Weiss gently scrubbed off her face, the cleansing pad doing wonders to get rid of the icky, sticky feeling from the light sheen of sweat she’d accumulated during her run. She rinsed it off with cold water, relishing the refreshing coolness on her skin. Inspecting herself in the mirror, she made some alterations to her hair, tucking a couple loose strands behind her ear, but leaving one to flow elegantly down the side of her temple. She used her finger to add a bit of a twirl to it, though the curl quickly dissipated.
She glanced at the curling iron, internally debating whether or not this one silly curl was worth the effort of waiting for the device to heat up.
She adjusted the decorative spiked crown of silver in her ponytail, then gave herself one last once over.
Clear, pale skin, glossed lips, a small amount of light blue eyeshadow. She was wearing a blouse similar to the one Ruby had liked–the one whose color-shifted clone they were going to pick up for Ruby today. The collar on this one was higher, and didn’t fold down like the other. It was a light off-white color with a thin, shiny silver zipper instead of buttons. She had a light blue short cape pinned by a silver brooch in the stylized Schnee snowflake design pinning it together at the center of her collarbone, the fabric draping down to the middle of her shoulder blades. A high-waisted flared skirt in a deep, dark blue accentuated her figure, and casual, open-toed white heels completed the look.
She looked nice.
The tiny, flitty feeling of pride in her looks made her smile. Her parents were, all in all, pretty awful, but they’d given her good genes at least.
Her smile made her mood dampen, though. It looked so small and insincere. She tried to smile wider, but… no, the way her cheeks dimpled and her eyes creased didn’t look right at all. She slowly lowered the smile, trying to find a nice spot where it looked genuine but didn’t add too many weird lines to her face.
She couldn’t find one, but at this point she felt like maybe she’d been staring at her face for too long and wouldn’t like anything.
Maybe she should show teeth? She had nice teeth. She parted her li–
Nope. That wouldn’t do at all.
Why was it so hard for her to look happy?… Admittedly, it was a largely unfamiliar feeling, but she had been happy before, and she inexplicably felt incredibly happy over this past week.
But in the mirror she still felt like she looked dead inside.
She took a deep breath. The happy mood that she’d built up had been shattered by the mirror. This always happened. She looked at herself in the mirror and got incredibly happy at how pretty she was, but then she looked too long. There was always something wrong, something that made her imperfect–a tiny pimple that shouldn’t exist, a tired streak of purple under her eyes, this thing with her smile.
Why did she always do this? She knew she did it, she knew she should stop looking at the mirror, that she–
“Wei-eiss! You done in there? I gotta get reaaaady!”
Weiss rolled her eyes at her partner’s cheerful voice. The girl had gone from sleeping to bouncing-off-the-walls-in-excitement instantaneously when Weiss had come back from her run.
She pulled open the do–
Ruby crashed into her and gave her a quick, tight hug.
“Wow, you look so nice.” Ruby looked Weiss up and down. “I’m gonna go change!”
Weiss was left blinking at petals as the closet door slammed closed. Sounds of drawers thumping came through, and Weiss rolled her eyes again and walked out, opting to worry about the awful mess Ruby was probably making in her hyperactive excitement later.
Yang and Blake were both up. Blake was getting ready in their bathroom while Yang was still lying in bed, blinking sleepily. She’d been chatting with Ruby, but now it was just her and Weiss in the room.
No awkward silence, though. Yang started a conversation as quickly and naturally as she would with her sister.
“Peanut’s right–you do look nice,” she complimented.
Weiss blushed and walked to her desk, straightening her pens and pencils, nudging Sir Writes-a-Lot–uh, her tiny knight statue–a bit.
“Mm.” Yang rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. “Blake says she wants to go check out the Library of Vale today. You wanna head into the city together?”
Weiss blinked. “Oh! Sure. I was going to stop by a coffee shop before we went to the boutique. You want to go there together and then split up?”
Yang nodded. “Sounds good.” She pulled out her scroll. “What’s the name of the booty? I’ll see if there’s a place that’s close to it and the Library.”
“Did you just call it a booty?”
Yang’s pleased grin was visible across the room. “What’s it called?” she repeated.
Weiss rolled her eyes. “Cerise Moran Clothing.”
“… Yeah, so, like, I know how to spell that, but I’m curious if you do.”
Weiss snorted at that. “C-E-R-I-S-E.”
Yang typed the letters in. “Ah, this ‘Cerise Moron Clothing Boutique’ in Westrun Mall?”
“Moran, but yes.”
“M’kayyy, found a place. Pippy’s Tea and Coffee.”
Weiss frowned at that. “I’m not sure I can trust a drink made by someone named Pippy.”
Yang burst out laughing, which was… really nice. Weiss smiled, pleased.
“What’s so funny?!” Ruby cried as she burst back into the room.
She was wearing a red polo shirt and her usual pair of black skinny jeans. The polo was likely her version of dressing up. Not much, but Weiss shouldn’t fault her for that, right? It was probably the nicest thing she had.
But they’d fix that today.
“Weiss made a joke,” Yang explained simply.
“Awwww, and I missed it?! What was it?!” She hopped excitedly and stared wide-eyed and expectantly at Weiss.
Weiss smirked. “I’m not sure what I said that you thought was a joke,” she quipped to Yang, making the girl laugh again.
Ruby seemed to be in physical pain from not knowing what the joke was, scrunching up her nose and letting out a dismayed groan.
It was pretty funny.
Blake sauntered out of the other bathroom, fixing an earring into place as she looked up at Yang. “Have at it,” she said.
Yang grunted and pushed herself up to a sitting position. “Catch me, partner!” she mumbled sleepily before hopping down–though it looked more like she was throwing herself down.
Blake didn’t register Yang’s words in time, and she let out a tiny shriek and jumped to the side as Yang flopped down in front of her.
Yang hit the ground feet first, which should have meant she would be fine, but she apparently actually expected Blake to catch her, because she stumbled forward and fell onto her hands and knees.
“What the heck, Blake! I said ‘catch me’!” She staggered to her feet and gave her partner a grumpy glare.
“I–why–but–what?” Blake sputtered. “You think I can catch you?”
Yang’s frown deepened, going from playfully angry to something dangerously close to the real thing. “You callin’ me fat, Belladonna?”
“Wh-what?! No! You’re just… heavy?” She clearly knew that was a weak defense, and Yang’s eyes narrowed accordingly.
