeared when Yang and Blake walked past Weiss and Weiss’ expression fell as her eyes flitted to Yang’s back.  Reaching Ruby, Yang gently slapped her on the shoulder before pointing up at something behind her.

“Wanna go on the ferris wheel?”

Spinning around, Ruby stared up at the giant metal contraption towering above the rest of the carnival.  The bright lights managed to make it look inviting...even though it was a set of baskets attached to a spinning metal wheel.  Still, its height was impressive .

“That must be like ten stories tall!”  Turning to the side, Ruby noticed that Weiss was staring up at it now too.  “Weiss, how tall do you think it is?”

Blinking out of her thoughts, Weiss looked at Ruby first before studying the ferris wheel thoughtfully.

“Around...ten stories.”

Ruby’s immediate burst of laughter drew Weiss’ confused attention.

“You’re right.  Probably ten stories,” Ruby tried to say with a straight face before giggling some more - with even Yang joining in with a soft chuckle.  “But do you wanna go?”

This time Ruby made sure to watch Weiss closely for an answer.  There wouldn’t be another teacups incident on her watch! She was paying such close attention that the moment Weiss locked eyes with her it seemed like the rest of the world faded away.  In that moment, while goosebumps raised along her arms, she could almost read the answer in Weiss’ eyes before Weiss had even begun to nod her head.

“Sure, let’s go.”

Making their way into another line, Ruby rubbed at her arms in an attempt to smooth the goosebumps away.  It wasn’t that cold tonight, but maybe they were from all the sugar. She had eaten that cotton candy pretty fast...

This line was much slower than the one for the teacups, but Ruby and Yang were able to easily fill the time with rather pointless banter.  There were only a few things their family was really skilled at - fighting, eating, and talking. Yang especially. Yang was the Queen of Talking!  And Ruby was the Queen of Random. Between the two of them, they could occupy an entire ferris wheel line with corny jokes and really smart observations.

It was particularly fun to get Weiss involved in the conversation.  It was a little hard to do, but Ruby was discovering that if she asked questions directly to Weiss, she would always answer.  This must have been what Blake was talking about by ‘getting to know each other.’ Through little bits of conversation and interaction, Ruby was learning about Weiss in leaps and bounds.  It was fun! Who knew that making friends would be this much fun? 

“So you don’t like apples?” she asked in disbelief.

“Not particularly.”

Mouth hanging open, Ruby gave Blake and Yang a quick glance of surprise before turning back to Weiss.

“But what about caramel apples??  Do you like those?”

“No...I’m not a big fan of sweets either.”

For the briefest of moments, Ruby felt like her mind might completely implode from that statement.

“You...don’t like...sweets?”

This time, Weiss’ smile was amused as she shook her head ‘no.’  

“But how could...why...but sugar is awesome!”

When Weiss softly laughed at Ruby’s surprise, Ruby took a step forward and suddenly realized that they were pretty close to the front of the line.  And in noticing that, she also noticed that the attendant was only letting two people into each basket.

“Looks like we’ll need to split up,” Weiss mused, having followed Ruby’s gaze and already come to the same conclusion.

“Yang, why don’t you ride with me?” Blake immediately asked, squeezing Yang’s hand and giving her a smile.  “You know how I am with heights.”

“You love heights,” Yang replied, confusion written into her brow.

“Well, yes, but this looks a little too high.  If you know what I mean.”

When Yang’s brow furrowed even further, Blake sighed and leaned over to whisper in Yang’s ear.  Finally Yang seemed to comprehend, nodding once while a big grin grew.

“Guess you two are on your own!” she remarked while moving with Blake in front of Ruby and Weiss.  Soon the pair were seated in the - still slightly rocking - ferris wheel basket and lifted off the ground.  Meanwhile, Ruby and Weiss were left waiting for the next one to swing slowly around to them.

“Would you like the lake or carnival side?” Weiss asked politely, right before the attendant beckoned them forward.

“Lake!” Ruby immediately answered, before realizing that maybe the guest should get to choose.  “Unless you wanted to sit over there?”

“It’s all yours,” Weiss replied, gesturing for Ruby to get into the basket first. 

After taking a seat, the attendant latched the small door and suddenly they were lurching forward - the jerking movement making them swing unsteadily for a few seconds before everything smoothed out.  Holding onto the edge of the basket, Ruby watched while the ground fell away from them bit by bit. They were only a couple inches off the ground at first, then a foot, then two feet, then three...  

It was pretty slow - which was probably a good thing because it’d be pretty scary if it was spinning really fast.  Unlike the teacups, this was much more of a relaxing ride. Leaning back into the basket, the silence that had stretched for only a few seconds now seemed far too long.  Fidgeting in her seat, she decided to fill the void with talking.

“Tonight’s been so much fun!”

“I’m glad you’re having a good time,” Weiss answered softly.  

“I really am!  I wasn’t sure what to expect since I haven’t been to the carnival since I was like...six, but this is a ton of fun.”  When Weiss gave Ruby a curious expression, she backtracked from the quasi-maybe-lie. “I mean, the last time I remember going to a carnival I was like six.  Maybe I went again sometime.”

The lapse in knowledge made her chuckle and shake her head.

“Maybe I even worked at one, I wouldn’t know.”

When Weiss continued to examine her closely, Ruby realized how strange that sentence must sound to someone who didn’t know what happened.  Which meant that she should probably clue Weiss in on what had happened. It wasn’t a big deal, right? It actually didn’t feel like one. She wasn’t nervous like she’d expected to be.  Somehow she knew that Weiss wouldn’t think she was weird or broken or crazy. Weiss would accept her, just like Blake and Yang did. Hopefully.

“I, um...I got hurt a while back,” Ruby began to explain, one of her knees bouncing up and down with jittery energy.  “You’ve probably noticed the scars -” When she pointed to the one on her arm that was currently covered by her sleeve, Weiss gave a tiny shudder.

“Yeah, I know, they’re pretty gnarly.  I have one up here too - see?”

Pushing aside her hair where her fingertips could feel the smooth, raised line of skin, she turned so that Weiss could see the scar hidden there.  Facing away, Ruby couldn’t really tell if Weiss had actually seen it or not, but she gave a stiff nod that Ruby took as a ‘got it.’ Lowering her hands, she looked straight out in front of them - over the carnival lights and happy patrons.

“I lost my short and intermediate term memory due to...uh, ‘severe brain trauma,’” she mimicked the way one of her doctors had said the term.  “Basically about five years of my life just up and disappeared. Decided they didn’t want to be in my mind anymore, I guess.”

Chuckling softly, she wrapped both hands around one of her knees and looked out over the lake, where the bright moon was reflecting in the jet black surface.  With every gust of wind ripples blurred the reflection, reminding everyone that a reflection could never come close to competing with the real thing.

“You don’t remember anything?”  Weiss’ voice was soft, like how people speak in hospitals around someone who’s dying.

“Basically nothing from the beginning of high school on,” Ruby replied with another shake of her head.  “It used to really bother me - this...fog...that never lifts. But…” Pausing for a second, she then shrugged her shoulders.  “You get used to it, I guess.”

It had taken a long time to learn how to ignore the feeling of longing and loss that spread whenever she tried to touch that cloud in her mind.  At first, it had always been at the forefront of her thoughts, but eventually she’d learned how to ignore it completely. Instead of dwelling on something she couldn't change, she’d filled up the spaces around it with new memories, pushing that cloud to the very back of her mind - where she rarely searched.

“I can’t...even imagine…”

Ruby smiled at the honest response and kept talking.  It was actually pretty nice to tell her story for once.

“It was pretty crazy at first.  Yang talked to a whole bunch of doctors about how to ‘reintroduce’ me to things.  They thought it’d be best to take it nice and slow - not overload my brain, ya know?  Like, if someone came up to you and said ‘your favorite flavor of ice cream is vanilla,’ you might agree with them, or disagree just because you don’t like being told what your favorite ice cream is.  Or if someone you’ve never met before said ‘hey, I’m your best friend,’ you’d be like…’who are you? I don’t know you. Why are you pretending to be my best friend?’”

Unclasping her arms and leaning back, she ran her fingers over the scar crossing her wrist.  Even under the material of her shirt, she could feel the slightly raised line she’d carry with her the rest of her life.

She was lucky that she remembered Yang - since the memories of their childhood were still intact.  But that gap of time...she could clearly remember how confused and scared she’d been after waking up and finding that Yang was suddenly five years older.  

She’d lost years of her life.  She’d lost time with family, experiences, adventures, and who knew what else...

“What about now?  Do you still feel like the truth would be...too much?”

Weiss’ question really made Ruby stop and think.  Even Yang hadn’t asked that yet - whether or not Ruby felt ready for more information than what she already had.

“A part of me has always wanted to know,” she replied while absentmindedly swinging her legs.  “I mean, I know some things - like I was a huntress and went to Beacon with Yang and Blake - but Yang only told me that stuff after a long time.  I could probably ask for more, but at a certain point…” she paused and then shrugged again.  “I guess I feel separate from that person now. It’d be like reading a history book or something.  And I’ve always sucked at history.”

She had a very...complicated...relationship with her past.  At least, with the parts she’d forgotten. If she thought about it too much she wanted to know more, which was why she avoided it most of the time.  She wanted to know, but she didn’t. Sometimes she really cared about it, but most of the time she didn’t.    

Instead of dwelling on it, she’d concentrated on something Yang had once told her - focus on who you are now , not on who you were then.  Ruby had accepted long ago that she was never getting those memories back, so there was no good reason to focus on them if it came at the detriment of her current training.  This Ruby wanted to become a huntress again.  And past Ruby...well, it didn’t matter if she had been a huntress if she wasn’t anymore, right?

“Where did your necklace come from?” 

“Huh?”  Surprised by the question, Ruby looked down and found that she’d started playing with her necklace while lost in thought.  “Oh this? It’s...well, I actually don’t know where it came from.”

Sliding the ring hanging from the thin silver chain halfway onto her index finger, she held it up so Weiss could see it more clearly.  It glinted in the moonlight - polished silver catching each ray of light and turning it into a spectacle.

“It was something I had...before.  Not sure where it came from, but I thought it’d be nice to have it on a necklace.”

She’d actually been wearing the ring when she’d woken up in the hospital, but didn’t know why.  Even though she had absolutely no idea who it was from or what it meant, she still hadn’t wanted to get rid of it.  So she’d put it on a necklace and worn it every day since. In some ways, it felt like a source of power and comfort to her - a remnant from a past life that could lend her strength in this one.  It reminded her of what she’d lost, but gave her hope that she’d find her way again.    

Sometimes she imagined that all of her missing memories had been bottled up in the ring and were now just sitting there, waiting to be released.  That would explain the strange longing she felt towards it sometimes, wishing that she could have those memories back. When she’d first been released from the hospital, she’d spent hours examining it and searching for secrets, but there was nothing to be found.  Nothing but the small etching inside that read simply - ‘Eternity.’

“Must’ve been a gift or something…” she mumbled, staring down while twisting the ring around the chain.  “From someone who’s not around anymore…”

The ride lurched again and threw her mind off of that train of thought.  Looking down, she found that the ferris wheel had paused to load up another car, while the car she and Weiss were in had reached the pinnacle of the wheel.  This was as high up as they were going to go - and they were pretty high up. It was actually a little cold up here, with the wind blowing steadily.  

Shivering once, she looked across the lake towards the moon.

“Could be worse, right?  Could remember nothing. Or not be here at all.”

Her injuries had been life threatening.  Being given a second chance, even missing a few pieces of information, was a blessing to her.  It was the reason she trained so hard to get healthy again. It was the reason she tried to get better every day - to make sure this gift wasn’t wasted.  Sure, she easily could have wallowed in self-pity, but Yang wouldn’t let her do that. Blake wouldn’t let her do that. Thankfully! Because who would want to hang out with Ruby when she was nothing more than a pity party?  

She owed both of them a lot for pushing and supporting her when she needed it most.

Noticing that Weiss had been quiet for some time now, Ruby’s mind scrambled while trying to figure out what to say next.  That had probably been a pretty depressing story for somewhere as fun as the carnival - ah! She’d totally killed the happiness with that, right?  

This was totally fixable.  She just needed to make things less depressing again.  Not that it was really depressing .  Well, Ruby didn’t think it was depressing - it just...was.  But to someone else it probably sounded like a big pile of gloom.

Searching her mind and finding a lighthearted story, she laughed.

“One of the weirdest things was that I wasn’t used to being so tall .  I basically woke up one day and I was five inches taller than the night before.  It made me super clumsy.  I hit my head on things all the time - so often that Yang almost put me in a helmet to ‘prevent further brain damage.’” 

The memory made her chuckle again.  Whenever she reached down to pick something up she would knock her head on the edge of a piece of furniture.  Or when she bent down to tie her shoes she would hit her head on the wall or whatever other surface might be nearby.  

The solution had been that Ruby wasn’t allowed to do anything by herself - which had been completely ok with her!  For a little while, she hadn’t had to tie her own shoes, pick up anything she dropped, or even put away her own laundry.  It had actually been a pretty awesome time...

“Oh!” she added when she thought of something else.  “And then I convinced Yang that I’d forgotten what my favorite flavor of ice cream was, so we went to the ice cream shop and she let me order one scoop of every flavor.  That was a great night…”

It might have been a little fib on her part...but the most important part was that she’d been able to confirm that her favorite flavor had remained the same.

“What is your favorite flavor?” Weiss asked curiously.

“Chocolate chip!  Although I really like this other flavor called ‘Smushed Grimm.’”  As soon as Ruby said the name, Weiss let out an uncharacteristic burst of laughter.

“Smushed Grimm…” she repeated with a smile and shake of her head.  “I forgot that existed…”

“You’ve had it before?” Ruby asked excitedly.  It was a really unique name - definitely memorable.  And it was really good! Chocolate ice cream filled with chocolate chunks and black cherries.  Delicious.

“I’m pretty sure everyone in Vale has tried that flavor at least once,” Weiss replied, her eyes twinkling with amusement.  

And Weiss’ eyes sparkled when she was happy - light blue glimmering with flecks of white.  It completely changed who she was - like this was a completely different person sitting beside Ruby right now.  This version of Weiss was vibrant and filled with hidden joy.

Glimpsing a truly happy Weiss filled Ruby with the most indescribable feeling.  It was a warmth that began somewhere deep in her chest and spread through every fiber of her being - like drinking a cup of hot chocolate after playing in the snow.  Whatever it was, she liked it. It made her feel like she’d just accomplished something really special.

“I like to pretend I’m actually eating a Grimm when I have it,” she continued, hoping to keep the sparkle in Weiss’ eyes.  “I’m...not allowed to have it when Blake and Yang are around anymore...”

When Weiss laughed even harder, Ruby decided that Smushed Grimm was her new favorite flavor.  Anything that could make Weiss laugh like that instantly made it onto Ruby’s list of favorite things.  She’d gladly eat non-fat, sugar-free pistachio ice cream if it’d make Weiss this happy!

“You see?” Ruby finally said, sharing a smile with Weiss.  “Things aren’t so bad - they’re actually really good now. I have people who look out for me and help me,” she glanced up at the moon while she said that, giving silent thanks to her mom for always being there, before turning back to Weiss.  “And I think there’s a lot to look forward to! Training keeps me motivated - I want to be able to help others. Give back a little of what’s been given to me.”

When Weiss’ eyes focused on her, it made Ruby feel like, for that moment, she was the only person in the entire world that Weiss could see.  Well, she probably was because they were the only ones in this little ferris wheel carriage, but there was a different feeling lingering in Weiss’ eyes...

“You’re training...to become a huntress?”

“That’s the goal!” Ruby replied with a grin.  “I spend most of my time reading about battle strategies, working on Crescent Rose, or practicing with Blake and Yang.  I’m getting better, so maybe one day you’ll be reading about me in the paper!”

The idea made her laugh happily.  Even though huntsmen played a huge role keeping the city safe, they were never in the paper.  Probably because hearing about what happened beyond the walls would scare people more than help them feel safe.  So she had no actual intention of making it into the paper, but if she was going to dream, she was going to dream big!

“You want to be a huntress,” Weiss repeated, more to herself than to Ruby.  “But with your hand -”

“I’m working on that!  That’s what Mr. Red’s for, but Blake just gave me an idea that might work even better!”

Weiss didn’t seem to hear that last part - she was too busy staring out over the carnival with a furrowed brow and pursed lips, the expression one of deep thought.  It was far too serious with the brightly colored tents in the background, so Ruby nudged Weiss softly with her elbow and they shared a small smile.

“But that could still be a long ways off,” Ruby added while leaning over and lightly bumping Weiss’ shoulder again.  “Yang said I have to beat Blake first...and Blake is really good.”

Sometimes Ruby was close to winning, but close wouldn’t be good enough in a real battle...and wouldn’t be good enough to convince Yang either.

“Until then, all I can do is keep training!  Keep getting better and not waste this opportunity I’ve been given….” her voice trailed off when she realized she’d been about to launch into a really long spiel on second chances.  “Sorry, I just realized I’m being really cheesy!”

“No, don’t be.  I think it’s refreshing.  You have a great outlook on life.  Much better than my own, I’m afraid.”

“What do you mean?  What’s your outlook?”

When Weiss looked at Ruby, it was with the most pained expression she’d ever seen.  

“To survive one more day and not think about the past.  And maybe, someday, have the strength and opportunity to make things right.”

The answer was so serious, Ruby couldn’t help but to chuckle nervously at the weight of it.  But then she got a grip of herself and responded like a good person should.

“Hey, a good head injury might help you with one of those things,” she joked, praying that some levity would lighten the mood.  Thankfully, Weiss smiled ever so slightly and shook her head in amusement.

“But seriously, what could you not be strong enough to do?” Ruby mused - more to herself than to Weiss.  “I guess we haven’t known each other that long, but you seem smart and strong and talented…”

Realizing exactly what she needed to say, she turned to Weiss with a grin.

“I bet you could do anything.”

Weiss looked taken aback by the claim, but Ruby wholeheartedly believed it to be true.  And she had evidence supporting her too!

“I mean look - you’re here trying to make things right with Yang, even though she’s angry at you.  That takes a lot of courage, you know? Most people would run from that challenge, but not you! You’re here facing it head on.”

“I’m glad you see it that way,” Weiss whispered quietly.

“I do!  And you should too!” 

Seeing how close they were to the ground, Ruby couldn’t help but to feel disappointed that their time together was coming to an end.  The ferris wheel ride had been far more enjoyable than she’d expected it to be - and now that she’d gotten her history out in the open and caught a small glimpse into Weiss’ thoughts, she felt like they could actually become friends.  

“Thanks for not thinking I’m weird,” she said quickly, before waving towards her head.  “You know, cuz of my past.”

“I would never judge you for that...it wasn’t -” Pausing, Weiss briefly closed her eyes and took a deep breath before continuing.  “It wasn’t your fault.”

Before Ruby could respond, the ride attendant was unlatching their door and beckoning them out.  Scrambling out behind Weiss, Ruby didn’t have to search very long before finding Yang and Blake. They were waiting just on the other side of the fence - Yang talking animatedly about something while Blake smiled and nodded every so often.  

“Do you know Vale very well?” Ruby asked while the two of them walked down the exit line and back into the crowds of the carnival.

“I used to, but a lot has changed since I was here last.”

“Well, if you’d like someone to show you around...I only know a few places but I’d be happy to go with you!” she offered.

“You would do that?”  Turning to the side, Weiss seemed genuinely surprised by the offer.

“Yeah of course!  Why not? Or if you wanted to just...hang out or something.  I don’t really get out of the house much, so you could always come over.  You know, whenever.” Ruby’s cheeks grew warmer under the cool night air when Weiss looked at her - clear blue eyes seeming to see right through her.  

Was that the right way to ask??  In high school, she hadn’t really had any friends so she’d never been inviting people over to hang out.  Was an open-ended invitation good enough? Did she need to pick a specific time?

Thankfully, Weiss smiled and nodded in understanding - right before Yang’s strong arm wrapped around Ruby’s neck and pulled her aside.

“Someone’s keen eyes spotted elephant ears nearby,” her sister whispered in her ear.

Gasping, Ruby turned to Blake, who promptly pointed her in the right direction.  Reaching over, Ruby grabbed Weiss’ arm and dragged the girl through the crowd to the vendor she could see across the way.

“Come on, Weiss!  I’ve heard these are like...the best things ever!”

Chapter Text

“Quarterly projections were overly optimistic - it looks like we’ll have to stretch to meet those numbers before the end of the month.”

“Even with the holiday coming up?”

“Historical data was already included in our calculations -”

Blowing a puff of air quietly past her lips, she tapped her fingers impatiently on the board room table while only half paying attention to the rest of the conversation.  Projections, rejections, suggestions on how to grow profit margins and cut costs...on a good day these meetings were about as interesting as watching paint dry. But today…

“What have the distributors said?”

“We’ve only received data from fifty percent of them, but -”

Stifling a yawn, her eyes drifted to the scroll lying face up on the table in front of her.  Blake and Yang had promised on everything they held holy that they would message the instant anything happened - even if it was something as small as a fluttered eyelid or a murmured word.  That had been the only way the two could convince Weiss to leave the hospital room behind and rejoin the ‘real world.’

The ‘real world’ was filled with mind-numbingly boring corporate meetings, stiff executives with inferiority complexes, uncomfortable boardroom chairs, and...well, the coffee was decent at the very least.  Schnee Dust cut costs in any way possible, but the coffee budget always remained the same.

After spending two full weeks - day and night - by Ruby’s side, Blake and Yang had been determined for Weiss to ‘take care of herself’ while they all waited anxiously for Ruby to recover.  Since the doctors weren’t sure how long it would take for Ruby’s aura to rejuvenate itself, they hadn’t been able to give any sort of timeline. It could be mere hours from now. Or days, weeks, even months…

No matter how long it would take, Weiss had been extremely resistant to the thought of leaving Ruby’s side.  Rejoin the real world? That phrase didn’t even make sense to her. Ruby was her world.

At first she’d flat out rejected the idea and refused to consider it further.  It had only been after her back and knees had begun to ache from the rigid hospital room chair that she’d reluctantly agreed with her teammates’ proposition.  Even so, she had only agreed under the stipulation that at least one of them would be with Ruby at any given moment. They’d devised a schedule of alternating shifts so that one of them was always there - ready, waiting...

Of course whenever Weiss was away from the hospital, she wasn’t living as much as merely waiting for her next shift to start.  It was as if there was a heavy rope tied around her heart that wouldn’t allow her to move too far from Ruby without tightening painfully, growing more and more weighty with time.

It wasn’t living.  It was...surviving.  One day at a time, one day closer to the day when Ruby would wake up.  Because Ruby would wake up.  Weiss knew that as certainly as she knew her own name.  There was no force on Remnant powerful enough to keep Ruby Rose down for long.  

Ruby would wake up.  She had to.  

In the meantime, Weiss was somehow managing to fulfill some semblance of familial obligation, by traveling to the Schnee Dust building in downtown Vale and accomplishing some menial tasks.  Issuing directives, sitting in on meetings, walking through the floors with inspectors...her position was more of a figurehead than anything else, but it gave her the opportunity to keep her mind occupied - which was a temporary reprieve from the constant crushing guilt that only built the longer they waited.

When she was busy, her new position acted as a bit of a reprieve.  The same couldn’t be said when she was being bored to tears by whoever this production manager was.

“The thirty-two page report I’ve compiled for you details the taxation benefits of switching our inventory accountability methods -”

This time her sigh was a little too audible, catching the attention of the manager sitting beside her.  When he turned to her curiously, she gave him a stony expression that forced his gaze quickly back to the presenter at the front of the room.

She was about to do the same when the screen on the table in front of her lit up with a message.  Just like every time before this, seeing Yang’s picture pop up caught every ounce of her focus and threw her heart into a rapid dance.  Without a second thought of manners or professionalism she grabbed the device and opened the message.

Don’t get so excited , she mentally chastised herself while pressing the small envelope icon.  It’s probably just Yang asking if they could get brunch -

‘She’s awake.’

Her lungs stopped collecting air while she stared at the briefest of messages, yet with an abundance of meaning.

Awake?  Ruby was - 

The sound of her chair sliding backward brought all sets of eyes her way, but she didn’t even bother offering an excuse as she flew out of the boardroom and down the hallway towards the bank of elevators.  She would have taken the stairs, but she was on the fiftieth story - the elevator would certainly be faster.

Or so she thought.  But when she rushed into the next one and it proceeded to stop at every conceivable floor on the way down, she was proven wrong.  By the time she burst into the main lobby, her nerves were almost completely fried.  

She needed to get to Ruby now .

Racing through the massive lobby with ceilings three stories high and an outer wall made entirely of glass panels, she brushed past several employees before blowing through one of the exits that was hastily opened for her by one of the security guards.  No sooner had she stepped outside, onto the oversized sidewalk separating the building from the closest street, did her eyes begin scanning for a taxi. Fortunately, there were several waiting nearby - idling near one corner of the building where executives would often head out for meetings or lunch appointments.

Dashing over to the vehicle in front of the line, she pulled open the door and slid quickly into the backseat.  At the same instant, she used her scroll to ping a hastily large sum of money to the driver before he could even turn on the meter.

“Get me to Valley Hospital in fifteen minutes and I’ll double it.”

Seeing the money pop up on his console, the man didn’t waste a second questioning whether or not she was serious.  Instead, he floored it out onto the main road at a speed that was slightly higher than the limit.

Clasping her scroll tightly in one hand as she was whisked through city streets, she mentally scolded herself.  Why had she been so foolish to go to Schnee Dust to begin with? The building was in the heart of downtown, precisely where traffic would snag the most.  On a good day it was merely heavy, but on an ordinary day it was somewhere between unmanageable and horrendous - doubling the time it took to navigate away from the skyscrapers towards the more relaxed suburbs.

‘She’s awake .’

Knowing that Yang probably wouldn’t be checking her scroll anytime soon, Weiss still typed out a hurried ‘on my way’ before staring impatiently out the window at brakelights crawling ahead of them.

Ruby was awake.  Finally awake.

Filled with expectant energy, Weiss found that her knee was bouncing uncontrollably - a habit she’d most assuredly picked up from Ruby over the course of their partnership.  On any other day the external display of nerves would have been something she’d seek to control, but not today. She couldn’t wait to see Ruby again - and see something more than the peaceful slumber Ruby had refused to wake from for weeks.  That happy-go-lucky smile and those shimmering silver eyes were waiting for Weiss - if only the damn traffic would cooperate.

Tapping her fingers across her thigh, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath in an attempt to push down the irritated impatience rapidly expanding in her chest.  There was no reason to grow agitated right now. Ruby was awake. Yang was with her. And Weiss would be there soon.  

Their family would be whole again.

Finally.

Being apart had been wearing down Weiss’ nerves much more than she could ever hope to explain to her teammates.  In front of them, she’d tried to put on a brave face - masking the guilt and blame she’d been wrestling with ever since they’d returned from the forest.  It had been like sandpaper scratching against her sanity, grating it away day-by-day while she waited for a miracle to happen.  

But today her only wish had been granted.

Loud horns made her jolt in surprise, before the vehicle rapidly sped past a slower car in the outer lane.  The driver in the front seat muttered several expletives under his breath before navigating them into blessedly traffic-free streets heading away from downtown.  With the worst of the drive quickly disappearing behind them, they’d be arriving shortly.

A smile snuck its way onto her lips, reflecting in the window back to her.  She was still impatient to see Ruby, but relieved that this whole ordeal was over.  Or almost over. With Ruby’s injuries there would surely be difficult times ahead, but nothing that the two of them couldn’t tackle together.  They were the very best partners, after all. Of all the impossible things they’d accomplished by each other’s side, this would be just another footnote.

Weiss was going to do everything in her power to ensure Ruby recovered quickly - no matter the time or expense it would require.  If they needed to build a mini-hospital in their home, Weiss would see it done. If they needed to spend every waking moment working through some form of rehabilitation, Weiss would be there for every second Ruby must struggle.

While there were still heavy concerns over Ruby’s arm, Weiss was going to seek out the best doctors from across Remnant for second and third opinions on how to reinforce those destroyed ligaments and help Ruby regain full strength.  This wouldn’t be the end of their story. It was just another chapter - albeit one of the more difficult ones they would find.

A sprawling white building brought her focus whipping back to the moment in front of her - sending her pulse fluttering into inconsistency.  

Valley Hospital, in all its sterile grandeur.  From the outside, nothing had changed since the day they’d been dropped off via airship on the roof and rushed through the doors to the emergency rooms, where Ruby - 

Snapping off that memory before it could run any further, Weiss checked her watch before sending the driver another large sum of money and flying out of the vehicle before it had even come to a complete stop.  With wings on her feet, she raced across the sidewalk and flew through the sliding glass doors at the entrance. Greeted by a cold blast of air, she immediately took a left for the staircase - the hospital elevators took far too long and there was no way she possessed the patience to wait for one.  Not when she was so close. Plus, four flights of stairs disappeared like nothing when she used glyphs to fly up them.

The heavy door to the fifth floor burst open and released her into the hallway that led directly to the room that had become like a second home to her.  Every bit of her wanted to break into a run, but her heavily ingrained upbringing prevented her from doing as much in public. Instead, she walked - quickly.

The door was just ahead on the left.  That’s where Ruby would be waiting for her.  In just a few seconds, they would -

An arm suddenly appeared in front of her chest, the unexpected barrier preventing her from moving any further.

“Weiss, wait.”

In her haste, Weiss would have walked right past Blake had she not held out an arm.  Under ordinary circumstances, Weiss would have gladly stopped and waited at her teammate’s request, but these weren’t ordinary circumstances, and she wasn’t willing to wait a second longer.  Hadn’t she already waited long enough?

Ignoring her friend’s request, she brushed Blake’s arm away and tried to continue.  But this action only forced Blake to grab Weiss by the wrist in order to halt her progress.

“Weiss.”

“What?” she snapped at Blake, whose sole identity at that moment was ‘the person preventing her from seeing Ruby.’  The bite in her tone made Weiss immediately flinch with guilt, but thankfully Blake didn’t seem hurt by the unattended impatience.  At least...Weiss’ words hadn’t hurt her...

Something was wrong.  There was barely concealed pain in Blake’s amber eyes, but, much more prevalent than that, there was worry.  Her grip was strong - too tight, really. Weiss could feel forceful fingers digging into the skin on her wrist, as if Blake was scared Weiss would try to rip her arm away.  Which she was very inclined to do, since she was not very amused by the unnecessary imprisonment.

“There’s been a...complication…”

The way Blake’s ears flattened at the word was a warning Weiss actually heeded.  This was serious. Something was wrong .

Excitement turned to dread in under a heartbeat.

“What are you talking about?” she managed to ask, her voice so soft it sounded like she was being rationed of oxygen.

Blake’s eyes briefly moved away before coming back.  The apprehension lingering there made Weiss want to reach out and reassure Blake that whatever was bothering her, it would be alright.  But, what was bothering her was Ruby -

“She’s awake, but...it’s...not what we expected.”

As Blake explained in starts and fits, her grip never loosening, Weiss listened intently.  Every word was chosen carefully, but that did little to diminish their weight as they slammed into her chest.  And while Blake struggled delivering the news, herself on the verge of tears, Weiss felt ice flowing through her veins, sending tremors through her limbs.

It couldn’t be true.

“I don’t...believe you -” The words were nothing more than a whisper, and nothing more than a lie.  Weiss knew that Blake would never lie...not about this...

A man approached them - a man Weiss immediately recognized to be one of Ruby’s lead doctors.  Striding right up to them, he stood straight and let out a loud sigh before finishing what Blake had started.  Gloves off, he explained exactly what was going on.

Traumatic brain injury.  Internal bleeding.

Unforeseen complications.  

Confusion.  Panic. Sedatives.

Amnesia .  

When all of the words had been said and the damage had been done, the doctor and Blake both watched Weiss with varying degrees of sympathy.  But...she didn’t believe what they’d just said. She didn’t want to. She couldn’t. If Ruby had lost a significant period of time, then Ruby might not remember Beacon.  And if Ruby didn’t remember Beacon, that meant she wouldn’t remember…

“I don’t...believe…” Her words disappeared into nothing as her ability to speak was cut off by the vice tightening around her lungs.

It was more than shocked.  It was more than stunned. It was something far beyond any of those terms that Weiss was feeling right now.

“I need to see her,” she finally said, turning towards Ruby’s room regardless of what they’d just told her.  If what they said was true...Weiss needed to see for herself.

Blake hadn’t released Weiss’ arm, but slid her hand down so they could walk hand-in-hand to the glass window that would allow Weiss to see into Ruby’s hospital room.  Blake’s grip was still tight, an ever-present reminder that she would prevent Weiss from trying to go inside.

Slowing to a stop and turning to look through the glass, tears of happiness instantly sprang into Weiss’ eyes.  Ruby was awake. She was finally awake. Silver eyes were moving around the room, blinking, focusing on Yang. Yang was in the middle of saying something - telling a story or joke, it looked like - and Ruby smiled.  It was more of a slight mouth curl than anything, but after weeks of no emotion it was huge.

Most importantly, nothing seemed wrong.  Ruby was right there - Ruby was fine.  The doctors must be wrong.  

Moving closer to the door, Blake’s grip on her hand tightened in warning...but she crept closer still.  That rope around her heart was pulling her in, compelling her to be as close as humanly possible.

Ruby was saying something - again with her lips barely moving.  Yang nodded her head in response before launching into another story or explanation.  It seemed like a normal interaction from the two sisters, minus Ruby hardly being able to move, but…

But from this distance Weiss could clearly see that something was wrong.  Ruby’s eyes were shifting constantly - jumping from Yang to her injured arm to the hospital machines to the bed and back again.  She was anxious about something. More than anxious, she was...she was upset about something. Really upset, but trying hard to hide it.  

An irresistible urge consumed Weiss the instant her mind made the connection.  She needed to be in there - she needed to comfort Ruby and make everything better.  Whatever that entailed, Weiss would do it. She had to do it.  She’d promised... 

“Blake…”  Her tone was pitiful - pleading - in a way that only Ruby and her teammates would ever hear.  She tugged against Blake’s hand, only for Blake to tug back and keep Weiss rooted in place.

“Trust her.”

Trust her...trust Yang…

Weiss did.  Of course she did.  She would trust Yang with her life - with Ruby’s life.  But…

Yang’s eyes found Weiss’ through the window then and, with nothing more than a nearly imperceptible shake of the head, froze Weiss in her tracks.

Maybe Yang and Weiss had started off on the wrong foot, and got into more arguments than most, but over time she’d grown to love Yang like her own sister.  She’d learned to trust that Yang would always try to make the best decision for everyone. Most importantly, Yang understood how Weiss felt about Ruby. Yang understood how badly Weiss missed her.  

So when Yang told her no - when Yang told Weiss that she couldn’t see Ruby yet - she finally realized the gravity of the situation.

And burst into tears.

Immediately wrapping her in a hug, Blake gently guided Weiss away from the window before trying to console her with soft pats on the shoulder.

“It’s ok…” Blake whispered quietly, over and over again, but there was nothing that Blake could say or do that would make Weiss feel any better.

This wasn’t what was supposed to happen.  This wasn’t how their story was supposed to go.  Ruby was supposed to wake up and Weiss was supposed to run into the room and be greeted by a giant smile.  Ruby would say something like ‘Did you miss me that much?’ or ‘Guess who I met in my coma?’ Ruby, even in her most vulnerable state, would find a way to make Weiss laugh - would find a way to wipe away all of the pain and guilt and worry -

Ruby wasn’t supposed to forget .

“It’s going to be ok, Weiss.  We’re going to figure this out…”

With tears still flowing, there was no way she could respond even if she wanted to.  Instead she stood there in the middle of the hallway, face tucked into Blake’s shoulder while she cried.  How long they stood like that, she couldn’t say, but it was until she physically couldn’t shed another tear.  It was only when her sobs quieted that Blake pulled a fraction of an inch away, far enough to look down into Weiss’ eyes while still holding onto her shoulders.

“Do you want me to take you home?”

No.  Weiss had never wanted to leave Ruby’s side to begin with and she certainly didn’t want to now.  But what use would she be here? And now she was such a mess that she needed to pull herself back together before seeing Ruby anyway.  So, nodding her head, she allowed Blake to take her hand once more and lead her back out the way she’d rushed in. There were no wings to be found as her feet thunked heavily on each step on the way down to the lobby, sounding as if her shoes had been filled with lead.  The lobby’s cold air made her shiver and added another layer of trembles that didn’t end even after Blake had led them out into the afternoon sun.

More tears fell on the short drive home, but Weiss tried to hide them from Blake as best as possible.  She could feel Blake sneaking glances towards the passenger seat every few seconds, so she kept her gaze fixed firmly outside the window while she saw nothing but Ruby sitting up in the hospital bed.  

She was awake.  She was awake, and she was scared, and Weiss could do nothing to help.

The two of them didn’t speak a single word until the front door of Weiss’ home slid into view and the vehicle stopped.

“Do you want me to stay?”

“You should probably go back - check on Yang,” Weiss replied tiredly, opening the car door with a great amount of effort.  Without looking back, she could tell that Blake couldn’t decide what to do so she added, “I’ll be fine for now.”

“Ok….we’ll come over tonight.”

“Alright.”

Autopilot guided Weiss up the steps and inside, with exhaustion beginning to creep over her the instant the front door closed behind her.  There were still tears in her eyes, but she almost didn’t have the energy to cry anymore.

This morning when she’d woken up, she never would have believed that this situation could get any worse - yet it just had.

“Ruby…” she whispered towards the floor, head hung in defeat while tears splashed between her shoes.  

All she wanted was for Ruby to be back, for things to return to the way they’d been.  She would give anything, anything , for that to happen.  She wanted the halls to be filled with laughter and the smell of roses.  She wanted to lovingly gripe about having to pick petals out of her dinner.  

“Weiss.”

Her head snapped up at the sound of her name, eyes searching in the direction it had come from.  It was nothing but her mind playing tricks on itself - because there was nothing but the empty living room, lights off with the computer screen glowing unnaturally amongst the darkness.

But sight of the computer got her mind working again.  Walking over, she sat down in front of it and typed in the elaborate, nonsensical “master password” Ruby had come up with.  While waiting for the home screen to appear, she reached out towards the small stuffed bear sitting beside the monitor and gave his stomach a little squeeze.  He was supposed to be lucky - one squeeze of his stomach and a wish would come true. No guarantees that it would be your wish, but someone’s , somewhere .  

When the computer was ready, she focused on the task at hand and did the one thing she knew to do when a situation felt too big for her to handle - she researched.  Over the next few hours, she read everything she could find on memory loss - medical journals, news articles, books…she even connected with a couple of the best doctors and surgeons around the world and strong armed them into giving her a few minutes of their time.  And then she was even lucky enough to find an online community of people who had suffered similar traumas - presenting her the opportunity to read through their experiences in great detail.

In a short amount of time, she was able to become very knowledgeable on the topic.  And, most importantly, she’d begun developing a plan. That’s what she was best at, wasn’t she?  She was the planner - the strategizer.

There were cases, numerous cases, where people regained their memories in whole or in part.  For some it took days, some months, but it happened - that’s what was most important to her.  That’s what she held onto for hope - that this too would be just another blip in Ruby’s recovery.  In the meantime, they needed to behave as if that might not happen and act accordingly.  That would be the hard part, but if they figured out a plan in advance and stuck to it...

By the time she heard the front door unlock, her eyes were burning from staring at the screen for the entire day without pause.  Still, she didn’t turn away from the current article she was reading when she heard Blake and Yang walk into the room behind her.  It was only when someone flopped heavily onto one of the chairs that she swiveled in her seat, armed with her newfound knowledge and determination.

Wary wouldn’t be the right way to describe how Yang looked right now - she was downright exhausted.  The inescapable feeling was rolling off of her in waves, yet that didn’t stop her from giving Weiss a small smile.

“Hey - how’re you doing?”

“I’m fine, but how is…”  Weiss’ words lodged in her throat when an unexpected swell of emotion appeared out of nowhere.  Yang didn’t need Weiss to finish the question though. Leaning back in the chair with a slouch of defeat, Yang lifted both hands and then dropped them onto her thighs.

“She’s...confused.  And scared.”

The honest answer shot straight through Weiss’ heart.  She hated the thought that Ruby was scared…that’s when Weiss needed to be there - to support Ruby and assure her that everything was going to be alright.  Not...this.  

“What does she -” Weiss began to ask, but her voice cracked and she was forced to cough before trying again.  “When - or...how much -”

The question wouldn’t even come out, that’s how afraid she was of the answer - the answer that she already knew.  If it had been good news, Yang would have said so immediately. Instead, Yang opened and closed her mouth before shaking her head and exchanging a glance with Blake.  Running a hand through her hair, Yang sighed and turned back to Weiss.

“She’s...she’s never been to Beacon.”

When Yang’s sorrow-filled eyes met hers, Weiss immediately turned away as the stinging of unshed tears intensified.

“As I thought…” she whispered to herself, sniffling softly before summoning all of her willpower to hold herself together.

It was confirmed then - Beacon was gone.  The years they’d spent together, training and fighting and...it was all gone.  Weiss was gone. She didn’t exist in Ruby’s mind. She might as well have become a ghost.

“She’s close,” Yang quickly added.  “I mean, in her mind I’m about to graduate soon, so…”

The sentence trailed off while Weiss struggled to bring herself back to the course of action she’d spent all afternoon preparing.  If Ruby was scared and confused, it became even more imperative that they figure out how to reintroduce themselves into her life as quickly as possible.  They needed to be there to support her through this transition.  

And hopefully this was only temporary.  Hopefully someone hadn’t just pressed the reset button on the only part of Weiss’ life that she’d enjoyed living.

“Weiss…” Blake said quietly, reaching one hand across from the sofa and lightly touching Weiss’ knee.

Blinking back tears, Weiss focused all of her energy on attempting to remain passive.  The only way she was going to be able to emotionally handle this situation was if she disassociated herself as much as possible.  Just think about the results - the plan of action - and not that little voice in the back of her mind spewing nothing but blame.

“We need to figure out what we want to tell her, in terms of who we are,” she began, standing from her seat so that she could pace in front of her teammates.  “We probably can’t give her too much information, even though she might want us to fill in the gaps. Depending on how receptive she is, she could end up rejecting the past, even if it comes from you.”  She nodded towards Yang, who hesitantly nodded in return.

“That’s kinda what the doctors told me today.  That’s why they said that, um...that maybe we shouldn’t have too many people talking to her right away.  So we don’t...overwhelm her.”

That was Yang’s gentle way of telling Weiss that she wouldn’t be able to see Ruby as much as she wanted, but she’d already assumed as much.  Regardless, she brushed past that knowledge as quickly as possible - not wanting to dwell on the it for too long.

“Right, so only short meetings at first - to show her that she has people who care for her.  We’ll need to decide exactly how we’ll introduce ourselves,” she continued, gesturing towards Blake, who nodded in return.  “Obviously the easiest thing for you is to be Yang’s girlfriend, so you’ll have a built in reason to be around. But for me…”

Weiss couldn’t introduce herself as...as the person she truly was.  That’s what she’d learned from reading stories from past sufferers of brain trauma.  They’d explained how the most jarring interactions had been with people who had supposedly been close to them, but who they couldn’t remember ever meeting.  Merely telling Ruby that they’d been in a relationship would be the equivalent of a stranger approaching her on the street and saying ‘I know you don’t recognize me, but surprise!  We’ve been together for years.’ It could lead to distrust or worse, suspicion.

“I guess I need to stick to the friend label for now…” she concluded, musing mostly to herself.   

It was a non-threatening introduction, or as non-threatening as Weiss could come up with that would still supply a reason to be in Ruby’s life.  She wouldn’t say close friend or best friend, just friend. Hopefully Ruby’s mind would fill in the rest.

The proposed solution made Yang and Blake share one of those looks - one of those secret conversations the two seemed to have more often than not.  When finished, Yang turned back to Weiss with both hands clasped together.

“Are you sure we shouldn’t try to tell her?  I mean, I’m sure she’d believe me. Maybe not at first, but…”

When Weiss shook her head, Yang’s words trailed off.  As much as Weiss wanted to do just that, she couldn’t bear to think of the consequences if Ruby didn’t accept it - or didn’t accept her.  They might only get one chance at this, and the repercussions were far too great for Weiss to accept the riskier - albeit less painful - route.

“I think we can introduce ourselves as friends and see how Ruby feels about it,” Blake stated calmly.  “If she seems overwhelmed, we’ll take it nice and slow. If not, we could test the water with some more details.”

Yang caught Weiss’ gaze then, locking eyes in that serious way she had on only the rarest of occasions.

“It’s your call, Weiss.  I’ll tell her whatever you want me to.”

There were so many different ways that this situation could play out.  How on Remnant was Weiss supposed to analyze them all in less than a day?  It was impossible. It was an impossible problem to solve. She just needed to pick a path, then hope and pray that it was the right one.  Her entire life and happiness depended upon it.

“Friends - we’re friends,” she decided with a resolute nod that Yang mimicked.  “If...anything changes...we’ll reevaluate.”

This time Blake nodded as well, all of them in agreement as to what they were going to do next.  As with any plan they adhered to nowadays, there was always the caveat of ‘playing it by ear,’ as Yang so fondly put it.  In this situation, Weiss hoped that playing it by ear meant that the situation was progressing far better than they were currently imagining.  Because right now her mind was filled with the worst outcomes possible.

But first...they needed to set the plan in action, on a path that had just become far more difficult than Weiss had prepared herself for.

Taking a deep breath, she looked resolutely towards Yang.

“We can go see her tomorrow morning?”

“I’ll meet you there first thing,” Yang replied, right before a long yawn slipped out.  Covering her mouth with one hand, she blinked drowsily after it had passed.

“You should probably get some rest now,” Weiss commented, standing up so that her teammates would follow her lead.  “It’s been a...rough...day.” 

Pushing herself to her feet, Yang then leaned backwards to stretch her back with an audible crack.  “You can say that again,” she mumbled sleepily before giving Weiss a small, lopsided grin.

“Do you want us to stay over?” Blake offered as she stood and placed one hand on Yang’s shoulder in a subtle display of support.  Both of them waited for an answer - postures already saying exactly how willing they were to stay another night.

Through everything, Weiss had had her teammates’ undying support.  They’d turned their schedules upside down in order to be there by her side.  They’d sacrificed their time and energy to help Weiss survive. A part of her felt guilty for demanding so much of their attention when they had their own lives and relationship they’d surely like to get back to.  But they were selfless in giving their time to Weiss and, most of the time, she was greedy in accepting it.

“It’s alright,” she answered this time, adding a shake of her head and a forced smile.  “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Are you sure?” Blake asked again, giving Weiss a second opportunity to say yes.  “Are you going to be ok?”

“I’ll be -”

‘Fine’ was on the tip of her tongue, but that wasn’t an honest answer and they would know it.  How could she be fine right now? Her life had already been turned upside down and now a completely unexpected obstacle had been thrown into the mix.

“I think I’ll be alright,” she answered instead, biting down on her bottom lip when it quivered against her will.

Stepping closer, Yang pulled Weiss into a warm embrace.  It wasn’t too tight to be uncomfortable, but firm enough to make her feel safe and secure.  Through the warmth, Weiss could feel Yang trying to lend some of her own strength, even though she must be nearly depleted by now.  But that was just the way Yang was...willing to drain every last drop of energy if it meant helping her family.  

More tears found their way into Weiss’ eyes while she gladly accepted everything Yang was able to give.

“You’ll have her back before you know it,” Yang whispered before pulling away and rustling Weiss’ hair ever so slightly.  Weiss pretended to pout about her disheveled hair while straightening it back into place, earning a smile from Yang. The gesture had stopped bothering her years ago - when she’d finally been wise enough to understand it was simply Yang’s way of treating her like a sister.

When Yang backed away, Blake was next giving Weiss a hug - this one quicker than Yang’s but not lacking in emotion.  Squeezing Weiss’ shoulders before letting go, Blake accepted Yang’s hand as the three of them slowly walked into the entryway and back to the front door.

“Try to get some sleep,” Blake suggested before opening the door, her amber eyes imploring Weiss to heed the advice as she pulled the door closed behind them.

“I’ll try…” Weiss whispered in the emptiness. 

After staring at the door for several moments, she turned back to the still house.  

‘Deafening silence.’  The oxymoron applied perfectly to this current moment - where Ruby’s absence was shouted from the walls, the floors, the empty rooms and halls, at a pitch that only Weiss was able to pick up.  

Internally, she already knew that she wasn’t going to be able to sleep tonight.  Not that she’d been sleeping the past few weeks - what with the nightmares she’d been having incessantly since the hunt.  Every time she laid down in bed and shut her eyes, she could see the Death Stalkers. She could hear the shouting, the yelling.  She could feel the paralyzing panic and dread - 

So she could go upstairs and go through the motions of going to bed, only to lay awake for several hours, or she could save herself the wasted effort and give up on the idea of sleep right now.  If anything, not being able to sleep could work to her advantage today. Insomnia would give her an entire night to solidify exactly what she wanted say in the morning - when she would meet Ruby for the ‘first’ time.

Turning away from the staircase leading up to the second level, she walked back into the living room and sat down at the desk.  Switching on the television behind her to a random channel in order to provide background noise, she then pulled out a pen and pad of paper from the drawers and began writing.

And writing.  And re-writing.  And giving up before writing again.

Ruby, my name is Weiss.  I’m...one of your friends.

Ruby, we’ve been friends for quite some time - I’m so glad you’re finally up.

Ruby...I’m sorry.

What seemed like a simple introduction turned out to be anything but.  Her mind raced through conversation trees, trying to determine what Ruby’s response might be to each introductory line.  What would Weiss say after that? And then after that?

With Ruby, the possibilities were endless on a good day.  Not knowing exactly what mindset this particular version of Ruby might be in, Weiss couldn’t even begin to make an educated guess as to where the conversation might go.  And that scared her - the idea of venturing into the unknown filled her with dread. 

Many rough drafts and unexpected naps at the desk later, she was yawning and pulling herself back together in preparation for the trip back to the hospital.  It had been quite some time since she’d felt so run down...mentally and physically unraveling at the seams...but she needed to hold herself together for a little while longer.  Just a little longer and things would start to get better...

Ordinarily, she wouldn’t have spent any effort thinking about what to wear, but if she was going to be meeting Ruby for the first time she wanted to make a good impression.  Not just a good impression though - a great impression.  After trying on nearly every article of clothing in their closet, Weiss had finally decided upon an outfit and made her way to the hospital.  She did make one small detour - but only to Ruby’s favorite bakery in order to pick up a box of her favorite cookies.  

Armed with both her scripted introduction and the cookies, Weiss made her way to the hospital with more determination and anxiety than she’d felt in a long time.  The cold air in the lobby brought goosebumps to her arms as she walked to the elevator and patiently waited for the next one. It was a stall tactic, but it worked all the same - the elevator took several minutes to arrive and several more to stop at each floor on the way to the fifth.

By the time she was stepping out onto Ruby’s floor, Weiss’ heart pounding like a jackhammer in her chest.  Determination, anxiety, and edginess. A part of her could practically feel Ruby’s nearby presence calling out - trying to lure her back into Ruby’s magnetic orbit.

Somehow, Weiss managed to resist that urge and instead stopped by the nurse’s station in the middle of the hall to check-in like they were required to do.  Visiting hours hadn’t officially begun yet, not that that had ever stopped Weiss before, but today she was going to play by the rules.

Of course, there weren’t even any nurses around at the moment to check her in, leaving her to tap the countertop while apprehension settled in.  Yang and Blake weren’t here yet, so Weiss would have to wait a little longer anyway. But that didn’t mean she wanted to wait longer than necessary once her teammates did arrive.

Losing her patience, she quickly decided that she would go find a nurse somewhere down the hall.  Spinning on one heel to stomp away, she practically walked right into a patient in a wheelchair being guided behind her at that moment. 

“Excuse -”

She’d begun to say ‘excuse me’ on instinct, but she only got the ‘excuse’ part out before the ‘me’ stuck in her throat - lodged there by the purest silver she had ever known.

Of course.  If Ruby was awake, it would be next to impossible to keep her confined to a bed.  Even if she could hardly walk, she would insist upon moving around. Fortunately, rather than risk Ruby falling and hurting herself, a nurse was pushing her in a wheelchair down the hall.

So there she was.  

“That’s...ok,” Ruby replied with a soft slur, giving Weiss a hint of a smile before turning away - the slight motion looking quite laborious.  “Cafeteria again?” The nurse gave Weiss a longer look, knowing by now who she was, before smiling when Ruby tried to turn partially around to see why the response was so delayed.

“Just one more time - other patients will want breakfast too, you know.”

Ruby let out a quiet giggle while the nurse pushed the chair forward, giving Weiss a sympathetic look while they passed.  Her own feet remained cemented to the hospital floor while her eyes followed the pair towards the elevator - silently begging Ruby to look back.  To turn around. To show some semblance of recognition.

But it didn’t happen.  And when the elevator doors closed a strange and overwhelming feeling tightened around her heart - a combination of heart wrenching pain and...utter despair.

Nothing could have prepared her for that moment.  No amount of planning or rehearsing what she was going to say.  No amount of strategizing. No amount of mental walkthroughs could have prepared her for the complete lack of recognition.

Ruby didn’t know Weiss from any random person in the hall.

Hands trembling, she clasped them together while turning back to the nurses’ station and lowering her gaze.  It was growing difficult to control her emotions - something she’d never struggled with before a few weeks ago.  

Somewhere, buried deep within her mind, she’d still foolishly believed that Ruby would recognize her the moment they laid eyes upon one another - that this whole nightmare would be nothing more than an overreaction.  That’s what soulmates were supposed to do, right? That’s what love at first sight meant?

But there had been nothing - absolutely nothing - no residual amount of emotion left for her in those silver eyes.

The longer she stood there, the harder it became to breathe.  Something was wrong - broken - but she knew it could only be her.  She’d been so determined and yet completely oblivious to what she was actually walking into.  She’d analyzed the situation, broken it down into manageable pieces and come up with a way to deal with every possible scenario.  She’d thought of back-up plans to back-up plans - conversation trees so extensive that Ruby could strike up a conversation on bananas and Weiss would’ve be prepared for it.

But she’d fallen guilty to the same flaw that had plagued her even during school.  It was the reason why she hadn’t been fit to be a team leader at Beacon, and the reason why sometimes even her most well-thought out plans failed.  It was a limit on her intelligence and a weakness of her character.

She’d planned and planned and planned, but she’d never factored in one of the most important aspects of any strategy - the human element.  In this case, herself.

She needed to be strong enough to deal with Ruby not recognizing her.  She needed to have the willpower to make it through this challenge.  She needed to overcome the pain and figure out a way to piece them back together.  But she couldn’t. She wasn’t that strong.

You never realize how much you depend upon another person until they’re gone.  All that she was...all that she’d become was a reflection of how Ruby looked at her.  Ruby made her a better person. Ruby brought out the best in her.

Now Ruby was gone.  And it was Weiss’ fault.

Tears filled her eyes and turned the tile floor into a swimming, shimmering mess of light while her mind turned against her.  

Ruby was gone.  The life that they’d shared was over.  It didn’t matter that Ruby was still alive and recovering.  That wasn’t the Ruby she knew - that wasn’t the Ruby who lit up the night sky for her.  That wasn’t the Ruby who always smiled the instant they saw each other. 

Struggling to breathe, Weiss sucked in a breath of air that sounded like a strangled gasp.  The exhale broke in the middle with a sob. Never in her life had she felt so weak - so broken.  There was a piece of her shattered mind - the one she’d been fighting to ignore all this time - that suddenly grew unbearably loud, ripping control from rationality.

This was all her fault.   She hadn’t been fast enough, or smart enough, or capable enough.  She’d never deserved Ruby - this was proof of that.  She’d never deserved Ruby.   So the world had taken Ruby away from her.  

Anguish overwhelmed her, turning her feet towards the stairs and setting her off at a run.  The box of cookies she’d brought as a gift found their way into the garbage can near the stairs, right before she flew down them and out the sliding hospital doors.  She was sitting in the nearest taxi before her brain had even caught up to what she was doing.

“Nearest airship station.”

Her father had always told her that their family wasn’t lucky.  “Don’t count on luck, little girl,” he would say. “Luck is for the unfortunate.  We work for our fortune.” That’s why all that she’d ever accomplished she could only attribute to hard work.  She’d never found a moment where she’d stopped and thought, “Wow, I’m lucky.” Until the day Ruby had said three little words... 

How else could Weiss believe that someone so remarkable had fallen for someone so...flawed?  She knew that she wasn’t easy to get along with, or spend time around. She was a perfectionist to a tediously exhausting level.  She could be boring, spoiled, entitled, quick to cast blame and slow to accept criticism.

It had been a miracle the first time...she’d been lucky the first time...how could it possibly happen again?

If there were rational arguments, she wasn’t going to hear any of them.  All she could think about was the way Ruby had looked at her - or rather, looked through her as if there was nothing differentiating Weiss from the next poor bystander in the hallway.  As if Weiss was no one special...confirming every fear and insecurity she’d ever held about herself.

Within fifteen minutes, she was standing at the landing pad about to board the next airship.  She’d already sent a message to Winter, who would send a car to pick her up in Atlas. Her hands refused to quit shaking, so she hid them in her pockets away from view while watching the giant ship slowly dock and release its passengers.  

She couldn’t say that she’d thought through this decision - other than knowing that she needed to get away from here.  She needed to get away from silver eyes glancing over her like she was nothing. She needed to get away from the twisting pain of guilt knifing through her heart.

Stepping onto the airship as soon as it was time to board, she made her way quickly to the first class cabin and immediately fell into a more secluded seat by the window.  It was quiet in this section of the ship - quiet enough to offer some semblance of privacy to deal with her emotions.

As she buckled herself in, her scroll buzzed with an incoming message.  Pulling it out of her bag and looking down, she found Yang’s picture grinning up at her.  The text was simple enough - “Where are you?”

Where was she?

She was lost.  Just like Ruby’s memories.  

Instead of responding, she turned the device off and slipped it into the pocket of her seat.  It was only a few minutes later that a soft jolt swept through the ship when it disembarked from the platform and soared high into the air.  Making the mistake of glancing out the window, she immediately set the glass to its most opaque setting so that she wouldn’t be able to see the skyscrapers of Vale falling away - so that she wouldn’t have to watch as her home disappeared from view.

When her lip quivered, she bit down on it hard enough to feel pain.  Tilting her head towards the ceiling, she closed her eyes and willed the tears to return from where they’d come, and to take with them the giant sobs that wanted to wrench through her.

‘Don’t cry,’ she chastised herself, struggling against the feeling that was growing more and more overwhelming with each passing second.  

But it wasn’t her place to be heartbroken over someone she’d never deserved in the first place.

Seeing Ruby’s face flash across her mind, the tears instantly began to fall.  Burying her face in both hands while her shoulders shook with emotion, Weiss tried to keep her sobs quiet while the airship carried her towards her new life.

Chapter Text

Hands steady, eyes unblinking, she hardly allowed herself to breathe while gently piecing together two tiny wires.  They were very, very important and had to be justttt riiiight…

Perfect!

Twisting them together with a sigh of relief, she pushed the magnifying glass away from her, set the piece down on the workbench, and rubbed at her tired eyes.  Ever since Blake had come up with the idea to create a mechanized glove, Ruby had poured all of her time and energy into making that idea into a reality. It meant less sleep and more staring at tiny wires and circuits, but it’d be worth it in the end.  

If it worked.  If it didn’t, then this was just a huge waste of time!

The mechanics behind it were actually simpler than she’d expected them to be - and there were working versions already available that she loosely based her own design on.  It would’ve been far easier to just buy one of those, but the prices were way too high for her to ever feel comfortable asking Yang for the money.  Plus, making something herself meant that she’d know exactly how to fix it if it broke, or how to upgrade it if the time ever came.  Yang had been nice enough to get Ruby the materials she needed, which were pretty cheap, and the rest was all labor, learning, and pricking herself constantly with loose wires.

Everything was coming together though!  With all of its mechanical elements exposed, it kind of looked like a skeleton hand - but it was functional.  Definitely not pretty, but working. She hoped. Because if it was working, like she was almost positively sure that it was, then she was one step closer to reaching her long-held dream of becoming a huntress.

When she’d been in full recovery mode, she’d needed a goal to focus on - something to get her out of bed and working on her therapy.  Becoming a huntress was that goal. Being courageous, fighting for those who couldn’t defend themselves, conquering fears...all those things drew her in.  They gave her direction and determination.  

But more than that, and the awesome weapons and outfits, she wanted to recapture just one thing from her past.  Just one! That would be enough.  She was ok with being a different person now.  She was who she was, after all. And that was fine, but she wanted just a little piece of what had been.

If her dang ring wouldn’t give her any hints about her past, then becoming a huntress would be a good second choice.  She just needed her dumb hand to cooperate first. And since it wasn’t going to do that on its own, she’d find a way around it!

Examining the glove lying on the workbench in front of her, she tapped a pencil against her lip while figuring out what to do next.  Right now, it looked like a robot with the uncovered wires, metal connections, and chips dotting all over the place, but in its finished form it should be super awesome-looking.  It was kind of like a weapon, after all! And weapons needed to be cool and fearsome. Not that Grimm really cared if a weapon had a perfectly matched color palette or an expertly painted design, but that stuff mattered to her!

There was a special metal plating she could use that would conform easily to the shape of the glove and solidify like steel.  That’d be easy enough to do and not too expensive. Then the only question was what type of design she wanted to go with…

Maybe orange with black tiger stripes?  That’d look dangerous and...no.

Something like a solid black might work best.  Solid. Plain.  

Too plain.  And boring.

Oh!  Flames!  Adding flames to anything instantly made it ten times cooler.  Or warmer .  Ah, the likelihood of Yang’s horrible jokes would be high with that one, so no.

Tapping the pencil and going through every cool pattern she could think of, along with quite a few un-cool ones, she eventually realized that she was squishing Mr. Red in her left hand at the same time.  It was such a habit by now that she hadn’t even realized she was doing it. Holding the little red stress ball up to eye level, she poked it gently with the tip of the pencil.

“Guess I won’t be needing you anymore, Mr. Red,” she mused, setting him down on the workbench.  Narrowing her eyes, she poked Mr. Red in the side one more time as an idea burst into her mind.  

“But I can make my new glove red - just like you!”

Plain, but not boring.  And better yet…

“Crescent Rose will be very happy…” she muttered as she wrote the idea down on a notepad covered in various scribbles and lists of things she wanted to do.  Sketching a rough hand, she then added accent lines and color blocks.  

The top could be primarily red with patches of black.  And the palm of the glove could be black...with red lines tracing some of the circuitry underneath.

Maybe she was a bit of a nerd, but it was her glove!  There was this really nice glossy paint she’d seen at the parts store the other day that would work perfectly.  She needed the same shade as Crescent Rose, obviously, because if her glove and weapon didn’t match perfectly, she’d probably die.

