Ruby crouches on the dusty auditorium floor, brush moving in quick, gentle strokes as it spreads paint on the canvas in front of her.
This is just about her favourite place, here where it’s quiet and she’s hidden away behind the sets and she can just blast her music in her headphones and work. It’s peaceful. It’s quiet. And there’s nobody around to force her to socialize.
Except suddenly Ruby realizes that she isn’t alone here, as a faint melodic piano line cuts through the music she was listening to. Tentatively Ruby lifts one side of her headphones and sure enough, someone is playing the piano that sits on the stage, just on the other side of the flat that Ruby’s in the middle of painting. She’s about to yell at them to cut it out, and that if Ms. Goodwitch finds out they were anywhere near that piano without permission she’ll be furious, but then she hesitates. First of all, because the thought of confrontation makes Ruby’s stomach twist, and second because the person at the piano isn’t half bad– they’re great actually. Ruby pauses her music and sits back, listening quietly.
That’s when whoever’s there begins to sing.
“I’ve learned to slam on the brake… before I even turn the key,
Before I make the mistake. Before I lead with the worst of me…”
Ruby’s breath catches in her throat. The singer’s voice is stunning. She’s spent hours listening to soundtracks by professional Broadway performers and yet nothing, nothing compares to the sweet, high notes she’s listening to now.
“Give them no reason to stare, no slipping up if you slip away
So I’ve got nothing to share. No, I’ve got nothing to say”
As the girl–because whoever it is has to be a girl, no boy Ruby’s ever met can sing soprano like this–launches into the chorus, Ruby is struck by how sad, how lonely this song is. She’s heard it dozens of times and of course she knows what it’s about, but the way the girl is singing it now makes Ruby feel it. She feels the defeat, the heartbreak, the loneliness in every word like a punch to the chest.
“Step out, step out of the sun if you keep getting burned.
Step out, step out of the sun because you’ve learned, because you’ve learned,”
Curiosity and awe finally overcome shyness, and Ruby stands, careful not to make any noise. Edging towards the edge of the flat, she peeks her head around to see who this mystery girl is.
She sits bent over the piano, her back to Ruby. A head of pure-white hair, an off-centre ponytail–Ruby has to stifle a gasp as she realizes it’s Weiss. As in Weiss Schnee. Because of course it is. Nobody sings that way except Weiss.
“On the outside, always looking in. Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?
‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass, I’m waving through a window.”
Except that Ruby hasn’t heard Weiss sing like this before. Like she’s pouring herself into the music.
“I try to speak, but nobody can hear. So I wait around for an answer to appear. While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass, I’m waving through a window…”
She sounds like she’s crying, Ruby thinks, and then, Oh my God is she actually crying?
“Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?”
In that moment she feels wrong. Like she’s intruding on this private moment, like she shouldn’t be here. She guiltily slinks back behind the flat.
“We start with stars in our eyes, we start believing that we belong,
But every sun doesn’t rise and no one tells you where you went–” CRASH
Ruby, in her embarrassment, stupidly forgot that she was surrounded by paint cans and now she’s sprawled on her back with wet paint soaking into her clothes, letting out a string of curses. The music cuts off with the abrupt clang of a jumbled chord and footsteps approach as Ruby struggles to get to her feet, or maybe just disappear into the floor. Before she can do either, Weiss is standing above her, her face a mix of surprise and irritation.
“How long have you been here?” she snaps, and her voice sounds nothing like it did a few minutes ago. It’s become closed off, cold, all hard edges and defensiveness.
“I–I’m sorry!” Ruby yelps. “I was just painting the sets, I didn’t mean– I’ll just go–” She tries to stand, but loses her footing and lands back in the puddle of paint. She feels her face go red like it always does when she gets nervous, and God she just wants to die right here, right now, so that Weiss will stop glaring down at her.
Weiss seems to take pity on her. She rolls her eyes and holds out her hand to pull Ruby to her feet. “Looks like you’ve managed to get more paint on you than the sets.”
They’re face to face now. Weiss’ eyes are red, and just a little puffy, and Ruby realizes that Weiss had been crying. Then she realizes she’s staring and quickly looks at the floor. “Um… y-you’re a really good singer,” she manages to stutter.
Weiss blinks. “Er… thank you.”
“No, really! I… I love that song. But I… I like it when you sing it best.”
Now it’s Weiss’ turn to blush, and the fact that Ruby has managed to make Weiss Schnee blush makes her do a little happy dance inside her brain. But Weiss just huffs and crosses her arms. “Well by no means am I a professional. But… thank you.”
There’s a few beats of awkward silence before Ruby laughs nervously and says, “Well I’d better get cleaned up. I’m sorry about everything.”
Weiss waves a dismissive hand. “People listen to me sing all the time. It’s not a big deal.” Ruy knows this isn’t entirely true but at least Weiss isn’t glaring anymore. “Do you need help cleaning up?”
Ruby blinks in surprise. “What?”
“Do. You. Want. Help? Did you hit your head when you fell?”
“Oh… N-no. But… If you want to keep singing, I wouldn’t mind?” Ruby offers Weiss a shy smile.
Weiss doesn’t return the smile, but she shrugs and returns to the piano as Ruby begins scrubbing at half-dried paint. Every so often Ruby sneaks a glance over her shoulder at her. She’s never noticed before just how pretty Weiss is. And her voice really is like an angel’s… Ruby could listen forever if–
Stop it. Stop thinking like that. Ruby snaps herself out of her daze and frantically focuses her energy on the scrub brush in her hand. But she’s grinning like an idiot and when she finishes cleaning she sits quietly for a while just to keep listening to Weiss.
By the time the two of them leave the auditorium, Ruby might be a little in love.