At the Cross Roads
*Beep Beep Beep Bee-*
A small hand came down on the blaring alarm clock, cutting short it's terrible rein of noisiness and evil. Ruby glared at it blearily before she moaned and rolled out of the bed, landing on floor with a quiet thump. After another momen she pushed herself to her feet and stumbled over to the bathroom.
Over the past two weeks living with the beautiful woman named Cinder Fall, Ruby had settle into something of a routine. She woke up at seven every morning. Some days she ate breakfast with Cinder, other days Cinder was already gone by the time Ruby's alarm clock dragged her from her slumber. Today was one of the latter, and Ruby sighed to herself as she poured a bowl of cereal.
She'd see Cinder later at least, so she wasn't too depressed, just a little lonely. When they ate breakfast together, Cinder always talked with her, and listened to her ramble about training or about things that she saw on TV or whatever else came to Ruby's head, often laughing quietly at Ruby's antics. She would put aside Ruby's reoccurring fear of abandonment without even trying, leaving her feeling lighter for the whole rest of the day.
Without Cinder, the giant apartment felt so empty for a little girl like Ruby. The training room was better, because she could focus on making herself better, good enough for Cinder to smile at her and say 'good job'. So Ruby spent most of her time there.
The second day of living in the Penthouse, Cinder had returned in the evening with a present for Ruby.
"What's this?" Ruby asked, looking at the small screen in her hands. Even with how small she was, it was tiny enough to hold in one hand.
"That's your scroll." Cinder said. She reached down and turned it on for Ruby. "It serves as a phone and you I.D., with this you can open both the penthouse or the training room at any time, just hold it up to the door. You can also call me with it, I've already put in my contact info."
"Really? That's sooo cool!"
Cinder nodded. "However, I want you to promise me that you won't call me unless it's really important. When I'm in the city I'm usually very busy so I won't be able to talk to you all the time."
"Thank you Ruby." Cinder smiled. "I knew you would understand. Also, on days I'm not home when you get up, you can look here" she opened a new window, "to see some exercises you could do."
On the page was a short list of physical exercises, suitable for an eight year old, along with some aura exercises and, much to Ruby's dismay, reading.
Cinder laughed at the expression on Ruby's face. "I can't have you falling behind in your education Ruby. Just do what you can, and I'll help you out with the rest when I get back."
Ruby's sour mood vanished. She nodded with a bright smile. "Yeah! I'll finish it all."
"I'm sure you will, Ruby."
So she grabbed her scroll and checked for a new text from Cinder. Just like always there was a short list of exercises for her to do, more than the first time, but not by a lot. Cinder was always talking about how she shouldn't strain herself.
"You'll end up short forever if you're not careful Ruby."
"I'll be fine! I drink milk."
But still Ruby stuck to Cinder's instructions, never doing more, well never doing much more, then she was told. The rest of her boundless enthusiasm was focused into her aura training, and at the end of the day she always ended up doing her homework. Even though she hated it.
School was just so boring, especially because she wasn't even there. It was just watching online teachers talk about boring stuff and she didn't even have any friends to talk with.
So today... she had some exercises, some aura exercises, school work and... Cinder said she was trusting Ruby to practice with Dust on her own for the first time.
Ruby practically squealed with glee as she raced over to the training room, opening the big chest with the dust crystals in it. On the top in a small case were four tiny crystals, each a different color. Forget homework, Ruby thought, today she was doing something fun.
Closing the case and moving to the other side of the room, Ruby set down the small box and opened it up. She looked at the crystals gleefully, but with remarkable restraint for an eight year old.
Slowly she set out all of the crystals on the ground, pulling out the red one last.
Due to Cinder's own affinity for it, Ruby had only ever used red Dust, because Cinder could step in if Ruby lost control of her aura as it interacted with the Dust, which was often.
Still that meant Ruby was most familiar with red than any other color. She put the rest of the crystals away and set the box aside... it wouldn't do to set them all off at once... Not that Ruby had ever done that.
"Okay," She said, gripping the crystal in her hands. "No mistakes this time Ruby!"
