I've always imagined what would have happened if Weiss and Ruby's fateful meeting in the hospital hallway hadn't happened, so I finally sat down and wrote it. Here's how I think things would have gone in the alternate universe where everything went 'according to plan.' Maybe some day I'll add a continuation to this divergent path, but for now it's just a peek into what could have been. I hope you enjoy it!


Dressed up and armed with a box of cookies from Ruby's favorite bakery, Weiss strode into the hospital as if this was just another day. Just another visit. Nothing had changed, especially not for the worse. Everything was the same - her life hanging in limbo, her thoughts praying that fortune fell her way.

The overly air-conditioned lobby brought out goosebumps along her arms, as it usually did, while she headed to the bank of elevators on the far side of the room. It took far too long for an elevator to arrive at the bottom floor, like usual. A sterile odor still lingered in the air, making the barebones interior seem that much more industrial and 'clean.'

Nothing had changed, except everything had.

Weiss lost the ability to fool herself the moment she pressed the button for the fifth floor. The elevator doors slid shut, and her stomach dropped when heavy chains dragged her skyward. While she watched the floors illuminate one by one, her heart ratcheted up in speed each time. The second floor, faster. The third floor, even faster. By the time she stepped onto the fifth floor, her heart pounded so loud and fast that she could hardly hear the sporadic announcements coming over the hallway speakers.

Her determination from this morning, gained by spending the night researching and planning the upcoming meeting, quickly gave way to anxiety, fear, and...yearning. Ruby's presence practically called out to her, luring her into Ruby's magnetic orbit, assuring her that Ruby would make everything better.

If this was a nightmare, Ruby could wake her from it. Weiss knew that so clearly and certainly that she nearly let her feet lead her right to Ruby's room. She nearly gave in to the misguided belief that this horror ended with something as simple and easy as seeing each other again.

But what if it didn't?

Recoiling from the distressing thought, she stopped beside the nurses' station and couldn't convince herself a step further. Instead, she turned away from Ruby's room and pretended as if she wanted to check in as a visitor. She hadn't officially checked in for weeks now - why would she when the nurses knew who she was and who she was here to see? - but this morning she would play by the rules.

No nurses were around at the moment, leaving her to tap the countertop while apprehension settled in. After glancing at the clock hanging on the wall, she took a deep breath and tried to stay patient.

In her haste, she'd arrived early. Yang should be here any minute now, then they could go see Ruby together. Yang could spearhead the introduction, providing reassurance that Weiss was who she claimed to be. Then...they would play it by ear.

Weiss hated how many potential outcomes there were, many of them bad, but she could only control so much. This made checking in as a visitor even more important. She had to do that before she saw Ruby because the last thing she wanted was to be in the midst of a conversation only for someone to interrupt and insist that she check in. How would Ruby interpret something like that? Would she think Weiss was a rule breaker?

First impressions held so much weight, Weiss wouldn't dare risk it. As soon as she spun around to go find one of the nurses, however, her heart leapt into her throat when she nearly walked right into a wheelchair being guided behind her.

"Oh, excuse me," she apologized while quickly moving out of the way, her pulse racing at the near collision.

"It's ok," the young girl replied, mustering a quick smile before looking at the nurse guiding her wheelchair. "Can we go to the cafeteria now?"

"Sure thing," the nurse answered before nodding to Weiss. "Someone will be along shortly."

Heart still beating faster than normal, Weiss merely nodded in return. The pair then continued down the hall, leaving her to turn back to the nurses' station and exhale. Her nerves remained rattled, but she clenched her shaking hands and begged herself to calm down.

There was no reason to be so jumpy. This wasn't a life or death situation. She wouldn't die if this went poorly.

But her heart would break, and people died of broken hearts, didn't they? If it hadn't happened before, she would surely be the first. Because the thought of living without Ruby after all these years…'unbearable' couldn't even begin to describe it.

She needed to see Ruby more than she needed her next breath, but fear kept her from racing into Ruby's room on her own. If she knew Ruby's current emotional state, she might try it - her need to see Ruby awake was that pressing. Fortunately, the elevator doors opened then and, as soon as Yang rushed out, Weiss sighed and met her halfway down the hall.

"Where have you been?"

"Sorry, sorry. There was an accident or something."

Even though Yang was technically early herself, apology filled her sleep-deprived eyes. Before Weiss felt guilty, however, Yang took a deep breath and let it out with a smile.

"What do you think? Ready?"

"Not yet. I'm waiting for someone to check us in."

When Weiss motioned towards the nurses' station, Yang glanced that way and huffed. The moment she realized Weiss was serious, however, her expression softened.

"Right. Let's, uh, let's find one of the nurses then."

After looking both directions and spotting a nurse exiting a room down the hall, Yang motioned for Weiss to wait. While Yang hurried over and grabbed their attention, Weiss sighed in relief.

Thank god Yang was here. If it was just Weiss, would she ever leave the nurses' station behind? Or would she stand here, petrified, until someone asked what she needed? She would never learn the answer, as Yang and the nurse returned together.

"Checking in this morning?" the woman asked while moving behind the nurses' station and sitting down at the computer.

"Yes, please."

The woman opened the visitor's log but didn't ask for their names. Why would she when she already knew who they were? Instead, she quickly typed Weiss and Yang's names into the appropriate fields before clicking several boxes and logging out.

"Alright, you're all set." With that done, she stood up and smiled. "Nice to finally see her awake, isn't it?"

The reminder sent Weiss' heart into a tailspin.

"It is," Yang agreed while Weiss mustered a small nod. "Thank you."

The kind woman nodded before walking away to fulfill her other duties, leaving Yang and Weiss standing in the hall by themselves. Now that their first small step had been completed, they could see Ruby. Weiss' hands shook at how massive the moment felt - a feeling that only grew when Yang glanced towards Ruby's room and blew a soft breath through her lips.

Yang was nervous. If the exhale didn't prove it, the way she ran a hand through her long, blonde hair and flashed a hesitant smile did.

