Chapter 13: Locked In
Yang wanted to help Ruby get stronger. In order to do that, she needed advice, so she gave their dad a call. He knew about their fight with the White Fang thanks to Ozpin, but he hadn't been hard on them for getting involved.
What mattered was that they were able to learn from their loss. As they broke down their fight, two things became strikingly clear: Ruby had neglected her hand-to-hand skills, and Yang had been blinded by rage. She thought it wasn't a problem.
Except, it was: she only snapped out of it because of Ruby, and when she thought they won, that was when the enemy struck. Yang went down. Yang was forced to watch that woman attack her sister without being able to save her. She was powerless when she wanted nothing more than to smash that little demon into tiny pieces.
Even now, it sent her into a tizzy. Yang breathed in. Anger powered her semblance, made it burn hotter than the sun. She let out her breath. However, it wasn't only anger that fuelled her semblance. According to her dad, any kind of strong emotion would do the trick. It made sense: she wanted to protect Ruby above all else and it drove her semblance to new heights.
Now, she had to reach that pinnacle without letting her fury cloud her mind. Easier said than done, but it had to be done.
It gave her a goal for their break, and the moment it began, she got to work on improving Ruby's fist-fighting skills. They had very different fighting styles, but Yang knew the basics like the back of her hand, and she was determined to help Ruby. It was thanks to Ruby that she was able to overcome the gloom that consumed her.
She didn't expect Ren to show up and share some of his expertise, but she was really grateful for it. Ren's approach to close-quarters combat fit Ruby like a glove, and somehow, it led to everyone helping Jaune become a better fighter.
In fact, Yang had just finished giving Jaune some pointers. Not that he really needed her help with his teammates' supported, but she liked the guy and felt good when she helped people out. Also, Jaune really was putting in the work, instead of thinking he had it made just because he was at Beacon.
Right now, Ruby was doing some target practice, and Blake was hanging out with that girl Ruby helped out, Velvet. Apparently, they were sightseeing, which Yang thought was pretty interesting. She still couldn't believe that Blake had been hiding such a big secret from them, but not only did she understand why, she was glad that Blake could trust them.
Having people she could trust really helped her psyche, that much was obvious. No one could do it alone.
When Yang returned to their dorm, she saw Weiss sitting on her bed, staring at her scroll like it was defective.
"What's up, Weiss?" Yang asked. "Can't get your gourmet pizza parlour to do delivery?"
Weiss' head snapped Yang's way, lips bearing a sneer. "I could have a five-course meal delivered here right now. Food is not the issue."
"Then what is?"
Instead of talking, Weiss stood up, stalking towards the entrance. She looked over her shoulder, eyes narrowed to slits.
Yang smiled. "Thought you'd never ask."
Weiss opened the door, and Yang followed her outside, content to let her buddy take the lead for once. They had seen most of what Beacon had to offer, but there was always an undiscovered nook or interesting sight waiting to be found.
She didn't mind Weiss' silence. Sometimes, just walking together was enough for Yang. There was more than one way to bond than just talking at each other. When Yang first started this bonding exercise, she wasn't sure it'd work. Weiss wasn't the nicest person, and both of them had been pretty impatient people.
Honestly, Yang still kinda was impatient, except for what truly mattered to her. She knew Weiss would talk when she was ready. Eventually, Weiss stopped walking, turned with three careful steps, and leaned against the nearest tree.
Weiss had led them to Beacon's communications tower. It loomed over them and the few stragglers who were beneath its shadow. Maybe there would be a time when they wouldn't need a tower if they wanted to connect with anyone across the world.
She snorted. Maybe the moon would become full before that happened. Still, she could dream of a better future, where she knew what she wanted to have and who she wanted to be.
"I spoke to my sister," Weiss said, slamming the brakes on Yang's train of thought.
Yang grinned. "Really? And here I thought you were an only child."
Weiss scoffed. "Unlike you, my sister doesn't need to make inappropriate jokes to command respect."
"But you do respect me, right?"
"That remains to be seen," she said, rolling her eyes. Her lip twitched, then her face fell into a resting frown.
"What's her name?"
"Winter. She's my older sister, a very successful military operative."
