Author's Note: Ugh….
Brain: So here we are again! Surprised? I'm not! And, hey, we've got a fic that's not about Bumblebee this time! Instead, it's all about the White Rose here!
Brain: So how about that RTX? Once again, our poorness kept us from going but that's the beauty of social media sites and cellular devices that can record panels when the RT crew specifically tell people not to do so but do anyway and we shamelessly watch them! We saw the official concept art, the badly-recorded trailer, and, thus, an idea was formed!
Brain: And so- okay, seriously, what are you doing?
I hate you and everything you stand for.
Brain: Whaaaat? It's because of me that we have this new, delightful fic to do-
Don't you even. Doooonnn't you even! I know exactly what you were thinking! I was there when it happened! You FILTH!
Brain: Woah there.
You damned me because of Burnout? How you led us here is far more sinister!
Brain: Now that sounds like something we should divulge in the next chapter's author's notes.
AND YOU WILL BE JUDGED ACCORDINGLY!
Brain: All right, guess it's my job this time to introduce this. So, as I said, we got an idea and plenty of inspiration to see it through thanks to RTX! The hype train is real, friends! Until October 22nd though, we're gonna pass some of the time with this little fic. Right now, it's only predicted to be two chapters long but it's gonna be chock full of all our excitement for the upcoming Volume 4. …Along with some M-rated goodness. The rating does not lie.
And because I know people are going to ask this as they do with many other fics of this nature, this fic is not intended to be a continuation of Dual Abyss or have any part of Soulbound. You are all nonetheless free to add it to your personal headcanon. Hope this ends up being a good start to what will be occurring later.
The first thing that she had to get used to upon returning was her room. Large, spacious – plenty of room for any single individual to do what they wished with. Attempts were made to fill it such as the queen-sized bed with lavish curtains, a large walk-in closet with its vast selection of fashions, a desk and bookcase stuffed with papers and texts, a mantel decorated with awards and achievements dating back to her childhood, but all of them failed to remove that empty feeling that had plagued Weiss and remained with her to this day.
That feeling was the reason that Weiss couldn't find it in her to retire to bed as she had failed to do in several other instances. With nothing but the moonlight illuminating a path that was aimless, Weiss navigated amongst the various furniture, toes brushing soundlessly along the carpet.
It was nights like these when she was alone – as in, her father once again gone, the staff retired for the night, and the few security personnel doing well to make their presence scarce – that she would wander within this small and yet too big space and wonder. Wonder what it was that she was doing, what it was she wished to become, and be absolutely lost at every turn when she tried to find an answer.
The papers at her desk that she briefly flicked through told her what was wanted of her. Offers from prestigious schools to replace the one she lost but, if it was considered better, entry-level positions that she could take within her company in order to begin learning to become its rightful successor.
Great things were always expected of her, after all. It was only at her right that she could see what others have preached was her 'talent' – her commendations that she acquired throughout her childhood that were on display to remind her. No matter what it was, if she put some effort into it, she could become better than most. It was, she repeated, always expected.
But she felt nothing. None of that pull that drew her to any of these choices that were laid out before her. All she felt was…trapped. Stuck repeating a day that would come again and again, where she would wake up to a reminder of the day's appointment or appointments, go through a morning routine that would end with her venturing into that closet to select the proper attire to present herself with to the latest interview that would – as she was always told – lead her to a beneficial future.
Back to playing house, am I?
Weiss guided a hand to a drawer behind the desk, slowly pulling it open. From it, she retrieved another reward: a shiny, silver medal hanging from a bright red lanyard. The difference here, however, was that when she held it up to her face and watched the medal lazily swing in front of her, she could still remember the pride that she felt upon first receiving it. And with it, the pull that was trying to get her out from this room, out of this mansion, and beyond the horizon that was so far from her home.
Home? Weiss surprised even herself with the level of sarcasm that she directed at the manor. Yes, she supposed it was her home in the sense that it was the place that she grew up in, but whenever the word came to mind, it was not the Schnee manor that she associated it with.
No, when she thought of home, she thought of one location that was a half a continent away from here, at a place where she believed her only real accomplishments had occurred…and what she managed to do with help from her only friends. Unconsciously, Weiss felt the corner of her lip rise in the hint of a smile that she rarely showed.
How she yearned for that other room – big, but cramped with three other people who fought for the space to decorate with their own personal tastes. It made for things to be unbelievably noisy, with the days unpredictable, and yet she had learned to love every single one that passed in the company of her team.
But where was it now? The inevitable question killed Weiss's smile as it always did. Home – Beacon – was no more. It was overrun by the Grimm, that much Weiss had seen when she had been flown out of there. And her friends…well, she had stuck around long enough to find out what happened to most of them
It was all gone. Everything that she had been blessed with at Beacon had been consumed in the tumult that had come with such unexpected and frightening swiftness, taking away everything that she could happily proclaim as hers. It was dumb luck that she just happened to carry this medal around as a good luck charm during the Vytal Festival tournament to give her the added boost in confidence as to the capabilities of her team. A reminder of how they had saved Vale once and of what they could do as long as they were together.
And as much as she cherished this medal, she knew how unwanted it was within this household. Unlike the other, more extravagant awards that were out in the open, this was something that had always caught the disapproving eye of her father so Weiss had been forced to tuck it out of sight to spare herself from it.
Weiss dropped the medal back in the drawer and moved on, turning on a lamp as she made her way to the closet to change. She stopped halfway when she caught sight of her reflection on the full-length mirror and grudgingly looked towards it.
The medal wasn't the only thing she was forced to hide. Her 'presentable attire' for the day had been a blue dress, with a slit cut along the side of the shimmering skirt to reveal some of her pale legs and the stiletto heels. The shaper sleeves did the same, accentuating her slim arms while crossing around her back and being held together at the front of her neck with a glittering piece of impressive sapphire that matched her sizable earrings. Her ponytail that she had always worn to the side had similarly been done with, now more centered and straight.
