Vacuo sprawls out across the desert in the shadow of the great pyramid of Shade Academy. Upon arrival, they stare up at the pyramid from the unceremonious heap they land in, a little bit in awe and a little bit frightened. The whole place has an unsettling, sinister feeling about it. Enough to send shivers up spines and raise gooseflesh as the stiff desert wind blew sand into whirling dervishes before their eyes.
Weiss is pretty sure she’s going to hate this place, hissing in pain as Blake kicks her in the face as she tries to right herself from underneath Jaune and Yang. Ruby’s elbow digs hard into Weiss’s side. Yes. She already regrets leaving the beach and the ghosts and the trauma of her clearly misspent youth.
Yang wiggles. Somehow her hair is now in Weiss’s mouth . She’s going to strangle every single one of them. “Yang,” she splutters, spitting out hair. “Please keep your hair to yourself and out of my mouth.”
“Mnnn, that’s not what you said last night,” Blake says from somewhere around Weiss’s ankle. Weiss tries to kick her, but Blake’s too quick. She’s smirking from what little Weiss can see of her stupid smug face from under the combined weight of the three idiots who still haven’t gotten off her.
“Jaune—” Yang grunts from the bottom of the pile. “For the love of fuck, get off me so Weiss will stop talking about pubes.”
“I am not! ” And really, she wasn’t. But leave it to Blake to make it dirty. See if Weiss ever kisses either of them again.
So. Neo steps on Jaune’s face to get to her feet, ignoring the indignant squawk of “Hey I was using that!” to tuck her umbrella under her arm so she can better move her hands. We’re in Vacuo, Rose. What’s the plan?
As if for dramatic effect Neo hooks her umbrella around Jaune’s shoulder and yanks him forward, landing him face down in the dirt. A cloud of dust rises as he coughs and gets to his feet. “You’re an asshole, Neo.”
Blake gets off Weiss and offers her a hand as Ruby does a neat handspring to her feet, collecting Crescent Rose from where it landed a few feet away. “Sorry for kicking you,” Blake’s fingers ghost over what Weiss is sure is a boot print on her face.
“I’m not,” Weiss huffs.
Blake flicks Weiss on the forehead. “Too bad you’re too slow to land a hit, Schnee.”
And maybe Weiss kicks her in the shin just for that.
Jaune rubs at the back of his neck and stares up at the city. “So do we just walk into the city and ask where your sister is?”
What would that do, other than attract undue attention ? Neo’s brow furrows. Vacuo is full of the worst sort of people. Besides, do you even know who made it through? It could be that Ironwood is waiting for you with a vendetta.
“I know Winter made it through,” Jaune says forcefully. “I think that means he isn’t.”
But you don’t know, Blondie, and that’s the issue. For all we know Cinder’s already been through here and they’re all dead.
“Well, we could just get arrested again,” Yang proposes.
Ruby shakes her head. “I don’t think we should take any more years off Winter’s life like that.”
“True, she did look like she was having an aneurysm last time that happened.” Blake tilts her head toward Weiss and taps her chin thoughtfully. “Do you think it hurt her, displaying that much emotion?”
Weiss pinches the bridge of her nose. “I forget that you were essentially raised by wolves sometimes Blake. In polite—”
“—stuck up. You mean stuck up, Weiss,” Yang puts in. A picture of innocence, her smile blithe and her eyes sparking, Yang absolutely thinks she’s being helpful.
Which she absolutely is not.
Weiss grits her teeth and soldiers on, “— Atlesian – society , controlling emotion is a necessity so as to not cause a scene.”
“Pretty sure your sister had those guys who arrested us demoted and sent to work under Cordovin. I’d call that a scene.” Yang bridges her fingers behind her head and tilts her head back. The sunlight catches her bronzed and freckled skin, and Weiss decides that maybe Yang isn’t so bad.
And to be fair, it was funny in retrospect, remembering Winter standing stiffly in the corner of their room at Atlas Academy and announcing that the “foolish lieutenant” that had ordered their arrest had been reassigned to Argus with High Command’s most sincere apologies. Weiss rolls her eyes. “Clearly a fate worse than death.”
Jaune turns to Weiss, brow furrowed. “Didn’t you summon a Boarbatusk in the middle of a gala? Weren’t you proud of doing that? I distinctly remember you boasting to Nora about it.”
