Honestly, Emerald didn't think this would work. It was so simple that only a child would fall for it.
Besides, why was Salem concerning herself with this gangly group of so-called heroes? She'd said that their focus would be on Atlas, on conquering it, and they'd obviously removed themselves from the equation for now. From the news, they were on the run once more, it's not like they'd be able to interfere now unless they wanted to face Ironwood's paranoid wrath.
In short, they weren't a threat.
But there was no way that Emerald was going to go against Salem's wishes. In following Cinder, she and Mercury had placed themselves between a rock and a hard place, and Emerald at least was not going to argue against a crazy witch who could mutate Grimm as she pleased.
She peered out at the group before her, her illusions securing her hiding spot.
Little Ruby and her friends had taken shelter in an abandoned mining town, surrounded on all sides by scant forest. It used to be the site of a Schnee mine, but it was one of the ones that had dried up and prompted Nicholas Schnee to seek new mines in the first place. Meaning that no one had lived there in ages, but the old cabins were still fairly decent and better than nothing in the cold conditions of Solitas.
They had no reason to suspect that they were being watched.
Emerald glanced down at the apple in her hand.
Salem had handed it to her with an almost bored expression. "Make sure that this goes to the silver-eyed child." She had waved Emerald off. "She's probably as much of a threat as her mother, but still, I don't need her paltry attempts of heroics to distract me."
"Will this… kill her?" Emerald had inspected the apple. It was the most gorgeous and perfect apple she'd ever seen. She wondered if there was an illusion on it to make it more enticing.
"No, killing her at this point would only cause more trouble than it's worth." Salem was already turning away as her new Grimm rose in the air. "I've infused this with a Grimm that will put her in a sleeping state. It'll hunt her through her dreams, my little Night Mare." She had laughed. "Not a Grimm that can be easily vanquished as it essentially possesses someone. It'll provide ample distraction until I can deal with her and her little friends."
The Night Mare apparently entered its victim through the head. Ears, nose, mouth, all were entryways to it. So slipping in while someone was eating was all too simple a task for it.
Emerald's role was just to make sure it got into the right hands. She remembered Ruby's voracious sweet tooth; it wouldn't be a shock if she took one look and immediately dug into it.
And then Emerald could get out of here and return to her search for Cinder in Atlas while Salem was distracted.
"Oh, look, some of these trees still have apples!"
Emerald startled a bit before looking down at her prey.
Yang and Ruby had split off from the group as everyone went their separate ways, clearly heading to the abandoned apple trees that Emerald found herself sitting among.
"Maybe we can pick some for everyone." Yang said, looking over the fruit with a critical eye. "Might be a decent treat after… everything."
Ruby deflated a bit. "Yeah…" She started picking apples, turning her cape into a make-shift basket.
"Are you… okay?" Yang shot her sister a worried glance. "I know that a lot's happened in a short time, and Salem…"
"I'm fine." Ruby smiled and Emerald, who was very familiar with illusions, could tell it was fake. "I know we'll get through this."
"But - "
"Oh, wow, look at this one!" Ruby's eyes widened as she caught sight of the apple Emerald was very carefully dangling down. With her Semblance, she easily made it look like it was hanging from an ordinary branch. Ruby plucked the apple from her grasp, marveling at it. "It's the most perfect apple I've ever seen."
"Ten lien says it tastes terrible despite how it looks." Yang joked as she added her apples to Ruby's cape.
Ruby rolled her eyes. "You're just jealous. I'm certainly not sharing it with you."
"Well, there's plenty of other apples. I don't even want that one." Yang straightened and gave a suspicious look across the trees.
Emerald held still. She knew her illusions were holding, but Yang was notorious for her beast-like senses.
"Yang, are you coming?" Ruby looked back at her sister as she made her way back to the others.
With a final sweep, Yang turned towards her. "Yeah, I'm coming."
As the sisters left, Emerald breathed a sigh of relief and slipped from the tree to make her way to Salem's ride for her.
Her job here was done.
Ruby marveled at the apple in her hand. It really was the best apple she'd ever laid eyes on. It was almost as red as her cloak and completely unblemished. It was so tempting to lift it to her lips and take a bite, because despite what Yang said, something told Ruby that it was as delicious as it looked.
And it was true, she did love apples, but the truth was that there was someone in their group who loved them even more.
It had been a pretty bad day for everyone here, but only one of them had had a beloved family member turn against them. This apple would be the perfect pick-me-up.
"Do you think it's really safe here?" Yang's question jolted Ruby from her musings and she looked up at her. Yang was once more searching around, clearly on her guard.
"Probably. I highly doubt anyone outside of the Schnee family would memorize old mining towns." Ruby supplied, grateful that Weiss had thought of the location in the first place. "Why?"