"Sure you don't want to wait a little longer?" she suggested, confirming what Weiss already deduced. "I can lay the groundwork or something. Make it a little easier for her to digest?"

Weiss had considered that course of action, but she'd already waited too long. Ruby was awake. Ruby was hurt and scared. Weiss needed to be there with her.

"If it was Blake...would you wait?"

Yang's eyes briefly widened at the question, but an understanding expression quickly settled into place.

"No. I wouldn't."

Weiss waved her hand at the response, silently telling Yang that she felt the same. If their partners needed them, they would be there - that's how it worked. Yang understood that as well as anyone, so her gaze flitted to Ruby's room with fewer nerves than before. Weiss, unfortunately, only felt her anxiety grow as she anticipated Yang's next question.

"Then...are you ready now?"

Honestly, Weiss wasn't ready. It didn't matter if she knew what she wanted to say or how she wanted the conversation to go. How could she ever be ready to introduce herself to the love of her life, who now had no idea who she was?

But what other choice did she have?

"I think so," she admitted, her voice softer than expected but still loud enough that Yang heard. Yang glanced towards Ruby's room and looked like she might offer to wait again, but she met Weiss' gaze and set a hand on her shoulder instead.

"Let's talk this through first. I'm going to say that a close friend from school came to see her and ask if she's up for meeting someone. When she says yes, I'll come get you."

As simple as it sounded, that was the most they could plan without knowing Ruby's current mindset.

"Right," Weiss said, finding a small measure of relief in having something to fall back on. "You can tell her we went to Beacon together, since she won't recognize me from Signal."

"Ok. Close friend from Beacon, here to see her." Yang's eyes flitted away again before she smiled - a brighter, more natural smile. "I'm sure she'll want to see you. She loves talking to people, and even if she's not feeling the best...you know nothing keeps her down for long."

Except a horde of Death Stalkers and an incompetent partner, Weiss' mind hissed, but she kept her mouth closed and swallowed around the growing lump in her throat.

"Right," she said again, hoping Yang didn't notice her hands shaking. This conversation planted a dreadful feeling in her chest, but she struggled to focus on the plan. This was precisely what plans were for - providing something to rely on when stress derailed them.

"I'm sure she's overwhelmed..." Weiss glanced at Yang for confirmation only for her heart to clench when Yang nodded. "Right. So, we should keep the conversation as light as possible. Simple topics to keep her mind off of things. Like the weather, or food."

"Got it. Easy, breezy things."

"But let her lead the conversation if it feels like she wants to talk about things. We don't want to stifle her, but we don't want to add more stress either." When Yang nodded a little slower this time, Weiss shook her head. "Maybe just follow my lead."

"I can do that." Glancing at Ruby's room one more time, Yang took a deep breath and let it out with a smile. "Alright, sit tight. I'll get you in a few minutes."

Weiss nearly pointed out that was only if Ruby wanted to see her, but Yang had already squeezed her shoulder and set off down the hall. Yang's calm, confident strides sharply contrasted with Weiss' trembling hands and turbulent thoughts, but Weiss forgot all about those differences the instant Yang reached Ruby's room and looked inside.

When Yang broke into a bright smile and waved before hurrying into the room, Weiss' heart nearly cracked in two. Ruby was awake. She was awake. Finally. And Weiss wanted nothing more than to race into the room and throw herself into Ruby's arms. She wanted to cry tears of happiness and playfully scold Ruby for scaring her so much, and make Ruby promise never to scare her like this again.

Instead, she counted the seconds. She opened the bakery box, looked at the assortment of cookies inside, then closed it. She watched one of the nurses stop at the desk, make a few notes, then disappear again.

With each passing minute, her worry grew. It felt like this was taking too long, but she had no way of knowing from here. What was Yang saying? How was Ruby responding? Did Ruby not want to meet anyone right now? Maybe she wasn't feeling well? Her arm must hurt...or the stress of everything might be too much?

Weiss needed to be in there. She couldn't do anything from here except fret over what Ruby might be saying. She needed to hear Ruby's responses. She needed to see Ruby's reactions. She needed Ruby. But when Yang poked her head into the hall and beckoned her over, she couldn't move.

She'd faced plenty of big moments before - enormous crowds, insurmountable foes, prestigious guests - but this moment felt larger than all of those combined. This wasn't just a performance, battle, or prominent event. This wasn't for success, clout, or glory. This determined the course of her life and her future happiness.

Had Yang not waved her over again, she likely wouldn't have moved. With Yang's watchful gaze on her though, she picked up the box of baked goods and walked towards the room as if moving through a thick fog. Her heart sped up, her breathing slowed, and her feet dragged across the floor at a slothful pace.

As she neared Ruby's room, she reminded herself of all the firsthand accounts she read. She braced herself for what those unfortunate allies told her to prepare for - shock, disbelief, and heartbreak. They said it would be challenging. They said it would test her fortitude and resolve.

When Yang's hand settled on her shoulder and guided her into the room she'd visited so many times before, she realized those stark warnings didn't even begin to describe this moment.

"Here she is!" Yang was saying, presenting Weiss with a flourish while silver eyes locked onto her.

And Weiss' world immediately fell apart - the breath stolen right from her lungs while her heart shattered. Because when Ruby looked at her...nothing happened. There was no recognition, no familiarity, no flicker of affinity. There was no spark of memory followed by indescribable relief.

There was only curiosity, plenty of exhaustion, and a small, uncertain, unrecognizable smile.

"Hi," Ruby said, her voice familiar but her tone lacking the affection it once held.

"Hi," Weiss whispered in return, the word leaving her lips in the same breath as her last shred of hope.

No amount of reading could have prepared her for this moment. No amount of rehearsing what to say. No amount of mental walkthroughs.

Ruby didn't recognize her, and it showed.

If Yang's hand wasn't still on her shoulder, Weiss would have run out of the room and never looked back. Instead, she stood there, glued to the floor, while Yang glanced between her and Ruby. Yang waited for Weiss to say something, anything, but Weiss couldn't say a word. Her planned introduction had vanished from her thoughts, spirited away by a blank silver gaze.

