Seeding – 1.5

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Her teammates had been planning on taking a bus into the city.

A bus! Her, Weiss Schnee, riding public transportation. The thought still made her shudder, even though she’d already ordered them a towncar and they were now standing in front of Rem-Mart in the slightly uncomfortable summer heat.

She also had an issue shopping in a general store, but ordering custom, high-end bedding that might take days or even weeks to arrive seemed like a little… much, even to her.

Besides, she’d always been curious what it was like inside one of these stores, which looked like it was just a massive, repurposed warehouse from the outside.

She’d actually met the CEO and majority shareholders of the global conglomerate that is Rem-Mart. From the way they had presented themselves, she’d gotten the impression they’d never actually shopped in one of their own franchises.

The people she saw heading in and out of the store furthered that suspicion. Weiss tried to suspend her judgement, though; she’d only ever been around people of money and status, and she needed to realize that most of the world was not part of that social circle. If she didn’t, she was no better than her parents. Besides, her teammates didn’t look out of place at all here, and they were alright, right?

They were yet another family Weiss hadn’t gotten to choose, not really, but she’d try to make the best of it.

Ruby skipped ahead of them excitedly. “Come on, team! Operation Shop-for-Stuff-and-Things is now underway!”

“You really are terrible at naming these missions,” Blake teased with a shake of her head.

“What was that?” Ruby called over her shoulder.

“Oh, nothing!”

Smiling, Yang turned to Blake and Weiss as they followed after their (evidently not) fearless leader. “Alright, I’m going to warn you guys now. We have to let her push the cart.”

“Why is that?” Blake asked while Weiss wondered why they wouldn’t just have an employee do that for them. Isn’t that what they were for?

“One, if she doesn’t she’s gonna end up racing around like a maniac. So normal Rubes. And B, if we let her do the actual shopping, she’s going to grab literally every food in the store.” She shook her head as she gazed into some past memory with a grin. “Dad and I have somehow managed to condition her to always keep both hands on the cart if she’s pushing it, so as long as we let her do that we should be fine.”

Weiss managed to keep herself from rolling her eyes. Why were they having to manage their “leader”? Still, she had to admit–only to herself–that the imagery of a tiny Ruby running around a store grabbing all the food she could reach was… cute.

Stepping across the threshold of the automatic doors, Weiss’ eyes widened in surprise. She hadn’t known what she was expecting, but it wasn’t this.

The massive warehouse connection was evidently correct. The building was just a single, giant room. Along the outside, shelves towering to the ceiling were stuffed full of goods all the way to the top. How were they supposed to get anything from the top shelf? In the middle of everything, tables and racks were set up with what looked like discount clothing, behind which was arrayed cheap furniture. Towards the back were freezer aisles with cold foods, and Weiss thought she could spot a deli in far corner.

The entire place was designed for efficiency rather than presentation or aesthetics, something that Weiss frowned at, though the pragmatic part of her brain recognized the logic behind it.

Cupping her hands, Yang yelled after her little sister, who was getting further and further from them as she skipped in the direction of a snack aisle. “Hey, Rubes! Grab a cart!”

Ruby stopped and wheeled around, a big smile on her face. “Okay!” she called back cheerily, dashing off to the side to pull a strangely shaped metal cage on wheels out of a line of them. Apparently she was none the wiser to Yang and her father’s manipulations.

She wheeled the cart over to the team and stood next to Weiss hopping up and down excitedly. Her eyes were roaming all over the store–mostly over the food aisles–and her little hands were clenching the handle of the cart tightly.

When Weiss realized she was smiling at the scene, she wiped the look from her face, shaking her head and turning away.

“Where shall we start?” she asked, trying to push things forward.

“Food!” Ruby chirped.

Yang chuckled. “”Calm your nips, you little culinary vacuum. We’ll get food last so the cold stuff stays cold.”

“Last?” Ruby wailed in despair. “But Yaaaaaang!”

Grinning, Yang walked forward and gave the cart a tug to get Ruby started forward. “Let’s go check out the clothes first. You need some new shorts, right?”

Ruby bounced. “Yeah!” It seemed her sadness at not getting food first was wiped away at the prospect of clothes shopping. Weiss could relate to that.

They made their way over to the open space dotted with tables piled high with shirts, pants, sweaters, and more. The articles on the bottom of the stacks seemed to have been folded, albeit haphazardly, but the clothing on top had clearly been rifled through by customers. Things were strewn about all over, most things not even anywhere near the correct pile anymore. It made Weiss’ brain itch horrendously, the complete lack of neatness or organization almost an affront to her eyes. She was tempted to just stop and start folding everything into their correct spots, but the prospect of touching something that so many grubby hands had touched made her grimace.

