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The Rose Within

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Ruby Rose doesn't need anyone to explain to her that she's dying.

Perhaps she was simply delaying the inevitable...

For years Ruby always prided herself with overcoming the odds and fighting in the face of danger while training to be a Huntress. But for once, the odds were not in her favor.

Growing up in Patch, her mother, Summer Rose, would tell Ruby and Yang elaborate stories about the legendary aliment on those unfortunate enough to experience it. An unnecessary retelling of the cautionary tale, since Yang's birth mother had experienced the same illness before Raven found a more barbaric means of escaping the curse's clutches.

Surgical intervention.

Complete removal of the parasite that strangled her from the inside out.

In the end, confessing her love to the one that held her heart was the risk Raven wasn't able to make. Thus, without regard to the consequences of her actions, Raven underwent the surgery and removed all traces of the parasite as well as all the feelings of her unrequited love. And with it, an unfortunate and rare side effect of obtaining complete apathy towards emotional bonds of any sort. By its very definition, the procedure was successful.

But at such a cost ‒ one that drove her family apart.

Too young to understand what had caused her sister to grow up essentially motherless, Ruby had snuck into her father's study to find the leather bound tome that held the name for Raven's plight.

Wide silver eyes shimmered in the harsh light of the flashlight Ruby held precariously in her left hand as her right held open a gruesome diagram of a human body. The neatly typed description that was written along the side of the image stated the following definition that would burn into the back of her mind for the weeks to come:

Oranthoptysis /ôrən THrō piTH ə sis/ (also see Hanahaki Disease): A degenerative disease in which an unspecified flowering plant grows within someone suffering from perceived or real one-sided romantic love. The victim will forcibly exhale petals and other flora matter with increasing intensity until either their feelings are returned (resulting in the plant-like parasite to detach from its host), or until the afflicted dies of blood loss and/or suffocation.

While there is no preventive cure or vaccine for the disease, the parasite may be removed through a surgical process at great personal risk to the host. However, if the operation is successful, such actions completely eliminate the victim's emotions, romantic or platonic, for their loved one and will never return. Once completed, the procedure is non-reversible and can guarantee a complete absence of developing feelings towards the original individual. Recent human trials involving evasive dust-therapy have created a viable, but not long-lasting, treatment to the disease.

Some physicians have referred to Oranthoptysis, or the Flower Spitting Disease, to be a fate worse than death.

But Ruby, naive and optimistic in her youth, never thought that she too would be subjected to the slow and painful fated demise that awaited her.

And what a twisted fate it was to be killed by the very thing that sometimes people search their whole lives for:

Love.

The first time it happens, Ruby thought she had accidentally swallowed some of her own rose petals during a training bout. It was towards the start of their fourth and final year at Beacon and Weiss and Ruby had been picked to fight a mock match by Goodwitch for their combat lesson. The match was considered a friendly between the four combatants, since Teams RWBY and JNPR were good friends throughout their years together. But that didn't mean that the red and white duo was going to show their friends any mercy as Weiss shot several glyphs at their opponents.

Ruby had used Crescent Rose to block a javelin throw when her back had been turned to Jaune's counter strike. Before Ruby could use her Semblance to spin out of the way, Jaune's greatsword was suddenly knocked to the side by Weiss' perfect parry and riposte. While catching his sword in a counter-clockwise bind, the ex-Heiress used a gravity glyph to knock the blond off balance as she directed his attack elsewhere.

Weiss gave Ruby a breathtaking smile as she spoke, her words almost lost over the clash of steel on steel.

"Thank me later!"

The tightness that already clenched at her chest doubled as Ruby was suddenly struck with a violent coughing fit. Her eyes widened in surprise as a single white rose petal floated from her mouth and into her open palm. Ruby took a moment to consider the flora's origin as her Semblance only created red rose petals. And yet here was evidence that this was no longer the case. Which is why the small ivory petal that lay within her grasp made the scythe wielder scrutinize the white plant form in confusion. Before she could dwell on this new development, she was forced to drop it in order to raise Crescent Rose in perfect tandem to Weiss' light blue glyph that formed before her.

Relying on instinct and years of muscle memory to hit her mark, Ruby shot off four perfectly placed sniper rounds, enhanced by Weiss' ice dust, which froze Jaune's legs and lower torso in place.

Hearing his cry for help, Pyrrha's recovered javelin was changed into its rifle form, one piercing green eye closing as she assumed the proper shooter's position. But as she lined up to take a shot to blast away the ice encapsulating her partner's feet, a loud buzzer sounded overhead signaling the end of the match. Pyrrha collapsed Miló so that it fit on her back, and used her free hand to rub at her shoulder, frowning when the scarred muscle flared briefly in pain from the movement.

Jaune's sword finally broke through the ice at his feet before he ran up to Pyrrha and laid a gentle hand on her uninjured arm.

"See, I told you that you're almost back at 100%! Your physical therapy is paying off." Jaune spoke in an upbeat tone as he nodded to her old injury. "A few more months of training and therapy sessions and you'll be able to graduate at the top of the class again."

She leaned forward to give her boyfriend a quick peck on the lips. "Thank you, Jaune."

They were interrupted as the surrounding lights, which had been dimmed for the match, were raised as Professor Goodwitch's voice rang out over the mutterings of the students waiting their turn in the stands.

"And that's the match. Since Miss Rose and Miss Schnee have the greatest amount of Aura remaining after the time limit, they win by default. Well done all of you. For the next round…"

But Ruby wasn't paying attention to her announcement as Weiss rushed up to her side, her slender arms raised in victory. Crystal blue eyes sparkling in happiness as a wide grin graced her lips.

"We did it, Ruby!"

Ruby felt her heart flutter as Weiss stood on her tiptoes to wrap the younger girl in a fierce hug. Ruby smiled at the open display of affection as her partner clung to her in joy at the victory over their friends.

Everyone at Beacon was happy to note that Weiss had become much more affectionate over her years with Ruby as her partner. Not that the ex-Heiress would ever admit to growing soft in her final years at the academy. But with the circumstances being what they are, Weiss felt freer then she had ever felt under the watchful gaze of Jacques Schnee.

Once the dust had settled and the Fall of Beacon was stopped, Weiss' father had demanded that she return home to finish her training in Atlas. Weiss had outright refused, not wanting to leave her unconscious partner and injured teammates - Ruby having succumbed to a coma resulting from unlocking her silver eyes, Blake having been stabbed by a high ranking White Fang member, and Yang losing an arm trying to come to her partner's defense. At the end of that fateful night, Weiss was the only member of Team RWBY left standing and she refused to leave their sides.

When Jacques had tried to remove Weiss from Vale by force, she had used her Huntress training to fight back, an event that caught the attention of nearby news reporters. Within a day the world knew not only how a small band of students from the Vytal festival from all four schools had helped defend the academy, but that the Schnee Dust Company had dismissed the current Heiress.

