I Can't Be a Huntsman!

The Gala - Part 1

Kyousuke had to physically restrain himself from squirming as Weiss roughly adjusted his necktie. Shuffling awkwardly, he pulled at his collar, shivering slightly from the sensation of her fingers brushing against his bare skin.

"Will you stay still?" the white-haired girl demanded, scowling at him impatiently.

"Is this really necessary?" Kyousuke muttered.

"Yes," she said with a glare, pointedly tightening the necktie and causing him to wince. "I can't believe you waited until the last minute to start coordinating our wardrobes."

"I've been…" He paused and grimaced as she once again began attempting to readjust the tie. "...busy."

"Doing what, exactly?" Weiss growled out in aggravation. "Training? The gala is tonight, Kyousuke; just hours away! I'm sure your training with Master Farron can wait until it's over." She took a step back and examined his outfit only to immediately frown. "No, it doesn't match my dress at all."

"What are you talking about?" Ruby asked, a confused expression on her face. "I saw your dress — it's just white. His tux is black; it'll match just fine."

"It's too dark." The heiress pointed out, turning her nose up at the redhead. "If my dress were just white, then his black tuxedo would be perfect. But my dress is off-white. His tuxedo needs to be a lighter tone to match; something like charcoal or steel-grey. Not that I wouldn't expect a simpleton like you to understand."

"There is no difference!" Ruby cried, throwing her hands up in exasperation.

"Well in my eyes and therefore, high society's eyes, there is a difference!" Weiss snapped, crossing her arms haughtily. "And that means his tuxedo needs to be charcoal!" She paused to send a superior look at Kyousuke. "Luckily for you, I foresaw something like this happening."

Weiss clapped her hands. "Belladonna!" The heiress called. "Take my scroll and contact Piers. Tell him to pick up the charcoal tuxedo I purchased and deliver it here immediately."

The uniform-clad girl twitched slightly. "...Yes, Miss Schnee," Blake said through grit teeth, sending Kyousuke a dark glare.

The boy in question flinched beneath her venomous stare. Despite the debacle that had occurred in Kyousuke's room two weeks ago, Weiss had taken Blake's arrival in stride — but not necessarily in a good way. The girl had been raised with servants since birth and had very high expectations when it came to hired help. As a result, Weiss had spent the last few days ordering the poor Faunus to perform menial tasks and criticizing any mistakes she made, despite Kyousuke's attempts to dissuade her from doing so.

Honestly, he was surprised that Blake had put up with it for this long. But perhaps this was because the girl had spent practically every night during her stay ranting to him about it. Kyousuke didn't argue with her, mostly because he still felt partially responsible for getting Blake into this situation in the first place.

"How do you even know his measurements?" Kirino demanded, turning to face them from where she was sitting on the couch, applying makeup.

"I totally saw her going through his underwear drawer earlier." Yang chuckled with a grin

"I did no such thing!" Weiss snapped indignantly. "I simply asked his mother for his general size and made scaled estimates based on his height."

"Ugh, math?" Ruby groaned. "That sounds exhausting. I would've just gone with the drawer searching." She paused as the room turned to stare at her. "...why are you looking at me like that?"

"...Anyway," The heiress shook her head. "Belladonna! Have you called Piers, yet?"

"Yes, Miss Schnee." The Faunus' cheek twitched slightly. "He said that he should arrive in just half an hour."

"Excellent!"

Kyousuke merely sighed, running a hand through his hair wearily. "Well, in that case, I'll be waiting in my room."

"Oh, no you don't!" Weiss snapped, halting him in his tracks. "That reminds me; we still need to comb your hair." The boy froze and fearfully turned to see the heiress stalking towards him with a strange gleam in her eyes.

"Er, th-that can wait till later, can't it?" he asked weakly, backpedaling away from her only to feel his back bump into something.

"That won't do, Master Kyousuke," Blake said from behind him, a sickeningly sweet smile taking shape on her face. "You need to look your best for the gala tonight, after all."

"Ooh!" Yang exclaimed, raising her hand excitedly. "Let me style it! Ruby, hand me that hair dryer!"

"S-Stay back!" Kyousuke cried. Backing away from the rapidly encroaching girls, he turned to his sister pleadingly. "Kirino, help me! Please!"

"What'd you say, Mom?" the faux-brunette shouted before standing up and wandering upstairs. "You want me to help you with your dress?"

'Damn you!' The boy silently cried to himself as the girls pounced on him.


In the dictionary, fear is defined as "an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous". Fear is a base emotion induced by a perceived threat which causes people and animals to experience a primal urge to quickly pull back and hide themselves from whatever is threatening them. It is the most basic of survival mechanisms; occurring in response to situations that are perceived as a risk of a significant loss of health, wealth, status or anything held valuable, really.

In short, fear is a motivating factor arising from the ability to recognize a threat and leads to an almost uncontrollable urge to confront it or flee from it (also known as the fight-or-flight response).

And as of right now, Kyousuke is experiencing the worst fear of his young life. "W-What did you do to me?"

"Stop touching it!" Weiss snapped from her seat next to him.