Yang didn’t seem to have any such compunctions, though. She roamed the tables, flipping through shirts and shorts that she might like, Ruby bouncing along behind her. Weiss noted that Yang was contributing to the disarray, simply tossing things she decided against back onto the tables without folding them or bothering to make sure to sort it back correctly.

Weiss shuddered. Four years of this.

Four years wasn’t really that long, right? In the grand scheme of things. About a twentieth of an average lifespan. Five percent. Then she could leave these dirty children behind and go become the master huntress she was meant to be.

“How ‘bout these?” Yang’s voice stirred Weiss from her misery The blonde was holding up a pair of female athletic running shorts, red with white stripes down the side. Ruby looked at them for only an instant before nodding.

“Looks good!”

She wasn’t going to even try them on?

Looking around, Weiss realized there wasn’t even a changing room for Ruby to try them on anyway. What kind of establishment was this?

A loud gasp called her attention back to her partner. “I want that one!”

Yang looked over at her sister. “Which one?”

Ruby pointed towards one of the hanger racks with her nose and an index finger–though she still kept both hands securely clamped to the cart. She was pointing at a line of sleeveless, light grey button-down blouses, with a simple frocket and tiny red buttons. It reminded Weiss of–

“Why?” Yang asked. “‘Cause Weiss is wearing one?”

“Yeah!”

Weiss blinked, surprised about how unabashedly the girl admitted to wanting to copy Weiss’ fashion style. There was no nervousness, no embarrassment, no aversion to having a second-rate version of what her partner was wearing.

When Yang smacked her forehead, Ruby went on the defensive. “What?! It looks awesome. Or at least, Weiss makes it look awesome. Maybe I can look awesome in it, too.”

Heart twisting around in a weird combination of guilt and appreciation, Weiss gave Ruby a shy smile when the girl turned to beam at her.

Yang sighed. “Ruby… I’ll get you this, but I hope you know we can’t dress you up like Weiss.”

Ruby frowned. “But why not? Her clothes look great!”

Yang gave Ruby a sad smile. “Because we can’t afford it, Rubes.”

The twisting guilt Weiss’ heart was suffering from doubled down when Ruby’s face fell. “Oh, right,” the brunette conceded.

What was Weiss supposed to do right now? What should she say? Should she even say anything?

“But this one’s okay?” Ruby asked her sister, silver eyes wide and hopeful.

Yang hissed a frustrated breath through her teeth. “Yeah, this one’s okay.”

“Woohoo!” Ruby cheered, jumping once in the air.

Weiss noticed that Blake’s eyes, which had been flitting back and forth between the two sisters, were now watching her inquisitively. Could Blake tell she was so confused, wanting to do something but not sure what?

A part of her, a part her father had worked very hard to purge from her being, wanted to just take Ruby shopping at stores that sold the kinds of clothes she wore. But… Schnees don’t give charity… unless it was for a tax break or PR, of course.

Maybe that was wrong? Maybe taking Ruby for a clothing run would be a good thing! The girl had an abysmally small wardrobe, after all. And Weiss would certainly prefer being seen with a team leader that was better dressed than the tattered jeans and faded t-shirt she was in now.

That made sense. It was for the team, right?

She decided to speak up. “How about…” She almost stopped when her entire team’s eyes swivelled to her. “How about this weekend we go shopping at some boutiques and I’ll get you some–” the corner of her mouth tugged upwards “–actual fancy people clothes.”

She initially thought she’d made the right decision making the offer from the way Ruby went wide-eyed in excitement. “Really? Y–”

“No,” declared Yang with an air of finality. “No, that’s okay. Thanks though, Weiss.” The tone of her voice didn’t seem to hold much gratitude though.

“But Ya–”

“No,” she repeated, cutting off her sister. She grabbed one of the shirts Ruby had been asking for. “You’re still a small, right?”

“Yeah, but–”

“Great!” Yang tossed the blouse into the cart. “Got some shorts and a shirt, time for some food, yeah?”

Ruby hung her head, conceding that the argument was over but clearly not understanding why.

Neither did Weiss, for that matter. What had she done wrong? Wasn’t offering to get Ruby clothes a friendly, generous thing to do? Was Yang shutting down the idea simply because she didn’t like Weiss? That didn’t seem fair to Ruby…

“Did you guys want anything from here?” Ruby asked dejectedly, moving her head to address Blake and Weiss but not meeting their eyes.

“I’m good for now,” Blake answered. “But thank you,” she added, trying to pull Ruby out of her funk.

When Ruby flashed a small glance at Weiss she shook her head, staying silent because she didn’t know what words to say.

