What Defines Us - Ch. 10
 
She was running - which was pretty normal...she spent most of her life running.  Her semblance practically demanded that she run all the time, everywhere.  But right now she wasn’t running for fun, or exercise, or any of the good reasons to run.  Right now, she was running away from something.

She had no idea what it was, other than it was big and crashing through the forest behind her.  The sound of splintering trees filled her ears, which was a little weird since there weren’t any trees around.  There was nothing, actually.  There wasn’t even a forest - it was just...snow.

That might explain why her feet were so cold.  And why she kept slipping on the slick ground whenever she tried to push herself faster.  She couldn’t go faster without falling, and she couldn’t fall without getting caught by whatever was behind her.

Risking a glance over her shoulder (and nearly falling in the process), she figured out what was chasing her - it was a Death Stalker.  A big one, at that.

Turning forward, she reached up to pull Crescent Rose off her back for protection, but...Crescent Rose wasn’t there.  There was nothing slung across her back, but she could’ve sworn she just put the weapon there...

Giving up, she kept running.  Weaponless, her only hope was to lose the Grimm somehow - like in that forest up ahead.  It hadn’t been there before, but it was there now and she wasn’t about to complain.  She could use the trees as cover - hopefully that would slow down the Death Stalker and allow her to escape.

Flying into the forest, she wove back and forth around tree trunks while trying not to make a mistake that would slow her down.  Thankfully, but also weirdly, there was no snow in here - if anything, it felt warm like the middle of summer.

Without the snow, she could run faster.  But...she couldn’t remember when she’d started running away from the monster on her trail.  It must’ve been a long time ago by the way her lungs were burning, her chest heaved while searching for air, and her semblance felt like a small ash instead of a flame.

She was getting tired.

Trees, trees, trees - everything flew past in a blur.  She picked her path perfectly, yet the Grimm gained on her.  That was the opposite of good news when being hunted through a forest with no form of protection.  The Death Stalker was now so close she could feel the ground shaking, like the earth wanted to break apart underneath her feet.

That’s when she found it - her escape.

Tucked into a mountain in front of her was a cave.  The entrance was large enough for her, but the monster behind her wouldn’t be able to fit.  If she could get inside, the Death Stalker would be stopped at the rock wall.

With her exit found, she used the remainder of her semblance to get her there before the Grimm caught up to her.  She slipped into the cave with the creature right on her heels - snapping the air behind her as it slammed into the mountain at full speed.  Skidding to a stop inside, she turned and watched as it lashed wildly at the entrance.  Trying to let itself through, it was clawing pieces of rock the size of boulders away from the wall holding it at bay.

Backing away from the monster intent on destroying her, Ruby fell further and further into darkness.  Turning away from the Death Stalker, her eyes struggled to adjust to the expanse of emptiness swallowing the space in front of her.  The light was gone, and the ruckus being caused by the Death Stalker fell away as another sound reached her ears.

Someone was crying.

As she crept further, the sorrowful sound echoed off the walls around her, filling her mind and soul.  With every step she took, it grew louder and clearer - as if her current blindness was allowing her ears to fully hear.  She knew the Death Stalker was still ripping apart the mountain trying to find her, but that mattered little when compared to the sounds of anguish reaching through the darkness and tearing at her heart.

“Hello?” she called into the darkness, but received no response.  Searching futilely for the source of the cries, she found nothing - it was too dark in here, and so dark she might think her eyes were closed if she didn’t know they were open.

But the soft weeping, laced with unmistakable anguish, was growing harder and harder to listen to.  Her heart filled with sadness as the sound continued on without end.  She wanted to find whoever it was and help them.  She needed to find them and help them.  She didn’t want them to cry anymore - not like that, not in pain.

“Hello…” Ruby said again, trying to pinpoint the direction the sound was coming from.

“Please...come back to me…” 

Ruby whipped towards the pleading voice - her eyes rapidly scanning the entrance of the cave as the Death Stalker suddenly froze.  When the creature slowly turned away, dread poured into Ruby’s veins.

“No,” she whispered to herself, stepping back from the darkness.  

The Grimm had heard the voice - just as Ruby had - coming from outside.  There was someone out there, out in the forest somewhere.

Taking another step, Ruby turned that step into a run when the Death Stalker shifted away - a cloud of rubble bouncing off its armored back as it decided she was no longer worth the effort.

