Red Frills


A/N: This story started and was published primarily before Volume 4, so any canon events from Volume 4 and onward are not respected.


Chapter One


Dripping wet after her shower, Ruby felt around in the dark for her clothes on the floor. This was the first time since coming to Beacon that she had taken her evening shower with the lights off. For the past few weeks, she had to make do with just closing her eyes, since she still didn't feel familiar enough with the bathroom to navigate it by memory.

The room was dully illuminated only by the light that crept in under the door. She had kept it blocked off with her towel, but then she had to dry herself off. That's okay; it was still dark enough that she could hardly see.

Finally getting a hold of her pajamas, she stood up to put them on. She paused as a glint of light caught her eye. It was her eyes, reflected in the mirror. Silver. She smiled, rubbing the condensation off the glass. When she was little, she had disliked her eye colour. Almost everyone she knew had colourful, vibrant eyes. Her eye colour made her feel isolated and different compared to the other children from Patch. One day, after some boy at the playground made fun of her eyes, she ran home crying to Yang. Yang eventually managed to cheer her up by reading her a story about a man from Vacuo whose silver eyes supposedly granted him magical powers. In the story, the man stopped an entire pack of invading Beowolves dead in their tracks just by looking at them, saving his village from what would otherwise have been certain destruction.

Ruby had loved that story when she was small, and it still made its way into her dreams sometimes. But she eventually got over her dislike of her eyes when Yang told her that her mother had had the same silver eyes. Little Ruby only had vague memories of her mother, but after Yang showed her photographs Ruby recognised the warmth and love in her mother's eyes and decided from that day forth her eyes were something to be proud of.

Ruby blinked. Having been staring at her reflection for a few minutes, her eyes had adjusted to the darkness and she could make out the outline of her body. She shared her mother's figure, too. Turning slightly, she looked over her slender build and soft curves, her smooth skin. She often looked at her reflection this way, analyzing her feminine figure, wishing she would see something different...

"Rubes, you've been in there for twenty minutes!" Yang, her older sister, yelled at her through the door, knocking loudly. "Weiss needs to give herself a steam bath or something before her beauty rest."

"I didn't say that!" Weiss interjected. "I just want a shower like everybody else."

"Yeah, whatever. You can deal with this yourself, princess." Ruby heard a thud as Yang plopped herself on her bed.

Ruby was about to respond to all this when there came a softer knock at the door. Weiss.

"Are you okay in there, Ruby?" Weiss asked, with a just a hint of gentleness under her usual commanding tone of voice.

"Uh, yeah, I'm fine!" Ruby sputtered. Then she cringed; her voice was so squeaky sometimes. Ruby didn't want Weiss to worry. It had only been a few days ago that Blake had revealed her faunus heritage. Since then, Weiss had become much more nervous about starting conflicts, losing much of the abrasive demeanor she'd had in their first few weeks at Beacon.

Ruby sighed and pulled on her pajamas with characteristic speed. She opened the door quickly, but it stopped suddenly, slamming into Weiss' face and knocking her over.

"Ahh, Weiss! I'm sorry!" Ruby cried. She darted out of the bathroom and looked over her partner, who was clutching her nose and waving her hands about. "What's wrong, is your nose broken? Do you need to go to a hospital?"

Weiss shot her a deadly look. "I'll be fine," she said, nasally. She sat up and tentatively let go of her nose.

"Uh, I really didn't mean to do that, I'm sorry, do you want me to make you hot chocolate or something, I think the cafe is still open, I can't remember, do you take whipped cream, or was that Blake..." Ruby trailed off as Weiss leaned over and peered into the bathroom.

"What the heck, why did you have the lights off in there?" Weiss asked.

"Umm... to save Dust of course!" Ruby scratched her head.

"Don't bother," Yang piped in, her voice muffled by her pillow. "Ruby has been doing that since she was, like, eleven or something. I've never understood why. Just another weird thing about my li'l sis."

Blake stretched out on her bed. "It's not weird, I do that too."

"Yeah, but you should have night vision, shouldn't you?" Weiss frowned. "Ruby is the clumsiest thing in the dark. You think you're sneaky, but I can hear you every time you trip over my bag in the night-time when you get out of bed to use the bathroom."

