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Trust the Sun

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i.

The flashback happens as you’re reading a book, of all things.

You’re sitting on Taiyang’s porch under a golden, summer sunset in Patch, curled up on the wooden swing in a white halter top and black mesh shorts. You haven’t been so relaxed in months. A cold glass of coconut water is sweating a soggy ring onto the railing beside you. Yang is out in the yard wrestling with her father while Zwei dozes in the grass, and your focus, usually laser sharp, has been wandering in and out for the better part of an hour. You smile, faintly, as Yang’s laughter carries up into the trees. You’re about to give up on reading altogether when your fingers suddenly stumble over an old bookmark stuffed into the pages. Your eyes widen with surprise. Its corners are bent now, the insignia stamped on the top is faded with age, but the words printed on it in crisp red typeset stand out to you as clearly as blood splattered in the snow. You can still recite them from memory.

It’s the old pledge of the White Fang.

For a moment, Taiyang’s porch disappears. You blink, and you’re back in a dark, smoky warehouse, peering through a forest of raised fists as a masked crowd screams for Adam Taurus to lower his torch on a larger-than-life, straw-stuffed likeness of Jacques Schnee.

Yang stops you as you go to retreat inside.

“Hey.” Her warm, sweaty hand falls on your bare shoulder. “You okay?”

It should annoy you that anyone can read you well enough to tell you’re upset from across a small field, but you’ve already allowed Yang so many exceptions, you can’t help but allow her this, too.

You hand her the bookmark, wordlessly, and she takes it. Her violet eyes scan the pledge for a moment.

“Oh, damn.”

Your gaze flicks away to the grass where Taiyang is trying to tempt Zwei into playing fetch with a stick. Overhead, bugs zip lazily through the humid, evening air. Birds chirp from the forest at the edge of the property. You can’t even imagine growing up here, in such a peaceful place. You stood in picket lines as soon as you were old enough to hold your own sign.

Yang hands the bookmark back to you. “Say the word and I’ll turn it to ash.”

You smile and tuck it into the back of your book. “That won’t be necessary.”

“You sure?”

“Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it.”

“Okay. If you say so, but if you ask me, we’ve all had more than enough history lessons for one lifetime.”

Yang reaches back to pull her hair out of its thick, messy ponytail and you watch with rapt attention as golden waves tumble free. Her hair is a modern marvel in any form.

Out in the yard, Taiyang has given up trying to seduce Zwei with the stick and is surveying the two of you now with his hands on his hips. He’s the only man you know who can pull off cargo shorts and a vest in the same outfit.

“You kids wanna order some pizza for dinner? I’m not really in the mood to cook.”

Yang rolls her eyes with such fondness it makes your chest ache. “We’re not kids anymore, Dad. We can all drink now. Well, except Ruby, but she’s got a pretty convincing fake.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Taiyang puts his arms behind his head. He looks just like Yang. “You girls have no idea how young you seem to an old codger like me.” Zwei barks and Taiyang scrunches up his nose. “Wait, did you just say Ruby has a fake I.D.?”

“Yeah, but it’s a really good one.”

“Yang-“

“-Relax, Dad. We only let her drink light beers and soda.”

Which is technically only true when you’re around to supervise her at all. The rest of the time she’s in Weiss’ care, and there’s no telling how that’s all going. Weiss has a curious penchant for binge drinking.

Taiyang seems even less convinced than you are that this is a good contingency plan. “Am I correct in assuming that you had something to do with this?”

Yang bristles. “Who says it was me? What about that rich girlfriend of hers?”

“Weiss would probably just buy the bar,” you remark, with a smirk, and Yang snorts a laugh.

“Oh, yeah. Good point.”

“So, pizza?” Taiyang brushes off his hands and starts for the house. “Whaddaya say?”

You open your mouth to respond, but Yang beats you to it. “Anchovies on the side for Blake. Just whatever for me. You know what I like.”

“As much meat and veggies as the poor pizza crust can hold?” He waves her off, ruffling her hair as he passes inside. “Yeah, yeah. I remember.”

Zwei follows him in, screen door slamming behind him, and then the air is quiet, shadows lengthening as the sun continues its descent. It’ll be dark soon. You’ll have to fetch a lantern if you plan on reading any more, but you’re not really in the mood. Dark memories strain against the carefully erected barriers in your mind.

“Are you really okay?” Yang asks, again, touching your arm.

Her suntanned skin is damp with sweat, wild hair sticking everywhere. The mechanical bits in her metal arm whir very quietly as she reaches up to brush an errant lock of gold out of her face, but she never takes her eyes off of you. It fills you up with something bubbly. You like the way she’s quiet when it’s just the two of you together. You like that she knows how to make you feel safe. You like that she never quits until you give her an honest answer.

“I’ll be fine,” you say.

Yang waits for a beat, giving you an opportunity to say more, but you shrug. You will be fine. It’s the truth. You were angry when you were younger, and there are little reminders of it everywhere in your life, like postage stamps on letters to some dark address. You see them, and sometimes, in your weaker moments, you are transported back to that place, but fear is a state of mind. You know that better than anyone. You’re a monster hunter with a semblance of shadows.

Yang smiles and bumps your foreheads together. “Okay, well. I’m gonna go shower.”

“Finally.” You make a show of wrinkling your nose, but you don’t really mean it. She only smells like summer to you, like grass and campfires and coconut conditioner.

Yang’s smile widens into a grin. “Don’t get into any trouble while I’m gone.” She cocks a brow. “You know I hate missing out on the action.”

With that, she yanks open the screen door and disappears inside, and you have to take a moment to reason with yourself before you follow. The red sun seems a little too bright and the cicadas in the trees seem a little too loud. Your heart takes a whole minute to slow.

Taiyang is squinting at a paper menu in the kitchen when you enter. You’ve been starting to suspect lately that his eyesight is finally going, but you’ve had the decency not to mention it. The old pipes groan as they sputter to life upstairs and he glances up from the menu.

“Hey, Blake. I was about to make some margaritas. You game?”

“Sure.” You offer him a small smile and take a seat at the table.

“Cool. Yang in the shower?”

You nod, and a strange expression crosses his face. He’s sharper than he lets on, and he’s hard to predict. You secretly kind of admire that about him.

“You know, she hasn’t said much about that boyfriend of hers since you got here.”

You stiffen. “Hm.”

Taiyang studies you curiously for a second, but he doesn’t push. “Alright, well, I gotta call the pizza place first, and then we’ll get those drinks started. How does that sound?”

“Sounds good,” you say, though, in truth, it sounds amazing, because you’ve got a lump the size of a tennis ball in your throat, and you’re afraid to make any sudden moves in case his eyesight isn’t actually so bad afterall.  

Taiyang winks at you as he goes to grab his scroll. You sit and fidget under the table.

 

ii.

The problem with you and Yang is not that either of you are terrible at communicating, or that you’ve got no natural chemistry, but, rather, that you just sort of missed each other. Your mom once described Sun as “the right person at the wrong time”, but that descriptor probably applies more accurately to Yang. Your relationship with Sun ran its course, and you wouldn’t do it over. You don’t stay up at night wondering how you could have fixed things, or how you could have prevented the end. Instead, you think of the dimple in Yang’s left cheek when she smiles and the opalescent quality of her eyes when they light up. You think, too, of the metal contraption strapped to her bicep. You think of Adam’s red katana flashing in the firelight.

Always, with her, there are the shadows.

Things might have turned out differently had all of you been allowed to grow up at a normal pace, but war doesn’t allow for those kinds of luxuries. Cinder Fall took Beacon, Adam took Yang’s arm, and you ran because you always seem to feel everything or nothing, and that night you were feeling everything. By the time the dust had settled the trajectory of your relationship had changed. Yang was too angry. You were too ashamed. There was too much baggage to sort through, and too much left unsaid.

It took months to reestablish your friendship, at which point you were grateful have her in your life at all. There were no more suggestive winks or lingering touches. There were only parties and bars and one night stands. You watched with cool eyes as Yang ripped through partners like she ripped through shots, and in time you capitulated to Sun’s longstanding request for a date. What he offered you was calmer, and safer, and, most importantly, allowed you the time and emotional distance needed to forge a new kind of relationship with Yang. One with checks and balances and real, fortified boundaries.

A new normal.  

Considering the stability it brought to team RWBY, it was probably for the best.

Even so, it’s a weird situation to be in sometimes, a sort of could-have-been-lovers limbo that presents itself as friendship on the surface while simmering with tension underneath. You tried to tell Weiss about it once, after she finally made things official with Ruby, but her response was as characteristically blunt as it was unhelpful.

“Get over yourself and fight for her, Blake.”

Except you don’t want to fight. You’re sick of fighting. You like things the way they are now, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Yang does, too. Everything is easier this way, calmer, cooler, less likely to blow up in your face at the first sign of passion. You’ve quietly decided to keep things simple because, unlike Weiss, you’re an adult. You’re an adult who is capable of maintaining complex relationships. This is nothing but a hard-earned vacation between friends after a long year of grueling contracts, and a bit of lingering sexual tension doesn’t have to ruin anything.

If only the ‘lingering’ part would linger less.

“Blake.” Yang’s foot jostles your shoulder. “Hey, Blake.”

You realize you’ve drifted off. “Mm...what?”

“Pass me the remote.”

You rub your sleepy eyes and fumble around in the dark. You don’t even bother sitting up to hand it to her, just toss it onto her stomach and growl when she tries to poke your chin playfully with her big toe.

“Thanks.” Yang squeezes your shin and begins haphazardly flipping through the channels. “Jeez, there’s nothing on. This sucks.”

You yawn and stretch a bit, noting distantly that Yang has shifted closer to you over the course of the evening. You’re lying head to foot with her on the living room couch under a thin cotton blanket. Taiyang is snoring lightly in the armchair. Zwei is curled up in his dog bed. The kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes and your stomachs are full of food, and no one’s been particularly energetic for the last couple hours. You can hear the refrigerator humming and the crickets chirping in the trees outside.

“Maybe we should just go to bed. It’s getting late.”

Yang scoffs. “No way, we’re on vacation . If we’re not staying up late doing nothing, we’re not vacationing hard enough.”

You stifle another yawn. “I thought vacations were supposed to involve lots of sleep.”

“Well, yeah, but we can sleep in as late as we want tomorrow.” Yang props herself up on her elbows and grins down at you. “I have an idea.”

“No.”

“Whaddaya mean ‘no’? You haven’t even heard my idea yet!”

“I already know it’s a bad idea.”

“Blake, c’mon.” Yang drags herself into a sitting position and reaches down to shake you thigh with her cool, metal hand. “You know you’re just dying to hear my super rad idea.”

“Does your idea involve lots of moving around, or can I just kinda…” you lift your arms pointedly and let them flop back onto the couch.

Yang’s grin dims, half illuminated from the flickering TV. “Um...”

You groan, because you know exactly where this is going. “Don’t tell me you want to go skinny dipping again.”

“Heh, well… Yes?”

“Oh my god, Yang.”

“But it’s fun!”

“You always want to go skinny dipping.”

She chuckles and sheepishly rubs at the back of her neck. “I mean, yeah, but only when you’re around.”

The ears on top of your head twitch and stand at attention. Without even meaning to, you recall Taiyang's not so subtle insinuations from earlier.

Yang’s smile falters. “Blake? You okay?”

You realize you’ve been staring and missed your cue to fire back a witty remark. All the gears in your brain seem to have jammed.

A quiet “why?” slips past your lips, and you immediately tense.

Yang frowns. “Why what?”

Your eyes dart to the ceiling, where bright light flashes to fill the corners before flickering and receding again. Zwei whimpers softly from his bed and your stomach knots. You hadn’t really meant to ask her out loud.

You lick your lips and find them a bit dry. “Why only when I’m around?”

“What? I-”

“-Why do you only want to skinny dip with me?”

The sudden, jarring crack of gunfire blares from the TV, filling you abruptly with a hot, prickly feeling. Taiyang shifts in his sleep. Yang looks confused.

“Uh, because I trust you?”

You squint up at her. “That doesn’t make sense. Do you want to skinny dip with everyone you trust?”

“I mean…”

“Do you want to skinny dip with Weiss?”

“I’m not sure what you want me to say. No? I guess I don’t want to skinny dip with Weiss? I mean, she’s a prude anyway.”

“What about your boyfriend? Do you want to skinny dip with him?”

“Orin?” A wrinkle of annoyance crosses Yang’s face. “I dunno. I hadn’t really thought about it. It’s just something fun I like to do with you, I guess.”

You chew your lip.

Yang’s violet eyes search your face, still lucid, but paler in the dark. “What’s wrong?”

You exhale slowly, and pinch the bridge of your nose. Where are you going with this? What kind of answer are you trying to get?

“I think I just need to go to bed. I’m tired.”

“Okay.” Yang sighs and flops back down. “In that case, I’m gonna stay up and watch some more TV.”

Her expression is cautious as you disentangle yourself and stand up from the couch. Your movements feel jerky and unnatural, as if your body isn't your own. You make your way to the stairs, wondering if this was how Yang felt when she got her prosthetic arm, and you don’t even realize you’ve forgotten to say goodnight until her quiet voice carries up to you on the landing.

“Night, Blake. Love you.”

Goosebumps prickle along your bare skin. “Night.”

The door to Ruby’s bedroom shuts behind you with a dull thud, and you lean against it, catching your breath. It’s true that you’re tired, but you’re also itchy and annoyed and filled with a sense of listless impatience. An urge rises in you to open the window and slip out into the dark. You can already feel the grass under your feet.

You don’t run from your problems anymore, but sometimes you still want to.

“Fuck...” The back of your head thumps against the wood.

You settle for climbing up onto the roof and laying out under the stars in the warm, summer breeze until you’re too tired to think about it anymore.

 

iii.

The air is thick with moisture when you trudge downstairs the next morning. Summer humidity is frequently a harbinger of ominous weather along the northern coasts of Vale, but Yang doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the pillars of puffy, white clouds building on the horizon. Dressed for the heat in a grey tank top and a ripped pair of denim shorts, she lathers on sunscreen at the kitchen table while you slice a banana into your bowl of shredded wheat.

“I’ve just gotta get some beach time in before it rains.” She sticks a hairband in her teeth and starts pulling her blonde tresses into a ponytail. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

You set the paring knife aside and pick up your spoon. “It’s okay. I want to.”

Yang smiles, in a muted sort of way, then says, almost to herself. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

You clear your throat and focus on chewing very slowly, the picture of nonchalance, but you jump slightly in your seat when she reaches to tuck a stray lock of hair over your ear.

“Yang.” Your voice is thick. “What are you doing?”

Her hand slides low under the front of her top, lathering sunscreen onto her rather conspicuous chest. “Ticklish?”

You swallow thickly. “Just… You startled me.”

Yang’s smile expands until it fills her entire face, and you catch yourself hoping, as a comfortable silence settles over the kitchen, that she still has a special one just for you.

You ask for the sunscreen when she’s done, and decline when she offers to do your back.

 

iv.

The beaches on Patch are, justifiably, very different from the long, uninterrupted stretches of golden sand on Menagerie. There are no whispering palm leaves or flowering fruit trees, no sparkling turquoise waters or bustling reefs. Instead, the shore is lined with oaks, maples, cedars, and pines, pressed right up against the dark, white-capped ocean on the rocky bluffs surrounding the island.

You load a daypack and ride Bumblebee down a single lane highway through the shadowy forest. This far from town, there are few houses, and even fewer cars. Shards of yellows sunlight slice down through the verdant canopy of branches arching over the road, and it’s so humid you could cut the air with a knife. Even the wind in your hair feels a bit sticky. Yang takes the hairpin turns at breakneck speed, each one sharper than the last, until you’re sure she’s doing it on purpose just to wind you up. You don’t exactly mind. She guns it up a hill and fades around a blind corner at the top. Your arms tighten around her middle, heart beating like a piston against your ribs.

At length, the trees open up around a bend and the road veers sharply left, running along the edge of a high bluff with a perfect, nearly unobstructed view of the choppy bay below. From a distance you can just make out the pale, grey-gold arc of sand nestled between two jutting spits of dark rock. A white lighthouse, stalwart against the hazy sky, looks out to sea from the end of the longer spit. Tall, bladed stalks of grass grow in tufts among the skeletal remains of sun-bleached logs just beyond the beach’s edge. It’s all so refreshingly different from home that you can’t quite believe how beautiful it is. The scenery here seems more organic somehow. A little wilder.

Easing off the throttle, Yang slows down to the relative speed limit and grins at your over her shoulder, dark lenses glinting in the sun. “Welcome to Chiang’s Cove!”  

You lean in closer to be heard over the roar of the engine. “Who the hell is Chiang?!”

“No idea! Maybe it’s time to Chiang up the name, eh?”

“Oh my god!”  

Her abdomen jumps under your grip as she laughs, and she turns her bike onto a narrow little road that winds down to the waterfront. The brisk sea breeze on your skin feels amazing after a morning of cloying humidity, and the musky, saline scent in the air is wonderfully familiar, despite being somewhat more pungent than the tropical seas back home.

Bumblebee hums to a stop in a gravely parking space at the bottom of the bluff. The abrupt silence in the wake of the engine is almost deafening, until, after a moment, the steady ebb of the tide filters in, mingling with the shrill cries of circling gulls and the whipping wind.

Yang shakes out her hair like a lion’s mane as she removes her helmet. “Ahhh. That feels amazing. I really missed this place.”

You wobble off the bike behind her on significantly shakier legs and remove your own helmet, black with a single purple stripe, customized just for you. The dusty little parking lot is fairly full, but you can only spy a few other beachgoers from where you stand, spread out sporadically on bright towels amongst the bleached logs and sand.

Yang sets the helmets on the handlebars and starts for the path, which is little more than a churned up tract of sand meandering through a gnarled boneyard of castaway sticks and logs. Tall, spiky blades of grass whip in the wind as you hike along behind her, stinging your bare shins when you step too close.

“Where is everyone?” you ask, adjusting your sunglasses.

“Probably kayaking and windsurfing.” She points off into the bay, and you spot, finally, a few colorful sails streaking across the white caps. “It’s a great day for windsurfing. Very windy .” She winks, and you snort.

“Thanks, professor.”

Yang clenches a fist, an expression of mock determination coming over her face. “I value the education of my pupils above all else!”

“So serious.”

“Hey now,” Yang leans in and bumps your hip, “you should know by now that I’m never serious about anything.”

Mercury’s face, particularly his nose and teeth, would probably disagree with her, but you laugh anyway. These days, she likes to pretend she’s carefree, and you like to let her.

You ditch your flip flops once you’ve sunk into the clean sand along the water’s edge, burning hot and smooth under your bare feet. Yang drags a scavenged branch of driftwood along the ground in her left hand, tracing aimless whorls behind her as she hikes to an empty spot further down near the lighthouse. When she’s satisfied with the plot of land she’s chosen, you take off the backpack and unload the supplies while she finds rocks to weigh down the towels. The wind isn’t consistently strong, but it whips up sharply from time to time, enough to be inconvenient. The line of clouds on the horizon, still cottony on top, have grown murky and dark underneath. You’ll have just a couple hours before the storm rolls in.

You help Yang lay out the towels, and strip off your shirt and shorts. Yang pulls out a couple beers and cracks one open, passing it over to you.

“Black bikini today, huh?” She winks. “My fave.”

Your heart beats a little faster. You blink back at her dumbly.

Yang arches a brow. “You okay, Blake?”

Your face feels hot. Is it just the sun? “I’m fine.”

“Alright, well, here.” You accept the beer she’s trying to hand you. “ Gahn bay .”

Gahn bay .” Your cans clink together. “So...” Your gaze slides down to the swimsuit straps tied around her neck as you fumble for something to say. “Purple? Are you finally tired of yellow?”

“Nah. I just like to change it up.”