“What was I supposed to do when she was showing off her biceps like that? Flex back? One must always play to one’s strengths.”
“Oh, but that would have been hilarious.” Ruby cracks the first smile since they’ve arrived. She leans over and pokes Weiss’s bicep. Which is very nice, thank you, it just isn’t something obscene like Nora’s or the one on Yang’s good arm.
“Shut up Ruby.”
“You love me,” Ruby shoots back. She holds up her hand. “Normal sized bicep solidarity.”
Halfheartedly, Weiss gives her five.
Blake’s ear twitches and a positively sinful smile drifts across her lips. She drapes her arm over Yang’s shoulder. “You know who has nice biceps.”
Weiss wishes, privately, for death. “Do not—”
Yang’s hand comes to rest on the back of Blake’s head, tangling in the half-bun she’s pulled her hair back into. Blake lets out a little pleased sound and leans into the touch. “Mmm good point. I bet you she tore off the sleeves of that uniform of hers. We should definitely get arrested.”
Something wicked plays at Neo’s lips. She tips her hat back with her umbrella handle. I thought you’d never ask, Xiao Long.
The plan to get arrested is to create a (extremely minor, Yang assures them, only a few fruits were to be harmed) explosion. Neo is grinning like a feral cat as she takes the dust Weiss offers her. Weiss holds her gaze for long enough for Neo to wink her brown eye before she runs off with Yang.
Well, Weiss thinks, we’re absolutely doomed.
“Are we sure this is a good idea?” Blake watches them go, bottom lip caught between her teeth.
“We need a controlled environment – there is no way we can just walk in there. They think we’re dead and Neo’s right. We don’t know who made it through. Or how long we’ve been gone.” Ruby says. “We could have been gone for years for all we know.”
“You’d think this city would have a damn newspaper,” Blake mutters in Weiss’s ear.
They’d spent their first twenty minutes in town looking for a news stand only to discover that ‘Vacuo didn’t do newspapers’ which was really—well, a lack of a free press does wild things to society. Weiss doesn’t want to stick around long enough to find out what it’ll do here.
Nervous energy crackles around Weiss and she hums her agreement. “It’s like we’ve left civilization behind entirely.”
“You know,” Jaune comments mildly a moment later. “It is a little disturbing how well Yang takes to the task of causing chaos.”
“Neo’s a bad influence.” Weiss scratches her cheek and Blake hums her agreement.
“No, she’s always been like this,” Ruby says. “Though I’m not sure what the watermelons did to warrant this much hatred.”
“Foodfight?” Jaune ventures.
Dust, Beacon was a simpler time.
“Could be.” Ruby leans back against the wall and barely even blinks when the watermelon cart explodes and coats them all with liquified, sticky melon pulp. “I don’t think we thought this bit through.”
“Hope the jail we get sent to has showers.” Blake draws her finger through some watermelon pulp on Weiss’s cheek and meets Weiss’s gaze as she puts her finger in her mouth. “Wouldn’t want to be sticky.”
And maybe when Ruby and Jaune are distracted trying to cause an even bigger scene, Weiss pushes Blake against a shady wall beneath a leafy paloverde that sways gently in the desert breeze. There’s something so thrilling about the way Blake just goes willingly, and lets Weiss lean in and kiss her soundly. “You’re a terrible flirt, Belladonna.”
“I think you like it.” Blake’s fingers tangle in Weiss’s hair as Weiss rises up on her toes and licks a trail of sweat and watermelon guts off of Blake’s neck.
“Well, I know I like it,” comes a third voice.
They turn, sticky cheeks pressed against each other, to see Yang leaning against the wall. Blake’s ear flicks against the hand Weiss has in her hair and Weiss lets her fingers trail along its base. The deep rumble in Blake’s chest reverberates low. Weiss presses harder, scratching gently. Blake’s eyes clearly say don’t say a word , and Weiss revels in the feeling that she can do this, effortlessly, to someone who’s usually so calm and collected.
“Don’t stop on my account. I think getting arrested for public indecency is definitely the way to go down if we’re going down.” Yang looks down at her fingernails, all affected disinterest, but the way she drawls on the ‘w’ of the second down and looks through her bangs at the pair of them while smirking is absolutely also a crime.