Ruby blushed. "Oh.." she said awkwardly. She glanced at the clock. "Hey, it's getting late, we should all get some rest before the exam tomorrow!"

"Tomorrow is Saturday, you dolt," Weiss sighed. "What is up with you?"

"Tomorrow is Saturday?" Yang asked, bolting up. "Hey, you're right! What am I doing sleeping this early on a weekend."

"Eleven is not that early," said Ruby cautiously.

"Oh man, Rubes, we can play more Huntsman: Fighter!" Yang exclaimed.

Ruby grinned. "You're on, sis." She marched over to the console in the corner and began setting the game up.

"Oh, no," Weiss groaned. "You two are not keeping us up again with that racket. Even though it is a weekend, our exam is on Monday and it would be irresponsible to stay up late. We need to study tomorrow!"

Blake shrugged. "Let them play their game. It's been a long week." She was referring to the conflicts they'd faced as a team; how she ran from the rest of the team after admitting her involvement with the White Fang; their fight with Roman Torchwick, the Dust thief.

Weiss sighed. "Fine. But," she whirled, pointing at Ruby, "you slammed a door into me, so if you want to play with your sister you can play outside," she wheeled her arm to point at the door, "in the lounge. While I sleep. I'm too tired to listen to you guys argue about which one of those video game characters has the nicest muscles or whatever."

Ruby blushed. "Yang is the one who-" but Weiss blinked with so much apathy that she felt herself cut off.

"You are such a boy, Ruby," Weiss shook her head.

Yang wrapped her arm around her sister's shoulder. "Yeah, she's always been a bit of a tomboy." Ruby smiled. "But she's still my adorable little sister," she said, leaning closer and ruffling her hair.

"Okay, Yang, you can shut up now," Ruby said quickly, embarrased. "Let's fight. Battle of the Titans, okay? I call dibs on Grey."

Yang rolled her eyes. "You always play as Grey, you know he'll never beat Burgundy."

Ruby picked up the console and carried it to the door, Weiss eyeing her with her arms crossed. "I was reading some strategy guides on the CCT actually, and apparently -" Ruby was cut off, again.

"You read a strategy guide?" Yang's jaw had dropped. "That ruins the fun! The whole point was to come up with clever strategies ourselves."

Weiss coughed pointedly. Yang followed Ruby out the door.

"Whatever, even with your strategy guide you know I'll still win," Yang continued.

Ruby laughed. "We'll see about that!"


Ruby and Yang were still playing boisterously in the lounge when Jaune Arc walked in.

"What are you guys doing?" he asked, sleepily.

It was a few seconds before Yang replied; the sisters were staring furiously at the screen. Then the sounds from the game stopped and bright flashing text popped up on the screen, causing Yang to stand up and pump her fist into the air.

"Ahh nothin' much, I'm just owning my sister," Yang exclaimed, then laughed ominously. Ruby grumbled.

"Oh, hey, is this the newest Huntsman game?" Jaune asked.

Ruby nodded emphatically. "Yep, it has a whole new engine this time, and a ton of new characters, it's really cool."

Jaune sat down cross-legged next to her. "Can I try?" he asked, smiling.

Ruby frowned, looking at her sister. "Well... If we play three more matches I'll have lost to Yang playing as every possible character." Jaune looked confused. "Uh, I mean, she'll have beat me playing as every possible character. Wait, no that's still ambiguous. Um..."

"Meh, we can finish this another night, Rubles." Yang stretched and ruffled her sister's hair, looking at the clock. "Night's still young. I'm going to go see what Coco's up to. Knock yourself out, Jaune."

Ruby passed him Yang's controller. Jaune grinned.

"Controls are the same as in the last one, basically. Did you play last year's version?"

He shook his head. "Nahh, the one I played with my sisters was like, gosh, fifteen years old or something."

Ruby whistled. "Woah, man, that must have been the first one ever."

"Hmm, I think it was the second. But I couldn't be sure, that part of the title on the cartridge was coloured over in crayon by my youngest sister when she was five."

She laughed. "Okay, well, the controls are probably pretty different then. Here, let me give you a quick tutorial. First pick your character"

He glanced up at the screen. "What am I looking at? What's this grid on the screen?"

Ruby waved her arms in front of his eyes. "Uh, duh, those are all the characters, doofus."