Yang peels off her tank top and shakes out her hair, revealing two perfect little triangles of lavender cloth straining over her voluptuous breasts. The sight of it would be obscene if it weren’t so absurd. The tight shorts come off next, revealing a low-slung pair of bottoms held in place with nothing but a couple of knotted strings on each hip. She reclines back on her towel with a sigh, sun-drenched and content. Her legs are long and her waist is narrow, despite the hard lines of muscle rippling underneath. You swallow thickly when she lifts her aviators and catches you staring.

“Like what you see?”

You hastily stick the can to your lips and swallow down some beer, stalling until you can put together a coherent sentence. “That um... That top is way too small for you.”

Yang peaks down at her chest. “What? No way, it’s fine. Everything’s covered.”

“Barely.”

“Well, it said 32D on the tag.”

“Which would be fine if you were actually a 32D.”

“Whoops.” Yang snorts and runs her fingers through her hair. “Well, whatever. You can remeasure me when we get home if you’re so worried about it. At least there’s barely anyone out here. No one’ll notice.”

“Except me,” you grumble, and Yang’s brow arches.

“You sure you’re okay? You’ve seemed kinda off since last night.”

You tip back some more of your beer. “How many of these did you pack?”

“Four. Why?”

“I’m kind of in the mood to drink today. You in?”

“Always,” Yang’s brows climb toward her hairline, “but you usually aren’t. What happened?”

You groan and scrub at your face. Since your flight from Beacon and subsequent reunification in Mistral, your policy, as friends and partners, has always been honesty first. You’ve struggled with that policy many times before. Today, you’re tempted to throw it out altogether.

“I dunno.” Your hand drops to your side and you glare irately at your beer. “Maybe just…” You exhale harshly. “No. I dunno.”

Yang lowers her glasses. “You’re not like, back together with Sun or something are you?”

You glare at her. “No, of course not.”

“Sorry, just checking.” Yang sets her beer in the sand and turns over on her side to face you. “Seriously though, are you seeing anyone?”

Your gaze dips to her cleavage, straining against fabric and gravity. “Um…”

“Eyes up here, kitty cat.” Yang smirks, and a sharp, violent emotion rips through your careful control.

“Don’t fucking call me that!”

“Okay, either you’re on your period or- Oh. Oh wait!” She sits up straight, sunglasses askew. “I know what’s wrong!”

“Yang, whatever you’re about to say, please don’t-”

“-You’re sexually frustrated!-”

“-yell it out to the whole...beach.” You groan and flop back down on your towel, arm slung over your face.

Fuck everything.

“Jeez, Blake, why didn’t you just tell me? We should go into town tonight!”

“And do what?”

“Um, find you a date, hot stuff.” She laughs and punches your shoulder. “Duh.”

You frown, digging your heels into the sand. “That doesn’t sound even remotely appealing right now.”

“Aw, you’re so cute when you pout.”

“Shut up.”

Yang just laughs, and lies back down. “Well, we should go into town anyway to get some ribs. I’m dying for good BBQ.”

“Do they have any seafood?”

“Yeah, girl! I’ve totally got you covered. Fried catfish and smoked halibut.”

You muss your hair and relax your shoulders, eager to let the warm sun sooth your irritable mood. “Fine. I’m in.”

“I knew you’d be down.”

“Gee, you know me so well.”

“What are best friends for?”

You sigh. Apparently, you need a refresher course.

 

v.

Sex has always been a difficult subject for you.

It’s not that you’re not good at it. In fact, you’re very good at it, or so you’ve been told by multiple partners. But being good at something and actually enjoying it are two completely different things, and you’d be lying if you said you’ve never faked an orgasm.

You’ve faked most of them, to be perfectly honest.

The problem, as you see it, is threefold. First, and foremost, you struggle to let your guard down. When you first met Adam Taurus this was less of an issue, but he was critical enough, and angry enough that you had to withdraw further and further into yourself to feel safe. That, of course, doesn’t even begin to cover the incident with Yang, or the fact that he wrested control of the White Fang away from its rightful leaders and remade it in his own, violent image. That’s just more baggage to pile on the baggage heap.

Second, and this is only once you’ve managed to let your guard down, you struggle to actually enjoy yourself. Things that other people seem to enjoy only sting, and burn, and bruise, and you’re left wondering why it is that you can’t take pleasure in pleasurable things. If you were turned on before, by this point you’re often turned off, and you’ll fake your way through the rest just to get it over with. It’s easier than facing your partner’s disappointment, or, worse, dealing with the brunt of their wounded ego.

If, however, you’ve somehow managed to both let your guard down and enjoy yourself, you’re faced with the third, most frustrating difficulty of all: climaxing . You can count on one hand the number of times you’ve actually climaxed, and all of them happened with Sun, back when the two of you were still dating. He possessed a trifecta of traits that made him better equipped than others to handle your sexual idiosyncrasies. Mainly, he was patient, selfless, and highly intuitive when it came to discerning your needs, which is impressive in its own right. Most of the time you’re not even sure what you need yourself. Which is probably why the rare moment of lurid sexual clarity you’re presently experiencing feels so unnerving.

“I’m gonna go for a swim before the storm rolls in.” Yang stands over you as she fixes her hair, gazing off toward the increasingly gloomy horizon.

You’ve never considered yourself a particularly sexual person, regardless of your difficulties with the act of sex itself, but right now Yang is adjusting the top of her ridiculous bikini, and you can’t keep your eyes off of her long fingers, sliding under the hem of each triangle to straighten it out, pressing into soft, pliable curves. Your mouth fills with saliva, throat tightening like a vice. Dread seizes your stuttering heart. Your sudden lack of self-control is terrifying.

She glances at you, arching a brow at the tense expression on your face. “You gonna stay here?”

You blink and shake yourself awake. “Huh?”

“I’ll take that as a yes.” Yang gives you a coy little half smile as she treks down to the water’s edge.

You try really hard not to watch her go, but…

You watch her go.

When she finally slips into the tide, dolphin-diving into a wave and disappearing from view, you lie back with a sigh and glare up into the sky. It’s not quite blue anymore. A thin veil of silver clouds has covered the sun and the wind has picked up. The air feels even warmer than it did when you arrived, but you guess it’s likely the effect of the steadily increasing humidity.

The trouble is, she’s not wrong.

You are frustrated. You are so frustrated. You are so frustrated your lips are tingling and your fingers are itching, and god, if you could just get your tongue on something-

Fuck.

Your hand gropes along the sand, seeking out your second can of beer, which you find empty on its side next to the first.

A feral growl curls your lips.

Your self-control is slipping, and your mind is going in circles.

You need to talk to someone. Someone who isn’t Yang. Or Weiss. No more talking to Weiss. She’s not much use anyway while she’s on her angsty sex vacation with Ruby. They’ve been in Mistral so long that she finally bit the bullet and flew Klein out to stay with them at the resort. You figure it’s only a matter of time before Jacques Schnee figures out his daughter hasn’t spent the last month hunting with her partner, but that’s really none of your business.

Who else could you call? Ruby would normally be a good choice, except she’s currently up to her knuckles in Weiss-related “activities”, and anyway, anything you say to Ruby will eventually get back to Yang one way or another. There’s always Velvet, who you’ve collaborated with quite a bit recently on White Fang projects, but you don’t trust Velvet not to tell Coco, and Coco’s a known gossip. Your parents are definitely off the table. Taiyang, as well, despite his apparent eagerness to bring it up the night before.

You spend another minute mulling over your limited options before you finally hunker down and decide to call Weiss anyway, sex vacation be damned.  

You roll over onto your stomach, shimmy across the towel, and grab the day pack. Thirty seconds later, you’ve got a baggie of green grapes in one hand, and your scroll in the other, flipping through your contacts. You’re just passing ‘R’ when, suddenly, you get an idea. It could, admittedly, be a terrible one, but dealing with a whiny, cockblocked Weiss seems like the greater of two evils, so you stop at ‘S’ instead of going on to ‘W’. Your scroll is pressed against your ear and ringing before you can think better of it.

“Blake!” Sun’s familiar, bombastic cheer assaults you over the line. “Hey, kitty cat!”

You sigh. “I wish everyone would stop calling me that.”

“And I wish Remnant wasn’t overrun with Grimm, but then we’d all be out of job!” He laughs. “So, what’s up, homie? No video chat today?”

You pop a grape into your mouth and adjust your scroll, propped awkwardly against your shoulder to free up your hands. “No. I need to talk to you about something serious and I can’t look at you or else I’ll chicken out.”

“Understandable, understandable.”

Someone says Sun’s name in the background, and there’s a few seconds of mumbled conversation you can’t quite make out. You realize, focusing your feline ears, that he’s somewhere crowded. The distinct clatter of bottles and dishware carries down the line, and with it, the ambient hum of many overlapping conversations.

“Hey, is this a bad time? It sounds like you’re at a bar.”

“Nah, girl. Just sluggin’ mimosas with Neptoodles and Duke. Gimme a sec.”

“You sure?”

“Totally. You said it was serious, right?”

You roll your eyes at yourself and your own melodramatic phrasing. “Yeah.”

“Okay, just hold on. Gotta ask the server if I can bring my mimosa outside.”

“Sun-”

“-Hold on, hold on. It’s cool. -Hey, excuse me-”

You let your scroll drop onto the towel and put it on speaker while you root around for another choice grape. Yang had had the forethought to freeze them overnight, so they’re still nice and cold. You toss another one in your mouth as a distant fork of lightning flashes on the horizon. It’s too far out for human ears to pick up thunder that chases it, but it’s a sign that you’re starting to run out of prime suntanning time.

“Okay! Sorry!” Sun’s voice returns to the speaker. “Apparently the answer to whether or not you can take a mimosa outside is no.

“Well, yeah. Duh.”

“But in Vacuo-”

“-People have gun duels in the street and wear t-shirts to the opera. Yeah, I know.” You select another grape, then take the scroll off speaker again, slotting it back between your ear and your shoulder. “But everywhere’s not Vacuo.”

“Which is a damn shame.” Sun chuckles and clears his throat. “So, whaddaya wanna talk about? I may only have one set to work with, but I’m all ears.”  

You roll your eyes again, this time harder. This was definitely a mistake.

“Sun…” you trail off, uncertain where to begin.

“I’m listening.”

You bite your lip. “Remember when we were dating that one time-”

“-Hold up. That one time? You mean that one time for a year?”

You pinch the bridge of your nose. “I mean the last time. After we got back together the last time.”

There’s a brief silence on the line. “Yeah?”

“We had that fight, at my parents house.”

“Oh. Shit, okay. I think I know where this is going.”

You suck in a deep breath and watch a seagull circle around the bay, buffeted sideways by the wind. “During that fight...you said some things-”

“- Which I regret, by the way. Just putting that out there .”

“I know.” You exhale quickly and turn over on your side. “I know, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to bring all that stuff up again, I just… I was telling the truth. There was nothing going on.”

“I know. It’s cool.”

“But...why did you think there was?”

“Think what was? That you were involved with Yang?”

Your breath catches, like a rope pulley hitting a snag. “Yes.”

...Blake, before I go and stick my foot in my mouth, I think you’d better tell me what you’re trying to get at here .”

“I don’t… I don’t really know.” You run your fingers through your hair, wincing when they snare on the tangles. “I’m just trying to figure some things out.”

What kinds of things? Where’s Weiss? Isn’t this the sort of conversation you should be having with her?

“Weiss doesn’t give the greatest relationship advice. She barely managed to snag Ruby. Besides, she’s on a sex vacation.”

Whoa, a sex vacation? Wait, with Ruby?!”

“Damnit.” You screw your eyes shut. “You weren’t supposed to know about that yet.”

“Uhhhh-”

“-Okay, listen, it has to stay secret. Don’t tell anyone, okay? I’m dead serious.”

Wait, wait, wait-”

“-Sun! Just focus, okay? I didn’t call Weiss. I called you. Now are you gonna help me out or not?”

Okay, okay! Sorry, I’m focused and totally helping. That’s me, the helper monkey.

“Don’t talk about yourself like that.”

“Why not? It’s not like it’s a big deal. You’ve gotta have a sense of humor about this kinda stuff or you’ll turn into a sourpuss.”

“You did not just make a cat pun.”

“So what if I did? You should be used to it by now, hanging out with Yang.”

You groan. The sunlight around you dims imperceptibly as your ears pick up another distant roll of thunder. Time is running short.

“We’re getting off topic.”

“My bad, my bad. Look, if you wanna sleep with Yang, just tell her. I think she’ll be thrilled.”

You bristle, heart twisting painfully as you move to sit up. “Who says I want to sleep with Yang?”

“Isn’t that what this is about? Blake, I know you’re into her. I’ve known for a long time. Almost since the beginning.”

“That’s not fair. Even I didn’t know in beginning.”

“I know.” Sun laughs, and it’s not mean or sad, just bright. “To be honest I was a little worried you’d figure it out before you gave me a chance to dazzle you. Clearly, I was doomed either way.”  

You search the waves for a blonde head, one hand on your scroll, the other slung across your chest, clutching your opposite bicep. Truthfully, you’re feeling a little unsteady.

“Was I that obvious?”

Sun hums in thought. “Nah. You’re pretty good at hiding your true feelings. You tipped your hand a little when Yang got her arm hacked off, but I think that’s reasonable given the circumstances.”

“Quit it with the jokes.” You grit your teeth, ears lying flat atop your head. “You know I can’t joke about that.”

A heavy sigh carries down the line. “ Maybe you should though.”

“Sun. I can’t, okay? That’s not how I deal.”

“I know, I know. That’s always what you used to say, and maybe that’s the real reason why we broke up and Yang had nothing to do with it, but like… I dunno. Maybe take a chill pill? Like just this once? You’re always telling Weiss to calm the fuck down, but have you looked in a mirror lately? I mean, dude. Come on.”

You growl through your teeth, clutching the scroll a little too tightly. “I can’t believe you just compared me to Weiss.”

And I can’t believe you’ve never made the comparison. Come on. You’re both up there in your heads all the time making things out to be worse than they actually are.”

“I...hate how much you’re right about that.”

“I know .” Sun’s chuckle is light and apologetic. “I’m really glad I can’t see your fierce, feline glare right now, because like, yikes!”

You roll your eyes. “Wimp.”

Sun laughs, but it only lasts a couple seconds before his tone sobers and he clears his throat. “So, um. Knowing you, I bet you’re all kinds of messed up about this right now. Am I right?”

“Shut up.”

And you’re probably trying to act all cool as a cucumber like nothing’s wrong, but inside you’re flailing?”

“...Maybe.”

“Okay. So you’ve got the hots for Yang? So what? Why is that freak out material? What am I missing?”

You sigh as more lightning crackles on the horizon. “Um, because it’s Yang? Like I need another reason. Also, she’s got a boyfriend.”

“‘Because it’s Yang’ is not a real reason. And so what? She’s always got a boyfriend or whatever. That’s nothing new. It’s not like she’s ever serious with any of them.”

“No, like.” You growl under your breath. “Like, she seems serious with this one. They’ve been going steady for months now.”  

“Which is all the more reason for you to get in there and put on the moves before it’s too late!”

“Put on the moves?” You cringe. “You must be joking.”

“Okay, okay, look. You didn’t call me so you could yell at me for giving shitty advice, so what’s wrong? Why are you upset? Why are you holding back?”

You chew your lip, searching your mind for some coherent way to phrase the litany of reasons why Taiyang’s words set you so on edge, but the question only continues to swirl, and you draw a blank.

“I don’t know how to explain.”

“Aw, c’mon. You can do it.”

You follow a distant orange sail as it bobs across the choppy harbor. “You know, I never told her why we broke up. You and I, I mean.”

“What did you tell her?”

“It doesn’t matter. The point is, I didn’t tell her what you said.” You tilt your head back and blink up into the sky, definitively grey now and growing darker. “I was absolutely convinced you were overreacting, but I was also terrified of what it would mean if you were right. I couldn’t tell her, so I just came up with some stupid lie.”

“What would it mean if I was right? Sorry, sorry, I’m just a little slow here.”

A strange knot forms in the center of your chest, tightening each time you swallow to try and loosen it.

“You there?”

“Yeah.” You set the grapes aside and grip the scroll with a noticeably unsteady hand. “I’m just worried.”

“Okay. About what?”

“That I’m…” You swallow thickly. Your voice sounds strained and dry. You actually feel a bit jittery. “That I’m not good for her.”

“Blake…”

“No, just-” You huff, smearing the palm of your hand across your eye. “Just. Whatever you’re going to say, don’t say it. I can’t listen to empty platitudes right now. I’m really messed up about this.”

Sun is quiet for a long moment. “So, you still haven’t moved past that.”

“No.” The word shakes as you utter it. You feel a little bit sick, a little bit like you need to curl up in a ball and hide yourself away.

A little bit like you need to run.

“I want- I swear to god if you repeat this to anyone-”

“-I won’t! Promise. These pillowy soft lips are zipped.”

One corner of your mouth quirks, and, privately, you marvel that he can still find a way to lighten your darkest moods. “Okay. So, full disclosure, I... I do want to sleep with her.”

“Ha! Knew it.”

You feel yourself flush, and grind your teeth to try and still the trembling. “But I don’t know. Do I really?”

“Ummm, is this a trick question? Because I’m terrible at riddles.”

“I think...” you frown, “I think Yang wants a stable relationship right now. She’s been really excited to go out with this Orin guy. She keeps talking about how nice it is to have something drama free and steady for once, and just… Well, stability’s never been easy for me, has it?”

“Ah.” Sun hums. “Yeah, no.”

You exhale, a cold wave of resignation washing over you. “So, I mean, I do like her, and I think I always have. But I don’t think I can be what she needs.”

“Okay, but how can you be sure unless you ask her?”

You bite your lip.

“Blake?”

“Okay, so, there’s something… well. Just, promise you won’t tell anyone? Not even Neptune?”

“I promise, B, okay? It’s not like Neptune really cares anyway. He’s too absorbed with his hair.”

You snort. “Right.”

“You know how it is. He got this new organic hair paste he won’t shut up about.”

“Sounds terrible.”

“It actually works great and it smells really good! But that’s totally besides the point and, um. Okay, sorry, what were you gonna say?”

You close your eyes and suck in a deep breath. “Nothing, sorry. Telling you all of this is a terrible idea.”

“I know, seriously. Tell me anyway though.”

“Like, how can we even still be friends after everything that happened? Sun… I was awful to you.”

“No! No no no! You weren’t, Blake. You were never awful, you were just, um. Conflicted. A little distant sometimes maybe.” He pauses. “Maybe a little cold sometimes, too?”

You groan.

“Okay, but not awful! God, you make it sound like you were cheating on me or something.”

You groan again, this time louder.

“I am making this so much worse. Please tell me to stop talking.”

“But you did think I was cheating.” You close your eyes, shifting your focus to the wind ruffling your hair. “Because I was being so cold and distant. Even though I agreed to get back together, I was pulling away from you.” You sigh roughly and peel your eyelids back, taking in the silence on the other end as a confirmation that you’ve touched on something serious. “Sun, that wasn’t your fault. It was mine, and I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you like that. I got caught up in my own head games and I forgot to think about the effect it was having on you.”

“...I know.”

Tears spring into your eyes suddenly, hot and stinging, blurring your vision. “How can you sit here and listen to me go on about her?”

“Because I’ve made my peace with it, and I still care about you. I’ll always care about you.”

Your chest tightens until it hurts to breathe. “I feel like I’m taking advantage of you.”

“Hey! I answered my scroll, okay? I chose to listen. I could have shut you down at any time, but I didn’t! This is me saying it’s cool, dude. I am totally cool to help you sort through this. That’s all I ever really wanted to do in the first place. I just wanted you to feel comfortable confiding in me.”

Something in your chest snaps, and you nearly double over. Wild feelings batter your ribs like prisoners rattling their prison bars, threatening to spill from your lips out onto the beach. It’s more than you were prepared to handle. The earnest truth of his words leaves you winded, saddled with a burden of guilt so heavy you can barely think of what to say.

That he had to wait for you to break his heart before you would finally open up to him is just…the most vicious sort of irony.

