Jaune tentatively opened the door to his room. He was soaking wet, covered in mud, and dripping everywhere. In four hours he'd be practicing with his team, and he needed to get some sleep. What on Remnant had he been thinking, sparring with Ruby like that?
His teammates were all where he'd left them. He smiled. None of them had woken up at his entrance.
He looked at his bed. It was messy, as he'd left it, but also not covered in mud. He looked at his clothes. Covered in mud. Torn in places from Crescent Rose's onslaught.
His teammates were sleeping, and the bathroom door had been left open.
He cracked his knuckles contently, realizing he'd finally be the one to get the first shower of the day.
Dull electric Dust lighting. The dank smell of black mold, sweat, soap, and bleach; layers built up over the years, each pungent in its own different way, each fighting to be more noticeable, more salient than the others.
This was the shower room adjoined to the first-years' locker room. It was a headache and Ruby had always made a purpose of avoiding it, preferring to sneak back to her dorm for privacy and comfort instead. But Weiss and Blake were doubtless still sleeping and she didn't want to disturb them again. Weiss would probably rope her into something else equally awful as trying on clothes, like picking tablecloths for the dance next weekend or something. Fortunately the shower room was empty, so maybe it wouldn't be that bad.
So Ruby cautiously stepped over the muddy grating in the floor and made her way to the farthest shower stall from the door. Unlike the private shower in her dorm, she had no idea who else might have used this stall last. She eyed the floor of the stall. It looked clean, but how often did they likely clean this place? She sniffed. The smell of bleach was overpowering. Maybe recently, then.
Another thing different about this shower room was that it didn't have a light switch. There was a panel on the wall which looked like it might have held a switch, but it was locked up. Ruby sighed. It didn't really matter; she was probably better off with the lights on anyway, since she didn't want to stumble about blindly in here.
She put down her pajamas on the bench next to her. She pulled off her boots and took off her cloak and hung it on the wall. Then she undid her corset, and then slid off her skirt and -
- her eyes were open -
- how could she have forgotten to -
Her gasp caught in her throat. She closed her eyes and quickly finished stripping down. Then she hopped into the shower and felt around for the faucet but she couldn't find it so she opened her eyes and -
- careful not to look -
- grabbed it and turned it as hot as it would go and then shut her eyes again. The wet steam immediately started welling up around her. It was hot and outside it had been cold and the water hurt for a bit against her skin. She didn't care.
Leaning back against the ceramic wall of the shower stall, she slid down until she was almost sitting. But with her eyes closed all she could see was what she had just seen, so she opened them and planted her stare at the showerhead above and opposite her.
Every now and then a droplet of hot water would land in her eye and she'd blink, but she kept her gaze glued firmly above her.
"What is wrong with me?" she wondered aloud. She reached with her arm out and upward, stretching out her hand. Then she brought it down against her head, smacking the base of her palm into her forehead.
She beat her hand against her head a few more times.
I've got to tell somebody, she thought. Anybody. Yang. Jaune. Blake. But the thought of admitting to anybody about how she felt was paralyzing. They'd think she was weird.
Everyone already thinks I'm weird, though, she thought. And yet people like me. For some reason. She was the quirky, clueless, happy-go-lucky girl everyone could get along with. But this, she thought. This was too weird.
She sighed, frustrated. It was a joke to think she could go on like this pretending like nothing was wrong. Pretending like these feelings would eventually go away. It had been four years and they hadn't gone away.
She laughed, sadly. Sniffled. And then it wasn't a laugh anymore. She couldn't keep the tears back. She slammed her right hand over her mouth; somebody else could come in here, she didn't want to explain why she was crying. At least nobody would be able to tell the tears from the water.
Of course, she knew what was wrong. She kept pretending she didn't but she did.
So what? So what! There was nothing she could do about it. She couldn't change it. There was nobody else on the whole of Remnant who was like her. It didn't even make sense; why would anybody think the thoughts she was thinking?
Maybe this is all a dream, she decided. Maybe one day I'll just wake up and...
Her mother flashed into her mind. Summer. So beautiful, so warm...
No. She shook her head. This was not a kind world.
She would not wake up from this.
Lie Ren's eyes snapped open. His morning routine had started.
Calmly, he withdrew the covers from his bed and rotated his body to a sitting position.
As usual: Stretch. Stand. Reach down. Touch toes. Straighten up. Yawn.
Even the yawn was part of his routine.
Quietly, he made his bed. Glancing around, he checked that all of his teammates were still sleeping. Pyrrha, Jaune, Nora... He smiled. While he loved his best friend dearly, she could certainly push his boundaries sometimes. That was part of why he liked to get up early; after being noisily woken up by Nora so many times in their first week he needed some time to himself.
He pulled off the pants he slept in and changed into a green T-shirt and sweats. Then he opened the door gently and left the room, closing it behind him.
Walking softly down the hall, he opened his senses to the world around him. The muffled snores of his classmates sleeping. The dewiness of the air from the storm last night. The echoes of his feet as he descended the stairwell to the cafe. As he opened the door on the ground floor level, he could hear some other early-riser like him must have been taking a shower in the basement.
He grabbed a cup and made himself some hot chocolate. It was just a simple cocoa-powder mix in boiling water but he'd integrated it into his morning routine. Neither the tea nor coffee here were up to par. That made sense; the coffee was imported here from Mistral, and somehow the rich flavour just didn't seem to survive the trip.
Resting the cup in his palm and sipping it hesitantly - hot, hot - he walked past the rows of tables to the front door of the cafe.
Birds chirping, wet grass, the lazy fingers of the sun caressed the sky. The quad was a serene place and it held a special place in his heart. He smiled. Everything was as it should be.
Almost. He blinked.
He stopped in front of his favourite tree.
What was his favourite tree. It was now shoulder-height.
He breathed in, and out. His nose twitched. Someone had desecrated his special spot. Why.
He knelt down next to the tree and placed his hands on it, closing his eyes. He felt for any residual aura, but nothing remained in the empty husk of the tree. He sighed, and placed his head against the tree in respect.
It was generally assumed that trees did not have auras, but Ren believed they did, just very weak ones. He could feel them, especially in the old trees, and they changed with the seasons, just a bit.
