Weiss took a deep breath, the wind bringing her scents of mown grass and something vaguely edible from the cafeteria.
‘Count to five, Weiss,’ her sister’s voice rang in her ears. ‘If you’re still upset after that, then you can say it, not scream it.’
She hadn’t screamed at Ruby, but she might as well have. The worst part was that she couldn’t bring herself to feel all that guilty about it.
The child was a hyperactive, irresponsible mess of a person that was placed above Weiss for no discernable reason. Weiss had been dealing with it, trying her best not to explode on the little girl. But when Ruby had the audacity to explain the weak spot on a Boarbatusk–as if that was something Weiss hadn’t already known–she’d lost it. As she had the right to! She was leagues better than Ruby, where did that idiot flower girl get off thinking she could teach Weiss anything?
Weiss knew she hadn’t been performing all that well in that little… lesson, or whatever the professor thought that was. She’d been… off-balance. Uncentered. But she still knew how to kill a damn Boarbatusk.
Then Ruby had come out and yelled at Weiss. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ she’d said. Like Weiss was the one doing something wrong. Like it was Weiss that had woken her teammate up after midnight because she was being loud and inconsiderate. Like it was Weiss who’d been late to her first ever class at an academy she’d been bumped two years and given a scholarship to go to. Like it was Weiss that was spitting on the honor of this education, paying absolutely no attention during class and spending her time doodling penguins and mocking images of the professor.
So Weiss had gone off on her. She’d said a lot of hurtful things–hurtful but true things–and had hoped they would hurt. She’d hoped that Ruby’s lackadaisical, uncaring attitude would take even the littlest bit of a hit to reflect the pain and self-disappointment that Weiss was drowning in now.
It seemed to have worked. The girl looked crushed, those beautiful silver eyes flinching at Weiss’ words as she had looked at the floor in shame.
The more Weiss remembered that expression, the worse she felt. She couldn’t escape the heavy feeling that she’d done something incredibly wrong to bring such sadness to a face that seemed to know nothing but smiles.
But that was only because she was so immature and untested. Weiss grew up without the luxury of smiles, and it had made her strong. She hadn’t survived the travesty of her childhood to be rewarded with the insult of being led by a clown like Ruby.
She was better than this. She deserved bett–
“It seems you’re having some struggles of personalities with your team leader, Miss Schnee,” said a voice from behind her.
She turned to find Professor Ozpin walking toward her, lightly leaning on the cane that he seemed far too young and lithe to need.
“Were you hiding in the back of Professor Port’s class too, sir?” she asked ironically.
“I was, actually,” he admitted with an amused twinkle in his eyes. “Though it is my school, so I think it’s allowed.”
Weiss nodded politely at the humor and turned to look back at the sun hidden behind fluffy white clouds. The rays of light looked like beams spearing down from the heavens, just as Beacon Tower looked like a spear rising from the earth.
She took a deep breath, knowing a lecture about her behaviour was coming. She didn’t feel mad at it though–she new it was warranted.
Instead of a lecture, though, she was asked a question.
“Why are you here, Miss Schnee?”
“I needed some fresh air,” she said stubbornly, knowing that wasn’t what he was asking.
He smiled at her feigned misinterpretation, and Weiss had a feeling he saw right through it. “Why are you here at Beacon?” he asked this time. “Why did you not choose to attend Atlas Academy?”
Why was he asking that? Did he want her to leave Beacon and go somewhere else? How was she supposed to answer that? She couldn’t explain her fear of living in Winter’s shadow to him. He wouldn’t understand. Some nights she didn’t understand.
“My sister went there,” she finally said, hoping that simple statement would satisfy the headmaster.
“And?” he pressed her.
“And… I didn’t want to go to the same school as she did.” She really didn’t want to get into why that was…
“Why is that?” Professor Ozpin asked softly.
Weiss sighed. She didn’t really understand the point of all this needling into her motivations unless the headmaster wanted her to leave, and she really, really hoped that wasn’t what was happening.
She hugged her arms to herself as a chilly afternoon breeze flowed by announcing the imminent arrival of evening. ‘I guess I’ll have to try to explain this. He won’t leave me alone until I do.’ She’d never tried explaining it to anyone else, nor had she ever wanted to; but she could tell he wasn’t going to let it go…
“My… father always told us that Schnees must stand taller and rise above everyone around us. That we are too gifted–with talent, money, intellect–to do otherwise, and if we don’t then we are failures.” She looked down below her at all the students milling about in the courtyard–laughing, talking, running to class. All these students she had to surpass. She knew she was supposed to see fellow classmates, but all she saw was her competition.
“And if I’d gone to Atlas Academy… I never would have risen above Winter.” It was hard to say out loud. It was hard to admit (to herself, let alone someone else) that she’d never reach Winter’s level, that she’d always be the Second Schnee.
Maybe trying to be a huntress like Winter was a mistake. Maybe she should have given her life to music or something else. Something where she wouldn’t have to compare herself to the one person she loved most only to find nothing but disappointment in herself.
Beside her, Ozpin leaned up against the railing like she was. “I see.”
There was a long silence and Weiss could tell the headmaster was thinking of what he wanted to say or ask next.
“So you’ve come to Beacon to be the best,” he surmised.
It was a simple statement, a plain observation, but something about hearing it said out loud by the headmaster of the school made tendrils of doubt crawl through her body. Could she really do it? Be the best in Beacon? She already had to compete against Pyrrha Freaking Nikos, and who knows what the other class years were like.
“That is an admirable and ambitious goal.”
He didn’t think she could do it eith–
“I think it’s one you can achieve.” Weiss blinked in surprise at the praise, but he wasn’t done. “But nobody achieves anything here on their own.” He turned and looked at her again. “Do you not think you can become the best as a member of Team RWBY?”
Her frustrations with her team bubbled over almost immediately. “I don’t understand why I have to! My team’s not supposed to be another obstacle for me to overcome. I’m better than Ruby. I’m smarter, faster, stronger, more disciplined, more driven. I don’t…” She trailed off as she met the professor’s thoughtful, soul-piercing eyes again.
