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She supposed it would have been too much to ask. Weiss stared, impassive, as the airship disappeared into the clouds. She’d said her farewells and given the ship a small wave, keeping the knot in the back of her throat just out of reach. She would not cry. Tears were an impracticality at best, and a display of weakness at worst.

Weiss Schnee was used to disappointments. She should have known better than to expect Winter to stay in Vale. Yet in some pitiful corner of her mind, she’d still dared to hope that her sister would have opted to not get on that giant airship, that she would have stayed to watch Weiss through the tournament. It had been the same part of her mind that had harbored the small wish that Winter would have come to see the first round.

At least Winter had watched it from the airship, she told herself. Though she hadn’t expected her to be so harsh in her critique of the match, she’d been pleased that Winter had thought to give her one at all. Her sister knew so much about combat from her time in the military and had years more experience working with her semblance. She wouldn’t have wasted time on Weiss if she’d thought her sister to be anything less than capable.

She tore her eyes away from the airship. There was nothing left for her here, and she needed to go back up to her room. The next day, she and Yang would move onto the doubles round. She needed to make sure she was well-rested.

Weiss’s scroll buzzed. She pulled it out of her pocket, finger hovering over the word Father. So far, she’d resisted returning his calls. His money was a tempting lure, but the thought of hearing his voice pulled at her nerves.

It was always the same conversation with him. Always the same complaints, always the same bargaining.

And it was exhausting.

Without answering, she shut her scroll, smiling a little to herself. Even if it didn’t last, the freedom tasted sweet. She’d enjoy it while she could.

The dorms of Beacon Academy were packed and noisy as she made her way back toward her room. There were so many visiting students, all crammed into every empty corner. Some of the teams that had advanced were whooping in their rooms, ordering large amounts of take-out and regaling their friends with dramatic retellings of their victories. The stupid ones would stay up too late and suffer for it in their next round. Weiss had no desire to be among them.

Yet the minute she opened the door, she had a sense that she just might be.

The other three members of her team were huddled around a projected screen, a half-empty pizza box off to the side. Ruby and Yang had their scrolls in hand, staring at the screen in deep concentration. The tip of Ruby’s tongue stuck out of the corner of her mouth, more intent on the video game than she’d ever been on her homework. Blake, though not playing, sat between them, head cocked ever-so-slightly.

“Why don’t you use your power up?” she asked Yang.

“I’m saving it for the right moment!” Yang replied cheerfully, thumbs tapping rapidly across her scroll. “If I use it now, it won’t be half as effective.”

None of them had noticed when Weiss entered, and for moment she just stood, frowning at her teammates as the characters on the screen fought each other.

“Aha!” Ruby declared, bouncing up to her knees. “Take that!”

“Get her, Yang!” Blake cheered on, nudging her partner in the side. Yang flushed a little, but her smile widened.

“In your dreams!” A few seconds later, Yang hunched even more over her scroll, looking even more determined. One of the fighting people on the screen began to glow, and Ruby began to whine in protest.

“That’s not fair!” she complained.

Total annihilation!” the screen boomed.

“And that’s how you use a power-up!” Yang told them smugly, setting her scroll in her lap and leaning back on her elbows, casually brushing against Blake. She tilted her head back, blonde hair tumbling behind her, and only then did she see Weiss standing behind them. “Oh. Hey, Weiss. You ready for tomorrow?”

“Are you?” Weiss asked, white eyebrow raised. “We should get going to bed soon.”

“Our match isn’t till the afternoon,” Yang replied dismissively. “We deserve a little celebration after today.”

“Heck yeah we do!” Ruby cheered. She dropped her scroll down and raised her hands, and both Blake and Yang smacked one in a high-five. Weiss rolled her eyes.

“And we’ve been doing that all afternoon,” she pointed out. “We have no idea what they’re going to throw at us tomorrow. We need to be fully rested and recharged.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Yang wrinkled her nose and pushed herself back up. “Wanna try me, Blake?”

“I couldn’t even beat Ruby,” Blake pointed out, a little smile twitching at her lips. “And since I apparently don’t know when to use a power-up, I know I’d lose.”

Ruby spluttered in outrage. “Yang, this is my game! I taught you how to play!”

