an interruption, a continuation @rosesscythes
an interruption, a continuation

“Do you remember what it felt like?”

Ruby asks the question when she’s with Penny, sometime in the sunlit afternoon, when they’re sitting on the cliffside where Summer’s gravestone rests. It was the first time Penny had been to Patch, and she’d been exploring the island with Ruby before Ruby took her to introduce her to her mother. They’d stopped to take a break as well, sitting on the cliffside. Instinctively, Penny had calculated that Ruby had a high chance of falling, but there had been a 100% chance of Penny catching her, so it was fine. Ruby had gone quiet as they took in the view, her mind occupied, and Penny had asked what she was thinking when the question struck.

She takes a breath through her nose in thought. Normally, she’d have thought it was a rude thing to ask. But Ruby was honest with her questions, and the path of reasoning was fairly obvious, given where they were. Penny knew Summer meant a lot to Ruby, that she’d so thoroughly entwined her identity with death and coping with it, albeit through no fault of her own. So Penny considered.

She takes a breath through her nose in thought. Normally, she’d have thought it was a rude thing to ask. But Ruby was honest with her questions, and the path of reasoning was fairly obvious, given where they were. Penny knew Summer meant a lot to Ruby, that she’d so thoroughly entwined her identity with death and coping with it, albeit through no fault of her own. So Penny considered.

She did have a memory log, a direct replay of her HUD at the time. It was for scientific logging, of course, not personal use, but she could project it for Ruby, try and use it to show what she was seeing at that time. But the thought of seeing her own death through her eyes again severely disturbed Penny. Ultimately, she realized that that was probably not what Ruby was after anyways.

The problem was that there was something of a hole in her memory banks. Just a short circuit between the moment of her death and that of her rebirth. Her core had physically existed at the time, yes, but it was not intaking data or generating its own. Her sleep cycle could not compare; she had proximity sensors installed in her to respond to emergency wakeups. 

Ruby tilted her head and frowned. “I’m sorry if it was the wrong thing to ask,” she says, but Penny shakes her own head in response. 

“It’s fine. I’m just thinking about it,” she responds, and Ruby sits back contentedly in the quiet daylight as she waits for an answer. Penny closes her eyes, focusing her thoughts inward to focus.

Death had been an interruption, she supposed. She had felt a jarring pain in the final seconds, but that had swiftly been replaced by static-like numbness before her HUD had popped up in full frenzy for the briefest of moments before her vision faded to binary and then to black. And then the numbness had returned, and her eyes had opened once more, looking back at her loving father after he rebuilt her in Atlas, and her life had continued. Even having known that Penny was able to be reconstructed, Pietro’s eyes shone with tears and he had hugged her tight, before she was even able to fully comprehend what had happened. 

Something nagged at her though, and she felt a subtle shift at thinking of Pietro. Something she realized could not be found by accessing data, but by processing the feeling of her aura around her. It had been a part of him, too, a gift passed from father to daughter. And a part of it had been fully lost when Penny had died for the first time. Before she became the Winter Maiden, she remembered that she would wake up sometimes feeling like she was physically aching, even though that was not physically possible. Her father had told her it was a part of grief, and she supposed her aura was mourning its missing piece as much as she missed her friends.

Finally, she decided, that it felt like the absence that nagged her was not what Ruby would really be looking for either. If whether or not she had gone to an afterlife was what Ruby was asking for, she would have asked so point-blank. What Ruby wanted was how the act of dying physically felt, if at least it gave some relief to those who died. Some final moment where it made the life lived before worth it, before that supposedly final interruption. 

And to her great disappointment, Penny realized, it had not. 

But at least she had come back again, gotten the continuation that others didn’t, and in retrospect she was pretty proud of who she was when she died. She had come so far from the awkward girl who had been toppled by Weiss, all the way to fighting in the Vytal Festival. And when she died, sure, it had put a pause on all of that. Yet, she had become the superhero icon of Mantle before her friends returned to her life. And with them, even with everything after, she’d grown into the Maiden she was now.

Being the Winter Maiden was another sign to Penny. Fria had passed on the power to her, and somewhere her aura still lingered in the way the powers shaped themselves, her specific way of using them etched into it like a mark upon an ancient scroll. And in it was the moment of her death as well, when she had passed with Penny, a girl she had just met, in her thoughts. Her fingers had still tightened around Penny’s wrist for the briefest of seconds before Penny had been with a rush of cold, determined and energized to protect the world around it as well as itself. That was Fria’s last will, her message to Penny to guard the powers and Remnant as well as those before her had, to continue her job.

To die was, by its very being, a part of nature, but the Maiden powers could not affect it. The ability to fully control life or death was of a level of magic well above their own. And yet, Penny realized, she was effectively immortal as long as she did not fall in battle again. She would likely have to talk to Weiss about getting routine maintenance done to her over the years, particularly age upgrades to match Ruby. At some point, however, she realized she’d realized she’d have to stop aging. Sure, she could ask to retire and Weiss would still provide them, but even if she continued to falsely change her appearance, eventually Ruby would fade away and she’d inevitably have to go back to a younger state to continue to function in the world.

The thought of Ruby dying before her troubled Penny as well. It was absolutely the last thing she’d ever want, but it was inevitable. She was sure, years later, they would bring it up and Ruby would reassure her, would tell her to go on and live her life, just like she had when Penny died. It would be in her honor, Ruby would say. And Penny knew she would have to accept it, because after all, with her around there was no chance of Ruby dying in battle, and she was a living monitor against sickness. So they would have long, happy lives together, almost guaranteed. And that put Penny at peace, because she knew she’d have to continue once more.

She finally spoke, her eyes still shut. “It feels like...slipping away. And then you’re gone, but even in the numbness there’s a presence of your last moment, like a pause. I would not like to experience it again. But I consider myself thankful nonetheless.”

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