Pyrrha squeezed her eyes tightly shut, the jingling of the brass alarm clock rudely stealing sleep from her. Any second now there will be a loud smash followed by Nora jumping out of bed, throwing open the curtains, and loudly rousing the rest of the team. Probably with singing. Hopefully not with jumping on the bed again since she broke a lamp last time she tried that.
But the alarm kept ringing, uninterrupted. Curious, Pyrrha opened her eyes briefly to confirm there was still a Nora-sized lump under the girl's blankets. "Nora," she called, "the alarm?" She heard a ruffle in the bed next to hers followed by a soft click and the alarm falling silent. Pyrrha sighed and pushed herself up, looking at her comrade. Nora was curled up in a ball under her blankets, facing towards the wall.
"Nora?" Pyrrha called, hesitantly. The figure remained unmoved. "Are you alright?"
Nora shrugged under the blankets, a brief and barely perceptible lifting movement of her covers. Pyrrha got up and sat on Nora's bed, resting her hand on the girl's shoulder. Nora winced slightly but was otherwise still. Her bright eyes were red and puffy and had none of their traditional warmth. Nora slowly broke eye contact with Pyrrha and wrapped the blankets tighter around herself. Pyrrha frowned and dressed herself in a robe before stepping through the pink heart-printed sheets hung to offer a modicum of privacy between the girl's beds and the center of the room. She stopped outside the cowboy sheets (graciously donated by Jaune and surprisingly enthusiastically accepted by Ren) similarly hung to separate the boy's beds. "Ren," she called softly, "Jaune, can I come in?"
After a second's hesitation, the sheet is pulled back by Jaune, wearing his pajamas and a hoodie. "If Nora's really eager you two can go ahead," he started. "Ren just needs to make his bed, you know how he is." Ren, who was indeed making his bed, simply shrugged without looking.
"No," Pyrrha said, "there's something wrong with Nora."
Ren's head perked up and he turned around. "She's not getting up?"
Pyrrha nodded. "I think she's been crying too."
"Alright. This happens sometimes, don't worry. You two go ahead, I'll stay with her."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, it'll be fine," Ren reassured her. "Just bring us back something."
Jaune and Pyrrha exchanged a concerned look before saying goodbye to Nora and heading down to the cafeteria. Ren crossed to the girls side of the room and called out to Nora before entering. She was unmoved, still curled up in a ball under her blankets. "Feeling down again?" Nora shrugged but said nothing. "Is it okay if I join you?" Nora didn't respond for a moment before slowly nodding her head and Ren slid into bed to sit next to her.
Nora flushed with embarrassment. For as long as she could remember she kept falling into this pit and she could never pull herself out. Her other friends would keep telling her to cheer up or try and talk her out of her funks, but it only made it worse. None of them understood how WRONG everything was and eventually they all gave up trying. Except Ren, damn him.
When she felt ugly he wouldn't tell her she was pretty, when she felt dumb he wouldn't tell her she was smart. He stayed by her side just being there for years, her best friend when she wanted so much more. She hated him and she hated herself for hating him. She hated how his loyalty wasn't enough for her. She hated how she wasn't pretty enough for him. She hated how she couldn't keep him interested or happy. She hated how she forced him to deal with a broken girl like her.
She hated letting him see her cry. But that couldn't stop the tears from coming when he ran his fingers through her hair.
"Nora," Ren said quietly. "Do you feel up for classes today?"
She shook her head sharply. She really didn't want to leave the bed. The bed was warm and safe and she didn't have to struggle and be around happy people who just couldn't understand why she wasn't. She groaned inwardly. Ruby's relentless pep was going to kill her.
"You don't have to," Ren said. "But if you can, you should." When Nora stayed silent, he continued. "You just have to show up for attendance, we can take notes for you." Nora remained mute. "...We can also make sure Ruby doesn't bother you." Nora turns and looks at Ren for the first time since she woke up and was greeted with a soft smile. She giggled and nodded. Ren excused himself to run a bath for Nora and she sat up in bed, still giggling.
And she was still giggling as she put on her robe. High pitched, merciless, frantic giggles she couldn't stop. Every breath was a gasp and an exhale of desperate laughter. Her eyes burned with tears. She didn't know when her laughter turned to sobs, but a lifetime of experience had taught her how to repress it. Slow, deep breaths, in and out, even when her body was shaking trying to expel the air from her lungs. Slow breaths even when her heart was racing. Slow breaths even when her chest hurt from the effort.
When Ren returned, her hysteria had gone. She hoped he hadn't noticed its arrival.
The team's washroom was hot and muggy, the mirrors fogged over. She closed her eyes and disrobed and stood basking in the warmth briefly before slowly stepping into and lowering herself gingerly into the bath. The water burned and she hissed as she immersed herself and closed the curtain behind her. She liked the heat. At home her family had a small sauna room and during the winter months she loved relaxing in there alone... Or with her sister.
Probably not best to think about her now. That girl's emotionally trying even on a good day.
She hears the dorm room door open followed by the muffled sounds of her teammates talking. Nora sighed and slid down in the tub, submerging her head in the water until only her lips and nose breached the surface. She felt the water She felt the water resting at the corners of her mouth, threatening to spill into her. She drew a deep breath and slouched below the water.
