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Finding a restaurant they all enjoyed was always the most challenging aspect of eating out as a group. Back when they first started dating, Weiss made a chart detailing each of her partners’ preferences, but now it had ballooned to the point where she needed a two-page legend to remember what all the different abbreviations meant, and the color coding would give her a headache if she stared at it for too long.

Blake liked poultry and seafood and had an automatic veto if the others decided on a place that might be too vocally anti-Faunus. Nora wouldn’t eat anywhere that didn’t also serve dessert, and both she and Yang couldn’t be trusted within a hundred yards of an enforceable dress code. Too spicy and Jaune would spend the evening locked in the bathroom, crying and running his tongue under cold water.

Pyrrha and Ren were so patiently long-suffering about the whole business that Weiss had them marked down in the light blue ‘permanently undecided unless we need a tiebreaker’ column. Neighboring them in the slightly-darker-blue 'will claim to be undecided but clearly has some preference (see Appendix A for details)’ column with a double asterisk indicating that Weiss needed to grab the check before she could see it and start hyperventilating, was Ruby.

There were few places that could reliably meet all the different criteria, which was the reason why Weiss found herself wedged between Pyrrha and Ruby in the same booth in the same expensive but impeccably discreet restaurant for the third time that month. If they ate here anymore frequently, they’d have to start calling it a tradition, and Weiss wasn’t about to complicate the chart with yet another category.

“I’d like the house salad with salmon, and if it’s not too much trouble could you ask the chef to make certain there aren’t any peppercorns on his steak,” Pyrrha said, collecting all their menus and handing them to the waiter after he was finished scribbling down her order. As soon as he left, her hand returned to its usual position on Weiss’ thigh, calloused thumb stroking absentmindedly over her stockings.

“Wait, that comes with peppercorns?” Jaune preemptively started turning pink in the face, his usual defense mechanism when faced with anything more spicy than ketchup.

Ruby wordlessly passed him her wineglass of milk, still engrossed in Nora’s dramatic retelling of her latest dream. Like Pyrrha, she’d occasionally rest a hand on Weiss’ other thigh, but would never keep it there for longer than a few minutes, soon enough using it to brush her her hair back from her face, or drum her fork on the table, or any one of a dozen different flavors of fidgeting that set Weiss’ teeth on edge during class but she indulged when they went out.

“Of course there are peppercorns on steak au poivre,” Weiss said, “don’t you know what ’au poivre’ means?”

“That it’s a really fancy steak?” he asked. He drained the better part of the glass and handed it back to Ruby with a sigh of relief. “My mom always said that the less you understand what you’re ordering, the fancier it is.”

That bit of homegrown 'wisdom’ would explain why he would point to random bottles on the wine menu whenever they made the mistake of letting him order for the table, though now Weiss had an encyclopedic knowledge of what dessert wines went with fish.

Jaune was the only person at the table Weiss had never imagined herself with prior to the start of this interlocking spiral of a relationship. He thought a sleeveless hooded sweatshirt and cowboy boots were the height of fashion, was somehow even more accident prone than Ruby, and she was almost certain he asked his parents for tips before he kissed her for the first time. His mother gave her far too many knowing looks during Beacon’s fortunately infrequent Parent’s Days for it to be anything else.

But when all eight of them gathered as a group to discuss giving their current relationship a try, he hadn’t stuttered or trotted out his arsenal of pickup lines, he spoke calmly and honestly, one hand in Pyrrha’s and a faint blush on his cheeks. It wasn’t until weeks later that Pyrrha told her he’d been sweating so badly they had to towel off their hands after the meeting.

“It’s an easy mistake to make,” Pyrrha said diplomatically.

Blake didn’t look up from reading. “Not really.”

Unless Weiss made a fuss, Blake usually spent most of their meals with a book under the table, but those Faunus ears, left bare in defiance of the restaurant’s unspoken dress code, would always flick from speaker to speaker, betraying an interest in the conversation.

“How would you know? You always get the same thing,” Jaune said, indignant, “poison, medium rare, easy on the sauce, with a lemon wedge. I could order it for you myself.”

Blake licked a fingertip and turned the page. “Poisson.”

“Yes, why don’t we leave the ham-fisted assassination attempts until after dinner, hmm?” Weiss glared at the two of them.

“Hold up.” Across the table from them, Yang held up a finger like she was pressing an imaginary pause button on Nora’s story, who instantly quieted and looked at them expectantly. “I heard 'assassination’, are we in trouble or are we the ones takin’ someone out?”

Nora slammed her fist into the opposite palm, shaking the table so hard her glass of wine would have fallen over if Ren hadn’t been there to steady it. “Ooh, ooh, point out those nasty assassins! I’ll beat 'em up.”

“No, absolutely not,” Weiss said quickly, “no one here is murdering or being murdered. Not now, not ever. I won’t allow it.”

“Aw, you’re so sweet, Weiss.” Before Weiss could protest, Nora leaned over the table and planted a wet kiss right on her cheek, leaving behind a perfect imprint of her lips in bright pink gloss. Settling back down, she pecked Ren and Yang on their cheeks and resumed her story. “Anyway, so I was lying at the bottom of the ravine, both legs shattered–”

“You bruised your toe,” Ren corrected.

“–right, and with an injury like that I knew I didn’t have much time left.”

On cue, both Yang and Ruby gasped, playing the role of live studio audience with every bit of their enthusiasm.

“I limped along until I came to a river of, of…” She looked at Ren.

“Maple syrup.”

“Yeah, a river of maple syrup! There was only one bridge across and it was guarded by an Ursa Major the size of a house–”

Something nudged Weiss’ hand and she looked down to see Ren handing her a napkin. The fabric was a little damp and faintly stained with pink at one corner. He tapped his cheek, now cleaned of any remnants of Nora’s sticky bubblegum-flavored lipgloss, and Weiss gratefully scrubbed off her own lip print. When she passed it back to him, he tucked it up one of the sleeves of his suit jacket in a smooth motion and took Weiss’ hand, loosely lacing their fingers together as he helped Nora with her narrative.

