EDIT: Okay, so deleting the author note that made up the previous chapter after posting this one seems to have scuffed the upload. I'm not able to see the new chapter and I don't know if you guys can either. I'm going to post this again as a new chapter and see if that helps at all, so apologies in advance for the double update. Thank you!

Hey, everybody. Been a while, huh?

I'm gonna be real, a lot has been going on since my last update. Had some issues with my college credits and had to take an extra semester to graduate (but did actually graduate with my Bachelor's, so that's nice). Started job hunting and got a position that had me writing pretty much all day, five days a week. Had a lot of different issues in my personal life. Had a lot of other things I needed to write aside from work. Add the fact that the state of the world is still a constant passive drain on my mood, and top it all off with the fact that I got real sick of this chapter after a while, and suffice to stay, working on this has been a challenge. There have been a lot of days where I just couldn't bring myself to write at all, and even more days where I only had the energy to write for work and nothing else.

That being said, I refuse to give up on this story, so the chapter's finally here. It underwent at least three full rewrites, as well as a dozen smaller scene revisions, and even now I'm still not entirely happy with it, but at this point, I think I'm just psyching myself out. I can't promise the next one will be out anything soon, unfortunately; all I can promise you is that I'm not giving up.

Thank you as always for the kind comments and kind messages I received. I know I've gotten pretty bad at responding to things, but please know I see and appreciate them all regardless.

Now, let the story begin!

Blake hadn't turned the page for over ten minutes.

She sighed, scanning the first sentence for the umpteenth time. She wasn't sure why she kept trying—no matter how many times she read it, she couldn't focus on the words.

Frustrated, she snapped the book shut and glanced around the room. Ruby, Weiss, and Eyepatch were off in the forges again, leaving Blake and Yang alone in the dorm. Yang was sitting at the desk, working on homework, occasionally growling under her breath and scrubbing at her paper with an eraser.

Yang had been sulking more and more as the week progressed. Blake wasn't sure if it was because Ruby was spending so much time with Eyepatch, or because she wasn't letting Yang watch over them; regardless, the blonde was in a foul mood. She'd tried to follow Eyepatch to the campus forge more than once, but Ruby sent her back each time.

Not that I blame her.

Blake's eyes lingered on her partner. She still remembered how Yang had looked the day they met: tall, confident, and strong, with a smile that shone as brightly as the sunshine gold of her hair. The personification of strength, although it had taken a few shared fights against the Grimm for Blake to truly understand that.

However, as time went on, she started to see that strength as something else: stubbornness. A refusal to change, and a refusal to understand that other people could change. Stubbornness was admirable when it was for the right reason, but when it wasn't?

"What, do you want me to just abandon our cause? Like your parents?"

Blake winced, sucking in a pained breath through her teeth.

That small sound was enough to get Yang's attention. She stiffened in her seat, then glanced over her shoulder. "What is it?"

Blake opened her mouth to speak, then paused. She was still determined to change Yang's mind about Eyepatch, but for all that determination, she wasn't sure how to do it. Knowing her, if I don't do this right, she'll just get angrier. And if she gets angrier, she'll take it out on Eyepatch. Guilt pricked at her like thorns. I have to make sure that I don't—

"Well?" Yang's voice snapped Blake out of her thoughts. The blonde was watching her with annoyance, pencil gripped so tightly in her hand that it was a miracle it hadn't snapped in half. Her eyes shimmered scarlet. "Spit it out, Blake."

Blake's nerve failed, and she looked away. "Nothing. Do you want any help with that?"

Yang huffed. "I'm fine." She turned back to her homework.

Blake scowled, opened her book, and tried to read the first sentence again. I won't be the reason she hurts him. Not again. I'm going to change her mind. I just have to make her listen to me.


Ruby gave no indication that she heard her name being called. She sat hunched over the workbench, a small screwdriver in one hand and a pair of pliers in the other, delicately fixing gears together with single-minded precision. Kaneki had been watching her for the past ten minutes and still had no idea what she was doing.

"Ruby," he repeated, louder and more insistently.

Ruby still didn't respond.

Kaneki sighed and glanced awkwardly at Weiss. When they'd first come to the forges, she'd passed the time by filing her nails, but it seemed as though she'd exhausted that option. She was currently sitting on a stool, looking as bored as Kaneki felt.

Enough. Kaneki reached out and put his hand on Ruby's shoulder. "Ruby."

Ruby yelped and jumped in her seat, dropping the pliers with a clatter. She turned, pouting. "Eyepaaatch!" she whined. "Don't scare me like that!"

Kaneki pulled away, amused in spite of the scolding. "I did try to call you."

Ruby's face went pink. "You probably didn't say it loud enough," she mumbled, turning back to the bench. "What is it?"

"Do we really need to be here for this?" Kaneki asked. "It's not as though I don't want to help, but it feels like we're just getting in the way."

Ruby shook her head vigorously, not looking up from her work. "You're not in the way! You have to be here for the process!"

Kaneki sighed. So you keep saying. "Is there anything I can do, then?"

Ruby paused for a moment, then reached over to one of the drawers on the workbench. She yanked it open, rummaged around inside for a few seconds, let out an "Aha!", and pulled out several long loops of thin copper wire. "Here. Twist these together."

Kaneki took the wire. "How much do we need?"

Ruby picked up her screwdriver again. "All of it."

Kaneki eyed the wire. The loops were small, only about the size of a baseball, but they were densely wound, and there were at least three of them. Well, I did ask for something to do. It's better than sitting around and doing nothing.

He walked over to a free workbench, sat down, and began to sort out the wire. Once he'd separated the loops into individual bundles, he took the ends in his fingers. The strands were fine and delicate, not much thicker than hair, but he soon figured out how to twist them together.