First she brought her aura up. Immediately she felt the comforting blanket that wrapped around her and she breathed in the scent of roses. She had a hard time maintaining her aura when she wasn't actually moving. Her semblance was speed after all, but with Cinder's help she'd learned to call up her aura for other things.
The red crystal in her hands began to glow, Ruby could feel it heating up, but more than that, she could feel it making her heat up. Her cheeks flushed as she grabbed a hold of that energy with her aura and squeezed her hand shut, powdering a small bit of the crystal.
"Hiya!" Ruby cast her hand out in a sloppy punch, but her poor form was covered by the gout of flame that erupted from her fist.
"Yeah!" Ruby held the glowing red crystal over her head for a moment. But "Ouch, ouch, hothothothot!" It burned her hand when she didn't rein the heat back in, forcing her to drop it on the floor until the glow faded.
"Uwwahhh. Why can't I do that part right?" Ruby said with a groan. Picked the crystal back up she looked towards the nearest target hopefully. But it was still clean, just out of range... and she was standing so close to it too. She looked from her fist to the dust crystal. "I just can't make it go any farther..." She said.
Then Ruby shook her head. "No! I can do it. I know I can!" She stared at the target again. "...I hope I can..."
After a moment she checked her scroll again. Cinder always had helpful advice when it came to dust. A different way of thinking that was really really weird, but made so much sense once Ruby actually thought about it. She still remembered Cinder's first piece of advice.
"Don't be afraid of getting burned. If you fear fire, it will never answer to you."
And right now, between the target and the gem in her hand, Ruby was afraid.
Not of fire, no. She'd long since got over her fear of flame. She didn't think she could fear fire anymore, because Cinder was practically a living breathing inferno.
And Ruby wasn't afraid of Cinder, but... she was very much afraid of disappointing her because she didn't want to be left in the dark again.
Maybe... the fire wouldn't listen to her because she was afraid of failing? Maybe she couldn't do it because she was scared that she wouldn't be able to?
But it was really hard to not be scared.
Ruby held the crystal close to her chest. "Then... I'll just do it until I get it right! I don't have to be scared, because even if I can't do it now, I won't give up until I can do it!" She nodded to herself, determination flashing in her silver eyes.
She focused once more, pulled back her hand, and punched. When the fire cleared the target wasn't marked at all. I won't stop. Ruby pulled her hand back and punched again. And again. And again.
Faster and faster, until punching with just one arm felt too slow and awkward. Without dropping the crystal she start alternating, sending off bursts of flame one after another with no reprieve. The Dust crystal in her hand began to grow uncomfortably warm, even to the point where Ruby gasped as she squeezed it tighter and tighter, getting out every last piece of dust.
Still she didn't stop, if anything her arms moved faster as she used the pain to spur her on, rose petals mingling with the firespouts. She huffed, her aura starting to flicker as she ran out of breath. But even as she felt her hand start to blister she didn't stop.
She wasn't afraid of being burned. She wasn't!
"Almost... There!" She pushed both of her arms forward, releasing a massive blast of flame. It surged forward, and as Ruby watched it the fire brushed against the front of her target. The embers looked like petals as they slowly faded away. A single speck of light landed on top of the practice dummies head, before it too was extinquished.
"Ha..hah... I... did it." Ruby sank down to her knees. She grit her teeth as she let go of the Dust crystal. She felt something dry, like toilet paper, slide off her hand with it.
The pain wasn't subsiding. Even though the crystal (much smaller now) was on the ground, where it hissed against the padded floor for a few moments before growing dull, Ruby's hand still burned like she was holding it. Why didn't it stop hurting?
Gritting her teeth as the pain continued to mount, Ruby glanced down at her hand.
What had once been pale white skin was now an angry red, coving in vicious looking blisters. Before Ruby's eyes, a drop of blood oozed out of her palm and landed on the dust crystal. It began to hiss.
"Oh..." Ruby said trying to form a coherent thought through the pain. "Ah- I" She scrunched her eyes shut and hissed. "I got burned."
Between whimpers and giggles and tears, she staggered to her feet. Picking up her scroll, with her right hand, she got over to the door and pulled it open. Back to the apartment. What was it mommy said about burns before?
