It was like being back at school.
That's the first thought Weiss had when they were shown their quarters for the night - a tiny room with four beds magically crammed into it. The cramped living space had been a shock at Beacon, but tonight it felt...comfortable - like coming home after a long, grueling trip abroad.
The trip had changed her, but changed each of her teammates as well. What she wouldn't give to go back to those days at Beacon, where they were carefree and naive. Looking back on it, it felt almost criminal the amount of fun and teasing they had before everything fell apart. Now...
Now their scars, which were well-hidden from the outside world, were visible to each other. While they should take comfort in being back in each other's presence - in being back in this familiar setting - they were more uncomfortable than anything else.
On one side of the room, Blake and Yang made mindless chit chat - the conversation carrying such long pauses that they might make it through a mere hundred words in several hours. They touched no topic deeper than the weather or the food they'd eaten for dinner, even though they both wanted to say the words they'd held inside for so long.
Weiss still held hope they would figure this out on their own. She'd get involved if she needed to, but for now...
For now, Ruby was a far greater priority.
They all saw what Ruby was doing - diligently drawing diagrams and strategies that steadily filled a notebook - but, again, that's only what the outside world saw. Everyone else saw a huntress dissecting and honing her craft - figuring out what went wrong, what went right. It was smart behavior. It was prudent behavior.
But, here in this room, they saw a spiral - an obsessive 'dedication' that would never stop. A 'commitment' that would never end.
If Yang was in a better place right now, Weiss was confident that she'd immediately address the spiral Ruby was throwing herself into. But Yang had already been through too much - between her arm, her mom, the battles, and now Blake. She needed time to recuperate. They all did but...Yang especially so.
"I'm gonna try this out!"
Tucking the notebook underneath one arm and grabbing Crescent Rose, Ruby flew through the door before anyone could respond. Yang's eyes followed her - uneasy and concerned, but too tired to speak up. Blake sighed and stared down at her hands - knowing all-too-well the path Ruby was on, but knowing all-too-well that she was the last one who could stop it.
But Weiss...Weiss stood up and followed. She caught the flash of gratitude in Yang's eyes as she left the room behind, but gratitude was unnecessary. Ruby was her partner, and it was her job to take care of her partner.
Stepping into the hallway and closing the door behind her, Weiss' first task was figuring out where Ruby went. Thankfully, her haste left a trail behind - a scattering of rose petals leading outside.
"Really, Ruby?" Weiss muttered to herself while following the path set out in front of her - her eyes trained to the ground as she moved from one rose petal from the next.
Finding an empty practice room was one thing, but going outside after dark was another. Just because the battle was temporarily over, they weren't safe - not by a long shot. Who knew what dangers still lurked out of view, waiting for the perfect opportunity to attack? Yet Ruby headed outside by herself - not even telling anyone where she was going?
Once upon a time, Weiss would've chided Ruby for her lack of awareness - assuming she was too immature or too short-sighted to see the dangers in her actions. Tonight, however, Weiss understood that Ruby was perfectly capable of assessing the risks in a situation. But she was choosing to ignore them, being far more focused on the task at hand.
When the trail of petals ended, Weiss found herself at the edge of a wide courtyard paved with large bricks. There wasn't much else to the space outside of several benches placed around the circular area - well, there wasn't much outside of the benches and Ruby.
Her headstart had been a few minutes at the most, but Ruby was already in the midst of a full-fledged training session. Petals flew across the courtyard while she called upon her semblance again and again - the speed and frequency making Weiss feel tired just watching.
They'd just fought the battle of their lives. They'd nearly lost their lives. And here Ruby was - exhausting the rest of her energy in the pursuit of perfection.
Being so preoccupied in her quest, Ruby didn't notice Weiss as she snuck around the edge of the courtyard watching Ruby at work.
After blazing through several complicated maneuvers, Ruby stopped and looked at the notebook laying open on the ground in the middle of the courtyard. Mumbling to herself, she wrote down a few notes before staring down at the page - lost in thought. Finally, she wiped her brow and blitzed into the next set of motions.
The sight made Weiss' heart ache.
Ruby was pushing herself too hard. Too far. At this rate, there would never be a break - there would only be work, work, and more work until the day everlasting rest was forced upon her.
When Ruby accidentally dropped Crescent Rose and the weapon skidded across the courtyard - Weiss decided she'd seen enough.
This wasn't Ruby's fault. This wasn't Ruby's war. But no one would know that by looking at her right now - this was a girl carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.
Picking up her weapon with a heavy sigh, Ruby flexed her left hand before straightening her posture and spooling her semblance to start again. Right as she did so, however, Weiss summoned a glyph in front of her - a deterrent that stopped her in her tracks.
"Weiss?" Ruby asked, spinning in a circle before spotting Weiss at the edge of the courtyard. "What are you doing?"
"I should be asking you that," Weiss replied. Walking over, she sensed the reticence in Ruby's posture.