A crime that encourages other sinful things.
Which, in retrospect, is exactly what Yang’s going for and they all know it.
And, okay, Weiss maybe whacks her in the back with a glyph to get her to come closer. And maybe Blake leans over and kisses Yang sweet and long. Watching them, Weiss feels her heart is fit to burst. And all of this is despite the fact that Blake and Yang are both, clearly, idiots.
They’re her idiots though.
“So do you think your sister would give us extra kudos if we did get arrested for indecency?” Blake asks. She looks up at the tree they’re standing under for a moment. “Or do you think the idea of people having sex would completely blow her mind.”
“I don’t know, bet you she’s a bit of a bottom bitch.” Yang rubs her chin thoughtfully. “Not that that, naturally, precludes anyone from having sex.”
“Course not,” Blake agrees.
“Can we not talk about my sister,” Weiss groans. She looks up at Yang and adds, because Weiss absolutely refuses to leave the winning of any of their little sparring matches on the table, “And that’s a bit rich coming from you.”
Yang rolls her eyes. “Someone has to deal with your meltdowns, Weiss,” She bends, pressing her lips to Weiss’s, her tongue swiping at Weiss’s lower lip. “Someone’s got to melt your glaciers, Ice Queen.”
Pushing her away, ignoring the thrill of want as Yang bites and hangs on to her lower lip gently, Weiss huffs. “That was awful, Yang.”
“Was it though? I think it was kind of charming.” Blake’s touching both of them now, leaning in close in a way that has Weiss’s skin on fire and want settling heavily at the base of her stomach.
Honestly, Weiss is grateful when Neo dumps a bucket of water on top of the three of them because she doesn’t have to fuck both of her girlfriends in public to prove just how hot her temper runs.
Ice queen indeed.
I am so sick of lesbians, Neo signs from the tree branch.
“Labels are so childish, Neo.”
“Yeah, well, you got me there.”
And okay maybe they beat up a few locals in order to absolutely ensure they get arrested. But in their defense, they were absolutely sort of sleazy and definitely eyeing the three of them making out under the tree. So yeah, they did deserve it. Absolutely.
The lone cop that’s sent to arrest them looks like he could be working in some backwater, wide-brimmed hat pulled down low and two pistols slung across his belt. He has a vibe of an old movie written all over his face, and he’s chewing and spitting at such regular intervals that Weiss’s stomach turns. He looks at the wreckage of Neo and Yang’s explosion, thumbs his hat a bit higher on his forehead and looks down his nose at Weiss and Ruby, before his eyes flick to the rest of the group. “Name’s Gomez. You kids are gonna have to try harder than that to actually upend the apple cart.”
Jaune looks affronted. “Um, excuse you, that cart was clearly full of watermelons and is absolutely on it’s side. In pieces.”
Gomez has a two-day growth of stubble at his cheeks, and he ushers them into the shade of a drooping paloverde so they can speak without expiring in the noontime sun. “City’s sick of your Atlas types,” His eyes flick to their clothing. “Always causing problems, you people. Stripped this place bare an’ now you’re back for more.” He spits. “Damn near eating us out of house and home.”
“Look, if you could just direct us to the refugee camp,” Jaune tries.
“Jaune,” Yang hisses in a dramatic stage whisper. “Ixnay on the efugeeray ampcay. We’re getting arrested.”
“Ah, I see the sun’s getting to y’all,” he shrugs. “Go about your business. Stop committing crimes against unsuspecting fruits.”
“Can you please just arrest us?” Weiss demands. She can’t believe she’s doing this. Yang’s whole hairbrained scheme is going to get them killed. “And then alert the Atlesians and the people at Shade to our arrival.”
“Why?” Gomez spits chew onto the ground and drives it into the dirt with the two of a boot so dusty it looks like it’s caked with mud. “Got better things to do than fuck around with a bunch of kids. City won’t pay to put y’all up with free aircon and food.”
Weiss wonders if he’s a bit dense. It shouldn’t be hard to just arrest five idiots (and one not idiot, thank you very much) who blew up a cart full of watermelons, nearly engaged in an act of public indecency, and the sheer amount of pain they just inflicted on those skeevy guys. The amount of pulverized watermelon rind spewed across the market is surely enough to get them arrested for littering at least. This place has to have laws about that.
