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i don't know what to do without you (i don't know where to put my hands)

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Yang falls asleep first.

They are curled in a haphazard pile on the couch in their Haven apartments, just the two of them. The rest of the group retired to their rooms after dinner, leaving the sisters to talk. Ren understood that they might want some time alone, but Nora had been impressively oblivious to every unspoken cue. Eventually Jaune and Ren had bodily carried her out of the room, her shrieks of laughter fading as they retreated down the hall.

But now, hours later, after dozing through a half-hearted movie marathon, Yang slumps heavy against Ruby’s shoulder, hair a muss of curls, hands tangled fast around Ruby’s wrist. She is illuminated by the stale, blue light of her scroll, the screen left playing videos on a loop, and Ruby studies her face in the pale glow. She watches the flicker of Yang’s eyes beneath her lids, the warm swell of her cheek pressed messily against the sleeve of Ruby’s pajamas.

Ruby can’t stop herself from raising her hand to trace a careful line down the bridge of Yang’s nose, curling her fingers at the hard line of her jaw. Yang murmurs sleepily, masking a yawn against the curve of Ruby’s neck. Ruby swallows hard. Some part of her was sure that she would never see Yang again, thought that their last memories of each other would be framed in the empty doorway back in Patch. And then, against all odds, here they are again, curled close on a couch just after midnight, halfway across the world, moonlight seeping in watery ripples through a parted window.

Ruby wriggles out from beneath Yang, careful not to wake her. She props a pillow under her head, tucking a knitted throw around her shoulders. There’s a book wedged in Yang’s back pocket, boxy and obvious, the same one she’s been carrying since she got to Mistral, and Ruby is careful not to displace it. It’s a well-loved paperback, the pages dog-eared and water-warped, and Ruby recognizes it as one of Blake’s weathered novellas she used to tuck in her nightstand at Beacon.

Yang carries it around like nobody else notices, never reading it, just flipping through the pages when she thinks no one is looking, fingering the edges carefully.

Ruby knows better than to say anything.

Ruby watches her for a moment longer and finds herself instinctively counting her breaths, finding comfort on her exhales. She should retreat the bedroom that she and Weiss are sharing, but she feels restless, energy itching under her skin, thrumming low in her belly.

Weiss is so close, just a hallway away, and Ruby can practically feel her aura from here.

Somehow that makes it worse.

**

When Weiss and Yang arrived in Haven, Weiss tried to insist that Ruby and Yang share the bedroom, settling onto the couch like it would end the argument. Yang had heaved her over her shoulder easily and carried her writhing protests into the bedroom.

In that moment, Ruby close behind, Yang’s smile familiar and easy, they nearly forget the two empty chairs at the dinner table.

Ruby, Weiss, and Yang explored Mistral together.

Weiss fell in love with the architecture: a city built into the mountains, dissected by thin, sheeted waterfalls and crumbling stone ruins. She clung fast to Ruby arm, delivering breathy lectures about bilateral symmetry and the significance of the sweeping, upturned eves. Buildings of plaster and stone cling to the mountainsides like living things, with bright clay roofs and interconnecting bridges that pitch and sway amid the sprawling bruise of the valley.

Ruby swears that the city breathes.

Ruby loves the vendors best—the sprawl of wooden tents and peddlers tucked between open-air courtyards and cobbled paths. She sampled tropical fruit and wicked curved blades and fragrant, sharp perfumes until she felt sick from overstimulation, dragging Weiss from cart to cart until they are dizzy with laughter. Yang trailed behind, basking in the lush, equatorial heat, stripped to a thin tank-top and her wild toss of hair.

They explored like it would keep them too busy to miss her.

And sometimes it did.

But then they would pass a stall overflowing with hardbound novels, or a girl that that walks like Blake did, all hip and sway, and Yang’s face would turn sullen and Weiss would go blank and Ruby would be left to try to fit everything back together.

**

Ruby pads quietly toward the kitchen, the wide-grained hardwood cool beneath her bare feet. She opens the fridge, wincing at the static hum of fluorescence, studying the shelves vacantly and basking in the chill, a reprieve from the sticky Mistral humidity. A voice startles her away from the open door, and she slams it shut instinctively, blinking away the small novas of light left in her retinas.

“Can’t sleep?”