“I’m worried I’ll drag her down with me,” you croak. Your throat feels like sandpaper. “I’m worried I’ll ruin what we already have. The thought of being with her in any kind of formal way scares me so much I just want to run and never look back.” A dark shape in the distance catches your eye, looming just under the surface of the water, and you squint through your tears, sniffling quietly, trying to make it out. “I have too many intimacy issues. I don’t think I’m dating material. And I don’t even want to dangle the offer in front of her in case she takes it. Because what if she does, and I freak out on her like I did with you? I can’t keep making the same mistakes over and over. I’m tired of hurting the people I care about.”

“And that’s why you haven’t told her?”

“Right.” You breathe in, watching the dark shape with increasing skepticism. Something about it seems out of place, and yet…familiar.

“Wow. Well…” He clicks his tongue a couple times. “Well, that’s kind of heavy, but it takes a pretty mature person to admit they aren’t ready to date, so good on ya.”

“I know. So, why can’t I shake the feeling that I’m running out of time to…” You trail off, watching the shape draw nearer to the shore. Your eyes widen in alarm when you realize it has taken on an obviously serpentine form. “Oh shit!”

“What? What is it?”

“Sun, I gotta go! There’s a Grimm at the beach! I’ll call you later!”

“Okay! Be safe-!”

You jump to your feet, spilling grapes across the sand as you snap the scroll shut. Cool wind whips through your hair. Your mind is blurry and reeling. Where is Yang? You glance around wildly at the few remaining beachgoers, just beginning to pack up their supplies ahead of the rain. A jagged edge of panic pierces your heart.

Civilians and Grimm do not mix.

You’re yelling as you throw on your shirt and shorts, desperately dumping the contents of the backpack onto the ground in your search for the set of bladed-handguns you’d packed away. “Grimm! Grimm in the water! Everybody get to higher ground!”

Heads whip around in your direction as your hands finally encounter the grips of two black machine pistols with double-bladed bayonets welded top and bottom to each barrel. You’ll have to remember to thank Ruby for building them for you. The design is significantly more low key than Gambol Shroud, intended only for emergency combat situations like this one. Except, you really would be much better off with Gambol Shroud going up against a giant sea dragon Grimm. You grab the extra rounds and jam them into your waistband, cursing Yang for leaving Ember Celica behind. If anyone’s weapon is portable, it’s definitely hers. So then why the hell-

The beast’s head surges up through the waves just beyond the lighthouse, spraying sea-water in all directions as it emerges into the open air. The beach echoes with a ear-splitting roar, and you curse under your breath. It’s not the largest dragon Grimm you’ve ever seen, but it’s nothing to laugh at. Glowing yellow eyes burn from a spiked mask of white bone. Glistening fangs curve down over a long, powerful jaw. Its coiled, black body undulates with the stormy waves, etched up and down with incandescent red stripes. You swallow the lump in your throat, legs widening automatically into a fighter’s stance. Screams echo down the beach as people begin to flee. Choppy waves lap around your ankles. You don’t even have shoes for this. The dragon’s sharp scales are going to cut up your feet if you try to run up its length. You’ll have to draw it in closer to land if you’re going to have a snowball’s chance in hell of taking it down. You can’t fight it out in the open water without Weiss and her extremely useful glyphs.

Where the hell is Yang?

You grit your teeth and peer out through the gloom, searching desperately for some sign of familiar blonde hair. She can’t possibly have missed the appearance of a giant sea serpent in the tiny cove, can she?

The Grimm roars again, drawn inexorably to the panic of fleeing civilians on the beach. It coils, preparing to lunge for shallower waters, and now you’ve officially run out of time. You have to act. The safeties click as you raise your weapons in both hands, aura flaring, semblance crackling with black, writhing shadows. You wade further into the water, until the ocean is swirling around your shins, and take aim. The beast rears back. Your fingers tighten on their triggers. Your thoughts narrow to a single focus, drowning out the background noise with the power of instinct. Flames erupt from the mouth of the Grimm as it surges forward and you react with a volley of bullets, targeting the creature’s softest, most vulnerable stretch of underbelly below its chin. Eight of your shots land. The ninth strikes the hard scales along its back. The tenth sails off into the air.

You curse under your breath. You’ve got extended clips in both guns, of course, but that eases the need for accuracy only a little. A quick, mental calculation brings your remaining total to 90 rounds, including the extra clips tucked into the back of your shorts. You’ll have to be frugal.

The giant Grimm howls furiously, thrashing about in the bay, sending violent waves soaring into the air around the lighthouse on the end of the rocky spit. Distantly, you’re aware of people screaming and shouting as they flee to higher ground, but you keep your gaze fixed on the dragon. For better or for worse, you’ve caught its attention. Red blood streams from the holes in its neck as it turns the full fury of its burning yellow eyes on you, looming up to its full height, eager for a kill. You ready your semblance as the water sloshes around your knees. You’ll have to be quick. There will certainly be a shockwave when its body hit the ground. With opponents of this size there is no margin for error.

The Grimm coils like a spring, and then lunges, fangs bared, fire flickering around its jowls. You activate your semblance, and spring to the side, cartwheeling three times while your doubles shatter behind you. The ground shudders as the weight of the Grimm as it strikes the beach, and you use the shockwaves to your advantage on the last bounce, launching yourself higher into the air, then twisting around to fire off a few quick shots at the monster’s exposed yellow eyes. A howl of rage draws a satisfied smirk to your lips, but the fight is hardly over. A blind Grimm is just as dangerous, if not more. It could destroy the entire beach, and you with it, if it starts thrashing around in a rage.

Your heels hit the sand, and you pitch backwards, unable to stabilize your landing in the soft terrain. Quickly, before you can leave yourself exposed, you barrel roll to the side and scramble to your feet, sprinting out of the creature’s striking range to reset for your next attack. You reach the far end of the beach’s arc and spin around, bladed-barrels raised, only to find the Grimm distracted with a very familiar blonde.

“Yang!”

She’s dripping wet and weaponless, clad in only her skimpy purple bikini, metal arm raised in challenge to the dragon rearing over her. The red glow of fury in her eyes tells you everything you need to know about her present frame of mind, and you start running before you can think better of it, firing wild shots at the dragon’s serpentine body to draw its attention back to you.

Yang’s corded muscles shiver with rage as you approach, the air around her crackling with heat. The scent of burning ozone fills your nose. The Grimm bends and twists to avoid your bullets, but you land just enough to keep it at bay and reach your partner safely.

“Yang, get back!” You grasp her wrist and hiss as your aura absorbs the heat.

She wrenches away from you. “Give me one of your guns! I’ll distract it!”

“I’ll be off balance with just one! Take Bumblebee and go get Tai!”

The Grimm surges at you with a roar, and you dive apart, rolling haphazardly across the beach. You flip to your feet and fire three more shots, aiming again for the dragon’s eyes. Yang clambers upright on its opposite side, bikini top dangerously askew. Your bullets fly true, blinding the creature’s already damaged left eye, and it withdraws with a shrieking wail, pulling back into deeper waters to regroup.

“I’m not leaving you alone with this thing!” Yang shouts, over the roar of the waves. Lighting flashes just a mile out in the bay, and thunder rumbles overhead. “Toss me a gun! We’ll take it from both sides!”

You grit your teeth. “Fine!”

You click on the safety and lob the left one across the beach. Yang catches it deftly with her metal hand.

“Alright! These are awesome!” She grins at the extended magazine and double-bladed bayonet, and undoes the safety with an audible snap.

“Don’t forget they have a dagger morph if you’re running low on bullets!”

“Button on the side?”

“Yeah!”

“Okay!” Yang punches the sky. “Time to kick some monster ass!”

A wicked fork of lightning punctuates her statement and thunder crackles overhead, drowning out her voice. A cold wind rips across the sand, eliciting a rash of goosebumps from your skin.

“We have to draw it out of the water!”

“It’ll come on its own! I’ll distract it! You go for the jugular! Your aim’s better anyway!”

Just then, as she’s still speaking, the Grimm bursts from the murky, ocean depths, stretching up into the dark sky before crashing back down into the shallow bay, sending massive waves outward in all directions. You backpedal in a panic to avoid the riptide, but Yang loses her footing and goes down. Time seems to slow. Lightning races across the sky. Fat raindrops splash against your cheeks. The dragon sees its opening and goes in for the kill.

You react.

The Grimm’s scales spark under a hail of bullets, scattering in every direction. It pays you no mind. It has eyes only for Yang, who is struggling to her feet in the receding sea water, bikini top now dangling uselessly from her neck. Her bare, sand-plastered breasts bounce with each, staggering step she takes, and you experience a moment of perfectly lucid exasperation with her ridiculous choice of swimwear before the panic crashes in. Your toes sink deep into the wet sand, slowing your sprint and hindering your balance. You fire off shot after shot, mindless of bullet conservation, but the dragon ignores you, rearing over Yang with its gleaming fangs bared, a triumphant roar building in its throat.

She dives then, rolling onto her back with red, glaring eyes, a primal scream erupting from her mouth. Her mechanical arm rises straight into the air, bladed-pistol held aloft, and the last thing you hear before the Grimm descends on her is the furious crack of gunfire mingling with the rumble of thunder overhead.

 

vi.

The storm sweeps in with the fury of a scorned god. Forks of lightning rend the iron grey sky. Thunder shakes the ground. Dark waves break spectacularly against the curve of the stalwart lighthouse, rushing on to batter the beach with rough, punishing surf.

You bend your head against the rain. Yang’s body weighs heavy in your arms as you carry her up the bluff, cradled to your chest. The straps of the backpack, salvaged with only a fraction of its original contents, chafe against your cold skin, soaked through and crusted with a coarse layer of wet sand. Down below, Bumblebee lies in pieces, obscured now by a curtain of rain so thick you can barely make out its orange plating. Lighting strikes in the cove at your back, illuminating the landscape a brilliant, ghostly light. The deafening roar of thunder follows, and you shudder for a moment in pain. Your faunus hearing is exponentially more sensitive than that of your human counterparts.

“Fucking fuck…” a ragged voice floats to you through the din as blunt nails dig into your shoulder. “This is...not how I...imagined this day going.”

You grit your teeth in agreement.

Yang’s swimsuit top is gone, shredded by the dragon’s sharp teeth. In its place, you’ve stripped off your own shirt to cover her torso, however ill-fitting the solution may be. The wind chills your bare skin as it races up off the water. You try not to shiver, focusing your attention instead on keeping her body as secure as possible. Purple bruising mottles her neck and collar. A shard of bone pokes up through her bloodied, mangled shin.

The sight of it makes you nauseous.

Her chest heaves against yours, between words uttered on labored breaths. “I should’ve...listened...to you.”

You bend your head against the downpour as more lightning crackles across the sky. “Hindsight is 20/20. It’s no use dwelling on it.”

“Are you kidding? I...can’t do anything...but dwell on it. Fuck!” Yang hisses, face turning in against your body. “Fuck, I think...the adrenalin...is starting to wear off.”

Your heart thuds against your sternum, blood roaring in your ears as you continue the climb up toward a line of massive oak trees at the top of the hill. You’d told the paramedics over your scroll to meet you there, but that’s all easier said than done. Yang groans once, raggedly, and your chest constricts. Adam’s white mask flashes through your mind. You’ve carried her like this once before.

“Almost there, Yang. Just try to hold on, okay?”

“I’m...trying.”

“You’re doing great. Just a little further until we can rest. Hang on.”

A gust of wind buffets your back, sending you stumbling over a crack in the old road. Your bare feet scrape against the rough pavement. Yang’s arms tighten around your neck.

Everything is resting on you, and you are really fucking anxious .

“Blake?”

You glance down at her face and realize you’ve caught yourself mid stumble, but forgotten to keep moving. Pained red eyes peer up at you, fierce even in their agony. A shiver runs through you. It has nothing to with the cold.

“I’m okay,” Yang says, gulping down another breath, golden hair plastered to her temples. “You’re okay.”

“We’re okay,” you finish, holding her crimson gaze in wonder, repeating back the mantra you’d formed together during the long fight for Remnant.

“I see you panicking.” Her eyes close briefly, and she grits her teeth. “Don’t panic. ...We’re okay.”

Your throat constricts until every swallow hurts. Yang slowly opens her eyes, and you can only nod in response. You’re trying to keep it together, trying not to splinter apart, but even that takes so much effort it leaves you winded. She returns your nod stiffly, jaw clenched, expression resolute. She’s looking right at you, right into you. She really sees you, and somehow, through the haze, she’s still strong enough to reassure you.

It hits you square in the chest, right there in the storm, just exactly why she scares you so much.

“Yang...” You trail off. What were you going to say?

Your pointed ears flatten atop your head, and this time you can’t hold back. You don’t want to hold back. You’re too exhausted, and she’s too beautiful, and this whole thing has been such a heavy tax on your guilt-ridden soul that you just don’t want to think anymore. You lean down and press your lips to her brow, lingering for longer than is strictly innocent, tasting the way the salt mingles with the driving rain and the faintest traces of sour sunscreen on her skin. It’s all you’ve wanted to do since the beginning, and that realization alone fills you with a deep, consuming ache.

You want her.

Maybe you’ve always wanted her.

Blood pulses in your ears. Your lips wander down to her cheek, fumbling over her nose, brushing past her lips on their way to her jaw. Yang’s fingers curl into the wet hair at the nape of your neck, climbing up further into long sodden, tresses until she’s tugging urgently at your scalp.

Blake.”

The blood sings in your veins. It’s not enough. You need more. All of her. Every little bit. Your forehead tips against hers, feverish and slick. Her breath unfurls against your lips, hot, tantalizing, magnetic.

It doesn’t take much to close the distance, just a delirious confidence.

You kiss her, and she doesn’t hesitate. She exhales sharply through her nose, wraps her arms fully around your neck, and kisses you back. Your heart stutters. The hair on the back of your neck stands on end, and it feels like a swallow of Vacuo’s strongest tequila, burning a trail of liquid fire straight down through your chest and into your stomach, shoving you over the edge of sobriety into blurry, streaky, warm and fuzzy oblivion, where the lights are brighter and the air is thicker and there is nothing in the entire world worth being afraid of.

Cold rain pounds at your back. Your lips twist against hers, dripping wet and slick and warm. Heat lances down your spine, crackling like lightning in your fingers and toes. You shudder uncontrollably as Yang groans against your mouth, whether from pain or pleasure, you don’t know, but the jolt of energy leaves you dizzy. She flicks her tongue across your lips. You open your mouth to let her in, and she takes more, messy, desperate, drawing shivers from your tired muscles as her fingers dig stinging grooves into your shoulders. You can’t stop. You kiss until you’re gasping, until your lungs are screaming for air, and only when you think you might choke do you finally break apart, panting.

The cotton slowly dissolves from your ears and the roar of the storm filters back in. A pine branch whips past you in the wind, nearly striking you in the face. Wet hair clings to your skin in awkward, itchy places, plastered to your forehead and your cheeks, stinging at your eyes.

Stunned, purple irises blink up at you through the gloom.

Your heart seizes painfully, squirming like a bound captive behind its prison bar ribs. Stark longing flares bright inside you, like the lightning forking through the clouds overhead, and you want to kiss her again. You want to brush her sodden hair back and weave it between your soaked, shivering fingers. You want to lay her down in the road and cover her like a shield, offering your body as payment to the angry tempest raging above you. You want her. You want her so much. You want her so much you can barely think about anything else.

A whip-sharp crack of thunder jolts you out of your trance. The sounds of the storm batter your awareness, the roar of the sea, the howl of the wind, the steady beat of the rain against pavement. Yang’s pained whimper reaches your ears and you look down to see her eyelids fluttering, mouth moving, croaking out jagged bits of words you can barely understand.

“Bla…” She turns her head into your skin, lips puckering against your clavicle.

A singular instinct cuts through the haze that has settled over you. You have to get her out of the rain.

Your feet begin to move forward, tentative at first, steadying in their pace as you strike a confident rhythm. Ahead of you, looming like dark giants through the rain, a virescent mass of thick-boughed trees offer protection from the storm. You increase your pace on tired, shaking legs, Yang clutched tight to your chest, narrowed gaze rising to meet your goal.

Reaching the top feels like crossing the finish line of the world’s longest marathon.  

You stumble over a protruding root as you go to lay her at the foot of a gnarled maple. Yang clutches at your shoulders, eyelids fluttering, mumbling her thanks over the wind and the thunder. You collapse against the trunk beside her. Rough bark scrapes your bare back. Fat droplets of water splash onto your head, neck, and chest, running in cold rivulets over your skin. Yang’s fingers curl into the dirt, closing futily on sodden moss, until, with a sharp groan, you reach down to tug her body between your legs, letting her head loll back against your abdomen.  

Only then does she still, breaths shallow, slipping into unconsciousness.

Her fractured leg bleeds freely into the mud, the scent of iron so strong you can taste it on the back of your tongue. You try not to look at it. You try to remind yourself that these sorts of wounds do heal, that you’ve seen breaks far worse that were repaired with only minor lasting damage. Your eyes scan the treetops overhead as your fingers sift through her soaked and matted hair, gently working out the tangles. Dark memories flit in and out of your mind, of body-strewn battlefields and burning towns, the jaws of hungry Grimm, the shrill screams of terrified civilians, the scorched stench of Salem’s oily black pits.

Time passes on another plane.

“How will we explain this to your dad?” you murmur, brushing Yang’s lips with the pad of your thumb.

You realize you’re not sure which part of any of this you mean by that. Her shallow breaths tickle the damp skin on your stomach. Her wet hair spills over your thighs. You reach down to trace her pale brows with the tip of a finger while you study her profile.

She’s beautiful. Even like this. Especially like this.

The last of the adrenalin seems to drain from your body all at once. In its wake, your limbs feel leaden. Your deep, labored breaths become shallow. The colors of the forest begin to blur before your eyes. Did you hit your head? You’re so tired all of a sudden. The roar of the storm seems so distant now, its volume muffled by the cotton in your ears.

Your arms curl around Yang’s shoulders as you let your head fall back, eyes slipping shut. Within moments, the heavy weight of exhaustion has pulled you down into a dizzy, semi-conscious sleep.

 

vii.

You’ve moved beyond any awareness of time or space when your scroll buzzes in the pocket of your shorts, tugging you up from blacker depths into a grey, proto-conscious fog. You blink once, then close your eyes again, letting your senses sharpen one at a time, the cold wind, the rough bark, the lashing branches, the roll of thunder. You feel the heat last, warming your cold fingers and your thighs.

Your heart flutters.

Yang.

A distant voice carries on the wind, and the soft, black ears on your head twitch, turning toward the source. You begin to recognize their hails.

“Over here!” Your voice is low and hoarse. You clear your throat and try again. “We’re over here!”

You’re still sitting against the trunk as they wander in under the boughs of the trees, a team of four, flashlights beaming through the rain. You pull your quivering hands from Yang’s hair, as they rush to your side, tools at the ready. Everything moves a little faster than you can follow. They set about loading Yang onto a stretcher, and wrap you up in a thermal blanket. A female paramedic in a blue jacket asks you questions and checks your vitals.

You’re seated in the back of the ambulance, with Yang strapped in and hooked up to a heart monitor, before you finally remember to pull the forgotten scroll out of your pocket. Its screen seems preternaturally bright in the dim cabin. Two text messages from Sun are waiting for you.

>hope you guys are okay!!

>also, per our earlier conversation, are you sure you aren’t just scared of getting hurt again?

Your thumb hovers over the keyboard, ready to type, but you find you can’t think of anything to say. You settle for a short reply.

>grimm’s dead

The scroll goes back in your pocket.

 

viii.

The provincial hospital on the south end of the island is air conditioned and cold. The nurses want to stick you in a bed with an IV strapped to your arm, but you resist, accepting only a thin blanket that smells of bleach, and a hard chair under the bright, fluorescent lights in the emergency room where you wait for Yang’s father to arrive. Yang, herself, goes directly into surgery.