This place has to have laws, right?
Still, it hurts a bit to say it. “Because they think we’re dead.”
He frowns, and thinks for a moment. “Y’all aren’t ghosts are ya?”
“Dust, no. I’ve had enough ghosts to last me a lifetime.” Leaning against Weiss, Ruby sighs dramatically. Her expression turns a bit darker. “We all have.”
Gomez digs in his pocket for a pair of handcuffs. He twirls them around his finger and looks them over curiously. “Why not just go and say hello? Wouldn’t that positively spark joy in the hearts of the invading army?”
Neo’s hands move so fast Weiss can barely keep up with her signs. It was, perhaps, a bad idea for you to send the entire kingdom’s population to the one place in Remnant that hates Atlas more than anywhere else.
You know, Jaune signs back, Now would be a very good time to keep your hands still so this guy doesn’t haul off and shoot us.
Maybe you should get better at dodging bullets then. Neo punctuates this by sticking her tongue out at Jaune.
He huffs and crosses his arms, looking resolutely away from Neo.
Sighing, Weiss holds out her wrists. “Call it Atlesian dramatics, when only one in the party is Atlesian.”
There are actual reasons for this, beyond Blake and Yang thinking Winter is hot (which is just baffling), good reasons too. Weiss isn’t about to fault Jaune and Yang’s strategy. Given that they’re showing up with Neo, there is a chance that anyone who was in Atlas will attack them on sight, no doubt thinking that they’re one of Neo’s illusions. The last anyone saw; Neo was fighting Ruby before she and Blake fell. Winter didn’t even see that – she’d arrived after. They need a closed, controlled environment where stories can be told without –
Something chokes in Weiss’s throat, sticky and uncomfortable. Penny is gone and she isn’t coming back.
Gomez looks at her for a long time before shrugging and slapping on the handcuffs.
The things I do…
What Weiss isn’t expecting is that Gomez separates them. Locks them each into their tiny holes in the wall that are barely big enough to move around comfortably in. Weiss uses the sink in the corner to try and get the rest of the watermelon out of her clothes, scrubbing fruitlessly for a few minutes before giving up and just dunking her whole jacket and dress into the sink. She sits in a moody silence as the drips onto the floor of the cell, hissing and sizzling as it evaporates as the burning square of sun from the window moves across the floor.
“Someone’s coming up from the camp,” Gomez comments when he comes by with water bottles. “Y’all just sit pretty and we’ll get your dramatics sorted out.”
But a day passes.
And then another day.
He didn’t even call them, Neo signs from the cell directly across from Weiss. She’s the only one Weiss can see. That’s the sort of backwater bullshit we’re dealing with here, Schnee.
“Well, a little warning would have been nice before I agreed to this scheme, Neo.”
Shrugging, Neo tugs her gloves off and rubs at her temples. When her hands finally move again, she seems almost weary. Or we’re being deliberately kept away.
A power struggle? Weiss asks.
You heard what he said. No one in Vacuo likes Atlas. We’re bargaining chips. Well, you are, don’t know about the rest of us.
Great. Weiss sits back, staring at the one hundred and twenty-five bricks in the ceiling, and starts to count them again.
Another day passes.
It’s hard to hear Blake and Yang from here. They’re on the other side of Jaune and Ruby. Weiss wants them, wants their arms around her, wants their comfort. She’s going mad being alone like this. She doesn’t ever want to be alone again ever. She can’t survive without them.
On the fifth day, Weiss sits in front of the bars of her cell door trading signed stories with Neo. She now knows far, far too much about Neo’s sex life, which is a nice change of pace from the echoing sounds of Jaune and Ruby berating themselves for this hairbrained scheme. Weiss is tired of reminding them that this was Blake and Yang’s hairbrained scheme, even if it had some logic.
What’s worse is that Blake and Yang are just silent. It’s the silence that’s maddening, the desperate need to reach out and touch Blake or Yang that has Weiss’s fingers twitching as she makes glyph after glyph to calm herself down.
There’s a bang, and then the sound of approaching footsteps and a whispered, “Oh, fuck .”
