A/N: Back from hiatus. Sorry I was just, uh, gone for 3 months, I had some serious burnout issues. Now that we're back, don't expect the same breakneck update pace, but it definitely won't be months before the next chapter, either.
This is a chatlog heavy chapter, so I have to recommend reading it on AO3 for proper formatting, but y'all do you.
write our names on the wall in the back of the bar
steal some bubblegum from the corner meximart
yeah, we're laughing like kids causing trouble in the dark
kesha - c'mon
6th Evening, Spring Semester (Friday)
"This is still a really bad idea!" you say, or more like yell into the wind, which is blasting you in the face so hard it feels like it's gonna yank your hair out of your helmet and blow it back all over Aradia's face.
"This is the best idea! Also, it was your idea!" Well, okay, you're both technically right. Aren't the best ideas always the worst ones, when it comes right down to it? Nobody ever had a good time making good decisions.
"I feel like it was more of a joint effort!" It's been a while since you had a passenger on Bumblebee other than Ruby. Well, no, actually you think you gave Jade a ride somewhere at least once, but she refused to ever do it again even though you only took three or four turns hard enough to break the law. Some people just don't seem to like constantly straddling the line between life and death. Aradia, though, is obviously all about that lifestyle.
You don't really want to hit up a nice-nice neighborhood for this, just to be on the safe side when it comes to stick-in-the-mud store employees, but you also don't really want to find one of the bad neighborhoods, on account of you've got juuuust a little bit of a reputation. It's pretty ridiculous; wreck two or three nightclubs and all of a sudden everybody's twitchy around heavily armed blondes. People are so weird.
Once you've found a spot with the right balance of not-rich and not-paranoid, you skid to a stop in an almost-empty dust station parking lot with a 6-12, kill the engine, shake out your hair. Aradia hops off after you, apparently totally at peace with your driving and looking almost caffeinated by the wonder if she's ever bitten off anybody's fingers.
"Why didn't you just park next to the actual store?" Oh, Aradia. She's so worldly about some stuff, and then totally doesn't get other completely reasonable everyday things.
"'Cause it's weirdly crowded over there? I don't want anybody to ding my bike with their car door." Plus, you don't feel like the customers for semi-sketchy liquor stores are gonna be super inclined to care about leaving dents in other people's perfect vehicles.
You hop the divider between parking lots and you're about to head into the store when Aradia suddenly stops at the door. You turn around, expecting some kind of trouble, but there's nothing really going on.
"What's your deal?" She stares through the glass door into the store, looking thoughtful.
"Hmm, I think I should wait out here! They'll probably card me." Okay... that doesn't make a ton of sense.
"Dude, nobody cards obvious Huntresses, most of us are eighteen by our second year anyway, and you do not look your age." Really, this wasn't a problem for you even when you were younger than this, probably helped along by the fact that you're the sexiest creature on the planet and you tend to dress the part.
"Yeah, but you're a human, and that guy working the wealth management system in there is too. I don't mind raising a little hell, but tonight we're trying not to be late!"
It takes you a moment to understand what she's getting at, and your first instinct is to be like 'that's not gonna happen,' but... Aradia is so out of touch with the universe that you kind of doubt she'd have a thought like that at all unless it already has happened at some point.
"Wait, when would that even... I thought you said you'd never drank before?" You're pretty sure about that, too; she always ends up getting something boring when you wander into bars together, for some confusing reason like 'wanting to do research on how it affects her biology better first,' you can't quite remember. Isn't at least some of her incentive to do tonight that she wants to give it a shot, finally?
"I haven't! It was a bad time to cause a scene last time I tried, too."
"... Alright, you can wait out here if you want to, I guess? I'm just gonna grab a couple different things so all you booze-virgins have some options." She nods, and you leave her to finally go into the actual building. There are some randos clogging the place up, and the dude she was referring to is hanging out behind the counter with a questionable magazine; he lowers it to spend about the usual amount of time distracted by your chest before he gets back to reading.
It's a small business, but there's a decent enough selection. You end up getting a bottle of Inferno whiskey, some semi-weak vodka to mix stuff with, and also rum because why not. No beer, though; newbies or not you refuse to let anybody you know waste time on things that barely get them drunk.
Waiting in line takes almost as much time as shopping does, which seems weird until you remember that it's Friday night. Maybe with all the craziness around here lately, people are a little more eager to get wasted, too.