He stood up and backed away from what was left of the tree, pondering. Ruby had asked him to teach her aura-sensing. She had some deep inner conflict, he could tell that right from their first lesson, but she was still a gentle, simple soul. She needed something to stay grounded, something to keep her mind occupied. Perhaps he would give her the task of finding the aura in a tree.
He nodded, liking the idea more. Ruby was a sensitive person. She would be able to feel the aura in a tree for sure. She had the capacity to care about anything, even trees.
As for the cherry tree... Ren looked over the husk sadly. He'd find out what happened to it eventually.
Ruby pulled up her pajama bottoms, jumping up to get them on all the way, and then stretched. Fully dressed. She smiled weakly.
Her eyes were still red, but the feeling of helplessness and frustration had passed. She shook her head; she was just being silly. There was nothing wrong, she nodded.
She breathed out; her breath caught a couple times. Nothing wrong. Just needed a few minutes to get it together. She sat down on the bench and rested her head in her hands for a few minutes. Then, remembering her Crescent Rose, she picked up her sweetheart and looked her over. Crusted in mud. That would wash off.
What wouldn't wash off were the two gashes in it where Crocea Mors had buried itself the night before, one on the handle and one on the blade. The blade just needed a bit of reforging, nothing some elbow grease couldn't handle. She was more worried about the handle. There were some mechanisms that might have been disrupted by the shield. She ran her hands along the bent metal, feeling the damage. She couldn't tell for sure, but she would have to inspect it more closely in the machine shop later.
Her fingers lightly traced the contours of the gun, feeling the metalwork she and uncle Qrow had designed. She'd made many modifications since that summer they had built it together, but at its heart, she could feel that Crescent Rose was still made of the love that she and Qrow had put into it. Metal, gears, and affection.
Moving gently upward, her fingers slipped onto the cold blade and winded their way to its edge. It was dusty and the metal was fraying; it had been months since she'd last polished and sharpened it. Pushing lightly at first, then harder, it didn't even draw blood. She shook her head. It was definitely time for some repairs. And maybe some upgrades. She would need figure something out to counter Jaune or anyone else pulling that stunt again. Maybe some bulkier plating or rubber coating on its outside edge to prevent it from lodging into any more trees in the future.
With affection in her eyes she crouched down and gently folded it up from its scythe form into its bulky but compact storage mode. Crescent Rose would never really be completely finished; there would always be some new failsafe to include, some new feature it needed, or something weighing it down that would have to be scrapped. It grew and changed alongside her. She poured her soul into improving it and shaping it as she wanted, and in some ways it could almost fill the hole in her heart.
She smiled wondering what kind of modifications she would give herself if she were made of metal and gears like Crescent Rose was. Probably nothing Yang would approve of. Maybe her eyes could use a laser scope. Or perhaps she would give herself rocket-powered arms, and a fold-out sword. If she could only do to herself what she could do to her scythe, maybe she wouldn't have to have these difficult feelings.
Gathering up her muddy things and bringing them out into the locker room, she thought she heard somebody come in. She knew some students liked to wake up early, but she was still surprised she'd encounter anyone. Looking up at the clock, she saw she'd been in the shower for the better part of an hour.
She froze. Her sister was stuffing Ember Celica back into her locker. She looked tired.
"Oh, Yang! Hi. Did you ever find your friend?"
Yang blinked, confused for a second. "Coco? No, turns out she and her team are out posted on the mission along with all the other second-years."
Ruby nodded. "Okay. Well, I'm going to go do some laundry, and then maybe fix up Crescent Rose. Jaune did a number on it last night." Her sister raised an eyebrow. "Glad to see you're okay. Did you stay up all night?"
Yang shrugged. "Yeah. Looks like you had a rough night though," she said, looking at her muddy and scratched-up combat equipment.
"Nah, it was fun," Ruby smiled. "Maybe you should go get some sleep, sis? You look pretty tired."
Ruby frowned. Her sister didn't seem as energetic as she normally did. She wasn't meeting her eyes.
Ruby moved toward her sister, putting her hand on Yang's shoulder. "Are you okay?" she said, gazing into her diverted eyes.
Yang didn't respond for a moment. Then she quickly stuttered, "Wha- oh, yeah! I'm fine!" she grinned, meeting her eyes, "Sorry, just... zoned out for a sec."
Ruby gave her a skeptical but unaccusing glare.
"How about you?" Yang leaned over her. "Your eyes look red. Are you coming down with something?"
Ruby shook her head slowly. "N-no, I don't think so."
Yang stepped back and rubbed her chin. "Hm. Okay, well, let me know if you start getting congested. We don't want a repeat of the Great Autumn of Sniffles, now do we?"
She groaned. "No, no we don't." Her sister still seemed a bit off, though. "I should go clean these up."
Yang nodded. "But if you want to talk about anything..."
"Talk?" Ruby gulped. "Um, no, nothing to talk about!" She adjusted her pile of muddy clothes in her arms and backed away, toward the door.
"Okay," Yang said, raising her hands, "but, you know I'm here right?" She said, in a tone that hinted at something deeper.
"Uh, yep! Not that there's anything to talk about." She twirled around and walked quickly out of the locker room, flustered. Behind her she heard her sister sigh, audibly disappointed and frustrated.
She knew it was cruel of her to avoid talking to her sister, but - it was hard. Whenever they talked about anything serious it all just felt too familiar, too much like... Summer. And Yang's mom. And the wolves. All the bad things that had happened to her family. Couldn't they just be happy for once? Why did these icky, unhappy moments have to keep popping up?
As she walked down the hall toward the laundry area she stared into the mud coating her clothes. She knew it was unreasonable to expect things to always be happy; life wasn't a fairytale. This wasn't a world where silver-eyed men from Vacuo would swoop in and save the day every time something went wrong. But that's exactly why she wanted to be a Huntress. She wanted to swoop in and save the day, not cause problems.
