"Here we go," Qrow heaved a giggling Ruby and placed her in a seat - she was so tiny for her age, that it was like moving a rag doll. The two of them, along with the remaining members of team JNPR, were boarding an airship back to Patch. It was much too dangerous for them to continue, even if Ruby claimed to be feeling better after her time at the hospital.
"Uncle Qrow! ..I mean... Qrow," Ruby quickly corrected herself, "I have legs, you know! I can walk just fine."
"True…..but you are a klutz." He joked. The pain, concern, and familiarity of the situation was being masked by lighthearted jokes and nonchalant shrugs. He couldn't face these emotions head-on at the moment.
"Are you sure we should not be continuing our mission to Haven?" Ren asked, taking a seat to Nora's left. He understood Ruby and Qrow returning to Patch, but the rest of the team were willing to continue.
"Yeah! I feel just fine!" Nora added, despite her hip injury. She was still healing from stepping in front of Ruby right before she was going to be attacked.
"Absolutely not. You all nearly got yourselves killed. If I didn't show up to save the day, you guys would all be dead meat to that jackass- what was his name?.. Tyrian? That guy." Qrow argued, turning around to face the youthful former students in training with a stern expression.
"Maybe he's right, guys." Jaune shrugged. He sided with Qrow's point, the many anxieties growing heavy in his mind. Ever since he lost Pyrrha, he blames anything and everything on himself. Even if they had nothing to do with him, he felt like he was somehow able to prevent it. If I were a better leader..a better fighter. None of this would have happened. Pyrrha would still be here…
Jaune took the empty seat next to Nora and Ruby, after Qrow sat by himself in a seat a bit further away from the teenagers. He never wanted to be too close or too far away. Like Jaune, Qrow blamed himself for any misfortune brought on his loved ones. He would simply watch from afar.
After a moment of his teammates looking at him in confusion, Jaune decided to explain why he thought Qrow was right. "I'm not as skilled as either of you guys in a fight. Without Ruby, I don't think we would get very far-"
"What are you talking about?" Ren interrupted, shaking his head while looking over at Jaune.
"I'm just not leader material..." Jaune mumbled.
"Hey!" Shouted the redhead in between them. Jaune and Ren looked down at the small person in the middle: an offended-looking Nora. "You are not allowed to say those kinds of things about yourself, mister!" She pointed her index finger at Jaune's chest.
"She's right. I can not imagine a better leader for team JNPR than yourself." Ren added.
"I think you're a great leader, Jaune. Plus, we will always have your back!" Ruby grinned, the short girl sitting to his right. This earned a smile from the somber boy as he recalled her words of advice from their first semester at Beacon. This was not the first and only time she had cheered him up about this topic before.
The group approached the yard of the Xiao Long home just before sunset. Orange and ren peeked through the clouds, tinting the home to a much warmer color than it normally is.
Before knocking on the door, Qrow stopped, turned around, and faced the group of teenagers. He resembled a coach speaking with his team.
"Guys. Just one thing…" He directed most of his attention towards team JNPR, making eye contact. "Taiyang doesn't know that we're coming back. Nor does he know that I'm bringing along three extra kids with us," The man chuckled and pointed a finger at the three, "So be prepared. You might expect some anger or bitterness. That's just Tai. I promise he's not a bad guy at all. We've all just been… going through a lot."
"Understood." Ren was the first to respond, rather quickly at that. They could all empathize with Taiyang, honestly.
"Ruby. You alright?" Qrow now pointed his finger at Ruby, who had her hand pressed against her temple. She only responded to him with a nod, shutting her eyes. His red eyes expressed concern, but he decided against saying anything else.
The older man turned around and knocked on the wooden door four times.
The excited barks of a corgi could be heard on the other side of the door before it opened, revealing Taiyang. He blinked for a moment, taking in the sight in front of him. Four disheveled looking kids and a Qrow Branwen stood before him.
Despite his hard stare at the group of five, Taiyang stepped aside and opened the door wider, making room for everyone to enter. He stared, mostly at Qrow, as he and the teenagers entered the home. When the blond haired man noticed Ruby, his tight grip on the doorknob loosened and his eyes softened. Taiyang didn't realize how tense he was.
Ruby opened her eyes again and looked around the room. She started to back away into a corner.
"Ruby, what's the matter?" Taiyang asked, shutting the door.
"What is that?!" She exclaimed. The group looked down to realize that she was motioning towards the excited corgi, barking and attempting to jump up on Ruby. It even stood on it's hind legs and pawed at her thighs in order to get her attention.
This only caused the younger girl to panic even more, a small shriek escaping her lips once she realized that she backed herself up against a wall. "Get it away!" Ruby cried. She couldn't escape the small creature's attempts for attention.