“And now I’m better than you!” Yang said cheerfully, making a grab at her sister. Ruby squawked as Yang mussed her hair. “As is the natural order of the world. Big sisters always trump the little ones.”

Yang!” Ruby groaned, pushing herself out of Yang’s grasp. “Quit doing that!”

Yang’s laugh rang merrily, and even Blake chuckled. Ruby’s face unscrewed itself, showing grudging amusement rather than true anger.

Weiss only pursed her lips. She tried to picture Winter playing a video game with her, but couldn’t imagine her older sister sitting on the floor next to a greasy pizza box. Even fairy tales seemed more likely than that mental image.

“As I was saying…” Weiss went on, folding her arms. “We should probably go to bed sooner rather than later.”

“I will,” Yang promised, eyes softening on Weiss. “But I’ve got time for one more match. You wanna play, Weiss?”

The offer wasn’t completely unprecedented, but after Winter’s visit, everything about it felt raw and sore. It was only another example of something she could never share with her own sister. She shook her head curtly. “I don’t play video games,” she replied. And they knew this, and she was annoyed that Yang had still asked. “I’m going to get ready for bed.”

“We’ll try to keep it down,” Ruby said with a nod.

“And I’ll join you after one more round or two,” Yang added. She spun back to her sister. “If Ruby thinks she can handle it.”

“Oh, you’re on!” Ruby trilled, scooping her scroll back up. “And I’ll show you a power-up!”

Weiss opened her mouth, thinking to argue, then thought better of it. Wordlessly, she went back to her side of the room, pulling a nightgown out of her dresser. Already, the other three girls were focused back on the holographic screen, their virtual characters already bringing their fists up.

There really was no reason to be annoyed, Weiss reminded herself as she pulled the nightgown over her head. Just as there had been no reason to be disappointed that Winter had left. Emotions like these were useless, and it was better to swallow them whole.

Yet all of them still hung heavily in her mind when she went to the bathroom. As she brushed her teeth, all she could think about were Winter’s words to her, their conversation. She’d always been somewhat cold, even though Weiss knew the kind heart that lay underneath. Weiss had spent hours, days, years trying to chip away at that exterior, just for the smallest glimpse of the light underneath. Every time she did, she would bask in it, and every time it disappeared, Weiss was all the colder for having felt it in the first place.

Not that Winter was intentionally cold. It was protection, much like the armor that Weiss had developed herself. Growing up surrounded by ambition and scathing words, it had been necessary to shield one’s self. With the right armor, it was possible to brace against the worst of it.

It had been a revelation, to see that some people hadn’t needed it at all.

She’d watched, fascinated at first, at the relationship Ruby shared with Yang. Both of them were more affectionate than Weiss believed to be possible, or even right. Yang was always ready with a laugh, to throw her arms around her sister and sing her praises.

It had to be hollow praise, Weiss had decided. Nobody would ever offer up such praise without it being deserved. It took so much effort, so much trial and error, to do something worthy of praise. Ruby couldn’t possibly deserve it.

Yet Yang gave it to her for the simplest reasons. You did great! Yang would crow after sparring sessions, even when Ruby had lost. I knew you could do it! she would say after a test, even if Ruby had only scored barely-passing grades. I’m so proud of you! she’d tell Ruby, for seemingly no reason at all.

It made no sense to Weiss.

Every hug, every scrap of praise she’d received from Winter had been like a treasure, to lock away in her memory and keep safe, to comfort her when she needed it. From her, hugs and praise were so rare that when she did receive any, they were worth something. It was something Ruby and Yang seemed to take for granted.

It had taken a while for her to understand that hugs weren’t necessarily earned, at least to her teammates. Ruby gave them out freely and playfully. Hugs were almost casual to her.

Casual, thus, pointless.

Usually. She’d watch Yang wrap her arms around her younger sister, holding her close, squeezing her eyes shut with something like love. Hugging each other, even for no reason at all, seemed anything but pointless to them. It strained at something unknown in Weiss’s heart, but she was too good at pushing down discomfort. Her armor was too strong to let such a thing truly hurt her.

By then time she got back to their room, she had tamped down her thoughts. There was no use in focusing on what she didn’t have. She could only accept it and move forward.