"I don't know. Maybe I'm just wound up due to the last time we stopped in an abandoned place for shelter." Yang rubbed at her arm, a sure sign of her agitation.
Ruby shuddered. What had happened at Brunswick Farms was not something any of them were going to forget anytime soon. "At least we haven't found any corpses here?" She attempted to find the bright side of the situation.
Yang's flat look told her it wasn't a real reassurance.
"Well, let's see you do better." Ruby grumbled. Yang opened her mouth to retort, but luckily, Ruby was spared by them finally reaching the cabin the gang had taken over.
It wasn't that large, just suitable for a small family, but it's main room had a kitchen area, a table with chairs, a couch, an armchair, a rocking chair, and a fireplace. There was also a small bathroom and two bedrooms upstairs, with beds still set up, though the sheets and blankets had been stripped away long ago. Still, the cabin was perfect for them to use and hopefully Jaune, Ren, and Nora would find other supplies in the other houses for them to use.
Maria looked up from where she and Pietro were reviewing the supplies they had already, mostly things that were standard issue on Atlesian ships. "Ah, excellent," she said upon seeing the apples, "that'll help stretch our other supplies."
"Do we have a lot?" Ruby asked, her brow furrowing as she rolled all but the one apple onto the table with the other supplies.
Maria pursed her lips and exchanged a glance with Pietro. "We should be fine for a while."
That told Ruby all she needed to know. They really weren't prepared for a long stay away from civilization, given their hasty, unplanned flight from Atlas and Mantle.
And it's not like they could just abandon Atlas and Mantle to Salem and Ironwood's separate brands of destruction. At this rate, Atlas would fall as hard as Beacon and take Mantle down with it, and they couldn't allow that. Plus, Oscar and Qrow were still there somewhere, hopefully keeping low profiles.
No, this was nothing more than a strategic retreat, a short time to regroup, a moment to think.
Before they knew it, they'd be turning back and heading straight into the fight.
"Is everything alright?"
Ruby blinked and looked over at Weiss, who was holding a bundle of kindling that she and Blake had left to collect for the fireplace. Weiss was frowning at her, her eyebrows tilted down in concern as her eyes glanced over Ruby.
"Yeah," Ruby gave her a faint smile that Weiss saw right through if her deepening frown was any indication.
"Hmmm." Weiss hummed, before sharing a glance with Blake before dropping the kindling into the fireplace and pulling Ruby away from the others.
"Hey, we - " Weiss's finger on her lips stopped her.
"Now," Weiss said firmly and quietly as she removed her finger, "tell me how you really are."
"I'm - I'm fine, Weiss." Ruby stammered as Weiss's eyes narrowed. "Really! I'm about as fine as can be expected considering everything."
"Are you sure?" Weiss remained unconvinced. "I mean, with Salem earlier…" She trailed off as she looked away, grasping her arm. "I'm sorry I didn't do anything. You were clearly hurting and I - "
"I know." Ruby grabbed her free hand and squeezed her fingers. "That was probably kinda shocking. I lost it a bit. But I'm fine now."
"Ruby…" Weiss squeezed her right back. "You can talk to us, you know? I'm your partner; if you're hurting or need to talk, I'll be there for you." She smiled, small and hopeful.
Ruby tried to smile back. "I know. I will."
It wasn't like she didn't want to talk to anyone about this mess swirling around inside, the storm that'd been growing ever since that final day in Beacon. But part of her simply couldn't do it. She was meant to be the leader, everyone was relying on her. She couldn't burden anyone else with her problems, especially not Weiss. As her partner, Weiss was the person she least wanted to bother.
Sometimes in Atlas, when they finally had some downtime, she'd purposefully avoided Weiss just to stop herself from unloading everything on her.
Weiss had enough problems of her own.
Something like disappointment flashed momentarily in Weiss's eyes, but it was so fast it could've been Ruby's imagination. Still, Weiss squeezed her hand once more and then her eyes dropped to Ruby's other hand. "What's that?"
Ruby had completely forgotten about the apple. "Oh!" She brightened as she held it up. "I picked it for you! Apples are your favorite, right?"
"Hey, I thought you said you weren't going to share!" Yang and the others apparently decided that with the serious looks gone from their faces, the illusion of privacy was also gone.
"I said I wasn't sharing with you!" Ruby threw her sister a mock glare before returning her gaze to Weiss.
Weiss blinked in surprise before her expression softened into a smile. She took the apple. "Thanks, Ruby."
"You're welcome." Ruby chirped. Weiss chuckled at her response, but still followed Ruby to rejoin the others.
Ruby looked over at everyone gathered around the table, Jaune and the others having made it back. Sure, this was going to be tough, but together they'd win the day, just like they had every time before.
Things would be fine.
But everything could change in a single moment.
For Ruby, the situation changed with a single sound.
