I had the random urge to write a darker universe, so I did! I don't plan on writing a full story for this, though it does set up nicely for one...I built out a lot of the world in my mind, but I kind of like just seeing this little slice of Weiss' cursed life.

Pairing: White Rose


A scream jolted Weiss awake. Not a gleeful scream or a lustful scream - a bloodcurdling, gut-wrenching scream. She would recognize the sound anywhere. It was the sound of someone dying, or thinking they were dying, from injuries or pain unlike anything they'd experienced before.

Regardless of how late it was - the darkness in the room suggested the middle of night - her mind snapped awake. By the time more noises registered in her mind - shouts, barked orders, disorganized chaos - she'd leapt out of bed and raced to the room's only window, overlooking the courtyard hundreds of feet below.

Cloudy skies masked the moon, offering little to see by other than the flickering yellow light of torches, but the battle was impossible to miss. Palace guards, their silver armor flashing in the low light, engaged an unknown force that flooded into the courtyard. The attackers had few discernible features other than looking like a rag-tag bunch equipped with subpar weapons, but they'd breached the castle gates and set their sights on the main entrance next.

One of the courtyard trees caught fire then, bathing the courtyard in new light and adding to the pandemonium. That scorching, ferocious combatant wasted no time leaping to the tree beside it, burning the leaves to a blackened crisp before seeking out even more fuel.

What looked and sounded like a rebellion Weiss saw as opportunity. While more guards and attackers swarmed the courtyard, she hurried to the dresser and changed into one of the few outfits available to her. Her hands shook as she pulled on a pair of pants, shirt, and jacket, and willed her trembling fingers to lace the shoes.

The loops hardly fell into place before she regained her feet and considered her limited options of escape. The bedroom door was locked, as usual, and several harsh tugs of the handle convinced her that she couldn't break through. That left only one option - the window.

She'd considered it many times before - after all, it was constantly kept open to entice her - but even if she could traverse the hundred foot climb without slipping and falling to her death, the courtyard guards would inevitably spot her and drag her back to the room. Now that they were distracted, she had a chance.

Hearing someone try the door handle made the decision easier. If one of the intruders somehow made it this far, she didn't plan on being here to greet them. So, as they tried the handle again, more forcefully this time, she swung one leg out the window, glanced at the steep drop peppered with thin ledges, and took a deep breath.

A loud crash tore her gaze to the dark silhouette standing in the now-open doorway. With the torchlight shining in behind them, she couldn't make out any distinguishing features, but their short, messy hair and fluttering cloak made her pause.

"Weiss," they sighed, their soft voice erasing every reason for Weiss to run. She pulled herself back inside and threw herself into waiting arms instead.

"Ruby…" she whispered while burying her face in Ruby's shoulder and hugging her close. Even in the darkness, Weiss could feel the familiarity in her. The strength in Ruby's arms, the softness of Ruby's skin, the welcoming embrace surrounding her like a comforting fog mixed with the smell of roses.

"Please tell me you're real," Weiss said, pulling away and setting her hands on Ruby's cheeks. Now that her eyes had adjusted to the low light, she could make out Ruby's dark, ruffled hair, and bright, silver eyes.

"I'm real," Ruby replied before a calm, quirky smile pulled at her lips. "Promised I'd find you, didn't I?"

Having wished so many times for this moment, Weiss couldn't help the small laugh that slipped out while she wrapped her arms around Ruby's neck and dragged her into a deep kiss. The moment their lips touched, fueled by passion no length of time could erase, Weiss' heart sprang to life.

Greedily claiming Ruby's warm, soft lips for herself, she felt alive for the first time in months. Ruby's hands sliding to the small of her back, fingertips slipping under her shirt and across her skin, reminded her of everything she still had to live for. She would have continued the kiss for far longer than they had, content to ignore the sounds of battle while washing away months of separation, but Ruby made a noise and gently pushed her away.

"Hold that thought. We need to get out of here first."

Before Weiss asked any of the questions popping into her mind, Ruby grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the room. Even though she didn't know what was happening, she blindly followed Ruby down lifeless stone hallways and empty stairwells. The sounds of battle grew closer or further away depending on what direction they turned, but Ruby didn't seem intent on joining the fight. Instead, they raced through the castle with what felt like no destination in mind.

"Do you know where you're going?" Weiss asked only when they passed the same set of stone gargoyles guarding the same imposing double doors.

"Of course."