But she couldn’t let it leave.  She couldn’t let it find whoever was out there.  She had to save them.

“Hey!” she shouted, her feet pounding on hard rock as she raced towards the exit.  Hearing her voice, the Death Stalker froze before it disappeared into the woods.

“Yeah, you!” she yelled again, stopping at the mouth of the cave and pointing directly at the creature.  “I’m talking to you!”

It was stupid, but it worked.  The Death Stalker turned back to her and snapped a pincer towards her - as fast as a lightning bolt.  Diving to the side, she ducked the attack before rolling to her feet and backing away from the safety of the cave, all while making sure the Grimm was still following her.

So...the first part of her plan had worked, but what was she going to do now?  She didn’t have much energy left in her - definitely not enough to keep running for long.

Another claw burst towards her, barely missing her neck after she jumped out of the way.

Coiling together the fragments of her semblance in preparation of making one last run for it, she immediately powered down when she found that there was another Death Stalker behind her.  And one to her left.  And one to her right.  They hemmed her in on every side while slowly advancing towards her, a loud clacking noise filling the air.  The Grimm weren’t even snapping their pincers together, but Ruby could still hear the sound - over and over again as it overrode everything else in her head. 

Weaponless and tired, she took a deep breath - trying to ignore the way it hitched in her chest in pain.  

Deep down, she already knew this was the end for her.  There would be no escaping her fate at the claws of these monsters.  She was the one they wanted.  She was the one they were after.  If she gave them what they wanted...everyone else would be safe.

So she refused to move.  

The sound of crying returned, breaking her heart as someone openly wept nearby - always out of sight.  She wanted the crying to stop.  She wanted the clacking of claws to stop.  And she knew the only way for that to happen was to stand her ground and wait for the end to reach her.

She was hardly the size of one of the Death Stalkers’ pincers as they came to a stop within feet of her - the clacking growing more ferocious as she unwillingly trembled in fear.  

If there was any solace, it was that her death would serve a purpose.  If she did this, everything would stop.  And it would be worth it - to save the person crying for her.  Because they shouldn’t be crying for her - she was doing this for them.  So they’d be happy again.  Her life was a small price to pay for that happiness.

“Don’t worry, I won’t leave you,” she whispered as one of the Death Stalkers lashed out and caught her by the arm.  A cry of pain was forced from her as a grip stronger than metal crushed her wrist, sending her collapsing to her knees in an attempt to relieve the increasing pressure.  Her skin burned as lines of blood ran down her arm - all while that clacking sound echoed over and over again, louder and louder in her head.

Struggling to breathe through the pain, the environment started shifting around them - trees, saplings, and shrubs rapidly growing and disappearing like a movie playing through all the versions of forest she’d ever seen, the film running in the background of her death.

With an incredible flash of pain something in her arm gave way, causing her to cry out again.  A tear fell to the ground as a strangled gasp slipped out - the tiny droplet of water landing on softly swaying blades of grass that withered and browned when her tears touched them.

It hurt.  It hurt more than anything she’d ever experienced in her life.  The pain broke through her aura, which was trying to kickstart itself over and over again.  It was trying to protect her - save her - but she couldn’t move.  She couldn’t escape.  And she doubted these monsters were suddenly going to grow a conscience and let her go.

This was the end for her, but she had absolutely no regrets.

Another claw reached towards her before stopping in mid-air.  It hung over her head and clacked menacingly - announcing its intention to deliver the final blow.  Waiting for the creature to strike, she stared directly at the deathly eyes in front of her.  

“Please wake up…”

Before she could even process the soft voice, the claw shot towards her neck.

She woke with a jolt, her heart racing and the begging request still reverberating in her ears.  While she could still hear the desperate plea seeping through the walls of her mind, she remained somewhere between her bed and that horrible dream landscape - trapped in the grasp of another nightmare.  

Unfortunately, the words quickly faded to silence and gave way to the real nightmare - the torrent of pain waiting right behind.  It was everywhere - her legs, her stomach, her arms and head.  It seared through her inch-by-inch, torching every nerve ending she possessed before concentrating in her wrist and skull - and remaining there.  It was the type of crippling pain that made her wish she could’ve stayed in the nightmare.  The Death Stalkers had been bad, but this...this was worse.  And this was real.

Curling into a ball on her bed, she clutched her left arm to her chest and squeezed her eyes shut.  A low moan slipped past her lips, sounding less human and more like a wounded animal calling for help.  With shaking fingers, she managed to grasp her necklace with her right hand and held on tightly, praying for the torment to go away.