“I don’t understand why you chose her,” she whispered.
Professor Ozpin gave one slow nod at her before turning back to the horizon and taking a deep breath. There was another long silence.
“Tell me, Weiss–may I call you Weiss?” Weiss nodded to him quickly, pleased that she was being shown this level of respect.
“Tell me, Weiss. What do you think makes a good team leader?”
… The question threw her off. It wasn’t something she’d ever thought about, mostly because she’d always just assumed that the team leader was the best huntress on the team. Wasn’t that what was most important?
Professor Ozpin seemed to read her lack of an answer in her expression and silence. “Take your time,” he said. “It is a significant question.”
The most obvious answer to her was “leadership”, but… what even was that? Wouldn’t a good leader be defined by whether or not her team listens to her? And if her teammates all understand that she’s the best of them, then of course they’d listen to her. It would be stupid not to.
“I suppose…” she started hesitantly. She looked at Professor Ozpin doubtfully, still feeling uncertain that she was actually supposed to give an answer. But the professor gave her an encouraging nod.
“I suppose the team leader should be the best huntress–or huntsman. And she should work to help the members of her team to be as good as she is?” That made sense. If the leader was the best and helped the other teammates to get to her level, then they’d all improve, right?
Ozpin nodded slowly in thought again. “Interesting. I agree with the base idea there, though I think your premise is flawed.”
Her premise… that the leader should be the best on the team? “How so?” she asked.
Professor Ozpin picked up his cane from beside him and twisted it in lazy circles as he leaned against the railing. “Do you think I would have made Jaune the leader of Team JNPR over Pyrrha if the leader should be the best member of the team?”
Weiss couldn’t help but scoff at that. “No, but… I assumed you were wrong,” she admitted honestly. She watched him out of the corner of her eye, terrified that he might get offended, but he seemed to want a genuine, honest conversation from her. Which was strange when she was just an inexperienced little kid compared to him.
He didn’t seem insulted at all, though. He laughed softly through his nose and nodded, looking over to Beacon Tower. “Yes, that’s fair,” he said. “You are not the first to doubt my decisions, nor will you be the last. And I admit, I have often been wrong. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. But I like to think I’ve developed a knack for picking team leaders. I’ve been doing it for a very long time, after all, and I think the reputation of Beacon Academy can speak to that.
“I think what’s most important in a leader is not that they are the best, but that they want the best for their team, and that they see the best in their team.”
When Weiss frowned in confusion, he took a deep breath before continuing. “Tell me, do you think you’ve been the most accommodating and welcoming teammate to Ruby these past couple of days?”
Weiss flushed and looked away in response. The implication was clear, and Weiss was disappointed that the way she’d been treating Ruby was so easy to see. “No,” she whispered.
“And how has Ruby treated you back?”
Weiss scowled and looked back at him. “She’s been childish and immature and irresponsible. She was playing games instead of preparing for our first day of class and then she slept in and was late and cou–”
Professor Ozpin waved a hand to cut her off. There was nothing aggressive or impatient about the gesture, but Weiss stopped immediately all the same.
The professor looked at her meaningfully. “I understand what she’s done to upset you. But how has she treated you?”
Oh… Weiss scrolled back through her interactions with Ruby the past couple of days. Ruby had been… nice. She’d tried to include Weiss in all of the team’s conversations and activities, she’d been respectful and supportive of Weiss’ music, and she’d seem to be genuinely upset and regretful when Weiss had yelled at her about how lacking she’d been today.
“She’s…” Weiss sighed as what the professor was saying started to make sense. “She’s been nothing but sweet.”
Professor Ozpin nodded. “Despite how… unpleasant you may have been, Ruby has tried her best to be a good teammate and friend.” Weiss hung her head in shame at that description of her behaviour.
“But nice people are only nice because they’re incapable of achieving what they want by themselves,” she argued softly.
This time, it was Professor Ozpin who scoffed, a strange sound Weiss wasn’t expecting. “More wisdom from your father?” he guessed aptly.
She gave a small smile and nodded, looking away again.
There was another long pause before he spoke again. “She agrees with you, you know,” he said.
Weiss turned back to him with a frown.
“She knows you’re better than she is, and she wants to try to be the leader she thinks you deserve. That’s where you differ. She wants to be the best leader she can be, not for herself, but for you, for her sister and Miss Belladonna.” His steady gaze held hers for a long while before Weiss had to look away.
“So, basically,” Weiss griped bitterly, “I’m selfish and she’s selfless.”
Ozpin cocked his head to the side and studied her for a moment before shrugging lightly. “Yes,” he said simply.
That hurt. She knew it was true, but it still hurt to hear, especially from a headmaster.
“There’s a lot that Ruby can learn from you, Weiss. And there’s a lot that you can learn from her. And there’s nothing stopping you from becoming the best huntress Beacon has ever seen just because you don’t carry the badge and burden of team leader.”
Weiss smiled at that. It was a small vote of confidence, but it was one all the same.
“And I think Ruby will do everything she can to help you get there. If you give her the chance.” He gave her another long look before pushing himself away from the rail.
“Have a good night, Weiss. And well done in class today.”
With that, he walked away, whistling and swinging his cane along beside him.
Yeah, he definitely didn’t need that thing. Weiss figured it must be his weapon.
She turned back to look over the school grounds. What was she supposed to do now? Everything Professor Ozpin had said was right, she knew that. She usually walked around with the assumption that she was the smartest person in the room/building/kingdom, but she couldn’t delude herself into thinking she knew more about huntsman teams that Professor Ozpin, headmaster extraordinaire.
So now she had to accept that Ruby was the better leader. She had thought that meant Ruby was the better huntress, but Professor Ozpin had put that fear to rest. And Weiss had to admit that the reasons Ozpin gave for why she’d be a bad leader were true–she was selfish. Not only that, she was also elitist, snobbish… mean.