The silence extended, quickly becoming uncomfortably long, but Weiss still couldn't force words out. Eventually, Ruby turned towards Yang - the slight motion looking laborious- and Yang jumped in.

"Ruby, this is Weiss. She wanted to stop by and see how you're doing."

Again, Ruby looked at Weiss, but Weiss immediately turned away. The lack of recognition in Ruby's gaze made her want to cry. And if she started crying, she might never stop.

"I'm feeling better than yesterday," Ruby answered even though Weiss hadn't officially asked the question. "I guess it could be worse."

"That's good. Right, Weiss? That's good?"

Feeling all eyes return to her, Weiss managed a quick smile and even quicker glance up from the floor.

"That is good," she got out before her gaze returned to her feet. Then she looked out the window, then at the colorful cards and flowers arranged on the windowsill, then at the blanket she'd neatly folded and left on the chair the last time she was here.

Somehow, that had been a simpler time. Even though the wait was excruciating, she'd believed that they could return to their lives as soon as Ruby woke up. Now...

"I'm surprised you're up so early!" Yang said, stringing the conversation along while gently leading Weiss to one of the chairs by Ruby's bed.

"Pretty sure I've slept way too much recently…"

While Yang chuckled at what sounded like a joke, Weiss barely cracked a smile. Being this close to Ruby but unable to touch hurt too much to bear. She wanted nothing more than to seek consolation in Ruby's arms. Instead, she sought sanctuary in the chair while Yang sat beside her.

Feeling Ruby's gaze land upon her again, she stared at the box of cookies in her lap and focused on breathing. The small hospital room felt stiflingly hot, making the hairs on the back of her neck prickle while she hid her trembling hands beneath the box.

She didn't want to be here anymore. Not in the hospital, not in Vale. She wanted to run as far away from this place as possible, hoping that distance removed her from this nightmare. But Yang was right there, and Ruby kept glancing at her, silver eyes freezing her in place.

"Have you met all of the nurses yet?" Yang asked. Her gaze slid to Weiss again, but Weiss didn't return the look or try to join the conversation. Right now, it took every ounce of her willpower not to race out of the room, or break down in tears, or shake Ruby's shoulders and beg her to remember.

"A few. Jackie, Dale, and...another one. I think she said her name was…Sarah?"

"Oh, yeah, Sarah's great. She has the cutest son too. I'm sure she'll show you pictures soon - you can hardly talk to her for a minute without her bringing him up."

Again, Weiss felt Ruby and Yang's attention shift to her. Again, she couldn't will herself to look up from her lap, forcing Yang to push the conversation along before another uncomfortable silence descended on them. Meanwhile, Weiss struggled to breathe while her heart pounded in her ears.

Somehow, she'd believed that Ruby would recognize her the moment they laid eyes upon each other. It didn't matter what the doctor said or what Yang confirmed to be true - she still thought they were wrong. That maybe Ruby had forgotten some things, maybe even a lot of things, but Ruby would never forget her.

That unspoken shred of hope - the only thing that convinced her here today - had just been severed. There was no residual emotion for her in those silver eyes. There was no affection, no devotion, no love. Nothing reflecting the relationship they once had, which had disappeared long ago but she was only learning about now.

Yang and Ruby's familiar voices, which faded into the background behind Weiss' pounding heartbeat, masked her upended world. They sounded the same, but nothing was the same. Everything had changed. The best, biggest piece of her heart had just been torn from her.

"Weiss."

Yang gently nudged her arm then, snapping her back to the present. Pushing those ominous thoughts aside proved difficult, but she managed to look up only to quickly realize she'd missed something.

"I'm sorry. What did you say?"

"Ruby had a question for you."

When Yang motioned for Ruby to ask again, Weiss looked over and immediately wished she hadn't. Looking anywhere near Ruby hurt so badly right now.

"What's in the box?" Ruby asked, subtly gesturing to it with her uninjured arm.

"Oh." Grateful for something else to talk about, and something else to look at, Weiss focused on the pink box in her hands. "These are for you, actually. I thought you'd like something different from hospital food."

Weiss passed the box to Ruby then, careful not to make eye contact but equally careful not to disturb Ruby's still-immobilized left arm. Once the box sat in her lap, Ruby opened the lid and hummed with delight.

"These look really good. Thank you!"

The muted response - by Ruby's standards, at least - felt like another knife plunging through Weiss' heart. The knife twisted when Ruby closed the lid and set the box beside her.

"Sorry…" Probably noticing how crushed Weiss looked, Ruby offered an apologetic smile. "The medicine makes me a little nauseous..."

"Oh. I'm sorry -"

"It's alright! I'll eat them as soon as I can, promise."

"Still, I should have thought of that..."

"It's ok, Weiss," Yang softly assured her, reaching over to pat her leg before smiling at Ruby. "Once Ruby feels better, she'll eat all of those in no time."

"You bet," Ruby quickly agreed.

Weiss nodded and didn't argue, but a pit of despair had just opened in her stomach. She should have known that the medicine made Ruby nauseous. It was her job to know things like that so she could help Ruby as much as possible. Instead, she just assumed Ruby would feel up for another sugar rush because the Ruby she knew never turned down sweets.

"I'm guessing you haven't eaten then?" Yang asked. Ruby started shaking her head but aborted the movement with a small wince.

"Not yet."

"The cafeteria has some good food. You won't be disappointed."

"You've been eating here a lot?"

"I live here, Ruby," Yang replied with a small chuckle. "Rented a room next door. It's kind of small, and the bed's not the biggest, but you can't beat having a full staff of doctors and nurses at your disposal."

Ruby giggled at the joke - the sound so upbeat and pure that Yang beamed and even Weiss felt a smile threaten to appear. For a split second, everything was normal. Nothing had changed. Then Ruby glanced at Weiss, almost as if checking that she was still there, and reality set back in.