At first it was relaxing, but soon the pressure rose in her chest, a gentle request for fresh air that was slowly becoming more urgent. She let out a bubble of breath and felt some of the pressure relieve itself. In the back of her mind Nora questioned why she was doing this. She let out another bubble of air and listened to the soft "boop" it made as it breached the surface. Her lungs protested the loss. Why was she doing this, throwing away the air she needed? She squeezed her eyes tight and quickly emptied her lungs.
Her chest was on fire, burning pain filled her core and ran down her arms to her fingertips. She heard her heart thudding as loud as cannon fire and blood rushing through her eardrums. Her body twitches, trying to breathe but she refuses to let it, refuses to give in to her body's need. Nora tells herself she's doing this to have control, to remain mistress of her body even when it cannot be denied.
Her vision has dimmed.
And she wonders if she is telling herself the truth.
Nora heard the bathroom door open and jerked upright in the tub, gasping for breath. Pyrrha had stepped inside and quickly closed the door behind her. "Sorry!" she exclaimed. "I didn't mean to scare you." Nora didn't respond and instead grabbed the bar of soap and halfheartedly started rubbing it over her body.
"I brought your clothes," Pyrrha continued, setting them down on the counter. "And we brought you some pancakes. With plenty of syrup." She smiled and slipped off her robe and started putting on her own uniform. Nora murmured quiet but sincere thanks and watched the other girl dress.
Pyrrha was beautiful, there was no denying that even if one didn't get to see her in the undressed state Nora was often witness to. Long red hair, bright green eyes, smooth tanned skin rippled from muscles born from a strenuous life. Nora idly rubbed the soap between her breasts and felt her heart pounding in her chest. She admired the amazon's form (in a strictly aesthetic sense, of course!), but the girl was irritatingly perfect.
It's not that Pyrrha was more athletic, Nora thought. She knew she was fit, fit and probably stronger. You don't throw around a warhammer without building up your muscles. Pyrrha just looks better with hers. Sleek and lean, without an ounce of fat. Dangerous. Nora looked down at herself. She was just... stout? Sturdy? Not fat, certainly, but some adjectives perhaps better suited for a bookshelf than a pretty girl. Being shorter certainly didn't help her. She watched Pyrrha slip on her shoes and sighed. Heels. Girls that tall shouldn't be allowed to wear heels. It was just unfair. Nora tried heels every so often, never with much success. Fine for standing or walking around, but who wanted to do that? Maybe THAT'S what Ren wanted. A girl who could stand around. Being tall. Stupid Ren.
Nora shook her thoughts out. Pyrrha was looking at her, concern on her face.
"Are you okay?"
No, she wasn't okay! She was short and ugly. Boys didn't like her and her friends didn't understand her. She didn't even know if she really even had friends. She was stupid and slow and the schoolwork was just getting harder and harder and she missed home and her family andeverythingwasjustfallingapartandshedidn'tknowhowtostopitall-
"I'm fine," she said, emotionlessly.
"Are you sure? You are just..." Pyrrha drifted off, not finding the words.
She doesn't really want to know. She just feels guilty about not being able to help and wants everything to be swell again. Just tell her what she wants to hear.
"I'm fine," Nora repeated.
Pyrrha nodded slowly. "Alright... We'll just... I will see you in class?"
Pyrrha nodded again and after a moments hesitation exited the bathroom. Nora heard muffled talking outside and drowned it out by releasing the plug in the bath and letting the water drain around her. She toweled off and dressed with her eyes steadfastly off the mirror until she had finished. When she did, she barely recognized the dead eyes of the girl staring back at her.
"What is WRONG with you?" she asked the girl. The girl didn't know and said nothing.
Back in their room Ren was waiting. He had already finished his breakfast and was sitting on his bed with a plate of pancakes for Nora. She smiled humorlessly. "I'm not really hungry, can we just go?"
"You need to eat something."
She sighed, but sat next to him and took the plate when he offered.
"Just take a few bites and we can go."
Nora poked at the pancakes with her fork idly.
"I know Pyrrha and Jaune would feel better if you ate some. They're worried about you."
Nora snorted. "What about you? Are you worried?"
"I'm never worried about you," Ren, impassive as usual. "You can handle anything."
She sat unmoving for several moments before quietly whispering "What if I can't?"
"You can. Trust me."
She turned her attention back to the pancakes. She didn't see it at all. How could he have such faith when it was so obvious he was wrong to?
"Would," she started, and stopped before shaking her head and starting again. "If I don't go to class, will you stay with me?"
Ren reached over and placed his hand over hers. She felt his warmth and he gave a comfortable squeeze. "Nora," he said seriously, "I will always stay with you." He then smiled "But we really should see if we can get to class."
Nora laughed, though she couldn't say what she was laughing at. Ren slowly let go of her hand and she started eating. It was going to be a long day, but she now thought she might get through it.
Author's Notes: I first posted (with some slight differences) on the RWBY/RT General on /co/ on 4chan over the course of a couple weeks. It took a while to write since I was working on other projects and had trouble coming up with the ending (Something I'm still not wholly satisfied with) but it's done and I hope you enjoy it. Typical disclaimer denying ownership of RWBY and any characters applies.