Sounded accomplished, like a Weiss who had a stick up her butt instead of being only stuck-up. Yang kept the quip to herself. Weiss wasn't all bad.
"She's so busy that I barely get the chance to talk to her. I wanted to tell her about my time at Beacon, but I didn't even get five minutes with Winter before she had to leave."
Yang raised an eyebrow, mouth quivering from anticipation. "So you're saying Winter gave you the cold shoulder?"
Weiss scowled. "Could you stop joking around? Please?"
The smile snapped off Yang's face. She couldn't resist, but she should have.
"I will," Yang said. "I'm sorry if I made you mad. I was just trying to make you laugh."
Her scowl cooled off. "There's a time and place for comedy. Still, I accept your apology."
Yang's smile returned, gentler than the last. "Thanks." She rolled the tip of her shoe into the grass. "You must've been really disappointed, huh?"
"I'm fully aware that her duties take precedence, but I really wanted to talk to her. I had a lot to share."
"Maybe you could try writing her a letter or an e-mail?"
"Perhaps, but it wouldn't be the same."
It wouldn't be. Yang made sure that she was always available for Ruby, no matter how she was feeling. They had to have each other, that was what sisters did for one another.
"Are you and Winter close?"
Weiss kept quiet. Before long, she sighed, staring up at Yang with an unguarded gaze. "Winter's all that I have. My mother was incredible." She clicked her tongue. "Unfortunately, she lost her way. I have a younger brother, Whitley, though I'm not that close to him. And the less said about my father, the better."
Yang grimaced. She'd really like to give Mr. Schnee a piece of her mind for being so awful to his own daughter, but she'd have to check her own attitude first. It was another reason why she didn't want anger to drive her.
"That must suck," Yang said. "I hope Winter's been good to you."
"She has been. Very demanding, of course, but that's mainly because she wants the best for me. I can talk to her about my problems, as she understands the struggles a Schnee must face. Most of all, Winter is who I aspire to be: dignified, ambitious, composed under pressure."
"She sounds awesome," Yang said. Her initial impression was way off the mark.
Weiss smiled. "She is awesome. In fact, you two are almost polar opposites."
She looked down, gathering her arms in front of her waist. "You're both great older sisters."
Yang's smile nearly split her face from how large it had grown. "You really mean that?"
"I do. I assumed you coddled her to satisfy your ego, but if that was truly the case, she'd still be afraid of her own shadow, not our capable leader. Ruby's confidence gradually grew, just as you said it would. You let her take risks and prove herself to me and everyone else, and you were ready to catch her if she fell."
Weiss made eye contact with her, eyes like melting ice. "I envy the relationship you two have. I doubt Winter would let me help her with her struggles, but you allowed Ruby to help you when you were being horrible."
Yang swallowed heavily. "Yeah, I did. I'll admit, she caught me off-guard, but I shouldn't expect anything less. Ruby's always been amazing, and getting to be around her brings me joy like you can't believe. I'm really lucky to be her older sister."
"I'm sure she feels the same way. In fact, I know she does, it's that obvious."
Yang laughed. "Yeah, you're right."
Sometimes, Yang got it twisted: Ruby was her sister, she couldn't be anyone special if Yang hadn't been there to guide her. But that wasn't just wrong, it was Yang's way of disguising the fact that she needed Ruby as much as Ruby needed her, if not more.
Ruby knew who she wanted to be and what she wanted to do with her life, Ruby knew that the woman who gave birth to her loved her with everything she had. Yang couldn't say the same.
Her smile fell apart. It sucked that she couldn't stop caring about a ghost who left her behind.
"What's wrong?" Weiss asked.
Yang pulled back her smile with ease. "You know, the usual. Anyway, it sounds like Winter really does care about what you have to say. Just take whatever chance you get to speak from the heart."
Weiss' stare threatened to peel Yang's walls apart. "That's all?"
"It isn't complicated."
She nodded, breaking the spell. "Okay. I'll follow your advice. Thank you."
Yang's smile grew. "No problem, Weiss. That's what partners do for each other."
"Of course." Weiss rose upright from the tree, dusting herself off. "So, what's this usual concern that's bothering you?"
She froze, and it wasn't because Weiss used her Dust. This 'concern' was something she wanted to keep secret. Her dad knew, of course. Ruby suspected something was afoot. But Weiss wasn't her family.