As the minutes passed, Kaneki found himself enjoying his work. It was simple, repetitive, and oddly soothing, and there was something gratifying about watching the strands come together into a single cord. It reminded him of sweet, simple afternoons spent styling Hinami's hair.

"So now you're making crafts?"

The wire snapped between Kaneki's fingers. Eye twitching, he brushed aside the now-ruined cord, picked up the wire, and began to twist a new one.

"Why do you keep humoring this brat?" Yamori sauntered into view, leaning against the workbench and drumming his fingers on the surface. The clunk clunk, clunk clunk of his claws against the table hammered into Kaneki's brain like nails being hammered into wood. "You already know that playing nice with her won't make the blonde bitch like you more. It's a waste of time."

Kaneki didn't look up. He focused even harder on the wire, forcing himself to ignore the specter's presence.

"Is it because she reminds you of that Fueguchi brat?" Yamori scoffed. "Do you miss her? Do you miss your little friends?"

The wire snapped again, edges curling back in on themselves like writhing centipedes. Kaneki stared down at his ruined work, hands shaking. There was a faint ringing in his ears. "Leave me alone," he muttered.

"So you do miss them," Yamori sneered. Out of the corner of his eye, Kaneki saw drops of blood dripping onto the tabletop. "I was starting to think you'd forgotten about them, considering how much time you've wasted here."

"Leave me alone." The ringing in Kaneki's ears was quickly being drowned out by the roar of his own heartbeat. Forget about his friends? A day hadn't gone by where their memory didn't prick him like thorns.

The drops of blood had gathered into a steadily-growing puddle, oozing closer and closer to Kaneki's hands. Yamori's face shimmered in the reflection. "If you miss them so much, then why are you—"

"Would you like any help?"

Kaneki jumped. In the space of a startled blink, the pool of blood disappeared, leaving an empty tabletop and a pile of snapped wire. Heart still pounding, he turned and saw Weiss standing at his side, watching him with an almost hesitant expression. "I didn't mean to make you jump," she muttered. She gestured to the workbench. "I just thought you might like some help with the wire."

Kaneki was a second from turning her away when he saw Yamori smirking out of the corner of his eye. He took a long breath and let it out slowly. She's here anyway. It's better than just ignoring her. "If you're offering."

Weiss nodded, pulled over a stool, and sat down daintily next to him. She gathered a few strands of wire and began twisting them deftly together. After watching her for a moment, Kaneki discarded his snapped threads, took a new bunch, and started over again.

The two of them worked in silence for several minutes. Kaneki could still sense Yamori's presence behind him, like an insect crawling along the back of his neck, but the apparition had fallen inexplicably silent. He wasn't going to question it, though.

The silence was just starting to become pleasant when Weiss cleared her throat. "I've been meaning to talk to you, Eyepatch."

Kaneki's stomach sank. Wonderful. "About what?" he asked, staring fixedly at the wire in his hands.

"The Dust shipment you saved at the docks this weekend? It was from my family's company. I wanted to thank you properly."

Ah. Kaneki shook his head. "Going to the docks was Blake's idea. You should be thanking her."

"I already did," Weiss retorted. "And even if it was her idea, you helped."

Why is she so insistent on this? "I really didn't do much."

"With all due respect to you and Blake, I think you deserve the bigger share of the thanks. Blake didn't lose a chunk of her skull in that fight."

Kaneki winced, abandoning his wire on the desk to rub at his chin. "I don't know what Blake told you, but it wasn't as bad as it sounds. Something like that isn't an issue for me."

"Don't be ridiculous." Weiss's voice was so sharp that Kaneki finally looked up. She was staring at him imploringly, face a mixture of irritation and desperation. "You were out of your mind when we met you, and that was because of a hole in your stomach. A hole in your head couldn't have been better than that."

The genuine pain in her tone made Kaneki's stomach twist. "Even if it wasn't, it's not the first time." He turned back to his wire. "I know how to handle it."

"You mean like how you handle people touching your hands?"

Kaneki went rigid, nearly snapping his wire again. An awful, icy feeling bubbled up in his stomach; unable to stand it, he shot Weiss a scathing glare.

Weiss flinched, fixing her eyes to the floor. "I...shouldn't have said that," she muttered.

Kaneki sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose until the icy feeling dissipated somewhat. "I didn't know I'd react like that until I came here." He kept his voice low and measured, refusing to show that her remark had rattled him. "That time in the lunchroom was the first time it happened."

Weiss peeked back up at him. "Was...The event that caused it, was it fairly recent?" she asked.

Kaneki shook his head.

She furrowed her brow, turning back to her wire. Kaneki followed her lead, grateful for an apparent end to the conversation.

"...I don't like shouting."

Weiss spoke so quietly that Kaneki almost didn't hear her. When he turned to look at her, she was staring down at her hands with an odd, glassy stare. Sweat glistened on her brow. "What?" he asked.

Weiss took a deep breath. "It makes me...uncomfortable, when people shout unexpectedly." She curled the wire around one of her fingers, pulling it tight until the skin beneath it turned pink, then red, then a dark, bruised purple. "Not always. Only if it catches me by surprise. But when it doesn, I..."

Clenching her jaw, Weiss released the wire, watching as the color drained from her fingers. "It just makes me anxious."

She turned and met Kaneki's gaze, eyes pleading, yet determined. "Before you left last week, you told me about...about how you were treated, back where you're from. You said you weren't trying to make it into a contest, you just wanted to show me you understood what it was like to be scared." She swallowed. "I didn't listen then, so it would be fair if you didn't listen to me now. But I promise, Eyepatch, I am trying to understand. I want to understand. You and Blake both."

