There is no part one. Maybe there never was a part one. Or maybe your whole life was part one, right up until that moment when everything thing changed, when you watched her body rip itself to pieces in the arena, when you watched her body turn to ashes and float away on the wind, when you finally lost yourself to anger and hate.
All you know now is that you're in part two and you hate it with every breath. Maybe.
Maybe you just have to embrace it, or maybe you can fix it. Maybe there's not a difference.
"Salutations," chirps the girl. The word triggers something in you, nostalgia and despair; it reminds you of how this all started, how everything went to hell. You retreat into yourself, drowning in the waves of memories, of half-formed thoughts, the downward spiral that was the last full year.
You can't stand it when people say that word. It reminds you too much of her. Especially when people say it so cheerfully. Don't they know?
You wish you could talk to someone about it, how much you miss her. But she was killed by Pyrrha, which means you'd have to talk about Pyrrha.
Everyone you know misses Pyrrha so much more than they miss her.
Penny only had one friend, after all. You. You can't fault everyone else for not loving her the way you did. What you and Penny had, it was special. It almost had to be… you've never met anyone else quite like her.
You don't think you've ever met anyone as real, as honest, as true as Penny.
Penny Polendina, the not-real girl.
You've never worked with electronics like this before. Until now, the most complicated system you've worked on was the circuit board that governs Crescent Rose's mechashift. It's almost completely analog; that board detects changes in the effective capacitance of the scythe-rifle's handle based on your grip and triggers the appropriate shifts. That was a clever bit of engineering on your part, but what you're working on now is on a whole other level.
That's okay, you can always rise to the challenge. You don't have another option, really.
You tried to talk to your sister about it, right after it happened. Well, there were a few things that happened in between Penny's death and your conversation with Yang that got in the way. Not little things, like classes or lunch or even the usual sisterly arguments. Big things. The Battle of Beacon, where the White Fang cut off Yang's arm, where Blake went missing, where Cinder killed Ozpin and Pyrrha.
And then you were unconscious for like a month, which also really got in the way of this conversation.
But it's not like you didn't try to talk about it right afterwards, at the first chance you got. You woke up in your bed, you barely remembered the battle until uncle Qrow told you what had happened. You tried, you really did, you asked him about everybody. Qrow told you about Yang, about her hand, and about how she wasn't taking it too well. "Be delicate, Ruby. She's had a hard few weeks, and it's not going to get much better for a while."
You asked him about Penny, but he didn't know that name. "You know, she was the robot girl," you whisper to him. "Oh, Jimmy's toy?" he started, and you knew right then that you didn't need to hear him finish.
She was real, damn you. She was a real girl, with real thoughts and emotions. She had an Aura, she had a soul. And now she's dead. Not broken, uncle, dead.
Toys break, people die.
Every four hundred and thirty-seven seconds, there's a slight tremor in your right hand. It's so slight you've never noticed it before- the average displacement is about half of a millimeter. Still, the soldering you're doing today is so delicate that even that is enough to ruin the entire board and force you to start over.
You set a timer- every four hundred and thirty three seconds, you back off and let the tremor pass, then you get right back to work. It's tedious, but it's what you have to do if you want to succeed.
Qrow told you about yourself, too. About the powers you apparently have. How Ozpin knew all along, how me might only have let you into his school because he knew you had this secret power all along.
You hate it.
And maybe you hate them. Ozpin, Qrow, even your father- they all knew this would happen. It's your legacy, apparently, what you've inherited from your mother. Maybe you hate her too. It's hard to tell. You're just so angry these days. It's bad to hate people though, that's something someone told you once, so you make the extra effort not to.
But if you did hate them, you'd have a good reason. Maybe if someone had told you about your latent superpowers at some point, things would be different. You could have saved them.
You wish you could voice your thoughts. Maybe, you'd tell them, Professor Ozpin, uncle Qrow, dad; maybe my friends didn't have to walk smiling to their deaths.
It's hard to blame Ozpin, though. He's dead. Maybe.
But it's hard to blame Ozpin, even if you do feel some resentment towards him. He's dead. From what Jaune tells you, Opzin stood between Pyrrha and that woman Cinder Fall; he laid down his own life to save his students.
He believed in his students enough to sacrifice himself for them.
But now he's dead and gone.
He's been gone for a year now, but Glynda- sorry, Headmistress Goodwitch says he's still out there, still alive. He's just hiding, all the Beacon professors say, fighting evil from the shadows. "Aren't you angry that he's hiding?" You asked Glynda, "That he wasn't around to help you rebuild this school? That he's made you deal with all of this on your own?"