An apology was owed to Ruby. She might be a naive goofball, but it came from a place of innocence, and she hadn’t deserved the cruelty Weiss had subjected her to.
Weiss sighed. She hated apologizing. She hated admitting she was in the wrong even to herself, and when you apologize you’re also admitting it to someone else. But it needed to be done.
A stream of rose petals shot across the courtyard down below, the line of flowers trailing from the cafeteria to the dorm. Smiling at the sight, Weiss let go of those last traces of anger she’d been holding on to.
She started her slow trek back to their room, trying to figure out what she should say to her partner.
‘Sorry for being a jerk?’
‘I was wrong, and I think you can be a great leader?’
‘I’m going to be the best teammate ever?’
Should she just go for all of them? What did Ruby need to hear the most? What had Weiss said that had hurt her the most?
‘I thought you believed in acting as a team,’ was what Ruby had said when she looked on the verge of tears.
Weiss needed to show her partner that she did want to be a good teammate. But how? A gift? Schnees were good at buying people things. She should get Ruby something that showed that she cared, something Ruby would like…
Cookies? Strawberries? Strawberry cookies?
Her family had been served some sort of strawberry white chocolate shortbread cookie once at a post-concert dinner. Weiss doubted Ruby had ever had that before. Perhaps giving her a new cookie experience would help fix things?
Weiss also remembered their shopping trip yesterday, how Ruby had been so eager to get “fancy Weiss clothes”.
An idea started to form in Weiss’ mind. It was one that she’d need Yang’s permission for first, though. She didn’t want to cause any trouble between the two sisters, and Yang had been very against Ruby getting clothes like Weiss’.
With a groan, Weiss realized that trying to be a better teammate would also mean figuring out how to get along with Yang. Making amends with Ruby was one thing–Weiss was the one making things difficult between them, and Ruby was nothing but nice in return. But Yang seemed to despise Weiss.
‘One thing at a time, Weiss.’
Ruby first. Ruby was her team leader and her partner. And Weiss imagined it would be far easier to fix whatever was broken between her and Yang if she could make things right with Ruby.
It probably wouldn’t even be too hard to make up with Ruby. Weiss imagined the girl would forgive her before the words “I’m sorry” had even left her mouth. But Weiss wanted to make sure that she was actually worth forgiving.
Pulling out her scroll, she quickly searched for bakeries in Vale, happily surprised that the most expensive one in the kingdom, Wafer’s Treats, was only twenty minutes away.
She wasn’t sure Yang would allow her to give Ruby the gift she really wanted to, but cookies would certainly be better than nothing.
With a tap she summoned a car.
“What do you mean you don’t have any strawberry-white chocolate cookies?”
The baker seemed flabbergasted at Weiss. “I’m sorry, lady. It’s not something that’s normally ordered.”
Weiss huffed and crossed her arms, turning her attention to the display case in front of her. There were a lot of cookies and cupcakes that she was sure Ruby would enjoy, but they either seemed standard or ostentatious: there were chocolate chip cookies next to gold-flaked buttercreams, and there seemed to be no in between.
Ruby would eat the luxury cookies all the same, Weiss was pretty sure, but she didn’t want to just throw an expensive gift at the problem. The strawberry cookie idea had seemed much more… personal. Meaningful.
She took a deep breath. “Would you be able to make some?” she asked the baker, whose eyebrows rose in surprise. “Special order? I’ll pay.”
His eyes went distant as he scratched his short-trimmed beard in thought. “I’d have to run to the market down the street and get some strawberry cake mix…”
Weiss frowned. “I’d like cookies, not a cake.”
The look the man gave her told her she’d just said something incredibly stupid.
“You use the mix for cookies too, dear.”
After a moment, the man nodded to himself. “Aye, I could do it,” he decided. “Normally a dozen would be something around twenty-five lien. If you want me to go through all this extra effort it’ll cost you fifty.”
Weiss waved her hand at him impatiently. “Yes, yes fine. How quickly will they be ready?”
The man seemed surprised by how willing she was to overpay for cookies. This was one of very few reasons she’d miss Atlas–in Atlas, everybody knew who she was, who her family was. They knew the kind of quality the Schnees expected from their purchases, and they knew that money wasn’t an object for the family.
The baker stroked his beard again. “I can’t leave the shop empty, and my assistant for the evening will get here in an hour. Give me two hours?”
Two hours? She could go shopping for everything and learn to bake the cookies herself in that time frame!
“If you can get it done in one I’ll pay you an extra hundred lien and recommend your store to my cookie aficionado friend.”
His hand froze on his chin. He looked around at this currently empty store for a moment before nodding. “You’ve got yourself a deal, missy.”
Satisfied, Weiss gave him a nod. “I’ll see you in an hour, then.”
Outside, she took a moment to enjoy the environment. She was in a quaint outdoor shopping mall that was clearly marketing itself to the wealthy population of Vale. There was a fountain in the middle of the courtyard, from which textured stone tiles were arranged on well kept grass to form pathways between the stores.
The evening sun was poking above the buildings and clouds to the west, and the evening breeze had gotten cooler. It was a nice day.
Weiss spent a long while just walking around the plaza enjoying the day. There were a few people moving around, shopping and socializing, but not many. The work day was only just now ending, though, so Weiss figured the rush would be on its way soon.
She took her opportunity before the throngs of people came–Weiss didn’t like crowds much. She hated getting jostled, the unwanted physical contact from strangers as people pushed their way forward. But this? A few people debating between clothing boutiques, a couple sitting in a coffee shop patio, and Weiss? This was nice.
She frowned as she realized the couple were faunus, but alas, no place was perfect.
Stopping before a store named “Cerise Moran Clothing”, Weiss pursed her lips in thought. Cerise Moran was a well known fashion designer from Vacuo, and Weiss and her mother had actually been to the Cerise Moran Clothing in Atlas several times back when her mother still went out. Weiss was fairly certain the blouse she’d worn that Ruby wanted to duplicate was one of Moran’s design.
