Disclaimer I: RWBY is owned by Rooster Teeth.
Disclaimer II: There will be some mature content in this story. Read at your own risk.
Cover Art by [haleyfall] on Tumblr. Used with permission.
Music floated around the dimly lit room where Cinder sat, echoing gently off the nearly bare walls and covering the sound of her wheeled chair as she rolled between the stacks of drawers that held her tools and the reclining seat that held her latest client. Cinder hummed along with the beat as she pulled on her latex gloves and picked up her tattoo gun and a clean cloth, hooking up her ink and flicking on the lamp so she could see her fleshy canvas clearly. A fast buzzing joined with the music as the gun came to life, jabbing its needles into the fair flesh as Cinder began her composition, wiping away the extra ink and adjusting which color she used as she progressed up the man's arm. Her canvas performed as usual, never flinching or groaning or complaining about the sting of the gun; it was difficult for corpses to complain, after all.
The man laying in the chair getting his skin decorated by Cinder's needles had died yesterday, three hours after she'd discovered he had been skimming profits from her Dust operation. When Cinder finished with her work, his body would be a grisly, yet beautiful, message to anyone else thinking of stealing money that belonged in her pockets. It was rare that she ever had a living client; she reserved her talents for only the highest paying customers or her very favorite minions; but the dead were the greatest tools for both practice and demonstration. Tomorrow the police would find the man's body hanging from a bridge, the words 'TRAITOR' and 'THIEF' permanently etched into his skin in a flowing stream of serifed black letters that wrapped around his arm and up to his neck, where they would appear to be strangling him. And on his cheek, like on all her projects, would be a pair of glass slippers in red like a lover's kiss – her personal trademark.
She was putting away her tools when there was a knock on the heavy steel door that marked the only entrance to her workspace. "Come in," Cinder finished storing away the tattoo gun and the ink while the door slid open and stale fluorescent light spilled into her room, outlining the broad frame of one of her favorite minions. "Yes, Mercury?"
The tall young man leaned against the wall, admiring the words snaking across the corpse's bicep and shoulder. "There's someone to see you at the front, Boss."
"Oh?" That was unusual. "Who is it?"
Mercury shrugged. "Don't know. Never seen her before."
Peeling off her gloves and depositing them in the trash, Cinder squinted as she ran through the possibilities in her mind. The Schnees were not foolish enough to send someone straight to her front door; no, they preferred to arrange specific meeting times and places if they felt like negotiating. They had truly fallen from their original glory, now that they had decided to become a 'legitimate' business, trying to remove the stains on their name by funding development projects with clean money from their growing mining operations. Cinder could admire their efforts, but the Schnees had grown soft since they left the cutthroat world of Dust. They had even let one of their daughters join the police force. Fools.
But every so often they intruded into Cinder's territory, or Cinder into theirs, and there would be conflict. Bloody, violent conflict, and of course it would look bad to investors and customers if the stark white Schnees were suddenly drenched in the guilty red of murder and gang fights. Instead, they'd send a messenger to one of her dealers with a place to meet and an initial offer, and Cinder would reluctantly go and reach an agreement. She preferred to fight – it was easier for her.
Disregarding the Schnees, the only one bold enough to approach the heart of her power would be Adam Taurus, but the Fang preferred to speak through broken windows and fanatical video broadcasts with hostage executions. Cinder could respect the White Fang – since Adam had taken over they had become a force worth keeping in mind, even if they were just Faunus. So long as they didn't trespass on her boundaries or assault her protected businesses, she allowed them to do whatever they wanted.
She doubted it was the police. They knew better than coming anywhere near her operation; she'd made sure of that last year. It was amazing what a little gasoline could do to a police captain's house and family.
So who was at her door? A new faction, come to make a first impression? If so, they were lucky she was in a good mood.
"They're not here for a tattoo are they, Mercury?" Cinder turned around, letting her long dark hair out of its ponytail to drape across her slim shoulders.
"Doubt it, Boss."
"Hmm... Let them in. I'll meet them by the front."
"Oh... I, uh, already did." He shriveled under her glare. "I thought that-"
"Mercury," Cinder hissed, walking slowly towards her subordinate and cupping his chin. Mercury shivered at the combination of her touch and warmthless smile. "You are not supposed to think, you are supposed to obey. No one gets through those doors without my approval. I'm getting very tired of telling you this." She released him and stepped out through the doorway, rolling her neck to work out the kinks from hunching over her latest project for several hours. "Did you at least search her first?"
Mercury followed her out, rubbing his cheek where her nails had dug into his skin. "Uh, no, Boss."
"Of course you didn't. Clean up in there, I'll be back soon and I want it spotless. And get him ready to go, he has a date with a bridge tomorrow."