“Let’s start with the cookies, Ruby!” Yang said, injecting a cheeriness into her voice that sounded incredibly genuine.

That seemed to do the trick. While she didn’t bounce excitedly, Ruby did smile at that, the expression reaching her eyes as she pushed the cart after Yang.

When Blake moved to follow, Weiss reached out and gently tapped the girl’s elbow. She stopped and turned, a knowing smile on her face. She’d been expecting Weiss to ask her about this.

“Did I do something wrong?” she asked anyway, only slightly perturbed that she’d been seen through so easily.

“I don’t know, Weiss,” Blake replied apologetically. “Maybe Yang just doesn’t want your money–”

“Maybe she just doesn’t like me and has decided to be a child,” Weiss griped bitterly.

Blake, surprisingly, nodded. “Maybe. I don’t know her well enough to understand this whole thing. This is probably something you should ask her.”

Weiss huffed at the prospect. If Yang wanted to be unpleasant, Weiss could too. She saw no reason to try to reach out or make amends when she hadn’t done anything wrong.

Blake seemed to read something in her reaction, because the girl gave Weiss a small shrug and headed after the sisters.

Weiss trudged sullenly after her, indignation still making her ears steam.

“Ruby, pick three. Three!”

“But Yaaaaaaaang-uh! How am I supposed to pick between them? They’re all delicious! Why can’t we get one of each?”

“Because you should also be eating real food at some point, Ruby.”

“Ugggh. I just wanna eat cookies!”

“Believe me, Pipsqueak. I know.”  Yang placed a hand on Ruby’s shoulder to cease her continuous bouncing. “Now pick three.”

Ruby scowled and perused the stand of cookie packages arranged in front of her, concentrating so hard it was like she was having to pick million Lien stock investments.

“Okay… Funky-Os… the double Funk ones! And, ummmm, Fudge ‘N’ Butters… aaaaaaand ChocoChunks!”

Yang tossed one package of each of the designated cookie brands as they were called out. “Good!” she sighed as the ChocoChunks hit the bottom of the cart. “Now we’ll come back and do more cookie shopping in a week, okay? So make these last.”

Ruby pouted in response.

“Stop it!” Yang said in exasperation at Ruby’s adorable expression.

“No!”

Rolling her eyes, Yang turned and walked on, the rest of the team following behind her.

Ruby turned to Weiss and slowed to fall in step beside her. “Hey, Weiss?”

Weiss suppressed a smile. “Yes, Ruby?”

“What’s a boutique?”

Weiss laughed out loud at that, and beside her Blake hid a smile behind her hand. “It’s… It’s just a fancy people word for a clothing store. They usually have fancy people clothes.”

“Oh! Gotchya.” Ruby nodded to herself. “By the way, what do you need for your prosheeto cranberry crosidoti?”

Weiss snorted at the valiant attempt. What did she need, though? The bread for the crostinis involved… something, right? She could remember watched Klein toast the baguette slices… covered in… olive oil! That was it.

She felt a brief moment of pride that she still remembered that. The last time she’d seen Klein make crostinis must have been eleven or twelve years ago.

“I’ll need olive oil, a baguette, cranberry sauce, prosciutto, and goat cheese,” she rattled off.

Ruby wrinkled her nose at her. “Ewww, goat cheese?”

Weiss grinned. “It’s good, trust me.”

Ruby nodded, satisfied with that answer. “Okay!”

Was it that easy to gain Ruby’s trust? Just say the words “trust me”? Once again Weiss was stumped trying to figure out if the girl was sweet and innocent or just naive.

“Hey, Weiss?”

“Yes, Ruby?” A part of Weiss felt like this little bit they did would get old fast, but another found it highly amusing.

“What’s prosciutto?”

That’s a fair question. “It’s… a specially cured ham, basically.”

“So it’s ham, fake cheese–”

“Goat cheese.”

“Sure, questionable cheese, bread, and cranberries.”

Weiss rolled her eyes at the jabs at goat cheese, but it was with a small smile. She’d not been a fan of the stuff either when she was little. “Yes, that’s it.”

“None of those things sound like chocolate or sugar.”

Weiss nodded sagely. “Well spotted, Ruby. You are correct. None of those ingredients are chocolate, nor are they sugar.”

“That sounds terrible.” The way she said it, so matter-of-fact, made Weiss laugh again. When she turned to look at Ruby, the girl was giving her one of those beaming smiles.

“You know there are more flavors out there than chocolate and sugar, right?”

Ruby rolled her eyes–or tried to, it didn’t really work. Her eyes just kind of flicked from side to side and then up and down. “Of course!” she admonished Weiss. “There’s also strawberry!”

