Thaw – 2.5

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“Ruby, where are you going?” Weiss demanded, curt.

Ruby turned back towards her, a look of complete bafflement on her face. “To make sure everyone’s okay,” she answered, voice pitched like that should be obvious.

“We should call the police,” Weiss said.

Ruby glanced back towards the west, where the gunshots had come from. “But people could be in danger.”

“We don’t have our weapons, Ruby. We can’t go running in an–”

“We still have our semblances and aura and training! We can help!” Ruby took another step toward the direction of the noise.

Weiss reached out and grabbed her partner’s arm and hauled her back. Ruby turned back to her, alarmed and surprised. A pang of guilt scratched at Weiss’ chest for being so rough–it wasn’t like her at all. She just didn’t want Ruby to go running into gunfire.

She let go. “We should call the police,” she repeated. “This is literally their job. We should let th–”

*CRACK C-CRACK-K!*

There were screams now too, scared cries of civilians. The tall hedges of the maze blocked her view, but from the volume and echoes, the gunfire seemed to be coming from across the street from which they’d entered the statue gardens.

“I’m going,” Ruby declared. “Can you at least call Yang after the police and ask her to come?”

‘She wants backup,’ Weiss realized from Ruby’s request. ‘She just thinks I won’t follow her.’

No. They were partners. And… and friends. If Ruby insisted on running into danger, Weiss would at least make sure she wasn’t doing it alone.

“I’ll come with you.”

The wide smile that spread across Ruby’s face was quickly wiped away by another gunshot.

“Come on,” Ruby told her, already running toward the hedge.

‘What is she–’

Ruby blurred into a red streak that shot up into the air and over the wall of foliage, streaming rose petals behind her.

‘Oh. Right.’

Weiss quickly rushed after her, launching herself up with a white glyph, then forming a bridge of grey glyphs to run across. Ruby was faster than her, so she gave up on trying to keep up on her feet and just launched herself through the air with another white glyph.

She followed Ruby, flying over the maze of green and over the street. Below, people were running, from the movement it looked like from a storefront almost directly in front of them.

Ruby stopped a bit down the sidewalk by a civilian, a chubby, balding man with glasses, that was pressed up against a wall, scroll by his ear. He jumped in surprise as Ruby materialized beside him and Weiss dropped down beside her.

“Are you okay?” Ruby asked him earnestly.

He nodded, clearly confused who Ruby was, where she’d come from, and why she was checking on him.

“What happened?” she asked as she pulled out her own scroll.

The man blinked. “Gunshots. Some guy in a hood walked in there–” he pointed at the store Wess had narrowed it down to “–and just walked straight to the back, then there were gunshots. I got–yes, hello?” The man turned away from Ruby to listen closely to his scroll. “Yes, I’d like to report gunshots…. Yes, on Valley View, close to the intersection with Fourty-Seventh.”

“Across from the statue garden,” Weiss offered.

The man’s head jerked back in surprise at being spoken to again. “Uh, yeah. Across from the statue garden.”

Well, good. The police were informed and would be on the way.

“Stay safe,” Ruby said, already moving towards the building, holding her scroll up to her ear. Gunfire was sporadically cracking and echoing out, and she was clearly anxious to… do something. “Answer your scroll, Yaaang,” she grumbled to herself.

A couple seconds passed and her call ended with no answer.

“Ugh! Probably already dancing and not paying attention to her scroll.” She put her scroll away and sidled up to the door, Weiss hesitantly staying at her side.

“What’s the plan, Ruby?” Weiss asked as she followed, doing her best not to sound nervous. If only she had some Dust…

A dingy pawn shop. It was selling antique television boxes and blocky pre-screenfold scrolls and who knows what other knick-knacks and doodads that people that would take a year of work to afford one of Weiss’ dresses considered junk. Not anywhere Weiss would ever do any shopping, that was certain.

The glass doors were shattered, though, and there were shouts and grunts like fighting noises sounding out from the back room. The occasional gunshot caused flashes of light to spark out from the crack in the door that lead back there. The storefront itself was empty.

“Uh, we, uh, go in, get the fighting to stop, try to help anyone that’s wounded?” Ruby replied.

“Is that a question?” Weiss returned archly.

“I–no.” Ruby put on a determined face. “We need to stop the shooting.”

She lead the way inside, Weiss still following close behind. They both stepped gingerly over the broken glass around the entrance, though the people fighting in the back likely had no chance of hearing them if they’d stopped to tap dance on the shards instead.

“I wish Yang was here,” Ruby muttered to herself.

They crept forward to the back door, passing by the front counter that had a scuffed and cloudy glass case displaying pawned jewelry and watches and the sort. Most were unpolished, several just straight up broken or missing bits and pieces. Hideous, all of them.

A part of Weiss, the part that was itching with nervous energy from walking into danger unprepared, wanted to comment on the jewelry, break this overwhelming quiet between her and Ruby as they moved toward the sounds of fighting with held breath. She didn’t, though. Now was not the time. She could imagine Winter showing up out of nowhere to slap her for getting distracted at such a critical moment.