Not literally, but it would really, really suck to have slightly different colors of red!  

Satisfied with design idea number one of probably many, she tossed the pencil down and picked up the glove.  Pulling it over her hand, she made sure to be extra careful not to touch any of the exposed wires with her bare skin.  She’d already shocked herself more than a few times (one time had left her hand tingling for a couple hours afterward...thankfully it had gone away before she’d had to tell Yang).

As soon as the glove was fitted correctly, several tiny lights flickered to life in the mechanics.  They sensed the heat and pulse of her hand and powered up without the use of a button or switch. Wasn’t that cool?  Who wanted to mess with on/off switches anymore?

With power supplied to the circuit, the material tightened around her fingers, becoming more form-fitting than a traditional glove - more like an extra layer of skin than an article of clothing.  The feeling was unfamiliar but also really cool. It made her feel more powerful in a way. If this was how Yang felt...well, no wonder she had an ego!

Chuckling to herself, Ruby silently hoped that Yang hadn’t intercepted that thought through the airwaves in their home.  Ruby didn’t actually think that, but there was definitely a certain amount of confidence in a metal-aided grip.  It was like...she could totally squish a spider with her hand right now and not even blink. And she would never do that with a bare hand.

Holding the glove in front of her, she checked each and every connection to make sure it was working properly.  And then she checked a second time. If there was one thing she was extra careful with, it was working with weapons.  Yang always teased Ruby about her meticulousness - ‘Why can’t you be that careful with the dishes?’ Yang would whine. But if Ruby accidentally dropped a dish, it wasn’t going to malfunction and squish her hand into a piece of paper.  Or misfire and blow a crater in the side of the house.  

...if dishes could do that, she’d be much more careful with them.

Once satisfied that everything was set up and functioning correctly, she very, very carefully turned her hand and wrapped it around a short metal rod she’d set out just for this purpose.  No way was she putting Crescent Rose in danger for a test run!

Placing gloved fingers over the rod, she slowly curled her fingers.  There was hardly any resistance from the glove, which allowed her to bend and wiggle her fingers freely.  With her hand firmly curled, she lifted the piece of metal into the air.

No big deal, right?  With her regular hand she could easily pick up a small pipe, but she was starting to get excited - she could feel it in the way her heartbeat was increasing and her knee was jittering uncontrollably.  Because this wasn’t just her hand picking up the piece of metal - it was the glove she’d built and rebuilt nearly a hundred times in the past few days.  And the glove was responding to her movements exactly how she’d meant it to. It reacted to the movement of her own fingers so quickly that she couldn’t even tell if there was a delay.

This was totally going to work!

Now she needed to put it to the test.  Wrapping her good hand around the other end of the pipe, she tugged.  

Nothing.  The metal didn’t budge one bit, and she hardly felt any strain in her left hand.

Grinning, she pulled even harder.  Playing a strange game of tug-of-war with herself, she struggled with all her might to pull the rod free with her stronger right hand.  For practical purposes, she’d already done this several times wearing no glove and her right hand always won. But not this time.

Huffing from the effort, she finally released her grip and nodded with satisfaction when the glove immediately loosened.  Turning the metal rod around, she grinned at what she was going to call a big success.  

It worked!  It really worked!  At least enough to allow her weakened hand to hold its own.  And that was really all she needed.

Now for the real test!

Placing the rod in her right hand, she squeezed as tight as possible before wrapping her gloved hand around the other end and yanking as hard as she could.  The pipe came free so unexpectedly that she loosened her grip in surprise and sent it flying across the garage. She cringed when the metal rod flew into the ceiling with a loud clank, before ricocheting off and hitting something else that made a very distinctive glass-breaking noise.  With a grimace frozen on her face, she listened intently for the sound of anyone rushing out to inspect her most recent accident.  

After a few seconds of silence, she breathed a sigh of relief.  At least no one had heard that, or most likely, Blake had heard it but already deemed it too innocent to investigate.  

Briefly glancing in the direction the pipe had flown, she shrugged before racing out of the garage with the glove still on her hand.  Blake and Yang were in the living room for the evening and Ruby was eager to show someone the progress she’d made.  

“Look!” she called out as soon as she careened into the main room of the house, finding both of her roommates curled up on the sofa watching a movie.  Since Blake had paused the movie the moment the garage door opened, Ruby wasted no time jumping in front of them and holding up her left hand.

“Look!” she repeated.  “It works!!”

Curling and uncurling her fingers, she grinned at her sister while the glove responded in kind.

“No way!  That’s great, Ruby!” 

Nodding her head, she looked down at the glove.  “Yeah! I finally got the calibration right. See, this transmitter here wasn’t communicating with the receiver in the fingers, so I moved it closer, which meant I had to relocate the processor and reset all the connections…”

Yang’s eyes glossed over while Ruby was speaking, so she quit the technical mumbo-jumbo and settled for a demonstration.  Grabbing a magazine off of the pile on the coffee table, she gripped it firmly in her left hand and held it out to Yang.

“Here, try to take it away!”

Seeing the greedy look in her sister’s eyes, she immediately jerked the magazine back and offered it to Blake instead, giving Yang a look that said she knew exactly what her sister had been about to do.  Blake would be a much better test for this than Yang’s super strength. Plus, Blake wouldn’t pull as hard as possible just to prove who was stronger.  It was a test, not a competition!

Reaching up, Blake grabbed onto the end of the magazine with both hands and tugged - gently at first, before pulling down with much more effort.  Ruby planted her feet to keep herself from sliding forward, but her hand was never in any danger of letting go. In fact, with just one hand she was winning a tug-of-war where Blake was using both hands!

“See??” she said while Blake repositioned her hands, which had been slipping on the glossy cover.  “It’s actually better than a regular hand because -”

A loud ripping sound filled the air - right before the resistance she’d been pulling against completely disappeared, sending her crashing backwards into the coffee table.  It broke when she landed on it, of course, sending her to the floor in a pile of magazines and broken wood.

The next sound Ruby heard was laughter - lots of it.

“Owww…” she mumbled, sitting up and finding both Blake and Yang crumbling with giggles.

“Are you ok?” Blake managed to gasp.  Yang couldn’t even get out any words to ask if Ruby was ok!

“I’m fineee,” she whined, pushing herself to her feet while trying not to slip on the pile of magazines littering the floor.  Then she realized that her left hand was still holding onto something. She held up the half of a magazine triumphantly.

“Aha!  I never dropped it, see??” she exclaimed.  Still laughing, Blake held up the other half of the magazine while Yang very audibly gasped.

“You tore Gav-y in half!!” 

Ruby didn’t get a chance to look at the cover before Yang yanked it easily from her grasp and held it up to see.  Laughing even harder, Blake threw the other half into Yang’s lap.

“The table is crushed, but the magazine is the real loss,” Blake giggled at the look of dismay on Yang’s face.  

Turning around, Ruby surveyed the damage she’d done to the table.  Crushed was a good word for it, or flattened, pulverized, broken beyond repair...

“We can always get a new table, but this -” Yang shoved the ripped picture out for them to see.  “ This can never be replaced!”

When Ruby and Blake laughed at the overreaction, Yang finally broke into an easygoing smile and tossed the magazine halves onto the side of the sofa.

“But that’s really cool, Ruby.  Definitely works, but is it always gonna look so...skeleton-y?” Yang pointed to the exposed wires.

“Oh, no.  I need to finish the plating next - shouldn’t take too long though!”  Pulling at the tip of each fingertip before carefully removing the glove, Ruby held it by the very edge like a piece of dirty laundry.  The wires, remember? That little thing called electrocution? She’d already forgotten that slightly important fact a few too many times...

“I’ll pick those up,” she said, pointing to the mess on the ground before racing back to the garage.  

One of the first things she’d had to do when starting this project was build a special stand that the glove could go on while she was working on it.  It wasn’t much more than small pieces of wood stuck together with wires that looked vaguely like a hand, but it served its purpose admirably.  

Blake had offered to steal a hand off one of those mannequin things from the department stores, but Ruby hadn’t been entirely sure if that was a joke or not...so she’d built her own!

Fitting the glove over the stand, situating each finger just perfectly, she then made sure everything in her work area was turned off before heading back into the house for the night.  She would work more if she could, but she needed to get that plating next - and the paint too!

Hopping back into the living room, Ruby found that Yang and Blake hadn’t moved from the sofa, but also hadn’t resumed their movie.  Yang was whispering something into Blake’s ear, but pulled away as soon as Ruby jogged around the sofa to start cleaning up the mess she’d made.  When she noticed Blake and Yang moving to help, she waved at them to sit back down.

“Don’t worry, I got it!” she said before turning back to her task.  It was her mess, after all. Only fair that she be the one to clean it up.

When the two fell back into their seats, Yang wrapped one arm behind Blake’s back and began gently rubbing Blake’s cat ears - which Blake didn’t let anyone but Yang do.  Ruby had always wanted to though, because they looked so fuzzy and soft!  But it made sense. They seemed very private and not something people should just go around grabbing.  Like if someone were to touch Ruby’s boots. She didn’t know if she’d like someone touching her boots. They were very personal to her.  Her feet went in them.

“How long until you’re ready to use it?” Yang asked, as Ruby made another stack of dumb fashion magazines off to the side of the room.

“Pretty soon!  A few days, maybe?”

Plating, painting, final calibration and tests.  This was the home stretch, for sure. Then the fun part could begin - where she tried to figure out how to use her newest creation in combination with Crescent Rose.  Theoretically it should be easy, but a lot of things were easy in theory.  Math, cooking, gravity...

Just then, there was a soft knocking at the door - a sound that was so foreign Ruby didn’t even know what it was at first.  It was only when Yang giggled that Ruby knew she wasn’t hearing things and someone had just knocked on the door.

“Looks like someone missed an intruder,” Yang teased Blake while Ruby abandoned the pile of magazines and skipped over to the front door.  Throwing it open, she discovered the best part of the night.

“Weiss!” she exclaimed, hardly able to conceal her excitement at finding Weiss standing outside.  “Come in!”

Waving the girl inside, Ruby let Weiss walk through the door before closing it and racing around to stand in front of her.

“What’re you doing here?”

It was an unexpected, but pleasant surprise!  

“I thought it was a rather nice night out...and that maybe you’d like to go for a walk with me?”

The invitation was hesitant, but Ruby still grinned.  She’d gladly go with Weiss just about anywhere! Except into a volcano or something, but this was exactly what Ruby had secretly hoped for when she’d invited Weiss to come over anytime.  Anytime, as in whenever. Anytime, as in right now!

“I’d love to!”

Hearing a slightly disgruntled grumble from the living room, Ruby’s grin fell a bit in confusion.  Turning away from Weiss, she watched Yang abruptly stand from the sofa and brush past with a shake of her head.  Ruby’s eyes trailed her sister down the hallway before giving Blake a look of concern. After a soft sigh, Blake stood to follow.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll talk to her,” she whispered, squeezing Ruby’s elbow reassuringly before giving Weiss a smile and nod.  “You two have fun,” she said a little louder before exiting.

Nodding, Ruby turned back to find Weiss’ brow was furrowed in thought, her eyes trained down the hallway.  Yeah, maybe that wasn’t the best way to start the night, but Yang had promised!  If it wasn’t ok for Weiss to be around, she would say so.  Until then, she was just being a big ol’ grump. 

“Don’t worry about her,” Ruby said, nudging Weiss’ shoulder in an attempt to be reassuring.  “She’s just upset cuz Blake and I tore Gavin in half.”

When Ruby held up the destroyed magazine as evidence, Weiss looked a tad confused.

“Why would you do that?” she asked before her blue eyes flickered to the living room.  “And what happened to the table?”

Chuckling at the shocked question, Ruby scratched the back of her head in embarrassment.

“We, uh, had a bit of an accident.  Turns out the table wasn’t built strong enough to support a human being!  Who might’ve...fallen on top of it…”

Grinning sheepishly, Ruby’s explanation drew a far more thoughtful expression from Weiss.

“Are you alright?”

“Hey!  What makes you think it was me?” Ruby whined, finally succeeding in making Weiss smile.

“It seems like something that might happen to you.”

“It did!” Ruby replied, before hopping over to the hall closet to find a coat.  “I’m totally fine though! And I’ll clean up the rest later - wanna go?”

Getting a nod in response, she opened the front door and waited for Weiss to walk out first.  That was the polite thing to do, right? As soon as they were outside, Ruby realized that it was really nice out!  Kinda chilly, but perfect with a coat, and with a nice wind that was making the leaves of the trees in their neighborhood rustle soothingly.

Picking a direction, towards a small park not too far away, they set off together - their soft footsteps on the sidewalk adding to the sound of the leaves and wind.  For a few moments, it was silent between the two of them. Although not nearly as uncomfortable as usual, Ruby still felt the need to break it.

“Soo….did you have a good day?” she asked, turning to the side to look at Weiss.

“It was...I guess I could say it was good.  How was yours?”

“Mine was great!” she immediately answered, adding a little hop for emphasis.  “I’m almost finished with this big project I’ve been working on. And Yang made me pancakes for breakfast!”

When Weiss turned towards Ruby for a second, it was with sad eyes.  The glance quickly moved away - back to the sidewalk while they walked onward - but it was enough for Ruby to feel some of the grief Weiss had just displayed.

“She’s a great sister…” Weiss replied in a soft voice.  “And, if I remember correctly, she makes excellent pancakes.”

It sounded like Weiss was already moving on from that blip of sadness, but Ruby thought this might be the perfect place to inject some positive vibes - Encouragement 101!  Or Don’t Give Up Trying to Be Friends Again 101!

When Ruby held out one arm, Weiss bumped into it, stopped walking and turned towards Ruby with a puzzled expression.  

“She can’t stay mad forever, you know.  You’ll be best friends again before you know it!”

Weiss deflected the encouragement with a small smile and solemn shake of her head.

“Things won’t ever be the same though.”

“But things never stay the same!” Ruby immediately replied.  Her mind was scrambling to think of something else to say - something that would break through Weiss’ superior barriers.  “Things are always changing! The only thing that never changes is...that things are always changing…” she looked at Weiss to see if she was making a dent in the sadness.  Receiving a half-smile, she felt her spirits lift like she’d just won one of those rigged carnival games.

“From wherever you are, you just try to make things better,” she mused, swinging her arms as they continued their stroll.  “Even when we feel lost, we always have a direction - towards whatever’s better! As long as you keep working towards that, you’ll never lose your way.”  

At the end of her rambling, Ruby nodded.  It sounded pretty profound to her. Although she couldn’t quite remember everything she’d just said…

“And what is ‘better’ for you?”

The question made her pause.  What was better to her?

“I want to be...stronger, I guess.  Better at fighting so that I can protect people like Yang and Blake do.  Oh, and maybe better at talking to people!”

That last sentence actually made Weiss grin - a weird kind of half grin, half pleased smirk Ruby had never seen before.  But she liked it - it was really cute.

“You’re better at that than you think.”

“Really??” Ruby exclaimed, not expecting that response in a hundred thousand years.  “I’ve always been super awkward. I don’t know what to say or when to say it, so I just kinda...spew out random words.”

Weiss nodded.  “It’s part of your charm.”

The term made Ruby giggle automatically.  Weiss thought she was charming .  Like a prince!  Or a really well-dressed cat.

Reaching the intersection that separated them from the park, Ruby looked both ways down the dimly lit street before crossing to the grass on the other side.  She didn’t come to the park during the day because there were always a lot of kids around, but at night after the sun went down it was usually empty. The lack of light gave everything a creepy air, with the park fixtures rising out of the ground like playground skeletons.  The teeter totter sat unused, the jungle gym all jungle and no gym, and the swings...the swings were moving! Oh god, why were they - 

The wind.  Of course. It was breezy.  The wind was moving the swings, making the chains sway lightly back and forth under their own free will.  Mystery solved! But...they were going to walk towards the other side of the park just to be safe. And they should probably stick a little closer together…

Suddenly realizing that she was all alone, Ruby spun around (super calmly) and noticed that Weiss had stopped walking several paces back.

“Weiss?”

Walking back, Ruby tilted her head and looked down into light blue eyes.

“I feel like I’ve been here before…” Weiss muttered, gaze flashing rapidly around the area.  “A long time ago…”

Confused, Ruby looked around the park once more.  There was nothing that seemed particularly unique other than the ghost swings and, now, Weiss’ kinda eerie muttering.

“Maybe it was a different park?” Ruby offered helpfully.  “I’m sure they all look about the same.”  

Glancing around for a few more seconds, Weiss finally nodded and moved forward.  

“You’re right.  Probably just a similar one.”

Grinning now that they were on their way again, Ruby noticed that even though the wind had died down, Weiss’ hands were trembling.

“Do you want my jacket?” Ruby gestured towards Weiss’ hands, right before they were stuffed into pockets and out of view.

“No, that’s alright.  It’s not too cold yet.”

“Ok, but if you do get cold -”  Ruby’s offer went uncompleted when Weiss turned to her with a smile.

“I’ll make sure to let you know.”

Satisfied with that answer, Ruby stuck her hands in her own pockets while they continued their walk.  There was a trail looping around the entire perimeter of the park that they were currently using, with the playground in the center.  The entire area was partially lit by a few lamp posts placed here and there, but mostly by the moon up above.  

Their pace was leisurely, without a destination or timeline.  It was Ruby’s least favorite way to walk, but with Weiss it was actually pretty enjoyable.

“So...what’s this big project you’re working on?” Weiss asked, breaking the silence Ruby hadn’t yet noticed.

“Oh!  I’m making a glove for myself - kinda like an assisted grip that’ll make my fingers stronger than they actually are.”  

Excited to talk about her newest project, Ruby flexed her left hand out in front several times as an example.  

“How are you powering it?”

“Aura - that’s the best way to power things these days, isn’t it?”

Brow creasing thoughtfully, Weiss held out her own hand and examined it closely.

“But...how are you fitting the Aura chip and all of the processors into something that small?”

Ruby’s jaw nearly unhinged and fell off at the question.  Because that was like...a legitimately good question! It was something hardly anyone thought about either - everyone wants their weapons to do the coolest things, but never consider how little space there is to work with!

If Ruby hadn’t liked Weiss before, she certainly did now.  Who would’ve thought that Weiss was knowledgeable in weapons creation?  Ruby definitely hadn’t, but she learned something new every day! What other crazy topics did Weiss know a lot about?  

Guess this was part of the whole ‘getting to know each other’ phase Blake had talked about - and boy was she ever right!  There was a lot to know about Weiss.

“I modified all the chips so they’d fit!” Ruby explained excitedly.  Yang never wanted to hear about how Ruby made things work - she was much more interested in results rather than what produced those results.  But for Ruby part of the fun was learning how things worked, not just whether or not they did.  “I had to stack ‘em in some places, but I created a tiny pocket of circulation using these itty bitty pins that are basically impossible to break.”

“That’s really impressive.”

Ruby’s cheeks heated up at the unexpected compliment.  

“I’m sure you could’ve done the same thing if you tried!”

“I really couldn’t - believe me,” Weiss replied with a reassuring smile.  “It’s great to hear that you’re making progress though.”

“Yeah, finally!” Ruby replied while throwing her arms up in the air.  “It’s taken so long...and honestly if Blake hadn’t had this idea, I don’t know how good I could ever be.”

“I’m sure you’d be successful regardless.”

“I dunno about that…” she replied with a chuckle and shake of her head.

“I do,” Weiss replied, her tone uncharacteristically firm.  “If it was your goal, nothing would stop you.”

Weiss glanced at Ruby out of the corner of one eye before adding, “You just seem like that type of person.  Someone with a great deal of...talent.”

One thing Ruby was absolutely not talented at was receiving so many compliments in a row.  There were so many people far more talented than she was!    

“Well you seem like someone with a lot of secrets!” Ruby teased in return, leaning forward to gaze into Weiss’ eyes as if maybe some of those secrets would be written there.  It was meant to be friendly, hinting that Weiss was extra mysterious, but Weiss quickly looked away - like she didn’t want Ruby to find out what those secrets could be.

“Secrets, maybe.  Mistakes, definitely…”

“We’ve all made mistakes!” Ruby replied.

“But I’ve made ones that hurt the people I care most about…”

Boy, Weiss was hard on herself.  It made Ruby really sad. There was something about seeing Weiss unhappy that reached deep down and squeezed Ruby’s heart in a painful way.  The urge to cheer Weiss up grew stronger in Ruby’s chest - something she’d willingly try to do in any way possible.  

Maybe it was being a part of such a high-profile family...Ruby could only guess how difficult that must be.  There must be so much more pressure than anything she’d ever dealt with. But in her eyes, Weiss was an incredible person!  Smart, generous, beautiful...Weiss was amazing - if only Ruby could convince her that that was true.

Sticking both hands in her front pockets, Ruby slowed her pace to a stop while Weiss did the same.  Now standing side-by-side, Ruby looked up and let out an exhale that was only partly nerves. 

“The moon is pretty tonight,” she commented, trying to sound nonchalant while her hands fidgeted in her pockets, finding stray pieces of thread and pulling at them.

“It is.  I love when it’s clear like this,” Weiss replied, gazing up with her.

There was another silence while the two of them looked up at Remnant’s moon - this one even more comfortable than the last.  But Ruby knew what she wanted to say next, she just had to find a way to say it out loud.  

“Isn’t it interesting,” she eventually spit out, making sure not to look away from the moon even though she felt Weiss’ eyes turn to her.  “Even though it’s broken and covered in craters, we still find it beautiful. Like...it’s obviously not perfect, but maybe that’s part of what makes it beautiful.”

Ruby finally turned towards Weiss and smiled.

“Kinda like people, right?”

From the way Weiss stared - blue eyes searching Ruby’s for something - Ruby guessed there was no verbal response coming.  That probably meant that Weiss hadn’t been entirely convinced by the foolproof argument...but how could that not have worked?  The moon was far from perfect - people were far from perfect.  If the moon could still be beautiful, why couldn’t people still be beautiful too?

Ok, time to bring out the big guns.  And by that, she meant Mom-isdom!

“My mom used to say that people are at their best right after they’ve been at their worst.  That only after they’ve seen the bad in themselves can they learn the good they’re capable of.”  The saying drew her gaze back to the moon, with a soft tug on her heart for her mom.  

“Then I guess I’ll be learning what good I’m capable of soon.”  

The words made Ruby smile up towards the sky.  Mom-isdoms always worked. Like, one hundred percent of the time.  

Feeling a tug of sadness that there would never be new Mom-isdoms added to her collection, Ruby’s smiled faded away.  One of the many things she’d lost was five years of grieving for her mom. Had it ever gotten easier to be apart? Had Ruby ever stopped missing her this way?

Maybe in four more years, she would know...

When a soft hand brushed hers, Ruby looked down, but it must have been an accident from the way Weiss quickly jerked away.  However, she seemed to have lost a lot of that gloomy aura. Mission successful, for now! 

“It sounds like she was very wise,” Weiss commented, finally meeting Ruby’s eyes again.

“She was!”  When the momentary longing disappeared, Ruby smiled and pointed up towards the moon.  “You see that little piece right there? The one that looks kinda like a bunny’s nose?”

Standing with their shoulders barely touching, Weiss’s eyes followed the direction of Ruby’s point before she nodded.

“When we die our souls don’t fade away,” Ruby explained.  “They have to go somewhere - into the grass, or the stars, or the leaves.  And the souls who helped a lot of people while they were alive get someplace extra special.  They get to be up in the sky watching over us at night, still guiding us even when they’re gone.  My mom’s not here anymore. She...she helped a lot of people though...and, well, now she’s up there.”

Yang explained it much better than Ruby did.

“In the moon?”

“Yup!  Up there...making sure Yang and I are safe at night...”  Ruby smiled again. “Sometimes I can hear her in the wind, like she’s trying to speak to me - telling me that she’s proud of me, I hope.  Although I’m pretty sure sometimes she’s just reminding me to lock the front door.”

Chuckling lightly, Ruby smiled at Weiss.

“How can you be so sure?” Weiss asked quietly.

As a breeze blew across them, Ruby closed her eyes and inhaled.  It smelled like grass and dirt and air - like the outdoors - but it filled her with a sense of peace.  Like she could stand in this small breath of air forever and be completely content. The breeze wasn’t blowing against her, but surrounding her - embracing her just like her mom once had.

Only when the wind ceased did she open her eyes, finding Weiss watching her with a difficult-to-place expression. 

“I’m not sure,” Ruby replied plainly.  “But it’s nice to believe in something, don’t you think?”

Again, there was unmistakable sadness in clear blue eyes.

“Sometimes it’s hard.  To believe...” Weiss finally responded, her eyes refusing to meet Ruby’s again.

“Yeah...but do you wanna know something I learned from all my injuries?” Ruby asked, continuing only when Weiss turned back and nodded.  “I learned that when you feel knocked down you can always get back up. Even when you think you can’t move another inch, that you can’t lift your arm one inch higher, you somehow can.  You just have to believe that whatever pain you’re feeling right now is only temporary.  Because that’s what life is - temporary. We have to live it to its fullest while we can.”

Weiss made a soft ‘hmm’ sound while looking away, prompting Ruby to continue.

“Don’t give up, Weiss.  Maybe Yang’s making it difficult, and maybe it’s not even Yang that you’re talking about, but whatever it is you can get through it.  In the end, it’ll be worth it.”  

Lifting her left arm, Ruby curled her fingers into a fist.  The motion was easy now, but nearly impossible a year ago. Looking from Ruby’s fist to her eyes and back again, Weiss finally smiled.

“When did you get so smart?”

“After years of making stupid decisions, maybe?” Ruby joked, grinning when Weiss laughed in response.

“I’m sure that might have helped.”

Chuckling at the good-natured tease, Ruby quickly scanned the park and found that the two of them were completely alone. 

“You know, I come here to practice my semblance sometimes,” she whispered out of the corner of her mouth.  “I’m not really supposed to, but sometimes I don’t want to dodge all the trees in the woods.” 

“Can I see?”

That was exactly the question she was hoping Weiss would ask.

“Wait right here,” she said, directing Weiss over to a park bench off the path.  “I’ll be back in a flash .”

Ruby didn’t get a chance to see Weiss’ response before blasting away with her semblance firing on all cylinders.  Open ground...it was so much easier to run when she didn’t have to focus so much energy on dodging trees!  And branches...when moving this fast, branches didn’t exactly show up on radar. Especially the small ones, and those hurt like whips.

Making a giant loop around the park two times in a few seconds, she decided to try something a little more challenging.  Reversing direction, she ran back towards Weiss at top speed. Before Weiss could even react, Ruby would stop and calmly sit down on the bench next to her.  How cool would that be?

Flying straight at the park bench, Ruby pulled the brake an impressive two feet away.  At least, it would’ve been impressive if she’d actually managed to stop moving two feet away.  But instead of stopping on a dime - like she’d been trying to do - she tripped over her own legs, flew forward and flipped over the bench before finally stopping as expected, but on the ground with an audible crunch.

Yup.  Her back was definitely broken this time.

“Ruby!  Are you alright??”

Flying to Ruby’s side, Weiss was instantly kneeling down with both hands extended, like she didn’t know what to do with them in order to help.  And she was concerned - she looked even more worried than Yang did whenever Ruby got hurt.  

“Yeahhhh….” Ruby groaned while propping herself up on her elbows.  “Took a big hit to my pride though…”

The words made Weiss let out a big sigh of relief.  Leaning back on her heels and dropping her hands to her sides, she managed a small smile.

“That was quite an impressive somersault you did though.”

“Yeah?  You really think so?  I could probably do one even better!”

This time Weiss actually chuckled, shaking her head as she stood and pulled Ruby back to her feet.  “Sometimes you’re just like your sister.”

“What makes you say that?” Ruby asked, brushing dirt off of her pants.

“Yang would be competitive about something even if she was bad at it.”

Grinning, Ruby puffed out her chest with pride.

“If we’re gonna be bad at something, we’re gonna be the worst you’ve ever seen!”

This time when Weiss laughed there was a sparkle was in her eyes - that same sparkle that made a warm feeling spread through Ruby’s chest.  This was a different version of Weiss, one that was buried deep under uncertainty and sadness. But it was there all the same! Maybe with more time, this happier version of Weiss would appear more often.  Ruby would really like for that to happen.

Even though Ruby was pleasantly warmed by the feeling stirring inside her, it seemed like Weiss was not as warm from the nearly invisible shiver Ruby couldn’t help but notice.  It had gotten late and that meant the breeze was getting chillier every minute. Darn night time.

“Should we head back now?” Ruby offered, receiving a nod in response.

As they headed back towards the neighborhoods, she was still worried that Weiss might be cold.  There didn’t seem to be anymore shivers, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t cold!

On a whim, Ruby hesitantly looped one arm inside Weiss’.  When Weiss didn’t immediately pull away, Ruby took it as a good sign and tugged them together.  It made her heart beat like crazy to be this close - close enough that a bit of heat was shared between them - but hopefully it would help keep Weiss warm.  Because that’s what friends did, right? They looked out for one another.

Which brought another thought to the front of Ruby’s mind - Weiss was really skinny.  Like, skinny enough to make Ruby vaguely worried. It was all well and good to be thin, but something told her that Weiss shouldn’t be quite this skinny.  Small, sure, but not...frail?

While Ruby tried to hatch a plan that would get Weiss to eat more, Weiss seemed to be lost in her own thoughts.  Arm-in-arm, they walked nearly an entire neighborhood block in complete silence. Nearly a half-dozen times Ruby nearly said something, but decided against it in each instance.  It was really weird for quiet to be simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable, but that’s what it seemed to be with Weiss.  

Surprisingly, it was Weiss who broke the silence as they headed across a deserted street towards the next block of sleepy homes.

“If you were trying to get back on your sister’s good side, what would you do?”

“I’d give her my best puppy dog eyes!” Ruby immediately answered with a grin.  “Do you have good puppy dog eyes?”

Weiss laughed at the question and shook her head.  “I’m afraid I don’t. Schnees aren’t really ones for begging.”

“Then maybe you could...oh!  You should totally bribe her with some AchieveMen tickets!”

Now that was a pretty genius idea.  And Weiss seemed to agree by the considerate expression on her lips.

“She’s still obsessed with them?”

“Completely!”

Thinking on the suggestion for another second, Weiss finally nodded her head.

“That’s actually a very good idea.  Thank you.”

Ruby brushed off the thanks that she was secretly really pleased at receiving.  

“No problem!  And if you need any help - you know where to find me!”  She pointed towards her home as it came into view. There was a car parked in front that must be Weiss’ - a fact that was confirmed when Weiss stopped walking in front of it moments later.

“Thank you...for indulging me,” she said with a smile that Ruby gladly returned.

“Anytime!  I could use the extra exercise.”  

That was probably the moment when one of them should turn and walk away, but instead they remained rooted in place, smiling at each other.  It was weird, right? To want to spend so much time with someone she’d just met? But Yang called Ruby weird all the time - guess she should just roll with it.

“If you’re not too busy with important work stuff, you could totally stop by tomorrow too,” Ruby suggested, trying not to sound too pushy about it.

“Really?”  Weiss seemed genuinely surprised by the invitation, but hopefully in a good way.

“Sure!  I’ll be here all day, so anytime you’re free.”  Briefly, Ruby wondered if she sounded desperate, but that thought was quickly destroyed when Weiss smiled.

“I’ll come by as soon as I’m free.”

The positive reply lit a huge smile on Ruby’s face in no time.

“Great!  I’ll see you tomorrow then!”  

When Weiss nodded another time, Ruby gave one last parting grin before skipping up the sidewalk to the front door.  Once there, she turned before opening it and watched while Weiss got into the car - sending one wave before driving away.

Even when the car turned onto the next street and the headlights disappeared from view, Ruby was content to stand by the front door and stare after it.  

There was something about Weiss that was...comforting...in a way.  It was a little strange because Weiss didn’t really seem like a soothing person, but maybe it was the way she listened so closely when Ruby was talking.  Or always had the patience to listen to rants and rambles and random bits of conversation. Or it was the way Weiss looked at Ruby and made her feel like she was the only one in the world.

Whatever it was, it made Weiss easy to talk to and easy to be around.  And it made Ruby want to spend time together.  Even if it meant less time went towards her training!  That would be a sacrifice she’d be willing to make, in the name of friendship.

Remarkably, she was more interested in learning about Weiss’ past than her own - if only so that she might be able to help Weiss.  Everyone had scars - Ruby knew that from personal experience - but Weiss seemed to be struggling with hers. Hopefully, it was nothing some good old-fashioned friendship and redemption couldn’t help cure!  Ruby would willingly be Weiss’ friend and help her through whatever this was, and in the process get Yang and Weiss back on speaking terms. All while Ruby became a huntress again!

Her plate was a little full now, but that didn’t bother her one bit.  It had only been a few days ago that she’d wondered what she was supposed to do with all the newfound energy and life she’d reclaimed upon getting better.  It hadn’t taken very long for her to figure out an answer - it had literally knocked on their front door! Well, technically Weiss hadn’t been able to knock the first night because Yang had opened the door first, but the analogy still worked!

Satisfied with the evening, Ruby looked up at the moon - which was still crystal clear in the night sky.  Sucking in a huge breath of refreshing night air, she exhaled it loudly.

“What do you think?” she asked, eyes never leaving the small fraction of moon she could see with her eyes closed.  A gust of cold wind blew across her not a second later, raising goosebumps on her arms and making her shiver lightly.  Wrapping both arms around herself, she grinned.

“Yeah, I think she’s cool too.”

Chapter Text

A faint buzzing sound dragged her attention away from the quarterly report she’d been half-heartedly attempting to read for the past half hour.  Glancing at her scroll, she sighed out loud when she saw the familiar picture displayed front and center on the screen. 

A call had certainly been expected, especially since she’d been doing a miserable job of fulfilling her end of their agreement.  Regardless, she had the unshakable suspicion that this would be another mental state check-in...and she avoided those at all costs.  But she couldn’t just ignore the call - not this time at least.

So she set down the report and forced a smile onto her lips - an act proven to make one’s voice sound lighter and more upbeat - and clicked the ‘accept’ button. 

“Winter - to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“It’s obvious when you’re faking happiness, you know,” Winter replied, using bluntness in lieu of a formal greeting.  Immediately dropping the act, Weiss shook her head. She should’ve known better than to try to fool Winter with a tactic that she’d all but perfected herself.  

“I was calling to ask why I keep hearing about a broken light.”

Weiss stifled the urge to groan at the mystery that had evaded her ever since she’d returned to Vale.

“It’s some sort of system glitch.  Someone will figure it out eventually,” she downplayed.  Three electricians had already come to the house and none of them could figure out what was wrong with the sensor in the upstairs living room.  Each of them had taken it apart, sworn to have fixed the problem, and then left. But as soon as they were gone the lights would turn on again. And the property security guard...bless his soul...had been absolutely no help.  ‘Did you call an electrician?’  

“Let me know if you need any help,” Winter offered, although she seemed less than eager in assisting with trivial technical issues.  “How is everything else?”

Ah - the crux of the call had come out.  Clearly the broken lights had only been Winter’s excuse to call out of the blue.  Apparently Weiss wasn’t the only one whose actions could be glaringly transparent...

“Everything is going well,” she answered while waving an employee carrying a stack of forms out of the temporary office she’d been assigned in Vale.  “I’m sure you’ve heard that we’ve surpassed our quarterly expectations early and are looking to revise estimates next week.”

“Yes, business is doing well, as usual.  But how are you doing?”

“I’m fine.”

There was no hesitation in Weiss’ reply - using her customary response without daring to pause and evaluate her own mental state.  Some things were better left alone. 

However, the long stretch of silence on the other end of the call told her that Winter understood as much about the answer as Weiss did.

“And how is everything outside of the office?” Winter followed up.

“It’s...progressing.”

That situation was far too complicated to even begin to discuss right now.  How could Weiss ever describe how different Ruby had become, while also remaining the same?  How could she explain what it felt like to be together after all this time apart - only for Ruby to not remember how close they’d once been?  How could she accurately portray the conflict she was suffering in her emotions - the hope, pain, fear, longing, and excitement that ebbed and flowed with no pattern.

Again, some things were better left alone.

“Alright, I’ll leave you to your day,” Winter finally relented after several more seconds of silence.  “Call me if you ever need anything, understood?”

As usual, Winter refrained from prying too much into Weiss’ life - even though she likely wanted to.  But they each had their own habits, each so set in stone it would take an earthquake to crack them.

“Of course.”

Weiss liked to believe that if push came to shove she would turn to Winter for help.  But the problems she would enlist her sister’s help in solving would be anything involving a need for a personal army or excessively grandiose display of power and force.  Matters of the mind or heart...those were for her to figure out on her own.

“Good.  You’re as precious as the stars to me, you realize.”

“And you, the sun,” Weiss replied on instinct.  Their family didn’t exactly throw the word ‘love’ around, but Winter had always expressed the emotion to Weiss in this way.  At first, Weiss had believed that her sister was just extraordinarily poetic, but eventually she’d understood that it was Winter’s way of telling Weiss that she was loved without invoking the wrath of their father. 

‘Love?  Love is for the common folk who live in dreams.  We don’t dream - we do .’

Having escaped her father’s chains, Weiss now understood that it was important for every child to feel loved by someone in their lives.  Winter had provided that as best she could - and then Weiss had gone to Beacon, where she’d discovered Ruby.

“Call me soon?” Winter asked.  This time Weiss did sigh at the request, but in pretend exasperation.

“Can’t we just exchange messages?  It’s far more convenient than a lengthy phone call.”

“You continue to age me, Weiss,” Winter replied with a soft chuckle.  “I like to hear your voice, alright? You can spare two minutes to pick up the scroll and call your dear sister once and awhile.”

“Fine...I’ll try to be better,” Weiss replied with a small smile and roll of her eyes.  “Promise.”

“That’s what I like to hear.  Enjoy your day, Weiss. We’ll speak again soon.”

“Yes, soon.”

When the call clicked off, Weiss watched the picture of her sister until it disappeared from the screen.  Sighing again, she set her scroll down on the desk and tapped her fingers beside it.  

Winter worried about her.  Weiss understood why, but as close as they were she’d never even attempted to explain to Winter what she was going through.  It was difficult and unnerving to discuss her innermost feelings with anyone other than Ruby. Feelings were weaknesses. At least, that’s what her father had always told her.

Saying that she was ‘fine’ was easier than trying to untangle the web of thoughts occupying her mind at any one particular time.  And maybe she was fine - maybe this was the new definition of fine. At least she no longer felt like she was constantly teetering on the edge, waiting for the slightest gust of wind to decide her fate.  There was a greater sense of purpose in being back in Vale, and having a purpose made her feel more...in control of her emotions.

It didn’t take much deductive reasoning to surmise that it was being near Ruby that gave Weiss this feeling of purpose.  The closeness to her former partner also sent her memories aflutter, bringing back many that took her breath away. Sometimes simple things - like the park they’d walked through - set off her emotions when they wouldn’t have in Atlas.  The combination of Ruby and the swingset and the jungle gym had sent Weiss tumbling back to the time they’d inadvertently skipped classes and spent the day at a park together. Being the straight-laced rule follower, she’d been a nervous wreck until Ruby had calmly ordered her to get on the swings - as team leader, of course.

The two of them had just…‘hung out.’  It had been the first time Weiss had ever missed a class, and she’d enjoyed it immensely.  Clambering through the jungle gym like children...spinning sickeningly fast on the merry-go-round...sitting on the swings talking for hours...somehow Ruby got Weiss to enjoy all of the things she’d once looked down upon for being too juvenile or immature.  

And when they’d finally made it back to Beacon they hadn’t even gotten in trouble, because Blake and Yang had covered for them with all of their teachers.

That was only one of the multitude of memories that were popping up out of the blue here in Vale.  Weiss was trying to hold them in check, but at certain points she found it difficult to separate past from present.  How long would it be until someone else noticed the broken fragments of her mind? How long until Ruby realized just how damaged Weiss was?  Ruby had worked so hard to get to where she was today...how could Weiss’ presence possibly be beneficial to her life?

That was a thread she didn’t dare pull at right now.  The answer seemed far too obvious for her to ever want to acknowledge.

Gathering up a few belongings, she abandoned the quarterly report and snuck out of the office before the man with the stack of paperwork could come back and find her.  Even though she was only working in a limited capacity while in Vale, there seemed to be a never-ending amount of work that only she could sign as a Schnee. On any other day she would’ve been willing to put in the necessary time, but today she’d gladly canceled and rescheduled every appointment so that she could see Ruby as early as possible.  

Well...not quite as early as possible.  If Weiss thought that she could get away with showing up before the sun had risen she might have, but proper manners told her that waiting until later in the day was more appropriate.  Now that lunch was nearly over, she saw no issue with rushing over to the small home - which was growing more and more familiar with each passing visit.

The good news, if there was any, was that the sidewalk leading up to Ruby’s front door no longer felt like it was made of wet cement.  It certainly helped that Weiss had been officially invited this time. Coming up with excuses on her own caused Weiss to feel somewhat like an intruder barging into their lives.  Knowing that she was expected and most importantly, wanted, allowed her feet to pass freely up the front step, but her nerves steadily built while she summoned the courage to knock.  Her options of people who might be behind the door were - a chest full of butterflies, a sigh of relief, or...a potential trip to the emergency room.

Raising her hand, she was surprised when she actually had the time to knock twice.  A few moments later heavy footsteps neared the door. The steps so clearly belonged to Yang that Weiss almost retreated back to her vehicle to try again later, but she didn’t make the decision to run quickly enough - leaving her partially turned when Yang pulled open the door.  

It was probably a normal motion for her, but it sounded like Yang was trying to tear the door from its hinges.  When her eyes settled upon Weiss, the sparkle and mirth seemed to drain right out of them.

“Oh.”

That was the only response Yang gave before abandoning the door and walking to the kitchen.  Taking that lukewarm welcome as her cue to enter, Weiss stepped hesitantly inside and closed the door behind her.  

“Is Ruby here?” she asked, standing uncomfortably in the entryway while Yang took a seat at the kitchen table.

“Yes.”

After waiting for further explanation and receiving nothing, Weiss crept a few steps closer.

“Where is she?” she finally asked after concluding that Yang wasn’t going offer up the information freely.  Which was fine. Chummy conversation was for friends, and that’s definitely not what they were right now - as much as that pained Weiss to admit.

“Out in the woods catching butterflies.”

The statement made Weiss let out a huff of disbelief, which Yang returned with a steely gaze.

Right, jokes were also between friends...

“You’re serious?”

“Yes.  She likes to use her semblance to catch them.”

Maybe it was just her, but Yang’s eyes were darker than she remembered.  She’d always thought of them along the lines of light lilac, but the eyes staring back at her right now were more royal than anything else.

“You can go find her if you want.  Should be easy enough,” Yang added flippantly, turning that gaze back to the magazine lying open on the table and waving dismissively in the direction of the back yard.

Moving that direction, Weiss’ feet then stopped and she turned uncertainly back towards the kitchen.  She hadn’t gotten the chance to speak with Yang privately since she’d returned, mostly because Yang didn’t seem to want to, but it was still Yang - at one point in time, they’d been as close as sisters.  Surely they could find a way to at least co-exist in the same space. It wasn’t as if Weiss was proud of what she’d done - she was ashamed.  And she wanted to apologize.

But as she stood there watching Yang casually turn one page, Weiss couldn’t even begin to think of what to say.  How could she start a conversation with someone she’d hurt so badly?

After waiting too long, Yang looked up and narrowed her eyes.

“Do you want something?”

From the curt tone, Weiss knew that forgiveness was still a long ways off.

“No,” she replied with a shake of her head.  “I was just…”

There were so many things she wanted to say - so many questions she needed answered - so many blanks to be filled in.  How was Ruby doing, really? What kind of things did she remember? Where exactly did the memories stop?  Why did she think she was training to be a huntress again?  

But all of those questions seemed far too close to a very sore subject.

“I’m surprised you and Blake decided to live out here,” Weiss finally commented, gesturing towards the wall of the room they were in.  “I thought you’d be living...somewhere more comfortable.”

“We are comfortable,” Yang replied tersely.  “And we haven’t touched your guilt money, if that’s what you’re talking about.  It’s sitting in the bank somewhere.”

The retort left Weiss in stunned disbelief - mostly because she’d been referring to the lack of Faunus families in the area, but also because that had been the one good thing she’d thought she’d done.  She’d made sure they would be taken care of for the rest of their lives, but to find out that they’d left that money untouched and were making it on their own?

“That...that was to make sure she had everything she wanted,” she whispered, still dumbfounded by the revelation.

“No, it was to help you sleep at night.”

She’d been right about Yang’s eyes.  They were darker than normal, the effect of red seeping into lilac.  While Yang stared her down, Weiss watched the change happening - a storm brewing on the horizon.

But it would be wrong of Yang to believe Weiss had slept at all the past year.  Believing that her teammates had been financially taken care of had done absolutely nothing to remove the burning guilt that marred her dreams.

“I was only trying to help.”

The way Yang’s hand curled into a fist on the table immediately said that that had been the wrong thing to say.

“If you wanted to help ,” Yang said through clenched teeth, “Then you should’ve been here a year ago.  Or ten months ago.  Hell, even six months ago would’ve helped.  But you weren’t, so we moved on - she moved on.  She doesn’t need you anymore, Weiss. She’s done just fine without you.  We all have.”

The words were intended to hurt and they did - like hot coals being pressed into Weiss’ heart.  It was plain to see just how well Ruby was doing without Weiss around. Ruby was thriving, recovering, growing - relying on the inner strength she’d always possessed.  Ruby hadn’t needed Weiss to recover from her injuries...but then again, Ruby never had needed Weiss in order to be capable of incredible feats.  

“Do you still blame me?  For what happened?” Weiss asked softly, shifting her feet as Yang’s gaze hardened.

“I never blamed you for that, Weiss.  We all knew the risks of being out there,” Yang replied with a stern frown.  “Leaving though?” Letting out a scoff, Yang shook her head. “That was all you.”

A breeze suddenly blew past them in the kitchen, separating their locked gazes for an instant that dispelled the growing animosity.

“Ow ow owowowowow.”

They both turned in surprise to find Ruby at the kitchen sink, turning the faucet on full blast and placing one hand underneath the jet of water.  Instinct was carrying Weiss towards Ruby, but Yang had already beaten her there.

“What happened?”

“Bee sting!!” Ruby wailed.

“Here, let me see,” Yang demanded.  Ruby pulled her hand from the water and Yang held it gently while examining it.  “No stinger, that’s good,” she muttered before directing Ruby’s hand back to the water.  “I’ll get you a bandaid and some ice.”

“Mmkk…” Ruby muttered as she obediently followed her sister’s instructions.  

Yang possessed a motherly instinct when it came to Ruby.  She could be calm and nurturing when Ruby needed reassurance.  On the flip side, she could be as aggressive as an Ursa if Ruby was threatened.

While Yang went about her tasks, Weiss was forced to watch helplessly from her spot frozen by the kitchen table.  At one point in the past, she’d assumed responsibility of taking care of all of Ruby’s bumps and bruises, but now, just like Yang had said, it was abundantly clear that she wasn’t needed.  In this world she was an observer, and nothing more.

“Are you alright?” she asked regardless, startling Ruby and drawing surprised silver eyes her way.

“Oh, hey Weiss!  Totally didn’t see you there!” Ruby replied.  Removing her hand from the sink, she leaned casually against the kitchen cabinet before cringing and sticking her hand back under the water.  “I’m fine! Just...got a little too close.”

The phrase made Weiss’ eyes narrow suspiciously.  There was something familiar about the way Ruby had said it...

“You weren’t trying to catch the bee, were you?”

When Ruby’s eyes shifted to the water, Weiss had her answer.

“Well…”

“Ruby!” Yang chastised her sister while handing over a small pack of ice.  “What did I tell you about trying to play with bees?”

“I’m sorry!!  I wanted to see if he would sit in my hand!”

“And did he?” Yang asked, placing one hand on her hip while Ruby only looked more embarrassed.

“Yeah...long enough to sting me…”

When Ruby flashed them both a pitiful smile, Weiss felt any consternation melt away, replaced only by amusement.  Clearly the smile had the same impact on Yang, who chuckled and patted Ruby lightly on the shoulder.

“You’re just that sweet, huh?” Yang teased gently before giving Weiss the briefest of glances.  “Hey, maybe you should show Weiss where you catch the butterflies.”

Ruby’s eyes immediately widened in excitement at the suggestion, making Weiss’ own heart race in anticipation.

“I’d love to!  But uh...don’t you two want to hang out?” Ruby asked, gesturing between the two of them.

Weiss softly shook her head while Yang answered, “I actually have to go meet Blake, but you two have fun.”

With another quick glance sent Weiss’ way, Yang headed towards the front door and opened a small closet before rustling inside for a pair of shoes.  She didn’t say another word while stepping outside and closing the door with a slight bang - that might or might not have been intentional.  

Sorrow building, Weiss watched her former teammate willingly disappear rather than spend another moment in her presence.  Was this the way it would be between them from now on? They’d once been so close...

The sound of rustling ice cubes drew her attention back to Ruby, who smiled and waved Weiss towards the back of the house with the hand clutching the bag of ice.  

“Are you sure you don’t wanna hang out with Yang and Blake?” Ruby asked while they walked through the narrow hallway between the bedrooms.  “I mean, I’d totally understand if you did. You could always go with her, you know?”

Initially, the comment was incredibly discouraging.  Did Ruby want Weiss to spend time with Yang instead?  Was she actually being a nuisance?

Thankfully, some rational thought crept through and reminded her that in Ruby’s mind, Weiss was one of Yang’s friends who was back to make amends.  Not...whoever she really was. So even though she wanted to spend every conceivable second with Ruby, Ruby was making sure that Weiss had the opportunity to spend time with Yang.  Ruby was too considerate to do otherwise.

Well...Weiss had been one of Yang’s friends who was back to make amends, but finding a way back into Yang’s good graces was still a long way off.  If the two of them couldn’t even have a short conversation without their emotions boiling over, they clearly weren’t ready to be speaking at all.

Fortunately, Yang wasn’t making it impossible for Weiss to find a way into Ruby’s life again - which she could do.  She could make it an insurmountable task for Weiss in a heartbeat. All she had to do was ask Ruby not to speak to Weiss anymore and, knowing the connection the sisters shared, Ruby would certainly agree.  Even though Ruby seemed to like spending time with Weiss, there was no way she would choose Weiss over her own sister - and Weiss would never expect that to happen.

In Weiss’ world, her blessings seemed to be growing smaller and smaller, yet she counted them all the same.

It was also fortunate that Ruby wasn’t completely put off by the way that Yang was currently dealing with their unresolved emotions.  Although, maybe it wasn’t entirely surprising if Ruby still possessed a penchant for offering second, third, and fourth chances.

“Thank you,” Weiss replied to Ruby’s offer.  “But I think it’s best not to push my luck with her today.  Plus, I...enjoy spending time with you...”

The confession made her cheeks heat up instantly.  It had been quite some time since she’d uttered such complimentary words and she honestly wasn’t sure how Ruby would take them.

But Ruby beamed back at her.  

“I like spending time with you too!”  

Weiss’ cheeks grew warmer under the unrelenting smile, before she finally coughed in an attempt to direct Ruby’s eyes elsewhere.  It was horribly difficult to hold Ruby’s gaze in some moments - when Weiss would find herself drawn into the comforting silver that had been her lifeline through thick and thin.

But that connection had been severed.  The comfort was still there, but with it was agony at the memories - and, in Ruby’s case, a steady attempt to figure out what made Weiss tick.  

It had become quite obvious that Ruby was studying her - analyzing her actions, her words, her movements.  It wasn’t quite as attentive as what Blake might do, or as intuitive as Yang’s ‘gut feelings,’ but it was a type of deep analysis that Ruby likely had no idea she was doing.

Weiss could feel it all the same.  She was being deconstructed, layer by layer, just like one of the many weapons Ruby tore apart and put back together again.  A growing part of Weiss was terrified that Ruby would eventually stumble upon the fragments of herself that had decayed over the past year.  What would happen then?

“So...why are you catching butterflies?” she asked while they walked across the grassy yard and stepped up to a line of tall woods at the back of the property.

“Oh!” Ruby remarked, seeming to have forgotten that that’s what she’d been doing before Weiss had arrived.  “I’ve been doing it to practice using my semblance!”

With another wave, Weiss followed Ruby into the woods.  Once completely within the shade of the trees, she could see beams of sunlight sporadically breaking the tree foliage and lighting the ground below.  Here and there she spotted rapid movements - sometimes bees, sometimes flies, but there were also several butterflies floating in the sunnier places, where soft pink and blue flowers had sprouted.

“They can sense changes in air pressure from really far away,” Ruby explained, pointing out a nearby butterfly that was drifting lazily around a bunch of flowers.  “If you move too fast, the wind will blow them further away. You have to be quick, but stealthy.”

The two of them watched the yellow and black butterfly for several moments in silence.  Personally, Weiss was trying to figure out how she would go about catching the insect in a way that didn’t involve freezing it in midair and walking over to collect the block of ice from the ground.  

That’s what she would do, but she honestly had no idea how Ruby would go about this.  One, Weiss had never seen Ruby catch a butterfly before. And two, as Ruby had pointed out, even the smallest gust of wind would be counterproductive to the end goal.  Anyone who’d ever had the pleasure of having Ruby blow by them at lightning speed could confirm that there certainly wasn’t an absence of air when she flitted about.

It was with immeasurable curiosity that Weiss asked, “May I watch?”

Grinning as if that was exactly the question Ruby had wanted to hear, she quickly set the ice pack on the ground before putting one hand down like a sprinter. 

“One butterfly comin’ right up!” 

An instant later, Ruby disappeared in a cloud of rose petals, causing Weiss’ breath to catch in her throat in longing.  Heart pounding, her eyes focused on the forest, trying to track Ruby’s swift movements zig-zagging through the trees. It was a skill that had only been perfected over years of practice - and even then Weiss watched mostly on instinct rather than clear vision of Ruby’s path.

In this particular instance, Ruby approached the butterfly from the far left before a flash of red leapt into the air directly above the unsuspecting creature.  Ruby was going to catch it from above. At least that’s what Weiss initially thought, but then she saw something that made her pounding heart slam to a sudden stop.

Because then she saw something she’d never seen before.

Instead of rushing down at the butterfly, thus creating a tunnel of wind that Ruby had made reference to, the swarm of red rose petals burst apart and floated slowly, almost impossibly slowly, towards the ground before curling back into the form of a girl with her hands gently cupping around the butterfly in mid-flight.  

It was like watching leaves flutter to the ground on an autumn day.  Or a single snowflake drifting lazily towards the frozen sidewalk. The stillness and normalness of it caused not a single stir in the tranquil forest before Weiss’ eyes, but it sent her heart into a roller coaster of emotions.  

Beaming with pride, Ruby hopped through the trees with both hands clasped firmly together.

“Got ‘im!”

Though the weight of shock still lay heavily across her mind, Weiss managed to smile at how pleased Ruby was with the accomplishment.  But she still had to know...

“How did you do that?” 

“What?” Ruby asked, glancing briefly over one shoulder as if Weiss had pointed towards the forest.  “Oh, my semblance? I know, I can go really fast! It’s pretty cool, actually. When you’re going that fast, everything else seems reallyyy slow.”

Weiss nodded at the answer.  She already knew Ruby was fast…  “But the part where you caught the butterfly,” she clarified, waving towards Ruby’s hands.  “How did you do that?”

“You mean sneaking up on him?  I don’t really know. But I can’t catch ‘em when I go super-fast, so I focus on going superrrrr slow.  It’s really hard to do - definitely takes a lot more concentration than going fast does.”

‘Super slow?’  Ruby had spent all of Beacon figuring out how to go faster - how to push her speed to its very limit and then push even further.  That’s what Ruby had been all about - speed. There had never - not once - been any mention of going slower.

Holding both hands in between them, Ruby waited until she had Weiss’ attention before lifting the top one away.  The butterfly immediately flapped upwards, weaving around their heads before heading back into the sky - leaving the two of them standing on the ground watching it swirl away.

This is still Ruby, Weiss reminded herself while her heart struggled to regain its rhythm.  It was still Ruby, but...it wasn’t.

“You wanna try?”

Weiss immediately shook her head at the question.  “I’m not good at sneaking around -”

“You don’t have to be!  Come on, I’ll get the net and we’ll do this the old fashioned way!”

There wasn’t time to protest - unless she wanted to argue with the cloud of petals Ruby left behind while sprinting back into the house.  Seconds later a strong breeze preemptively announced Ruby’s return to Weiss’ side with a long butterfly net clutched in one hand.

“Your net, milady,” Ruby said facetiously, giving Weiss a little bow that only served to make her blush.  “Now we just need a butterfly - follow me!”

Dutifully holding the net, Weiss crept through the trees behind Ruby.  There seemed to be a bigger sunny spot up ahead, which was most likely where Ruby was leading them.

Sure enough, a few moments later Ruby gasped and pointed.  “Oh! That’s a pretty one!”

Following Ruby’s direction, Weiss found a royal blue butterfly with a line of solid black around the outer edges of its wings.  Its pure simplicity certainly leant to its beauty.

“If you walk really slowly, you should be able to get it,” Ruby whispered, nudging Weiss gently forward.

Catching butterflies wasn’t necessarily an endeavor Weiss undertook often...or ever...but they were already here and she was already holding a net, so she might as well play along for Ruby’s sake. Nodding, she crept forward with small steps - being extra careful not to make any hasty movements - while her eyes tracked the creature through the air.  It was fluttering along a lazy yet unpredictable path, but after a few seconds landed on the tip of a blue flower and slowly flapped its wings up and down, soaking up the sun.

It was perfect.  While it was sitting still, Weiss was able to get so close she was practically standing above it and it still didn’t move - not until she started swinging the net, that is.  The instant she twitched, the butterfly flew upwards and straight towards her face - a small scream escaped her lips when wings briefly batted her nose. Jumping away from the perceived attack, she promptly tripped over her own foot and fell to the grass with a thump.  It was only while she was falling did she manage to swing and completely miss the fluttering bit of blue soaring away from her.

The entire sequence of events happened so quickly she had no time to process it before she heard the unmistakable sound of Ruby giggling uncontrollably from somewhere nearby.  Weiss felt her cheeks flush deeply at her poor showing, while allowing Ruby to pull her back to her feet.

“Apparently I don’t have a career in this,” she grumbled while wiping dirt off of her clothing.

“But that was the most adorable thing ever!” Ruby proclaimed before brushing off a twig stuck to Weiss’ elbow.  

What had begun as a flush of embarrassment due to her rather extraordinary failure quickly became a blush entirely caused by Ruby calling her adorable.  Looking up, Weiss found silver eyes twinkling playfully down at her while Ruby’s hand still lingered at her elbow.  

Something pulled strongly on her heart at that moment - which was so similar to a thousand other moments of years gone by.  Ruby was just so beautiful, so pure, so alive ...without another thought Weiss was leaning forward, rolling to the balls of her feet in order to bridge the few inches of space necessary to meet Ruby’s lips.

Ruby’s gaze broke away the next second when wings flapped in between them, snapping Weiss out of the moment like a gallon of frozen water had just been thrown in her face.

“Looks like he’s back for more!” Ruby exclaimed, happily pointing out the same blue butterfly Weiss had failed to capture.  It was floating nearby, oblivious to the regrettable lapse in judgment it had just prevented Weiss from seeing through.

“He wins this round,” she huffed with pretend indignation towards the tiny insect, while silently blessing it for the well-timed intervention.  “But no one beats a Schnee in the end.”

When Ruby giggled at the phrase, Weiss smiled in return.  There was something so heartwarming about the sound...like a balm to her restless soul...but it did little to soften the embarrassment at what she’d almost done.  Thankfully, Ruby seemed to be none the wiser to what had nearly happened.

But suddenly Ruby’s eyes widened, focused on something right above Weiss’ ear.

“Weiss, don’t move.”

Her muscles froze on instinct, alarm growing when Ruby took a careful step closer.  

“What is it?”  

She was afraid to turn her head, imagining there was a spider or some other horrible bug in her hair.

“Just hold still a second, I’ll get it.”

The next second Ruby stepped so close that they were practically hugging - her face close enough that Weiss could watch dark pupils expand and contract when the light shifted in the woods surrounding them.  Warmth was beginning to spread across her cheeks with each passing second, her eyes flitting across every inch of Ruby’s face, trying to memorize every detail. Light sighs of air brushed across Weiss’ cheek, sending tingles down her spine.  Taking small breaths that were stunted by rampant anticipation, Weiss savored the scent of roses that clung to Ruby no matter what she did to try to get rid of it.

Lifting one hand, Ruby froze as it hovered near Weiss’ ear - lingering long enough that Weiss briefly believed that it would be used to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear and pull her closer.  She yearned for Ruby to pull her closer - for the two of them to meld together once more.

That wish wasn’t granted.  Instead, Ruby carefully plucked something from Weiss’ hair before inching backward and holding it up for her to see.

“A caterpillar!” she remarked, oblivious to how red Weiss’ cheeks must currently be from their proximity.  “So you kinda did catch a butterfly!  Just a baby one.”

When Ruby beamed at her, Weiss managed a small smile while remaining eternally grateful that Ruby couldn’t read her thoughts at the moment.  Instead of questioning Weiss’ tongue-tied silence, Ruby looked around before gently setting the small green caterpillar on a nearby leaf. Satisfied that it wasn’t going to fall, she dusted off her hands and turned back to Weiss with that same blinding grin set in place.

“Are you ok?”  Ruby’s grin fell a couple of notches when she caught Weiss’ eyes.  “Your cheeks are a little red.”

“Um, yes.  Just the...sun…”  Weiss’ blush deepened when she waved a hand at the mostly shaded forest surrounding them.  Thankfully, Ruby didn’t seem to think anything more of the comment - nodding before letting out a small gasp at an idea.

“Oh!  If you like butterflies, I have something to show you!” she announced with all the glee of a child wanting to show off her toys.  “Follow me!”

With a hop and a skip, Ruby waved for Weiss to follow her back to the house.  As they left the forest behind and crossed the well-trodden yard, Weiss turned back to the woods one last time.  The lingering smell of roses made her nostalgic in a heart-wrenching way, but she needed to be more careful. If she allowed her memories of Ruby to control her actions, she would only end up scaring the girl away.

After politely holding the back door for Weiss to walk through, Ruby raced forward and pushed open the door on the left side of the hallway.

“This way!” she proclaimed before disappearing from view a second later.  The instant Ruby was no longer in eyesight Weiss’ feet dragged along the floor like it was rapidly turning to quicksand.  

Could she really step into Ruby’s room without being inundated by demons?  There was only one way to find out that answer - and it was by following Ruby through the doorway as if nothing was wrong, even though her muscles tensed with apprehension.

Taking a deep breath in preparation, she walked through the door and...nothing happened.  There was no lightning to strike her down where she stood. There were no memories to tear her into a past life.  Instead, there was just...a room. Filled with clothes, furniture, and a few random trinkets.