Pushing open the door to the laundry room with her back, she reasoned about what it even was she wanted. She didn't want to cause problems. But there already was a problem. Confronting her sister about it would help solve the problem; it would be perfectly analogous to swooping in and saving the day. So not confronting her would just be pretending there wasn't a problem. Ruby frowned. But this isn't like Beowolves, though. Beowolves don't go away if you pretend they don't exist. Maybe this problem would.
She shoved her clothes into the laundry machine. And that kind of reasoning is why you've kept it bottled up this long. Would you just man up, you silly Huntress! You need more mettle. She laughed, and shut the lid.
It was a joke that nobody would find funny but her.
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP -
"No!" Jaune shouted into his pillow and slammed his hand down on the alarm clock on the table next to his bed, shutting it up.
Or so he would have thought. For some reason the noise didn't stop.
"BOOP BOOP BOOP BOOP BOOP -"
"Mmmph," Jaune complained, rolling his head slightly and opening his eyes to see what on earth could be that annoying. It just sounded harsher if anything.
"Nora!" Pyrrha Nikos accused from her bed, next to his. "That is not a welcome sound," she winced. "Please desist."
Nora clamped her mouth shut obligingly. But then her cheeks started to balloon outward as though being inflated from the inside. Then she couldn't hold it in any more and made a pop noise with her mouth, followed by giggling. "Boop." Then she gasped.
"Ren!" She exclaimed. "You're here!" Her absolute-best-friend-forever was sitting in the corner. Which to Jaune did not even register as unusual but to Nora it was clearly a shocking, utterly life-changing discovery.
"I believe the standard greeting is 'good morning,'" said Ren, amused, "but I'll accept that."
"No, I mean -" Nora started, but then didn't finish because she clearly didn't know what she meant. "I mean. You're here!"
"Yes, thank you for that poignant and hard-earned information," Pyrrha sighed, standing up and pulling off her pale pink nightie. It was a rarely-seen example of Pyrrha-sarcasm. Jaune would have commented on it, normally. Pyrrha glanced down at him as she tugged her miniskirt on. He was still sleeping.
"Ren is never here in the morning!" Nora finally explained.
"What Ren does in the morning is his business," lectured Pyrrha.
"Why are you here!" Nora shouted. And then clamped her hand over her mouth. (Of her own volition. Something unheard of for Nora. Ren raised his eyebrows.) "No wait, I mean - yay, you are here!"
Ren nodded quizzically.
"It's just - you normally aren't," Nora explained, a hint of sadness entering her voice. "What's different today?"
"They chopped down my favourite tree."
"I see..." Nora paused. Then, the room almost went dark as she steepled her hands, a malicious glint in her eye. "So that means if, in the future -"
"Please refrain from chopping down any trees on campus," Pyrrha cautioned her, recognizing what she was planning.
Nora pouted. Ren shifted, almost imperceptibly relieved.
"I am ready for the day," Pyrrha announced, slipping on her bracer over her three-quarter sleeves, the final piece of her outfit. "Shall we go eat breakfast? Jaune?"
Her partner stirred. "Mmph."
"Jaune," Pyrrha warned. Then she put her hand on his shoulder and shook him gently.
"Go on without me," Jaune mumbled. At least, that's what she assumed he said; he was speaking into his pillow and she didn't think he was even bothering to move his mouth.
She studied him for a few seconds, vaguely aware of Nora bouncing in the corner. "Should we delay our practice so you can get some more sleep?" she asked.
When he didn't answer, she looked to Nora and Ren for their opinion. Nora deferred to Ren, whose violet eyes wandered to the door.
"Breakfast," he said simply.
"He'll live," said Nora, reassuringly.
Pyrrha gazed affectionately at her partner. "Very well. Breakfast it is." As the three of them filed out of the room, she grabbed a sticky note from off the high dresser and wrote a quick note explaining their absence.
She hit the light and shut the door, stealing one last glance at her blond-haired friend.
Ruby knocked at the door hesitantly. They should be up by now, but she couldn't be sure; Team RWBY had a variable schedule on weekends.
"Come in," she heard Blake say absent-mindedly. She obliged, unlocking the door with her scroll.
Blake was sprawled out on her bed, reading a book. She looked around for her other half, but Weiss wasn't there. Neither was Yang but at least she was accounted for.
"Where's Weiss?" Ruby asked.
"Glad to see you too," Blake replied.
"Oh, uh..." Ruby wasn't sure whether to apologize and ask Blake about her book or just ask for Weiss again.
Blake laughed. "She went for breakfast."
"And not you?"
Blake waved her book as explanation.
"Oh... what are you reading?"
"Another one by the same author. It's not as good," said Blake, not looking up from her page.
"More two-souls-one-body stuff?" Ruby asked, curiously.
"Nope, this one is about pirates hunting for treasure."
"Sounds exciting," Ruby smiled.
Ruby stood in the doorway and watched her teammate read for a few minutes, thinking. She and Blake were alone in here; now would be a good time. She may have found the idea of talking to her sister daunting, and talking to Blake was certainly scary too. But Blake had come out about her faunus heritage to them, and it would only work against everything they had done to patch up the damage from that incident if she ended up blurting out her secret accidentally in the same way Blake had. She shut the door behind her gently.
Ruby bit her lip uncertainly. "Blake..." she started. How to broach the topic.
Blake looked up from her book, sensing a shift in the tone in the room, and gazed at her, attentive.
Ruby's heart was pounding. "You know, you don't have to keep your bow on in here, if it's not comfortable. You don't have to be - ashamed. Of who you are."
Blake blinked, her bright amber eyes winking out for a moment. She sat up straight and patted the bed next to her.
"Come, sit," she invited.
Ruby stared nervously. "U-uh, okay," she said, and walked carefully to her teammate's bed, where she sat next to her partner. Even though they had worked through the hurt feelings from the revelation of Blake's heritage as a team already, she and Blake had not yet talked about this alone.
"They're not that uncomfortable," she said, glancing up at her bow, "and I would rather not risk being found out."
"Don't you find it stifling, not being able to really be yourself?" Ruby asked, concerned. And also very interested to see things from her point of view.
Blake tilted her head and gazed out the window. Then she reached up and undid her bow, wiggling her cat ears. Ruby would have giggled any other time. They were really cute ears.
"An extra pair of ears doesn't make me who I am," Blake said.