There it was again. Strawberries. It seemed so out of place compared to the flavors Ruby seemed to like–namely, sweets.

“Why–”

“Oh, Weiss,” Blake said at the same time. When Weiss turned her way, Blake lifted a finger to indicate the wooden rack filled with freshly baked bread, each wrapped in their own foil blankets.

“Oh, look at that,” Weiss said, reaching over to grab a baguette from among them. She gave it a light squeeze to make sure it was still soft and, satisfied, placed it gently in the cart.

Ahead of them, Yang stopped. “I’m guessing the proshushu is in the deli?” she asked Weiss, pointing towards the deli that had been barely visible from the entrance. When Weiss nodded in response, Yang continued, “Good, good, we should probably get some sandwich stuff, too.”

“Deli mustard!” Ruby cheered.

Yang nodded, smirking. “Yes, but there’s still more stuff in a sandwich than deli mustard, Rubes. No matter what Dad tells you.”

They walked up together, everyone inspecting the rows of meats and cheeses.

“You can go first, Weiss,” Yang said.

Was that an olive branch? Weiss wasn’t sure if she should be grateful for the consideration or not. Regardless, she stepped up to the counter and waited (impatiently) for one of the two employees to notice her. When one of them did, he had the audacity to walk over to her with a generic customer service smile, as if that would forgive the lack of expediency.

If there was one boon of being a Schnee in Atlas that she missed, it was not ever having to wait on service. Everyone recognized the Schnees in their home kingdom and always made sure they were provided the best and fastest care available.

Whatever. It wasn’t worth making a big deal out of in front of her teammates. They seemed to think she was… bratty… enough already.

“What can I get you?” drawled the man in the hairnet before her.

“Do you have any prosciutto koyori?” she asked, still scanning the selections in front of her trying to find it.

“We do not, unfortunately,” the worker lamented. He walked to one side and pointed at one of the rolls of packed and cured meats in the display window. “The only prosciutto we have is prosciutto sorisi.”

Weiss sighed. “That’s… unfortunate.”

Ruby hopped over to her, dragging the cart along with her. “What’s that mean?” she asked.

“Koyori is a village in Vacuo that makes what is widely considered the best prosciutto in the world. As a result, it’s pretty expensive. Relatively, of course.” It wasn’t expensive to her.

The man behind the counter nodded. “It’s a little too expensive for us to import. However, the prosciutto from Soris–” he gestured again at the display case “–is also quite delicious, and it’s local and fresh…?”

He had been looking at Weiss as he said it, and something in her expression made him trail his statement into a question at the end.

“Would it be possible to special order from Koyori?” she asked. Her parents had stores special order imports all the time.

The man stammered nervously. “Uhhh… I’m not sure. I’d have to ask my manager. Would you be buying a whole ham?”

Would she be able to eat a whole ham before it went bad? Probably not. But she would be sharing with her team, right? Ruby could probably eat the whole thing herself if she ended up liking it. And of course she would, it’s delicious.

“Sure,” she said simply.

The deli-man frowned. “I think… Wouldn’t that be, like, a couple hundred dollars?”

Weiss shrugged. “Most likely.”

The man blinked. “Okay, well my manager isn’t in today. I could give him a call if yo–”

Weiss waved her hand. She’d try this later, if she ended up making this dish again. “It’s fine for now. Please give me the sorisi.”

The man almost sagged in relief. “How much?”

That seemed like a strange question. It’s right there on the tag. “It says fifteen dollars a pound…”

“No, how much do you want?” the man clarified with a confused frown. “Quarter pound? Half pound?”

“Oh!” That’s embarrassing. She could feel her teammates mocking grins tingling the back of her neck. “I suppose… a pound?” She actually had no idea how much she needed.

“A pound is quite a lot,” Blake murmured to her.

“Is it? Okay, then… half a pound?” She looked at Blake for confirmation, who nodded.

The worker pulled the prosciutto and brought it to a big machine, where he cut off a slice. After placing it in wax paper he walked back and held it over the counter to Weiss. “Is that a good thickness?” he asked.

Was she supposed to take the slice? Couldn’t she judge the thickness from here? From the way he was holding it out to her, she guessed she was supposed to take it.

She reached out gingerly, briefly amused at how dainty her pale hands looked compared to the workers. “Yes, that looks fine,” she said after glancing at the slice of meat in her hands, to which the man nodded and walked back.

She honestly had no idea.

This seemed like such a strange way to package such a product. Turning to Blake, she whispered, “This isn’t half a pound, is it?”