Jaune rubbed his eyes. "What, there are, like, fifty of them! How do I choose?"

Ruby shrugged. "What's your favourite colour?"

Jaune nodded and moved his cursor on the screen toward the yellow-hued section of the characters. "'Chartreuse'? Why are they all named after colours now?"

"Oh, a few years ago they got sued by some Huntress, umm, oh yeah it was the headmaster of Haven I think, anyway she didn't like being in the game I guess. So they swapped out the names for colours and changed the character designs very subtly."

"Wait, the characters are based on real people?" Jaune asked. "I always thought they were made up!"

Ruby laughed. "No way, doofus. Well, some of them are based on old legends, like Grey here." Ruby selected her favourite character. "He's really cool."

A tall, muscular man wearing a rather skimpy suit of armour popped up on the screen.

"They say that he could strike fear into the heart of a Goliath with just a single look. He's considered to be the first ever Huntsman - if you believe the legends, of course." Ruby leaned back, putting her arms behind her, and smiled. "As a kid I knew I wanted to grow up to become a Huntsman just like him."

"Ruby, you know it's 'Huntress' for girls, right." Jaune laughed.

She frowned. "Of course! That's what I meant. I've always wanted to be a Huntress. Ever since I was a little girl." An uncertain silence followed. Ruby didn't want to meet his eyes.

But she felt his deep blue eyes investigating her anyway.

"Anyway," Ruby continued, hoping Jaune wouldn't read into that. "I wish he were real."

Jaune smirked, breaking the tension. "Why, so you could marry him?"

Ruby snorted. "Peh. Nah. There'd be a line up!"

"A line up?"

"Yeah, he'd have a ton of fans," she smiled wryly.

"But he's not even a real person..."

"He's got nice eyes though."

Jaune frowned. "My mom says it's bad luck to marry someone with the same eye colour. Although come to think, maybe she made that up; my parents both have blue eyes."

Ruby sighed wistfully. "Dude, I think if I got married to him I would not consider myself unlucky."

"Yeah, heh." Jaune scrolled over some other characters, into the red section. "'Carmine.' Who's she? She's kinda hot. I'd marry her!"

Ruby looked up at the screen. "Uhh, Jaune..."

Jaune's eyes widened. He looked at Ruby, then back to the screen. He opened his mouth to speak but couldn't quite figure out what to say.

Ruby was silent for a few seconds. Then they both burst out laughing. Ruby rolled off the couch onto the floor, laughing so hard.

"Jaune, oh my gosh. That's-"

"No way." Jaune exclaimed. "I mean, I knew she was famous but I guess I didn't realize..." he trailed off, blushing now. "I mean, that is, that is who I think it is right?"

"Yep! That's Pyrrha."

Jaune looked at his teammate, who was on the screen, striking a dramatic pose with her javelin and shield. The text said they were called "Mido" and "Aqua," parodying Pyrrha's similarly-named weapons.

Jaune grinned wolfishly. "I've always wanted to try using these." He hit the select button on his controller and the match began.


After losing to Ruby six to one (she went easy on him for the first match), Jaune put down the controller. "Okay, I think that's it, there's no way I can beat you."

Ruby huffed. "Lame."

Jaune glanced up at the clock. 2 AM. "I should go sleep. I've got to practice with my team tomorrow."

Ruby frowned. "How's that going?"

"Practice? Hmm, okay, I guess. I mean," Jaune added after seeing Ruby's pointed stare, "I guess I still have a ways to go."

Ruby smiled and gave him a soft punch on the shoulder. "You'll get there, Jaune."

They sat there in silence for a minute. It had started to rain moderately, and the sound of the rain against the window was strangely comforting in the night time. The room was dark, their faces lit up by their game on the screen in front of them. Jaune lay back, resting his head against the foot of the couch behind him. He suddenly looked so tired. His eyes wandered slowly about the room, finally meeting his friend's.

"Ruby I'm... I'm not really a fighter."

"What do you mean?"

"I've been practicing so much but," Jaune bit his lip. "But I'm no match. I can't keep up with my teammates; they can do incredible things. Those special moves Pyrrha has in Huntsman? They're nothing compared to what she can do in real life. And I've got nothing." A tear started to form in Jaune's eye as his voice broke.