Daddy's little princess, she thought, the bitter tone of her thoughts equal to the stare that she gave her reflection. Yet almost as soon as she thought it, she chided herself for it as well as that look she was giving herself.
She hated it, but was unwilling to do anything to change it and she hated herself more for her cowardice. She had a way out previously and she had taken it, but it wasn't the case here. There was no Beacon this time to assist her in alluding her father's control. She was stuck here in Atlas, the kingdom as isolated as the others with the CCT still inoperable. There was too much of the unknown out there now, too many dangers.
When the idea came to run away during an hour when enough was enough, it was only the next minute or two of deliberation that crushed the idea. If she left, where would she go? What would she do on her own? She had no clue on how to answer either. Not even Winter could help her, her older sister barely able to communicate with her thanks to how the Atlesian specialist was at the forefront to control the Remnant-wide chaos with her classified missions.
She had no direction and she was too afraid to take the chance herself. She could despise her position all she wanted but she knew in her heart who the real culprit was.
What would Ruby do?
Out of all her friends, it was Ruby who Weiss thought about the most. Her first real friend, partner, and leader. Weiss missed her, her heart aching when the heiress remembered that Ruby had been the only one who she hadn't known what happened to. The last she saw of Ruby was the young girl being carried by her uncle, unconscious and refusing to wake up despite hours after getting to safety at a refugee center in Vale. Weiss didn't get the chance to see if she ever would, her father arriving and demanding that she come with him shortly afterwards.
And I went with him. The fingers of Weiss's left hand folded and shook in a tight fist. Because I was just too weak.
Blake had vanished, Yang had been hauled off to an emergency center to be treated, the three members of JNPR were reeling from the loss of Pyrrha, Neptune and the friends she made from the other schools were pulled away to return to their own kingdoms, and her professors were trying to maintain the peace in the wake of all that happened. It had just been Weiss, alone against her father…and she hadn't been able to stand up to him. All that talk about changing the SDC, swearing to make sure that her father wouldn't be the end of the Schnee name, and her decision that she could get by without his support. In the end, she couldn't follow up on any of that.
What was the point of all that honor and pride she spouted when she didn't have any of the courage to support it? So here she was, a caged princess.
Ruby would do something. Weiss was sure of that. No matter how many times Weiss had belittled the girl for her childish behavior, Ruby had always been the first to willingly charge ahead, no matter the danger or hopelessness of the situation. To Ruby, there was always a way to win as long as they were doing the right thing.
If Ruby had been in her position, Weiss was sure that the scythe-wielder would've busted out of this mansion on the first day. No, that was doing her partner and injustice. Ruby wouldn't have taken a step foot on the boarding ramp to her father's airship. She would've stayed for her friends, give what support she could in order to make them get back up on their feet. If she had been awake, maybe she could've stopped Blake from running. If she had been awake, maybe Weiss would've gained the strength to directly oppose her father.
But she hadn't and for all Weiss knew she may still not be awake after whatever had happened at the CCT. The heiress had been trapped here for nearly a year, absolutely blind to anything that may've transpired, and time wasn't proving to be a liberating force to get her to act but further resign herself to this prison.
No wonder Ozpin thought I was unworthy. When it comes right down to it, what can I really be counted on for?
There was a stinging at Weiss's eyes, her vision subtly blurring. With a vigorous shake of her head and furious wiping of her eyes, she turned away from the mirror, feeling disgusted with herself, mentally throwing what curses she knew in self-ridicule, but no matter how angry she became there was no masking that awareness that all of it was futile because no matter what she did, she was just too much of a coward to change anything. Weiss resumed her approach to the closet, chalking up tonight as yet another defeat which would be joined by that of tomorrow and the day after and the day after that.
There was an odd rumbling sound, so quiet that Weiss didn't even notice it until she had opened her closet door and been about to strip. The tilt of her head in preparation to remove the first earring was just enough for her to catch the sound and Weiss halted, a confused frown marring her features. She wracked her brain, trying to think of what could be making that odd noise, and finally she tried to visually locate it herself. It was in her room, and the sound did seem familiar. It was almost like…a vibrating scroll rumbling atop wood. But Weiss had her personal scroll at her bedside table and there was no other scroll that-
An electrifying shock shot up and down Weiss's body, her eyes going wide and a gasp escaping her as soon as she spotted her desk again. The noise was coming from there, at the bottom left drawer. Same place where she kept her medal. Weiss stayed frozen there before bursting into a flurry of motion, crossing over to her desk in an instant where she fell to her knees and pulled the drawer open so hard that she nearly ripped the whole thing out.
At the same time she was frantically searching for the only thing that could be responsible for making that noise, Weiss was denying how it could possibly be it despite reason dictating that it could only be so. It didn't take long to find it, the only things she kept in this drawer being the medal…and her scroll.
But it wasn't the scroll at her bedside – not her personal business scroll. The scroll she retrieved from her desk was another memento that she kept. It was the one that had been assigned to her at Beacon, a day after her initiation and the formation of Team RWBY. Other than being her electronic key to her dorm room, what it held were the memories stored on its hard drive, including the numbers and contacts of all the wonderful people she met at Beacon.
It was something else that her father wanted her to be rid of, giving her a 'more efficient' scroll to replace it and would suit her businesses here now that she was back in Atlas. She replaced it, but hadn't gotten rid of it. The memories being the initial reason of course, but there was also that faint and impossible hope that, maybe, when either global communications had been reestablished or if, even more impossible, someone would be close enough to actually call her…
One name flashed on the screen to greet her when Weiss opened her scroll and when she read it, it petrified her where she knelt. She stared at it, wide-eyed, her breath caught in her throat while the scroll buzzed in her hands. She didn't answer it, the disbelief keeping her from believing that any of this was real despite holding and seeing the proof herself.