For several moments, all Kaneki could do was stare. He'd known Weiss was trying to make amends in her own way, but hearing the usually reserved girl be so open was staggering. She's willing to go this far?

Kaneki felt something shift in his chest: a knot, that familiar tight knot that had loosened slightly since Blake's acceptance, loosening even more. "Weiss, I—"

"It's done!"

Both Weiss and Kaneki jumped. Ruby was sitting straight up in her seat, holding up a small, intricate bundle of gears and metal plates. She looked at the two of them, grinning from ear to ear. "I finished the engine!"

Weiss huffed, cheeks faintly flushed. "You dolt," she muttered. She glanced at Kaneki out of the corner of her eye, then looked away, clearly embarrassed.

Kaneki fought the urge to smile.

"What?" Ruby tilted her head and blinked owlishly. "What did I do?"

"Where are you guys going?"

Blake looked up from her book. Ruby stood frozen in the doorway, one foot hovering over the threshold. Eyepatch was standing in the hallway, eyes dull, with an annoyed, yet tired expression that said he knew exactly what was coming and had already resigned himself to it.

Yang was watching them both intently. "You going to the forges?" she continued, her tone just a bit too bright to be genuine.

Blake's stomach twisted. Here we go.

Ruby gingerly set her foot down in the hall and turned, a too-sweet smile plastered over her face. "Yeah." She took a surreptitious step backwards, resting a hand on the doorframe.

"Cool." Yang stepped forward. "I'll come with you."

Ruby shook her head so violently that her face briefly became a blur. "No no no, that's fine!" She held up her hands as though to push Yang away. "Weiss is coming with us, you don't need to come too."

A look of unmistakable hurt flashed across Yang's face, but she covered it up hastily. "C'mon, it's no big deal. I want to do some maintenance on my Ember Celica, the left one's been—"

Blake snapped her book shut with a sharp clap. "Don't you remember, Yang?" She leaned forward. "You said you wanted me to help you with your homework today."

Yang turned, confused. "What? No I didn't."

Blake caught Ruby's eye and jerked her head in the clearest "Go" gesture she could manage. "Yes, you did," she insisted. "You said you needed help understanding our last geometry chapter."

Behind Yang, Ruby's eyes went wide as saucers. She nodded, mouthed a quick "Thank you" and was off in a swirl of rose petals, Eyepatch hurrying after her.

"No, I—" Yang cut herself off, eyes widening in realization. She whirled and stuck her head out of the dormitory door. "Hey, wait!"

Blake let out a quiet sigh of relief.

Yang pulled her head back into the room and turned on Blake. The scowl on her face could have melted rock. "We both know I didn't ask for help with my homework," she snarled.

Blake felt a chill down her spine, but she forced herself not to look away. "And we both know your Ember Celica's fine."

Yang growled and stomped over to her bed. "I shouldn't need another reason to go down there." She grabbed her backpack, shot Blake another scathing glare, and climbed onto her bunk. "I go here too, you know. I can go where I want. It's not like they could kick me out."

As true as that was, Yang didn't seem to be in a hurry to prove it. Blake waited to see if she'd come down from the bed—although she wasn't sure how she'd stop her if she decided to go to the forges—but the blonde seemed content to sulk.

Blake sighed and set her book down in her lap. "Why do you want to go down there so badly?"

"I don't trust him."

We know. "What is he going to do down there that he couldn't do up here?"

"Are you serious?" The mattress creaked overhead, and a waterfall of golden curls tumbled upside-down as Yang hung her head over the side of the bunk. "He could hurt someone!"

Blake raised an eyebrow. "In the forges? Where everyone goes with their weapons?"

Yang growled. "He could try and run away!"

"From Ruby? She's faster than you are. And where would he go?"

Yang's eyes flashed red. "You're just—Ugh!" Her head disappeared as she pulled herself upright. "Just forget it!"

Blacked stared at the mattress overhead. She could practically see how Yang must look: shoulders hunched, arms crossed, fingers digging harshly into her skin and face etched in a scowl. Petulant, to be sure, but beneath it deeply, truly frustrated.

Blake frowned. Is it really that hard for her to believe someone can change? Or that there's more to them than a bad first impression?

The voice in her head deepened to Adam's. If she still hates him that much, imagine what she'd do if she knew what you did in the White Fang.

She shook her head, as if she could shake the voice from her ears. This isn't about me. This is the perfect time to talk to her about Eyepatch. She took a deep breath. You're practically doing it already. You just need to push a little more, and be honest with her. "Yang, I—"


Blake flinched, her resolve crumbling. "Do you actually...want any help with your homework?"

There was a long, heavy pause, then a short, sharp answer: "No."

Blake sat for a moment, the silence ringing in her ears, then dejectedly picked up her book. Coward.

She wasn't sure if the voice was Adam's or her own, but she knew it was right.

When Ruby brought Weiss and Kaneki to the forges, they were normally empty, or empty save for a few students Kaneki never recognized. Today, however, they were only a few steps inside before he caught sight of two familiar heads of hair: one blond and moppish, the other one fiery red and pulled in a ponytail. The two were stationed by one of the tables, so close that their shoulders were touching.

Upon seeing them, Ruby's eyes lit up. "Hey Jaune! Hey Pyrrha!" She darted over to the pair, leaving Weiss and Kaneki to share a knowing look and follow her.

Jaune and Pyrrha turned at the sound of Ruby's greeting. Their expressions lit up upon seeing her, although Kaneki noticed Jaune's smile dropped somewhat when he caught sight of him. "Hey, guys," he said.

