Ruby took a deep breath, and waited for the pain. It wasn't as bad as she had expected as she watched the gun move over the surface of her skin. Perhaps being prepared for it had helped? Yang had promised her a beer tonight in celebration, but her and Weiss had other plans. Not that she would go for a beer anyways; too bitter. The rare times she went out for a drink it was usually something fruity like a strawberry daiquiri.
Their celebration was going to be house hunting. Ruby couldn't wait to start living on their own. She couldn't wait to finally sleep on something larger that a twin bed! As an excuse to cuddle or not Weiss rolled around on the bed too much. Then there was readying themselves for the jobs they had already signed on too. Those bonuses were going to make a fine down payment. She pictured what she wanted, trying to block out the artist busy using a needle to puncture her skin repeatedly.
At had to have at least two bedrooms, definitely. Maybe an office? That'd be good. A deal breaker would be a room big enough to practice in, and a large yard for the same reason. An outside obstacle course would be fun and beneficial. Oh! And she couldn't forget the guest bedrooms. Yang and Blake were going to want to visit, and JNPR would want to get away from Beacon every once in a while. How about...
Ruby came out of her reverie with a bit of surprise. It had gone faster than she expected. Looking down she felt a wash of emotions. Her time at Beacon was over. This tattoo on the back of her hand was proof. She was a full huntress in every sense of the word now. She had thought she would be able to skip the bandages by using her aura to heal it. She was disappointed when she found out doing that would make the ink fade. She would have to wait to show it off to the world.
Weiss had insisted that Ruby was in the room when she had hers done. She never changed her mind on the design, and Ruby was even more emotional seeing that tattoo being applied than when she saw her own. Weiss was hers... No, that wasn't right. Weiss was her own woman. She was going to be with her forever though. That was the promise of the tattoo.
She had made her own promise. Ruby took one last look at her hand, as did Weiss. Her fiancé had insisted she was going to be with her now as Ruby had been with her then. Weiss had added Ruby's emblem to the center of her old one. She loved it and if Ruby could hers would have been identical. Given the nature of emblems that wasn't possible. Instead Ruby had changed hers in the same way Weiss had: adding a portion of Weiss's old emblem to the center of hers.
Ruby didn't try to hide the sappy smile that crossed her face as the artist bandaged up her hand.
"Dolt," Weiss said, even though a similar smile was trying hard to cross her face.
Ruby wasn't fooling herself. Their relationship was going to be rocky for a while. There was too much between them that needed worked out. They're relationship was new enough that they were still discovering quirks each had. The ones that weren't obvious when you were just friends. And the ones that are easily attributed to outside forces, like roommates. When they found one that was a real problem compromises needed to be worked out. There was also emotional baggage from both of their pasts that would interfere. On top of that she knew there was going to be things in the future she couldn't even guess at.
And there was that one little secret she still couldn't get herself to tell Weiss. She knew it would come out eventually and bite her on her bottom.
But right now she let all of that go. "And you love me for it."
Weiss sighed with mock irritation, and Ruby laughed. No matter what the future held, they would face it together until their dying breaths.
The graduation ceremony went without a hitch. Weiss was made valedictorian, which surprised no one. She'd always been the overachiever of the group; even when her and Ruby were recovering from their crash. She had insisted on studying while watching over Ruby. She'd even turned in extra credit papers to be sure her grades hadn't dropped from all the distractions.
Blake was given a special honor for her part in creating Phoenix. All five of Phoenix's heads had made it to the ceremony. Since the menace of the reapers had passed Phoenix had tripled in size, and continued to grow at an accelerating rate. They had made a grand announcement of their existence and their purpose. People were still deciding how they felt about them. This award was to show the world Ozpin's, and the whole of Beacon's, support. Blake was still suitably embarrassed getting it. As she put it, "I just did what I could and got lucky."
Yang was proud of her teammates as she watched them on stage. Weiss's speech was well prepared of course, and inspirational. That wasn't a surprise. What had been a surprise was when Ozpin had introduced her as Weiss Rose. It was to everyone outside of RWBY and JNPR that is. They weren't married yet, but she had taken on the name anyways. The paperwork had gone through and she was no longer a Schnee legally, so what was she going to use?
The thought caused Yang's emotions to darken on this happy day. It was a reminder that love could run its course properly. It certainly hadn't for her. She thought Neptune would accept her. Assumed it really. She wouldn't go so far as to say he was pissed when he found out about that assumption, but he was definitely more than annoyed. As he put it "I didn't want to share you before, why would I want to share you now? I'm not going to be your pity case."