She felt like an intruder. She felt like she was interrupting Ruby's time with Yang, who Ruby was clearly much more comfortable around. Before she excused herself though, desperate for any reason to leave, Ruby covered a yawn. Yang yawned immediately after, then shook her head and chuckled.

"Ok, you just reminded me that I'm tired." Yang patted her legs and stood up. "I'm going to get some coffee or something. Weiss, want anything?"

Weiss hastily shook her head - more so at the idea of Yang leaving than at the offer of coffee - and Yang turned towards Ruby.

"Ruby? Want anything? I bet there's hot chocolate."

"Maybe later," Ruby replied. Was it Weiss' imagination that she looked equally uncomfortable with the thought of being left here alone together?

"Alright. Be back in a minute."

"Yang -"

Weiss grabbed Yang's hand so that she wouldn't leave, but she calmly set her other hand over Weiss' and smiled.

"I'll be right back," she repeated before tilting her head towards Ruby and mouthing 'talk to her.' After adding an encouraging pat on Weiss' hand, Yang left the room.

Weiss nearly bolted after her. Miraculously, she didn't. Her knee bounced up and down instead, and she clutched her hands together as if that was the only thing keeping her here.

The silence grew more uncomfortable by the second, but she didn't know how to break it. She didn't even know if she wanted to break it. Doing so would prompt Ruby to speak again, and hearing Ruby talk only reminded Weiss that this was a living nightmare.

She only looked up when she heard another yawn. Ruby responded to her gaze with a sleepy, apologetic smile.

"Sorry...the medicine makes me tired too..."

The silence was making Ruby feel bad, which was the worst possible thing Weiss could do right now. She needed to find words or she needed to leave.

"Maybe you should try to get some sleep?"

Weiss was halfway out of her seat by the time Ruby shook her head. Then Ruby winced at the motion, which probably hurt her as much as the wince hurt Weiss.

"Doubt I could sleep now. Plus, that'd be kind of rude when you came to see me."

The response erased the option of leaving, so Weiss sat back down as if tacks had been left on the seat. She needed to say something - anything - or stall until Yang returned.

"Um...so...how do you feel? Other than nauseous and tired and...everything..."

"Been better, but at least the meds keep me from feeling much." A small smile flitted across Ruby's lips, then her eyes briefly moved to her injured arm. "That looks like it hurts."

"Yes, it...it does."

Thankfully, bandages hid the worst of it. If Ruby saw what the injury actually looked like, or knew what it had looked like, she would probably be even more traumatized.

Tears welled in Weiss' eyes at the gruesome memory, forcing her gaze downward. Panic bubbled up in her chest shortly after - only a fraction of what she experienced on that day but still enough to make her throat tighten, strangling her ability to speak.

She really wanted to cry, but she couldn't. She shouldn't. It would only make her look more broken and unstable, as if the frequent silences weren't already bad enough.

"So, uh...Yang said we went to school together. We went to Beacon together."

Even worse, her inability to talk forced Ruby to steer the conversation.

"We did," she answered, blinking away her tears and forcing herself to look at Ruby.

"Then...you're a real huntress?"

The admiration in Ruby's eyes and tone sent a fresh spike of pain through Weiss' heart.

"I am," she whispered while picking an invisible piece of lint from her sleeve.

At least, she had been. She imagined someone would expel her any day now for nearly killing one of the best huntresses of their time.

"That's so cool," Ruby said anyway, her eyes sparkling in that energetic way they always had. "What kind of weapon do you use?"

"A rapier."

"Does it have a name?"

"Yes. Myrtenaster."

"Myrtenaster…"

For a split second, Weiss thought the name struck something in Ruby. That hope disappeared like the rest of them. Destroyed by a small, polite smile.

"That's a nice name."

Ruby was only making conversation, but each subsequent question hurt more than the last. Ruby knew all of those answers. Ruby knew Weiss better than Weiss knew herself. At least, she had known Weiss better than Weiss knew herself...

"I use a scythe," Ruby continued, sounding more upbeat now that they'd landed on one of her favorite topics. "Her name's Crescent Rose. Since she's red and, you know, crescent shaped. My uncle helped me make her...but you probably already knew that…"

"I don't mind hearing it again," Weiss said before Ruby apologized. "You can pretend we've...just met. That's...fine."

Ruby's thoughtful expression suggested that she knew it wasn't truly fine, but she didn't argue. She bit her bottom lip and fiddled with the blanket laying across her lap instead.

"Maybe I can see Myrtenaster someday? I promise I'll be super careful."

"Of course, Ruby. I trust you."

When Ruby smiled at the response, Weiss' heart flickered to life. Unfortunately, that glimmer of happiness disappeared the instant Ruby's gaze fell to her heavily bandaged hand and her expression fell right along with it.

"Yang didn't tell me what happened..." she said while touching a loose strip of gauze with her uninjured hand. "All she said was that a hunt went bad..."

'Bad' didn't begin to capture how terribly that hunt went, with soul-stealing repercussions still revealing themselves to this day. Weiss couldn't believe Ruby was already talking about it though, and especially couldn't believe it when Ruby looked up and asked, "Do you know what happened?"

This was far from the light, simple topics Weiss imagined, but she couldn't lie. If Ruby asked the question and seriously wanted an answer, as it appeared she did, then Weiss couldn't lie.

"Yes," she admitted, her voice was so quiet that she hardly heard it.

As much as she wanted to hide from the questions that would surely follow, she held Ruby's gaze and waited for Ruby's response. Maybe Ruby could already sense that it was Weiss' fault. That she was the one to blame for those awful injuries.

But Ruby didn't accuse Weiss of anything. Instead, she stared into Weiss' eyes for what felt like an eternity before her brow furrowed.

"You were there."

It wasn't a question; Ruby already knew it was true. She read Weiss like an open book, making lying pointless.

"I was."

Confronting those terrible memories, Weiss stared at her lap and wished they could talk about anything else. Her admission hung heavily in the air instead, accompanied by an endless silence.