Looking around to distract from the boredom of standing in one place for over ten seconds, it occurs to you that every customer in here is human. It's weird, you never noticed stuff like that before, but after hanging around Jade and Aradia so much it's hard not to. That's not something you've ever brought up because it's so awkward, but after a while you realized Jade is way more nervous when everyone around her is human than otherwise. You kind of can't help but feel a little bit of Big Sister Protectiveness over her, she's just that kind of girl, so once that finally clicked with you, the whole world kind of shifted.
It's surreal how many things you don't see until somebody puts you in a spot where you have to see them.
The clerk doesn't card you, and the booze only ends up running about a hundred lien total, which isn't bad for how much you've got. It's... more cash than you like burning for a single Friday night, but you're only going in for half of that, technically, so you can't complain when it's two people funding what's basically a small party. You still have to grab pizza later, so that's a thing, but... eh. This is your first weekend at Beacon, what better thing to blow some cash celebrating?
Your mind is still on pizza money when you step back outside directly into a situation you weren't expecting: Aradia standing by the entrance with a hand just a little closer to her swordwhip sheath than usual, grinning eerily blankly at a couple of dudes wearing cheap, beat-up suits.
Maybe the two of you haven't done such a great job at avoiding trouble after all.
The tallest guy, a Faunus with a greenish lizard tail, is doing his best to loom over Aradia, apparently not aware that she's literally impossible to intimidate.
"Nope! I'm pretty happy not being in anybody's gang. Thanks for asking, though!" She sounds so cheerful, and when doesn't she, but there's a subtle edge to her tone that you probably have to know her to catch.
"Aw, c'mon, the Crew can always use a lady who knows her way around a weapon," he says, because some people just don't think 'no' should be in anyone else's vocabulary. Then his mostly casual tone drops by ten degrees. "Unless you're with the Fang. You ain't one of them 'freedom fighters,' right?" He makes air quotes in the middle of his sentence, and the two guys behind him, both of whom either are human or look human, kind of move in a little closer. Damn you get involved, or would she rather you let her wreck them? You don't want to be a fight-stealer.
"I am very much the independent kind of criminal. It would be really smart for you guys to leave now, by the way. I'm usually happy to smear pushy people across the pavement, but I'm actually in a little bit of a hurry tonight!" Her thumb catches on the sheath, exposing an inch of segmented blade.
Y'know what, she has a point. It'll save you a minute or two to just scare these dudes off. You head over and join her in being as threatening as possible.
"Yo, like my buddy here said, we're in a hurry, so do everybody a favor and disappear. Don't make this hard on yourselves." You punctuate the last sentence by extending your gauntlets. The sound of two shotguns unfolding tends to get the message across most of the time.
"Hey now, no need to play rough, girls," Tall Lizard Guy says. He and his men back off, but in a really chill way that takes a lot of the fun out of the situation, like they're not actually worried, they're just being polite or something. Ugh, that's the worst. "Just keep the offer in mind, sweetheart. Won't be long before we're rulin' this town. Maybe you'll change your mind about being part of the winning team."
"Maybe, but probably not." Aradia's smile is hard enough now that you doubt anyone could mistake it for friendly. "Goodbye, now!"
The Crew members clear out just enough space for you to squeeze by. God, you can't stand smug gangsters, this crap is basically why Hei Xiong's club is still under repairs.
"You're real lucky I have somewhere to be," you say, making a point to shove the leader off-balance with your shoulder on your way past. He chuckles and you take a deep breath, try to keep your eyes purple.
You keep shooting glances over your shoulder until you and Aradia are both on Bumblebee again. Then you rev the motor and hit the streets.
Talk about a mood-killer.
several minutes earlier
gnosticGunsmoke (GG) opened relay with hollowMemorial (HM)
HM: Please tell me nothing terrible just happened?
GG: oh jeez no! D: don't worry everything's fine
HM: Oh, thank god. Er. I'm sorry, that was a very rude way to respond to a message. Hello.
GG: hi! don't worry about it, i think everyone's pretty on edge except for the people who never worry about anything
HM: Yeah... no kidding. So what's up, then? How are you doing?
GG: i am just fine!
GG: actually this is a tiny bit dumb and please don't feel pressured or anything
GG: but my teammate aradia and a friend of ours are trying to set up like, a celebration thing for us first years finishing our first week at school?
GG: i know you're a second-year! but i guess i thought... maybe you'd want to hang out?
GG: it's going to be really silly but it might be fun
HM: I... hmm. Can I have a minute to think?