Blake, for whatever reason, started cracking up. Ruby laughed along with her, while Yang buried her face in her hands with a hysterical grin.

Weiss didn’t know what she’d done wrong, but there was clearly something, and it was clearly humiliating. She could feel her cheeks burning red as she decided the tile patterns looked incredibly interesting.

“No, doofus,” Blake finally said. “He just gave you a sample to try and make sure you like it.”

Oh. That made much more sense. “Right. Of course.”

“Have you not been to a deli before?” Yang asked, confusion and amusement warring across her face.

Weiss looked back at the ground. “I’ve never been shopping for food at all before,” she admitted.

“What?” Yang’s expression was now incredulous. “How is that even possible?”

Her tone prickled at Weiss’ skin, putting her on the defensive. “I never needed to!” she spat defiantly. “Our staff keeps our kitchen fully stocked and makes us whatever we want. Or we just go out to eat.” The only shopping she’d ever done was clothes shopping with her mother and/or sister and gift and flower shopping when the wedding of some business partner of her father’s was coming up.

“Wow,” said Yang. As in, ‘Wow, I’m surprised you’re so incompetent and dependant on servants. Wow, you sure are spoiled. Wow, what are you even doing here on your own?’

“Look–” she started to sneer at Yang.

“Can I try some too?” Ruby asked from her side, jarring Weiss and stopping her from spewing whatever venom she’d been about to spit. Ruby was looking between the slice of prosciutto in Weiss’ hands and Weiss’ face.

“Oh, yes, of course.” Weiss tore off a long strip of the meat–which was surprisingly hard to do with how stringy it was–and then held the wax paper up for Ruby to take the slice.

Instead, the girl opened her mouth, the corners of a smile still discernible.

So Weiss had to hand feed her team leader now?

Blake gave her a nudge and then pointed at Ruby’s hands, still gripping tightly to the cart.

Oh, right.

She pinched the strip of prosciutto and, being careful not to actually touch Ruby, dropped it into the girl’s mouth.

As soon as it hit her tongue, Ruby clamped her mouth shut and started chewing. Her eyes went wide. “Mm! ‘At’s rearry ‘ummy!” she said with vigorous, happy nods at Weiss.

Pleased that she’d picked a hit, though confused why that please her, Weiss smiled and tried a bit herself. It was quite good. Not as salty and nutty as she’d like, but passable.

“Here you go.” The man handed a sealed bag with many slices–what Weiss guessed was half a pound–over the counter. “Anything else?”

Taking the bag from the man and stepping back, Weiss shook her head.

Yang stepped forward. “Yeah, hey man. Could we also get a pound of the Emerald Forest ham and and half a pound of the Mantle-Jack Cheddar?”

Weiss tuned out and looked around the store, undercurrents of embarrassment and anger making her skin flush as she rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet.

“I’m going to go look around,” she said to nobody in particular. “I’ll be right back.”

“Want some company?” Ruby asked her, already turning the cart to follow.

“No, it’s okay.” Weiss put a hand on the cart to stop Ruby’s pursuit. “I just want to… explore by myself for a bit. First time shopping and all.” She offered what she hoped was an easy smile, but from the concern that flashed across Ruby’s eyes, she suspected it hadn’t worked.

“Are you sure?”

Before Weiss could respond, Blake placed a gentle hand on Ruby’s arm and give a small nod. Ruby looked from Weiss to Blake and back.

“Okay…”

Weiss gave Blake an appreciative nod. Placing the pack of prosciutto into the cart next to the baguette, she then turned and wandered down the aisles created by the fridge displays of food. As she walked, Weiss tried to find some of that calmness she got from her music, that she’d had that morning playing the violin. That had actually been an enjoyable experience, despite her expectations of Ruby completely ruining it. The girl had actually stayed remarkably quiet, and as loathe as Weiss was to admit it, Ruby’s compliments had actually helped dissolve a lot of her frustrations when she kept failing to hit that one damn note.

But what was Yang’s problem? What did she expect, that Weiss Schnee, heiress to the biggest corporation in the world, had gone out shopping for Funky-Os and sandwich bread once a week? No. She hadn’t. And there was nothing wrong with that, right? She hadn’t missed anything important, right?

Right.

Weiss could out fight, out study, and out think that judgemental blonde, and those were the things that mattered for huntresses, which is what they were there to be. So what did it matter if Weiss didn’t know how to order sandwich meat?

In an attempt to distract herself, she browsed the foods in the cases she walked by, slowly and deliberately reading each label.

Wait.

She stopped. Right next to her was a row of vacuum sealed packs of goat cheese.

‘Well that’s convenient.’ She grabbed a block of the cheese. The cold, squishy feel was strange, but she found it curious.

