Disclaimer: RWBY is owned by Rooster Teeth.

Disclaimer II: This chapter contains content that may be considered mature.

Author's Notes: Thank you, everyone, for over 700 followers!

Big thanks to Unjax for helping me with this chapter!

Lush, leathery petals scraped across Cinder's lips as she held the rose to her mouth, breathing in the rich scent of the flower's pollen. She closed her eyes and luxuriated in the smell, making each sniff deeper than the last, then threw her head back as she exhaled in a long, rhapsodic sigh. Opening her mouth, she touched her tongue to one of the petals; it tasted bland and bitter, like watered-down tea with too much ice. She longed for sweet.

The answer to her desire rested a short walk away, easily within sight from her seat on top of the receptionist's desk in the front of the tattoo shop, but Cinder resisted the feeling in her stomach, the fierce hunger, that wanted her to go to the florist. The day before, Winter Schnee had said that her family would be having Ruby's new stock of flowers delivered today, grossly overstepping the boundaries established between the Schnee patriarch and the Grimm, and if Cinder intruded unexpectedly on her rivals things could get... messy. Cinder saw no need for Ruby to witness such violence; she could wait.

Except the street outside of the tattoo shop was empty.

When she had arrived at her store earlier that morning Cinder had anticipated the road to be constricted with dozens of white vans and trucks, filled to bursting with flowers, pots, and enemy peons, and had prepared herself for another confrontation with the woefully overconfident woman who had dared to attempt to steal Ruby, but, perhaps disappointingly, there were no Schnees in sight. The lack of their presence hadn't convinced her that there was reason to relax, and she had told her underlings to stay alert.

Mercury had positioned himself by the door, pulling a rolling chair out of one of the rooms in the back of the shop, and passed the time while he waited for the Schnees by loading and unloading bullets from his pistol's magazine. The arrhythmic clicking blended imperfectly with the beat of the music that dribbled out of the speakers set into the ceiling, but over time it had faded to just more background noise. Emerald sat in her chair behind Cinder, occasionally touching her hands to the sawed-off shotgun that rested hidden under the desk to remind herself that it was available.

Cinder sat on the counter in the front of her shop, one leg over the other, twisting her flower between her fingers, wondering what was keeping her white-haired opponent. She was patient, yes, but that didn't mean she enjoyed having her time wasted, and the longer she was kept from Ruby by the unaccounted-for Schnees was more time wasted. She was beginning to grow angry, and the temptation of the florist's front door was becoming unbearable.

Silver eyes, red hair, and sweet lips waited for her amongst the flowers.

Taking another taste of the rose and licking her lips for whatever extra flavor may have been caught on her bright red lipstick, Cinder sighed and lowered the stem back into the large vase that was a constant source of complaining from Emerald. She stood and opened her mouth, planning to tell Mercury and Emerald to keep an eye out for Schnees while she went to the florist, but a surprise grumble of an engine – distant, but unmistakable – made her pause. It appeared her subordinates had heard the noise as well; Mercury stood quickly, the wheels of his chair clacking as it skidded across the floor, slammed his half-empty magazine into the grip of his pistol, and looked to Cinder for directions, while the sound of a shotgun getting racked from behind her told her Emerald was preparing for a conflict as well. Cinder herself put a hand on the knife hidden sheathed in her secret pocket.

The trio of gangsters remained frozen while the grumbling grew closer until the source rolled into view: a gleaming SUV – very unfortunately painted white – gently came to a stop on Cinder's side of the street. Mercury instantly raised his pistol, aiming the barrel at the passenger door, but Cinder raised a hand to make him wait. At Mercury's curious glance, she said "I'd prefer this to go... quietly." and signaled to her knife with her eyes. Mercury nodded, grinning a tiny, ominous grin, and slunk towards a corner, keeping his gun raised. Cinder looked back at the car just in time to see the doors open and tightened her fingers around her knife's hilt.

The tall gray button-sided boots that stepped down from the passenger's seat looked very un-Schnee-like to Cinder, but her momentary confusion dissipated with the appearance of an umbrella she only too easily recognized. Her hand lifted from the knife and she crossed her arms, watching as Neo unfurled her parasol and stood by the car until Roman finished making his trip around the front of the SUV. The pair of eccentric thieves took their time getting to the tattoo shop, ignorant of the commotion they had caused, and Cinder felt her irritation growing – it was certain that Roman knew better than to drive a white SUV into the heart of her territory.