"Run it under cool water... yeah, that was it." She pushed a stool into the kitchen in order to reach the tap. Her hand still hurt, but after holding it under the water the unbearable stinging feeling went away some, leaving normal pain behind.
Next she needed... bandages.
It took Ruby the better part of fifteen minutes to finish cleaning up her hand. Sitting on the floor in the lounge, she stared at her now cloth wrapped left hand.
Luckily her fingers had been, somehow, spared the worst of the burns. They were still red and sore, but not nearly as bad as her palm. Ruby winced.
Her palm was going to scar... She wasn't sure how she was going to keep her now bandaged hand secret from Cinder.
With a huff Ruby slumped back to the floor. She was exhausted. Using that much aura had robbed her of most of her energy. Even if her limbs didn't feel tired, her entire being was weary, as was her mind.
It took a lot of concentration to keep making fire like that, no breaks. Ruby didn't get how Cinder could make it all seem so easy.
She still had homework do to...
And her normal work out.
She'd been so caught up with the dust that she'd rushed straight to it, ignoring the other things for later. And now she was just sooo tired.
"I'll do it later." She grumbled, rolling over onto her side. For now she'd just... close her eyes for a bit, get her energy back...
"R-by. Ruby. Ruby!"
"Waaagh!" shot up, and Cinder jerked back, narrowly missing a head on collision. "Uuummm. Hi...?"
"Ruby." Cinder said, eyes flashing. "What did you do to your hand."
"Let me see it."
Ruby scooted away, waving her hands in front of her. "Nonononono! It's nothing!"
Cinder reached out and snagged Ruby's wrist. Without asking again she began unwinding the hastily done bandages as Ruby winced and looks away. With a slither the bandages fell to the ground revealing her burned palm.
Cinder gave Ruby a look. "Are you always this eager?"
"Hehe... kinda?" Ruby said. Cinder sighed. Moving over to the cabinets she took out a small bottle of ointment and rubbed that gently over Ruby's palm, causing the younger girl to wince.
Neither spoke for a bit as Cinder finished applying the ointment and rewrapped Ruby's palm with a clean bandage. Afterwards Ruby sat curled up into a ball, not willing to meet Cinder's eyes as she awaited the woman's verdict. Then Cinder stood and walked to the door. "Well? Aren't you going to show me the fruits of your labor?"
And like the clouds had lifted, Ruby smiled and scampered over to the training room. "See!" She pointed to the dummy, "I hit it! and I was standing... here."
Cinder nodded, she'd projected the flames over a few feet. Very impressive for a girl her age, especially because Ruby didn't seem to have any sort of above average affinity for dust. Cinder supposed she made up with it via her incredible connection with her aura.
"Well done." Cinder said, placing her hand on Ruby's head. The girl smiled at the praising, pressing into Cinder's palm like a kitten. She let that continue for a moment before taking her hand back. "But you didn't do anything else today did you?"
Ruby's silent was answer enough. Cinder crossed her arms and looked at her young charge. "Well?"
"...I'll do it all now..." Ruby said. She trudged back over to the apartment and picked up the tablet Cinder chuckled lightly but turned her attention to her own tasks as Ruby started her lessons.
For all intents and purposes, Ruby was being homeschooled, and she was only a slight bit behind her age group despite her time on the streets, mostly due to Cinder's help. The girl had boundless energy when it came to anything physical, but give her a book and she passed out in a heartbeat.
But at the moment Cinder had more pressing matters to deal with than Ruby's school work.
On her tablet was an article this morning's news paper. It hadn't been on the front page, but it had caught her attention none the less. Qrow was back in Vale, and he was looking for his missing niece. She stared at the picture of the man next to small form of Yang Xiao Long for a moment more and set it to the side.
This was a potential problem, or the final piece she needed to cement Ruby's loyalty to her. She'd waited for a few days after first hearing he Qrow was back, just spending time with Ruby cementing their relationship. Now it was time for the final push.
She watched silently as Ruby blew through her lessons, then she stood. "Come with me Ruby, I want to show you something."
"Huh?" But Cinder was already at the door, tablet in hand, forcing Ruby to scamper after her. She scrolled through several messages as she called the elevator. Ruby stood at her side, looking up at Cinder in confusion.
"It really wasn't fair was it." Cinder said.