"Why do you care?"
Weiss rolled her eyes. "Why do I care? I'm your partner, that's why."
She was her partner, a partner who revealed her own family's problems, who trusted her enough to open up and be vulnerable, who listened to her advice.
"It's about my mother," Yang said. "She left my dad after I was born. I don't know why, and I don't know where she is, but I want to find her so I can know why she abandoned us."
Weiss frowned. "Your mother is an awful person. No offense."
Yang bristled, even though she'd had that exact thought at least once. "She might be. I don't know if she's even alive."
"For your sake, she'd better." Weiss' eyes suddenly lit up. "Wait a second. What about Ruby's mother? You said your mother left you, but Ruby's here."
"I wish Ruby's mom was still around." Yang's smile turned wistful. "Summer was the best mother you could ask for: slayer of beasts, baker of cookies, bringer of sunshine. One day, she left on a mission and never came back. It really hurt my dad, and even though Ruby was pretty young when it happened, she still lost her mom."
Weiss' face sunk. "I can't imagine losing two mothers."
Yang's mouth twisted from pain. "It hurts. I was obsessed with finding my mother for a long time, but it started to take over my life. If I was going to finish this search, that couldn't happen."
Weiss hummed. "It sounds like you've solved your problem, unless I'm mistaken."
Yang snorted. "If only you weren't. I keep on thinking about what comes after I find her. I just go with the flow and try to enjoy the ride, and I thought that was an okay way to live – until I watched Ruby almost die."
It wasn't the first time they stared death in the face together, but this time was just reality's way of waking her up. She was still the same stubborn little girl chasing after shadows.
She scowled. "Being a huntress was supposed to be my gateway to adventure, to finding my mother, to living a life where it didn't matter what tomorrow brought. But what if tomorrow never comes? I don't want to die unfulfilled. And if I don't find out what I was born to do, that's exactly what's going to happen. It's terrifying, Weiss."
Weiss's blue eyes filled with understanding, blazed with concern. Yang hoped her own eyes hadn't turned red.
"I can't blame you, but if there's anything I've learned, it's that you choose who you want to be. I decided to come here because it was the best way for me to make my own legacy and revitalize the Schnee name. I have no clue how that will happen, but I have time to learn how to go about doing that. You do too, Yang."
Yang pursed her lips. "I guess so. But it's not easy. Ruby's going to be the world's greatest huntress. Blake's going to fight injustice, and you're going to make this big legacy. Not only that, you've all changed since we became Team RWBY, and for the better. I'm still the same old Yang."
"The fact that you're questioning your purpose is proof enough that you've changed. All you have to do is find that answer."
Weiss smiled, an actual smile that was gentle and warm. "I can help you there, if you'd let me."
Yang took a moment to steady her racing nerves. "I'd really like that, Weiss."
Weiss ducked her head. "Well, I have to return the favour at some point."
That was something she hardly believed would happen, not for a while, anyway. But she was glad that they could rely on each other. Really glad that Weiss was more than some cold princess from a faraway land.
"Is this gonna be a regular thing?" Yang asked. "Because if it means more chances to share our feelings, that'd be great!"
Weiss smirked. "And miss out on the chance to keep your ego in check? Please."
Yang beamed. "I wouldn't expect anything less."
Breathe. Aim. Pull. Boom.
Breathe. Aim. Pull.
"Go ahead, Red. Gimme your best shot!"
Only twice. Again.
Breathe. Aim. Pull.
"You got moxie – "
Torchwick had other plans.
Ruby stood up, and swallowed her disappointment.
She came to Beacon's shooting range to get better at shooting. Roman Torchwick's death was an accident caused by her deliberate choice to shoot him. Aiming her weapon at another person meant embracing the possibility that they could die.
Anything could happen, after all. Her opponent's Aura could break with a single bullet. It was what happened to Torchwick. She didn't know that his Aura was almost gone. Now, she was painfully aware of what she could do if she wasn't careful.
That was why she came to this shooting range, to overcome her fear. She couldn't afford to be paralyzed when she aimed down the sights, not in a spar and definitely not in a real fight. Whittling down her opponent's Aura was one way of doing that, but it wasn't enough.