Despite Nora’s repeated attempts to explain the subtle but meaningful differences between being together, being together-together, and being together-together, Weiss wasn’t entirely sure whether Nora and Ren’s relationship with each other was the same as what they both had with her. All that was clear was they were nothing less than inseparable.

By all rights, they shouldn’t have been able to stand being in the same room, their personalities practically designed to grate on each other, but they acted as if they had been married since childhood.

“–so I slid off the pile of Beowolf heads–” Nora paused to clap her hand over Weiss’ and Ren’s, squeezing so tightly Weiss’ knuckles popped. “–and all the villagers hailed me as their true king.”

And somehow, they slotted Weiss right into place in their lives, their affection as strong and as warm as the hands wrapped around her own.

“But what about the cake,” Yang asked, elbow on the table and chin resting in her palm. Though it likely wasn’t intentional, the position would have made it easy for Weiss to stare down the neck of her tight, black dress if she wasn’t a proper young lady who knew how to maintain a modicum of self-control. “Did they ever bake you the reward cake?”

Ruby’s stomach started to rumble and she wrapped both arms around her middle to muffle the sound, looking around nervously to see if anyone heard. Out of all of them, Ruby had the hardest time waiting patiently for their food, always staring at the other patrons while they ate with an expression that wouldn’t have been out of place on a starving puppy.

Weiss sighed. “You had three rolls, can’t you wait another ten minutes?”

“Weiss,” Ruby whined, softly so as not to interrupt Nora, “I didn’t mean to. I’m just really hungry.”

“I think I have some crackers in my bag.” Pyrrha started rummaging through her purse.

“Not the graham crackers,” Jaune said, “those are mine.”

“Ugh, dolts,” Weiss hissed under her breath. “Do I really need to remind you we are in a restaurant? As in, a place that provides food in exchange for legal tender?”

Yang snickered. “Isn’t 'legal tender’ your nickname for my–” She jerked, knees slamming into the underside of the table, rattling the glasses. Across from her, Blake arched a brow. “…I’ll tell you guys later.”

Ignoring her, Weiss extricated herself from Ren and Nora and motioned for a waiter. “We’ll have an order of bread for the table,” she said to him, and added, after Pyrrha gently squeezed her leg, “please.”

“And some sugar packets,” Yang called out as he left.

“Those had better be for your drink,” Weiss said.

Yang made a face. “Ick, no. That sounds really gross, Weiss.”

Weiss clearly remembered having seen her drink far worse on Half-Off Jello Shot Night at the bars, and holding her hair back in the aftermath, but that wasn’t the point. “What a dreadful mistake on my part. I simply assumed that you developed a taste for ruined wine, because I know you’re not planning on trying to flick them down the front of my dress. Again.”

“Me? Nah,” she said, her expression making it clear that Weiss would be fishing scraps of paper and sugar crystals out of her bra as soon as the waiter came back.

Weiss rolled her eyes. “I’m sure.”

“Don’t be like that, princess. I’m only playing. I tell you what, General Xiao Long can find it in her heart to spare the peaceful country of Weiss’ Boobs,” she said, grin widening, “for a price.”

Weiss arched her brow in a silent question. She’d played this game with Yang often enough to know that Yang wouldn’t ask for anything too outrageous in public. Those demands were usually saved for when she caught Weiss in a headlock during their sparring matches or if Weiss had a stubborn jar she needed help opening.

Yang leaned over the table like Nora had done earlier and puckered up. “Gimme a smooch.”

“Honestly.” After a quick check to make certain none of the other patrons were looking at them, Weiss pecked her on the cheek.

“Wow,” Yang said, disappointed, “that was kind of grandma-ish–”

“Oh, hush.” Before Yang could pull away and sulk, Weiss tangled her hands in that golden mane and kissed her deeply.

Yang barely hesitated, tilting her head and cupping Weiss’ jaw to get a better angle, her calloused fingertips rough on Weiss’ skin. Her other hand was resolutely planted on the table, muscles flexing to maintain the awkward position. Tendrils of her hair brushed over Weiss’ face, the same color as sunlight and just as warm, her lips warmer still. No matter how many times they kissed, Yang was never any less eager. She was as greedy as a wildfire, consuming everything Weiss had to offer.

That fire was what had initially drawn her to Yang. A child raised among glass, marble, and cold, sterile spotlights, who couldn’t help but crave the freedom in the curve of Yang’s grin and the scars on her knuckles. She went into their relationship fully anticipating shouting matches and late nights in bed, Yang’s hair sticking to her sweaty skin as she pushed Weiss to the limits of her endurance, dates at some local bar with Yang teaching her to toss back shots and kissing her after she was done coughing and wheezing for breath.

What she hadn’t expected was Yang taking care of her during the first, and worst, hangover of her life, gently running a cool washcloth over her face and helping her limp to and from the bathroom, bearing all of Weiss’ furious accusations the entire time. Despite her temper and rather infuriating way of forcing the rest of her team out of anything resembling a comfort zone, Yang was always by their side, her love enough to make any situation seem just a little bit brighter.

Instead of a shoulder to cry on, Yang was a hand up and a shove forward, and Weiss had spent far too long obsessing over past mistakes to want her any other way. She also had very few complaints about the wonderful, though not exactly chaste, things Yang’s tongue was doing to her mouth. Reluctantly, she was just starting to pull away when Blake pointedly coughed.

Startled, Weiss jerked back as if she’d been burned and glared at the Faunus. Whatever response she might have had died in her throat as she followed the line of Blake’s gaze to where the red-faced waiter was standing, a basket of rolls and small ceramic container of sugar packets clutched in his white-knuckled hands.