"I guess that's not exactly what I mean," she decided. "You were - you are - a strong believer in the advancement of faunus rights. You don't have to put a mask over all of that."
"I haven't," Blake said simply. "I still fear for the future of my species. And I intend to use every spare moment I have to help settle the enmity between us."
"Between us?" said Ruby, taken aback.
"Not us. I didn't mean that; it's just a force of habit to see every human as..." She shook her head. "I'm sorry. Just, old prejudices are hard to overcome. Which is why it's going to take a lot of work to fix this." She looked down at her book, vaguely disgusted.
"Besides," Blake continued, "it's not so bad to hide anymore. I have you," she met her eyes, "and the rest of Team RWBY. And I might tell JNPR soon, if only to preclude any similar sort of conflict in the future."
"You should," Ruby agreed. "Why don't you tell everyone?"
Blake eyed her steadily, and opened her mouth, but closed it quickly.
Ruby tried some words around in her mouth. She decided to shift the topic slightly.
She delicately said, "What was it like, before you told us?"
Blake bit her fingernail. She looked much more sensitive to her than she'd ever seen before.
"It was... not something I'd like to go back to," she answered. "I felt guilty every day about hiding my heritage from you. I just, I couldn't be sure. I didn't know you and Yang well enough to realize you'd be okay with it. And I was certain Weiss would, well..." she paused. "Weiss has taken it better than I could ever have guessed."
"So you're glad you told us?"
"Of course. I only wish it had been under calmer circumstances. It turns out, people can be very open-minded if you just give them a chance."
Ruby nodded, then clasped her hands together. Now was the time.
"Blake, I have -" her voice caught in her throat. She couldn't say it.
Blake's eyes quickly snapped to hers, concerned. "Ruby?" she asked gently.
"I have -" she couldn't - "t-to -"
Tears welled up in her eyes. She shook her head. She couldn't. She was crying again. Again! Twice in one day. How silly was that.
"It's okay," Blake said, surprised but gentle. Ruby felt her hand rest on hers. "You don't have to say."
"A s-secret..." was all she managed to stammer out. Then Blake had her arms around her and her head was on Blake's shoulder and she was going to get Blake's shirt wet and this is really not going all that well.
She stayed there, nested on her teammate's shoulder for several minutes, shaking, before she wiped the tears from her eyes and stood up.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"It's okay," Blake replied steadily. "Really. Whatever is bothering you, you can tell me when you're ready."
"Okay..." Ruby sighed. She had wanted to just get it out. But it was never that easy. She started toward the door.
"Ruby, heads up," Blake said. Ruby spun around, just in time to catch a book that Blake had tossed her. "I think you'll like it."
She looked at the faded spine. The Strange Case of...
"It's the book!" She exclaimed. "From our first night at Beacon. The man with two souls."
Blake nodded. "It's not exactly right, but it's the closest I can think of as an answer. To what it's like." She started to carefully do up her bow again.
"Thank you," Ruby smiled. And sniffled. She walked over to her own bed and reached up, placing the book on the pillow. "I'll read it later, after breakfast. Will you join me?"
Blake shook her head. "I have some work to catch up on." She looked worried, sad, maybe even ashamed. Ruby didn't think she meant schoolwork, but she wouldn't press her on it.
"Okay. Just, let me know if you need anything. Team leader after all. That's my job."
Blake nodded absently, her hands above her working to readorn herself.
Ruby waited until Blake's bow was all the way on before leaving.
Weiss picked at her food without much interest. Cereal, apple, cookie. They always served cookies on weekends - today was chocolate chip - but they were usually quite bland. Even the chocolate was lackluster. Usually Weiss didn't mind so much because her teammates' antics always made breakfast interesting. For the past few days, Yang had been practising catching food in her mouth. Initially this had just entailed doing extra laundry to wash out the stains of small fruits and various parts of different meals every day, but recently she was getting pretty good. She seemed to think it would be a necessary skill in case of a food fight.
Her team made everything interesting, really. But today it was just her in the cafeteria. And the various other teams. She was vaguely aware of team CRDL harassing some student, probably a faunus. Their usual victim, Velvet, didn't seem to be around. Poor girl. They soon stopped when Glynda entered the room.
Weiss suddenly felt her bench jostle. She jumped.
"Hi Weiss, do you mind if we join you?" asked Pyrrha, who had snuck up behind her with the rest of Team JNPR. Or maybe just "Team NPR"; the J seemed to be absent.
"Of course!" said Weiss, earnestly. Even with one member down, NPR was still doing better than Team W.
Pyrrha put down her tray of food next to her. Nora bounced over to the other side of the table with Ren in tow.
"Good morning!" Nora said, bubbly as always.
Weiss smiled. "Morning."
Pyrrha had some kind of jam sandwich, Ren was eating one of the more eccentric brands of cereal that Weiss usually eyed with suspicion, and Nora had grabbed a handful of bananas and an entire baguette. They also all had a cookie each; the servers practically forced them on the students.
"Where's your team?" asked Pyrrha.
Weiss threw her hands up in the air in mock frustration. "I don't know! When I left the dorm Blake said she'd be down in a few minutes. And I haven't even seen the sisters since yesterday."
"You haven't seen Ruby or Yang at all?" asked Pyrrha, surprised. "I would be very worried if my teammates disappeared like that." Ren smiled at the comment. Nora bounced. "Especially my own partner."
Weiss rested her chin on her hand. "Ruby popped in in the middle of the night. Yang is probably out with friends or something."
Nora gasped, "Ooh, or maybe she went on a date!".
Weiss rolled her eyes. "Not likely. Who schedules a date for midnight."
"Maybe her date went really well," Nora said suggestively.
"Uh-huh," said Weiss. She was well aware of Yang's flirtatious habits, but she doubted anything quite like that had happened. "She was going to stay in until I reminded her that she didn't have class today. So I don't think she had any plans."
"She could have gone to a bar," Nora continued. Ren shot her a look that said she was going too far. Nora took no notice. "She's had good luck with those."
Weiss laughed. "Has she? You seem to know a lot about Yang's activities."
Nora shrugged. "I notice things."