“So, uh, this is my room,” Ruby said awkwardly, picking up a shirt that had been looped over the back of a chair and tossing it towards the closet.  “Sorry, I haven’t cleaned in a few days.”

Where Weiss had expected demons, she found blissful unfamiliarity.  Nothing in the room sent tremors of recognition down her spine - instead, the comfort of an unknown environment washed over her.  The walls were a different color. The bedspread was different. Different posters, different pictures, different furniture.

And while she’d been expecting to find the mess that Ruby had contributed to their dorm room, instead she found everything surprisingly tidy and organized, contrary to what Ruby’s apology suggested.  Overall, the space had an orderly atmosphere that put Weiss at ease.  

“You’re very...neat,” she commented hesitantly.  Her eyes still wandered around the room, trying to construct a good feeling for the type of person who lived there.  

“Oh, thanks,” Ruby replied with a bashful smile.  “I never really was before, but...I had a lot of time on my hands, I guess.  For a while organizing was about the extent of what I could do.”

The open admission scratched painfully at Weiss’ heart, but Ruby hadn’t said it for sympathy - she was merely telling the truth.  As much as that truth hurt...

Walking over to the closet, which was currently open, Weiss glanced briefly inside to see what kinds of clothes were hanging there.  Also neat. Also organized. There were the combat skirts they’d both worn so much. Jackets, some shirts. All arranged very efficiently in order of -

She froze, unable to move even when Ruby came over to stand right beside her.  

“By function, then color, then length,” Ruby explained before walking towards the desk to find whatever she was searching for.  “Yang thinks I’m crazy, but you should see her closet. Poor Blake…”

Staring into the closet, Weiss swallowed thickly and struggled to grasp onto the thread that kept her here in this room.

No wonder it felt comfortable.  This was the way she’d organized her own closets since grade school.  

It was the way she’d arranged their closet at home.

Peering over her shoulder, Weiss watched Ruby sift purposefully through various drawers.  Besides the scars, there were few visible clues that differentiated this Ruby from the one Weiss had always known.  Much of what had irrevocably changed was internal - the differences housed in Ruby’s mind that were invisible to the naked eye.  But the closet...that was a visible expression of Ruby’s inner thoughts.

Could it possibly be...that this little part of Weiss was still hidden in Ruby’s mind?

Her pulse was elevating and her palms growing moist as she tore her eyes from Ruby.  Suddenly, the entire room made sense. The books on the shelf organized in groupings, both vertically and horizontally, alphabetized left to right and top to bottom.  The pens lying on top of the desk, all of the tips arranged in a straight line.

The more familiarity she found, the more she could feel another reality surging to the surface of her mind.  The room was much larger, lit by the light of more windows, with the smell of roses everywhere. Ruby was still there, rustling through drawers, only it was the drawers by the bed - their bed.  She had no idea Weiss was behind her...because Weiss had been sneaking ever since walking into the room. She was determined that today was going to be the day. And she was growing infinitely more nervous with every step she took - a small square box clutched behind her back -

“Aha!” 

The memory flashed away when Ruby stood and rushed back to Weiss triumphantly.  When Ruby gestured for one of Weiss’ hands, she removed them from behind her back, finding them empty, before Ruby set something in the palm of one hand.

Shoving the lingering memory aside, Weiss focused on the trinket Ruby had just handed her.  It was a butterfly...made out of scraps of metal that created a kaleidoscope of colors. Attached to a small base with a single wire rod, it was small enough to fit comfortably within the palm of her hand.  But it wasn’t just a statue of a butterfly...the instant it touched Weiss’ palm the wings began moving slowly up and down - flapping like a real butterfly would.

“It’s powered by you,” Ruby explained.  “Took a while to figure that one out.”

It was mesmerizing to watch - the little piece of metal flapping its small wings lazily in her hand.

“It’s...amazing…” Weiss muttered, mostly to herself, while analyzing the contraption.  The pieces of metal had been cleverly sourced from different weapons or fixtures in order to create a unique combination of colors that somehow came together in one aesthetically pleasing masterpiece.  

Although none of this should be at all surprising, considering its creator.

“Do you want it?”

The question immediately made Weiss balk and try to pass the butterfly back to Ruby.

“Oh, no, I could never -”

“Sure you can!” Ruby replied while gently pushing Weiss’ outstretched hands back.  “I don’t need it. It’s been in that drawer for a while so it’d be better off with you!  I mean...if you want it...”

The sudden uncertainty erased any doubt or hesitation on Weiss’ part.  Clutching the newfound treasure in both hands, she brought it back to her chest with a smile.

“Of course I do.”

The only thing that could possibly make receiving a gift such as this any better was the enormous grin Ruby now had on her face.  It was one of those grins where it was abundantly clear that Ruby felt as if she’d accomplished an extraordinary task. And, on Weiss’ part, she’d just been given a rather extraordinary gift.

Turning her gaze away from Ruby and back to the butterfly, Weiss watched the wings move for several seconds before her eye caught on something tucked on the other side of the dresser - on the far side of the room.  Curiosity compelling her, she took a half step closer so that she could identify what was lurking there. The instant she did so, she wished that she hadn’t. 

It was...a shrine, of some sort...composed entirely of empty pill bottles.  

Her lip quivered as she looked at them, stacked carefully one on top of the other in a precarious pyramid.  The names on the labels didn’t make any sense to her, but they should. She should know every single one of them - what they were for, what side effects they had.  She should know everything about them because she should have been here.  

Just like Yang had said - Weiss should have been here to help.  Nothing was as much as testament to that as this. Because this...no amount of money in the world could have made these bottles go away.  

“Yang wants me to get rid of them,” Ruby commented softly from behind her, causing Weiss to turn around.  “But I like seeing them. I like knowing that I went from that,” Ruby pointed towards the tower, “To this.”

When Ruby raised one closed fist, Weiss watched intently to see what was inside.  But when Ruby uncurled her fingers, her palm was empty.

“Nothing!” she remarked, holding her hand up while grinning merrily.  

“That’s great to hear,” Weiss managed to reply, forcing a small smile.  “It must have been a...difficult journey.”

“Naw.”  Shrugging one shoulder, Ruby reached past Weiss and straightened one of the bottles on top of the stack.  “Just long, ya know? But now that I’m better I can have fun again!”

Even though the response was purely happy, Weiss felt her breath leave her in a soft whoosh of air.  Guilt twisted like a knife in her heart and she resisted the urge to touch her chest to make sure nothing was lodged there.

Ruby still lied the same way...

“Hey,” Ruby suddenly asked, ducking her head to meet Weiss’ eyes.  “Are you ok?”

The concern was nearly too much for her.  Here she was - the one who’d run when Ruby had needed her - and Ruby was worried about her.  Weiss, the one who hadn’t been gravely injured and forced into months of medication and rehabilitation and god knows what else.  

“Yes -”  When her throat caught on the word, she swallowed to get her voice working again.  “Yes. I’m just...a little thirsty is all.”

“Let’s get you some water then!” Ruby replied, cheerfully waving for Weiss to follow her back to the kitchen.  But before they left the room behind, Weiss couldn’t help but glance back at the tower of empty bottles - reliving the swell of remorse that brought tears stinging to her eyes.

Grasping the metal butterfly in her hands, which she in no way deserved, she tried to remind herself that those bottles were part of the part.  That was her mistake. That was something she would never be able to fix - something she would have to live with every remaining day of her life.

She doesn’t need you anymore, Weiss.

More tears threatened when Yang’s words replayed in her mind.  

“Are you an ice or no ice type of gal?” Ruby asked with a cheerful grin while pulling two cups out of the cupboard.

“I...actually, I think I should be going,” Weiss replied, not failing to notice the brief confusion and then disappointment that flickered through silver eyes.

“Oh…”

“I forgot a work report -” she continued, moving towards the door as if trying to escape Ruby’s presence.  “But thank you so much for...inviting me. We should do this again soon.”

Her hand was already on the door knob - and Ruby slowly trailed her to the front door. 

“Yeah, we should!  Whenever you’re free!”

The response somehow wounded Weiss even further - preventing her from meeting Ruby’s eyes while her own swam with tears.

“Have a lovely day,” she whispered towards the door, before opening it and rushing down the sidewalk away from the house.  Feeling the eyes watching her leave, she resisted the urge to turn back as she made her hasty retreat - a fresh wave of pain crashing over her head.

Ruby didn’t need her, that was becoming more clear by the day.  Weiss was the one who needed Ruby. But what right did she have to be in Ruby’s life?

Chapter Text

She was running - which was pretty normal...she spent most of her life running.  Her semblance practically demanded that she run all the time, everywhere. But right now she wasn’t running for fun, or exercise, or any of the good reasons to run.  Right now, she was running away from something.

She had no idea what it was, other than it was big and crashing through the forest behind her.  The sound of splintering trees filled her ears, which was a little weird since there weren’t any trees around.  There was nothing, actually. There wasn’t even a forest - it was just...snow.

That might explain why her feet were so cold.  And why she kept slipping on the slick ground whenever she tried to push herself faster.  She couldn’t go faster without falling, and she couldn’t fall without getting caught by whatever was behind her.

Risking a glance over her shoulder (and nearly falling in the process), she figured out what was chasing her - it was a Death Stalker.  A big one, at that.

Turning forward, she reached up to pull Crescent Rose off her back for protection, but...Crescent Rose wasn’t there.  There was nothing slung across her back, but she could’ve sworn she just put the weapon there...

Giving up, she kept running.  Weaponless, her only hope was to lose the Grimm somehow - like in that forest up ahead.  It hadn’t been there before, but it was there now and she wasn’t about to complain. She could use the trees as cover - hopefully that would slow down the Death Stalker and allow her to escape.

Flying into the forest, she wove back and forth around tree trunks while trying not to make a mistake that would slow her down.  Thankfully, but also weirdly, there was no snow in here - if anything, it felt warm like the middle of summer.

Without the snow, she could run faster.  But...she couldn’t remember when she’d started running away from the monster on her trail.  It must’ve been a long time ago by the way her lungs were burning, her chest heaved while searching for air, and her semblance felt like a small ash instead of a flame.

She was getting tired.

Trees, trees, trees - everything flew past in a blur.  She picked her path perfectly, yet the Grimm gained on her.  That was the opposite of good news when being hunted through a forest with no form of protection.  The Death Stalker was now so close she could feel the ground shaking, like the earth wanted to break apart underneath her feet.

That’s when she found it - her escape.

Tucked into a mountain in front of her was a cave.  The entrance was large enough for her, but the monster behind her wouldn’t be able to fit.  If she could get inside, the Death Stalker would be stopped at the rock wall.

With her exit found, she used the remainder of her semblance to get her there before the Grimm caught up to her.  She slipped into the cave with the creature right on her heels - snapping the air behind her as it slammed into the mountain at full speed.  Skidding to a stop inside, she turned and watched as it lashed wildly at the entrance. Trying to let itself through, it was clawing pieces of rock the size of boulders away from the wall holding it at bay.

Backing away from the monster intent on destroying her, Ruby fell further and further into darkness.  Turning away from the Death Stalker, her eyes struggled to adjust to the expanse of emptiness swallowing the space in front of her.  The light was gone, and the ruckus being caused by the Death Stalker fell away as another sound reached her ears.

Someone was crying.

As she crept further, the sorrowful sound echoed off the walls around her, filling her mind and soul.  With every step she took, it grew louder and clearer - as if her current blindness was allowing her ears to fully hear.  She knew the Death Stalker was still ripping apart the mountain trying to find her, but that mattered little when compared to the sounds of anguish reaching through the darkness and tearing at her heart.

“Hello?” she called into the darkness, but received no response.  Searching futilely for the source of the cries, she found nothing - it was too dark in here, and so dark she might think her eyes were closed if she didn’t know they were open.

But the soft weeping, laced with unmistakable anguish, was growing harder and harder to listen to.  Her heart filled with sadness as the sound continued on without end. She wanted to find whoever it was and help them.  She needed to find them and help them.  She didn’t want them to cry anymore - not like that, not in pain.

“Hello…” Ruby said again, trying to pinpoint the direction the sound was coming from.

“Please...come back to me…” 

Ruby whipped towards the pleading voice - her eyes rapidly scanning the entrance of the cave as the Death Stalker suddenly froze.  When the creature slowly turned away, dread poured into Ruby’s veins.

“No,” she whispered to herself, stepping back from the darkness.  

The Grimm had heard the voice - just as Ruby had - coming from outside.  There was someone out there, out in the forest somewhere.

Taking another step, Ruby turned that step into a run when the Death Stalker shifted away - a cloud of rubble bouncing off its armored back as it decided she was no longer worth the effort.

But she couldn’t let it leave.  She couldn’t let it find whoever was out there.  She had to save them.

“Hey!” she shouted, her feet pounding on hard rock as she raced towards the exit.  Hearing her voice, the Death Stalker froze before it disappeared into the woods.

“Yeah, you!” she yelled again, stopping at the mouth of the cave and pointing directly at the creature.  “I’m talking to you!”

It was stupid, but it worked.  The Death Stalker turned back to her and snapped a pincer towards her - as fast as a lightning bolt.  Diving to the side, she ducked the attack before rolling to her feet and backing away from the safety of the cave, all while making sure the Grimm was still following her.

So...the first part of her plan had worked, but what was she going to do now?  She didn’t have much energy left in her - definitely not enough to keep running for long.

Another claw burst towards her, barely missing her neck after she jumped out of the way.

Coiling together the fragments of her semblance in preparation of making one last run for it, she immediately powered down when she found that there was another Death Stalker behind her.  And one to her left. And one to her right.  They hemmed her in on every side while slowly advancing towards her, a loud clacking noise filling the air.  The Grimm weren’t even snapping their pincers together, but Ruby could still hear the sound - over and over again as it overrode everything else in her head. 

Weaponless and tired, she took a deep breath - trying to ignore the way it hitched in her chest in pain.  

Deep down, she already knew this was the end for her.  There would be no escaping her fate at the claws of these monsters.  She was the one they wanted. She was the one they were after. If she gave them what they wanted...everyone else would be safe.

So she refused to move.  

The sound of crying returned, breaking her heart as someone openly wept nearby - always out of sight.  She wanted the crying to stop. She wanted the clacking of claws to stop. And she knew the only way for that to happen was to stand her ground and wait for the end to reach her.

She was hardly the size of one of the Death Stalkers’ pincers as they came to a stop within feet of her - the clacking growing more ferocious as she unwillingly trembled in fear.  

If there was any solace, it was that her death would serve a purpose.  If she did this, everything would stop. And it would be worth it - to save the person crying for her.  Because they shouldn’t be crying for her - she was doing this for them. So they’d be happy again. Her life was a small price to pay for that happiness.

“Don’t worry, I won’t leave you,” she whispered as one of the Death Stalkers lashed out and caught her by the arm.  A cry of pain was forced from her as a grip stronger than metal crushed her wrist, sending her collapsing to her knees in an attempt to relieve the increasing pressure.  Her skin burned as lines of blood ran down her arm - all while that clacking sound echoed over and over again, louder and louder in her head.

Struggling to breathe through the pain, the environment started shifting around them - trees, saplings, and shrubs rapidly growing and disappearing like a movie playing through all the versions of forest she’d ever seen, the film running in the background of her death.

With an incredible flash of pain something in her arm gave way, causing her to cry out again.  A tear fell to the ground as a strangled gasp slipped out - the tiny droplet of water landing on softly swaying blades of grass that withered and browned when her tears touched them.

It hurt.  It hurt more than anything she’d ever experienced in her life.  The pain broke through her aura, which was to kickstart itself over and over again.  It was trying to protect her - save her - but she couldn’t move. She couldn’t escape.  And she doubted these monsters were suddenly going to grow a conscience and let her go.

This was the end for her, but she had absolutely no regrets.

Another claw reached towards her before stopping in mid-air.  It hung over her head and clacked menacingly - announcing its intention to deliver the final blow.  Waiting for the creature to strike, she stared directly at the deathly eyes in front of her.  

“Please wake up…”

Before she could even process the soft voice, the claw shot towards her neck.

She woke with a jolt, her heart racing and the begging request still reverberating in her ears.  While she could still hear the desperate plea seeping through the walls of her mind, she remained somewhere between her bed and that horrible dream landscape - trapped in the grasp of another nightmare.  

Unfortunately, the words quickly faded to silence and gave way to the real nightmare - the torrent of pain waiting right behind.  It was everywhere - her legs, her stomach, her arms and head. It seared through her inch-by-inch, torching every nerve ending she possessed before concentrating in her wrist and skull - and remaining there.  It was the type of crippling pain that made her wish she could’ve stayed in the nightmare. The Death Stalkers had been bad, but this...this was worse. And this was real.

Curling into a ball on her bed, she clutched her left arm to her chest and squeezed her eyes shut.  A low moan slipped past her lips, sounding less human and more like a wounded animal calling for help.  With shaking fingers, she managed to grasp her necklace with her right hand and held on tightly, praying for the torment to go away.

Again.  How many nights this week?  Every time was a different creature, a different nightmare, but it was the same voice begging her to come back.  The same feeling that it was all meant to happen.  

Even if it was meant to happen, it left her filled with sorrow to accompany the pain - a deep, all-encompassing sorrow that tore at her heart.  

She never saw the person crying, or understood why they begged her to return, but the answers to those questions meant nothing to her right now.  Not when her breathing was growing more and more broken and jagged. Not when every inhale hurt her chest, and every exhale cut like knives on the way out.  

But as much as she didn’t want the next breath to come, she knew that she needed to keep breathing if she wanted to keep living.  

Somewhere in the room she heard a whimper, but it didn’t seem to come from her.  Maybe that was because she couldn’t tell what was her anymore and what was pure, living agony.  Where did the pain stop and Ruby begin? Were they separate entities anymore - or had they somehow merged into one?  

No, she could power through this.  She was Ruby Rose. She was not pain in living form.  Ruby Rose. Ruby...Rose…

Her next breath sounded like a sob as her wrist seared with fire.  It hurt so badly she didn’t dare open her eyes to look at it. The wound felt fresh again - split open, ligaments torn, bone crushed - like it had just been ripped to shreds by a powerful force that was hellbent on pulling her apart.

The doctors told her to focus on other things when this happened, but that was a whole lot easier said than done.  What was there to focus on besides the pain? If she tried not to think about it, she only thought about it more. She couldn’t tear her thoughts away from the sickening heat near the stitches in her scalp that felt too much like freshly running blood.  Or how moving only a fraction of an inch to breathe created another firestorm of agony. But she could try to focus on...focus on...the...

Pain. 

PainPainPainPain.

There was nothing else. 

That was all there was left.

A fresh wave of agony burned through her wrist and she gasped, squeezing her eyes even more tightly shut and praying for it to go away.  She’d do anything to make it go away. The nightmare Grimm could come live in her room - they could share a bed. Just...anything to make it stop - 

“Ruby?”

In her current state of paralysis she hadn’t heard the bedroom door open, but she felt someone sit down on the bed a second after her name was whispered in the darkness.  Opening her eyes, she found Yang peering down at her in concern - lilac eyes bright and sparkling in the thin moonlight shining through the bedroom window. Growing up, Yang had never been much of a morning person, but somehow she was already wide awake - alert and prepared to help.  

Maybe that was just another thing that had changed…

When Ruby opened her mouth to reply, another pitiful whine slipped out.  But she didn’t need to explain what was going on - Yang already knew.

Reaching out, Yang rubbed Ruby’s shoulder gently - providing a sense of comfort that might be comparable to how a baby felt in its mother’s arms.  The reassuring warmth worked wonders in steering Ruby away from the edge of panic. Her grip on the ring slightly relaxed, allowing her to feel the indentation in the palm of her hand, but she didn’t dare release it.  Besides Yang, the tiny circle of metal was Ruby’s only source of strength...and she desperately needed both of them in what would otherwise be a void of darkness.

“I’m...fine…” she managed to gasp out before gritting her teeth when the next wave of pain shot through her.  It was a horrible lie and not at all believable, but she tried anyway. Maybe what she should say is that she wished she was fine.  

‘How are you?’  

‘Wishing I was fine.’  

‘What good will wishing do you?  You’re a mess of scorching misery and wounds that’ll never heal.’

Trying not to cry, she curled into a tighter ball and clutched onto her necklace for dear life.  Being this weak sucked.  

“Can I help?”

Ruby’s eyes opened again and flicked towards the doorway in search of the source of the soft voice.  Amber eyes glinted back from the darkened hallway, glowing unnaturally in the low light - Blake...keeping a distance like she always did, but still staying close enough to help.

Ruby knew that she was never loud enough to wake Yang - not with how deeply she slept, and definitely not from the other side of the hall - but Blake’s superior ears must hear.  And Blake woke Yang up - every single time.  

Maybe there wasn’t too much thought put into it, but it was something Ruby was so thankful for.  One day, she hoped to be able to express her gratitude...because she knew that she didn’t have the courage or the strength to go get her sister on her own.  Blake saved Ruby the shame and embarrassment of being so weak that a mere nightmare could cripple her.

Another wave of pain made her gasp and squeeze her eyes shut once more.  

The worst part about this was that there wasn’t much she could do but try to ride it out.  Eventually it would go away, right? Right now, she couldn’t even remember if that was true or not.  But it seemed true...

Some amount of time later, when the ache temporarily faded to a moderate roar and she reopened her eyes, she found that she was panting for breath.  Dealing with the wounds was exhausting - a never ending struggle between her body and her mind...where her mind often lost.

Of course, relief was short-lived.  It disappeared the next second when her skull began pulsing with waves of agony - enough torment to shut down her other senses.  There was no seeing, no hearing, no anything except feeling the stitches as if they were being pounded into her scalp with a hammer.  

Through it all her aura struggled to help, but it was just as broken and mangled as she was.  It tried to start, it stopped, it tried to start again...  

Only when the pain subsided enough for her to hear again did she realize she’d started crying - a wounded sob shaking through her chest.  It was followed by another one - the wrenching motion only causing more pain than the pressure it relieved.  

It hurt so much.

Everything hurt so much.    

While she struggled to regain some semblance of control, Yang continued rubbing her shoulder.

“It’s ok…” Yang whispered soothingly.  “Hang in there, Ruby…”

“Ha…” Ruby breathed out before sniffling, feeling a big tear slip out and roll down her cheek.  If she could move she’d wipe the tears away, but moving was off the table at the moment. Instead, she was forced to remain as motionless as possible while tears slipped from her eyes and dampened the blanket beneath her.

She appreciated the encouragement.  She needed it. But it was so hard sometimes…

After a few more moments of labored, sniffly breathing, Ruby felt the bed move when Yang turned away. 

“Um...I think you should get the pain meds…” she directed towards the door.  Hearing the quiet direction, Ruby moaned - this time only partially out of pain.

She hated the medicine.  Like hated it, hated it.  It was horrible.  The worst stuff ever created.  Half of the times she took it, it made her fall asleep - which was fine.  But the other half it made her so nauseous she’d spend the next five hours on the verge of throwing up.  Not actually throwing up, mind you, because that’d be too nice of the dumb things.

“I’m fine...y’know...really,” she sputtered while Yang softly brushed away strands of hair that were sticking to Ruby’s perspiring forehead.  “I can...do this…”

“I know you’re strong, Ruby,” Yang whispered in return, as if talking in a normal voice might anger Ruby’s injuries further.  “But sometimes even the strongest people need a little help.”

“You call...the gag pills...help?”

The term made Yang chuckle softly.

“I know you don’t like them, but they help.  You need your rest so you can get better. And you can’t rest...like this.”

‘Like this’ meaning when it felt like something was trying to tear her arm off while simultaneously digging sharp hooks into her skull.  Yeah, she couldn’t sleep like that. She’d love to meet anyone who could - they’d be one incredibly tough dude. Or dudette. Yang could probably do it.  She was the strongest person Ruby knew.  

“Can you get up?” 

“Mm -” was all Ruby got out before the bed shifted when Yang stood up.

“Don’t worry, I got you,” Yang said, before gently wrapping her arms around Ruby’s waist and easily lifting her.  Ruby made sure to keep her injured arm and her head as still as possible while Yang propped her up in a seated position.  Even though she did basically none of the work herself, the process of moving still made her grunt and break into a cold sweat of effort.  

Now that she was sitting up, she glanced down at her wrist - only for another stab of pain to lace through her, accompanied by a un-gag pill induced wave of nausea.  

The bruising still hadn’t faded away.  Blues, browns, sickly greens and dark splotches of purple left little room for unmarred skin to show through.  And then there were the staples...the lines of silver twinkled in the light, running in a long line across her arm.  

She looked like some kind of human monster. 

“You ok?” Yang asked, kneeling on the floor in front of Ruby and looking up into her eyes.  “You’re not gonna hurl, are you?”

Instead of responding, Ruby clamped her mouth shut and waited for the nausea to pass.  Sitting up was hard sometimes. Something about moving her head too fast was just...really hard.

A few seconds later Blake returned - utterly silent as she appeared out of thin air.  She handed a small bottle to Yang while holding a glass of water in her other hand. Yang easily popped the top off of the bottle and handed one tiny gag pill over to Ruby.  Temporarily releasing her necklace, Ruby accepted the pill from Yang - popping it into her mouth before taking the glass of water from Blake.  

“Another empty one,” Yang remarked, shaking the container to prove it was empty.  “I’ll put it right here.”  

Ruby barely watched while Yang set the bottle on the nightstand.  Instead, she took a big gulp of water to drown the pill before handing the glass back to Blake.  Now that the poisonous little sucker was in her system, it was time to wait for it to get to work.  Sometimes, if she thought about it too much, she could practically feel it settle in her stomach and start dissolving.  It released its pain relievers like toxic fumes that bubbled up from her stomach and found the way into her veins.

Yeah, thinking about it too much didn’t help with the nausea…

“You wanna lay back down?”

“Yeah,” Ruby muttered at Yang’s question.  Still holding her arm as stationary as possible, this time she at least swung her own legs back onto the bed while Yang’s hands helped her lay carefully back down on her side.  Her stomach immediately felt queasy, but that was hopefully from the change in position and not from the medicine.

“There you go,” Yang said, sitting back down on the edge of Ruby’s bed and rubbing her back.  “That sucker should kick in soon.”

Making a soft grunt in reply, Ruby clenched her good hand around her ring when another spike of pain swept across her wrist.

The pills were...well, she didn’t know how they worked.  Something about...something. There were a lot of big words involved that she’d never understand without the head injury.  All she knew was that the pills made the pain go away for a little while. But which would it be? Sleep or hurl, sleep or hurl…

It was hard to tell how much time passed while they all silently waited for the medicine to start working.  Still suffering through quakes of agony, Ruby did her best to focus on Yang’s hand - always warmer than a normal person’s and soothing on a night like tonight.  Panting quietly through her mouth, she closed her eyes and did her best to trace the comforting hand from her shoulder, down her side, and back up again. Yang never varied the path or tempo - up, down, up, down, up, down...

“Want me to tell you a story?” Yang asked, breaking through the silence with the quiet question.

“Yes please,” Ruby whispered back.

A story was usually a good distraction - something to move the pain a little further away.  

When they were growing up, Yang had been in charge of their bedtime stories - she was really good at it too.  She spun tales so wild and imaginative, Ruby remembered being completely awed by them. It was Yang who’d made Ruby want to fly - to be a hero, to conquer fears, everything.

Ever since...what happened...Yang had started telling tales again.  At first just retelling Mom’s stories, but then branching back into spinning stories on the fly.  Ruby liked those ones the best - although Mom’s were also awesome, but she’d memorized the endings long ago.

“Ok,” Yang began, her hand continuing its track.  “Let’s see...oh here, I got one. Once upon a time, there was a girl -”

A little smile appeared at the very first sentence.  Ruby was always the girl in Yang’s stories. At least, she imagined that she was.

“So this girl, she was out one night at the store listening to the newest Achieve Men album -”

A quick laugh announced that Blake was still in the room, probably sitting in the chair over by the door.

“Hey - my story,” Yang directed that way before turning her full attention back to Ruby.  “Ok, so she’s in the store listening to the newest album, bopping along to one of their songs thinking ‘this band is the greatest ever,’ when a group of guys walk in.  She doesn’t notice them at first because she’s into the music and she’s got it turned up pretty loud. And they don’t notice her because she’s in the far back of the store and you know, she’s kinda short so the shelves are above her head.”  

Ruby giggled at the imagery because she remembered what it was like to be that short.  It was so hard to find other people in the store when the shelves were so tall...

“But anyway,” Yang continued.  “These guys are obviously bad, and they decide to hold up the guy who owns the store!  The girl doesn’t even notice at first, but then something makes her pull off the headphones - call it a disturbance in the force.  She turns and sees a group of evil dudes in horrible hats grabbing boxes of Dust, led by this tall guy with orange hair, a super awful hat, and a cane.  She’s witnessing an actual crime in progress! So, Ruby, what would you do?”

Thankfully, Ruby was actually able to think now that the medicine began to work its magic - softening the sharpness of the pain ever so slightly.  And, as the pain ebbed away, her heart slowed and her breathing returned to normal.

Thinking about the situation, she really couldn’t say what she would do.  There’s a robbery happening in front of her eyes...she could call for help, she could hide, or she could try to stop them.  But she probably couldn’t even stop a marshmallow right now, let alone a group of criminals…

“I don’t know…” 

“That’s ok!” Yang said cheerfully before continuing.  “I’ll tell you what this girl decides to do.  Instead of staying quiet or hiding, which is what she should do cuz she’s just a little kid, she hops out from behind the shelves and shouts ‘Hey, you can’t do that!’  And the tall guy says, ‘Watch me.’ I’m paraphrasing here because I don’t know exactly what they said.  I only heard this from a friend of a friend of a friend.”

Ruby laughed quietly at the comment.  Yang got a lot of stories from this ‘friend of a friend of a friend.’

“Anyway, tall guy does one of those hand waves and more bad hat dudes start appearing out of nowhere.  There must be a thousand guys - ten thousand - no, the entire city of Vale shows up and starts advancing menacingly towards her.”

The slight elaboration made Ruby smile.  She never minded that Yang would exaggerate.  It only made the stories more interesting.

“Maybe it was only a handful of dudes,” Yang corrected.  “But they had bazookas! Now is when she should run, ya know?  She’s only a kid and these are professional bad dudes - but you know what?  She decides that she doesn’t like what’s going on. She’d been having a really good time listening to the Achieve Men album and they’d just interrupted her.  Not to mention they’re doing something super illegal. So she decides she’s not going to let them get away with it.”

“She’ll fight them?” Ruby asked, glancing quickly at Yang in time to catch a nod.

“Yup!  Unlucky for them, this girl happened to never leave home without a certain weapon - one that folded up to travel easily, but expanded into a giant, unwieldy scythe named...uh...Curved Lily!”

The fake name made Ruby grin.

“Any relation to Crescent Rose?” she asked in a whisper.

“Second cousins,” Yang easily replied before continuing.  “The poor bad guys only had bazookas and ninja stars - can you believe that?  Ninja stars against Cres-er...Curved Lily? Basically, the goons were mincemeat.  They couldn’t even get a rocket off before she blasted through all of them, leaving only the big bad left.  And you know what he does? He runs , the coward.”  

“But this girl, she’s no coward.  She chases after him. She climbs on top of this hundred story building and orders him to stop.  He turns around and says, ‘alright kid, now you’re really starting to annoy me’ which is a really big compliment in villain speak.  Then he throws his hat down on the ground and says ‘Let’s duel!’”

If Ruby had had any energy left she would have laughed, but instead her small smile turned into a yawn before she asked, “Did he really?”

“No,” Yang answered flatly.  “He’d never throw his beautiful white hat on the ground - he’s that type of bad guy.  But he did say ‘let’s duel,’ I’m pretty sure - well, it’s my story so he did say that.  And you know what his weapon is?”

“The cane,” Ruby replied quietly, wincing when she shifted and accidentally moved her left arm.  But it was either the cane or the hat...

“How did you -?  Ok, yes, the cane.  So he raises it up and starts shooting at her.  Unfortunately, or fortunately I guess, she’s way too fast - dodging around like a meerkat while trying to get closer to him.  Bang! Bang! Bang! He keeps blasting the ground where she’d just been. But before she can get close enough, his ride arrives - this giant airship with cannons on the side.  And it’s not alone - there are at least a dozen other airships flying with it!”

A dozen airships with cannons...Yang was definitely embellishing the story now...

“The cannons all fire at once - a huge BOOM fills the air as a thousand cannonballs rocket towards the girl.  She can’t get away in time and the building erupts into piles of stones around her, but somehow she isn’t hurt.  When she opens her eyes, there’s a huntress standing next to her shielding them both from harm.  Now it’s Curved Lily and a fully trained huntress against the guy with a cane and his ship of cannons.  How’s that for a fair fight?”

“But...he probably wasn’t alone, right?” Ruby asked.

“As usual, my genius little sister, you are correct.  There’s another huntress - an evil huntress.  The two huntresses get into a huge battle, sending their semblances back and forth - flames versus wind.  Meanwhile, the little girl decides to take down the other attack ships like an expert marksman. Bang! One shot goes right through the cockpit window.  Bang! Another one right in the fuel tank. That ship explodes into flames and crashes into the ship beside it, setting off a chain reaction that takes out several more.  But the main ship - the one holding the bad guy - it keeps swerving while the huntresses duke it out. After the little girl has taken out ALL the other ships, she sets her sights on the bad guy with the cane.  She’s going to take him out, once and for all.”

It wasn’t intentional, but Ruby could feel her heart rate increasing in anticipation of whatever would happen next.  This was why Yang was so good at telling stories - Ruby always felt like she was there .  She could see the man with the hat.  She could see the evil huntress standing in the doorway of the ship.  She could see the building, the good huntress. She was there, in the midst of the action.

Opening her eyes, she watched Yang tell the rest of the story, hanging on to every word.

“She lines up her shot,” Yang said, holding one arm out straight like an arrow.  “Calculating the wind, the distance, the trajectory...then bang! The rifle cracks and the bullet shoots through the air - exactly on target.”

Dropping her arm, Yang remained silent long enough for Ruby to break and ask, “Do they get him?”  

“Well...no,” Yang seemed to decide.  “The evil huntress reacts just in time, disrupting the bullet and knocking it away.  But the bad guys decide they’ve had enough and retreat - shooting off in their airship.”

“Oh.”

“It can’t be a multi-part story if she gets him the first meeting!” Yang replied.  “Ok, so he gets away on his ship, but you know what happens next? The little girl gets pulled into a meeting with none other than the headmaster of Beacon Academy.  He brings her into a dimly lit room - she thinks that she’s in really big trouble, and she might’ve been if the huntress who saved her had any say. She did decide to engage a criminal when she should’ve just called the cops, after all.  But the headmaster sets a plate of chocolate chip cookies in front of her and says, ‘you’re too young, but I want you in my school.’”

The idea made Ruby chuckle.

“Like they’d let in someone underage…”  Beacon was notoriously strict about their age limit - there were never, ever, ever any exceptions.

“They decide to make an exception, because it’s my story.  Remember, this little girl just tried to stop a supervillain.  All because they interrupted her music! Imagine what she could do if something really major happened?  So the little girl decides that maybe she should go to Beacon.”

“Everyone else would be way better than her though,” Ruby pointed out.  More years of schooling meant a lot in terms of fighting. That’s why Ruby had never been able to beat Yang when they’d been growing up.  

“Well, yeah, the other kids picked on her a bit at first...but you know what?  She worked harder than anyone else. And she trained more. Pretty soon, she was leading the class.”

When Ruby felt her eyelids threatening to pull down on their own, she sent up a ‘thank you’ to the people in charge of the painkillers.  That pill had been the sleepy kind.  

“Not only leading the class,” Yang continued quietly.  “But her own team - she’s named team leader. And everyone grew to love her...because she was brave when they couldn’t be.  Because she always stood up for what was right and she never, ever gave up…”

Yang’s voice wavered as Ruby drifted towards sleep.  She managed to peek her eyes open and found Yang looking down at her with a warm smile and glistening eyes.

“It may not seem like it yet,” Yang whispered.  “But this girl is going to do some amazing things - stuff no one’s even thought possible before.”

“With Curved Lily and her team beside her,” Ruby mumbled with a content sigh while her eyes closed once more.  It was a nice thought...

“You’re absolutely right.  Her teammates followed her to the end of the world and back.  But...that’s a story for another night.”

She was going to fall asleep soon, she could feel it.  But not before she told Yang - 

“Thank you…”

“You’re welcome, Ruby.  Goodnight,” Yang replied before kissing Ruby lightly on the head, careful to avoid the stitches.  “Love you.”

The bed moved again when Yang stood up to go back to her own room.  It was only when she was near the door that Ruby mustered the energy to ask one last question.  

“Does the story have a happy ending?” she asked, dragging her eyes open one last time.

“Of course it does, Ruby,” Yang answered quietly, managing a small smile.  “All stories do, if you look hard enough.”

Satisfied with the answer, Ruby closed her eyes again.  When she heard the soft click of the bedroom door closing, she curled one hand around her necklace once more.  Her breathing was deep and steady now, a blessed relief to what it had been earlier.

Physically, those few minutes of torture had completely wiped out her energy.  Add the medicine on top of that, and she was completely exhausted. Just another night in recovery mode…

Loosening her grip on consciousness, her mind drifted to the newest tale Yang had begun to tell.  An early entrant into Beacon - a young girl who was fearless in the face of danger. Ruby wished that she could be like the girl in the story, but she didn’t think she was brave enough.  And she certainly wasn’t strong enough. At least, not right now.

But maybe one day she could be.

No, she would be.  If she worked hard enough, she could do it.  And she would do it - no matter how many gag pills it took.  She just needed to never, ever give up.

Chapter Text

It was amazing how much could change in a single year - how lives could be built and destroyed, fortunes made and squandered, loves gained and lost - and yet, in the same period of time, some things would remain exactly the same.  It was as if some powerful being decided that certain aspects of the world would reject the concept of time - they would instead be blessed with a strange form of immortality...destined to endure. 

Her life had not been deemed so fortunate: it had been turned on its head, torn apart, and scattered to the wind.  Yet, while she struggled through a year’s worth of adversity, the most mundane of places hadn’t changed one bit.  

Today, she’d managed to convince herself to visit the Vale Galleria - an outdoor shopping center popular amongst the more middle-class of Vale’s residents for its affordable shopping and dining options.  Walking through familiar pathways paved in sand-colored stones, she noted that nothing had changed in the time she’d been away. There were the same stores, the same restaurants, and the same giant water fountain sitting in the middle of the entire complex, acting as a hub connecting all of the different spokes lined with shops. 

There were the same tables spaced perfectly around the same open seating area, set up in the same pattern.  The same blue and white umbrellas standing open above each table, providing shelter from the sun up above. The same buzz in the air from the myriad of people out shopping all at once.  If she blinked, she might convince herself that the same people were here - as if they’d never been able to leave and carry on with their own lives.

Everything was the same as the past hundred times she’d been here, which meant that the only thing that had changed was her.  Her life had been shattered into pieces, yet this place carried on completely undisturbed. The realization was enough to make any person feel the weight of their own insignificance...

These days, the hustle and bustle of crowded spaces was something she avoided at all costs.  Being surrounded by strangers grated harshly on her nerves, while also filling her with an unmistakable anxiety and desire to escape.  This was why she’d chosen to come here in the middle of the workday when it was hopefully less crowded.

However, apparently shopping had no quiet hours.  The din of voices made her want to turn right around and head home, but she was doing everything in her power to ignore the coward inside of her.  After the disaster that was her last visit with Ruby, she needed to accomplish something that would prove she could still do this.  She could stay in Vale. She could fight off the demons of her past.  She could walk into this memory-filled shopping center and survive.  

It was such an infinitesimal step forward that she knew the previous version of herself would scoff in loathing.  But at least it was something. She couldn’t hide from the past forever, could she?

Not only had she made it here...not only had she traversed as far as the fountain...but she was also determined to make progress towards another of her lofty goals today.

Glancing towards one of the standing clocks placed at each of the four entrances to the courtyard, she found that she still had plenty of time.  She’d given herself ample padding to ensure she wasn’t late and to plan for any...unexpected delays. With some free time, her feet drew her closer to the fountain, with its splashes and streams of water serving to drown out much of the noise from shoppers passing by.  The thin jets of water shooting out from the center of the fountain ended too far from the edge for Weiss to reach them, but close enough that she could consider trying. After glancing into the basin and seeing the shimmering coins lying below, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

How many wishes had been made here?

How many hadn’t come true?

Opening her eyes, she turned away from the fountain and searched the randomly occupied tables surrounding her.  The layout was exactly the same, which meant…yes. It was still here, and currently unoccupied.  

Of course it was still here.  Just because they’d been gone didn’t mean it would cease to exist.

Striding over to what had been unofficially deemed ‘their’ table, she ran one hand across the back of ‘her’ chair while trying to decide whether or not she wanted to stay.  Should today be the day she finally sat somewhere new?  

Looking away, her eyes scanned the empty spots available in search of a suitable alternative, but found none.  This was the best seat in the entire area. It had a clear view of all the entrances and exits, while also being far enough away from the fountain that the sound of the water wouldn’t dampen any conversations.

Internally she grappled, one hand placed lightly on the back of the chair as if she might pull it out at any second.  She also might walk away at any second.  

After several more moments of indecision, she sighed and shook her head.  Why must every decision be so difficult? It was a chair, for Grimm’s sake.

Pulling it out from underneath the table, she sat down before she had time to change her mind.  Once seated she began to feel...better. She’d made a decision and had seen it through. Small as it was, she’d willingly chosen to revisit the past and hadn’t been immediately overcome by emotions.  Granted, it was only a chair...

Allowing her eyes to wander over the crowds, she was drawn back to how similar it felt.  The people could very well be different, but to her it looked like the same crowds as every other day she’d been here.  And the more familiar it felt, the more she could feel memories pulling at the corners of her mind, tempting her with a trip down memory lane.

This was a happy place though, filled with happy memories.  

Tilting her head up towards the small section of sun slipping underneath the umbrella, she basked in the warm rays and closed her eyes, letting a soft sigh of contentment slip out.  The sound of voices was soothing, in a way. Once upon a time she’d enjoyed being surrounded by people going about their own days, with their own lives and stories. The anonymity provided by being just one of the crowd made her feel...normal.

“Hey, look what I got!”

Her eyes flew open and snapped towards the voice, expecting to find the speaker skipping joyfully over to her with some new treasure clasped in both hands.  But it didn’t take more than a quick glance to find that there was no one speaking to her. Probably just someone nearby with a similar voice…

Regardless, she peered around while closely listening for the person to speak again.  Hearing nothing, she sighed again and settled on people-watching instead of resting her eyes.  

The courtyard was the perfect stopping place for families to grab a bite to eat from any of the various restaurants surrounding them.  It also worked perfectly as a place to rest between shopping adventures, or as a meeting spot to wait for co-workers, family, or friends.  It was this last purpose that brought Weiss here today, braving the crowds and the memories.

Allowing her gaze to drift across blank face after blank face, it was only a few minutes longer before her eyes locked onto a familiar person making their way into the fountain’s courtyard.

It was fascinating how much Blake stood out in a crowd when she wasn’t actively trying to disappear.  And Weiss honestly believed it had nothing to do with the ears. It was the way Blake walked. Or the way her eyes observed everything so keenly.  Or it was the incredible aura of intelligence and character that far exceeded anyone she passed. Whatever it was, and Weiss had never been able to decide exactly what it might be, Blake was easy to pick out of a crowd.

The instant Weiss stood from her seat, Blake’s eyes found her.  With an easy smile, Blake picked her way through the tables and shoppers before reaching Weiss and pulling her in for a quick hug.  The gesture was comforting beyond measure - if only for that brief instant in time. Of the four of them, Blake was least likely to hand out hugs, so for her to give one to Weiss was...encouraging, to say the least.

“Thanks for coming to meet me,” she said as Blake drew away and took the seat across the table.

“Of course, Weiss.  I’m surprised you wanted to meet here though.”  Weiss’ eyes followed Blake’s hand as it waved at the area around them - a space they’d been to together many times.

“I couldn’t think of anywhere else,” Weiss answered, leaving out the part where this was all part of her fledgling effort to face the past.  “I’m surprised Yang’s not with you though.”

“Yang and I aren’t surgically attached at the hip...yet,” Blake responded with an amused grin, leaning comfortably back in her seat.  “So, what did you need my help with?”

This was it - one of the goals Weiss was determined to see through.  It was probably going to be horribly difficult, but what wasn’t horribly difficult for her these days?  

“I wanted to ask if you’ll help get Yang to speak to me again.  Or at least look like she doesn’t want to punch me all the time.”

From the way Blake’s ears twitched, that request wasn’t what she’d expected.  Weiss understood that it was a lot to ask, but no one knew Yang better. And no one had more insight into her current thoughts on Weiss’ continued existence.  If the two of them were ever going to be friends again - or even just friendly acquaintances - she needed Blake’s help. 

When Blake leaned forward and placed both elbows on the table, it was clear that she was taking the request seriously.  Her expression remained thoughtful for what felt like an incredibly long time before she finally opened her mouth to speak.

“You two need to talk to each other.”

“I’ve tried.”

“You need to try again,” Blake replied with a serious gaze.  “And really talk.  Be honest.  She’ll yell, but she probably needs that.  You both need to talk everything out. That’s the only way this will get better.”

Weiss’ brow furrowed at the advice.

“So...let her yell at me?”

If there was anything Weiss loathed, it was being yelled at.  Even if she was completely in the wrong, there was something about having another person shout in her face that made her want to shout back.  Which she normally did.

“You need to explain to her how you felt , Weiss,” Blake continued, her eyes observing Weiss closely.  “Explain why you made the decision to leave - the overwhelming guilt, the fear of rejection, all of the pain that comes with it.  Because, believe me, she doesn’t understand.”

Blake’s own explanation was so spot-on that Weiss stared in surprise.  Her silence only made Blake sigh and drop her gaze to the table.  

“You’re not the first person to run away from their problems...it happens.  We’re not perfect.”

The reply made Weiss frown.  She wanted to be perfect.  That’s what she’d considered herself to be...before she’d gone to Beacon.  

It was one thing to admit her personal failings to Ruby - that was something Weiss would’ve gladly done in the past - but to explain her greatest mistakes to Yang?  To attempt to put into words the extent of the torment thriving in her mind? To be open and honest and hope that Yang wouldn’t crush the last of Weiss’ resolve?

“I don’t know if I can...” she whispered, drawing Blake’s gaze once more.

“You can still try.  Doesn’t she deserve at least that much?”

Thinking about the question, Weiss’ brow furrowed while she bit at her bottom lip.  After what she’d done, yes, Yang deserved so much more than just an attempted explanation.  But the idea of being that vulnerable with someone other than Ruby made Weiss’ hands tremble in unease.

“What if I try to explain...and she still hates me?”

The genuine worry actually made Blake break into a smile, leveling Weiss with a steady gaze.

“This is Yang we’re talking about, Weiss.  You know as well as I do that if you’re sincere and honest she won’t be able to hold a grudge much longer.”

What Blake said was true.  The Yang Weiss knew from Beacon was terrible at staying mad for any extended period of time, especially when it came to friends or family.  There were second chances, third chances, fourth chances...nearly an endless amount of forgiveness thrived in Yang and Ruby both. Although that forgiveness likely only applied when someone truly deserved it...

After a moment of silence, Blake continued in a soft voice, as if trying not to hurt Weiss’ feelings with the words she was about to say.

“She doesn’t expect you to stay, you know…”

The revelation brought Weiss back to the conversation in a heartbeat.

“She doesn’t?” 

“No.”  Blake shook her head and smiled sadly.  “She thinks that any day now we’ll wake up and you’ll be gone again.  That’s why she’s not bothering to make amends. She’s already upset at you for what she thinks you’re going to do next.”

The disclosure left Weiss taken aback and filled with anguish.  It was one thing for her to evaluate her own mental health and question her ability to stay...but it was another for someone who used to be her closest friend to do the same.  If it was true, then she really did need to speak with Yang. Or, at the very least, find a way to make it clear that she had no intention of leaving again. Although she’d had no intentions of leaving the first time…

“What about you?” she asked with a heavy heart.  “Do you think I’ll leave again too?”

“I…” Blake closed her mouth and shook her head before finishing her response.  “I hope that she’s wrong.”

With a slow nod Weiss accepted that answer - it was at least honest.  She wished there was some sort of guarantee she could use to prove that it wouldn’t happen again, but she didn’t have any evidence that could even begin to refute that point of view.  If anything, her actions up to now likely suggested the opposite of her true intentions.

Ruby couldn’t see it, but it was now obvious that Blake and Yang could.  They saw the cracks in Weiss’ hastily constructed composure. Maybe they couldn’t see the extent of the damage, but they knew that not everything was as Weiss made it seem.  Of course they could see right through her facade - they were her teammates and they knew her well. There was no point in making promises to them that they already knew she might not have the capacity to keep.  

She’d been living behind masks and pretense for so long that to have that ability suddenly taken away was both disconcerting and exposing.  But also, oddly relieving. It was exhausting trying to keep track of the lies sometimes...

After some silence, Weiss decided that it was time to put that conversation behind them.  Reaching into her bag, she pulled out a thin envelope with the Schnee Dust logo in one corner and slid it across the table to Blake - who accepted it curiously.

“In the meantime, I bought you both tickets to the Achieve Men concert in a few weeks.  I would give them to her myself, but I’m guessing she might rip them up if they came from me directly.”

Raising an eyebrow, Blake opened the envelope to take a peek at the tickets inside.

“You’re going with bribery then?”

“It’s one of the skills Schnees are best at,” Weiss replied with a hint of derision in her voice.  “Well, that and extortion...I didn’t know where she’d want to sit, so I just bought the most expensive ones.”

Pulling out the thin slips of paper, Blake’s brow briefly furrowed while reading, before her eyes widened in surprise.

“Weiss - these are backstage passes!”

“That’s good then?”

Chuckling and shaking her head, Blake carefully slid the tickets back into the envelope and folded over the flap to close it.  “That’s not something she’ll be able to easily decline. And she definitely won’t be tearing them up.”

Setting the envelope carefully off to the side, Blake leaned forward and rested both of her hands on the table once more, her ears pointing directly to Weiss.

“But how have you been doing, Weiss?  What have you been up to all this time?”

When Blake asked the questions, there wasn’t a single drop of malice or sarcasm in her tone.  She genuinely wanted to know - because she legitimately cared about how Weiss had been. This was the same girl that Weiss had once griped about having to team with, let alone live with.  The same girl that Weiss had once derided as a criminal...  

Yet there was no one more understanding than Blake.  She could be trusted with secrets...lies...insecurities...

“I’ve been...working.  Working a lot,” Weiss answered truthfully.  There wasn’t really more to her story than that - she’d thrown herself into her work to avoid thinking about the past.  There were also the excursions out into the forests, but Blake didn’t need to know about those at this moment. “But how have you and Yang been?” she asked, redirecting the conversation and removing the spotlight from herself.  “It seems like nothing’s changed for you two - except for me showing up and ruining things.”

“You haven’t ruined anything,” Blake replied, her tone uncharacteristically stern before her expression softened.  “We’re doing great though. She’s still everything I need. And then some.”

The reply made Weiss crack a smile, knowing full well that Yang could be a handful on a good day.  It was always baffling how the two of them had hit it off so well - like they were crafted solely to complement one another.  Somehow, Blake was able to effortlessly handle the abundance of energy and ego, and seamlessly direct it towards productive causes without Yang even realizing what was happening.   

There was much more to it than that, as Yang’s own outlook and mentality somehow meshed perfectly with Blake’s, even though they were starkly different.  It was like blending oil with water and expecting neither to yield to the other, but, instead, each gave way and a more perfect combination appeared. 

“I’m honestly surprised you two aren’t married yet,” Weiss commented offhandedly.  It was meant to be lighthearted, but she instantly knew that it wasn’t from the way Blake’s eyes fell to the table and her hands clasped together.

“I don’t think...she wants to go down that road right now...”

Heart plunging through her chest, Weiss couldn’t feel more horrible for bringing the topic up.  How insensitive could she be?

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean -”

“Don’t be sorry, Weiss,” Blake cut her off with a small smile.  “You have nothing to apologize for. If I wasn’t completely happy, I would say something to her.  But things are great the way they are. Maybe once Ruby gets back on her feet…” As Blake’s sentence drifted off, her eyes temporarily unfocused before quickly snapping back to Weiss as if the thought hadn’t wandered away.

“It’s just not the right time.”

Not the right time…

Everyone accepted that the pair would be married one day, but obstacles seemed to delay them at every turn.  In this case, that obstacle had been Weiss and the responsibilities she’d unceremoniously dumped into their laps.

“You two have made quite the name for yourselves, from what I’ve heard,” Weiss said instead, trying to steer the conversation to a better subject.  In her absence, she’d tried not to hear too much about her teammates, but news inevitably floated by her ears when she walked through the halls at work.  Thankfully, Blake grinned at the words and let the previous topic fall behind them.

“You know Yang - she wants to be the best and be known as the best.”

“I used to know her, yes,” Weiss replied, dropping her gaze to the tabletop.  “But so much has changed.”

“Less has changed than you might think.  It probably just feels like a lot right now.”

Blake could say that again, Weiss thought while letting out a sigh.  It was overwhelming on a good day - like swimming into wave after wave and getting pummeled into the water every single time.  By the time she came up for air, she was crushed by another one.

But, if there was good news to be celebrated, it was that she was able to sit at this table and have a somewhat normal conversation with one of her closest friends.  There were still sore spots and landmines lurking at the end of every sentence, but her internal coward wasn’t ringing the alarms of anxiety, forcing her to contemplate escape.

“Thank you, Blake.  For being willing to talk.”

Her sincere gratitude was met by a steady expression from across the table.

“You’re still our teammate, Weiss.  And you’re still my friend. I want to help and, selfishly, I want things to go back to how they were.”

Sighing again, Weiss shook her head at the admission.  “I don’t think that that can ever happen. Not after everything…”

“We’ve all made mistakes.  Yang just wants Ruby to be happy.  If she didn’t think you could make Ruby happy, do you honestly think you would’ve made it through the front door?”

A small smile slipped out in response to Blake’s reply, which was spoken with a large degree of truth.

“Plus...and she’ll never admit this...but she wants to give you another chance.  I know deep down she does. I can see it in how much she’s fighting with herself.”

“She doesn’t have to give me anything, I can earn it - I plan on earning another chance,” Weiss replied resolutely.  The determination surprised herself, and made Blake smile.

“That’s good enough for me,” she said, finally leaning back in her chair.  “But you still haven’t asked me what I thought you wanted to know today.”

“What’s that?” Weiss asked, tilting her head in curiosity of what she was failing to consider.

“Ruby,” Blake answered, her smile falling into a pleased smirk.  “Don’t you want to know what she thinks of you?”

The mere mention of Ruby’s name set loose butterflies in Weiss’ chest.  Add in the realization that Blake could offer insights that Weiss would never be able to gather on her own...

“What does she think?” she asked breathlessly, oblivious to how much she needed that answer until now.  “Have you talked to her?”

“Yes, I have.  And she wants to be your friend,” Blake replied, eyes twinkling with something between amusement and happiness.  “It might be too early to say, but I think she likes you a lot. She kind of...lights up when you’re around. It’s something I haven’t seen from her since...before.”

There were a plethora of reasons why that might be - many of them revolving around the reality that Ruby just liked people in general - but Weiss wanted to believe that there was something special about her, that maybe Ruby liked her more than normal people.  

A smile slipped out and there was nothing she could do to stop it.  The idea that Ruby might like her...it felt like their first year at Beacon all over again.

As if on cue, she heard a burst of familiar laughter drift across the courtyard to her.  Immediately dropping Blake’s gaze and scanning the crowds, she found a bob of brown hair to the left that looked exactly like Ruby’s.  The vision made Weiss’ pulse skyrocket and her palms grow sweaty. Not right now , she groaned to herself.  Why right now? She’d been dealing with her memories just fine…

Before she could force her eyes back to Blake, the crowd thinned enough for her to see that her mind wasn’t playing tricks on her - it was Ruby.  And Yang.  Both girls were walking over to their table, with Ruby bouncing happily by Yang’s side.

“What -?” Weiss asked, at a complete loss for words at the unexpected development.  

“Yang asked me where I was going,” Blake explained apologetically, not even turning in her chair to know what was causing Weiss’ sudden consternation.  “We might not be attached at the hip, but we don’t lie to each other. I told her I was coming to meet you, so she and Ruby did a little shopping and then wanted to see you.  Well, Ruby wanted to see you.”

The words hardly registered in Weiss’ mind as her eyes remained trained on Ruby, heart beating quickly.  Ruby was talking animatedly to Yang about something while swinging a plastic bag in full circles around one wrist.  There was a hop in her step that was so familiar it made Weiss want to run over and jump into Ruby’s arms for a hug.

This wasn’t her Ruby though.  This was the ghost Weiss needed to summon a great deal of courage in order to face.

“But I’m not…” she began, as panic bubbled in her veins.

“Ready?” Blake finished for her before chuckling.  “Weiss, when have you ever needed to be ready to see Ruby?”

“I - since -” she stammered before snapping her mouth shut.

Since she’d left.  She needed to mentally prepare herself for Ruby’s vitality and for the potential memories forever attached to Ruby’s slender frame.  She hadn’t done that today. She hadn’t thought that Ruby would be here .  Right now.  Walking over to her.

For a brief instant, Weiss considered standing and abruptly leaving in order to escape the impending interaction, but then Ruby’s eyes found hers and lit up in excitement.  With a big smile and sparkling eyes, Ruby left her older sister’s side in favor of racing the remaining distance to the table.

If there had been any possibility of Weiss walking away, it was destroyed by the smile aimed her way.

“Hey Weiss!”

“Ruby -” she replied while her heart did a barrel roll in her chest.  When Ruby practically crashed into one of the empty chairs at the table, a small laugh of amusement even slipped out.  

Her eyes drifted above Ruby to Yang, who merely nodded in acknowledgement before leaning down to give Blake a kiss between the ears.  Yang then slid comfortably into the chair beside Blake, eyes never leaving her partner in one of those displays of devotion Yang was prone to making.  For her part, Blake never turned away, accepting Yang’s affection freely and uninhibitedly.  

The entire interaction lasted only a few seconds, but it was enough to make Weiss wonder if Blake ever felt guilty sometimes...for what had happened to Yang’s arm.  Because to an outside observer, it was impossible to tell that anything bad had ever befallen them. They simply looked...in love.

When Yang leaned forward for a kiss, Weiss politely turned away and moved her full attention to Ruby.

“What did you buy?” she asked, glancing curiously at the plastic bag that had been plopped down on top of the table.  

“Oh!  Lots of great stuff!” Ruby replied before pulling out random pieces of hardware - wires, sections of metal, and several small tubes of paint.  To the untrained eye it would look like junk, but Ruby treated each and every item like an invaluable treasure.  

Another laugh nearly slipped out when Weiss realized that she’d been half expecting Ruby to have gotten new clothes.  Of course, Ruby had never been that type of girl. And, apparently, still wasn’t that type of girl.

“They’re the last things I need to finish up my glove!” Ruby explained, picking up a thin plastic bag containing a few lengths of nearly microscopic wire and holding it up so Weiss could see.

“It’s that close to being finished?” she asked.  It seemed like Ruby had only just begun working on the pet project, but these last tidbits appeared to be the finishing touches on any new contraption. 

“Yup!  I just needed these wires to loop together the transistors and the glue to hold down the wires.  There’s never enough glue, it seems,” Ruby muttered to herself before turning shimmering silver eyes back to Weiss.  “Then there are these very specific hinges - we just had them custom made! Look how small they are!”

The hinges Ruby held up were indeed very small.  

“May I see this glove when you’re done with it?” Weiss asked while obligingly accepting the tiny hinge when it was passed over for her inspection.  From the way Ruby beamed at the request, it was exactly the question she’d hoped for.

“Of course!  I’d love to show you!  I think it could be really awesome.  I hope…” Ruby bit her lip for a brief second until the momentary insecurity passed by.  She then glanced quickly to the left and right before turning back to Weiss with an expectant expression set in place. 

The familiar gaze made Weiss’ heart instantly beat faster.  It was an expression that Weiss had come to adore and dread at the same time.  It was the one that meant Ruby was about to get whatever she asked for next. And she’d used it on some pretty extravagant wishes in the past...

“Weiss…” Ruby began, her voice low enough that Yang couldn’t overhear from the other side of the table.  Weiss leaned closer in anticipation of whatever the request would be. Whatever she could do that would make Ruby happy, she was willing to do it.

“Do you...want to get some ice cream?”

Weiss nearly let out an audible sigh of relief at the easily fulfilled wish.  

“Absolutely,” she answered, mustering a smile before following Ruby’s lead standing up.

“We’re gonna get some ice cream!” Ruby pronounced, drawing Blake and Yang’s attention away from each other.  “Do you want anything?”

“No thanks,” Yang replied at the same time Blake shook her head ‘no.’  

“Ok, but you can’t steal any of mine then!” Ruby quipped at her sister before waving Weiss away from the table.  “Have you ever been to this place?” Ruby asked while they wove their way through the tables and shoppers towards the ice cream parlor lining the courtyard.

“Once or twice before,” Weiss fudged, trying to temper the swell of heartbreak that Ruby even had to ask.  This had been their favorite ice cream shop in all of Vale - and they’d tried them all .  Literally.  That had been one of Ruby’s outlandish wishes that Weiss made sure came true.

“It’s so good!” Ruby remarked with a happy hop to express just how excited she was about the impending sugar rush.  “Definitely my favorite place in town.”

Even though Weiss was still disappointed, the comment managed to make her smile.  That was one more thing that hadn’t changed.

When they reached the door, Ruby pulled it open and held it for Weiss.  The moment she walked inside the smell of sugar inundated her. Combined with the warm lights and cheerful buzz of lively conversations occurring all around them, it was like stepping into a time capsule.  As with the rest of the mall, this shop hadn’t felt the effects of time. It looked the same, sounded the same, smelled the same -

She jumped when someone touched her hand, then mentally scolded herself when she realized Ruby had only mistakenly brushed against her by accident while joining her inside.  The pull of another lifetime was fading away though, this time allowing Weiss to concentrate on trailing Ruby towards the front counter.

“Do you know what you’re going to have?” Weiss asked curiously.

“Heck yes!” Ruby replied while stepping up in preparation to order.  The older gentleman behind the counter was immediately recognizable - he’d owned the shop for the past twenty or so years.

“Ruby Rose!” he greeted her with a wide grin.  “Guessing you’d like a Ruby’s Special?”

“You know it!” Ruby replied with another hop of excitement than made him laugh joyfully before turning towards Weiss.

“And you -”  His eyes widened and he did a small double-take when he saw Weiss standing behind Ruby.  Trying not to make it into a huge episode, Weiss gave him a nod of recognition that he returned with a warm smile.  “And for you, Miss?” he asked in a gentler tone. “The usual, as well?”