“Uh,” he said helplessly, dropping the dishes on the table and hurrying away with an apologetic nod.

The sweat beading at Jaune’s hairline and pink blushes staining the others’ cheeks gave some indication of why no one had noticed the waiter’s return.

Ren had one hand on Nora’s shoulder, tension running through his arm as he struggled to keep in her in her seat. With his other hand, he flicked through the messages on his scroll, searching for something.

He paused on one and opened up the attachment. “This Tuesday,” he murmured to Nora.

Nora pouted, but when she looked at Weiss there was enough hunger in her eyes to terrify any creature of Grimm. “Aw, that’s days and days and days.”

Weiss blushed a brilliant red, recognizing the particular schedule they were talking about.

“Two days-” Ren checked his scroll “-three hours and thirty-four minutes,” he said, his placid smile strained at the corners.

Jaune craned his neck to see the palm-sized screen. “What’s Pyrrha and my–”

“Tomorrow,” Pyrrha interrupted, the hand she had on Weiss’ thigh sliding a half-inch higher.

Ren cocked his head. “Call it a team-building exercise?”

“Sharing!” Nora said excitedly.

“Or that,” he amended.

Yang slammed a hand down on the table. “Hey! You can’t do team stuff and not invite the rest of Team RWBY. Right, sis?”

“Right!” Ruby nodded so hard the hood of her cape, which she insisted on wearing with her evening dress, flopped over her face.

Whether just a preference, Weiss wasn’t certain, but Ruby never expressed an interest in anything more physical than holding Weiss’ hand or cuddling her close at night. Not that she’d let it stop her from taking Yang’s side in an argument.

“Don’t encourage them,” Weiss hissed, yanking Ruby’s hood down past her chin.

Yang snatched up a roll and chucked it at Weiss’ head, though Pyrrha caught it before it could make contact and set it neatly on the table. “Be nicer to Rubes,” she said. “Tell her, Ruby.”

“How dare you! We’re in public, and that is not appropriate behavior.” Weiss turned to Ruby. “Talk to your sister.”

“Um,” Ruby’s eyes flicked from Weiss to Yang and back again, “um, you see…” She grabbed the roll off the table and jammed it in her mouth, her response muffled in a spray of soggy crumbs, “Mouf full, shorry.”

So much for her fearless leader. Ruby had another roll on standby for as soon as she finished the first one, and the others were already hammering out the logistics. There was only one person she could turn to now.

Still reading in the corner of the booth, Blake was an eye of calm in the center of the hurricane. Only the faint tremble in those broad shoulders as they quaked with silent laughter gave any indication that the Faunus was listening to the conversation.

“Blake,” Weiss said, “do something about these hooligans.”

Blake’s mouth twisted, a smile surfacing for a moment. “Such as?”

“I don’t know. Something! Something…” Weiss paused, listening as Pyrrha and Yang discussed a plan of attack. She shuddered. “Something effective and timely!”

“Can you ask me nicely?” The smile grew a tiny fraction of an inch wider.

Weiss scoffed. “Do it or I’m slashing your fish and book budget in half. Is that what you want, Blake? To go back to store brand canned tuna with the bones left in and bargain bin filth?”

“How terrifying.” Blake addressed the others, voice raising enough to be heard, “We can use Gambol Shroud’s ribbon. I’ll show you how to tie the knots.”

“Like a present,” Nora giggled and licked her lips, “Well, not really a present, because she’ll only be that once we unwrap her, but until then she’s going to be so pretty!”

“You don’t have to unwrap your present to enjoy it,” Blake said.

The color drained out of Weiss’ face even as heat settled deep in her belly. On her best behavior, Nora was exhausting, but with Blake encouraging her, she would be worse than the one time Weiss accidentally gave her regular coffee instead of decaf before bed. It was almost as enticing as it was terrifying.

“Fine,” Weiss said hurriedly, “you win. Please do something.”

Blake’s smile showed teeth. Sharp, white teeth that Weiss couldn’t help but picture scraping over her pulse point, marking her neck for everyone to see. “Alright,” Blake said, sliding a bookmark into the book and putting it aside, “if you’re certain.”

Blake touched Yang’s arm to get her attention. “We still have that group project for Professor Oobleck on Monday.”

“So?” Yang asked, clearly not in the mood to discuss homework when there was a conquest to plan.

“So Weiss has all of our references,” Blake said, “We need her conscious tomorrow.”

“Oh.” Yang frowned. “Maybe next weekend. Abort mission, troops.”

Nora let out a despairing, frustrated sound, but Ren was quick to pass her the sugar packets, her disappointment soon forgotten as she ripped open two and three packets at a time and poured them into her mouth, leaving the discarded wrappers balled up on the table.

“But Pyrrha and I still have our slot, right,” Jaune asked. “Right?”

“I’m instituting a new rule: any groups involving three or more people need to be scheduled four weeks in advance,” Weiss said firmly, “at minimum.”

Yang snorted. “Not gonna ask for a signed permission slip and a doctor’s note? We’re rubbing off on you, Weiss.”

“Or not, in this case.” Blake said, ignoring how Yang giggled and held up a hand for a high five.

“Pyrrha, we’re meeting Weiss tomorrow, right?” Jaune asked. “Pyrrha?”

Ruby reached over the table and slapped Yang’s hand. Laughing, Yang kissed her forehead. “Thanks, sis.”

“Pyrrha? Weiss? I’ll wash my sheets! I’ll buy nice boxers! Come on, please?” Jaune’s voice grew higher in pitch with desperation.

Pyrrha slowly moved her hand down to a more respectable position. “Weiss? We did have a slot. And we can use my bed if his detergent still bothers you.”

“It wasn’t the detergent, it was talking about how his mother used to do his laundry while we were trying to be intimate,” Weiss said, “and yes. We’re on for tomorrow.”