Would Ruby like this place? Weiss wanted to take her clothes shopping this weekend–as long as she could convince Yang to allow it–but she was unsure if Ruby would feel… comfortable in such a high class establishment. There were only a couple of mannequins on display in the window, one of a woman’s figure with an elaborate corset dress and the other a dashing male getup of a button-up vest and shirt.
Weiss pushed her way inside.
A bell chimed above her head to announce her arrival. The inside of the store was beautiful, the exact kind of layout and interior design Weiss loved. It was a single, long, rectangular room. There were a very few small glass tables, each with either a single item of clothing arrayed on them or a handful of tasteful accessories, interspaced around the room. Along the walls on the side were some shelves with shoes and some spaced out racks with a single shirt or legging on display.
The walls and floor were a warm wood panelling, except the back wall, which was an off-white tile. In front of that wall was the register counter, where a beautiful, lightly tanned blonde woman in a flattering blouse and skirt that was very similar to Weiss’ own style, though in colorful pastels of pink and deep purple.
“Good afternoon!” the woman crowed as Weiss stepped across the threshold. Weiss gave her a polite nod.
“Would you like some time to browse?” she asked, not moving from where she stood behind the counter.
“Yes, please.” Weiss was glad this wasn’t one of those bubbly, overzealous employees that wanted to try to “help you find your style”, as if Weiss didn’t already know what she wanted.
“Of course,” the woman nodded. “Just so you know, all of the colors that you see on the palettes beside an article are available in the back and in all sizes–except for a couple of which we’re currently out of stock of size zeros.”
Weiss nodded in understanding as she began meandering through the tables.
One table sported a selection of jewelry and beauty accessories–gold and gemstone bracelets, thing white and gold watches, earrings with sapphires cut to resemble Water Dust crystals. Ooh, Weiss liked those.
But no, she wasn’t here to shop for herself. She wasn’t here to shop at all. She was here to scout, and these baubles didn’t seem like the kind of thing Ruby would wear.
Abandoning the table of trinkets, she headed over to the wall of blouses. They each were lovely designed and well made. There were a couple with tassels streaming from the shoulders that made her raise her eyebrows, but the rest were lovely. Cerise Moran always had an intricate way of weaving lace into her garments that Weiss loved.
She stopped suddenly, coming face to face with an almost exact replica of the blouse Ruby had liked. So it was a Cerise Moran design. There were some differences to this version, as the one Weiss had was a couple years old now. The frockey had a light blue lace coming out of it in this new design, and the adornment strips on the shoulders were now split into two thinner bits of fabric. But it was easily close enough that Ruby would like it.
She looked at the color palette card embedded into the wall. There were eight color swapped versions of blouse, one of which was black with silver buttons and green lace and adornments.
Green? Damn it. That was almost perfect. Ruby liked black, clearly, and the silver buttons would look great with her eyes. But that green definitely wouldn’t fit her…
She took a step back to bring the employee in view. “Miss?” she called out, lifting her hand.
The woman walked over at a brisk pace. “Yes ma’am?” she asked as she approached Weiss’ side. Whatever perfume she was wearing smelled like the ocean, and in Weiss’ opinion she was wearing a little too much of it.
She gestured at the blouse in question. “For this one, this color palette here says you have one in black with silver buttons and green accents.”
The woman nodded. “Yes, would you like to see it?”
“I would, but I also wanted to ask if it would be possible to get the green swapped for the red on this palette.” She pointed to the beige/black/red color combination a little lower on the palette card.
Again, the woman nodded enthusiastically. “Absolutely! It would cost extra to make the modifications, of course, and it would take a couple of days.”
Weiss nodded. “That’s fine. It would be ready by Saturday, then?”
“Indeed. The cost increase would be our standard fifteen percent. Is that accep–”
“Yes, that’s fine,” Weiss cut her off. She hadn’t even bothered looking at the price tag anyway, it was so insignificant.
Nodding, the woman gestured toward the payment counter. “If you could provide your name and contact information, we’ll notify you when it’s ready.”
They walked to the counter together, where the worker handed Weiss a very nice fountain pen and a clipboard with a table for her information.
“What size would you like?” she asked, moving towards the door to the back room.
Ruby would be the same size as Weiss, right? They were almost the same height, Weiss only seeming taller because of her heels.
“Size one, please.”
The woman headed to the back with a nod.
Weiss quickly filled out her information. For the next couple of minutes she perused the jewelry and shoes on display nearby. They were all very cute, and Weiss very much wanted to buy something for herself, but she already had very similar things. Also, she was here for Ruby, not herself. She knew it was silly, but she felt like if she forced herself to not get anything for herself then maybe that would mean she wasn’t that selfish. She was here only for somebody else. That was good, right?
The woman walked back out with one each of the black and beige blouses draped across an arm. She laid them both out on the desk in front of Weiss.
“I brought this one out so you could see the red,” she said, gesturing to the beige garment.
Hmm. It wasn’t quite what she’d been expecting or hoping for. The red of the fabric was not as saturated as the printing on the card. “Would you happen to have a deeper red? Closer to rose red?”
The woman pressed her lips together. “We do not, unfortunately. Not for these pieces, anyway.”
Weiss frowned. It wasn’t perfect, and her brain itched at the thought of giving a gift that wasn’t completely, utterly perfect.
“Miss… Schnee?” the woman said in shock as she looked at the paper where Weiss had filled out her information. She looked from the paper to Weiss and back, realization dawning on her.
Weiss did her best to hide her smirk.
“Y-you know, Miss Schnee,” she stammered, “we could have rose red adornments custom made and sent from Vacuo, if you’d like.”
Weiss was already thinking about requesting that, so she smiled at the offer. “How long would it take for the blouse to be ready if you did that?”
The woman blinked rapidly as she tried to figure it out. “I’m not sure, exactly. Ten to fourteen days?… Ma’am.”
Weiss had somewhat missed this deference, the eagerness people always had to make sure a Schnee was completely satisfied with their service.
How picky would Ruby be? Probably not at all, but now Weiss was determined to make sure the blouse was perfect. She wouldn’t be able to look at Ruby in it if it was anything but.