Ruby could see the others look up and their eyes widen in horror. As if it was in slow motion, Ruby turned around to see a sight straight from her nightmares.
Weiss had fallen face first on the floor, hand outstretched before her. On the ground in front of her loose fingers, where she had probably dropped it, wobbled the apple, a single bite taken out of it.
Ruby's heart seized inside her chest.
Ruby easily reached her first in a startling burst of petals. She gently turned Weiss over, trembling slightly at how limp her body was.
For all intents and purposes, Weiss looked as if she was simply asleep. To Ruby's relief, she was still breathing but her eyes were closed and she didn't so much as twitch at the frantic handling of her body. Weiss had always been terrible at waking up, Ruby often having to resort to her whistle back in their Beacon days, but her eyelids didn't so much as flutter as Ruby tapped at her cheek.
Not to mention that there was an unnatural blankness to Weiss. Ruby had seen Weiss sleep many times at Beacon, on the road, in Atlas. Sleep was when Weiss was often at her most honest, all that she had kept wrapped up during the day released in her dreams and painted across her face. She'd curl up towards any warmth nearby, and if you got too close, she was surprisingly cuddly.
Ruby was holding Weiss in her arms and she didn't curl up into her chest. Her face held even less emotion than Weiss at her most cold.
Something was wrong.
Ruby felt Yang place a hand on her lower back in support and honestly, she needed it. She looked up at their friends surrounding them, close but with plenty of breathing room. "She - she's not responding." Ruby's voice broke as she said the words.
"Bring her over here." Maria ordered her, pointing towards the couch.
Ruby nodded before scooping Weiss up in her arms and carrying her over. She didn't really want to let her go, but she tried her best to be gentle as she did so.
As soon as she'd been set down, Pietro began to take her vitals. Meanwhile, Ruby turned to her teams.
"Did anyone see what happened?" She asked somewhat desperately. Ruby hadn't seen anything. One minute Weiss was fine, smiling at her, and then Ruby took her eyes off her for one second and she was suddenly on the floor.
Their expressions were sympathetic, but slowly they all ended up shaking their heads.
"Everything looked alright and I know I didn't think anything was off until…" Jaune admitted.
Ruby hadn't realized it, but there was one person missing from the group before her or the adults gathered around Weiss.
Ruby glanced over at Penny, whose eyes were slightly aglow as she picked up the apple from where it'd fallen. Penny stared at it as she straightened.
"Father, I'm detecting faint traces of Grimm on this apple."
For a moment, the world paused. And then it was like someone had hit the fast forward button.
"What?!" Ruby shouted.
"You can detect that sort of stuff!" Jaune shrieked.
"You found what?!" Yang yelled.
"Apples!" Nora's shout was what brought an end to the cacophony as everyone directed their gaze to her. She blinked. "What? I didn't see them earlier."
Luckily, Pietro took advantage of the lull in noise. "Is it still there?"
"No, not in here." Penny studied the apple, her head tilting slightly. "But my sensors are picking up a Grimm in the vicinity." Her eyes lifted to slowly scan around the room.
Ruby piped up. "You think a Grimm did this?"
Pietro hummed slightly. "Perhaps. It's not exactly my specialty, but there are many strange Grimm out there, and new abilities and effects can evolve at any time." He turned to Maria "This is more your area, I believe."
"Hmph." Maria snorted slightly as her fingers tapped the top of her cane. "Well, there's only a few Grimm that could render someone unconscious without using force. Apathy is one of them." And here she shared a glance with Ruby and the others who'd been through that horror show. "But it doesn't work that quickly, and we'd all be feeling it."
"Then what could it be?" Ruby asked softly. She hoped she didn't sound as desperate as she felt. She clasped her hands together so no one would notice their trembling.
"Well - " Maria began to theorize once more, but she was interrupted.
"I have found the Grimm." Penny declared. She'd wandered over to the couch, her stare fixed upon its occupant.
No one spoke, expecting her to continue, but she didn't.
"Well, where is it?" Yang finally prompted.
Penny blinked, as if it wasn't obvious. "It appears to be inside of Weiss."
"What?" Blake's ears flattened at the news.
"Inside of her?!" Jaune's voice cracked with incredulity.
"How could it even…?" Ruby began but a sharp breath from Maria stopped her in her tracks.
Looking over, Ruby saw an ill pallor had taken over Maria's features. She looked almost scared, which hadn't happened in all of the time she'd known the old Huntress.
"A Night Mare." Maria whispered.
And while this was certainly a nightmare to Ruby, Maria's words made her feel like this was about to get a whole lot worse.
Weiss wasn't sure what had happened.
One minute she could've sworn that she was in an abandoned cabin near an old Schnee mine with Ruby and the rest of her team, and now…
Now she wasn't sure where she was.