She almost pulled out her blade when, after holding open the door for his partner, Roman entered the shop and said, grinning, "You weren't expecting someone else, were you?" Neo hid her smirk behind a white-gloved hand, her multicolored eyes laughing at Cinder.

"Roman." Cinder growled, "New car?"

He smiled foxily. "Just borrowing," He glanced at Mercury and Emerald, both of whom hadn't lowered their weapons yet. Turning back to Cinder, he pouted. "I thought we were friends?"

"I'm still deciding." Cinder muttered, but waved permission for her underlings to stand down. "Why are you here? We're... busy."

Roman's smile returned, wide and toothy. "I've got good news for you, Boss."

Cinder's glare softened. "Do you?" A long-awaited feeling of triumph glowed in her chest, and she smiled at the thought of hearing the details. Without looking away from Roman, she turned to Mercury. "Mercury,"


"Move the car to the back."

"Got it, Boss." Mercury holstered his pistol into the back of his pants and stepped towards Roman, holding out his hand.

Tossing him the keys, Roman said, "No joyrides," and winked.

While Mercury rolled his eyes and groaned as he pushed through the front door and started walking to the car, causing Roman to chuckle and Neo to cover her mouth again, Cinder called over her shoulder, "Emerald?"

"Yes, Boss?"

"Don't we have something to drink in the back? Bring it out, would you?"

"But Boss, that's the-"

"Emerald," Cinder snapped, then took a breath and said, "We reward good work," Then, threateningly, "Now get the drinks." She waited until she heard Emerald's footsteps recede into the hallway, then gestured Roman and Neo to one of the leather couches that sat against the wall. "Let's sit."

They moved as a group towards the seat. Neo and Roman took the edge opposite Cinder, the former picking up one of Mercury's magazines and flipping through the pages while the latter removed his hat and set it on his knee. Emerald returned quickly with two glasses and a bottle of dark liquor, only to be sent scurrying back for a third with a sharp reprimand. Mercury returned while they were waiting for Neo's glass, taking a seat on the couch on the other side of the shop and burying his face into a magazine.

When both she and her guests had drinks, Cinder turned and smiled at Roman. "Give me your news. I've been waiting for it for... too long."

Roman gulped down the contents of his glass and held it out for Emerald to refill. "You'll be happy to hear that our blonde friend won't be bothering you anytime soon."

"You didn't kill her, did you?"

"No, no, but we – this is good stuff – made sure she'd be out of action for a bit." He reclined, swirling the liquor. "It went as smoothly as you can imagine. We waited until she got out – hard to hit her when she's sitting in the police station – then followed her a ways. You'd think a detective would be more observant; I don't think she noticed us once. When she was alone, we... well," He looked into the glass, a cruel smile splitting his face, "I'll just say it was a delight watching Neo work."

A pleasant thrum of satisfaction purred through Cinder's chest. Imagining the foolish, overconfident blonde screaming, writhing on the ground, terrified... "You gave her my regards?"

Roman nodded. "She knows it was you. She'll think twice before sticking her nose into your business again."

"Excellent." Retribution was hers; it was almost as sweet as Ruby's lips. Cinder snapped her fingers, "Emerald,"


"Roman needs to be payed for his exceptional work. The case by my desk, if you would,"

"Yes, Boss." Emerald placed the bottle between Roman and Cinder and hastened her way to the back office. His drink once again empty, Roman took the bottle and poured himself a third glass.

"Did we ever decide on a price, Roman?"

His face screwed, "I don't remember, but I'm sure you'll be very generous."

"Hm. I'm sure I will be." Emerald returned and handed the case to Cinder, who then held it out to Roman. "For services rendered." His eyes bulged when he felt it's weight.

Her guest didn't disrespect her by counting his payment in front of her, instead handing it in turn to his accomplice, scoffing his drink, and sighing contentedly. "My pleasure, Boss."

The transaction complete, Cinder rose to her feet, handing Emerald her glass to dispose of. "If you'll excuse me, there's someone I need to see. A recent customer." She smirked when Roman's eyebrows rose.

"An actual customer? You don't mean-"

"I told you she was mine." She spoke with just enough venom to remind Roman that just yesterday he had doubted her, suspected her of being weak, and yet she was now victorious. "But don't go anywhere, I have another job for you,"

"Oh? How exciting! Any hints?"