Ruby must understand now that Weiss shouldered the blame. That was why she stayed quiet for so long - she didn't know how to ask Weiss to leave or chide her for causing so much pain.

"I'm glad you're ok."

As soon as Weiss heard the words, a soft, stifled sob slipped through her lips. She didn't dare look up now. She couldn't meet Ruby's eyes when tears quickly filled her own.

Yes, she was 'ok.' She returned from the forest physically unscathed, but she hadn't escaped scars of her own. She'd been emotionally torn apart. Her confidence had been destroyed. And now, as Ruby put aside her own injuries...sounding so grateful that Weiss was unharmed...when Ruby didn't even know who she was anymore...

It was so like Ruby to put everyone else's safety before her own. But today, it broke Weiss' heart.

"I'm sorry...I didn't mean to make you sad."

Sadness didn't begin to describe how Weiss felt right now, as her entire world lay shattered in a million pieces. Her sun had gone dark, and she faced an endless night without warmth by her side. Her only beacon of hope lay in front of her...already worried about her.

"I'm fine." When Weiss looked up and saw the overwhelming sympathy in Ruby's eyes, she mustered a weak smile. "I've just been...really worried about you...but I'm fine."

"But I'm sorry I made you worry so much…and now - all this too..."

When Ruby waved at her head, Weiss blinked away her tears and emphatically shook her head.

"You have nothing to apologize for. This isn't - it's not your fault."

Hearing her voice crack, Weiss cleared her throat and tried to reign in her emotions. They were slipping out of her grasp, making it harder and harder to keep any kind of composure, but she needed to stay composed. She couldn't break down here.

"Please don't apologize," she whispered, knowing she couldn't bear to hear that again. "And don't worry about me. Just...focus on getting better."

"That's pretty much the only thing I can do," Ruby replied with a small chuckle. "There's not much to do around here."

"You could...watch some television?" Weiss asked while glancing at the blank video monitor in the corner of the room. She'd watched her fair share of videos on it over the past few weeks, but Ruby merely looked at it before offering a shy smile.

"The sound kind of gives me a headache...and the subtitles are a little hard to follow. My head's still pretty foggy..."

"Oh."

Ruby's embarrassment didn't help Weiss think clearly, but she didn't know how to fix either of those things. Ruby couldn't exactly get up and run around right now, but being bedridden must be horrible for her.

"A scroll?" Weiss suggested as soon as the idea popped into her mind. "Then you can play games on it or...something."

"That's what I was thinking. Yang said she needs to find mine though."

Seeing as how Weiss knew exactly where Ruby's scroll was, her brow furrowed at the response. That was, until she realized why Yang would hesitate to return it to Ruby - all of the messages, pictures, and information still on it. Memories that hadn't been wiped away.

"I'll buy you a new one," she said without thinking, but Ruby's eyes immediately widened.

"What? You don't have to do that -"

"But I'd like to."

"Why?"

Why? That answer seemed so obvious to Weiss - because she was supposed to. Not only was it her responsibility to take care of Ruby, but she could afford it - and she'd never found someone more worthy of spending her money on than Ruby. If that meant buying a new scroll, a new house, or the entire hospital, she would do it.

"Because...that's what friends do."

Weiss hated the label, but she didn't hate the small smile that lifted the corners of Ruby's lips. Ruby had always been able to disarm Weiss with a smile, but this was different. That small smile, combined with Ruby's thoughtful gaze, nearly paralyzed her.

"You must be important."

And then her heart stopped.

"What makes you say that?" she asked, trying not to sound alarmed while shifting in her seat.

"Because Yang introduced you first."

In one simple observation, Ruby proved that she might have been through a terrible, tragic accident, and she might have been set back years as a result, but she wasn't a child. She was still exceptionally smart. Intuitive. Thoughtful. Even though their conversation seemed fairly innocuous on the surface, contextual clues and subtext weren't lost on her.

Still, Weiss wouldn't give herself more credence than deserved. She used to be one of the most important people in Ruby's life. Now…

"We were very close," she whispered, averting her gaze when tears stung her eyes.

"Seriously? But...how?"

Hearing the surprise in Ruby's voice, Weiss looked up and furrowed her brow.

"What do you mean 'how?'"

"I mean...you're just...really pretty," Ruby said before looking down and fiddling with the blanket. "I would've thought you're Yang's friend. Yang always has the prettiest friends."

Feeling the telltale signs of a blush on her cheeks, Weiss opened her mouth but hesitated. Her first reaction was to feel overwhelmingly flattered. Her second was the urge to point out that Ruby was even more gorgeous. Worried about where those thoughts might take her, however, she focused on the safest part.

"Yang and I are friends, but that wouldn't have happened if not for you. And we've always been...closer...than Yang and I are."

The last statement felt like too much, but Weiss couldn't let Ruby think that her relationship with Yang was at all the same as the relationship they shared. Fortunately, Ruby looked unbothered by the clarification. After mulling it over for several seconds, she beamed.

"Well…lucky me then."

Weiss' heart fluttered at the response, and even more so when she recognized Ruby's next expression - coyness with a bit of a tease slipped in.

"I think I'm ready to try these cookies now."

When Ruby lifted up the box and grinned, Weiss couldn't help but smile. Even though Ruby had to do everything with one hand, she moved quickly. First, setting the box in her lap. Next, popping open the lid and inhaling the sweet aroma.

"These smell so good."

"I wasn't sure what you'd want, so I got some of everything," Weiss explained while Ruby pored over the selection. Weiss had made sure to get plenty of Ruby's favorites but also one of every other type of cookie the bakery offered. There were even some new flavors for Ruby to try.

"This is really nice of you…" After sending Weiss another smile, Ruby pulled out a candy-covered cookie and nibbled off the corner. Her stomach must not have protested because she quickly hummed and took a bigger bite.

"I'm going to rank these," she said after that bite disappeared.

"Like on a scale of one to ten?"

"Or one to seven."

"Seven?" Surprised by the arbitrary number, Weiss heard a small laugh slip through her lips. "Why seven?"