It’s Weiss, leaning lightly in the kitchen doorway. She’s backlit by shadow, but moonlight from the parted curtains saturates her hair in slivers of silver, highlighting her arched cheekbones and the porcelain line of her chin. Even like this—sleep rumpled and half-way through a yawn—Ruby feels that familiar tug of enchantment at the sight of her, a magnetism that pulls her to center, Weiss her north.

Ruby tries to play it cool, propping her shoulder against the fridge in a move she hopes looks indifferent. “Not really.” She shrugs. “Just hungry I guess.”

Weiss nods, chancing a small step forward. “I figured. I woke up and you weren’t there so—”

Ruby studies her more closely. She looks pale and small against the wide, vacant backdrop of the house. Her sleepshirt is too big for her, the hem brushing the tops of her thighs, baggy across her chest and shoulders. Ruby looks closer and squints, finding the insignia of Patch across the breast, and wait—

“Hey, isn’t that my shirt?”

Even in the dark, Ruby can see Weiss blush, pinking all the way to the tips of her ears.

Weiss tries for a glare, but it comes out more like a kittenish pout, her comfy shirt and long bare legs neutralizing any intimidation tactics she has left. “It’s not like I have any spare clothes,” she says, still trying to frown, brow creasing. “I lost all my luggage in the crash.” She shrugs, biting at her lip, looking a little sheepish now. “I had to make do.” Then, as an afterthought—“I’m sorry.”

Ruby grins, feeling lighter than she has all night. Weiss, here, beautiful and starlit in an empty midnight kitchen, wearing her t-shirt and standing close enough that Ruby can see the hot flush that that clings along the careful line of her neck. It’s enough to make Ruby a little dizzy.

“Don’t apologize,” she says. “It looks good on you.” Her smile widens, and she steps closer until she can raise her chin above Weiss’s head. Weiss, flatfooted, is only level with her forehead. “It’s a little big on you though. I grew.”

Ruby expects Weiss to argue, maybe even try to one up her, but instead she smiles, looking almost flustered, biting at her lip. “I noticed.”

And oh. Ruby hadn’t expected that.

Weiss moves closer, tilting her chin up, an arm reaching to snake around Ruby’s waist, and for a second Ruby thinks that—

But Weiss is just moving around her to reach the fridge, nudging Ruby out of the way with her hip, popping open the fridge door and leaning down to look inside. “You’re taller, Ruby. It hasn’t escaped me.”

Her tone is back to business, verging on blustery, and Ruby visibly deflates, rubbing at the back of her neck.

“Well, yeah.” She leans closer to gauge Weiss’s reaction. “It’s nice to beat you in something.”

Weiss scoffs, retreating from the fridge with some containers in hand. “Don’t act so humble.” She slams the door shut, turning on her heel to face her, and suddenly they are impossibly close. Weiss’s breath is warm against her lips and that flush is back, a molten crawl across both cheeks. “You’ve always been able to hold your own.” She spins away from Ruby, setting the plastic cups on the counter before glaring at her from over her shoulder. “But I’m still better.”

Weiss busies herself at the counter, prying off the lids of what Ruby now recognizes as broth, before arching onto tiptoe to reach over her head to the high cabinets. Ruby immediately moves to help, absently fitting behind her, and Weiss hisses an admonishment, bullying her away with her hips.

“I got it.” Another glare, this time paired with a light shove. “I’m just a few inches shorter, not an invalid.”

The hem of her shirt rides up as she reaches, revealing more leg, and Ruby tries not to stare. She can’t quite help herself as the tee rides higher, all tapered thigh and creamy skin. She leans closer when she glimpses the knotted ridge of a scar, a raised line of braided muscle offset from her pale skin. Ruby hisses in sympathy, reaching to brush it on impulse. Weiss catches her movement and yelps, nearly fumbling the saucepan in her grip. She bats at Ruby with her left hand, settling the pan onto the stove with her right.

“Ruby,” her voice a squeak, “Don’t!”

Ruby pulls back like she’s been scalded, clutching her hands close to her chest. “Sorry,” she says, averting her eyes, “I just hadn’t seen that one before.”

Weiss pinches her mouth tight, and Ruby almost doesn’t recognize the hardness that settles at her jaw. “It’s fresh.” She tugs at the hem of the shirt, covering the scar.

Realization hits Ruby like a punch in the gut and she clenches her jaw tight, feeling the muscles pop and grind.

“Did he do this?”