‘Focus, Weiss.’

The anxiety mostly stemmed from her lack of Myrtenaster. She’d feel far more in control of the situation if she was able to Dust cast or stab someone should the need arise. From the way Ruby’s hand kept drifting to her back and grasping at empty air where she’d normally have Crescent Rose holstered, Weiss knew her partner felt the same.

Yet she still insisted on moving forward.

They got to the door, the sounds of the fighting both louder in volume and quieter in frequency as they peered nervously through the crack from the door being slightly ajar. Either there were less combatants now or they were getting further away.

“Ready?” Ruby asked Weiss.

“No,” she stated flatly.

“‘Kay, let’s go.”

Ruby pushed the door open, revealing a large, dark room that looked like a small warehouse. Crates were stacked all around, making artificial lanes, some popped open to reveal… were those guns?

In the back was a pickup truck parked in front of an open garage door, small rectangular boxes stacked in the truck bed. That’s where the fighting was happening.

It was dark, most of the light in the room coming in from the open garage door, yellow rays that were probably came from streetlights out of view, so all Weiss could really make out were silhouettes. It looked… it looked like one guy with a knife was fighting three other men, one of which had a hand gun. There were… there were bodies on the floor, one of which very clearly had a pool of blood around it, though the blood looked almost black in the gloom.

“All of you, stop!” Ruby suddenly shouted.

All four of the men fighting suddenly stopped, probably out of surprise, and looked over at them. The man with the gun pointed it their way, and a strange silence settled over the room.

‘Damn it, Ruby.’

“Who’s them chicks?” one of the men men wondered aloud in a gruff, heavily accented voice.

The break in the silence seemed to prompt the hooded man back into action. He threw his knife at the man with the gun, the blade sinking into the target’s neck, the man collapsing an instant later.

Weiss flinched.

That was… he…

“HEY!” Ruby shouted. She blurred forward and slammed into the hooded man as the two friends of the gunmen both turned to do the same. She was still in her ‘rose form’ when she made contact, so the man only staggered back slightly. Ruby materialized in front of him and swung a fist, slamming it into the man’s jawbone and…

And not doing much.

The man’s head jerked a little with the impact, but then he just turned it back and looked down at Ruby. Weiss couldn’t make out his expression in the dark.

“Uh,” Ruby said, almost inaudible from across the room.

‘Crap.’

Weiss started running forward to back up her partner. One of the non-hooded men rushed to the side of the one who’d just gotten a knife in his neck and reached down to grab the gun.

‘No.’

Weiss summoned a white glyph parallel to the ground, just above the weapon, to block the man’s hand and push it away. He stumbled back as his arm was thrust back up into the air, confused.

The hooded man shook off the shock of Ruby’s tiny punch and kicked out at her. She was apparently ready for it, because she blurred red just before the kick connected. The wreath of red moved back a couple inches with the kick, probably Ruby taking a step back in her alternate dimension, then rocketed over the man’s head and landed behind him, raining petals down around him as she moved. She came back to reality there and pushed the man in the back, making him stumble forward and have to catch himself on the side mirror of the truck.

“Stop fighting!” Ruby shouted, voice an octave higher than normal, shrill and sounding far more scared than she probably meant to.

What was Weiss supposed to do? How was she supposed to help? They didn’t have a plan, she hadn’t trained for this, they didn’t kno–

The man that hadn’t reached for the gun took a step toward the hooded man and slammed his fist into the side of the guy’s face. That apparently did damage, because the hooded man was pushed into the side of the truck, and Weiss noticed a flash of pale green light on his face where the fist made contact.

Aura. He had aura.

“STOP!” Ruby shouted, rushing forward and trying to tackle the punching man, wrapping her arms around and throwing her weight into the man’s midsection.

It wasn’t enough. The man started to side shuffle with the hit, but he wasn’t getting knocked over.

Weiss summoned a small white glyph by the man’s ankle, cutting off his ability to move to the side and pushing his foot back the other way.

That did it. The man tripped and fell, smacking his head into the ground with a dull thunk, Ruby sprawling out to the side.

The hooded man took the opportunity to straighten up. He reached out to the side with one hand, toward the other side of the truck where the other man and the gunman he’d just… he’d just killed were. The knife that was in the dead man’s neck pulled out and spun back towards the hooded man, stopping a foot off to the side of his outstretched hand. He reached over and grabbed it.

Telekinesis? Or some sort of gravity Dust system worked into the knife? No, there was no purple glow.

So he had aura and a semblance he knew how to use. Was this one of those rogue huntsman Professor Rustheart had talked about?

Ruby started pushing herself to her feet, then went ‘rose form’ to hasten the process, pushing herself into a battle-ready crouch in a quick blur of petals.

As she did that, the hooded man, now armed with the knife again, tried to kneel down and stab the prone, dazed man Weiss and Ruby had tripped in one fluid motion. The quickness and unexpectedness of the attack caught Weiss off guard, and she didn’t react quickly enough. She tried to summon a glyph to shield the fallen man, but by the time it started forming, the hooded man’s hand was there, and the glyph dissipated around the obstacle.