She chuckled. "Relax, Roman. Enjoy your drink. Count your money. I'll be back soon." She stepped away, leaving Roman and Neo to their vices, crossing the shop to stand over Mercury. Her minion raised his head, ready for instruction. "No Schnee goes into that store while I'm there. Understand?"

Mercury smiled and set down his magazine, standing unhurriedly and cracking his neck. "Got it, Boss." There was a hint of enthusiasm in his usual sarcastic drawl.

Cinder gripped him by the chin, shifting her mouth into a firm, commanding line, and said, glaring straight into his eyes, "Keep it quiet." Mercury nodded calmly. "Good boy." She released him and turned for the door, pausing to smooth her shirt and adjust her hair before exiting.

The hot sunny air was a refreshing change from the stale dimness of the tattoo shop; Cinder shaded her eyes as she walked briskly across the street, her heels clacking against the asphalt, and soon she stood in front of the florist's door. It swung open easily with a gentle push – Cinder guessed that the Schnees might have greased the hinges the day before – and the bell bolted to the corner jingled at her entrance. The small flower store looked very different to the last time Cinder had been there: the mess those brutish boys had created had vanished, professionally cleaned away, and it seemed that – though she was loathe to admit it – the Schnees had done a good job refurnishing the wreckage.

The old floor had been completely replaced with textured gray-brown tiles waxed to a mirror finish, the wooden stage had been rebuilt and put on casters so it could be moved around the store with ease, and a new, elegant light feature hung down from the ceiling in the center of the store, spreading warm, soft light into every corner of the florist. Not a speck of dust nor shard of broken pottery could be spotted. And, despite Winter mentioning that the new stock of flowers would be coming today, there were already sections that had been refilled with pots and vases, and a couple shelves held bouquets that lent their scents to the interior.

Short trees the height of her shoulder, fresh from Schnee greenhouses, stood on the stage and spread their sun-hungry leaves over brown plastic bowls with young, bulging sprouts of various flowers on the edge of blooming, and in one corner the workers had gathered a dozen large ferns under a special lamp that hummed with all the power it consumed. It was not as full as it had been before the ill-fated intrusion – she could actually move about without pushing aside leaves or flowers with every step – but neither was it as empty as Cinder had expected. She assumed most of the work had been completed while she had brooded in her office yesterday, and was happy to see the florist's recovery well under way. The smells of earth, pollen, and wet leaves, and the vibrant greenery brought a sense of tranquility that Cinder had been missing of late.

It was made all the better by knowing that it was hers, all of it, no matter the efforts the Schnees, police, or Fang made against her.

One noticeable absence, however, was Cinder's neighbor. She shouldn't have had any trouble spotting Ruby's red hair or apron with how bare the store was, but there was no sign of her. After searching every corner and behind every leafy tree and bush, Cinder's eye caught a small line of light coming from under the door that lead to the storage room. She moved eagerly towards the light, feeling a warm urgency in her chest, and tapped her knuckles against the door. "Ruby?" There was a quiet sound of a wooden crate getting scraped against concrete, but no response. Cinder licked her lips before turning the handle and opening the door.

The storage room was brightly lit with the cold white light of the fluorescent lights set into the metal racks that held the overstock flowers and smelled like wet dirt. Empty cardboard boxes were piled against any open space of wall between the rows of racks, moist from the spraying mist that drifted down from the small sprinklers twist-tied above the blossoms. It was cool; Cinder's skin prickled against the change away from hot, and there was an underlying buzzing of the air conditioner toiling relentlessly to maintain the temperature.

Cinder turned her head as she scanned the room, smiling when she spied the girl she desired. Ruby stood by the cutting table at the far end of the storage space with her back turned, surrounded by a minefield of large wooden crates marked 'fragile'. Taking slow steps, Cinder prowled forward, pulled by the starving yearning in her stomach. Her footfalls echoed weakly, mostly covered by the hiss of the sprinklers and the rumble of the ventilation. "There you are..." The exposed skin of Ruby's neck – milky, pale and smooth, tickled by the soft red hair – made Cinder's mouth water. "I've been looking for you, my sweet little ro-"

"Stop." The shout – half order, half plea – halted Cinder in her tracks.

Confused, she asked, "Ruby?" She chanced another step forward. "Is something wro-"

"Just stop!" Ruby turned around. There were tears in her silver eyes, and wet streaks traced across her cheeks. Cinder was more concerned by the gun revealed to be held in Ruby's left hand.