“You know, muscle is almost three times heavier than fat,” Weiss interjected on Blake’s behalf. “So really she’s saying you’re… how did you phrase it yesterday? ‘Jacked as fuck’?”
Yang raised an eyebrow at Weiss, then turned back to Blake. “That what you meant, Belladonna?” There was an edge to her voice, but it didn’t sound… right. Weiss had heard angry Yang. This didn’t sound like that.
Blake was too nervous to notice. “Y-yeah! You’re heavy from muscle. You just would have knocked me over and we both would have ended up on the ground!” She glanced nervously between Weiss and Yang. “S-sorry.”
At the apology, Yang broke up, laughing so hard she had to put her hands on her knees.
Ruby sighed. “Yang, stop being a jerk.”
Yang laughed again, but straightened up. “You’re so nervous!” she remarked to Blake. “Relax, babe. I was just kidding.” She gave Blake a light punch on the shoulder that made the girl blink. “You’d have to be gods-damned crazy to think I’m fat.”
Blake nodded mutely.
Yang smirked and headed toward the bathroom. “Nice to see a crack in that composure though,” she poked as she shut the door.
That made Blake’s eyes narrow, and the nervousness dissipated, transforming into a rueful smile.
“She’s right, I wouldn’t have expected you to crack like that,” Weiss remarked.
Blake huffed and sat down on her bed. “Look, I’m still sleepy and she looked angry, alright. After she beat the crap out of me yesterday, I think it should be understandable for me to be a bit alarmed at angry Yang.”
Weiss smiled. “You’ll get no argument from me. I thought she was terrifying long before yesterday.”
Blake smirked at that, but Ruby made a small noise of protest.
“Guysss,” she whined, “Yang isn’t terrifying! She’s awesome!”
Weiss rolled her eyes. “You probably think that because she’s never been mad at you, Ruby.”
“What are you talking about? Yang gets mad at me all the time! Yang gets mad at everything all the time!”
“And that’s… okay?” Blake asked.
“Yeah! It lasts for, like, ten seconds. Mad is just her default. Then she figures out how she’s really feeling. Just… don’t make her actually mad and you’ll be fine!”
Blake didn’t seem convinced. “What makes her actually mad?”
Ruby turned thoughtful. “Not much. Rude people. People bullying me. Uh… Being made fun of for being poor.” She glanced at Weiss at that.
That wasn’t fair! Weiss hadn’t made fun of the sisters for being poor… had she?
Something in her expression must have given her thoughts away, because Ruby quickly waved her hands. “Not that you have! She just thought you were, before. But you weren’t! Which is why she likes you now!”
Weiss hmphed and crossed her arms, but she didn’t feel quite as offended at that. She also wasn’t convinced Yang liked her, per se, but the blonde at least seemed willing to tolerate her now. Which was progress.
That was a demoralizing thought.
“But yeah. Just don’t be rude and she’ll like you a lot! And you guys are both awesome, so, like, there’s no problem!” She nodded at that, like her earnestness would help convince her teammates.
It did. At least, it did for Weiss. Blake was hard to read.
“Ready to do some clothes shopping?” she asked her partner to change the conversation.
“YUUUUUUUUS!” Ruby yelled, bending her knees and holding her balled fists out to the side like she was lifting weights. “I’m so exciteeeeeeeeeeeed!”
“Clearly,” Weiss muttered, rubbing at her obliterated ear drums. Off to the side, Blake was clearly amused at Ruby’s theatrics.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t want to come to the Library with me and Yang instead?” she asked with a smirk.
From the expression Ruby made, one would think Blake had just asked her if she wanted to munch on a grub worm.
“Ew, no. Wait, you convinced Yang to go to a library with you?”
Blake blinked. “I… guess? I didn’t really need to convince her. I just said I wanted to go and she said she would go with me.”
The confusion on Ruby’s face was palpable.
Just then, Yang exited the bathroom. Ruby disappeared in a burst of petals and reappeared in front of Yang, pointing a dramatic finger at her sister’s face.
“Who are you and what have you done with my sister?!”
Yang blinked. “Huh?”
“Blake said you were going with her to…” Ruby leaned forward and cupped a hand around her mouth, loudly whispering, “the library!”
Ruby wailed. “Yang, come back to meeeeee!” She threw her arms around her sister. “Blink once if you’re under duress!”
Yang took the hug much like Weiss would, with a grumpy face and stiff arms at her sides. “Oh, you’re using words like ‘duress’ now, are you?”
“Did Blake threaten you?!”
Blake visibly balked. “What?! You think I threatened Yang?”
Ruby broke her hold around her sister to point a finger at Blake. “Quiet, you fiend!”
“Why am I a fiend?!”
“You broke my sister!”
Yang took the opportunity to push Ruby off of her, placing her hands on her shoulders to keep her at arm’s length while Ruby flailed wildly trying to hug her again.
“Ruby, it’s not a big deal. She wants to go to the library and I wanna hang out with her.”
Ruby stopped swinging her arms around, crossing them and glaring up at Yang. “But you always complain when I ask you to take me to the comics and games store!”
Yang snorted. “Well yeah, it’s comic books.” Ruby gasped, which just made Yang smirk wider. “Plus, I just like complaining about you.”
Yang stuck her tongue out at Ruby.
The brunette pouted. “So you volunteer to go to the library with your new partner, but you whine about going to the comic book store with your loving sister?”
Blake piped up again. “I don’t know why you’re saying this like comic books are somehow better than regular books.”
Ruby turned to her. “They are! Comic books are way cooler!”
Blake raised a dubious eyebrow.
“They are!” Ruby insisted. “They’ve got all the things books do, but also awesome art!”
“And ridiculous plotlines,” Yang jibed.
“Your face is a ridiculous plotline!”
Yang patted Ruby on the head, an action Weiss thought was a bit demeaning but Ruby didn’t seem to mind. “Rubes,” she said.
Ruby glared at her sister a moment longer.
She materialized at Weiss’ side in the split second after Weiss registered the petals of her semblance floating around Yang.
“Come on, Weiss,” Ruby grumbled as she grabbed her partner’s arm and pulled her towards the door. “Let’s get away from these stupidheads.”
“But we’re going into the city together!” Weiss protested as she was dragged out the door.
“Ruby, don’t be a brat!”
“Your face is a brat!”
“Stop saying stupid things about my face!”