“How about…” she started to muse. Figuring out how she wanted to do this, she snapped her gaze to the now wide-eyed, slightly terrified woman. “I’ll be returning on Saturday with a friend. That’s who this would be for. She has a red cloak she’s fond of. Would you be able to have a color match to the fabric made for this purpose, and then we’ll return to pick it up in a couple weeks when it’s ready?”
The employee nodded so quickly and vehemently Weiss was afraid she’d suddenly become a bobblehead. “O-of course! Yes, we’d be happy to… F-for a mark-up, of course.” She broke eye contact at that last sentence, suddenly finding the fountain pen more interesting than Weiss.
Weiss rolled her eyes. This awkwardness–the “how much can we get a Schnee to pay” bit–never happened in Atlas. Everyone there had learned long ago that the Schnees would pay any price as long as it wasn’t absurd.
“Naturally,” she drawled.
Sensing that if she stayed any longer the poor woman’s heart might explode, she decided to take her leave. “Thank you for your accommodation. I’ll be back on Saturday.”
The woman nodded numbly. “Yes, of course!”
As Weiss walked out, the woman called out one last “Have a great night!” before the door closed.
Weiss smiled. That had gone very well. The delay in receiving the blouse would be slightly annoying, but Weiss was almost certain Ruby would love it. And it would look great on her. And Weiss could always just get her something else as well while they were here on Saturday.
And now she’d made a commitment to be here on Saturday with Ruby. Which meant she had to find a way to make Yang okay with it.
Checking the time on her scroll, she happily noted it would be only a couple minutes until the baker’s hour finished.
She could smell the strawberry flavor as soon as she opened the door. At the register now was a boy that was probably Ruby’s age, with dark skin, short cut hair, and a wide smile. There were also a couple other people eating at the tables in the cafe seating off to the left. The baker himself wasn’t in sight, but Weiss assumed he was in the back finishing up her cookies.
‘Ruby’s cookies,’ she corrected herself.
“Hello,” she said to the boy as she approached the counter. “I’m here to pick up some strawberry shortbread cookies?”
“Oh, you’re Strawberry Girl,” the boy said with a grumpy pout. “I had to come in an hour early because of you.”
Weiss frowned at the uncourteous welcome, but before she could respond the boy walked to the entrance to the back room.
“MISTER WAFER! STRAWBERRY GIRL IS HERE!”
Well, that explained the name of the shop. The man’s name was Wafer. Oddly thematic for a baker.
The man himself came bustling out a moment later, a white box with a viewing window a clear plastic on the lid in his hands.
“Ah, welcome back, Miss. Just got done adding the finishing touches a moment ago. He shuffled over to the register, waving a broad arm for her to follow him. With a ceremonious wave of his hands he placed the box on the counter and pulled up the lid.
Beautiful seemed a strange word to describe cookies, but it was the first that came to Weiss’ mind. Light pink and near perfect circles, with white chocolate chips evenly dotting their surface and covered in a fine layer of powdered sugar, each of the dozen cookies looked like Mister Wafer had treated it like a work of art. That came as no surprise to Weiss–the desserts in the display case had already indicated the man’s dedication to his craft, and he wasn’t the highest priced and rated baker in the kingdom for nothing.
“They look wonderful,” she praised him happily, leaning forward to breath in the smells. Weiss didn’t have much of a sweet tooth but the fruity aroma of these cookies was something she found immensely pleasing.
“Glad you like ‘em!” the man rumbled with a chuckle. “They’ll taste even better, promise.”
Weiss smiled as she pulled out her wallet. “I’m sure they will.”
She handed the man two one hundred lien notes, but waved him away when he started to pull out change.
“Please, keep it. For the great work, and…” she glanced at the boy that was leaning against the back counter behind the baker. “For the inconvenience.”
The man stared in stunned gratitude. “Th-thank you, Miss.” The man wrapped a soft pink strip of light cloth around the four sides of the box and tied a neat bow on top, a surprisingly delicate feat for his large hands. “Please, come again,” he said as he handed her the box.
Now it was Weiss’ turn to chuckle. “I’m sure I will. Even if these aren’t a hit–which I’m sure they will be–I think my friend would absolutely love your establishment.”
The man’s voice called out to her as she reached the door. “I didn’t catch your name, Miss.”
She turned and gave him a small smile. “It’s Weiss,” she replied.
Just Weiss. She didn’t need to bring up her last name to this man that clearly already gave nothing but exceptional service. Besides, if she wanted to come here with Ruby, it would be nice to be just Weiss.
Mister Wafer nodded to her. “Look forward to seeing you again, Weiss.”
With a nod, she headed out.
The courtyard was now filling up with people, and the sun itself was no longer visible behind the shops and clouds, its warm rays painting the sky a soft orange.
Weiss summoned another car.
Weiss placed the box of cookies in one of the kitchen cupboards for safekeeping. She was planning to bring Ruby out here really quickly, but she didn’t feel confident in leaving the cookies out on the counter with the Team CRDL animals lurking around somewhere.
Creeping down the hallway to their room, Weiss felt anxiety and apprehension start to creep in. She really hoped Yang and Blake weren’t with Ruby at the moment. This apology would be hard enough without an audience.
Was the beep from unlocking the door always that damn loud?
She pushed the door open slowly, and Weiss was once again glad they were living in a brand new dorm building because the hinges didn’t scream her presence to the world. With a nervous peak she confirmed that Blake and Yang’s desks and beds were empty.
A relieved sigh passing through her lips, she swung the door completely open to find Ruby sitting at her desk–or rather, passed out at her desk, laying down on her arm that rested on top of an open textbook.
The sight made Weiss’ heart twist around in a strange mix of sadness and gratitude. Gratitude that Ruby seemed to be at least starting to commit to her studies and taking her position a little more seriously, but sadness that the catalyst for this change was Weiss’ terrible behaviour.
Weiss walked around Ruby and took her own seat at the desk, turning her chair to face her partner. “Ruby,” she whispered.
