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point of measure

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|| present ||

The invitation comes in a bundle of correspondence about textile samples and production quotes.

It’s the color that catches Coco’s attention. She pulls the frosty blue envelope out of the stack and studies the sterling white lettering that spells out her name. The snowflake emblem in the corner speaks for itself, making a return address all but insulting. She uses her thumb to rip open the seal. Inside she finds an expensive bit of cardstock. It shines on the edges with decorative silver accents and stylized cutaways.

With great honor, the Schnee Family cordially invites you to attend…

Coco glances through the details and sets it aside. Her fists tighten, release, and then tighten again. She stands from her desk and heads into her private workroom. Racks of clothing surround each wall. Some are complete and waiting for the perfect occasion. Some are concepts she hasn’t quite settled on. Others are experimentations with fabric, colors, techniques.

Attending the Schnee event would be a mistake. Coco knows she isn’t in the mood or state of mind to deal with the Atlesian elite as they make a production of honoring the victims and survivors of the tragedy at Beacon, or whatever they want to call it. A pantomime that Coco wants no part of.

Not attending would be a snub and it would not go unnoticed. Her attendance at Beacon Academy has not made her immune to the pressures of high society. Her mother will have received her own invitation, and with the subtle competition between their families, she will expect Coco to be the answer to Jacques’ obvious bid to monetize on the Fall of Beacon.

Look, look, an Adel was there, too.

An Adel watched her schoolmates die, too.

My daughter survived, too.

Coco swears under her breath, pushing a rack of castaways aside. Here, hidden behind the maze of clothing stands, hangs a special stash of garments. Her favorite pieces. A collection that means more to her than anything else she’s ever created.

Dusky blues, crisp grays, and splashes of brilliant whites.

Coco is calmed by the color. She finds strength in the stitching, and stability etched into the lines of the seams. Her fingers run down the sleeve of a light blue top. She wishes she could hide among the racks until it all passes. Until the hurt of Beacon fades away and the transfer request to Shade Academy comes through. She misses being a huntress and the freedom it offers. Coco would much rather be on the hunt with her friends than here, surrounded by people who will never understand what is brewing on beyond the borders of Atlas.

She misses her teammates.

She misses…

Coco sighs, gripping the fabric of a particularly soft blouse in a lovely gray-blue hue.

She needs a dress.

<<< before ||

They corner her in the armory.

Winter’s shoulders tense a degree further with each footstep that approaches.

“You have a guest, Miss Schnee.”

She feels betrayed. The staff are usually very good about keeping her training time protected—private. It’s unlike them to bring an outsider so far into the Schnee Manor without any warning. The situation being as it is, Winter is unpresentable in dress, uninformed as to the intentions of her guest, and unprepared for what will come next. 

Her father must have something to do with this.

“May I introduce,” Klein’s gentle voice echoes off the shining shield displays and racks of weapons, “Miss Coco Adel. Designer and stylist.”

Winter keeps her eyes on her saber to keep from betraying her irritated expression. A business affair between families, then. Her father has traded the rights to dress her body to the House of Adel, the largest textile manufacture and fashion brand in Atlas. Winter is morbidly curious about the terms of the agreement. The Adel brand will reap advertising and publicity, but what has her father gained?

The sound of heels against stone catches her attention. Winter looks up. She finds a girl around her own age, maybe even younger. Dark hair is pulled into a braid. Her brown eyes are almond shaped and too self-confident for Winter’s liking. She’s impeccably dressed, which is expected from a family who controls significant influence over the fashion of Atlas. The coppers, blacks, and tans of her clothes—a light jacket, loose fitting blouse with a squared neck, and well-tailored pants—stand out sharply against the Schnee’s white and blue decor.

They make her appear… warm.

“You’re younger than your predecessors,” Winter says bluntly.

Coco gives her a smile. “We thought I might be a better fit for your commission.”

Who is we? Winter can imagine her father sitting in a board room with SDC executives, taking it upon themselves to decide each and every detail of her life. Somehow, those men concluded that her wardrobe could become valuable bargaining chip. Then they colluded with the Adel’s to arrange this meeting without her knowledge. The idea alone puts Winter on the defensive.

“I hardly think my dress requirements are so complicated as to draw the personal attention of an Adel.”