With much of their third year at Beacon being an odd routine of helping to rebuild the school and a multitude of Hunting missions in and around Vale to control the influx of Grimm, Team RWBY took the time to heal. But through this tragedy that shook Remnant to its core, Weiss found hope in her newfound freedom. Over the last two years Weiss grew more confident in herself, her friendships, and in her own abilities as a fighter. Although the rest of the school would agree that her younger red-hooded partner had thawed the Ice Queen's heart into what she was: a stronger, smarter, and more compassionate Huntress of Beacon Academy.

Needless to say that Ruby was immensely proud of her partner, and with each passing day, Ruby found herself falling a little bit more in love with her.

With slender warm arms dressed in white wrapped around her, and Weiss' breath tickling her neck as the ex-Heiress shouted in her ear, Ruby closed her eyes and savored the comforting feeling while it lasted. In all the excitement, she ignored the tightness in her chest as Ruby's heart broke a little more with the knowledge that Weiss would never love her back.

[-][-][-]

The second time she was struck by her sickness, it had caught Ruby completely off guard. A few weeks had passed and the young leader had almost forgotten about the incident. Teams RWBY and JNPR were relaxing under the shade of a patch of trees to the right of the courtyard's famous fountain. The intricately carved water sculpture, originally depicting a human Huntsman and Huntress standing over a Beowolf Grimm had been destroyed during the Fall of Beacon.

Once the school had been retaken, proceeds from an Atlas charity ball had helped pay for the iconic water feature to be rebuilt. Only this time the artist has changed it so that joined on either side of the two human Huntsmen were a Faunus Huntsman and Huntress, completing the standard four person team. The male Faunus had been given ram horns, while the female had an uncanny resemblance to Velvet Scarlatina, although the blushing Huntress would vehemently disagree.

Jaune was sitting with his back against a tree, enjoying the view of the new fountain as he helped to rub out Pyrrha's Achilles tendon that had acted up during their last mission. The injured girl smiled up at her boyfriend as the blond worked the healing salve into the scarred muscle and tendons.

Ruby knew that this was a regular routine for the pair since the night Cinder had shot Pyrrha in the leg before Ruby had climbed the tower. It was not uncommon for partners to help each other recover from their lasting injuries that had resulted from that fated night. Ruby had once walked in on Yang and Blake in their dorm room, and quickly retreated blushing profusely having believed she had interrupted an intimate moment between the couple. It was only hours later hiding in the library with Weiss that Ruby learned Blake was simply helping to replace Yang's bandage on her healing stump.

Shifting her eyes away from the pair, Ruby watched as Nora found herself hanging upside down on a low branch and attempted to poke her partner in the nose. Ren, having borrowed a book from Blake, shook his head fondly at the action while the Faunus herself was leaning up against her girlfriend who was playing a video game on her scroll.

Ruby watched as Weiss had come back from the cafeteria laden with a tray of Styrofoam cups of hot tea and coffee for everyone to ward off the autumn chilly air that seeped through their combat gear.

"I can't believe Professor Port's lecture went over by a half an hour again!" Nora shouted as she somersaulted off the branch and landed while striking a pose. Ren clapped politely as she bowed in response to his flattery.

"I know right? His lectures always make me sleepy." Rubies commented as she watched an orange leaf fall from the branches above them and lazily make its way to the small smattering of colors around them.

"Luckily coffee exists." Weiss announced as she finished handing JNPR their orders and reached down to give the yellow and black duo their own cups of coffee and tea, respectively.

When Weiss turned to give Ruby her own coffee filled cup, the younger girl held out her arms in a mock defensive position at the dark roast drink her partner offered.

"No please!"

"Don't worry…" Weiss rolled her eyes as she held out the warm cup. "I put blasphemous amounts of cream and sugar, just for you."

Ruby smiled sheepishly as she held out her hands to accept the hot drink. "Aw yeah. Nice Weiss strikes again!"

Weiss frowned as she made to take away her partner's cup. "I will pour this on you, and it will burn."

Ruby chuckled, gently grabbing the Styrofoam cup, as she saw Weiss try to maintain her stern expression. Only a brief moment had passed before the ex-Heiress broke into a soft smile that made Ruby's heart flutter.

As if on cue, Ruby broke into a violent coughing fit. Her throat felt like it was on fire as the scythe wielder became doubled over. Her lithe form shook vigorously, Ruby having to resort to covering her mouth with her hands out of instinct. When Ruby's fit had ended, she carefully opened her hands and gasped before quickly shutting her palm.

"Ruby?"

Panic filled silver eyes met the brightest blue before Ruby struggled to stand and stumbled away from the ivory-haired woman.

"I - I'm not feeling well. I'm going to head back to the dorm and take a nap." Ruby spoke quickly as she retreated without turning around, her hand held behind her back out of sight from her friends. "I'll see you all at dinner."

With a burst of red petals, she was gone. Everyone stared at the drifting petals that marked where the Huntress-in-training had fled with expressions ranging from confusion to sympathy.

"What's her problem?" Weiss asked, feeling like she had missed something while she was retrieving their drinks. Her teammates shrugged, Ren and Nora only looking at each other worriedly.

Pyrrha frowned as she caught Jaune's eye, concern lacing her voice as she chose her next words carefully. "She doesn't seem well. Someone should check on her."

"I'll go." Weiss volunteered, wiping her hands onto her combat skirt. "She's my partner, she'll talk to me." With a quick nod to herself, she left the group of concerned Huntsmen to follow the fading line of red rose petals from Ruby's Semblance that led back to their dorm.

Meanwhile, once safe in the confines of her room, Ruby's hand shook as she opened her palm to reveal five lone rose petals. Ruby knew that something was wrong. Unlike her mother's Semblance that produced both white and red rose petals, Ruby's had only created red rose petals. But there was no denying that the flora in her hand was not the by-product of her Semblance.

Once is a fluke, twice is fate.

The harsh contrast of blood on the ivory surface made her silver eyes widen as what she saw confirmed her worst fears. Clutching the evidence of her illness to her chest, Ruby scanned the room on where to hide the petals before she ultimately decided to flush the bloody evidence away in their shared bathroom's toilet.

Ruby felt her pulse quicken as the tell-tale sound of three sharp taps on the door alerted the panicking leader to her company.

"Ruby? Is everything alright in there?"

"Just a minute!" Ruby quickly flushed the petals down the toilet as she vigorously scrubbed the blood off her palm. Wiping her wet hands off her skirt, she threw open the bathroom door to find Weiss with her arms still raised from knocking.

"Ruby…"

"I'm fine, Weiss, really..." The younger leader gave her partner what she hoped looked like a reassuring smile, ignoring the feeling of cold sweat trickling down the back of her white blouse. "Must have been something I ate."

Weiss' eyebrows wrinkled together in concern as she took in Ruby's disheveled state. "Are you sure you're alright? You don't look well..."

The ex-Heiress reached out to lay her palm on Ruby's sleeve, giving her partner's arm a light squeeze. A fluttering in her stomach from the gesture caused a tightness to grasp the young leader by the chest, alarms going off in her head.

"I-" Ruby's eyes widened as she suddenly pushed Weiss back and slammed the door shut. In a flash, the scythe user's head was over the toilet bowl as she threw up a liter's worth of white rose petals and blood.

"Ruby?! Are you alright?" Weiss' muffled voice was joined by the sound of the ex-Heiress jerking the locked doorknob in vain.