He was right of course. That hadn't been her intent, but it was what he would become. Besides, he didn't seem to need it. She knew he was in the bleachers somewhere, snuggling up to his new girlfriend. His scars should have been ugly, yet he managed to pull it off and was still the image of cool. She was glad to see it. Unlike before Yang could tell that his debonair confidence wasn't faked. Through the pain he'd learned his true strengths.
Sun would be sitting next to him along with the rest of SSSN. She knew it was how things were going to end from the moment she'd come clean with him. Only a miracle could change it, but she had hoped he would be able to accept her. Her dad had told her from the beginning most simply weren't wired that way. Whether it was by upbringing or by genetics didn't matter. Some were and some weren't. Both of them weren't. She was. There was no compromise that would last. Love wasn't enough and they had both agreed to let things end quietly.
All of her friends had been shocked having assumed they were as strong of a lock as Ruby and Weiss had been. To her close friends she explained what had happened. Blake had said nothing, just nodding. Yang got the impression she was processing the news. She wouldn't give a clear idea of where she stood until she had finished thinking it over.
Ruby had accepted it instantly, but it did cause a long conversation on the hows and the whys. That led to explaining the portion of their family history she didn't know about. "So Summer was your mom before she was your mom? Wow," was her final take in typical Ruby fashion. "So we're really like three-quarter sisters then!"
Weiss was the least accepting, looking ready to blow a blood vessel. That is until Ruby said "we have no room to talk about lifestyles." Yang didn't even know it was possible, but Weiss actually blushed. It made her curious what that was about but let them have their secrets. She wasn't sure she wanted to know.
Weiss's speech came to an end and was followed with applause. Caps were thrown into the air, and their time at Beacon was over. Their time in the real world was now beginning.
She ran to Jerry in the milling crowd and gave him a kiss. He was probably a rebound boyfriend, but he knew that, and he knew about how she was going to live her life. She had learned from that mistake and was never going to make it again. Ruby had introduced him oddly enough, but her sister had met him through her dealings with Phoenix. The horns were pretty cute, and fun to hang onto.
The past could only be learned from, not changed. The future will sort its own self out. She was going to live in the now as she always had, and she was going to enjoy it.
Blake sat huddled with Jaune and Pyrrha after graduation. The rest of her team appeared to be putting the reapers behind them. Blake didn't have that luxury. "I know Yang told us that Raven took care of the reaper that got away. I'm worried there are more out there. No, I'm more than worried. I know there are. What I'm worried about is them coming back to Vale."
"I agree, but what can we do about it?" Jaune asked. "They can hide within Vale effectively. How hard would they be to find beyond the city walls? That's their home turf."
They've had similar conversations before. Blake wanted to take the fight to them, but her responsibilities with Phoenix prevented that. She hated it but all of her training as a huntress was going to go to waste, at least that's how she thought of it. Everyone grew annoyed with her when she mentioned that mentality though. They reasoned her training had prepared her for her role. It didn't matter. She was Phoenix's leader by her own designs, and she was going to execute the duties that went with it. She didn't have the luxury of regret.
Yang had chosen her own part to play with Phoenix. She was already famous and good at playing up to the cameras. She was going to take on all of the high profile jobs she could. The jobs where the cameras would see her, and she would be sure to show all of her best angles each time. She already had a deal with a local TV station for a reality show, courtesy of Phoenix's PR wing. Ostensibly the show would be about her work in the field. It was going to be more than that. She would play the part of a typical reality star: outrageous (Which she was already good at), hated, and gossip worthy.
Then there would be her loyal boyfriend Jerry. He would have his heart broken over and over again as she gets caught cheating on him. Simon was sure he could get a good spin on that. Jerry would get fans and a favorable reputation if they played it right. That could only help with the rest of the faunus's image. Choreographing that story was going to be a headache. Blake was liberally using one of the advantages of being the leader: delegation. Simon had assigned one of his team specifically to work with Yang and the media to get the results they wanted.
She didn't really like Yang's open lifestyle, but she had to admit it was working in her favor right now. She wasn't sure how Jerry put up with it. Then again he had another girlfriend and she seemed to be friends with Yang. It was just weird.
Ruby and Weiss were going to be helping Phoenix as well, but in a different direction. They were going to keep their heads down and out of the public view. As far as everyone would be concerned they'd be no different from the average huntsman.