"It… It's poofy," the boy murmured as he stared at his reflection in the limousine window. "My hair is poofy. This... This isn't natural!"

"Relax, Kyousuke!" Yoshino chuckled, smoothing out a crease in her violet dress. "You look fine."

"I look like a damn Twilight vampire!" Kyousuke cried, his hand instinctively reaching up to correct the monstrosity sitting atop his head, only for Blake to swiftly catch his wrist.

"I'm afraid I can't let you do that, Master Kyousuke," the Faunus said with a sweet smile. "After all the hard work Miss Schnee and the others put into making it look that way? For shame."

"B-But..." The teen merely gave her a pleading look that was coldly brushed aside. 'You are a cruel operator, Blake...'

"That's enough, Kyousuke," his father grumbled, adjusting his necktie in the window. "It's one night. Tough it out."

"Yes, sir..." The boy sighed dejectedly as the limo finally came to a stop. They heard a low murmuring sound coming from outside that caused Kyousuke to furrow his brow in confusion. And then, the door opened and a cacophony of noise suddenly came bursting forth.

"Mister and Missus Kousaka," their chauffeur, Piers, said as he held the door open for them.

"Wait, what's happening?" Kyousuke exclaimed as his parents stepped out to thunderous roars of greeting.

"Calm down," Weiss said. She placed a hand on his shoulder. "It's just the paparazzi."

"Paparazzi?!" He repeated incredulously. "You never said anything about there being paparazzi here!"

"It kind of comes with the territory." The heiress huffed as Kirino stepped out of the vehicle. "I thought you would have realized that by now. Our parents are very well known, Kyousuke. It's only natural they have a following."

"Master Kousaka, Miss Schnee." Piers' voice cut off any retort he could have formulated. Swallowing nervously, Kyousuke slowly stepped out of the car and was met with several blinding flashes of light as the paparazzi snapped his photograph. So stunned was he, that he didn't notice Weiss step out after him until he felt her arms wrap around his bicep.

"Just stand there and look pretty for a few seconds." The heiress whispered, leaning onto him and smiling at the cameras. The boy only vaguely registered Blake closing the limo door behind them before it drove off. Since the girl would be unable to enter with them, she would need to wait and meet up with Lightning before she could come in.

Trying with all his might not to grimace, Kyousuke forced his face to smile as the cameras began snapping photos of the couple, shouting questions at them in a wild frenzy. And for a moment, he could have sworn he saw a man start foaming at the mouth while shrieking hysterically before collapsing, unconscious. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity (which in reality was less than thirty seconds); Weiss gave him the okay to start walking. With a relieved sigh, he began leading the way in.

Before they could walk through the door, however, a large man stopped them and demanded to see their invitations; his hand twitching towards a gun holstered at his hip the entire time. Kyousuke simply showed the man the official, seal-bearing card Svernare had given him. The security guard examined the card for a long while before nodding curtly.

The duo entered the lobby to see a team of hotel staff waiting for them. It seemed that his family had already gone on ahead while they were busy posing for the paparazzi. "Mister Kousaka, Miss Schnee." A man greeted them with a polite bow. "The courtyard and ballroom are right this way. Please, follow me."

Kyousuke just sighed, prompting Weiss to elbow him in the ribs. "Keep smiling," the heiress hissed, a serene look gracing her face despite her actions. Resisting the urge to release yet another sigh, the black-haired teen resumed smiling and followed after the older man as he lead them further into the hotel.

As they walked, Kyousuke noticed a very prominent number of security guards patrolling the hallways. He was certain they had even passed by some cleverly hidden Spider Droids on their way towards the ballroom. The two teens eventually came to a large, spacious courtyard with various tables spread out surrounding a large fountain. A number of people were scattered about the tables, mingling and socializing amongst themselves. But the bellhop continued to lead them towards an enormous, grandiose set of double doors that were currently standing wide-open.

"Your father is waiting just inside, Miss Schnee," the man said, bowing briefly and taking his leave.

"Alright," Weiss nodded, turning to face her date. "Before we do anything, we need to greet my father. After that you'll be free to mingle for a while until my father calls for dinner to start."

"Well," Kyousuke mused. "Doesn't sound too bad, I suppose."

"And for heaven's sake, remember to smile!" she whispered, glaring at him pointedly. "Stop looking like you just bit into a lemon!"

"Alright, alright…" The boy snorted, his lip quirked upward slightly. The heiress rolled her eyes and began dragging him inside. Immediately, Kyousuke's attention was drawn to the high ceiling, which showcased an intricately painted scene of angels dancing in the heavens. An enormous chandelier hung down from the center, likening the sun as it bathed the entire room with a warm, golden glow. On the far side of the room, he saw a large stage, on which a live orchestra was playing a light, relaxing tune.

Glancing around, he saw dozens — no, hundreds of fellow partygoers milling about the ballroom, all with differing conversations ranging from the recent weather to the latest news scandal. On each of their faces, Kyousuke saw little else but plain joviality that was a stark contrast to the nervousness he felt fluttering in the pit of his stomach.

"Ah, Weiss, Kyousuke!" a familiar voice called out to them. The boy turned to see Svernare waving them down from further inside. But what really caught his attention was the enormous machine standing not too far away from the man.