All around her was a dark, empty void. She wasn't really standing on anything and yet she didn't feel like she was falling or floating. It was disconcerting, not having any way of orienting herself. Her senses were completely useless.
It was like when Jinn had snatched them up to reveal the past except this place was shrouded in darkness rather than glaring with white light.
Either way, Weiss didn't like it.
She clutched at her arm, the sensation one of the only things grounding her. "Hello?" She called out. "Ruby?"
No response. Not even an echo.
There was nothing.
Nothing but darkness.
There was no one.
She was alone.
Weiss really didn't like this.
She wasn't sure how long she'd been there before her ears finally picked up a sound.
It sounded like… like a galloping horse?
"Hello?" She called out again, but there was no response.
Still, the hoofsteps got louder and louder, seeming to come closer and closer…
And she caught a glimpse of red eyes and then…
And the world seemed to change before her very eyes.
Ruby had to sit down, or else she thought she might faint.
Luckily, Ren must have sensed her distress as he quickly took her arm and directed her to sit in the rocking chair. As soon as she sat down, Ruby closed her eyes and took a deep breath, bringing her hands up to wipe them down her face.
Weiss was possessed by a Grimm.
A Grimm that trapped her in her own mind and tortured her by putting her through her worst nightmares. A Grimm that grew more powerful from her fear. A Grimm that would kill her slowly, converting all her energy and emotion into its fearful food. And once she was drained of it all, she would die.
Weiss was going to die.
Ruby's breath hitched and she just barely stopped a sob from escaping.
No, she would not lose Weiss. She wasn't going to let this happen. She would not lose anyone else.
"How did this even happen?" Yang asked, running her fingers through her hair.
"The apple." Penny connected the dots first, and she looked down to where it was lying innocently in her hand. "The Grimm was in the apple and it got to her through it."
Abruptly, Ruby felt her stomach churn. She forced herself to take slow, deep breaths. But all of her measures didn't stop the sickening words whirling through her head.
Your fault, your fault, your fault. You're the one who gave her the apple. The Grimm only got to her because of you!
"Most likely, yes." Maria confirmed Penny's thought. "And given recent events, I'm not quite sure this is accidental. Unless you picked up their traces in the other apples? Because Night Mares typically stick together in herds."
"No." Penny shook her head. "It's just the one."
"So Salem is probably behind this." Ren concluded.
Ruby gulped and continued her slow breathing.
How is it getting even worse?!
"Wait, but why Weiss?" Nora tilted her head back. "I can't think of why they go after her. Is it because of her family connections in Atlas?"
"Unless she wasn't the target." Blake said it quietly, but everyone instantly turned to her.
"But who could they…" Yang trailed off.
Blake's eyes flickered over to Ruby for just a moment, but that was enough for everyone to get the gist of what she was saying.
Ruby felt the blood drain from her face.
"Ah, I suppose the silver eyes do present a threat to Salem." Pietro said what they were all thinking.
Ruby's chest felt even heavier than it had a second ago.
This really is my fault!
She took a breath and let it out slowly, her hands curling into fists so she couldn't see them tremble. "Okay." Blaming herself wouldn't help Weiss. "How do we beat a Night Mare?"
Penny and Maria looked at each other.
"There's…not really anything we can do." Penny slowly admitted.
"In most cases, Night Mares can only be defeated once they've left their victim, when they're out in the open, similar to a Geist." Maria said.
"What? Are you saying we can't beat it until Weiss - Weiss is - " Yang was beginning to breath heavily though Ruby couldn't tell if it was from sorrow or rage. Blake touched her arm in an attempt to calm her.
"Sometimes a victim has been able to drive out the Night Mare before it comes to that." Maria tried to sooth them. "But again, it relies on whoever's been possessed fighting it off. There's nothing we can do."
Ruby felt something crumble inside of her. She could only hope it wasn't showing on her face. Penny patted her a bit in comfort, and Ruby appreciated it despite the fact that it almost knocked her from her seat.
"If anyone can drive out a Grimm, it's Weiss." Jaune tried to lighten the mood. "She can be scarier than anything when she gets mad."
Ruby stared at Weiss's prone form. She knew Weiss better than anyone and knew that Jaune was right in this regard.
Weiss was stronger in many ways than other people she knew. Weiss supported Ruby no matter what. Weiss was stubborn, and she hated losing. No matter how long it took, every time she got knocked down, Weiss got back up again.
Ruby just didn't know if this was something she could get back up from.
Ruby closed her eyes and did her best to believe in Weiss.
Weiss was in her bedroom in Schnee Manor.
Her head hurt but she tried to brush the pain away and stood from her bed.
She quickly surveyed her room. It looked just like it had the last time she had been, everything perfectly in place. Except…
Weiss stared at the bars going across the windows, making them even more cage-like than ever before.