“I’ll leave you to your discussion.” Klein excuses himself, ignoring Winter’s pointed look at his treachery.

“It’s not that they’re complicated,” Coco explains after Klein has gone, eyes taking in the room around her. She’s carrying a leather-bound notebook. “Maybe… ‘uninspiring’, is the better word.”

“It’s a dress, Miss Adel.” Winter turns back to her weapon. She doesn’t want to have this conversation. Appearances. All this work to keep up appearances. It leaves a bitter taste in Winter’s mouth and a heavy weight in her chest. “I simply need a dress.”

“I’m here to help you with that,” Coco opens easily, stepping closer, coming to the edge of Winter’s workstation. The notebook comes to a rest on the edge. Then Coco places both of her hands on the countertop slowly, first the tips of her fingers, then the entire palm. There’s a restraint to her movements that makes Winter curious. “Tell me about the event you need this dress for.”

“Did you not read the material that was provided with the request?” Winter sends her an unimpressed look.

Coco smiles, undeterred. She gestures between them. “I’m trying to make a connection here. It’s part of the creative process.”

“By making me repeat myself?” Winter frowns. “Your process is inefficient at best and disrespectful to my time at worst.”

She expects Coco to become offended, perhaps even leave this charade of a meeting and storm off to make the uninspiring dress Winter had requested in the first place or allow the usual dressmaker to take care of it as originally planned. Instead, Coco leans against the counter, with an ease that Winter has never possessed in this mansion—in her own home. Her eyes take in the different parts of Winter’s saber, the tools and whetstones, and finally, Winter herself.

“Not everyone understands artistic method,” Coco says. Her eyes are patient but determined. They hold Winter’s gaze in a way few people are daring enough to do. “I won’t hold that against you.”

Winter turns back to her work, trying for dismissive, probably achieving nothing more than shy.

“Show me your ideas.” Winter gestures to the notebook without looking at Coco, instead focusing on removing the tiny screws in her saber’s trigger mechanism.

“I was hoping we could create a concept together,” Coco admits.

“You’ve drastically overestimated my interest in this matter.”

“Should I apologize for assuming you’d have an opinion?”

Yes, Winter thinks. Aloud, she says, “I’ve expressed my requirements.”

“Sure, let’s read that,” Coco pulls out her scroll and thumbs to the correspondence. “Requirements: Closed neckline. Schnee family color pallet.”

When it becomes obvious Coco isn’t going to continue, Winter looks away from her work. She lets her agitation seep into her words, “Was there a question in that?”

Coco gives her a level stare. “I could dress you in nothing but a blue bib and it would meet these requirements.”

“So long as it has the Schnee crest.”

Coco’s lips part in surprise. Then she’s laughing. It’s not the laugh women make at parties, brittle and forced, when they’re trying to boost their date’s ego or attempt to gain favor with an important figure. Coco’s laugh is bold, genuine, and sincere. Winter looks away before she can be caught enjoying the sound.

Somehow the warmth of the sound has spread to the skin of her neck. Winter feels the prickle of a blush creeping out of her collar. The temperature in the armory seems to have risen significantly.

She refocuses on her trigger mechanism to keep herself from further embarrassment.

|| now >>>

Weiss is not Winter, Coco reminds herself as she sits in a too-stiff chair next to her mother and watches the youngest of the Schnee women walk into the bright spotlight of the stage.

It seems like an easy thing to remember. Then again, the white hair, fair skin, perfect posture, and icy blue eyes that hold more secrets than one woman could possibly deserve to carry…

“She’s so petite compared to her sister,” her mother whispers. “I can’t imagine her in the encounter at Beacon with you.”

Encounter. What a polite way to say atrocity.

This was a horrible idea.

“She saved my best friend’s life,” Coco defends automatically.

Her mother makes a small noise in acknowledgement before turning back to the stage, no doubt continuing to compare the Schnee sisters. Coco can’t help but do the same. If not for entirely different reasons.

Winter is not the singer.

She can sing, don’t be mistaken. Singing is a talent that all Schnee women possess and have been meticulously instructed to excel in, but Winter was not the singer. No, that title belongs to Weiss, and as the first few notes fill the theater, she proves why.

