It's late when the group returns back to Atlas Academy after a full day of huntsmen work.
The teams spend some time in the evening in their own little common room – a spacious area with a television, tables and chairs, and a long sofa; all the basic comforts to allow them to relax after a day of jobs well done.
Some of them take this opportunity to catch up with each other about their missions, while others simply lay back and relax.
Ruby sits comfortably at one of the tables, a mug of hot chocolate in hand. She spends more time drinking in the social atmosphere, however, appreciating the casual liveliness of it all.
She lets her eyes trail across the room, content to just watch her friends be. She smiles at the sight of Blake and Yang cosied up together on the sofa, an expression that continues the rest of the way over to where Weiss and Ren stand talking to each other about something or other.
She allows more time than necessary to focus on her partner. She traces the curve of her face, the shape of her easy smile and the way her lips move to respond to whatever Ren is saying to her.
This lasts for a few seconds until Ruby catches herself staring, heat rising to her cheeks as she desperately searches the room for something else to focus on.
Luckily, a distraction comes easily, and she has to hold back a loud snort when she spots Jaune and Oscar clearly trying their best to stop Nora from overloading her own hot chocolate with more sugar than even Ruby is used to.
When Ren comes to their rescue, however, Ruby's smile falters. Her eyes sweep back over to where they had previously been, spotting Weiss quietly excusing herself from the room and heading in the direction of their dorms.
Her face sets into a frown, but she tries to pay it no mind, instead choosing to simply sit and sip at her drink.
That didn't mean she could keep her eyes from straying in the direction Weiss had gone off in, waiting to see her come walking back in again.
Nobody else retires to their dorms until about half an hour later.
JNR and Oscar are the first to go. If Ruby has to guess, it's probably at least partly because of an (almost) unanimous vote that Nora should be kept away from prolonged exposure to sugar. Especially before bed.
Ruby moves to follow not long after, the frown from earlier working its way back onto her face in the quiet of the room.
Weiss had not come back.
At the time – between getting briefly dragged into sugar-related chaos – Ruby kept telling herself that she was worrying for no reason.
Of course, that never actually worked.
In all honesty, she didn't actually realise how much time passed until the others declared that they were heading to bed.
Walking around the sofa, Ruby looks to where Blake and Yang are still sitting together – a sight that slightly eases the tension she feels and summons a small smile to her lips.
Blake's head is laying comfortably in the crook of Yang's neck, Yang's own resting on top of Blake's and an arm wrapped around Blake's shoulders.
Ruby doesn't have the heart to wake them.
Instead, she presses a kiss to the top of Yang's head and bids them a quiet goodnight before heading off to their own dorm.
Upon opening the door, Ruby immediately sees Weiss. She's sitting on her bed dressed in the academy pyjamas they were assigned. Lovely, long waves of white hair hang loose and free from the braid she wears nowadays as she removes an earring to place it down beside the other.
Weiss looks so soft, so relaxed like this, and Ruby's voice almost gets stuck in her throat at the sight. But she manages to give her partner a greeting nonetheless, a small, easy smile playing at her lips.
Weiss immediately looks over. She seems surprised to see Ruby, but only for a second, before reciprocating Ruby's smile and giving her a response.
Ruby steps into the room properly, approaching her partner. Weiss' eyes almost seem to follow Ruby's movements, but Ruby pays it no mind as she sits down beside her.
"Are… you okay?" Ruby asks, allowing concern to crack through into her voice. "You left pretty suddenly earlier without even saying anything."
Weiss' expression falters for a moment, but she responds before Ruby can comment on it.
"Yes, I'm fine. I was just really tired." A beat. "I'm sorry."
"No no!" Ruby holds her hands up in an urgent manner. "You don't have to be sorry! I was just worried..."
That statement seems to give Weiss pause, before a small smile graces her features as she fixes Ruby with a look she can't quite place.
"Well, thank you for your concern." She turns away to pick up the hairbrush that sits beside her and doesn't turn back around. "But I'm okay. Really."