"Good evening, Father," Weiss smiled at the man as they approached. "And I wish you the happiest of birthdays."

"It's good to see you again, sir," Kyousuke nodded, shaking his hand. "And a happy birthday, as well. I hope you've been well?"

"Splendid, absolutely marvelous." The man beamed at them; specifically, at the boy's left arm, which Weiss was still hanging off of. "You've come just in time. I was planning on calling for dinner to start soon."

"Have all the other guests already arrived?" the white-haired girl asked curiously.

"We're still waiting for a few stragglers," Svernare admitted. "But I'm told they should be here shortly. Please, do enjoy yourselves until then."

"I think I'll stay with you for a while longer, Father," Weiss said before turning to her date. "Why don't you go mingle with the crowd? I'm sure there is someone here that will catch your interest well enough."

In response, Kyousuke glanced at the machine once again, which her father quickly caught onto. "I see you've noticed my… companion here," the President said with a wide smile. "It's the latest droid from the Schnee Company; the Atlesian Paladin-290. The finest we have to offer."

"Ah..." The boy murmured. "So, my mom designed it, then?"

"But of course." Svernare chuckled, his smile turning into a grin. "Anything that woman touches turns to gold. It's still having some kinks worked out, but already it has surpassed all previous models and designs. I brought it here for an... early showcase."

"I see," Kyousuke mused. "Speaking of my mother, did you see which way my family wandered off to, sir?"

The man pointed past the crowds of people. "Your family made their way over to the tables on the far side of the room," he explained. "You will find your seat clearly marked with a name card in front of it. You'll be sitting between Yoshino and Weiss."

"Thank you, sir."

"I'll join you again shortly, Darling," Weiss said rather loudly, stretching up to kiss him on the cheek, much to his embarrassment, since several onlookers giggled at the display.

The teen just nodded before quickly taking his leave. He weaved his way through the throngs of people, muttering quiet apologies to anyone he bumped into. When he finally emerged on the other side several minutes later, he was nearly breathless.

"Took you long enough," the familiar voice of his sister drawled. "What's got your panties in a bunch?"

"Thanks for leaving us back there," Kyousuke said sarcastically, ignoring the question entirely as he attempted to fight down his flush.

"That's what you get for being so slow," Kirino huffed, crossing her arms. She currently wore a sleeveless, baby-blue dress that complimented her eyes quite well.

"It's hardly my fault Weiss wanted to pose for the paparazzi!" the boy exclaimed before blushing at the mention of the heiress; the sensation of her lips still fresh on his mind. Kirino raised an eyebrow at his rapidly reddening face and opened her mouth to comment. Fortunately for Kyousuke, she was cut off by a vaguely familiar voice.

"K-Kyousuke-shi? Kiririn-shi?" The two teens turned to see a startlingly beautiful girl wearing an emerald green dress. She stood before them, nervously fingering her green hair and shuffling awkwardly as they gaped at her.

"I-I'm sorry," Kyousuke coughed. "But, have we met before?"

Kirino, meanwhile, just stared at the girl with a disbelieving expression on her face. "No way..." she murmured in shock. "Saori? Is that you?"

Kyousuke's eyes widened and he turned to the girl in utter shock. "Saori?" he repeated incredulously. "As in Saori Bajeena?!"

"...Do you know these two, Saori?" a green-haired man questioned.

It was only then did the boy finally notice the other people standing behind the girl. A rather scruffy-looking green-haired man stood at the forefront; obviously her father. Standing behind him was a tall man with salt-and-pepper hair and wearing a white military uniform. And beside the tall man was a short, orange-haired girl with bright green eyes that was wearing a simple white dress.

"Ah, Father," Saori said with a nervous smile. "These are friends of mine; Kirino and Kyousuke Kousaka."

"Kyousuke Kousaka?" The other, taller man questioned, his eyes lighting up in recognition. "So, you're the one, eh...?"

"Er... I'm sorry?"

"Oh!" The man jumped slightly. "Forgive me. My name is James Ironwood. I'm headmaster of the Atlesian Academy for Gifted Youth, as well as General of the Army. I happen to work quite closely with Svernare."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, sir," Kyousuke said, shaking his hand.

"And I, you." Ironwood nodded, giving him a curious once-over. "I've heard quite a few things about you, young man. You're the son of the brilliant Yoshino Kousaka and the valiant Daisuke Kousaka, apprentice of the legendary Master Farron, the fiancé of Weiss Schnee and a potential future executive of the Schnee Company. Why, you've even caught the attention of my old friend, Ozpin."

"I-I suppose so," the boy muttered, slightly unnerved by the extent of his knowledge.

"You have some very powerful connections, Mister Kousaka," he continued before shaking his head. "Ah, pardon my dreadful manners. I haven't even introduced my daughter yet, have I?"

"Greetings and salutations," the redhead suddenly exclaimed, offering the teen a salute. "My designation— I mean, my name is Penny."

Smiling somewhat awkwardly, Kyousuke nodded at her. "...Nice to meet you, Penny,"

"It is indeed nice to meet you, my fellow teenagers!" the girl said enthusiastically. "I hope to have many heartfelt conversations with you."