It was a dull black pistol; Cinder recognized it as a medium-caliber handgun, common among law enforcement. It didn't make her nervous – she'd been around guns for long enough and had more than a good share of time with them directed at her – but she felt a great uneasiness replacing the hunger in her gut. Cautious and keeping still, she asked, "What's going on, Ruby?"

"Who, who are you?" Ruby's voice trembled, "W-Who are you, and what do you do?"

Cinder's heart seized. Someone had told her sweet, beautiful flower something they shouldn't have. She squashed her rising anger; whoever it was could be dealt with later, she needed to salvage this. "My name is Cinder, and I'm a tattoo artist-"

"NO! You're lying!" Ruby screamed. Her arms raised and the pistol's barrel stared at Cinder's chest. Fresh tears streamed down the young girl's face, and her mouth spread into a grimace as she started sobbing. "Who are you, and w-what do you do?"

Cinder forced herself to take slow breaths. "I'm Cinder Fall. I'm a tattoo artist-"

"You're still lying to me! I told you to stop!" Ruby took a step forward. Her arms shook with every hiccuping breath. "You're Cinder Fall, leader of the Grimm! The 'Red Queen' of Vale! Aren't you?!" Cinder's eyes watched Ruby's, but her mind followed every twitch of the gun barrel, and the sweaty, nervous finger that hovered by the trigger.

"Who told you that?" It was hard to keep the fury out of her voice.

"Answer me!"

Cinder's jaw clenched. This was not the situation she had wanted to be in when she finally revealed herself to Ruby. Admitting the truth would... "Ruby-"

"Answer me!" Ruby's finger wrapped around the trigger.

Cinder sighed. "Yes." The way Ruby's face twisted at her confirmation made Cinder think that, maybe, she had been hoping for a different response.

It almost looked like Ruby was physically wounded by her answer; she bent over as if wincing, and her expression appeared pained. "No... no!" The denial croaked out alongside a sniffle, then, "Why? Why?"

Adventuring a step forward, Cinder spread her arms, "Ruby, I-"

The gun whipped back to her chest. "Stay away from me!" Ruby fell back against the cutting table, quickly wiping her eyes with the heel of her right hand. "They were right about you," she muttered sadly, "Why didn't I listen to them?" She lowered the gun to her side, staring dully at Cinder. "They said you were a wolf in sheep's clothing. They said you were dangerous, but I didn't believe them." She started shaking her head. "You couldn't have been dangerous, you were nice. How could you be dangerous when you were so nice? When you were so kind and helpful and generous? When I liked you so much..." She coughed, sniffled, wiped her nose, "I liked you so much I stopped asking questions."

Cinder stayed silent, letting Ruby talk, taking the opportunity to inch forward whenever the watery silvery eyes glanced away, lost in introspection. She was getting closer and closer to being within arms' reach.

"I should have known something was wrong when Blake brought guards. Or when Yang was scared. Or when Weiss... I think a part of me knew, but I didn't think... Because you were there to protect me, like when those men broke in! Yang gave me the gun; she said it was for safety, but I thought..." Ruby held the weapon away from her, as though it radiated an offensive stench. "I didn't want it. I thought it was too dangerous. I thought I could trust you to help me, if I needed it," She glanced up, and Cinder froze in place. The tears were slowing, the sobs had stopped, but, indicated by the wobble of Ruby's lower lip, either could instantly return. "You put her in the hospital. I know. I tried to call her last night, after you... After you kissed me." Her weak hold on her emotions broke. Through choked breaths, Ruby asked, "Why did you do that?" The gun returned to aim at Cinder. Ruby screamed, "Why did you do that?!" A pause while she struggled with her sobs, then, in a high-pitched, scared squeak, "Am I next? Are you going to hurt me too?"

"Never!" Cinder bellowed, throwing her arms apart in rejection. She made to step forward but, seeing Ruby tense in fear, held herself back. She instead paced restlessly, followed by the pistol's sights. "I'd never hurt you, Ruby."

Ruby looked to relax slightly. "Why did you hurt Yang? What did she do to you?"

Thinking of the meddlesome blonde reignited the suppressed fury in her chest. A snarl twisted Cinder's mouth, "Because she got in my way. They all did! Belladonna! Blonde! Schnee! They wanted to keep you away!"