Their mission was finding all the outposts beyond the walls of Vale run by the Schnee Dust Company and businesses like them. The ones that were using faunus in ways that, at best, would be called criminal. Blake had intended for the Black Wing to be doing that, but it was too dangerous for anyone other than a huntress. Those areas were thick with grimm attracted to the negative energies of the slave labor.
When they find one they were going to record the conditions for prosperity, and for Simon's PR machine. Then they were going to get them out and back to the safety of Vale's walls if possible. Blake knew that the security of those outposts were thin. The grimm themselves were the security, in a sense. The light defenses meant the grimm routinely got in and made those inside become nothing more than a statistic. One less faunus to pay.
Ruby wanted to do this because she was Ruby. She couldn't leave anyone to suffer. Weiss had that reason as well, but she also felt a responsibility having been the heir to one of the companies doing it. Blake understood the need to clean one's slate from her own personal experiences and was glad she could help her do it.
With all of RWBY occupied, that left JNPR. She didn't want to ask for their help, but she was willing to get advice from them. Of course that led to them offering the help she couldn't ask for.
And then there was Dr. Peters. His help she had actively looked for and cultivated. The good Doctor was the one put in charge of investigating the reaper's body. It hadn't been hard to convince him to part with most of his findings. As he figured it he wouldn't have had the chance to study the body if it wasn't for them killing the grimm. He didn't give any sensitive information away of course, but the generalities were interesting if you read between the lines.
For instance, the autopsy on the body had revealed its inner workings were non-existent. There was no muscle, no internal organs, nothing. Except it wasn't nothing. There had been something in there. He hadn't meant for that to slip, but Blake latched on to it. Whatever it was, it was important enough to hide.
That body didn't exist anymore. There was no clear reason why, but it dissolved into nothingness as it should have when it died. The mask, on the other hand, was still there. That was odd. Typically the mask and all the rest of its armor would dissolve with the body. Dr. Peters didn't speculate any further with her. Given his gift of gab that was suspicious, so Blake added it to the list of questions.
Blake had an idea that the body and mask had some form of connection, and when the mask was removed before it was killed that connection was broken. It could explain why the body didn't dissolve right away. Maybe. It was only a guess though. She wasn't a scientist. It did make sense that it wouldn't have been discovered sooner if she was right.
No one had ever tried to remove their masks before. It would be suicidal to try, and what would be the point? In their fight Jaune had punched the grim in the face with his arm shield. It had been a desperate move, but the fight itself had been desperate. The punch caused his shield to lodge between the mask and the monster's head. Jerking the shield free had removed the mask. The odds of that happening was something Blake didn't want to try calculating.
She believed more information would come from research on the mask. Deciphering whatever she got from her source was an enjoyable, and very necessary, challenge.
"I'm not sure what we can do yet, but would JNPR be willing to take on this job? It'll be paid work with a big signon bonus."
One other good thing had happened for Phoenix. Alice didn't know the source of the money by design, but they were being backed by one of the richest families in Vale. The richest in Remnant if you only looked at faunus. Blake hadn't expected that backing from the Whitmore's, though she should have. Even if you didn't take into account their daughter was a member, they had a vested interest in Phoenix succeeding and had the means to help. That backing had allowed for paid jobs, like this one, as well as key members being hired full time. With her heads and sub-leaders no longer having the obstacle of their jobs to contend with progress had dramatically increased.
A new officer in the command wing had been created out of necessity to accommodate this windfall, as well as any other sources of money: The Exchequer. Her job would be keeping track of finances and clear big projects, like this one, with their backers. The potential backlash Blake had feared from the beginning was still possible. The reapers had already proven they were willing to use humans and faunus to further their goals. Given their need for the worst in human nature the remaining members of White Fang was going to be their obvious choice should they return.
"You don't need to pay us. We're in," Jaune said automatically.
Blake smiled and shook her head. "I know you want to, but it's not realistic. This job could go on for years, and you can't eat on good intentions and thank yous." They were her friends, so she'd expected this reaction. It was touching, but it wasn't feasible. "This needs to be full time, and if nothing else the supplies are going to cost a fortune while you're out there. Phoenix has the money. It's not going to break us."
Jaune looked ready to argue further, but Pyrrha put a single hand on his shoulder to forestall it and spoke up. "We will accept, but with conditions. You are right on our needs, but we will not take more than necessary for our success. That is our final offer."
Eh, it was a compromise she wasn't entirely happy with. She didn't want to take advantage of their friendship. She also knew that Pyrrha didn't bluff. "Deal."694Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡr3kRkqe7sLns 188.8.131.52da2