Ruby frowns again, but decides not to keep pushing the subject. Instead, she watches as Weiss runs the brush through her hair. Or at least as much of it as she can, as long as it is.
"Do you want some help with that?" Ruby asks, her mouth working on autopilot.
Weiss gives pause for the briefest of moments before she half-turns to look at Ruby, the corner of Weiss' lips quirked up in what Ruby can tell is another small smile as she wordlessly holds the brush out towards her.
Ruby returns the smile and takes it, ignoring the way her heart stutters when their fingers make brief contact. She shuffles back until there's a good amount of space between her legs and pats the mattress before her with her free hand.
Weiss looks over. "What?"
She pats the space again, innocent and oblivious. "Come sit over here."
When she spies the way Weiss' cheeks darken, however, her brain kicks in and she realises her own insistence for such an intimate sitting position. She flushes an embarrassed shade of red.
She raises her arms in frantic self defence. "I just meant it would be more comfortable if you…!" Her hurried explanation dies on her tongue for seemingly no reason. Why is she so nervous?
Before Ruby can even try to rephrase or backtrack over her own words, Weiss gets up and sits between her legs.
"I suppose that makes sense." Weiss says, tone completely unreadable. Then, in the familiar, soft scolding-but-not-quite-scolding kind of way that Ruby is accustomed to hearing from her, "You don't have to give me a whole explanation to get me to sit closer to you, dolt."
Ruby smiles despite herself and almost regrets her invitation when her heart starts pounding a little bit stronger. She tries to push that away for now, however, and begins running the brush through Weiss' hair.
She's met with little resistance from the soft strands, and they sit in comfortable silence for a time as Ruby falls into a pattern. Brush one section, move it aside and move onto the next.
Ruby is reminded of a time before all of this. Before Beacon, before Signal. She remembers when she would sit beside Yang in the early mornings of Patch, baby small fingers fiddling with the bedsheets as she watched Taiyang brush her sister's hair.
Yang never did like anyone touching her hair, but she'd always looked so relaxed whenever dad could coax her into letting him.
Even when a younger Ruby had first asked to try it, her inexperienced brush strokes clumsy and uncoordinated, Yang had beamed at her like the sun for her efforts before finishing the job herself.
She'd always felt connected to her sister in those moments. Trusted. Safe.
But here with Weiss, with her heart burning and alive in her chest, it feels like so much more than that.
Ruby enjoys this. She enjoys it so much that she practically aches when her fingers thread through Weiss' hair to move some of it aside; desiring nothing more than to simply toss the brush aside and allow her fingers to catch and tangle in long, beautiful locks.
But she doesn't do that. Instead, she forces herself to push on almost mechanically, focusing on the pattern she'd created to keep herself distracted from her thoughts.
A plan which doesn't hold up for very long when Ruby moves some of Weiss' hair and the nape of her neck is exposed to the open air of the dorm.
It's only an innocent little thing, but sitting here like this makes it feel so much more intimate.
Ruby's eyes trail across the pale curve of her neck, and amongst a million other scattered thoughts going through her head, only one stands clear and true:
She thinks she wants to kiss it.
So that's exactly what she does.
The skin feels warm against Ruby's lips as they brush against Weiss' nape in the softest way. She hears a sharp inhale, feels how Weiss tenses up at the touch and almost regrets it immediately, a splutter of an apology sitting on the tip of her tongue.
But then Weiss relaxes again, and if Ruby wasn't paying so much attention, she might have missed the way Weiss adjusts herself to shift closer. A thick lump forms in Ruby's throat, waiting to burst and finally let out the longing she'd been holding in for so long.
Instead, Ruby swallows. It's all she can do to keep from being suffocated by the growing pressure.
After a few more tugs from the brush, Ruby realises that she's reached the end of Weiss' hair.
She should probably tell Weiss, but Ruby doesn't want her to move, doesn't want this moment to end. She likes this closeness between them.
They haven't really had much time for closeness lately, have they?