"No," she responded, though the subtle frown she may have thought she'd suppressed says otherwise. "Whatever he's doing, I'm sure it's important."
It must be nice to have that kind of faith in someone.
The raw materials are expensive, so you steal them. There's a man who helps you from the shadows, though. He covers for you, and you don't get caught even as you break into highly secured government research facilities.
You know you can trust him because you know what he wants, you see right through him. For such a smart man, he is in possession of a very simple soul.
You used to have faith in people. You used to believe in the headmaster, in your uncle Qrow, in your father Taiyang. You even used to believe in that Atlesian general, Ironwood, who just wanted to everyone, to stop people everywhere from being killed by the Grimm. You saw them as the bold protectors of the world, and you knew you could trust them to keep people safe, to keep your friends safe, to keep you safe.
They lay exposed now as the frauds that they are, these so-called authority figures vying for control, telling the lies that they need to tell to keep themselves at the top of the pecking order. When Ozpin fell, Qrow stepped up. He knew things, he said. The headmaster had him scouting out the enemy for years, so he was the best person to take the fight to them.
"No," said the general. "You're a liar and a drunk. But if Ozpin put his faith in you, I can try. I'll follow your lead." And so Qrow took command and sent you and Jaune and Ren and Nora to Mistral to chase down some bogeyman.
You didn't find anything there, though. Just bones and ashes, just Pyrrha's family trying to make do in a broken and corrupt city-state. Maybe you did some good, going to that hellish place, following the clues in Cinder's broadcast and exposing the rancid plots fester under the city's surface. It's not like you could fix any of that, though, four teenagers against a centuries-old military-industrial complex.
People got angry and the Grimm attacked en masse. Political enemies banded together for survival, and the military resources that might have been aimed at suppressing freedoms or invading Vacuo were utilized for the objectively good purpose of slaughtering the true enemy of humanity.
You didn't feel too bad about your results when you came back from Mistral. Ironwood greeted you on the runway upon your triumphant return. "You'll want to report to Taiyang," he said. "We're still trying to go through Qrow and Ozpin's files, to figure out what's the next move."
You're confused, why can't Qrow tell you himself? Apparently he's run away, the pressures of leadership were too much for him. "But your father's running the show now, and he's got a good head on his shoulders," the general assures you. You're not sure if you believe him.
You trusted him once because he wanted to save everybody. You trusted him because he saw the world like you did: he was willing to do whatever it took to stop the enemy, even if it meant disagreeing with everyone else. But your uncle, he never got along with this man. And your uncle, he was more committed to stopping Cinder Fall than anybody. He wouldn't have run.
Something's afoot but you don't know what. You know you're not clever enough to disentangle the lies from the truth, to play these games, so you try to stay out of them. What does it matter to you who the boss is? You just want someone to point you at the enemy and let you loose. Still, it hurts a bit when Ironwood separates you from team RNJR; he sends Jaune, Nora, and Ren out on long-term missions without you. "You're the only one who can save the world, Ruby." He justifies his decisions, "You have a power that nobody else has, and that makes you our most devastating weapon. We have to keep you in reserve." You worry that this is all about control.
He sends you out only once after that, to retrieve Jaune's team when they're injured. Out in the field, away from Ironwood and his devices, Jaune confesses to you that he's been in contact with Headmistress Goodwitch. He wants you to get away, out from under the general's thumb, get to safety at the rebuilt Beacon Academy.
"All these people that we put in charge, Jaune, they're all the same." You look over at Nora, with her leg broken, and Ren, passed out from exhaustion. "When we save the world, it won't be for them. No Jaune, I'll save Remnant for us, for the people who kept fighting, the people who went down fighting, and the people who don't have the power to fight. No matter where I go, that's who I fight for. It doesn't matter if I do it for Ironwood or Goodwitch."
You smile a worn out smile, the expression you made the first time your mother told you how to be a hero, the one you wear every time you recite the dream that she inspired in you. It's a shallow smile that doesn't reach your solemn silver eyes, hell, it doesn't even make it past your gritted teeth. You don't know how to feel about that dream that you profess, you've seen others claim to defend humanity even as they stab their fellow man in the back. You don't know how to feel about that dream you've carried for so long, that you inherited from your mother along with your eyes and your powers. You don't know how to feel about that dream, that pure and naive dream that you've lost somewhere in the haze of your rage.
But you make that little smile and you tell Jaune not to worry because that's all you know how to do.