A quick glance towards Ruby assured Weiss that the girl was too busy staring inside the case of ice cream to have caught his question.  With a small smile, she gave him a single nod.

“Yes, please.”

With another beaming smile, the man set off to create their ice cream masterpieces.  Well, Ruby’s was much more of a masterpiece than Weiss’ was.

“What brought you here today?” he asked while scooping multiple flavors into a giant boat that would be Ruby’s.  “Reach another milestone or two?”

“Naw, just out shopping with Yang!  Got some new part stuff.”

“The doohickeys and geewhillickers?”

“Hey, you’re learning!” Ruby answered with a laugh that he shared.  “You’ll be building your own weapon in no time!”

“The only thing I’ll be building,” he replied, setting one Ruby’s Special on the counter for her to take.  “Is a monument celebrating ice cream.”

Ruby let out an ‘ooooh’ of glee while accepting her ice cream, which was a work of art - and that was a term that Weiss didn’t use lightly.  From the different colors of ice cream, to the purposefully placed toppings, to the delicately crafted tuft of whipped cream on top, he put a level of care into his creation that was worthy of museum consideration.

A moment later he passed Weiss her own order - a much more subdued cup containing only one flavor and a swirl of caramel dressing on top.  Upon closer inspection, she smiled when she found that the swirl was actually a very intricate ‘W.’  

“I’ll pay,” she quickly interjected when she noticed Ruby digging around in her pockets.

“Are you sure?” 

“Yes, I’d like to buy your ice cream,” Weiss responded with what she hoped was a convincing smile.  It must have worked, because Ruby looked hesitant for only a moment before grinning.

“Ok, but only if I get to pay next time!”

“Deal,” Weiss agreed with a nod.  “You want to get some napkins?”

After nodding again, Ruby shot off to the counter holding both napkins and spoons for them to use.

“Haven’t seen you around here in a while,” the man commented while ringing up their order and taking Weiss’ card as payment.

“I’ve been...away,” she answered halfheartedly.

When he nodded at something over her shoulder, she turned to find Ruby kneeling on the floor talking eagerly with a small child, pointing to each of the different flavors in her ice cream.  

“She’s a fighter, that one,” he said, shaking his head slowly in respect.  “It was an inspiration watching her come back to life after what happened. And she never lost her smile.”

Feeling their attention, Ruby turned towards them, smiled, and waved.  Weiss smiled in return before turning to accept her card, but when he handed it to her he held on a little longer than expected, drawing her gaze up to his in confusion.

“It’s good to see you back here too,” he said kindly before letting go and carrying his full attention to the next customer in line.  For a few seconds, Weiss stared at his back in surprise before finally turning away.

“Ready?” she asked Ruby, who nodded and led the way out of the shop.  

The lack of sugar in the air outside could easily be classified as a smell in itself.  Lost in thought, Weiss hardly noticed the crowds while mindlessly following Ruby back to their table.

It hurt that even an outsider had been there to watch Ruby recover...

“You must come here often,” Weiss said, fighting to keep the pain and resentment out of her voice.

“Yang would bring me as a reward for reaching physical therapy goals,” Ruby explained.  “The owner’s so nice. He always gives me extra toppings!”

“That’s...very kind of him,” Weiss replied, feeling a spike of gratitude in her heart upon hearing that he gave Ruby special treatment.  

That feeling evaporated when they reached the table.  Watching Weiss closely, Yang was now holding the envelope containing the concert tickets and tapping it slowly against the side of her arm.  Opening her mouth to say something, Yang abruptly closed it, then opened it again.

“Thanks for the tickets, Weiss,” she said, the words coming out in such a rush it felt like she nearly didn’t want to say them at all.

“You’re welcome.”  Dipping her head, Weiss attempted a smile.  She understood that such a trivial gift wouldn’t change anything immediately, but she wanted to make a gesture that would show she was at least trying to improve this situation.  Not only for Ruby, but for everyone.

Pulling out her chair and sitting down at the table, out of the corner of her eye Weiss caught Blake reaching over to squeeze Yang’s hand.

“Weiss, you gotta try some of mine!” Ruby said, promptly removing the entire tuft of whipped cream and downing it in one bite.

“Well…”

“Please??” Ruby followed up the request with big silver eyes.  “Just one bite?”

It was a scientific fact that there was no possible way to say ‘no’ to those eyes.  Not when it was such a harmless request that would still make Ruby exceptionally happy…

Nodding her head, Weiss expected Ruby to slide the bowl over, but instead Ruby swiped her spoon across several flavors before holding it out for Weiss to try.  For a moment, she just stared at the spoon Ruby was extending across the table.

Did she...want Weiss to take the ice cream off of the spoon while she was still holding it?  

The answer was clearly ‘yes’ from the way Ruby wiggled the spoon up and down encouragingly.

Cheeks heating up, Weiss first straightened her posture and glanced around before quickly leaning forward and taking the ice cream off of Ruby’s spoon.  The action made Ruby grin with happiness while Weiss was a mere few seconds away from dying of embarrassment.

“How is it?”

“Very sweet,” she answered truthfully.  “But the combination of flavors is surprisingly good.”

“Yeah, I don’t know how they all go together, but they do!” Ruby replied before looking down at Weiss’ cup.  “What flavor did you get?”

“Vanilla almond.”

“Is it any good?”

The question very nearly made Weiss laugh out loud.  Combined with Ruby’s gaze, it was abundantly obvious that an entirely different question was being asked.  

“Would you like some?” she asked, sliding the bowl towards Ruby.

“No, no, that’s not how it works!” Ruby instantly replied, waving her hands and backing away from the bowl like it was on fire.  “You gotta feed it to me too!”

Weiss’ mouth dropped in shock while Ruby watched expectantly, her eyes glinting joyfully.

Was she being serious?

If it was a joke, she should have laughed by now.  Instead, she continued to watch Weiss eagerly for an answer.

“S-sure…” she stammered.  Carefully collecting a scoop of ice cream onto her spoon, she extended it across the table, willing her arm not to shake.  Her entire face was burning and growing even hotter when Blake and Yang decided that now was the perfect time to tune into Weiss and Ruby’s interaction - both of them with a mixture of entertained smugness readable in their expressions.

Without a second thought, Ruby chomped forward and removed the entire scoop in one pull, savoring it for an instant before licking her lips and smiling.

“That one’s good too!” she surmised before setting in on her own dessert again.  “Man, they don’t have any bad flavors!”

Weiss’ cheeks were on fire - hot enough that she wouldn’t be surprised if steam started flowing off of her any second now.  Feeding another person was a very...familiar...action to take. It wasn’t typically done amongst friends, at least not that she was aware of.  

The smirk Yang sent across the table only solidified the fact that Ruby had just gotten Weiss to engage in a public display of affection.  Was that just Ruby being friendly? Weiss understood that Ruby could be socially awkward on the best of days, but she couldn't possibly believe that that was merely a friendly gesture...could she?

A sharp pang of jealousy ran through Weiss’ chest when her mind conjured an image of some other girl feeding Ruby ice cream.  

“Oh!  Now you gotta try this flavor!” Ruby called out, extending another spoonful across the table and waiting patiently for Weiss to have it.

One of these times she was going to burst into flames from the embarrassment.  Leaning forward and taking the spoon in her mouth, it thankfully wasn’t this time.  Although it did feel like she was getting awfully close to the sun.

“Mm...good, also sweet,” she replied, wiping one corner of her mouth with a napkin as Ruby happily accepted the verdict on this new flavor.

Ruby wouldn’t do this with just anyone, right?  It was almost...well, it was flirtatious.  Or was Weiss reading into it too much?  There was no way she’d ever do this with anyone other than Ruby - she’d never done it with Ruby previously!  And how many times had they been here eating ice cream together?

“On second thought, maybe I do want some ice cream,” Yang said with a grin, unable to remain quiet any longer.  Laughing at the insinuation, Blake stood up and reached for Yang’s hand. As the two of them walked away, Weiss glanced across the table and watched Ruby eat her ice cream while her left hand fiddled with that red stress ball.  Something about the sight made Weiss’ heart ache even more painfully than the slight glint of the silver ring hanging on a chain around her neck.

What if Ruby knew? 

What if Weiss told her that everything she’d gone through - the pain, the rehabilitation, the countless pills and lost hours of sleep - had all been Weiss’ fault?  What if Weiss told her that while she’d been suffering, Weiss had been across the world trying to forget that she even existed?  

Instead of sticking around to help fix her mistakes, Weiss had run from them.  She’d avoided taking responsibility for her actions. And, through all of that, Ruby still wore their promise around her neck - the promise Weiss had already broken.

What would Ruby think of Weiss then?

“Hey, Weiss?” Ruby suddenly asked, breaking her out of her thoughts.  Not yet finished with her ice cream, Ruby was swirling the spoon around the bottom, mixing together the remaining flavors in a manner that looked thoughtless rather than intentional.

“Yes?”

The sight in front of Weiss was rather new - an unsure Ruby who seemed to have something on her mind.

“I was just wondering…” Ruby began, still swirling the spoon clockwise in the bowl.  “Like...if you wanted to...maybe I could have your number?”

The question was so unexpected Weiss’ eyes widened in surprise.  Fortunately, she was able to quickly snap out of it and provide an answer.

“O-of course you can.”

The response made Ruby beam so cheerfully, Weiss couldn’t help smiling in return.

“Really??  I won’t bother you too much, I swear!  I just thought maybe it’d be nice to have someone to talk to who isn’t Blake or Yang -”

“Absolutely,” Weiss replied, pulling a pen and scrap of paper out of her bag and writing her information down on it.  “You could never bother me though.”

After Weiss slid the paper across the table, Ruby picked it up and looked at the numbers as if they were valued treasures.

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that!” she remarked with a grin before setting in on the end of her ice cream with gusto.  Foregoing the spoon, she lifted the entire bowl and drained it like the milk left at the end of a bowl of cereal - if Ruby would ever finish the milk at the end of a bowl of cereal…

“Hey kiddo!”

Both of them turned towards the voice, finding Yang and Blake returning to their table but not sitting back down.

“How do you feel about taking that on the road?  We’ve got a couple more errands to run before heading home.”

“Already finished!” Ruby replied proudly, shoving the empty bowl towards the middle of the table.

“Jeez...who taught you to vacuum sugar like that?”  Yang took a quick bite of her own ice cream before pointing the empty spoon towards Ruby.  “Then you’re ready to go?”

"Sure!” Ruby answered before hastily collecting the empty cup and her bag of hardware.  The piece of paper with Weiss’ number on it was then carefully folded up and slipped into her front pocket.  “I’ll talk to you soon?” she directed to Weiss.

“Whenever you want,” Weiss replied, trying not to be too blatantly obvious that she would love for Ruby to call or message any time.  With another grin, Ruby joined her sister and Blake beside the table to walk back the way they’d come.

“Are you staying?” Blake asked before they left.  Nodding, Weiss leaned back in her seat.

“I have a few more errands to do too,” she fibbed.  “Beginning with finishing this off.” Holding up her remaining ice cream, she was pleased to find that no one was going to press her further on the matter.

“We’ll see you later then.”  Blake’s reply was much less a question than it was a formal statement - and Weiss appreciated it as such.  

The three girls then set off together, with Ruby turning around at the fountain and waving one last time.  While Weiss watched them walk away, her heart continued beating loudly in both happiness and uncertainty.

It was incredible to think that she’d almost run from their most recent interaction.  Now it was difficult to remember why she panicked upon being surprised with Ruby’s presence.  It was almost as if Weiss continued to forget how easy it was to be with Ruby.  There hadn’t been any lingering uncomfortableness from the way Weiss had run out last, not that she should have expected any with Ruby’s propensity to accept awkwardness.

But...Ruby asked for Weiss’ number.  That hadn’t even happened at Beacon since they were on the same team and therefore sharing information had been deemed necessary.  But Ruby had asked .  So cutely, at that.  

Replaying the moment in her mind, Weiss smiled while swirling the spoon through her own melted ice cream.  So much had changed...but the way Ruby made her feel had remained the same.

Chapter Text

Pancakes. 

If there was one smell Ruby would willingly wake up for - no matter how early it was - it was pancakes.

Pancakes and butter and syrupppp.

Rolling out of bed with her nose sniffing the delicious air, she didn’t even bother changing out of her pajamas before racing to the kitchen.  There was no dress code for pancakes! Or for breakfast in general. Or for food in general.

In her excitement, she might have used her semblance to get there a little faster.  Just a smidge. A teeny, tiny, little burst of speed. Unfortunately, her semblance didn’t really care if it was used a little or a lot - it still sprayed out a cloud of rose petals that flew past her when she skidded to a stop in the middle of the kitchen.  Her back probably blocked most of them, but she wasn’t wide enough to block them all! The rest landed unceremoniously...everywhere. The butter dish, the table, a few on Yang’s pancakes...

“Finally,” Yang said, calmly peeling a petal out of her syrup and setting it on the edge of her plate.  “I thought we were gonna have to slide ‘em under your door to wake you up.”

“Sorry!” Ruby chirped, grabbing a plate and hopping over to the stove, where Blake was churning out more of the circular delicacies.  “Was up late!”

“Talking to someone special?” Blake whispered, grinning as she slid a stack of five pancakes onto Ruby’s plate.  

The unexpected question made Ruby’s jaw fall open in surprise.

“How did -?”  

Her own question fell short when Blake placed one finger to her lips in a gesture of silence before blatantly twitching one ear.

Oh.  Duh. Blake had overheard Ruby exchanging messages with Weiss last night.  She might have giggled or laughed a few times…or maybe a lot of times.  Weiss was just really funny though! She typed each message out so properly - like, all the sentences had periods and everything!  And then she used really fancy words that Ruby had to look up before understanding.  

So yes, she might have been giggling to herself in her room while looking up the meaning of ‘cacophony,’ but dang Blake’s ears were strong.  

“It was just for a little bit!” Ruby fudged, earning an “Uh huh…” as Blake turned back to the skillet.  The playful disbelief made Ruby grin as she took her prized breakfast to the table. Before setting her plate down, she brushed some petals onto the floor and pulled out her chair.

It was nice to have a friend!  Sure, Ruby could always talk to Yang about stuff, but Yang was prone to being a little overprotective.  Blake was always an option too, and she was super trustworthy with anything, but it just wasn’t the same as it felt with Weiss.  

It felt like Weiss was Ruby’s friend.  Not that Ruby owned Weiss - as far as she knew, Weiss wasn’t for sale.  And technically Weiss had been friends with Yang first, but now Yang had Blake.  They were kind of like two pairs, right? Like partners? If that was the case, then it’d be ok for Ruby and Weiss to be friends and have their own secrets to share and everything, right?  Not that Ruby had any good secrets to tell...and even if she used to , they’d been knocked out of her head a year ago.  

Maybe her secret was that she had no secrets!  That was pretty cool, right?  And worthy of being kept a secret?  Because, like, everyone had secrets, right?  So people would assume that Ruby did too, but surprise!  She had none - and wasn’t that a great secret to have?

Wait, why did she need to have a secret at all?  She wasn’t focusing on the important part of yesterday.

Weiss gave Ruby her number!  Her real one too.  That meant she liked Ruby a little bit, right?  At least enough to risk being bothered all the time.  Although Weiss could always just change her number if Ruby got too annoying...which she was trying really hard not to be.  She’d come up with a pretty simple solution to make sure she never got too annoying though - every time Weiss sent a message, Ruby had to read the entire thing five times, then look up any words she didn’t know, then count the number of punctuation marks, and then type a response. 

The end result was that her reply was a few seconds delayed, and she was now a pro at counting commas.

After cutting her pancakes into haphazard triangles, Ruby drowned the entire stack in syrup before sticking a forkful of five pieces in her mouth.

Ahhh blessed pancakes...so fluffy and sweet and scrumptious...

“Mmm!  So good!” she said after swallowing and spearing another stack.  “You’re getting way better at this!”

Chuckling, Yang sent a warm smile towards Blake.  “Any day now she’ll be taking my place.”

“I don’t think so,” Blake replied with a huff of disbelief, sitting down to join the two of them for breakfast.  “I like making them sometimes, but this is definitely your specialty - not mine.”

“What’s your specialty then?” Yang asked, the smirk on her lips implying that Ruby probably didn’t want to hear the answer.

“I think you already know,” Blake answered coyly, batting her eyelashes at Yang before focusing on cutting up her breakfast.  “Salmon and tuna - you know, all the...fishy stuff.”

“Oh believe me, I know how much you love fish.”  

Rolling her eyes, Ruby focused on eating her delicious pancakes - which were rapidly disappearing from in front of her.  Hopefully Blake made extra...

“So what’s keeping you up so late?” Yang asked, finally managing to peel her eyes away from Blake to look at Ruby.  Ruby’s cheeks flushed when Blake also looked at her, but with far more all-knowing eyes.

“Uhh just up with...my thoughts, you know?” Ruby fibbed before stuffing more pancakes into her mouth for an excuse to stop talking.  Noticing the growing concern in her sister’s eyes, she quickly chewed the large mouthful and swallowed way too soon. “No nightmares or anything - just thinking about training and strategy stuff.”

The answer erased the concern from Yang’s eyes, while having the dual benefit of also not being a lie.  Ruby had been thinking about battle strategies...while also exchanging messages with Weiss.  But mostly just messaging Weiss. It was more of a 90-10 split in favor of Weiss. But technically Ruby’s strategy book had been open the entire time...did it matter if she hadn’t read any of it?   

Ok, she was just going to say that she’d split her time equally between Weiss and studying.  Wait. No one even asked her that question…

Shaking her head, Ruby went back to eating her breakfast.  Chewing thoughtfully (which was a weird way for her to chew), her mind drifted to Weiss.  Before yesterday, Ruby hadn’t used her scroll much. It was justs a pointless device that Yang called on every once in a while.  And Yang normally called to remind Ruby to do chores, so she kind of actively avoided having it anywhere she could hear it ring.

“Speaking of strategy,” Yang brought up while waving a forkful of pancakes in the air.  “What do you think of this - two Ursa attacking from the front. Growling and walkin’ like the big ol’ zombies they are.  There’s no escape behind, so we’ve gotta go through them. We split them up, right? But how about instead of running in each direction, I throw Blake over top of them.  She ropes one and loops him around a tree using Gambol.”  Yang made a rapid knot-tying motion before continuing. “While she does that, I solo the other.  Since we all know that won’t take me long.”

Ruby nodded along while Yang spoke, grinning at another ridiculous strategy that was hopefully not meant to be serious.  Normally it was a much safer strategy to let someone run using their own two legs rather than throwing them around in battle...

“I have an idea,” Blake commented from the other side of the table.  “How about all of your ideas don’t involve throwing me long distances?”

“Aww, but Blakeeee!” Yang whined while Ruby giggled.  “You’re so much fun to toss around though! So lightweight and...springy.”

Blake’s eyes narrowed at the term.

“Springy?”

“Yeah, you know - you’ve got a lot of...bounce.”

“You should probably stop talking!” Ruby warned, laughing when Blake launched a pancake across the table at Yang’s grinning face.  Yang caught it out of the air and made a show out of taking a big bite, not at all upset about the attack by hotcake.  

Ruby was the one who would’ve been upset if Yang hadn’t caught it and let a perfectly edible pancake fall on the ground.  But that wouldn’t happen because Yang had reflexes like a cat. Well, not quite as good as a cat because Blake was way faster, but Yang was still pretty quick.  Reflexes like a rhino!

“So what’re you gonna do today?” Yang asked before shoving a giant piece of pancake into her mouth.  “Mor’ tinkrin’?”

“I’m done tinkering for now!  Got my glove all ready to go!” 

“Really?”  The answer perked Blake’s interest far more than Yang’s, making her sit further forward in her chair.  “It’s fully operational?”

“Yup!” Ruby answered proudly.  “I haven’t put the finishing touches of paint on it yet, but that’s just for show.”  

Blake looked impressed by the answer, and that was probably more awesome than the glove!  Blake was so hard to impress.  Like...this one time Ruby had stuffed half a package of cookies in her mouth at once, but Blake hardly batted an eye.  Ditto for that time she’d used Crescent Rose to slice tomatoes Yang pelted at her from across the kitchen. She’d even caught the pieces before they hit the ground!  (They’d used the slices on their sandwiches for lunch.)

But Blake was impressed!  By what, Ruby didn’t actually know.  That she’d finished the glove? That she’d finished it in a short amount of time?  That she hadn’t accidentally melted the house with some crazy malfunction? What? What was it?  She kind of needed to know if she wanted to do it again.

There was no chance to ask though, because Blake beat her to the next question: “Maybe you’d like to practice this morning?”

“Really??” Ruby asked, already forgetting the previous topic.  “Like now?”

Blake nodded.  “As soon as you’re ready.”

Immediately shoving the rest of her pancakes in her mouth and jumping up, Ruby was nearly to the hall when she heard Yang yell her name.

“Ruby!”

Slamming on the brakes and watching another wave of petals knock into the wall, she turned back to her sister.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Yang asked, gesturing to the table.

“Yeah, lots of things, Yang,” Ruby teased, waving towards her temple.  When Yang’s jaw dropped open, Blake burst into laughter.

“I was talking about your plate !” Yang said, her cheeks flushing in embarrassment while she turned to Blake.  “And you! You’re making this worse!”

“I’m sorry!  You just set her up so perfectly for that!”

Grinning at the success of her joke, Ruby jogged back to the table, picked up her plate, and quickly washed it off before racing out of the room.  On the way, she stopped to give Yang’s hair a soft rustle - not enough to do any sort of damage, but more than anyone other than Blake would ever be allowed to do.  Swatting Ruby’s hand away, Yang gave her a gentle shove towards the hallway while she giggled.

“Remember to keep Blake away from the woods this time!” Yang called playfully after her, making Ruby groan in remembrance of the previous battles where she’d miserably failed that task.

Fighting Blake 101 - do NOT let her into the woods.

There wasn’t a dress code for breakfast, but fighting in pajamas wasn’t exactly recommended (not if she wanted to win, anyway).  Dashing into her room, she found her combat outfit conveniently hanging over the back of her chair. She hadn’t put it away after washing it...and now she was wondering why she ever put it away.  This was so much more convenient - she didn’t have to find it in the closet!  Not that it was hard to find anything in her closet…

Excited at the prospect of putting her newest contraption to the test, she practically flew into the clothes and was almost out the door when she suddenly screeched to a halt.

Her scroll!  Lured by the pancakes, she hadn’t checked her scroll yet this morning!

Picking up the device from its ultra-secret resting place (hidden under the covers of her bed), she smiled when she found there was already a message waiting there.

“Jeez...she must not sleep,” Ruby muttered to herself while typing a response to the good morning message that had arrived a few hours ago.  How had Weiss woken up so early? She hadn’t even sounded tired last night when Ruby finally passed out, so hopefully she slept ok...

“Good morning!” Ruby typed, mumbling the words out loud as her fingers sought out the proper letters.  “Going to spar with Blake - wish me luck!”

Once the message was sent, she tossed the scroll onto the bed before running to the garage to collect her newest prized possession.  Although if it was actually a prized possession, maybe she should treat it like one and not leave it buried under a bunch of other junk on the workbench.

There was a creepy, hand-shaped block of wood out here for a reason!  She should use it - otherwise, she was just weird.

Grabbing the metal glove, she pulled it on in one smooth motion.  It immediately came to life, clinging to her fingers with a firmness that would hopefully feel like a second skin over time.  Right now, it was a strange, foreign feeling - kind of like she’d wrapped her hand in a perfectly hand-shaped rubber band.

It was her crowning accomplishment, for sure - especially because it wasn’t just a big rubber band.  It amplified the strength of her left hand by a factor of nearly five.  When wearing it, she officially said ‘goodbye’ to losing grip on Crescent Rose ever again.  Plus, she’d even snuck in some extra features that made it far more useful than for just strengthening her grip.  Most importantly, the shimmering red plating looked awesome.  And it was going to look even better when she got around to adding a design in black, if she could ever decide on one.  

Curling her fingers into a strong fist, she grinned before darting back into the house.  

“Good luck, kiddo!” Yang called out from the kitchen as Ruby ran towards the back door.

“Thanks!”

Crescent Rose was sitting on the small table by the back door, waiting to be collected while she stumbled past in one-and-a-half boots.  Grabbing her weapon while shoving her left foot into the boot, she nearly tripped and fell right through the screen door, but managed to catch herself at the last second.  Potential embarrassment averted! This time…

Reaching the porch, she saw that Blake had beaten her outside.  Of course. Even though Ruby’s semblance was speed, Blake somehow beat her every single time.  

Yang liked to joke that Ruby was fast, but Blake was quick.  Whatever that meant. Knowing Yang, it probably didn’t mean anything, but sounded good. 

Still, it was like Blake was some sort of superhero who wore her combat outfit underneath her regular clothes at all times.  Maybe that’s actually what she did! Ruby would have to try that sometime...then she’d always be ready for a fight. Plus, there was definitely a certain flair to pulling off her ‘civilian’ clothes like a hero.

“Are you ready?” Blake called out to her.

“Not yet!” Ruby said, stomping one of her boots on straight and then lacing both of them up tight.  Blake smiled at the reply while patiently waiting in the middle of the lawn.

Only when Ruby was completely ready did she hop onto the grass, unfold Crescent Rose and crouch in a ready position.  Her left hand gripped her weapon tightly - the glove giving her assistance that her bare hand could not.

Adrenaline was building as Blake stood passively in front of her - the side effect of so, so much anticipation and just a little bit lack of sleep.  But this fight would be better - Crescent Rose already felt steadier within Ruby’s grasp thanks to the mechanical glove. It felt good , actually.  For once, she had complete confidence in her ability to wield the heavy weapon.

Be calm, be calm , she told herself while taking a deep breath to steady her nerves.  This is what you’ve been working so hard for.  No big deal, but if this glove doesn’t help, you’re kinda toast.

But it would work.  It would. Positive thoughts!

Exhaling, she briefly reached up and touched her necklace with one hand, sending up a silent request for a little extra help.  Or a lot of extra help - she wasn’t picky!  

Normally, she wasn’t this nervous about fighting Blake...because she always lost.  But today - today she might actually have a shot. And that made her soooo much more nervous than usual.  If she could win, she could finally prove to Yang that she was ready. That was the deal. That was the goal .  That’s why Blake never gave Ruby any freebies.  That’s why Ruby had gotten her butt handed to her a bazillion and a half times.  That’s how she knew that she was getting better and Blake wasn’t just taking pity on her.

Because Blake didn’t pity fight.  As Yang so perfectly put it, ‘She’s not going to take it easy on you.  She wouldn’t even take it easy on me when I had the flu and was having a coughing fit every few seconds.  First , she pulverized me.  Then she offered to make me some soup.’

Blake fought every battle to win, so if Ruby could win...it was the real deal.

With her hands curled around her weapon, Ruby moved into the defensive stance she’d practiced so many times it was second nature by now.  She was determined to start this battle off on the right foot - which meant that her right foot needed to be a couple millimeters closer to her left than it currently was.  And her hands needed to slide a bit further apart. And she needed a nice deep breath of air before the battle began - because who knew when she’d have the opportunity to take another one. 

“I’m ready,” she finally said, giving Blake a miniscule nod.

With a nod of acceptance, Blake drew Gambol from her back - the motion smooth and fluid from years of repetition.  The blade and sheath glinted in the sunlight, the edges looking a lot sharper than Ruby remembered them. The black ribbons, that were much more dangerous than they appeared, fluttered down by Blake’s side - ready and willing to trip Ruby whenever possible.

There was something about the way Blake held herself that seemed dangerous, and yet...Ruby wasn’t afraid.  Don’t tell Blake that! But all Ruby saw standing in front of her was a challenge - well, and Blake. Blake hadn’t disappeared , but - it was symbolic!  Blake was just another hurdle Ruby needed to clear before she could move closer to her goal.

Focusing on Blake’s eyes, Ruby rotated her grip ever so slightly to better position herself for the attack that was going to come.  It was only a matter of time before -  

Blake snapped forward without warning, a sharp blade flashing in Ruby’s face so fast she barely raised Crescent Rose in time to block.  A follow-up blow was right behind, with another right after that. Within a matter of seconds, Ruby found herself firmly on the defensive - blocking repeatedly as she inched backwards towards the house.

At least they weren’t headed towards the woods this time.  But it was sunny, so Blake would be more willing to fight out in the open - a more equal battleground for the both of them.  Still, that didn’t mean Ruby was going to have it easy. It only meant that she’d most likely be able to see her opponent for the entire battle.  Although, with Blake...sometimes it wasn’t good to believe everything you saw…

Tightening her grip and feeling strength surge through her left hand, Ruby swung Crescent Rose to the right and blocked an incoming slash before realizing, almost too late, that it was just a clone - the real attack was coming from the opposite direction.  Without time to deflect the simultaneous attacks, she used her semblance to dash a few feet back towards the porch.  

Blake was herding Ruby towards the house...and Ruby was quickly running out of real estate she would need in order to launch of counterattack.

Three more clones appeared in rapid succession, attempting to confuse Ruby even further while Blake flipped this way and that.

Unlike Yang - who pressed relentlessly forward - Blake attacked and then suddenly skipped backwards or flipped up in the air, making it extremely difficult to determine where the next assault was going to come from.  And since Blake had the aerial skills of a highly-trained acrobat, the next blow could literally come from anywhere.

When Ruby blocked Gambol downward, sending the clang of metal on metal ringing through the backyard, she sensed that Blake was close - if only for a split second.  Lowering her weapon in one hand, Ruby lashed out with her right fist - feeling it connect with a jarring thump a second later. Blake stumbled a few feet backwards from the blow, briefly raising a hand to her jaw before disappearing in a cloud of clones.

It only took a brief glance at the empty yard for Ruby to know that the only place Blake could have gone was directly above her head - the rooftop.  Slamming the business end of Crescent Rose into the ground, the shot of a rifle cracked through the air. Ruby used the momentum of the blast to follow her opponent to the roof - where Blake was already waiting, her sword flashing out before Ruby even landed.

Somehow, she managed to deflect the blade and took a step back to avoid the next attack.  The slanted shingles were far from stable, and her foot slipped when she ducked under a roundhouse kick aimed at her head.  Quickly correcting into a tight spin, she lashed out blindly with Crescent Rose. Blake leapt away from the weapon and skipped to one side, before splitting into copies of herself and lunging towards Ruby at once.

Each subsequent attack was making it more difficult for Ruby to keep her footing - while Blake had zero issues hopping around with perfect balance.  Again, the terrain was heavily in Blake’s favor - just like in the woods. Which meant Ruby needed to get back to solid ground...

After deflecting three more blows, Ruby finally found a moment to go on the offensive.  Using a defensive upswing and surge of effort to shove Blake’s weapon out of position, Ruby swiftly turned and backed the rifle chamber of Crescent Rose into Blake’s chest - drawing a soft ‘oomph’ of breath being unexpectedly forced from her lungs.  

The successful attack gave Ruby no more than a millisecond to follow up with another.  Spinning around, she looped Crescent Rose behind Blake’s ankle and quickly yanked the weapon forward.  The motion dragged Blake’s leg out from under her, and sent her toppling backwards off the rooftop.  

For a normal person the fall could have led to injury, but Blake seamlessly corrected her positioning in midair and landed safely on the grass below.

“Darn cats always land on their feet…” Ruby mumbled to herself in the temporary reprieve, prowling the ledge of the roof and searching for an opportunity to jump down without leaving a gaping opening for attack.

“I heard that,” Blake replied with a smirk, twirling Gambol Shroud in one hand while waving Ruby down with the other.  “Why don’t you join me on solid ground? Wouldn’t want you to lose your balance and fall.”

Even though her breathing was elevated from their initial flurry, Ruby still managed to scoff at the taunt.  “I have perfect balance!”  

To prove her point, she stuck one foot off of the roof while teetering on the edge on just one leg.

“See?”

After holding the pose with the stillness of a statue for a second, a slight tremor made her knee waver.  When her eyes fell to her foot for the briefest of moments, she caught sight of a long black ribbon wrapping around her ankle right before it ripped her foot off the roof.  The action whipped her to the side, sending her crashing into the shingles. Immediately sensing danger, she shoved backwards with all her might, catapulting off of the house before another attack could follow.  

While falling, she curled into a tight ball and rotated so that she would land on her feet when she hit the ground.  The landing wasn’t perfect and she stumbled forward, eyes immediately searching for her opponent - who was plummeting down on her from above with weapon raised.  Ruby flashed to the side to get out of the way, only for the real Blake to catch her ankle again while a clone plunged Gambol harmlessly into the grass where Ruby had just been.

Falling (again), Ruby triggered her semblance and used the burst of speed to throw herself through a tumble and create some separation.  Safely reaching the opposite side of the yard and feeling that she was no longer being pursued, Ruby turned to find Blake moving cautiously towards her.

There was definitely a strategy to how Blake was fighting, but Ruby could only understand a small part of it right now - Blake attacked quickly and used superior positioning to corner Ruby or cut off her lanes of attack.  So, instead of letting Blake do that, Ruby needed to not be cornered and forced into constantly defending.

Except that wasn’t a strategy!  How was she supposed to do that?

She’d have to figure that out later, because Blake shot straight towards Ruby and slashed towards her neck.  Except that was just a clone and Blake actually sent a stab towards Ruby’s right side.  

The only evidence that Ruby was correct in finding the real Blake was a loud clang of metal before she disappeared again.  But then she re-appeared on the opposite side - only that wasn’t her. She was behind Ruby. Above her. To the left, the right, in front.

The string of uninterrupted attacks was rapidly multiplying, and Ruby was losing track of where Blake was with every clone.  It was dizzying and disorienting, and somehow Ruby kept reacting just in the nick of time, but she could feel her grip on the battle slipping.  There was so much happening so fast, she’d never find an opportunity to attack -

“Relax,” Blake slipped in between a flurry of clones.  

There was hardly even an opening for Ruby to take a breath, let alone try to respond.  But...she didn’t need a breath. She didn’t! She wasn’t out of breath, and her hand wasn’t tiring like it normally did.  It still felt fresh and...strong. And what a difference that made. Blake’s blows used to wear Ruby down over time, especially this many in a row, but not this time.  

This was actually better than having two regular hands!

Encouraged, Ruby tried to do exactly what Blake suggested - relax.  It was such a weird piece of advice, because how relaxed could Ruby possibly be when it looked like thousands of blades and clones were flashing around her?  If she wanted to win, she needed to block the attacks while also searching for chinks in Blake’s armor.  

Maybe that was it.  Maybe she was trying too hard to win.

Doing the best to relax her mind, she reminded herself that losing wouldn’t be the end of the world.  And wasn’t it kind of fun having Blake flipping all around while Ruby expertly parried every slash and slice?  And her glove was working .  It held Crescent Rose steadily, while she swung the weapon with a level of force that she wouldn’t have dared to dream about only a month ago.

Sure, it was her ultimate goal to become a huntress again, but not before she was ready.  If she let go of trying so hard to win, she could actually have fun fighting against a crazy talented ninja who was also like a sister to her.

A short giggle of delight slipped out when she deflected a few more attacks with ease.  

She didn’t need to win.  She could just have fun.

It was like a light switch switched on in her mind.  Or switched off, most likely. When she stopped frantically searching for miniscule muscle twitches that told her where the next attack was coming from, she found that she could trust her intuition to react for her.  The clangs of metal grew steadier as she blocked every single one instead of using a combination of blocks and her semblance. And when a ribbon whipped towards her foot, she hardly noticed as she seamlessly stepped over it and kept her balance.

Ignoring a clone, Ruby spun around and caught the next attack head on.  A brief moment of surprise registered on Blake’s eyes, quickly replaced by determination as she disappeared again.

Relax.  

After all of the work Ruby had done, it was time to trust in herself.  Maybe she knew what she was doing. Maybe the early mornings of practice had been enough.  Maybe the late nights of studying had been enough. And maybe her newly reinforced hand was enough to bring everything together. 

The more she let go of the desire to win, the easier the battle flowed.  And the longer they fought, the more comfortable she felt. It was such a weird feeling...but somehow she felt connected to the battle...more attuned to what Blake was going to do before she even did it.  

Knowing, or sensing, what was coming next, Ruby watched as Blake leapt over her head, twisting easily in the air to slash down with a series of rapid, precise attacks.  Blake landed without a stumble, and the muscles in her legs were already coiled in preparation of springing away.

The motion implied the Blake would jump out of the way, but a clone appeared and seamlessly moved to the side while Blake planted one foot in the ground and dashed forward instead.  Grasping the opportunity - the split second she saved by knowing exactly which vision was real - Ruby caught Gambol Shroud with the edge of Crescent Rose when a downward slash flew towards her.  Summoning an extra boost of strength, Ruby shoved the weapon into the ground.  

As soon as Blake’s weapon hit the dirt, Ruby curled her free hand into a fist and followed her momentum across her body - landing a punch squarely on Blake’s jaw.  Ruby had nowhere near the power that Yang did, but the blow still knocked Blake off balance and sent her stumbling to the side. Before she had the chance to recover, Ruby blasted forward and looped Crescent Rose around...nothing but a clone.  

The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end when she knew that Blake was right behind her, already capitalizing on her mistake.  Shooting across the yard, Ruby used her advantage in speed to open distance between them before planting Crescent Rose in the ground and flying through the turn.  When the force of the abrupt direction change threatened to pull her away from her weapon, she tightened her left hand and felt everything lock down. Her glove was holding like a pro - there was no way she was going to lose her grip this time.

But Blake didn’t know that.

The instant that thought popped into Ruby’s mind, she willingly let go of Crescent Rose and flew towards the fence separating their yard from the neighbor’s.  Thankfully, she managed to stop before slamming into it, sparing herself from having to fix it yet again. When she turned around, Blake was standing between her and Crescent Rose - her weapon still stuck in the ground.

Twirling Gambol around in one hand, Blake was wearing one of those looks - it wasn’t quite a smile, but she was definitely pleased with the results.  Which made sense - even if she was willing to help Ruby train, Blake also didn’t like to lose. So...Ruby needed to make it seem like Blake had notched herself another win, when Ruby had actually left Crescent Rose there on purpose.

Forcing a frown, Ruby flexed the glove on her left hand as if trying to figure out why it hadn’t worked as expected.  Blake needed to believe that Ruby’s broken hand had failed her yet again, and that the glove hadn’t masked her fundamental flaw.

It totally had, but Ruby couldn’t let Blake know that right now.  No, this was what Blake liked to call ‘gamesmanship’ - convincing an opponent that things weren’t as they seemed.  Blake did it to Ruby all the time with her clones. Now it was Ruby’s chance to try it out.

Shifting her eyes, she tried to make it look like she was puzzling her way out of this mess.  The trees, Blake, Crescent Rose, back to Blake. Meanwhile, Blake was approaching cautiously with Gambol held at the ready.  She knew that Ruby would try to run, but wasn’t sure which direction.  

Ruby needed Blake to keep guessing - and not pay attention to the movement of her gloved hand.  As fast as possible, Ruby brought the tips of her fingers to her thumb in rapid succession - so fast it should look like nothing more than a nervous twitch.

One-three-two-three-four.

The world suddenly slowed - one of Blake’s ears twitching backward as Crescent Rose began folding up, releasing itself from the ground and then shooting towards them.  In the brief moment that Blake’s attention was elsewhere, Ruby burst forward - hurtling straight towards her opponent. 

Blake quickly read the situation and her eyes re-focused on the battle, but by then it was too late.  Ruby was already upon her - close enough that Ruby actually watched Blake rotate her grip on Gambol Shroud while her muscles coiled in anticipation of springing away.  But for once, Ruby had been too fast and Blake had reacted too late.

When Ruby leaned her left hand down to the grass, Crescent Rose swept underneath Blake’s feet and sent her falling backwards with no balance.  Catching Crescent Rose securely in one reinforced hand, Ruby immediately leapt in the air as she unfolded the weapon again. Blake was already trying to correct her fall, but Ruby managed to grab ahold of one of Blake’s ribbons to prevent her from getting away as they crashed back to earth together.  

When Blake hit the ground, Ruby landed right with her, pointing the blade of Crescent Rose towards her neck.

For a few frozen seconds the two of them just stared at each other, both breathing heavily from the battle that had abruptly ended.  But when Blake smiled, Ruby jumped backwards so she could pull Blake to her feet.

“That was...really good,” Blake commented, brushing blades of dead grass off the back of her legs.  “You can summon Crescent Rose now?”

Realization at what had just happened was beginning to dawn on Ruby, sending excitement ricocheting through her veins.  Hopping up and down in an effort to get the energy out, her teeth were nearly chattering in happiness.

“Yeah!  I figured...who wouldn’t want a returning weapon?” she answered.  “Like, now I can totally throw her across the yard and not have to go get her myself!”

Holy crap.  She’d done it.  She’d actually done it!  She’d beaten Blake! The ninja of ninjas.  The shadow of shadows. The holy - cow - no - freaking - way - 

“Always resourceful…” Blake replied with a thoughtful expression.  “And I’m guessing that you didn’t actually lose your grip?”

When Ruby grinned at the clever ploy, Blake’s ears twitched.

“You’re getting too sneaky for your own good.”  Blake shook her head before giving Ruby another smile.  “Do you want some pointers?”

“Always!”

“Just one - remember that you want to use as little motion as possible,” Blake instructed while holding Gambol back in front of her.  “So when I go like this -”

When Blake went through the attacks at half speed, Ruby reacted to them just as she had a few minutes earlier.  But at one specific point, Blake froze and pointed towards Ruby’s elbow.

“Right there - is that the most efficient response?”

“Yessss-no!” she exclaimed when she saw what Blake was referring to.  Tuck her elbow in, slide her fingers a little further down and she could slice a fraction of a second from her reaction time.  Brilliant!

Again at half speed, they went through the same motions with Ruby using her newly-learned, ultra-efficient move.  Gah! And it totally would’ve opened up another attacking opportunity if she’d done it earlier!

At least she knew it now.  And she loved how Blake could remember tiny parts of their fights and show Ruby what could be done just a little bit better.  At this point, it felt like it was only a matter of inches here and there that was keeping her from greatness.

But she’d freaking won!

Reaching out, Blake placed one hand on Ruby’s shoulder and caught her gaze.

“When you’re relaxed and relying on your instincts, no one’s going to be able to stop you.”

It was an awfully big vote of confidence, but Ruby would take it!  She needed all the votes she could get.

“Thanks, Blake,” she replied before bouncing out from underneath Blake’s hand.  She wanted to do something - punch the air, do cartwheels, run around the block half a zillion times!

“How’s it going you two?”

Blake and Ruby turned towards the house, where Yang had just sauntered out onto the porch.

“Sounded like we had some raccoons up on the roof again,” Yang added with an easy grin.

“I won!” Ruby called out excitedly.  Yang’s grin immediately disappeared and her eyes widened.

“You...what?”

“She beat me,” Blake confirmed, walking over to give Yang a kiss on the cheek.  “She has some new tricks.”

“You wanna see?” Ruby asked, shooting over and placing Crescent Rose in her sister’s hands before receiving an answer.  “Ok, throw Crescent Rose as far as you can!”

To be honest, she wasn’t 100% sure that this would work, but Yang was drawing the weapon back before she had time to second guess herself.  A moment later, her scythe was bolting through the air like a rocket - in a few seconds it’d probably be over the woods and into the neighborhoods on the far side.

Ruby hastily tapped out the same code, and Crescent Rose jarred to a stop in midair before flying back to them.  She jumped up to grab it on its return before landing in front of Yang, who was nodding her head in appreciation and looking closely at the weapon in Ruby’s hand.

“So that’s what that was,” Blake mused, gesturing towards Ruby’s hand.  “I thought you were just fidgeting again.”

“Nope!  It’s a super secret code that calls Crescent Rose back to me!”

“One-three-two-three-four,” Blake replied, tilting her head to the side and smiling when Ruby’s jaw dropped in shock.  But before Ruby could reply, Yang nodded towards Crescent Rose.

“Hold it out,” Yang instructed.  “Left hand.”

Understanding what Yang wanted to do, Ruby grinned and held out the weapon in her left hand, tightening her gloved grip when her sister grabbed onto the other end and pulled.

She wasn’t quite ready for the strength of the pull, which nearly yanked her right off of her feet, but she managed to hold onto her weapon.  Yang then lifted Ruby all the way off the ground and wiggled her around in the air a little bit - all while she clung to Crescent Rose with one gloved hand.  After a few more shakes, Yang set Ruby carefully down on the ground and released Ruby’s weapon.

Turning to Blake, the two of them shared a long look before Yang finally gave Ruby a smile.

“I guess you’re ready -”

Letting out a loud ‘whoop!’ of joy, Ruby sped over to give Yang a big hug and then gave Blake one was well.

Ready!  She was finally ready.  The word had just come out of Yang’s mouth!

“Guess we’ll look for a hunt you can go on,” Yang added, letting out a surprised ‘oomph’ of air when Ruby crashed her into another hug.  Laughing joyfully, Yang ruffled Ruby’s hair. “But we should probably go celebrate first, right?”

The offer made Ruby gasp and pull away from the hug.

“Ice cream??”

“Sure!  Never too early for ice cream!  Let’s go celebrate Blake’s loss.”  Yang’s grin only grew when Blake glared at her.  “I’m just saying! Isn’t it wonderful that you lost, Blake?  Look how happy Ruby is!”

Playing along with her sister’s tease, Ruby beamed at Blake and nodded her head enthusiastically.  Blake smiled back at Ruby and gently squeezed her shoulder before forcing a playful frown and stalking past the two of them, replacing Gambol on her back while she walked away. 

“I’ll meet you inside.  And I demand a rematch,” Blake called back to them.

Chuckling happily, Yang grinned at Ruby before chasing after the girl.  “Aww, sweetie, don’t be like that! I mean, I know how much you hate to lose , but now we get to have ice cream!  Isn’t that great? Losing is great !”

Giggling at Yang’s antics, Ruby folded up Crescent Rose and sighed in relief.  Her heart was beating frantically from the battle, but also from the excitement of the results.  Which had gone in her favor - it was about time she got a win! After all of the work she’d put in, some of it just a little painful, it was nice to know that it was paying off in the end.

No pain, no gain, as Yang liked to say.  Although she normally said that right after daring Ruby to eat something drenched in hot sauce…

But she’d done it!  She was officially ready.  She’d gone through all of the hot sauce-induced fire and emerged ready to tackle a real Grimm outside the walls.  It might be dangerous. It might be scary.  But it was everything she’d been working for.

Holding Crescent Rose easily in her left hand, she picked up the ring on her necklace and flipped it to one side, spinning it all the way around her neck.

“Thanks for the assist,” she said before grinning and chasing her sister inside.  

Maybe today Yang would let her get two Ruby’s Specials!

Chapter Text

Redemption was what she was after.  Or was it forgiveness she was seeking?  Absolution from the weight of guilt that had broken her spirit...freedom from the cowardice that had controlled her actions for far too long...  

There might not be one word that accurately described what Weiss sought here in Vale.  She wanted to fix her mistakes and make right her wrongs. She wanted to earn back the trust and relationships she’d once so thoughtlessly thrown away.

Every difficult step was a step in the right direction.  No matter how challenging it was to move forward, she must press on.  Whenever her heart raced with anxiety, she thought about the scowl on Yang’s face - the one that said Weiss didn’t deserve to be here.  Whenever her mind tried to convince her that life would be much easier if she was far from this place, she thought about the understanding in Blake’s eyes - how she was rooting for Weiss to stay.  And whenever her feet froze to the sidewalk, one second from turning and running the other way, she thought about Ruby’s smile - how it was still the same, how it still made Weiss feel like she’d accomplished something extraordinary even when that was far from the case.

Earning forgiveness wasn’t easy, she reminded herself multiple times a day.  But simply being here, making the effort to correct her mistakes...these small actions counted for something, right?

The fact that Ruby was messaging her now was incredible, but Weiss wanted so much more.  She wanted to be closer - in both proximity and relationship. She wanted to reach that place where they could easily finish each other’s sentences or communicate without using words.  She wanted to reclaim the certainty that no matter what happened, Ruby would stand beside her without fail. She wanted to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that no matter how mentally beaten she might be, Ruby would never think poorly of her.

There was still such a long way to go...years and years of closeness and familiarity which she couldn’t possibly hope to replace in a few days.  Yet, she found herself wishing that some form of recollection might click in Ruby’s mind. That even if Ruby didn’t remember outright, she might remember the feelings they’d once shared...like a distant echo reverberating through a deep canyon.

Casting such a wish was foolhardy, especially when Weiss worried each night that when she woke up she might not find the willpower to stay any longer.  There was a deeply rooted seed of doubt in her chest incessantly whispering that one morning she would wake up and realize the full gravity of what had been lost - and that realization would send her flying out the door once more.

Every fiber in her being wished that those fears were irrational, but when she’d run once before...there could be no certainty anymore.  If she could look in the mirror and tell herself that she wouldn’t abandon her team again, the relief would be life altering.  But she couldn’t. Instead, the only person she saw in the mirror was a terrified ghost of herself, walking on eggshells all day long while trying to avoid slipping up again.

One thing that never changed, not even while she’d been in Atlas, was that she woke every morning with thoughts of Ruby on her mind.  Only now, along with the dully aching regret and remorse, there was a growing desire to see Ruby again. Instead of focusing on work, Weiss focused on creating excuses and ways for the two of them to spend more time together. 

There was still so much to be made up for.  There was still so much that needed mending, even before considering her own mental state, but…every time she was the reason Ruby smiled, it felt like a piece of her heart was restored - a shattered fragment softly clicked back into place.

What if this was all they would ever be?  Could Weiss really be content as Ruby’s friend and nothing more?

It was too early to think about that.

“I wanted to invite all of you,” Weiss murmured to herself while walking up the sidewalk to Ruby’s door, wringing her hands all the while.  “I wanted to personally invite all of you to come to Schnee Dust for a tour.  I remember Ruby mentioned wanting to go and I thought it would be...fun.”

Nodding at her excuse of the day, she paused a few steps from the front door and took a deep breath in preparation.  

When she hadn’t heard from Ruby after their good morning text, she decided that she needed to come up with a reason to go over and see what was going on.  Ruby had mentioned how she normally forgot to check her scroll due to lack of use, so Weiss figured that Ruby had just left it in her room or something.

Usually Weiss wasn’t so impatient, but being around Ruby had always been something of an addiction.  There was an infectious cheerfulness to her that Weiss had grown to love above anything else. That quality was still there in force, and she could already feel it grabbing ahold of her.  No matter how...raw...her emotions could be in Ruby’s presence, there was still that desire, that urge for more.

What was it that Blake had said?  Ruby…‘lights up’...when she sees Weiss?  It was fortunate that Blake couldn’t see what happened inside Weiss’ mind and heart whenever she saw Ruby...

Taking another deep breath, Weiss crossed the remaining steps, raised one hand, and knocked twice before she convinced herself out of it.  Expecting to hear Yang’s heavy footsteps, she was surprised when the door flew open a couple of seconds later and Ruby was standing there, a cloud of petals still swirling to the ground.

And Ruby immediately broke into a smile that melted Weiss’ heart. 

“Weiss!  What’re you doing here?”

“I thought I would…” Weiss began to say, becoming temporarily lost in Ruby’s eyes before blinking away.  “I just thought I’d drop by,” she finally answered, feeling a flush of embarrassment creep onto her cheeks.  

It was a far cry from whatever excuse she’d thought of, but she couldn’t remember what that excuse was when her heart was hammering so loudly in her chest.  And when it came to Ruby, if Weiss didn’t have a lie carefully in place her brain automatically supplied the truth. Thankfully, Ruby thought nothing of it - her eyes lit up with joy instead.

“That’s great!  Come on in!”

When Ruby waved her inside, Weiss walked through the door and into the small home that was growing more comfortable with each visit.  It took one glance around the living room and kitchen to know that Ruby was currently the only one home - which made sense because Weiss had actually been able to knock, unlike whenever Blake was around.  

“Where are your roommates?” Weiss asked, watching Ruby close the door and hop merrily into the living room.

“They’re running some errands.  I was supposed to go, but told them I was too tired.”  Ruby stood in front of Weiss and leaned casually against the arm of the sofa - the nonchalant gesture taken straight from Yang’s repertoire.

“I’m sorry, did I keep you up too late last night?”

“Oh, no!” Ruby replied, shaking her head side-to-side so vigorously that her short hair shook with her.  “I just didn’t wanna go. We got ice cream and then they brought me home - I’ve been working on stuff in the garage instead!”

There was a part of Weiss that was readily prepared to accept blame for keeping Ruby up too late, but Ruby’s grin immediately washed that guilt away.  It might be difficult, but it was important to remember that Ruby was in charge of her own decisions - if she stayed up late, it was because she wanted to.  The hardest part about accepting that reality was when Weiss thought about the plausible reasons why Ruby wanted to do so...

“What are you working on, if you don’t mind me asking?” Weiss asked, changing the subject rather than dwelling on that train of thought any longer.

“I’m trying to make a dagger fly.  No luck so far.” With a not-at-all discouraged grin, Ruby shook her head at the lack of success.  As she did so, her necklace slipped from the collar of her tee and fell into the light. The mere sight of the silver ring made Weiss’ heart give a powerful twinge of agony.  

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” she mumbled while shifting her eyes away from the mocking sparkle of diamonds.  There was something so intensely hurtful about seeing the ring off of Ruby’s finger...not that Weiss expected Ruby to continue wearing it, but...well, there really was no ideal solution in this instance.

“You wanna see?”

There wasn’t time to give an answer because Ruby had already stood and was walking towards the garage door, assuming that Weiss would follow.  Which she immediately did - her answer was ‘yes’ anyway. Heading through the metal door into the converted workshop that had probably never held a vehicle since Ruby moved in, Weiss instantly sensed familiarity creeping out of the woodwork.

The space was far smaller.  There were towers of cardboard moving boxes in one corner and miscellaneous pieces of old boxing equipment in another, but the atmosphere of Ruby’s workshop was identical to the others Weiss had known.  Taking a deep breath at the entrance to the garage, as if she needed to hold her breath for the entirety of this experience, Weiss carefully followed Ruby to a large workbench that was covered in various tools and scraps of material.

“Sorry, it’s kinda a mess in here,” Ruby mumbled, shoving a pile of metal off of the only chair and onto the ground so that Weiss could sit down.  The ruckus it made while hitting the ground made her cringe, but thankfully lasted only a second.

“Don’t worry.  It’s actually...it’s comfortable,” she replied, her eyes searching the garage while she perched upon the chair like there might be needles hidden in the cushion.  Her response made Ruby laugh - the sound like music to her ears.

“Can you tell Yang that?  She doesn’t understand how my room is so clean and the garage is so messy.”

It had never made sense to Weiss either.  How could Ruby work in such a mess? How could she find anything?   But...this was the way her workshops had always been.  There was something about the chaos and disorder that made sense to Ruby and no one else.  It helped her mind ‘work better,’ she always said.  

Once, as a semi-joke, Weiss spent an entire afternoon tidying up Ruby’s workshop - and it had been marvelous to view in its sparkling glory, if only for a few minutes.  Ruby had been...perturbed...and then almost immediately set a cabinet on fire. It was supposedly a complete accident, which Weiss tentatively believed, but she hadn’t dared clean the room again.  The workshop became the only room in the house that Ruby was allowed to organize in any way she wanted.  

“I feel like the mess helps me think better,” Ruby commented while pulling a few odds and ends out of several different drawers, the timely muse making Weiss smile.

As usual, Ruby never stopped moving when surrounded by weapons.  First, she found something in one drawer, then picked another scrap up off of the floor.  Something else was hidden under a pile of washers in the middle of the workbench. None of the items seemed to have any correlation to each other, but Ruby was putting something together in her mind that was going to utilize all of the pieces.

Watching Ruby move so confidently throughout the space put Weiss almost completely at ease - like there was comfort to be found in how Ruby could navigate the disorder without ever seeming disoriented.  But that’s what had made her such a great team captain - her ability to stand in the middle of a battle that had fallen into chaos and never appear lost or overwhelmed…

“Having all these random items around might serve as a sort of inspiration - helping you come up with ideas,” Weiss suggested as a plausible explanation before reaching out and picking up a small dagger that looked like the one Ruby was currently working on.  It was all the same shade of black with a red tint along the edge of the blade that gave the impression that it was glowing with blood. It was a sinister looking weapon, that was for sure.

“Yang brought that home for me,” Ruby commented.  For the briefest of moments, she actually stopped moving and leaned both elbows on the workbench to watch Weiss look over the dagger.

“Ah - that makes more sense,” she muttered quietly to herself, turning the blade carefully in her hand.  Yang had always had a special way of separating people from their weapons - mostly by physically tearing them out of their owners’ hands.  A great majority came from goons and idiots who tried to pick a fight with her, before being inevitably inherited by Ruby. Ruby loved to take them apart and put them back together again - with new mysteries attached, of course.  

“How are you trying to make it fly?” Weiss asked, holding the dagger out to Ruby.

“I guess ‘fly’ isn’t the right word, but I put a recall in the hilt,” Ruby explained while twirling the blade between her fingers in a way that made Weiss nervous for her safety.  “I want to be able to throw it and then call it back to me, but right now I can just throw it - the recall isn’t working. Here, wanna see?”

When Weiss nodded, Ruby handed her the blade and pointed at a small box sitting on top of a whole stack of boxes in one corner of the garage.

“Try to hit that box.”

Looking at the box, a good ten feet away from them, Weiss turned back to Ruby in surprise.

“You’re serious?”

“Yeah!  Go ahead and try - can’t hurt anything,” Ruby replied with a nod and encouraging smile.

Now, there was one member of their team who could easily pick up a dagger and toss it across the room with pinpoint accuracy.  That person wasn’t her. And the fact that the box had the name ‘Yang’ written on the side in black marker didn’t make her feel much better about attempting to skewer a knife through it...

“Alright…” she reluctantly agreed despite her misgivings.  

Standing up, she squared her feet and faced the target head on.  She was going to make a fool of herself, she was certain of it, but only Ruby was here to see.  

“Try to snap your wrist,” Ruby suggested, making the motion in mid-air.  Nodding, Weiss focused on the box and took a deep breath. Holding the dagger between two fingers, she brought it up to about her ear, stared down the destination, and flicked it forward with a snap of her wrist.

The dagger flipped through the air and hit the side of the box, but on the flat edge instead of the tip.  Bouncing off, it fell to the ground with a loud clatter.

“Hey!  You hit it!” Ruby exclaimed with a happy smile.  “That’s way better than my first try!  Now see, this button should work -”

There was a small button sitting on top of the workbench that Ruby quickly pressed, but nothing happened.  

“But it doesn’t!” she finally proclaimed before scrambling across the garage and returning with the dagger a few seconds later.  Tossing the weapon onto the bench, Ruby turned to Weiss and said “Up!” while popping both fists up in a fighting stance. Without a second thought, Weiss immediately mimicked in the way Ruby had ‘taught’ her the other night.  The quick response made Ruby grin and gently tap each of her fists to Weiss’ knuckles.

“I knew it!  You’re such a fast learner!” Ruby gushed, lighting a fire behind Weiss’ cheeks in no time.

The old version of Weiss would have been indignant at the perceived snub.  Of course she was a fast learner.  She’d been top of her class in every subject since starting school.  Being a quick study was expected of her.  

But when Ruby said these things...Weiss only felt more accomplished.

Once, she had ‘accidentally’ tripped Jaune into a lake when he made the assertion that she was a ‘surprisingly’ good fighter.  When he’d bobbed to the surface, sputtering, he whined about how Ruby made comments like that all the time and was never tripped into a lake for it.  That was the moment Weiss realized...Boy Wonder was actually right about something. Ruby did make comments like that all the time and, instead of being upset, Weiss would blush or be embarrassed.

That was the first of many realizations that pointed directly to one very obvious answer - she was in love with her partner.

“So...what else are you working on?” Weiss asked while retaking her seat and wishing her blush away.  The question prompted Ruby to move items this way and that on the workbench while searching for something to show Weiss.

“Oh I gotta whole bunch of different things around here…”

“What’s this?” Weiss asked, reaching towards a small, roundish black lump that caught her eye.  Before Weiss could touch it, Ruby burst over and snatched the item off of the table, a fresh layer of rose petals landing amongst the tools.

“That’s, uh...garbage,” Ruby explained.  “Really should’ve thrown it away already...”

When Ruby threw the lump into a nearby garbage can, Weiss smiled and knowingly shook her head.  At least Ruby had prevented her from touching whatever it was. Once, she’d stuck her hand into a container holding what had turned out to be liquified horse spleen.  She’d never found out why exactly that was in their home, but from Ruby’s profuse apologies it had had something to do with ‘Nora’ and some type of ‘dare.’  That had been more than enough information for Weiss.

While Ruby walked back to her, Weiss’ eyes caught another piece of work that she was surprised she hadn’t noticed earlier.

“Is that…” she began, nodding towards the contraption partially buried underneath several loops of different gauge wires.  “What you’ve been working on?”

“Yup!” Ruby exclaimed with a grin, grabbing the red glove, pulling it on, and walking over so that Weiss could inspect it closely.  “It’s finished actually! Just have a bit more painting to do.”

Honestly, when Ruby had talked about the glove Weiss hadn’t known what to expect.  But seeing it in person...she could now say that it was incredible .  Like always, Ruby’s attention to even the smallest detail was beyond anything Weiss had ever seen.  From the cleverly hidden seams to the perfectly painted plating - aesthetically it was a masterpiece.  But how did it work?

“Does it help?”

“Does it ever!” Ruby replied, curling her gloved hand into a tight fist.  “I’m way over 100% on my left hand now! I’ve been considering making another one for my right, just for the heck of it.”

“Really?”  The disbelief was evident in Weiss’ tone, which Ruby immediately picked up on.

“I’ll give you a demonstration!”  Moving various supplies around the workbench, Ruby finally found a solid rod of wood the length of a ruler.  “This’ll do!” she said before heading back to Weiss.

“A standard piece of wood, right?” Ruby asked before handing it over.  “Why don’t you give it a good squeeze and see how much damage you can do?”

It was a ridiculous question, but Weiss was loathe to turn down such a simple request when Ruby was in her saleswoman role.  Taking the piece of wood, Weiss squeezed it in one hand before handing it back to Ruby.

“It’s solid,” she replied, much to Ruby’s apparent amusement.

“Look, you totally put a little dent in it, see?  You must be super-duper strong!” Ruby held it out and pointed to a line in the grain that had definitely not come from Weiss’ own strength, but she appreciated the compliment anyway.  

“Ok, now for the main event!” Ruby called out while holding the piece of wood in her gloved hand.  Curling her fingers, Ruby gripped the rod tightly. It looked like very minimal effort on her part, yet Weiss heard the wood crack and groan in protest.

“Tada!” Ruby was announcing several seconds later, holding it out for Weiss to see.