Ruby felt uncomfortable and looked away. She didn't really know how to handle these sort of situations; she wasn't very good at expressing emotions. She had to put up with these kinds of close, open conversations with her teammates, but not from Jaune. Jaune was her buddy, her neighbour, somebody she joked around with and sometimes went to for advice. Somebody she played videogames with. But she didn't know how to console him.

"Uh, well," she said, trying to avoid eye contact. "I mean, it's not really Pyrhha in the game, her semblance is polarity and Carmine's semblance is fire. I'm pretty sure the game designers don't even know what Pyrrha's semblance is, it's not very well-known." She glanced at Jaune. Jaune didn't look very comforted by this. "Uh, I think they just thought it was fire because, you know, her name sounds kind of... like fire..." she trailed off.

Jaune sat up. "It's okay, thanks for trying Ruby."

Ruby got desperate. "Okay forget the game! Look. Your teammates have all spent a long time honing their skills so of course they're really good. They know their limits and strengths through and through. They have their own unique fighting style, just like those game characters. And, uh, you can be like one of them too, but right now you don't have anything that makes you special."

Ruby gulped. She regretted what she said as soon as she said it. Jaune opened his mouth to cut Ruby off, but she kept going. "What I mean is, you just haven't found yourself yet."

Jaune sighed. "I know I haven't discovered my semblance yet, but-"

"Not your semblance, doofus. You just haven't figured out your own strengths yet. Look at Pyrrha; she knew from a young age she had a strong arm and could throw. So she took up javelin as a child and branched out from there."

Her friend looked puzzled. "How did you know that?" he asked

"I had to do a project on her at Signal... I read her biography." Ruby blushed.

"She has a biography?"

"Yeah, but it's terrible, actually now that I've gotten to know her I don't think anything in it was very accurate."

"Oh..." Jaune shook his head, "she's really a celebrity isn't she. Wow. How could I possibly compete with that?"

Ruby jumped up and started pacing. "Okay, forget her for a moment. Look at Ren, he does all that meditation stuff, right?"

Jaune nodded. "At the worst times too, it's like, one minute I'm talking to him about Weiss and the next minute his eyes are closed and he's in the lotus position and he's a a complete brick wall. I think he thinks I won't notice because he's quiet anyway, but it's pretty obvious he's just not interested in g-"

"Why were you talking to Ren about Weiss?" Ruby asked, quizically.

"Ahh! Forget that" Jaune blushed. "We were talking about somebody else. I think."

Ruby's eyes narrowed. "Okay... Well anyway, whenever I've seen him meditating, he looks very calm and focussed. Sometimes he does it up on the big tree in the quad, resting on a branch. He never opens his eyes. Even when a gust of wind comes along, he can stay so still it's like the wind passes right through him. You have to be more like him, Jaune."

Jaune looked confused. Ruby wasn't doing a good job of this. "You're saying I need better balance?"

Ruby threw her hands up. "No! Well, probably that too. Why does he meditate?"

"Because he's sleepy?" Jaune asked.

"Doofus. He meditates to keep in touch with himself."

"But what does that have to do with fighting?"

Ruby groaned. "He knows himself so well, he can control his body perfectly. His body and mind do not distract him, so he's free to listen and react to the world around him. Like when he's up in the tree, he can counterbalance against the wind in exactly the right way. Or when he's in a fight, he can sense his enemy is there even when he can't see it."

"How do you know all this about Ren anyway?" Jaune asked.

Ruby stopped pacing and looked down at the carpeted floor sheepishly. "I've been taking meditation lessons with him."

"You? You've been doing meditation?" Jaune laughed. "It's hard to imagine. You've got to be the noisiest, most talkative person I know! Other than Nora of course." Jaune looked thoughtful. "Actually you have been quieter lately, is that Ren's doing?"

"I guess," Ruby looked unsure. "Anyway, you just have to get to know yourself a little better. You'll see. You'll find out Jaune Arc is a nice guy." She started pacing again, but then Jaune stood up and stopped her.

"Thanks. That's kind of you. But honestly, I just need more practice. I'll catch up eventually." Jaune breathed out. "Eventually."

Suddenly, she grinned and jumped up and down. "Alright, let's practice then!"

Jaune rolled his eyes. "No, I think I've had enough Huntsman for one night."

Ruby pushed him. "Not Huntsman, silly. I mean, let's practice for real."