"No! Don't come in, Weiss!" Ruby shouted before having to stop to projectile vomit more bloodied petals into the porcelain.

"But, Ruby!"

"I don't want you to catch this in case it's not food poisoning," Ruby lied as she wiped the blood off her mouth with the back of her hand. She flushed away the disturbing sight, and rinsed out her mouth before opening the door once more to find that her partner had not moved from her post.

"Ruby…" Weiss held a hand up to her parted lips as she glanced over the state of her suffering friend.

The scythe wielder ignored her, a thin sheen of sweat layered Ruby's brow as she hobbled across the room to her bunk bed.

Weiss grabbed her by the arm, stopping the tired Huntress from climbing into her bunk. "At least take my bed, since it's ground level."

Ruby sighed, looking at her own bed longingly. "But Weiss…"

"No, buts!" Weiss interrupted with a finger out to shush the younger woman. "I'll get the team to bunk with JNPR for the night to give you some peace and quiet. I'm sure our friends won't mind considering the alternative. Just get some rest while I'll grab anti-nausea medicine from the cabinet."

"I don't think it will help me." Ruby chuckled darkly as she removed her laced corset, signature red cape, and black combat boots before sliding under the covers.

"Just shut up and take the drugs, Ruby." Weiss ordered as she returned with the cherry flavored liquid.

"Careful Weiss, don't let Yang hear you say that." Ruby spoke softly, feeling tightness in her chest which she now knew to proceed with her more violent bouts of the Flower Spitting Disease.

Weiss rolled her eyes as she turned to leave the room. "Just get some rest, you Dolt!"

With one last look at Ruby tucked away in her bed, Weiss turn off the overhead lights and left her exhausted partner to rest.

[-][-][-]

Over the next month, Ruby found herself doing everything in her power to hide her illness from her friends, team, and even her sister. Small bouts of coughing left bloodied petals in her palm to be hidden in her pocket during lectures. She made excuses to rush to the bathroom, leaving her breathless and tired after heaving up a whole bouquet's worth of roses after Weiss had hugged her after a long day of exams.

Her sickness only worsened as time moved on, the white rose petals were now joined by thorny stems that only seem to claw its way up her throat when she least expected it. Which is how Ruby found herself in her current predicament, lying on the tiled floor of her bathroom in a pool of her own blood and vomit.

She had been eating dinner with her teammates and friends when Ruby had brought up the most recent news article that claimed the Schnee Dust Company's official announcement that Whitley was the new Heir to the largest Dust conglomerate on Remnant. While this information was nothing new to the students at Beacon, it did cause quite a stir at school.

Yang, wanting to make Weiss feel better, had made a joke at Whitley's expense that had caused the now official ex-Heiress to laugh to the point of tears.

At the sound of the rare peal of laughter that escaped the ivory-haired woman, Ruby ran from the room in a blink of an eye with the help of her Semblance. Unfortunately, she hadn't been fast enough as she began to cough and throw up the parasitic plant life on the floor of their bathroom before collapsing from exhaustion.

Less than five minutes later, Ruby groaned as she heard someone enter their dorm behind her.

"Hey, Rubes! I saw you left dinner before eating your cookies, which was weird, so I came to check on - Oh shit! Ruby!?"

Yang skid to a halt on her knees, ignoring the mess that covered her leather boots and pants, as she lifted her sister's head from the tiled floor.

"Oh no, Ruby. No, no. no. no… wake up!" Yang shook her sister until silver eyes opened to meet wild lilac.

"Yang?" Ruby's voice came out in a low rasp, blood coagulating at the corner of her mouth.

"Oh Rubes!" Yang gripped her sister in a bone crushing hug, uncaring that her combat gear was now ruined. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Yang…" Not having the strength to answer her, Ruby reached up to lightly pat her sister's cheek.

Making sure that Ruby was no longer in danger of getting sick again, Yang gently stripped her sister from her ruined clothing and helped Ruby into a warm shower to wash off her own filth. While Ruby labored away to remove any evidence of her sickness, Yang ran to the nearby storage closet and borrowed an assortment of cleaning supplies, including bleach, to clean the tiles before the stain would set.

Once Ruby was washed, dried, and in a clean set of pajamas she crawled into Weiss' bunk once more. After finishing her task, Yang sat down on the foot of Weiss' bed. Both sisters sat in silence, not knowing how to broach the topic that was staring them in the face.

"It's Weiss, isn't it?" Yang's voice was calm, conflicting with the wave of emotions that churned in her chest.

"How did you know?" Ruby asked, her voice coming out in a low rasp, before peeking out from behind the covers. Lilac eyes searched silver before Ruby gave in and sat up, hugging her arms around her knees.

Yang sighed, a hollow chuckle escaping her lips. "The petals are from white roses… It's not exactly subtle."

There was a pause as Ruby leaned until her head hit the back of the wall with a dull thud.

Yang's left hand fiddled with the mechanical fingers on her right as she thought over all the burning questions and emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. There was time to grief later; right now she needed to be there for her little sister. "Who knows about this?"

"No one else." Ruby shook her head as she pulled up the covers to fidget with the stitching at the hem.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Yang repeated, as she gently squeezed Ruby's leg through the thick covers.

Ruby's hung her head in shame. "I didn't want you, or anybody, to see me like this."

There was a pause a Yang gritted her teeth in frustration. She understood Ruby's humiliation and even her need to keep this private, but Yang was frustrated and hurt that she had to learn about Ruby's sickness only by finding her sister passed out on the floor.

Yang tapped Ruby's leg until the younger girl would meet her eyes. "You need to tell Weiss. She deserves to know the truth."

Horror flashed across Ruby's face, her body jerking back in her revolution. "I can't…"

"And why not? You're dying, Rubes." Yang gestured wildly with her hands, her mechanical arm whirling and whining at the sudden movement.

"You think I don't know that?!" Ruby's eyes shone with unshed tears as she yelled out in frustration. "You know how this works, Yang. I wouldn't be spilling my guts out every night if she loved me back!"

Yang reached out to clasp one of Ruby's clammy hands in her own. "Please, try… for me."

Ruby's lower lip quivered as she told her sister the truth that she could feel in her very bones. "I - I don't think I'll live through the rejection."

Yang blinked back tears as she considered her sister's words. As much as she hated to admit it, her sister was right. If Ruby confessed her love to their teammate and Weiss refused her, the rejection could cause the disease to strangle Ruby to death from the inside out.

Yang knew it to be a slow and painful death. The fact that Ruby had suffered for so long without seeking help made the blonde's head spin and her heart ache from guilt.

"Have you considered getting surgery? To remove the parasite?" Yang asked, her heart dropping when her sister shook her head.

"I think it's too late… The risk might kill me too. But to be honest, I don't think I would get the surgery even if I could go through with it." Ruby hung her head in shame. "Call me selfish, but I don't want to give her up."

Yang squeezed Ruby's hand before crossing her arms, concern flashing across her face. "Is she really worth it?"

"What if it had been Blake, Yang? Not everyone is lucky enough for their partner to fall in love them too." Ruby's voice was harsh as she spat the truth in her sister's face, years of yearning and pain making her spiteful.