Rather than point out the obvious, Weiss chose to believe that Ruby knew exactly where she was going. Even though she shouldn't since she'd never been here before, she always had an uncanny way of figuring these things out.

Weiss' faith proved correct when the maze of hallways emptied into a cavernous atrium lit by torches and candelabras alike. Black suits of armor stood at attention on either side of the room, each clutching a sinister weapon in their gloved hands. Just seeing them struck such terror in Weiss' heart, she pulled against Ruby's hand rather than enter the room.

"Don't worry," Ruby whispered while gently tugging Weiss along. "They're just for show."

Even if they were just for show, they represented monsters Weiss had learned to fear with every fiber of her being. The once-used armor seemed to know it too, as their soulless embodiments seemed to watch Ruby and Weiss race towards the wider hallways on the far side of the room.

The mannequins couldn't alert the castle's most nefarious denizens of Weiss and Ruby's location, but worry pricked at the back of Weiss' mind. The courtyard was close now, and the battle closer. Cries of pain, rage, and fear echoed off of the stone, sounding as if they came from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

Weiss' budding worry became full-fledged concern when the acrid smell of smoke burned her nose. Seconds later, Ruby shoved a large, wooden door open and swore at the sight in front of them.

The fire had found its way inside. Now, it grabbed ahold of anything it could sink its curling, crackling fingers into. The sconces had let it through the window, and now the entire doorway in front of them was ablaze. The wood had separated the frame, half of it now lying on the ground while the fire burned everywhere around it. And it kept spreading, searching for more to melt and wither in its white-hot grasp.

"Alright, time to improvise."

Weiss nearly asked how they would 'improvise' their way through an inferno, but she knew she wouldn't like the answer when Ruby turned towards her and clutched her hands.

"Stay here and I'll find a way through."

"No, Ruby -"

"I'll be right back," Ruby added before releasing Weiss' hands and backing away. "Just give me a second."

Without another word, Ruby pulled the hood of her cloak over her head and sprinted through the flames. Lacking the means to follow, Weiss rubbed the back of her hand and looked around the empty hall. It was empty now, but how long would that last? The battle sounded closer, and the flames grew hotter by the second.

Her cheeks flushed from the fire's proximity, but she didn't dare move away. Ruby would return for her, and Ruby would return through those flames.

"Where do you think you're going?"

Weiss' blood ran cold at the low, smooth voice, but someone grabbed her by the throat and slammed her into the wall before she could react.

"I thought you liked it here," her captor drawled, their yellow eyes glinting in the light of the fire. "But you're trying to escape?"

The black-gloved hand tightened around Weiss' throat as the hunter clicked their tongue. At least, Weiss assumed they clicked their tongue but had no way of knowing when a black mask covered everything but those malice-filled eyes.

As their hand squeezed harder, cutting off her ability to breathe, she grabbed their arm and tried in vain to relieve the pressure. She kicked out too, but they easily moved out of the way and grabbed her right hand. After twisting it over to see the back of it, they clicked their tongue again and shoved it away.

"It may not be your time to die yet, but we can teach you a lesson, can't we?"

Yellow eyes flashing with desire, they drew a menacing, curved dagger from their side. Weiss struggled to free herself, struggled to breathe, but her strength was fading. Her mind begging for air while simultaneously shutting down.

Unconsciousness beckoned, but a piece of burning wood interrupted its summons. Weiss barely noticed it before it broke over the hunter's head, catching them so off guard that they yelped in pain while their grasp weakened.

Weiss dropped to her hands and knees, coughing for air as burning embers and splinters of wood flew everywhere, but Ruby pulled her back to her feet before she'd fully recovered. They were running before her mind caught up, and Ruby threw her cloak around Weiss' shoulders mere seconds before they leapt through the burning doorway and straight into the jaws of hell.

Weiss thought she heard a roar of rage behind them, but the roar of flames quickly replaced anything else. Thick, black smoke made it impossible to see. It stung her eyes, nose, and throat, choking her as efficiently as the hunter's hand. Flames crawled across the ceiling, walls, and floors, engulfing everything in its blistering heat yet miraculously shying away from the cloak wrapped around her.

Ruby moved so fast through the inferno that it was all Weiss could do just to keep up. Through unrecognizable corridors, over unseen obstacles, around unknown barriers - she would have gotten lost if Ruby let go of her hand. But Ruby never let go and didn't slow down until they burst through another doorway consumed by flames.