“Yes!” Jaune looked as if he was about to break down in joyous weeping, but after a few sniffles, he rallied and adopted what he probably thought was as a cool, detached pose. “I mean, naturally. Who can resist nabbing a prime spot on Team Jaune’s Manly–”

Weiss promptly stopped listening.

Over in the corner of the booth, Weiss could hear the pages of Blake’s book rustling as the Faunus resumed reading. Blake’s attention was a relatively fickle thing. Weiss would have called it catlike if she didn’t think the comparison would earn her a week of More Silent Than Usual Treatment, or a talking to that could easily rival one of her father’s when she was less than a perfect figurehead at Schnee Dust’s corporate luncheons.

Jaune aside, the others didn’t exactly let her get away with her more 'difficult’ moments. Pyrrha had given her more vaguely disapproving looks than Weiss cared to count, and her and Yang’s arguments were legendary in the dorms for their sheer volume and frequency, but only Blake could make her challenge the foundations on which she’d built her world. It was rarely pleasant at the time, but neither was having a broken bone set, and both were necessary if the wound was to heal properly.

“Blake,” Weiss said, quietly enough that she would have doubted Blake could hear if one velvet-furred ear hadn’t twitched in her direction, “thank you.”

Blake hesitated before responding. “Next Thursday is mine. Thank me then.” For once, Weiss didn’t think she was imagining the blush that darkened Blake’s cheeks.

The conversation soon splintered off, as it usually did. Even with Weiss attempting to direct everyone, it was nearly impossible to keep them on the same topic without the promise of sex or fighting to hold their attention. Ruby, Yang, and Nora took turns making a goal with their fingers while the others tried to flick the sole surviving sugar packet through it. Ren kept score on his napkin, implacable and impartial despite Yang’s demands he count Ruby’s near misses as goals.

Jaune and Pyrrha were making plans for tomorrow, voices hushed and expressions guilty enough that Weiss made a mental note to leave her sources with Blake before she left to meet them. She wasn’t about to take a risk with her grade point average, not for anyone.

It was rare for Weiss to have a moment like this, where she was more of an observer than a sometimes eager, sometimes thoroughly annoyed participant. Petty difficulties and embarrassments aside, Weiss couldn’t remember having felt more happy. Perhaps it was some cosmic joke that just when she resigned herself to loneliness, to the empty chill that clung to the inside of her ribcage like sickness and frost, she was surrounded by enough love she found it difficult to keep an insipid smile off her face at all hours of the day.

The Sugar Packet Semi-finals had reached its instant sudden death round by the time the waiters brought out their food and managed to match each plate to the appropriate person. Just the scent of all the dishes was enough to make Weiss’ mouth water. While she had the good sense not to fill up on bread like the others, now it was difficult to resist diving right in, but somehow she’d manage. They would never know just how many sacrifices she made for them.

Weiss clinked her knife against her glass. “Before you start stuffing your faces, I’d like to say a few words. It’s been nearly a year since we first started this, well, whatever we’re calling our logistical nightmare of a relationship, and I’m happy to announce… I’m happy… I…”

The rest of the speech was neatly written out on note cards in her purse, all three thousand fifty-seven words of it, but what seemed perfectly well-thought out on paper now tasted painfully artificial on her tongue. She might as well have been reading Schnee Dust’s quarterly reports for all the genuine emotion in it.

“Yeah, Weiss?” Ruby said, squeezing her knee encouragingly.

Weiss sighed. “Just thank you. All of you.”

Pyrrha pulled her into a one-armed hug and kissed the top of her head. “We love you too.”

“Lots!” Nora took a bite of her bread pudding, syrup dripping from the corners of her mouth. “Lots and lots and lots and–”

“Yeah, er, you…” Jaune nervously brushed his hair back from his face. “You’re so pretty and smart and really kind of intimidating…” He looked to Pyrrha for support, forehead already starting to glisten with fear-born perspiration. “And I never knew these sorts things existed where you can date more than one person at once but, but, but I’m so happy they do 'cause-you-and-Pyrrha-are-the-best-thing-to-ever-happen-to-me,” he finished in a rush.

“–and lots and lots and lots and lots. How many was that, Ren?”

“Thirty-nine,” he answered. “Sounds accurate.”

Though Blake’s voice was tinged with an overly forced edge of boredom Weiss knew meant there was emotion bubbling just underneath the surface, those amber eyes were anything but cold. “It could use a few more 'lots’.”

“I’ll give the two of you a whole lots more later,” Yang said, grinning, “but seriously, Weiss, you’re not chore to be around most of the time, so don’t thank us or anything.”

Weiss buried her face in Pyrrha’s shoulder, her mouth twisting, unable to settle on a smile or the grimace of someone trying to choke back tears. It wasn’t fair when they all ganged up on her like this. She could bear fractional confessions and implications, but being surrounded on all sides by their affection was like staring into the sun and expecting not to be blinded.

Something brushed over the bare skin of Weiss’ arms, and she didn’t have to look to recognize it was Ruby’s cape. She knew every inch of the red fabric, worn from repeated washings with cheap detergent and smelling faintly of roses, metal, and gunpowder.

“Weiss,” Ruby nuzzled her jaw, bangs tickling Weiss’ cheek, “always and always, okay?”

“Okay,” she mumbled.

“Why don’t we eat now,” Pyrrha suggested and Weiss quickly nodded, grateful for the reprieve.

It was difficult to swallow past the tightness in her throat, but fortunately cobb salad was easier to get down than a half dozen love confessions. She speared leaf after leaf of iceberg lettuce, waiting for her face to return to some semblance of its normal shade of sun-starved white.