Ruby's eyes widened, and she said, "What?" but the question barely registered in Cinder's mind.

"I wanted you, Ruby, I wanted you all to myself. But they kept getting in the way, kept trying to steal you from me! So, I did to them what I do to everyone who tries to take what's mine. I even did it the 'nice' way, so I wouldn't hurt you," She smiled, closing the last few feet that separated her from Ruby. Ruby squirmed as far backwards as she could, nearly sitting on top of the cutting table, her arms getting tangled around each other as she tried to keep the gun between herself and the older woman approaching her. "They won't bother us anymore, my sweet little rose," Cinder reached up and stroked a hand along Ruby's shivering cheek, wet with salty tears; she licked her lips. "You're all mine, now," She leaned in to kiss the trembling pink lips-

"No!" Ruby smacked Cinder's hand away; the gun pressed against Cinder's ribs. "I'm not yours!" She shoved against the older woman, forcing her back, "I don't want anything to do with you!"

Cinder made to move forward again, but Ruby raised the gun, and she paused, breathing hard. Sweetness was so near; she was so hungry for it... "Don't say that, Ruby," She licked her lips, "We kissed, my needle has tasted your skin... I want you Ruby, I need you," She stepped forward. "You're mine..."

"Stay away from m-"

Cinder lunged-

The gun went off.

The ringing in Cinder's ears and the pain in her side from where the bullet had bitten her before crashing through one of the lights on a rack far behind the pair of women were easily numbed by the sweet ecstasy of tasting Ruby's lips. The flavor was even more intoxicating than the night before.

She stood bent over, pressing her body down onto Ruby's, one hand sunken into the silken swathes of the soft red hair and the other gripping the young girl's hip, fighting against Ruby's arms to keep their mouths connected. The thin, delicate hands pushed against her shoulders but weren't strong enough to force her off. Finally, she tore away and took a long, deep breath. The hand in Ruby's hair slipped down and gently held the flushed, tear-streaked face, "Say you'll be mine, Ruby," Cinder whispered, barely able to speak for her breathlessness, "Tell me you'll be mine," She descended again. Ruby writhed underneath her, turning her head away, so Cinder opted to kiss along the graceful neck, feeling the warmth and tasting the sweet, sweet skin. Her other hand lifted from Ruby's hip and slid along the curve of the florist's chest to rest on top of one of the small breasts. "Say you're mine!"

Ruby moaned and squeaked beneath her, twisting away from her touch. "No!" Cinder allowed herself to be shoved away, standing back and panting; her heart hammered in her chest. Ruby rose from off the cutting table and wiped the back of her hand across her mouth. "I'll never be yours! I don't want anything to do with you!" Cinder sobered somewhat at Ruby's refusal, the feverish pulsing in her veins cooling down. "You're evil!"

"Evil?" Cinder laughed. "That's why I didn't tell you the truth, Ruby, I knew you wouldn't understand," She threw her arms out, "This city lives because of me! The gangs would have torn it down if I hadn't conquered them! Without me every street would be coated with blood! Every corner a war zone! I rule Vale! If things had gone as they were supposed to," A different feeling started pooling in her stomach, running through her veins, "if your friends had kept quiet like they were supposed to, you would have seen. You would have understood why it is I do what I do." Her hands clenched. "But they ruined everything! They told you too soon, turned you against me..."

Cinder realized she'd been grimacing at Ruby; she relaxed her hands and smiled, stepping forward. "I just need you, Ruby, and then everything will be right again," She cupped Ruby's chin, feeling her shy away from the touch, "I admit, my methods are cruel, but with you... You could help me turn Vale into something magnificent... Just say you'll be mine..."

The silver eyes locked onto hers, full of steel. "I told you. I'll never be yours."

Cinder's smile dropped. "Ruby," Heat blazed in her stomach, in her fingers, behind her eyes. "Be mine,"

Stoically and defiantly pointing her chin, Ruby said, "No. Never. You hurt my friends!"

Shaking, Cinder barely managed to whisper, "You would choose them over me?"

"I love them. I hate you."

The fire erupted inside Cinder. Her upper lip curled back, and she roared, "If I can't have you, they won't!" Her hand whipped to her knife, drawing the slick, shining blade from it's sheath hidden in her pocket, and plunged the point upwards into Ruby's chest. She felt the steel slide through skin and meaty muscle, between the ribs, and stab into Ruby's fast-beating heart.