Weiss yanked on Ruby to get her to stop. Ruby turned and gave her frown that looked more cute than angry.
“Wait for your team, Captain Ruby,” Weiss demanded.
Ruby sighed, her eyes darting past Weiss as Yang and Blake exited the room.
“Fine,” she grumbled. “But I’m never speaking to Yang ever again!”
She disappeared in another burst of petals, evidently deciding to leave Weiss behind too.
“What part of ‘wait’ does she not understand?” Weiss bemoaned as red petals floated to the ground at her feet.
“Pretty much all four letters and then some,” Yang answered cheerily.
“Your sister seems peeved,” Blake commented. She and Yang walked down the hall, and Weiss fell in step beside them.
“She does this all the time. Just restless energy. When she gets upset she runs away.”
“So she is upset,” Weiss noted.
Yang shrugged. “Probably a little bit. I wouldn’t worry about it. She cheers up quick. Thirty seconds on the shuttle and she’ll be talking to me again.”
‘Shuttle? I don’t think so.’
Blake spoke up before she could say something about it, but she pulled out her scroll and summoned a car anyway.
“Funny, she said the same thing about you,” Blake told Yang.
“She said you don’t stay angry for very long.”
Yang feigned being offended, putting a hand on her chest and gasping. “Me? Stay angry? I never get angry at all!”
Weiss and Blake both gave her deadpan stares.
“Heh.” Yang cracked a small smile. “Well, yeah, fine. Whatever.”
Blake rolled her eyes and turned to Weiss. “So you’re coming with us?”
“Not to the library.” Blake’s face fell a little at that, which surprised Weiss. It was kind of nice to know she was wanted though. “I thought it would be nice to get some coffee together before we split up. Yang found a questionably named tea and coffee shop that’s supposedly close to the library and the shopping strip I’m taking Ruby to.”
“What did poor Pippy ever do to you?” Yang joked.
“She had parents that named her Pippy.”
Yang snorted. “But hey.” Her tone made Weiss turn to her. “Save the receipt. Please.”
Weiss nodded. “I remember.”
Yang smiled at that. “And same advice as before. Make her push the shopping cart.”
Weiss’ eyebrow quirked up. “There aren’t shopping carts where I’m taking her,” she replied indignantly.
“Oh.” Yang glanced at Blake, then back at Weiss. “Well you’re fucked.”
Blake giggled immediately, then clamped her hands over her mouth, cutting off the sound, and looked at Weiss with wide-eyed laughter.
Weiss huffed. “I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”
“She will try to buy everything,” Yang stressed to her.
Weiss shrugged. “I can afford it. And she could stand to vastly increase the size of her wardrobe.”
“Huh,” Yang said thoughtfully. She looked at Weiss peculiarly. “Maybe you two are a good fit.”
Weiss rolled her eyes to keep from smiling.
They were out on the plaza now. The roundabout where the driver would pick them up was a little ways away.
“I called a car, by the way,” she informed the other two as she looked around for Ruby.
“Aw, come on!” Yang whined.
“The shuttle’s so cool, Weiss! There’s so many people and conversations and it feels so neat! Give it a try!”
“That sounds awful.”
Yang grunted grumpily in response. “Fiiiine. I guess I’ll settle for your dumb limousine.”
Weiss narrowed her eyes. “Where is my dolt of a partner?” she asked instead of continuing this ridiculous conversation.
“Oh, probably running in angsty circles ‘cause she’s sad I’m going to the library for some reason.”
Weiss looked around again. She’d been looking for Ruby, but maybe Yang was right and she should be looking for rose petals instead.
There. On the far side of the open grounds there was what looked like a tornado of tiny specks that were only barely distinguishable from the grey backdrop of the building behind them. There was someone standing in the middle of them, a female figure.
Ruby stopped running in circles around the girl and stopped to talk to her. She was gesturing animated, as was her way, and she suddenly pulled out Crescent Rose.
Weiss tensed, confused but ready to launch herself to help Ruby, but… there was no danger. Ruby unfurled Crescent Rose and rested the pointed tip in the ground while the other girl… was she taking pictures?
A couple others walked up to them as they talked. Even from this distance Weiss could recognize the bird boy from Team KORL–or rather, she recognized the bird on his shoulder and the wizard-looking staff he carried that Weiss suspected transformed into some sort of long barreled rifle. He and Ruby could probably be sniper buddies.
The long towncar pulled into the roundabout and stopped in front of the three girls. Weiss tapped her foot impatiently.
“Is she coming?” she asked nobody in particular, gesturing towards her partner.
Yang chuckled. “If you haven’t noticed, she’s easily distracted.”
“Hmph.” Weiss navigated her scroll and voice called Ruby. RedReapeR9000.
Across the way, Weiss could see Ruby hold her scroll up to her ear.
“Are you coming or not, Ruby? We’re about to leave without you.”
“What?! Nooo!” She turned to the three people she was talking to and spoke to them, though she didn’t cover the scroll’s mic, so Weiss could still here. “Sorry, guys! I gotta run!”
One of them said something Weiss couldn’t make out.
“I will!” Ruby responded. “Bye Greco!” She gave the bird a one fingered scratch on the head. The bird squawked or chirped or whatever that terrifying noise was in response, the sound causing static through Weiss’ speaker.
Ruby burst into petals again, and something went wrong with their scroll call. Weiss’ scroll seemed to try to keep the connection for a moment, and it just sounded like Ruby was calling from a wind tunnel. The crackling roar made Blake and Yang stare at the device wide-eyed too, but it quickly cut out.
The streak of roses that was Ruby hurtled towards them, covering a couple hundred feet in a matter of seven or eight seconds. Ruby rematerialized in front of them, skidding to a halt and showering them with petals, all while wearing a nervous smile. She held her scroll up to her ear and met Weiss’ eyes.
Weiss held up her own scroll to show the ‘Call Ended’ screen.
“Aw. You hung up on me,” Ruby pouted.
“I didn’t hang up on you, Dolt. Your semblance broke the connection and it doesn’t even matter because you’re standing in front of me!”
Ruby giggled, to which Weiss rolled her eyes. “Making friends?” she asked, using tone to make it clear she was really saying ‘you made us wait’.
“Yeah!” Ruby answered, completely missing any sort of nuance. “Velvet asked if she could take a picture of Crescent Rose for her weapons project. And that guy’s birb is really cool!”