Again.  How many nights this week?  Every time was a different creature, a different nightmare, but it was the same voice begging her to come back.  The same feeling that it was all meant to happen.  

Even if it was meant to happen, it left her filled with sorrow to accompany the pain - a deep, all-encompassing sorrow that tore at her heart.  

She never saw the person crying, or understood why they begged her to return, but the answers to those questions meant nothing to her right now.  Not when her breathing was growing more and more broken and jagged.  Not when every inhale hurt her chest, and every exhale cut like knives on the way out.  

But as much as she didn’t want the next breath to come, she knew that she needed to keep breathing if she wanted to keep living.  

Somewhere in the room she heard a whimper, but it didn’t seem to come from her.  Maybe that was because she couldn’t tell what was her anymore and what was pure, living agony.  Where did the pain stop and Ruby begin?  Were they separate entities anymore - or had they somehow merged into one?  

No, she could power through this.  She was Ruby Rose.  She was not pain in living form.  Ruby Rose.  Ruby...Rose…

Her next breath sounded like a sob as her wrist seared with fire.  It hurt so badly she didn’t dare open her eyes to look at it.  The wound felt fresh again - split open, ligaments torn, bone crushed - like it had just been ripped to shreds by a powerful force that was hellbent on pulling her apart.

The doctors told her to focus on other things when this happened, but that was a whole lot easier said than done.  What was there to focus on besides the pain?  If she tried not to think about it, she only thought about it more.  She couldn’t tear her thoughts away from the sickening heat near the stitches in her scalp that felt too much like freshly running blood.  Or how moving only a fraction of an inch to breathe created another firestorm of agony.  But she could try to focus on...focus on...the...

Pain. 

PainPainPainPain.

There was nothing else. 

That was all there was left.

A fresh wave of agony burned through her wrist and she gasped, squeezing her eyes even more tightly shut and praying for it to go away.  She’d do anything to make it go away.  The nightmare Grimm could come live in her room - they could share a bed.  Just...anything to make it stop - 

“Ruby?”

In her current state of paralysis she hadn’t heard the bedroom door open, but she felt someone sit down on the bed a second after her name was whispered in the darkness.  Opening her eyes, she found Yang peering down at her in concern - lilac eyes bright and sparkling in the thin moonlight shining through the bedroom window.  Growing up, Yang had never been much of a morning person, but somehow she was already wide awake - alert and prepared to help.  

Maybe that was just another thing that had changed…

When Ruby opened her mouth to reply, another pitiful whine slipped out.  But she didn’t need to explain what was going on - Yang already knew.

Reaching out, Yang rubbed Ruby’s shoulder gently - providing a sense of comfort that might be comparable to how a baby felt in its mother’s arms.  The reassuring warmth worked wonders in steering Ruby away from the edge of panic.  Her grip on the ring slightly relaxed, allowing her to feel the indentation in the palm of her hand, but she didn’t dare release it.  Besides Yang, the tiny circle of metal was Ruby’s only source of strength...and she desperately needed both of them in what would otherwise be a void of darkness.

“I’m...fine…” she managed to gasp out before gritting her teeth when the next wave of pain shot through her.  It was a horrible lie and not at all believable, but she tried anyway.  Maybe what she should say is that she wished she was fine.  

‘How are you?’  

‘Wishing I was fine.’  

‘What good will wishing do you?  You’re a mess of scorching misery and wounds that’ll never heal.’

Trying not to cry, she curled into a tighter ball and clutched onto her necklace for dear life.  Being this weak sucked.  

“Can I help?”

Ruby’s eyes opened again and flicked towards the doorway in search of the source of the soft voice.  Amber eyes glinted back from the darkened hallway, glowing unnaturally in the low light - Blake...keeping a distance like she always did, but still staying close enough to help.

Ruby knew that she was never loud enough to wake Yang - not with how deeply she slept, and definitely not from the other side of the hall - but Blake’s superior ears must hear.  And Blake woke Yang up - every single time.  

Maybe there wasn’t too much thought put into it, but it was something Ruby was so thankful for.  One day, she hoped to be able to express her gratitude...because she knew that she didn’t have the courage or the strength to go get her sister on her own.  Blake saved Ruby the shame and embarrassment of being so weak that a mere nightmare could cripple her.