Weiss turns to face her, embarrassed now, sucking her lip into her mouth, worrying it with her teeth. “It was just training.” Her face softens, and she reaches out a careful hand, soothing her fingers down the clenched muscles in Ruby’s jaw, massaging her tension loose. “I’m a big girl, Ruby, I can take care of myself.”

Ruby exhales loudly through her nose, leaning harder into Weiss’s touch. She hesitates, checking Weiss’s face for permission, before fitting her hands over the notches of Weiss’s waist, pulling her into a loose hug.

“Remember, though,” Ruby says, a huff in her ear, catching Weiss’s shiver against her chest, “I’m bigger.”

Weiss wriggles away from the hug with a quiet laugh, shoving at Ruby’s shoulder before banishing her to the center island.

Ruby retreats with a heavy sigh, boosting herself onto the counter so she can face Weiss at the stove, her legs dangling. Weiss sneaks a glance out of the corner of her eye, embarrassed when Ruby catches her, and turns back to the saucepan with a huff. She busies herself with the burner, watching the coils stoke to a coal-bright orange, settling the pan on the stove before dumping in the soup to reheat.

Ruby hums with interest when Weiss reaches for a medley of spices from the rack mounted over the tile splashguard. “I didn’t know you could cook.”

Weiss waves her hand dismissively, but Ruby can see her mouth quirk into a small pleased smile. “It’s just soup, Ruby.” She turns her back to Ruby, running a hand through the hair that hangs long and loose down her back. Ruby watches her fingers catch in a few snarled tangles and chokes down a well of longing. She wishes it was her hands catching in Weiss’s hair, and the desire of it all hits her hard in her chest, burning low in her stomach. The feeling is an unfamiliar simmer and she wriggles uncomfortably on the counter, trying to regain her balance.

Weiss clocks the heat to a low burn, stirring in slow strokes with a wooden spoon she produces from a drawer under the lip of the counter. She turns to Ruby, spoon held gingerly over a cupped palm, and closes the space between them. Ruby watches her approach in a daze, she keeps getting caught on her lips, on the shape of her breasts beneath her shirt, on the angled cut of her calves.

Now that she has started looking she can’t seem to remember how to stop.

Weiss offers her the spoon and Ruby’s gaze drifts to her hands, long fingers curled around the shaft of the wooden handle, her other hand hovering at Ruby’s lips. Ruby leans in on instinct, taking the spoon in her mouth, tongue flicking past her teeth, and she watches Weiss’s pupils dilate and darken.

“Good?” Weiss asks, halved by a stutter.

Ruby licks her lips. “Great.”

Weiss doesn’t move from her place in front of her, drifting closer until she is sandwiched between Ruby’s thighs. Ruby can feel her warmth against the insides of her legs, the thrill of it radiating between her thighs. Weiss abandons the spoon on the counter, excess broth pooling on the cool stone. She doesn’t seem to notice, her hands raising to tangle in Ruby’s hair.

“Did you miss me?” she asks, hushed, scratching a long stroke against Ruby’s scalp.

“So much,” Ruby says, leaning harder into the touch.

Weiss tilts in closer until their foreheads knock, noses pressed close. Weiss stays there for a long moment, her exhales catching at Ruby’s mouth, smelling like detergent and soap and the lingering remnants of cartridge dust, warm and gunpowder sharp.

Ruby cups her palm carefully over Weiss’s cheek, feeling her shudder in response. “You’re warm,” Ruby says lowly, “I thought you were supposed to be cold.”

Weiss laughs. The sound of it, bright and so close, sparks in Ruby’s chest like the chains of silver fairy lights Weiss used to string around their dorm for the holidays. “Don’t believe everything you hear, Ruby Rose.”

A low hiss brings them back to the kitchen, to the dim fluorescence of the overhead lights and the sticky heat of the Haven apartment, its windows open to the vast stretch of city. The pot is boiling over, the broth hitting the stove and evaporating into an angry cloud of steam. Weiss hurries to move it off the cooktop. Ruby immediately misses the warmth of her hands and hops off the island to follow.

“So does this mean you missed me, too?” She leans against the counter at Weiss’s side, tangling her shirt in her fist and jostling her in that way that always earns a glare.

“Don’t count on it,” Weiss says, high and haughty, but she’s grinning when she turns to face her, her eyes a pale, careful blue, cat sharp and narrowed. “I missed Yang more.”