“… Birb?” Weiss asked, offended at the very existence of such a nonsensical word, redoubled by the fact that her partner was using it.
“Birb,” Ruby confirmed with a confident nod.
“Ruby, ‘birb’ is not a word.”
“Uh, Weiss, I’m pretty sure birb is the word.”
When Weiss sighed in exasperation, Ruby giggled again. She was doing this on purpose!
“Get in the car, you buffoon.”
“Woohoo! Limooooo!” Ruby dove into the back and sat in one of the rear facing seats, bouncing up and down.
Yang and Blake followed her inside. Yang sat next to her sister and seemed to be perpetually amused at Ruby’s excitement.
Weiss didn’t understand it, because this was now Ruby’s second ride in the towncar, so she wasn’t sure why the novelty was still there. She settled in across from her partner, next to Blake, and had to struggle not to roll her eyes as Ruby opened and closed the minifridge over and over.
“This is so weird! There’s a fridge! In a car!”
Yang’s smile was probably going to become permanent. “Don’t forget the TV,” she said, handing Ruby the remote for the front-and-back screened television that folded down from the roof.
“Oh yeah! That’s also awesome!”
She clicked to get the screen to fold down, watching with wide-eyed excitement. Then… she sent it back up, watching just as excitedly. Then she moved it back down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up–
“Ruby, please stop being ridiculous.”
“Your face is–”
Ruby gave her pout, but it quickly turned into a blinding grin.
Yang leaned over and pointed at the remote in Ruby’s hands. “And that one tints the windows, remember?”
“Oh right! This is sweet!”
The windows started swapping between light and dark.
“Damn it, Yang,” Weiss sighed.
Yang gave her a pleased smirk.
“Yang, let’s make silly faces at the cars and I’ll turn the windows on and off!”
“Ruby, didn’t you say you weren’t going to talk to Yang ever again?” Weiss asked.
Ruby blinked at her. “Oh yeah!” She turned to Yang. “I’m still mad at you!” She gave Yang back the remote like that would make it final.
Yang shot Weiss a glare, and it was Weiss’ turn to smirk.
“So, where we dropping?” Ruby asked, looking at Weiss.
Ruby grinned mischievously. “Where are we shopping?”
“We’re gonna stop for coffee first, th–”
“Ooooh! I get coffee?”
“NO!” Yang legitimately shouted as the words registered to her. “No. You can have tea.”
“Awww. I don’t want boring leaf water!”
Blake wrinkled her nose. “Hey, tea is great.”
Ruby blinked at her slowly, clearly unconvinced. Blake raised her hands in mock surrender.
“Maybe Weiss is right,” she sighed. “I guess you’re just uncultured.” She said it with a teasing smile, but Weiss still liked that someone was agreeing with her.
“You can get a juice or something if they have it,” Yang told her sister.
“Ooh, juice is good.”
Already having some idea of what the answer would be, Weiss asked the obvious question. “What happens if she has coffee?”
“Terrible things, Weiss.” Yang shook her head, her eyes open wide in mock horror. “Terrible things.”
“Shudup,” Ruby grumbled, crossing her arms and looking out the (now lightened) window. “Yer dumb.”
Yang grinned and pulled Ruby into a side hug. Ruby kept her arms crossed and a pouty glare on her face, but didn’t pull away. Weiss didn’t realize she was smiling at the scene until she noticed Blake looking at her with an amused, knowing smirk.
She wiped the smile away.
They drove over Beacon Bridge, and Weiss took the time to enjoy the view as they crossed over sparkling blue ocean. Beacon wasn’t on an island, but it was only attached to the main continent by a narrow strip of land that looped around in a backwards ‘C’ from the northern edge of Vale City, forming Beacon Bay. The city decided to make a bridge across the narrowest part of the bay so people wouldn’t need to constantly go around the bay to get to Beacon, and thus Beacon Bridge was created. The longest bridge in Remnant, six miles long. It was built to be impressive to look at as much as it was to be functional, with towering archways that thematically tied to the arches of Beacon Tower.
Weiss loved it. She loved most great buildings and structures, the massive, man-made declarations that “this world is ours.”
They weren’t in the rightmost lane, so there were cars frequently impeding her view of the ocean, which was kind of irksome, and Ruby’s blabbering about something was an incessant, droning background noise, but Weiss breathed deeply and enjoyed the moment. Heading into the city for shopping, getting coffee, great, sunny weather. Today was a good day so far, even with Ruby insisting on being a dolt.
And she was still riding the high of her fight with Ruby yesterday. Admittedly, it had been more of a struggle than she would have liked after she ran out of Dust, but it was still a decisive victory that had done wonders for her self-confidence.
Granted, that was just Ruby. What she really wanted was to fight Pyrrha. Professor Rustheart had said they’d be training with one of the other teams next week; maybe they’d get lucky and it would be Team JNPR.
Her gaze slid over to the skyline of Vale City. The inner docks were busy, the Bay sprinkled with tiny specks of ships coming and going. A couple were much closer, heading out into the open ocean and passing underneath Beacon Bridge as a result. Weiss saw one of the massive boats, laden with giant metal crates of goods and sporting the burnt orange and bronze color scheme of Vacuo, go under on one side, then turned and watched out the other window, waiting for it to come back into view.
She looked back to the city, her eyes tracing the edges of the tallest buildings. The silhouette of the city kind of created the profile of a face. Tall skyscrapers downtown creating the outline of a forehead, then as they shortened eastward there was a long nose and… hm. Nothing really created the outline of lips. Or a chin.
Okay, there was no face.
Weiss rolled her eyes at herself. She’d never been one to see shapes in the clouds, as was apparently a thing among idiots, but she was looking for them in cityscapes? That was silly.
The building-watching she was doing made her wonder about what they all were. The skyscrapers would be corporate buildings, surely, but the other, smaller ones? There could only be so many clothing stores and shopping malls and restaur–
“Oh!” she exclaimed, turning to her teammates. From the way the background noise Weiss had tuned out abruptly ended and the way Ruby’s mouth was hanging open like she was in the middle of a word, Weiss realized she’d just interrupted something.
Oh well. It probably wasn’t anything important anyway.
“Where are we eating dinner tonight?”
Ruby, who didn’t seem to mind at all that she’d just been cut off, lit up. “Oh yeah! We were gonna get sushi, right?”