Cinder walked down the long hallway that lead from her office in the back to the tattoo shop's front door, her black heels clacking on the tiles with each step. The hall was dotted with separate rooms for her 'artists' to work in, but clients were few and far between, so the spaces were usually empty. Her operation was the best in Vale, with higher production and more efficient distribution than any legal business. In addition to the drugs, she ran 'protection' for almost half the city, imported the weapons the Fang unknowingly purchased from her, and had a hand in nearly every industry in the western district. That kind of money made many enemies, but through bloodshed, manipulation, and absorbing the smaller gangs, Cinder had eliminated all her competition, save for the Schnees, who were living off centuries of profits, and the White Fang, who existed solely on the indignant fury of the persecuted Faunus population. But neither of those posed a threat to her; if she wished it, they could be brought down.
Before she turned the final corner, she straightened her shirt and ran a hand through her hair – it wouldn't do to look unprepared. Three steps later and she stood in the front of the shop, looking over the counter at a wide space with a bench for patrons to wait on, a small table with a few magazines, and walls covered in photographs of the shop's best designs. At the very least, her shop looked like a shop. In a chair to the right was her store manager Emerald Sustrai, looking annoyed as she sat with her arms crossed and a foul expression darkening her face.
"Emerald? Where is my visitor?"
The green-haired girl merely jerked a thumb towards the front doors. "She said she forgot something and left. Obnoxious bitch."
Cinder sighed, combing another hand through her hair in frustration as she turned to go back to her office. "Send her away if she comes back. I'm not doing any tattoos toda-" The ringing bell that indicated someone entering the shop interrupted her, and Cinder turned around to address her returning guest.
In the arch of the doorway, struggling to squeeze through the narrow entrance, was a giant gray vase stuffed with a towering bouquet of deep red roses. A pair of legs dressed in black leggings and ending in black boots poked out from behind the vase, bent with the effort of carrying the weight of the – possibly over a thousand – flowers. After a moment, the door closed behind the vase and the legs stuttered forward towards the counter and the two staring women. Slender white hands appeared on the sides of the vase and lifted it up and onto the counter with a dull 'thunk', followed by a relieved sigh.
"Whew!" came a lilting, girlish voice from behind the bouquet, "That was really heavy!" Cinder took a step to the side and peered around the mountain of crimson petals, finding a young girl with a red apron over a black shirt and skirt standing with her hands on her knees, taking deep breaths. The movement caught the girl's eye, and she quickly stood up straight, put on a dazzling smile, and held out her hand. "Hey there!"
Before she was aware of what she was doing, Cinder had already grasped the offered hand and responded with her own "Hello." She had been far too occupied by the girl's heart-stopping beauty; short brown hair tinted red was swept to the side, caressing smooth, pale skin and hanging just above the brightest silver eyes she'd ever seen. Cinder's eyes drifted down from the argent irises along the thin nose and rested on the bright pink lips split into the wide, excited grin. She wandered her gaze further, floating down the graceful neck to the modest bust, then to the slim hips and the long legs that still shook from carrying the vase. She licked her lips.
Her attention snapped back upwards when the girl said, "It's so nice to meet you! My name is Ruby Rose, and I'm going to be your new neighbor!"
"Oh?" Cinder found it hard to speak. She was captivated by the movement of those lips, and the sparkle in the silver orbs that zipped around as the girl, Ruby, examined the store. The soft hand that clasped hers tried to pull away, but she tightened her grip to keep it – the warmth was pleasant.
"Yup! I'm opening a florist in the store across the street! I thought I'd bring over some flowers to kind of say 'Hi' and everything." Cinder finally released the hand, and Ruby tucked her arms behind her back as she spun in a slow circle and explored the tattoo shop's front. "Wow, this place is really cool!"
"You think so?"
"Oh yeah! Tattoos are super cool and-" Ruby stumbled, throwing her arms out for balance, "Whoa, getting dizzy..."
Cinder stepped forward and lay a hand on her shoulder. "Why don't we sit down? Come," She maneuvered the small girl toward one of the benches, easing her down onto the leather seat and sitting beside her. "Better?"
"Oh yeah, much, thanks!" Another flash of that happy smile, "I guess that vase was heavier than I thought, ha ha..." Ruby rubbed the back of her neck as she chuckled, breathing deep to catch her breath.
Cinder licked her lips. "Do you want some help moving in?" She ignored Emerald's groan from the far corner of the shop, "I'm sure I could lend someone..."
Ruby's whole face brightened, and Cinder felt herself smile at the reaction. "Really? Thanks!"
"Oh, of course! Why don't you show me around the place? Maybe I can offer some advice to my new neighbor?"
"Wow, really? You'd do that? Let's go!" Ruby was up and out the door before Cinder could respond, beckoning the older woman to follow her.
She stood slowly, crossing to the door and stepping out into the sunlight before pausing. "Emerald," The manager looked up from the magazine she was reading, "keep an eye on the store. I doubt I'll be long."
"Got it, Boss."
She walked behind the young girl as they crossed the street, pausing once they reached the other side to observe the opening store while Ruby entered ahead of her.