Ruby feels a familiar jolt of jealousy and pitches into a whine. “But I’m your partner.” She draws the last syllable long and Weiss claps a hand over her mouth, fumbling to turn off the heat with her free hand. Ruby keeps talking against Weiss’s palm, her words muffled and wet. “It’s because she’s taller, isn’t it?”

Weiss wrenches her hand away with a faint noise of disgust, wiping it on her borrowed shirt. “It’s because she isn’t so obnoxious.”

“Hey!” Ruby feigns offense, pressing in closer until she can drop her chin on Weiss’s shoulder, miming a bite at her neck. “I’m not the one making soup at one in the morning.” She pauses, watching Weiss stir the soup thoughtfully before dolling out a portion into a small ceramic bowl. “Why are you making soup anyway?”

Weiss turns to her as if it’s obvious, holding the bowl in her cupped palms. “Because you were hungry, you idiot.”

It’s so unexpected, this small kindness, with Weiss looking lovely and fragile, cast in the pooled shadow from high-mounted cabinets, her arms extended before her. Her hands are cradled lengthwise, the heel of her palm to fingertips, and she looks up at Ruby from under slanted lashes. There something reverent in the dip of her chin, something careful and small.

“Oh,” Ruby says, hushed.

Weiss looks breakable, for a single breath stripped bare, her eyes remarkably pale and almost translucent. Ruby imagines for a moment that she can see all the way to her circuitry. A machine with a veneer of glass, the schematics too complex for even Ruby, who can strip Crescent Rose to the bones in two minutes flat, to understand.

But then Weiss shifts closer, transferring the bowl to Ruby’s hands, the soup hot through the porcelain, and she is unbearably human. Ruby stands stock-still, like any sudden move will startle Weiss from the kitchen, doe-eyed and uncertain. But it’s Weiss who shuffles forward, holding Ruby’s gaze carefully before her eyes cut to her lips and back.

Ruby doesn’t have enough time say thank you before Weiss kisses her. It’s a short thing, careful, a quick press of closed mouths, warm and fleeting. Ruby forgets to close her eyes, forgets to move her hands, still trapped by the cumbersome bulk of the bowl.

The first thing she registers is the nudge of Weiss’s nose at her cheek, the sweet taste of her mouth, then the cold absence as Weiss pulls away. Her cheeks are pink, lips parted, and she only meets Ruby’s eyes for a brief flustered beat before she flees for the doorway.

“I’ll leave you to eat,” she says quickly, giving a terse nod before turning heel and striding back toward the bedroom, flicking off the light on her way out.

Ruby stays frozen in the kitchen, lit only in moonlight and the ghostly wash of Yang’s scroll from the adjoining room.

She licks her lips and imagines she can still taste Weiss there, feels power and electricity spark sheer against her skin, the electric pulse of her aura, bone deep and aching. Her heart thunders and Yang snores quietly in the far room and somewhere, outside the walls of the sprawling Haven apartment, the world is still turning.

Her soup turns cold, but Ruby Rose doesn’t notice at all.

**

Ruby spends too long at the sink. She holds the bowl under the tap until the water runs cool, scrubbing in robotic circular motions. She drank the broth in a similar daze, perched on the lip of the counter, replaying the kiss over and over until she wore the memory smooth.

She’s almost convinced it was a dream, a foggy midnight delusion, but the smell of Weiss’s perfume lingers in the doorway, and Ruby can still feel the burn of her fingertips against her cheek.

She checks on Yang one last time, dimming the scroll but leaving it running on low. She knows how much Yang hates to wake up alone. She brushes a kiss at her temple, smiling as Yang stirs, settling deeper into the plush of the couch.

“Night, Yang,” she whispers. She imagines she hears a mumble in return.

The walk to the bedroom is agonizing, but as soon as she pushes through the cracked door a calm settles slow around her. The thing is that this—coming back to a room every night with Weiss sleeping a few feet away, Yang just down the hall—is more like home than anything. Despite the different layout, two twin beds against opposite walls, the room divided by a low shelf and two large windows, it feels so familiar that Ruby aches.

Because—there’s Yang’s boots kicked off inside the door, inexplicably muddy despite the season’s dry heat. Weiss’s hairpiece is propped on the bedside table, dress and jacket folded carefully over the back of the chair, her white tulle petticoat draped over the seat. The room smells like her, like them, like Yang’s fruity, citrus shampoo and Weiss’s stash of dust and the buttery warmth of her post-shower skin.