The knife plunged into the man’s chest, all the way to the hilt.

Weiss flinched again.

That was her fault. She should have been able to save him. She hadn’t been quick enough. And it was her fault that the man was unable to protect himself in the first place. It has her glyph that had tripped him, left him concussed on the floor, defenseless.

‘…’

“NOOO!” Ruby screamed, quickly throwing a flurry of fists into the hooded man’s head and shoulder that didn’t seem to affect him all that much.

The hooded man swiped an arm out to block her as he stood, pulling the knife out of the other man’s chest. The stabbed man gasped as the blade pulled out, and a flicker of hope ignited in Weiss. He was still alive! Maybe he’d survive. The police were on their way, maybe they could help him?

The man on the other side of the truck tried to go for the gun again and Weiss summoned a large black glyph behind him. It pulled him into it, spread-eagled like he’d just run into a wall cartoon-style, and she left him there, holding the glyph in place.

Ruby gave up on trying to punch the hooded man. She blurred again, a swirl of petals obscuring them both, and suddenly she was on the man’s back, arms around his neck, trying to yank him backwards.

“Who. ARE. You?!” the man yelled, his voice a medium baritone that Weiss had been expecting to be much deeper, though she wasn’t sure why. He ran forward with Ruby on his back, then suddenly wasn’t there, morphing into a swirl of green energy that looked like thick, almost liquidy smoke with arcs of curved, white lightning flickering around it. Ruby crashed through the smoke and into the floor as the swirl of energy zipped back along the path he’d just traveled to where he had first been standing before he started running. The veridian smoke condensed and blurred, and suddenly the man was there again.

How did this guy work?!

When Ruby hit the ground, she rolled a couple times on her side with the momentum, and it looked rough–rough enough that her red aura sparked at her knees and elbows where they scraped the concrete floor.

The hooded man took a step toward her, and Weiss quickly summoned a large black glyph behind him to trap him the same way she had the other man. It worked, the man slamming back into the dark snowflake of force. As long as he didn’t–

‘Crap.’

The hooded man tried flaring his aura to resist the pull of the glyph and was able to take a heavy step forward. The glyph was still pulling, tugging on strands of the light green energy field crackling just above his skin, wavy lines of it making contact with the black surface and dissipating in motes of bright dust.

Well, at least she was shredding through a little bit of his aura.

After making sure the man on the other side of the truck was still trapped by the other glyph she was maintaining, Weiss rushed forward to Ruby to help her pick herself up.

It was getting harder to keep up the glyph she was using to hold back the hooded man. She was pouring more and more of her aura into it to pull him harder, and the outer rings were starting to spin erratically and out-of-sync with the inner rings as the glyph started to destabilize.

“Who are you?!” Ruby demanded. “Why are you doing this?!”

The hooded man took another step, hunched forward with effort like he was walking into a strong headwind.

He was strong. And Weiss was losing aura fast.

“Who are you?!” he fired back. “I’ll cut up little huntress enforcers if I need to–I already beat the twins. Get out. Of my. Way!”

With that, he threw his weight forward, the jerky motion pulling him a good foot from Weiss’ glyph. She let it drop, and the sudden lack of resistance sent the man tumbling forward, landing on his hands and knees.

There was no space between the man’s hands and the floor to summon more black glyphs to bind him, so instead Weiss summoned a large white glyph above him, parallel to the ground, and pinned him down. He slammed to the floor with a huff.

He was close enough now that Weiss could see that under his hood he was wearing what appeared to be the lower half of a ski mask, his lower face covered. His eyes were visible, though in this lighting it was hard to tell if they were grey or green or yellow.

Ruby ran up and kicked the hand that held the knife, though she wasn’t strong enough to knock it away. Green light sparked at the man’s wrist and he growled, slashing wildly out. The blade of the knife hit Ruby’s ankle, her aura flashing to protect her. She yelped, probably from surprise and fear, not pain, and leapt back, landing beside Weiss.

While the man struggled to push himself up, green aura sparkling around him as he resisted the push of Weiss’ glyph, Ruby took the break to ask the obvious question.

“What twins?”

The hooded man paused and craned his head up to try to look Ruby in the eyes. Weiss didn’t like that, and gave a brief flare of extra strength in her glyph to push the man back down. She probably shouldn’t have, she was probably something close to half spent on her aura, having only started the day at around eighty-something percent after yesterday’s fight with Ruby, but this man had just tried to cut Ruby.

“Gah!” He panted a bit as he pushed himself back up. “You’re not Junior’s?”

Ruby crossed her arms and glared. “I’m not a junior, I’m almost sixteen!”

“I–what?” the man sputtered in confusion. “I mean are you working for Junior?”

“Uh…” Ruby turned and looked at Weiss questioningly, but Weiss was so uncomfortable and unfamiliar and unprepared for this situation that all she could do was blink back, wide-eyed.

“No?” Ruby finished.

“You don’t sound so sure,” the man grunted.