Cinder showed Ruby the picture on her tablet. Ruby's family. Ruby stared in shock.
"It was obvious to anyone who looked that you weren't ready to talk about you past. I'm sorry."
"...for what..." Ruby asked, clenching her fists at her sides.
"Not for prying into you history." Ruby's eyes snapped up, Cinder met her gaze unapologetically. "I'm sorry they all left you behind."
"Mom and Dad didn't leave me behind!"
Cinder folded the tablet back under her arm. "They made a choice, didn't they? They chose their duty over there family."
"N-no! That's not it at all! Mom and Dad were heroes!"
"Yes they were."
Cinder looked back at Ruby. "There is no doubt that they saved many lives. But that doesn't change what happened to you, does it Ruby. They didn't save you. They left you behind.
"They were your heroes, before they were your parents."
The elevator opened, Cinder strode across the empty lobby Ruby dogging at her heels.
"They- they saved people! That was their job!"
Cinder smiled sadly at Ruby. "And for their sacrifice I'm certain there will be statues build of them, and speeches given to honor them, and charities made in their names." She knelt in front of the little girl. "But that doesn't change this does it." She pointed at Ruby's chest. "That doesn't change the emptiness, the knowledge that between faceless bystanders and their own daughter, you were second pick."
Ruby looked away, her shoulders trembling with barely restrained sobs. Cinder gathered her into a hug. "It hurts doesn't it? To be left all alone. It makes you wonder what you did wrong, why they didn't stay, if it was your fault."
Ruby nodded once, "W-was it my fault? W-wasn't I good enough for them?"
"I don't know Ruby." Cinder said, picking the child up.
She clung to Cinder's shoulders crying openly now even as Cinder continued to walk down the streets. "W-will yu-yu-you leave me too...?" She whispered.
Cinder drew to a stop at a corner a few minutes later. She allowed herself a small smile when she saw the man standing farther down the street. Right on time. Instead of answering Ruby, Cinder pointed. "Look." Ruby turned and looked over her shoulder. A short distance down the street, waiting outside a building and only visible due to the streetlight he was next to, stood a very familiar man.
"He's been looking for you, you know."
Cinder set Ruby down. "Ever since he came back to Vale he's been searching for you. And if you want, you can go to him right now. You can go back to your old life."
"Cinder...?" Ruby looked back and forth between the two of them.
"Of course." She said. "You aren't the only one he's been looking for."
Ruby's head snapped back around just in time to see the doors of the building Qrow stood in front of open. A young girl with long blond hair and violet eyes walked out slowly.
Yang and Qrow gravitated together, and Yang wrapped her arms around her uncle's waist for a moment before they began walking down the street, walking away.
Ruby took two steps towards them, a pace away from breaking out into a run, and then she stopped. She looked behind her.
Cinder hadn't moved a step.
"Do you want to go back, Ruby?" She asked. "I can't go with you. If that's what you want, this will be the last time we see each other."
Ruby said nothing.
"I wanted to offer you this choice." Cinder said. "I needed to make sure that I wasn't keeping you against your will. Because if you choose to stay with me..." She shrugged with small smirk. "Well, I promise I'll never leave you."
Ruby looked at the backs of her sister and her uncle. Yang had already left her behind once. Before, Ruby wouldn't have cared, because as long as she could be with her uncle she knew she'd be safe.
But then she remembered how her parents had left her too, even though they had loved her.
And Qrow could do the same at any time.
She wanted to run after them.
She didn't want to leave Cinder.
Ruby watched for a moment more, then she turned away. "No. I don't want... them." She said.
Cinder smiled at her, turning and holding out her hand. "Shall we go then?"
Ruby nodded and slipped her hand into Cinder's. They walked back the way they came, and she didn't look back.
They returned back to the penthouse and slipped back into their normal routine, but something was different. Some distance that had been there before, keeping them apart, was gone. It was like, Ruby thought, she was finally home.
But Ruby still had one question to ask.
Cinder looked up from where she sat on the couch. "Oh?"
"What makes me so special?" Ruby asked. "I'm just me, I'm not strong her smart or fast- well okay I'm a little fast, but-" Cinder covered her mouth.