There was now a very definitive indentation where Ruby’s hand had been, with cracked wood that had very nearly broken in half.  In this damaged state, Weiss could snap the rod into two pieces without exerting much effort at all.

“That’s...impressive.”  More than impressive, the opportunities it opened up in regards to combat were potentially endless.  What Ruby had crafted for herself was essentially a vice grip akin to Yang’s arm. She could latch herself to anything she could fit her hand around and refuse to be torn free.  Crescent Rose. A ledge. An enemy.

It was incredible.  

“Have you named it yet?” Weiss asked.  It was something of a tradition amongst huntsmen to give names to the weapons and tools that aided them in battle.  For some, it was a gesture of respect. Others, a symbol of importance. For Ruby, it was a combination of both, plus just plain fun.  

“Not yet,” Ruby replied, looking at the glove like a name might already be written on it somewhere.  “I’ve been throwing some names around, but nothing feels right.”

“Well don’t think about it too much.  The best names appear when you least expect them.”

When Ruby grinned at the advice, Weiss smiled back - their eyes locking for a few brief seconds that sent her pulse inching higher.  It immediately leveled off when Ruby turned back to her gloved hand, flexing her fingers and watching the perfectly constructed metal plates slide smoothly back and forth as she did so.

It was clear that Ruby was proud of her accomplishment, as she should be.  There were very few people who could build something like that from scratch...and even fewer who possessed the determination to do so in order to overcome a physical roadblock.

“Ruby!  Can you help put away groceries?”

Weiss jumped in surprise at the voice shouted through the open garage door, having been too busy staring into Ruby’s eyes to hear anyone enter the house.

“Coming!” Ruby yelled back, pulling off the glove and setting it on the bench.

Glancing towards the house, Weiss bit her lip in thought.  It sounded like Yang and Blake had just returned from their errands, but...what reception would Weiss receive today?  Every instant she and Yang spent together felt like it pushed them one step closer to Yang finally erupting like a volcano.  Could today be that day?

“I should probably get going,” Weiss said while hurriedly standing from the chair.  

Unfortunately, she would have to go through the house in order to leave, but if she said goodbye to Ruby now she wouldn’t need to linger inside for very long.  Sure, maybe she was a coward, but a full blown confrontation with Yang was not what she wanted to get into right now - especially with Ruby around.

“But you just got here!”  

Ruby’s audible disappointment was enough to make Weiss pause and furrow her brow.  Sensing the weakened resolve, Ruby glanced towards the door and then back at Weiss.

“I’d like you to stay!” Ruby said with a hopeful expression.  “As my guest.”

With an imploring smile and a set of unbelievable puppy dog eyes aimed her way, Weiss quickly came to the conclusion that being Ruby’s guest would be worth any verbal snipes Yang might choose to make.

After Weiss nodded in acceptance of the offer, her heart did an immediate somersault when Ruby beamed with joy.  Waving Weiss after her in what could only be considered a gesture of encouragement, Ruby bounded into the house with Weiss hesitantly in tow.  Stepping through the doorway, Weiss found that Blake and Yang were currently walking through the front door with several bags of groceries in their hands.

If Blake was surprised by Weiss’ presence, she did an excellent job of concealing it.  Yang, on the other hand...

“Hey Weiss,” Blake said with a smile while Yang gave a nod of acknowledgement and dropped two bags on top of the dining table.

Seeing the pair suddenly reminded Weiss of the excuse she’d invented to stop by in the first place.  It was an invitation she could’ve easily extended over the phone, but in person was far better - mostly because then she could gauge Ruby’s reaction.

“That reminds me,” Weiss directed to Ruby, who’d already used her semblance to race outside and back in with a bag in each arm.  “I wanted to...personally invite all of you to Schnee Dust in the next couple weeks. I remember you wanted to go and thought it would be fun.”

“No way!  Really??”

Ruby’s excitement filled Weiss with relief.  As did the fact that she’d gotten through the entire invitation with hardly a stutter.

“Of course,” she replied with a pleased smile.  “I’d be willing to give you a personal tour too, if you want.”

The offer made Ruby’s grin widen and Weiss’ burgeoning satisfaction grow.  

“That sounds like so much fun!  Doesn’t it?” Turning to Yang, Ruby received a small smile and nod in response.  “Oh, but what day? I’m free every day except the day I’m going on a hunt with Blake and Yang!  Which is...I don’t even know when that is yet...”

Ruby turned questioningly to Yang, but Weiss’ mind immediately focused on one word and drowned out anything else.  She must have heard Ruby incorrectly...

“I’m sorry - you’re what?”

“Going on a hunt!” Ruby repeated with every ounce of zeal as the first time.  “Yang said I’m ready!”

“Really?” Weiss asked, directing her sheer disbelief towards Yang rather than Ruby.

“Yeah!” Ruby replied, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet in excitement.  “I’ll get to try out my new hand against real Grimm!”

“Yeah you do!”  Yang gave her sister a high five while walking past before shoving a few boxes into an open cupboard.  “Blake and I actually spoke to Ozpin while we were out and picked up a small contract. We’ll go over the details later tonight, k?”  

The news made Ruby squeal with delight and run over to hug Yang, who smiled at the enthusiasm and tenderly patted Ruby’s head.

“You got it!” Ruby exclaimed before turning to Weiss with stars in her eyes.  “I hope there’s Ursa. Tons of them! Or Nevermores - oooh do you think we’ll see Nevermores?  What about Beowolves? There’s gotta be Beowolves, right?”

Each subsequent Grimm made Weiss feel sicker and sicker to her stomach while her heartbeat drummed loudly in her ears.  The idea of any of those creatures being in the remote vicinity as Ruby filled Weiss with a sense of dread unlike anything she’d experienced before.

Yang wasn’t crazy enough to take Ruby back out there, was she?

“Do you really think that’s a good idea?” Weiss asked Yang’s back, finally getting Yang to make eye contact with her.  Panic was building in her chest at the image of Ruby out there in the forest, Grimm surrounding her, the yellow glow of stingers flashing through the late afternoon twilight...

Naturally, Yang shrugged in the face of Weiss’ anxiety while pulling a box from a grocery bag and tossing it across the kitchen to Ruby.  “Sure, why not?”

The laissez-faire attitude didn’t work on Weiss today.  It didn’t work most days, but especially not today. Her eyes flicked over to Ruby, who was happily climbing on top of the counter in order to reach the top of the cupboards.  Turning back to Yang, Weiss lowered her voice.

“Because the last time -”

Before she could finish the sentence, Yang raised one hand to cut her off and leveled her with a firm gaze.

“She’s ready, Weiss.”

The words filled her with incredulity.  She couldn’t believe that. In her eyes, Ruby would never be ready.  And, if it were up to her, Ruby would never set foot outside the city walls again.

“I am!” Ruby chirped from beside them.  “I got the calibration ironed out in my glove - now it’s strong enough to crush a small rock into...smaller rocks.  But it reacts within a fraction of a second of when I want it too. Basically fast enough that you can’t even tell a difference!”

Sparing a thin smile, Weiss’ mind raced at the unexpected news which had just fallen like a missile onto her already shaky life.  Sure, the glove was incredible. It was technologically sound and appeared to solve the one lingering handicap from Ruby’s injuries.  But in the forest a fraction of a second could be the difference between life and death.  

It was far too much risk for Weiss to accept, but...Ruby looked so excited about going...was there any way to convince her out of it?  No, Weiss wouldn’t be able to convince Ruby to stay, but maybe - 

“I’m coming with you,” she stated resolutely when the solution came to her.  It was the only way Weiss could make sure Ruby was safe, but the assertion made Yang let out a derisive scoff while opening a cupboard to put away a box of cereal.

“Like hell you are.”

“If you think I’m letting you leave without me,” Weiss whispered forcefully across the kitchen table, “Then you’re a bigger fool than I’ve ever given you credit for.”

“Weiss, you’re a huntress??”

The unconcealed surprise in Ruby’s tone caught everyone’s attention in full.  Sharing a quick look, Blake and Yang turned away from the conversation - plainly saying that Weiss was going to have to handle this on her own.

She’d never told Ruby she was a huntress.  It had never come up in conversation and she’d always just assumed that Ruby knew.  Of course, why would Ruby know that? In her eyes, they’d only met several days ago.

Numbly nodding her head, Weiss was relieved when Ruby broke out a huge smile.  And she was even more relieved when she heard Yang let out a huge sigh and go back to putting the groceries away.  Their short-lived argument had been settled without the two of them coming to an agreement on their own - now that Ruby was excited about Weiss being a huntress, Yang knew there was no way Weiss wasn’t coming with them.

“What’s your weapon?”  The question was hardly out of Ruby’s mouth before she added, “Can I see it??”

It was that second request which caused Blake to shoot a worried glance Weiss’ way - both of them likely thinking the same thing.  While they’d been a functioning team, Ruby made extensive upgrades to Myrtenaster. Her fingerprints were very literally all over the weapon - would she recognize her own handiwork?

But there was no logical excuse Weiss could come up with to explain why Ruby couldn’t see Myrtenaster.  And, since Weiss had just strong-armed her way onto their hunt, Ruby would be seeing the weapon eventually.  There was really no other option but to nod and fake a smile.

“I use a rapier -”

“Do you use a locker?  Can you call it over here?”

Right now?  Ruby wanted to do this right now?  

The events of the last few minutes made it feel like Weiss’ life had suddenly spiraled back out of control - her meticulously guarded restraint scattered to the wind by unexpected knowledge that had appeared out of nowhere.

Myrtenaster was in a locker though...most huntsmen refused to leave home without having their weapons a few button clicks away from arriving by their side.

“I...yes, I do.  I can -” she stammered.  The answer made Ruby clap her hands together in excitement before her silver eyes suddenly widened.  

“Shoot!  I forgot to turn off the welder!”

With her heart rate steadily climbing, Weiss watched Ruby disappear into the garage, leaving a cloud of petals in her wake.  Reaching out, Weiss deftly caught one of the small breaths of roses in her hand before it could reach the ground.

For the longest time she’d refused to allow Ruby to touch Myrtenaster.  She hired trained professionals to take care of her weapon, after all.  The best in Remnant. They were masters of weaponry with decades of experience serving other prominent huntsmen - not some young child who thought tinkering was the same as completing actual upgrades which would save lives in combat.

At that point in her life, Weiss thought her discretion was extremely well-founded.  That was, until she watched Yang, who didn’t like it if people looked at Ember Celica wrong, casually toss her prized gauntlets to Ruby after every mission.  That had been easy enough for Weiss to dismiss - it was just sisters being sisters, having complete trust in one another.  No more thought was wasted on the subject until the day Pyrrha knocked on their door. Apparently, Yang had been talking about the modifications Ruby made to Ember Celica and Pyrrha wanted to know if Ruby would look at Milo too.

Pyrrha Nikos.

Forget sisters trusting each other - this was the most renowned fighter in the entire school asking Ruby for help.  Ruby. The girl who still had trouble making it to class on time.  

Of course, Ruby agreed to help and spent the next few days on Cloud 9 while she tirelessly and meticulously worked on the javelin.  Personally, Weiss made several rueful comments suggesting that if Ruby applied this much attention to her studies, Weiss would no longer receive the highest marks in class.  Those were the first days Weiss actually stopped what she was doing and watched her partner work - growing more and more impressed with every painstaking alteration that was made.

When Ruby finished, it was impossible to tell that any changes had been made just by looking at the weapon.  It wasn’t until the very next day, when Pyrrha destroyed the entirety of Team CRDL in record time, that the impact of the modifications came to light.  Suddenly, people were lining up at their door asking Ruby to upgrade their weapons too.

Being the bossy person that she’d been, that was the moment when Weiss stepped in and demanded that Ruby look at Myrtenaster before anyone else’s weapon.  She was Ruby’s partner, after all. Didn’t that grant her front of line privileges?  

That’s when she watched Ruby work on her weapon for the very first time, and that’s when she saw the utmost care Ruby used merely touching it.  

Her entire life, Weiss thought of Myrtenaster as a tool more than anything else.  Sure, she was fond of it, but thought that that fondness grew out of familiarity rather than emotional attachment.  But to Ruby...well, Ruby treated the rapier as a living, breathing being. Weiss had actually caught Ruby whispering to it while she worked for hours on end to ensure it was absolutely, breathtakingly perfect.  

And it was.  It was lighter, the mixer stopped jamming, and that odd click when she used red Dust had finally been found and silenced.

Those were the first of many improvements Ruby made for Weiss.  Then Ruby blazed through the rest of their class - fixing quirks, solving problems, and adding functionality beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.  Weiss had whined that if Ruby kept upgrading the other team's weapons, they would be in danger of losing their place at the top of the class - to which Ruby cheerfully replied that then they’d all be that much better at fighting Grimm.

It was one of the many instances where Ruby effortlessly reminded Weiss that the greater good came before her own prestige and success.  Being around Ruby, Weiss had slowly grown to realize how focused she was on herself - on being the best, the brightest, the fastest. Beacon wasn’t about helping others - it was about helping herself, providing her a platform on which to prove she was worthy of her family name.  

But then she spent every waking second with someone who would become the best and was, very literally, the fastest.  The prodigy. The youngest trainee in Beacon’s fabled history. And Ruby only ever thought about everyone else - how they could all improve, together.  How they could make the world a better place, together.

Ruby never thought of Weiss as petty, even though she was.

“You can’t let her go back out there,” Weiss pleaded with Yang, feeling a wave of desperation wash over her.  Ruby couldn’t fight again. She couldn’t be hurt again. There was no way Weiss could survive another heartbreak.  “You can’t risk her life again.”

“She’ll be just fine,” Blake assured her.

“You can’t know that!” she argued.  “You know there’s no way to guarantee anyone’s safety out there!”

Shaking her head, Yang’s expression was set with a frown.

“You gave up the right to have a say in her life when you left.”

An old, familiar feeling was clawing inside of Weiss - that refusal to give up, that desperate need to survive by any means necessary.  She couldn’t allow this to happen.  Ruby’s life could very well depend on it.  Ruby’s spark was too good and too pure and too magical to be wasted because of some childhood dream.  Someone needed to protect her, even if that meant from herself.

“I won’t let you go,” Weiss said flatly as resolve built in her chest.  The reply only made Yang scoff in amusement.

“And how are you going to stop us?  Sorry to point it out, Weiss, but you kinda have no say in this.”

“Yes I do have a say,” she whispered forcibly in return, leaning forward so that Yang could hear her.  “She’s my -”

The word on the tip of her tongue remained there as she froze mid-sentence.  It was too late though - Yang’s eyes were already narrowed and filling with clouds.

“She’s your what, Weiss?” Yang repeated, daring Weiss to finish that sentence.

Cracks were appearing in the resolve she’d managed to build up, threatening to undermine her determination.  Besides Ruby’s name, there was one word she hadn’t allowed herself to use since that fateful night...and she couldn’t believe she’d been about to say it out loud.

Keeping her mouth firmly shut, she shook her head.  The action only seemed to prove something that Yang had expected.

“Until I see that ring back on her finger, she’s nothing more than a friend to you,” Yang hissed back, jabbing a finger in the direction of the garage, as if Weiss needed to know who she was referring to.

Setting her jaw stubbornly and tilting her chin up, Weiss refused to nod her head at that statement.  Ruby was not just her friend.  Ruby was her everything.  Even if Ruby didn’t remember, Weiss did.  She remembered everything - and those were memories that couldn’t be taken away from her.

“Weiss, she’s ready,” Blake added softly, setting one hand on Yang’s shoulder in an effort to diffuse her anger.  “She can sense me. She can’t explain it, but she never could, could she? Somehow she knows where I am when she shouldn’t and reacts to it.”

The knowledge made Weiss pause, but she was still frowning.  If Ruby could sense Blake, that implied that her incredible instincts remained intact.  But instinct would only take someone so far.  

How could Weiss make them see that Ruby wasn’t ready?  How could she make them understand that being able to fight in the confines of a yard was nowhere near the same as in the middle of a forest, with help always a few minutes too far away?  

“I want to spar her,” she said, trying to sound resolute even though she knew she had very little in terms of bargaining power.  “I want to see for myself.”

The request immediately perked Yang’s interest - cheered her up, even.

“That sounds fun.”  

And -” Weiss added emphatically.  “If I can beat her - you’ll delay this ill-advised adventure of yours.”

Sure ,” Yang said with a shake of her head that clearly said she wasn’t expecting to have to hold up her end of the bargain.  “If you beat her, then maybe she has some more learning to do. But if she wins, you back off.”

As the two of them locked eyes, Weiss could feel the tension rising again.  But when Weiss nodded in agreement, Yang broke into a disconcerting grin that diffused the moment. 

At least Weiss had gotten what she wanted.  Well, not exactly. What she wanted was for no one to ever consider taking Ruby near a Grimm for the rest of their natural lives.  Since that seemed to be off the table at the moment, at least she had a chance to delay this hunt. If she could beat Ruby, it would force Yang to reconsider.

A breeze blew into the kitchen and, as soon as Ruby slowed to a manageable speed, Yang caught her by one arm and wrapped her up in a giant hug.  While Yang rustled her little sister’s brunette hair all over the place, Ruby wiggled around and whined, “Yanggg!”

“We were talking about you!” Yang said when finally releasing Ruby.  “How you can throw down with the best of us,” Yang elaborated, throwing what looked like a very real jab towards Ruby’s cheek.  A blink and Ruby ducked the blow and threw two of her own into Yang’s side. Yang hardly flinched at the contact, instead laughing in that pleased way she had.

“Hey, what do you think about sparring Weiss?”

“Are you serious?” Ruby practically squealed, turning towards Weiss with big silver eyes.

“Yeah, I think you can teach her a thing or two,” Yang added, sending a smirk Weiss’ way.

“I’d love to!” 

“Maybe not tonight, but you can still look at Myrtenaster,” Weiss quickly added.  Having only come over here expecting to invite her teammates to the Dust facility, she didn’t think she was mentally or physically prepared to fight Ruby at this moment.  Maybe not ever, but certainly not right now.

“Myrtenaster…” Ruby repeated, causing Weiss’ breath catch in her throat in alarm.  “Oh, I’ll go make some room on the bench! And then you can call your locker, yeah?”

Quietly breathing a sigh of relief, Weiss nodded her agreement before watching Ruby buzz happily out of the room.

“What kind of hunt is it?” she whispered before Ruby had even disappeared.

“We found a private contract that only needs two,” Blake explained just as quietly.  “Not too deep in the forest, so there shouldn’t be anything too crazy around.”

“Basic retrieval,” Yang added nonchalantly.  “In through the roof, out through the roof - the whole thing is done in ten minutes.  Blake and I could do it in our sleep - having Ruby around will only make it easier.”

“We probably won’t even see a Grimm, but at least Ruby will feel like she’s doing something,” Blake concluded, giving Weiss a sympathetic smile.

“Weiss, I’m ready!  Let’s call in Myrtenaster!” Ruby called out before racing through the room towards the backyard, oblivious to anything they were talking about.  Sighing, Weiss moved to follow Ruby outside, pulling out her scroll so that she could summon her locker to their location.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” she whispered while leaving the two girls behind.

They’d already gotten Ruby’s hopes up - if they said she couldn’t go now, she would be crushed.  She’d spent so much time rehabilitating from her injuries...which Weiss couldn’t even begin to fathom the difficulty of undertaking.  She’d created a masterpiece to bridge the gap from where her recovery left off to being full strength once again. It didn’t take much for Weiss to understand that Ruby had poured her heart and soul into reaching this goal of hers.

But if Yang let Ruby go back into the forest…

That just couldn’t happen.  As much as Weiss loved Ruby and loved to see her happy, she loved Ruby too much to put her in that type of danger again.  Weiss knew that Ruby had dreamed of becoming a huntress ever since she was a little girl.  She wanted to follow in her mom’s footsteps. She wanted to help people. She wanted to save the world.  

But Ruby had already achieved that dream.  Ruby had already been a huntress.  She’d saved countless lives. She’d saved the world and then saved it again.  She’d achieved everything she’d dreamed of...and she’d nearly died as a result.  

There was no way Weiss could stand by and watch her partner chase that same dream over again.  Not when she’d seen how it ended the first time. So Ruby was either not going to go...or Weiss was going to be glued to her side the entire time.

But first - Myrtenaster.

Chapter Text

Ruby was excited.  Excited .  It wasn’t every day that she got to check out a new weapon!  Not just any weapon either - a huntress’ weapon.  Not just any huntress either!  It was Weiss’ weapon!

A few minutes ago Ruby hadn’t even known that Weiss was a huntress.  But why would she when she’d never asked?  Which was dumb. Why hadn’t she asked? Note to self, that should be one of the first questions she asked a new potential friend.  ‘Hi, nice to meet you. Would you happen to be a huntress or a huntsmen with a super cool weapon I could take a look at?’ 

Yeah, that would totally work and keep this type of life-altering, unexpected reveal from happening again.  Although she was kind of a fan of surprises…but at least now she knew for sure how Weiss and Yang knew each other!  They must’ve been in some of the same classes at Signal.

It was kinda funny though...Weiss didn’t give off a ‘huntress’ vibe.  If Yang, Blake, and Weiss stood in a line and Ruby guessed their occupations, she’d say: huntress, ninja, princess.  Not huntress, huntress, huntress. Weiss was just so refined and proper! Could anyone really imagine her fighting a full grown Ursa that was about a hundred million times her size?

Yes, Ruby could imagine that and it was awesome.  Pretty and able to kill Grimm?  She didn’t even know girls like that existed!

...but don’t tell Yang that.

“Alright…” Weiss muttered as they both stood in the middle of the backyard.  “On its way.”

“Awesome,” Ruby replied as casually as possible, trying to keep the excitement out of her voice.

Be cool - be cool , she reminded herself while struggling to stand motionlessly by Weiss’ side, trying to mimic Weiss’ ultra-perfect posture.  A part of her didn’t want Weiss to see what a huge weapons geek she was, but anticipation couldn’t even begin to describe her current emotional state.  Her current level of jitters was somewhere between five and ten chocolate cakes - the big ones with three layers, none of that double layer nonsense.  

Sure, she was a big nerd, but most people didn’t understand just how fascinating a huntsman’s weapon could be.  They were all different. They were all unique. And because of how long and often they were trained with, each one told a story about the person who used them.  

Like Ember Celica...the gauntlets were very clearly Yang’s.  They were flashy, loud, and constantly marred with cuts and grooves from getting way too close to the action - the result of Yang’s more brash and thrill-seeking fighting style.  And Gambol Shroud...well, Ruby didn’t have much information about Gambol because Blake wouldn’t let her take the weapon apart - which only added to the mystery that was Blake in general.  Very few people, if any, would ever know what went on in Blake’s mind. That and the blade was black. Blake liked to wear black. Coincidence?

But Weiss’ weapon...Ruby had no idea what to expect.  Would Weiss be like Blake - hesitant to let Ruby examine or even touch it?  Or would Weiss be more like Yang - willing to let Ruby take it apart and poke around?  It wasn’t like she couldn’t put it back together again! Because she totally could. Most likely.

And, besides being ultra-dangerous and ultra-personal, there was a slight chance that the weapon might have some secrets to tell about Weiss.  What mysteries would Mr. Myrtenaster solve? Ruby couldn’t wait to find out!

A small squeal of delight escaped her as a weapon locker fell from the sky and lodged itself in the middle of the yard with a loud ‘thunk’ announcing its arrival.  Racing over the second it appeared, she screeched to a stop with one hand already reaching out to open the locker door.

Manners! she silently scolded herself.  This wasn’t one of her sister’s things.  She shouldn’t touch someone else’s weapon without permission.  Unless she wanted to make them upset - which she didn’t.  

Turning back to Weiss, Ruby received the smile and nod of approval she’d been hoping for.  This time she didn’t hesitate to pull open the locker and look inside.

The mere sight of the shimmering sword resting in the latches made her heart pound in her ears.  Like really pound.  Reaching in, she delicately removed Myrtenaster from the clasps, with goosebumps rising on her arms the instant she felt cool metal underneath her fingertips.  

It must be the evening air and her short-sleeved shirt, but as she held the weapon up a weirdly-pleasant shiver ran through her bones.  The late afternoon sun cut through the clouds just enough to make the silver sparkle majestically in her hands - the same exact shade as the ring hanging around her neck.

It was...gorgeous.  But that wasn’t surprising since Weiss was super beautiful...

Ruby’s cheeks flushed at the thought while she held the weapon in her hands and continued to marvel at it.  She’s never seen such a pretty weapon. Like...exquisitely pretty in a very girly way. Because it was a girl - definitely a girl. 

And it was perfect, so it obviously belonged to Weiss.

“Excuse me, Miss Myrtenaster,” Ruby whispered to the blade in apology, before turning around to find Weiss watching intently.  “It’s...incredible…”  

Ruby held the weapon with her fingertips like she shouldn’t actually be allowed to touch it, but what she really wanted to do was grasp the handle and whip it through the air.  Slowly turning the weapon over in her hands, she glanced at Weiss to make sure she wasn’t overstepping any bounds. Thankfully, Weiss seemed perfectly fine with what Ruby was doing.

“Why don’t you try it out?” Weiss even suggested, nodding her head in encouragement when Ruby looked at her for confirmation.

Because that’s exactly what Ruby wanted to do!  Trying different types of weapons was always a thrill.  Maybe she’d find one she liked better than Crescent Rose!

That would never, ever, ever happen.  Never. But she could have a second favorite weapon.

Slipping her hand around the grip, which was far more comfortable than it looked, she curled her fingers into a fist and let Myrtenaster fall to her side.  First - wow, the weight. Compared to Crescent Rose it was like holding a feather.

“So light!” she exclaimed gleefully, holding the weapon upright and poking it a few times through the air like she’d seen fencers do on TV when she was a kid.  It was the lightest weapon she’d ever held - like some fluffy clouds held together with a layer of silver paint - but its lack of weight didn’t make it feel at all brittle.  It wasn’t brittle at all - it actually felt quite sturdy. There was a certain stiffness to it that let out a satisfying snap if swished through the air just right.  

After waving Myrtenaster around for a few minutes, it began to feel more comfortable in her grasp.  It was weird to use a weapon that had such a single direction. Because Crescent Rose was all curved and swoopy, Ruby was able to attack using many different angles.  Myrtenaster was direct and straightforward.

Probably the only weapon vaguely similar that Ruby had tried before was Gambol Shroud, but Gambol felt like fighting with a live worm or something.  It was such a weird weapon...and maybe that was why Blake was so possessive of it. Although why anyone would be possessive of a worm, Ruby had no idea...

But Myrtenaster...Myrtenaster seemed like it would be far easier to learn how to wield.  There was something about the motions of the weapon that felt...right. Like how Ruby had known hand-to-hand combat wouldn’t come easily to her, she knew that Myrtenaster would.

After twirling the weapon around for a little longer, drawing her name in quick air letters, she dropped her arm to her side and giggled. 

“I feel like a princess,” she admitted, the comment making Weiss smile.

“A very pretty one at that.”

The compliment made Ruby blush while Weiss immediately looked towards the house. 

“Anyway, you wanted to look at it in the garage?”

“Oh yeah!  That’s where my tools are!” Ruby called out, shaking her head to get rid of the heat in her cheeks.  It wasn’t often that she was called pretty - or ever, really. Besides from Yang, but Ruby was pretty sure that her sister just loved to boost people’s egos.  Probably in an attempt to get someone else’s to match her own.

Hopefully Yang hadn’t just heard Ruby think that.  It totally wasn’t true! Yang only had a pretend huge ego!  She was actually the most modest person in the entire world!

Glancing towards the back door, expecting Yang to come barrelling outside at any second, Ruby was pleasantly surprised when a few seconds passed and nothing happened.  Nothing except Weiss staring at her expectantly, of course.

“Right!  The garage!” she repeated.  When she offered Myrtenaster to Weiss, Weiss waved Ruby off and let her carry the weapon instead.  

Which was interesting.  What Ruby had learned so far was that Myrtenaster was gorgeous, super light, and that Weiss seemed to have no difficulty parting with it.  From what Ruby knew about the bond between a huntress and their weapon, it was unusual for a huntress to be so willing to entrust it to someone else.  There were stories out there about huntsmen who were very protective of their weapons - like they’d go berserk if someone stole it and go on some crazy killing spree to get it back.  Just look at Blake and Gambol! Not that Blake would go on a crazy killing spree, but...well, you never know sometimes.

For whatever reason, Weiss didn’t seem to fall into those molds - there seemed to be no lack of trust or psychotic tendencies in sight.  Not that Ruby would’ve minded! The lack of trust part, not the...other one. But they hadn’t known each other for that long, so it would be reasonable if Weiss didn’t completely trust Ruby yet.

But this was way better!  Now she could pour over Myrtenaster without feeling like she was invading Weiss’ privacy, and knew that Weiss sorta, kinda, maybe trusted her!  And, again, there were those potential secrets...Ruby really wanted to know those.  She’d be happy with just one! Because right now Weiss was still a big mystery. One itty, bitty little secret would probably tell Ruby boatloads!

Heading into the house, they were walking into the living room just as Yang stood up from the dining room table.

“Hold up,” Yang instructed them, walking over while holding her scroll in one hand.

“I didn’t mean it!” Ruby immediately blurted out, drawing Yang’s eyes away from her scroll in surprise. 

“What?”

“What?” Ruby asked.  Realizing her mistake, she turned to Weiss - who was giving her a curious expression - before looking back at Yang.  “Uh, I mean, hey! What do you need?”

The sequence of events had clearly confused Yang, but she shrugged it off and started tapping on the screen of her scroll instead.

“Let me show you somethin’ real quick,” she said before holding out the device so Ruby and Weiss could read it.

At the top of the screen was a bolded title, ‘Medical Information Recovery,’ with lines directly below that listing a location, date, and a status of ‘accepted.’  Underneath the information there were three names of the huntsmen who had accepted the mission. Dropping Myrtenaster to her side in one hand, Ruby grinned and took the scroll from Yang in the other.  Pulling the device closer to her eyes, she read the names closely.

Blake Belladonna.

Yang Xiao Long.

And below that…

Roby Rose?” she whined.  “Yang!”

“What?” Yang asked in confusion, taking the scroll and reading it before laughing.  “Oh...whoops! Well, we can’t really change that now…”

When Ruby’s brow knit together in a pout, Yang immediately dropped the joke.  

“I’m kidding!  I can totally fix it!  I have to add Weiss anyway.”

Happy with that response, Ruby grinned again.  That was her name on there! Kind of. Not quite yet, but it would be!  She was official .

“Thank you!”

“No problem, Roby ,” Yang smirked while walking away.  Pretending to be annoyed, Ruby held up Myrtenaster and turned the weapon over in her hand.

“Does this thing have a stun mode or something?” she joked, playfully aiming it at her sister’s back.

“Sure,” Weiss replied, leaning towards her.  “It’s right…”

The instant Weiss touched the weapon, a small stream of light blue shot out of Myrtenaster and hit Yang squarely in the back.  The ice did nothing more than make Yang to flinch in surprise, before she slowly spun around and pointed one finger at Ruby. Glancing down at the weapon still grasped in her hand, directed at her sister, she gave Yang what she hoped would be an apologetic smile. 

Dang.  Caught red-handed.

Yang narrowed her eyes at the two of them before shaking her head and walking into her room.  As soon as she was gone, Ruby’s jaw dropped in surprise.

“I can’t believe you just did that!” she gasped.

The expression Weiss gave her in return was one of utmost innocence, but Ruby could see right through it.  There was the slightest quirk in Weiss’ lip that suggested a smile was being held at bay.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Weiss replied.  She was so good at this.  Her tone was practically bored by the conversation.  If Ruby hadn’t known any better, she’d totally fall for it.  But she did know better!

Narrowing her own eyes, she redirected the weapon towards Weiss - who merely looked down at it curiously.

“I’m watching you,” Ruby teased.  Her words broke through Weiss’ unflappable exterior and succeeded in making her look quite amused. 

“Be careful where you point that,” Weiss replied with a smirk, touching one finger to the tip of the blade.  A burst of cold sparks suddenly flew into Ruby’s face and she jumped backwards with a yelp of surprise. Swiping at her face, the flakes of ice had already melted into cold water that she wiped from her brow.  As she did so, a sound caught her attention and froze her faster than ten feet of ice would.

Weiss was laughing.  

For the briefest second, the girl standing in front of Ruby was completely different from the one who’d walked into their house for dinner all those nights ago.  It was incredible - like Weiss had just been replaced by a cloned version of herself. Only the clone had lived a much happier life and was more willing to laugh, tease, and have fun.  

The sight made Ruby grin while her heart did this strange little ba-dump in her chest.

This Weiss.  This was the real one.  

But before Ruby could grasp onto that copy of Weiss, she’d already slipped away - back into her shell, or behind her walls, or wherever it was she was hiding.  The composed mask slid back into place while icy blue eyes watched Ruby intently - only a hint of that smile remaining.

The moment had been short-lived, but that was ok.  Now Ruby knew there was a happy Weiss in there somewhere just waiting to be brought out.  Maybe if they became better friends, Ruby would get to see that other version of Weiss more often.  That was going to be her new goal.

“To the garage?” Weiss asked after a few too many seconds of silence, waving one hand towards the door.

“To the garage!” Ruby exclaimed, before heading through the living room and hopping through the doorway.  The lights clicked on automatically when they walked inside, where it was still just as messy as it had been when Ruby showed Weiss the failing-to-recall dagger.  Except now there was a large empty stretch of the workbench waiting for them. All of the junk that had been sitting in that space was now piled at the edge of the bench in a big mess that would be fun to sort out later.

Maybe Ruby should build some sort of shop cleaning robot.  Naw. That’d make Yang too happy! What Ruby should really build is a shoe organizing robot.  Or a shoe eating robot!  That’d be much more fun.  It would gobble up any shoe it came across while prowling around the house.  Except...she’d have to make sure it wouldn’t try to eat someone’s shoe while they were wearing it.  That’d be kinda bad…

“So, you’re a huntress!” Ruby proclaimed, heading over to the workbench with Weiss following close behind.  

“I suppose I am.”

Opening a nearby cupboard and pulling out two small weapon stands that were stacked inside, Ruby giggled at the reply before gasping.

“Oh!  Does that mean you have cool stories from out in the forest??” 

While Ruby was hopeful that she did, Weiss looked taken aback by the question.

“Oh.  I, well…”

“Yang has tons of cool stories,” Ruby added, thinking she might’ve just put Weiss on the spot a little bit.  “Giant Grimm, blowing up caves, jumping off waterfalls...if you think of any, I’d love to hear them!”

Weiss finally smiled and gave Ruby a slight nod.  “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”

Satisfied with that answer, Ruby turned her attention to the pieces of metal in her hand and placed the stands an appropriate distance apart on the workbench.  They held Myrtenaster perfectly when she placed the weapon upon them.

“Just right,” she commented to herself, dusting off her hands and glancing over at Weiss.  This entire time Weiss had watched Ruby closely, but didn’t seem at all concerned about what Ruby was doing with the weapon.  She could probably steal it and Weiss wouldn’t bat an eye. Not that Ruby would ever do that, but it was nice to have options!

“Yang really tells you her stories?” Weiss asked.

“Yup!  She exaggerates, but if you cut everything in half it should be true.  Like if she says there were one billion Grimm, it was probably more like five hundred million.”  Grinning at the joke, Ruby was pleasantly surprised when Weiss gave a soft chuckle and shook her head.

Once the joyful sound disappeared, Ruby glanced at Myrtenaster before realizing that she needed some more light.  Reaching across the length of the bench, and accidentally making Weiss step back in surprise, Ruby switched the light onto a brighter setting before giving Weiss an apologetic smile.  

“It’s easier to see,” Ruby explained while gesturing to the lamp. 

“It is,” was all Weiss said as she stepped back up to the bench, looking a little embarrassed at what she’d just done.  After waiting a few more seconds and getting nothing more, Ruby turned her full attention to the task at hand - examining Myrtenaster.

First, she analyzed the weapon from tip to tail using just her eyes - the eyeball test, as Yang called it.  Actually, that’s what Yang had called out while chucking a fake eyeball at Ruby’s face to see if she could react quickly enough to catch it.  She had caught it, and then repurposed the name because it was cool.  The fake eyeball was still around here somewhere...maybe it was time she dug that out to see if Yang could pass the eyeball test.

But Myrtenaster!  Myrtenaster looked like it was made of a super high grade alloy metal and had been forged as a single piece.  The etchings covering the blade and hilt were flawless and glinted under the light. The design was extremely intricate and probably had some special meaning, but it was difficult to determine what that meaning might be without any contextual clues.  

Everything about the weapon was exquisite - so exquisite that she actually felt like she shouldn’t touch it.  This was like...a high class lady weapon...and Ruby really, really wanted to lift up her skirt.

Oh Grimm...Yang was really ruining Ruby’s mind…

Hesitantly turning to the side, Ruby tapped her fingers together while capturing Weiss’ attention.

“You don’t mind if I, you know, fiddle with it a little bit?” she asked while gesturing towards the bench.

“Of course not.  I trust you.”

An unbelievable warmth filled Ruby’s chest as she turned her eyes back to Myrtenaster.  Sneaking one more look at Weiss, Ruby grinned before letting go of her reservations and examining the weapon like she really wanted to.  When she got up close and personal, pouring over every bit of silver, little observations began to jump out at her.

“Now I could’ve told you you’re a lefty!” she remarked, pointing to a nearly unnoticeable wear mark where the holder’s thumb would rest.  The mark was slanting in the opposite direction of how it would if it were being held in someone’s right hand.

Something else immediately caught Ruby’s eye.  Shifting position, she focused on a tiny, nearly invisible seam that hid a past modification.

“Did someone modify the revolver?” she asked, nearly pressing her nose to the weapon in an effort to see better.  

“Yes,” Weiss replied from above her.  “I’ve never had a problem with a jam since.  Made it easier to clean too.”

“They did a really good job!” Ruby remarked while analyzing the minute welding and stitching that had been done.  It was some pretty top notch craftsmanship. 

After her eyes scanned the entire weapon three times, Ruby started over again with her hands.  Running her fingers slowly and carefully across the blade, she searched for modifications that might be invisible to the naked eye.  That’s how the best weapons worked - they looked simple, but hidden inside simplicity were an abundance of upgrades.  Those were the weapons that Ruby liked best. She thought they added a nice element of surprise to any battle.  Here’s a dagger, but gotcha! It’s also a rocket launcher!

Not that a rocket launcher could be hidden inside a dagger, but something like that.  Although...maybe if there were smaller rockets...

After a few more seconds of searching, her fingertips found a seam in the hilt.  It was concealed so well that she almost missed it the first time and had to double-check the area.  Running her index finger in tiny up-down motions across the location, she could just barely feel the miniscule line where metal had been fused back together.  Lifting the weapon closer to her face and waiting impatiently for her eyes to focus on the area, she let out a gasp of surprise.

“You have a Dust mixer in here!” she exclaimed, gaping at Weiss while she smiled back.  “Those things cost a fortune!”

“Worth every penny.”

“I didn’t even know they made them this small...” Ruby mused, tapping and prodding at the seam.  It could only be an inch at the most in order to fit into the space...

“They don’t.  It was specifically retrofitted to Myrtenaster,” Weiss explained.

Openly gawking at the explanation, Ruby finally got a grip of herself and shook her head in disbelief.  It was incredible to think of what could be possible if not for the constraints of money. Weiss’ weapon was clearly the best of the best of the best - worth more than Ruby could dream of making in a lifetime.  Well, she could dream of making that much, but it wouldn’t be very realistic.

“It’s well done, isn’t it?” Weiss asked with a proud smile.

“Are you kidding me?  This is more than well done - this is a freaking masterpiece is what it is!  Like, it should be in a museum of weaponry.”

Crescent Rose had a few expensive upgrades too, but as Ruby understood it most of the expensive parts were birthday gifts she’d collected over the last few years.  The underlying components were still awesome, of course, but...basically, Myrtenaster was the type of impressive that fit Weiss’ family - from the base metal all the way through to the polish still gleaming on the handle.

Looking for anything she’d missed, Ruby practically put her nose to metal examining the weapon.  Sometimes she wished she was a tiny little ant, so that she could walk along the weapons and see every nook and cranny like it was larger than life.  Instead, she was forced to rely on her weak human eyes to do the work for her. 

“Who did this stuff for you?” she asked after finding another minor upgrade to the weighting of the blade.  “It’s incredible. And it looks like they spent a ton of time making sure it was perfect.”

“There...was a girl here in Vale who used to do it for me.”

“What’s her name?  Does she still work here?” Ruby asked, excitement instantly bubbling in her chest.  She wanted to meet the person who’d done all this. And maybe ask for a job. Or beg for one.  They didn’t even have to pay her! Just let her learn their expert ways and maybe let her walk away with a new weapon or five.

“Oh, well...she retired actually.  Just over a year ago.”

The reply was disappointing, but made Ruby chuckle at the thought of a little old lady working on this incredibly high-powered and sophisticated weapon.

“Was she old??  She must’ve had superhuman eyesight to make welds this small!” she joked, holding up the blade for Weiss to see one of the spots that had been welded back together.  As Ruby did so, the light in the garage hit another patch of welding and glinted back at her in a way that drew her attention. It didn’t glint properly...which wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense unless it was caught by someone like her, who spent a lot of time looking at glinting things.

Lifting Myrtenaster up until it was nearly touching her eyeball, Ruby couldn’t see anything out of place.  Furrowing her brow, she set the weapon down and tapped her fingers against the bench while searching for a solution.  

“Oh!” she exclaimed.  “I totally forgot!”

Scooting past Weiss and heading to a tall cabinet on the other side of the garage, Ruby opened just about every drawer before she found what she was looking for.  A magnifying glass! How had she forgotten she had this?

Rushing back to Myrtenaster, Ruby held the magnifying glass above the weapon.

“What are you looking at?” Weiss asked curiously.

“I think there’s something written here…” Ruby murmured, moving the magnifying glass closer and further way to bring the letters into focus.

And she was right.  Etched into a weld, impossibly small and in no way legible without magnification, where the words -

“‘Believe in yourself.’”

Huh...well, that was nice and motivational, but she’d really been hoping for some secret codes or passwords or something...

“What?” Weiss yelped in surprise before moving closer.  “Can I see that?”

Using one finger to point out where she’d been looking, Ruby held the magnifying glass steady while Weiss looked through it.  A strand of white hair fell across Weiss’ shoulder as she leaned over the bench and Ruby resisted the urge to reach out and tuck it back in place.  But she took the opportunity to look at Weiss closely - marveling at her cute eyelashes and pristine white skin.  

Weiss was pretty , but in this strange way that made Ruby feel a little breathless sometimes.  Weiss was also pretty in the way that models and actresses were, but there was something else about her...

When Weiss straightened, Ruby quickly diverted her gaze back to Weiss’ eyes - finding that she was at a loss for what to say.  

“Ruby…” she whispered, looking at Ruby as if seeing someone else entirely.  There was something different in Weiss’ expression - something that made Ruby hold that blue gaze and absorb the feeling, afraid to look away.

It was Weiss who finally broke eye contact when she turned back to her weapon, her shoulders slumping in defeat.

“I had no idea that was there...” she murmured, picking up the rapier and staring at it without the magnifying glass as if she should be able to see something.

“They made it so small - there’s no way you could’ve seen it without knowing it was there!” Ruby explained, trying to cheer Weiss’ mood suddenly dampened mood back up.

“But how did I not know?”  

The question was so disheartened and Weiss’ tone was so sad that Ruby actually frowned.  Something was wrong - she could see it in the way Weiss was standing so still, her chest rising and falling with short sniffs of breath while her eyes blinked rapidly.  It looked like...she was trying to keep herself from crying.

“Are you ok?” Ruby asked, gently tapping Weiss’s shoulder with one hand.  Even though Ruby hardly brushed her, Weiss jumped away as if Ruby had just given her a giant shove.

“Yes, I’m…” Weiss immediately began to say before trailing off, spinning Myrtenaster absentmindedly in her hands with a confident familiarity that came with holding one’s own weapon.  “I’m fine…”

“Are you sure?” Ruby pressed, taking a step closer.  A part of her really wanted to reach out and console Weiss, but another part of her was unsure if Weiss would accept the attempt at comfort.  Ruby wanted to hug Weiss though, she really did. Hugs made everything better. 

“I mean, you can talk to me, you know?  I can try to help!”

Weiss glanced at Ruby only briefly before shaking her head almost imperceptibly - the tiny motion enough to make Ruby feel a little disappointed.  When someone was sad it was normal to want to help make them feel better, which was what Ruby wanted to do. The last thing she wanted was for Weiss to cry over anything .  She wanted Weiss to trust her enough to talk about what was wrong, but she wasn’t going to pry...

“Well if you ever want to talk, I want to listen!” she offered as cheerfully as possible.  “I know a thing or two about scars - mostly physical ones, but yeah…” 

As Ruby’s voice trailed off, Weiss finally made eye contact - her own eyes still shimmering with a hint of tears being held at bay.  She opened her mouth to speak, only to close and open it again before turning away completely.

“Have you...have you ever had a memory that feels so vivid, it could be real?”

While Weiss stared at her weapon, Ruby thought about the question carefully.  Her relationship with memories was shaky, at best. Once upon she’d wished for some of them to come back, kind of like what Weiss was talking about, but that had never happened.  So Ruby gave up and moved on without them.  

“I’ve had dreams like that!” she answered.  “They seem real when I’m having them, but then I wake up and forget.”

“Yes...something like that.  Only instead of dreaming, you’re awake.”  When Weiss shook her head as if trying to clear the thoughts away, Ruby edged a little closer - close enough that their shoulders were just barely touching.  Weiss always seemed like she was in control, but right now she looked so fragile Ruby was afraid that if she moved too quickly Weiss might break into pieces.

“Are they good memories or bad memories?”

“Both.  The good memories are painful to relive and the bad ones are...bad.  I just…” Weiss still wouldn’t look at Ruby, but raised one hand before letting it fall to her side in defeat.  “Everyone says to move on...but how do you let go of the past when it’s always right there trying to confuse you?  How do you know what’s real and what’s fake…?”

It felt like Weiss was speaking more to herself than to Ruby, but Ruby was still trying to understand as best she could.  It didn’t really explain much about anything that was going on, but this was the first time Weiss had seemed so uncertain - like she could actually use Ruby’s help in answering those questions.

Trying to come up with a solution, Ruby was quiet for a long time - a lot longer than she was normally capable of.  Because she was really terrible at being quiet. It was literally the thing she was worst at. That and being slow. But Weiss needed help and Ruby was determined to help, even if that meant she needed to be quiet for a little bit.

Weiss wanted to keep the past away and know what was real.  Well, the first part was a little hard to do, but maybe Ruby could help with the second part.  It was easy to tell what was real or not! Weiss was real. Ruby was real. Myrtenaster, the garage, the house, the street - all real.

Hesitantly, Ruby reached out towards Weiss before stopping herself.  It was a stupid idea, but...sometimes those were the best ideas, weren’t they?  

Reaching out, Ruby grabbed ahold of Weiss’ hand, immediately getting Weiss’ full attention.

“Can you feel my hand?” Ruby asked.  Weiss stared down at their joined hands for a second before looking up.

“Y-yes.”

“And that’s real, right?”  

The question made Weiss’ brow furrow.  

“I hope so.”  

Ruby shook Weiss’ hand lightly at the response.

“It is!” she replied with a giggle.  “ I’m real, Weiss.  We’re real. And you can feel it - I know you can!”

So many emotions were flashing through Weiss’ eyes, Ruby had no idea if Weiss was happy, sad, upset, or maybe just thirsty.  But Ruby had an idea, and she hoped it was something that could help.  

“How about...whenever you feel sad or don’t know what’s real or not, you can grab my hand and then you’ll know that you’re not just reliving something.”

“But why -”

“I can keep you here!” Ruby said, excited at the possibility of being helpful before her eyes widened at how the phrase sounded.  “I mean, not in a creepy kinda way, but like...keep you grounded, ya know?”

The fact that Weiss was willing to partially open up about something so personal made Ruby feel extra special.  She wanted to repay that trust by being helpful, supportive, and worthy of the vote of confidence. Basically, Ruby wanted to be anything and everything Weiss needed.

Noticing Weiss staring at their hands, Ruby squeezed her hand and Weiss immediately locked eyes with her, making her grin in success.

“See?  It works!”

“It...actually does,” Weiss replied, appearing genuinely surprised by the revelation.

“You don’t have to go through this alone,” Ruby said softly, lightly swinging their joined hands back and forth.  “I’ll help you.”

This time it was pain in Weiss’ eyes.

“Why would you help me?” 

The reaction made Ruby’s brow knit together in confusion.

“Because we’re friends!” she replied regardless.  “That’s what friends do.”

“Right.  Friends,” Weiss said, attempting a half-hearted smile before lowering her gaze to the floor.

Before Weiss could say anything more, Ruby dropped her hand and took a step away.  A small part of her immediately regretted it because now it felt like her hand was missing something, but there was something she wanted to see.

“Can you do something for me?” she asked hopefully.  The question brought Weiss’ eyes back to hers.

“Anything.”

“Can you hold Myrtenaster like you would for a fight?  Pretend I’m a Grimm!” Ruby raised both arms above her head.  “Rawrrrrr,” she growled, taking one step towards Weiss and grinning when Weiss finally smiled again.

Playing along, Weiss brought Myrtenaster up in front of her while squaring her shoulders to one side and centering herself above her feet.  Her left foot was in front, her right foot planted behind. Her arm was relaxed, but firm enough to hold the weapon steadily with minimal effort.  Perfect posture, perfect stance - Ruby could definitely see that Weiss was a huntress now.

Walking right up to the tip of Myrtenaster, Ruby stopped when a half inch further would poke a hole in her shirt.  Dropping her arms, she smiled at Weiss.

“Can I try something?”

When Weiss nodded, Ruby rubbed her hands together in anticipation.  This was something she’d seen Yang and Blake do once or twice and she’d always wanted to try it out for herself.  Yang would press her palms flat to each side of Gambol and both girls would close their eyes for a really long time.  When Ruby had asked what they were doing, Yang explained that when a huntress was in their fighting stance it was possible to feel their aura running through their weapon.  And what did someone else’s aura feel like? That’s what Ruby was about to find out!

Holding up both hands, she took a deep breath before pressing them carefully together on either side of Myrtenaster.  If Ruby or Weiss moved too much her palms would get cut, but she trusted that Weiss would never let that happen. Closing her eyes, Ruby tried to find that mysterious aura.  She could feel the cold metal against her skin and her own exhales hitting her hands, but other than that…

When she felt it, she sucked in a breath in surprise.  There was something there - a tingle of energy flowing through her palms.  Grasping onto the feeling, she felt it worm its way through her arms and straight to her heart, wrapping around it and filling her with a warmth unlike anything she’d ever felt before.  Every single one of her cells came to life - dancing and having a little party like it was the first day of summer vacation. And an unmistakable sense of contentedness washed over her, like she’d just found the safest place in the world to be.

It was incredible.  

It was hard to say how long she stood perfectly still and savored that soothing feeling, but when she finally opened her eyes she found that Weiss’ were still closed.  It was only when Ruby released Myrtenaster completely that Weiss’ eyelashes fluttered open and icy blue orbs stared back at her. Instantly blushing, Ruby looked away.

Note to self - next time maybe consider that the things Yang and Blake did together were not to be recreated on a whim.  That had been...deeply personal.  It felt like she’d connected with Weiss on a level stronger than a traditional bond - like she’d allowed Weiss deep in her heart, where she’d always been alone.

Personal, but amazing.  Embarrassing, but...she also wanted to do it again.  Having that type of connection with another person...it had never occurred to her that that could be something missing from her life.

“So…” she said with a soft cough, running one hand through her hair while the feeling of Weiss’ aura quickly drained out of her.  “Um...thanks for...humoring me.”

“Absolutely.  I hope that was...what you were expecting?”

Honestly she’d had no idea what to expect!  Part of her always thought Yang was just messing with her and had convinced Blake to play along.

“Better,” she answered with a bob of her head.  “Way better.”

It was probably Ruby’s imagination that Weiss blushed before turning away, because when she turned back there was no change in her normal expression.

“I’ve been looking for a new weaponsmith ever since mine retired,” she said.  “Would you be willing to take care of Myrtenaster for me?”

“Really?” Ruby practically squeaked at the unexpected request.  “But I’m nowhere near as good as she was!”

When Weiss smiled it was one of those true smiles - the ones that made Ruby’s heart beat a little faster.

I believe in you ,” Weiss replied with a small grin.

Looking at the weapon still clutched in Weiss’ hand and then back to her eyes, Ruby couldn’t help but grin in return.  Taking care of Myrtenaster meant that she’d get to discover even more of the weapon’s secrets, but it also meant that Weiss would come over more often...

“I’d love to!”

The acceptance clearly made Weiss happy, until her eyes drifted above Ruby’s head to the clock hanging over the garage door.  Following Weiss’ gaze, Ruby discovered that it had gotten kinda late without either of them noticing.

“I should probably be going…” Weiss commented quietly.  However, she made no motion to leave and Ruby really didn't want her too.  They were having a good time! At least Ruby was. She hoped Weiss was too.  So what if it was really late? Sleep was for the well-rested!

Which should probably be Weiss since she had work and stuff that she needed to do, unlike Ruby.  

“Want me to put Myrtenaster away for you?” Ruby offered.  Nodding, Weiss handed the weapon over without a second thought.  The instant it touched Ruby’s hands she shot into the house, through the hall and out into the yard.  Only then did she slow to a crawl and delicately place Weiss’ weapon inside the weapon locker - making doubly sure it was seated properly before closing the door and pressing the ‘home’ button to send it shooting into the air.  Ruby watched until it disappeared in the night sky before dashing back to the garage and Weiss’ side.

“All done!”

“Thank you,” Weiss replied while they walked into the house at a normal speed.  

“No problem!  Saved you a few steps, ya know?”  Swinging her arms happily, Ruby noticed that Yang was sitting on the sofa peering at her scroll, but she didn’t even look up when they entered the room.

“Goodnight, Yang,” Weiss said politely while walking past, but instead of saying goodnight in return Yang merely huffed and kept working on her scroll.  

Not wanting to be rude, Ruby opened the front door and held it open for Weiss to head outside.

“Thanks for coming over!” she said while Weiss stepped out and paused on the front stoop.  “I had a really great time.”

“I did too.  Thank you for...everything.”

With another small smile, Weiss turned and hurried down the front path away from Ruby - who watched Weiss’ retreat until she was no longer in view.  Pushing the door shut, Ruby stared at the blank wood for several seconds in thought.

It seemed like Weiss liked being over here, but then sometimes it seemed like she was in a rush to leave.  Maybe it was something Ruby was doing? Maybe she could be more welcoming somehow? Or convince Yang to be.

“What did Weiss do?” Ruby suddenly asked, turning towards her sister.  “To make you so mad.” 

She’d been curious since the day Weiss had walked into their lives, but hadn’t wanted to pry too much.  After tonight though, after getting a closer glimpse at who Weiss really was, Ruby couldn’t keep the curiosity at bay any longer.

Lowering her scroll, Yang thought about the question for a long time before answering.

“You remember what Mom always said?” she began.  “That family is more important than anything?”

Ruby nodded, clearly remembering all the times Mom had sat down with Ruby on her lap and Yang by her side.

“We count on each other,” she finished and Yang nodded.

“Right.  Well, at one time I considered Weiss part of my family, but when it came time to count on her…” After letting the sentence drift off, Yang sighed and shook her head.  “Let’s just say she chose the other side of Remnant for a reason.”

While not exactly the detailed explanation Ruby had been hoping for, it was enough to help her understand why Yang was so upset.  Family was supposed to always be there. When you had no one else, you still had your family - through thick or thin, through life or death.

“But you know what Dad would say,” Ruby quipped in return, waiting until Yang raised her eyebrows before saying the phrase with a grin.  “Better late than never.”

Yang clearly hadn’t expected the response because she stared for several long seconds before chuckling.  Standing up, she walked over and ruffled Ruby’s hair.

“Maybe you’re right, Ruby.  Maybe you’re right...” she said before leaning down to place a light kiss to the top of Ruby’s head.  “I sent the hunt information to your scroll - make sure to read it carefully. But don’t stay up too late.  We’ve got plenty of time to go over it.”

“Mmk!” Ruby agreed before watching her sister trudge off to her room, where Blake was most likely reading.  Racing to her own room, Ruby found her scroll and opened the message Yang had forwarded. The screen popped open to the page Yang had shown her earlier, but now Ruby could read every single detail!

Hopping onto the bed, she scooted backwards until her back was against the wall and propped her scroll up on her bent knees - ready to start studying - but her eyes unfocused immediately after the title.  

She was glad she asked about Weiss again because now she understood more of where Yang’s hostility came from.  They’d already had enough people leave them - Yang especially. She’d been forced to grow up too fast, but she still believed - and she still searched for that fairy tale family Mom had told them stories about.  But there were only so many times someone could be disappointed by those closest to them before deciding that enough was enough.  

Be there for each other, no matter what.  Stand up for each other. Be prepared to make sacrifices for each other.  Those were the promises they were supposed to keep, and Yang took them very seriously.  If Weiss broke one of those promises, Ruby could see why Yang would be so angry. Even though it hadn’t exactly been her choice, that’s exactly what Mom had done...leaving both of them behind.  And that’s what Raven had done - not standing by Yang’s side.

But there were reasons for everything.  Ruby knew that Mom would be here for them, if she could be.  And maybe Raven had great reasons to leave. Maybe Weiss also had good reasons to leave, but should that even matter?  Weiss was here .  She was trying to fix things.  That alone should count for something.

Shaking her head and refocusing her eyes, Ruby tried to shift her attention back to the words on the screen.  A couple weeks ago nothing could’ve dragged her attention away from a hunt - especially not now that she was actually going on one!  But tonight it kind of seemed...less important.  

It mattered that Weiss was trying to fix things!  That was the first step in accomplishing anything worth doing - first, you have to try.  That’s how it worked. That’s what Yang had told Ruby a million times over the past year.   ‘Just try, Ruby. Just try.’ It was only a three letter word, but sometimes it was the hardest thing in the world to do.  Especially when there was so much to be afraid of.

But Weiss didn’t need to be afraid.  She was trying to fix her mistakes, and Ruby was going to help her succeed.  It might take a while, but...Ruby was a pretty patient person! Sometimes.

She could be patient for this.  It would be worth it...especially if that other version of Weiss would come back and stay.

Chapter Text

The hallways were busy and crowded - filled to the brim with a bustle Weiss had long ago learned to tolerate but still hated all the same.  They were built wide and tall, yet somehow seemed cramped on the best of days, and suffocating on the worst.

There was nothing she could do about it though - the additional employees were necessary in getting this plant off the ground.  Important deadlines were rapidly approaching and many processes still weren’t completely up and running yet.

“What’s this?” she asked a man standing next to a cart carrying a stack of filled crystal boxes.  She didn’t bother waiting for his response before answering her own question, “These are supposed to be on the third manufacturing floor.  Take them there now.”

There wasn’t a single word of argument to be heard as he took the handle of the cart and pushed it towards the elevators as quickly as he could.

“Incompetence…” she muttered to herself before turning into the nearly operational boxing facility.  

The massive room held several large pieces of machinery that cost more than most houses to purchase.  Feeding into each machine was a towering stack of flattened boxes - not unlike the ones the man on the cart had just taken upstairs - that would be popped into form before riding long conveyor belts to be filled with vials of Dust.  From this morning’s report, she knew that the room had successfully integrated with the refinery next door, but was suffering from several internal yellow lights which needed to be resolved.

Her eyes scanned the silent machines - monstrosities that cost vast sums of money every day they sat dormant - before searching for someone in charge.  Finding a middle-aged woman nearby with a green badge clipped to her shirt and a notebook in her hands, Weiss stalked over.

“What’s the status?” she asked, causing the woman to visibly start from the unexpected demand for a progress report.

“Uh, the uh, assembly line is running smoothly, but the boxing machine needs to be recalibrated one more time.”

“You’re kidding me, right?”  Weiss didn’t allow the woman time to answer the rhetorical question.  “This needs to be working in two hours. Make it happen.”

“Yes, Miss Schnee,” the supervisor replied, bowing her head before rushing towards her subordinates.

Sighing, Weiss pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes.  It was going to take them three hours to have the machine recalibrated, but at least they wouldn’t lose another full day. 

“Miss - uh, Miss Schnee?”

Opening her eyes at the sound of her name, she found a younger man in a white polo waving and rushing over to her.  Rushing was never a good sign - rushing meant something had gone wrong. Again.

“What is it?” she snapped, irritation growing at the continued issues that shouldn’t even be occurring.  There were very clear, very detailed step-by-step guides for every single process in this building - how did these employees fail at every possible turn?

“I just need your signature!” he said, holding a clipboard out to her.  Snatching it away from him, she flipped it around so she could read the form before approving it.  As her eyes skimmed the words on the page, her displeasure grew.

“You lost...an entire shipment of Dust?”  Looking up from the authorization in her hands, she stared at the man in utter disbelief.

“Not lost!” he quickly replied, looking more uncomfortable by the second and refusing to meet her eyes.  “Temporarily misplaced. It was supposed to come here, but went to Vacuo instead. We just need your signature to approve the additional transport bringing it over here.”

It was a monumental error that he was attempting to make sound like a simple mistake with an easy fix.  Of course, Weiss knew better than that. She’d grown up in these factories, after all. She knew how much it cost to run the lights in the manufacturing floors for an hour.  She knew how much the daily supply of coffee cost. And she absolutely knew how much it cost to reroute a shipment of Dust from across the globe.

Gritting her teeth in now-simmering anger, she swiped the pen out of his hands and quickly signed her name - there was no other option but to acquiesce, they needed that shipment here yesterday.  She paused for only a second before carefully placing the date beside her name - curling the ‘2’ and slicing through the ‘7’ before shoving both items back into the man’s hands in annoyance. Before she could threaten to fire him, he smartly spun on his heel and raced the way he’d come without ever looking back.  Staring after him in irritation, she unclenched her fist and tried to loosen her ever-tightening jaw.   

Today was supposed to one of the happiest days of her life.  Instead, she was spending it attempting to squeeze a modicum of competence out of complete and utter incompetence .

Feeling the ache in her chest, she forced her mind away from the date and back to her ever-expanding list of problems.  There were a million different boxes that needed to be checked and she seemed to be the only one doing the checking. But her agitation at her employees’ repeated failures was a much better emotion to hang onto than that ache, which she needed to keep her mind as far away from as possible.

A loud grinding suddenly filled the air, followed closely by frenzied shouts of surprise before the sound cut off.  Turning towards the source of the noise, she sighed when she saw the thin plumes of smoke rising out of one of the boxing machines.

Someone must have set the calibration incorrectly.  That was going to cost them another day to replace the gears that had just been fried by sheer ineptitude.

Shaking her head, she left the boxing facility behind in favor of the busy corridor.  Moving out of the way when two large, motorized carts transporting heavy pieces of machinery passed by, she then crossed the hall and walked onto the extraction floor on the other side - where Dust was removed from the rocks it was embedded in.  