“Is Junior the name of a person?” Weiss asked, her anxiety making the gears in her brain turn uncomfortably, frustratingly slowly.

And apparently that one sentence caused enough of a lapse in focus for the man to break through Weiss’ glyph. He heaved himself up, aura sparking so violently as he crashed into the glyph it looked like a detonation of monochrome fireworks, and the glyph shattered with a sound like breaking glass. The shock made her drop the glyph holding the other man, too, and he took the opportunity to slip quietly out the garage door.

Weiss let him go. Better he got away from this stabbing psychopath.

The hooded man staggered to his feet and crouched low, ready to fight, dagger held upside down in his hand.

“Yes, Junior. You know, local crime boss? Been peddling guns and drugs and women in Vale for decade?”

“Oh,” Ruby said. “Sounds like a bad guy.”

The man’s eyes narrowed and his face twisted a bit under his mask. “Yeah,” he sneered sarcastically. “Bit of a bad guy. And you’re defending his men.” He gestured to the dead or dying men scattered on the floor around the room

Weiss used the opportunity to give an actual inspection to the room and crates nearby. Guns, a mix of handguns and rifles, were visible in the couple of open wooden crates. On a far table in the corner were stacks of packets of grey powder that Weiss was fairly certain would be flake, an addictive, hard drug made from depleted Dust crystals.

“Oh,” Ruby said again. “But… wait, is that what you’re doing here? Trying to stop bad guys?”

The man waved his arms out to the side. “Duh.”

“B-but you can’t just kill them!” Ruby protested.

“Why not?”

Ruby looked at Weiss, then back at the man. “Because that just makes you a bad guy too!”

The hooded man just shrugged. “If I have to be a bad guy to make sure these assholes can’t hurt anyone ever again, I’ll do it. Now I’ll ask one more time–who are you?”

“Um. I’m Ruby. This–”

“Ruby!” Weiss shouted.

“What?!”

“Don’t tell the crazy knife killer your name!”

Ruby blinked. “Oh. Right.”

The distant sound of sirens rang out, causing them all to briefly look out the garage door opening where it was coming from.

“I’m not a crazy knife killer,” the man growled, turning back to them slowly. “If you’re not a scumbag criminal then I don’t have a problem with you.”

“We’re not criminals,” Weiss shot back at him.

“We’re huntresses!” Ruby said quickly. “We’re students at Beacon!”

“Ruby!”

Ruby flinched when Weiss shouted at her. “Agh! Sorryyy!”

“Huntresses?” the hooded man ask. “What are you doing here?”

“Great question,” Weiss muttered to herself. Ruby heard, though, and shot her a weaponized pout.

She turned back to the killer. “We were just walking around the maze thingy over there after dinner and we heard gunshots. We just came to stop the fighting and make sure everyone was okay.” She glanced around at the bodies around them, eyes stopping on the gasping man with a hole in his chest that Weiss had failed to protect. “He needs help,” Ruby said. “If I move to him, are you gonna try to stab me?”

The man heaved a deep breath, taking way too long to give an answer, in Weiss’ opinion. “No. I’m leaving. I did what I came to do.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Weiss declared, surprising herself with her ferventness. And Ruby too, apparently, from the look of surprise her partner was giving her. She cleared her throat and continued, “You’re staying here and waiting for the cops.”

The man scoffed. “I’m leaving. You can take the time to try to stop me–and you’ll fail–or you can try to save this pathetic jackass.” There was a heavy pause. “Your choice.”

Weiss looked to Ruby, unsure of what she was supposed to do. This man was clearly dangerous, and if they let him go he would certainly go on to continue killing people. Weiss was fairly certain he was the one responsible for the killings she saw on the news in the coffee shop earlier today.

On the other hand… that man was dying. And Weiss was supposed to have saved him.

She wasn’t sure he was as much of a priority now that she knew he was a criminal, but that was… that was wrong, right? He was still a person that had the right to not be left bleeding out on the dirty floor of a drug front garage. The police would arrest him and see that he sees justice, and Weiss should do her best to make sure he lives for that…. right?

“Ruby? What do we do?”

“Um. Help the bleeding guy?” she offered, her voice pitching it up and making it a question. She was doing that a lot. Self doubt?

Weiss nodded. She still felt off about that decision–it seemed like an unbalanced trade for one inferior life over another that would end many more lives–but she wasn’t confident her evaluation was sound, so she’d follow Ruby’s lead.

Plus, Ruby was the team leader. This was the kind of thing she was supposed to leave up to Ruby, right?

Ruby took a hesitant step forward, and the hooded man took a step back to match. He slowly raised his hands up, as if in surrender, and started moving backwards toward the open garage door.

“If you talk to the cops, tell them I said ‘you’re welcome’,” he said when he reached the threshold. With that, he turned and broke into a run.

Ruby rushed to the fallen, gasping man’s side. His t-shirt was thick and heavy with blood, and she let out a little whimper as she looked at the wound.

“What do I do?!” she cried out. She started unbuttoning her vest.

“What are you doing?” Weiss asked, though she already suspected she knew the answer.