"Rubes…" Yang's eyes flashed with hurt, ducking her head as a result.

The brawler had been lucky that when she felt her feelings grow for her partner by the start of their second year, Blake had grown to love her too. It was not without trial, as the school was attacked soon after Yang's feelings became apparent. But fate was on her side so that her growing affection was mirrored by the amber eyed Faunus. Seeing her sister suffer through the degenerative disease made Yang feel as if her whole world was suddenly turned upside down.

Yang didn't know what she would do if Ruby… If she…

Her eyes began to water as she tried to dispel the dark thoughts that plagued her mind.

"Yang, I… I'm sorry. I didn't mean that." Ruby began to sob uncontrollably as her sister moved to wrap her in a warm embrace.

Yang took a shuddering sigh before she spoke. "If you won't tell her then at least talk to Pyrrha."

Ruby removed her head from her hands to glance up at her sister with red-rimmed eyes. "Do you really think that will help?"

Yang sighed, a hand reaching up to the back of her neck. "I honestly don't know Ruby. But if she survived the disease, then we can't give up on hope for you. So promise me, you'll talk to Pyrrha tomorrow."

Ruby sighed before she nodded, her eyelids feeling heavy from exhaustion. "I promise."

"Pinky promise?" Yang asked, holding out her finger in offering of the sacred bond. Neither sister had ever broken the serious vow of such an action since before Ruby could ride a bicycle.

"Pinky promise," Ruby agreed as she wrapped her finger with the brawler's own.

[-][-][-]

The next morning Ruby found herself shuffling her feet together before she rapped her knuckles on JNPR's door. To her luck, it was Pyrrha herself who answered the door wearing Jaune's Pumpkin Pete Hoodie and neon green running shorts.

"Ruby? What a pleasant surprise!" Pyrrha leaned casually against the door frame as she took in the scythe wielder's serious tone. "What can I do for you?"

With a long sigh and without giving the Huntress a proper answer, Ruby held out a palm to reveal several crumpled white rose petals. Pyrrha gasped, a hand covering her mouth in shock as she noticed the speckles of blood on their ivory surface.

"Oh, Ruby…"

The young leader cleared her throat awkwardly as she refused to meet the Huntress' worried gaze. "Can I come in please? I would really rather not do this in the hallway."

Ruby closed her palm around the ruined plant matter to hide it from the rest of the occupants of the room who were watching the scene at the door. Ruby's saving grace was that the door, along with Pyrrha's body, blocked the evidence of her sickness when she had shown the other Huntress the petals. The last thing she needed was for word to get around the school that Beacon's youngest leader in history was dying from the Flower Spitting Disease.

"Of course, come in." Pyrrha opened the door wider for the red-cloaked woman to follow her into the dorm.

"Thanks…" Ruby trailed off awkwardly as she saw three sets of eyes land on her from the opposite side of the room. Seeing the younger girl's distress, Pyrrha cleared her throat to catch the attention of her nosy teammates.

"Guys, can you give us the room please?" Pyrrha gestures for her teammates to leave with a jerk of her head.

"Sure thing, Pyrrha." Jaune nodded as he picked up a comic he was reading and waved for the other duo to follow him. "Come on guys, let's see if we can raid the kitchens for something sweet."

Before making his way out the door, Jaune reached for his girlfriend's hand and gave it a light squeeze before he left the room.

"Ooooh! I wonder if they'll have syrup!" Nora smacked her lips as she bounced towards the door. "Be nice Jaune, and I'll even leave you a slice of pie!"

"Nora..." Ren pinched the bridge of his nose before sending Ruby a small smile of apology.

Once the door clicked shut behind them, Pyrrha gestured for the other younger woman to take a seat at the end of her bed. The warrior's gaze watched patiently as Ruby placed the bloody petals into her pocket to dispose of later and wrapped her cloak around herself in a calming gesture.

When Pyrrha next spoke, her voice was gentle and quiet, knowing how hard this was for the other woman. "Who?"

Ruby swallowed thickly, forcing her voice to work as she felt the tightness that gripped her from the inside just at the thought of the ivory-haired woman. "Weiss..."

"How long?" Pyrrha gently prodded for information. She knew from experience that if she didn't push Ruby for answers now, then there was no telling if Ruby would or could ever tell her in the future.

Ruby sighed, seeming to deflate as she against the wall. "I've loved her for two years, but I started showing symptoms a little over two months ago."

Pyrrha nodded, knowing that sometimes it can take a while for symptoms to appear. "Who knows?"

"Just you and Yang. She recommended I talk to you since…" Ruby trailed off awkwardly as her eyes focused on the floor, refusing to meet the bright green irises that searched for her own.

"... I'm the only person you know here that survived it?" Pyrrha asked gently.

Ruby nodded solemnly. "Yes, at least without medical intervention."

Pyrrha sighed, wrapping her arms over her chest as she gave up trying to meet Ruby's eyes. "I won't lie to you. It wasn't easy, and I almost died from it."

"Well, to be fair, you were already dying weren't you?" Ruby chuckled darkly, shuffling on the bed so that she sat cross-legged over the crimson comforter. "What else was there for you to lose?"

Both young women were quiet as they were lost to the memories from that fateful day.

Pyrrha's sickness was not the first case of the Oranthoptysis in Beacon's history. However, it was the most recent case of it that had caught the attention of the students and staff members alike.

At first it started with small things, Pyrrha missing a class here, a lecture there. No one at the time really thought much of it until the Vytal tournament that JNPR and RWBY knew that there was something seriously wrong with their friend.

During the doubles portion of the tournament Nora and Pyrrha were fighting Sun and Neptune when Pyrrha had taken a bad hit to the abdomen with Neptune's trident. Instead of the blade bouncing off Pyrrha's Aura, the life giving shield was simply non-existent, and Neptune's blade went through her body.

The medical team was able to revive her, but on inquiring why Pyrrha was fighting without an Aura, the red-headed warrior threw up a puddle of blood, vines, and crimson-edged yellow Gladiolus flowers. The disease was not only slowing killing her, but it had completely depleted her Aura.

With the chaos of the tournament that followed, almost everyone had forgotten about Pyrrha's condition while Beacon laid waste to Grimm and hostiles alike. Believing that she would die anyway, Pyrrha confessed her love to Jaune before running to follow Cinder to the top of the CCT tower. To the Huntress' surprise, Jaune loved her too, and as she ran to meet her fate, the plant parasite was expelled from her body.

Miraculously it was Ruby who was able to stop Cinder by joining Pyrrha just in time to snipe Cinder's shoulder, the arrow now askew so that the lethal shot hit her right shoulder instead of her heart. What happened after that was a bit blurred in Ruby's memory as apparently with the giant Wyvern Grimm attacking the tower, Ruby unlocked her silver eye powers. It was only until she woke up a few weeks later in Patch that she was told that her eyes had frozen the Grimm, and killed the woman known only as Cinder. With the Fall of Beacon thwarted, the White Fang members were rounded up, the Grimm killed, and the frozen Wyvern slain after a massive assault by a collective effort of the teachers and Atlas military. That night was not without tragedy, but Pyrrha Nikos was saved and reunited with her loved ones.