Reaching out, Weiss lightly shook Ruby’s shoulders with her fingertips, an unnatural thing for her to do since she was so uncomfortable with physical contact with others. “Ruby!”
Ruby sat straight up with a snort, quickly rubbing at the edge of her mouth like she’d been drooling as she looked around confused. “Weiss? Weiss!”
Ruby almost fell out of her chair as she scrambled to turn to Weiss. “Weiss, I’m so sorry! I should have been trying harder and been more serious and I’m sorry that you got stuck with me as your leader and I know you’ve worked really hard and I–”
“Ruby, stop.” Weiss placed a hand lightly on the girl’s shoulder to reinforce the message. Ruby stopped her emotional rambling immediately, staring at Weiss with wide, scared eyes. “I’m the one that’s sorry. I shouldn’t have said all those terrible things to you.”
Ruby blinked in confusion. “You’re not still mad at me?”
Weiss gave her a small smile and shook her head. “Professor Ozpin talked to me and… pointed some things out to me that I hadn’t been thinking about.” She took a deep breath as she tried to steel herself for what she needed to say next. “One of the things he made me realize is that the way I was treating you wasn’t okay, regardless of what you were doing. And he also made me realize… I’m not a leader.” Ruby’s jaw dropped in surprise at that difficult admission.
“But I think you are,” Weiss continued. “Or at least, you can be if you’re willing to put in the work.” She nodded at the Grimm Anatomy and Behavioural Studies textbook that say open in front of Ruby.
“I am!” Ruby quickly replied with a few rapid nods. “I promise I’ll work super hard and be the team leader you deserve.” Her eyes darted shyly away from Weiss’ at those last words, and Weiss felt a flood of emotions she didn’t really understand come rushing in.
Briefly struggling to regain her composure, she finally whispered a soft, “I believe you.”
Ruby turned back to her and gave her an uncertain smile. “Yeah? ‘Cause I mean it. For real.”
Weiss smiled. “I know, Ruby.” The girl was earnest and honest, and Weiss no longer had any doubts that she would give her all to being the best team leader she could be. “And I promise to be the best teammate ever.”
Smiling broadly, Ruby wiggled in a goofy little happy dance before throwing her arms around Weiss.
“Oh!” Weiss huffed out in surprise, giving Ruby an awkward pat on the back. Schnees weren’t really huggers.
When Ruby pulled back to give her another big grin, Weiss smiled coyly at her in return. “I got you something. Something to say I’m sorry.”
“Weiss! You didn’t have to do that!”
Weiss chuckled softly. “I know, but I wanted to. Come on.” She stood and gestured for Ruby to follow her out to the kitchen. She patted one of the barstools as she walked past it. “Sit,” she ordered. “And close your eyes.”
Ruby tentatively pulled herself onto the stool, closing her eyes and kicking her feet excitedly.
Weiss pulled out the box of cookies and quietly set it in front of Ruby. Should she open it herself and let the smell hit Ruby first? Or should she let Ruby have the satisfaction of untying the bow? Why was she fretting so much about something so trivial?
She did her best to shake off her jitters. Ruby would like these. They’re cookies! All indications showed that Ruby loved any and every type of cookie on the planet.
She cleared her throat. “Okay, open your eyes.”
The joy she got from watching Ruby’s eyes open and then open wider and wider as her jaw dropped actually surprised Weiss. She’d never given too many gifts before, mostly just some personalized things to Winter and half-hearted birthday presents to Whitley, and neither of her siblings were much for open displays of emotion.
Ruby’s emotions were broadcast to the entire world, though, her happy, grateful face a completely open book that made Weiss feel like she’d accomplished something special. Rationally, she knew she hadn’t. She’d bought some cookies. But Ruby’s expression made her feel like she’d just won the Vital Festival Tournament.
“Whooooooooa!” Ruby breathed out. “These are so pretty! What are they?”
Weiss smiled, happy that her guess that Ruby had never had these before was correct. “They’re strawberry shortbread cookies with white chocolate chips.”
Ruby somehow got even happier. “You remembered I like strawberries!”
“But of course,” Weiss said, somewhat confused as it had been mentioned just yesterday. She supposed Ruby wasn’t surprised at her ability to remember so much as the fact that she’d cared to remember at all. Another pang of guilt hit Weiss in the chest as she realized she must have made herself seem like a pretty awful person.
When Ruby spent a few long moments just staring in awe at the box, Weiss finally decided to nudge her on. “Why don’t you open it up and try one?”
Ruby did another wiggle dance and pulled on the neat little bow, unwrapping it and pulling the lid up.
The smell of strawberries was wonderfully fragrant as it poured out of the box.
“They smell so gooooooood!” Ruby breathed out after inhaling the aroma.
She gingerly pulled a cookie out of the box and stared at it in her hand with a goofily adoring expression, then pushed the box towards Weiss.
Weiss shook her head lightly. “I got them for you, Ruby.”
Ruby frowned before coming to some realization. “Oh, did you already have some?”
Weiss shook her head again, bringing Ruby’s confused frown back. “No, I just got them for you. And I’m sure you’ll like them more than I would, so you should have them all.”
That just made sense. Ruby would almost certainly like them more than Weiss, so these cookies would bring the most amount of happiness if Ruby had them all.
“Oh, would you not like these?” Ruby wondered, frowning down at the box.
Weiss smiled. “Oh no, they smell delicious. But I’m sure you’ll like them more.”
Ruby shook her head and threw it back like she’d just heard something shockingly ridiculous. “What the heck, Weiss! You gotta have some too! Please try at least one with me!” She gave Weiss an adorable set of puppy dog eyes. “Please?”
What the Crucible, how was she supposed to say no to that face?
Luckily, she really did want to try one. Mister Wafer was clearly a talented baker and these seemed amazing.
“Okay. Just one though,” she capitulated, earning another giant grin from her partner.