Taiyang quickly took action by picking up the dog and keeping it steady in his arms. Ruby scurried over to Qrow and hid behind him.
"Ruby….since when were you ever afraid of Zwei?" Taiyang asked. He sounded more concerned than confused. This is not the Ruby he remembered. "What's going on here?" The blond man looked back up at Qrow.
Nora turned to face Ren, concern in her face as clear as day.
"Ren..." she whispered, "How did she forget her own dog? She even had him with her at Beacon…"
The quiet teen had no response for her; he was just as confused as Nora.
Qrow's red eyes did not hide his emotions like they usually did. Instead, Taiyang saw something in his eyes he only saw once, 19 years ago: Fear.
"Tai…" He spoke.
"... Excuse us." Taiyang said as he walked past everyone, grabbed Qrow by the arm, and dragged him into the kitchen. This left RNJR alone in the livingroom.
Nora decided to take Ruby's hand and bring her over to the sofa and sit next to her.
"R-Ruby….are you okay?" The usually energetic girl has a much more serious look to her face. "What happened… back there… that thing with Zwei?"
"I," Ruby started, but quickly moved her hand up to rub her eyes, "My head hurt… and then I just…. Zwei?"
She sounded confused, for a moment. Jaune and Ren shared a concerned glance with each other before taking a seat on the sofa with the only space that was left. Ren sat by Nora's side and Jaune sat by Ruby's side. The blonde teen placed a hand on her shoulder, unsure of what to say. He wanted to help, but he just couldn't find the right words.
"Oh!" Ruby exclaimed, suddenly destroying the dreadful air that surrounded them. "Zwei… That sounds so familiar. I think I know what you're talking about."
"Wait.. What?" Jaune, at this point, was completely lost.
"Ruby… you've lost your memory." Nora pointed out while looking into her silver eyes. There was slight panic in her voice, and Ren caught onto it.
"Most likely from the head trauma three days ago. It's okay." Ren dismissed any concerns that the three had.
"Y-yeah… right." Ruby nodded in agreement. "My head has been all wonky lately."
"YOU DID WHAT?!"
The four teens sat awkwardly on the couch as they realized that Taiyang was screaming at Qrow. They were, without a doubt, arguing.
"I had to, Tai. I don't know what came over me… but she deserved to know the truth. She was going to find out someday." Qrow admitted. The two adults went back to whispering so that the kids wouldn't hear.
"Were you drunk or something?" The angry brawler asked.
"-No, stupid question. Of course you were-" Taiyang interrupted Qrow.
"TAI!" Qrow shouted, interrupting him back. "Will you at least let me speak?! Listen, I even told Ruby that you didn't know the truth. I told her this so that you wouldn't have to explain to her that you knew all along. Last thing I want is for her to think you're a liar..."
"Oh, so now you've decided to help me? Thanks." Taiyang rolled his eyes.
"You let her run off to Haven without telling me.. The entire journey. It'd been months, Qrow. Months. I had no idea where she was for months. You could have at least told me once where she was. You could have at least told me you had followed her. Told me that she was okay..."
"I know. I know, I apologize."
"Not only is my daughter suffering from the loss of her arm and the fall of Beacon, but my other daughter is losing her memory." Taiyang spat. Qrow felt a twinge in his heart from the venom in Taiyang's words, but he didn't blame him. Taiyang did raise Ruby. Ruby was practically his daughter.
He had no right to be upset with Taiyang for feeling like Ruby was his daughter. In fact, Qrow should be happy that someone took on the role that he was unable to take.
"It's not just that, Tai…"
"It's happening again." Qrow muttered.
The two fathers went silent for a moment. Taiyang stared hard at Qrow's face, while Qrow stared out the window. It was now dark outside.
Qrow sighed before pulling out a chair and sitting on the other side of the dining table. Taiyang followed, sitting opposite from the dark haired man. They both knew it was serious.
"Salem got to her…" Taiyang whispered, pain clear in his voice.
"Actually," Qrow hesitated, "No. She didn't. I have no idea how this is happening to Ruby…"
Before anything more could be said, Taiyang abruptly stood up, sending his chair backwards. The man stormed off and made his way upstairs, leaving Qrow by himself in the kitchen. Qrow simply sighed, and rested his forehead against his hand.
I need a drink. There's some right there in the fridge. I'd just need to- No. You don't need a drink. That's why nobody could take you seriously. Damn it. I really want that drink, though…
"Qrow…" Ruby's small voice interrupted his thoughts. When he looked up, he saw Ruby peeking her head in through the kitchen doorway. He nodded his head, which was all Ruby needed for her to make her way into the kitchen and start rummaging through cabinets. Qrow raised an eyebrow curiously. "I'm just trying to fetch some cups of water for my friends…"
Ren entered the kitchen as Ruby spoke, ready to help her with her task. Qrow watched sadly, knowing well why Ruby was struggling.