Ren shook his head, amused. "You are as dense as lead, friend," he said. Weiss looked at him, surprised. She couldn't remember hearing him speak once during their whole time at Beacon so far.
Pyrrha leaned back. "Ruby!" She called out.
"Oh, there she is, finally." Weiss sighed. Ruby was by the door, where she waved at them, still wearing her pajamas.
Ruby mouthed something at them, and pointed at the lineup for food.
Weiss opened her arms outward, a gesture of confusion.
Ruby pointed at herself and then at the food again. And then made a big wide gesture with her arms.
She wants food? Weiss thought. Lots of food? There's no need to tell us that. She turned back to Team NPR.
"It appears one more member of Team RWBY is now accounted for," Pyrrha smiled.
"You're still missing somebody," said Weiss. "Who was it again?" she said, feigning ignorance. "Well, couldn't be anyone important if I don't even remember their name. How droll."
Pyrrha gave her a wry glance. "Jaune Arc is just catching up on sleep. I've been pushing him quite hard to improve his fighting skills."
"I see. That's very," Weiss paused, looking for a word, "admirable." She knew Jaune was a hopeless cause. He'd probably drop out any time now. How unfortunate that he'd been assigned leader of their team, it would only make it more painful when he inevitably abandoned them.
Pyrrha beamed. "Thank you!" she said in earnest. "It's been difficult but I believe we are making excellent progress. Just last week I saw him fend off an Ursa."
"An Ursa?" asked Weiss, surprised.
"Indeed." Pyrrha took a bite out of her sandwich, causing the filling to spill out onto the table. "Oh dear!" she exclaimed, "I must apologize for my lack of manners. I'll be right back." She stood up and ran off to grab paper towels.
Weiss raised her eyebrows. Nora laughed.
"So..." Weiss looked at Ren and Nora. She wasn't sure she'd ever had a proper conversation with these two.
Ren sipped his tea.
"Jaune and Pyrrha?" Weiss asked, innocently.
Ren nearly spat out his tea. (Nearly. Weiss would have been surprised if there were ever a situation in which Ren would lose his composure.) Nora giggled, and leaned closer. "He's completely clueless!"
"Must be interesting sharing a room with them," Weiss said, then sipped her own tea.
Nora laughed. "Well you should know, what with Ruby and all."
Weiss spat out her tea. "What!" she exclaimed. Ren was staring at his partner.
Nora tilted her head. "Aren't you and Ruby, you know..."
"No!" Weiss practically shrieked. "Why would you even think that?"
"Please keep your assumptions to yourself, Nora," Ren said coolly.
"What can I say? Ruby is..." Nora shrugged. "I notice things."
"Well, please, notice things more accurately," said Weiss, flustered. What a preposterous accusation. She fixed upon the jam stains on the table. "I hope Pyrrha knows she doesn't have to clean that up, there are janitors."
"I'm sure she's just embarrassed since you're, you know," Nora started, and then trailed off as Ren nudged her.
Weiss eyed her steadily.
"A Schnee," Nora finished.
Weiss rolled her eyes. "Well, she's Pyrrha Nikos. I should be the one minding my manners," she said diplomatically.
"Yeah, that's like, not even a tenth as impressive." Nora continued.
"Nora -" Ren made to cut her off.
Weiss continued, "Really, she's an incredible fighter who's made a name for herself. I think this is even her brand of cereal I'm eating. I just have my family's name backing me up, nothing I've accomplished myself."
"Didn't you say you were a singer?" Ren said. Weiss was again surprised by him speaking. "And you're in Beacon. Whatever you might say, you can't deny that your admittance here proves you are an impressive and accomplished individual."
"Perhaps," said Weiss, realizing she'd accidentally turned this conversation somewhere a little more serious than she'd intended, "but I still have higher ambitions." She smiled and flicked her ponytail. "Pyrrha's fighting skill is already at a very high level. I'm surprised she even -"
"Pardon me?" said Pyrrha, returning with a stack of paper towels in her hands. "I thought I heard my name."
"Weiss was just complementing you on how tall you are!" Nora explained.
"Oh, thank you, Weiss." Pyrrha looked flustered as she was cleaning up her mess from earlier. "However, I am really not very tall at all compared to Glynda. I was very surprised to see how tall she is in person; she must have almost six inches on me."
"Hey guys!" Ruby said, appearing suddenly with a large tray stacked high with cookies. She carefully sat down next to Weiss, balancing the collapsing pile of cookies against her chest. "Look, they're serving cookies! They let me have a whole bunch."
"We noticed," said Pyrrha, surprised.
"Where have you been?" Weiss asked, in as friendly a voice as possible but still laced with subtle accusation.
"Oh, sorry, I was tending to Crescent Rose," explained Ruby, patting her beloved weapon at her waist. "She took some hits last night."
"What? Who were you fighting?" Weiss asked, surprised and worried.
"Oh, just Jaune. I told you last night. We were practising. It was fun!" Ruby smiled, looking around for her friend.
"You were practising with Jaune?" asked Pyrrha, surprised. Weiss groaned. Pyrrha was so predictable when it came to Jaune.
Nora laughed. "Concerned about the competition?" Nora winked at her across the table.
"I'm not quite sure what you mean," Pyrrha said. "The Vytal festival is still weeks away."
"Say, where is Jaune anyway?" asked Ruby. "Still sleeping?"
"Yes," said Pyrrha. "You must have really worn him out. I hope he is still okay to practise with the rest of us today." She glanced up at the clock. "We were hoping to start in less than one hour."
"Sorry about that," said Ruby sheepishly. "Oh, but you should have seen him! He had all these crazy moves! Well, just one crazy move actually. But it was cool! He caught me completely off-guard." Ruby shook her head wistfully.
Pyrrha grinned. "That is excellent news! I am so glad that he has learned that much."
"How easy were you going on him?" asked Weiss.
"Weiss! I wasn't going easy on him," Ruby shook her head. "Really, he turned out to be a very creative fighter. He disarmed me actually!"
"He disarmed you?" said Pyrrha, surprised. "We haven't covered that yet."
"I guess that means he's finally hitting his stride," said Ruby happily.