Weiss seems to have noticed Ruby's hesitation, her head now turned to allow a blue eye to peek over her shoulder. For a moment, Ruby freezes.
Then she sputters.
"O-Oh!" she says, raising her arms defensively, a nervous smile playing at her lips. "I'm, uh, finished with your hair." For some reason, she feels like an idiot the second the sentence leaves her mouth.
"Oh." Weiss mimics. She doesn't move. Ruby notices the way she hesitates, and isn't sure whether it makes her feel better or worse about her own awkwardness.
But then Weiss' brain seems to catch up with the rest of her.
"Oh!" she repeats, practically jumping to her feet. Ruby immediately misses her warmth. "Right."
Weiss doesn't turn to face her. Ruby quickly decides that this does indeed make her feel worse.
She frowns deeply.
This isn't like them.
"...Weiss?" Ruby decides to ask, setting the brush down and rising to stand now too. "What's wrong?"
She watches as Weiss turns to face her fully, chews on her lip and refuses to meet her eyes.
Ruby opens her mouth to speak again, but is cut off by Weiss stepping forward and wrapping her arms around her neck in a secure hug.
"I miss you." Weiss mumbles, her head burrowing against Ruby's shoulder.
Ruby wraps her arms around Weiss' waist, pulling their bodies closer together and just basking in her partner's presence until the words she wants to say come rolling off her tongue.
"I miss you too."
Weiss doesn't say anything for a while. Ruby's eyebrows crease, worried. She opens her mouth to speak again, but Weiss beats her to it.
"I understand that you've been busy. We both have. But we're hardly ever together anymore and I just…"
Weiss trails for a moment. But Ruby stays attentive, waits for her to continue. She isn't even sure how much time has passed since they've been standing here. Probably only a few minutes, but Ruby feels like she could remain here for an eternity, just holding onto her partner like this.
That thought, combined with the words Weiss finishes with, hits Ruby like a freight train.
"I need you, Ruby. Here in Atlas more than ever. I need you and yet I can't help but feel like we're drifting apart."
Ruby needs Weiss, too.
Gods, of course she needs Weiss.
Ruby's heart aches. She wants to reciprocate that sentiment aloud, but her first reflex is to apologise.
"Don't." Weiss doesn't let her get very far, though, objecting with firm softness. "Don't apologise. We've both been busy."
"B-but, I promised--"
"That you wouldn't leave my side. I know." Again, Weiss doesn't let her. She feels Weiss' thumb start to rub gentle circles between her shoulders, and she immediately eases at the touch.
After a beat, Weiss continues. "Things have been almost nothing but complicated since we got here. You are not responsible for other people's plans and choices getting in the way of that promise."
"I know." Ruby mumbles.
"I'm not angry or upset with you."
More silence follows. If it wasn't for the thumb still soothing over her back, it might have made Ruby feel anxious.
Instead, it calms Ruby down, helps her remember what she'd really wanted to say.
"I need you, too, Weiss."
She hugs Weiss a little tighter, afraid that she'll somehow lose her if she lets go, and Weiss lets her.
Ruby could absolutely stay like this for an eternity. Salem be damned.
Another uncertain amount of time passes before Ruby feels Weiss start to move again, pulling back so that Ruby meets her eyes.
The proximity between their lips is torture.
But then Weiss lets her eyes fall to the ground, biting her lip. She looks like she wants to say something.
"Weiss?" Ruby prompts after a moment, concerned.
Weiss seems to almost jump in surprise at the intrusion. She releases her hold on Ruby's neck and takes a only small step back, but it's enough to force Ruby's hands away from her waist.
"It's nothing." Weiss says, waving her hand dismissively and giving her a smile that Ruby can tell is forced.
Ruby opens her mouth to stammer out some sort of response, but stops herself as Weiss moves away and busies herself with untucking her bedsheet for longer than necessary.
As Weiss leans over, her hair falls to expose the back of her neck again. Ruby watches as she raises a hand up to rub at the skin; her fingers tracing over the space where Ruby's lips had previously been.