"Ruby…" Pyrrha's voice wavered as she watched her friend be consumed by sorrow and self-pity.

"Sorry, Pyrrha. It's just been so hard." Ruby shuffled so that she was leaning closer to the older fighter. "How did you survive it?"

"Well, you know what happened that night. I confessed my feelings to Jaune and it saved my life." Pyrrha spoke softly so as not to upset the scythe wielder.

"But that's the thing, he loved you back." Ruby wrapped her arms around her knees. "There's no secret to surviving this. It's just dumb luck."

The warrior sighed deeply. "Ruby, you can't honestly believe that your chances of survival are so low? Is there really no part of you, no matter how small, that believes that Weiss might love you back?"

"I -" But before Ruby could reply, her scroll buzz rapidly three times. She frowned at the screen before placing the device back into her belt pouch.

Pyrrha cocked her head in concern. "What's wrong?"

"I just got a mission alert from Professor Ozpin. A Search and Destroy near Vale's borders." Ruby stated as she stood up from the bed and smoothed out the wrinkles in her combat skirt before running her fingers over her belt to check for the proper amount of ammunition and dust before heading out.

Pyrrha watched this action with a sad smile having noticed that Ruby picked up the habit from her partner. "Then be safe Ruby, and good luck."

Ruby had a feeling as she hugged Pyrrha goodbye that the older woman meant more than just wishing her well on her mission.

"Hey Pyrrha?"

"Yes, Ruby?"

"Do you believe in destiny?" Ruby clutched at her chest right above her aching heart.

Pyrrha blinked back tears as the young leader's words echoed in her mind. Ruby had no idea the significance of the meaning to that particular phrase, but somehow she knew to ask the fated warrior the question that had haunted her for years.

"Yes, Ruby… I - I do."

"Okay… Good." Ruby nodded to herself as she blinked back tears, gritting her teeth in reassurance and newfound resolve. "Because I always wanted to be a Huntress, like my mom. So I'm not letting this kill me now. Fate wouldn't be that cruel, right?"

Before the taller woman could respond, Ruby had nodded her thanks once more and closed shut the dorm room's door behind her.

A single tear fell down Pyrrha's face as she breathed out a prayer to whatever deity might be listening.

"Oum, help her…"

[-][-][-]

"What's the plan, Ruby?" Weiss asked her partner with a worried glance, the older girl tilting her head to the side as she watched the younger Huntress stare out the window of their train's compartment. Yang and Blake looked at each other in concern as their leader continued to be oblivious to the ex-Heiress' inquiry.

"Ruby?" Weiss prompted as she gently nudged her partner with her side of her heel, dragging unfocused silver eyes away from the snow-covered landscape that flashed by them. A line of mountains loomed closer with each minute that passed by, their ice covered peaks towered imposingly above the sliver of train that raced below.

Weiss frowned, having noticed Ruby's absent mindedness that always seemed to preoccupy the young scythe wielder's attention as of late. "Ruby, are you alright?"

"Oh, right… sorry." Ruby glanced over at her partner before clutching her chest and wincing in pain. Turning her face away from her partner, Ruby whipped out a red handkerchief with her crest printed on the front and violently coughed into the crimson scrap of fabric. Carefully, she folded its contents away from prying eyes and replacing the handkerchief back into her pocket. Ruby cleared her throat, ignoring the sharp glare sent her way by the watchful eyes of her sister.

"The mission is quite simple, a Search and Destroy located 20 clicks north of the city of Glenmoor. It seems that there is a nesting of Nevermores hiding out in an abandoned settlement around here." Ruby pulled out her scroll and pointed at a hologram of the enlarged map of Vale, her finger resting on a spot near the northern coastline. "Since their proximity to both the people of Glenmoor and the shipping port of Seneca, we have been tasked with destroying any Grimm activity in and around the Nevermore nesting site. Our timeline is 48 hours, including travel to and from the area. We should arrive at the station in a few hours and from there we'll make the trek north towards our target."

Blake nodded her head. "Sounds simple enough. Do we know how many Grimm we should expect to encounter?"

Ruby clicked off the hologram and replaced the scroll in her pocket. "Various reports have said anything from thirty to fifty Nevermores, which normally wouldn't be an issue. But the latest report claimed that a group of Ursa has been spotted in the neighboring forest - around sixty in total. By themselves, they wouldn't pose a concern to our team. But together..."

"... They pose as a significant threat, even for people with our years of training." Weiss concluded, gesturing around to the other Huntresses.

Blake nodded, a hand resting on her chin in thought. "I see now why they sent all of us instead of the usual pair."

"Exactly." Ruby pointed at her Faunus teammate, a smile flashing across her face.

"So we go in, take out the Nevermores at the settlement and sneak out before attracting more Grimm to the area. Should be an easy mission." Yang spoke as she slammed her metal fist into her waiting palm in an act of determination.

"'Should be' are the key words there," Weiss interjected with air quotes as she rested a hand on the pommel of Myrtenaster, the polished rapier leaning against the wall of their small compartment. "With our luck, something bad is bound to happen."

"You sound like our Uncle Qrow, Weiss. Cheer up!" Yang smiled widely at the ivory-haired woman, getting an eye roll in response.

"Yang's right, we need to keep our spirits up so we don't attract more Grimm." Ruby stood up and brushed the wrinkles off her combat skirt, her hands running over the contents of her belt in habit. "We still have a few hours left before we arrive so everyone make sure you have everything you need and take the time now to relax. We have a few busy days before us."

"Aye, aye captain!" Yang gave her sister a mock salute with two fingers before she pulled out her scroll to play a video game. Blake's ears twitched in response before she pulled out a small novel from her long coat and flipped through the worn pages eagerly.

Weiss opened the Dust chamber of the revolver on her rapier before eyeing the levels of her of cartridges. With a satisfied hum, she popped them back into place and tested the rotation speed of the revolver before glancing at her partner who was trying to sneak out of their compartment.

"And where do you think you're going?" Weiss asked, a perfectly shaped white eyebrow arching in suspension.

"Just to the bathroom," Ruby replied as she jerked her thumb towards the back of the train car.

Weiss frowned, not entirely convinced at the Huntress' words. "You've been acting weird for a while now… Is everything alright?"

"Yeah, everything's fine." Ruby smiled as she rubbed a hand on the back of her neck, avoiding the knowing look Yang was giving her from across the small compartment.

"Well, try not to take too long or Yang will eat all the snacks." Weiss retorted, her eyes lingering on the brawler who was already tearing into a bag of potato chips they had bought at the station.

"I'll be back in a second… You won't even know I'm gone." The bright shine in Ruby's eyes lost their glow as her voice faded away, once again becoming lost in thought. Before the ex-Heiress could interject, Ruby had closed the doors behind her.

A few minutes later, and after she had finished her business and washed her hands, Ruby took a moment reach into a zippered pouch on her belt and retrieve the glittering items stored there.