Coco’s gloved fists tighten in her lap. The sorrow in Weiss’ voice stirs up all the emotions Coco has been working so hard to ignore. She doesn’t want to think about Beacon—about Pyrrha or Penny. Her chest tightens as she struggles to keep her breathing steady. She shifts uncomfortably in her seat and focuses elsewhere.

Winter was the dancer.

Coco’s mother dragged her to many of Winter’s performances, solo and paired events, in this very theater. She would sit next to Coco, cooing over Winter’s grace, her beauty. Coco hasn’t figured out if the forced attendance was meant to inspire her to be as flawless as Winter. Was it meant to push herself further? To spark a rivalry between the next generation of powerful Atlesian houses? Or if it was genuine entertainment?

For Coco, it was always magic.

Winter was an incredible dancer.

Maybe she still is, in her own way. The battlefield has its own cadence, its own companies, and just as much drama as ballet.

Wiess finishes her song. Coco stands to join the ovation. She doesn’t realize she’s crying until the gentleman next to her offers a handkerchief. Her mother places a hand on the small of her back. It’s a small comfort, and the tears come again.

The chatter of spectators is complimentary and approving. Coco wants to scream. Were they listening to the lyrics at all? Her heart goes out to the young woman. While Coco returned to Atlas to reset and hide in the safety in her studio, Weiss’ return was less than voluntary. This is the first time Weiss has been seen in public since returning, according to the Atlesian grapevine. There has been no word about the elder of the sisters, who is kept away from home by military missions and a more contentious relationship with their father.

After ditching her mother to fix her makeup, Coco hesitates to join the crowd in the reception ballroom. She hovers awkwardly just outside the door, smiling at passersby and cringing the small talk. She’s shown enough of her face to appease the snobs that would notice her absence. Her mother is visiting with her own crowd, networking for future projects. Coco isn’t interested in schmoozing and she doesn’t have the time or energy to entertain any work beyond the duties of a huntress. Really, she just wants to go home and call Velvet.

There’s one thing keeping her in the building. It would be a crime to leave without speaking to the performer of the evening. Coco slips into the ballroom. She’s barely able to suppress her revulsion at the poorly dyed ombre gowns that surround her. Gaudy things with a border of chiffon flared awkwardly around the ankles. The length is clumsy. The colors, bland. The proportions, wrong.

Coco searches the room for something respectable.

“Shut up!”

She’s startled by the shout. Her eyes, and the rest of the ballroom’s, fall on Weiss Schnee.

“You don’t have clue, none of you do!”

Weiss stands before a massive portrait of Beacon, launching herself into a shrill tirade against Atlesian society. Each word twists the knife in Coco’s chest. The one that’s been lodged between her rips since she stepped foot in Atlas. She’s drawn closer, weaving between the gawkers and the whisperers.

Coco freezes when Jacques Schnee captures his daughter’s arm in a tight grip.

“I said, let go!”

The strength of Weiss’ desperate tug from her father’s grip sends her to the floor. A flash of white light appears off her shoulder. A glyph. Not a platform or a shield—a summons. Coco makes a dash around the last of the spectators separating her from Weiss. By the time she makes it into the clearing Weiss’ summons has fully formed into a brilliantly ethereal Boarbatusk.

It roars. The noise sends a chill through Coco’s spine. Onlookers scream. This is probably the first time they’ve ever see the true likeness of a Grimm. The Boarbatusk charges.

She rushes forward.

She intercepts the Grimm mid-charge, catching it by the tusks in a less than graceful lunging position. The soles of her heels slide against the smooth surface of the ballroom as she’s pushed back nearly a meter. Its eyes are so angry, desperate. Its breath comes out in a chilling blast of air, ghosting up Coco’s arms and across her face. Her grip tightens as it tries to thrash away.

The summons is strong, but Coco has fought stronger.

She flinches at the sound of a gunshot. The spectral Grimm dissipates before her eyes. She’s not able to correct herself in time and Coco falls heavily onto the dance floor. The ballroom goes silent. The action has left everyone in the room startled and shaking. Weiss’ wide eyes meets hers from across the room. She must still be in some shock from the spontaneous summons.

It must be such a sight.

