It was early. Winter knew it was early because her alarm hadn't woken her. Something had, however, and she couldn't put her finger on what it was.
Maybe it was the smell from her kitchenette. It smelled of eggs. The light wasn't on in there, but now she was paying attention, Winter could hear the sound of something sizzling in a pan. And if she strained, Winter could even hear humming.
" Winter? "
Winter sighed, reaching over to her scroll to turn her alarm off. There was no need for it, she wasn't getting back to sleep. Instead, she rolled herself out of bed, yawning widely.
"Coming, Penny." Winter called back through, voice cracking a little. It was early, and she hadn't slept well. She flicked the kitchenette light on as she moved through, smiling a little when Penny turned to look at her.
"Morning, Winter!" Despite the cheerfulness in Penny's tone, she was quiet. She'd long since learned that Winter didn't like loud noises very early. "Your coffee is almost ready, and I am making you an omelette. Did you sleep well?" Winter didn't answer, but as she passed by Penny she kissed her cheek. Penny hummed, face lighting up. She twisted, grabbing Winters arm and returning the affection.
"Does that mean you slept well, or that you did not?"
"It means I love you." Winter pointed out, heading for the coffee pot. "And I'm tired. But no, I did not sleep well."
"I love you too." Penny bounced, watching Winter stare at the coffee pot for a second, clearly slowly processing her surroundings. "Sit down! I will get your coffee in a minute, it is okay Winter." Winter considered that for a second too, before sitting at the table, her head in her hands.
" Winter? " Winters head snapped up.
"What is it?"
"What is what?" Penny asked, bringing over a coffee cup and setting it in front of Winter. There was a moment's hesitation, before Penny opened her mouth to speak. Winter cut her off before she could make a sound.
"You know you can." At the permission, Penny kissed the top of Winters head before going back to the stove.
Winter sipped her coffee, feeling the cobwebs clear from her brain, slowly but surely as she woke up.
Their time together was short. While Winter ate, Penny took off to go and see Pietro, knowing she wouldn't get much of a chance for the rest of the day.
It was routine now, as familiar to Winter as breathing.
Next came the morning briefing, and then training with Weiss. Idly, Winter wondered if exhaustion was making time feel like it was passing differently, as it almost felt as if she blinked and her day had sped past her. But Weiss hugged her again at the end of training, and Winter decided she just wasn’t paying enough attention. She hugged back, feeling warmth radiate through her. It was nice, having her sister back in her life. For them to be on the same team and aware of it.
“ Winter? ” Winter frowned, looking up from her lunch and over at Weiss, who was checking her scroll.
“Is something the matter, Weiss?” Winter asked, raising an eyebrow. Weiss looked up, frowning slightly.
“What? No. What makes you think there’s something wrong?”
“Didn’t you just say my name?”
“No… I was looking at my Scroll. Ruby has apparently, yet again, gotten herself into some sort of trouble. I was watching her Aura.” At that, Winter couldn’t help the smile. She did something very similar with Penny at night.
“You care about her, don’t you?” Winter asked, lifting her teacup to disguise the amusement on her face. She wondered if Weiss was as out of touch with her emotions as Winter herself had been months before. She hoped not.
“Of course I do, she’s my friend.” Weiss defended instantly, setting her scroll on the table so she could still watch Ruby’s Aura while holding a conversation with her sister. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Ruby to look after herself, it was just that when she wasn’t there to save her team leader from trouble, she worried.
“Weiss,” Winter sighed, reaching across to squeeze her sister's hand. She wasn’t sure why she was being so affectionate today, or why she was willing to talk about these things. But something in Winter told her that this was a conversation that they needed to have. “Don’t be stupid.”
“Hey!” Weiss protested instantly. Winter rolled her eyes.
“If you care about Ruby that much… do something about it.”
“But what if-”
“What if she doesn’t feel the same? What if you make a fool of yourself? What if you ruin whatever relationship you have currently?”
“All of the above.” Weiss admitted, turning her hand over so that she could hold Winters, squeezing it in return.
“You’ve got it easy.” Winter said. “Ruby clearly cares about you, and she understands what feelings are, and how to quantify them. As for making a fool of yourself, your team has seen you at some of your lowest points. I know they have, because my team when I was at school was much the same. So unless you decide to dress up as a banana and perform an intricate dance you haven’t rehearsed, I think she will take any conversation with grace.” Weiss laughed at the mention of a banana costume.
“Is that how it was for you?” Weiss asked, and Winter frowned. She didn’t remember telling Weiss about her relationship. In fact, as far as Winter was aware, Ironwood was the only one who actually knew, and that was because Winter wanted to get out ahead of any possible accusation of impropriety. Although she suspected Pietro knew, because Penny wasn’t very good at keeping secrets.
“What do you mean?” Winter asked, instead of accusing Weiss of anything. After all, she didn’t want to give the game away if Weiss didn’t actually know. Weiss laughed again.
“Winter, I’ve known you my whole life, and I’ve only ever seen you be casually physical with three people before we came here. Me, Whitley and Mother. And yet you have no issue touching Penny. Either you have adopted her, or you are dating her. And given how you mentioned Ruby understanding feelings, I don’t think you’ve adopted her.”