“Ruby was saying you got some dinner with your sister tonight,” Yang remarked when Weiss reentered. The projector was shut off, and Ruby was nibbling on one of the leftover slices of pizza. “I didn’t even know you had a sister.”

“It’s not exactly relevant information,” she replied with a shrug, coming to sit on the side of her bed.

“Neither is Ruby!” Yang replied, grinning. Ruby growled mid-bite, and Blake over at them from where she was changing, only slightly alarmed.

“Just don’t choke,” she sighed.

“So how was it?” Ruby asked after she managed a swallow, her silver eyes eager for news. “She seemed cool!”

“She is cool,” Weiss agreed, allowing a smile. “She’s a part of the Atlas military, and General Ironwood places a good deal of trust in her.”

“That’s pretty intense,” Yang said, grinning. “Is she gonna watch our match tomorrow?”

Weiss hesitated. “Well… she needed to return to Atlas.”

“She couldn’t even stay an extra day?” Yang asked, her grin fading. “Not even to see you fight?”

“The military doesn’t exactly let you have many personal days,” Weiss replied, the words so familiar that they had no sting left. “It’s not like I’m graduating, or anything.”

“Yeah, but it’s the tournament. It’s sort of a big deal.”

Uncomfortable with the way the conversation was going, Weiss shrugged, letting Yang’s comments roll off her shoulders. “We’ll be in another one in a couple years, and we’ll be even better by then. This one’s nothing in comparison to that.”

She didn’t like the look Yang exchanged with Ruby, nor the frown that had started to cloud Blake’s features. To prove it meant little to her, Weiss rolled her eyes and pushed herself up into the bed, kicking her feet under the covers. More than anything, Weiss hated the sympathy she saw on all of their faces.

“Well…” Ruby said slowly. “Me and Blake are going to watch the match tomorrow. So you’ll have us to cheer you on.”

“You’ll be cheering both of us on, you dolt,” Weiss muttered. “It’s your job as team leader.”

“Well, yeah,” Ruby said sheepishly. “But even if I didn’t have to, I would.”

“Well, thanks.”

An awkward silence fell. It wasn’t fair, she thought. She hadn’t been the one to make it awkward. So why did it feel like her fault?

“Was it a nice visit, at least?” Blake asked, sitting on the edge of her own bed.

“It was,” Weiss replied, relieved that this was a question she could answer. “After dinner, she sort of tutored me a little. On my semblance.”

“How’d she do that?” Ruby perked up, always eager to hear anything that had to do with combat. “Is she a teacher?”

“Not exactly,” Weiss admitted. “But we have the same semblance. They’re hereditary in our family, so she’s basically an expert.”

“I didn’t know semblances could be hereditary,” Blake commented curiously.

“They aren’t, usually, but ours are.”

“That’s pretty cool,” Yang said, sitting beside Blake on her bunk, close enough to touch, folding her legs underneath her. “That must have made it easier to learn how to use yours.”

Weiss thought of the way Winter had smacked her head, telling her that she wasn’t trying hard enough. “In some ways, I suppose.”

“Well, she must’ve taught you right, since you’re so good now!” Ruby added, her silver eyes bright. “And you’re gonna kick butt at the tournament tomorrow! And she’s gonna regret missing it!”

“I’d never miss one of Ruby’s matches,” Yang added firmly. “Even if I was in the military, I’d make sure to take time off for something this big.”

“It’s not her fault,” Weiss insisted. “And I get why she can’t.”

It almost infuriated her, that Yang didn’t seem to understand the nature of the military, or the dynamics between herself and Winter. She couldn’t always expect Winter to watch every match, or attend every concert. There was no reason to, and Weiss understood.

“Doesn’t make it right,” Yang said. There was no malice in her tone, but Weiss took it as an attack. She swung her legs back out of bed, to face Yang again and glare at her.

“Things are different for us. You and Ruby think it’s all so simple, to be the picture-perfect sisters you are,” she snapped. “But it isn’t that way for everyone, and it’s selfish of you to think you can judge anything that’s different.”

“I… wasn’t judging?” Yang’s eyebrows shot up, and she glanced at Ruby, bewildered. Even Blake frowned, a hand sliding behind Yang’s back. “And what do you mean, picture-perfect?”