Weiss hopped down from her stool and grabbed a paper towel, tearing it and placing the halves in front of herself and Ruby so they wouldn’t get crumbs everywhere. After Weiss settled back in her seat and picked up a cookie of her own, Ruby turned to her and said, “Alright, on three.”
Oh boy, she wanted to eat a cookie in unison. Weiss smiled. As much as Ruby was committing to working hard and becoming a great huntress and leader, she was still a child.
Weiss nodded to indicate she was ready.
“‘Kay. One… Two… Three!”
They both bit into their cookies together (Ruby’s bit was much larger than Weiss’), Weiss giggling lightly at the absurdity of the moment before going silent as the cookie hit her taste buds.
“Oh my Grimm,” Ruby gasped through a mouthful of pastry.
‘Oh my Grimm, indeed.’
It was every bit as delicious as she’d been expecting and more. Soft and chewy, the fruity shortbread combined so well with the subtly nutty sweetness of the white chocolate. Weiss could have done without the powdered sugar, but she suspected it was a hit with the euphoric brunette beside her, so she didn’t mind in the slightest.
“Weiss, this is amazing, thank you so much.”
Weiss smiled widely, glad that her gift was such a hit. Taking a moment to swallow, she replied, “I’m glad you like them. We should go together next time to get some more. I have a feeling you’ll like that place.”
Ruby’s eyes went wide. “Yeah? Is it a super awesome fancy pants bakery?”
Weiss laughed openly at that, the loud noise filling the room and making Weiss blink in surprise. That was a new sound from her.
“It is,” she answered after a moment. She placed her cookie down on the paper towel as Ruby comically crammed the rest of hers into her mouth.
“Oh! That reminds me. While I was there I found a clothing boutique that has some really nice stuff if you’d like to go fancy-people-clothing shopping this weekend.”
“Really?” Ruby bounced excitedly. Then, suddenly, her face fell. “But… I can’t–”
“I’ll talk to Yang,” Weiss reassured her.
“I-what? No, it’s not about her permission. It’s… she’s right. We can’t afford it.”
“Wait, what?” Weiss frowned at her partner. “Ruby, I’d be paying. It would be my treat!” She tried to sound upbeat as she said it, hoping that would pull Ruby out of the mood she’d just fallen in.
“Weiss, no! I can’t let you do that!” Ruby seemed genuinely taken aback by the offer, which Weiss didn’t understand.
“Ruby, I can more than afford it, I promise. I have a stupidly large allowance and have been stockpiling everything I don’t use in a savings account for years. Getting you some outfits would be easily doable.”
“Please?” Weiss tried to imitate the puppy dog eyes Ruby had just used on her, though from Ruby’s unconvinced expression she had a feeling it wasn’t working. That made sense. Weiss hadn’t ever tried to beg for anything before.
“Can we talk to my sister about it?” Ruby asked, her gaze falling to her hands.
Weiss nodded in understanding. “Yes, of course.”
It was crucial now that she figure out a way to convince Yang to allow this.
Voices floating into the room pulled their attention down the hall. Pyrrha and Nora were coming back from somewhere, heading toward their room.
“Hello again!” Pyrrha greeted Weiss and Ruby with a wave as she and Nora entered the communal area.
Nora gasped loudly. “What are those?!” She dashed in between Weiss and Ruby (jostling Weiss in the process, which was kind of annoying) and leaned over the open box of cookies.
“They’re super awesome cookies Weiss got from a fancy cookie shop!” Ruby chirped happily.
“They smell so gooood!” Nora groaned dramatically.
“Do you want one?” Ruby asked. She leaned back to meet Weiss’ eyes. “Can we give her one?”
Weiss smiled at the way Ruby felt like she needed to ask for permission. “They’re yours, Ruby. You can share them however you’d like.”
That provoked a please bounce from Ruby, who then gestured at the box to Nora. “Go ahead and try one! Pyrrha, do you want one?”
Pyrrha, to her credit, politely looked at Weiss for confirmation. Weiss gave her an encouraging nod. She was slightly disappointed that Ruby was just giving away her gift, but if that was part of what made it enjoyable to her, Weiss didn’t want to get in the way of that.
More proof that Professor Ozpin was right about Ruby being selfless.
“Oh ‘y ‘imm,” Nora muttered through a mouthful of cookie. Weiss couldn’t see any partially eaten cookie in her hand. Had this maniac of a girl just shoved the whole thing in her mouth?
“Wow, this is delicious,” Pyrrha commented as she nibbled on her own.
Ruby smiled happily, and Weiss had the sense that the girl was feeling the same strange sense of accomplishment that she had when Ruby had liked her gift.
“‘an I ‘ave ano’er one?” Nora asked.
“Okay, that’s enough,” Pyrrha said quickly, clamping a hand on Nora’s shoulder and steering her toward their room. “Thank you, Weiss. Thank you, Ruby,” she smiled over her shoulder as she lead her teammate away.
If Weiss believed in luck, she would thank her lucky stars that she’d gotten Ruby as her hyperactive teammate instead of Nora.
With the exit of the members of Team JNPR, Weiss and Ruby fell into a comfortable silence as they munched on their treats. Weiss was still on her single cookie when Ruby finished her third.
“Oh!” Ruby suddenly cried out, jumping to her feet. “I got something for you too! Be right back!”
Weiss didn’t even have time to react before she was staring at nothing but a cloud of rose petals that trailed to their room.
Ruby had gotten Weiss something? What on Remnant did she think Weiss needed? Weiss was the richest girl in the world, she didn’t really need anything, and she couldn’t imagine much that she was wanting for.
With a start, she realized she had told Ruby that she was considering picking up the cello. There was no way Ruby would have bought a cello, right?
A rush of warm, rose scented air washed over Weiss as another burst of roses brought Ruby back in front of her. The girl’s hands were hiding something behind her back, and she had a teasing smile that told Weiss she was extra confident she’d picked a good gift.
Well, there was no way Ruby could hide a cello behind her back, so that worry dissipated quickly.
“Close your eyes!” Ruby chirped.