Compared to the hellscape behind them, the smoky room beyond might as well have been filled with fresh breezes. The fire had already made its way inside, but the high ceilings offered the smoke someplace to go while leaving fresh air underneath. Weiss gasped in deep breaths of it while Ruby did the same. And only then did Ruby release Weiss' hand, but only to put both hands on her knees while coughing.

"Nearly there," she said in a slightly husky voice. After brushing soot marks off her arm, which only smeared them further, she retook Weiss' hand and hurried to the wide, tall doors across the room. Weiss recognized them from the one time she'd seen them before - the main entrance into and out of the castle.

It seemed too easy, and that proved true when a shrouded figure stepped in front of the doors, appearing from the shadows as if they were one and the same. Their black hood and mask obscured everything but their ferocious golden eyes, providing the only contrast to their black robe, thin black armor, and black boots. This one held sinister sabers in each hand and glowered at them in a silent dare to approach.

"Alright, Plan C," Ruby whispered before dragging Weiss the other way. A side door offered another route, hopefully, but Weiss glanced over her shoulder before they rushed through it. The hunter remained at the front entrance, blades in hand, watching but not pursuing.

"Ruby -"

"Don't worry," Ruby said while they ran through a narrow hallway reserved for the staff.

Despite Ruby's assurance, she was worried. It showed in the tenseness in her shoulders and the way her eyes flitted to every doorway, desperately searching for a way out. She, like Weiss, must have expected the midnight rebellion to be more of a distraction. They should have known better.

"Here!"

Ruby threw open the door so fast that they all but tumbled out into the night. The cool air was a blessing compared to the fire living inside, but Weiss hardly took two steps before stumbling over an unseen divot in the path. Her feet had grown unused to anything but the smooth floors of her room, but Ruby quickly steadied her and hurried them away from the palace walls.

Weiss had glimpsed the grassy lawns and cobblestone pathways from faraway windows many times, and imagined escaping across them even more, but never like this. Bodies littered the ground, many unmoving, some nursing life-threatening and survivable injuries alike. Those who'd survived, however temporarily, had more important matters to attend to than Ruby and Weiss fleeing for their lives. Even the castle guards, who'd been charged with keeping her under lock and key, failed to raise an alarm when their battle-shocked eyes passed over her.

Her heart pounded in her ears, her muscles ached, her breaths came in deep gasps that never fully refilled her burning lungs, but adrenaline pushed her forward. She matched Ruby's pace as best she could, even though Ruby's longer legs meant she was actually slowing them down.

The intruders had broken open the gates at the end of the long, stone bridge separating the foreboding fortress from the impoverished city below. An enormous battering ram lay discarded on the side, now serving as merely an obstacle Ruby and Weiss raced around. A swift river ran beneath them, its surface looked like nothing more than black glass in the dead of night.

The sound of rushing water filled Weiss' ears as much as her labored breathing and pounding heart did, but her focus fixed on the other end of the bridge. The invisible line separating them from freedom, where they could disappear in the shanties and make their escape.

They were only halfway across when a figure stepped out of the shadows. The black cloak, boots, and bow were somehow darker than the night itself. The spikes on the hunter's wrists glinted as they fluidly pulled an arrow from their quiver, notched it in their bow, and aimed across the bridge.

Recognizing the immediate danger, Ruby slid to a stop and turned around. Weiss followed only for her heart to clench when she saw the dual bladed horror behind them.

"Shit," Ruby said before turning back to the bow wielder. Weiss knew Ruby was trying to figure out a plan - Ruby always had a plan - but this was the ending of every one of Weiss' nightmares. The fleeting glimmer of hope extinguished. The fancy of freedom destroyed. Thoughts of a long, happy life together crushed in black-gloved fists.

They always won. The only difference was that this time was real.

"Ruby," she whispered, tears stinging her eyes as she watched the archer. Their elbow drawn back, the bow string taut, just waiting.

"It'll be alright, Weiss."

Ruby said that right as the archer's gloved fingers released. The arrow shot forward, bending with power before straightening towards its target. But that was all Weiss saw before Ruby spun towards her and hugged her close, letting her see nothing as a sickening thump disturbed the sound of the river.

A gasp slipped through Ruby's lips, but she didn't cry out even as her expression contorted with pain. The archer calmly drew another bow, in no hurry now that they'd reached their favorite part of this repulsive game.