"What the hell?" Kirino muttered, staring at the girl strangely.

"...Right," Kyousuke sighed, shaking his head bemusedly. "Whatever you say, buddy."

Suddenly, Penny's eyes widened to the size of saucers. She quickly leaned forward, prompting the boy to take an alarmed step back. "Buddy?" she repeated, an eager expression of her face. "The thesaurus defines the word 'buddy' as a synonym for 'friend'. Does that make us friends?"

"Uh, I— er..." Kyousuke stuttered, glancing at Kirino, who shook her head furiously. "I... guess?" His sister facepalmed.

"Fan-tastic!" Penny turned to her father with a wide, beaming smile. "Father, I have made my first boyfriend!" Kyousuke choked slightly while Kirino just facepalmed even harder.

"It seems you have, Penny." Ironwood chuckled, sending Kyousuke a wink, clearly asking him to just play along. "But let's not bother him too much. Dinner should be starting soon, after all. You can talk after we eat."

"Yes, Father." The girl turned and waved at him as the two took their leave. "I will converse with you later, friend!"

"Well, I'll just leave you to talk to your friends, Saori," the green-haired man said after a while. "I have some... business to take care of."

"Father, I know you two are rivals and everything, but please don't pick a fight on Svernare-san's birthday!" Saori exclaimed in exasperation.

"No promises!" The man chuckled as he walked off. "That bastard one-upped me last time. I have to get him back somehow!"

"Just keep it tame!" She sighed, shaking her head before turning to the siblings sheepishly. "I'm sorry about all of that."

"It's fine," Kyousuke assured her. "But in all honesty, I'm surprised to see you here."

"Haha!" The girl giggled. "Did you think Bajeena was my actual name?"

"Honestly? Kind of," he said sheepishly. "It kinda fits your character. Though, I must admit, you seem like a completely different person."

"So, who are you, really?" Kirino questioned, watching as Saori's father began arguing with Svernare on the other side of the room. "You said your old man was rivals with the President."

"Her name is Saori Makishima," a familiar voice said. "Heiress to Makishima Robotics." The trio turned to see Weiss striding towards them. Kyousuke blinked in surprise upon seeing her; his confusion outweighing his shock at discovering Saori's true identity.

"Did you change?" he asked, staring at Weiss' black dress. She'd been wearing white when they got here...

"Just a quick change for the performance, Darling." The heiress explained before sauntering over to him and draping her arms across his shoulders. "I missed you."

"W-Weiss?" Kyousuke stuttered, his entire face going red. There was something... off about her. Something he couldn't quite put his finger on...

"Ugh, really?" Kirino grunted, throwing a disgusted look at them. "Get a room, you two. Let's go, Saori."

"Er, right..." The green-haired girl followed after her, her face flushed red.

"W-What are you doing?" The boy yelped as the white-haired girl began nibbling his neck.

"What's wrong, Darling?" she whispered. "Feeling shy?" The girl gasped in shock however, when Kyousuke suddenly shoved her off. "D-Darling?"

"Who the hell are you?"

"Whatever do you mean, Darling?"

"Cut the crap!" Kyousuke snapped. "Weiss doesn't call me 'Darling' when we're alone. That, and your scar is on the wrong side. I can't believe I didn't notice it right away. You could have at least tried to get that part correct."

The girl froze for a moment before a scowl formed on her face. "Tch!" She clicked her tongue in annoyance, wiping the admittedly realistic-looking makeup off her right eye. "Of course it was this grotesque feature that ruined my little deception."

"You haven't answered my question," the boy growled.

"Isn't it obvious?" She smirked, undoing her ponytail and allowing her hair to cascade around her face. "I'm—"

"Winter!" An angry voiced shouted and Kyousuke turned to see the real Weiss storming towards them. "Just what do you think you're doing?!"

The black-haired teen actually had to do a double take. Besides their choice in clothes and hair-styles the two girls were completely identical; the only real way to tell them apart being the scar Weiss sported over her left eye.

"Why, I'm just getting to know my precious future brother-in-law, sister dearest," the imposter said with a mocking smile.

"While masquerading as me?" Weiss demanded, crossing her arms.

"We were getting to know each other very well." Winter chuckled, licking her lips and sending the boy a lascivious wink. The boy blushed, which the heiress immediately caught.

Gritting her teeth, Weiss glared at her twin. "Back off, Winter," she said lowly. "Don't make me inform Father of this."

"Tch!" The black-clad girl scowled. "That's your answer to everything, isn't it? Father this, Father that." Her eyes narrowed into slits. "Your position as heiress is the only thing you have over me. It's the only reason he favors you so much."

"Winter...!"

The girl in black just scoffed and walked past her. But as she did, Winter leaned over and whispered into her sister's ear. "One day," she said lowly. "I'll prove to him — to everyone — that I deserve to be his heir."

Weiss just grit her teeth and glared daggers at her retreating back. Kyousuke watched this all play out with some concern. "What was that all about?"