"What?" She tested the window locks, and upon finding that they wouldn't budge, she ran over to the door and tested the handles.
Locked. From the outside.
"Hey!" Weiss hit the door. "Let me out!" She smacked it a few more times, but all she heard was the sound echoing back at her.
"Tch!" She turned away from the door.
Something was off about all of this. After all, she had just been…
She couldn't remember what she'd been doing before waking up here. She had been…
Her head hurt again.
Weiss shivered and headed over to the windows again, grabbing a chair from in front of the fireplace as she passed by. If no one was going to answer her knocks, then she'd just have to make them pay attention to her. She swung the chair at the glass and -
She wasn't holding a chair, her hands hit the glass windows with a painful thud as her momentum carried her forward. She slid to the ground, leaning against the window in shock. She looked at her hands and then over at the sitting area where the chair was once more.
She just had -
What was -
Weiss thumped her head against the glass and shivered again.
Gods, it was cold in here.
She collected herself and stomped over to where she always kept Myrtenaster when she was in the mansion. She didn't know what was going on but she'd feel a lot better with a weapon in hand.
The case was empty.
Weiss stared at it.
That was impossible.
Everyone knew not to touch a Huntress's weapon. Stealing a Hunter or Huntress's weapon was practically sacrilege. Not even her father had the guts to try taking it away when he'd locked her up after Beacon's fall and bringing her back.
Of course, when they'd been arrested, their weapons were naturally confiscated but this time they'd managed to -
Weiss hissed sharply as her head pounded, like a horse was continually kicking her there.
What an odd analogy to choose…
Weiss clasped her trembling hands together and closed her eyes. She needed to think this through.
Something was wrong. She was in a bedroom she hadn't been in in months, her weapon was missing, and the windows and door were locked and barred. No one appeared when she called. She couldn't remember how she got here.
She was alone.
And it was freezing in here!
Weiss shook herself, which didn't help her now constant shivering, and straightened, pushing away the empty weapon case and the vials that should have contained her Dust supplies.
Whoever was keeping her here could take away her weapon, but they couldn't take her Semblance. Simply summoning Arma Gigas could break the windows, it wouldn't take anything to take down the doors.
She took a deep, shuddering breath and concentrated.
It was harder than it should have been. Despite her best efforts, she couldn't feel her power rising up or the tingle of her Glyphs at her fingertips. Any thought she had of summoning or even a simple barrier slipped away as soon as it occurred.
She had trained for this!
For most Glyphs, as long as her aura was up, all she needed was but an instance to summon them. For actual Summons, it took a bit more, but she'd trained to be faster and faster so no one would be able to take advantage of her need to concentrate. And yet…
Weiss opened her eyes with a growl. She ignored the fact that she could now see her frustrated pants of breath.
She didn't have time for this! She may not know what was going on, but if she was in trouble, her friends probably were as well. She wasn't just going to wait around to be rescued. She had to get out of here.
She just knew that her team needed her, so she had to find some way to escape.
"Are you sure about that?"
Weiss froze for a second and then slowly turned around, searching for the owner of the voice. She didn't notice anything amiss for a moment, but then something odd caught her eye.
In the mirror that hung above her unlit fireplace, her reflection didn't match. She met her own eyes and reared back.
Her reflection's eyes were blood red, black veins standing out starkly around them.
Her reflection grinned at her, a sharp, cruel thing and then…
Her reflection stepped out of the mirror.
"Yeah, you heard me." Her reflection said as it slowly stalked toward her.
Weiss found herself unable to move, transfixed by the twisted version of herself in front of her.
"They don't actually need you." Her reflection practically purred, sidling up beside her. "You're the weak link on the team. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it."
"That's not true." Weiss said, standing straight and tall despite how hard she shook.
"Is it?" Her reflection toyed with her hair and Weiss wanted to slap her hand away but she'd played this game before. To react was to lose. "After all, you only just finally won a fight that didn't involve a Grimm. And even then, Ruby had to come save you."
"Ruby is my partner. She saves me, I save her. We look after each other. That's what we do." Weiss managed to keep her voice steady and without a single stumble despite how her teeth were beginning to chatter.
Gods, why was it so cold?
"Maybe." Her reflection slipped out of her vision as she circled around her. "But are you really the best partner she could have? There are a lot of better candidates out there."
"Well, I'm her partner. She's my friend. She - "
"But she didn't tell you about her mother." Her reflection reappeared before her, her red eyes fixed on her and that teasing sneer growing once more. "You weren't able to comfort her when she needed you most."
"She understood that! I was just - "
"Ruby's awfully close to Penny, isn't she?" And this time, Weiss couldn't find an argument against her. Her reflection grinned in triumph. "Sure, it was so nice to see her alive, but ever since you got to Atlas, Ruby's been spending more and more time with her and less time with you."