The scroll went still and silent.
Weiss half-lurched where she knelt, her fingers shooting up and hovering over where the icon to answer had been but vanished. A pause, and then the icon was replaced with another.
The name was still there, right before her eyes, and all Weiss did was stare at it some more, stuck with indecision until the screen finally went dark as the device went idle. She kept staring at it, immovable.
The screen lit back up and began buzzing again, causing her to start and nearly drop it. She managed to keep her grip on it and Weiss was in the same position again: kneeling down, staring at the screen, and poised to answer but didn't.
It went silent and, after a few seconds, dark again.
Weiss stayed where she was.
The scroll started vibrating a third time.
It only then occurred to Weiss as to just what she was doing. Rather, what she wasn't doing. In front of her was a way out. A hope. One that was only now appearing after much too long. But she wasn't taking it. Why?
The scroll went quiet.
Weiss waited, expecting it to begin vibrating again, but to her dismay it didn't. She shook it as if that alone would bring the life back to it. The movement only caused the screen to light back up again with the prompt that demanded she do it herself.
Her fingertip hovered less than an inch from it, her nail nearly brushing against the icon. She didn't press it. After waiting too long, the screen went dark and the fencer couldn't stop staring at it in order to actually do something. Nothing was happening, not her or the scroll until Weiss began to lower it, her hand pulling away.
Suddenly the scroll vibrated a fourth time and it was purely on accident that Weiss hit it when she jumped it back up, her finger tapping the answer icon in her surprise. The screen changed appropriately, telling Weiss that she now had a call in progress.
She didn't bring it to her ear, instead watching as the seconds accumulated on the digital clock to time the progress on her call. Five seconds in and counting and in that span Weiss didn't say a word, nor did the caller. Ten seconds and counting and it was then that Weiss was brave enough to bring it to her ear. "Hello?"
No answer. Weiss waited a beat, pulled the scroll away and checked to see that the call was still in progress and that it just reached past twenty seconds. She brought it back. "Hello?"
There was a beep and Weiss checked the screen to confirm what the noise signaled: the caller had hung up.
Stumped, she rose to her feet, gaze once again glued to her scroll. Standing within the middle of her empty room, she waited for what she wasn't sure.
Her scroll shook again – another call from the same name and number.
This time Weiss didn't wait. She hit the icon and placed the device against the side of her head. "Hello? Who is this?"
The name said exactly who it was but Weiss needed to be sure. Something in her couldn't commit the faith in it really being her. Despite that, when she again got no answer from the other side, Weiss couldn't help it. She spoke softly into the scroll. "Ruby?"
A full three seconds later and the caller hung up again.
Anger and annoyance were overriding her initial feelings about the mysterious caller, certain that her emotions were being played with. She paced around her room, waiting, and she slammed her thumb on the screen when another call came through.
"Whoever this is," she spoke sharply, "I don't know how you got this number but you're dialing the wrong person to be playing games with! I demand you tell me who you are, right now!"
No one responded, but they weren't hanging up either. Weiss stayed on the line, wanting answers, and tried to figure out some herself.
Continental communications couldn't possibly have been reestablished yet. If they had, the SDC would've been one of the first companies to know about it given its contributions to Atlas and, as heiress, Weiss would be one of the first people to know. So, short-range communications were still the only method. The caller had to be in Atlas somewhere.
Someone has to be playing games with me, Weiss thought, the possibility of it actually being Ruby who was calling her drifting further from the realm of possibility. She glanced out her window. For all I know, they could be right outside, laughing it up-
The scroll dropped, hitting the floor at Weiss's feet. Her empty palm remained at her ear as she stared outside in shock and then she was moving again. Her first thought and instinct was the intercom that had been installed shortly after she had come back to Atlas. It would give her a direct line to whoever was overseeing the night shift of security. Call it in, let them deal with it.
Wait. She stopped just shy of touching it. What am I doing?
All her disdain for being treated like some caged princess and here she was acting like one, calling on some armed guards to deal with suspicious activity. She had been a student at the most prestigious Hunter Academy and had triumphed over perils that had been very real and far more dangerous than this.
Weiss pulled away from the intercom and instead retrieved Myrtenaster, her multi-action Dust rapier leaning next to her bed. She examined the blade and then spun the cylinder, making sure that she still had plenty of Dust at her disposal. She may not have Beacon anymore, but she still had her private trainers and lessons to keep her skills sharp in order to defend herself against an uncertain world. She was still a Huntress.
With Myrtenaster in hand, Weiss went to the door, feet slipping into the high-heels she had kicked off previously, and was about to head through the door before she stopped, went back and got her scroll, and then left.
She took the stairs that led down to the entrance hall two at a time. At the doors, she put in her code at the security panel which took a scan of her prints while she did so. She thought the security in her home was bad before, but things had taken on a whole new level since Vale. Even if she was cleared, whoever was on guard duty would be alerted to it. There was going to be a cause for concern at this late hour but Weiss hoped to have this over with and then she'd present an acceptable excuse to whoever was on security detail.
Her code went through and the lock on the door disengaged. A cold, wintery blast of air came through as soon as Weiss opened the door and she stepped onto the fresh powder of Atlas's entry into the coldest season. She hardly felt the chill, more concerned with what she was seeking as she stepped into her family's courtyard and maneuvered towards the east of the major.
She checked her scroll and found that the last call had been disconnected when she had chosen to come out and another hadn't occurred since then. With the scroll in one hand and Myrtenaster in the other, Weiss glanced up, seeing her bedroom window with the light of the lamp still on. She then turned to the fence that formed the perimeter of the Schnee manor, attempting to catch sight of what had caused her so much alarm and brought her down here.
