A/N: This story takes place in the same gaslamp fantasy/steampunk Victorian AU as does Belladonna Lilies. Like that story, and in my "Elementary, My Dear Natsuki" series, I have not gone to any particular trouble to keep dialogue fitting with the time and place (seriously, just thinking about writing Yang in period-appropriate style was well beyond my abilities!), though I've tried to avoid any egregious anachronisms...except those as mandated by the Dust-fueled AU itself. Enjoy!
~X X X~
~ 1875 ~
Yang Xiao Long waited for a total of approximately eleven minutes after she was left on her own. The fidgeting had started after about three, shifting in her seat and kicking her legs. She'd hopped out of her chair at eight and started looking around the room, at the somber flower arrangements and the black crepe. Three minutes of that had been enough to extract every last bit of interest from the room. She decided that she didn't like it much. It was big and fancy and sparkling clean, but it didn't feel like home. It felt like the big front room Uncle Chen put guests in when he wanted to impress them.
Only from what Yang had seen, all of the other rooms were like that, too. Rose Hall might have been big and impressive, but she couldn't imagine how people could actually live there. Still, it was a really large house, and to a restlessly inquisitive seven-year-old, whatever was beyond the doors held endless promise. After all, there could be all kinds of interesting places just kept out of sight. And whatever was out there, it had to be better than the boring morning room, simply by virtue of there being more of it. So, eleven minutes after being told to sit quietly and wait, Yang opened the door and slipped out into the hall.
She had to admit, the house was a pretty neat place. Dark colors seemed to predominate, in the paneling and mahogany-brown fixtures, in the deep russet wallpaper, too dark to be called crimson, and in the shadowy hues of the portraits and landscapes found here and there. It wasn't a grim or forbidding darkness, like under the causeway behind Uncle Wu's that led into the sewers and (so the other children whispered) to an underground city of monsters. It was just stiff and somber, and a little sad.
Yang being herself, she took the time to look around everywhere and see what there was to see. There were portraits of dark-haired men and women, most of them with funny-looking hair, and in the case of the men even more ridiculous moustaches and beards. She liked the ones best that had bright colors, brilliant silks and satins and broad-brimmed hats with silly plumes. There were exotic vases in delicately painted porcelain. There was a room where there were exotically painted wooden masks that didn't seem like they were either English or Chinese, the two cultures Yang had any familiarity with. Between them was a case of weapons: broadswords, maces, rapiers with exotically swept hilts, even a massive scythe like the English said the Grim Reaper carried. Beneath the scythe hung a jian, looking every bit as fine as Master Lie's.
All the while she was exploring, Yang was also playing a game. The sport in question was hide-and-seek. Of course, the servants didn't know that they were playing, which gave Yang quite an advantage, but that advantage was offset by the fact that there were so many of them, coming and going about their duties. And Yang was still exploring, so she really couldn't predict where some of them might come from or go to.
In other words, it was a great game.
More than once she'd had to duck out of sight behind some piece of furniture just in the nick of time to avoid being seen. The soft rugs and carpets made her quiet, light steps almost silent (and wouldn't Master Lie be proud of that, given how he always criticized her footwork), so at least she could move around without giving herself away.
The kitchens tempted her, as it was getting on towards lunchtime, but Yang was bright enough to know her chance of slipping in and getting her hands on some food without being spotted was basically nil. Besides, that would probably be stealing (she wasn't sure whether she qualified as a guest entitled to hospitality) and someone might get in trouble. It was one thing to snatch something from Liang the fruit-seller, who always put his thumb on the scales when he thought nobody was looking, and quite another to steal from strangers.
So instead of letting her stomach do the talking, Yang snuck around to the main staircase, which was about as grand as any she'd seen. The polished wood bannister begged to be slid down, and she probably would have, too, if it hadn't been for the fact that she was wearing her one good English-style dress, a relatively simple white confection that was still way too confining and fancy for Yang. She had a feeling that if she wrecked it while up to some stunt, her mother would treat her to an extra dose of the Xiao Long temper!
Instead, Yang crept up the stairs, to see what there was to find on the next floor. Which, at first, didn't seem like much, since there weren't much more than bedrooms there. The ones for the family didn't particularly interest Yang, since it seemed kind of creepy to be looking through the private things of people she didn't know, while the guest rooms were just empty and boring. She was considering going back down and trying the kitchens after all (maybe she couldn't swipe anything, but she could try to look cute and pitiful and get the servants to give her a snack before they realized they were supposed to turn her in?) when she heard the whimpering.
The noise was high and bitter, and coming from behind a door up the hall. Worried at what was going on, her first impulse was to investigate. Her second impulse didn't matter, since second impulses were for people who didn't act at once on their first. Yang turned the knob and opened the door wide enough so she could peek around the edge.
The well-oiled hinges didn't make any sound, and Yang's arrival drew no notice. She saw what was obviously a lady's bedroom, with a large bed, a fancy vanity dressing table, and oodles of white lace everywhere. The whimpering was coming from a huddled black lump on the bed, which it took Yang a couple of seconds to realize was actually a very small child.