"New orders from your father," Jaune messages you the next morning, "We'll be gone for a few months. Stay safe, Ruby."
You're alone now, and you wonder if Ironwood meant for it to be this way all along.
You have to learn how to use all sorts of new tools and techniques to work with these unique materials. After all, you can't use a forge, a hammer and anvil, a crucible and cast, to shape synthflesh or these thin and flexible wires. It's an awkward process, though- with the CCT down, you have to rely on books and ink-and-paper manuals to learn these things. Oh, what you wouldn't give for a few demonstration videos on ccTube.
It's not all so bad, though. Swords that are also a reconfigurable laser cannon? You can build that in your sleep.
You always used to be able to rely on your sister, but now Yang lies broken. You can't blame her, just like you couldn't blame Ozpin; Yang tried so hard, so honestly, and suffered so much in return. After losing her arm and her partner, she fell into a deep depression. Now she lies alone in an empty house on a godforsaken island while the rest of the world burns slowly to ash.
The source of her depression, you suspect, is twofold. First, there are Yang's deep-seated abandonment issues. Everyone in her life has left her- her mother, her step-mother, her partner, her teammate, her uncle, even you and your father now- and she feels that she's the cause. On the other hand, there's the issue of Yang's anger. Your sister has always been the sort to solve her problems by punching them in the face, and with her current injuries, she's unable to do that. You suspect that she feels particularly powerless in a world where power is the only thing she's ever trusted.
The second issue is more tractable and solving it might have the side effect of alleviating the first. If Yang becomes combat-ready, she can join you and Taiyang at Hunter Central Command and help you fight back against the enemy.
Solving that second issue basically requires you procure or build a suitable hand for your sister. You're a reasonably skilled weapons engineer and Ironwood's personal mechanics, experts in modern biomedical engineering, are on hand and happy to help you learn their field. You put in the effort and in only six weeks you've created something beautiful, a perfect prosthesis for your sister that incorporates her Ember Celica and can tolerate the extreme temperatures generated by her semblance.
Your father's happy to give you permission to travel to Patch- perhaps it's the first and last order to actually come from him- and you present the lovingly crafted arm to Yang. She stares blankly at you with her cold, dead lilac eyes. "Did you think you could just fix me, like I was one of your machines?" She laughs at you, a dry laugh that could have been a sob if she had any tears left at all. You protest: you tell her you did it because you love her, because you want your big sis back, but she's shut down completely and refuses to acknowledge your presence.
You feel the energy begin to well up behind your eyes so you just leave. It wouldn't do to lose your temper here and now.
On the flight back to Command, you start to form the beginnings of a plan. Maybe you couldn't fix Yang, but…
You look up from your workbench at the prosthetic arm displayed on your wall. You keep it there to remind you of Yang's betrayal, of how you can only rely on yourself. You keep it there so that you can remember that people aren't weapons that you can fix, and you keep it there so that you never forget the anger born within you when your sister rejected your aid.
The official line is that you keep it just in case Yang changes her mind.
The rumors said that Blake Belladonna rejoined the White Fang. You weren't inclined to believe them, half a year ago, but a few weeks later you found another bit of information that turned everything on its head.
There's a schism in the White Fang, whisper the faunus. One of the oldest members came back and seized power. That's Blake, you think, she's doing what she always dreamed of, she'll create a less violent Fang and we'll all fight for equality together.
And then come the whispers once more, saying that Adam Taurus is dead. That the Black Cat beheaded him in single combat, then her faction of the Fang slaughtered their way through Adam's. They say that the Black Fang is more brutal than the White Fang ever was, but you've heard that at least they won't work with Cinder Fall and her ilk.
When you hear this news, you shed a single tear over the worn picture of Team RWBY taken right after initiation that you keep at your workbench. "Blake," you sob, "what are you doing." She's always been smarter than you and you've always known it, so you try to convince yourself that it's some sort of politics game beyond your ken.
But you've grown pragmatic now that the world has gone to hell, and shrug Blake off as yet another betrayer.
It almost doesn't hurt when the Black Fang kills Ren for interfering with their hunt.
And even that drowns in the depths of your rage.
You're no programmer, but you know someone who is. Someone who's already invested in this project, who's already watching from the shadows. You leave him a coded note when you break into your next research facility to steal a power cell. A week later, you find a tiny waterproof flash drive in your oatmeal.
It's a shame you can't teach Geppetto Polendina a less dramatic method of subterfuge, you think, as you try to spit out the drive without revealing exactly what you were choking on to all of the officers in the crowded mess hall.
And Weiss, your poor partner Weiss.