Pyrrha waved. "Hello!"

Ruby waved back. "What are you guys doing?" She stood on her tiptoes and tried to peek at the workbench behind them.

Pyrrha moved to the side and gestured to the workbench, where Jaune's sword was resting next to a large grindstone set in the tabletop. "I was showing Jaune how to properly hone his sword. What brings you here?"

Ruby beamed. "We're making a weapon for Eyepatch!"

Jaune peered over to the workbench Ruby had been using for the past few days. "That's what that is? I thought you were gonna put a motor on your scythe or something."

Ruby stared at him, aghast. "That would throw off her balance!"

Pyrrha gave Kaneki a questioning look. "Eyepatch, you've been here all this time with no weapon?"

Kaneki nodded, remembering all too late the clause in the student handbook Weiss had once mentioned: students should be properly armed during their stay at Beacon. Although I haven't really broken that rule, now that I think about it.

Pyrrha frowned. "I wondered why Miss Goodwitch never called on you for sparring practice. How did you get into Beacon without a weapon?"

"Must have been part of those special circumstances," Jaune muttered.

As strangely bitter as his tone was, Kaneki jumped on the excuse. "That's right," he said, trying not to sound relieved. "I got permission."

"Oh. Okay, then." Pyrrha still looked unsure, but thankfully she didn't push. In fact, as the seconds ticked by and the group fell into awkward silence, she was the one who changed the subject. "That reminds me! Weiss, I was hoping you'd be willing to compare notes from Professor Port's last lecture."

Weiss blinked, face going from vague discomfort to an expression that could only be described as flustered. "Me?" she all but squeaked.

Pyrrha nodded. "Of course! You scored the highest in the class on his last quiz. I wanted to see if you could give me some tips."

Weiss looked as though she were a second away from swooning onto a table. "I don't have my notes with me, but I memorized them already, so if you had yours with you…"

"You memorized them?" Pyrrha exclaimed, already picking up her bag from where it was leaned up against the workbench. "That's incredible!"

Weiss puffed out her chest, proud as a peacock. "It's nothing, really." She reached out, grabbed Pyrrha by the wrist, and dragged her away to the nearest empty workbench.

Kaneki, Ruby, and Jaune all watched the exchange. Jaune looked vaguely scandalized—maybe even jealous—while Ruby glanced Kaneki's way, rolled her eyes, and mouthed the word "nerds".

Kaneki raised an eyebrow in return. Memorizing the notes may be a lot, but there's nothing wrong with keeping up with your coursework.

Ruby must have guessed what she was thinking, because she stuck out her tongue at him. "I'm gonna go work on your gauntlets," she said.

Kaneki glanced back at Jaune, who was still watching Pyrrha with a brooding expression. "Do you need any help?"

Ruby shook her head. "Nah, I'm working on the Dust conduits today. I'll call if I need you!"

With that, she was off, leaving Kaneki behind to watch Jaune slowly realize the two of them were alone. It took a moment for the blond to tear his gaze from Pyrrha, but once he did and saw Kaneki alone, his expression darkened even more.

Kaneki looked away. Team JNPR may have forgiven him for his past, but it was clear that Jaune hadn't forgotten it. Did you think everything would be the same just because they said they wanted to stay friends? You idiot.

The awkward silence continued for almost a minute, until Jaune finally cleared his throat. "How's your Aura doing, Eyepatch?"

"It's fine," Kaneki replied. Not technically a lie—as weak as his Aura was, he'd gotten the hang of holding it up fairly quickly (although he wasn't sure if it would be as easy during combat).

Jaune nodded. "Good. That's good."

The awkward silence returned, somehow even heavier. Kaneki found himself wishing he hadn't finished his homework for the week so quickly. He turned, scanning the room until he saw the table Ruby was sitting at. I know she said she didn't have anything for me to do, but if I ask her

"You remember when you started training with me?"

Kaneki froze, then slowly turned. Jaune wasn't looking at him—his eyes were on the floor.

"Yes," Kaneki said slowly.

"I always wondered why Yang went after you during our first match," Jaune said. "I know she gets angry pretty easily, but it was weird." He scratched the back of his head. "Plus, there was that whole thing when she pinned you on the mattress."

"I wondered for a long time why you put up with it. I mean, everyone saw what you did to Cardin that one time in the cafeteria. You could have stopped Yang. We thought for a while that you didn't want to make Ruby upset, but now…"

Jaune finally looked up. He had an odd expression on his face: not quite pain, not quite sympathy, and not quite anger, either. It was more resentful than anything. "You're not at Beacon to be a Huntsman, are you? You never were. You're on...parole, I guess. Or house arrest. School arrest?" He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. You're not here because you want to be here, right?"

Kaneki stared. It was easy to forget that, in spite of his academic failings, Jaune was actually quite smart. "No, I'm not," he finally answered.

Jaune didn't even look pleased that he'd been right. "And if you cause too much trouble, Ozpin's gonna have you shipped somewhere else. Prison or something."

Kaneki nodded.

"But you still helped me out with training, and the whole thing with Cardin. And you do your homework and stuff. You're a better student than I am, and I —" Jaune's voice dropped to barely above a whisper, "—cheated my way here."

Kaneki nodded again, unsure of how else to respond. The words were kind, but there was an unmistakable bitter edge in Jaune's voice.

"Why?" Jaune asked. "I mean, what's the point? I guess it's better to behave in class and stuff, but helping me? What do you get out of that? Trying to...I don't know, get out early for good behavior?" His eyes grew icier, the resentment in his expression all the more apparent. "Did you just think I was that pathetic?"