If anyone on her team was in danger and the only thing that could save them was her pulling the trigger, she had to be ready. Same thing applied to saving an innocent person. It didn't have to mean ending someone's life, but she couldn't let her fear conquer her resolve.
Still, watching him die made her deathly afraid of shooting someone else and drawing blood. Even as the nightmares faded and she gained confidence in herself, it still left its mark. However, Crescent Rose was her weapon, and it was both a scythe and a rifle. Not using her rifle would be like chaining herself.
This time, she would achieve her goal.
Ruby breathed in. Peered at the target through the scope. Aimed her sniper rifle at the target. Pulled the trigger.
And hit the bull's eye. Not once, not twice, but three times in a row.
She exhaled. Finally. Now she could take a break.
Ruby sheathed Crescent Rose and sat down on a nearby bench, drinking from her crimson water bottle. The shooting range was in a big hall, with different targets set at different ranges and enough targets for students to shoot at. She had taken the longest range target, of course.
When she was halfway through her bottle, she saw someone approaching her. Someone tall. Someone stylish.
"Hey," she said, "mind if I sit next to you?"
Ruby looked around, noticing all the empty benches around them, before checking out the girl's sunglasses. She wanted to ask her why, but she didn't want to be rude, either. If she wanted to cause trouble, though, Ruby could take care of her.
"I don't mind."
The girl shot her a quick smile, before strolling over next to her and taking a seat, crossing one leg over the other and throwing her left arm over the support. Her right hand clutched her handbag's straps, which she'd set between herself and the bench's arm. It was the only part of her that didn't scream 'I'm too cool to care'.
Ruby waited for her to talk. In the meantime, she continued to drink; her water was too tasty to ignore.
"Nice shooting back there," she said. "You hit what, three bull's eyes in a row?"
Ruby swallowed, glancing at the stylish student. Her expression hadn't changed.
"I did. I'm aiming for ten in a row."
She whistled. "Wow. You planning on hitting bull's eyes at closer ranges, too?"
"That's the plan."
It required a different mindset, but she just had to keep on working at it so that it would be like instinct.
"Good luck with that. I'm sure you'll hit a hundred in a row before you even know it."
A smile grew on Ruby's face.
"Thanks. That's really nice of you to say."
The girl snorted. "Just calling it like I see it."
Even so, Ruby caught her smiling. It only stayed on her face for a couple of heartbeats, but it really suited her.
"What about you? Were you practicing your aim?"
"Yeah. I just have to point my minigun at my target and keep it steady."
Ruby's eyes lit up. "You have a minigun? Can I see it, please?"
She waited with bated breath, trying to contain her excitement. Then the girl stood up, and Ruby's hope was seconds away from turning into fear.
She twirled 90 degrees to her right, giving Ruby the perfect view to see her handbag transform into a golden minigun. That must've been why she strapped bandoliers on her belt and her handbag's shoulder strap, so she always had more ammo on hand to feed her gun.
"I call her Gianduja."
Ruby took in a quick breath. "So cool."
The girl smirked at her. "Of course it is."
With her black beret, snazzy brown sweater, tight black pants and high-heeled boots, Gianduja's golden shine really stood out. Some Grimm could be distracted for one second and BAM, they'd eat lead.
It did look pretty heavy, though.
"What happens if you can't hit your target?"
"I've been working on that problem for a while. It's pretty tricky, but if someone gets close..." She shifted Gianduja back into its handbag form, and swung it around a couple of times, keeping its heavy weight under control with ease. "They'll pay for it."
Ruby clenched her fists. She definitely didn't want to be on the receiving end of that handbag. Although, it was pretty nice that she had a trick up her sleeve just in case her opponent was right in front of her. That was something she had been working on with Yang and Ren. She wasn't a complete disaster now, but she still had a long way to go.
"What kind of Dust bullets do you use?"
"Lots of 'em."
After she sat down, Ruby started talking shop with her newest acquaintance. Wielding Gianduja basically forced her to build up a ton of strength. She could amplify the strength of her bullets with her semblance. She knew everything that went into Gianduja's construction and use, which gave Ruby a couple of ideas for modifying Crescent Rose.
She was enjoying herself a whole lot.
"You really know your stuff, don't ya?"