Ruby can see the shape of Weiss beneath her covers, but her face is turned toward the wall, body too ridged to be asleep. Ruby hovers inside the doorway before she steels herself, taking a careful step toward Weiss’s bed.

“Weiss,” she whispers, walking close enough to put her hand over the round of Weiss’s shoulder, feeling her heat through the thin blanket. “Are you awake?”

Weiss makes a groggy noise of annoyance, and rolls to face Ruby, covers pulled high under her chin. She looks so vulnerable like this, blinking up at Ruby slowly. The room is dark. The windows face west, so no moonlight can reach the room, but the pooled refraction from the streetlights outside are enough to see by. It looks like Weiss has been crying. Any half-assembled plans flee when Ruby sees her, the skin beneath her eyes pink and swollen, her mouth breakable as glass.

“Can I get in bed with you for a while?” Ruby blurts, immediately regretting it at the flitted shock across Weiss’s face, biting her tongue hard.

Their first semester at Beacon, when Ruby was still fragile and fourteen, too homesick to sleep, a reluctant Weiss used to let her crawl under her covers when her restless fidgeting in the bunk above became too much of annoyance.

“I suppose we are partners,” Weiss had said then, reflexively curling against Ruby’s heat, tucking her into the groove of her hips. “Ozpin said we had to get used to being a part of team.”

Ruby, cuddled under the jut of Weiss’s sharp chin, the sheets smelling unfamiliar and girlish, had thought that might not have been what Ozpin meant. But she always slept better there, until the homesickness faded and, little by little, she stopped needing it at all.

She told herself later that if she missed it, like unnaturally achingly missed it, it was just because they were a team, right?

But now she’s running out of excuses.

Weiss leaves her waiting, the silence so palpable that the air feels thick. Ruby thinks if Weiss doesn’t answer her soon she is going to be crushed under the weight of her hesitation. Like Atlas, the whole world of Weiss’s uncertainty pressing against her back.

Ruby feels the need to argue her case. “I can’t sleep?” The words tilt into a question, but Weiss gives in before Ruby can try again.

She throws back the blankets quickly, drawing up her bare knees carefully. “Fine. Come on.”

Ruby sighs, relieved, carefully sliding under the covers.

She keeps her distance at first, wriggling until she settles into the downy soft of the sheets, burrowing instinctually toward Weiss’s warmth. Ruby settles when Weiss turns on her side to face her. Ruby mirrors her in profile until their edges align, brow to nose to chin, their knees curled up, almost touching.

Usually, Weiss won’t let Ruby look at her. She squirms away from her attention, tossing her bangs over her eyes or batting at Ruby with a textbook when she stares too long over mid-morning study sessions. But tonight, in the cavernous dark of the empty room, Weiss lets her look.

It’s hot under the covers, sweat pricks under Ruby’s arms, at the back of her knees, and she can see a similar sheen at Weiss’s hairline. When she moves closer it isn’t intentional. It’s the same draw she felt earlier in the kitchen, involuntary, something bone deep and inevitable.

Back before Signal, before Beacon, Yang used to take Ruby into their backyard to play. It was mostly dirt, patchy clumps of grass clinging to life and the occasional rainfall, weeds sprouting through the splintering wood of the back deck. It was small, sparse, but to Ruby it was her whole world. Yang, fire-bright and young, would chase her around the yard. They played Grimm and Huntress, and when Ruby speared her with faux swords of thin sapling branches and long-stemmed grass she always played dead for just the right amount of time before tickling Ruby to a hard-fought defeat.

Ruby remembers Yang taking her into the neighboring cornfields with a wide rimmed bowl of water, secreting a fridge magnet, a needle and a cork away from the kitchen. They hid among the tall stalks, crouched low under the yellowed, paper-thin husks. She showed Ruby how to rub the metal needle along the magnet, skewering the cork with small, baby-soft fingers.

They floated the needle and cork in the still, pooled water, and Ruby watched wide-eyed as the cork righted itself in the bowl, rotating to a careful, precise stop. Yang had told her that it could show her north. That if she was ever lost, she only had to follow the needle and she would find her way home.

Now, suspended in the quiet of the warm, liquid Mistral night, Ruby feels herself align and sharpen. She is four years old again, crouching in the neat, square patch of her entire universe, and she knows exactly where to go.