Another wave of pain made her gasp and squeeze her eyes shut once more.  

The worst part about this was that there wasn’t much she could do but try to ride it out.  Eventually it would go away, right?  Right now, she couldn’t even remember if that was true or not.  But it seemed true...

Some amount of time later, when the ache temporarily faded to a moderate roar and she reopened her eyes, she found that she was panting for breath.  Dealing with the wounds was exhausting - a never ending struggle between her body and her mind...where her mind often lost.

Of course, relief was short-lived.  It disappeared the next second when her skull began pulsing with waves of agony - enough torment to shut down her other senses.  There was no seeing, no hearing, no anything except feeling the stitches as if they were being pounded into her scalp with a hammer.  

Through it all her aura struggled to help, but it was just as broken and mangled as she was.  It tried to start, it stopped, it tried to start again...  

Only when the pain subsided enough for her to hear again did she realize she’d started crying - a wounded sob shaking through her chest.  It was followed by another one - the wrenching motion only causing more pain than the pressure it relieved.  

It hurt so much.

Everything hurt so much.    

While she struggled to regain some semblance of control, Yang continued rubbing her shoulder.

“It’s ok…” Yang whispered soothingly.  “Hang in there, Ruby…”

“Ha…” Ruby breathed out before sniffling, feeling a big tear slip out and roll down her cheek.  If she could move she’d wipe the tears away, but moving was off the table at the moment.  Instead, she was forced to remain as motionless as possible while tears slipped from her eyes and dampened the blanket beneath her.

She appreciated the encouragement.  She needed it.  But it was so hard sometimes…

After a few more moments of labored, sniffly breathing, Ruby felt the bed move when Yang turned away. 

“Um...I think you should get the pain meds…” she directed towards the door.  Hearing the quiet direction, Ruby moaned - this time only partially out of pain.

She hated the medicine.  Like hated it, hated it.  It was horrible.  The worst stuff ever created.  Half of the times she took it, it made her fall asleep - which was fine.  But the other half it made her so nauseous she’d spend the next five hours on the verge of throwing up.  Not actually throwing up, mind you, because that’d be too nice of the dumb things.

“I’m fine...y’know...really,” she sputtered while Yang softly brushed away strands of hair that were sticking to Ruby’s perspiring forehead.  “I can...do this…”

“I know you’re strong, Ruby,” Yang whispered in return, as if talking in a normal voice might anger Ruby’s injuries further.  “But sometimes even the strongest people need a little help.”

“You call...the gag pills...help?”

The term made Yang chuckle softly.

“I know you don’t like them, but they help.  You need your rest so you can get better.  And you can’t rest...like this.”

‘Like this’ meaning when it felt like something was trying to tear her arm off while simultaneously digging sharp hooks into her skull.  Yeah, she couldn’t sleep like that.  She’d love to meet anyone who could - they’d be one incredibly tough dude.  Or dudette.  Yang could probably do it.  She was the strongest person Ruby knew.  

“Can you get up?” 

“Mm -” was all Ruby got out before the bed shifted when Yang stood up.

“Don’t worry, I got you,” Yang said, before gently wrapping her arms around Ruby’s waist and easily lifting her.  Ruby made sure to keep her injured arm and her head as still as possible while Yang propped her up in a seated position.  Even though she did basically none of the work herself, the process of moving still made her grunt and break into a cold sweat of effort.  

Now that she was sitting up, she glanced down at her wrist - only for another stab of pain to lace through her, accompanied by a un-gag pill induced wave of nausea.  

The bruising still hadn’t faded away.  Blues, browns, sickly greens and dark splotches of purple left little room for unmarred skin to show through.  And then there were the staples...the lines of silver twinkled in the light, running in a long line across her arm.  

She looked like some kind of human monster. 

“You ok?” Yang asked, kneeling on the floor in front of Ruby and looking up into her eyes.  “You’re not gonna hurl, are you?”

Instead of responding, Ruby clamped her mouth shut and waited for the nausea to pass.  Sitting up was hard sometimes.  Something about moving her head too fast was just...really hard.

A few seconds later Blake returned - utterly silent as she appeared out of thin air.  She handed a small bottle to Yang while holding a glass of water in her other hand.  Yang easily popped the top off of the bottle and handed one tiny gag pill over to Ruby.  Temporarily releasing her necklace, Ruby accepted the pill from Yang  - popping it into her mouth before taking the glass of water from Blake.  