Blake’s hands balled up into little fists and she wiggled them excitedly. “Yes! I actually found a place that might be nice. It’s called Bento House, up at the docks.”
Ruby matched Blake’s excitement with a goofy wiggle of her own. “Oooh, if it’s by the docks I bet it’s got super fresh fish.”
“Yeah!” Blake said cheerfully, posture and tone far more Ruby-sih than it was Blake-ish at the moment. She looked at Yang. “It’s sushi and hibachi, so if you for whatever reason don’t want delicious fish, there’ll be other stuff for you.”
“What’s hibichuchu?” Yang asked.
Ruby waved her hand in the air like they were in class and she wanted the teacher to call on her. “Ooh! I know! That place Dad took us to when you graduated from Signal?”
“Oh, where they cooked the food in front of us and made that dope onion volcano and stuff?”
“Yeah! That’s hibichuchu.”
“Hibachi,” Blake corrected.
“How many Atsom Stars does it have?” Weiss asked. She refused to have a sit down dinner at any restaurant below three stars, and that was being generous.
Blake’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh, uh… I dunno. Let me check.” She pulled out her scroll and started searching.
“Are Atsom Stars a fancy rich person rating system for food?” Yang asked.
Weiss rolled her eyes. “They’re just a rating system for restaurants. It has nothing to do with being rich.”
“Four stars!” Blake declared. She looked at Weiss with a strangely hopeful look in her eyes. “That’s good, right? It looks like it’s a five star system ‘cause there’s only one gray star on here.”
It took a moment for the reason for Blake’s expression to click for Weiss. Blake was worried that Weiss would say no to her restaurant. But that was ridiculous! Four stars was fine.
It wasn’t for her parents. Or for Whitley. They only at at five star restaurants. But one of Winter’s favorite restaurants after she left for Atlas Academy was a little cafe that only had three stars, and she’d brought Weiss there a lot. Weiss had resettled her standards then, because she did actually like the place.
“Yes,” she said, “four stars is great.” She tried to give a reassuring smile but then remembered how awful her smile had looked in the mirror this morning and wiped the expression away, opting for a nod instead.
Blake grinned and wiggled her fists a little bit. So Ruby-ish. Weiss was left wondering if this was just what excited-for-sushi Blake was like, or if their ridiculous team leader was rubbing off too much on Blake.
That was a concerning thought. Blake was actually tolerable. If she turned into another Ruby, Weiss might have to scream.
Content that they had a destination in mind for dinner tonight, Weiss turned back to the window. They were just getting off the bridge now, the road going from an open view of the world to being boxed in by tall buildings in a just a few feet of transition. Weiss didn’t mind it, though. The buildings were representative of the power of industry, something the Schnees ruled. She didn’t feel small next to skyscrapers, she felt empowered by them.
Unfortunately, traffic was also a thing, and something that Weiss did mind. Having to slow to a crawl because of the rabble was annoying; Weiss hadn’t been raised to wait on the peasantry.
Back home in Atlas, whenever they were going from their mansion into Atlas proper, they’d take a Chariot to one of the several landing pads around the city, and from there it was usually just a short limo ride to their destination. Weiss sorely missed the airship now.
The jerky, stop-and-start movement of the car was irksome, and it also meant the trip would take a while. Weiss tuned back in to her teammates’ conversation again to pass the time.
“… could totally take her! I’ll bet you ten of those cookies you and Weiss are getting today that I could pick her up and throw her, like, ten feet at least.” It was Yang, all bluster and bravado, an arm still around Ruby.
“Who are we talking about?” Weiss asked, trying to figure out what was being talked about, though she wasn’t totally sure why she cared.
“Leona,” Yang answered.
“The big girl on Team KORL that wears plate armor?”
“Could you even pick her up?”
Yang glared. “You underestimate my power!” she exclaimed in a weirdly deep voice, shaking a fist dramatically. Weiss didn’t really understand why.
“Don’t try it!” Ruby squeaked with a grin, grabbing onto Yang’s fist and pulling it into her lap.
“Try–what?” Weiss was very confused right now. “What is she trying?”
“I think they’re quoting a movie,” Blake answered for her helpfully.
“Oh.” Weiss glared at the two sisters. “I wish it wasn’t so impossible to follow conversations with you two,” she griped.
When Ruby pouted, Yang just smirked. “You just need to get woke, Weiss.”
Yang snorted, smiling, and Ruby let out an amused little giggle. Weiss turned to Blake, exasperated, but it appeared Blake knew what was going on too, covering her smile with a cupped hand but failing to hide the laughter in her eyes.
Weiss huffed and glared out the window. “If you jerks are just going to make fun of me in my limo, you can just get out and walk!”
There was a click as someone unfastened their seat belt, and then someone slammed into the middle seat between Weiss and Blake. Weiss turned in surprise and–
Yep, it was Ruby.
Ruby hugged Weiss’ arm. “Don’t be mad, Weiss! We’re laughing with you, not at you! Your confused face is really funny.”
Weiss huffed again, offended at the implication. “I’m not confused. You’re just full of nonsense and just say nonsensical things all the time!”
“Yeah, and it confuses you,” Yang smirked.
“Only insofar as anybody would be confused by a random stream of… randomness!”
Ruby giggled again and gave Weiss’ arm a rub. “Okay okay. No randomness. We were talking about who would win in a fight, Yang or Leona.”
“But we haven’t seen Leona fight.”
“I can totally take her!” Yang declared.
“But… we haven’t seen her fight,” Weiss repeated slowly. “We have no basis of comparison.”
“I can take her.”
Weiss rolled her eyes, but Ruby spoke up before she could retort.
“Okay okay! Who would win: Jaune or Zwei?”
“Zwei,” Yang answered matter-of-factly, making Ruby break into her trademark giggle.
“Zwei’s your dog, right?” Blake asked.
Yang nodded. “Yep!” She glanced at Weiss. “Is a corgi beating up a huntsman-in-training not logical enough for you, Weiss?”
Weiss narrowed her eyes at the mocking tone, but shrugged, jostling Ruby a bit in the process. “Against Jaune? No, you’re probably right.”
Ruby’s giggles broke into full blown laughter. She doubled over as she laughed, pulling on Weiss’ arm as she did so. Weiss tried to be annoyed about it, but she was mostly just pleased she’d gotten such a positive reaction from the joke.
She rolled her eyes anyway.
“Who would win,” Blake asked with a silly little grin, “Zwei or that kid’s falcon?”