"It..." She sighed, shaking her head wearily. "It's nothing you need to worry about." The heiress reached over and grabbed his arm. "Come on, dinner will be starting soon. Let's find our seats."

"You never told me you were twins," Kyousuke noted. "Identical at that."

"Well, as you can see, we're not exactly close," Weiss countered.

"Granted," he admitted as the two weaved through the crowds of people looking for their seats. For a moment, Kyousuke was certain he caught a flash of pink hair before it disappeared into the crowd. Satisfied that his teacher had arrived, he followed Weiss until they came across a table shared by both their families.

Winter was pointedly ignoring them, which Weiss had no problems with. Taking a seat next to his mother, the two teens watched as dozens of waiters and waitresses began to disperse throughout the room, their arms laden with food.

"Having fun?" Yoshino asked with a small smile as a waiter placed a steak in front of each of them.

Glancing at Saori across the room, then at Penny a few tables over and finally at Winter just a few seats away, Kyousuke sighed. "As much as I can be..." he muttered before digging into his food. The night had only just begun, after all. No sense going through it on empty.


Sometime later, after dinner was well underway and the guests were once again chatting amongst themselves, Kyousuke glanced up from his plate as Svernare tapped a spoon against his wine glass.

"Hello, family, friends and colleagues!" the man said in a loud, clear voice that caught the attention of everyone in the room. "I thank you all for coming on this very special day. As many of you know, today is the day of my birth. But it is much more than that. Today is a celebration not only of my life, but a celebration of the achievements of my daughters."

Svernare turned to Winter and Weiss. "As many of you know, my daughters have graduated high school with the highest marks. Winter had the distinction of graduating second in her year, surpassed only by her sister." Kyousuke watched as the girl twitched slightly. With a slightly strained smile, she stood and curtseyed to the applause of the audience.

"She had the opportunity to study anywhere in the world," Svernare continued. "But she chose to attend the Atlesian Academy for Gifted Youth in order to stay close to home so she may assist me in my work." This time, Winter smiled genuinely and nodded at the audience's applause. "James, please. Look after her."

"Will do." Ironwood smiled pleasantly from several tables away. Nodding at him gratefully, Svernare turned to his other daughter and her date.

"And then, there is Weiss," he said with a smile. "She graduated as valedictorian of her class, never faltering for a second. But she is not alone. With her tonight is her boyfriend and fiancé, Kyousuke. Tonight is not just a celebration of their past accomplishments, but of their future together."

Kyousuke felt Weiss nudge him and quickly rose to his feet alongside her. The audience let out a loud cheer as the girl curtseyed. Beside her, the boy just bowed awkwardly. "And the two of them have a bright future indeed!" Svernare went on as they sat down. "For they have both been accepted into the prestigious Beacon Academy!"

He paused as the audience let out another round of applause and turned to the boy in question. "Kyousuke, you have risked life and limb for Weiss in the past." The man nodded in acknowledgement. "And while I can never in good conscience ask this of you again, I request that you continue to watch over her."

Swallowing a lump in his throat, Kyousuke nodded. "I will, sir."

"Thank you," Svernare smiled before turning to the room as a whole and raising his glass. "To my daughters. To our friendships, health and prosperity."

"And to you!" Yoshino exclaimed with smile, raising her own glass. Kyousuke did likewise, as did everyone around him. "Happy birthday!" The room cheered.

The man chuckled. "Yes, thank you," he said, nodding gratefully. "Now, before our night's entertainment takes the stage, my daughter, Weiss — in accordance to a tradition started by my late wife — will be performing what I'm told is a very special song in just a few minutes."

The aforementioned girl stood and curtseyed with a faint smile on her face. She nodded at Kyousuke before making her way towards the stage and disappearing behind the drawn curtains. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Winter raising an eyebrow.

"Special song…?" she repeated in a low murmur.

'Oh," the boy thought mildly. 'She's going to hate Weiss even more after this.' All around him, people began making their way towards the stage to get a closer view of the performance. Kyousuke and his family remained where they were, as they already had a front row seat next to Svernare.

"A performance, huh?" a familiar voice mused from right next to him.

"Sensei." Kyousuke greeted, turning to face the woman, only for his jaw to drop. The pink-haired Huntress currently wore a long, elegant, mauve-colored dress and elbow-length gloves. Surprisingly frilly, the dress split down the center of her torso and was adorned with decorative flowers. Beneath the dress was a black corset and on her wrist was a blue corsage. Her outfit was rounded off by a pair of short, purple heels.

"You can stop gaping now," Lightning said, an annoyed expression on her face. Blake stood beside her, still clad in her maid uniform and was quietly scanning the crowds of people for signs of a disturbance.

"S-Sorry!" The boy stuttered, his mind still recovering from a critical failure. "I just… wasn't expecting you to be so... fancied up."

"If the situation calls for it, then that's what I'll do," she said simply. "This is the most practical dress I own."

"How is this in any way practical?" Kyousuke asked incredulously, staring at the long, folded skirt in particular.

"The skirt detaches easily enough," Lightning explained after following his gaze, pointing out a particular seam hidden beneath one of the folds. "And the entire thing is reinforced and weaved together with Dust."