“Another empty one,” Yang remarked, shaking the container to prove it was empty.  “I’ll put it right here.”  

Ruby barely watched while Yang set the bottle on the nightstand.  Instead, she took a big gulp of water to drown the pill before handing the glass back to Blake.  Now that the poisonous little sucker was in her system, it was time to wait for it to get to work.  Sometimes, if she thought about it too much, she could practically feel it settle in her stomach and start dissolving.  It released its pain relievers like toxic fumes that bubbled up from her stomach and found the way into her veins.

Yeah, thinking about it too much didn’t help with the nausea…

“You wanna lay back down?”

“Yeah,” Ruby muttered at Yang’s question.  Still holding her arm as stationary as possible, this time she at least swung her own legs back onto the bed while Yang’s hands helped her lay carefully back down on her side.  Her stomach immediately felt queasy, but that was hopefully from the change in position and not from the medicine.

“There you go,” Yang said, sitting back down on the edge of Ruby’s bed and rubbing her back.  “That sucker should kick in soon.”

Making a soft grunt in reply, Ruby clenched her good hand around her ring when another spike of pain swept across her wrist.

The pills were...well, she didn’t know how they worked.  Something about...something.  There were a lot of big words involved that she’d never understand without the head injury.  All she knew was that the pills made the pain go away for a little while.  But which would it be?  Sleep or hurl, sleep or hurl…

It was hard to tell how much time passed while they all silently waited for the medicine to start working.  Still suffering through quakes of agony, Ruby did her best to focus on Yang’s hand - always warmer than a normal person’s and soothing on a night like tonight.  Panting quietly through her mouth, she closed her eyes and did her best to trace the comforting hand from her shoulder, down her side, and back up again.  Yang never varied the path or tempo - up, down, up, down, up, down...

“Want me to tell you a story?” Yang asked, breaking through the silence with the quiet question.

“Yes please,” Ruby whispered back.

A story was usually a good distraction - something to move the pain a little further away.  

When they were growing up, Yang had been in charge of their bedtime stories - she was really good at it too.  She spun tales so wild and imaginative, Ruby remembered being completely awed by them.  It was Yang who’d made Ruby want to fly - to be a hero, to conquer fears, everything.

Ever since...what happened...Yang had started telling tales again.  At first just retelling Mom’s stories, but then branching back into spinning stories on the fly.  Ruby liked those ones the best - although Mom’s were also awesome, but she’d memorized the endings long ago.

“Ok,” Yang began, her hand continuing its track.  “Let’s see...oh here, I got one.  Once upon a time, there was a girl -”

A little smile appeared at the very first sentence.  Ruby was always the girl in Yang’s stories.  At least, she imagined that she was.

“So this girl, she was out one night at the store listening to the newest Achieve Men album -”

A quick laugh announced that Blake was still in the room, probably sitting in the chair over by the door.

“Hey - my story,” Yang directed that way before turning her full attention back to Ruby.  “Ok, so she’s in the store listening to the newest album, bopping along to one of their songs thinking ‘this band is the greatest ever,’ when a group of guys walk in.  She doesn’t notice them at first because she’s into the music and she’s got it turned up pretty loud.  And they don’t notice her because she’s in the far back of the store and you know, she’s kinda short so the shelves are above her head.”  

Ruby giggled at the imagery because she remembered what it was like to be that short.  It was so hard to find other people in the store when the shelves were so tall...

“But anyway,” Yang continued.  “These guys are obviously bad, and they decide to hold up the guy who owns the store!  The girl doesn’t even notice at first, but then something makes her pull off the headphones - call it a disturbance in the force.  She turns and sees a group of evil dudes in horrible hats grabbing boxes of Dust, led by this tall guy with orange hair, a super awful hat, and a cane.  She’s witnessing an actual crime in progress!  So, Ruby, what would you do?”

Thankfully, Ruby was actually able to think now that the medicine began to work its magic - softening the sharpness of the pain ever so slightly.  And, as the pain ebbed away, her heart slowed and her breathing returned to normal.