This time when they kiss Ruby remembers to close her eyes.

Ruby goes in too hard, overeager and determined, and they knock foreheads clumsily, their noses smooshing together at the awkward angle. Weiss’s teeth jar at Ruby’s bottom lip, and Ruby yelps, drawing back quickly. Weiss is staring at her in a flushed daze, brow knit tight, pupils wide and dark and helpless.

“I’m so sorry,” Ruby whispers. Her embarrassment is an acid burn in her stomach and she closes her eyes tight, screwing them shut like the pitch-dark of her eyelids will render her invisible. She feels fourteen again, clumsy and stupid, letting Weiss down in their first battlefield excursion because she can’t remember the steps to the intricate, tactical dance.

But. She feels something cool against her cheek. It’s Weiss’s hand, tucking her hair reverently behind her ear, stroking lightly at the soft down of her temple.

“Let’s try that again,” Weiss whispers, her voice silky low. Ruby was sure she knew every variable of Weiss’s voice—from her high, pitched anger to her slurred husk before bed—but this is something new.

Though she still hasn’t opened her eyes, she feels Weiss lean forward, her breath warm against her cheeks. Weiss drops a kiss on first one eyelid, than the other, dragging her lips to Ruby’s temple, down her jaw. Ruby feels her acid embarrassment temper and cool, moving steadily lower until it settles into a throbbing ache low in her tummy.

“Open your eyes,” Weiss murmurs. Ruby hesitates, feeling sure that when she does, everything is going to change. She is back to her second day at Beacon, meeting Weiss’s eyes across a clearing in that Grimm filled forest, bound forever by a single glance.

Ruby opens her eyes.

Weiss is impossibly close. Ruby can see every individual eyelash, blonde and fine, watches them brush her cheek when Weiss blinks slow. She finds the ghostly dusting of freckles across the bridge of Weiss’s nose, powdered along her high, arched cheekbones. Ruby likes to think that Weiss’s freckles exist just for her. She’s almost certain she is the only person Weiss ever lets close enough to see them.

Weiss swallows hard. Ruby watches the movement in her throat, the flutter of her pulse under the translucent skin of her neck. Her neck is fractured by pale blue veins, by scars that dip below the collar of her shirt, arching and winding up the nape of her neck. It’s Ruby who leans in this time, pressing her mouth to the hollow of Weiss’s throat. It’s not quite a kiss, more a crush of nose and lips, enough that she can smell her, the residual musk of her perfume, the sharp bite of sweat.

Weiss hums low in her throat, almost a growl, and Ruby feels it reverberate against her mouth.

She tries for a kiss, puckering her lips against Weiss’s skin with a smack. Weiss’s hum sounds more like a laugh this time and Ruby grins against her throat, pleased. She smells so good and Ruby wants more of it, wants this ache, this animal need, to swallow her whole. She licks at Weiss’s neck tentatively, tasting sweat and skin until Weiss jars away, startled.

“Ruby?” she says, half-way through a laugh. “That’s disgusting.”

Ruby shrugs, full body, liking the feeling of her hitched shoulders rubbing at Weiss’s arm. “You taste good.”

“Oh my god,” Weiss says. Her cheeks bloom a brilliant impossible pink, freckles standing out stark against her cheeks. “Jesus, Ruby.” A beat. “Try it again,” she raises a finger to touch it over her own pulse. “Here.”

Ruby obliges eagerly, opening her mouth and swallowing a kiss against Weiss’s skin. She sucks carefully, letting her teeth scrape over the rapid hummingbird flutter of her pulse. Weiss inhales shakily, her hand tightening at the back of Ruby’s neck, pressing her face closer against her throat.

Ruby moves lower, dragging her mouth from Weiss’s pulse to her collarbone, huffing eager, humid sighs against her chest. She pulls away when she reaches the hemline of Weiss’s shirt, already overheating through her thin, cotton PJs, the fabric sticking to her flushed skin. Every sensation is magnified. The tips of her fingers feel tingly and hot, and she is sure she can feel every individual notch in her spine.

Strawberry love bites trail down the pale bow of Weiss’s neck. The ones nearest to Weiss’s pulse, where Ruby sucked hardest, are already darkening into lip-stained bruises. Ruby likes it. Ruby likes it so bad she thinks she’s going to combust. The pressure in her tummy has moved lower, the throb this delicious aching thing. Weiss’s head is thrown back against the pillows, eyes glazed and heavy-lidded.