You’re exhausted and drooping in your seat by the time Taiyang comes striding through the automatic doors. He hands you a plastic bag with a change of clothes, which you hobble off into the bathroom to put on, then offers you a box of takeout when you return. At first, you don’t have much of an appetite, but the smell of fried catfish reaches your nostrils, and your stomach rumbles. You accept the box, following him over to the attendant at the front desk, who takes you both up to the surgical ward. Once there, Taiyang speaks quiety with a doctor in green scrubs while you collapse into another hard, plastic seat. The lights, at least, are dimmer upstairs. You crack the box of takeout in your lap and shoot a glare across the room at the middle aged man staring at your ears. He flinches and turns away.

Taiyang joins you a couple minutes later, gingerly lowering himself into the seat beside you. You continue your assault on your food uninterrupted, gobbling down the whole fillet with a side of cornbread, beans, and collard greens as fast as possible, pausing only to nod or shake your head in response to his questions.

You’re starving.

“Good thing you were there with her,” he says, clicking his tongue, “but, jeez, a Grimm attack on Patch? What’s the world coming to?”

“It can happen anywhere,” you say, between mouthfuls. You feel oddly detached.

Taiyang sighs and rubs his hands through his straw-colored hair. “I guess that’s true, but it’s been a few years now since something that big wandered on shore.”

You add a bit more tartar sauce to your fish, pausing to suck down some soda. “It was alone. Probably an anomaly.”

Taiyang shrugs. “I guess we’ll see. It’s not like the island is undefended.”

“No. Besides, it was fairly small for its class, all things considered.” You hum under your breath and chase your soda with a hearty chunk of honey-slathered cornbread. “I’ve seen dragon Grimm twice that size in the seas around Menagerie.”

He pales a bit. “No kidding.”

You nod, and he turns away, watching a pair of nurses roll past with a cart. It’s a quiet afternoon in the ward. The rumble of the storm carries on overhead, muffled through the sterile, white washed halls of the island’s only hospital.

“The operation’s gonna take a couple more hours,” he murmurs. “I guess the fracture was even nastier than it looked. They’ll have to put some pins in her leg.”

You nod. You’d listened in a bit from the waiting room while he chatted with the doctor in the hallway, but you don’t indicate as much, an old habit you may never fully break. Experience has taught you it unnerves humans to be reminded of their inferior senses.

You scrape your fork against the cardboard, gathering up an errant glob of honey, and think back to the bookmark hidden away between the pages of your novel. A lot has changed since those days of fear and violence in the White Fang, but Adam did get one thing right. Human oppression is a numbers game, it’s their only tangible advantage, and deep down, in the back of their reptilian brains, they all know it.

You sigh heavily.

Taiyang plucks at a frayed seam in his khaki shorts, brow furrowed. “I was going to head home in a bit. Do you want to come with me? They’re keeping her overnight.”

You think about a time when you would’ve absolutely refused to leave her side, back when the guilt was still so fresh it felt like a hundred nails being driven in your back. There have been too many routine injuries for that now. Hospital protocol is familiar, if unpleasant. There won’t be anything gained from waiting around while she’s unconscious.

Still...

You stare into your box of food, half demolished, a mess of beans, golden crumbs, blanched greens, and a few remaining soggy chunks of breaded fish, slathered with pale white tartar sauce. “I’ll think about it.”

He nods. “Of course.”

You force a smile. “Thanks.”

“So…” He studies you carefully, eyes flicking over your face. “The doctor said she asked about you before they put her under. She was really insistent.”

Your heart skips a beat, but you keep your expression cautiously neutral, hoping against hope that your resulting blush isn’t obvious. “She was probably wondering why I wasn’t there.” You lick the honey off your fork with forced nonchalance.

“Hm.” Taiyang doesn’t take his eyes off you. “Yeah, I bet she was.”

You purse your lips, brow pinching in a delicate frown. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

His gaze narrows to match yours, but without any suspicion or malice. “Well, she...” He trails off, head tilting to one side. “She just seems to worry about you an awful lot.”

You turn back to your food, heat creeping up the back of your neck. “We’re partners. That’s normal.”

“Believe me, I’m familiar with the bonds that form between partners.” A cheerful little jingle erupts suddenly from the seat of his pants. “Oh. That’ll be Orin.” Taiyang slaps his thigh, pulling an old scroll from his pocket. “I better take this.”

Your plastic fork freezes over your food. In all the chaos you’d completely forgotten about Orin. Taiyang glances sidelong at you, expression sly.

“Something wrong, Blake?”

You think of your feverish kiss in the rain, with Yang’s hands in your hair and her splintered leg dangling from your arms. A phantom sensation lingers on your lips, growing stronger with the memory. It takes considerable concentration not to drop your fork and press your fingers there, if only to recreate the soft pressure of her mouth melting into yours.

Your voice is noticeably strained as you reply. “No. I’m fine.”

Taiyang smirks at the side of your head for another long moment, before he shrugs and stands. “Alright.” His shoes scuff against the floor. “I’ll be back, then.”

You duck your head as he walks away, footsteps echoing down the hall.

Taiyang knows, and you’re an idiot.

Jealousy tastes as bitter as a vial of Weiss’ dust.  

 

ix.

“Oh my god. Blake.”

“Weiss?”

“Oh. My god.” There’s a bit of fumbling with the speaker, Ruby’s laughter muffled in the background, and then, from a rather breathless Weiss, “I think I’m pregnant.”

You sit up ramrod straight in the hospital chair. “Um, what?!”

There’s more laughter, and more fumbling, and finally Ruby seems to win out for the battle of the scroll because the next intelligible thing you hear is her sweet, high pitched giggle. “Ignore her, Blake. She’s just kidding.”

“I am not kidding! I am completely serious-!”

“-Yes, she is. Totally kidding.”

Oh. So, some kind of melodramatic hyperbole for great sex. You roll your eyes, and flop back against the seat. From across the waiting room, Taiyang looks at you quizzically. For both of your sakes, you ignore the question forming in his expression. This is what you get for calling the sex vacation hotline.

“Look, Ruby, I actually called about Yang.”

The commotion on the other end stills a bit, and you can clearly hear Ruby shushing Weiss, who whines pathetically for a moment before finally shutting up. “Did something happen?”

“She’ll be fine. We met a nasty Grimm at the beach this morning, and neither of us had our primary weapons. It kind of caught us off guard.” You glance over at the nurses station where Taiyang is talking quietly with a purple-haired nurse. “She broke her leg. They’ve got her in surgery.”

Weiss chimes in. “We could be on an airship out of Mistral in an hour if necessary.”

“It’s fine,” you say, “really. Nothing life-threatening.”

“Are you sure?” This time Ruby speaks up, and she sounds concerned, but not panicked. You’ve all come a long way since the fight with Salem.

“I’m sure. Her leg’s all messed up, but she’ll survive. I just thought you’d like to know what happened.”

“Thanks,” Ruby says, “seriously.”

“Of course.” You watch the nurse settle a placating hand on Taiyang’s arm and arch your brow. “By the way, I think one of the nurses is hitting on your dad.”

“Oh! Is it Opal? ‘Cause they’ve been doing this thing with their eyes for years.”

“Jeez, how often did you guys come to the hospital?”

“Umm. Once or twice .” You hear Weiss snort in the background. “Hey, Blake, are you okay?”

“Huh?” Your eyes shift away from the scene across the waiting room, widening in surprise. “Yeah. I just had a few cuts and bruises.”

“That’s good! But um, I mean like, are you mentally okay?”

“I…” Your fingers drum against the arm of the chair. Damn Ruby and her unexpectedly keen intuition. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I dunno, that’s why I’m asking .”

You make a noise of vague exasperation. “Ruby. What?”

“What Ruby is trying to say,” Weiss cuts in, “is that you sound really flat.”

You pinch the bridge of your nose. “Do I?”

“Yes. And you only sound really flat like that when your emotions are a mess and you don’t know how to deal.”

“Oh.”

“I know how hard it is for your to see Yang get hurt,” Ruby adds, her delivery comparatively soft. “If you need to talk it out, I’m totally here.”

Ditto,” Weiss adds, albeit more crisply.   

“I’m fine,” you say, but it sounds like the most hollow assurance you’ve ever given, and the silence on the line only confirms it. “It’s just… I don’t know. It’s like…” You fumble for something non-incriminating to say, something that isn’t about Taiyang’s needling or the kiss or your terrible self-control. “Orin’s flying in tomorrow,” you blurt without thinking, and you sound so completely agitated about it that you may as well have announced your jealousy with a bullhorn.

God, you’re about as subtle as a goliath in a china shop right now.

“Oh!” Ruby chirps. “That’s good! I’m sure Yang will be happy to see him.”

“I’m sure.”

Ever keener to your particular brand of subtext, Weiss’ crisp voice slices across Ruby’s cheer. “Well, that’s going to be seriously uncomfortable.”

“It’ll be fine.”

“Fine? Come on, Blake. How are you not suffocating under the weight of your own jealousy right now?”

Your mind flashes back to a conversation months ago at a dark, Faunus sports bar, when you drank too much scotch and poured your heart out to Weiss across a sticky table about your strange relationship with Yang. You know Weiss will drop it if you ask her to, but she’s right. You’re flailing. Your brain feels like it’s slowly being crushed under the weight of its own anxiety.

“Wait what?” Ruby’s confused voice breaks the silence. “What are you talking about?”

“Ask Blake.”

“Ask Blake about what? Blake, what ar-”

“-I am,” you say, ignoring Ruby. “Jealous, I mean. I haven’t even met him and I already hate him.”

“I see.” Weiss’ tone is clipped. “God, when will you finally stop putting it off and talk to her?”

“Wait, guys-”

“-I kind of...did.”

“Oh! Really?”

You clench your jaw. “Really.”

“What did you say? What did she say? I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about this sooner!”

“Calm down, it only just happened a few hours ago.”

“Seriously?”

“Guys-!”

“-Hush, Ruby. Dust’s sake, you’re not actually that dense are you? Blake, come on! Spill!”

“Yes,” Ruby grumbles, “please spill, so we all know what you’re talking about.”

You bite your lip. How much detail to divulge? Will you regret this later?

Almost definitely.

“Well…” you chew your bottom lip, blinking steadily to focus your swirling emotions. “We had a moment, kind of, when I was carrying her up the hill in the storm.”

“Sounds disgustingly romantic.”

“As romantic as anything can be when one party has a broken leg.”

“Wait…” Ruby trails off as she finally begins to clue in. “Wait!”

“Way to catch up, dolt.”

“Oh my god! Yang and Blake? Oh, wow!”

You roll your eyes, but you can feel yourself blushing. You really are just like Weiss. Which…that’s going to be a lot to process later.

“So, what happened? Did you tell her?”

“Oh my god, I’m freaking out! How long has this been a thing?”

“Like, literal ages, Ruby. Clue the fuck in.”

“Swearing again, Weiss?” You cluck your tongue. “What would Miss Manners say?”

Weiss scoffs. “Like I care. Her real name was Mrs. Pendleton, and she was an uppity bitch.”

You smirk. “I like this grown up, edgy version of you. Way less uptight.”

“Yes, but no less angry. Now, quit dodging the question! What happened?”

You shift in your seat. “I’d really rather not talk about it.”

“I see. So, you’re perfectly happy to dissect all the details of my love life without my permission, but when it comes your own special, delicate feelings, you’d rather not.”

Ruby snorts. “She’s got you there.”

Fuck.

“Look, Yang’s in surgery,” you plead. “Can’t we talk about this later?”

“Um, no.”

“Yeah, I’m with Weiss. I kinda need to know everything about this right now.”

“Ugh, fine, but I’m gonna regret this.” You glance over your shoulder to make sure Taiyang and Opal are still occupied, then lower your voice to a murmur. “I, um… I kissed her.”

“WHAT?!”

You hold the scroll away from your ear as a round of incoherent screeching carries down the line. Your heart beats a little faster, whether from embarrassment or from the memory of your earlier boldness, you’re not sure.

“And then what happened?”

“Yeah! Did she kiss you back?”

You clear your throat. “She did.”

“OH MY GOD!”

“Woo, Blake! Get it, girl!”

“I’m sorry I ever doubted you. You’ve clearly got game.”

“Jeez, thanks guys.” You roll your eyes, failing miserably to sound nonchalant. In reality, your hands are shaking.

“So, what happens now?” Weiss asks, a bit breathless. “Orin’s gonna be there tomorrow, right?”

Cold jealousy clamps around your throat. “Yeah.”

“What are you gonna do?”

“I don’t know.” You toe at the linoleum with your sneaker. “Wait for Yang to wake up? See how things play out with Orin?”

“Yeah. No. That’s a terrible plan.”

“Oh, like your interpersonal skills are so much better, Schnee.” You invoke her surname with a sneer, and Weiss scoffs derisively back at you.

“I never said they were, Blake.” She clicks her tongue sharply on the ‘k’. “That’s the point. You’re the one who’s supposed to be better at this stuff. Frankly, this is beneath you.”

“If you have a better plan I’m all ears, because I feel like I’m panicking in slow motion and I have no idea what to do.”

“Gee, I don’t know, have you considered telling her how you feel?”

“It’s not that simple, okay?”

“God, you’re so frustrating. Can’t you take your own advice for once?”

“Blake,” Ruby’s voice cuts in, clear and kind, “maybe you should go home and get some rest. Think about what you want to say when she wakes up. It sounds like you both have a lot to sort through, and you’re probably exhausted.”

You blink because she’s right. It’s a bad idea to tackle this while you’re mentally, physically, and emotionally drained. This is a lesson you should’ve learned years ago.

“O-okay. Thanks, Ruby.”

“Let’s go, Weiss. Let’s give her some space to think.”

“Ugh, fine.” Weiss huffs. “Bye, Blake. Don’t do anything cowardly or stupid.”

“So, then, nothing you would do?” Weiss curses loudly while Ruby busts out laughing. You just smile. “Bye, you guys.”

They reply in unison, Weiss with a grumble, Ruby still laughing. The call cuts out with a soft click.

You lower your scroll and sit for a minute with a bemused smile resting on your face, gazing blankly at the sage green wall opposite you. Someone coughs wetly to your right. An old man dozes in one of the hard chairs, head propped back against the wall while he waits for his wife to get out of surgery. A broken hip. You’d overheard the hushed conversation with the surgeon.

At the nurses station behind you, Taiyang is telling Opal a shamelessly exaggerated story about some Grimm hunt while another nurse, also none the wiser, makes incredulous exclamations. Somewhere, further away down the hall, the beeping of a heart monitor filters into your awareness. You hear the squeaky wheels of a supply cart as it rounds a corner, the low murmur of TVs through the doors of open recovery rooms. The elevator dings to your left and a pair of nurses push a gurney out onto the floor, loaded with a tiny little kid in a thin hospital gown. He catches the corner of your eye as he rolls past.

The smile fades from your lips.

The pressure in your chest expands until it feels like your ribs are creaking and the air is being squeezed from your lungs.  

You unlock your scroll and toggle to your messages, shooting off an overdue text to Sun.

>ur right. Im scared

His response arrives just seconds later.

>its okay to be scared

You type your next reply slowly, swallowing around the lump forming in your throat.

>what if im always scared?

This time, more than a minute passes before your scroll buzzes again, but your heart throbs painfully when you read the message on the screen.

>thats okay too

 

x.

There was a point in time when you began to think of yourself as having obvious deficiencies. You’re good at fighting. You’re good at espionage. You're even good at political organization and speech writing. What you’re not so good at is feelings. Specifically? Bad ones. And it’s a problem you’ve had since you blossomed from a quiet, bookish child into a quiet, bookish teenager, trying desperately to stare down the barrel of a world’s violent prejudice with a level head.

You told yourself whatever you needed to stay above the tide. They didn’t really hate you because they didn’t really know you. They couldn’t really hurt you because you’d never let them close enough to swing. Passion breeds prejudice. Prejudice breeds hate.

Discipline breeds clarity of mind.

Adam liked to call you a cold-hearted bitch, sometimes with his lips on your skin, sometimes screaming invectives at you in the heat of an argument. It was something he loved about you, and something he hated, a general affectation of yours that he crystallized in words and hammered into your skin like a tattoo. In time, that ink became the truth, and nothing you ever did was enough to scrub it out. It redefined your entire relationship with the outside world, because, as manipulative as Adam could be, some part of you knew he was right. It was there before he found you, your quiet focus, your cool detachment, your analytical mind and the vacuum of isolation created by your all-consuming obsession with the cause. Your idealism made you vulnerable to indoctrination, and your loneliness made you malleable.

By the time Adam approached you at a rally outside Mistral, you were primed to become his instrument of war.

In the end, it was only ironic that the same predilections that drew you together thrust you apart again. You didn’t like the sharp edges of wrath or the insidious, siren call of youthful infatuation. You didn’t like the swings from hot to cold or the tempest of contradictory emotions swirling inside of you. It was too much, too fast. The lines were beginning to blur. All you needed was a shove from your conscience, and you slipped out of his chokehold like the shadow you were, off to write a new destiny in the halls of Beacon Academy.

It’s hard to say when running became your natural response to confrontation. Possibly when you were running from racist cops in the streets of Remnant’s cities. Possibly when you were running from the humans that hurled rocks and tears gas at your picket lines. All you know now is that it’s the first thing you think of when things go sideways. It’s easy when you’re already a little detached from the people around you. You’re slow to trust, and quick to retreat, and you would rather burn a broken bridge than try to fix it. Somewhere along the line, you began to embody that transience. The tighter people cling, the more you itch to pull away, and you don’t know why it all turned out like this, just that it did, just that it might be a little too late to fix it.

You want to be better, because when you’re happy redemption always seems like a goal within your reach. You want to be steadfast like Ruby and reliable like Yang. You’d even settle for being quietly supportive like Weiss, who still struggles to openly admit how much she cares. Instead, your resolve is uneven, rotating with your moods like the seasons. It hurts people when you slip away, but the alternative makes you feel like you’re drowning on land, and no matter what you do, the guilt persists.

It persists, and persists, and persists.

At night in the quiet, in the dark, alone with your thoughts, Salem’s coal-black eyes meld with Adam’s white mask in your mind, the specters of an afflicted past merging now into a flesh and blood incarnation of your nightmares. The cursed mountain flickers past your eyes, the view from its scorched summit, the ant-like hordes of ravenous Grimm swarming around its base, swirling tendrils of blood red magic, inky black pools darker than the soul of evil itself, and Salem swathed in the center of it all, her glittering, hellfire gaze fixed on you.

Your blade within striking distance.

Your feet stumbling over the rocky ground.

Panic.

Flight.

Ruby’s silver eyes flashing to shield you, her hands straining against the handle of her weapon as she braces to deliver the killing blow.

“Blake.”

You jolt upright, lurching forward in the cool, muggy cabin. Taiyang removes his hand from your shoulder.

“Sorry,” he says, gaze sliding away. “You looked like you were having a nightmare.”

You rub your temple, sore where it was pressed against the window. “Thanks.”

He nods.

You huddle into your thin jacket as he drives on in silence. The road ahead is dark and fraught with muddy potholes that jostle the old jeep. Errant raindrops pepper the windshield, erased almost as an afterthought by lazy wipers just a few seconds later.

“You okay?” He flips the turn signal, rolling to a slow stop at a deserted intersection. “You seem kinda rattled, kiddo.”

You nod, stiffly, and turn your head away. The silence in the cab grows thick with the questions you know he wants to ask. You wish he would, just to get it over with. Maybe that would be enough to crack you open, to drag you screaming out of the dark rabbit holes in your head.

He pulls off the main road onto the driveway just as you’re beginning to ponder a life of solitude in the mountains, away from people and expectations and awkward situations you don’t know how to navigate. You’d been certain, just hours earlier, that Yang was all you needed, as if it were written in the heavens, as if the entire universe willed it. Now, cold reality has quenched your passion like a bucket of water upended over a campfire, and you’re fit to be tied, brimming with restless, unexpended energy despite your exhaustion.

You don’t know what you need anymore.