Upon entering the massive room, she was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by the sight and sounds of a manufacturing center in full production.  There were employees at several of the terminals running last-minute diagnostics, but she could tell them that everything was working properly without running a single test.

There was a particular sound these machines made when they were working in perfect harmony…a soft hum that had its own unique melody.  This was knowledge she’d gained over years of walking through these rooms as a child, so she couldn’t fault the new workers for not recognizing it yet.  But all of the machinery was performing flawlessly at the moment. When they finished their second and third tests, this would be confirmed and eventually green-lit for operation.

Which meant that something was finally working - and ahead of schedule.

Taking a content breath, she wasn’t able to enjoy the meager victory for more than a second before a familiar flash of white drew her full attention.  Off to her right, stepping around one of the extractors before giving it a nod of approval, was the very last person Weiss wanted to see on this inauspicious day.

Winter.

Straightening her posture on instinct, Weiss watched Winter make a short comment to the floor supervisor before catching Weiss’ gaze and striding purposefully over.  There was something about the way Winter walked that exuded authority. Maybe it was her hands clasped behind her back, or the rigid posture, or the tightened bun...regardless, nearby employees skirted out of the way without her ever having to alter her path.

“Weiss,” Winter said after she’d stopped a polite distance away, dipping her head in greeting.

“Winter,” Weiss replied in kind - their ultra-formal greeting nearly a ritual by now.  Only after the formality was completed did Winter unfurl a warm smile.

“How are you doing?” 

The question was soft and caring, but Weiss didn’t feel like answering the true intention behind it at the moment.

“Everything is progressing as to be expected.  Specs are up-to-date and production is running...moderately smoothly.”  She gestured towards the assembly line while she spoke, and Winter’s gaze briefly followed the path of her hand before returning to her.

“That’s great to hear, but not what I was asking.”

Pursing her lips, Weiss remained stubbornly silent.  She knew exactly what Winter was referring to, but that wasn’t a subject she wanted to broach right now - or ever.  

Winter waited patiently for a reply that wasn’t going to come before finally turning and gesturing with her head for Weiss to follow.  With no other option but to oblige, Weiss fell into step beside her sister as they made their way out of the large manufacturing floor.  Side-by-side, the two of them re-entered the corridor and moved towards the bank of elevators. Where Weiss had felt cramped several minutes earlier, she now found there was plenty of breathing room - the ever-spacious halls providing ample room for walking in Winter’s presence.

“How long since you’ve slept?”

The unexpected question made Weiss’ brow furrow while the tired pressure behind her eyes re-announced itself on cue.  

“I’m fine.”  

The words were short and clipped as she obediently followed her older sister through the halls of Schnee Dust’s newest operating facility.  A strong cup of coffee had gotten her through most of the morning after yet another night with no sleep to speak of. Another cup would be waiting for her later on - as many as she needed to carry her through the day.  She didn’t need sleep when she had a steady supply of caffeine at her fingertips. And, most importantly, she didn’t need to have this conversation again.

“How long since you’ve eaten?  A real meal?”

Snapping her jaw shut, Weiss glowered down the hallway and remained silent as they stepped into the next empty elevator.  There were plenty of other employees waiting to be ferried to the higher levels, but no one attempted to share the confined space - instead, the doors shut with just the two of them inside.  As soon as the doors soundlessly sealed, Winter selected a floor and then resumed her perfect posture.

Glancing at the number, Weiss now understood that her sister was taking them to Weiss’ office on the top floor of the building.  Fine by her. At least there they would have some privacy if Winter insisted upon continuing this one-sided conversation.

“I thought you’d be in Mistral until next week,” Weiss commented as the elevator climbed into the sky, both of them watching the floor numbers illuminate in succession rather than look at one another.

“I came back early.”

“To check up on me?”

There was no response, which may as well have been a resounding ‘yes.’  Grinding her molars together, Weiss attempted to hold the indignation to a moderate level as it built in her chest.  

The only reason she’d assumed it would be a normal work day was because Winter was out of town.  To hear that she’d flown all the way back for no reason other than to monitor Weiss’ wellbeing was aggravating and entirely unnecessary. 

“Today’s the 27th -” 

“I’m well aware,” Weiss snapped before Winter could finish the thought.  The blunt reply caused Winter to pause for several seconds before finally speaking again - continuing her soft, patient tone.   

“I thought that today, of all days, you might need someone to talk to.”

Winter couldn’t be more wrong.  Today was the very worst day for Weiss speak about what had happened.  Today was the day she wanted to do anything but acknowledge the past.

“I’m fine,” she grumbled towards the wall, folding her arms over her chest and tapping one foot in agitation.  In the silence that followed, her stomach gave a small jolt when the elevator came to a stop - a soft ding announcing their arrival.

The doors slid open to reveal a sparse corridor with no employees in sight.  Compared to the manufacturing floors, this floor was well-decorated, with expensive paintings on the walls and living plants that required their own assistant to care for them.  There were only a handful of offices on this level - Weiss’ included.

In relative silence, Weiss followed Winter’s lead towards the glass door - second on the left - which opened into a larger lobby that acted as a reception for any of Weiss’ visitors.  There was a desk placed immediately inside the doorway, although it was noticeably devoid of anyone at the moment.

When Weiss glanced around the room in search of the secretary who practically lived in this chair, Winter broke the quiet.

“I asked her to take an extended lunch break,” Winter explained - the response only creasing Weiss’ brow further.

“Why would you do that?”

“Because I wanted the opportunity to speak with you,” Winter answered calmly, continuing in earnest when she heard the sigh Weiss let slip.  “I knew today would be difficult for you -”

“Winter,” Weiss interrupted, holding up one hand in an effort to prevent her sister from saying anything more.  “I’m fine. Today is a day like any other. There's nothing special about it.”

The response would have been more believable if her voice hadn’t cracked in the middle of delivering it, but, instead of arguing, Winter smiled sadly and placed her hands behind her back as if she didn’t know what to truly do with them.

“I had a feeling you might say that...” she commented before turning her blue gaze back to Weiss.  “I would do anything for you, you know that?” 

“I know,” Weiss replied, fully understanding that what Winter said was true.  When Weiss had been younger, her sister was one of the only people she’d had in her life to lean on for support.  Winter had done her part in ensuring that Weiss was protected - as much as was possible given their family circumstances.  It still hadn’t been easy, but...Weiss shuddered at the thought of what it could have been like without her sister.

Thankfully, the answer made Winter nod in content.

“I know we weren’t able to grow up as normal people do,” she continued.  “There was always so much pressure to be perfect, on you more than anyone else.  I worried how that would affect you…”

Weiss frowned, unsure if the comment was vaguely insulting in some way - as if Winter might be implying that she wasn’t able to handle the pressure.

“I think I managed just fine.”

“I know you did.  You thrived in it.  But at what point does perfectionism begin to affect you?”

The question appeared rhetorical from the way Winter’s gaze unfocused, then drifted into a distant corner of the room.  When Winter did return to the present moment, she took a step sideways to lead them towards the solid wood door of Weiss’ office.

“Have you thought anymore about returning to Vale?” she asked as they walked, hopefully failing to notice how the mere mention of the city was enough to make Weiss flinch.

“No.”

The answer was a complete lie.  There wasn’t a day that passed without Weiss grappling with whether or not she should leave Atlas - she considered it each morning before heading to a job that served only as a distraction, and each night while attempting to find some semblance of sleep in a house that would never be her home.   

But the idea of returning to Vale terrified her far more than the reality of staying away did.  That life had ended - this was her life now. One of these days, she had to accept that.

And Winter would have to, too.

Reaching the office door, Winter finally stopped and turned to Weiss with caring eyes that were almost too much sometimes.  Knowing what Weiss had done, how could Winter still look at her in that way? Weiss wasn’t the one who needed compassion or concern right now.  She wasn’t the one who’d been forced into months and months of doctor's appointments and physical therapy.

“I only want what’s best for you,” Winter said, her eyes never leaving Weiss’ so she would know that the words were true.  Sighing at the sincerity, Weiss tried to let go of her stubbornness and at least recognize that her sister was looking out for her.  And, even though she didn’t believe she deserved any of that kindness, the fact that Winter still extended it was worthy of gratitude.

“I know,” Weiss replied softly, dipping her head a fraction of an inch in deference.  “I appreciate that - I really do.”

Satisfied with the answer, Winter nodded her head once before opening the office door and gesturing Weiss through.  Willingly obliging, it was only when Weiss’ eyes found the room beyond that her feet planted to the floor. She actually took one step backwards, only to hear the sound of the door closing behind her.  A second later, Winter placed one hand on Weiss’ shoulder and gently prodded her forward.

She’d only been annoyed before - now she was on the verge of steaming mad.

“Weiss, this is Dr. Marigold,” Winter explained, gesturing to the petite blonde woman who was rising from one of the comfortable leather chairs situated in front of the desk.  “Doctor, this is my sister, Weiss.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” the woman politely replied, stepping forward and extending a hand.  

Agitated by the intrusion into her personal space, Weiss wanted very much to ignore the greeting, but she failed - the social training ingrained too deeply for her to circumvent so easily.

“Nice to meet you, too,” she said in a clipped voice, quickly shaking the woman’s hand before turning to Winter with a meaningful glare.  “Now if you’ll both excuse me, I have work to do.”

“I’ve already cleared your afternoon schedule.”

The sentence made Weiss spin back to Winter in disbelief.

“You did what?”

“I cleared it,” Winter repeated, not wilting at all under Weiss’ withering gaze.  Instead, Winter stepped closer, setting one hand lovingly on Weiss’ shoulder while dropping her voice to a whisper.  “If you won’t talk to me, you need to talk to someone.”

“I’m fine,” Weiss spit out through gritted teeth.  The response only managed to make Winter sigh while the briefest expression of hurt flashed through her eyes.

“Please, Weiss.  Do this for me? Fifteen minutes - that’s all I’m asking.”

There were so many words Weiss wanted to say right now - none of them very nice - but she could say nothing while company was present.  The incredulity and annoyance would have to wait for another day when their conversation would remain private.

“If I do...then you’ll drop this?  For good?” she asked instead. Winter was slow in responding - her nod a hesitation late - but she did nod in agreement.  

“If you want me to, yes.”

This wasn’t at all what Weiss wanted to do right now, but if she could put up with it for a few minutes it would be worth finally escaping the subject altogether.

“Fine,” she huffed out in response, hastily sitting on one of the chairs in the most disgruntled way she possibly could.

“Thank you,” Winter replied softly, squeezing Weiss’ shoulder again before quickly exiting the room and pulling the door quietly shut behind her.  Once the room fell silent, Dr. Marigold took the seat in front of Weiss and watched her intently. It was a gaze of careful analysis that made her want to squirm in discomfort, but she refused to grant the woman the vindication.

“How has your day been, so far?” Dr. Marigold asked after several seconds.  It was a simple question, but every bit of the woman’s persona reeked of too much concern.  It was hard to find that level of concern believable, even though the veneer was genuine.

“It was wonderful until two minutes ago,” Weiss quipped in reply, folding her arms across her chest in what she knew came across as a defensive position.  But she was defensive.  This was her office and her sister had invited a goddamn shrink into it.

“Your sister is worried about you - that’s the only reason she would go to such great lengths to help you.”

“So I’ve heard,” Weiss replied before rolling her eyes.  Falling silent, she stared out of the floor-to-ceiling windows of her office while clenching and unclenching her jaw in anger.  She’d always known that Winter would try to help, but to do this? This was nearly unconscionable.  

“Is there anything you’d like to talk about?” Dr. Marigold finally ventured to ask.

“No.”

More silence followed as Weiss refused to look anywhere but the freshly-cleaned window glass.  The cleaners had actually missed a small spot. She’d have to point that out to them later...

“Your sister told me a little bit about what happened.  I can only imagine how difficult this has been for you…”

That statement brought Weiss’ eyes snapping back to the woman, feeling a sudden surge of fire burn through her veins.

“You can’t even imagine what this is like,” she replied, her voice low and angry.  “Unless, somehow, you’ve also lost your partner and best friend - all because of a mistake you made.  Because of your own failings .”

She glared at the woman while waiting for a response, but Dr. Marigold was silent for several seconds before speaking again - undeterred by the hostility.

“Sometimes, when traumatic events happen, we forget that even those who escaped physically unharmed can suffer emotional injuries -”

I’m fine.

How many times must she reiterate that sentence before it became true?  She couldn’t not be fine.  She couldn’t be weak or broken.  ‘Emotionally injured’ wasn’t a label someone in her family could ever accept.

“You might be walking fine and speaking fine, but what about sleeping?  Eating?”

Pausing, Dr. Marigold finally caught Weiss’ gaze - her own yellow-brown eyes emitting open empathy and compassion for stories and woes she’d yet to hear.

“What do you like to do in your free time?”

“I try not to have any,” Weiss answered easily, pulling away from that understanding gaze.

There was no one more involved in the day-to-day tasks in this building than she was.  Even her father had seemed mildly impressed with the level of commitment she put into getting this factory up and running ahead of schedule.  Each day she came in earlier than anyone else. She stayed later. She worked weekends. There was no such thing as a day off for her. When she did end up away from the office, she brought work with her and spent her evenings consumed in the fine print until she might literally fall asleep at her desk.

Free time wasn’t a part of her schedule by design, for it was in the moments when life slowed down that the tidal wave of emotions began to erode the edges of her mind.  The doubt...the agony...the overwhelming sense of loss...

“I understand today is an important day for you.”

The comment succeeded in making her flinch in pain - if that had been the doctor’s intention.  Weiss had started the day determined not to acknowledge the date and its significance. It would’ve been much easier to accomplish that goal if life wasn’t set on reminding her at every possible turn.

“It was supposed to be,” she replied, dropping her gaze and watching her fingers curl and uncurl in her lap.

“Do you ever think back on what happened?”

It was a stupid question, and she gave the woman a look that said as much.

“Would you think about it?” she shot back sarcastically.

Even though she’d removed all free time from her schedule, her brain always seemed to find pockets of time to dwell on the past.  No matter how busy she kept herself, no matter how much work she did, her mind found moments in which to needle her heart with agony.  When she walked from meeting to meeting, waited for a cup of coffee, or was driven home from the office - there were still small gaps in her schedule that were more than enough for the wave of emotions to wash against her levees.  The moments, though seemingly minor, constantly threatened to unravel her...preventing her from ever feeling whole.

Even if she could somehow manage to block out these portions of the day, there was the problem of sleeping…as soon as she closed her eyes the memories came back - the forest, the blood, the hospital, the blank way silver passed right over her.  If she did manage to fall asleep, it was with the assurance of nightmares - a replay of true events or new tortures her mind created just for her personal viewing. They were filled with ‘coward,’ ‘failure,’ ‘your fault,’ and the worst of all…‘I thought you loved me.’

So, yes.  While she attempted to keep herself busy at all times and hours of the day, she still thought about the past - constantly.  There were triggers all around her - the smell of flowers, which she’d ordered removed from the building to be replaced by scentless plants.  The smell of baked goods, causing her to alter the path taken to work to avoid passing too closely to a small bakery nearby.  

In every way, the world beckoned her to look back - and, when she first arrived in Atlas, she made the mistake of listening.  There were messages between her and Ruby still trapped in her scroll. There were photos, saved voice messages, saved video messages.  She’d spent nearly an entire day crying after going through them, and hadn’t dared glance at them again. Instead, she silently grieved, and grieved, and grieved, for the love they’d lost.

“Have you spoken with anyone about it?”

“No.”

That was a pretty simple answer.  Of course she hadn’t spoken to anyone about what had happened - besides when she’d still been in Vale.  Everyone had needed a summary when Ruby had gotten hurt, but that hadn’t meant they needed to know how Weiss felt about it.  There’d been no reason to mention the rampant guilt and anguish that spread through her like an infection...taking over her system the instant it was clear Ruby was never fully coming back.

“Would you like to talk about it?” Dr. Marigold followed up.

“No,” Weiss still replied - another easy answer to give.

Evidently undaunted, Dr. Marigold leaned forward and rested both elbows on her knees before clasping her hands together.

“You’re not alone in this,” she remarked quietly.  “You have people who care about you. People you can lean on for support.”

“Who?” Weiss asked, anger again beginning to swell in her chest at the woman’s continued lack of understanding.  “The friend whose sister I abandoned? Or that friend's partner and girlfriend?” She shook her head at the idiotic idea.  “The only person I’ve ever felt comfortable being honest with is gone. And she’s not coming back.” 

When Dr. Marigold leaned away, Weiss shook her head again - this time in annoyance that the woman had managed to pull that information out of her.

“Have you ever thought about how that day might have hurt you too?”

“Do I look injured to you?” Weiss snapped, leveling a steely gaze across the space between them.   

“I work with huntsmen - many of them,” Dr. Marigold continued, ignoring the sarcasm.  “And I can tell you that physical injuries aren't the only things that leave scars behind.  While you may appear uninjured, that might not be the case.”

Weiss scoffed at the psychoanalytical attempt at rationalizing her behavior. 

“Clearly you don't know much about my family.  We aren’t exactly known for our mental weakness.

“Does your family name grant you invincibility?”

“Basically,” she retorted, using the answer to be haughty and confrontational.  However, Dr. Marigold didn’t take the bait. Instead, she looked at Weiss closely, carefully, as if she could read the guilt and insecurity tattooed on Weiss’ skin.

“How does it make you feel that you’re sitting here, ‘unharmed,’ while your partner is still in and out of the hospital?”

Weiss immediately felt her face contort in pain and rage at the question.  In and out? Ruby had been released and readmitted to the hospital? Why? Had something gone wrong?  Were there complications? Were her injuries worse than initially diagnosed?

“How would it make you feel?” she weakly shot back while struggling to regain control of her spiking emotions.  Unfortunately, Dr. Marigold took the question seriously and furrowed her brow with great thought. 

“It would make me feel...very guilty, I believe,” she answered sincerely.  “I would be sad...distraught...maybe even angry that the results had been so unequal - where I was able to walk away when she could not.  That’s not very fair, is it?”

“No, it’s not,” Weiss mumbled, finally agreeing with something the woman had to say.  

The results hadn’t been close to fair...and there had been absolutely nothing Weiss could do about it.  She would’ve gladly taken all of the pain for herself...but if she couldn’t do that, couldn’t they at least share in the repercussions?  Why had Ruby been forced to shoulder everything? Why hadn’t there been some way for Weiss to alleviate her partner’s burdens?

“Can you tell me what made you leave?” Dr. Marigold asked.  The quiet question was innocent enough, but it touched on the one subject Weiss refused to discuss with anyone.

“I’m sure Winter already provided you with a rundown,” she replied before checking the clock - making the motion as obvious as possible.

“She told me about how successful your team was, and how talented your partner was personally.  She seemed very proud of what you were able to accomplish with them.”

The longer Dr. Marigold spoke, the harder Weiss clenched her teeth together.  But the doctor continued regardless, seemingly oblivious to Weiss’ growing anger at her former team being spoken about so casually.

“She also mentioned that your partner was very special.  ‘Extraordinarily talented’ I believe were the words she used.  How did it make you feel to have a partner who was able to hold a small candle to yourself?”

Squeezing one hand into a fist in her lap, Weiss frowned at the woman sitting across from her.  

Ruby was always better than me,” she answered in quiet anger, annoyed by the way Dr. Marigold refused to use Ruby’s name.  “She did more than hold a candle to me - she blew me away.”

Dr. Marigold nodded at the statement.

“That must have made it even more difficult to see her fall in battle.  We expect our heroes to always be there for us -” 

“Then she shouldn’t have gotten in the way!” Weiss shouted at the woman, rising out of her seat as frustration and anger flashed past her boiling point.  “I never asked for her help! Why did she always insist on being so - damn - selfless?”

The room became deathly quiet as hot tears sprang into Weiss’ eyes.  Quickly retaking her seat, she raised one shaking hand to wipe across her eyes while trying to pull herself together.  

Dr. Marigold didn’t seem at all disturbed by Weiss’ outburst.  In fact, she appeared rather unsurprised by the sudden display of emotion.  Weiss should have seen this coming...and she should have been better equipped to guard herself against such mental intrusion.  It was always this way with these people - they would needle and needle away at a sore spot until their patient inevitably lashed out, then they would use that fit of temper as proof of whatever point they were attempting to make.  

Knowing this, she should have done a better job remaining calm and collected.  She shouldn’t have allowed her emotions to get the better of her.

“When you say she shouldn’t have gotten in the way…” Dr. Marigold began quietly.  “What you’re saying is that she shouldn’t have saved your life.”

A few minutes ago, Weiss had been successfully masking her lack of sleep with copious amounts of coffee, but suddenly she felt every bit as tired as she should.  Not just tired - she felt drained, as if her willpower had been sucked right out of her.

Given her current state of weakness, she allowed herself a few additional seconds to regain control and place an iron cage around her raw emotions.  She forced the tears back inside, where they belonged, and clamped the lid shut on her wretched past. Only when she was confident in her ability to survive the rest of this conversation did she look up and meet Dr. Marigold’s gaze dead on.  

“I’m saying that she should have saved herself,” she answered steadily.  

They both understood the implication of that statement.  But out of Weiss and Ruby, who was more valuable? Who was the better fighter?  The better leader? The better sister and better friend?

Between the two of them, who was the better person?  Who was more deserving of a long, happy life?

“What do you plan to do now?”

Opening her mouth to reply, Weiss found no words to use for what should be another simple answer.  Confusion began to mount as she realized that, for the first time that she could remember, she didn’t have a plan for the future.  

What would the future hold for her?  Growing up, this had been an easy question to answer.  She would hone her skills, be admitted to Beacon, and become a world-renowned huntress.  She would save lives. She would wipe away sour taste her family’s name left in people’s mouths.  She would make a difference.

Maybe her downfall was that she hadn’t dreamt large enough, because she’d partially accomplished all of those objectives before her life came crashing down upon her head.  Even more than her childhood delusions of heroism, she’d found a family who’d accepted her unconditionally, discovered hidden depths of power she’d never known existed, and learned what it meant to be truly selfless.

These days her only ambition was to muddle through the days while avoiding the past.  She lived from minute to minute, one second to the next. Instead of charging towards lofty dreams, she was drifting through an endless sea of doubt and self-loathing.  Instead of having purpose and direction, she was...lost at sea.

That fateful day had changed everything in the blink of an eye.  That day had taken something from Weiss. She couldn’t put her finger on exactly what it was, but a part of her had disappeared along with Ruby’s memories.  

“I'll figure something out.”

What would she do when this new Dust facility was up and running?  When her eighteen hour workdays dropped to twelve or ten? Would she run off to whatever plant was next on the list?  Would she just keep running, forever, until one day time caught up to her?

They were supposed to spend eternity together.  They were supposed to spend every day of the rest of their lives together.  Instead, Weiss had been forced to confront a life without Ruby. And who was she without Ruby?

“From what I've been told and what I've heard, you’re an incredibly talented and capable young woman.  I know that this type of situation must be scary and unfamiliar to you, but I want to help. I don't want to see you self destruct.”

It might already be too late for such a sentiment, but Weiss didn’t bother to say so.  Instead, she glanced at the clock again and mulled over a question before finally asking it aloud.

“If you had any advice for someone like me, what would it be?”

The answer would likely be of minimal use to her, but she’d been taught too well to collect the advice of highly-skilled professionals whenever the opportunity presented itself.  Seeing as how Dr. Marigold had gathered far more information than Weiss had been willing to provide, she would begrudgingly admit that the woman was highly skilled.

Seeming to sense that this was the one opportunity to offer some words of wisdom, Dr. Marigold thought carefully before responding.

“This exile of yours - sequestered away from your friends and teammates - understand that it’s your choosing.  No one asked you to leave.  In fact, they’d probably like for you to come back -”

The comment made Weiss scoff in disbelief.  The idea that Yang would welcome her back was almost laughable, but Dr. Marigold continued on as if Weiss hadn’t just interrupted her.

“Guilt and fear are powerful emotions, but we can’t let them control us.  In most cases blame can’t be placed solely on any one party, but we blame ourselves completely whether or not we’re at fault.  If I were to give you any advice, I would suggest that you try to see the difference between punishing yourself and truly working towards forgiveness - from others, but mostly from yourself.”

Forgive herself...Weiss would never do it.  Not as long as Ruby was still in pain. Not as long as Ruby’s life was still in shambles.  And even if Ruby somehow made a miraculous recovery...Weiss might not even forgive herself then.

Nodding in acknowledgement of the advice, even though she wasn’t willing to accept it, her eyes shifted again to the clock before she stood up.

“Our fifteen minutes are up,” she said, shaking the woman’s hand again when Dr. Marigold stood to join her.  “It was very nice meeting you. Please see yourself out.”

Rather than immediately head towards the door, Dr. Marigold rustled briefly in the bag Weiss had failed to notice sitting by the chair before placing a small, white card facedown on the edge of the desk.

“Feel free to call me anytime.  I’m more than happy to come back.”

“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary,” Weiss replied, walking over to her desk chair and picking up a document that had been left for review.  She held it up as if she might read it, but her mind wasn’t capable of absorbing any of the letters on the page. Instead, she stared at it blankly until the sound of the office door closing signaled that she could finally relax.  

Dropping the page onto the desk, she reached across and picked up Dr. Marigold’s business card before immediately throwing it into the garbage can.  Satisfied that any trace of the woman would disappear with the next cleaning crew, she walked over to the side of her office and stood in front of the glass windows looking out from the top of Schnee Tower - overlooking the bustling Atlas city center below and the massive expanses of forest off in the distance.  In the surface of the glass, she could just barely see a reflection of herself - a ghost of the girl she’d once been. The dark circles under her eyes refused to be hidden by any amount of expensive concealer. Her skin was gaunt and her clothing hung off of her shrinking frame like she was slowly starving to death. 

Closing her eyes to remove that image from her mind, she turned away from the glass. 

She was fine.

She was fine, she was fine, she was fine.

The shaking in her limbs was the result of skipping breakfast, not the conversation she’d just experienced.  The sharp ache in her chest was from the stress of her job, not the despair of being worlds away from the people she loved.

Sighing, she opened her eyes and walked back to her desk.  Stopping down, she picked the business card out of the trash before sticking it into one of her desk drawers in case she needed it as a reference later.  As she did so, her gaze fell upon Myrtenaster - who leaning against the back of the desk chair right where she’d set it this morning.  

Picking up the weapon, she spun it in her hands over and over again while pacing the length of her office - savoring the weight of metal that was more familiar to her than anything else she owned.  It was like an extension of her own body and, as such, she brought it with her to and from work every day even when she had no purpose in doing so. She didn’t need Myrtenaster here. She didn’t need Myrtenaster period.  Yet...she refused to be separated from her weapon.

She’d always considered it to be the one possession in the world that was hers and hers alone, but now even Myrtenaster was burned with the memories of another.  It was as much Ruby’s weapon as it was her own. How many hours had they spent down in the workshop together while Ruby tinkered with the weapon and Weiss ‘supervised?’  How many adjustments had Ruby made and then personally tested before every single aspect of the weapon felt iron tight?

It was the one possession Weiss still had that linked her to her partner.  It was the only thing she’d refused to let go of, because it felt like she could communicate with Ruby through the etchings in the blade.  Somehow, someway, through the microscopic alterations and painstakingly crafted upgrades, Ruby spoke through Myrtenaster.

As her pacing slowed to a stop, Weiss closed her eyes, wrapped her fingers around the grip and squeezed tightly.

‘How does it feel?  Does it feel awesome?  Do you like it??’

A small sob escaped while tears burned behind her eyes once more.  Her weapon was perfect because the person who’d been in charge of working on it spent countless hours ensuring it was perfect.  Ruby devoted hours and hours of her life to making sure Weiss had a wonderful weapon to fight with - all while never expecting anything as much as a ‘thank you’ in return.

Holding Myrtenaster upright and touching the cool blade gently to her forehead, Weiss stood still as a statue while her shoulders shook with emotion.

“I’m sorry...I’m so, so sorry…” she whispered before another sob crept out and the first wave of tears spilled over.  “I didn’t mean it…you know I didn’t m-mean it...”

Of course she wasn’t mad at Ruby.  How could she be mad when she would’ve done the same thing without even thinking?  They were teammates - all of them had been prepared to lay down their lives for one another.  It was just...that Weiss never expected that she’d be the one who needed saving…

If she was mad at anyone, it was herself.  For not being better. For being in the situation where she needed to be saved, to begin with.  

She loved that Ruby was selfless.  She loved that Ruby never hesitated to help someone in need.  She loved that, in a world where everyone looked after only themselves, there was someone like Ruby out there making a difference.  Of all people though, Weiss didn’t deserve to be the one Ruby saved.  Weiss didn't deserve to be the one Ruby sacrificed herself for.

As the tears continued to fall, Weiss clenched Myrtenaster tightly in one hand and tried to draw an iota of strength from the weapon that had once been her backbone.  

Every time she broke down like this, it felt like it was more and more difficult to piece herself together again.  It was as if the very act of crying was eroding the edges of the puzzle pieces in her mind - allowing nothing to fit perfectly back together the next time around.

And she was so tired to crying by now.  One of these days, there would be no more tears left...right?

When the tears slowed to a light trickle, she opened her eyes and whipped Myrtenaster down to her side, sending a snap through the air.  After wiping her free hand across her eyes to rid them of the remaining moisture, she stared out of the window towards the forest in the distance and the perpetually snow-capped mountains even further beyond.

Dr. Marigold brought up the subject of fairness - and she was right.  How was this fair? While Weiss marched around barking orders at subordinates, Ruby probably hadn’t been allowed to walk around on her own.  While Weiss had been spending restless nights in her mansion, Ruby had been stuck in a hospital bed. While Weiss wrestled with the decision of whether or not to leave Atlas, Ruby hadn’t even been able to go home.

And while Ruby toiled through months of physical therapy, probably unaware that she might never regain full strength in her hand, Weiss was a world away - never having to suffer any of the consequences of her own mistake.  There was no struggle in her ivory tower. There was no difficulty outside of what she created for herself.

How was this fair?  

At the very least, she should be forced to fight for the privileged breaths she took.  She should find the road as difficult and tedious as the one Ruby must travel. Only then could the subject of fairness even begin to be discussed.

Striding back to her desk, Weiss jabbed the intercom button to one of the other assistants.

“Have an airship ready for me in three minutes,” she ordered before rushing out of the room with Myrtenaster in hand.  Still waiting in the empty reception area, Winter immediately stood and walked over to join her.

“I know you’re angry -”

“No,” Weiss cut her sister off, shaking her head.  “I’m not angry. But now that I’ve fulfilled your request, I’d very much appreciate if we could leave the matter be.”

For a second it appeared as if Winter wanted to press the issue, but instead she sighed and nodded her head.  It was at that moment that her eyes found Myrtenaster, and she turned back to Weiss in surprise.

“Where are you going?”

“I have somewhere I need to be,” Weiss answered, ignoring the worried gaze and ducking around her sister to walk back into the hall. 

“Why do you need Myrtenaster?” Winter pressed while following Weiss to the elevators and watching as she pressed the button to summon the next one.

“Believe me, you’d much rather I had Myrtenaster with me than not,” Weiss commented lightly. 

“Weiss...where are you going?”

Done with the conversation, she stepped into the arriving elevator and watched as the doors blocked out concerned blue eyes.

“I’m going to make things a little more fair.”

The elevator was enveloped in silence and her stomach dropped when it was pulled further into the sky.  It slowed only a matter of seconds later, causing her to shake Myrtenaster with the beginning of anxious jitters.

There was one more level to Schnee Tower - the rooftop.  

The doors opened and she was greeted by a cold blast of wind and the steady roar of engines.  Blinking her eyes against the steadily rushing air, she left the elevator behind and strode purposefully towards the airship that was waiting for her - waiting to take her to the forest.

Chapter Text

Will tomorrow afternoon be alright?

Grinning at the message, Ruby typed out a hasty ‘Yes!’ and sent it without a second thought.  Tomorrow afternoon would be perfect for Weiss to come over - the sooner the better!  This afternoon would be even more perfect, but Ruby couldn’t really say that.  She could, but she didn’t want to pressure Weiss into coming back so soon.

Honestly, Ruby hadn’t wanted Weiss to leave last night when they’d been talking in the garage.  It was really nice to spend time together - just...hanging out, looking over Myrtenaster, and getting to know each other.  That’s what friends did, right? It was fun - and...nice. She couldn’t think of a better word for it than that!

It sucked that Weiss had to go home at night, but they were probably a little too old to have sleepovers.  So...Ruby would have to deal with waiting another day to see Weiss again.

And she’d ask Blake about the sleepovers, because maybe it was actually ok!  Who knew? Well, Blake would know.

“Who ya textin’?”

“No one!” Ruby immediately replied.  She tried to put her scroll out of sight, but didn’t get it far enough away before Yang walked behind the sofa and snatched it out of her fingers.  Squeaking in surprise, she flashed around the sofa and grabbed it back from her sister.

“Yang!” she scolded when the device was safely back in her grasp.  “This is private property!”  

Of course, her response only made Yang laugh.  

“Relax, Ruby.  I’d never read your stuff!”

That was probably true...Yang would only pretend to read it, but still!  Private property meant that it was private property.  That’s why Ruby had written her name on the back of her scroll with a permanent marker - then Yang couldn’t use the ‘well I didn’t knowww it was yours’ excuse again .

“Well good!” Ruby replied with a curt nod.  “Because you wouldn’t want me going through your scroll, would you?”

Why did she say that?  It was a complete bluff, but apparently a good one because Yang’s eyes widened and she shook her head with an emphatic ‘no.’  The response made Ruby scrunch up her nose at the thought of whatever her sister was hiding. There were probably a whole bunch of mushy ‘I love you’ messages between Yang and Blake - that’s all the two ever seemed to say to each other.  

“Probablyyy best if you didn’t do that,” Yang commented with a light chuckle.  “But come on, who’re you messaging? I haven’t seen you use that thing in ages.”

“If you must know,” Ruby began, to which Yang nodded like she did need to know, “I’m talking to Weiss.”

“Weiss?”  The name made Yang’s brow furrow in confusion.  “But how do you -”

Realization suddenly dawned and a grin slowly appeared on Yang’s lips.  Slow grins were the worst because it meant Yang had just figured out something that she found particularly amusing.  And amusing to Yang almost always meant embarrassing for Ruby.

“How’d you get her number?” Yang asked, her voice teasing as she quickly stepped forward and wrapped Ruby up in both arms, lifting her right off the ground.  “Who asked, huh?” Yang quizzed Ruby while strong fingers tickled her ribs. “Did she ask for your number?”

“Yannnggg!” she whined, letting out several giggles while trying and failing to squirm away.  “Lemme goooo!”

“Not until you tell me!  Did she ask you?”

When Yang’s fingers dug into the most ticklish spots between her ribs, Ruby burst into laughter - gasping for breath while trying to answer the question.

“No!  I-I did!”

The answer was like a magic spell that made Yang drop her arms and allowed Ruby to dash a safe distance away.  Jeez - she needed to be on higher alert. No more unsuspected tickle attacks! She was never strong enough to get out of her sister’s grip - it was like being caught in the world’s strongest tickle machine.  Only machines would follow some sort of logical programming, but Yang just kept tickling until she got whatever she wanted. Which she always did!

You asked for her number?” Yang asked, a look of disbelief on her face.  “You did. Ruby Rose. Asked for a girl’s number.”

If Yang was trying to embarrass Ruby right now, it was working.

“Weiss’ number,” she corrected, as if that was actually a correction.  

“Is Weiss not a girl?”

“She’s your friend!”

Yang shrugged off the comment before reaching out to try to ruffle Ruby’s hair, but this time Ruby dodged out of the way in time.  “Maybe. But where’d you find all the courage to do that, huh?”

“It’s no big deal,” Ruby replied, trying to sound nonchalant.  It had been so nerve-wrecking though!!  

“Uh huh…”  Shaking her head, Yang clearly saw straight through the lie.  “Weren’t you worried that she might say ‘no?’”

“Of course not!”

Ruby had actually been terrified that Weiss would say ‘no’ and then she would be super embarrassed for trying to ask at all.

“Really?” Yang asked, again seeing right through the lie.  “So you were pretty confident that one of the wealthiest girls on the planet would willingly hand over her personal number to you?”

“Uh...yup!”

Another big, fat lie.  Thank god Ruby hadn’t gone to Yang for advice beforehand...otherwise she never would’ve asked at all!

“Well look at you, casanova!” Yang said before chuckling good-naturedly.  “I just might be able to pass on the torch yet!”

“Casa-what?  What torch?” 

“The torch , Ruby.  The one that gets you all the ladies ,” Yang answered with a wink that made Ruby’s cheeks get a little hotter.  “I mean, I don’t need it anymore cuz I’ve got Blake! But you - you can use it to woo Weiss and everyone else.”

“Aw Yang!  It’s not like that!” Ruby whined.  She’d asked for Weiss’ number because she thought it would be nice if they could talk a little more often.  That was it!  

“Uh huh...not yet .”  

Tired of her sister’s teasing, Ruby reached out and gave Yang’s shoulder a little shove.  The action only made Yang laugh and quickly succeed in shooting out one hand to ruffle Ruby’s hair. 

“What’s so funny?”

The two of them turned towards Blake as she walked into the kitchen with an empty glass held in one hand, heading over to the sink to fill it with water.

“Did you know Ruby asked for Weiss’ number??” Yang told Blake gleefully.  Ruby shot her sister a look that said ‘thanks a lot for tattling,’ to which Yang only stuck out her tongue.

Blake already knew that Ruby had Weiss’ number, but Ruby never specified who’d done the asking.  Was it important who had asked who?  

“Did you really?” Blake asked before nodding in appreciation.  “Well done.”

“Why is that such a big deal?” Ruby asked in confusion.  “I was just being friendly. It’s not a big deal, right?”

It wasn’t like she’d asked Weiss to marry her or something!  It was only a number! It was a means of conversing when not in person, not a blood pact!  But the way Blake and Yang looked at her made it seem like Ruby had just joined some sort of Weiss-worshipping cult.  Not that she’d be completely against that...but that’s not what she’d done!

Of course, Blake and Yang turned back to each other without giving Ruby an answer.  Typical dumb roommates.

“I was telling her I can pass on the torch now!” Yang explained, walking over to give Blake a kiss on the cheek.  

Ruby pouted when her question went ignored, but she really wanted to know more about this torch.  Was it always on fire? How big was it? Did it have any special powers besides ‘getting all the ladies?’  Like was it also a taser? And where did Yang keep it? Ruby’d been all around this house and she’d never seen a torch anywhere...

“Have you seen the torch, Blake?” she asked.  

“Torch?” Blake repeated.  Her brow was creased in confusion as she turned to Yang, who was giving her a very expectant expression.  “Oh right - that torch. Yes, I’ve seen it. Set my whole world on fire.”

The response made Yang laugh and kiss Blake again on the cheek.  Rolling her eyes at what she had to assume was another joke she’d never get, Ruby decided to let the subject drop for now.  If she really was supposed to inherit some magical torch, Yang would give her all the details later on.

Maybe it shot fireballs or something?  That’d be pretty cool and definitely worth having around….

“So if you’re talkin’ to Weiss,” Yang said after turning her attention back to Ruby.  “Do you know when she’s coming over to fight you?”

“Tomorrow afternoon!”

The answer made Yang grin and wave Ruby towards the hallway.  “Ok, then let’s go practice!”

“What?  Right now?”

“Yeah!  You need to be prepared for tomorrow!”

“It’s just a little spar, Yang, not a championship fight,” Ruby replied while obediently following her sister out of the kitchen towards the backyard.  

She was hesitant to admit it, but she was a bit nervous about fighting Weiss.  For what felt like forever, she’d fought only against Blake and hand-to-hand against Yang.  The idea of a new person with a different fighting style made her excited and apprehensive at the same time.  

Plus, it was Weiss.   Ruby really, really wanted Weiss to think that she was a good fighter.  Especially because Weiss seemed to be good at practically everything - at least, that was the vibe she put off.  In comparison, Ruby wasn’t very good at many things, so there wasn’t much opportunity to impress Weiss.  

Why did she want to impress Weiss so badly?  She didn’t really know why, but she needed to do her best!  It would be so embarrassing if Weiss completely mopped the floor...or the grass...with her.  Those grass stains would probably never come out.

“Hey, uh...how good is Weiss?” she asked while stepping out onto the back porch.

Throwing a few warm up jabs in the air, Yang turned back and grinned.

“She’s pretty good, but nothing you can’t handle.”

The answer was reassuring.  Yang would definitely let Ruby know if Weiss was some unstoppable force with pretty eyes and an awesome weapon.  Yang wouldn’t let Ruby get destroyed in their own backyard.  

Or would she?  She wouldn’t, right?  It did sound like something Yang would find funny...but she wouldn’t want Weiss to win because of...all of the reasons Ruby still didn’t know or fully understand.

But she had the upper hand!  She’d just examined Myrtenaster last night, so she had a good idea what the weapon was capable of!  Speaking of Myrtenaster...

“Do you know who made the upgrades to Weiss’ weapon?” she asked as she followed her sister to the middle of the yard.  Pausing, Yang thought about the question for a second before shrugging her shoulders.

“Some girl, I think.  Don’t think she does it anymore.”

“That’s what Weiss said,” Ruby sighed in defeat.  “I really want to know how she made some of those upgrades though!  And the welds were so tiny and precise…”

“You can do the same thing!”

She scoffed at her sister’s optimism.  She was probably years away from being able to do any of that stuff.  And that was only a guess since she’d never actually tried anything of that magnitude before, but guesses based on no firsthand experience were usually very accurate...said no one ever.  Maybe she should try making welds that small…it would just take a lot of practice.

But she didn’t only want to know how to do those things - she also wanted to know who had etched those words into Weiss’ weapon without her knowing.  It was hard for Ruby to believe that some unimportant person would dare write something like ‘believe in yourself’ on someone else’s weapon.  That’d be like a stranger giving her a tattoo while she waited to cross the street - only weirder .  

And if this person was so important to Weiss, where were they now?  Why weren’t they around anymore? Were they the reason Weiss seemed so down sometimes?

Ruby’s heart clenched when she thought that maybe...maybe they had died.  It was a morbid thought, but for huntsmen it was the risk they agreed to take.  That could also explain why Weiss hadn’t brought up that she was a huntress - there could be bad memories there.  But Weiss wanted to come on the hunt with Ruby! Why would she want to come if she had bad memories from a previous hunt?

Ugh.  It was all so confusing.

“No weapons,” Yang said, turning to face Ruby and lifting both hands to the ready.  Rather than dwell on Weiss any longer, Ruby was forced to focus on the impending fight.  It was probably for the best, because trying to figure out what had happened was making her head spin.  

“Sometimes you don’t have a weapon in a fight, so you gotta improvise,” Yang was saying while bouncing between both feet.  “You gotta be quick. Rely on your instincts - trust your gut. Having a weapon only makes you overconfident -”

Raising her own hands, slightly bending her knees and rocking towards the balls of her feet, Ruby rolled her eyes at the monologue.

“You’ve given this speech before, Yang,” she teased.  “I get it - hand-to-hand combat is sooooo much better than having an incredible weapon that deals a ton of damage and is also a gun.”

The reply made Yang purse her lips and lower her hands.

“Ok wise guy.  Then you wanna fight me with Crescent Rose?”

Ruby immediately went flat footed and dropped her hands to her sides.  They didn’t fight with weapons anymore because the first (and last) time they tried that...well, it hadn’t gone very well.  It would’ve been more fun to throw a stick into a beehive and then try to catch all of the bees with bare hands. And that wasn’t fun at all - she would know.

“Are you serious?”  Her voice squeaked while Yang smirked in return.

“If you are.”

It had been a long time since they’d tried this.  The months had given Ruby time to regain her strength and get used to fighting with her gimpy hand...

“But…”

“You beat Blake, didn’t you?” Yang pointed out before giving Ruby an encouraging smile.  “Come on, let’s just try.”

Stick/beehive or Yang/Ember Celica?   

“You promise not to throw me over the woods again?” she asked first, to which Yang drew a cross over her heart in promise.  Satisfied with that, she nodded and Yang beamed.

“Blake!” Yang called back into the house, drawing the girl in question out onto the porch a few seconds later.  “Hey there, sweetheart,” Yang said cheerfully, but Blake immediately rolled her eyes.

“What do you need?”

“Well, now that you ask, I was wondering if you could grab Ember Celica for me?”

The request made Blake’s eyes widen in surprise.  Her eyes flickered to Ruby before returning to Yang.

“Really?”

“Yup!  Ruby said that hand-to-hand combat is lame .  She wants to pull out the big guns.”

“That’s not what I said!” Ruby whined, but it was already too late.  Blake disappeared into the house and reappeared a few minutes later carrying both of their weapons and Ruby’s glove.  She tossed the gauntlets over to Yang, who caught them and gave Blake a wink.

“Thanks Blakey!”

Failing to suppress a small smile, Blake then brought Crescent Rose and the new glove over to Ruby.  After handing them over, she walked over to the porch and sat down on the step.

“I’ve got to watch this,” she commented while Yang and Ruby prepared themselves for a suddenly real battle.

But this was good - a witness.  Now there would be someone to call the hospital.

Sliding on the glove, Ruby briefly clenched her fingers into a tight fist and then released.  Satisfied that everything was working perfectly, she unfolded Crescent Rose and hesitantly faced Yang.

Of course her sister was making a show of gearing up - pulling on one gauntlet, making a fist, then spinning the shotgun shells into place.  The second gauntlet followed suit before both were cocked in unison.

The entire act was unnecessary because Ruby was already terrified.  It was one thing to fight Yang with no semblances and no weapons involved.  Fighting with everything? Her sister was a full-fledged huntress! Well...Blake was too, but still!  Blake was actually a sane fighter. Or as sane as a crazy ninja shadow warrior could be. Yang was straight up insane.

When they were kids, Ruby and Yang trained together all the time.  Yang always won. It didn’t matter how many of Yang’s moves Ruby memorized - her sister was always a couple years ahead, and a couple of years made a big difference at that age.  It meant that Yang was taller, stronger, and in more control of her semblance. She didn’t accidentally blast herself into the side of the house at full speed, which had only happened to Ruby a handful of times.  

At one point, Ruby was able to put up a good fight, but Yang now was a lot different than Yang then .  For one thing, she’d learned a lot of new moves at Beacon that Ruby had never seen before.  And then Yang was just all around better - stronger, faster, and maybe a little smarter.

“Ok, Ruby,” Yang said, tapping her fists together with a metallic clang of metal on metal.  “Same rules as with Blake.”

Nodding, Ruby clutched Crescent Rose close to her chest and sent a small prayer up to her mom for protection.  She would love to see her mom again, but maybe not quite this soon.  Although...then she and Mom could spend the rest of forever haunting Yang!  That’d be pretty awesome.

“Ready?” Yang asked, raising both fists and bouncing slightly up and down on her toes.

“I think so...”

“Then let’s dance.”  Grinning, Yang waved Ruby forward with one hand.

Taking a deep breath, Ruby decided that she would attack first - catch Yang off guard and hopefully earn a small advantage in the process.  Dashing straight ahead with her full semblance, she slid to the right at the last second and sliced her weapon through the air towards Yang’s ribs.  

That was the precise moment she felt something strong - very, very strong - grab hold of Crescent Rose.  Before she could even let go of her weapon, she was jerked backwards off her feet and thrown into the ground with a thud.  As if the impact hadn’t been enough to paralyze her, a hard knee pressed down on her sternum not even a second later.

“Gotcha,” Yang called down to Ruby before hopping up and pulling her to her feet.  Somewhere in the collision with the ground she must have dropped Crescent Rose, because Yang was now pressing the weapon back into her hands.

“I hope you’re paying my medical bills,” Ruby groaned, wheezing slightly and placing one hand on her lower back.  The nice, squishy grass looked soft, but it was not .  Definitely not.  She’d met rocks softer! 

“Blake pays those!” Yang quipped before shooting a glance towards the house.  “Right?”

“You only asked me to ‘take care of them,’” Blake replied with a smirk.  “You never said how .”

Laughing nervously, Yang turned back and shrugged.  

“They’re being taken care of somehow,” she said before leaning forward and putting one hand beside her mouth to whisper, “But it’s probably best not to ask how.”

Yang and Blake both giggled while Ruby shook her head and grimaced.

“Now I remember why we don’t fight with weapons…” she mumbled, finally straightening her back and hearing a loud, somewhat alarming pop.  Yup, pretty sure she was going to have some serious back problems when she was older. Squinting her eyes, she peered at her sister in confusion.  “How did you know I was going to do that?”

“You’ve been using that move for years,” Yang replied with a grin.

“What??  But that’s not fair!” Ruby immediately complained.  “I didn’t know that!”

If she’d been using it for years, that probably meant it was a good move.  But it also meant that her sister had memorized it by now. 

“What am I supposed to do??  Not react to it just because you don’t remember using it before?”

“Yes!  Show some sympathy, jeez!” she shouted playfully.  “Remember that your poor little sister lost a lot of her memories!”

The comment only made Yang smile and shake her head.

“There’s no sympathy in battle!  You can’t pull the injury card on an Ursa.”

“Watch me!” Ruby said just to be difficult.  Laughing, Yang raised both fists and waved Ruby towards her.

“Ok little sis - why don’t you pretend I’m a big, bad Ursa then?  Let’s see what the poor amnesia girl’s got!”

“Poor amnesia girl…” Ruby grumbled to herself while raising Crescent Rose and clutching the weapon tightly in both hands.  “I’ll show you a thing or two about forgetting things…”

“Yang, hold on a second,” Blake suddenly said, standing up and heading over to Ruby while Yang willingly dropped her hands to her sides.

“Ruby,” Blake said, lowering her voice when she was standing right in front of Ruby.  “Maybe I can give you a few pointers.”

“Are you gonna tell her how you distract me?” Yang called over to them before chuckling.  Ruby wrinkled her nose at Blake, whose cheeks grew a little pinker.

“Ok, now I really want you to beat her,” Blake muttered to herself.  “But Ruby, you know your sister as well as anyone, so you know what her...character flaws...are.”

“Uh…”  Ruby searched her brain for an answer and came up empty.  She’d never really thought of Yang as having any flaws. Yang was her big sister!  She was the best at everything!

“She can be cocky, right?” Blake led her.  “And overconfident. But, most of all - impatient.  She brings all those things into her fighting style.”

Ruby was starting to catch on now.  Yes, Yang could be a little impatient every once in a while…which was ironic considering how late she was all the time.

“If you show an opening she’s going to take it every time, but she’s so good that she can normally correct even if it’s a trap.  You have to play to her impatience - and if you can get her to tunnel in on you, like she does when in a close fist fight, she might not catch what’s happening around her.  Or behind her, if you know what I mean.”

Nodding her head along with Blake’s advice, Ruby finally grinned.  That actually made sense! If she could get Yang to focus on her, maybe she could use her new glove to her advantage like she’d done with Blake.  It sounded like a much better plan than the one she’d had - which was no plan at all.

“Thanks, Blake!” she said, earning a smile in return before Blake walked back to the porch.  

“Oh, and she has terrible balance,” Blake added over her shoulder, loud enough that Yang could overhear.

“Hey!” Yang yelped in fake hurt.  “You said I was getting better!”

Smirking, Blake resumed her seat on the porch step and Ruby turned back to Yang for round two.

“Ready?”

Situating Crescent Rose in front of her, Ruby nodded only when she was positive she was absolutely ready.  Yang raised her fists again and waited, but this time Ruby didn’t strike first. And apparently she shouldn’t have done that the first time because Yang only waited a couple seconds before bursting forward, fists flying.

Defend - that’s what Ruby had to do, just like when fighting Blake.  Except Yang’s punches were hard .  Each one that hit Crescent Rose sent Ruby skidding a few inches backwards on the grass even when she hadn’t moved her feet.

Jab, kick, kick, jab, jab.  Each blow clanged off of Crescent Rose and reverberated through her arms.

Testing one of Blake’s theories, Ruby lowered her weapon a fraction of an inch from where it should be.  A fist immediately flew towards the gap in her defenses and would have caught her if she hadn’t used her semblance to flash away.

Yup - Yang was pretty dang good at finding weak spots.

Pressing forward, Yang continued to throw blows in that smooth, seamless manner she’d always had.  There was no tiring and no slowing down - only moving forward, spinning and kicking and punching and repeating again and again. 

Blocking some blows, dodging others with her semblance, Ruby was careful about attacking and building Yang’s energy, but eventually she needed to do something other than defend.  It was only a matter of time before she made a mistake, or her arms broke from the force of the blows.

Ducking a jab, she saw what looked like an opening.  There wasn’t time to be certain, so she took the opportunity immediately.  While a kick rocketed towards her she flew straight into it, sliding the handle of Crescent Rose underneath Yang’s ankle and continuing forward while lifting up - forcing Yang’s leg straight up into the air and knocking her off her feet.  The second her back hit the dirt Yang rolled out of the way of Ruby’s follow up attack and flipped easily back to her feet while moving away.

Ruby responded by launching Crescent Rose through the air, putting all of her weight into throwing the blade with as much velocity as she could muster.  

Yang’s answer to the heavy weapon bolting towards her neck was to grab it out of the air and swing it into the ground with enough force to make the entire yard tremor.

Immediately dropping her hands, Ruby looked at her weapon - now stuck halfway into the compacted dirt in their backyard.  The last thing she’d expected Yang to do was catch Crescent Rose out of midair.  Who was crazy enough to try to catch a six foot spinning blade out of the air??

Oh right.  Her big sister.

The results were the same as the last time they’d sparred together - Yang was winning handily.  Back then, the outcome was really discouraging. But that was then.  

“Can we go again?” Ruby asked.  Smiling at the request, Yang nodded.

Walking over to retrieve Crescent Rose, Ruby put her gloved hand on the handle and tried to look all cool by pulling it out with just one hand.  But the weapon didn’t budge.

Ok, so Yang had used her superhuman strength to slam Crescent Rose in the ground.  There was no shame in having to use both hands…

Grasping the handle with two hands, Ruby pulled upwards and, again, nothing happened.  Planting her feet on either side of the weapon, she tried to use her knees to provide some form of leverage.

“Need some help?” Yang teased after watching Ruby struggle for a few moments.

“No - I -”  When Ruby gave one more big tug, this time putting her whole back into it, Crescent Rose finally dislodged and sent her stumbling backwards onto her butt.  “Got it!” she called out cheerfully while jumping to her feet and meeting Yang in the middle of the yard.

Ok, this time she needed to do something crazier.  Clearly being fast wasn’t enough. She needed to outcrazy Yang.  

“Ready?”

Again, Ruby nodded.  This time Yang didn’t wait more than a second before charging forward - the same as before, only this time the combinations were all mixed up.  The relentless attacks clanged off of Crescent Rose time and again, but thankfully none of them found their way to Ruby. If even one blow made it through, she was a goner.  

Blocking was one thing, but she couldn’t find any sort of weakness in Yang’s defenses.  Or maybe Yang had no defense, but was so good at keeping up continuous attacks that it didn’t matter.

Outcrazy crazy.  What was the craziest thing Ruby could do in the middle of a fight?

Dashing several steps backward when a fist came pummeling towards her jaw, she dropped Crescent Rose to the grass in favor of charging straight at Yang for a fist fight.

Fighting Yang Xiao Long with no weapon.  Now that was crazy.

And stupid.  Ruby wasn’t strong enough to deal any damage with any blow she might be able to land, so trying to attack was pointless.  Instead, she needed to rapidly dodge while sledgehammers flew at her face like they were being shot from cannons at close range.

But Blake had been right - Yang was tunneling in now that they were so close together.  When Ruby shuffled a few inches to the side, Yang turned with her without hesitation. When Ruby shuffled back, again Yang shifted with her.

Very quickly, Ruby was able to pivot Yang so that her back was to Crescent Rose, but before anything could be done with the weapon one of the sledgehammers landed in Ruby’s gut, sending her toppling backwards.  Ignoring her sudden lack of oxygen or an intact rib cage, Ruby rolled up to her feet and immediately blasted back to her sister. She couldn’t give Yang any time to think about what had happened with Crescent Rose.

Swinging her left fist towards Yang’s ribs, Ruby realized too late that her sister was allowing the blow to land.  Yang let out a soft ‘oomph’ before clamping her arm around Ruby’s wrist and holding tight. Panicking, Ruby punched out with her right hand, but Yang moved her head out of the way before jabbing with her own free hand and following it up with a knee towards Ruby’s gut.  She tried to jump backwards away from the blows while Yang still held onto her arm, preventing her from escaping.  

They were fist fighting with just one hand now - Yang refusing to drop Ruby’s gloved hand.  Rose petals were scattering across the yard as Ruby was forced to use her semblance in short bursts to escape her sister’s attacks.  The fight was going to end soon - she could feel it. There was absolutely no way she could get her arm out of Yang’s fortified grip.

But first - in the midst of dodging two more attacks that would likely send her back to the hospital if they landed - Ruby tapped her fingers quickly together without Yang noticing, calling Crescent Rose their way.

Under normal circumstances, Ruby would’ve caught her weapon, but because Yang was still latched onto her wrist she had no opportunity to do so.  Instead, Crescent Rose slammed into the back of Yang’s shoulder and knocked her forward in surprise. That brief moment of shock was more than enough time for Ruby to stretch and grab the weapon with her free hand as it fell towards the ground.

As the giant scythe unfolded, Yang finally dropped Ruby’s wrist in order to jump away from the blade, but Ruby swung with her semblance and caught Yang by the ankle before she got far enough away.  It was enough to send Yang toppling to the ground, but her butt had hardly touched a blade of grass before one hand hit the dirt to propel her back to her feet.  

The moment Yang straightened herself up, Ruby was flying back around from behind - dragging Crescent Rose along the ground to remove Yang’s balance once again.  This time Ruby leapt into the air as soon as Yang’s feet left the ground - swinging her weapon above her head in preparation to deal the final blow before Yang could get up. 

Just as planned, Yang didn’t have enough time to escape - her back hit the grass and Ruby was already on top of her.  But Crescent Rose jarred to a stop a foot from Yang’s chest, the end of the blade clasped tightly in her right hand.

Surprised, Ruby tried to pull the weapon back, but it wouldn’t budge.  She tried again with more effort, but still nothing.

It was at that moment that Yang grinned and swept her legs underneath Ruby’s.  The move seamlessly propelled Yang back to her feet while sending Ruby crashing to the ground.  Holding onto Crescent Rose all the while, Yang forced the handle of the weapon into Ruby’s chest the second her back hit the ground and pinned her down.  

Unarmed and unable to move, Ruby took shallow breaths to avoid pressing into Crescent Rose any more than necessary.  Thankfully, the pressure quickly disappeared when Yang tossed the weapon off to the side.

“Jeez,” she huffed, her breaths heavy as she pulled Ruby to her feet and patted her on the back.  “That was really fun!”

Brushing blades of grass from her clothes, Ruby peered at her sister like she was crazy.  “It was?” 

“Yeah!  That was so awesome!”  

Forget losing - Yang’s upbeat energy was infectious, filling Ruby with giddiness in a heartbeat.  

“Really??  You think so?”

“You’re so good , Ruby!” Yang replied with a big smile, grabbing both of Ruby’s shoulders and shaking her gently in congratulations.  “Let’s do that again. Like seriously. I had no idea Crescent Rose was going to hit me from behind - that was so cool!”

Looking towards the house, Ruby grinned at Blake - who smiled before standing and heading inside now that the show was over.  When Yang shook Ruby again, she turned back with a big grin still set in place.

“I can’t believe that made such a big difference!” Yang commented, gesturing to the glove on Ruby’s hand.  “Have you thought of a name yet? I think it’s definitely ready for a name.”

“Uh, no - not yet.  I can’t think of anything good!  Other than ‘Glove.’” Briefly wrinkling her nose at the terrible name, Ruby smiled when Yang laughed.

“How about - oh, I got it!  How about ‘Thorn?’”

“‘Thorn?’”

“Yeah, you know, cuz every rose has its thorns,” Yang replied with a grin.

Holding up her hand to look at the glove, Ruby mulled the name over in her mind.  Thorn. It went with Crescent Rose, if she was looking for a theme. And it sounded pretty cool.  Plus, it was good to remember that even something really pretty, like a rose, still had its flaws.

Curling her reinforced fingers into a fist, she grinned.  

“I like it!  Kinda reminds us that we’re not perfect, huh?”

Smiling in return, Yang held up her right fist and bumped Ruby’s with a metallic clunk that hurt a lot less than normal.

“Least of all us,” Yang replied while wrapping one arm around Ruby’s shoulders and turning them towards the house.  Tapping out the code once again, Ruby held out her left hand and snatched Crescent Rose right as the weapon hit her gloved fingertips.  The action made Yang chuckle and shake her head.

“So freaking cool…”

Maybe Ruby had lost again, but that had been a lot better than before!  It almost felt like, with some more practice, she might actually be able to give Yang a run for her money.  It was such an encouraging feeling that was growing in her right now - like maybe she could actually do this huntress thing after all.

Sparring with Yang was a great first test of Ruby’s abilities.  The next one would come tomorrow when a completely unknown fighter came over…

“Uh...if I lose tomorrow...I can still go on the hunt, right?” Ruby asked.  The question made Yang pause for several seconds - long enough for Ruby to start worrying - before nodding.

“Of course.  You’ve earned the right to go.”

The reply made Ruby breathe a sigh of relief.  She’d worked so long and hard to get to this point...it would really suck to have it taken away when she was this close to finally going!

“Besides,” Yang continued with a grin.  “You’re not gonna lose.”

“You think I can win?” 

Yang squeezed Ruby’s shoulder gently.

“Ruby, I know you can win,” she answered, releasing Ruby when they stepped onto the porch and smacking her hands together once in excitement.  “Oh man, Weiss is not gonna know what hit her.  You’re gonna knock the smug smile right off her face!”

“Yangggg,” Ruby whined, turning to give her sister a stern look.  “You said you’d be nicer.”

“I said I’d try to be nicer.  Big difference.”

The reply made Ruby purse her lips and frown.

“Aw, come on, Ruby,” Yang added with a lax smile.  “So Weiss and I aren’t friends anymore. We don’t have to be, right?”

Normally Ruby wouldn’t be so stubborn with her sister, but...it was Weiss.  And Weiss seemed like she could use some more friends right now, not less.

“But something bad happened to her -”

“Something bad happened to you, ” Yang replied with a frown, but Ruby waved the statement away.

“That’s different.”

“How?”