“We have to stop the bleeding, right?” Ruby looked up to her, wide-eyed.

“Yes. Just… don’t use…” Weiss trailed off and searched around for a suitable bandage. She really didn’t want Ruby ruining her brand new vest.

Her eyes settled on stacks of something that looked like cloth on the far table with the drugs. Were those pillowcases?

It would have to do.

She launched herself over the truck and glyph-skated over to the table, grabbing the closest approximation she could find to a clean sheet from the stack and rushed back over to Ruby.

“Here, press this to the wound.”

Ruby whimpered again. “There’s so much blooood,” she whispered as she pressed the pillowcase to the wound gingerly with her fingers, like she was scared to touch the blood. She was squatting awkwardly too, keeping the blood on the pool from touching her slacks, though it still pooled around her boots. Weiss was silently glad she’d decided not to nag Ruby to wear her heels to dinner.  

Weiss moved to check the other other bodies lying on the ground. Four others in total, three men, one of him was the gunmen they’d watched take a throwing knife to the throat, and one woman. All of them dead, as far as Weiss could tell. She wrinkled her nose as she checked each one’s throat for a pulse, disliking the contact with a stranger’s skin, and felt nothing on any of them.

“I wish Yang was here,” Ruby said again, quietly.

“I wish I had some Dust,” Weiss lamented with her.

Well, there were guns here. Maybe they had some unlicensed Dust here too. Weiss stood and moved to check some of these crates.

“Could you heal him or something if you did?” Ruby asked, voice shaky.

“What?” Weiss said absently as she searched the crates. Guns, gun-sword hybrids that were the mass produced knockoff huntsman weapons that jammed more than they ever worked (these ones bore the stylized W of Winchester Arms), grenades, but no Dust so far. “No, but I could freeze the wound. I think that would work.”

“Oh. Yeah. Or you could cauterize the cut with fire Dust?”

“Maybe. I think there’s more to cauterizing a wound than just heat, though. I’m not sure.”

“Crap.”

Weiss turned. “What happened?”

Ruby blinked at her from where she knelt by the bleeding man. “Huh? Nothing. I just mean…” She waved a hand around. “Crap.”

“Ah. Yeah,” Weiss agreed.

“Hey, mister?” Ruby said to the man, whose ragged breaths had gotten dangerously weaker and quieter. “Mister, can you hear me?”

The sirens were getting closer now. Very close, in fact. Soon they’d be able to hand this horrible situation off to trained professionals that were supposed to handle it.

She wanted to be mad at Ruby for dragging them both into this awfulness and ruining the night they’d fixed after Blake had… Blaked out at Weiss again, but she knew she shouldn’t be. Ruby just wanted to help and be a hero, and that was what huntresses were supposed to do. According to Professor Rustheart, they’d likely have to do this kind of thing anyway. This hooded maniac probably qualified as one of the rogue huntsmen he’d talked about.

“I think you need to press harder, Ruby,” she said gently, giving up on her search for Dust and walking back to her partner’s side.

Ruby let out another whimper and pressed down with her full palm. The man coughed and winced in pain.

“I’m sorry,” Ruby said quietly.

“Help is on the way,” Weiss added. She gestured to Ruby’s shaking hands. “Do you want me to take over?”

Honestly, she didn’t want to touch the man’s blood either, but Ruby looked so distraught right now, she wanted to do anything she could to help make this easier for her.

Ruby shook her head slightly. “It’s okay. This was my idea. And blood on your princess hands would be terrible.”

Weiss wasn’t sure she understood the sentiment, but it sounded like a compliment, so she appreciated it. And it was nice to not have to touch blood.

“Hold on, Mister Criminal. Help’s almost here,” Ruby said.

That was true. The sirens sounded like they were right outside. A few moments later and they heard the stomping of boots. Bright beams of white light soon cut through the gloom through the doorway they’d entered from.

Two police officers in the grey and yellow uniforms of Vale came through the door, shouting, guns raised, followed by two more.

“HANDS UP! GET DOWN ON THE GROUND!”

“No, stop!” Ruby cried out, not moving even as Weiss raised her hands to show she was harmless. “We’re the good guys!”

“HANDS UP!” the man that had shouted repeated.

The other lead officer actually paid attention to what was going on, though. “WE NEED A GURNEY, NOW!” he shouted behind him. He rushed over to Ruby’s side and brusquely shoved her away, though she didn’t seem to care. She mostly looked relieved to be able to stumble away from the blood. Her hands were shaking as she held them over her stomach.

The first cop that shouted had his gun leveled at Ruby’s chest, and that was making Weiss even more anxious than she already was. “We’re huntresses-in-training at Beacon,” she told him, hoping the explanation would calm the man down. “We were across the street and heard gunshots and came over to help… Please stop pointing your gun at my partner.”

The cop blinked at her, unmoving. “What do you think, Mack?”

One of the cops that came in second walked closer to Weiss. “Put your gun down, Celsin. They’re just girls.”

Weiss wanted to take offense at that comment, but it was in their benefit at the moment, so she let it slide without remark. Her eyes stayed glued to the gun that was pointed at Ruby as the man slowly lowered, then holstered it.