Ruby smiled, bashfully. "I really like weapons, that's all."
"I can tell. By the way, my name's Coco, Coco Adel."
"I'm Ruby Rose."
Coco stared at her, tipping down her sunglasses so Ruby could see her warm brown eyes.
"So, you are. I've heard a lot about you."
Ruby felt the hairs on her arms stand on end. "What do you mean?"
"You helped my teammate out of a bind a while back. Lots of people would ignore someone being bullied, but you didn't."
That... wasn't what she expected to hear.
"You're Velvet's teammate?" Ruby asked.
Coco nodded, once. "It was real nice of you to stand up for her, so I just wanted to say thanks."
Ruby's smile returned, stretching her cheeks. "You're welcome."
Coco tipped up her sunglasses, covering her eyes. Ruby wasn't done, though.
"How's Velvet doing?"
Coco smiled. "Better. She can handle some bullies, but I made sure to give them some friendly advice."
Ruby winced. She could imagine her threatening Cardin to back off or get his legs broken. He hadn't been bullying anyone last she checked, and that included Jaune. Although, Jaune did say he and Pyrrha handled it together when she asked him.
"I think they got the message."
"For sure." Coco's smile disappeared as suddenly as it crossed her face. "You know, there's one thing I never really understood."
"It's about all those rumours that were floating around at the beginning of the year."
Her throat suddenly went dry, a reflex. She knew this would come up, it pretty much had to, but she could deal with Coco's opinion. Besides, if anyone was listening in, they weren't intruding on their space.
"Taking down Roman Torchwick is one thing, but it's the other stuff that sounded pretty strange. Killing a criminal doesn't make you a serial killer or an avatar of death. Like, seriously, who comes up with this crap?"
That was an answer she wanted once upon a time.
"People have wild imaginations," Ruby said. "I should know, my mind goes all sorts of places."
Coco pursed her lips, tapping a beat on Gianduja. She draped her left hand over her lap.
"Maybe you're right. I'd say it's you first-years getting caught up in the rumour mill, but even some of my classmates were talking about it."
"They had all sorts of opinions. A couple of people hated that Roman Torchwick's killer was allowed to come to Beacon at all, which makes zero sense. We're taught how to fight people here 'cause some people choose to hurt others. If there were no bad guys out there, no wars, we'd only learn how to take down Grimm."
Ruby drank the last droplets of water left in her bottle, giving her some time to think. If you weren't in the frontier and lived your whole life protected by the kingdom's walls, it wasn't too hard to forget that the Grimm were a threat to mankind and the Faunus. She never forgot, though.
"There's a difference between fighting someone in a spar and killing a criminal, isn't there?"
"Definitely, but Ozpin let Torchwick's killer in, so he must've known something we didn't if he gave her a chance."
He did know. Professor Ozpin knew a whole lot. She really appreciated hearing Coco trust his judgement.
"What about you? What do you think?"
Coco exhaled, slowly. "I didn't know what to think, other than it not being my problem. Serial killer or not, we need all the help we can get. But when I heard that this Killer Rose helped out my teammate, I knew that she couldn't be some Grimm in human form." She clicked her tongue. "If that's even possible in the first place."
"I sure hope it isn't!" Ruby said.
There were all sorts of Grimm out there. A human one could be harmless, or the most dangerous of them all. It wasn't something she wanted to think about too hard.
"Me too. Anyway, I wanted to thank her, but I figured she'd want some space. Those rumours might not have made any sense to me, but it must've been pretty hard to deal with. You're what, fifteen, sixteen?"
Coco nodded. "Right. You're the youngest student here, and you had to deal with all of that. Nothing can really prepare you for seeing a dead body. Imagine killing someone, and then getting judged for it by people who don't know any better."
Her fist curled, pale knuckles tightening. It loosened up, gradually.
"Do you know what it's like?" Ruby asked.
"Nah, though I had a couple of close calls. It's easy to get carried away with my semblance."
She didn't have that excuse. Even so, she was relieved that Coco hadn't gone through what she had.
"Personally, I think people started seeing 'Killer Rose' for who she was, after that."
"You're right, Coco."
No matter what opinion someone had about her, she was mostly left alone these days. The rumours were their own beast, but it was something manageable now, instead of an imposing threat that crushed her beneath its weight.