"You're Ruby Rose." She said. "And that is more than enough." Ruby smiled. "Now, let's try out the rest of those dust crystals."
Ruby nodded. "Okay."
Ruby sat with a white dust crystal in her hands, heels kicking the side of the bed. It had been another week since she'd left her past life behind and she was still trying to figure out her relationship with dust. "Why won't you work...?" She asked, holding it up to the light.
Okay, so after testing out all the rest of the crystals, Ruby knew she wasn't going to be a dust specialist.
Fire she could manage, but that's just because Cinder was so good at explaining. The only type she was naturally good with was Yellow dust, which in its raw state spawned lightning. The other two normal colors, as well as all the mixed types, were just beyond her.
Cinder said her aura just 'syn-chro-nized' with yellow dust, whatever that meant. But because of that Ruby was pretty terrible at using any other type of dust.
White was just the absolute worst color as far as Ruby was concerned. Everything about it rubbed her the wrong way.
With a grumble she put the white crystal back in its case and shoved it away. Cinder made it all looks so easy. Ruby knew the red was Cinder's favorite dust type, but Cinder could use all the others as with ease.
On her shelf sat a single, small yellow dust crystal. Cinder told Ruby not to use it without her nearby. Yellow dust was dangerous and difficult to control. Using it in its raw form was like trying to harness a lightning bolt. Lose concentration for an instant and the power it released was just as likely to kill you as your target.
So Ruby was basically stuck. And she was bored.
A moment later she padded off the bed and walked over to the window. It was late afternoon, and the streets of Vale were painted a soft orange with the fading light. Ruby watched as people, normal people, went about their daily lives.
Cinder wasn't in the apartment, and Ruby knew her scroll would get her back to the penthouse, so she decided to go for a walk, and a minute later she was out on the streets of Vale.
She started wandering randomly through the city and with every step she took the boredom just evaporated.
The air was just so full of life, she waved to people as she passed and when they waved back she couldn't help but grin. It just, felt so nice to be a part of the crowd, instead of always watching from the periphery. She even bought a small popsicle which she ate as she walked. Life was pretty good.
And then she ran into Yang.
Neither girl noticed at first, they were on opposite ends of the street after all, and there were several people in between them. Both were on their own and they were only ten or so feet away when they saw each other.
For a moment everything froze. Violet eyes met silver and both girls, sisters, just stared at each other. That first instant stretched, neither girl daring to move. One second, two, three.
Yang reached out her hand.
"Ru-" She turned and bolted "-by!"
In less than a heartbeat Yang was after her. She was taller than Ruby, and her longer stride slowly let her close the distance between her faster sister. "Ruby! Stop running! Please!"
But Ruby didn't reply, she didn't so much as look back. Gritting her teeth, she turned into an alley, vanishing from Yang's sight for a second.
Yang rounded the corner right after charging into the alley only to stop when she saw the concrete wall blocking the other end. The alley was empty.
There were no trash cans, or bins, and certainly no Ruby Rose. All that remained in the alley way was a scattering of rose petals drifting in the breeze.
Yang sank to the ground and buried her face in her hands.
Qrow found her like that several minutes later. He had a gps installed on her scroll which led him right to the alley way.
"Yang, what happened."
Yang turned and looked up at her uncle. She tried to smile, but it was a futile effort. "Uncle Qrow... I saw Ruby... She... she ran away from me."
"I- I need to tell you something..." Yang said. "Can we go home now? I don't feel like having ice cream anymore."
It was only when she'd made it a several blocks away the Ruby stopped running.
She'd used her semblance to vault up to the rooftops before shooting across the city like a lightning bolt. She could only count her lucky stars that she'd run into Yang in the commercial district, where most of the buildings were only one story tall.
She plopped down on the roof of a shop, and took a second to catch her breath. She felt like she was gonna puke and pass out all at the same time.
Still Ruby couldn't stay here, Cinder would probably be back at the apartment soon.
Ruby pushed herself up to her feet, staggering drunkenly as she tried to get her balance back. Only after she was reasonably certain she could walk in a straight line without falling over did she make her way to the edge of the roof. She was just over two stories off the ground now. The gradual rise of buildings as she moved away from the docks had caught up to her.