Weiss shoots to her feet, pressing her feet to the bars of her cell. There, at the end of the cell block standing tall and dressed in loose-fitting Vacuan clothing in cream and warm browns that set off her deep tan, is Robyn Hill.
Weiss stands there, frozen to the ground, staring at Robyn like she’s a ghost or salvation or both at once for a drawn-out moment. There’s a beat where Weiss wonders if she shouldn’t say anything at all, before something like hope hooks around Weiss’s stomach and the woman’s name is out of her mouth before she can fully consider the risks of speaking up and acknowledging that they know each other. “Robyn!”
“Those weren’t the biceps I was wanting, but I’ll take ‘em all the same.” Yang’s voice, echoing and nearly incomprehensible, bounces around the cell block.
Sometimes Weiss wonders if Yang’s true semblance is her ability to bring levity to moments where levity is absolutely not needed.
Robyn stalks down the cellblock and comes to stand in front of Weiss’s cell door. She rests her fingers on the metal and stares, eyes wide like she’s just seen a ghost. “You’re dead, little Schnee.”
There are two dusty trails down Robyn’s cheeks.
“We um…came back?” Weiss ventures.
Robyn’s hand shoots into the cell and she grabs Weiss’s hand before Weiss can back away. Her semblance glows between them. Her eyes are hard. “Are you Weiss Schnee?”
“Yes.” Weiss answers.
Their hands glow green.
Robyn lets go. Her expression is unreadable. From her pocket, Robyn produces a scroll. She swipes through a few contacts and raises it to her ear. “I need you call them back.” There’s a pause and Robyn’s brow furrows. “Well tell Theodore to put a damn pin in it. Get them back now.”
Collapsing the scroll, Robyn turns and bellows, “GOMEZ!”
He appears almost instantly, a mug full of coffee in his hand. “Hill.”
“Let them out,” Robyn demands. “All of them.”
“No can do. I need a signed council order for that.”
“Gomez, unless you want this building raised, you will remove these people from their cells.”
He crosses his arms, sips his coffee. In the drawn-out silence that follows, he raises an eyebrow. “This isn’t Atlas, Hill, you don’t get to bully people til you get your way here.”
“I didn’t get my way in damn Atlas either,” Robyn mutters. She winks at Weiss and flashes her a reassuring smile. Weiss’s cheeks burn. “I’ll sort this out,” Robyn promises.
Across the cellblock, Neo is shaking with silent laughter. Oh, this is too good. You’re crushing on the hot politician, Schnee. Shame your sister’s fucking her.
“She’s what ?” Jaune demands from the next cell.
“There is no way, Neo. No way.” Weiss shakes her head. There is no way. Winter would have said something. Winter wasn’t even---
--okay, actually yeah, she probably was. And isn’t that just a whole situation for Weiss to pick apart when they’re bailed out of prison.
Fuming, Weiss glares at Neo through the bars of her cell.
Neo shrugs, expression clearly saying suit yourself.
“You gonna share with the class?” Yang calls.
“Neo thinks Winter’s sleeping with Robyn Hill,” Jaune shouts back.
“Which is absurd,” Ruby adds.
Because it absolutely is.
“Weiss, does your sister even have a sex drive?” Blake shouts. It echoes a few times before Weiss can work out what Blake’s said.
“I don’t want to know if she does,” Weiss groans.
Denial is a nice look on you Schnee.
“Neo, if you do not shut up…” At this point, Weiss is going to commit a murder.
Raising a hand to cover her mouth, Neo’s shoulders quake with badly disguised laughter.
Robyn can’t get them out. She does get them all put into the same cell by threatening Gomez with the sort of violence that is both awe-inspiring and a little alarming because none of them thought Robyn had it in her.
“That might have been the hottest thing I’ve ever seen,” Blake has a far off look in her eyes, as though she’s a bit dazed.
“The added dig about the neoliberal state and power vacuum that would result should the current international superstructure of kingdoms collapse if Atlas did a neocolonialism was inspired.” Jaune kicks his feet out and slides down the wall of the larger cell that they’ve been forced into. “I doubt Gomez got it, as it mostly went over my head and he seems more interested in his chewing tobacco than actually using his brain.”