It wasn't like Weiss hadn't noticed. Most of Ruby's free time had been taken up with even more training or hanging out with Penny. It was like Ruby didn't have time for her or even Yang and Blake anymore.
But Weiss got it. They'd all thought that Penny had died for good. Ruby'd been traumatized by her death. She deserved to spend time with her.
Even if it had hurt when Weiss had invited her to go somewhere and Ruby had told her that she'd already made plans. Even when she'd been filled with nerves at her father winning the election and Ruby hadn't noticed like she usually would. Even when Weiss would rarely see Ruby because she was simply too busy for the little activities and traditions they'd formed since they first became partners.
Weiss still stood by Ruby's side and supported her as best she could. And she wouldn't begrudge Ruby her other precious friendships.
It felt like it was somehow getting colder. Weiss couldn't feel her feet anymore, a numbness spreading up her legs.
"And Penny's a Maiden now. A Silver-eyed Warrior and a Maiden? It's the perfect match." Her reflection reached out and caressed her cheek. "Penny should be Ruby's partner, not you."
Weiss was a professional singer, she knew how to breathe properly and make the most of it. But now her chest shuddered as it was somehow harder and harder to breathe, pressure tightening around her lungs.
"Give up, Weiss." Her reflection whispered in her ear. A soft, tempting lullaby. "No one needs you. No one wants you.
"Your father hates you. Your brother despises you. Your mother doesn't care. Your sister chose Ironwood over you.
"Your teammates don't need you. And Ruby can do so much better than you."
The numbness had spread to her chest. Weiss's head pounded in time with her slowing heart. Her fingers twitched slightly when she tried, but otherwise, she couldn't bring herself to move.
"You're alone, Weiss."
Gods, Weiss hated being alone.
It was so cold.
Weiss's eyes fluttered shut.
Ruby crept through the quiet cabin. Everyone else had fallen asleep after a series of fruitless debates as to what their next move should be, even Penny powering down for the night. If Weiss had been awake, she would have scolded them for their squabbling and made sure they got back on track.
But she wasn't.
Instead, Weiss had continued to lie on the couch, still and silent and so very un-Weiss-like.
Ruby's attention had constantly been called away from the discussion as she surreptitiously kept glancing at Weiss. Hoping beyond hope for some sign that she was there, some indication that she was fighting.
But there was nothing.
Ruby knew that she hadn't been the only one distracted by their fallen teammate. Before they'd finally thrown in the towel and gone to bed, Yang had stopped to pull a blanket over Weiss, arranging her so that she was mostly covered with her arms laying on top of the blanket. Ruby had felt a surge of gratitude for her sister at her kindness. Yang always was looking out for them.
Weiss hated being cold.
One would think that she'd be used to the cold considering Solitas's chilly climate, but Weiss hated the cold, making sure her new combat outfit had plenty of layers for when they fought outside and her aura ran low.
And Ruby also knew that Weiss hated being alone.
It had sort of felt like they'd all abandoned Weiss as they'd gotten out sleeping bags, blankets, and bedrolls and arranged themselves in the bedrooms upstairs. So Ruby had waited as everyone had dropped off into slumber, unable to feel the call of sleep herself due to how her stomach continued to flip and swirl, and now she made her way back to Weiss.
Ruby slid to the floor next to the couch. For a moment, she studied her partner's still face and she took some small comfort from the fact that she was still breathing.
It was almost like a fairy tale. A beautiful maiden trapped in sleep due to something as innocuous as an apple.
But this wasn't some childish curse, nor could something as simple as a kiss awaken Weiss.
Ruby could still be there for her though.
Slowly, Ruby reached out and took Weiss's hand. Her thumb gently stroked her hand as Ruby pushed some loose hairs away from Weiss's face with her other hand.
Still no reaction.
Heat burned at Ruby's eyes and she bowed over Weiss's chest. She managed to keep the tears at bay, but just barely.
"Weiss," she croaked, "I don't know if you can hear me, but…"
Her eyes flickered up to Weiss's face.
"I know you are probably doing your best to fight. I've never known you to back down from a challenge and I know you can beat this. So please… please…"
She leaned forward and pressed her forehead to Weiss's.
"Fight. Win. Come back to me.
"I can't lose you, too."
Ruby squeezed Weiss's hand and closed her eyes.
"You're my partner, Weiss. I can't do this without you."
Ruby opened her eyes and leaned back to look Weiss over once more. Then she tilted over until her head rested next to Weiss.
And ever so slightly, so little that she didn't even notice, her silver eyes lit up for a single moment.
A flash of silver.
A cut-off choking sound.
Weiss slowly reopened her eyes, a fire blazing in them as she stared down her reflection.