The huntresses who survived the Fall of Beacon, the pride of Atlas, sprawled on the ground in a mess of silk tulle, slight-sheen organza, and repressed trauma.

How embarrassing.

Coco swears under her breath.

“Up you get, dear.” Her mother’s voice catches her attention. A strong hand wraps around her bicep and helps lift her to her feet. She fusses over Coco’s dress while balancing a wineglass. “You gave me a fright.”

“Sorry, mom.” Coco mumbles.

Jacques Schnee makes no move to help his daughter.

Coco has to look away from him. Without her sunglasses her emotions are too obvious, nearly dangerous in a situation like this. She finds General Ironwood standing to her right. He’s still holding his pistol. Coco’s eyes linger on it. Memories of Beacon linger on the edge of her mind.

“A little warning, next time?” Coco huffs, her voice not nearly as steady as she’d like.

“My apologies, Miss Adel.” Ironwood holsters his weapon.

The woman targeted by the Boarbatusk starts shouting for Weiss to be arrested. Ironwood moves away to calm her down.

“Mom, I have to go help Weiss.” Coco keeps her words quiet, just in case her mother will disapprove.

Godiva Adel’s eyes survey the room, Ironwood and Schnee. Finally, they land on Weiss, who is struggling to her feet. She nods, releasing Coco’s arm. Coco smiles and gives her a quick kiss on the cheek.

“Thank you.”

Weiss is not Winter.

Coco sees that now, in greater clarity.

Weiss is breaking.

<<< before ||

“Where are your little scraps of cloth?” Winter asks in a passably bored tone, trying to reclaim control of the conversation. “Other designers love to carry them around.”

“You mean swatches,” Coco tells her gently as she gathers herself. “And why would I bring swatches when I don’t know what mood your dress is going to be in?”

Winter doesn’t understand, but she keeps that to herself. “No sketches. No concepts. No swatches. It seems you are vastly unprepared for this meeting, Miss Adel.”

“Why do you need a dress, Miss Schnee?” Coco asks again, her tone a touch playful. She regains her comfortable slouch against the counter, watching Winter with those inquisitive eyes.

“I’ll be retiring from dance,” Winter answers after a long moment. Each screw removed is placed delicately on a gridded mat for safe keeping. Winter opens the casing and studies the machinery. “I need a dress for the farewell reception of my final recital.”

“You’re retiring?” There’s surprise in her voice.

Winter does her best to hide her true feelings on the matter. A mix of puberty and the physical demands of combat training at Atlas Academy has altered her body in a way that is not conducive to the grace needed for ballet. Her shoulders have broadened with age and have been shaped by strength training. Her legs are no longer lean and slim, adopting a fullness in their musculature that allows her to maneuver swiftly around the battlefield, jumping from glyph to glyph.

She is not built for dance anymore.

As her father continues to remind her.

“Between my obligations to the Schnee Dust Company and training at Atlas Academy, I no longer have the time needed for the precision that is ballet,” Winter says in a neutral voice.

“Are you upset about that?”

Winter’s gaze cut a sharp line to Coco. “Pardon?”

“Closing that chapter. Moving on.” Coco shrugs like her meaning is obvious. “All of Atlas shows up to watch you dance. Won’t you miss it?”

She turns back to the trigger housing and repeats the words of her father, “It’s time to focus on my future.”

After a moment of silence, Coco opens her notebook. It takes all her self-discipline to keep from looking over. Somehow Winter manages to focus on her work. The silence that surrounds them isn’t uncomfortable, per se. From the corner of her eye, Winter can see that Coco is writing. Notes, perhaps? Concepts? Winter shouldn’t be as curious as she is. It’s disgraceful how curious she is.

“You’re firm on the closed neckline,” Coco says more than asks. As if she knows the answer but wants to hear it confirmed.

“Yes.”

Winter practically feels Coco’s eyes run over her body. She didn’t come into the armory dressed for this conversation. Her hair is in a simple ponytail. These trousers, which are already an affront to her father and her station, and the only small act of rebellion she allows herself, are a simple navy. The boots on her feet have such a low heel they’re practically a flat. Her blouse, while perfect for a day spent on weapon maintenance, is worn and frayed, sleeves pushed up over her elbows to protect them from the weapon’s grease.