Instead of wandering aimlessly, she could find the last two ingredients for her snack. Giving herself a goal to work towards would go much further in terms of calming her down.

It took her about ten minutes to find the olive oil, during which time she also grabbed a box of a bran cereal she liked. The olive oil was with a bunch of other cooking oils, and seeing “vegetable oil” still confused her just as it had when she was little. Which vegetables? Why weren’t they worth naming?

Winter had told her it was the blood of all the vegetables she didn’t finish eating. That the leftover veggies were slaughtered and turned into oil, and it was very sad and painful. Weiss always finished her veggies after that, even when she’d gotten old enough to realize Winter had just been messing with her to get her to eat them.

Thinking about Winter reminded Weiss of the last time she’d mentioned her sister a few hours ago, when Ruby revealed that her mother had been a huntress that died on a mission. Weiss hadn’t known what to say then. She could never have imagined that such a sweet and happy girl was carrying around so much pain and tragedy.

And it was definitely a tragedy. It was clear in every part of Ruby’s voice and body language that she loved her mother very much. And yet she still was the happiest person Weiss had ever met.

Would Weiss be able to take such a thing as well as Ruby had? Weiss had lost all respect for her mother years ago, but had she also lost all love for her? Had she ever really loved her to begin with?

When she was little, yes. She loved her mother as all daughters were supposed to. But at some point Weiss realized that the woman was a cold-hearted, stuck up socialite that did nothing but judge others and yet offered nothing of value to the world. Then her father had made that fateful… awful confession, and Willow Schnee added self-pitying alcoholic to her resume.

Was it worse that Weiss probably wouldn’t care if she got a call to inform her that her mother was dead? Probably.

But maybe that was a bad comparison. What if it was Winter? What if she got a call and found out Winter had died while out on assignment? That… That would probably destroy her. And it was a very real possibility with Winter’s line of work. Weiss already was not the happiest of people. She knew that. If Winter died…

She pulled out her scroll and flipped through a couple screens to send a message to her sister. But what should she say? “Please don’t die”? “I don’t want to lose you”? No, she’d just check in and see how she was doing. This was just any other normal conversation between sisters. No reason to throw whatever this weird emotional anguish Weiss was now freakishly prone to for whatever reason.

Hello, Winter. How is your day going?

She resumed her quest for her cranberry sauce, knowing it would likely be a while before her sister was able to respond.

Where would cranberry sauce even be? She remembered Klein had pulled it out of the refrigerator, so it would be with the cold foods, right?

Wandering through the cold and freezer aisles and rubbing warmth into her exposed arms, she started to grow a little frustrated at herself. She’d been searching for ten minutes and had absolutely no clue where the stuff was, and no idea how she could figure it out. It wasn’t with the produce. It wasn’t with the frozen fruits and veggies. Where the Crucible was it?

“Weiss.”

She turned to see Blake down the aisle towards her.

“Yes?”

“We’re ready to check out. Do you have everything you need?”

Weiss shook her head.

Blake looked at her as if expecting more elaboration. “Well? What are you missing?”

“Oh!” She turned and pointed back out toward the center of the store. “It’s not with the cold–”

“Stop!”

Blake froze, eyes wide like a deer in headlights.

Weiss fiddled with the hem of her skirt. “I’d like to find it myself… Please.”

Weiss watched as some sort of understanding dawned on Blake’s face. Understanding of what, Weiss didn’t know. She just wanted to complete her “quest” herself. It wasn’t anything beyond that. Simple.

But Blake nodded empathetically. “The sisters are getting restless, so I’ll buy you another five minutes. After that, we’ll send Ruby after you. Without the cart. And you have to buy all the extra crap she picks up.” The girl smiled wickedly, extremely pleased with her threat.

Weiss couldn’t help but smile, too. Honestly, a part of her was curious what would happened if they unleashed Ruby on this store. Not curious enough to find out, though. She suspected even her sizable monthly allowance wouldn’t be enough to fund a Ruby cookie shopping spree.

After Blake walked back toward the front of the store, Weiss also headed back out to the main floor. Apparently, the cranberry sauce wasn’t with the cold foods, so Weiss could probably have been wandering around for hours without finding it. While slightly disappointed she could no longer claim she’d completed her quest entirely by herself, at least she wouldn’t look like an idiot and waste time for no reason anymore.

She meandered past the side aisles, reading off the signs that displayed the products in each row.

Jams! That must be it, right?

A couple minutes later, she was walking toward the front of the store, goat cheese, olive oil, and cranberry sauce piled in her hands. She felt goofy carrying things like this, but the satisfaction that she was able to find everything far outweighed that awkwardness.