Oh. Kaneki felt a twinge of pity. "It's been a long time since I've been in school," he said placatingly. "I like learning. And I feel more comfortable if I keep up with my physical training."

"So that's what I was, then?" Jaune looked away. "Training?"

Kaneki looked away as well, rubbing at his chin guiltily. Jaune had hit the nail on the head. "Of course not."

"Then what?" Jaune's voice was tinged with desperation now. "Why did you help me?"

Kaneki scrambled for a response, painfully aware of how every second he took made the cover up more apparent. Just say something. It doesn't have to be perfect, he just has to believe it. He looked at Jaune, took in his impatient, pitiful expression…and finally blurted out, "You reminded me of myself, when I was younger."

Instead of looking appeased, Jaune's expression got even darker. "Sure I do," he scoffed. "I bet you got stuffed in lockers all the time."

"I mean it," Kaneki insisted, more confident now that he'd landed on an answer. "I was surrounded by a lot of strong people and I didn't think I'd ever be on their level. I was only able to grow because they helped me. I wanted to give you the same chance."

The more he spoke, the more he realized the truth of his own words. Jaune did remind him of a younger version of himself—someone weak and scared, but desperate to protect those around him. Helping him had been so gratifying because, in a world where he was entirely separate from his old life, it felt as though he were helping himself.

Jaune mulled over Kaneki's words for a minute. Some of the tension went out of his shoulders, as though a weight had been lifted from them. "You were really as weak as I was?"

Kaneki chuckled. "Don't sell yourself short. At least you came here knowing how to hold a sword."

Jaune laughed awkwardly back, scratching his face. "Yeah, I guess." When he looked at Kaneki again, his expression was much lighter. "Thank you, Eyepatch."

Kaneki dipped his head. "You're welcome."

In the end, Yang ended up coming to her.

Blake was sitting on the couch, dejectedly swirling a cup of tea, when Yang walked into the room. She made a beeline for the couch and, without so much as a word, sat down heavily next to Blake. Her hair tumbled down her shoulders like a curtain, obscuring her face.

Blake set her teacup on the coffee table, waiting to see if Yang would say anything. When several silent seconds passed, she sighed and asked, "What is it?"

That seemed to be the cue Yang was waiting for. "What did you guys do last weekend?" she asked bluntly. "You and that Sun guy and...him."

Blake's stomach twisted at the way Yang spat the last word, as though it were poison in her mouth. "Besides staking out the docks?" she said. "We stayed in a motel, went to a few shops. Normal things."

There were several more silent seconds as Yang took those words in. "...Did you have fun?"

"When we weren't fighting armed criminals?" Blake nodded. "Yeah."

"Why did you run away?" Yang finally looked up, the confusion and hurt in her eyes so raw that it stopped Blake's heart. "Like, I know you probably wanted some space after what you said to Weiss, but why did you leave for the weekend? Was it because…" She trailed off, as though she was too afraid to continue.

Blake could guess why. She swallowed. "Not exactly. I mostly wanted to get away from Weiss, but I...I wanted to get away from you and Ruby as well. I wanted to get away from everything."

Yang's gaze hardened. "So he doesn't count, then?"

Anger flared in Blake's chest. "He has a name, you know," she snapped back.

Yang scowled. "That's not the point. You're telling me you weren't comfortable with me coming, but you were comfortable with the guy that took a chunk out of your arm?

Blake's shoulder tingled unpleasantly at the memory, but she didn't back down. "I wasn't planning on bringing Eyepatch with me. I wasn't really planning to leave at all. Sun was by the fountain, and Eyepatch met us there. It just happened."

"So what, you just ran away with whoever was nearby?"

Yang's words hit Blake like a slap in the face. She flinched, eyes darting to the floor, suddenly unable to meet her partner's gaze. She's right. Adam's voice ran through her head, as harsh and grating as train wheels grinding against tracks. You ran away because you couldn't face them. You always run away instead of facing your problems. You're a coward.

Blake grit her teeth and forced herself to lift her head. "Yang, you need to understand, I panicked. I never wanted any of you to know about my past. I liked what we had, and I didn't want to lose it. I figured you'd want me to leave if you knew, so it didn't seem like a big deal at the time."

Now it was Yang's turn to reel back. "What?" If Blake had said she wanted Eyepatch as her partner instead, Yang couldn't have sounded more outraged. "Why would you—Do you really think we'd just throw you out like that?"

Blake nodded, throat suddenly tight. Hearing Yang say it so plainly made the fear real in a way that even her weekend away from campus hadn't. She blinked, alarmed to find her vision blurring with the beginnings of tears.

Yang shook her head. "We'd never do that! I'd never do that! You're my partner, Blake!"

Blake swallowed the lump in her throat and took a deep breath. "And?"

Yang bristled. "What do you mean, and?" Do you think that doesn't matter to me? We've been on the same team since we've been here!"

"Eyepatch has been on this team just as long as I have," Blake retorted. "You've treated him like an animal for the one terrible thing he's done since we've known him. Why wouldn't I think you'd do the same if you knew about my past?"

Yang opened her mouth, then closed it. After a moment, she scowled and looked away. "It's different."

Her petulant tone is what finally pushed Blake over the edge. The spark of anger smoldering in her chest burst into a full-blown flame, and yet when she spoke, her voice came out icy. "You're right. It is different. You know why?"

Yang looked back at her, confusion plain on her face.

"Eyepatch hurt me," Blake said. "He tried to hurt Ruby. If we hadn't fought back, he probably would have killed us." She clenched her fists. "But do you know what I did when I was in the White Fang?"