"I just… Where is everything?" Ruby stopped searching and scratched her head.
"Ruby… this is your house. You truly don't remember?" Ren asked, his head tilting curiously to the side.
"No. She doesn't." Qrow answered. The man stood up from his seated position and made his way to a cupboard on the other side of the kitchen; a spot where Ruby hadn't thought to look. He pulled out six cups.
"Here," Qrow said while handing Ruby a cup, "Fill that up with water and give it to your dad- Taiyang. I think he could use your company right now."
"Okay." Ruby nodded. She completed the actions and ran upstairs. This left Ren and Qrow in the kitchen alone.
Jaune and Nora walked into the kitchen after hearing Ruby run up the stairs.
"Hey what's going on?" Jaune asked hesitantly.
"I have to speak to you three about something. It's important." The dark haired man stated while filling up his own glass. The teens just watched as he casually leaned against a counter and poured alcohol from his flask, into the glass cup.
"It's about Ruby, isn't it?" Nora said slowly.
"First thing's first," Qrow took a gulp from his cup, followed by a sigh of relief, "Finally. Anyway, you guys should probably know that Ruby's biological dad isn't Taiyang."
"He's… not?" Jaune furrowed his eyebrows. This didn't make sense to him; he knew Yang and Ruby were sisters because of Taiyang. If they didn't share a father either, then that means…
"No. I'm her biological dad, actually." Qrow said, taking a few more sips from his cup. "Long story short, Tai raised her because I'm an idiot who would make a horrible dad. Also, I was constantly on extremely dangerous missions. So Taiyang is pretty much Ruby's dad.. Just not biologically."
"Okay, understood. But.. why does that matter to us, then?" Ren asked. He didn't understand the point of all this.
"Well.. I told Ruby the news three days ago, and I just told Taiyang 15 minutes ago. I'm letting you guys know so that you aren't confused by what ever … drama … you may come across." Qrow said, his voice hinting sarcasm upon the word 'drama.'
"Could you address the real issue here?" Nora interrupted, her voice more serious than usual. She has become a bit more serious over the past few weeks. "Her head… and how she's just forgetting stuff. Why? How is this happening?" This suddenly started to sound like an interrogation.
"I agree with Nora." Jaune added.
"Hey, cool it short stuff." Qrow defended, placing his hand on Nora's head. Ren casually pushed Qrow's hand away from Nora, mostly for the older man's safety. Ren knew from experience that Nora hated being teased about her height.
"Here's the thing… Ruby's just ..sick." He said, using the term 'sick,' for lack of a better word. That's when the questions came:
"What do you mean?"
"Is she going to be okay?
"What kind of sickness?"
"How did she get it?
"Is she going to be okay?
"Will she get her memory back?
"Is it temporary?"
"Is she going to be okay?"
"QUIET!" Qrow shouted at the trio. His ears were ringing and his head was throbbing. These exact questions run through his mind every minute of every day. They've been haunting him ever since he noticed Ruby's first symptom.
Is she going to be okay? ...No, probably not.
"It's…" Tired red eyes looked at the quiet teens once more. He sighed. "It's a bit serious. Her mother had this, too...before she passed away... Something to do with silver eyes…" Qrow trailed off, now staring at the ground. How was he supposed to tell them lightly that there's a possibility they were to lose yet another dear friend?
Nora slowly started backing away, accidentally bumping into Ren in the process.
"Short one?" Qrow raised a suspicious eyebrow at the redhead. "You alright?"
Nora shook her head vigorously.
"...Dad?" Ruby's small voice could be heard from the doorway. Taiyang sat on his bed, his head in his hands with his elbows propped up on his knees. He stared at the floor, thinking hard as though the patterns would change and the inevitable won't happen. He couldn't lose Ruby.
When he heard her voice, his head shot up to find her shyly peeking at him through her bangs. She held a glass of water in her hand.
"Hey jellybean. What's up?" Taiyang faked a smile in her direction.
Ruby made her way towards her father with slow footsteps. When she reached him, she extended her arm to hand him his cup of water.
"Thanks." Taiyang smiled, gratefully taking the cup and drinking just a sip. Ruby sat down next to him.
"Why were you..arguing with uncle Qrow?" Her wide silver eyes looked at him, slight panic written all over them.
"Is it because he told you the truth, too?" Her head tilted sidewards curiously.
"Yeah, something like that." Taiyang sighed. "I, just…" He faced the ground again and squeezed his eyes shut.
"Daddy?" Ruby's concerned voice spoke as she softly rested a hand on his shoulder.