Her hand gripped around the fire Dust in resolve, the red crystal leaving a tingling sensation that reached her palm through her waning Aura. It was a last ditch effort, the Dust was bought in secret on their last trip to the city of Vale while gathering supplies for their mission. No one on her team had questioned her purchase, and why would they? A Huntress buying raw Dust was not an unusual thing for a fighter of their caliber, but Ruby rarely bought Dust that wasn't in its refined, powdered form. A small detail that so far seemed to have evaded her teammates' notice.

The fire crystals seemed to pulsate in her palm before she replaced the raw Dust back into a pouch on her utility belt. With a deep sigh, Ruby turned on the sink and splashed cold water on her face repeatedly, trying to focus her mind away from what she had discovered on the internet. The treatment was said to have varying results, often only giving people more time rather than completely eradicating the illness.

But Ruby was already on borrowed time. What was there left for her to lose?

Wrenching open the door to back into the corridor, Ruby was jerked to a halt by the imposing figure of her sister who had stood in the center of the walkway. Her lilac eyes were hardened in determination, muscled arms crossed as if she had been waiting for her sister for the last few minutes outside the bathroom's compartment stall.

"Don't think I don't know what you're doing, Rubes." Yang accusingly jabbed at her sister's chest with a finger.

Ruby held up her hands in surrender. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Yang gritted her teeth in frustration. "Don't lie to me, sis. I know you haven't talked to Weiss about any of this, so I know you're up to something - something dangerous."

"Leave me alone, Yang." Ruby tried to shoulder her way around her sister but was only blocked by the brawler, Yang's arms spread out like a wall of muscle and machine.

"Ruby, listen to me… I don't want my sister to die because she's being foolish." Yang grabbed the front of her sister's cloak and shook her. "Just talk to her."

"Let me go, Yang!" Ruby yelled as she tried to fight off the steel grip that trapped her in the corridor.

Yang lifted her struggling sister and slammed her into the nearest wall, her eyes flashing red with anger. "Not until you tell me what you're planning! What did Pyrrha tell you? Was it something she said to you?!"

"No, Pyrrha had nothing to do with this!" Ruby yelled trying and failing to kick Yang as her feet dangled off the floor by a few inches.

"Then you admit that you're up to something." Yang let go of her sister, watching the red-cloaked woman rub the wrinkles out angrily. The brawler's eyes flickered back to lilac as she reached out to clutch her sister's arm with a gentle mechanical palm. When she next spoke, her voice became soft, desperation seeping into her words. "Please, Rubes… I'll leave you alone for now. But you and I both know that your illness is getting worse. You are running out of time and I know that you've got something up your sleeve. So please, whatever it is, just don't do anything stupid."

Ruby hung her head in shame. "Yang, I can't just sit here and do nothing..."

"Is there really no way you can tell Weiss how you feel?" Yang pleaded with her sister, lilac eyes watering at the defeated look that flashed across the younger woman's face.

Ruby shook her head. "Pyrrha and I talked and since then we've been texting a bit about my options, but we reached the same conclusion. She all but confirmed what I believed. If Weiss rejects me, then I'll die. And surgery this late will only increase my chances at dying from the operation before the parasite could be removed."

"Oh Rubes, I'm so sorry." Yang reached out and enveloped her sister in a fierce hug.

Feeling the comfort of her sister's arms around her, Ruby felt her legs shake before giving out, causing both women to fall to their knees, clutching each other in their shared grief. Ruby's eyes shimmered with unshed tears, her voice muffled by her sister's leather coat. "Yang, I… I don't want to die."

Yang reached up to card the red-tipped brunette locks through her fingers. Her movements were gentle from years of providing the same comforting action in times of sorrow during their childhood. "I don't want you to die either."

Ruby pulled away to lock red-rimmed eyes with her sister. "Can you be there, at the end?"

Yang swallowed as she saw the acceptance of her little sister's fate reflected in the silver eyes that shimmered like mirrors in her sorrow. "I'm not going anywhere… And neither are you."

Ruby cried harder, recognizing the lie for what it was. She clung to her sister in the corridor as the train sped off into the mountains.

[-][-][-]

They marched in knee-high snow for several miles, Yang leading the party with Ruby bringing up the rear. The team was all too happy to follow the brawler's footsteps as she used the residual heat from her Semblance to melt a small pathway for the Huntresses to help ease their journey. Over the last few years everyone had joked around about the blonde being a personal space heater, but in times like this, Yang's naturally high body heat allowed for a few small comforts. One of these being that they would not have to waste energy walking in snow drifts across the frozen north.

The dying light of day had faded long ago, leaving the Huntresses to rely on their senses and the beams of shattered moonlight that filtered through the cloudy sky to guide their way.

After checking their heading using an old fashioned compass, Ruby directed the team through a small clearing until the peaks of snow covered buildings could be seen in the distance over a hillside. Snapping her fingers twice to catch the attention of her team, Ruby pointed to a cropping of boulders that overlooked the abandoned settlement below.

Years of training allowed for the group of Huntresses to quietly make their way to the offered cover, each woman crouching in place before turning to face their leader. Ruby unhooked Crescent Rose from her back and used the sniper function to scan the smattering of ruined buildings for any sign of Grimm activity.

"There!" Ruby whispered as she focused on the clock tower that stood at the center of what remained of the town's square. "At the top of the clock tower, due Northeast of our location. There's got to be at least twenty Nevermores resting on the tower's roof and other buildings. We'll need to take out the nest first."

No one knew why Nevermores liked to converge in large flocks, often roasting in specific high rising locations that Huntsmen called 'nests'. Their behavior, while odd considering that Grimm do not mate, allowed for easy tracking to their nests as the Huntresses observed the dark shapes that flapped among the wreckage of the old settlement. If the current nest of Nevermores grew in size or if they decided to migrate towards the south, more than one major city would be in imminent danger, their fate similar to what had befallen on the poor occupants of this town.

"And the Ursa?" Blake asked, her feline ears flicking as snowflakes fell on the delicate appendages.

Ruby quickly scanned the surrounding area, but found no trace of the larger Grimm in the tree line or snow covered fields to the south. "None within sight."

"Well, that's a relief…" Weiss whispered as she readied her rapier. She smoothed out the wrinkles in her combat skirt before running her fingers over her belt to check for the emergency medical kit and extra Dust vials before nodding to herself noting everything was as it should be before a fight.

"Okay, Rubes. How do you want to tackle this?" Yang asked, Ember Celica locking into place on her left arm, her right shifting so that a shotgun barrel jutted above her wrist.

"Yang, Blake, you two head for the central tower and attack the nest. Take down as many as you can while drawing them out for Weiss, who will be your backup. Delta formation should do it with Yang as point."

All three Huntresses nodded their heads, familiar with the triangular attack sequence that they had perfected in their third year.

Ruby took their nods as confirmation as she continued with her debriefing. "I'll stay here and provide cover from the skies. If more Nevermores converge on the area or the Ursa appear, I'll come down to help in close combat. Any questions?"

Her teammates all shook their heads.

"Alright everyone, be careful out there and good luck." Ruby loaded a bullet into the chamber of her sniper rifle configuration of Crescent Rose. "Remember, don't take unnecessary risks. Be smart and watch each other's backs."