The jeep rumbles to a stop in front of the house. Taiyang kills the motor and leans back with a sigh. His expression is pinched, the first traces of stress beginning to bleed through his natural optimism.

“Hey, Blake?”

You stare ahead steadily at the raindrops gathering on the windshield. “Yeah?”

He licks his lips, frowning lightly. “Stop me if I’m being too forward, but I get the impression that you’re upset with me about something.”

Frank. To the point. He’s done beating around the bush. Now he’s calling you out directly.

A nervous thrill runs through you. Heat flushes down your front as you break out into a cold sweat. Your fingers twist restlessly in your lap. “Why do you keep poking and prodding me about Yang?”

Taiyang looks almost startled by your honesty. “I had a feeling that’s what this was about.”  

Your eyes narrow. “That stunt in the hospital. Was that even Orin on the phone?”

“Of course.”

“You looked at me like you knew I’d be upset. What are you playing at?”

“I think you already know,” he says, steadily. “Does Orin really bother you that much?”

“I’ve never met him.”

“Hm.” Taiyang strokes his goatee. “Are you gonna be okay with him coming to visit tomorrow?”

Your tone turns positively grim. “I’ll handle it.”  

Taiyang’s expression clouds slightly. “I see.” He sighs. “I could always tell him to visit another time. His airship doesn’t leave until tomorrow afternoon.”

“...It wouldn’t be fair to Yang.” Your voice trembles on the last note. On her name.

“I think she’d understand if you explained the circumstances,” he says, wryly, but his face is kind, and his eyes are soft, and you understand in an instant that he gets it .

You keep your silence, heart hammering, hands shaking. You can feel your body tensing, but you can’t stop it. Even your teeth are clenched. The mere mention of her has you tied up in knots, out of control. Out of your mind. You’re completely out of your mind when it comes to her.

The realization hits you like a bullet between the eyes.

You’re in love with her.

And you’ve been in love with her for a very long time.

The shuddering breath you suck in sounds sharp, almost violent in the quiet cab. “She… Her- Her eyes light up when she talks about him.”

Taiyang doesn’t miss a beat. “Her eyes light up when she talks about you .”

Your heart shoots up into your throat, lodging there like a boulder, and suddenly you can’t even speak around it. The blood pumping in your ears is too loud. A tremor runs through you, rattling your teeth. The roots of your long, black hair tingle like thousands of tiny needles. You want to cry and run and scream and tear at your traitor body, rip out your traitor heart, throw it still beating into the mud. Nothing scares you more than your own desires.

Desire is passion, and passion is a cliff. You won’t survive another fall.

But you love her.

Oh gods. You really do love her. And you are so fucking scared . You know better than anyone all the ways that love isn’t enough. Your love alone isn’t enough.

Taiyang clasps your shoulder, and you realize you’ve been shaking, that you might be close to crying. You’re not even sure how you got this close to breaking. Just a couple days ago, everything was still fine. How did it all go to hell so fast?

“Hey,” he bends down to catch your blurry gaze, “I’m sorry. It’s none of my business. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“It’s fine, just-”

Your fingers scrabble for the door handle and you wrench it open. Warm air floods the cabin. The old hinges groan. Raindrops splash against your side as Taiyang’s grip loosens, letting you go, letting you grab the dirty pack at your feet and slip out of the car without another word.

Your trainers slide in the mud at the edge of the gravel driveway as you make your way toward the house. You need to go. You need space to think and there’s no space here, but you can’t leave without Gambol Shroud and your hunting gear. The driver’s side door slams behind you. You press on through a deep puddle, no consideration for the water soaking into your shoes. You’ve spent entire nights crouched in stinking bogs, sunk up to your waist in silt. There are few limits to your determination. Your body, your health, and your sanity are disposable for the cause, whatever that may be. You’re without a cause right now, but you’ll find one.

You need one.

Your chest hitches as you breathe in, wiping tears from your cheeks. You could give in and let yourself cry, but you won’t. You climb the porch steps on quaking legs, emerging into a halo of soft, yellow light from the dust-powered lantern on the stoop. The night is eerily still without the wind and thunder, but a chorus of wildlife fills the void with sound, chirping crickets and croaking frogs, the otherworldly buzz of cicadas and the quick feet of scurrying rodents. Even the bats are out tonight, leathery wings flapping as they dive through the treetops, scooping up hapless bugs in their needle sharp teeth. The feline ears on your head swivel, sensitive and alert, sweeping the surrounding area for any signs of danger. It’s habit more than anything, though you wouldn’t mind the distraction of a few more Grimm right now. Anything to take your mind off the mess you’ve made of this thing with Yang.

Taiyang steps up behind you with the keys in hand and slides around you to unlock the door. “You look like you’re about to bolt.”

“I’m not about to bolt!” you snarl, hackles up.

“You don’t have to stay here tonight,” he says, somber, determinedly measured, “but you have to be back here by the morning.”

“I wasn’t-!”

He holds up a hand. “Look, I don’t know the specifics of what’s going on with you and my daughter, and it’s pretty much none of my business, but you can’t leave her right now, Blake. Not while she’s vulnerable. You’ll regret it.”

A tremor runs through you, and all the anger seeps from your body, leaving only the icy chill of dread to weigh on your bones.

You were about to do what you swore up and down you would never do again.

Disgust, like molten lead, drips down the back of your throat, scorching your lungs, leaving the blackened bits behind to smolder, and for a moment you hate yourself so much you can hardly stand it.

“I’m…” You suck in a shuddering breath, pausing to wipe your nose on your wrist. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“All this time. I haven’t really changed at all.”

Taiyang exhales heavily. “Change isn’t a straight line, Blake. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back.”

Your shoulders quiver, your mouth opens, but your tongue catches against your bottom teeth like an ursa in a steel-toothed trap, and you can’t speak. You can’t even find your voice. The crickets and the frogs fill the silence where your answer should be.

“Let me get you a night cap.” Taiyang presses a hand lightly against your shoulder, steering you inside. “You look like you need one.”

He’s right about that. You’ll need a lot more than one.

 

xi.

Sometimes it feels like your whole life is an endless cycle of mistakes, regret, and repentance. You know it’s more than that, but when the nights are darkest and your moods are deepest, you can’t really remember anything else.

Despair’s sharp edge becomes the brightest thing your mind.

You’re working on a heady buzz by the time you stumble into Yang’s empty room, tequila sloshing over the rim of the low-ball tumbler in your hand.

“Fuck.” You brace yourself against the doorframe.

You scoff at yourself, at the absurdity of this situation, drunk while Yang lies in a hospital bed somewhere hooked up to beeping, whirring machines. It makes you want to tear off your own skin, the thought of it, the image you conjure in your mind. You rake your nails up your forearm and watch, fascinated, as red lines rise in their wake. It stings, throbbing and insistent. You hiss through your teeth, taking perverse delight in the destruction you’ve caused.

Finally, something you really deserve.

From downstairs you hear the sound of Taiyang flipping through channels on the TV. He’ll be up early to fetch her from the hospital, because Yang hates hospitals almost as much as she hates Grimm, and she always wants to check out as soon as possible. Normally, it’d be your duty as her hunting partner, but…

Not this time.

You can’t be trusted. Only the booze searing your veins from the inside out will prevent you from making your great escape tonight.

Memories of Weiss’ eyes flashing a bright, glacial blue under neon lights fill your mind, her lacey white dress sorely out of place in the seedy bar. You remember, with excruciating detail, the shape of tangible concern on her face, the press of her hand darting out to grab yours as you reached for another shot.

“Stop, Blake. That’s enough.”

But it’s never enough when you can still feel.

It takes a quick second for your vision to adjust to the darkness in the bedroom, and another for you to reestablish your questionable balance. As soon as you feel steady, you’re on the move again, slipping past the pile of duffle bags on the floor, past the half-packed bin of camping equipment and the wadded up sleeping bag. On a low shelf beside Yang’s unmade bed you find what you came for.

Her CD collection.

You crouch down and run your fingers along the row of plastic spines, greeting them like old friends, like the books you keep stowed in your bedroom on Menagerie, your only permanent address anymore. The clear jewel cases are dusty, smudged with old fingerprints, and cracked in places where years of rough handling have taken their toll. Your eyes sweep across their labels, searching for something familiar. You find it at the very end of the row with the rest of her homemade mixes.

Blake’s Super Cool Workout Mix <3

You pry it loose and stand, pausing to tip back the rest of your drink before squinting down at the hand drawn label. A hot, oily feeling radiates from the center of your chest, dripping down into your stomach and your legs. You wiggle your toes experimentally against the hardwood floor. The corner of your mouth twitches as you study her looping, block letters, their shaded centers filled with yellow and purple stripes like the markings of a bee. The room smells overwhelmingly of Yang, like her coconut lime moisturizer and her soft, warm skin, and there’s a thick fog in your head muffling the sting of desperation. You don’t want to move from this spot. You don’t want to break the spell. Like this, you can almost pretend she’s here, asleep in her bed. That she’s alright. That your conscience isn’t drenched in blood. That you won’t spend the rest of your life trying to atone for your failures.

You take the CD back to your room and plug it into the old, silver boombox you dig out from under Ruby’s bed. It’s covered in stickers of cartoon characters, roses, and hearts. You discard your empty glass on the nightstand and fall back against the sheets, sighing heavily as the familiar notes of a trashy old club anthem float up from the floor. The whole mix is like this, tastelessly upbeat and impossible to tune out. You rolled your eyes when she gave it to you years ago, muttering something irate about “two sets of bleeding ears”, but right now it doesn’t really matter that you’ve always been more of an indie rock kind of girl, or that the quality of Ruby’s old speakers are just a little too tinny to do the heavy bass justice. It reminds you of Yang, of all the little things she does for you, and that’s what you need right now.

You keep the volume low and hum along to the parts you remember, fingers digging clumsily into your tingling lips, until the heavy fog in your mind spreads over you like a blanket, and you drift away to the quiet, throbbing beat of an 808 drum.

 

xii.

Sunlight warms your face late the next morning.

Reluctantly, you peel your swollen eyelids back, blinking away the haze. A familiar white ceiling comes into focus, blemished with a single sticker placed directly over the bed, a red rose. Your mouth twitches at the thought of a young, mop-headed Ruby jumping up to put it there.

It takes a bit for you to gather your wits, to recognize the birdsong in the trees outside your window, and the breeze rustling your hair. The oppressive heat of yesterday is gone, and a glimpse outside reveals a clear, jewel blue sky. It’ll be a five star day on Patch.

Your muscles ache as you shift against the crumpled sheets. You must’ve lain in the same position all night. You push yourself into a sitting position, and take a moment to adjust to the disorienting sensation of vertigo. The empty tumbler glints on your nightstand in the sun, a pale, yellow residue clinging to its heavy, glass bottom. Your eyes trail over your arms and legs, noting the scratches and bruises that have begun to fade. You can’t remember anymore which ones you inflicted, not that it matters. You don’t feel one way or the other about it. You feel a whole lot of nothing right now.

A probing hand finds your hair tangled and stiff with salt. You hadn’t thought to shower before flopping into bed.

“Mmm.” You groan, and press a cool palm to your throbbing temple.

A shower’s probably the first thing you should take care of.

As you’re swinging your legs over the side of the bed, your foot knocks against the front Ruby’s boombox, forgotten on the floor beside the nightstand. The track count blinks steadily from its green, digital display. 17 of 17.

Shit.

The gnaw of anxiety returns.

Straightening quickly, you tune your ears and listen for signs of life downstairs, but everything is silent save the creaking of the house’s wooden foundation. Did Taiyang go to the hospital? You grab your scroll off the nightstand and check your messages.

Nothing from Taiyang. Just two missed calls from Velvet. At 4:45 and 4:47 AM.

You frown.

A new note of worry joins the persistent gnaw of anxiety. You’ve gone four whole days without being bothered by anyone from the White Fang. There’s nothing of particular interest or importance happening in the organization, hence your impromptu summer vacation here on Patch. Why would she call so early? You dial her number, counting forward to calculate the time difference in your head.

A warm voice greets you. “Alright, Blake?”

“Velvet.” You rub your eyes. “Hi.”

“Ouch, girl. You sound exhausted. Having too much fun on vacation?”

You perch your heels on the edge of the mattress, draw your knees up to your chin, and wrap your arms around them. “Yang’s in the hospital,” you say, tonelessly.

“She what?” Velvet’s quaint accent becomes even more pronounced with her distress. “God, what happened? Is everything okay?”

You close your eyes and breathe slowly in and out. “Short version?”

“Whichever version you like.”

“We were attacked by a Grimm at the beach, and we were unprepared. Yang broke her leg and needed surgery.” You grit your teeth. “It’s a mess.”

“Sounds like, yeah! Well, if there’s anything you need from me, just ask.”

“Sure.” You fall back against the bed. “Thanks, Velv.”

“Of course, no worries!”

You shift the scroll to your other side, chewing on your sore bottom lip. “Why’d you call so early? Is everything okay?”

Velvet pauses for a long moment. “Ah, well, there is a bit of a situation. As if you need something else to worry about, eh?”

“It’s fine. I could probably use the distraction.” You arch your back a bit to stretch it out, wincing as the vertebrae along your spine crack. “What’s going on?”

“I just got off the phone with Midori. Do you know her?”

“I know of her. Why?”

“Well, she’s in Vacuo.”

Your eyes widen. “Vacuo? Why? I thought she was assigned to surveillance in Vale.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. She said she’s following a lead.”

“A lead for what?”

“Illegal shipments of dust, it looks like. Coming from the port in Vacuo.”

“SDC?”

“I’m not sure. I mean, probably, but knowing the region, it could be VP as well.”

“Of course,” you groan.

VP meaning 'Viridian Principal', a family run company in Vacuo with a small market share and large ambitions. They’d emerged on the scene seemingly out of nowhere, aggressively stepping in to fill the dust supply vacuum when the Vytal Tournament disaster at Beacon ground the SDC’s international operations to a halt. By striking the right chords and greasing the right palms, they’d been awarded the drilling rights to several thousand acres of desert land outside the Kingdom of Vacuo, putting them in direct competition with the SDC. It’s been nothing but trouble ever since.

Over the years, VP’s territorial quarrels with the SDC have trapped thousands of faunus miners in the middle, creating work stoppages that threaten local economies and leave families without food on the table. Eventually, the reformed White Fang began stepping in as a neutral party to negotiate deals that would get the faunus laborers back to work, but Jacques Schnee isn’t fond of parlaying with his former nemesis, and VP is too ambitious for its own good, taking advantage of the Vacuan government’s weak oversight to stir up trouble at every turn. Murmurs of VP’s back alley dealings with gangs and local syndicates have spread through the criminal underworld, most notably, their supposed collusion with Black Banner, a radicalized offshoot of the White Fang.

You tap your chin and stare up at the ceiling. It would be a pretty exciting case to take, one filled with intrigue and social justice causes and...distractions. Lots of distractions.

“If VP’s involved, there’s a chance Black Banner is as well.”

Velvet hums in thought. “The shipments could be a pay off. For what though? I guess we won’t know until Midori checks in again.”

You pinch the bridge of your nose. “She’s going to get herself killed. Who authorized the mission?”

“I’m not sure. I talked to Blade, but he didn’t know anything about it. He asked if we’d be willing to go in and back her up.”

“She definitely needs back up.”

“Agreed. So what do you say Blake? Interested?”

You bite your lip and chew on it savagely. Interested? Yes, very interested. This is just the sort of thing you need, something meaningful to get you away from Patch while you collect your thoughts. Not to mention reconnaissance missions are your specialty, and Midori could certainly use your help. It’s not as if you’d have to be gone for long. Just a few days. A few days could be perfect. It could be just enough to get a grip.

You open your mouth to accept, but your keen ears pick up the creak of light footsteps on the stairs, and you realize, with a flash of panic, that you aren’t alone in the house after all.

You cover your eyes, gritting your teeth miserably.

You are such a coward.

“...Sorry, Velv. I can’t this time.”

“That’s okay! I totally understand. I’d feel bad about leaving Yang to fend for herself. I’m sure we can manage without you just this once.”

A light knock sounds on your door, and your stomach performs a very uncomfortable flip. You sit up sharply, ears and shoulders stiff.

“Come in!”

The door opens quietly, and Taiyang pokes his head inside, taking a second to ogle the boombox sitting on the floor. “I haven’t seen that thing in years,” he says, then turns his gaze, so similar to Yang’s in color and clarity, on you. “Sorry, am I interrupting?”

“No.” You swallow thickly, and speak into the scroll. “Keep me posted, Velvet, okay?”

“Of course. No worries.

“Thank you.”

“Sure thing. Talk to you later!”

“She’s downstairs on the couch,” he says, as you end the call, and your heart lurches so sharply it leaves you feeling winded. “She’s been out cold since early this morning, but I expect she’ll probably wake here soon. They’ve got her on aura supplements. She should heal fast.”

You nod, and Taiyang checks his scroll.

“I’ve got to head into work for a bit. Are you okay watching her until I get back?” You nod heavily, and he smiles. “Thanks. I won’t be long.”

You open your mouth to speak, but your tongue feels like it’s made of clay. “When does Orin get in?”

Taiyang stiffens. “Uhhhh.” He rubs the back of his neck sheepishly, something you’ve seen Ruby do a thousand times. “Two, I think.”

“You think?”

“Yes?” He bites the inside of his cheek. “Should still be enough time for you to make your case.”

Your eyes narrow. “My case ?”

He turns and strides down the hall with a nervous sort of spring in his step. “Get changed and come down! I’ll show you where her meds are!”

“I know how to take care of an injured person!” You call back, then roll your eyes as you clamber out of bed.

 

xiii.

It’s been less than a day since you saw her last, but the sight of her takes your breath away.

Her golden hair is limp, skin sallow and pale. Her yellow and black prosthetic arm has been removed, set aside on the nightstand next to the couch, and she looks disconcertingly naked without it. Even so, your heart pounds.

“I’ve got her painkillers and her anticoagulants right here on the coffee table. Aura boosters over there with the anti-nausea stuff. She’ll be thirsty when she gets up. Probably not too hungry though.” Taiyang claps his hands together and you jump. “Think you got it?”

You look at him, wide eyed, pulse racing. “I know the drill.”

He frowns. “You look a little queasy.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“You sure?”

You grit your teeth. “Positive.”

“Alright.” He winks at you and turns on his heel to leave. “I’ll be back.”

The front door rattles as it shuts behind him. Moments later, the jeep roars to life outside, drive shaft whining as he reverses, turns, and pulls out. The tires creak over the gravel in the driveway and gradually roll away. Then there is only the quiet lilting of birdsong floating in through the kitchen window, mingling with the soft, even sound of Yang’s breathing.

She’s laid out on a white sheet with a pillow tucked under her head, wearing a surprisingly baggy, yellow t-shirt. The rest is hidden under the thin blanket Taiyang has folded over her, but the bulge of a thick cast is unmistakable on her left leg. You stare at her for a few minutes, drinking in her form, wincing at the bandages visible on her arms and neck. She looks sick, and it makes you feel powerless.

“I’m sorry,” you murmur.

You’re being pathetic and you know it. The two of you have been through worse, both together and alone, but something about this feels dire, and you can’t help but be a little desperate. Your legs carry you across the room, and you slump down beside her on the floor next to the couch. Your fingers stroke her hair, touch her skin. You find yourself wishing Taiyang had thought to put her in a bed. Then at least you could have curled yourself around her like a shield, close enough to keep her safe, to maybe keep her for yourself.

You are always so weak to her.

“We have a lot to talk about,” you croak. “There are things I need to tell you.”  

Yang’s eyelids flutter, and your heart nearly stops, but she doesn’t wake, only tilts her face toward yours before stilling again.

You pinch your eyes shut to stave off the tears, and, after a tense minute, rise to go and brush the stink of alcohol off your teeth.

-

You don’t even realize you’ve drifted off until she wakes you up later that afternoon with a long, languid, one-fingered stroke up the back of a furry ear. Your eyes fly open. You jolt upright, nerve-endings abuzz, and whip around to find a satisfied smile resting on her face. Her purple eyes are sunken and lidded, peering up at you through a fog of opiates.