Perhaps it was silly of her to be so proud of such a menial accomplishment, but it was something she’d never done and never expected to have to do. It wasn’t even a skill she really needed–she could more than afford to just go out to eat or order delivery if she wasn’t eating in the cafeteria. But there was something reassuring in knowing that she’d gotten food herself.

“Weiss!” Ruby called out immediately as she rounded a corner created by a shelf. The girl bounced over, the handle of the cart still firmly in her tiny hands. “I was just about to come get you! Look, we found the mattress covers and picked one up for you!”

“Thank you, that’s very kind of you,” Weiss replied as she placed her items in the cart.

The foam paddings were an off-white color, appropriately soft and squishy. The wrappings read ‘twin size’, which was an annoying reminder of how small her new bed was, but at least it wouldn’t feel like sleeping on a rock now.

“Ready to check out?” Yang asked, gesturing towards the lanes of conveyor belts before them. From the way her lips and eyebrows were ever-so-slightly raised in an amused grin, Weiss knew that she knew that Weiss had no idea what she was supposed to do next.

“Come on,” Yang said, nodding towards the checklanes. “I’ll show you. Lead the way, Cap.”

Ruby happily pushed the cart into one of the empty lanes, rocking on her feet as Yang began to unload items onto the conveyor belt. That was when Weiss noticed the plastic bag hidden under the mattresses, like they’d already been through the line and bought something.

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing it out.

Yang glanced over. “Oh, just something Ruby nagged me–”

“NOTHING!” Ruby shouted over her sister. “It’s nothing! Absolutely nothing. No need to talk about it. Let’s aaaaaaaaall just move on.” When Weiss opened her mouth to ask further, Ruby squealed, “Forgetaboutitthat’sanorder!”

Weiss blinked. She hadn’t really cared before, but now she felt like she should. What would Ruby want to hide from her?

It was probably something immature and childish that the girl didn’t want Weiss to see. Ruby liked the video games, didn’t she? It was probably something like that. She glanced at Blake who shrugged and looked like she couldn’t care less about what was going on. Weiss guessed she shouldn’t either.

The next few minutes were filled with the obnoxious beeping noise of the cashier’s scanner as Yang paid for her and Ruby’s things and Blake paid for her salmon and the mattress cover she caved for. Weiss was relieved that the rest of the process just involved paying: she knew how to use a credit card, at least.

After a half hour ride in the car Weiss ordered that they’d stuffed full of their spoils and a laborious trip carrying everything from the car to the dorm kitchen (for which Weiss recruited Bob’s help), the four of them stood around the island. They found that one of the shelves in the fridge and a couple of the cabinets were labeled “Team RWBY”, and they set to putting everything away. Cookies, sandwich ingredients, strawberries, cereals (Weiss’ bran cereal and Ruby’s Admiral Munch, which just looked like glorified sugar cubes), sockeye salmon, and Weiss’ pieces for the crostinis all fit quite snugly in the space they were given.

It looked like the only other team that had any food stored here so far was Team CRDL’s horrendous chips. The fridge shelves and cabinets for Team JNPR and Team KORL were empty.

CRDL’s mess from last night was still there, Weiss noted with disdain. Animals.

Ruby grabbed the bags with the extra school supplies they’d bought and the mystery bag and dashed into their room to put them up, leaving petals drifting in the invisible currents from the air conditioning.

Weiss’ scroll buzzed, and she hastily pulled it out to happily find a message from Winter.

Apologies for the delayed response, I was training some new recruits. I’m doing quite well, thank you for asking. Preparing to go out for a field mission in a couple of days. How are you?

Weiss smiled at the idea of Winter training others. Her sister was a hardass on her, she could only imagine how demanding she was with strangers.

The nagging worry for Winter’s safety that she’d felt earlier came back when she read that Winter would be going out on another mission, though. The thought of what happened to Ruby’s mother happening to Winter… What if in a few days Weiss messaged her sister and never got a response back?

Please be careful out there, Winter.

She regretted typing the words as soon as she hit send. Winter was always careful, as was she insanely powerful and capable. And she was far too smart and familiar with Weiss to not think something was strange from the request.

Sure enough, Winter’s response said as much.

You know I always am, little sister. What makes you say that?

Damn. What was she supposed to say? That the thought of losing her sister, her only real family and the one person that Weiss definitively loved and loved her, her mentor and lifeline, terrified her beyond belief? No. Winter would tell her that there was no plausible reason to have such fears, that she should get a grip on her emotions and focus on getting ready for the school year.

She’d keep it simple. Fib a little.