Most damning, Winter finds herself self-conscious that her shirt is buttoned right to the top, closing the collar snug and secure.

“Any skin at all?”

“Arms are fine.”

Coco’s pencil scratches across the page. She’s making long strokes this time, sketching out a design for this godforsaken dress. Coco murmurs softly, “You can say no, you know.”

That takes Winter by surprise. Beyond keeping her wardrobe modest for the sake of propriety, no one has ever openly considered her comfort.

“Arms are fine.” Winter says again, because it’s true.

“Would you prefer pants?”

Winter’s hands still for a fraction of a second. Yes. She would rather wear pants. She loves the mobility and security they offer. While she wouldn’t go so far as to say she hates dresses, it would be honest to say she preferred pants. Even at Atlas Academy, Winter is frustrated that the uniform requires a skirt. Despite her feelings, Winter knows a beautiful gown in necessary to be deemed appropriate for this manner of public event.

Her father would certainly have something to say if she arrived at the reception in pants. Suppressing a shudder, Winter concedes to what is expected of her.

“The commission was for a dress.”

“Not what I asked, though,” Coco murmurs into her sketchbook.

Winter pauses. This would be the moment where she confides in a stranger to strengthen that connection Coco was searching for. The dark whisper of her upbringing reminds her that connection, emotional vulnerability, is simply a weakness waiting to be exploited. No, Winter won’t disclose any more information than is necessary for this exchange. She will stay on the defensive until she has a better understanding of this deal her father made.

“It’s the answer I’m providing.”

Coco doesn’t push. She stands at the counter, silently sketching. She spares a few glances at Winter.

What she’s looking for, Winter can’t imagine.

|| now >>>

Coco Adel.

Striding confidently across an Atlesian ballroom and heading right for her. Weiss can’t believe it. The third year Beacon Academy huntress stopped that Boarbatusk summons with her bare hands. She slowed it down long enough for Ironwood to kill it before it hit that rude, but presumably innocent, woman. Weiss blinks hard to make sure she’s not hallucinating.

“You okay?” Coco asks as she draws up close. Her words are barely audible, trying to create a private moment in front of hundreds of eyes. She’s deviated from her usual outfit. A stately gown of her family’s favored color scheme has replaced her sunglasses and beret. Her eyes are so expressive, and the concern they hold is so clear, it disarms Weiss, who has never seen Coco without her sunglasses.

She takes a breath, fully intending to answer, to brush off the concern and ask any one of the hundreds of questions running though her mind. The words never come. Instead, her fists clench at her sides and tears pool in her eyes. She’s completely frozen in the emotional typhoon coursing through her body.

Another huntress. Another witness to the Fall. Another outlier in the world she just can’t make herself fit into anymore.

Weiss didn’t realize how much she needed to see someone from before, someone else who survived, who understands.

“Oh, honey,” Coco whispers. Her hand gently guides Weiss away from the crowd. “Let’s go.”

Weiss allows herself to be led. For the first time since returning to Atlas, she trusts another person entirely. Coco takes her far away, down halls and around corners, to an out of the way washroom with a small chance of interruption. She turns on the tap and dampens one of the pristine linen hand towels from the silver box on the counter.

“Here.” Coco waves her forward. “You’ll feel better once your makeup is back together.”

Weiss moves closer. Coco is taller than her. Older and calmer. It’s easy to fall into the comfort of her attention. She misses Yang fiercely. Winter, doubly so.

“What are you doing here?” Weiss wishes the question was more tactful, but it’s what she needs to know.

Coco reaches out gently, pausing for Weiss’ nod of permission before taking her chin between a gentle finger and thumb. She tries not to flinch. No one has touched her in kindness since Beacon—a quick hug from Blake as her father hovered furiously nearby. Ruby and Yang had been unconscious… recovering. She hopes they’re doing well. The tears threaten to come again.

“In Atlas or at your recital?” Coco asks.

“Both, I suppose,” Weiss mumbles. Her breathing has steadied, and her mind has started to catch up. “I know your family lives here, but I wouldn’t have come back if my father hadn’t… suggested it.”

Coco is quiet for a moment. Her hands steady as she runs the cloth under Weiss’ eyes, collecting the running mascara.