Weiss drapes herself over Blake as they both lean against Yang. Yang’s fingers twist into Weiss’s hair. She’s trailing her other hand up and down Blake’s arm. It isn’t enough. Weiss feels like she’s starving for them. She never wants to let go.
Ruby wrinkles her nose. “Must you with the cuddle pile?”
Weiss sighs. “It’s been five days Ruby.”
“You’ve gone longer without showering,” Ruby deadpans.
Weiss stares at her, trying to remember when – oh right, that field mission up into the tundra where they’d all nearly frozen to death in that damn mine north of Kaina before the Ace-Ops came and bailed them out. Yeah, that had been a shitshow. “Not willingly.”
“You didn’t get in the hot spring,” Blake mumbles in her ear. “I was so disappointed.”
Heat rises up the back of Weiss’s neck. There’d been a reason for that. Oh, right. The panic that she’d felt whenever Yang or Blake looked at her or each other for too long. Absolutely couldn’t be naked with that panic happening. Who knows what might have happened?
She tangles her fingers together with Blake’s and resolutely, purposefully, changes the subject. “Do you think it’s weird that Winter hasn’t come?”
They all exchange a long look. This is something Weiss has been worried about for a while now – the rejection of them coming back. They’d talked about it before they’d made the deal to come back. They were supposed to be dead – their purposes fulfilled. But they’d come back because apparently that had been conditional.
Weiss stares at her and Blake’s fingers. Blake’s nail polish has long-since chipped away to nothing, but there are still bits of black at the corner.
Blake squeezes three times. The first, she’s said, is reassurance, the second is steadfastness, the third is simply because she wants to. Yang thinks the whole thing is disgustingly sentimental, but she does her own things that make Weiss’s heart skip in her chest. Weiss, too, has her rituals. The way she rises with gentle kisses to foreheads and palms, always lingering just long enough to ensure that what she feels for the pair of them is conveyed before she goes and collects ruby to burn off the excess energy her partner has most mornings.
It’s Ruby’s gaze that Weiss meets now. Ruby who looks worried, because she maybe understands Weiss’s relationship with Winter best of everyone present. Blake and Yang like Winter, they think she’s a strong fighter and a talented leader, but they don’t know Winter like Ruby does, they don’t love her like Weiss does. Like Penny did. They don’t see the side of Winter that Weiss knows has been screaming out in agony this entire time.
(And Penny had known it too.
And maybe the wound Jaune inflicted sits hollow in all of their chests.)
“I wonder if she doesn’t believe it.” Jaune looks down at his hands. “You – none of you saw her.” There’s something so haunted about the way he speaks. “I thought she was going to kill Cinder with her bare hands.”
“She does do violence well,” Yang says.
“Scary well,” Blake agrees. “Though in this instance—"
“--this isn’t really that sort of instance at all,” Ruby says. “She’d just lost you Weiss. We don’t even know how long we’ve been gone. Robyn’s clearly been here a while – you saw how tan she was – we don’t know how long it’s been. We’ve probably been mourned.”
“This is so fucked up,” Yang breathes, tilting her head toward the ceiling. “Like, where’s Qrow? Where are Ren, Nora, and Oscar? Why hasn’t anyone come to see us?”
If it were me, Neo says, I’d want to keep this as quiet as possible. Hope is dangerous.
“Do you think Robyn even told her – told any of them?” Ruby asks.
That’s what I’m wondering.
Something curls, cold and irksome, at the base of Weiss’s stomach. She curls into Yang and exhales slowly. Neo’s right. Neo’s always right.
Weiss wakes up in the middle of the night to a cell bathed in pale blue light. She blinks, sitting up from where she’s nestled against Yang’s side. There, standing at the cell door, is a figure clad all in white. Scrambling to her feet, Weiss hurries over her sleeping teammates to the door.
“Winter,” she breathes.
There, on the other side of the bars, is her sister. Her hair hangs limply around her shoulders, a bit shorter than Weiss has ever seen it.
Her sister’s eyes are wet with tears. She presses her hand to the bars and frost blossoms at the lock. The temperature plummets as Winter’s eyes burn. She jerks her hand back and the door snaps open, the iron made brittle in the cold.
Sub-par tech. Would never fly in Atlas.
Vacuo isn’t built for the cold. No, Vacuo is a blazing inferno and at its heart is Winter – a pinpoint of icy white heat.