“Weiss, this pasta is so good,” Ruby said, her plate nearly half-empty, fork little more than a silver blur as she shoveled noodles into her mouth in between words. Like Nora, she usually ended up wearing as much food as she ate, and red sauce was already smeared around her mouth as if she were some Beowolf devouring a fresh kill. “You’ve got to try some.”

Before Weiss could decline, Ruby held out a forkful, her free hand protectively cupped underneath to keep any sauce from dripping on Weiss’ dress.

“What have I said about talking with your mouth full,” Weiss asked, shying away from the fork and all the potential stains it carried with it. She hadn’t maintained an almost completely white wardrobe since she was seven years old by being careless with her clothing.

“Stop being such a meanie and try it.” Ruby inched the fork closer, making train noises. “If you don’t open up, all these people are gonna miss their connections and that’ll throw the whole pasta train schedule out of whack. Think about it, Weiss. All that planning. Ruined.”

Weiss didn’t think it was physically possible to roll her eyes as hard as that ploy deserved. “Ugh, alright. But only because I expect a few minutes of peace in return.”

Ruby nodded happily and held the fork up to her lips. “Say 'ah’.”

With one last pointed sigh to make it clear that while she might have to conceded to Ruby’s whims, she had no plans to enjoy it, Weiss opened her mouth and let Ruby slide the fork inside. The tomato sauce was heavy and rich on her tongue, her palate not quite sophisticated enough to pick out each spice individually.

“Is it good? Do you like it?” Ruby paused, squinting at her mouth. “Wait, you’ve got some stuff on your face.” Instead of handing her a napkin like any normal person, Ruby licked her thumb and tried to start scrubbing the stray smear of red from the corner of Weiss’ mouth.

“Ruby!” Weiss hissed, scandalized, as she managed to jerk her head back just in time to avoid having saliva rubbed into her skin.

Ruby huffed in frustration and caught Weiss’ face in her hands, kissing her instead. “There, better?”

Weiss swallowed hard, barely resisting the urge to lean into Ruby’s palm. “Perhaps somewhat.”

A faint tingle on the back up of her neck prompted Weiss to glance up only to find that the others were all staring at her, their eyes reflecting a hunger that would have been better directed towards their meals.

“Hey, Weiss, you want to try some steak too?” Jaune asked, breaking the tension with all the grace of someone tossing a bucket of pig blood into shark-infested waters. The way he nervously licked his lips and attempted to subtly cup a hand over his mouth and check his breath left no doubt in Weiss’ mind which aspect he wanted to imitate.

Pyrrha sliced off a bit of salmon with the side of her fork. “Or you could have–”

“Weiss, listen, this pork is unbelievable,” Yang interrupted, indicating her own plate with a jerk of her head. “And it’s not the only thing.”

“That may be so, though the fish is quite grand–” Pyrrha started again.

Jaune stabbed his fork into his steak hard enough to rattle the plate underneath. “But mine’s got au poivre, Weiss. It’s fancy like you.”

Pyrrha’s forehead wrinkled in a frown. “Actually, I asked the chef to make certain it didn’t–”

“This looks like fun!” Nora said, bouncing in place and occasionally into Ren. “Weiss, Weiss, have some of mine too.”

Pyrrha’s hand left her thigh, clenching into a fist. Black light leaked out from between her fingers as her semblance flared, and every bit of metal in the room seemed to move imperceptibly closer to her. Weiss could almost feel some echo of it in herself, as if Pyrrha was calling to the iron in her blood, the trace metals in her bones. With a sharp jerk, Pyrrha wrenched her fist down and everyone’s silverware clattered to the table.

While the others gave up after a few seconds of pointless tugging, Yang tried to pry her fork free with nothing more than brute force. She stood up in order to get better leverage, the hard muscle in her arms rippling and straining, but even her best effort couldn’t move it a fraction of an inch.

Frowning, she flopped back down. “That’s so not fair.”

“I’m sorry.” Pyrrha had the grace to look somewhat embarrassed, not that she let it stop her from offering Weiss the salmon.

Weiss was quick to accept the morsel and the kiss Pyrrha pressed to her lips right after, despite the grumbling from the others. Balancing the wants and needs of seven different partners was a complicated dance that Weiss was only just beginning to master, but that in no way meant she had to say 'no’ to Pyrrha Nikos. Five time winner of the Mistral Regional Tournament. Top of her class at Sanctum. Part. Time. Model.

“Does it meet your standards?” Pyrrha asked, fingers still lightly gripping Weiss’ chin. In her tight, red dress with her hair plaited down her back, she looked as if she had just stepped out from some high class photo shoot.

Weiss had always appreciated painting or sculpture more than she did photography, but the way that light and shadow outlined the angles of Pyrrha’s face, limned the heavy shift of muscle in her arms, darkened her normally spring green eyes to emerald, was nothing short of art, and deserved to hang in a museum even if the woman herself couldn’t.

“More than acceptable,” Weiss breathed.

“Splendid.” Pyrrha’s smile could have bankrupted the country if the marketing companies ever decided to slap it on another line of over-priced cereals.

Across the table from them, Jaune made another half-hearted attempt to free his silverware. “Pyrrha, please, I’m so hungry.”

“Oh, sorry.” This time Pyrrha actually sounded genuinely contrite, but instead of releasing her semblance, she speared another piece of salmon on her fork and held it out to him. “Here. As team leader, you really need to keep your strength up.”

Jaune nervously looked at the others before shrugging helplessly and letting Pyrrha feed him. This was one struggle in which he had Weiss’ full sympathy, even if she couldn’t stop the momentary pang of jealousy that losing Pyrrha’s undivided attention provoked.

“What, are we gonna have to eat with our hands now?” Yang asked, prodding her pork chop with a finger.

“It does seem that way,” Pyrrha said lightly. Despite being one of the more unbearably decent people Weiss knew, Pyrrha never lost a competition. Not even one as ridiculous as this was turning out to be. “Or you could all try some salmon. The portions here are far too large, it isn’t very healthy.”