Yang shook her head. "Blake, you don't have to—"

Blake didn't let her finish. "I stole from Dust shipments. I vandalized stores. I tracked down politicians and businessmen and people that spoke out against us...and turned them over to Faunus with no qualms about killing them."

Every word brought back more and more memories: memories of fire, and destruction, and hateful voices turned high and pleading as they begged for mercy. "Sometimes, I didn't even have to do that much." A new memory cut through the flood: a familiar masked face and a long blade, red with energy, red with blood, always red, red, red. "Sometimes, it happened right in front of me. I watched."

Yang's face had steadily drained of color as Blake spoke; by the time she finished, she was as white as a sheet. When she spoke, her voice shook. "But you never actually...you wouldn't."

Blake shook her head. The anger had burned away as quickly as it came; now, she only felt hollow. "It doesn't matter if I didn't do it myself. Their blood is on my hands, too."

She stood up. The living room felt too stifling all of a sudden. "So you're right, Yang. It is different. I'm much worse than Eyepatch is. So if you're going to keep mistreating him, it's only fair you do the same to me."

Before Yang could answer, Blake left the room, not once looking back. She wasn't sure she'd be able to take the look on her partner's face if she did.

When Ruby brought Weiss and Kaneki down to the forges on Sunday, she insisted they wait outside while she "got ready." The two of them spent a bemused half hour sitting outside, occasionally sharing a few words of small talk, but mostly waiting in silence. While he still wouldn't call them friends, Kaneki had to admit that her attempt to connect with him had made Weiss's company pleasant.

Finally, Ruby reappeared, brought the two of them inside, and dragged them over to the workbench. The array of tools, gears, and other mechanical parts that had covered it for the past week were gone, replaced with a large cloth laid out over two distinct bumps.

"Alright!" Ruby rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet, grinning from ear to ear. "Are you ready to see your gauntlets, Eyepatch?"

Kaneki nodded. Ruby's childlike excitement was amusing and borderline infectious; even if he had never been the driving force of the project, he was excited to see the finished product.

He clearly wasn't the only, either—Weiss may have been rolling her eyes, but the smile on her face was genuine. "Stop dragging this out, Ruby," she said.

Ruby puffed out her chest. "Presenting…" She grabbed the cloth and whipped it away with a flourish. "Your very own Ruby-approved, cutting-edge garrote gauntlets!"

Even without knowing much about weapons, Kaneki could admire the gauntlets laid out before him. They were every bit as intricate as Ruby's sketches had been: long and solid along the arms and splitting into complex links and joints at the hands, with fingers ending in curved claws as sharp as Crescent Rose. The metal gleamed crimson under the lights, revealing a faint scale pattern etched into the metal.

Ruby ran her fingers along the gauntlets, eyes glittering with pride. "I know the scale pattern wasn't in the sketches, but I thought it would look cool. Now they match those things on your back!" She scooped up the gauntlets and held them out to Kaneki. "Here! Try them on!"

Kaneki accepted the gauntlets and did just that, sliding them over his arms and only fumbling slightly with the straps. Once they were in place, he flexed his hands. The metal joints were fine enough that they hardly impeded the movements of his wrists or fingers. Not bad.

"So?" Kaneki looked up and saw that Ruby's earlier glee had turned to clear anxiety. She fidgeted in place, wringing her hands together and looking at him with wide, pleading eyes. "Do you like them?"

Kaneki smiled and answered truthfully. "Of course."

Ruby's face split into the widest grin Kaneki had ever seen. "Great!" She grabbed him by the forearm and tugged him away from the workbench. "Come on, let's go test them out!"

Kaneki allowed himself to be led through the forges, turning back only to give Weiss an amused look. She shook her head at him in turn, although she couldn't hide the smile on her face.

Ruby dragged the two of them to a far corner of the room, where a large sandbag had been set up on a tarp. A crude drawing of a Beowolf was taped to the front, complete with comically large teeth and bulging eyes.

Ruby dropped Kaneki's arm and gestured to the sandbag. "Here you go! Go on, hit it!"

Kaneki looked from Ruby's eagerly anticipated expression to the sandbag. Simple enough. He stepped forward, balled his fist, and swung, striking the sandbag with a solid, satisfying thwack. Emboldened, he struck again, then again, then three times in rapid succession. Faint clouds of dust puffed from the bag with every strike.

"Alright, now try the claws!" Ruby materialized next to the sandbag in a cloud of rose petals and slashed wildly through the air with hooked fingers. "Just like that!"

Amused, Kaneki flexed his fingers and swiped at the sandbag. The claws tore through the Beowolf picture and the fabric beneath with ease, sending sand pouring to the floor like blood gushing from a wound.

He had to admit, it felt very satisfying.

Ruby clapped delightedly. "Perfect! Now remember, you're gonna have to sharpen them at least twice a year to keep them sharp. If you get into a lot of fights, you might want to do it every three months."

Kaneki shook a few stray grains of sand from his fingers. "You'll have to show me how to do that."

Ruby nodded. "I will, but that's for later. Now it's time for the fun part." She punched the air excitedly. "The chainsaw!"

Oh, right. Kaneki looked down at the gauntlets, suddenly much more wary of them. "What should I do?"

"Okay, put your hands together like this—" Ruby mashed her palms together and twisted them, "—and twist them, just like that!"

Kaneki copied her movements and was rewarded with a faint, distinctly ominous click.

"Now pull them apart like this!" She made a gesture as though she were playing an accordion, pulling her palms apart and clapping them together again. "I'm not sure how many times you'll need to do it since this is the first time, so just keep going until it starts."

Slowly, almost nervously, Kaneki pulled his hands apart. As he did so, a long, serrated wire stretched between them, teeth glinting wickedly in the light. That, paired with the ominous rumbling that came from his right hand, was enough to stop him in his tracks.