Ruby jerked, her eyes bulging and mouth opening silently in complete shock as the metal pierced through her. Her hands clutched shakily at Cinder's shirt.

Cinder released the knife, reaching her hand – smeared in hot red liquid – around behind Ruby and drawing the younger girl close, cradling her in an imitation of a comforting hug. She closed her eyes, and pressed her mouth against the sweet pink lips, holding the kiss until the taste was replaced by the coppery tang of Ruby's blood spilling up from her punctured lung.

When the smooth white arms stopped shivering, when the raspy breath stopped flowing, when the straining heart stopped beating, Cinder tenderly lowered Ruby's body to the ground, placing her on her side. The shining silver eyes stared emptily at the wall. Warm blood gushed more readily from the wound when Cinder withdrew the knife and dropped it on the concrete floor next to the black gun, lost after its surprise discharge. She brushed a strand of Ruby's hair behind her ear, revealing a pale cheek; her lips left a light red stain against the skin. It was as much a trademark of her handiwork as a symbol of her affection. As she made to stand, she caught a glimpse of the tattooed rose on Ruby's back – her hand had left a messy print directly across the brightly colored, not-yet-healed skin.

Blood and ink, the same shade of red.

Cinder stood and looked at herself. The front of her shirt and the top of her pants were dark and sticky with Ruby's blood; it dripped from her upturned hands onto her legs and shoes. She licked her lips.

Blood. No sweetness.

Her heart beat slowly in her chest. She didn't feel angry anymore, but neither was she sad. She felt calm, and empty.

Wet, red footprints were left in the her wake as she turned and walked through the door. As she strode across the florist's floor flower petals and leaves dragged against her arms and pants like tickling fingers, getting caught in the thick smears that coated her body. The sunlight that glared down on her after she stepped into the street made the already hot blood feel even hotter; it burned against her skin.

Emerald burst from the tattoo shop when Cinder was halfway across the road and rushed towards her. "Holy shit, Boss, what the hell happened to you?" She gasped. "Did that stupid little flower bitch do this to you? I'll-"

Cinder's fist crunched into her jaw; Emerald fell to the ground. "Shut up, Emerald!" She stood over her fallen subordinate and drove her foot again and again into the woman's chest and stomach. Emerald screamed and tried to block the attacks with her arms. "You talk too fucking much!" After a final kick that landed solidly against Emerald's side, Cinder stopped, caught her breath, and then continued towards her store, leaving her receptionist groaning in a ball in the middle of the road.

The interior of the tattoo shop was dead silent save for the soft music that floated from the speakers in the ceiling. Three pairs of eyes stared at her, wide at the sight of all the glistening blood on her clothes, their owners cowed by the ferocious beating in the street. Mercury stood by the door, pistol drawn and mouth shut, glancing between Emerald's body in the street and Cinder's red-covered hands. Roman and Neo were both sitting where she had left them, a glowing cigar pinched tight in Roman's lips.

It was the thief who spoke first. "That's a scary look you've got, Boss."

She glared at him, then swiveled her head to look at her other minion. "Mercury,"


"Get some gasoline."

"Boss?" He hesitated until Cinder flashed him a dangerous glance. "Got it." He nodded and left for the back of the store.

"What happened?" Roman asked, eying all the blood.

Cinder ignored his question, crossing to the receptionist's desk and wrapping her hands around the giant vase that rested on its surface. With a grunt, she lowered it slowly to the floor, then grabbed it by its mouth; the wrinkling stems of the roses inside scratched against her fingers. The hard clay screeched as she dragged it across the ground, out the door, and into the street, past Emerald slowly rising from the asphalt, until she came to a stop in front of the florist's stained wood door. Roman and Neo followed her out, and watched quietly as Cinder lifted the vase and threw it as far as she could into the flower store. Mercury appeared soon, carrying two large metal gas cans. Cinder took them from him and sent him away with a nod.

Her expression was grim as she went into the flower store and undid the caps on the cans. The harsh chemical stink quickly replaced the freshness of the blossoms, the smell burning Cinder's nostrils as she walked, one tank at a time, through the aisles and around the stage, covering the polished tiles and flowers alike with gasoline. Petals and leaves wilted and browned under the petrol stream.