Still there were things to catch onto, and she wasn't totally exhausted yet. So Ruby gathered the last bit of her aura too her and dropped off the side of the building. She caught a window sill, then a ridge, and then she finally made it back to the ground.
"Made it...!" Ruby nodded to herself. "Right, now just gotta..." She looked around. "Get home..."
In her rush to get away from Yang, Ruby had completely lost track of where she was. She looked around for any sort of land mark, but couldn't find anything she recognized.
Short of retracing her steps all the way back to the place where she' ran into Yang, which would take at least an hour now that she was out of aura, Ruby really had no idea how to get back home.
And if Cinder came back before her...
Out of options, Ruby turned around and looked at the store she'd been on top of. She squinted at the big bronze sign above the storefront.
"Tuk-son's... book ... trade..." She read. "Maybe someone in there can help?" Shrugging Ruby pushed open the door and walked inside.
Tukson turned around as the door chimed open once more, letting in another potential customer. "Welcome to Tukson's book trade." He said with a congenial smile "Home to every book under the... sun..."
Standing inside his shop was a little girl, probably eight or nine years old at most. She was dressed in a pair of jean shorts and a dark red tank top. Tukson watched her, slightly non-pulsed, as she waved back at him.
"Hi!" She said. "I'm Ruby, and uh, sorry to bother you Mr. Tukson, but I'm kinda lost..."
Tukson nodded, "Wandered away from your parents did yah kid?" He asked.
"Nuh uh." Ruby said, shaking her head."I was taking a walk and... I forgot how to get back home."
"Really?" Ruby nodded sheepishly. Tukson laughed and moved over to the counter. "Alright then kid, I'll help you find your way home. Where do you live again?"
"Umm." Tukson watch curiously as the girl pulled out a scroll. A pretty new model if he guessed right, certainly looked better than his beat up old one. "Two twenty six... West Chester Street..." She looked back to him. "Do you know where that is?"
Tukson stroked his chin. "Not off the top of my head... I'll get some directions and grab my keys. Give me a second kid, feel free to look around."
Ruby nodded as Tukson vanished into the back room. With a small huff she started wander around the shop, more taking in the feeling of the place than paying attention to any of the books in particular. As she reached the back of the shop Ruby caught sight of another girl, only a few years older than her, sitting against the wall with a big book in her hands.
Smiling Ruby skipped over, "Hi there. You have really pretty ears."
She was of course, talking about the cute cat ears which poked out of the top of the other girls long black hair. They twitched once as the girl turned to look at Ruby, a surprised look on her face.
"Um... thank you?"
"You're welcome! I'm Ruby by the way. It's nice to meet you."
"Ah. I'm Blake."
"So what are you reading?"
Blake looked down at the book in her hands and then back up to Ruby. "It's... a book about a the... human-faunus war..."
Ruby scrunched her eyes in confusion. "Oh... Isn't that bad?"
Blake sighed. She guessed it was too much to think a child this young would know anything about the war. She only knew about it at all because she was a faunus after all.
"Yeah." She said. "It was pretty bad."
Ruby sighed. "People don't really get along that well do they? ... I don't like it"
"Uh... yeah." Blake was a bit caught off guard by the surprisingly mature statement. "People don't get along." She said, putting the book down. "Especially when one side doesn't even want to admit that the other side is made up of people at all."
"That sounds really bad."
There was a bang from counter. "Hey, kid!" Tukson called. "Where'd you get off to?"
"Oh, I better go." Ruby smiled at Blake as she walked away. "It was nice meeting you Blake!"
"...You too Ruby." The faunus replied. She vanished from sight as Ruby made her way back to the counter.
"Ready to go kid?" Tukson asked.
"Yeah!" Ruby said. "But uh... before that..." She folded her arms behind her back. "Do you have any books on weapons?"
A/N: Trying something new with this story. Updating weekly, hopefully on Mondays, we'll see if I can keep that up once my next semester starts but for now I should be good. So look for updated on Monday (or the day after).
A big thanks to 'CrimsonHeresy' and 'Mistic Shadow' for reviewing, along with all of you who followed and favorited! Hope you enjoyed this next chapter! Don't forget to leave a review!