And dust… Winter is warm and she is here and she is alive. She wraps her arms around Weiss so tightly Weiss’s spine cracks. She doesn’t care that it hurts. “How long?”
“Six weeks.” Winter buries her nose Weiss’s hair. “Dust, Weiss, I thought I’d lost you.” She’s touching Weiss, touching her everywhere. Fingers poking at her bumps and bruises, now mostly yellow as they've come back to Remnant and their auras have let them heal some.
It’s the touch that throws Weiss. Because no one touches her like this. No one save mother, and she’d never do it like Winter is, tilting her chin from side to side, checking her over for injuries. Weiss bats her hands away, but already the emotions have a stranglehold on her throat. She stares at Winter, at the flaming eyes that terrify Weiss because they remind her so much of Cinder Fall’s eyes and the curling flames of her aura burning through Weiss’ gut.
Weiss pushes the fear away and throws her arms back around her sister. A sob chokes its way out of Weiss, hiccupping as she twists her fingers into the back of Winter’s sleeveless jacket. Tears sting the corners of Weiss’s eyes. “Where were you? It’s been over a week! Did Robyn even tell you we were here?”
Winter steps back, her hand slipping into her pocket. It’s then Weiss realizes her clothing is stained and torn, muddied at the knees and side like she’s been flung into the dirt. Winter holds out her scroll. There are twenty-seven missed calls and ten text messages still listed in her notifications. All from Robyn. Each of the texts reads the same,
“We have a code system worked out. Everyone here in a position of authority knows it,” her expression darkens. “We need to keep a clear line of communication that isn’t monitored by Vacuo and that Salem’s people won’t know. Robyn told me thirty-seven times to come home now, Weiss.” There’s something so heartbreaking about how she says it, like she’s ashamed of the fact that she didn’t come when called. “I just – I wasn’t in range.”
“Oh.” Weiss looks down at the messages from Robyn, and then back to Winter. She thinks of how neither Ruby or Yang has mentioned it, but they’re wondering where their uncle is. If Robyn is here, surely Qrow must be too. They were together when Atlas fell. “Were you with Qrow?”
“Regrettably. Most of the skilled fighters came along to thin out the hoard of grimm that lurk just beyond the borders of the refugee camp.” Winter presses her fingers to Weiss’s cheek. “Robyn…she did the right thing. You were safe here. Safer than you would have been in the camp without me there.”
Scowling, Weiss lets her cheek rest against her sister’s chest. “She seemed awfully comfortable just calling you.”
“Strange times make strange bedfellows.” Winter says at length. “She has been instrumental in helping coordinate our resettlement efforts.”
“Please tell me you’re not sleeping with her.”
Coughing, Winter straightens and clasps her hands neatly behind her back. “Would that erm -- bother you?”
Weiss runs a hand over her face. Of course the damn ice cream cone is correct. What even is her life? “When um… did that happen?”
There’s something inscrutable about the look on Winter’s face. It’s an expression she’s used to seeing on Whitley before he says something unkind, and on father, before his hand shoots out and slaps her cheek. Weiss braces, tensing, only to have a warm weight settle over her shoulders.
Yang’s jacket is sleep warm and smells faintly of Blake’s deodorant. Weiss inhales deeply, and feels a hand come to rest, low and comforting, at the small of her back. “Yang,” Weiss breathes. “Sorry to wake you.”
“’sokay,” Yang mumbles. She nods. “Winter.”
“Yang.” Winter’s eyebrow climbs her forehead. A beat of silence follows, Jaune lets out a low snore and Ruby mumbles something about Zwei. “Perhaps you could also address this line of inquiry, Weiss.”
Weiss leans into Yang and exhales. “I regret a lot of things. Having this conversation tops the list.”
And oh, if there isn’t something just a little wicked about the corners of Winter’s mouth. “That isn’t answering my question. I would say it’s artfully dancing around it with an insult and self-deprecation.”
“Well, you didn’t answer mine first, Winter.”
“It is too damn early for a Schneebowl,” Yang grumbles. She slings her good arm more comfortably over Weiss and raises her chin defiantly. “The three of us were alone for a long time. Now we’re not.”