When she was satisfied with the distribution of the accelerant, she tossed one can, empty, through the front door and used the other to draw a line of liquid out into the street. The can was down to the last drops before she'd made it onto the opposite sidewalk; Cinder shook it to make sure it was as empty as possible, then let it fall noisily to the pavement and stood wordlessly over her fuse.

The four other criminals slowly joined her, Mercury supporting the wounded Emerald to Cinder's left while Roman and Neo hovered to her right. Roman took a long drag on his cigar, then exhaled a cloud of wispy gray smoke. "That girl," he said, pointing with his cane to the flower store, "was connected to every single major enemy of yours in the city, and you killed her." He shook his head. "They're going to be coming for you." He started to put the cigar back between his teeth, but Cinder plucked it from his fingers and held it to her mouth.

She breathed in the hot smoke. It itched down her throat. "I know," She blew out in a slow sigh, staring absently at the building about to be set ablaze. "She was supposed to love me." Cinder dropped the cigar into the puddle of gasoline by her feet. Hazy flames, barely visible in the bright sunlight, raced along the line of gas into the florist, which virtually exploded with fire. It devoured the flowers, the stage, the light fixtures, everything. Toxic black smoke soon started erupting through the door, then from the windows after the glass shattered from the heat. Cinder could feel the pulsing hot wind of the inferno against her face as she watched the flames lick higher and higher, until she could see the rafters wrapped in fire. "Get in touch with all the gangs," Cinder said aside to Roman, keeping her eyes locked to the roaring conflagration, "Vale burns tonight."

She saw Roman tilt his hat out of the corner of her eye. "Got it, Boss." The sounds of his and Neo's footsteps leaving was nearly inaudible over the fire that consumed the florist.


The green-haired woman coughed and said weakly, "B-Boss?"

"Get your tools and meet me in my office." Cinder turned on her heel and started toward the tattoo shop before Emerald could groan her compliance.

When she reached her office in the back of the store, she felt the tight cage of calmness that surrounded her heart melt away, replaced by a geyser of rage. She screamed, bellowing her anger, her frustration, yelling all the louder as her own voice echoed off the walls back at her. Storming to her desk, she wiped its surface clean, sending papers, books, and wads of banded-together money flying in a tumultuous whirl. The next victim of her fury was her stack of drawers full of tools – she pushed it over and it slammed with a deafening crash against the floor, spilling jars of ink and spare parts for her tattoo gun into every corner of the room. Her heart racing, her chest heaving, Cinder turned and spotted the vase of roses that somehow survived her frenzy.

It stood alone, untouched, having miraculously avoided the violence she'd wreaked on her desk. She stepped over to it, grasping it in her shaking hands, and examined the roses that poked out of the thin neck. They were old and stale, unreplenished.


She threw the vase against the wall. The glass burst; the withered brown flowers unraveled, their ugly petals floating feather-like downwards.

With nothing left to break, Cinder strode to the reclining chair, normally reserved for her victims, but today it would be she sitting on its comfortable leather seat. She pulled her blood-soaked shirt over her head, feeling what little blood hadn't dried slide coolly against her skin, and tossed the ruined garment with the vase. She did the same for her bra, then sat and waited.

A knock preceded Emerald limping into the room with her bag of tools. Her eyes widened at the wreckage in the office, then, after they brushed across Cinder's bare chest, looked away. "Boss! Um... Did you-"

"Come here, Emerald," Cinder waved her receptionist forward, "Pull up the chair."

Given permission, Emerald rolled the chair over to Cinder and sat, putting on a pair of latex gloves. Suddenly, she gasped. "Boss, you're bleeding!"

Looking down, Cinder spotted the source of Emerald's reaction. A thin cut from where Ruby's bullet had grazed her side was oozing a tiny stream of blood. "Oh. I forgot about that." She settled back. "Ignore it."

Emerald nodded nervously. "R-Right. W-Where did you want it, Boss?"

Cinder placed her hand just above her breasts, right over her heart. "Here."

"Okay," Emerald withdrew a cloth and a small bottle of rubbing alcohol from her bag and started cleaning the area. "This is kind of nice, isn't it, Boss? Just me and you, like in the beginning. I've missed this."



"Shut up and get started."

Her minion gulped. "Y-Yes, Boss," She put away the cloth and started hooking up the tattoo gun. "So, what do you want?"

Cinder leaned her head back, closed her eyes, and sighed.

"A rose."

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