"Glad to hear it," Coco said. "I like your style, Ruby."
Ruby grinned. "You too."
Coco shot her a stern, but serene smile blazing with confidence. "If anyone gives you trouble, I'll set them straight."
"Thanks, but I'll be fine. They're just rumours."
"You're right." Coco rose from the bench. "Anyway, I'm gonna get going. See you around?"
Ruby shot up from her seat. "See you around."
They went their separate ways, and as Ruby prepared for another round of target practice, she found herself thinking about her chat with Coco Adel. She was really cool, and she felt like they could actually be friends.
More than that, it made her realize that she had already put the fear of those rumours to rest. Rumours didn't matter when someone wanted you dead. Ruby didn't know who that mercenary lady was or where she came from, but she had this odd feeling that she was connected to Torchwick. Why else would she try to kill her?
She didn't know for sure, but what mattered was that she couldn't slack off. By the time the next term began, they'd be ready for anything.
The woman in front of her had her ivory skin, her ebony hair and her sharp, golden eyes. She stood with poise and elegance that veiled a coiled ferocity, the threat of certain defeat.
"Beautiful," she said.
Several spots on the woman's face glowed a garish pink, shattering the illusion of her perfection in an instant.
"I do not blush."
"Of course not," the woman said, still clinging to her disguise. "Let me try again, I won't fail a second time."
"I've seen enough." A smile formed on her thin lips. "You have a gift, my dear."
The girl was barely able to contain her pleasure. "Thank you."
It was rare to meet a chameleon Faunus. There were flaws in her presentation, of course, and limitations besides. In time, they would be stamped out.
"Tell me, Ilia, what do you desire?"
Bereft of her disguise, Ilia's gaze was not calculating, not emblazoned with her peerless wit.
"I want the Faunus to get what they deserve."
Yet, her conviction shone through her reticence. Interesting.
"Do you know why I called you to this warehouse?"
"You want me to work for you."
"Yes. Adam himself recommended you."
Ilia frowned. "He did? Why?"
"You have skills your comrades would kill to have, skills that would benefit me greatly. I am concocting a plan that will benefit us all, and it just so happens that my plan aligns with the White Fang's interests."
She looked into Ilia's eyes. "Follow me, Ilia, and the Faunus will prosper."
Ilia hesitated, as expected. Greater warriors than her had shown doubt in the face of her truth, yet she had burnt those fears into ash.
"Okay. I'll help you."
"Excellent. Now, allow me to introduce you to your new partner."
The click-clack of razor-sharp heels reverberated across the empty warehouse. Ilia watched in disbelief as her partner reached her, pink umbrella resting on her shoulders.
"Do you remember those Dust shop robberies? Neo pulled them off."
Revealing this information didn't displace Ilia's frown.
"I've heard about all that. You want us to work together?"
"Yes. Neo is a true professional. As long as she is at your side, no one will hurt you."
Ilia took a good look at Neo, consternation giving way to curiosity. "What's in it for you?"
She knew the answer. Roman Torchwick let exhaustion from a string of heists lead to his premature death. With her friend gone, Neo was eager for revenge and in need of direction, direction she was happy to provide.
"The White Fang has a rare opportunity waiting to be claimed," she said, in Neo's stead. "Neo is more than willing to lend her skills to your cause. Would you let her race deter you from seizing greatness?"
"No," Ilia said. "Never."
Neo extended a slim hand. Ilia shook it.
A triumphant smile adorned Cinder's face. Watching her plans come together delighted her like nothing else.
End of Volume 1
Author's Note: I've enjoyed writing this story a lot so far, and I truly appreciate the pair of regular reviewers sharing their thoughts. However, I have been discouraged by the low number of reviews I've received from Chapter 9 onwards. I can assume why that is, but my assumption is just that, an assumption. Reviews let me know what you, the reader, like and don't like about this particular story. They can help me improve it, they motivate me to write. Silence is the worst response a writer can receive.
I encourage you to share your thoughts. With Volume 1 finished, I'd like to know what you thought about this chapter, what scenes you enjoyed the most, who your favourite character is, and what you'd like to see in Volume 2, which will be released here at a later date. Thank you for reading.