GG: yeah of course
HM: Is this thing going to be a 'party'-party, or...?
GG: i have no idea what that means sorry!
HM: Will there be alcohol, is what I mean.
GG: ohhhh! uh, yes? most of us haven't even drank before so i doubt it's going to be very intense though
HM: Are any of you even eighteen yet?
GG: nope but at least one of us definitely looks eighteen
HM: Honestly, I'm not even sure whether that bothers me. I suppose I'm just trying to get a mental image of what this actually is.
GG: it's like nine or ten weirdos eating pizza in the woods
HM: Oh. Hm. Well, when you put it that way it's a lot easier to picture.
GG: yeah maybe i should've just started off with that in the first place
"What'cha up to?" Coco suddenly flops down onto your bed next to you, because she's that sort of person. "Talking to your new friend again?" She does this a lot, popping in out of nowhere while you're distracted. You're not sure if it's her trying to be friendly, worrying about you, or just... being herself.
"Aah! Er, yes? She's - her team and a few first-years are having a party to celebrate their first week here." Being around Coco makes it strangely difficult to be a reclusive person or keep things to yourself; something about her is just so intense that everybody's natural response is to tell her what she wants to know or fall in line. Is that what it means to be charismatic? It's certainly part of why she's an effective leader.
"Ooh. Underage drinking, huh? I like it. Are you invited?" She raises an eyebrow, like she already knows the answer.
"Well, I'd be legal if I drank," you say absentmindedly, focused a bit more on struggling with your anxiety. "And yes, I'm invited, but... I don't know. I haven't done anything like this since I was -" You grind to a halt, chest clenching in shock. Wow. That was half a second away from becoming your most disastrous slip-up in well over a year. You suppose it's not too odd to still be shaken up days after the attack, but... you have to control yourself better. "Well. It's been a long time," you finish, awkwardly.
"You should go," Coco says, and her smile is suddenly less smug than usual, warmer in a way that's tricky to pin down. "I bet you'll have a great time."
For a few seconds, you try to think of an argument, not even sure why you're inclined to argue... but... she has a point, doesn't she? Are you going to cloister yourself away forever, or are you going to at least attempt to rebuild some semblance of a lfe? The worst that can happen is... well, probably that you have a panic attack in public, which would actually be pretty wretched, but it's not dangerous. You only feel like you have a lot to lose, when the truth is that at this point in your life you've fallen so low that there's almost nowhere to go but up.
You look at her, she looks at you, and you finally nod.
HM: ... Alright, I'll come. I'd like to meet your team properly, anyway.
GG: yay! :D :D :D :D
GG: i'm so excited! now there's going to be at least TWO AND A HALF sane people here!
... Somehow, Jade, that's not very reassuring.
several more minutes earlier
gravenAntipathy (GA) has opened a relay withdestinedAegis (DA)
GA: Hello I Suppose
GA: Is This Pyrrha Nikos
DA: Um... Yes? May I ask who this is?
DA: If you're a stalker, thank you very much for being a dedicated fan, but I'm afraid I'll have to block you.
GA: What No Im Not A Stalker
GA: This Is Kanaya Maryam From Violence School
GA: Sorry To Message You Out Of Nowhere Like This
DA: Oh! Hello! Um, not that I'm not happy to hear from you, but why do you have my Scrollian handle?
GA: I Asked My Partner To Ask Your Partner For It
GA: Again Sorry For This Being Abrupt And Stupid Im Just Short On Time
DA: Short on time? Are you... alright?
GA: Overall Not Really But By My Current Standards Yes So Its Fine
GA: My Idiot Partner And Her Idiot Friend Are Arranging Some Sort Of Vile Revel In The Forest Just Off Campus
GA: Its Probably Rude To Ask But Would You Like To Join Us
GA: We Will Be Consuming Semi Legal Fluids In A Deeply Suspect Location
GA: And Frankly It Would Be Nice If There Was A Single Organism Present Who I Didnt Want To Punch In The Mandibles
DA:I'm sorry, I need a moment to try to make sense of all of that.
DA: Am I right to infer that I'm being... invited to a party?
GA: Thats The Gist Of It
GA: Everyone Seems To Be Experiencing Such Dubious Emotions As "Joy" At The Prospect Of Surviving A Week In This Place
GA: Therefore We Must Spit In The Face Of The Law
GA: And Possibly God
GA: Im Less Sure About That One
GA: Aradia Is Pretty Incomprehensible When Shes Excited
DA: I... see. Um. This IS rather sudden. When exactly are you planning on doing all of this?