"Ah…" It was always a shock to people who met her. From the way his teacher was always toting her gunblade about, they would never suspect that Lightning was an adept Dust Mage. It was her versatility and unpredictability that made her so dangerous, as she could seamlessly flow from melee to magic in the blink of an eye.

But she wasn't invincible. Despite what her reputation may say about her, Lightning had no ultimate trump card that ensured victory. Kyousuke had never seen his teacher use her semblance before, but she assured him that it was nothing special.

She had earned her prestige and notoriety through sheer skill and tenacity. She was only human; with all the flaws and weaknesses that came with it. And that's what worried Kyousuke the most. Especially with this 'Anri' person Blake had warned them of. Lightning had brushed his concerns aside, but he couldn't help but feel there was something she wasn't telling him.

Kyousuke was about to address her about this when she suddenly tossed a set of keys at him. "Here." She grunted. "I left a bit of a present in your car; couldn't do a damn thing about the radio, though."

The teen opened his mouth to question her, but a hush suddenly fell over the crowd and drew his attention to the stage for a moment. Kyousuke turned back to Lightning, only to see her and Blake already wandering off to continue patrolling the area. Shaking his head, he returned his attention to the stage to see the curtains slowly opening to reveal Weiss standing before a lone pianist. The white-haired girl stepped forward to a single microphone stand.

"This song was written by my mother, Yuki," she said softly. Out of the corner of his eye, Kyousuke saw Svernare stiffen in shock. "It was dedicated to the love of her life. Father… this is for you. This is 'Eyes on Me'."

The room slowly darkened as the lone pianist began to play the opening notes. An air of softness washed over the room and Kyousuke watched with baited breath as several string instruments began to play. A small group of wind instruments led the song into a quick flourish before dying down once more. With little more than a piano for support, Weiss opened her mouth and softly sang.

Whenever sang my songs

On the stage, on my own.

Whenever said my words…

Wishing they would be heard.

I saw you smiling at me

Was it real or just my fantasy?

You'd always be there in the corner

Of this tiny little bar.

Kyousuke watched as Weiss turned to her father, who was too stunned to do anything but gape at her. The wind and string sections slowly began to pick up again, following along and supporting the melody.

I kind of liked it your way

How you shyly placed your eyes on me

Did you ever know

That I had mine on you?

The entire room could only stare in awe as the girl let out a small, but beautiful smile.

Darling, so there you are

With that look on your face

As if you're never hurt

As if you're never down.

Shall I be the one for you

Who pinches you softly, but sure

If frown is shown then

You will know that you are no dreamer…

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Yoshino's whispered voice startled Kyousuke. "You can hear her feelings shining through."

"Yeah…" he murmured. "We spent a long time going through her mother's journals to capture her emotions."

"That isn't it." His mother shook her head. "Look again; closer this time. Really look at her." Kyousuke did so, only to immediately freeze as he locked eyes with the girl and he felt all the breath leave his body as she smiled at him.

Darling, so share with me

Your love if you have enough

Your tears if you're holding back

Or pain if that's what it is

The black-haired teen could only gape as Weiss stared directly at him, holding her hand out — as though reaching out to him.

How can I let you know

I'm more than the dress and the voice?

Just reach me out then

You would know that you are not dreaming

Kyousuke felt chills riding up his spine as the orchestra began building and building. The entire room held their breath, completely enraptured by the show of pure emotion on stage.

But he saw none of this. He didn't see the crowd's rising anticipation for the crescendo. He didn't see Svernare dabbing his eye as he shed silent tears or Yoshino's beaming smile or even Winter's furious glare. No, all he could see was the girl in front of him as she sung her heart out to them.

How can I let you know

I'm more than the dress and the voice?

Just reach me out then

You would know that you are not dreaming…

The boy felt the goose bumps rising on his skin as she whispered those final words. Silence filled the hall for only a few brief seconds. It was only when Weiss gave an elegant curtsey did the room finally erupt into applause. All around him, the audience cheered and whistled for the girl, but Kyousuke could only clap numbly, still utterly dumbfounded. He had heard her sing dozens of time in practice. But her performance just now… It was almost otherworldly.

"No matter how hard you try to emulate someone, you'll fall short unless it comes from the heart," Yoshino whispered to him. "That came from her heart. Those were Weiss' words tonight, not Yuki's."

"What do you—"

"Or not." His mother just shook her head and let out a loud belly-laugh. "What nonsense am I spouting now? I must be losing it or something."

Kyousuke just frowned at her. He would have pressed for more information had he not noticed Weiss stepping off the stage. Svernare was quick to approach the girl and — completely disregarding any form of decorum — embraced her tightly.

"Thank you for that, Weiss," the man murmured. "That… That was the greatest gift you could have given me."

"I can hardly take all the credit, Father," Weiss said with a smile.

"Of course." Svernare chuckled knowingly as the live orchestra slowly returned to the stage. The man turned to face the room at large. "Well, after such a breathtaking performance, I believe my daughter has earned the honor of first dance."

His remark was met with cheers of agreement from the crowd. "Looks like that's your cue, Sweetheart," Yoshino whispered, poking him in the back.