"Rubes.." Taiyang exhaled, immediately turning towards her and enveloping her in a tight hug. Though this took Ruby by surprise at first, she hugged him back. "You'll always be my little girl. You know that, right?"
"Yes dad." Ruby whispered against his shoulder, a small smile on her face.
"I can't lose you…" The blond croaked, memories of Summer Rose's death flashing in his mind.
"Don't be silly… I love Qrow, but I love you too. You're my dad. I don't care if it's biological or not," Ruby let a giggle escape her lips, "You can't lose me!"
"I…. Yeah." Taiyang hesitated. Did Ruby know she was sick?
Was she going to be okay?
The two pulled away from the hug, and Taiyang held one of her hands.
"Rubes… Do you remember the day we got Zwei?" The father tried.
"Umm.. Yeah, we went to a pet store I think."
He sighed. Wrong.
"No, we rescued him."
"Oh yeah! I remember. We found him in the rain when we went to Vale on our way to the movies, but found Zwei instead. We snuck him into the movie theatre!" The young girl giggled. Taiyang smiled at her recollection. It was strange, at first she wouldn't remember but then it eventually came back to her?
"What about your friends and professors from Beacon? Their names? You've never properly introduced me to them, anyway…"
"Oh that's right! Aside from Yang, I have my friends Blake and Weiss on my team! They're pretty amazing, and Weiss is a faunus but I don't care. We all love and accept her just fine. Oh and there's team JNPR! They're all downstairs right now." Ruby grinned, excited to talk about the positive memories she shared from school. Taiyang only returned a small smile.
"There was this food right… it was so great! But we did get in trouble with Professor...Pro….umm.. She-" Ruby stopped abruptly, mid-sentence. Her eyebrows furrowed and she pulled her hands away from Taiyang.
She didn't respond, she only placed her hands at her temples. The father could hear her mumbling something about her head hurting, but it was nearly inaudible.
"Do the names Glynda Goodwitch or Professor Ozpin ring any bells?" Taiyang asked, watching Ruby as she stood up from the bed and began pacing the room.
"I...yeah. They do. I remember, sometimes.. I guess? Like I know her face but not the details. I.." Ruby groaned, hiding her face in her hands. She looked extremely frustrated.
"Hey." Taiyang stood up and made his way towards Ruby, pulling her hands away from her face. "It's okay. You've been through a lot of stress."
"W-why can't I remember things? What's happening to me?" Ruby cried.
Taiyang frowned, and pulled her in for yet another hug. This time, it was more comforting to her.
"It's going to be okay, Rubes. It's going to be okay.." He whispered into her hair as he kissed the top of Ruby's head. He squeezed his eyes shut once more.
It won't be okay.
Had there not been candles, the room would be entirely black. The walls, windows, decor, everything- darkness.
And, for some strange reason, there was a lot of moisture in the air. It felt chilling, maybe even borderline terrifying. Cinder did not care, for Salem was on her side.
Cinder made her way towards the long, dark table in the center of the room. It glows violet, like the dust it was made out of. On the far end of it sat Salem, the mistress of darkness. She was like the insidious goddess of the night; Queen of evil. All things that are grim, she intensifies it.
"Ah, my young Cinder." Her smooth voice echoed throughout the room. She motioned toward a chair next to her. "Sit."
With a nod, Cinder slowly and silently took the seat next to Salem.
"Cinder, I have excellent news for you, my dear." Her piercing red eyes stared deep into Cinder's.
Cinder wanted to nod. She wanted to just nod and let her move on with the news, but she knew it was not that easy. Salem always wanted something.
"Do you not wish to hear my news, dear?" Her calculated grin told Cinder exactly what Salem wanted.
"I-" Cinder hesitated. Her voice was barely audible, only faint whispers and air escaping her lips. "Yhh-h..ess" She extentuated the 's', hoping that Salem would understand.
"I can not hear you." Was all she said.
Cold. Cold, cruel, and calculating. That's what she was.
"I d-..do. Y..ess, S-ssalem." Cinder forced as much as she could. Salem was cruel, for she knew just how to torture even the people closest to her. She always made sure she had something they wanted in order to keep them in their places.
In this case, Salem had the ability to return Cinder's voice.
However, she simply chooses to tease her with the possibility of talking again. She gives Cinder hope, only to rip it away again. It was no different from dangling 100 Lien in front of a hungry, needy, homeless person on the streets of Mistral and laughing as they failed to reach for it.
"Very well then." The white-haired being laughed. "You will be avenged, my dear."
Cinder raised a curious eyebrow.
"Ruby Rose. The silver-eyed child who nearly took you down." A maniacal grin spread across Salem's ghostly pale face, creating expression lines that even extended into her black and red facial veins. "She has been ...infected."
Salem's smile turns into a chuckle.
Cinder responds with a sly grin.