“Oh, Greco?” Ruby straightened back up. “He’s so cool! I bet he’d win. He’s got, like, talons and wings and stuff.”
Yang shook her head vehemently, her blonde mane flinging back and forth. “Nuh uh, Zwei totally wins.”
“But Zwei can’t fly!” Ruby argued.
“But Ruby,” Yang said, a deathly serious expression on her face, “he wields the power of cuteness.”
Ruby rolled her eyes–she was still terrible at it, though. “Cuteness doesn’t help in a fight, Yang.”
“It’s literally all that matters in a fight! The power of cuteness is the greatest power one can carry into battle.”
“But then why did I beat Ruby yesterday?” Weiss joked, hoping to get another laugh.
Yang’s eyes just went wide in surprise instead. Not quite what she’d wanted.
Ruby just chirped, “‘Cause you’re super awesome!” though, which was kind of nice.
“Wait wait,” Yang said, shaking her hands in front of her to stop Ruby from speaking. “Are you calling Ruby cute?” she asked, looking incredulous for some odd reason.
Weiss blinked at her, then turned to see Ruby with a smile and a curious squint turned her way. Blake was just smirking behind Ruby.
“W-well yes,” she answered.
Yang gasped and covered her mouth with her hands exaggeratedly.
“What?!” Weiss demanded. “She is objectively cute!” She felt Ruby give one of those stupid happy wiggles next to her and chose to ignore it. “That’s not strange! You’ve said she’s cute too!”
Yang shrugged. “Well yeah. I just didn’t expect you to, like, find people to be cute, much less Ruby.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Yeah, what’s that supposed to mean?!” Ruby echoed her.
Yang shrugged again. “Just surprised is all. Why are you getting all uppity, Rubes?”
Ruby frowned, looking a little confused. “Oh. I dunno. Weiss was mad, so I got mad too.”
“I’m with Weiss on this one,” Blake said, coming to the rescue. “Ruby is objectively adorable.”
“I agree!” Yang protested. “I just wasn’t expecting Weiss to think so!”
“Well I do. I have eyeballs.”
Ruby wiggled again. “Well shucks. Thanks guys. You’re all pretty cute, too.”
“Except Weiss!” Ruby cut her off. “Weiss is not cute. She is regal.”
Weiss gave a satisfied nod at that.
“You’re both a couple of goofballs,” Yang muttered.
“That’s fresh, coming from you,” Blake teased.
Yang glared at her. “You know, I’m starting to think you don’t understand how this partner thing works. You’re supposed to be on my side.”
“I am on the side of truth,” Blake said back.
“Hmph.” Yang crossed her arms. “Let’s see if Truth will save you from Ursai out in the Emerald Forest.”
“Pfft! I don’t need saving from Ursai,” Blake laughed dismissively. “Big, dumb idiots.”
“I think they’re cute and cuddly,” Yang shot back defensively.
“You don’t really,” Weiss said.
“It’s true,” Ruby told her, giving a sincere nod. “She’s never actually tried to kill an Ursa before, she just hugs them so hard they explode.”
“I…” Weiss glanced between Ruby and Yang, who was also nodding. She didn’t believe it. At all. It was ridiculous–Grimm were horrifying freaks of nature, not cute and cuddly stuffed animals.
But Ruby looked so sincere…
And it was Yang. Yang was touched in the head juuuust enough that it might be possible.
It was Ruby that broke first. Her lips twitched in a tiny smile, and when Weiss narrowed her eyes suspiciously, she immediately launched into a pleased cackle.
Yang joined her.
“Did you see her face, Ruby?” she cried, laughing.
Ruby nodded vigorously. “She was like all, ‘There’s no way Yang likes Ursai… is there?’” She put on a blank expression while saying the words that Weiss supposed was supposed to be an imitation of her.
They both cracked up again.
Weiss sighed and looked at Blake. “I hate them,” she said.
Blake pursed her lips together in a smile.
“Oh, I think we’re here!” Ruby chirped, leaning over Weiss to look out the window. Weiss hadn’t even payed attention to the fact that the car had stopped as they’d been stationary more than they’d been moving for the past few minutes anyway. But Ruby was right–and also squishing her. She nudged Ruby, and that small push coupled how off-balance the girl was from leaning over another person sent Ruby tumbling into the space between the two rows of seats with a thud.
Ruby landed on her hands and knees and blinked up at Weiss in surprise.
“Weiss, stop shoving my sister around!” Yang yelled.
“I didn’t–I just nudged her to get off of me and she threw herself onto the ground!”
“Lies and salamander!” Ruby cried out, hopping back up into the seat.
“You mean lies and slander?” Blake asked.
Luckily, Ruby didn’t actually seem mad, giving Weiss a playful glare that was more smile than a normal person would have while trying to look angry. She shoved Weiss’ shoulder toward the car door and jerked her chin in that direction.
Weiss obliged the indication, opening the door and stepping out of the car. If they were in Atlas and their driver was one of the Schnee’s personal drivers, he would have already opened it for her. But alas, he was basically just a taxi driver with a really nice car that answered ride requests from scrolls. That was fine, though, Weiss supposed. Having the Atlas drivers around consequently meant having her family around, and she was willing to open any number of car doors herself to stay away from her parents.
Ruby bounced out of the car and immediately zipped over to the entrance of the coffee shop, much to Weiss’ annoyance. They didn’t at all look like a team if Ruby was constantly running off ahead of them.
Blake and Yang filed out, and Blake gave Weiss a soft “thanks” as Weiss closed the car door and waved at the driver.
As much as Weiss was loathe to admit it, Pippy’s little coffee shop looked pretty nice. Small but spacious from the way the light furniture was arranged, it looked quaint. There was a display case of pastries at the counter, a variety of espresso machines, steamers, coffee pots, and blenders within the barista’s section, and the lighting and atmosphere were pleasantly vibrant.
Unfortunately, it was also filled with people. There were seven people in the line in front of them, and if there was one thing Weiss hated more than having to wait on others while she was in a car, it was having to wait on others while simply standing there.
Of course, the others didn’t seem to mind. Blake seemed happy to people watch. There was a couple at one of the three small tables out in what served as a patio that gave her a strangely wistful smile.
Yang and Ruby’s attention was solely on the pastry case. Because of course it was.