Ruby rolls away from her, sitting up in bed and tugging at the bottom of her shirt, trying to remember how to breathe. Weiss sits up too, pinning her with this fixed, feral look. She pulls Ruby’s hands away from her shirt, fitting them against her waist instead, throwing a leg over Ruby’s thigh and settling on Ruby’s lap.

And oh, oh, there’s this kind of friction as Weiss squirms in her grasp and Ruby is suddenly all too aware that Weiss isn’t wearing pants, just Ruby’s oversized t-shirt and this hungry, canine-sharp smile. Ruby wraps her arms around Weiss’s back, pulling her closer, eyes catching on her mouth, on the pink, wet of her tongue.

Weiss feels so small in her arms like this, her bones this fragile bird-hollow. Ruby traces the jut of her shoulder blades through her shirt, playing her fingers along their sharp edges carefully.

“I’m going to kiss you now,” Weiss says quietly, staring at Ruby hard, the way she always does before they start some elaborate battle maneuver. “Okay?”

Ruby nods then freezes, worried her movement will recreate the disaster of her last kissing attempt. She goes still, tilting her chin up in supplication, closing her eyes.

She shouldn’t have worried. This time, when they kiss, it’s something close to perfect.

Weiss leans down from her perch on Ruby’s lap to meet her mouth, hands cradling Ruby’s jaw, tilting her head just so, her nose pressing at Ruby’s cheek. They start slow, close mouthed nudges, lip to lip. Weiss hums happily, her fingers flexing against Ruby’s skin. She settles more firmly into Ruby’s lap, and though Ruby is almost sure the intention was innocent, it pushes her hips in this slow, excruciating grind. Ruby gasps, her mouth falling open, and Weiss licks into her mouth eagerly.

It’s electric. A hum of energy bolts from the press of their tongues to the throb between Ruby’s legs. She kisses back, another shock of tongue, an involuntary roll of her hips, and Weiss breaks away with this high, animal keen.

Ruby finds her eyes in the dark. There is barely any blue, just wide, black pupil, and Ruby feels a shiver of satisfaction at the sheen of sweat at Weiss’s temples. Weiss has shifted to straddle her thigh, and Ruby realizes she can feel her slick against her leg, even through her thin, cotton panties, and she flushes red, heat spreading to her chest.

Weiss tilts closer to pant hard against Ruby’s mouth, her eyes drifting shut, one hand falling from Ruby’s jaw to splay wide above her chest. Her fingertips settle at the notch of Ruby’s collarbone, the heel of her palm grazing the top of Ruby’s breasts. Ruby angles her head to smooth a kiss over the warm round of Weiss’s cheek. Her hands trail to cup at the back of Weiss’s thighs, and she feels the raised scar she saw earlier in the kitchen against her palm. She arches to kiss light at the thin red line that bisects Weiss’s eye, dragging her mouth from cheek to jaw.

Her gaze catches on a glint at Weiss’s ear, small, studded earrings refracting the yellowed lamp light from the street-side window. Ruby realizes with a shock that Weiss is wearing the earrings that Ruby bought earlier in the week at a street vendor, an impulsive purchase on a particularly clear blue day. They are nothing like the quality of jewelry that Weiss usually wears, common silver and synthesized gemstones, but when Ruby had pressed the gift into Weiss’s palm she had flushed a devastating red. At the time, Ruby chalked it up to sunburn. Ruby didn’t know that Weiss even kept them.

“Your earrings,” she murmurs against her cheek. Weiss shivers at Ruby’s voice so close to her ear, whining a fairly unintelligible response, and Ruby feels a bolt of inspiration, leaning forward to take Weiss’s ear lobe into her mouth, suckling at the metal stud.

Weiss shudders, arching against Ruby’s thigh, and her fingers tighten across her chest. Ruby is sure Weiss’s grip will leave bruises, and something in her thrills at the idea: Weiss’s fingerprints staining her skin.

“We need to stop,” Weiss says.

Ruby pulls back, frowning, loosening her tight grasp at Weiss’s back. “Why?”

Weiss laughs, breathy and girlish, shaking her head as she moves to swing off of Ruby’s lap. Ruby’s grip tightens, keeping her there, and Weiss laughs again.