The other Huntresses readied their weapons and waited for their leader to give them the signal, having all heard this speech from Ruby before.

"On my count," Ruby whispered, her breath coming out in a small cloud of mist in the cold as adrenaline coursed through her veins. A single silver eye closed as the other targeted the telltale red glow of a Nevermore's eye through the crosshairs of her scope.

"Three… Two… One…"

A sniper round cracked the stilled air as a single bullet shot through the head of the nearest Grimm.

Without waiting to see if the bullet had made its mark, Yang blasted from their cover, the recoil of her shot allowing her to fly down towards the unsuspecting targets below. Blake simply disappeared, the shadow of herself left behind dissipated as the Faunas emerged to the left of her partner yards away from her original position. Weiss shot a line of white glyphs down the sloped hill to follow behind the trail of shotgun shells slightly to the right of the blonde streak that careened from the sky. With a mighty yell, Yang raised her fist and smashed into the shattered face of the clock tower with enough force to send the structure imploding on itself.

"Well so much for being subtle…" Ruby whispered to no one in particular as she lined up another shot, taking out a Grimm that had sneaked up behind her teammates.

Without a central point acting as a nest for the Grimm, the Nevermores took to the skies. Within seconds chaos seemed to erupt around them as a handful of fleeing Grimm burst into clouds of black mist as sniper rounds relentlessly cut through their numbers.

Ruby's breathing became in sync with each shot from her gun, Nevermores dropping from the skies as they tried and failed to locate the source of the long ranged attack. However, none of the Grimm where successful as their attention was drawn back to the center of the town's square.

Yang emerged from the dusty rubble of the demolished tower, her blonde hair wildly whipping around encased in fire as her Semblance burned fully charged from the absorbed impact. With several quick jabs and punches, rounds of shotgun blasts destroyed the creatures of darkness that swooped down at their target.

With their attention drawn to the glowing brawler, Blake and Weiss attacked in tandem at the Grimm that lined the roofs of houses. A flash of a glyph or a streak of black nylon ribbon was all that could be seen from a distance as the monochrome duo cut their way through the ranks of lingering Grimm.

Ruby smiled to herself as a flanking Nevermore burst into a cloud of mist from an expert shot, the Grimm having tried to fly to Yang's blind spot before the creature found itself on the receiving end of Ruby's gun. But her victory was short lived as an earsplitting cry from above alerted the young Huntress to a group of nearby Nevermore whom had emerged from the mountains and flew directly towards the carnage that lay left of the settlement.

Using the recoil of her sniper round to propel forward, Ruby activated her Semblance to land on the roof of the nearest standing house. Pulling her arms back until Crescent Rose shifted into the deadly scythe formation, Ruby launched herself to land behind Weiss who was fighting off a rather large Grimm.

"Ruby!" Weiss gasped in surprise as the right wing of the Nevermore in front of her was shorn clean off, the scythe wielder seeming to have materialized out of thin air in a burst of red rose petals.

"Couldn't let you have all the fun, Weiss!" Ruby smiled at her partner as she jumped into a spiraling strike to dodge around the talon of an attacking Grimm, before shooting around to its side. Her blade hooked around its razor sharp beak and decapitated the creature of darkness.

Without waiting for an answer, Ruby shot off to the other side of the town's square and blocked a Grimm's swipe with the curve of her blade before using the momentum of its attack to swing the weapon in reverse, cleaving the Nevermore in two.

Ruby turned to smile at her partner, not hearing the warning shout from the Huntress in question. Pain erupted from her left arm as a lingering Nevermore had surprised the red-cloaked Huntress and slashed at her dominant arm with its talons. Ruby's Aura, already having been drained to almost a non-existent state because of her illness, had not been able to absorb the blow from the Grimm. Blood quickly seeped from the wound, splattering the trampled snow and mud with specks of gore.

Ruby clutched at her injured arm in reflex, her silver eyes flashing in fear as the Grimm loomed over her hunched form. A familiar burning sensation crept behind her eyes, her silver eyes trying to activate their mysterious power. But her drained Aura could not sustain the Grimm-slaying light; the white glow fading to nothing until only her the radiant silver of her eyes remained. Ruby raised her arms to cover her face in what she knew would be an ill fated attempt to save her life.

Just as the Nevermore closed in for the final blow, a streak of white intercepted the attack. A black glyph held the razor sharp beak in place, inches from Ruby's face as Weiss quickly sliced and stabbed at the trapped Grimm until it burst into mist.

Ruby watched her partner in awe and relief as the wind picked up, Weiss' ivory locks fluttering in the chilling breeze as snow and ash drifted around the ex-Heiress in a beautiful dance.

Weiss turned to reprimand her partner for being so reckless when her breath got caught in her throat at the sight that greeted her. Ruby was doubled over, retching a grotesque mixture of blood, vomit, and plant-like matter onto the snow. Crescent Rose lay abandoned at her side as the younger Huntress dropped to her knees in exhaustion. Head hanging in defeat, Ruby reached into a pouch on her utility belt and grabbed a handful of red crystals, the fire Dust glittering crimson in the moonlight.

"Ruby?! What the -" Weiss was cut off as Ruby locked eyes with the ex-Heiress, blood dribbling from her lips as she let out a choked whisper.

"I'm so sorry, Weiss."

Without warning Ruby held up the jagged edge of the crystal before stabbing herself with the Dust straight into the center of her heaving chest. At first it seemed as if time stood still as blood seeped around the edges of the protruding Dust crystals, before Ruby let out a blood curdling scream as fire coursed through her veins. Her vision blurred as her body swayed from the injection of Dust.

Weiss ran to catch the limp form of her partner as Ruby collapsed from the pain, cradling her fallen partner in her arms. The younger Huntress was barely breathing as silver eyes searched for the brightest blue, Weiss' hand shaking above the Dust that was being absorbed in her partner's body unsure if she could pull it out without causing further damage.

Even with the Dust burning at the plant-like matter that suffocated her lungs, the scythe wielder could still feel the parasitic disease grip at her organs with its thorn tendrils. Ruby's eyes flickered to her palm where a spare Dust crystal laid, her hand shaking with visible effort as she tried to raise it to her chest once more.

"Ruby?! Stop!" Weiss shouted in fear, slapping the Dust away from her partner's limp palm. The action seeming to have gone unnoticed as Ruby's head lolled to one side, blood pouring from her lips, now accompanied by ash. Horror crept into Weiss' heart as the smell of burned flesh reached the ex-Heiress' nostrils. "What are you doing?! You're going to get yourself killed!"

"Weiss…" Ruby's voice could barely be heard over the sounds of gunfire and screeches of dying Grimm. Weiss cradled her partner's head with one hand, her eyes scanning the pools of vomit and blood around them for signs of Ruby's ailment, crystal blue eyes widening in shock as they focused on the white rose petals and barbed stems that had been ejected from Ruby's body.

"No… no, no, NO! Not you too..." Weiss' lips trembled as tears fell from fair eyelashes and onto her dying friend's ashen face. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Weiss let out a choked sob as Ruby's lips moved as if to create sound. But all that escaped her throat was gurgles as trapped air burst from bubbles formed by blood.