She didn't see anything. Weiss scanned the whole length of the iron fence and her feet outlined a full circle in the snow when she spun around to see if they had gotten inside. There was no sign.
There certainly wasn't the shadowy silhouette that had stood beyond the gate, an arm up high and waving to catch her attention, the light of an active scroll bright in their hand.
Weiss shifted back to her scroll. A quick tap and the screen turned on, once again presenting her with the query.
She pressed it.
Her scroll began calling and Weiss was on alert for the slightest sound that could betray the intruder. Myrtenaster was up at a guard position and all it would take would be the slightest gesture to either conjure her glyphs or a Dust spell if it was needed. Her scroll kept trying to call, Weiss not hearing anything, and she ended up being distracted when the device beeped from a failure to connect.
There was the crunch of snow directly behind her.
Weiss spun around, putting Myrtenaster up front, but took a step back when a burst of something flew at her face, her other arm guarding it. They brushed against her skin, soft petals possessing a sweet fragrance, with Weiss herself attempting to peer through a rain of red.
Roses? Weiss was able to identify them, was on the verge of making the connection of who they reminded her of, but her arm lowered once it cleared and she was able to see for herself as to who had suddenly appeared in front of her.
They had a weapon, Weiss focusing on the potential threat first: the long-handled weapon and the vicious crescent-shaped blade that dwarfed its wielder. It was not raised for combat though, the end of the long shaft deep in the snow, and its mistress leaning heavily against it to keep her up. She was wearing a cloak but the excessive wear and tear that had created great rips and frayed ends had made it long inadequate to deal with Atlas's brutal winter. The shredded cloak let Weiss see how the individual's legs were nearly buckled beneath her, and her form shook with the cold.
She braved through it enough for her to raise her head, her lips and skin paler than normal. But she still conjured up a smile upon meeting the heiress's eyes.
"H-hey, Weiss," Ruby Rose whispered.
Weiss held up the leather straps, checking with a critical eye to detail. Not as bad – not like the others – and she didn't feel it was safe enough to put this in the wash. She set it aside with the boots, bullet-lined belt, and other parts of Ruby's ensemble that the heiress deemed would require a more delicate touch and been placed in a separate laundry hamper.
Not that she wasn't worried about the rest of the clothing that she sealed in the machine before inputting the settings for a very delicate wash. Everything of Ruby's was torn in varying degrees with not one piece intact. Weiss keyed the washer to start, took the hamper, and went to the kitchen where the microwave was also going.
Weiss was still in her regal dress with shiny sapphires but she was running to and fro like one of her maids, temporarily putting the hamper down on the counter and checking the microwave to see that there was still a minute left on the leftovers of last night's dinner that she was warming up. Other than none of the help being up, Weiss had become a bit more self-sufficient since Beacon, willingly doing simple cooking and cleaning herself as she had done at school. Given who two of her team members were, it had been a necessity.
And one of them was currently in her house, upstairs in her room. Ruby's actually here.
She hadn't been able to believe it, not even when she had pushed open the door to the mansion and hauled Ruby inside, the younger girl shaking from the cold in her grip as she made it in with the fencer's help. Despite that, Ruby still had it in her to be amazed when she saw the inside of the entrance hall, staring with wide-eyed wonder.
"W-wow, so this is your house," Ruby said, taking a good look around while she huffed in the warm air. "I thought it was big on the outside."
"This is hardly the time for you to admire it!" Weiss hissed out, trying to keep her voice down. She yanked Ruby deeper in and shut the door behind them. A million questions were fighting for the right to be spoken first and Weiss was hard-pressed to keep them – and herself – in control. "Had that been you the whole time on my scroll?"
Ruby was still shaking enough that Weiss almost didn't make out her nod. "Y-yeah. I saw the light on in the window and tried to get your attention."
"How did you even know that was my room? Or that I didn't throw away my scroll?"
Ruby smiled sheepishly and shrugged. "I didn't."
Weiss made a noise of annoyed exasperation and she was struck by how natural it was. How many times had her partner earned this reaction when they had been together? She put the remembrance aside in order to continue scolding Ruby. "Even if you turned out to be right, why didn't you speak when I answered?"
Another sheepish grin. "I couldn't." A quick rifling and Ruby held up her scroll. "I think the microphone is busted, and it's hard to type messages on it now."
The scroll had seen better days. The screen itself had a long, diagonal crack with smaller ones spreading out from it. It was also quite dirty along with the scratched casing. Weiss was marginally surprised that Ruby was still able to make a call with it. Moving from the scroll to Ruby herself though, it was for Weiss to realize that she had seen better days.
She was wearing an outfit similar to the one she wore at Beacon, but there was some more white in it now thanks to the long-sleeved blouse she was wearing beneath her corset and skirt combo. It made the stains much easier to notice and her skirt had frayed ends. There was a noticeable tear in one of her leggings, and the snow melting from her boots revealed the worn and faded leather. And other than being obviously freezing, Ruby's features were worn down with a great fatigue.
"Ruby," Weiss began, "just what are you doing here?"
Ruby opened her mouth to answer but both she and Weiss jumped when a loud beep and static emitted right behind them.
"Miss Schnee, is everything all right?"
Security. Weiss spun around to the panel at the side of the door where the voice was coming from. She hit the intercom, choosing one of the many excuses that she was fervently sorting through before saying, "Yes, everything is fine. I just wanted to step out for a moment."
Ruby kept dutifully silent when the guard questioned, "At this hour? In this weather?"
When Weiss pushed the intercom again, her tone was forged into steel when she snapped, "Yes, it's Atlas; it's cold no matter what the hour is in case you didn't notice. And not that you would know, but I've had a very difficult day with tomorrow being no better. I'm aggravated, and wanted some fresh air to help calm me which is proving to be worthless thanks to you."