“Hi.”

You blush violently, brows drawing together so sharply you think you might cry. “H-hi.”

Yang’s smile dims, but her gaze clears. “You’re here.”

You nod. “Yeah.”

She blinks very slowly. “Yay…”

You swallow, mouth suddenly dry. “Are you...thirsty? In pain?”

Yang licks her lips, chapped, you notice with a twinge of guilt, and reaches out to thread her fingers into your hair. You freeze.

“I...missed you.”

Her eyes skim over your face, and you shiver, because, suddenly, you want to kiss her. You want to kiss her so, so much. You want to touch her. You want to hold her. You want to bite into her skin and tell her you love her. Your body screams at you to do it, flogging you like a tyrant, and all you can do is gape at her while you choke on air.

Your eyes well up with tears.

A surprisingly strong hand fists in your hair, tugging you down by the roots until your forehead is pressed against hers. “I’m okay,” Yang croaks. “You’re okay.”

“We’re okay,” you finish.

She smiles. “You smell good.”

You choke out a hapless laugh. “You’re as high as a kite.”

Yang’s breath hitches, and she shifts her weight. “Not high enough, pretty kitty. Wait… Don’t yell at me for calling you kitty.”

A tear drips onto her cheek, one of yours. “I won’t.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

“Woo,” Yang cheers, groggily. “Double woo.” She sniffs and starts to sit up, expression crinkling. “Um, Blake?”

“Yeah?”

“Can you help me get to the bathroom?”

You blush again. “Uh, sure. Right. Do you want your arm?”

Yang nods, eyes fluttering. “Okay. That would help. Yeah.”

You grab the prosthetic and coax her into a sitting position, lifting her right bicep up to eye level so you can line up the bionic nerves. It’s something you’ve done dozens of times, in the field after an injury, or sometimes just to be helpful, but it feels different today. It feels significant, and not in the way it always did before, when you were still wearing your guilt on your breast like a scarlet letter. Yang’s muscles twitch under your touch, and if the look in her eye is hard to read, the subtle swipe of her tongue across her bottom lip isn’t.

She’s thinking about it.

You haven’t stopped thinking about it.

The nerves connect with a hard click and the hydraulics hiss as they fire up. You twist the metal cuff into position and lean back. Yang tests her fingers, moving each digit in a slow ripple, up and down, then back again. It’s a familiar routine. You still feel compelled to watch every time. It’s so much a part of her now that you can’t really remember what she was like before, and it’s a disconcerting thought to have, that you’ve damaged her so completely you can’t even recall a time when she was whole.

“Nice,” Yang says.

She reaches down with her metal arm to remove the blanket from her legs, and finally, you get a view of the grey, cotton shorts and bulky purple cast wrapped from her left knee all the way down to her heel. She notices your troubled gaze and makes a face.

“Showering’s gonna be a bitch.”

Your eyes dart to hers and you manage a stiff nod, but nothing else. Of everyone on your team, Yang and Weiss have taken the hardest hits, Yang the most by far. You know that part of it is her recklessness and her punch-first, ask-later fighting style. You know that most of it isn’t your fault. You know that. But the sight of it still hurts you in places so deep you can’t reach far enough inside yourself to soothe them, and in all your 23 years of life you have never wanted so badly to take the wounds of another onto yourself. You’d take them all in a second if you could, every scar, every fracture, every trivial bit of knicked flesh. Even the arm. You’d hand it over with a sigh of relief.

Everything.

You bite your lip, hesitating, again, over your insufficient words. “...Yang-”

“-Help me up, Blake.” Yang holds her arm out to you and you bite your lip, bite back your guilt as you take it, providing the leverage she needs to oh-so-carefully swing her injured leg over the side of the couch. “Fuck yeah. Success.” She grins down at the cast and turns to you, radiant and woozy. “Like the color? I got it for you.”

You frown. “For me?”

“Yeah!” She laughs easily. “Duh, who else would it be for?”

“I don’t...know?”

Yang smiles up you through her lashes, and her eyes look all the brighter for her tiny pupils. “I would’ve gotten yellow to match my arm, but…” she looks back down at her leg, “I dunno. You carried me all the way up that hill. I wanted your color on me.”

Your heart seizes.

“I hope that’s okay?” she says, and she sounds almost vulnerable.

“Yeah. Of course.”

“You’re my white knight, I guess. Weiss would be pissed.”

“Weiss doesn’t have a corner on the white knight market. She doesn’t even have a corner on white knights in her own family.”

Yang snorts. “That’s true.”

You hold out a hand, and Yang stares at it for a couple seconds until your prompt her. “Shall we?”

“Bathroom?” You nod and she accepts, pulling herself up with a low groan. “Thanks.”

You peer around the room as Yang slings her arm over your shoulders. A black walking boot rests on the floor at the end of the couch, and, beside it, a pair of metal crutches.

“You want your crutches?”

“What, you don’t wanna carry me again?”

You shoot her a shaky little smile. “You’re pretty heavy.”

“It’s all the muscle,” Yang says, “obviously.”

“Obviously.”

“No crutches,” she says, and you can her breathing picking up. “I don’t think I could balance on my own. Can you just-” She makes a motion with her arm which you understand to mean move forward.

You half walk, half carry her to the bathroom and wait outside the door listening to make sure she doesn’t fall. She manages most of it by herself, aside from a near incident with the sink, and only grumbles once under her breath about the humiliation of being chaperoned “to go pee”.

“I don’t really want to lay back down yet,” she announces, once you’ve returned to the living room.

You glance sidelong at her. “Isn’t it time for your meds again?”

Yang waves you off. “I took them earlier.”

Your eyes widen. “Earlier when?”

“Noonish? I didn’t want to wake you up. You looked so cute with your face all mashed up against the couch.”

You blush and turn away, mumbling something about being tired. Yang just tweaks one of your human earlobes and kisses your cheek. It’s innocent and brief, but sparks fill your belly, and static fills your ears. It’s utterly distracting. When Yang takes an enthusiastic hop toward the kitchen, saying something about egg drop soup, you’re not prepared. Her added weight throws you off-balance. Your feet get tangled up with each other, and suddenly, in a flash of panic, you realize you’re going down.

You manage you twist your body around so you land on your back instead of your face, but that only means that Yang lands on your front instead, which introduces a new and more terrifying predicament. She doesn’t cry out, exactly, but she does curse, gritting her teeth to quell the pain that is undoubtedly shooting up her leg. She’s splayed haphazardly across you, half on and half off your torso. There’s nothing sexy about it. If it were anyone else you would laugh at the absurdity of the situation, but her face, as she lifts her head from your chest, hovers just inches above your own, and her eyes are such a warm, honeyed lavender up close.

Her lips are parted, and wet.

She’s staring at your mouth.

Your chest strains against hers as it rises and falls. The baggy t-shirt hides more of her curves than usual, and something about that excites you even more.

“Hey…”

Your eyes drop to her lips. “Yeah?”

“I’ve been meaning to ask, but I wasn’t...” she pauses, tongue darting out.

You follow the movement like the predator you are, breath coming in quick, shallow pants. She shifts her weight awkwardly for a moment, trying to alleviate the pressure on her injured leg. Your pulse quickens to a sprint. The tips of your fingers throb in tune with each beat of your labored heart. There is a hunger in you now, swelling to fill up the cavities in your chest, pressing against your teeth. You push at Yang’s shoulder until she gets the message, and she half rolls, half flops onto her back. Quickly, you hoist yourself up and swing a leg over her hips, straddling her deftly as you press yourself down along her front.

Yang’s breath hitches.

“What were you meaning to ask?” you whisper, low and smoky and so much like a purr that you’d be embarrassed of yourself under normal circumstances, but these are not normal circumstances.

Yang’s throat bobs. “If you meant it,” she answers.

You nudge your nose against hers, listening to her lazy, medicated heart rate speed up to match yours. You can smell the arousal on her now, the sharp spike of pheromones percolating in your keen nose. You know exactly where this is leading, and you can’t find it in yourself to care.

“You know I did,” you breathe, inches from her lips. Less.

“How long have you wanted to?”

Your smile is pained. “How long do you think?”

Yang’s arms circle your waist, pulling you tighter. “You never said anything.”

You shake your head against hers. “No.”

“I wish you had.”

She kisses you slowly. All it takes is the slightest tilt of her chin and then her lips are smothering yours. Your skin erupts in a rash of goosebumps. You feel like you’ve just been plunged into a tank of ice water, everything, everywhere, prickling. She feels so good it hurts. She tastes so right you ache , and the strangled groan that erupts from your mouth feels like the opening note of a triumphant opera, a long awaited catharsis.

Her hips twitch, brushing your inner thighs, and everything speeds up. The kiss grows fervent, intense, aggressive. Her tongue presses against your mouth and you suck her in. Your lips smear saliva onto her chin, her cheeks. It’s wet and artless. You try to slow down, try to take back some control of your faculties, but her hands cup the sensitive ears atop your head, thumbs gliding through soft, silky fur, and you lose your grip all over again. Your arms give out, body dropping onto her chest like a rock. A long, keening moan spools out of you, vibrating ever so gently on the final note. Yang hisses through her teeth and increases the pressure on your twitching ears. Every part of your body tingles from the waist up. Your lungs begin to buzz.

“Are you purring?” she mumbles, against your cheek. You can feel her smile pressed against you.

“I don’t purr, ” you grit, but Yang’s smile only grows.

“I think you do.”

She tilts her face down, tugging up on your pointed ears to pull your head back, then sinks her teeth into your neck.

The bite is possessive more than pleasurable. It liquefies your insides and turns all your muscles to jelly. You would probably feel less shredded if she had stuck you in a blender. She may as well have. You’re making noises you haven’t made in a long time.

You almost don’t notice the sound of tires pulling into the driveway outside.

You almost don’t care enough to stop.

“Mmmph- wait!” You press against her chest, fingers bunching in her baggy shirt as her tongue swirls rather lasciviously over your jugular. “Yang!”

The front door opens. A shard of panic splinters from the wall of pleasure in your mind, lodging sharply in your chest. Voices carry in from the entry, and this time you shove with purpose. Yang’s eyes are lidded and confused, lips glistening as you roll off her hips. You can hear Taiyang laughing about something. Two sets of footsteps traipse into the front hallway, followed by the sound of a bag thumping to the ground. Finally, Yang seems to grasp the situation as your hand darts out to wipe away the incriminating wetness ringed around her mouth. Her violet eyes flare wide, glancing over your shoulder.

“Yang?” It’s Taiyang’s voice, surprised, wary.

You freeze, eyes glued to the look of abject shock on her face. The hair on the back of your neck stands on end. Every cell in your body prickles with dread. You know that expression. You’ve seen it on your own face a hundred times over, peering back at you miserably in the mirror.

Guilt. Shame.

“Yang…?” A voice you don’t recognize, deep and rich like dark molasses. “Are you okay?”

You watch her expression twist. “Orin?”

He chuckles, and it’s a low, pleasant sound. “Hey.”

You’ve never hated the sound of something so much.

“W-what are you doing here?”

“Your dad said you caught an injury in the field. I was in between jobs so I thought I’d come visit. Not a bad time, is it?”

“N-no! No, not at all! I’m just surprised-”

You feel a hand against your shoulder and jerk around, glaring up into the grave expression of Taiyang. His gaze drops conspicuously to the throbbing patch of skin on your neck and you realize, with a painful lurch of your heart, that Yang has marked you.

His eyes flick up, narrowed and earnest as they catch yours. “What happened?” he asks, head tilting.

You get the message loud and clear.

“We fell,” you croak.

He frowns. “I see that.”

“She was trying to carry me to the kitchen,” Yang adds, beside you. Her voice is sunny, but there’s a hysterical edge to it that sours in your ears. “My feet got all tangled up. It’s these damn drugs.”

The drugs...

“I’ve never known you to be a clutz,” Orin says. “Haven’t lost your edge have you, Xiao-Long?”

Taiyang’s eyes flick pointedly to your neck, and your hand flinches up to cover the offending mark. He stands back as Orin bends down to help Yang up, and finally, you get a glimpse of the man who has captured Yang’s heart.

He’s tall, handsome, and dark-skinned, with pale orange eyes that shine out of his square-jawed face like twin lanterns. His shoulders are broad and well-muscled. A powerful chest shifts under his embroidered, tangerine tunic. Strong thighs bulge in his close-fitting, black pants. A quiver of arrows peeks out from behind his right thigh, and the curve of a metal bow rises above his opposite shoulder.

You gape slightly. Yang seems almost transfixed.

Orin pulls her up against his chest and leans down to kiss her, to kiss lips that twisted into yours only half a minute earlier. Her eyes flutter closed. Her fingers clutch at the front of his shirt. A cold, pulsing agony overtakes you, squeezing around your throat like the coils of a serpent, strangling the air from your lungs. They actually look good together. You can’t even believe it. You can’t believe he’s here and he’s real, touching her, holding her like a lover should, familiar and fond and soft.

He loves her. You can feel it viscerally, can practically taste it in the air, and suddenly you can’t fucking breathe .

She’s not pushing him away. Why isn’t she pushing him away?

Hot tears sting your vision like acid.

“Blake-” Taiyang starts to say, but you shake your head furiously. “Hey, wait-”

You shove him off. You’re already on your feet darting for the stairs. Your cheeks are wet and you’re half blind, hands fumbling along to keep your balance. You trip at the top and nearly fly into the wall, bracing yourself on a trembling forearm.

Your body is burning and shaking. You are spinning out of control so fast it’s dizzying and you don’t know anymore what you’ll do or say if you stay in this house a single minute longer. You feel dangerous. You feel violent. You feel dark.

Adam’s words cut through you like his curved red blade.

Cold hearted.

Cold hearted .

All the things you were afraid of all along, all the tiny insecurities, anxieties, and doubts, none of them would have ever crossed your mind if you were truly cold hearted. None of this would be so magnificently painful.

You choke a laugh, wet with tears. This is how you finally learn the truth. You have a heart after all, and it’s screaming.

“Blake!” Taiyang’s footsteps pound on the stairs behind you.

You hear Orin’s confused question to Yang. “Isn’t that your partner?”

You lurch into action.

The door to Ruby’s room slams hard enough to rattle the pictures on the wall, and you drag a chair from her desk, shoving it up under the handle. It won’t hold him long. You grab a duffle bag and start pitching things inside: your weapons first, then your clothes. You don’t have time to get all your books, but books can be replaced. You’ll buy new ones. It doesn’t matter. You don’t care.

“Blake!” The doorknob rattles, Taiyang’s knuckles rap against the wood.

“Go away!” you snarl.

You don’t even sound like yourself, like some half-crazed banshee. It’s a stall tactic that’ll keep him from breaking down the door for at least another minute. You fabricate another loud sobbing sound, and continue to pack as quietly as possible. Ten seconds. Nine. Eight. This is nothing. You can do this. You’ve fled battles in the middle of the night with nothing but the stars to light your way. You’ve scaled three story brick walls to avoid the police. You’ve breezed through the forest like a shadow, with a whole pack of ursas on you tail. Stealth is your strength, and you put all of it to use now as you ease open the window, making sure to create a distraction by throwing things at the door. You brace your hand against the sill, leg swinging over.

“Blake!” Taiyang’s rattles the doorknob again, and you don’t wait to find out what’ll happen if he gets it open.

You slip onto the roof, drop into a crouch, and execute a perfect, flying leap into the yard, careful to land out of sight of the first floor windows.

You hit the ground at a sprint, bag bouncing heavily against your back, and dart into the trees. Bushes and branches scrape against your calves. Thorny vines slice up your ankles. You’re in shorts and a tank top, wearing a pair of unlaced trainers that threaten to trip you up with each step. You leap for the next low branch you see and heave yourself up into the treetops, continuing your escape far above the densely overgrown forest floor where your trajectory can’t be tracked. You’ll be virtually invisible this way. Only Ruby could hope to keep up with you now.

By the time anyone realizes what you’ve done you’ll be long gone.

 

xiv.

Pain makes people do funny things. No one is quite themselves in the throes of agony.

It’s a lesson Adam went to great lengths to teach you, because it was a useful tactic in a pinch. Pain makes people malleable. It makes them coercible. Most will do anything to make it stop, and despite the fact that you know this personally, that you’ve had to learn this lesson far too many times, you’re hardly any better for the knowledge.

Because here you are.

The city lights of Vacuo wink up at you from far below, haphazard fairy dots of orange and yellow spread out like lanterns across a dark sea. It’s a moonless night in the desert, and a moonless night in your heart, but some evil part of you delights in the torment. The currents of anguish have carried you here, to the shores of cold despair, where the reflection of your face in the window is a numb, impassive mask, and your body feels like borrowed machinery. You’ve doused your guilt with anger, and honed that anger into a dagger-sharp focus for the task laid out before you. Your work will keep you afloat for as long as you need it to.

The airship’s hull shudders as it descends through the atmosphere. The captain makes a landing announcement that you barely register. Moments later, you hear the whine of machinery as the landing gear drops. Your grip tightens on the strap slung over your shoulder, and you’re reminded, yet again, that your duffle bag is lighter than it should be. You left most of your camping gear on Ruby’s bedroom floor in your haste to get out of Patch, but you’ve at least got the essentials. Gambol Shroud is hidden away in a discrete leather case strapped to your back Your auxiliary bladed-pistols are tucked into holsters under your sleeveless utility vest. You’ve traded in shorts and trainers for real hunting clothes, though not in your usual color scheme. Nondescript tans and dusty browns replace your favored black and white. You double check your turban and the disposable white medical mask strapped across your nose and mouth. Your hair is braided down the center of your back, yellow eyes obscured by thick, tinted goggles. It should be more than enough to keep you anonymous.

You disembark with the rest of the passengers down a long metal ramp and come to a stop in the center of a busy, sandstone platform. Night has fallen over Vacuo, but the oppressive heat of the day still lingers and the station is bustling with traffic. Your boots skid against the floor as you turn about, taking in the sights. Vendors hawk their wares from makeshift carts, shouting prices into the passing crowd. Giant woks flash as chopped meats and vegetables are tossed into scalding oil. Flatbreads and kebabs smoke on makeshift grills. The scent of curry spice, turmeric, and fried dough hangs like a savory haze in the air, wafting on the evening breeze. A veritable marketplace operates between the aisles of thick, fluteless columns, their wind-worn capitals carved with hieroglyphic bas-reliefs of Vacuan figures of lore. You scan the chaos for a moment, then adjust your bag, and press on into the crowd.

Vacuo’s central station is a marvel of modern engineering, constructed using the principles of thermodynamics to create an energy efficient structure from the existing sandstone skeleton of an ancient customs building. The old columns support a modern roof of angled solar panels that have been specifically engineered to power the station. They let in just enough light to illuminate the interior while deflecting the worst of the heat. Despite being the only open air station west of Mistral, temperatures beneath the glass canopy never exceed 87 degrees, even on the hottest days of the year. You’re not sure exactly how it all works, something to do with directing air flow and natural air conditioning, but you always at least take the time to appreciate the towering, mosaic-tiled, ogee-style arches as you pass under them into the lobby.

The lobby is a massive atrium capped with a peaked, cloister dome of tinted, green glass. Voices echo and carry here creating a incessant, ambient murmur of sound. A fountain gurgles in the center, across from the ticketing desks, as you come to a stop, peering up at the list of arrivals and departures on a digital reader board. Travelers brush past you en route, some dressed for the heat in flowing, linen wraps and cotton robes, others, clearly out of their element. Here and there, you note the heavy, high-necked Atlesian dress of formal whites and stiff greys, mingling with the colorful, theatrical styles of Vale, and the delicate, embroidered silks of Mistral.

“Blake.”

You don’t turn. You don’t even respond. It’s the oldest trick in the book.

A figure approaches on your right, head and shoulders obscured by a cowl the color of sun-bleached driftwood. “Sister of the White Fang.”