Quickly remember her training; Weiss tilted Ruby's body to the side to allow the blood to drain freely from the woman's air pipe. Her eyes frantically scanned the surrounding ruins for a flash of golden blonde hair among the smoke and rubble.

"Yang! Help me, please!" The Gods must have been listening to Weiss' pleas as her frantic cries, bordering on hysterical, tore through the sounds of the chaos and captured the brawler's attention through her berserker haze.

"Ruby!?"

Yang ignored the attacking Grimm as she ran to their side and slid to a halt to grab her sister's dying body from Weiss. Before she could do more than check for Ruby's faint pulse, Blake voice cut through the battle's deafening noise.

"We need to get out of here now! The Ursa are coming!" Blake jumped from a nearby rooftop and swung from the ribbon on Gamble Shroud to land with her weapon firing at the approaching Grimm. "I called in an evacuation unit. Pick up is in five minutes!"

"Ruby, stay with me! Rubes!" Yang's voice filtered in and out as Ruby fought to remain conscious. Smoke, black mist, and falling debris obscured her vision as Blake and Weiss formed a protective circle around their fallen leader. All that could be seen of Yang was the bright gold of her burning mane that fell like a curtain around her.

"-by…"

Time seemed to slow to a crawl as snowflakes drifted lazily down on her face to mix with ash, blood, and vomit that already covered her body. Her fading heartbeat fluttered at the sight of a flash of white and blue among the darkening haze. Ruby felt herself take in one more ragged breath before her eyes rolled into the back of her head.

The world went black.

[-][-][-]

When Ruby slowly blinked into consciousness, she groaned as a harsh light blared overhead forced her to squint past the fluorescent glare above as the room came into focus. A quick glance around her showed a pristine white room, smelling of disinfect as the faint sound of a rhythmic beeping could be heard close by.

Ruby's combat gear had been stripped away and replaced by a light blue hospital gown, a crisp set of white sheets pulled up around her waist. A light tug of her arm informed the injured Huntress that an IV bag of fluids and what looked like a blood transfusion were hooked up to the soft crease of her inner elbow.

Dust motes could be seen lazily drifting in the beam of sunlight that shone through a crack in the shades that hid the view of the outside world. Yang and Blake were found to be locked in a deep discussion with someone in a set of medical scrubs just outside her door. But what surprised the scythe wielder most was the sight of her partner who had had a chair pulled up to the side of her bed, head dozing in slumber as her left hand gripped Ruby's palm over the sheets.

A light squeeze from the younger Huntress' hand forced brilliant blue eyes to fly open and land on her injured partner.

"Ruby!" Weiss exclaimed as she shifted in her seat, drawing up Ruby's hand to place a light kiss on the back of her knuckles. The ex-Heiress' red-rimmed eyes shone with unshed tears as Ruby attempted to smile reassuringly at her partner.

"Weiss…?" Ruby's voice was a rough whisper.

Weiss gripped Ruby's hand harder, her own hand trembled as she used her thumb to stroke the tanned calloused palm. "Ruby, please… you can't keep doing this to yourself. Even with your Aura, you will die." Weiss closed her eyes and took a steadying breath. "Yang filled us in on everything. I know that you don't want to, please but try the surgery... for me."

Silver eyes locked with crystal blue making Ruby's heart flutter, her throat starting to close up from the parasite rearing its head once more. "Weiss, I can't let her go."

Weiss' eyes widened in shock and disbelief at the admission before her eyes hardened. The ex-Heiress bent down over the bed until her face was only inches from the other woman's own. When Weiss next spoke, her voice came out in a desperate plea. "Please, you must! For your friends, for your family, for your team. For me, Ruby. Please, let her go for me."

"That's the problem, Weiss…" Ruby's breathing was labored, specks of blood splattering Weiss' combat gear with each word the dying Huntress spoke. Instead of being revolted by this action, Weiss gripped Ruby's hand with both of her own as she leaned closer to her terminally ill partner.

"I - I can't let you go."

There was a pause as Ruby's confession floated in the space between them, the weighted words taking several heartbeats worth of time until Weiss seemed to find her voice at last.

"... What?"

Every word the scythe user spoke took a monumental amount of effort, blood seeping into her lungs as she slowly suffocated on her own vital fluids. Ruby was so exhausted that she didn't even have the strength to cough up more blood, simply letting the Oranthoptysis disease take its course and claim its ill-fated victim. Ruby knew in her heart that her time was up, and that within the hour she would be dead. So she pushed forward, finally letting go of her fear and accepting her fate as the dying Huntress poured her heart out to the woman in white.

"I love you, Weiss. I will always love y- Ooff!"

Ruby's confession of love was abruptly cut off by a pair of soft lips as Weiss leaned down and embraced her dying partner in a passionate kiss. The younger Huntress felt lighter than air as her senses took in all that was Weiss, the rest of the world simply melting away with their kiss. Ruby didn't know if only seconds had passed or if it was hours before they broke apart, each woman gasping for breath.

It was only when Weiss pulled away that Ruby noticed that the ex-Heiress was crying, tear tracks lining her sharp pale features. "Why didn't you just tell me?"

"Weiss…?" Ruby's heartbeat thundered in her chest as she tried to understand what had happened. The younger Huntress not daring to believe that the other woman could possibly have feelings for her, even after being kissed by the love of her life.

"Now listen here, you Dolt!" Weiss shook her head in exasperation before she tilted Ruby's chin up with her fingers until she was forced to lock eyes with the other Huntress. "I love you too; I have for a long time. Probably since I saw you run up the CCT tower to save Pyrrha… Maybe even from before."

As Weiss took a deep breath during her speech, Ruby's eyes filled with fresh tears of relief and joy. Her heart soared with each word the ex-Heiress spoke.

"But one thing is clear to me now: I love you, Ruby Rose…" Weiss voice trailed off as Ruby suddenly lurched to the side and violent threw up into the waste bin at the foot of the bed. This bout illness was unlike anything Ruby had encountered before. Her whole body shook and shuddered with effort before finally the roots of the plant-like parasite let go of her organs and was ejected from its host.

Weiss eyed the rooted rose bramble that was now completely separated from her partner's body, crystal blues eyes focusing on the roses that were mixed with the blood and vomit.

Weiss closed her eyes and breathed a deep sigh as she recognized the flora that had grown within Ruby.

White roses, how fitting.

Grabbing Myrtenaster from where it rested on a side table, Weiss turned the Dust chamber until it pointed to red and cast a glyph inside the waste bin. With a flick of delicate wrist, the parasite was alight with fire until all that remained was a pile of ash.

Weiss hummed in satisfaction before she turned to face her shocked partner once more, her blue eyes twinkling with mischief.

"... And that you are an idiot."

Ruby wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and chuckled at the jest. "But I'm your idiot?"

Weiss rolled her eyes, a fond smile graced her lips as she sat back down at the foot of Ruby's bed.

"Yes, Ruby… You're my idiot."

Taking care to gently grasp the calloused palm of the younger Huntress, Weiss placed a delicate kiss on the back of Ruby's hand.

A promise of what was to come.