Thinking about the situation, she really couldn’t say what she would do.  There’s a robbery happening in front of her eyes...she could call for help, she could hide, or she could try to stop them.  But she probably couldn’t even stop a marshmallow right now, let alone a group of criminals…

“I don’t know…” 

“That’s ok!” Yang said cheerfully before continuing.  “I’ll tell you what this girl decides to do.  Instead of staying quiet or hiding, which is what she should do cuz she’s just a little kid, she hops out from behind the shelves and shouts ‘Hey, you can’t do that!’  And the tall guy says, ‘Watch me.’  I’m paraphrasing here because I don’t know exactly what they said.  I only heard this from a friend of a friend of a friend.”

Ruby laughed quietly at the comment.  Yang got a lot of stories from this ‘friend of a friend of a friend.’

“Anyway, tall guy does one of those hand waves and more bad hat dudes start appearing out of nowhere.  There must be a thousand guys - ten thousand - no, the entire city of Vale shows up and starts advancing menacingly towards her.”

The slight elaboration made Ruby smile.  She never minded that Yang would exaggerate.  It only made the stories more interesting.

“Maybe it was only a handful of dudes,” Yang corrected.  “But they had bazookas!  Now is when she should run, ya know?  She’s only a kid and these are professional bad dudes - but you know what?  She decides that she doesn’t like what’s going on.  She’d been having a really good time listening to the Achieve Men album and they’d just interrupted her.  Not to mention they’re doing something super illegal.  So she decides she’s not going to let them get away with it.”

“She’ll fight them?” Ruby asked, glancing quickly at Yang in time to catch a nod.

“Yup!  Unlucky for them, this girl happened to never leave home without a certain weapon - one that folded up to travel easily, but expanded into a giant, unwieldy scythe named...uh...Curved Lily!”

The fake name made Ruby grin.

“Any relation to Crescent Rose?” she asked in a whisper.

“Second cousins,” Yang easily replied before continuing.  “The poor bad guys only had bazookas and ninja stars - can you believe that?  Ninja stars against Cres-er...Curved Lily?  Basically, the goons were mincemeat.  They couldn’t even get a rocket off before she blasted through all of them, leaving only the big bad left.  And you know what he does?  He runs, the coward.”  

“But this girl, she’s no coward.  She chases after him.  She climbs on top of this hundred story building and orders him to stop.  He turns around and says, ‘alright kid, now you’re really starting to annoy me’ which is a really big compliment in villain speak.  Then he throws his hat down on the ground and says ‘Let’s duel!’”

If Ruby had had any energy left she would have laughed, but instead her small smile turned into a yawn before she asked, “Did he really?”

“No,” Yang answered flatly.  “He’d never throw his beautiful white hat on the ground - he’s that type of bad guy.  But he did say ‘let’s duel,’ I’m pretty sure - well, it’s my story so he did say that.  And you know what his weapon is?”

“The cane,” Ruby replied quietly, wincing when she shifted and accidentally moved her left arm.  But it was either the cane or the hat...

“How did you -?  Ok, yes, the cane.  So he raises it up and starts shooting at her.  Unfortunately, or fortunately I guess, she’s way too fast - dodging around like a meerkat while trying to get closer to him.  Bang! Bang! Bang!  He keeps blasting the ground where she’d just been.  But before she can get close enough, his ride arrives - this giant airship with cannons on the side.  And it’s not alone - there are at least a dozen other airships flying with it!”

A dozen airships with cannons...Yang was definitely embellishing the story now...

“The cannons all fire at once - a huge BOOM fills the air as a thousand cannonballs rocket towards the girl.  She can’t get away in time and the building erupts into piles of stones around her, but somehow she isn’t hurt.  When she opens her eyes, there’s a huntress standing next to her shielding them both from harm.  Now it’s Curved Lily and a fully trained huntress against the guy with a cane and his ship of cannons.  How’s that for a fair fight?”

“But...he probably wasn’t alone, right?” Ruby asked.

“As usual, my genius little sister, you are correct.  There’s another huntress - an evil huntress.  The two huntresses get into a huge battle, sending their semblances back and forth - flames versus wind.  Meanwhile, the little girl decides to take down the other attack ships like an expert marksman.  Bang!  One shot goes right through the cockpit window.  Bang!  Another one right in the fuel tank.  That ship explodes into flames and crashes into the ship beside it, setting off a chain reaction that takes out several more.  But the main ship - the one holding the bad guy - it keeps swerving while the huntresses duke it out.  After the little girl has taken out ALL the other ships, she sets her sights on the bad guy with the cane.  She’s going to take him out, once and for all.”