"Time to...improvise…" Ruby whispered before grabbing Weiss' sides and, with one tremendous heave of effort, throwing her off the bridge.

"Ruby!" she screamed, reaching out for the girl while gravity dragged her away. She saw the dual-bladed hunter sprint towards the middle of the bridge as the rushing water grew closer and closer. She saw Ruby tumble over the railing before dropping like a stone, uncontrolled and unmoving. Then she hit the water so hard it knocked the air from her lungs.

Darkness enveloped her. Cold water soaked her clothes and filled her mouth when she mistakenly tried to breathe. The river's current dragged her through the rapids, twisting her around, rolling her over and sideways and upside-down while she tried to find the surface, only to be completely disoriented instead.

Her lungs burned. Her mind soon screamed for air. Even though she felt the water all around her, pressing in on all sides, her brain urged her to breathe. Anything to fight the dark haze pulling at her consciousness.

With what energy she had, she chose a random direction and kicked that way. Her arms and legs felt sluggish, barely responding then not responding at all. The river carried her along in its current, but she couldn't fight it. Then she stopped fighting it. Her mind began shutting down, and she finally took a breath only to find nothing but water choking her lungs.

A small corner of her brain was still panicking, but the rest of her gave in to the darkness claiming her. No more fighting, no more surviving, no more anything...

Suddenly, she jerked to a stop and gasped as her head briefly broke the river's surface. She hardly got half a breath before plunging back under, but this time only for a second before she propelled herself back up.

She was stuck on something, water rushing all around her, flowing right over her head as something held her in place. When she held up a hand to keep the torrent away from her face and looked back, she saw her savior - Ruby's cloak. The hood had caught on a downed tree and dragged her out of the water just enough to breathe.

She could breathe again, but she was still in danger. After freeing the hood, she clung to the branch and searched for Ruby.

"Ruby!" she called out, desperately scanning the wide, deep river for any sign of the girl. Catching a glimpse of what she first thought to be a log, she nearly dismissed it. Then she noticed two rigid lines sticking straight up from it and swam over as fast as her limbs allowed.

"Ruby," she said while turning Ruby over. Her eyes were closed and Weiss couldn't tell if she was breathing. She wasn't moving either, limp as a doll in Weiss' arms.

Worried that more arrows would follow, Weiss spun towards the bridge, where two shadows watched the river carry her and Ruby away. They must be out of range, because the shadows soon hurried towards the city, resuming their pursuit.

It wouldn't take the hunters long to find them, but Weiss had bigger concerns right now. Still treading water, she wrapped an arm under Ruby's shoulder and kicked towards shore. It was slow progress, especially when fighting the current and holding Ruby, but she somehow made it. As soon as her feet touched the river bed, she stood and pulled Ruby after her, slipping once before quickly regaining her feet.

The arrows in Ruby's back made everything harder, but Weiss managed to drag her mostly out of the water and roll her onto her stomach. Then Weiss pressed one hand to Ruby's back, right at the base of one of the arrows, gripped the arrow's shaft with the other, and pulled. The wound started bleeding profusely as soon as the arrowhead came free, but she quickly repeated the process with the other before rolling Ruby onto her back and pressing the heels of both palms to her chest.

"One, two, three, four," Weiss muttered with each strong downward push before pinching Ruby's nose and blowing a long, deep breath through her mouth. Her chest rose with the air before falling again, but nothing else happened.

Weiss had only ever seen this done before so wasn't even sure she was doing it right, but she kept trying. Four deep compressions, one long breath, more compressions.

"Please, Ruby..." she said, sweating as she put her body weight into each compression. "Don't leave me like this..."

Her anguish grew with every passing second, but she refused to give up. Ruby hadn't given up on her; she wouldn't give up on Ruby. Even when it seemed hopeless. Even when her heart ached with loss.

While she blew yet another deep breath into Ruby's mouth, something deep in Ruby's chest gurgled. Then water suddenly bubbled up through Ruby's lips, and Ruby nearly knocked heads with Weiss while rolling onto her side to clear her lungs.

"Thank the stars," Weiss said while Ruby coughed. She set a hand on Ruby's back but jerked away when Ruby yelped at the contact. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Are you - are you alright? The hunters - we need to move."

Rather than respond, Ruby groaned and clutched her arm. Now that the most immediate crisis had passed, Weiss noticed the blood darkening the back of Ruby's shirt and the two gaping holes where the arrows had been.