Her reflection who, in turn, was staring down in horror at Myrtenaster sticking from her chest.
Weiss's grip on her rapier tightened. "No."
Her reflection stumbled back as Weiss withdrew her weapon, ice shattering from where it'd been creeping up Weiss's legs and torso as she stepped forward after her.
"I don't know what you are, but you are not me." Weiss glared at her, the tables having turned as her reflection tried to hold herself together, black blood dripping from her chest.
"Maybe you're right. Maybe they don't need me. But…" Weiss raised Myrtenaster up once more. "I made a promise. Ruby is my best friend and my partner. I am not going to abandon her; I am not going to die on her."
Because that's what had been happening, Weiss realized. She'd grown up hearing about the silent and cold death that would await the unprepared in the fields of Solitas. Freezing was something that everyone learned to be wary of in Mantle and Atlas, and Weiss wasn't about to take it lying down.
Her reflection screamed at her, a wordless tortured sound. Her appearance was cracking away, revealing darkness and blood red glow. It really wasn't her.
Her room was melting away around her, the illusion broken.
Just like this thing's power over her.
"Ruby has lost enough. I will not burden her with my death." She would not be like Penny had been to Ruby. She would not be like how Pyrrha still weighed on her. Like the others who had fallen with Beacon. Like those who had died and would die due to Salem's machinations.
Weiss's revolver spun and loaded the red dust.
"I am Weiss Schnee, Huntress and Partner to Ruby Rose, a proud member of Team RWBY!" Weiss declared. "This is my life and my choice, AND I WILL NOT LOSE TO THE LIKES OF YOU!"
Myrtenaster glowed red as Weiss brought forth a burst of flame. With a single thrust, the being before her was doused in fire, its inhuman screams reverberating around them.
Weiss glared down at it in contempt.
Then she looked around and unemotionally watched as her room burned down around her. This had never been what she'd really wanted. It had all the trappings of grandeur and order, but it'd always been a false image. Nothing more than what her father had wanted, what was expected of her.
It had been cold and lonely.
Weiss would take a cramped airship with her team over this any day.
A flash of red caught her eye through the flames, much darker than any fire. She turned her head towards it and blinked in surprise.
Weiss picked her way carefully over to the fireplace. The mirror above it had shattered, pieces scattered on the floor, but among them was that bit of red.
A beautiful red rose.
Weiss's face softened as she knelt down, ignoring the fire surrounding her, and plucked the rose from the remnants of the mirror.
"Ruby…" She whispered with a smile.
Suddenly, the floor beneath her broke, and before Weiss could react, she was falling into darkness.
Ruby jerked awake to a roaring neigh. Her eyes flew open and she lurched back to see a giant black horse with blood-red eyes burst into existence before her.
Ruby gasped. "Night Mare!" She fumbled to draw Crimson Rose, even as the implications began to hit her that this meant - that Weiss was -
Just as she raised her scythe, she paused a sharp schk and her eyes widened as a thin blade emerged from the horse's neck.
That was -
"Ah!" Ruby grinned as the Grimm faded away to reveal Weiss, sitting up and Myrtenastor drawn, her expression one of being primly pissed off.
"What - " Weiss slowly lowered Myrtenastor " - is going on?"
Ruby had never been so happy to see Weiss annoyed.
"Weiss!" Ruby squealed slightly as she dropped Crimson Rose and launched herself into Weiss's arms, hugging her close and feeling her heartbeat under her hand.
Weiss hugged her back automatically, letting Myrtenastor fall beside her, and Ruby could practically feel her rapidly blinking in surprise. "Ruby…"
"I was - I was so scared!" Ruby burst out, and finally the tears she'd been holding back on began to leak from her eyes. "I thought - I thought you were going to…"
"Oh, Ruby…" Weiss reached up and began to gently card her fingers through her hair. "I'll always come back to you."
Ruby's breath hitched and she wetly nodded into Weiss's shoulder. "O-okay." She sniffed.
They stayed like that for a while, curled up in each others' arms.
Part of Ruby was shocked that no one had come to check on them, that no one had woken up from all the noise. But another part of her reveled in it. She needed this, she needed time to assure herself that Weiss was here, Weiss was safe, Weiss wasn't dying on her.
She wasn't going to lose her partner.
But all things must come to an end, and in this case, Ruby let out a huge yawn.
Weiss chuckled a bit and she pulled back slightly, not going very far due to the tight grip Ruby had on her. "Now," she said softly, "I will be getting an explanation of what is going on later."
"I - " Ruby hushed at Weiss's finger on her lips.
"However, it seems to be late," Weiss looked out the window at the darkened sky, "and I don't know about you, but I'm tired."
Ruby giggled slightly. "You've been asleep all afternoon."
"Hmph. Wasn't particularly restful." Weiss grumbled, going to remove Ruby's hands.