This was hardly the only instance where Weiss pulled out the annoying, spoiled heiress card, with the security personnel getting it the worst. After having an entire army of Atlesian Knights getting hacked, her father had changed to a more human guard detail and Weiss quickly found that it was much easier to vent her frustrations out on them.
The quiet groan that the audio barely caught told her that whoever was on station was used to it. "I'm just doing my job, ma'am."
"Then get back to it and leave me be." Weiss ended the call and looked at Ruby. "What?"
Ruby shook her head, grinning a little. "Nothing. I kind of forgot how scary you can be."
"Trust me, it'll be a lot worse if they see you here. Let's get to my room. If we're lucky, they won't catch you." With that in mind, Weiss looked over Ruby's head where she knew a camera was overlooking the entrance. She flicked a finger in its direction and there was a brief flash of a familiar glyph. "Let's go."
She yanked Ruby along and immediately felt bad when she stumbled a little. She lessened the force of her next tug but made it clear that she wanted Ruby to get a move on. Her finger flicked towards another corner when they reached the stairs.
Ruby mimicked the flicking motion. "What's that?"
"Cameras," Weiss explained. "I've learned to disable them with my glyphs. Whoever's watching will get a frozen screen which will give us time to move. It won't last long – just enough for us to get by without causing suspicion."
"Oh." Ruby smiled, impressed. "Neat."
The circumstances had warranted it. Her father's obsession on security had forced Weiss to develop ways to work around it to keep it from being unbearable. It was one little trick that she taught herself but definitely the most useful. She still had the privacy of her room at least.
Ruby's shaking had subsided after the stairs, warmth steadily returning to her face. Knowing that the security cameras didn't record audio, Weiss asked, "You never thought of dressing in something warmer before coming here?"
"Well I was in Mistral before," Ruby explained. To Weiss, just talking seemed to be making her happier, the exhaustion lifting a little. "And I got lucky on a ride. Mistrali smugglers are cra-zy but they know how to get in fast and quiet."
Mistral? Ruby had been in Mistral and then came to Atlas, from Vale? She may as well have traveled around the entire globe with that distance and Weiss knew of the difficulties that plagued public continental travel between the kingdoms these days. She couldn't hide her amazement. "You traveled to Mistral and then Atlas by yourself?"
"Well, no. I have the rest of RNJR here too."
Weiss blinked. "RNJR?"
Ruby stared at her strangely for a moment until her brows shot up in realization. "Oh, right. Um…" Her gaze went to the side in embarrassment and – was that a hint of shame? "Nora, Jaune, and Ren."
RNJR? "Oh." For some reason Weiss's vision also drifted. "I see." RNJR?
They managed to get to her room shortly after that, putting any other questions on hold. Weiss opened the door and ushered Ruby in, breathing a covert sigh of relief once she heard the lock click. Now she didn't have to worry about the cameras. Though her father had assured her that there would be none, Weiss had checked anyway. He hadn't been lying about that at least, but that didn't stop her from making her own routine checks on the off chance that he decided to put them in later without informing her.
"Woah." Ruby was giving Weiss's room the same awestruck look as she did with the entrance hall. "This whole thing is your room?"
She may've been astounded, but Weiss felt her own pang of shame. A sense of disgrace had grown upon returning to the center of her family's wealth, and it really didn't sit well with her to see Ruby in the middle of it all, being so impressed by it. Wanting to draw Ruby away from it, Weiss focused on Ruby's state of undress.
"There's a shower through that door," Weiss said, motioning towards the door in question, opposite of her closet. When Ruby faced her, she made a show of wrinkling her noise. "You could use it."
She didn't leave room for argument but discovered that she didn't need to, not with how Ruby swiveled to the bathroom door. Her impressed look became one of deep longing. "That would be awesome."
A short smile came and went before Weiss added, "There should be a spare robe in there. Take it and leave your clothes out here. I'll take them to the wash when I come back with some coffee. Cream and sugar, yes?"
Ruby appeared uncomfortable. "Weiss, you don't-"
Weiss glared. "Cream and sugar, yes?"
Ruby wisely backed down. "Yes."
So that was how it went. Weiss left Ruby to do her business, equally grateful for the time it would allow he to digest the fact that Ruby was actually here along with all that she learned so far. RNJR?
Weiss didn't need to be a genius to figure out who represented one of the R's. Ruby was part of another team, made up from the other members of JNPR. She could understand why Blake wouldn't be with her, but what about Yang? Even knowing what happened to the older sibling, Weiss thought Yang would stick to Ruby's side, even if it meant with one less arm.
Still a much better reason than yours. Weiss had nothing to say to that.
The microwave dinged, an interruption that she needed. Carefully, she retrieved the plate from inside, atop of which was a steaming mass of noodles with sliced vegetables and a golden drizzle of sauce. She wished that she had something better but it was the quickest, easiest thing she could get at such a short notice. To make it a little sweeter, Weiss opened up a rarely-used cookie jar and extracted two chocolate chip confections.
She had made sure to give her cold, clipped updates to security, letting them know that she'd be getting a midnight drink and snack in order to prevent any inquiries that all her moving around may cause. It would be enough to cover Ruby for tonight but Weiss didn't know what to do about tomorrow.
She would take it as it comes. Ruby was here and, to Weiss, that was all she needed right now. That, and these sorry attempts to make up for nearly a year of absence from her side. She threw the plate of food on top of the laundry hamper, demonstrating a fine control of balance in order to carry everything back to her room.
She had gotten that pot of coffee earlier but Ruby had still been in the shower, leaving Weiss to retrieve the clothes she left behind. Upon returning to her room, it was to see that Ruby had finished.
Along with all the other furniture in this humongous room, there was a small couch with a short coffee table in front. The setup was to make visitors – interviewers – comfortable, and in essence turning her bedroom into more of an office. Ruby was laying across the full length of the couch, her bare feet propped up against one arm, her head resting on the other. Her eyes were closed and breath coming out evenly, deep in sleep.