“When did you get so observant, Weiss?” Winter asked, sighing and squeezing Weiss’ hand again.
“I’ve always been observant. You just never noticed.”
“Funny.” Winter said dryly. “But yes. It was… immensely awkward, and involved a lot of explanations of relationship types and what certain feelings mean. Gruelling, but definitely worth the effort.”
“And you’re happy?” Weiss asked, closing her scroll as she saw that Ruby had likely finished whatever altercation she’d been having. Winter thought about that question for a moment.
“Yes. I’m happy.”
“Good.” Weiss nodded. “And thanks, for the advice. But I don’t need it. We talked about it while we were flying to Atlas. I just wanted you to talk about it.” Winter scowled at that reveal.
“Come our next sparring session, Weiss, I am going to make you regret your trickery.” Weiss laughed, and after a second, Winter softened, even smiling a little. “Next time, just ask me straight about anything like that. I won’t lie to you.”
“Okay, okay. Point taken.” Weiss squeezed Winter’s hand again before pulling away. “Sorry for tricking you. But I am glad you have someone. And that she makes you happy.” Winter nodded, pulling her hand back across the table and lifting her teacup again.
“I’m happy for you as well.”
With lunch finished, and plans made for their next training session, Winter left her sister and headed off to see Fria. As she opened the door to the Maidens room, Winter made herself smile. It hurt, to know that they were locking an old woman up and letting her die, just so Winter could steal her power. But it was for the best, that was what she told herself over and over. It was for the best.
“ Winter? ” Winter blinked, frowning at the woman asleep on her bed. Was she talking in her sleep? Winter set the bags of food down on the counter, working on refilling the cupboards and the fridge while Fria slept. Idly, Winter wondered if the time was soon. Part of her hoped it was, mostly just because she had to imagine Fria was in pain.
The old woman didn’t wake up, so Winter wrote her a note, letting her know that she’d been and had left her groceries. She didn’t want to wake Fria, but also she didn’t want the woman thinking that she had been forgotten.
“ Winter? ” Winter frowned at hearing her name again. It was getting frustrating now, especially since the hallway she was walking was empty. It was probably the lack of sleep starting to get to her. That’s what Winter told herself as she walked towards her command center. She was just tired, that was all. But she only had a few more hours, and then she could sleep.
“Winter!” That was definitely not Winter hearing things, as moments after the call came through, Penny crashed into Winter, nearly knocking the two of them to the ground. If Winter hadn’t gotten very used to Penny’s over-eager greetings and learned how to brace herself.
“Hello, Penny.” Winter greeted in return, letting herself hug Penny for a moment. Initially, she’d been slightly off put by the synthetic skin and metal hair, but now it was comforting and familiar.
“I will be heading out for my evening patrol soon. Are you on your way to keep watch over me?” Penny stepped out of the hug, face split in two with her usual beaming smile. Winter nodded, motioning down the hallway with her head before starting to walk. Penny followed. “I’m really lucky,” Penny said, after a few moments silence. Winter turned to look at her, ignoring the way that seemed to make her head throb. She really needed to get more sleep. “Because I have you to watch over me.” Winter frowned. Something felt wrong. A shiver ran through her, like she was out in a cold wind. She shifted, wrapping her arms around her stomach only to find that the action hurt. “So thank you. I love you.”
“Penny?” Winter frowned, trying to figure out why it sounded like Penny was saying goodbye.
“ Winter!? ” There was that voice again. Winter blinked, and Penny was gone from in front of her. Winter reached up, running her hand over her face. Her eyes widened as it came away bloody.
“ Winter! Miss Schnee! ” The voice again. Winter stumbled backwards, sliding down against the wall, eyes casting around in barely concealed panic.
“Penny? Penny, where are you?” She called, hearing her voice echo through the hallways. She was cold, and so very confused. Her eyes closed again, and when they opened it was slow. Bleary and painful and very bright.
“Miss Schnee? Thank goodness!” That voice again. Winter managed to turn her head, to find a medic crouched next to her, her hands pressing against Winters side.
“What…?” Winter frowned, before the memories returned. Fighting Cinder, Fria’s death and Penny becoming the Winter Maiden. And then Penny was gone. Of course. Penny was gone, it was just her brains vain attempts to comfort her through the pain. She must have been unconscious. That stung more than her injuries. Winter knew, no matter what came next, she’d never have a day like that again. In fact, there was a very good chance she’d never see Penny again at all. And if she did, they may well be on opposite sides. Having to fight against each other instead of with each other.
“You were out for a few minutes there, Miss Schnee. We were getting worried. We’re going to take you to the medical bay now, see about getting you patched up.” The Medic’s voice was meant to be soothing, but Winter wasn’t soothed. Despite that, she nodded. She ignored her pain, the tightness in her chest, the way her eyes stung and begged her to just let the tears spill. She couldn’t do that here. Not with witnesses. Not with people who might ask questions.
No, Winter would mourn for the life she’d lost later. When she was alone and she could maybe pretend for five minutes that she had actually managed a goodbye with Penny, rather than just a look before Penny turned and left.
And maybe, when she was alone and imagining, Winter might be brave for once and choose herself over her duty. Like her sister. Like team RWBY. Like her Penny. Maybe, this time. Maybe.