"Ruby -" Weiss reached out when Ruby pressed both hands against the ground and tried pushing herself to her feet. She hardly put any pressure on her left shoulder before collapsing to the dirt.

"It burns…" Ruby moaned, clutching her shoulder and curling up in pain.

After looking at the two open, freely-bleeding wounds on Ruby's back, Weiss grabbed one of the discarded arrows and held it up in what little light there was. The shallow water had washed off most of Ruby's blood by now, revealing a dark black tip underneath.

"We need to go."

Weiss tossed the arrow aside and ducked underneath Ruby's arm to help her up, but Ruby hardly gained her legs before they buckled under her.

"I can't," Ruby groaned as her knees sank into the soft soil. Her breathing sounded labored now, her energy dropping by the second. "You need to get to the docks…Yang's waiting..."

"I'm not leaving you."

"Weiss -"

"I'm not leaving you again."

Lacking the strength to force Weiss away, Ruby reluctantly acquiesced. Weiss ducked under her arm again, wrapped an arm around her back, and summoned every ounce of force while standing up. Her feet slipped in the mud, nearly sending both of them toppling back to the ground, but she managed to keep her balance and get Ruby upright at the same time.

"Do you know the way?"

"Yes."

Already straining under Ruby's weight, Weiss didn't say more than that. She'd seen the docks from the castle windows. She'd watched ships come and go, wishing to be leaving with them. Now, she hobbled that direction with slow steps and increasingly heavy breaths.

They weren't far - the river had washed them almost all the way out to sea - but the remaining distance felt insurmountable. Even at her strongest, she would have struggled to support Ruby like this. But she needed to get Ruby to help as soon as possible - the hot blood running over her arm made that increasingly true.

After nearly slipping and falling half a dozen times, she managed to get Ruby away from the muddy riverbank. From there, soft grass paths led to the dilapidated shanties at the city's edge. Weiss expected peace and quiet at this time of night, but the neighborhood was alive. Lights flickered in windows, people stood in the street whispering amongst themselves and staring towards the castle, where the fire could be seen from here.

Regardless of how preoccupied the townsfolk may be, Weiss stuck to the outskirts and tried not to make too much noise while hobbling Ruby along. Ruby tried to help - Weiss could tell that she was - but her feet dragged along the ground and her breathing grew raspier by the second.

"Almost there," Weiss huffed as the shanties eventually gave way to the lifeless waterfront, where decaying boats rocked in the waves. The townspeople were too busy waiting for their loved ones to return to be moseying around the docks, she kept glancing over her shoulder anyway. If the hunters made it this far, Weiss and Ruby would be easy targets.

"Weiss…"

"We're almost there, Ruby..." Weiss said, fighting for every step closer to the water. "Just...hold on a little longer."

Weiss told herself that as much as Ruby, but when Ruby's legs finally gave out, she was only strong enough to slow Ruby's fall to her knees. Weiss immediately knelt in front of her, holding her upright while her silver eyes slowly gained focus.

"You have to leave..." Ruby tried again, but Weiss didn't even consider the option. Instead, she looked around for something to help - a cart or anything she could use to make moving Ruby easier. All she found were barrels, tables, and several old coils of rope.

They were so close, but she needed to regain her strength before realistically carrying Ruby the rest of the way. But she couldn't rest with the hunters trailing them and Ruby's life slipping away by the second. If Yang was waiting for them -

"Yang!" Weiss shouted towards the rocking boats as soon as the thought popped into her mind. If she thought she was fast enough, she would bring Yang back to help, but she didn't dare leave Ruby alone in this state. "Yang!" she tried again, louder this time, only for the soft lapping waves to respond.

Desperation sank its teeth into her heart when Ruby's eyes slid shut and her head bobbed.

"No, no, no." Weiss lifted Ruby's chin and gently patted her cheek. "Ruby, wake up. You have to stay awake."

Ruby's eyes fluttered, but only for a second before shutting again. Whatever those arrows had been coated with was draining her life at a fearful rate, and Weiss could do nothing about it even if she had the strength to get Ruby to the boat.

Heart clenching with hopelessness, she stifled a sob and brushed her fingers across Ruby's cheek. "Ruby, please don't leave me…" she whispered as tears welled in her eyes.

Unfortunately, it wasn't Ruby's decision. Ruby would never leave, as she proved by being here tonight. By coming back for Weiss, just like she promised. She shouldn't die here, laying in the dirt in this ramshackle town. She shouldn't die when Weiss was the one marked for death.