That heavy feeling of longing bubbles in her chest again, yearning for Weiss' affection.
Her legs move before her brain does, and in two quick strides she's beside Weiss. Her heart has completely taken the wheel, and she knows there's no hitting the brakes now.
"Weiss." she says. It comes out more intense than intended. Or perhaps that's just what it feels like. She can barely tell with the wild thumping of her heart ringing loudly in her ears.
Weiss stands up straight to look at Ruby, an inquisitive expression on her face, but she barely has time to get a response out before Ruby presses forward and connects their lips.
It's only a soft little thing, but it's enough for Ruby to catch Weiss' surprised gasp between them. She noses gently at Weiss' cheek as she pulls away, tracing the smooth curve of her face with intense silver eyes and silently praying to the Gods that she didn't just make the biggest mistake of her life.
"I meant it when I said I need you." Ruby tells her. She needs her so bad it almost hurts. Almost as much as the thought of rejection, but going another day without Weiss knowing somehow hurt even more.
But when Ruby sees the bright flush that rises in Weiss' cheeks before feeling Weiss' arms wrap themselves around her neck, she knows she doesn't need to worry about rejection anymore.
This time, the kiss lasts for much longer.
They're a perfect fit, Ruby thinks, her hands slotting themselves against the small of Weiss' back. Like this, she's much more aware of their height difference, her chin tilted down to meet the lips currently moulding with her own.
Ruby feels the way Weiss' breath hitches when her tongue swipes tentatively against her bottom lip, and swears she almost short-circuits when Weiss acquiesces; parting her lips to allow Ruby entrance.
As Ruby explores Weiss' mouth, their tongues brushing together gingerly, all she can think about is how warm her partner is.
Not just in terms of the kiss, obviously, Ruby thinks, but all of her.
Where her hands sit, she can feel the pleasant thrum of Weiss' skin, even through the soft cotton of her sleep shirt. The arms wrapped around her neck make her feel secure and safe. Everything about Weiss is comforting to Ruby.
Ruby almost accidentally breaks the kiss when a smile makes its way onto her face. Despite her icy exterior, Weiss really was warm, both inside and out. Ruby is certain she'll never meet another person who – despite all of her emotional hardship – is capable of caring so deeply.
Her smile must be infectious, Ruby figures, because soon she feels Weiss grinning against her lips, before she pulls away to level Ruby with a slightly amused stare.
"What?" Weiss asks.
"You're warm." is all Ruby says, almost barking a laugh when Weiss' expression turns into a half-glare and her cheeks redden at the comment.
"Well, I--!" Weiss tries, and Ruby must look really entertained because Weiss removes her arms from around her neck and folds them across her chest in a way that makes her look almost petulant. "I can't help it if I'm blushing, you know."
Ruby shakes her head, fighting off the larger grin she feels threatening to take over her face. She raises a hand and gently cups Weiss' jaw, making her partner's expression soften a bit. Only a bit.
"Not just here." she says, stroking Weiss' cheek with her thumb. She moves the hand from Weiss' face, using it to point to her chest. "In here, too."
Weiss' face explodes with colour again, and even when she looks to the ground – suddenly finding their feet to be the most interesting things in the world – Ruby doesn't miss the shy smile that graces her features.
"Dolt." is all Weiss says as soon as she recovers the ability to speak. Ruby allows herself to laugh this time, encouraged by Weiss wrapping her arms back around her neck and resting her chin atop Ruby's shoulder.
"Your dolt." Ruby adds helpfully, smiling when she hears Weiss' soft hum of agreement against her ear.
This is everything Ruby has been missing and more. How she had gone on this long without this kind of closeness to her partner is beyond her. But now that she has it, she certainly isn't planning on letting go any time soon.
Not even when they get tired from standing and Ruby changes into her pyjamas do they separate, curling up together in the comfort of Weiss' bunk.
Needless to say, it doesn't take long for either of them to fall into peaceful sleep.