Keeping her defenses up, Weiss didn’t relent, even when she felt the force of three pairs of eyes on her. “Doing what you do, and being the way you are! Not all older sisters dote on their younger sisters like you do, Yang. And frankly, I’m stronger for not having that.”

“Stronger for it?” Ruby repeated, confused. “You think I’m not strong just because Yang takes care of me?”

“That’s… That’s not what I said.” Color rose to Weiss’s cheeks. “And Winter does care about me. She just shows it in a different way.”

Winter was the one who showed her how to be strong, how to weather the storm. But none of it helped against the worried eyes of her teammates.

“Weiss,” Ruby said softly, walking over to her bed. She held out a hand, taking Weiss’s in her own. “Nobody’s judging you. Or Winter. Well, maybe a little bit Winter, but we’re not trying to fight you about it. You’re right. I don’t know what it’s like to have a sister that isn’t like Yang. But just because she, like… dotes on me or whatever… it doesn’t make me any less strong.”

“I never said you weren’t strong,” Weiss muttered, pulling her hand away. “I’m only saying--”

“Not as strong as you, right?” Ruby asked, giving her a weak smile. “That since Yang is always goofing off with me, or hugging me, that I couldn’t possibly be as strong as you.”

Weiss’s cheeks felt like they must have been scarlet, blood burning in her face. “I...”

“And maybe things were different for you,” Yang was quick to add. “Maybe it’s what you needed, at the time.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Weiss said flatly.

“Maybe I don’t,” Yang said, shrugging. “But just because Winter can’t be here for you doesn’t mean we can’t. We care about you, Weiss.”

“I…” Yang’s words sounded foreign. She glanced up at Ruby, who nodded in agreement, then over at Blake, who also nodded. “I don’t… It’s not…”

“What?” Yang dared.

“You and Ruby… it’s just… you’re so different,” Weiss managed to say, the words tasting chalky. “Winter was never like you, Yang. At all. So it’s… weird, for me.”

“It sounds lonely,” Ruby said softly. “Trying to imagine Yang being any other way… it just seems sad.”

“It’s not--” Weiss began to protest, but stopped when Ruby flung her arms around her. It was so close, so unexpected, that Weiss nearly flinched away. There was too much meaning in a hug like this, too much emotion, that it almost felt unbearable. It was too much, as if it were smothering her.

And then she took a deep breath. Not smothering, she realized. Just unexpected. She couldn’t identify any of her own feelings, and the fear that came with the unknown felt like being smothered. But it wasn’t.

“I know we’re not the same,” Ruby told her, her murmur so close to Weiss’s ear. “But you’ve got us. Teammates can be like sisters. You can have Winter. But you can have us, too.”

“Yeah!” Yang said, and over Ruby’s shoulder, Weiss watched as she and Blake rose. “If you want someone to throw you in a headlock, or kick your ass in a videogame, or just… give you a hug, if you’re having a bad day. You’ve got three of us.”

“You don’t--” Weiss began, but Blake and Yang had already crossed the room, wrapping their own arms around Ruby and Weiss in a messy group hug.

Weiss didn’t realize she’d started laughing until the sound had already popped out of her mouth, almost choking over the lump in her throat. Was it selfish, to enjoy the solidarity her teammates offered in an embrace?

Winter might not have been able to offer her the easy hugs or kind words that Yang often gave Ruby. But maybe she didn’t have to lack them completely. Maybe they just had to come from somewhere else.

“Thanks,” Weiss finally said, feeling the burn of the tears she’d always considered useless. “I didn’t mean to be such a jerk to you guys.”

“It’s all right,” Yang replied, and the arm she had wrapped around Weiss gave a gentle squeeze. It was strange, to feel comforted. “We’ve got you.”

One by one, the four of them broke apart. Weiss had managed to quell back the threatening tears, and even though her eyes were glassy, she smiled.

“I think…” she said slowly, looking back up at Ruby, “I may be able to play that game with you before I go to bed. Once.”

“Yes!” Ruby pumped a fist into the air. “But I’m not holding back!”

“Good,” Weiss said, looking up at Yang and Blake, voice full of gratitude. “I wouldn’t want you to.”