You turn sharply, scowl hidden beneath your goggles and paper face mask. “Can I help you?”

“It’s me ,” a familiar voice murmurs, and giggles nervously.

You subtly check your surroundings for eavesdroppers. “Velvet, we talked about this.”

“Sorry,” she says, sheepishly, “I’m not very good at this sort of thing.”

“Were you followed?”

Velvet shrugs. You turn back to the reader board, posture unaffected.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know where your gate is,” you say loudly, then add in a whisper, “leave first, and don’t look back. Meet me across the street. I’ll sniff you out.”

Velvet starts to nod, catches herself, and jerks. Despite her inexperience in covert field operations, she’s as silent as silk whispering across skin when she slides away, melting into the bustling river of humanity behind you. You give her a few minutes head start by wandering over to examine the exotic offerings of a tea vendor before slipping off to join her.

-

You spy her sipping spiced coffee on the patio of a bustling cafe. Shuttered apartments look out two and three floors above it, their balustrades hung with drying laundry. Fluorescent light spills from the entrance of a neighboring convenience store, illuminating the sidewalk where smokers gather with dizzy moths in small groups of two and three. On the corner, A man sits cross legged on a woven mat, plucking out a bittersweet tune on his battered oud. Coins litter the area at his feet. It’s a familiar scene in Vacuo.

You allow yourself a moment of pensive reverie before setting off again. Mopeds and scooters carreen around you as you make your way across the cobblestone street. A taxi driver slams on his brakes and honks. You don’t quite mind. You still feel most comfortable in the anonymous chaos of a crowd.

“You found me,” Velvet says, pleasantly, reclining in a wicker chair.  

She offers you a small, porcelain cup of Vacuan coffee, a traditional blend of dark, finely ground espresso and cardamom, which you gratefully accept. “Thanks.”

You shove down your paper mask and peel your heavy goggles away from your face. The skin in the hollows of your eyes is tender and slick with sweat. Dull pain flares in your shoulders and your spine creaks as you lean back in your chair. You sip your coffee tentatively, and hum low in your throat when you discover it isn’t scalding hot. Velvet watches from under her cowl as you swallow slowly, lashes fluttering.

“Good?”

“Amazing.” You take a deep breath of dusty, desert air, sucking down acrid petrol fumes with tobacco smoke and the unmistakable tang of ground coffee. “That flight was stuffy and cramped.”

You recognize the twitch of Velvet’s ears, even pinned back and obscured under heavy fabric. “I know. Mine wasn’t much better. Whenever I fly with Coco she just pays for a cabin so we can pass out. I think I’ve gotten soft.”

“Weiss does the same thing.” You sip at your coffee, and feel like a corpse revived. “Rich humans, right?”

“Especially the ones with guilty consciences,” Velvet says, and grins.

“Cheers to that.” You lift your cup, wait for Velvet to match the gesture, then drain the rest.  

Your wicker chairs scrape against sandy concrete as you stand together and filter back out into the street. It’s your first time in Vacuo since the disastrous mission in the desert, and you don’t know your way around the city as well as you’d like. You let Velvet take point.

“I figured we’d make a pit stop at the house to drop off your stuff before we head off to meet Midori,” she says, leading you through the crowd in a tight back alley. “Are you hungry?”

You shake your head. Beads of sweat have formed along your hairline under your turban and in the crooks of your elbows and knees. You haven’t really been hungry since you left Patch, eating only to sustain your energy and nothing more.

“How was the rest of your vacation?”

“Uneventful.”

Velvet peaks at you over her shoulder. “Are you feeling alright?”

“Fine.” The reply is terse, even for you.

Velvet’s brow arches under the brim of her cowl, and she faces forward again, murmuring in a low voice that only a faunus would hear. “How is Yang? I was surprised when you changed your mind.”

“She’s in good hands,” you mutter back, ducking around a gaggle of shrieking children.

Velvet doesn’t reply, only tilts her head ever so slightly to the right before ducking down a darker, narrower alley. You whip around the corner behind her, drawing on your reserves of anger to sharpen your focus. The cobblestones here are uneven, the center-most path worn into a shallow gulley by thousands of passing feet. The facades of three and four story buildings press in unevenly around you, forming a leaning tunnel of white plaster, colorful wooden shutters, and multi paneled, arch-top doors of dark stained wood. You edge around a shallow stoop where someone has parked a cart full of hay bales and nearly bash your forehead on a rod-iron lantern hanging from the opposite entry. Your hand slaps against it, rattling the chain.

“Careful,” Velvet calls.

She stops in front of a nondescript wooden door, square-topped, unlike its neighbors, and pulls a large brass skeleton key from her pocket. The lock groans and whines as the key turns. You note the polished copper placard on the wall beside the door.

“Who are the Bartlets?”

“No one we know,” Velvet replies. “I think they lived here before.”

She braces her shoulder against the door and pushes through into a dark entry. You follow her inside and she shuts the door behind you, reaching up to redo the heavy lock. A high-ceilinged entry greets you. Walls of bare, white plaster stretch up past the second floor to form a tall, square foyer. A hexagonal bronze chandelier hangs on a long chain from the high ceiling. Small, cylindrical metal hurricanes, fitted with lightbulbs and etched with patterned cutouts, protrude on spikes from each of its metal points. To your right, an unadorned stone-block staircase climbs up to the second level. Polished terracotta tiles stretch away under your feet down a narrow corridor to the left. It’s an old, and simple, family dwelling.

“This way,” Velvet says.

She starts for the stairs, and doesn’t bother with the lights. Neither of you need them anyway. Your footsteps echo off the empty walls.

The second floor landing is laid with same terracotta tiles as the ground floor. The stairwell bends around to continue up to a third floor, but Velvet leads you down a short corridor, past a bathroom of old, geometrically patterned blue tile, and a pair of closed doors. The last door on the right opens into a small bedroom. A square window, cut straight into the stone, looks out over the alley below. White, linen drapes billow in the night breeze. A full-sized mattress sits in the center of the floor next to a green ceramic lamp with a crooked shade and a low table. A stack of fresh sheets and towels rests on the edge of the mattress.

“Spartan,” you say, peering around.

Velvet throws back the hood of her robes and releases her long ears from their binding. “I think it’s one of the nicer safe houses we have. There’s almost no mold.”

You grunt your agreement and drop your bags on the floor. “What’re we doing tonight?”

“A normal stakeout. Should be pretty boring.”

Your heart sinks. You bend down to remove Gambol Shroud from it’s leather case. The zipper sounds almost violent in the hollow room. Distant voices mingle with the clatter of carts through the open window, carrying up from crowded city arteries nearby.

“You sure you’re alright?” Velvet asks, head cocking to one side. “You seem a bit…”

You grasp your goggles and wrench them over your head. The turban comes next, unraveled with desperate hands. Fabric spools at your feet. Your ears twitch atop your head, testing out their newfound freedom. For as much you used to wear that bow, they still get sore when they’re penned up.

“No AC, then,” you say, and Velvet studies you dubiously for a moment.

“There is, but it’s on its last legs. If you keep everything closed up during the day it shouldn’t get too bad in here.”

You crouch down and unlace your boots, peeling them off with your damp socks. The tactical vest comes off next, discarded atop the remnants of your turban. You glare down at your dusty trousers and brown sleeveless top. You’re covered in sweat, and everything is sticking to your skin.

“I’m going to change before we leave, if that’s alright.”

Velvet plucks at the front of her cloak. “Me as well.”

You turn back to your bags, intending to pull out a fresh set of stakeout clothes, when Velvet speaks up tentatively behind you.

“You’d tell me if something was wrong, right? I am your friend. I’ll listen to...whatever you have to say.”

You stiffen. “I know.”

“Alright, just… you know. I’m here.”

You squeeze your eyes shut. “Thanks, Velv.”

“Of course.”

Her footsteps echo off the empty walls as she pads out.

You breathe a sigh of relief.

 

xv.

There’s nothing on the first night, and nothing on the second.

On the third night, you slap some GPS trackers on a few suspicious crates, and Midori gets some blurry footage of what may or may not be a Black Banner goon paying off the dock workers. By the fourth night you’re downright jittery with unexpended energy. The heat has been stifling, you’ve been sleeping fitfully, and your normally ironclad stomach has been sour.

You can’t stop thinking about Yang.

You can’t push her into the void with the rest of your emotions.

You can’t blank her out.

It’s an hour till dawn, and you’ve been tapping your fingers restlessly against the roof for so long the tips are swollen and tender. Your thoughts are swirling, by now reduced to little more than disjointed bits and fragments that prick at your attention like broken glass, nagging and sharp. When you finally spot something out of place, you nearly cry out with relief, biting your lip at the last possible moment to hold it back.

Quickly, you wake Velvet from a light doze beside you on the warehouse roof. Like you, she’s dressed head to toe in black, and it’s slightly too much for the heat, even in the early morning hours. You can smell the sweat on her. You’ve already perspired through your own tight pants and tank top.

“Velv.” You nudge her shoulder, and her eyes flicker open.

She doesn’t groan or yawn. Her pupils are instantly the size of saucers and she’s alert, muscles coiled. It’s a little unnerving, like looking at yourself in a mirror. You spend so much time around humans these days it’s easy to forget the trauma you share with your faunus brothers and sisters.

“What is it?” she whispers, almost below hearing range, a mere breath on the wind.

You point over the roof’s edge at a muscled up figure in a grey hoodie and black bandana making his way between the crates and machinery across the loading dock. “He doesn’t look like a dock worker to me.”

Velvet gives a quick, jerky nod. “No safety orange.”

You’re keyed up and feeling aggressive. “Let’s nab him.”

“Wait.” You shoot her an annoyed glare, but Velvet only bites her lip and chews it for a moment. “If we pounce now we won’t know what he’s up to.”

You open your mouth to argue, but your words stick in your throat. She’s right. Your mouth snaps shut. Velvet gives you a scrutinizing look.

“Alright?”

You quiver with impatience. “Fine.”

“Let’s check in with Midori.”

Midori. You’d almost forgotten about her, a fox faunus with freckles and a rather luxurious set of speckled white ears to compliment her shaggy, grey hair. Velvet had introduced her to you hastily in the dark of the shipyard only four nights ago. This is the first time you’ve worked with her in person. You nod stiffly and return to your binoculars, military grade with night vision. A silver snowflake shimmers from the dial as you adjust the focus. They were a 23rd birthday present from Weiss.

On the horizon, pale blue light has just begun to peak over the water. Velvet reaches for the wireless comm device hooked into one of her human ears and taps it once to activate the line.

“M.”

A thin whisper crackles in your ear. “Here.”

“We’ve got a mark headed toward the shipping containers.”

“Grey hoodie?”

“Yeah.”

“Already on him. Stand by.”

You aim your binoculars at the surrounding area, searching for Midori, but she’s got a talent for stealth that rivals even your own. “She’s good.”

Velvet nods. “I’ve already recommended to Blade that she do more stealth missions. She makes me look like an amateur.”

“Amateur or not, I wouldn’t face you in an open field.”

Velvet smiles. “I finally bested Fox last month in a round of three. Yatsu lost fifty lien to Shu Li. He’s been sulking ever since.

“How is Yatsu?” you ask, harkening back to an article she’d sent you from Mistral’s Daily Gazette.

Seasoned Hunter Loses Foot in Battle for Remote Village

“Better,” Velvet shifts, “but I doubt he’ll ever totally be the same.”

“Yang never was,” you mutter, and Velvet glances sidelong at you.

“She came back stronger, though. Different doesn’t always mean worse.”

You grit your teeth, expression twisting. You’ve been holding it all at bay rather well, but you can feel the anger burning through your walls again, and behind it, a tide of anguish waits.

You flinch as Velvet’s hand settles on your arm. “You’ve been carrying it around all this time, haven’t you?” Her voice softens. “You act like you wielded that blade yourself.”

Hot moisture blurs your vision. “I may as well have.”

“Yang wasn’t his only victim, you know. You were a victim, too.”

You scrub at your eyes. “I aided and abetted him for years. I’m not his victim.”

Velvet’s fingers tighten around your wrist. “Abuse takes many forms. Manipulation and emotional abuse count.”

You release a harsh breath. “The fact remains that none of this would’ve happened if I-”

“-That’s an unproductive way to think about it. You can’t change history, and anyway, I’m sure Yang doesn’t regret it.”

You stare at Velvet, paralyzed. “W-what?”

“I bet she’d do it all again in a second.” Velvet gives you a smile tinged with sadness. “I bet she wouldn’t want to live in a world without you.” She turns away, but her grip on your arm remains firm. “I haven’t told you much about my parents because I don’t much remember them very well. I was kicked around quite a lot as a kid. I spent most of my life believing I was a burden to others, and I didn’t let myself get close enough to find out if I was right. But then, Yatsu…” She pauses. “And Coco, and Fox. They all made me realize that wasn’t true.”

A tremor runs through you. “...I’m sorry about your parents.”

Velvet sighs. “Me, too. All I’m saying is, people who love you want to defend you, and it wasn’t your fault.”

You wipe your eyes roughly and peer out at the shipyard, shoving desperately at your emotions. “I lost the mark.”

“I’ve got him,” Velvet assures you. “There.” She squeezes gently as she releases your wrist, then points. “Behind that tower of crates.

You press the binoculars to your eyes and adjust them, panning slowly across the shipyard. “I see him.”

Velvet taps her comm. “Midori? Alright?”

“...Hoodie’s got friends, and I know what they’re after. There’s a VP container down here packed with refined dust. They’re getting ready to move it to another load queue.”

“Let me guess, one destined for a ship to Vale?”  

“Good guess.”

“Did you get any footage?”

“Oh yeah. The Vacuan port authority will punt these assholes straight to prison- Um, shit... I think I’ve been spotted.”

Velvet’s heart rate spikes. “Need backup?”

“Please.” Midori sounds a little out of breath. “Tell Blake to bring her big, black gun.”

“I’ve got you covered,” you growl, plucking at the ribbon wound around your wrist.

Velvet pulls herself into a crouch. “Ready?”

“Born ready,” you say, without thinking, and immediately cringe. “Um...please forget I said that.”

“Does Yang know you’re borrowing her catchphrases?” Velvet grins at you, and, before you can respond, swings herself over the side of building.

Fuck.

Your heart thumps hard in your chest, adrenalin spreading warm fire through your stiff body. You’re after her in the blink of an eye, blood singing in your ears. You land like a shadow, rolling into a silent crouch. Velvet moves ahead on your right. She darts into the maze of giant shipping containers littering the dock, and you follow her. Your blade scrapes along the edge of your bladed sheath as you draw it out. Velvet’s own weapon remains dark.

“Follow the melodic sound of my voice,” Midori murmurs through the comm link, and you have barely a moment to wonder what she means before a shout rises up from the docks.

A burst of gunfire follows.

Velvet breaks into a sprint, you hot on her heels. The rectangular canister on her back glows and a pair of long, curved cutlasses materialize in her hands, ethereal and blue. She rounds a corner at top speed, vanishing from view. You whip around behind her into a narrow passage between two precarious towers of containers. The crack of gunfire returns, growing louder as you draw closer. A scream pierces the night. You grit your teeth, doubling down on your speed.

You race past Velvet and explode into the fray, swinging your katana around in a wide, controlled arc. You catch a man in the middle of the back, unaware and unguarded. Blood sprays out, splattering like warm raindrops on your face. He grunts as he twists away from you.

“Blake!”

You duck and Velvet soars over your head, swords morphing into Norah’s long hammer. She flips forward and swings the hammer down into the pavement, creating a shockwave that blows your opponents wide out of their formation.

“Good thinking!” you call to Velvet, and she nods.

It presents an opportunity to divide and conquer. You execute a neat backspring and land with your gun pointed out. There are seven of them in total, five with guns, one with throwing knives, one with some kind of harpoon contraption. No advanced armor or hunting weapons.

It’ll be quick.

Midori wields her dual-pronged, electrically charged broadsword like a club, raining blunt, crackling blows down on the assailant with the hooked harpoon. Velvet whips her shimmering hammer around with the kind of reckless abandon that would make Nora proud, knocking opponents out like bowling pins. Bullets scatter in every direction, ricocheting off of metal containers, pavement, weapons, and auras. A tire pops on a loader and deflates. A spider-web fracture appears in its windshield. Something whizzes past your ear and you duck. Another teeth-rattling blow from Velvet’s hammer leaves a crater in the pavement. You whip your grappling hook up at a steel cable hanging from a loading crane, secure the hold, and get a running start, propelling yourself off the ground. You swing feet first into the chest of the wiry woman with the throwing knives, using your momentum to send her flying backwards into a red crate. The metal siding dents under the impact, and she slumps to the ground, unconscious. You push off again and continue your wide arc around the loading dock, raining bullets down from above. Velvet, meanwhile, twirls the glowing outline of a double ended pike, lithe and limber as she dispatches a pair of masked gunman. Midori’s broadsword hums as it slices through the air, cleaving the barrel of a shotgun in two.

The battle is over just minutes after it begins. Seven bodies lie scattered across the dock, motionless.

“Nice work, guys!” Velvet lifts her glowing, blue energy weapon into the air. “Good teamwork!”

Midori is wheezing as you approach, crouched on one knee beside the unconscious knife thrower. Her broadsword, humming like a downed powerline, shakes in her grip. You sheath Gambol Shroud and get down beside her on the ground.

“You okay?”

Midori shakes her head and pulls her hand away from her ribs. The scent of iron overpowers you. Red blood drips from her fingers onto the pavement.

“Velv, we’ve got a problem.”

Velvet drops her arms and looks over. “What’s up?”

“Midori.”

Midori swallows slowly, tufted ears drooping. “Is it bad?”

“Not terrible, but you need stitches. We should get you home before you lose more blood.”

Velvet reaches down to rip the bandana off the unconscious assailant at her feet and pulls out her scroll. “Let’s call the police and get out of here before any of them recognize us. Our job is done for now.”

You nod and reach for your own scroll. “Where the hell is dock security?”

At your insistence, Midori eases herself down into a seated position, breathing shallowly. “They stopped doing rounds at twelve. I think someone paid them off.”

You poke at another body, drawing back when it groans. “Who are these guys? They can’t be Black Banner. We were outnumbered two to one.”

“Just some local thugs by the looks of it.” Velvet makes her way from body to body, ripping off masks and hoods before stooping down to snap impromptu mug shots. “Alright.” She straightens up, pocketing the device. “Let’s head out.”

You nod, and help Midori to her feet, keeping a careful arm wrapped around her waist. “I vote we call a taxi.”

“Cheers,” Velvet agrees, and the three of you quietly make your way back to the fence.

 

xvi.

Midori is pale and sweating by the time you reach the alleyway.

“You’re fine,” Velvet assures her. “It’s your first time in a real combat situation, right?”

“Y-yeah.”

“It’s just shock. It’ll wear off.”

You smile faintly and peer up at the pale, blue light creeping over the rooftops. It’s dawn, and for the first time in a week your stomach isn’t churning like a vat of acid. Your thoughts aren’t swirling. Your chest isn’t tight. The world doesn’t feel like it’s going to crash down on your head. The guilt is gone. Yang is gone. The cold-hearted bitch is back.

You feel lucid, and calm.

You’d say you feel good, but you’re afraid to jinx it.

“B-b-but I’ve lost a lot of b-blood,” Midori stammers, and you remember, too, when you were 15, shivering as Ilya gave you stitches on a camping cot.

“She is rather small, Velv. Plus, she might be dehydrated.”

Midori’s ears perk up, and she peeks in your direction, blue eyes hazy with anxiety and fatigue. For a second, she reminds you of a young Weiss, although, without any of Weiss’ regal, cold-hardened beauty. Midori is cute, with thin, pale brows, a button nose, and a small, round chin. Her eyes are large, almost comically so, lending a theatrical, overwrought quality to every expression that passes over her earnest face. Her temperament reminds you most of Ruby, if Ruby were the shy, bookish type in her free time. You can’t help but like her.