GA: In An Hour Or Two
GA: Aradia And Her Friend With The Immense Venom Sacs Have Just Left To Procure Intoxicants
GA: Hence My Urgency
DA:Well... thank you for the offer, I think, but I'm not sure that I'm the party-going sort of person.
GA: Neither Am I But Here I Am
GA: Prepared To March Into The Jungle Trenches Of This Social Nightmare
GA: Greenery Patterned Helm Equipped And Cheap Human Rifle In Hand
GA: Desperately Avoiding Various Spike Filled Pits And Other Metaphorical Hazards
DA: That is very confusing and vivid imagery. But... then again...
DA: Do you think it would be terribly offensive of me to leave early, if I needed to?
GA: No Everyone Here Is "Nice" Or Insane So I Think You Can Do Anything You Want With Little Fear Of Repercussions
DA: I suppose school IS meant to be a social experience...
GA: Theres Going To Be Pizza
DA: ... You know what? Okay. I'll give it a try. Where should I meet you?
GA: Just Go Into The Dark And Foreboding Wood On The Edge Of Campus And Follow The Sound Of Stupid People Yelling
GA: Even If You Get Lost Several Of Us Can Hear You From Hundreds Of Feet Away
DA: Can I ask you a question, Kanaya? Please answer honestly.
GA: Ask Away
DA: How likely am I to regret this?
GA: One Hundred Percent Guaranteed
This is a terrible, terrible idea, but... Nora's dared herself to pretend to be an injured platypus until tomorrow morning and refuses to lose to herself, Ren has given up on stopping her, and Jaune is too busy reading comic books to study or train with you.
Realistically, you're going to need some experience with non-violent social situations in your life. You may as well jump on the chance to get the worst of it out of the way sooner than later. And, to be truthful with yourself, you're curious what it's like to live a little bit. You have no special obligations here, no mother or agents looking over your shoulder to ensure proper behavior. You can be a person if you want to.
And you do. You really, really do.
... Another thing is eating at you, too;there's something strangely familiar about her odd rant about jungle warfare. Where have you heard something like that before? You can't quite place it, but it's a maddening itch in the back of your mind. Maybe you'll ask her about it, if you can find a way to do so that isn't too awkward.
You suppose you'll have plenty of chances tonight.
back in the present
"I'm kind of surprised Yang is okay with you being here," Jade says, sitting cross-legged up against a tree with her gun in her lap to squish her skirt down. How is she so relatable? Nobody else is constantly fiddling with their guns in public to kill time, they're all so weird. Also other people are always worried about getting oil on their clothes, like that doesn't make them look cooler. "She's super protective most of the time!"
"Yeah, but that's why she's not letting me drink! Not like I really want to? My uncle drinks a loooot and I'm always worried about him, so that makes it kinda ehh, and also I'm bad enough at doing people stuff without it." You really, really are, the only people who don't seem to notice (or maybe just care? Where's the line between not noticing and not being bothered?) are Jade and her weird friends who honestly make you look normal by comparison. Jade doesn't! It's just... uh... yeah.
"That makes sense, I guess." Her scroll buzzes; she picks it up from the grass and her ears perk up instantly."Oh cool! Velvet's going to come, too. So that's two of three invites succeeded!" Jade looks really, really happy about that! You're super happy that she made a new friend who definitely isn't going to replace you at all.
"Alright! This is going really well. Oh hey, Nepeta, did you get a hold of Blake yet?" Nepeta is still poking at her scroll while pacing around nearby; her tail is doing a thing, but you have no idea how cat tails talk. You tried messaging Blake too, but she's so weirdly tricky to pin down!Even as her leader! Nepeta is the one person who can usually find her or get her to actually stay in one place for more than ten minutes.
"She said no," Nepeta says mournfully. "I shoaldn't be surprised, she's furry conchsistent about not liking being in a small pond with a lot of fishes." She flops dramatically onto the grass and groans, also dramatically.
"Well... two out of three's not bad! It'll still be fun!" She makes a long 'bleeeehhhh' noise and rolls over onto her stomach. Her tail does more cat stuff. If you're going to hang out with her more often, which probably you are because she's (lucky) Jade's partner and stuff, maybe you should go learn things about cats? Plus it would be helpful to have more than one person who's a little easier to understand without trying to decipher the mystery that is Other People's Faces! Whoa, that would be a cool name for a horror movie about faces or something. Like if - no okay, focus! You are hanging out with people, not planning out pretend movies.