"That is good to hear," said Pyrrha, but she seemed a bit saddened by the news. Weiss rolled her eyes. Pyrrha was rather protective of Jaune.
"So anyway, what were you talking about when I came by?" Ruby smiled.
Nora hopped in to explain. "Just how Pyrrha has a crush on -"
"I believe," Pyrrha quickly interrupted her, "we were discussing how Professor Goodwitch is very tall for a woman."
Ruby looked puzzled. "Are women shorter than men?"
Weiss brought her hand to her face. This dolt is so oblivious sometimes.
"Yes," said Pyrrha. "I'm surprised if you've never noticed."
"People don't tell me these things!" Ruby complained. "And Jaune said they were stronger, too."
"Let's not believe everything Jaune says," said Ren.
"That's the third time you've spoken!" said Weiss. Ren looked slightly taken aback. Even this small amount of emotion on his face was probably more than she'd ever seen him react to anything.
"The third time since when?" Ren asked.
"Since - ever!"
Ren hummed. Weiss narrowed her eyes.
"You are a coy, coy man, Ren Lie."
"It's 'Lie Ren,'" Nora corrected her. Weiss crossed her arms.
"Glynda is tall! And she's a woman," Ruby exclaimed. "See? It's not true."
"Glynda wears heels," Weiss said, and sighed. So oblivious.
Ruby gasped, nearly choking on a cookie she was shoving down her mouth. "You're right! I never noticed that. Well, she's strong, at least."
"Nobody said she wasn't," said Pyrrha.
"Is she, though? I've never actually seen her fight," said Weiss. "And isn't her semblance, what, repairing things? That doesn't seem very intimidating. She's probably harmless."
"Glynda can do other things," said Ruby defensively. "I've seen her fight."
"What does she do?" said Weiss sarcastically, "Repair her enemies to death?"
"Yes," said Glynda.
Everyone turned and gasped at their professor, who was standing at the head of their table, her arms crossed, staring daggers at Weiss.
Weiss gulped. That was extremely inconvenient timing.
"H-how does that work?" asked Nora.
"It would not be my first choice in a combat, but yes, almost anything can be used as a weapon with enough creativity, even the ability to repair objects. I would have hoped, Ms. Schnee," Glynda paused, glaring at her again, "that you would have learned that from my class by now. If you'd been paying attention."
"You are toast," whispered Ruby into her hear. "Buttered toast."
"W-well, how would you use that ability to hurt somebody," asked Weiss tentatively. "I still don't see how."
Glynda sighed. "How long ago did you finish your cookie, Ms. Schnee?"
"I -" Weiss glanced down at her plate - "I don't follow."
"Did you just finish it now? Or was it half an hour ago after you first walked in?" What is she talking about?
"About half an hour ago," she admitted.
"Then there is a twenty percent chance that the partially-digested cookie has already exited your stomach into your intestine," - ew, thought Weiss - "and regardless, your intestine also contains the mostly-digested remains of the meals you've consumed here within the past thirty to fifty hours, including last night's pizza, and the crackers and cheese at lunch." Weiss started to object. "Which I saw you eat, don't deny it." Professor Goodwitch coughed.
Weiss noticed Ruby's eyes open wide, realizing what Glynda was getting at. But Weiss was still completely lost.
"I don't quite think I -" Weiss began.
"It would be a real shame," Glynda said slowly, leaning over the table at her, "if those partially-digested contents in your soft intestine were to suddenly no longer be partially-digested."
"Um," Weiss started. This was getting scary.
"The rapid reorganization of that partially-digested material into its original form could rip into your intestinal tissue and cause serious structural tears."
"My aura would protect me," Weiss pointed out.
"True. It would cause the wounds to heal up quickly, preventing the contents of your intestine from re-entering the digestive tract. Instead they would sit in your abdominal cavity for months, slowly damaging the rest of your body. Your aura would work to heal your body and close the wounds continually created by the foreign bodies, obstructing the natural transit path of your white blood cells and interfering with your immune system's ability to attempt to isolate and dispose of the matter."
"What's a white blood cell?" asked Ruby, "And why would Weiss' aura work against her like that?"
"White blood cells are what the body uses to heal in place of a missing aura. And for the second question: aura is only as clever as the soul projecting it," said Glynda pointedly. Ouch, thought Weiss. "It can happen that one's aura works against the body unintentionally. Several poisons exploit this, in fact. All of this is covered if you take Peach's class in second year."
"Plant and animal biology?" Weiss asked, surprised. "We're here to become Huntresses - and Huntsmen," she added, nodding at Ren, "not scientists."
Glynda shook her head disappointedly. "You said exactly the same thing in my class last week."
Weiss remembered she had said that. Nonetheless, she still didn't see how Glynda's strange class could be useful compared to the more practical skills they were learning. Even history class was more applicable.
"Combat physics rocks!" exclaimed Ruby.
Glynda smiled. "I'm glad at least one student is paying attention. I'll see you Monday at five, Ruby,"
"Monday?" Weiss asked. They were doing something on Monday. "Ruby, we were going to go shopping, remember?"
"I thought you said Tuesday," Ruby said to their professor.
"Did I? Hmm. I think I said Monday." Glynda shrugged and walked away.
"O-okay..." Ruby turned to Weiss. "Sorry."
Weiss raised her hands. "Look, if you wanted to get out of it that badly you could have just asked me."
Ruby shook her head. "N-no! Ah, I'm sorry, clothes shopping isn't really my favourite activity but I really was planning to go with you, honest!" Ruby banged her head on the table. "Now I've failed my partner."
Weiss sighed. Her partner may have been oblivious but at least she tried.
Ruby sat up suddenly. "Glynda!" She called out, and pointed.
Glynda turned around. She was already part-way across the cafeteria. She walked back slowly. "Did you perhaps mean to say, 'Professor Goodwitch, may I please have your attention?'"
Ruby gulped. "Uh, y-yes. Professor Goodwitch, may I please have your attention?"
Glynda bowed her head. "You may indeed, Ms. Rose."
Weiss shook her head. This dolt is going to get both of us in trouble.
"That was an empty threat" said Ruby, confidently.