Ruby wanted to be alone right now, but tough. Beacon didn't assign partners so they could be alone. Being alone was what drove them to this place - this place where good enough was never good enough.
"I'm practicing," Ruby answered, waving towards the notebook. "We always need more practice!"
Weiss wished that Ruby's smile was the same as when they'd first met - when they first became friends - but it wasn't.
Weiss was going to have to do this the hard way - that was the only way Ruby might listen…
"Then by all means." Stepping away, Weiss waved towards the courtyard so Ruby would continue.
After giving Weiss a suspicious look, Ruby decided to do just that. She took off with her semblance - only to skid to a stop when another glyph appeared in her path.
"What?" Weiss asked. "Can't I practice too?"
Grumbling under her breath, Ruby spun on her heel and took off in the opposite direction - and slammed on the brakes when another glyph halted her progress. This time, however, she instantly changed direction and sped the other way, but found another obstacle in her path.
"Weiss, what are you doing?" she finally complained, turning to Weiss with a frown.
With Ruby's full attention now, Weiss summoned a ring of glyphs surrounding the courtyard. Next, she walked over to Ruby - bringing the glyphs closer and closer as she walked, trapping the two of them in a shrinking space.
"I'm stopping you," she answered when she reached Ruby, a wall of glyphs surrounding them on all sides. When Ruby looked up, Weiss quickly sealed off the air above them so Ruby couldn't escape.
"I'm just practicing," Ruby said.
"And I'm just stopping you," Weiss answered.
"But why? We need to practice!"
"In the middle of the night?"
"Yes!" Growing more exasperated, Ruby paced what little room she had, lightly swinging Crescent Rose while she did so. "You saw what happened. You saw what we're up against. We need to be better - a lot better - and fast."
"So you're not going to sleep?" Weiss asked, watching Ruby walk back and forth in front of her.
"We don't have time to sleep…"
Sighing at the response, Weiss shook her head and silently begged Ruby to look at her instead of pacing like a tiger in a cage.
"We need to be better, yes," she agreed, waiting for Ruby to nod before continuing. "But we also need to take care of ourselves."
"That's what I'm doing!" Ruby said, knocking Crescent Rose into one of the glyphs and letting it spring back towards her.
"I need to be better." Finally meeting Weiss' eyes, Ruby looked resolute and determined - unwilling to concede. "So that I can protect you. And Yang. And...everyone. I can't fail again."
When Ruby swung Crescent Rose into another glyph - this time with more force than before - Weiss shook her head.
"Exactly," she whispered. "We need you."
"We need you!" Weiss shouted, hearing an edge of desperation in her voice - desperation caused by the feeling that Ruby was slipping away from her. She couldn't let Ruby slip away. She couldn't let Ruby continue on this path of self-destruction - not without trying to stop it.
The words finally had an impact though. Ruby stopped pacing and lowered Crescent Rose. Her eyes filled with concern when she met Weiss' gaze - the same concern that made her so prone to accepting too much responsibility for those around her.
"We need you," Weiss repeated, her emotions bubbling up in her chest while she felt the none-too pleasant sting of tears in her eyes.
"But that means we need you to rest," she continued, struggling to keep the tears out of her voice. "We need you to sleep, and eat, and take care of yourself. Because there's another battle coming, and we need you to be ready."
Over the next several seconds, Weiss watched a series of emotions flit through Ruby's eyes - worry...sadness...fear - all of the emotions they bottled up and held inside, hoping to deal with at a later time.
Reaching out, Weiss took Crescent Rose from Ruby's hands and gently placed the weapon on the ground. Next, she wrapped her arms around Ruby's shoulders and pulled the girl close.
"I'm scared too, Ruby," she whispered, struggling to keep the tears at bay. "But if we work ourselves to exhaustion...we'll have nothing left to fight with."
When Ruby's arms slowly wrapped around her in return, Weiss felt a wave of relief wash through her. She'd finally reached Ruby - the sweet, kind girl who just wanted everyone to be happy - and talked her away from the precipice, at least for tonight.
"I'm sorry…" Ruby whispered, her voice filled remorse. And when her shoulders shook with tears, Weiss hugged her closer.
"It's ok, Ruby. Just know...that I'm here for you."
When sniffles were added to the outpour of emotions from the girl in her arms - one of the most talented huntresses she'd ever seen, and a beacon of light through these dark times - Weiss closed her eyes and felt a tear slip out.
Ruby was too young, innocent, and caring to have been thrown into this mess. She didn't deserve to feel this way - to suffer this way. None of them did, but especially not Ruby…
Releasing her glyphs - leaving them standing alone in the middle of the courtyard - Weiss hugged Ruby for as long as she needed. Because that's the only thing Weiss could do right now - she could only be there for Ruby. No matter when or how she was needed, she would be there.
That's the only way they'd get through this. Not by being perfect, but by being there for each other.