"Where did Miss Hissy Fit slink off to?" Nepeta's voice sounds funny muffled by the grass.
"I think she's wandering around trying to find Pyrrha," Jade says. Her gun makes an ominous clicking noise for some reason, and you hear her quietly mumble 'whoops' to herself; it clicks again and she sighs in relief. "The woods are probably way quieter and darker for her, right?"
"They're not much betta fur me, you know. Whale, I don't know, maybe it's still pretty diffurent, who knows how humans work?" Oh yeah! You sorta knew that because you secretly did a lot of searching on the CCT about some Faunus stuff a while back, but you keep forgetting that Faunus with head related traits usually have the best senses? There's a lot to remember.
It's weird to think about, that Jade literally sees and hears and even smells the world differently than you, and not even just as a metaphor. Back when you and her and Yang were all in the same apartment, you'd be up late some nights and she'd just go into the kitchen or whatever without even turning the lights on. You could never help expecting her to trip over something, but nope, she was totally fine being in places it took your eyes a long time to adjust to enough to even see in at all.
Just as weirdly, she actually sees in the dark better than actual dogs. It turns out a lot of Faunus are like that. Their biology seems like something science should have paid more attention to and tried harder to learn about, but when you went looking there were hardly any studies and stuff to find about why they're like that, compared to like a billion confusing essays and research papers about any kind of actual animal you can think of. Most of the stuff that even went into detail about how they work is old, too, like Faunus Rights Revolution old, or the five or ten years after that.
"Hey, Ruby?" Oh! Jade is talking to you, and also looking at you. "How dark is it for you? Like, I know you and Yang brought flashlights, but you haven't used one yet."
"Well, the moon is really full, so... it's kinda dark with all the trees but not that dark? I can see you guys pretty well."
"That makes sense, I think. Jeez, where are Aradia and Yang? They've been gone for - oh! Never mind! They're almost back." You look around and there is like no sign at all that anything's different for at least twenty seconds; you're just starting to wonder if Jade was imagining things when you finally hear voices in the distance.
"... didn't have to pay for all the pizza, dude," Yang says, super faintly.
"I know! I have my reasons." ... What does that mean? Aradia is the weirdest person here by a lot. You thought it was Nepeta at first, but nope,she just talks weird and is very twitchy, she makes at least some sense as a person.
You wave real big when you catch sight of Yang through the trees. She doesn't wave back, probably because it would be really hard to do that while carrying - how much pizza is that, what the heck? That's at least five! Do you actually need this much food?
"Hi! How did breaking the law go?" Jade stops fidgeting with her rifle to wave at them too as they close in.
"Great! Where's Grumpy Grub? Did she change her mind about pretending to be friendly?" Aradia... never censors herself at all, does she? Sure, everybody knows Kanaya is not exactly the easiest person to be around, but even you are a little better at being polite that that.
"She's fishing around for that gill who beats efurrybody up in half a second," Nepeta says, rolling over onto her back again. "Blake's the only purrson who didn't want to come." Yang looks kinda sad about that, then shrugs and starts setting pizza boxes and bags of stuff in the and Yang have actually been hanging out a little in the last couple days, the way partners are probably supposed to. You sort of wish Weiss wanted to hang out with you. Being around her is super un-fun but you're still hoping that you can eventually rub off a little bit of niceness on her. There has to be an okay person in there somewhere, right?
Everybody's finally sitting or flopped near each other, at least the ones who've showed up so far - you, Yang, Aradia, Nepeta, and Jade. So that just means you're missing Kanaya, Velvet, and Pyrrha! You're almost ready to start... partying? Maybe? Whatever that actually means? This is the first party you've been to that didn't have the word 'birthday' attached to it, although you think most parties happen in buildings and not dark spooky forests.
Well, even if it's in the woods, you're still pretty excited! It makes you feel a little bit grown-up, like here you are at combat school making bad decisions with a bunch of other people, like an actual Huntress-in-training and not just the awkward girl everybody pretends doesn't exist. You have a best friend, and some other friends, and food and gross drinks and everything. What could go wrong?
... Okay, a ton of things, but you feel pretty good about this. For once, you think you all might even get through a whole night without anything bad happening.
This is going to be a fun night, and nothing else.