It wasn’t intentional, but Ruby could feel her heart rate increasing in anticipation of whatever would happen next.  This was why Yang was so good at telling stories - Ruby always felt like she was there.  She could see the man with the hat.  She could see the evil huntress standing in the doorway of the ship.  She could see the building, the good huntress.  She was there, in the midst of the action.

Opening her eyes, she watched Yang tell the rest of the story, hanging on to every word.

“She lines up her shot,” Yang said, holding one arm out straight like an arrow.  “Calculating the wind, the distance, the trajectory...then bang!  The rifle cracks and the bullet shoots through the air - exactly on target.”

Dropping her arm, Yang remained silent long enough for Ruby to break and ask, “Do they get him?”  

“Well...no,” Yang seemed to decide.  “The evil huntress reacts just in time, disrupting the bullet and knocking it away.  But the bad guys decide they’ve had enough and retreat - shooting off in their airship.”

“Oh.”

“It can’t be a multi-part story if she gets him the first meeting!” Yang replied.  “Ok, so he gets away on his ship, but you know what happens next?  The little girl gets pulled into a meeting with none other than the headmaster of Beacon Academy.  He brings her into a dimly lit room - she thinks that she’s in really big trouble, and she might’ve been if the huntress who saved her had any say.  She did decide to engage a criminal when she should’ve just called the cops, after all.  But the headmaster sets a plate of chocolate chip cookies in front of her and says, ‘you’re too young, but I want you in my school.’”

The idea made Ruby chuckle.

“Like they’d let in someone underage…”  Beacon was notoriously strict about their age limit - there were never, ever, ever any exceptions.

“They decide to make an exception, because it’s my story.  Remember, this little girl just tried to stop a supervillain.  All because they interrupted her music!  Imagine what she could do if something really major happened?  So the little girl decides that maybe she should go to Beacon.”

“Everyone else would be way better than her though,” Ruby pointed out.  More years of schooling meant a lot in terms of fighting.  That’s why Ruby had never been able to beat Yang when they’d been growing up.  

“Well, yeah, the other kids picked on her a bit at first...but you know what?  She worked harder than anyone else.  And she trained more.  Pretty soon, she was leading the class.”

When Ruby felt her eyelids threatening to pull down on their own, she sent up a ‘thank you’ to the people in charge of the painkillers.  That pill had been the sleepy kind.  

“Not only leading the class,” Yang continued quietly.  “But her own team - she’s named team leader.  And everyone grew to love her...because she was brave when they couldn’t be.  Because she always stood up for what was right and she never, ever gave up…”

Yang’s voice wavered as Ruby drifted towards sleep.  She managed to peek her eyes open and found Yang looking down at her with a warm smile and glistening eyes.

“It may not seem like it yet,” Yang whispered.  “But this girl is going to do some amazing things - stuff no one’s even thought possible before.”

“With Curved Lily and her team beside her,” Ruby mumbled with a content sigh while her eyes closed once more.  It was a nice thought...

“You’re absolutely right.  Her teammates followed her to the end of the world and back.  But...that’s a story for another night.”

She was going to fall asleep soon, she could feel it.  But not before she told Yang - 

“Thank you…”

“You’re welcome, Ruby.  Goodnight,” Yang replied before kissing Ruby lightly on the head, careful to avoid the stitches.  “Love you.”

The bed moved again when Yang stood up to go back to her own room.  It was only when she was near the door that Ruby mustered the energy to ask one last question.  

“Does the story have a happy ending?” she asked, dragging her eyes open one last time.

“Of course it does, Ruby,” Yang answered quietly, managing a small smile.  “All stories do, if you look hard enough.”

Satisfied with the answer, Ruby closed her eyes again.  When she heard the soft click of the bedroom door closing, she curled one hand around her necklace once more.  Her breathing was deep and steady now, a blessed relief to what it had been earlier.

Physically, those few minutes of torture had completely wiped out her energy.  Add the medicine on top of that, and she was completely exhausted.  Just another night in recovery mode…

Loosening her grip on consciousness, her mind drifted to the newest tale Yang had begun to tell.  An early entrant into Beacon - a young girl who was fearless in the face of danger.  Ruby wished that she could be like the girl in the story, but she didn’t think she was brave enough.  And she certainly wasn’t strong enough.  At least, not right now.

But maybe one day she could be.

No, she would be.  If she worked hard enough, she could do it.  And she would do it - no matter how many gag pills it took.  She just needed to never, ever give up.


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