‘Mack’ addressed Weiss as Ruby tiptoed over to them. “Officer Burt Macklin,” he introduced himself, extending a hand.

“Weiss Schnee,” Weiss responded, allowing her hand to be crushed. “This is Ruby Rose.”

“Schnee, huh?” He looked her up and down critically, and Weiss resisted the urget to shiver. “What happened?”

Ruby was too busy staring uncomprehendingly at the slick blood on her hands to contribute, so Weiss took a deep breath and steeled her nerves to answer.

“We heard gunshots from the statue garden, ran over to stop the fighting. When we got here there was a man in a hood and mask with a knife fighting these guys. He k–he killed that one when we showed up, and I wasn’t fast enough to stop him from stabbing this guy. One of these criminals got away, and he walked away too.”

Two people that looked like medical officers came in through the door carrying an unfolding gurney between the two of them. They rushed past Weiss and Ruby and Officer Macklin. One started taking care of the gasping man while the other checked the other bodies.

“You just let him walk away?”

Weiss bristled at that. It’s not like it was her and Ruby’s job to apprehend the killer anyway–it would be someday, most likely, but right now they were just students. The fact that they helped at all should be appreciated.

“We had to choose between trying to fight him without our weapons when he just showed us he has no problems with killing or trying to keep this man alive. We cho–”

“We got another live one!” the medic that had been checking the dead shouted.

“What?” Weiss blurted.

“Problem?” Officer Macklin asked suspiciously.

“I–no. I just checked the others earlier and didn’t feel a pulse on any of them.”

“Ah.” He relaxed. “When pulses get weak it can be easy to miss them. Check for breathing. If you have a mirror or glass, it’ll fog up if you place it under their nose.”

“Okay,” Weiss responded numbly.

“This hooded man. Can you describe him?”

Ruby finally spoke up. “Not a man.”

“He was definitely a man,” Weiss argued.

“No, I mean he wasn’t an adult. He was a teenager.”

“Oh?” Weiss and the officer both said at the same time.

“How could you tell?” Weiss asked.

Ruby shrugged and looked at the ground. “Just could. I got a lot closer to him than you did. He was, um, like this tall–” she held her hand up a few inches above the top of her head “–and, um, white? And I’m pretty sure he had grey eyes. It was hard to tell. And he could freaking time rewind himself!”

“What? Is that what he was doing?” Weiss asked.

“I think so. He made that knife go back to where it was when he threw it, and he got me off his back by running forward and then rewinding back.”

Weiss replayed the events Ruby was talking about in her head. “Huh. You’re right.”

Ruby gave her a small smile.

“Sounds like the guy we’re looking for,” Officer Macklin said.

Weiss nodded. Figures.

“Did he say anything? Did he talk to you at all?”

“Yeah,” Ruby said quietly. “He told us these guys are criminal dudes that do a bunch of bad stuff. He thought we worked for some guy named Junior when we first got here.”

“Really hope that’s not his actual name,” Weiss muttered.

“It’s not,” Officer Macklin responded absently.

“You know him?” Ruby asked.

“Yes.”

“He sounds like a bad guy. You might want to arrest him or something.”

The officer scoffed. “As far as ‘bad guys’ go, he’s pretty tame. Easier to handle than some of the bosses we’ve had to deal with in the past.”

“Oh.”

Weiss frowned. That didn’t sound right at all, did it? A criminal doing bad things and hurting people should be stopped, even if he hurts people less than someone else did.

It was clear from her scrunched eyebrows that Ruby felt the same, but neither said anything. An adult with an air of authority that also happened to be a policeman was more than a little intimidating.

The officer looked around the room and took in the contraband one by one. He clicked on his radio and said, “Get CSU down here.” He turned to Weiss and Ruby.

“Alright, ladies. I’m gonna need you to head up front and give your full statement to the officers there.”

“I just want to go home,” Ruby whined softly to the ground. Weiss, after a brief moment of hesitation, reached out to grab her hand, then remembered the blood and settled on wrapping her fingers around Ruby’s arm just above the elbow.

Officer Macklin watched the exchange. “Tsch. Sorry girls. Procedures. Tell ya what, when you get out there, ask for Officer Rio. Tell her Mack said to make it fast. Will you need a ride home?”

“No,” Weiss said quickly. The idea of riding in the back of a squad car was… unappealing.

“Mm. Alright. Go on, and make sure to give her your scroll IDs so we can call you if we have more questions. And Ruby, was it?”

Ruby looked up at him, wide-eyed.

“If you need to stop by the ambulance and get cleaned up, feel free. If you need to talk to someone, we can get you in to see one of our trauma counselors.”

Ruby blinked. “Uh.”

The officer smiled ruefully. “Well, think about it. Go on, and thank you, both of you, for stepping in and… yeah, stepping in.” His words were halting, unsure. Fair, as he probably hadn’t had to thank many teenage girls for fighting off a killer from a group of weapons and drug dealers before.