The sight had Weiss pausing at the door, hesitating, and then she came forward with greater care than she thought possible. The coffee pot and mugs were on the table where she left them, but there were the signs that Ruby had disturbed them. A mug that, when Weiss was able to look, had fresh coffee stains on the inside. The bowl of sugar and pitcher of cream had obviously been raided but that hadn't stopped Ruby from passing out.
Weiss took care, setting the hamper down on the floor and removing the plate from the top to set it on the table next to the coffee. After that, there was nothing else for Weiss to really do and her attention wandered. It ended up falling upon Crescent Rose, it leaning with Myrtenaster against the wall.
When she understood that it really was Ruby who had been standing before her and any possible threat had passed, Weiss had gotten a better look at the scythe. Much like its owner, it had endured a lot. The shaft was obviously worn, with scratches and paint flaking off, with a loaded magazine that seemed ready to fall apart, but it was that fearsome blade that worried her. Having seen for herself how capable the scythe was at standing strong and slicing through anything that was thrown at it with ease, she had been shocked when she noticed how fragments were missing, chipped off along the edge.
Just what had she been fighting against? And for how long? Her need for answers led her to standing over the couch and the sleeping Rose.
She's grown. Ruby had taken the bathrobe. Measured specifically for Weiss's size, it seemed a tad small on the scythe-wielder with the hem above her knees and the sleeves too short to cover up all of her forearms. She's seventeen now.
She had been sixteen when they last saw each other and they were well past her birthday. A surprising amount of growth could happen in that amount of time and Ruby had been more fortunate than Weiss had been at her age. She had only been slightly taller than her leader, but now she was pretty sure that it was the reverse.
Her hair, too. It had grown longer to where, with Ruby lying on one cheek, the strands had fallen like a curtain over a portion of her face. Seized with a sudden urge, Weiss reached down, gently brushing them aside, and she could see for herself how the ends went past her shoulders. Typical of Ruby, the damp hair appeared ragged, the bangs in particular cut to keep them out of her eyes but even then just barely.
Weiss caught something strange when her fingers passed through more of Ruby's hair. A rough, hard spot at the side of her head. Alarmed, Weiss leaned down, parting the hair over the section to see what it was.
Near Ruby's temple was the remains of what must've been a nasty cut. However bad it was originally, it had been reduced to the layer of scab that was almost ready to peel away to unveil new, healthy skin. Going by that and the fading lines though, Weiss could make a vague guess as to what it had been like originally and the imagination of just how much blood a head wound like that would've produced encouraged an involuntary shudder.
Weiss pulled away, disturbed, and when she looked at Ruby again, it was to search, her gaze moving up and down. There!
One shoulder of the robe had slipped, enough for Weiss to spot the edge of some discoloration on Ruby's otherwise creamy skin near her shoulder. Daringly, the heiress lifted the wool enough to get a better look. Like the cut at her head, Weiss soon found the fading signs of a bruise up high at her right arm. There was no way for her to tell how bad, but the sheer fact that her Aura hadn't healed it since the time she got it worried Weiss. The evidence on Ruby's skin made Weiss think about what couldn't be healed: the various rips and tears of her clothing, and her tattered cloak.
It had been nearly a year since Beacon's fall. How long did it take for Ruby to start on whatever mad quest that had led her through Mistral and into Atlas?
Had she been traveling around and fighting this whole time? Weiss shook her head. No, that's absurd. Even she wouldn't be that irrational.
But just looking at how Ruby was along with her equipment…
Weiss snapped her hand away from Ruby when she suddenly moved, the brunette groaning as her body went through a long stretch. It made the hem of the robe hike up a tad more, the shoulder falling a bit more, and Weiss averted her gaze.
Weiss counted to three before bringing Ruby back into her sight, the time enough to cool her cheeks and enough for Ruby to notice the shoulder of the robe and pull it up by the time Weiss looked at her. Her partner had sat up and was currently hiding a yawn.
"I fell asleep?" Ruby asked when she was done, groggily looking around for a clue on the time. "How long?"
"Not even twenty minutes," Weiss informed, it sounding about right.
"Sorry." Ruby wrapped her arms around herself, hugging the material of the bathrobe. "This is so warm and fluffy. After that shower, I couldn't help it."
Weiss waved off the apology. "Obviously you needed it." She gestured to the plate of noodles. "And I thought you would like that."
Ruby became locked onto the food and how she all but salivated upon taking a whiff confirmed that she really did. Without a word of protest she took the plate and accompanying fork, using the latter to spear into the biggest piece of vegetable and spin it around to wrap a decent length of noodles around the fork. A long, satisfied moan came from Ruby as soon as she stuck it in her mouth which stretched wide around the fork. "Soooo good."
Weiss turned away to conceal a smile and used the excuse to pour herself a mug of coffee to let Ruby eat in peace. Her former team leader seemed ravenous, half of the plate already gone by the time Weiss stood up with her own steaming mug to take a delicate sip.
It really was good. Weiss sighed in bliss with her first sip, the hot drink and Ruby's warm presence providing something that Weiss had sorely missed. She had closed her eyes and for just an instant she could almost imagine the two of them not in her room in Atlas but in their team dorm back at Beacon.
A touch at her hip brought her back and it was to see Ruby looking up at her. The plate was back on the table, the food all but gone, and Ruby had switched to the cookies. She had both of them but when Weiss regarded her, Ruby held out one to her. Weiss didn't have it in her to refuse, not with that bright smile that had become more enchanting than when she last remembered. She took the offered treat and Ruby slid a little to the side with the obvious intent of making room for Weiss to sit next to her.
Weiss hesitated but, soon, she took a seat on the soft cushion. Pleased, Ruby took a large bite out of the cookie, Weiss following suite, but it was the older girl that started eyeing up and then squinting at Ruby. Seated side-by-side, it let Weiss see that Ruby really had gotten taller.