"No reason," Ruby replied with a shrug. "But it made you laugh."

Weiss' smile instantly disappeared, and her heart thudded painfully when Ruby looked down at the box rather than revel in her success like she once would have. Instead, she looked embarrassed - or modest, even.

Thankfully, the modesty passed quickly. Once it had, she finished the first cookie, chewing thoughtfully before nodding.

"This one's a five and a half."

"That's...a decent start."

"It's still really good," Ruby elaborated while making her next selection. "But I can't rate the first one too high. Because I might find one even better, and then I'd have to break my scale."

"Right. Of course."

With Ruby taking this so seriously - at least, playfully so - Weiss watched her try the next contestant. The chocolate cookie earned another delighted hum and several nods before Ruby gave it a short, happy, "Six!"

If Weiss ignored the hospital equipment and pain gnawing at her heart, this moment almost felt...normal. Ruby indulging in a full box of cookies wasn't new, nor was the speed with which she ate them.

"Ok, I should probably slow down," Ruby said, ending the illusion as she blew a breath through her lips and patted her stomach. "Don't know what they've been feeding me, but it probably wasn't nearly as delicious!"

While Ruby closed the box and set it beside her again, Weiss simply nodded. Ruby only said that so Weiss wouldn't feel bad, but she should have known better than to expect Ruby to feel good enough to eat an entire box of cookies in one sitting. Ruby wasn't better, not by a long shot, and Weiss should stop imagining her to be.

"They're really good though," Ruby added. "Thanks for getting them for me."

"Of course, Ruby."

Out of instinct or desperate need, Weiss nearly reached forward to hold Ruby's hand. The instant she noticed what she was doing, she pulled away. Unfortunately, Ruby noticed the aborted gesture, as her silent confusion confirmed.

"Sorry," Weiss mumbled while clutching her hands in her lap.

Denied that small measure of comfort, she struggled to find something else to talk about. There was so much she wanted to say but couldn't. She wanted to express how grateful she was that Ruby was awake, alive, and talking to her right now. But she couldn't convey that gratitude without dissolving into tears at everything they'd lost.

Thankfully, Yang took the responsibility out of Weiss' hands when she tapped the doorframe and walked into the room.

"I know you said no to hot chocolate, but how do you feel about chocolate milk?" Ruby's eyes lit up as soon as Yang presented the glass, so Yang chuckled and handed it over with a happy, "Thought so."

"The perfect way to wash down those cookies," Ruby said before taking a long drink.

"Oh yeah? You got into the cookies already?"

Yang turned to Weiss for an answer, and Weiss nodded. That made Yang even happier, as Ruby's appetite often served as a barometer for her general wellbeing. Considering she drained half of the glass before setting it down, she must be feeling better now.

"What else did you talk about?" Yang asked while settling into the chair beside Weiss.

"Just some random stuff, like school and...have you seen Myrtenaster before?"

"Of course I have," Yang replied, softly scoffing before leaning forward and lowering her voice. "Weiss even let me use Myrtenaster once."

Ruby's eyes widened at the revelation, and Weiss worried that Yang said too much. Ruby knew they went to school together, but she didn't know they were partners - or teammates even. Would she ask? Would she be disappointed in the answer?

"Good morning, ladies!"

Before Ruby could ask anything, one of the nurses swept into the room with a warm smile.

"How are you feeling, my dear?" she asked while checking the machines beside Ruby's bed then looking over Ruby's bandages.

"Better than yesterday," Ruby answered, curiously watching everything the nurse did.

"And what did you have for breakfast?" After tapping the box, which Ruby willingly opened, she chuckled. "Cookies and chocolate milk? I heard you had quite the sweet tooth."

The nurse winked at Weiss, who blushed when Ruby gave her a curious look. She might have talked to the nurses about Ruby during her many, many hours here. They all loved hearing about the famed huntress, especially the more adorable details Weiss had to offer.

While Weiss worried about what the nurses might tell Ruby later, the kind woman stood back and lightly clapped her hands.

"I know you want to catch up, but Miss Rose has a busy morning ahead of her. The doctor wants to run a new set of scans to make sure everything's progressing as planned, then a couple of cognitive tests to figure out what we're dealing with."

"You need her now?" Yang asked while Ruby's brow furrowed.

"I'll come back in a few minutes," the nurse replied, flashing a smile at the three of them before leaving the room.

A heavy weight settled on Weiss' heart when she realized what the woman's news meant - it was time for them to leave. That became all the more apparent when Yang stood up and moved closer to Ruby's side.

"Alright, kiddo," she said while tenderly patting Ruby's shoulder. "You've got another big day ahead."

"I guess...what do you think they mean by 'cognitive tests?'"

"No idea, but I'm sure you'll ace them!"

Ruby's frown suggested she didn't fall for Yang's misguided confidence, but Yang didn't recant either. With one hand still on Ruby's shoulder, she turned towards Weiss instead.

"I'll catch up with you in a sec, ok?"

Understanding that Yang wanted a minute alone with Ruby, Weiss nodded and glanced at Ruby one last time.

"It was nice meeting you," Ruby quickly said. "Or...re-meeting you, I guess."

While Ruby chuckled to herself, Weiss tried and failed to smile. She didn't know why it hurt so much that Ruby seemed so fine with her leaving, but she couldn't escape the despair creeping through her veins. This was the end of their interaction, but she didn't know how she wanted to leave it. Open ended? Certain? Hopeful?

"I know this must be a lot to process…" she began quietly, holding Ruby's gaze to the best of her ability. "But if you need anything, please let me know. I'll...I'll do anything to help."

"Thanks, Weiss!" Ruby used Weiss' name so easily that she took Weiss' breath away, but she glanced at Yang before noticing the impact it had. "But it's not so bad. At least I'm alive, right?"

Ruby chuckled at the optimism, but Weiss couldn't even imagine smiling. Yang looked at her, reading right through her, as both of them thought the same thing - Ruby had no idea how close she'd come to that not being true.