There was a television playing the local news, like something from a bar. Bodies of suspected drug dealers were found this morning in some place called ‘Dancetown’ in the city. Apparently it was part of a pattern lately. The bulletin title read “Another vigilante murder spree”, which was a scary sentence to read. It meant there was someone or multiple someones out there killing a lot of people, and it meant there were a lot of bad guys out there. The subtitles covering what the anchor was saying were a bit small to make out from the back of the line.
It was Blake, who’d noticed where Weiss’ attention had gone.
Weiss dipped her chin in a shrug.
Ruby and Yang were jabbering to each other and pointing at different pastries in the case, Ruby smudging the glass with a tiny finger like a hooligan. The people in line in front of them were an older couple that were smiling at the sisters’ antics fondly, for some reason.
Blake was still watching Weiss curiously. “This reminds me of… I had a… I knew someone, once,” she said, prompting Weiss to turn her way. “He thought it was his duty to fight the wrongs he saw in the world. Discrimination, racism, trafficking, slavery. He thought he could end evil with his conviction and his fists. Then it went from his fists to his sword.”
“He killed people?” Weiss asked, alarmed.
Blake nodded. “He still is, as far as I know. And when he started… he told himself it was making a difference. Told me it was making a difference. But I think he just liked it.”
Weiss kept her expression neutral as she asked, “And where were you, when he started killing?”
“Not standing far enough away.” She looked… really, really sad. Haunted, almost.
“Did you… have you…?” Weiss didn’t want to finish the question.
Blake met her eyes for the briefest of moments and looked away. She absently followed Yang’s movement for a long while–Yang currently had her arms around a the back of a rambunctious Ruby to keep her from… doing something Rubyish. Weiss wasn’t sure what, as she hadn’t been paying attention.
Blake finally opened her mouth to answer.
“Hey, Weiss, what are you gonna get?” Ruby chirped, doing her best to twist around in Yang’s grip to make eye contact with her partner.
Yang, being the kind person she was, turned around so Ruby could face Weiss, and Weiss noticed that Ruby’s feet were actually dangling a couple inches above Yang’s.
Weiss was more than a little annoyed that she and Blake had been interrupted. It had felt like it was an important conversation, and the way Blake had voluntarily started it herself made Weiss think it was something she’d wanted to talk about. To get off her chest.
Though that phrasing felt a bit assumptive. Like she had something to feel guilty about. But… she hadn’t killed anyway, right? She was about to say “no” before Ruby interrupted, right?
“Wei-eiss!” Ruby whined with a smile, kicking her feet as Yang swang her back and forth like a pendulum. “Whatchya getting?!”
Weiss cleared her throat and rolled her eyes. She wasn’t quite sure if she was annoyed or amused at the sight of her partner pitching left and right in front of her. It was pretty cute.
But also ridiculous.
She gave a cursory glance to the drink menu chalked out in various colors on the boards hanging from the ceiling behind the barista stand, more out of habit than anything. She already knew what she’d get. The same thing she always got.
“An espresso con panna and…” Hm, did she want one? Sure, what the heck. She’d been getting a good amount of exercise in this week with her runs and the combat round yesterday, she could afford to splurge a bit on calories. “And a coffee cake.”
“Oooh, is that, like, espresso with pineapple?”
“I–what? Ruby, I said ‘con panna’, not ‘con pineaple’.”
“Oh. What’s that?”
Weiss sighed. “It means ‘espresso with cream’.”
Ruby gasped. “Like whipped cream?”
“Chanti–” Weiss sighed again, dropping the contrarian correction. “Yes, whipped cream.”
“That sounds awesome!” She craned her head backwards, displaying a remarkable amount of neck flexibility to look up at Yang. “I wanna get what Weiss is getting!”
Yang frowned down at her little sister. “You think you’re so sneaky, don’t you?”
“Trying to trick me into getting you espresso ‘cause it’s not coffee?”
“They’re different things, Yang! Dad said ‘no coffee, not ‘no espresso’!”
Yang sighed and gave Weiss a dead expression. “Look what you did.”
“I–me? What did I do?!”
Yang spun back around, swinging Ruby with her, and stepped up to the ordering counter. The barista was a teenage boy with dirty blonde hair and brown eyes that were definitely checking out Yang.
“Hey!” Yang greeted him cheerily.
“‘Sup,” he replied, giving her an up and down sweep that Weiss found strange, considering there was a Ruby covering most of his view of her. Yang seemed amused and pleased though.
She gave the guy a teasing smirk. “Could I get a… a… hm.”
Ruby sighed loudly and kicked her feet again. “She wants a white chocolate frappe-thingy.”
“Hm, that does sound good,” Yang murmured.
“You say that every time!”
“And I’m right every time!”
The guy nodded. “Sounds good. Espresso or no espresso?”
“Espresso!” Ruby answered for her sister.
The barista raised his eyebrows and looked at Yang, who nodded. “‘Kay ‘kay,” he said, pushing some buttons. “What size?”
“The big one!”
He opened his mouth to say something, then shrugged and thought better of it. “And for the little ‘un?” he asked instead.
“Hey, I’m not that little!”
He gave Ruby an “are you serious?” look.
That wasn’t fair. If Ruby was little, that meant Weiss was close to little, and that was unacceptable.
“You guys got, like, apple juice or something?” Yang asked.
“We do, yeah.”
“Big one of those, please.”
Ruby crossed her arms. “You guys got, like, espresso or something?” she asked.
The barista blinked and looked over at the espresso machine, then back at Ruby. “Uh…”
Yang gave Ruby a squeeze, prompting the girl to let out a squeak, before saying, “Ruby, you keep this nonsense up and all you’re gonna get is a glass of milk.”
Ruby pouted and let out a comically distressed whimper, but went silent.
Weiss didn’t even realize she was smiling at the exchange until she noticed Blake glancing at her with a smirk. She wiped the smile away.
“And we’d also like two slices of the swirly pound cake,” Yang added.
“Woohoo!” Ruby tried to throw her hands up in excitement, but with Yang’s vice grip around her it just ended up turning into a sideways tilt.
“Got it. That’ll be… ten sixty-three.”
“That seems low,” Yang observed.
The barista gave her a wink.
She pursed her lips in a provocative smirk. Setting Ruby down on the floor but keeping one arm still around her, she scanned her scroll to pay. Ruby didn’t make any effort to try to escape while grounded, and when Yang picked her back up she actually seemed happy.