Oh, nothing. Some of us were just discussing how dangerous it can be out there, and it made me realize how often you’re in dangerous situations. I apologize. I never meant to imply a lack of confidence in your abilities.

That was pretty much all true. When she and Ruby had talked about Ruby’s mom, they were basically talking about how dangerous the wilds outside the kingdoms were. And the rest was entirely true.

She walked back to their room and sat down at her desk, flipping open a textbook to do some reviewing while she waited for her sister’s reply.

It only took a couple minutes for her scroll to buzz again.

I never thought you did, Weiss. And please do not worry about me. Not only am I me, I also go out backed with Atlesian military firepower, soldiers, and other huntsmen. I am very safe. But you never told me how you are.

That was true. Weiss supposed her shopping trip might make for an amusing anecdote for her sister.

I am quite well. I played the violin this morning. We just came back from doing some grocery shopping for the dorm kitchen.

Oh? And how was that?

Weiss smiled. They’d both grown up in the same house. She imagined Winter had faced the same sort of perplexities when she went on her first shopping trip.

Did you feel… lost your first time shopping for food?

If she closed her eyes she could see Winter’s amused half smile. It was a smile that she’d been the cause of a lot when she was a child, and one she was always proud when she made it reappear nowadays.

Indeed I did. Luckily, my teammates were gracious enough to help me out. Were yours?

Surprisingly, yes. They found it deranged that I’d never shopped for food before, but they still helped me find things and check out.

Why is that surprising?

Oh. Damn it. There was Winter again, picking up on the tiniest things Weiss said.

It’s just that Yang doesn’t like me very much, and Blake is very hard to read. They both think I’m a snob, though I suppose I can’t blame them. Ruby likes me, but she seems to like everybody.

That was a pretty accurate for a synopsis, right? No need to get into how Yang seemed to despise her and her money, or how Blake seemed to have just taken pity on her. And Ruby… well, Ruby was Ruby.

Thinking about them, she realized she had no idea where her team even was. The room was empty but for her. She peeked outside and heard the Ruby and Yang’s loud voices shouting from the community room.

“… op it! Yang-uh! Stop cheating!”

“I’m not cheating, you’re just outclassed by my mad skills!”

“You have me in a headlock! How is that not cheating?!”

A giggle that sounded like Blake followed their bickering.

Tiptoeing down the hall to see what was going on, Weiss found them sitting in the living room, all three comfortable on the four person couch, the two sisters playing some video game that involved two characters punching each other. Or rather, it seemed like Yang’s character was punching Ruby’s. Ruby was, in fact, currently in a headlock. Weiss knew nothing about video games, but it was reasonable to assume playing one while your hand is in a vice between your sister’s bicep and forearm was a little difficult.

She was tempted to join them, but… she hadn’t been invited. Understandably. They were sharing a moment a fun and happiness as friends, something she had nothing to contribute to.

She turned and headed back to continue reviewing when her phone buzzed.

Give it time. It’s only the first day. Just make an effort to be a member of the team and it will happen. I’m glad to hear your first adventure went well.

Winter was right. Becoming a teammate wouldn’t happen in a day, especially for her. But it wouldn’t happen at all if she didn’t try.

Thank you, Winter.

She went and grabbed her book–no reason not to be productive while spending time with her team–and shuffled back over to the common area. She realized they must have cleaned up the mess left by CRDL, which she thought was a mistake, but now wasn’t the time to bring it up.

Itching with a strange nervousness, she rushed over to one of the chairs beside the couch and sat down. She clutched her book to her chest and avoided making eye contact with the others, afraid they might ask her to leave if–

“Weiss!” Ruby cheered. “Do you want to play?” She held her scroll out to Weiss, who shook her head.

“No, thank you, but… may I stay here and watch?”

Yang raised an eyebrow at her but smiled, as did Blake. Ruby was more… enthusiastic.

“Of course! Do you want some strawberries?” She pointed at the bowl of bright red fruit on the coffee table between them that sat right next to a small bowl of sugar. “Oh, also, do you think you could get Yang off of me? My neck is really starting to hurt.”

When the others laughed (and Yang let go of her sister), Weiss couldn’t help but smile with them.

Buzz!

Of course, Weiss. I hope you enjoy your last night of break. Tomorrow starts the hard work. I know you’ll do great.

Once again, Winter was right. Tomorrow was their first day of class. Weiss made a mental note to check her schedule before she went to bed and to make sure she’d pack all of the supplies she’d need in her bag.

Soon it would be time for her to become the best. Her days and nights would go back to studying and training and doing everything she could to excel, only now she’d have peers to compare against.

But for now, a few hours of relaxation with her team couldn’t hurt.

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