Weiss eyed the wire as though it were a snake. "How is he supposed to hold that?"

"I put guards near the base of the palm," Ruby scoffed. "Duh."

Kaneki looked at his palms. Upon closer inspection, he could see two small, interlocking metal tubes over the wire near the base, big enough for him to grip without cutting his hands on the wire's teeth.

"There are buttons on the guards that'll lock the wire at whatever length it's at when you hold them both down," Ruby explained. "Now come on! Keep revving it!"

Kaneki did as she instructed, listening to the increasingly loud rumbling noises with increasing trepidation. As he pulled his hands apart for the fifth time, the wire burst into a blur of motion, whirring with vibrations that rattled his arms all the way to the elbow. He flinched, unused to the strange sensation.

Ruby, on the other hand, looked ecstatic. "It works! I mean, I knew it would, but still!" She darted away in a cloud of rose petals; when she returned, she had a plank of wood the length of her arm. "Now you just have to test it out!"

Kaneki moved forward, then hesitated, envisioning the crater Yang would leave in his skull if he were to accidentally cut off one of Ruby's fingers.

As if sensing his thoughts, Ruby rolled her eyes. "My Aura's up, I'll be fine!" She wiggled the plank enticingly. "Come on! Just cut it!"

That reassurance, paired with her earnestly eager expression, was enough to quash Kaneki's doubts. He reached out until the wire was hooked against the back side of the wood, then pulled back.

The wire sheared through the wood as though it were foam, sending the severed piece clattering to the ground with a spray of sawdust. Ruby dropped the other half of the plank, beaming. "How's that for a chainsaw? Pretty good, right?"

Kaneki looked from the severed wood to the still-thrumming wire. Although he still found the whole weapon overly-complicated, he couldn't deny that they had a certain visceral appeal. This might be useful, once I've trained with it. "How do I turn it off?"

"Oh! Just push your palms together for three seconds, then twist and pull them apart." Ruby demonstrated the action with her own hands.

Kaneki copied her. The thrumming of the chainsaw motor slowed, then died out; when he pulled his hands apart, the wire was gone.

Ruby puffed out her chest, positively bursting with pride. "That concludes the test run of your Ruby-approved, cutting-edge garrote gauntlets!" She walked over to Kaneki and tapped one of the gauntlets. "And remember, if you have any issues with them, you have a lifelong Ruby Rose warranty!"

Weiss watched her partner with a mixture of amusement and exasperation. "Does this mean we can go back to the room now? And that you won't keep dragging us down here every afternoon?

"Almost!" Ruby stepped back, face suddenly serious. "Now, you just gotta name them!"

"Name them?" Kaneki asked.

Ruby nodded. "Yeah! I have Crescent Rose, Yang has her Ember Celica, Weiss's sword has some fancy name I can't remember—"

Weiss sniffed. "Myrtenaster."

"—And Blake has…" Ruby trailed off, brows furrowed. "I don't think she ever told me, but it's probably from a book or something." She shook her head. "The point is, naming the weapon is what makes it special! It's like naming a boat."

Kaneki looked back at the gauntlets. It makes sense, but…

He lifted his head and saw Ruby looking at the gauntlets with an odd expression on her face: halfway between sad and covetous. It took him a moment to realize why, but once he did, he couldn't help but smile. "Did you want to name them, Ruby?"

If he'd asked her for an hour-long lecture on how she'd made Crescent Rose, Ruby couldn't have looked happier. "Are you sure?"

Kaneki nodded. "Go ahead."

Clearly, she'd been waiting for his permission; the words had scarcely left his mouth when Ruby blurted: "Rein of the Dragon!"

Her declaration was so sudden that Kaneki and Weiss could only answer it with silence. After a few seconds, Weiss incredulously repeated, "Rein of the Dragon?"

Ruby nodded. "Get it? Like the reins on a horse? But it's got scales like a dragon, so I thought it would be cool!"

Weiss scoffed. "You know not all draconic Grimm have scales, right?"

"I know that, but some of them do!" Ruby protested.

The two of them descended into bickering as Kaneki looked at his newly-named weapon. The name was fine—he had no strong feelings towards weapon names to begin with—but knowing that Ruby had picked it out made it feel special.

"I like it."

Ruby and Weiss stopped mid-argument and turned to face him. "You do?" Ruby asked, voice hesitantly hopeful.

"I do." Kaneki smiled. "Rein of the Dragon it is."

The door to the dorm room flew open, nearly scaring Blake off of her bunk. Ruby skipped inside, Weiss and Eyepatch trailing behind her. "Blake! Yang!" she sang. "Come see Eyepatch's new weapon!"

Blake scowled, picking up her scroll from where she'd dropped it on her bedspread. "Could you be a little quieter next time?"

Ruby landed next to the bed with a thump. "Sorry. I'm just really excited." She pointed at Eyepatch, beaming. "See? Look how cool they are!"

Blake sighed, but begrudgingly looked where Ruby was pointing. The gauntlets on Eyepatch's arms were glossy and red, and certainly looked well-made, but their glossy finish and the faint scale pattern etched onto their surface made her shoulder itch unpleasantly.

Fighting the urge to scratch her arm, Blake tore her gaze from the gauntlets and smiled politely at Eyepatch. "Those look nice."

Eyepatch dipped his head. "Thank you. Ruby did most of the work."

I'm not surprised. Blake turned back to the aforementioned team leader, who was peering around the room as though she expected a Beowolf to jump out at her. "Hey, Blake?" Ruby finally asked. "Where's Yang?"