She really ought to leave, Yang realized. She wasn't supposed to be creeping around the mansion, and she was really not supposed to be bothering the family. But the girl was crying! She couldn't just ignore that, could she? She pushed the door open and went in.
"Um..." she began, not sure exactly what she was supposed to say, "are you all right?"
The whimpering stopped as the child sat bolt upright in shock.
Now that she was upright, Yang could see that the child was a girl, no more than four or five. Her hair was almost as dark as her dress, but with hints of red to brighten it up, and she had huge, weirdly silver eyes. Her tiny hands were clutching something that looked like a big, white blanket.
"I'm Yang!" the blonde declared, walking over to the bed. "I'm sorry if I scared you."
"Uh, you kinda yelped when I spoke."
"Not scared," the girl insisted. "Huntresses don't get scared, and I'm going to be a huntress, so I'm not scared, either."
"Sounds good to me," Yang decided. "What's a huntress?"
"It's a hero! A huntress fights monsters and catches bandits 'n' other bad guys." She looked down at the white cloth in her hands. "My Mama was a huntress."
From the word 'was,' Yang had a pretty good idea what all the flowers, the black decorations, and the black armbands on the servants were about.
"I'm sorry," Yang said. "You must miss her, huh?"
The little girl bit her lip and nodded. If she hadn't been so sad, the sight of her hair bobbing up and down might have been funny, but she was and it wasn't.
Yang went over and hopped up on the bed, then put her arm around the girl and gave her a squeeze. From this angle, she realized that the white cloth was actually a cloak with a hood. She was kind of surprised, because it wasn't fancy or frilly like the rest of the house, but made of good, strong stuff.
"Was that hers?" she asked.
"Are you going to have one like it when you grow up and become a huntress?"
"Yeah, only mine's going to be red!"
"Red, huh? Howcome?"
"Because of my name."
"You didn't tell me your name," Yang pointed out.
"It's Ruby. What's yours?"
"I already told you, it's Yang." She perhaps had not allowed for the attention span of a five-year-old who was missing her mother.
"Yang?" Ruby botched the pronunciation.
"Close enough." Yang didn't get uptight over her name. English people messed it up a lot.
"What kind of a name is Yang?"
Ruby gave her a suspicious stare.
"You don't look Chinese," she decided.
"I look like my dad," Yang said. "He's English."
"Oh. Everybody says I look like Mama," Ruby said sadly.
"That's good, though."
"Sure!" Yang said. "That means she's always with you, even though she's not here. All you have to do when you miss her is look in the mirror, and you can see right there how much she loved you."
Ruby was tearing up, so Yang fished a handkerchief (somehow still clean) out of her sleeve and blotted around her eyes.
"Not crying," Ruby insisted. "Huntresses don't cry."
"Sure they do."
"You said that huntresses were heroes, right? That means that they're good people. And good people love and care about other people, right? So that means that they get sad, 'cause we get sad when bad things happen to people we care for."
Yang was mostly cribbing off what her mother had told her after her grandfather had died a year ago, but good advice bore repeating.
"So...so...it's a good thing to be sad?"
"Well, not forever, 'cause being sad hurts, but...I mean, it's better than not being sad after your mum died. That'd mean either she was all mean and nasty like the wicked stepmothers in fairy tales, or that you were a mean, selfish person who didn't love her. And those would be pretty bad, right? Being sad for a while's better than that."
Apparently Ruby thought Yang was making sense because the floodgates opened. She let go of her mother's cloak, grabbed the front of Yang's dress with both hands, and buried her face against Yang's chest, sobbing frantically. This was not exactly what Yang had expected (and her mum was going to be really angry over her dress being used as a handkerchief), but there was no way she was going to push the little girl away. She wondered how long ago it was that Ruby's mother had died, and why a five-year-old had been crying alone in her dead mother's room, anyway. Didn't rich English people have nurses or governesses or whatever to watch their kids? And where was her family, anyway? That's who she needed right now.
The idea that Ruby had been left by herself like this made Yang want to punch somebody in the nose.
What she had then was Yang, though, and so Yang put one arm around her in a reassuring hug and stroked her hair with her other hand, trying her best to soothe and gentle her. It seemed to work, or maybe the tears just played themselves out on their own, because the wracking sobs at last slowed and ebbed away, replaced by rasping breaths. The grip on Yang's dress slackened, and she loosened her grip around Ruby so the girl could sit up.
Mum's going to be mad, all right, Yang thought sadly; the front of her dress was rumpled by Ruby's fists and the fabric was soaked with tears. The crying jag hadn't left Ruby any the better off; her face was all red and blotchy and her nose was running. Yang handed her the handkerchief.
"Here, blow your nose."
Ruby gave a tremendous honk.
"Thank you," she snuffled.
"It's okay. Mum'll just make me wash it."
Ruby shook her head.
"No, no, not that." She hung her head a little. "Papa's just really sad about Mama."
"Oh, so he's not around to talk like this?" Yang understood the missing-dad problem; her own was almost never around. She saw him no more than a couple of times a year.
Which made it even more astonishing when he walked into the room alongside Yang's mother.