Nora shook her head. “Nope nope nope, I don’t like fish. I don’t even sort of like fish. The only one I liked a little was that fish-shaped Grimm, and he fell apart too quickly to be any fun. And I didn’t get to give Weiss any of my food.” The last bit was said with as close to a pout as Nora’s eternally perky expression could manage.

“Here,” Ren reached over, grabbed Weiss’ fork, and handed it to Nora. Though it made sense why Pyrrha wouldn’t have pinned her silverware down with the others’, Weiss was more than a little annoyed with herself for not realizing it sooner. Ren’s situational awareness was something she admired and coveted in equal measure.

“Ooh, thanks, Ren!” Nora scooped up a chunk of bread pudding big enough to choke an Ursa and shoved it into Weiss’ mouth. “Eat up!”

Weiss barely managed to swallow, praying the entire time that she wouldn’t be the first huntress to have her cause of death listed as 'confectionery’, when Nora pulled her into a kiss, tongue licking the lingering sweetness from the inside Weiss’ mouth.

“See? Way more fun than fish,” Nora said as if that had somehow proven her point, though Weiss was too stunned to offer any sort of rebuttal.

Pyrrha hummed thoughtfully, turning Weiss’ face towards her and pressing a kiss to the corner of her lips. “Apart from the Pumpkin Pete commercials, I had to maintain a strict diet for my training regimen. I may have lost most of my taste for sweets.” Her thumb traced the heart-shape of Weiss’ mouth. “But there are exceptions.”

“Hbluh,” Weiss added helpfully.

“Weiss? You there?” Ruby waved a hand in front of her face. “I think you guys broke her.”

Blake gave a quiet laugh. “She’s fine. Watch. Weiss, complain once if you’re alright, twice if we need to take you to the hospital.”

“Excuse me?” Weiss sputtered. “For the last time, Blake Belladonna, I don’t complain! Don’t say that about me! If the rest of you would simply do everything right the first time, I wouldn’t need to correct you nearly as often.”

“It was a little long, but I think that counts as one.” The Faunus didn’t even glance at her, responding to Ruby.

“You’re absolutely insufferable, I hope you know that, Blake.” Weiss jabbed a finger at Ruby’s chest. “And don’t smirk. Right now, I’m not so fond of you either.”

“I don’t think you complain a lot, Weiss,” Jaune said, trying to grab Nora’s fork, though her strength and Ren’s reflexes made the task nearly impossible. “I mean, yeah, you like to yell, but yelling can be – c'mon, give it! – good for you. My mom always says that – ow, ow, you’re gonna break my finger! – assertiveness is a really attractive trait in – Nora, stop, please! – a nice girl.” Yelping, he clutched his hand to his chest, a livid red bitemark already bruising on the webbing between his thumb and forefinger. “Pretty please just let me borrow it for a second. I’ll give it back right after.”

Ren shrugged. “He did say 'please’.”

“Well,” Nora drew out the syllable for most of a breath, “okay, sure.”

Face lighting up, Jaune stabbed the fork into one of his pre-cut cubes of steak. No matter how Weiss tried to train him out of it, he always spent the first few minutes of every meal slicing his food into little pieces like he was preparing a plate for a child. The habit might have been endearing if he didn’t do it in public, which frankly was a good summary of most of his personality.

“So, uh,” Jaune puffed out his chest as if he was some victorious warrior returning from the hunt instead of a scraggly, skinny man, practically drowning in the excess material of a suit he borrowed from his father, who Weiss was inexplicably attracted to, “you want to do me the honors, snow angel–”

“Don’t.” Weiss covered his hand with her own and brought it to her mouth. It was crass to pick the most expensive item on the menu simply because it was the most expensive, but she had to admit the steak was worth every last lien, juicy and pink and putting up the perfect amount of resistance before falling apart under her teeth.

Jaune smiled hesitantly. “Good, right? Can I… um, you know… kiss you now?”

“Hmm,” Weiss drummed her fingers on the tabletop, pretending to think it over, “yes, I suppose you may.”

While Jaune had improved significantly with Pyrrha’s help, his kisses were still a little on the unpleasantly damp side for Weiss’ taste. That didn’t stop her from winding one hand in his tie and cupping his jaw with the other, the few spots of stubble he missed shaving that morning rough against her palm.

Just before they parted, he opened his eyes, and Weiss was struck by just how blue they were, deeper and richer than her own as the ocean was to a glacier. At the moment, Jaune was more of a professional and academic liability than an ally, if she was inclined to think in purely pragmatic terms, but at times she could see the outline of the man he might become, and she looked forward to meeting him someday.

“Alright,” Yang said, holding out a hand to Jaune as he sat back down, “my turn.”

Jaune clutched the fork to his chest. “No way! Besides it’s Nora’s fork, so ask her.”

“As a matter of fact, it’s my fork,” Weiss said, “and while I appreciate the attention, why don’t we quietly finish our own meals before the restaurant closes.”

Rolling her eyes, Yang ripped off an strip of pork with her fingers. “Sure, we’ll call that Plan Boring. Lucky for us, I’ve got a better one.”

Weiss wasn’t entirely certain whether she meant to address the insult of the first part of Yang’s response or thinly veiled threat in the second half, but the moment she opened her mouth Yang reached across the table and popped the pork inside, fingers and all.

Weiss froze, this time stunned from a combination of disbelief and indignity. “Yang,” she said, the words barely intelligible with her mouth as full as it was, “you have three seconds to remove–”

“Sorry, babe, I can’t understand you.” Yang pulled her hand back and wiped it off on the skirt of her dress.

It was difficult to chew furiously, but Weiss thought she managed to get the point across. “I said,” she repeated, enunciating each word with cold precision, “that you had three seconds to get your grimy fingers out of my mouth before I bit them off, which I assure you I’ll do without hesitation if you ever pull that kind of stunt again.”