“Ah, I didn’t think of that,” Velvet says. She throws an arm over Midori’s shoulder. “Alright, rule one of a stakeout, girl, always drink plenty of fluids.”

Midori clenches her teeth to still the quivering. “Y-yes, ma-”

“-Rule two, stop calling me “ma’am.”

“Yes, ma- Velvet.”

You stifle a laugh, lips twisting, and follow them deeper into the alley. The city is still quiet, the hum of traffic noticeably absent even as the sun creeps up. The only people awake at this hour are stumbling drunks, bakers, and yawning shop-owners. You step around the cart of hay, ducking out of habit to avoid the metal lantern in the opposite doorway, and stop short when Velvet gasps.

Your hackles rise.

“What is it?” You approach to see her staring at her hand on the doorknob, half turned and pushed open into the narrow house.

“It was open,” Velvet says, frowning. “Did we forget to lock it?”

“No.” Your eyes narrow. It was you who locked the door, and you never forget those sort of things.

Velvet glances dubiously at Midori, who now looks even paler than before, but you’re still kind of itching for a fight, and this is something you can handle.

Sticking a finger to your lips, you push the door open all the way and creep inside, employing all your heightened senses to detect the presence of an intruder. The house is dark and cool, just the way you left it. There are no signs of forced entry. Your feet pad to a stop in the middle of the foyer, nostrils twitching, ears stiff and alert. Something creaks upstairs, piquing your curiosity, and then you smell it.

Coconut and gunpowder.

“Shit,” you hiss, hand flying to your temple.

Velvet peaks inside, long ears preceding her. “Everything alright?” she whispers.

“Yang’s here.”

Her eyes widen. “What?”

“I can smell her.”

“Yang your partner?”

“Well, not Yang the opera singer,” you snap, and Velvet gives you an exasperated look.

“Fine, I’ll patch up Midori, you go handle whatever this is.”

“It’s nothing.”

“Okay, okay,” Velvet waves you off with a roll of her eyes. “Go!”

Like a child admonished, you lurch forward unsteadily, hand sliding along the wall, and make your way to the stairs. Any semblance of tranquility you had thirty seconds ago is gone. Your head feels light. Your lungs feel heavy. Dread oozes like nausea up the back of your throat.

Yang’s here.

Yang’s here.

It feels like you’ve been sucker punched. What are you going to say? How are you going to explain yourself? How will you ever be able to look at your face in the mirror again? Anxiety spills into your veins, raising tremors in its wake.

Your feet carry you silently up the first flight of stairs to the landing, and you creep down the hall. A shaft of sunlight streams through the high, round window cut into the wall at the end of the corridor, creating a path of gold along the tile floor. Her scent only grows as you approach, and with it, your febrile panic.

What is she doing here?

What is she doing here?

Why is she-

There is a sound, like stiff fabric scuffing against stone, and then, “Blake.”

Your heart shatters, reduced with a single syllable to a pile of hard, sharp edges. Each heartbeat stabs behind your ribs. You freeze, still as a statue, as Yang steps out into the hallway. She’s in tiny black shorts and a white tank top under a camo tactical vest. Her long, wavy hair is tied up into a ponytail, the kind she wears when she trains at the gym. Your eyes trail down her golden prosthetic to the purple cast on her leg. She’s wrapped her black walking boot around it and done up the thick straps. On her other foot she’s worn only a simple, white trainer.

She looks good. Angry, but good. And you’re so shocked you can barely breathe.

“Where…” You swallow thickly. “Where are your crutches?”

Yang’s eyes narrow, flickering red, and you shiver. “Really? That’s the first thing you have say to me?”

Your gaze falls away. “I’m just worried.”

“Yeah?” Yang advances a step, and you stumble backwards. “Were you worried when you bailed on me without leaving any indication of where you were going?”

The stabbing in your heart grows hot and insistent. “Well, you were… and Orin was- and I panicked, and-”

“Come here.”

You stammer, at a loss. “W-what?”

Yang doesn’t wait for you to process that statement. Instead, she lunges out with startling agility and snatches the front of your tank top. You’re too stunned to defend yourself. Your muscles seize up like useless blocks of ice as she drags you forwards into the bedroom and slams the door. The lock cracks like a gunshot as it bolts behind you. Yang’s eyes are fully red now, flaring like twin suns. Her teeth grind past each other. She reaches over to push the weapon off your shoulders, straps and all.

“Yang-”

The word has barely left your mouth before she’s got you by the biceps, pulling you into a crushing hug. You gasp, arms rigid at your sides, enveloped by her warmth and completely overwhelmed. She rocks you back and forth, nose buried in your hair, and it takes you three full seconds to remember that you should reciprocate. Your hands clutch weakly at her shoulder blades, fingers trembling.

“I am so fucking mad at you right now,” she whispers.

It’s the only warning you get before she spins you around, and shoves you up face first against the wall.

Oh.

The air leaves your lungs in a gasp. Your cheek smears along cool plaster. Yang wrenches your arms hard at your back, clamping your wrists together in her powerful bionic hand. You’re pinned. Goosebumps prickle along your spine, fizzling high in your neck.

Warm hips press against you from behind. “Did you miss me?”

“Yes,” you breathe. It sounds more like a gasp than a word. “I’m… I’m sorry.”

Her loose bangs tickle your neck and shoulders as she leans in to growl in your ear. “I have abandonment issues, Blake. Do you know what that’s like?”

Your lashes flutter, heart rate accelerating. You suck down a shaky breath and try to steady yourself, but your hips instinctively grind back against her pelvis. Her boot scrapes awkwardly against the tile floor as she shifts her weight to press more fully against you. Her breasts pillow against your contorted shoulder blades.

“I wasn’t gonna move this fast, but god, I’ve been thinking about this all week.” She brushes your long hair aside and her lips dip to suckle at the base of your neck. “Tell me this is bad idea. Tell me to stop.”

A breathy whine escapes your teeth, and somewhere, in the back of your mind, you realize that both Velvet and Midori will be able to hear you.

Oh, god.

“I…” you moan sharply as she strokes with her tongue, breath condensing against the wall. “Oh, god. I- I don’t think I can.”

“Fuck.” Yang inhales sharply. “You smell so fucking amazing.”

With her free hand, she reaches around to your front and begins to undo your belt. The pressure of her fingers against your abdomen, combined with the sound of the loose buckle clinking against the wall, nearly steals what coherency you have left. Sparks fly up and down your back, settling with a hot, sticky rush between your shaky legs. Heat burns in your cheeks like a fever. You gasp as Yang tugs sharply at your waistband, jerking the seam of your pants up against your core.

Colors explode behind your eyes. Your knees pitch forward, knocking against the plaster.

“Wait,” you gasp, “wait, this is crazy, right? Isn’t this crazy? Shouldn’t we-” your hips buck against hers, seeking friction. “Fuck, god. Shouldn’t we- shouldn’t we wait?”

“Fuck waiting,” she grits, drawing another shiver from your body. “I’m done waiting. Everytime I wait, you run.”

She sinks her teeth possessively into your shoulder and you release a startled groan, long and melodic, twisting into a stuttering gasp on the final note. You’re losing what little resolve you had. You’ve been off balance since you got here, since you ducked out the bedroom window in Patch. Images parade through your mind, flickers of her face, her laugh, her smile in the dark, all of it culminating with the kiss in the rain, thunder crackling overhead, lightning crackling in your veins. You flush hot, then cold, overtaken by a hunger so strong you can barely control yourself. Your shoulder throbs with the force of her bite, and your arousal spikes.

You want to kiss her. So badly. So, so badly. Your tongue laves against the cool plaster, seeking sensation. Your parted lips are wet and throbbing. Your hips undulate against hers. The friction drags a whimper from deep within your heaving chest. Your captive wrists strain against her hold.

“W-we…” you clench your teeth, “we should- fuck!

Yang drags her hot tongue over the fresh welt on your shoulder. “That’s the plan.”

“N-no, I mean- I mean talk .” Her lips re-attach themselves, and the walls of muscle around your core twitch in anticipation. “Right? Is- isn’t that what people do when they- unngh, god damnit . What was I saying?”

You haven’t been this keyed up in a long time.

You haven’t been this keyed up probably ever .

“Fuck now, talk later.”

Her body presses harder against your back. Her hand dips down to your waist, skimming the line of exposed skin there before darting up under your top. “Yang!”

Her lips return to your ear. “Too much?”

“I...I…” The pads of her fingers tickle the swath of sensitive skin just below your breast, and you lose your breath all over again.

Yang licks the shell of your ear, and your legs nearly buckle. “Tell me to stop.”

“I can’t,” you confess, tears pricking at the corners of your eyes. “I don’t want to .”

And it’s true. You’ve never been so nakedly honestly about anything in your life. Every cell in your body is screaming for her touch, and yes, of course, you’re a seasoned huntress. You could throw her off in a second. You’re strong enough, you’re fast enough. You could stop her if you wanted to, but you don’t want to.

You just don’t fucking want to.

Her hand travels higher, palming your breast, and you shudder convulsively as your entire body tingles. You can’t recall ever being so sensitive before. Her thumb swirls around your nipple, and a tension begins to coil low in your abdomen, winding tighter and tighter with each corresponding stroke.

“W-what…” Your breath comes in shallow pants. “What about Orin?”

Yang pinches and your back arches, face turning into the wall to stifle a cry. “What about Orin?”

“But- but he- Isn’t he your-?”

“-I like Orin.” Yang pauses for one, heartbreaking second. “Actually, I like Orin a lot, but Blake, I love you. It’s not even a competition.”

Your heart constricts and tears spring from your eyes, leaking onto your burning cheeks. “You love me?”

“Yeah,” you can hear the smile in Yang’s voice. “I do.”

You turn to glance at her over your shoulder, and catch sight of her eyes, violet now, and sparkling. “I love you, too.”

Yang tips her forehead against yours. “I know.”

Her metal hand releases your wrists, and you fall forward, bracing yourself palm-first against the plaster. The hand on your breast slides across to the other, sending more sparks between your legs as warm, metal fingers fumble with the button on your pants. The creak of your zipper coming undone mingles with your gasps of anticipation. You’re throbbing so hard it feels like your entire body is pulsing in time with the drumbeat in your core.

“B-bed?” you stammer.

“Not yet.” Yang kisses the top of your spine, and you shiver. “I’m still mad at you.”

Her hands shove at the stiff fabric clinging to your sweaty hips, and you shimmy as best you can to help her. You’re beyond caring about seeming too desperate.

You are desperate.

Stripped now to the knees, she grips your hips firmly in each hand, grinding against your ass. You’re trapped against the wall, gasping and whimpering, canting to match her rhythm. Your skin burns under her touch. Your muscles fizz and spasm, coiled tight enough to snap. You can’t take it anymore. You’re going to explode.

“Yang,” you moan, “ please .”

A ragged breath tickles your ear, the air around you begins to heat in an all too familiar way, and then her human hand is plunging south, shoving past the elastic waistband of your performance briefs to dive between your thighs.

Time stops the moment she encounters your clit, swollen and aching. Your mouth drops open in a silent cry. Your back bows, breasts thrusting against the hard wall. Fire sears up the length of your body, coiling like a dragon around your chest, burning the last vestiges of doubt from your mind. Your entire core throbs once, hard, and then the tingling sensation climbs up deep inside you, and your legs jerk. The muscles in your abdomen clench in anticipation. You have an emptiness inside you that you need her to fill.

God , Blake.” Her fingers circle your clit, dipping down to gather more lubrication from the wet pool at your throbbing entrance, before sliding back up to apply firm, unyielding pressure. “You’re so fucking wet .”

“All yours,” you gasp.

“All mine,” Yang agrees, and then your briefs are sliding down your quaking thighs to join your half-stripped pants, and you’re kicking the whole mess of fabric off your ankles so you can spread your legs and arch your back, offering better access.

Yang takes it, left hand resuming its steady dance around your clit, right hand creeping up from behind to toy with your dripping entrance. You can feel the drop coming before she’s even penetrated you, and once she does you can’t keep yourself upright. Bursts of light fire behind your eyes as Yang’s long, metal fingers slide deep inside you, buzzing, tingling, drawing a long, agonized moan from your overtaxed lungs. Her left hand leaves its post at your clit to catch your buckling weight, and she has to hold you upright as she begins pumping, thrusting slowly, scissoring her fingers, stretching you, filling you.

You try to say her name, but you can’t find the words. Your knees knock against the wall. Pressure builds steadily with each thrust, spreading into every crevice and corner, until you can barely breathe. You’re just teetering on the edge, every breath deep and wheezing, making sounds you can barely comprehend let alone control, when Yang suddenly withdraws her fingers.

“No,” you whine, turning to plead with her. “Yang-”

“-I need to feel you on my skin,” she murmurs, lips returning to your neck.

She switches arms, mechanical one coming around to support your weight, and when you understand what she means, you almost climax at the implication alone. When she finally realigns her position, bent over your back, three warm fingers delving deep inside you, you lose it in just a few, firm thrusts.

A high, piercing note fills your ears and a bright, white light washes over the room. You are momentarily blinded, mouth open, heart beating so hard you worry it might break through your ribs and burst from your chest onto the floor. Your muscles shudder and tighten like a clamp around Yang’s fingers, and then your entire body is convulsing, filled to bursting with sparks and fire, and a sensation that feels so profoundly good you can’t believe you ever took efforts to delay it. The pleasure is positively illicit.

Yang grunts and slides her fingers free. Her arms come up to embrace you as you shiver and shake, whimpering through the aftershocks. Tears stream freely from your eyes, dripping from your jaw onto your tank top.

You’re crying.

“C’mere.” She pulls you backwards and stumbles slightly as the heel of her boot hits the mattress. “I have to sit down.”

You blink slowly, vision blurred. In the heat of the moment you’d forgotten all about her leg.

She eases you down onto the bed together, into the pile of crumpled white sheets you hadn’t bothered to straighten. You turn into her body as she lies back, crying softly into her beautiful, sculpted shoulder. You’re naked from the waist down and sticky. Your muscles burn from the effort of remaining upright. The juncture between your legs throbs, sore and sated, and a remarkable stillness settles over you. You rub your nose into Yang’s hair, inhaling her scent. She breathes steadily on her back, and you notice, finally, the slightest hitch of pain in each exhale.

“You didn’t have to push yourself for me,” you murmur, sniffing.

Yang adjusts her weight. “I didn’t do it for you.”

“Liar.” You smile blissfully through your tears. “That was the best sex I’ve ever had, and I don’t even like sex that much.”

Yang huffs a laugh, and you feel her fingers sift through your hair, brushing along the edges of your silky, black ears. “That’ll change.”

A low hum reverberates in your chest. “I missed you.”

Yang scoffs lightly. “You have a funny way of showing it.”

“I’m sorry.” Your tears return, and your words shake. “I was...overwhelmed. I just...never…” You swallow thickly. “I was expecting the worst. I always expect the worst.”

Yang ruffles your hair. “You have to trust the sun, Blake. No matter how dark the nights get, the sun always comes up in the morning.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s true…” You turn her words over in your mind. “Is that a proverb? It sounds so familiar. Where’d you hear it?”

“That book of traditional faunus poems you leant me.”

Your brows knit. “Back at Beacon?”

Yang nods.

“But that was ages ago.”

She huffs. “It’s not like I just woke up yesterday and realized I loved you.” Her grip on your hair tightens. “Look, I get it, okay? I’ve known you for years, and I know you struggle with your past. I mean, we all do. I’m a reckless party girl with anger issues, Ruby regularly vanishes into the woods for weeks at a time and Weiss still has no idea how to be nice to people. I don’t expect you to be perfect. If you’ve gotta get some space for a bit, I’ll deal. Just, please, at least leave a note next time, okay?”

“O-okay,” you nod faintly, shocked by her candor. “I-I will. I’m sorry.” Yang says nothing, and you lift your head to peer down at her face. Her eyes are closed, lips pressed into a thin line. “How did you find me?”

“Coco.”

“Coco.” You lower yourself back down and cuddle into her side. “Of course.”

“Velvet tells her everything.”

“I know.” You blink, surprised to realize something. “I think I was sort of...counting on it.”

Yang sighs, and light fingertips dance along the curve of your hip. “That’s very Weiss of you.”

“I’m starting to realize that we’re more alike than I previously thought.”

Yang wrinkles her nose. “You’re not gonna get all fussy and high maintenance on me, are you?”

“No.” An impulse strikes you and your prop yourself up again. “Yang?”

This time she peeks at you through cracked eyelids. “Yeah?”

“Have you ever gone down on a girl before?”

Yang blinks, violet eyes widening. “Once, I think. Why?”

You take a deep breath, and lean up to kiss her. Yang doesn’t recoil or withdraw. Her mouth is warm and damp and pillowy soft. It takes no effort whatsoever to get lost in her. You take her lower lip between your teeth and bite down softly, tingling when you hear the tiny gasp. You pull back slowly, eyes lidded.

“I want to go down on you. Is that okay?”

Yang blinks, apparently stunned. “I just pinned you against a wall. Of course it’s okay.”

You blush and lower your gaze. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Yang reaches out and lifts your chin. The gears in her prosthetic whirr quietly. “I’ll talk you through it.”

She leans up to kiss you and you return it eagerly, fingers already fisting in the damp fabric of her top. “Do you think we should make an effort to be quiet, or…?”

Yang smirks. “If your friends haven’t left by now, they’re probably enjoying the show.”

“Good point.”

“What are the odds Velvet already told Coco?”

“What are the odds the whole White Fang organization already knows?” you grumble, and Yang busts out laughing as you reach down to push the utility vest off her muscular shoulders.

 

xvii.

Midori and Velvet are sitting in the kitchen eating yellow curry when the two of you finally emerge from the bathroom. The whole house smells of curry spice, turmeric, and cumin, and you realize, with no small amount of embarrassment, that this was probably an effort on Velvet’s part to cover up the smell wafting from your bedroom. You decide not to mention it to Yang.

Beside you, Yang’s long, wet hair is twisted up into a messy bun on top of her head. Her skin is bright, and clean, and beautiful, and you have to stop yourself from stroking it in front of the others. Your lingering eyes likely give you away, regardless.

She’s reverted to using her crutches to help her get around, but she’s surprisingly nimble with them. You’re relieved to see she’s healing fast.

“Hungry?” Velvet asks, winking. “You must be famished.”

Midori’s lips quirk, and you blush.

“Starving,” Yang says, with a smile, “thanks.”

She takes a seat at the table across from Midori, who extends her hand to introduce herself. They exchange pleasantries while you go to the stove and ladle curry over two bowls of rice. Velvet approaches behind you and bumps your hip.

“We’re going out in a couple minutes to get some groceries and supplies. I figured you two could probably use the time alone.” She glances meaningfully over her shoulder at Yang, now regaling Midori with a dramatic and highly-embellished story of how she broke her leg.

“I think we’re just going to get some sleep, actually,” you say, lips twitching.

“All the same.” Velvet drops a hand on your shoulder, and squeezes. “I’m glad you two worked things out.”

“Yeah.” A smile breaks through your cool veneer. “Me, too.”

Twenty minutes later, alone in the kitchen over empty bowls of food, Yang leans back in her chair, arms crossed behind her head, and says, “I never thought you’d get so loud during sex. You always struck me as the quiet type.”

Your cheeks burn. “You were...well, about as loud as I’d imagined.”

Yang grins. “We’re loud at sex.”

“Yeah.”

“It’s nice. I like it.”

Your blush deepens, and you drop your gaze. “I don’t mind it.”

“I feel kinda bad for your friends, though. What do you say we resume our summer vacation somewhere a bit more private?”

“That could be nice.” Suddenly, your eyes widen and you raise your head back up to stare at her. “Wait, are you asking me to go on a sex vacation?”

Yang lets out a delighted laugh, and winks. “Totally.”

“Oh my god.” Your bury your face in your hands. “Weiss will never let me live it down.”

“So...is that a yes?”

“Yeah.” Your shoulders slump as you admit your defeat. “That’s a yes.”

-