Sensing movement nearby, Weiss looked up and froze when her worst nightmare stepped onto the street in front of them. Dressed like the night...this time with a black blade strapped to their back.

For a second, the two of them just stared at each other. Then the hunter's gaze moved to Ruby, and Weiss saw something she'd never seen in glinting, amber eyes - worry.

"Ruby?"

Hearing Ruby's name from the hunter's mouth filled Weiss with disbelief. As did Ruby looking up at the voice - the motion laborious and painful - before nodding.

"Explain...later," she whispered. "Boat...now."

Weiss looked between the hunter and Ruby but, the instant the hunter moved forward, leapt to her feet and blocked their path. Surprisingly, they stopped and raised their hands.

"Let me help."

Their tone was somewhere between a request and an order, but Weiss just stared at them. Clearly, they knew Ruby, and Ruby knew them. But how?

They interpreted Weiss' lack of response as permission and ducked under Ruby's other arm. Ruby whimpered when her shoulder moved, but there wasn't time to tread carefully. The hunter then looked up at Weiss, waiting for her to take Ruby's other side.

Faced with accepting help from her greatest enemy or letting Ruby die, Weiss ducked under Ruby's other arm and lifted her back to her feet. Between the two of them, carrying Ruby across the wooden pathways of the dock went faster than Weiss could have hoped.

At the end of the pier drifted a boat Weiss thought she would never see again. Just a few more steps and they reached it, carrying Ruby up the gangplank as the sleepy crew sprang to life.

"Downstairs," the hunter said as soon as they stepped on board.

"Ruby?"

Even in the darkness, Yang's long, golden hair seemed to glow from within. Her bright eyes, however, filled with concern as she rushed over to her sister.

"Get us out of here," the hunter said, not stopping. "I'll take care of her."

Surprisingly, Yang didn't utter a word of argument. She quickly scanned Weiss for injuries before rushing away to do as instructed. While Yang issued orders to the suddenly wide-awake crew, who pulled up the gangplank and started casting off ropes, the hunter opened a door and led Weiss down a narrow stairwell that proved difficult to navigate with three people. Once below deck, they hurried into the well-used gathering room.

"Wait," they instructed before ducking out from under Ruby's arm and sweeping off the long wooden table. Playing cards, books, and empty glasses scattered across the floor, but the hunter paid no attention to the mess while helping Weiss lift Ruby up onto the table, laying her on her front so the wounds were exposed.

Weiss hadn't even finished ringing her hands when the hunter returned with a pair of shears and cut the back of Ruby's shirt right down the middle. The wounds looked worse than Weiss imagined - inflamed, angry red skin and trickles of blood mixing with the lingering moisture from the river.

Before Weiss asked how she could help, the hunter grabbed a bottle of liquor from the nearby galley and dumped it over Ruby's back. Ruby cried out in pain as soon as the liquid touched the open wounds, but Weiss grabbed her hand before she tried to move away.

"What color were the arrows?"

"What?" Weiss asked, tearing her eyes away from Ruby's agony.

"The arrows. What color were they?"

"They were - black. They were black."

Whether that was good or not, the hunter nodded before rushing across the room and searching several supply cabinets. They returned with a jar of golden leaves and carefully pressed one into each of Ruby's wounds. No matter how careful they were, however, Ruby clenched her fists as a long, low moan filled the room.

Weiss covered Ruby's fist with one hand and watched as more leaves were placed overtop the injuries. Those were then covered with clean pieces of cloth, which the hunter motioned for Weiss to hold.

"Hold these until she stops bleeding," was the only instruction they offered. When Weiss reached forward to do as told, however, they jumped away as if frightened that Weiss might accidentally touch them.

From several paces away, they stared at the back of Weiss' hand so intensely that they could have burned a hole right through it. Weiss wanted to hide her hand from the gaze, but she refused to let it intimidate or scare her away from helping Ruby. Thankfully, the hunter hurried back up top moments later without another word.

Left alone with Ruby, Weiss held the bandages in place and silently prayed that whatever those leaves were helped. She didn't know what they were, but they already seemed to be having an effect. At least, it seemed that way as Ruby's breathing regained a more normal cadence. Or maybe being on the boat comforted Ruby; Weiss also felt the subtle ease from the gentle rocking of the waves.