"Huh?"

She smiled mischievously. "You, me, at the quad, by the tree, five minutes from now. Let me go get Crescent Rose and change out of these PJs."

Ruby ran off back to her dorm room. She looked back. Jaune blinked slowly. "You do know it's raining out, right?" she heard Jaune ask quietly.

"So what?" she called back. "It'll be fun!"


As stealthily as she could, Ruby swiped her scroll to unlock the door to her room, then pushed it open gently. It didn't creak, so she tip-toed into the dark room. Yang was still out, but the other two seemed to be sleeping. Carefully, she made her way to her bed and opened her drawers. She looked down at Weiss' sleeping form next to her, and listened to her snoring. Definitely asleep, Ruby thought. There's no way the Ice Queen would allow herself to snore if she were just pretending.

Ruby furrowed her brow. Why would she have any reason to think her teammates were pretending to sleep, anyway? She looked over at Blake. If anybody, Blake would have woken up at Ruby's intrusion into the room, not Weiss. Blake had heightened faunus senses. And four ears. Ruby briefly wondered if everything sounded twice as loud to her. She suppressed a laugh.

Fumbling about for her clothes, she grabbed what felt like her skirt, corset, cloak, and the rest of her familiar combat attire. Holding them all, she closed her drawers and carefully treaded back to the door. She hadn't even taken a single step when she tripped over Weiss' bag.

Foom, everything tumbled out of her arms as she fell down onto the floor, landing with a thud.

"What time is it?" Weiss grumbled. "Does that clock say 2 AM? It had better not be 2 AM..."

"It's 2 AM," Blake confirmed, sitting up. "Ruby, where's Yang?"

Ruby groaned and rolled over in the pile of clothes she had just made. "She said something about Coco."

Blake coughed and stretched on her bed. "Do you mean hot chocolate or Coco Adel?"

"Oh. Yeah I think she meant the student, not the drink. She said she was going to see what Coco was up to, I think."

"Any reason why?"

"Hmm... she said 'the night's still young.'"

Blake lay back down. "Huh. This is the third time she's snuck off at night since we started at Beacon."

"It is?" Weiss asked. Ruby didn't remember any other time, either.

Blake laughed softly. "Yeah, you two just sleep through everything, you know that?"

"What else have we slept through?" Weiss asked, curious.

"Well there was that one time that you were asleep when... actually, I promised not to tell."

"What?" Weiss demanded. "Tell me, you can't leave it like that!"

"Sorry, a promise is a promise."

"Ugh, I'm too tired to press you about it now. I will find out, whatever it was."

Ruby gathered up her stuff and headed over to the door.

"Ruby! Are you leaving again? Why don't you sleep?" Weiss asked.

"I'm going to go fight Jaune."

"What? Why? Can't your video games wait until morning?"

"No I mean I'm really going to fight Jaune."

"Well whatever, just don't wake us up when you come back."

"Good luck with that," Blake said. "Nobody can enter this room without me noticing."

Ruby stood there for a few seconds waiting for any more words from her teammates. But they stayed quiet. She was about to leave, but something popped into her head.

"You must never get much rest then," said Ruby. "Maybe you should put in earplugs."

Blake looked terrified at the thought. As terrified as she could while lazily curled up in a ball on her bed with her eyes closed. "Why would I do that? Somebody could sneak up on me then."

Weiss piped in, "Really she's just sad because they don't make earplugs for people with kitten ears."

Blake rolled over. "Sure, Ice Queen. You go on thinking that."

"And Ruby," Weiss started, "you are going to have make this up to me."

"Make what up to you?" Ruby asked.

"Waking me up at such an ungodly hour. I'll get bags in my eyes. Anyway, on Monday, after the exams, let's go shopping. We can get you some actual clothes. Or a dress for the dance next weekend."

Ruby flushed. The last thing she wanted was to try on frilly dresses. "Not a chance!" she squeaked, and ran out of the dorm room.


The next place Ruby went was down to the locker rooms in the basement. This is where she kept her sweetheart, Crescent Rose. The room was brightly lit by old-style electric Dust lights. The way they flickered on and off rapidly, just faster than the eye could see, they gave her a headache. She felt a bit dizzy, partly because of the lights but mostly because of the time of night.