"Right," Weiss whispered, lingering for a second longer before hurrying into the hall. She'd already shut the door when she realized she should have said goodbye, or promised to come back, or something. But it was hard to think right now, especially as her hands shook and her heart sped up.

The nurses' station became her retreat, but this time she paced in front of it while her thoughts raced too fast for her to reign in. As far as first impressions went, that could have gone way better. If only she'd managed to stick to her plan...or bring up any of the topics she'd prepared in advance. But she hadn't expected...she hadn't believed...that Ruby could actually...forget.

As the tragic reality settled on her chest, crushing her heart and filling her eyes with tears, her feet finally came to a stop. Standing in the middle of the hall, with nurses, doctors, and patients now going about their days, she stared at the tile floor and tried to hold her guilt and self-loathing at bay. But the more she fought against them, the stronger they became.

Tears turned the tile floor into a shimmering mess of light as her mind turned against her. Something strangled the air from her lungs, making her gasp for breath before a sob broke the middle of her exhale. Her shattered psyche, which she'd struggled to ignore all this time, suddenly became unbearably loud, ripping control from rationality.

She only made it this far thinking Ruby would wake up and they could start healing together. They would lean on each other for support, like always. They would be there for each other, like always. But that future would never happen, leaving her broken, beaten, and alone.

All that she was...all that she'd become...was a reflection of how Ruby looked at her. Ruby made her a better person. Ruby brought out the best in her.

Now Ruby was gone. And it was all her fault. She hadn't been fast enough, smart enough, or good enough. She'd never deserved Ruby, and this was proof. She'd never deserved Ruby. So the universe took Ruby away from her.

"You feeling alright?"

When one of the nurses paused beside her, concern evident in their tone, Weiss quickly nodded.

"I just - need some air."

She couldn't breathe. The hallway felt like it was getting smaller, trying to crush her while anguish overwhelmed her. Her ears started ringing, the sound growing so loud that she couldn't hear their response even if they attempted one.

Her feet carried her to the stairwell at a run, brushing past everyone in her path before flying down four flights of stairs. The lobby disappeared shortly after. The sliding glass doors - outside, fresh air. She still couldn't breathe, so she kept running.

Across the courtyard, towards the street. A line of taxis waited for passengers - she'd opened one of the doors before her mind caught up to what she was doing.

"Where are you going?"

The sudden, stiff gust of wind accompanying the question felt so much like the breezes left in Ruby's wake that Weiss spun towards the hospital and desperately searched for a flash of red. That was her. That was her. Weiss knew it, but she found nothing but strangers entering and exiting the hospital's lobby.

The breeze faded away, bringing tears to her eyes while she held onto the car door just to keep herself upright. What she really wanted was to fall to her knees and cry as the full force of her heartbreak overcame her.

Ruby used to look at her like she was special. Ruby used to light up when she walked into a room. Ruby used to love her so much that she never went a day without happiness. She was never alone. They always had each other.

That Ruby was gone. Her Ruby was gone. The time they shared...the lives they built together...erased by one fatal mistake. Her mistake. Her failure.

Now, she was no one. And she deserved to be no one.

"Miss?" The taxi driver ducked his head so he could see her through the open door. "Going somewhere?"

Before Weiss could respond, another breeze made her shudder and clutch the door so hard that her knuckles turned white. The familiarity hurt so much yet pushed her closer to tears when it faded away.

Ruby never ran from anything. What would she think if she knew what Weiss was about to do?

Weiss already knew the answer, and that hurt even more. Ruby would forgive her. Ruby would say that if this was what Weiss needed to do, then do it. Even if that meant leaving her behind. Even if that meant leaving her for dead.

Weiss swore that would never happen. She would rather die than give up on the girl who'd defied the universe so many times.

If she got into the taxi, she gave up on Ruby. She admitted that Ruby had finally met her match. That they'd finally reached the point of no return. That Ruby couldn't do this when she'd done everything else.

'At least I'm alive, right?'

"I - I'm sorry. I can't leave yet."

Without waiting for a response, Weiss shut the door and turned around. Her hands shook uncontrollably, tears streamed down her cheeks, her heart ached like never before - a pain so sharp and visceral that she could hardly move - but she couldn't doubt Ruby. Not now.

"Ruby, please…" she whispered, seeking out Ruby's window through her tears. "Please come back to me. I - I need you…"

She missed Ruby so much, it physically hurt. As she wrapped her arms around herself, needing one of Ruby's hugs like never before, she felt how broken she was. How the cracks she'd hidden all this time had finally burst open, leaving fissures wide enough for every emotion to slip out.

She'd convinced herself that she could handle this situation, but no amount of planning could have prepared her for this. She needed to be strong enough to deal with Ruby not recognizing her. She needed the willpower to make it through this challenge. She needed to overcome the pain and figure out a way to piece them back together. But she wasn't that strong. She'd never been that strong. Not on her own, at least.

Before she convinced herself out of it, she pulled out her scroll, dialed one of the few numbers she knew by heart, and held it up to her ear. It only rang once before the call connected.

"Weiss?"

Hearing her sister's voice, she bit her lip to keep from sobbing. Her tears still spilled over, but she took a small, shaky breath and tried to put her jumbled thoughts into words.

"Winter, I...I need your help."

The brief silence on the other end of the line said everything. Winter already knew that Ruby woke up without the last few years intact. Weiss hadn't told her, but someone had. Yang, or Blake, maybe even one of the doctors.

"How is she?" Winter asked softly.

"She's…"

Gone, Weiss thought as more tears welled in her eyes. She looked at the ground while they fell, darkening the sidewalk in splashes while she struggled for words.

"S-she's…her hand is - and she - I c-can't - I thought I could, but I - I need your help."

A sob slipped out. She tried to stop it, but another one quickly followed.

"It's ok, Weiss. I'm right here," Winter assured her. "Just...take a deep breath and tell me what you need."