One of the medics zoomed past them, pushing the gurney with the man whose blood was coating Ruby’s hands.

“We could go after him,” Ruby told Weiss as they walked. “I could probably catch him.”

Weiss shook her head. “We have no idea which way he went. And it’s not our job, Ruby.”

“But it needs to be done! And we can do it when others can’t, so shouldn’t we?” She looked so torn up it made Weiss’ heart ache but she didn’t understand why.

“Not tonight,” Weiss hedged. “We’ve dealt with enough tonight.”

Ruby nodded slowly. “Yeaaah,” she sighed, exhausted.

Grateful for the agreement, Weiss nodded and looked ahead to guide them through the storefront to the outside, where the yellow and white lights of the police cars were flashing through the windows and casting everything in strange shades.

That’s when she saw it, hanging out from underneath the man on the gurney. A tail.

She stopped in her tracks.

“Weiss? What’s wrong?”

“We did all that to save a faunus?” she replied. That was ironic, considering what had been going on all day with Blake. She spent all day having to explain and justify why faunus were bad and now she went and accidently put herself and Ruby in danger trying to save one. She should have guessed the drug dealing, weapon smuggling criminal was an animal. If they ha–

“What do you mean?” Ruby asked. “Of course we would! He needed saving!”

“But he’s–”

Please don’t tell me you think we should have let him die because of something as stupid as a tail,” Ruby said, a bit of steel in her tone.

“No! No.” That’s not what she was saying. Was it? No. She just thought that… maybe… what? He should have been less of a priority? That they should have gone after the killer instead of trying to save him?

She could tell from the hard look in Ruby’s eyes that it would be bad to say that, though.

Apparently the silence was bad enough, though. Ruby huffed and pulled her arm away, starting to walk off.

“Ruby!”

Ruby whirled around, angry. “You know, Weiss, I think you’re awesome but you’re really starting to make me mad.”

“Excuse me?”

“How can you think we should have let him die?!”

“I d–”

“We’re supposed to protect people!”

“They’re not p–”

“Yes they ARE!”

Weiss balled her fists. She really didn’t like being yelled at like this. It reminded her too much of home, though the substance was inverted. Ruby seemed to realize she’d gotten loud, because she looked around quickly before dropping her voice to a hush.

“Isn’t the fact that you couldn’t even tell he was a faunus proof that they’re not all that different from humans?”

“I…”

Huh.

That was true–she hadn’t been able to tell. It was dark in that room, though, and her focus when looking at him had been the stab wound on his chest. And… and it wasn’t just about their physical differences from humans. They were mentally and emotionally animals.

“Whatever,” Ruby muttered uncharacteristically, walking off. Weiss allowed a few feet of space to separate them, then followed. Outside there were two cops standing guard and keeping concerned and/or citizens back, along with three police cars and an ambulance blocking off the entrance to the store. The tight space they made around the doors was a little claustrophobic.

Ruby headed straight for the ambulance where the secretly-a-monkey-faunus criminal was getting loaded in. Weiss went towards the two police officers.

“Officer Rio?” she asked when she was close, prompting them both to turn her way.

A man and a woman, both young adults. Likely rookies, which might be why they were out here.

“Yes?” the woman said.

“Mack–Officer Macklin told me and my partner to come ask for you to give our statements, and he said to make it fast.”

Officer Rio squinted a bit and glanced at the other officer. “And who are you?”

Weiss sighed inwardly. “I’m Weiss Schnee. My partner–” she pointed toward the ambulance, where Ruby was washing her hands off with one of the medics using a solution from some bottle “–are huntresses-in-training at Beacon. We came over when we heard gunfire to try to help.”

Rio nodded slowly and pulled out a notebook and pen from one of the many pouches on her belt.

“Child heroes, huh?” the other cop muttered sardonically.

“Heroines,” Weiss snidely corrected back.

Officer Rio waved a dismissive hand at the man. “Alright, c’mon.” She walked a few feet away, Weiss following. “Your partner get hurt?”

“No. Just got blood on her hands. She was trying to keep that… man in the ambulance from bleeding out.”

“Ah. ‘Kay.” She put pen to paper. “Walk me through exactly what happened.”

The next fifteen minutes was spent recounting events and giving descriptions, both Weiss and Ruby, when she walked over. It was mind-numbingly frustrating having to repeat everything so much, but Weiss swallowed her annoyance and followed the system.

An eternity later and Weiss and Ruby were in a car heading back to Beacon. Ruby was trying to call Yang for the third time since they left the garage.

“Why. Won’t. You. Answer. Your. Scroll?!” She punctuated each word with a punch to the screen of her scroll.

“It’s not your scroll’s fault, Ruby. Don’t ta–”

“You be quiet!” Ruby shot at Weiss.

Weiss was stunned into silence for a moment before she got angry. “Excuse me?”

“I’m mad at you,” Ruby stated bluntly. “And I don’t like being mad at you, and I’d rather just not talk to you while I’m mad ‘cause I don’t want to say something mean.”

“Why are you m–”

“Because you’re being a jerk! You’re being a big dumb jerk and I hate it ‘cause you’re really cool when you’re being not a jerk!”