"Ruby," said Pyrrha, surprised. Glynda raised her eyebrows.
"You said last night, you couldn't repair that tree because it was alive." Ren glanced at her. "Well so is food! Kind of. You can't repair food, not inside someone's gut, not anywhere. Food is made of living matter, so there." Ruby crossed her arms, smug.
Weiss couldn't believe her partner was this much of a dolt. Glynda had walked away, they'd been spared, and then she'd brought her right back. Everyone else at the table - everyone else in the room, she noticed glumly - was staring at Ruby and Glynda. Cardin seemed to be placing bets.
Glynda shook her head, disappointed. She made a tsk, tsk sound with her tongue. "Think before you speak, Ruby. What have you seen me repair in the past?"
Ruby paused, thinking. "Um, hmm, a chair -"
"- which you broke -"
"- a doorframe -"
"That's enough. And what are those objects made of?"
Ruby thought harder. "Um, wood. Wait..."
"Indeed," Glynda nodded. "I cannot repair a tree, but I can repair a wooden chair. Why might that be?"
Ruby shook her head.
Weiss spoke up. "It's artificial. You can't repair a tree because that would be returning life where there was none. But restoring a broken chair to a fixed chair does not restore life, it just restores the human-made object to order."
Glynda nodded again. "Very good deduction. Approximately correct, even."
Weiss sighed. Maybe this meant she was off the hook.
"I'm not convinced," said Ruby. "Food is different from a chair."
But Ruby and her big mouth.
Glynda frowned. "That's fine. Empirical evidence is best, anyway." Then she swirled her riding crop in her hand, looking mysteriously at Ruby's stomach.
Ruby's eyes went wide. "Wh- did you just do something? Did you just cast a spell on me?"
"Hmm? I didn't do anything," said Glynda. "Besides, even if I did, there's nothing to fear. Because," she paused.
Glynda turned and glared pointedly at Weiss.
"I'm probably harmless."
Finally, after Glynda had left and several minutes had passed, conversation in the room erupted.
"I'm toast," said Ruby, looking anxiously at her stomach. "Buttered toast!"
"That is a remarkably strange expression," Pyrrha commented.
"You're toast?" Weiss asked. "I'm toast. Did you see how she glared at me just then?"
"Relax" said Pyrrha. "What would Glynda do to you anyway?"
"Yeah, what could she do? She's probably harmless." Nora said seriously. And then burst out laughing, unable to keep a straight face.
Weiss noticed Ruby's arm on her. Her partner was staring at her. She stared back.
"We're toast," they said in unison.
After laughing and joking about this for a few minutes, Pyrrha glanced up at the wall. "It's nearly eight already! By Dust, I should go check on Jaune."
"Mhm, I hope he's okay," Ruby agreed, muffled. She had stuffed her face with cookies again.
As team NPR stood to depart, Weiss sighed. "They have practice. We should go study."
Ruby nodded. "Okay. Hopefully Blake can help me."
Weiss blinked. "Is Blake good at physics?"
"Uh," Ruby shook her head, clearly confused. "What?"
"Physics. Blake. Hello." Weiss waved her hands in front of her oblivious partner.
"I thought it was History. The exam on Monday."
"No way, you dolt. Come on," Weiss grabbed her arm. "You are going to teach me all about this stuff."
Jaune stared up at the poached-egg moon suspended in the boiling water pot night sky. The stars formed such a large grid, he couldn't even understand what he was looking at.
"Just select your character," Pyrrha explained. "I recommend Betelgeuse, but it's up to you. What's your favourite colour?"
"Yellow," he said. He was confused. They were sparring on the roof, but now his back was to a cherry tree.
"Is that really your favourite colour?"
"Cherry," he decided, changing his mind.
Pyrrha laughed, and leaned into him. "Are you sure it's not carmine?"
"Rose," he said again. He hadn't said that yet. What did Pyrrha want from him? Select your character.
Pyrrha leaned closer. She's kinda hot! I'd marry her. Then Jaune blinked. It was Ruby. Obviously. How could he not have noticed their glaring similarity during character-select? Her dreamy silver-grey scythe-blade-metal eyes stared into him blankly. He felt his face blush. "Red?" he asked. He wouldn't dream of it.
Red tongue licked red metal red cherry red blood red rifle blade red hot red like -
"Jaune," Red said, seductively, but she was talking to Crescent Rose whom she held tightly to her chest. She was pathetic, she should just confess her feelings to that scythe already! Everybody already knew; it was painted in the sky. She picked up her beloved and swung it at him, but she missed. She didn't miss, she just carved a heart into the tree: RR x CR. "I took her last name," she explained. Lipstick.
"Jaune," she said, mysteriously.
"Jaune!" Pyrrha told him again.
Jaune sat up. "Gah," he muttered, rubbing his head. "What was that."
Pyyrha was brushing her hair, wet. She often showered after breakfast, since Jaune and Nora were usually in competition to squeeze in the first morning shower. Had they had breakfast already? Jaune blinked hard, trying to clear his head.
"Ruby mentioned you were sparring late last night," Pyrrha said.
"Uhh, Ruby, wha - yeah! We were." Jaune blinked harder, the image of a heart carved into tree bark fading in his mind. "I nearly beat her, actually. Your training is definitely starting to pay off!"
Pyrrha smiled. "I'm glad. Ruby is a skilled opponent."
"Uh-huh," Jaune agreed, sitting up. "What time is it?" He looked up at the clock. "Oh, no, we were going to practise!"
"Sleepyhead," accused Nora cheerfully from her bed, where she was reading a comic book.
"You must be very fond of Ruby," Pyrrha said quietly. Nora snorted.
Jaune continued to rub his brow, still tired from his lack of sleep. "Fond of her?"
Nora explained, "She means, like, you know," she made an indecipherable gesture with her hands.
"Augh! N-No way. Me and Ruby?" Jaune stammered, shocked. "I don't think she even likes men, she likes -"
"- I knew it!" Nora shouted triumphantly.
Jaune continued, rolling his eyes, "She probably likes weapons or something. Have you seen the way she practically fondles her scythe?"
Nora gasped. "That would explain everything!" Ren gently whacked her on the head with a rolled-up comic book from next to her.