She needed Ruby. She needed Ruby to tell her this would be fine. That everything would work out. That this was just another challenge they would overcome together. If she couldn't have that, she at least needed Ruby to recover. To make it out of the hospital and back on her feet.

"T-the doctors and...a-and all the t-tests -"

"I'll handle everything. I'll call the hospital right now."

Winter's calm certainty was a small, welcome breath of relief. At least Weiss didn't have to worry about Ruby's health suffering because of her fragility.

"Thank you…" she whispered, wiping several tears away and sniffling.

"Do you need someone to stay with? I can be on the next airship to Vale."

Weiss could practically see Winter already heading to the door, racing to the nearest airship station. Before that happened, Weiss shook her head.

"No, I'm...I'm fine. Don't drop everything just for me."

Winter's soft sigh said that she would drop everything if Weiss needed her to. But Weiss didn't think she needed her sister's supervision. Not yet, at least. If she did, she would already be on an airship to Atlas.

"Let me know if you need anything, ok? No matter how big or small."

When her vision started swimming again, Weiss closed her eyes and tried to think around her aching heart. She didn't want to think about what she needed right now. She didn't want to do anything but curl up in bed and cry until the pain went away.

"I will," she whispered regardless, knowing Winter was waiting for the response.

"Good. And Weiss? I...I can't imagine how this feels, but your team needs you right now. Ruby included."

Ruby didn't even know who she was, but Weiss didn't point that out. She bit her bottom lip and nodded instead, though Winter couldn't see her.

"Thanks, Winter," she whispered while wiping away more tears. "I'll...I'll talk to you later, ok?"

"That's fine. But please take care of yourself, Weiss. You know I love you."

"Love you too," Weiss replied before taking a deep breath and ending the call.

After putting her scroll away, Weiss looked up at the hospital and sighed. Knowing that Winter would take care of the medical logistics made her feel a little better, but her heart still ached. She should be the one handling Ruby's medical care, but she couldn't. She couldn't even think Ruby's name without her heart clenching.

"Weiss?"

Gaze snapping towards her name, she found Yang standing just outside the hospital's entrance, frantically searching the plaza. As soon as their eyes met, Yang's posture visibly relaxed and she raced over.

"Weiss, holy shit," Yang said while hugging her. "Don't scare me like that. For a second, I thought -"

Leaving that sentence unfinished, Yang pulled away and shook her head instead.

"What're you doing out here?"

"I'm sorry. I just...needed some air."

Weiss couldn't admit what almost happened. Yang had enough to worry about as it was - she shouldn't have to worry about Weiss too. And she would never forgive Weiss for leaving, so if she knew that Weiss even considered it...

"Maybe give me a little heads up next time?"

"Sorry…"

"It's fine." Yang shook off her fear with a smile, then set a hand on Weiss' shoulder. "Come on, you can stay with Blake and me for a few days."

"Yang, I'm fine."

"But I'm not."

The blunt answer caught Weiss by surprise. Finally noticing the unshed tears in Yang's eyes, and watching her visibly swallow around a lump in her throat, Weiss only felt more horrible. For Yang to cry...things were bad.

"Humor me?" Yang finally asked, her wavering smile wounding Weiss' heart even more.

Winter was right - Weiss wasn't the only one hurting. She wasn't the only one so grievously impacted by her mistake. Yang lost years with her little sister, during which they'd grown closer than ever. And Blake...Blake lost a near sister, entirely.

Everyone lost something.

"I...I can't."

Confusion and hurt instantly replaced Yang's smile.

"You can't? What do you mean you can't?"

"Because...I told Ruby I'd buy her a new scroll," Weiss explained, her lip quivering with more tears. "I have to get her a new scroll so she's not bored. I don't want her to be bored. You know how much she hates being bored. So I can't...I can't go anywhere until I do that."

Relaxing into a small smile, Yang pulled Weiss into another hug.

"Ok," Yang whispered, holding Weiss for a few more seconds before letting go. "Let's buy her a new scroll. Then we'll pick up some food, and Blake can help us set it up for her. How's that sound?"

Weiss didn't think she could eat, but she nodded regardless. And she was grateful that Yang kept a hand on her shoulder while turning her away from the hospital. She didn't trust herself right now - an alarming, unnerving realization- and she didn't know what she would do if left alone.

Maybe Yang already sensed that. When Weiss looked at her, however, she found only relief, sadness, and quiet determination in soft, lavender eyes.

"What's that?" Weiss asked when she noticed the napkin in Yang's hand.

"Oh." After looking at it, Yang held it out to Weiss. "Ruby wanted me to give you this. Said it's a 'seven,' whatever that means."

When Weiss unfolded the napkin and found a chocolate chip cookie inside, her heart clenched. It might not seem like much, but it was proof. Tangible proof of how much everything had changed.

Feeling another tear roll down her cheek, she sniffled and quickly wiped it away. Then she wrapped up the cookie and closed her eyes, feeling two more tears fall in the process.

"That was sweet of her..." she whispered, but words failed her beyond that.

Thankfully, Yang didn't ask questions. Keeping one warm, comforting hand on Weiss' shoulder, she gently steered them away from the hospital instead.

"And she wanted to know when you'll come back."

Yang tried to make the statement casually, but Weiss immediately looked over her shoulder. The hospital loomed behind them - the stark, plain building holding the better part of her heart.

Ruby wanted her to come back. Even though she'd barely been able to speak, let alone carry a conversation. Even though she hadn't been able to make eye contact or keep the threat of tears from her eyes.

Weiss might have lost the Ruby who loved her, but...this was the Ruby she fell in love with. Optimistic, light-hearted, driven, and incredibly caring, as the sweet gesture in Weiss' hand proved. She wasn't naïve enough to hope for another miracle, and she wasn't blind enough to think she could do this on her own, but if she leaned on her friends and family for support…

It might never be the same, and her heart might never recover from this heartbreak, but she could be there for Ruby. She could help Ruby defy the odds once again.

"Tomorrow," she whispered, staring at the hospital for a little longer before managing a small smile for Yang. "I'll go back tomorrow."