Ruby was examining her too, Weiss only realizing it once she was done. Swallowing the remains of her cookie, Weiss asked, "What?"
Ruby didn't answer immediately, instead tilting her head and narrowing her eyes further. "Something was off to me and I feel like an idiot for not noticing it sooner."
"What is it?"
Ruby pointed to the right side of her own head. "Your ponytail. It's straighter now."
Weiss touched the same side but, as Ruby said, her ponytail wasn't there anymore. "Oh…yeah." She rubbed that area. "I guess it is."
"You look nice," Ruby complimented, taking in Weiss's dress and sapphires. "You really do look like a fancy princess now."
"…Thanks." It was all that Weiss could say, Ruby's observation breeding that sense of shame at having so blatant of an example of the Schnee name to be out in the open, completely exposed for her to see. Weiss couldn't fault Ruby for it because she knew she meant nothing by it, but her appearance was a more personal, more shameful, surrender to her father's control.
A weight fell upon her shoulder and Weiss stiffened. Damp hair touched the flesh of her cheek and neck, a tingle running down her spine when Ruby nuzzled against her.
"This is nice," Ruby murmured.
"Sorry." She didn't sound sorry, but she did sound tired. "I guess that nap wasn't really enough."
Weiss shifted, trying to get comfortable, but failed because of the reality of how Ruby was resting her head against her like this. "Do you want me to move?"
"No. I want…" Silver eyes slid up to Weiss, lids partly lowered. "Can I just stay like this for a little while? This really is nice."
There was no chance for an objection, not with that half-lidded look that was accompanied by a faint but somehow very alluring smile that made Weiss's heart melt. Seriously, how is it that the clumsy girl she met had become like this? "You…can."
The smile grew and Ruby let more of her weight fall against Weiss, the heiress feeling her heart skip when there came another nuzzle. She then stilled, leading Weiss to believe that she was done, but was proven completely wrong when the hands she had kept folded on her lap were separated when Ruby's slipped between them and seized one, her fingers threading through Weiss's.
"I missed you, Weiss."
The soft confession was followed by a gentle squeeze, but Weiss didn't have it in her to respond in the same physical manner, and when she replied she barely heard it herself. "I missed you too."
But Ruby heard it and it was enough for her, the girl still smiling as she fully settled herself against Weiss, their hands still interlocked.
They sat like that, long enough for Weiss to feel…uncomfortable, even if she was enjoying it. She did miss Ruby, and she was happy to see that she was okay and with her. At the same time though…
Why couldn't she escape this feeling of being inadequate? That she wasn't worthy of this?
Ruby didn't judge. She had shown nothing but happiness at seeing Weiss again. But, somehow, that was making this worse. So much so that Weiss would wish her partner would go to sleep and she could…leave her.
But Ruby didn't fall into another slumber. After every few moments there would come another subtle squeeze from her hand, another shift of her head to make sure that she was still awake and that she was touching Weiss.
The growing feeling of distress had Weiss nodding to the forgotten plate, "You went through that fast."
"Hm?" One eye popped open, Ruby staring at it. "Yeah." Her lips twisted into a mildly embarrassed expression. "I guess I was hungrier than I thought."
"Did you eat anything today?" Weiss asked. "When was the last time you slept?"
"Well, that ride into Atlas hadn't been what you would call smooth. We were hit by Grimm and we had to fight them off."
Weiss immediately thought of Ruby's lingering injuries, wondering if that was the fight that caused them. "Jaune, Nora, and Ren."
"They were with me and we made it out fine," Ruby assured. "It's just that it caused a bit of a delay and we got to Atlas a little later than expected. It became a bit more of a hectic day than any of us planned and it was the first time that any of us fought Grimm on an airship. Well, I guess that was really my second time if you want to count Vale except I really had to make sure that this airship didn't crash." She gave Weiss a wry grin. "It's hard by the way. You have to worry about you, your team, and the airship you're on. You really have to spread out to make sure you can defend wherever the flying Grimm may hit and they really don't want to get off once they're on."
Your team. As in RNJR. It wouldn't stop bothering her. "Where are they now?"
"Jaune and the others? They're staying on the smuggler ship for the night as the captain was really grateful for us protecting it."
"It's just you and them?"
Ruby nodded. "Yeah."
Weiss wondered if she should ask the next few questions that she wanted answers for as she knew it would endanger this moment of theirs. Unfortunately, there was no getting around that it had been so long since she last heard about them and Ruby was the only one who could inform her about what was going on. "Blake never came back?"
It pained her to see the gloom that clouded Ruby's features and that in itself was enough of an answer for Weiss. "No. I haven't seen her since Vale. I tried to look out for signs of her and hoped that I would come across her but I didn't."
Ask about one, she couldn't not ask about the other. "And…Yang?"
"She…" Ruby sighed and hung her head. "I don't know. Yang and I both went back to our home in Patch with our dad. She was upset about everything that happened with her arm and Blake. She spent the weeks after Beacon in her room, hardly speaking to me or anyone else. I…I left her behind when I went with JNPR."
Weiss similarly lowered her head, eyes squeezing shut as the truth hit: Team RWBY was gone. One member missing with her whereabouts unknown, another crippled physically and emotionally, and as for the third…
Didn't have what it took after all, Weiss scornfully admitted. But for their leader, it was a different story entirely and picking up on the details of what Ruby had said made Weiss want to hear what hadn't been said yet. "How long?"
Weiss leaned her shoulder away from Ruby's head so that she could properly face her. She needed to know. "How long has it been since you and JNPR started this? When did you leave Patch and decide to go to Mistral?"