The building that Ruby Rose had chosen had been abandoned for many years, until a recent effort by the Schnees to revitalize some of the more dilapidated areas of Vale resulted in its renovation. Just thinking about how long those negotiations had taken gave Cinder a headache – she hadn't enjoyed the idea of having Schnees across the street – but by the end it was agreed that neither gang would occupy the space.
It sat in the middle of a crowded strip of similarly empty buildings across from Cinder's tattoo shop, crammed between what used to be an ice cream parlor and a hardware store, with shade from a lonely ash tree sheltering its tall glass windows from the sun. The Schnees had repainted the face in a dark brown, almost black, but left the door its original stained wood. Ruby had already unpacked some vases and placed them strategically in the windows, adding some eye-drawing color to the building that gave the not-yet-open store a feeling of freshness.
Cinder stood underneath the tree, admiring the work the Schnees had done. It didn't make much difference though; so long as Cinder's shop was across the street, any business that sprung up here would be starved for customers. After another minute spent considering whether or not to open up her own businesses, Cinder followed the redheaded girl into her shop, stepping up from the sidewalk of dull red bricks and onto the polished tile floor of the florist.
The interior was stunning. Aside from a short counter with a cash register, the building was completely open, having only a short rectangular stage occupying the center of the floor. Shelves set under recessed lights jutted out from the edges of the room, all made of the same stained wood as the stage and perfectly accenting the white-gray paint of the ceiling and walls. The floor itself was lit by rows of ball lights adjusted to a dim, atmospheric glow that made it easy to see without being too harsh. A door in the back lead to a storage room where the flowers would be kept at a constant temperature and automatically watered, as well as the unloading area for new shipments. Cinder was impressed.
Ruby appeared through the door from the back, carrying a box full of flowers. Seeing Cinder looking around, she said, "So, what do you think? Doesn't it look great? Come on through here," Cinder allowed herself to be lead through to the back where, as she had suspected, was an enormous amount of boxes waiting to be unpacked. "I'm really grateful for your help, Miss... I'm sorry, I never caught your name?"
"Oh? It's Cinder Fall." Cinder waited for the reaction, the widening eyes and the paling face that usually occurred when someone realized they were speaking with the head of the Grimm crime syndicate, the red woman of Vale.
She was slightly disappointed when it didn't come, Ruby's smile only growing. "Thanks for the help, Ms. Fall!"
"Please, call me Cinder."
"Cinder. Got it. Alright, let's get started! I'll grab this box, if you could take that one and put it-"
Cinder held up a hand, "One moment, Ruby, I have to go back to the shop."
The crestfallen look on Ruby's face both delighted and dismayed Cinder, without her knowing why. She stepped forward, reaching up and gently stroking Ruby's cheek, tilting the girl's head upwards so she could stare into those silver eyes, "Don't worry, little Ruby, I will be back soon." She left after savoring the glimmer of thankfulness that appeared in Ruby's eyes.
When she reached the tattoo shop, she opened the door and said, "Emera-"
"Boss, I don't care what you say, I'm not helping that stupid squirt with her dumb flowers!" The green-haired woman jumped up from her chair and paced in front of Cinder, screaming, "Why are we even letting her move in? She should have to pay double for coming in here and dumping this stupid vase on my counter! Bitch. I bet she works for the Schnees! We should-"
Emerald stopped, drooping her head sheepishly when she saw Cinder's fierce glare. "Sorry, Boss."
"I was going to say to lock up the store, because I'll be gone for a while. But now I think I want you to grab Mercury and meet me over there. Will that be a problem?"
"Good. Let's go."
Hours later, Cinder lead her subordinates back into the tattoo shop, sore from moving hundreds of boxes and unpacking surprisingly heavy vases. Emerald trudged to her chair behind the counter, falling heavily into it and heaving an exhausted sigh. "I never want to see another stupid flower in my life. And that girl! How can she be so happy about stupid flowers!"
Mercury sat on the leather bench and put his feet onto the table, reclining back with his hands behind his head. "So, Boss, what are we going to do with her?"
Cinder cocked an eyebrow, "Hmm?"
"I mean, normally when someone walks in here we shove 'em out with a gun to their head, but she comes in with some roses and we help her set up her store? And you didn't even mention protection money..."
Emerald sat up. "Ooh, let's bleed her dry! That'll teach her to open up across from us!"
With slow steps, Cinder walked to the counter and pulled a single rose from out of the vase, holding it to her nose and breathing deep of its lovely aroma. "No..." Both Emerald and Mercury turned to stare at their boss. "She gets a pass. I like her." She took another sniff and licked her lips, "I want her."
Emerald began to stand, saying, "But-" then was silenced by a deadly glance from the tall woman and settled back into her chair.
"Make sure everyone knows – the Schnees, the Fang, the police, Roman and Neo too – nobody touches Ruby Rose," Cinder walked to the hallway, rose in hand, "She's mine."
Author's Notes: I have had this idea bouncing around in my head for about six months and finally decided to just start it. I'm not sure how good of a job I did with this first chapter, but hopefully it wasn't too confusing. Please let me know what you thought.
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