“I’m n–”

“And I don’t understand why you’re being a jerk, but it’s stupid. And that makes it worse because you’re smart, so I don’t understand why you’re being stupid!” \

“Don’t call m–”

“I don’t want to! That’s why I said I don’t want to talk to you while I’m mad!”

“Stop interrupting me!”

A brief silence cut through the bickering. Ruby started snapping her scroll open and shut absentmindedly.

She sighed. “Are you going to say something mean and stupid about an entire race of people?”

“I’m not being mean or stupid!” Weiss protested.

Ruby’s head jerked back in surprise. “Okay, I’m sure you have your reasons for hating faunus, so I can see why you’d think you’re not being stupid, but how can you possibly believe you’re not being mean?”

“It’s not mean if they deserve it.”

Ruby took a deep breath. “Weiss, how would you feel if someone said they hated all white-haired people because one punched them in the face?”

“I’d say that was ridiculous and not enough data to be indicative of a group.”

Ruby blinked. “Uh. Right. Sure. So why do you think it’s okay to think that way about faunus?”

“Because there is enough data to be indicative of the group, Ruby! They’re criminals!”

“Not all of them!”

“A lot of them are!”

“Yeah, but there are a lot of faunus, Weiss. Just like there are a lot of human criminals because there are a lot of humans!”

“I… sure, but–”

“No ‘buts’, Weiss. There are a lot of really nice faunus out there. You just haven’t met enough of them to see that!”

“Maybe I haven’t met them because they don’t exist!”

Ruby turned and leaned forward earnestly. “They do, Weiss. I’ve met plenty. Do you think I’m a liar?”

Of all the confrontational things Ruby had been saying, that hit Weiss the hardest.

“Of course not! I just… I just think you can be wrong.”

Ruby groaned and turned away, smacking her head into the the car window and keeping it there. “I give up.”

“You gi–ha!” That was fresh. Ruby giving up on her. On Weiss.

“Can we just stop talking for a little bit?” Ruby asked tiredly.

“Fine.”

The silence that settled was aggravating, which was weird for Weiss because she normally liked silence. Silence was safe. Silence meant her parents weren’t screaming at her. But right now it meant Ruby was mad at her, and that felt… She felt like she must have done something really wrong to make Ruby mad at her but she hadn’t, so she was just left feeling unsettled and anxious. Backwards, that silence back home meant success but silence with Ruby meant failure.

Except she hadn’t failed!

She spent the next twenty minutes of the ride wringing her fingers and glaring at the floor next to Ruby’s feet. She would usually be enjoying the view of the city nightlife, but she couldn’t shake or rationalize away the feeling that she didn’t deserve to right now. Instead it was Ruby that gazed out the window, blankly, her head resting against the glass and softly thunking into it whenever the car hit a bump.

They got dropped off at the roundabout and walked to the dorms together in silence, a tense couple of extra feet separating them more than usual.

“I’m going to bed,” Weiss said quietly–though her voice sounded thunderously loud in her own ears–when they got to their room.

“‘Kay,” Ruby replied, just as quietly. “I’m gonna stay up and wait for Yang to get back so I can yell at her stupid face for not answering her scroll.”

“Alright.” Weiss took that to mean she had first dibs on the bathroom and starting getting ready for bed. Brushed her teeth, washed her face, changed into a nightgown. She found some now-dried specks of blood on her fingernails and spent five minutes scrubbing them clean.  

She looked at her face in the mirror. Her hair was a bit frazzled. And every time she blinked she saw flashes of the dying monkey faunus.

‘Gah!’

She stomped back out to the room. Ruby had taken her boots off and was sitting up on her bed, her legs hanging over the edge as she kicked her feet and played a game on her scroll. Her eyes didn’t have the same sparkle as they usually did. She looked unfocused, like she was looking through the scroll’s screen instead of at it.

“You okay?” Weiss asked.

“No,” was the simple response.

And Weiss didn’t know how to help.

“Try to get some sleep, Ruby. Yang and Blake will probably be out late. You can always yell at her in the morning.”

“I don’t want to close my eyes.”

Weiss sighed. “Me neither.”

“Wanna go play HR2 with me?” Ruby asked, eyes going wide with hope while her kicking feet stilled.

It took just a moment of looking at that face for Weiss to melt.

“Sure.”

“Yay,” Ruby cheered weakly, hopping down.

“One request, though?”

Ruby froze. “Yeah?”

“Can we not do any levels with the White Fang in them?” She had had enough conflict over faunes for the day. She really didn’t want to risk provoking any more.

Ruby relaxed. “Yeah. Yeah, that sounds fair.”

“Thanks.”

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2 thoughts on “Thaw – 2.5

  1. Looking forward to how you write the transformation from naive “killing criminals makes you the villain” to throwing white fang into grimm from a moving train, and walking across a continent hunting the people who murdered her friends to do her own revenge killing.

    Shifts in morality like that are rarely done well (and entirely glossed over in the show) but I gots faith in your writing.

    Like

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