Ruby gently patted her shoulder, as if she was trying to soothe a wild animal, though she knew better than to open her mouth and make herself a target.

Unlike her sister, Yang did not. “That’s not what you said a few nights ago. Do I get another smooch?”

“I’m not rewarding bad behavior, and you’ve already had plenty of intimate contact this evening.” Weiss held out for about three seconds before she roughly grabbed Yang’s hand and pressed a kiss to her fingertips. “There. I don’t want to hear anymore out of you.”

Yang traced an 'x’ over her heart, which had the almost certainly intended consequence of drawing Weiss’ attention to her chest. Red-faced, Weiss tore her gaze away in time to see Ren hold out a forkful of his eggplant parmesan. Judging by how Jaune glowered at him, he had only just reclaimed the silverware.

Wearily, Weiss opened her mouth. He was being more polite about it than Yang had been, and that deserved some recognition, though she was already beginning to feel uncomfortably full. She barely tasted the food, swallowing quickly and closing the distance between them to kiss him softly on the lips.

Kissing the others was always many things, passionate, awkward, all too often frustrating beyond belief, but it was rarely ever slow. Ren was different, methodical in his approach, until Weiss was the one gasping into his mouth and pulling at his collar, her nails catching on the slick material of his suit jacket.

Nora sighed happily and leaned partway over the table to get a better view. “You two are so cute together,” she said, brushing Weiss’ hair back from her face.

Ren kissed Weiss’ forehead before he sat down, the warmth from his lips lingering much longer than it had any right. “No more than you and her.”

Nora wound her arms around his neck in an embrace that was nearly as much a chokehold as it was a hug, and blew a raspberry on his cheek. “Shush, arguing with the true king of Maple Syrup Village is treason. Or maybe it was Candycane Village. It was the one with the Beowolf pile.”

“Candycane, but it was by the maple syrup river,” he answered, undisturbed by the headlock. “I don’t think they have capital punishment there.”

“Plus,” Ruby said, “good kings can’t execute people. At least, in all the bedtime stories Yang used to read to me, they never did.”

Blake let out a sharp huff of laughter. “There’s a world of difference between can’t and shouldn’t, Ruby. Speaking of which,” the Faunus glanced sidelong at Weiss, “I haven’t had my turn with you.”

“Your turn with me?” Weiss repeated, incredulous. “I’m not some amusement park ride, you dunce. Besides,” she added, seeing Blake’s plate was already scraped clean, “you don’t have anything to offer, do you?”

Instead of responding right away, Blake took a long sip of wine. Though Weiss knew for a fact that they were drinking the exact same vintage, the wine in Blake’s cup seemed darker than hers, bloody crimson without the light shining through it. “We both know that isn’t true.”

Weiss might have snorted if ten years of etiquette schooling hadn’t trained it out of her. “Fine, then,” she said. “Impress me.”

Arching a brow, Blake raised the glass once more. That sort of stalling might have been mildly interesting the first time, but trying it twice only meant Blake had absolutely nothing to back up those words. Weiss would have been happy to say as much, loudly, but Blake leaned over Ruby’s lap and yanked her into a kiss, shadows licking their skin as Blake’s semblance flared.

Nails that were more like claws pricked the skin on Weiss’ cheek and the back of her neck. They hadn’t drawn blood, nor would they without Weiss’ explicit permission, but the quiet threat sent a shiver down the length of her spine. Blake’s hair was slicked back for the night, highlighting the sharply-angled cheekbones and molten amber eyes that never failed to make Weiss’ breath catch. The rest of that ink black mane spilled over the collar of Blake’s suit, nearly indistinguishable from the equally dark fabric.

Blake was half Weiss’ nightmares and half her most private daydreams, so when the Faunus shifted to deepen the kiss, Weiss simply tipped her head back and gave. At first it was nothing more than the hot, gentle pressure of lips against her own, but then Weiss tasted wine, spilling into her mouth from Blake’s.

Or at least she assumed that was the intention. A great more of it ended up dripping down her chin than in mouth. She quickly broke the kiss, scrabbling for her napkin and trying to sop up the mess before it stained her clothing.

“Are you really that dim,” she hissed, napkin clamped firmly over her mouth, “don’t you know that only works in your trashy romance novels? What were you thinking? Or were you even thinking at all?”

Faunus ears pinned flat, Blake answered back, defensively, “It’s not as easy as it looks.”

“I’d give you points for style and take a few back for execution,” Yang said, shrugging.

“Yeah, you were really cool right up until the end,” Ruby agreed. “I could feel Weiss shaking.”

“Excuse me? I was not shaking.” Weiss turned to Pyrrha. “Was I shaking?”

Pyrrha hesitated for a moment. “Perhaps a light tremble?”

Weiss didn’t have to look to know Blake’s expression had settled into something unbearably smug. Luckily for the Faunus, her dress had escaped the debacle unscathed, so Weiss could find it in herself to graciously let the matter rest. “Ugh, I don’t care enough to argue with you. Now that I’ve sampled everyone’s meals and, er… and affections, can we finish our dinner like respectable people?”

Ruby pouted, lower lip quivering in a manner Weiss would have found exasperating on anyone else. “But I didn’t get to go.”

“You can’t possibly be serious. You’re the one who started this!”

“Nope,” Ruby said firmly, shaking her head, “it wasn’t a thing when I did it, but now it’s definitely a thing and I want my turn if that’s a thing you like and are okay with.”

“Wait, you used 'thing’ too many times, I’m confuse–” Weiss started.

“I’ll explain!” Nora interrupted, slamming her palm down on the table to get their attention. “Ruby meant that at first it was only a regular thing, but that when we all started doing it, it became a thing-thing. And since she only got to do the thing and not the thing-thing, Ruby wants to know if you’re okay with her being part of the thing-thing thing.”