She strokes at Ruby’s bicep, momentarily distracted, running a finger along lean, roped muscle until she reaches Ruby’s hand. She grips her fingers loosely, stroking lazily along the ridge of callouses on Ruby’s palm before she seems to remember the question.

“Because if we keep going,” Weiss says, pausing between words to press kisses against the crown of Ruby’s head, her eyebrows, the tip of her nose, “things are going to—” she trails off, waving her hand in a vague flapping motion.

“Would that be so bad?” Ruby asks.

Weiss gasps dramatically, batting at Ruby’s hair with her hand. “Ruby Rose,” she slides a glance toward the doorway, and Ruby remembers for the first time where they actually are. “I’m not deflowering you twenty feet away from your sleeping sister.”

Ruby laughs, a loud bark, and Weiss clamps a hand over her mouth, shushing her. Ruby keeps talking anyway. “Deflowering me?” Her words are muffled against Weiss’s hand for the second time that night, and she pauses to press a kiss against her palm. “I’m not a character in one of Blake’s raunchy sex books.” Weiss pulls her hand away, still frowning, and Ruby leans in to kiss away the creases in her brow. “But I get your point.”

“Thank you,” Weiss says, trying to sound huffy while simultaneously pressing closer for more attention.

Ruby obliges, before—“I like kissing you.”

Weiss tucks her chin to her chest, patting down her mussed hair shyly. “I like it, too.” She swings her leg off of Ruby lap and Ruby lets her this time, propping herself back on her elbows while she watches Weiss settle under the covers. “But we should sleep. It’s been a long day.”

Ruby pulls a face but follows her lead, tucking herself back under the blankets. She can still feel the wet of Weiss against her thigh, can smell Weiss’s heat and sweat and perfume. She shifts uncomfortably, unfamiliar with the slick, wet between her own legs, and Weiss watches her curiously.

“What’s wrong?”

Ruby wriggles closer, slipping her hand under the hem of Weiss’s shirt—her shirt—stroking her fingertips lightly around the notch of her hip. “I’m all achy.” She shrugs. “And kinda wet down there.”

Weiss’s face blanks so fast that Ruby worries she broke her. She prods at her hipbone like she’ll find a reset button.

“Oh my god,” Weiss says finally. Then, decisively, “maybe we should kiss for a little bit longer.”

Ruby grins, watching Weiss’s eyes drop to her lips. “If you think it will help.”

Weiss rolls on top of her, tangling their legs. She settles her weight onto Ruby until they lay chest to chest, hip to hip. Ruby can feel the weight of her breasts through her shirt, the fabric rubbing at her nipples, her thigh sliding between her legs. Weiss swallows her moan with a kiss.

They kiss until the moon crosses from the east, silver light fracturing the bedroom, pooling in the mussed sheets. The last thing Ruby remembers before she falls asleep is the taste of Weiss’s mouth and the moon, crawling back toward the horizon.

**

Later, after the sun, Yang finds them curled close in a single twin bed.

She knows better than to say anything.

Instead she dogpiles on top of them, digging her fingers into Ruby’s ribcage until she yelps, bullying Weiss into the kitchen to help her make eggs and toast that they’ll eat cross-legged on the bedroom floor.

They spend the better part of the morning in the marketplace, losing themselves in narrow, kudzu-choked verandas and vast, gilded temples. Ruby tugs Weiss down empty alleys and behind gaudy, marbled fountains to kiss her breathless and messy and young.

In the evening, when the shadows are long and thin, the three of them retreat back to the hard packed dirt of the training arena and look out over the city. Weiss tucks herself into Ruby’s side, Ruby’s arm encircling her hips. Yang leans at Weiss’s other side, a hand on her shoulder, frowning at the horizon. Ruby splays a wide palm over the thin taper of Weiss’s waist, fingertips stroking at her stomach.

Ruby thinks about scars and compasses and the way Weiss gasps when she kisses her just so, while Weiss considers wide, cobbled courtyards and gables and the careful tilt of Ruby’s smile. Yang squints across the city toward the bay, watching boats pull into the distant, blue harbor.

Her fingers flex, drumming lightly at the curve of Weiss’s neck in a nervous tick that Ruby knows means she is waiting for something.

They will stay there shoulder to shoulder until the sun caps the distant, peaked mountains and then a little longer, just because.