Ruby frowned, disappointed at the separation, but soon became deep in thought as if trying to remember exactly when that was. "It wasn't long after Beacon. I was out for a couple of days and I spent a lot of time catching up and getting in contact with everyone. When JNPR and I officially set out as Team RNJR, it couldn't have been much more than three weeks after Beacon fell."
Three weeks. The revelation stunned Weiss. Three weeks.
Three weeks after Beacon. That was how long it took for Ruby to recover, to hear what had happened to everyone, and then party up with the three members of JNPR to start on a journey that had taken her across multiple kingdoms.
It's been ten months since the Grimm overran Beacon. A little over four weeks for every one for a total of forty weeks minus the three. Over two hundred and fifty-nine days in all.
And Weiss had spent every single one here in Atlas.
She didn't want to keep asking and hear for herself how badly she failed but her voice had taken a mind of its own. "Was it dangerous?"
"It wasn't all bad," Ruby replied, sidestepping the question. Weiss knew deception when she saw it and instantly recognized Ruby's smile as a product of it. "I've seen so many things and experienced so much. JNPR have always been our best friends so it was always nice being with them."
She couldn't possibly realize how bad that question stabbed into Weiss. "That wasn't what I asked," Weiss stated, and removed her hand from Ruby's grip. The action didn't hurt as much as when she saw how upset it made Ruby. "I'm asking you how dangerous it was. Everyone has and still do say how unsafe the world is. The fear and confusion that had started at Beacon and encompassed the world to excite the Grimm, not to mention the White Fang and whoever else was behind what happened. I want to know how bad it got for you."
Ruby was reluctant to answer, her smile gone and mouth shut.
"Tell me," Weiss insisted in a slow, demanding voice.
"I…" Ruby sat there, hands fisting into the wool of the robe. "Weiss, it's fine. We're alive and fine and I'm here with you. Can't we just leave it at that?"
"No." Weiss shook her head. "I can't just 'leave it at that', Ruby. Please, I need to know." I need to know how badly I failed you.
Her former leader remained unwilling but Weiss refused to be denied as she waited and tried to hold back the urge to grab and shake the girl to tell her. Thankfully it was unneeded as Ruby's shoulders slumped in defeat.
"I wish I could say anything else," Ruby began. "Anything to make it sound like it isn't as bad as people say, but I can't. If I have to be as honest as you want me to be…it's worse than anyone can possibly know, Weiss. There is the Grimm and I never knew just how bad they could be until I began traveling to Mistral. There's Grimm out there now that we've never seen before and they're more dangerous than anything that we've practiced against in Beacon. I've come across villages that they've attacked – some I was able to save, a few I couldn't – and it's difficult for other Hunters to be called on to defend them in time because of the CCT."
Weiss silently listened, letting Ruby go on. Now that she started, it didn't seem that Ruby could stop, almost as if she had needed to confide to someone about this.
"But it's not just the Grimm. There is the White Fang and we've come across them too, but there's something else. You remember Cinder, Emerald, and Mercury, right? They're part of something big and really bad and I still don't know just what that is and it scares me when I think about it. With all that's going on in the kingdoms and the Grimm and them too, there are times that I really don't know how I'm able to do this and I wonder just what I got myself and JNPR into. I….I just don't know sometimes, Weiss. I really don't."
Weiss watched it all – her partner's doubts, her fears, just what she had done and seen – until she had begun shrinking into the couch, afraid of what she had yet to see and what she would have to do when she did.
"Why, then?" Weiss asked. "Why did you decide to do this in the first place? There aren't just Hunters out there but many other people who are older and more experienced than you are who could've done this in your stead. You had Yang and your father at home so why didn't you stay with them?"
Ruby didn't seem to know how to answer that as she stared ahead, unfocused, to look back to when she had decided to take on this insane quest with JNPR. Eventually she managed to form a response. "Because I do think that I am someone who can do this. I do think about what I could've done instead such as staying home, but then I think about what happened at Beacon. You must've found out that Pyrrha died but I was there to see her die in front of my eyes, right on top of the tower. I had been just a few seconds too late and I was only able to watch when Cinder killed her.
After that...well, you were there. You must've seen it: a silver light that came from the top of the tower and froze that dragon right where it was."
Weiss hadn't just seen it; she had been saved by it. When she sent Ruby up to the tower it was up to her to deal with the Grimm that were not only left but had more spawning from that dragon. By then she had already fought so hard for so long, had been in danger of losing the rest of her strength, and then a blast of silver not only froze the lesser Grimm surrounding her but disintegrated them. She never got an answer as to what that had been.
She got one now, as Ruby revealed, "That was me. I released some kind of power inside me. When I came to in Patch, Qrow told me that it has something to do with my silver eyes and that my mom had the same power. Those who possess such power are destined to be warriors, he said. He didn't tell me to go to Mistral, but he did say that his investigations of who was responsible pointed to Haven. He wanted me to make the decision myself and when I thought of what happened and what could happen elsewhere…I couldn't say no. Even if I am afraid of what might happen and that I don't know just what I'm up against, I believe it is the right thing to do."
Weiss stared blankly at Ruby and then asked, "That's it? That's enough for you?"
Ruby came up with a weak smile. "It was always my dream to help make the world a better place. If I have even the smallest chance of being able to do so, then shouldn't I?"
Weiss didn't reply, letting a silence fall between them. Then without another word, she stood up and began walking to the door.
Ruby watched her, her smile slipping. "Weiss?"
"I need to check on your clothes."
Ruby's brows knitted with concern at how empty the heiress sounded. "Weiss?"
The fencer opened the door and didn't give Ruby so much as a glance back. "Stay here." She stepped out, Ruby sounding like she was about to say something but Weiss cut her off when she set the door between them.
With Ruby out of her sight, Weiss quickly put some distance between them but didn't even come close to the stairs before she wiped at her cheeks, her hand coming away wet. Then she was struck with the full weight of her disgrace.