Yang and Ruby blinked, looked at each other in surprise, then back at the tall man they'd both just named their father. In Yang's case, the resemblance was obvious: he looked like a Viking god, with chiseled Nordic good looks, broad shoulders, and powerful arms and legs. For Ruby...well, Ruby had said that she looked like her mother. Next to him, Yang's mother almost looked comical, a delicate, tiny Chinese woman like a porcelain doll, with pearlescent skin and lustrous almond eyes. Mind you, anyone who thought of her as fragile and delicate really didn't know her at all.
"Yang Xiao Long, what are you doing here? I told you to wait in the drawing room!"
"But it was so boring in there, Mum," Yang said shamelessly.
"And you thought that was reason enough to go prowling through the house, through private rooms, bothering people—"
"Wasn't bothering me!" Ruby spoke up.
"Yeah, I only came in here 'cause I heard her."
"And what are you doing here, Ruby?" their father asked. He didn't say it sharply or angrily, but it was apparently enough that she knew she wasn't supposed to be doing it to make her shrink in on herself.
"She came in to get her mum's cloak," Yang said, then reached out and took the smaller girl's hand. That seemed to reassure Ruby, as she straightened up again.
"Uh-huh. I...I miss Mama! And I wanted her cloak, and I found it in here, and I was really sad, but then Yang came, and she said it was okay to cry, so I did, and now I feel better, and why did she call you Dad, Papa?"
"Because she's your sister, Ruby. She has a different mother, but I'm her father, too."
"Why didn't you tell me I had a sister?" Yang asked her mother.
"Your father's proper family was none of your concern. He has acknowledged you as his child and generously supported you, and that is more than enough to expect from a man in his situation, until now."
That explanation was definitely one of her "you will understand when you are older" ones—the tone was unmistakable—so Yang focused on the part she could follow.
"So why is it different now?"
"Because Mrs. Rose passed on."
"But how does that change things?"
"It's your father's place to explain," she said, with firm undertones of and I'm not going to make it easy for him by doing it myself. Whatever it was, it must have been serious.
Yang's father, to his credit, accepted the challenge. He came over to her and crouched down so that they were at eye level.
"Yang, I would like for you to come here and live with us from now on."
"What, here? Who'd want to live here?"
Her mother didn't actually laugh or smile at Yang's reflexive reaction, but it danced in her eyes. Her father flinched, taken aback.
"Do you hate me that much?"
"Huh? Of course I don't hate you, Dad. But it's this house. It's big and it's cold and it's not like a home at all. It's kind of creepy, really." She glanced at her newfound sister. "It must be really hard for Ruby."
Her father nodded solemnly.
"That...is actually why I hoped that you would come live here with us, Yang. When Ruby's mother was alive, this house was very different. It was a home, a place of family. But now, as you say, it's different. In a lot of aristocratic households, they leave the children largely to the servants, but my wife wasn't like that, and now she's gone. I want Ruby to have her family around her as she grows up, not abandon her to governesses and schools."
So, when Yang had been thinking earlier of how Ruby's family ought to have been there for her, she actually was the family. She'd been being a big sister without even knowing it.
"It is a fine opportunity for you, Yang. It would give you the chance to be raised in style and comfort, to receive an education, and to have access to the best of everything."
"But I wouldn't get to see you or home or my friends."
She nodded once.
"Not often. There is no gain without loss," she agreed. "Each choice has its good and bad points."
Yang rolled her eyes.
"You sound like Uncle Chen talking to English merchants."
"And you are being pert. Perhaps being raised as an English lady will curb that where I have failed."
Yang grinned saucily.
"Or maybe I'll grow up to be a huntress like Ruby's mum."
"Ruby," her father said, and this time he was stern, "that is a family secret. You are not supposed to tell other people about that." He glanced at Yang's mother, whose elegantly plucked eyebrows had risen in surprise.
"But Yang is family! She's my big sister, so it's okay that I told her!"
"Yeah!" Yang said, giving Ruby a quick squeeze on the shoulder. "I am family."
Ruby turned those big silver eyes on her, looking like an eager puppy.
"Does that mean you're going to stay here?"
It wasn't that easy, or at least it shouldn't have been. Maybe it was sisterly instinct at work, but the thought of the little girl left all alone in this big, dark house chilled and appalled her. Yang was going to do everything that was in her power to make sure that Ruby never had to cry like that again.
She gave Ruby her biggest smile.
"Yes. Yes, little sis, it does."
~X X X~
A/N: Here's hoping the story wraps up before Volume 2 of RWBY comes along and wrecks everything here about Yang and Ruby's family! The story rather needed the family background, since the sisters are front-and-center in the plot, and I decided to take the risk of filling in the blanks for the story even knowing that canon would probably go somewhere different. (Plus, of course, while there is no China in Remnant, there is a China in the real world and therefore Yang's name needs an explanation...although I've again, chosen to keep her first and last names what they are in the show even though I have it on good authority (thanks, yuiseppe and deathcurse!) that "Xiao Long" doesn't work as a non-fantasy Chinese family name any more than "Valkyrie" or "Arc" do as English or French ones!)