But Ruby couldn't allow that, clutching onto Weiss tighter and making her pause. "Can I sleep with you?"
Weiss blinked at her before letting out a put-upon sigh. "Fine." But the way she held Ruby right back revealed how she really felt.
Ruby and Weiss laid down on the couch, and Weiss reached down to pull the blanket up and over them as Ruby made sure that their weapons were in easy reach. Within moments, the two of them were snuggled together.
As she drifted off, Ruby laid her head right over Weiss's heart, her heartbeat as sweet as any song Weiss had ever sung. "Don't leave me." She mumbled sleepily.
Weiss's hand flexed in her hair. "I won't." She quietly replied.
And entwined in each other, the two fell into a blissful, dreamless sleep.
Yang smiled at the sight before her.
Weiss and Ruby were cuddling together on the couch. Given the way that Weiss nuzzled Ruby's hair, she was actually asleep, not in a coma-like state.
Yang was glad.
Her little sister was strong, but Yang didn't think Ruby would be able to live with the loss of Weiss. She'd seen a glimpse of what Ruby would be like without Weiss in Haven, and she never wanted to see that despair (that had quickly turned to relief and rage at the reassurance of Weiss's survival) ever again.
Salem had already reopened the wound that was the loss of their mom. Yang suspected that losing Weiss, especially right now, would've broken her.
"The Grimm is gone." Penny confirmed, coming up beside Yang.
"Figured." Yang huffed.
The two of them took in the sleeping girls for a moment as the sounds of everyone else waking up trickled through the cabin.
"I'm glad that Weiss is fine." Penny eventually said, smiling. "I would've been… sad if she was gone."
"We all would." Yang agreed, patting her on the shoulder.
Another second of peace before…
"Want to wake them up?" Yang wiggled her eyebrows at Penny.
She gasped, her eyes sparkling. "Yes!"
"Okay, on the count of three." They got ready to pounce. "One...two...three!"
"Wake up, sleepyheads!"
Ruby screamed and shot upright, quickly looking around.
Weiss grumbled and turned into the couch's pillow. "Five more minutes…"
Yang and Penny laughed and as the rest of the gang rushed downstairs from the noise, they joined in as well at the sight of a definitely alive Weiss and an embarrassed Ruby.
Outside, light filtered through the window as the sun rose higher into the sky.
Dawn had broken, the nightmare was over.
AN: So before the Apathy reveal, a lot of us thought the Grimm at Brunswick Farm would be related to like, the Headless Horseman or be some sort of Grimm that put its victims to sleep and make them unable to wake up (and we thought Yang and Weiss would be the primary victims of this given the characters they're inspired from). So I used that here instead.
Also, you know me, I love using elements from the fairy tales these guys are from. So when I heard "Curse" I was like, "Ah, yeah, Snow White time." I first thought of making it an actual curse but I couldn't think of a reason why Salem would target Weiss, so I went with a Grimm and made Weiss more a victim of getting caught in the crossfire rather than being the actual target. I think it worked well, even though I only started with the concept of "Grimm makes Weiss fall asleep, Ruby feels bad, eventually they have a moment when Weiss wakes up" and the story just kept getting longer and longer. I was worried I wouldn't get it done in time as this was my last story for this week I was working on. As you can see, things got complicated.
Also, if it wasn't clear, Ruby's silver-eye power just gave Weiss a bit of leeway so she could draw Myrtenastor in her dream. It had actually been in its sheath and she'd realized that (despite the Night Mare forcing her to forget about it; hence why her fingers twitched, but she didn't have the strength anymore to draw it). So it really was more of an assist than Ruby being the one to fully save her.
In the same vein, the reason this is Pre-Slash (despite me writing stories of them getting together in the interim of seasons in previous WRW fics) is because Salem is currently closing in on Atlas (I actually forgot that she was literally there at the end of S7 so there'd be no time for this to happen anyway) so they really don't have time for romance.
And I do like Penny, before anyone tries to come at me. I like her and Ruby's friendship. But I do know that a lot of us thought there'd be more Weiss this past season (since we're on her home turf) and there did seem to be a lot more of Ruby and Penny hanging out than Weiss and Ruby being there for each other (which saddened a lot of us due to there being a lot of them in S6). Though considering that this season was about Penny with her becoming a Maiden as part of the season's climax, it made sense that there was so much focus on her in hindsight. And both Ruby and Weiss comforting her as they all fled Atlas was super sweet at the end. But I am a White Rose shipper, so it's now angst fuel.
Also, if you've seen my previous WRW fic, I am aware that Winter loves and cares for Weiss, but, though she did give her a head start, Winter still chose Ironwood over Weiss and that had to hurt. Despite Weiss understanding.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this. I had quite a time writing it between everything else. I'm pleased with how it turned out.