Through the nearby window, the fortress towered like a giant wall of black against the midnight blue sky. Bright orange and red broke up the darkness, but those marks grew smaller and smaller as the city fell behind them.

Only when the specks of fire disappeared did Weiss' heart begin to settle down. Once it stopped pounding in her ears, she heard the sea beneath them, the gentle creaking of the wooden hull, muffled voices above deck, and the steady drip of her clothes making a pool of water on the floor. Most importantly, she heard Ruby's breathing - deep, steady breaths lacking the painful rasp of earlier.

After the frantic whirlwind leading them here, she could hardly fathom how they'd survived. She was drenched from head to toe. Covered in mud. Exhausted. But she was...free.

Feeling Ruby stir beneath her hands, she looked down and found silver eyes looking right back.

"Hey," she said quietly, as if anything louder might cause Ruby more pain. "How do you feel?"

"Been worse," Ruby mumbled. "Laying on the table doesn't help..." Ruby tried to push herself up but hardly moved her arms before groaning and sinking back to the table. "On second thought, it's not so bad here..."

"Let's give these leaves a little longer to work their magic," Weiss agreed, still holding the bandages in place. Realizing that the medicine was working, and that it had come from the least expected source, Weiss glanced down at Ruby.

"The hunter..." she began slowly. "How do you know them? Why are they here?"

"Hunter? Oh. You mean Blake."

"She gave you her name?"

"She's not like the others. She's -" Looking as exhausted as Weiss felt, Ruby closed her eyes and sighed. "I'll explain everything later, but you can trust her."

Weiss couldn't fathom trusting a hunter, even with their name. But this one just saved Ruby's life, and possibly Weiss' as well. Why would they do that when they had much more to gain by causing Weiss pain?

Without those answers, and without their presence, Weiss tried to put her unease at their proximity out of her mind. "Should I even ask why the townspeople finally revolted?" she asked instead.

"Probably not." Ruby mustered a small grin that turned into a grimace when she shifted to meet Weiss' gaze more directly. "I needed a distraction, and they were willing to provide one."

"That...might be the most reckless thing you've ever done."

Reckless, ill-advised, and incredibly dangerous, but Weiss couldn't even pretend to be upset about the outcome. She kissed Ruby's cheek instead, lingering long enough to savor Ruby's soft, blissfully warm skin under her lips.

"And I love you so, so much for it," she whispered before moving away.

"I love you too. And...I don't think you left me, you know."

After glancing at Ruby, whose silver eyes held nothing but affection, Weiss sighed and whispered a soft, "I know." Unwilling to dive into those memories right now, she gently lifted one of the bandages away from Ruby's back. Finding that the first wound had stopped bleeding, she checked the second one and was pleased to see a similar result. Still, she rested the bandages back in place and let her eyes wander across Ruby's uncovered back before running her fingers through Ruby's hair.

"Your cloak is still incredibly lucky," Weiss whispered before picking up one wet corner of the dirty red fabric that saved her life. "But make sure you keep it with you next time."

"It looks so cute on you though."

Blushing at the compliment, Weiss looked out the window rather than get lost in expressive silver eyes. Finding nothing but water as far as she could see, she sighed. After what she just went through, she wouldn't mind being lost at sea for the rest of her life. Curiosity, unfortunately, quickly got the best of her.

"Where are we going?"

"Somewhere safe," Ruby said, but Weiss shook her head at the idea of anywhere being 'safe.'

"They'll come after me."

"And we'll be ready for them this time."

Weiss wanted to believe Ruby, but her gaze immediately fell to the dark mark on the back of her hand. The intricately woven lines and foreign symbols represented something she didn't understand and couldn't decipher. All she knew was that it crept further up her wrist each day, claiming more of her skin as its canvas while turning her life upside down.

And this was only the beginning. Before she dwelled too much on the mark she'd do anything to be rid of, however, Ruby set a hand over it.

"They won't get you. I promise."

Again, Weiss wanted to believe the sincerity in kind, silver eyes, so she mustered a small smile before resting her chin on the table beside Ruby. When Ruby gently nuzzled into her hair, making her heart flutter, she ignored the tingling on her wrist as the black markings crawled a little higher.

She was too exhausted to worry about The Seeking, which would begin soon whether they were ready or not. If tonight proved anything, survival would be no small feat.

But that was a problem for tomorrow. Right now, she just wanted to sit here and savor Ruby's company, as these might be some of the last moments they would spend together. Weiss understood that now better than ever before.