Startled, Kyousuke turned with wide eyes to see Weiss and Svernare staring at him expectantly. Swallowing nervously, he boy approached her and held out his hand. The heiress smiled and took it while giving him a one-handed curtsey. As he led her into the center of the floor, the orchestra began playing an instrumental, 3/4 time version of Yuki's song; the perfect rhythm for a waltz. Several other young couples took the floor as well, but leaving the two teens in the center.

"Ready?" Weiss whispered.

"No," Kyousuke muttered back as all eyes fell on them. Resisting the urge to grimace, he gently placed one hand on her hip while she laid hers on his shoulder. "I'm suddenly drawing a blank here..."

Sighing softly, Weiss had to physically restrain herself from facepalming. "Fine," she murmured. "Just try to follow my lead. But you need to remember. They'll be able to tell if I'm leading the entire time." Trusting her judgment for now, Kyousuke just followed her as she began to move. Desperately trying not to misstep, he glanced down at his feet.

"Eyes up here!" she whispered, glaring at him as they narrowly avoided bumping into another couple. "Pay attention before you—" Backing up slightly, Kyousuke started as he felt his back bump into someone. "I'm sorry," he muttered as the couple gave him a strange look. The boy could hear a few chuckles coming from somewhere in the crowd.

"Oh, come on!" Weiss hissed at him, her face reddening in embarrassment. "I thought you said you knew how to dance!" Gritting his teeth, Kyousuke glared at her for a moment before taking a deep breath as the orchestra began to pick up the pace. He stopped them in the center of the dance floor, much to her surprise.

The teen took a step back, her hand in his and began leading the waltz. Weiss allowed her surprise to last for only a few moments before following his lead. Kyousuke forced himself to stop thinking. He'd done this dozens of times before; he knew all the steps. Now, he just needed to do it.

The two lost themselves in their dance, the motions and steps coming easily to both of them. They stepped, they spun, they waltzed and danced freely; the world around them coming to a standstill as they did. Kyousuke forced himself to ignore everything around him, his mind focusing only on the girl in his arms. As the music reached its crescendo, they spun away from one another for but a moment before coming together again, their faces just inches apart.

The two locked eyes for several moments until the sound of applause reached their ears. Flushing slightly, Kyousuke sheepishly offered her his arm. Smiling at him, she took the proffered limb and he led her back to the table.

"Not bad," she whispered, nodding in approval. "Next time, be sure to dance like that from the start."

"Next time?" the boy repeated fearfully.

"Of course." The heiress smirked at him. "Did you think this was a one-time affair? We'll have to appear at multiple social functions together in the future."

"Why do I suddenly feel exhausted?" Kyousuke moaned quietly to himself.

"Oh, it wasn't that bad." Weiss quipped, lightly smacking his shoulder.

Glancing at the soft smile on the white-haired girl's face, Kyousuke sighed. "No, it wasn't." He admitted with a tiny smile of his own.

"Kyousuke-shi!" a familiar voice called out. The boy turned to see Saori leading a reluctant Kirino and an eager Penny over to them. "I didn't know you were such a fantastic dancer!"

"Is that Saori Makishima?" Weiss asked in shock. "How do you know her?"

"It's a long story," Kyousuke said, a bemused expression making its way onto his face.

"Greetings, Friend-Kyousuke!" Penny exclaimed. "Your ability to move in time with music was quite pleasant to watch."

"Those first few blunders aside, that is." Kirino smirked at him.

"Oh, and hello to you too, Weiss-shi." The green-haired girl said with a wide smile.

"Makishima." The heiress nodded with a cool formality. "Do you speak to everyone you meet with such brusque familiarity?"

"Pretty much," Saori admitted, prompting Weiss to blink in surprise. "I've never really been one for the ojou-sama archetype but I can certainly pull it off if the situation demands it."

"...Archetype...?" Weiss muttered in confusion. "Ojou... what...?"

Without warning the green-haired girl dropped her cattish expression and gave them all a serene smile.

"Why, hello, Weiss," Saori said with an elegant curtsey. "That was quite the performance you put on tonight. And I must say that your waltzing skills are simply divine. I trust you're doing well this evening?"

Saori paused and gave her a toothy grin. "Was that more to your liking?"

"Well, I... er..."

"Ooh! Let me try!" Penny frowned in thought for a moment before an 'aha!' expression took shape on her face. "Greetings, Miss Weiss! Your ability to move in time with music was quite pleasant to watch."

"...That's exactly what you just said to my brother," Kirino deadpanned.

"Ah." The girl paused before nodding. "So it was."

Weiss just sighed. "You certainly have some... interesting friends, Kyousuke," she said, rubbing the bridge of her nose before giving the redhead a curious once-over. "So, may I ask who you are?"

"My name is Penny," the girl said enthusiastically. "I am Kyousuke's buddy-friend!"

"She's Ironwood's kid," Kyousuke elaborated.

"General Ironwood?" Weiss asked in surprise. "I wasn't even aware he had a daughter."

"Uh, yes!" Penny exclaimed in an odd tone of voice that caused the boy to frown in confusion. "My father did that to... protect me! Yes, until I was able to defend myself properly."