“I’ll have ‘em right out for you, hot stuff,” the guy flirted.
Yang gave a little eyebrow twirk at him and carried Ruby down to the handoff plane wait for their order.
When Weiss and Blake both stepped up together, the barista gave them a once-over too.
“I’ll be with you two in just a moment,” he drawled sleazily, giving a not-very-subtle look at Blake’s cleavage as he turned.
Weiss wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be pissed at the objectification or disappointed that she’d never those looks. Not that she wanted them, but it would be nice to know that she could get them if she did, but she couldn’t.
Then she noticed it.
When the barista turned around and took a step away from the counter, Weiss could see the large, fluffy fox tail he had.
“Hm?” Blake intoned, turning back from the distraction of Yang tickling Ruby a few feet away. “What’s… wrong?” She seemed to notice what Weiss was staring at.
“He’s a–” Weiss cut herself off when she turned to find Blake glaring at her, a cold fire in her amber eyes.
“He’s a what, Weiss?” she asked, a dangerous edge to her tone.
‘Shit. Does Blake not know how awful the faunus are?’
Granted, Weiss had grown up in a better position than most to witness the evils the faunus commit on a daily basis, being a Schnee. But Blake seemed educated and aware of the world. How could she not know?
Weiss looked over at Ruby and Yang, both of whom were watching the barista make Yang’s drink–with occasional tickle bursts from Yang, naturally. Neither seemed bothered that the guy making the drink was an animal. Not even human! Corrupted. Like how the Grimm were a mutation of animals, the faunus were an aberration of humans. And, just like Grimm, they were violent and bloodthirsty.
Blake was looking at her expectantly–and angrily.
“N-nothing,” Weiss stammered in response. It wasn’t nothing, but it wasn’t something that could be explained. Blake wouldn’t understand the truth until she saw it. “He’s just… a sleazebag.” That was a good deflection.
Blake looked away, crossing her arms and balling her fists in the crooks of her elbows. “I’m gonna go talk to Yang.”
She started walking off before she’d even finished the sentence.
This… this was going to hurt. Weiss liked Blake. She was a refreshing drop of sanity in this team. And apparently a pro-faunus fool.
Weiss couldn’t fault her for that. She’d likely just been raised in a bubble. Apparently a bubble with a friend that killed people, but still a bubble. She thought back to the things Blake said that person she knew was fighting against: racism, discrimination. Was he a faunus?
If Blake had been unfortunate enough to grow up around faunus, it would make sense that she would be on their side. She didn’t know any better. She probably thought their tendency to rape, steal, kidnap, and murder was normal.
Strange, she didn’t act that way at all. Wh–
“What can I get you, beautiful?”
The jarring interruption pulled Weiss back to the present.
The animal-boy was looking at her, eyes roaming her facial features. “You have pretty eyes,” he told her quietly.
Weiss flinched. Her mind immediately went to the memory of one of the Schnee board member’s daughters, who was found raped and beaten in an alley after she’d gone shopping alone one day. She was in the hospital for four months after that, and would have a permanent twitch in her hand from the nerve damage she suffered. She’d said it had been a bear faunus.
“I’m fine, actually.”
She stepped away from the counter. Blake gave her a cutting glare and walked back over to place her own order. Weiss hugged herself defensively and glared back.
This wasn’t fair, and it made Weiss angry that it wasn’t fair. What the Crucible did Blake know? She hadn’t watched family friends, coworkers, associates, and dozens of other people that were within Weiss’ orbit during her childhood get attacked and/or abused over the years. She was probably never a victim. She wasn’t–
She jumped as Ruby appeared at her side.
“Sorry! Didn’t mean to spook ya.” Ruby was smiling, because of course she was. A clear plastic cup filled with apple juice was clamped between her hands. “You done ordering? We’re sitting over there.” She pointed toward the four-chaired table that Yang was currently sitting at, munching on a slice of pound cake.
Weiss nodded and walked over with her partner. “I didn’t get anything.”
“What?! What about your not-pineapple espresso? I wanted to try a sip.” Ruby pouted a bit.
They were in hearing range of Yang now, and she turned and pointed a finger at Ruby. “Stop trying to manipulate Weiss into giving you coffee, you little monster!”
Ruby pulled a chair out for Weiss, which was pretty nice, then plopped down next to her, across from her sister. “It’s espresso, Yang. Gosh.”
Yang gave Weiss an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry you have to deal with her.”
“I am too,” Weiss said, not managing to smile because she was still emotionally reeling from this crap with Blake.
“Hey!” Ruby protested.
Blake approached the table and sat beside Yang silently, avoiding eye contact with Weiss.
“Blake,” Ruby fake whispered, “go get Weiss her espresso companana. She forgot to ord–ow!”
Yang kicked her under the table.
Blake finally looked at Weiss, giving her another deadpan, cutting glare. “Oh no,” she drawled. “Weiss wouldn’t want to touch a dirty drink, right Weiss?”
Weiss looked away.
“What?” Ruby asked. “Dirt–what?”
“Oh nothing,” Blake said nonchalantly. “Weiss is just… bein’ a Schnee.”
Weiss shot to her feet, her chair screeching backwards. It was a weird feeling of deja vu to her argument with Yang earlier this week. But where Yang had been openly angry, fiery almost, in their argument, Blake looked cold. She had an eyebrow raised, clearly unimpressed with Weiss’ display of anger.
And just like last time, Weiss’ brain was shorting out and she couldn’t think of what to say. A billion different ideas were coming to mind, and also none.
What had she said last time? She’d… she’d told Ruby to eat her pancakes and then walked away, hadn’t she?
Walking away sounded good right now.
Ruby bamfed in front of her with a cloud of petals. “Weiss, where are you going?”
She looked sad and confused, her eyes darting back and forth between Weiss and Blake. “What… what’s going on?”
Weiss frowned, not sure how to answer. Her brain was still trying to find something to say back to Blake, even though she’d already walked away from the table.
“I… Do you want to go shopping?” she managed to get out.
Not a bit of the confusion left Ruby’s expression. “W-well yeah, but what about….” She looked back at the table, and Weiss followed her gaze.
Blake had apparently still been glaring at the back of Weiss’ head. Yang was leaning over to her, clearly concerned, looking at Weiss occasionally.
Weiss turned away from them.
“Come on, let’s go.”
She grabbed one of Ruby’s hands and pulled her to the door.