“Three…” Winter’s eyes narrow and she looks to where Blake, clearly wide away and watching them in the dark, is curled in the mess of blankets Gomez dumped in the cell after giving them their dinner. “Well, I –” she exhales, takes a moment to gather herself. Finally, when she speaks, her tone is warm. “I’m happy for you Weiss.”
“So,” Yang’s teeth glint in the moonlight and the pale blue light that seems to radiate from Winter’s eyes. Weiss braces herself. “You and Robyn Hill, huh? This mean you’re into public policy?”
Weiss lets out a small huff of laughter. “Yang, do you even know what Winter did at High Command?”
“Kill grimm?” Yang ventures.
“You’ll find, Miss Xiao Long, if you look hard enough, that Robyn and I have been working together for quite some time.” A little, closed-off smile plays at her lips. “I’ve always liked policy.”
And Weiss, because she’s not stupid and she knows exactly how the dirty bits of Yang’s brain works, elbows Yang hard in the tit. The last thing she wants or Winter needs is some comment about how it is working under Robyn Hill.
“I resent that,” Yang mutters in her ear.
Weiss pushes her face away. “You deserve it.”
“I didn’t even say anything.”
“You were thinking it, Yang. And that’s enough.”
They’re let out in the coming dawn. The sun crests over the horizon in the east, racing over the low dunes and canyons, casting long shadows that sweep up the desert to the city walls. By the time Winter leads them out of the city, it’s already hot and uncomfortable. Winter’s far browner than Weiss has ever remembered seeing her. She passes Weiss a half-used tube of sunscreen wordlessly as they get into the sun.
Weiss passes Jaune the tube when she’s done rubbing it on her arm and shooing Blake and Yang away as they try to help her get her ears and the back of her neck. “You know,” she says to Winter. “I just had a thought.”
“Oh no.” Winter’s tone is dry as kindling sure to ignite a brush fire if Weiss says the wrong thing.
Rolling her eyes, Weiss protests. “I swear it’s a good one this time! Why weren’t you surprised we got ourselves arrested?”
Winter turns, a small cloud of dust rising to her knees. She flashes Weiss a look that from anyone else would be a beaming smile. “It worked for you before, didn’t it? It was strategically sound. You were aware that you’d been gone for some time, but you were not sure how long, you have a new ally that few within Atlesian leadership trust,” she nods to Neo, who’s signing something – Weiss’s eyes narrow – very rude to Jaune and Ruby. “And you didn’t know if Ja- General Ironwood made it through.”
“Well, I think we sort of guess that after…” Weiss stares straight ahead. “She was there, you know. Where we were.”
“There was no saving her?”
Weiss’s toe stubs in the dirt path. “No. There wasn’t.”
Winter turns to Weiss then, her eyes burn bright and blue and angry. “I’m sorry I was late.”
There are a million things Weiss wants to say to Winter. Her temper rises, hot and ready to rage against Winter’s inaction, at her inability to see what was right in front of her face as their home fell apart before them. Weiss licks her lips, draws in a deep breath, and prepares to speak.
A hand rests heavily on her shoulder. Weiss turns, and there is Yang, tilting her chin toward the sea of tents before them. At the base of the hill a handful of figures stand, looking up at them, expectant, waving. “There’s time for that later,” she mutters.
“I should get it out of the way now.” Weiss answers in an equally low tone. “It needs to be said.”
Yang leans in, presses her lips to the corner of Weiss’s mouth, and swipes her thumb across Weiss’s cheek. “Let it go for now babe.”
“She’s right, you know.” Blake’s fingers slip into Weiss’s, twisting together and holding tight. She squints up as a black bird shoots down from the sky. “We have time, Weiss. We’re not racing a clock.”
Above them, the bird twists and morphs in midair. Qrow catches Ruby as she races up to meet him, Yang half a step behind her.
And maybe Weiss isn’t quite ready to forgive Winter, but she’s also not ready to see her go. Blake pulls Weiss forward and Qrow throws his arms around her too, lifting her up as she shrieks in protest and spinning her around. There are tears in his eyes and he’s laughing, crying, babbling about his girls. Weiss catches Winter’s eye as Qrow spins her around a second time. Winter smiles, bright and open and genuine.
Weiss can’t remember the last time she’s seen that smile.
So she smiles back.