She first looked around to make sure nobody was watching, then she firmly shut her eyes and changed out of her pajamas and into her combat attire. It took her a few minutes of fumbling about blindly and tripping over herself. She finally opened her eyes when she had everything on but her corset, so she could do up the laces more quickly.

Opening her locker, she gently pulled out her weapon and ran her hands over it. She loved this thing to death. She fondly remembered her twelfth summer, when she built it with her uncle Qrow. Qrow had told her father, Taiyang, that Ruby had finally found her first love, causing Ruby to blush and try to explain. But her father, fearing for the worst, asked Yang if she'd ever given Ruby "the talk." This prompted Yang to immediately start a quick, condensed version on the spot, but when she realized that Qrow had been referring to Crescent Rose, she changed it into a talk about what kinds of greases, oils, and cleaning fluids would be the best 'protection' for her weapon. Litte Ruby was clueless as to why her family found this so funny. They even started hollering at Yang's perfectly accurate description of lubricating the shaft of the rifle.

Ruby's smile faded as she remembered when Yang and Tai gave her the actual "talk" later on that summer. Learning about those things, the differences between boys and girls, the changes her body was about to go through... she cried for days after that. But she wasn't able to explain to her family why. She couldn't even fully understand it herself. That summer was just a little less joyful after that day than it could have been.

She sighed as she looked down at herself clad in combat apparel. She lazily puffed out her skirt, thinking of how her beautiful her mother looked in the photographs wearing the same outfit. Then she shook her head and nodded. "Jaune."


"Jaune!" Ruby called down from the tree above her friend. It was a beautiful cherry tree, but since it was autumn it wasn't in bloom.

"Ahh, Ruby, how did you get up there?" Jaune cried. It was cold, and he looked very wet in the rain. His jeans were getting soaked.

She hopped down from her perch, swinging on a branch on the way. "Ren showed me a quick way up."

"Uh-huh... so was your team mad at you for waking them up?

"What makes you think I woke them up?"

"I said before, you are the noisiest person I know other than Nora."

"Oi, I can be quiet when I want to be," Ruby exclaimed. "Quiet as a fox." She struck her best fox-like pose. Jaune had no idea what that was supposed to be.

"R-Right... well my team was sleeping pretty soundly. I mean, they always do."

"Even Ren?" Ruby asked.

"Yep, he sleeps deeper even than Nora."

Ruby's mouth turned slightly sideways. "So much for being alert and tuned into his surroundings, I guess."

Jaune laughed. "Nah, I think he'd wake up if somebody threatening tried to sneak up on him. He was telling me about how he can sense intent in somebody's aura, even when sleeping."

Ruby nodded. "That's our next lesson, actually."

"Sleeping?"

"No, no, aura sensing. He's not sure I'm ready for it, though."

Jaune frowned. "Why not?"

"Oh you know, that being-in-tune-with-yourself stuff I was talking about earlier."

"You seem pretty in-tune with yourself to me, Ruby! You should tell him about how you snuck into your room without waking your teammates. That's impressive! Especially Blake, she seems really alert to me."

"Oh, did I say I didn't wake them up?" Ruby asked. "Nope, I did. I tripped and fell. They both woke up. I mean, Blake was probably awake already, but Weiss gave me a lecture."

"A lecture?"

"Well... Okay, not a lecture. She said she was going to take me clothes shopping."

"That doesn't sound so bad."

Ruby looked uncomfortable. "Eh. I don't really do that stuff."

"No?" Jaune looked her up and down. "You have a nice - what did you call it? - combat skirt. Yeah. You have good fashion sense."

Ruby made a face. "Sure, whatever. At least you won't have to wear a dress to the dance next week. Be glad Weiss isn't taking you shopping."

Jaune chuckled. Then he looked serious. "Hey, um, Ruby. Do you think I have a chance with Weiss?"

Ruby blinked. "A chance?"

"Like. Do you think she'd go out with me to the dance?"

She frowned. "Uhh..." Jaune didn't really seem like he'd be Weiss' type to her. Ruby assumed Weiss was into wealthy, muscular men with good manners and lots of power. Although maybe she only thought that because she assumed the upper class were all into that sort of thing. She didn't really know what Weiss' type was, come to think. They'd never talked about boys in all the time they'd spent at Beacon.

Jaune looked hopeful.