“Because!  I had you and Blake to help me get better.”  When Yang stared in confusion, Ruby tried to explain her thoughts more clearly.  “I just...can’t help but get this feeling that she’s been all alone for a while…”  

The thought made her inexplicably sad - enough so that even Yang’s brow furrowed in concern.  But what she was saying was true. She knew it was. She’d had Yang to talk to. When she was scared, she always knew Yang was there to protect her.  When she was sad, Yang was there to hold her. That was the kind of relationship they’d always had and hopefully always would. Sure, maybe Yang could be a little overbearing sometimes and definitely overprotective, but when Ruby had been so hurt and felt so small and vulnerable that type of protectiveness was just what she needed.  And if Yang ever became a little too much, she’d had Blake to turn to.

A support system - that’s what they were.  They encouraged her, consoled her, and sympathized with her.  It was hard to imagine how difficult her recovery would have been if she’d been on her own.  Would she have had the strength to get out of the bed in the morning? Would she have been able to rebuild herself from scratch, or would she have sunk into the past and always wished for what had been?

“Do you know what happened?  To Weiss?” she finally asked.  The question made Yang’s eyes fall to the ground in a way that immediately made Ruby’s heart fall as well.

“She...lost someone very close to her.”

“Oh…”  

That was kind of what Ruby expected, while also hoping it wouldn’t be true.  Poor Weiss…to lose someone and not even have anyone to talk to about it...no wonder she thought memories were difficult to bear.  Ruby could remember how hard it was when her mom died, but - again - she’d had Yang there and they’d helped each other through.  

Having that person who you could tell anything to...that made all the difference in the world.

“I want to help her,” Ruby concluded out loud.  The desire had been growing and growing over the past few days, but she finally felt confident enough to speak it out loud.   She wanted to help because Weiss was important. For whatever reason, Weiss was important in the same way that Yang and Blake were important. 

The comment made Yang sigh and drop any hint of a joke.  

It wasn’t often that Ruby got to see her sister’s serious side, but Yang did have one.  It was this side of Yang who was giving Ruby a small smile right now, laying one warm hand on her shoulder and giving it a little squeeze.

“I knew you would,” Yang said earnestly.  “Blake and I have talked about it, you know.  Weiss has changed a lot in the last...since I’ve last seen her.”  Yang shook her head sadly, temporarily lost in her own thoughts before turning back to Ruby.  “We thought you’d be the best person to help Weiss regain a bit of her former self.”

“Why me?”

“Because you make her happy,” Yang answered succinctly.  “And she trusts you enough to talk to you. That could be just what she needs.”

It did seem like Weiss trusted Ruby.  At least, that’s how it felt last night with Myrtenaster and talking in the garage.  She wanted to gain even more of Weiss’ trust, but they hadn’t known each other for very long.  Really, it might make more sense for Yang to regain Weiss’ trust than for Ruby to start from scratch.

“Wouldn’t you help too though?” she asked.  “You two have been friends longer.”

“I don’t think I can help her, Ruby,” Yang answered, her eyes growing sad at the thought.  “Because when she looks at me...I think she sees the mistake she made. I know that’s what I see when I look at her.”  Yang shook her head before giving Ruby a hopeful smile. “But you...you’re a fresh start for her, you know? Sometimes a fresh start is just what someone needs.”

Biting her lip at the reply, Ruby finally nodded her head and smiled.  

“I’ll help her,” she said resolutely, feeling a warmth spread through her chest when Yang smiled back.

“You already are.”

It felt like Ruby had just agreed to take on some huge challenge, but she couldn’t be more determined to see it through.  Even if it took the rest of her life, she was willing to spend every day trying to catch a glimpse of the Weiss she’d seen while messing around with Myrtenaster - the witty, playful, lively version of Weiss with the laugh of an angel.

Everyone deserved to be happy, no matter what their past was.  Hopefully, Ruby could get Weiss to believe that.

“You’re right though,” Yang added, turning away and pulling off her gauntlets.  “I’ll try to take it a little easier on her. It’s just...really hard. But I’ll try to be better.”

“Thank you,” Ruby said while following her sister back into the house, their practice unofficially ended.

“You know I’ll do anything for you.”  Reaching out, Yang wrapped an arm around Ruby’s neck and pulled her close to ruffle her hair.  “Cuz I love you!”

“Aww Yang!  Come on!” Ruby whined, pushing at her sister’s arm to no avail.  

“Nnnope!  You’re my little sister so I get to say it as much as I want!”

Ever since they were little, Yang tried to embarrass Ruby like this.  It was something she pretended to be annoyed with, but in reality she loved it.  And she’d willingly tell anyone who would listen how much she loved her big sister.

“Let me go!” she huffed while shoving again at her sister’s arm.

“I’ll let go when you say it back!”  Yang’s grip tightened to where Ruby knew she’d never get out unless she caved to Yang’s demands, but she struggled for a few more seconds anyway.  Finally, she sighed in fake exasperation and stopped squirming.

“I love you too, Yang.”

“There!” Yang exclaimed while removing the vice grip.  “Was that so hard?”

“Yes,” Ruby teased, sticking out her tongue for good measure before dancing to the side to escape the arm that shot towards her.

“You’re so difficult sometimes, you know that?”  Tossing her gauntlets on the table inside the back door, Yang stood taller when she thought of something.  “Oh - I forgot to mention the penalty for losing today…”

Dropping Crescent Rose on top of Ember Celica before turning back to her sister, Ruby’s eyes widened when Yang held up both hands and wiggled her fingers menacingly.  Backing slowly away, Ruby bumped into the wall while Yang crept towards her. 

The look on her face said that there would be no mercy tonight.  And that was a bad thing because Ruby normally depended on mercy in order to survive.

“Yang…” she said, hoping her voice would serve as a deterrent.

“Ruby...” Yang replied with an evil grin.

“Blake!” Ruby yelled as she turned and ran for the kitchen like her life depended on it, smiling when she heard Yang laughing and chasing her down the hallway.  

Yang and Blake were her family.  They were her support and her strength.  Hopefully Ruby could be the same for Weiss.

Chapter Text

Believe in yourself.

I believe in you.

For eternity.

The notes were craftily hidden in different sections of Myrtenaster, sketched into the welding so neatly and precisely that it was a wonder how Ruby had even done it.  The last one sat right underneath Weiss’ thumb...every time she’d picked up Myrtenaster she touched it. Every time she’d gone out into the forest by herself, searching for forgiveness, she’d been holding onto the promise they’d made to each other.

Discovering the hidden words of affection had been like receiving messages from the past - giving her parts of Ruby she never knew existed.  She’d always wondered why Ruby looked so tickled whenever returning Myrtenaster. Now she understood that it wasn’t the excellent craftsmanship Ruby had been grinning about, but rather the string of messages that were being left where she knew Weiss might never find them. 

And she never had.  Ironically, the person who brought them to Weiss’ attention had been Ruby herself.  Without Ruby’s keen eye, Weiss could have spent the rest of her life not knowing that those little words of love and encouragement were etched into a piece of her livelihood.  

The past version of Ruby would be miffed that her future self had given away such a clever and well-executed ploy.  It wasn’t often Weiss had the wool pulled over her eyes, after all.

That night, after she’d gotten home from Ruby’s, she’d spent several hours poring over Myrtenaster with a magnifying glass, scouring each and every millimeter of the weapon for more hidden words.  In the end, she’d been left with a heart overflowing with love and longing for the one who’d left them there - for the girl who had loved Weiss so much that she wouldn’t even blink at the thought of spending hours perfecting microscopic details Weiss might never notice.  

Now that she’d seen them, she couldn’t unsee them.  She couldn’t unsee the extent of how much Ruby had cared.  She’d probably spent hours learning how to etch letters that small, hunched over her workbench and hiding away the evidence so no one would know what she was trying to do.  All for Weiss.  

What she wouldn’t give for the chance to show Ruby exactly how much the messages meant to her…that the time and effort was appreciated.  Not only appreciated, but...they made Weiss fall in love with Ruby even more…

That opportunity was gone though.  Lost with the rest of Ruby’s memories of Beacon.  

I believe in you.

Ruby had always believed in Weiss.  No matter what obstacles fell in their path, no matter what foes they faced, no matter what trials they were forced to overcome, Ruby believed so wholly and so fully in her that Weiss couldn’t help but to believe in herself as well.  For the entirety of her life, she’d pretended that she was capable of anything, but when Ruby looked at her...she actually believed it.

What would Ruby think if she could see Weiss now?  What would she think if she could see how broken and shattered Weiss had become?

As unlikely as it might seem, Ruby wouldn’t be disappointed.  She would still believe that Weiss could find a way to turn her life around for the better.  She’d believe that this valley of despair was only temporary, and that Weiss would soon find her way out of it.  That’s just how Ruby was - she was Weiss’ number one fan, no matter what.

Weiss missed that.  She missed having a staunch supporter.  She missed having an admirer. She missed having that person - that one person who would stand beside her no matter what.  Sure, Winter would always do her best to help Weiss, but there was something more profound about having someone outside of family believe so fully in her capabilities.

These days, she considered herself lucky that Ruby seemed to regard her merely as a friend.  It was painful how far their relationship had fallen...where friendship was a step in a positive direction…

However, even though they were only friends (if that), the more time they spent together the more difficult it became for Weiss to differentiate between past and present.  As they grew more comfortable, she subconsciously slipped back into habits that hadn’t been broken over time. In the end, this meant that she was treating this version of Ruby with far more familiarity than might be commonly expected of two people who had ‘just met.’

For example, when the two of them were in garage together, Weiss all but admitted to her personal demons even though she was raised to do exactly the opposite.  Schnees weren’t supposed to show weaknesses of any shape or form to anyone .  Weaknesses would be exploited by enemies at the first possible opportunity.  They would be used to undermine, ransom, and blackmail. They were to be hidden and never shown the light of day.

With such emphasis placed upon perpetually maintaining a strong exterior, Weiss had nearly forgotten what it felt like to be honest.  It was...nice. It was soothing, even, to put into words some of the torments that had run amok through her mind for so long...to admit to another person that her past haunted her, and to find acceptance and compassion rather than a label of ‘crazy’ or ‘weak.’

Regardless of the positive outcome, it hadn’t been her intention to confide in Ruby so soon.  She couldn’t even say that she’d ever planned on allowing Ruby a glimpse into her fractured mind.  Of course, the turn of events couldn't be classified as surprising given the actors.  It was the same scenario as what happened at Beacon...where Weiss had had absolutely no intention of being candid or transparent with her partner.

That had been her intention, but there was something in Ruby’s personality that overflowed with understanding and openness.  Ruby could hear and not judge - she could be forgiving of the most unfathomable things - and she had no desire for power or control over another person.  The only opportunities she searched for were the ones to help others.  

Of all the potential partners Weiss could have had at Beacon, Ruby was the one who seemed specially crafted to be exactly what Weiss needed.  A friend...a confidante...Weiss’ secrets were always safe with Ruby.

It was impossible to describe how much she’d missed the feeling of being...vulnerable...with another person - allowing them to share in the thoughts she normally kept bottled up inside, lowering her barriers, trusting that goodness did exist…

And look what had stemmed out of that vulnerability - a solution.  A solution to one of Weiss’ problems, that was actually quite brilliant.  The feeling of Ruby’s hand clasped around her own was real - tangible - something she could easily latch onto when the sands of reality and sanity began to shift and sway.

The two of them had grown closer, she felt, from that one moment of openness.  And then there was the event that had happened next...when Ruby had wanted to feel Weiss’ aura.  

The memory raised goosebumps along her arms while a rush of excitement coursed through her veins.  Did Ruby have any idea what she was doing? Or had she asked off the top of her head? Had it been a complete whim?

Regardless of the intention, Weiss was fairly certain that Ruby was unaware that she was sending her own aura to Weiss in return.  It had been delayed, but it was still there - like tendrils of mist that swirled and spun in an endless breeze. It had wrapped around Weiss’ heart and curled through her body with a quiet assurance of strength.  

The experience had been familiar in a way that made her heart ache just thinking about it.  With everything that had happened the past year, with everything that had changed between Weiss and her teammates, Ruby’s aura had remained exactly the same - almost blissfully so.  It had called out more of Weiss’ own aura. Brightened it. Reinforced it. And then intertwined as one.

In that moment, which had ended entirely too soon, it almost felt as if...maybe...Ruby’s aura could remember Weiss, even when Ruby did not.

It was wishful thinking - a flaw Weiss had grown all too dependent upon recently.  It wasn’t beneficial to wish for something.  Hard work was the only way to accomplish anything that could possibly be wished for.

Sighing when her father’s voice thundered through her head, Weiss put the car in park and turned off the engine.  Dear old Dad was the last person she needed to be drawing wisdom from these days…

Opening the door, she grabbed Myrtenaster from the passenger seat before heading up the sidewalk with her trusty weapon in tow.  Normally, there was a boost of confidence granted by wearing her combat attire with Myrtenaster attached to her side - prepared for a fight - but neither provided any assurance today.  

There had been thousands of battles before today, but none had seemed as monumentally important as the one she was currently walking towards.  She had to win. She had to keep Ruby from going into the forest again. Whether Ruby was ready or not, Weiss couldn’t dare put her in harm’s way.  

If she lost...well, she’d figure out the answer to that question if it came to pass.

The small house belonging to three of the most important people in Weiss’ world was silent and unyielding of any secrets, unwilling to clue her in as to what she could expect today.  However, the uncertainty waiting beyond the door hadn’t swayed her at all - actually, she’d been so anxious to see Ruby that she’d arrived early.

With the front door looming, Weiss stepped onto the porch and sucked in a deep breath to steady her burgeoning nerves.  Raising one hand to knock, she jumped back in surprise when the door opened with her hand still suspended in midair.

“Hey Weiss.  Come on in,” Blake said with a smile, gesturing Weiss through the door.

“Thank you,” Weiss murmured politely while stepping past Blake and into the entryway.

The home was growing more comfortable with each visit she made, but there were still small quirks to the space that made her feel out of place.  The fourth seat at the dining table - which, in another lifetime, would have been hers - seemed to be used for accumulating mail instead of eating, as evidenced by the large pile of miscellaneous envelopes always lying there.  By the front door were several coat hooks - only three, each currently holding a jacket that Weiss could name the owner of by color.  

Both were reminders that she didn’t belong - that their lives didn’t include a fourth person and, in a sense, didn’t have space for one.  What had she expected though...that they’d been waiting for her to come back?

She’d given up her seat at the table...and no one was going to simply hand it back to her.  It was her job to earn it back.  

“Yang!” Ruby shouted from the garage before racing into the house and skidding to a stop.  “Weiss!” she exclaimed, her face lighting up in happiness when their gazes met. Weiss blushed when she noticed Ruby’s eyes rove quickly over her, mentally cataloging her outfit.

“I love the combat skirt!” Ruby announced gleefully.

“I’m glad you still do,” Weiss replied with a relieved smile.  It was incredible how easily Ruby could put Weiss at ease with nothing more than a cheerful grin and joyous proclamation.

“What do you need?” Yang called out, walking into the living room from the hallway.  “Oh, hey Weiss,” she said with a quick nod before turning to Ruby. “What’s up?”

“I need your hairdryer!” Ruby said before sending Weiss an apologetic expression.  “Hold on, Weiss. Can you give me like...ten minutes? I need to make sure the paint is set!”

“Paint?” Weiss asked nothing but air - Ruby having already disappeared down the hallway with Yang following close behind.

“She just finished adding a design to her glove,” Blake explained from beside Weiss.  “It’s...really good.”

“And she’s setting the paint with a hairdryer,” Weiss concluded, connecting the dots while Ruby shot past as nothing more than a red blur.  Several seconds behind her sister, Yang trudged back into the kitchen at a much more leisurely pace before opening several cupboards in search of something. 

Blake watched Yang intently for a couple of seconds before turning back to Weiss.  Nodding her head pointedly in Yang’s direction, she said, “I’ll be outside,” before walking away.  But she didn’t leave the kitchen without giving Weiss one more look and mouthing ‘just try’ before leaving the two of them alone.

Apparently, Blake was giving them a few minutes alone to talk.  She could have been a little more obvious about it though...

Glancing at Yang’s back, Weiss opened her mouth only to close it several seconds later when nothing came out.  Oblivious to Weiss’ existence, Yang pulled out an empty glass and was now looking for something in the fridge. Making a soft “aha” when she found whatever it was, she set her glass down on the counter while her other hand left the fridge holding a bottle of what looked like orange juice.

As Yang calmly poured a full glass, Weiss seriously considered making a beeline for the garage to check on Ruby.  But her feet, which always seemed so willing to run away, remained stubbornly planted to the floor inside the front door. 

Just try.  Make an attempt to say something - anything really.  That was the only way they would ever get past this...whatever this was...

“Yang, could we talk for a second?”  

It was a simple question, but the way her hands trembled belied how incredibly anxious the topic made her.  She needed to do this though. There had been enough silence between them.

For a brief moment, it looked like Yang wanted to walk away rather than stay and chat, but she seemed to think better of it and turned to face Weiss.

“Sure, what’s up?” Yang asked while she leaned against the edge of the kitchen table, resting one hand on the back of a chair while the other held her glass.

“I just...wanted to tell you…”  

Weiss’ heart was racing wildly while the words stumbled out.  Her mind was freezing up, uncertain about the proper way to go about this.  It didn’t help that Yang was watching closely - as if searching for any lack of sincerity.  The gaze was unsettling enough that Weiss closed her eyes and took a deep breath to steady herself.  

Just be honest.  This was Yang - they used to be best friends.

“I wanted to apologize,” Weiss finally managed to say out loud as the right words lined themselves up for her.  “When...when Ruby got hurt -”

The partial sentence made Yang shake her head and straighten up.

“Please stop - I don’t want to hear it.”

“What?” Weiss asked, confused by the request more than anything else.  Maybe naively, she’d believed that the most difficult part about this conversation would be putting her feelings out in the open - not convincing Yang to hear them.

“But...we need to talk about this,” she said a little more forcefully.

“No, we really don't,” Yang replied to match.

“So you don't even want to hear -”

“No, I don’t , Weiss,” Yang cut her off again, slamming the glass down on the table with so much force it was a miracle it didn’t shatter.  Surprised by the unfavorable response, Weiss stared for a few moments - until Yang finally heaved a big sigh and ran a hand through her hair.

“I just...I can’t do this with you right now,” she explained softly, her tone almost regretful.  “I’m sorry. I told Ruby that I’d try, but...it’s too soon. Let’s just...focus on Ruby. She’s what’s most important.”

At a loss for words, the only thing Weiss could think to do was nod her head.  What could she possibly say to that? If Yang refused to hear an apology, there was no purpose in Weiss attempting to give one.

“Right…” she whispered when Yang walked away - their talk over before it had even begun.

Watching Yang retreat down the hallway towards the backyard, the weight of Weiss’ past actions made her heart ache in a torturous way.  

Yang didn’t even want to talk about it.  Yang - who was practically famous for the phrase, ‘Hey, let’s talk this out’ - didn’t want to talk it out.  The heart of their team. The one who’d brought them close together, despite their differences.

Choices weren’t made in a vacuum.  If only they were...then Weiss could have spared everyone else the repercussions of her own inadequacies…

Ruby didn’t remember who Weiss was.  Ruby didn’t know that she should be angry or upset with the past.  No...it was Yang who’d been hurt the most by Weiss leaving. It was Yang who’d been abandoned, deserted...betrayed.  And it was Yang who’d been forced to shoulder all of those emotions while also nursing Ruby back to full health.

Covering her eyes with one hand, Weiss took several deep breaths while attempting to still the emotions roiling in her chest.

She’d never wanted to hurt Yang.  Yang deserved better than that. After everything she’d gone through with her own family...Yang deserved better than to have another person leave her.  Yet Weiss had done it anyway...

Focus on Ruby ...Weiss told herself when tears stung at her eyes.  Focus on Ruby…that was the most Weiss could do right now.  Trying to talk to Yang, trying to mend some of those broken feelings, that would have to come later.  As much as Weiss would love for them to be friends again, she’d also be the first to admit that that wasn’t a luxury she deserved at this time.  Maybe ever.

But at least she could say she’d tried.  It hadn’t gone well, but it had been better than she’d expected.  On a scale of one to ten - with ten being hugs, cheerful tears, and total forgiveness while one meant the end of Weiss’ existence - that had probably been about a six.  

Yang had mentioned promising Ruby that she would ‘try’ though - what did that mean?  Had Ruby said something? Or lobbied to Yang on Weiss’ behalf?

Shaking her head, Weiss decided that she should take Yang’s advice and focus on Ruby instead of the hundreds of other thoughts swirling through her head.  Heading to the garage to see if Ruby was finished, she stepped through the door right as Ruby turned off the hairdryer and set it to one side.

“It’s done!” Ruby proclaimed, sending Weiss a pleased grin.  “Wanna see?”

“Of course.”

Ruby’s presence instantly softened the edge left behind by the previous conversation.  The closer Weiss drew to the workbench and Ruby’s side, the more her thoughts shifted to bring the bubbly brunette to the forefront of her mind.  

It was only when Ruby willingly handed over the finished glove that Weiss diverted some attention away from comforting silver eyes and down to the object placed in her hands.

Other than Blake commenting that it looked good, Weiss had had no preconceived notion of what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t anything like what she saw in front of her.  

First, for being made entirely of different metals, the contraption was astonishingly lightweight.  Second, her eyes were immediately drawn to the intricate lines of black thorns curving in and around the back of the glove and the fingers.  As usual, Ruby’s artistic prowess left the design understated - not cluttered by any means, but still a sharp juxtaposition to the red plating.  

It was a vintage Ruby creation.  Take any mechanical object and Ruby could upgrade it in a hundred ways without ever changing the chassis.  The craftsmanship would always be top notch. The functionality would be irontight. Add in her general artistic ability...and anything could be turned into a work of art.

“Thorns?” Weiss asked while turning the glove over and examining the palm.  “Oh, because every rose has its thorns.”

“Yang came up with it!” Ruby explained.  “She suggested I name him ‘Thorn’ and I loved it!  I’ve been working on the design since yesterday.” Ruby gestured at the top of the workbench, which was covered in scattered pieces of paper that had practice drawings all over them.

Flipping the glove over again, Weiss took one last look before handing it carefully back to Ruby.

“It’s beautiful,” she said before correcting herself.  “I mean, he’s beautiful.  Are you sure it’s a boy?  He’s an awfully pretty boy.”

Ruby giggled at the words. 

“It just feels right, you know?” she quipped, looking over her finished product with a proud smile.  Weiss couldn’t help but to smile in return, thankful that she’d arrived early - if only so that she hadn’t missed this moment.

It was gone as quickly as it had appeared though, replaced with inquisitive silver eyes aimed her way.

“Now that Thorn’s ready - are you ready?” Ruby asked with a big grin.  

Like a rush of cold water being thrown in her face, Weiss suddenly remembered why she’d come over here to begin with.  It was so effortless to be around Ruby that it was easy to forget that, these days, she actually needed a purpose to be here.  And today...today was important.

“I’m ready,” she answered with a small nod.  “Are you?”

“You know it!” Ruby replied, waving for Weiss to follow her out of the garage and towards the backyard.  

If Ruby was nervous, there was no way to tell from the normal hop in her step.  Meanwhile, Weiss’ heartbeat was speeding up with every passing second, the enormity of the situation finally catching up to her.

This was her opportunity to prove that Ruby wasn’t ready to go back into the forest.  If she could win - decisively and quickly - it would cast doubt on Yang’s conclusion that Ruby was prepared for another hunt.  She had to win. She couldn’t let Ruby go back into the forest. She couldn’t risk losing Ruby again. Not when they’d been so fortunate the first time…

It was possible that Weiss could win - she’d done it before.  Once. And she might have cheated that time too. Well…she’d most certainly granted herself an advantage.  She just needed to replicate those results, but without using Ruby’s distractibility and rampant sweet tooth against her.  

However, seeing as how Ruby was still climbing back from catastrophic injuries, Weiss should be more physically capable in battle.  And, since Ruby had lost Beacon’s training, Weiss should hold a hefty advantage in terms of technical skill. 

Both of these advantages were in theory only, as she had no way of knowing how far Ruby had progressed in the past year without experiencing it firsthand.

Grabbing Crescent Rose off of the little table beside the door, Ruby bounded outside and politely held the door open for Weiss to follow.  As soon as Weiss stepped onto the porch, Blake cast a softly encouraging smile her direction - likely having already been updated on the failed attempt at a conversation with Yang.  

The expression quickly disappeared when Yang leaned over and whispered something in Blake’s ear.  When Blake smiled and nodded, Yang turned towards them.

“Ruby!  Over here!  Let’s get this heavyweight fight off the ground!”

Giving Weiss one last grin, Ruby ran after her sister as Blake walked over to the porch to join Weiss.  Yang gave Weiss a pleased smirk before speaking intently to Ruby, making rapid hand gestures while Ruby nodded in turn. 

“What’re they talking about?” Weiss asked, watching the two sisters closely.  “It looks like Yang is about to sic a rabid Beowolf on me.”

“Yang’s telling Ruby about your semblance,” Blake explained without even looking towards the yard.  When Weiss opened her mouth to protest, Blake continued. “You already know Ruby’s, so it’s only fair if she gets to know yours too.”

Weiss snapped her jaw shut at the reply.  It would be more equitable if they were both informed of each other’s semblances...although equity wasn’t exactly what she was searching for at the moment.  

“And Ruby thinks I’m telling you about her semblance too.” 

Weiss scoffed at the notion that Blake would explain Ruby’s semblance to her.  She and Ruby had been partners for years. They’d practiced together likely a million times.  If anyone should be explaining how Ruby’s semblance worked, or how Ruby liked to fight, it should be Weiss.  

At least that’s what she initially thought, but the expression on Blake’s face suggested that she was wrong to make that assumption.

“Don’t be overconfident,” Blake chided her.  “Remember, Weiss - this isn’t the same Ruby.”

She understood that this wasn’t the same Ruby.  If it was, they wouldn’t be having this conversation to begin with.  But at the same time...when it came to fighting styles, there must be tendencies Ruby had kept from prior to Beacon, right?  The patterns and habits solidified in early training couldn’t have been so easily broken.

“Same weapon, same semblance,” Weiss pointed out.

“And that’s probably where the similarities end,” Blake replied.  “Seriously, Weiss. Don’t expect this to be easy. Her only two weaknesses are that she’s rusty and her left hand isn’t at full strength.  Now that she’s fixed one of those things, you’re basically hoping she makes a mistake due to lack of practice.”

“Really?”

“Really.  Remember how she went through that phase where she was trying all those crazy new moves?  Well, she’s there right now. Every fight she tries something new. Some of it doesn’t work out, but if it does and she gets the timing down, the fight is over.”

The explanation gave Weiss reason to pause.  She remembered that time period all too well - every day she’d watched Ruby try a new attack that seemed both implausible and impossible.  Some epically failed, but others succeeded in making Ruby the talk of legend around the school.  

It had been around that time when Weiss realized there would never be a day when she was empirically better than Ruby, but that together they could be the best partners Beacon had ever seen.

“She’s really that good?” she asked, glancing towards Ruby one more time.

Yes ,” Blake answered emphatically.  “She doesn’t even realize how good she is.  She felt like she barely beat me, when I was struggling to hold my ground the entire time.  And she was maybe two moves away from beating Yang yesterday.”

When Weiss stared in disbelief, Blake nodded to confirm those words. 

That wasn’t great news.  Knowing that Blake’s assessments were bluntly honest and accurate, and knowing that Ruby had nearly beaten Yang, Weiss could practically watch as her chances of winning this matchup were cut at least in half. 

Separating from Ruby, Yang clapped her hands in excitement while walking towards the house.

“It’s go time!” she announced, sliding one arm around Blake’s waist and tugging her away from Weiss.

“Oh, and watch the glove,” Blake quickly added before allowing Yang to drag her to the porch step.

Watch the glove - better than Blake - almost as good as Yang.  Turning to Ruby, Weiss’ mind was swimming in conflict and concern.  How could it be possible? It was only a year ago that the doctors were worried that Ruby might never fully recover - how had she made it this far?

Noticing that Ruby was still wearing a track jacket and pair of sweats, Weiss was about to ask if she should be wear something more appropriate when Ruby quickly unzipped her jacket and pulled down her sweats to reveal an entire combat outfit hidden underneath.  The action took no more than a couple of seconds, but Weiss’ cheeks instantly warmed with a blush.  

If that was a distraction technique Yang had suggested...well played.

Swallowing, Weiss pulled Myrtenaster from her side and extended the weapon in front of her.

“Are you ready?” she asked, watching closely while Ruby unfolded Crescent Rose.  The mere sight of the weapon in all its shimmering, deadly glory sent chills down Weiss’ spine.  

The last time she’d seen Crescent Rose...

“Yup!” Ruby replied - the response effectively beginning their battle and forcing Weiss to focus on the here and now.

Nothing happened for a stretch of time that seemed to last forever, but was likely no more than a couple seconds.  The two of them stared each other down, each waiting for the other to make the first move. Adrenaline was pumping through Weiss’ veins while tension coiled her muscles in preparation.

Right when Weiss considered attacking first, Ruby burst forward - the unexpected speed alarming enough that Weiss threw up a wall of ice in an effort to slow the attack down.  The barrier succeeded in forcing Ruby to dodge around in order to approach Weiss from the side, giving her an extra half second to raise Myrtenaster and deflect the first blow.  

The moment Crescent Rose clanged off of Myrtenaster and swung back around for a second attack, Weiss’ heart began pounding as it hadn’t in a very long time.

Now...she would begrudgingly admit that she hadn’t been taking the best care of herself recently.  Lack of eating and proper sleep had dropped a few too many pounds from her traditionally slender frame, which she hadn’t bothered trying to regain.  On top of that, despite her ill-advised forays deep into the forests alone, she hadn’t been consistently training. At least, not with the regularity needed to maintain peak form.

Comparatively, even though Ruby had started at a severe disadvantage, she’d clearly been training hard and often.  Maybe even obsessively. The end result - she was in far better shape than Weiss. Faster, more nimble, with more stamina, energy, and, most importantly, strength.

Ruby was swinging Crescent Rose hard .  Each blocked blow sent reverberations running through Weiss’ arms and made Myrtenaster hum in complaint.  With this degree of force being leveled behind each attack, Weiss wouldn’t be able to survive a prolonged battle - not that drawing out a battle against Ruby was a good idea.

Four quick swipes came Weiss’ way before Ruby jumped backwards to put some space between them.  Sensing the temporary reprieve, Weiss instantly whipped Myrtenaster down and managed to capture Ruby’s ankle in a block of ice.  In the split second Ruby looked stunned by the attack, Weiss shot forward and sliced towards Ruby’s side. The attack was easily deflected before Ruby blasted the ice into shards and shot away.

At least Weiss thought that Ruby was moving away, but the next second a cloud of petals appeared in her face, followed closely by a scythe whizzing towards her neck.  A glyph pulled her backwards just in time, but Ruby followed Weiss’ retreat without pause.

Ruby was still as quick as she used to be, but also elusive - similar to Blake.  Every time Weiss attempted to attack a miniscule weak point, Ruby would fluidly slip away and reappear somewhere else.

After deflecting another series of lightning-quick attacks, Weiss succeeded in locking Myrtenaster against Crescent Rose.  The two weapons scraped loudly together, but she used the temporary leverage to shove Ruby’s weapon off to the side. It took nearly all of her strength to do so, but with Crescent Rose out of position she thought she had an opportunity to regroup - 

Instead, she ducked and stumbled backwards when a fist hurtled towards her face.

The sound of Crescent Rose folding up filled her with momentary confusion...until she saw Ruby swinging the weapon towards her, locked tightly in Thorn’s grasp.  Weiss managed to hit Crescent Rose with a blast of ice at the last second, but Ruby’s other fist was already flying her way. Followed by a knee jab aimed towards her ribs.  

Too late, Weiss realized that she was locked in a fist fight with a miniature version of Yang, only with Ruby’s mechanically gloved hand swinging Crescent Rose like a makeshift club.  

Trying to land a glyph to give herself some breathing room, Weiss immediately aborted that effort when Ruby disappeared in a cloud of petals and reappeared right where Weiss had planned to move.  A second glyph resulted in the same result - Ruby reacting too quickly and effectively preventing any means of escape.

Close quarters was no place for Myrtenaster, who depended upon perfect form and precision, but that’s what Ruby was forcing upon Weiss at the moment.  With so little room to operate, she couldn’t properly raise the weapon to fully protect herself and, from the way the attacks were coming faster and faster, Ruby had already figured this out.  

The onslaught was nothing more than rapid blurs of motion that Weiss somehow reacted to out of instinct.  She couldn’t allow this to continue any longer - her margin for error was miniscule and shrinking by the second.

Channeling all of her available energy, Weiss pushed a series of glyphs in every direction simultaneously.  One of them successfully caught Ruby and pushed her several paces away, but before Weiss could consider a follow up attack, she threw herself to the ground when Crescent Rose came hurtling towards her neck.  About to stand up, she was immediately forced to hit the dirt again, barely catching the whistle in the air as the weapon flew back in the opposite direction.

There wasn’t time to think about the fact that Ruby just used Crescent Rose as a boomerang before she caught the weapon and was on top of Weiss with more attacks, forcing Weiss to dodge and deflect on repeat.

Most fighters developed a rhythm - a cadence to their attacks when they settled into battle.  Yang was a one-two-three, one-two-three with alternating jabs to keep opponents on their toes.  Blake was a onetwo, onetwo, onetwo with quick slices. One area where Weiss liked to believe she excelled was in determining a fighter’s cadence and finding a way to interrupt it.  If she could interrupt someone’s rhythm, she could put them on their back foot and earn herself a serious advantage.

Ruby had no rhythm.  Each round of punches and slashes were varied tempos.  Onetwothree, one-two, one-two, onetwo, one-two-three. The fluctuating attacks made it impossible to predict when the next one was coming, much less figure out from which direction.  And the longer Ruby maintained the unpatterned flurry, the more Weiss had to conclude that it was intentional.  

Whether Ruby was fully thinking about it or not, she was fighting in a way that made it impossible to anticipate her actions.  No wonder Blake and Yang had struggled...

Three more blows shook Weiss’ arms when they landed on Myrtenaster before Ruby dashed backwards and disappeared into a cloud of petals.  Seeing the red swarm rush towards her, Weiss quickly raised both hands in front of her, with Myrtenaster pointing towards the ground.

“I concede,” she said softly.  

At the last possible moment, the petals altered course and slip-screened around her, missing her by mere millimeters.  As the wind brushed past, she took a deep breath and savored the smell of roses - her heart beating faster as the sensation took her back to happier times.  

When Weiss followed the path of the petals, Ruby materialized standing behind her.  This was one of the moments Weiss had fallen in love with - that brief instant when Ruby was part girl, part roses.  

This version of Ruby was wearing a sly grin - the one that said she was pleased with the results of the battle and with Weiss’ role in it.  Her hair was slightly shorter, her wrist unmarred, and her hands free of mechanical contraptions.  

It was her - as pristine a memory as Weiss could ever conjure.

Her heart raced as she stared at the illusion in front of her.  She wished that she could freeze this moment, with loving silver eyes locked onto her and a swirl of petals in the air.  Every fiber in her being wanted to reach out and touch Ruby...to hold her and smell her hair. She wanted to feel Ruby’s strong arms wrap around her and feel that sense of security that had been so foreign at first, but then so necessary in her life.  

The sight drew her forward, but she immediately froze when the motion put Ruby on alert.  One blink and the memory was gone, replaced by a more inquisitive, more mature Ruby.

“You concede?”

Dropping her hands to her sides, Weiss nodded and attempted a smile.  Her heart was pounding in her chest, and not entirely from the whirlwind sprint of a battle Ruby had just put her through.  Finding her mouth had also gone dry, she swallowed before responding.

“I know when I’m outmatched.”

Hearing the forfeit, Yang let out a loud “whoop!” of success and jumped off the porch to nearly tackle her sister.  Grinning happily, Ruby let Yang lift her right off the ground and practically toss her up in the air in congratulations.

At one point in her past, Weiss would have been furious at being beaten, and beaten soundly at that.  She’d grown up as the best - shining the brightest and receiving all the accolades that came with those successes.  

Ruby changed all of that.  Ruby taught her that it was possible to be the best, yet not be boastful.  To shine the brightest, yet not be proud. Ruby received the accolades with humility and modesty and never, ever took any amount of credit entirely for herself.  

Ruby was someone worthy of losing to - and worthy of looking up to.  Which was why Weiss always wondered what Ruby saw in her...

Still breathing heavily from exertion, Weiss glanced at Blake while she walked calmly over.  The look on Blake’s face said it all, but she had to say it out loud anyway.

“Told you.”

Nodding, Weiss turned to Ruby - hoping for another glimpse of what had been.  Her skin still tingled from the vision, craving Ruby’s presence at a level she hadn’t allowed herself to feel in some time.  Finding instead an elated girl being tossed in the air by her big sister, Weiss smiled and turned back to Blake.

“You were right.  She’s good.”

That didn’t mean Weiss was willing to say that Ruby was ready for a hunt.  She would probably never be willing to say that….but Ruby wouldn’t be a sitting duck out there.  

Weiss’ left hand gripped Myrtenaster firmly in order to prevent her fingers from visibly shaking while she processed what just happened.  No matter how good Ruby was, it terrified her to think about going back into the forest. She’d already lost the Ruby she knew...how could she bare risking the one she was just growing to know?  In Weiss’ mind, Ruby was far too precious to place in harm’s way. Not again.

She was jolted out of her thoughts when a gentle hand landed on her shoulder and squeezed.

“It’s going to be ok,” Blake murmured so that no one would overhear.  “We’ll all be there. We’ll keep an eye on her.”

“We were all there the last time…” Weiss whispered back.  It felt like a clamp was tightening around her heart as she realized that it didn’t matter if she was ready for this or not.  The decision had been made...and she hadn’t been strong enough to prove that it was wrong.

Seeing Ruby running towards them then, Weiss forced a smile.  The next second Ruby wrapped both arms around Weiss’ waist and lifted her up in the air to swing her around in a circle.

“Weiss, you’re so good!” Ruby gushed.  “Like, really really good! Can we fight again sometime?  Please?? It’s so awesome to have a new person to train with!”

Never wanting Ruby to set her back down, Weiss numbly nodded in response - feeling like her breath had just been stolen away.  Unfortunately, Ruby set Weiss gently on the ground the next moment, allowing her hands to linger on Weiss’ waist for a few seconds to ensure she’d regained her balance.

“You caught my leg in ice!  That was so cool! Literally!  And - the opposite way of literally.  I can’t remember the word right now because that was so awesome!”

Weiss couldn’t help but to smile at Ruby’s infectious delight, her heart swelling with emotion at the sight.

Weiss had expected Ruby to be...damaged...in some way.  She’d expected the costs of injury to have slowed Ruby down, made her less agile, less powerful, less skillful.  She’d expected Ruby to be...broken. She’d believed there would be evidence of what happened beyond the jagged line running across Ruby’s wrist - like some sort of invisible scar left on Ruby’s fighting capability.

She couldn’t have been more wrong.  Ruby was happy and healthy...and fighting against her had revealed an additional layer of vitality invisible to the naked eye.  

Ruby was, unbeknownst to herself, a huntress.

It was an unbelievable sight to behold.  In order to accomplish such a feat, months of intense rehabilitation must have been followed by months of intense training.  It would have been an exhaustive effort with a singular end goal in mind. How had Ruby found the perseverance to put herself through so much in such a short period of time?

But Ruby had done it.  She was, in a sense, recovered.

The realization was terrifying - because Weiss knew what lay in wait outside the walls of the city.  She knew what training and practice could never prepare them for. She remembered the fear, the panic, the struggle to survive.  She remembered the agony - 

“We can do this again, right??” Ruby asked, cutting into Weiss’ thoughts and waiting expectantly for an answer.

Fighting against the anxiety swelling in her chest, Weiss focused instead on Ruby’s eyes - which were cheerful and excited at the prospect of the two of them battling again.  It was this thought that Weiss grabbed onto as she gave a slight nod and a smile that grew with Ruby’s.

“Of course,” she answered.  “Whenever you want.”  

“Yes!  So excited!”  Ruby lifted one fist into the air in excitement before Yang unexpectedly scooped her up from behind.  Lifting Ruby up onto her shoulders, Yang carried her sister triumphantly towards the house.

“Told you you could do it!” Yang said happily while Ruby ducked to avoid hitting her head on the awning.  “We’re totally getting ice cream to celebrate!”

“Yes!” Ruby cheered, making Weiss smile as they disappeared inside.

“Do you want to come with us?”

When Weiss looked over, Blake nodded towards the house.  “Do you want to come with us for ice cream?” she asked again, as if the first time had been unclear.

Considering the invitation, Weiss’ brow furrowed.  Did she want to spend more time with Ruby? Yes, undoubtedly.  But...this didn’t feel like her celebration to partake in. It hadn’t been her efforts which had brought Ruby to this point - it had been Yang’s, and Blake’s, and Ruby’s own resolve.  This was their victory to share.

“Maybe next time,” Weiss answered with a forced smile.  “I don’t want to impose.”

The briefest bit of sadness flickered through Blake’s eyes, but it was gone in an instant.  Instead of dwelling upon the rejection, she nodded and motioned towards the house.

“I’ll walk you out then.”

Nodding, Weiss followed Blake inside, both of them silent as they passed through the doorway.  The silence allowed Weiss to acknowledge the panic still present in her chest - the panic trying to escape and force her into hasty decisions dictated by fear.

Taking a deep breath, she focused instead on the sound of movement coming from the living room ahead of them.  She hoped that it was Ruby, because seeing Ruby might help quell the emotion, but when they walked into the room she found that it was Yang rustling for shoes in the hall closet.

“Blake, you’re coming with us, right?” Yang asked with an easy grin, holding two different types of shoes in one hand.

“Of course.”  

Satisfied with the answer, Yang’s gaze was about to move back to the closet before stopping on Weiss instead.  

“And, uh, if you want to come too, Weiss -”

On another day, in a better mindset, Weiss would be encouraged by the invitation.  But today...knowing herself, and knowing the feeling that was clamping around her heart, she knew she needed to leave.

“Thank you, but I should go,” Weiss replied.  A mixture of relief and regret played through Yang’s eyes, but she shrugged and turned her full attention back to the closet.

“Your call - thanks for coming over.”

With Yang busying herself looking for shoes, Weiss’ eyes swept the house in search of the person she really wanted to say goodbye to.  But Ruby was either in the garage or in her room getting ready - 

“Ruby?” Blake called out into the house.  “Weiss is leaving now.”

Not even a second later, Ruby appeared in a flurry of petals.

“You’re leaving??” she asked in an almost-whine.  “But...don’t you want to get ice cream? I thought we’d get to hang out more!”

The admission made Weiss feel even worse, but the vice was now tightening around her lungs, making it harder and harder to breathe as something stronger than panic gripped her.

She wanted to spend more time with Ruby, but she couldn't stay.  Not right now. She needed to be...away. Somewhere she could come to terms with this new reality.

“I’m sorry, but I need to go,” she replied while backing towards the door - retreating from silver eyes that could easily convince her to stay.  “Eat some for me?”

For a brief second, Ruby actually looked disappointed, but then she shook her head and pulled out a blinding grin.

“I will!  And I’ll see you soon, right?  For the hunt??”

The word sent waves of shock through Weiss’ chest, but she tried to smile regardless - for Ruby’s sake.

“Absolutely.”

Weiss’ hand had just touched the doorknob when Ruby raced forward and pulled her into a hug that caught her completely off guard.  It was fleeting, and before Weiss could begin to appreciate Ruby’s warmth, Ruby moved away - smiling down at Weiss with sparkling eyes.

“Promise you’ll be there?” Ruby asked.

Somehow, Ruby knew that Weiss was faltering.  Somehow, Ruby sensed that fissures were becoming crevices in Weiss’ resolve.

And, somehow, Ruby knew exactly what to say to get Weiss to stay.

“I...I promise.”

Happy with the response, Ruby nodded and took a step back.  “Then we’ll see you soon!”

Turning from Ruby’s grin to Blake’s hidden smile to Yang’s content almost-grin, Weiss felt tears appear out of nowhere.  Hastily swinging open the door, she nodded once in goodbye before hurrying away from the house and seeking respite in her ride home.

She’d had a singular objective coming into today, and she’d failed.  She’d lost. Ruby would be going on a hunt. Weiss would be going with them, but that did little to combat the growing feeling of dread in her chest.

Anything could go wrong.  Everything could go wrong.  What would she do if...if…

She was going to have to figure this out...because she couldn’t break another promise to Ruby.  Not when she’d already broken the most important one.

Her heart was still pounding abnormally fast, but as she neared her temporary residence her mind was finally able to move past the feeling of impending doom and consider what else she’d learned from their practice.

Ruby had extended an open invitation to train together.  Assuming everything went fine on the hunt, Weiss would gladly spar with Ruby time and time again - even though this version of Ruby might be more difficult than the previous one.  If anything, with more practice Ruby could be even better than she’d been before.  If it seemed like that should be impossible, that’s because it likely was.  But to Weiss it made complete sense.

Ruby Rose was special in a way that had never been seen before.  She made impossible possible. She made inconceivable conceivable.  She could lose her memories, she could suffer horrific injuries, and she could come back better than before.  That’s just who Ruby was.

It was Weiss’ responsibility to keep someone so precious out of harm’s way - something she hadn’t been able to do the last time.  She couldn’t fail again.

She couldn’t fail Ruby again.

Chapter Text

Today was the day.  Today was the day.  After months and months of training and getting beaten up by Blake and Yang, followed by more training and more beatdowns, the day was finally here!  

Hunt day!  Or, more accurately, hunt night!

It felt like trampolines had been glued to her feet - that’s how pumped up she was about today.  Tonight. Time didn’t matter - it was right now !

“Jeez Ruby - are you excited or what?” Yang asked with a chuckle, walking hand-in-hand with Blake as they trailed Ruby across the airship landing pad.

“Just a little bit!” she exclaimed, jumping once to prove her point.  

Was she excited?  How could she not be excited?  They were about to go on an official hunt!  Into the forest - beyond the city walls. There’d be no protection out there except what they could provide themselves with their weapons.  There’d be beasts of Grimm in all shapes and sizes. They could be attacked, ambushed, trapped - the possibilities were practically endless.  And she couldn’t be more thrilled about it!

Of course, a small part of her was nervous.  She wanted to know whether or not this was what she was meant to do, and if she could even do it.  Could she be a huntress? Could she keep herself alive?  

Most importantly, she didn’t want to let anyone down - especially not Yang or Blake, who’d both put so much time and energy into helping her train.  That’s why she was going to try extra hard today. No matter what they were up against, she was going to do everything to 110% of her ability.

Right now they were walking - a little too slowly - across the landing pad towards an airship that was already waiting for them.  The engines were fired up - the propellers twirling faster than the eye could see while a loud whirrrrr-ing noise filled the air.

“And Weiss is already here!” Ruby shouted over the sound, pointing out the girl waiting by the lowered gate to the ship.  

Jeez, Weiss was always super timely - unlike Yang, who seemed to dawdle just because. 

“Well I’ll be…” Yang muttered to herself, but Ruby didn’t pay her sister any attention.  Instead, she raced over to greet their fourth person on this journey.  

On the way, she nearly tripped and fell over her own feet, but managed to catch herself at the last second - just in time to pull Weiss into a big hug that caught her by surprise.  But, after initially stiffening, Weiss relaxed and awkwardly patted one hand on Ruby’s back.  

It was like she didn’t know how to hug properly!  

Determined to set a good example, Ruby squeezed Weiss closer and nearly lifted her feet off of the ground.  Enthusiastic - it was an enthusiastic hug!  

Was it weird that Ruby really liked hugging Weiss?  They’d only done it like twice now, but each time had been really nice.  It felt like Weiss fit well in Ruby’s arms - although that was really strange to think about.  But it was true! Ruby’s arms wrapped around Weiss justttt right.

Well, not just right.  It actually felt like Weiss was a little small - like she should be a bit bigger and that would be perfect.  Like, a little less skinny?

Come to think of it, Weiss did look awfully thin...she definitely needed more ice cream.  But who didn’t?

“Weiss!” Ruby exclaimed after releasing Weiss from the expert level hug.  “Are you excited??”

Even though Weiss smiled, she didn’t look half as enthusiastic as Ruby currently felt.

“‘Excited’ might be stretching the truth a bit…”

“But you’re ready?” 

Nodding, Weiss lightly tapped her fingers against Myrtenaster, the weapon hanging at her side and glinting under the lights of the airship station.  “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

The answer made Ruby beam - but what wasn’t making her happy today?  The birds, the sun, the dumb emergency flares Yang had shoved into Ruby’s pockets ‘just in case’ - everything was awesome.  But there was something extra awesome about Weiss being here - something that made this day even better than Ruby dreamed it would be.  Not only was she going on a hunt with Yang and Blake, but Weiss was coming with them. Four was a better number than three.  Plus, now Ruby wouldn’t the third wheel - she and Weiss would be third wheels together!

“Surprised to see you here,” Yang commented as she and Blake finally caught up.  

“I made a promise,” Weiss replied, only briefly meeting Yang’s gaze before turning to Ruby with a small smile.  “And I wanted to keep it.”

Ruby beamed at the response, which made her heart feel all happy and warm.  Weiss had promised to be here, and Ruby hadn’t doubted her for a second.

Quickly growing tired of waiting outside, Ruby looked at her sister for permission to run up the super-inviting ramp.  Receiving a nod, she grinned and raced into the ship with Blake, Yang, and Weiss in tow. Her boots clanked loudly up the metal walkway before the incline suddenly flattened out into a rather empty cargo hold.  There was a row of seats on each wall of the ship, but other than that there wasn’t much besides a pilot sitting up front checking panels filled with rows and rows of lights and switches.  

What would happen if he pushed all the buttons at once?  Was that a thing? Would the ship overheat and spontaneously combust?  Would it shoot into the air and teleport to another dimension?  

Picking one side of the ship - the left side, because left was best - Ruby stowed Crescent Rose underneath one of the seats and sat down.  Yang and Blake sat across from her, while Weiss picked the seat right next to her. The excellent choice of chair positioning made her grin.

It wasn’t like Weiss had to sit there, but the fact that she still did made Ruby feel like the cool kid in class.  And Ruby had hardly ever (actually, never) been the cool kid in class.

“Team RWBY - ready to go?”

“Team Ruby-Schnee!” Ruby corrected the pilot before giggling at the name.  Yang smiled across at her before turning towards the cockpit.

“We’re set - whenever you’re ready,” her sister instructed the man.  Yang then motioned for Ruby to put on her seat belt, which she obediently did.  Safety first!  

“Ruby Schnee…” Weiss mumbled to herself while mimicking Ruby’s actions.

“Oh yeah!  Didn’t want to leave you out of the team name!”  

“Thank you.  It...has a nice ring to it.”

The two of them shared smiles - although, Weiss’ looked more sad than happy.  Ruby was going to ask about it, but suddenly her stomach dropped when the ship lifted into the air and shot away from the station.  

They were on their way!

“Are you nervous?” Blake directed across the cabin to Weiss.  Curious, Ruby glanced over just as Weiss’ knee stopped bouncing up and down.

“Just...anxious, I guess.”

“Don’t worry!” Ruby quipped from Weiss’ side.  “Blake and Yang are the best in the business! You’ll be safe with them!”  

Grinning at the compliment, Yang sent Ruby a wink and thumbs up.  But Weiss looked less than relieved - her knee started bouncing again, but the motion was far less noticeable this time.

“Ok, Ruby - listen to me,” Yang said, leaning forward so Ruby could hear her clearly.  “You never know what might be out there, but you engage Beowolves only .  Anything bigger, you wait for Blake and I to hit it first.  You got it?”

Ruby nodded her head, but Yang raised an eyebrow - letting Ruby know that a verbal response was expected.  

“Got it!” Ruby acknowledged with another nod.  Satisfied with the answer, Yang leaned back in her seat.

“Good, then why don’t you brief us on the mission.”

“What?”

“Tell us what we’re supposed to do,” Yang elaborated with a wave of her hand.  “You read the docs, right?”

“Oh, right,” Ruby replied.  This was a test to see how prepared she was.  Fortunately, unlike every other class she’d ever taken in school, she’d actually studied for this!  

“Uh, well, basically there’s an abandoned research facility in the forest that they think contains important information.  We’re supposed to check the chairman’s office on the 10th floor. We’ll be dropped off on the roof, take the stairwell down five flights of stairs, find his office and find the information.  We only know it was called Project Scorpio, so anything we find with that name we should take with us or scan if we have time. We’ll have ten minutes and then the ship will meet us back on the rooftop for pick up.”

“And if something goes wrong?”

This was why she’d memorized all the maps that came with the hunt information!  

The ship wasn’t going to stick around waiting for them - it was going to return to the nearest station at the edge of Vale and come back for them later.  This would minimize the pilot’s risk of running into Nevermores.  

If they couldn’t make it to the rooftop in ten minutes -

“It’ll take five minutes to get another ship to us,” Ruby answered.  The first pilot wouldn’t wait or turn around - a second airship would be dispatched for them instead.  Safety, safety, safety! These airships weren’t exactly outfitted for battle - they were more like big, floating ducks waiting for a Grimm to pluck them out of the sky.

“What if we can’t make it back to the roof?” Yang asked.

At first, Ruby wanted to ask why they wouldn’t be able to make it to the roof when they’d just used the stairs to get into the building.  If they’d run down five flights of stairs, couldn’t they just as easily run back up them?

But they were planning for the worst case scenario - it was like a fun game of ‘what could go horribly wrong?’  What if the top of the building was suddenly lopped off by an incredibly big Grimm? Or a random ship carrying wet cement had a spill that filled the staircase?  Or an asteroid hit the building and somehow only destroyed the top five floors while leaving everything else intact?

“The secondary pick up is the fountain!” Ruby answered confidently.

“And the third?”

The question made her brow furrow as she looked over the map image in her mind. 

“I didn’t see a third evac point…”

“Exactly,” Yang responded with a nod.  “If the second pick up doesn’t work, we’re hoofing it back to Vale.  Which will suck in the dark. But why are we going at night?”

This was an easy one.

“Two reasons,” Ruby began.  “One, the facility is in range of a Nevermore ‘nesting’ site, so flying this close during the day would be pretty dangerous.  Two, Grimm tend to be more spread out at night, but clumped up during the day. No one knows why, but ya, that’s what they do.”

When Yang looked impressed by the quick answer, Ruby grinned with success.  For one of her birthdays, Yang had given her a book on different species of Grimm and, for the longest time, it had been her favorite thing to read.  It definitely hadn’t made her any more popular at school, but she’d learned a boatload of valuable information! Like anatomical breakdowns on the species of Grimm that had been researched, theories on their existence, known battle tactics, and their general behavioral tendencies.  Basically, all super useful stuff. That’s why she’d committed it to memory!

“Why would they have a facility out here?  Why not set up downtown like all the other companies?”

Apparently, Yang had a lot of questions about this hunt - but these were all questions Ruby should be asking, not the other way around!  

Still, she tried to think of an answer.  Downtown would obviously be way nicer, and safer, and...well, Ruby had never heard of any companies set up outside the walls.  That was basically suicide. So why would anyone do it?  Because they were insane?

“I...they didn’t say…” 

“I know, I’m asking you,” Yang replied with a grin.  “Why out here?”

Biting her lip, Ruby struggled to come up with an explanation.  She’d memorized every bit of information on the pages Yang had given her, but nowhere did it mentioned the purpose for a facility in the first place.  Glancing at Weiss, who motioned that it was up to Ruby to answer, Ruby gave up and shook her head.

“I dunno...the view?” she joked, gesturing out one of the small windows at the expanse of treetops that were hardly visible in the darkness.  Yang laughed at the answer, but it was Blake who spoke next.

“They were doing research on Grimm.”

“On Grimm?” Ruby gasped in surprise.  “For what??”

“They were trying to find an easier way to destroy Grimm,” Blake explained.  “Preferably by isolating a weakness that could be exploited chemically. They thought they could safeguard the facility...obviously that was an incorrect assumption.”

“That’s why it couldn’t be built in Vale,” Yang added.  “Can you imagine how upset people would be if they learned Grimm were being trucked into the city?  Research or not - no one wants Grimm inside the walls.”

The explanation made a lot of sense, even though it was a crazy idea to build a research facility in the forest.  There were exactly zero instances of that working out as planned.

Before Yang could ask another question, Weiss gently nudged Ruby’s shoulder and nodded towards the window.  When Ruby leaned closer, she could see the vague outlines of moonlit buildings coming into view.  

The research facility was actually a massive compound surrounded by thick walls that had once been sturdy, but were now broken and crumbling.  From the look of it, something quite large had torn the concrete apart and created gaping holes in the outer defenses. When Ruby pointed out one of the holes through the window, Weiss nodded.

“Not so secure anymore…” she whispered.

It had probably once been a pretty nice place.  There were smaller buildings - that might have been built for housing - sitting along wide roads that had street signs and everything.  A courtyard connected everything together with a tall fountain in the very center - their emergency exit if things went sideways. Their current destination was set off to one side of the compound - a tall building that towered out of the darkness.  The moon glinted off the glass covering the outside, which was also broken in many places.

No wonder this place had been overrun - Nevermores could spot this spire from miles away.  Defending it would cost a fortune and require a private army. Even with walls that were twice as high and an entire fleet of Atlesians, Ruby could pick out glaring weaknesses in the darkness.

This entire place had been a dumb idea.

“The workers lived here?” she asked, turning towards her sister and Blake.  After Blake nodded, Ruby looked out of the window as the ship headed towards the tall building.  If the workers had lived here when the place was overrun…

“Did they make it out?” she asked.

“Some.  Not all.”

Biting her lip at Blake’s honest answer, Ruby nodded in understanding.  It would be difficult to mass evacuate a facility like this because there weren’t many obvious pick up points besides the fountain.  And, even though they weren’t far from the edge of Vale, it would still take a few minutes to get enough airships out here.  A few minutes when Grimm were bursting through the walls was a few minutes too many...

Her stomach dropped again as the ship began to climb out of the relative safety of the treeline towards the top of the building.  Her nerves, which had been pretty mellow up to this point, suddenly came roaring into existence.  

This was it - they were here.  

It was only seconds later that they reached altitude and the door of the transport dropped open - the wind rushing in making her eyes instantly water.  From their current position, they were looking down at the rooftop of a building, which was only just illuminated by the soft moonlight.

“Looks like there’s a big pack of ‘wolves about a mile from here!” the pilot shouted to them over the loud droning of the engines spilling through the open doorway.  “Keep it quiet and they should move on.”

“Got it!” Yang shouted back to the man before giving him a thumbs up.

Grabbing onto her necklace, Ruby briefly closed her eyes and wished that this would go well - that they would all make it out of here safe and sound.  There wasn’t time to do anything more because Yang was already unbuckling her seatbelt - Blake and Weiss following suit. Ruby quickly followed their lead before jumping up and grabbing Crescent Rose from under her seat.

“Here we go!” Yang yelled over the engines before motioning Ruby to follow. 

If she had butterflies, they were instantly replaced by pure adrenaline when she watched her sister run forward and jump out of the transport like it was nothing.  After staring into the darkness for a second in awe of her sister’s fearlessness, Ruby was gently nudged forward. Looking over one shoulder, she caught Blake’s eyes - and Blake nodded for Ruby to jump out next. 

This was the moment she’d been training for.  This was the moment she’d spent so many painful hours training for.  She hadn’t thought it would start by jumping out of the back of an airship, but this just made it even better

Shooting a quick grin at Weiss - who was looking a little apprehensive at what was to come - Ruby took a deep breath and jogged several steps forward.  Picking up speed and refusing to hesitate or overthink the action, she coiled her muscles and leapt out into the night sky.  

For one amazing moment, it felt like she might hang there forever - floating on the breeze like a leaf or a snowflake - but gravity swiftly grabbed hold of her and dropped her to the gravel-covered rooftop like a rock.  Keeping her feet underneath her, she landed in a crouch that was decently quiet considering she hadn’t thought to practice jumping out of an airship before.  

Straightening up, she spotted Yang by the entrance to the building, but before heading over looked up as Weiss dropped to the rooftop beside her.  Weiss landed in a crouch, just like Ruby, before standing up and lightly shaking her long ponytail. Blake appeared immediately after, her own arrival dead quiet compared to Ruby’s.

The airship pulled away and quickly disappeared - leaving them alone in nearly complete darkness on the rooftop, their only light coming from the partially hidden moon in the sky.  Without the sound of the engines, it was suddenly quiet - almost alarmingly so.

“Orient yourself,” Blake said quietly.  Caught off guard by the instruction, Ruby spun around and tried to figure out where she was.  The moon was behind her, so that meant…

“North?” she asked, pointing in a direction and looking to Blake for confirmation.  With a quick nod, Blake led them over to Yang at the doorway.

“You’re doing great,” Weiss whispered to Ruby as they jogged after Blake.  The words made Ruby really happy, but when she glanced over she noticed that Weiss had her hands clenched into tight fists - almost as if she was trying to keep them from trembling.

“Are you ok?” Ruby asked, but Weiss waved the question off and motioned for Ruby to focus on Yang as they regrouped at the door.

“Ten minutes,” Yang whispered, tapping the communication device strapped around her wrist where a countdown was displayed in bright green numbers.  “Gotta hurry.”

Taking a deep breath and nodding to Blake, Yang pulled the door open with a quick, loud pop of the lock giving way.  

The silence left behind by the airship, which had felt deafening at first, seemed to have disappeared.  As her ears adjusted, Ruby could hear more and more sounds - and it sounded like the entire forest was moving around them.  It was nothing like the sleepy, nighttime streets of Vale. There, the crickets and trees were quiet as whispers. Out here - far from the city - the leaves were rustling so loudly it was hard to believe the noise was the result of the wind alone.  But when Ruby turned towards the trees, she found nothing but darkened shapes swaying in the steady breeze.  

This was the sound of a nighttime forest, alive in its own way.

Feeling a warm hand press her forward, she followed Blake through the doorway with Yang on her heels and Weiss bringing up the rear.  

If it was hard to see outside, then entering the stairwell was like becoming completely blind.  There wasn’t even a glimmer of moonlight to provide guidance, so Ruby had no idea how Blake was running down the steps without falling on her face.  Thankfully, Yang lit up a light when they were all inside, shining it over Ruby’s shoulders so she could follow Blake down flights and flights of stairs.  Their shadows bounced eerily off the walls, moving in fast, disjointed motions, while there was no sound except for their feet hitting concrete, their clothes rustling, and their breathing growing a little heavier.

After reading the hunt information, Ruby felt like she had a good grasp on where they were headed, but Blake was moving so confidently it was as if she’d actually been here before.  Had Blake done more research on the schematics of the building? Like found an actual blueprint of the offices? Because that was a good idea that Ruby totally should’ve thought of.

The four of them raced down the staircases before coming to a door with a large number ten painted beside it.  The tenth floor. Hardly breaking stride, Blake quickly pried the door open and shot inside with Ruby directly behind, her eyes scanning the room as they entered.