“I needed to wrap up a few things before the next hunting season. My team is waiting to hear back on a transfer request to Shade Academy.” Coco frowns a little. “It’s not the best, in terms of technical application or training, and the weather is going to be atrocious, but I’m not bringing Velvet to Atlas.”

“Smart.” Weiss hums in agreement.

“As for the recital,” Coco continues absently. She leans back, inspecting her work before meeting Weiss’ eyes with a gentle expression that Weiss is unaccustomed to receiving. “I guess, I needed to see a friendly face.”

Weiss feels herself warm at the attention. She ducks her head to hide for a moment. “I’m glad you’re here. I didn’t mean to summon that Grimm, or for it to attack that woman… I…”

“First, that woman probably deserved what she had coming to her,” Coco tells her seriously. “Lace chest detailing went out of style two years ago. Your summons was trying to do us a favor by taking her out back and burning that awful dress.”

The bizarre accusation draws a fragile laugh from Weiss. The tight ball of guilt in her chest loosens slightly.

“Second, it’s okay,” Coco reassures her softly. “Semblances lash out when our emotions run away from us. And if your life since… the Fall, has been anything like mine, then you’re probably seriously stressed out right now, and no one can blame you for that.”

Uncomfortable with kind words and assurances, Weiss changes the subject, “Is that your semblance? Your strength?”

She remembers being impressed with Coco’s strength at the Breach of Vale, the way she dispatched Grimm with a graceful sort of brute force and crushing blows.

“No,” Coco leans back against the skin. Her hands fold the washcloth before tossing it in the linen bin. “That’s just an Adel thing.”

“An Adel thing?”

“You Schnees have your things,” Coco teases, a smirk on her lips, “and we have ours.”

Weiss opens her mouth to say something about what Schnees have. Nothing that comes to mind is appropriate for a bantering joke. Loneliness? Impossible expectations? Stunted emotional growth?

Coco seems to understand what’s going on in her mind. Her next question is slightly cautious, “Have you heard from your sister?”

“No.” Weiss shakes her head. “Not since before the Vytal Festival.”

“I’m sure she’s kicking ass somewhere,” Coco tells her. There’s a confidence to her words that Weiss appreciates. “She’s a tough girl.”

“I miss her. I’ve felt so… isolated,” Weiss admits. “Father took me from my friends, and I don’t even know if they’re okay—Ruby barely survived whatever happened on that tower. Yang… I can’t even imagine what she’s going through right now. Blake probably feels so guilty. And I’m stuck here. Putting on a show for the very people who turn up their noses at what happened at Beacon—what happened to us.”

Coco puts a firm hand on her shoulder. It’s a grounding weight. Weiss feels the tension that was building in her body ease.

“They think I’m so irrational. You saw them out there, looking at me as if… as if I’m making it all up.”

“None of them are going to understand what happened,” Coco sighs, exhausted in a way Weiss knows too well. “And they’re not going to until that kind of evil starts knocking on their door.”

But Weiss saw how useless the Atlas military forces were. The sentinels were destroyed. The Paladins turned against them. She fears the day that knock comes. Atlas will not fare any better than Vale.

“Thank you, for listening, and for helping with that Boarbatusk.” Weiss straightens her shoulders, gathering herself for the inevitable return to, and subsequent reprimand from, her father. “I should, um…”

“What’s up?” Coco asks, bumping her fist against Weiss’ shoulder.

It’s such an easy question that Weiss forgets what a social misstep it is to admit these things aloud, “I really don’t want to go home.”

She reminds herself that Coco is different. A huntress. She left the grandeur of the Adel influence to help people fight against the Grimm. Coco is an ally and probably the only one she has in Atlas.

“Crash at mine,” Coco offers, again, speaking with such a comforting simplicity. “Take a night to get away from all that. Things might be clearer in the morning.”

“I couldn’t possibly impose,” Weiss makes the obligatory refusal out of habit. She is a Schnee after all.

“Oh, come off it. If huntresses don't support each other, who will?”

"Then yes, I'd like to accept your offer," Weiss says rather shyly.

"You Schnees, so formal," Coco laughs, taking her hand with a bit of a grin. “Come on, kid. Let’s get out of here.”

Weiss allows herself to be pulled away, a smile on her face and hope in her heart. Maybe everything is going to be alright.