Blake grimaced. Yang had barely spoken to her since their argument the day before; Blake wasn't sure if it was out of spite or because she didn't know what to say. Either way, the silence weighed on her heavily. Just hearing her partner's name was enough to send a sharp pang through her chest.

"Blake?" Ruby repeated. "Do you know where Yang is?"

Blake shook herself. "Training, I think."

Ruby's face fell, even as her shoulders slumped in obvious relief. "Do you know when she'll be back?"

Blake shook her head, fighting down another grimace. She picked up her scroll and hit the refresh button, waiting as the page buffered.

Weiss stepped forward and peered over Blake's shoulder. "What are you looking at?"

"The news." On cue, the page reloaded, showing a line of the news articles that Blake had been reading to pass the time. She clicked the first one and began scrolling through it, hoping the others would take the hint.

Thankfully, they did. The three drifted to Ruby and Weiss's bunk and fell into discussion, leaving Blake to read through the news article in peace. She quickly grew bored with the story (a wordy piece on the steady spread of Atlesian military technology throughout Remnant) and hit the back button.

When the news list loaded again, Blake was greeted by a picture of a strangely familiar building barricaded by police tape. Intrigued, she tapped the article, watching the screen change from a static image to a video of the same location.

"This afternoon, police confirmed the death of thirty-five year old Tukson Noir."

Blake's blood ran cold.

The video changed, showing a closer view of the building Blake now recognized as Tukson's Book Trade. Police were stationed outside the door, some writing notes, others talking to people that had gathered outside the building. In between them, Blake could see a shattered window, and inside, a nauseatingly large spray of blood on the bookstore wall.

The image shrank into the upper corner of the shot, leaving the rest of the screen to a professional-looking woman with a lavender bob and a clean-cut suit. "Mr. Noir was found in his bookstore this morning, in what appears to have been a robbery gone wrong."

"Eyepatch." Blake almost didn't recognize her own voice—it sounded distant, as though it were coming from behind a thick layer of glass. "Come look at this."

She sat there, dazed, until she sensed a presence by her bedside. "What is it?" Eyepatch's voice came to her just as muffled as her own.

Wordless, she gestured to her screen, where the news anchor was continuing her report. "While the police haven't released information on possible suspects, the recent attack on Dust shipments in the area indicates that the White Fang may have been involved."

The camera cut to another familiar sight: the stout woman who had served Blake, Sun, and Eyepatch breakfast over the weekend. She was standing on the opposite side of the road with the bookstore in the background, a handkerchief in her hands and tears trailing down her face.

"It doesn't feel real," she sobbed. "He was such a nice man. The last time I went to this store, he spent at least half an hour helping me find the cookbook I was looking for. Something like this is just—" Her voice broke, and she buried her face in her handkerchief.

The camera cut back to the news anchor. "Police are asking citizens to come forward with any information on potential suspects, and to be mindful of any suspicious individuals. A memorial service is planned for Mr. Noir next week."

The scroll slipped from Blake's hands and landed in her lap. She stared at the empty space between her hands, ears ringing, before dropping them as well. Her conversation with Tukson played through her mind. Now I'm out here, doing what I love, and my regulars don't give a damn if I'm human or Faunus or anything else. You just have to keep on moving forward, Miss Belladonna.

Oh Blake. Adam'svoice rang out, sending a cold spike of dread through Blake's heart. Did you really think there wouldn't be consequences to you running away?

No. Blake hunched over, wrapping her arms tight around herself, as though she were on the verge of breaking apart. I didn't know. How was I supposed to know?

Because this always happens, Adam sneered. Whenever you're too weak to face your problems, someone else pays the price.

"Blake?" Dimly, Blake could hear a voice calling for her, but she was too lost in her own head to focus on it. We did our best. We stopped the robbery.

But you let some of them get away. You drove them into the city like a pack of starving animals. They wouldn't have found the deserter if you'd stopped them at the docks.


You don't know that! You don't even know if it was the White Fang that killed him!

If you believe that, Adam sneered, then why am I still here?


A hand grabbed Blake's shoulder, jolting her from her thoughts. Heart pounding, she looked up and saw that Ruby had grabbed her. At some point, she and Weiss had joined Eyepatch at the bedside. All three of them were looking at Blake with concern.

Blake swallowed. "They killed him," she said, her voice trembling. "The White Fang killed him. Because of me."

The trio stared at her as though she'd just grown a second head. "What are you talking about?" Weiss asked.

Eyepatch shook his head. "We went to his bookstore over the weekend." He gave Blake a pitying look. "Blake, just because you talked to him once doesn't mean—"

"Don't you get it?" Blake knocked away Ruby's hand and leapt to her feet, despair giving way to sudden, burning anger. How could they be so calm about this? Didn't they understand? "They were in the city! They were right there! We could have stopped them! I could have stopped them!"

Eyepatch, Weiss, and Ruby all took a step back, stunned. "You don't know that," Eyepatch protested.

"I do!" Blake collapsed back on the bed, vision blurring with rapidly welling tears. "It had to have been them. All this time, I was sitting here pretending nothing was wrong. And someone died because of it."

It wasn't someone you were close with this time, but next time? At this point, she couldn't tell if the voice in her head was her's or Adam's anymore. It could be your friends. They'll be dead because of you.

Blake scrubbed at her eyes and forced down the lump in her throat. "I'm taking them down. Torchwick, the White Fang, all of them." She looked up and gave her teammates the most determined stare she could muster. "They won't get away with this. I won't let them."

The voice chuckled. You already know you don't have a choice.

Credit for the name Rein of the Dragon goes to With Death Comes More Death, always the inspirational genius. Go check out some of his stuff if you haven't already.