"Sure!" Ruby said, not totally convinced.

"Oh, great," said Jaune, relieved. "Except... I don't really know how to ask a girl out."

"You've never asked someone out before?" said Ruby, surprised. She smiled, trying to picture it happening.

"Not exactly, no. But I thought, well," Jaune paused. "I thought maybe, since you're a girl, you'd know what -"

"No." Ruby cut him off. Her smile faded instantly. "I wouldn't. Sorry."

"Really?" Jaune asked, stunned. "No advice at all? I thought all girls would -"

Ruby threw her hands up in the air. "Stop that!" she screamed.

"Stop what?"

"Saying... ugh. Let's just fight, okay?"

"W-Wait, I want to know what I said that offended you first. Is it because we're talking about your partner?"

Ruby growled. "Okay, honestly, really, could you just not talk to me like I'm..." she put her hand to her head, trying to figure out what she wanted to say. "Look, I'm your friend, right?" Jaune nodded. "Your buddy, yeah?" Jaune nodded again. "Great, so let's just leave it at that. I like 'friend.' I like 'buddy.'"

"Woah, wait up a minute Ruby. It's not like I'm asking you out. We're just friends." He gulped as Ruby approached him menacingly, "Just friends, nothing more than that."

Ruby shoved him against the tree. Not hard. Just a little angry. "Then keep treating me like that."

"Am I not?" Jaune asked, confused. He was shivering a little.

"You're treating me like I'm a, I'm a..." Ruby backed off from him. "Like I'm a girl."

"But you are a girl."

"That's not what I meant, I mean. You know how you and Ren are buddies?"

"Kind of. Well, really, I'm more buddy-buddy with Nora actually."

Ruby shook her head. "Okay, whatever. All I mean is, just treat me like any of your other friends. Don't treat me differently because of... that," she snarled.

"I don't! Ruby I'm sorry, I honestly don't know why you're so angry at me. Please, tell me what I did wrong," Jaune pleaded.

Ruby put her hand to her head. She wasn't even sure what had triggered the reaction. But she'd been feeling this way a lot lately; sometimes, people would say something innocuous and it made her think of something she found unpleasant.

"Just, don't ask me about girl stuff, okay? Like clothes and things. Or the lowdown or whatever on how to ask one out."

"Uh, okay, sure. Whatever you say, Ruby!" Jaune said shakily. He smiled weakly. "Maybe we should just go in? I'm sorry I upset you."

"I'm fine!" Ruby shouted. But she wasn't fine. She closed her eyes and tried to recall what Ren had taught her about regaining control of herself. She tried to summon the emptiness within her, as he'd instructed. But she just felt worried. She was anxious that Jaune saw her differently just because of the way she was. She felt like everybody did, and there was nothing she could do about it.

It was completely unreasonable, of course. She knew there was nothing wrong with her, really. She'd been told in school countless times; it doesn't matter how your body is shaped, it's your personality that makes you who you are. No honest person would ever judge you for the way you looked.

But that didn't seem to apply to the faunus, did it? The same teachers who taught that boys and girls were created equal also said terrible things about the faunus, that they're filthy and good for nothing and should be put in labour camps. Her family had always told her not to listen to what they said about the faunus in school. But how could she accept one of these as true and one as false?

Ruby felt her blood start to boil, but she tried to force herself to calm down and think. Don't get distracted, came Ren's voice. Find yourself. Hold onto yourself.

Ruby shook her head. She could hear Jaune saying something but she ignored it, turning her senses inward, looking for herself.

She tried to picture herself. But she couldn't. So she thought of her mother. Those beautiful eyes. She thought of her friends. Blake. Reading. Weiss. Shopping.

That thought. That thought was unpleasant. Her instinct was to shy away, but she remembered Ren's advice and dug into it instead. Why was shopping for dresses for the dance so bad? Weiss, Blake, and even Yang all were planning on wearing dresses and they had no problem with it. They were looking forward to it even. Why wasn't she? Why was she the only one in the world who just didn't-

-fit into her skin-

She felt warm. Jaune had his arms around her. It was raining. She still hadn't found herself. There were tears on her face. She wiped them off. She didn't want Jaune to see.

She snapped open her eyes and pushed him away and twirled her scythe. Jaune put on a brave face.

"Let's fight."