Weiss stared blankly at her. “That didn’t help in the slightest.”

“I can draw you a diagram,” Ren said, fishing his scroll out of a sleeve.

“No, no, that’s quite alright,” Weiss said quickly. “If it keeps the explanations to a minimum, then yes, I’m perfectly fine with whatever needs to occur for this to be over.”

“Way to be enthusiastic about it,” Ruby grumbled, already knuckle-deep in pasta. Weiss could feel what little remained of her appetite waning as Ruby picked through the noodles to find one she hadn’t already bitten into tiny fragments. It was all she could do not to mentally list all the things she knew Ruby had touched since she last washed her hands.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Let me try again. Thank you, Ruby, for letting me eat cold pasta out of your grubby hands like I’m a barnyard animal.” The zip of Weiss’ dress. The windows in the limo. Countless doorknobs between Beacon and the restaurant. The menus, and only god knew how many other people had touched those. Ruby’s hands really were filthy. “There, was that better?”

Ruby settled on a noodle and held it up, pinched between her thumb and forefinger, sauce slowly dripping down its length. “Okay, first of all, it’s lukewarm at worst. At worst. And second, you’re way cuter than a donkey or a chicken, so it’s not even a little bit the same.”

Insulting that response would have been giving it far too great an honor. Of course she was more attractive than a chicken. Even Jaune was better looking than that, and he paraded around in footie pajamas with his name written in marker on the collar.

Never breaking eye contact, Weiss opened her mouth and waited. Fortunately, Ruby opted not to waste any more of their time and raised the noodle up high, ready to feed it to Weiss when she lost her grip. The noodle flopped limply on Weiss’ collarbone, clung for a moment, then slithered down between her breasts, warm enough that it nearly felt like a living thing and leaving a watery trail of tomato sauce behind it.

“You– you–” Weiss started, hands frozen in mid air, caught between tearing at her own clothing and tossing the rest of the pasta in Ruby’s face. Grinding her teeth, she fished the noodle out of her bra and dropped it on the table the same way she might handle a pair of Jaune’s boxers.

Ruby wasn’t faring any better, her mouth hanging open in surprise. “That– I–”

“Aw shit, we’ve got a Code Orange.” Yang looked as if she was ready to throw herself in front of Ruby if the situation came to it. “Pyrrha, take your top off. You’re the only one who can save my sister now.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Pyrrha said. Despite her words she still rested a calming hand on Weiss’ shoulder. “After all, mistakes happen and I’m certain Ruby will apologize in a moment.”

“Ruby,” Jaune whispered, “run.”

Ruby swallowed hard and somehow found her voice. “I’m really super sorry, Weiss. It was an accident and it won’t happen again, I promise. Did I mention I’m really, really, really sorry?”

“You. You are going to spend all night scrubbing the stain out of this dress if that’s what it takes. Do you understand me, Ruby Rose?” Weiss was breathing hard by the end of the outburst, the words having come out in a furious rush. When Ruby shakily nodded, her expression softened. “Good,” she said, kissing Ruby’s cheek. “And if it does happen again, you’re done for.”

The rest of the meal passed in relative peace. Between the wine she’d drunk and the heavy weight of food in her stomach, Weiss found it difficult to keep her eyes open. She slumped against Pyrrha’s immovable form, dozing just enough that every jaw-creaking yawn startled her completely awake. Ruby cuddled close on her other side, her cape spread over the both of them like a shabby blanket.

The waiter didn’t get the chance to put the check down before Weiss whipped out her credit card with as much speed and menace as she drew Myrtenaster. Coffee and dessert were out of the question, and with Ruby so close, it would be impossible to keep her from seeing the total if Weiss bothered to glance at the bill. There had already been far too much excitement for the evening.

When the receipt came, Weiss managed to shove Ruby off her just enough to sign her name with a flourish and a generous tip. Discretion deserved a three-figure reward. Her father might tacitly ignore 'youthful indiscretions’, but a scandal would burn through the last grudging shreds of his patience faster than Weiss cared to imagine. In the interests of not testing the restaurant’s patience any further, Weiss herded everyone towards the door the moment the ink was dry on the final 'e’.

The cool night air was refreshing after being cooped up inside for so long. If she didn’t breathe too deeply, the smell of rain and grass almost overpowered the city’s omnipresent tang of car exhaust and people. While the others wandered ahead, moving with no great hurry towards the street corner where the limo would pick them all up, Ruby hung back by Weiss’ side.

Moonlight always tended to steal the color from Weiss’ skin, bleaching her to marble and snow, but the night couldn’t dim the bright crimson of Ruby’s cloak, the silver of her eyes. She was taller now than when they first met, to the point where even Weiss’ most excruciating pair of heels couldn’t compensate for the difference in height. They weren’t children any longer, but Ruby bore the most obvious signs.

“Wanna get some ice cream before we go home?” Ruby held out a hand, grinning hopefully.

Just the thought of eating another bite made Weiss’ stomach heave, though she didn’t let the slightest hint of it show on her face. “Absolutely.”

Ruby had a bad habit of calling any place she lived more than a month 'home’, as if all she needed to feel safe and loved was a roof over her head, enough reception on her scroll to call her father once in a while, and Yang. She’d sown pieces of her life in dorm rooms and apartments across Vale as easily as a gardener planted flowers, while Weiss lived in the same mansion since she was born and couldn’t think of it as anything more than a residence.

But now, she could see it in the way Jaune and Pyrrha held hands as they walked. In how Nora would skip ahead of Ren and then stop every ten yards, patiently waiting for him to catch up. In Blake’s Faunus ears flicking back and forth in the night air, unbound despite the risk. In the curve of Yang’s smile as she watched the others. In the hand Ruby held out to her.

If this wasn’t home, nothing was.