"Wait, explain what?" Jaune asked, confused.
"Oh," Nora paused. "I guess that doesn't explain anything, actually."
"Sure..." Jaune sighed. Nora was the weirdest person sometimes.
Pyrrha in the meantime had walked over to the bathroom and retrieved something. "Here, I found Crocea Mors on the floor next to the shower. It's covered in mud, you may want to wash it before practice."
"Are we still going to have practice?" asked Nora.
"Yeah, of course," said Jaune. "I'm sorry you guys had to let me sleep in. Here, I'll go wash up my weapon and grab breakfast. They're serving cookies today, right?"
Nora laughed. "Yes, but if you're in Glynda's bad books like Ruby is you might want to avoid those."
"And pizza," Pyrrha laughed.
"What, why?" Jaune asked, confused.
"Avoid everything, really," Nora said, smiling from ear to ear.
Jaune shook his head, wondering how he ended up with this team.
Ruby ran her hand along the bookshelves, clearing four parallel lines of dust off the spines. She wanted to help Weiss with the material on the exam on Monday, but all she could think about was the thought of cookies and pizza smushing around damaging her guts. Her stomach gurgled helpfully.
"Weiss, I think Glynda really did something to me," she complained.
"Oh please, the professors would never actually hurt any students," Weiss said dismissively.
"Are you kidding?" Ruby said. "This is Beacon Academy. Beacon! The most dangerous school on the planet. There's a reason we don't just have a Nurse's office, we have an entire hospital wing."
Weiss snorted. "You should see Atlas."
"Do they have a big hospital wing there?"
"The students spend so much of the time injured that they don't even have a proper dormitory anymore. Ironwood just pre-emptively gives the students bunks in the hospital instead as a cost-cutting measure."
"Wow," Ruby said. "What do they even do there?"
"The same things we do, except the students are forced to deactivate their aura during sparring in order to encourage them to avoid getting hit. Apparently they think it will save money during an actual war."
"What? That's hardcore," Ruby said. "And insane! What is Ironwood thinking."
Weiss yawned. "Not Ironwood. Polendina is the one who comes up with the harsher measures." Ruby briefly wondered why that name sounded familiar.
Weiss continued, "Anyway, that's just one of the many reasons why I don't go to Atlas."
"Yeah, I can imagine," Ruby said, then paused. "Here's the book!"
She showed Weiss the cover. The Applied Study of Kinematics in Combat Situations: An Introductory Text.
Weiss flipped in a few pages. She frowned. "This book was published fifty years ago."
"The laws of physics haven't changed since then, Weiss," Ruby laughed.
Weiss walked over to a table and sat down. "Alright, impress me."
Ruby shrugged and sat down next to her. She began reading aloud. "First: 'Chapter Three: Physical Properties of Combat Objects and -'"
"'First, "Chapter Three"'?" Weiss repeated, surprised.
She glanced up at her. "This is what our exam is on on Monday."
Weiss put her hands up. "Why do we even need to know this? How could physics possibly be helpful in a fight?"
Ruby stuck her index finger up into the air. "One: it's not physics, it's combat physics."
"Sure," Weiss said, "The same way this is a combat skirt, right." They giggled.
Ruby continued reading, not delivering her second reason. "'We begin by analyzing the mass and angular mass of common weapons such as -'"
"Angular mass?" Weiss asked. "What's that?"
"Well, I would prefer to call it 'moment of inertia,'" Weiss blinked at her, completely indifferent, "but it's basically how hard something is to swing or spin. Here," she said, whipping out Crescent Rose. "Try swinging this as hard as you can, and compare that to how it feels with Myrtenaster."
"What!" Weiss exclaimed, "This is a library, we can't have our weapons out in here."
"That girl with the handbag Gatling-gun never seems to get in trouble for it," Ruby pointed out.
"She keeps it in its handbag form, I hope," Weiss said nervously. "Just keep reading."
She glanced back down at the book. "Ahem. 'Common weapons,' 'frying pans,' yadeyada. Oh this looks good. 'While one can precisely calculate angular mass using the integral on page 19, it's not conducive to a favourable combat situation to perform calculus in the battlefield. Instead, we provide the following tips for estimating -'"
"Nora thinks you're gay," Weiss interrupted her.
Ruby looked up at her incredulously. "Wh-what?" She was completely flustered. "Where does she get those ideas?"
"Well are you?" Weiss said quickly. Ruby stared back at her, frozen. "It's okay, I'm not judging you. I just think I should know. Since I'm your partner."
"Uh, I, um..."
Weiss raised her eyebrows. They were in the library. How could Weiss ask her about something so personal in public?
"N-No! Of course not!" Ruby stammered. "Er, at least, I don't think so."
Weiss raised her eyebrows farther.
"I mean, I haven't, you know, liked anybody yet, so..." Ruby trailed off, she could feel the blood had rushed out of her face.
Weiss sighed. "Okay, what is it then?"
"Huh?" Ruby felt very self-conscious.
"You've been all moody recently. What's on your mind?"
"I've been moody?" Ruby asked, unsure.
"Yes, occasionally. At night especially. Those extra-long showers you've been taking."
"Uh..." Ruby bit her lip. "Oh..." she trailed off, weakly. She'd started this conversation twice today already, with Blake and Yang, and backed out of it each time. Three times today, if she counted Jaune early this morning. And here, Weiss surprised her by bringing it up all over again. Was everyone conspiring against her today?
Weiss waited several minutes for her to answer. Ruby had opened and closed her mouth several times.
Finally, Weiss gave up. "Alright. If you don't want to talk about it, then -"
"I do," Ruby said, determined. She had to get this off her chest.
"Okay..." Weiss said, uncertain.
"But not here. It's too," she looked around, "public."
"Then, our dorm?" Weiss asked.
Ruby nodded. Then paused. Fear loomed up in her. "Actually, can you give me some time to think about it?"
Weiss glared at her. "No. You'll just get too worked up about it and you won't tell me anything. Tell me now."
"Okay." Ruby swallowed her fear and turned to face Weiss dead on. "Okay. I'll tell you," she said.
She breathed in.
Now or never.