You miss her.
You know that she didn't betray you. If anything, it's the other way around. She's the one trapped with that terrible father of hers, stolen away to another continent while you were in a coma. She needs your help, but you've been explicitly forbidden from rescuing her.
Not that you give an ursa's ass what Ironwood explicitly forbids you from doing when it comes to your friends, but at least for now, you need his resources.
You run your finger over the W of Team RWBY in that tearstained photograph you still carry, then you tamp down your guilt. You harden your heart, no distractions, you still have a job to do.
"I'll come for you, Weiss," you promise. "As soon as I'm done here."
Science says that the soul is created through the resonance between perfectly matched mind and body. Geppetto claims to be the one man to understands the precise mechanics of this.
Geppetto is the one man to generate aura from inorganic materials, so you're inclined to trust in his expertise.
You plug his flash drive into the slot between Penny's second and third vertebrae, then carefully seal up the synthflesh seams above it. Everything has to be perfect when you power her up for the first time if you're going to generate her soul.
You're nervous, you reflect as you connect the power cables to her temples. You've tried to reproduce Penny's body as perfectly as you could, but if you've made even mistake, you'll have to start from scratch. When you've double and triple checked everything, you decide to move forward.
You pull the lever, sending the life-giving electricity from your stolen Paladin power cells to the gynoid's inert body with a terrifying crackle. There's a long moment where nothing happens, and you're sure you've fucked it up, but then Penny hums three tones- the same three notes your scroll makes when you turn it on.
Still, that just means you've done your part, that the raw electronics work. This is just machinery, but you need her to have that soul. You watch with bated breath as your creation slowly opens her eyes.
What if she doesn't remember you? What if you've done everything right but you have to build your friendship up from scratch. You think you could do it, even if you're not the same Ruby Rose that Penny first became friends with, but you can't be sure. Your heart, it's been hurt so much, could it bear the pain?
You curse Geppetto for not explaining himself in enough detail. Just a few words here or there and your heart wouldn't be practically bursting out of its chest. But then you're startled out of your panic by a familiar chirp:
"Salutations." The word triggers something in you, nostalgia and despair; it reminds you of how this all started, how everything went to hell. But she goes on, "Ruby, it's a pleasure to meet you again."
"P-penny," you choke out. In a flash of rose petals, you're across the room disconnecting the electrical leads. In another, you're right in front of the artificial girl, peering into her eyes, poking her face to make sure she has Aura. "Ruby, would you please tell me the current date and time? It appears that my internal clock has- oh!" She stops herself in mid-sentence, surprised.
"It appears my father has left me a message!" She takes a brief minute to view the message, then very solemnly says. "Thank you, my dear friend Ruby, for rebuilding me. Father would like me to tell you that my memories have been restored from my latest back-up, on the evening before my match against Pyrrha Nikos. You will have to manually update me on the events that have transpired in the one point one six years, as it appears that the CCT network no longer exists.
"Additionally, father would like me to inform you that I am only allowed to take orders from yourself, and that your orders will supercede all other directives I have been programmed with."
You boggle at her statement. It seems that Geppetto is just as fed up with Ironwood's reign as you are.
Penny concludes her statement. "He says his final request for you, Ruby Rose, is to help me save the world from all who would do it harm."
She steps forward and takes your hand. "I am yours, Ruby Rose, forever. I will not betray you." She smiles, and for the first time in four hundred and twenty-five days, you feel like things are going to be alright.
I think I wrote this the evening of the volume three finale, then immediately sent it to my friend who betas 'I opened my eyes' and forgot about it. He, at the time, hadn't watched volume three and so he didn't read the fic. I got an email back today with basically only a few grammar corrections, the deletion of all the 'Sacrifice' lyrics I'd thrown in here as well as all my 'rage: sing goddess' Iliad stuff, and his four word note to me: "Sigh, sad. Post it.." Maybe some of the mad rants were touched up, I can't really remember at this point.
So I guess this is my first actually beta-ed RWBY story and it's probably the least coherent bit of nonsense that I've written, which is a weird happenstance. It's very non-linear, which I don't know if I like or not. Something something the decay and reclamation of innocence, something something betrayal, etc. I have no idea why Blake actually betrays them… maybe it's to illustrate how Ruby can't tell the difference between the actual betrayal and Yang's so-called betrayal? Also before anyone gets salty at me, I really like Ironwood as a character. He's just a convenient baddie for this, probably because nobody else really fit the role. It's been a while since I wrote this…
Maybe someone somewhere enjoyed this.