The entire floor was open - a gigantic space with desks and chairs cluttered across much of it.  Along one wall ran a set of what looked like miniature laboratories - complete with fancy-looking machines tucked behind thick glass walls and heavy security doors.  Some of the labs had been completely destroyed by some unknown force - the walls pulverized and machines laying in ruin.  

Squeezing through a set of desks on the path Blake was setting for them, Ruby tried to ignore the dark stains on the walls and floors whenever Yang’s flashlight jumped over them.  Those were probably just the result of some science experiment, or a trick the darkness was playing on her, not...anything else…

They were making a straight line from the staircase to the opposite side of the building, where she could make out a set of offices.  As they jogged in that direction, she made sure to sweep her eyes around the extent of the room looking for potential hazards. If there was any benefit to being in a building made of glass, it was that they had 360 degrees of visibility - which was worth basically nothing since the only thing she could see outside was black night and dark trees.  

Approaching the row of square offices, Blake broke into a run to check the nameplates hanging outside the relatively intact glass rooms.

“This is it,” she said, tapping the name and slipping inside one of the offices.

“Ruby, watch the door,” Yang directed while Blake and Weiss both set to work rapidly opening and closing the filing cabinets lining the office walls in search of what they were after.  Weiss was holding her own light now and using it to scan the folders, while Blake operated in the darkness without a second thought. Yang glanced at her watch for the time before heading over to the windows and looking in all directions for any danger.  

Watch the door.  It wasn’t the most glamorous of duties, but Ruby was still going to give it her all!  Although, she probably didn’t need to stand right in front of the door since the entire office was basically a fish bowl, but she did as she’d been told while watching her partners out of the corner of her eye.  Not that she could see much in the low light. If only she had Blake’s vision...

“I found the year,” Weiss announced quietly and Blake rushed over to that cabinet to help Weiss search.  

The fact that they were whispering only made the darkness creepier.  Like, if they were speaking in normal voices this would feel more like they were just robbing some building - that wouldn’t be too scary.  Whispering was what you did when you were hiding from something, but what were they hiding from?

Ruby’s gaze drifted away from the office and back to the lifeless floor they’d just run across.  Whatever had happened here couldn’t have been good. From the outlines of toppled chairs and desks turned on their sides, it looked like everyone had left in a very big hurry.

While looking at a desk that was completely upside down, her eyes caught a glimpse of something that was out of place - at least, strange enough to catch her attention.  It was nothing more than a glint near the staircase they’d used to get here, but it was definitely something .  

Squinting her eyes, she tried to see what it was.  With her pathetic human eyes she saw absolutely nothing, but her gut told her to keep looking - so did the prickling feeling of the hairs rising on her arms and back of her neck.

“Yang,” she whispered towards her sister, not breaking her gaze away from the doorway.  When her sister didn’t respond, she glanced away for a split second to find Yang was helping the other two search through files. 

“Yang!” she hissed louder, finally getting Yang’s attention.  “I think there’s something -” 

Turning back to the doorway, Ruby froze and her blood ran cold when she realized what the glint had been.

Claws.  

Now visible above those giant claws were glowing red eyes - lots and lots of glowing red eyes.

“We have company,” she whispered, unfolding Crescent Rose and staring at the Grimm collecting at the far end of the building.  From this distance, she could just barely make out their hulking black outlines as they crawled out of the stairwell. More of them were creeping along the ground and pulling themselves over the destroyed desks, their claws scraping and scratching against the wood.  All were approaching slowly, hesitantly, waiting to grow in number before attacking.

Heart pounding, her body was preparing itself for battle - muscles tensing and breaths slowing to a controlled, steady pace.  She squeezed Thorn around Crescent Rose, feeling the glove tightly clutch her weapon before releasing.

She was ready, but they weren’t being attacked yet.  They still had time. They could still complete the mission.

“It has to be here somewhere!” Blake whispered in exasperation.  “If it’s not here, then -”

Blake didn’t finish that thought before Ruby heard a muffled groan.  “There’s a safe under the desk. It has to be in here.”

“Can you open it?” Yang asked, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Ruby and only briefly turning back to the office behind them.

“With enough time, maybe!” Blake whispered back, her voice slightly muted from under the desk.

“I could just pull the door off its hinges?” Yang offered, flexing her fingers in preparation.

“Sweetie - as much as I admire your ability to rip apart pieces of metal, sometimes people have already taken that into consideration!”

Glancing at Ruby, Yang gave a small shrug before turning her full attention to the approaching Grimm.  She was tense, but also at ease - although Ruby couldn't tell if that was just for her sake or not.

“What do we do?” she asked, watching the red eyes inch closer and closer.  Raising her fists, Yang calmly checked the shotgun shells in her gauntlets.

“What do you think we should do?”   

Right now really didn’t seem like the time for a teaching moment, but it didn’t seem like the time to complain either.  

As the intensity increased, Ruby’s brain sped through scenarios at warp speed.  She needed to relax and recall what she’d studied - examine the terrain, locate exits, evaluate the enemy, make a decision.

“We...wait for them to make the first move.  Try to funnel them through the door to slow them down and give Blake more time.”  

While Ruby spoke, Yang barely tilted her chin in acceptance of the plan.  Ruby watched the Grimm and imagined the room behind them with the other two huntresses still searching.  That was a good start to an exit strategy, but - 

“But then...how do we get out?” she whispered.  “Fight through them to the staircase?”

There was no response from Yang while she waited for Ruby to puzzle it out, which would’ve been a lot easier to do if she wasn’t pumping with adrenaline.  But think - think, Ruby Rose. There were always two exits in any situation - the one you used to get in and the one you hadn’t yet created to get out.

Finally, it dawned on her.

“The windows -”

Never turning her eyes away from the Grimm, Yang nodded in silent agreement.  

Was it safe to wait that long though?  Yang wouldn’t let them stay if it wasn’t safe, right?

There was no time to second guess anything now.  The plan was set and they were waiting - hoping that the Grimm would put off their assault until Blake and Weiss were successful.  

Ruby could now see that they were facing Beowolves, and a lot of them.  The creatures were creeping on all fours through the jumbled maze of furniture, close enough that she could vividly make out red designs on eerie white skulls.

Flexing Thorn, she gripped the handle of Crescent Rose tightly - finding reassurance and confidence in how her glove locked together with her weapon.

“We don’t have much time…” Yang whispered out of the side of her mouth.

“Weiss, I need your help,” Ruby heard Blake say.  

Another sound caught Ruby’s attention then - a strange scratching noise that seemed to come from all directions.  Not turning her head, but flicking her eyes to the side, she found that there were more Beowolves climbing up the side of the building.

Still, Yang stood her ground at the doorway, and Ruby did the same.  The Beowolves were too close to risk turning around again - close enough that Ruby could hear their creepy, raspy breathing and smell the overwhelming odor of old garbage.  

She’d never been this close to a Grimm before, but she didn’t feel afraid.  Even though these creatures were bent upon her destruction, she was surprisingly at peace with the situation.  Sure, her heart was pounding, but it was from adrenaline, not fear.

And the adrenaline was building...because she knew that any second the attack would come…

“You ready?” Yang whispered, nudging Ruby’s elbow.  Before Ruby could reply, she heard what sounded like ice cracking.

“Got it!” Blake shouted.  

Blake’s voice broke whatever barrier had been keeping the Beowolves at bay, sending them all charging forward at once.  As snarls filled the air, Yang grabbed Ruby by the arm and spun her around. Her feet were running before she even thought to tell them to, and two shotgun blasts went off before the sound of shattering glass filled her ears.  When her sister pulled her out of the office window, Ruby closed her eyes right before the shards hit her face.

The next second they were falling - the glass tumbling with them to the ground.  Ruby opened her eyes to the howls of Beowolves plummeting off the building with them, thankfully far enough away to not be an immediate threat.  

The free fall only lasted a couple seconds before she spun and planted her feet underneath her, hitting the ground with a soft thud that sent impact shooting through her feet and knees.  Shards of glass rained down on her head and shoulders before she was up and chasing after Yang, briefly turning to make sure Blake and Weiss were already up and running too. Sparing a glance up at the office where they’d just been, she found the building was covered in Beowolves, many that had just noticed their escape and were headed back down to pursue them.

“Secondary pick up!” Yang shouted while pressing a button on her watch that turned the numbers from green to yellow.

“How long?” Weiss yelled from behind Ruby as the four of them tore through the streets towards the fountain.

“Three minutes.”

Weiss muttered something under her breath that sounded an awful lot like a swear word, but Ruby couldn’t hear very well over the howling of Beowolves and the pounding of her heart in her chest.

“We can hold them,” Blake huffed from Ruby’s other side, before straining her legs and pulling in front of both Ruby and Yang to lead the way.

The moon had come out from behind the clouds, illuminating the empty streets far more brightly than when they’d arrived several minutes ago, but Ruby still had no idea where they were going.  She’d memorized the map, but it hadn’t been very detailed when it came to the streets. Thankfully, they were following Blake’s lead...and it seemed like Blake knew exactly where she was going.

Flashes of movement caught Ruby’s eye in every direction, but she never saw the sources.  There wasn’t time to double check for enemies, as she was too busy focusing on keeping her feet moving, staying upright, and breathing properly in order to conserve as much energy as possible.  

The buildings abruptly fell away when they rushed into the large, open square with the fountain standing in the middle.  Their feet didn’t stop running until they’d reached the partially destroyed construct - its foundation was cracked, and chunks of stone were missing from the sculpture on top.

“Ruby, you still have the flare I gave you?” Yang asked as they turned away from the fountain towards the edge of the courtyard - the courtyard that was quickly filling with Grimm.

Fumbling in her pocket, Ruby pulled out the flare and peeled off the top.  These were special flares - very powerful, very bright. She’d given Yang such a hard time about bringing them along, but obviously her sister had known best.

“Ok, we each get one quad of the square,” Yang instructed calmly, sliding to Ruby’s left while Blake took up position to Ruby’s right.  “Call out if you need help. Ready...light ‘em up!”

Pulling the tab, Ruby threw the flare as far as she could towards the edge of the town square, briefly shielding her eyes to prevent herself from being blinded by the bright light.  After dropping her arm and opening her eyes, she found a swarm of Beowolves in front of her.  

The creatures howled at the suddenly bright area and charged.  

The sound of rapid bullets was followed by the flares bursting into a shower of sparks as the Grimm stepped over them, causing many of the creatures to scatter in every which direction in surprise - but it only caused a slight pause in their rush.

Ruby’s muscles tensed in anticipation as the Beowolves raced towards her - three across in the first row.  They were bigger than she’d expected them to be, with their wiry limbs giving them a far greater reach than she’d expected.  Taking that into consideration, she’d have to attack sooner than she thought she would. Which was right about….now.

Blitzing forward, she swept through the first three with one long swing of Crescent Rose.  The Beowolves immediately disintegrated into black ash, letting her know she’d gotten quick kills, but there were already more to take their place.  

Making sure her back was always to the monument, Ruby vaguely heard the sound of shotgun blasts to her left and glimpsed rapid shadow clones to her right.  But more than that, she heard the cries and growls of Grimm - lots of them. And the more they howled - the more noise they made - the more other Grimm in the area would show up to the party.

Lopping the heads off of two Beowolves with a quick back-forth combo, she then drew back Crescent Rose and flung the weapon into a large crowd that had formed in front of her.  Three managed to escape, but four more fell as she immediately summoned Crescent Rose back to her. Catching the weapon while racing towards the survivors of the group, she beheaded them the instant Thorn latched onto the weapon.

Skidding to a stop, she found that a vertical line of six had appeared.  Was she fast enough? Her semblance shot her forward, drawing a line through the Beowolves before planting Crescent Rose in the ground, leaving the weapon behind and sending herself flying back to the center of the courtyard.  While she was still in transit, she summoned her weapon after her - allowing it to plow through two more Grimm before catching it when she finally stopped, and immediately using it to destroy three more Grimm in three easy, swift blows.

Big, lanky, but surprisingly easy to kill.  Their lack of armor provided zero resistance to Crescent Rose and, unlike Blake and Yang, their ability to dodge or deflect was basically nonexistent.  Plus, they weren’t very smart. It was almost like fighting against some pillows - which wasn’t very fair to pillows.

Five more, six more Beowolves disappeared before her ears picked up something different.  There were the howls of Grimm, the cries and growls and roars and scratching of claws tearing across the street, but a new noise had just been added to the mix.  

It sounded like a something was pounding its way through the streets, sending tremors through the ground.  Clearing out a patch of Grimm as she turned towards the source of the noise, her eyes widened when a full-sized Death Stalker charged into the square, shoving over the remnants of a small building while doing so.

She’d seen pictures and videos before, but nothing could have prepared her for the real deal.

It was huge .  Like...gargantuan huge.  Its rows of tiny legs managed to move it surprisingly fast, while pincers the size of a small car made a terrifying loud clacking sound when they snapped together.  The stinger, glowing dangerously yellow and towering over the courtyard, swayed back and forth - ready and willing to snap forward in an instant.

Nothing but Beowolves - that’s what Yang had said.  But the Death Stalker was in Ruby’s quadrant...and it was charging straight towards her.

“Ruby, don’t!” she heard Yang yell just as she’d begun spooling up her semblance for a potential attack.  Obediently waiting, she prepared herself to dive out of the way when Blake or Yang showed up. Which would hopefully be soon, cuz it was getting rather close...

But it wasn’t Blake or Yang who showed up to help.  Instead, it was a giant, ghostly soldier who suddenly appeared - at least twelve feet tall and carrying a sword Ruby could never dream of picking up.  One swing of that sword cleared out a group of at least ten Beowolves before the soldier rushed the Death Stalker without hesitation. Ruby watched in stunned awe as, right before reaching the Grimm, the soldier split into two - two massive soldiers converging on a single Grimm that now looked pretty puny in comparison.

“Oh holy Grimm.  Blake - get Weiss’ back!” she heard Yang yell from behind her.  Ruby briefly turned around and found that Weiss was following the soldier’s movements intently, while Blake slid over to maintain positioning behind her.

The Death Stalker struck first with its stinger - lashing out like a bolt of lightning.  One soldier deflected the attack with his sword while the second fearlessly grabbed the stinger in one hand.  Before the Grimm could react, the first soldier’s sword seamlessly swung back around and separated the stinger from the creature in one powerful blow.  Rearing up in anger, the Death Stalker managed to clasp one of its powerful pincers around the second soldier’s legs, but he didn’t seem to notice. Instead, he dropped the stinger to the ground and used both hands to plunge his sword down through the plating on the creature’s back - one, two, three, four times until the Grimm stilled. 

As the great Death Stalker disintegrated, the soldier still clasped in its claw also disappeared from view.  A pack of Beowolves was descending on the remaining soldier - who swung his sword in a giant loop and took out six in one easy blow.  But there were twice as many to replace them - the air filling with more and more howls of anger.  

“Ruby!  We need you to create a perimeter!  Hold them back!”

Slicing through two more Beowolves who’d skirted around the giant soldiers, Ruby risked a glance towards her sister.

“Create a perimeter?  How?”

“Your semblance!”

Oh.  Duh. That would work, wouldn’t it?

Calling upon her semblance, Ruby raced forward like a shot out of a cannon, sweeping through a line of Beowolves as she did so.  Skidding to a stop and turning right, she took off again - running fast. With Crescent Rose extended to her left, held firmly within Thorn’s grasp, she caught any Grimm in her path while making sure to duck or dodge any attacks swung her way.  The first circle she completed was tight and close to her partners, but the second she pushed further out and ran even harder.

It was really awesome.  The first few lines of Beowolves fell like timber, not even slowing down as they ran into her blade of destruction.  By the time she made it through four or five circles, the remaining Grimm got a little smarter - they started trying to back up and jump over her instead of running straight through, their intent obvious from the tightening, bunching muscles in their legs.

If she wanted to keep them back, she needed to go faster.  Fast enough that even if one jumped, she’d complete a full circle and be back in time to snatch it from the air.  

Her legs and lungs were beginning to scream as she pushed herself harder than she’d ever pushed herself before.  There was a veritable snowstorm of rose petals kicking up around her, but she pushed onward. Her energy was rapidly depleting, but there was also something new at the very edge of her grasp - a level of speed she’d yet to experience.  If she tried a little harder, she could reach it -

A loud pop suddenly echoed through her head.  Confused, she kept running for several laps until she realized that something was wrong.  Slowing down, she looked around in surprise.

Everything had stopped.  Not completely, but the world was now moving in slower than slow motion -  even though she was still moving like normal. Beowolves were frozen in time, some of them just starting to open their jaws to howl, some stretching their arms forward in an attempt to grab her where she’d once been.  

Looking back, her companions were still collected around the fountain, with an airship just beginning to appear over their heads.  Yang was mid-punch, about to take out a Beowolf in a single blow. Blake was doing a slow somersault in mid-air, while Gambol rained bullets down on a group of three Grimm.  Weiss had Myrtenaster aimed towards another Beowolf, shimmering blue lights collecting at the end of her weapon.

Two more Death Stalkers had appeared on either side of the square, the buildings they’d just crashed through toppling in freeze frame.  The remaining giant soldier was swinging his massive sword through a crowd of Grimm, moving a millimeter at a time.

“Ok…” Ruby whispered to herself, finding that she was breathless and growing more exhausted while she wasn’t even moving.  

She had no idea what was going on - she was clearly using an abundance of energy without realizing it - but she wasn’t going to waste an opportunity like this just because it didn’t make sense.  

Grasping onto whatever feeling increased her fatigue, figuring that’s what was keeping her in this state, she dashed around as quickly as possible - cutting through all of the Beowolves and putting several hundred rapid stabs into each Death Stalker, right in their weak point underneath a gap in the plating.

Yang had said ‘nothing but Beowolves,’ but she hadn’t mentioned anything about frozen Death Stalkers…

The more Ruby moved, the more exhausted she grew and the heavier her head began to feel.  It wasn’t even thirty seconds that she was in this weird time freeze state before her mind couldn’t keep up with it anymore, and everything started to unravel.  When time began speeding up, she headed towards Yang - knowing that they’d be jetting away on the ship soon.

Everything was moving faster and faster with each passing moment - like everything had been frozen but was now rapidly catching up to real time.  If the feeling she’d grabbed onto was like a string, it was pulling out of her hands and she had absolutely no energy left to hang onto it. Another pop sounded in her mind when it disappeared and everything suddenly jumped from 50% to full speed.  

Not expecting the rapid time shift, she might have face planted on the ground.  Apparently, it was a little difficult to jog while time warped back to normal...

“Ruby!”  

Yang was rushing forward to help, but Ruby pushed herself to her feet and ran to her sister while their ship dropped in from the sky.  There was an odd moment of silence that caused her to turn around right as a giant black cloud swept into the air - the result of her not-so-hard work.  

For that single second, the square was nearly clear of Grimm.

“What did you…?” Yang began to ask while staring at the sudden emptiness, only to grab Ruby’s arm and pull her along instead.  “Help Weiss into the ship.”

More Grimm were already arriving.  A spotlight suddenly shone down from above, followed closely by the loud whirring of engines and wind rushing down into the clearing.  Looking up, Ruby found the airship hovering over the fountain waiting to pick them up. Wasting no time, she ran over and wrapped one arm around Weiss’ waist.  Weiss seemed completely spent, so Ruby lifted her off her feet and carried her up the fountain. It helped that Weiss was super light or that Ruby was super strong.  One of those.

The door to the ship was lowered and Blake was already waiting there - motioning them to move faster while Yang was fending off the Grimm from behind them, shotgun blasts repeatedly echoing through the air.  When Ruby reached Blake, the two of them together lifted Weiss into the back of the transport before jumping in themselves.  

“Lift off!” Blake shouted to the pilot, who immediately pulled the ship into the air while Blake threw Gambol Shroud from the open doorway, one hand grasping a handle in the transport while the other strained in swinging Yang aboard.  Yang immediately pressed a round green button inside the ship and the ramp lifted and closed, causing a sudden sucking sound of air before it sealed shut and everything grew quiet.

All four of them were out of breath, and Ruby could feel an underlying layer of exhaustion in her semblance, but it really felt like she could keep going for hours more.  She wanted to keep going - she wanted to fight more!  

“That was so awesome !!!” she exclaimed, spinning around in a circle and tossing Crescent Rose onto the floor of the ship, only to summon the weapon back into her hand a second later.  

Her companions all gave her varying degrees of smiles - Yang’s by far the largest.

“Yang!  You’re so freaking good!” Ruby said, rushing over to check over Ember Celica for any damage.  Satisfied that the gauntlets held up, she ran to Blake next. “And Blake! Those clones of yours were like whoosh-whoosh-whoosh!  Everywhere!”

After Blake gave her a small smile, Ruby turned to Weiss.

“Weiss!  What the heck were those giant soldier dudes??  Holy crapoly were they ever cool! I mean - did you see him take out like fifteen Beowolves with one swing?”  Ruby pretended like she was wielding a giant sword and swung it through the air like he had, letting go and shielding her eyes from the pretend sun while imaginary Grimm went flying over the buildings.  “That had to be the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!”

“I’m...glad you like him...” Weiss murmured, looking moderately embarrassed by Ruby’s words.

“Is he the same every time?  What’s his name?” Ruby asked as a million other questions came to mind.  “He looks like a...Chester. Or Renaldo. Maybe a…a...what’s another guy name??”

“Ronnie?” Blake suggested, the name making Ruby burst into giggles.

“Ronnie!  That’s so perfect!  Like, ‘oh hey, wanna meet my friend Ronnie?’  It sounds so safe, and then in stomps this huge freaking giant!”

When she was really excited, she talked a lot.  Like now. When she noticed that she was doing it again, she could normally force herself to cut it out.  Like now. Cut it out! But she couldn’t. Her skin was practically vibrating with electricity right now!

“You ladies know how to draw quite the crowd!” the pilot yelled back to them from the cockpit.  

“You know we’re the life of the party!” Yang replied with a grin, before sitting back in her seat and letting out a big sigh.  “Well...that didn’t exactly go as planned.”

Rolling her eyes, Blake leaned into Yang’s side.  “Does it ever?”

”What did you get, anyway?” Ruby asked.  Reaching into a nearly invisible pocket, Blake pulled out a tiny memory drive.

“I hope it’s what we were looking for,” she answered, flipping the device over in her hand.

Clenching her fist in success, Ruby turned back to Weiss - only to find that she had closed her eyes and was leaning her head back against the headrest.  The sight instantly calmed Ruby down...because something about Weiss’ posture made her worried.  

Stowing Crescent Rose under one of the seats, Ruby finally sat down.  

“Weiss,” she said as softly as she could.  Clear blue eyes opened and found hers - sending a tiny tremor through her chest.  “Are you feeling ok?”

“Yes, just...tired...” Weiss replied, giving Ruby what was probably supposed to be a reassuring smile, but really wasn’t.  “You did really well…”

The words should’ve made Ruby really happy, but she was still concerned.  Glancing across the ship, she found that Yang was watching Weiss thoughtfully while Blake whispered in her ear.  After Blake finished speaking, Yang nodded and looked away.  

If neither of them were super concerned, maybe Ruby didn’t need to be, but it seemed like Weiss wasn’t feeling very well.  Whenever Ruby felt crappy, it made her feel better when Yang would hold her hand or rub her shoulder. Maybe Weiss would feel the same?

Hesitantly, Ruby reached over and took one of Weiss’ hands in her own.  Weiss’ eyes flew open and she stared at Ruby for a second in confusion, but when Ruby smiled, Weiss smiled in return before closing her eyes and letting out a soft, content sigh.

The reaction made Ruby sigh in relief.  Leaning back in her seat with Weiss’ hand held in her lap, she thought about how...delicate...Weiss’ hands were.  And soft, but also strong from using Myrtenaster so much. There were some hidden calluses - built up over time - that Ruby could feel underneath her fingertips.

With her free hand, Ruby lightly traced the back of Weiss’ hand - from Weiss’ wrist to the tips of her fingers and back again.  Feeling someone watching her, Ruby looked up and met Blake’s eyes - but Blake merely smiled before turning to the side and placing a soft kiss to the top of Yang’s head.  Even though it would only be a few extra minutes to the airship station closest to their home, Yang was already conked out and sleeping with her head on Blake’s shoulder.

The energy in the ship dwindled quickly as adrenaline faded to relief.  Ruby could feel the effect taking place in her own body - her muscles unwinding and her heartbeat slowing to a more normal pace.  A few minutes ago, she’d been charged with electricity - now, she felt...sleepy.

While the ship sped through the sky, Ruby focused her attention on the girl sitting beside her.  Without leaning forward she couldn’t tell if Weiss was sleeping or not, but Weiss never moved her hand from its position gently curled around Ruby’s.  It was a nice feeling - holding Weiss’ hand. It was actually kind of funny because Ruby had meant to comfort Weiss with the gesture, but it ended up comforting herself as well.  Mutually beneficial...

Still tracing the back of Weiss’ hand, Ruby leaned close enough that her arm was pressed against Weiss’ side.  They always seemed to crank the air up in airships, so it was kind of cold - and she didn’t want Weiss to be cold.  Pleasantly surprised when Weiss made no effort to move away, Ruby settled in and enjoyed the warmth they were able to share.

This was also nice.  After the whirlwind of activity they’d just sprinted through, it was nice to relax, decompress, and just...be here together.  For each other. The four of them - Blake with Yang, Weiss with Ruby. It almost made her wish that the flight home would last a little longer...

As her own adrenaline wore off, it felt like sandbags were trying to weigh her eyes shut.  Her body was winding down and trying to put her to sleep, but her mind was still racing with so many questions.  Like how had the Grimm found them so quickly? How had Blake broken into the safe? What would’ve happened if the second evac point hadn’t worked and they’d had to ‘hoof it’ back to Vale?  Would the Grimm have pursued them all the way to the walls?  

And, most importantly, when could they do this again?  Because she wanted to do it again. Like right away. Or at least, as soon as Weiss felt better.

Chapter Text

It was every little girl or boy’s dream to become a huntsmen.  Some of the first stories they would hear - while being tucked into bed at night or scolded at the dining table - were the feats and valor of those who fought and gave their lives for others.  Huntsmen were heroes - and what small child didn’t want to be a hero?

There was a reason why so many students applied to the huntsmen academies - and a reason why so many were turned away.

Nothing about what they did was easy.  Nothing was simple. Nothing was guaranteed.  Even with the level of training they had, it was hard to escape a hunt unscathed.

It was even harder to do so while watching over someone else.

The added responsibility increased the pressure and intensity, taking it to a point where any minor mistake could snowball into dire circumstances.  Thankfully, Yang and Blake were perfectly capable of completing the mission and keeping a close eye on Ruby the entire time. They’d been rather covert about it, actually.  Ruby may not have noticed, but one of them had been practically glued to her side throughout the entire ten-minute ordeal.

Not that Ruby needed their help.  The first few minutes she was hesitant, but the ground was still dry when her instincts clicked in and took over.  It was amazing to watch - like returning to Beacon and witnessing the beginning of something incredible. No one had realized at that time the type of huntress Ruby would become or the feats she would accomplish.  Everyone thought she was just another girl...

But Ruby was as deadly as ever.  She still possessed that unreal combination of speed, accuracy, and intuition that made her a terror on the battlefield.  She still wielded the capability to deal tremendous waves of damage in milliseconds. And her semblance still changed the tide of any fight in their favor.

It had taken only a few seconds for Ruby to find her bearings and take charge.  She fought without fear, without hesitation. Of course, she had nothing to fear - in her mind, she’d never been hurt by a Grimm before.

Regardless of the reasons behind her confidence, the entire hunt had felt like...like having the old Ruby back again.

With the four of them out there together, just like before, it felt like they were one unit again.  They each had a responsibility and they executed flawlessly. Even when the original plan broke down, there was a smoothness in moving to the secondary evacuation point - a seamlessness in setting up their quadrants around a defensible space - that couldn’t have existed if they hadn’t all been on the same page.

Blake had been right - Ruby’s instincts were still there.  In some way, whether conscious or not, she knew where the imminent danger was coming from and how to neutralize it quickly.  She could strategize on the fly. She was highly adaptable. And she was still highly skilled and dangerous with Crescent Rose - maybe even more so with the addition of Thorn.

If anything, Weiss had been the liability.  When she saw the Death Stalker racing towards Ruby...she hadn’t been able to hold her emotions in check.  The creature’s presence reached deep down into her very core and pulled at the threads of trauma still unhealed from the previous encounter.  She’d immediately broken from her training and done something they’d been taught to never, ever do - she panicked.

Summoning two soldiers was an overreaction, to put it mildly.  At Beacon, she used Ronnie so often that she’d built up the fortitude to maintain him for longer periods of time, but that muscle had atrophied tremendously while she’d been separated from her team.  These days, the effort to maintain his form drained her energy reserves after only a few seconds - calling two soldiers at once...she’d hardly been able to get out of bed this morning.

Honestly, she was surprised Yang hadn’t let her have it in the airship for making such a risky, unnecessary decision.  They hadn’t been in any imminent danger at that moment, but then Weiss had gone and drained all of her energy to eliminate one Grimm - one Grimm that Blake and Yang could have easily taken care of without her.

When she was completely weakened, they’d been forced to look after her until their ride arrived.  It made her a burden, not an asset. And, ultimately, it put Ruby in even more danger because they needed her to set up and maintain a perimeter.

The biggest question though - and one Weiss was hesitant to broach - was if she was the one who’d attracted the Beowolves.  She’d noticed the glances Blake and Yang shared when they’d gotten into the airship - she knew that her teammates were already thinking the same thing.

Grimm were drawn to sadness, despair, loneliness...and it would be a complete lie for Weiss to say that she wasn’t currently suffering from one or all of those things.  In wanting to keep Ruby safe, by insisting on going on the hunt, Weiss could have unwittingly put everyone’s lives in far greater danger than if she’d merely accepted her place and stayed home.

It was possible that there had been more Grimm in the area than the pilot had spotted.  It was possible that they’d rushed towards the sound of the airship. It was possible that they’d already been on the research facility’s grounds, or lurking in the lower levels of the building.

Equally likely was the possibility that Weiss had been the one who’d attracted them in the first place.

Regardless, as difficult as it might be, it was time to move on.  Huntsmen needed to have short-term memories when it came to their time in the forest - if they fulfilled the mission and returned home safe and unharmed, there was nothing more that could be asked for.  Like Blake had said, missions never went as planned. Dwelling on what went wrong would only create anxieties that would be carried forward to future excursions, potentially with negative consequences.

Knowing this, Weiss was determined to leave the hunt in the past, especially because today - even though she was currently feeling like she’d been hit by a delivery truck - she was hosting her teammates for a tour of her family’s company.

The trip had been meticulously planned over the past couple of days (when she hadn’t been mentally preparing herself for the hunt) and today she wanted to ensure Ruby had a great time.  Which was why, instead of driving herself over to her teammates’ house, she was being driven there by one of the company’s drivers.

“I’ll be right back,” she told the suited man after he opened the door for her to exit the vehicle.  He nodded his head in understanding before closing the door and standing patiently to the side awaiting her return.

Striding purposefully up the front walk, she wasn’t given the luxury of lingering when she could feel the man watching her every move.  This was one of the ever-present drawbacks to using her family’s resources - there was no telling what information was being noted and passed along to her father.  Thus, it was important to be on her best behavior for the time being.

Raising one hand, she knocked on the door and felt her heart thump loudly when heavy steps approached her.  A few seconds later, the door pulled open with Yang standing behind it - her pleased grin flattening slightly upon finding Weiss outside.

“Hey,” was all Yang said before stepping aside and motioning for Weiss to come in.  Accepting the silent invitation, Weiss stepped through the doorway and opened her mouth to ask if they were ready, but stopped when she heard lighter footsteps racing towards them.

“Yang!  You’re gonna make us -”  Ruby’s shout cut off mid-sentence as she careened to a stop in the living room and gave Weiss an adorable wave.  “Oh, hey Weiss! Hold on just a minute - I’m almost ready!”

With that, Ruby disappeared down the hallway again, this time leaving a cloud of petals in her wake.

“What’s going on?” Weiss asked curiously.

“They keep making fun of me for taking too long to find my shoes,” Yang explained while Blake walked into the living room.  “So I picked out what I wanted to wear last night and then hid theirs.”

“Not very well,” Blake teased, kissing Yang on the cheek.

“Of course you found your shoes.  You’re practically part bloodhound.”

“As a feline, I take offense to that,” Blake huffed playfully before smiling.  “Should I help Ruby find hers?”

The question only made Yang turn towards the hall.  “Ruby, we’re waiting for you!” she yelled, grinning at the muffled grumbles they heard in return.

“Where did you hide them?” Weiss asked.

“I’ll give you a hint - they’re not in the house.”

At one time, she would have been annoyed by Yang’s antics, but she’d learned a long time ago that playing along was much easier than trying to resist.  Regardless, she rolled her eyes for show before brushing past the two girls to find Ruby in her bedroom.

“Ruby?” Weiss called out, walking hesitantly into the still startlingly clean room.  At the sound of her name, Ruby’s head popped up on the other side of the bed, her brunette hair an adorable mess.  “Do you want some help?” Weiss offered.

“It’s ok - I’m close, I can feel it!”

Weiss couldn’t help but smile at Ruby’s big grin.  She was just so cute...

“Well, if you were going to hide a pair of Yang’s shoes, where would you put them?” Weiss asked as a way of giving a hint.

“Oh, I dunno...probably in the woods.  Or on the roof or something.”

While Ruby held onto that little grin, Weiss waited patiently for realization to set in.  And it did - Ruby’s mouth falling open before she sprinted out of the room and into the hall, leaving Weiss in a cloud of petals.

“Yang!” Ruby yelled in exasperation before Weiss heard the back door open.  Following the trail of petals outside, she walked out onto the grass and stood beside Ruby - the two of them staring up at a pair of boots sitting on the roof of the house.

“Sometimes my dumb, stupid sister…” Ruby grumbled under her breath before walking over to the side of the house and grabbing onto the windowsill.

“What are you doing?” Weiss asked, her concern growing when Ruby stepped up on the windowsill.

“Getting my boots back!” Ruby replied as she pulled herself up so her feet were on the upper ledge of the window.

“You’re not even wearing shoes!” Weiss gasped, striding over to the window and watching Ruby lift herself up to the roof using the rain gutter.

“Well yeah, cuz my shoes are -”

A loud screech of metal was followed by a squeal of surprise, which was then followed by a heavy weight planting itself right in Weiss’ arms as she instinctively attempted to catch her falling partner.  It was an unsuccessful attempt, but she did manage to break Ruby’s fall as the two of them crashed to the ground and a loud oof of air was knocked from her lungs.

The back of her head hurt now, where there would probably be bump later, but Ruby...

Ruby was laying on top of her, brunette hair strewn across her face while Ruby’s arms and legs were pressing against her everywhere.  While Ruby struggled to untangle herself, Weiss felt her cheeks steadily heating up. Eventually, Ruby pushed herself up onto her arms and stared down into Weiss’ eyes - both hands and knees straddling Weiss on the grass.

“Weiss!  I’m so sorry!  Are you ok?”

Trying to regain her breath, Weiss motioned that she needed a second before finally feeling her lungs re-inflate with air.

“I...yes, I am,” she replied breathlessly, glancing down when Ruby’s ring fell to dangle in front of her face, only to immediately avert her eyes when she saw that the collar of Ruby’s shirt was also dipping a bit low.

“Are you sure??  You hit the ground kinda hard!”

Risking a quick look back at Ruby, Weiss immediately turned away - her cheeks threatening to catch on fire any second now.  And, as luck would have it, when she turned away her eyes caught Blake and Yang walking outside to see what all the commotion was about.

“Hey what hap - woah there, don’t let us interrupt.”

“Yang!” Ruby shouted at her sister while carefully rolling to the side in order to stand up.  When she offered a hand down, Weiss willingly accepted it and allowed Ruby to pull her back to her feet.

“This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t put my boots on the roof!” Ruby huffed in annoyance, letting go of Weiss’ hand far too soon.

“I didn’t think you’d try to climb the house using the gutter!” Yang protested.  “Weiss’ glyphs could’ve easily brought those down.”

The comment made Ruby and Weiss share a look of surprise.

Of course.  Why hadn’t she thought of that?

Sighing in exasperation, she stepped around the house and easily flicked the boots down into her arms.  They were exactly the same as the ones Ruby had worn at Beacon, though that wasn’t a surprise. Ruby wore through the poor things time and time again, and always replaced them with the exact same brand and style.  Something about continuity of combat preparedness...

Running her fingers across the toe, Weiss savored the familiar feeling of broken-in leather before handing them over to Ruby with a smile.

“Thanks, Weiss!” Ruby said, returning the smile before sitting down on the porch step to pull them on.  “That was a whole lot easier than climbing the house…”

“How are we gonna put the gutter back up?” Yang asked, studying the piece of metal hanging free of the house before shrugging her shoulders.  “Nothing some tape won’t fix, right?”

Shaking her head, Blake rubbed Yang’s shoulder in consolation while Yang grinned - not one to be upset about a little extra work for long.

“Ok!” Ruby called out a couple seconds later, jumping to her feet and stomping her boots lightly to set them into place.  “ Now I’m ready to go!”

Finally ,” Yang exaggerated while heading back into the house.  “Jeez, took you forever to find your shoes, Ruby.”

When Ruby reached over and punched Yang in the shoulder, she only laughed while disappearing inside with Blake in tow.

“If you’re ready, we can head out now,” Weiss said, waving after the pair.  After Ruby nodded in acceptance, Weiss walked towards the house and Ruby quickly fell into step with her.

“Are you sure you’re ok?” Ruby asked, turning to Weiss in concern.  When she turned in the narrow hallway, their shoulders gently touched - before the living room provided them ample room to walk apart.

“I’m alright.  Just had the wind knocked out of me,” Weiss replied with what she hoped was a reassuring smile.  Quickly rubbing the back of her head, which must have hit the ground at some point, she found that it was a bit sore but not swollen.

Thankfully, the answer seemed to cheer Ruby up.  With a grin, she dashed a few steps forward and held the front door for Weiss before racing out into the front yard behind her.

“Wow!” Ruby exclaimed when she saw the sleek, black limo and smartly-dressed driver waiting for them.  “Is that for us??”

Weiss wasn’t smug - she tried not to be a smug person - but she was awfully pleased by the delighted reaction.  Impressing Ruby was one of Weiss’ very favorite things to do - besides making her smile, laugh, or giggle in that adorable way she had.  Dipping into the family coffers seemed like a rather simple way to do this, but if it worked...why not?

Nodding her head, Weiss watched the driver politely open the door for them to enter.  It was unusual for her to request a driver in Vale because she knew the streets well and found it liberating to be in charge of her own transportation - however, her goal today was to wow Ruby, and that meant it was time for a little extra pomp and excessiveness.

“Pulling out all the stops, aren’t ya,” Yang quipped, ducking into the vehicle after Ruby practically dove through the open door.  Weiss didn’t have the chance to see if Yang was trying to be insulting or not before Blake gave her a smile and slipped in after Yang.  Entering the vehicle last with a parting nod to the man holding the door, Weiss took one of the open seats - conveniently located right next to Ruby.

“How far away are we?” Ruby asked when the vehicle’s engine started and they pulled away from the curb.

“Not far,” Weiss answered.  “Ten minutes, maybe a little more.”

Excited, Ruby turned sparkling silver eyes towards Weiss before leaning forward to see what was inside a small pocket hidden near the floor of the vehicle.  As Ruby did so, her arm slid down Weiss’ leg and sent a jolt of nerves down her spine.

Planning this day had been an exhaustive process where every possible detour had been taken into consideration.  However, somehow Weiss had failed to acknowledge the effects a change in scenery might have on her emotions - most importantly, how being in such a small, enclosed space would force her and Ruby to be in near constant contact.  They were sitting right next to each other and - as Ruby moved around to explore the limousine - she was bumping into Weiss almost constantly.

It wasn’t that Weiss minded the intrusion on her personal space - she’d actually come to expect and enjoy that closeness with Ruby - but the familiarity and nonchalance of the contact made it seem like today was just the four of them heading out on another one of their grand, Schnee-funded adventures.

Of course, that was no longer the case - a reality made all the more evident by the glances Yang kept throwing across the cabin as if she suspected Weiss was going to try something underhanded.  Lilac eyes flitted from Weiss to Ruby and back again, in an endless pattern that made no sense to Weiss. Why was Yang watching so closely? It wasn’t as if anything out of the ordinary was occurring.  They were merely sitting next to each other while Ruby explored.

Thankfully, Blake quickly captured Yang’s full attention by scooting closer and resting one hand calmly on Yang’s thigh.  The intense scrutiny instantly disappeared and was replaced by soft conversation between the two partners on the opposite side of the vehicle.  It was only then that Weiss was able to relax and watch as Ruby gleefully found the mini fridge hidden in the seat beside her.

“Oohh!!  Look! They even have chocolate milk in here!” she exclaimed, pulling out one of the small cartons that had been added specifically for her.

“You can have it,” Weiss encouraged Ruby with a nod.  Beaming with happiness, Ruby pulled out the miniature plastic straw and downed half of the carton while flipping open any other compartments she could find.

“Oh!  What’s this do?”

Holding up a remote control, Ruby spun it curiously in her hands before giving Weiss an inquisitive look.

“Why don’t you find out?” she suggested.  There was no hesitation as Ruby pressed the first button, only to gasp when the media screen that had been folded flat to the ceiling lowered and flickered to life.

“That’s - so - awesome!!”

Smiling, Weiss watched happily while Ruby continued pressing buttons - her silver eyes twinkling with excitement at every new feature she found.  The lights clicked on and off - the music turned on, got louder, fell silent - the skylight opened, letting a brief gust of fresh air into the cabin before closing - the windows untinted and then tinted again - the seat massagers and warmers turned on and off - the speakerphone turned on, called Yang’s scroll, then hung up.  With every press of a button, Ruby’s joy only seemed to grow - and Weiss’ heart swelled with delight in return.

If there was one tiny, microscopic silver lining to everything that had happened, it was this - watching Ruby revel in ‘new’ experiences that weren’t at all new, and sharing in those moments of pure joy a second time around.  Weiss wouldn’t have traded the first memory for anything in the world, but having two...there was something remarkably special about that.

It was only when she felt the vehicle slow to a complete stop that she allowed her eyes to leave Ruby’s ecstatic face.

“We’re here, Miss,” the driver called back to her before quickly exiting the car and racing around to open the door for them.  When they’d all emptied out into the sunlight - Ruby reluctantly leaving her new favorite remote control behind - the man gave Weiss a curt bow before returning to the vehicle to wait until they needed him again.

Turning away from the street, she found her companions staring at the extensive headquarters lying in front of them.

“Welcome to Schnee Dust,” she said, waving a hand towards the sprawling complex of buildings teeming with employees rushing this way and that, while large delivery trucks rattled constantly down the roadway on their left.

The corporate offices at this location had been combined with the factory floors to improve turnaround times, resulting in a skyscraper built in the center of multiple factories - everything connected by sky bridges and covered walkways.  Somehow, the architects and exterior designers had cleverly used reflective glass and abundant shrubbery to make the finished compound look more like a futuristic city than an amalgamated monstrosity.

“Holy...cow…”

Smiling at Ruby’s slack-jawed expression, Weiss hesitantly placed one hand on Ruby’s shoulder and directed them towards the towering front lobby, feeling more and more assured in her action when Ruby made no effort to move away.  The gigantic glass panels sent back their reflections as they strode through the sliding doors and into the atrium - which was nearly four stories tall with marble floors and an incessant echo of voices that had always bothered her.

The pace inside the building was frenetic, as executives rushed to and from the elevators for meetings, machine workers hurried back to the factories from break, and visitors were swept away by well-heeled and perfectly-timed tour guides.

Right now, they were separated from the main guest check-in by a series of security scanners - each of which was manned by weaponized Atlesian Knights, a stark reminder that this building was filled with highly dangerous and extraordinarily expensive materials.  The scans were exhaustive as they searched for traces of weapons and affiliation to anyone on a series of criminal lists and databases.

Obviously, Weiss wouldn’t need to pass through any such security measures - that would be rather preposterous for someone of her position.

Guiding Ruby towards the Knight standing on the far left, Weiss pulled out an identification card and held it in front of his face for the sensors to scan.  She then pressed her palm to the metal chest plate, which emitted a soft green glow a second later.

“Weiss Schnee, plus three guests,” she spoke clearly.  Registering her voice, the robot picked up the three people accompanying her, validated her credentials, and stood out of the way.  Stepping past the guard, who Ruby gave an extra long glance as they walked by, Weiss had already spotted one of her assistants waiting for them at the front desk.  The girl, whose name Weiss could never remember, rushed over and handed her three badges before disappearing without a single word.

This was why she was Weiss’ favorite - she didn’t have that compulsive need to speak all the time.  Maybe Weiss should try to remember her name...

Security badges in hand, she scanned the names and handed the first two to Yang and Blake before giving the last one to Ruby.

“Here are your security badges,” she explained.  “Don’t lose them. If security finds you without one, you’ll be immediately arrested.”

Eyes widening in shock, Ruby looked at her badge again before breaking into a smile and holding the piece of plastic up in Yang’s face.

“Weiss can spell my name right!”

 Yang grinned while slipping her own badge around her neck.

“What Weiss didn’t say is that they have trackers in the badges so they know where everyone is at all times,” Yang whispered loudly to her sister.  Ruby’s eyes widened again as she turned to Weiss.

“Is that true??”

“No comment,” Weiss replied before turning away, a smile threatening when she heard Ruby’s gasp.

There were many valuable items which could be stolen or destroyed in the building.  It was important to track every employee’s whereabouts at all times in case an accident or theft occurred.  At least, that was the company’s take on the matter.

“Where to first?” Yang asked, her eyes scanning the corridors and people carefully.  Weiss looked around, as well, searching for the lab technician who should be here by now.  Her exact instructions had been not to be late , had they not?  Yet, here they were - waiting for him to arrive.

Several days ago, she’d added this tour to her schedule and sent firmly worded emails to the department managers so they’d know not to bother her unless absolutely necessary.  She’d then hand-selected a technician - and apparently she’d chosen incorrectly since he wasn’t able to arrive on time.

“I thought we’d start with a little demonstration,” she said, temporarily giving up her search.  Her eyes focused on Ruby, who had her head tilted all the way back as she looked at the lights in the ceiling far above.  “You had mentioned wanting to see black Dust.”

That phrase gained Ruby’s attention in a heartbeat, while Yang bobbed her head up and down in approval.

“Sounds like we’re gonna start this with a Yang ,” she said with a big grin, while Blake solemnly shook her head at the joke.

“I knew you were going to say that…”

“Woah - Weiss, that lady looks just like you!” Ruby suddenly blurted out, pointing over Weiss’ shoulder before quickly dropping her hand when Yang gave her a stern look and head shake.

Curiously turning around, Weiss was shocked to see none other than Winter Schnee striding towards them, her head held high while employees scrambled out of her way.

“Winter?” both Weiss and Yang said in unison, sharing a surprised glance.

This had certainly not been part of today’s schedule.  In fact, nowhere on any schedule was there any mention of Winter being in the building today.  What was Winter doing here?

Of course, Weiss was happy to see her sister.  Happy, but a little...disgruntled.

“Excuse me,” she muttered, separating from her teammates to meet her sister several paces away.  They didn’t really hug in her family - not like Yang and Ruby - but she dipped her head politely in greeting.

“Winter...I’m surprised to see you here,” she said, trying to keep any semblance of exasperation out of her tone while Winter smiled down at her.  “You wouldn’t be checking in on me, would you?”

“Actually, I have a meeting to attend today.  I just got here this morning.”

The answer was smooth and polished, but Weiss didn’t believe it for a second.

“You never come to meetings in Vale.  You always send a proxy.”

“You’re right, but I thought it might be good for morale to show up personally every once in a while.”

“Good for morale?  Everyone here is terrified of you,” Weiss replied bluntly, earning a somewhat pleased smirk from Winter before she looked Weiss squarely in the eyes.

“So maybe I also wanted to check on you.  Is that so horrible?” Winter finally admitted before looking Weiss up and down and nodding in satisfaction.  “And you look...better. Maybe I should have had you shipped back to Vale months ago.”

Weiss couldn’t help but roll her eyes at her sister’s words.

“I’m sure that would have gone over swimmingly.”

“Ah - I see you’ve found your wit again,” Winter replied with a true smile before leaning forward to whisper, “I was told you authorized a little...experiment.”

“Just a small one,” Weiss explained as her companions crept closer to see what was going on.  In the interest of keeping up appearances, she politely turned around to re-introduce her teammates to Winter - even though Winter was already very familiar with each of them.

“Everyone, this is my sister, Winter.  Winter, this is Blake, Ruby, and I’m sure you remember Yang.”

Nodding her head to each of them in greeting, Winter tilted her head to Yang with a smile.

“Yang -”

Before Winter could finish whatever proper greeting she was about to utter, Yang strode over and wrapped her in a giant hug - lifting her right off her feet before setting her back on the ground.

“Winter!  How have you been?” Yang asked happily, not noticing in the slightest how caught off guard Winter was by the unexpected display of affection.  “I haven’t seen you in forever!”

Seeing Yang treat Winter so kindly sent a sharp pang of jealousy through Weiss’ mind, and a frown flitting across her lips.  However, unlike Weiss, Winter had never done anything harmful to Yang - if anything, she’d helped Yang immeasurably by acquiring some important upgrades for her arm.

“Busy, as always,” Winter replied, straightening her sleeves while attempting to recollect her composure.  “I see you haven’t lost an ounce of strength.”

While the two spoke, Weiss noticed that Ruby’s eyes were shifting rapidly back and forth between her and Winter.

“You’re Weiss’ sister?” Ruby finally asked, gaining everyone’s attention with that one small question.  “Wow. Your whole family could be models.”

The offhand compliment made Weiss’ cheeks burn, which Winter unfortunately noticed.  First sending Weiss a pleased grin, Winter then turned a sincere smile Ruby’s way.

“It’s nice to meet you, Ruby.  And that’s very kind of you to say.  I’m sure Weiss, in particular, appreciates the sentiment.”

Miffed by the response, Ruby turned to Weiss in confusion.  For her part, Weiss glared at her sister before given Ruby a smile and opening her mouth to attempt a response.

But what was she supposed to say to that?  She did appreciate the sentiment.  She loved the idea that Ruby could think of her as a model.  It might be nicer if Ruby hadn’t lumped Winter into that category as well, but Weiss wasn’t in the position to be picky at the moment.

“Um, thank you, Ruby,” she muttered while her blush continued to grow.  “I do appreciate that, but I think...that you...would be more apt for such an occupation...”

Her embarrassment was climbing to new heights - and was about to ascend even higher based on the pleased smirk on Yang’s lips - but, fortunately, Blake decided to save Weiss from the impending tease by speaking up.

“Hey Ruby, I think I saw a vending machine over there - and I’m pretty sure Weiss has a code that makes everything free.”

Forgetting what they’d just been talking about, Ruby gasped and turned to Weiss with stars in her eyes.

“Do you really??”

“It’s 1-0-3-1,” Weiss replied, smiling when Ruby practically squealed with delight.

“Ten thirty-one.  Got it,” Ruby repeated before suddenly stopping cold.  “Hey, that’s my birthday!”

The comment made Weiss freeze when four different sets of eyes locked onto her - three of them blatantly wondering how she was going to explain the rather coincidental set of numbers.

“Is it?” she asked, giving Ruby a smile that might have wavered in the middle.  “Well, that’s going to make it very easy to remember from now on.”

Completely unperturbed by the coincidence, Ruby broke into a big grin before dragging Blake away from them.

“Be right back!” she shouted with a wave.

Watching the two girls weave through the other patrons in the lobby, Weiss heaved a sigh of relief - grateful that Ruby was still so easily distracted.  The sound didn't go unnoticed by Winter, who turned away from Ruby with an encouraging expression.

“She looks good.”

“You should see her fight,” Yang bragged with a proud grin.

“She’s fighting again?” Winter asked, looking at Weiss in shock.  Catching the gaze, Weiss sighed again.

“Unfortunately, yes.  Fortunately, she’s very, very good.”

Clearly surprised by the revelation, Winter stared for a few moments before slowly shaking her head in respect.

“There’s no stopping that one...” she commented, adding another head shake before straightening her posture.  “Anyway, I only wanted to speak with you for a second, Weiss. Then I’ll be out of your way.”

Nodding, Weiss allowed her sister to lead her away from Yang so they could speak in private.  Once out of earshot, Winter turned towards Weiss and lowered a fraction of the ever-present guard set in front of her emotions.

“How are you doing?” she asked, her eyes gently adding that she was ready and willing to listen to whatever Weiss had to offer in response.

How many times had Winter asked that exact question?  And how many times had Weiss responded with nothing more than a short ‘I’m fine?’

“I’m...doing better, I think,” Weiss answered truthfully, noting the flash of surprise in her sister’s eyes at the unanticipated candor.

It felt uncomfortable and disarming to be honest, but maybe it was time she stopped keeping all of these feelings to herself.  Maybe it was time to open up to the people she trusted.

Furrowing her brow, she struggled to find a succinct way to describe her current thoughts.

“I always thought...that being around her would drive me crazy, but even if I was crazy...she would still accept me for that, I think.”

When Weiss felt a hopeful smile appear, Winter straightened and smiled right back.

“She’s not the only one, you know,” Winter replied before pulling Weiss into a brief, unexpected hug.  “I’m glad to see a little bit of my sister again. Even if that means you’re back to breaking rules for her affection.”

“I’m not technically breaking any rules,” Weiss immediately refuted, earning an amused expression from her sister in return.

“Just ‘stretching’ them, are you?”

Smiling at the poor excuse, Weiss nodded regardless.  It always warmed her heart how supportive Winter was of Weiss’ decisions - whether or not they fell in line with the black and white orders they’d been expressly given.

“I’m glad you came,” Weiss admitted. “It’s good to see you.”

“It’s always a pleasure to see you, my little sister,” Winter replied, reaching out and setting one hand on Weiss’ shoulder.  “Can we have dinner tonight before I head back to Atlas?”

“Of course.  That sounds great.”

“Excellent, then I’ll see you soon.  Now, I must be going to that meeting - I really do dislike this place though…”

Chuckling while Winter headed away - pausing for a moment to wave towards Yang, Blake, and Ruby - Weiss felt a warmth in her chest that brought a smile to her lips.  Winter was right - it felt like Weiss had found a piece of herself that had been missing for quite some time. And as Ruby raced over, her arms loaded with various candies, it really wasn’t difficult to imagine what that missing piece had been.

“Did you get everything you wanted?” Weiss asked amusedly, taking stock of the assortment Ruby had acquired.

“One of everything!  But that’s cuz I didn’t know what you’d want.”

“What I’d want?” Weiss asked in confusion.

“Yeah!  I wanted to bring you something!  What’s your favorite?” Ruby asked, her silver eyes looking down at the pile of goods in her arms before turning back to Weiss.  “I’m sorry I don’t know your favorite, but if you tell me I’ll remember!”

The apology couldn’t possibly refer to Ruby’s lack of memories, but to Weiss it felt that way - like Ruby was apologizing for having lost access to that information.  It was something that Ruby should never have to apologize for, because it hadn’t been her fault. If only Weiss could explain that...

“These ones,” she said instead, reaching over and carefully removing a small bag of corn chips.  Ruby’s eyes narrowed while she made note of the brand before she nodded happily.

“Miss Schnee -”

The source of her name was the man she’d been waiting for - the technician who’d been tasked with setting up the experiment she’d requested specifically for Ruby.

“I’m sorry I’m late.  There was an issue with the -”

Shaking her head, Weiss cut off the excuses before they became too technical for her liking.

“You’re here now.  Let’s get going,” she instructed calmly, waving for him to lead the way.  “You can leave anything you don’t want here,” she suggested to Ruby, pointing to a coffee table sitting in the lobby.  “We can always get it when we return.”

Picking out one candy bar, which Weiss happily noted was the same one Ruby had always loved, Ruby dumped the rest of the pile onto the table and gave a thumbs up when she was ready to go.  The unexpected deviations from the plan having ended for now, the four of them were finally able to follow the white-coated lab technician out of the lobby and through the hallways leading to the factory floors.

As they walked, Ruby fell into step beside Weiss while Yang and Blake brought up the rear.  It could be Weiss’ imagination, but it seemed like Ruby was sticking close to Weiss’ side today - so close that they were bumping into each other every so often.  Not that Weiss minded. Having Ruby nearby was actually quite comforting and reassuring - it was as if her presence lent Weiss strength she didn’t have access to on her own.  And, more than anything, it made her feel like Ruby wanted to be close to her.

“Here we are,” the man announced, swiping his badge across a keypad located beside a rather nondescript white door.  When it clicked open, he used both hands to shove the heavy metal inwards before holding it open for them to enter.

The room beyond was one of the viewing rooms in the research and development section of the facility.  It was the most dangerous area in the entire compound, which was why every wall and door was made of reinforced metal.  If there was going to be an explosion, it would be contained in this location. At least, that was the hope…

“I’ll go get the process started.”

Without another word, the technician disappeared into the hallway, allowing the heavy door to bang shut behind him.  The four of them were left in a small square room with one of the walls containing a large viewing window into a research pod beyond.  Behind the thick, tempered glass they could see several robots, which spurred to life a few seconds later when the technician began his duties.

“Dust grows more unstable the more you mix it,” Weiss explained while several flat trays were carefully stacked by a set of robotic arms above a stationary Dust mixer.  “The primary colors are the most stable, followed by the secondary colors and so forth. Mixing a primary color with a secondary color will give you even more volatile results, continuing on exponentially until you’re mixing all of them together.”

Her teammates watched in rapt attention while the machine hooked up to a set of colors in the wall - one tube designated for each color of Dust.  One by one, a microscopic sample of Dust was collected before the tubes retreated from view.

“Black Dust,” Blake said, staring intently into the room.

Weiss nodded at the term.

“Some people - criminals mostly - have tried to harness the power of Black Dust in the past, but it’s far too unstable to transport or use in any effective manner.  Even Schnee Dust has spent millions of Lien attempting to solve the mystery, with no results.”

The idea of her father harnessing the power of Black Dust made Weiss more than apprehensive.  What might he do with such power? To what aim would he use it?

Thankfully, the experiments never came close to producing workable results, and the entire program had been shuttered for the time being.

“In order to have a chance at success, you need to mix the primary colors first, then the secondary colors, then tertiary…and hope that it doesn’t overmix in the process.  Keep in mind that we’re using a miniscule amount of Dust here - so little that you could count the individual grains.”

The Dust mixer rumbled to life - its large bowl rotating endlessly while the robotic arms lined up the set of trays in a specific order.  One by one, each small tray was lifted and emptied into the bowl. It didn’t look like much, but Weiss could see brief flashes of colors as Dust slid from the trays and out of view.

Realizing what was about to happen, Yang took a step away from the window.

“Uh...how strong is this glass, Weiss?”

“Strong enough,” she replied confidently before muttering under her breath, “I hope…”  Blake shot Weiss a look of concern before stepping back with Yang.

While the Blake and Yang moved away from the inevitable explosion, Ruby stepped forward and pressed her nose right against the glass.

When they’d arrived at Beacon, Ruby was seen as quick and goofy.  As they’d progressed through the years, more attention was given to her remarkable skill and untouchable power.  However, even upon graduation, not many had had the opportunity to know Ruby for what she truly was - fearless.

Fearless or not, Weiss wasn’t comfortable with Ruby standing so close - so, without a second thought, she reached forward and grabbed Ruby’s hand to pull her back a few steps.  When Ruby looked down at their joined hands in surprise, Weiss let go as if she suddenly realized she was holding hot coals.

“It’s on tertiary colors,” she muttered in embarrassment, nodding towards the room to draw Ruby’s eyes away from her.

Without warning, the room suddenly disappeared from view, and Weiss jumped as a resounding BOOM shook the window in front of them - a window designed to withstand multiple explosions from military-grade weaponry.

When the rattling subsided, the room was filled with white smoke that obscured anything from view.  As it slowly dissipated, they could see through the glass once more...only to find that there was nothing left in the room - everything had been pulverized into the very fine dust that was now clouding the air.  The small particles had etched themselves into the window, leaving the glass a foggy, sandblasted texture.

The silence on their side of the glass was only broken when Yang let out a long, low whistle of appreciation.  At a loss for words, Ruby walked back to the window and pressed both hands to the glass.

“Wow,” she said succinctly before turning back to them with a grin.  “Got it - mixing Dust is bad!

The lighthearted joke made Yang and Blake chuckle while Weiss smiled.

“So bad guys could potentially use that stuff??” Ruby asked, looking at Weiss for an answer.

“Unlikely.  It’s too dangerous, even for them.  Plus, even if they weren’t always at risk of blowing themselves up, the machinery involved would be prohibitively expensive.”

...like the million Lien robot she’d just willingly sacrificed so Ruby could see a cool science experiment.

“Glad I’m not in charge of cleaning up,” Yang said with a small laugh.  “I’d be here for the rest of my life.”

“We’re always hiring, you know.”

The words slipped out before Weiss paused to think about them - a subtle joke that she immediately wished she could have back.  Concerned about how it would be received, she shook her head and opened her mouth to apologize when she heard Ruby giggle. The infectious sound filled the room - making Blake break into a smile before Yang caved and joined in the laughter.

“At least I have options,” Yang said with another chuckle before reaching out and softly knocking a fist into her sister’s shoulder.

Surprised and immensely relieved with how that had turned out, Weiss managed a small smile of her own before the door beside them suddenly opened and drew their attention.

“Excuse me, Miss,” an unfamiliar man said while stepping inside.  “Your sister asked me to give you and your guests a tour of the DEB floor.”

Of course - the DEB floor would be the best place to go next.  Winter was a genius.

“Please lead the way,” Weiss instructed him before walking out into the hallway with Ruby already back by her side.

“That was so cool,” Ruby remarked, swinging her arms happily and brushing into Weiss’ side in the process.

“I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

“And learned a valuable lesson!” Ruby added with a grin.  “See, Yang just needed to give me a good reason not to mix Dust.  I’d say that was a pretty good reason!”

When Ruby leaned over and gently bumped Weiss in the shoulder, she smiled while an overwhelming sense of contentedness spread through her.  The demonstration was a success if Ruby enjoyed it - with the unintended benefit of a life lesson thrown into the mix.

Making their way onward, Weiss was pleased to discover that this technician moved quickly - his pace unceasing until they neared the DEB floor.  It was only then that he turned around in order to explain where they were headed.

“Schnee Dust doesn’t just refine and sell Dust,” he said while skillfully walking backward.  “We’re also responsible for the majority of Dust research and development, as well as the only producer of Dust Enhanced Bullets - or DEBs, for short.”

Stopping by a set of double doors, he scanned his badge at the security access point before pulling one open for them.

“Welcome to DEB’s room.”

In unspoken agreement, they waited for Ruby to enter first - which she did before immediately letting out a gasp of amazement.

“Now we’re talking,” Yang remarked with a grin, walking inside