Grinning and folding her hands together in her lap, Weiss did as she was told. She felt Ruby’s presence as the the brunette moved closer to move the paper towel with Weiss’ cookie to the side, warm breath tickling her neck and collarbone.
She heard Ruby pull herself back up into her seat.
Weiss opened her eyes.
It was a box of a dozen acrylic paints and a small package with three simple paint brushes.
Her mind immediately brought her back to her childhood, painting happily at an easel next to Winter. Winter had always been the better artist, Weiss the better musician, but Winter had always welcomed Weiss to come paint with her, even helping her when she couldn’t get the brushstrokes and colors quite right.
Those had been the good old days. Whitley was a toddler then, too young and innocent to be the obnoxious cretin he’d grown into. It was before her father had told her mother those terrible things on Weiss’ tenth birthday, so her parents were still nice to each other then, were still able to be in the same room together. Willow was still the moderately attentive and caring mother that disappeared in the bottom of a wine bottle after Weiss’ father had said those words.
She’d been happy then.
“You said your dad made you stop,” Ruby said nervously to her feet, drawing Weiss out of her memories. “But he’s not here now, and you said painting made you happy, so… I thought you might like this.”
‘Do not cry, Weiss. Don’t. Don’t cry. Don’tcrydon’tcrydon’tcry.’
She couldn’t do anything to stop the tears from slipping out.
Ruby grabbed her shoulders and spun her around, but Weiss could barely even see her teammate now, her vision was so blurred by tears.
‘Don’t cry. Schnees don’t cry. You don’t cry. You’re stronger than that.’
A sob slipped out, and when Ruby reached out to hug her, Weiss fell into her arms and buried her face in her partner’s shoulders.
“I’m so sorry,” Ruby whispered. “I didn’t mean to make you cry. I thought you’d like them.”
Weiss tried to talk, to say something, to tell Ruby that she didn’t like them, she loved them, that it meant the world to her that Ruby had thought of such a gift.
Instead, more sobs slipped out, and she gasped for air as her shoulders shook against her will.
‘Stop crying, Weiss. Stop.’
Her father’s voice rang out in her head. ‘Tears are for those that can’t get what they want. You are a Schnee. You can always get what you want.’
But there was no way for her to get her family back. That was broken beyond repair.
Weiss didn’t know how long she cried in Ruby’s arms while her partner held her and did what she could to comfort her, stroking her hair and whispering soft words like “I’m sorry” and “It’s okay” over and over.
After an eternity her body seemed to finish letting out the grief she’d been bottling up for years, and she was able to collect herself and pull away from Ruby. She hid her eyes as she wiped at them, tearing off a piece of the paper towel beside her to clean up her nose.
Ruby stayed uncharacteristically quiet, watching Weiss with sad eyes will Weiss avoided her gaze, shoulders slumped while she pulled in ragged, shallow breaths.
Another long while passed, silence in the room but for Weiss’ quiet sniffles. Ruby reached out and placed her hand on Weiss’.
Instinctively, Weiss flinched away from the contact, but when Ruby moved to pull her hand back, Weiss reached out and grabbed it. It was comforting. Something–someone–to hold on to. Ground her. Remind her that the here and now was the Beacon freshman dorm communal room with Ruby, not the expansive arts and music room in the Schnee manor with the ghosts of her family.
Ruby squeezed lightly, rubbing her thumb across the back of Weiss’ hand. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered again. “I’ll get rid of them.”
“No!” Weiss cried out immediately, surprising both Ruby and herself with her fervor. “No, don’t. Please. I love them. I… they just reminded me of something I’d been trying really hard to forget… I’m sorry.”
Ruby frowned. “Why are you sorry?”
Weiss wheezed out a dry laugh. “I didn’t mean to…” she trailed off and waved her free hand in the air, trying to indicate the breakdown she’d just had without saying it out loud.
Ruby nodded in understanding. “Don’t be sorry for that. It’s okay to be sad sometimes.”
Weiss tried to smile back at her partner. Ruby probably understood this aching pain. She’d lost her mom. Actually lost her mom. At least Weiss’ mother was still around, even if she wasn’t the same person anymore.
They sat in silence again for a time, Ruby still holding and rubbing Weiss’ hand comfortingly. She didn’t ask Weiss what had caused that moment of weakness, didn’t try to push. She just… stayed there. And that was exactly what Weiss needed.
When Weiss’ breathing settled and she finally felt like she had full control of her emotions, she gently pulled her hand away and placed it on the box of paints after wiping at her eyes one last time.
“Thank you, Ruby.”
Ruby smiled at her uncertainly, clearly confused about what had happened but unsure what she should say.
Weiss wanted to move on. They’d been having such a nice interaction before Weiss temporarily broke, and she wanted to get back to that instead of dwelling on this sadness she didn’t want to explain.
“So, how was the reading for Grimm Studies going?” she asked, schoolwork being the first distraction her mind landed on.
Ruby nodded slowly, understanding what Weiss wanted. “Well, it was so boring I fell asleep, if that’s any indication,” she joked with a small smile.
Weiss returned the smile. “Want some help getting through it?”
Ruby scratched her head. “No, it’s mostly boring ‘cause I already know most of the stuff about Beowolves and Ursai. But… could you help me with the Dust Theory stuff?” Hopeful silver eyes shined up at Weiss, and grinned happily.
“Of course!” She hopped down and was about to put the cookies away when Ruby grabbed the box and started bringing it toward their room.
“Hey!” Weiss called, making the girl stop and turn like a deer in headlights. “Don’t bring food into the room!” Weiss scolded.
Ruby pouted. “But Weiiiiiiss, cookies are like the only thing that makes studying sufferable!”
Weiss snorted at that and grabbed some extra paper towels. “Fine, but no crumbs on the floor or I’m freezing you in a block of ice overnight.”
“As you command, your majesty,” Ruby teased with a mock curtsy–a very terrible curtsy at that. That was something they’d need to work on.
“So how many cookies were in this fancy cookie shop?” Ruby asked while bouncing at Weiss’ side as they headed to their room.