"Defend yourself?" Kirino repeated, raising an eyebrow at her. "You?"

"That's right!" Penny gave them all a happy salute. "I'm combat-ready!"

"...Right," Weiss just sighed as the beginnings of a headache began creeping through her skull. "Well—"

"Weiss." Another voice grunted. The girl in question just groaned as she turned to glare at the person who'd spoken.

"What now, Winter?" Her sister simply scowled at her deeply.

"Believe me; I wouldn't be over here unless I had to." The girl growled, crossing her arms defiantly. "But father has something he wants us to take care of for him."

"Right now?" Weiss demanded. "Is it really so urgent that it requires attention now?"

"Does it look like I can read his mind?" Winter practically spat. "You're his favorite, not me, remember?"

"Winter, you—" The heiress grimaced and leaned forward to whisper. "I realize that the two of us don't exactly get along, but I would appreciate it if you didn't air our dirty laundry in front of guests."

"Whatever."

Weiss just sighed, massaging her temples. She turned to the group, who had begun shuffling awkwardly when the two began arguing. "I apologize for this," she said, dipping her head slightly. "But it seems I'll have to take my leave for the time being."

"See you later," Kyousuke muttered as the two girls took their leave, whispering furiously to each other all the while. The remaining group stood in awkward silence for several moments.

"Well, that was… interesting," Kirino said after a while.

"That's one way of putting it." The boy chuckled. "I can think of a few others." He shook his head bemusedly. "So, are you girls enjoying yourselves so far?"

"Are you kidding?" His sister scoffed. "This is the lamest party I've ever been to."

"Perhaps it's not the most carefree party in the world." Saori reasoned. "But it has its charms, don't you think? Its main attraction is the dancing, after all."

"I was never program— I mean taught!" Penny hastily exclaimed. "I was never taught to dance. Father said that it was unnecessary, given my directive. Er— goals!"

Saori turned to her in shock while the two siblings just gave her an odd look. "Never taught?" The green-haired heiress repeated, a look of horror on her face. "Oh, that simply won't do, Penny-shi! All young girls must know how to dance; our maidenhood demands it!" Saori grabbed the girl by the hand and began dragging her off to the dance floor.

"Where are we going, Companion-Saori?" Penny questioned.

"I'm going to teach you how to dance!" The other girl said with a grin. Kyousuke and Kirino watched them go.

"...There's something off about her..." The boy murmured.

"Which one?" His sister snorted. "They're both pretty weird if you ask me."

"But you're still friends with them."

"I'm friends with Saori," she said with a small huff. "The other one is all on you."

"Gee, thanks," Kyousuke grumbled. It wasn't that Penny was a bad girl; far from it. She actually seemed to be very sweet. There was just... something about her that was bugging him. Something he couldn't quite place his finger on.

"Pardon me..." a smooth, melodious voice said from behind him. Startled, the two teens spun around, only to gape in shock as their eyes met with a stunningly beautiful woman wearing a vibrant red kimono.

The mysterious beauty had long, black hair tied into a bun that was held in place by an ornamental kanzashi hairpin as well as a pair of shimmering gold eyes. Perched on the side of her head was a strange, white and red mask in the shape of a fox's face.

But far from being entranced by her beauty, Kyousuke found himself on edge as her eyes seemed to pierce through him. There was something... unnerving about her; like a predator waiting to pounce. Whoever this woman was, she was not to be trifled with; that much was clear.

"I'm sorry, but do I know you?"

"Oh, no." The woman smiled in a way that would have been disarming had Kyousuke not been so on-edge. "But I know of you, Kyousuke-kun."

"There seem to be quite a few people who 'know of me' recently," the boy said dryly. The beauty just laughed, delicately covering her mouth as she did.

"Yes, I'm not surprised." She nodded with a delicate smile. "Your name seems to be floating around quite a bit these days."

"I hate to be rude," Kirino broke in, although her tone indicated the exact opposite. "But I don't believe you've introduced yourself."

"Oh, I'm no one special, imouto-chan," The woman waved the girl off, much to her irritation. "Unlike Kyousuke-kun and his esteemed instructor."

The teen's eyes widened for a moment before a frown overtook his face. "You know Sensei?"

"Ah, yes." She smiled, her eyes glancing to the side momentarily. Kyousuke followed her gaze to see Lightning standing not too far away from Svernare, who was busy chatting with his mother. The pink-haired Huntress turned towards him for a moment, only for her eyes to widen as she spotted the woman next to him. Without warning, she began shoving people out of her way as she took off towards them at an alarming pace.

"Your sensei and I go back quite a ways, Kyousuke-kun." The teen felt his entire body lock-up as the woman whispered just inches away from his ear. "You remind me of her younger-self so much. Just as talented... Just as tenacious... And just as naive."

His eyes narrowing into slits, Kyousuke made to spin around and snarl at her to back off. He hadn't even been able to start the motions before all hell broke loose as an enormous explosion wracked the entirety of the ballroom, sending him flying into a nearby wall. The last thing he saw before everything went black was the woman leaning over him, a previously hidden fox-tail swishing behind her as a pair of black ears twitched in amusement.

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